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A legacy Cab Franc, new Staff bubbles and last chance for Niagara Vintages wines

By Rick VanSickle

Andrea Kaiser, the very busy daughter of the late iconic winemaker Karl Kaiser, has slowly and meticulously built up her growing stable of wines in between political campaigns and various other jobs in the Niagara wine industry.

Note: Also in this report, we have reviews for the new sparkling wines from Sue-Ann Staff, and our picks from the last Vintages release before Christmas, including wines from Henry of Pelham, Foreign Affair, Redstone, Inniskillin, Flat Rock Cellars, Featherstone and a vermouth from Tawse.

Niagara wine
Andrea Kaiser.

Drea’s Wine Co. fulfils Kaiser’s goal of carrying on her father’s legacy as co-founder of Inniskillin and the original winemaker. The label is a virtual brand with the wines made by Reif winemaker Robert DiDomenico and Fernando Morales, “who crafted my wine in the style I love best,” says Kaiser.

The first wine launched was a Sauvignon Blanc, which was dedicated to her father, and a rosé and Dornfelder followed.

Her next wine is a Cabernet Franc from 2020, released last Saturday, appropriately on Cabernet Franc day.

That varietal was selected for her first classic oak-aged red wine, as it was one of her, and her father’s, favourite grapes for Ontario. They both loved Cabernet Franc for its bright fruit flavours and gracious acidity.

Karl Kaiser.

Kaiser said that in 2020, the timing seemed right to produce her first red as the “hot vintage was ideal for full ripening of the fruit.” She made the decision “that this red would be a tribute to her father’s legacy in education and mentorship within the wine industry. My father always had an open door and loved to share his knowledge with others. He was not only an inspiration to young winemakers but also a life-long teacher through established institutions and within his wine cellar.”

This legacy of learning was one that was recognized in 2017 through the establishment of the Karl J. Kaiser Memorial Fund at Brock University and so it seemed fitting that a portion of proceeds from Kaiser’s Cabernet Franc wine sales be donated to this fund each year.

The Cabernet Franc and other Drea’s wines are available for sale at Reif Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake and online here.

Here is our review of the wine:

Drea’s Cabernet Franc 2020 ($35, 92 points) — A really lovely and enticing nose of black raspberries, wild blackberries, anise, herbs, spice and subtle savoury notes. It’s mouth-filling, but not over powering, and made in a perfectly dry style (as are all Drea’s wines) with ripe blackberries, anise/licorice, crunchy summer raspberries, savoury spices, lightly toasted spice notes and bright acidity keeping it lively through a fresh finish. Can cellar 4+ years.

A sparkling debut from Sue-Ann Staff

Sue-Ann Staff has just released two new sparkling wines just in time for the holidays. Also just out is the popular Gritstone Cabernet, a bold Cabernet Franc from the 2019 vintage. Here are our reviews.

Sue-Ann Staff Fancy Farm Girl Flirty Bubbles 2020 ($27, 88 points) This new charmat bubbly is made from 100% estate grown Vidal (95%) and Cabernet Franc (5%). This shows a pretty pale salmon with an elegant bead of bubbles in the glass. The nose is fruity mix of strawberries, peach and candy apple with citrus accents. It has good pop on the palate with a basket of ripe red berries, zesty citrus notes and freshening acidity on the finish.

Sue-Ann Staff Fancy Farm Girl Frosty Fizz 2020 ($27, 89 points) — This charmat method sparkling wine is a blend of Vidal with a splash of Riesling with a soft, persistent bubble in the glass and a highly aromatic nose of peach, apple, lime and grapefruit. It has high energy on the palate with notes of ripe peach, lemon-lime, fresh apples and a pinch of sweetness that finds balance on the finish. A pair of festive and friendly sparklers for the holidays.

Sue-Ann Staff Gritstone Cabernet 2019 ($35, 90 points) — This 100% Cabernet Franc, named after a unique one-piece gritstone used by Staff’s ancestors to mill grain on the property. It’s barrel-aged for 20 months in a selection of American and European oak and has a bold and sassy nose of ripe cherry kirsch, blueberry pie, raspberry brambly, cedar and oak spice notes. It has grippy tannic structure on the palate and the fruits turn to darker berries of cassis, anise and blueberries with earthy notes, vanilla bean and spice on a finessed finished. Can cellar for a few years for better integration or pair with red meats and enjoy now.

