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Rumble in the Vineyard: Quarry Road vs. Robyn’s Block chards from Tawse (plus all spring release reviews)

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By Rick VanSickle and Michael Lowe

The single-vineyard Chardonnays from Tawse have always scored high, not just by Wines In Niagara, but by most reviewers who taste these top-notch wines every vintage.

Inevitably the Robyn’s Block and Quarry Road bottlings are compared side by side and judged accordingly, which is somewhat unfair as the vines at Quarry Road are half the age of those grown in Robyn’s Block. The expectation is weighted toward the older vines.

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Robyn’s Block is the premier Twenty Mile Bench site for Tawse’s extensive Chardonnay program. The vines, farmed organically and biodynamically, are 33 years old and the wine is barrel fermented with wild yeast and aged for 16 months in French oak, 20% of which is new. It’s a formula that doesn’t change much; only the oak is dialed up or down depending on what Mother Nature throws at the vintage.

Quarry Road is from 16-year-old vines in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation and farmed organically and biodynamically and about the same amount of oak aging is employed.

Robyn’s Block has scored as high as 94 points for the 2011 vintage (which was named here as the Most Thrilling Niagara White Wine in 2014) and 93 points for the 2012 vintage, while Quarry Road has fallen just shy of those scores.

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After tasting the 2013s side by side, we’re giving the 2013 Quarry Road the slight edge over Robyn’s Block. Both were tasted and retasted several times over a couple of days and the same conclusion was arrived at.

Winemaker Paul Pender applies essentially the same winemaking process to both wines, but the vast difference in styles of the wines is a tribute to single-vineyard farming and the terroir from where they are grown. It’s what makes wine so fascinating, how two similarly made wines can be so different from vintage to vintage.

And, let’s be honest here — claiming one of these wines is better than the other is a bit like picking your favourite twin … it depends on the day.

Here are our reviews (Rick VanSickle and Michael Lowe) from the Tawse Spring release:

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Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 ($35, LCBO direct delivery, winery, 93 points) — I freely admit to being drawn to mineral notes in Chardonnay — they add dimension and complexity to the experience. This version of Quarry Road has that in spades; a flinty/chalky/gun smoke quality that flows effortlessly from nose to palate and combines with fine oak nuances to form the backbone of this elegant Chard. With the mineral component, look for poached pear and a range of orchard fruits on the nose and underlying barrel spice notes. It is magical on palate with those flinty, chalky, almost smoky mineral notes that integrate so well with the depth of pear and apple skin and elegant spices. This is a highly structured Chard but still shows grace and nuance that will just improve with age. Bravo. (RV)

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013 ($46, released when 2012 runs out in a month or two, 92 points) — To say this is overshadowed by the Quarry Road is a bit of an exaggeration, it scores one less point, and could well come out on top with some bottle age. I found it a touch tighter than the above Chard and may need a bit of time to open up. It’s an elegantly appointed wine with a nose of pear, apple, citrus, soft oak spice notes and subtle minerality. It’s softer, more restrained on the palate than the Quarry but promises to bring so much more when it opens up. It’s showing a range of orchard fruits, never weighty or dominating, zesty citrus, pretty and integrated oak spice notes delivered with a deft touch by the winemaker, lovely minerality and energetic acidity through the fresh and vibrant finish. (RV)

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2013 ($38, at the winery when the 2012 is sold out, 91 points) — The nose is fresh and vibrant showing ripe pear and apple, tinged by lemon accents, an undertone of toasty oak and just a whiff of smoke. The lemon note grabs the palate’s attention readying it for the lush fruit — first green apple and fleshy pear, then some roasted pineapple in the middle. There’s an elegance to this otherwise lively chard finishing with buttery caramel notes thanks to the seamless integration of oak. (ML)

Tawse Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir 2012 ($49, at the winery in a few weeks when the 2011s run out, 93 points) — Here’s a pinot that expresses the fine 2012 vintage — Beautiful black cherry, lifted by dried flowers and clove/cinnamon spice, underpinned by notes of earthy truffle, leather and black pepper. The still youthful tannins support the complex array of dark berries, spice and the delicate floral character in this refined. Serve with roasted game birds with dried cranberry stuffing or duck with wild mushroom risotto. (ML)

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Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 ($35, LCBO direct delivery, winery, 91 points) —Winemaker Paul Pender made the decision to kick up the oak aging from 14 months in French barrels to 20 months for the 2012 Quarry Road Pinot. The result is a rather substantive wine with a nose of ripe cherry, raspberry, cassis, earth and loam, mineral and barrel spice notes. It has a firm foundation of tannins and super-ripe red fruits, suggesting a long life ahead. Lots at play here in this highly structured Pinot — fruit, savoury spices, good acidity. A pinot built to cellar for five+ years. (RV)

Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($24, Vintages, 91 points) — From an organically and biodynamically farmed vineyard in the Vinemount Ridge appellation, this Riesling has an intensely perfumed nose of lime, white peach, river-rock minerality and the zest of lemon. It’s fresh, bright and lithe on the palate (10% abv) with racy acidity that keeps the citrus, grapefruit, lime and swirling minerality popping through the lively finish. A perfect partner for whatever you’re cooking. (RV)

Tawse Limestone Ridge North Block Riesling 2015 ($24, 89 points) – Aromas of green apple and pear lead the way, but on the palate it’s candied lime zest at the fore with the other fruits lending a supporting role. Aptly named for the vineyard’s location, there is a focused limestone mineral seam here while the off-dry sweetness is nicely balanced by citrusy acid. Try this one with seafood or coconut milk-based, Thai style curry. (ML)

Redstone Brickyard Riesling 2015 ($16, LCBO, 88 points) — Redstone sources the fruit from various vineyards scattered around Niagara. It’s a personable Riesling with a nose of lime, lanolin, mineral, peach and apple skin. It’s quite concentrated on the palate with a range of honeysuckle, peach, citrus and honey sweetness that’s kept in check by decent acidity on the finish. (RV)

Tawse Redfoot Vineyard Gamay Noir 2015 ($29, winery, 89 points) — Tawse kicks Gamay up a notch with oak aging for 8 months in French barrels, which provides a bit of structure and depth to what is normally an unoaked style in Niagara. The nose shows fresh black cherry, wild raspberry, cranberry and spice notes. On the palate it is more complex with all those red fruits joined by spice, licorice and a pepper note to go with softish tannins and good acidity. (RV)

Tawse Sketches of Niagara Rose 2016 ($17, Vintages in May, 87 points) — A blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Gamay, look for myriad aromas of strawberries, watermelon and grapefruit with a squirt of apple and lemon. It’s relatively dry on the palate with ripe red fruits and good acidity. Nice summer quaffer. (RV)