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What’s New at the LCBO – August 2015

Between our VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide and Steve Thurlow’s top picks from the LCBO Wines, we have the whole store covered each and every month.

What’s New at the LCBO in August
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

The LCBO does not release many new wines mid-summer, but I was able to find a few new wines to tell you about since I last reported. Some are on shelf already; the rest will arrive over the next few weeks. Consequently, I have reprised below five additional wines that arrived over the last few months that are great value and are worthy of a second mention.

The wines on the shelves at the LCBO are constantly changing and I am tasting new ones all the time. Many favourites are always there but the range and variety is gradually being updated.

Anyway, I suggest you read on, pick a few that appeal and then sign in to WineAlign to check on inventory at your local LCBO, which should be set up as your Favourite Store in Find Wine at WineAlign.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

REDS

Lavau 2011

Quinta Do Valdoeiro 2013

Domaine La Gardie Merlot 2013

Domaine La Gardie Merlot 2013, Vin De Pays d’ Oc, Midi, France ($10.95)
This opaque purple red wine is a great buy for a pure clean structured red. Not a lot of complexity but well balanced for cheese and meat dishes.

Quinta Do Valdoeiro Baga, Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah 2011 Bairrada, Portugal ($12.95)
A fresh lively blend of the indigenous grape baga with two other grapes. Try with roast meats.

Lavau 2011, Côtes Du Rhone Villages, Rhone, France ($12.90)
A very youthful 2011 Rhone red, lively with mild tannin. It’s mid-weight and fleshy with nice sweet and sour tension. Very good length.

Faustino V Tempranillo Rosado 2014, Rioja, Spain ($12.90)
This shocking pink rosé is hard to miss on the shelf in its distinctive tall bottle, so grab a few and enjoy with mildly flavoured meat dishes. Don’t overchill or you might miss the good stuff! Best 2015 to 2016.

Creekside Cabernet Merlot 2013 v2

Kir Yianni Paranga 2012

Faustino V Tempranillo Rosado 2014Charles Tort Côtes Du Rhone Old Vines 2013 Rhone Valley France ($13.40) A fruity and spicy southern Rhone red that’s brimming with fruit yet has the structure for food. Try with a steak. (No image available)

Kir Yianni Paranga 2012, Macedonia, Greece ($13.70)
This is a modern styled red blend with little evidence of its Greek origin. It is full bodied and quite vibrant with very good length. Try with lamb cutlets.

Creekside Cabernet Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($14.95)
An opaque fruity complex red with a refined pure nose of cherry fruit with herbal and floral tones. It is mid-weight to full-bodied with a fine tannin structure and lemony acidity. Try with a steak.

Erben Pinot Noir Reserve 2013, Rheinhessen, Germany $15.45
A soft fruity nicely structured pinot that would be good with roast pork. It is very pale but has some nice delicate aromas of cherry and plum fruit.

Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014

Les Trois Couronnes 2013

Erben Pinot Noir Reserve 2013Les Trois Couronnes 2013, Crozes Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France ($17.65)
A cellar worthy syrah-rich red that would go well with a steak. Fruity, yet structured with an appealing nose.

WHITES

Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($12.95)
A well priced, fresh aromatic juicy white from Fielding Estate; good for sipping but fine also for seafood or chicken appetizers.

~

We would love to get your feedback on this report. Meanwhile check out my list of Top 50 wine values by dipping into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste. In two week’s time I will be back with a look at the updated list in our WineAlign’s Top 20 Under $20 report.

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!


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The Hidden Sea of Change

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What’s New at the LCBO – July 2015

Between our VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide and Steve Thurlow’s top picks from the LCBO Wines, we have the whole store covered each and every month.

Tour de France, Portugal, Spain, Ontario …
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

The French section of the LCBO has been refreshed with several new wines for around $18 from Bordeaux and the Rhône. I have picked four that I recommend plus some new well priced selections from Ontario and New Zealand. The LCBO has also added to the Portuguese and Spanish sections, so  you can find several new wines in your local store to try.

The wines on the shelves at the LCBO are constantly changing and I am tasting the new ones all the time. Many favourites are always there but the range and variety is gradually being updated. I have selected eleven new wines that have refreshed the system out of the 70 or so that I have tried since I last reported. Some are on shelf already; the rest will arrive over next few weeks.

Anyway, I suggest you read on, pick a few that appeal, then sign in to WineAlign to check on inventory at your local LCBO which should be set up as your Favourite Store in Find Wine at WineAlign.

You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to reviews of great value wines!

REDS

Quinta Do Valdoeiro Baga, Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah 2011 Bairrada, Portugal ($12.95) – A fresh lively blend of the indigenous grape baga with two other grapes. Try with roast meats.

Las Mulas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 Chile ($12.95) – A pure flavourful organic cabernet for a great price.

Chateau Fort Lignac 2012, Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($18.95) – A dense oaky modern Bordeaux ready for fine dining now or into your cellar for later.

Quinta Do Valdoeiro Las Mulas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 Chateau Fort Lignac 2012 Lavau 2011 Chateau Haut Langlade 2012 Chateau Tour Carmail 2011

Lavau 2011, Cotes Du Rhone Villages, Rhone, France ($12.90) – A very youthful 2011 Rhone red, lively with mild tannin.

Chateau Haut Langlade 2012, Montagne Saint Emilion, Bordeaux, France ($19.95) – A juicy red Bordeaux with some cellar potential but great now with roast meats or mature cheese.

Chateau Tour Carmail 2011, Haut Medoc, Bordeaux, France ($19.95) – A classically styled Bordeaux that has a traditional French feel to it; balance, oak and length are all good.

WHITES

Fasto Verdejo 2014, Rueda Spain ($11.30 + 6 BAMs until July 18th) – Rueda is the hot category for inexpensive fresh dry whites in Europe these days. The wines from this region are made from the verdejo grape. This fresh pure dry white should help the cause in ON. Try with seafood, chicken and mildly flavoured veal.

Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($12.95) – A well priced fresh aromatic juicy white from Fielding Estate; good for sipping but fine also for seafood or chicken appetizers.

Fasto Verdejo 2014 Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014 Banero Extra Dry Prosecco Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2013

Banero Extra Dry Prosecco, Veneto, Italy ($14.05) – This juicy fresh prosecco is well priced with nice clean lines, a soft mousse and explosive flavours. It is also kosher certified.

Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand ($15.90) -A crisp classic kiwi sauvignon for a good price. Sautéed seafood or creamy goats cheese would both be good food matches.

Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara ($23.95 VINTAGES Essentials) – An elegant nervy very typical Niagara riesling. A very versatile food wine.

*****

We would love to get your feedback on this report. Meanwhile check our my list of Top 50 wine values by dipping into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste. In two week’s time I will be back with a look at the updated list in our WineAlign’s Top 20 Under $20 report.

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!


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Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay


International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 30 – Part One

Pinot Noir’s New World and Ontario Whites
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Nowadays I am having a barrel of fun tasting and tracking pinot noir’s global gallop. The selection coming May 30 to VINTAGES in Ontario is a clinic on the state of affairs.

When I starting following pinot noir in the mid 80s it was an almost monastic, local grape variety turning out occasionally brilliant wines on a slope called the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, France. With over 400 years of experience they had pretty much figured out that this thin-skinned, nervous and unpredictable grape variety had a knack for showing its place or origin. To taste a line-up of pinots from Burgundy from the same vintage and same producer but different appellations – a horizontal tasting – is still the most important thing an inquisitive wine fan can do for him or herself. It is an indelible lesson on terroir.

For most of the past 30 years the wine world has tended to believe that Burgundy – because it was the first and sometimes brilliant – was the only place where pinot noir could possibly be interesting and of high quality. But of course that is not true. A grape that can show terroir in one place can show terroir anywhere. And what we are now enjoying is the rooting of pinot noir in distinctive terroirs around the world.

The only unifier is a certain preferred climate where it is fairly cool through latitude, altitude or proximity to maritime influence to preserve essential acid tension and fruit purity. The pinot vine can actually grow in different soil types, where it will render different textural nuances, and although styles may vary, quality need not. That is in the hands of the winemakers, and pinot winemakers are among the most serious in the world.

I have been paying a lot of attention to New World pinot through my career – it being a focus of my first extended wine travel in 1984, in California. Yes California, where it was supposed to be too hot for pinot. But go tell that to Josh Jensen who had established Calera, Dick Graff at Chalone, the Carneros pioneers at Acacia and Saintsbury, Jim Clendenen at Sanford in Santa Barbara, or Santa Cruz Mountains men like Martin Ray who planted pinot in the sixties. Even Tim Mondavi, back in his exuberant youth was enthralled by California pinot, and we opened a few together in 1984. My personal taste affair with good California pinot has continued ever since, as long as sweetness and confection do not interfere.

Most recently my attention has shifted to New Zealand, which I have visited three times in two years. I think it is the most exciting pinot region outside of Burgundy. Pinot noir is the country’s most important red variety and it grows very well in the cooler southern half of the country. There are many terroirs here, and I have gone over-length in a recent article published here to outline what I think are 24 pinot noir appellations. But I am equally intrigued by pinots in other southern hemisphere locales in the past five years, and how they show their origin. And of course I have written a lot about pinot in Canada. Even Germany, the world’s third largest producer of pinot noir (Spatburgunder) could be considered a “newish world” for pinot.

Beyond the terroir hunting, what I like most about New World pinot is a certain fruit lift, exuberance and drinkability. Great Burgundy can be ethereal, and I have had some NW pinots that get close to that as well. But what I enjoy just as much is simply drinking a fresh, yet complex and generous pinot noir. And that is what this VINTAGES collection offers. They are interesting enough to be discussed, yet generous enough to be enjoyed, ideally with a light chill, from a large, fine rimmed glass, on the deck before, during and after dinner.

