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50 Ontario wineries, 900 revellers, make for a glorious night of wine and food at Cuvée 2019, plus our Top 10 favourites of the night

By Rick VanSickle

A record crowd jammed the Scotiabank Centre in Niagara Falls Saturday to taste Ontario winemakers’ favourite wines from nearly 50 wineries, eat delicious food and dance the night away at the 31st annual Cuvée Grand Tasting.

Nearly 900 people came together to celebrate excellence in the Ontario wine industry, an event organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

Note: Also included in this post is our Top 10 most exciting wines and a list of all the wines poured in case you are curious about what wines each winery brought with them

Note 2: Mike Lowe’s report on the food of Cuvée is posted here

“This is the largest event of its kind and the strong turnout of guests year after year truly showcases the importance of our grape and wine industry and the strong level of support it garners from our community,” said Cuvée manager Barb Tatarnic.

The Grand Tasting also honours some of the talented people who work in the $4.4-billion Ontario grape and wine industry.

Ontario wine
Tony Aspler presents Doug Whitty, of 13th Street Winery, the Tony Aspler Cuvée Award for Excellence Saturday, March 23 in Niagara Falls. Photo courtesy of Brock

The Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence, presented to the individual or institution that best furthers the aims and aspirations of Ontario’s wine industry, was awarded to Doug Whitty and 13th Street Winery. Whitty is a third-generation Niagara grape grower and was the 2017 Grape King. As he called Whitty to the stage to receive the award, Aspler credited him and 13th Street Winery with “enhancing the winery experience with art and sculpture and, of course, butter tarts.”

Whitty called Aspler a “pioneer in this industry. He was there right from the beginning supporting us,” he said. “It is really a great honour for me to win this award, I am very humbled and thankful.”

The Winemaker of Excellence Award winner was Bruce Nicholson from Inniskillin, who was selected for his contributions to the industry, his commitment to excellence and his mentorship to winemakers across Canada.

This year’s Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award went to Martin Schuele, a grape grower in Beamsville. Sponsored by BASF Canada Inc., the award recognizes a grape grower who promotes excellence in vineyard practices.

Schuele and his family, who grow for Arterra Wines Canada, have about 120 acres of vineyards and it’s been a family-owned operation since they arrived from Germany in the early 1980s.

“Schuele vineyards have long been associated with vineyard excellence,” said CCOVI Senior Scientist Jim Willwerth. “Martin’s Chardonnay block was pristine with high quality fruit even in the tough 2018 vintage.”

Note: The Cuvée Scholarship winners are listed toward the bottom of the post.


I have been attending Cuvée for at least a decade and have seen the ups and downs of the gala event through the various iterations. In the early years, the gala was a showcase for a winemaker-judged competition and included an awards show prior to the grand tasting with winners showcased at the gala.

When that was abandoned, the gala night lost its way a bit, and the original organizers struggled to make it meaningful and exciting for guests.

I now enjoy this format that’s run and organized by Brock. Winemakers and chefs have embraced it, bringing the wines they feel best represent their style and chef-inspired culinary delights that are well thought out, delicious and pair so well with the wines (Wines In Niagara food writer Mike Lowe will have more on the food in upcoming post).

Everything clicked at this Cuvée and I can’t remember a better night for this classy gala. The winemakers thoroughly bought into the concept of bringing their two best wines with most winemakers in attendance to discuss why they made their choices.

In the spirit of the evening, here are my choices for the Top 10 (really 13, but who’s counting) wines that whet my appetite.

10 wines poured at Cuvée 2019
that got our full attention

(It’s like speed dating for wine. Wine media has exactly one and half hours to taste before the doors swing open to a full crush of Cuveé revellers join the fray. Needless to say, it’s a mad scramble after that and many wines get lost in the chaos. I tried to stick to wines I have not tasted before and now know from the list of wines poured — see bottom of post for full list of wines — I missed plenty of wineries that I should have visited. More often than not, I found myself deep in conversation while I should have been tasting. It is what it is, so please, view this list as merely a snapshot of some of the most delicious wines that I was able to get to from a sea of great Ontario wines.)

