Going South... To Niagara!

It may not be visible from outer space but the Great Wall of Southbrook is a sight to behold: pigmented stucco that changes between periwinkle blue and dove grey and 205 metres long, the Wall flanks the first wine estate you see as you enter Niagara-on-the-Lake, and it has a real purpose.

Earth-friendly, organic and biodynamic, Southbrook Vineyards is a vineyard-centric model of environmental stewardship, and the wines are terrific. The hospitality pavilion, a transparent jewel among the vine rows beside Niagara Stone Road with its floor to ceiling glass is already a wine destination, especially for its age-worthy Bordeaux blends and Chardonnays.

Owners Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier have come far from their still thriving garden market in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto, evolving the family business into this world-class winery. And now, the 150-acre property puts vine to wine quality into the sure hands of Ann Sperling, one of our most respected winegrowers.

The original Southbrook Winery used to bring grapes from Niagara to be vinified into its table, dessert and fruit wines, like Cassis and Framboise. Since its inception in 1991, Southbrook has earned over 300 international medals and trophies.

Fifty acres have been sold but the balance of the old property and homestead remain in the family and Southbrook continues its seasonal Pumpkin Patch operation on Major Mackenzie, opposite the old winery.

Nowadays, the new vineyard, in its third year and given the TLC found in the world's finest vineyards, provides the fruit, from Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier, Semillon, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay planted in flat alluvial, mostly clay and organic soils. All vinified on the estate.

Across from Niagara Airport and 4 miles from Lake Ontario, it's hotter here in summer and colder in winter than the Bench vineyards. Wind machines stand guard against killer frosts and there's no summer irrigation. A meadow mix of vegetation squeezes out weeds and sheep will soon graze around the vines.

"It's amazing to see our vision of a world-class vineyard come to reality. Jack has designed a masterpiece and we're putting Southbrook on the map in Ontario wine country," says Redelmeier, who had star architect Jack Diamond create the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) project, winner of best architectural use of steel in Ontario and best use of steel in a green building. It "sits lightly on the land."

"We want to continue Southbrook's tradition of producing age-worthy wines that have earned international recognition and consumer acceptance for the past 17 years," explains Redelmeier. "And with the acquisition of this property, we can ensure our vines are cared for responsibly and the resulting fruit is of superior quality."

The winery is renaming its Triomphus range as Poetica and Bill is commissioning wine-inspired verse for each vintage. Total winery output is 10,000 cases and the reds in barrel are being aged very visibly inside the climate-controlled vitrine glass "walls" of the tasting pavilion.

Wines to taste: just released Triomphe Sauvignon '07, $18.95, stylish and food-friendly, with great aromatics, herbaceous with a tropical peach-melon core. Triomphe Chardonnay '06, $21.95, true to its barrel-fermented origins, delivers subtle French oak, vanilla and a Burgundian fusion of pear, peach and melon flavors. Whimsy Chardonnay Canadian Oak '03, $29.95, offers a somewhat resinous oakiness with hints of toasted coconut. Triomphe Syrah '06, $24.95, is deliciously black pepper, smoke and strawberry with nuanced oak. Whimsy Lot 19 Syrah '06 and Lot 20 '06, $32.95, are barrel selections aged in Allier and Vosges respectively, one dense and chunky, the other fruit-forward with heavy toast. Triomphe Cab Merlot '01, $34.95, is alive and well, with mature notes of shoe polish, leather and bright red fruits and a hint of mahogany. The '05, $26.95, is a chip off the old barrel, fragrant and concentrated with red fruit complexity and a brilliant future. All, including the Cab Franc and Vidal Icewines, are available at the winery, or Cab Merlot and Framboise at the LCBO.

Oh, and the 3-metre-high landscape Wall? Its purpose is to reduce energy use, the innovative building is highly insulated, and with a deep roof overhang for shade. The west face, exposed to the hottest part of the day is protected by...the Wall.

Elsewhere in Niagara, there's another brand-new family-owned winery with old roots: Cattail Creek, home to some of Ontario's oldest Riesling vines, on RR4, 1156 Concession 6. With 100 acres of vines they used to supply Stoney Ridge, EastDell and Inniskillin, the Dyck family has taken on board talented winemaker Tatjana Cuk and become a wine producer.

The family pioneered the planting of the first Rieslings from Germany and their production into VQA wines. If you're lucky, when you drop by you'll meet the bubbly and knowledgeable Roselyn Dyck-Cieszkowski, winery manager and passionate voice of the operation.

