Baby, It's Cold Up There, But It's Not All Icewine in Canada

A varietal and style sampling of the Niagara Peninsula

courtesy Stratus Vineyards

courtesy Stratus Vineyards

The Niagara Peninsula is an Ontario wine region comprised of two regional appellations—The Niagara Escarpment and Niagara-on-the-Lake. It has more area under vine than any other viticultural area in Canada and has a growing reputation globally for producing top-quality cool-climate varietal wines like chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir, and cabernet franc. But, beyond these classics, you’ll also find winemakers here dedicated to the notion of terroir, letting their microclimates speak for themselves in producing their own unique styles of everything from gewürztraminer, baco noir, to sauvignon blanc and even sangiovese.

Stratus Vineyards

At Stratus, a state of the art Niagara-on-the-Lake winery, the approach has always been more experimental, more creative. The Old World art of assemblage is a hallmark of Stratus wines and is something winemaker J.L Groux does masterfully, if unconventionally. 

Planting gewürztraminer and cabernet sauvignon side by side would be unheard of in his native France, where he studied wine in both Burgundy and Bordeaux, before coming to Canada to pursue his dream of working in a New World wine region. That was 30 years ago and J. L is still tinkering, vintage after vintage, with his New World assemblage. The primary aim? To make wines that consumers enjoy drinking.

Bottles to Try (these wines will be available in the US in the spring):

2015 Stratus Red

Blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec. A traditional Bordeaux blend, this wine features ripe black fruits—black plum, black cherry, with aromas and flavors of tobacco flower, leather, cedar, and violet. Wonderfully complex and well balanced. Could age a further 3-5 years.

2015 Stratus White

Blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, sémillon, and viognier. Bosc pear and green apple on the nose followed by round notes of toasted oak on the nose and palate, beautifully balanced with crisp acidity. 

Hidden Bench Estate

courtesy Hidden Bench

courtesy Hidden Bench

One stands to lose all credibility if talking about Ontario wines without mention of riesling. This classic, cool-climate variety thrives in the Niagara Peninsula where generous sunlight hours during the growing season encourages greater intensity of flavor and complexity in the fruit. 

Hidden Bench Estate Winery is located in the sub-appellation of Twenty Valley, which lies within the regional appellation of the Niagara Escarpment. Their organic, estate grown riesling sings with sweet, ripe, apple and roars with acidity and is, simply, the quintessence of classic Ontario riesling.

The vineyards of Hidden Bench are purposefully low-yielding, hand harvested and farmed according to organic and biodynamic principals. Their approach to winemaking is terroir focused and low-intervention which includes use of ambient yeast and means the wines are, more often than not, unfiltered and un-fined.

Their red wines are at once wonderfully approachable in their youth and structurally sound enough for mid to long term aging.

Bottles to Try:

2017 Estate Riesling ($32.99 USD):

Pale straw in color with a succulent bouquet of ripe apple, Ontario peaches and Bosc pear. Lovely to drink now but with acid structure that could see this wine age well into the 2020s.  

2017 Estate Pinot Noir ($42.99 USD):

An earthy pinot noir with ripe cherry, fresh fig, rhubarb and black tea. 

Henry of Pelham

courtesy Henry of Pelham

courtesy Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham is located in the sub-appellation of Short Hills Bench, also within the regional appellation of the Niagara Escarpment. Henry of Pelham’s earliest plantings of baco noir and riesling date back to 1984, which is ancient times in Canadian viticultural history. Their first vintage was in 1988, at which time they were one of only 10 wineries in all of the Niagara region.

More than 30 vintages later, the Pelham estate has become renown for its production of these two grape varieties and has won countless awards for their Sparkling, Family Tree, and Estate wines.

Bottles to Try:

2017 Riesling ($12.99 USD):

Clear, bright, pale straw. Flint smoke resounds on the palate. Brimming with fresh fruit and florals—think ripe peach, crisp green apple, nectarine and white clover. Dry with high acid and just the faintest touch of residual sugar.

NV Cuvée Catherine Brut ($28.99 USD):

A chardonnay dominant blend with 20% pinot noir. Lively fruit aromas of green apple and pear are met with notes of biscuit and lemon curd on the palate. Secondary fermentation in bottle with 30 months aging on lees.  

2016 Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir ($22.99 USD):

Deep purple in color with primary notes of blackberry, strawberry and dark chocolate on the nose and palate. Full-bodied and firm, this is a powerful wine with high alcohol and the classic smoky aromas one has come to associate with baco noir. Rich, complex, with well integrated American oak.