Niagara Wine Reviews

Riverview Cabernet Icewines a rare treat

An invitation to retaste the legendary Riverview Cellars Buona Notte Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2007 on the eve of the Niagara Icewine Festival is not one you turn down.

Riverview's top Icewines.

Throw in the subsequent vintages of this lush, unique sweet wine and suddenly the world is on hold until those wines have been thoroughly investigated.

A small group of tasters were invited to Riverview to taste through the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Buona Notte Icewines  — the best of the best from Riverview’s top blocks of vinifera red grapes grown at the estate, located on the Niagara Parkway in the Niagara River sub-appellation.

The Buona Notte 07 grapes are from Block 150 of the La Terra Vineyard and was picked when it was -22C (with the wind chill) under trying conditions and frequent equipment breakdowns. Brix (measure of sweetness) were as high as 46, with residual sugars at 239 g/L at bottling.

As Michael Pillitteri recalled at the tasting, it was hell in the vineyard that winter but the end result was heaven in a bottle. It always seems with icewine, the more adverse the conditions, the better the end result.

Light pours from Riverview window.

Grapes from that particular block at Riverview likely won’t yield more icewine until 2012 because of the stress caused by the brutal winter picking, so Riverview moves its top icewine program from block to block and vineyard to vineyard.

While the 07 was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a rarity for icewine, the 2008 consists of nearly 90% Cab Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc from the La Terra Vineyard. The 2009 is 100% Cabernet Franc from La Terra.

Buona Notte Cabernet Icewine

A miniscule 48 cases of 375 Ml bottles were produced of the 2007 liquid gold, with a mere 24 bottles or so left for only special tastings.

When I first tasted this wine over a year ago it was a knockout — a rare icewine with notes of strawberry preserves, roasted nuts, creme brule and cheery-kirsch all wrapped up in waves of exotic spice. It received a perfect 5 out 5 stars, the first such wine I had scored that high.

Trying the wine again a year later only confirmed my initial review, but it had evolved into an ever better wine with more mature, darker fruits, almond and lavish spices all perfectly integrated. The acids are softening, but the marriage of flavours and texture in the mouth is breathtaking.

We also tried the 2008 and 2009 Buona Nottes and some other treats, including the Cabernet Icewine 2009, which will be served during the Icewine Festival paired with homemade cinnamon-cranberry biscotti. Here are the reviews:

Riverview Buona Notte 2008 ($100 for 375 Ml, 4 stars, winery only) — This mostly Cabernet Sauvignon icewine was fermented and briefly aged in stainless steel before going into French oak barrels for 11 months. It’s unique on the nose with pronounced buckwheat honey, red fruits, earth and spice. Buckwheat honey comes through on the palate as well, with mature fruits, lovely texture and length on the finish. Much more balancing acid than the 2007. 100 cases made.

Riverview Nuona Notte 2009 ($100 for 375 Ml, 4.5 stars, winery only) — A departure from the other two wines above, using 100% Cabernet Franc, barrel fermented and aged in three-year-old oak barrels. Only 30 cases were made. The nose shows tangy cherry-kirsch notes, raspberry fruits, violets and spiced honeycomb. It’s layered and textured on the palate with luxurious fruit compote, spice and sweet honey notes balanced by juicy acidity.

Riverview Riesling Icewine.

Riverview Cabernet Icewine 2009 ($60 for 375 Ml, 4 stars, winery only) — Pronounced strawberry-raspberry jam notes on the nose with a whiff of nuts, spice and honey. It all carries to the palate with a healthy does of acidity to balance out the sweetness.

Riverview Riesling Icewine 2009 ($55 for 375 Ml, 4.5 stars, winery only) — Very interesting from beginning to end. Wonderful pure citrus, lime, apricot and summer peach aromas on the nose. The brilliant acidity washes the palate and clears a path for citrus-peach-apricot fruits, subtle spice and wild, botrytised honey notes. Should age beautifully.

We were also treated to some other new releases from Riverview including the 2009 Riesling ($17, 3.5 stars), a crisp, mineral and austere style, the Gewurztraminer 2009 ($17, 3.5 stars), with lychee, rose petals, musk and spice, and the spectacular Angelina’s Reserve Chardonnay ($20, 4 stars), a gorgeous wine with green apple, tropical fruits, vanilla, toasted oak and soft spices — a real deal at $20.

A few other new releases:

Henry of Pelham Merlot 2007 ($18, 4 stars, Vintages) — A comfortable winter wine at a fabulous price. Succulent cherry fruits, mocha, oak, roasted coffee bean and spice notes on the nose. It’s a rich wine on the palate with red fruits, roasted herbs, a touch of earth and firm tannins. A good ol’ Niagara red from a great vintage.

Flat Rock Cellars Twisted 2009 ($17, 4 stars, Vintages) — Citrus, melon, apple and lime zest on the nose of this funky, fun multi-white grape blend. It’s fresh and flavourful in the mouth with grapefruit, apple, peach, citrus and all together a fruity pleasure to drink.

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2009 ($20, 4 stars, Vintages) — A very young wine but starting to show red berries, earth and spice on the nose. It opens up in the mouth with vibrant red fruits, spice, minerality and lovely oak tones. Very nice.

What: Niagara Icewine Festival

When: Three weekends beginning this weekend with the Red Hot and Ice Icewine evening at the Fallsview Casino (last night).

Other events:

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Village Jan. 22-23 — Located on historic Queen Street, the 25 Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake pour liquid gold all weekend long. Icewine is paired with the swinging sounds of Canadian Jazz and the town’s finest restaurants will be serving up Icewine-inspired culinary pairings to delight then palate. Admission is free.

Twenty Valley Winter Winefest Jan. 15-16 — Sip, savour and celebrate with over 30 of Twenty Valley’s most celebrated wineries offering wine and food demos in the heart of charming Jordan Village.

Winterfest in the Market Square Jan. 15 — Sip and savour the magic of winter in St. Catharines. Celebrate Winterfest in historic downtown with delectable VQA wines, gourmet cuisine, artisanal cheeses and live music from Soul Jam.

• For more information, go to: Niagara Icewine Festival