Niagara wines

By Rick VanSickle

After 15 years of pushing the envelope in Niagara, winemaker Kevin Panagapka has found a comfortable cadence across the range of his portfolio that consists of Rieslings, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and traditionally made sparkling wines.

The owner and winemaker of 2027 Cellars wines,  available only through the LCBO/Vintages and restaurants, has always made it his goal to “showcase the terroir” in his wines.

“We know the style we want now,” he says. “We’re looking for seamless wines with no jagged peaks, and no valleys.”

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Panagapka started as a virtual winery, which means he made and sold wine at the mercy of a licenced winery. He has always enjoyed a great relationship with Featherstone owners David Johnson and Louise Engel, but wanted more control over his portfolio and the ability to sell directly to the LCBO and restaurants. With his manufacturing licence, he cannot sell retail wines without his own winery, which, of course, is his Panagapka’s ultimate goal.

From the beginning, the LCBO has been receptive to all the wines he was made and they have cleared of the shelves fairly quickly. He has been clever with his decisions selling through Vintages.

Panagapka has created a superb single-vineyard Chardonnay for $23 at Vintages and a sub-$20 single vineyard Riesling that consumers are lapping up because of the quality and consistency of these wines at those price points. Both wines are made at the same level of the top wines at the estate, yet Panagapka can sell them for the lesser price because of the volume he now hawks through Vintages.

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The portfolio at 2027 Cellars has grown from 100 cases in 2007 to 2,000 cases today and Panagapka wants to keep it around that level at least until he has his own retail facility. But he does have plans to add some new wines in the coming months.

He’s planning a Wismer/Foxcroft Gamay Rosé (his first ever Gamay or rosé) from the 2017 vintage and will also release a Stonebridge Vineyard (Niagara-on-the-Lake) Chardonnay, Edgerock Vineyard (Wismer, Twenty Mile Bench) Chardonnay 2017, Edgerock Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Edgerock Rosé Sparkling 2017 and a blanc de blancs 2017 down the road.

I sat down and tasted a few new releases with Panagapka in the retail and tasting room at Featherstone recently. Here’s what I liked.

Also in this report: Vintages releases of Niagara wines this Saturday, new releases from Chateau des Charmes and a Ripasso from Valpolicella I tried and liked recently.

2027 Cellars

Best Niagara wines

2027 Cellars Edgerock Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($25, summer release at Vintages, 91 points) — This is Panagapka’s first attempt at a Pinot Noir at this lower price point. Quality Pinot like this is hard to find in Niagara (or anywhere, for that matter). Edgerock is a vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench farmed by Wismer. Panagapka uses 40% new French oak, always wild fermentation for all his wines, 70% of the fruit is whole berry pressed. The quality of oak, grapes and winemaking for 2027 Cellars is the same across the board whether it’s a $19 bottle of wine or a $40 bottle. The nose on this fine Pinot is fresh and delicate with strawberry, cherry, rhubarb, subtle toasted vanilla and oak. Turns more complex on the palate with obvious tannins to bring complexity and structure into the equation to go with savoury red fruits, underbrush and well-integrated spice notes. A personable Pinot that will have you scratching head at the quality to price ratio.

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard-Foxcroft Block Chardonnay 2016 ($23, Vintages this summer, 92 points) — Panagapka’s No. 1 pursuit, as noted above, is how to best “showcase the terroir. I’m trying to dial in how much new oak to use,” he explains. “I’m concentrating on texture. I want the fruit and oak to mingle.” Only 10% of the oak aging is conducted in new barrels for this Chard due to the hot vintage. It has a highly expressive nose of green apple, mineral, pear, subtle oak and a touch of citrus. It has lovely texture on the palate, beautiful balance and poise, with bright orchard fruits, lemon chiffon, seamless spice, swirling minerals and a clean vibrant finish. Fabulous wine.

2027 Cellars Falls Vineyard Riesling 2016 ($19, Vintages now, 89 points) — A personable nose of apple skin, lime, grapefruit, minerals and a note of jasmine. A dry impression on the palate (but contains 18 g/l of residual sugar) with fresh, vibrant citrus, quince, zesty lime and a quirky (in a good way) ginger/jasmine thing going on.

