Best Ontario cider

By Rick VanSickle

Southbrook Vineyards just did something that all Ontario craft cider makers should take note of.

As part of the growing trend of Ontario wineries producing a signature hard apple cider (or two or three) for their portfolios, Southbrook has vintage dated their debut cider, taking their cue from experience in the wine world.

This is something few cideries do, but they should. Apples, like grapes, have varying growing seasons (good and not-so-good) and the finished cider is simply different year to year. By telling the consumer the year the apples were grown can be beneficial to both consumer and producer.

Ontario craft cider

Of course, there are various reasons cideries don’t do this, not the least of which is the cost of printing new labels every vintage, but I feel they should start vintage-dating their top bottlings regardless of cost. Maybe not all their ciders, but putting the date on the bottle (or can) of their top ciders will send a signal to consumers that it’s fresh or has some age. It also allows drinks writers to review new vintages of the cider as they are released instead of a single review for the history of the cider. We can safely assume every new vintage has changed somewhat — whether it’s less (or more!) RS, a different apple blend, change in orchards and perhaps a new yeast.

Enough preaching!

This report looks at Southbrook’s new cider, a couple of delicious sparkling wines from Vineland Estate, a new naturally flavoured Social Lite vodka & soda offering, spring releases from the Okanagan’s JoieFarm and Niagara wine recommendations from this Saturday’s LCBO Vintages release.

Southbrook’s new cider

Southbrook Wild Ferment Organic Cider 2016 ($16 for 750 mL, winery and select bars in Ontario, 92 points) — Winemaker Ann Sperling (very top photo), in keeping with Southbrook’s organic philosophy, sourced the apples for this effort from hand-harvested apples grown at Avalon Orchards, a certified organic orchard in Innisfil. The apples were pressed at the orchard and transported immediately to the winery without pasteurization or preservatives. The juice (33% each of Nova Mac, Liberty and Nova Spy and 0.5% each of Goldrush and Pricilla) was allowed to settle, and then added to the active wild yeast from a natural fermentation of biodynamic white wine. After a long, cool fermentation, the cider was bottled with 11 grams/litre of residual sugar. The effervescence was captured by completing fermentation in the bottles (ancestral method), yielding a bubbly expression of the collaboration between Ontario organic farms. No additions of any kind — sulphites, sweeteners, acids or tannins — were made.

It pours a golden colour, slight cloudy (in a good way), with good effervescence that gives way to a nose of mulled apples, subtle spice and leesy notes. It’s fresh and vibrant with crisp apple flavours that pop on the palate. It maintains that energy and verve through the lingering finish. Southbrook suggests pairing with organic cheddar and a charcuterie board, classic Ruben sandwich or even with fish and chips, but my suggestion would be to try it with roast pork or chops. It is certified suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

New Vineland sparkling reserve duo

Ontario sparkling wine

Vineland Estates Sparkling Pinot Meunier Reserve 2015 ($30, winery, 91 points) — The range and depth of sparkling wine in Niagara, Ontario and Canada is staggering as more and more wineries join the bubbly revolution. It’s a category that plays to the strength of varietals that do so well in the cool-climate wine regions we have in Canada. This charmat method Pinot Meunier from winemaker Brian Schmidt is as delicious as it looks, with a lovely subtle pale salmon colour, vigorous mousse and nose of toast, red berries, apple and a squirt of citrus. There’s a pleasing sweet note on the palate that works well with ripe cherry and raspberry fruit through a clean and fresh finish. Vineland suggests trying with a steak Florentine, “if you’re courageous enough.”

Best Ontario sparkling

Vineland Estate Sekt Sparkling Reserve 2015 ($25, winery, 90 points) — Sekt is the German word for sparkling, most of which, including this Vineland offering, is made by the charmat method. It’s a blend of Riesling (43%), Chardonnay (32%) and Pinot Meunier (25%). It shows wonderful energy in the glass with a lively expression of citrus, apple, toast and mineral notes. It pops on the palate with a vigorous bead of bubbles and a mélange of lemon-lime citrus, green apple, toasted almonds and pinch of tangerine sweetness to go with a creamy texture and bright and zesty finish. Pure joy in a glass.

