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Your best bets for Niagara wines released at Vintages Saturday, plus Ontario’s first certified organic cider at the LCBO

Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

After a rather chilly spring in Niagara, vineyards really got popping only in the last two weeks — now it’s an explosion of grape buds and high hopes for Vintage 2018.

It’s amazing what a little sunshine and warm spring rain can do to a vineyard and the collective spirits of those who have waited so long to take the living back outdoors for another year.

The vine above was shot at the Fielding Estate Winery’s estate vineyard on the Beamsville Bench over a week ago. Fielding’s Rosé leads our recommendations for Niagara wines being released this Saturday at Vintages stores.

Also recommended: the new Dim Riesling, Flat Rock Chardonnay, Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir, Cave Spring sparkling and Peller Estates Ice Cuvee Rosé Sparkling.

We also review the new organic-certified ciders from the Great Canadian Cider Company that are available at the LCBO.

First, our picks of Niagara wines at Vintages May 26.

Ontario wine

Fielding Rosé 2017 ($16, 89 points) — Winemaker Richie Roberts blends Gamay (80%) with Pinot Noir (20%) from fruit grown specifically for grown this popular pale pink rosé being released at Vintages Saturday. It’s redolent in juicy red berries and subtle plum notes with a touch of earth and cassis on the nose. This rosé is refreshing on the palate with pretty red berries, some earthy/savoury undertones and lifted by citrus notes through the vibrant finish.

Best Niagara wine

Dim Wine Co. Edgewater Riesling 2015 ($20, 89 points) — Peter Dim is a grower and now a virtual winemaker whose wine is made at Rockway Vineyard by winemaker David Stasiuk. Love the deep-rooted minerality on the nose to go with citrus, apple blossom, grapefruit and lime. Touch of sweetness on the palate, but balanced by racy acidity with sweet-tart citrus, apple, lime, mineral and a mouth-watering finish.

Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2016 ($18, 88 points) — This is the unoaked version of Flat Rock’s Chardonnay program has fresh and enchanting aromas of apple, citrus and minerality. There is a subtle creamy note on the palate from lees aging but the core of this Chard is all about fresh orchard fruits and bright minerality with a zesty, vibrant finish.

Henry of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2015 ($25, 89 points) – This mid-weight pinot really struts its stuff. You name it, it’s in there – lots of raspberry and cherry aromas and flavours wrapped up with smoky, meaty notes, some clove spiciness, a leafy, earthy undertone and a touch of dark chocolate. Black tea-like tannins support the whole with a little vanilla rounding out the finish. Pair with duck with berry-based sauces and, well, anything mushroom based is a no-brainer. (Mike Lowe review)

Canada wine

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling NV ($30, 90 points) — Winemaker Angelo Pavan launched Cave Spring’s sparkling wine program in 2002, working with several grape varieties including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling. He was, however, always been a fan of the great blanc de blancs wines of Champagne, struck by their rare combination of finesse, transparency and power. By 2008 he was convinced that similar results were possible from Cave Spring’s Niagara Escarpment vineyards. The evolution of the 2004 Chardonnay cuvée brought him to this realization, and as the years went by it was clear that the blanc de blancs style stood head-and-shoulders above the other contenders, whether blended or varietal in composition. This cuvee is a blend of estate 60% Chardonnay and 40% Chardonnay Musque, aged sur lie for 45 months and is made in the traditional method. It has an elegant nose of lemon, brioche, green apple, limestone minerality and grapefruit. It has a fine and vigorous mousse on the palate, lovely texture and verve with a nutty, fresh profile of citrus, apple, biscuit and vibrant energy through the finish. A lovely and versatile sparkler for celebrations or with raw oysters, lobster bisque, battered shellfish, sushi, quiches/omellettes and grilled seafood, smoked duck.

Peller Estates Ice Cuvee Rose Sparkling ($30, 93 points) – Peller has perfected the art of blending in a dosage of about 15% of Vidal icewine to traditional method sparkling wine (made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes). The result is a decadent bubbly with crisp apple, tropical fruits, bread yeast, vanilla and sweet aromas. It’s lovely on the palate with a smooth texture, apricot fruit, apple and citrus all delivered with a nice, sweet wet kiss of wild honey. This is a non-vintage wine that maintains the style vintage to vintage.

