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Filling in the gaps with Ontario cider, plus wine reviews for Tawse, Redstone and Niagara wine picks from the Vintages release Saturday

Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

People may wonder why a winery with the pedigree of Niagara’s Tawse would even bother joining the Ontario craft cider boom.

Note: Also in this report are some recommendations for Niagara wines from the release at Vintages stores this Saturday.

So many Ontario wineries now include cider as part of their portfolios, which makes sense because they not only have the capacity to make cider with a lot of the winery equipment already sitting there under-utilized once the grapes have been crushed and made into wine, but it also fills gaps in production when Mother Nature delivers a cruel blow to vines susceptible to extremely cold winters.

Ontario wine

Tawse Winery has been making cider for three years now. Winemaker Paul Pender decided to jump into the category after losing about 40% of his crop in the Polar Vortex winters of 2014 and 2015. “We had two very cold winters in a row, and a few grape varieties produced little to no crop. So, I thought it would be great to make a cider to fill the gap.”

Pender added that “local craft ciders have gained in popularity in the past few years and that the selection of Ontario ciders on the local LCBO shelves and restaurant beverage lists have increased immensely.”

Many Ontario wineries have launched different ciders to fill the gaps when their wine production is impacted by weather or other factors. Fielding Estate just announced their own craft cider that’s being released for the first time on Friday, where you can buy 4-packs for $18 only at the winery. Ravine Vineyards has three different kinds of ciders (apple, peach and pear), all made in an extremely dry style, and widely available now at Loblaw stores in Ontario. There are many others, of course, including Southbrook’s organic cider version.

Tawse makes two types of ciders; an extra-dry bottle-fermented sparkling cider, which is available in a 750 ml bottle, and an off-dry sparkling cider, which is available to restaurants in 30L kegs, and now in cans at the LCBO.

The latter is made from a blend of five different types of Ontario apples, McIntosh, Crispin, Ambrosia, Spy, Ida Red, and Gala. It is slightly off-dry, showing delicate and vibrant flavours of apple.

Tawse Winery launched the canned cider this spring and it is now available at the LCBO in a 473 mL can and retails for $3.25 per can.

I tasted the new canned cider recently along with some stellar Tawse and sister winery Redstone wines. Here is what I can recommend.

Ontario ciderTawse Cider ($3.25 per can, LCBO, 88 points) — Made from a blend of Ontario McIntosh, Crispin, Ambrosia, Spy, Ida Red, and Gala apples and finished with 30 g/l of residual sugar. It has a fresh nose of bin apples and subtle citrus notes. Some sweetness on the palate but maintains fresh apple flavours through the finish. A good cottage tipple or perfect on the back patio or around the pool.

Tawse, Redstone whites

Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2016 ($39, winery, 92 points) — This and the Limestone Ridge Riesling are blockbusters, sensational Niagara Rieslings that have it all working in the warm vintage of 2016. The Carly’s Block, from vines planted in 1976, shows super-charged lime, grapefruit, river-rock minerality and on point apple slices on the nose. The heat of the vintage has put petrol firmly on the table here and it is starting to emerge in a very good way on the palate. It’s rich, seductive, round and honeyed with layers of lime/citrus, apple, swirling minerality and showing beautifully right now.

Tawse Limestone Ridge North Riesling 2016 ($26, Vintages in Dec., retail store now, 93 points) — As good as the Carly’s Block is, this is killer Riesling. The nose lights up with salinity, lime, grapefruit and racy wet-stone minerality. It’s steely and taut on the palate despite 32 g/l of RS and shows vivid citrus, fresh-squeezed lime, lemon zest and it all balanced on a razor’s edge. Such incredible definition and freshness through the finish. Beautiful.

Note: Both the 2016 Rieslings are ready to rock out of the bottle now, but be cautious of how long you cellar white wines from hot vintages like 2016.

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2017 ($20, winery, 88 points) — A pure and friendly Chard with a nose of bright apple, citrus and creamy notes. It shows creamy pear, apple and citrus accents on the palate.

Tawse Redfoot Vineyard Pinot Gris 2017 ($28, winery, 88 points) — Redfoot Vineyard is in the Lincoln Lakeshore sup-appellation and this shows intense aromas of fleshy apple, white peach, tangerine and citrus. It’s soft-ish on the palate with a fruity range of orchard fruits and freshening acidity.

