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There’s a whole lotta cha-cha-cha at this swanky new winery in Niagara

By Rick VanSickle

Driving up the laneway of St. Davids’ newest winery, a giant heart imbedded into a window that’s framed by the letters AMO comes clearly into view. It tells you everything you need to know.

Love lives here.

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Sultry Latin-themed music drifts from invisible Bluetooth speakers as you walk by the cabanas on the terrace to the massive main doors that lead into AMO Wines.

Passion lives here.

And as the doors swing open to a grand entrance there’s a feast for the eyes with a sea of richly coloured velvet couches and comfy plush chairs enticing visitors to melt into them with a cold glass of bubbly. There are ornate fixtures and art deco curiosities at every turn as you stroll through the massive tasting room, sit down bar, and brightly lit retail store that has the feel of a luxury goods store.

Decadence lives here.

Greeted warmly by AMO owner Tara Colaneri (above), cloaked in a show-stopping royal purple pant suit that looks like it came straight off a Milan fashion runway, one is struck by the intricate details and planning that went into this showpiece winery.

AMO, which opened its doors in June, is unlike any other winery in Niagara, exuding a luxurious lifestyle all its own and offering up an experience that marries perfectly to the premium wine portfolio that has been developed by winemaker Fred Di Profio.

“Love life,” said Colaneri, who along with her brother Michael, own AMO. “During the pandemic we lost a lot of that. Love life, celebrate it. We’re trying to bring that back,” she said. “We want people to come here and feel the love and share it.”

AMO means “I love” in Italian but there is deeper meaning in the name, which can be read two ways, as the word amo or an acronym, AMO. The ‘A’ stands for Angiolina (Angie), Tara and Michael Colaneri’s mother who passed away in 2009. The ‘M’ stands for Mike, their father and owner of the grandiose Colaneri Estate Winery (currently for sale) just down the road. And the ‘O’ stands for offspring, for Tara’s brother Michael. There is meaning and purpose in every detail of this winery.

The estate is located on York Road, across the road from Chateau des Charmes, in the St. David’s sub-appellation. The 20-acre vineyard was planted from scratch in 2018 to what they feel does best in St. David’s — Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The sloping north-south vineyard will provide all the fruit the estate needs for a limited production of 5,000 cases of wine when up to full capacity.

Di Profio said during a tour of the vineyard that the estate is working toward sustainable farming certification and wants to use only estate grapes for the production, which includes sparkling, rosé, and still wines.

The wines at AMO are at the premium and super-premium (luxury) levels and Di Profio said that the prices, $120 for the top red, are justified when you consider all grapes are hand harvested with multiple picks (for finesses and ripeness) and hand sorted, while the ornate and textured labels, some of the most unique in the region, are all hand labelled by the winemaking team.

I’m not here to defend high prices for wines, that’s for consumers to decide, but the AMO wines are crafted at a high level of winemaking.

AMO is more than a wine shop, it’s a sensory experience from the moment you walk through the doors. It’s an open concept building with distinct and elaborate spaces for comfortable tastings, more structured tastings at the warm, inviting tasting bar, and the wine store modelled after a luxury brand retail store selling an ultra-luxe line of wines. Using terms like “ignite your senses and fuel your soul” and “what makes your heartbeat,” AMO is built “on creating moments that radiate the love of life with those we cherish,” said Tara Colaneri.

The bottles are exquisite in their design and themes. The top tier “Lux” series features themes for each wine produced by Di Profio, all designed for the consumer to “see, touch, smell and taste.” The top wine, the 24k red blend is gold themed with a metal label that is painstakingly hand applied. The Lux Merlot has a steering wheel theme, the Cabernet Franc represents steel and the Lux Cabernet Sauvignon is designed to mimic a high-end cigar label theme. Each bottle of AMO wine has the letters XX above the name, which represents kisses, yes, of course, but also two 10s for 2020, the year the first wines were produced.

Tara Colaneri, who has a love for dancing and has won many Latin competitions, applies that cha-cha-cha flare to the art and fixtures that are scattered tastefully around the building. One of the most striking is the life-size bronze sculpture called Fred that is said to bring you love if you rub his head. On my visit, I thought it would be fun to take a photo of Fred Di Profio posing with Fred the statue (photo above). I did not ask Fred the person what happens when you rub his head.

Every tasting experience can be paired with a selection of delicious amuse-bouche-style bites carefully curated by Tara Colaneri to match the wines, and/or a colourful array of desserts.

It’s an immersive experience at this new destination winery that can be enjoyed inside the elegant tasting facility or outside on the cabana style terrace.

I enjoyed a full portfolio tasting at the tasting bar with Di Profio, Colaneri and knowledgeable staff. Here is what I liked (you can book a tasting or buy the wines here or just show up at the winery):

The bubbles

AMO Pinot Grigio Sparkling 2021 ($35, 90 points) — As with all the grapes harvested at AMO, there are at least two picks to ensure both acidity and ripeness in the wines. Both sparkling wines made in the charmat method are finished at Ridgepoint Estate Winery (shout out to Ramsey Kahriallah). It shows a soft effervescence in the glass with a bright nose of melon, tropical fruits, peaches, apple skin and citrus zest with a lovely saline edge. It’s more vigorous on the palate with a melange of ripe orchard fruits, guava, lemon zest and a vibrant, fresh finish.

