The sophomore vintage from young winemaker David Stasiuk at the remarkably revamped Rockway Vineyards continues to build on a portfolio virtually remade from the ground up.
No longer the poor sister to an operation built around the sprawling 18-hole Rockway Glen golf course in Niagara’s Twenty Valley, Stasiuk has taken the estate fruit and built up a portfolio of affordable to mid-tier wines that showcase the unique micro-climate of the vineyards nestled between Jordan and St. Catharines on the eastern border of the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation.
His first vintage, showcasing many excellent reds from the warm 2010 vintage, was always going to be hard to followup. By most accounts, the 2011 reds are inferior to the reds of the previous vintage. But there are some stars from his portfolio.
The newly-released whites from 2012, however, are the over-achievers of the release, showing the terroir of the vineyard and some of the skill of the winemaker.
It is in the vineyards that Stasiuk has made the biggest change to a portfolio, previous to 2010, that was lacking in both depth and quality. Stasiuk is implementing extensive canopy management, reduced crop yields and now picks the grapes on flavour instead of entirely on Brix (sugar content).
Here are some of my favourites from the new releases at Rockway Vineyards:
Rockway Small Lot Block 12-150 Riesling 2012 ($19, winery, 90 points) — Rockway farms its grapes in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation and you get that sense with the crushed stone minerality on the nose of this Riesling that works well with fresh-squeezed lime, grapefruit, apple and honey. The lime-citrus-apple fruits are joined by ripe stone fruits on the palate with underlying river rock and sweet-tart notes through the finish.
Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12-140 Syrah 2011 ($26, winery, 89 points, previously reviewed) — A rich nose of wild berries, cassis, tar, licorice and black pepper. This is a bold and assertive Syrah on the palate with dark fruits bolstered by savoury spices, well defined tannins and a smooth, long finish.
Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12-110 Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2012 ($20, winery, 90 points) — An interesting Chard that was fermented with indigenous (wild) yeasts — a process that took nearly 10 months — before being racked into oak barriques (neutral) and new oak 500 L puncheons. The nose is quite expressive with notes of poached pear, creamy butter, vanilla toast and a squirt of citrus. It shows bright apple, pear and lemon fruits in the mouth all propped up by spice, butterscotch cream, subtle minerality and generous acidity.
Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Gewurztraminer 2012 ($20, winery, 89 points) — I like Stasiuk’s vision for Niagara Gew. As with the previous vintage, it shows big aromatics of perfumed lychee nut, grapefruit, citrus and honey. The fruit is ripe on the palate with lovely texture and enough acidity to balance out the sweetness.
Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Meritage 2011 ($20, winery, 88 points) — This red blend consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot shows raspberry, spice, cassis and earthy bits on the nose. It holds the fruit quite well on the palate and the structure is built around a bed of firm tannins.
Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12-120 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($23, winery, 87 points) — The nose displays blackberry, cassis and anise fruit with mint spice and earthy-savoury notes. It has pretty good structure on the palate with earthy-brambly dark fruits and a full complement of oak spices.
Riesling specialist Charles Baker’s Picone
and Ivan Vineyard releases
Charles Baker Ivan Vineyard Riesling 2012 ($27, available at Stratus now, 90 points) — Baker’s second vineyard where he sources his site-specific Rieslings is located in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation, just below Tawse in Vineland (and not that far from his top cuvee Picone Vineyard). This 12-acre mixed high-density planting includes a pristine single acre of Riesling planted in 1997. Planted in rows running south to north on a clay/limestone base, the vineyard benefits from the updrafts of Lake Ontario while benefiting from all the inland warmth of the growing season. While 2012 was a warm vintage, Baker has managed to bring a sense of lightness and airyness to this wine with a pretty and floral nose of citrus, stony minerality and soft stone fruit. It has texture on the palate with integrated grapefruit and citrus notes, lanolin, bright acidity and wet-stone minerality. As with all CB wines, you can let this age for a few years in the cellar.
Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($35, September Vintages release, 93 points) — Picone Vineyard and Baker have become synonymous with fine Riesling in Niagara. When these forces became one, a new breed of exceptional Riesling producer was born and Baker has been true to what the vineyard delivers each and every vintage since 2005. Picone, owned by Chef Mark Picone, is a remarkable seven-acre vineyard and Baker takes all the Riesling grown there. The vineyard is in the huge Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation, butting up against the Twenty Mile Bench on Moyer Road near Megalomaniac in Vineland. The vineyard benefits from its lofty, breezy perch on top of the Escarpment that keeps the fruit clean, dry and in pristine condition through harvest. The 2011 vintage is remarkable from the first sniff; rich, layered citrus fruit, savoury-herbal notes, a touch of jasmine and ginger, grapefruit, lanolin and that distinct wet stone note. The texture is gorgeous on the palate, broad and mouth-filling. but balanced out by racy-searing acidity. There is a richness to this wine and a fine vein of limestone minerality that melds perfectly to the juicy citrus and funky spice notes. This will evolve for a decade or more. NOTE: When this wine appears at Vintages stores, the vintage 2011 will be printed on the label in pink. Baker is giving some of the proceeds of this wine to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto to help with their cancer treatment programs. It is a cause that is close to his heart.
Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012 ($35, released in May, 92 points) — An interesting comparison to the 2011 vintage in that this was made with 14 g/l of residual sugar, a lot drier than the 20 g/l RS of the 2011 vintage. The nose is typical of this single-vineyard with lemon-lime, lanolin, swirling minerality and subtle floral-herbaceous notes. It feels drier on the palate with more mineral notes washing over the palate and riper fruits. Perhaps a Picone that best shows its beauty in its youth? Time will tell.
Did someone say Malbec?
EastDell Estates Black Label Malbec 2011 ($20, winery, Vintages on April 12, 88 points) — Not a lot of Niagara wineries make this single varietal but EastDell seems to have a knack for it. The nose shows smoky-savoury notes with plums, blackberry, vanilla and roasted coffee bean. It shows mid-weight on the palate and is packed with red fruits, spice, savoury-earthy notes and smooth tannins.
EastDell Black Label Shiraz 2011, Niagara ($20, 88 points) — A friendly Syrah with aromas of wildberries, plum and peppery spices. It’s soft on the palate with savoury red fruits, integrated spices and cedary-smoky notes through the smooth finish.
Niagara releases out this Saturday at Vintages
Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2010 ($30, Vintages, 90 points) — Jacquey worked hard on this warm vintage to preserve the freshness that he desires in both his Chardonnays and Pinots. That meant earlier picking of the grapes (for acidity) and less oak treatment in the finished wine. The wine on the nose is appealing for its range of apple and citrus fruits that are integrated with soft vanilla and spice. It’s a broad, generous, almost voluptuous style of Chard with ripe, forward fruits that caress the palate without being fat or weighty. It is packed with extracted fruit through the finish but balanced out by fresh acidity and a deft touch with the oak and wood tannins.
Le Clos Jordanne Village Pinot Noir 2011 ($30, 88 points) — A nose of sour cherry, cedar, tobacco, raspberry bush and bramble. There is some structure on the palate with fresh acidity to go with raspberry-cherry and cassis notes that are a bit shy at the moment. I would suggest that this was a touch closed when I tasted it.
Released but not reviewed:
• G. Marquis The Silver Line Chardonnay 2011 ($18)
• Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012 ($23)
• The Foreign Affair Ex-Pat Riesling 2009 ($17)
• Wildass White 2009 ($20)
• Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2012 ($18)
• Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Cabernet Merlot 2011 ($16)