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Where eagles soar: Two Sisters opening second winery for elite range of wines

By Rick VanSickle

We are just wrapping up a rather fruitful tasting of new Two Sisters wines when winemaker Adam Pearce drops a bombshell.

Sitting on the spacious terrace at the estate’s Kitchen 76 restaurant with a bird’s-eye view of the spectacular vineyards on a hot Niagara day, we are just wrapping up the big red segment of the tasting. The place is packed, Instagrammers are videoing the daylights out of every morsel of food that lands on their plates and every pour of every wine, they are twisting and turning for just the right light and backdrop to taunt their followers with a barrage of beauty and style; and here we are in the corner swirling, sipping and spitting the last of the big estate reds Pearce is pouring, pretty much oblivious to the show around us.

Niagara wine
Two Sisters winemaker Adam Pearce. And, yes, that is a white wine with a Cabernet Franc bottle beside it. I messed up, please forgive me. 

There’s hustle and bustle all around; the grounds are alive with COVID-weary souls just soaking in the breath-taking beauty on an Instagram-perfect day in the middle of the week. Pearce is a gracious host and offers further tastings of the biggest of the big reds — the legendary Stone Eagle collection — now sitting in barrels and getting ready to rock this world.

I’m three hours deep into the tasting and politely decline, not wanting to use up any more of Pearce’s time. It’s at this point, just as I’m closing my notebook, he casually remarks that he will have to move the Stone Eagle and Special Selection wines over to the new winery at some point. I’m about to leave. What? New winery??? As they say in the news business: “You buried the lead.”

So now you know. Now I know. Two Sisters, already a crown jewel in Niagara Wine Country in a relatively a short period of time, is spawning offspring — the Stone Eagle Winery, where the big wines are going to live. Ground for the new winery, located on Niagara Stone Road at Hunter Road, right across the street from Stratus Vineyards, is being broken this fall. There are already 24 acres or so of vines planted, which I never knew existed, and I drive by that stretch of road five or more times a week. As I drove home from the tasting later, I spun by, and sure enough there was the vineyard in all its glory being doused with a barrage of water, photo above.

Pearce is pretty matter of fact about this epic development, but I keep pressing him on details. The wines made and housed there will be all the top shelf wines from Two Sisters. The Stone Eagle, the Stone Eagle Estate Reserve, the Stone Eagle Special Selection (all exquisite and high-end Bordeaux variety reds), plus a new wine (which is reviewed below) called Eagle Eye White, a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend made in the style popularized by Bordeaux. Oh, and if that’s not enough new information for you, Pearce is also preparing some “high end” sparkling wines for the new winery.

Co-proprietors Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli and Angela Marotta, right, with the entrance to Kitchen 76, left.

Now, I know I am using the term high end a lot here, but let’s face it, the entire Two Sisters portfolio is pretty much high end, so when Pearce says the winery will be high end, think higher than high, like top of the mountain high.

The currently available Stone Eagle 2013 Red Label sells for $165, the Stone Eagle Estate Reserve 2013 is $78 and the rare Special Selection is north of $185. Bring plenty of cash or a high-limit credit card when the Stone Eagle Winery opens. You will need it.

The beautiful barrel cellar at the estate.

Pearce doesn’t know what the price of the Eagle Eye White or as yet unnamed Stone Eagle sparkling wines will be but the Two Sisters sparkling wines range in price from $54 for the Lush and $62 for the Blanc de Franc. So, let’s assume north of that.

I am going to take a leap here and predict the new Stone Eagle Winery and tasting/retail hall is going to be spectacular. You can’t house some of the most expensive wines in all of Ontario in a winery that doesn’t match that prestige. And let’s be honest here, the Marotta family and co-proprietors Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli and Angela Marotta, who own Two Sisters, cut no corners at the home winery and have steadfastly continued to offer wines of the highest caliber since inception.

