NewsNiagara Wine ReviewsTop Stories

Grapes for Humanity bidding starts … now! Plus new Niagara wine releases and our picks for Vintages wines

By Rick VanSickle

Ready, set … bid! The Grapes for Humanity cross-Canada charity wine auctions and exclusive wine dinners went live at noon today, Oct. 12.

Note: Also in this Ontario Wine Report, new wine reviews for Malivoire, Jackson-Triggs, AMO Wines, Henry of Pelham and our picks from the Niagara wines being released at Vintages Saturday.

Niagara wine

Held in partnership with Irongate Auctions, the Grapes for Humanity charity wine auctions (go here and get bidding) are being held October 12-18. Proceeds from these charitable, virtual wine auctions will support national and global organizations in the battle against the Climate Crisis alongside the organization’s long-standing support of global humanitarian projects to address poverty, and improve education, and health. The auctions feature:

Classic wines from international renowned wine growing regions
Canadian barrels of Cuvée from the Heart community-blends from Canadian vintners’ best barrels. Veteran Canadian winemakers Ross Wise in British Columbia and Thomas Bachelder in Ontario will be the master blenders.
Winemaker’s dinners
And lots that extend outside of the wine world

Wines In Niagara is proud to assist Harald Thiel, above, vigneron of Niagara’s Hidden Bench Estate Winery, in hosting the dinner at Piano Piano’s Oakville location, on Wednesday March 23 at 7 p.m. It will be a dinner for 8 and promises to be a wonderful night of food and wine. It’s one of many dinners taking place across Ontario and the country.

It’s Lot #9 (go here), which includes these wines from Hidden Bench to be paired with a meal for you and seven friends at the Oakville location of Piano Piano: Hidden Bench Rosomel Vineyard Nuit Blanche 2005, Hidden Bench Terroir Cache Meritage 2005, Hidden Bench Rosomel Vineyard La Brunante 2007, Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Riesling 2011 and Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016 and 2018.

For a full story on all the dinners and other auction items, go here. Good luck on the bidding!

More AMO Wine releases

One of the Niagara’s newest (and certainly most intriguing) wineries has just released three more wines from its inaugural 2020 vintage.

Joining the already released rosé, previously reviewed on Wines In Niagara, is the Pinot Gris, Riesling and unoaked version of Cabernet Franc, and perhaps surprisingly, all priced $10 lower than the $45 rosé.

AMO is an exciting new brand from Tara Colaneri (the Colaneri family own and operate Colaneri Estate Winery) that for months teased consumers with a tantalizing marketing campaign pointing to an ultra-luxe line of fine wines to come. Using terms like “ignite your senses and fuel your soul” and “what makes your heartbeat,” AMO, which means love in Italian, is built “on creating moments that radiate the love of life with those we cherish,” according to the marketing material. The wines are crafted by winemaker Marc Pistor using grapes from the estate’s 20-acre vineyard that was planted in 2018. It’s located on the St. David’s Bench.

The three new bottlings are the latest to be released, with a Cabernet Franc sparkling wine to come.

After tasting the three new wines, along with retasting the rosé, a style that is robust, bold and flavourful, with a fleshy texture, is emerging. Both whites are teeming with pronounced berry fruits while the Cabernet Franc, though no oak was used for this bottling, is fruit-laden with interesting earthy notes and firm tannic structure without all the spices. And each bottle is striking in its presentation with unique bottle shapes, elegant labeling, clear hour-glass bottles (in cork and gold foil capsule) for the whites and an opaque tall, dark and handsome bottle (with black topper over cork) for the red. It’s all been backed with one of the most detailed and slick marketing campaigns not seen in Niagara for quite some time.

Here’s what I liked from the three new wines, plus notes from the rosé that was previously reviewed (all available online here.

AMO Pinot Gris 2020 ($35, 90 points) — Such a rich nose of ripe peach, honeydew melon, zippy lime, apricots and golden apples. It fills the mouth on the palate with lovely ripe orchard fruits of peach, apricots and nectarine and then subtle pear, melon and a kiss of honey with mouth-watering acidity on the finish. A fleshy wine that finds some with the racy acidity.

AMO Riesling 2020 ($35, 91 points) — The nose starts with a profound mineral leading edge then lime/grapefruit, green apple, lemon blossom and citrus peel. There is a honeyed layer on the palate with gushing lime, lemon meringue, peach, apricot, wet stone minerality and fairly decent acidity to keep all that wild honey in balance on the finish.

