By Rick VanSickle
You just have to love the ever-expanding catalogue of sparkling wines popping up every vintage in Niagara.
It seems consumers have fallen in love with bubbles and Ontario wineries are responding with more and more of these traditionally made sparklers and expanding the range of styles from blanc de blancs, to Riesling Brut and even Cabernet Franc Brut with everything in between.
One Niagara winemaker, the very busy Kelly Mason, has made like a Maserati and gone from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye, now making a trio of sparkling wines at Honsberger, a soon-to-be released Mason Vineyard 2019 Blanc de Noirs Sparkling Rosé (her own winery) and even one in the process of being made at Domaine Queylus, where she is the head winemaker. The more sparkling wines there are in Niagara, the better, in my opinion.
In this Niagara Wine Report, we were at Honsberger last week for the big reveal of the new lineup of Honsberger bubbles, plus we have a couple of new releases in review from Malivoire, three new releases from Westcott, a trio of wines from Henry of Pelham, a pair from Flat Rock along with our recommendations from another robust collection of Niagara (and one iconic red from B.C.) wines being released at Vintages stores on Saturday, including Two Sisters, Jackson-Triggs, Cloudsley, Flat Rock, 13th Street, Speck Bros. and Mt. Boucherie.
But first … those new bubbles.
Honsberger sparkling wines
Honsberger winemaker Mason, along with estate owner Barbara Honsberger, both above, debuted their new sparkling wines in style last week. Guests were treated to three different sparkling wines, now available at the retail store, and were all paired with tasty treats from the restaurant.
Here’s what to expect.
Honsberger Blanc de Blancs 2019 ($46, 92 points) — The Chardonnay is sourced from Schuele Vineyard in the Creek Shores sub-appellation. It has an elegant nose of creamy/toasty apple and pear with lemon curd, citrus zest and a vigorous mousse in the glass. Those bubbles tickle the palate and light up the pear, lemon drop and brioche notes with a creamy but vibrant texture through a zippy finish. It’s nice and dry and lively from start to finish.
Honsberger Riesling Brut 2018 ($32, 90 points) — This is 100% sourced from the estate and shows a heady mousse in the glass and then lime, grapefruit, touch of green apple and emerging petrol notes. It’s fresh on the palate with cutting acidity, citus zest, a lively bead and a vibrant, fresh finish.
Honsberger Cabernet Franc Brut 2019 ($56, 93 points) — I apologize, I’m working without tech sheets, so I believe (but not certain) the Cabernet Franc fruit was sourced from Creek Shores. It was dosed with itself, so essentially zero dosage and perfectly dry. It presents itself in a very different style than the blanc de blancs above with a variety-correct nose red berries, herbs, lively salinity and citrus notes. It’s bright and lively on the palate with an elegant bead and shows its savoury side to go with brambly red berries, citrus zest and a firm spine of acidity through the long and finessed finish.
A trio of new released wines
from Westcott Vineyards
Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2018 ($32, winery, 92 points) — This estate Pinot was 30% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented and aged for 12 months in oak barrels. It was then aged two more years in bottle. A very nice bottle for an estate (non reserve) Pinot with an enticing nose of savoury red berries, bramble, plums, perfectly integrated spice notes and a touch of vanilla toast. It’s silky smooth on the palate with a mélange of dark cherries, field raspberries, juicy plums, savoury spices, earthy undertones and a long finessed finish.
Westcott Reserve Pinot Noir 2018 ($45, winery, 93 points) — This estate Pinot from the Vinemount Ridge is 100% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented and aged for 10 months in oak barrels then two additional years in bottle. It’s still tight even with that bottle age but a short decant reveals forest berries, black cherries and brambly raspberries, stylish oak spices, touch of earth and a floral note. It shows itself fully and completely on the palate with a tasty and rich mélange of ripe red berries, touch of cassis and anise, earthy/savoury notes, depth, ripe, fine-grained tannins and a lifted, vibrant finish. Can lay down for 5+ years.
Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2020 ($30, winery, Vintages in November, 91 points) — The fruit was hand picked and whole bunch pressed with no sulphur added at time of crushing. It was wild fermented and aged in 100% French oak (10% new) for 10 months. It shows a nicely ripe nose of generous orchard fruits, lemon cream, toasted spices and stony minerality. It’s rich and creaming on the palate with pear, apple, citrus zest, integrated spice notes and juicy acidity keeping it lively through the finish.
