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Ontario Wine Wire: The all NEW Alvento winery, plus: Flat Rock wine reviews, Vintages Niagara highlights, a craftier wine council and get your Cuvée tickets

Ontario wine

By Rick VanSickle

Back in its day, Alvento was a wondrous Niagara winery pumping out meticulously crafted Left and Right Bank styled Bordeaux reds, a spectacular Viognier and a most curious local take on Nebbiolo.

As the hands-on partner, Bruno Moos shot for the moon with his wines while the other partner, Morrie Neiss, wanted a more fiscally responsible approach. The two would never see eye to eye and their winery finally wound up in court where a judge ruled that the 50-50 partners must sell the winery and vineyards and go their separate ways. It was over.

The sale of the winery, to Zhao Yan, ended a brief but colourful 10 great years in Niagara for Bruno and his wife Elyane Moos.

They were the visible 50% partners but put in less capital into the project. They took reduced salaries to make, market and run the retail store for less of a financial contribution in the partnership.

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The differences between the partners had everything to do with the portfolio: the Mooses wanted to build a quality, boutique brand (which they did), the other partner wanted some less expensive, more popular wines to round out the portfolio at the lower end (and bring in some steady revenue, which did not happen under Moos’ watch). Once the differences couldn’t be resolved, it went to court, a decision was rendered and the partners were ordered to sell the winery with the caveat that neither could buy out the other.

Once sold, the Mooses were asked by the new owner to stay on and help with the 2012 harvest and after that they moved on.

Former Alvento assistant winemaker Greg Yemen (currently winemaker at Organized Crime) was hired by Zhao Yan to be the winemaker and vineyard manager. Yemen said at the time, for the most part, the name and portfolio would remain the same while the label was being reworked as was the tasting room and a possible winery expansion. However, not much happened under Zhao Yan’s ownership and next to no wine was sold from time the Mooses were gone until just recently. It didn’t help that the estate vineyard was decimated by the cold winters of 2014-15.

The winery and vineyard were sold again, this time the 13.4-acre property and winery were purchased by the Zhang family of Toronto, who fell in love with the region five years ago. The family owned and operated a small peach farm in Jordan ever since and have been looking forward to the day their dream of a Niagara winery dream would come to life.

best niagara wineThat dream became reality last Friday when the doors to the new Alvento Winery were flung open to the first visitors in over six years. The retail and tasting room is spacious and elegantly appointed, a departure from previous ownership and there is noticeable enthusiasm from the new management team.

Winemaker Marc Pistor was hired to make the first new wines at Alvento since 2012 and will begin that task in the spring using mostly sourced grapes for the first wines.

In a brief conversation with Pistor last Friday, he told Wines In Niagara that the foundation of the portfolio will be “approachable” red and whites with two sparkling wines (traditionally made and charmat methods) plus some quirky wines such as an appassimento Gewurztraminer.

The retail store will remain open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until the end of October. There are a total of six historic wines up for grabs with three of them being Bruno Moos’ beloved Nebbiolo from 2007, 2008 and 2012 (this one made by Yemen). I believe the Nebbiolo grapes from 2009-2011 were sold off. Also for sale is a Merlot/Viognier blend from 2011, a Cab/Merlot blend from 2012 and a 100% Cabernet from 2012 (all of these made by Yemen).

Here’s a brief rundown of the back vintage wines for sale at the winery.

Alvento Aria Nebbiolo 2007 ($56) — This caused quite a stir and garnered rave reviews when originally released. It’s not a bad idea to grab at least a vertical of the Nebs just to taste how one of only two Nebbiolos in Niagara (the other is at Ridgepoint) ages. I don’t believe Alvento has Nebbiolo vines any longer, so this is it. The fruit has faded quite a bit leaving leather, incense, earth and savoury red fruits on the nose. The tannins, once a dominant part of this wine, are still alive but somewhat calmed down at this stage. Drink up.

Alvento Aria Nebbiolo 2008 ($55) — More earthy and leathery with savoury red fruits, wood spice and firm tannins. Drink up.

Alvento Aria Nebbiolo 2012 ($45) — A more interesting nose of plums, sandalwood, strawberry, leather and spice. The tannins are firm, adding structure to the palate to go with plums, red fruits, tar and herbs. Cellar 5+ years to tame those tannins and bring the fruit into harmony.

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Alvento Astra Merlot/Viognier 2011 ($26) — Now, why would someone blend Merlot with Viognier? When you look around the cellar after buying the winery and ask ‘what is this’ and ‘what is that’ it ends up in a blend that gets released by the new owner of the winery. You know what? Not bad. There is a floral element, I assume from the Vio, with black currants, red fruits, mineral notes and subtle spice.

Alvento Tempest Cabernet/Merlot 2012 ($30) — You won’t find many Niagara 2012s out there right now, so here’s your chance. This has a bold nose of red fruits, currants, forest floor and elegant oak spice. It has rich fruits on the palate, a touch of licorice, spice and plump tannins through a long finish. Can still age this 3+ years.

Alvento Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($36) — The biggest and darkest of the reds with a range of dark fruits, heavily spiced with earthy accents. It’s rich and flavourful on the palate with aggressive tannins that need taming in the cellar. If you have the patience, you will be rewarded.

New releases from Flat Rock Cellars

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2011 ($35, Nov. 24 Vintages, 93 points) — This is a traditionally made blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) sparkling wine that spends six years on the lees before disgorging. The bubble is energetic upon pouring but fades to a small vigorous bead in the centre on the glass. Notes of bright lemon, brioche, green apple, toasty vanilla and biscuit on the nose. Such freshness and energy on the palate with flavours of zesty citrus, creamy pear, brioche and apple all delivered on an elegantly textured frame with length and finesse on the finish. Beautiful bubbles.

