Mixed Cases of Ontario’s Best Right to Your Door

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

By now wine lovers are well aware that Ontario’s wineries have lost significant sales with the closing of tasting rooms and their restaurants clients. This makes direct-to-consumer shipping crucial, especially to those smaller wineries that don’t have LCBO listings, grocery listings or their own private stores. To help make it easier, many wineries in the province have introduced free shipping.

WineAlign has gone a step farther to help both wineries and our readers by quickly ramping up the Great Canadian Wine Exchange which offers mixed 12-bottle regional cases of wines from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward County, Niagara Peninsula (which are now live), and British Columbia (which we will be launching tomorrow). Cases will be delivered to your door in early May. Check out the offers at The Great Canadian Wine Exchange. All selections are curated by WineAlign National Wine Awards judges. 

This article focuses on the three Ontario offerings – the Prince Edward County Discovery Case, the Niagara Discovery Case and the premium Niagara Black Case. Most of the wines have been very recently tasted, and in many cases re-tasted, by WineAlign critics. Below Sara, John, Michael and I highlight some of our favourites, but I must say it was a real treat to go through this line up and experience the quality that Ontario is achieving. Personally, I have rated the majority 90+ points, with some heading towards 95 points. Thirty-six Ontario wineries are represented, and subsequent offering are sure to follow. And when you find one you like you order more on WineAlign in just a few clicks.

So, here are our individual critic’s six top picks from the three cases. And after browsing please click here to read John Szabo’s recently posted Special Report on Barolo 2016 and Barbaresco 2017.

From the Prince Edward County Case

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir The Narrow Rows 2017, VQA Prince Edward County ($45)
David Lawrason – This was my top quality selection of over 30 wines poured at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Ottawa in Feb 2020. The nose is frankly scintillating – a County classic with very lifted cranberry/raspberry fruit, florals, toast and a touch of meatiness. Lean on the palate yet so vibrant and balanced.
Michael Godel – A super-saturated, honed and zeroed in upon place in a vineyard ripeness with a touch foxiness. It’s local and it’s so bloody good. Delicious even. Unlike any pinot noir ever made previously in Ontario.
John Szabo – Produced mainly from the oldest vines on the Stanners property, planted in 2005 in particularly high-density fashion, hence the “Narrow Rows”. The tightly spaced vines allow less airflow, resulting in slightly higher canopy temperatures, though it’s a challenge to hill them up in winter (there’s simply not enough soil between the rows to easily cover the fruiting canes. But the challenges appear to be worth it. This is a beautifully perfumed example, savoury, earthy, fresh but darker fruit-scented, very spicy and old wood-inflected. The palate is likewise perfectly pitched, mid-weight, with an attractive, smoky drift adding to the saline twang that drives additional sips. A fine representation of County terroir. Drink 2020-2025.

Trail Estate Chardonnay Vintage Two Unfiltered 2017, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($35.00)
Michael Godel – This is the first new, true leg of what will be a long relationship, the first that is crafted “as opposed to just seeing what we’ve got.” In many ways Mackenzie Brisbois’ first truly personal chardonnay. Crunchy and verdant, high grape extract, very seasoned, on its own, religiously made, slowly developed and with purpose.
John Szabo – Mackenzie Brisbois likes to push her wines to the edge – that’s where the fun is, after all. This wine sits right on it and even leans over it a bit for a closer look. I’d call it a post-modern classic, highly reductive style chardonnay (flinty, smoky, onion soup-inflected), distinctive, but attractive. The palate really shines with its salty-acid tastes, the clever CO2 residue, the umami that demands additional sips. There’s genuine concentration and density, from low yielding vines, and great length. Top notch. Drink 2020-2028.

Traynor Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Prince Edward County ($25.00)
Sara d’Amato It is hard to top this PEC pinot noir with respect to value. Profuse aromatics with an elegant, peppery palate, are suggestive of an exceptional vintage. Refined, harmonious and characterful with flavours of dried mint, saddle leather and red plum lingering on the finish of excellent length. A purist’s pinot.


