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Ontario Wine Report: Trial, Closson Chase, Nyarai and the new Fred Wines

By Rick VanSickle

In this Ontario Wine Report, we feature some outstanding new wines from both Prince Edward County and Niagara, plus our picks from the Vintages release on Saturday.

From Prince Edward County

Ontario wine

We are highlighting two wineries in our County roundup. The Trail Estate wines are made by Mackenzie Brisbois, above, an adventurous winemaker who has built a solid reputation for making experimental, low intervention wines as well as more classical and thrilling County Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. We also taste new wines from Closson Chase winemaker Keith Tyers and his stunning 2020 Pinots and Chards. But first …

Trail Estate Winery

Trail Estate Nimbus Riesling 2021, Niagara ($40, 91 points) — This is a small production, skin-contact Riesling from block-specific lots (460 and 520) sourced from the Grimsby Hillside Vineyard in Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation and is a partner to the below wine. Both wines can be purchased as a pair for $75. The grapes for both were hand-picked, destemmed and wild fermented in stainless steel. Both wines were put into neutral barrels to age for 8.5 months and bottled with minimum sulphur, unfined and unfiltered. The Nimbus shows a golden, hazy colour in the glass with a nose of ginger, tangerine, meadow flowers, herbs, citrus pulp, and savoury/mineral notes. It’s super dry and austere on the palate with light tannins, nectarine, ginger root, stony minerality, thyme, and savoury notes on a bright, lifted finish.

Trail Estate Cumulus Riesling 2021, Niagara ($40, 92 points) — Made as above, but sourced from Block 510 and interestingly different on both the nose and palate. This has a slightly richer shade of gold in the glass with more earthy/savoury notes, lemon curd, spice box and gingerbread. It has pillowy texture, soft tannins, then lemon forward marmalade, warm apple pie, and juicy with less mineral notes and more of a savoury edge all leading to a tangy finish. Cool comparison for the wine geeks among us.

Trail Estate Juicy Red 2021, Niagara ($38, 89 points) — This is a wild blend of five varieties from the Grimsby Hillside Vineyard in Niagara. The Gewurztraminer was foot stomped in square stainless-steel tanks, fermented, and pumped over whole cluster fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It was pressed at 15 days of maturation. Riesling and Viognier were pressed whole cluster and blended post fermentation. The Riesling was fermented in stainless steel and the Vio was fermented in neutral oak prior to bottling. Who dreams this stuff up? Mackenzie Brisbois does. The result is this fun and off-the-wall fresh red that can be served slightly chilled or at room temperature. It has a meaty/savoury entry on nose with red berries, strawberry Twizzlers, earth, violets, black currants, and an ever so subtle citrusy note. It’s pure joy on the palate with a broth of cherry-raspberry, tart black fruits, zesty citrus, subtle tannins, and nervy acidity driving through the finish.

Trail Estate Revival Pinot Noir 2020, PEC ($85, 94 points) — This is a first for Brisbois, teaming up with the relatively new Melville Road Vineyard, a forgotten piece of property in Prince Edward County that has been rehabilitated back to health. Clusters of hand-picked Pinot Noir were rolled over a stainless-steel plate with holes in it as a gentle way of removing the berries from the clusters. It was wild fermented and sent to older French oak barrels to age for nine months and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. It is a delight! Underneath the nose of fresh-turned soil and savoury notes of this fascinating Pinot there is a core of ripe cherries, brambly wild raspberries, integrate spice notes and a vein of County minerality. It’s expressive on the palate with more forward wild red berries, underlying herbs, spice, tingling acidity and complexity with smooth tannins and a long, lifted finish. A beauty!

Closson Chase Vineyards

Closson Chase Mosaic Charmat Method 2021 ($32, 89 points) — The fruit for this 100% Chardonnay charmat method sparkling wine was sourced from Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was 50% cool fermented in stainless steel at 16 C for 10 days and spent 60 days on the lees, 50% in neutral oak barrels. It pours a vigorous mousse with a light golden colour in the glass. It has a peachy/apply nose, zesty citrus, and some creamy notes. With good energy and a steady bead of bubbles on the palate, the orchard fruits are joined by lemon zest on the palate with a creamy texture and a lifted, finessed finish.