Here are our picks, and interestingly almost every pinot in the release has been “picked” by one or more of us. Such is the individuality of pinot, and in a weird way, its greatest strength.

The Pinots

Auntsfield 2012 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand ($29.95)

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Pinot Noir 2013 Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012David Lawrason – I am delighted to see Southern Valleys on the label! This is a large “unofficial” but increasingly obvious sub-district of Marlborough where pinots are growing on gravel/clay soils. There are very exciting terroir-driven pinots in the five southern valleys that each might one day have their own appellation – Fairhall, Ben Morven, Omaka, Brancott, Waihopi. This is lovely, very expressive pinot from a cooler year, although still showing considerable ripeness.
Sara d’Amato – David Herd, one of New Zealand’s forefather’s of wine, was responsible for planting the first of Auntsfield’s grapes in 1873. Needless to say, Auntsfield is one of New Zealand’s oldest wineries and produces a masterful pinot noir.
John Szabo – The Cowley family now runs Auntsfield, an established regional leader in the Southern Valleys sub-region widely acknowledge as the best spot for pinot noir in Marlborough. This is a wine of pure pleasure, not massive structure, well balanced, juicy and succulent. I love the immediate drinkability; serve with a light chill. Best 2015-2020.

Rosehall Run 2013 Hungry Point Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95)

David Lawrason – Being a County pinot this is a light weight among others in this release, but it does have great aromatic lift and cool climate pinot cranberry-sour cherry fruit. It is not as deep as Dan Sullivan’s more expensive JCR pinot, but there is great piquancy and charm here. County to its roots.
Sara d’Amato – Every time I taste this pinot noir (now for the third time) that is quickly coming into its own, it becomes more and more enjoyable. It is produced on the legendary “Hungry Point” site which surrounds Rosehall Run and is formerly known for its inability to produce sustenance. It is now a premium, nutrient-poor growing site for coaxing out only the most concentrated flavours from the berries.

Argyle 2012 Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95)

John Szabo – Although Argyle started off in the late 1980s as a dedicated sparkling wine producer (launched by Brian Croser of Petaluma fame and Bollinger champagne, among others), it was quickly realized that fine table pinot noir could also be produced in the region. This Reserve is made from Argyle’s top lots in the Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills AVAs and their predominantly volcanic-Jory soils, yielding a perfumed, lightly floral, silky-textured pinot, well-tuned to this ripe vintage. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – This nicely defines Oregon’s pinot place, a cross-hatching of ripeness and tension. Look for pretty aromas of fresh red cherry jam, spice, herbs and light toast. There is elevated youthful tannin, so I would give it a year or two – and it should last admirably for five.

Argyle Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2012 Saint Clair Premium Pinot Noir 2013 O'Leary Walker Pinot Noir 2012

Montes 2012 Limited Selection Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($14.95)

David Lawrason – Pinot Noir in Chile is a relatively recent endeavour, and not yet considered a whole-hearted success. But Chilean pinot is developing a signature that echoes its cabernets and carmeneres reds, showing lifted blackcurrant, fragrant rosemary like herbaceousness derived from its local “garrigue” called boldos. This is ultra-fresh, juicy and lively. And very well priced.

Saint Clair 2013 Premium Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – I was instantly enamored by this juicy and succulent Marlborough pinot noir offering plenty of verve and a very pleasant note of red currant jelly. This consistently good value producer is most known in Ontario for their sauvignon blanc and it is no surprise that their pinot noir is of equal and perhaps better quality.

O’Leary Walker 2012 Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The western edge of the forest clad hills above the city of Adelaide offer the best pinot noir conditions in all of South Australia. O’Leary Walker is based in the Clare Valley two hours away but the family has Adelaide Hills holdings with vines planted in the 90s. Very lifted aromatics here and it is fresh and juicy with considerable tannin.

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Jekel Pinot Noir 2012 Migration Pinot Noir 2013

Frei Brothers 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, USA ($27.95)

John Szabo – This nicely captures the approachable nature of RRV pinot without slipping into excesses of fruit, oak or ripeness. I like the punchy and edgy nature, with balanced fruit and alcohol, herbal and earthy character playing nicely to all preference camps. Best 2015-2020.

Jekel 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California  ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Bill Jekel is well regarded as an influential and boundary-pushing producer who was instrumental in the creation of a Monterey AVA. If you enjoy this both substantial and elegant pinot, the Jekel riesling is also one to watch for.

Migration 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, USA ($44.95)

David Lawrason – Migration is the Sonoma wing of the Duckhorn flock. And it has the lovely raspberry and florality that I love in Russian River pinot, with just a touch of evergreen foresty character. It’s delicate, fruity and well balanced.

Ontario Whites

Hidden Bench 2013 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95)

Lailey Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012 Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013John Szabo – One of the province’s top riesling producers, Hidden Bench regularly delivers quality far above the average, proving there’s no substitute for meticulous farming. The 2013 estate bottling is clean, pure, crisp, dry and firmly structured, and even though this is the “mere” estate blend, it could easily sit among the top single vineyard bottlings in the region.
David Lawrason – This is a very complete and complex riesling; a dandy statement to riesling’s prowess on the Beamsville Bench.

Redstone 2012 Limestone Vineyard South Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Redstone is a Tawse owned property that will begin to make its mark in the summer of 2015 when it opens, complete with a restaurant. This riesling comes from the Limestone Vineyard over near Flat Rock on Twenty Mile Bench. The ripe 2012 vintage has provided generous peach, honey and petrol character.

Lailey 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula Canada, Ontario ($14.95)

John Szabo – Unoaked chardonnay is rarely a category that excites, but Derek Barnett has managed to coax an unusual amount of flavour out of this 2013. It’s vaguely nutty and creamy, but still lively and crisp and genuinely dry, and altogether more “serious” than the price would imply. In other words, it’s a great buy for serious Tuesday night sipping.

Other Whites and Rosé

Château De Sancerre 2013 Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The only ‘chateau’ in Sancerre is owned by Marnier-Lapostolle, the company that produces Grand Marnier liqueur, and also owns Casa Lapostolle in Chile. This is a beautifully refined, delicate and fresh sauvignon to reserve for delicate seafood occasions.

Maison Roche De Bellene 2012 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay, Burgundy, France ($20.95)

Sara d’Amato – Tremendous value alert! This entry level Burgundy is anything but simple exhibiting a leesy texture, fresh acids and delicately integrated oak. Although this chardonnay would certainly prove versatile with food, I recommend sipping on its own, barely below room temperature.

Château De Sancerre 2013 Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Gewurztraminer 2010 Castello Di Ama Rosato 2014

Domaines Schlumberger 2010 Kessler Gewurztraminer, Alsace Grand Cru, France ($33.95)

John Szabo – Gewurztraminer is the most planted grape in this 28ha grand cru in the village of Guebwiller, and Schlumberger its most emblematic producer. The pink sandstone seems tailor-made to produce a terrifically rich, exotically ripe and plush, opulent style, such as this. The 2010 vintage also yielded wines with brilliant acids, which in this case beautifully balance the considerable residual sugar. A textbook lesson in Alsatian GW. Best 2015-2022.

Castello Di Ama 2014 Rosato, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – Lending some credibility to the rosé category, the famed Chianti Classico producer, Castello di Ama, has put forth an undeniably sophisticated blend of merlot and sangiovese. Sourced from high-quality, low-yielding old vines, this rosé was certainly not a mere afterthought, as are many commercial pink wines.

~

That is enough for this week, and what a busy week it has been at WineAlign. We have published an Ontario Wine Report update on Prince Edward County, and have released our 7th instalment of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”. (We get better folks!). We are also ramping up for the National Wine Awards of Canada that are just a month away in Niagara Falls. We are pleased to announce that Jamie Goode will be joining us again from the UK. British Columbia wineries are rapidly reaching their shipping deadline and the response has been excellent, so now it’s time for Ontario wineries to ante-up and register their wines. In recent years the medal performance of B.C. and Ontario has nicely evened out.

John will be here next week covering the substantial southern Rhône Valley collection on the May 30 release.

Until then.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 30, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


Taste the soul of Portugal

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Ontario Wine Report – May 2015

Prince Edward County
by David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In the wake of two major Prince Edward County tastings in recent weeks (County in the City in Toronto and WineAlign’s trip to Terroir in Picton) I offer thoughts, opinions and reviews on the “state of the County”. Having followed the County from the days in the late 90s when vineyards were first being planted – and before wine was made – I have a perspective that is historical, sentimental and critical (as wine critics are supposed to have). It’s a tough balancing act, but in the end I am writing about what’s in the bottle for those who are buying it. This year at Terroir I encountered everything from great highs to significant lows, but overall the playing field is evening out, prices are moderating a bit, and the palette of wine styles and varieties is broadening and becoming more colourful.

New Wineries

The official Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association touring map for 2015 lists 34 wineries. But not everyone joins associations, so there are at least three others to my knowledge that are not on the official touring map. There are four new wineries this year (within the past 12 months or so) – Broken Stone, Darius, Trail and Traynor. I see real potential in three, and I have not yet tasted Darius.

Traynor Family Vineyard has a great locale at the junction of Loyalist Parkway and Danforth Road just south of Hillier. Mike Traynor has been “in the game” in Ontario wine for over a decade. He began and trained at the former Willow Heights in Niagara, then moved out to make wine at the ambitious but short-lived Oak Heights in the Northumberland Hills northeast of Cobourg. He purchased his current acreage in Hillier in 2008 and opened late last year. A Niagara-bred sauvignon blanc was a hit at Terroir, but I also really liked a deft un-oaked chardonnay. Pinot Gris was good too, altho’ a bit sweet thanks to a stuck ferment. Good potential here; he will be joining the club with County fruit soon enough.

Broken Stone occupies an excellent site on Closson Road between Old Third and Closson Chase. Tim and Micheline Kuepfer have been planting their dream for over five years while holding down day jobs and residence in the GTA. They are focusing on chardonnay and pinot noir and the first releases show classic County lightness and minerality. No formal reviews yet after a quick encounter at Terroir.

