By Rick VanSickle
When Constellation Brands dropped a bombshell in March, 2016, that it was discontinuing production of Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, it came as a major disappointment to wine lovers who placed those wines on the top shelf of their cellar collections.
They were (and if you are lucky enough to still have some tucked away, they are) some of the finest expressions of single-vineyard Pinots and Chards made in this country.
Note: Also in this report we offer four Niagara recommendations from the Vintages release Saturday including Kew Vineyard Organic Riesling Sparkling, Foreign Affair Pinot Noir, Flat Rock Gavity Pinot Noir and Flat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay, plus three wines from California and one from Washington at Vintages.
Today, Constellation Brands is no longer in the picture after the U.S. based mega wine/beer conglomerate sold its Canadian properties from Ontario and B.C. to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which changed the name of the new company to Arterra Wines Canada.
Back in 2016, when the former company made the bewildering decision to discontinue Le Clos,
Del Rollo, national senior director, government and industry relations at Arterra and in the same role with Constellation Brands, said to Wines In Niagara: “It wasn’t an easy decision, but it makes sense and we have a robust plan for the future.”
He said at the time that an announcement would come soon as to what would become of the former Le Clos Jordanne and the fruit grown at its three key vineyards – Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard, Claystone Terrace and Talon Ridge (all still owned by Arterra). Le Clos Jordanne also produced a single vineyard Pinot Noir “La Petite Colline,” owned by the Neudorf family, but that Pinot is now made by Thomas Bachelder at Domaine Queylus.
Rollo said a new wine would emerge from the coveted vineyards. “I’m pretty excited to know there will be something new,” he said.
We found out what the new project was shortly after with the release in 2016 with the very first Arterra-labeled wines, a 2015 Pinot Noir with grapes sourced from Niagara-on-the-Lake and made with 15% appassimento-style dried grapes and a Chardonnay made with some grapes from the Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard.
The wines were well made, and a bolder expression of both varieties than what we saw with the Le Clos wines, but well received by critics and consumers.
The wines are the pride and joy of Arterra winemaker Marco Piccoli, who was recently named head winemaker of Ontario wines for the company with special attention on the Arterra brand.
Piccoli has worked on more than 10 vintages at Jackson-Triggs, and has made wine in Italy, Germany and Argentina, gaining valuable experience in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
When Piccoli, above right, was named to his new position it was also announced that Levi de Loryn, above left, was taking over winemaking responsibilities at the Jackson-Triggs, Niagara Estate Winery. I spoke to Piccoli and de Loryn at Cuveé recently and again asked them my favourite question: What about making Pinots and Chards exclusively from the vineyards Arterra still owns, you know, in the style of Le Clos? Piccoli just gave me a wry smile that doesn’t exactly close the door on a Le Clos revival, but doesn’t open it either. So, it’s a kind of limbo we’re trapped in … not dead but not officially reborn, either. It’s a question I’m sure Piccoli is tired of me asking and Rollo now turns and runs whenever he sees me.
For now, we have the Arterra wines.
Here are my reviews of the three new Arterra wines just released. The Pinot Gris is a new addition into the family.
New Arterra Wines
Arterra Pinot Gris 2017 ($30, Wine Rack, Jackson-Triggs winery, 91 points) — This a new entry in the relatively young Arterra portfolio by winemaker Marco Piccoli, now fully dedicated to these wines. It sees four months in French oak and has a full and rich nose of orchard fruits, creamy pear, apricot and underlying spice notes. It’s lush and juicy on the palate with apricots, peach, pear, a lick of honey and spice with a perky/vibrant finish.
Arterra Chardonnay 2017 ($30, Wine Rack, Jackson-Triggs winery, 92 points) — This Chardonnay is sourced from some of the very best vineyard sites in Niagara — including the Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard. It has a gorgeous nose of poached pear, ripe apple, citrus accents and minerality with butterscotch and spice. It’s round and full-flavoured on the palate with baked apple, pear, touches of tropical fruits and citrus with a range of cream and spice to go with lovely texture and balancing acidity.
Arterra Pinot Noir 2017 ($30, Wine Rack, Jackson-Triggs winery, 91 points) — The grapes were gently pressed and sent to 100% French barriques. Like previous iterations of this wine, the blend contains 15% appassimento grapes. Aromas jump from the glass with notes of plums, black cherries, anise, earth and spice. It’s a robust Pinot Noir on the palate with firm tannic structure and full fruit attack of plums, cherries and dark fruits with a rich layer of spice all nicely balanced by the natural acidity of the vintage. Such a rich and luxurious wine for fans of full-bodied Pinots.
