Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Some outstanding wineries

As I said earlier, we visited 11 wineries in Niagara, tasting 88 wines. We got a pretty comprehensive idea of the kinds of wine the region is producing, so here is each winery broken down. Just wish I had pictures, but don't worry - they will be up soon.

Thirty Bench Wine Makers

This was a first estate of the day, and we had a tour booked. Great view, looks directly over the vineyard and we can see Lake Ontario in the distance. First was a flight of Rieslings. I've tasted the 2006 Thirty Bench Reisling in the past, so really looking forward to this. As expected, they were phenomenal. Absolutely stunning in clarity, purity and focus. Lovely piercing acidity, this is not a wine for flabby drinkers. My favourite was the 2006 Small Lot Riesling "Steel Post" Vineyard. Wonderful minerality on the nose, which follows in the palate, complemented so well by the bright citrus and acidity. All the white wines share this amazing finish, tight and crisp, but so long and elegant. Class in a glass.

Of the red wines, I have to say they were unspectacular. Good wines, mind you, but unspectacular. It was unfortunate that we weren't able to taste the Pinot Noir, which had sold out. But I enjoyed the 2005 Benchmark Red. Complex and nutty on the nose, it had nice grip and weight. What was also special was the 1995 Riesling Icewine we were served. This is by far the oldest icewine I've tasted, and it still holds up quite well. The sweetness is more controlled, more focused, and you still have the lovely stream of acidity to balance it out.

Walking around the vineyard, the soil is a lot of heavier soil, clay. All this rain can't possible be good, but then again, it's still early in the growing season. Let's hope for a dry and sunny July and August, otherwise there will be trouble.

I'm writing a lot because this was such a magnificent producer. What a wonderful surprise. Beautiful wines, honest wines. The whites definitely stand out; by far these are the finest Niagara Rieslings I've ever tasted. The only question is - how well do they age? As long as we have these kinds of producers in Ontario, then our wine industry is in good hands. Magnifique!!

Fielding Estate Winery

I've never tasted this wine before. Going through all the wines, the wines seem a bit too soft for me, but nonetheless, are delicious. The 2006 Riesling Icewine Reserve stood out. Taut acidity, nice fruit, a more measure sweetness. Good balance.

Cave Spring Cellars

Again, a new winery for me. We tried a lot, but one wine really stood out. The 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, VQA Niagara Peninsula. This is the unoaked Sauvignon Blanc - they also make an oaked one. I always disliked heavily oaked wines period - you really need to strike a very careful balance, especially with white wines. This bottle was fresh, crisp, and most importantly, had such varietal characteristics. You lose so much of the delicacy when you overoak. Wonderful.

Flat Rock Cellars & Malivoire

What more can I say about these 2 producers, except that they are exceptional and my favourites. The Pinot Noirs they make are very close to my heart. Wonderful to see the evolution in their vintages, as these are fairly young producers. Friendly and knowledgable staff, unpretentious. These producers are true to the land and are really the benchmark that every other Niagara winery should set themselves against. I can't wait to taste the 2007 Pinot Noirs from each estate.

Lailey Vineyard

We had another tour booked here. We were taken to the vineyard. More of the heavy clay soil we say earlier around Beamsville in west Niagara. Introduced to some of the customary pruning techniques of a vineyard. I love walking in vineyards. That to me is the most important part of a wine. I love nothing more than to be in the soil and vines. The spritualness of being surrounded by what will eventually transform into wine is........indescribable.

Tasting barrel samples was quite another experience. We were given barrel-fermented chardonnay samples to try, which was still sur lie. Some old vine chardonnay samples were also drawn for us, which was so delightful. Minerally and stony, it just washes your palate with a light creaminess, but the finish just cleans out your palate so well. We also tried some 2007 Pinot Noir from the barrel. Still very raw, the tannins are long, hard and quite excellent. Tasting barrel samples is so different - it's the texture you should focus on. I really want to taste the 2007s in bottle, but obviously, they still have some more time to go in barrel. Wonderful strawberry and red fruits in the mouth, such a transcendant acidity and tannic structure.

Finally, we tried samples from bottle. Lailey is doing some really interesting things with red wines, especially their Syrah. So spicy, obvious black pepper on the nose! I've never smelled so much black pepper on any syrah. Wish it was a bit more integrated, than in your face, but certainly an interesting expression.

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The rest of the wineries we visited, I won't mention too much about. Nothing really stood out. Sure, everyone was friendly, with the exception of one, but I'm not going to talk about that. Learned my lesson to keep my mouth shut.
So, if you're planning a trip down to wine country, make sure you visit these wineries. The only one not in Beamsville is Lailey, which is right on the Niagara Parkway, 2 minutes outside of Niagara-0n-the-Lake Main Street.
If anyone still thinks that Niagara can't produce quality wine, you've obviously never tasted any good wine before, and you're just being ignorant. I understand the perception, especially if all you've had is that cheap, mass-market shit. But take time and try these small, artisanal producers before you pass judgement. I guarantee you will change your mind.

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