By Rick VanSickle
Harald Thiel always has a trick or two up his sleeve at Hidden Bench, his terroir-inspired Beamsville Bench winery.
Not that making some of Canada’s most thrilling and sublime single-vineyard wines is boring, it’s just that the Niagara winery’s vigneron/proprietor likes to keep things interesting down on the farm.
For Thiel it has always been about making true-to-the-vineyard wines from certified organic (Pro-Cert) grapes made with minimum intervention in the winery. It’s the cornerstone of the winery’s philosophy.
As Thiel said during a recent tasting: “It’s what God gives us. We’re a terroir-driven winery.”
That means a range of single-vineyard Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings at the top of the class, with interesting red and white blends made from the Bordeaux grape varieties all sourced from the estate’s three distinct vineyards — Locust Lane, Rosomel and Felseck Vineyards.
Thiel started adding rosés (two distinct cuvees) to the mix once the portfolio was established and then unveiled his “zero dosage” traditionally made sparkling wine, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, only in the last few years.
Thiel now plans on releasing a second sparkling wine this fall, a 100% Chardonnay (blanc de blancs) and a nifty little “natural” orange wine (above two photos) that he and winemaker Jay Johnston have been playing with. It’s made with (can’t tell you which variety … but, hey, it has to be either Chardonnay or Riesling, right?) and is completely unfiltered, unfined, nothing added, no sulphur (at least not yet) and raw, raw, raw. I did have a taste with Johnston and Thiel and loved the nose and flavours in this stripped down version of Beamsville Bench terroir. It had an edge, a funky earthiness and layers of complexity to go with high energy and tension through the finish.
It’s a pretty interesting wine and consumers would be wise to seek out a bottle or two when released in September.
Here’s what else I tasted and liked from Hidden Bench’s early-summer wine release.
Hidden Bench Natur Zero Dosage 2013 ($39, winery, 92 points) — The blend is 70% Chardonnay and the rest Pinot Noir from Locust Lane and Felseck Vineyards. It spent 47 months on the lees in bottle and 7 months in barrel. Also, as the name suggests, there was no back sweetening, leaving the RS at below 1 g/l and providing little room “to hide any mistakes,” as Thiel puts it. It is fresh and fragrant in the glass with bright apple and citrus notes but also underlying roasted nuts, brioche and toasted vanilla. It has an energetic mousse in the glass with broad flavours of baked apple, tangy lemon and lovely nutty/toasty accents through a crisp and clean finish. Very nice bubbly.
Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2017 ($23, previously reviewed and in Vintages now, 91 points) — This is a Pinot Noir (93%) and Viognier blend from the estate’s three key vineyards. It’s Thiel’s lighter version of rosé compared to his Nocturn (below) made from Bordeaux varieties. This is lovely, with a fresh and vibrant nose of strawberries, cherries and garden herbs. It is built in a perfectly dry (under 2 g/l) style on the palate with vibrant red berries and integrated herbs. Just a gorgeous rosé that sold out quickly at Vintages last year (hint-hint).
Hidden Bench Nocturn Rosé 2017 ($20, winery, 90 points) — A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec from all three estate vineyards. The nose shows ripe rhubarb, black cherry and raspberry notes. It’s fresh and fruity on the palate, a bolder profile, with a bit of tannin to go with the rich broth of red fruits in a near bone-dry style. Beautiful porch-sipping wine.
Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2016 ($24, 89 points) — Such an expressive Riesling on the nose that shows pear, peach, lime, grapefruit and waves of stony minerality. It shows bold pear and peach flavours on the palate with balancing citrus, minerals and decent acidity through the finish. Drink now or cellar 3 years.
Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($30, Vintages, 90 points) — The fruit from this wonderful blend of all three estate vineyards undergoes a unique oak/concrete regime that consists of 7% of the fruit aged in a concrete egg with the rest aged in French oak barrels, of which only 17% is new oak, for nine months. The heat of the 2016 vintage provides this voluptuous and ripe example of terroir-driven Chardonnay that is showing beautiful aromas of poached pear, nougat, baked apple and lemony/mineral accents. This is rich, textured and ripe on the palate with integrated stone fruits, lovely spice and toasted almond notes in a bold style that is ready to drink now.
Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2016 ($40, Sept. release, 92 points) — This blend of single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (94%) and Semillon (6%) from one of the finest vineyards in the country, Rosomel, is aged in French oak (13% new) for nine months. What a gorgeous wine with an expressive nose of apple blossoms, beeswax, pear with subtle herbs, spice and flinty minerality. It’s rich and textured on the palate with a range of flavours including pear, bin apple, grapefruit, herbs, spice and minerals that remain gorgeously fresh through the finish. Fantastic job here.
Hidden Bench Terroir Cache 2015 ($45, Sept. release, 91 points) — This blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from the three estate vineyards is aged in 100% French oak (25% new) for 20 months and is bottled un-fined and unfiltered. Such richness and depth on the nose, with layers of plums, cherries, cassis, black currants and spice. This is a well-structured red on the palate with fine-grained tannins and a rich broth of primarily darker fruits and elegant wood spice notes. Age 5+ years.
Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2016 ($32, Vintages Essential at 200+ stores, 90 points) — This Estate Series Pinot is a blend of all three estate vineyards that is aged in 100% French oak (27% new) and bottled un-fined and unfiltered. The warmth of the vintage has provided generous aromas of raspberry bramble, cran-cherry and spice. It’s silky smooth on the palate with some tannic structure and gushes red berries and integrated spice notes that are somewhat balanced by the minerals and acidity of all fine Beamsville Bench wines. Can drink now or cellar up to 3 years.