Adamo Estate Winery Legacy Viognier Roussanne 2017 ($21, Hockley Valley)

Why I liked it : The blend is 82% Viognier and the rest Roussanne, and it kicked ass at Cuveé. In many ways the star of the show for white wines. Winemaker Shauna White sources the fruit from the Bock Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench in Niagara and the result is this delicious Rhone style blend that’s loaded with apricot, peach, cream and spice with lovely texture. Great packaging and price, too! I have to say, White’s Adamo Edgerock Vineyard (Niagara) Petit Verdot 2015 was incredibly tasty as well, and definitely should be on this list.

Trius Winery Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling 2017 ($30, Niagara)

Why I liked it: This single vineyard Riesling can’t help but be among the best Rieslings made in Niagara each and every vintage and the 2017 version lives up to the reputation. Look for lime, grapefruit, minerals and a lively, fresh finish with aging potential of 5+ years. Super juicy and complex Riesling.

Icellars Estate Winery Chardonnay 2017 ($40, Niagara)

Why I liked it: I vow to visit this Niagara-on-the-Lake winery very soon after tasting this Chardonnay. It’s a full-on Chard with broad and creamy flavours on the palate, ripe orchard fruits, elegant spice and still enough finesse on the finish to keep it interesting through the finish. Old school Chard that’s big on flavour.

Chateau des Charmes NV Brut Sparkling, Methode Traditionnelle ($26, Niagara)

Why I liked it: A nicely perfumed and vigorous non-vintage sparkling wine that’s loaded with apple and citrus flavours and a nice hint of sweetness on the finish from an 8.5 g/l dosage. Looking for an every day bubble? This could be your new go-to sparkler.

Konzelmann Estate Winery 30th Anniversary Small Batch Riesling 2017 ($30, Niagara)

Why I liked it: A lovely textbook Riesling from this pioneer winery on the shores of Lake Ontario in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Loaded with refreshing lime, grapefruit and green apple notes with a zesty, vibrant finish. Everything perfectly balanced.

London Born Wine Company Sparkling Rosé 2017 ($25, Niagara)

Why I liked it: This 100% Gamay made in the charmat method is loaded with red berries and bramble notes to go with a vigorous mousse and clean, fresh finish. Tasty bubbles from start to finish.

Kacaba Vineyards Signature Series Reserve Syrah 2016 ($50, Niagara)

Why I liked it: Kacaba makes some of Niagara’s best Syrahs and when you combine it with the warm 2016, well, wow! This reserve is co-fermented with 6% Viognier and sees 10 months of new French oak aging and another four months in neutral oak. It’s peppery, smoky, meaty and loaded with currants and cassis and attractive oak spices. It’s a big Syrah and worthy of your cellar. Beautiful.

Karlo Estates Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2017 ($65, Prince Edward County)

Why I liked it: Winemaker Derek Barnett is quite proud of this quintessential PEC Pinot from the 2017 vintage. The wine is aged for 15 months in older French oak barrels and shows lovely darker berries, subtle cherries and raspberries with bramble and elegant spice and, of course, that gorgeous minerality so prevalent in the County. Just a lovely Pinot and one of the stars of Cuveé.

Megalomaniac Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($60, Niagara)

Why I liked it: Seeing a trend with the 2016 reds from Ontario? It’s such a kind vintage to the Bordeaux-style reds and a treat to see varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon at its very best, as it is here in this Mega bottling. It spends 18 months in French oak (30% new) and the result is this ripe red loaded with blackberries, black currants, ripe tannins, structure and length through the finish. It can easily age well for 10+ years.

