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Wine, chocolate and cheese celebration, plus Niagara wine reviews and news

By Rick VanSickle

With a huge sigh of relief, Niagara wineries are welcoming back visitors with open arms as the long, dark COVID winter sheds its gloomy cloak of uncertainty.

The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake association was quick to put its annual wine and chocolate tasting event on the calendar and even added an enticing new element to the program — cheese.

Note, also in this Niagara Wine Report: New winemaker at Inniskillin Estate Winery, COVID restrictions lifted at some wineries, new wines from 2027 Cellars and Henry of Pelham, plus Niagara Vintages releases on Saturday.

Niagara wineries

The decadently sweet and savoury Days of Wine, Chocolate AND Cheese is on the agenda with a new date, new format, and, yes, cheese for the first time, as the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake association and its members gear up for the next tasting pass program. Three weekends in March have been set aside to present food and wine pairings with the customary chocolate, and now wineries can include cheese as well.

Days of Wine, Chocolate and Cheese offers a more flexible format than in the past while ensuring that visits are exclusive, reserved, and safe. The $75 (plus tax and service fee) tasting pass entitles consumers to reserve four winery tastings on any of the nine event dates in March, which include March 11-13, March 18-20, and March 25-27. Guests can choose from over 15 of partner wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake that will each offer an exclusive on-site winery experience.

Individual winery tasting experiences must be booked in advance at either 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m., subject to availability – but guests no longer need to make bookings all the same day. You may spread out tastings on multiple calendar days if you wish. You will have the option to purchase additional tastings throughout the month if you would like.

For a full list of all the tasting experiences available, go here.

Can’t make it in person to Niagara-on-the-Lake? You can purchase Days of Wine, Chocolate and Cheese themed packages all March delivered to your home. Go here to order.

Proof of COVID vaccination
requirement lifted but …

The next round of public health measures changes took effect Tuesday, and the biggest revision is the lifting of Ontario’s proof of vaccination requirement for indoor non-essential settings. This means that wineries will no longer be required to ask patrons for proof of at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to allow entry.

However, that decision will depend on each winery and whether it chooses to keep that mandate active, as is their right. Some wineries have stated on the social media platforms that proof vaccination is no longer needed, while others are keeping the passport provision active to ensure the safety of their staff and for the peace of mind it brings their customers.

Capacity limits in all indoor public settings were also lifted as of March 1. Masking will remain in place; however, officials have hinted the policy could be lifted sometime this March. As well, Premier Doug Ford said the mask mandate might also be lifted in mid-March, but, again, policies will differ from winery to winery.

Consumers are advised to check with each winery you plan on visiting so you are prepared.

New winemaker named at
Inniskillin Estate Winery

The 2021 icewine harvest marks Nicholas Gizuk’s first vintage as the new winemaker at Inniskillin Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Gizuk has some gigantic Blundstones to fill, following in the footsteps of recently retired winemaker Bruce Nicholson and co-founder and first Inniskillin winemaker Karl Kaiser.

Gizuk has been with Inniskillin since 2013 when he interned at the historic winery. He was first drawn to winemaking through his love of science and the outdoors. After graduating from the University of Guelph with an Honours Bachelor of Science, Gizuk entered Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture program where he honed his winemaking and tasting skills. He worked at Rosewood Estates Winery and Flat Rock Cellars before continuing his winemaking journey in the Barossa Valley, Australia and Marlborough, New Zealand for two harvests.

With leadership and mentorship from Nicholson, Gizuk moved through the ranks from cellar hand to his leadership position today. Most recently, from 2017 to 2021, Gizuk worked alongside Nicholson as assistant winemaker to craft all table wine varieties as well as icewine production.

“Nicholas is passionate, dedicated and extremely talented and I’m thrilled to see him take on this role as estate winemaker,” said Nicholson. “We have worked together for many years, and I am confident that under Nicholas’s leadership, Inniskillin will continue to bring the world iconic and award-winning wines that showcase the best the Niagara Peninsula has to offer.”

Along with the new winemaker, Inniskillin also announced the redesign of its logo (above). “Our roots go deep as Canada’s original estate winery,” a news release said. “Being pillars in the wine industry, our new logo reflects the detail and expertise from both our founders. It represents the passion for winemaking that is at the core of everything we do.”

Inniskillin is Canada’s first estate winery. It is internationally renowned for its pioneering role in establishing the Canadian wine industry. On July 31, 1975, its founders, Donald Ziraldo and Kaiser, made history when they were given the first winery license in Canada since Prohibition. Inniskillin came into prominence on the global stage with its win at the 1991 Vinexpo, in France, at which the 1989 Inniskillin Vidal Icewine was awarded the highest Grand Prix d’Honneur, changing the way the world sees Canadian wine.

Niagara wines coming
to Vintages stores

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard — Foxcroft Block Chardonnay 2020 ($30, Vintages this spring, tasting and online room now, 93 points) — Winemaker/owner Kevin Panagapka has always found success with fruit sourced from the Fox Croft block in the Wismer Vineyard, located on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Moyer Road in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation. When he acquires the pristine grapes from a perfect vintage such as 2020, consumers should take note. The Foxcroft Block was cropped at just 2.2 tonnes per acre and the grapes were hand-harvested and whole bunch pressed to 500l/tonne. Wild fermentation took place in fine French oak barrels over three months and the resulting wine aged in Burgundian oak (20% new oak from Allier and Nevers) for 13 months before being bottled. Due to the warmth of 2020, alcohol is up a bit to 14.2% abv, but the wine wears it well. Also, all 2027 barrel-aged wines are now finished in Diam corks. This is the most richly adorned Wismer-Foxcroft Chard Panagapka has made but he somehow retains the juicy acidity and pristine mineral notes that give this wine its personality. The nose is awash in concentrated yellow pear, lemon tart, green apple, wet stones, crushed seashells, salinity, and beautifully integrated spice notes. The palate reveals the full range of stone fruits and ripe citrus notes with such lovely river-rock purity, toasty almonds, spice, and racy acidity keeping it fresh and vibrant through the lifted finish. A pure delight that will keep giving pleasure for five or more years in the cellar.

Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine 2019 ($50 for 375 mL, Vintages Essential 93 points) — 2019 was a crazy year for the icewine harvest with the first grapes picked on Nov. 12, well before many of the Bordeaux varieties for table wines. We’re not sure if Henry of Pelham took advantage of the early harvest or waited for more complexity to develop from the freeze-thaw cycles, but this Riesling icewine is a beauty. The nose shows enticing aromas of succulent, ripe peach compote, citrus marmalade, tropical notes and wild honey. It’s quite unctuous and caressing on the palate with a sweet/honied array of peach pie, tropical fruits, apricot tart, and candied citrus all backed up by juicy acidity on the finish. Can cellar 12+ years to realize those tertiary notes that icewine is famous for.

Niagara wines released at Vintages stores on Saturday:

• Flat Rock Chardonnay 2019 ($20
• Cave Spring Estate Pinot Gris 2019 ($25)
• Stratus Gamay 2019 ($29)
• Alvento Sparkling Rosé 2018 ($25)
• Adamo Lepp Vineyard Riesling 2019 ($20)
• Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2019 ($30)
• Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2016 ($24)
• The Hare Wine Company Jack Rabbit Special Blend 2019 ($20)
• Di Profio Gamay Noir 2019 ($22)
• EastDell Pinot Noir 2017 ($16)