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Ottawa’s KIN Vineyards turning heads, plus Vintages Niagara picks, a bold B.C. Syrah, new Twisted wine

By Rick VanSickle

Only founded in 2014, Ottawa Valley’s KIN Vineyards is quickly gaining attention as a quality winery producing some seriously eye-popping VQA wines from local terroir.

Ontario’s most northerly winery growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sits on 47 pristine acres devoted to estate grapes that also include Vidal, Gamay, Marquette and Marechal Foch.

Note — also in this Ontario Wine Report: our top picks from the Vintages release Saturday, a new Twisted wine from Flat Rock Cellars and a bold and sassy Syrah from the Okanagan Valley comes to the LCBO.

KIN’s Carp Ridge Vineyard is bisected by the Hazeldean Fault, which shows glacial till over limestone on the upper slope and clay loam over limestone on the lower slope. With a southwest exposure and a gentle slope to the Carp River Valley, the site offers generous amounts of sunshine and well drained soils in combination with low yielding and sustainably farmed vineyards to deliver some shockingly delicious wines — at least the two I tried recently, a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Ontario wines

Now, anyone would be skeptical of noble grapes surviving to produce drinkable wines from anywhere in the vicinity of Ottawa. I lived there for 10 years, my wife is from there, our children were born there, and we can tell you — the winters are extremely cold, blustery and excruciatingly long. But I will say this, when spring does arrive (and it does!) and on into summer and fall, it’s simply gorgeous in the Ottawa Valley and can get quite hot and humid well into fall. And I suspect climate change plays a role in the ability to grow (and ripen!) vinifera in such a northerly climate. As well, just like they do in Prince Edward County, the tender vinifera vines are gently and painstakingly buried under the earth each fall and raised back up once the risk of frost has passed in the spring.

To round out the portfolio at KIN, they source additional varieties from trusted growers in Niagara, that also includes a Pinot Noir rosé, charmat style Vidal sparkling wine and a new “natural” wine made from Chardonnay.

KIN Vineyards is owned by Lorraine Mastersmith (a lawyer) and Shaun McEwan (in finance). The winemaker is Brian Hamilton (above), who has spent the last 20 years working with top producers in Sonoma, California, New Zealand as well as Niagara before joining KIN.

Here’s what I liked:

KIN Vineyards Carp Ridge Pinot Noir 2018 ($45, 110 cases released in May, 90 points) — This is a multi-clone blend of Pinot Noir grown at the estate that spends nine months in French oak barrels (22% new oak, 65% neutral and the rest stainless steel) with minimal filtration at bottling. It shows a lighter amber colour in the glass with a highly perfumed nose of savoury raspberries, cran-cherries, bramble and well-integrated spice notes. It’s bright, lithe and nimble on the palate with tart cherries, brambly/earthy raspberries, red currants, soft and silky tannins, balanced spice notes and vibrancy through the finish. Quite nice, and more akin (yes, intended) to Prince Edward County style, than Niagara.

KIN Vineyards Carp Ridge Chardonnay 2018 ($40, 130 cases released in May, 92 points) — Right out the gate, this is a special Chardonnay, an incredible achievement for such a new Ontario wine region. It’s another multi-clonal blend that was aged in French oak and stainless steel for 10 months with bi-weekly lees stirring and bottled with minimal filtration. It shows a light gold colour in the glass and an impressive nose of creamy pear, crisp apple, toasty vanilla and spice and subtle minerality. It has a creamy feel on the palate with a lovely mélange of pear, apple and quince with lemon accents and such lovely spice notes, toasted almonds, bright acidity and length through the finish. This Ottawa Valley winery is one to watch as the terroir becomes more evident and a must visit if you are in the neighbourhood. Bravo!

Three classic Niagara
wines at Vintages Feb. 22

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2017 ($30, 92 points) — A blend of all three estate vineyards and aged in a mix of French oak barriques and puncheons with no more than 26% new oak. It’s finished unfined and unfiltered. It has a fresh, bright opening note with pear fruit, lemon zest, apricot, toasted oak spices and a hint of marzipan and minerality. It’s a beautifully constructed Chardonnay, rich and finessed with a lemony/minerally profile that adds pear, crisp apple, touch of cream and length through the fresh finish. Represents great value at this quality level.

