Something has shifted in me, somewhere closer to the realm of sweet nirvana. It could be empathy, a delayed reaction in sensitive thought to what the winemakers and hard-working Niagara wine country folks had to endure in the winter of 2014. Maybe it’s a premature anticipation of the greatness that will come from sweet wines crafted from out of that polar vortex attenuated vintage. Could it just be that Icewine has grown on me, that the elixirs of Peninsula life have violated and occupied my parochial psyche?
For two weeks in January, Niagara Wine Festivals and Wine Country Ontario lay out the nectarous red carpet and everything comes up Icewine. If fans of the Toronto basketball franchise can ignore all the basic tenets and principals of modern English grammar, who’s to say the followers of Ontario’s world-class elixirs can’t do the same. Thus I give you, “We the Icewine.”
Admittedly the phrase does not resonate with equal credibility in comparison with what works in the realm of base, shallow and primitive sport. It does not matter to me. I’m still going with it. Niagara is the epicentre of the Icewine world, in the (near, near) north and we own the market and its successes. We the Icewine.
A recap of Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s production laws insist that Icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.
Related – Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine
The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are the backbone of the Icewine phenomenon in Ontario. Picking for the Icewine harvest in 2015 has stretched over a period exceeding 30 days, not necessarily out of the ordinary but it should make for a wide range of styles and quality in the vintage. Inniskillin Niagara Estate Winery began its thirty-first Icewine harvest on January 5th.
The Niagara Icewine Festival has wrapped up for another year but there are still many weekends left to get a taste of what took place throughout the month of January. There were street festivals in Twenty Valley‘s Jordan Village from January 9th – 11th, Niagara-on-the-Lake from January 16th – 18th and new this year, events in Niagara Falls. Winter continues along with the buzz across the Niagara Peninsula.
Visitors made use of the Discovery Pass, a passport to 35 wineries and culinary experiences along the Wine Route. Along with a variety of Icewines, visitors were offered the opportunity to taste sparkling and VQA red and white wines.
For all things Icewine here is a link to the festival site withy more information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena Kaiser and Wine Country Ontario on Friday, January 10th, 2014 I attended another Xerox Icewine Gala at the Fallsview Casino Resort. The following day I attended the Twenty Valley street festival in Jordan, Ontario.
With Icewine firmly on the brain I decided to make a go at as many samples that can safely be sampled in one night. Not to leave out the still and Sparkling in the room, I made sure to taste the generous and in some cases, pleasant surprises being poured by Niagara’s finest winemakers. Here are notes on twenty wines tasted over the weekend.
And don’t forget the anagram: A wet vial is fine nice agar.
Vineland Estates St. Urban Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)
Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)
The first made since the 2008 because of a new directional decision to hold onto and no longer forsake these exceptional Queenston Road Vineyard grapes. A wine that folds back the skyline skin of time and reveals a cloning from intimate belongings. Pinot blessed of a Dylan-esque drawl, from a comfortable and crooning time in its life. Penetrates into the QRV earth and draws out subtleties, slow food assuagement and makes no BS about its ease. Though posolutely whiffing and tasting of black cherry, it balances itself with an acerbic wit. This is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Partners in crime Yvonne Irving and Matt Loney concur. One sip and your partner may just lay across your “big brass bed.” You can always go back to Nashville. Tasted January 2015 @CreeksideWine @CellarMonkey @Matt_Loney
Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (306902, $24.00, WineAlign)
Spice notes are the current rage, from out of the barrel and now into a next level of amalgamation with tree orchard fruit. Has lengthened somewhat since last summer. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) River fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.” Last tasted January 2015 @RavineVineyard @marty_werner
Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (586347, $24.95, WineAlign)
The warm clay of Montague plugs in and along with the barrel, layers toast, buttered toast and more toast upon the body of the 2012 Chardonnay. In many ways this is a serious bottling for the Peninsula; it’s all in and wants it all. A strong-willed, big-boned wine with much ado about varietal expressiveness. Paired with a plate of many elements and anchored by rich protein drawn from a salty ocean, this forward and weighty Chardonnay can do no wrong. With all its upfront personality it may not do the same with more than a few years age but there’s really nothing wrong with that. Enjoy it now and to 2017. Tasted January 2015 @InniskillinWine
Vieni Estate Sparkling Brut Rosé 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $29.95)
Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Riesling, the Charmat method Rosé Sparkling is weighty at 13 per cent alcohol and so very savoury. Winemaker Mauro Salvador is finding new places for investigation in fizz-forming for Ontario. The ’12 Brut Rosé champions aridity and noble bitters. The aromas conjure up a botany and a herbalism that would make Pliny proud. Think stinging nettles, rapini, arugula, strawberry leaf and the energy of carboniferous ponds. Though the acidity is mild as compared to Salvador’s Vidal/Pinot Gris ‘Momenti,’ it manages just enough balance in this blush sparkler. Tasted January 2015 @VieniEstatesInc
