Tag Archives: Merlot


Legends winery, a jewel on the shores of Lake Ontario


Walking past the rows of Semillon and Malbec vines, pruned and stripped bare of their bounty for another vintage, Lake Ontario comes into view and shimmers in the sunlight from a high vantage point on the shoreline of what is the northern frontier of the Lincoln Lakeshore appellation in Niagara.

A white gazebo stands alone, just beyond the last row of vines, where many young men and women have exchanged their vows in this gorgeous setting to begin their new lives.

old truck

Legends Estates Winery is only a short detour off Ontario Street in Beamsville but easy to miss. While most of the Beamsville wineries are south of the QEW, nestled up to the Benchlands, Legends is only a short jaunt north of the highway situated beautifully in the lowlands on the shore of Lake Ontario, one of two wineries in Niagara with the lake as its border (the other is Konzelmann in Niagara-on-the-Lake).


Winery photo of a wedding couple.

I had not visited Legends, for whatever reason, until recently. It’s one of those wineries that hasn’t been top of mind for me. Preconceived notions can play tricks on your mind. I mean, really, what’s in a name?

I had no idea that Legends referred to the Lizak family’s tradition of hard-working fruit farmers who built their business from the ground up, slowly transforming nectarine and peach plantings into grape vines.


Paul Lizak in the Legends tasting room.

The boutique winery was born in 1999 with Paul guiding the enterprise of 200 acres of fruit and grapes.

The name Legends had evoked, for me, Wayne Gretzky, Arnold Palmer and Babe Ruth and I had half expected posters of the great legends of sport to adorn the boutique’s walls. Add to that the winery’s Diva and Truth or Dare brands, it’s easy to see why one can be confused.

But you can’t judge a winery by preconceived notions. And how wrong I was to do just that.

welcome sign

The welcome sign at Legends.

And Legends is about quality, with a reserve tier of reasonably priced wines that are impressive in their youth and improve gracefully with time.

Yes, I am kicking myself now to have somehow missed Legends in my Niagara wine travels.

The Lizak family has 25 acres of vines planted to grapes on the estate (as well as plums) but has a total of 72 acres in total grape production when including other vineyards they own in the same appellation.

They grow Petit Verdot, Shiraz, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc. They once grew Pinot Noir and Riesling but lost the vines in the devastating winter of 2003 and decided to not replant those varieties (I hope they change their mind, both the older vintages of these grapes are fabulous). The production runs from 15,000-18,000 cases of wine annually. Table wines in several tiers, sparkling wines, fruit wines, a combination of fruit and table wines, and sweet wines are all made at Legends by winemaker Serge Papineau.

tasting room

The Legends tasting room.

I ask him what’s foremost on my mind, those Diva wines and what I had perceived as a lifestyle brand clearly aimed at young, single females looking for a cool concept wine to drink while sitting around with the gals.

Nothing could further from the truth, except, perhaps, the fact that it’s aimed at the female wine drinker.

Diva is a label of love, a celebration of women and their “outstanding talent and energy.” Proceeds from each and every bottle sold, benefits Women’s Place of South Niagara, an organization that offers support, counselling and safe shelter for abused women and children within Niagara.

“I have a big heart for Women’s Place. I want Diva to do well so people (women and children in trouble from an abusive relationship) know where to go and what to do,” Lizak says. And because of that, he’s thinking of rebranding the tier so it’s better understood on the label, which features a high heel that is in reference to the annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event in Niagara that is also in support of Women’s Place. Not everyone, especially outside of Niagara, is familiar with the symbol and thus can be confused by the message.

The wines in the tier include a white blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, a Malbec Rose, and a unique red blend of Malbec and Merlot all available at the LCBO and winery for $15.


The provocative poster for the Truth or Dare wines.

Legends teamed with renowned tattoo artist Paulin for the creation of the Truth or Dare wine label, a unique, vibrant (sexy might be a better word) bottle concept, showcasing tattoo-inspired artwork on a trio of VQA wines.

Paulin, owner of Studio 123, has had his artwork showcased and praised globally, including appearances on television programs such as Live with Regis & Kelly.

The label designs for Truth or Dare wines mirror the fresh, forward nuances crafted by Legends winemaker Papineau.

Geared for drinkers in the 19 to 35-year-old category, the tier features three signature wines: Truth, a white blend sheathed in a vibrant green bottle, Dare, a red blend, and a sparkling Rose, also known as “Love Potion.”

Lizak tells me a funny story about “Love Potion.” If you notice the bottles at the LCBO those words “Love Potion” are covered up because, as the LCBO in its infinite wisdom, told Lizak: “It promotes sexual prowess.”

poster black

Another risque poster for the Truth or Dare wines.

But at the heart of the Legends portfolio is a unique lineup of reserve wines that include Malbec, Merlot, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon.

Lizak pours a glass of his 2006 Semillon, the first vintage he made this wine. Although it’s all gone now, he recently found a case in his cellar and wanted to show me how it has progressed.

