Rockway Small Lot Syrah, “Alter Ego”, 2017

Maker: Rockway Vineyards, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada.

Grapes: Syrah with Viognier skins added during fermentation.

Place of origin: Rockway Estate, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.

Vintage: 2017

Notes: Spent 18 months in French and American oak. For more information, click here.

Purchased for $30, Canadian. Listed at $36 on website.

Other note: Liz and I received a complimentary tasting at the time of purchase.

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Chocolate covered cherry, blackberry.

Palate: Dry to semi-dry. White cherry, red currant, chocolate orange.

Finish: A little chewy and a little tart, with a hint of oak.

Parting words: The family and I visited Rockway back in July on our way to Niagara Falls for a vacation. We went there to pick up a bottle of When Pigs Fly Rosé and Ruff Pinot Noir from 80x, the wine company co-founded by friend of the blog André Proulx.

I feel uncomfortable drawing attention to myself in situations like that, especially outside of Michigan where even fewer people know who I am. It was lunch time, so we got a table at the winery restaurant and I ordered a glass of Gewürztraminer. After we ordered our food, I walked over to the tasting bar and mentioned that I was picking up two bottles from André and might want to buy another bottle or two. That’s when wine club manager Bonnie Bates sprung into action.

After a sip at the bar, she offered to move the rest of the tasting to our table and we accepted. Liz was included in the tasting as well, and we weren’t changed or given any sort of limit for it. This is a dangerous situation for yours truly to be in, but I managed to keep it in second gear so my palate wouldn’t get tired or my head dizzy.

In addition to the Gewürz, we also tried the Pinot Gris, Gamay Noir, Small Lot Syrah, Meritage, Cab/Shiraz (featuring Cabs Franc and Sauvignon), Pink Ribbon Rosé, and this wine. They were all good, but the standouts to me were the Pinot Gris and Alter Ego. Liz liked the rosé better than the Gris, so we bought a bottle of that, Alter Ego, and a bottle of the surprisingly tannic (in a good way) Gamay Noir which I was eager to try again in a different setting.

On the way out I attempted to tip tasting room manager Mike (he had taken over from Bonnie who had wine club managing to do), but I was waved off. That said, always tip your tasting room pourer, or at least try to!

Anyway, don’t let the touristy vibe of Rockway and its golf course fool you, there is seriously good wine being made there, and seriously good hospitality too. It’s worth a leisurely stop if you’re driving through the area or you could stop at the tasting bar after a round of golf, if you’re into that sort of thing.

As for this wine itself, the unique process is a twist on the way Syrah is often made in the grape’s traditional home in the Rhône valley. Rhône Syrah is often co-fermented with Viognier for added complexity, a rounder mouthfeel, tamer tannins, and to stabilize the color. The practice is most associated with the sub-region of Côte-Rôtie in the northern part of the valley. It’s not done as much in that area anymore, but it’s still done in many places, including Northern Michigan, where Nathaniel Rose uses that technique with his Syrah.

$30 CA works out to about $22 US at the time of writing, so this is an easy buy. It’s very good now but you could probably cellar it for another year or two if you really wanted. Rockway’s 2017 Small Lot Syrah, “Alter Ego” is recommended.

When Pigs Fly Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2021

Maker: 80x Wine Company, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Made at Rockway, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

Grape: Pinot Noir (100%)

Place of origin: 82% Crispino Vineyard (Vinemount sub-appellation), 18% Rockway Vineyard (Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation), Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada.

Vintage: 2021

ABV: 12.6%

Price: $28, Canadian (myarchives.ca)

Thanks to André Proulx for the complimentary bottle!

Appearance: Orangey pink.

Nose: Cherry gummies, orange sherbet, rose pedals, gravel.

Palate: Dry. Strawberry, white mulberry, underripe cherry, rosehips.

Finish: Dry and flinty with a little stone fruit.

Parting words: Back in the spring of this year, 2022, Liz floated the idea of a family vacation to Niagara Falls. We had a lot of fun there as a couple early on in our marriage, but had never been with the kids, so it sounded like a great idea. What also made it sound like a good idea was the opportunity to visit some of the great wineries in the area.

Since winery time was limited, I decided to get an insider’s advice on where to go. So I sent a message to friend-of-the-blog friend-of-the-blog, wine writer André Proulx. I first met André over Twitter, via the old Wines of Ontario Wednesday night chats there. We were even on opposite sides of a friendly debate over the topic of signature varieties. I’ve also been a fan of his podcast with Michael Pinkus, Two Guys Talking Wine, for years.