Trail Estate has opened on Benway Road in the Hillier area, just south of Hinterland and Grange. It is owned by the Sproll family, with winemaker Dan Tweyman at the helm. Their own vineyards are very young, so everything so far is from Niagara fruit. Very modern, bright, squeaky clean winemaking here – liked their gewürztraminer. I will be watching them grow and move into County fruit with interest.

The Charmat Sparkling Trend

The bubbly gold rush is on. With Huff, Hinterland and Grange having proven there is great potential with traditional, more expensive ‘champenois’ method sparklers, the next wave is to produce bubbly that is simpler and less expensive. Everyone is jumping in. And County fruit – with its snappy acidity and aromatic fragrance – is the perfect ingredient for these simpler wines. Hinterland (the County’s sparkling wine specialist) is the incubator of the trend. From their barn at Closson Road and Benway they are equally (proudly) marketing sparklers from the traditional, charmat and ‘ancestral’ methods. The latter is bubbly produced by one fermentation with trapped CO2. And they have sub-contracted most of the sparkling charmat method wine production in the County. At the Terroir tasting on a hot May afternoon, the charmats proved popular including Lighthall Progression and a rose called the Fence, By Chadsey’s Cairns PTO, Huff’s Janine and Rosehall Run Pixie.

Vicki Samaras from Hinterland speaking sparkling to our tour group

Vicki Samaras from Hinterland speaking sparkling to the WineAlign tour group

 

The Rise of Riesling
(by Sara d’Amato)

If you have been to the County, you will have heard the analogy of the climate and soil types to that of Burgundy. Given the similarities, it is not surprising that premium vinifera growing is largely focused on chardonnay and pinot noir. However, riesling is beginning to make a play on the scene. The County’s crumbly limestone bedrock suits the varietal quite nicely but its need for slow ripening can be a challenge in a short growing season. In years past, most of the riesling produced was from small plantings of younger vines and thus was often blended with Niagara fruit – a region with an excellent track record with the grape.

My observations this time around on our recent trip to Terroir was that 100% County riesling is less of a rarity and more of a burgeoning new wine style. What had me curious was a misleading advert in the Toronto Star this past week from pec.on.ca claiming that Prince Edward County was home to more than 10,000 acres of riesling. Certainly, a comma was misplaced as that number is about 10 times less. Norman Hardie was kind enough to offer a tank sample of his very first 100% County riesling harvested in 2014 which I found quite riveting. However, as I mentioned, this is less of a rarity now as I discovered that several other producers were on the same wavelength. Examples certainly worth exploring include Chadsey’s Cairn (ahead in the riesling game), Half-Moon Bay and Sugarbush among others. These versions are light, lively and elegant – traits common to the County’s cooler climate

Other New and/or Singular Wines & Grape Varieties

It’s solidly established that pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and cabernet franc are the core County varietals, but every year Terroir turns out to be a testing ground for other ideas.

Traynor Family VineyardThe late Richard Karlo of Karlo Estates was famous as a quester after new wines, with his faith in the new Minnesota hybrid called Frontenac gris being well known. He also made a quite successful Sangiovese 2013, with a gentle nod to Tuscany in its mid-weight, currant and herbal style. WineAlign will be dedicating the 2015 National Wine Awards to Richard Karlo.

Del-Gatto Winery out past Waupoos on the Cressy Peninsula is also doing work with more obscure hybrids like leon millot and geisenheim (which Waupoos has also made) and they have combined it nicely with seyval blanc and chardonnay in a snappy blend called Dragonfly. Heidi Del-gatto also revealed they have made 12 cases of pinotage (South Africa’s famous crossing of cinsault and pinot noir) but it was not being poured at Terroir.

New Traynor Family has created Alta Red, a blend Saint Laurent and Marquette, the latter being another new Minnesota hybrid gaining converts in the coolest parts of the province.

I also took the opportunity re-visit By Chadsey Cairns 2013 Chenin Blanc, a classic Loire Valley white grape that could be more widely planted in the County.

The Annoying On-Going VQA Conundrum

Last year, for the first time, the Terroir Festival gained ‘farmers market’ status allowing wineries to sell bottles from their stands. The program continued this year. The hitch however is that farmers’ markets can only sell VQA wines, and there are many non-VQA wines being made in the County.

There are several reasons that a wine may not be submitted to or pass the VQA process, and all are somewhat controversial in their own right. But the most controversial for the County and other emerging regions in eastern and northern Ontario is that some wines are ineligible because they contain varieties not on the VQA list of authorized grapes. The list was created in the late 80s to screen out many “inferior’ varieties or those deemed unsuitable for Ontario’s climate; but we have learned a lot since then and many new cool climate varieties have emerged that can work in the province. VQA says it is reviewing the list, but it is taking a very long time.

So in the meantime, at Terroir there was a roped-off area in which the wineries with non-VQA wines were not allowed to sell direct. (And that’s just one of the financial penalties paid by non VQA wines). VQA was originally designed as a quality control and appellation guarantee mechanism, but it is become attached to all kinds of financial and distribution incentives or dis-incentives. In my view VQA should be a pure appellation system, and unhitched from financial consideration.

Twelve Highly Recommended County Wines

Based largely on tastings for the media at County in the City, here are twelve of the most highly recommended 100% PEC wines and yes many are from the most well established and experienced producers. Click to read my reviews and those by John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel.

Whites

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Rosehall Run J C R Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2014

Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013

Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2013

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2012

Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2013

Reds

Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2013

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013

The Grange Of Prince Edward County Diana Block Pinot Noir 2010

Huff Estates South Bay Merlot 2012

Rosehall Run Syrah Cuvée County “The Swinger” 2012

Cheers!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


The National Wine Awards of Canada

NWAC15 croppedThe National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.

The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.


Canadian Wineries on WineAlign

It’s easy to explore Canadian wines & wineries on WineAlign. From the menu bar simply choose Wine >> Wineries.  You can select by region or winery name, or use our interactive map. We are adding new wineries all the time, so please let us know if we are missing your favourite.

Canadian Wineries

You can also click on the winery name on any wine page (or as in David’s Links above) to be taken directly to the winery’s profile page where you can see more wines and reviews. Just remember to set your filters to “All Sources” and “Show wines with zero inventory” as winery wines are not linked to retail inventory.

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Acclaimed UK Wine Journalist Jamie Goode joins the Judging Team for the Nationals

National Wine Awards of Canada 2015May 19, 2015

 

We are delighted to announce that, for the second year in a row, acclaimed UK-based wine journalist Dr. Jamie Goode will be a part of our panel of judges in Niagara Falls, Ontario at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Jamie Goode new

Dr. Jamie Goode

Jamie’s experience in wine very much mirrors that of our regular judges, which made for a seamless fit inside the tasting room in 2014. Of course another view, and one from Europe, should prove useful to those wineries engaged in the competition and hoping to expand their export horizons.

Jamie first visited Ontario wine regions in 2013 during The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration and British Columbia wineries during his time at the Nationals in 2014. This year, he will again visit Ontario wineries as part of the judges’ tour.

After last year’s trip to the Okanagan to judge the National Wine Awards of Canada 2014, Jamie published “Thinking out loud about Canadian wine” on his blog wineanorak.com. He had this to say about the Nationals:

“The WineAlign judges are highly competent and well travelled, and it was painless judging with them. The organization of these wine awards, which involved opening over 4,000 bottles, pouring flights for each judge, and then collating the results in real time, was superb. Which means that judges can get on with the process of judging wine. The process was thorough, and every wine was given respect and time to show its best.” – Dr. Jamie Goode

Dr. Goode completed a PhD in plant biology and worked as a science editor before switching careers to wine writing. He’s a book author (The Science of Wine and Authentic Wine – both with University of California Press), writes a weekly wine column for a national newspaper (The Sunday Express), and blogs daily at wineanorak.com, one of the world’s most popular wine websites. An experienced wine judge, he’s a panel chair for the International Wine Challenge each year, and has judged wine in France, Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia. He tweets as @jamiegoode.


National Wine Awards of Canada 2015

The National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.

The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.

The Judges

There are subtle changes to our panel each year but for the most part the judges are comprised of some of Canada’s leading wine writers, journalists, sommeliers, buyers and industry professionals. The competition also seeks out new and emerging talent in the industry to be part of the panel. This blend of experience and enthusiasm, brought by judges from many regions across Canada, ensures a comprehensive view of the wine world’s most current state. (NWAC15 Judges)

You can follow the 2015 NWAC and our judges’ tweets from start to finish on Twitter @WineAlign and look for the hashtag #NWAC15 .


Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , ,

County in the City 2015 – Try and Buy Event with Special Offer

Join us on Thursday, April 16, at Airship 37 in the Distillery District for the 4th Annual County in the City, and sample some of the best wines Prince Edward County has to offer!  Over 20 small-batch and family-owned wineries will sample more than 50 different wines, including many vintage and specialty wines.

County in the City

This is the place to taste and buy some of Canada’s top cool climate wines. Most you’ll never see outside of PEC.” – John Szabo MS

This tasting event will delight the palates of Torontonians and introduce them to some of the most enticing flavours of Prince Edward County; Ontario’s hottest growing wine region.

“‘County in the City’ is the most efficient way for city folk to slice and dice the fascinating and increasingly diverse range of Prince Edward County wines, most made in such small quantities that you will never see them at the LCBO.” – David Lawrason

Many of the County wines showcased at the event are not available at retail wine outlets in the GTA, so guests can take part in the “Try and Buy” program and have delicious County wines delivered right to their door. Mix and match bottles from different wineries and receive FREE shipping (minimum 6 bottles).

County in the City

Special Offer:

Buy a ticket to County in the City and receive a complimentary Thursday night (June 18th) ticket for the Toronto Wine and Spirits Festival ($20 value).  It’s the best outdoor wine beach party you’ve ever seen!