Lundy Manor Wine Cellars Cabernet Franc 2016 ($28, Niagara)

Why I liked it: Another new(ish) Niagara winery that I have not visited yet but certainly will soon. This Cab Franc is delicious. Aged for 18 months in French oak (60% new oak), it has an attractive nose of brambly raspberry, violets, subtle herbs, black cherries and lovely spice notes. It’s smooth and complex on the palate and is worthy of your cellar 5+ years. Well done.

Honourable mentions

(These wines also got our full attention but we forgot to take photos of them. Blame the excitement of the evening, not the photographer, please.)

Southbrook Organic Vineyards Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2017 ($35, Niagara)

Why I liked it: Such a classy Chardonnay with freshness and finesse to best showcase the apple, pear and citrus notes. It’s about texture here, and the subtle use of oak that keeps it all in balance.

Jackson-Triggs White Meritage 2017 ($26, Niagara)

Why I liked it: The blend is 80% Sauvignon Blanc and the rest Semillon. Underlying grassy/herbal notes serve as accents for this rich and flavourful white blend with melon, grapefruit and spicy pear notes.

Burning Kiln Winery Sparks Sparkling Rosé Pinot Noir 2017 ($27, Norfolk County)

Why I liked it: Winemaker Lydia Tomec is doing a terrific job at this Norfolk County winery. Her 100% Pinot Noir charmat method rosé is a fresh, lively and juicy sparkling wine with a bevy of red berries and pop on the finish. Simply delicious.

Brock scholarship winners

Cuvée also celebrates the next generation of winemakers and grape growers by providing scholarships to Brock University Oenology and Viticulture undergraduate and graduate students through the Cuvée Legacy Fund.

The Cuvée Scholarship winners are:

• Cuvée Hosting Award for Academic Excellence: Marnie Crombleholme
• Cuvée Award for Academic Excellence: Jessica Oppenlaender
• Cuvée Award for Academic Excellence in OEVC: Jeffrey Moote
• Cuvée Graduate Scholarship: Jennifer Kelly

“We are so pleased to provide these scholarship opportunities and industry recognition for the very deserving students of Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture programs,” said CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis. “The Cuvée Grand Tasting is a full-circle celebration of excellence in our industry, honouring the best and brightest in the business today, and looking forward to those who will shape the industry in the future.”

Full list of wines poured
at Cuvée Grand Tasting

13th Street Winery

  • 2016 Blanc de Blanc
  • 2017 Whitty Vineyard Gamay

Adamo Estate Winery  

  • 2017 Legacy Viognier Roussanne
  • 2015 Edgerock Vineyard Petit Verdot

Alvento Winery

  • 2012 Aria
  • 2018 Pinot Noir Rose

Atlantis Niagara Wines

  • 2010 Red Ice Cabernet Franc Icewine
  • 2014 Vidal Icewine

Big Head Wines    

  • 2017 Syrah “RAW”
  • 2017 Chenin Blanc “RAW”

Burning Kiln Winery      

  • 2017 Sparks Sparkling Rosé Pinot Noir
  • 2016 Inferno Petit Verdot (Kiln Dried/Appassimento)

Cave Spring Cellars     

  • 2016 Riesling CSV
  • NV Blanc de Blancs

Chateau des Charmes 

  • 2016 Pinot Noir, Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard
  • NV Brut Sparkling, Methode Traditionnelle

Colaneri Estate Winery      

  • 2017 “Unita” Cabernet Franc
  • 2016 “Cavallone” Pinot Grigio

Colio Estate Wines      

  • NV Lily Sparkling
  • 2017 Bricklayer’s Reward 20 Barrels Chardonnay

Creekside Estate Winery   

  • 2016 Creekside Broken Press
  • 2017 Creekside Iconoclast Sauvignon/Semillon

Domaine Queylus  

  • 2016 Cabernet Franc Tradition
  • 2016 Pinot Noir Tradition

Fielding Estate Winery

  • 2016 Rock Pile Chardonnay
  • 2016 Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc

