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Going au naturel at Tawse, plus reviews for Redstone, Creekside, Vineland Estate, Chateau des Charmes and Niagara Vintages release

By Rick VanSickle

The expanding portfolio at Moray Tawse’s wineries in Niagara shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Note: Also in this report, Niagara wines at Vintages stores Saturday, plus new reviews for Creekside Red Tractor series, Vineland Estate, Chateau des Charmes, two California wines and the cool climate wine symposium gets some government cash.

From his strength of top-notch biodynamic and organically farmed single-vineyard estate wines and on down the line to both his namesake Tawse and Redstone wineries, with the now growing portfolio of spirits and his already establish ciders, Tawse’s brands have become a large entity without really feeling like one.

Niagara wine

In tasting a range of Tawse and Redstone wines (Tawse cellar top photo, the still middle photo and Redstone above), along with an impressive Vermouth from the spirits side, the quality throughout the portfolio has never suffered from the extra wines, brands and projects thrown chief winemaker Paul Pender’s way. If anything, with vineyards gaining more vine age and techniques honed and re-honed, Tawse and sister winery Redstone, under the watch of winemaker Rene Van Ede, only seem to get better and better.

I tasted a range of Tawse and Redstone wines (and a Vermouth) recently and found a diverse portfolio of new wines either released or due to be released including the Natural wine series, rosés, bubbles, portfolio favourites and the aforementioned (and delicious) Vermouth from the Tawse estate’s distilling program.

Here’s what I can recommend.

Natural Wine Series

The Tawse small batch series of natural wines was created with low intervention winemaking techniques such as no sulphur additions, finished unfiltered, and bottled on the lees. All fruit is certified organic and biodynamic.

Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay Natural 2018 ($36, winery, 91 points) — Plenty of minerally-reductive notes on the nose with lemon, pear, green apple and grapefruit pith. It has a creamy texture on the palate with deep flavours of pear, lemon and quince with stony minerality, and a zesty lime finish.

Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Natural Pinot Noir 2018 ($36, winery, 90 points) — This has a rustic, campfire smoke and savoury nose of dark cherries, anise and wood spices from 8 months in French barriques. It takes a different turn on the palate, losing the smoke and shining a bright light on the cherries, cranberries, brambly raspberries, licorice and spice notes with a bright, finessed finish.

Tawse Redfoot Vineyard Gamay Noir Natural 2018 ($29, winery, 91 points) — My favourite from the natural series, Gamay lends itself perfectly to non-interventionist winemaking. Shows up cloudy in the glass and has a savoury and attractive nose of fresh wild raspberries, red currants, herbs, loam, red plums and light spice notes. It’s highly gulpable on the palate with ripe red berries, plums, soft tannins and a harmonious, bright finish.

Tawse Redfoot Vineyard Cabernet Franc Natural 2018 ($29, winery, 89 points) — Not quite as cloudy as the other wines in the series and showing a nose of earth, cola, black currants, barrel spice notes, lavender, minerals and plum notes. Ripe notes of kirsch, black currants and rich barrel spices are delivered on a smooth frame with a bright finish.

Tawse Rosés

Tawse Sketches of Niagara Rosé 2018 ($18, winery, Vintages Essential, 87 points) — The blend is Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay and Pinot Noir with a nose of strawberries, Creamsicle and raspberries. Some sweetness and cream on the palate with strawberries, ripe red fruits and a refreshing finish.

Tawse Quarry Road Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 ($29, winery, 91 points) — What a gorgeous rosé with a nose of freshly picked red berries, minerals, and subtle herbs and floral accents. Perfectly dry and refreshing on the palate with crunchy red berries, swirling minerality and a vibrant finish.

Tawse Reds

Tawse Cherry Avenue Vineyard Gamay 2017 ($29, winery, 90 points) — This is the second vintage of this lovely Gamay from the red clay soil of Redfoot Vineyard. It’s aged for 8 months in French oak barrels and has an attractive nose of brambly raspberries, dried cigar leaf, black cherries, spice and peppery notes. The palate reveals rustic red fruits, minerals, savoury herbs, plums, anise with a vibrant, finessed finish.

Tawse Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir 2017 ($28, winery, 90 points) — Shows the range of red berries on the nose with cedar plank, savoury/earthy notes and vanilla bean spice. It has a silky texture on the palate with ripe cherries, strawberries, earth, spice and a wonderfully perky finish.

Redstone Wines

Redstone Pinot Noir Sparkling Rosé 2017 ($30, winery, 90 points) — A vibrant salmon pink colour in the glass, this second edition of the Redstone Sparkling Rosé is cafted in the traditional method from 100% Limestone Vineyard Pinot Noir, the juice went through a slow and cool fermentation after 3 days of skin contact then spent 12 months on the lees. It shows enticing raspberries, strawberries, red currants and lime-citrus notes on the nose. It has a vigorous mousse on the palate with bright and lively red fruits, biscuit, watermelon and currants with citrus zest on the finessed finish.