Event Details:

Thursday, April 16, 2014
Location: Airship 37 – 37 Parliament Street, Toronto Distillery District
Time:  5pm to 9pm
Tickets: $49.00 in advance (includes all wine and food samples)
Tickets: $60.00 at the door (subject to availability)

 Purchase Your Tickets Here

smWINE BERK 006

Participating Wineries:

Karlo Estates Winery
Lighthall Vineyards
Harwood Estate Vineyards
Norman Hardie Winery
Three Dog Winery
Stanners Vineyard
Keint-he Winery
Rosehall Run Winery
Casa Dea Estates Winery
Closson Chase
Sandbanks Estate Winery
Grange of Prince Edward County Vineyards and Estate Winery
Devils Wishbone
Huff Estates Winery
Trail Estate Winery
Black Prince Winery
By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery & Vineyard

 Purchase Your Tickets Here


About Airship 37
:

Airship 37Airship 37, nestled adjacent to the historic Distillery District, is the perfect backdrop for your momentous occasion.

Airship 37 is a blank canvas featuring 2 separate rooms and an outdoor space, each with its own individual look and feel. It is the venue of choice for car shows, product launches, cocktail and wedding parties, private functions and corporate events.

Please always drink responsibly. Take public transit or have a designated driver.


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Report on Cuvée and Expert’s Tasting 2015

Ontario Wine ReportMarch 16, 2015

by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

February 27, 2015 was a frigid day to set off to Niagara’s Fallsview Casino for Cuvée’s annual grand tasting and the first time I experienced the Falls frozen over, almost entirely so. Not only did the grand affair take place on the 27th but it was also the 27th anniversary of the event.

The format has changed greatly over the years but this year, like several years before it, participant wineries were asked to have their winemakers present one wine of their choosing to the large gathering of consumers and media. At $200 a ticket, attendees were afforded the chance to hobnob with the winemakers (all in their finest black-tie garb) and enjoy some exquisite cuisine presented by the finest local Chefs.

The evening kicked off with Tony Aspler’s presentation of his annual Cuvée Award of excellence to Laurie Macdonald, the director of VQA. The soiree finished memorably as guests were treated to a selection of craft beers, sparkling wine and Icewine as the dance floor filled up, brought to life by live music at Après Cuvée.

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White wine highlights:

Riesling and chardonnay made their usual splashes at the Grand Tasting but there were some surprisingly lovely entries made of semillon, chenin blanc and pinot gris.

Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2013 Big Head Wines Chenin Blanc 2013 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2012

Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2013 ($22.95) – Organic and biodynamic production are the hallmarks of Southbrook but it is the attention to detail and an uncompromising approach that produces some of the region’s most memorable wines as well as its most unconventional and polarizing bottlings. This example is elegant, sublimely integrated, undeniably sophisticated and thankfully, well-priced.

Big Head Chenin Blanc 2013 ($22) – Prolific winemaker Andrezj Lipinski knocks it out of the park, once again, with this substantial, unctuous and widely-appealing chenin blanc from old vine Niagara Lakeshore fruit.

Cave Spring Cellars 2012 Riesling CSV, Beamsville Bench ($29.95) – I seem to be drawn in by the warmer vintages of Cave Spring’s CSV riesling and this example exhibits those notable flavours of petrol and passion fruit as well as a rich, tongue-coating texture and memorable length.

Red wine highlights:

Not surprisingly, gamay and cabernet franc were standouts in this year’s tasting and prove that Niagara has both the climate to produce consistently outstanding examples of these varietals and the gumption to craft fine, high-end examples.

Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2012 Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2010 Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012

Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2013 ($18.75) – Talented Winemaker Katie Dickenson, has been making a splash since her debut as Winemaker with Peller only three years ago. She continues to produce serious and noteworthy wines such as this Gamay, one of her favourite varietals – and it shows!

Two Sisters Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2010 ($48) – The buzz continues to grow about Two Sisters who have been officially open for less than a year but have captured the attention of top critics across the globe. Proprietors Angela and Melissa of the Marotta construction family have brought Adam Pearce, a Niagara College Wine and Viticulture graduate, to lead the winemaking team with his low interventionist methods.

Vineland Estates 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Niagara Peninsula ($40) – Soon to be released, this show-stopping Cabernet Franc is vibrant but meaty and substantial. It is a solid expression of the unique, high-quality and age-worthy style of cabernet franc of which Niagara is most capable of producing.

Expert’s Tasting

John Szabo

John being congratulated by Magdalena Kaiser and Zoltan Szabo

Once a year, a gathering of Ontario’s top winemakers, educators, sommeliers and wine critics are brought together by Brock University’s CCOVI for a day of academic discussion on the state of affairs of local, cool climate wine production and the unique potential of the industry. This is usually mixed with a little competitive joviality as attendees are asked to identify wines blind among international ringers. All in all, a chance to get serious after the Gala’s revelry.

The Expert’s tasting was hosted by the gregarious Jamie Drummond, Sommelier and wine and food journalist with Good Food Revolution who has been a long-term promoter of Ontario wines. Along with the wine flights, the coveted VQA Promoters Awards were presented by WineAlign principal critic Janet Dorozynski. Some notable mentions were the Media Award bestowed upon WineAlign’s very own John Szabo MS as well as the educator award to Evan Saviolidis, a past WineAlign World Wine Awards Judge. The Lifetime Achievement Award was rightfully granted to Len Pennachetti, proprietor of Cave Spring Cellars and a pioneer in the development of Ontario’s quality wine production. For a list of all the deserving recipients: http://Cuvée.ca/news/

A snapshot of four flights of note:

Legends Estates Pinot Gris Terroir 2013 Pelee Island Pinot Grigio 2013Flight #1: The beauty of the middle path – a discussion focused on pinot gris and pinot grigio lead by LCBO product manager, Ontario Wines, Astrid Brummer. Although Niagara produces both these distinctive styles, it is no surprise that pinot grigio is a much better marketing title.

No longer do the names on the label necessarily implicate the style of wine produced. That being said, many of Ontario’s dazzling pinot grigios seemed to prove a much greater value than one of LCBO’s top sellers, Santa Margherita our ringer of the flight.

Pelee Island 2013 Pinot Grigio, Ontario ($13.95) – Hailing from the most southern wine production area in Canada, Pelee Island winery is one of Ontario’s most visible wineries on the shelves of the LCBO. It has been some time since I have revisited this top selling, well-priced pinot grigio and I was pleasantly surprised by the wine’s clean, pure and elegant output.

Legends Estate 2013 Terroir Pinot Gris, Lizak Vineyards, Niagara-on the-Lake ($17.55) – Here is one fresh, crisp pinot gris that exhibits the lovely lightness and refreshing dryness more common in pinot grigio. Regardless of the name, it is certainly a focused and finely crafted pinot.

Flight #2: For whom the bell pepper tolls lead by Shiraz Mottiar, Malivoire winemaker

Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2013Our flight illustrated the wide diversity of sauvignon blanc present across Ontario. The region has yet to focus on a particular style but given the level of quality and the bold fruit tasted perhaps it shouldn’t. There was some consensus that perhaps the industry’s styles should be as diverse as our vintages.

Trius 2013 Clean Slate Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc, Niagara-on-the Lake Vineyard ($32) – As premium of a price as you can pay for sauvignon blanc in Niagara, this stylized sauvignon benefitted from a touch of oak and a good deal of creamy lees ageing. Its wild ferment only enhanced its local character.

Peller Estates 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Four Mile Creek ($30.20) – A riper style of sauvignon blanc almost devoid of the grassy, green vegetal notes characteristic of the varietal’s cool climate expression. A solid, well-made and appealing wine.

Flight #3 Weirdos, misfits and uprooted things with thoughts from Joshua Corea, Sommelier Archive Wine Bar

Sad to say goodbye to some of these uprooted varietals after our, literally, killer winter. With semillon and chenin blanc likely on the chopping block, some other varietals like viognier and gamay surprisingly took center stage.

Creekside 2013 Viognier Reserve, St. David’s Bench, Queenston Road Vineyard ($29.95) – Creekside has long been one of Niagara’s most important producer of this varietal. Call it a guilty pleasure, this lips-smacking viognier is a bombshell with epic flavour and impact.

Creekside Estate Winery Reserve Viognier 2013 Keint He Voyageur Gamay Noir 2013 Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2013

Flight #4 Hip Hip Gamay! Amelie Boury, Winemaker at Chateau des Charmes lead this rousing discussion on a topic that everyone in attendance seemed to champion. The excitement for gamay has certainly gained strength if the empty glasses and rapid-fire discussion were any indication.

Keint-He 2013 Voyageur Gamay Noir, Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($25.00) – This peppery beauty is indicative of a unique Niagara expression of gamay that is brimming with big aromatics and a great deal of charm.

Malivoire 2012 Courtney Gamay Noir, Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($25.95) – This top block from the winery’s estate puts the succulent fruit center stage. Malivoire’s gamays are consistently exciting and are among the top examples in Niagara.

That’s all for this year! I look forward to watching out for these many exciting Ontario trends in the year to come.

Santé!

Sara

From John Szabo: Cuvée 2015: Judging vs. Choosing and The Winemakers’ Stories

Cuvée Event Photo credit goes to: Fab Formisano

Brock-U-2015-Cuvee-Fab-122Brock-U-2015-Cuvee-Fab-295

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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County in the City

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Cuvée 2015: Judging vs. Choosing and The Winemakers’ Stories

Ontario Wine ReportMarch 16, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

It was a brittle and glacial February evening for the 27th annual Cuvée celebration of the Ontario wine industry at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls. Outside, the lampposts shivered and the iron railings surrounding the gorge groaned under a thick coating of ice. Even the mighty cataracts were given pause by the cold, struggling by the sheer force of gravity to stay fluid, while the normally raging Niagara River below had hardened into a solid sheet of snow-covered ice as if to blanket itself from the icy caress of another Canadian winter’s night.

