Wednesday, August 14, 2013

can Niagara do cabernet?

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Left: 2003 Marynissen Estates Cabernet | VQA Niagara Peninsula
Right: 2002 Marynissen Estates Cabernet/Merlot | VQA Niagara Peninsula
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2002 Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Merlot | VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Can Niagara do cabernet? And I don't mean make cabernet sauvignon or cabernet blends for the sake of it, because the going assumption is that you have to make those wines to be a 'proper' wine region. No, I mean credible cabernet wines that are varietal, show vintage character, and have ageability. Wines that stand up on their own against the benchmarks of the world. I was in Niagara yesterday, and although we didn't visit any wineries, that question lingered in my mind as we drove around and saw the acres and acres of land planted with vineyards. Cabernet has almost become the default grape that people think of when 'red wine' is mentioned - that and probably merlot. So can Niagara do cabernet?

I recalled a trio of Niagara cabernet blends I had a few weeks ago. All around the same amount of age, 2002's and one 2003. All from producers that I feel make very good wines, who have good experience with the varietal. Starting with the Marynissen ...

The 2003 Marynissen Cabernet is a special wine to me. It was the first wine I had with a very dear friend. We had known each other since junior high school, but it wasn't until we were both almost finished our undergraduates that we found out that she was one of my best friend's classmates. So for Christmas that year, I invited everyone for dinner, to catch up. Wine (and by extension, food), always takes on a different dimension when you're drinking/eating with people you like, and that night, the Marynissen was singing. A 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, this was a one-off, when the difficulties of the vintage meant that there simply wasn't enough fruit to do single varietal bottles. And now a few years later, it showed the warmth of that Niagara clay and sand. Integrated and drinking really well. A nice reminder of things that we shared years ago, a nice way to say goodbye. The 2002 Marynissen Cabernet Merlot, a more traditional blend. I really liked this wine. Lots of the graphite minerality, full with good depth. Tannins are still fine, still very much energetic.

It was almost by chance that I picked up the 2002 Southbrook. They are one of the few Niagara producers that holds back vintages to sell at maturity - in this case, at more than 10 years old. We benefit because the wines have been stored under the most ideal conditions, and what's really noteworthy, the prices remain very, very reasonable. I was in Niagara in the first week of May, and we chanced on this release. Easy purchase. This was my favourite wine of the three - lots of fresh, pure fruit, slight earthiness and reaching maturity, still very structured on the palate. I love the feel of those grippy, fine-grained tannins.

So, can Niagara do cabernet? In the best vintages, with experienced producers - yes, I do find these wines credible. But Marynissen is credited with bringing cabernet to Niagara, and Southbrook (or rather, its founding family) has been farming in the area since the '40's. Lots of pedigree here. But as a whole? I suppose there are a few red varietals I believe in more than cabernet, at least for Niagara. In the global context, Niagara cabernet still has a way to go. There's a certain elegance that these wines lack, and an overall complexity, that new oak and other tricks in the cellar can't replicate. Like all good things, that simply takes time.

Had a nice day in Niagara yesterday. Good lunch at Treadwell (newly moved to Queen Street, on Niagara-on-the-Lake's historical district), before a nice stroll, latte in hand. We've had a truly bizarre summer here. It's early August, and it feels like October, with temperatures barely above 20°C. Probably shouldn't complain as I'm headed to the Mediterranean, but still ... bizarre. We drove to the Butterfly Conservatory to walk around the gardens for a bit, before making our way to the Falls. Majestic as always. Dinner at Old Winery Restaurant, and as tradition, a pint of Keith's Pale Ale before setting off home. Dropped by a friend's place for a tiny (but important) side project (to be revealed soon). A good day. Today was totally different. Woke up with a headache - suffering from sluggishness and general malaise. Getting stressed out preparing for the move. Wanted a quiet day to work on things on the checklist, but of course, that never goes to plan. Never. Here's hoping for a better day tomorrow.

DF

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