I have always been enamoured with the wines at Two Sisters under winemaker Pearce. The vineyards are relatively mature now and he sources the grapes that don’t do particularly well in the heat of Niagara-on-the-Lake or that Two Sisters has not planted. While the winery focuses its energy on the big red wines at the top end, the other wines in the portfolio do not suffer from lack of attention or quality. It is a cohesive portfolio of wines from top to bottom, starting with a delicious rosé all the way to the soaring eagles.

Delicious charcuterie plate at lunch.

Pearce tweaks and adds wines every year to keep the project fresh and always has new things for wine lovers to enjoy. He added a version of a “natural wine” called Senza last vintage and has continued to make it in subsequent vintages. He just made a 2019 Chardonnay, the first from estate fruit, which was bottled on the lees (there are now three Chards in the portfolio). And the first Eagle Eye White Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend is one of the best white wines I have tried this year.

There is no standing still for this shining jewel in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Here’s what I liked from the tasting at Two Sisters with Pearce.

The rosé

Two Sisters Margo Rosé 2020 ($35, 92 points) — The blend for this texturally beautiful rosé is 86% Merlot, and 7% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that is sourced from the estate and grown specifically for rosé production. It’s hand picked and sent direct to press with light lees stirring. It shows a lovely salmon colour in the glass with a nose of fresh-picked red berries, light creamy notes, watermelon, citrus zest and minerals. The red berries fill the mouth with succulent fruit, zesty citrus and has creamy texture in a dry, crisp and bold style that benefits from mouth-watering acidity. Pearce calls it Provence style using Bordeaux varietals and says he puts as much effort into the rosé as he does with the top red. “I don’t want to have a dog in the portfolio,” he says. “I try to represent what we do in Ontario in every vintage.”

The bubbles

Two Sisters Lush Sparkling Rosé NV ($54, 92 points) — This is a traditionally made Chardonnay/Pinot blend that spends over 600 days on the lees before disgorging. Although it’s labeled as a non-vintage bubble, Pearce says the fruit is entirely sourced from the 2018 vintage. A small amount of Cabernet Franc is used for the dosage (primarily for colour, not sugar). It shows a pretty soft pink hue in the glass with a vigorous, frothy mousse. The nose shows enticing field raspberries, strawberries and cream, some subtle herbs and leesy/brioche notes. It pops on the palate with a lively mousse, burst of red berries, creamy pear, brioche and citrus zest in a dry and refreshing style through a lively finish.

Two Sisters Blanc de Franc 2018 ($62, fall release, 93 points) — This is the signature and unique style of traditionally made bubbly by Pearce. It spends 795 days on the lees and is made in a “brut nature” style (zero dosage). It shows a nice light golden colour in the glass, which is a “nice nod to the Cabernet Franc,” says Pearce, then a lively mousse and a fresh nose of perfumed pear, toasted apple, subtle herbs, biroche/bready/autolytic notes and red currants. It’s textured and creamy on the palate with nervy acidity, richness and depth and showing pear, apple, quince and red currants with a long, finessed finish. Can age this for 5+ years. Delicious!

The white wines

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($35, 90 points) — Pearce prefers two picks for his Savvy, one for acidity and the other for flavour and adds a touch of oak aging, more for complexity than spice. The nose teems with grapefruit, gooseberries, lime, pear, herbs and subtle spice notes. It has lovely texture and verve on the palate with bright gooseberries, citrus, flint, grassy/herb notes and a fresh finish.

Two Sisters Eagle Eye White 2019 (Price and availability not available, 94+ points) — This is Pearce’s newest baby, and only white, in the Stone Eagle family of wines at the highest end of the portfolio. And what a worthy wine it is! The blend is 60% Semillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc that is aged in 100% French oak, 25% of which is new oak, for 11 months. When released, and Pearce does not know when that will be or even the price, it will be the most expensive white wine in the portfolio and will follow the other Stone Eagle wines to the new winery. It was bottled last September and is still awaiting labels, but Pearce is no rush to release it as it keeps developing in bottle. It is, no doubt, a tightly wound white wine that will benefit from further bottle age and time in the cellar once released. Once you let this breathe a bit with vigorous swirling it reveals a beautifully elegant nose of grapefruit, lemon curd, baked pear, lanolin, melon, subtle chamomile and oak spice notes. This is a wow wine on the palate with such depth and power with an almost oily texture, depth and structure to go with a much more expressive array of grapefruit, orange zest, ripe pear, baked apple, lemon tart and elegant spices that linger on the palate for five minutes or more. This is still developing and will reward with more cellaring, but, OMG, it is a gem. One of the best white wines I have tasted this year from Ontario.

