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Popping the cork on a long-lost buried treasure at Niagara’s Ravine Vineyard

By Rick VanSickle

Oh, there were rumours out there about a decade-old mysterious sparkling wine at Ravine Vineyard, even some plans afoot, then COVID hit, and a treasure that was once found was now lost and forgotten again.

It was a unicorn wine that might not have ever been re-discovered if the warehouse where it was being stored hadn’t told Ravine that they needed to vacate the premises.

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“When I started at ravine 2019, I was told there was an older vintage kicking around in the warehouse, and although there was no official plan to bottle it, or what was going to happen to it, at the time some ideas were passed around about maybe releasing it after it being on less for eight-ish years,” recalls Ravine winemaker Lydia Tomek, above.

Then COVID hit in March of 2020 and shortly after that the warehouse where the cages, with 1,100 bottles of sparkling wine in them, needed Ravine out by April of the same year.

“The warehouse was a little bit of a mess, and we had no idea where it was because of some damage caused by a leaky roof,” says Tomek. “So, I needed to do some digging and reorganizing and after looking at some historical LCBO paperwork and tasting, I was able to find it by process of elimination.”

It was a “treasure,” says Tomek. “1,100 bottles of gorgeous Blanc de Blanc made from 2011. After tasting it, I felt it could go another two years at least … that would mean 10 years on lees. So, in November 2022 we went for it.”

The first bottles of this fascinating wine — simply called “Vintage 2011” — have been hand riddled and hand labelled with red ribbon and a thumb print in wax by Tomek and are now being sold at the winery.

The sparkling wine was sourced at the time from a Bench winery and Tomek has learned from LCBO documents that it is 100% Chardonnay from the 2011 vintage. “Since 2019, this cuvée has always caught my attention and I was in awe of the crispness and great concentration of this wine,” Tomek says. “There was no doubt that this wine could stand the test of time and be able to slumber on its lees for a decade. What I love about this gorgeous wine is that it held onto its freshness, all while developing lovely autolytic notes.”

Only a minimal amount of dosage was added to the wine, creating an extra brut style. “This thing can live on for another 20 years,” says Tomek.

I tasted this lost-and-found and lost again sparkling wine, along with a few other new wines you can look forward to, at a tasting with Tomek recently at the Ravine restaurant.

Here is what I liked:

Ravine Vineyard Vintage 2011 ($135, small quantities at the winery, 95 points) — The fruit for this traditionally-made 100% Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay sourced from the Twenty Mile Bench was hand-picked at 18.7 Brix and sat mostly undiscovered on its lees for 10 years before being found by winemaker Tomek and disgorged last November. A modest dosage was used, and the wine was finished at 1.7 g/l of RS, an extra dry style. The first 50 bottles are hand labelled with red ribbon and a wax imprint of Tomek’s thumb, the rest will have new labels once they arrive at the winery. It shows a light golden colour in the glass and a surprisingly robust bubble in the glass for a wine that has sat on its lees for a decade. The expressive nose is a complex and exciting array of toasty brioche, creamy pear, lemon tart, autolytic notes, roasted almonds and freshening saline notes. The vigorous bead on the palate lights up the pear/apple fruits, subtle flinty/stony notes, warm nutty/brioche, and bright citrus. The texture is rounded and creamy but benefits from a firm vein of acidity through a lifted and persistent finish. Just a beautifully aged, bone-dry sparkling wine and a rare treat for consumers. Can easily cellar for 5+ years for further development of tertiary notes. 

Ravine Vineyard Small Batch Riesling 2022 ($28, summer release, 91 points) — The nose is gushing with lime, white peach, nectarine and stony/saline minerality. There’s a subtle wet stone/savoury note on the palate but the lime/nectarine and peach fruits are the dominant feature through a lively and balanced finish.

Ravine Vineyard Patricia’s Block Riesling 2022 ($32, summer release, 93 points) — Patricia’s Block is from the estate organic home vineyard viewed at the back of the restaurant. This small lot wine is single berry sorted with careful attention on ripe, but not botrytised, fruit. This is a drier style than the Small Batch above with a nose of lemon oil, ripe yellow pear, lime, wet stones and a subtle floral note. It’s expressive on the palate, or as Tomek says, “loud, focused and pristine,” with fleshy apple, lemon chiffon, lime, a touch of pear and grapefruit that’s all perfectly balanced by the racy acidity on the finish. Can age this 10+ years.

Ravine Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2022 ($28, winery now, 93 points) — “I wanted to push the envelope with this Gewurztraminer,” says Tomek, who adds it’s one of the best Gews she has ever made. It has a juicy, fruit-driven nose of grapefruit, ginger/jasmine, elderflower, lychee and peach preserves. It has a lovely fleshy texture on the palate with more ginger, apricot tart, grapefruit, lychee nut, poached pear, and honey notes, with the 28 g/l of RS somewhat tempered by the electric acidity keeping everything in balance on the finish.

I love how Tomek paired this with the savoury pâté and charcuterie board put together by chef John Vetere — a perfect combination.

Ravine Vineyard Rosé 2022 ($28, released soon, 91 points) — Ravine purchased a vineyard from Chateau des Charmes in 2021 in the Four-Mile Creek sub-appellation. It has proved to be a bountiful source of Gamay, both for rosé and as a stand-alone wine that is gaining in popularity across the globe. As Tomek says: “I (expletive deleted) love it.” It displays showy cassis fruit, wild red berries, plums, a pretty floral note with just a hint of spices. On the palate it’s a flavour bomb with ripe red berries, earthy accents, black currants, a squirt of citrus and plenty of juicy of acidity on the finish. A delight.

Ravine Vineyard Gamay Noir 2021 ($34, released Father’s Day in June, 92 points) — Tomek first fell in love with Gamay after tasting the Sandstone Gamay from 13th Street many years ago when she worked in the tasting room there. “I’m on Team Gamay,” she says, and has finally made her first Gamay thanks to the purchase of Ravine’s new vineyard. So, it’s no surprise Tomek elected to age her Gamay for 15 months in mainly used oak barrels, in a style that 13th Street made popular. The nose shows warm summer strawberries, brambly black raspberries, juicy plums and subtle earthy/spicy notes. It’s quite the fruit bomb on the palate with notes of ripe red berries, anise, cassis, plums, and integrated spices. It’s all held together nicely with ripe tannins, leading to a juicy, lifted finish. Would love to see a bit of age on this, say 2-3 years.