Monday, June 23, 2008

Niagara, in detail

Let's get to it. Overall, I was very impressed once again by the quality of all the wineries we visited, and of the Beamsville region in general. A lot of honest winemakers who believe in nurturing the land in a natural, traditional way.

By far, this was the most successful of my trips down to Niagara wine country. We visited 11 wineries, tasting 88 different wines. We came away with a better and clearer picture of the direction that this region is going, and definitely learned a lot.

It's clear that the strength of Beamsville is in its white wines. Riesling wines are the best I've tasted outside of Germany and Alsace. As a matter of fact, all of the wineries we talked to stated that their inspiration for Riesling was Alsatian wines. No one mentioned German rieslings, although the styles are similar. I suppose this owes to the region's stronger French influence.

The Rieslings were taut, crisp and focused wines, featuring high acidity, minerality and lengthy finishes. The best examples were wonderfully pure, and had great varietal characteristics.

We also tasted some great Chardonnays. The best examples also showcased crisp acidity, as well as subtle buttery/creamy textures on the palate, all complemented nicely by bright fruit flavours. The worst were overoaked, excessively buttery and flabby wines. Apparently, some winemakers still are not lovers of subtlety.

Of the red wines, I remain skeptical of the quality of the Cabernet blends. I just don't think this area is well-suited for Cabernet. Just can't get them ripe enough. With the exception of Marynissen, I don't feel anyone else makes a presentable Cabernet. Well - Thiry Bench had a fantastic Benchmark Red blend that I found quite complex and interesting.

We tasted some wonderful Pinot Noirs. Now, I've been going on and on about how great Niagara Pinot Noirs can be. Definitely, this trip just confirmed that in a perfect world, this is the red wine that everyone in Niagara should be working on.

As a whole, I have to say that while Niagara wineries are producing better and better wines, I still think they have a long way to go. The problem is expression. Can the wines express their regional typicity? Can we get to the point where I can drink a bottle of wine that is unmistakably from Niagara? These things take generations to achieve. The majority are still experimenting with technique and process. That's the hard part - deciding how to vinify, choosing when to harvest, which oak to use.......simply installing the latest technology and equipment won't do.

I'll post detailed impressions of each winery when my friend makes the pictures available to me. I can say that with the exception of two wineries, the other 9 that we visited were all special. All very unique, each specializes in the type of artisanal, low-yield wines that I love.

Again, I'll repeat that I really believe in this region. Niagara is able to produce really special northern climate white wines, as well as Burgundian varietals. It'll be interesting to keep following this area as it grows. When we can finally begin to talk about Niagara terroir, that's when I'll know that this region has grown up.

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