I’m quietly tasting through barrel and tank samples of upcoming vintages of Colaneri Estate wines with Andrzej Lipinski in his winery office.
Nondescript mason jars of unfinished wine are strewn about the table as we go from one kiln-dried offering to the next.
The 2010 reds are exactly what Lipinski strives for at the Niagara-on-the-Lake winery — big, bold and juicy wines that get their personality from dried grapes and barrel aging through darn near the entire portfolio.
In only two short vintages, Lipinski and Colaneri have achieved exactly what they set out to do. And that’s to stand out in a crowd. The wines made here are no shrinking violets. They are full-out statement wines with a story behind each label and a winery that backs up the story.
The winery’s front façade is nearing completion as the Colaneri family works this spring on the grand fountain outside the front entrance.
The building has been rising out of the vineyards like some sort of modern-day Roman Colosseum for two years, a grand and gently curved structure with arches and stucco that will be when finally completed (they are still waiting for permits for some parts of the interior) Niagara’s largest single winery.
It is a labour of love, a dream, for the Colaneri family, which has deep Italian roots and a long history of growing grapes in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
When completed, the winery will have four floors (complete with an elevator) with spectacular panoramic views of the estate vineyard from huge floor-to-ceiling windows. A special events room will hold up to 250 guests.
The winery is state of the art, but it is in the barrel cellar where the true beauty of this winery is seen. It’s a huge, two-pronged cavern that curves gently under the main structure. The two sides are separated by Roman-style columns. It is here that grand tastings and special event dinners will be held.
The world is unfolding as it should at Colaneri. The only thing missing from the grand project was the recognition that the wines they were making were of the highest quality.
While tasting with Lipinski, during a quiet moment, Tara Colaneri, who is in charge of sales for the family, timidly asked me why I thought the winery has failed to garner any awards for their wines.
I told her then that awards and those who are award them (judges, of which I am one) are fickle. The wines at Colaneri are very different (because of the dried grapes and various Italian styles including appassimento, ripasso and recioto) and often judges don’t know where to place them in competition.
I also told her that awards aren’t the be-all, end-all for success.
This conversation took place, of course, before the Cuvee Awards where Colaneri finally broke through with a well-deserved Cuvee award for top Red Blend for its Insieme 2009, a bold and racy wine with a third each of Cabernet Sauvignon (100% dried grapes), Merlot (50% dried grapes) and Syrah (50% dried grapes).
It was a glorious moment for the Colaneri family and Betty and daughter Tara, all decked out in gorgeous sequin dresses, were beaming with joy following the award announcement at the Fallsview Casino where they were pouring their winning wine to a large crowd of eager wine lovers.
That first accolade is always the hardest, but after tasting what’s coming down the pipe with the 2010 reds, it will be but one of many awards coming their way.
Here’s what I tasted and liked with Lipinski.
Colaneri Stellucha Riesling 2009 ($16, 87 points) — One of the few wines made with dried grapes, this is a relatively low-alcohol (11%) wine for Lipinski. It’s a blend of 70% Beamsville Bench fruit and the rest from NOTL. Shows fresh citrus, floral, peach, grapefruit and minerals on the nose. It’s made slightly off-dry on the palate with sweet-tart citrus fruit and racy acidity.
Colaneri Pinot Grigio Cavallone 2010 ($25, 88 points) — 20% of the grapes for this unique Grigio are kiln-dried and made in the appassimento style with eight months in older oak barrels. The nose shouts melon, peach, clove, cinnamon all with a creamy edge. It’s a rich and full-bodied white with cantaloupe, pear and peach flavours and enough acid to keep it fresh through the finish.
Colaneri Fumosa Bianco Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($25, 88 points) — A highly unusual style of SB with 30% of the fruit kiln-dried and aged in oak for eight months in newer barrels. The grass shines through the spice and tropical fruits on the nose. It’s round and grassy on the palate with a spicy kick and intensity through the finish. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but a well-made wine.
