Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES September 14th: Diving Deeper into Ontario Wine

Diving Deeper into Ontario Wine

By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS, Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

At this time of year, as harvest draws near, VINTAGES always features local Ontario wines. And it has thankfully come to the point in the industry’s evolution that promoting local can be done confidently, with overall quality much improved, if not universally improved (which hinges more on individual wineries and winemakers rather than the place the wines come from).

I have never been a proponent of promoting lesser quality Ontario wines just because they are local; which does no one any good at all in the long or short run. So we simply present our recommendations below based on quality and not value.

VINTAGES is not quite in the same position politically. As I have explained before, as an Ontario government agency with what is essentially still a monopoly on retail shelf space, it has to be seen to provide fair opportunity to all, as well as to be price conscious. So some wines they have chosen will inevitably be average quality and value.

WindRush Estate Winery 

With this release, VINTAGES casts a wider net and captures some very good to excellent and interesting wines. It also provides more insight into the Ontario’s wine regions and winemakers than ever before (with noted omission of Prince Edward County). And rather than gush purple patriotic prose, there is an attempt by VINTAGES magazine to actually educate and articulate what Ontario wine is all about.

With our full team of critics returned from summer meanderings for this release, we present our picks below. I have expanded my reviews on each wine, with an eye to trend-spotting and providing other hopefully interesting backgrounder insight. And a reminder that you can also buy these same wines (and many others that the LCBO does not carry) from the wineries direct and/or on-line from their websites at the same price. And the wineries, not the provincial treasury, make more money that way! You can decide where you would rather invest.

Buyer’s Guide September 14th: Ontario Sparkling & Whites

The Roost Bunch’a Trouble Sparkling Brut Rosé 2017, VQA Ontario ($24.95)
David Lawrason
The new Georgian Bay wine region is centred on Beaver Valley where apple orchards have flourished for generations, and apple cider is now a hot item. It does not yet have enough vineyard acreage to qualify for VQA, but with large new plantings afoot on sloping Niagara Escarpment sites on the west side of the valley (providing some east-south-east exposure) I do believe VQA will come. It is a cooler region based largely on winter hardy hybrids like the red Marquette, which achieved VQA status just weeks ago. The Roost is a new, tiny winery located on a hillside, just beyond the sleepy hollow-like village of Red Wing. I have not visited but I have tasted their early efforts and I am impressed by the winemaking. Others are reviewed on WineAlign. This is a very pale rosé bubbly with a soft, sweet peach, strawberry jam nose, and just a bit grapy. It is light to mid-weight, nicely delicate, fresh and off dry. All kinds of charm if not great complexity
John Szabo – This is a perfect aperitif-style bubbly. Serve in regular white wine glasses (not flutes), and move past the slightly funky nose to the attractively bone dry and crisp palate, full of crunchy and tart red fruit, cranberry, sour cherry and the like, with a squeeze or two of lime. I like the delicacy and the genuine tartness.

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2017, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($19.95)
David Lawrason – On Monday I tasted the entire new release portfolio of Flat Rock (reviews to be posted soon). Flat Rock has been a mainstay of “Bench” viticulture since 1999, making it 20 years old this year, with some vines now even older. The wines have always been typical of variety, easy drinking, generous and the best of them age-worthy. (A 2006 Riddled sparkling controversially packaged under a crown cap was in mature and fine condition). They are also somewhat less expensive than many, because as owner Ed Madronich Jr. says, “It is my job is to share my vision far and wide, which you can’t do easily by making $60 wines”. This is a rich, obvious and very smooth chardonnay with ripe peach, toast and buttery flavours. The palate is creamy, almost off-dry and the length is excellent. For fans of big chardonnay in that old, New World way.

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road 2017, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Tawse was one of the quality-focused, organic/biodynamic wineries that changed the Ontario conversation in the mid-2000s, going on to win Winery of the Year at the WineAlign National Wine Awards three times in the early years of this decade. As the portfolio has broadened – even into spirits – it’s the single vineyard, mineral-driven chardonnays and rieslings that have remained my touchstones, because they reverberate the core strength of the limestone-laced vineyards. Quarry Road, atop the Escarpment, has become a calling card. This is a brilliant, pristine, crisp and edgy riesling rounded with just a bit more sweetness perhaps than in previous vintages. It is light to mid-weight, off-dry and bristling with tart granny smith apple, lime and flinty mineral flavours.
Michael Godel – Quarry Road, along with Carly’s Block is a top source for Tawse in their riesling program and while the 2017 vintage is one turned on the varietal head, this is another success for winemaker Paul Pender and the estate. Age this for five years to allow the secondary notes come out.
Sara d’Amato – A bright, refreshing incarnation sourced of top quality riesling. Compelling notes of pickled cauliflower, lime and mineral are aromatically pronounced. Very enticing with well-balanced sweetness that contributes to a more voluminous mouthfeel. There is some notable viscosity but the bracing acidity carves it up nicely on the palate.

