After the final day of preliminary round judging was wrapped and tied with a computer algorithm’s bow at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada it was time to take to the skies. The judges and WineAlign cognoscenti embussed into autogiro cabins at Niagara Helicopters. With a quick and nearly non-discernible thrust we rose like knives through butter up into the Niagara sky. A zig over the cartoon city adjacent the horseshoe and American cascades and then a zag across the Whirlpool Golf Course later, the choppers headed for the Falls.
Viewing the tumbling wonders from this vantage point is a thing of extraordinary exhilaration. The two-dimensional flatness of the river careening towards a three-dimensional, 90-degree downward fall into the gorge below is a trompe l’oeil for the eyes. With nothing but a thin glass veil acting in separation, I would have thought that a Dolly Zoom effect might occur. On the contrary, from within there would be no semblance of Hitchcock technique in recession to simulate vertigo. The weightlessness and effortless glide is a situation akin to being a kid in a candy store. I highly recommend the experience.
Minutes later the helicopter did soar, headed east and descended upon the agricultural and viticultural wonder of Niagara-on-the-Lake. From high above, the acreage of vines looked like tiny peas all in a row. As the land crept up into view the dots came into focus and to see the canes and their early summer foliage as such a magnanimous maze from above is a perspective all should experience.
The elapsed time between landing at Trius and diving head first into a glass of Marco Piccoli‘s Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Méthode Traditionnelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (234161, $24.95, WineAlign) happened in the blink of a transmogrifying eye. A Sparkler or four, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir or six and some quick tasting note scribbles later we were seated at a ridiculously long harvest table beneath the arbour and ready for dinner.
Winemakers and from several Niagara wineries were on hand to join us at Trius. J-L Groux (Stratus), Arthur Harder (Westcott), Adam Pearce (Two Sisters), Ann Sperling (Southbrook), Kent Macdonald (Henry of Pelham) and Marco Piccoli (Jackson Triggs) extrapolated on the passion of their work, in their wines and for Niagara as a community. Four courses and fourteen wines were touched, nosed, tasted and assessed. But for the Trius and by extension Peller staff, ushered by the grace of uncompromising and unparalleled generosity at the hands of Magdalena Kaiser and Joanna Muratori from Wine Country Ontario, this was an event to commit to heart and to memory. On a very personal note that night now belongs and rests in reminiscence within this log.
Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (405043, $24.95, WineAlign)
The 2013 Signature Sauvignon Blanc carries forth from the ripe, mature, oxidative and intensely flavourful 2012. This next vintage cements the full-on style, even while it candies the fruit, seemingly in reaction to temperatures and precipitation that came and went with inconsistent extremes. There is a kid in a candy store, multi-coloured ribbon of taffy sensation, curiously antithetical to the rusty, yeasty, platinum scenting elixir. The effects of barrel fermentation (80 per cent) and concrete egg fermenter (20) dispatch has this Sauvignon stretching, pulling and elastically boomeranging about the glass. Magnetic to be sure, not always a success, but encouraged. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted June 2015 @PellerVQA
Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)
Winemaker Arthur Harder makes no bones, excuses or sets the goals too lofty in this second Lillia’s unplugged. “What you get is what you get,” from seven year-old estate, pristine fruit in 2013. Infrequent but texture stirring lees has mottled the nose with glycerin and avoirdupois while bottling early in the spring in advance of warm days has locked in freshness. Expression arrives by way of herbiage and lime. Continues where ’12 left off, further akin of Chablis. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted June 2015 @WestcottWines
Sparkling Wine ‘Violette’, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95)
Like the aviatrix muse Violette, the inaugural Westcott sparkler is pioneering and flies out of the glass. Made in the Charmat method at Vieni Estate where bubbles are quickly becoming a thing, this is from the 2012 vintage, though it is not noted on the bottle. Come down from the high horse and embrace the nascent, lambent breezes of Violette. After all, texture is rarely negotiated in Charmat as it is in this lemon concentrated fizz. It finishes with a dash of good bitters. In these respects the Violette has earned her wings. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted June 2015
Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $26.00, WineAlign)
The barrel fermented and aged Estate Chardonnay spent 12 months in two-thirds new and one-third second fill wood. Lees stirring is slightly increased as compared to the unplugged. Again, it’s about aromatic intensity leading the way to palate density. By the sounds of Westcott’s comments “we’re pleased with its remarkable irony — dry and sturdy, yet creamy and rather curvy,” you might think the team was stirring with impunity. Not so. The Estate Chard does the dance of mild spice and butter on toast to reach a texture that would appease savages. Unavoidable and typical low yields from the Vinemount Ridge picked at the right moment and handled with caring tabula rasa are the spirit in this wine. Delightful and charming. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015
Estate Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)
