Canadian wine

With the recent sale of Rockway Vineyards on Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench to a mostly local ownership group there was some fear that the wine program would revert to what it was before winemaker David Stasiuk took the reins.

And that was basic, entry-level wines made for the patio and restaurants at Ontario’s only golf course and winery.

“The new ownership is very keen to elevate the quality of the wines,” Stasiuk told me. “In doing this we will be slowly eliminating entry level skews and developing a focused portfolio of premium wines.”

Stasiuk, above with PGA player David Hearn, said Rockway will continue to plant suitable grapes for the terroir that exists on the property and will be looking to “establish long term relationships with quality wine growers” for grapes that don’t grow well at the estate.

He added: “I’m staying put, and am looking forward to what is ahead.”

Canadian wines

Stasiuk had taken the modest portfolio at Rockway from porch-sipping curiosities to a serious collection of wines that showcased the estate vineyards surrounding the property in only a few short years. The portfolio had been trimmed back recently with more focus on the entry-level wines, so, a move in the other direction will be welcomed by serious wine lovers.

The new ownership group, mostly local residents with some from China, range in expertise from wine export, to finance and real estate fields. The previous owners will be staying on to manage the day-to-day operation of the winery and golf course.

Niagara wines in the
spotlight at Vintages

There are several ways to find Niagara wines in LCBO/Vintages stores if you can’t make it to wine country.

Vintages stores offers a decent selection of Niagara wines in the release this Saturday. We offer a couple of suggestions of what you might like below.

Also, a limited release of hard-to-find Niagara wines make it to about 20 select Ontario boutique stores inside LCBO stores. We highlight a couple of wines hitting shelves Saturday.

And lastly, you can order online from Vintages Classics Collection. Niagara wines for March are highlighted in this report.

First, Niagara wines at Vintages stores Saturday:

Ontario winesHenry of Pelham Family Tree White 2016 ($18, 89 points) — This is an unusual blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay Musque with 40% of the fruit barrel fermented and aged in oak for 8 months. It’s quite fragrant with notes of pear, lychee, peach, apricot and a lovely floral and spice accent on the nose. It’s rich and spicy on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, lychee, ginger and honey notes. Nicely balanced through the finish.

Niagara winesTawse Limestone Ridge North Block Riesling 2015 ($25, 89 points) – Aromas of green apple and pear lead the way, but on the palate it’s candied lime zest at the fore with the other fruits lending a supporting role. Aptly named for the vineyard’s location, there is a focused limestone mineral seam here while the off-dry sweetness is nicely balanced by citrusy acid. Try this one with seafood or coconut milk-based, Thai style curry. (Michael Lowe review)

Other Niagara wines released Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($30)
• Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musque 2015 ($17)
• Frogpond Farm Organic Riesling 2016 ($17)
• Bruce Trail Red 2012 ($14)
• Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2016 ($22)
• Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Meritage 2015 ($25)
• Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2015 ($35)
• Stratus Weather Report Red 2013 ($29)

A nice international wine to consider:

Emiliana Coyam 2013 ($30, Vintages, 92 points) — This signature wine from Chile’s Emiliana is a multi-grape blend with mostly Syrah and Carmenere all from organic and biodynamically farmed fruit. What a brilliant nose of blackberries, plums, blueberries, eucalyptus, graphite and spice. It is loaded with an array of fruits on the palate, but also freshness and spice that shows wonderful integration and balance between power and finesse. A delightful wine.

In 20 Wine Country boutique stores in Toronto and Ottawa area stores Saturday:

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 winemaker Brian 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.

Tawse Redfoot Vineyard Gamay Noir 2015 ($29, 89 points) — Tawse kicks Gamay up a notch with oak aging for 8 months in French barrels, which provides a bit of structure and depth to what is normally an unoaked style in Niagara. The nose shows fresh black cherry, wild raspberry, cranberry and spice notes. On the palate it is more complex with all those red fruits joined by spice, licorice and a pepper note to go with softish tannins and good acidity.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Vieni Momenti (375 mL, $9.50)
• Sunnybrook Estate Series Poire Sec 2015 ($18)

March Classics Collection

Ordering began on Wednesday here  for wines in the Vintages Classics Collection. Here are a couple of standout Niagara wines you might want to snag:

Chateau des Charmes Equuleus 2012 ($43, 93 points) — The flagship red from this estate is always a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% of both Cabernet Franc and Merlot that’s made only in the warmest vintages in Niagara. This is the best Equuleus yet, a more modern style that’s approachable now yet will age for 10-15 years. The nose shows rich cherry, a touch of raspberry and then lavish cassis, concentrated black currants and fine oak spices. It is smooth on the palate with generous fruit flavours, fine tannins and integrated spices that echo on the long finish. This was decanted for three hours before tasting at the Chateau.

