TasteCamp North, held on both sides of the Niagara river on May 13-15, was a lot of fun and very instructive for the thirty-some wine bloggers and writers present. Pursuing a tradition started by Lenn Thompson for the first two TasteCamps, held in Long Island (2009) and the Finger Lakes (2010), I asked bloggers from outside the region to answer a short series of questions detailing their impressions of the region.
The fifth spot in this series of interviews goes to Richard Auffrey, a Boston area blogger who writes the Passionate Foodie blog, and who is equally passionate about saké (he is a certified saké professional) than he is about wine and food. It’s always a great pleasure to see Richard in person – or to chat with him on Twitter – and he holds the distinction of bringing some of the most interesting wines served at the event’s BYO dinner, where TasteCampers share bottles they believe in: the 1964 Gonzales-Byass Oloroso he brought this year to Treadwell Restaurant was simply divine.
Was this your first visit to Niagara – in Canada and/or the US?
Basically yes, though I did briefly visit the U.S. side about 25 years ago for a weekend. During my prior visit, I did not investigate the vineyards, wineries or wines or even spend much time sightseeing. It was more of a quick business trip.
Had you ever had any Niagara wines before? If so, what was your impression of them?
I have tasted several Niagara wines before, including still wines and ice wines, but probably nothing within the last five years. On my prior visits to Nova Scotia, I occasionally bought a Niagara wine, if available, at the local Canadian liquor store. My favorites were the Inniskillin Ice Wines. As for the still wines, they generally seemed average to me, and nothing was particularly memorable.
After your visit to Niagara, how much has your impression changed?
My views on Niagara wines from Canada have dramatically changed, and I found numerous impressive wines during Taste Camp. Though I was chastised by a Canadian on Twitter for my view, I will repeat it again: The Niagara wine region has much potential. It is still a young region, maybe only 35 years old, and the last ten years have seen much growth. I tasted plenty of average wines, but a sufficient number of excellent wines, from a number of different wineries, that I can see the overall quality of wines from this region will only improve in time. The region can produce both very good white and red wines, from Riesling to Pinot Noir. There are many passionate and dedicated wine makers in this region, and they will help transform this region into a top wine destination. The U.S. side of Niagara was much less impressive, though it is an even newer region, and it would be interesting to see how they have progressed in five to ten years.
What did you appreciate the most?
I most appreciated the dedication of numerous wine makers to terroir, wild ferments, organic agriculture and minimal manipulation. They were the ones who seemed to be producing the best wines, wines of character with complex profiles. They understood that it was still a learning process and they were willing to take the time to experiment and gain knowledge. Most of those wine makers were also fairly humble, just regular people with a deep passion for wine.
What impressed you the least – or what needs improvement the most?
I felt that the wineries made too many comparisons of themselves to Bordeaux and Burgundy, rather than stressing their own particular identities. Yes, their wines tended to resemble more France than California, but they should first have their own unique Niagara identity. As for improvements, as the region is still young, it has all the needs of an emerging region, especially determining what grapes grow best, the nature of their terroir, etc.
What was the most unexpected thing for you, during TasteCamp?
There were two such matters. First, the quality of the Pinot Noir. Niagara might not seem a place where Pinot Noir would thrive, but several producers have done some wonderful things with this grape. Yes, they are more Burgundian in nature, showing excellent complexity and varietal correctness. Second, I acquired a much deeper appreciation for wild ferments, after tasting several very compelling wines produced with a wild ferment. It added such an intriguing character to the wines.
What would your wine of the weekend be?
A tough question but I would have to choose the 2008 Tawse Winery Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir, a killer wine that would impress any Pinot lover. A melange of complex flavors, from red fruits to mushrooms, with silky tannins and a hedonistic mouthfeel. Tawse Winery might also have been my overall favorite winery of the trip.