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Ontario drinks roundup: Kacaba Syrahs, Vintages picks and some tasty new Black Fly flavours

By Rick VanSickle

Syrah has always been a strong suit in the small lot program at Kacaba Vineyards Winery on the Niagara Escarpment Bench in Vineland.

And the single-vineyard Escarpment series represents the best of the best of this Rhone variety grown on the property. An opportunity to try three of these wines from the 2017 vintage side by side from three separate terroirs offers an interesting opportunity to taste the impact small factors in climate and soil play in the resulting wine.

Also in this report, new Niagara wines (and one from B.C.) we can recommend from the Vintages release on Saturday, a roundup of new Black Fly mixed drinks now hitting the shelves at the LCBO, and new wines from Henry of Pelham.

Niagara wines

If you follow the Wine Route into Vineland, the gate to the winery is flanked by Niagara ledge rock and leads up a curved driveway lined with sugar maples. A silver bridge spans a ravine terraced and planted with one of Ontario’s first major plantings of Syrah in 1997. On the other side of the ravine are rows of mainly Bordeaux reds with roses planted at the end of each.

The Niagara Escarpment Bench provides drainage for air, frost and water. All of these can have a negative effect on growing grapes. They drain down the Escarpment to the flats below and particularly in the case of frost, are eventually warmed by the waters of Lake Ontario and return to moderate the cold frosty nights in spring and fall or freezing nights during the winter. Grapes do not like wet feet and the acreage is under-drained to follow the natural slope. The Syrah planted ravine acts as a heat sink for this particular heat loving variety.

Here’s what we liked of the three Syrahs tasted recently along with the newly released barrel fermented Chardonnay (released at Vintages on Saturday).

To get these wines during the COVID-19 pandemic:

• Curbside pick up (at the Winery): Call 905-562-5625 or go here to place your order with a credit card
• Online order and shipping in Ontario: Visit here to place your order; and wine will be delivered within 2-4 business days via Canada Post or ALM Crown (or by one of our winery team if you live local!). There is free shipping for Ontario residents ordering 6 or more bottles, use promo code FREESHIP6 at checkout.
• Shipping outside of Ontario: Call 905-562-5625 or go here and place an order and wine will be delivered within 5 business days via Canada Post
• Leave a note on your order about FREESHIP6 and receive half price shipping!

The Syrahs

Kacaba Proprietors Block Syrah 2017 ($33, 92 points) — This south-facing block consists of the youngest Syrah planted at the estate in 2007. The soils there have higher loam content and less elevation variance. It’s aged for 12 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels. Such a personable nose of smoked meat, charcuterie, toasted vanilla bean, anise, dark cherries, blueberries and savoury spice notes. The red fruits are well integrated on the palate to go with black peppercorns, anise/licorice, smoke and spices that is all together well balanced and vibrant on the finish.

Kacaba Silver Bridge Syrah 2017 ($33, May release, 91 points) — This vineyard is the oldest of three Syrah plantings at the estate and the first Syrah planted in Ontario in 1997. It’s made similarly to the other two single vineyard Syrahs with aging for 12 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels. It has a smoky/earthy nose with pepper, dark cherries, boysenberries, sage, grilled meats, mocha and spice. The tannins on the palate are smooth and carry rich red berries, wild herbs, peppercorns, smoke and spice through a finessed finish.

Kacaba Terraced Vineyard Syrah 2017 ($33, 90 points) — This vineyard is one of the two original blocks of Syrah planted at the estate in 1997 and includes newer vines planted in 2007. It’s planted in the ravine on the property and had to be terraced in order to plant rows of vines. Oak aging in French and American barrels was for 13 months. This is a distinctly more floral expression of Syrah on the nose with violets leading the way then cherries, plums, savoury spices and subtle peppery notes. On the palate, fresh-crushed red berries dance with savoury spices, red plums, anise and pepper notes on a more structured frame.

Niagara wines released at
Vintages stores on Saturday

Kacaba Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2017 ($40, flagship stores only and released Saturday, 92 points) — The juice for this Chardonnay was fermented in second-fill oak barrels (80% French, 20% American) and then aged in barrel on the lees for eight months. This is a robust, full-bodied style of Chardonnay with a bold nose of creamy pear, toasted vanilla bean, baked apple, oak spices and lemon tart. The creamy texture on the palate leads to opulent poached pear and apples with vanilla bean, buttery toast, elegant oak spices and persistence through the finish.

Featherstone Rosé 2019 ($16, 89 points) — The blend for this consistently delicious rosé is 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Cabernet Franc, 16% Gamay and the rest Merlot. It was kept on the lees for four weeks before bottling. The colour is a bright cherry red with an enticing nose of raspberries, herbs, cherries, red plums and a floral note. There’s just a hint of sweetness on the palate but nicely balanced by the mouth-watering acidity and shows bright red berries and subtle herbaceousness.

Flat Rock Riesling 2018 ($18, 89 points) — A highly perfumed nose of ripe pear, green apple, citrus and wet stone notes. On the palate, there’s tension between the sweet/tart fruit, taut minerality, green apple and lime fruit with beautiful freshness from start to finish.

A gem from B.C.

Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017 ($29, 91 points) — Oak aging for this tidy organic Pinot was done in large format barrels. The nose shows bright cherry fruit, earth, brambly raspberries, forest berries and just a hint of oak. It shows mouth-filling red berries, caressing tannins and a smooth texture with earth, a touch of spice, anise and a finessed finish.

