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Hip, Hip, Hooray! A selection of new wines from Niagara

By Rick VanSickle

As most Niagara wineries remain in a holding pattern, but are ready to welcome guests to tastings rooms around the region, we run down some new wine releases from various estates.

We kick off this tasting report with local wines being released at LCBO/Vintages stores on Saturday, including Redstone, Flat Rock, and Henry of Pelham with a guest appearance from B.C.’s Culmina winery. Also, we taste new wines from the popular Stoney Ridge Tragically Hip label, two reserve wines from Jackson-Triggs, an intriguing Dornfelder rosé from Andrea Kaiser, new wines from Henry of Pelham’s Family Tree label and a delicious pear cider from Ravine.

First, local wines that we can recommend from Vintages this Saturday:

Our picks for local wines
released at Vintages Saturday

Niagara wine

Redstone Chardonnay 2016 ($20, 88 points) — A fragrant, floral nose with notes of peach, lemon blossoms, honey and toasty oak. The palate expresses plenty of fresh peach, candied lemon peel and Mandarin orange. Acidity is vibrant and oak has been judiciously applied and is nicely integrated with the fruit, giving it a creamy texture and lingering buttery, caramel notes. (Michael Lowe review)

Flat Rock Cellars Unplugged Chardonnay 2019 ($18, 89 points) — Unplugged, Flat Rock’s version of unoaked Chardonnay, is a consistently good example of this style in Niagara. It shows fresh apple, pear, touch of peach and minerals on the nose, with subtle lemon zest. It’s lean with a mineral edge on the palate to go with crisp apple, fresh pear and citrus zest on the finish. Good value Chardonnay here.

Flat Rock Cellars Pink Twisted Rosé 2019 ($18, 89 points) — The candy apple red colour stands out in a crowd for this blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay, Riesling and pinch of Gewurztraminer. It has an interesting nose that’s redolent in raspberries, cherries and citrus accents. There is more complexity on the palate with fresh raspberries, cherries, plums, subtle tannins, ginger and tangy citrus on the finish.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Riesling 2018 ($28, 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!

Also released Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Henry of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2015 ($25)
• Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($22)
• Megalomaniac My Way Chardonnay 2017 ($25)
• The Foreign Affair Riesling 2013 ($24, Flagship stores only)

A beauty from B.C.

Culmina Hypothesis 2014 ($50, 93 points) — What a beautiful blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 22% Cabernet Franc. The colour in the glass is a deep, rich black cherry hue with aromas of black currants, cherry compote, caramel, fine oak spices, cassis, bramble, graphite and earthy/loamy accents. Such a baby at this point, but swirl and swirl and it opens up on the palate to layers of dark fruits, elegant spices, cocoa, a vein of Golden Mile minerality, and a long finessed finish. This is a red that will improve gracefully for 10+ years but irresistible now with a nice New York strip loin, or braised beef cheek pappardelle.

Hip, Hip Hooray!

Under the iconic Canadian band’s name, The Tragically Hip brand made at Stoney Ridge in Niagara has added a rosé wine to the portfolio. The Tragically Hip Flamenco was released two weeks ago at Vintages stores but I am told there are still some bottles on shelves there and online at Stoney Ridge.

The Flamenco joins a growing portfolio of the popular Hip wines including Ahead By A Century Chardonnay (reviewed below) and the Reserve Red — Fully Completely.

The creation of a traditionally dry style of rosé was inspired by the lyrics and music of Flamenco, a lessor known but critically acclaimed track on the band’s seminal Trouble at the Henhouse album originally released in 1996. The label artwork is a collaboration between the winery and the band’s guitarist Rob Baker, who inspired the original wine label art as a reflection of the song and its reminiscence of Spanish flamenco dance and their signature guitars.

Our reviews of the new rosé and the new vintage of the Chardonnay:

The Tragically Hip Flamenco Rosé 2019 ($20, 90 points) — A blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, this rosé was crafted in the traditional Provence saignée style and shows a pale salmon colour in the glass with a fresh nose of strawberries, cherries, herbs and watermelon. It’s delicious on the palate with a bevy of red berries, herbs, cranberries, citrus zest and mouth-watering acidity on the finish.

“Walk like a matador
Don’t be chicken-shit
And turn breezes into rivulets”

The Tragically Hip Ahead By A Century Chardonnay 2019 ($22, winery and online Friday, Vintages Aug. 22, 89 points) — Sourced from three different vineyards in Niagara with aging in 50% stainless steel and 50% new French oak barrels for 7.5 months with lees stirring. A comforting, inviting nose of ripe apple, tropical fruits, toasty vanilla bean, buttercream and spices. It has spicy bite on the palate and is backed by rich, ripe apple, lemon tart, tropical notes and a smidge of citrus zest to keep it all lively and vibrant through the core.

New from Jackson-Triggs in Niagara

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Entourage Brut 2016 ($30, Vintages and Wine Rack stores, 93 points) — What a beautiful, nicely mature and elegant sparkling wine from J-T at a remarkably affordable price for a wine at this level. The grapes were handpicked from the estate vineyard and is a blend of Chardonnay (49%), Pinot Noir (47%) and Pinot Meunier (4%) that was whole-bunch pressed, clarified and fermented in individual varietal batches the aged en tirage for three years. It has such a beguiling nose of lemon biscuit, green apple, brioche, creamy pear with a persistent bubble in the glass. It has mouth-filling flavours of apple, pear, quince, some tropical fruits and lemon tart with toasty vanilla, almonds, marzipan and a finessed, luxurious finish. Pure elegance here that’s reached a nice plateau and should carry for another few years.

