When is a Wine Like a Woman?

Everybody’s Mad Men crazy this week, and so are we, even when it comes to wine. It probably wasn’t intentional but this past Tuesday’s class at the iYellow Wine School had striking parallels to two of Mad Men’s leading ladies. With a focus on full-figured reds and graceful whites, it’s hard not to offer up comparisons to the characters of Joan and Betty.

Led by sommelier Taylor Thompson, enthusiastic wine students filled the lovely back patio at cafe Taste to try a variety of Ontario wines that were either graceful or full-figured.

The cool and graceful whites included a Trius Brut from Hillebrand Estates Winery, a chardonnay from Flatrock Cellars and a barrel fermented chardonnay from Henry of Pelham. Thompson explained the different processes used for the two chardonnays, explaining how the barrel fermentation created an oaky flavour with notes of honey and a creaminess in the second wine compared to the minerality and buttery flavour of the first.

Reds can be graceful too, though, and a pair of Pinot Noirs from Cave Spring Cellars and Lailey Vineyard Winery were the next to be sampled. The Cave Spring pinot noir was bright and full of strawberry notes, very light in colour whereas the Lailey pinot was darker, with a nose of over-ripe fruit, and an earthy acidity. But on Mad Men, graceful Betty is known for her cold demeanour and to my palate, pinot noir tends to leave me a bit cold as well.

Maybe it’s because I am a “full-figured red”, but my preference is for heartier red wines with more intriguing flavours than fresh berries, and the second set of wines to sample – 5 reds that increased in intensity – were much more up my alley. These were paired with an assortment of artisanal bread (Cafe Taste makes all their bread in-house and it’s awesome!) with a plate of Canadian cheeses to pair with each wine.

We started with the 2007 Laura Red from Creekside Estate Winery. Thompson pointed out the nice legs, opaque colour and low acidity. This wine won Gold at the 2009 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair for wines under $20… after which the winery raised the price to $22. It’s still a nice wine, regardless of the price, and Thompson advised that it would age well.

The 2007 Mountainview Merlot from Angel’s Gate Estate Winery came across almost medicinal with softer tannins, but it was overshadowed by the 2006 Merlot Reserve from Reif Estate Winery. This wine offered up a typical merlot juiciness with lots of ripe red cherries but also notes of anise and leather. This was our choice for best overall sipping wine.

Moving through our samples, we were all startled by how much we liked wine #9, a 2007 Estate Series Cabernet Merlot from Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery. Celebrity wines, like critter wines, have a reputation as being less than stellar, but this wine was also awarded a gold medal at the Royal, and it is well-deserved. Full of the leather and tobacco notes that I love, this was our pick to pair with a big juicy steak, although it would go wonderfully with chocolate as well. It definitely won our Joan award for “favourite full-figured red”.

The final wine was a Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery 2002 Reserve Cab Franc. Thompson described it as “well balanced and integrated”. This was too tannic for me, giving me awful “sweater mouth”, but the ageing was definitely respectable.

For years, Ontario had a reputation for not producing very good “full-figured” reds, but the one good thing to come out of global warming seems to be the warmer summers that have produced banner years for Ontario wines (most of what we tried were from 2007 and 2008, both warmer, humid summers). These reds can stand up tall against product from other regions. And fans of these big robust wines can happily buy local and still be satisfied.

This was the final class in the iYellow Wine School spring/summer session, but they will return with new tasting classes in the autumn.