Creekside Estate Winery Reserve Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)
Creekside’s small production Viognier (maximum 80 cases) from the warmer micro-climate of the Queenston Road Vineyard heads back to near-boozy and a bit hot in the sudorific vintage. Oh the viscous humanity of it all, especially when the (all French, two year-old, nine months time) ferment was performed on 100 per cent of the six barrel juice. While it may not flirt with the dangers of say, a dirty peach martini, there is plenty of seasoning, rich, spicy and opulent fruit to at least declare a cocktail of some shaken kind. The ’12 Viognier drips and sweats of a humidity as much as any cool climate rendition can (at least in the context of the Niagara Peninsula). It may not be the ideal vintage but it just may be the one with the most excess. Tasted January 2015 @CreeksideWine
Inniskillin Niagara Estate Single Vineyard Series Montague Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (997353, $29.95, WineAlign)
A crescendo of sorts has been struck in 2012 with the Montague Pinot Noir perpetuity, giving credence to the vineyard as a resource to be exploited. What the site does for Pinot, particularly in warm vintages like 2012, reminds of the Pfersigberg in Alsace, a plot which provides fruit for the Sainte-Claires bottling by Domaine Albert Mann. A site where water-retention is less than average, where soil colour and low humidity attract the radiance of intense heat, which leads to early ripening of the grapes. The richness of Montague’s clay is amplified in the vintage, providing elevated heat units for this red cherry, beet, cinnamon and toasted red of equally exceptional flavours. Fine, linear acidity takes it to depths and will lead it down long, paved roads. Tasted January 2015
Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard, Ontario (319525, $30.00, WineAlign)
Not quite halfway to the five year prediction, the filly is showing the first sign of slowing down. While time certainly remains on her side, the obvious maturation and calming down is nosed in the onset of a slow caramelizing aroma. While the gait may be in trot mode, the five year mark (2018) remains the signpost to look towards on the long track of her life. At that point, with an hour decant, Equuleus ’10 will be good to go. From my earlier, May 2013 note: “From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show. Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.” Last tasted January 2015 @MBosc
Colaneri Estates Coraggioso Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.95, WineAlign)
Crafted in the appassimento style, the 2012 Coraggioso is made from 80 per cent dried fruit. Intended to mimic its maker (Michele “Mike” Colaneri), the wine is a bullish, strong silent type, protector of the family, or in this case, the dried grape, passed over style of the Veneto. The specs are bold and impossible; alcohol fortified at 15.3 per cent, residual sugar duplicitous at 7.8 g/L and acidity nearly non-existent at 0.97 g/L. The composition yet works, with help from natural fermentation (no cultured yeasts), six months in new barrels and an additional 13 more in used ones. The happy and old school aspect ratio is turned up by its dried bulb, root and packed earth aromatics; fennel, liquorice and just set concrete. The balance is paradoxical, nearly apocryphal, certainly Coraggioso (courageous). The dried fruit sensations continue right to the end, in lieu of acidity and tannin so the ability to age is there, even in the absence of traditional agents. Really unique and dare it be said, elegant Bordeaux-esque appasimento. Tasted January 2015 @ColaneriWinery
Southbrook Whimsy! “Damy” Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)
As a Whimsy sister to the XY Sirgue, XX Damy is a barrel blend that spent 10 months on lees in 100 percent French oak (25 new, 25 one year-old and 50 neutral). While undoutedly the more feminine of the two, she is also feistier and the Chardonnay possessive of a bigger personality. Damy exaggerates suppositions synthesized from both the 2011 micro-vintage and the macro-cool climate for Niagara Chardonnay. At present she seems stressed, with so much citrus anxiety, a sting in herbage and a medicinal lactic seeping. All need to come together, find the calm, common ground and spoon beside one another. This will happen, given a couple of years time and Damy will express herself more freely come then. Drink brother Sirgue first, the simpler and softer sibling. Tasted January 2015 @SouthbrookWine
Creekside Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)
A 21-month stay in an all French oak hotel has now reached integration in this Queenston Road Vineyard beauty. The fullness of its qualities are on display, running a circuitous aromatic and flavour gamut from dark chocolate to savoury black olive cake. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Impeccable correctness in terms of the variety from a year where the heat giveth and the heat taketh away. Works Cabernet properties properly, embracing and minimizing oak without pretending it’s not there. This red is expressly lush and oak driven, as it should be, it being Cabernet and all. Leaves its appendages out for a Mediterranean pedicure, a glaze of Cassis, black olive and black cherry dug in a chair entrenched in the warm confines of the St. David’s Bench.” Last tasted January 2015 @CreeksideWine
Southbrook Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)
The Poetica Red is very warm, extracted and quite stylish. She did not miss much from the heat day quotient of the 2007 vintage in Niagara. “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane.” Anise and pencil graphite are shot straight from the wood-soaked barrel of a dark chocolate gun, leaving behind a pool of orange bitters with a slick of acidity. The (rounded up) one-half Cabernet Sauvignon, one-third Cabernet Franc and one-quarter Merlot, while bigger than its head, is so integral towards the future success of learning to reign in the power of this formidable Southbrook blend. Happiness is a warm Poetica. Tasted January 2015 @SouthbrookWine
