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Niagara wine country getting its swagger back, plus new wines reviewed

By Rick VanSickle

Put on your dancing shoes, wine lovers, Niagara wine country is getting its swagger back and you’re invited to the party.

Also in this Ontario Wine Report: The Jackson-Triggs concert series is back on, GGO board news, new wines from Henry of Pelham and our picks from the Niagara releases at Vintages Saturday including, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2019 and two reds from Featherstone.

Niagara wine

One of the showcase events in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Sip & Sizzle, has booked four weekends in May for consumers to sip and savour gourmet food and wine at 16 NOTL wineries.

You can choose from: Weekend One — May 6-8, Weekend Two — May 13-15, Weekend Three — May 20-22 and Weekend Four — May 27-29.

With this season’s Sip & Sizzle tasting pass you can visit a maximum of eight wineries for tastings in one day. And there’s a new option: Guests can choose from an Individual tasting pass ($75 plus tax and service fee) or a couple’s pass ($75 plus tax and service fee). All these passes give you access to all 16 NOTL properties with a maximum of eight winery tastings in one day. In other words, both passes are for a maximum of 16 tastings. A couple tasting at eight wineries in one day would use one couple’s pass completely. An individual would need at least two days to visit all 16 wineries. But whether individual or couple, you can also spread your visits out over the four three-day weekends and just visit two or three wineries at a time.

Tastings will be available from 11am to 5 pm. When purchasing passes, indicate the wineries you wish to visit and on what date. (You are no longer required to book a specific time for your visit.)

Sip & Sizzle passports are available here. You can reserve your winery selection when you purchase your passports, and these will be confirmed via email after. Descriptions of all available tastings are listed on the website. But here’s a snapshot of a few tastings:

Pillitteri Estates Winery: Seared local Ontario steak — seared Ontario strip loin steak slices cooked medium, seasoned, and topped with a chimichurri sauce.  Prepared by Chef Michael Zappitelli of BarrelHead at Pillitteri. Paired with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chateau des Charmes: Portobello mushroom and caramelized onion sliders — explore the earthy flavours in the estate’s 2018 Pinot Noir, Cuvée Michèle, paired with a balsamic and Dijon mustard marinated portobello mushroom slider topped with sweet, caramelized onions. This pairing is vegetarian friendly.

Queenston Mile Vineyard: Grilled and Chilled — Grilled and chilled garlic shrimp served on toasted baguette with homemade bruschetta paired with 2018 Mile High Sparkling.

J-T’s summer concerts are back, baby!

One of Niagara’s favourite traditions is back for another season after two years of being postponed due to COVID.

Jackson-Triggs winery announced its 2022 Summer Concert Series Lineup, held under the stars at the estate’s amphitheatre, beginning June 24. Sam Roberts will open the season that features all Canadian artists. Sarah Harmer, July Talk and Chantal Kreviazuk are among other summer performers.

If you are a wine club member you have access to pre-sale tickets on May 2, otherwise general admission tickets will be available on May 4.

Oppenlaender re-elected chair of GGO

Matthias Oppenlaender

Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario, announced the organization’s 2022/23 board of directors, including the re-election of chair Matthias Oppenlaender. Kevin Watson, Niagara-on-the-Lake grape grower and long-time board director, was elected vice chair.

The board and all grape growers thanked Bill Schenck, who stepped down as the representative from St. Catharines on the growers’ committee and the board of directors for the last 13 years, including the last six as vice chair.

Oppenlaender, with his wife Monica and their five children, live in Niagara-on-the-Lake where they farm over 800 acres of certified sustainable vineyards. He was elected Grape King by his fellow grape growers in 2006, and the following year was elected to the Grape Growers of Ontario’s growers’ committee and to the board of directors. In 2009, Oppenlaender was elected vice chair of the board, a position he held until first being elected chair in 2016.

