By Rick VanSickle
One of lingering rituals brought about by Covid is the porch visit from wine folks who come bearing wine and almost always stay a while to sip and chat.
Also in this report, two new ciders from Niagara’s Ironwood Cider House.
The porch visit, or what used to be a simple wine drop-off, became a thing during the dark days of Covid in my world. We were all like Zombies looking for new blood to talk to and sip wine while we were doing it. Dead of winter? No problem, pull up a chair on the front porch. Heat of summer? Let’s grab a chair on the back porch.
It has carried on post-Covid (if you can call it that) and my most recent (and repeat) porch visit, or as I now like to call it, Wine Karaoke On Rick’s Back Porch™, was with Southbrook owner and Purple Glove™ delivery guy Bill Redelmeier (above photo). He came loaded with new Southbrook wine releases (more on those below) and some special treats, so we sat on the back deck and got right to it.
Redelmeier knew I was looking to get my hands the Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco 2010 from the LCBO, a cultish Spanish white wine that is so unlike any other wine in the world. He shared a glass with me, so I didn’t have to open the bottles I finally did acquire (with his help, FYI). It was magical.
But what really piqued my interest was a Southbrook 1992 Cab Merlot he brought over to taste. The original label had come off and a handmade one replaced it. It certainly didn’t look like much, but I was curious to try it.
The first sip was truly glorious; a perfectly aged red blend that I swear was a dead ringer for Bordeaux. It still had beautiful fruit, tannins, and a supple finish. It was long on the palate and complex with perfect integration. When I asked what it was, I was floored.
“The 1992 vintage was not a great year for Niagara grapes (unlike 1991) and we were still blending some wine from California into our finished wines,” said Redelmeier. It was a blend of 75% fruit from Napa Valley winery Saintsbury in Carneros and the rest Niagara fruit. Redelmeier called it “mature but still lively — both interesting and delicious. I would easily have mistaken it for a well-aged classed-growth Bordeaux, and I have had lots of those that weren’t as good as this one.”
That wine and other Southbrook wines were launched into the world at the then-new Queen’s Landing hotel at an open house. It was the day after Cuvée, where Redelmeier poured a Southbrook 1992 red versus a bottle of 1992 Leoville Poyferre (a second growth Bordeaux from Saint-Julien. “Our wine stood up well then as I think it would today.”
While blending wine from other countries wasn’t frowned upon in the early ’90s like it is today, Southbrook stopped the practice in 1994 after consumers “told us that they really wanted 100% Ontario wines.” Also, in 1992, Southbrook didn’t have the Ontario grape supply to bottle enough wine to make the new business viable, so they looked to other sources while the Niagara vines were maturing. One thing Southbrook did do, that blenders today do not, is “proudly” make it clear on the front label that it was a blended wine from California and Ontario grapes.
Southbrook has come a long way since those early days of Ontario wine. It has been a leader in organic and biodynamic viticulture with certifications that include Demeter, ECOCERT Canada, LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Sustainable Winegrowing Ontario and VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) for grape wines.
P.S. If you would like to play Wine Karaoke On Rick’s Back Porch™ with me, drop by, the porch is always (OK, mostly) open.
I was able to taste the new Southbrook 2020 Pinot Noirs, 2019 Estate Petit Verdot and Triomphe Riesling 2020 in advance of the taste and buy event at the winery Sept. 17. Those wines will also be available online from Sept 17-18 and then they go to the cellar for a later release. Tickets for the event are available here and cost $40 for general admission. As well, Archives Wine and Spirits has some of these wines on the shelves now.
Here’s what I liked from the tasting:
Southbrook Triomphe Riesling 2020 ($25, 92 points) — A personable nose of lime, fresh apple, an emerging petrol note, summer peach and lemon zest. It’s generous and vibrant on the palate with lovely lime/citrus, peachy/pear, a vein of minerality, a kiss of honey, and pristine acidity keeping it lively and fresh on the finish.
Southbrook Triomphe Pinot Noir 2020 ($32, 90 points) — This has a bright and vibrant nose of dark cherries, lifted Pinot perfume, raspberry tart, a touch of plum pudding and light spice notes. On the palate, it’s rich and teeming with ripe red berries, bramble notes, a touch of earth and spice with a lifted finish.
Southbrook Whimsy! Clone 115 Pinot Noir 2020 ($38, 92 points) — The Whimsy! spends 10 months in French oak barrels (one new and one used). It has a perfumed and beguiling nose of savoury red berries, violets, anise, fresh turned soil and lovely integrated spice notes. The palate reveals ripe black cherries and raspberries followed by earthy/savoury notes, silky tannins, integrated spice, and a lively, finessed finish. Can cellar 5+ years.
Southbrook Laundry Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($38, 94 points) — The Laundry Pinot, from the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, spends 10 months in French oak (30% new). It’s lighter in colour than the other two Pinots above but it has a generously perfumed nose and a ravishing array of wild raspberries, strawberry tart and black cherries with subtle earthy notes, a pretty floral lift and elegant spice notes. It checks all the boxes for a classic Niagara Pinot Noir and shows a textbook “iron fist in a velvet glove” profile on the palate with rich and savoury red berries, silky smooth tannins, underlying earthiness, wild herbs, anise, fine oak spices and all perfectly balanced and finessed on the finish. Can cellar 6+ years, it’s a beauty.
Southbrook Petit Verdot 2019 ($45, 92 points) — As Redelmeier explaines, Petit Verdot is one of the rarest of the Bordeaux red varieties. Called the “little green” because it ripens late, this variety is well known for its ability to lend structure to a blend. “High in tannin and acidity, muted fruit, lighter weight — all characteristics perfectly matched to blends that are perhaps too fruity, too rich and lacking in a mid-palate experience,” he said. But on its own, from a cool-climate region and handled carefully, this variety can knock your socks off.” Petit Verdot has gone out of favour in most places because of its reputation for late ripening but great Chateaux continue to use it because of the wonderful perfume and finesse that it gives to the final blend. A nose that is purple, all lilac and lavender with a touch of autumn forest floor.
This tiny batch of the Petit Verdot was fermented in open top French oak barrels. It was wild fermented with daily punch downs and pressed into French oak barrels (50% new) for 18 months. This has a lovely floral nose with crushed black cherries, black currants, cassis, tar notes, forest floor, floral lift and enticing spice notes. The dark fruits do all the talking on the palate with underlying licorice, eucalypt, fine oak spice, medium+ tannins and good lift on the finish. Can cellar 5+ years.
New Ironwood ciders
Ironwood Cider Session Extra Dry ($22 for 6 473 mL cans, 90 points) — The Session in made entirely from Ontario apples grown in Niagara-on-the-Lake and comes in at a relatively low 4.5% abv. The artwork on the can is called (Arrived) I Come in Peace by artist Nic Varesh. This is a clean and pure cider with a nose of bin apples, fresh saline notes, citrus zest, earthy notes, and a pinch of ginger. It has soft effervescence on the palate and a dry impression with apple skin, subtle apricot, and citrus with a breezy and fresh finish.
Ironwood Yuja Cider ($22 for 6 473 mL cans, 92 points) — The Japanese Yuzu citrus meets Ontario apples in this interesting, blended cider. The artwork is called King Nothing by artist Vick Naresh. It has a big, juicy nose of nectarine, lychee nut, lemon, lime zest and orange blossoms. There is a touch of sweetness on the palate with spirited effervescence, an array of citrus fruit, tangerine and a fresh finish in a highly gulpable style.