Also released Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Organic Sparkling Riesling ($20, no vintage given)
• Chateau des Charmes Sparkling Rosé 2014 ($35)
• Cave Spring Riesling Icewine ($50 for 375 mL, no vintage given)
• Fogolar Chardonnay 2015 ($19)
• Nomad Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($17)
• Rosewood Renaceau Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($29)
• Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Riesling ($23, no vintage given)
• Vieni Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($25)

Black Fly’s newest mixed
drinks hit LCBO stores

The ready to drink mixed drinks category at the LCBO is large and getting larger with so many to choose from. For the most part, these drinks are super sweet, taste artificial and lack pizzazz on the palate.

London’s Black Fly Beverage Company, Ontario’s first micro-distillery founded in 2005 by husband and wife Rob Kelly and Cathy Siskind-Kelly, set about to change that after being awarded the first distillery license granted in Ontario in over 100 years.

The vision was to create more natural and less sweet premium spirit beverages using quality ingredients and innovative packaging. Like the iconic Canadian insect after which the company is named, Black Fly started small with determination to fly under the radar and deliver a mighty bite. Since that time, Black Fly has successfully developed and launched a lineup of unique premium spirit beverages that speak to what today’s consumers are looking for — a wide range of innovative “not too sweet” ready to drink products.

Originally housed in an historic bank building in the heart of downtown London, Black Fly Beverage Company moved its operation in May of 2008 to a state-of-the-art production facility located in the city’s leading industrial quarter. Today Black Fly continues its tradition of developing and producing premium spirit beverages for Canadian markets and beyond.

The focus at Black Fly is to make drinks from natural products by using cane sugar and natural fruit flavours in a range of styles that come in cans or unbreakable bottles.

I tasted a range of the products recently, but have limited my reviews to the drier, fresher collection gin and vodka fizz products and the new “Local 55” beverages (55 calories), which are now arriving at LCBO stores. All other Black Fly products are widely available at LCBO stores across the province.

Here’s what I can recommend:

Black Fly Local 55 Vodka Soda Lemon ($9.75 for four 355 mL cans, 2.8% abv, 88 points) — This only contains 55 calories and is made with just 2.8% abv, so a nice, guilt-free all day sipper that’s crystal clear in the glass with a clean, saline nose and hints of Meyer lemon. It’s super dry, refreshing and lithe on the palate with tart lemon accents and clean on through the finish. Plus no sugar, no carbs, no gluten and vegan friendly.

Black Fly Local 55 Vodka Soda Raspberry ($9.75 for four 355 mL cans, 2.8% abv, 89 points) — Love the nose, a bit more overt than the lemon version, with fresh crushed raspberries and red currant aromas. Again, a perfectly dry, crisp and refreshing drink with lovely raspberries in the background. Just add ice cubes or drink straight from the can. And, yes, just 55 calories plus no sugar, no carbs, no gluten and vegan friendly.

Black Fly Vodka Soda Fizz Lemon Lime ($12 for 6 355 mL cans, 6% abv, 89 points) — The nose is a balanced attack of natural lemon, lime grapefruit and citrus zest. It has good pop on the palate, not completely dry, but certainly refreshing with all those citrusy notes and fresh zesty notes on the finish. Contains no artificial sweetners and is gluten free.

Black Fly Gin Soda Fizz Grapefruit ($12 for 6 355 mL cans, 6% abv, 90 points) — It shows a pretty pale pink in the glass with a nose of pink grapefruit, juniper and white flowers. It’s mellow and fresh on the palate with soft effervescence and flavoured as if you took a grapefruit and squeezed into a glass with subtle juniper and herb accents. A pure, relatively dry and balanced summer sipper that can be served straight from the can or on ice with a garnish. There are no artificial sweeteners (only a bit of cane sugar) and it’s gluten free.

A trio from Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham Three of Hearts Rosé 2019 ($20, May 24 release, 89 points) — The blend for this lovely rosé is 53% Pinot Noir, 41% Pinot Gris and the rest Gamay Noir that’s hand-picked and whole-cluster pressed. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass and comes in an attractive, tall and elegant clear bottle. The nose shows strawberry patch, watermelon, peach and field raspberries. It’s fairly dry and refreshing on the palate with juicy red berries, subtle peach and racy acidity through the finish. Really nice rosé.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Riesling 2018 ($28, June release, 93 points) — The top Riesling made at the estate is from vineyards on the Short Hills Bench planted in 1984 to the Weis 21b clone (RIP Hermann). This wine is always a winner and among the best Rieslings made in Niagara vintage to vintage. It has an enthralling nose of lime, grapefruit, stony minerality and pinch of ginger. On the palate it’s powered by that saline, stony minerality driving the fresh-squeezed lime, the grapefruit, the complex array of pear, peach and quince that’s all supported by racy acidity. This is a very good Riesling that will improve for 7+ years and only get better. Bravo!

Henry of Pelham Aria Sparkling Rosé ($15, 87 points) — A non-vintage charmat method sparkling wine made from a five-grape blend dominated by Gewurztraminer. It shows a pale salmon colour and pours with light effervescence. The nose shows peach, grapefruit and red berries. It has good pop on the palate with ripe red berries, peach and some sweetness on the finish. Fun crowd-pleaser.