By Rick VanSickle
Here in the Winona tasting room at Leaning Post Wines, on the outer edges of Niagara wine country, you can get pretty much anything you want.
With apologies to Arlo Guthrie (“Walk right in it’s around the back, Just a half a mile from the railroad track, You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant,” no, not ringing a bell? Go here) in terms of wine, Leaning Post has a pretty eclectic and diverse lineup of wines that spans vineyard-driven classics such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay and Syrah, but also more natural, take-a-walk-on-the-wild-side wines he bottles under the appropriately named “Freak” and “Geek” labels. There’s also a new funky skin-fermented white wine, clonal-specific estate Chardonnays, and, just for good measure, Leaning Post assistant winemaker Ryan de Witte is on his third iteration of his First Fruit pét-nat that is also available at the winery.
Yes, you can get anything you want. And then some!
Winemaker/owner Ilya Senchuk, with co-owner and wife Nadia above) has always enjoyed making wines that express the terroir of his favourite vineyards. Leaning Post began its life as a virtual winery and Senchuk has a knack for matching the right fruit with the right vineyard. After buying the land where the winery is in Winona and planting vines, he is just starting to see the unique terroir that exists in his own vineyard. With more critical mass, I could see this end of the Lincoln Lakeshore sub appellation getting its own designation as the terroir is unique from the rest of the rather large growing zone.
His first Chardonnay from the Senchuk Vineyard is a striking wine with flinty minerality and perfumed fruits, while his first Pinot from the vineyard is equally stunning with complexity and finesse.
Senchuk, with assistant winemaker Ryan de Witte above, still depends on some of his favourite Niagara vineyards for staples in the portfolio. It’s doubtful he will ever give up his Lowrey Vineyard Pinot fruit or the Armbrust Vineyard for his Gamay. And his Keczan Vineyard Syrah is among the best in Niagara. It is the winemaker’s background as a former virtual winemaker in hustling to try and find the best grapes to round out a spectacular portfolio, like his peers Thomas Bachelder and Kevin Panakapka, that has built the foundation for Senchuk’s success at Leaning Post.
Here’s what I liked from a portfolio tasting recently at the winery with Senchuk and de Witte.
Leaning Post Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($28, 90 points) — Half the fruit for this balanced style of Savvy, Senchuk’s first at Leaning Post, is aged in used French oak barrels for texture, the winemaker says. The nose shows kiwi, grassy/herbal notes, grapefruit and underlying tropical fruits. It has lovely texture on the palate, subtle spice, grapefruit, creamy notes and kiwi that’s all together fresh, vibrant and zesty on the finish.
Leaning Post Clockwork Skin Fermented White 2017 ($30, 89 points) — Quite the wine for those looking for unique bottlings. This is (as the name tells you) skin-fermented whole cluster Sauvignon Blanc (the same vineyard as above on the Twenty Mile Bench) with twice a day punchdowns for 33 days on the skins. It sees barrel aging for 10 months, has only a touch of sulphur added at bottling and there is no filtering or fining. “For sure the weirdest wine we’ve made,” admits Senchuk — and that’s saying something! For so much skin contact, the colour hasn’t changed that dramatically. It has a raw and unthethered profile on the nose with freshly squeezed citrus, salinity, fresh herbs and lime zest. There is a mineral edge on the palate and made in a super-dry style that’s loaded with fresh citrus fruits and underlying herbs and grassy/fresh cut hay notes. It’s sharp and vibrant in the mouth with somewhat of a creamy/racy feel. Bottled (appropriately) under the Freaks and Geeks label.
Leaning Post The Geek Riesling 2016 ($35, 90 points) — The Riesling is sourced from the Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard and rests on the lees from all the estate’s white wines in stainless tanks for 22 months is a somewhat modified solera system. It’s bottled unfiltered and unfined. So, geeky, right? On the nose there’s a plenty of lemon, grapefruit and lime extract notes with underlying apple skin, salinity and flinty minerality. It’s textured, but this side of creamy, with an earthy feel to go with a full range of fresh citrus, crisp apple and razor sharp acidity on the finish.
Leaning Post The Fifty 2017 ($22, 88 points) — This “unoaked” Chardonnay is barrel fermented but aged in stainless steel. It is one of the nicer unoaked Chardonnays out there and is more about the minerality and freshness than the spice notes. The nose has fresh aromas of apple-dominated quince and some citrus and tangerine. It’s creamy and fresh on the palate with notes of apple, lemon curd, minerals, tangerine, citrus rind on a zesty, vibrant finish.
Leaning Post Clone 96 Chardonnay 2016 ($45, 90 points) — This and the above wine are the first two Chardonnays from home estate Senchuk Vineyard. Senchuk separated the two clones planted on the estate and made a 100% clone 96 version (planted in more silty soil) and a blend of Clone 96 and 548 for the other one. Both are wild fermented with full malo, aged in new French oak with no filtering. This has a nose of lovely apple, creamy pear, bright lemon/citrus accents, chalky minerality and elegant spice notes. It’s vibrant on the palate with defined pear and apple with minerals and citrus accents all tied to fine oak spice and vibrancy on the finish.
Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 ($45, 92 points) — You can start seeing what the estate vineyard is bringing to the party with this wine. The blend is 75% Clone 548 (planted on soil with higher clay content) and the rest Clone 96. The perfumed fruits of Bosc pear, citrus and baked apple are joined by white flowers, matchstick minerality and more overt, yet elegant, oak spice accents. It’s simply gorgeous on the palate with stone fruits, flinty minerality, spices with freshness and finesse through a long finish.
Leaning Post Gamay 2017 ($25, 90 points) — I called the 2016 version of Leaning Post’s Wismer-Armburst Vineyard sourced wine giddy-up-gulp-gulp Gamay, and that description still applies. This is drinking Gamay, the reason this varietal is gaining so many fans in recent years. Senchuk sources the grapes from a tiny 1.4-acre vineyard at Balls Falls on the Twenty Mile Bench. It has a pretty nose, less gamy than the 2016 vintage, with plums, black cherries, bramble and raspberries that’s pure and fresh. The palate reveals crushed red berries, some interesting earth, bramble and savoury notes with a finessed finish.
Leaning Post Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($42, 93 points) — After seven vintages of making this St. David’s Bench Pinot, Senchuk says “we’re starting to feel like we have figured out the expectations of Lowrey.” It is among the most expressive Pinot vineyards in Niagara for specific terroir and is made by only five producers (Five Rows, Bachelder, Fielding, Adamo and Leaning Post) lucky enough to get fruit from this famed vineyard. The ’15 is gorgeous with a nose of cherries galore, violets, heavily-scented cassis, earth and integrated spice. It all comes together on the palate with juicy red fruits, lovely texture and minerality, cassis, subtle spice with finesse and vibrancy on the finish. Can cellar 6+ years.
Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($55, 92 points) — 25% of the fruit from the home vineyard is whole cluster pressed and 85% of the wine is aged in new French oak barrels (but certainly does not feel like that). It’s lighter in colour than the Lowrey, with an elegance that shines on both the nose and palate. Aromas range from bright red fruits to cranberry, rhubarb and surprisingly light spice notes. On the palate look for a plush mouthfeel from polished tannins, a range of red fruits with depth and complexity all leading to a bright and vibrant finish.
Leaning Post The Freak Pinot Noir 2017 ($45, 87 to 91 points) — This takes consumers down another freaky path at Leaning Post’s curious tasting bar. Not even sure how to score a wine like this because one minute it tastes like this, the next it tastes like that (hence the non-committal score). Natural wines are like that, they defy scores and they defy definition. We know this: The Pinot is from the Senchuk Vineyard (but, go ahead and find the similarities, I dare you), whole cluster pressed, aged in neutral oak barrels and 100% au naturel by anyone’s description — and that means no additives, no sulphur at all. It’s earthy, funky and loamy on the nose with obvious reductive notes, but when that blows off, pretty red fruits and crushed cranberries emerge. It shows tart cherries, cranberries and brambly raspberries on the palate with evident tannins and lively acidity through the finish. I have a feeling you will either love this wine or be puzzled by it. And maybe even both.
Leaning Post Syrah Keczan Vineyard Syrah 2016 ($45, 91 points) — A consistently delicious Syrah from Senchuk. The nose is earthy, meaty, spicy and peppery with red currants, boysenberries, cassis and violets. Such rich flavours of savoury spices, white pepper, earth and red and dark fruits on a structured frame that all finishes with finesse. Very tasty wine.
Leaning Post Cabernet Franc 2016 ($45, 90 points) — A super-ripe version of CF from the hot 2016 vintage with a nose of cassis, red fruits, currants, spice and integrated herbs. It’s ripe with grippy tannins on the palate and shows concentrated red fruits, currants, bramble and lavish barrel spice notes.
Leaning Post Blend One 2016 ($55, 92 points) — This is only made in the warmer vintages, a proprietary blend of sorts with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It has a lovely nose of fragrant red berries, thick black currants, a touch of pepper, mulled herbs and barrel spice notes. It’s highly structured and complex on the palate with bold and ripe red and dark fruits, fine tannins, good acidity and length through the finish.
First Fruit No Sleep ’Til … 2018 ($25, 91 points) — This the third version of assistant winemaker Ryan de Witte’s pét-nat (pétillant naturel) pet project — this one and the previous version were VQA’d, the debut was not. The name for this wine comes from the Beastie Boys No Sleep Till Brooklyn …
Another bottle in the brain
The fruit for this wine is 60% Gewurztraminer (half of it whole cluster pressed) and the rest Muscat (destemmed) that was all hand-picked. It’s an all natural sparkling wine with no sulphur, no fining and no filtering. Pét-nats are lightly sparkling wines bottled prior to fully completing their first fermentation, allowing carbon dioxide to be produced by the natural sugars found in the grapes. De Wittes’ version is bottled with the lees, which is evident in the bottle and it gets cloudier the deeper you get into the bottle. The nose shows sharp grapefruit, ginger, citrus rind, apple skin and an obvious reductive note, that is quite appealing, truth be told. It’s super zesty and vibrant on the palate and loaded with citrus, ginger spice, leesy and tart with a fresh finish that hints at lychee. You can attack this two ways — open and taste as it gets progressively cloudier and leesier (is that even a word?) or lightly shake as you go to get a consistent pour. Either way, it’s a fun ride.