Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

With the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) just around the corner, we’re starting see many of the wines to be presented over the three days of the wine-soaked festival.

An incredible 62 wineries from 10 countries are coming to Niagara to celebrate one cool grape for three amazing days July 20-22. It has become an annual pilgrimage for wine lovers and producers of the world’s best cool climate Chardonnay and brings together Ontarians and visitors from around the globe for this one-of-a-kind celebration featuring 24 local Ontario VQA wineries.

The i4C weekend promises an unparalleled selection of cool climate Chardonnay via a full schedule of seminars, walk-around tastings, winery experiences and unforgettable food prepared by local Ontario chefs.

Niagara chardonnay

The signature event of the weekend is the Cool Chardonnay World Tour, the only event of the weekend where all 113 Chardonnays, including sparkling wines, are available to taste and are poured by their makers. Guests are invited to wander the grounds of historic Ridley College during the grand tasting, then sit down to a family-style feast curated by top Niagara winery chefs including Jason Parsons (Peller Estates), Frank Dodd (Trius Winery), Justin Downes (Vineland Estates), Alex White (Benchmark) and led by Chef Craig Youdale (Canadian Food and Wine Institute) and Chef Ross Midgley (Ravine Vineyard). A team of sommeliers will pour a selection of cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc or Gamay paired with the chefs’ creations. After dinner celebrations include dancing under the stars to a live band or sampling Ontario VQA red wines and local craft beer at the Après Chardonnay bar for a magical evening in wine country.

Events require pre-booking through the host winery but visit coolchardonnay.org for event details.

Ontario wine

As a founding member of i4C, Prince Edward County producer Rosehall Run will once again be participating in the event. Winemaker/proprietor Dan Sullivan is bringing his top County Chardonnay, the JCR Rosehall Run 2016, as well as his Ceremony Blanc de Blancs — two perfect examples that show the unique terroir of the home vineyard.

Sullivan and Rosehall Run will be participating in the Bubbles on the Bench lunch at Hidden Bench on July 22 and will be pouring the Ceremony for guests beside some of the top sparkling house in Canada. The bubbles event includes a four-course seafood-based family-style luncheon created by a collaboration of acclaimed chefs Victor Barry of Café Can Can and Piano Piano and Charles Antoine Crete of Montreal Plaza.

In this report, we review Sullivan’s JCR Chardonnay that he will be pouring at i4C along with a few other gems from the growing Rosehall portfolio from Prince Edward County. We also have a review for another Ontario Chardonnay being released in time for i4C, the Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2016 from Flat Rock Cellars plus the Pink Twisted from Flat Rock. Plus … a review of Ravine Vineyard’s new rosé and suggestions from the Vintages release this coming Saturday.

But first …

Prince Edward County wine

Rosehall Run wines

Rosehall Run JCR Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 ($35, 92 points) — This JCR bottling of Chardonnay from the warm 2016 vintage was fully fermented in 500 L oak puncheons. It was aged in 60% new oak, a mix of tight French and Extra-Tight Caucasus Mountain wood for 16 months sur lie with minimal batonnage. It has a highly mineralized and complex nose of apple, vanilla toast, river rock, pear and integrated spice notes. Incredible has fresh this wine is on the palate considering the heat that summer and fall. The flavours of rich apple and pear with citrus accents are intense but well integrated with just the right amount of spice and mineral notes through the vibrant finish. A beautiful Chardonnay that speaks to the terroir of The County. Bravo!

Rosehall Run Liberated Unoaked Chardonnay 2017 ($15, LCBO, 88 points) — This is winemaker Dan Sullivan’s stripped down version (no oak) of an every day Chardonnay made from Niagara-sourced grapes. It shows pretty apple, soft citrus, peach and subtle minerality on the nose. It’s bright and crisp on the palate and highly gulpable.

Rosehall Run Acid Head Riesling 2016 ($25, 89 points) — The groovy label art for this Riesling is the work of Prince Edward County visual artist Alex Simons and is reminiscent of the 1969 Woodstock era of peace, love and rock and roll. The Riesling is sourced from a single vineyard on the Beamsville Bench in Niagara. It’s a minerally expression on the nose with lime, grapefruit, apple skin and lemon notes. It’s perfectly dry on the palate with taut and racy acidity that plays out like Jimi Hendrix’s greatest solo and highlights a range of citrus fruit and minerals. Austere and serious Riesling.