Yet inside, it was all fireside warmth and smiles. Some seven hundred or more wine drinkers had overcome the darkness of cold and had gathered to warm their palates with fifty-two Ontario wines, the maximum expression of each vintner’s art and soul.

If you haven’t been to Cuvée in the last couple of years, things have changed. For the first twenty-four years of the event, the process of selecting the wines to be presented to the public was altogether different. The wines were chosen through a competition, judged by the winemakers themselves – winemakers judging the wines of their peers – a sort of Oscars of the Ontario wine world. Wineries would submit wines to the Cuvée Awards competition, and then winemakers would gather and taste them blind, in various categories, just as we do at WineAlign for the National and World Wine Awards of Canada. The top scoring wines were awarded the opportunity to be poured at the Cuvée Grand Gala, and the winemakers who came out on top of course earned bragging rights for the next twelve months.

But the awards-style process of selecting Cuvée winners was discarded like pressed grape skins in 2013, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the celebration. It was, as I’m told, a way of freshening up an event that had perhaps run its course. “We started to review ways to make enhancements to Cuvée and create a new format that would again be the first of its kind”, says Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario, who was on the Cuvée board when the changes were made. “And so a Grand Tasting was created where one single wine each year would be highlighted – the winemaker’s favourite.”

So now, the selection is left up to each winemaker. Each chooses what he/she believes is a unique wine, something representative. Or at least that’s supposed to be the plan.

But admittedly, I miss the old selection process. It was unique in the world, and I always found it fascinating to learn what the winemakers of Ontario liked about Ontario wines. Which deserved awarding and which deserved the kitchen sink? What grapes were favoured, outside of commercial considerations, in the rigid context of a blind tasting? And which winemaking approaches were becoming more universally accepted or rejected? After all, winemakers are often much harsher critics than wine critics, lightning quick to point out even the most minor technical deviations, like a Spanish inquisitor sniffing out an infidel, or a nosy neighbour ratting out dissenters to Party Officials.

Seeing which wines the winemakers would choose to represent the entire industry, through the unsullied, anti-commercial process of evaluating anonymous bottles, certainly added another valuable perspective in the vast constellation of opinions that populate the wine universe. I’m sure it was also a useful opportunity for winemakers to take a hard objective look at the industry as a whole from 30,000 feet, to taste each other’s wines without the mental shackles of friendship, admiration, envy or dislike that impede objectivity when tasting in each other’s cellars or at industry events. It’s a fair way to get a sense of where Ontario wines stand on a broader stage, to identify strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps even gain inspiration to try new techniques, and plant (or rip out) certain varieties.

Frozen Niagara River and Sluggish Falls

Frozen Niagara River and Sluggish Falls

The new approach though, allowing winemakers to take control of their own message-in-a-bottle, paints a vastly different but also interesting scene. Feedback from the industry and attendees is apparently positive. “The fifty-two winery spots were filled far before the deadline, and we actually had a waiting list of wineries wanting to participate”, writes Barb Tatarnic of COVVII at Brock University, which took over management of the event in 2015. So it seems most wineries have embraced the new format: no judging, no awards, just a chance to let consumers read that message and decide for themselves if it moves them. It’s surely also fascinating, and in some cases telling, to see how winemakers view themselves through the lens of the wine they select as their representative.

In an ideal world, I’d love to see the two formats combined in some fashion, so we’d benefit from the insight offered by both selection processes.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the new format also opens the door to distortion of the spirit of the event. While the majority of wineries in attendance rose above the base needs of business – the current that runs through virtually every other consumer wine event on the planet – some couldn’t resist the siren call of commerce.

Perhaps under pressure from the sales and marketing department (and in the wine business, there is always pressure), some felt compelled to show the wine that is readily available, just released, or most popular, rather than the one they’re most excited about or personally fascinated by, or what they’re ultimately most proud of – the wine that distills their philosophy and personality into a bottle. But those are precisely the wines we want to taste. Those are the wines that, even if not available, cast a warm and positive glow over an entire winery’s range, and by extension the whole industry – it’s what those same marketers call the halo effect. And those are the wines that make Cuvée unique, rather than just another fancy wine gala.

It’s also unfortunate that Cuvée is not fully representative of the entire Ontario industry – there wasn’t a single winery from Prince Edward County in the room, for example. And other noteworthy wineries were conspicuous by their absence, and not because they didn’t make the deadline. When I inquired why, say, Tawse or Hidden Bench or Norm Hardie didn’t participate, I was told essentially that they were too busy, a polite way of saying that other events are more worthwhile, and that Cuvée is overly Niagara-centric. “Perhaps if this event were held in Toronto in alternate years and celebrated the industry as a whole, not just Niagara, it would attract more interest from us” wrote Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench, for example.

Yet in the end it certainly is a worthwhile event from my perspective, with enough winemakers rising to the occasion and pouring something representative, something that unfolds another leaf in the story of Ontario wine.

And for those who missed Cuvée 2015, I’ve rounded up a baker’s dozen of my top picks based on a combination of wine quality and intriguing narrative. But rather than writing my usual critique (you can assume they’re all worth buying) I’ve asked the winemakers instead to share the reason why they selected their wine, to tell a (mostly unedited) story that captured some aspect of their art or history or personal journey.

Meet the Winemakers

White

2027 Cellars Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012-9352

2027 Cellars Fox Croft Block Chardonnay

2027 Cellars 2012 Wismer-Foxcroft Block Chardonnay ($30)

Kevin Panagapka: ” 2012 was my second year working with the Wismer Vineyard ‘Fox Croft Block’ Chardonnay. I intentionally picked this block slightly early in 2012 to retain the acidity and ease back on the alcohol. I like the tension in the wine; there is a fine acidic backbone and minerality I haven’t seen in other blocks.  I feel like the wild barrel fermentation added complexity and mouthfeel while the Burgundian Oak is working in nicely after a year in bottle.  Frankly, out of my current portfolio I felt this wine was showing the best at the time, which is why I chose it for Cuvée. For me, it’s about understanding the individuality of each vineyard block. I fell like this Chardonnay has a wonderful sense of place.”

Big Head 2013 Chenin Blanc ($22)

Andrezj Lipinski: “I would have gladly chosen any one of our wines for their quality but the Chenin is special to me. I think it has tremendous potential, it just needs to be planted in the ideal areas of Niagara, and the vineyard we source from in Niagara-on-the-Lake, close to the water and protected by it, is giving us beautiful and healthy fruit consistently. We let it go naturally in older oak, and it sings. The 2013 had much more hang-time than the 2012 resulting in some wonderful complexity that is just starting to push through.”

Andrezj Lipinski and his Big Head Chenin Blanc 2013-9353

Andrezj Lipinski and his Big Head Chenin Blanc

Jay Johstone and his Flatrock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012-9374

Jay Johstone and his Flatrock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay

Flatrock Cellars 2012 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay ($24.95)

Jay Johnston: “We chose the 2012 Rusty Shed Chardonnay because we’ve loved that wine since it was first blended together. We had a lot of different styles of barrel fermented Chardonnay in the cellar in 2012, and this was my first chance to blend the Rusty, having started at Flat Rock in September that year. Tasting the results when we racked and blended the 25 barrels selected for Rusty was a very special moment. All of the barrels were so individually unique beforehand, and then once blended they created an extremely focused and pure wine that totally blew us away. It was one of those ‘wine moments’ where you really appreciate the creative and artistic side of winemaking.”

Marty Werner and his 2013 Ravine Chardonnay-9404

Marty Werner and his 2013 Ravine Chardonnay

Ravine Vineyard 2013 Chardonnay ($25)

Marty Werner: “I selected our 2013 Ravine Chardonnay because I feel that it shows the potential of picking Chardonnay in Niagara-on-the-Lake while the grapes are still green, as opposed to golden. I feel that picking the grapes earlier can show off not only fruit, but other complexities such as vintage and sense of place.”

Stratus Vineyards 2012 White ($44)

JL Groux: “The 2012 Stratus White is the tenth edition of that wine and we are celebrating our tenth anniversary this year so it did fit well for Cuvée. With no aromatic varieties and 43% Chardonnay, the 2012 has a lot of depth and length. The balance is made of Sauvignon Blanc at 42% and Semillon at 15%.”

Westcott Vineyards 2013 Estate Chardonnay ($26)

Carolyn Hurst (owner; Arthur Harder is the head winemaker): “This wine represents the culmination of a vision that started in 2006 with the purchase of the vineyard and the selection of the chardonnay clones and root stock. We dreamed of creating a chardonnay of this elegance and we were rewarded in 2013 for our hard work and care. We are inspired by this wine to continue on our rocky road journey to perfection.”

Suzanne Janke standing in for JL Groux and his 2012 Stratus White-9428

Suzanne Janke standing in for JL Groux and his 2012 Stratus White

Victoria and Garett Westcott and their Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2013-9439

Victoria and Garett Westcott and their Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2013

Red 

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery David Sheppard ‘Vintage 30’ Cabernet 2012 ($36.95)

Dave Sheppard and his _Vintage 30_ Cabernet, Coyote's Run-9393

Dave Sheppard’s Vintage 30 Cabernet

Dave Sheppard: ‘Jeff Aubry had asked me to pick something special from the vintage to do an anniversary issue wine, so the field was wide open. The Cabernet Sauvignon was a “one-off” opportunity from a grower (Ralph Serluca) whose vineyard is only a couple of kilometers from Coyote’s Run and within the same sub-appellation. Ralph had offered us the block of Cab pending our approval upon inspection. The moment I set foot in the vineyard I told Jeff “we must have these grapes”, not thinking specifically of the 30th anniversary wine at the time, but rather just that the vineyard was absolutely beautifully and paternally tended and the grapes were spectacular.  It was an opportunity not to be missed. Later in the process when it came time to select a wine for the 30th, I admittedly quite selfishly gravitated towards what I thought to be the best of the vintage, and that was the Cabernet Sauvignon from that vineyard.”

