Niagara Winemakers Choose Their Best

Niagara Winemakers Choose Their Best

Wine of the WeekThirty Bench 2005 Wine Makers Riesling **** ($18.15, 24133)The top scoring white at the Cuvée Wine Awards announced Saturday in Niagara. It signals a rebound for this small Beamsville Bench winery now in the hands of Peller Estates. A very good vintage, old vines and new enthusiasm and talent from winemaker Natalie Reynolds have produced a vital riesling showing New World boldness with ripe peach-pineapple fruit, a touch of petrol and mouthwatering lime-like acidity. Plus Germanic finesse in a touch of sweetness. Also won Riesling class at Cuvée. A smattering of bottles remain in Vintages stores—check at Also try Vineyards wine stores in the GTA.

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On Saturday at the Fallsview Casino Resort, Niagara’s wine industry turned out in its finest to taste the best—as chosen Oscar-style by the winemakers themselves. (A blind competition had preceded the gala.) This year, 41 winemakers tasted 167 wines from 48 wineries to determine the winners. Each winery entered its three best wines. Earlier on Saturday some of the winners were presented blind at an Experts’ Tasting at Brock University, and last month the media were invited by the Wine Council of Ontario to preview the top scoring wine from each winery. As a result I am able to not only list the winners, but pass on some comment and personal rating on all but a couple. I have provided my star-rating, price and whether the wine won a gold medal at the competition. It was possible to win a category without scoring gold. Very few of the wines below, however, are available at the LCBO so you must go to the source by contacting the wineries themselves.


RED WINE OVERALLCreekside 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon **** ($29, gold)Big extraction and lots of toasty oak from a hot vintage and an Aussie inspired winemaking team. Ontario won’t make cabernet like this every year but it obviously can be done. Some Bordeaux-like minerality and poise as well. Also won Cabernet Sauvignon category.

LIMITED EDITION RED WINECreekside 2004 Broken Press Shiraz 2004 *** ($32, gold)Big, oaky and chocolaty, a touch sour and aggressive. Ontario historically doesn’t make syrah/shiraz so big; now if this could have been combined with the finesse of the Jackson-Triggs 2004 Delaine Syrah (below) we would have had a real winner.

LCBO GENERAL LIST RED WINEPelee Island 2005 Cabernet Franc ***1/2 ($10.95, LCBO)Good vintage has yielded perfectly ripened raspberry/strawberry jam fruit with flecks of tobacco and black pepper. More Ontario wineries need to go this less-is-more-route, simple non-oaked fruit-driven wines with cabernet franc instead of trying to make sophisticated Cheval Blanc every time out.

MERITAGEReif 2002 Cabernet Merlot ($50)Unrated because of bottle differences. One at Experts Tasting showed very well (if not worth $50); one at media preview did not show well. Obviously the winemaker judging panels did not have an issue, but it did not strike gold.

CABERNET FRANCVineland Estates 2005 Cabernet Franc ***1/2 ($12.95, LCBO, gold)Like the Pelee Cab Franc above another simple, barely oaked inexpensive cab franc shows through in this ripe vintage. Very easy going yet interesting raspberry and tobacco flavoured red, a touch sweet.

MERLOTHernder 2004 Merlot (gold)Not tasted.

PINOT NOIRHenry of Pelham 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir ***1/2 ($24.95, gold)Sturdy pinot for the cellar (2009 to 2012) that combine complex sour cherry, plum, beetroot and smoky oak flavours. Very good weight, complexity and depth, but tannic now.

SYRAH/SHIRAZJackson Triggs 2004 Delaine Vineyard Syrah ***1/2 ($29.95, gold)A quite elegant, finely balanced syrah with wood smoke, pepper and ripe cherry fruit mindful of Rhone syrah (not Aussie shiraz), but lacks depth for $30. A good $17 syrah. As an aside, Ontario needs to decide on whether these wines will be called syrah or shiraz. I vote for the former as the more honest name because, stylistically, ours are more French than Australian.

GAMAYThirteenth Street 2004 Gamay Noir ***1/2 ($18.00, gold)This small hand-crafted winemaking outfit has turned wood-aged gamay into a specialty. This mid-weight, fairly tart raspberry, floral and oak-spiced edition reminded me of a New Zealand pinot noir.

RED HYBRIDLakeview 2004 Baco Noir Reserve (gold)Not tasted.


WHITE OVERALLThirty Bench 2005 Wine Makers Riesling **** ($18, gold)See Wine of the Week.

LIMITED EDITION WHITEFielding 2006 Reserve Gewürztraminer 2006 (gold)Not tasted, but this winery has been turning heads with lively, fresh, just slightly sweet, aromatic whites.

LCBO GENERAL LIST WHITE Henry of Pelham 2005 Reserve Chardonnay ***1/2 ($13.95)Year in and year out a god value and benchmark Niagara chardonnay nicely balancing apple-pear fruit, just right oak spice and a smooth but not soft texture.

SPARKLINGCave Spring Cellars Brut 2004 **** ($29.95, gold)Serious new contender for top Niagara sparkler wins its first due. Like a classy French Blanc de Blanc Champagne this 100% chardonnay sparkler is tight, elegant and harmonious.

SAUVIGNON BLANCPeninsula Ridge 2005 Fumé Blanc 2005 ***1/2 ($26.95, gold)French winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas hits his stride with racy, complex, harmonious whites. This Graves-inspired barrel-aged sauvignon is distinctive, not to all tastes, but a fine example of the genre.

CHARDONNAYThirteenth Street 2004 Chardonnay Reserve ****1/2 ($25.00, gold)Just edging into maturity this very complex chardonnay shows well layered, exotic orange pineapple fruit, toast and honey and butterscotch flavours. It’s full, warm and fruity yet backed up by classic Niagara acidity—the element that makes our chardonnays some of the best in the world.

Sweet Wines

SWEET OVERALLReif 2004 Vidal Icewine 2004 ****1/2, ($47.00/375ml, gold)Perennially one of the richest, sweetest and boldest icewines made in Niagara. Huge apricot, mango, honey and crème bruless flavours.

LIMITED EDITION SWEETKonzelmann 2004 Select Late Harvest Riesling Traminer ***1/2 ($29.95/375ml gold)Slender, silvery semi-sweet wine with fairly simple apple-pear, lemon flavours. Simple but razor’s edge balance.