By Rick VanSickle
There is a certain vibe here at Niagara’s newest winery, oh, yes there is. It’s the ambiance, the functional elegance of the tasting/retail room and the wines — an eclectic portfolio of core varietals and some off-the-beaten-track gems in the mix.
It’s an attitude you know you’ve experienced before. Think Creekside Estate Winery.
Queenston Mile Vineyard, one of Niagara’s newest wineries, resides at the opposite end of the region from Creekside but shares the same “attitude,” the same owners and the same winemakers.
“Mile has a version of the Creekside vibe, but with estate Pinot (Noir) and Chard — and a quite different view,” explains head winemaker Rob Power, top photo.
Make no doubt about it, “Mile is not Creekside — (it’s a) different varietal focus, much smaller and (with) more premium production,” he says.
“We want it to be like Creekside in terms of attitude — a relaxed environment that will cater to all customers whether they are into a serious tasting or just want a glass of wine in the sun.”
Walking into the cavernous tasting room, with its “industrial chic” look and functional furniture (think tasting tables that double as wine storage cages for upcoming vintages), the main tasting room is anchored at one end of the space while comfortable tasting areas are strategically staged throughout the facility where you can enjoy a glass of wine while overlooking the estate’s famed Queenston Road Vineyard on St. David’s Bench.
A full, modern kitchen has been built and plans are to have food to accompany wines during the warmer months outside on the large vineyard-side covered porch.
It’s the perfect complement for Jordan’s Creekside winery — both entities are owned by Equity Wine Group, which bought the winery from founder Laura McCain in 2012 — known for its irreverent collection of wines focused on Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc and a winemaking team (Power and assistant winemaker Yvonne Irvine) that refuses to be pigeonholed, with on-going wine experiments that test the boundaries of what Niagara “should” be.
Every vintage of Creekside houses a throng of experimental wine batches and blends as an ongoing push towards discovering something new and exciting to go into bottle. The winery’s mantra is: Make great wine, and never stop experimenting.
While some of that irreverence will certainly seep into a lot of what the Mile is hoping to achieve, the focus is firmly on the grapes right outside the window — Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
“It’s a different varietal focus,” says Power, “and a much smaller and more premium production.”
I sat down and tasted with Power and Britnie Bazylewski, sommelier and hospitality manager, to taste some of the first wines under the Queenston Mile label and also a few wines coming soon from Creekside winery.
Here’s what I can recommend from the tasting:
Queenston Mile Vineyard Mile High 2017 ($30, 90 points) — A friendly and delicious charmat method sparkling wine from a blend of Chardonnay and Muscat. It’s highly aromatic with notes of peach, citrus and golden apple slices, all fresh and popping with a vigorous mousse. It has some sweetness (12 g/l) but feels fresh and vibrant on the palate with a nice mélange of peach, apple and citrus fruit. Just add sun and a back porch.
Queenston Mile Vineyard Blanc de Noirs 2015 ($50, 92 points) — A 100% Pinot Noir sparkler that was whole bunch pressed from estate fruit and left on the lees for 26 months before disgorging. Very low dosage. Pretty cranberry colour in the glass with a nose of red berries, brioche, vanilla toast and citrus accents. A fairly energetic mousse is followed by tangy citrus, subtle raspberries, cherries and cranberries with biscuit and toasty notes through a long, vibrant finish. Quite lovely.
Queenston Mile Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 ($35, 91 points) – A warm 2016 vintage and 12 months in French oak barrels, half of which were new, led to this overt and expressive Chardonnay from the estate vineyard. The nose shows rich aromas of poached pear, baked apple, toffee, buttered toast, cream and vanilla oak spices. It’s a full-on Chard in the mouth, a lush, creamy and spicy mix of apple, pear and citrus accents that is altogether juicy, round and textured with medium+ acidity on the finish.
Queenston Mile Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 ($30, 88 points) — 100% Pinot Noir from the estate’s St. David’s Bench vineyard. The pretty nose is all about the fresh red berries, cran-cherry and herbs. It’s delicious on the palate and redolent in fresh-crushed red fruits, herbs, freshness through the finish and just a kiss of sweetness.
Queenston Mile Vineyard Pét-Nat Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 ($40, 92 points) — A true pét-nat made from 100% Pinot Noir that was hand-bottled during wild fermentation and underwent secondary fermentation in the bottle. The wine was left unfiltered on lees for extended aging in the bottle. Nothing added, nothing taken away. It looks like a beautiful, thick borscht in the glass, a cloudy mass of pinkish-watermelon that explodes with aromas of strawberry shortcake, cream, cherries and an underlying reductive note that is intriguing and non-intrusive. It’s wonderfully tasty on the palate with a frothy mousse and flavours ranging from mature red fruits to strawberry pie with a vibrant, electric core that keeps this jumping through the finish. Among the best pét-nats I’ve tasted from Niagara to date. Go get it! The winery suggests standing the bottle upright in the fridge to allow the lees to settle before pouring it.