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013 ($46, 92 points) — This is an elegantly appointed Chardonnay with a nose of pear, apple, citrus, soft oak spice notes and subtle minerality. It’s softer, more restrained on the palate than the Quarry Road bottling but promises to bring so much more when it opens up. It’s showing a range of orchard fruits, never weighty or dominating, zesty citrus, pretty and integrated oak spice notes delivered with a deft touch by the winemaker, lovely minerality and energetic acidity through the fresh and vibrant finish.

De Witte’s pét-nat wine
gets the VQA stamp of approval

There were corks popping in Winona this week when Leaning Post assistant winemaker Ryan De Witte’s second pét-nat style sparkling wine was given the VQA stamp of approval.

The First Fruit: World of Fog Muscat 2017 (named after the Tom Waits song I Don’t Want to Grow Up —the Ramones version), is a little less wild, still geeky and natural, yes, but not quite as untethered as the last iteration, which was rejected by VQA. He has again chosen to use Muscat from the Wismer Vineyard as his muse, but with skin contact Gewurztraminer this time. As De Witte explains: “The destemmed Muscat grapes were soaked overnight then added to the press while it still had some of Gew skins from the previous press load. I tumbled the Muscat with it together in the press for a little while to mix them up, then I pressed. I was hoping to get some of the remaining sugars and spicy aromatics out of the Gew … I think it worked out.”

The wine is now for sale at Leaning Post for $25. Here’s the previously published review of the wine.

First Fruit: World of Fog Pét-Nat VQA 2017 ($25, available at Leaning Post winery, 90 points) — In the glass, there is a gentle mousse, a light copper colour and some cloudiness, but not to the extent of last year’s wine. It is beautifully aromatic with pulpy citrus, fuzzy peach, grapefruit and with wonderfully funky, yet subtle, notes of smoke, gunflint and ginger/lychee. It’s bright and expressive on the palate with electric acidity and a slight reductive/mineral note to go with citrus, melon, crushed peaches and fresh-stomped grapes. It’s a funky vino and I’m so happy these kinds of out-of-the-box wines are being explored in Niagara. They deserve our attention.

Canadian wineries take
ProWein by storm

A record number of Canadian wineries will be part of ProWein in Dusseldorf, Germany, taking place March 18-20. 

Among the pavilions in the overseas section of ProWein, there will be a special spotlight on Canadian wines, as 29 of the country’s producers come together to show some of Canada’s undiscovered wines. Wineries from three Canadian provinces will be represented, offering tastings of diverse wine styles and varietals, from British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Over 100 wines from 29 producers will be on display on the trade floor, from Sunday, March 18 through Tuesday, March 20. From B.C.’s fruit-driven and structured wines to Ontario’s limestone-driven wines exhibiting characteristic minerality and Nova Scotia’s signature aromatic whites and cooler-climate sparklings, the Wines of Canada pavilion should be a popular stop during the wine trade event.

Complementing Ontario’s wine varietals at the show include traditional method sparkling wines from Nova Scotia, and well-structured Merlots and Syrahs from British Columbia. Laura Kittmer, Media Relations Manager of the British Columbia Wine Institute, said: “This important wine fair is an excellent opportunity for our industry to build on the international recognition that we are receiving for the quality of our wine and diversity of our terroir.”

Wines of Canada will host a masterclass showcasing Canada’s sparkling and white wines. Riesling, Chardonnay and cool climate sparklings will be showcased at the educational session on March 19.

In addition to the masterclasses being put on by Wines of Canada, there will be educational interactive tastings on Canadian wines each day of the trade show (sign-up here). The focus will be on several varieties, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc.

List of participating Canadian wineries:

British Columbia

50th Parallel Estate Winery
Bench 1775 Winery
Gold Hill Winery
Mission Hill Family Estate
Okanagan Crush Pad
Painted Rock Estate Winery
Poplar Grove Winery
Quails’ Gate Winery
Wild Goose Vineyards


Burnt Ship Bay Estate Winery
Colio Estate Wines
Flat Rock Cellars
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery
Hidden Bench Estate Winery
Lakeview Cellars
Pelee Island Winery
Pillitteri Estates Winery
PondView Estate Winery
Stratus Vineyards
Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery
Vineland Estates Winery

Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge
Blomidon Estate Winery
Devonian Coast Wineries
Domaine de Grand Pré
Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards
Luckett Vineyards