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A riot of colour in Niagara wine country, plus highlights from the Vintages release Saturday and Peller Family wines in review

Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

With fall banging on our door in Niagara, wineries should be well into harvest around Ontario wine country … at least for sparkling grapes and early ripening varieties.

But with the overall cool and damp summer we’ve had in Southern Ontario, all varieties are delayed and still out there hanging around patiently waiting for a long, dry and warm fall to turn those berries into the ripe and plump beauties they need to be for maximum flavour.

The jury is still out on the vintage ahead, but one thing is clear: a favourable autumn is desperately needed.

Ontario wine

Some grape varieties are two weeks behind last year. Vineland Estate winemaker Brian Schmidt took these photos (top and above) of colourful Pinot Meunier grapes just going through veraison on Monday, that are, as mentioned, a couple of weeks behind last season. It’s a critical time for grapes and the colours, especially in the red varieties, are spectacular in the vineyard with various shades of purple, red and green.

During veraison, the sugar content increases and acid decreases, making the berries softer and plumper, looking more like actual grapes. First, the sugar and acid ratio do an about face. When the little berries begin their journey, the acid content is much higher than sugar (needed for the production of alcohol).

Niagara harvest

As a general rule, once grapes complete veraison, they will be ripe and ready to harvest in about six weeks. Veraison typically takes 5-7 days to complete. The shot above is Pinot Gris from Vineland Estate, shot by Schmidt on Monday.

So, the 2017 harvest, particularly for the red varietals, is quite a bit behind the average season.

While we wait for harvest, here are some wines from grapes that have long been harvested and are now ready to drink. First, some recommendations from the Vintages’ release on Saturday for Niagara wines. After that, we have a full roster of reviews from the Peller Family of wines: Trius, Thirty Bench, Peller Estates and Gretzky.

Dig in!

Vintages Niagara wine releases

Best Ontario wine

Vineland Estates Sparkling Pinot Meunier Reserve 2015 ($30, 91 points) — The range and depth of sparkling wine in Niagara, Ontario and Canada is staggering as more and more wineries join the bubbly revolution. It’s a category that plays to the strength of varietals that do so well in the cool-climate wine regions we have in Canada. This charmat method Pinot Meunier from winemaker Brian Schmidt is as delicious as it looks, with a lovely subtle pale salmon colour, vigorous mousse and nose of toast, red berries, apple and a squirt of citrus. There’s a pleasing sweet note on the palate that works well with ripe cherry and raspberry fruit through a clean and fresh finish. Vineland suggests trying with a steak Florentine, “if you’re courageous enough.”

Canadian wine2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2014 ($23, 91 points) — Winemaker Kevin Panagapka applies oak aging (20% new) for 18 months and only partial malo for this version of his Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay. The nose shows poached pear, gunflint, baked apple, charming and elegant barrel spices and citrus on the edges. With gorgeous mouth-feel, look for charred-smoky notes on the palate which gives way to creamy pear, apple, vanilla/toast and baking spices all kept in check by freshening acidity through the finish. Should develop further.

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2015 ($18, 88 points) — Made from estate fruit primarily from a single block planted in 2004. The nose shows zippy lime, grapefruit and apple with mineral and a touch of ginger. It’s mouth-filling with river-rock minerality to go with rich apple, citrus, lime and grapefruit notes through the fresh and lively finish.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Redstone Chardonnay 2013 ($20)
• Chateau des Charmes Blanc de Blancs 2014 ($33)
• Riverview Angelina’s Reserve Gewurztraminer 2014 ($17)
• Strewn Terroir American Oak Chardonnay 2015 ($24)
• The Foreign Affair Unoaked Chardonnay 2016 ($24)
• Creekside Iconoclast Semillon/Sauvignon 2015 ($22)
• Creekside Iconoclast Syrah 2014 ($25)
• Henry of Pelham Family Tree Red 2014 ($19)
• The Foreign Affair Pinot Noir 2011 ($35)
• Vieni Estates Merlot 2013 ($19)
• Marquis The Silver Line Vidal Icewine 2014 ($40 for 375 mL)

Peller Family wine reviews

I recently tasted through a range of wines from the Peller family estates that include its namesake winery, Trius, Thirty Bench Wine Makers and Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery. Here’s what I can recommend.

