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In the spirit of the season, here’s a holiday roundup of new Niagara wines (and a special eggnog recipe for Santa)

By Rick VanSickle

’Twas a couple weeks before Christmas, when all through Niagara, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there … with wine. Lots and lots of wine.

I know, a really bad rendition of everyone’s favourite children’s Christmas poem, but in the spirit of the season, we offer up a selection new Niagara wines for your consideration (either to give or receive this holiday) from Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery, Malivoire, Kacaba, Fourth Wall Wines  and Henry of Pelham. Oh, and a special treat — my very own rendition for a (nearly) local Rum & Eggnog starring Niagara Teaching College School Spirits Small Batch Rum and Kvas Northern Maple Old Fashioned Simple Syrup.

Tawse and Redstone

Tawse Winery
Online store here

Redstone Winery
Online store here

The Bubble

Niagara wine

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Blanc de Noir Spark 2013 ($35, winery, 93 points) — This traditionally made 100% Pinot Noir from the Laundry Vineyard is aged for 6 years on lees. It has quite an energetic mouse on opening with lovely lemon, brioche, pear, apple, toasted hazelnuts and biscuit on the nose. It’s crisp and fresh on the palate with a gorgeous creamy texture to complement the pear, apple and citrus fruits with toasted almonds, vanilla, brioche and lifted finesse on the vibrant finish. Just a gorgeously aged sparkler.

The White Wines

Tawse Limestone Vineyard North Block Riesling 2018 ($22, winery or online, Vintages in 2021, 92 points) — From the 100% organic estate Limestone Ridge Vineyard. A wow nose of profound stony minerality, lime, grapefruit, perfumed pear, nectarine and honeysuckle. It has wonderful vibrancy on the palate and layered with honey, ginger, wet stones, pear, gushing lime juice, salinity and a fresh, lively finish that balances out the 24 g/l of RS with racy acidity. A truly wonderful Riesling.

Tawse Quarry Road Gewurztraminer 2018 ($25, winery, 91 points) — This single-vineyard and charming Gewurztraminer has a perfumed nose of grapefruit, ginger, nectarine, lychee, rich pear and spice. It’s dripping in honey on the palate with notes of Asian pear, lychee nut, lovely ginger and grapefruit with an exotically spiced and soft, lingering finish.

Tawse Sketches Chardonnay 2018 ($20, LCBO, winery, 88 points) — This is a blend of estate and purchased fruit and is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, 20% of which is new oak. An open knit Chardonnay with a ripe nose of pear, peach, golden apple, butterscotch, toasted vanilla and spice. Pure comfort Chard on the palate with poached pear, golden apple, toasted oak spices and just a pinch of citrus zest on the finish.

Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($38, winery, LCBO direct delivery, 92 points) — This stellar single-vineyard estate Chardonnay is aged for 12 months in 100% French oak. It’s just a little tight at the moment, but with patience, it opens up to reveal lovely perfumed notes with green apple, pear, nectarine, stony minerality, oak barrel spice notes and subtly caramel. It’s beautifully elegant on the palate with tree fruits, wet stone minerality, integrated spices and perfectly finessed on the finish. Top drawer Niagara Chardonnay that can age well for 5+ years.

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2017 ($39, winery, 91 points) — Crafted from a blend of fruit from estate grown blocks — 43% Quarry Road Vineyard, 41% Hillside Vineyard and 16% David’s Block and aged in French oak for 12 months. It has an enticing nose of apple, pear, some tropical fruits, mineral and lovely integrated oak spices. The palate reveals pear/quince note, pineapple, flinty minerality, citrus zest and a firm acidic backbone leading to a bright, finessed finish. Quite elegant and would benefit from a year or two in the cellar.

Redstone Limestone Ridge Chardonnay 2018 ($30, winery, 90 points) — Crafted 100% from the estate’s Limestone Ridge Vineyard in the Twenty Mile Bench sub appellation and aged 12 months in French oak. The nose is tight at this point, but swirl it reveals pear, oak spices, apple and citrus undertones. It’s a bolder style of Chardonnay on the palate with ripe pear, apple, vanilla toast, stony minerality, butterscotch and spice with a lifted finish. Can cellar 3+ years.

