I've been making a habit of stopping at Niagara wineries to taste wines for almost a decade now. When I relocated to Toronto in late 1998, becoming a wine aficionado was nowhere my list of expectations. However, I didn't expect to be writing a blog either.
I first became interested in Niagara wine after reading an article about Crown Bench Estates. Crown Bench sits near the rim of the Escarpment at the top of Aberdeen. It's worth a trip for the view and for the wine as well. I haven't been by there in a few years - perhaps I will when the 2007 reds start to arrive.
So what have I learned about Niagara wines in the past decade?
1. We have as good a variety of wines and styles to taste - and taste quality - as one will find anywhere.
I've tasted in the Napa, Sonoma and Andersen Valley AVAs in California, and a little in Australia. In Australia, there is more of a regional focus - Shiraz and Semillon in hotter regions as an example. If you go to a tasting in the Hunter Valley, only a few of the wines will be local. In California, even all the way from Carneros to Anderson Valley, you'd be hard-pressed to find the same variety of varietals. Obviously, you will not find ice wine in either Australia or California.
2. Year to year variation is more pronounced here
The trade-off for variety is that our climate is not always kind to all varietals. Not only that, frost can damage vines beyond recovery.
For example, 2003 was a poor year. More than a few wineries did not bottle their usual range of offerings. Some were allowed to bend VQA rules on a temporary basis.
It's good to be aware of the vintages. 2007 is looking very promising. The LCBO's vintage chart list 2007 and the first 9-rated vintage since 1995. I have already picked up some excellent 2007's from Fielding Estate and Malivoire. Keep in mind the relatively wet summers the this year (2009) and last (2008).
3. Niagara has variety - but it is better for some varietals than others
In my experience, the wines to pay attention to are (with my favourite producers in parentheses):
- Gamay Noir (Malivoire, Feathersone, 13th Street Sandstone)
- Cabernet Franc (Laileys, Daniel Lenko, Featherstone)
- Pinor Noir (very year dependent)
- Riesling (Fielding, Cave Springs, Flat Rock)
- Chardonnay (Lenko, Crown Bench, Malivoire)
That's not to say you will not find excellent examples of Cabernt Sauvignon, Gewrurztramer - and let's not forget the hybrids Baco Noir (Henry of Pelham, Hernder Estates) and Marechal Foch (De Souza).