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Sophomore release of Dobbin Estate wines brings clearer focus on portfolio

By Rick VanSickle

The sophomore vintage at Niagara’s Dobbin Estate winery brings the portfolio of luxury wines into clearer focus.

With most of the Twenty Mile Bench estate’s vineyards meticulously planted from scratch to the exacting standards of consulting winemakers and viticulturists, Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble (below), the goal of producing 100% estate wines is slowly and surely getting there, but it isn’t quite there yet.

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Two of the five wines — a Riesling and the Chardonnay in magnum — on offer from the 2020 vintage are 100% estate fruit while two other wines — the second Riesling and the 750 mL Chardonnay — are a combination of sourced and estate grapes while the Cabernet blend contains no estate fruit at all.

As Dobbin works toward the ultimate goal, Gamble says the most important part of winemaking now is to “maintain some consistency and style, obviously with the estate wines.” Which isn’t exactly easy in vintage sensitive Niagara where the cool 2019 season, Dobbin’s maiden vintage, was followed by one of the warmest on record in 2020.

Gamble and Sperling have all the tools necessary to ensure a consistent style from vintage to vintage. Multiple picks, low yields, organic farming and a quality-first approach no matter the cost is a philosophy that has the full buy-in from the Dobbin owner. Wade Dobbin is a land developer who started as an industrial real estate agent and then he and his partner created the Canadian arm of Panattoni, an international development company, bought the property in 2018 with the first order of business was bringing Gamble and Sperling into the fold to re-imagine the property and vineyards and create the finest wines possible from what grows best in the vineyards.

Dobbin is located just south-east of The Farm Wines off King St. and the team has chosen to champion four Niagara-centric grapes — Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir — that do well in the vineyards’ calcium-rich soils. All but the most westerly vineyard at the former Laura Sabourin farm were selected specifically to maximize their site and are tightly planted, grown organically, and cropped for low yields.

It’s a beautiful site, punctuated by an ornate, grand tower that offers near panoramic views of the freshly replanted north-sloping, south-sloping and western Charlene vineyards that are bordered by forests and separated by a stunning seven-acre pond. It’s the perfect setting for high-end tastings in the tower paired with matching bites by the estate’s consulting executive chef, Laura Ramik.

Dobbin offers a variety of experiences. You can book an exclusive tasting with the winemaking team in the tower for a private or a communal “long table tasting” with a stunning view of all three vineyards while learning firsthand what elements of terroir, viticulture and winemaking converge to create the wines. The wine selection is presented with specially crafted pairings that Ramik has created to pair with each wine.

You can also opt for the relaxed setting on the patio, where you can enjoy a more intimate and casual tasting with a shareable platter created by Ramik, all the while surrounded by the vineyard’s natural ambience. You can book a tasting at Dobbin by going here.

Here’s what I liked from the new vintage 2020 wines, mostly released July 1, unless otherwise noted in the reviews.

Dobbin Estate Chardonnay 2020 ($75, 93 points) — This Chardonnay is sourced from three organic sites, including some estate fruit, all on the Twenty Mile Bench. It was hand harvested over two picks, wild fermented and wild malo, with 18 months on its lees in neutral French oak. It has a generous/opulent nose of baked pear, yellow apples, floral accents, some savoury/chalky/saline notes, and lemon curd, subtle spice, with persistence and complexity. The warm, near-perfect 2020 vintage offers elegance and a fuller bodied Chardonnay than the debut vintage with notes of quince, ripe apple and pear, stony minerality, some weight, lemon tart, a creamy texture with a lasting and finessed finish. Drink until 2030. Only 190 cases made.

This is paired with: Puff pastry vol-au-vent, mixed locally grown and wild mushrooms, and herbed walnut crumble.

Dobbin Estate Cabernet Blend 2020 ($80, available now online, 93 points) — This is a blend of 85% Cabernet Franc from the Twenty Mile Bench and 15% Merlot from Four Mile Creek, all sourced fruit. The fruit was hand-picked over two days, wild fermented and aged in neutral French oak for 20 months. This has a beautifully perfumed nose of pure black cherries, cassis, ripe raspberries, sweet herbs, anise and a deft touch with fine oak spices. The fine-grained tannins on the palate offer structure to go with the juicy red berries, blackberries, pepper, mulled herbs, anise/licorice, and spice in an elegant, concentrated style that is lifted and long on the tangy finish. Can cellar until 2034.

This is paired with: Miso-glazed roasted eggplant, caramelized onion and white bean spread, crispy panko, soft tortilla

Dobbin Dry Riesling 2020 ($60, 93 points) — The fruit for the first of the two Rieslings in the Dobbin family was sourced from the estate, another vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and a vineyard in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation. It was harvested over several picks, wild fermented, partially wild malo and spent 18 months on its lees. It was finished at 17 g/l RS with 8 g/l of TA and is labelled “dry.” This has more botrytised fruit than the Riesling below. It has a pretty, floral nose with pear, yellow apple, waxy/lanolin notes, stony minerality and lemon zest in a complex and intriguing style. It’s a showy Riesling with opulence on the palate, generous helpings of baked apple and pear, grapefruit/citrus, lime zest, honeycomb, and ginger in a textured style that finishes fresh and finessed. Just a beautifully luxurious and minerally driven Riesling that you can cellar to 2034 and beyond.

This is paired with: Duck prosciutto, pickled apple, savory sesame pancake

Dobbin Estate Dry Riesling 2020 ($65, 95 points) — This 100% estate sourced Riesling from the small Charlene Vineyard on the western part of the property is the result of several different picks and collecting portions of botrytis affected grapes (less than the wine above) during the harvest. It spent 18 months on its lees and was finished with 9.5 g/l of RS and 7.2 g/ of TA. A more profoundly unique and enthralling Riesling you will not find in Niagara. It is more floral than the Riesling above with beeswax, lanolin, Bosc pear, apricot, yellow apple, river rock, and bergamot that’s persistent and penetrating. It’s nicely balanced on the palate with the full range of orchard fruits, chalky/stony minerality, grapefruit zest, lemon curd, gingerbread, and laser-focused acidity that carries through to a lifted and freshening finish. Wow, so much going on here. Can cellar to 2034 and beyond.

This is paired with: Phyllo pastry, chevre, Bosc pear, honey

Dobbin Estate Chardonnay 2020 (only 200 magnums available only, price not available, 94 points) — This is a unique offering from Dobbin that is taken from one barrel of the estate’s Charlene Vineyard. It was wild fermented and aged on its lees in second fill French oak for 18 months. The nose is rich, elegant and concentrated with lovely perfume, ripe pear, baked apple, saline/chalky minerality, lemon tart, creamy/toasty notes and spice box. It has an elegant creamy texture on the palate with concentrated stone fruits, bergamot, stony minerality, toasted almonds, spice, fresh saline and finesse through a lifted and long finish. Contemplative Chardonnay that will impress further with another 5 to 7 years in the cellar.