Colaneri Paese Chardonnay 2009 ($30, 90 points) — Another wine that does not see any dried grapes. The juice spends 13 months in 60% new and 40% one-year-old puncheon oak barrels. It’s made entirely from estate fruit. Wow, what a nose. From gobs of ripe, poached pear, pineapple and citrus to creamy butter, toast and vanilla-clove spice. It’s delicious on the palate with rich pear and apple fruit, lovely spice and a vein of acidity that keeps all the parts in this wine fresh.
Colaneri Virtuoso Pinot Noir 2009 ($30, 89 points) — No dried grapes used and made from a 50-50 split of NOTL and Bench grapes and a mix of two clones. It spends 13 months in one-, two- and three-year-old oak barrels. The nose reveals cran-cherry fruit, earth, Pinot funk, charred vanilla and spice. It has wonderful depth of fruit in the mouth to go with soft tannins, red fruits, bramble and subtle minerality.
Colaneri Visone Syrah 2009 ($28, 87 points) — Not my favourite wine from the tasting but a decent drop nonetheless. Made from 50% dried fruit and 18 months in mostly new oak barrels. It’s of medium body and shows notes of pepper, forest floor, currants and cassis on the nose. There’s a touch of raisin sweetness in the mouth, some blueberry, pepper and spice in a lighter style.
Colaneri Corposo Cabernet 2009 ($19, 88 points) — Made in the traditional ripasso style from a blend of 60% Cabernet France and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose begins with red cherry, spices, and roasted herbs. In the mouth it shows red and dark fruits, some elegance, spice and vibrant acidic core.
Colaneri Unita Cabernet Franc 2009 ($25, 90 points) — From 50% dried fruit and aged in mostly new oak barrels fro 18 months. I love this Cab Franc. Shows funky plums and currants on the nose with earth, herbs, spice and a powerful sweet tobacco note. The wonderful fruit shines on the palate with cassis and currants melding nicely with integrated spice notes through a long finish.
Colaneri Pensiere Merlot 2009 ($30, 89 points) — It’s made in the same fashion as the wine above. It delivers smoke, sweet spice and a wave of cherry fruit on the nose. Quite forward with sweet black cherry fruit on the palate with decent tannic structure, depth of flavour, spice and good acidity.
Colaneri Insieme Red Blend 2009 ($35, 91 points) — This flagship blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv and Syrah red won top red blend at Cuvee. And a worthy win it was. The nose shows expressive notes of bold red fruits enriched with leather, clove, mocha, plums, earth and sweet spices. The dried fruits on the palate give the juicy red fruits a ripe and round feel in the mouth to go with lavish spices and a sweet note on the finish. A full-bodied beauty that will reward with a few more years in the cellar.
Colaneri Profundo Aumento Chenin Blanc 2010 ($20 for 375 Ml, 90 points) — Made in the ricioto style of sweet Italian wines, this sticky has a gorgeous nose of pineapple, tropical fruits and honey. It’s full and rich on the palate yet maintains a level of freshness to go with lemon-lime, melon and pineapple flavours.
Colaneri Profondo Fumoso Bianco Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($30 for 375 Ml, 89 points) — Another recioto style wine made with 100% dried grapes and finished with nearly 100 grams per litre of residual sugar. The nose shows sweet grassy notes, herbs, tropical fruits, pulpy grapefruit and spice. The concentrated flavours pop in the mouth with intense fruit, wonderful texture and layers of pleasure. Warning: This sweet wine clocks in at 15% alcohol.
Colaneri Coraggioso Amoroso Amarone 2009 ($50, May release, 92 points) — I have saved the best for last. This delightfully plush red wine uses 100% dried Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (63 days of drying) and spent 27 months in new French oak. It is, to say the least, a massive wine yet with a velvety softness in the mouth. The nose displays saturated blackberry, crushed currants, cassis and layers of interesting spice and toasted vanilla. It is thick and rich on the palate with a meaty-fruity-spicy profile that softens through the finish. It’s an in-your-face red that has the potential to age for many years to come. I can’t think of a wine that compares to this in Niagara.
I also enjoyed a taste of the 2011 whites and 2010 reds that coming up. It only confirmed to me that good things will continue to be made under Lipinski’s skilled style of winemaking.
Here’s to diversity in Niagara!