Queenston Mile Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($40, 92 points) — This completes the parade of Pinot-based wines at Queenston Mile. As Power tells me: “We’re trying to create a little Pinot playground here.” I would say, mission accomplished! From the warm 2016 vintage, this Pinot was barrel aged for 16 months in neutral French oak barrels after being left of the skins to cold-soak for four days in stainless steel. The nose shows perfumed red fruits, brambly raspberries, leather, spice and underbrush. It’s highly structured on the palate with ripe tannins, a range of red fruits, spice and savory notes that shows depth and complexity through a long, finessed finish. A classic “velvet fist” Pinot that will show rewards for many years down the road if cellared properly. I also got a sneak peek at the 2017 vintage that’s expected to be released this summer. It’s earthier and meatier on the nose with deep red fruits, beetroot, cassis and spice. The tannins are silky on the palate with more red fruits, forest floor, savory spices and all propped up by racy acidity through a long finish.
Creekside Iconoclast Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2017 ($23, re-reviewed, 90 points) — This third iteration of the blend is a mix of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and the rest Semillon. It’s the first time SB has dominated the blend, which is barrel fermented and barrel aged for 10 months in French oak. I love the nose of gooseberry, honeysuckle, white flowers, grapefruit, subtle underlying spice and herbs. It has a soft texture on the palate with gorgeous flavours of pear, grapefruit, gooseberry, guava, beeswax, integrated herbs and spice accents with just enough zest on the finish to keep it lively and vibrant.
Creekside Laura’s Red 2016 ($22, 90 points) — This classic from Creekside, into its 20th vintage, uses the typical Bordeaux varietals and adds Syrah to the mix. With the hot 2016 vintage, Power uses a bit more Merlot and Syrah to keep the tannins in check and smooth out the rough edges. It’s a beauty and quite a bargain at $22. Look for dark cherries, brambly raspberries, currants, cedar, savoury notes and barrel spices. This is nicely structured on the palate and built to improve in your cellar with firm tannins and enough red and dark fruits to keep it humming for five+ years. A bloody good wine from an outstanding vintage at a great price.
The Creekside Syrahs
Creekside Iconoclast Syrah 2016 ($25, 91 points) — All the Syrah for the next three wines comes from the estate Queenston Road Vineyard. Classic Niagara Syrah with a nose of meaty/savoury/earthy notes followed by ripe plums, black currants, cassis and a range of barrel spices and savoury accents. It has evident tannic structure and the stuffing to cellar, but still some immediate pleasure with ripe darks fruits, peppery notes and a range of toasted oak spices through a long finish.
Creekside Unbroken Press Syrah Reserve 2016 ($55, late summer release, 93 points) — In so many ways, Syrah defines Creekside and the Broken Press wines are among some of the most highly sought after wines in the region. In a vintage such as 2016, expect amazing things from these two wines. What does “Unbroken” mean? Here’s the explanation from Creekside:
“While Broken Press features a bit of co-fermented Viognier for complexity, the UNBroken is 100% Syrah, pure and proud from our Queenston Road Vineyard. What’s the diff? Without gentle, sweet Viognier to soothe its fevered brow, Syrah’s inherent brooding power rages unchecked, untamed and yes, UNBroken. Take a ride on this bucking’ bronco and catch the spirit.”
There is more rawness to this 100% Syrah, a tighter nose of charcuterie, smoked meats, leather, pepper and savoury spices, black currants, boysenberry and flecks of raspberry and cherry. It opens up on the palate to a range of rich dark and red fruits, peppered grilled meat, lavish spice notes, firm tannic structure and a big, long finish. It suggests a long, long life in the cellar of 10+ years. Hard to resist a bottle when you get it, but make sure to serve with a perfectly grilled cut of beef or a home-made osso buco with root veggies. Sparks will fly!
Creekside Broken Press Syrah Reserve 2016 ($55, late summer release, 94 points) — This classic bottling gets a shot of co-fermented Viognier to tame the power within and, while the UNbroken Press uses new French oak, Broken Press leans toward old French barrels. Oddly, even more closed than the wine above, but vigorously swirl in your glass and it opens up beautifully to reveal complicated aromas of grilled meats, damp forest floor, currants, anise, brambly raspberries, a rousing note of white pepper and underlying umami. It’s a big, huge wine on the palate that is layered, textured, weighty and complex with flavours of savoury dark fruits, boysenberry, crunchy raspberry, graphite, cracked peppercorns all resting on a bad of fine and firm tannins. Just amazing depth of fruit, a powerful wine with a sustained finish that will just get better for a decade or more. A must for collectors of Niagara’s best wines.