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Unusual Wines
Diversity in Wine
Niagara Peninsula
Ontario, Canada
Part 2 - The Wineries


Wineries range from huge glistening buildings packed with stainless steel tanks to small barns fermenting grapes in plastic bins. Some have uniformed staff to meet and greet you and lead tours around the facilities, others have the owner's family pouring tastes at one end of a barn while the owner clambers over tanks making wine at the other end. We visited the following wineries (listed in alphabetical order):-

Cave Springs CellarsVineyards - www.cavespringcellars.com
The vineyards were first planted in 1978 and the winery is incongruously situated in a row of shops and restaurants. Very interesting tour, followed by a tasting in the cellars. They were unloading a crop of fat ripe Syrah grapes. Tasting notes mislaid

Chateau des Charmes - www.chateaudescharmes.com
The chateau Chateau des Charmes is an imposing new stone building set among vineyards. It was to be the last winery we visited before heading for the airport and home, and it was chosen solely because it had a conveniently timed tour. But it turned out to be one of the highlights of our time in Ontario. The tour, led by a keen guide, cost $2 and started with a video telling the story of the winery and the Bosc family who make the wines. Then we visited the fermentation room containing a mix of large and small stainless steel tanks, the barrel cellar and bottling line. We finished in the tasting room where we were offered three wines. The first was Aligote, an unusual variety from Burgundy and the last, Gamay Noir Droit was unique. The winery's founder Paul-Michel Bosc noticed a single Gamay Noir vine that exhibited interesting characteristics, noticeably the shoot grew out in an upright (droit) position. They propagated it and twenty years later were granted international Plant Breeders rights to it.

Aligote 1999 $10.95 11.5%
Pale straw colour, light with mild refreshing acid. Good
Chardonnay Paul Bosc Vineyard Estate 1998 $19.95 13%
Light yellow colour, butter on nose, clean taste with predominate vanilla tones, tasting a bit like ice cream
Gamay Noir Droit St Davids Bench Vineyards 1999 14%
This unique clone of the Beaujolais grape has a high alcohol level, great colour and intense cherry taste. Very Good
Savagnin St Davids Bench Vineyards 1998 $12.95 12.5%
I couldn't resist tasting this wine from another very unusual variety from the Jura region of France. Pale straw, fresh clean nose, good acidity, reminded me of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Very Good
Creekside Estate - www.creeksideestatewinery.com
Creekside Marcus Ansems handpunching the cap had a roadside sign advertising Saturday preview tastings of their new release Pinot Noir. The tasting room is in a plain wooden bungalow, but the ground drops away at the back, and in the lower cellar we saw large plastic fermentation tanks. Australian Marcus Ansem is the winemaker here and he was balancing on the edges of the blue bins pushing down the cap of skins on the fermenting grapes, mostly merlot.
Sauvignon Blanc 2000 12%
Green tints in colour, grassy dry, not very acidic. Good
Pinot Noir Lowry's Vineyard 1999 10.5% $18.95
Bright clear medium red colour, strawberry and beetroot flavours. Classic vegetal and fruit.
Pinot Noir 2000 12% (pre-release tasting)
Different, much more structured than 1999. Much more serious, but needs some time.
Laura's Blend 1999 21.5% $17.95
50% Cabernet Franc/30% Cabernet Sauvignon/20%Merlot. Winemaker Australian Marcus Ansems has aged this for 10 months in oak. Light blend, not much of anything, some oak evident. Next year the blend changes to 65% C Sauvignon

Crown Bench Estates - www.crownbenchestates.com
Peter Kocsis
House at end of lane through vineyards is marked by a megalithic structure meant to encourage visitors they have reached the winery - apparently many used to turn around. Owner/winemaker Peter Kocsis pours his wine in a small neat tasting room surrounded by wine related knickknacks. His vineyard is 35 years old, but until two years ago when he opened his winery he sold the grapes to other wineries.

Beamsville Bench 1999 12.5% $29.95
A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Wonderful serious meritage, blackcurrants, cedar wood, spice.

De Sousa - www.desousawines.com De Sousa Winery
This was the very first winery we visited. We chose it as they advertised a winery tour that we could get to on time. But we were the only visitors there and didn't rate a tour. A most disappointing introduction to the area. Luckily the welcome was much warmer elsewhere. We tasted a couple of wines, few were open, but seemed to be expected to buy. The tasting utensil was a traditional Portuguese clay dish, intended to negate acidity in wines.

