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2020 Ontario wine snapshot: A year-end recap of visits and tastings

December 14, 2020

The year 2020 will forever be remembered for many reasons. Phrases like “support local”, “curbside pick-up” and “social distancing” are permanently etched in our vocabulary – and that’s not just in reference to the Ontario wine industry.

Before our collective feeling of normalcy was dramatically changed due to COVID-19, like so many others, I began this new decade with a very positive outlook. In mid-February, the website launched with plenty of exciting energy behind it and a focused plan to share some interesting stories within the world of wine. Readership was steady and feedback was encouraging. It was an affirmation of months of hard work leading up to the launch. At last, I could parlay one of my favourite past-times (winery visits, wine tastings) into a proper blog format.

Read Also: Let’s give thanks and support local this fall season

Usually once February arrives (and the holiday hangover has finally worn off), I get back into the routine of visiting wineries, starting with the Niagara region. And so, visits and tastings of many newly released wines at Tawse, Stratus, Thirty Bench and Icellars (the latter being a first-time visit) – and VineRoutes ready to launch in a matter of days – helped to set the year off to an auspicious start.

The website launched, prompting the calendar to start filling up with event dates, which included dinners, tastings and winemaker meet and greets.

Then it happened; one cancellation after the other. Looking back, we were still trying to understand the gravity of the situation. How long could this really last?

Ontario Wine

Ontario Wine Snapshot: A visit to Icellars in February for a portfolio tasting kicked off the year in wine for us.

All these months later, we are much more “in the know” than we were back in March. And with a vaccine now here and beginning its administering, there’s hope that come spring/summer 2021, our lives will begin to see some of that normalcy we might have taken for granted.

Looking back, the year 2020 wasn’t a complete write off. Good things did come out of it. Regarding VineRoutes, stories continued to be written, wines continued to be tasted and wineries in most parts of Ontario got visited throughout the summer and fall months (sorry Lake Erie North Shore; perhaps next summer!).

Read Also: Regional Report: Prince Edward County 2020

Albeit with utmost caution, I was able to still make my rounds and taste and talk with winemakers, and for that I am grateful. Every opportunity was an encouragement, and I can’t thank the people in this industry enough for all the hard work that they’ve all put into ensuring that wine enthusiasts like me are able to visit, sample and purchase wine safely.

And so, this year-end recap is my tribute to Ontario wine. Despite a summer trip to Portugal’s Douro Valley needing to be cancelled, in addition to other trips that involved wine, I am grateful that I live close to wine country here in Ontario. And so, I’d like to share all the local wine reviews that I have written, tasted throughout this year.

A total of 34 wineries were visited – including my 13 winery tour of Prince Edward County that took place in September (read the full special report here) – and hundreds of wines were tasted. Not all were reviewed officially for this website, but the ones that were for various stories, interviews and reports are now listed below (close to 200 wines in total). Wines are categorized by varietal or type – simply click on any of the types below and jump straight to those wines.

Cheers to 2020 and here’s to a healthy and promising 2021!

Chardonnay | Pinot Noir | Riesling | Cabernet Franc | Gamay Noir | Merlot | Red Blends | White Blends | Orange Wine | Other Red Varietals | Other White Varietals | Rosé | Sparkling

Niagara wine tasting

Ontario Wine Snapshot: Wineries were forced to pivot and adapt in a big way this year.


Adamo Estate 2017 Estate Chardonnay

Barrel fermented and aged for 10 months in 50% new French oak, this is an intense chard with elegance and structure. Focused, tight and fruit-driven on the palate, it reveals layers and complex flavours of apple, pear, plum, lemon and lime. ($31)

Adamo Estate 2015 ‘Willms Vineyard’ Oaked Chardonnay

From the Willms Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, this wine is more rounded with a well-focused, full mouthfeel and pleasant orchard fruit aromatics. A medley of fruit flavours drives the palate; lemon and lime citrus and apple. There’s a distinct toasty oak influence and a wet stone, mineral core. ($26.50)

Adamo Estate 2016 ‘Wismer-Foxcroft’ Vineyard Oaked Chardonnay

The differences between this – from the Niagara Escarpment based Wismer Foxcroft site – and Adamo’s Niagara-on-the-Lake single vineyard bottling from the Wilmms Vineyard are definitely noticeable. This is a more narrow wine with precise acidity and structure. There’s refreshing minerality and salinity that complement the fruit-driven palate of fresh apple, pear and citrus notes. There’s good oak support here too, which lends to the complex nature of this wine. ($26.50)

Adamo Estate 2015 ‘Wismer-Foxcroft’ Wild Ferment Chardonnay

An all-natural wine that is both unfined and unfiltered, this chard is loaded with flavours of citrus, honeydew melon, refreshing minerality and slight salinity. It’s a very smooth and soft wine with vibrant acidity and a very lengthy finish. An interesting interpretation of the famed Foxcroft fruit. Will age 10+ years. A bit pricey at $96 a bottle.

Arterra 2018 Chardonnay

Grapes for this chardonnay were selected from premium sites in Niagara to create a smooth and quite elegant wine which showcases intense layers of citrus fruits, honey, wet river stone, white flowers, and subtle undertones of smoke on the nose and palate. The finish suggests flavours of butterscotch and white chocolate covered almonds. This is a very balanced and intricate chardonnay, round and full with a very plush texture. It’s on the higher spectrum of alcohol/volume (13.5%), so mid-term cellaring is welcomed. Pair this with rich comfort foods like fettuccini alfredo with chicken or a creamy risotto. ($29.95)

Bachelder 2017 Wismer-Wingfield ‘Ouest’ Chardonnay

My first experience tasting a Bachelder chardonnay out of the Wismer-Wingfield block was during the summer of 2018 during my first meeting with Thomas. It was the 2015 vintage and it hadn’t been officially released yet. I can remember thinking at the time that this was likely the best Ontario chardonnay I had ever tasted. I was somewhat ignorant to the heights that Ontario could achieve in this varietal space. Since then I have gone on to re-taste that exact 2015 vintage, and then the 2016 vintage and now the 2017. It is, for lack of a better word, an outstanding wine, proven year after year. The ‘Wismer-Wingfield’ vineyard (Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation) is a late ripening parcel, furthest from Lake Ontario and at the highest elevation. This is further sourced from the western part of that block, intently focusing on the specifics of its unique terroir. There’s intense flavours of lemon zest, apple and pear that hit the palate like a truck out of nowhere. Then refreshing stone minerality and a wonderful salinity sending it all the way to the finish. ($47.95)

Bachelder 2017 Saunders-Haut Vineyard Chardonnay

Considered old vines now (planted in 1990) and grown at the furthest, highest part of the organically farmed Saunders vineyard within the Beamsville Bench – and thus the warmest part (hence the use of the French term ‘Haut’ meaning hot). As is the case with the Wismer-Wingfield ‘Ouest’ chardonnay, this is an ultra-focused single vineyard wine that offers up a textured mouthfeel and layers of flavour. In addition to citrus notes, there’s honey and spice with a stony mineral finish. It’s one of Bachelder’s long-standing favourite vineyard sites to work with and it clearly shows. ($44.95)

Bachelder 2017 Willms Vineyard Chardonnay

Believe it or not, this is Bachelder’s first chardonnay made from Niagara-on-the-Lake (Four Mile Creek sub-appellation), and from old vines planted in 1983 no doubt. Bachelder’s portfolio of wines really does now resemble a greatest hits collection of terroir and this chardonnay from the Willms Vineyard is another hit. The key is to taste this along-side any one of the other two chardonnays and locate the differences. The Willms is a wider bodied wine, richer and riper with more open flavours of orchard fruits (think baked apples and poached pears). There’s also some citrus notes, but not overwhelmingly so. Bachelder has allowed the wine to show off its sexy side (minerality, sleek salinity and reserved spice) with a rather seducing velvet-like texture. This has been well worth the wait. ($44.95)

Black Prince 2018 Oaked Chardonnay

The County is one of the few places on Earth where both oak and grapes grow side by side and Black Prince Winery is most proud to release the first chardonnay aged for 18 months in Prince Edward County white oak barrels. It’s got a lighter, wheat colour to it with woodsy/oak and apple flavours. Only 100 cases of it were produced. ($29.95)

Burning Kiln 2017 Cureman’s Chardonnay

The name Cureman’s chardonnay – like many of the brand names within the Burning Kiln portfolio – takes its cue from the tobacco industry. This is fermented in French oak which gives off flavours of honeyed melon, apple and vanilla. Subtle mineral notes can be detected in an otherwise light bodied and typically pleasing cool climate chardonnay. ($24.95)

Casa-Dea 2017 Chardonnay Reserve

This chard is light on the mouthfeel with apple, pear and a slight mineral note with a bit of an acidic burst on the finish. ($26.95)

Casa-Dea 2017 ‘Eva’

The ‘Eva’ is an appassimento style wine made of dried chardonnay grapes, which help to concentrate the natural sugars and flavours. Aromas of sweet apple, apricot, peach nectar and floral notes delight the senses. The palate is understandably sweet (24.7 g/L residual sugar) and the alcohol content high (14.8%). It’s an interesting varietal interpretation and it will prove to be a style that some will embrace. ($48.95)

Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Twenty Mile Bench’ Chardonnay

This is a regional level blend of two Twenty Mile Bench vineyards (Foxcroft and Wingfield) with Foxcroft making up the dominant portion of the blend. This is a tasty chardonnay that’s got a salty, mineral-driven core and is vibrant with balanced acidity. It’s not considered their best chardonnay, but this wine speaks volumes to the quality of their magnificent portfolio and is priced accurately. ($35)

Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Foxcroft Vineyard’ Chardonnay

The Foxcroft Vineyard is a popular vineyard for winemakers to source fruit from. In the last few years, I’ve tasted at least seven different expressions of Foxcroft chardonnay from various producers who each have their own style and method for making this particular fruit sing. All have been excellent, but perhaps none have been as well put together as this one. When I first tried this 2017 vintage from Cloudsley, it was at the Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Niagara and the wine had only been in bottle for five weeks. At the time, I remember praising it as one of the more memorable chardonnays I tasted throughout the event. Re-tasting it this past summer only solidified that feeling. Acids are neatly in check, perfectly balanced providing an intense freshness on the palate. There’s a good dose of minerality to go along with a salty fresh finish. An excellent chardonnay from a very well trusted vineyard. Still memorable. ($50)

Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Wingfield Vineyard’ Chardonnay

The single vineyard chardonnays from the Wismer Wingfield Vineyard have been a particular favourite of mine ever since I first got to try one made by Thomas Bachelder a few years ago. Much like Foxcroft, this is a next level single vineyard, one of Niagara’s grand cru spots that should make chardonnay lovers feel extra special for having experienced a taste of it. So, I was very curious about Cloudsley’s take on this fruit and found it to be just as terroir expressive as I expected it to be. Stony and minerally fresh all the way through, there’s that salinity I was looking for on the mid-palate and just a lovely texture overall. Do yourself a favour and taste this side-by-side with the Foxcroft and notice the subtle differences terroir makes. ($50)

Westcott Vineyards 2017 ‘Estate’ Chardonnay

You can check off all the boxes for this chardonnay coming from this small, artisanal winery located within the Vinemount Ridge appellation in Jordan, Ontario. Its sight, smell and taste are in line with some of the very best chardonnays this province has produced. It shimmers gold in the glass, evoking elegance and sophistication. Aromatic notes of apple, peach, cinnamon toast and vanilla lead the way to a very balanced, dry mouthfeel comprised of refreshing minerality, salinity, sturdy acidity and a wonderfully textured finish. Oak is ever so judiciously used here. This is nothing short of excellent and it’s truly wonderful and satisfying to see expressions of terroir, via this chardonnay, coming out of Niagara. ($27.99)

Westcott Vineyards 2018 ‘Estate’ Chardonnay

I’ll first start by noting that Westcott’s 2017 Estate Chardonnay will be remembered as one of the best valued chardonnays I’ve had. Such an experience doesn’t happen very often. And so, I’m not certain that the 2018 vintage entirely lives up to the experience with its predecessor, but that’s not to say that this is an inferior wine. This was winemaker Casey Kulczyk’s first vintage with Westcott and his expression of chardonnay is one that uses far less intervention, the practice of wild ferment, full malolactic and just 20 percent new oak. The result is a lighter, more friendly texture – rounded and mouth coating, a bit less edgy. Acids are building but they don’t overwhelm. Notes of freshly picked apples complement its slightly salty, mineral core. It’s sophisticated and it will undoubtedly please many, while others might not be so quick to let that 2017 slip from memory. ($29.99)

