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When the going gets Ruff, the Ruff get going — big post on a pile of Niagara wines and news

By Rick VanSickle

It’s one thing to criticize the wines others have made, but it’s on another level to make your own wine and put it out there for the world to judge.

Toronto wine writer André Proulx (now living in Hamilton) has done that not once, but five years in a row now with his 80x Wine Company brand of wines he makes with his team of Guillaume Frénéhard, Vadim Chelekhov (co-founder with Proulx) and Adam Kern.

Niagara wine

The idea for the project was born in 2015 when Chelekhov, a winemaker at Kacaba Vineyards, and Proulx, above, had a conversation at a wine gala in Niagara. “Wouldn’t it be great if we made some wine together,” they mused. In short order, their first wine — a Gamay called Hair of the Dog — was launched into the world and a wine journalist (Andre Wine Review) began a second career that straddled both sides of the fence. That initial release was followed up by with When Pigs Fly Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 (which quickly found its way onto some of the most exciting wine lists in Ontario) and Dam Chardonnay 2017. Rather quickly, 80x wines was a thing.

Fun fact: The name ‘80x’ is an ode to everyone on the team being an 80s baby.

How and why did this band come together?

• Proulx believes you are what you drink, and it was important for him to understand what it takes to go from vineyard to bottle.

• Chelekhov wanted an outlet to explore some more experimental winemaking.

• Frénéhard studied the wine business in France. After working for one of the local wineries he decided he wanted to get his hands dirty. He assured Proulx and Chelekhov that he could help them learn how to sell their wine.

• In 2019, Kern joined the team, bringing years of experience being trained as a somm and working at some of the best wineries as a winemaker in Ontario.

With five vintages under their belt, expect plenty more rosé, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir from 80x.

The 80x rock band, from left to right, Guillaume Frénéhard, André Proulx, Vadim Chelekhov and Adam Kern.

On a personal note, I have followed Proulx’s wine career since he arrived kicking and screaming on the wine writing scene and have always been impressed with his refreshing insights, honesty, enthusiasm and hustle; and more than that (for me), his integrity as a wine journalist. It’s something that’s sadly missing these days in the evolving world of wine writing.

80x has just released a Pinot Noir and a cider. Wines In Niagara got a taste of both and here is what I liked (you can buy these wines here)

80x Ruff Pinot Noir 2019 ($35, 91 points) — It wasn’t the perfect year for Pinot Noir in Niagara. A late start and mild summer caused the grapes to ripen weeks later than a typical growing season. The fruit for Ruff was sourced from the St. David’s Bench and all of it was hand sorted to ensure only the ripest clusters made it into the wine. The 80x team went as far as to remove the heads of barrels before harvest to allow the juice to ferment wild in the same barrels it was aged in and ensured a seamless integration of flavours with the fruit. The three oak barrels used to age the Pinot all ranged in age from 6 years old to 2 years old. “I can’t afford new barrels, nor would I want to clobber good fruit with it,” Proulx told me. “Truth be told, if I new barrels would make the wine better we would find a way to get them.” The wine got its name because “given the challenge of the vintage, followed by the challenge of the pandemic, life has been a little … Ruff.” The pooch on the bottle is Henri, the faithful pug/beagle that helps Proulx through life’s challenging times.

This is quite the interesting Pinot Noir. The nose shows bright and savoury wild raspberries, tart cherries, light toasty oak spice and interesting gamy/forest floor nuances. It’s more complex on the palate with lovely savoury red berries, beetroot, medium tannic structure, earth and integrated spice notes that is dry but juicy through a finessed finish. This comes in at just 12% abv and is drinking perfectly right now or you can cellar 3+ years.

80x Le P’tit Funk Cider ($22 for a 750 mL bottle, 9% abv, 93 points) — So, the story goes … “If you have ever had the chance to meet Guillaume Frénéhard you would understand where this bottle comes from. He is the definition of the great French expression “joie de vivre. The 80x crew has had the opportunity for Gui to share many bottles of cider from his beloved home in Normandy. So, during the early days of the 80x Wine Company we decided we wanted to see if it was possible to bring a little taste of France to Ontario.” And who better to collaborate with than the passionate cider master Ryan Monkman of FieldBird Cider in Prince Edward County. The base cider was made with 40% golden russet, 30% northern spy, 15% perry, and 15% aromatic blend (only Monkman knows the secret blend). All the fruit is from The County. The dosaged bottles underwent secondary fermentation, and after six months, there were bubbles. “The name comes from the distinct funk that you get from delicious French cider, and while we weren’t able to completely recreate the process required to make cider in this style we believe we have paid an appropriate homage to the French.”

