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Wine in the dark

On Saturday, April 7 a wine tasting was held in celebration of the CNIB’s 100 th Anniversary.
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On Saturday, April 7 a wine tasting was held in celebration of the CNIB’s 100th Anniversary. The event was the brain-child of Dorothy Mcnaughton and was spear-headed by her, along with Larry Knapp and significant support from the United Way of Sault Ste. Marie. 

Both Dorothy and Larry are long-time clients and supporters of the CNIB, and it was their idea to conduct the tasting “in the dark.” Many may have heard of or experienced “Dining In the Dark”, but this may have been the first effort to conduct a true “Blind Tasting” with the guests all blindfolded as they sipped their way through five wines.

Larry explained how the CNIB came into being largely out of the need created by the First World War. There the issue of veterans injured in the war, but as well there was the aftermath of the great explosion which devastated Halifax when a munitions ship blew up, apparently shattering every window with horrific injuries resulting.

Larry acknowledged how he was helped by some of those veterans when he lost his own sight.

For our event, logistics were a challenge.  Guests were led to their chairs blindfolded, with five glasses arranged in a semi-circle in front of them. Larry explained how they should go about picking up their glasses – without any spills. 

We got our wires crossed, and so guests actually removed the blindfolds until the tasting actually began. Considering that the earlier arrivals would have had to sit for a time before everyone else had been seated, this likely made for a more comfortable experience – but it was a “luxury” that people who are truly challenged visually wouldn’t enjoy.

I can only imagine how that first part of the evening might have progressed had people had to sit and wait, making conversation with people they couldn’t see and might not even know.  

With blindfolds back in place, we tasted through five Ontario wines, trying to identify them using only our senses of taste and smell. These would be the most important senses in tasting, but seeing colour depth can affect our expectations, even with white wines.

We tasted only wines made from a single kind of grape, to make identification more straight-forward. We also tasted them going from white to red, lighter to “heavier”, and perhaps from simpler to more complex.

The first wine displayed a slightly floral nose and a fairly round texture. It was definitely dry, with a lingering finish and good acidity. Not a Chardonnay – it didn’t have the apple-like notes of a stainless steel version, or the butter and vanilla notes that could come from oak. Some correctly guessed Riesling, though it was hardly typical. Big Head Dry Riesling 2015, $21, is only available through the winery. With only six grams of residual sugar, it is much drier than most Rieslings.  It is seriously good, and intended to age.  

Big Head is a new winery operated by Andrzej Lipinski and his family. He emigrated from Poland in 1989, and began working in wine in 1992 at Vineland Estates. His first wine as an assistant winemaker was a Chardonnay which took gold at Vinitaly. 

The name “Big Head” is a playful poke at his nationality, with Andrzej saying that Poles are noted for having big heads. For more about their wines, visit  their website.

The next wine had a whiff of toast and vanilla on the nose with no tannins detected on the palate. The mouth feel was quite round and silky. A long finish carried impressions of spice. Many correctly identified this as a Chardonnay. The wine, made by Sault Ste. Marie native, Marc Pistor, appears under his own Fogolar label. This was his 2014 Chardonnay, $22. To purchase, email. Marc at

The production is quite small, only 100 cases, which is the same for all of Marc’s wines. He also makes wines for several other wineries including di Profio and Pondview.  

Wine #3 was fairly light on the palate with a mild tannic buzz on the finish which suggests a red – the tannins give the buzz, and they come from the skins. Whites are generally not made with any skin contact. This was quite dry, and not readily identifiable as Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir can be difficult to grow and to ripen deeply. You definitely would not have confused this Angels Gate 2016, $17.95, with an example from California, but it still appeals to those who prefer the lighter reds.

The next wine up both surprised and pleased the tasters. Flavours of bright red fruit – tart cherry and berry? - were expansive and deep with a cedary note, even a sense of leather and jolt of acidity on the finish. Gentle tannins added a satisfying tinge of bitterness to the wine.

The sense of leather might be a clue to identifying the Henry of Pelham Old Vines Baco Noir 2016, $19.95. Baco is a hybrid, one of those grapes developed for cold climates, but which have never had the popularity of the “noble” grapes from Europe; however, Baco thrives in Ontario, and can make very good wine.

The final wine tasted blind had a very clean entry, displaying deep dark fruit and even licorice, and left the mouth coated with tannins despite its lifted acidity. Most definitely red, and age-worthy. Tasted sooner, it could have over-whelmed the others. This was another varietal that was elusive, but one for which Ontario should be celebrated.

Here was another of Marc Pistor’s wines, the Fogolar 2015 Cabernet Franc, $22. This varietal thrives here and is arguably Ontario’s benchmark red. Given a chance to breathe, this wine opens up beautifully – a real pleasure.  

With blindfolds removed, the difference in hue as we progressed through the reds was obvious, from a pale ruby to an inky, almost opaque purple. 

The wines were re-tasted with the sense of sight added, and all were enjoyed and the identifications made.

Following the blind tasting, appetizers were served, with four additional wines accompanying them.

There were two additional whites. “Selfie” from the Megalomaniac Winery, is a blended white. The owner, John Howard, makes back-handed digs at pretension with the names he gives his wines, including Narcissist Riesling, Pompous Red, and Bubblehead Sparkling Rosé.

The 2016 Selfie, $17.95, is a blend of 3 aromatic varietals, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay Musqué. It has bright citrus overtones and a refreshing crispness. Time spent on the lees (the bits of grape that fall to the bottom of the barrel or tank during fermentation and aging) has added roundness and depth to the palate. Selfie is only available at the winery.

