Tasting Niagara 2009

Wineries covered in this report:  Tawse, Coyote’s Run, Ravine, Organized Crime, Foreign Affair & Alvento. The last three may be found here

Following on the heels of our adventures in the Leelanau, we decided to eschew American Thanksgiving and revisit the Niagara Peninsula to see what was new in the other exciting up-and-coming cool climate wine region within a four hour drive from Day-twah. We’d been greatly impressed with what we’d tasted on our last two jaunts to the Escarpment, both last Easter weekend and summer before last, and of course, it’s a great excuse to hang out with our own Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan. Whilst not quite as well choreographed as our northern Michigan expedition, it didn’t need to be, as we were well taken care of at Chateau Zin-Can, and any visits that weren’t set up in advance by Mr. Kerr were easily accommodated due to the fact that it was the weekend and every producer we wanted to visit was open for tasting.

We visited a total of six wineries/tasting rooms over three days, only one of which we’d been to previously, Tawse. New to us were Coyote’s Run, Ravine, Organized Crime and Foreign Affair. We also stopped in at 13th Street Winery, but took no notes, as Alan had already documented a visit there the week before. We can attest to his impressions of a fine lineup of wines, however, and indeed, we brought home a few bottles of the 2004 Premier Cuvee Brut for our bubbly enjoyment.

Upon arriving in Niagara wine country on Thanksgiving afternoon, where it’s just another Thursday to the locals, we stopped in at Angel’s Gate Winery, not to taste, but to buy more of their 2006 Ontario Rosé for our drinking pleasure during our stay. I’m happy to report that this delightful little rosé is holding up quite well, with only some slight bricking to its color.

Tasting Niagara 2009: Day 1~Tawse Winery

Our only actual tasting of our first day was at Tawse Winery, following up on our visits there of last spring and the summer before. As previously reported, Tawse is a state-of-the-art six level gravity-fed facility that uses geo-thermal energy for both heating and cooling during the winemaking process. Traditional artisanal techniques and both organic and biodynamic farming are employed in the winery and vineyards and the quality of the wines is quite impressive.

We were led through a sampling of the current lineup by former school principal and amiable “Wine Shop Associate” Rheal Demers, who displayed an impressive knowledge of not only Tawse products, but wine in general.

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2007 Tawse Twenty Mile Bench Robyn’s Block Estate Chardonnay, $42 Can: Pale to medium color, with lots of oak on the expressive nose, but less so on the somewhat more restrained palate, both with a creamy apple and pear character; Kim mentions some earthy, old wood undertones in the mouth. Medium-full to full bodied, with good cut and length, rich and food friendly.

2007 Tawse Vinemount Ridge Quarry Road Chardonnay, $35 Can.: Pale to medium color, and less expressive on the nose than the Robyn’s Block; shows creamy oak over pretty fruit that more resembles apple than pear. Leaner and not as rich or ripe as the previous wine, but with good presence and cut. Pleasant and enjoyable.

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2008 Tawse Vinemount Ridge Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay, $18 Can.: Unoaked and paler in color that the other two Chardonnays, with lime and green apple/pear flavors and aromas. Could use a little more body and depth, but nice enough for what’s here; good cut and decent length.

2007 Tawse Twenty Mile Bench Seventeenth Street Pinot Noir, $58 Can.: Good clean color and very expressive on the nose, with elements of toasty oak, maple syrup, black cherry and plum, all echoing beautifully on the palate; excellent presence and depth, and while it spent 18 months in oak, 30% of it new, the wood isn’t at all overdone. From one of the best vintages ever for reds in this area.

2007 Tawse Lincoln Lakeshore Van Bers Vineyard Cabernet Franc, $48 Can.: Deep, dark color, with a pretty sweet oak, black currant and blackberry perfume that follows through on the palate with subtle earth underneath; some maple syrup comes out with air. Big, but not excessively so, with good depth and structure, this is rich, stylish and expressive, finishing totally dry. Impressive stuff.

Rene Van Ede

Rene Van Ede - click to enlarge

Afterwards, Rene Van Ede, Assistant Winemaker at Tawse, took us to one of the cellaring chambers to try some barrel samples: The contents of these barrels from area vineyards will be used as blending components.

