Wines In Niagara

A local perspective

Inniskillin’s exciting new Legacy Riesling plus Hinterbrook oak-aged wines, and a new Alvento wine (that we may never get to buy)


It’s not like Inniskillin winemaker Bruce Nicholson (in photo above) needs to prove himself in Niagara.

His 20-year in career in the Okanagan Valley making wine has already established himself as one of the top winemakers in the country. When he arrived in Niagara, where his roots started, in January 2007 to take the reins of Inniskillin, his credentials were already clearly established.

But he wanted to put his stamp on the house that Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo had built, and was now a crown jewel in the Vincor Canada portfolio.

inniskillinNicholson arrived in time for the full 2007 growing season, one of the best vintages on record for red wines in Niagara. He moved quickly to put his stamp on the production of Inniskillin wines.

At the top end of the portfolio, the Founders’ Series named after Kaiser and Ziraldo, Nicholson renamed it the Legacy Series and went about crafting a single wine that he felt showed the very best of what the vintage offered.

His first Legacy wine was the 2007 Cabernet Franc, which I felt at time was the finest red wine and best non-icewine ever bottled under the Inniskillin label.

He followed that up with a 2008 Riesling and a 2009 Pinot Gris, both among the best bottlings in Niagara of those varieties.

ObjectFileThe Inniskillin Legacy wines have quickly established themselves as collector wines in Niagara and an exciting edition to the top wines produced in the region.

That tradition continues with the release of the 2010 Legacy Riesling. And, again, it is an exciting, distinctive wine that stands among the top in the class.

Nicholson sourced the grapes for this Legacy wine from the famed Klose Vineyard in the Niagara River sub-appellation in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The wine underwent a cool fermentation in stainless steel for 13 days and after a single racking was on fine lees for six months.

It is a fascinating Riesling, complex yet light on the palate with a gorgeous mix of fruit and minerality that I feel will benefit from just a little age.

Here’s a review of the new Legacy and some other Niagara wines tasted recently:


Inniskillin Legacy Series Riesling 2010 ($30, winery and Wine Rack stores, 93 points) — In a lot of ways this is a repeat of the 2008 Legacy Riesling except with more fruit intensity and a touch less acidity. The nose is like a bowl of fresh-cut peaches drizzled in wild honey with a gentle squeeze of lemon and lime wedges. It shows wonderful fruit intensity on the palate with notes of dried apricot, mango, peach and a thread of grapefruit running through the core. It’s made with 16 g/l of residual sugar but tastes like less in the mouth. I love the lithe texture of this wine and the mingling minerality. It’s hard to stop to sipping this gorgeously balanced and juicy wine. Simply delicious.

e-wInniskillin East-West Series Chardonnay 2010 ($17, winery and Wine Rack stores, 87 points) — This is from the relatively new Inniskillin East-West label that combines the best of VQA Niagara fruit with the best of VQA Okanagan fruit and follows up from three other wines made in the series including a Riesling-Gewurztraminer, Merlot-Cab and Cab-Shiraz. The fruit is 60% Okanagan fruit with the rest from Niagara. It shows creamy vanilla, butter, apple tart, pear and spice on the nose. In the mouth, look for rich pear fruit, vanilla, a touch of butterscotch and creamy notes.


And some other wines just being released.

Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Gold Series Merlot 2009 ($22, Vintages, winery, 91 points) — I wrote about this wine recently for a Vintages release post but thought it was worthwhile to point it out here. I love this serious and exceptional Merlot that’s aged in French oak for 12 months. It shows plum, cherry, and cassis fruit on the nose with smoky-savoury notes, coffee bean, vanilla toast and spices. It’s meaty and earthy on the palate with anise, black cherry and touches of licorice, smoke and toast. It shows firm structure, smooth tannins and length on the finish. Good aging potential.



Hinterbrook's Allen McCreath tasting wines in the barrel cellar.

hinter wines

I visited the new Hinterbrook Winery, wedged nicely between Strewn and Konzelmann on Lakeshore Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, just before it opened last spring.

Phil Nickel and his family, grape growers who sold their fruit grown on their 32-acre farm, decided to live out their dream of not only growing grapes but making and selling wine.

hintermerlotThe Nickels, including Phil’s wife Charlotte, son, Andrew, who is studying to be a winemaker, and daughter, Jaclyn McCreath and her husband, Allen, from the marketing side of the business, turned their acres of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and (sourced) Pinot Noir into a fine production of wines with the whites debuting last spring.

The wines are made by winemaker Natalie Spytkowsky (Rosewood Estate), from the brand new winery equipped with the latest technology including geothermal heating and cooling, rainwater collection for the winemaking process and water use and implementation of an effective sanitation program without the use of chemicals. The most apparent visual representation of Hinterbrook’s commitment to the environment is the 1,000 square foot solar panel, which tracks the position of the sun each day and generates enough power throughout the year to supply the winery’s electricity demand.

The winery plans to make between 3,000-3,500 cases in the first stage but has capacity to produce 12,000 cases.

I tried (and reviewed) the whites last spring but was only able to taste the barrel-aged wines in barrel. The reds and Chardonnay are now released, and here’s what I liked (all available at the winery or online:

hinterchardHinterbrook Merlot 2010 ($23, 88 points) — This Merlot is a lovely, ripe wine that shows plums, cherries, cassis, leather, cedar and spice on the nose. It’s smooth on the palate with red berry flavours and toasted oak and spice. A great start for this winery.

