A Short History of Wine in Niagara
The history of wine in Niagara is short measured by the time scale of the wine world, which is in centuries. Its history has been the most interesting starting in the 1970s and 1980s. It transformed from producing low quality wine using native Labrusca grapes such as Concord to hybrids like Marechal Foch, which make better wine, to Vitis vinefera grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc that produce excellent table wines.
That transformation continues as vintners chose the optimal sites to plant select grape varieties to make even better wine. This resulted in Niagara being divided into sub regions like Twenty Mile Bench, Beamsville Bench, and Niagara Lakeshore. Each of these sub-appellations have unique microclimates, slopes, and soil conditions that offer distinct advantages to viticulture. The result is a stunning improvement in wine quality over the last 20 years for the varietals that consistently shine in Niagara: Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay Noir.
That improvement has Niagara increasingly recognized on the international stage as a premier wine region. The big news in 2021 was an Ontario wine, Hidden Bench 2018 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, was named Decanter (Magazine) World Wine Awards “Best in Show”. This is an enormous accomplishment since this massive annual competition in London, England judges 18,000 wines entered from all over the world, including top wines from regions like Napa and Burgundy.
So, as you savour Autumn, try some local Niagara in your glass. You will be drinking a world class wine.
This Month’s Wine Reviews
As usual, my ratings are based on a 5 star system developed by Michael Broadbent: 5 stars: Outstanding; 4 stars: Very good; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Moderately good; 1 star: Not very good, but not bad; No stars: Poor.
Kew Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2017 ★★★½ $14.95 (Vintages and WInery)
As with many Ontario Pinot Grigios, this wine has more body than its Italian counterparts. It also has a coppery hue indicating a little skin contact in making the wine. This white is a fresh, medium bodied wine touched with grapefruit peel, lemon, green apple, and minerals. It should do well with apps, seafood, or sipping in the sun. Stock is getting low at Vintages, but still available at the winery.
Jack Rabbit Special Edition White 2019 ★★★½ $17.95 (Vintages)
Hare Wine Co. produced this quaffable blend of Vidal, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc exclusively for the LCBO. The Sauvignon dominates the nose with its herbaceous notes, but the other grapes fill in the medium bodied palate with spice, roses, lime, lemon, and cantaloupe. Enjoy a glass before dinner or with your salads.
Marques De Riscal Verdejo (Rueda) 2020 ★★★½ $14.25 (LCBO)
if your preferences run to whites like Sauvignon Blanc, this Spanish offering made from the native Verdejo grape is your kind of wine. It’s dry, medium bodied, and highly aromatic, scented with fresh cut grass, pear, fennel, and intense mineral. The flavours follow suit augmented with a bright lemony acidity. It’s the perfect pairing for olives and antipasti.
La Vieille Ferme Luberon Blanc 2020 ★★★½ $12.25 (LCBO)
This dry white is one of the wine world’s great values that’s an even better value on sale. First tried it in the late 1980s and it’s been consistently good. Ripe mango and pineapple, quickly followed by lemon and stone fruit built on a sturdy backbone of minerals. It will perfectly match grilled chicken even if you’ve marinated it with spicy Buffalo wing sauce. This wine’s body and intense fruit will carry the day.
Tre Fiori Greco di Tufo 2019★★★½+ $17.95 (Vintages)
Vinted from an ancient Italian varietal, which legend says came from Greece, that shows its best when grown around the village of Tufo in Campania in Southern Italy. Hence, the wine’s name: Greco di Tufo. It’s medium bodied, dry, unoaked, and not overly aromatic, but the flavours simply shine with lemon, fennel, white peach, and minerals. And those fruits linger on your palate. Grilled seafood, scallops especially come to mind, served with a squeeze of lemon would be the perfect complement to this very agreeable white.
Typic Rosé 2020 ★★★½ $14.25 (LCBO)
This wine comes from the vast wine district that stretches across the South of France, the Languedoc-Roussillon. It’s known by its official regional wine designation as the Pays D’Oc. The name of the wine is cute play on words: the French word “typique”, which means typical and this Rosé is very much typical of the Rosés of the South of France. It is quite pale and it’s mostly Cinsault, a common grape for Rosé in Provence (with a bit of Syrah added for structure). This is a delightful lightish bodied, dry summer sipper with suggestions of strawberry, sweet cherry and lemon, intermingled with herbaceous watermelon rind. It would be an excellent complement to Margherita pizza or gazpacho drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
Ràjo Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2017 ★★★★ $19.95 (Vintages)
Valpolicella from the Veneto region can be one of the forgotten Italian wines since it’s usually a light, simple red, but that’s not true of this Classico Superiore. This wine has more to offer – dry and deeply coloured with more body and aromas of cherry and plum jam, spice, cedar, vanilla, earth, and leather. Well developed to drink now. It’s just right to serve with your pizza or tomato basil sauced gnocchi with Parmesan cheese; if you add some pancetta or crumbled sausage to the sauce, even better.
The Federalist Dry Creek Zinfandel 2019 ★★★★ $19.95 (Vintages)
Dry Creek is the source of the most interesting Zinfandels in California and the old vines in this region produce superb quality fruit. This one is luxuriant, dry, and full bodied with blackberry, peppery spice, black cherry, raspberry jam, black currant, and coconut/vanilla from American oak barrel aging. Grilled peppers and onions with chorizo sausage or steak would be ideal with this red.
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