Westcott Vineyards 2018 ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay  

Made in the same style as the ‘Estate’ chard, the ‘Reserve’ is simply the best of the lot. It starts in the vineyards, with some select picking specifically with the reserve in mind while the balance is decided through repeated tasting trials throughout the aging process – what doesn’t make it into the reserve, goes into the estate. This is a bit tight still but softer on the palate. Shows a quality promise, and is a step up from the estate, no doubt, however right now it just needs time – about three years to fully come into its own and to begin expressing itself more fully. ($44.99)

Westcott Vineyards 2018 ‘Block 76’ Chardonnay

According to winemaker Casey Kulczyk, typically the fruit from this particular vineyard block (consisting of about one acre of vines) would have been used for the ‘Lillias’ bottling – Westcott’s unoaked chardonnay, which is produced each year as a more value-centric choice. But thankfully, it has been re-assigned as single vineyard status and we should all feel so lucky if we can get our hands on it. Just 90 cases were produced. This singular chard is proof that terroir makes all the difference. Despite Block 76 adjoining two other distinct chardonnay blocks within the farm, this particular one shows off its unique differences in a way that can’t be ignored. Despite its aromatics still being a bit closed, the palate gives off a healthy dose of minerality, salinity, pronounced pear and spice. It’s complex and well balanced and right now it’s their best chardonnay within the 2018 portfolio. ($44.99)

Leaning Post 2017 ‘Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard’ Chardonnay

Before their own chardonnay vines were ready to yield fruit, the Wismer-Foxcroft site was Leaning Post’s go-to locale for their premium-level chardonnay. Senchuk describes it as being a “classic spot on the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation” and you can really identify the pedigree of this particular terroir. It’s great to see that it’s still a valued installment for the winery’s portfolio, and at a very reasonable price point considering the wine’s stand-out quality. It’s complex, full-bodied, rich and expansive with notes of peach, pear and pineapple wafting from the glass. There’s vibrant flavours of orange, lemon zest and ripe stone fruits on the palate that lead to a clean and refreshingly mineral finish. It’s a wine that will certainly age for the next 5+ years if you so choose. ($40)

Le Clos Jordanne 2017 ‘Le Grand Clos’ Chardonnay

Welcome back! One of Canada’s most highly praised wine brands (pre-dissolution) is back and what a vintage to make that comeback in! In what will surely be remembered as one of the very best (if not the best) vintages of the decade for chardonnay in Ontario, we’re being treated with what can only be best described as vintage Thomas Bachelder. One sip and immediately you realize why this wine was destined to make its way back. Such poise with distinguished flavour profile, including apples, peach cobbler, lemon zest and a mid-palate minerality perhaps never experienced to this degree in previous releases. These vines have dug deep and have been waiting to show off their best expression yet. There’s even an irresistible saltiness that lingers on the palate that’s just so refreshing, adding to its beautiful complexity. Will cellar through 2025 and even beyond, but it’s practically begging to be opened now. ($44.95)

Le Clos Jordanne 2018 ‘Le Grand Clos’ Chardonnay

Much akin to the 2017 vintage with its complex flavour profile of lemon, peach cobbler, apple pie and spiced vanilla, one might even suggest that these flavours are much more pronounced this time around. The wine is definitely rounder and meaner, with its layers already beginning to unfold. It’s rich and weighty, but not too heavy sitting. Thomas Bachelder knows these chardonnay vines so well, and therefore can be completely trusted with his expression the vintage. I believe he’s made the best of the warmer season that was 2018 – a short season that required strict attention. Yields were lower as vines were thinned to provide intensely flavoured fruit. And so, the finished product tells the story of 2018 well. Whereas the ’17 vintage can rest comfortably for several more years, this 2018 is perhaps a bit more impatient, more temperamental, one to enjoy sooner. ($44.95)

Ontario Wine Report

Ontario Wine Snapshot: Perhaps some of the very best chardonnays to come out of Ontario are courtesy of Closson Chase, located in Prince Edward County.

Southbrook 2017 ‘Saunders Vineyard’ Chardonnay

From the certified organic vineyard that’s become a sought after ‘cru’ site for its terroir expressive fruit comes this flavourful chardonnay that’s packed with peach, honey and zesty citrus fruits. It’s seamless from front to mid palate and finishes long with hints of orchard fruit and bees wax. ($35)

Southbrook 2017 ‘Wild Ferment’ Chardonnay

An intensely flavoured expression from estate-grown fruit that shows its hand a tad too much at this point. It’s a bit tight and brash right now, but my suspicion is that some of that fore-palate intensity will ease with some more time in bottle. Give this another two or three years to develop nicely. ($35)

Dark Horse 2018 ‘Stirling Gait’ Chardonnay

Included among my tasting was this unreleased single vineyard chardonnay, which is sourced from their two acres of chardonnay vines within a block called Stirling Gait. It’s a beautiful wine, with subtle notes of petrol, flint smoke and orange peel (I’m beginning to realize that these are the signature flavours of this specific terroir). The mid-palate is creamy, soft and rich with intensified flavours of peach and pear. There’s even some spice on the finish that comes off as a nice touch. Previously this wine was part of the ‘Valegro’ series, but I’m told that the winery will soon begin to branch off from that line and will use the Stirling Gait Vineyard name where applicable. ($29.95)

Hidden Bench 2017 Estate Chardonnay

Situated within the Beamsville Bench, Hidden Bench is an artisanal, terroir-focused winery dedicated to crafting premium wines solely from their own certified organic estate vineyards. They’ve established an ongoing reputation for consistent excellence both domestically and internationally, producing wines of pronounced complexity and character which bear a sense of place and time. This estate chardonnay is a quintessential example of how meticulously maintained vines can lead to an outstanding result. Bright, fresh and lively textured, this is drinking beautifully now. ($29.95)

Closson Chase 2018 ‘Vineyard’ Chardonnay

This is a 50/50 blend of South Clos Vineyard and Churchside Vineyard fruit – two of the most attractive sites for chardonnay in Prince Edward County. Its buttery and brioche aromatics pull you right in to palate pleasing flavours of orchard fruit, salted minerality and wet stone. The soft and elegant mouthfeel quickly envelopes the mouth producing a full and complex finish with excellent balance. No sharp acids to be found. Cellar potential is three to five years. Very good value. ($33)

Closson Chase 2017 ‘Grande Cuvée’ Chardonnay

The team at Closson Chase clearly wants chardonnay enthusiasts to take note of this particular ‘Cuvée’. The best barrels are selected and honed in on, resulting in a more structured and balanced wine that promises a cellaring potential of 7-10 years. Pineapple, baked apple and melon notes burst on the nose. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find wildflower, peach, spice and buttered bread notes. The palate mirrors the fruit and spice on the nose and presents such a luscious texture with impeccable acidic balance. The wine is no doubt a showstopper (one of the best Canada has ever produced?). Sure to cause a buzz throughout the region, Closson Chase is making a bold statement with this. ($95)

Exultet Estates 2018 ‘Cru X’ Chardonnay

The entry level chardonnay from Exultet makes a bold statement at its $50 price point. The winery’s objective is to give consumers a very terroir-expressive wine. Terroir geeks tend to eat stuff like that up. And so this – along with the rest of their portfolio – is really for them. The Cru X chardonnay leads with a mineral saltiness and broadens to include flavours of exotic fruit. The finish is refreshing and long. Will age gracefully for the next five years. ($49.95)

Exultet Estates 2017 ‘the Blessed’ Chardonnay

Previous vintages of the ‘Blessed’ chardonnay have won top honours at the Ontario Wine Awards and the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines. It’s definitely among a small handful of chardonnays made within the County that can claim to be a step up in quality. Pleasing aromatics delight the senses immediately, with honey, caramel, pineapple, peach, apple and citrus fruits all beautifully harmonizing together. I get a beautiful taste of peach marmalade, followed by butterscotch on the finish. A true cellar keeper that will reward throughout the coming five to seven years. Terroir junkies will want to invest in this. ($65)

Karlo Estates 2018 ‘Estate’ Chardonnay

Winemaker Derek Barnett knows a thing or two about making very good chardonnay. With this, he’s barrel fermented and aged it for 11 months, then over its lees, as opposed to stirred, in fourth fill French oak barriques. It went through full malolactic fermentation, part spontaneous to generate more complexity. It was then settled in tank for a half month before bottling. The palate is dry with intense tasting notes of citrus, vanilla and caramel. It’s only just beginning its complex journey. ($45)

Keint-he 2018 ‘Greer Road’ Chardonnay

This single vineyard offering is unfined, unfiltered and spontaneously fermented with wild yeast, spending 16 months in French oak, of which 33 percent was new. The result is a very expressive chardonnay with inviting honey suckle and orchard fruit aromatics. The mouthfeel is smooth and round with a mineral core to it – typical of so many Prince Edward County wines. Elegant notes of lemon zest and salted spiced caramel round out the finish. A terrific chardonnay with very good complexity. ($40)

Lacey Estates 2017 ‘Infinity’ Chardonnay

An oaked chardonnay that delivers a nice soft mouthfeel with a splash of that County mineral acidity and tropical fruit notes that weave their way in rather beautifully. Oak is present and accents the wine nicely with subtle spice notes. The finish is buttery and long. Good value chardonnay here. ($26)

Morandin Wines 2018 County Chardonnay

Sourced from the Prince Edward County’s Knotty Vines Vineyard. Aged for nearly two years in French oak, while resting on its lees, this chardonnay is wafting with nutty aromas that complement a balanced and smooth mouthfeel with subtle flavours of buttered toast, orchard fruits and a clean mineral finish. ($39)

Redtail Vineyards 2018 Chardonnay

Made with fruit sourced from Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench sub appellation (exact vineyards were not disclosed), this is a nicely made chardonnay that epitomizes the low intervention style of the winery. There’s a honey-lemon nose to this, with further notes of bread, almond and flint smoke. The palate is quite round, elegant and mirrors much of the aromatics with added flavours of candied apple and brown sugar. The finish is intense and long. Well-made. A QPR diamond in the rough. ($24)

Rosehall Run 2017 ‘JCR’ Chardonnay

I was given the opportunity to taste this side-by-side with the 2018 vintage. There’s no doubt that the 2017 is leaner, fresher, saltier and identifies more with the characteristic mineral acidity that’s unique to County wines. Winemaker and co-owner Dan Sullivan suggested to me that “the 2017 chardonnay was our most successful wine of the vintage.” I won’t argue with that statement. It’s a beautiful wine and should cellar nicely for the next three to five years. ($36)

Rosehall Run 2018 ‘JCR’ Chardonnay

The 2018 vintage of the JCR chardonnay is the 15th edition of its kind. In case you’re wondering what JCR stands for, it’s the monogram of winery co-founder John Campbell Reston who, while not active every day in the winery, has perhaps more than anyone understood the transcendent nature of what can be achieved at the estate level. This wine shimmers in the glass and leads with ripened orchard and melon fruit that carries over into a mid-palate that comes off clean and minerally fresh. The finish is slightly salty. ($36)

Trail Estate 2018 Chardonnay

From estate-grown fruit comes a wild fermented chardonnay that continues along the path of Trail Estate’s experimental style and method. On the whole, this works reasonably well with its creamy lemon and caramel nose that sets this wine up for characteristic tastes of fresh citrus and a refreshing mineral mouthfeel. It’s soft and has moments of subtle intensity courtesy of its extended lees contact. At this price point, I expected more depth and complexity considering its wine making attributes. A bit restrained, but enjoyable to say the least. ($40)

Traynor Family Vineyard 2019 Oaked Chardonnay

Made from estate-grown fruit, this Chablis-style chardonnay is barrel fermented and lightly oaked (six-seven total months). It’s light bodied and tropical, with bright acidity and hints of baking spice. Easy to drink. ($30)

Ontario Wine Report

Ontario Wine Snapshot: A socially distanced visit with Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post, back in April.

