Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Great Ontario Wines Just keep On Comin' Part One: Casa Dea Winery

A Plethora Of Fine Wines
Ontario is now at the stage where no one winery can dominate the wine scene. It used to be that one looked at certain wineries for quality and others for basic quaffing wine. Now it seems that the lines of quality have intertwined to the point that the opinions reflecting the "best" Ontario/Canadian wines is diverse to say the least. Of course, like anyone else I have my pet wineries and have a marked exclamation when they are in any way challenged. But challenged they all have become-------and this is for the better.
Prince Edward County "Rocks"!
PEC or The County as it is affectionately called is surging ahead with its exceptional wines. But "Rocks" here does not just stand for a commentary on how this fab wine region is doing. It also stands for the one of the main reasons it is doing so well.
The soil goes deep and is mixed with porous limestone bedrock which allows the roots to "claw" their way deep, deep into the ground getting needed moisture, nourishment and protection. When its minus 30 plus Celsius outside, as long as the vines are shored up, above ground, the roots are safe and snug. When the temps are on the plus side of 30 Celsius, the roots have built in air conditioning and moisture---even in times of drought.
The resulting wines have a fine structure with that ever present minerality. The quality is superb with excellent concentration and fruit. This does not come easily, however.
Hard Work For both Human And Vine!
"Niagara involves cool climate technology but Prince Edward County is cold climate. The vine trunks are grown close to the ground and the canopy is above them. At the end of the season, the canopy above the trunk is cut leaving only a couple of canes to be attached to horizontal wires and are then shored up with mixture of dirt and hay. This will protect them from the killing frosts and hard freezes." So said the folks at the famous Norman Hardy Estates---makers of great Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Casa Dea Estates
Located just off the Loyalist Parkway on Greer Road not far from Wellington, this 200 acre estate has a total of 63 acres of impeccably kept vineyards under vine. The former Carmela Estates was transformed into the newest and exceptionally vibrant winery by Entrepreneur Domenic Di Pietrantonio who spared no expense in his quest to own a flourishing winery! The refurbished winery opened in 2009 with a grand opening celebration in July of 2010.
A Perfect Venue
Durham/Oshawa Restaurateur, Tino Fazio and Photographic Artist, Denise Wilkins accompanied me in this foray into the County's wine area. As we drove into Casa Dea we couldn't help notice the well kept vineyards and stunningly lovely buildings which housed the winery, boutique, pergola and banquet facilities. The pond and garden decor outside the main boutique building gave an air of the exotic as we went up the stairs.
Paul Marconi, V/P of Operations and General Manager, was there to greet us. Paul is a "dead serious"type of man whose only love (other than his wife and family) is his winery. He lives and breathes the business and will spare no time in getting what he needs to do done. Paul introduced us to an equally passionate person----his winemaker, Paul Battilana.
Tall, young and very enthusiastic, you could tell that this fellow loved his job. Educated in winemaking at Niagara College, Battilana was initially a meat cutter who dreamt of being a winemaker. " I love my job," he said, "I get up every morning to this (pointing at the vineyards) and get to do my art."
A surprise visit came from winery owner Domenic who decided to drive to the winery after having spoken to fellow Italian Tino. "That really impresses me!" said Tino while waiting for Domenic. "That is what you call Respect and I hold that virtue very high in my estimation!"
If Tino was pleased with the visit, he must have been extatic when Domenic treated us to a fine lunch on the Pergola. It was amazing. Paul Battilana brought out his wines, Tino chatted, Denise took photo shots and we had a marvellous visit. I was quite partial to the Pinot Noir though Domenic's choice of wine was definite---his Cabernet Franc!! Whatever the choices, however, the mood was jovial and the atmosphere, electric. Fine wine and new friends----a great combination.
Casa Dea is most definitely a place to visit and have a pleasant time at. One word of warning, if you have wineries to go to, make sure you allot a fair bit of time to Casa Dea. This is not a "sip and run" place!!!!
The Wines
Paul Battilana put us through a great flight of wines:
Dea's Cuvee Sparkling
Nose: Pleasant, nice fizz on sip. Refreshing acidity and tropical fruit aromas.
Palate: Light bodied with refreshing acid and fine bubbles. Touch of fruit sweetness and lingering acid bite.
CD Bianco 2008
Nose: Flora notes with white fruit; some nuttiness and vanilla
Palate: Light to medium bodied, clean and refreshing with a flinty minerality, citrus and pineapple. Pleasant finish.
Pinot Gris 2009
Nose: Floral, peach, pear with a hint of grassy dew
Palate: Light body, citrus lemon with a zest of minerality throughout the taste and a fruity pleasant finish.

Pinot Gris Reserve 2009
Nose: Similar to above but more intense with more abundant fruit leaning towards the exotic.
Palate: Slightly rounder and fuller than the above. Some citrus and certainly some cream in the mixture but the minerality of the area comes through in the form of a flinty acidity.

Unoaked Chardonnay 2009
Nose: Floral notes and white fruit with a touch of flint
Palate: Light bodied with hints of walnut and hazel nut and accentuated flint typifying the minerality of the soil structure. The palate is more evolved and complex probably from an extended lees contact.

Reserve Chardonnay 2009
Nose: Ripe apples, pear, citrus evolving with hints of nut, vanilla and butter.
Palate: Medium-light body, great mouth feel. Wine is rich yet subtle and not overwhelming. Nice length and finishes with a pleasant acidity.
CD Rosso 2008
Nose: Bumble berry mix, with soil, and smoke thrown in. Some herbal spice.
Palate: Almost medium in body body but leaning toward lightness. Nice mouth feel, some dark fruit and berries with a pleasant relaxing finish.
Cabernet Franc Rose 2009
Nose: Excellent fruit nuances of cherry, strawberry meld together to produce a complexity not usually seen in a rose along with a hint of earth that keeps one guessing as to the soil structure that made it! An intriguing wine!
Palate: Light and dry with a hint of fruit sweetness and refreshing acidity along with minerality that integrate very well to make this a great summer drink. One of the few roses that I would recommend having with food as a must------just to see what other flavours the food and wine deliver.
Pinot Noir 2007
Nose: One of the nicest Pinots that I have come across this year. Raspberry/cherry nuances with a smoke background. Some cedar mixed with mushroom and herbal spice.
Palate: Medium plus body with excellent mouth feel. Nicely integrated and lovely berry flavours with a nice acidity. Just lovely! (I think that this Pinot will give even the great Norman Hardy Pinot a run for its money!).
Cabernet Franc 2008
Nose: Deep violet on the onset with cherry, currant and raspberry. Chocolate with a touch of vanilla wood.
Palate: Medium to almost full body with velvet mouth feel. Red fruit on the onset with a touch of chocolate spice. Nice lengthy finish.
Reserve Cabernet Franc 2008
Nose: Ripe red fruit, cassis and vanilla
Palate: Closer to full bodied than previous though some would class it as medium bodied. Rich smooth mouth feel with some chocolate on the 'after take'. Long finish.
Casa Dea has given an epiphany to a winery that needed it. Now it stands alone as a great place to visit with great wines to drink.