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Take a bow, Flat Rock, plus new wines from Peninsula Ridge, Stratus and Vintages picks

By Rick VanSickle

There’s a lot to digest in this Niagara Wine Report, not the least of which is Flat Rock Cellars big win at the Decanter Wine Awards.

Also in this report: New wines from Peninsula Ridge, Stratus and the Cheese Boutique collaborate on a wine made for cheese, and our picks of the Vintages release coming up June 18, including Hidden Bench and Le Clos wines. But first …

Nadja’s named best in show

Niagara wine

Niagara wines continue to impress judges at the largest most influential wine awards in the world.

Coming on the heels of the “best in show” award for Hidden Bench last year, Flat Rock Cellars captured the same prize at the 2022 Decanter Wine Awards for its 2019 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling. Flat Rock is only the 4th Canadian winery in the history of the competition to win that award. The wine scored 97 points and won the best of show award as only one of 50 of the world’s top wines.

This year, over 18,500 submissions from 56 countries were judged by a panel of 300 international wine experts including 60 Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine. After weeks of tasting and re-tasting they ultimately selected the top 50 wines for the honour of best in show.

“It is truly a great achievement for everyone involved with Flat Rock to be considered one of the best wines in the world,” Flat Rock said in a news release.

The wine is available for purchase at the winery and purchasing is limited to 12 bottles per person due to small production and high demand.

For a full list of all 50 best in show wines, go here.

For a full list of all Canadian wines awarded medals, go here.

Here’s what Wines In Niagara had to say about the Nadja’s when originally reviewed:

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s
Vineyard Riesling 2019
($37, 92 points)

  • Location: Nadja’s Vineyard, southwest corner of the property;
  • Clone: 21B, native of the Mosel River Valley in Germany. Root stock is S04;
  • Vine age: 20 years, planted in 2001;
  • Soil type: Shallow, red hued clay loam soil over fractured dolomitic limestone;
  • Production: 435 cases.

Profile: The 21b Clone brings a racy profile to Riesling with intensely floral, mineral and citrus notes. Those limestone mineral notes are pronounced on the nose with bright green apple, pear, melon, and a melange of citrus accents. While there is 11 g/l of RS on the palate this feels perfectly dry from the electric acidity. The first impression on the palate is the chalky vein of minerality with crisp stone fruits, lemon-lime notes, melon, and a mouth-watering finish. Lots of potential to cellar 10+ years. In fact, I tasted a 2009 Nadja’s in early December and it was still going strong with a dynamic nose of grapefruit, lime, apple, subtle petrol notes and steely minerality that has plenty of life in it.

New wines from Beamsville’s
Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery

Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($17, LCBO September 11, 89 points) — A nice take on this summer staple with a nose of lemon chiffon, melon, subtle grassy notes, gooseberries, herbs and passion fruit. The fresh citrus notes are joined by pear, guava, and passion fruit on the palate with a zippy finish.

Peninsula Ridge Inox Chardonnay 2021 ($17, LCBO, 88 points) — This unoaked Chardonnay sees a bit of lees stirring. It has a clean, fresh nose of peach, pear, lemon zest and green apple. It’s loaded with vibrant but ripe orchard fruits on the palate with underlying citrus notes and a lifted finish. Good value, everyday Chardonnay.

Peninsula Ridge Pinot Grigio 2020 ($17, LCBO September 11, 90 points) — There is a light copper hue in the glass, I assume by some skin contact. The nose is lovely with melon, bin apple, peach skin, apricot and saline minerality. It’s mouth-filling on the palate — more Gris than Grigio — with ripe apple, peach, melon, and grapefruit with a bright and tangy finish.

Peninsula Ridge Shiraz 2020 ($17, LCBO July 17, 88 points) — This Shiraz is aged in French and American oak and has a nose of bright red berries, some peppery/spicy notes, bramble, plums, and cassis notes. There’s a touch of smoke on the palate and it’s loaded with black peppercorns, wild raspberries, kirsch, and black currants with plenty of zip on the finish.

Peninsula Ridge Merlot 2020 ($17, LCBO June 19, 90 points) — Another great value wine from this Beamsville Bench producer. Merlot is killing it from the hot 2020 vintage!! There’s a vivid melange of black cherries, brambly raspberries, light spice notes, ripe cassis, and anise on the nose. It’s highly concentrated with medium+ tannins on the palate. Look for juicy red fruits, earthy notes, cassis/anise, subtle pepper accents and a lifted, fairly long finish. Can age this 3+ years.