Pinot Noir

Arterra 2018 Pinot Noir

This appassimento style pinot underwent full malolactic fermentation and was aged in 25 percent new French oak for 12 months. Aromas of cherry-vanilla coke, some cedar chest and even smoke are generously lifted from the glass. The palate displays a vast concentration of ripened fruit, including plum, drying cherry, and a hint of strawberry liqueur. Tannins are soft and the weight on the mouthfeel is medium to full bodied. I’d suggest holding off on opening this for one to two years in order to let things settle a bit. Understandably, appassimento for pinot is a debatable style. Some welcome it, others do not. Wherever your stance lies, the price point suggests that this is an expression worthy enough to try, especially if you haven’t experienced this particular style of pinot before. ($29.95)

Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Twenty Mile Bench’ Pinot Noir

This pinot noir is a blend from grapes sourced from the Wismer family’s Glen Elgin and Homestead vineyards. There’s notes of underbrush and cedar on the nose. The palate is clean and crisp, with perhaps more than just a hint of under-ripened fruit to go along with a mineral mid-palate. The finish has some grip to it. Overall, this is a positive effort on a regional blend, however I expected more from it for the price. ($35)

Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Glen Elgin Vineyard’ Pinot Noir

Just 90 cases were produced of this single vineyard pinot from a vineyard that’s known for its thinner soils due to its closer proximity to trees. It’s therefore very pale but beautiful in colour, practically shimmering in the glass – a foretelling of what’s ahead. Bright red cherry fruit on the nose, accented with stone and some cedar brush. There’s bursting acidity on the palate with a cran-cherry edge to it that gives way to a bit of spice and a noticeable mineral presence. It’s stone clean, pure and fresh tasting. ($50)

Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Homestead Vineyard’ Pinot Noir

A real showstopper of a pinot. This is single vineyard pinot in all its glory. It’s noticeably darker in colour than the practically see-through Glen Elgin pinot. Deep and intensely flavoured, this is a very complex wine that deserves to be contemplated. The palate is rich and savoury, inducing flavour notes of brambled fruit, herbs, earth and minerality. The acids are impeccably balanced. Cellar worthy for years to come, this one had me pondering it long after I tried it – as in a week later, I was still thinking about this wine. It undoubtedly finds itself sitting among a small handful of excellent, stand-out worthy pinots to come out of Ontario’s 2017 vintage. ($50)

Casa-Dea 2016 Pinot Noir

This pinot is a bit closed-nosed, with only a mere hint of clove and cherry to be found at the moment. On the palate it’s minerally fresh and light on its feet, with red fruits and some accented spice. Acids are balanced. A generally pleasing and value-driven pinot here. Nothing more, nothing less. ($21.95)

Westcott Vineyards 2016 ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir

From the very hot and dry vintage that was 2016, this pinot underwent full malolactic, wild ferment and 33 percent whole cluster. The oak treatment is 23 months in 100 percent French oak. The wine as a result is soft and juicy with subtle earth and cherry notes. Acids are well balanced and there’s barely a hint of tannin to be noticed. If you’re someone who takes note of sub-appellations and studies their unique differences, this is a great choice to represent the Vinemount Ridge. ($29.99)

Westcott Vineyards 2016 ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir

Stylistically, the approach to this ‘Reserve’ pinot is slightly different than the ‘Estate’ in that it’s 100 percent whole cluster, 21 day skin maceration and 15 percent of the French oak is new. It’s well-structured and complex, with noticeable tannins and well integrated acidity. Notes of mushroom, earth and underbrush are accented by black cherry and vanilla. Can cellar for another six years. Definitely a notch above and worth making the leap to, in case you’re wondering about differences from the estate version. Only 300 cases produced. ($44.99)

Leaning Post 2017 ‘Senchuk Vineyard’ Pinot Noir

It’s just the third vintage of his namesake home vineyard pinot noir but already Ilya Senchuk has touted this particular wine as the best pinot noir he’s made to date. Back when the 2016 vintage was released, Ilya told me he wanted to release wines that were indicative of place and high-quality. For a wine coming from vines so young, the 2016 was astonishingly complex. This 2017 version kicks things up a notch and, thankfully, he’s made more of it (2016’s vintage only saw 59 cases produced, while 2017’s output has almost doubled at 110 cases). If you’re into terroir – like really into terroir – this is a wine that’s sure to excite you. There’s a real earthy vibe happening on both the nose and the palate. Beet root, mushroom, pine needle, floral and herbal notes. It’s further complemented with savoury fruits, spice, a dose of minerality and vibrant acidity. It’s got structure that will allow it to age throughout the latter half of this decade. This is a snapshot of a place and time that oenophiles shouldn’t hesitate to buy multiple bottles of. The journey of evaluating and contemplating it over the next several years will be an exciting one. ($65)

Leaning Post 2017 ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ Pinot Noir

When I first visited Leaning Post back in February of 2018 it was in fact the 2014 vintage of the Lowrey Vineyard pinot noir that got me excited about this winery. Three vintages later and this wine hasn’t lost its mojo. It is pure elegance and sophistication in a glass, with such delicate framework and yet a taut core. The Lowrey pinot noir was the first ever wine Ilya Senchuk made under the Leaning Post label and he remains one of only three winemakers allowed to source fruit from the historic first plantings at the Lowrey farm on the St. David’s Bench in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Thomas Bachelder and Five Rows Craft Winery’s Wes Lowrey are the others). Cranberry, forest floor, raspberry and meaty notes are just some of what makes up the wine’s complex flavour profile. And yet, this promises to be so much better in 3-4 years as it develops more with age. ($45)

Bachelder 2017 Wismer-Parke ‘Ouest’ Pinot Noir

Thomas Bachelder is a master of terroir-expressive wines and this expertly demonstrates his experience. The Wismer-Parke block is within the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation and is entirely planted to pinot noir vines. Bachelder uses the western half of the site for this single vineyard bottling, choosing to use the rest to contribute to his les Villages bottling. The soils here are uniquely red in colour and that tends to impart brighter fruit flavours and more minerality into the wine. There’s more acidic backbone to this which forecasts a healthy cellaring period if you so choose to do. It’s actually a very perfumed wine and is quite delicate on the palate. I can recall tasting the 2015 vintage and thinking it was an excellent study in terroir – how the subtle differences tell the story. Climate, soils, location, location. This ‘17 edition is equally as enthralling. ($44.95)

Bachelder 2017 Lowrey Vineyard ‘Old Vines’ Pinot Noir

This is St. David’s Bench, otherwise known as the bench of Niagara-on-the-Lake. And this is the main event. The wine that seems to put everything into clear focus. It’s quite possible that there is no other vineyard in Ontario growing better pinot noir. Ontario’s grand cru if such a classification existed. The fruit is so coveted that only a select few winemakers get to access the original rows that were planted in 1984 and ‘88. Bachelder describes this wine as being a ballerina with great core strength. “It is the most perfumed and elegant wine we make,” he says. Since I began tasting the wine from this vineyard several years ago, I have known it was something special. The deep core of dark fruit, the silky-smooth texture on the palate, the earth and spice notes. Such finesse in a bottle. It’s very firm at the moment, so by all means, don’t rush this baby. Only about 3-4 barrels are made per year (about 1,200 bottles), so it’s bound to sell out fast. A true collector’s wine. ($47.95)

Le Clos Jordanne 2017 ‘Le Grand Clos’ Pinot Noir

Currently displaying notes of rich berry fruit with some noticeable oak vanillin integration, this is a wine that has so much potential for those who are patient. (After all, we’ve waited this long for the brand to make a comeback, what’s another few years of waiting?) It’s quite tight at the moment, so if you do open now, decant this for about five hours before drinking. You’ll notice that it’s quite focused and layered, and hints at things to come with added complexities sure to hit peak performance come 2024. A great vintage for Ontario pinot noir! ($44.95)

Le Clos Jordanne 2018 ‘Le Grand Clos’ Pinot Noir

There’s a certain energy that can be tasted in this 2018 edition of Le Clos Jordanne’s pinot noir – the second vintage since the brand made its heralded return with Thomas Bachelder at the helm. And much like the 2017 vintage, this one still needs time to completely sort itself out. Palate flavours are rich and soothing, with rhubarb, cran-cherry and black currant notes. It’s spicy and minerally and backs itself up nicely with firm acids. It might not need as long as the 2017 to be fully appreciated, but give this at least a few more years before forming any final verdicts – which means you should probably buy yourself more than just one bottle. ($44.95)

Adam Lowy

Ontario Wine Snapshot: Finally getting a chance to meet Cloudsley Cellars owner and operator Adam Lowy was exciting. His pinots are some of the very best being made in Ontario right now.

Tawse 2016 Tintern Rd. Pinot Noir

The Tintern Road site is a six acre vineyard that was planted in 2010 atop the Niagara Escarpment. Moray Tawse believes it will one day be the crown jewel of his portfolio, saying “pinot noir vines need to be 30 years old before you really start to see what they’re truly capable of producing in terms of complexity in wine. I think Tintern Road will be our best site in 15 to 20 years. It’s showing some really good potential right now and it’s neck and neck with the pinot coming from our Cherry Avenue Vineyard.” The wine is very aromatic and there’s a lot of depth here. Rich and complex, Tintern will indeed be one to follow. ($44.95)

Tawse 2016 Cherry Ave. Pinot Noir

According to Tawse, the Cherry Avenue site is out-performing all of his other vineyard blocks that grow pinot noir – at least for the time being. My last taste of this particular single vineyard offering was the remarkable 2012 vintage and there is definite evidence that this vineyard is maturing. This 2016 version is well structured, with cedar and earth notes, some spice that tickles the tongue and a bit of cherry cola. I’d wager that in a few years time, this wine will stand among some of the very best Ontario has ever produced. ($48.95)

Tawse 2016 Quarry Rd. Vineyard Pinot Noir

Another fine single vineyard offering and perhaps one of the best value single vineyard pinots available in Ontario. This is the eighth vintage of the Quarry Rd. pinot – a site better known perhaps for its incredibly mineral chardonnay. The pinot demonstrates the terroir so well here, with earth and savoury notes, dark cherry and pine. It’s firm but drinkable. Better in a couple of years. ($35.95)

Burning Kiln 2016 ‘Prime’ Pinot Noir

Appassimento style pinots are generally not my sort of thing. I’m not particularly a fan of the often excessive and forced concentration of flavours that tends to unfold in what should be a wine less about wine ‘making’ and more about showcasing its sense of place. Nevertheless, this is the Burning Kiln way of doing things and it’s to be respected and viewed as an experience unto itself. When putting my reservations aside, I’m able to enjoy this wine’s inviting aromas of raspberry jam and strawberries and cream. The palate is noticeably rich and fruit forward with flavours of dark, ripened cherry, strawberry and raspberry. There’s further notes of smoke and a sly dose of minerality. It’s a different expression of pinot noir, not a wrong expression. ($24.95)

Adamo 2016 ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ Pinot Noir

One of Adamo’s first successes was a 2013 pinot noir made with fruit harvested from the well-respected Lowrey Vineyard in St. David’s Bench in Niagara. This isn’t the old vines fruit. Rather, this is sourced from vines that were planted in 2008, so there’s a different feel to this vs. the fruit that was planted back in the 80s. Nevertheless, this is an elegant pinot with structural finesse to it. It’s very light in colour with a tight focus of flavours; sour cherry, strawberry-rhubarb and red currants on the forefront of the palate. It’s vibrant, energetic and fruit-forward. ($29.95)

Adamo 2016 ‘Parke Vineyard’ Pinot Noir

Made with fruit sourced from the Wismer-Parke vineyard (Thomas Bachelder also sources fruit from this site), this is a ripe and concentrated pinot that exudes flavours of cherry and raspberry fruit. A round mid palate holds the fort down with more red fruits, floral notes, forest floor and spice. An interesting compliment to the Lowrey Vineyard offering. ($29.95)

Adamo 2017 ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ Wild Ferment Pinot Noir

This is yet another interesting expression from a well-documented vineyard. Darker in colour, this is a wine with intensity and a tight focused palate from start to finish. There’s more core structure and complexity here with ripe, red fruits of cherry and cranberry on the forefront of the palate. Layers of firm tannins and structure fill the mouth and a mid-palate of toasty oak, dark cherry and baking spice. There’s some good grip that carries secondary characters of dried herbs, graphite and toasted cedar on the long finish. ($65)