Hinterbrook Chardonnay Reserve Barrel Fermented 2020 ($19, 88 points) — A lovely nose of tropical fruit, apple, pineapple, vanilla, toast and spice. It’s creamy and rich on the palate with layers of clove-vanilla spice and orchard fruit flavours.

Hinterbrook Pinot Noir 2010 ($25, 89 points) — A nose of strawberry and raspberry fruit with earthy-savoury notes and spice. It’s delicious and substantive on the palate with red fruits, wild berries, licorice, mocha and spice. It’s silky smooth through the finish with round tannins. Could age for a few years.

Hinterbrook Deeply Red 2010 ($18, 87 points) — A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The nose displays blackberry, tobacco leaf, some red fruit, earth and spice. It shows mid-weight on the palate but good concentration of fruit with balancing spice notes. Not overly tannic with pretty decent acidity. A nice food red.


alventoI don’t know if we’ll ever see these wines for sale, with Alvento now in the middle of a legal situation that could spell the end of the brand, but the winery did bottle some reds in the lackluster 2008 vintage. Instead of making its top Bordeaux blends Bruno Moos made a second label called Second Ave., which is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon along with a Meritage blend of Merlot and Cab Franc.

As I said, I don’t know at this point if these wines will be made available for sale. They aren’t listed on the website but I did get to sample the wines during a recent visit. Here’s a review of the Second Ave. Red.

Alvento Second Avenue Red 2008 ($20, 87 points) — A nose of savoury cherry, tobacco leaf, roasted herbs, cassis, smoke and fine spice. It’s quite nice on the palate with meaty red fruit flavours, spice and licorice. A well-made red from a lackluster vintage.






  1. I really don’t like what Vincor has done to the “legacy” of Inniskillin. These wines you mention are just a marketing exercise designed to make people forget that Vincor’s main focus is on mass produced Cellared in Canada product, mostly containing grapes bought in bulk from South America. Much of this is put out under the Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs brands. I don’t buy anything put out by this company and that includes Le Clos Jordanne too.

  2. Eric,
    That’s certainly a strong stance to take against Inniskillin, J-T and Le Clos, and I assume all the Peller brands such as Thirty Bench, Peller Estates and Hillebrand and the other wineries who are allowed to blend foreign grapes into some of their wines (which are now, thankfully, clearly marked and moved away from the VQA sections at the wine store). Truth is, these blended products account for over 65% (some claim 79%) of all grapes grown in Ontario and the industry here, good hard-working farmers and winery staff and winemakers, would shrink without that market of cheap plonk. Jobs would disappear. That’s the reality. The majority of wine drinkers, not only here in Ontario, but around the world, won’t spend more than $8 or $9 for a bottle of wine. Who in Ontario is making a VQA wine at that price? It’s just not possible in a cool climate such as Niagara. I don’t drink cellared in Canada wines, and won’t review them on this website, but I certainly support the work of winemakers Bruce Nicholson, Marco Piccoli, Emma Garner, Craig McDonald, Sebastian Jacquey and Lawrence Buhler, who all make wines at either Vincor or Peller wineries and do a fantastic job.
    Thank-you for your comments, it’s certainly a hot-button item, and continues to spark heated debate.

  3. Is it not true that these Cellared in Canada products are allowed to have up to 70% foreign grapes in them? Does 65% of Niagara’s grapes have to go into this stuff? Why can’t Niagara grapes go into making an honest $10 VQA bottle without the extra additives and water that is allowed into these? They are the modern version of Baby Duck. They have not been moved away from the VQA sections of the stores I go into here in Toronto, they are on adjacent shelves in the same row and the name itself is very misleading. Vineland puts out very good VQA riesling at $12.95 without making anything like CIC. I’m sure that Vincor could do that for less considering it’s size and resources.
    It’s really insulting for the true legacy of Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser to market these things with the name Inniskillin on them. Considering that there are wineries like Vineland and Cave Spring, I can do without Vincor.

  4. I just had a quick look at the LCBO website. Chateau des Charmes, Reif, Colio, Peelee Island, Stonechurch and Jackson- Triggs all make VQA wines for less than $10. It can be done.

    On another subject, thanks for reporting on the situation at Alvento. I have never had the pleasure of visiting the winery but I have tried most of their wines. They were all really good & it will be a very sad day when the Moos’ are no longer making wine.

  5. I agree totally with Eric. I have spoken with many people (including people who have taken wine courses and who think of themselves as sommeliers, and local food activists) who are unaware of Cellared in Canada as a category. Some do drink Cellared in Canada wine, unaware that they are not drinking according to their beliefs. Others refuse to buy anything from Ontario, as the “Ontario” wines that they tasted were not up to their standards.

    We need clear bottle labelling and store signage, so that there is no confusion! Of course, the larger companies would never go for clarity.

  6. Ivan,
    Thanks for comments. I would be certainly surprised if there were any sommeliers who were unaware of the CIC category. Almost every wine growing region in the world has one similar to Canada. While not defending it, as I choose not to drink CIC wines myself, I do know what to look for. I start with the VQA logo on Ontario wines and go from there. That label means the wine was made with 100% Ontario fruit. At the LCBO stores I shop at, the VQA wines are not in the VQA area. They are placed in the international blends aisle, which I avoid. As for your friends that refuse to buy Ontario wines, all I can say is they haven’t been exposed to the right wines. Ontario makes world-class wines and not so world class wines, just like anywhere.

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