By Rick VanSickle
If you needed more proof that 2020 is a benchmark vintage for Niagara reds, we have five examples from two top wineries that will settle any doubts you may have.
2027 Cellars’ winemaker/owner Kevin Panagapka, below, has been touting his 2020 Cabernet Francs in barrel for some time and has just released two extraordinary single-vineyard expressions that take this grape to an entirely new level. He also just released a Gamay from the same vintage, which also is worthy of your attention.
Meanwhile, we review two 2020 reds from Malivoire, the Beamsville Bench winery that just won Winery of the Year at this year’s National Wine Awards. The award comes on the strength of three platinum medals achieved for Gamay Le Coeur 2020, Bisous Rosé NV Sparkling and the Analog Red 2020. It’s the first time any winery has won three platinum awards in a single year.
In this tasting report, along with a selection of 2027 wines, we review two reds from 2020 crafted by winemaker Shiraz Mottiar — a Gamay and a Pinot Noir, and re-publish two of our reviews for the two red Platinum award winners from 2020. We also review a new appassimento-style red from Calumus winery, also made Panakapka.
But first, new 2027 wines. To get 2027 Cellars wines online go here or purchase at the retail shop located at Calamus winery in Jordan.
2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard-Foxcroft Block Cabernet Franc 2020 ($50, 94 points) — Cabernet Franc is set for a breakout vintage in Niagara with the ripe 2020s now being released. This beauty from Panagapka’s favourite source for grapes, the Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench, is an exceptional example of how well this variety can perform in perfect conditions. Now, some Cabernet Franc fans might favour the leaner vintages to better enjoy the bright herbaceous notes that define this grape, but I believe this riper, meatier style has a appeal to a wider audience. The grapes for this wine were picked at optimum ripeness and the wine was aged for 12 months in Burgundian French oak (40% new) and finished at 14.7% abv, in stark contrast to the CF below. Panagapka calls this “super Cab” the best he’s ever produced in Niagara. It has a uber-charged nose of brambly wild raspberries, cassis, herbaceous accents, dried Cuban tobacco and savoury oak spices in a dense and pure style that is both inviting and, frankly, exciting. There is even more complexity on the palate with richness and power ahead of thick, brambly red and dark fruits, mocha, savoury spices, integrated thyme/herb notes and layers of interest through a long and finessed finish. This has the stuffing and the ripe tannins to cellar 10+ years (maybe more).
2027 Cellars King Street Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2020 ($40, 92 points) — This is a first effort for Cabernet Franc sourced from the King Street Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench. The wine is aged in 30% new Burgundian French barrels for 12 months. It’s a fruit-driven example of this stalwart Niagara grape with only 12.8% abv and a highly concentrated nose of wild raspberries, dark cherries, bramble, cassis, forest floor and spice with just a hint of herbaceousness. It has firm tannic structure, ripe red berries, anise and a touch of minty herbs with length and finesse through the finish. Very fine Cabernet Franc from the warm 2020 vintage that can be cellared for 5+ years.
2027 Wismer-Armbrust Block Gamay Noir 2020 ($30, 91 points) — This Twenty Mile Bench wine is Panagapka’s first Gamay that isn’t a rosé. He ages the wine in 10% new Burgundian French oak for 12 months and is finished with only 12.4% abv. It has a lively, meaty nose of plum pudding, wild berries, fresh turned earth and light toasty spices. It’s quite ripe and bright on the palate with brambly raspberries, plums and dark cherries with light tannins, subtle spice notes and length and freshness through the finish.
2027 Cellars Edgerock Vineyard Brut Rosé 2017 ($45, re-tasted, 93 points) — This traditionally made, 100% Pinot Noir, sourced from the Twenty Mile Bench, was fermented in steel tanks and held on the gross less for 4 months prior to triage. The finished wine was aged on the lees for 30 months prior to disgorging with zero dosage. It has a lovely onion skin colour in the glass and a complex, inviting nose of brioche, leesy notes, bright red berries and lemon toast. It has an elegant, vigorous bead in the glass with notes of fresh-picked red berries, raspberry bush, brioche/toasty/bready notes and a bright, lifted and finessed finish from the mouth-watering acidity. A lovely bubble.
2027 Cellars Falls Vineyard Pinot Gris 2020 ($25, 89 points) — The grapes were hand harvested from the Falls Vineyard in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. It has a fruit-laden nose of summer peaches, melon, pear, apricot and an interesting floral lift. It’s perfectly dry with zesty lemon on the palate followed by a lovely mélange of ripe orchard fruits and a refreshing finish.
Calamus Estate Winery
Calamus Appassimento 2019 ($69, 90 points) — This appassimento style big red comes bottled with Ontario’s only augmented reality wine label, which was created by Brock University MBA students. You will need an android phone (it’s coming to Apple soon) to appreciate the celestial show by scanning the QR code on the back label (I did not see the show because I have an iPhone). The blend for this wine is Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with the grapes dried in an innovative drying chamber at the Vineland Research Centre for 45 days, taking the sugars from 24 Brix (at harvest) to 27 Brix (after drying). It was aged in French oak barriques, 50% of which was new oak. It’s a big, boozy bruiser at nearly 15% abv with a nose of compoted raspberries, kirsch, cassis preserves, jammy black currants, toasted vanilla and spices … in other words, a fruit bomb with alcohol. It’s big on the palate with a super saturated array of dense red and dark berries, some raisins, sweet herbs, heat, rich barrel spice notes, big chewy tannins, leather and well structured on a long finish. Fans of big red wines will find this to their liking, but it could stand some cellaring to round out all the moving parts.
Malivoire Wine Company
Malivoire Wismer Foxcroft Gamay 2020 ($28, 92 points) — The grapes for this Twenty Mile Bench sourced Gamay were fermented, half as whole berry clusters and half crushed, in alternating layers, in a stainless tank. After pressing, the wine was aged for six months in neutral French oak barrels. There is zero g/l of residual sugar in this wine. It shows a bright garnet colour in the glass and the aromas jump from the glass — cherries, wild blueberries, damson blue plums, brambly raspberries and a hint of spice. It’s delicious on the palate with electric energy elevating the wild berries, plums and anise with some tannic structure and a fresh vein of acidity driving through a lifted finish. Really fine Gamay.
Malivoire Small Lot Pinot Noir 2020 ($30, 93 points) — The fruit is a blend of both estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench and was aged for eight months in neutral French oak barrels. The warm 2020 vintage is on full display here. Such a penetrating nose of ripe cherries, floral notes, bramble, sweet summer raspberries and integrated baking spices. It has lovely texture and energy on the palate with a range of savoury raspberries, dark cherries, crunchy cranberries and lovely spicy/earthy undertones. It’s complex and vibrant with polished tannins and a bright finessed finish. Can cellar, but tasting pretty fine right now.
red wines from Malivoire
Malivoire Gamay ‘L Coeur’ 2020 ($28, 91 points) — Winemaker Mottiar is clearly the Gamay king in Niagara, 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 Demo Analog 2020 ($28, 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)?