A mighty duo from Malivoire
Malivoire Demo Analog 2020 ($28, winery, 92 points) — This blend of 73% Cabernet Franc and 27% Gamay was sourced from two Wismer Vineyard blocks on the Twenty Mile Bench. Gamay, 65% crushed and 35% in whole clusters, was layered into a concrete tank to co-ferment with Cabernet Franc berries, of which 52% was in whole clusters and 48% was crushed. The resulting wine was aged in a combination of older French oak barrels and ceramic orbs. It plays like a demo cassette tape, all raw and energetic, with an enticing nose of wild raspberries and bramble, cherry cola, red flowers, herbs, strawberry pie and a soupçon of spice. It’s wild and untethered on the palate with a mélange of juicy red berries, cassis, floral/bramble underpinnings and crunchy cranberries with soft tannins, subtle spice and a bright finish. The funkiest hand-drawn label I have seen this year. Crack a bottle, dig out one of those old 80s mix cassette tapes and feel the vibe. Wait, is there any good 80s music (easy now)?
Malivoire Genova Gamay 2020 ($28, 92 points) — The Vinemount Ridge sourced Gamay was split into two parcels, the first was crushed and poured into a limestone-concrete tank while the other share was kept in full clusters. Following fermentation and pressing, the wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels for six months. How winemaker Shiraz Mottiar dreams up these recipes is, frankly, mind boggling! But it seems to work. Such a big nose of juicy strawberries, herbs, blue plums and subtle savoury/spicy notes. It’s smooth and bursting with red berries on the palate with added sage, crunchy cranberries, a touch of earth and a tangy lifted finish. Simply beautiful Gamay from the Gamay king.
A trio from Henry of Pelham
Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Goat Lady Chardonnay 2020 ($17, 88 points) — A creamy nose that reveals ripe apple, pineapple, lemon and lovely balanced spice notes. It’s a rich and creaming Chard on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, spice and a touch of sweetness on the finish.
Henry of Pelham Three of Hearts Rosé 2020 ($20, 90 points) — It shows a pretty pale salmon colour in the glass with a ripe array of strawberries, peach and a lovely floral note. It’s relatively dry on the palate with ripe red berries, peachy notes, some herbs and a refreshing finish.
Henry of Pelham Painted Wagon Pinot Noir 2019 ($25, Vintages Oct. 2, 90 points) — A really nice Pinot with a savoury/spicy nose of field raspberries, black cherries, bramble, touch of cranberries and earth. It’s smooth on the palate with silky tannins, the full range of red berries, earth, savoury spice notes and a vibrant finish.
Two from Flat Rock Cellars
Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2020 ($18, LCBO Oct. 16, winery now, 89 points) — Unplugged is the unoaked version of Chardonnay from the estate and shows a lovely, ripe nose of golden apple, peach, lemon blossom and mineral undertones. It’s juicy and expressive on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, a vein of stony minerality, a subtle creaminess and a bright finish. These 2020 white wines are a real treat!
Flat Rock Sparkling Twisted 2020 ($20, LCBO Dec. 11, winery now, 88 points) — This is a blend of Riesling with a hint of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer made in the charmat method. It teems with apple, lemon zest, peach and subtle creamy notes with a vigorous bead in the glass. It’s fresh and lively on the palate with soft effervescence, lemon, grapefruit, green apples and white peach with a lively, refreshing finish. Good value bubble.
Our Niagara wine picks from the
Vintages release on Saturday
Two Sisters Riesling 2018 ($35, 93 points) — A blend of Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and Lenko Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench, this is classic Niagara Riesling with a gorgeous nose of lime, grapefruit, lemon, Mandarin orange, white flowers and wet stone minerality. It has lovely texture on the palate with an attractive mélange of lime, citrus, tangerine, stony minerality and mouth-watering acidity that keeps it fresh and lively through an echoing finish. Great aging potential here, 10 years plus.