Creekside Iconoclast Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2017 ($23, 90 points) — This third iteration of the blend is a mix of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and the rest Semillon. It’s the first time SB has dominated the blend, which is barrel fermented and barrel aged for 10 months in French oak. I love the nose of gooseberry, honeysuckle, white flowers, grapefruit, subtle underlying spice and herbs. It has a soft texture on the palate with gorgeous flavours of pear, grapefruit, gooseberry, guava, beeswax, integrated herbs and spice accents with just enough zest on the finish to keep it lively and vibrant.

Creekside Laura’s Red 2016 ($25, 90 points) — This classic from Creekside uses the typical Bordeaux varietals and adds Syrah to the mix. With the hot 2016 vintage, winemaker Rob Power uses a bit more Merlot and Syrah to keep the tannins in check and smooth out the rough edges. It’s a beauty and quite a bargain at $22. Look for dark cherries, brambly raspberries, currants, cedar, savoury notes and barrel spices. This is nicely structured on the palate and built to improve in your cellar with firm tannins and enough red and dark fruits to keep it humming for three+ years. A bloody good wine from an outstanding vintage at a great price.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Lundy Manor Select Late Harvest Vidal 2016 ($25 for 375 mL)
• Lakeview Cellars Gewurztraminer Icewine 2017 ($35 for 200 mL)
• Megalomaniac Bubblehead Sparkling Rosé NV ($35)
• Kew Vineyards Estate Heritage 2013 ($40)
• Southbrook Triomphe Merlot 2017 ($28)
• Tragically Hip Fully Completely Reserve Red 2017 ($25)

A bold and sassy Syrah from B.C.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2016, Okanagan Valley ($32, Vintages, 91 points) — The Black Sage Vineyard, located on the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert, with scorching mid-summer temperatures, was planted by partners Harry McWatters and Bob Wareham, then-owners of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in Summerland, in 1992. The reds were the first classic Bordeaux varieties to be planted in the region, and when the vines began to produce juicy, intensely flavoured fruit, other growers soon followed suit and expanded plantings to include other varieties that benefitted from the hottest climate in Canada. Since 1993, the Black Sage Bench has become renowned for the quality of bold red wines it produces and is now owned and bottled under the vineyard name by Arterra Wines Canada.

This bold and sassy Syrah has a rich and savoury nose of red plums, black cherries, black currants, boysenberries, earth, pepper and toasted oak spices. It’s generous and open-knit on the palate with a New World flare that shows a complex array of red and dark berries, licorice, black peppercorns and rich spice notes delivered on a bed of smooth tannins and lifted by bright acidity. Showing nicely right now, or cellar 3+ years.

New Twisted from Flat Rock

The Twisted family at Niagara’s Flat Rock Cellars welcomed a sparkling new creation into the fold and wine lovers can get their first taste at Vintages March 7.

Flat Rock Cellars Sparkling Twisted 2018 ($25, Vintages March 7, 89 points) — Winemaker David Sheppard combines Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir for this Charmat-style sparkling wine that is finished with the estate’s signature crown cap for easy access (and zero chance of cork taint). It shows a gentle mousse in the glass with aromas of creamy pear, peach and lemony accents. It’s fresh, ripe and has a touch of sweetness that highlights the juicy peach, pear, citrus and creamy notes through a vibrant finish. Seriously good fun.

Flat Rock Cellars Good Kharma Chardonnay 2018 ($17, Vintages March 7, 88 points) — A portion of the sales from this Good Kharma wine goes to Feed Ontario, formerly the Ontario Association of Food Banks, which to date, has provided over 120,000 meals for Ontarians in need. This unoaked style of Chardonnay has pure and fresh aromas of pineapple, peach and loaded with tropical fruits and just a hint of creaminess. It’s clean and fresh on the palate with tropical fruits, peach and vibrancy through the finish. Good, honest Niagara Chardonnay.