Peninsula Ridge Cabernet Merlot 2019 ($17, LCBO Aug. 14, 89 points) — The blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot that is aged in French and American oak for 9 months. It opens on the nose with earthy notes followed by blackberries, dark cherries, black currants, and spice. It’s structured on the palate with firm tannins, cherry/raspberry notes, rich cassis, spice, and a juicy finish. Can cellar 5+ years.

Stratus collaboration marries
cheese with Cabernet Franc

There are matches made in heaven and then there is this — a made-for-cheese wine from a collaboration between Niagara’s Stratus Vineyard’s and Toronto’s Cheese Boutique. Originally released in time for International Cheese Day on June 4, this Cabernet Franc (and accompanying cheese) is a project from Stratus Vineyard founding winemaker J-L Groux and Afrim Pristine (below), the cheese master at the Cheese Boutique in Toronto. “We have been working together on many levels since we opened in 2005 including a Cheese Boutique Stratus event at the winery that has become an annual favourite,” said Suzanne Janke, Stratus’ estate director. It was during those events that Pristine’s dream of creating his own wine was born. And now in 2022, after two-and-a-half years in the making, the Stratus Pristine Cuvée Cabernet Franc 2019 is ready to be revealed to the world.”

To achieve the heightened fruity aromatics that Pristine desired, wines were selected from various barrels in the cellar that represented specific vineyard blocks. Groux said: “Afrim has an astute palate and years of experience in defining the taste nuances in cheeses. It was intriguing to taste together and watch him apply that expertise to selecting this assemblage of Cabernet Franc.”

Once the wine was created, to complete the pairing, Pristine then focussed on the cheese. The Cheese Boutique started with three-year-old Ontario cheddar made expressly for them. It was then soaked in Stratus Pristine Cuvée Cabernet Franc and aged in the Cheese Boutique’s cheese “cave” for 120 days. The wine-soaking resulted not only in a wine-stained exterior but also in a lush, fruity flavour that it has in common with the Pristine Cuvée Cabernet Franc.

Our review

Stratus Pristine Cuvée Cabernet Franc 2019 ($39, winery, review originally posted on Wines In Niagara Instagram feed, 92 points) — The Cabernet France has a fruit-laden nose of wild raspberries and Muskoka wild blueberries with a touch of cassis, eucalypt, savoury/earthy notes and spice. It has lovely texture and verve on the palate with brambly red fruits, minty herbs, tobacco, earth, spice, and a lifted finish. It pairs brilliantly with the cheese … and how could it not? It was aged for three months in the wine! There are some lovely crunchy bits in the cheese that enhance the experience.

Where to get it: Stratus still has some bottles in its online store here ( but I’m not certain if any of the cheese is still available at the Cheese Boutique. The bright acidity and firm structure make it an ideal pairing for both hard and soft cheeses, charcuterie, olives, and herbaceous meat dishes.

Niagara wines released
at Vintages June 18

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2018 ($25, 91 points) — This is a blend of estate fruit from Locust Lane, Felseck and Rosomel vineyards and finished at a pleasant 10% abv. It has a lovely, perfumed nose of lime, grapefruit, crushed stones, lemon and apricot. It’s pure and minerally driven on the palate with pristine citrus fruits, apricot, honey and electric acidity on a clean finish. Can cellar 7+ years.

Le Clos Jordanne Village Chardonnay 2019 ($25, 92 points) — This Chardonnay is sourced from the Le Clos Vineyard, Claystone Terrace Vineyard (both Twenty Mile Bench) and Talon Ridge (Vinemount Ridge) on the Jordan Bench and made with the same attention to detail and deft touch of French oak winemaker Thomas Bachelder employs with the Grand Clos. The wine is aged in selected French oak barrels (20% new) for 16 to 18 months and is wild fermented. It has a perfumed nose of ripe pear, lemon drop, yellow apple, honeysuckle, creamy/toasted vanilla notes, chalky minerality and lovely integrated spice notes. It’s generous on the palate with a creamy texture, pure chalky minerality, pear/apple/quince fruit, persistence, complexity, and subtle savoury spice notes to go with a bright and finessed finish. Can cellar 5+ years if you can hold it that long.

Also released, but not reviewed by Wines In Niagara:

• Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2020 ($23)
• Southbrook Triomphe Organic Chardonnay 2018 ($25)
• Cave Spring Estate Gewüztraminer 2019 ($20)
• Cave Spring Estate Cabernet Franc 2019 ($19)
• Stratus Wildass Red 2018 ($22)
• Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2021 ($25)
• Redstone Rosé 2021 ($18)
• 30 Bench Winemaker’s Rosé 2021 ($23)