The Roost Bunch'a Trouble Sparkling Brut Rosé 2017, Charmat Method, VQA Ontario   Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2017, Twenty Mile Bench   Tawse Riesling Quarry Road 2017

Buyer’s Guide September 14th: Ontario Reds

Trius Red (The Icon) 2016, Niagara Peninsula, ($24.95)
David Lawrason – With over 25 years experience and ageing vines in Niagara-on-the-Lake (where warm autumn Lake Ontario waters promote longer ripening), Trius Red has become a standard bearer among medium priced examples of the red Bordeaux genre. Reliable, correct and age-worthy. The packaging could be updated in my view to better convey the quality. From the warmer 2016 vintage, this is a nicely composed, youthful, well construed blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, with complex ripe currant/raspberry fruit, cedar, tea and earthy notes. Very good to excellent length.
John Szabo – Possibly the best Trius Red I’ve tasted, a Niagara classic, this could easily be put in a $50 slot without anyone batting an eyelid. It’s a classically composed cabernet-merlot blend with sophisticated balance and symmetry, offering a fine range of red and black fruit, moderate, but quality, oak influence, and appropriate herb and spice notes, in sum, a complete package. Best 2019-2026.
Sara d’Amato –
A bargain in the red blend category, this gracefully maturing blend of cabernet franc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon sourced from various Niagara vineyards including two estate sites: Clark Farm and Carlton Vineyards, shows the warmth and ripeness of the vintage. Enveloping and plush yet still offering quite a bit of grip and texture. Black fruit and plum mingle with mild bottle aged characters such as leather and earth. Inviting and generous yet still with some youthful restraint.

Icellars Estate Cabernet Franc Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara ($29.95)
David Lawrason – I have all kinds of respect for Adnan Icel, a Turkish émigré who is the founder, builder and creator of some of Niagara’s most impressive new “big reds”. That was his vision almost 15 years ago when he began to plant on the lower fringe of St. Davids Bench, one of Niagara’s warmest subregions. He enlisted local expertise in viticulturist Craig Wismer and winemaker Peter Gamble. An engineer by background he planted his vineyard and built his winery virtually by himself. And he is making wines that deserve our attention, although this one is off-site from the Wismer vineyard. Here’s a quite elegant, ripe and complex cabernet franc that shows this grape’s potential in Niagara. I got a Saint-Émilion vibe from it – medium-full bodied, elegant, warm, a touch green, with excellent focus and length.
John Szabo – The Foxcroft Vineyard has rapidly developed a reputation for producing superior wine, especially chardonnay, but here cabernet franc also reveals impressive potential. This is a pretty, perfumed, graphite and black fruit-scented wine from the warm and dry 2016 vintage. I like the pleasantly grippy palate, the firm but not sour acids, the range of deep, dark fruit, and the well-measured contribution of herbal-vegetal components necessary in any worthwhile cabernet franc. Ultimately, it delivers quality at a price that is often 50% more for comparables. Best 2021-2026.
Sara d’Amato – A youthful cabernet franc from a warmer vintage that was judiciously harvested to preserve grip and structure. Reminiscent of a young, right bank Bordeaux of good quality. The palate is dry and a touch savory with a surprisingly well integrated alcohol. Nothing feels overblown, there is some tension to the palate and enough stuffing for another half decade of enjoyment.

Colchester Ridge Crew Meritage 2016, Lake Erie North Shore ($21.95)
David Lawrason – The smaller wineries of Lake Erie North Shore continue to struggle beyond their loyal fan base between London and Windsor, but improving quality should help. The region is warmer than Niagara, often producing riper, bigger cab and merlot-based reds, which has certainly translated in the warm 2016 vintage. But less on shore temperature moderation than Niagara winters can be hard, resulting in very low production in 2014 and 2015. This Meritage shows pretty, well-ripened raspberry fruit, nicely fitted with oak vanillin and spice. It is pleasant and correct, if lacking some tension and depth.
John Szabo – Typically light tannins from the sandy soils of Lake Erie’s North Shore render this highly drinkable, pleasantly open and fruity, especially as the vestiges of oak fade into the twilight. Sweet black and red fruit on the mid-palate broaden the appeal. Ready to enjoy.

