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A BarrelHead of fun at Pillitteri, plus a whole whack of new Niagara wine reviews

By Rick VanSickle

There are few silver linings in this the Year of COVID-19, but for a few Niagara wineries, planning for the future has been a welcome bit of good luck for business.

Also in this Niagara Wine Report: New wine reviews for Malivoire, Henry of Pelham, Tawse natural wine series, recommendations for Niagara wines released at Vintages Saturday and a really nice — and smartly priced — IGT from Ruffino.

Mentioned previously on this website was Fielding Estate Winery, which had planned an outdoor oasis for consumers before there was any such thing as social distancing. Because everything was already on order, the whole tasting park beside the winery was built quickly and was ready to welcome visitors as soon COVID protocols were relaxed. Ditto for Back 10 Cellars. A structure was already underway (for another purpose) and was quickly turned into a nice covered tasting area for guests to enjoy wine and food safely. And, of course, Ravine’s beautiful new events venue was conveniently built just in time for this spring and now, instead of weddings, it serves as a safe and comfortable tasting area for guests to gather and enjoy wines.

The view from the cherry orchard. It should be noted that a more permanent tent has been erected on the main patio seating area.
Niagara wine

Then there’s Pillitteri Family Estate Winery.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake winery had already planned an outdoor eatery complete with pizza oven, picnic tables spread throughout a cherry orchard, a giant tent in the main seating area, string lights and walk up ordering bar well before there was a hint of COVID-19.

The winery calls the new venue the BarrelHead Restaurant and features traditional Italian classic oven-fired pizzas all created by Michael Zappitelli, above, and his team along with interesting salads, desserts, icewine cocktails, red and white sangria (made with the Team Canada wines) and, or course, a large selection of Pillitteri wines by the glass (there’s even a BarrelHead branded beer, if you ask nicely).

Wines in Niagara sampled a couple of different pizzas during a wine tasting with marketing manager Jeff Letvenuk and winemaker Aleksandar Kolundzic. The Calabrese, with soppressata, roasted red peppers, sautéed spinach, mozzarella and home made red sauce was incredibly delicious as was the Bianco, with roasted chicken, broccoli, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and home made white sauce.

The icewine cocktails, all original recipes, were also a nice touch from the drinks menu. My favourite was the Blueberry Rosemary made with reserve Cabernet Franc icewine, raspberry vodka, Cointreau, fresh limevjuice, sparkling cranberry juice, muddled raspberries and fresh rosemary. So fresh and tasty and not too sweet.

The BarrelHead pizza patio is open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday weekly.

Here are a few wines we tasted that I can recommend from Pillitteri:

Pillitteri Racina Sunset Rosé 2019 ($20 a bottle or $141 for a case of 12, winery or online, 89 points) — So, the story goes … Charlie Pillitteri submitted this debut 2019 rosé to the LCBO for consideration of a listing. The LCBO told him they needed 18 months lead time for a new listing, despite it being a rosé that obviously needs to be consumed fresh, because, well, it’s better when it’s fresh. Pillitteri did anything a smart businessman would do. He’s taking the 35% or so premium the LCBO would have charged for listing the wine and is passing the savings on to you. It’s $20 a bottle (full price), or $141 for 12 bottles, that’s under $12 a bottle if you buy a case (you have to buy a case to enjoy the reduced price). It’s a pretty tasty rosé made from 100% Cabernet Franc (19% of the fruit is late harvest) that shows a pale salmon colour in the glass with a nose of sweet red berries with touches of peach and guava. It’s juicy and ripe on the palate and made in a slightly off-dry style, but balanced, with plump strawberries, cherries, peachy/apple notes and subtle citrus zest on the finish. At this price, it’s a bargain.

Pillitteri Team Canada White 2018 ($15, LCBO, winery, 88 points) — This second edition of the Team Canada White is a multi-variety blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Gris with a fruity nose of peach, grapefruit, guava, lemon, herbs and ginger notes. There is some sweetness on the palate with a range of flavours, including peach, pear, grapefruit, lemon, lychee, ginger and nutmeg with balancing acidity. Lovely little summer white with an attractive price.

Pillitteri Team Canada Red 2018 ($15, LCBO, winery, 88 points) — Another good value, this blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon shows juicy red berries, black currants, anise, oak spices and subtle herbs on the nose. It’s quite concentrated on the palate with black cherries, currants, cassis, plums, cocoa and spice on a smooth finish.

New from Malivoire …

Malivoire Small Lot Pinot Noir 2018 ($30, winery, 93 points) — The Small Lot Pinot is a blend of Moira and Mottiar vineyards. The juice was wild fermented in a combination of oak cuve, stainless steel and concrete, then aged in a combination of old and new French oak barrels. What a beautiful Pinot Noir! The nose shows tart cherries, earth, spice, crushed stones, wild blueberries, cranberries and elegant spice notes. It’s silky smooth on the palate with brambly raspberries, cran-cherries, anise, toasted oak spices and a finessed finish that goes on and on. Wonderful precision and length.

