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Beer-wine throwdown at Niagara College, plus new Ontario wine reviews and Vintages picks

By Rick VanSickle

Even though the 2022 version of Caps, Corks and Forks was a hard-fought battle between Niagara College wine and beer students, the biggest challenge was just getting to the point of having an in-person event in the age of COVID.

Also in this report: New wines from Ours and Yours Wine, 80x Wine Co. and Malivoire, plus our picks from a thrilling release of Niagara wines at Vintages stores, including On Seven, 2027 Cellars, Le Clos Jordanne, Flat Rock Cellars and Henry of Pelham.

Niagara wine

In that regard, it was a monumental success for all involved at the event held at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College, one of the first big showcase gatherings held at the college since COVID began. Guests were made up of a combination of friends of the college, family of the competitors and some invited guests.

The task at hand was for students from Niagara College’s wine and beer programs to offer their best pairings to go with a tantalizing menu prepared by culinary students over a five-course dinner. It was the 15th annual (well, not quite annual, as the last one was held in 2020) event and up until this point was tied at 7-7. The big tiebreaker was on the line.

The student rivalry played out over the course of the evening while guests savoured the culinary delights and voted on which beverage — chosen by Team Wine and Team Beer — nailed it better with each dish. Every course became the battleground in this friendly wine-versus-beer competition and, after a little coaxing by members of both teams, who addressed the crowd to defend their selections, guests voted for their preferred beverage-food pairing following each course – with either a cap or a cork. The team with the most accumulative votes at the end of the night was declared the winner.

Team Wine was comprised of students in the Winery and Viticulture Technician and Beverage Business Management programs, while Team Beer was comprised of students in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program.

Niagara College President Sean Kennedy, in remarks before the competition, said: “Caps, Corks and Forks is an exquisite demonstration and a showcase of what is at the heart of Niagara College learning.” He pointed out that the competition between wine and beer college students is the only one of its kind in Canada.

I was there as a guest of Peter Rod (above), program coordinator/professor of wine programs at the college, and with both of us coming from the wine side of things, you would expect our votes to lean in in that direction. Both of us were pleasantly surprised to discover some incredibly complex and complementing beer styles that gave wine students a run for their money.

The Matchups

Round One: Grilled vegetable pavé, with sunflower seed pesto, balsamic glaze, and goat cheese mousse in a colourful, gorgeous presentation. The wine pairing was Creekside Backyard Block Bubbly, and the beer match was Merit Brewing Company Fine Line Orange Wine Lager. While I thought the beer was quite unique and delicious, the bubbly did the trick for me — such energy and zest with a touch of herbaceous notes really made the veg appetizer sing.

Round Two: Creamy woodland mushrooms, with puff pastry, oven-dried cherry tomatoes and truffle drizzle. The wine pairing was the 2019 Carly’s Block Riesling from Tawse while the beer was the Niagara Teaching Brewery Bock 101. Tough call here, but I went with the classic savoury dish paired with a contrasting sweet and vibrant wine route. Loved the bock and will definitely be seeking it out.

Round Three: Crispy blue crab cake, with Creole remoulade, pea sprouts, brown butter, and lemon vinaigrette. The wine pairing was the Southbrook 2020 Witness Block Cabernet Franc Rosé and the beer match was a Kame and Kettle Beer Works Tide and Vine Oyster Stout. This was very close for me; the rosé was a tasty option but I voted for the oyster stout just because of the interesting flavours that complemented the Creole remoulade perfectly. I could have gone either way.

Round Four: Tender braised beef ribs, with fondant potato, roasted vegetables, and chimichurri. The wine was a special library vintage of Rennie Estates G from 2014, a bold and rich appassimento-style (dried grape) assemblage of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, while the beer pairing was from Little Beasts Brewing Company Máni-smoked Grisette with Brett and Black Garlic. This incredibly inventive and smoky beer was not out of place with the beef ribs, but hard not support the Rennie G, a wine that is on this Earth for a dish such as this. Another wine vote.