I truly love this Normandy-style cider-perry that comes packaged in a 750 mL bottle with cork and cage. It pours a vigorous mousse in the glass and shows a rich golden colour. The nose is all about ripe golden apples and poached pears with some lemon curd, spice and bergamot. It gets really interesting on the palate with a vivacious bubble, mulled apple/pear/quince fruits, a FieldBird funky/earthy note, ginger spice notes, honeycomb and electric acidity tempering the sweetness through a peppy and finessed finish.

Nyarai Cellars

Nyarai Cellars is a virtual winery, in that they do not own vineyards or a winery building. Owner/winemaker Steve Byfield, above, sources grapes after careful consideration for ideal vineyards in Niagara that produce wines with distinct character and elegance. A simplistic approach is followed during the entire winemaking process, which allows for purity-of-fruit to be the main focus. The name Nyarai (pronounced na-rye) is derived from the Southern African Shona dialect meaning humility.

Here are two Nyarai wines recently released, which can be purchased by going here.

Nyarai Cellars Folklore 2020 ($23, 89 points) — The Folklore sparkling wine is inspired by the Spumante wines of Italy and is a blend of Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer made in the charmat method. It shows a light golden colour in the glass with a soft bubble and then a mélange of citrus fruits, peach and melon. It’s crisp, fresh and joyous on the palate with bright orchard fruits, lemon-lime, a touch of sweetness, a light effervescence and lovely vibrance on the finish. Great value here for a well-made sparkling wine.

Nyarai Rosé 2020 ($22, 91 points) — A pretty pale salmon colour in the glass for this blend of Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The nose shows ripe red berries and a pinch of herbs and floral notes. It’s perfectly dry on the palate but the red berries are ripe and pronounced with just a bit of watermelon and herbs on a fresh, lifted finish. This is a dry rosé with ripe berry flavours that is really quite lovely.

Note: Until the end of October, $1 from the sale of each bottle of rosé will go to the Canadian Breast Cancer Society.

Henry of Pelham duo

Henry of Pelham Fumé Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($20, Vintages, 89 points) — 50% of the fruit is barrel fermented in barriques and 3000 L fourdres and 50% is stainless steel fermented. It’s then aged in European oak for six months. It has an attractive nose of gooseberries, grapefruit, fresh cut hay, herbs and subtle spice notes. It has lovely texture and roundness on the palate with pronounced citrus, pear, gooseberries, herbs and spice on a fresh and vibrant finish.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2020 ($30, 92 points) — This is the Speck brothers’ top expression of Chardonnay from the estate’s Shorts Hill Bench. It was barrel fermented and aged in oak for 10 months. It has a rich and elegant nose with ripe pear, toasted coconut, golden apple, cream and oak spice notes. It’s shows a flinty/mineral edge on the palate with rich, round poached pear, ripe apples, butter, lemon tart and spice with length and finesse through the finish. Can cellar this top-notch Chard for 5+ years.

Ravine, Henry of Pelham chosen
as Legislature wines for 2022

The Ravine Vineyard Estate Meritage 2019 and the Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2020 have been chosen the official red and wine wines of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly for 2022.

The Grape Growers of Ontario with MPP and Speaker of the Legislature, Ted Arnott, hosted the 42nd annual wine tasting event at Queen’s Park on Oct. 26 in a revised format following COVID-19 protocols. Matthias Oppenlaender, chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario, and CEO Debbie Zimmerman made the announcement of the two winning wines.

“As the legacy partner of the Legislature’s wine tasting event, the Grape Growers of Ontario thank the Hon. Speaker Arnott for continuing the tradition of choosing the official VQA wines of the Legislative Assembly for the coming year,” said Matthias Oppenlaender, Chair. “Our agriculture value-added industry is rooted in the land, and the Grape Growers of Ontario look forward to continuing to work with the Government of Ontario to support Ontario’s grape and wine industry.”

“Congratulations to all of Ontario’s wineries on producing top-quality 100% Ontario VQA wines, and thank you to the four wineries that participated in this year’s tasting. The wines showcased at this event reflect the connection between locally grown grapes and the winemakers who craft them, and are a testament to the dedication, hard work and vision of grape growers across the province,” said Debbie Zimmerman, CEO.

“We are thrilled and honoured to have our 2019 Meritage selected as the official red wine of the 2022 Ontario Legislature. Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery thanks the Honourable Speaker and Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament for supporting 100% Ontario grown wines,” said Ravine winemaker Lydia Tomek.