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed:

• Organized Crime The Download 2010 ($46)
• PondView Gold Series Vidal Icewine 2015 ($20 for 200 mL)
• Strewn Vidal Icewine 2013 ($25 for 200 mL)
• 13th Street White Palette 2016 ($16)
• Calamus Pinot Gris 2016 ($17)
• The Foreign Affair Chardonnay 2015 ($27)
• Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2016 ($20)
• One Horse Town Cabernet Merlot 2015 ($22)
• The Hare Crown Land Red 2015 ($25)
• Vieni Briganti Red 2014 ($13)
• Westcott Temperance Red 2016 ($20)
• PondView Cabernet Franc Rosé 2017 ($17)
• Westcott Delphine Rosé 2017 ($17)

New Ontario cider in the house

It seems as if a new Ontario cider hits the shelves every week, but what sets this one apart from the others is the fact that it is the province’s first “certified” organic cider.

The Great Organic Cider Company is founded and operated by Steve Roper (Collingwood) and partner Tom Liszt (Welland), two friends for the last 30 years with backgrounds in marketing. They saw an opportunity in the explosive cider market and set out to be the first Pro-Cert certified organic cider in Ontario.

The first job was gaining acceptance at the LCBO, which they did with the first cider they made called Great Organic Cider Nice & Dry. It’s made from a blend of three “secret” apple varieties (I actually know what they are but have been asked not to reveal the blend, a little odd, yes, but there you have it) grown organically in Beaver Valley and made by cider maker Mike Vansteenkiste.

The Nice & Dry Cider is one of the more expensive ciders at the LCBO, but Liszt believes their organic concept and method of making the cider — which takes a full year — is deserving of the higher price.

“A true cider should be compared to a wine,” he says, as we tasted the flagship cider along with the new “Not Too Sweet” cider awaiting approval at the LCBO and two other concept ciders.

Liszt says it takes a year to make the Great Organic Ciders through a series of processes that set them apart from the competition.

“We’re pushing the envelope a bit with our ciders,” Liszt says. “We use only two ingredients — apples and cane sugar, but we have the lowest sugar (residual sugar) on the market.”

The ciders are all in the 6% abv range and retail for $5.75 for a 473 mL can.

Here’s the process the ciders go through:

• Harvest apples in late summer, but don’t press for three or four months
• While apples are “hibernating” the starches are converting to sugar, which means more flavour
• The apples are pressed, with the pomace (the ciders are made in Thedford, Ont.) returned to the orchards in Beaver Valley
• The juice is wild fermented, often taking three to four months
• The ciders are finished with filtering, back sweetening with organic cane sugar (no more than 13 g/l), carbonation, pasteurizing and canning
• No added sulphur

“It’s a slow process, but really worth it,” Liszt says.

Here’s what I liked from a tasting of the range of ciders, all gluten free (of course), recently.

Great Organic Cider Nice & Dry ($5.75 for 473 ml can at the LCBO, 6.3% abv, 90 points) — Gentle effervescence in the glass with bright, ripe and juicy McIntosh apple aromas and subtle citrus accents. It’s beautifully dry on the palate with notes of bin apple, soft lemony accents, touch of tannin in a vibrant, clean and fresh approach through the finish.

Great Organic Cider Not Too Sweet ($5.75 for 473 mL can, not available yet, 89 points) — This cider’s sweet factor is pushed up to 26 g/l but I wouldn’t call it a “sweet” cider … just more so than the perfectly dry cider above. So, notes of crisp apple, hints of lemon and wild honey on the nose. It has sweet(ish)/tart orchard apple flavours on the palate, some underlying honeycomb, apple skin and a crisp fresh finish.

The two other ciders I tried were the Great Canadian Cider Hopped Up!, made with organic hops grown in Meaford, which I enjoyed, but I really loved the Great Canadian Cider Apple Cranberry, made with organic cranberries from Muskoka. It had such vibrancy and added cranberry/rhubarb flavours that rocked on the palate.