Ontario’s Virtual Wineries

“It doesn’t matter where you make the wine, it’s the quality of the fruit,” declared Kevin Panagapka of 2027 Cellars at a recent tasting of 6 virtual Ontario wineries.  This seems to be the general mantra of all the talented winemakers showcasing their wares on that dreary early-spring Saturday in Toronto.  What is a ‘virtual winery’ exactly?  A ‘virtual winery’ has no building, no tasting room, no cellar, no bricks and mortar at all to call its own.  Essentially, the ‘virtual winery’ model is a way for a winemaker to practice his or her craft without having to come up with the astronomical investment needed to build a winery and purchase land.  Instead, they buy grapes from trusted grape growers and rent space from existing wineries and use their facilities, and the internet serves as their retail store.  It’s a model that has been found around the world for decades, but it has increased in popularity in recent years, including right here in Ontario.

Thomas BachelderVirtual winery’ is a term that’s used mainly in North America.   Thomas Bachelder, who makes wine in 3 so-called virtual wineries in 3 different countries, prefers the term ‘micro négoce’ or ‘micro négociant’ instead.  A ‘négociant’ is a wine merchant, usually French, who buys grapes and vinifies them, or buys wine and blends them, and then sells the wine under his or her own label.  Négociants who specialize in very limited-production wines would be ‘micro négociants’. It fits.

I think the term ‘terroir négociant‘ also aptly describes this growing group of winemakers.  Some time ago, Jancis Robinson, wrote an article called “Burgundy’s New Breed of Negociants,” in which she calls these smaller, quality-driven merchants ‘terroir merchants‘, as “they are every bit as passionate about squeezing terroir, or a sense of place, into a bottle as those who run the best small domaines” (Jancis Robinson).  While Jancis is referring to a special group of winemakers in Burgundy, I think this also applies to the owners of our very own ‘micro negociants’ here in Ontario.

The 6 winemakers who gathered at Canoe in Toronto on Saturday, all proudly spoke about hand-selecting the healthiest grapes and minimal intervention in the winemaking process in order to bring out the full expression of the grapes and the unique terroir of the vineyards.

Bachelder Wines

Thomas Bachelder makes wine in 3 different wine regions – Oregon, Burgundy, and Niagara.  He buys organic grapes wherever Bachelder Chardonnays 2009possible and rents space in wineries to make the wines.  In Niagara, he makes the wines out of Southbrook Vineyards.  One day he hopes to go to bricks and mortar and own his own domaine, but right now he’s happy as a micro négociant.  He’s dedicated to illustrating the unique expression of the 3 different terroirs he works with so he’s made all 3 Chardonnays in the same way – “It’s not only Meursault that can show terroir,”  he says.  To read my full tasting notes on Bachelder’s 3 2009 Chardonnays, please read “Bachelder’s Trio of Chardonnays”.  (I highly recommend all 3 Chardonnays.)

Charles Baker

Charles BakerCharles Baker is one of the original ‘virtual wineries’ in Niagara.  His wine (he only makes Riesling) is made at Stratus and his grapes come from the Picone Vineyard and, since 2010, the Ivan Vineyard.  He now has 7 vintages under his belt with 2005 as the inaugural vintage.  Right now he is only interested in making wine with Riesling.  When asked, Charles did say that if he had a winery, he would be interested in working with Gamay, but that he certainly has no plans to own his own winery right now.

Riesling 2010 Picone Vineyard:  (11.5% abv., 18 g/l rs.)  2010 was a very warm vintage so this wine is a bit broader than the other 3 in the line-up.  There’s a pretty floral note with lots of mineral, lime and green apple aromas.  The acid is crisp, even for a warm year, with flavours of peach, mineral, and green fruit with a touch of smoke on the finish.

Riesling 2009 Picone Vineyard:  (10.5 % abv., 27 g/l rs.) 2009 was very cool and wet until the autumn when the sun shone for about 6 weeks, saving the vintage.  The grapes had already captured relatively high acidity which shows through in the wine. Aromas of petrol, smoke, wet stone, and citrus.  Nervy and tense on the palate with a good dose of residual sugar to balance the high acid.  Really good.

