By Rick VanSickle
It’s hard to remember a better year for Niagara wines than what was released in 2019, which made it all that more difficult to prepare this list of the most Thrilling Niagara Wines of the Year.
It’s a list that is garnered from the hundreds of wines tasted and reviewed on this website since last January. Curating this list is an agonizing and heart-wrenching endeavour that can only lead to bitter disappointment, plenty of head scratching and maybe even remorse for the choices made below. But, hey! No one ever said this job was going to be easy.
This is the 11th year for this adventure, an ever evolving snapshot of local wines that each year stand just a little taller than all the others. It is never our intent to claim these wines are the absolute best Niagara has to offer — because, without tasting each and every wine, how could we? We simply could not taste every wine that was released in a given year in Niagara. It is a subjective list that is culled from the wines that we (myself and Michael Lowe) have tasted, some re-tasted, and others even re-evaluated. It is skewed to our tastes, based on what thrilled us and what we think you might like, as well. We realize that not all palates align with each other and there will be many wines that divide us. That is exactly what makes wine enjoyment so fascinating.
The 10 Most Thrilling Niagara Red and White wines of 2019 (plus a few honourable mentions) are listed in alphabetical order with the original scores removed (you can search the site if you are really interested in the score). We thought it was an accomplishment to just make the list, no matter if your wine got 88 or 100 points.
Note: If a score appears in the review it was because it was relevant to the review.
Drum roll, please …
And the winners are …
The Most Thrilling Niagara White Wine for 2019 is the Hidden Bench Téte de Cuvée Chardonnay 2015 and the Most Thrilling Niagara Red Wine for 2019 is the Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Old Vines “One Barrel” Pinot Noir 2016.
Neither Hidden Bench nor Bachelder are strangers to this list. For Thomas Bachelder (below), who’s having the most exciting year of his vinous life with the opening of his first online retail store, the re-birth of Le Clos Jordanne and best top to bottom portfolio of Chardonnays and Pinots from his namesake brand to date, arriving at the top of this list was slam dunk. Bachelder was the winemaker for four wines in total on these two lists.
For Hidden Bench owner Harald Thiel and winemaker Jay Johnston (above), they, too, continue to raise the bar for terroir-driven Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings using the Beamsville Bench as their playground. Hidden Bench has two whites on the Most Thrilling lists.
For me, the two wines of the year represent the finest of what classic Niagara Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can be when attention to detail, low intervention in the winery, and coaxing the best fruit from the vineyards where it’s grown do all the talking.
They are simply at the top of the class from a pretty good collection of thrilling Niagara wines.
Fun with numbers:
- Total price of white wines on this list: $389 (up from $358 last year)
- Total price of red wines on this list: $714 (up from $653 last year)
- Most expensive white: $50, Cloudsley Cellars Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2017
- Least expensive white: $22, The Farm Unmarked Chardonnay 2017
- Most expensive red: $125, Rennie Estate Winery The Colleen Adelaide’s Block Cabernet Franc 2016
- Least expensive red: $28 for Vineland Estates Elevation Bo-Teek Vineyard Cabernet 2016
- Average price for all wines on the both lists: $55.15 (up from $50.55 last year).
- What it would cost for you to buy them all: $1,103 ($92 more expensive than last year).
- Number of Chardonnays on the list: 8
- Number of Sauvignon Blancs on the list: 1
- Number of Rieslings on the list: 1
- Number of Pinot Noirs on the list: 3
- Number of Cabernet Francs on the list: 3
- Number of Rosés on the list: 1 (honourable mention)
- Number of red wines on the list from 2016: All of them
Most Thrilling Niagara Red Wine of the Year
No one knows for sure if a single block of Pinot Noir has ever been made from the original five rows of Pinot Noir vines on the Lowrey property in St. David’s, you might have to go back as far as the Alliance project for that, but the 2016 fruit was just too good for Thomas Bachelder to pass up, so he made a barrel of wine from those vines for the first time. Bachelder has always been one of four winemakers in Niagara to source grapes from the Lowrey Pinot Noir plantings, which continues to prove year after year that this is one of the region’s top sites for Pinot.
Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Old Vines “One Barrel” Pinot Noir 2016 ($60) — Maybe the finest Pinot Noir Bachelder, which he sold out of quickly through his first online retail sale this fall (note to readers: the store will remain open until Jan. 15 (order here) . This the is the first Pinot Noir 100% from Lowrey’s original five rows planted in 1984 and the fruit first used for the Alliance project made by Karl Kaiser. Wes Lowrey claims most of the five rows, which he mainly blends with other Pinot grapes grown on the farm, but Bachelder gets one row to himself and, until now, has always blended it with other Lowrey fruit. This particular vintage stuck out for the winemaker so he decided to something special with it. Only 270 bottles were available. Oh, my, this is something! An enthralling nose of fresh-crushed raspberries and dark cherries, integrated spice notes, heavily perfumed and enticing, with earth, touches of cassis and layered minerality. It is just so beautiful on the palate, a caressing mix of savoury red berries, cassis, bramble, toasted vanilla that seems just about perfect, complex and layered with waves of minerality that’s all together finessed and ever-lasting on the finish. This should develop for a decade or more. A tour de force.
The rest of the Most Thrilling
Red Wines of the Year
(In alphabetical order)
Creekside Broken Press Syrah Reserve 2016 ($55) — This classic bottling gets a shot of co-fermented Viognier to tame the power within and, while the UNbroken Press uses new French oak, Broken Press leans toward old French barrels. Oddly, even more closed than the wine above, but vigorously swirl in your glass and it opens up beautifully to reveal complicated aromas of grilled meats, damp forest floor, currants, anise, brambly raspberries, a rousing note of white pepper and underlying umami. It’s a big, huge wine on the palate that is layered, textured, weighty and complex with flavours of savoury dark fruits, boysenberry, crunchy raspberry, graphite, cracked peppercorns all resting on a bad of fine and firm tannins. Just amazing depth of fruit, a powerful wine with a sustained finish that will just get better for a decade or more. A must for collectors of Niagara’s finest wines.
Domaine Queylus Summus Winemaker’s One Barrel Blend 2016 ($95) — This is the first wine released from Queylus above the Grande Reserve level. The challenge issued to winemakers Thomas Bachelder and Kelly Mason from GM John Nadeau was to make a single barrel of the best of the best from the Queylus Vineyard. They decided on a mix of 50/50 Merlot and Cabernet Franc after independently tasting each barrel of wine in the cellar. Incredibly, both identified the same barrels for the blend and thus Summus (“top of the mountain”) was born. “It’s all about raising the bar,” Nadeau said at our tasting. This is the second time reviewing this wine, and it keeps improving. It’s simply a knock out blend that shows a pretty, yet powerhouse nose of blackberries, black cherries, black currants, graphite and elegant, spicy oak barrel notes. It has mouth-puckering tannins at this early stage with a range of dark and red fruits, chalky minerality, subtle herbs, depth and lovely elegant oak spices. I expect great things from this wine when it’s released and many, many years of life after that. Each label on the bottle is hand-written and the bottle is capped off with a white wax seal. A beautiful thing that can be cellared 10-15 years.
Fielding Estate Chosen Few 2016 ($80) — This is only the third release of this top red made at Fielding, the others were made in the equally hot 2012 and 2007 vintages. The blend is 50% Syrah (Lowry Vineyard, St. David’s), 25% Cabernet Franc (estate Tufford Road) and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon (Serluca Vineyard, Four-Mile Creek). It’s all aged in 50% new French oak for 18 months with another year in bottle at release and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Such a deep red colour in the glass with a meaty nose dark fruits, ripe currants, cassis, toasted oak spices and earth with red berry compote just beginning to show. It’s highly structured with the concentrated fruits engulfed in fine oak tannins and oak spices. It’s meaty, layered and tight on released but beginning to show a lovely concentration of black currants, cassis, dark cherries and smoked meats that are deep and rich. This will take time to come into harmony and can age 10+ years (I wouldn’t even touch it for three years) with huge rewards. A blockbuster of a Niagara red wine for collectors.
