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A 100-point Niagara Riesling, plus our picks from the Vintages release Saturday

By Rick VanSickle

Visiting the lakefront Niagara-on-the-Lake winery Konzelmann Estate on a brilliant Sunday in November, it was business as usual.

Note: Also in this report, a roundup of Niagara wines (and one from B.C.) that we highly recommend from the Vintages release Saturday.

A constant caravan of buses brings thirsty tourists to taste and purchase wines, snap group selfies from the well-used viewing platform overlooking the historic vineyards and stunning vistas to Lake Ontario, and laughter fills the crisp, fall air. It’s only two days after the Konzelmann family announced the death of patriarch Herbert Konzelmann and not even the flag flying at half-staff over the winery provides tourists with an inkling of the passing of one of Niagara’s pioneering winemakers.

Niagara wine

It is probably just how Konzelmann would like it. He built his stunning winery after immigrating to Niagara from Germany in 1984 and purchased 40 acres of peaches at 1096 Lakeshore Road. He replaced most of the peach trees with vinifera plantings to begin his dream of expanding his German roots to the New World. The Konzelmann residence was constructed in the summer of 1986, and the winery opened its doors on April 9, 1988. It was also built as a gathering place, joyous place where people could come and enjoy the wine and share some of the most gorgeous views available in Niagara. The peaches did not go to waste, instead becoming the talk of the town, as many of them were fermented into Konzelmann’s famous peach wine.

I am here on this Sunday to pay silent respect to Konzelmann, a man I admired and have tasted wine with many times over the years, but not so much recent years, for whatever reason.

Herbert Konzelmann is photographed at Konzelmann Estate Winery by Julie Jocsak.

One of my favourite tastings with Konzelmann was a pairing of Brix chocolate with his wines in the spectacular loft in the winery with 360-degree views. He was like a kid in a candy shop, proudly pulling out bottles of his wines for us to try and match with Brix chocolate samples brought along to taste.

Konzelmann spread out on a table the vast majority of his 49 wines and started pouring glass after glass for us to taste through and find perfect matches. Konzelmann’s eyes lit up whenever we hit a perfect pairing. “Oooh, try this. And this,” he repeats as we try to keep up. Konzelmann’s tastes were obviously still married to German-style Rieslings and Alsatian-style Pinot Blancs and Gewurztraminer. But he had also put together a fine program of red wines and sweet icewines.

The final pairing of our marathon session was with the milk chocolate Brix. Konzelmann suggested we try it with his amazing Vidal icewine, a powerful matchup of sweet fruit versus creamy chocolate. It was delicious, a perfect pairing. But even more impressive was his booming smile that is at once comforting and infectious, a smile that will forever live on in the memories of anyone who met the man and shared a glass of his wine with him.

We are losing our pioneering vintners in Niagara, most of them coming from far-flung places to bring their expertise and lay down the foundation for what is the modern-day wine industry in Niagara and Canada.

We owe them all a debt of gratitude, surely, but more important than that, we owe them our utmost respect.

See also: The Life and Times of Herbert Konzelmann here and Herbert Konzelmann, a Giant in the Ontario Wine Industry here.

On Sunday, after strolling the grounds at Konzelmann, I purchased what just might be one of the last bottles of wine Herbert Konzelmann had a hand in making, a 2020 Riesling from his prized oldest vines. Here is my rather biased review.

Konzelmann Old Vines Riesling Reserve 2020 ($25, 100 points) — As the name suggests, only the most mature estate vines were used to produce this Riesling. It was aged in both stainless steel tanks and acacia barrels. The nose is quite ripe with notes of apricots, peaches, golden apples, lemon blossoms and just a hint of spice. It’s juicy on the palate with the full range of orchard fruits, citrus zest and a spicy edge in a dry style that benefits from the warmth of the vintage. Plenty of vibrant acidity keeps it fresh and lively through the finish. Can cellar this for 5+ years. Go get it!

Note: This is the second 100-point wine awarded by Wines In Niagara. The first, Fielding Estate’s Theo Block Riesling 2015, can be found here.

Niagara wines released at
Vintages stores on Saturday

Hidden Bench, 2027 Cellars and a Jackson-Triggs sparkling wine are our suggestions from the Niagara wines being released on Saturday. There is also a gem from Culmina in the Okanagan Valley that is a good bet. As well, a Pinot Noir from Domaine Queylus and a Cabernet Franc sparkling wine from Two Sisters are available in the Classics Collection for November (see reviews below).