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard-Foxcroft Block Riesling 2016 ($23, Vintages now, 92 points) — A ripe style on the nose with notes of peach, mango, underlying citrus and river-rock minerality up front and centre. It has a dry impression on the palate but made in a ripe, open-knit style that shows a range of fruits, minerals and subtle ginger notes on the finish. Love this more opulent style and would love to see it age a bit to bring everything into perfect harmony.

A duo from Chateau des Charmes

Chateau des Charmes Gamay Noir 2016 ($16, LCBO, grocery, 88 points) — Expressive nose that shows crushed red berries, currants, plums, bramble and hints of spice. It’s soft(ish) on the palate with a range of dark fruits, medium tannins and light spice. Easy drinking Gamay.

Chateau des Charmes Vidal Icewine 2016 ($27 for 200 mL, Vintages Essential, winery, boutiques, 92 points) — A lovely golden colour with a beautiful nose of peach, apricot and honeycomb. It is thick and rich on the palate with a silky, luxurious feel that teems with peach compote, concentrated apricot, marmalade and wild honey notes. It’s all kept somewhat fresh by lively, racy acidity.

A nice Ripasso to consider

Monte Zovo Sa’ Solin Ripasso Valpolicella 2014 ($19, Vintages now, 90 points) — This is a really nice, fruit forward Ripasso that shows a rich nose of kirsch, raspberry, savoury herbs and spice. Red and dark fruits rock on the palate and works well with the smoky cedar, light spice and some structure along a lively finish. A very nice wine at an appealing price.

Released at Vintages Saturday

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2015 ($24, 90 points) — One of the cool things you’ll now see on the back label of all estate wines made from 2015 on from Hidden are the words: Certified Organic by Pro-Cert. While Hidden Bench’s vineyards have always been organically farmed, the certificate now adorns all bottles as an assurance for consumers. The estate Riesling is a blend of the three estate vineyards and has a nose of lime, peach, grapefruit and oozes limestone minerality. It’s austere on the palate with perfect balance between ripe fruit and acid with citrus, minerals and peach flavours through a zesty finish.

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2016 ($17, 90 points)— This wine is “our bread and butter,” Engel says, and their most popular. Six black sheep, the inspiration for the wine’s name, arrive from Penny and Andrew Oliver of Willow Haven Farm in nearby St. Ann’s on June 28 “to begin their summer job” of trimming the lower leaves on the estate’s grape vines. The Riesling is pretty consistent year to year with a nose of lime, grapefruit, peach and minerality. It feels dry on the palate despite some RS, with bright lemon-lime, apple and river-rock minerals that carry through the refreshing finish.

Other Niagara wines released Saturday at Vintages, but not reviewed:

• Fielding White Conception 2013 ($19)
• Sunnybrook Estate Series Cranberry 2015 ($24)
• Dark Horse Valegro Special Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine 2016 ($45 for 375 mL)
• Pondview Vidal Icewine 2015 ($20 for 200 mL)
• Vieni Sparkling Riesling NV ($20)
• 13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($22)
• Megalomaniac Narcissist Riesling 2016 ($17)
• Peninsula Ridge Barrel Aged Chardonnay 2016 ($17)
• Stonechurch Big Ideas Riesling 2016 ($20)
• The Foreign Affair Enchanted 2015 ($18)
• The Tragically Hip Ahead By A Century Chardonnay 2015 ($20)
• Vieni Private Reserve Chardonnay 2012 ($30)
• The Foreign Affair The Embrace 2016 ($17)
• Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2015 ($26)
• The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2015 ($25)
• Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Red Blend 2015 ($24)
• Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2013 ($30)
• Wildass Red 2014 ($20)

Flagship stores only:

• Charles Baker Ivan Vineyard Riesling 2016 ($27)

December Classics Collection:

• Pearl Morissette Cuvee Madeline Cabernet Franc 2013 ($44)