Thirty Bench 2017 ‘Small Lot’ Pinot Noir

A lovely integration of fruit and barrel notes, winemaker Emma Garner has once again delivered on a wine that is quickly becoming one of my personal favourites to come out of an estate better known for its rieslings and hearty, Bordeaux-style reds. It’s medium-bodied with fruit flavours of red currant and cherry, plus added notes of earth and beet root unfolding on the palate. I noticed more earth in this vintage and less barrel spice than the 2016 offering. Drink or hold for two years tops. Excellent value considering Thirty Bench is a premiere producer. ($36.95)

Closson Chase 2018 ‘Churchside’ Pinot Noir

This 2018 edition of the Churchside pinot expresses the warmth of the vintage with a softer profile of dark fruit flavours, beetroot, mushroom and earthy notes. There’s an excellent spicy and mineral core to this wine, not to mention it’s very balanced and smooth, leaving the palate feeling fresh and clean. Cellar it for up to five years. I’d say it has to be one of the better single vineyard offerings in the province for the price. Just 380 cases produced. ($42)

Closson Chase 2017 ‘Grande Cuvée’ Pinot Noir

This is a blockbuster of a pinot noir. Designed to complement the Grande Cuvée chardonnay, and from the stunning vintage that was 2017, this is a wine that takes Ontario’s (already) distinguished capabilities of crafting magnificent pinot to another level. It opens with a mineral freshness before expanding voluptuously with richened red fruits, spiced plum, Christmas pudding and dried cherry lending support. No sourness at all. Subtle earth notes round out the extremely lengthy experience. It’s a complex wine that deserves your full attention. Cellar potential is 10 years. I wasn’t joking around when I said that this takes Ontario-made pinot to a new level of sophistication. It’s pricey, but very well done nonetheless. ($90)

Exultet Estates 2018 ‘Royal Road Recipe’ Pinot Noir

Hand-tended and hand-picked fruit, grown with organic materials when possible and minimal chemical use are fundamental to achieving excellent wines – especially wines that are true expressions of terroir, like pinot noir is. Soil, climate, and geography all coming together to produce an identifiable wine is icing on the cake. ‘The Royal Road Recipe’ is made of estate grown pinot noir, of multiple clones, and is quite complex and beautifully structured. Strawberry jam and raspberry sorbet aromas are accented by subtle earthy notes. The wine is minerally fresh and clean tasting on the palate with ripe red fruits, balanced acids and a savoury finish. It’s definitely approachable now but it will age nicely over the coming three to five years. ($44.95)

Exultet Etstaes 2018 ‘Beloved’ Pinot Noir

This fairly recently released pinot is very young and tightly wound at the moment. All said, that County hallmark mineral acidity kicks in immediately, almost biting and a bit too sharp at the present moment. That will smoothen out over time in bottle. Sour cherry and bright red fruits extend all the way to the finish. I wrote a note after tasting this that said “terroiristic”. No doubt, this is a wine of a place and time, likely to see its full potential met in five to six years. ($65)

The Grange 2016 Pinot Noir Unfiltered

Completely unfiltered – which means sediment is likely to be found in your bottle, so decanting it before serving would be best advised. There’s earth and dark cherry on the nose. The palate flavours mirror those earth and cherry notes, with tobacco leaf and smoke adding to the mix. The drying flavours suggest that this wine is already at its peak, but this could be a result of the warmer vintage and the style that the Grange imposes on the varietal. Either way, it’s one to definitely drink now as opposed to cellaring. ($32)

Karlo Estates 2018 ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir

This is a deep, full-bodied pinot noir that’s full of complex aromas and pronounced flavours, including smoke, cigar box, leather, spice and black cherry. The mid-palate contains that tell-tale County mineral acidity – still quite edgy at the moment – and there’s a lingering rhubarb-cherry finish. Terroir-driven and more old-world in style, the pinot from this ‘Estate’ is definitely one to track and re-visit. It’s young and needs a bit more time to fully harmonize, so don’t rush this. ($65)

Karlo Estates 2018 ‘Lake on the Mountain’ Pinot Noir

The fruit for this pinot is sourced from a unique little micro-climate within Prince Edward County that’s about 100 metres higher than the Bay of Quinte. Up there, the grapes grow smaller, so the skin-to-must ratio is a little more intense, making for a beautifully structured wine. Aromas of earth and spice intertwine with cherry and raspberry. The palate is elegant and layered with more earth, cherry, mineral acidity and spice. Very good depth here considering this is supposed to be a more easy-going wine – there’s just 11.2% alc/vol declared. ($35)

Keint-he 2017 ‘Portage’ Pinot Noir

This is a blend of pinot noir fruit grown in Keint-he’s four estate vineyards. Despite its value-centric price point, it’s a wine to be taken seriously. It’s brightly coloured with aromas of baking spice and ripened cherries. Light to medium bodied, it’s mouthfeel is soft and gushing with cherry and cran-rhubarb flavours. Easy drinking, very food friendly and attractively priced. ($25)

Keint-he 2017 ‘Little Creek’ Pinot Noir – Benway Block

Made from fruit grown in Keint-he’s oldest southern sloping vineyard, this pinot is composed of a three barrel blend. It was spontaneously fermented with wild yeast before undergoing spontaneous malolactic fermentation. The wine was then aged in 33 percent new French oak for 20 months and bottled without fining or filtration. There is a certain elegance about this wine, with palate pleasing bright fruit, balanced acidity, mineral notes and a cran-cherry edge. It’s refreshingly clean and should cellar well for the next few years. ($55)

Redtail Vineyards 2018 Pinot Noir

This pinot is made from Niagara Twenty Mile Bench fruit. There’s lovely notes of cinnamon and nutmeg on the nose and mid-palate that complement flavours of cherry, blackberry, rooibos tea and some earth. There’s good minerality on the finish too. Despite the price tag possibly indicating it as such, this is no drag of a pinot. It’s got some real depth to it and can cellar for two or three years and still further develop. Another dream find for any QPR hunter. ($24)

Redtail Vineyards 2019 “Secret” Pinot Noir

The story behind the wine is that the fruit comes from a sought after pinot noir vineyard in Niagara’s St. David’s Bench (I can wager a good guess as to exactly where, but I won’t on the record). The winery was lucky enough to get access to a very small allotment of the 2019 vintage fruit unexpectedly and decided to keep the identity of the vineyard site a secret. The free run juice from this wine was fermented in new oak with the rest left to ferment on skins. The wine was blended post-ferment and aged in one third new and two thirds neutral French oak barrels. The colour is a brilliant and vibrant ruby red that’s just slightly cloudy, but all part of the plan. For a natural wine, this is actually quite soft and round with no sharp flavours at all and boasts lovely aromas and flavours of raspberry and cherry. Now this is a low intervention style that I can really get behind. A fascinating wine. (Price unknown)

Rosehall Run 2018 ‘JCR’ Pinot Noir

It’s easy to see why this pinot was selected as Ontario’s red wine of the year at this year’s Ontario Wine Awards. It’s an excellent wine and it sells for a very attractive price as a bonus. Entirely grown and selected from the estate’s north block vineyard (planted in 2001 and 2002), this is a deeply expressive pinot that’s managed the warmer 2018 vintage beautifully. There’s excellent structure here, with rich red fruits, dominated by cherry flavours that overlay an earthy, mineral finish. There’s a nice gentle grip to it that I like as well. Watch it develop further complexities over the coming five to seven years. I wouldn’t expect such an inviting price point to last too much longer. ($42)

Trail Estate 2018 ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir

Made with estate-grown fruit, this pinot has a nose of red cherry and tastes clean and fresh with its mineral notes, bright acidity and cran-cherry red fruit flavours. There’s a lasting impression all the way through to the finish but I wanted much more from this. It begs for more depth, more concentration. But perhaps the lighter expression is what they’re really going for here with these varietals (see notes on their chardonnay). Either way, I wish it had a bit more structure to it as it’s a bit light on its feet – especially for the price that’s being asked of it. ($60)

Traynor Family Vineyard Pinot Noir

Made from fruit sourced from nearby County vineyards, this expression of pinot was whole cluster fermented and left on skins for 22 days before being pressed into tank to settle quickly. It was then aged in used barrels for eight months. It’s very light in body and very fruit forward – a bit worrisome that this could fall apart if not consumed immediately (but then again, maybe that’s the point here). ($25)

Casey Kulczyk

Ontario Wine Snapshot: My first tasting experience post COVID lockdown happened at Westcott Vineyards, with winemaker Casey Kulczyk.


Black Prince 2019 Riesling

Harvested from 18 year old riesling vines, aromas of peach and pear are welcoming.  It’s a wine that has its moments with its off-dry, dessert style taste and unique expression. ($24.95)

Campbell Kind Wine 2019 ‘Limestone Ridge’ Riesling

This riesling, made in conjunction with winemaker Paul Pender and Tawse Winery, is from Steven Campbell of his Campbell Kind Wines – the world’s first international range of sustainable, carbon zero wines. The “carbon foot print” of the wines’ packaging and shipping is calculated by Carbonzero who offsets the footprint right here in Canada. This riesling, from the Tawse owned Limestone Ridge Vineyard, is certified organic and vegan. It is a single tank from a single vineyard of 25-year-old vines that were picked and kept separate the whole time.  It’s truly a limited edition wine with incredible minerality and is bursting with notes of green apple, grapefruit and orange zest. Balanced and ever-refreshing, this lovely wine is quite ready now, but feel free to hold onto it for several years if you’re into collecting well-made riesling. Hard to beat the quality-to-price ratio on this one. ($20)

Dark Horse 2018 ‘Valegro’ Riesling

Inspired by a champion horse, the Valegro collection makes up Dark Horse’s ultra-premium offerings, “crafted for people whose passion for living life to the fullest includes the enjoyment of a great wine.” Included among the portfolio are a chardonnay, red meritage, a traditional method sparkling, a selection of two different Icewines and this riesling. Produced from 100 percent estate-grown fruit from the winery’s Stirling Gait Vineyard, this riesling is superbly crafted, one that’s a real conversation starter. Don’t be put off by the wine’s nearly 40 g/L of residual sugar content. You’ll barely notice it. Yes, it’s a lower alcohol, sweeter wine, but the balance between sugar and acidity here is bang on. It’s made in a low intervention style with the wine spending much of its time resting on its lees, not over-pumped or transferred from one vessel to the next. This helps to preserve freshness. The nose has hints of flint, minerality, honey and bees wax. The palate is an explosion of flavours that sing and dance in complete harmony on the tongue, with peach marmalade, honeysuckle and orchard fruits all working seamlessly. It’s zesty, crisp and very food friendly – will pair perfectly with spicy Asian cuisine or fish with salsa. Made to enjoy now but will cellar beautifully for the next decade and beyond. A truly memorable wine that’s classic in its old world style. ($34.95)

Burning Kiln 2018 ‘Sweet Leaf’ Riesling

Made using estate-grown fruit, the grapes for this riesling are kiln dried which produces a more concentrated and sweeter flavour profile in the wine. Listed as medium sweet, this wine sports nearly 46 g/l of residual sugar content and boasts a generous 13.5 percent alcohol/volume. But you wouldn’t notice it. It’s beautifully balanced with lovely floral aromas that act as a preview to tastes of dried apricot, candied orange and pineapple. It’s an intriguing wine and bound to be a favourite among many visitors. ($28.95)

Sandbanks Beach Riesling

A refreshing wine that’s mineral driven with hints of lemon, peach and lime. It’s got nicely balanced acidity which makes this easy drinking and even better with seafood. Will please most white wine drinkers looking for something that’s just a bit on the sweeter side. ($14.95)

Adamo 2019 Estate Riesling

This is very concentrated with layers of exploding fruit and texture filling the mouth. Apples, peach, tangerine, apricot and lime zest are balanced by that hallmark acidity. It’s got tight focus, textured minerality and a long finish that is true to the place where it is grown. ($29)

Thirty Bench Steel Post Riesling 

From a very small vineyard block on the property, this particular riesling always tastes so good. Wet stone and mineral characteristics complement its juicy flavours of citrus and green apple.