New Social Lite flavour

All natural drink

Social Lite Pineapple Mango ($10 for 4×355 mL cans, LCBO, 89 points) — Toronto entrepreneurs Dan Beach and Kevin Folk saw a need for a beverage that was easy on the calories, big on flavour without any artificial sweeteners and developed a pair of ready-to-drink sparkling vodka beverages. They use all-natural flavours and each drink has just 80 calories per can and 4% alc/vol. They’ve just released a third flavour to complement the Lemon Cucumber Mint and Lime Ginger originals. Look for a nose of crushed mango and pineapple smoothie, fresh and pulpy. It’s perfectly dry on the palate, refreshing and a lovely combination of tropical pineapple, mango and spritz of lime in a bracingly dry style. Add a couple cubes of ice and enjoy guilt free.

JoieFarm, Naramata Bench, B.C.

Best B.C. wine

This is an exciting time for JoieFarm winemaker and “proprietress” Heidi Noble (above). Her newly built tasting room, on the same site of the original farmhouse on the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan Valley, is set to swing open the doors on May 1.

Okanagan wine

The new facility “continues to embody the goal to create the authentic wine tasting experience for guests seeking to try our wines and understand the culture in which JoieFarm wines are grown, made and presented,” says Noble.

It should prove to be an ideal spot to taste and buy the new releases. Here are four wines from the new spring collection that I can recommend:

JoieFarm A Noble Blend 2016 ($24, winery, 88 points) — The blend is 38% Gewurztraminer, 37% Riesling, 11% Pinot Blanc, 8% Pinot Auxerrois and the rest Muscat. Made in the spirit of Gentil, a traditional Germanic varietal blend made in Alsace, this is a friendly and fresh white with a fragrant and exotic nose of lychee, grapefruit, tropical fruits, nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s vibrant on the palate with a touch of honey sweetness to go with an array of exotic fruits, spice and perky, balancing acidity through the finish.

JoieFarm Muscat 2016 ($23, winery, 90 points) — I do love this spicy rendition of Muscat, chock full of cloves and other spices on top of peach, lemon and star fruit on the nose. It’s has a fresh and dry impression on the palate, with rousing spice notes, exotic fruits, lemon and lime with a crisp finish.

JoieFarm Re-Think Pink! Rose 2016 ($21, winery, 88 points) — The blend is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Gamay with a nose of fresh-picked raspberries, cherry, strawberry and light herb notes. It’s slightly off-dry on the palate with ripe red fruits and a smooth, delicious and perky finish.

JoieFarm Un-Oaked Chadonnay 2016 ($23, winery, 90 points) — A highly aromatic and pure expression of Chardonnay with ripe tropical fruits, apple and citrus notes on the nose. It maintains freshness on the palate with a range of tropical fruit flavours, pineapple and touch of citrus to go with subtle minerality on the finish. A delight.

Niagara wines being released
at Vintages Saturday

Rosewood Mead Royale Honey Wine 2015 ($17 for 500 mL, 92 points) — This is a barrel fermented and barrel aged wine made from the honey of bees raised on the estate. The nose shows wildflower honey, creamy pear, lanolin and white flower notes. It possesses such gorgeous texture on the palate with sweet wild honeycomb, almonds, vanilla cream and a smooth, rich delivery through the finish.

Ontario icewine

Tawse Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2014 ($35 for 200 mL, 90 points) — The nose shows sweet cherry, cranberry and raspberry and light bramble notes. It’s unctuous on the palate, like velvet, with flavours of cran-cherry, sweet raspberry pie and balancing acidity that leads to a long, long finish.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree Red 2014 ($19, 90 points) – Five components make up this blend led by Syrah, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a little Baco Noir completing the recipe. Look for smoke, black cherry, blackberry and anise to persist on the palate tapering to plum, clove/cinnamon, pepper and supple tannins on the finish. A very good value that will pair well with roasted lamb or beef or smoky ribs. (Michael Lowe)

Also released but not reviewed:

  • EastDell Cuvee Brut 2011 ($25)
  • 13th Street White Palette 2015 ($16)
  • Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2016 ($17)
  • Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2015 ($15)
  • Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling 2013 ($18)
  • Peninsula Ridge Reserve Meritage 2015 ($25)
  • Rockway Vineyards Cabernet/Merlot 2013 ($17)