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  • Date publishedTuesday, November 17, 2015

2015 Niagara Wine Festival Review

On , I had the pleasure of visiting Niagara to sample a variety of food and wines as part of the Discovery Pass Experience and to celebrate the 64th Annual Niagara Wine Festival that takes place every September.

Lobster Bisque with Rancourt Chardonnay Reserve
Our tour began at Rancourt Winery for a delicious pairing of lobster bisque and their buttery 2013 Chardonnay Reserve. After fetching our pairing, we headed out to the patio where the sun was shining bright. The bisque was thick, rich and creamy with some chunks of lobster, along with potato adding texture and mild pepper spice for flavouring. Some of the Chardonnay Reserve was also added to the bisque, while it was topped with white chocolate shavings. The bisque was quite delicious and paired well with the Chardonnay, with bisque and wine flavours complementing each other, and the bright acidity cutting into creamy soup very effectively for a balanced pairing. The portion size was also just right.

Niagara Oast House Brewers tasting lineup

The next stop on our tour was somewhat unplanned. A week earlier I attended The Beer Experience and tasted some amazing local craft beer. At that event I met the sales rep from Niagara Oast House Brewers and he highly encouraged me to come to the brewery to taste their flagship Saison beer which remind many of carbonated wine. Since we were only a few minutes away from Niagara Oast House Brewers, we headed over and tasted a flight of beer, including the Saison.

Niagara Oast House Brewers Country Bumpkin Pumpkin-Spiced Ale
The Saison was tasty and did remind me of wine with it's black pepper and citrus flavours. More vividly, it brought up images of a white Shiraz. I also enjoyed the "Local Hopton IPA" that's made from fresh 100% Niagara-grown hops that are harvested the same day; it's a bitter, hoppy beer very much in the style of an IPA. My favourite beer was their seasonal Country Bumpkin - a fall harvest ale with strong pumpkin pie spice flavours. It smelled and tasted so great that I couldn't resist buying some in the only format available - a growler. Made fresh in small batches without preservatives, the Country Bumpkin needed to be opened within a few days and finished within 48 hours before it starts to lose its freshness. Besides restaurants, most of their beers are only available at the brewery.

Back to wine, our next stop was up the road to Diamond Estates - The Winery for a potato-filled vegetable samosa paired with their FRESH Sparkling Rosé 2012 ($14.95, #341347, 85 pts) and Lakeview Cellars Syrah Rosé 2012 ($16.95, #347450, 87 pts). The samosa had mild chutney drizzled on top and added some sweet & spicy flavours. The FRESH Sparkling Rosé is a dry (i.e. not sweet) Pinot Noir based blend with tart/sour flavours of strawberry, bing cherry, red fruit and olive but lacked the acidity and sweetness to pair well with the samosa. Meanwhile, the dry Lakeview Syrah Rosé contains 8.5% Moscato and 1.5% Auxerrois features bright acids and strawberry, currant, and peppery notes that not only made it enjoyable to sip on its own, but also paired quite well with the samosa.

Samosa with Diamond Estates FRESH Sparkling Rosé

2 Storey High Stainless Tanks at Diamond Estates
I also took a quick tour through the facilities where I shown the massive loading dock where the grapes arrive on trucks and get weighed prior to being brought into the warehouse for sorting and fermentation. Since it was a Saturday, it was pretty quiet, but you get the feeling that this is quite the operation on a weekday during harvest. Once inside you are immediately greeted with row-upon-row of 84,000 Litre stainless tanks (over 2 storeys high) used for fermentation - easily the largest tanks I have ever seen! As we moved further into the massive facility, we stood on a platform used for the Cellar Floor Experience and from this vantage point we had a very nice view of the production area that featured over 800 barrels, including several large Slovenian oak barrels, as well as more smaller tanks. Overall, I was quite impressed with one of the largest winemaking facilities in Niagara.

800+ Barrels at Diamond Estates Winemaking Facility

The tasting room was abuzz at Diamond Estates, so I didn't get a chance to taste everything I wanted, but I did taste 3 very good red wines from Lakeview Cellars, one of the many wine brands of Diamond Estates. Wine reviews are provided below.

Our third wine pairing of the day ending up being a bit of dud due to the fact the arancini prepared by Chef Lorenzo of Cucina A Go-Go contained veal - something that was not mentioned during the planning phase and no one in my group eats. What was most disappointing was the lack of a vegetarian option. I've been a fan of 13th Street Winery for many years, but this was my first visit to the winery, so, instead we ended up tasting a few delicious wines, including the Gamay that was part of the wine pairing. I also tasted some delicious aged cheddar cheese and visited the on-site bakery.