Cabernet Franc 1998 12.1% $13.20

Harbour Estates - www.hewwine.com
tasting room building The vineyards line Jordan Harbour and we had a most enjoyable walk through the vineyards and around the waters edge. The tasting room is busy with locals coming to buy cases of Jeff.

Sauvignon Blanc 2000
pale colour, light gooseberry taste with refreshing acidity. Best SB tasted. Excellent $15.95
A popular belnd of Gamay and Cabernet Franc, bright light red colour, fresh cherry taste. Good $9.95
Cabernet Sauvignon/ Cabernet Franc 1999 $14.95
Aged 6 months in French oak, this reminded me of a luncheon claret; light restrained. Very Good
Meritage 2000
We were offered a taste of the not yet released blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/ Cabernet Franc/Merlot. Soft, light with cherry tones, Very Good

Henry of Pelham - www.henryofpelham.com Henry of Pelham
It was cold windy and drizzling and the tasting room had just opened. I'd passed within yards of the winery and driven miles on looking for it. But the welcome inside was warm and friendly. Henry of Pelham's Baco Noir was one of the very few Ontario wines I had before coming and I was determined to visit it's home.

pale straw. light clean, minimal petrol
Zweigelt/Gamay 2000
Light bright colour, spicy metallic nose, soft spicy and warm. Quaffing wine.
Merlot 1999
Bright clear, good merlot
Merlot 1997
Showing signs of age, browning on edges, fruit fading
Baco Noir 2000 $11.95
Powerful, dark black red unique Baco Noir flavours, sweetness of American oak, wonderfull warming
Baco Noir Reserve Old Vines 1999
Very strong BN nose, very dark, more exuberant BN edges gone, tangy.

Inniskillen - www.inniskillen.com The Moose is loose
This was one of the few wineries I had had heard of, for its reputation for ice wines. It has an attractive rustic visitors room amongst vines, and a short visitor trail. (photo - moose guards grapes destined for ice wines.)

Chardonnay 1999
Pale yellow with a clean fresh nose and a mild butter/petrol taste
Pinot Noir Montague Estate Founders Reserve 1998 $35
Dark black red colour, cherry flavours but very tannic. Aged 12 months in oak.
Meritage 1998 $20
60% Merlot, 25% Cab Sauv, 5% Cab Franc. Bright red colour, enjoyable cherry and acid plum. Good

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate - www.jacksontriggswinery.com
Jackson -Triggs new winery
This is a huge brand-new - it opened in July 2001 - winery that wouldn't be out of place in California. On entering we were handed engraved invitations to a tour. Susanna (pictured on previous page) was our enthusiastic tour guide who, with John Graham, took us on walkways over rows of huge brand new shiny stainless steel fermentation tanks, then down to the barrel cellar, finishing with a tasting. The winery is not yet at full capacity, and the surrounding vineyards need to mature. They have planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for methode champenois sparkling wines, and Riesling for ice-wine. Currently they will be producing 75000 cases from their vineyards in the area, rising to a maximum of 100000 cases.

Sparkling Cuvee Close.
Disappointing with few bubbles, seemed flat
Riesling 1999 11.3%
Pale colour, dry, oily mouth feel, diesel characteristics. This was the only Riesling I tasted that reminded me of Alsace. Very good.
Cabernet Proprieters Reserve 1998
60% Cabernet Franc, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 12 months in 2nd & 3rd fill American oak. Very soft with integrated tannins and smoky bacon tones. Very Good
Meritage Proprietors Grand Reserve 1998 $22.95 13%
Merlot 37%, Cab Fran 36%, Cab Sauvignon 27%, aged fourteen months in new French and American oak barriques. Bright young red colour, concentrated berry fruits flavours with tobacco vanilla and spice, Very Good.

Joseph's Estate - www.josephsestatewines.com
Pleasant wood lined tasting/sales room. I was recommended there by Eric at Malivoire - who is a fan of hybrid wines - to taste their Chancellor wine

Chancellor 1998 $8.95 12%
Black colour, lots of exuberant fruit, jammy like a sour alcoholic cherryade.
Update Feb 2004 - Josephs tell me they currently have two Chancellor, a 2000 at $12.95 and a 2001 Oak aged for $16.95. Hybrid fan Paul Bulas in Ontario tasted the 2000 for me. He reports
"2000 Joseph's Estate Chancellor (Ontario VQA)
Strawberry compote, leather and brine -- that's how Chancellor introduces itself to me with a swirl of the glass. The wine is dark black-ruby in colour, with a shade of vermillion. There's none of the toasted/roasted buckwheat aromas that can be so reliably found in Baco and Foch and even to some extent in De Chaunac. Very well-balanced acidity, with a softly tart, properly dry texture, and a brusque saltiness on the fore- and mid-palate. Extremely leathery flavour; very long, leathery finish.

