Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Montreal Passion du Vin tasting event. The event is conducted by the SAQ; Quebec’s provincial wine and spirits monopoly. I was delighted with many of the wonderful tastings, but one stood out as a real surprise. Among the tastings of classified Bordeaux, and Vintage Champagne, we enjoyed several wines with lunch that were from Canada.
Yes, Canada, the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario to be precise. The wines were from the Clos Jordanne winery and I was surprised, not only by quality of these wines, but also by their stylish beauty. I am not and have never been a fan of much Chardonnay produced in the new world, and only marginally more Pinot Noir, but these wines captured my attention.
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The Niagara Escarpment, most famously represented by the drop that creates the famous Niagara Falls, runs in an arch that roughly defines the northern boundaries of several of the great lakes that separate the USA and Canada. These tremendous bodies of water serve to moderate the climate of the region, allowing Vinifera grapes a chance to thrive where in the past most people had only thought to plant hybrid grapes or Lambrusca varieties.
Many of the earlier forays with Vinifera grapes that seemed promising were made with Gamay, at least those were the wines I was able to get my hands on. It’s not surprising that Chardonnay would work well in the region, but the success Clos Jordanne is having with Pinot Noir is beyond surprising. It’s not just that the grapes seem to be just barely ripe, recalling burgundy vintages such as 1988, 1993 and to a lesser extent 2004., but that the wines seem to be exhibiting real terroir.
Now some may say I am damning these wines with faint praise by comparing them to what many perceive as a set of weak vintages in Burgundy. I would disagree, vehemently. What many may deem as weak are, in fact, wonderful vintages that express Burgundian terroir. Allow me a brief digression to explain.
We consumers, as a group, are being convinced that they more fruit a wine has the better. The truth is that some of the “greatest” vintages coming to market these days are too much of a good thing for many palates. Wines, great wines at least, should not simply be about the concentration and ripeness of fruit. They should be about the balance inherent in the wine. There is structural balance that allows for the harmony of acid, tannin and fruit but then there is also the balance of flavors, and resulting complexity.
One of the great appeals of wines like Burgundy and Barolo, for example, is that they tend not to be dark, monolithic, fruit bombs. Instead, at their best, they have fruit that lays like gauze over notes of earth and spice imparted by barrel ageing and the soil and sun the grapes enjoy through the growing season.
In Ok, short ranty digression is over. In this respect the wines from Clos Jordanne resemble certain vintages of Burgundy. Perhaps it’s just a passing resemblance. In all honesty one would need more experience with these wines to say anything more definitively. What I can say is that this small group of wines tasted like Pinot Noir, were not extracted and massive, and showed nuance and detail that new world Pinots rarely show. So I liked them.
Clos Jordanne is a collaborative effort between Constellations Vinocor and Burgundy’s Boisset. Jean-Charles Boisset, the vice-president of Boisset, discovered the region in 1998 and was determined to capitalize on the unique geology of the region to produce world-class, terroir driven, wines. I sat down with him briefly and asked him to comment on the project, as well as how things are doing in Burgundy.