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Saturday marks the biggest and deepest selection of Ontario wines Vintages/LCBO has ever unleashed on thirsty wine lovers.
It’s not just large, it is also of high quality through a wide range of varieties and styles. If ever there was a time to stock up on good VQA wine, this might be it.
It starts with two sensational Niagara Rieslings, but worthy of your cellar, and ranges through two extraordinary Chardonnays, sweet and sparkling icewine and one of Niagara’s top two Pinots.
A trip to your local Vintages is a must on Saturday.
Let’s start with the Rieslings, and in particular, Vineland Estate’s Elevation 2011.
I have made it quite clear that I feel what Niagara does best, and is capable of making best each and every vintage, is Riesling. To read my argument for this wonderful grape, go here to my Riesling Forever rant on Spotlight Toronto.
The Elevation is one of those quintessential Rieslings in Niagara that shows exactly what this grape can do here and where it’s going in the future.
I was enjoying sitting in that most famous St. Urban Vineyard (very top photo) at Vineland Estates just recently. Just me and a few of winemaker Brian Schmidt’s (below) invited guests at the very back of the 45-acre vineyard planted by Germany’s Hermann Weis, the winery’s founder, in 1979 to his namesake Weis 21 Riesling clone, the most popular clone in Niagara.
A bit of history first: Weis, of the famous German estate Weingut St. Urbans-hof in the Mosel, saw the potential for Riesling in Canada, and decided to start a nursery in Niagara in the mid-1970s. He sold vines (the Weis 21 clone) to wineries from coast to coast, but was unhappy with the results because winemakers were blending his Riesling with the native grapes and hybrids of the time to make inferior wines. He resolved to plant his own vineyards on the Twenty Mile Bench, started his own winery called Vineland Estates (now run now by brothers Allan and Brian Schmidt), and the foundation for Riesling’s explosive growth in Canada was born.
So, Brian Schmidt guided us to a table set up snugly against the south border of the St. Urban Vineyard at 864 feet, the highest point in the vineyard and one of the highest points in Niagara. As we sat with a view of the gorgeous vineyard, planted on hardpan clay on top of mineral-rich limestone, looking north with a protective berm to the south, he started hauling out treasures from the past and a peek into the future.
St. Urban Vineyard Rieslings from 1989, 1993, 1995, 2002, 2004, 2008 and the 2011 Elevation Riesling. The 1989 version of this historic Riesling was one of the first wines approved under the VQA badge of quality. To taste it now, 23 years after it was made, was very exciting. Still a whiff of freshness but loaded with tertiary flavours of beeswax, toasted almonds, caramel and candied citrus. It tugged on the palate between tart and sweet and had already gone through its petrol-mineral phase leaving a delicious waxy hint of lanolin. This is why I love Riesling. The journey from fresh and racy to its final happy place and all the points in between make it so unlike any other grape variety.
As we sipped through the 1993 (perfumed, faded, dried fruit), the 1995 (appearing as the oldest wine with caramel apple, toffee, nutmeg and an almost sherry-like quality), the 2002 (in a very nice place right now with classic petrol, vibrancy, apple-citrus), the 2004 (THE BOMB, so gorgeous with buckwheat honey, sweet petrol-minerality, and marzipan), the 2008 Elevation (rousing pear-citrus-apple, minerals and verve) to the newest Riesling on the block, the 2011 Elevation, I am only reminded of why Niagara Riesling has this hold over me.
Schmidt knows he inherited a gift from Hermann Weis, and views his job now to be the custodian of some of the finest Riesling in the country, I would say world-class. “Hermann Weis established the St. Urban Vineyard,” Schmidt says. “I don’t want to screw with it. The signature stands on its own.” Indeed it does.
Here’s the Elevation in review, along with a selection of other wines released Saturday:
Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($20, 92 points) — Beginning with this vintage, Vineland has merged the St. Urban and Elevation Rieslings into one. This is classic Niagara Riesling, though I would love to see Schmidt do special bottlings of block-specific wines from this famous vineyard and experiment with sweetness levels and late harvest styles. The Elevation is a superb example of Bench Riesling with notes of grapefruit-citrus, white peach and river-fresh minerality on the nose. It’s a Riesling that gets your full attention in the mouth with all that citrus-y-peach goodness on the palate, racy acidity and a classic tug of sweet and tart. There is underlying minerality that will express itself further as you age this beauty. And, yes, you can age it for five, or even 10, years.
