In early March, I had the opportunity to attend “Taste Ontario” in Toronto where over 40 wineries presented their VQA wines. VQA, or Vintners Quality Alliance, guarantees that the wine is made totally from grapes grown in the designated production area, and sometimes solely from the producers own properties. In addition, certain quality standards must be adhered to in the growth of the grapes and the production of the wine.
At the tasting, many of the wineries were long-established “regulars” such as Stoney Ridge and Cave Spring Cellars, but there were also a few new names that will bear watching in future, including GreenLane Estate and The Good Earth Vineyards and Winery.
There was only time that afternoon to taste a fraction of the wines presented, a large number of which are not in the LCBO. Wine tastings like this are primarily for the restaurant trade, but they are usually available for purchase by the public through the winery.
A case in point would be Norman Hardie’s Pinot Noir 2015. Though the winery is in Prince Edward County in eastern Ontario, Hardie also uses Niagara fruit. His wines aren’t cheap, running in the $40 range, but they are generally excellent. Though other reviewers may not agree, I thought that this was a beautiful wine with real elegance and depth, carrying lovely fruit with just the right amount of sweetness to it.
This wine won’t be heading to the LCBO, though some of the 2014 remains on the shelves at $42.50. Wine Align’s David Lawrason gave the 2014 a 90, referring to its “very bright, lifted cran-cherry fruit, toast, smoke and some spice”.
Stratus Vineyards wines generally cycle through Vintages, with their Stratus White and Stratus Red having pride of place. The 2013 White, $38.20, is still available in Guelph and Barrie, and, of course, at the winery. This is an elegant with significant depth and richness of flavour and a long finish. Writer André Proulx identifies tropical fruit on the nose and palate, with a touch of vanilla and balancing acidity on the finish.
The Stratus Red 2012, $44.20, is on the April 1 release, but you likely would have to order it in in the North. Rick Van Sickle of winesinniagara.com says it is “so lush, so persistent on the palate…yet defined by the richness and purity of the dark, layered fruit.” He believes it has the “power, complexity and grace” to age 10 to 20 years in the cellar – 94.
Stratus also produces wines for the restaurant trade, Tollgate Red and Tollgate Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon. They are available to the rest of us through the winery, where they retail for $22 for the red and $19.95 for the white. Licensee prices are $18.57 and $16.67 respectively.
The white is reminiscent of a white Bordeaux in make-up, with impressive fruit and florals on the nose, and a real synergy between the fruit and the acid throughout. It is a tasty wine and would be terrific with fish.
The Tollgate, like the Stratus Red, is made using the assemblage approach, wherein several different varietals are blended together to produce the optimum wine. This example is smooth and delicious and can contain anything from Cabernet to Sangiovese. Aged one month in French oak, it has decent structure and is really versatile. Marketing Director Charles Baker can be reached at 905-401-1806
The Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling, $29.25, is still available in the Sault, Guelph and Barrie areas. It is classic in the drier style with tell-tale petrol on the nose and clean fruit. It consistently scores in the low 90’s and is known for its intensity and purity.
I was really happy to taste Meldville Wines for the first time, the new undertaking of Derek Barnett. Formerly, Derek was winemaker for Lailey Vineyards, but when that property was sold to Chinese owners whose primary if not exclusive interest is the production of Ice Wine, Derek, with a wealth of experience and ability in making red and white table wines, moved on.
There is no winery, as such, but Derek is able to find space at Legends Estates Winery to make his small-batch, limited edition wines and knows how to acquire good fruit. His wines are available to licensees as well as for private sale either through his contact, Alex Hamilton at email@example.com, or through the winery at www.legendsestates.com.
Derek’s two whites are very, very, good. His Sauvignon Blanc 2015, is refined, much in the French style, and on perfect point in character and depth of flavour with fine fruit extraction. His Chardonnay 2015 also displays excellent character with spot-on fruit and balance. Price to restaurants is $16.89 for each of these whites, while consumers would pay $20.20.
All three Meldville wines took Bronze medals at the 2016 Intervin International Wine Awards. The Cabernet Franc 2015 ($22.79/$27.20) is also good, characterized by dark berry and spice with herbal notes on the finish.
Aside from the licensee emphasis, there were many other wines which do come through Vintages or appear on the general list.
Henry of Pelham Estate Cabernet Merlot 2012, $24.95, appeared on the Mar. 4 Vintages release, and is still available in the Sault, Guelph and Barrie. It is mid-weight, very well-made and tasty with fruit and spice in fine balance.