“Matt, Dan and I, along with the team at Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery are proud to be recognized by the Legislative Assembly for our hard work and dedication to producing quality VQA Ontario wines,” said Paul Speck, President. “We have a wine industry in Ontario because we have the climate and specialty lands to grow grapes. Our 2020 Chardonnay showcases that cool-climate character with bright and aromatic flavours ranging from vibrant apple to citrusy grapefruit and a nice hint of oak.”

Traditionally, members of Provincial Parliament have gathered annually to support the local industry and select the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s official VQA wines to be served at legislative functions throughout 2022. In keeping with COVID-19 restrictions, a virtual event with a select group of participants tasted and marked their preferences on a voting ballot to determine which wines would be selected from four wineries from across the province.

— Information provided by the GGO

Wines In Niagara named
#5 Canadian wine website

We don’t like to toot our own horn over at Wines In Niagara, but we are rather proud that this little website is now ranked #5 on Feedspot’s Top 30 Canadian Wine Blogs and Websites list. The rankings are base on traffic rank, social media followers, domain authority & freshness. You can view the list here.

In addition, Wines in Niagara was named #47 on the Top 100 Wine Blogs and Websites in the entire world. You can view that list here. Thanks for reading, thanks for contributing and thank you to our advertisers for allowing Wines In Niagara to continue to function. 

Our picks of the Niagara wines
released at Vintages Saturday

Trius Brut Rosé Sparkling NV ($30, 92 points) — The blend for this rosé brut (only 4 g/l of residual sugar) is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay (primarily for colour), with 18 months resting on the lees, and shows a pretty light pink hue in the glass. The nose is fresh and inviting with notes of crushed red berries, smoky/yeasty notes, cassis and biscuit. It’s lively on the palate with raspberries, strawberries and subtle cassis with bright acidity through the finish that keeps it fresh and popping.

Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2018 ($80 for 375 mL, 94 points) — This is such a hedonistic, luxurious wonder made by the now retired winemaker Bruce Nicholson. Making a sparkling icewine is tricky business and can only be accomplished via the charmat method where the secondary fermentation creates bubbles, which are captured under pressure in a sealed stainless tank. The bubbles act as a perfect foil for the 241 g/l of residual sugar from the icewine. This shows a subtle bubble in the glass and vivid notes of apricot jam, tropical fruits, peach compote, marmalade, lychee, wild honey and spice notes on the nose. The tiny bubbles of delight light up the palate followed by a gushing river of super-charged peach, apricot, pineapple, candied citrus, honeycomb and caramel that’s all concentrated and long on the finish but nicely held together by those lovely bubbles and acidity. What an exotic treat. Ready to drink now and not recommended for the cellar, if you can avoid, to better enjoy the bubbles.

Domaine Queylus Réserve du Domaine Pinot Noir 2016 ($45, 91 points) — This has an intense nose of pretty red berries, earth, savoury notes, moderate and fine spice, plums and minerals. Tannins are more integrated than the Tradition Pinot with pleasing red berries emerging, bramble, plums, savoury spices and a long, finessed finish. Lovely Pinot that will age 5+ years.

Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2017 ($30, 90 points) — From estate fruit from the home vineyard with aging in French oak (15% new) for 23 months. It has an attractive nose of black cherries, cassis, earthy/bramble notes, wild raspberries and elegant oak spice. It’s bright and finessed on the palate with tart red berries, cranberries, soft tannic structure, spice and verve through the finish. The 2016 version of this wine, long sold out, is a more voluptuous Pinot with darker fruits, power and complexity.

Tawse Grower’s Blend Cabernet Franc 2019 ($29, 91 points) — This Cab Franc was in aged in French oak barrels for 16 months (35% new oak). It has an intense nose of dark plums, black cherries, earth, cassis, cocoa, cedar, spice, herbs and smoky accents. It has fairly tight tannic structure on the palate with the full range of red berries, cocoa, elegant spice notes, blackberries, toasted vanilla, mulled herbs and decent length through a lifted finish. Can age this 5+ years.

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed:

• Henry of Pelham Red, Vidal and Riesling Icewine ($100 for three bottle set, 200 mL each)
• Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2018 ($20)
• Kew Marsanne/Viognier 2017 ($20)
• Tawse Limestone Ridge-North Estate Bottled Riesling 2018 ($22)
• The Foreign Affair Dream 2017 ($30)
• The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Reserve Red 2019 ($25)