Local Plonks: Special Norman Hardie /Canadian-focussed Double Feature

Norman Hardie in PEI (Credit: Globe and Mail)
"Greater knowledge and craft, changing tastes coming from a maturing food culture, and climate change have Canadian wines set to challenge the very best in the world."

Local Plonks’ mandate is to review affordable wines available locally.  We will make occasional exceptions and will always go out of our way to let readers know about fine Canadian examples. 

There is deserved excitement in the mainland wine world. Greater knowledge and craft, changing tastes coming from a maturing food culture, and climate change have Canadian wines set to challenge the very best in the world.

Vines in Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia are grown at their agricultural margin, seasons might be too short some years, and though mostly mild and moderated by nearby waters, there can still be killing winter cold. The risks and costs are high but so are the rewards. Cooler climate viticulture generally makes for more interesting drinks.

Jeremy Bonia of Raymonds and The Merchant Tavern is an advocate of Canadian wine and both restaurants list some of the country’s best. We met with Jeremy at The Merchant to sample and discuss some examples from one of Ontario’s true winemaking greats, Norman Hardie.

A couple of bottles were provided for us by Norman Hardie’s sales agent in Newfoundland and Labrador, Dialog Wines.  Not all the wines discussed are always available at the NLC and Jeremy offers a few exclusively at Raymonds and The Merchant.

These wines are meant to be distinct expression of the place they are grown, the grapes a vehicle for what gets called “terroir” but the inspiration is, for the most part, the great white and red wines of Burgundy. It’s necessary then, in the interest of efficiency, to sometimes compare them to benchmarks from the Cote D’Or.

The 2013 Norman Hardie Unfiltered Pinot Noir from Niagara recalls wines from Givry or Mercurey, it’s showing off fruit, strawberries and, like every Pinot from Norman Hardie we tasted, rhubarb. Wants salty summer nibbles like saucisson or ham, begs a picnic lunch.

LP doesn’t know how it ages, Jeremy thinks it has a few years but it’s a wine to drink in its youth.  The wine, unfiltered is just slightly turbid.  You get clarity with filtration but sacrifice flavour, the colour is still terrifically appetizing.

Jeremy tells us that Norman himself considers the 2011 County one of his best.  (“County” on a Norman Hardie label means Prince Edward County, Ontario) Here we have to go to the more august, meaty Burgundy appellations for a comparison.  We both get a whiff of Gevery-Chambertin and specifically some bottles we’ve both enjoyed for a maker name of Camus.

A few more sniffs and sips and Jeremy says, “hmmmm, no, maybe it’s Pommard” and being Jeremy runs off to get a bottle of Pommard to compare.  Aaaaaannd, he’s right.  The French example is spicier, but the Hardie in the same zone.  This wine is still young and briary.

There is considerably more woodsy, undergrowth, “sous bois” and mushroom notes than in the Niagara wine, and it cries out for bloody meat.  There is even a sanguineous note in the wine, like the juice running from a rare game bird breast.   And there is beetroot, raw and roasted. This is a top drink. It would have been difficult to imagine Canada producing wine of this calibre 20 years ago.

Norman Hardie makes a wide range of white wines and the inspirations for these come from all over.  His chardonnay based wines are Burgundian but his blends have distinctively Alsatian characteristics and his Melon is definitely where the Loire runs into the sea.

We taste the2012 Chardonnay from Niagara and the 2013 County Chardonnay.  They both have lovely mineral profiles.  There was something more like apples in the Niagara wine and more citrus, hints of lime maybe, in the County.

The 2012 also had oxidative flavours and colours and a lanolin note you’d expect from an older wine, it should probably be drunk up.  The 2013 was incredibly fresh.  We both said Puligny-Montrachet and Jeremy said he also got something akin to those Grand Cru Chablis that see a touch of oak.

James Joyce said “White Wine is like electricity” and the 2014 Melon de Bourgogne delivers a serious jolt of it.   Lots of sharp edged acidity in this wine made from the varietal that renders Muscadet and this one has a taste of lees like the best of those.

Jeremy said that the acidity of this wine could, in some vintages, get a little high for some drinkers but we loved it.  No reception sipper, this is serious fish wine, would be great with mussels or clams or oily sardine off the barbecue.  Bet it would be deadly with smoked mackerel.

Norman Hardie’s Calcaire is a white blend, the mix varying from year to year.  The 2014 is a combination of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Melon de Bourgogne.  This one definite gave lime and the chalky minerals from which it gets its name.  We both got citrus pith.  Not a keeper, drink now with shellfish.

A notable feature of all the wines from Norman Hardie was their comparatively low alcohol by volume, from 10.9 percent for the Melon to a high of 12.5 percent in the 2011 County Pinot. This is strongly indicative of the advantage these wines get from the tough climate, there’s never too much heat in them, there’s more acidity and freshness and it makes them better food wines.

The wines aren’t extravagantly priced but they are not cheap.

As the vines that bear the grapes age, these wines will only get better.

Canadian bubbles will get a sniff and a taste sometime in the future.

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