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Feb 21, 2017

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One Day: Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, Canada
by Darryl Roberts
Magazine Issue: Online Only
TASTING NOTES:

The wine reviews are based on the following scale:

XXX = Exceptionally Cool
XX = Fo' Shizzle (Highly Recommended)
X = Gets It Done (Recommended)

All prices below are Canadian suggested retail.

Okay. Away you go!


Image courtesy of Chris Beard Photography

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT say “I thought you only made icewine here” when you’re in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Why? Well, let me put it this way: The locals will smile, give a little “ha ha” chuckle, then rip your face off faster than a starving Badger. Yes. They’re a little sensitive to this. They make “other” wines there, too. And quite well, by the way.

K, kidding about the face-ripping thing. The locals are very friendly. Hey, they’re Canadian, how could they not be.

On my semi-…, er, once-in-a-too-long-while skip back east to see family in Ontario, I always visit Niagara-on-the-Lake wine country. It’s an incredibly beautiful place, sandwiched between Niagara Falls, the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Local vintners have made great strides over the past 10 years or so, and every time that I visit I find yet another winery that’s producing superb wines.

The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tourist’s Disneyland. If you can’t find the perfect tchotchke for your third cousin here, then it doesn’t exist. Either does parking, but that’s a different issue. Take time to walk the town. Grab some food and beverage, hike down to Lake Ontario (about a 10 minute walk from town) and watch the boats sail by. It’s better than therapy.

If you read my columns you know that our Wine X travel budget is, well, there isn’t one. Yes, even for one day. So I mooch, er, rely on the kindness of friends to help minimize expenses. One of my great friends (and mentor) is Donald Ziraldo. He’s the father of the Canadian wine industry. Honestly. If it wasn’t for Donald there probably wouldn’t be a Canadian wine industry, at least to the degree that it’s developed over the past 20 years. More importantly, if it wasn’t for Donald Ziraldo, I wouldn’t have a place to stay.

His art-deco abode is situated on the Niagara Parkway, a shabby little road that runs from Niagara Falls to the quaint, touristy town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Winston Churchill (I think it was him, if not him, someone of equal stature) cited the Niagara Parkway as “one of the most beautiful drives in the world.” Something like that.

Yeah, Donald’s place rocks.*

My other great friend, Debi Pratt, Winery Public Relations Manager for Inniskillin Winery, helps me with my appointments ‘cause, well, I’m lazy. I choose the wineries, Debi makes the calls. Honestly, things change so fast there I can’t keep up. And with investment money gushing into the region, new wineries are popping up faster than horny sailors on Viagra.

Okay. One day. So here we go. You can safely hit three wineries in a day (without contracting alcohol poisoning), so here are the three to visit.

Jackson-Triggs Winery

Make your first stop Jackson Triggs, or JT as us insiders call it. Okay, everyone calls it that. Anyway, JT is one of the coolest wineries (design-wise) in the area. Lotta glass and stone and sparkly things. It’s a great tourist trap, er, wine destination, with a full retail shop and nice tour. And in summer, JT offers live music/concerts and events in their outdoor amphitheatre.

I’ve always been impressed with JT, and was hoping things were only getting better. I was not disappointed.

X Jackson Triggs
2006 Sauvignon Blanc “Black Label” $14
Floral, nice citrus and stone fruit, crisp acids and a nice lingering finish.

X Jackson Triggs
2006 Sauvignon Blanc “Delaine Vineyard” $23
Light oak, greenish citrus fruit, and floral notes aromas. The oak masks some of the fruit on the palate, which is a bit disappointing (unless you like oak in your SB).

XX Jackson Triggs
2006 White Meritage “Gold Label” $25
Light grass/hay, oak, citrus and stone fruit. Just a touch of oak in this one, so the fruit shines through in a crisp, clean wine with a long lingering finish.

X Jackson Triggs
2006 Dry Riesling “Black Label” $11
Just a touch of sweetness, nice floral aromas, citrus fruit, light mineral hints and a clean, crisp finish.

XX Jackson Triggs
2006 Riesling “Gold Label” $17
Pretty nose of citrus and tropical fruit, and light minerals. Well-balanced and great mouthfeel with a wonderful lingering finish.