Foreign Affair Apologetic Red 2016 ($70, $160 for magnums) — This “Sorry — Not Sorry” 100% Cabernet Franc made by “talented, hardworking, law-abiding, polite, friendly, pragmatic, peace-loving, apologetic, grateful and self-deprecating Canadians” uses 50% dried grapes for 90 days and is barrel aged in all French oak for 18 months. There is another level up of the Cab Franc appassimento, simply called Cabernet Franc, and the current vintage is 2010, which I have previously reviewed. I just can’t imagine the 2016 vintage of this wine being bested by anything in the portfolio. This is a rock star with a hedonistic nose of cherry kirsch, thick black currants, figs, graphite, Cuban cigar leaf, toasted vanilla bean and mocha that all works brilliantly together. The alcohol is just shy of 15%, but with the depth of fruit and concentration, you just don’t feel the heat on the palate. Full throttle currants, cherry compote, wild raspberries and blackberries are married to sweet tobacco, warm dark chocolate and a range of beautiful spices on a highly structured and complex frame that’s shrouded in polished tannins. The finish lasts for minutes and is lifted by medium + acidity. Such a gorgeous wine that can use at least 3 years of cellaring before even opening the first bottle. Another 10 years after that will reap greater rewards. No apology needed.
Reif Estate First Growth Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($100) — The fruit was hand-harvested from the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard block planted in 1989 in the Niagara River sub-app and thinned to a restricted 2 tonnes per acre. After fermentation was complete the wine moved into new French and new Hungarian oak barrels where the wine completed malolactic fermentation and aged for 30 months. It has a powerful and seductive nose of ripe black currants, blackberries, plums, cassis, graphite, sandalwood, mocha, leather and wonderful spice aromas. All that carries to the palate and more, with an array of dark berries including concentrated currants and cassis with kirsch, rich spice notes, polished tannins and complex layers of ripe fruit that all lead to a long, energetic finish. This wine was delicious when opened for the initial tasting, but was improved greatly a day later. I suggest it will improve for 10 years plus in your cellar. The best Cabernet Sauvignon I have tasted from Niagara. 14.5% abv.
Rennie Estate Winery The Colleen Adelaide’s Block Cabernet Franc 2016 ($125) — This is the first 100% Cabernet Franc appassimento wine since the debut “Gaia” that was not released commercially from the 2009 vintage. 100% of the Cab Franc was dried for 68 days to 29 Brix and 16.5% abv. It was aged for 24 months in French oak barrels, half of which were new barrels. The wine is named after Colleen Rennie, the daughter of Graham and Christine. A stunningly expressive nose already for such a big new wine with notes of wild forest berries, black cherries, savoury spices, campfire smoke, a lifted floral note, wild raspberry bramble, black currant jam, subtle herbs and eucalypt. The texture is silky smooth and luxurious with ripe tannins and a highly concentrated and complex array of raspberries, black cherries, cassis, licorice, herbs, rousing oak spices and a finish that goes and on and on. This is a very young wine that can be cellared 10-15 years. It would be interesting to watch where it can go. If drinking now, decant for two hours minimum. Bravo!
Tawse Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir 2016 ($49) — 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 finest.
The Farm Mason Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($52) — “I always wanted to own a vineyard,” said winemaker Kelly Mason. “So I bought one in 2011.” It’s planted to mostly Pinot Noir with some Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Farm started purchasing the fruit for Mason to make into a single-vineyard Pinot in 2015. It’s tight at the moment, but opens up with vigorous swirling to pretty red berries, cranberries, touches of cassis and subtle spice with a rich vein of minerality. It’s more expressive on the palate with rich wild raspberries, cherries, minerals, anise, integrated spice, complexity, length, polished tannins and finesse on the finish. This will come into harmony with a year or two in the bottle and cellar much longer than that. Quite a beautiful Pinot with a truly bright future ahead.
Vineland Estates Elevation Bo-Teek Vineyard Cabernet 2016 ($28) — The trend of excellence continues with these Niagara Bordeaux variety blends from the warm 2016 vintage … what a fabulous year for the bigger reds and a bonus if you can craft a wine like this with impeccable balance. This has an expressive nose of blackberries, brambly raspberries, pure cassis and elegant spice notes that is all together inviting. It truly is an amazing red blend of 77% Cabernet Franc 23% Cab Sauvignon with solid structure, elegantly spiced (not over the top), rich and focused with darker fruits on the palate including a range of black currants, cassis, anise with black cherries and a high-energy/finessed finish. Age 7 + years, such a beauty.
Most Thrilling Niagara
White Wine of the Year
Hidden Bench owner Harald Thiel is championing terroir-driven, certified organic wines that grow best in the mineral-laden soils of the Beamsville Bench. He makes his wines, with Jay Johnston as the winemaker, from 100% estate fruit all certified organic farmed using biodynamic practices. It’s seldom that a wine or two from Hidden Bench misses being on this list and rare that two white wines make the same list in any given year. But the Téte de Cuvée Chardonnay and Roman’s Block Riesling were two of the finest white wines released in 2019.