Redstone Redfoot Vineyard Viognier 2016 ($23, winery, 89 points) — This Vio gets 8 months of French oak aging and has ripe aromas of apple, stone fruits, melon and passion fruit. It has a sense of elegance on the palate with a range of exotic fruits, baked apple and oak spices.

Redstone Limestone Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($25, winery, 90 points) — This oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc has a rich and opulent nose of apple, pear, grapefruit and lemon with a spicy edge. The palate reveals more complex flavours of gooseberry, pineapples, melons and spice through a vibrant finish.

Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay 2014 ($22, Vintages, winery, 88 points) — This is a blend of estate and purchased fruit that’s barrel fermented with indigenous yeast and barrel aged for 12 months in 20% new oak. The nose shows ripe pear, apple, citrus accents and baking spices. It’s creamy and spicy on the palate with ripe orchard fruits and good acidity to keep it balanced through the finish.

The Tawse rosés 

Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Pinot Noir Rose 2017 ($28, winery, 91 points) — A single-vineyard rosé made from certified organic and biodynamic Pinot Noir. A gorgeously layered rosé with soft red berries and subtle herbs and citrus notes. It’s made in a super-dry style with rollicking red berries, dried herbs and mouth-watering acidity.

Tawse Sketches of Niagara Rosé 2017 ($18, LCBO, 88 points) — A more robust blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gamay and Cabernet Franc with a nose of rich red berries and ripe cherry/anise notes. It’s bolder on the palate with succulent red fruits and decent acidity to keep it fresh through the finish.

A Tawse bubbly

Cuddy By Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling NV ($25, Vintages, 89 points) — Made in the traditional method with 14 g/l of RS. Lovely understated aromas of pear, apple, biscuit, melon and lime. It has a vigorous bead in the glass and on the palate with lime, grapefruit and apple flavours in a fresh, approachable style.

A Tawse red

Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($36, Vintages this fall, 91 points) — There is an unmistakable meatiness and earthiness to all Quarry Road Pinots and this is no different. The fruit is aged for 16 months in French oak and the nose shows savoury red cherry, raspberry, loam, spice, nutmeg and mineral notes. It has grippy tannins on the palate and some weight, revealing darker fruits, dried cherries, savoury spice notes and a certain freshness on the finish. Cellar 5+ years and wait for this to all come together.

At Vintages Saturday

Wines In Niagara can confidently recommend three wines from the selection of Niagara wines being released this Saturday.

The Organized Crime Break-In Pinot Noir 2016 ($22, 90 points) — So, a hot vintage called for a gentle extraction and only 20% new oak for fermentation and aging. It has a bold nose of dark cherry, cassis and rich spice notes. It’s ripe and loaded with spicy cherry, raspberry, dry extract and fairly decent acidity to keep it vibrant on the finish.

Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2015 ($22, 90 points) — This wine is 100% barrel fermented with partial malo and then transferred to stainless steel, so no barrel aging, with 10 months on the lees. It has a pronounced mineral nose with notes of apple skin, pear and soft tropical fruits. It’s creamy with chalky minerality and texture that highlights the ripe orchard fruits. Nothing is lost with the lack of oak in this wine; it’s a pure expression of Niagara Chardonnay.

Malivoire Vivant Rosé 2017 ($20, 91 points) — The most important thing you need to know about Malivoire’s rosé program is this: They grow all the grapes that go into the top rosés specifically for rosé. It’s not an after-thought or a fad; Malivoire is as much about the rosé as it is about the Gamay, its two most treasured varietals. If the grapes for the rosé are not up to the quality they want for the rosés they want to make, they will de-classify the grapes to make something else. It’s that simple. The Vivant is a 100% expression of Pinot Noir from the Mottiar and Malivoire vineyards. “We’re looking for delicacy, layers and complexity but also balance,” says winemaker Shiraz Mottiar. “I want the acidity to carry that fruit.” It has a lovely pale pink colour and a nose of freshly crushed red berries, subtle earthiness and just a squirt of citrus. It’s bright, bone dry and expressive on the palate — delicate yes, but also complex with a range of pretty red fruits, pink grapefruit and minerality all carried by lively acidity through the finish.

Also released Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Sue-Ann Staff Fancy Farm Girl Foxy Pink 2017 ($1)
• 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2016 ($20)
• Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($30)
• Nomad Travellers Riesling 2017 ($17)
• Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2016 ($25)
• 13th Street Red Palette 2017 ($16)•
• Backyard Vineyards Nosey Neighbour Cabernet Franc 2015 ($15)
• Wildass Red 2014 ($20)