Round Five: Chocolate cake with NC Spirits 101 Twisted Berry Gin Ice Cream. The wine was the NC Teaching Winery 2019 Dean’s List Fortified Cabernet Sauvignon (which made its debut on this night and only two barrels were made) while the beer, which was brewed entirely by a student at NC, was the NC Teaching Brewery Coffee Talk. There was a lot going with the dessert dish and myriad flavours, it made for a difficult decision. While I thoroughly enjoyed the beer, I ultimately voted for the sweet and bold fortified red wine to pair with the riot of flavours on the plate.

When it was all tallied up, wine was voted the winner, breaking a 14-year deadlock. In the end, the true winners were the guests who were the happy and satiated recipients of all that delicious food, wine and beers chosen, and in some cases made, by the students. We are so darn lucky to have Niagara College in our community and providing wineries, breweries and restaurants with the future winemakers, brewers, and chefs of the future.

First wine from new virtual
Ours and Yours Wine

Ours and Yours Wine is a new virtual winery in Niagara owned by born-and-raised Niagara brothers Nicholas (winemaker) and Christopher Salvatore (business development). Nicholas also works full time as the assistant winemaker at Riverview Cellars.

“The exploration, and elevation, of our growing wine region has always been an interest of ours,” they say. “While we don’t own a vineyard, we believe in enhancing and supporting the natural characteristics of a given place. We seek to amplify the voice of a vineyard site and enhance the characteristics of a given vineyard, through our winemaking touch.

“By letting intuition guide our hand, with our creative spirit and palates as our primary tools, we thank the Niagara wine community who allow us to utilize their grapes to embrace what we’re trying to build.”

The wines, so far just the Riesling reviewed below, can be purchased online here or through direct message on Instagram here.

The first red, a Cabernet Sauvignon, is being released late this summer.

Ours and Yours Riesling 2020 ($20, 91 points) — This first wine from the new virtual winery Ours and Yours is sourced (and made at) Riverview Cellars in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This lovely Riesling has a peachy-lime nose with lemon, green apple, saline minerality and a subtle note of petrol just beginning to emerge. It’s vibrant and fresh on the palate and shows zesty lemon-lime notes with a dry impression, river-rock minerality, apples, peach skin and a bright and lifted finish. Great first effort here.

New releases from 80x Wine Company

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

Wine writer André Proulx is proving he’s no flash in the pan on the other side of the business as his 80x Wine Company is just about to release its sixth vintage.

The idea for the virtual wine project was born in 2015 when Vadam Chelekhov, a winemaker at Kacaba Vineyards, and Proulx 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. 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 (and even a cider) was a thing.

The 80x team now consists of Guillaume Frénéhard, Chelekhov (co-founder with Proulx), Adam Kern and Proulx — all born in the 80s, hence the name.

Wines In Niagara tasted two of the new wines Proulx dropped off recently, a couple of not-quite-bottled-yet samples — a rosé and Chardonnay — to try. Here are my notes (not scored due the Chardonnay not finished aging and the rosé not yet bottled at the time).

You can buy 80s wines from the Rockway Vineyards in person or by messaging on Instagram here or email

80x Wine Company Dam Chardonnay 2020 (around $30 when released in six months) — Proulx and his team sources the grapes from the Willms Vineyard 1983 planting in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is still currently aging in two oak puncheons, 2nd and 4th fill. It shows the beauty of the warm vintage with a generous nose of ripe pear, toasted spice notes, yellow apple, crushed stones and a touch of citrus zest. It’s quite nice on the palate with baked pear and apple, elegant spice notes, pulpy citrus, a flinty note and a bright lifted finish. This was still developing when tasted and still in barrel.

80x When Pigs Fly Pinot Noir Rosé 2021 ($22, released in about 10 days) — It shows a pretty pale magenta colour in the glass and vibrant aromas of dark cherries, wild raspberries and strawberry tart. It’s ripe with a dry impression on the palate to go with the full spectrum of red berries, subtle herbs and a finessed, lively finish.