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2018 ($20, available July 9 at Vintages and Wine Rack stores, 91 points) — The fruit comes from the historic Montague Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake and was aged on the lees for 12 months in French oak barrels. Another great value at $20. It has a highly fragrant nose of pear, ripe apple, grapefruit, vanilla and spice. It’s creamy and spicy on the palate and loaded with all those ripe orchard fruits so prevalent in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It finishes with lovely freshening citrus zest to keep everything balanced.

An intriguing Dornfelder
rosé from Andrea Kaiser

Andrea Kaiser, above, daughter to Canadian pioneering winemaker Karl J. Kaiser, recently released her first small batch rosé made from the rarely seen Dornfelder grape. Kaiser considered a number of grape varieties and settled on Dornfelder for her 2019 Drea’s Rosé as it not only reminded her of her father but was also intrigued by the idea of producing a rosé from a red grape with a bold colour and intense fruit flavours. It was a bit of a gamble, as it seems to be the first and only Dornfelder rosé produced in Canada.

“In designing this wine I wanted to select a red varietal that had ample berry flavours, good skin colouration and a bright acidity. I had to look no further than one of my father’s favourite grape varieties, Dornfelder, that he knew from his homeland Austria,” says Kaiser.

Her father had planned many moons ago to put Dornfelder on the map for winemaking in Ontario but was told by marketing it would be a difficult to sell as it was an unknown grape and also difficult to pronounce. He liked the varietal for Canada as it is winter hardy, fairly easy to grow and ripen, but more importantly, has ripe and juicy fruit flavours not always found in cool climate reds.

In contemplating using it for her rosé, it was apparent that the juice could only spend a moment or two on the skins for colour extraction. Even this limited time on the skins brought a deep bright pink hue to the wine.

“While my first love was Sauvignon Blanc, I am excited about rosés that are dry, crisp and downright delicious. I am absolutely in love with this wine, as it is all that I dreamt it to be. It will be my wine to enjoy … all summer long,” says Kaiser

You can buy this wine at Reif Estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake or online here.

Drea’s Rosé 2019 ($26, Reif Estate or online, 90 points) — It shows a dark ruby colour in the glass, a departure from the vast majority of rosés currently being released in Niagara, but, as explained above, the Dornfelder juice could only spend a moment or two on the skins for colour extraction. It has a floral nose of violets and roses and then fresh crushed raspberries, a squirt of lemon, strawberries and herbs. It so refreshingly different and unique on the palate with rich red berries, subtle tannins, pleasing minerality and herbs with a vibrant, dry finish.

Lowrey Bros. delicious
pear and apple cider

Lowrey Bros. Pear Cider ($3.90 for 474 mL can, 5.6% abv, 93 points) — From Ravine Vineyard and made by Lydia Tomek, this is made from 100% cold snap pear juice. It is a sensational perry that is pure and free from adulteration of any kind. You can smell the aromas wafting from the glass a mile away, with pear, salinity, a pinch of citrus and ginger. On the palate the subtle effervescence carries the pure pear and zesty citrus notes to a dry, refreshing finish. One of the best parries tasted this year for its purity and clean finish.

Lowrey Bros. Apple Cider ($3.90 for 474 mL cans, 5.5% abv, 90 points) — Sourced from 100% freshly pressed Niagara apple juice, the Lowrey hard apple cider is made in an extra dry style with subtle spritz and showcases bright, vibrant apples and crisp, clean finish. No tricks here, just pure and refreshing apple juice for adults.

All in the family 
at Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham has done a significant re-imagining of the product line called Family Tree with striking new labels and names that dig back deep into the rich history of the Speck Family. Here are three new wines being released, plus a Cab-Merlot from the core brand.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Goat Lady Chardonnay 2019 ($17, LCBO General List June 21, 88 points) — This wine is named after Marion, who kept goats next to the vineyard when the Speck Bros. were children. Marion fed their dog Boswell warm bowls of fresh goats’ milk and it didn’t take long for him to abandon them and move in with her. This saw seven months in American oak and has a rich and creamy nose of pear, cloves, spice and citrus accents. It’s juicy and quite spicy on the palate with ripe stone fruits, caramel, lemon zest and persistence through the finish.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Bootlegger Baco Noir 2019 ($18, LCBO General List on June 21, 88 points) — I’ve lost track of the number of different Baco Noirs HoP has in its family of wines, but it’s more than any other winery on Earth. This is the latest bold Baco in the family. During Prohibition airplanes would visit the estate to collect whiskey and wine made in local barns; a throw back to times gone by. The nose shows a savoury expression of this grape with notes of cassis, plums, spice and licorice. It’s earthy on the palate with savoury spices, kirsch, plum, cassis and juicy acidity on the finish. The wine is 20% barrel aged in 100% American oak and 80% aged in stainless steel.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Padré Cabernet-Merlot 2018 ($22, winery only, 89 points) — Before starting a winery with his three sons, Paul Speck Sr. was a padré. Bringing together the triumvirate of grapes Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, this wine is made in his honour. The Padré was aged in 60% French oak barrels and 40% American oak for 16 months. It has a really expressive nose of cherries, black currants, cassis and barrel spice notes. It’s rich and fruit-laden with medium+ tannins and a mélange of black currants, cherries, integrated barrel spices and length on the finish. A red blend that punches above its weight glass.

Henry of Pelham Estate Cabernet-Merlot 2016 ($25, Vintages in Sept., 92 points) — Whenever I think we’ve exhausted all the 2016 reds in Niagara, another one pops up out of nowhere. This is a beautifully aged Bordeaux style blend with a rousing nose of dark fruits, spice and earthy/savoury notes that draw you into the glass. It has grippy tannins on the palate with a range of bold dark fruits, black cherries, enticing spice notes and a juicy, racy finish. Still lots of time left to put a few away in the cellar. Great value from a very good vintage in Niagara for bolder style reds.