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A new winemaker for Calamus, plus Part II of a stacked Vintages release for Niagara wines

Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

This is a busy time of the year for 2027 Cellars winemaker Kevin Panagapka — and it just got a whole lot busier.

In the midst of harvest across his label’s Chardonnay/Pinot Noir/Riesling dominant portfolio, Panagapka (top photo taken at Calamus)  has confirmed to Wines In Niagara he has taken on the role of winemaker for the newly purchased Calamus Estate Winery.

The new owners, Peter and Rosalee Van-Helsdingen, took over the winery on Sept. 5 and have moved quickly to make key renovations to enhance the property’s appeal and make the winery a destination for consumers.

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Along with finishing the new barrel cellar and enlisting Panagapka to make the wines, the Van-Helsdingens, owners of Feastivities Events and Catering, have added two beautiful event spaces to the winery and will be launching a new label (one for white wines, the other for the reds, rendition above) that will be consistent through the entire portfolio.

Panagapka said in an interview on the weekend that the winery is bottling the new 2017 Calamus Red and White wines this week, the first wines with the new label. The portfolio will focus on what is grown at the estate — Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and the signature Meritage that has been made in the past.

“I just want to go and do it,” Panagapka said. “We’re going for it.”

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He explained that the Van-Helsdingens have brought a “reinvigorating” spirit to Calamus with an emphasis on continuing to make top-quality wine and increasing traffic through the doors at the Jordan Station winery.

Panagapka has no plans to ease up on his own brand, 2027 Cellars. Two of his wines, which are only available at LCBO stores and restaurants, are being released Saturday in Part II of a fairly large contingent of top Niagara wines at Vintages.

Also released and reviewed are two of Thomas Bachelder’s wines (plus two others that hit the October Classics Collection), Malivoire’s top Gamay, plus a nice rosé from Wildass, a juicy Riesling from Flat Rock, and a sparkling wine from Malivoire that was in the previous release but not reviewed until now.

Here’s what we can recommend from the stellar Niagara wine release this Saturday:

The Rieslings

2027 Cellars Falls Vineyard Riesling 2016 ($19), 89 points) — A personable nose of apple skin, lime, grapefruit, minerals and a note of jasmine. A dry impression on the palate (but contains 18 g/l of residual sugar) with fresh, vibrant citrus, quince, zesty lime and a quirky (in a good way) ginger/jasmine thing going on.

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016 ($18, 89 points) — A nose of gushing lime, grapefruit and minerals in a fresh, vibrant style. There’s classic Niagara tension on the palate between sweet and tart fruit but ultimately feels dry and fresh with waves of citrus and limestone minerality.

The Chardonnays

Bachelder Saunders-Haut Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($45, just reviewed last week on Wines In Niagara, 93 points) — The Saunders-Haut vineyard is pure Beamsville Bench terroir with vines just below Thirty Bench winery on Mountainview Road. This is a beautifully nuanced, heavily mineralized Chardonnay with waves of pear, citrus, honeysuckle, integrated oak spice notes and wonderful defining slate and chalk accents. Such tangible minerality on the palate, turning to flint and chalk and integrated with the pear/apple/citrus fruit that is all kept fresh by the racy and mouth-watering acidity.

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block Chardonnay 2016 ($23, 92 points) — Winemaker/proprietor Panagapka’s No. 1 pursuit is how to best “showcase the terroir. I’m trying to dial in how much new oak to use,” he explains. “I’m concentrating on texture. I want the fruit and oak to mingle.” Only 10% of the oak aging is conducted in new barrels for this Chard due to the warm vintage. It has a highly expressive nose of green apple, mineral, pear, subtle oak and a touch of citrus. It has lovely texture on the palate, beautiful balance and poise, with bright orchard fruits, lemon chiffon, seamless spice, swirling minerals and a clean vibrant finish. Fabulous wine.