Hidden Bench Téte de Cuvée Chardonnay 2015 ($48, 95 points) — I stand by that score, lofty but justified, it is simply one of the best Chardonnays I have tasted from Canada. I can only think of a couple of other wines that I have scored 95 points and this definitely deserves its standing. This top Chardonnay from Hidden Bench is sourced from the best lots from both the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards, all hand-picked, hand-sorted and whole bunch pressed. It’s aged in French oak, only 4% new for the first 9 months, racked to 17% new oak for a further 5 months, then two years in bottle without filtered or fining. It has a highly perfumed nose of rich Bosc pear, tropical pineapple and apricot, ripe apple, lemony accents, subtle oak spices, flinty minerality, hazelnuts and freshness from start to finish. It’s a joyous, enthralling Chardonnay on the palate with a revered sense of place, gracefulness and elegance. It’s layered and complex, with an integrated range of orchard and tropical fruits, hints of lemon, swirling minerality, perfectly balanced spice notes, finesse and a finish that lasts for forever. You want the best? This is it.
The rest of the most Thrilling
White Wines of the Year
(in alphabetical order)
Bachelder Wismer-Wingfield “Ouest” Chardonnay 2016 ($47) — Let’s just say it right now. This is the finest Chardonnay Bachelder has crafted from his favourite terroir, the one that always comes out on top for me and does so consistently year after year. It’s about personality, terroir and winemaking, which for Bachelder, consists of less is more and nothing added that doesn’t need to be added, including new oak. This particular block loves Chardonnay and Bachelder embraces it. It’s subtle to start, but opens up to pure elegance and nuance with a range of bin apples, lemon, cream, flint, salinity and perfectly poised oak spice. And then the palate, holy-moly, the palate! It’s more open-knit and revealing with pear, lemon cream, a mineral bath, oak spices — the epitome of power and grace with a freshening finish that lasts and lasts. This is one memorable wine that will thrill lovers of personable Niagara Chardonnays. Can cellar 5+ years for further development.
Cloudsley Cellars Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($50) — This is a selection of the best barrels from the Foxcroft Vineyard and sees 50% new oak, twice as much as Adam Lowy’s (pictured above) other Chards, but he feels this wears the oak well. This is the bomb, among the best Niagara Chardonnays I have tasted this year. It’s pure elegance on the nose, almost restrained on release with beautiful Bosc pear fruit, lemon blossom, flinty-stony minerality, pure salinity, green apple and already integrated spice notes. It’s just as lovely on the palate, a beautiful balance of stone fruits, oak spice and citrus driven by vivid stony-flinty minerality and laser-sharp acidity that provides lift and balance through a pure and finessed finish. In asking Lowy about his deft touch with oak, he says: “I don’t want it to stick out. I want the oak to be complementary.”
Five Rows Craft Wine Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($35) — I asked Wes Lowrey why this wine is the first to be sold out every year, usually spoken for (and not even tasted) before the winery opens its doors in spring. “It’s a perfect storm of it being a decent wine, and it being a bit of a cult wine,” he says. “When people think they can’t get something it tends to sell quicker.” I think it’s more obvious than that: It’s a damn fine Sauvignon Blanc and the 2018 version is the best yet made at Five Rows. Lowrey ferments 75% of the fruit in old French oak barrels (newest barrel is 10 years old) and the rest in stainless steel. It has an explosive, yet elegant, nose of integrated spices, gooseberries, grapefruit, pear and passion fruit with just a hint of herbs and grassy notes. On the palate, it’s rich, textured and simply beautiful in all aspects with depth of fruit — gooseberries, citrus, pear, passion fruit — joined by subtle spicy notes and all propped up by mouth-watering acidity, which was extremely hard to do in 2018, by the way. This is not a Sauvignon Blanc to lay down for years and years, but certainly it will give you pleasure for 3+ years. It is irresistible right now. “I still get excited making this every year,” Lowrey says. “It’s a bit intimidating, but I have in my corner other winemakers to help with picking decisions.”
Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Riesling 2016 ($32) — Always a benchmark Riesling in Niagara for me, and while 2016 was a hot vintage, Hidden Bench low-cropped the almost 40-year-old Rosomel Vineyard to 2 tonnes per acre to take only the pristine and ripest bunches. The result is this spectacular wine that in cooler years starts off shy and builds in momentum. This is much more expression from the get-go with a nose of white flowers, stone fruits, citrus, lime, apricot and stirring stony minerality. It’s a beautifully textured wine on the palate with bright green apple, citrus, tangerine, river-rock minerals and such racy acidity on the finish. I would normally suggest cellaring wines from the hotter vintages for near-term drinking, but I feel this will gain more fat and complexity if you let it settle for 5+ years.
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017 ($45) — The Chardonnay is whole-cluster pressed and wild fermented in tanks with the barely fermenting juice transferred to 228L French oak barrels to complete the fermentation. The wine is aged in barrels (no more than 20% of the barrels are new oak) for 16 to 18 months, racked and left to settle in tank for a month and filtered prior to bottling. The wines are aged a further eight months and bottled. This has a highly perfumed nose with notes of pear, quince, elegant and subtle spice, profound limestone minerally and freshening waves of salinity. While it’s tight and still rounding into form on the nose, it opens up beautifully on the palate with persistent and generous stone fruits, complexity and depth, barrel spice notes working in harmony with the pear/apple fruit, pristine river-rock minerality, lemon peel, integrated oak spices and a long, vibrant, intense finish. This is a terroir-driven Chardonnay you should cellar and watch grow as the acidity melts into the fruit and the minerality has a chance to strut its stuff. Thomas Bachelder is the winemaker for this reborn project by Arterra Canada.
On Seven The Pursuit Chardonnay 2017 ($45) — The first wine from On Seven is sourced from the home vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake consisting of calcareous-loam and clay soil from vines planted in 2014 to Dijon clone 76. It was hand picked and whole cluster pressed. After settling to remove gross lees, the juice was transferred to large format French oak barrels (20% new, 80% neutral) for wild fermentation and aging for 14 months. This has such a pretty nose of fresh pear, salinity, stony minerality, crisp apple, lightly toasted vanilla, lemon blossoms and subtle, unobtrusive oak accents. This shows its full personality on the palate with rich yet poised flavours of pear/quince, river-rock minerality, gorgeous texture and oak accents all perfectly balanced from start to finish. The finish is clean and with just a touch of lemon zest on a long, lingering finish. Welcome to the grand mosaic of Niagara, On Seven. Made by consultant Peter Gamble.
Organized Crime Cuvée Krystyna Chardonnay 2017 ($28) — In October 2016, Organized Crime lost their matriarch, Krystyna Tarasewicz. It is in her honour and memory that that this cuvée is made. The fruit was hand picked and the free-run juice was transferred to French oak puncheons to ferment using native yeasts, which took about 6 months. Such a beautiful Chardonnay with a nose of pear, apple, quince, fresh squeezed lemon, stony minerality and integrated spice notes. A perfectly balanced and complex wine on the palate with harmonious stone fruits, zesty citrus, a subtle reductive note, caressing oak spices, vanilla and finessed through a long finish. Can age 5+ years.
Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2015 ($46) — 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.
The Farm Unmarked Chardonnay 2017 ($22) — Winemaker Kelly Mason’s style has always been for low intervention, always wild fermented, hands off, gently oaked and finessed, highlighting the minerality of the Twenty Mile Bench. “This is as natural a wine as I’ve ever made,” she says over lunch. It is such a well integrated and lean Chardonnay I was surprised to find there was oak aging applied — 22% new French oak for 18 months and the rest aged in stainless steel. It has such a beautiful and pure nose of lemon, citrus, saline minerality, bright apple and pear with elegant subtlety to the oak spices that it’s almost imperceptible. It’s lean with electric acidity, stony minerality and vibrancy in the mouth to go with lemon, crisp apple, fresh pear and a texture that caresses the palate and finishes in a glorious burst of energy. I suspect that the oak might show up a bit more on the palate with a year or two in bottle once the bright acidity rounds out, but, my, what a beauty right now. Um, $22, folks.
