By Rick VanSickle
It’s not hard to figure out why the wines at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Two Sisters Vineyards excel at the highest levels.
It takes commitment and financial outlay to grow the right fruit in the right places and then source the best grapes to complete the extensive Two Sisters portfolio of wines that are representative of the entire Niagara region — not just the estate. And then you need a winemaker such as Adam Pearce who can deliver a consistent and exciting portfolio through the wildly divergent growing seasons in Niagara that can be both a blessing and a curse.
Pearce, who favours taking a non-interventionist approach to his wines, looks to the vineyards to guide him through each vintage. “More than anything, I am dedicated to drawing on our unique soil composition, terroir and our great location in the Niagara River appellation,” he says.
Meticulous vineyard practices, including cropping for low yields, has enabled him to work with exceptional fruit. “Such quality allows me to fully express what our cool climate region can produce while respecting each variety’s character,” he says.
The main goal at Two Sisters, family owned and operated by sisters Angela Marotta and Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli, above, is to produce ultra-premium reds, which requires particular attention on the estate’s viticultural practices. Pearce and his team emphasize the varieties the estate grows best in its terroir; Cabernet Franc with its earthy structure, Cabernet Sauvignon for its rich, muscular presence and Merlot for its perfumed, elegant harmony between red and dark fruit aroma and taste. All the fruit is handled gently and with the careful attention to every detail from vineyard through to bottle.
While the top wines are the estate’s Bordeaux varietal blends and single variety reds, Pearce has a good eye for sourcing top grapes for the white wine program, including a stellar Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling as well as a growing sparkling program.
The best of the best wines are bottled under the estate’s “Stone Eagle” label, a trio of bold reds in three tiers that all lead to the flagship Special Select blend that checks all the boxes for top-notch bold reds that are age-worthy and always built to represent the epitome of what Niagara can do at the highest level for big red wines.
In my recent tasting with Pearce, above, and the third time I have tasted the Stone Eagle series over four vintages, confirms my previous notes that these wines are the real deal — big, yes; bold, certainly; but also well balanced between pure fruit, oak and acidity with the ability to improve with time in the cellar. These are trophy wines and deserving of attention.
Here is what I liked from a recent tasting.
Two Sisters Lush Sparkling Rosé NV ($54, 92 points) — This is a traditionally made, Chardonnay/Pinot blend that spends 20 months on the lees and gets a Cabernet Franc dosage (primarily for colour). It’s finished at 10 g/l. It shows a pale salmon in the glass with a persistent and lively mousse. There are notes of pretty red berries, red currants, leesy/brioche, toasty biscuit and underlying citrus notes. It’s fresh and lively on the palate and bursting with raspberries, tart cherries, creamy/toasty notes and showing a lovely dry impression and clean, fresh finish.
Two Sisters Blanc de Franc 2016 ($62, re-tasted with latest disgorging, 93 points) — Pearce uses 100% estate, whole-cluster pressed Cabernet Franc and crafts this sparkler in the traditional method. It spends 15 months on the lees with zero dosage. A new batch was recently disgorged. It shows a crystal clear colour in the glass with a vigorous, exciting mousse. It has a gorgeous nose of brioche, baked apple, creamy pear notes, saline and zesty citrus that all jumps from the glass. It’s toasty and creamy on the palate with fresh and crisp orchard fruits, subtle herbs and grapefruit in a perfectly dry style. Such finesse and energy with this sparkler. It will get even better with age as it gains some fat.
Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($34, 91 points) — Pearce sources the fruit from the Twenty Mile Bench and adds a bit of oak for texture and complexity. It shows sharp grapefruit, gooseberries, pear, minerals, grassy/herb notes and light spice. It’s built in a racy, fresh and vibrant style with citrus, herbs, gooseberries, hint of spice and a clean finish.
Two Sisters Riesling 2018 ($35, released soon, 92 points) — From the minerally-rich Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard and Lenko Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and Beamsville Bench. Very fine Riesling with profound lime, stony minerality, lemon, white flowers and tangerine on the nose. There is sweetness on the palate, but nicely balanced with the racy acidity. It shows a range of lime, lemon, pear and grapefruit in a textured and layered style that pops on the finish.
Two Sisters Chardonnay 2018 ($54, 93 points) — Another winner from Pearce with the fruit sourced at two of his favourite terroirs for white wines — Lenko and Foxcroft. It’s aged in French oak, 30% of which is new, and 30% of the fruit undergoes malolactic fermentation. It has a highly perfumed nose with saline minerality, fresh pear, quince and lemon accents in a creamy/elegant style. There is beautiful texture on the palate and expressions of creamy pear, apple, flinty minerality, elegant spice and freshness through a long finish.
Two Sisters Eleventh Post 2016 ($43, 91 points) — The grapes for the red wines from Two Sisters are all sourced from the estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Eleventh Post is a blend of 70% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with aging in 15% of mostly French oak. It has a nose of bright red berries, cassis, black currants, dark cherries, subtle spice and earthy notes. The fruits turn darker on the palate with cassis and currants trumping the red berries and all kept vibrant by the rousing acidity. There is a touch of cinnamon, spice and earthy notes on the finish.