Lailey Vineyards ‘Impromptu’ (84% Syrah with malbec and petit verdot) 2012 ($45)

Derek Barnett: “I chose the wine for its elegance and balance, something I think that the Niagara River appellation brings out in syrah each and every year. I also chose it because it is awesome, too‎”.

Creekside Estate Winery Broken Press Syrah 2011 ($39.95)

Rob Power: Pouring our top Syrah at high-end Ontario wine events usually raises a few eyebrows. But one taste reminds that Syrah actually does very well in cooler climates. And it also serves notice that Niagara is much more than a one or two-trick varietal pony: many different great wines are possible across the Peninsula’s varied terrain. Broken Press, à la Côte-Rôtie, includes Viognier skins in co-ferment with Syrah, imparting added aromatic complexity and rounded texture.”

Derek Barnett and his Lailey Impromptu 2012-9386

Derek Barnett and his Lailey Impromptu 2012

Rob Powers and his Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2011-9470

Rob Powers and his Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2011

Thirty Bench Winemakers Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012 ($35)

Emma Garner: “Our 15 year-old Pinot Noir block at Thirty Bench has been quite a well kept secret until just recently.  Our reputation at the winery has always been centered on Riesling and its unique ability to demonstrate the subtleties of terroir. Pinot is another such variety and I have finally started to understand our vines and just what they are capable of. 2012 was a picture perfect year to develop optimal ripeness. It was also a year in which grapes could get too ripe and jammy if left to hang too long. We found the sweet spot with our 115 clone Pinot Noir in 2012. Extended skin maceration (3 weeks) and judicious oak usage (100% French and 15% new) helped to develop a wine worthy of aging. I truly feel that I have turned a page in my Pinot vinification journey. It has always been somewhat daunting, however. Now I realize that it is an endless journey in search of the perfect glass.”

Emma Garner and her Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012-9414

Emma Garner and her Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012

Craig MacDonald and his Trius Grand Red 2012-9395

Craig MacDonald and his Trius Grand Red 2012

Trius Winery Grand Red 2012 ($55)

Craig McDonald: “The G Red was my choice because I wanted to showcase an unusual technique I learnt from an old Penfolds Winemaker back in 2000, ‘Slingers’, whilst at De Bortoli in the Yarra. Once fermentation is complete and the free-run wine is transferred out of the wooden vats I use gravity to press the remaining cap and gently ‘drip’ the wine from the skins directly into barrel. It takes a bit of practice to make the right cut and it’s a pain in the butt to dig out later on but the wine is stunning – rich, intense and inky black but with fine silky tannins because it’s naturally pressed and not dug out and pressed mechanically. Most of the G Red was made this way so it’s actually pressings from our best blocks of company fruit from the great 2012 vintage. I think pressings are often overlooked by Winemakers so this is my ode to B-Side Winemaking and classic Aussie innovation ”

The Foreign Affair Winery Petit Verdot “On Assignment” ($49.95)

Len Crispino: “In exceptional years like 2012 we produced a single varietal Petit Verdot. We take a judicious approach on the proportion of grapes dried, in this case almost 15%. We believe our slow drying method yields subtle nuances and rich complexities. We do not depend on a standard formula. Decision are based on listening to the vintage, being respectful of the varietal and being true to our desired artistic interpretation through innovation.”

Len Crispino and his Foreign Affairs and his Petit Verdot 2012-9418

Len Crispino and his Foreign Affairs and his Petit Verdot 2012

Brian Schmidt and his Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012-9448

Brian Schmidt and his Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012

Vineland Estates 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($40.00)

Brian Schmidt: “I just had to bring out the 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc for an early showing at Cuvée.  I am thoroughly convinced that Cabernet Franc is Ontario’s “red hammer” and I believe the variety is most suited to showcase our terroir with consistency. I think the 2012 Reserve is the “sledge” and it drives the Cabernet Franc point home with authority. After its quick outing I had to pull it back into the cellars where it is going to quietly develop more depth and finesse until it is ready to come out for good.”

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Sara d’Amato: Report on Cuvée and Expert’s Tasting 2015

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Ontario Wine Report – January 2015

What’s New Niagara?
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In mid-January I embarked on a long-overdue, four-day Niagara tour to better familiarize myself with the newer and most promising wineries on the Bench (plus Two Sisters in Niagara-on-the-Lake). It had been at least two years since doing the rounds. I was also partaking of icewine during the Niagara Icewine Festival, and dropping in and out of a role as an unofficial host to a group of sommeliers from the UK, Hong Kong and Montreal. Why are all sommeliers so young?

There is lots coming up, but if you want to skip right to a winery of interest click on a link below.

Pearl Morissette Estate Winery
Bachelder
Domaine Queylus
Redstone Winery
Kew Vineyards
Back 10 Cellars
Two Sisters Vineyards

Icewine First and Foremost?

The personal highlight of my icewine activities was actually picking icewine grapes, for the first time in my life. In fact, it was the first time I had “harvested” grapes of any sort, shattering a 30-year resolution not to partake – as a critic – of any part of the commercial wine production process. (Once a movie critic has made a movie can he or she be a critic?). Not picking grapes is a rather silly threshold of course, but imagine my relief when I discovered these were not real ice wine grapes (they were only partially frozen), and the whole exercise was a photo-op for the visiting sommeliers. Nor did it occur in the dead of night, but during the golden glow of a sunset that the photographers seem to have dialled in. I was spared the real deal.

David Lawrason Harvests Icewine

It all transpired in a vineyard owned by third generation grape grower Trevor Falk in the Niagara Lakeshore appellation. When we followed our picking bins into his press house I was stunned to find sixteen large basket presses installed largely for the icewine. They were still caked with the gooey pressed skins of the recent harvest and the air was sweet with fruit. The scale of it all shattered my romantic notion of shivering souls hand-cranking tiny presses outdoors to extract precious vials of juice. But on the other hand, it was an impressive display of efficiency and attention to detail. Icewine grapes need to be picked at an ideal temperature (which narrows the time window) and pressed almost immediately before grapes thaw – thus the need for rapid and high volume processing. But the scale of this press house also served to remind me how important icewine is to Ontario. We are, after all, numero uno in the world.

2015 Sommelier Group Photo David Lawrason & Gabor Foth

Trevor Falk supplies icewine juice to Andrew Peller Limited, and so the icewine experience continued later that evening at Peller Estates Winery where the group enjoyed a five course dinner by Executive Chef Jason Parsons. All but one course was paired with icewine! There was a frozen beet and goat cheese salad paired to riesling icewine; wild boar lasagna paired to Peller Estates Ice Cuvée Rosé;  icewine infused Blue Benedictine cheese with vidal icewine; and finally – the classic and my favourite – chocolate and cabernet franc icewine for dessert! It was gustatory tour de force, although we did feel sugar heavy by end of it all. I guess the icewine infused marshmallows we roasted over an open fire at minus 15C didn’t help. (Lesson, one experimental icewine pairing while entertaining is a great idea, but maybe not a whole meal)

We Really Make Wine Here?

Meanwhile, back to those sommeliers. It was informative to be informing off-shore palates who have little concept of Ontario wine, other than icewine (which some were serving in their London restaurants). The portrait we present to visitors is telling of how we really see ourselves, and our message is focused very much on what a difficult, almost absurd wine region Ontario is. We have a summer growing season like central France or northern Italy – a decidedly moderate (not all that cool) situation. But our seasons are totally unpredictable year to year and especially in the autumn. Some are cold and dreary (2014); most are very humid, and some are healthy, spry and warm (2012). There is actually no median here – no average Niagara vintage. And that is very challenging to our winemakers, and to consumer appreciation of our wines.

But the real story is that our winters can be dastardly cold – like no other wine region on Earth. A –minus 27C freeze-out ‘event’ overnite Jan 13/14 puts the 2015 vintage into question. The prolonged deep freeze of 2014 virtually erased less winter hardy merlot, syrah and sauvignon from the vintage, and reduced yields of all but the hardiest varieties planted in the most protected sites. It’s hopeful to say that global warming will improve the situation, but recent evidence points to climate change unleashing extreme and fluctuating events for which there is no adequate preparation.

Yet Ontario is pressing on, and has all kinds of potential. Let the rest of Ontario’s recent story be told via the new wineries that have opened in the past year or are still to open. Here is who I visited, with links to some of the most interesting wines I tasted.

Pearl Morissette Estate Winery
3953 Jordan Road, Jordan,
Visit and Taste – phone for appt, (905) 562-4376, no tasting room (yet)
Buy –  phone winery, very rarely at LCBO Vintages

Every once in a while I am challenged to rethink what I have learned over 30 years as a critic. It can be uncomfortable to be challenged, but it is essential. Perhaps to forestall being challenged it took me more than three years to meet with François Morissette, a Canadian-born, Burgundy–trained winemaker who came back to Niagara in 2007 to undertake this project financed by Toronto developer Mel Pearl. There has always been, until now, something reclusive and precious about Pearl Morissette – no highway signs, or tasting room, and a website that makes you peer inside for information. And an upper priced, idiosyncratic wine portfolio and style clearly not aimed at the average punter.

This may change this spring with the opening of a new facility that includes a tasting space, and the eventual roll-out of a less expensive line (as all premium Ontario wineries have had to do one day in order to actually sell wine in this market). This actually represents great news in terms of helping us understand what Niagara is, and what it can achieve. Because I tasted some of the most captivating wines of my Canadian tasting career at Pearl Morissette in January. And the UK sommeliers in the room that day were equally animated, even shocked, by the tasting as well.