Peller Estates

Peller Estates Signature Series Merlot 2012 ($49, winery only, 92 points) — From the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation and the last wine to be released from the estate’s 2012 vintage, this beauty from Peller’s top tier spends 18 months in French oak. It has a rich, appealing nose of concentrated black cherries, black currants, wild berries, toasted vanilla, sweet tobacco and fine oak spices. The flavours explode on the palate with earthy red fruits, cassis, graphite, elegant spice notes, dried herbs on a structured frame of fine tannins and long finish. A beautiful wine that can cellar nicely for 10+ years.

Peller Estates Family Series Riesling 2015 ($13, LCBO, 87 points) — A fairly inexpensive Riesling with a nose of zippy lime, peach, grapefruit and apple on the nose. Lots of juicy peach and freshening citrus adorns this medium off-dry wine.

Peller Estates Family Series Baco Noir 2015 ($12, LCBO, 87 points) — Peller winemaker Katie Dickenson makes these entry-level wines from the Family Series for everyday occasions. This Baco shows bold and ripe aromas of savoury black cherry, currants, plums and oak spice. It’s a full-bodied red with concentrated cherry/kirsch, dark plums, savoury herbs and spice all delivered on a smooth delivery through the finish. Good value.

Trius wines

Trius Rose 2016 ($16, LCBO, 88 points) — The nose reveals strawberry, cherry, cranberry and a smidge of citrus. It’s made in a refreshingly dry style with delicate red fruits on the palate all lifted by bright acidity.

Trius Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($15, LCBO, 88 points) — Winemaker Craig McDonald loves working with this grape and delivers each and every vintage. The nose rocks with grapefruit, gooseberry, herbs, grassy notes, a broad range of tropical fruits and subtle spice notes from light oak treatment. It’s perfectly fresh and combines tropical fruits, zippy lemon-lime, herbs and ends with a crisp finish. As far as McDonald is aware, the Trius SB is “the largest VQA bottling in Canada.

Trius Showcase Red Shale Clark Farm Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014 ($45, winery only, 91 points, previously reviewed) — Winemaker Craig McDonald describes this top-notch Cab Franc thusly: “It’s like a baby’s head on a velvet pillow.” In other words, wait for it, it needs time to grow up even though its melange of aromatic red fruits, black currants, herbs and toasted spice notes are attractive right now, it will deliver more goodness with a trip to the cellar for 4+ years. It pops on the palate, a rousing broth of red and dark fruits with added notes of tar, toasted spices notes and herbaceous undertones that is all supported by firm structure but smooth, rounded tannins. Buy, hold, enjoy.

Thirty Bench Wine Makers

Thirty Bench Wine Makers Red 2014 ($24, winery only, 89 points) — Combining the Bordeaux grapes of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this red from the estate’s Beamsville Bench shows earthy red fruits, currants on the edge, savory spice notes and campfire smoke. The Cabernet Franc dominates the palate with notes of dried herbs, sage, red berries, oak spice, good acidity and length through the finish. Good value Niagara red wine.

Thirty Bench Wine Makers Double Noir 2015 ($24, Vintages, 89 points) — Winemaker Emma Garner blends Gamay Noir (60%) and Pinot Noir (40%) and employs French oak aging for this wonderful red that shows fresh raspberry, wild berries, undergrowth and subtle woodsy spice and tannins. A tasty lighter-style red for summer drinking.

Thirty Bench Wine Maker’s Blend Chardonnay 2015 ($20, winery, 89 points) — This Chard is aged in oak for 10 months sur lie and shows Meyer lemon, toasted oak spice, apple and vanilla cream on the nose. Lovely, clean mouth-feel, integrated oak spices, pear, apple and citrus on the palate on this well-balanced and vibrant Chardonnay.

Wayne Gretzky Estates

Wayne Gretzky Estates Cabernet Merlot 2015 ($15, LCBO, 87 points) — A high aromatic nose of black currants, dark cherry, cedar box cedar and fine oak spices. The black cherry, currants and spice are integrated on the palate and delivered on a bed of smooth tannins.