Daniel Lenko is back and he definitely wants you to know it. And if you need a reminder, just check out the 53-foot trailer he’s parked along the South Service Road just before the Ontario Street exit along the QEW.
The sign screams: DANIEL LENKO ESTATE WINERY: NOW AT YOUR LOCAL LCBO.
Just like his wines, Lenko is anything but subtle.
The Beamsville Bench grape grower and winemaker has just come through a quiet year where he virtually disappeared from the wine scene after running into trouble with the Region of Niagara.
In July 2011 Lenko was ordered to cease and desist from discharging winery production waste into an unapproved septic tank.
He was told to apply to the Region for a permit to construct a sewage system and, upon application, submit a detailed design plan from a qualified engineer or sewage systems designer and, upon approval, proceed to install the new system by Sept. 14, 2011.
He had no choice but to layoff his winery staff (his former winemaker, Thomas Laszlo, is now at Stonechurch Vineyards) while he charted a new course.
Lenko eventually met the conditions of his licence to manufacture wine at his property after working out a compromise with regional officials on a new septic system.
He calls the entire dispute “a big misunderstanding” that hurt his business because the story continues to play out on high up on Google searches when consumers go looking for Lenko wines online.
“People are starting to understand I’m open for business again,” Lenko tells me. “It was a long road. The story (of the septic tank woes) stays on the internet forever. At the time, it was THE story. But the story now is we’re open. It was a bit of a hiccup but I’m on the upclimb.”
There was a touch of serendipity in Lenko’s decision to skip the 2011 vintage. The grapes from 2011, in his opinion, wouldn’t have produced the kind of wines he likes to make.
And now he’s coming out of the gate with a strong lineup of 2010 wines, just now available at the winery or online here, that offer up the kind of bold statements he likes to make with the Lenko wines.
The vintage plays into the strengths of the key wines in the Lenko lineup — big, lush Bordeaux style reds and ripe, expressive Chardonnays that are all built to age in the cellar.
The hot, dry summer and long fall growing season in 2010 provided the backdrop for Lenko’s wonderful new portfolio of wines that are made in a similar vein to previous warm vintages such as 2007, 2005 and 2002.
The wines were made by Laszlo in 2010 but, going forward, will be crafted by Lenko and a consultant, who he doesn’t want to name.
While Lenko has built his reputation on his oaked Chardonnays, Merlot and Meritage, he also excels at unoaked, Chablis-style Chards, Viognier and his biggest seller, the White Cabernet.
Lenko says the consumer wants rose-style wines and he thinks this is the future of Ontario Cabernet Sauvignon.
“This is what we should be doing with all our Cabernet Sauvignon,” he says. “The consumer wants it.”
His White Cabernet is the first wine to sell out every vintage.
Here’s a look at the new Lenko wines, mostly from the 2010 vintage, but also reviews for the 2009 Syrah (none was made in 2010 because of some grape rot in the vineyard) and 2011 White Cab. The Syrah and White Cab will be released later in 2013 when the labels are ready.
Daniel Lenko Riesling Reserve 2010 ($23, 89 points) — Like nearly all Lenko wines, this Riesling is built to last and improve in the cellar. It has a big, expressive nose of peach, lemon curd, lime and quince that is awash in riverbed minerality and soft, sweet petrol notes. On the palate, it drinks like a super-dry Alsatian wine with substantive and layered citrus and poached orchard fruits that coast on a long refreshing finish.
Daniel Lenko Chardonnay Unoaked 2010 ($20, 88 points) — This is also made under the “Chardonngay” label to celebrate Canada’s diverse gay culture with a $1 from every bottle going toward AIDS research. The nose shows fresh peach, pear and pineapple fruits and chalky minerality in a vibrant, racy style. Lenko picked his 2010 Chard early, at 22 Brix (most pick around 24 Brix), to retain the acidity this style of unoaked Chard needs. It’s crisp and lively on the palate, with juicy stone fruits that are balanced beautifully with racy acidity and verve.
Daniel Lenko Gewurztraminer 2010 ($23, 88 points) — Subtle musk oil, pink grapefruit, rose petals, lychee and pear notes on the nose. It is weighty and unctuous on the palate with broad flavours and moderate acidity to balance out the concentration of ripe fruits.
Daniel Lenko Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, American Oak ($23, 91 points) — Made from vines planted in 1959, which Lenko says is the oldest planting of Chardonnay in Canada. The wine is barrel fermented and barrel aged in U.S. oak for 12 months, 80% new oak. A full-blown nose of Bosc pear, butterscotch, coconut, ripe citrus, toasted vanilla and a full pantry of baking spices. It is wonderfully complex and rich on the palate with gushing fruit, sweet oak spices and creamy butterscotch all balanced out by a healthy vein of acidity. Delicious and opulent.
Daniel Lenko Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, French Oak ($30, 92 points) — The same oak regime is used for this wine as above, the only difference being this is made with French oak. They are in stark contrast, considering they both contain relatively the same grapes from the Lenko estate. This is much more restrained, less opulent with citrus, apple and tropical fruits with a light dusting of vanilla toast and a touch of butter and spice. It is complex and evolving on the palate with lovely integrated fruit, brioche, tantalizing minerality and spice that’s seamlessly woven into this elegant package. It just glides thought the palate effortlessly and leads to a long, clean finish.
Daniel Lenko Old Vines Merlot 2010 ($40, 90 points) — Lenko’s Old Vines Beamsville Bench Merlot spends 18 months in a mix of new and older French and American oak barrels. It starts with black cherry, blueberry and kirsch notes with added licorice, field raspberry, bramble, earth and toasted vanilla and spices. It is but a pup on the palate with the tautness of youth, tight tannic structure and ripe red and dark fruits just beginning to open up. There are a lot of moving parts here but the ingredients are all there to come into wonderful harmony with time in the cellar.
Daniel Lenko Meritage 2010 ($60, 93 points) — This is Lenko’s signature wine made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and only produced in top vintages such as 2010. Make no mistake about it, this is one of Niagara’s top meritage blends and you have to be patient to experience the best this wine will give. Like other top Niagara Bordeaux blends from great vintages (think 2007 and 2002), they need time for the tannins, oak and fruit to integrate and soften. But, this wine has it all. The cassis, cherry-raspberry, blue plums, bramble bush, mocha, nutmeg, firm oak and spice stylings, vanilla toast and scorched earth notes all play a part on the nose. The fruits are bold and ripe on the palate with earth, roasted Espresso bean, nutmeg and vanilla all chiming in against a bed of firm tannins. This is a big wine that will need time with a huge reward in five or 10 years. Buy, hold and enjoy!
Daniel Lenko Syrah 2009 ($60, 90 points) — A remarkable effort here, considering the unkind vintage. Only two barrels are made from low yielding estate vineyards with wine aged in French oak for 18 months. The nose is all about wild red and dark fruits, boysenberry, plum, pomegranate, roasted meats, forest floor, cigar leaf, white pepper and savoury spices. It is smooth on the palate with the tannins just beginning to round out, and a nice mix of fruit and Rhone-style funk and savage. Cellar for five or more years.
Daniel Lenko Viognier 2010 ($50, 91 points) — After fermenting, this Viognier is aged on the less with frequent pumpovers to add a creamy texture, structure and weight in the absence of oak aging. There is no comparable Viognier being made in Niagara in this style. Such an awesome nose of pretty apricot, melon, mango, creamy peach fruit and floral notes. It has length and power on the palate with a beautiful marriage of exotic tropical fruits and texture through a lasting finish. Remarkable.