Niagara Wine Reviews

Virtual Niagara wineries highlight Vintages release

Vintages goes virtual this Saturday with three exceptional Niagara wines made by virual wineries set to be released.

Steve Byfield.

Nyarai Cellars, 2027 Cellars and Charles Baker, three key so-called virtual wineries because they make their wines out of rented space and purchased grapes, all have wines for sale at area LCBO-Vintages stores this Saturday.

Make no mistake about it, virtual wineries are not to be ignored. All three make some very fine juice.

Charles Baker, marketing and sales director at Stratus Vineyards, makes only one wine, his namesake riesling that bears not only the Vinemount Ridge appellation on the label but also Picone Vineyard, a tiny parcel of land dedicated to the riesling project.

Nyarai new release.

Mark J. Picone owns just three blocks of vineyards, planted to riesling and cabernet franc. All of the riesling goes exclusively to Baker. His 2008 wine is part of the Saturday release. Here’s a review.

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2008 ($35, 4.5 stars) — The ’08 version of Charles Baker shows perfect varietal fruit, with the flinty mineral notes that lovers of this grape crave. It’s drier than the 2007, but has enough ripe citrus fruit to balance out the racy acidity. This is a world-class riesling from one of the top three vineyards for this grape in Niagara — Vinemount Ridge.

Kevin Panagapka, 2027 Cellars

Nyarai, a South African girl’s name (pronounced na-rye) that means humility, was established in 2008 by Steve Byfield and partner Rodney Ingram.

Byfield is the hands-on proprietor of Nyarai. His background is primarily in the music education field but fell in love with the making of wine while paying his way through university and working part-time at different wineries.

Byfield apprenticed as an assistant winemaker at Southbrook winery in 2001 and took chemistry classes to upgrade his skills while working there. In 2006, Byfield abandoned his music career and became the assistant winemaker to Arthur Harder, who makes wine for Calamus.

The 2009 version of this wine is released this Saturday.

He makes only wines from the best grapes grown in any given vintage. He’s releasing a red blend at Vintages on Saturday. Here’s a review.

Nyarai Cellars Veritas 2007 ($25, 4.5 stars) — This is Byfield’s attempt to showcase terroir driven wines. Veritas (truth), he says, encapsulates the essence of the Niagara region. This reserve blend consists of 33% cabernet franc, 27% cabernet sauvignon, 27% merlot and 13% syrah from the ripe and exciting 2007 vintage. It starts with black currants, cherry and cassis aromas with mocha, vanilla and pepper spice. It’s drinking beautifully at the moment with meaty-beefy fruits, tar-licorice, oak, plum and earthy flavours. Drinks more like a warm-climate red blend. Can cellar for a couple of years.

And, finally, 2027 Cellars, a virtual winery owned by Kevin Panagapka, is releasing the third of his excellent trio of rieslings from the 2009 vintage — the Featherstone Vineyard Riesling.

Panagapka has two conditions for the rieslings he makes: They must be from Bench vineyards on the Niagara Escarpment and the vines must be grown from the Weiss clone. After sourcing and managing the fruit, the riesling takes care of itself, Panagapka says.

I gave his Falls Vineyard Riesling 4.5 stars in a previous review and the Fox Croft Vineyard was my white wine of year with a perfect 5 out 5 stars and was named top riesling at the Cuvee Gala.

Pangapka calls Featherstone his most age-worthy riesling, while the Fox Croft is described as “showy” and his Falls riesling the most mineral of the three.

There is absolutely no more Featherstone left, so this is the last chance to get a bottle or two and lay down. It’s $25.

Other Niagara wines in the Saturday Vintages release include:

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Gewurztraminer 2009 ($17, not reviewed)

Ridgepoint Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 ($25, not reviewed)

Strewn Terroir Merlot 2006 ($20, not reviewed)

Henry of Pelham Cabernet Franc Icewine 2009 ($$40/200 ml bottle, not reviewed)