Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

The confident and beaming smiles of the two men sitting at the tasting bar at Malivoire Wine Company tell an interesting story.

Once all alone in their quest for lighter-bodied red wines and purposely grown and crafted rosés, both winemaker Shiraz Mottiar (above)  and marketing manager Stephen Gash (below)  achieved long ago what so many others are just catching up to.

It was a vision, of course, initiated by owner Martin Malivoire, to craft more, shall we say, crushable wines from what he and his winemaker believed grew best in Niagara. It has been a purposeful quest to travel to the world’s wine regions that best exemplified the style of wines they envisioned. The next task was to execute a calculated strategy to make craft from Niagara’s unique terroir on the Beamsville Bench.

At its very core, Gamays and rosés in myriad styles are the beating heart of Malivoire, but a few other favourites have become staples: Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay for the whites, Pinot Noir, old vine Marechal Foch and Cabernet Franc for the reds. And only begins there; there is so much more going on at this quaint and inviting winery in Beamsville.

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As for the current rage for rosés, something Malivoire first made way back in 1998 with the debut vintage of the now No. 1 rosé from anywhere in the world at Vintages, the Ladybug, Mottiar and Gash take it all in stride with only the slightest hint of “we told you so.”

They are comfortable but not as smug as you might think.

“We struck a cord,” says Mottiar. “You have to make wine to sell. We brought people along, our peeps, we got them with Ladybug and they’ve followed along.”

Malivoire now makes three very different rosés, more than any other winery in Ontario, with Ladybug, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Gamay, Moira, a 100% single-vineyard Pinot Noir, and Vivant, a blend 100% Pinot from a blend of two estate vineyards.

Gash says the LCBO is bringing in 200% more rosés than it did just a few years ago. “Niagara has embraced rosé in all its colours,” he says. “Not just because it’s a rosé trend.”

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Adds Mottiar: “We’re just hoping the flame doesn’t burn out, but even it does fall out of favour, we’ll still be making these wines.”

At Malivoire, rosés start in the vineyard; the grapes are grown specifically for rosé. “Colour is only part of it,” says Gash. Growing the fruit is critical. We are going to take it as seriously as we can.”

Malivoire’s Trilogy of Rosés

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Malivoire Ladybug Rosé 2017 ($17, 89 points) — Malivoire makes 7,500 cases of this most popular rosé at Vintages and represents one-third of the total production at the winery. It’s a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 20% each of Pinot Noir and Gamay and shows a little darker in the glass than the two more delicate rosés in the portfolio. The aromas range from ripe raspberry and strawberry to lemon zest and grapefruit. It’s a ripe version of rosé with red fruits and citrus zest in a mouth-watering style kept refreshing through the clean and racy finish.

Malivoire Vivant Rosé 2017 ($20, Vintages, winery, previously reviewed, 91 points) — The most important thing you need to know about Malivoire’s rosé program is this: They grow all the grapes that go into the top rosés specifically for rosé. It’s not an after-thought or a fad; Malivoire is as much about the rosé as it is about the Gamay, its two most treasured varietals. If the grapes for the rosé are not up to the quality they want for the rosés they want to make, they will de-classify the grapes to make something else. It’s that simple. The Vivant is a 100% expression of Pinot Noir from the Mottiar and Malivoire vineyards. “We’re looking for delicacy, layers and complexity but also balance,” says winemaker Mottiar. “I want the acidity to carry that fruit.” It has a lovely pale pink colour and a nose of freshly crushed red berries, subtle earthiness and just a squirt of citrus. It’s bright, bone dry and expressive on the palate — delicate yes, but also complex with a range of pretty red fruits, pink grapefruit and minerality all carried by lively acidity through the finish.