Flat Rock Cellars   

  • 2015 Gravity Pinot Noir
  • 2017 Chardonnay

Fogolar Wines

  • 2016 Fogolar Cabernet Franc Picone Vineyard
  • 2018 Fogolar Riesling Hughes Vineyard

Foreign Affair Winery    

  • 2016 Syrah
  • 2017 Viognier

Harbour Estates Winery     

  • 2015 Cabernet
  • 2015 Cabernet Franc Icewine

Harwood Estate Winery     

  • 2016 County Red
  • 2017 Gewürztraminer

Henry of Pelham Family Estate      

  • 2013 Cuvée Catharine Estate Blanc de Blanc ‘Carte Blanche’
  • 2017 Baco Noir Speck Family Reserve

ICELLARS Estate Winery  

  • 2016 Arinna
  • 2017 Chardonnay

Inniskillin Niagara Estate    

  • 2017 Inniskillin Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine
  • 2016 Inniskillin Discovery Series Merlot Petit Verdot

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate 

  • 2017 Grand Reserve White Meritage
  • 2016 Grand Reserve Merlot

Kacaba Vineyards and Winery

  • 2017 Fume Blanc
  • 2016 Signature Series Reserve Syrah

Karlo Estates  

  • 2017 Estate Grown Chardonnay
  • 2017 Estate Grown Pinot Noir

Konzelmann Estate Winery      

  • 2017 30th Anniversary Small Batch Riesling
  • 2016 Meritage Reserve

London Born Wine Company   

  • 2016 Cabernet Franc
  • 2017 Sparkling Rosé

Lundy Manor Wine Cellars

  • 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc

Malivoire Wine Company   

  • 2018 Vivant Rosé
  • NV Che Bello

Marynissen Estates Winery     

  • 2014 Platinum Chardonnay
  • 2015 Platinum Cabernet Sauvignon


  • 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2017 My Way Chardonnay

Niagara College Teaching Winery  

  • 2017 Les Marmitons Gastronomy Chardonnay
  • 2017 Balance Syrah

Palatine Hills Estate Winery     

  • 2017 Pinot Grigio
  • 2017 Reserve Merlot

Peller Estates  

  • 2017 Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc
  • NV Andrew Peller Signature Series Ice Cuvée Rosé

Pillitteri Estates Winery      

  • 2017 Gewurztraminer Riesling Fusion
  • 2015 Cabernet Franc

PondView Estate Winery   

  • 2015 PondView Bella Terra Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2017 PondView Lot 74 Sparkling Brut

Queenston Mile Vineyard  

  • 2015 Queenston Mile Blanc de Noirs
  • 2017 Queenston Mile Pinot Noir

Redstone Winery  

  • 2014 Chardonnay – Limestone Vineyard
  • 2015 Syrah

Reif Winery

  • 2017 Riesling Reserve
  • 2015 Meritage

Riverview Cellars Estate Winery    

  • 2015 Salvatore’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2016 Bianco Riesling Gewurztraminer

Rockway Vineyards     

  • NV Brut Cuvee
  • 2017 Fergie Riesling

Southbrook Organic Vineyards

  • 2017 Wild Ferment Chardonnay
  • 2016 Estate Petit Verdot

Sue-Ann Staff  

  • 2016 Mabel’s V.C.R.
  • 2016 The Chestnut Tree Cabernet Franc

Tawse Winery 

  • 2015 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay
  • 2013 David’s Block Merlot

The Hare Wine Co.      

  • 2013 Noble Appassimento Cabernet Franc
  • 2016 Frontier Riesling

The Lakeview Wine Co.     

  • 2016 Lakeview Cellars Malbec
  • 2017 Lakeview Cellars Viognier

Thirty Bench Wine Makers 

  • NV Thirty Bench Sparkling Riesling
  • 2016 Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir

Trius Winery    

  • 2017 Trius Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling
  • 2017 Trius Syrah

Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery

  • 2016 Wayne Gretzky Estate Series Shiraz Cabernet
  • 2016 Wayne Gretzky Estate Series White