NewsNiagara Wine ReviewsTop Stories

A ‘classic’ Ontario Chardonnay hits Vintages this week — here’s how to get it

By Rick VanSickle

In the complicated world that is retailing wine at the LCBO, there are many nooks and crannies to explore for the best of the best of wines that most consumers have no idea exist.

The bulk of consumers shop the General List, an ocean of often generic wines from around the world that top out usually under the $20 price point. These are wines that never seem to run out and only lose their standing when sales numbers drop below a certain level.

The view at Tawse winery on the Twenty Mile Bench.

The next level up are the so-called Vintages wines that are released every two weeks. These are often new wines or wines that have a proven track record, many of which are priced above $20 and can cost well into the hundreds for the best of the best. If a wine does well on a regular basis, it could become a “Vintages Essential,” which means those wines are always available and it only changes with the vintage (as long as it keeps selling). The final level of Vintages wines is reserved for “flagship” stores. It is here where the rarest of the Vintages wines to be released physically on the shelves at LCBO stores are slotted. Trouble is, you have to live somewhat near a flagship store or make the trek to the nearest one and hope the wines you want are still available. There are generally under 10 wines in this category and include rare treats from around the world and costing upwards of $100 or more. Occasionally, a top Niagara or Canadian wine makes the cut.

Beyond that, Vintages has several “special” online releases from some of the top producers in the world, featuring portfolios usually of the best wines from a single (or more) winery. It’s first come first served and competition is fierce if you want to get the best of the best. Make sure your bank account is topped up.

Tawse winemaker Paul Pender.

The final category for savvy wine lovers is the monthly Classics Collection, also an online release, and offering some of the most sought after wines in the world. Buyers who seek these wines out, order early if they want any of these wines that tend to sell out quickly.

Ordering for the August edition, which can be viewed here, begins Thursday at 8:30 a.m. and is loaded with gems from around the world with prices ranging from $25 to over $1,000 a bottle. It’s targeted at the knowledgeable wine collector with the means to go after the best of the best.

So, it’s always nice to see a Canadian wine hit this list, which, sadly, is a rare occurrence. In the August release, however, a gem of a Chardonnay from a top Niagara winery caught my attention. The Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2018 is listed for sale, with only 160 bottles available. The wine was long ago sold out at the winery, so this is a chance for wine lovers to grab one of the most consistent and best Chardonnays made in Niagara, and, I would say in Canada.

Robyn’s Block is an iconic Chardonnay made by Paul Pender at the Twenty Mile Bench organic and biodynamically farmed winery. It has been named Wines In Niagara’s top white wine more than once and always finds a home on the list annually. It’s priced at a relatively fair price of $46 and will cellar brilliantly if you have the patience. I went in search of a bottle to share for this report and was fortunate that the good folks at Tawse (thanks Daniel and Violette!) were able to find a single bottle at the winery for me to taste. The review is below, along with the currently available 2019 vintage of Robyn’s Block and the other single vineyard Chardonnay, the Tawse Quarry Road 2018.

Below that you will find Niagara wine highlights from the Vintages release Saturday, which features several skin fermented white wines and some other gems we can highly recommend. But first, the Tawse Chardonnays:

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2018 ($46, 93 points) — The 4-acre Robyn’s Block, named for the eldest daughter of Moray and Joanne Tawse, is the top Chardonnay made at that winery year in and year out. It’s fermented and aged in French oak for 12 months. It has really lovely, alluring nose of ripe golden apple, poached pear, peanut brittle, lime zest, nutmeg, oak spice notes and vanilla. It’s generous and complex on the palate with a rich, almost savoury mélange of pear, apple and citrus notes followed by butterscotch and baking spices with a perky and finessed finish. Such perfect balance, but still built to cellar 5+ years.

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2019 ($46, winery now, 92 points) — Made essentially as the wine above from vines nearly 40 years old. It has a ripe, perfumed nose of pear, lemon, elegant oak spices, toasty vanilla, yellow apple and honeysuckle. It’s generous on the palate with ripe pear, quince, lemon tart, lime zest, butterscotch, vanilla, elegant spices, a creamy texture and length through a lifted and long finish. Can cellar 6+ years.