Once again, from the challenging and commercially impaired soils of the Vinemount Ridge, a wine of richness, layering, intellect and intrigue. Riesling and Cabernet Franc are the axiomatic varieties to speak of the Ridge’s terroir but this Westcott reinforces the Pinot habitation, defined by Tawse (Quarry Road, Lauritzen and Laidlaw), now complimented by Big Head, Le Clos Jordanne, Vieni and Westcott. Natural soil given tendencies to ferric aridity, spice and limestone silk fill this Harder composition, softened by the warmth of the vintage. Concentration talks, a touch of VA walks and expected tannic grip secures the lustrous, dark cherry fruit. This is a stygian version of a VR Pinot Noir with tones that go for big and structure that supports the hyperbole. It should not be ignored. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted June 2015
Tempranillo 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)
In 2012 the J-L Groux take on the expatriate Spaniard is warm, rich, cake-driven and yet balanced in ways the 2010 was unable to exhort. This vintage appeases Groux’s ends of the earth search for aromatics, picking on them, executing vinification to encourage them and barrel-aging for the purpose of cementing them. The 2012 is an aromatic success. It exudes red fruit, flowers, baker’s kitchens and wet Niagara on the Lake earth. This is a clean and jerk Tempranillo, a bouquet to success. The palate, mouthfeel and mellow finish return the favour of 2010 when it was noted that the variety in this place is a stretch, overweening perhaps, certainly self-effacing if admittedly short of contumelious behaviour. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted June 2015 @StratusWines
Cabernet Franc 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)
A Cabernet Franc of settled, harmonious tones, of oak that sets sights and heights to heah, now integrated at such an early age. The grape succeeds and bleeds an exemplary, stalwart varietal suspension within the Stratus pantheon, a sanctuary where fiddles are yet played by other outfits across the region. Cabernet Franc will increase in the Stratus red, for good measure and reason. This ’12 is simply smothered in an embarrasment of red fruit, smoky from raspy reds to plugged in currants. It is of a favour in flavour that reminds of Swedish berries, in modulated hög, though not in sweetness. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted June 2015
Merlot 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)
“The river man runs, the river man runs.” With this turn a phrase and changing of a guard Merlot, winemaker Adam Pearce ushers in the new Two Sisters oeuvre, for the betterment of all. No longer over-produced yet still ambient, the ’12 sets the turntable for less oaky Sisters’ reds to come. With new barrels on the way out and older and ductile wood coming in, Bordeaux varieties in Pearce’s hands echo and play notes within notes, strum electric in mature chords, then finish with strings and saxophone brass. The 2012 is a true Niagara Riverman, adhering to intrinsic warmth and carrying with it the deep clay rich earth and a wild raspberry luxuriance. It will take seven to ten years to peel back the layers of uberty in this Noel cake Merlot from Niagara River. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted June 2015 @2SistersVine @KVH_Wine
Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)
The post blind-tasted discovery that Ann Sperling’s Orange was in fact a 100 per cent Vidal made perfect regional sense, something expertly opined at the time by Rick Van Sickle. Having poured the natural saffronage on tap at Barque Smokehouse for two months I was curious to view it through another lens, to see it tipped from bottle. It has settled now, the acidity squeegeed and rolled out a TA point or two. What was grapefruit in demand is now grape in fruit cup. Still viably fresh, it is now pretty, accessible, settled comfortably into its skin. The verve will yet persist through this temperate time in the temporal lobe. Drink 2015-2016.
From my earlier note of December 2014:
“We’ve been waiting to do small batch, stem fermentation,” Ann Sperling tells us as we have a good look at the lustrous, foggy glass of orange-yellow colour more micro-described as either croceate or gamboge. “Now we have the infrastructure to do so.” Stems add architecture (and a preservative effect), something that is otherwise compromised in a sulphite-free wine. This nameless natural wine was biodynamically-raised, indigenously-yeasted and freed from the constraints of temperature control. No wood was used, only stainless steel and glass carboys. The orange and natural classification comes by way of the complex ebullition (closest in style to the Collio hills wines of Josko Gravner), in colour, weight, elegance and the dichotomy of skin fermentation. Sperling used acumen derived from the concept at Argentina’s Versado, where skins are employed in a similar way when making Malbec with husband Peter Gamble. This young wine is filled with terpenes and is highly, desperately aromatic. Lemon curd is up front and centre. It’s got a tart tang and at (approximately) 11.8 per cent alcohol, the gravity is impossibly beautiful. Sperling’s take is “a fair reflection on the vintage” and it’s the mouthfeel that sets it apart. What’s the varietal make up, single or a blend? If the latter, was it co-fermented? Ann will only tell us that it was harvested over a two week period in October. The big question is will it receive VQA approval. Viognier and Pinot Gris should certainly be options but I’m not aware of Southbrook ever having employed their use. Sperling’s Whimsy! Winemaker’s White uses Muscat so perhaps we could go that direction but the aromatics don’t jive. Riesling is the simplest road to take and if the Southbrook Connect Organic White 2013 is any indication, the combined effect with Vidal could certainly steer this Orange ship. But If I were made to guess, to have some fun with concept, I would suggest that it’s a blend of white and red grapes, but Southbrook does not grow Pinot Noir so that should rule out Chardonnay as well. So I conjure up a song. “Well I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky.” With a union of grape varieties standing by. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc feed my Spidey senses, so under the auspices of that marriage, what we might have here is an offspring, a Cabernet Sauvignon. A very natural one. An orange one.