2008 Laidlaw Vineyard Pinot Noir: Good color, with hints of chocolate and toast over black cherry and plum on the nose, turning deeper and darker in the mouth, underscored with subtle earth; still very tight, of course, but full of promise, with good extract and structure.

2008 Lauritzen Vineyard Pinot Noir: Good color, with toast and subtle cannabis on the nose; follows through on the palate with a solid core of dark plum and black cherry, though a little greener, and with a little more mineral than the Laidlaw.

2008 Cherry Ave. Pinot Noir: Good color, with a modest nose that opens gradually to reveal some creamy black cherry; pretty in the mouth, more red and less dark than the last two, with a smooth, creamy texture.

Tawse is a must-stop for us whenever we’re in the neighborhood. The wines are always anywhere from very good to excellent, the tasting room is well appointed, with a great view of the winery through one wall that is actually mostly all window and the staff is always courteous, friendly and informative.

Tasting Niagara 2009: Day 2~ Coyote’s Run and Ravine

We had no plans for our second day on the peninsula beyond paying a visit to the Niagara College Wine Visitor and Education Centre, recently visited by none other than bonny Prince Charlie himself. Chef Kerr, an instructor at the college, told us that the newly opened Centre was worth the visit and that we would find some worthwhile wineries in the neighborhood as well, and he was correct on both accounts. After a quick tour of the Centre and a gander at a wine vinegar project at the college itself (a subject which, of course, Kim knows a little something about), we hopped back in the car and drove a few miles (or kilometers, as the case may be) down the road to stop in at a couple of places Alan told us were doing very good things.

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery produces hand-crafted wines in small batches sourced from 25 acres of estate vineyard planted with varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Vidal and Pinot Gris. The vineyard has the distinction of being divided into two very different soil types, one a dark black clay and the other a rarer red clay, each of which imparts rather different characteristics to the same variety of grapes. More on that shortly…

Kim Vogt

Kim Vogt - click to enlarge

Coyote’s Run Hospitality Manager Kim Vogt led us through a tasting of most of their lineup, starting with some whites.

2006 Coyote’s Run Rosé, $9.00 Can.: Peach pink, with a dusty mineral nose that carries over onto the palate with a nice core of earthy, under-ripe strawberry; medium bodied, with good acidity and very Euro in style. Kim tells us that it’s a good match for smoked meats. Made from 100% Gamay.

2008 Coyote's Run Unoaked Chardonnay

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2008 Coyote’s Run Unoaked Chardonnay, $15.00 Can.: Clean medium color, with mineral and a subtle perfumed quality on the nose; rich, pure Chardonnay fruit reminiscent of apple, pear and sweet pea on a medium to medium-full bodied frame. Rich and tasty, sleek and stylish and while unoaked, it did undergo malolactic fermentation.

2008 Coyote’s Run Red Paw Pinot Gris, $18.00 Can.: Clean pale color, with a slightly pungent, funky (in a good way) nose; a bit more than medium bodied and zippy in the mouth, with apple, pear, green bean and sweet pea flavors.

2008 Coyote’s Run Pinot Blanc, $18.00 Can.: Lime tinged pale color, with not a lot on the nose; rich and expressive grapey flavors with just a hint of sweetness and subtle mineral. Medium bodies, with good acids.

Red Paw - Black Paw Vineyard Dirt

Red Paw - Black Paw Vineyard Dirt - click to enlarge

Next, Kim poured us two Pinot Noirs made from the same clone, picked and pressed on the same day, but grown in the two different parts of the vineyard and labeled accordingly.

2007 Coyote’s Run Red Paw Pinot Noir, $25.00 Can.: Dark garnet color, with a pretty black cherry cola nose shaded with subtle smoke; nice dusty, smoky black cherry and plum flavors, rich, yet totally dry. Medium bodied and more, smoothly textured and while eminently drinkable now, structured for at least five years in the cellar.