Cave Spring 2017 CSV Riesling

Crafted from the finest parcels at their estate in Jordan, Ontario, this dry, complex riesling embodies Cave Spring’s highest commitment to quality and authenticity. The nose is complex, with aromas of wet stone, grapefruit, pear, honeycomb and ginger. Dry, medium bodied and seamless, the palate is creamy up front with a rich, dense and mineral middle offering ripe orange, pear, honeyed almonds and spice. Riesling is always fashionable with spicy homemade foods, but try this one with Ontario trout with dill. ($29.95)

The Grange 2018 Riesling

Made with a wild ferment and minimal intervention, I will agree with the winery’s technical notes in saying that this riesling is unique from rieslings of past vintages. The nose is admittedly attractive. Lime zest and ripened tangerine dominate, sparking a sense of intrigue. The orange and citrus flavours, accented with floral and pine notes, are very intense. Fans of the winery are sure to love it for its radical and natural constitution. ($28)

Trail Estate 2017 Riesling (Barrel Ferment)

Experimental rieslings don’t always work. The fruit for this riesling was sourced from Niagara’s Foxcroft Vineyard (Twenty Mile Bench sub appellation) and was pressed and cold settled without the use of any enzymes. The 2016 riesling was pulled from barrel and the 2017 was put in the same barrel to keep the same yeast and malolactic culture alive. Fermentation did not reach dryness until the summer of 2018. Malolactic completed soon after before an aging period in oak for 10 months. As a result, the nose stings of petrol and citronella candle and the palate is a medley of acetone fruit, almost unsettling so. It’s a wine that’s perhaps too intense for its own good right now. ($35)

Ontario Wine Report

Ontario Wine Snapshot: Back 10 Cellars began marketing their tastings as “Wines by the Vines”.

Cabernet Franc

Redstone 2015 Cabernet Franc

The fruit for this Cabernet Franc is sourced exclusively from the Estate vineyard. Planted in 2010 this is the sixth growth and third harvest from this high-density, low-yielding 6 acre block. The nose is ripe with red currants, plums and cherry cola. Savoury hints of earthy beets and fresh sage follow with allusions to graphite and dusty gravel. It’s excellent now but will still benefit from 2-3 more years of aging. ($39.95)

Redstone 2017 Cabernet Franc

The fruit for this cabernet franc is sourced exclusively from Redstone’s biodynamic-practised estate vineyard. Planted in 2010 this is the sixth growth and fifth harvest from this high-density, low-yielding six acre block. The nose is ripe with currants, plums and mixed cherries. The palate is expressive and complex, with subtle earth and gravel, savoury herbs and dark fruit. Tannins are firm and give balance to the warming alcohol. ($39.95)

Southbrook 2018 ‘Laundry’ Cabernet Franc

A very aromatic cab franc, the nose is akin to nachos in a glass – complete with jalapeno and black pepper notes. The palate is spicy, with black fruit, more pepper and a smoky core. Perhaps this is a bit heavy-handed for some that prefer a more restrained, less in-your-face style. It’s big and bold, to be sure. ($34.95)

Burning Kiln 2017 ‘Kiln Hanger’ Cabernet Franc

This is the winery’s flagship offering. A bold, appassimento cab franc with a lifted nose of ripened fruits, spice and leather. It’s deeply coloured, indicating a rich concentration of ripened plum and berry flavours that include blackberry, raspberry and strawberry. It finishes warm and spicy with hints of pipe tobacco, nutmeg and some tannic grip. At 16.2% alc/vol, don’t be shy to cellar this for a decade. ($49.95)

Adamo 2017 ‘Huebel Estates’ Cabernet Franc

Huebel Estates is located within the Niagara River sub appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake and warmer temperatures of this particular site make all the difference in this very new world expression of cabernet franc. The palate is round and fruit focused with a long finish, making it very approachable and food friendly. ($34.95)

Adamo 2016 ‘Foxcroft Vineyard’ Cabernet Franc

The one major thing I noticed with this wine was tannins. This is one that can easily age in your cellar for another five years. This wine is loaded with fruit flavours of raspberries, blackcurrants and black cherries on the fore palate, which is then followed with blueberries, dried tobacco, violets and leather. Full bodied, with gripping tannins that gently coat your tongue. ($49)

Black Prince 2018 Cabernet Franc Reserve

Made from County fruit that’s provided by two long-time local growers and their own estate grapes, this cab franc is produced in a fruit forward style that’s smooth and easy drinking. A dark fruit core over a medium body, with subtle earthiness, plum, raspberry and vanilla flavours. Peppery notes are nicely kept in check. Thumbs up to the oak treatment on this wine. ($27.95)

Casa-Dea 2016 Cabernet Franc Reserve

This reserve labeled cabernet franc was aged two years in French oak and has plenty of character, boasting lovely flavours of red fruits, blackberry, black currant and spice. It’s smooth and soft in texture with gentle tannin structure. Ageworthy, I’d recommend resting another two or three years before opening. ($26.95)

Trail Estate 2018 ‘Foxcroft’ Cabernet Franc

Sourced from Niagara’s Foxcroft Vineyard, this is an excellent and pure expression of both the vineyard and of the warmer 2018 vintage. The wine is dark and earthy with beautiful peppery notes of black licorice laced with thyme and blackberries on the nose. The palate is rich and generous, medium to full bodied, with firm tannins and medium acidity. Deep and delicious, this is a quality franc that continues to prove that Niagara knows best when it comes to growing and nurturing this particular varietal in Canada. Just 109 cases produced. ($45)

Traynor Family Vineyard 2017 Cabernet Franc

Made from fruit sourced from a local grower, this Prince Edward County cab franc was fermented on the skins for 24 days and pressed into stainless steel vats and oak barrels where the wine stayed on its heavy lees for four months. Smoke and ashtray aromas on the nose give way to a juicy mouthfeel, with dark fruit and earthy flavours. The finish has subtle suggestions of tobacco. It’s medium to light and drinks soft. An interesting interpretation of the varietal. ($35)

Thirty Bench Wine Makers

Ontario Wine Snapshot: Tastings at Thirty Bench were also ‘by the vines’.

Gamay Noir

Leaning Post 2018 ‘Wismer Vineyard’ Gamay

This Leaning Post gamay seems almost akin to pinot noir as it is layered with complex flavours that I wouldn’t have expected to find in most Ontario gamay wines. The nose presents aromas of earth, underbrush and brambled fruit in addition to cedar and pine if you really dig deep enough. Palate flavours are savoury and accented with subtle blackberry, spice and beet. Nothing particularly jammy or ripe about this wine and that’s okay. Will satisfy the contemplative imbiber. Pairs nicely with herb crusted chicken and roasted potatoes. ($25)

Bachelder 2018 Wismer-Foxcroft ‘Niagara Cru’ Gamay Noir

Bachelder only just recently expanded his portfolio to include gamay noir and he’s made an auspicious start. I recently tasted his 2017 les Villages version, which was released last fall and is a blend of multiple vineyard parcels. It was very good, quite gulpable actually, and had me further intrigued. This gamay is just one of three single vineyard gamays currently on release, in addition to the 2018 les Villages also now available. It’s quite candied and jammy with strawberry rhubarb, cherries, speckled spice, mineral notes and garden-fresh herbs. Careful, the bottle will be finished before you know it. ($27.95)

Southbrook 2018 ‘Laundry Vineyard’ Gamay

A beautiful gamay from another well-kept organic site that displays aromas of cranberry, strawberry and herbs. It’s savoury and fresh on the palate, with dry cherry and all-spice lending support. Thoroughly enjoyable and an excellent match for most foods. ($29.95)

Adamo 2016 ‘Huebel Estates’ Oaked Gamay Noir

A Juicy and savoury gamay with notes of underbrush, field berries, leather and dried cherries leading the way on a very structured palate. A versatile wine to pair with many styles of food from sweet to spicy and white and red meats alike. ($29.95)

13th Street 2018 ‘Whitty Vineyard’ Gamay

This is one of 13th Street’s single vineyard gamay offerings – sourced from a micro-block within the Whitty Vineyard – and, with this, you get much more focused flavours. There’s inviting aromas of fresh raspberries, black cherry and rhubarb. Black  cherry and strawberry on the palate with a hint of minerality. There’s refreshing acidity adding to the structure. Great to serve along-side spicy barbecue dishes or cheese platter appetizers. ($23.95)

13th Street 2018 ‘Estate’ Gamay

It’s no secret that gamay is a very gulpable red wine varietal and this particular one, sourced from premium, low-yielding vineyards, is practically irresistible. Fruit scented, there’s further depth on the palate with black cherry, leather, spice and earth. Perfect companion for pizza, pasta dishes or grilled meats. ($19.95)

Redstone ‘Bistro’ Gamay Noir

A savoury gamay with spicy, dark berry fruit aromas and additional flavours of cherry and cream soda. It’s simple, refreshing and pairs with just about anything. Try with chicken fajitas or with a fully-loaded, juicy burger. ($19)

Ontario Wine Report

Ontario Wine Snapshot: A fall visit to Southbrook Vineyards and a chat with owner Bill Redelmeier was a highlight.


Burning Kiln 2016 ‘M-1’ Merlot

There’s a lovely raspberry purée nose to this bold and generously flavoured merlot that hails from the super vintage that was 2016. It’s richly layered, smooth and structured with fine, chalky tannins. Notes of dark cherry, plum and leather round out this impressive wine that’s delicious now but ultimately built to age for years and years to come. ($59.95)

Adamo 2017 ‘Lepp Embers Path’ Merlot

Right off the bat this wine seduces with enticing aromas of plum, black currants, toasted cedar, leather, fig and notes of tobacco. There’s blueberry, cherry and vanilla that continue to tantalize your senses. The palate is just as expressive, carrying a dark ripe fruit backbone along with depth and concentration. Earthy characters along with hints of cedar and tobacco round out the experience. There’s solid tannin structure and lingering flavours on the extended finish. No new oak was used here. All neutral barrels and aged for 18 months. Very well-made merlot, and at a price that’s hard to beat for the quality. ($34.95)

Thirty Bench 2016 Merlot

Quality merlot here with red plum, cherry, smoky oak, cedar and spice notes. It’s ripe and long on the finish. Thirty Bench is among a (very) small number of producers in the region that are making merlot at such a quality calibre year in, year out. ($50)

Stratus 2016 Merlot

According to the team over at Stratus, the 2016 vintage was one for the record books. Winter was mild and dry followed by a warm and dry spring. Favourable conditions continued in May through the middle of August making it one of the driest summers on record. After thoroughly enjoying Stratus’ 2015 Merlot, I made it a priority to taste the ’16, especially considering the stellar vintage. It did not let me down. Loaded with aromas of cherry, plum and leather, this is a complex, well balanced wine – smooth as a merlot should be and expertly crafted – what one has come to expect from such a reliable producer as Stratus. Quite possibly the best Ontario merlot in the market for the price. ($39)

Black Prince 2018 Merlot

A smooth tasting merlot that’s medium bodied and fresh with red fruits – including lovely flavours of raspberry, dry cherry and a very nicely oaked profile. In fact, the grapes are all locally grown and were aged for over 18 months in barrels crafted from Prince Edward County white oak. It works and it’s attractively priced. ($27.95)

Ontario Wine Report

Ontario Wine Snapshot: My trip to Prince Edward County was an amazing three-day whirlwind tasting experience. (Here chatting with Morandin Wines owner Chris Morandin.)