Riesling 2005:  Very much alive and kicking!  Still lots of fruit on the nose – green apple, lemon/lime – with aromas of petrol and wet stone.  The palate is beginning to show signs of maturity with yellow apple, sultana raisins, earth, and petrol.  Off-dry to balance the acid.  A wine with lots of character.

Nyarai Cellars

Steve Byfield of Nyarai CellarsNyarai, made by winemaker and owner Steve Byfield, used to be made out of Calamus, but they have recently moved over to Diprofio Wines.  Nyarai began in 2008 with grapes from the 2007 vintage and quickly became known for crisp, flavourful Sauvignon Blanc.  Steve also makes other white wines using Chardonnay and Viognier, as well as delicious red blends.

2011 Sauvignon Blanc:  30% was fermented in 5 to 6 year old barrels.  This wine has aromas of fresh hay, grapefruit, mineral, citrus, and gooseberry.  Crisp and juicy on the palate with a long length.  Another great Sauvignon Blanc from Nyarai!

2010 Viognier:  100% stainless steel.  Medium intensity with notes of honeysuckle, orange zest, peach, and apricot.  A creamy texture with very great acidity for a Viognier.  Long finish.

2010 Red Blend barrel sample. To be named “Cadence”.  This wine is still in barrel (all old oak) and the blend has not been finalized, but it will contain Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.  This very young wine has aromas of lead pencil, chocolate, plum and other dark fruit.  A little white pepper on the palate in addition to dark fruit, mineral and spice.  The tannins are still young and quite fuzzy, but should soften with more time.  I’m looking forward to trying the final wine, as there is lots of potential here!

100 Marks

Made by Jeff Hundertmark, winemaker at Marynissen, these wines are made under Marynissen’s licence and Jeff rents space from his employer to make his wines. 100 Marks Wine While Jeff says that he doesn’t focus on any particular grape or style of wine, he makes wines that Marynissen doesn’t produce.  He doesn’t label his wines varietally because he wants people to focus on what’s in the bottle, not on what’s on the label.

White Merlot 2011:  (100% Merlot, 11% abv, 24 g/l rs)  The grapes were all hand-harvested and pressed right away.  Any pink that leached into the juice from the Merlot grapes settled out through the winemaking process and now this wine is a pale lemon colour.  Very fruity aromas of peach, pear, almost like fruit cup syrup.  Very light and easy drinking with a soft sweetness.

2010 Red: (91% Pinot Noir from St. David’s Bench, 9% Gamay from 35 year old vines in Four Mile Creek)  Notes of campfire smoke, toast, vanilla, and dark berries.  A sturdy structure with good acidity and firm, but ripe tannins.  Good length.

2027 Cellars

2027 Cellars Queenston Road Pinot Noir 2010Kevin Panagapka is the winemaker and owner of 2027 Cellars and he rents space out of Featherstone Estate Winery to make the wines.  He began this virtual winery in 2007 and makes single vineyard Riesling (except 2010), Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, as Kevin believes these are the best grapes for Niagara’s climate.  Kevin admits that he owns a virtual winery because he can’t afford to build one, but he claims he would like to one day.  He only makes a tiny amount of wine which typically sells out very quickly.

2011 Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling:  (11 g/l rs., 9 g acid) A complex nose of wet stone, ripe peach, green apple, citrus, and tangerine zest.  The zesty acid is balanced by a little residual sugar and ripe fruit flavours, a touch of petrol, and wonderful Niagara minerality.  Long length.

2010 Queenston Road Pinot Noir:  This wine underwent a wild fermentation, a wild malolactic fermentation and is unfined and unfiltered.  It was aged in 30% new Burgundian oak and 70% old oak.  Overflowing with aromas of smoky cherry, cranberry, earth, spice, and pink blossoms.   A very silky texture with sweet vanilla, ripe cherry, mineral, and dark spice flavours that linger forever.  Fantastic!