Malivoire Moira Rosé 2017 ($25, winery only, 93 points) — The bomb, right here. The most complex and interesting rosé from Niagara I have tasted. Again, made from 100% Pinot Noir, but this one is from the estate’s main single vineyard called Moira, named for Malivoire’s wife Moira Saganski and purchased in 1995. Moira is distinguished by vines whose deep roots ensure robust health and vigorous fruit acidity. “These wines have always had harmony of aromatics, texture and length while aging infinitely … the 1998 (first vintage) is still showing beautifully,” commented Southbrook winemaker Ann Sperling, in a poll of Niagara’s top vineyards published in Wines In Niagara here. Mottiar says the Moira “sings a little longer” and is made in a more precious, subtler style that sneaks up on you. The nose is tight, delicate and complex with a range of red fruits and floral notes. It shows its true beauty on the palate with such expressive crushed red berries, layers of complexity, earth and bramble undertones and taut tension between the electric acidity and the juicy fruits all leading to a fresh, clean and super-long finish. This is complex enough that you can cellar 1+ years for further development.

The Malivoire Gamays

Malivoire Small Lot Gamay 2017 ($20, 90 points) — A lot of thought always goes into Malivoire’s estate Gamays. The Small Lot sees a portion of the grapes fermented in concrete with the rest fermented in stainless steel. Just under two-thirds of the wine is aged in neutral oak barrels for four months. The nose is rich in cherries, plums and raspberries with a certain earthiness and subtle spiciness. On the palate, the flavours of tart red fruits, spice and touch of blueberry benefits from ripe tannins, freshening acidity and a long finish. Only 12% abv.

Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2016 ($30, winery only now, 93) — Winemaker Mottiar and the team at Malivoire have made it their business to be the very best in Niagara with Gamay and this is their top expression. There is no question about the pedigree of this wine from year to year. The 2013 vintage of the Courtney was named Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling Red Wine of 2016, and by the time the original review was even published it was sold out. I expect a similar fate for the 2016 vintage that just went on sale (hopefully there is some left by the time you read this). “Gamay is our story,” says Mottiar. “You can see us in these wines, our personalities are in these wines. It’s a wine I adore to make and it’s a wine people are really getting.” Up to 30% of the fruit is whole bunch pressed with 20% aged in ceramic. From the extremely warm 2016 vintage, this is the most concentrated version of the Courtney I have tasted with expressive, penetrating and uber-ripe aromas of black cherry, red plum, rhubarb, raspberry bramble, red currants, earth and spice notes. Such a magical wine on the palate — it has depth, complexity, a full range of rich red and dark fruits and integrated spice notes with plush tannins and enough acidity to keep it fresh through a long, long finish. Can age this for 2+ years.

The Best of the Rest from Malivoire

Malivoire Melon 2017 ($22, 88 points) — Speaking of crushable wines … this 100% Melon de Bourgorne is the epitome of quaffing wine, a gorgeously fresh and fruity summer pleaser with a wide range of peach, apple, herbs, ginger and citrus notes on the nose. All those attributes move seamlessly to the palate and get a lift from assertive acidity. Summer in a glass … if you want some you need to move fast.

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2017 ($22, 89 points) — A three-hour soak on the skins give this personable Gris a slightly pale salmon hue in the glass in some stuffing on the palate. The nose shows melon, peach, lemon-lime accents and a fresh impression. It is perfectly dry on the palate with ginger, peach, apple and bees wax notes all lifted by freshening acidty. As Mottiar says: “I don’t like boozy wines. I like to let the fruit speak for itself.”

Malivoire Stouck Viognier 2016 ($27, 91 points) — The fruit for this lovely, exotic Vio comes from the Stouck Family Farm. The nose is crazy-good with beautifully rich tropical fruits, pear, apricot and ginger spice. It’s clean, yet rich on the palate, with a creamy/oily profile that shows an array of melon, apricot, guava and other tropical fruits in a balanced approach through the finish. Exotic and loaded with fruit.

Malivoire Mottiar Pinot Noir 2015 ($35, June release, 92 points) — This Pinot comes from winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s own vineyard on the Beamsville Bench and gets a nine-month stretch in mostly older French oak. An attractive nose reveals earthy — but pretty — cherries, raspberries and layers of cassis and light, integrated spice notes. There is a lovely floral component on the palate with cran-cherry, earth, crunchy fruits, integrated spice notes and smooth, silky tannins.

Malivoire Cabernet Franc 2015 ($25, 90 points) — The fruit is sourced from the Wismer Homestead Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench. Classic Cab Franc with a nose brambly raspberry, herbs, light spice and red currants. Pretty good tannic structure on the palate with red fruits, herbs, subtle pepper notes and, of course, bright acidity on the perky finish.