Our picks from the Niagara wines
being released at Vintages Saturday
Kew Vineyard Organic Riesling Sparkling 2017 ($20, 88 points) — “I’ve got so much Riesling I don’t know what to do with it … so, OK, I’ll make a sparkling Riesling,” said Philip Dowell, half jokingly, when I tasted it with him. I love the nose on this sparkler, so much lime, grapefruit, apple and tangerine with plenty of sparkle in the glass. It’s quite fresh and true to the varietal in the mouth with a perky, vibrant finish.
The Foreign Affair Pinot Noir 2013 ($35, 91 points) — 20% of the Pinot for this wine was dried for the final blend, which then spent 20 months in French oak. It’s not like other Niagara Pinot Noirs and does not pretend to be. It’s a bolder, riper version that gets its complexity from the appassimento method of winemaking that is this winery’s signature. Once you understand that, you can appreciate this lovely bolder style wine with its nose of spicy red fruits, cloves, nutmeg, plums, bramble and cassis fruit. It cuts deep on the palate with complex flavours that run the gamut from dark cherry to juicy cassis and plums all backed up by layers of baking spices, solid structure and ripe tannins.
Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2015 ($35, 92 points) — An intense nose of brambly raspberry, black cherry, earth and an interesting display of spices. It’s rich with a bit of savouriness on the palate with a plethora of red fruits, emerging spices and earthy/meaty undertones. It has firm tannic structure to go with mouth-watering acidity through the finish. You will want to cellar this 3+ years to settle down all the moving parts.
Flat Rock Cellars Good Kharma Chardonnay 2016 ($17, 89 points) — A ripe and generous Chardonnay with full-on apple, citrus, pear and nicely integrated spice notes. It shows the warmth of the vintage with robust flavours of tropical fruits, apples, pears, cream and citrus accents with light oak spice notes. A pretty nice drop for $17.
Also released, but not reviewed:
• Westcott Violette Sparkling 2017 ($26)
• Cave Spring Indian Summer Riesling 2016 ($25 for 375 mL)
• Tzafona Cellars Cold Climate Vidal Icewine ($37 for 375 mL)
• Tzafona Cellars Cold Climate Unoaked Chardonnay 2015 ($23)
• Kew Barrel Aged Gamay Noir 2016 ($18)
• Tzafona Cellars Cold Climate Cabernet Sauvignon KP 2014 ($30)
• Vieni Founder’s Blend Reserve 2016 ($16)
• Three of Hearts Rosé 2018 ($20)
New releases from California
and Washington coming to Vintages
Franciscan Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($20, May 25 at Vintages, 89 points) — The grapes are sourced from vineyards in Monterey County and Napa County. It’s bright and fresh on the nose with gooseberries, citrus, lime and tropical fruits. It’s vibrant on the palate with subtle herbs to go with tropical fruits, citrus, lime, grapefruit and pear with a zesty mouth-watering finish.
Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2017 ($23, Vintages on May 25, 90 points) — This is pure Napa Valley with grapes coming from the estate’s Wappo Hill vineyard in the Stag’s leap District and the famed and historic To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville that surrounds the winery. This style of oaked Sauvignon Blanc from California was pioneered by Robert Mondavi and continues to this day with over 90% of the grapes barrel fermented for added richness and complexity. It shows lovely Meyer lemon, gooseberries, grassy/herb notes and tangerine with a subtle smoky/spicy accent. It’s quite fresh on the palate with grapefruit, gooseberries, lemon, spice and a fresh/vibrant profile to the very last drop.
Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($30, Vintages now, 92 points) — This Napa Valley Cab was aged in French oak barrels for 20 months after one of the earliest harvests in years in the region. It’s nicely matured and ready for drinking now with a nose of ripe blackberries, black currant, cassis, tobacco leaf, earth and elegant spice notes. It’s full-bodied but quite approachable on the palate with a range of dark fruit, licorice, polished tannins and decent tannins to keep it all in balance. Lovely now, but can cellar a few years.
Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($25, June 8 at Vintages, 91 points) — The fruit is sourced from various sustainably farmed vineyards in and around Washington State and aged in 40% new French barriques for 10 months. It shows great restraint in the face of such a hot vintage in Washington with integrated aromas of black currants, cassis, bramble and rich baking spice and toasted vanilla notes. It has lovely mouthfeel on the palate with enticing dark fruits that are all nicely integrated, plush tannins, smooth delivery and shrouded in elegant spice notes. A really nice, mid-weight Cabernet with a vibrant core.