A pair of new wines from Malivoire

Malivoire Small Lot Chardonnay 2020 ($22, 92 points) — The grapes were sourced from the estate vineyard, Mottiar Vineyard and Moira Vintage over three picking days. After whole-cluster pressing, the juice finished primary fermentation in stainless steel.  The majority (68%) of the wine settled and aged on the lees in a stainless-steel tank, while 20% rested in steel barrels and 12% aged in neutral French oak. It has a rich nose of peachy-apple, ripe pear, lemon, harmonized/sublime oak accents and freshening minerality. It’s mouth-filling with pure and ripe stone fruits, a flinty/chalky note, light spice and nervy acidity through the juicy finish.

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2021 ($25, 92 points) — A new look and another beauty from Malivoire’s multi-tiered rosé portfolio. This Pinot Noir based rosé shows a pale pink colour in the glass with a nose of fresh-picked raspberries, strawberries, subtle herbs and a hint of citrus zest. It’s ripe on the palate but made in a bone-dry expression with a basket of red berries, mouth-watering acidity and a zesty lime finish.

Top Niagara wines coming
to Vintages stores Saturday

An exciting array of top Niagara wines are coming to Vintages stores this Saturday. Here’s what we recommend:

On Seven The Pursuit Chardonnay 2018 ($45, Vintages online exclusive, 93 points) — The 2018 growing season got off to a slow start, but record heat from May through August more than made up for it. Summer drought was an issue in the young vineyard, limited somewhat by the high moisture retention of the soils. Cluster thinning to one bunch per shoot was employed to reduce the crop and lessen the burden on the vines, hence the tiny yields in 2018. The estate fruit was hand-harvested and the whole clusters were then pressed to produce juice. After settling to remove gross lees, the juice was transferred to French oak barrels (20% new, 80% neutral) for fermentation and aging. After 18 months in barrel, the wines were coarsely filtered and bottled. Such a beguiling nose of perfumed pear, ripe apple, white flowers, nectarine, toasted vanilla and perfectly balanced oak spices. The pear/apple/nectarine fruits are broad and succulent on the palate and impart a wonderfully elegant mouth feel. There is a nervy vein of flinty minerality through the mid-palate with lemon zest and bright acidity lighting up the finish. A lovely wine that will reward with 5+ years of cellaring.

2020 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block Chardonnay 2020 ($25, 93 points) — Winemaker/owner Kevin Panagapka has always found success with fruit sourced from the Foxcroft 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.

Le Clos Jordan Village Pinot Noir 2019 ($25, 93 points) — This “village” Pinot Noir is a blend of declassified Le Clos barrels and Claystone Vineyard, so entirely in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-app but still labeled “Niagara Peninsula” in case winemaker Thomas Bachelder blends in Talon Ridge fruit in future bottlings. The Pinot sees about 19 months in carefully curated French oak barrels. There is a gorgeous, perfumed note in both the Chard and Pinot, so I have to assume it is part of the terroir of the Le Clos Vineyard. It adds such a beautiful dimension to both wines. In the Pinot, it complements the dark cherries, forest berries, or mulberries, as Bachelder notes, brambly raspberries, cedar plank, a mineral edge and some meaty/spicy accents. It is silky on the palate with medium+ tannins and structure, and profiles as a rich and gamy/savoury Pinot Noir with dark cherries, wild raspberries, elegant spice notes, chalky minerality and subtle cassis with a finessed and long, long finish. This will benefit from some cellaring, say 5+ years. Can’t wait to see where this $25 Pinot Noir will go.

Flat Rock Red Twisted 2019 ($20, 88 points) — There’s a lot going here in this unique blend of Gamay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, all aged separately in barrels before blending. The first note on the nose is juicy plum with cassis, black cherries, herbs, spice, and black raspberries. The fruits turn somewhat darker on the palate with anise, plums, cassis, savoury red berries, spice, light tannins, and juicy acidity keeping it lively through the perky finish.

Henry of Pelham Estate 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.

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed:

• Hidden Bench Estate Gamay 2020 ($30)
• Jackson-Triggs Reserve Sparkling Moscato 2020 ($20)
• The Tragically Hip Ahead By A Century Chardonnay 2020 ($22)
• Vineland Estates Pinot Grigio 2020 ($18)
• Proud Pour Pinot for Bees Pinot Noir 2019 ($23)
• Lakeview Cellars Serenity Pinot Noir Rosé 2020 ($16)