The Red Wines

Tawse Gamay 2019 ($19, winery, 89 points) — Crafted from fruit sourced in various selected Niagara vineyards and aged for 6 months in French oak barrels. It shows a cherry red colour in the glass with a nose of black cherries, plums, raspberries and subtle spice notes. The palate reveals tart red berries, savoury spice notes, some anise and dark plums with freshening acidity on the finish.

Redstone Gamay 2019 ($19, winery, 89 points) — This Redstone version of Gamay is aged 6 months in French oak and has a lighter hue in the glass to go with vibrant aromas of cherries, plums, cranberries and subtle spice notes. It’s juicy and vibrant on the palate with black cherries, brambly raspberries, touch of cassis and spice with some earthy/savoury notes on the juicy finish. Gulping Gamay!

Redstone Meritage 2016 ($46, winery, 92 points) — A 100% estate grown blend of 50% Merlot and 25% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from the estate’s Redstone Vineyard that is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. It has an attractive nose of cassis, cocoa, black currants, dark cherries, earth and fine oak spices. The fruits are dense and persistent on the palate with cassis, anise/licorice, dark cherries, currants, smoky undertones, earth, fine-grained tannins and plenty of acidic zip on the finish. Can cellar 7+ years.

Redstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($46, winery, 90 points) — Crafted 100% from the estate’s Redstone Vineyard and aged 18 months in French oak. It has a bold and attractive nose of blackberries, anise, earth, overt oak spices and dark plums. The tannins are firm on the palate with a range of dark berries, minty herbs, licorice and leather that’s all layered and complex with a vibrant finish. Needs time to fully come together, but I suspect aging will offer up big rewards.

The Icewine

Redstone Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2019 ($36 for 200 mL, winery, 93 points) — My, oh, my, what a spectacular nose of Swedish berries, raspberry jam, cherry compote and just a hint of earthy/savoury notes. There’s a playful tug of tartness on the palate but then the super sweet honey notes chime in with compoted red berries — jammy but not cloying — with depth, complexity and texture for days. There’s just enough acidity on the finish to offer some balance, but no bones about it, this is a hedonistic treat that will age gracefully for years to come. Cellar 8+ years.

Malivoire Wine Company

Online store here

Malivoire Gamay ‘Le Coeur’ 2019 ($28, winery, 93 points) — Anyone who thinks Gamay can’t rise to a thrilling level in Niagara has not tried the top Gamays from Malivoire made by Shiraz Mottiar. This is a sublime example crafted from a careful regime of whole grape clusters directed to a stainless steel tank and then the tank was purged of oxygen and sealed for one week of semi-carbonic maceration. Primary fermentation under wild yeast was followed by 100% malo-lactic conversion. The wine aged for seven months in neutral 300-Litre French oak puncheons. There is a lovely floral/herbaceous opening note on the nose followed by plums, summer cherries, bramble and savoury spice notes. It’s juicy on the palate and teeming with dark cherries, plums, raspberry bramble, crunchy cranberries, earthy/savoury notes, spice and a tangy, lifted finish. A wonderful Gamay from the Beamsville Bench.

Malivoire Estate Grown Chardonnay 2019 ($20, winery, 90 points) — Such expressive notes of ripe apple, pear, subtle peach, lemon zest and light toasty spices. It has a creamy feel on the palate with vibrant apple/pear and nectarine fruits with zesty citrus and spice accents through a zippy finish. Good value Chardonnay here.

Kacaba Vineyards and Winery

Online winery here

Kacaba Oak-Aged Chardonnay 2018 ($30, winery, 90 points) — Kacaba wines are not shrinking violets and that extends to this fuller bodied Chardonnay that’s aged for 8 months in French oak and acacia barrels. It has a bold, ripe opening on the nose with creamy/spice notes to go with peach, golden apple, ripe pear and toasted vanilla. It’s full and rich on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, vanilla cream, caramel, barrel oak spices and just enough acidity to keep it vibrant through the finish.

Kacaba Cabernet Franc 2017 ($33, 91 points) — This CF was aged in French and American oak for 12 months and is medium-bodied with a wonderful nose of crushed wild raspberries, ripe cherries, bramble, herbs, cassis and savoury spice notes. It has lovely mouth feel on the palate with savoury red berries, herbs, anise, smoky notes, cigar-box cedar and spice with a juicy, lifted finish.

