Best Niagara Riesling

By Rick VanSickle

If you love Niagara Riesling (and, hey, who doesn’t) you are going love the Vintages release this Saturday.

Two benchmark Rieslings are being offered (both at the very reasonable price of $20 a bottle) that will tell you everything you need to know about terroir-driven Niagara wines from this region. If it’s minerality you crave along with freshness and purity of fruit, these two gems will fit nicely in your cellar and will develop for years to come. Of course, there is no shame in drinking them at their laser-sharp freshest, either.

The pair of single-vineyard Rieslings lead the Niagara highlights from what’s being released at your government stores, but there are also a few other gems to check out: the 2027 Cellars Wismer Chardonnay, only available at Vintages or restaurants, comes to mind.

I’ve also included a beauty from E. Guigal, a Rhone Chateauneuf-du-Pape that I tasted at Vineland Estate with the winemaker nearly two years ago.

And, if you are fan of good Ontario craft cider, Niagara’s Garage D’or Ciders has just released a funky new cider and we have the review.

Niagara Vintages wine releases Saturday

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2014 ($20, 93 points) — I know, a hefty score, but it’s worth every single point. This took me by surprise, such a beautiful Riesling from vines planted to Clone 49 in June’s Vineyard with 10 g/l of residual sugar. The nose is redolent in grapefruit, green tea, citrus and a lovely vein of minerality, earth and ginger. This is an exotic and unique expression of Niagara Riesling with swirling grapefruit-citrus on the palate, marzipan, white peppery notes and vineyard-inspired ginger through a fresh and vibrant finish. Stunning, really.

Best Ontario Riesling

Vineland Estate Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($20, 92 points) — The price just never goes up on this classic Niagara Riesling — a very good thing for consumers. Ask winemaker Brian Schmidt what he does to achieve the level of success he does with this single-vineyard Riesling year after year, he just shrugs: “It’s just the vineyard.” It is sourced from Fields A and D from St. Urban and made just a touch drier (33 g/l as compared to 40 g/l) than the previous vintage. It is a waterfall of freshness and energy on the nose with zesty lime, grapefruit, touches of mango, green apples and chalky minerality. It’s pure and chiseled on the palate, showcasing the inherit acidity of the vintage, with dominant lemon-lime zing and subtle pear, apple and tropical fruits. It is bright and lip-smacking good from sniff to swallow. If you love Riesling, this is your paramour.

Best Ontario Chardonnay

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2014 ($23, 91 points) — Winemaker Kevin Panagapka applies oak aging (20% new) for 18 months and only partial malo for this version of his Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay. The nose shows poached pear, gunflint, baked apple, charming and elegant barrel spices and citrus on the edges. With gorgeous mouth-feel, look for charred-smoky notes on the palate which gives way to creamy pear, apple, vanilla/toast and baking spices all kept in check by freshening acidity through the finish. Should develop further.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree White 2013 ($18, 88 points) — The Family Tree HoP wines are always blends of different varietals with the fruit sourced from the estate “but also those of our friends, neighbours and distant cousins across the Niagara Peninsula.” The white is a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay Musque with about 40% of the fruit barrel fermented and barrel aged for 8 months. The nose shows rich pear, apple, tropical fruits, a whiff of lychee and spice. It has a soft texture on the palate with broad flavours of pear, grilled pineapple, bruised apple and vanilla toast.

Vineland Estate Chardonnay Musque 2015 ($20, 89 points) — Chardonnay Musque is that summer tradition that is just like walking in a Niagara orchard when the fruit is ripe for the picking. This is just like that with a nose of sweet, ripe peach, gala golden delicious apple, apricot and just a hint of honey. On the palate, it’s more of the same but all lifted by refreshing acidity. Summer in a glass.

Redstone Reserve Cabernet Franc 2012 (30, 91 points) – Sourced from three vineyards in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation and aged in French oak for 14 months, 40% of which were new barrels. A nose of rockin’ red fruits, herbs, spice, currants and toasted barrel spices. It’s thick and rich on the palate with an enjoyable package of red/dark fruits, spice, subtle herbs and all held together by a mouthful of tannins. There is plenty of depth to explore and perfectly poised through the finish.