Red Blends

Arterra 2016 Epoca

Now this appassimento style merlot is something I can embrace whole heartedly. Twenty percent of the grapes were dried, which is just enough to both concentrate the fruit and allow what was an outstanding Ontario vintage to do its fair share of the talking. Intoxicating aromas of dark cherry, dried raisin, baking spice and vanilla set the tone immediately. Rich dark berry fruit on the palate is met with smoothened flavours of mocha, leather, spice and cigar smoke. It’s a plush, chewy and ageworthy wine that should cellar for six to eight years easily. Would pair well with an assortment of rich chocolates or cheeses, but who could resist lining this one up against a hearty oven-baked pasta dish or steak dinner? Very good QPR. ($34.95)

Westcott Vineyards 2019 ‘Temperance’ Red

The concept of Temperance is something that had to grow on me initially. I’m generally not a fan of gamay/pinot blends, as I feel it tends not to do justice to either grape varietal. However, what we have here seems to be something that stands apart from the drab and dull g/p blends I’ve tasted from various producers in the past. And winemaker Casey Kulczyk knows he’s onto something here. Made under wild and malolactic fermentation (notice a trend here?), this is 55 percent gamay fruit (sourced from a neighbouring Vinemount Ridge vineyard site) and 45 percent estate pinot noir. It’s minerally fresh with herbal and savoury notes, brambled fruit, earth, underbrush and cherries. Quite complex, and yes, to be taken seriously for what it is. ($19.99)

Southbrook 2016 ‘Poetica’ Red

This limited-edition offering reflects the highest expression of Southbrook’s vineyard. Cabernet sauvignon is the primary variety, with a splash of merlot and petit verdot to provide some favourable structural support. This is a wine that continues to satisfy year over year, and will be a real treasure among your cellar. Expect red and blackcurrant fruit accented with spice and some cedar notes, all nicely elevated with fresh acidity. Tannins are beautifully structured, providing a very gentle tug. It’s remarkably approachable, yet built for serious aging (up to a decade). A definitive Ontario red wine blend. ($70)

Dark Horse 2018 ‘Unapologetically’ Sinful Red Blend

A red blend that’s made up of estate baco noir and mainly Niagara sourced merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. It’s an approachable, easy drinking wine with notes of cherry, blackberry and subtle spice. As opposed to its white blend counterpart, this is not a very complex wine. And at this price point, you probably wouldn’t expect it to be. But one can’t deny its food friendly nature. ($14.95)

Burning Kiln 2017 ‘Strip Room’ Red Blend

A blend of merlot and petit verdot, this deep crimson coloured wine is quite floral in its aromatics. It’s densely concentrated and firmly textured with noticeable tannin structure. A slight bit warm, it’s got palate pleasing flavours of wildberry fruit, vanilla and baking spice. It’s a wine to keep note of, especially at this attractive price. ($34.95)

Sandbanks Route 33 Red

This is the red wine compliment to the Route 33 White that was launched in August. A blend of merlot and petit verdot, this is a very pleasing and easy-drinking red that pairs exceptionally well with most foods. There’s plum and cherry notes with a semi-sweet mid-palate that turns soft and a bit spicy on the finish. ($15.95)

Sandbanks Sleeping Giant

This is a more full-bodied, rustic red that boasts flavours of coffee, dark chocolate, raspberry and spice. A blend of hybrid grapes baco noir and foch, two varietals that Sandbanks tends to do quite well with. ($19.95)

Adamo 2016 Meritage

A blend of 53% cabernet sauvignon, 30.5% merlot, 15% cabernet franc and 1.5% petit verdot, this has welcoming hints of figs, toasted nuts, vanilla and subtle floral notes on the nose. The palate is packed with big and bold fruit flavours of blackberries, black cherries, blueberries, leather, vanilla and cocoa. It’s concentrated and ripe, full bodied, grippy and generously layered with structured tannins and fresh acidity. A hearty wine very much made to satisfy any premium level Bordeaux fan. One of my stand-out favourite wines of the year and sold at such a satisfying price point. Well done. ($45)

The Good Earth 2016 Big Fork Red

A great any day wine, suited for most meals and not trying to be more than what it is. An interesting blend of 71% cabernet franc, 26% pinot noir and 3% syrah. It’s medium-bodied with flavours of wild strawberry, fresh pepper and fig. Soft tannin structure. Another best value wine. ($21.95)

Fielding Estate Cabernet Syrah 

This wine has expressive aromas of ripe blackberry and black cherry along with distinct notes of smoke, fresh pepper and mocha. It is fruit-forward and juicy on the palate with present but well-integrated tannins.

Konzelmann 2015 ‘Family Reserve’ Cabernet Merlot

Surprisingly quite approachable but will also age well over the coming 4-5 years, this is the third time I have tasted Konzelmann’s signature Bordeaux-styled red blend consisting of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot – and just like the first time (the formidable 2012 vintage), this one is superb. Velvety tannins and a chewy ripe fruit mix of currants and black cherries coat the mouth immediately. Black pepper and spice bring this wine to its lengthy conclusion. A good choice to go with home-cooked roast beef. (Regularly priced at $49.95 but on sale now for $10 off when you buy online!)

Colaneri 2017 ‘Corposo’ Ripasso Red 

Made with 90% cabernet franc and 10% cabernet sauvignon, then re-passed over 100% dried skins from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and syrah. This Italian-style Ripasso has immediate aromas of cherry, plum, earth and clove spice leaping from the glass. The palate is rich and vibrant with succulent cherries, bell pepper, nutmeg and subtle earth. Let this decant and witness it get even more rich and complex. Serve this with pasta ragout for dinner and ensure that you save some to serve with dark chocolate for dessert. Such a great value wine that can either be consumed now with a nice decant or will hold nicely for up to three years. ($21.95)

Stratus 2016 Red

Over the years, the Stratus Red has been that constant reminder that Ontario can and does compete in the ultra-premium varietal blend space. It’s a wine that has more than done its part in solidifying this winery’s reputation as a gold standard for quality. And so, from the superb 2016 vintage comes their flagship blend of seven estate-grown varietals into one heck of a wine. Spice, leather, earth and plum are just the opening act. There’s plush fruit, cedar box, some cigar smoke and tar that carry through the finish. And this wine is still a baby! Perhaps it’s a bit too soon to know for certain, but I’d wager that in about six years, this will be fondly immortalized as one of the very best wines Stratus has ever produced. ($49)

Casa-Dea 2016 ‘Adamo’

A combination blend of 69 percent cabernet franc and 31 percent Zweigelt that has been made using the appassimento method. This was aged in oak barrels for two years and expresses flavours of cherry with hints of tobacco, chocolate and spice lending support. It’s a smoothly textured wine that doesn’t sit too heavy on the palate (the relatively modest 5.7% g/L of residual sugar can be thanked for that). ($52.95)

Traynor Family Vineyard 2018 ‘Alta’ Red

This is 100 percent marquette, and the warmer 2018 vintage contributes to its intense flavour and overall structure. Deeply rich in style, it’s the biggest and boldest red in the Traynor portfolio. It was aged in a combination of new and used French oak for 17 months which has helped to bring out its jammy, earthy flavour profile that finishes smoky. ($35)

Karlo Estates

Ontario Wine Snapshot: A century plus-old barn is the home to Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County.

White Blends

Dark Horse 2017 ‘Unapologetically’ Brash White Blend

This is a blend of five grape varieties, including vidal, riesling, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and muscat. Each was fermented separately in stainless steel tanks and then blended to create this final product. It’s flinty with hints of kerosene, smoke and sweet orange aromas. Flavours of pear, pineapple, grapefruit and additional citrus fruits are enjoyable. There’s some floral and spicy notes on the finish. A rather complex, food friendly and tasty wine at a very attractive price point. ($12.95)

Sandbanks Smugglers White Blend

This is a vidal-riesling blend with pleasing aromas of passion fruit and tangerine. The palate is juicy and fresh with flavours of pear, oranges and honey melon. Generally pleasing and not overly sophisticated. A good patio sipper. ($13.95)

Sandbanks Route 33 White

This one of two new wines that launched in August and is now sold in LCBO stores. The Route 33 White is a blend of riesling and pinot grigio and wafts with exotic fruit aromas which are mirrored on the palate. Charming and very reasonably priced, this will be a new and exciting favourite among the value buyer. ($14.95)

Karlo Estates 2018 ‘Three Witches’ (White Blend)

Three Witches is a dry, white, old world blend of three grapes: sauvignon blanc, sémillon and gewürztraminer. Attractive floral and honey aromas will immediately have you under this wine’s spell. Dare to take a sip and succumb to an enticing, light bodied wine consisting of zesty and exotic fruit flavours, complemented by flinty mineral notes and a dose of that hallmark County acidity. There’s a hint of bees wax on a nicely poised and refreshing finish. It’s a versatile wine that’s elegant enough to drink on its own or to pair with appetizers at any social gathering. ($20)

Keint-he 2019 Arrow-Matic White

This is a blend of 35 percent melon de Bourgogne, 35 percent pinot gris and 30 percent riesling. The blend is intriguing – especially with its lightly bronzed colour and its relatively dry 6 g/L of residual sugar. Lemon and citrus aromas and flavours dominate, with bracing acidity. Better with food. ($23)

The Good Earth Food and Wine Co.

Ontario Wine Snapshot: A visit to The Good Earth Food and Wine Co. was enjoyed so much, we visited twice during the summer.

Orange Wine

Southbrook 2019 ‘Orange’ Vidal Skin Fermented White

I can’t seem to recall another winery in Ontario making ‘orange’ wine before Southbrook. Skin fermented white wines are now being made throughout the province and have become the next big thing – admired for their intense flavour profile and experimental composition – not to mention the colour! This uses vidal grapes, estate grown, and made in a very natural style (free of additives, no sulphites, wild yeast). Full of savoury and profound flavours, be sure to pair this wine properly – think spicy Asian cuisine to cut all those flavours. Contemplative, no doubt. ($29.95)

Tawse 2019 ‘Grower’s Blend’ Skin Fermented Pinot Gris “Orange Wine”

Displaying an attractive sunset-like colour, this ‘orange wine’ is intensely flavoured (as one should expect) with notes of orange peel, dried peach, marmalade and ginger spice. The finish is reminiscent of citrus rind and gingersnap. Don’t be fooled. This is a bold wine, dry and crisp, with 0 g/l of residual sugar. Try with curry based dishes. ($25)

Trail Estate 2019 ‘ORNG’ Orange Wine

The winery is really betting on the success and current popularity of skin contact wines (or orange wines) and their price point reflects their bold and daring stance. It’s a position that mirrors the wine itself. ORNG is 65 percent riesling and 35 percent gewürztraminer. The skins were left in contact with the wine for eight months — 243 days to be exact. It underwent a wild ferment with light punch downs during fermentation for gentle extraction from the skins. It was pressed and moved into older oak for three months, racked once thereafter and bottled with fine lees; unfixed/unfiltered. Right now, the nose is a bit musty, presenting a fermented fruit smell that combines with mushroom and earth. If you can get past the funkiness, the palate presents intense flavours of orange peel and lemon zest. ($55)

Traynor Family Vineyard 2019 ‘Inclusion’ Orange

Low-intervention winemaking techniques are commonly used to make orange wine. Meaning, the wine is unfiltered, made with wild yeast and contains minimal additives or chemicals. You’re also getting a wine with unique and interesting flavours. And while orange wine is made from white grapes, it takes on more red wine characteristics – like fuller body, bolder flavour and presence of tannins. At the same time, it maintains the acidity of a white wine. Such is the case with the ‘Inclusion’, a wine that’s made of frontenac gris grapes and is bright orange in colour. Aromas of fresh tangerine and fuzzy peach are beautifully coaxed from the glass before experiencing intense flavours of orange rind, pear and peach that simply burst on the palate. I have to agree with the assistant winemaker’s description when he says that this is “Jolly Rancher on the nose with a Sour Patch Kids taste.” Couldn’t have described it any better myself. Interesting and memorable, but pricey. ($55)

Burning Kiln Winery

Ontario Wine Snapshot: A visit to Burning Kiln winery was a definite highlight over the summer.

