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A Toronto newspaper discovers a Niagara winery that apparently no one knows exists

By Rick VanSickle

An online headline last week from Toronto’s largest newspaper was puzzling, to say the least: ‘The best Ontario winery you’ve never heard of in Niagara.’

Also in this report: A roundup of Niagara wines hitting Vintages shelves on June 12, including a top Riesling from Henry of Pelham, several Chateau des Charmes wines, Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc and a Flat Rock Chardonnay.

Fact is, if you are at all engaged in wines made in Ontario, you are fully aware of Westcott Vineyards, which was the focus of the aforementioned, misleading headline. Now, the writer rarely pens the headline, so, we’re not blaming the author for those words, but, come on. The headline should at least reflect the story, and, in this case, it did not.

Westcott has been around for 15 years, crafting some mighty fine wines from the “Home Farm,” a 40-acre property located in Jordan in the Vinemont Ridge sub-appellation, and recently purchasing the spectacular Butlers’ Grant Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench, a 43-acre jewel that allowed owners Grant Westcott and wife Carolyn Hurst, above, to expand their primarily Pinot Noir/Chardonnay/sparking portfolio from the home vineyard to old vine Riesling, Cabernet Franc and more Pinot and Chard.

And an expansion was dearly needed; Westcott generally sells out of wine as quickly as they make it. So, Toronto Star, take note — somebody out there knows who they are.

The marketing team at Westcott works extremely hard to avoid headlines such as the one in the Toronto Star. Exposure in the country’s largest newspaper is fantastic for business, but on the other side of the coin, it should come with some accuracy. Westcott just gets it in terms of marketing, utilizing local advertising opportunities (full disclosure, which includes this website and other local wine websites) while most Ontario wineries and industry associations turn to U.S. mega-giants Google and Facebook to (ironically?) push their “buy local” message.

Steve Elphick photo

Westcott is not an island, it is a vibrant, boutique local winery hell bent on making terroir-driven wines at the top echelons and, to be honest, trying hard to keep up with demand. But shhhh, don’t tell the Star that.

We wrote about Westcott extensively and tasted through the full portfolio last November. You can read that post here. We also got caught on some new spring releases and re-tasted the spectacular Butlers’ Grant Chardonnay. Here’s what we liked, all available online here.

Westcott Brilliant 2017 ($40, 92 points)This is a traditionally made, 66% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay from the Westcott Home Farm Vineyards that spent 30 months on the lees. It has an attractive creamy/brioche/baked bread nose with ripe pear, apple, lemon curd and mineral tones. It’s fresh on the palate and pours a lively mousse with stone fruit, lemon zest, subtle toastness and a crisp, finessed finish. Great balance, depth and persistence.

Westcott Butlers’ Grant Vineyard Riesling 2020 ($19, 91 points) — The grapes are from the oldest vines planted at the recently purchased Butlers’ Grant Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench. This is how I remember this old-style Riesling from this special vineyard that Rob Power and Craig McDonald used to make at Creekside. The nose shows pure lime, defined stony minerality, citrus zest, honeysuckle, a touch of peach and that lovely ginger note prevalent at Butlers’ Grant. There is some residual sugar in this version, but nicely balanced on the palate with citrus, fresh-squeezed lime, wet stones, more ginger and a tangy, lifted finish.

Westcott Lillias Chardonnay 2020 ($25, 90 points) — A smartly priced, unoaked Chardonnay that is 100% stainless steel fermented. It has a fresh and minerally driven nose with new pear, apple, some creamy notes and lemon tart. It has lovely texture on the palate with ripe pear and apple, then citrus and mouth-watering acidity on the finish.

Westcott Butlers’ Grant Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 ($48, 93 points) — This is the first Chardonnay harvested from the Westcott’s Butlers’ Grant Vineyard. It’s made with low sulphur, wild fermented in barrels and barrel aged for 9 months in a mix of 50% second use and 50% neutral French oak. What an exciting debut for this Chardo. Such a perfumed nose of summer pear, flinty minerality, lemon zest, warm apple notes and lovely integrated spices. It’s tight on the palate, like a flower waiting to bloom, but wait on it, swirl it vigorously and it opens up to a rich and elegant wine with a beautiful flinty/mineral edge, creamy texture, ripe pear, apple, lemon, spice rack and a finish that is finessed, long and elegant. A really nice Chardonnay that will benefit from some cellar aging. My notes when originally tasted last Nov. echo those above.

Westcott Delphine Rosé 2020 ($19, 88 points) — Delphine Rosé is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Pinot Noir. It’s a cherry bomb on the nose with strawberries, cranberries and subtle citrus zing. It shows ripe red berries on the palate, with some sweetness and pleasant acidity holding it all together.

Westcott Pinot Noir Rosé 2020 ($24, 92 points) — Yet another great rosé from the warm 2020 vintage. This is 100% Pinot Noir with an attractive salmon colour in the glass. It has a pretty nose of fresh raspberries, strawberries, Morello cherries and subtle herbs. It’s refreshingly dry on the palate with a mélange of red berries, rhubarb and summer herbs with a lifted, fresh finish.

Niagara wines released
at Vintages June 12

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Riesling 2019 ($28, 94 points) — The Speck Brothers do a lot of things right from their Short Hills Bench estate, but Riesling is a cut above all the rest and this top cuvee is consistently one of the best Rieslings made in Niagara. The vineyard where this Riesling is grown was planted in 1982 to the famed Weis 21b Clone. It has a racy, saline nose of gushing lime, grapefruit, lemon blossom, green apple, tangerine, stony minerality and a subtle note of ginger. There is an interesting tug of tension between sweet and tart citrus then wet stones, lemon pith and ginger with a dry impression on a finish that’s long and fresh. The racy vein of acidity should carry this wine to even greater heights for 15+ years. A cellar must for collectors of Niagara Riesling.

Chateau des Charmes Blanc de Blancs Sparkling 2016 ($35, 92 points) — A consistently delicious traditionally made blanc de blancs sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay grapes and aged on the lees for a minimum of two years. It pours with a vigorous mousse and a nose of toasted/creamy vanilla, brioche, golden apple, ripe pear and subtle lemon peel. It has gorgeous texture and verve on the palate with an elegant bead to carry the toasty vanilla, pear/apple notes, touch of citrus, baked bread all leading to a crisp, fresh finish. Great bubbly at this price point.

Chateau des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Gamay Noir Droit 2018 ($20, 88 points) — Gamay Noir “Droit” was Canada’s first native vinifera vine, born in Chateau des Charmes’ St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the only place in the world “Droit” is grown. It has a big jammy nose overflowing with ripe cherries, raspberries, smoke, cassis and purple plums. It has a smoky entry on the palate with savoury herbs, red berries and mouth-watering acidity on the finish.

Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($18, 90 points) — 20% of the fruit is barrel fermented using neutral Canadian oak barrels. This has a lovely grassy/herbaceous nose with notes of grapefruit, lime, kiwi and star fruit. There’s a bit more flesh on the palate, more richness in the grapefruit, lime and kiwi with spice and herb accents on a fresh finish.

Flat Rock 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.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Chateau des Charmes Brut Sparkling ($26)
• Southbrook Organic Pét-Nat Bubbly 2020 ($30)
• Rosewood The Looking Glass 2017 ($20)
• Serenity By Lakeview Cellars Pinot Noir Rosé 2020 ($16)
• The Tragically Hip Flamenco Rosé 2020 ($20)
• Southbrook Laundry Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ($35, flagship stores only)