AMO Sparkling Rosé 2021 ($29, 91 points) — This is made as above in the charmat method and is a blend of Cabernet Franc with a bit of Riesling and Pinot Gris. It shows a delicate bubble in the glass with fresh red berries, subtle herbs, and citrus/lime zest. It has electric acidity on the palate and an elegant bead with brambly red berries, herbs, and a vibrant, fresh finish. Delicious!

The white wines

AMO Pinot Gris 2021 ($35, 92 points) — What a lovely and stylistic Gris that employs some oak and extended lees aging. It’s ripe and generous on the nose with notes of peach pie, poached pear, nectarine, apricots, lemon, and integrated spices notes. It’s viscous and lush on the palate with ripe stone fruits, apricots, honeydew melon, lovely spice notes and still showing balance on the finish from the racy acidity. Love this Alsace-esque Gris.

AMO Riesling 2021 ($35, 92 points) —Fermentation was stopped with low alcohol (10.5% abv) and high sugars (31.5 g/l) resulting in a highly aromatic, honey laced and minerally driven Riesling with notes of apricots, summer peaches, lemon blossoms, a melange of citrus fruits and lime zest. It’s ripe and profoundly fruit laden with peaches, nectarine, poached pear, a ginger note, wild honey, and lime zest in a juicy style tempered by mouth-watering acidity.

The rosé

AMO Rosé 2021 ($45, 91 points) — As with all the labels, this rosé is noted as a “Niagara Peninsula” wine, but rest assured, these all are estate St. David’s Bench wines. The second iteration of this rosé is a blend of 61% Cabernet Franc and 39% Merlot made in the saignée method. It’s made in a ripe and generous style with notes of wild raspberries, strawberry patch, cassis, plums, subtle herbs, and a touch of zesty citrus on the edges. It has vibrancy on the palate that elevates a ripe array of brambly red berries, anise, plums, earthy/savoury notes, saline minerality and lemon peel through a long, rounded finish. A substantive style of rosé with texture and flare.

The red wines

AMO Cabernet Franc 2021 ($35, 89 points) — This unoaked Cabernet Franc is meant to be a wine that’s ready to drink in its youth. The nose is all about stripped down Cab Franc aromatics of fresh raspberries, plums, herbs with a touch of anise and wild blueberries. It’s juicy with ripe tannins on the palate with earthy red berries, underbrush notes, aniseed, and a tangy finish.

AMO Lux Cabernet Franc 2020 ($90, 92 points) — Aside from the unique, textured labels on the Lux series wines, these Bordeaux varieties benefit from multiple picks in the vineyard and a selection process to ascertain the ripest grapes. These are small-production wines ranging from 177 cases to 320 cases. The Cab Franc had a long maceration of three weeks and spent 25 months in oak, 80% French barrels and 20% American oak, 20% of which was new oak. “The big thing here with these wines is the amount of hand work that goes into them,” Di Profio, photo above, explained. “That’s what is setting us apart a bit.” It has an enticing nose of anise, black raspberries, herbs, kirsch, black cherries, and rich, lavish spice notes. It’s opulent and dense on the palate with evident tannins adding structure to go with an earthy melange of ripe red berries, tar, anise, cassis, and herbs in a super-concentrated style that is both rugged and untamed. It has gorgeous texture, fine oak spices and a long, lifted finish. Can cellar up to 10 years.

AMO Lux Merlot 2020 ($105, 93 points) — Another beauty with depth and concentration to go with a pretty array of cherry kirsch, cassis, black currants, black raspberries, and elegant spice notes from the 100% French oak barrels. The tannins here are more integrated than the CF above and the array of ripe red berries, plums, black currants, cocoa, and subtle earthy/savoury notes more nuanced and layered with a lifted, long, and spicy finish. Can cellar 7+ years.

AMO Lux Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 ($110, 92 points) — This is the tightest of the four “Lux” label reds with a perfumed nose of blackberries, cherry compote, cassis jam, anise, and fine oak spice (all French oak). It opens up on the palate with dense, ripe red and dark berries, anise, savoury/earthy notes and toasty vanilla spices with a finessed, long and echoing finish. Can cellar 10+ years.

AMO Lux 24k 2020 ($120, 94 points) — The blend for this top of the table red wine is 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37.5% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc. This, too, is aged in 100% French oak for 25 months (20% new oak). It’s one of the most interesting and exciting red wines I have tasted from the perfect 2020 vintage. Such lovely perfume on the nose and a dense and profoundly rich melange of ripe red berries, wild blueberries, cassis, tar, forest floor and savoury notes with fine oak spices and charred cedar accents. The generous array of compoted red berries, anise, blackberries, black currants, and earthy/savoury notes on the palate held together by firm tannic structure that all leads to a finessed finish that echoes for minutes. This is a real beauty for cellaring 10+ years.

As Tara Colanari said following the tasting: “There’s a wine here for everybody, that’s why there are two tiers. There is great value for what you are getting. A lot goes into these wines.”

A final note: Confused by the two spellings for St. David’s and St. Davids in this post? I was too, and wrote about it here. Hope that helps.