Rosehall Run Just One Rose Rosé 2017 ($18, 89 points) — This blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir is bursting with cherries, strawberries and cranberries on the nose. It turns prettier on the plate with the full range of red fruits, hint of sweetness but all leading to dry, refreshing finish. Tasty!

Rosehall Run Defiant Pinot Noir 2017 ($20, 88 points) — This Pinot is a 50/50 blend of Niagara and Rosehall estate fruit. It shows lovely savoury notes on the nose to go with cherry, raspberry bramble, a touch of cassis and nicely integrated wood spices. This is all about the range of red fruits, subtle spice and silky smooth delivery through the finish. Tasty Pinot.

Rosehall Run JCR Rosehall Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($40, 92 points) — Such a beautiful nose of fresh crushed cherries, rhubarb, raspberry, bramble, minerals and perfectly harmonic spice notes. It has bright and penetrating red fruits and wood spice on the palate and shows depth, complexity and concentration through the finish, yet maintains freshness to the end. You can cellar this lovely Pinot for 3+ years.

Flat Rock Cellars new releases

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2016 ($27, July 7 release, 92 points) — This Chardonnay, released as part of i4C in July, represents a barrel selection of estate Chardonnays chosen for their full flavoured richness on the palate. This is absolutely in that vein with a concentrated nose of creamy apple and pear with lemon and spice accents. It is rich and creamy on the palate with quince and citrus notes, flinty minerality, lovely texture and a vibrant, fresh finish.

Flat Rock Cellars Pink Twisted 2017 ($18, 88 points) — A bit of an unusual rosé style blend of Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer and Riesling that shows a bright electric pink colour in the glass. The nose shows jammy red fruits, some citrus notes and a pinch of savoury spice. It has lovely texture on the palate, juicy red fruits, a hint of sweetness and vibrancy on the finish.

A rosé from Ravine

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Rosé 2017 ($25, 91 points) — This 100% Cabernet Franc rosé shows an inviting pale salmon colour in the glass and has a savoury nose of crushed red berries, bramble and subtle herbs. It is ripe and elegant on the palate with gushing red fruits, not bone dry, but balanced with a refreshing, lingering finish.

Niagara wines released
at Vintages Saturday

Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc Rosomel Vineyard 2016 ($30, 90 points) — This is a barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc sourced from younger Beamsville Bench estate vines with oak aging in mostly neutral barrels. It is more overt than its big sister the Nuit Blanche, with expressive gooseberry, grapefruit, herbs and spice. There is freshness on the palate and notes of grapefruit, lemon, tropical fruits, minerals and integrated spice notes. Will be drinking perfectly when released this spring.

The Foreign Affair Dream 2015 ($30, 90 points) — 15% of the juice from this Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot blend comes grapes that were dried for four months appassimento style. The finished wine then spends 16 months in oak barrels before final blending and bottling. It is complex and expressive on the nose with aromas of figs, blackberries, sweet spices, leather/cedar, tobacco, anise and dark cherries. It’s a densely coloured wine in the glass and unfolds on the palate in layers of dark fruits, leather, eucalypt, licorice and a range of wood spices all supported by ripe, assertive tannins. Laying this down for at least two years is a must to give it time to all come together. If you can’t wait, try decanting it for at least two hours.

Also released but not reviewed:

• Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2016 ($50 for 375 mL)
• Contraband Sparkling Riesling NV ($19)
• Vieni Momenti Sparkling Rosé ($17)
• EastDell Estates Black Label Viognier 2014 ($18)
• Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling 2016 ($19)
• The Foreign Affair Enchanted 2016 ($18)
• The Hare Crown Land White 2016 ($18.50)
• Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Chardonnay 2016 ($20)
• Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2014 ($30)
• Vintage Ink Whisky Barrel Aged Dark Red 2014 ($18)
• 13th Street Pink Palette Rosé 2017
• Peninsula Ridge Beal Vineyard Cabernet Rosé 2017