Also released but not reviewed:

  • Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2014 ($19)
  • Marynissen Platinum Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($20)
  • Chateau des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2012 ($20)
  • Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2015 ($22)
  • Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling 2013 ($25 for 375 mL)
  • Pondview Vidal Icewine 2015 ($20 for 200 mL)
  • Stoney Ridge Excellence Meritage 2014 ($25)

A treat from the Rhone Valley

Top Rhone Valley wine

Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2011 ($64, Flagship stores only, 92 points) — I first tasted this Rhone Valley beauty in May of 2015 at Vineland Estate with E. Guigal winemaker Philippe Guigal, who was a guest at a joint tasting with Vineland winemaker Brian Schmidt (both in above photo). It was a bold move for Vineland to invite Guigal to Niagara to pour his wines beside Schmidt’s wines, but not surprising.

The wine club at Vineland Estate has always been “inclusive,” said Vineland Estate director of customer service David Hulley at the time.

“We know that our guests’ cellars are not just filled with Vineland wine because our personal cellars are not exclusive to Vineland either,” he said. “Our goal is to provide a broad and genuine wine experience with Vineland Estates as the centre hub.”

Guests were treated to a full range of Guigal wines alongside a roster of Vineland wines. It was a fun night.

The Chateauneuf-du-Pape was one of the highlights of the evening and is just making it to Vintages flagship stores now.

It’s A blend of 75% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah and 5% other grapes (average age of 45 years old) from soil that is a mix of round pebbles and red clay. The wine spends two years in oak foudres. Such a gorgeous nose mature red fruits, boysenberry, plums, smoke, game, garrigue, tar, anise and spicy notes. It is complex and powerful on the palate, showing youthful vigour that highlights the darker fruits and ripe, full tannins. It is a showy red that will need time to bring all the parts into balance. Cellar 5-10 years.

Breaking the cider house rules …

Or is it, making the cider house rules? Whatever it is, the more unique the better when it comes to the Ontario craft cider business in this province. So many creative minds are concocting delicious beverages from apples, pears, peaches, cherries and whatever else they feel can make their cider stand out in a crowd. It is what makes this cool beverage niche so interesting — anything goes, and, if it doesn’t just dust yourself off and try again.

The other factor driving this youthful segment of the beverage market is the fact that it doesn’t take a monster load of cash outlay to get up and running and listed on key taps throughout the province.

Recent scenario:

Brian Yeo sends a DM:
Brian: Hey Rick, how’s your timing looking for meeting for a beer? I’m pretty clear anytime
Me: I’m at the Merch right now
Brian: Ok, can be there in about 15

And 15 minutes later Yeo shows up with a shiny silver can (a sample) of freshly-made cider from his Garage D’or Cider company he co-founded with Gavin Robertson. Yeo, a former beer writer for Wines In Niagara, and Robertson a teacher, winemaker and cidermaker at Niagara College, started their small, boutique venture with a small amount of capital and have steadily cranked out keg after keg of great ciders sold at key bars around the Ontario. What they earn goes back into the business.

 

Their latest concoction, called Wicked & Weird (after the Buck 65 song, see video), is made from the Garage D’or base cider and then aged for over a month on the skins of “some experimental red hybrid grapes that the College has,” Yeo says. “I can’t tell you what they are called, I asked Gavin and he just said a bunch of letters and numbers that meant nothing to me.

“Gavin saw the colour coming out of the juice and thought it would be a fun idea to play with. It helped give some tannin and structure to the cider as well.”

The cider was back sweetened with unfermented Gewurztraminer juice to a final 14 g/l residual sugar.

“I find this cider pretty fun as it plays with your perceptions somewhat. Once you see the colour you expect some red wine characters but when cold it’s almost pure apple. As it warms though the red berry fruit and floral characters start coming out along with a touch of that hybrid gameness.”

If you want to try this latest version of cider from Garage D’or, there are only 7 kegs and you can find them here: Her Father’s Cider and WVRST in Toronto, Arabella Park and Bent Elbow in Kitchener, The Wooly in Guelph and Kully’s in St. Catharines.

Here’s my review:

Garage D’or Weird & Wicked Cider (on tap only at select bars, 91 points) — The first thing you notice is the vibrant cranberry red colour on this unique cider that is the result of aging the skins on “experimental” red hybrid grapes. It’s best to let this warm up a bit from tap temperature to reveal the aromatic nuaunces of warm apples, violets, cherries, raspberries, red licorice and funky/earthy notes. This is a structured cider with evident tannins that shows off earthy red fruits, crisp apple and some pleasing notes of sweetness on the palate. It remains fresh through the finish, guided by a beam of laser sharp acidity. The rosy red colour of this cider messes with your mind — in a good way!