Wines to try: Chardonnay Musqué '07, $17, quite aromatic and elegant. Off-Dry Riesling '07, $15, quite Alsatian in style, from 30-year-old vines, with white pepper, mineral and white lemonade flavors. Serendipity Rosé '06, $14, a Riesling-Merlot blend that's pleasantly fruity and quaffable. Pinot Noir '07, $18, all dried cherries and red currants with mild tannins and a raspberry finish. All are under screwcaps and that's good! To get the wines, go to

Another potential star is Coyote's Run Estate Winery, a 58-acre operation outside the town of St David's, which prides itself on having two distinctive soil types, brown clay and red clay on heavy limestone. Ex-Inniskillin winemaker David Sheppard coaxes subtly different and elegant hand-crafted Pinots and Cabernets from each block, named Red Paw and Black Paw, one earthy, the other more perfumed.


Ontario Rising

One happy guy these days is Norm Beal, Chair of the Wine Council of Ontario.

He's celebrating a record 120 VQA Restaurant Award of Excellence winners and Ontario wines sales topping $500 million for the first time. Oh, and also a fabulous 2007 Ontario vintage. "Great reds and whites!" says Norm, who's also owner of top-notch Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery. "A hot, dry spectacular summer that's making Ontario growers and wineries very happy! BC has had five great vintages in a row!"

Heartened by more restaurant offerings of VQA wines, soaring sales and support from people like St Catharines MPP Jim Bradley, Beal sees a fusion of fine wines and cuisine, destination tourism and VQA quality. "Improving sales allow producers to invest in better equipment, like wine machines, more R&D, and better quality."

"We're seeing soaring prices for prime vineyard land, better quality wines as the vines mature, gentler handling with new mechanical pickers and better technology."

One of the great sources of young, dedicated wine-food industry personnel, apart from CCOVI, the oenology department at Brock, is Niagara College Teaching, on the Glendale campus at the base of the Niagara Escarpment, with its unique educational vineyards, greenhouse and gardens and Niagara Culinary Institute Restaurant, where wines, fine cuisine and service all make the grade.

The best wines, made under the direction of Terence Van Rooyen, are labelled Dean's List, as in the excellent Sauvignon Blanc '07 and Chardonnay '06, with some fine Bordeaux blends and a range of prime vinifera varietals,



Drier, Redder and Better...

Germany is famous for fresh, elegant and versatile wines that waltz and tango sensuously with fine cuisine - and they're becoming drier, redder and better than ever.

The hardy Teutons have doggedly defied the frosty, rainy limits of viticulture for 2000 years and they're still passionate about it.

Happily, after an export disconnect in the '90s when they offered sweet whites and the world wanted dry reds and whites, there's a whole new generation of harmonious and expressive dry Rieslings and subtle reds like Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder).

Specialists in racy whites and increasingly sophisticated reds, the savvy growers nurture their crops against wind and frost on the sun-facing slopes of the river valleys, and they've been rewarded with a string of outstanding recent vintages. "We actually consider our cool climate an asset because we can make the lighter, more elegant food-friendly wines the world is demanding today," says Steffen Schindler of the German Wine Institute.

This demand has created a renaissance, with eager young winemakers reopening topnotch hillside sites once abandoned as too steep and difficult, using better management and sustainable agriculture.

Germany still boasts 62% of the world's Riesling but is busily planting the Burgundy varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (already more than Italy, Australia and New Zealand combined) and is second to Italy in Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc. The total 102,000 hectares grow one-fifth as much wine as France.

"Our 13 regions produce 10 million hectos a year (50% from Hessen and Pfalz) and we drink 20, which means we import as much as we make, so we have to compete on quality," says Schindler. "In 1993 we were white wine drinkers and now it's more reds, influenced by the French Paradox and our own evolving gastronomy (nine Michelin 3-star restaurants in Germany to France's 26 and Italy's 6) and 60% of our consumption is dry." It's also 53% red and increasing, 39% white and 8% rosé.

National consumption: France 33 million hectolitres a year, Italy 27, USA 26, Germany 20, Spain 14, UK 12, Argentina 11 and Canada 3.

Personal consumption: Luxembourg 57 litres a year, France 54, Italy 49, Spain 34, Germany 24, Netherlands 21, UK 18, Sweden 15, Canada 14, USA 8, Japan 2, China 1.

Which wines to choose:

Riesling Spätlese Ockfener Bockstein `07 St Urbans-Hof made by Nik Weis on his estate in a tiny valley off the Saar, a wine of great charm and finesse, complex and delicate yet racy and packed with aromas and flavors of lime zest, citrus, roses, ripe grapefruit, and smoky, slaty minerality, a wine of terroir at a Grand Cru level (94), $41.25. Nik`s Riesling Spätlese Piesporter Goldtröpchen `07 is riper, more lush and exotic with a ripe greengage, peach, elderflower and blackcurrant profile infused by its warmer, horseshoe-shaped site on the Mosel and old vines on their original roots (94), $41.25. The Estate Riesling is a steal at $17.80 as are the Kabinett versions of the Piesporter and Ockfener. Contact Chris McLean of Rogers & Co at 416 961 2294 x29.