André gave me some good tips, and also offered me complimentary bottles of this wine and his red Pinot Noir as well. They’re from 80x, a partnership of Vadim Chelekhov, Guillaume Frenehard, and André. Adam Kern of Lundy Manor makes the wine, and all winemaking decisions, for them at Rockway, although André told me, “I love getting my hands dirty on the crush pad.”

The company was founded as a way to make some excellent wine, of course, but also for André to get hands on experience in the Ontario wine industry, as a wine writer. He told me via Instagram: “We started the company to learn more about how the industry works. I was (and still am) a wine critic and as DMX said ‘talk is cheap motherf***er’. I also wanted to learn about the legislative and bureaucratic nightmare that is Ontario wine. We took a loss on our first wine and regrouped to start making rosé.” André says he likes Pinot Noir rosé for its consistency across vintages.

This is the only vintage of this wine I’ve had but if it’s always this good, André and the lads have a hit on their hands. As I’ve mentioned before, I usually prefer rosés of Cabernet Franc to Pinot Noir, but this Pinot might change my mind. It’s dry and flinty, but retains loads of fruit flavor without ever getting sweet. It’s my favorite wine oxymoron: fruity but dry.

I love rosé but my wife Liz LOVES it. She was so excited to try this wine, she passed up a perfectly good Leelanau Riesling that was already chilling in the fridge to open When Pigs Fly the moment it appeared in our dining room wine rack. And it went fast. I’m glad I was able to get a few sips in and I’m very glad I reached out to André before we went to Niagara. Big thanks again to him and to the folks at Rockway for their hospitality!

$28 Canadian comes out to about $20 US, which is an excellent value. When Pigs Fly rosé is worth seeking out the next time you’re in the neighborhood. 2020 When Pigs Fly Rosé is highly recommended.

Cave Spring Gamay, 2015

Maker: Cave Spring, Jordan, Ontario, Canada20190102_153901.jpg

Grape: Gamay Noir (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Niagara Escarpment VQA, Ontario, Canada

Vintage: 2015

ABV: 13%

Price: $12.50 USD ($17 Canadian, LCBO)

Appearance: Dark burgundy.

Nose: Black pepper, earth, blackberry jam, peony.

Palate: Semi-dry and full-flavored. Reminiscent of Cru Chénas or Cru Juliénas. Earthy but fruity. Blackberry, mushroom.

Finish: Tart with a little spice. Fades pretty quickly.

Parting words: This is the last wine I have left from my last trip to the LCBO a few months ago. It was a part of my effort to give myself a crash course in Gamay. I expected it to be similar to the Gamay produced by Chateau Grand Traverse or Hawthorne on Old Mission Peninsula in Northern Michigan, but it was not like those at all. Cave Spring’s was fruity but “darker” and spicier than I expected. I found that quality off-putting at first, but I grew to enjoy it over the time it was open. That’s where the comparison to Chénas comes in. I remember the first time I tasted one, I was shocked at how unlike it was from any other Beaujolais I had tasted before. I was intrigued, though, and at that moment began planning the crash course.

At any rate, this is a Gamay that one can easily drink with any sort of cuisine and at $12.50 (plus border toll) it’s affordable enough to be in weeknight rotation. 2015 Cave Spring Gamay is recommended.

 

Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer

Maker: Jackson-Triggs, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada.20180328_195011.jpg

Grapes: Riesling, Gewürztraminer (% unknown).

Place of origin: Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada.

Vintage: 2014

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for around $10 US (Replacement product currently selling for $14.25 Canadian from the winery)

Appearance: Pale yellow.

Nose: White peach, limestone dust, citrus blossum.

Palate: Dry. Mango, peach, lemon meringue, pink peppercorn.

Finish: Also dry. Meyer lemon, pinch of clove as it fades.

Parting words: There’s not much about the history of Jackson-Triggs kicking around on the internet, but what there is doesn’t seem to be too exciting anyway. The winery was established in 1993 by Messrs. Jackson and Triggs. Jackson-Triggs’ parent company Vincor (also founded by Jackson and Triggs) was purchased by Big International Booze Company Constellation Brands (Mondavi, Corona, Black Velvet, High West) for $1.52 billion Canadian in 2006. With Jackson-Triggs’sibling wineries Sawmill Creek and Inniskillin, Consetellation brands is the largest producer of Canadian wine.

Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is a crisp, but relatively flavorful white blend. good for summer porch sipping or accompanying roast chicken. This particular wine is no longer sold under this label, but has been rebranded as Crisp and Lively White and is currently selling for $14.25.  Still a fair price. 2014 Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is recommended.

For my review of the 2011 vintage of J-T’s Vidal Ice Wine, click here.

 

Cave Spring Vineyard Riesling, 2013

Maker: Cave Spring Cellars, Jordan, Ontario, Canada.20171228_181501.jpg

Place of origin: Cave Spring Vineyard, Cave Spring Estate, Beamsville Bench VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.

Grape: Riesling

Style: Off dry

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $17 from Red Wagon Wine Shoppe, Rochester, Michigan. $18 Canadian from the LCBO.

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Fresh thyme, sage, orange-flavored spring water.

Palate: Minerals, marjoram, peach skins, lime juice, car wheels on a gravel road.

Finish: Tart but slightly herbal.

Parting words: Not many Ontario wineries get distribution in Michigan. Luckily one of them is Cave Spring. Cave Spring is famous for Gamay and most of all for its world class Rieslings. The estate bottled Cave Spring Wineyard Riesling is consistantly one of their best and best values. The herbs and fruit and acid are all in perfect counterpoint like a JS Bach concerto. Cave Spring’s 2013 Cave Spring Vineyard Riesling is highly recommended.

 

 

Cave Spring Riesling, 2013

20161004_191113.jpgMaker: Cave Spring Cellars, Jordan, Ontario, Canada.

Place of origin: Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada (approx. 75% from estate & family vineyards)

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 11%

Price: C$16/$12 USD (LCBO)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Mild. Lemon, orange zest.

Palate: Medium bodied, semi-dry. Lemon/lime soda, limestone, thyme.

Finish: Light. Underripe pear.

Parting words: I got this bottle a few months ago when I made a run to the border to pick up some Canadian whisky and wine. The whisky selection was as expected, but the selection of Canadian wine was very disappointing. Luckily they had a few bottles from some better known producers like Jackson Triggs and Cave Spring so I grabbed some of those.

I was first turned on to Cave Spring after tasting their Dry Riesling at the City of Riesling event in Traverse City in the summer of 2015. The geology of the Niagara region is special and it shows in this bright and refreshing, but not dull, Riesling. It’s well worth the price. I look forward to exploring more from them in the near future! I hope they ship to Michigan or maybe I can convince my wife to take a Niagara getaway next summer.

 

Jackson-Triggs Vidal Ice Wine Reserve

Maker: Jackson-Triggs, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canadawpid-2014-10-08-19.50.35.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: J-T Niagara Estate, Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 9.5%

Price: $24/187 ml (Binny’s)

Appearance: Dark gold with long, broad legs.

Nose: Canned Bartlett pears, mandarin oranges, Meyer lemon.

Palate: Full bodied, the syrup in that can of Bartlett pears, orange juice from concentrate, pinch of thyme.

Finish: A long lingering sweetness all over the mouth accompanied by a hint of golden apple.

Parting words: The Niagara Peninsula VQA is a blanket appellation for any wine produced in the Niagara municipal region in Southern Ontario. This area is bordered by Lake Erie to the south, Lake Ontario to the north, the Niagara River to the east and the city of Hamilton to the west. The region includes several sub-regions, including Niagara Escarpment, Niagara-on-the-Lake and their subdivisions.

Having water on three sides creates a micro-climate favorable for the growing of grapes, as one might expect. The climate remains Canadian, so early and late frosts and freezes are a constant concern. This is a problem for most types of wine production, but not for the production of ice wine, a style that Canada does very well across the board.

Picking the grapes while they are frozen concentrates the sugars like “noble rot” or the straw wine process does, resulting in a thick, sweet, aromatic (and expensive) dessert wine. In Canada and the northern U.S., the hybrid grape Vidal is often used alongside the more traditional Riesling. Vidal is used for its hardiness and ability to produce wines with high acidity and sugar levels in cold climates.

This one is a good example of a Canadian Vidal ice wine. It’s thick and rich but not flabby. The approachable pear and citrus flavors make it a good introduction to the style, as does the relatively low price. Jackson-Triggs 2011 Vidal Ice Wine Reserve is recommended.