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Backyard sipping with Divergence, plus a perfect Flat Rock Pinot pairing, Vintages picks

By Rick VanSickle

In what was likely the last “Wine Karaoke on Rick’s Back Porch,” at least for this year, Divergence owner/winemaker Jeff Moote popped by with some recent wine releases to taste.

Also in this Niagara Wine Report, new top-tier Flat Rock Cellars wines (with a great Pinot Noir pairing recipe), plus Niagara wines in the spotlight at the next Vintages release, including Pinots from Southbrook and Henry of Pelham, and an affordable white blend from Featherstone.

Niagara wine

We had to move off the porch and out back to the pergola where the afternoon sun is still shining at this time of year, but it was the perfect setting for a late fall tasting.

Moote. above, is an engineer who switched gears to winemaking after talking the diploma course in grape and wine technology at Brock University. He has worked at various Niagara wineries, including Fielding, Creekside, and Trius before joining Vintegrated in a consulting winemaker role for several Niagara wine brands and launching his virtual brand Divergence. The goal for Divergence wines is to be “true to origin and inspired by tradition, but not bound by it. Classic, but not necessarily mainstream. Authenticity and quality are never sacrificed, and our style will never be based in chasing the latest trends,” he says.

We tasted through three new wines, available through Collab Wine & Spirits. The plan is to produce small lots and release them a couple of times a year as a part-time venture — for now. “I don’t know what the end game is,” he tells me.

Here’s what I liked from the new fall releases:

New Divergence wines

Divergence Brut Nature 2020 ($40, 92 points) — This traditionally made sparkling wine from the Hughes Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. It spent 18 months on the lees and no sugar was added in the dosage. Only 600 bottles, all bottled by hand, were made. It has an elegant, persistent bead in the glass with a nose of creamy pear, fresh lemon, rich apple, biscuit, and salinity. It’s bright and vibrant on the palate with a rich and creamy texture, apple/pear notes, flinty/chalky notes and lovely freshness and vigour driving through the finessed finish.

Divergence Viognier 2021 ($35, 92 points) — There isn’t a lot of Viognier being made in Niagara, but Moote was offered a small batch from the Mazza Vineyard in Lincoln Lakeshore and decided to give it a shot, a nod to his love for the Northern Rhone, a region he favours for Viognier. There was a touch of botrytis in the vineyard, which Moote embraced, and he also barrel fermented the grapes and barreled down the finished wine in oak (25% new) casks for 9 months. This is a lovely Vio with an impressive nose of apricot, jasmine, grapefruit, peachy/melon, ginger, and spice. It has a rich, almost oily texture on the palate with creamy notes to go with apricot tart, ginger in spades, peach preserves, a touch of wild honey (despite only 4 g/l of RS) and plenty of lift and finesse on the long, luxurious finish. “I just wanted to showcase the fruit,” says Moote. “I made the wine I wanted to make.”

Divergence Gamay Noir 2021 ($28, 91 points) — This Gamay is sourced from the Wismer Wingfield Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench. It spends 14 days on the skins before being sent to older oak barrels for nine months of aging. It needs a decant, but after doing that and swirling vigorously the nose reveals plums, brambly black raspberries, macerated cherries, earthy notes and just a touch of spice. It’s smooth and textured on the palate with rich and savoury red berries, plums, anise, spices, and plenty of zip on the finish. If you can, cellar this a bit, say six months, before opening or decant if you can’t resist it now.

New Flat Rock wines, plus a great
recipe to pair with Pinot Noir

I tasted three “Capstone Series” wines from Flat Rock Cellars recently. This tier sits atop an impressive portfolio from the Twenty Mile Bench producer. I added a tasty salmon bowl recipe we paired with the Pinot Noir after tasting the wine.

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2020 ($33, 94 points) — Nadja’s is one of Niagara’s most important vineyards for Riesling. It’s a three-acre block that was planted in 2001 with shallow clay loam soil and visible veins of glacial deposits resting on a thick layer of fractured dolomite limestone. It’s a special vineyard, and in a fabulous vintage such as 2020, the results are stunning. The nose gushes with pure lime juice, wet stones, peachy/apple notes, saline minerality and a just a hint of petrol emerging. It’s tangy and electric on the palate with an intriguing tug of sweet-tart fruit that highlights lemon-lime zest, lanoline, apple skin, stony minerality, a touch of ginger and a rousing finish with mouth-watering acidity. You can happily cellar for 10+ years and watch this mellow into an even more complex Riesling.

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2020 ($35, 93 points) — The Rusty Shed is multi-block blend of the best barrels of Chardonnay at the estate. It’s aged in a variety of French oak barrels, 18% of which are new barrels. Such an elegant nose of flinty minerality, baked pear, crisp apple, integrated oak spices and a kiss of vanilla and lemon zest. It’s rich and creamy on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, flinty/stony notes, toasted vanilla bean, lavish spice notes, buttery/creamy accents, elegant spices and a pure and lifted finish. Very fine Chardonnay from a great vintage. Can cellar 5+ years.

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2020 ($40, 93 points) — Another multi-block blend from the estate’s Pinot Noir vineyard with aging in a variety of French oak barrels (15% new oak). It opens with a beautiful floral note, then an array of black raspberries, bramble, dark cherries, red currants, anise, earthy/savoury notes, and elegant oak spices. There is a silkiness on the palate, but also fine-grained tannins that add texture and some muscular traits before the fruit kicks in — wild raspberries, dark cherries, black currants, anise followed by savoury spice and floral notes with a long and finessed finish. A beautiful Pinot with plenty of room to cellar for 7+ years.