Closson Chase The Loyalist Chardonnay 2021, PEC ($28, 89 points) — The fruit was sourced from Big Bill’s Vineyard in Prince Edward County and spent 30 days on lees with no malolactic fermentation. It has an enticing nose of sweet pear, ripe apple, and lime zest notes. It’s bright and lively on the palate with a touch of flint and salinity, then pear/quince and lemon zest with a creamy texture and plenty of energy through the finish.

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2020 ($44, 93 points) — The estate single-vineyard Chardonnay grapes were whole cluster pressed and 100% barrel fermented in 20% new oak and 80% seasoned barrels. It has a penetrating nose of ripe pear, apple skin, wet stones, elegant oak spices, and lemon curd in a concentrated, clean and expression style. This is rich, textured, and ripe on the palate with pear compote, golden apple, flinty/stony notes, lemon tart, a luxurious texture, elegant oak spice notes, and extraordinary length through a vigorously finessed finish. A beautiful Chardonnay in a riper style than what we are used to from PEC.

Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($34, 94 points) — Made similarly to the above Chardonnay with 60% of the fruit from the Churchside Vineyard and 40% from South Clos. A much different expression of estate Chardonnay here with a nose of chalky/stony minerality, salinity then ripe stone fruits, vanilla accents, and toasted almonds. It’s juicy and loaded with minerality followed by generous pear/quince notes, flint and a savoury edge that lingers on the palate with toasted spice notes and a silky, fine, and lifted finish. Such a beautiful and personable Chardonnay.

Closson Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020, PEC ($36, 92 points) — The estate blend is 80% Churchside and 20% South Clos Pinot Noir. The grapes were destemmed with no crushing, then cold soaked for 3-5 days. It was fermented in large tonneau and aged in 100% French oak (10% new, 90% seasoned) with full malolactic fermentation in barrel. This lovely Pinot has a finely perfumed nose of ripe, wild raspberries, cherry pie, summer strawberries and cassis with notes of forest floor and soft oak spices. It has mouth-filling red berries on the palate with a silky texture, subtle floral notes, sweet spice, and balancing acidity keeping it lifted through a long finish. Can cellar 4+ years.

Closson Chase Churchside Pinot Noir ($44, 93) — The Churchside single-vineyard Pinot is made similarly to the wine above, but aging was in 100% French oak (20% new, 80% seasoned). Another superstar from the blockbuster 2020 vintage. This starts with a charming woodsy/earthy note with subtle sandalwood perfume. The brambly red berries, wild blackberries, spice and iron/bloody minerality notes follow closely behind. This is more structured than the Vineyard Pinot and more muscular with tannic structure and power on the palate, then lovely red berries emerge followed closely by earthy/savoury notes, baking spice, and a lovely, lifted finish driven by racy acidity. Such an intriguing expression of fine Pinot from the County.

New wines from Niagara

Our collection of new Niagara wines being released includes the first wines from veteran winemaker Fred Di Profio’s first virtual brand called Fred Wines, plus new wines from one of Niagara’s longest serving virtual brands, Nyarai Cellars, by Steve Byfield plus two wines from Henry of Pelham. But first …

Fred Wines

Fred Di Profio, above at Archives Wine and Spirits, is a veteran Niagara winemaker at Bella Terra Vineyards (formerly PondView), and recently accepted the winemaking role at AMO Wines. He was previously the winemaker at Di Profio wines, making the wines for his father’s winery in Jordan, which was recently sold and is now rebranded as 180 Estate Winery.

He is a Brock graduate and has been making wine successfully for 23 years in Niagara. He thought it was high time to make his own wines and is just releasing his first bottles from his own brand appropriately called Fred Wines. I was invited last weekend to his first tasting of the three wines now in bottle to Archives Wine and Spirits in downtown St. Catharines and was impressed with the debut collection that includes a delightfully fun sparkling wine and two more serious red wines. The three wines are exclusively available at Archives while Di Profio gets his website up and running. You can also follow him on Instagram here for updates. Here’s what I liked from the wines now available at Archives located on James Street in downtown St. Catharines or here or just click the ad on this page.

Fred Wines Primrose 2021 ($39, 92 points) — This is a 100% Gamay sparkling wine made in the charmat method from grapes sourced in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. It has pronounced aromatics of ripe plums, wild raspberries, some subtle earthy notes, herbs and a floral lift. It’s bright and lifted on the palate with juicy plums, raspberries and strawberries that straddle the line of tart and sweet with a freshening sturdy bubble and a clean, lifted finish. A joy to drink.