Leaning Post

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk named their virtual winery ‘Leaning Post’ after the posts found at the end of each row of vines that supports the wires on which the vines grow.  LeaningLeaning Post Wines Post is also a reference to the support of friends and family that the couple have had to lean on in order to make their dream of owning a winery a reality.  Their goal is to take unique single vineyard sites in Niagara and turn them into distinct, terroir-driven wines.  In 2011 they purchased a property in Winona which will eventually become the site of their real bricks and mortar winery.

2009 Foxcroft Riesling:  The grapes were picked very late – on Nov 2 and 3 – at 22 Brix.  The wine spent 15 months on the lees. (13 g/l rs, 10 g acid, 12.5% abv.)  Complex aromas of petrol, grapefruit, green apple, peach, mineral, and smoke with a slightly floral note.  Delicious and juicy on the palate with a long length.  Finishes quite dry despite a little residual sugar.  One of my favourite wines of the tasting!

2009 Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir:  32 year old vines.  Grapes were picked October 28 and the wine spent 14 months in 40% new French and 60% 5 year old French barrels and underwent a light filter.  This wine is brimming with aromas of cranberry, rhubarb, cherry, beetroot, and smoked meat.  Tannins are still a bit firm so decant if drinking now, or cellar for a couple of years.

2010 Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir: (barrel sample). This wine is still in barrel and Ilya said he’s not sure yet when it will be bottled.  Being from a warmer vintage, this wine has riper, richer fruit than the 2009 with lots of ripe cherry, currant, strawberry, spice, and smoked meat aromas.  Fine tannins and a silky texture.  I’m looking forward to the finished product.

Cuvee 2011 Wine Awards and Gala – The “Oscars” of the Ontario Wine Industry

Friday night at Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, throngs of people involved in the Ontario wine industry, media folk, and consumers met to celebrate the winners of the Cuvee 2011 Awards.  The Cuvee wine awards are special because they are the only awards in Canada that are chosen by the winemakers themselves.  Wineries wishing to participate enter 4 of their best wines into the competition, and this year a whopping 62 wineries entered over 270 wines.  The wineries will be selling their award-winning wines throughout this weekend.  For a full list of the award winners go to Wines in Niagara.  Wine lovers can purchase Cuvee en Route passports for $30 which includes tastings at participating wineries from March 4-6.  Go to www.cuvee.ca for more details.  Money raised during Cuvee weekend goes to the Niagara Community Foundation.

This was the first time I have ever attended the Gala and was very excited about it.  All gussied up in my new dress with my handsome husband at my side, I entered the Grand Hall.  The room was lit with a purpley glow.  In the centre of the room, chefs in crisp white uniforms were working feverishly, preparing sumptuous dishes for the mass of people about to descend on them.  We were a bit early so we enjoyed this time in the relatively empty room, planning our wine and food-tasting strategy for the evening.  Soon, the room began to fill up, food was served and wine was flowing.  Most of the wine I tried was fantastic (a list of my favourites is below).  The food was also wonderful.  My only criticism of the food was that the portions were tiny and served one at a time on little side plates.  Because it was awkward to take more than one plate at a time, we took one plate, ate the little portion, and then had to get in line all over again to try something else.  We actually wound up eating very little.  I did, however, try many wines resulting in a bit of a headache the next day.

When looking over the list of award winners, I was very shocked to see that not one Pinot Noir won an award – not one!  This is Ontario, where we take pride in our Pinot Noirs.  What’s going on?  There were awards for almost every other grape variety, including Pinot Gris, Gewurrztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, even Viognier…but no Pinot Noir.  I don’t understand.

On a more positive note, two fabulous virtual wineries won big prizes at Cuvee this year.  Nyarai Cellars brought home the Best Red Assemblage award for its 2007 Veritas – a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.  Winemaker Steve Byfield makes his wines out of the Calamus winery where he is also the Assistant Winemaker. (For more information, read my post from about a year and a half ago called “Nyarai Cellars – A Virtual Winery”)  Another virtual winery, Twenty Twenty-Seven Cellars, won Best Riesling for its 2009 Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling.  This winery is made in the Featherstone Estate Winery facilities and is crafted by winemaker Kevin Panagapka.  Virtual wineries are popping up more and more.  Essentially, they allow a winemaker to practice his or her craft without having to come up with the astronomical investment required to actually build a winery.  Instead, they rent space in already established wineries and use their facilities.  Charles Baker Riesling is another highly acclaimed virtual wine in Ontario, which is made at Stratus.

