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Sue-Ann Staff takes LCBO by storm with her Fancy Farm Girl wines, plus reviews for Cornerstone and Henry of Pelham

Niagara wines

By Rick VanSickle

What started out as an experimental lifestyle brand of fun and affordable Niagara wines with flamboyant labels geared toward female drinkers has now turned into quite the popular hot seller at LCBO stores province-wide.

Sue-Ann Staff’s Fancy Farm Girl brand debuted in 62 selected stores in Ontario in 2015. Since then the line of wines has grown leaps and bounds with Fancy Farm Girl Frivolous White now available in over 270 LCBO stores on the general list, along with the Fancy Farm Girl Flamboyant Red, available at Vintages starting Saturday, and the new Fancy Farm Girl Frissonesque Sauvignon Blanc that is being released through 60 LCBO stores in February.

The Fancy Farm Girl brand is entirely a reflection of the reality and whimsy of the winemaker.

As Staff says: “Years back, while tending my family farm, I had a revelation. I loved the farm. This is my Paris, my Australia, my South Africa, my freedom. So I dress the part and enjoy life through the rose-coloured glasses of the fancy farm girl. The farm is a metaphor, the attire an approach. The reality? There is a fancy farm girl in all of us.” 

Ontario wines

The wines are meant to be affordable, approachable and fun as well as made from 100% Niagara fruit, most of which is grown on the Staff family’s 200-year-old farm, where they have been growing grapes for more than a century. 

“The farm is my home and my exotic escape,” says Staff. “I dress the part of the fancy farm girl, jeans in the vineyard, cocktail dresses for the evening events.” 

Staff’s Fancy Farm Girl Frivolous White is on the LCBO’s general list at 270 stores while the new Fancy Farm Girl Frissonesque is coming to the “Wines to Watch” program at 60 LCBO stores this month, and the Fancy Girl Flamboyant Red will be available starting Saturday at Vintages stores.

The Fancy Farm Girl wines head up our recommendations for Niagara wines being released Saturday at Vintages stores in Ontario.

Also in this report: New releases from Henry of Pelham and Cornerstone Estate Winery.

Fancy Farm Girl wines

LCBO winesSue-Ann Staff Fancy Farm Girl Flamboyant Red 2013 ($15, Vintages Saturday, 87 points) — This is a well-aged blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from the cooler 2013 vintage. It shows bright red berries, cassis, tangy raspberry and light spice notes on the nose. It turns rich and savoury on the palate and shows nicely aged dark fruits, decent spice and soft tannins. Ready to drink right now.

Canada winesSue-Ann Staff Fancy Farm Girl Frissonesque Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($17, LCBO Saturday, 88 points) — The nose drips with passion fruit, grapefruit, lime, kiwi and a range of tropical fruits on the nose. It’s fresh and lively on the palate with tropical fruits and herbs and all lifted by freshening acidity.

Sue-Ann Staff Fancy Farm Girl Frivolous White 2015 ($15, LCBO, 87 points) — This 100% Riesling has an expressive nose of lime, citrus, peach and pineapple. It’s on the sweet side on the palate with honeyed notes to go with citrus, lime, ginger and hinting at minerality. Partially balanced by the acidity, but designed for those who enjoy wines with a sweet edge.

Other Niagara wines released at Vintages Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Lakeview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2016 ($40 for 200 mL)
• Patrick Chan Sparkling Blanc de Blancs 2011 ($30)
• Calamus Off-Dry Riesling 2014 ($15)
• Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2016 ($22)
• Fielding Estate Gewurztraminer 2016 ($20)
• Fergie Jenkins Limited Edition Red 2016 ($17)
• North 42 Degrees Cabernet Franc 2016 ($22)
• The Foreign Affair Pinot Noir 2012 ($35)
• Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015 ($29)

New wine releases
from Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham Chardonnay 2016 ($15, LCBO, 88 points) — No oak in this pure, fresh and affordable Chardonnay, but lots to like. The nose shows a range of pear, apple, citrus rind and mineral notes. It’s ripe and expressive on the palate with rich orchard fruits, balancing acidity and a clean, fresh feel through the finish.

Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir Estate 2016 ($25, Vintages Sept. 15, 90 points) — It won’t be at Vintages until the fall, but it will be well worth the wait … this is a gorgeous Pinot Noir from the warm 2016 vintage. It shows rich and ripe red berries, fresh cut tobacco, toasted vanilla bean and lavish spice notes. The red fruits are concentrated and lush on the palate with supporting licorice, anise, savoury notes and baking spices to go with silky tannins and a long(ish) finish.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($35, release date to be determined, 92 points) — The top-tier Pinots from the Speck brothers are sourced from the oldest estate vineyards on the Short Hills Bench that were planted in 1988. The warm vintage has given this wine fantastic concentration of dark cherries, cassis, wild raspberry and currants with earthy/brambly notes, violets and elegant oak spices on the nose. It’s all about the integrated red and dark fruits, even at this early stage, that are juicy yet poised and polished and meld perfectly with the oak spices. It’s all delivered on a bed of silky smooth tannins through a long finish. Lovely Pinot that will be ready to rock when released.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree White 2016 ($18, Vintages on March 3, 89 points) — This is an unusual blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay Musque with 40% of the fruit barrel fermented and aged in oak for 8 months. It’s quite fragrant with notes of pear, lychee, peach, apricot and a lovely floral and spice accent on the nose. It’s rich and spicy on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, lychee, ginger and honey notes. Nicely balanced through the finish.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree Red 2016 ($19, release to be determined, 88 points) — The blend is Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Baco Noir with the fruit barrel aged for 17 months in a mix of French and U.S. oak. It has a smoky/spicy nose with notes of cassis, cherry, raspberry, cracked black peppercorns and earthy/loamy accents. The dark and cherry fruits turn savoury on the palate with a lovley range of barrel oak spices all propped up by firm acidity.

Cornerstone Estate Winery

Cornerstone Pinot Noir 2016 ($32, winery, 89 points) — Under new winemaker Lukasz Orwinski, previously at Burning Kiln and Rosewood Estate, wines are on the upswing at this Beamsville winery founded by Jerry Kopasnski in 2002. This Pinot from the warm 2016 vintage shows bright red berries, subtle oak spice and touches of cassis, black currants and vanilla toast. It shows juicy red fruits on the palate with silky tannins and good acidity to go with anise and wood spices on the finish. Tasty Pinot.

Cornerstone Gamay Noir 2016 ($18, winery, 87 points) — The nose shows a mélange of plums, earth and red fruits. It is has good zip on the palate to prop up the abundance of red fruits, plums and peppery notes. Serve this slightly chilled and enjoy.

Cornerstone Syrah 2013 ($24, winery, 88 points) — A peppery/smoky Syrah on the nose with a range of earthy red fruits, black currants and spice. The palate shows blackberries and currants with a thick covering of cracked black peppercorns, earth and barrel oak spices all propped up by decent acidity.

Cornerstone Cabernet Franc 2013 ($29, winery, 88 points) — Textbook CF with savoury red berries, toasted vanilla, oak spice, a light sprinkling of herbs and anise on the nose. Expressive on the palate with a range of brambly raspberry and cherry fruits, medium+ tannins, licorice, campfire smoke, bay leaves and perky acidity through the finish. There is a bit of the warmer vintage 2012 CF still available ($25). Look for darker fruits, more earthy notes and a fully mature profile.

Cornerstone Vidal Select Late Harvest 2015 ($19 for 375 mL, winery, 90 points) — Expressive nose of ripe apricot, peach, citrus and grilled pineapple. It is remarkably fresh on the palate, despite the sweetness, and draws out the pear, apricot compote, peach pie and honey notes. A balanced and delicious late harvest wine.

Cornerstone Forte 2014 ($20 for 500 mL, winery, 88 points) — Fancy the odd cigar? This is the perfect pairing with a good Cuban on a warm night outside by the fire. It’s a fortified wine finished at 18% abv. It’s very dark in the glass with aromas of thick cherry/kirsch, dark chocolate, sweet spices, cassis and black currants. It’s like molten dark chocolate on the palate with supporting notes of dark cherry, black currant jam and sweet spices.