Looking into the future at Niagara’s Lailey Vineyard and liking what we see


If you’ve been to either of Derek Barnett’s big red futures tastings that he puts on only in exceptional vintages at various stations set up in the barrel cellar at Lailey Vineyard, you get a sense of how popular his top wines are.

The cellar is jam-packed with ardent Lailey fans all clamouring for a taste of his unreleased red wines that are put up for sale at a substantial discount in advance of the bottling and release.

It’s not unlike a Boxing Day sale with a crush of consumers squeezing to the front of the line for a taste of this or that. Barnett and his staff pour with smiles and pleasantly answer as many of the questions that are tossed their way as they can.

It’s a tasting that’s not designed for the casual wine lover. They are for mostly hard-core Lailey fans who taste, buy and save a lot of money for some of the finest reds produced in Niagara.

Barnett, Lailey’s longtime winemaker, is a tireless promoter of his wines, not only conducting the futures tasting (modelled after the Bordeaux annual futures tasting) in exceptional vintages but also taking his wines to Toronto to pour for wine writers, bloggers and sommeliers as well as many wine shows where he also pours the barrel samples. It’s a one-on-one, hands-on approach that serves Barnett and Lailey well. And it gives consumers a unique chance to know what they are buying and purchase in advance.

the lineup

The lineup of new Lailey reds (that have not been bottled or labelled yet).

Add to that the fact that 2010 is, in the words of Barnett, “the best he’s seen in 15 or 20 years,” and you can see why there’s a wonderful buzz about the release.


Derek Barnett in his barrel cellar.

Barnett says the 2010s “were ripe physiologically without getting into a long hang time.” And the crop was above average in terms of tonnage.

Here’s what I liked from samples tasted with Barnett. It should be noted that all the wines reviewed here are barrel samples and therefore representative of the final wine. The wines won’t actually be bottled until May or June. The futures price is shown first followed by the release price. The future’s release can be ordered through the winery at Lailey Vineyard.


Lailey Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010 ($31, $45, 90 points) — The Old Vines are from a small block of Pinot planted in 1974 to the Pommard clone. The nose shows pretty strawberry, raspberry and black cherry fruit with just a touch of earth and spice. It shows a gentle approach in the mouth, not an overdone Pinot, with red currants, other red fruits, clove spice, good acidity and length through the finish. The key in this Pinot is the wonderful balance and verve.

2010lot48barrelLailey Lot 48 Pinot Noir 2010 ($42, $60, 92 points) — Wow, what a Pinot and a worthy successor to the astounding 2009 version. Lot 48 is named after the measly number of cases made from grapes purchased in Vineland from Ken Whitty’s vineyards. This is only the third vintage made of this special Pinot (09 and 02 are the others). The nose shows an intense attack of red fruits, mainly cherry, with lovely and elegant oak stylings, vanilla and spice. It is a beauty on the palate with impeccable balance, texture, pure and generous red fruit flavours, length through the finish and perfectly crafted spice notes.

2010syrahbarrelLailey Syrah 2010 ($19, $27, 92+ points) — This is one spectacular Syrah. Barnett has a way with this varietal, always crafting some of Niagara’s elite Syrahs vintage to vintage, especially in the warmer years. He sources his fruit from a small block of vines in the Tregunno vineyards on the Niagara Parkway, near the quaint town of Queenston. The style evokes the great Northern Rhone Syrahs with a nose of roasted meats, pepper, intense black fruits of blueberry, currants and bramble to go with layers of spice that chime in harmoniously. It’s the contrast of meaty aromas and purity of fruit once it hits the palate that is the lasting memory with this sensational wine. Beautiful and textured, with blueberry, cassis, and meaty-spicy notes on a bed of plush tannins makes this such a great wine. It has that swagger, that gout de terroir, and has clearly established itself among the top Niagara reds.

2010impromptubarrelLailey Impromptu 2010 ($31, $45, 90 points) — A blend of Syrah (75%), Malbec (13%) and Petit Verdot (12%) from estate-grown fruit with each variety vinified separately. It is aged in French and U.S. oak, 33% of it new. It is tightly wound, but still shows good Syrah fruit on the nose, with spice and wood notes. It has beautiful texture, firm tannins and fruit intensity in the mouth. It needs (and deserves) time in the cellar.

2010cabfrancbarrel-1Lailey Cabernet Franc 2010 ($20, $30, 89 points) — Barnett calls this Cab Franc “probably the best I’ve ever made. Phenomenal texture.” It possesses a nose of currants, cherry, sweet peppers, leafy tobacco, leather, lavish spice and an interesting mint/eucalypt note. It shows purity of fruit on the palate with spice notes of mocha and vanilla in a well-balanced presentation.

2010merlotbarrelLailey Merlot 2010 ($20, $30, 90 points) — Barnett says he’s “not looking for a big, jammy California style” of Merlot. Indeed, but his 2010 Merlot isn’t exactly a wallflower. It’s a meaty, manly version of Merlot with earthy-loam notes to go with ripe cherry fruit followed by a wall of interesting spice. It’s texturally beautiful in the mouth with red fruits, game notes, rousing spice and length through the finish. It can best be described as elegant in a macho man sort of way.