Two Sisters Riesling 2019 ($35, 92 points) — Pearce sources his Riesling from the Lenko Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench (60%) and Foxcroft Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench. It’s a lime-grapefruit bomb on the nose with a touch of apple and a deep vein of minerality that will continue to evolve with cellaring. There is 30 g/l of RS left in this personable Riesling, but it doesn’t feel like that due to the sizzling acidity. Look for fresh lime, lemon, honey, wet stones and ginger accents on a lifted finish. Cellar it for 5+ years and you will thank me later.

The Chardonnays

Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2019 ($39, 91 points) — The grapes are sourced from the Lenko Vineyard with a bit of estate fruit in the mix. It’s a fresh and pristine Chardonnay on the nose with Bosc pear, golden apple, lemon tart and mineral/leesy notes. Limestone minerality makes itself known on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, a creamy texture, lemon zest and a firm spine of acidity keeping it lively through the finish.

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2019 ($55, October release, 93 points) — This is the oaked version of the above Chardonnay, but it’s sourced 100% from the Lenko Vineyard with nine months of oak aging in large format French oak (20% new) and regular bâtonnage (lees stirring). It has an elegant nose of ripe pear, lemon curd, baked apple and lovely spice notes, vanilla toast with a vivid stream of stony/flinty minerality. It has some weight and lovely texture on the palate with ripe pear/apple/quince fruit, lemon tart, toasted hazelnuts, pronounced oak spices and an elegant feel through a lifted finish. A lovely drop.

Two Sisters Domenica’s Block Chardonnay 2019 (wine club only) — This is the first crop of Chardonnay sourced from a single block at the estate’s vineyard. It is wild fermented, unfined, unfiltered, bottled with the lees, aged in 100% new oak and underwent full malo. Only a touch of sulphur was added at bottling. The spice is profound on the nose, with leesy and deep aromas of poached pear, chalky/matchstick minerality, golden apple and lemon curd. It’s leesy and spicy on the palate with a big, juicy profile of orchard fruits, flint and moderate verve through the finish. You can pick how much of the leesy/bready flavours you want by shaking up the bottle to get more lees in the glass, or let it settle.

The red wines

Two Sisters Senza 2019 ($58, 89 points) — This is Pearce’s version of a “natural” wine, though the fruit is farmed sustainably, it’s not organic. Otherwise, it’s unfiltered, unfined, wild fermented, unsulphured and a bit of oxygen was introduced during aging, which was 18 months in 100% French oak (60% new). It’s a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with a funky nose of savoury red berries, anise, herbs, big spice notes and a floral note. It has a ripe red fruit profile on the palate with a side of geekiness on the palate with added cloves, rich spices, earth, licorice and a spirited, lifted finish.

Two Sisters Eleventh Post 2018 ($45, 91 points) — This “baby Bordeaux” estate blend is 48% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Cabernet Franc that’s aged in mostly used French oak (with a pinch of American) for 32 months. The nose is quite impactful with pretty red berries, blackberries, subtle herbaceous notes, cassis and integrated spice. It shows firm structure on the palate and a dense, ripe broth of dark cherries, blackberries, anise, charred oak spices and plenty of acidity to keep it lively on the finish. Can cellar 5+ years.