The Cuvee Wine Awards also introduced me to two relatively new wineries that I was previously unaware of – Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards (Pinot Gris Award Winner and 2nd Place Sauvignon Blanc Award) and Pondview Estates Winery (2nd Place Chardonnay Award).  Both are family-run operations who have been growing grapes in the Niagara Region for quite some time.  The Lowrey family of Five Rows is now in the 5th generation of farming, while the Puglisi family has been growing grapes since the 1970s.  I will definitely make an attempt to visit these two wineries in the near future.

Hearty congratulations also needs to be sent out to Creekside Estate Winery for 3 big wins this year.  Creekside proudly took home Best Limited Edition White Wine and Best Viognier for their 2009 Queenston Road Vineyard Reserve Viognier, and they also won Best Sauvignon Blanc for their 2009 Creekside Estate Vineyard Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I have never been to Creekside so it has also been added to the list of wineries I must visit.

A Few of My Favourites:

Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Brut Rose (2nd Place Sparkling Wine Award):  always a favourite!

Twenty Twenty-Seven Cellars Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling 2009 (Riesling Award Winner):  My first time trying 2027 wines and I was very impressed!  Their Pinot Noir was also excellent.

Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris (Pinot Gris Award Winner):  A relatively new winery (open 2 years).  Their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc received 2nd Place in Sauvignon Blanc category.

Niagara College Teaching Winery Dean’s List Chardonnay 2009 (Chardonnay Award Winner) and Niagara College Teaching Winery 2007 Meritage.

Pondview Estate Winery 2009 Barrel Fermented/Barrel Aged Chardonnay (2nd Place Chardonnay Award)

Nyarai Cellars 2007 Veritas (Red Assemblage Award Winner) and 2009 Sauvignon Blanc which is now sold out.  The Veritas was just released in the LCBO Vintages stores yesterday.  Buy it fast as it’s sure to go quick – especially after Friday night’s award.

Hillebrand Winery 2007 Showcase Merlot ‘Carlton Vineyard(Merlot Award Winner): By far my favourite Merlot of the night!

Vineland Estates 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve (no award last night but did win a Gold Medal at last year’s Ontario Wine Awards.)

Last Minute Gift Ideas for the Ontario Wine Lover on Your List

Time is running out to find the perfect gift for the wine lover on your list.  Here are a few delicious Ontario wines that will surely make him or her a happy wino.  And, it’s not too late to get them!

Great Value Gift Wines

Flat Rock Cellars 2007 Riddled Sparkling:  A blend of 68% Pinot Noir and 32% Chardonnay, this is the first Ontario VQA sparkling wine to be closed with a crown cap.  Crown caps make perfect sense as a closure for sparkling wine as this is the closure used during the second fermentation and subsequent ageing on the lees, even in Champagne.  Flat Rock’s Ed Madronich actually had the VQA regulations changed to allow for this type of closure.  Made using the traditional method with the second fermentation in the bottle, this wine spent 22 months ageing on its lees.  This wine has a creamy mousse and flavours of pear and yellow apple, with a mild bready, yeasty character.  Definitely a crowd pleaser and sure to spark conversation about the closure.  Available at the winery and the LCBO for the great price of $24.95.

13th Street Riesling Old Vines: The grapes are grown on vines planted in 1976 and the wine shows the concentration of flavour expected from vines this age.  Zippy acidity, green apple, lime and grapefruit flavours together with superb minerality and a slightly floral note make this the perfect gift for the Riesling lover on your list.  $24 at the winery.

Nyarai Cellars Veritas 2007:  Not much is still available at this price point from the 2007 vintage which was touted as the best so far in Niagara, but Nyarai Cellars has just released its 2007 Veritas, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah.  Drinking beautifully now, this wine is full of flavour with dark berries, plums, forest floor, and spice that lingers deliciously on the palate.  Available in a handy gift pack with two wine glasses for $40 online at http://shop.nyaraicellars.ca.  The wine itself is a steal at under $25 a bottle.