Fred Wines Bright Side Gamay Noir 2020 ($29, 90 points) — The Bright Side is a proprietary name that might not always be 100% Gamay in future bottlings. Di Profio calls it a lighter red with bright acidity and colour. The fruit is sourced from various sites in Niagara. The nose shows bright, but dense fruit with ripe red berries, red currants, herbs and a touch of bramble and spice. It’s juicy on the palate with lovely dark cherries, summer ripened strawberries and plums with a splash of pepper, herbs, and spice on a lifted finish.

Fred Wines Dark Side 2019 ($48, 91 points) — The blend is 45% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and the rest Malbec primarily sourced from Four Mile Creek. It spent 20 months in French oak, a combination of new and used barrels. The nose shows an array of blackberries, black currants, brambly raspberries, earthy notes with a certain perfumed note and integrated spice notes. It’s smooth and fruit-laden on the palate with a juicy array of dark berries, anise, currants, spice, and zip through a lingering finish. Another great wine that shows promise for this new brand. Can cellar 5+ years.

Nyarai Cellars

Nyarai Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($24, 90 points) — Winemaker and virtual brand owner Steve Byfield has always excelled with Sauvignon Blanc, and he has done it here in the challenging 2021 vintage. It has a nose of melon, lime zest and herbs with a subtle floral note. It’s fruit laden on the palate with pear, citrus zest, melon, and peach fuzz with a fresh, clean finish. Simply delicious.

Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2019 ($25, 92 points) — The Cadence is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot with an enticing nose of black cherries, wild blackberries, red currants, dark chocolate, subtle earthiness, and spice. It’s smooth and juicy on the palate with meaty dark berries, cherries, polished tannins, and a long, lifted finish. Great balance and poise in the easy drinking (and affordable!) red blend.

You can purchase both these wines here.

Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham Smith & Smith Gamay 2020 ($22, 89 points) — The nose shows ripe wild blueberries, fresh raspberries, plums, cherry tart, and lightly toasted spice notes. It’s bold and sassy on the palate with darker berries, anise, pepper, and spice.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Boxer’s Ghost Pinot Noir 2021 ($20, Vintages Dec. 3, winery now, 89 points) — The nose shows dark cherries, black raspberries, crème de cassis and barrel oak spice notes. It’s a bold and rich Pinot on the palate with ripe dark berries, some tannic structure, fairly overt spice notes, some tannic structure and a finessed finish.

Oct. 8 Vintages release

Here are our recommendations for the Niagara wines being released at Vintages stores on Saturday.

Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2020 ($25, 91 points) — Here’s a fun fact: Featherstone has the largest inventory of Canadian oak barrels in Canada and quite possibly the entire world, and they only have one purpose — to age the estate’s distinct Chardonnay. The winery is proud of this wine that is sourced only from estate fruit, wild fermented and aged in Ontario oak barrels from Ontario. “You can’t get more local than that,” says Louise Engel. It’s made in an unapologetically bold and sassy style with pronounced spiced apple, baked pear, toasted vanilla bean, rich spice notes and a touch of lemon blossoms. It has weight on the palate and a rounded feel to go with concentrated stone fruits, some buttery notes, subtle citrus, and all wrapped up in mouth-watering acidity keeping it lively through the finish. A perfect pairing with lobster, pork tenderloin and grilled wild-caught West Coast salmon.

Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($18, 90 points) — This interesting Sauvignon Blanc takes on a more tropical feel on the nose with underlying citrus and herbaceous notes. The palate shows guava, passion fruit and lemon with subtle grassy/herbaceous notes and a vibrant, mouth-watering finish.

Henry of Pelham Estate Cabernet Merlot 2019 ($28, 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.

Also released, but not reviewed by Wines in Niagara:

• Kew Vineyards Cuvée Sparkling Chardonnay 2016 ($24)
• Rosewood AF Riesling 2020 ($20)
• Wildass Riesling 2019 ($19)
• Creekside Iconoclast Syrah 2020 ($25)
• Organized Crime Cabernet Franc 2018 ($25)
• Wildass Merlot 2019 ($20)