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No wine before its time at Niagara sister wineries Tawse and Redstone

By Michael Lowe and Rick VanSickle

Tawse and Redstone winemakers do a lot of things very well with such a large portfolio, but one of the most impressive is their uncanny ability to release wines when they are showing their best.

Paul Pender (Tawse, top photo, below) and Rene Van Ede (Redstone, bottom photo, below) are at the forefront of the two wineries Moray Tawse built in Niagara, and as the years march on, there has been more of a focus on releasing wines, particularly the reds, when they are ready to drink rather than simply releasing when they come of the oak barrels.

Two of the superstars from the spring releases Mike Lowe and I tasted were the stunning Tawse and Redstone meritages from the 2013 vintage, just being released now.

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While most Ontario wineries released their 2013s a long time ago and are already into their 2016 and 2017s, both Tawse and Redstone are just selling their red blends now, six years after harvesting the fruit, and the other Bordeaux variety reds with three or four years of age.

A lot of the decision to release them late is due to the various harvest conditions. 2013 was extremely cool and difficult for late ripening varieties, prompting green notes that are most evident in early release reds. By aging the wines properly, the wines have a chance to integrate and soften from the naturally high acidity of the vintage and fully come into harmony. Also, tannins from a cooler vintage can have an astringent, somewhat bitter taste. Over time, tannins “soften” because they polymerize. The tannin polymer molecules feel and taste less harsh.

It’s a valuable lesson, but not without risk. Not all wines taste better with age, no matter the vintage and no matter the producer. So, Tawse/Redstone takes the mystery out of the guessing with a regimented program of tasting and more tasting in order to release certains wines out of order. It’s why we have seen some 2015, 2014 and 2016 reds before some 2013 reds.

You’ll find some real beauties across the board from both wineries after Mike I tasted a wide swath of new releases.

We both loved the two late-release 2013 meritages. Mike had high praise for Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2017 and Redstone Syrah 2015, while I adored the Tawse Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir 2016 and the perennial winner, Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2015.

Here’s our report on new release (or soon to be released) Tawse and Redstone wines.

Note: Mike’s reviews are designated with ML, mine are marked RV.

The Tawse Reds

Tawse Meritage 2013 ($68, winery now, 93 points) — The blend is a third each of Cab Franc (Laundry Vineyard), Merlot (David’s Block), and Cabernet Sauvignon (Hillside Vineyard) that spends 18 months in French oak barrels and another three years in bottle. Only 1,000 bottles were produced. If you are fortunate enough to hold back your red wines as long as Tawse is able to do (and crop as low as this, I assume), this glorious meritage is the result, even from a cooler vintage like 2013. What a beautiful wine that’s drinking quite well right now. The nose shows harmonious blackberries, black currants, black cherries, raspberry bramble, Cuban tobacco leaf, earth and a balanced approach to the elegant oak spices. The palate reveals rich notes of red and dark berries, a pleasant herbaceous undercurrent, balanced oak spices and tamed acidity that keeps this lively but is in no way severe. Just a wonderfully classic, cool-climate meritage that is in a very good place right now, but can age for 5+ more years gracefully. (RV)

Tawse Redfoot Vineyard Gamay 2017 ($29, available now, 90 points) — This Gamay is aged in French oak barrels for 8 months. The nose is all about red plums, dark cherries, pepper, bramble, smoke and perfumed spice notes. It’s delicious in the mouth, never heavy, always bright and vibrant with earthy red fruits, plums, peppercorns, subtle spice and a smooth delivery through the finish. Finished perfectly dry. (RV)

Tawse Redfoot Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015 ($40, winery now, 89 points) — This is classic Niagara CF made from sourced fruit that’s aged for 18 months in French oak. The nose shows a range of red fruits, herbs, anise, spice and subtle violets. It’s juicy and vibrant on the palate with earthy red fruits, cassis, leather, stewed herbs and barrel spice notes. (RV)

The Redstone Reds

Redstone Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015 ($40, winery now, 90 points) – There’s a lot going on in this one — cassis, cedar, mint, licorice, pepper, graphite and smoke with some dusty oak on the nose. Tangy raspberry/blackberry on the palate with tobacco undertones, chalky minerality, grippy tannins and beautifully balanced acidity. Shows what Cab Franc can do in Niagara. (ML)

Redstone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($46, winery, 90 points) – Complex wine with nuances of menthol, cedar, and tobacco leaf hovering over the dense cassis and port-like, plum core. The palate shows juicy black currant, fresh tobacco and sweet, ripe berries with vibrant acidity and hints of vanilla and dark chocolate on the long finish. (ML)

Redstone Meritage 2013 ($46, winery, 91 points) – The wine leads with the scent of black cherry supported by aromatic wood notes, a wisp of smokiness and roasted beetroot that emerges with time in the glass. Blackberry/cherry prevail on the palate with still firm tannins that are starting to tie in nicely with the acidity. Good length and very enticing now. (ML)

Redstone Vineyard Cabernet Merlot 2015 ($29, winery, 90 points) – The nose expresses plenty of ripe blackberry with tinges of violets, mocha and cedar. Lush, slightly sweet blackberry is at the fore on the palate followed by suggestions of coffee and sweet wood. Tannins are still quite firm but coming around nicely. (ML)

Redstone Vineyard Syrah 2015 ($40, winery, 90 points) – There’s a savoury edge to this otherwise plummy, blueberry fruit-forward Syrah. Spiced berries – think anise/cinnamon/pepper — combined with dried herbs and a faint, cured meat note. Lovely fruit and juicy acidity on the palate with well-integrated tannins. Drinking well now. (ML)