Wines to Splurge On

Chateau des Charmes Equuleus, Paul Bosc Vineyard 2007:  Chateau des Charmes’ flagship wine is made only in the best vintages and 2007 was definitely a great one!  The 2007 Equuleus is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 25% Merlot.  This medium to full bodied wine is full of dark plum, cassis, spice, mocha, and black licorice flavours.  The firm tannins still need at least a couple of years to soften so this wine is definitely a cellar dweller.  This is a big, dark, and delicious wine at the quite reasonable price of $40.  Available at the winery and the LCBO in only a few stores now.

Southbrook Vineyards 2007 Poetica Cabernet Merlot: Another big, red blend, this time with 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Cabernet Franc, and 23% Merlot, from the 2007 vintage.  The Poetica series of wines showcases art in the form of poetry.  Each grape variety and each vintage has its own poem printed in elegant script on the label – a perfect gift for the reader on your gift list.  The wine in the bottle is pretty darn good too!  Flavours of cassis, chocolate, spice, earth, and leather abound with medium to full body and a long length.  Ready to drink now with beef or lamb or lay down for another couple of years.  $60 at the winery.

Hidden Bench La Brunate 2007: Yet another wonderful Bordeaux-style blend from the 2007 vintage, La Brunate is only made in the best years – so far only 2005 and 2007.  This wine won a Regional Trophy in the Decanter Wine Awards 2010.  A blend of 64% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 13% Malbec, it spent 18 months in oak, 40% of which is new.  This is a big, brooding wine with dark fruit, leather, and earth aromas.  Big and lush on the palate with ample amounts of ripe tannins.  $85 at the winery.

Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2008: Tired of the big Bordeaux blends?  How about something different for the Icewine lover on your list?   Sparkling Icewine is sure to put a smile on any recipient’s face.  Fermentation takes place in a special sealed vessel which traps the resulting carbon dioxide in the wine creating the bubbles.  The wine is sweet, but the sugar is balanced by high natural acidity and delicate effervescence.  Pronounced aromas and flavours of apricots, peaches and a bit of  honey make a wine that can be enjoyed at the beginning of the meal with foie gras, with fruit-based desserts, or as dessert.  $69.95 at the winery or the LCBO.

Norman Hardie Cuvee L Chardonnay 2008:  This is a great wine to convince the white Burgundy fan on your list that Ontario also makes excellent Chardonnays.  British wine writer Jancis Robinson MW, the Queen of wine, gave it a score of 17.5 saying it had “real character” and it was “really very Burgundian”.  Cuvee L is a blend of the best Chardonnay grapes from Prince Edward County (about 35%) and Niagara Peninsula (65%).  Complex aromas of citrus, mandarine, nectarine, ripe pear, vanilla yogurt, and a distinctive whiff of flinty minerality lead to a creamy texture and a long, delicious finish.  $49 at the winery.

Which Ontario wines do you think would make great gifts?  I know there are many!!!

Sip and Savour Ontario – June 17, 2010

Sip and Savour Ontario, a wine and food event showcasing Ontario Wine Award winners, was held last week on June 17, 2010.  The Ontario Wine Awards was founded by celebrated Canadian wine writer Tony Aspler in 1995, and has grown to include over 500 entries from about 60 wineries.  This year’s Sip and Savour took place at the Pantages Hotel in downtown Toronto.  While the venue was very nice, it got claustrophobically crowded during the trade tasting.  The crush of people made it very difficult to write decent tasting notes but, on the positive side, the number of people present is definitely an indication of the interest and high regard shown for Ontario’s great wines.  I hope they rent a larger space for next year’s event.

Rieslings to Believe: Ontario’s Cinderella Grape

The afternoon for me began with a seminar presented by Natalie Reynolds, winemaker at Thirty Bench, called “Rieslings to Believe: Ontario’s Cinderella Grape”.  (Other seminars included Ontario Pinot Noir and Ontario Chardonnay.)  During the presentation, Ms. Reynolds commented on a “Riesling Renaissance”, stating that Riesling, which was once one of the world’s most revered grapes, is making a huge comeback after having suffered a serious slump in popularity. (If you’re interested, there is also a book titled “Riesling Renaissance”, written by Freddy Price and published by Mitchell Beazley in 2004.)