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block Chardonnay 2019 ($25, 93 points) — This single-vineyard Chardonnay epitomizes, for me, what 2027 Cellars is all about. Owner/winemaker Kevin Panagapka has been sourcing grapes from this special block in the Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench for over 10 years. It has been Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling White Wine and never strays from being one of the top Chards made in Niagara in any given vintage. This follows closely to all the other vintages of this wine and is made similar to all the others — 100% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented, wild malo with 100% French oak aging (20%, new oak). It has a perfumed nose of ripe pear, lemon blossom, crushed stones, apple, gunflint, toasted almonds and oak nuances. It’s more overt on the palate with rich pear fruit, quince, stony/saline minerality, zesty citrus, elegant and subtle spice and toasted almonds with electric acidity lifting the fruit through a long and finessed finish. Amazing Chard that is true to the soil where it was grown. So youthful right now and a definite candidate for the cellar, say 5+ years.

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché 2017 ($45, 92 points) — This Bordeaux variety blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, from the three estate vineyards, is aged in French oak (55% new) for 20 months. It has an enticing nose of plums, black currants, cassis and fine oak spice notes. It’s complex and layered on the palate with a full range of dark berries, toasty vanilla, fine-grained tannins, elegant spice notes and length through a finessed finish. Can age 6+ years for further integration, maybe more.

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut Sparkling 2016 ($30, 93 points) — What a beautiful, nicely mature and elegant sparkling wine from J-T at a remarkably affordable price for a wine at this level. The grapes were hand picked from the estate vineyard and it is a blend of Chardonnay (49%), Pinot Noir (47%) and Pinot Meunier (4%) that was whole-bunch pressed and fermented in individual varietal batches then aged en tirage for three years. It has such a beguiling nose of lemon biscuit, green apple, brioche, creamy pear with a persistent bubble in the glass. It has mouth-filling flavours of apple, pear, quince, some tropical fruits and lemon tart with toasted vanilla, almonds, marzipan and a finessed, luxurious finish. There’s pure elegance here that’s reached a nice plateau and should continue for a few more years.

And a beauty from B.C.

Culmina Hypothesis 2014 ($43, Flagship stores only, 93 points) — What a beautiful blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 22% Cabernet Franc. The colour in the glass shows a deep, rich black cherry hue with aromas of black currants, cherry compote, caramel, fine oak spices, cassis, bramble, graphite and earthy/loamy accents. Such a baby at this point, but swirl and swirl and it opens up on the palate to layers of dark fruits, elegant spices, cocoa, a vein of Golden Mile minerality, and a long finessed finish. This is a red that will improve gracefully for 10+ years but irresistible now with a nice New York strip loin, or braised beef cheek pappardelle.

Niagara wines in Vintages’
November Classics Collection

There are two Niagara wines available in the Vintages Classics Collection offer that went live last week. If interested, you can order here.

Domaine Queylus La Grande Réserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($60, 93 points) — Sourced from top parcels and blocks at Neudorf Vineyard (previously called La Petite Colline and used for Le Clos Jordanne), it has a complex and interesting nose of brambly red fruits, subtle spice, forest floor, mushrooms, highly perfumed, intense and minerally. It’s simply wonderful on the palate; such a pretty Pinot with delicate red fruits, herbs, polished tannins, depth, minerality, integrated and fine oak spice notes and finesse through the finish. Can cellar but quite attractive right now. Pictured is Domaine Queylus winemaker Kelly Mason.

Two Sisters Blanc de Franc 2017 ($62, 93 points) — This interesting and rare sparkling wine was disgorged after 522 days on the lees with zero dosage. The nose is all about toasty brioche, lemon biscuit, creamy pear, baked apple, subtle red berries with an elegant, persistent mousse. It really is a delight on the palate with rich apple, pear, forest berries and biscuit with depth, vigor and some weight that will round out with a bit of time in the cellar. In all, a crisp, perfectly dry sparkler in a unique style. Pictured is Two Sisters winemaker Adam Pearce.

Also released, but not reviewed by Wines In Niagara:

• Henry of Pelham Lost Boys Limited Edition Bin 106 Baco Noir 2020 ($35)
• Wayne Gretzky Whisky Oak Aged Chardonnay 2019 ($19)
• Wayne Gretzky Whisky Aged Red 2019 ($20)
• Campbell Kind Wine Tawse Riesling 2019 ($20)
• Wildass Red 2018 ($22)
• Featherstone Joy Premium Cuvée Sparkling 2014 ($35)
• Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2019 ($23)