AMO Cabernet Franc 2020 ($35, 92 points) — This unoaked red has a pure, unadulterated Cab Franc nose that drips with black raspberries, cherry kirsch, cassis, sweet herbs and savoury accents. There is a bit of structure on the palate from the fine, ripe tannins followed by savoury/brambly red berries, anise, cassis and plenty of fresh acidity driving through the clean, polished finish. This wine benefits from the warm 2020 vintage and is an attractive buy even without the oak.

AMO Rosé 2020 ($45, previously reviewed, 92 points) — While it’s listed as Niagara Peninsula wine on the minimalist label, it is actually made from 100% Cabernet Franc picked at the estate farm on the St. David’s Bench. This is the first wine made from the newly planted grapes with others from the brand expected to follow. The fruit was hand picked at 22.8 Brix and sent from the shaker table to the destemmer, which produces whole berries (no crushing). All the fruit was pumped into a stainless steel tank for a red ferment. Fermentation was clean so it was left it to age on the lees until ready to bottle in late June (six months on the lees). It has an attractive nose of strawberry patch, dark cherries, touch of white peach, saline minerality and meadow flowers in a persistent, pretty style. It has lovely, rounded texture on the palate thanks to the extended lees aging and ripeness of the fruit with a richer profile of strawberry shortcake, brambly raspberries and touch of herbs in a relatively dry style driven by juicy acidity on the finish. It has the stuffing to risk cellaring a year to see how it evolves over time.

A White Meritage from Jackson-Triggs

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve White Meritage 2020 ($26, Vintages, 92 points) — This partially skin-contact Sauvignon Blanc (80%) and Semillon (20%) blend was harvested from Delaine Vineyard (Sem) and Tufford Road Vineyard (SB). The SB was fermented in stainless steel while the Sem was fermented in older French oak barrels. This is a style of wine that does so well in Niagara and the Grand Reserve Jackson-Triggs’ version is a wonderful example of that. It has an enticing nose of grapefruit, peach skin, gooseberries, pear, melon and light herbs and spice. It has lovely texture on the palate with notes of pear, grapefruit, herbaceous notes, gooseberries, touch of honey and spice but fresh and crisp on the finish. A great job here at an attractive price. Can cellar 3+ years.

Henry of Pelham duo

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Blanc de Blanc Carte Blanche 2016 ($50, Vintages Nov. 27, winery now, 94 points) — There are many skews in the Henry of Pelham portfolio, but I would venture that this always consistently excellent wine is the most highly decorated wine in the entire body of work at the Short Hills Bench winery. Carte Blanche is a vintage expression of Cuvée Catharine with the fruit sourced from the oldest and best estate-grown Chardonnay vineyards. The best of the best juice is isolated, partially barrel fermented and than aged on its lees for 54 months. It has an inviting nose of toasty biscuit, pear, mineral, fresh apple, soft vanilla, brioche and cream with a vigorous, elegant mousse. The creamy texture is the first impression on the elegant entry, with a lively bubble, toasty vanilla and brioche, ripe pear, quince, lemon toast and rousing freshness on the perky finish. It’s drinking so well right now, but has the energy and stuffing to age gracefully for a few more years. Beautiful sparkling wine.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2019 ($35, Vintages Nov. 27, winery now, 93 points) — This top tier Speck Family Reserve Pinot is sourced from Block 100 at the “Old Farm” Vineyard. The wine is aged in European oak barrels, 30% of which is new oak. This is on the masculine side of Pinots with interesting complexity and firm structure for long aging. The nose is tight and begins with earthy/woodsy notes followed by black cherries, mulled and brambly raspberries, crunchy cranberries, spice rack and violets. It’s lovely on the palate with ripe red berries, earthy/spicy notes, anise and fine-grained tannins that all lead for a pleasant and finessed finish. It’s a young Pinot and needs time to fit into its skin, cellaring for 5+ years will pay big dividends.