Aligoté is the seldom-seen “second” white grape of Burgundy, but Niagara’s Chateau des Charmes is a master with it. At $14.95, this wine represents an excellent alternative to Pinot Grigio, with clean, moderate fruit – say Granny Smith apple - and uplifting acidity. It is in the stores in the Sault, Barrie and Guelph, and can be ordered in elsewhere.
Though they weren’t at the Toronto tasting, Thirty Bench Wine Makers has a Double Noir 2015, $18.95, on the Apr. 1 Vintages release. It is a blend of Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir, and we are told to anticipate “lots of red fruit and dried herbs…and a long smoky finish” by the Vintages panel.
April Tastings in Guelph
If you live in the vicinity of Guelph, you may be interested in taking in a “Discovery Session” at the Scottsdale Drive store. Tastings take place on Thursday evenings from 7 to 8 P.M., with the cost generally $30 per session. April tastings include “Spring in the Mediterranean” on Apr. 6, “Tequila vs. Mezcal” on the 13th ($40), “Spring in Sicily” on the 20th, and “West Coast Pinots” on Apr. 27. Call 519-823-5080 to register. Space is limited, and so call in advance.
April 1 Vintages Release
Vineland Estates Game Changer The Visionary White 2013, $14.95 - Vineland’s “Game Changer” series gets its name from their use of an optical sorter to ensure that all the fruit heading into the crush is sound, a game-changer in the process of making good wine. The Visionary is a pleasant and clean white wine, just slightly off-dry, with lifted aromatics thanks to both its 50% Riesling and the Musqué clone of chardonnay making up the other half. This will be a neat summer sipper, and could accompany roasted chicken or turkey pretty well, too. Northeners will have to pre-order this one.
Echeverria Chardonnay Gran Reserva 2015, $14.95 – a new listing for Vintages, this wine promises ripe fruit – Pineapple? Peach? Banana? – oaky vanilla, and even dried fruit on the finish, all reined in by what Vintages describes as “brilliantly vivacious acidity.”
Trapiche Finca Las Palmas Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2015, $16.95 – expect loads of tropical fruit, soft buttery texture, with notes of vanilla oak all in good balance and providing lots of pleasure.
Kim Crawford Small Parcels Wild Grace Chardonnay 2015, $24.95 – I have never met “Grace” but I think she must be very fit and maybe even run triathlons. If you are looking for a plump tropical fruit-laden Chardonnay, look someplace else. The emphasis here is on a clean, structured wine with green apple fruit in tension with lemon citrus, flinty minerality, and a whisper of herb on the aftertaste. There is energy and length here in a deft and crisp wine that will weather the hottest days and sings out for seafood.
Mas des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2016, $15.95, blends Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault effectively to produce a wine that balances sweetness and crispness with significant red berry fruit and a touch of both pepper and minerality at the end.
Kim Crawford Rosé 2016, $17.95 – while we often think “summer” with rosés, we surely should enjoy them all year round. In the dry style we most associate with the south of France, this rosé with its pleasantly copper-pink hue is another wine that would pair well with salmon or even ham if they were prepared fairly simply. There is warmth and harmony here, with a good citrus nip, all well-knitted and satisfying.
Senorio De La Antiqua Mencia 2012, $13.95 bears a winespectator.com 90 for focused and energetic “black cherry, licorice, fresh herb and smoky flavors”.
Les Halos de Jupiter Côtes Du Rhône 2014, $17.95 is a Wine of the Month”. Vinous.com Says it is “supple and round, finishing quite long”. It combines raspberry/cherry fruit with spice and tannin on the finish.
In Situ Reserva Carmenère 2015, $16.95 is one of a trio of well-scoring reds from Chile on this release. A deep red, the wine carries smoky, nutty notes along with mocha and dark cherry. Tannins are apparent on the finish, and maybe a little greenness at the end.
Sister’s Run Epiphany Shiraz, 2014, $17.95 is a re-release of a flavour-filled gem from this quite popular label. Last May, Natalie MacLean assessed it 91, referencing “concentrated pleasure with dark depths of fleshy black plums and blackberry fruit.”
Baracchi O’Lillo 2014, $20.95, would benefit from a year or so in your cellar, but it hits on all cylinders in terms of flavour and depth. A Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese, its dark berry and cherry fruit along with some firm earthiness carry through flavourfully to a rich and delicious finish. Reviews are in the 90+ range.