XX Jackson Triggs
2005 Riesling “Delaine Vineyard” $19
Petrol, citrus and floral aromas. Lime, pineapple and mango flaves and a nice lingering finish.

Jackson Triggs
2006 Chardonnay “Gold Label” $19
The typical chardonnay with a lot of toast and butter. Not my style, but…

XX Jackson Triggs
2006 Chardonnay “Black Label” $11
This is an unoaked chard and it shows beautifully. Crisp pineapple and other tropical fruits, great mouthfeel and a long lingering finish.

XX+ Jackson Triggs
2006 Gewurztraminer “Delanie Vineyard” $23
Pretty floral spices, citrus and some tropical fruit, light minerals. Palate is well-balanced, with a great mouthfeel and a beautiful lingering finish.

XXX Jackson Triggs
2006 Cabernet Franc Rose “Black Label” $14
A beautiful rose. Not much else I can say about it.

X Jackson Triggs
2004 Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” $12
Slightly greenish red fruit, some bell pepper and floral components.

X Jackson Triggs
2004 Shiraz “Black label” $17
Nice black and red fruit, slight greenish tone, minerals and spice. Tightish on palate, but nice flaves and finish.

X+ Jackson Triggs
2005 Red Meritage “Gold Label” $25
A lot of barrel on the nose – chocolate, vanilla, oak – backed-up with a big red and black fruit palate, complemented with a lot of spice and some coffee/toffee.

XX Jackson Triggs
2005 Merlot “Gold Label” $25
A lot like the red Meritage, but more fruit and a bit spicier.

XXX Jackson Triggs
2005 Vidal Icewine “Black Label” $46/375ml
Beeeeeautiful! Smooth, well-balanced and yummy!

Stratus Vineyards

Just down the street should be your second stop: Stratus Vineyards. Not only is this another eye-candy winery, it’s the first building in Canada to receive the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the Canada Green Building Council. The building is constructed with a high percentage of recycled materials, warmed and cooled by well-water, and positioned to maximize natural light. And the tasting room… well, it’s a must see.

X+ Stratus
2004 Red $44
Pretty red fruit, light minerals and tobacco/cigar notes. The palate is medium-bodied, with nice round tannins and a velvety mouthfeel.

XX Stratus
2004 Cabernet Franc $36
Nice raspberry, strawberry and red currant, some spice and light oak influences. A bit more character than the “Red”, it also has a nice mouthfeel and lingering finish.

XXX Stratus
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (freshly opened) $55
About as good as it gets for a cab from this regions. Rich, round and beautifully balanced.

XXX Stratus
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (decanted for two hours) $55
Same wine as above, only it was opened and decanted two hours prior to my arrival. A bit softer and smoother than above, with more tobacco/cedar on the palate. This is more “European” in taste than above.

XX Stratus
2006 Red Icewine $39/200ml
Interesting strawberry and raspberry fruit, with white stone fruit aromas as well. Nice mouthfeel and a very long sweet lingering finish. A really nice balance between acids and sweetness.

It would be a good idea to get lunch right about now (if you haven't already). There are recommendations below.

Onward!

Inniskillin Winery

Last stop: Inniskillin. I always visit Inniskillin, not only to taste their fine wines but to see Debi and Donald (pictured below). Two wonderful people who’ve supported me and Wine X since it’s inception. Okay, that and Donald’s house is adjacent to the winery, so it’s jut a short walk over.

Inniskillin’s mostly known for their icewine, BUT, they do, and I emphasize DO make a broad range of wines.

X Inniskillin
2004 Old Vines Riesling “Schuele Vineyard” $19
Petrol, grapefruit and other citrus flaves in a bit tart and tangy body.

X Inniskillin
2004 Chardonnay “Montague Vineyard” $18
Obviously charging $18.50 for this wine is too much. Annnnnnyway. This is the typical chardonnay with oak and butter, but with a bit more fruit than most chards in this style.

Inniskillin
2004 Chardonnay “Founder’s Reserve” $30
Not my style – lotta winemaking, but if you like that…

X Inniskillin
2004 Pinot Noir “Montague Vineyard” $25
Nice nose of dried red fruit and spice followed on the palate with more spice and a nice lingering finish.

X+ Inniskillin
2004 Pinot Noir “Founder’s Reserve” $35
More wood than the previous wine, but better stuffing to back it up. Better balance and a bit less tart.