From Gunderloch's consistently excellent steep red-slate Nackenheimer Rothenberg site close to the river in Rheinhessen, the Riesling Dry '06 is a spicy, racy, exotic with grapefruit, peach and mineral notes, hints of bacon and salt (91). The '06 Auslese Goldkapsel is more intense still, slow fermented at cold temperatures and with the Noble Rot (botrytis) that dries and sweetly concentrates the grapes (92).

An excellent Pinot Noir is Spätburgunder Dry Cuvée Daniel '05 from Georg Müller Stiftung in the sunny Rheingau village of Eltville, made with tender care and skill by owner Peter Winter, complex, sophisticated and delicious with smoky velvet black fruit and delicate gamey nuances, a wine to cellar and contemplate (92). Handmade in the Burgundian manner, it's very low yield and powerful. Peter Winter's Feinherb Hattenheimer Schützenhaus '06 is a cheery blast of elegant Riesling citrus-lime raciness and freshness, clean and fruity (91). Contact Churchill Cellars, 416 368 5108.


The World's Coolest Rosé

Sasha Alexis Lichine has found a really cool way to make the most refined rosé on the planet - with gnarly old Grenache, chilled right off the vine.

"I make the most expensive rosé in the world but it is also the best." says this totally larger than life character, all confidence.

For color, think Pinot Grigio, that subtly rosy-hued white with a yellow glint but, for flavor, think white Burgundy, from unoaked Chablis up to barrel-fermented Meursault, for aperitif and food matches from delicate shellfish to charry grilled meats.

Margaux-born Lichine, son of eminent Bordeaux writer/winemaker Alexis Lichine, has given a new dimension to Provence rosé since purchasing and refurbishing Château d'Esclans, just inland from St. Tropez, Cannes and Antibes on the Cote d'Azur, in 2006.

Alexis, born in 1913, fled the Bolsheviks in Russia to become a Bordeaux icon and ambassador, owning Lascombes, Ferrières and Prieuré-Lichine and writing a definitive wine and spirits encyclopaedia. Son Sacha is setting his own stamp on Provence. And he's getting a little help from Patrick Leon, who was cellarmaster at Château Mouton-Rothschild for 23 years.

The Whispering Angel is vinified in stainless steel. Château d'Esclans is partly made in demi-muids (500L barrels), while Les Clans and Garrus are barrel-fermented and spend 7-8 months in wood, with regular lees-stirring (batonnage). That would qualify as late-bottled for a rose. "We're the last rose to market."

Dry ice is applied the moment the grapes are picked and temperatures are controlled, at a constant 10-12C (versus the normal 18C) throughout the maceration, the 3-month fermentation and barrel aging (glycol-filled steel rods are inserted to cool the 60 casks - "the Rolls-Royce of temperature control!").

About 47 of the estate's 267 hectares are largely 80-year-old Grenache vines that look like ancient trees, plus some Rolle (Vermentino), Cinsault and Syrah. "The secret to our ros é is those old Grenache vines, double-sorting by bunch then berry by berry, using only free-run juice, plus temperature and quality control throughout," says Lichine.

The lovely Château with its south-facing clay-limestone soils, was formerly the residence of the Comtes de Provence

Whispering Angel is a model of freshness and delicacy with floral, lemon-drop, berry-scented restraint, a superb aperitif. D'Esclans has more depth and concentration, floral-red plum notes to pair with white meats and fish.

The most sophisticated wine, Garrus, is 100% old vines from the best parcels, and shows crystal, mineral, salt and oak notes and could pass as an elegant red wine

"You can keep it open a couple of days and it won't lose color, just a little freshness."

It's an expensive gamble - "People thought we were totally crazy to invest all this money and effort into only rosés. Our barrels are made by Frères, who make Romanée-Conti's barrels. The wines need a little time in the bottle to really express themselves.

A big fan of screwcaps ("the best closure you can get."), Lichine believes one bottle in every case is corked.

Cool Advice

White wine should be chilled for freshness without being stunned into icy blandness.

The colder the wine, the less flavor and character it offers.  

About 9C (48F) is fine for light, sparkling and very sweet whites, and rosés.

[Some restaurants hide the flaws in their wines, for example, by serving them seriously over-chilled!]

Top Chardonnays, Semillons and Alsace whites from France show their complexity at slightly higher temperatures up to 15C (59F).

Reds, because they're more complex than most whites, also benefit from serving at 15-17C (59-63F). However, big heavy reds like Cabernets, Shiraz, and Zinfandel served too warm tend to show clumsiness and are better avoided on hot summer days.

Light, fruity reds, like Beaujolais, Loire reds and Dolcetto can be happily chilled for 15 minutes in the fridge 12C (54F).


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