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A rogue parcel of Cab Franc from Pearl Morissette, plus other Niagara wines, highlights at Vintages release Saturday

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It was a rogue parcel of Cabernet Franc that puzzled vigneron Francois Morissette. It was outside the norm for what the Jordan winemaker/partner of Pearl Morissette was used to and he just wasn’t sure how to proceed.

First of all, it just wouldn’t ferment on its own, so he pulled the grapes back into the winery to try again in the spring. Once it fermented wild outside after a dormant winter it had a whopping 13.5 g/l of residual sugar.

Morissette phoned his partner, Toronto developer Mel Pearl to discuss what to do with the parcel of 2012 Cabernet Franc grapes. “Let’s make a “Wine Spectator” wine,” Pearl said.

By that he meant a big Cabernet Franc, sweeter, riper and with much more new oak than what is usually made at the Niagara winery and one that just might be more appealing to Wine Spectator reviewers, more accustomed to those bigger Cali reds.

The wine eventually re-fermented to a substantially drier wine, but the name stuck (and so did the oak) and the Pearl Morissette “Le Spectateur” was born. Just about 380 cases were made and it arrives, according the LCBO website and confirmed by the winery, on Thursday in advance of the main release on Saturday.

Here’s what to look for with the rogue Cab Franc from Morissette plus some other key Niagara wines being releases at Vintages stores on Saturday. I’ve also included some recently tasted and reviewed wines including Henry of Pelham, Colio and Niagara’s newest virtual winemaker Hughes Vineyard.

Pearl Morissette Le Spectateur Cabernet Franc 2012 ($33, Vintages Thursday, 92 points) — Francois Morissette used a healthy dose of French oak, 50% new barrels, which is far more than he usually employs for any of his wines and has left the wine unfiltered and unfined with the usual minimum use of added sulphur. It is so gorgeous on the nose with succulent blackberry, cassis and anise fruit that is bolstered by sweet oak spices. The tannins are smooth and silky on the palate with a thick layer of ripe dark fruits and a touch of cherry with integrated oak spice. Could lay this down for 5-10 years.


Hidden Bench Pinot Noir 2012 ($30, 90 points) — A three-vineyard estate blend that’s aged in French oak, 33% of which is new oak. Quite rich and expressive on the nose with black cherry, beetroot, currants and spice. It’s simply yummy Pinot in the mouth with dark cherry flavours, savoury spices and touches of plums and currants that echo on the finish.

hp chard

Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013 ($20, 89 points) – All fruit is grown on the estate’s Short Hills Bench vineyards. This is gorgeous with a nose of pear, oak spice and vanilla cream. The pear and apple fruit on the palate is wrapped in toasted oak and lifted by an energetic wave of citrus and acidity through the finish. Everything in balance here, nothing overdone.


Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2014 ($17, 88 points) — Whole-cluster pressed juice from the estate’s 20 Mile Bench vineyards, this is a delicious and mouth-watering Riesling with a bright and expressive nose of citrus, tangerine and grapefruit. Made slightly off-dry with firm, balancing acidity and a friendly play between sweet-tart citrus and lime flavours.

peller cuvee

Peller Estates Ice Cuvee Rose ($35, 93 points) – This is such a magical wine with strawberry, citrus, watermelon, raspberry, spice, honey and toast on the nose. Simply delicious in the mouth with a sweet, vigorous bead of bubbles, lush red fruits of raspberry and strawberry and just a kiss of sweetness to balance out the acidity. It’s made with a small dosage of Cabernet Franc and Vidal icewine.

Also released, but not reviewed:

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013 ($29)
Megalomaniac Almost Grounded Chardonnay/Riesling 2013 ($15)
13th Street Red Palette 2013 ($16)
Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musque 2013 ($16)


Some other wines I’ve tasted and enjoyed recently:


Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc de Blanc 2010 ($45, Vintages TBA, 92 points) — This top sparkling wine from HoP, always one of the very best vintage sparklers made in Niagara, is made from 100% estate Chardonnay grown on the Short Hills Bench. About 20% of the fruit is barrel fermented and secondary fermentation in the bottle is followed by 54 months of aging on the lees. The nose is lemony with notes of biscuit, toasted vanilla, saline minerality and brioche. The palate reveals a lively bubble with lemon-citrus, toasty-yeasty notes, orange peel, and subtle earthiness on a luxurious, silky and vibrant finish. Such a beautiful and thought-provoking sparkling wine that can age gracefully in the cellar.

Colio Lily Sparkling Non-Vintage, Lake Erie North Shore ($17, LCBO, 87 points) — Lily was first created by Colio’s original winemaker Carlo Negri using a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend. The wine has been rebranded and re-launched as a 100% Riesling sparkling wine using the charmat method. It’s a user-friendly sparkler with a nose of citrus-driven fruit with touches of grapefruit, melon and apple. It’s zesty and refreshing on the palate with delightful lemon-lime, peach and apricot flavours and lively bubble. The sweetness is balanced out by fairly good acidity.

DiProfio Wines Hughes Vineyard Hard Fought Pinot Noir 2012 ($25, available at DiProfio retail store, 88 points) — Ed Hughes, the 2011 Ontario grape king and now winemaker, owns a vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and crafts his wines as a virtual winemaker through the DiProfio licence. This is a pretty good effort for his first Pinot with a nose of cherry, violets, minerals, cranberry and nicely integrated spice notes. I like the savoury and tart cherry, bramble and peppery notes on the palate all lifted by bright acidity and carried by fine tannins through the finish.

Iroquois Shores Estates Hughes Vineyard Ambria Vin de Cure Riesling 2010 ($25 for 375 ml, available at DiProfio retail store, 91 points) — This sweet dessert wine is a hybrid cross between icewine and a vin de cure (drying method). The grapes are left on the arms of the vines and then cut, allowing them to desiccate in the netting for a while before they freeze and are harvested. It becomes a sort of dried AND frozen berry before being pressed and is fermented in 60L French oak casks. I don’t know of anyone else doing this in Niagara. It’s perfectly mature now with a nose of wild honey, marmalade, candied citrus, peach, dried apricot and roasted almonds. It is thick, unctuous and luxurious on the palate with spiced wild honeycomb, compoted peach, apricot, caramel and toffee/nutty notes. Almost a French toast taste on the finish. A highly unique style of sweet wine with a healthy dose of 15.1 alc.