A liquid lunch with winemaker Richard Karlo

I tried much more food than I did wine Saturday at the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival — a cheap drunk, don’t you know — but the sips that I had, I liked. A lot.

Call me narrow-minded, but all the wines I tasted came from Karlo Estates, a two-year-old Prince Edward Country premium winemaker located just outside Wellington. How did I latch on to Karlo out of the myriad of grape-based choices in the Ottawa Convention Centre? Simple. I had enjoyed the Karlo pairings with the Taste of Kingston dinner I had eaten Friday (a pinot noir, a five-varietal blend called Quintus and a white port with chef Clark Day’s three courses) and I wanted to tell Karlo in person.

At the Karlo booth, part of the Kingston Accommodation Partners cluster numbered 1-6 in the festival program, it turned out at that owner/winemaker Richard Karlo is an amiable and knowledgeable pitch man for his products, even if their quality and, even in some cases, uniqueness speak volumes on their own. I popped by expecting to make some small talk, and the next thing you know, it was tasting time.

Karlo, a former civil engineer who jumped into wine-making following the auto industry crash of 2008, started me off with a bit of his 2011 Frontenac Gris Rose. I’m more of a wine liker than a connoisseur with a superhuman olfactory powers, but I certainly found that Karlo’s description of this wine as ripe with the flavours of strawberry, cherry and rhubarb resonated deliciously.

The next sample he poured was from a bottle with a special descriptor, a so-called Chardonnay “CHOA.” The acronym stands for Cherry, Hickory, Oak and Ash and it describes the mixed woods, all grown in Prince Edward County, used in the barrels in which the Chardonnay is aged for three months. It did live up Karlo’s promise of a unique nose and flavour profile. I thought there was some smokiness to the wine, and I see that that was one component mentioned in the wine pro’s exhaustive description here. David Ort said of the Chardonnay CHOA:

Honeyed peach, stewed pear and citrus aromas are joined on the nose by the very subtle note of bacon (hickory) and baseball (ash). It carries a medium-plus weight on the palate and surprisingly subtle barrel flavours that lend much less vanilla than usual and reminded me of a spoonful of bread pudding with lots of the toasty brown bits…  a lush wine with a faint hint of smokiness

Not having eaten since breakfast, I was keen to try Karlo’s wines with some food, and indeed, he said that his tried to make wines in a food-friendly style. Fortunately, he had handy canapes made by chef Day. First, a bit of rye with some tasty Seed to Sausage speck and roasted pepper and chive cheese went down easy with Karlo’s pinot noir.

You might think — especially if you are a pairing doofus like me — that something that Day called the Triology of Fire (spicy spelt focaccia, hot grainy, mustard, fire pickles, Seed to Sausage chorizo) would be a challenge to match with a bottle. Karlo poured me some some of his “Fifth Element” a showcase for Petit Verdot grapes grown in Niagara, and thought its pepperiness would suit Day’s creation. I thought that the canape got the best of the wine, but the wine by itself was a real treat. Karlo’s boothmate Sherry Martin said of the Fifth Element: “We call this one the Kool-Aid,” meaning that once you try it, you join the Petit Verdot cult. All I can say is that I’m curious to try more of that varietal.

Karlo asked me if I wanted to try some of his white port, and I demurred, saying that I had had it the night before. He proposed the red port as an alternative, and it is a potent, juicy one, which I happened to drink in concert with Day’s chocolate ginger cheesecake on AquatTerra pound cake (AquaTerra is the name of Day’s restaurant on Kingston’s waterfront). Karlo’s red port was chosen as one of a Top 10 Cutting Edge Wines in the World at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show in Toronto, and I could see myself wanting to serve some of it and give some of it away at Christmas.

That will mean ordering the wine online from Karlo, as he is not yet in the LCBO. He also sells from the winery, of course, and his wines are available at such Ottawa restaurants as Back Lane Cafe, Juniper, Zen Kitchen,  Burnt Butter, Le Cafe, Perspectives and 327 Wine Bar.


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