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Trius winemaker Craig McDonald pushes the boundaries for his small-lot wines; plus a pile of other Ontario wine reviews (Vineland, Southbrook, Colio, Flat Rock, des Charmes

mainThe transformation of the Trius brand of wines at Peller’s Hillebrand winery has been a methodical, innovative and wild ride under the skilful direction of chief winemaker Craig McDonald.

He is a passionate craftsman who likes to show the best of the vineyards at his disposal and apply unique winemaking techniques to showcase exciting small lot wines that are in a class all their own.

A clear delineation of wines has finally emerged at Trius with the subtle downplaying of the Hillebrand brand.

champersMcDonald has given Trius a life of its own with the core Trius brand that features single varietal red and white wines that showcase the unique, rich terrior of Niagara.

The flagship wine, the Trius Red, made from the best Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, has a proven track record and established itself among the best by winning top red wine in the world at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, U.K., 20 years ago.

You get the sense that McDonald’s creativity and passion is expressed in his Showcase wines. These are handmade wines produced in small quantities that express the character of the soil and the personality of the vineyard in the best fruit he sources or grows in any given vintage.

Not only does McDonald search for the best grapes for his Showcase wines, he pushes the boundaries in terms of winemaking, using interesting techniques such as wild fermentation and concrete fermenters for many of the wines to give them a one-of-kind personality.

I tried a selection of the new Showcase wines with McDonald over an exquisite lunch prepared by Trius chef Frank Dodd. Here’s what we enjoyed (along with some other reviews of Niagara wines after these).

Trius Showcase Blanc de Noirs Sparking 2009 (around $55, likely Christmas release, 93 points) — This is so new that McDonald wasn’t sure what this will be called when it is finally labeled. It is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir from the Lawrie Vineyard (Four-Mile Creek) and 30% Pinot Meunier. It spent five years on its lees with only a tiny amount of sugar added to the dosage. It has a gorgeous light copper colour and an expressive nose of melba toast, light red fruits, violets, loam, brioche and strawberry cream. It has a lively mousse and an array of complex red fruits with touches of earth and creamy notes that are silky and delicate through the palate. Such a beautiful sparkling wine made in a near bone-dry style.

grisTrius Showcase Guardian Clark Vineyard Pinot Gris 2013 ($25, winery, 92 points) — From a single vineyard in the Four-Mile Creek sub appellation that was fermented in concrete and aged for six months in mature oak barrels. A heady nose of pear, ginger, apricot and vanilla oak spice. This has interesting complexity on the palate with delicious poached pear, ginger notes, juicy fruits and bright acidity. Made in a pure, dry style that can stand some cellaring.

Trius Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling 2013 ($25, winery, 92 points) — The Ghost Creek Riesling, named after a creek that mysteriously appears and disappears in the estate’s Four-Mile Creek sub app, has quickly become among my top 10 Rieslings made in Niagara and only one of two (the other is Ravine) that isn’t from Bench vineyards. It is the rousing minerality that (oddly) is attained from this small parcel of the vineyard. McDonald has toned down the residual sugar to 20 g/l, which brings out the personality of the Ghost Creek even more. It has a sharp nose of grapefruit, citrus, green apple and chalk. The palate reveals intense citrus, lime, apple on a tight frame of searing acidity and swirling mineral notes. It is crisp, clean and laser sharp with layers of flavours that will age brilliantly in the cellar.

Trius Showcase Outlier Gewurztraminer Carlton Vineyard 2013 ($25, winery, 90 points) — The 2013 vintage delivered a little surprise for McDonald — a small amount of botrytised fruit that he embraced and included in the final blend of this unctuous golden beauty. The exotic nose shows lychee, sweet spice, grapefruit, orange rind and ginger notes. It’s honied on the palate with a viscous texture and a waxy-lanolin feel to go with all those exotic-expressive flavours.


Chateau des Charmes

2012-SDB-MerlotChateau des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Merlot 2012 ($30, winery, 91 points) — This top-tier Merlot is only made in the best vintages. It’s best to decant this if you plan on drinking it any time soon. It has a lovely deep purple colour with a thick, rich nose of brambly red fruit, chocolate, cassis and toasty oak vanilla spices. There are generous tannins on the palate but matched by rich, red fruits, anise, currants and swirling spices delivered on a long, long finish.

Chateau des Charmes Estate Gamay Noir 2012 ($14, winery, 89 points) — A nose of plum, cherry and touches of blueberry and anise. It’s delicious on the palate, highly gulpable, with earthy cherry, plums and a basket of red fruits that are ripe and juicy through the finish.

Chateau des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010 ($19, Vintages now, 90 points, previously reviewed) — I love that Chateau des Charmes releases this Pinot always with a fair amount of bottle age so it’s ready to enjoy as soon as you guy it. It has a gorgeous nose of earthy red fruits, violets, oak spice, forest floor and cassis. The palate shows cherry, cassis, anise with gritty, but softening, tannins, lovely integrated spices and a long finish. Pair with wild mushroom risotto or herb-encrusted rack of lamb.


Flat Rock Cellars

2010_good_Kharma_chardonnay-343x1024Flat Rock Cellars Good Kharma Chardonnay 2013 ($17, Sept. 27 Vintages release, winery, 88 points) — Flat Rock made this wine to support the Ontario Association of Food Banks with a portion of the sales going to the association. It’s made in a ripe, opulent style with a nose of peach, tropical fruits, citrus and oaky spices. It has a lush feel on the palate with ripe fruits combing with soft spices but still enough acidity to keep it balanced.

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2013 ($17, Vintages Sept. 10, winery, 89 points) — This is a blend of estate Riesling vines that were planted in 2004 (45%) and an older block of Riesling vines in a neighbouring vineyard (55%). The nose jumps with a jolt of lemon, lime, minerals, jasmine and honey. For a regular cuvee Riesling this delivers plenty of Twenty Mile Bench personality to go with a range of grapefruit, lime, peach and honey sweetness with fairly good acidity. Super good sipping Riesling at a great price.


Vineland Estates

photoVineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 ($20, Vintages, winery, 93 points) — With this release of the Elevation St. Urban Riesling, Vineland has merged two classic bottlings at the estate into one. It is a beauty and, in my mind, the best St. Urban at this level I have tasted. Classic limestone minerality is the first note on the nose followed by grapefruit, citrus, and a touch of peach skin. It is simply gorgeous on the palate with fresh, pristine citrus-grapefruit, river rock minerality and light peach notes that are delivered on a taut and electric backbone of searing acidity. Power and complexity will serve this Riesling well for many years to come.



Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($23, Vintages, winery and Marks & Spencer UK, 89 points) — There is the only VQA Canadian wine available at the British retailer Marks & Spencer, and this it. Kind of cool they picked a Demeter-certified biodynamic and organic wine from Niagara’s Southbrook. It is a lovely red with a nose of blackberry, cassis, currants, oak spice and a touch of mint leaf. It is balanced on the palate with ripe dark fruits, integrated tannins and spice with a nice vibrancy on the finish.

Colio Estate

Bricklayer’s Reward “Big Pond” Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($16, Vintages Sept. 13, winery, 87 points) — This is part of the growing collection of Colio’s Bricklayer’s wines that are made as a tribute to the three Italian bricklayers who had a dream of opening a winery in Lake Erie North Shore. The Sauvignon Blanc has a lovely nose of grapefruit, passion fruit, herbs, light grass and tropical fruit. It has good energy of the palate and is nicely balanced with grapefruit and fresh herbs leading the way.