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A mini wine tasting adventure through Niagara-on-the-Lake with stops at Two Sisters, Lailey Vineyard and Oast House Brewers with a nod to the El Gastronomo crew

sisterbarrelsIt appeared seemingly out of nowhere — an architectural dream built on John Street, close to the Niagara River in Niagara-on-the-Lake in the high-rent district of Niagara’s wine country.

Two Sisters Vineyards, located within spitting distance of the equally grand Peller Estates, is a magnificent structure that houses one of Niagara’s largest tasting rooms, a gorgeous barrel room and restaurant called Kitchen 76.

There is limited production at the site, but the building is surrounded by 60 hectares of vineyards, all planted to Bordeaux varietals.

Angela-Fiorini-Melissa-Marotta-PaoliceliThe sisters in the Two Sisters are Angela and Melissa of the Marotta construction family and, trust me, they have spared no expense on the building and attention to detail in the tasting room and interior touches.

Our travelling gang of tasters, including Spotlight Toronto publisher Suresh Doss, wine writer extraordinaire Michael Di Caro and future lawyer Robyn Thiessen (a wine grower’s daughter from Vineland who has an impeccable palate and was visiting from studies in Australia), dropped in unannounced in December, a few weeks after the winery opened on Nov. 21, to see how the wines are shaping up.

As we settled in at the wine tasting bar, winemaker Adam Pearce, a Niagara College graduate and most recently the winemaker at B.C.’s Pentage Winery, dropped by to lead us through the current releases.

sistergangIt was our first stop on on tour that also included Lailey Vineyard and Oast House Brewers with food by El Gastrónomo Vagabundo at the Beer Shed Kitchen.

Here’s what we enjoyed on a windy day in Niagara.

Two Sisters Vineyards

tsv-wide-shot-1-2This new Niagara-on-the-Lake winery grows Bordeaux varieties on the property and sources grapes for its white wine program, such as Riesling from the Fox Croft Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench.

tasting roomadam 2barrel roomadamThe property is planted to 20 acres each of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Here’s what I can recommend, all available at the winery:

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($29, 88 points) — Ttropical fruit, lime, grapefruit and subtle grassy notes are the first impression on the nose of this Lincoln-Lakeshore sourced SB. It has lovely balance on the palate with tangy citrus and passion fruit flavours against a lively finish.

sistercahrdTwo Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 ($24, 91 points) — This was fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation but some lees stirring to add texture. Pear aromas dominate the highly aromatic nose with touches of apple and peach. It is beautiful on the palate, quite rich and with some weight, to go with pear and apple notes that are balanced nicely by vibrant acidity.

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2013 ($32, 88 points) — This Chard was whole cluster pressed and aged for eight months in 100% French oak, half of which were new barrels. Some lees stirring occurred as well as malolactic fermentation to round the edges. The nose reveals notes of vanilla-cream, apple, citrus and soft spices. It pops on the palate with racy acidity to go with apple, citrus and spice notes.

Two Sisters Riesling 2013 ($24, 90 points) — A well-done Riesling sourced from Wismer’s Foxcroft Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench. Citrus and peach comes through on the nose with profound minerality and honey notes chiming in. It has a lovely tart citrus entry on the palate with a playful sweet tug to go with grapefruit, lemon, peach and minerals.

merlotTwo Sisters Merlot 2010 ($48, 91 points) — Whoa! A big, meaty nose of savoury cherry, plums, cassis, black currants, cigar-box cedar and spice. It’s broad on the palate, with softening tannins making it approachable now, and packed with rich cherry-cassis fruit and a range of barrel spices. All that and nicely balanced, too.

Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2010 ($48, 92 points) — The superstar of this new portfolio with a nose of cherry, raspberry, herbs and spice in a highly aromatic profile. It’s simply gorgeous on the palate with juicy and ripe red fruits, resolved, silky tannins, oak spices and length through the finish.

cab icewineTwo Sisters Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2013 ($50 for 200 ml, 93 points, previously reviewed as one of Wines In Niagara’s top wines of 2014) — It’s not every vintage that nature allows for a Cabernet Sauvignon icewine, but when it happens it creates magic. Niagara’s newest winery has an impressive portfolio of wines right out of the gate and this 2013 icewine from Pearce is sensational. A decadent nose of pure strawberry extract, crushed currants and rhubard. It’s thick and lush on the palate with strawberry pie and rhubarb flavours that’s persistent and mouth-filling. There is enough acidity to provide vibrancy through the finish. Try this with dark chocolate for a mind-blowing treat.

Lailey Vineyards

derekuseOur next stop in our mini grand adventure was Lailey Vineyard, a short drive down the Niagara Parkway, where winemaker Derek Barnett presides over one of Niagara’s most interesting portfolios.

We lucked out here as well, finding Barnett in the tasting room as we arrived. He had just arrived and quickly removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and started pulling out wines from every nook and cranny of the tasting room for us to taste.