Konzelmann Estate - www.konzelmannwines.com Konzelman sign
Their rows of vines lead from their tasting room down to the water's edge. One wall of their tasting room holds a case with competition winning bottles draped with awards. This family owned winery has been making wines since 1892.

Pinot Blanc 1999
Pale yellow colour, dry, muted peach tones, long aftertaste. Good
Riesling 1999
Pale white, restrained nose, long aftertaste. Good

Lakeview Cellars Estate Winery - www.lakeviewcellars.on.ca Wall mask at Lakeview winery
The winery building is behind a white wood house and the tasting room is stocked with a wide range of wines. We went there because we had been recommended to taste their de Chaunac. We had previously attended a tasting of their other wines in Toronto, hosted by Matt Lamay of Lakeview. Some 10-15 people work at the winery, full and part time an dthey produced 16K cases in 1999 and expected to produce 18K cases in 2001
(photo - this mask is on the wall by the tasting room entrance)

De Chaunac 12% $8.95
A rare hybrid variety. Dark red colour, very flavoursome, reminiscent of drinking an old portuguese wine in a wet wood. Slight metallic aftertaste.
Rielsing 1999 $9.95
Very pale, offdry. Pleasant restrained front of mouth taste, but no bite and flabbly back, little aftertaste
Cabernet Franc 1999 $19.95
Bright light red colour, strange metallic/piss nose. Light oaking, soft taste and tannins, but not enough fruit for me.
Meritage 1999 $22.95
Very dark red colour, slight metallic taste, warm dusty soft mouth. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.5% each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot

Magnotta - www.magnotta.com
I went prepared to dislike Magnotta. I had heard poor things about them and their habit of importing bulk wines, blending with local wines and selling them as Onatario wines. At one time they had a Pinotage. But the warm welcome at their Beamsville operation charmed the sock off me. I was pressed to taste a wide range of their wines which I didn't keep notes of.

They seem to operate to take full advantage of the restrictive laws of the area. When the state monopoly declined to stock Magnotta wines in the state stores this meant they could sell them only in their winery. So Magnotta opened operations in several places, each performing some winery function so they could sell wines. So the grapes would be crushed one place, fermented at another, aged at another, blended at yet another and stored in another. All, because they operate as a winery, allowed to sell wines.

I tasted many wines, but mislaid my notes. Nothing particularly stood out. I bought a Marechal Foch 1999 12.8% $9.95 for tasting back in the UK.

Malivoire Wine Company - www.malivoirewineco.com Mavoire tanks
The winery building follows the fall of a slope to use gravity fed winemaking. It looks a little like a nissen hut slipping down a slope. They practice nature friendly techniques and their logo is a ladybird, after the ladybirds (ladybugs) they release in the vineyards to control pests.

Ladybug Rose 1999
Very pale pink, dry and refreshing. Good
Gewurtztraminer Moira Vineyard 2000 14.5%
Warm alcoholic taste, not much spice, rather bland.
Marechal Foch Old Vines 1999 13.5% $18.95
Made from old vines and matured nine months in American oak. It's a warm spicy red with the taste of cold mulled wine. And a faint reminder of wet fur.

Marynissen Estates - www.marynissenestates.com
A plain wooden tasting room hosted by a friendly Australian woman resting during a world tour and some superb wines.

Merlot 1998 $19.95
Bright red colour, pure classic merlot. 1 coarse filtration. Excellent
Cabernet Reserve 1998 $22.95
equal thirds of Sauvignon, Franc and Merlot produce a fruity elegant wine. Excellent
Cabernet/Merlot 1998 13% $16.00
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% each Cabernet Franc and Merlot, another classic wine, excellent

Peller Estates - www.peller.com Entrance to Peller's cellar
This estate makes one of the few Canadian wines available in the UK. I bought their Vidal wines a few weeks before our trip.

They have a new stone built chateau, with large tasting room lined with wines and related gifts and gourmet restaurant. We joined their tour and were shown their barrel cellar where we tasted two wines. It's a large sharp commercial operation.

