Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

You blink and you miss an entire evolution of a winery, a complete about-face in philosophy and style that has shaken the very core of what this hard-working family has done since startup — which isn’t that long ago.

We’re talking about Rosewood Estate Winery and Meadery. And while circumstance, namely two cruel winters, has forced the Roman family make some critical decisions after two of their beloved varietals, Merlot and Semillon, were essentially laid waste from brutal Niagara weather in 2014-15, sometimes a little introspection can clear a path to a better future.

It had been a couple of years since last visiting Rosewood on the Beamsville Bench, for whatever reason. I have always been intrigued by the wines and passion the Romans brought to the Niagara wine industry. Injecting a bee-keeping (mead) element into the core portfolio just made things more interesting. It has always had a nifty collection of table wines and mead, driven by Merlot, Riesling and some of the best Semillon made in Niagara (23 vines survived the Polar Vortex winters and continue to produce today).

niagara wine

Unfortunately for the Romans, Merlot and Semillon are not a good fit on the Beamsville Bench, unless you can afford to replant it every 10 years or so.

So, the newest iteration of Rosewood features a new winemaker, a new portfolio and a whole new way of doing things at the estate.

Enter Ryan Corrigan, at the very top with William Roman and above gathering barrel samples.

He has been the new winemaker at the estate winery for the past two years. He was previously the associate winemaker at Pearl Morissette, with stops at Leaning Post, Opus One (Napa) and Kim Crawford Wines (New Zealand).

Signs of change are everywhere when you get deep into the winery where all the magic happens.

Ontario wine

Corrigan climbs to the top of one of the new clay amphorae vessels purchased by Rosewood. Inside the first one is Riesling, also being aged in neutral oak barrels and stainless steel elsewhere in the winery.

Corrigan and operations manager William Roman aren’t sure what the best aging method for the new Riesling at Rosewood will be; but all three styles will be considered as will any blends from those components. The popular Süssreserve Riesling from Rosewood is being retired for the newer style coming from the 2017 vintage.

Best Niagara wine

From another amphorae, Corrigan draws a sample from his a “field blend” of Viognier, Semillon (remember those 23 vines?), Riesling and Gewurztraminer. It is a roiling mass of fermenting grapes (see photo above) that will be the estate’s first orange wine once it is complete.

“We’re young, we’re still leaning about how far we can push things,” Corrigan says.

That seems to be the exciting new mantra at Rosewood. A quest for more naturally-made wines, wines with less intervention, wines with less of everything including oak, including less (sometimes zero) sulphur, and, as in the case of all reds starting with the 2016 vintage, no filtering and no fining (all whites will be unfined, but some will be filtered).

Here’s what I liked from a tasting with Corrigan and Roman before Christmas. Plus, at the end of the post, what’s being released from Niagara on Saturday.

Rosewood Süssreserve Riesling 2016 ($16, 88 points) — This is the last vintage for this style of Riesling that involves blending unfermented grape juice back into the fermented Riesling. It has a bright nose of lime, peach, grapefruit and apple. It’s light and refreshing on the palate with citrus, sweet peach and crisp lime on the finish.

Rosewood Estate Locked and Loaded White 2016 ($17, 88 points) — A lot of thought has gone into this entry-level bistro white blend. Aging was conducted in oak from different coopers and stainless steel for varying periods of time. It has an interesting nose of apples, fresh-cut citrus, gunflint, pear and light spice notes. It has lovely texture on the palate with well-integrated orchard fruits, citrus and moderate spice notes. A white wine that punches outside its weight class.

Rosewood Renaceau Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($30, spring release, 91 points) — The 10-acre Renaceau Vineyard was the first vineyard planted at the Beamsville Bench estate in 2003. This site has deep clay soils with shale, sandstone and dolomitic limestone components from the bedrock also present. The original varietals chosen for this site included Riesling, Chardonnay, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, and more recent additions include Gamay Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. This is a gorgeous and elegant Chardonnay with a fresh and lively nose of apple, citrus, minerals and spice. Such beautiful mouth-feel and texture with plenty of finesse to prop up a range of orchard fruits and elegant spice and mineral notes.

Rosewood Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2016 ($25, 88 points) — This falls into the “new” Rosewood style, a wild fermented, unfiltered, unfined and low sulphur Pinot Noir finished at just 11% alcohol due to a difficult and hot vintage in 2016. The Pinot was picked at only 19.5 Brix because the acidity was dropping so quickly. Corrigan decided to craft a lighter style Pinot that best expresses itself served slightly chilled. It has a nose of savoury cherry, raspberry and cranberry notes. It’s light and refreshing on the palate with pleasant red fruit flavours that maintain that freshness through the finish.

Rosewood Locked and Loaded Red 2015 ($20, 88 points) — A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec with a smoky nose of cassis, currants, anise, cigar-box cedar and spice. It has some structure on the palate and decent tannins with a range of dark fruits, herbs, licorice and spice.

Rosewood Mead Blanc 2016 ($25, 89 points) — The Rosewood family tends hundreds of beehives at the estate and along the Niagara Peninsula. The honey goes into many different products at, including several different honey, or mead, wines. The Mead Blanc is a blend of 85% Gewurztraminer and the rest honey, finished at 25 g/l residual sugar and 13% abv. The nose shows notes of honeysuckle, tropical fruit, lychee and grapefruit. It has a dry impression on the palate with not-too-sweet but ripe fruits, lychee and freshening citrus notes.

Rosewood Legacy Cyser 2016 ($20 for 500 mL, 91 points) — This is an apple/honey wine from a recipe given to proprietor Eugene Roman from his dad R.W. Roman over 50 years ago. The nose shows lovely baked apple notes and wild honey. It has sweetness on the palate with wild meadow flowers, honey and apple with balancing acidity on the finish. A complex and flavourful cyser.

Rosewood Old Smokey ($60 for 500 mL, 93 points) — This is a unique Bourbon-barrel aged bochet (caramelized-honey mead) that exists because of a series of accidents. Old Smokey began its early life as liquid honey, but with a quick slip of the hand it was completely burnt. Instead of throwing it away, the Rosewood team decided to ferment it dry. Following the fermentation, it was matured in tank for over 1.5 years before a refrigeration truck (where it was being stored) had a malfunction and the mead was completely frozen. To their surprise, the mead had actually improved and tasted better than ever. They then decided to transfer it into French oak barriques for several months to allow the journey to continue. To finish, it was allowed to age in freshly emptied Kentucky bourbon barrels for the last 6 months of maturation. It was finally bottled at 19% abv and is unfined and unfiltered. It is a fortified mead with beautiful aromas of smoky sweet oak, marmalade, sea salt, caramel, toffee and creamy vanilla notes. The palate reveals a wide range of toffee and caramel notes, dried fruits, barrel spices and a touch of heat on the finish. A boozy treat to cap off a great evening.

At Vintages Jan. 20

Cuddy By Tawse Chardonnay 2013 ($25, 90 points)— A nose of Bosc pear, apple, elegant oak spices and toasted vanilla. It is nicely put together on the palate with bright orchard fruit, lovely balancing spice and plenty of freshness through the finish.

Other Niagara wines released but not reviewed:

• Charles Baker B-Side Riesling 2016 ($22)
• 13th Street Cabernet/Merlot 2016 ($20)
• Frogpond Farm Gamay Noir 2016 ($16)
• Seasons Baco Noir 2015 ($14)

And one from the Okanagan Valley:

• Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2014 ($30)