Rockway Vineyards Late Harvest Vidal with Wine Poached Pear
The final stop of the day was at Rockway Vineyards for a wine poached pear topped with a spicy cream and pecan that was paired with their 2013 Rockway Vineyards Late Harvest Vidal ($15.95, #413617, 86 pts). Neither the poached pear or the wine were very sweet, however, the sweetness from the Late Harvest wine did tame the spicy kick that resided in the cream. It was a balanced pairing that worked well together.

My "take away" from this trip was the rather impressive display of Syrah in Niagara. I don't ever recall tasting and enjoying as many Syrah on any prior trip to Niagara as I did on this visit. The Syrah star in Niagara is definitely on the rise and one to look out for as time moves along.

Tasting Notes:

RANCOURT CHARDONNAY RESERVE 2013 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $23
Rich and buttery with toasty vanilla and hints of butterscotch aromas of medium+ intensity. The medium+ bodied palate offered butterscotch-led aroma replays with a hint of caramel. It has bright and lengthy finish. Score: 88+ pts

RANCOURT SYRAH 2012 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $30
After spending 2 years in new French oak, this has medium+ intensity aromas of black pepper and peppercorn followed by some plum and black cherry notes. It's medium-bodied on the palate with a viscous/glycerin-like mouthfeel and slightly herbally, red & blue fruit flavour profile. It has good acidity and finishes long. Score: 87-88 pts

Lakeview Cellars Merlot Reserve 2010 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (88 pts)Lakeview Cellars Syrah 2012 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada (87 pts)Lakeview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada (88 pts)

LAKEVIEW CELLARS MERLOT RESERVE 2010 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#002157) (XD) - $29.95
Medium+ intensity nose with dried fruit, cherry, cocoa, milk chocolate and sweet spices that replay on the palate. Medium-bodied on the palate with rounded tannins, good acids and slightly sour on the long finish. Score: 88 pts

LAKEVIEW CELLARS SYRAH 2012 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $24.95
Medium intensity nose featuring black olive and white pepper notes. Palate is medium+ bodied with integrated tannins, aroma replays with a hint of green pepper. Fresh acids, some bitterness mid-palate, and good length on the finish. Score: 87 pts

LAKEVIEW CELLARS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada (#438390) (XD) - $29.95
Medium intensity aromas that show meaty, cassis, black pepper, and sandalwood that echo nicely on the medium-to-full bodied palate. It has very good acidity and excellent length on the finish. A nice effort from a formidable vintage. Drinking well now and should improve in 1-2 years. Score: 88 pts

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (88 pts)13th Street June's Vineyard Riesling 2013 - VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (89 pts)13th Street Essence Syrah 2012 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (90 pts)

13TH STREET GAMAY NOIR 2013 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#177824) (D) - $19.95
Savoury medium intensity nose with meat, charcuterie, dark berry, smoke and beet aromas. It's light-to-medium bodied with red cherry and earthy flavours on the palate, low in tannin, fresh acids and medium-to-long finish. Score: 88 pts

13TH STREET JUNE'S VINEYARD RIESLING 2013 - VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#147512) (D) - $19.95
Medium-to-high aromatics showing a somewhat mature nose of petrol along with peach, apricot, and hints of melon. It's medium-bodied with off-dry flavours of orange, peach and lime. It has very good acidity and a chalky, medium-to-long finish. Score: 89 pts

13TH STREET ESSENCE SYRAH 2012 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $44.95
Aromas of medium-to-high intensity showing very nice blackberry, black pepper, wild herb, smoked meat and spices that echo very nicely on the full-bodied palate. The acids are mouth-watering, while the finish length is excellent. Score: 90 pts

Rockway Vineyards Meritage 2012 - VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (88 pts)Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12-140 Syrah 2012 - VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (90 pts)Rockway Vineyards Vidal Icewine 2013 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (90 pts)

ROCKWAY VINEYARDS MERITAGE 2012 - VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#388264) (D) - $19.95
Medium-to-high intensity aromas that is quite complex with smoky, meaty, dusty cocoa, milk chocolate, wild herb, sage and peppery flavours that all make appearance on the medium-bodied palate. It's got fresh acids and shows good balance. Finishes long. Slightly taut tannins should soften and be better in 1-2 years. Score: 88 pts

ROCKWAY VINEYARDS SMALL LOT BLOCK 12-140 SYRAH 2012 - VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $29.95
Medium+ intensity aromas of wild blueberry, meaty, white pepper and spices that intermingle pleasantly on the full-bodied palate. Very good acidity and finishing long with bitter chocolate flavours. Score: 90 pts

ROCKWAY VINEYARDS VIDAL ICEWINE 2013 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (S) (750 mL) - $29.95
Highly aromatic nose featuring peach and apricot notes that replay very nicely on the light-to-medium bodied palate. It's sweet with a slightly chalky mouthfeel. Acids are bright. Finishes long with hints of pineapple, mango and lemon preserve. Very enjoyable. Score: 90 pts


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