We began our tour Saturday at Tawse Winery. I had been to this family-owned estate winery quite a few times over the years, but this was my first time doing a tour of the vineyard and facilities. The Tawse story begins with Moray Tawse, a wine aficionado with vineyard holdings in Argentina and Burgundy. He saw the potential in Niagara and purchased his first 6 acres in 2001, then opened his impressive winery in 2005 - his personal residence is also attached to the winery.
Our guide at Tawse, Rheal Demers, took us out to the estate vineyards on the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation and went through some of the vineyard practices. The 3 block's of vineyards on-site are Robyn's Block, Carly's Block, and David's Block - named after the children Moray and Joanne Tawse. At Tawse, all estate vineyards use organic and biodynamic farming techniques. Biodynamic farming is an approach that not only focuses on self-sustaining ecology in the vineyard, but also relies on traditional agricultural practices such as planting and harvesting at certain points in the lunar calendar. It was amazing to hear that the approaches used by Tawse are very much the same as those used by another winery halfway across the globe that I profiled recently - South Africa's Avondale Wine. Included among Tawse Winery's organic and biodynamic farming practices is the use of sheep (to eat weeds and excess vine foliage, and provide manure for soil enrichment), natural predators (for pest control), cover crops, and burying cow's horns to stimulate humus formation.
The high vantage point up on the Escarpment at Tawse provided a nice, clear view of Lake Ontario and in the far distance - the CN Tower. More importantly for winemaking, the breeze from the lake can be a great benefit for grape growing and definitely helps Tawse produce the great wines that they're known for.
Once inside, we got a nice view of the 6-level gravity flow processing system, followed by a visit to the cellar room. It was interesting to know that the humidity and temperature in the cellar room is partially controlled by the 9-metre-deep pond out in front of the property via geo-thermal cooling.
After we completed the tour, we headed for the Discovery Pass Experience which featured a delicious herbed pulled chicken topped with fresh salsa verde prepared by House Chef Jesslyn and served alongside the 2013 Limestone Ridge Riesling. Riesling wines generally pair quite well with food due to it's naturally high acidity, and this was no exception. Good flavour balance overall and between the food and wine, with the sugars from the wine balancing the subtle spice kick from the chicken very nicely. Good portion size too! Overall, the pairing worked quite well and was enjoyed by all.
In case this was your first introduction to Tawse, you should know that it won Canadian Winery of the Year in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Furthermore, Winemaker Paul Pender was named Winemaker of the Year in 2011. The wines here are excellent and I would encourage you to visit and taste their wines; some of their wines are also frequently found at the LCBO.
Vignoble Rancourt Winery for a pairing of Harvest Barn teriyaki sauce chicken wings with their 2013 Rancourt Merlot Rosé ($15.00, 86 pts). This was my first ever visit to Rancourt and I came here with no expectations. Even though the portion size was generous, the pairing was average - everyone else in the group also felt the same. Given the honeyed fruit character of the wine, a honey flavoured wing or (even better) a spicy wing would've been my preferred style of pairing. Once we completed the Discovery Pass Experience, we were given a small tour of the property by the young and very knowledgeable Brooke Georgeneau.
Brooke began by telling us about the history of Rancourt Winery that began only in 2006. Quebec natives Lionel Rancourt and his wife Lorraine moved to Niagara in the hopes of improving their English and putting their farm hands to work. Following a trip to Bordeaux, Lionel's passion shifted to growing grapes and immediately began pulling out their peach plantings. Initially, Lionel was selling his grapes to local wineries who used them to produce great wines. This convinced Lionel to produce his own wine.
However, he had a problem in that his wife did not drink wine. Lionel was determined to craft a wine so that it would appeal to his wife and virtually any non-wine drinker - the result was the Noble Blanc. The latest iteration of this white wine is the 2012 Noble Blanc ($16, 87 pts) and is a unique blend of 60/40 Chardonnay/Gewürztraminer made in an off-dry, crowd-pleasing style.
This boutique winery is now currently running under the new ownership of Joe Enrich and his daughter Sue. In an ode to Niagara's past, they keep a block of Concorde, but also experiment with wines such as an unoaked Malbec that I hear is an easy-drinking, crowd-pleasing, and fun wine that tastes like watermelon jolly rancher.
At the bottom of this post you will find wine reviews of a few of the wines I tasted at Tawse and Rancourt, along with some of many other wines I enjoyed on this visit to Niagara wine country.
Konzelmann Estate Winery for a pairing of their 2013 Pinot Blanc with a pair of grilled sweet chili shrimps topped with mango salsa. Having been to Konzelmann for a few years now, I've yet to be disappointed with the quality of the food & wine pairing. The large shrimp was succulent, juicy and delicious with the mango salsa! However, the shrimp was a little too spicy for the dry Pinot Blanc - I would've preferred an off-dry (i.e. slightly sweet) wine such as their Gewürztraminer or Pinot Gris.
Strewn Winery for an interesting vertical tasting of dry Rieslings from three consecutive vintages. These three white wines were paired with a crostini topped with roasted pear, garlic hummus, baby sprouts and OLiV Balsamic Pearls and Lemon EVO oil. While the pairing between the wines and crostini was good, the star of this Discovery Pass Experience was the ability to taste the same wine from 3 different vintages and see how they are all evolving. In the lineup was the Strewn Terroir Riesling from 2012, 2013 and 2014. As a bonus, I also got to taste the 2011 Strewn Terroir Riesling. The two newer Rieslings were fresh, fruity, and had a hint of sweetness, while the two older Rieslings were essentially dry, mineral-driven, and had a mature petrol nose. Full wine tasting notes are provided below.