Two Sisters Merlot 2016 ($53, released in February, 92 points) — I tasted a vertical of the Merlot, the currently available 2015, the 2014 and this 2016, which is being released in February. The ’16 is a bold offering with a nose of concentrated black currants, black cherries, cassis, anise, earth and stylish oak and cocoa accents. It’s a highly structured and complex red on the palate with rich, concentrated dark berries, savoury notes, layered spices and a plush feel through the finish. Will need time in the cellar to fully integrate, say, 5+ years. The ’15 shows more red berries, tannic structure and integrated spice notes, while the ’14 is highly concentrated with darker fruits, woodsy notes and more overt spice notes.
Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2015 ($55, 92 points) — The wine spent a total of 34 months aging in 100% French oak barrels, 15% of which was new oak. Such an expressive nose of dark cherries, brambly raspberries, anise, herbs, pepper and spice. It has wonderful texture and verve with integrated red fruits, herbs, anise/licorice, earth, spice and a structured frame that all leads to a long finish.
Two Sisters Senza 2017 ($49, 91 points) — Pearce prefers to call this 50-50 Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon blend “low intervention” rather than a “natural” wine even though no sulphur has been added, no additives, no filtering and no fining. Depending on your definition of natural, this is pretty darn close. The two varieties were vinified separately and aged for 12 months in new French oak. It is an interesting wine with a raw, complex and slightly reductive with blackberries, black currants, brambly raspberries, wild herbs and campfire/savoury undertones. It’s ripe and juicy on the palate with a range of dark fruits, plums, smoke, mulled herbs, evident tannins, lifted acidity and an intriguing reductive note on the finish. Note: Bottle shot is from the 2015 vintage.
The Stone Eagle Series
Two Sisters Stone Eagle Estate Reserve 2013 ($78, 93 points) — The Stone Eagle series from Two Sisters is the top tier at the estate. There are three levels — estate reserve, red label and special select. This nicely mature Merlot dominant blend spends up to four years in oak, 15% in new French wood and 15% in American wood. The nose shows penetrating aromas of super-charged black currants, anise, raspberry/cherry, earth, dark chocolate and an elegant range of spices and roasted vanilla bean. It’s beautiful on the palate with rich and detailed red berries, bramble, currants and plums that are layered and perfectly ripe across a smooth and textured frame that combines gorgeous spice notes and finesses on a long, long finish. As mentioned, quite attractive now but will still improve with 5+ years in the cellar.
Two Sisters Stone Eagle (Red Label) 2016 ($96, 92 points) — This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (both 34%) with the rest Merlot and aged in 100% new French oak. The nose expresses ripe cassis, black currants, kirsch, cocoa and espresso bean with some subtle red berries and oak spices. The oak is more evident on the palate and the ripe tannic structure provides grip and power to go with a complex array of dark fruits, spice and length through a long finish. This will age well for 10+ years and will need time to fully integrate.
Two Sisters Stone Eagle “Red Label” 2013 ($96, 93 points) —This red, re-tasted with Pearce, is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend with 40% a mix of Cabernet Franc and Merlot from estate vineyards. The wine is aged in 100% French oak, all new barrels, for 36 months and is further aged for two years in bottle before release. Only 2,000 bottles were made and there was no wine at this level made from the 2014 vintage. It has an expressive nose of ripe blackberries, cherries, brambly raspberries, dark plums, currants, tar, graphite and lavish barrel spice notes. It’s a stylized and textured wine on the palate that shows a broad the range of red and dark fruits, structured tannins and such elegant spice notes on a long and polished finish. Aging this wine for 7+ years is a good idea, but it’s coming along nicely. A beauty.
Two Sisters Stone Eagle Special Select 2015 ($146, released in the new year, 93 points) — This is the only wine from the Stone Eagle series made in 2015 and is waiting on the label before it is released. It’s a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Cabernet Franc that spends 32 months in French oak, 70% of which is new. It’s thick in the glass, dark and overt with ripe dark fruits, black currants, blackberries, concentrated cherries, crushed herbs, bramble, tar and fine oak spice notes. It’s a full-bodied wine on the palate with lavish dark fruits, compoted red fruits, underlying bramble, rich spices and polished tannins with persistence and lifted acidity through a long finish. Can age 10+ years for further integration.
Two Sisters Stone Eagle Special Select 2016 ($146, released before summer, 94 points) — 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 flagship wine is 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,” Pearce told me. 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. I tasted this once with Pearce and later after decanting for 24 hours.
I question whether these wines are good values at these prices. You ranked the Bachelder Lowry One Barrel Pinot Noir a 94 and it costs $60. The Special Select above costs about 2.5x as much and is also ranked a 94.You ranked the Franc a 92 and it only costs $54. Seems like the QPR really drops with the Stone Eagle collection.
Thanks for you comment, David. QPR is a tricky thing to figure into wine scores so I don’t factor it into the score, but address it in the text of the review if I feel it needs addressing. Whether a wine is priced at $146 or $20 they get reviewed the same. Often I don’t even know the price of the wine until after I’ve written my notes. Knowing the price doesn’t change the score, but if a wine that costs $100 and scored poorly or a wine priced at $23 and scored exceptionally high (see Most Thrilling Wines of 2018, the 2020 Cellars Chard) might get discussed in the text. Often I will call a wine a good value or make reference to the price negatively and positively, but, again, it doesn’t change the score. But consumers can make their own buying decisions based on price and QPR.