From honey bees to world class wine

Photo courtesy Rosewood Estates

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Invitations to attend wine events and tastings are so numerous I would have to forgo my day job just to keep up. Not happening. When social bee, marketing stalwart and wine purveyor Krystina Roman asked me to be guest at her family’s Rosewood portfolio tasting, there was no twisting needed of the proverbial arm. Rosewood is old-school; the Beamsville Bench, Niagara equivalent to the Italian Azienda Agricola or the German Erzeugerabfüllung. This may come off as a hallucinatory and inflammatory moment of delirium, but when it comes to Rosewood’s honey (and even fleeting moments in their wine), they’ll be lawyers in heaven before you see something so good again.

It’s a rare occasion when a winery combines their wares with the bursting enthusiasm of a cooking school like George Brown College and offers a pairing as generous as yesterday’s tasting. Thirty some odd guests were treated to five courses prepared by the students at The Chef’s House at GBC. Rosewood poured two mead wines, one mead cocktail, three whites and five reds. Meritorious line-up.

Amuse Bouche

Chicken Tikka with Mango Chutney

Harvest Gold Mead 2011 ($20) is so simple it’s the zen koan of the wine world. Hue as if Riesling or Semillon. Perfume is significant and verdant. Made from a lighter honey as per the vintage, this is “an ode to traditional mead, with a savoury component and cool balance,” notes winemaker Natalie Spytkowsky. Fermented and aged in 100% stainless steel it buzzes out with a tang like late harvest Riesling but finishes remarkably dry. Honey, water, yeast. The whole aviary. Nothing petty about it.  “Peace in the valley with my honey bee.”  88

Tasting Plate #1: The Whites

White Fish Ceviche

Semillon 2011 ($18) may understate its pineapple, Bosc pear and white pepper bequeathal due to the rains of the vintage yet still retains its Viognier like viscosity and floral tide. All quality Semillon needs three to five years to gain weight and Rosewood’s track record tows that line. A mysterious herbal note lies beneath the tropical nuances and Spytkowsky can’t place her nose on it. It’s Rhône-esque garrigue in bloom, not unlike thyme, rosemary or oregano.  90

Mima’s Block Riesling 2011 ($18) from a parcel of land vines named after Krystina’s godmother is, like Barbara in town same day, “smooth and loveable.” Elegance be thy name Riesling but you gotta love the accumulating, racy acidity in this wine. A dove in eagle’s clothing. “Lemon balm, sage, green apple and tobacco,” finds Spytkowsky. The queen bee white of the portfolio, “she got eight arms to hold you.” Could pour it on my blinis, like Jemima’s syrup.  89

Natalie’s Süssreserve Riesling 2010 ($15) is the marriage of (16%) unfermented juice added back into the fermented, finished Riesling. Ultimately adds a “unified, wow factor” and drops the alcohol level by a per cent. Though not as sweet to nose as you would expect, the aromas burst forth of tobacco, apricot and Ida Red apples. The Süss wants to continue fermenting which causes a pain the arse for the winemaker. Arresting fermentation and demanding a doffing is key, but when you choose a pioneering path, you get what you pay for.  88

Tasting Plate #2: Pinot Noir

Crispy Fried Mushroom Arancini

Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 ($40) clocks in at 13.2% abv from 20 Mile Bench, Wismer-Ball’s Falls fruit that is whole cluster pressed under gentle, low pressure. So what? It means low phenolic (bitterness) extraction where seeds and skins are shunned and it’s all about “extracting the good stuff.” Fermented from the grape’s own yeasts, this Pinot has perfectly evolved to this point in time. Mushroom, earth and sweet red fruit will see the ’09 through another five years of joy.  91

Pinot Noir Reserve 2010 ($40) is another animal altogether. Same locale (20 Mile Bench), different (unnamed) grower. Colour of crimson meets annatto. From a much warmer vintage so the dark berry quotient and chocolate (from the barrels) accent leads to a less vibrant Pinot. That Rosewood perfume, the garrigue in bloom, here mixed with Juniper berry gets inside and tingles the nose. Saves the wine from early extinction.   88

Tasting Plate #3: Big, Bold & Beautiful

Braised Lamb Shank Tortellini

Cabernet Franc 2010 ($22) is made in miniscule quantities (four barrels from three acres) and I must concur with Spytkowsky’s assessment that this is a “crazy price point for a wonderful wine.” Hang time is the key here. Let that Cab Franc ripen Ontario! I hate green notes too Natalie and your CF sidesteps their recriminations so contentious and hurtful to composition. Bleeding purple here, a slight oxidative note comes around late, not so much a deterrent as a message to drink up.  89

Merlot 2010 ($22) from Wismer estate vineyards on the 20 Mile Bench is “bright, fresh, dark berries on a warm, broad palate.” Fair enough. Enjoyable if unremarkable.  87

Merlot Reserve 2010 ($40) holds a psyche energy perhaps yet unseen in Niagara Merlot to date. Attributed to what Natalie refers to as “long-chained tannins,” one linked to another, as if a baker’s starter replicating upon itself in perpetual fermentation and aging. The reserve ramps up the acidity and sweet oak notes but what is most striking is the tarry, astringent, dusty and chalky grain of the wine. Breaks many ways before falling safely into the cup. Needs time and lots of it. A black-eyed bee89

Trou Normand

Honey Harvest Moon Mead Cocktail

Tasting Plate #4: Mead

Thunder Oak Aged Gouda

Mead Royale 2008 ($18) files in at 12.5% abv in a vintage where honey outsells water. Well-balanced, this is the dessert wine of the bees’ mile-high club. Whiffs of the flowers they feed upon with a touch of ginger and lavender. The honey comb pool beneath the cheese is worth the price of admission.  88

Good to go!

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