By Jamie Drummond

Photo: John Gundy

This year I had the pleasure of being upon the steerage committee for the Terroir hospitality symposium held on Tuesday March 2nd at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. Some ten months previous, at one of the many committee meetings, I was given the challenge of putting together an innovative and challenging wine component to include in the 2010 program. Having organised many the wine tasting session over my years as a Sommelier, I made a conscious decision to really push the envelope this time around. In retrospect I realise that perhaps I took the “challenging” component just a little too far…

After many enjoyable wine-fuelled discussions with acclaimed Winemaker Norman Hardie, I came to the conclusion that it would be a fascinating exercise to bring a structured tasting of barrel samples to Toronto. As a Sommelier I have often had the pleasure of participating in barrel tasting sessions in various cellars all over the globe, and I felt that hosting this type of guided tasting at Terroir 2010 would prove to be a valuable educational experience for all delegates who chose to attend. And educational it certainly was, but I am not sure that all of those who signed up for the oversubscribed session at 11.15am that morning knew just what their palates were in for.

Paul Grieco By John Gundy

We chose to show six different wines: same varietal, same vintage, same single vineyard in the St. David’s Bench VQA, Niagara. The only difference between the wines would be the barrels. Tasting the wines in flights of two we would look at the effects of different levels of toast, different ages of barrels, and finally the comparisons between different Coopers (Barrel Makers)

Flight 1

1) 2009 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir St David’s Bench
– Mercurey cooperage – Short Low Heat Toast (Special Rouge) – SR07

2) 2009 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir St David’s Bench
– Mercurey cooperage – Long Low Heat Slow Toast (Grand Cru) – GC07

Flight 2

3) 2009 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir St David’s Bench
– Mercurey cooperage – Short Low Heat Toast (Special Rouge) – SR08

4) 2009 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir St David’s Bench
– Mercurey cooperage – Long Low Heat Slow Toast (Grand Cru) – GC08

Flight 3

5) 2009 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir St David’s Bench – Cadus cooperage
– Long Low Heat Slow Toast (Grand Cru) – GC09

6) 2009 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir St David’s Bench – Mercurey cooperage
– Long Low Heat Slow Toast (Grand Cru) – GC09

Norman Hardie By John Gundy

Usually when one tastes from a barrel one is tasting an almost “finished” wine. Quite the opposite was the case in this particular tasting as the wines were Pinot Noirs from Norm’s 2009 vintage and so had only been in barrel for around 3 months and had not yet gone through their malolactic fermentations. By way of a short explanation, this is where the harsher and more aggressive malic acid element is changed into the softer lactic acid through a secondary fermentation with the assistance of a very particular and (in many cases) naturally occurring bacterium. If you would like an explicit look at just what excessive amounts of malic acid can do to one’s tongue click here. You see, I do occasionally suffer for my art!

This malic component makes tasting the wines quite the challenge as it is very difficult to see through this and examine the wine within, a point expressed by our other guest speaker, the always-informed Paul Grieco from New York City’s astonishingly good Terroir Wine Bar and Hearth Restaurant. Paul remarked that it was nigh on impossible to detect the attractive red fruit characteristics that we seek in the Pinot Noir varietal. Whilst this was certainly true, there was some method in our apparent madness. In showing wines in their ultimately raw infancy we were able to look solely at the effects of different barrel treatments without being distracted by the primary fruit. A true feat of endurance for even the most experienced of palates, granted, but a unique and most valuable educational exercise nonetheless. It was actually quite brave of Norm to show his wines to an audience of this size at this stage of their development.

Winemaker Norman Hardie with Sommelier Anton Potvin after the tasting

Playing the role of moderator at the session I actually had very little to do bar introduce the subject matter and our speakers, as the session took on a life of its own with both Norm and Paul fielding some serious questioning from the floor. I hope that those assembled gained a greater understanding of the decisions that a Winemaker has to make even this early into their wine’s evolution and that they ultimately forgive me for giving them six serious dosages of malic acid so early in their mornings. Perhaps it is because of this that for once a Terroir wine session didn’t run over time-wise!

A big pile of thank yous to Sommeliers Anne Martin, Courtney Henderson, Irene Steh, Richard Healy, Stephanie Kern, and Zoltan Szabo for assisting with the session and to our two guest speakers Norman Hardie and Paul Grieco for presenting such a groundbreaking and palate-battering tutored tasting.

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… and he apologises for that tongue picture.