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What a pleasant surprise to drop in on Ilya and Nadia Senchuk and (finally!) see their bricks and mortar winery and tasting room all finished and open for business.

I have followed the wines from the couple’s Leaning Post brand since it was a tiny virtual winery. It is one of those rare startups that hit the ground running with personable, well-made, terroir-driven wines made from grapes sourced from Niagara’s top vineyards.

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Quality wines have always been at the heart of Ilya’s master plan that has now come to fruition with the planting of an estate vineyard on the Winona property, a retail licence and a homey, country estate tasting room that just shouts TASTE ME.

It’s hard to believe that just last year the converted barn looked like an impossible mission to transform into what it is today. It is a pleasant space with subtle lighting, barn board and hand fashioned nails, and an old-style ambiance. In fact, the only thing that stands out as a modern embellishment is the neon OPEN sign hanging in the window.

Ilya Senchuk has jumped head first into the tricky world of winemaker/owner/grape grower and businessman with his wife Nadia. He quit his “other” job as winemaker at Foreign Affair to devote his entire life to making his own good juice in Niagara (well, that, and raising two young sons).

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The farmhouse and barn sit on 11 acres of agricultural-zoned land in the Lincoln-Lakeshore appellation. The farm came with an abandoned vineyard that hadn’t been tended in over 20 years. Senchuk cleared the land and planted five acres last July to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.

It’s an odd tract of land that he calls a “sweet spot” in Winona with atypical sandy, stony soil and a hard clay base and some interesting quartz mixed in.

“We are like a weird little island in Winona. It’s like we’re saving it,” he said last September during a visit, pointing out beyond his farm that is slowly being surrounded by urban encroachment on both sides of his property.

I tasted his amazing Merlot and Pinot Noir last September (reviewed here in an earlier post) but came back to taste his newest wines. Here’s what I liked:

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Leaning Post Riesling 2013 ($25, winery, 91 points) — Senchuk went back to his original source for this Riesling, Fox Croft Vineyard, and applies some unique winemaking to get the style he wants. He wants an Alsatian feel with more complexity and flesh so he picks the fruit late, ages the juice on the lees and finishes the wine with pretty hefty residual sugar (17 g/l) but balances it out with high acidity. It’s ripe and focused on the nose with lime, peach, grapefruit and a subtle mint note. It has fabulous energy on the palate with lovely texture and ripeness to go with lime, mineral and quince notes. It’s almost a late harvest style, but balanced. “Everybody talks about terroir,” Senchuk says, “but this doesn’t taste like anyone else’s Riesling (from Fox Croft).”

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Leaning Post The Fifty 2013 ($22, 92 points) — Perhaps the best “unoaked” Chardonnay I have tasted in Niagara (and, trust me, I have searched far and wide for a style that satisfies my inner Chablis-ness). The Fifty refers to the former name of Winona, which changed names in 1973. The fruit is sourced from the Fox Croft Vineyard and the fruit is fermented in neutral oak barrels and transferred to stainless steel. The key here, for me at least, is no malo — lees aging and barrel fermented, yes, but no malo. So beautiful on the nose with fresh and ripe pear, apple, pineapple and tropical fruits. It has a velvety, mid-weight feel on the palate followed by a stream of minerality and fruit that is pure and expressive of the vineyard. This is unoaked Chard done right. Or as Senchuk says: “A winemaker’s wine.”

Leaning Post Chardonnay Fox Croft Vineyard 2012 ($35, 92 points) — Senchuk sources his fruit for this Chardonnay from Fox Croft Vineyard, two rows away from where Thomas Bachelder sources his fruit, and four rows down from where Kevin Panakapka (2027 Cellars) gets his. Primary fermentation (almost 6 weeks) took place in barrel, followed by full malo fermentation. Once fermentations were completed, the wine remained in French oak barrique (35% new, 65% 4-year-old) for 12 months. This is a contemplative Chard with a mélange of ripe pear, citrus and spice against a background of limestone minerality. It has some weight on the palate, with ripe fruit in tandem with butterscotch cream, minerality and a long, smooth finish. Senchuk has embraced the warmth of the season but found balance with the acidity.

Go Gamay Go

Gamay continues to gain traction in Niagara and this one from EastDell hits all the right notes, especially with the price.

EastDell Gamay Noir 2012 ($14, 88 points) — An inviting nose of fresh berries and light spice. It’s delicious on the palate with cherry, plum and savoury spices. This is a Gamay that is the perfect porch sipper.

Cider, oh my

Since we are in the middle of Ontario Craft Cider Week (in Toronto) I thought it appropriate to review this flagship cider from West Avenue.

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West Avenue Heritage Dry Cider, Ontario (various prices on tap or bottle at restaurants/bars, 90 points) — This is the flagship cider from West Avenue, on the forefront of the cider revolution that’s taking place in Ontario, made from 100% Heritage apples. It’s everything you want in a cider — crisp, relatively dry, teeming in apple flavours, lovely long and refreshing finish and balanced from sniff to swallow. Fast becoming a cider staple at top watering holes in Toronto and Ontario.

Niagara wines being released at Vintages July 7

0117960Creekside Laura’s Red 2010 ($20, 89 points) — The Laura tier of wines at Creekside has been a success story for the winery. Both the red and white blends have been known for their quality at a reasonable price. The 2010 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Malbec shows an expressive nose of black cherries, currants, toasted vanilla spice and roasted coffee bean notes. It’s a fruit forward wine on the palate with bold raspberry-cherry fruit, with touches of bramble, mocha and vanilla to go with ripe tannins and a smooth finish.

Thirty Bench Winemakers Red 2011 ($24, 88 points) — A blend of 48% Cab Sauv, 42% Merlot and 10% Cab Franc, it has a savoury, spicy nose with blackberry, cherry and herb notes. It has firm tannins, bramble, blackberry, licorice and spice on the palate.

Other wines released but not reviewed:

• Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012 ($20)
• Sue-Ann Staff Loved By Lu Riesling 2012 ($17)
• 13th Street Pink Palette Rose 2013 ($16)
• Creekside Cabernet Rose 2013 ($16)
• Megalomaniac Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rose 2013 ($18)
• Konzelmann Heritage Reserve 2012 ($27)

From the May 25th Vintages release:

0367797Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($20, 87 points) — This is JT’s version of New Zealand-style SB with grass, fresh herbs, kiwi and citrus fruit on the nose. There is plenty of citrus and some tropical notes on the palette to with cut grass and garden herbs all made in a refreshing style.

Mike Weir Limited Edition Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2012 ($25, 90 points) — This Chard from Weir is from the new Weir Family Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench. The nose shows good richness with pear, apple and creamy spice notes. It is elegant on the palate, nicely balanced with ripe fruit and intriguing barrel oak spice notes.

Other wines released but not reviewed:

• Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musque 2011 ($18)
• Henry of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012 ($19)
• Reif Estate Gamay/Cabernet 2012 ($15)
• Riverview Fontana Dolce 2011 ($15)