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Persephone Cabernet Franc 2011François Morissette is actively and eruditely challenging many of the precepts upon which the Ontario wine industry has been built. To randomly pick some ideas: he challenges notions of grape ripeness (it’s all about skin ripeness not sugar levels); of sensory perception (aroma and flavour don’t matter only texture); of regulation (he has taken on the LCBOs VQA tasting panel on national TV after they ‘blackballed’ his riesling as being atypical, three times). He has been cast as a rogue, and god-forbid, a natural winemaker. Which he claims not to be because he uses sulphur when required. “Natural wine must still be good wine” he says, and I couldn’t care less whether the wine is orange” (which results from using little or no sulphur)

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Black Ball Barrique 2012His outspokenness, intellect and ethos make many in Ontario’s mainstream uncomfortable. Just as he is uncomfortable in Ontario’s restrictive regulatory and retail environment. But he is sticking it out and doing what he can because he loves the winemaking challenge Ontario delivers and he believes it can be a great region among the world’s best with certain grapes – including chardonnay, riesling, cabernet franc and gamay. In the end he really only cares about making wine his way, and defends his freedom to do so. Here are a couple of examples of wines that deserve your attention.

Pearl Morissette 2011 Cuvée Persephone Cabernet Franc

Pearl Morissette 2012 Riesling Cuvée Black Ball Barrique

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Bachelder Wines

Address: virtual for now
Visits: contact 905.932.3942,
Buy: LCBO Vintages, Saverio Schirelli Agencies 416.253.4974

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011If you thought François Morissette was hard to pin down, get ready for the nomad – Thomas Bachelder. He is a wandering oracle in wine world – full of ideas and observations and creative next projects. But he is not without a focus – making memorable chardonnay, and to a lesser extent pinot noir, in Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.  His family and heart lie in Niagara, but he has but not put down real commercial roots anywhere – although Oregon is sounding as though it is the most attractive option business-wise.  For now he is making his wine in an old fruit processing shed above Beamsville, that does not have a tasting room or retail license (he can sell to restaurants). Thank goodness his “basic” chardonnay is a Vintages Essential.

Born and raised in Montreal Thomas was a wine writer before becoming a winemaker in the early 90s. We travelled together as correspondents for WineTidings in that era. But he forsook writing for making wine, working years in Burgundy and Oregon before being hired as the winemaker for Le Clos Jordanne in Ontario in the early 2000s. He guided that ground-breaking Burgundy-inspired joint venture between Boisset and Vincor Canada until soon after it was taken over by Constellation Brands in 2009.

Since then he and his wife Mary Delaney have traipsed between Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy making a series of wines that emphatically show the differences in terroir, and in vintage. His top Niagara chardonnays come from two sites, the Saunders Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench and the Wismer Vineyard from Twenty Mile Bench.  The next evolution may be bottlings from upper and lower reaches of the large Wismer site – he is currently following separate barrels of each.

Bachelder 2011 Niagara Chardonnay

Bachelder 2012 Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay

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Domaine Queylus
3651 Sixteen Rd, St Ann
Visits – 905-562-7474
Purchase – winery 905-562-7474, occasionally at LCBO Vintages

Domaine Queylus Grand Reserve Merlot Cabernet Franc 2011 Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2012The Thomas Bachelder nomadic quest continues at Domaine Queylus, a project launched by a group of Quebec investors who wanted to throw their weight at the idea of making world class pinot in Niagara – this after tasting Bachelder’s Le Clos Jordanne work.  So they hired him to spearhead their project, joined by world renowned French viticulturalist Alain Sutre who assessed sites that Thomas sourced.  One was a slam dunk, a small sandier hillside site in Twenty Mile Bench owned by the Neudorf family.  It once provided the fruit for a Le Clos Jordanne bottling called “La Petit Colline”.  The other site chosen was set in heavier red clay just below the escarpment on Mountainview Road in the Lincoln Lakeshore appellation. It was planted to chardonnay, pinot and cabernet franc, and in one block of blue clay similar to the soils of Pomerol, some merlot.

But where to build the winery?  The latter site has a high water table and construction would have been too expensive. So Bachelder found and refitted a modern wine warehouse located way up and over the escarpment eight kilometres south of Vineland. Far removed from lake effect, it is a  no-vine land. But he is considering planting winter hardy hybrids and perhaps vinifera that he would have to bury in winter (as is done in Prince Edward County).  He has hired the talented Kelly Baker as the on-site winemaker – a CCOVI grad who had also worked at Le Clos Jordanne and in Napa.  And this spring a tasting room will open in a large log cabin-style house on the property.

As to the wines, pinot noir is the main event – but they are not single vineyard editions. The owners are more interested in creating three tiers – Traditional, Reserve and Grand Reserve – which makes Bachelder’s task more challenging – selecting and blending the right barrels to fit the price points. The pinots do indeed get to a fairly high level for Niagara, but as you will see in one of the attached reviews I was also quite taken by the quality of the cab franc and merlot blends from the Lincoln Lakeshore site.

Domaine Queylus 2012 Tradition Pinot Noir

Domaine Queylus 2011 Grand Reserve Merlot Cabernet Franc

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Redstone Winery

4245 King Street Beamsville ON, L0R 1B1
Visits: Opens May 2015
Purchase: Vintages occasionally, direct 905-563-9463 X 201, winerytohome.com

Redstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013The busy stretch of the King St Wine Route between Vineland and Beamsville is home to wineries like Kacaba, Malivoire, Greenlane, Kew Vineyards and Back 10 Cellars, with north-south cross streets like Cherry Ave and Mountainview Road leading to dozens more. In May this increasingly busy and important neighbourhood gets its new hospitality focal point when Redstone Winery opens, complete with an ultra-modern 100-seat restaurant (that the strip desperately needs).  Redstone is another project by Moray Tawse, bringing the same resources, organic/biodynamic viticulture and quality minded focus and team to bear. Rene Van Ede, with eight years at Tawse, is the lead winemaker of a projected 10,000 case enterprise that will have a varietal focus more than a terroir focus, and be positioned at generally lower price points that Tawse wines (20,000 cases).

Redstone occupies the site of the former Thomas & Vaughan Estates, a short-lived project that showed flashes of interest with cabernet and merlot blends – this due to the same red clay soils that inform the “Bordeaux reds” of Domaine Queylus (above).  Indeed Redstone takes its name from this terroir, which is the basis of its successful Bordeaux reds as well.  The Redstone pinot and brilliant whites are drawn from another Tawse-owned property called Limestone Ridge high on the Niagara Escarpment in Twenty Mile Bench (not far from Wismer on one side and Flat Rock on the other).  Altogether, and before the winery even opens its doors, Redstone has chalked up a fine reputation, finishing 14th out of over 130 wineries entered in the 2014 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Redstone 2013 Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

Redstone 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

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Kew Vineyards Estate Winery
4696 King Street, Beamsville
Visit – Open Daily
Purchase – Winery, store.kewvineyards.com, LCBO Vintages occasionally.

Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling 2012 Kew Vineyards Blanc De Noir 2011Still in the heart of the King St. corridor, Kew Vineyard opened Sept 2013 with a tasting room and retail store situated in a classic if unique and utterly charming brick farmhouse. The spacious, warm tasting room with high top tables looks through French doors onto one of the great Bench vineyard vistas in Niagara.  What’s more, some of the vines you see are historic – with riesling planted in 1975 by Herman Weis of Germany’s Mosel Valley.  That block turns 40 this summer, one the oldest vinifera sites in Canada.  It was joined by chardonnay in 1978, and since then the 50-acre site has been populated with pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and even an experimental smattering of marsanne, roussanne and viognier (Rhone white varieties which actually survived the frigid winter of 2014).

The Kew Family sold the property in 2010 to the group of investors that also owns nearby Angels Gate. Management of the winery was taken on by John Young with his daughter Lisa running the tasting room and retail. They installed Angel’s Gate winemaker and Aussie-trained, Niagara veteran Philip Dowell to lend his bring his experienced hand with Bench fruit to the venerable vineyard. Indeed something like François Morissette (above) I find his wines to be texturally rich and balanced as opposed to bright and sassy – although a new organic riesling in 2013 has plenty of snap.  Besides the very good marsanne blend, Kew is making a mark with sparkling, including a rare 100% pinot noir Blanc de Noir, and their Tradition that includes pinot noir chardonnay and pinot meunier.

Kew Vineyards 2011 Blanc De Noir Sparkling

Kew Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Riesling

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Back 10 Cellars
4101 King Street, Beamsville
Visit: Sat & Sun 11-5, or by appt 905.562.3365
Purchase:  winery, www.back10cellars.com

Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2013 Back 10 Cellars Big Leap Cab Franc 2013And we remain on the King Street strip!  Back 10 Cellars opened last summer with ten acres of cabernet franc, riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. (There should be little doubt by now that these are solidly emerging as Ontario’s “core varieties).  The fallow orchard and farmhouse were purchased in 2002 with planting on-going since that time. This “big leap” into commercial, boutique winemaking was the vision of Andrew and Christina Brooks, a young couple from Calgary. He is a sommelier who has studied and worked with Calgary’s well respected wine retailer Richard Harvey; and Christina worked in Calgary restaurants. When they moved to Ontario and began raising a family, they also started a winery touring company called Crush on Niagara.

Step by step they cleared and planted vines and waited for the day they could make wine – while getting advice from respected Niagara incumbents like Lloyd Schmitt and Featherstone winemaker David Johnson. Indeed the wines are still made at Featherstone and bottled on a mobile line. Christina has transformed the front rooms of the brick farmhouse bungalow into a lovely, family-style seated tasting room and retail space, while their family occupies the rest of the house.  So far the wines (with production of less than 1000 cases) are sold only from the tasting room, but the riesling and cab franc in particular are very much worth the stop.

