Niagara Wine Reviews

An affordable sipper from Megalomaniac hits the shelves


By Rick VanSickle

Spring and summer is prime time for new wine releases as wineries rush to get their best stuff into the hands of consumers who tend to save their trips to Niagara for this time of the year.

You can virtually set your GPS to any winery in the region and chances are they’ll be pouring and selling a bevy of wines that just hit the shelves. There’s something very satisfying in being first to buy a wine that very few have yet to try.

Megalomaniac's new Homegrown Riesling with a touch of icewine. Photo courtesy St. Catharines Standard.

And you don’t have to actually plan a trip to wine country to enjoy the bounty of new wines, just drive around Niagara-on-the-Lake, Vineland, Beamsville, Jordan or the outskirts of St. Catharines (now with four wineries within city limits) and you’re bound to see a road-side sign telling you there’s a new release going on.

I spend a great deal of time touring around wine country and stopping into wineries to see what’s new and exciting. It’s quite thrilling (in a wine-geek sort of way) to taste the exciting new wines from the next great vintage.

It was a stop at John Howard’s Megalomaniac winery in Vineland, after seeing a sign on the road announcing a wine “event,” that got my full attention recently.

Howard is one of those bigger than life personalities on the Niagara wine scene and anytime he’s opening up his spectacular cellar for a special tasting you want to take advantage of it.

The wine that many had come to taste was a brand new wine for Megalomaniac called Homegrown, Vineyard 4379 (named after the latitude, 43, and longitude, 79, of the winery) 2006. It’s been talked about on the web after a few bottles were pre-released, but this was the public unveiling of the wine.

Homegrown is a fun little wine that comprises 100% Riesling with 10% of that an infusion of Riesling icewine to give the finished product a kiss of sweetness.

I loved it for what it is. A soft, appealing summer white with a nose of sweet lemon, peach, pineapple and orange-apple, it’s a fruity smorgasbord that all follows to the palate, adding a wisp of honey sweetness. Best of all, it will hit LCBO shelves in two weeks (or at the winery now) for only $13.

Howard says the wine has really taken off with 150 stores in Ontario and 150 more in Quebec about to have it on their shelves. “It’s the opiate for the masses,” he jokes.

The Megalomaniac lineup of wines.

Howard sources the fruit from his 30 acres of Riesling vines and has made a concerted effort to keep the price down while going to great lengths to show on the bottle that it’s 100% Ontario grown (it sports the new 100% Grown by Grape Growers of Ontario logo on the bottle). He gives exact GPS co-ordinates on the back of the bottle that will take you right to the vineyard where the grapes are grown.

Here are some other wines I’ve recently tasted that are available now or soon will be:

Megalomaniac Eccentric Savagnin 2008 ($25, winery, web, 4 stars) — As the name suggests, an eccentric white grape grown mainly in Jura in Eastern France, that leaves a big impression. The nose is simply gorgeous with bright apple, lime and pear that all follows to the palate. Love the acid that this vintage delivers.

Riverview Cellars Riesling 2009 ($17, winery, web, 3.5 stars) — A nose of grapefruit, lime and a touch of quince on the nose. It’s lively and crisp with racy acidity to go with refreshing lemon-lime flavours.

Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 ($25, winery, Vintages June 12, 4.5 stars) — 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.

Reif Estate Vidal Select Late Harvest 2006 ($15 for 375 ml, winery, Vintages, 3.5 stars) — A mature late harvest Vidal for $15? You just can’t go wrong. It is maturing, so you want drink it up. It’s a tasty wine that shows total integration of honey-sweet peach and apricot fruit to with creamy toffee-caramel notes on the palate.

Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Unoaked Chardonnay ($14, winery, LCBO, 3.5 stars) — Ripe notes of peach with touches of pineapple and citrus on the nose of this fruit forward Chard. An easy-going summer white loaded with orchard fruits and citrus zest on the finish.

Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2008 ($30, winery, 4.5 stars) — This is Tawse’s flagship Riesling and shows striking mineral-slate, lime, citrus and peach notes on the nose. The palate reveals sharp grapefruit and lime fruit with a racy bead of minerality and zingy acidity that leaves you wanting more.

Tawse Lauritzen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 ($45, winery, 4.5 stars) — Simply one of the finest Pinots from the 2008 vintage I have tasted. Sweet black cherry/raspberry fruits, vanilla and soft oak on the nose. But, oh, my, what a wine in the mouth. Pretty, delicate with notes of sun-ripened wild raspberry, bramble and soft spices to go with silky tannins and integrated oak.