Other Red Varietals

Southbrook 2017 ‘Witness Block’ Cabernet Sauvignon

Right now, this is very tight knit on the nose, but with time in the glass (or a good decant) this will open nicely. The palate is firm but smooth with polished tannins. Blueberry, black currant, cedar and spice are what’s detected immediately on the palate. It’s well refined and ready to drink. I love the approachability of it, not to mention its fair price point. ($45)

Reif Estate 2016 ‘First Growth’ Cabernet Sauvignon

Fruit for this special series was hand-harvested from a vineyard block planted in 1989 and thinned to a restricted 2 tonnes per acre. This wine is big and bold with a deep ruby colour and is loaded with flavour. The aromas are rich and complex with hints of black cherry, leather and even dark chocolate. (Pro tip: keep sniffing the wine as you drink throughout the night and get a sense of how this evolves.) The palate is tightly structured, laced with spice and noticeable oak influence at the moment but is sure to mellow out in several years or with a good three hour decant. Pair with red meats like leg of lamb, rare steaks or prime rib. A bit of a hefty price to pay, but it’s a collector’s wine for the serious Ontario wine collector. ($100)

Morandin Wines 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon

Morandin really wanted to add a cabernet to its lineup. Sadly, cabernet doesn’t grow well in the cooler Prince Edward County region, so they acquire the fruit for this from the Mason Vineyard, located within Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench appellation. After a two week ferment, the wine was aged in barrel for 18 months. About 13 percent of gamay was added to the final blend, which helps to make the wine more approachable in its youth, moderating the tannins. The addition of gamay also helps with its inviting aromas of violets and blueberry fruit. It’s an easy-drinking, consumer friendly wine, with plenty of cherry and red fruit flavours over a medium body. Some might view this as perhaps a bit too diluted for a cabernet sauvignon, but I can understand the need to make this available immediately, as opposed to a year or two from now. It’s definitely priced to sell. Just 1,000 bottles were made, so it’s a wine that’ll go fast. ($39)

Redstone 2015 Syrah

A gold medal winner at the National Wine Awards in 2018, this syrah is organically and biodynamically farmed and is structured to age well into the mid-20s. It’s beautifully expressive with what Tawse calls “that lively hallmark Ontario acidity.” Says Tawse: “The wines at Redstone have their own identity. They taste different. The hard red clay soils make a difference.  I love northern Rhone wines too. So I am very pleased with our Redstone syrah because it’s so different than anything you’d expect to get from Ontario.” ($39.95)

Icellars 2017 ‘Wismer Edgerock Vineyard’ Syrah

Ripe, jammy, dark cherry fruit, accented with blueberry and blackberry notes, some smoked meat lingers with a hint of bacon fat. Ah, this is well made syrah! There’s barrel spice, while other varietal characteristics of black pepper and smoke round out this young, yet already complex wine. Ageworthy yet ready now, let this wine really do its thing along-side grilled sausages and an assortment of smoked meats and cheeses. ($40)

Dark Horse ‘One Horse Town’ Baco Noir

Baco Noir is another hybrid varietal that’s known for its winter hardiness and it’s still a very popular choice among consumers, at least here in Ontario. Usually a wine that’s higher in residual sugar, this particular offering is noticeably less sweet (at 5 g/L) – a stark contrast from the flabbier and over-extracted bacos one mostly tends to find coming out of the Niagara region. This wine is fresh tasting, with lively acidity over full-bodied palate flavours of blueberry, plum, vanilla and spice. A very good wine that came out of a very successful vintage for the region. ($21.95)

Sandbanks Baco Noir Reserve

Sandbanks’ flagship wine is their baco and this will easily please baco lovers with its intense and rich blackberry fruit and chocolate notes. It’s labeled as ‘reserve’ because it’s aged in oak for a full year longer than their more value-driven baco. This is worth the extra few dollars. ($19.95)

Trail Estate 2018 Baco Noir

This beautifully tasting and balanced baco was aged in 15 percent new Canadian oak, 30 percent 3rd fill American oak and 55 percent neutral barrels for 10 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur. It’s a winning formula with alluring aromas of candied cherry, red licorice and cinnamon. The colour is deep purple but the flavours are of bright red fruits – strawberry and cherry. It’s also plummy and freshly complex on the mouthfeel with a medium body and a slight tannic tug. Definitely a wine that can age a few more years if you’ll allow it to. ($30)

Dark Horse 2018 ‘One Horse Town’ Marquette

The ‘One Horse Town’ label is the winery’s next level up; a more premium portfolio which includes this estate-grown marquette – a hybrid grape that’s winter hardy and reliable in cooler climate regions. This expression is quite flavourful and concentrated with present, but smooth tannin structure. Aromas of ripe dark cherry and spice are a foreshadowing of things to come, as richened flavours of dark fruits coat the palate with a spicy warm embrace. Its six months in both new and used American and French oak barriques have helped impart structure and character to the wine that also underwent full malolactic fermentation. I’m told it’s a popular wine and I can understand why. ($24.95)

Burning Kiln 2016 ‘Inferno’ Petit Verdot

This single varietal petit verdot seems to be made in a style that’s going to please many. Usually a quite tannic wine – especially while young – the winery’s signature appassimento method has really been able to concentrate the wine’s structure and tame those wild tannins. The palate is therefore able to fully embrace a whole whack of flavours that include dark berry fruits, chocolate, smoke, spice and earth. It’s very smooth and silk-like; consumer friendly in taste, but maybe not so much in price. ($59.95)

Karlo Estates 2017 ‘Van Alstine’ Red

This is the first fortified table wine made in Prince Edward County. A ruby port style wine boasting 18% alc./vol and 95 grams of residual sugar. And as with Port wine, this is something to be savoured. Enticing aromas of raspberry, spice, stewed cherries, chocolate and cedar waft from the glass. It’s soft and quite full on the palate with rich, ripened fruit flavours and a beautiful finish that lingers. Enjoy with dark chocolate after dinner or with locally made aged cheddar. ($29)

Karlo Estates 2018 Petite Pearl

This is a hybrid grape that’s from pinot parentage – a rebellious child in that it couldn’t be more opposite. Bred to withstand -40C temperatures, it thinks that the Prince Edward County climate is hot, so it acts like a hot climate grape. It produces a wine that is higher in alcohol and dark in colour with very intense aromas and flavours. Right away, I smell cigar box, smoke and even coffee and black licorice notes. The palate has distinct acidity with a mineral edge to it. It’s a touch too sweet, with an abundance of stewed-like fruit, and finishes warm with a bit of a spicy bite. An interesting wine. ($24)

Karlo Estates 2017 ‘Estate’ Malbec

As proof would have it, malbec does grow in the cooler Prince Edward County environment and this is a wine that, unsurprisingly, has attracted some serious attention. Firstly, it’s important to know that it would be wrong to compare this to the Argentinian malbecs one can find readily available at the LCBO for a fraction of the price. Malbec was originally a cool climate varietal which gained fame amongst oenophiles when grown in the Cohors region in the southwest of France. So it is only natural that these vines have proven to be a delicious cool climate expression of this old world grape varietal. With this being the only two acres of malbec grown in Prince Edward County, what we get is a unique wine, with equally unique flavours. The colour is a deep, purplish maroon and it smells of an assembly of dark fruits, tar and spice. The palate flavours are definitely brooding, with peppercorn spice, black cherry, tobacco and stony minerality. Tannins are grippy and the finish is smooth with further flavours of vanilla and red licorice. If you let this sit in your glass long enough, it will continue to develop. The price point is understandable – in fact, I think it’s quite fair. ($39)

Dark Horse Estate Winery

Ontario Wine Snapshot: A visit to Dark Horse Estate Winery while cottaging up at Grand Bend this summer.

Other White Varietals

Burning Kiln 2017 ‘Stick Shaker’ Savagnin

Perhaps the most interesting wine of their entire portfolio is this – an appassimento style white made from the savagnin grape, a varietal that originates from the Jura region in France. It’s so scarce in Ontario, just eight acres are planted in total throughout the province, with two of those acres planted at Burning Kiln. It’s got generous and pleasing aromatics and a palate profile that sings of butterscotch, caramel apple and toasted almonds. Medium sweet and highly memorable. ($29.95)

Casa-Dea 2018 Pinot Grigio

A solid tasting pinot grigio here. This is expressive and full of character. Candied pear and lemon aromas lead to a very distinctive and welcomed mineral, grapefruit saltiness on the palate. Nicely ripened apple notes and a crisp, focused acidity round out the experience. Contains seven percent chardonnay and three percent riesling for those added complexities. Attractive price. ($19.95)

Closson Chase 2019 ‘KJ Watson Vineyard’ Pinot Gris 

From the KJ Watson Vineyard in Niagara’s Four Mile Creek sub appellation, this simply has to be one of the very best Ontario expressions of pinot gris that I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. This wine is just so compellingly alive and character-driven; it literally had me giddy with enjoyment. Its aromas of wet stone, citrus and melon are a tantalizing start. The palate is bright, zesty and explosive with fresh grapefruit citrus, honey, peach and pear. Acids are racy and burst with a clean freshness. The finish has an unmistakable crisp, minerally driven character. Such a complex wine that really deserves to be tried even if you’re just a casual fan of pinot gris, but especially if you haven’t yet tried this particular offering. Impressive all the way. ($23)

Morandin Wines 2019 Pinot Gris

This is not Morandin’s own estate pinot gris, rather, the fruit for this wine was sourced from South Bay Vineyards within Prince Edward County. Barrel aged in neutral oak for six months, this is a very clean and refreshing pinot gris with balanced acidity. It’s a wine that’s easy to drink and easy to like. ($27)

Black Prince 2018 Pinot Gris

A different style of pinot gris than I’m generally used to tasting. This one has all sorts of interesting aromas and flavours, zigging and zagging a bit, with obvious barrel play experimentation. Believe it or not, there’s very distinct aromas of candy corn that also play out on the palate – especially on the finish. There’s sweeter, riper fruits consisting of peach, pear and dried apricot too. ($24.95)

Sandbanks Pinot Grigio

A bit livelier than the riesling, this is definitely a crowd-pleaser with its easy-going flavours of exotic fruits and zesty notes. There’s inviting aromas of pear and apricot and some stone fruits. A mineral finish gives this wine a clean and refreshing after-taste. ($15.95)

Adamo 2019 Estate Vidal (Frank’s Corner)

A pretty nose of peach, nectarine, pineapple and grapefruit leap from the glass. It has that noticeable and distinct acidity that makes wines from Hockley Valley unique.  A combination of citrus fruits and tropical fruits mirror the aromatics on the palate and it finishes with a welcoming acidic burst. ($19.95)

Stratus ‘Botrytis Affected’ Semillon

Since it requires very specific conditions in the vineyard – and a lot of care and physical work – Stratus has only made the Botrytis Semillon three times. It’s an aromatically rich and dense wine, sweet with notes of raw honey, orange marmalade, ginger and ripe juicy melon. It can age for years but it’s pure perfection right now. It’s similar to an Icewine but not nearly as much sugar. The balance between sugar and acidity is just so bang on. It’s literally lip smacking! Enjoy this with dessert this holiday season. Ontario fresh pumpkin pie perhaps? ($35)

Casa-Dea 2018 Melon de Bourgogne

Light in colour, body and alcohol (11.8%), this unfiltered, refreshing sipper exhibits beautiful aromas of pear, apple and honey. The palate carries over the apple and adds a citrus vibe with a slightly salty texture. The mouthfeel is quite elegant. An excellent companion for seafood. ($20.95)

Morandin Wines 2019 Viognier

Entirely sourced from Niagara’s Redfoot Vineyard, almost half of the fruit was fermented and aged in French oak for six months before bottling, adding a beautiful element of complexity to the finished product. Aromas are quite pleasant – which is typical of the varietal when made well – but it’s the lovely palate flavours that demand your attention. Mineral freshness and dry citrus notes clear a path for an almond butter finish. It’s lively but it’s smooth and round, making for an excellent viognier – something that tends to be in very short supply here in Ontario. ($30)

Leaning Post 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

This is just the second vintage of Leaning Post’s sauvignon blanc from fruit sourced out of a couple of different spots within the Niagara Peninsula. Niagara might not be widely considered as a place that can successfully harness this grape’s wonderful attributes, but it seems to me that as each year passes, more and more producers are embracing it and expertly showcasing what this varietal can do. This achieves all those classic benchmark aromas of mango, passionfruit and gooseberry we love to associate with the grape. The palate has bursting acidity that allows the exotic kiwi and grapefruit flavours to really shine. Some fresh herbs help to nicely round things off with a bit of bees wax on the lasting finish. ($28)

Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc

Vibrant and mouth-watering aromas of grapefruit, candied lime and mandarin orange. The citrus fruit notes are abundant on the palate which is light and easy drinking with bright acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish.

Ontario Wine Report

Ontario Wine Snapshot: A visit to Hidden Bench and a chat with owner Harald Thiel is always memorable.