Kacaba Cabernet/Syrah 2017 ($30, winery, 90 points) — The blend is 46% Syrah, 27% Cabernet Franc and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon with aging in French and American oak barrels for 13 months. The Syrah shines in this red blend with a meaty, smoky nose followed by black currants, cassis, anise, pepper, savoury herbs and spice. There’s more smoke on the palate with grilled meats, dark berries, leather, peppercorns, sage, spice and a tangy finish. Can cellar 5+ years.

Kacaba Meritage 2017 ($33, winery, 90 points) — The final blend for this meritage is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Cabernet Franc and 24% Merlot with aging in new and used French and American oak barrels for 12 months. It has an elegant, pretty nose of ripe red berries, a floral note, underlying dark fruits, integrated oak spices and subtle earthy accents. It’s smooth and lifted on the palate it shows ripe cherries, plums, black currants and anise that’s nicely balanced with elegant spice notes. Drinking really well right but could cellar a few years.

Fourth Wall Wines

Online store here.

Fourth Wall Meta Gamay Noir 2019 ($30, 91 points) — OK, so a lot going on here. It was made at Malivoire on the Beamsville Bench by Gamay guru Shiraz Mottiar with fruits sourced from several Niagara vineyards — 57% Oppenlaender (Four Mile Creek), 20% Wiens (Four Mile Creek), 14% Enns (Four Mile Creek) and 9% Wismer-Foxcroft. Says Joel Wilcox, who owns the relatively new virtual winery Fourth Wall Wines brand: “The four vineyards comprising the blend were selected for energy and intensity. The Oppenlaender fruit in particular was the closest spiritual match to the 2018 Fourth Wall Gamay with beautiful high-tones. Wiens supported with a strawberry-cored structure, and Enns’ old-oak aging brought a little more square-shouldered depth. (Enns being the only barrel-aged component.) But it was maxing out the Wismer-Foxcroft fruit – fermented semi-carbonic in a demijohn – that took everything to 11. The nose shows a range of lovely savoury red berries, earth/bramble, licorice, plums and just a soupçon (thanks, Miles, from Sideways, for that word!) of spice. There is gorgeous freshness and vitality on the palate with crunchy red berries, meaty/savoury notes, anise, herbs and finesse for miles. A lovely quaffing Gamay.

Fourth Wall Pinot Gris 2019 ($24, 89 points) — Sourced from Riverview’s home vineyard along the Niagara River planted in 2004 and made by that winery’s winemaking team of Alyssa Bator and Nick Salvatore. The majority of this blend was raised in stainless steel and was on the lees for nine months while a small portion saw French oak, all used, for the same amount of time. It has quite the nose with a leesy entry, some cream and then ripe peach, melon, nectarine, lemon blossom and just a hint of spice. It’s ripe and kicks ass on the palate with a broth of ripe orchard fruits, leesy notes, apricot and a creamy texture on a soft-ish, juicy finish. Good drinking wine for right now.

Henry of Pelham Estate Winery

Online store here

Henry of Pelham Special Select Late Harvest Vidal 2019 ($20 for 375 mL, winery, 92 points) — An interesting note that this late harvest wine is available in Ontario, Belgium, the UK and get this, Vietnam! It shows a lovely mélange of peach compote, poached pear, candied lemon and lychee notes on the nose. It’s super sweet on the palate and must have fallen just short of being declared an icewine with peachy jammy notes, apricot preserves, canned pear and marmalade notes in a luxurious and hedonistic style. What a bargain at this price. You can age for 10+ years.

Rickwine’s (nearly) local
Rum & Eggnog

In case you haven’t heard by now, I’m a big fan of rum and eggnog at Christmas time (Dec. 1 to Dec. 25) and have been known to fret over finding great organic eggnog. I’ve driven all the way to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto just to find some. I don’t sweat the eggnog too much these days because there is sea of organic nog now available locally (Farm Boy has a nice one), but I have found a way to take this holiday treat from a 10 all the way to 11 — and it involves local rum and a local simple syrup.

Here’s what you need:

• Bottle of Niagara Teaching College School Spirits Small Batch Rum
• Bottle of Kvas Northern Maple Old Fashioned Simple Syrap
• Organic Eggnog
• Ice and a spice mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg

In a tumbler, mix 2 ounces (heck, it’s Christmas, add a bit more) of rum, one 3/4 ounce simple syrup (or less if you prefer less sweetness), ice and top up with eggnog, add spices and swirl. 

*Remember to leave one out for Santa, too