Riesling Vineyard Series 1999.
Water white, off dry with a dry aftertaste. Very refreshing cold.
Gerwurtztraminer 2000
Cool fermented in stainless steel. Pale yellow, lacking spicyness usual in GW, pleasant wine but not what I expected.
Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve 1998 ($22)
Bright dark cherry red colour, berry fruits and pencil cases, excellent
Merlot Signature Series 1998 ($42)
Bright red, fruits of forest, long aftertaste, wonderful wine.

Pillitteri Estates - www.pillitteri.com
A long building alongside the road houses a tasting room and gift shop. I found the welcome here rather offhand and cold.

Pinot Grigio 2000 $9.95 11.5%
Clear water colour, sweet fruit, with tangs of apples and pears on front mouth. Good wine.
Cabernet Franc Family Reserve 1997 $24.95 12.1%
Bright red colour, soft warm but rather metallic taste.

Reif Estate - www.reifwinery.com
I was keen to visit Reif after tasting Thirty Bench's wine made from their vineyards. Few wines were open for tasting. I saw they made white and red Zinfandel, but strangely the red Zin wasn't even listed on their price list. So I offered to buy a bottle to be opened for tasting. Very enthusiastic staff in the tasting room made for an enjoyable time.

Allure 1999 $12.95
I was told this white is made from the Geisenheim variety, but on checking it seems there were many varieties created by the Geisenheim Institute and differentiated only by a number. This one had a straw colour but was lacking in flavour, tasting very flat.
Fume Blanc 1998 $12.95
This was the first Sauvignon Blanc we encountered and we were disappointed in not finding any of the tastes we so enjoy in the variety. This tasted like dry nuts. Oak aged.
Cabernet Franc 1999 $16.95
Cherry colour, cherry on the nose, tannins from oak ageing. A good example of the variety.
Zinfandel 1999 $12.95
Light red colour, light spicy taste, enjoyable and a long way from the blockbuster California Zins.

Thirty Bench - www.thirtybench.com Thirty Bench winery
Approaching the long low wooden building overlooking vineyards you have no idea what incredible wines you are just about to taste. It concentrates Riesling, with nine table wines, two botrytis and three ice wines made from the variety. However it was the Chardonnay and especially the Cabernet Franc that stood out for me. It is on the Beamsville Bench at Thirty Mile Creek, hence the name.

Riesling Barrel Fermented 1999
The crop was thinned by 50% and fermented and aged in Vosges oak for 10 months. Very delicate and light. It's a nice wine, but I'd have preferred a bit more oomph, bit of the petrol taste I expect from riesling.
Riesling Limited Yield 1998 $10.95
Very restrained, faint petrol characteristics
Chardonnay Reserve Kocsis Vineyard $40
Superior wine, old world style classic chardonnay. Smooth vanilla butter, wonderful.
Chardonnay Tradition 1998
Made in stainless steel. Light pale colour, restrained. 9000 cases made annually.
Chardonnay Reserve Reif Vineyard 1998 14.3% $40
Grapes thinned by 50%, free run juice aged eighteen months in French oak. Unfiltered. A massive serious wine, bone dry honeyed nutty flavours. Superb
Cabernet Franc 1998 15.2% $45
Unfiltered. Spicy, cherry berry, bitter chocolate, tobacco. This is the best Cabernet Franc I have ever tasted, incredible.

Vineland Estates - www.vineland.com
Large stone tower on the corner of the tasting room looks down on a restaurant and small chapel and the surrounding vineyards. tasted (with dinner in the winery restaurant)

Sparkling Riesling Brut Cuve Close 1999 $22.95
Pleasant dry, not many bubbles
Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 $14.95
Bright red, young full bodied, classic. Excellent
Cabernet Franc 2000 $12.95
Light, thinner than the CS
Cabernet Merlot Reserve 1999 $35.00
Pleasant, lightish, spice tones, but not as enjoyable as the 100% CS
Vidal Ice Wine 1998 $42 per half bottle
Golden yellow, unctuous thick viscous, incredible sweet but with good acidity, a super sweetie
Cabernet Franc Ice Wine 1999 $55 per half bottle
Pale bright pink/red. Crab apple jelly, sweet but not sticky. Wonderful

Read about the 12 Ontario wines we tasted back in London by clicking here

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1 January 2002
minor updates 29/3 and 29 April 2004