By Rick VanSickle
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Strewn Winery is one-stop shopping for anyone who a) enjoys well-made Niagara VQA wines, b) likes eating delicious, chef-prepared food, or c) cooking like a pro.
There’s a little bit of everything at this gorgeous winery, restaurant, tasting room and retail store that was restored from its former use as a 1930s cannery 1997 by winemaker Joe Will and his wife, food writer Jane Langdon.
Langdon, below on the left, runs the popular cooking school at the winery, OLiV is the on-site restaurant run under the direction of executive Chef Randy Dupuis and offers several dining options including lunch, tapas (small plates) and dinner, as well as Sunday brunch, and estate sommelier Juan Nunez-Sanchez handles the wine tasting experience for guests in the modern, brightly lit tasting room or more exclusive private tastings.
It has been a while since last visiting and I wanted to get caught up on the deep, multi-tiered portfolio crafted by winemaker Marc Bradshaw, originally from Australia with a passion for producing handcrafted and small batch wines. His taste-driven approach has been honed by winemaking in multiple countries, joining Strewn as associate winemaker in 2012.
Bradshaw and Will have established clearly defined labels including the Premium and Terroir series of wines as well as interesting side projects like the three-bottle Chardonnay series using different oak treatments and the “Sandy” vs. “Clay” series of Cabernet Sauvignons exploring different types of terroirs in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
I tasted through quite a few of the current releases from Strewn with Nunez-Sanchez and Bradshaw and a few soon-to-be released reds from the gorgeous 2016 vintage that was very kind to more fuller-bodied reds crafted by Bradshaw. Here’s what I liked from the tasting.
Strewn Sparkler NV ($24, 88 points) — This is Strewn’s second sparkling wine, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc made in the charmat method. It shows a subtle bead in the glass with a nose of tropical fruits, citrus and light herbaceous notes. It pops on the palate with juicy fruits and vibrantly fresh to the last drop.
Strewn Riesling 2017 ($16, 88 points) — A really nice Riesling with an expressive nose of lime, grapefruit and tangerine. It’s made in a dry, refreshing style with mouth-watering acidity to highlight the citrus, grapefruit and green apple.
Strewn Terroir Chardonnay American Oak 2016 ($32, 89 points) — Chardonnay laps up American oak and provides a spicy, buttery entry on the nose to go with baked apple and poached pear notes. It’s a full-on Chard with ripe orchard fruits, toasted vanilla spice, butterscotch and butter with medium+ acidity on the finish.
Strewn Terroir Chardonnay French Oak ($32, 91 points) — How you like your Chardonnays? Do you like them big and oaky (above), or a bit more finessed and subtle (this one) or somewhere in between (below)? This series gives you choices. I prefer a more balanced approach to the oak aging and French barrels often provide much a more subtle, integrated nuance in Chardonnays. The nose shows on this French oaked version shows Bosc pear, citrus, apple and restrained toasted vanilla and spice. The stone fruits and citrus on the palate are joined by elegant spice notes and fairly firm acidity to keep it finessed through the finish.
Strewn Terroir Chardonnay Canadian Oak 2016 ($35, 90 points) — Strewn joins only a few other Niagara wineries in using Canadian oak — Meldville and Featherstone, come to mind — for their Chardonnays. It’s quite distinctive if not down right patriotic. This sits between the spiced up American and more elegant French versions with a nose of creamy pear, vanilla, subtle butterscotch and spiced apple. It’s mellow and comfortable on the palate, with ripe orchard fruits, a touch of citrus zest, decent acidity on the finish and good balance. Quite delicious.
Strewn Terroir Cabernet Franc 2016 ($43, released in a year, 91 points) — Consumers won’t see this wine for another year and I am assuming will be much more integrated and ready to rock. For now, it shows ripe black currants, cassis, herbs and fine oak spice notes on the nose. It’s just beginning to show balance on the palate with range of dark fruits, savoury herbs, integrated herbs, spice and vibrancy through the finish. One to watch for.
Strewn Terroir Cabernet Franc 2015 ($42, current release, 90 points) — The nose of the 2015 version of the Terroir CF shows perfumed red berries, blueberries, anise, savoury spices and bramble. There is an earthy feel on the palate with polished tannins, red and dark berries and lovely spice notes on a finessed finish.
Strewn Terroir Merlot 2016 ($43 pre-release price, 92 points) — This is a gorgeous Merlot from the warm 2016 vintage. It has a lovely, inviting perfumed nose of black cherries, currants, violets, rose hips and elegant spice notes. It has firm tannic structure on the palate with earthy cassis, black cherries, cassis, rich oak-derived spices and finesse through a long finish. Should age nicely for 7+ years once released.
Strewn Terroir Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($44 pre-release price, 90 points) — Another pretty nose that shows restraint in a hot Ontario vintage. Look for red fruits, blackberries, cassis and lavish oak spice notes. I expect the aggressive tannins to integrate by the time this is released to better let the red berries and black berries shine on the palate. It’s well-structured and perked up by racy acidity on the finish.
Strewn Terroir Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($44, current release, 89 points) — A more meaty, muscular Cab Sauv with an expressive nose of blackberries, cherries, anise, bramble, subtle eucalypt and lovely oak spice notes. It’s savoury and bold on the palate with dark berries, firm tannins and good acidity giving it finesses and verve on the finish.
Strewn Terroir Three 2016 ($46, pre-release price, 92 points) — A blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc and the rest Merlot. An elegant, pretty entry on the nose with notes of cherry, raspberry bramble, nicely integrated spice and black fruit accents. It’s fresh and vibrant on the palate with gorgeous texture, medium+ tannins, red berries, currants, light bramble and earth and finessed through the finish. Already coming into balance.
Strewn Terroir Three 2015 ($46, current release, 91 points) — The meritage blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Cabernet Franc and the rest Merlot. Another highly perfumed nose of black currants, violets, crunchy red fruits, plums, anise, underbrush and elegant spice notes. It’s rich and finessed on the palate with crushed red berries, brambly raspberries, currants, blackberries and spice on a smooth, long finish.
Strewn Clay Block Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($38, 90 points) — An equal quantity of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were picked from the clay and sandy portions of Strewn’s Home Farm vineyard. They were fermented separately using the same yeast and aged in barrels from the same cooperage. The nose shows a concentration of bold red berries, cassis, touch of licorice/anise, some stony minerality and spice. It’s bold and structured on the palate, with a range of range berries, currants, evident tannins, spice and length through the finish.
Strewn Sandy Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($38, 89 points) — The sandy soil Cab shows more meaty, darker fruits on the nose with a range of blackberries and currants, underlying earthy red fruits, leather, smoke and enticing spice notes. It has depth and persistence on the palate with juicy dark fruits, vibrancy and smooth tannins through a long finish.
Strewn Limited Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered 2015 ($40, wine club members only, 93 points) — This “limited” Cabernet Sauvignon was made from fruits hand-harvested from the Niagara-on-the-Lake Home Farm. The must was fermented in small batch open bins before transfer to oak barrels. Following 19 months of American oak maturation, two barriques, which best expressed the vintage and terroir, were blended then bottled unfiltered to retain the richness of the wine. It’s a beauty. It has gorgeous aromas of classic Cabernet Sauvignon with black currants, blackberries, tobacco leaf, eucalypt, smoke, earth and gorgeous oak spice. It’s big, rich and bold on the palate but maintains vibrancy on its well-structured frame. Look for dark fruits, mint, earth, cedar, smoke and spice that all lead to a long, long finish. Cellar 10+ years.