All the diamonds in this world seem to concentrate in fruit form within CdC’s Vidal ’13, “conjured up by wind and sunlight, sparkling on the sea.” The pang of smells opens with the prickly sting of memory, of childhood fruit cocktail, Turkish delight and the Big Turk. “Like a pearl in a sea of liquid jade.” The intensity of piercing acidity and hyper-cloying stone tree fruit is a searing and blinding crush on the eyes, teeth and mouth. So very tight and concentrated, this is a wow Vidal, an ‘o baby’ Icewine and all the while over the top. It may be a tad hard to handle but it offers crazy bang for the buck. Perhaps a few years will settle its crazies. Tasted January 2015 @MBosc
Southbrook Vidal Icewine 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, 200 ml $26.95, WineAlign)
A naturally sweet monster from a vintage where ideal conditions allowed for early picking, especially for Vidal. That 150 g/L of sugar could be realized from a December baby is what strikes this condensed tropical fruit bomb into the lore of the genre. Indigenous fermentation using yeast lees from Southbrook’s 2010 Chardonnay barrels and some bacterial connectivity has resulted in early evolutionary notes, notably bitter burnt orange and oxidized mango. Highly complex for the Vidal sempiternity, the 2010 Vidal Icewine is no imminent retiring rose though its decline will hasten sooner rather than later. Tasted January 2015 @SouthbrookWine
Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (560367, 375 ml $31.95, WineAlign)
The sweetness is highly elevated straight from the central core of this (200+ g/L RS) Charmat-method Sparkling Icewine. It’s more than interesting, I’ll grant it at least that and though the alcohol remains at or just below the (10 degrees) threshold, it acts quite hot. This is due to so much accenting spice, which seems to be a ropey-wooden-sappy injection, though the wine sees no barrel. Big, big tangy fruit flavours are smothered in the ubiquitous spice. Complexity is gained though elegance is lost. At least the ride is wild when in consideration of the price. Tasted January 2015 @InniskillinWine
Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvée, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)
From a base wine that is Chardonnay (70 per cent) and Pinot Noir (30), the aridity is markedly up front despite the sweet Vidal dosage style. Comes streaking across on the barking citrus palate. It’s broad, expansive, with a minute bit of oxidation. It builds upon itself and really develops the mouthfeel. A most excellent use of Vidal. So very long and solidifies the earlier anti-oppugning exceeds expectations declaration. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.” Last tasted January 2015 @PellerVQA
Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)
Less than 50 cases were produced of a wine sourced from fruit grown on the Lepp farm. Crafted from 100 per cent Cabernet Franc, the grapes were picked quite late (in January) in a vintage that saw thaw, freeze and thaw again before temperatures dropped to allow for the Icewine harvest. The fruit lost some freshness and the fluctuations also resulted in less syrupy viscosity. There are dried fruit notes, a calming mustiness and even some herbiage, in dill, anise and salinity crusted sea peas and vetches. The complexities continue into a palate that goes at it in more traditional ways, with apricot, orange peel and lemon rind. Add in liquorice and bokser. Acidity keeps it very much alive. The conclusion? Nature’s accords cannot be guessed at. Tasted January 2015 @RavineVineyard @marty_werner
Trius Winery At Hillebrand Showcase Vidal Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (Winery, 375 ml $60.00, WineAlign)
What strikes most upfront about the Trius Vidal ’12 is the anomalous and dichotomous reserve on the nose. Its very concentration is chained to the aromatics but they lurk in the background. This is no floozy of an Icewine. There is spice and very rich fruit but it does not flirt or give itself up with abandonment. Apricot is most noticeable, along with accents that indicate the roots and barks of South Asian trees. Acidity is downright proper. A solid and gallant Vidal. Tasted January 2015 @TriusWines
Reif Estate Grand Reserve Riesling Icewine 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $74.90, WineAlign)
A slow ripening season with warm, never hot and at times quite cool temperatures made for one seriously gelid cat of a Riesling Icewine. This 2011 makes the mouth go ooohh with an array of frosty aromatics and flavours. A veritable study in wine’s sweet and sour science, there is mint, eucalyptus, citrus and a host of sweet fruits; yellow peach, clementine, juicy lime and crunchy apple. Spice notes pierce and prick in every hole. Though not as striking in its early stages, the coolness factor is refreshing and the understated style a harbinger for many years of slow development. It would be hard not to imagine the Grand Riesling ’11 as not being a 20-25 year wine. Tasted January 2015 @Reifwinery
Reif Estate Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $94.95, WineAlign)
A glaringly vivid icebox Icewine from Reif in 2013, throwing the grocery gamut all in. From the top shelf come layers of sweetness; gelées, juices, purées and coulis in (at least) raspberry, Cassis and strawberry. From the middle swaths in thick brushstrokes, of rhubarb and caramelized Kabocha squash. From the bottom rises roasted nightshades and alium confit, in capsicum and red onion marmalade. A moderate alcohol (10.5 per cent) out of solid brix (38.8) in ’13 has arrived at this sugary mess of produce yet without the zip and zest required to really tie the Grütze together. The overall composition is certainly graphic and in exaggeration of its parts. That said, this just may be the best pairing for good quality chocolate ever composed in the Icewine category. Tasted January 2015 @Reifwinery
Good to go!