Last tasted June 2015
Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)
The 2011 has entered an uncommunicative phase though the soft tones and whispering harmony offer faint prefaces to honey and burgeoning viscocity. The next flip of the calendar will tell a story. Drink 2016-2021.
From my earlier note at Gold Medal Plates, Toronto, November 2014:
There is still a tough outer layer to crack. A poem of many stanzas has only just begun. Mute yet delicate, the stratified vineyard is the Poetica’s poetry; tight, yet forwardly futuristic towards the ephemeral and the aerified.
From my earlier note of July 2014 note:
Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.
From my earlier note of May 2014:
The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.
Last tasted June 2015
Poetica Red 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)
At the young adult age of five the Poetica ’10 has retreated and redacted from the heat of that scorching vintage, centred itself and found balance. Gravity no longer shackles the gathering, shaped from Cabernet Sauvignon (51 per cent), Cabernet Franc (31), Merlot (15) and Petit Verdot (3). The next Poetica (2012) used PV as an adjuvant, something the 2010 would now be singing along with were they to have known then what they know now. The ’10 now heli-glides, as if hovering in kind to a set of blades on high whirl, up to where energy is effortless and tension keeps the craft afloat. More of that intensity will continue for 18 months to two years, after which the blades will loiter and wind down for a five to seven years further finale. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted June 2015 @SouthbrookWine @AnnSperling
Poetica Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)
Now that the Poetica ’12 has seen release, it of course ironically submerges into slumber. The natural palate funk, chalk, talc and clay condensed grain are the gravity while pepper-savoury aromatics catalyze the supply. Credit time with future comings out. Drink 2020-2027.
From my earlier more of December 2014:
The Poetica Red ’12, slated for a Spring 2015 release, is amazing and intriguing on many levels. But for the fact that Petit Verdot (26.5 per cent) plays such a major varietal role, what must first be declared is the disseminated learning applied to this application. The dos and don’ts of previous (only produced in) warm vintage Poetica Reds will see a shedding of those don’ts in this 2012. Ann Sperling ushers in a new era for Niagara Bordeaux assemblage and if this wine is any harbinger, others will follow suit. Here celebrates a love for the land (environment), poetry and more specifically, Canadian poets. Chief Dan George, he of North Vancouver and the Hollywood screen, penned “Words to a Grandchild.” In it he wrote, “in the midst of a land without silence, you have to make a place for yourself.” Poetica Red ’12 will have done that when viewed retrospectively, 10-15 years from now. It will have grown old, but also wise. As for now it’s brooding, melancholy even. It’s all of that and this; endemic, entrenched, crenellated, ensconced and indoctrinated with Niagara knowledge. Has a dusty, earthy, even funky poetry. More depth than many, much realized acumen and will live long. Given 30 minutes of air it showed the ribbons of classic Niagara reds. All these concepts combine to see Poetica Red ’12 not so much as huge, but with depth and complexity.
Last tasted June 2015
Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)
The landmark red from grit inducing Bench soils has added a splenetic pitch to its already peppery temper. Like “dry and wet ice, they both melt,” the modest Merlot plus two Cabs mix is in a frenetic, edgy place. Allow for three more years before having a new listen and taste. Drink 2018-2023.
From my earlier note of February 2014:
Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe. Last tasted June 2015 @ThirtyBench
Trius Winery at Hillebrand
Trius Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (420521, $55.00, WineAlign)
Auspicious opening for the top end, new Trius Sparkling wine, based on Pinot Noir (70 per cent) from Four-Mile Creek (Lawrie Vineyard), with support from Pinot Meunier (30). Five is the number of years slumbering on lees, a voyage into triage to transport this singular Niagaran into the stratosphere of the region’s pantheon. Arid, toasty and slightly oxidative as per the wild ferment, Craig McDonald style. The toast is spread with a tapenade of (more) lightly toasted nuts, tarragon, morel and earth. There is a feeling of berries, void of pigment, slightly tart and very fragrant. Also the not so pungent but forest emergence of basidiomycete fungus. Delicate, complex, creamy and simultaneously, so very dry. A wine to sip at a large gathering around an antique harvest table or deep into the next decade. Drink 2015-2028. Tasted May and June 2015 @TriusWines
Good to go!