Dec. 11 Niagara releases at Vintages

This coming Saturday’s release of new wines at Vintages stores is your last chance to grab something new at LCBO stores before Christmas. With warnings of dire shortages of international wines and spirits due to worldwide supply chain issues, consumers can rest assured that there are no shortages locally. Most wineries in Ontario can get wine delivered right to your door online in one or two days. Or you can buy direct from Ontario Wine Country wineries. Make it a local red and white Christmas and shop local wines!

We offer our picks of the Niagara wines being released Saturday below.

Flat Rock Twisted Sparkling 2020 ($20, 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.

Redstone Chardonnay 2016 ($20, 88 points) — A fragrant, floral nose with notes of peach, lemon blossoms, honey and toasty oak. The palate expresses plenty of fresh peach, candied lemon peel and Mandarin orange. Acidity is vibrant and oak has been judiciously applied and is nicely integrated with the fruit, giving it a creamy texture and lingering buttery, caramel notes. (Michael Lowe review)

Featherstone Four Feathers 2020 ($15, 87 points) — This white blend consists of Riesling (62%), Sauvignon Blanc (20%), Gewurztraminer (15%) and Chardonnay (3%). There’s a lot going on here — citrus, lychee, apples, herbs and peach. It’s slightly off-dry on the palate and loaded with orchard fruits, herbs, lychee and zesty citrus fruit on the finish. A crowd-pleasing, good value white wine to have on hand for the holidays.

The Foreign Affair Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($35, 91 points) — So, 20% of the fruit is dried for 45 days and the wine is aged for 18 months in American and French oak. This appassimento style wine has a rich, bold profile on the nose with ripe currants, blackberries, cocoa and cherry/kirsch accents. It’s a wonderful wine on the palate with ripe dark and red fruits, ample chewy tannins, enticing spice notes and a long finish.

Henry of Pelham Schoolhouse Cabernet-Merlot 2019 ($25, 89 points) — This blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the estate tier is aged in a combination of American and European oak, 30% of which is new, for 10 months. The nose shows ripe cherries, black currants, blackberries, subtle earthy notes and toasted spices. It’s quite ripe and fruity on the palate with the full range of dark berries, vanilla bean, black licorice, cedar plank and spice notes to go with soft tannins and a bright finish. Can cellar 3+ years.

Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2019 ($80 for 375 mL, 93 points) — A thrilling nose ripe peach, candied citrus, baked apple, lime, poached pear and nectarine. It’s thick and silky on the plalate with layers of sweet orchard fruit, lovely wild honey notes, mango and peach cobbler in a luxurious and decadent style that is all held together seamlessly with racy acidity. This is a wonder right out of the bottle but can’t help but think how much better it will get with a decade or more in the cellar.

And a vermouth from Tawse

Tawse Dry Vermouth ($23, 92 points) — The Tawse distillery is rocking these days, churning out all manner of innovative spirits overseen by head of winemaking Paul Pender. This Vermouth is unlike any I have tried. I can remember the days when Vermouth was but a seldom used spirit that you basically squirted a mere drop into a dry Vodka martini just so you could say you weren’t drinking pure vodka on ice. A bottle would last years and years. The spirit here is sourced from certified organic estate Riesling that’s steeped with 14 different botanicals and fortified to 18.5% abv. On Pender’s advice, I tasted this straight up on ice with a big wedge of lime. It had a beautiful nose of citrus, herbs, sage, wild flowers and some exotic tropical fruit notes and, of course, lime. It was smooth and refreshing on the palate with notes of chamomile tea, pear, fresh herbs, citrus and a zesty, refreshing finish. A lovely afternoon cocktail.

Also released, but not reviewed by Wines In Niagara:

• Southbrook Triomphe Organic Chardonnay 2018 ($25)
• 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2019 ($25)
• Creekside Laura’s Red 2017 ($25)
• The Tragically Hip Ahead By a Century Chardonnay 2020 ($22)
• Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2019 ($18)