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Merlot may be king at Beamsville’s Legends, but don’t overlook the rest of the diverse portfolio at this Niagara winery

Best Ontario wine

By Rick VanSickle

Legends Estate Winery hugs prime real estate right along the Lake Ontario shoreline that provides a moderate climate for grape vines and stunning views for visitors.

The Lizak family that owns the property and winery has 25 acres of vines planted to grapes on the estate but has over 70 acres in total vineyards within the same appellation. They only make what they grow, so no purchased fruit at all from the rest of Niagara.

Legends grows 12 different varieties of grapes at the estate including: Petit Verdot, Shiraz, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Malbec, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. They once grew Pinot Noir and Riesling but lost the vines in the devastating winter of 2003 and decided to not replant them. While they lost vines in 2003, the hard-hitting 2014 and 2015 winters in Ontario, that laid waste to more than a few varietals in Niagara, caused very little damage to vines at Legends due to the its moderating lakeside location.

The production runs from 15,000-18,000 cases of wine annually, across a wide spectrum of styles and tiers that start at the kitschy Truth or Dare and Diva wines, which benefit the Women’s Place of South Niagara, to the Terroir and Reserve series from top varietals grown at the estate and the new T5 Red and White wines, the very best wines made at the estate by winemaker Serge Papineau (very top photo).

The “Legends” in the name refers to the Lizak family’s tradition of hard-working fruit farmers who built their business from the ground up, slowly transforming nectarine and peach plantings into grape vines.

The farm was established in 1946 as a small home-brew winery by John Lizak, and the boutique winery was re-born in 1999 by Ted and Diane Lizak with son, Paul, now running the wine operation.

Best Ontario vineyardsI recently tasted through a range of wines from Legends with Lizak, above, and Papineau as well as wines from former Lailey winemaker Derek Barnett, under the virtual label Meldville made at Legends, which I will post soon.

Here’s what I can recommend:

Best Ontario white wines

Legends Terroir Semillon 2013 ($15, 88 points) — Semillon suffered greatly in Ontario during the brutal winters of 2014-15, but it came through with flying colours at Legends and thrives in the sandy soil near the lake. This is a lovely rendition of Semillon with a nose of melon, citrus and green apple on the nose. It’s made in a fresh, dry and lively style that highlights citrus and apple fruit on the palate with a zesty finish.

Legends Terroir Rose 2015 ($13, 87 points) — A non-traditional blend of 92% Semillon and the rest Cabernet Franc. The nose shows fresh notes of melon, cranberries, cherries and citrus with a touch of herbs. It’s upfront fruity on the palate with decent balancing acidity.

Legends Estate Winery Pinot Gris Reserve 2015 ($18, 89 points) — This Gris shows a bronze colour in the glass from 48 hours of skin contact. The nose reveals notes of apple pie, apple cider, apple skin and touches of tropical fruits, citrus and apricot. It’s softish on the palate, but stylish with mulled apple and red currant flavours in a dry style.

Legends Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2013 ($16, 91 points) — This is a highly awarded wine already, and by all rights, considering the price and what you get, should have been sold out by now. What a nice Chardonnay! It has a lovely nose of pear, baked apple pie, brioche, creamy fruit and spice from mostly French oak with a bit of Hungarian oak aging. It has a creamy feel on the palate with lush and ripe orchard fruits, integrated baking spices and a touch of citrus on the finessed finish. A lot of bang for the buck here.

Legends Estate T5 White 2012 ($32, 91 points) — The T5 concept is to take the top five barrels of both red and white grapes from the estate and make the top two blends at the winery. For the white, it’s two barrels of Sauvignon Blanc, two barrels of Gewurztraminer and one barrel of Chardonnay for the blend that sees 11 months of oak aging. The nose shows an elegant mélange of creamy pear, apple, lychee and citrus with herbs and spice notes. This is loaded with melon, spicy lychee, herbs and baking spices on the palate with a long, elegant finish. Different, but delicious.

Best Niagara MerlotLegends Estate Winery Merlot Reserve 2012 ($22, 91 points) — Lizak and Papineau like to think of Merlot as their specialty wine, and with 30 tonnes of fruit on average of this tricky varietal, it’s by far the biggest volume red at the estate. There hasn’t been a reserve Merlot made since 2007 at Legends as it’s only made in the warmest vintages (they skipped 2010 at this level due to an abundance of Merlot in 2007). It has a concentrated nose of cassis, kirsch, espresso bean and barrel oak spices. It’s rich and meaty on the palate with a range of flavours from dark cherry to currants with roasted coffee beans, baking spice and silky smooth tannins through a long finish.

Legends Estate Shiraz Reserve 2012 ($24, 90 points) — All the reserve reds just being released now at the winery are from the fabulous 2012 vintage. Every time I think the ’12s are all done in Niagara, someone releases a pile more, which is a good thing, a very good thing. This is a stylish Syrah (you say Shiraz, I say Syrah!) with an intriguing nose of roasted meat, barnyard, campfire smoke, cracked pepper with a core of dark fruit, floral notes and a range of barrel oak spices. The fruit moves forward on the palate with blueberry, currants and rich black cherry to go with peppery, savoury spices, leather and perky acidity to keep everything lively and balanced. Can cellar 5+ years.

Legends Estate Petit Verdot Reserve 2012 ($23, 89 points) — Not a lot of PV being used as a single-variety wine in Niagara, but done right, like this one, it can be a decent drop if you give it time. This has a thick nose of dark fruits, oak spice, meaty notes, perfumed violets and sweet cedar. The palate reveals cassis, currants and blueberries underneath barrel spices and a sturdy bed of tannins that will need time to resolve and come into balance. Give it a few years and reap the rewards.

Legends Estate T5 Red 2012 ($40, 92 points) — Papineau uses all five Bordeaux varietals in equal measure for this top wine from the estate — so one barrel each of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot that spends 21 months in oak and finished with minimal filtration. It’s a beauty, even in the early stages of its development, with a rousing nose of blackberries, currants, earth, anise and a range of oak spices. It’s loaded with rich, dark fruits and earthy notes on the palate with sturdy structure, elegant oak spices, firm tannins and length on the finish. Give it time!