What’s WSET you ask?
WSET the Wine and Spirits Education Trust offers educational programs for people in the wine and spirits business. My cousin Paul has a WSET Diploma Level 4 which provides specialist-level knowledge in wine and spirits, for both the trade professional and serious wine enthusiast.
Paul is an architect in the UK but his company supports life long learning, so when asked what he’d like to take courses in, he chose WSET. Although it has nothing to do with his work, it gives focus to a lot of his travel choices.
He took classes once a week for two years. The course involved written papers on wine regions, styles, viticulture, vinification and marketing as well as blind tastings similar to those on WineAlign‘s annual So You Think You Know Wine Challenge videos requiring experts to identify the grape variety, region, quality and age of a selection of anonymous wines.
When Paul visited us in Ontario, he wanted a wine tour in Prince Edward County which included a visit to Norman Hardie’s Winery. The Wine Society of UK of which he is a member imports cases of Norm’s unfiltered County Pinot Noir and Norm’s Niagara Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
So we planned a wine tour of a selection of County wineries.
Our first stop was at Closson Chase whose reputation has rivaled that of Norm Hardie’s over the years. Just mentioning that Paul had his WSET diploma was magical, and we had a serious wine tasting with bottles appearing from back rooms that were nowhere on the tasting list. Although there were two Chardonnays, that really caught his attention, he bought a bottle of the 2014 Vineyard Chardonnay.
“it is more focused and precise and has a good balance at this stage. No doubt the more expensive one would have been better in the long term, but I doubt if I could have kept my hands off it that long.”he explained.
A little further down the road we stopped at Trail Estates Winery, this is still quite a new winery and is currently undergoing expansion to add a separate tasting room and rental chalets. It’s new winemaker / viticulturalist, MacKenzie Brisbois, who had interned with Norman Hardie for several years, was wrapped in yards of hose and cleaning out tanks so the owner, Anton Sproll, was happy to give us a tasting.
MacKenzie has been experimenting with different approaches to Riesling, the most expensive was a very dry Riesling which had had more skin contact than usual, increasing the flavour without increasing the sugar content. Paul was particularly impressed with her wild fermented riesling using the natural yeasts of the vineyard.
We arrived at Norman Hardie’s in time for lunch to try out his famous wood fired pizza. The line-up was half an hour long, so we went upstairs for our wine tasting while we waited. Sadly Norm was in Niagara harvesting, but I had emailed ahead and he had Spike take care of us. The winery had just sent a shipment of wine to The Wine Society that morning, so Paul was given ambassadorial treatment. Paul described the visit as unforgettable.
He was ecstatic “Not only did they let me taste just about everything they had, but what they had was of such high quality. Expensive, yes, but their Pinot Noirs were exceptional, and compared well with other new world Pinots I’ve tasted around the globe. I have to say I preferred his Prince Edward County wines to his Niagara wines. Let’s hope he can put Prince Edward County wines on the world stage. The star of the show for me was the Unfiltered County Pinot Noir, absolutely delicious, delicate, multi-layered fruit and lovely perfume.”
He decided to take a bottle of the County Cabernet Franc 2014 back home with him, explaining, “I really enjoyed the Pinot Noir but I’m expecting that will be shipped to the UK shortly. In the meantime, I will be talking to someone at the Society when I get back about stocking the Cabernet Franc which was delicious as well.”
This was our first time eating pizza at Norm Hardie’s – it won’t be my last. The pizza and the wine were expensive and the ambiance a little rough but the lunch was delicious and the Cabernet Franc which we all chose was a perfect pairing, full-bodied, with rich dark berry flavours. Well worth the wait and the price.
Our tour also included a stop at Karlo Estates. He really enjoyed the whites, and the Van Alstine white fortified wine. We went on to Sandbanks Estate Winery , where his wife Anne enjoyed the Baco Noir and a late harvest white. We cut across country to see the view of Adolphus Reach from The Miller House at Lake on the Mountain Resort and we ended our tour at The Waring House for supper.
I’d like to thank everyone for their warm welcome and especially Norm Hardie who rolled out the red carpet just based on my request. I hope that order for Cabernet Franc from the Wine Society comes through.
The Cabernet Franc is the red we always pick up at Norm Hardy as well as his County Chardonnay. You don’t need to have a WSET level 4 to appreciate good wine, but it certainly makes for an incredible wine tasting experience when you tour with someone who does!