It reminded me of Hunter Valley Semillon, the way it has aged and transformed from a fresh and citrus-laden wine into a waxy, lime and lemon beauty that is so gorgeous and interesting from to nose to palate. The ’06 had a slightly oxidized quality to it, and more pronounced a day after opening, but certainly shows the potential of this grape in Niagara.

I was also impressed with Lizak’s selection at the winery for back vintages. Bins with 2002 Riesling, Pinot Noir reserve from 2002, Gewurztraminer from 2002 and a stunning 2003 Riesling Reserve, the last vintage ever made at the winery, are scattered about the tasting room. The wines were generally holding up quite nicely and consumers can purchase them, some at bargain prices, in the boutique.

Here are some other Legends wines I tasted and liked:

diva sparkLegends Truth or Dare *Love Potion Sparkling Rose NV ($17, LCBO, winery, 87 points) — Chardonnay-based Methode Cuve Close sparkler with Merlot blended in. It’s made in a simple Prosecco style wine with a nose of red fruits and subtle sweetness. The palate reveals tasty cherry fruit with soft bubbles. *Though feeling pretty good after just a couple of sips, I’m quite certain my “sexual prowess” was not altered by this wine. But, in name of science and to test the LCBO theory, I will try a whole bottle and see what happens.

Legends Diva Malbec Rose 2009 ($15, 86 points) — A rose made in the traditional style with meaty red fruits of strawberry and rhubarb fruit on the nose. It’s lush on the palate but balanced out with good upfront acidity to lift the ripe red fruits.

Legends Diva Red 2010 ($15, LCBO, winery, 87 points) — A blend of Merlot and Malbec with aromas of berries, plums, cherry and light spice notes. Very easy drinking red, with good ripe fruits that bring a tinge of sweetness to the palate.

sb resLegends Liazk Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2010 ($19, winery, 89 points) — Such a lovely nose of spicy tropical fruits, grapefruit, melon and citrus that’s bolstered by creamy and sweet spices from oak aging. It’s lovely on the palate with a round texture, opulent fruit, a touch of mineral and all that wonderful, yet nuanced oak-influenced spice. An elegant style of Sauvignon Blanc.

Legends Malbec Lizak Vineyard Reserve 2007 ($19, winery, 89 points) — Lizak has always grown Malbec on his property simply because “I like it.” He says it ripens quite well in his lakeside vineyard that is warmer than other areas of the Lakeshore-Lincoln appellation because of the lake effect that offers up five to 10 degrees more heat during the growing season. Not that the 2007 growing season needed any help. The nose shows smoky plum fruit, violets, earth-loam and blueberries to go with supporting spice and toasty oak notes. It’s quite ripe on the palate, rich and textured and showing wonderful structure to go with lovely black fruits, spice and surprising plush tannins. One to cellar for a few more years.

malbecLegends Merlot Reserve 2007 ($18, winery, 91 points) — Now, this is something. A bold offering with plum and cherry fruit then layers of roasted meats, Espresso, tar, earth and, yes, even chocolate notes on the nose. It shows depth and character on the palate with ripe, jammy fruits mingling with exotic spice from a combination of French, Hungarian and U.S. oak. Another one for the cellar or drink now with grilled red meats.

Legends Petit Verdot Reserve 2007 ($20, winery, 90 points) — Not many in Niagara are making a 100% Petit Verdot (Stratus comes to mind), but Lizak is a believer in this grape that’s usually a blender for Bordeaux-style reds. But in a hot vintage in Niagara, it can hold its own quite nicely. It’s dense in the glass with a nose of raspberry, kirsch, blackberry, leather, sandalwood and spice. It has grip on the palate, and needs to integrate a bit more, with lush red fruits, toasty vanilla notes, pepper and a range of spices. To cellar for 10 years or more.

Legends Riesling Reserve 2003 ($45, winery, 92 points) — Lizak was proud to pour some of his older vintages to show how well his wines age. Of particular note was this reserve Riesling from 2003, the last time Lizak made a Riesling. He still has a few cases for sale at the winery. It is a gorgeous wine with grapefruit, peach, petrol and mineral notes on the nose to go with just a kiss of honey sweetness. It still has vibrant acidity on the palate and layers of mature fruits with the mineral-petrol elements just starting to take over. I loved the sweet-tart finish. If you want to taste well-aged Niagara Riesling, here’s a great place to start.

Note: I also tasted the Legends Pinot Noir Reserve 2002 ($30) and bought a bottle of the 2002 dry Riesling to take home and try. The Pinot is just starting to dry out but still had a little fruit to go with spice, roasted coffee bean and toffee notes. The dry Riesling was a wonderful buy at $10, with still vibrant fruit and a playful, lip-smacking play of sweet and tart fruit. I’m going back for more.





Riverview’s sweet new white treat; plus new Megalomaniac reserves and a Vineland Estate Reserve Chardonnay


Riverview Cellars has made a concerted effort to raise the bar higher in its small but growing portfolio of wines, but it has clearly set its sights on making some of the most lush and exotic icewines in Niagara. Continue reading


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