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2018 ($37, winery, Vintages direct delivery, 92 points) — Planted in 1998 on mixed limestone and clay soils, the Quarry Road estate vineyard is farmed organically and biodynamically. It’s Barrel-fermented with wild yeast and aged for 16 months on the lees in French oak with no lees stirring. There is a beautiful vein of wet stones and salinity on the nose with crisp apple, lemon blossoms, peach, toasted almonds and elegant oak spices. The palate reveals a mélange of stones fruits, citrus accents, charred oak spices, toasty vanilla, story minerality and a bright and lively finish. Lots of room to cellar this beautiful wine, say 5+ years.

Niagara wines released
at Vintage stores Saturday

These are the Niagara wines being at Vintages stores that we can recommend.

Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Block Riesling 2018 ($22, 92 points) — This has a gorgeous nose of lime and grapefruit, hint of petrol, green apple and mineral notes. It’s tangy on the palate with good tension between sweet and tart fruit and showing depth of lime, lemon, honeycomb, marmalade and stony minerality with a zippy finish. Drinking great right out of the gate, but further petrol notes will come with

Featherstone Four Feathers 2020 ($15, 87 points) — This white blend consists of Riesling (62%), Sauvignon Blanc (20%), Gewurztraminer (15%) and Chardonnay (3%). There’s a lot going on here — citrus, lychee, apples, herbs and peach. It’s slightly off-dry on the palate and loaded with orchard fruits, herbs, lychee and zesty citrus fruit on the finish. Good value white.

Southbrook Skin Fermented Orange Wine 2020 ($30, 88 points) — This skin fermented white wine is a blend of 55% Chardonnay Musque and 45% Vidal. The Chardonnay Musque part spent two weeks on the skins while the Vidal was fermented on the skins for three weeks. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered with no additives. Says winemaker Ann Sperling: “For those that know and love our Estate Orange wine, this new Orange is a bit lighter in Oranginess (is that even a word?). There’s some tannin, as with all Orange wines, but less than in our estate Orange. Think of this wine as a good introduction to the genre.” And she is correct. Are you curious about orange wines and want to learn about the style? This is a great place to start. It shows a light shade of orange in the glass with some haziness. It starts on the nose with a ginger kick followed by peach, apple and citrus rind. It’s quite clean and polished on the palate, with the funk in check. The flavours range from pleasant marmalade, ginger, fuzzy peach and nectarine with subtle tannins and a racy lifted finish. This could be the orange wine that gets started on this now popular style of wine.

Tawse Growers Blend Skin Fermented Pinot Gris 2019 ($27, 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.

Malivoire Ladybug Rosé 2020 ($17, 90 points) — This wildly popular Ladybug is the pillar of the rosé family at Malivoire that includes two other still rosés and a sparkling version. They take their rosés very seriously. The 2020 version of the Ladybug appears a bit lighter in colour to last year’s version, showing a paler shade of pink in the glass. It’s a blend of 47% Cabernet Franc, 46% Gamay and the rest Pinot Noir and has an attractive nose of red berries, subtle herbs, watermelons and plums. It’s refreshing and bursting with the full range of red berries, herbs, apple skin and a refreshing finish with mouth-watering acidity. This might just be the driest Ladybug to date. It’s a delight!

Malivoire Vivant Rosé 2020 ($20, 89 points) — A bit of a departure from previous vintages, with the addition of 30% Pinot Gris to go with the Pinot Noir (70%), but still the same bone-dry style (0 grams/per litre). The Vivant has a nose of lovely strawberries, rhubarb, cherries and a nice floral note. It’s juicy, yet perfectly dry on the palate, and loaded with red berries, grapefruit, watermelon and a zesty citrus finish. Such a great rosé for spring/summer sipping.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Reif The Sun Skin-Fermented Vidal Orange Wine 2019 ($25)
• 13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 ($22)