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Charles Baker’s 09 Riesling leads the charge at the Vintages release


Vintages has gone all out with the Ontario wine release this Saturday.

The most anticipated wine will be Charles Baker’s Picone Vineyard Riesling 2009, but there are also some gems from Hidden Bench and Malivoire in Niagara, plus Huff Estates and Rosehall Run in Prince Edward County and a nice cranberry wine from Muskoka Lakes Winery in Bala.

For those who follow Baker’s (his day job is at Stratus as the marketing and sales director) Rieslings, made and sold at Stratus and on his Charles Baker website, will know he has made one Riesling per vintage since 2005 from the Picone Vineyard in the Vinemount Ridge appellation.


Baker has developed a close association with vineyard owner Mark Picone, who owns just two blocks of Riesling in the appellation (seen in above photo), which go exclusively to Baker.

Beginning in 2010, Baker added a second CB Riesling to his portfolio, from the Ivan Vineyard, located in Vineland (just south of Tawse) in the Twenty Mile Bench appellation.

This 12-acre mixed high-density planting includes a pristine single acre of Riesling. Planted in rows running south to north on a clay/limestone base, the vineyard benefits from the updrafts of Lake Ontario while taking advantage of the inland warmth of the growing season. It is a vineyard owned by growers Bob and Lisa Nedelko (Ivan is Bob’s father).

He is just releasing the 2011 Ivan Vineyard Riesling, a paltry 50 cases after cropping down to a half tonne an acre. Even raising the price from $27 to $35 a bottle, Baker says he’ll make very little, if anything, from the small production.


I sat down this week in the shady backyard of Baker’s Jordan home on blistering hot day to taste the new Ivan and to retaste both the the 2009 and 2010 Picone Vineyard Rieslings (the 2010 is being released on his website this week while the 2009, 75 cases, hits Vintages shelves on Saturday).

Baker said he’s searching around to add even more Rieslings to his portfolio, as long as he can source fruit that shows off the appellation. He has his sights set next on the Beamsville Bench.

Here’s what we tasted:

Charles Baker Ivan Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($35, at Stratus or website now, 92 points) — A fascinating Riesling, cropped to insane levels and hand sorted to leave only pristine fruit. The result was a tiny production of 50 cases, which, I’m guessing, will disappear rather quickly. The nose reveals gushing grapefruit-citrus, wet stone minerality, summer peach and lime. Even with 15 grams of residual sugar, it is laser sharp on the palate (Baker calls it “rapier-like”) with focused citrus-lime-grapefruit that washes the palate in wave after wave of pleasure. “I love this dry style, frankly,” says Baker. This will age gorgeously over time.

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2010 ($35, at Stratus or website now, Vintages in October, 91 points) — The grapes for this Riesling were picked late despite the heat of the vintage but is finished with less residual sugar (14 grams per litre compared to 27 g/l for the 2009). It shows ripe grapefruit, green apple, floral and mineral notes on the nose (I noted some subtle white pepper aromas on retrying the wine this week). It’s technically less dry on the palate but the fruits are riper, giving it a rounder feel in the mouth. Baker says aside from a little less residual sugar the wine is made virtually the same. “It’s just vintage variation, pure and simple.” I love the texture in Baker’s Rieslings and even though it’s from a warmer vintage it still shows classic tension and acidity through the finish. I sense the 2009s and 2008s will outlast the 2010 vintage in the cellar, but this is a beauty for drinking nowor two or three years down the road. A must for that CB vertical.

baker 09

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2009 ($35, Vintages Saturday, 92 points) — A truly remarkable and unique expression of the Vinemount Ridge appellation. It has a juicy core of highly extracted fruit on the nose with an underlying vein of minerality, earth and just a hint of petrol starting to emerge. It’s fleshy yet vibrant with a wonderful tug-of-war going on between sweet and tart fruit on the palate. It has layers of citrus fruits, quince and riverbed minerality that will reward with many more years in the cellar. Buy and hold for five years and even more. A chance to buy a great Riesling already with some age on it.

