Five Great Niagara Moments

Five Great Niagara Moments

Wine of the WeekHidden Bench 2005 Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($40, 93 points, 130 cases produced)Hidden Bench has been making waves since it opened in June. From 30-year-old vines in the Rosomel Vineyard, this is an outstanding, intense yet refined, chardonnay with complex aromas of cashew, pineapple, peat smoke and custard. Great acidity holds it together; very vibrant yet rich, with flavours powering to outstanding length. It goes on sale September 15 at the winery only, along with first release reds—the elegant Hidden Bench 2005 Pinot Noir (88 points, $35, 240 cases produced) and a very fine cabernet-merlot Bordeaux blend called Terroir Cachet (90 points, $35, 450 cases produced). A new Niagara star is born.

I have spent eight days in Niagara recently, five judging the Canadian Wine Awards just before Labour Day (results coming mid-October), and three days last weekend hosting a private tour of Niagara’s best wineries (Hidden Bench, Stratus, Tawse and Le Clos Jordanne) and restaurants (Tony de Luca at the Oban Inn, Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine in Port Dalhousie, Vineland Estates Restaurant and Hillebrand’s Winery Restaurant). There may be those who cling to the notion that Ontario cannot do the wine and food thing to the highest level; but they would be wrong. If only they could repeat five great wine and food moments like this:

Tawse 2004 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay (92 points, $48), with a truffle infused broth of mushrooms, Israeli couscous and garden vegetables, catered by Vineland Estates in the Tawse barrel cellar. This chardonnay (also from 30-year-old vines) is massive yet seamless, a compote of crème brulée, honey, peach and gentle wood smoke—all riding a seamless, satiny texture long into the sunset. Order at

Hillebrand 2005 Trius White (89 points, $19.15), with a salad of Tree and Twig Farm heirloom tomatoes and Monforte feta. Winemaker Darryl Brooker is now firmly at the helm since coming to Hillebrand in 2005 and moving the wines to a brighter place, especially this new aromatic yet dry creation ( a blend of 33% gewurztraminer, 29% riesling, 27% pinot gris, and 11% chardonnay). Complex, with perfume of lychee, grapefruit, and mandarin with a rich yet refreshing palate and excellent length. Order at

13th Street 2005 Gamay Reserve (90 points, $26) with Cumbrae Farms pork belly at Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine. No one is doing more adventurous and successful food and wine pairing than the father-and-son team of Stephen and James Treadwell. 13th Street’s big, almost overripe, barrel-aged gamay behaves more like Italian ripassos than beaujolais, but its richness and silky smoothness is a textural dream with the Treadwell’s signature, melt-in-your-mouth pork.

Stratus 2004 White (93 points, sold out) is among the very best whites made in Niagara, a barrel-aged blend of several varieties that possesses intriguing, layered Japanese pear, and vague smoke, licorice, toffee and mint aromas set in a seamless, silky, cushioned yet poised texture. It is sold out at the winery but you will find it on high-end restaurant wine lists. At Tony de Luca’s in the Oban Inn it was paired with an equally flavourful and refined Potato Sip with truffle foam. Of the few wines for sale at the winery the most interesting is 2004 Petit Verdot ($42, 89 points), a lean, vibrant, almost Italian-like, red with wild raspberry/chokecherry fruit mindful of Italian sangiovese.

Flat Rock 2005 Gravity Pinot Noir (90 points, $29.95) took top pinot at the Ontario Wine Awards this year, and wows at the table as well. The nose is a balsamic-like blast of raspberry, spice and wood smoke, with the earthy, fresh-dug beet nuance typical of Ontario pinot. Rich yet vibrant on the palate with excellent length. When matched with an early fall squab and turnip plate by Tony de Luca it found a perfect home. The lighter, maturing 2004 Gravity is coming to Vintages Sept. 29; this 2005 is only at the winery for now.