Two Sisters Merlot 2017 ($55, 92 points) — This estate grown Merlot spent 31 months in 70% French and 30% American oak (15% new). Pearce calls the bigger red grapes from 2017 “grippy, with ultra ageability.” This has a spicy nose with nutmeg and caramel and then ripe black cherries, plums, black currants, wet tobacco and earthy notes. It’s meaty and bold on the palate with rich, ripe cherries, bramble, earth, cocoa and deep spice notes on a long finish. Can cellar 7+ years.

Two Sisters Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($65, 94 points) — The 2016 vintage was spectacular for these Bordeaux grapes and this late release Cab Sauv is one of the best from the hot 2016 vintage. It was aged in 100% French oak (15% new) for 30 months and has a sensational nose of big, rich and rocking blackberries, cherry kirsch, black currants, earth, leather, cedar and fine oak spice overtures. It’s full and complex on the palate and in a rather beautiful place right now with integrated dark and red berries, a firm texture from an array of ripe tannins, depth of flavour and density, leather, charred cedar plank, eucalyptus and attractive barrel spice notes with decent acid lift on the long finish. Can cellar for 5+ years.

Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2017 ($55, 92 points) — This estate Franc is aged in 100% French barriques (15% new) for 32 months. This is textbook Niagara Cab Franc with a meaty nose of field raspberries, dark cherries, crunchy cranberries, herbs, roasted red peppers and lovely spice notes. It’s structured on the palate with fine-grained tannins, red berries, earth, cassis, herbaceous/floral notes, herbs and red peppers with length and vibrancy of the finish. Can cellar this for 7+ years.

The Stone Eagle wines

I have previously reviewed most of the top Stone Eagle wines, but in light of new developments with the Stone Eagle winery, I thought it prudent to re-publish these notes.

Two Sisters Stone Eagle Estate Reserve 2013 ($78, 93 points) — The Stone Eagle series from Two Sisters is the top tier at the estate. There are three levels — estate reserve, red label and special select. This nicely mature Merlot dominant blend spends up to four years in French and American oak (15% of which is new oak). The nose shows penetrating aromas of super-charged black currants, anise, raspberry/cherry, earth, dark chocolate and an elegant range of spices and roasted vanilla bean. It’s beautiful on the palate with rich and detailed red berries, bramble, currants and plums that are layered and perfectly ripe across a smooth and textured frame that combines gorgeous spice notes and finesses on a long, long finish. As mentioned, quite attractive now but will still improve with 7+ years in the cellar.

Two Sisters Stone Eagle (Red Label) 2016 ($140, 92 points) — This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (both 34%) with the rest Merlot and aged in 100% new French oak. The nose expresses ripe cassis, black currants, kirsch, cocoa and espresso bean with some subtle red berries and oak spices. The oak is more evident on the palate and the ripe tannic structure provides grip and power to go with a complex array of dark fruits, spice and length through a long finish. This will age well for 10+ years and will need time to fully integrate.

Two Sisters Stone Eagle Special Select 2016 ($185, 94 points) — The blend for this version of the top red wine at Two Sisters is 38% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Cabernet Franc that was aged in 100% new French and American oak. The flagship wine is a careful barrel selection of each vintage’s most complex, elegant and age-worthy wines. The name is taken from the two Italian stone eagle carvings that stand proud at the entrance of the Niagara-on-the-Lake winery. “This is the wine Benny (Marotta, winery owner) challenged me to make … but it’s Niagara,” Pearce told me back then. Marotta likes his reds big and bold (a hint might be found in the name … the “special selection” used by Napa’s Caymus Vineyards) and Pearce has done that while keeping the integrity of its Niagara roots. It has a power-packed nose of crushed cherries, brambly raspberries, crème de cassis, currants, plums, cocoa, roasted espresso bean, earth, dried cigar leaf and an intriguing array of sweet baking spices. It’s highly structured on the palate with a cacophony of flavours ranging from cassis, black currants and blackberries to rich red berries and earth with lavish oak barrel spices all propped up by grippy tannins that lead to a long, echoing finish. Such power and grace with 10-15 years of beneficial cellaring ahead. I tasted this once with Pearce and later after decanting for 24 hours.