Jackson-Triggs Estate Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2018 ($21, 91 points) — The fruit comes from the historic Montague Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake and was aged on the lees for 12 months in French oak barrels. A great value Chard at $21. It has a highly fragrant nose of pear, ripe apple, grapefruit, vanilla and spice. It’s creamy and spicy on the palate and loaded with all those ripe orchard fruits so prevalent in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It finishes with lovely freshening citrus zest to keep everything balanced.
Flat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay 2019 ($17, 88 points) — A portion of the sales from this Good Kharma wine go to Feed Ontario, which provides meals for Ontarians in need. This unoaked style of Chardonnay has pure and fresh aromas of tropical fruits, peach, bright apple, minerals and just a hint of creaminess. It’s clean and fresh on the palate with orchard fruits, peach, pineapple and zippy acidity through the finish.
Note: The Vintages list of new wines released shows this as the 2019 vintage, but Flat Rock believes it is the 2020 vintage being released Saturday. So, I’m including the 2020 notes here as well. The 2020 shows off the ripe vintage with an expressive nose of summer ripe apples, peach and lemon blossom. It’s perfectly dry but shows the full range of orchard fruits with a zesty citrus kick on the finish.
13th Street Expression Series Cabernet/Merlot 2019 ($18, 89 points) — The fruit-forward nose pops with ripe cherries, cassis, concentrated raspberries and currants. It shows medium tannins on the palate and bursts with red berries, cassis, a touch of anise and plums in a fresh and fruity style with light spice notes. The blend is 48% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Cabernet Franc.
Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2017 ($35, 92 points) — This was a sneak peek at the first of the 2017 Pinots at Cloudsley, which were completely made from start to finish at the home winery. It was tight when I tasted it in 2019, with lovely savoury notes of cherry, brambly raspberry, beetroot, touch of cassis and lovely spice and minerals. It’s deep and complex on the palate with meaty, brambly red fruits, power and polish with fine-grained tannins, finesse and length through the finish. This should age well for 5+ years.
Speck Bros. Family Tree The Padré Cabernet/Merlot 2019 ($20, 88 points) — The Padré was aged in a mixture of new and used French and American oak for 16 months. The nose shows dark-fruited berries, black licorice, kirsch, touch of eucalypt and oak spice notes. On the palate, looks for cassis, anise, dark, ripe cherries, medium+ tannins, rich oak spices and a lifted finish.
Trius Distinction Gamay Noir 2020 ($20, 88 points) — This Gamay is jam packed with aromas of red cherries, plums, brambly raspberries and light herbs and spice from some aging in neutral oak barrels. There’s a lovely savouriness on the palate to go with tart red berries, a touch of spice and herbs with a juicy, but dry, finish. Great food wine.
And a beauty from B.C.
Mt. Boucherie Summit 2018 ($55, 93 points) — This is “the pinnacle of everything we do at the estate,” says head winemaker Jeff Hundertmark, and, in my opinion, stands among the top big reds made in B.C. It’s a blend of 52% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 17% Syrah with a couple of drops of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon that’s aged in 100% French oak (35% new) for 24 months. The fruit is sourced from premium blocks in the estate’s vineyard in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. It has a thrilling and generous nose of black cherries, black currants, blueberries, raspberry bush, cigar box cedar and elegant spices and mocha notes. It’s rich and powerful on the palate with a firm bed of ripe tannins to go with cassis, blackberries and blueberries with compoted red berries, smoky cedar, earth and rich spice notes in behind. It all benefits from a lifted and super long finish. This has the stuffing to cellar 10 years and beyond. A beauty.
Also released, but not reviewed:
• The Foreign Affair Apologetic Red 2018 ($70)
• The Foreign Affair Whisky Barrelled Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($65)
• Tawse Guy Lafeur Cuvée Cabernet Franc 2017 ($37)
• Tawse Guy Lafleur Cuvée Chardonnay 2017 ($37)
• Rosewood Legacy Cyser Apple Honey Wine 2017 ($20 for 500 mL)
• PondView Gold Series Vidal Icewine 2019 ($20 for 200 mL)
• Cave Springs Estate Chardonnay Musqué 2020 ($18)
• Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2017 ($39)
• Inniskillin Reserve Cabernet Franc 2017 ($26)
• Leaning Post Pinot Noir 2019 ($32)