Spring has fully sprung in Ontario at long last and the buds on the grape vines are bursting into full leaf. It is a glorious time to get out there and taste the bounty of what Ontario farmers have to offer.
Spring is the season that Ontario wineries release an onslaught of fresh white wines and light- to medium-bodied reds such as Gamay, rose and Pinot Noirs, so it’s a good time to visit your favourite winery or even discover a new one you haven’t tried before.
In this report, we have a fairly large selection of wines — from Niagara, to B.C. and even some international selections — to recommend, including the new releases at Vintages on Saturday of Niagara wines. Also, new wines from Vineland Estate, Chateau des Charmes, Kacaba, Henry of Pelham and Rockway’s new David Hearn wines. So, let’s get started.
David Hearn wines
Canadian PGA golf star David Hearn, top photo and below, has teamed up with Niagara’s Rockway Vineyards, which also just happens to be an 18-hole golf course as well, to create the David Hearn Foundation specialty wine collection to support the Alzheimer Society of Canada — with a portion of the proceeds going back to the foundation.
Hearn, the top Canadian golfer on the PGA Tour during the 2014-2015 campaign, is known for his consistency and determination for excellence. The 2014-2015 season marked his best to date, with 4-Top 10 results, finishing 49th on the PGA Tour money list, and 55th in FedExCup Points.
He joins a growing list of golfers who have turned to making wine to keep them busy while not golfing or designing courses: Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Greg Norman, and, of course, Weir, who has his own winery in Niagara with a complete portfolio of wines and a Weir memorabilia museum on site.
Hearn’s new relationship will also see the Rockway golf course, which winds its way through the estate’s vineyards, become host to the David Hearn Junior Open — a new initiative launched in conjunction with the Canadian Junior Golf Association (CJGA).
“I am looking forward to working with the team at Rockway to put into action some of my long-term visions, including supporting two areas I feel strongly about,” said Hearn.
“First, developing a custom wine label that will support my foundation and benefit a cause I care deeply about. Second, being part of an event at an established course that will provide opportunities and support for junior golf development in the region.”
Both of Hearn’s wines have now been released and are available through the retail store at Rockway or you can order online here.
The David Hearn Limited Edition Red Cabernet Merlot 2013 is 69 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 31 per cent Merlot. The 2015 White is a blend of Chardonnay (53 per cent) and Riesling (47 per cent). Both wines retail for $18.
Here are my reviews on both wines:
David Hearn Limited Edition Chardonnay Riesling 2015 ($18, 88 points) — Taking its cue from both the Chardonnay and Riesling, this first effort from Hearn and the winemaking team at Rockway Vineyards is a nice, refreshing blend with a nose of citrus, apple, peach and just a touch of ginger. It’s friendly on the palate with flavours of grapefruit, white peach and mineral with fresh and lively citrus on the finish.
David Hearn Limited Edition Cabernet Merlot 2013 ($18, 89 points) — A nose of warm dark fruit, cherry pie and array of expressive oak barrel spices. Quite ripe on the palate with notes of black currants, cherries, cassis, a range of integrated spice and delivered on a bed of smooth, soft tannins.
What to look for at Vintages on Saturday:
13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2013 ($20, 91 points) — It is with the Riesling that June’s Vineyard really struts her stuff. The minerality oozes on the nose with notes of mandarin orange, lime, grapefruit and a spicy ginger kick. The palate shows zesty lime, grapefruit, gun flint and that gorgeous integrated note of ginger. Well done Riesling.
Fielding Estate Pinot Gris 2014 ($22, 90 points) — Winemaker Richie Roberts makes one the finest Pinot Gris in Niagara with his Rock Pile bottling. Unfortunately, the Rock Pile wasn’t made in 2014 and what little there was went into this estate bottling. “This is my 8th year making Pinot Gris,” said Roberts. “And this is my favourite for drinking of any I’ve made.” It’s picked a little later with longer skin contact and some barrel fermentation and aging. It’s rich and layered on the nose with honey, melon, pear and baked apple-spice notes. It has lovely texture on the palate with ripe fruit, a touch of fresh citrus, well balanced and a lovely spice note through the finish.
