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Harvest in Ontario wine country brings out the best at the LCBO, plus … new VQA logo

By Rick VanSickle

Ontario wine country always puts on its best face when succulent, sugar-laden grapes are plucked from the vine to make an array of delicious wines.

Also in this post: new logo for VQA and biggest release of Ontario wines at Vintages this year.

Ontario wine

Niagara wine

It’s that glorious time of the year where the smell of fermenting and freshly crushed grapes fill the fall air while a cacophony of coloured leaves climb down the escarpment to offer a spectacular visual backdrop. Farm implements of every shape and size clog country roads from Beamsville to St. David’s, trucks carrying carboys of fattened grapes to and fro, harvest crews madly bringing in the harvest and the optimism for a great vintage hangs in the balance — this is where the rubber meets the road, where success is measured in a fine balancing act between brix and TA, where nature has done its job and now it’s in the winemaker’s hands to deliver the goods.

Ah, yes, harvest, from Niagara to Prince Edward County, from Lake Erie North Shore to Georgian Bay and the Ottawa Valley, is ramping up for another season.

As of this writing, only a few wineries had begun the annual process of harvesting grapes — Cave Spring Cellars in Jordan hand picked its first Chardonnay for the estate’s popular Blanc de Blancs on Sept. 5 (very top photo). Henry of Pelham picked young Baco Noir from growers vines on Monday (photos above, including winemaker Lawrence Buhler) and Waupoos Winery in Prince Edward County picked Baco Noir for sparkling wine on Tuesday. Others undoubtedly have chimed in, and as we get further along into September it will be a full-blown stampede of grapes moving from vineyard to crush pad to tank to barrels to ceramic to concrete to … our glasses, as soon as fall turns to winter and winter turns to spring. I can taste that rosé now!

Meanwhile, the LCBO has pounced on the opportunity to showcase Ontario wines during its finest hour. Exactly half — 36 of the 72 pages — of the bi-monthly Vintages release magazine, online here, is devoted to Ontario wines, the biggest showing of local love the LCBO spotlights in a given year. It’s a good read, loaded with information about Ontario wine, thoughts from winemakers, a focus on individual wineries, highlights from the various regions and even sub-appellations broken down and explored for Niagara, Ontario’s largest wine region.

It all precedes a list of over 20 new Ontario wines — spread across a wide swath of styles and varieties — available for purchase at Vintages stores starting this Saturday.

Here’s a rundown of what we can recommend from the Niagara wines being released Saturday.

Reif Vinea ($30, 89 points) — Latin for vine, Vinea is a small batch grape-based liqueur made by Reif and finished at 20% abv. The Cabernet Sauvignon is fortified with brandy and then blended with “secret” ingredients to create a one-of-a-kind spirit of the vine. It can be enjoyed on the rocks or as a cocktail (recipe below). The flavours are all about the raspberry/kirsch compote notes with a sweet edge on the finish.

Vinea Royale

Ingredients: 5 ounces of Reif Estate Sparking Chardonnay, 1 ounce Vinea
Preparation: Pour sparkling wine into flute and top with Vinea liqueur
Serve: Straight up; without ice
Standard garnish: Strawberry

Redstone Pinot Noir Sparkling Rosé 2016 ($30, 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.

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2017 ($20, 90 points) — I tried the three components that make up this Chardonnay and then the final blend. The 17 St. Vineyard sample was subtler, prettier than the others and brings citrus and floral notes. Felt like less oak and more pear, honey notes and juicy acidity. The West Block was brighter, balanced, more oak, more minerality, more apple and a squirt of citrus zest. The final component, the Rusty Shed Block, brought a creamy/toasty poached pear note and was more full-bodied and robust. The blended version of all three components has a really lovely nose of pear, quince, citrus, elegant oak spices and minerality. Quite terroir-driven on the palate with that flinty minerality of the Twenty Mile Bench to go with ripe stone fruits, nicely integrated oak spice and balancing citrus on the finessed finish.

Tawse Quarry Road Organic Riesling 2017 ($25, 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. (Michael Lowe review)

Calamus Balls Falls Red 2017 ($16, 88 points) — The house red from Calamus is a blend of 85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon that spends 12 months in French barriques, 40% of which is new. The nose displays bright red berries, cassis, black currants and spice. The red fruits are layered on the palate with some smoky/earthy notes, subtle tannins and nicely spiced through the finish. For near-term drinking.

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2015 ($35, 90 points) — This “village” Pinot (as owner/winemaker Adam Lowy, above, describes it) is a blend of Lowy’s top vineyards he sources from the Wismer Vineyards holdings on the Twenty Bench — Homestead Vineyard and Glen Elgin Vineyard — plus one other vineyard from the sub-appellation. A really gorgeous nose of perfumed and bright cherry fruit, raspberry bramble, subtle and integrated spice with underlying minerality. It’s bright and finessed on the palate with impeccable balance, evident tannins and pretty red fruits all carried on a long finish.

Creekside Red Tractor Cabernet/Merlot 2017 ($18, 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.

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2017 ($20, 91 points) — In a lot of ways, this consistently delicious Cabernet Franc is the defining wine from 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 keep it 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.

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed:

• Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay Musque 2016 ($18)
• Ferox Phantom Riesling 2017 ($20)
• Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2017 ($25)
• Icecellars Estate Cabernet Franc 2016 ($30)
• Queenston Mile Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 ($40)
• Trius Red 2017 ($25)

One to consider from California

Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2015 ($50, 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.

A beauty from the
September Classics Catalogue

Domaine Queylus Réserve du Domain Cabernet Franc 2016 ($38, 94 points)This Cabernet Franc (with a touch of Merlot) is simply beautiful in every aspect. Just a fabulous nose of savoury red fruits, black currants, anise, graphite, iron and integrated herbs and spices. It’s rich, layered and textured on the palate with a range of red fruits, black currants, herbs, spice, minerals and length through a clean and polished finish. To order from Classics, go here

New logo for VQA

After 30 years, the VQA logo has been refreshed.

The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario (WMAO) recently completed a two-year project to redesign and modernize the VQA logo (seen above). Led by industry marketing professionals, the project aimed to create a more contemporary logo with a strong connection to authenticity, origin and quality while retaining brand equity in the existing logo.

The design process included consumer research to ensure the logo appealed to WMAO’s principal target audiences. The new logo will debut in WMAO’s activities beginning in September and LCBO’s Period 7 VQA promotion campaign.