The Tawse Pinots

Tawse Pinot Noir 2014 ($22, licensee only, 89 points) — A blend of all estate grown organic/biodynamic Pinot Noir aged for 14 months in French Oak barrels. A nose of beetroot, Bing cherries, brambly raspberries, red currants, spice and minerals. Shows good structure on the palate with earthy/brambly red fruits, integrated spice notes, lovely texture and finesse on the finish. (RV)

Tawse Quarry Road Pinot Noir 2016 ($36, late summer release, 92 points) — This lovely Pinot spends 16 months in French oak barrels and shows surprising restraint on the nose for a Pinot from such a warm vintage as 2016. It displays pretty red fruits, fragrant rose petals, sandalwood and attractive spice notes. It’s ripe and racy on the palate with a gorgeous mélange of red fruit, integrated spices and a soft velvety texture through the finish. (RV)

Tawse Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir 2016 ($49, available later this spring, 94 points) — The best Cherry Avenue I have tasted, which is surprising as I usually prefer the cooler vintage Pinots in Niagara. This version, even with 16 months in French oak, is made with a deft touch (assuming mostly older barrels) and shows a lighter colour in the glass than the Quarry and reveals pretty darks cherries, brambly raspberries, light spiced notes and an intriguing vein of minerality/iron on the nose that is pleasingly inviting. It dances lightly on the palate with savoury red fruits, a floral note with that intriguing minerality that builds in intensity through the silky smooth and finessed finish. Niagara Pinot at its best. (RV)

The Tawse Chardonnays

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2015 ($46, available now, 93 points) — A wild fermented and barrel aged in French oak for 16 months Chard made with estate certified organic and biodynamic grapes now 35 years old. Such a beguiling nose of apple/quince, freshly squeezed lemon with fully integrated, elegant oak spices and enticing minerality. It’s fresh and vibrant on the palate with lifted green apple, mineral, pear, zesty citrus and minerals that already feels perfectly balanced with the light oak spices that shine on the long and finessed finish. Robyn’s Block has scored as high as 94 points for the 2011 vintage (which was named here as the Most Thrilling Niagara White Wine in 2014) and 93 points for the 2012 vintage. (RV)

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2014 ($37, released late spring, 91 points) — Quarry Road is from 18-year-old vines in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation that’s farmed organically and biodynamically and aged for 18 months in French oak barriques. An inviting nose of spiced pear, salinity, bin apples and underlying citrus notes. It has lovely texture and verve on the palate with juicy orchard fruits, citrus accents and spice that all lead to a long and vibrant finish. (RV)

Cuddy by Tawse

Cuddy by Tawse Chardonnay 2014 ($28, winery, 89 points) – The nose exhibits pear, green apple, lemon, toasted oak and a subtle almond tone. On the palate the pear is front and centre backed by the apple and lemon with some spice notes – nutmeg/mace. Nicely balanced with lingering toasty oak and roasted almond. (ML)

Cuddy by Tawse Cabernet Merlot 2015 ($28, winery, 90 points) – A fairly complex nose offering up cooked blackberry/cherry with cigar box wood notes and a hint of smoke and earth. Satisfying on the palate with lots of dark, ripe berries and black plum balanced by bright acidity and slightly drying tannins. With decanting, some anise and vanilla begin to show. Very drinkable now. (ML)

Tawse/Redstone Sparklers

Tawse Spark 2016 ($26, winery, 89 points) – This is a bright, easy-going sparkler from a blend of 44% Pinot Gris, 31% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay with an emphasis on the citrus. Look for candied lemon and lime, a faint pear note with a delicate floral character. The bubbles persist nicely making it a refreshing spring/summer sipper. (ML)

Redstone Sparkling 2016 ($25, winery, 90 points) — The blend is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir from the estate’s organically and biodynamically farmed Limestone Ridge Vineyard and made in the traditional method with over 18 months on the lees. It has a leesy/bready, lemon pulp nose with underlying brioche and minerals to go with pear, grapefruit and lemon zest. It’s bright and lively on the palate with a vigorous bead and flavours of citrus, creamy pear, green apples and a zippy/zesty finish. Lovely bubbles. (RV)

Tawse/Redstone Whites

Redstone Chardonnay 2016 ($20, Vintages, previously reviewed, 88 points) — A fragrant, floral nose with aromas of peach, lemon blossoms, honey and toasty oak. The palate expresses plenty of fresh peach, candied lemon peel and Mandarin orange. Acidity is vibrant and oak has been judiciously applied and is nicely integrated with the fruit, giving it a creamy texture and lingering buttery, caramel notes. (ML)

Redstone Gewürztraminer 2017 ($22, winery, 88 points) – Floral nose with expressive tropical fruits showing melon, pink grapefruit, sweet lime and ginger spiciness. On the palate it’s off-dry and is all about the ripe tropical fruit, but carries some grapefruit pith bitterness for balance on the finish. (ML)

Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2017 ($26, winery, 91 points) – Highly perfumed with lots of lemon-lime, wet stone mineral notes and just a tinge of petrol. The off-dry style is intriguing on the palate, with sweet Mandarin orange and lime backed by zesty acidity and a clean, precise mineral finish. (ML)

Redstone Limestone Ridge Vineyard South Block Riesling 2017 ($19, winery now, 90 points) — Crafted from organic and biodynamic grapes, this smart Riesling rocks with a nose of profound lime soaked in stony minerality and saline with a good measure of grapefruit and crisp green apple accents. The palate reveals a nice tug of sweet/tart citrus, river-rock minerality and dash of honey with balancing acidity keeping it fresh and lively through the finish. (RV)

Tawse Quarry Road Gewürztraminer 2017 ($25, winery now, 89 points) – True varietal character with delicate rose petal and lychee leading the charge, with a flinty note and gingery pineapple on the nose. Pineapple, lychee and mango on the palate are balanced with good acidity and clean minerality. (ML)