Malivoire Rosé Moira 2018 ($25) — This single-vineyard Pinot Noir rosé is purposely grown for the style of wine winemaker Shiraz Mottiar wants and aspires to every vintage. It’s picked earlier than the regular Pinot, and picked in the coolness of morning, with a gentle press to preserve freshness. It’s the lightest colour of three rosés in the portfolio with such a pretty nose of fresh raspberries, melon, strawberry and herbs. Gorgeous texture on the palate highlights a range of fresh red berries, subtle herbs and electric acidity in a perfectly dry style. A beauty.
Why it’s on this list: It’s not really a red wine and not really a white wine, but the rosés from Malivoire are simply some of the finest being made in Niagara and this one is deserving of your attention.
13th Street Grand Cuvée Blanc de Noir Sparkling 2013 ($60) — Made from 100% Pinot Noir from the Whitty Vineyard, this top dog sparkler from JP Colas follows in the footsteps of the last time it was made from the 2007 vintage. It was on the lees for a full 60 months, did not go through malo and there was no sugar back added to the dosage. Just wow! Such a delicate mousse with a beautiful yet complex nose of poached pear, mineral, citrus, lemon curd, brioche, bready/yeasty notes and a subtle, interesting oxidative note. It’s dry and austere on the palate with persistent tiny bead of bubbles and a rich, textured feel to go with a mélange of berries, creamy pear, baked apple, earth and smoky notes that all linger on a finessed palate and graceful finish.
Why it’s on this list: Like the rosé above, it’s not really a red or a white wine, but bubbles (and Gamay) are what 13th Street does best and this is the best of the best at the winery and one of the best bubbles I tasted in 2019.
Trail Estate Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Niagara ($45) — Yes, Trail Estate is a proud Prince Edward County winery with a varied and exciting portfolio of mostly County wines, but when winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois turns to Niagara to source fruit she knows where to look. Wismer-Foxcroft is a terroir-driven vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and her Chardonnay mines that vein of profound minerality that is buried deep in the soil found there. Her version is fermented naturally in stainless steel. It was transferred to French oak to complete fermentation. Natural malolactic was completed in full while ageing on lees in barrel. The wine was racked out of barrel after a year, allowed to settle and racked once for further clarity. A minimal amount of sulphur was added. It’s bottled unfined and unfiltered. Such grace and beauty on the nose with an immediate saline sensation with flint and river-rock that permeates the Bosc pear, apple skin and ever so subtle toasted oak spice notes. It is crisp and soulful in the mouth with integrated stone fruits, gunflint and steely resolve that is revealed in layer after layer. This wine keeps coming at you and never loses its grip. There is a subtle reductive note on the palate with bright acidity that keeps this Chardonnay lively and interesting through such a long and sensuous finish. It is a beautiful wine, one I keep thinking about a week after the bottle was drained. Go get it!
Why it’s on this list: Look, it deserves to take a place with the other great Chardonnays on this list, but technically this is a Prince Edward County wine with the fruit sourced from Niagara.
Two Sisters Stone Eagle Special Select 2016 ($146) — The blend for this version of the top red wine at Two Sisters is 38% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Cabernet Franc that was aged in 100% new French and American oak. The Stone Eagle family is Two Sisters’ flagship – a careful barrel selection of each vintage’s most complex, elegant and age-worthy wines. The name is taken from the two Italian stone eagle carvings that stand proud at the entrance of the Niagara-on-the-Lake winery. “This is the wine Benny (Marotta, winery owner) challenged me to make … but it’s Niagara,” winemaker Adam Pearce, above, told me last year. Marotta likes his reds big and bold (a hint might be found in the name … the “special selection” used by Napa’s Caymus winery) and Pearce has done that while keeping the integrity of its Niagara roots. It has a power-packed nose of crushed cherries, brambly raspberries, crème de cassis, currants, plums, cocoa, roasted espresso bean, earth, dried cigar leaf and an intriguing array of sweet baking spices. It’s highly structured on the palate with a cacophony of flavours ranging from cassis, black currants and blackberries to rich red berries and earth with lavish oak barrel spices all propped up by grippy tannins that lead to a long, echoing finish. Such power and grace with 10-15 years of beneficial cellaring ahead.
Why it’s on this wine list: When I tasted this wine it wasn’t even labeled yet and not for sale. The 2013 vintage was the Most Thrilling Red Wine of the Year in 2018 and this version, which has the potential to surpass last year’s version is certainly deserving of recognition. It will be re-tasted before the summer.
For a list of last year’s winners and past winners, go here.