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Harvest all around, big local wine release at Vintages next Saturday, and a whack of reviews


Harvest is in full swing in Ontario as growers, winemakers and vineyard workers are busy bringing in the bounty from the 2015 vintage.

So the Vintages release at LCBO stores on Saturday, Sept. 19, is a timely one that features the largest collection of Ontario wines in this calendar year. Nearly every style of wine Ontario winemakers craft will hit the shelves so you can start stocking up for the fall season.

I’ve highlighted a few of my favourites from the release, plus a couple of French wines and a trio of ciders.

Also in this report is a whack of reviews from Niagara wineries including Thirty Bench, Trius, Gretzky, Peller Estates and Fielding Estate. So grab a glass, dig in and drink local.

The Crush from Rick VanSickle on Vimeo.

As for harvest, as you can see from these photos (and the video above) in the last few days, grapes from 2015 are making their way to crush pads around Ontario. Henry of Pelham and Stratus were among the first (that I know of) to pick sparkling grapes with Chateau des Charmes among the first to pick table grapes, namely Sauvignon Blanc, before turning to Gewurztraminer and Riesling later in the week.

It was a treat to see Paul Bosc Sr. on the crush pad doing what he does best — offering advice and overseeing the operation as he has done for decades. He told me the early fruit he’s seen thus far from 2015 is the best he’s ever seen in Niagara, high praise from one of the pioneers of the industry.

Chateau des Charmes founder Paul Bosc discusses the crush with winemaker Amelie Boury.

Meanwhile, I ran into Vineland Estate winemaker Brian Schmidt on his second day of picking and crushing. Friday he was bringing in hand-picked Pinot Meunier (Vineland is one the few wineries in Ontario that grows and makes that varietal) that is destined for a sparkling rose (queue the Neil Diamond!) down the road.

He was planning on getting some Riesling in before the rain on the weekend and already harvested some Chardonnay for sparkling wine.

Schmidt, too, is impressed with the fruit but laments the fact that yields will be down for many varieties hit by two successive bitterly cold winters.

Photos from early harvest 2015:


Sauvignon Blanc fruit is processed at Chateau des Charmes this past Thursday.



Vineland Estate winemaker Brian Schmidt holds up a bunch of Pinot Muenier.



Pinot Meunier at Vineland is whole cluster pressed when it’s being made into a sparkling wine.




Some wineries are vegan-friendly and pet-friendly, but Vineland Estate is chopper-friendly.

Highlights from the Vintages release Saturday (other reviews follow after that):


Tawse Spark Brut Sparkling 2012 ($25, 89 points) – A quirky blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a splash of Pinot Gris made in the traditional method and spending 12 months on the lees. It’s fresh and flinty on the nose with lemon, citrus, melon and a subtle hint of tangerine and toast. It has an energetic mousse with vibrant acidity to go with grapefruit, lemon and toasty-vanilla nuances. It’s quite clean and crisp through the finish.

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2014 ($17, 91 points) — Always a favourite Riesling of mine from Niagara. The aromas jump from the glass: Lime, apple, flint and a melange of citrus. On the palate this is all about the flinty minerality, citrus and a touch of apple. A firm bed of acidity makes this electric all the way through the finish. I tried this beside the 2013 version and can recommend that you throw a few of these Rieslings in the cellar for a year or two for even greater pleasure.


Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2014 ($20, 89 points) — Delicious and personable unoaked Chard with a nose of peach, apple and guava fruit with underlying mineral notes. It shows a full range of fruit — mango, pear, apple, guava — and minerality on the palate that’s perfectly balanced and refreshing through the finish.

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013 ($20, 88 points) — Positioning itself as a Gamay juggernaut, winemaker J.P. Colas says: “Everyone now wants to make Gamay. But we have history with this grape.” The first-tier bottling of Gamay from 13th Street is a nice place to begin, a drinking wine, a farm wine, with a nose of wild berries, currants and plums. It’s simply delicious in the mouth with plum-cherry flavours and balancing acidity.

Chateau des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Gamay Noir Droit 2012 ($17, 90 points) — A Gamay that hits all the right notes with juicy plum, smoke, anise, cherry and lovely savoury/earthy bits on the nose. It’s pure fruit pleasure on the palate with cherry, plum and spice on the palate with a finish that’s smooth and vibrant.


Featherstone Rose 2014 ($15, 87 points) — This is a blend of Merlot and Gamay with a nose of strawberry and wild raspberries. It’s delicious on the palate with red fruits, herbs and touch of sweetness.

A couple of French wines enjoyed from recent releases:

Domaine la Haute Fevrie Muscadet Sevre-&-Maine Sur Lie Le Domanine 2014, Loire Valley ($14, 89 points) — Such a vibrant, fresh nose of lemon, crushed oyster shells, grapefruit and honeysuckle. There is underlying saline minerality on the palate with an array of fresh citrus fruit that is crisp and vibrant through the finish.

Pierre Sparr Grand Cru Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace ($25, 91 points) — Such a minerally and seductive nose of spicy pear, citrus, tangerine, lemon peel and apricot. It is viscous on the palate with generous and ripe pear, lemon, apricot, honeycrisp apple, Asian spices and wild honey sweetness that is beautifully balanced with the acidity.

