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Canadian sparkling winemakers Italy bound, plus some fabulous Niagara (and B.C.) wines released at Vintages Saturday

Canadian wine

By Rick VanSickle

Fizz Club, a networking group for Canadian sparkling winemakers, is trading in its usual classroom meeting spot at Brock University for the scenic views of the Italian countryside next week.

Thirty winemakers from four provinces will join Fizz Club organizer Belinda Kemp (top photo), a senior scientist in oenology at Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), on a five-day technical tour of Italian sparkling wine facilities beginning June 25. The tour will connect the Canadian winemakers with their highly regarded colleagues and sparkling wine scientists in Franciacorta, Trentino and Conegliano.

Note: Also in this report we have highlights from the Vintages release Saturday that features more Niagara rosés, a special release from Henry of Pelham, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and a couple of gorgeous wines from Culmina in the Okanagan Valley.

“We are often able to get Ontario winemakers together but to have winemakers from British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick join us is a great opportunity,” Kemp said. “Organized Fizz Club excursions like this give busy winemakers time and space to talk to each other and learn from their international colleagues.”

Ontario wine
Winemakers Craig McDonald and Elisa Mazzi work with CCOVI’s Belinda Kemp (centre) to put the finishing touches on plans for Fizz Club’s trip to Italy.

To plan the tour, Kemp has been working with Niagara winemakers Craig McDonald, vice-president of winemaking at Andrew Peller Limited, and Elisa Mazzi, assistant winemaker at Malivoire Wine.

Fizz Club was created at Brock five years ago to provide the technical foundation for the growth of Canada’s sparkling wine industry. The network has an annual meeting where the latest CCOVI research is presented and gives winemakers the opportunity to exchange practical advice on all stages of production.

Niagara wine

“Our region is really collegial among winemakers,” McDonald said. “We need to maintain and nurture that and Fizz Club is the greatest platform we have not only within Ontario but also nationally to do that.

“We’re really happy and very fortunate to have a person of Belinda’s calibre involved in this. To not only have a winemaker with a PhD but to also have someone who really believes in the potential of the industry is exciting for the winemakers.”

This marks the second time that Fizz Club has gone abroad. In 2016, Kemp led 26 Ontario winemakers on a technical tour of France’s Champagne region, where they gained insights from top producers and consultants. Mazzi was on that tour and is excited to now be showcasing her home country of Italy to her Canadian colleagues.

“Champagne was a great opportunity for us to actually talk to winemakers, because when you just taste wine you don’t have an idea of what’s going on behind the scenes,” Mazzi said. “It’s important to understand their philosophy, see what their mentality is and what drove them to start their sparkling program.”

A lot to look forward to at
Vintages stores this Saturday

There are two special releases at Vintages stores this Saturday for Niagara wines — Another run at those popular rosés that seem to be flying off the shelves, plus a nice selection of Henry of Pelham wines in honour of the winery’s 30th anniversary.

And it doesn’t end there: One of B.C.’s best wineries, Culmina, owned by Donald Triggs and his family and situated on the Golden Mile Bench in the Okanagan Valley, has two extraordinary wines being released Saturday. They are both in the collector wines category, two excellent wines that show Canada at its best.

So, dig in and enjoy the Canadian bounty at LCBO stores Saturday.

A few pinks to perk up your summer

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2017 ($23, 91 points) — This is a Pinot Noir (93%) and Viognier blend from organically certified grapes grown in the estate’s three key vineyards. It’s proprietor Harald Thiel’s lighter version of rosé compared to his Nocturn made from Bordeaux varieties. This is lovely, with a fresh and vibrant nose of strawberries, cherries and garden herbs. It is built perfectly dry (under 2 g/l) style on the palate with vibrant red berries and integrated herbs. Just a gorgeous rosé that sold out quickly at Vintages last year (hint-hint).

Flat Rock Pink Twisted Rosé 2017 ($18, 88 points) — A bit of an unusual rosé style blend of Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer and Riesling that shows a bright electric pink colour in the glass. The nose shows jammy red fruits, some citrus notes and a pinch of savoury spice. It has lovely texture on the palate, juicy red fruits, a hint of sweetness and vibrancy on the finish.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Rosé 2017 ($30, 89 points) — The revamped 2017 version of this rosé is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, so be prepared for a slightly darker, richer and more forward sip than the current trend. The nose shows bright cherries, raspberries, cassis and rhubarb notes. It shows a bolder style on the palate with ripe red fruits, a touch of currants and blackberries with tingly acidity on the finish.