The second white was the iconic Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013, $35.20, which is crafted at Stratus. The fruit comes from vines which were 36 years old at the time.  Theoretically medium-dry, the minerality and acidity on the finish assure that it is balanced, with very good texture and poise, carrying flavours of ripe orchard fruit.  Each sip has us craving another. The 2014 is available in many LCBO stores, as well as at the winery, or 905-468-1806.

Two fine red blends from Inniskillin’s Discovery Series available at its Wine Rack stores topped off the evening. They capture our interest particularly because they are blends of wine produced both in British Columbia and Ontario.  .

The East-West Merlot Cabernet 2016, $17.95, combines Merlot from the East with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from the West. Wonderful depth here, with dark fruit and even a sense of tobacco and pepper, along with enough tannin to suggest it would continue to improve in the bottle. This will be a great wine to drink when the steaks start sizzling on the barbecue this summer – or even with ribs right now!

The companion East-West Cabernet Shiraz 2016, $17.95, switches things up, with Cabernet Franc from Ontario and Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz from the Okanagan. While it also possesses inky dark fruit, it makes a silky entry with a slightly sweeter impression. Less tannin is immediately apparent, though it does linger on the tongue, lightly. It also has grace notes of spice and mocha.  

Both these wines really deliver at this price point, and they are wines you will want to revisit, time and again.

In addition to these East-West wines, the grocery store Wine Boutiques carry both the Henry of Pelham Old Vines Noir and the Angels Gate Pinot Noir, along with many other attractive Ontario offerings.  

From all reports, the CNIB “Wine in the Dark” event was enjoyed by all, so “hats off” to Dorothy Macnaughton and Larry Knapp, the United Way of Sault Ste. Marie, and the wineries which gave it their generous support – Big Head, Fogolar, Megalomaniac, Stratus, and the Wine Rack.

April 28 Vintages Release

Vintages is strongly promoting on-line sales. We don’t know how this may impact on product levels on Vintages shelves in stores, but the system will work well for people who are willing to place orders starting on the day of the release. The LCBO website will list how many bottles are available. 

Purchases of $50 or more will enjoy free delivery to the store of your choice. Deliveries to your address will incur charges of $12 to $17 depending on the speed of delivery.  

Availability of product in Northern Ontario is generally limited compared to the south. I will add “order in” if wines mentioned aren’t heading north. For example, of the 16 wines featured in the Pacific Northwest promotion, only six are slated for Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins – still there are oodles of good wines everywhere. 

White Wines

Cotnari Grasa de Cotnari 2015, $14.95, is a rare, medium-sweet white only found in Romania, where there are less than 500 hectares planted. Vintages uses exactly the same description it applied to the 2014… so I guess the wine is consistent! Expect a ripe round wine with “suggestions of walnuts, almonds and apricot.” (Order-in, Timmins)

Chateau Vignol Blanc 2016, $15.95, an “Entre-Deux Mers” from Bordeaux, is a blend with Sauvignon Blanc leading the way. A gold medal winner in Paris, it promises citrus, gooseberry and pea pod – classic for SB- along with peach and mineral notes according to Vintages.

Brampton Sauvignon Blanc 2016, $15.95, from South Africa’s Western Cape is described by the John Platter Guide as displaying “bold tropical notes sewn with grass, asparagus, and green fig.  Refreshing and delicious.” (Order in)

Flat Rock Chardonnay 2016, $19.95, from Niagara, is aged in French oak and comes across as round and smooth with ample fruit and buttery notes leading to a crisp conclusion.


Medeiros Rosé 2017, $12.95 is a great Portuguese value, with zippy red berry/cherry fruit along with lemony citrus.  A few bottles purchased now will serve when the weather, finally, heats up.

(JP Azeitão Syrah Rosé Bacalhoa 2017, $8.90, also from Portugal, is an interesting comparison from the regular list. The flavours remind me of blood orange, and there is a tinge of bitterness that suggest citrus peel. The depth is good, and the price is right.)

Duca Catemario Collezione Privata Pinot Grigio Rosé 2017, $15.95, from Italy’s Friuli region, is one of the few rosés we will encounter that is actually made from a white grape… well almost white. The grape itself has a pinkish grey skin that can give the wine its light pink hue. Vintages suggests “vibrant flavours of apple peel, nectarine, grapefruit and rhubarb.” (Order in for Timmins)

Red Wines

Balbas Barrica 5 Meses Old Vines Tempranillo 2015, $14.95, is a Spanish red offering “deep purple cherry, intense memories of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cinnamon, cedar, scrubland minerals and herbs.” (Did they leave anything out?) Guia de Vinos Gourmets – 91.

Los Haroldos Estate Blend Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot 2014, $14.95, from Argentina, carries a Decanter 96 – “complexity and class…a full-bodied palate with a pure fruit expression and fine tannins. Finishes long.”

Nederburg Manor House Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, $16.95. Giving this wine a chance to breathe lifts its red berry fruit, and helps it to hold its own against the soft but definite tannins. This would serve very well with a roasted leg of lambPlatter’s South African Wine Guide gives it four out of five stars.

Morandé Gran Reserva Carmenère 2014, $17, from Chile really emphasizes the fruit, and manages to avoid the stemmy green element mid-palate that can plague Carmenères that don’t ripen sufficiently. Expect dark fruit, spice and herb notes.  

Saint-Roch Vielles Vignes Syrah/Grenache 2015, $16.95, from the Roussillon in France is “ripe, sexy, sweetly fruited and medium to full-bodied. It offers irresistible notes of blackberry jam, spice and hints of licorice.” -90.

From the April 14 Release

Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, $19.95 from South Africa was on the April 14 release. 46 bottles are still available on-line. This comes on clean and rich in dark cherry fruit and plum. The tannins are apparent at the end, but the Platter guide calls it “warm hearted and suavely charming.” Invite it to dinner.