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First wine reviews of 2019: Two Sisters, Niagara wine highlights at Vintages, and bargains from Cali, France

In Niagara

By Rick VanSickle

One of the last tastings of the year for me was at the Two Sisters winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. There was quite a bit of buzz over winemaker Adam Pearce’s Stone Eagle series and I wanted to make sure I tasted them before the end of the year.

The tasting absolutely blew me away. We didn’t taste many wines that mid-December day but what we did taste showed me that this relatively new winery has come a long way quickly. The team at Two Sisters is serious about their wine and they have found a winemaker who has a knack for churning out show-stopping wines at all levels whether it’s estate fruit and careful sourcing from top terroirs.

Niagara wine

Pearce’s top wine, the Stone Eagle Special Selection 2013, ended up being Wines In Niagara’s red wine of the year and couple of other wines reviewed here could have easily been included on the list had I reviewed them in time. Some of the top wineries in Niagara are going to have to make a little room for Two Sisters in their exclusive club, because the wines are only going to get better as the young vines at the estate vineyard age and Pearce continues to perfect of his style.

Note: Also in this report is a roundup of Niagara wines being released at Vintages Saturday (there are only two), plus four new Niagara wines on the Essentials list at the LCBO and four well-priced wines from California and France that will help get you through the month of January as the bills start arriving in the mail.

Four stunners from Two Sisters

Two Sisters Blanc de Franc 2016 ($62, released in February, 93 points) — Another Niagara sparkling wine that’s going to help lift the reputation of Ontario as a powerhouse bubbly mecca. Winemaker Adam Pearce uses 100% estate Cabernet Franc, whole-cluster pressed and crafts this sparkler in the traditional method. It spends 15 months on the lees with zero dosage. Only a limited number of cases are being released in February, with more to follow as the rest of the juice sits on the lees for further aging. It shows a crystal clear colour in the glass with a vigorous, exciting mousse. It has a gorgeous nose of brioche, baked apple, creamy pear notes and zesty citrus that all jumps from the glass. It’s toasty and creamy on the palate with fresh and crisp orchard fruits in a perfectly dry style. Such finesse and energy with this sparkler, that will improve with age and gains some weight.

Ontario wine

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2017 ($55, winery now, 93 points) — Pearce sources some of the best fruit in Niagara when he strays from the estate’s own vineyards. His quest is to find the best grapes in Niagara with varietals that do best in their unique terroir. The Lenko Chard is now a regular in the lineup, and for good reason. In 1959 Daniel Lenko’s grandfather John and father William planted some of the first Chardonnay vines in Canada, the vineyard thrived in this unique microclimate and at 60 years of age, it’s the oldest Chardonnay planting in Canada. Pearce manages to get the fruit from 1959 block for the Two Sisters Chardonnay and it is simply gorgeous. The wine is aged in 100% French oak, 30% of it new, 70% in barrique and the rest in large oak puncheons. Such a wonderful nose of spicy pear, flinty minerality, deep and rich baked apple and hints of meyer lemon and citus zest. The palate shows apple, creamy pear and citrus that’s all lifted by electric acidity and a flinty/stony note that lingers for minutes on the finish. Such a clean and fresh Chardonnay that shows depth and impeccable balance. Can age 5+ years.

Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2014 ($55, 92 points) — The 2014 vintage suffered severe winterkill, which resulted in a short crop across the region and province for many varietals. At Two Sisters, for the Cabernet Franc, that resulted in a tiny tonne per acre of fruit. The fruit was whole berry fermented and transferred straight to 100% French oak barrels, 15% new, and left to age for 32 months. This is quite the achievement for a 2014 Cabernet Franc. The nose shows lovely black cherries, raspberries, wild herbs, cassis and seamless spice notes. The fruit turns darker on the palate with earth, spice, licorice and molten chocolate all delivered on a smooth finish with a perky lift from the natural acidity of the vintage.

Two Sisters Stone Eagle “Red Label” 2013 ($96, 93 points) — This is one step down from the winery’s top wine (if you can consider a $96 bottle of wine a step down), the Stone Eagle Special Selection 2013, which was just named Niagara’s Most Thrilling Red Wine of 2018. This red is Cabernet Sauvignon dominant with 40% a mix of Cabernet Franc and Merlot from estate vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake (the Special Selection is Cab Franc dominant). The wine is aged in 100% French oak, all new barrels, for 36 months and is further aged for two years in bottle before release. Only 2,000 bottles were made and there will be no wine at this level from the 2014 vintage. Just an incredible nose of ripe blackberries, cherries, brambly raspberries, dark plums, currants, tar, graphite and lavish barrel spice notes. It’s a stylized and textured wine on the palate that shows a broad the range of red and dark fruits, structured tannins and such elegant spice notes on a long and polished finish. Aging this wine for 10+ years is not out of the question. A beauty.

