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Canadian wines take centre stage at Vintages Saturday, plus the birth of Arterra, and West Avenue cider reviews

Canadian wine

By Rick VanSickle

Are you getting excited? Are you ready to rock the Canada 150 celebrations on July 1? Do you have your cellar stocked with Canadian wines? We can help with that.

Saturday’s LCBO Vintages release features a fairly robust selection of Canadian wines you can stock up on to usher in Canada’s big birthday with gusto and style.

We have some recommendations below, plus news on the Canadian arm of Constellation Brands’ name change and six ciders from the new West Avenue retail store and cidery that just opened last weekend … because good Ontario cider is also an acceptable way to say Happy Birthday to us.

Saturday Vintages release

Here’s what I can recommend from the release Saturday of Ontario wines:

Ontario wine

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 150-183 Riesling 2014 ($20, 91 points) — A gorgeous nose of fresh-squeezed lime, grapefruit, wet-stone minerality and summer peach. This is loaded with juicy fruit on the palate and made in a less austere style than previous vintages and combines citrus, apple and pear with a touch of wildflower honey all balanced by fairly healthy acidity. Great job here.

Niagara wine

Creekside Laura’s Red 2012 ($20, 90 points) — This combines all five Bordeaux red grapes and adds a smidge of Syrah, about 4%, because winemaker Rob Power likes the “spice it brings.” A great wine for $20 with an expressive nose of black currants, ripe black cherry, blackberries and a lovely spicy-oak note. It is substantive and bold on the palate with thick black fruits, cherry, pepper, licorice and fine tannins. Should age well.

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2013 ($30, 90 points) — This is the entry point for Queylus’s Pinot program (if you can call a $30 wine entry level). The nose is gorgeous with spicy cherry fruit, fine oak spice, raspberry and earth. It’s pretty on the palate, elegant, in fact, with red fruits, earth, spice and uplifting acidity.

Tawse Gamay Noir 2014 ($19, 88 points) – Sourced from Niagara-on-the-Lake with light oak aging, the nose shows notes of blue plum, savoury cherry, strawberry and hints of herbs and spices. It’s woodsy and earthy on the palate with red fruits, plums, mocha and well-balanced through the finish.

Other wines released as part of the Canada 150 Celebration, but not reviewed:

  • Contraband Sparkling Chardonnay ($20)
  • Contraband Sparkling Riesling ($19)
  • Creekside Reserve Viognier 2014 ($30)
  • Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2015 ($20)
  • HMC McWatters Collection Chardonnay 2014, Okanagan 2014 ($31)
  • Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12-140 Syrah 2013 ($25)
  • Vieni Estates Gamay Noir 2015 ($18)
  • Creekside Cabernet Rose 2016 ($15)
  • Malivoire Vivant Rose 2016 ($20)
  • The Foreign Affair Amarose 2016 ($19)
  • Wildass Rose 2016 ($17)
  • Quail’s Gate Rose 2016, Okanagan ($20)

Flagship stores only

  • Southbrook Estate Grown Small Lot Cabernet Rose 2016 ($30)

The birth of Arterra

Canadian wine
These are the two wines released last fall under the Arterra label before the Constellation Brands Canada changed its name to Arterra.

In December of last year, Constellation Brands Canada, part of the mega U.S. wine company Constellation Brands, was acquired by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in a $1 billion deal and once again became a Canadian company (it was originally a Canadian company called Vincor Canada before being acquired by Constellation).

The new company has been busy separating itself from the parent company and one step along the journey was renaming the company to Arterra Wines Canada.

According to the new company, the name Arterra “brings together the words art and terra (earth) and speaks to the art of winemaking and cultivating the earth. It also alludes to the art we bring to the business of wine.”

Headquartered in Mississauga, Arterra is the largest wine company in Canada and owns and operates three commercial wineries, five estate wineries, including Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin, and operates 163 Wine Rack retail stores that sell domestic wines throughout Ontario.

A broader outline of the company’s plans is expected in the fall when it reveals a strategy going forward for Arterra.

Perhaps intentional or not, a hint of what the new name would become could be found in an artisanal line of wines developed by Jackson-Triggs winemaker Marco Piccoli released last fall called Arterra.

The standalone wines were intended as an expression of the winemaker’s artistry, a “provocative” approach to crafting “classic Niagara varietals,” Piccoli said during a tasting of the wines last fall.

And, in case you’ve googled Arterra and come across Arterra Wines, a Virginia wine company, it gets a little complicated. Arterra, the Virginia winery, tweeted after news of the Canadian company’s name change saying they were “surprised” but not terribly concerned about the duplication (see tweet below).

Stayed tuned, I have a feeling there’s lots more to come from the new Arterra Wines Canada.

West Avenue Cider reviews

Ontario craft cider

How cool is it to finally have one of Ontario’s top cider brands available at the retail level?

Chris Haworth and his wife Amy Robson last Saturday opened Somerset Orchards and Farm Store in Carlisle (that’s 11 km up Highway 6 from Hwy. 403 in Hamilton). It’s set on a picturesque 75 acres and home to 16 acres of heritage, heirloom, cider and pear trees. With over 100 varieties of apples and 10 varieties of pears, the new tasting and retail facility is fully stocked with a selection of West Avenue bottle-conditioned ciders and on tap to try and a growler program that lets visitors go home with fresh cider in re-fillable jugs. You can read the full story of the opening here in a previous post.

I tasted six different ciders that are available at the farm. Here are my reviews.

West Avenue Cider Belgiantosh 2014 (89 points, $22 for a growler) — Made from single variety Macintosh apples, barrel fermented and unfiltered. It’s a complex cider and nuanced with apple and tropical fruit flavours and a funky brett note that all leads to a clean, long finish. Perfectly dry.

West Avenue Cider Malus Lupulus (90 points, $22 for a growler) — A dry hopped Heritage apple cider finished unfiltered. Hops, spruce needles mingle with apple and citrus rind on the nose. It has grassy notes on the palate to go with citrus, apple and hops with a fresh, dry finish.

West Avenue Cider Gold Rush 2014 (91 points, $22 for a growler) — So, made from single variety Gold Rush apples aged in Niagara wine barrels for three years. A nose of baked apples, lovely spice that adds texture and complexity that’s mellow and wondrously dry on the palate.

West Avenue Cider Cherriosity (92 points, $20 for a growler) — One of my top 5 ciders in Ontario, it’s made with apple cider and Niagara Montmorency cherries. It’s bright and refreshing and slightly off-dry to punctuate those lovely ripe cherry flavours. Look for a perfect marriage of apple and cherry that’s lively and popping on the palate. Drink all day kind of cider.

West Avenue Heritage Funk (89 points, $22 for a growler) — Made with wild yeast, natural brett and unfiltered. Fresh and lively with apple, yes, but also an intriguing herbal/cucumber thing going on with lemon curd and funky notes on the finish. An intellectual take on cider.

West Avenue Cider Bleuet Sauvage 2014 (93 points, $15 for 750 mL bottle) — This highly stylized cider won the best of class at the prestigious Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition this past year. It’s a tequila barrel fermented cider with wild blueberry and a sour edge from a dose of lactobacillus. It shows notes of wild blueberry, tangy rhubarb, mulled apples, cloves and ginger. Just a riot of flavours on the palate — blueberries, apples, spice and sour funk that’s smooth and fresh on the finish. One of the best ciders tasted this year. Get it quick!