The rest of the Vintages releases Saturday, from Niagara:

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2010 ($24, 90 points) — This is usually a blend of the three vineyards at the estate, but in 2010, though it doesn’t say so on the label, it is 100% Locust Lane fruit. This is the first vintage that winemaker Marlize Beyers, who replaced J-M Bouchard, has made as winemaker. The nose shows pronounced and juicy grapefruit-citrus fruit, minerality that will continue to develop and hinting at soft tropical fruits. Despite the heat of the vintage, and because of the early pick on Sept. 25, the wine retains a healthy dose of natural acidity on the palate. But still, it is a ripe and juicy style of Riesling with sweet-tart grapefruit and wet stone minerals.

Malivoire Musque Spritz 2011 ($20, 88 points) – No one else in Niagara is making this delightful style of spritz-ed up Chardonnay Musque that’s finished with a very light 8% alcohol.  A refreshing nose of apple, pear and lemon-lime. A nice zesty spritz on the palate adds a little tickle on the palate to go with notes of citrus, peach, melon and apple. Delicious.

Malivoire Estate Pinot Noir 2009 ($30, 89 points) — A big nose of meaty-earthy fruits and black cherry with supporting spice. It’s complex and structured with cherry-bramble fruit, sweet spice, gritty tannins and length through the finish.

From Prince Edward County:


Rosehall Run Cuvee County Chardonnay 2009 ($22, 89 points) — Most of the fruit for this County Chard is sourced from young vines on the North and South blocks of the estate vineyard and aged in 500 litre French puncheon barrels, about 25% of it new oak. The nose shows gunflint, apple-pear fruit, smoky vanilla and brioche notes. It’s pure and racy on the palate with green apple, sharp acidity, pear-citrus, toast and vanilla to go with a defining vein of minerality through the finish.

Huff Estates Cuvee Peter F. Huff 2008 ($40, Prince Edward County, 91 points) — This is an all-chardonnay sparkler with a welcoming nose of citrus, yeast, pie crust, green apple and pear. Love this wine in the mouth — with it’s vigorous bead of bubbles, and flavours of lemon meringue pie, and juicy fruits held in balance with firm acidity, it’s got it all.

From Muskoka (two reviews of this wine, mine, the first one, and the second from Rick Bates, a long-time Ontario wine lover who has probably tasted more Canadian wines than all of us put together. This is his first review on Wines in Niagara):


Muskoka Lakes Winery White Cranberry Wine 2011 ($19, 88 points) — If you ever are in the area, Muskoka Lakes Winery is a gorgeous place to visit in the summer. Aside from the beauty of the Bala region (where I spent a great deal of my youth), the cranberry bog and surrounding grounds at Muskoka Lakes is a real treat to take in. Matt French has done a good job with the fruit wine portfolio and it’s nice to see his work supported by the LCBO. This is a lovely, off-dry cranberry wine with a nose of cranberry (of course) with hints of peach and apricot. It is honey-sweet on the palate with moderate acidity but drenched in fruit goodness from apricot-mango-peach notes that fold into the sweet cranberry. An impressive fruit wine that would be a perfect match for summer fruity desserts.

Muskoka Lakes Winery White Cranberry Wine 2011 ($19, 4 out of 5 stars, review by Rick Bates) — Crafted by Matt French from white cranberries in Muskoka. A lovely warm apricot colour with violet florals and orange peel on the nose. A full mouth feel with tart acidity, but just enough to balance the inherent sweetness of a fruit wine. Finishes off fairly dry. This is a very pleasant sipper but has enough flavours to make an excellent match with salads, cold cuts, and of course poultry. Also great with a soft brie and pecans. If you’re not normally a fan of fruit wine, this one will change your mind.

Also released but not reviewed:

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 ($35)
Flat Rock Chardonnay 2009 ($17)
Malivoire Chardonnay 2010 ($20)
Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay 2010 ($20)