Malivoire Gamays

Malivoire Gamay ‘L Coeur’ 2020 ($28, 91 points) — Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar is the Gamay king, and that’s a fact. He and his team have built up an arsenal of vessels and techniques to coax myriad expressions out of this fascinating grape vintage to vintage. The ‘Le Coeur’ is a more pure expression of Gamay. Whole cluster grapes went straight to stainless steel tank, purged of oxygen and sealed for a week of carbonic maceration. It was wild fermented and malo-lactic conversion took place before the wine was aged for six months in neutral 300-L French oak puncheons. On the nose, it bursts with black cherries, pure raspberries and plums that integrate flawlessly. It’s made with 0 g/l of RS, but the fruit on the palate is magnificently ripe with full blown red berries, subtle savoury notes, soft tannins and otherwise pristine, lifted and finessed on the tangy finish.

Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2019 ($30, 93 points) — Different vintage, different expression of Gamay, which is why Malivoire’s deep dive into this grape is so fascinating. Once destemmed and crushed, the fruit was fermented in large format oak cuves. 93% of the wine was aged in neutral oak barrels while the rest was aged for 10 months in new oak before being transferred to neutral oak for a total of 16 months. This shows the serious side of Gamay with a savoury, earthy nose of brambly raspberries, plums, anise, garden herbs and integrated spice. It shows structure, ripe tannins and complexity on the palate with the full range of red berries, cranberries, peppers, spice, touch of smoke and a long, lifted finish. It has the stuffing to improve for five or more years in the cellar. Really fine Gamay and not the chugging kind!

Our picks of the Niagara wines
released at Vintages Saturday

Two Sisters Eleventh Post 2017 ($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.

Stratus Red and White Duo 2017 ($88, packaged together, Vintages online exclusive):

Stratus White 2017 (94 points) — The blend for this top assemblage from Stratus is 39% Sauvignon Blanc, 26% Chardonnay, 23% Semillon, 10% Viognier and 2% Gewurztraminer that spends nearly two years in French oak, 19% of which is new oak. Without a doubt, the best Stratus White JL Groux and assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka have assembled, even though this white blend always leaves one flummoxed as to how a seemingly everything-but-the-kitchen-sink blend can come together with such mystifying cohesion. I envision Groux and his team madly mixing and matching hundreds and hundreds of permeations of the components to arrive at something that achieves the seamless synergy as this. The nose hooks you from the start with aromas of marmalade, nectarine, tropical fruits, melon, lychee, saline minerality and barrel spice notes. It is on the palate where you get a sense of pure elegance guided by a mélange of juicy and rich nectarine, melon, guava, citrus fruits and subtle lychee nut with herbs, spice and lanolin/beeswax notes on a luscious finish that is long and bright. Can cellar 5+ years to keep rounding out this beauty.

Stratus Red 2017 (93 points) — The red assemblage from Groux ended up being a blend of 32% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot and 6% Tannat with 567 days aged in French oak, 30% of which is new oak. The blend is arrived at with the same rigorous barrel sampling across all the red varieties grown at the estate and the recipe is never the same as previous vintages. 2017 was a gorgeous vintage for Cab Franc and it’s easy to see why it plays a lead role in the blend. It has a lovely herbaceous nose of fresh red fruits, forest berries, bramble, cassis, subtle blackberries and fine integrated oak spices. It has elegant texture in the mouth, from start to finish, with medium tannin structure — plush but not an affront to the senses — with black cherries, brambly raspberries, cassis, currants, depth, complexity and beautiful spice notes on a long and finessed finish. A fine red blend that will bring pleasure for years to come.

Tawse Quarry Road Pinot Noir 2018 ($36, 92 points) — This always reliable and top drawer Pinot is aged in French oak barrels for 16 months (35% new oak). It shows ripe black cherries, bramble, earth, some cassis, lovely spice and a savoury edge on the nose. It’s rich and savoury on the palate with earthy red berries, fine grained tannins, anise, red currants, elegant spices and a long, finessed finish. Recommended for aging 5+ years.

Flat Rock Cellars Unplugged Chardonnay 2020 ($18, 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!

Other Niagara wines being released, but not reviewed by Wines In Niagara:

• Lakeview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2017 ($40 for 200 mL)
• Arterra Chardonnay 2018 ($30)
• Charles Baker Ivan Vineyard Riesling 2017 ($27)
• Lundy Manor Proprietor’s Blend White 2017 ($19)
• Nomad Autumn Snow Riesling 2020 ($17)
• Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet/Merlot 2019 ($40)