Westcott Vineyards 2019 ‘Delphine’ Rosé

Made with 100 percent cabernet franc grapes from the 30 year-old vines at Butler’s Grant (and winemaker Casey Kulczyk assures it will remain that way), this darker coloured rosé was produced utilizing a six hour skin maceration, then fermented using select yeast before finally undergoing complete malolactic fermentation. The results are an aromatic and refreshingly fruity wine, with inviting notes of strawberry and raspberry. It’s highly drinkable, especially during hot summer weather. ($18.99)

Westcott Vineyards 2019 Pinot Noir Rosé

As is the case with their ‘Brilliant’ Sparkling, Westcott’s pinot noir rosé is among a small handful of standouts in its class year after year. Made from 100 percent estate grown fruit, using traditional yeast and wild ferment, this is a much paler coloured rosé than the complimentary ‘Delphine’ (four hour skin maceration). It’s fresh with subtle herbs, tart cherry and earth. There’s a mineral edge component that goes well with the crisp acids, and, did I read this right, just 1.5 grams of residual sugar? Nicely done, once again. ($23.99)

Dark Horse 2019 ‘Unapologetically’ Brilliant Rosé

From the winery’s ‘Unapologetically’ label – a more consumer-friendly collection that’s made up of a selection of whites, reds and this rosé. It’s a blend that’s composed of riesling, chardonnay and cabernet franc that’s semi-dry in style (residual sugar is on the sweeter side at 18 g/L) but the balanced and fresh acidity – a true hallmark of this cooler region – is what keeps this wine in check and prevents it from tipping the scale. The wine is crisp with notes of strawberry, cranberry, apple and some citrus. A textbook rosé. ($15.95)

Sandbanks Rosé

A very juicy and refreshing rose that offers luscious aromas and flavours of raspberry, strawberry, watermelon and a hint of tangerine. Great for hot summer days and at such a pleasing price point. ($13.95)

Sandbanks ‘Summer’ Rosé

Made in a frizzante style with the tiniest of bubbles to add a refreshing effervescence on your tongue, this is a very fun and fruity wine with grapefruit notes and an exotic fruit medley that dances all the way through the finish. ($14.95)

Adamo 2019 Estate Gamay Rosé

This is the first vintage of this very satisfying and refreshing wine and just 33 cases of it was made. 100 percent estate grown fruit made from four year old vines.  10% alcohol (a major reason why this is so gulpable). There’s lifted red fruits including strawberry, sour cherry and watermelon that carry over onto the palate. It’s bone dry with crisp, sharp and clean acidity. Hard to resist. ($19.95)

The Good Earth 2018 Rosé

Such a fresh and vibrant wine, so palate and pocket friendly it will have you wanting to buy half a case. If its strawberry, raspberry and floral aromatics don’t seduce you, its fresh, semi-sweet with a touch of tartness on the palate will. ($17.95)

Back 10 Cellars 2019 Rose Coloured Glasses

This is the estate’s rosé made with pinot noir and gamay. It’s candied with flavours of strawberry, orange zest and lemon rind. Great for picnics, pre-barbecue charcuterie or sipping in the sunshine.

13th Street 2019 ‘Vin Gris’ Gamay

A 100 percent gamay rosé mostly made from free-run juice – hence the beautiful pale pink colour. Fruit is solely sourced from the estate’s remarkable Whitty Vineyard, and so, what we get is a very lovely and lively wine, full of complex flavours and mouth-watering acidity. It’s quite fragrant with flowers, cherries, lemon zest and grapefruit. Keep sniffing and you’re bound to discover notes of jalapeno and white pepper. It’s juicy, refreshing and very bright. Great for long summer days. ($24.95)

13th Street 2019 ‘Burger Blend’ Rosé

According to 13th Street’s notes for this wine, the goal of this particular Burger Blend series was to produce a fruit-laden and refreshing wine that represents excellent value and one that would bring out the best in your burger. A challenging task since the perfect burger can be a very personal and unique creation. Consider the traditional elements: the acidity of pickle, the sweetness of relish and ketchup and the spice of BBQ sauce and mustard. This Burger Blend rosé is a fruity, light and crisp wine, with a touch of spice and a juicy finish that can be enjoyed alone or with your favourite summer backyard fare, burgers most certainly included! ($14.95)

Karlo Estates 2019 ‘Patio Reserve’ Rosé

This wine is an “assemblage” of sémillon and estate-grown malbec (yes, you read that right) – the only malbec grown in Prince Edward County. It’s dry and delicious with crisp acidity and brimming with fresh flavours of strawberry, cranberry and rich red fruits. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks to maintain freshness and it also had lees contact for four months after fermenting, giving the wine a rich texture. I like the sleek bottle and labelling that’s used for this. Makes for a great gift, if not a gift for yourself! ($18)

Morandin Wines 2019 Rosé

An interesting blend, this rosé is made from fruit sourced from both Niagara and the County. The viognier and riesling grapes are from Niagara’s Redfoot Vineyard (Lincoln Lakeshore appellation) and Mayfield Vineyard (Twenty Mile Bench) respectively. The shimmering rosé colour comes from a touch of gamay noir from Hillier Creek Vineyard in Prince Edward County. There’s inviting aromas of fresh cherries that lead to a clean and refreshing taste. Will pair nicely with shell fish, appetizers or just sip it on its own. ($25)

Rosehall Run 2019 Rosé of Pinot Noir

This is Rosehall Run’s first rosé made entirely from estate grown pinot noir, carefully selected from single vineyard parcels. It presents a beautiful pale salmon colour, and that beauty is matched in both its aromas and flavours of red berry fruit, dry cherry and savoury herbs, all wonderfully complemented with a refreshing and balanced dose of crisp, lively acids. ($25)

Ontario Wine Report

Ontario Wine Snapshot: Back in June, a visit to Adamo Estate Winery and a tour and tasting with winemaker Shauna White was a real eye opener into how Ontario’s emerging regions are progressing.



Westcott Vineyards 2013 ‘Brilliant’ Sparkling

Made in the traditional method, Brilliant is a sparkling that can be included in the same conversation with many premium French Champagnes. This is remarkable. One of the best I’ve had from Canada and that is no overstatement. Two thirds pinot noir, one third chardonnay. 75 months of lees contact. Hand riddled and hand disgorged (perhaps the only winery in the country that does this?). There’s lovely tertiary flavours making their way through, including textured bready notes. Acids are still fresh, elegant and dainty. It’s supple and full on the palate. The Westcott’s apparently like to tease their customers by only releasing small batches of their Brilliant at a time. Every few months, it gets a release and before too long it’s gone. 8000 bottles made in total at one heck of a price point. ($39.99)

Burning Kiln 2017 ‘Sparks’ (Pinot Noir Rosé)

Tank method rosé sparkling made with pinot noir grapes. It’s dry and elegant, with fresh acidity and delicate flavours of pear, apple, strawberry and citrus elements. ($26.95)

Back 10 Cellars Smitten Sparkling

Made entirely with riesling grapes, this is a very expressive, aromatic and off dry (not to mention very popular with buyers). Enjoy aromas of melon, apple and pear, with a sleek acidic back bone.

13th Street 2017 Blanc de Noir Gamay

This is the winery’s first Blanc de Noir made exclusively from gamay grapes. It’s a bit unconventional, but there is reason to believe that this could take off and become more popular. There’s lovely aromas of raspberry and maraschino cherry. I get an initial creaminess on the palate with a mineral driven finish. It’s a bit tart and there’s some bitter flavours that round things off a bit, but it’s different and there’s bound to be a market for this stylishly bottled sparkling wine. ($34.95)

13th Street NV Cuvée Rosé Brut

This is a classic blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, with 70 percent coming from the 2014 vintage. The pinot noir provides fruit, power and richness while the chardonnay gives structure and backbone. What stands out the most for me when I taste this annual fan favourite sparkling is the creaminess of the mousse. It just sits beautifully in your mouth. This is a dry wine that’s bracing with vibrant acidity, yet very flavourful with mouth watering notes of strawberries and cream, ripe stone fruit and almonds. ($29.95)

Lacey Estates ‘Mon Ami’ Sparkling

Made of 55 percent riesling and 45 percent vidal grapes, it’s fresh and effervescent with palate flavours of ripened orchard fruits. It’s light on the mouthfeel with tight bubbles that seem to float their way along the tongue. Very much akin to a cider spritzer. Good price point. ($20)

Rosehall Run ‘Ceremony’ Blanc de Blanc

Making sparkling wines keeps wineries competitive within a growing market. But not everyone makes sparkling well. The traditional method Ceremony from Rosehall Run is definitely made well. From entirely estate-grown chardonnay, this cuvée is assembled from three vintages (2011, ’13 and ’14). It hits the palate sharply with crisp, clean acids and lingers with its persistent mousse. There’s some toasty almond undertones and a minerally infused freshness on the finish. ($36)

Rosehall Run 2019 Pet Nat

If you’ve not ever tried a pet nat (short for the French term Pétillant Naturel), this would be a fine start. In fact, this is Rosehall Run’s first foray into this space, which seems to be catching on as more wineries are experimenting with this quirky wine as each year passes. This particular pet nat is sourced from experimental plantings that are part of the oldest vines at the estate farm dating back to 2001. Over the years, Dan Sullivan has made varietal wines under the radar in very small quantities to test the potential for growing various varieties. This block has 130 vines each of sauvignon blanc and gewürztraminer – the oldest producing in the County – along with pinot gris, gamay and riesling. They used this fruit plus a select lot of their clone 459 pinot noir, muscat and tempranillo (yes, you read that right) to craft this unique blend. So many grapes thrown into the mix (almost mad scientist in a way) and yet this works brilliantly. A dollop of sparkling chardonnay must was added to tweak the sugar and up the bubble potential. It’s fruity, slightly funky, refreshing and effervescent, almost akin to a type of soda pop that you’d crave on a warm summer’s day. Interesting. ($32)

Rosehall Run 2018 Pixie Petite

The ready to drink canned wine category is gaining more popularity and market share in the industry. Introducing Pixie Petite, an RTD wine spritzer made from the winery’s already popular pink bubbly, Pixie (vidal and pinot noir blend). Remaining authentic and faithful to the Pixie brand, this canned bevy is super convenient and is bursting with serious flavour. I got peach and strawberry notes that sit light and dry on the palate.  It’s low in alcohol and refreshing for any occasion. Impressive! ($3.95 each)

Jackson-Triggs 2016 ‘Entourage’ Grand Reserve Brut

Ontario is producing more and more sparkling to try and meet demand, but one that has been around for a while now is the Entourage and it continues to be one of the best value sparklings on the market. This is traditional method all the way and explodes with bright lemon acidity that eventually gives in to a full and round creamy texture on the palate. It gets its cool name from the French term en tirage which means to age the wine three years in bottle in order to extract body, flavour and aromatics.  And like the name suggests, this is definitely one to share with your special ‘entourage’. ($29.95)

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut

This is regarded as one of Ontario’s better sparklings, with a consistent track record. A blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, it spends 30 months on the lees and tends to be slightly spicy, with tangy lemon, stone fruit and toasty notes. It’s crisp, zesty and refreshingly bright. Bone dry, taught and persistent, this wine reflects its pedigree extremely well. An Ontario classic. ($32.95)

 Trail Estate 2019 ‘Light Fluffy Coulds’ Pet Nat

This refreshingly light and balanced pet nat is made up of 90 percent muscatt ottonel and 10 percent riesling. It was fermented dry with a little pre-ferment juice added at bottling. Zero sulphites. What we get is a lemon-orange, almost soda-esque ‘Limoncello’ flavoured wine that’s balanced without any sharp acids. Just 9.5% alc/Vol and 3g/L residual sugar. I can see why pet nat wines are all the rage right now with consumers. Only 160 cases produced. ($33)

Traynor Family Vineyard 2019 Pet Nat

Made of 80 percent chardonnay and 20 percent sauvignon blanc (both estate grown), the two varietals were co-fermented and cold stabilized before settling. A suss reserve of vidal juice was then added and the wine was immediately bottled afterwards. The result is a wine that gives off yeasty aromatics with hints of orange peel and lime zest. The mouthfeel is vibrant with an array of citrus fruits, tight bubbles and palate-cleansing freshness. ($40)

Ontario Wine Report

Ontario Wine Snapshot: Paula and me while enjoying a tasting at Stratus back in a pre-covid environment in February, 2020.


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