Flat Rock Cellars Unplugged Chardonnay 2014 ($17, 88 points) — This essentially “unoaked” Chardonnay was fermented and aged in the winery’s oldest neutral barrels to add texture, not spice. It’s fresh and pure on the nose with notes of citrus, pear, pineapple and a subtle creamy note. It’s crisp on the palate with lemon, pear and melon with good texture and vibrancy through the finish.
Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Pinot Noir 2011 ($25, 91 points) – A gorgeous nose of pure and pretty cherry, currants, small wild berries and raspberry with seamlessly integrated spices. Simply delicious in the mouth with rich and savoury red fruits, spice and smooth, silky tannins. A joy all the way through the finish.
Thirty Bench Winemakers Red 2013 ($24, 88 points) — The blend is 39% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc. This is an earthy, spicy wine on the nose with cherries, blackberries and plum notes. The melange of red and dark fruits on the palate are melded to toasted vanilla spices, earth, licorice and smoky barrel notes.
A treat from the Okanagan Valley at Vintages Saturday:
JoieFarm A Noble Blend 2014 ($24, 88 points) — The grapes: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and Schoenberger. All that adds up to a spicy nose of exotic tropical fruits, ginger, lychee and lime. It’s bright and refreshing on the palate with guava, spice, white peach, lime, grapefruit and a touch of honey.
A delicious organic red from Argentina:
Santa Irene Bonarda Organic 2015 ($17, 90 points) — From Mendoza, this wonderful organic Bonarda shows plump, juicy and pure fruits of cherry, cassis and blackberry with spicy undertones. It’s soft and plush on the palate with very ripe currants, blackberries, earth and mocha with a long finish.
A tasty red from Chile:
Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Chile ($16, 89 points) — This organic offering from Chile’s Colchagua Valley shows a range of blackberries, cherries, currants and spice on the nose. It’s a substantive wine on the nose with a thick broth of plums, cassis and currants with spicy wood nuances through the finish.
Also being released but not reviewed:
- Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2013 ($30)
- Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011 ($25)
- Fielding Red Conception 2013 ($19)
- Megalomaniac Bigmouth Merlot 2012 ($25)
- Megalomaniac Pink Slip Rose 2015 ($20)
- Peninsula Ridge Beal Vineyard Cabernet Rose 2015 ($14)
- Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2013 (Burgundy from Niagara winemaker Thomas Bachelder, $59)
New from Vineland Estates:
Vineland Estates Elevation Bo-Teek Vineyard Pinot Gris 2015 ($20, winery now, 91 points) — This is a cool new wine from winemaker Brian Schmidt and he liked the result so much he put it under the “Elevation” tier. The Gris sees 24 hours of skin contact, hence the amber tinge to the wine, and hangs on the vine just a little longer than his regular Pinot Gris bottling. Schmidt said he was looking for “more savoury notes than fruit. The skin contact gives the wine body and texture.” On a personal note, I love this kind of experimentation and welcome wines that step outside the box. The nose is complex with notes of apple skin, marmalade, bruised apple, mature peach and a touch of spice. It shines on the palate with beautiful texture in a dry but ripe fruit style that is exactly as Schmidt intended: Savoury and complex with a refreshing finish. Let your geek flag fly!
Vineland Estates Elevation Chardonnay Musque 2015 ($20, 89 points) — Chardonnay Musque is that summer tradition that is just like walking in a Niagara orchard when the fruit is ripe for the picking. This is just like that with a nose of sweet, ripe peach, gala golden delicious apple, apricot and just a hint of honey. On the palate, it’s more of the same but all lifted by refreshing acidity. Summer in a glass.
Vineland Estate Van Bers Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014 ($25, 91 points) — Schmidt made two side-by-side single vineyard Cab Francs from two sub-appellations, the Van Bers from Creek Shores and the Briar Creek from Four Mile Creek. He made them relatively the same way with 16 months in oak, but the result is two very different wines. The Van Bers has a lovely nose of raspberry, bramble, cherry, subtle herbs, violets and elegant spice notes. This is the “prettier” of the two Francs with a basket of red fruits on the palate, good acidity and integrated spice notes.