2007 Coyote’s Run Black Paw Pinot Noir, $50.00 Can.: Completely different from the Red Paw; almost candied flavors and aromas of rich, intense smoky black cherry and plum underscored with some earth. Structured for up to ten years in the cellar, but there’s an almost acetone-like note to this that turns me off and I much prefer the Red Paw.

2007 Coyote’s Run Red Paw Cabernet Franc, $20.00 Can.: Clean dark color, with an earthy blackberry nose and flavors that echo with a rich core of fruit and hints of slate and earthy underbrush; medium-full to full bodied, with good structure and an astringent finish that would like some food or a few years in the cellar.

2007 Coyote’s Run Cabernet, 50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, $17.00 Can.: Pretty red and black fruit flavors and aromas with subtle earth and underbrush shadings; rich and fairly concentrated in the mouth, smooth and harmonious.

2007 Coyote's Run Meritage

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2007 Coyote’s Run Rare Vintage, $40.00 Can.: Dark color, with a pretty, earthy perfume; almost candied in the mouth, with blackberry, black currant and chocolate character. My Kim finds it to be creamy, perhaps from the combination of French and American oak, none of which was new. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

2007 Coyote’s Run Meritage, 36% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, $25.00 Can.: Clean dark color, with rich dark flavors and aromas of black currant, blackberry and chocolate; smooth, rich and deceptively well-structured for some years in the cellar and yet drinking very well right now.

2007 Coyote's Run Riesling Icewine

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2007 Coyote’s Run Riesling Icewine, 375 ml, $55.00 Can.: Pale gold color, with an apricot, honey and lime personality; medium bodied, smooth and intense. Unctuous without going over-the-top and absolutely delicious.

Kim and I were quite impressed, not only with the quality of the wines at Coyote’s Run, but also with the friendliness and breadth of wine knowledge that Ms. Vogt displayed. Those are some very good reasons for us to stop back in the next time we’re in St. David’s.

Ravine Estates Winery and Olson Foods at Ravine is a five minute drive down the road from Coyote’s Run so it was a no-brainer next stop for us. We enjoyed a Ravine rosé with Chef Kerr last spring, so we were interested in tasting more of their wares.

Wm. Woodruff House fireplace

Wm. Woodruff House fireplace - click to enlarge

Ravine is a 1 year old family owned small production winery producing wines from organically farmed estate vineyards planted in 2005. The historic Wm. Woodruff House serves as the Hospitality Centre and tasting room, while the adjacent reconstructed Lowrey Packing Shed is the home for Olson Foods, an on-sight deli-bakery operated by celebrity chefs Anna and Michael Olson.

We tasted four wines, poured for us by pleasant gent named Dave, starting with some Sauvignon.

2007 Ravine Sauvignon Blanc, $16.00 Can.: Clean pale to medium color, medium bodied and pleasant, if atypical, with light green apple flavors and aromas. A nice quaffer.

2007 Ravine Cabernet Franc

2007 Ravine Cabernet Franc - click to enlarge

2007 Ravine Cabernet Franc, $32.00 Can.: Clean dark color, with a pretty perfume of cola, red currants, red berries and subtle earthy undertones; flavors echo nicely, finishing totally dry. Smooth and harmonious, drinking well now and promising good things for at least a few years in the cellar.

2007 Ravine Merlot, $32.00: Clean medium color and more than medium bodied and moderately structured, with rich black currant and blackberry flavors and aromas underscored with a little earth; a nice middleweight Merlot.

2007 Ravine Reserve Merlot Barrel Selection, $55.00 Can.: Clean medium dark color, with subtle toast and coffee over creamy red and black currant; medium full bodied, with big, earthy bass notes not present in the regular bottling. Has the structure to age gracefully for five years easily.

Given the young age of the vines, it should be interesting to see how the wines show with future vintages. After tasting, we walked over to the charming Olson Foods, a homey, rustic deli and bakery that serves a variety of artisan breads and cheeses, deli style meals and fresh, local produce. We were sorry that we had already had lunch, because everything looked so good, but we won’t make that mistake next time.

Our Day 3 report on Organized Crime, Foreign Affair & Alvento may be found here

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