The Gamay

Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2016 ($30, 93) — Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar and the team at Malivoire have made it their business to be the very best in Niagara with Gamay and this is their top expression. There is no question about the pedigree of this wine from year to year. The 2013 vintage of the Courtney was named Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling Red Wine of 2016, and by the time the original review was even published it was sold out. “Gamay is our story,” says Mottiar. “You can see us in these wines, our personalities are in these wines. It’s a wine I adore to make and it’s a wine people are really getting.” Up to 30% of the fruit is whole bunch pressed with 20% aged in ceramic. From the extremely warm 2016 vintage, this is the most concentrated version of the Courtney I have tasted with expressive, penetrating and uber-ripe aromas of black cherry, red plum, rhubarb, raspberry bramble, red currants, earth and spice notes. Such a magical wine on the palate — it has depth, complexity, a full range of rich red and dark fruits and integrated spice notes with plush tannins and enough acidity to keep it fresh through a long, long finish. Can age this for 2+ years.

The Pinot

Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Old Vines Pinot Noir 2015 ($45, also reviewed on Wines In Niagara last week, 93 points) — Always a beautiful wine from the sublime terroir of the Lowrey family farm on the St. David’s Bench. A nose that sings with heavenly scented perfume, forest floor, dark cherries, cassis, wild raspberries, toasted vanilla spice and complex mineral notes. It has such depth and structure on the palate to go with heady, persistent red berries, wet loam, fine tight-grained tannins, integrated spice notes and length for miles and miles. This has the potential to improve in bottle for 7+ years. She’s a beauty.

The rosé

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 on 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.

The sparkler

13th Street Premier Cuvée 2012 ($35, released two weeks ago, 92 points) — A 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that is made traditionally but has zero dosage (no sugar added) and no oak treatment. This is how winemaker JP Colas likes to build his sparkling wines — completely naked and unmasked so you get to taste the grapes and the vineyard, not the oak and sugar. The nose shows bright citrus, a floral note, minerals and subtle brioche and cream from sitting on the lees for 4+ years. It’s razor sharp and taut on the palate with tight, persistent bubbles and electric acidity driving the citrus, green apple, minerals and creamy/toasty notes through a long, long finish.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Burnt Ship Bay Vidal Icewine 2015 ($23 for 200 mL)
• Pondview Gold Series Vidal Icewine 2015 ($20 for 200 mL)
• Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2016 ($22)

October Vintages Classics Collection

(Note: only available online here)

Bachelder Wismer-Parke Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($45, 93 points) — This is the second vintage of Wismer-Parke, from a vineyard south of Highway 8 and on the eastside of Victoria on the Twenty Mile Bench. If you ask Thomas Bachelder, he would argue that this vineyard is as close as it gets to “grand cru” in the region. This version is pretty and delicate on the nose with aromas of cherries, crunchy raspberries, violets and perfume that leads to iron/slate minerality with soft oak spice notes. It’s focused on the palate with lovely tart cherry, bramble and savoury raspberry fruit and spice all delivered on a velvety smooth bed of tannins through a long finish. Good potential for the cellar.

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard #1 Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2015 ($45, 94 points) — The 2013 vintage of this Chardonnay from the Wingfield Block in the giant-sized Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench was Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling White Wine of 2017 (the Bachelder 2014 Lowrey Pinot Noir shared the top Red Wine of Year with the four other Pinots made from Lowrey fruit in that vintage, as well). So, there’s something about this wine that consistently rises to the top in my notes. It is subtle to begin, with flinty, saline minerality starting the attack on the nose. The apple and pear begin to emerge with citrus in behind. It is tight and fresh with fine oak spice that slowly emerges. It is such a pretty wine, a seductive wine on the palate with soft orchard fruits, a touch of acacia honey, fresh lemon, layers of flint, pebbly/river rock minerality and such beautifully integrated oak spice that never gets in the way of the fruit. It is layered and textured and dances delicately on the tongue and leads to a long, long finish. Simply gorgeous wine once again.

Also in the Classics Collection from Niagara, but not reviewed:

• Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeleine Cabernet Franc 2014 ($48)