By Rick VanSickle
The last time I had a taste of The Judge from Hester Creek on the Golden Mile Bench in the Okanagan it was during a whirlwind visit through the valley in 2011.
The finishing touches were just being applied to the Terrafina Restaurant (below), a 45-seat eatery at the winery that provided an intimate setting with old brick, wooden pillars and iron chandeliers.
It was built as an add-on at the winery to entice visitors to stay and enjoy the breathtaking views, much like you would find in a villa overlooking the hills in Tuscany, and revel in all that that the South Okanagan Valley can offer.
The Judge, made by winemaker Rob Summers (top photo), was at the forefront of big proprietary reds that were just beginning to emerge in the Okanagan Valley and, at $45 a bottle, was breaking new ground for price points.
The wine blew me away despite the price and after tasting the eighth vintage of this delicious wine, holding steady at $45 a bottle, it still holds the same charm as the 2007 bottling.
In this report, Wines In Niagara looks at the new releases from Hester Creek, a few new releases from Vineland Estates in Niagara, a tasty Cabernet Franc from Fielding Estate, some Good Kharma from Flat Rock Cellars and a few selections from the under-the-radar St. Catharines winery The King’s Court. Reviews are by Rick VanSickle and Michael Lowe (marked with ML after the review).
Hester Creek Estate Winery
Hester Creek The Judge 2014 ($45, 91 points) — This is the eighth vintage of this flagship red from Hester Creek. It’s a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon that’s macerated and fermented separately in Italian Ganimede fermenters. Each varietal was oak-aged separately and after 14 months, the best lots were chosen and returned to oak for an additional 12 months. Such an appealing nose of rich, dark cherry, cassis, vanilla, toasted oak and a complex array of oak spices. It possesses lovely mouth-feel, red fruits, currants, cocoa, toasted vanilla and spice that is all together complex and elegant through a long, long finish. Can cellar up to 8 years … maybe more. A beauty.
Hester Creek Chardonnay 2016 ($25, 88 points) — Estate, small-lot Chardonnay from the Golden Mile Bench that’s aged for 8 months sur lie with a combination of French and American oak. Aromas of green apple, cream, lemon, roasted almonds, vanilla, toast and marzipan. It shows poached pear, creamy/buttery notes with toasted vanilla and spice on the palate with a fresh citrus finish. Drinking pretty well right now but can cellar for a couple of years.
Hester Creek Terra Unica Riesling 2016 ($23, 91 points) — Inviting and interesting nose of citrus, apple, crushed oyster shells and salty ocean breeze. It’s crisp and vibrant of the palate with the full range of citrus fruits, ginger, honeydew melon and wonderful minerality through the fresh finish. Lovely, terroir-driven Riesling from the Golden Mile Bench.
Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2015 ($27, 89 points) — The Syrah and small percentage of Viognier is co-fermented on the skins for 15 days before pressing. The blend spends 15 months in 60% American oak and the rest French oak. Aromas of smoked meat and bacon fat jump from the glass followed by violets, boysenberry, blackberry, earth, fresh-ground pepper and savoury spice notes. The palate reveals dark cherry fruit, cracked black peppercorns, smooth tannins with meaty/savoury notes and bright acidity to keep it lively through the finish.
Hester Creek Cabernet Franc Block 3 2014 ($29, 90 points) — From the Block Series at Hester Creek, this is pure Cab Franc with a Golden Mile twist. The nose is expressive with dried herbs, raspberries, Espresso bean, smoke, mineral and spice notes. It shows savoury red fruits on the palate with black currants, smoky spice notes, herbs, fine gentle tannins and good length on the finish. Lovely expression of this superstar grape in both Okanagan and Niagara.
Vineland Estate Winery
Vineland Estates Unoaked Chardonnay 2016 ($13, 88 points) — When consumers complain they can’t find a good Niagara wine they can afford, I often point them in the direction of Vineland Estates where winemaker Brian Schmidt has found a way to make some delicious wines — both red and white — in the sub-$15 category. This is a prime example of that. Though unoaked, there is still depth on the nose that shows creamy pear, bright apple and citrus fruits. It’s a vibrant Chard and fruit forward on the palate with generous and ripe orchard fruits and freshening acidity on the finish. A go-to, every day wine that will impress without breaking the bank.
Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2016 ($20, 92 points) — St. Urban is one of the most important Riesling vineyards in Ontario. It has history, a proven track record, distinct terroir from block to block and produces top-notch Riesling each and every year at various levels. Elevation is one tier down from the Reserve, but, for me, this defines the wines from Vineland Estate and the winemaker, Brian Schmidt. It’s such a beautiful vineyard both esthetically and for its rich vein of limestone that forms the foundation of the wine’s personality no matter the vintage. The nose shows bright, vibrant lime zest and citrus, apple skin, summer peach and stony minerality. Just wow on the palate, an initial blast of lemon-lime then honey crisp apple and peach, then waves of wet stone that is all perfectly balanced by racy acidity that runs through the core. Delicious now, but worth laying down a few bottles to see how it matures.
Vineland Estate Pinot Meunier Bo-Teek Vineyard 2016 ($25, 90 points) — Pinot Meunier is a labour of love at Vineland Estates; it’s not exactly the easiest grape to grow in Niagara, but Schmidt likes how it turns out both in a 100% sparkling wine and in this table wine. Pinot Meunier is most famous in the vineyards of Champagne where it adds body and richness as one of three main grapes in those classic sparkling wines. Here, as a still wine, it is quite delicious with a rich and savoury nose, pretty violets, cherry, raspberry, bramble, red plum and spice notes. It’s not a big wine in the glass, but certainly has more structure on the palate then you would expect by the colour. It shows beautiful red fruits, earth, bramble and blueberry accents with integrated spice and ripe tannins. A lovely wine with freshness and vibrancy through the finish.
Fielding Estate Winery
Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc Tufford Road Vineyard 2015 ($40, mid-Nov. release at the winery, 91 points) — The estate’s Tufford Road Vineyard is in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, about halfway between the slopes of the Beamsville Bench and the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The warmer degree days offer Cab Franc a riper profile than the estate’s vineyards on the Beamsville Bench. This is an interesting CF, not a hit-you-over-the-head style, but rather more elegant. It has lovely aromatics of ripe cherry, plum, pomegranate, earth and subtle spice. It shows more depth on the palate, more structure, with earthy red fruits, anise, emerging oak spices, savoury herbs with good acidity to keep it lively on the finish. Keep five+ years for further development.
Flat Rock Cellars
Flat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay 2015 ($17, 89 points) — An easy drinking, fruit forward chard showing lemon, pineapple, toasty oak, spice and vanilla. Pear and apple lead the way on the palate followed by buttery, caramel notes
on the medium-length finish. Pair with any pasta dressed with cream-based sauces. (ML)
King’s Court Estate Winery
King’s Court is a seven-generation, family-owned and operated winery with its roots in Germany. The winery is located in St. Catharines where a wide variety of wines are crafted from grapes that grow best in the climate of Niagara. A good portion of the winery’s production is exported, but many of the wines are available locally.
Mike Lowe and I sampled a selection of wines recently. Here is what we can recommend.
King’s Court Princess Rosé 2016 ($16, 87 points) — Love the brilliant cranberry colour of this Cabernet Franc based rosé. It shows cherry, strawberry and cranberry notes on the nose. The palate reveals a range of red fruits all nicely balanced with the subtle sweetness on the palate.
King’s Court Wild Blueberry Wine 2015 ($22 for 375 mL, 91 points) — I don’t taste a lot of blueberry wines, but this is the best I’ve tasted. With a deep purply-red hue in the glass the hedonistic nose shows rich blueberry jam, cassis, black currants and bramble. It’s perfectly dry on the palate with rich and lush flavours of blueberry pie and black currants with enough acidity to keep it balanced on the finish. A nice treat to finish the meal.
King’s Court Riesling Icewine 2015 ($45 for 375 mL, 89 points) — The nose on this super sweet Icewine shows apricot, poached pear, honeycomb and ripe peach. It’s unctuous and silky on the palate with a range of lush tropical fruits, peaches and cream with a honey-sweet finish.
King’s Court Gewurztraminer Icewine 2012 ($52, 87 points) — The nose offers aromas of dried mango, honey and some raisin notes. Look for honey-soaked golden raisins and pineapple on the palate. Acidity is dropping off a bit but
there’s a slight citrus tang to balance the sweetness. (ML)
King’s Court Cabernet Franc Icewine 2011 ($52, 89 points) — This wine is aging gracefully, showing a brickish-orange tinge in the glass, and expressing nice wild strawberry and dried cranberry on the nose and palate. There is an evident seam of acidity adding balance and complexity to the fruit. Very drinkable now. (ML)
King’s Court Pinot Noir Reserve 2015 ($18, 88 points) — A rustic, earthy nose with raspberry and cherry fruit to go with spice and bramble notes. The palate reveals a mélange of juicy red fruits, integrated spice and plenty of zippy acidity to keep it all fresh and lively.