My Niagara: Part II of IV parts:
By Rick VanSickle
At last count, there were over 75 wineries in the Niagara Peninsula. Even for me, who lives here, can’t get to each and every one them comfortably in a year.
In fact, living in the heart of Niagara wine country for four years and travelling here extensively before that, I still have not been to every winery despite my best effort. And it’s my job to visit and write about the wines of Niagara.
Wine country is an addictive experience. Once you visit, you want more. After you get comfortable with tasting and exploring in wine country you keep coming back.
Even if you live here, it becomes part of a healthy lifestyle of enjoying locally produced wine and all that comes with it: the food, the scenery, the people.
It’s such an idyllic lifestyle. Good wine, made from the blood, sweat and tears of local farmers and highly skilled winemakers, just tastes better when paired with regional food. And if you can’t live here, the next best thing is visiting and getting to know what’s available as new wines are released throughout the year.
While I haven’t been to every winery (don’t worry, I will get there!), I make it part of my weekly routine to visit as many as possible given time restraints. Of course, I have my favourite spots, where everything comes together from the wine to the friendly winery staff to the spectacular views and incredible food.
What follows is Part II of IV tours, or well-traversed routes in wine country, that I seem to travel a lot.
The Vineland-Jordan Jaunt
Start by taking Victoria Ave., south off the QEW and head just past King St. in Vineland to Moyer Rd. and turn right. You will find Vineland Estates Winery on the left-hand side of the road, beautifully situated in the middle of the estate vineyards.
I can’t think of a better place to start or finish a wine tour than right there. The Vineland-Jordan route takes a bit time as you make your way from the pretty town of Vineland, through Jordan and finally to Flat Rock Cellars. But it’s well-worth drive if you pace yourself and make sure you have a designated driver or you’re spitting along the way.
Here are the highlights of a tour worth taking:
Vineland Estate Winery:
What: Vineland Estates Winery
Where: 3620 Moyer Rd., Vineland.
Tastings: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Winemaker: Brian Schmidt
Website: Vineland Estate
I’m at Vineland Estate Winery a lot. It just feels right for me with its comfortable tasting room, lovely views, great restaurant and one of the most enthusiastic winemakers, Brian Schmidt, on the planet.
All that and some of the most affordable and delicious Cabernet Francs and Rieslings you can imagine.
There’s no question about what Vineland does best — Cab Franc and Riesling from entry level to highly sought-after reserve bottlings. But that’s not all. Schmidt is always experimenting and trying new things. His new reserve Fume Blanc and Chenin Blanc are stunning wines.
When you visit Vineland Estates, stand in the St. Urban vineyard, one of the most well-known vineyards in Niagara, then try the Riesling made from that very same vineyard. Now, that’s what visiting Niagara is all about.
Make sure you try: Vineland Estate Reserve Cabernet Franc 2007 — This is already on my Top 10 wines for 2010 list. Pure elegance on the nose and palate with blueberry, kirsch, raspberry, violets to match with rich spices, oak and a long, long finish. Buy as much as you can and lay it down for a few years.
What: Megalomaniac, John Howard Wines of Distinction
Where: 3930 Cherry Ave., Vineland
Tastings: Noon to 6 p.m. daily
Winemaker: Sue-Ann Staff
Down the road from Vineland Estate, a quick turn right on Cherry Ave., on the left side, is the new tasting facility and winery for John Howard’s Wines of Distinction Megalomaniac collection.
Quirky has always been a word associated with the portfolio of wines made at this classy winery. Quirky from a marketing standpoint, yes, but serious from a wine stand point with a fine collection of vino from estate-grown fruit.
Sample in the delights of Narcissist Riesling, Bravado Cabernet Sauvignon or SonOfaBitch Pinot Noir. The names of the wines are brilliant: Vainglorious Cabernet Merlot, Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rose, Coldhearted Cabernet Franc Icewine, to name a few. Even a new wine called Homegrown, a blend of Riesling and Riesling icewine will get your full attention.
Make sure you try: Megalomaniac Eccentric Savagnin 2008 — As the name suggests, an eccentric white grape grown mainly in Jura in Eastern France, but it leaves a big impression. The nose is simply gorgeous with bright apple, lime and pear that all follows to the palate. Love the acid that this vintage delivers.
What: Tawse Winery.
Where: 3955 Cherry Ave., Vineland.
Tastings: Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May to October. Open until 5 p.m.
Winemaker: Paul Pender.
Across the street from Megalomaniac you’ll find Tawse Winery. Here it’s all about the gentle, natural process of turning grapes into wine. From the eco-friendly vineyards, that are well on their way to being certified organic and biodynamic, to the state-of-the-art winery, every step taken in the process is done with the best sustainable practices in mind.
Touring the winery and grounds is part of the experience at Tawse. From the spectacular view in the vineyards straight across Lake Ontario to Toronto to the tasting room that overlooks the winery, and finally drinking the spectacular lineup of wines is an immense pleasure that can only be experienced by visiting.
Tawse is firmly built on owner Moray Tawse’s love of Burgundian wines — Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But it also makes great Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Gewurztraminer.