Stratus Wildass Rosé 2017 ($19, 88 points) — This is an unusual assemblage of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Tempranillo and Cabernet Franc that works brilliantly here. It has a slightly more vibrant salmon hue than some of the other Niagara rosés hitting store shelves. It shows a range of crushed red berries, a floral note and grapefruit/citrus accents on the nose. It’s made in a refreshing, crisp style on the palate with bright cherry/raspberry fruits and underlying citrus that keeps everything lively through the finish.

Happy anniversary, Henry of Pelham!

Henry of Pelham first planted grapes on the Short Hills Bench in Niagara in 1988. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, the Speck brothers are throwing a party on Sunday, July 1, from 3-7 p.m. at the winery. There will be live music by the masters of funk – LMT Music Connection, plenty of wine and a BBQ by The Coach House Café! For more info and how to get tickets go here. Here’s what you can get at Vintages Saturday from HoP’s top tier Speck Family Reserve series:

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet/Merlot 2012 ($40, 92 points) — A special wine from a special vintage in Niagara, especially for the Bordeaux varietals such as this blend of hand-picked Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Yields for this top red wine from HoP were restricted to less than 2 tonnes per acre. There has been a conscious decision here to not over-power the wine with 1,000% oak and thick concentration, which is often the temptation in hot vintages. The nose shows pretty notes of ripe cherries, raspberries, black currants, blackberries, rose petals, fully integrated spice notes and subtle earthy/anise accents. It’s soft on the palate with fine-grained tannins that carry a range of dark and red fruits, savoury spices and a long finish. This can be cellared 5+ years or enjoyed now. A very nice, restrained red from a hot Niagara vintage.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Riesling 2016 ($25, 91 points) — This is from the oldest estate vineyards on the Short Hills Bench, planted by the Speck brothers beginning in 1988. The nose is simply beautiful with a full range of ripe and succulent pear, apple, honeysuckle, citrus and mineral notes. It is a ripe version of Riesling, due to the heat of the vintage, and expresses sweet golden apple, ginger, pear, honey, minerals and just a hint of petrol that will certainly gain intensity in the coming years. This is fairly balanced right now, but is built for near-term cellaring 2+ years.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2016 ($25, 91 points) — A nice warm vintage brings out the best in Baco with a concentrated nose of plums, blackberries, bacon fat, herbs and smoky/spicy notes. The fruit turns to cherries and raspberry on the palate with a supporting role from plums, blackberries tasted oak spice, savoury herbs and good acidity through the finish.

Other Niagara wines released Saturday:

Stratus Weather Report Chardonnay 2016 ($28, 91 points) — Although this stands in as the “second label” of Stratus, it’s made in exactly the same way as the top Chardonnay, spending nine months in French oak with only 17% of it new. Even in the warm vintage of 2016 in Niagara it shows the direction winemaker J.L. Groux is taking with this varietal: a more finessed approach to the finished wine to better reveal the minerality of the vineyard. The nose shows lovely crisp apple, citrus, pear, light toast and spice with underlying minerality. It’s fresh, finessed and lively on the palate with integrated orchard fruit, spice and flinty minerality on the finish. Cool climate Chard in a warm vintage? Mission accomplished.

Remarkable B.C. wines at
flagship Vintages stores only

Culmina Dilemma Chardonnay 2015 ($48, 92 points) — Sourced entirely from the new Chardonnay vines planted on the estate’s Margaret’s Bench in 2011, this wine has a wonderful, rich nose of apples, vanilla toast, minerals, elegant barrel spices and underlying lemon and citrus. It is pure sophistication on the palate, a proper and graceful Chardonnay with a sense of place that shows the fine minerality of the vineyard and lovely toasted oak that works well with the baked apple, pear and spice flavours that are well-balanced to the very end. A winner of a Chardonnay.

Culmina Hypothesis 2013 ($48, 92 points) — From the estate’s Arise Bench, this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is matured for 16 months in 100% French oak, 60% of which is new. It has a nose of dark cherry, black currants, blackberries, savoury oak spices, violets and elegant oak notes. It is a big wine that maintains a sense of elegance on the palate with ripe dark fruits, judicious oak spices, balancing acidity, graphite and the stuffing to cellar for 6+ years. A wonderful collectors’ wine that give pleasure for many years to come.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Lakeview Cellars Gewurztraminer Icewine 2014 ($35 for 200 mL)
• Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($19)
• Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($37)
• Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($18)
• Megalomaniac My Way Chardonnay 2016 ($25)

— Note: Information on Brock’s Fizz Club was provided by the university