2010cabsauvbarrelLailey Cabernet Sauvignon ($20, $30, 88 points) — Barnett did not make a 100% Cab in 2009 but his 2008 version is still a big seller in Niagara restaurants. The 2010 edition will sure to be a hit as well. The nose is intense with currants, blackberry and cherry fruit followed by sweet spice and subtle oak undercurrents. The fruit is lovely in the mouth with good balance, intensity and spice.

2010canoakmeritagebarrelLailey Meritage Canadian Oak 2010 ($28, $40, 91 points) — Barnett loves his Canadian oak and feels it brightens the fruit characteristics in this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. It shows a brilliant nose of red and dark fruits, notably cherry and blackberry, with a fine display of wood and spice. It’s super concentrated on the palate with fruit intensity and a balanced approach to spice and oak. The acidic backbone and concentration of fruit will evolve and transform this wine over time. One to keep and enjoy for many years in the cellar.





Niagara Pinots lead the charge at Vintages release


There’s a bit of a Pinot Noir theme going on with the Vintages release this Saturday. Which is a good thing considering most of the Pinots to appear on shelves are from the fabulous 2009 vintage. Continue reading


Commisso’s puts a fresh face on fresh food

 Veal Chop

By Michael Lowe

While the concept of serving fresh, store-made, foods at your neighborhood grocery store is common today in many large metropolitan cites, locally it has been limited to small delicatessens and specialty shops. Exactly one year ago Commisso’s Fresh Foods opened its doors putting a fresh face on the often mundane task of grocery shopping. Continue reading


The Ontario Vintage 2011, according to VQA


Vintage Report 2011 (provided by VQA Ontario)


Weather conditions in winter and early spring 2011 were relatively normal across southern Ontario and the wine growing regions. A few anomalies, including higher precipitation in southwestern Ontario and drier conditions in Prince Edward County were observed. Temperatures dipped slightly below normal in January and some minor winter damage was reported but 2011 began with a normal outlook for the grape crop.

April and May saw a number of weather systems bringing rain to most areas of southern Ontario and a few bouts of severe weather. In the wine regions, precipitation was higher than normal and sunshine hours were lower than normal well into the beginning of June. Although there were no late frosts to disturb the beginning of the season, bud burst was late and by early summer, the crop looked like it was starting the main growing season a week or two behind schedule.

CIMG5711Sporadic storms continued into June, but precipitation levels returned to normal in the wine regions and Niagara was slightly drier. The season began to turnaround with progressively better weather by mid June and July brought sunshine, warmth and beautiful weather for grape growers.

Temperatures hit record levels in many areas, and monthly mean temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees above normal across southern Ontario. July was the driest in many years in the Niagara Peninsula where rain came in sporadic downpours, often leaving some of the Peninsula dry and providing just enough moisture to guard against drought. The various sub-appellations in Niagara experienced over 30° C temperatures from 16-20 days of the month, breaking several temperature records. Other regions saw similar hot conditions, but with more rain in Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island and normal precipitation for Prince Edward County. By the end of July, all regions were back on track towards a normal progression for the growing season. August continued to be warm and slightly drier in both Niagara and Prince Edward County, and warm and slightly wetter in Southwestern Ontario, but nothing like the extremes of July.


CIMG5701Harvest began for Sparkling wines in late August and early September and grapes were generally slightly ahead of the normal ripening schedule or right on target. Conditions varied significantly between the main growing regions in September. Temperatures in the Niagara Peninsula continued to be above normal but September rains made harvest scheduling difficult and kept wineries very busy. In Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island, it was both cooler and wetter, challenging wineries with disease pressures in the vineyard and slowing the last stages of ripening. September conditions in Prince Edward County were more favourable, with average temperatures a few degrees above normal and less than normal rainfall.

With the warm summer, most of the earlier ripening varieties were brought in early and in good condition. Wineries were very busy in late September and early October managing the challenges of a rainy harvest season and precision in picking decisions was important this year. Temperatures stayed mild into November and no early frosts appeared to complicate the end of the harvest.

CIMG5638Preliminary registrations for Icewine and Late Harvest grapes show that production is likely to almost double from 2010 but is still substantially lower than the records near 7000 tonnes set through 2006 and 2007. Subject to audit verification, a total of 3650 tonnes have been left hanging for use in Icewine and Late Harvest wines for the 2011 vintage.

Wine Expectations

2011 is shaping up to be an interesting vintage and certainly one where grape growers and winemakers were kept on their toes by the weather. Worries at the beginning of the growing season were countered by nature with the warm summer and a rapid catch up to maturity. Worries at the end of the season were mostly allayed by growers and winemakers through good decisions on vineyard management and timely intervention with the harvest. Although it was a stressful season, brix levels indicate that most grapes reached optimum ripeness, suggesting good potential for the resulting wines.