I was recently invited to the launch party and tasting for a new Ontario winery, Vintage Ink, at Brassaii. Vintage Ink is a virtual winery, run by Vincor Canada, which is the parent company for a number of wineries. They use small lots of grapes from carefully selected vineyards across Southern Ontario's wine region to create two signature blends. Along with tastings of their 2010 Chardonnay and 2009 Merlot Cabernet, we were treated to small bites from Brassaii's kitchen.
The man responsible for how the wines of Vintage Ink taste, winemaker Keith Bown, assumed the position of Vice President, Winemaking for Vincor Canada in the Spring of 2008. Keith has a Bachelor of Science degree and is a graduate of Roseworthy Agricultural College, Australia. His background includes Chief Winemaker at Zilzie Wines in Victoria, Australia. He has had extensive experience in the wine industry and has worked in numerous countries for companies such as, Corbans Gisborne Winery in NZ, Denbies in the UK, Unionville Vineyards in New Jersey, and Orlando and Goundrey Wines (prior to the Vincor acquisition) in Australia.
The Chard is made up of three eponymous grapes from three vineyards in the Niagara River region. "Each lot was fermented and aged separately for an average of 5 months in oak barrels. They were then blended in the best proportions to create a wine with an unabashedly lavish style."
While the Cab Merlot is made up of 3 different kinds of grapes from across the region. "Each lot was fermented and aged separately for an average of 14 months in oak barrels."
- 35% Merlot - Heron Pond Bench (Beamsville Bench)
- 30% Merlot - Watson Vineyards (Niagara River)
- 10% Merlot - Montague Estate (Four Mile Creek)
- 15% Cabernet Franc - D’Antini (Four Mile Creek)
- 5% Cabernet Franc - Heron Pond Bench (Beamsville Bench)
- 5% Cabernet Sauvignon - Wiley (Twenty Mile Bench)
Chardonnays are definitely tricky for me, as they tend to really display the qualities of white wine which turn me off. However, if you enjoy that green leaf sour apple flavour, you'll enjoy this white. I noted butter, apple and petrol on the nose. When it came to the Cab Merlot, I smelled diesel and black cherry, and found the taste full bodied, with sour cherry flavours, though tight on the tongue and quite tannic. I think with a year or two to mellow, this could be a very fine sipper.
The dishes provided by Brassaii were designed to complement the wines we tasted, and I think the red won out here in most cases. That said, the corn soup with lobster and basil, with it's sweetness and subtle herbaciousness, and the seared scallop with pistachio sauce and green pea purée, had enough sweetness to balance the white. The scallop was my favourite bite. The fish was perfectly cooked and the sweet pistachio sauce was lovely in contrast to the fresh pea purée, while adding a nice crunch.
Other dishes served were a bresaola crostini with roasted grape and parmeggiano; bison steak with fig moustarde; a pork and beef blend Greek meatball with mint chutney; and a tuna tartare in a quail egg. The steak was a tender medium rare, though the moustarde could have used a bit of acid, or perhaps salt, to balance out the sweetness. The meatball I found a hair salty, but it had some nice flavours and was good and juicy. The tartare was like the fanciest devilled egg I've ever had. The tuna was very subtly seasoned and may have been a bit overpowered by the mayo. All in all though, the dishes were enjoyable.
Vintage Ink wines are available now, exclusively at LCBO Vintages. "Rite of Passage" Chardonnay retails for $16.95 and "Mark of Passion" Merlot Cabernet sells for $17.95.