Redstone Estate Syrah 2016 ($40, winery, 91 points) — This is aged for 18 months in French oak and shows an attractive nose of black currants, plums, boysenberries, wild blue berries, savoury spice notes, cedar cigar box and meaty/bramble notes. It’s structured and robust on the palate with mouth-filling black currants, wild raspberries, smoked meats, savoury spices and vibrant acidity on the finish. Can cellar 6+ years.

Tawse Vermouth

Tawse Dry Vermouth ($23, 92 points) — The Tawse distillery is rocking these days, churning out all manner of innovative spirits overseen by head of winemaking Paul Pender. This Vermouth is unlike any I have tried. I can remember the days when Vermouth was but a seldom used spirit that you basically squirted a mere drop into a dry Vodka martini just so you could say you weren’t drinking pure vodka on ice. A bottle would last years and years. The spirit here is sourced from certified organic estate Riesling that’s steeped with 14 different botanicals and fortified to 18.5% abv. On Pender’s advice, I tasted this straight up on ice with a big wedge of lime. It had a beautiful nose of citrus, herbs, sage, wild flowers and some exotic tropical fruit notes and, of course, lime. It was smooth and refreshing on the palate with notes of chamomile tea, pear, fresh herbs, citrus and a zesty, refreshing finish. A lovely afternoon cocktail.

Cool Climate Cash

(Pictured L – R: Robin Ridesic, Founder and CEO, Exchange Brewery; Debbie Zimmerman, CEO, Grape Growers of Ontario; Bill Schenck, Vice Chair, Grape Growers of Ontario; Chris Bittle, MP, St. Catharines; Hon. Mélanie Joly, Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie; Vance Badawey, MP, Niagara Centre; Debbie Inglis, Director, Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Brock University; Matthias Oppenlaender, Chair, Grape Growers of Ontario; Karen Doyle, Tourism Marketing Office, City of St. Catharines)

Last week, Mélanie Joly, Ontario minister of tourism, official languages and la Francophonie announced that the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium being held at Brock University in July 2020 is receiving $250,000 in federal funding from the Canadian Experiences Fund.

The fund, as part of the National Tourism Growth Strategy, supports communities across Canada as they create and enhance tourism products, facilities and experiences. This is the first time the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium is being held in Canada. As one of the most prestigious international wine conferences, leading researchers, winemakers, grape growers, educators and media from across the globe will gather in Niagara for the 10th anniversary of the event, which takes place every four years.

“The Grape Growers of Ontario thank Minister Joly and the Federal Government for their ongoing support. We look forward to working with our government and industry partners, and Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute to host this prominent grape and wine symposium.” Matthias Oppenlaender, Chair, Grape Growers of Ontario

“We are thrilled to have the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium held in Niagara in 2020, and thank MPs Vance Badawey, Niagara Centre and Chris Bittle, St. Catharines, for their support. This funding will highlight our world class grape and wine industry, and provide an exceptional experience for consumers and stakeholders.” Debbie Zimmerman, CEO, Grape Growers of Ontario

Niagara wines coming to Vintages Aug. 31

Featherstone Four Feathers 2018 ($15, 87 points) — This is a blend of the four grapes Featherstone grows at the estate — Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Lots going on here with a nose of lime, apple, peach, subtle lychee and spice. It’s bright and lively with the full range of orchard fruits, touch of ginger, lychee, grapefruit, lime and honey notes. A fun, everyday porch sipper.

Featherstone Phoenix 2018 ($19, 88 points) — So, as the story goes, the brutal winters of 2014/2015 laid waste to more than a few delicate grape varieties. At Featherstone, two were hit particularly hard — Gewurztraminer and Merlot. The Gew was seemingly gone forever and the couple ignored it after 2015. The thinking at the time was to pull it out and replant something else the following year. But lo and behold, in 2016 a crop appeared in the vineyard and “Phoenix was born.” That was convenient for Louise Engel, as selling a wine with the word “Gewurztraminer” on it always presented a challenge as consumers have trouble even pronouncing the word correctly and tend to avoid it. “The word Gewurztraminer causes people stress,” she told me at the time, so Phoenix it was. It shows lovely Gew spice on the nose with nutmeg and ginger notes to go with rich pear, perfumed rose petals and grapefruit. There is some viscosity on the palate and a touch of honey to go with grapefruit, lychee, ginger and pear fruit with decent acidity through the finish.