A trio of delicious ciders:


Zapiain Sagardoa Cider 2014, Spain ($10 for 750 mL, 93 points, special order only here) — In Northern Spain’s Basque Country, the art of naturally made ciders is legendary. The fermentation process occurs naturally and nothing is added (no sweeteners, no additional yeast). The result is a pure and exciting cider with crisp, tart apple, yeast, a touch of effervescence with a lemony-citrus finish.

Coffin Ridge Forbidden Dry Cider, Ontario ($3 for 473 mL, 88 points) — This is a fresh, fragrant style of Ontario cider with notes of apple, citrus and grapefruit on the nose. The entry on the palate shows zippy citrus and crisp apple in a refreshing, relatively dry style.

Brickworks Ciderhouse Queen Street 501 Cider, Ontario ($3 for 473 mL, 87 points) — A richer, thicker, sweeter cider than what I am used to but it works. Sweet notes of ripe autumn apples, honey and just a touch of citrus on the nose. The apple fruit is thick, almost compoted, on the palate, like a late harvest wine, but with enough acidity to keep it interesting.

And other releases Saturday from Ontario that have not been reviewed:

Reif Vidal Icewine 2013 ($25 for 200 mL)
Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling 2013 ($25 for 375 mL)
Calamus Barrel Kissed Chardonnay 2013 ($17)
Kew Vineyards Organic Riesling 2013 ($19)
Organized Crime The Mischief 2013 ($19)
Thirty Bench Riesling 2013 ($19)
Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2013 ($26)
Coffin Ridge Back From the Dead Red 2013 ($19)
Huff Estates Gamay 2012 ($25)
Keint-He Portage Pinot Noir 2013 ($30)
Keint-He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2013 ($19)
Megalomaniac Almost Grounded Merlot 2013 ($19)
Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013 ($39)
Rockway Vineyards Meritage 2012 ($20)
Strewn Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($25)
Wildass Red 2012 ($20)

A few other Niagara wines recently tasted:


Thirty Bench Small Lot Gewurztraminer 2013, Niagara ($30, 92 points) — An excellent Gew with a nose of lychee, tropical fruits, cloves, nutmeg and ginger spice. It has good weight on the palate with notes of tangerine, grapefruit, a range of spices with length through the finish. It’s quite ripe, but finishes dry.

Thirty Bench Riesling 2014, Niagara ($19, 88 points) — A nose that rocks with citrus, punctuated by lime followed by river-rock minerality and freshness. The palate shows apple, citrus with just a touch of sweetness that is polished and balanced.


Peller Estates Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc 2012, Niagara ($45, 91 points) — Still tight and subdued on the nose, best to decant or cellar for a bit, but does eventually open up to reveal black currants, black tea, thick cherry-kirsch, bramble and earth with an array of savoury spices. On the palate look for plums, cassis, rich, lavish spices, cocoa and earth on a bed of ripe tannins. Cellar five plus years.

Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2013, Niagara ($19, 88 points) — A smoky nose that opens up to raspberry bush, plum and maraschino cherry notes. It’s bright and fresh on the palate with mid-weight and a basket of red fruit flavours.

Peller Estates Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Niagara ($30, 91 points) — An interesting and complex nose of gooseberry, grapefruit, pear and toasted vanilla spices from a majority of the fruit being barrel fermented and aged in French oak. It’s generous, textured and flavourful on the palate with stone fruit and oaky-spicy notes. Try cellaring a couple of years.


Wayne Gretzky Estate Series Shiraz Cabernet 2013, Niagara ($25, 89 points) — The 78% Syrah dominates on the nose with smoky-white pepper notes followed by cherry, anise and oak spices. The palate shows ripe cherry, plums and black currants with peppery spices and a smooth delivery through the finish.

Trius Showcase Riesling Ghost Creek Vineyard 2014, Niagara ($25, 92 points) — A gorgeous nose of bright citrus, ginger, a floral note and a mineral component that you don’t find in a lot of Niagara-on-the-Lake Rieslings. It’s rich, yet tangy on the palate with citrus rind and grapefruit with complexity and layers of minerals and spice. Should age beautifully.

Trius Showcase East Block Cabernet Sauvignon Clark Farm Vineyard 2012 ($45, 91 points) — A nose of blackberries, wood smoke, black currants, barrel spices that’s thick and rich. It’s a firm, structured Cab on the palate with nervy tannins, smoky dark fruits, ripe sweet currants and lavish spice notes. Cellar five years plus.

Trius Gamay Noir 2014 ($20, 87 points) — A nose of juicy plum, mulled cherries, currants and earthy notes. It’s perfectly dry on the palate with soft tannins and upfront plum, red currant and cherry fruit with a touch of bramble on the finish.


Fielding Long Weekend Chardonnay-Pinot Gris 2014 ($13, LCBO, $13, 88) — A nice Niagara white at a very good price point with a fresh, expressive nose of citrus, melon, peach and crisp apple slices. An easy-going, dry white on the palate with bold flavours and refreshing finish.

Fielding Long Weekend Cabernet 2013 ($14, LCBO, 87 points) — The red version of this LCBO-only wine shows blackberry, smoky anise, cherry, earth, raspberries and spice. It’s made in a fruit-forward with a smooth finish.