Cuvée 2017 — a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking

"... Celebrating Ontario wine! What could be a better way to spend a Friday evening, than enjoying the Ontario wine industry's 29th annual Cuvée Grand Tasting gala ..."

March 24, 2017, Scotiabank Convention Centre, Niagara Falls

Celebrating Ontario wine! What could be a better way to spend a Friday evening, than enjoying the Ontario wine industry’s 29th annual Cuvée Grand Tasting gala. This year, guests sampled from 94 wines presented by 47 wineries, complemented by food from 12 culinary partners from the Niagara region.

I had the privilege of tasting for an hour and a half prior to the official opening at 7:30. It was still pretty active during that time, but then the celebration got on track as at least 700 animated and engaged wine lovers joined the fray. I managed to taste about a third of the wines, and scribble notes on 28 of them — tough sledding at times, but certainly worth the effort.

Tony Aspler (left) presenting the 29th Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence to wine writer Ian D’Agata
(picture from Brock University press release). here.)

I was so focused on tasting that I missed the awards presentations in a neighbouring room. One of the key awards is the Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award, sponsored by BASF Canada Inc. It was presented to Gerald Klose, chosen for maintaining high quality in his family’s Chardonnay vineyard. He is also the vineyard manager for Constellation Brands in Ontario, specifically for Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs.

The second key award, the Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence, was presented to internationally known wine journalist Ian D’Agata. To quote from Tony’s introductory remarks, as presented on his blog: “This award was inaugurated in 2000 to mark my 25 years of wine writing. The annual award goes to the individual or institution that has done most to further the aims and aspirations of the Ontario Wine industry. This year’s winner was Dr. Ian d’Agata for his role in championing Ontario wines in the international arena, most notably in Vinous magazine, and for being an enthusiastic ambassador for the region.”

The presentations also included announcements of the winners of the annual VQA Promoters Awards, and the Cuvée Scholarship winners. The full list is available in the Brock University press release.

Sparkling and Riesling from Cave Spring — a perfect pairings with Cuvée

As I sampled wine and chatted with winemakers and other winery personnel who were pouring, I began thinking about the organizer of the event, CCOVI: Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute. Since CCOVI has taken over its organization, Cuvée is designed to raise money to support the Cuvée Legacy Fund of Brock University. The Fund finances scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as research in various aspects of grape growing, winemaking, and the wider wine industry. The tally isn’t in yet for this year, but in 2016 the event raised $33,000. But beyond the specific benefits of the fundraiser, everywhere I looked I was seeing people who had taken courses at, graduated from, and in many other ways had benefited from CCOVI.

Just take my own case. My formal wine education began with three CCOVI wine tasting courses taught by writer Christopher Waters, that my wife and I took over the span of a year. For me, that was a stepping stone into WSET, and then into many other wine courses. I’ve also benefited from tastings sponsored by CCOVI, such as the annual Experts’ Tasting, and the opportunity to read some of the lectures and presentations that they make available online. And if you are not aware of the extent of CCOVI’s professional outreach programs for the industry, and ongoing research and support for vineyard management and winemaking, here is a link to the outreach programs at CCOVI.

Winemaker Emma Garner showing her Steel Post Riesling

Then I started counting up the number of winemakers that I knew were CCOVI grads. After the event, when I talked about this with Richie Roberts, winemaker at Fielding Estate Winery and one of those CCOVI grads, he quickly came up with a list of 27 graduates working on the winemaking side, three or four grape growers, and three or four more graduates working at CCOVI itself. That’s quite an impact, and probably understates the total by a considerable margin.

So of the twelve wines I have chosen to highlight, the first five are from four winemakers who are CCOVI grads.

Since 2010 Emma Garner has shepherded the wine program at Thirty Bench. The Steel Post Riesling continues their very successful program of small lot bottlings of Riesling, while the Double Noir represents a new program to extend the winery’s reach.


Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling "Steel Post" 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Vintages #0 • $30.00 • 750ml. • WD Score 91/100
I particularly enjoy the Rieslings from the small "Steel Post" vineyard. There is a hint of mineral-rubber on the nose, underlying vibrant notes of lime juice and zest, green apples and honeydew melon. While the wine is definitely off-dry, the vivid acidity keeps the palate crisp and nervy. Slightly riper grapefruit and white peach flavours add to the green fruit that repeats on the palate, and the finish dries and lingers as the fruit submerges into a stony firmness. As always, excellent.
Tasted 24-Mar-17 • • • Share Review


Thirty Bench Winemaker's Blend Double Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Vintages #493973 • $18.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100
This is a second wine in Thirty Bench's new Winemaker's Blend series, that brings in fruit from outside the estate —in this case 100% from Niagara-on-the-Lake. As the name suggests, it is a blend of Gamay Noir (60%) and Pinot Noir (40%) — essentially an old-school Passetoutgrain with a useful and cool new name — that works very well in Niagara. The wine was aged for 10 months in French oak. It is medium ruby-red in colour. Pretty cherry, raspberry and blackberry aromas replay on the palate, where the lively acidity and fine but persistent tannins tighten and centre the fruit nicely, leaving a savoury undertone, and leading to a crisp, lingering finish. Firm and elegant.
Tasted 24-Mar-17 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review

Winemaker Rob Power of Creekside Estate Winery graduated head of the first class of CCOVI, and has been at Creekside ever since.


Creekside Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Creek Shores

Vintages #53371 • $26.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 90/100
Creekside has been creating interesting and often unusual takes on Sauvignon Blanc for a number of years now, and this is one of my favourites. The Reserve series is barrel fermented and aged, and this example spent ten months in French oak, 50% new. Oak resin and vegetal-grassy notes sit prominently on the nose with bright lemon, grapefruit, apple and melon, and hints of riper fruit too. The wine is dry, with brilliant Niagara acidity. The resinous element recedes on the palate and the grapefruit-citrus comes to the fore. The winery recommends 2-4 years aging, but I opened my last 2007 just over a year ago, and it was brilliant.
Tasted 24-Mar-17 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review

Shiraz Mottiar is the winemaker at Malivoire, and this wine is from his personal vineyard.

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Richie Roberts is the winemaker at Fielding Estate, and while I am very familiar with his table wines, this is my first opportunity to taste the sparkling rosé.

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The final seven wines are some of the additional highlights from my tasting.

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Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut , VQA Short Hills Bench

Vintages #217521 • $29.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 91/100
The non-vintage Cuvée Catharine Brut is generally about 80% Chardonnay with the balance Pinot Noir. While it is mostly fermented in stainless steel, a small percentage is in barrels. Second fermentation is in bottle, where it is aged for at least 30 months prior to disgorging. The nose shows apple blossoms, lemons and apples, with a slight toasty note and a hint of wet stones. The wine is dry, with firm acidity that masks a suggestion of softening sweetness. The palate has a lightly creamy texture, that dries into a very crisp and mineral-tinged finish. This continues to be a Niagara standard.
Tasted 24-Mar-17 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review


Inniskillin Discovery Series P3 2016, Niagara Peninsula

Vintages #360289 • $19.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100
Inniskillin's P3 is a blend of three Pinots: Gris, Noir and Blanc. There is a very light blush of pink in the glass. Hints of strawberry, perfumed red apples, lemon and melon define the nose. The wine is rather dry, with just a note of sweetness that softens the palate, which dries nicely with a crisp, clean finish. Very pleasant and attractive.
Tasted 24-Mar-17 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review

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Vintages #421362 • $22.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 90/100
Released through Vintages in the March 18, 2017 release. The wine is a lighter straw colour with glints of yellow. Some obvious oak spice and hints of resin introduce aromas of lemon, yellow apple and toast, with a slightly leesy note. It is dry, with bright acidity that keeps the fruit on the palate fresh and vibrant, contrasting nicely with a creamy richness that suggests some lees stirring, and focuses the finish into a crisp and stony firmness. Elegant and refined. Delicious now, but with even more potential from several years of cellaring to settle and integrate the oak influence. Niagara acidity wins the day for sure.
Tasted 6-March-2017 • 2027 CELLARS (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #566026 • $29.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 91/100
The CSV Riesling is one of Niagara's benchmarks, and the 2015 is fascinating. The wine is very pale straw. The nose is currently tight and closed, with a nuance of Riesling rubber-mineral, later opening out to show white flowers, lime juice, green apples, under-ripe pears and honeydew melon. It is almost dry, with high, firm acidity that informs the palate with a stony, mineral core. The fruit clings to the edges and a lime-apple residue lingers on the chalky finish. This wine is all coiled within itself, and needs some more time to relax and expand. But what potential!
Tasted 24-Mar-17 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review


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