We absolutely loved the Flat Rock Gravity paired with this simple salmon bowl recipe found on Instagram (sorry, I can’t locate it now so cannot credit anyone for the recipe other than my wife Maureen and daughter Tabria, above left with Maureen, who embellished the original recipe). While Maureen prepared the salmon, with its perfectly brown and crispy exterior and super juicy interior, it was served with a bowl that Tabria created. Here is how to recreate it:

Salmon Bowl Supreme


• A large salmon filet, skinned + cut into 1-inch cubes (we used Atlantic farmed salmon)
• Drizzle of olive oil
• Drizzle of honey (we used honey from Rosewood winery)
• Spoonful of tamari or soy sauce (we used tamari and a generous amount, at that)
• 1 glove of grated garlic (from our garden)
• Salt + pepper to taste


Make sure your salmon is dry before cubing it. Place cubes in a bowl and season (you don’t really have to measure anything; just play around with ratios you like). Heat a large cast iron on non-stick skillet over medium heat and add salmon cubes. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, until centre starts to become opaque, then flip and finish cooking for another 3-4 minutes. The salmon cubes should be nice and browned and the centre just cooked enough. Remove from heat and serve. Add salmon to bowls, salads, and tacos.


• One cup organic sushi rice
• Edamame, cucumber & green onion mixture with one whole juice of lime, sea salt and cracked pepper
• Chipotle mayo (1/2 cup mayonnaise and one full tbsp of chipotle, half juice of a lime and salt and pepper)
• Avocados sliced into cubes then put into lime juice with a touch of sea salt.

Our picks for the Vintages
release on Saturday

A pair of outstanding Niagara Pinot Noirs are coming to the Nov. 5 Vintages release on Saturday, Nov. 5.

Both the Southbrook Triomphe and Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve wines are perfect for the looming holidays. Also recommended is the affordable Four Feathers white blend from Featherstone. Here are our recommendations for the Niagara wines being released Saturday:

Southbrook Triomphe Pinot Noir 2019 ($30, 90 points) — This Lincoln Lakeshore Pinot spent 12 months in French oak before bottling. It shows a lighter colour in the glass but lifted strawberry patch, cherries, violets, and light spice notes. It’s a medium-bodied Pinot on the palate that packs a punch with fresh strawberries, cran-cherries, touch of cassis and will integrated spice notes all leading to tangy, fresh finish.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2019 ($40, 93 points) — This top tier Speck Family Reserve Pinot is sourced from Block 100 at the “Old Farm” Vineyard. The wine is aged in European oak barrels, 30% of which is new oak. This is on the sturdier side of Pinots with interesting complexity and firm structure for long aging. The nose is tight and begins with earthy/woodsy notes followed by black cherries, mulled and brambly raspberries, crunchy cranberries, spice rack and violets. It’s lovely on the palate with ripe red berries, earthy/spicy notes, anise, and fine-grained tannins that all lead for a pleasant and finessed finish. It’s a young Pinot and needs time to fit into its skin, cellaring for 5+ years will pay big dividends.

Bachelder les Villages Bench Pinot Noir 2020 ($35, 92 points) — The Villages Pinot has always been released six months before the single vineyard bottlings, but Thomas Bachelder is rethinking that approach. He feels the same amount of work goes into this anything-but entry-level wine, so why not let it have that extra six months in the bottle? He is right, of course. Retasting this wine, a purposeful, multi-terroir blend, has really brought all the moving parts together nicely. It has a floral and ripe nose of black raspberries, generous black cherries, cassis, and elegant spice notes. It has a voluptuous feel on the palate, with weight and girth showing cherry-kirsch, juicy wild raspberries, complementing oak spices and ripe tannins through a velvety smooth and long finish. A consumer-friendly Pinot that will gain a lot of fans at this price. You can cellar this but drinking fine right now.

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2020 ($20, 92 points) — It’s hard not to get too excited about a Niagara red at this price point that is this good and will improve further with aging. It’s the only wine in the portfolio that sees French oak. It’s a young wine and quite closed on the nose until you let it breathe. Then the cherry kirsch, black raspberries, crème de cassis and integrated spice notes begin to emerge. The palate shows the full range of ripe, complex, and concentrated red berries, cassis, cocoa and earth with smooth tannic structure and elegant spice notes on a long and vibrant finish. Lovely wine that will age nicely for 5-7 years.

Featherstone Four Feathers 2021 ($15, 88 points) — This is a porch-sipping white blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Gewurztraminer with a nose of tropical fruits, peach, apple, melon, and a side of citrus. It’s round and mellow on the palate but bursting with stone fruits, a touch of pineapple and zesty citrus on the subtly sweet finish.

Also released, but not reviewed by Wines in Niagara:

• Magnotta Venture Series Starlight Sparkling Riesling/Vidal ($30)
• Henry of Pelham Riesling, Cabernet and Vidal Icewines ($100)
• Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2018 ($40)
• Trius Distinction Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2020 ($20)
• Inniskillin Reserve Cabernet Franc 2018 ($26)
• Southbrook Triomphe Organic Merlot 2018 ($25)