Niagara Wine Reviews

These Chardonnays are poetry in a bottle

Southbrook's Poetica wines.

What: Southbrook Vineyards Poetica wines
Where: 581 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake
The wine: Poetica is Southbrook’s limited edition wine brand, an artist series celebrating the words of Canadian poets. One red (Cabernet-Merlot blend) and one white (Chardonnay) are made each vintage and inscribed with the poetry of a Canadian writer. The wines represent the top wines from Southbrook.
Availability: Only at the winery.
Winemaker: Ann Sperling.
Proprietors: Bill and Marilyn 

By Rick VanSickle

There are many opinions on what wine defines Niagara. Riesling. Chardonnay. Pinot Noir. Gamay Noir. Icewine. An argument can be made for all of them. 
 But if you ask Bill Redelmeier, it’s a no-brainer. Chardonnay is not only what Niagara does best, he’ll tell you, it is as good as any Chardonnay made in the world.

So it’s no surprise that Redelmeier’s Southbrook Vineyards goes to a lot of effort to craft a top-tier Chardonnay under its Poetica label along with a Cabernet Merlot blend every vintage. The wines represent the very best of what this classy winery produces from its organic and biodynamic vineyards.

Southbrook Vineyards impressive lineup of Poetica wines.
Southbrook Vineyards impressive lineup of Poetica wines.

At a special release tasting recently for both the 2007 Poetica wines, Redelmeier and his wife Marilyn, along with superstar Southbrook winemaker Ann Sperling, spent the weekend showing off their newest wines at their spectacular winery. The 2007 vintage is the best since 1998, the first vintage in which a Poetica was made.

The concept for Poetica, aside from crafting the very best wines in any given vintage, is to combine “great art IN the bottle with great art ON the bottle.” Each vintage is matched to poetry from a Canadian writer, which is then inscribed on each limited-edition bottle. 
 The labels from the 2007 vintage feature the poetry of Christopher Dewdney of Toronto and Stephen Elliott- Buckley of Vancouver.

Poetica wines have now been crafted in every vintage since 1998 and all of them are still for sale only at the winery. 
 I tasted through the portfolio with Bill Redelmeier, my second time with most of the wines, and here is what I liked:

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2007($50, 4.5 stars) — This vintage of the Chardonnay may well prove to be as good as the stunning 1998. It’s a dramatic wine with tropical-pear fruit aromas to go with butterscotch cream notes. In the mouth it shows pure opulence with creamy and juicy fruit enhanced by oak and vanilla spice. A wonderful wine that may achieve a perfect score with some time in the cellar.

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 1998($154 for 1.5 litres, 5 stars) — I tried this a year ago and it shows no signs of reaching maximum maturity. If anything, it was tasting better with a substantial nose of apple/tropical/ pineapple fruit touched by spice and butterscotch. It’s still vibrant on the palate with ripe tropical fruit and citrus topped off by elegant oak and spice. If you want to experience aged Niagara Chardonnay, there is none better than this.

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2005($56, 4.5 stars) — This is from a short-crop year in Niagara and certainly it’s rare that you can still find anything from 2005. But it’s also a very fine Chard with tropical-orange notes on the nose and well-integrated spice and vanilla. It has lovely texture in the mouth with harmonized fruits, vanilla-toffee and a creamy finish.

Southbrook Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2007($63, 5 stars) — This is one of the top Niagara wines of the vintage — and that’s saying a lot in a blockbuster year such as 2007. The nose shows spicy dark fruits, mocha, chocolate and earth. In the mouth, ripe blackberry and anise are backed up by Espresso, elegant oak and spice. A big red that will deliver pleasure for years down the road.

Southbrook Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2006($63, 4 stars) — Beautifully spiced nose with blackberry and currant aromas to go with subtle kirsch notes. A wonderful red with exotic flavours and spice that integrate seamlessly into the structure of the wine. It’s developing nicely but can stand more cellaring.

A couple of bubblies for New Year’s:

Cave Spring Cellars Chenin Blanc Extra Dry Brut 2006($30, LCBO, winery, 4 stars) — Applecitrus and a note of quince on the nose of this lively — and different — sparkling wine from Niagara. Bright and vibrant acidity on the palate paves the way for creamy citrus fruit flavours and a persistent bead of bubbles. Wonderful Cremantstyle bubbly.

Château des Charmes Brut ($23, LCBO, winery, 4 stars) — Made in the traditional Champagne style with a 50-50 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend, look for toasty lemon and citrus notes on the nose. Plenty of zip on the palate with bracing acidity, lemon/citrus flavours with nice toasty notes.