Vineland Estate Briar Creek Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014 ($25, 90 points) — There are more earthy notes on the nose of this single-vineyard CF compared to the Van Bers with dark cherry, raspberry and overt oak spices. It has good structure on the palate, with a range of spices and herbs to go with the red fruits in a more “masculine” style. I would drink the Van Bers in the near term and lay this one down for a few years.
New from Kacaba:
Kacaba Unoaked Chardonnay 2015 ($15, winery now, LCBO in June, 89 points) — A beautiful and pure nose of apple, pear, citrus and minerals. It’s fresh, vibrant and clean on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, lemon and a core of minerality that is boosted by racy acidity. Stripped down Chardonnay for summer sipping.
Kacaba Jennifer’s Pinot Gris 2015 ($18, winery, 88 points) — Made in a light, crisp style, this Gris has a nose of melon, honeydew, citrus and an underlying herbal note. On the palate look for a mélange of fresh fruits including peach, melon and citrus all propped up by lively acidity.
Kacaba Riesling Reserve 2015 ($18, winery, 88 points) — A stylish nose of lime, lemon, grapefruit, sweet quince notes and river-rock minerality. It’s a citrus bomb on the palate with a dry impression from the balancing acidity and all-in-all a wonderful and fresh Niagara Riesling.
Kacaba Cabernet Franc 2014 ($25, winery, 90 points) — A nose of dark cherry, plums, herbs and stylish, but not overdone, oak spices. There’s plenty of juicy red fruits on the palate built on a firm foundation of assertive tannins and well-integrated spice.
New from Chateau des Charmes:
Chateau des Charmes Estate Gamay Noir 2014 ($14, 89 points) — A well expressed nose of cherries, plums, herbs and subtle spice notes. This lovely Gamay is bright perky on the palate with flavours of black cherry, earth, plums and mouth-watering acidity.
Chateau des Charmes Estate Pinot Noir Old Vines 2011 ($19, 90 points) — I love the fact that CdC can release their wines when they are ready — it makes all the difference in the world to consumers who mostly don’t have the time or patience to lay them down. This is a nicely aged wine from a good Pinot vintage in Niagara with a nose of black cherry, forest floor, raspberry, cassis and well-integrate spice notes. It’s impressive and rich on the palate with the red fruits turning to dark fruits with lovely barrels spices and showing complexity and grippy tannins through the finish. Still room to improve with age.
Something new from Henry of Pelham:
Henry of Pelham Old Vines Baco Noir 2014 ($20, LCBO, 89 points) — This first vintage of “Old Vines” Baco comes from fruit planted by the Speck Brothers 30 years ago. It shows super-concentrated cherry and jammy red fruits with black licorice and herbs on the nose. It’s lush and rich on the palate with a range of red and dark fruits, stylish oak spices and generous acidity through the finish.
Coming soon from Chianti (these three wines
are being considered for the Ontario
market and not yet here):
Geografico Montegiachi Chianti Classico Riserva 2012, Tuscany ($23, 90 points) — A blend of 95% Sangiovese and the rest Colorino. An inviting nose of plums, Maraschino cherry, bramble and toasted wood spice. It has a balanced attack on the palate with an amalgamation of fruit, spice, tannin, structure and wonderful finesse on the finish.
Geografico Ferraiolo Toscana IGT 2012 ($20, 89 points) — This Super Tuscan blend is 70% Sangiovese and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose reveals cherries, currants, plums, earth, spice and subtle note of blood orange. The tannins are soft with a rich broth of dark fruits and spice that caress the palate through the finish.
Geografico Contessa di Radda Chianti Classico 2012 ($21, 91 points) — A blend of 90% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino, and 5% Canaiolo. I love this textbook Chianti Classico with its nose of earthy red berries, forest floor, and lovely woodsy spices. It’s complex and rich on the palate with cherries, raspberries and currants that play well with the earthy/loamy/spice bits through the finish. It has structure and complexity with medium+ tannins.