Malivoire Albert’s Honour Old Vines Foch 2018 ($27, winery, 90 points) — Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar adds about 12% Cabernet Franc to the Quarry Ridge Vineyard Marechal Foch planted in 1972. The wine was aged for 16 months in American and French oak, 20% of which was new oak. It’s bursts with plums, smoke, anise, forest berries, cedar, leather and rich, savoury spice notes. It’s rich and concentrated on the palate and shows savoury red berries, bramble, plums, cassis, herbs and lovely spice notes on a smooth and finessed finish.

New from Tawse …

Tawse Grower’s Blend Skin Fermented Pinot Gris 2019 ($25, winery only, 89 points) — This orange wine is a 100% skin fermented Pinot Gris with an interesting nose of Mandarin orange, marmalade, peach pie, ginger and earthy notes. It’s completely dry on the palate with a subtle reductive note, underlying earthiness then juicy nectarine, compoted peaches, citrus rind, marzipan and marmalade and a brisk finish.

Tawse Natural Gamay 2019 ($29, winery only, 88 points) — Sourced from select vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, this unfiltered, un-sulphured Gamay spends 8 months in French oak. Pours a cloudy red colour in the glass with a nose of brambly red berries, dark plums, muddled blueberries and reductive/earthy notes. The sweet red berries on the palate are joined by underlying earthy/reductive notes, anise, campfire smoke, savoury herbs and spice through with a lifted finish.

New from Henry of Pelham …

Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling 2019 ($20, Vintages Sept. 5, 91 points) — The fruit comes from the estate’s Old Farm planted to the 21b Riesling clone in 1984 on the Short Hills Bench. What a lovely Riesling with a nose of lime, grapefruit lemon blossom and stony minerality. It shows firm tension on the palate between sweet and tart citrus fruits with added orange zest, ginger and wet stones with an electric finish.

Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Old Vines 2019 ($20, 89 points) — There’s a note on the tech that was sent with this wine that caught my eye: “Available in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and United Kingdom.” That is some impressive distribution for a Canadian table wine! The Baco is from vines shovel-planted by the Speck Brothers as far back as 1984 and shows a dark, dense purple colour in the glass. It’s front-end loaded with aromas of plums, black currants, jammy blueberries, anise, smoke, earth and rich spice notes. On the palate it’s bursting with blueberry jam, plums, black currants, campfire smoke, tar, earth and bold spice notes that benefits from juicy acidity on the finish. A lot of wine for the money here.

Niagara wines at Vintages Saturday

Redstone Pinot Noir Sparkling Rosé 2017 ($30, 91 points) — This 100% Pinot Noir, traditionally-made sparkler pours a vigorous mousse and has a nose that is rich in strawberries, watermelon, brambly raspberries and subtle toasty/brioche notes. It’s a bundle of energy on the palate that highlights the full spectrum of red berries, touch of biscuit/toast, savoury notes and a fresh, lively finish.

Sue-Ann Staff Howard’s Vidal Icewine 2017 ($28 for 200 mL, 92 points) — Apricots, candied citrus and peach concentrate in a rich and honeyed style. Delicious.

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2018 ($19, 90 points) — The fruit was hand picked, hand sorted, whole bunch pressed and kept on the lees for about a month. It shows beautiful and pure aromas of lime, salinity, lemon blossom, green apple and a subtle ginger note. There’s a playful tug of sweet and tart lime/grapefruit on the palate with apple skin and ginger accents on bright, vibrant finish.

Flat Rock Twisted White 2017 ($18, 88 points) — This proprietary white blend from Twenty Mile producer Flat Rock is a mix of 64% Riesling, 32% Gewurztraminer and the rest Chardonnay. It’s highly aromatic on the nose with lychee, grapefruit, peach, ginger and a floral accent. It’s off-dry on the palate and displays a range of stone fruits, lychee, Asian spices, honey and marmalade with decent balancing acidity.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2019 ($16)
• The Foreign Affair Conspiracy Bianco 2018 ($18)
• Westcott Lillias Chardonnay 2019 ($25)
• Henry of Pelham Family Tree Red 2017 ($19)
• Riverview Cellars Pinot Noir 2017 ($17)
• Marquis The Silver Line Pink Pinot Rosé 2019 ($18)
• Organized Crime Rosé 2019 ($17)
• Stratus Wildass Rosé 2019 ($19)
• The Foreign Affair Amarosé 2019 ($20)

An IGT you can
sink your teeth into

Ruffino Modus IGT 2017 ($30, Vintages now, 93 points) — I love a good Super Tuscan (technically not called that anymore, but, hey, I’m old school) and love them even more when they come with price like this. Modus is a steady warrior on the IGT spectrum, which is modern Italian style of wine usually combining Bordeaux and native varieties) and rarely disappoints. The 2017 vintage is gorgeous. This Modus is a blend made up of almost equal parts Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet that’s aged separately in small French and American oak casks for approximately 12 months before blending and bottling. From the get-go, this 20th vintage of Modus is a big juicy wine with an overt nose of ripe blackberries, plums, dark cherries, anise, cloves, dried flowers, cedar cigar box and spice notes. It’s rich and full-bodied on the palate with a mouth chock full of dark berries, cherry pie, toasted vanilla, ripe, smooth tannins, savoury herbs, gorgeous spice notes and a long, long finessed finish. Drinking very well right now or cellar 8+ years. Just add the grilled meats.