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2017 ($20, 91 points) — In a lot of ways, this consistently delicious Cabernet Franc is the defining wine at Featherstone. They make a lot of it (over 2,200 cases) as it finds a permanent home at the LCBO as an essentials listing at 200+ locations. They don’t have enough acreage to use only estate grapes so they source from several vineyards to keep up with demand and somehow it’s consistent year after year. It’s classic CF with a nose of wild raspberries, cherries, herbs, cedar and anise. The palate reveals savoury red fruits, forest berries, herbs, licorice/anise and spice with a vibrant feel in the finish.

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2017 ($20, 90 points) — Named after the majestic red-tail hawks that soar high over the Featherstone Vineyard, this is a fruity, highly enjoyable Merlot with overt red berries, herbs, ripe cherries, some plummy notes and integrated spice notes. It has a plush feel on the palate with polished tannins and moderate structure to go with all those ripe red berries, plums, bramble and spice. Ready to drink now, but can cellar 3+ years.

Also released Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2018 ($18)
• Lundy Manor Riesling 2017 ($25)
• Andrew Peller Signature Series Riesling Icewine ($50 for 200 mL)
• Andrew Peller Signature Series Vidal Icewine 2017 ($46 for 200 mL)
• Vieni Momenti Sparkling Wine ($14)

Other Canadian wines released:

• Casa-Dea Reserve Cabernet Franc 2015, Prince Edward County ($27)
• Closson Chase Closson Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Prince Edward County ($35)
• Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, B.C. ($30)

Two California delights coming to Vintages

Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay 2017 ($20, Vintages now, 89 points) — A ripe style of Chardonnay from Sonoma that shows a boatload of peach, lemon, green apple, barrel spice notes and just a smidge of butter. It’s rich and creamy on the palate with a range of pear, peach, toasted vanilla bean, spices and citrus accents that keeps it lively on the finish. Great price for this tasty Chard.

Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2015 ($50, Vintages Sept. 14, 91 points) — From higher elevation Napa vineyards on Mount Veeder, this is a lovely Cabernet (with a bit of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec) at the lower price spectrum for this region — yes, even at $50! Lovely concentrated and ripe aromas of black currants, plums, blackberries, smoke, cedar and mocha with meaty/earthy undertones and layered spices. It’s rich and ripe on the palate with dark berries, dried herbs, anise, dark chocolate elegant spice notes, a smooth texture and poised through the finish. In all, a nicely balanced Napa red that will reward with 5+ years in the cellar.

Creekside Red Tractor Wines

Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2017 ($25, 89 points) — The fruit was sourced entirely from the Serluca Family farm and celebrates a second-generation family of growers and their vineyards from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation. The Cab Franc was harvested in late October and the fruit came in ripe, was fermented in stainless steel, gently pressed and aged for 16 months in barrel. It’s quite thick and concentrated in the glass and teaming in savoury red berries, raspberry bramble, cedar plank, mulled herbs and spice. It has good tannic structure, dark cherries, anise, herbs, earth, smoke, savoury notes and spice on a finish lifted by racy acidity.

Red Tractor Cabernet Merlot 2017 ($18, Vintages Sept. 14, 89 points) — A nose of black currants, cassis and then black cherries, woodsy notes, earth and spice. It’s medium bodied on the palate, with structure but not overly aggressive tannins, and a range of dark fruits, spice, loam and a perky finish.

New wine from Vineland Estate

Vineland Estate Bo-Teek Vineyard Chardonnay “Bottled on the Lees” 2017 ($25, released in Sept., 91 points) — Soaking up the lees gives this gorgeous Chardonnay from the coveted Bo-Teek Vineyard a lovely creamy pear nose with saline minerality, citrus, vanilla toast and spice. It is a creamy and rich Chardonnay with a vein of chalky minerality, Bosc pear, Mac apple but all lifted by citrus fruit on a vibrant finish. Very nice.

Two new wines from Chateau des Charmes

Chateau des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2015 ($19, Vintages now, 91 points) — Always a special wine from St. David’s. It’s a lime bomb on the nose with notes of lemon, crisp green apple and profound minerality. It’s zippy and fresh on the palate, a smidge of honey, with lime, grapefruit, ginger, stony minerality and balancing acidity. Should age well for another five years but already hitting its stride.

Chateau des Charmes Cabernet Sauvingnon 2016 ($35, winery, 90 points) — This is estate fruit from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard. If any vintage can pull off a 100% Cab Sauvignon in Niagara it’s 2016 from one of the warmest sites in Niagara. Here we have an attractive nose of blackberries, anise, forest floor, savoury raspberries and bramble with elegant wood spices. It’s a medium bodied red with polished tannins, smoky/earthy notes, followed by dark fruits, spice notes and a finish that shows finesses and polish. A good candidate for the cellar, say 5+ years.