Niagara wines at Vintages Jan. 5

Only two, count ’em, TWO, Niagara wines are being released at the Jan. 5 release of new wines at Vintages stores.

We have a review of one of them, plus four new Essential Niagara wines reviewed and four international wines (three California, one French) that represent value as we tighten our belts and brace for our Christmas bills to arrive.

The Foreign Affair Enchanted 2017 ($18, 88 points) — The Sauvignon Blanc juice was re-passed over the appassimento skins and lees (ripasso style) for added complexity. The nose rocks with expressive gooseberry, jasmine, grapefruit, honeysuckle and citrus. It’s rich and flavourful on the palate with a range of gooseberry, lemon and grapefruit with underlying floral notes on a crisp, vibrant finish.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Vieni Red Trillium Ripasso 2013 ($17)

New Niagara Essential Listings for 2019

Four new Niagara wines have earned the right to appear on LCBO shelves as “Essential” wines. That essentially means they are staples at Vintages stores and Vintages kiosks at LCBO stores and go from vintage to vintage without resubmitting the wines for review. We have reviews of all four Niagara wines hitting the Essentials shelves beginning this month.

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016 ($18, 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 Chardonnay 2016 ($20, 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.

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2016 ($20, 92 points) — St. Urban is one of the most important Riesling vineyards in Ontario. It has history, a proven track record, distinct terroir from block to block and produces top-notch Riesling each and every year at various levels. Elevation is one tier down from the Reserve, but, for me, this defines the wines from Vineland Estate and the winemaker, Brian Schmidt. It’s such a beautiful vineyard both esthetically and for its rich vein of limestone that forms the foundation of the wine’s personality no matter the vintage. The nose shows bright, vibrant lime zest and citrus, apple skin, summer peach and stony minerality. Just wow on the palate, an initial blast of lemon-lime then honey crisp apple and peach, then waves of wet stone that is all perfectly balanced by racy acidity that runs through the core. Delicious now, but worth laying down a few bottles to see how it matures.

Southbrook Triomphe Organic Chardonnay 2016 ($25, 91 points) — The enticing nose shows Bosc pear, bin apples, toasted vanilla and spice. The pear and apple notes are creamy on the palate with layers of elegant spice and hints of citrus on the finish to keep everything in balance.

Three wines from California,
one from France at LCBO stores

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2016 ($22, Vintages on Saturday, 89 points) — This Lodi sourced Zin from the Ravenswood County Series bursts with blackberries, brambly raspberries, plums, anise, spice and cocoa notes. It’s a joyous and mouth-filling red with ripe red and dark berries, toasted vanilla bean, spice, smooth tannins and plenty of acidity to carry all the fruit and keep it balanced. Tasty Zin.

Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay 2016 ($20, Vintages on Saturday, 90 points) — The grapes are sourced from coastal regions of California, and the profile holds true to that. It has an inviting nose of pear, baked apple, toasted oak and integrated tropical fruits and citrus accents. It has lovely texture on the palate and is loaded with pear/apple notes, a pinch of citrus and then the oak spices chime in on the back end. Textbook Cali Chard but a firm acid backbone keeps it perky on the finish.

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2017 (90 points, Vintages now, $23) — Robert Mondavi essentially created this style of Sauvignon Blanc (with a pinch of Semillon) in Napa Valley that sees 90% of the fruit barrel fermented and aged giving it a spicy/smoky edge. The fruit is sourced from two Napa vineyards — Wappo Hill and the famed To Kalon vineyard that backs onto the estate in Napa. You won’t find a better example of this style anywhere. The nose shows aromas of gooseberry, grapefruit, citrus zest, herbs and light spice and smoky notes. The fruits range from gooseberry, grapefruit and tangerine with lovely spices that all lead to a clean and crisp finish. Perfectly balanced and can be cellared two or three years. Fantastic value for a wine with this kind of pedigree.

Mouton Cadet Red 2016 ($16, LCBO now, 88 points) — Mouton Cadet is a blend of Bordeaux AOC and Cotes de Bordeaux AOC and made in an easy to drink style at an affordable price. It’s a Merlot dominant Bordeaux blend with lovely brambly raspberry and cherry with crushed blackberries and toasted spice notes. It shows a range of rich red/dark fruits, nicely integrated spices all delivered on a silky smooth frame. Another wine that offers terrific value.