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2016 ($20, Vintages Essential in Nov., 88 points) — A nose of pear, apple, underlying citrus and peach with a pinch of vanilla and spice. It’s creamy and rich on the palate with lovely orchard fruits, barrel oak spice and freshening acidity.

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016 ($18, Vintages Essential in Nov., 89 points) — Loaded with grapefruit, lime and waves of minerality on the nose. It’s juicy and racy on the palate with grapefruit, lime and apple flavours with a touch of honey and gorgeous minerality.

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2017 ($21, Vintages Essential, 90 points) — Expressive right out of the glass with bright red berries and well-integrated spice notes. On the palate, this Pinot shows interesting cherries, cranberries, anise and spice on a silky smooth frame.

Wine council changes identity

The Wine Council of Ontario, the provincial advocacy group for 100% Ontario VQA wines, launched a new brand identity and name last week.

The organization will now be known as the Ontario Craft Wineries (OCW). The name change and new logo reflects a modern and professional appearance, according to a news release, and emphasizes its representation of the independent local craft wine sector in Ontario.

“We are pleased to announce the rename and rebrand of the Wine Council of Ontario,” said Richard Linley, President of the Ontario Craft Wineries. “The new identity is important for our members and demonstrates their ongoing commitment to excellence, professionalism, and future growth. Aligning our association with the Ontario craft beverage sector also makes strategic sense and provides a united front on a public affairs level as well.”

“The new logo and name reflect the independently owned family-run businesses, including farmers, winemakers and businesspeople, that we represent to government and stakeholders,” said Len Pennachetti, Chair of the Ontario Craft Wineries. “This rebrand comes at the perfect time as the Ontario Craft Wineries start to work with the new government of Ontario to address the industry’s challenges and needs now, and in the future.”

Cuvée Grand Tasting to
celebrate Ontario VQA
wine for 31st year

The annual Cuvée grand tasting has been set for Saturday, March 23, 2019.

The event will be held at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls and is the largest celebration of VQA wine of its kind, featuring more than 100 wine selections from Ontario’s top winemakers.

Online tickets are now available and wine and food enthusiasts can take advantage of early-bird prices.

This marks the fifth year that Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) has taken the lead in organizing Cuvée, a weekend-long celebration of Ontario VQA wine and local cuisine from chefs from across the region.

“Not only does Cuvée showcase the finest VQA wines to consumers, it supports the growth of the grape and wine industry by funding valuable research and student scholarships,” says CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis, adding that more than $122,000 has been generated for the Cuvée Legacy Fund over the past four years.

Cuvée 2019 will see the return of the popular “Winemakers’ Favourite Wines” feature, along with gourmet food delicacies prepared by celebrated chefs at live cooking stations, and an Après Cuvée party with live music and selections from micro-breweries, cideries and VQA wineries.

Cuvée Manager Barb Tatarnic said the 2018 event drew a record crowd to the Grand Tasting event, with nearly 900 guests in attendance.

“It really is a unique experience because those aren’t just any wines, they are the selections of the winemakers themselves,” said Tatarnic. “We’re thrilled with Cuvée’s success and the positive feedback we’ve received from our guests.”

During the weekend-long event, the Cuvée en Route passport program allows ticket holders access to exclusive tasting flights at more than 30 Niagara wineries from March 22 to 24. Passports are included with the Grand Tasting or can also be purchased individually for $30.

For more information or to purchase tickets to the Cuvée Grand Tasting or en Route passports, visit

Niagara wines at Vintages stores Saturday

We have four recommendations for Niagara wines released at LCBO Vintages stores on Saturday.

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2017 ($25, 91 points) — This top-drawer single-vineyard Riesling from Flat Rock rarely disappoints. The 2017 version shows a racy vein of lime, grapefruit and lemon pith on the nose with the high-toned chalky minerality of the vineyard. The zippy acidity carries a range of citrus, green apple and mineral notes that remain crisp and vibrant through the finish. Can cellar 3+ years.

Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($22, 89 points) — From grapes you can see growing right off the back deck at the estate. Beautiful aromatics of fresh squeezed lemon and lime with subtle herbs and grass notes. It’s bright and vibrant on the palate with citrus goodness and underlying garden herbs through a clean finish. Fresh and pure Savvy.

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($30, 90 points) — The fruit from this wonderful blend of all three estate vineyards undergoes a unique oak/concrete regime that consists of 7% of the fruit aged in a concrete egg with the rest aged in French oak barrels, of which only 17% is new oak, for nine months. The heat of the 2016 vintage provides this voluptuous and ripe example of terroir-driven Chardonnay that is showing beautiful aromas of poached pear, nougat, baked apple and lemony/mineral accents. This is rich, textured and ripe on the palate with integrated stone fruits, lovely spice and toasted almond notes in a bold style that is ready to drink now.

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.

Other Niagara wines released Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Chateau des Charmes Vidal Icewine 2016 ($48 for 375 mL)
• Featherstone Joy Premium Cuvée Sparkling Rosé 2016 ($30)
• Vieni Momenti Sparkling Wine ($14)
• Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2017 ($30)
• Chateau des Charmes Paul Bosc Vineyard Estate Chardonnay 2015 ($28)
• Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling 2017 ($18)
• Redstone Chardonnay 2015 ($20)
• Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling 2016 ($19)
• Creekside Laura’s Red 2016 ($22)

Flagship stores only

• Charles Baker Ivan Vineyard Riesling 2017 ($29)