A few weekends ago I headed to Niagara to see some friends and, of course, taste some wine. I had the immense pleasure of partnering with the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute to attend their event called Cuvée en Route. For $30* you get free tastings at over 30 wineries in the area. Many wineries also take the opportunity to bring out special releases or showcase new or unique wines. We worked hard in our one day ‘en route’, making it to nine (yes, you read that right, NINE!) wineries.
The nine wineries we went to could not have been more different. Other than being located in Niagara and housing a lot of fermented grape juice, I mean. Here’s a run-down of the places we had the pleasure of visiting.
Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery
(Sadly, Ravine was the only winery where I didn’t get any pictures! Sorry, friends)
Their tasting room and shop are in an old converted farmhouse, making it feel very soft and welcoming. We sat at a lovely high-top table and sampled the three wines they chose to share. While tasting the man helping us helpfully explained the wines, including what the weather was like the year the grapes were grown and what he personally likes to pair each wine with. It’s always a pleasure to have someone take the time to share their knowledge and passion with you.
Highlight: Their 2014 Chardonnay. Toast, oak and stone fruit – it’s a great example of a California style Chard.
Colaneri Estate Winery
This winery is something else. If you’ve never been to Niagara let me assure you that it’s much like other small communities in Southern Ontario or Upstate New York; lots of old brick and stone buildings with more modern ones featuring newer materials like vinyl siding. And then there’s the Colaneri estate, in all it’s Italian villa glory. The winemakers, being of Italian descent, decided to go all in on their cultural heritage
Highlight: Their 2013 Chardonnay Recioto. With green fruit and apple blossoms, it is entirely different from any other Chardonnay I’ve tasted.
The Foreign Affair Winery
This is a winery I was not at all familiar with before this tasting. What I didn’t know is that this winery was started by a former ambassador who was posted to Italy with his family. He fell in love with wine there and when he retired from that life he knew that what he wanted to do most was start a winery in Niagara using Italian wine styles, and I’m so glad he did. Using appassimento styles (where you let the grape dry before fermenting into wine), Foreign Affair brings some great wines to the Niagara scene.
Highlight: Their 2010 Chardonnay (that’s three in a row for those of you keeping track at home!), which has lovely creaminess on the nose and delicious tropical fruit on the palate (pineapple and mango stood out for me). The age has helped it mellow a bit too, which I loved.
Oh, Megalomaniac. I know it’s their brand to be all brash and bombastic, but I really just wanted to tell them to calm down! The winery sits on the stop of a big hill, overlooking a great swath of Niagara, and definitely drives home to the bigness (is that even a word?) and confidence that their brand is all about. I thought the service could have been better – it felt like their staff weren’t even briefed on the event, and the wine could have been more mellow.
Highlight: Of the three wines we tasted I liked their ‘Big Mouth’ Merlot best. It had the red and black fruit and velvety smoothness I expect from a Merlot but also had a nice full body that I always want but don’t often get from that grape.
Malivoire Wine Company
This visit was a pleasant surprise! For the event they offered a vertical of their Foch wine. If you’re not familiar with this grape don’t worry, I wasn’t either. It turns out that when the winery first started in the mid 1990’s they decided to create a hybrid grape that would better suit the Niagara climate, especially since they were having a tough time getting other more well-known grapes to produce quality yields. Basically Malivoire pioneered a varietal made specifically for the Niagara region – cool!
Highlight: Definitely the 2005 Old Vines Foch. Mellow and slinky, but still retaining the red fruit and oaky characters. Plus, how often do you get to drink ten year old wine? Thanks Cuvée en Route!
I’d had Kacaba’s wines before this event but, for some reason, they’re never a stand out favourite for me when it comes to Niagara wines. This visit reminded me that I should pay this winery more attention. Located in a small building that looks more like a cottage than a winery, I had a great time hearing about the (surprisingly large) variety of wines they make there. It also doesn’t hurt that the Kacaba staff person who was helping us was so enthusiastic about the wine and let me talk his ear off with my questions about their techniques and barrelling choices.
Highlight: Oh my, their 2015 Sparkling Brut! Floral and fruity with lots of tiny bubbles and a gorgeous blush colour. Delicious!
Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery
Yet another example of the uniqueness of each winery in this region. I’m pretty sure the tasting room for this winery is run out of Sue-Ann Staff’s own house (!!) which gives everything a lovely, comfortable, homey vibe – the adorable dog hanging around out front didn’t hurt either. We had a great time chatting and tasting with both Sue-Ann herself.
Highlight: Their 2013 Sparkling Riesling was so interesting, with a brightness on the palate but also caramel, burnt sugar and toffee notes and I would guess come from the wine’s age.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate
A multi-building outfit, it’s sprawling but compact property made me think of the few California wineries I managed to get to last summer, with its wood and stone work. The tasting room was in a very cozy low-ceilinged room with wooden beams and soft lighting – exactly my kind of room. I kind of wish they had a big puffy chair and a fireplace for ultimate wine warmth.
Highlight: We tasted three Merlots – 1998, 1999 and 2000. The 2000 still tasted a bit bright and fruity and the 1998 tasted a little thin, like it was the beginning of the end for the wine’s life. THe 1999, however, was a perfect middle ground with both lively fruitiness and the mellowness I was hoping for.
Peller Estates Winery
Last but not least, we finished our day with a Cabernet Franc vertical at Peller. To be honest, at this point in the day both my brain and my tongue were getting a little tired so I don’t have as much to say about these wines. Our tasting took place in a stately wood-paneled room on the second story of their building. While their wines are always solid I do usually find myself wishing there was more personality in the Peller experience.
Highlight: Of the three years we tasted (2011, 2012, 2013) I liked the 2012 best. It had the expected red fruit and smoke on the nose but also had some cigar box character that I found really interesting. The flavour was similar with some spiciness giving it a solid backbone. Yum! I do love Nagara Cab Francs.
Notable omissions include Cave Spring, Fielding, and Organized Crime (which didn’t even take part in the event this year). Oh well. They’re some of my favourites – I’m sure I’ll be back. I also would have liked to have visited Strewn, Stratus and Peninsula Ridge, none of which I’ve been to before.
Clearly this calls for another visit.
Footnotes and addenda
If you’re interested (and for whatever they’re worth!), I’ve written up my tasting notes in their entirety over on Google Drive.
*Or, in my case, complementary with the understanding that I’d write here about the trip.