Queenston Mile Pinot Noir 2017, St. David’s Bench, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($39.95)
David Lawrason – I have not yet visited the new Queenston Mile, but am well aware of the pedigree this brand brings to the table. It is a project by Creekside owner Andrew Howard who listened to his winemaker – highly respected Rob Power – about the importance of the Paragon Vineyard on St. David’s Bench, the warmest sub-appellation in Niagara. It has even ripened syrah. But that doesn’t mean it is beyond pinot either. This pale, mature-looking, garnet-shaded pinot shows lifted, intense, complex and classic Niagara pinot cranberry/currant fruit, cedary, toasty and leafy notes.

Trius Red The Icon 2016  Icellars Estate Cabernet Franc 2016, Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment  Colchester Ridge Crew Meritage 2016,  Queenston Mile Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2015, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($34.95)
David Lawrason – Cloudsley is a tiny, relatively new Bench producer focused on pinot and chardonnay, with former wine importer Adam Lowy at the helm. It is an earnest, quiet project determined to capture a moment and place in time with single site wines. A tough job with capricious pinot in capricious Niagara, but fans are already captivated. Chardonnays are also very much worth following as well. This is a very pale, maturing pinot with strawberry/raspberry jam fruit, spicy oak and herbality. It is light to mid-weight, nicely compact with easy tannins.

Calamus Ball’s Falls Red 2017, Niagara Peninsula ($15.95)
David Lawrason – A constant criticism of Niagara has been its inability to deliver decent low to mid-priced reds – always such a delicate balance of yield, ripeness and winemaking know how. Recently, Calamus was purchased by the Van Helsdingens family who smartly hired winemaker Kevin Panagapka, who has already made his name with the “virtual” 2027 brand. And he has proven his worth with this value red named for nearby Balls Falls (a mini-Niagara Falls worth visiting). This is a nicely balanced, ever so slightly sweet-edged red, with floral notes, berry jam, toast and herbal notes. It is mid-weight, with dusty, slightly green tannin.

Vieni Classic Method Private Reserve Appassimento 2013, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula ($54.95)
David Lawrason – Still waiting to break-out marketing-wise, Vieni has significant plantings of many varieties atop the Escarpment in Niagara, an amazingly well-equipped winery, as well as spirits production capability. Winemaker Mauro Salvador is from northeastern Italy where the appassimento method of making reds from dried/raisined grapes was born. Many Niagara wineries now do likewise. At the price it is a value stretch, but as an Ontario “amarone” it is noteworthy. It is mid-weight, quite smooth, just off-dry and ripe, with candied cherry fruit, some leafy and peppery complexity.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2017, Ontario ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The Speck brothers have done an exemplary job with the winter hardy, sturdy baco noir over the years. Niagara’s vinifera purists consider hybrids second class – thus the wines can only wear the broad Ontario VQA appellation. But this rich example from vines planted in the 80s always proves one of the most popular Ontario reds when poured blind in Fine Vintage Canadian Wine Scholar courses across the country. It is a full bodied, highly toasted, chocolaty, plummy and even floral red with interesting cumin-like spice. Very flavourful and complex.

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2015   Calamus Ball's Falls Red 2017   Vieni Classic Method Private Reserve Appassimento 2013   Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2017, VQA Ontario

Buyer’s Guide September 14th: International Whites

Marchand-Tawse Viré-Clessé 2016, Burgundy, France ($31.95)
David Lawrason – This has both stuffing and structure, a bit more so than expected from Macon-Vire and approaching Cote de Beaune in terms of style. The nose is generous, nicely toasty, cedary and smoky but it delivers lemon and pear fruit as well. Fairly big, yet firm and balanced.
Sara d’Amato – A sophisticated chardonnay from a lesser known, and relatively new, Burgundian region in the Mâconnais that produces only white. Offering characteristic floral aromatics and flint. Sourced from high quality fruit, substantial, but not heavy, with a great deal of persistence and length. The oak treatment is lightly laced and finely integrated. Impressive.

Cave Des Vignerons De Buxy 2017 Buissonnier Bourgogne Chardonnay, Ac, France ($16.95)
John Szabo –
Here’s a perfectly serviceable chardonnay from the reliable Buxy cooperative, gentle and approachable, with no notable oak influence. Acids and alcohol line up nicely, and length, too, more than fits the price category.

Tornatore Etna Bianco DOC 2018, Sicily, Italy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Tornatore’s is one of the larger production carricante Etna Bianci and surely knows how to speak of estate styling and greater Etna possibility. A rich, creamy, electric and expressive volcanic white. What more could you want to tell a customer, friend or colleague this part of the Sicilian story.