Riesling was the first vitis vinifera vine to be successful in Ontario as it takes well to cool climates, and it also happens to be the finest grape for our important Icewine industry. Of course, we don’t just make superb sweet Rieslings, Ontario also makes excellent dry and off-dry versions.  Ms. Reynolds spoke a bit about the two Riesling clones that are predominantly grown in the Niagara Peninsula – clone 21B and clone 49.  The Niagara Riesling Pioneers include Vineland Estates, Cave Spring, and Thirty Bench.  Back when they were planting Riesling vines, over 30 years ago, the clone 21B was the only clone available to them. Clone 21B is the most planted Riesling clone on Beamsville Bench, and clone 49 has become the most planted in the vineyards of Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Clone 21B on the bench gives wines full of lime and mineral aromas and flavours, while clone 49 in NOTL tends to be more floral with tropical fruit notes.

Good Rieslings reflect the terroir in which they are grown, more so than any other grape.  It is a late budding and early ripening grape which suits cooler climates, as does its hard wood, which makes it resistant to Ontario’s cold winters.  In warmer climates it ripens too early and loses much of its complexity and character, making it taste dull.  The addition of SO₂ as a preservative is not needed as much with dry Rieslings due to their very low pH.  Rieslings with some or a lot of residual sugar may require more.

Riesling does not take well to aging in oak, as most of its greatly admired freshness, fragrance, and acidity will be severely diminished.  Malolactic fermentation is also avoided.

During this seminar we tasted 4 different award winning Rieslings from 4 different wineries – all were very good.  Here are the tasting notes:

Thirty Bench 2008 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard (2010 Gold Medal):  Intriguing petrol aromas along with mineral, white grapefruit and citrus.  The wine is dry with a racy, mouthwatering acidity, lime zest and lots of mineral.  Quite a long, lingering finish.  Very good. ($30)

Rosewood Estates 2008 Riesling Reserve (2010 Bronze Medal):  A pale straw colour with a greenish hue.  Intense aromas of mineral, zesty citrus, beeswax, and honey notes.  The wine is dry and beautifully balanced with flavours of green apple, mineral, and a slightly waxy character and crisp acidity. ($25)

Flat Rock Cellars 2008 Riesling Twenty Mile Bench (2010 Gold Medal):  Displaying intense aromas and flavours of key lime, mineral, and a touch of petrol.   Crisp acidity and a lingering finish make this balanced wine a very tasty Riesling at a great price! ($16.95 – can be found in Vintages)

Tawse 2009 Sketches of Niagara Riesling (2010 Silver Medal):  This wine has about 10% of clone 49 in the blend which perhaps explains the presence of a more tropical fruit character.  It’s also the only wine of the 4 from the 2009 vintage.   Pronounced  and complex aromas of mineral, white peach, nectarine, mango, and fresh blossoms.  Mineral flavours on the palate are softened by nectarine and white peach notes.  Vivacious, balanced and beautiful with a lingering, mouthwatering finish. ($18).

Other Great Wines Tasted at Sip and Savour 2010

Not all the wines listed below were award winners, but they were some of my favourites of the tasting.

Huff Estates Winery South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2007 (2010 Gold Medal and White Wine of the Year):  My favourite white wine of the tasting.  Complex and creamy with yellow apple, orange peel, mineral, and vanilla. A bit of vanilla yogurt, nectarine, and spice on the palate with long creamy finish and subtle, well-integrated oak.  Gorgeous!

Konzelmann Estate Winery Sparkling Riesling Methode Cuvée Close 2008 (2010 Bronze Medal):  A fun and delicious wine.  Great for serving on a hot summer day.

Nyarai Cellars Trois 2009: A blend of 85% Viognier with a little Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.  Very fragrant and floral with fresh peach and apricot aromas and flavours.  A great summer sipper! ($19)

Rosewood Estates Gewurztraminer 2008 (2009/2010 Silver Medal): The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Wismer Vineyard.  A typical Gewurz fragrance of lychee, tropical fruit and fresh flowers.

