Prince Edward County, located south of Belleville at a latitude of 44°N, is Ontario’s most northern appellation (VQA).  Although quite a bit cooler than the Niagara region since it is situated on the east end of Lake Ontario, the lake effect reduces diurnal variation between day and night temperatures, and lowers the risk of frost damage during winter in The County.

Prince Edward County is an up and coming wine region in Ontario, and is the home of approximately 30 wineries.  Along its Taste Trail, inns, breweries and restaurants can also be found.  During my recent stay (refer to my entry) at Huff Estates Winery, I received a voucher to enjoy complimentary tastings at five different wineries (Closson Chase, Chadsey’s Cairns, Norman Hardie, Rosehall Runs & Huff Estates).

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My first stop is the lovely Closson Chase Vinyeards, with its rustic charm and purple barnyard that blends in well with its neighboring lavender fields.

Basking in the sun in their backyard tasting area.

I was given samples of the 2011 Pinot Noir and 2012 Chardonnay.  As a result of 2011’s difficult vintage with rain and frost, the pinot noir grapes were harvested earlier than usual, making the wine very light in color and body.  It is a fantastic summer wine, reminiscence of rose petals and strawberries.  However in my opinion, it lacked the earthiness of a typical pinot noir and quite resembled a rosé wine.  Although elegantly made, I wasn’t prepared to pay close to $35 for a rosé.

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Hinterland Wine Company is a boutique winery that specializes in sparkling wine.  From left to right in the photo, Whitecap (blend of white grapes), Borealis (100% gamay), Rosé (chardonnay + pinot noir), and Lactus (100% cab franc).  Rosé is the only wine made using the traditional method*.  I purchased a bottle of the Borealis ($22) because although made with the charmat method**, I was delighted to taste lots of aroma that are typically associated to a traditional method sparkling wine.  Perhaps this could be attributed to the daily lees stirring for 40 days.

When I was at the tasting bar, the word ‘Champagne’ was mentioned a few times.  For a wine geek like me, this is somewhat of a turn-off since ‘Champagne’ should only be used to reference sparkling wines produced in AOC Champagne under the traditional method.

*In-bottle 2nd fermentation, used for Champagnes and Crémants, etc.

**1st and 2nd fermentation both in tanks, resulting in fruit forward sparkling wines, like prosecco.

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Norman Hardie is famous for their pinot noirs.  For comparison’s sake, I selected two pinot noirs from their tasting list.  The 2010 Niagara pinot noir was already displaying a bit of garnet color, when placed side-by-side to the 2012 County pinot.  Both wines were unfiltered and hence relatively full bodied.  From the few times that I have been at Norman Hardie, my experience was that their tasting bar was always crowded, hence customers didn’t get as much as attention as we ideally wanted.

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Upon arrival at Rosehall Run, we were greeted by one of the staffs serving a tasting portion of their Pixie Rosé, a sparkling wine made by CO2 injection into the base wine.  Although not very sophisticated, Pixie’s funky label made it strangely appealing as a summer drink, great marketing.  Amongst their more seriously made wines, I tasted the 2011 oaked chardonnay, JCR Rosehall Vineyard, which earned them a bronze medal in the Drinks Business Awards.  By only using 15% new oak, the wine still maintained some of its fruity characteristics.

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The cellar tour at Huff Estates Winery was fun and informative.  It was interesting to learn that their wine maker, Frederic Picard, was born in Burgundy.  Coincidental or not, his background and wine-making style is definitely well-suited to the limestone bedrock of the County, and that may also explain why out of all the Huff Estates wines I tasted, the pinot noir was by far my favorite.

2010 Zero de Gris, Huff Estates’ late harvest wine, is made with 100% frontenac gris. While browsing around in the tasting room, I noticed that the label, instead of 375ml, had 750ml printed on it, clearly a typo.  Someone should have noticed and rectified it.

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Besides wines, Sugarbush Vinyeards, a small family owned winery also produces maple syrup, from the sugar maple trees grown in the winery’s backyard.

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For those who are interested (and of course loaded),Chadsey’s Cairns is up for sale, as their owner is retiring.  Specializing in off-dry style white wines, Chadsey’s Cairns claimed that a portion of grapes (around 15%) from their white rieslings were affected by Botrytis, the noble rot that earned its fame from world renounced Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese.

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Waupoos Estate Winery, the oldest winery in the County.  Unfortunately, because the vineyards were too close to the water, there were TONS of black flies in the area, making it impossible to walk around.

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