After the tour itinerary was completed, I attended the TD Tailgate Party. This event is held annually in the vineyards of the winner of the Grape Grower of the Year award, also known as the Grape King. For 2014-2015, the winner was Kevin Buis and the party was held in his Family Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. There were about 30 wineries that lined the vines, literally opening up the tailgates of their vehicles and serving up some of their newest vintages to party goers. There were also various food stations scattered throughout for sampling food items, as well as a stage and live music. It was very much a party type of atmosphere, with wines to match, and a good crowd. It was great to meet a few friends from Toronto, as well as seeing many familiar and friendly faces from the wineries, including Brooke, who I had met earlier in the day at Rancourt. In fact, after I had made my rounds, I spent quite a bit of time at the end of the night at the Rancourt table talking about wine, the industry in Niagara, while sharing lots of laughs. As the event came to a close, I helped the ladies of Rancourt carry stuff back to the shuttle bus (i.e. school bus) and then back to their vehicle.
And this concludes my review of day 1 in Niagara last month.
Tasting Notes:TAWSE SPARK LIMESTONE RIDGE RIESLING SPARKLING 2013 - VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#370361) (D) - $19.95
Medium+ aromas of tart lime, citrus and stone notes. It's medium-bodied with just off-dry aroma replays and a chalky mineral texture that leads to a long, dry-ish finish. Juicy and refreshing. Score: 89 pts
TAWSE GROWERS BLEND PINOT NOIR 2011 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#130989) (XD) - $24.95
Aromas of medium-to-high intensity with notes of cherry, earthy undertones, exotic spice, and subtle oak on the nose and palate. It's medium-bodied with bright acids and chalky tannins. Long, earthy finish has subtle spice notes. Score: 90+ pts
TAWSE ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2011 - VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $37.95
This wine has spent 12-months in used French oak. Highly aromatic and elegant nose of apple, butter and vanilla which replay very nicely on the medium-bodied palate. There's bright acids and a chalky texture. Oak-spiced mid-palate is subtle. Excellent length on the smooth finish. Score: 91 pts
TAWSE BEAMSVILLE BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011 - VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $45
Medium-to-high aromas of focused apple, mineral, butter and vanilla notes. It has bright acids on the medium-bodied frame along with nicely balanced aroma replays. Lengthy finish. Score: 90 pts
TAWSE LIMESTONE RIDGE-NORTH RIESLING 2013 - VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (M) - $21.95
Perfumed medium-to-high intensity aromas of citrus, peach, and melon. On the palate, it's medium-bodied with bright acidity and pleasing, medium-dry aroma replays. Slightly tart with a minerally aftertaste. Yummy. Score: 89 pts
TAWSE RIESLING ICEWINE 2013 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#204990) (S) (200 mL) - $34.95
Highly aromatic with inviting peach, melon and honeysuckle aromas that re-appear on the sweet, delicious palate. It's well-balanced with bright acids and finishing long. Score: 90 pts
RANCOURT CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $17
Medium-to-high aromas of green pepper, oak and cassis. The palate is medium-to-full bodied with juicy black cherry and blackberry flavours. It has very good acids, ripe tannins and medium-to-long finish. Score: 88+ pts
RANCOURT GEWURZTRAMINER ICEWINE 2013 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (S) - $30
Medium-high aromatics with lovely peach, melon, and honey notes that replay very nicely on the palate. It's medium-to-full bodied with lively acidity and a very long finish. Delicious! Score: 90+ pts
KONZELMANN PINOT BLANC 2013 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#219279) (XD) - $12.15
Medium+ intensity aromas with earthy, mineral, lemon/lime nose with nice aroma replays. The mouthfeel is crisp and dry with bright acidity. Good length on the chalky mineral finish. Score: 87 pts
STREWN TERROIR RIESLING 2014 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#) (XD) - $19.15
Aromas of pink grapefruit, citrus, and floral of medium+ intensity. The aromas return on the fruity, medium+ bodied palate along with notes of ginger and spice. It has a chalky mineral texture and very good acids. Long finishing. Score: 88 pts
STREWN TERROIR RIESLING 2013 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#) (XD) - $19.15
Bright, medium+ intensity aromas of peach, citrus, and orange which replay very nicely on the palate. Just a touch of sweetness, but toned down due to the very good acidity. Fruit forward. Medium+ length finish. Score: 88 pts
STREWN TERROIR RIESLING 2012 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#) (XD) - $17.15
Medium-to-high intensity aromas featuring elegant petrol, crushed rocks and mineral notes. Mineral-driven wine with lime flavours on the palate with just a kiss of hint of sweetness. It has very good acids and finishes long. Score: 88 pts
STREWN TERROIR RIESLING 2011 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#) (D) - ????
Maturing nose of fine petrol, mineral and orange citrus. The palate is medium-bodied with fine acids and pleasing aroma replays with a just a kiss of sweetness. Medium-to-long finish. Elegant. Score: 89 pts
STREWN TERROIR FUMÉ BLANC 2013 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $19.95
Elegant, medium intensity aromas of gooseberry, grass, lemon/lime and vanilla. On the palate, it's medium-to-full bodied and very creamy with flavours of orchard fruit, apple, pear and butter. Good acids and excellent length on the finish. Score: 90 pts