Chateau des Charmes Equuleus Paul Bosc Vineyard 2007:  50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc.  Big, dark, and still quite tannic.  Needs a couple more years to become more approachable.  Great potential to turn into a stunning wine. ($40)

Creekside Estate Broken Press Shiraz 2007 (2010 Gold Medal):  Robust aromas and flavours of cherry, smoke, and pepper.  A very good Shiraz with great typicity. ($39.95)

Nyarai Cellars Cabernet Merlot 2007 Reserve:  Bold dark fruit, red cherry, and coco aromas and flavours are dominant.  Full and round on the palate with smooth tannins and a long length. Not yet released.

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 19 2007 (2010 Bronze Medal):  Big, bold and beautiful with abundant dark berries and earth, while still managing a sophisticated elegance. ($34.95)

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2007:  Also from the fantastic 2007 vintage comes this stunning wine.  Loads of red and dark fruits, roasted coffee and toasty notes.  Complex, concentrated, and balanced. ($60)

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery Baco Noir 2008 (2010 Best Label):  A really nice Baco.  Lots of dark fruit and earth. ($16)

Vineland Estates Winery Cabernet Franc Reserve 2007 (2010 Gold and Red Wine of the Year):  A beautiful perfume of dark fruit, dark cherry, plum, anise and slight pencil shavings.  Complex notes of spice, dark fruit, and earth on the palate with smooth tannins and a long length. Amazing! ($40)

Nyarai Cellars – A Virtual Winery

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve Byfield, the winemaker and founder of the new virtual winery called Nyarai Cellars, to taste and talk about his wines.  Virtual wineries are becoming more and more popular as talented winemakers wishing to practice their craft can do so without having to come up with the huge sums of money required to  invest in their own winery and vineyards.  Steve sources his grapes from carefully selected vineyards within the Niagara Peninsula (Ontario, Canada) and makes artisan crafted wines from these grapes.  Nyarai (pronounced na-rye) is a South African word meaning “humility” and “be humble.” 

I’ve known Steve since back when he was assistant winemaker at Southbrook, when they were still located in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto.  He then moved on to Ridgepoint Wines, in Niagara, and then to the now defunct, Thomas and Vaughan Estate Winery.  In 2006 he started working at Calamus Estate Winery, where he continues to work as a winemaker.  He established Nyarai Cellars in 2008.

I was impressed with all three of the wines Steve showed me.  They will soon be available on the website www.nyaraicellars.ca. Steve is hoping that even by this weekend the website will be up and running.  Keep checking if it’s not.

Tasting notes:

2008 Sauvignon Blanc : This wine won a bronze medal at this year’s Ontario Wine Awards and it’s easy to see why.  It has intense aromas of sweet gooseberry, pink grapefruit, and a hint of green apple.  The palate showcases flavours of grapefruit, melon, and gooseberry that linger pleasingly for a long time.  There is a refreshingly crisp acidity that leaves the mouth watering.  It’s a great value too at only $18.20 a bottle.  Steve is predicting that this wine will be sold out by the end of August so don’t wait too long to get some.

2007 Chardonnay:  This wine was aged for 12 months in new and seasoned French oak.  There are aromas of vanilla, cream, pear and yellow apple.  The same fruit  and vanilla flavours are evident on the palate where there is good acidity and just a hint of smoky toast on the finish.

2007 Cabernet-MerlotThe grapes in this wine are 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Syrah.  It was aged for 13 months in French oak.  I really love the nose on this wine with its pronounced aromas of red and dark fruit, a hit of spice, a touch of earthiness, and even some floral notes.  It has firm tannins and the oak is well integrated, adding some caramel and chocolate to the flavours. This wine is also a great value at around $18.  That night at dinner at the Stone Road Grille, I was excited to see this wine on the wine list.   Of course I had to order a glass and was pleased by how well it paired with my rack of lamb.

Winemaker Steve Byfield certainly doesn’t need to be humble about these wines.  They are definitely products to be very proud of.

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