Kevin Watson and his family have been involved in Ontario’s grape and wine industry since 1978, farming 100 acres of certified sustainable vineyards. Watson was first elected to the growers’ committee in 1999 until 2003, including one year as a director (2002-03). In 2007 Watson was named Grape King and was re-elected to the growers’ committee and the board of directors the following year, a position he has held until being elected vice chair in 2022.

The AGO board of directors includes representation from across Ontario including Steve Pohorly and Erwin Wiens of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Jim Morrison and Doug Funk Jr. of Lincoln, Brock Puddicombe of Winona, Robert Peck of Prince Edward County, Murray Wilson of Harrow, and newly elected Joe Schenck of St. Catharines. Schenck is an experienced grape grower and is currently building a winery in Vineland called King and Victoria.

Two new wines from Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham winery, on the Short Hills Bench, is expanding its Family Tree and Three of Hearts brands with two wines making their debut.

Speck Bros. Family Tree The Soldier’s Wife Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($17, winery, Vintages May 22, 88 points) — This wine is named after the Speck family’s first known ancestor in Canada. He fought with the Butler’s Rangers during the American Rebellion and was both a bugle boy and translator (he was half Iroquois). Heroic as he was, his wife bore 14 children, which is why the estate is honouring her and not him. This has a vibrant nose that jumps from the glass with aromas of grapefruit, passion fruit, fresh herbs and green apple. It’s crisp and lively on the palate with fresh cut citrus, garden herbs, guava, and a tangy, bright finish.

Speck Bros. Three of Hearts Pinot Noir 2020 ($22, winery, Vintages this fall, 90 points) — The new Pinot in the family has an earthy/brambly nose of raspberries, plums, dark cherries and light, toasty spice notes. On the palate, it shows a melange of wild red berries, earth, anise, some structured tannins, and integrated spice notes with a smooth, lifted finish.

Speck Bros. Three of Hearts Rosé 2021 ($20, Vintages, 91 points) — This has quickly become a favourite rosé of mine from Niagara, such consistent quality and elegant packaging every vintage. The 2021 version has a pretty and delicate nose of strawberries, raspberry patch and fresh summer herbs. It’s wonderfully dry on the palate with an array of red berries, touch of herbs and a fresh, vibrant finish.

Our Niagara picks from the
Vintages release this Saturday:

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2019 ($45, 93 points) — The “cru” Chardonnay from Le Clos is wild fermented and aged in selected French oak barrels (only about 20% of which are new) for 16 to 18 months. This has a saline nose of ripe pear, baked apples, toasty notes, honeysuckle, bergamot, lemon tart and lovely integrated spice accents in a pure and elegant style. It has a rich and savoury entry on the palate with ripe quince, lemon zest, fine oak spices, creamy/toasty/buttery notes, chalky minerality with a touch of flint and such a bright, lifted, and finessed finish. Highly satisfying and elegant Chardonnay that can age well for 6+ years.

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2019 ($20, 91 points) — Aged in 100% American oak (25% new barrels and the rest used barrels). Johnson makes a consistently well-made and textbook Niagara Cab Franc. It has a bright and savoury nose of black cherries, herbs, brambly raspberries and integrated spice notes. It’s smooth on the palate and drinking well right now with the full range of red berries, touch of cassis and interesting savoury herbs and spice with a lifted finish.

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2019 ($20, 90 points) — Graceful and swift, red tailed hawks are an impressive sight above the vineyards of Niagara and Featherstone makes this Merlot as a special appreciation of wild raptors. This Red Tail Merlot is aged in French oak barrels for 10 months and has a ripe, expressive nose of black cherries, red currants, raspberry bramble, touch of blueberries and subtle but elegant spice notes. It has medium tannins and structure on the palate but ultimately quite smooth with bursts of red berries, anise, spice, and a bright, finessed finish. Can age 3+ years.

Other Niagara wines released Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Serenity Sparkling Riesling ($20)
• Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2018 ($20)
• Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2019 ($23)
• Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($18)
• Creekside Laura’s Red 2017 ($25)
• Tawse Sketches Cabernet/Merlot 2019 ($22)