Closson Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Prince Edward County ($34.95)
Sara d’Amato – A traditional incarnation of pinot noir that balances affability with elegance. The flavours are wildly expressive of the variety and with an ethereal tread that is purely Prince Edward County. The oak treatment is very mild and integrated, certainly allowing the fruit center stage. Drinking beautifully now but here is enough structure and depth to propel this complex find into the middle of the decade, but why wait?

Hinterland Wine Company Les Etoiles 2016, Prince Edward County ($43.00)
John Szabo  – A great County reference for sparkling, this bottling of Hinterland’s 2016 Les Etoiles spent about 3 years on lees and was bottled with a nominal 2 grams of dosage for a sharp and tight expression. I’d say it’s still about a year or two away from its prime drinking window, though it will be hard to resist the classic County pinot leafy-rhubarb character and the bright citrus-driven chardonnay component on a toasty backdrop. Lovely stuff.

From the Niagara Discovery Case

Cave Spring Riesling Adam Steps 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench ($24.75)
David Lawrason – From a single block of old vines planted in the eighties, this shows intriguing aromatic complexity. It is light to medium bodied, off-dry, quite elegant and rich on the palate, yet cut by fine-edged lime acidity, with a fine lick of chalky minerality on the finish.

Big Head Smith Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2018, Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($25.00)
Michael Godel – From the family affair work of Andrzej and Jakub Lipinski here is a Niagara white wine the likes you will have never before tasted. Rich and unctuous, almost unusually Piedmontese in its concentrated impunity, not to mention a confident and nearly arrogant trenchant acuity. Big and bold.

2027 Cellars King Street Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018, Twenty Mile Bench ($29,95)
David Lawrason – This is such a delicate, lovely yet lively pinot with a blooming florality, fine berry fruit and very subtle oak spice. It is light almost silky texture underpinned by bright not too tart acidity and very fine tannin. The focus and length are excellent.


Ravine Vineyard Meritage 2018, VQA St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($28.00)
Michael Godel – Ravine’s ’18 Meritage is one of then winemaker Ben Minaker’s harvest reds, blended by Marty Werner and finished by the hands of incumbent winemaker Lidia Tomek. The cabs and merlot come together for pure blended enjoyment. Get a good mouthful going and feels the crunchy aspect of this red. If history and track record are any indication this should drink at peak about four years from now.

Southbrook Triomphe Gamay Laundry Vineyard 2018, Vinemount Ridge ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – One of the two reds that most excites me in Niagara, this sustainably produced gamay is highly aromatic, juicy, peppery and pleasantly musky. It has already shown improvement in bottle and its complexity should continue to develop over the short to mid-term.  Pep and fine tannins leave a textural impression on the palate on this ready-to-drink gamay.


Trius Syrah 2017, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($25.95)
Michael Godel – This third vintage of Craig McDonald’s syrah is surely connected to the oenologist’s days when he and (Creekside winemaker) Rob Power were fooling around and producing exceptional wines back in their (circa 2004) mad scientist days. The vines from this syrah are tied to cuttings from the plants that today give fruit to the Broken Press and this 2017 is not unlike that wine. Terrific effort and one of Niagara’s best.

Malivoire Analog 2018, Niagara Escarpment, ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – An undeniably charming blend of Niagara’s most cherished red varieties of cabernet franc, gamay and pinot noir. Analog is a clever reference to the low-interventionist methods used by Malivoire winemaker Shiraz Mottiar that include a spontaneous ferment, a little carbonic maceration and a mix of concrete and carbonic in maturation. Stylish, lightly reductive and delectably crunchy.


