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.

 

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.

 

 

Pelee Island Winery Late Harvest Riesling, 2011

Maker: Pelee Island, Kingston, Ontario, Canada2015-12-02-13.45.48.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Ontario VQA.

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for $13 (Hollywood Market, Madison Heights)

Other information: Residual sugar: 36.1 g/ltr. Harvested at 23.1 Brix.

Appearance: Golden straw with thick, even legs and a few crystals.

Nose: Thyme, cut white peach, Bartlett pear, lychee, whiff of gasoline.

Palate: Full bodied. Lychee, oregano, Meyer lemon, mango, orange marmalade.

Finish: Peachy and sweet. Lasts a long time before fading into herbal flavors.

Parting words: I was pleasantly surprised by this wine. The last Pelee Island wine I had was the crummy Pinot Noir I reviewed a few months ago. This wine was on sale and from a good white vintage in Michigan, so I figured it was probably a good one in Ontario too so it was worth a try.

It’s an Ontario VQA (as opposed to Pelee Island) so one probably wouldn’t expect much in the way of terroir influence, but there is some broad terroir character. The time in the bottle has benefited it greatly as well. It is rich and sweet but still carries a lot of typically dry flavors and aromas. This is a very good wine for a reasonable price. Pelee Island Winery Late Harvest Riesling, 2011 is recommended.