Back 10 Cellars 2013 Big Leap Cab Franc

Back 10 Cellars 2013 The Big Reach Riesling

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Two Sisters Vineyards
240 John Street East, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Visit – open daily
Purchase – Winery, www.twosistersvineyards.com

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2013An edifice of considerable gravitas has risen on the leafy outskirts of Niagara-on-the-Lake, right next door to Peller Estates. From the thick Greco-Roman columns at the entrance, to the grand high ceilinged foyer and massive tasting room; Two Sisters is a showpiece designed to present the more glamourous side of winemaking to the throngs of tourists who come to “Canada’s Prettiest Town”.  And it’s done with almost aristocratic Euro flair befitting the proprietors – two Italian sisters named Angela Marotta and Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli.  Indeed the classy, yet warm family style restaurant called Kitchen76 best defines that ambiance – with an Italian menu by chef Justin Lesso, that centres on a massive pizza oven.  (So yes I ordered pizza, but not before a great appetizer called Polpo, grilled octopus in shaved fennel and radish).

As to the wines, I have tasted the portfolio of whites and reds, but I have not yet toured the winery with winemaker Adam Pearce, a Niagara College grad who arrived from Pentage Winery in the Okanagan Valley, B.C., to make the 2013 vintage.  The 2012 vintage and 2010 wines were made by Martin Werner, who has since moved to the head winemaking job at Ravine Vineyard. It appears that the reds are all from their home vineyards in the Niagara River appellation, reflecting the ripeness and richness of this warmer site, especially in the hot 2010 vintage. And they are quite pricey.  The whites from various cooler sites, in my view, hit a higher note – and offer better value.

Two Sisters 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay

Two Sisters 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

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So that’s a wrap, and thanks for hanging in! There are still other new Niagara wineries to profile –  Di Profio, Wescott, Aure, Vieni, and Honsberger –  but we will save those for another day.  What’s most heartening about the group profiled above is that people with passion, experience and money continue to see Niagara as a worthwhile investment, with real potential. Now if only we could get Queens Park back out of the distribution and retail channel so that these earnest investors and proud winemakers can get their wines more easily to market.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Photos courtesy of Sherri Lockwood, Andrew Peller Limited

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Niagara Riesling: Making the Case

Ontario Wine Report
John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Is riesling Niagara’s most reliable grape? Aside from indestructible hybrids like vidal, most local growers point to either riesling or chardonnay as the best performing white grapes in Ontario. And I’d argue that while top Niagara Chardonnays are surely excellent, they also come at a price, usually $25 and up for the best, and often over $50. Fine riesling on the other hand, can regularly be had for under $15, while even at the very top end prices have yet to exceed $40.

The style and flavor spectrums for chardonnay and riesling are of course not comparable, but if you’re looking for regional and varietal paradigms, riesling wins on value every time. And when it comes to ageability, riesling is hard to beat. I recently tried a 1989 Vineland semi-dry riesling that was astonishingly good, a wine that cost well under $10 on release.

Some of the oldest vines in Niagara are riesling, with several parcels planted back in the late 1970s still producing. These old vines are the origin of some of Niagara’s best. Geeks will revel in discussions over clones and the subtly different wines they produce; Weiss 21 brought by Hermann Weiss to Vineland Estates from the Mosel is the most widely planted, producing a tighter, leaner more citrus-driven style. The so-called Clone 49, an Alsatian clone, delivers a broader, fuller, more pear-flavoured riesling in my experience. But of course it’s the dirt that matters most, a fact put into clear relief after a recent riesling-focused tour through Niagara wine country.

Vertical Tastings of some of the best Niagara Rieslings

According to Tom Penachetti of Cave Spring, vine age and soil depth are critical quality factors. “The sweet spot is on the bench under the Escarpment”, he says, referring to mainly the Beamsville Bench and Twenty Mile Bench Sub-appellations. Hydrology, or water availability, is one of the reasons, with the best sites benefitting from the springs and ground water that drain off of the Niagara Escapment.

Soils are thinner on top of the escarpment, Penachetti continues, and can dry out too quickly, or retain too much water. He believes the sites with heavier clays are best for riesling. But there are exceptions, such as the excellent Charles Baker’s Picone vineyard Riesling and Tawse’s Quarry Road Riesling, both from the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation on top of the Escarpment.

Soils further from the Escarpment, down by shores of Lake Ontario tend to be more sandy, with less clay and limestone, and tend to produce softer, fruitier, more peachy Rieslings. Yet even here, a few patches of heavier clays such as the vineyard at Back Ten Cellars, what the locals call “the brickyard”, yield more nervy, compact wines.

In any case, Niagara has much to offer in a range of styles. Here are a few to seek out to conduct your own tour of Niagara Riesling. Click on each for full tasting notes.

Top Values: Both Inexpensive and Representative

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). A regional paradigm, with apple cherry blossom and green apple aromatics, lovely crisp acids and surprising depth.

Vineland Estates 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). All from the original St. Urban’s Vineyard planted in the late 1970s. Although semi-dry, this is beautifully balanced between  generous and fleshy texture and lean and taught acids. There’s a fine, elegant bitterness from phenolics, which also helps to dry out the palate.

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling Vineland Estates Riesling Semi Dry VQA 2013 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2012

Château des Charmes 2012 Riesling Old Vines, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95). This wine captures the richer style of riesling from the warmest part of Niagara (mostly St. David’s Bench fruit), widely appealing in the fuller and broader riesling category.

Cave Spring 2012 Riesling Estate, Beamsville Bench ($17.95). A very fine vintage for this reliable wine, ripe and verging on exotic, even if winemaker Angelo Pavan doesn’t use any aroma-enhancing enzymes, believing that it sacrifices too much texture (enzymes split sugars and make them unavailable for fermentation and hence glycerol/alcohol production).

Top Escarpment/Bench Sites: A Glassful of Limestone

Tawse 2012 Carly’s Block, Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95). From Tawse’s oldest riesling block planted in 1978, this is one of the top Rieslings of the vintage in my view. Considering its track record, this should age beautifully – I’d revisit after 2016 for maximum enjoyment.

Tawse 2012 Quarry Road Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($23.95). Quarry Road is on top of the Niagara Escarpment, planted 50-50 with Clone 49 and Weiss 21. I’ve tasted the 2012 a couple of times now, and the wine seems to be gaining in tightness and freshness, amazingly enough. Relative to the Carly’s Block, this is a tight and angular expression, though the balance is pitch perfect.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2012 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2010 Fielding Estate Lot 17 Riesling Fielding Vineyard 2013

Cave Spring 2010 CSV Riesling, Beamsville Bench ($29.95). Another Niagara classic, the CSV is always built to age. It’s one of the broader and fuller styles of Ontario riesling, and the 2012 reflects both the later harvest (full ripeness) policy of the house and the warm vintage. I’d suggest enjoying this anytime over the next half dozen years.

Fielding Estate 2013 Riesling Lot 17, Beamsville Bench ($27.95). From 17 rows of the oldest riesling on the estate planted in 2000 with clone 49, this is very pear-driven, off-dry, zesty and crisp, though edging to a drier style with each vintage it seems. It’s the finest riesling from Fielding to date.

Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Wood Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Triangle Vineyard ($30). Here’s a chance to do a perfect side-by-side comparative tasting of three different vineyards all made in the exact some way, all from the estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench, from vines of approximately the same age. Thirty Bench has done in-depth studies on their terroir and there are indeed measureable differences, so it’s not just your imagination.  See if you can pick up the The “Wood Post’s intriguing herbal-pine needle nuances, the Steel Post’s perfect pitch and green apple citrus-lime character, and the richness of the Triangle Vineyard, the most forward and generous of the series.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Wood Post Riesling 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Triangle Vineyard Riesling 2012Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling 2012Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2012

Top Lakeshore/Niagara-on-the-Lake Rieslings – The broader, fuller styles

Trius 2012 Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling, Four Mile Creek ($25). Ghost Creek is one of the original Hillebrand vineyards planted in the 1980s, though this hails from a more recent planting with clone 49. The vineyard sits on an old, very stony, dried up creek bed with shale and limestone and thus good drainage. The 2012 is a full and fleshy, ripe and substantial wine, one of the best from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation.

Back 10 Cellars 2012 The Big Reach Riesling, Lincoln Lakeshore ($25). The Back Ten Cellars vineyard sits on heavy red clay soils in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, in which yields of a measly 2 tons per acre are considered successful. For this wine only free-run juice is used. It’s quite a broad and full wine with evident concentration, denser and more compact than Bench Rieslings.

Vinemount Ridge – for acid Freaks

Charles Baker 2012 Riesling Picone Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($35). From now 35 year old vines in this vintage, the 2012 is rivetingly tight and pure, concise and focused, in my view the finest Picone Vineyard riesling to date, even after the excellent 2011.

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Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012Flat Rock Cellars 2013 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($19.95). Nadja’s vineyard was planted in 2000, a two-ha parcel just under the top of the Escarpment and Flatrock’s coolest site, ripening up to two weeks later than the parcel below the winery. This is fragrant and pretty, lean and tightly wound example of Niagara Riesling.

2027 Cellars 2012 Falls Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge ($25). Falls vineyard is 2027 Cellars’ tightest and most riveting riesling, true to sub-appellation, with significant minerality.

The Stylistic Outlier

Pearl-Morissette 2012 Riesling Cuvée Foudre “Black Ball”, Twenty Mile Bench ($25). This wine is not yet released and it remains to be determined whether it will be labeled as VQA Riesling, or VQA at all, as François Morissette tells me it has already been rejected twice by the VQA tasting panel, even though it has past the laboratory analysis and been deemed chemically stable. (It was also rejected in past vintages, which is the origin of the cuvée name “Black Ball). In any case, it doesn’t fall into any known model of Ontario riesling, being at once fully dry with malolatic fermentation fully finished, and aged in large old foudres from Alsace and bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur. It’s a wine of texture more than aromatics, and you’ll need to think along the lines of other stylistic outliers like, say André Ostertag in Epfig or Clemens-Busch in the Mosel, to really get this.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

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