Make sure you try: Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chadonnay 2008 — An astonishing good Niagara Chard. Pear fruit, vanilla, spice, butterscotch notes to start on the nose. It’s followed on the palate with creamy, succulent fruit and subtle citrus vibrancy to balance out the fleshy flavours. So fine.
Stoney Ridge Estate Winery:
What: Stoney Ridge Estate Winery
Where: 3201 King St., Vineland
Hours: Tours and tastings are between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on weekends, otherwise by appointment
Winemakers: Gord Robert, Jim Warren
Website: Stoney Ridge
Once you leave Tawse, head north (toward the lake) then turn right on King St. toward Jordan. Just before Jordan you;ll see Stoney Ridge on the left-hand side of the road.
Stoney Ridge is a winery that has always impressed me not only from a value point of view but also for the work that goes into these wines that are overseen by one of Niagara’s best winemakers and consultants — Jim Warren.
There’s always something new at Stoney Ridge, a lovely winery with plenty of room to taste, shop and move around inside.
I’m impressed with the new Excellence brand that has just been released. It’s crafted by winemaker Gord Robert, based on experimental work by the new winemaker. Each bottle is very limited, numbered and only available at the winery.
Make sure you try: Stoney Ridge Excellence Pinot Gris 2009 — Such a gorgeous and elegant nose of melon, sweet citrus and apple crisp along the lines of some the great Pinot Gris now being made in Niagara. On the palate it’s a ripe and full-bodied white that jolts the mouth with acid-laced juiciness that cuts through the bold and rich fruits. Very fine indeed.
Cave Spring Cellars:
What: Cave Spring Cellars
Where: 3836 Main St., Jordan
Tastings: Sunday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Winemaker: Angelo Pavan
Website: Cave Spring
As you leave Stoney Ridge, continuing to Jordan, go left at Main St. in the centre of Jordan, and you can’t miss Cave Spring Cellars on your left. The winery is all below the tasting room and restaurant in the quaint centre of town.
There is something special about Cave Spring Cellars and you can’t be blamed if you find yourself here for the rest of the day sipping through the gorgeous Rieslings, the absolute benchmark for this variety in Niagara, and other superb wines in the vast portfolio.
Often called “the house that Riesling built,” the Pennachettis (Tom and his brother Leonard) along with winemaker Angelo Pavan have established a well-rounded program of wines from top-quality, old-vine vinifera grapes.
Make sure you try: It’s a given that you taste the Riesling Cave Spring Vineyard (CSV) but also try this wine only available at the winery:
Cave Spring Cellars La Penna 2006 — Still tight and youthful but opens up to array of aromas from dried herbs, plums, mature blackberry and cherry fruits to smoky oak and spice notes. The palate reveals currants, plums, cedar, cocoa and spice on a bed of tannins and toasted oak that hints at years of pleasure to come. This appassimento (air-dried grapes) style red is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Flat Rock Cellars and El Gastronomo Vagabundo:
What: Flat Rock Cellars
Where: 2727 Seventh Ave.,Â Jordan
Tastings: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Winemaker: Ross Wise
Website: Flat Rock
What: El Gastronomo Vagabundo (translation: The Gourmet Vagabond)
Who: Tamara Jensen and Adam Hynam-Smith, owners of Peapod Cuisine.
Where: At Flat Rock Cellars
When: Fridays, 3p.m. to p.m., Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Head back to King St. and continue west until you hit Seventeenth St. and go right, up the hill until you see the glass-encased winery at the top that is Flat Rock Cellars.
It is here, on the back patio with one of the best views of Lake Ontario in Niagara, that this region fully reveals itself in all its glory. The chair-lined patio, off the tasting room, is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of chilled Riesling, or try the side yard with picnic tables set up to enjoy Niagara’s newest craze — a gourmet food truck serving up special tacos made using only local produce.
Flat Rock owner, Ed Madronich, has always strived for a relaxed and casual winery with the focus squarely on the fabulous wines crafted by winemaker Ross Wise. But, until the idea of a gourmet food truck, called El Gastronomo Vagabundo, came along a restaurant had never been in the plans.
The concept is a perfect fit for Flat Rock — the ultimate in casual dining yet the food is exquisite with each taco or dish (which changes weekly and costs between $5.50 and $9 per taco) paired with a wine chosen by the winemaker.
It’s flip-flop and T-shirt dining with first class food and wine. And that pretty much sums up the casual ambiance Flat Rock Cellars tries hard to depict.
Make sure you try: Flat Rock specializes in Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but give this funky wine a try, paired with an equally funky taco:
Flat Rock Cellars Twisted 2008 — Pair this with the Bangkok Dangerous Taco consisting of Thai coconut red curry beef short rib, fried shallot and coriander. It’s a perfect match with the Twisted blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. Curry complements Gewurz brilliantly with flavours of grapefruit, lychee and exotic spice with an added boost from the Riesling’s citrus and acid zing.
Twisted is a legendary wine from Flat Rock and has found a dedicated following in Niagara. The blend’s bold flavours make it a wonderful wine for pairing up with a variety of foods, but especially dishes with Asian or Indian spices.