From the Niagara Black Case

Cloudsley Cellars Chardonnay 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, ($35.00)
David Lawrason – This ticks all the boxes of what Niagara can do with chardonnay. It is Burgundian and mineral-driven with a lean, firm but not austere ambiance. It is medium bodied, a bit creamy but ultimately stony and gently mouthwatering. The length is excellent.
John Szabo– Former importing agent Adam Lowy is the man behind Cloudsley Cellars, parlaying his vast experience with wines of the world into a top tier Niagara chardonnay that I’m sure he, and I, would be happy to put next to just about any other wine on the table. His top bottling is from the Twenty Mile Bench, by now recognized as one of the top ‘villages’ in Niagara for the grape. The 2017 is drinking well now, or hold into the early-mid-’20s.

Stratus Semillon 2017, Niagara-On-The-Lake ($32.00)
John Szabo – There isn’t much semillon left in Ontario after the polar vortex winters of 2014-2015 prematurely ended the existence of several vineyards, but I’m certainly glad the little pocket at Stratus Vineyard survived. This is now easily the finest example in the province, and arguably the country, and that’s not a backhanded compliment because the wine is a stunner, full stop. 2017 yielded a very pretty example, full of honeysuckle, wildflowers, green fig, fresh pineapple, tangerine zest, acacia honey, saffron, wax and more in a superbly complex expression. The flavour intensity is such (so high) that I can’t say this wine will appeal widely – the personality is strong – but those who love it, will love it a lot.
Sara d’Amato – A stunner that is sits stylistically somewhere between an aged Hunter Valley Semillon and a Graves Bordeaux – a curious best of both worlds. Its generous flavour profile is reined in by acidity and tempered by gentle maturity. A strong offering that will continue to improve with time, yet it would be a shame to miss out on its vigour and glory right now.

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2016, St. David’s Bench, ($40.00)
Sara d’Amato – Bursting with aromatic freshness, this peppery, vibrant pinot noir exhibits effortless wildness, spine-tingling acidity and ample fruit. A special place for pinot, Lowrey Vineyard expresses itself most fully in this energetic find with years left to come.

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($37.20)
Michael Godel – Funny vintage that ’17 was and yet in riesling there can be this slow melt, tide and release of intricacy and intimacy, which this Picone does. The succulence in the acids over top juicy, juicy fruit and this great entanglement is majestic and dignified. My goodness Charles, I think you’ve done it.

Redstone Syrah Redstone Vineyard 2017, Lincoln Lakeshore ($40.00)
David Lawrason – Very pleasantly surprised by this lively, nicely ripe syrah from estate vineyards in the red clay soils of the Lincoln Lakeshore.  Very pretty and lifted with black fruit, florals and pepper. It is mid-weight, juicy and fresh with fine tannin. Very nicely done in smore light hearted style.
Sara d’Amato – Move over merlot, here is a spot-on example of the exceptional quality syrah Ontario’s relatively cool climate is able to produce. This deliciously ripened version offers a wealth of flavours from meaty and earthy, to lightly resinous with notes of pine needles, black pepper and ripe plum. Complex, wild and effortlessly aromatic.

Adamo Blanc de Noir Traditional Method Sparkling 2017, St. David’s Bench ($52.00)
John Szabo – Another terrific sparkling wine to add to the growing list of top-notch Ontario bubbly, Adamo’s version is made from Lowery Vineyard pinot noir, aged 6 months in neutral French wood before secondary fermentation. It’s released with zero dosage in the currently fashionable bone dry style, but sweetness is not missed here at all. Length and depth are mightily impressive.

Château des Charmes Equuleus Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard 2016, St David’s Bench, ($45.00)
Sara d’Amato – Maturing beautifully, this blend of 50% cabernet sauvignon 25% cabernet franc and 25% merlot is carefully aged in high quality French oak for one year. Not overdone, not pushy, just hitting the sweet spot and drinking marvellously right now.  The flavour profile and suppleness is more aligned with Bordeaux’s right bank over left and is notably Saint-Emilion in style. Tannins remain a touch grippy and the flavour profile is a mix of fresh and gently matured character. A peppery finish of great length is delightful. Tasted April 2020.


And that’s it for this edition. We will back next Thursday, April 22, with a review of Vintages, April 18 release.

David Lawrason

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