Here’s what I can recommend from the tasting (most of these are available at the winery or will be soon and Lailey has good representation at Vintages stores for many of its wines):

derke winesLailey Gewurztraminer 2013 ($25, 90 points) — This gem spent seven days on the skins, accounting for the light golden colour, and was made “as naturally as you want to make it,” says Barnett, including wild fermented and minimal sulphur added. It’s highly aromatic with grapefruit, orange-citrus zest, lychee, cloves and nutmeg spices. It’s fresh and dry on the palate with pure fruit flavours, exotic spice notes and delivered on a racy spine of acidity. Excellent job here.

Lailey Dry Late Harvest Riesling 2013 ($25, 91 points) — The fruit, some of which was botrytised, was picked after Nov. 15 at 22 Brix and finished with 18 g/l of residual sugar, a much drier style than most late harvest wines. It has a crazy-good nose of grapefruit, pineapple, citrus and mulled apples. There is still sweetness on the palate, but on the drier side of sweet, with ripe peach and citrus flavours that pack a powerful punch through the finish.

laileychardLailey Old Vines Chardonnay 2012 ($40, 92 points) — From vines planted on the property in 1978, this Chardonnay is aged in 100% French barrels, 30% of which is new oak. It has a gorgeous nose of pear, citrus and apple fruit with lovely marzipan, vanilla and elegant spice notes. The texture is amazing on the palate, with everything in perfect harmony from the pear and apple fruit to the creamy vanilla notes. It’s like silk through the finish and still very, very young. Buy, hold and enjoy for five+ years.

Lailey Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2012 ($25, 90 points) — Here’s a tip for you. If you are intrigued by the Chardonnay above, this is essentially made from the same old vine fruit but is finished in Canadian oak rather than French and is $15 less expensive. It has all of the above attributes but is more oaky, more broad on the palate with a richer, bolder, spicier profile. And it’s drinking brilliantly right now, while I’d wait for a bit on the youthful French oak version above.

Lailey 3.7 Pinot Noir 2011 ($30, 91 points) — The 3.7 in the name comes from three vineyards (Brickyard, Old Vines and The Bench) and the small allotment of seven barrels of wine, all French oak, four new, three second year, which were aged for 16 months, racked twice and bottled unfiltered to retain maximum colour and flavour. An interesting Pinot with a nose of ripe black cherry, black forest cake, nutmeg, oak spices and forest floor. The bright cherry fruits and spices are lifted on the palate by wonderful acidity.

pinotLailey Barrel Select Pinot Noir 2012 ($35, 92 points) — This is blend of the best barrels Barnett has in the winery and is made unfiltered. A highly aromatic wine with cherry, cranberry, raspberry fruit and gorgeous spice notes. There is incredible structure to this wine with evident, firm tannins, but a solid fruit base and rousing spices will carry this Pinot for many years down the road.

Lailey Canadian Oak Syrah Unfiltered 2012 ($35, 91 points) — I opened up a Lailey Unfiltered Syrah from 2010 a few nights ago to check on its progress and was amazed at how it has improved in the two years I’ve had it in my cellar. This is one of the hallmarks of Lailey’s (and Barnett’s) portfolio – they are generally built to age, and thus highly collectible. This is another beauty with a nose of currants, cassis, grilled sausage, earth and rich spices. It fills the mouth with a mass of dark fruit and spices on a foundation of powerful tannins that will soften given the time and reward with more integration of all that fruit and spice. Hold for five or more years.

Lailey Impromptu Unfiltered 2012 ($45, 91 points) — The name Impromptu, meaning made or done without previous preparation, comes from the 2006 vintage. “We had only one row each of Petit Verdot and Malbec, and while the quality was very good, the quantity of fruit harvested was so small that it could not be pressed separately.” Barnett made the “impromptu” decision to add both wines to the Syrah and press them together. He has since added enough Petit Verdot and Malbec to the vineyard that the wines are now pressed separately but the name remains. The 2012 vintage is a blend of 84% Syrah, 11% Malbec and the rest Petit Verdot. It has a unique nose of cassis, grilled meats, currants and smoky blueberry notes. It has grip and power on the palate with ripe tannins, loads of lush dark fruit and well integrated spices.

Oast House/El Gastro

adam hIt just wouldn’t be right for me to go on about how much I love the relationship between the Niagara-on-the-Lake craft brewer Oast House and Niagara’s (Ontario’s? Canada’s?) top gourmet food truck, El Gastronomo Vagabundo, and what they are doing with the Beer Shed Kitchen (full disclosure! My daughter works part-time for co-owners Adam Hynam-Smith and Tamara Jensen).

I will say this: When two local craft businesses come together to provide top-quality food and drink in our own community, it’s something to celebrate.

Our group shared the lamb brains (OK, I chickened out on the brains, with much mocking from my companions!) with creamed leeks, fried chicken and sauce, and cod tacos and paired it with pints of the Barnraiser on tap. A rather perfect end to a nice day of tasting in Niagara.