Marchand Tawse Viré Clessé 2016 Cave Des Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Bourgogne Chardonnay 2017  Tornatore Etna Bianco 2018

Buyer’s Guide September 14th: International Reds

Château Carignan 2015 Prima, AC Côtes de Bordeaux – Cadillac, France ($33.95)
John Szabo –
A pure merlot (from Château Carignan!), this deeply coloured and plush, ripe Bordeaux is impressive right off the top, showing off the quality of the vintage nicely. The palate is thick and fleshy, replete with ripe, fresh black fruit, plum and fig, all highly engaging, while tannins are appealing, suave and velvety, and length is very good to excellent. Tuck away in the cellar for full enjoyment, best 2021-2028.

Château La Haye 2015, Cru Bourgeois, Saint Estèphe, Bordeaux, France ($56.95)
Sara d’Amato – From a top Cru Bourgeois that consistently over-delivers, this aromatic blend offers great density, notable finesse and balance that lives up to its pedigree. Tannins are so very fine, and the length is excellent. No need to wait more than another year to begin enjoying.

Cazal Viel Vieilles Vignes Saint Chinian 2016, Languedoc, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is a syrah-based red from higher altitude in the Languedoc. It has a classic syrah nose of ripe cherry, florals, pepper, cedar and vanilla. It is full bodied, smooth, almost creamy and ripe with fine tannin and some warmth.

Cave de Tain King in The North 2017, Rhône, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Although the name is a bit pandering, this syrah originates from the top co-op of the northern Rhône and is a blend of fruit from Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas and the IGP Collines Rhodaniennes which results in a “Vin de France” designation. Spicy black pepper is characteristically present in this relatively bold, but very drinkable, red with very little manipulated feel. Great value – drink up!

Tornatore Etna Bianco 2018  Château La Haye 2015, Cru Bourgeois, Ac Saint Estèphe  Château Cazal Viel Vieilles Vignes 2016  Cave De Tain King In The North 2017

Valle Dell’acate Il Frappato 2017, DOC Sicilia, Italy ($25.95)
David Lawrason – Absolutely charming and delicious but you have to like very light reds. It is very pale, with generous, floral and candied strawberry, watermelon and rosewater perfume. Virtually no tannin so easy to drink. Perhaps too easy.

Volpaia Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($28.95)
Michael Godel – Sangiovese simply stated is the fresh maker from the vintage that speaks to a maximum loud and clear pronouncement. Here Volpaia takes ripeness and wraps it up in a shell of protection that can and will not be broken. You can absolutely smell the freshest of red fruits in this ’16 and it’s a feeling that never dissipates. Always a benchmark for Radda and the greater territory.

Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95)
Michael Godel – The blending of many different parcels from five variegated soils is the art and the science behind this liqueur of a sangiovese (85 per cent) regaling in 2015 vintage hyperbole. This ’15 writes the Brolio book for Riserva. Clean, pure and perfectly executed.

Stefano Farina Barbera d’Alba 2017, Piedmont, Italy ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – A zesty Barbera with more tannic presence and verve than expected. Quite bold, muscular and youthfully tight, with an abundance of all the right stuffing. Offering very good balance and length. Allow this to decant before service, or wait another year or two for optimum expression.

Valle Dell'acate Il Frappato 2017, Doc Sicilia  Volpaia Chianti Classico 2016  Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 2015  Stefano Farina Barbera d'Alba 2017

Thymiopoulos Young Vines Xinomavro 2016, Unfiltered, PDO Naoussa, Greece ($19.95)
Michael Godel – If 2015 was 3000 per cent better as a vintage compared to 2014 (which was declassified) then where does that put Apostolos Thymiopoulos’ 2016? A new layer in the cherries and the pinot noir-like ethereal character, but there too is this new gear, savoury, and getable in ways it has not been before. You gotta drink here.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2016 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($38.95)
John Szabo –
A real joy to smell, DDO’s 2016 Dundee pinot is drinking marvellously at the moment. Tannins are silky-smooth and acids are comfortably fresh, while the palate features ripe cherry-raspberry and violet florals, with a sweet impression from ripe fruit. And the price is right; buy a 6 pack and pull out a bottle every year for the next half dozen.

Robert Mondavi Maestro 2014, Napa Valley ($59.95)
Michael Godel – Maestro is the man himself, Mr. Mondavi, pioneer and leader dating back to 1966. This follow up to the 50th Anniversary blend again combs Napa Valley (though mostly Stags Leap District) for merlot as the backbone with cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and malbec. It’s youthful, jumpy and crunchy.

Thymiopoulos Young Vines Xinomavro 2016  Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir 2016   Robert Mondavi Maestro 2014, Napa Valley

And that’s a wrap for this edition. A very busy period of public and trade tastings begins next week, so we will very likely see many of you out on the circuit. In particular I am looking forward to receiving my September WineAlign Exchange case later this month. If you have not yet subscribed to this most excellent program – and yes I am biased – please check it out here.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommeliers Selections

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