2027 Falls Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($19, 89 points) — Most of this sub-$20 Riesling was reserved for this Vintages release. At this price, it might be worth stocking up on. The nose shows pulpy grapefruit, mineral, white peach and a whiff of petrol. It has wonderful tension between sweet and tart fruits in a fresh and racy style. Another one to put away in the cellar to bring out the mineral notes even more.
Inniskillin Sparkling Icewine Vidal 2011 ($80 for 375 Ml) — This special bottling of sparkling Vidal icewine has quickly become a favourite of mine, and a style I hope catches on with every icewine producer in the peninsula. It starts with rousing, invigorating aromatics of sweet apricot, peach tart and exotic tropical fruits. The bubbles from this charmat method sparkler dance nimbly in the glass and explode on the palate with alluring sweetness and playful effervescence. The flavours are gorgeous with peach compote, orange peel, citrus, mango, apricot and honeycomb all delivered on a racy spine of acidity. Herein lies the future of icewine. Wow.
Peller Estates Ice Cuvee Rose ($35, 91 points) – Peller has perfected the art of blending in a dosage of about 15% of Vidal and Cabernet Franc icewine to traditional method sparkling wine (made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cab Franc grapes). This is such a magical wine with strawberry, citrus, watermelon, raspberry, spice, honey and toast on the nose. Simply delicious in the mouth with a sweet, vigorous bead of bubbles, lush red fruits of raspberry and strawberry and just a kiss of sweetness to balance out the acidity.
Chateau des Charmes Estate Vidal Icewine 2009 ($26 for 200 Ml, 91 points) — Seductive nose of clingstone peach, lemon, marmalade, honeycomb and a mélange of mature summer fruits. I love the viscous feel on the palate that shows broad, thick fruit flavours that are beautifully integrated with the sweet wild honey flavours. It’s viscous yet balanced by racy acidity that carries through the finish. Yum-yum.
Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2010 ($30, 90 points) — From sourced fruit, this is a pretty tasty treat considering it’s the entry-level wine in Thomas Bachelder’s trio of Niagara offerings. The hot 2010 vintage in Niagara is the complete opposite of the cooler 2009 vintage in Niagara but Bachelder has managed to tame the fruit and give it some finesse. It’s still voluptuous, but not overtly. Apple, cream, peach, oak spices and opulent aromas waft from the glass. It shows apple crisp, vanilla and fine texture on the palate with layers of spice and pleasure without showing the flab of the vintage.
Closson Chase Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 ($30, 91 points, Prince Edward County) — My, oh my, what a gorgeous Chard! The nose is buttery and creamy with sweet apple, toast and vanilla notes. It’s pure elegance on the palate, creamy soft with pear-apple fruits, wonderful spice accents and a bead of minerality running through the core of this wine. Built to cellar for a few years.
Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir 2009 ($45, 92 points) – I find Claystone to be the most expressive of its terroir over all the other wines in the Le Clos portfolio. It is always a bold, forward expression of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and, in a great vintage such as 2009, that is especially true. The nose is forward and overt with field raspberry, underbrush, game, earth, black fruits, mineral, kirsch and oak-inspired spices. It needs time to integrate fully, as do all Claystone wines, but, wow, the palate is extraordinary now with an array of dark and red fruits, limestone minerality, beautiful oak and spice notes, rich tannins, and persistent flavours that linger on the finish. I wouldn’t open it for two years at least, or decant overnight. This will deliver rich rewards after a few years of aging.
Henry of Pelham Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 ($25, 91 points) — Such nice aromatics. Mocha, cloves, leather, cherry, blueberry, spice and cedar hedge gets this wonderful Pinot off to a good start. It’s delicious on the palate with sweet-sour cherry, spice, ripe tannins and vibrant. Not as over-done as some 07 reds.
Henry of Pelham Reserve Baco Noir 2010 ($25, 90 points) — A smoky nose of savoury, dark and jammy fruit with pepper, tar, plum, blackberry and spice. Ripe red fruits chime in on the palate to go with oak-inspired spices, racy acidity and length through the finish. The best Baco from HoP to date.
• Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2088 ($70 for 375 Ml)
• Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay Musque 2009 ($16)
• Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling 2011 ($17)
• Jackson-Triggs Delaine Chardonnay 2011 ($25)
• Lailey Chardonnay 2010 ($20)
• Lakeview Reserve Riesling 2011 ($17)
• Burning Kiln Harvest Party Cabernet Franc 2011 ($18)
• Colio CEV Reserve Cabernet Franc 2007 ($21)
• Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010 ($17)
• Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2010 ($30)
• G. Marquis The Silver Line Pinot Noir 2011 ($20)
• Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010 ($35)
• Wildass Red 2009 ($20)