XXX Inniskillin
2005 Vidal Icewine $65/375ml
Beeeeeeautiful!

XX+ Inniskillin
2004 Vidal Icewine “Oak Aged” $85/375ml
Same as above, but the fruit is masked a bit by the oak.

XX Inniskillin
2005 Sparkling Icewine $75/375ml
Yes, you read correctly. Sparkling. Icewine. Lotta apples, some apricots and citrus. A really interesting wine.

So, the next time you're in Niagara-on-the-Lake, check these three out. You won't be disappointed.

Need. Sleep. Now.

Post Note: While in Niagara-on-the-Lake I had the chance to visit one of the new “investment” properties, the one that hired Frank Geary to design its winery… you know, to see if the wines will be as exciting as the architecture. If you like Frank's stuff.

I met with winemaker Thomas Bachelder of Le Clos Jordanne. Le Clos Jordanne is a joint venture between Constellation (U.S.) and Boisset (France). They got a lotta money and wanna to spend it. They're currently focusing on pinot noir.

Now, I’ve met a million winemakers and winemaking consultants over the years, but never have I met anyone so passionate about his craft as Thomas Bachelder. An amazing evangelist for his vocation and winery.

As much as I hate vineyard tours – Thomas was a wine journalist in a previous life so he understands my aversion to tours – I agreed to take a look at the pinot noir vineyards. This was to see where the wines (that I would taste upon returning) came from and appreciate their difference. Actually, I agreed to the tour so I could sober up after my long day.

The French boast about terroir, and the fact that two vineyards, separated only by a 10 foot road, can produce significantly different wines. I have experience that in France, but few other places in the New Wine World. Until now.

After the vineyard tour Thomas and I tasted a number of barrel samples (no wines have been released yet) and, by God, there was a significant difference in the fruit from vines separated only by a 10 foot wide road. It was an extremely educational experience at Le Clos Jordanne, and this is a winery to watch for putting serious pinot noir on the map for Ontario. Very impressed. Very.

No winery yet. Damn. Next trip.

I also tasted some wines from Creekside Estate Winery, and a new venture called Megalomaniac.

In addition to their own label, Creekside custom bottles wines for Mike Weir (pro golfer) and Wayne Gretzky (hockey star). Here’s what I liked:

X Mike Weir
2006 Sauvignon Blanc $16
Nice floral and citrus fruit aromas. Could use a little more umph on the palate, but not bad.

X Wayne Gretzky
2005 Red Meritage $16
Nice black and red fruit, light minerals, cedar and spice. Again, could use a little more umph, but…

X Mike Weir
2005 Vidal Icewine $55/375ml
Smooth, velvety and nice ripe fruit. Could use a hit of acid, but then again, couldn’t we all.

Megalomaniac is the new label from John Howard, who was the founding partner of Vineland Estate Winery in Vineland, just north of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Look for these wines:

XX Megalomaniac
2006 Narcissist Riesling $25
Pretty floral, citrus, peach and pear aromas, followed by a nicely balanced palate and crisp, lingering finish

XX Megalomaniac
2006 Coldhearted Cabernet Franc Icewine $40/200ml
Some cab franc icewines can be a bit green (veggie), but not this one. Nice ripe fruit, some floral stuff and a smooth finish. Would like to see a bit more acid, but…

* Upon arriving I learned Donald is selling my, er, his house. The nerve! Oh well, gonna have to find a new friend to mooch off of. Anyone? Anyone?


Niagara-on-the-Lake

Where to Eat
(no particular order)

The Olde Winery Restaurant
Stone Road Grill
Zees at the Shaw Club Hotel
Liv at White Oaks Resort
Peller Estate Winery Restaurant
Tiara Room at Queen’s Landing Inn
Shaw Wine Bar

Places to Crash

Under $100
King George III Inn

$100-$150
Hilton Garden Inn
Colonel Butler Inn, Best Western

$150-$200
Post House Country Inn
Oban Inn
Victorian Suites Inn

$200+
Pillar & Post
Queen’s Landing
Riverbend Inn & Vineyard
Prince of Wales

Must Sees/Dos

Niagara Falls
Gardens in Queenston
Fort George
Shaw Festival (seasonal)
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours

More info - http://www.niagaraonthelake.com

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