Tag Archives: Sue-Ann Staff

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Westcott Vineyards

15 Oct

 

westcott logo

Two weeks ago, I penned a post on winery stumbling in Niagara featuring, in that post, Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery. You can read that post here. This is another in the Previously Unexplored Wineries series.

One of the great things about wandering in Niagara is the surprise discovery. For me, it’s usually a wine. But on this day, it was a whole winery. Wine communities tend to co-promote. At first glance, it’s counterintuitive. A car dealership doesn’t tell you that you’ll find a great SUV at another dealership, do they? Well, my experience in several wine regions of the world is that wineries are supportive of each other. The effect of cross-pollination of staff, families, and winemakers? They all party together? A small community experiencing symbiotic bliss? Or, maybe they just want you to find what you like and are only too willing to point you in that direction. It’s Miracle on 34th Street Kris Kringle-esque. Let’s hope that doesn’t change. The alternative is a tasting room with shady staff leaning in and whispering, “Hey, dos guys up da road? Dare pinot? It’s cut. Dey cut the pinot with syrah. You can’t trust ’em. Ours is puuure Niagara pinot. Good sh** (wink, wink)” Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, being referred to Westcott Vineyards. We were tweaked to its very existence by Ted, our personal sip and spit tour guide at Flat Rock Cellars (which I’ll feature later in a post). Ted told us that Westcott made mostly pinot noir and chardonnay, both in a pretty assertive style. Umm, who likes assertive chardonnay? So, we had to wander over to Westcott which is in the same neighbourhood as Sue-Ann Staff’s and Flat Rock Cellar – maybe a kilometre away.

wextcott barn

Westcott Vineyards is a family run winery. When we were there Victoria and Garrett Westcott, daughter and son of the owners, were in the tasting room. Well, in fact, they were the only winery reps in the tasting room. What you need to know is that the concept at Westcott is natural, uncomplicated with a bit of rusticity thrown in. The winery and tasting/sales room is in a restored barn (picture above) that we were informed was moved from another location. Long harvest tables made with reclaimed wood and cement floors. It would be quite toasty when the fire is on. And, similarly to Sue-Ann Staff’s, it really presents the wine as agricultural produce not alchemy. I didn’t see farm implements but I had a feeling that they were lurking somewhere not too far away – gravel drive which is de rigeur in Niagara. Their website and personal sales pitch is focused on ‘small’. They don’t make a ton of wine and they allow the vintage to dictate what they can get out of the vineyard. No attempt to make every vintage taste the same. They get winemaking assistance from a Bordelais.

 

wesrcotttastingroom

Westcott Tasting Room

Before I get in to the wines I have to mention the boat. Their trademark and many of the references in the names of wines have to do with a restored boat found on the shores of a lake in Quebec at a family cottage, I believe. It has some historical connection to someone famous as well as to the Westcott family but I had already been to three wineries before this and had ditched the pen and paper; so the details escape me.  The boat is one of those grand old wood craft that plied the lakes of Muskoka, Quebec and New England during the heydays of cottage and resort development. This one – and I saw pictures – is spectacular! Well, anyway there’s a very important connection to the boat and it’s people. I just can’t remember it. Note to winery webmaster: put a word or two about the boat on winery’s web site.

Victoria took us through a tasting. Again, there’s a tasting fee here but refundable with purchase.

The wines:

Westcott_2012_Estate_Chardonnay-124x3592012 Estate Chardonnay $26.00 – Although this wine has had some time in oak (ferment and age) it doesn’t present as oaky in the glass. Lots of apple pie though – classic oaked chardonnay nose. In the mouth, the oak is faint and the apple replays with an assertive finish – a hit of acidity. Some creaminess but not a big chardonnay. Nice sipper for me. Dinner wine for The Director. ABV 13.5%.

2012 Estate Pinot Noir $30.00 – I was expecting this to be one of those big 2000’s California-style pinots after Ted’s claim of assertiveness. But, I was surprised at how restrained it was. Now I find that after a lengthy day tasting, my palate, which is a bit sketchy anyway, gets lazy Westcott_2012_Pinot_Estate2-124x359and maybe I need wines then that are unlike what I’ve been tasting before. So, I question myself when a wine doesn’t translate from swish to sip. But this wasn’t that. This seemed to be asleep, if that makes sense. This wine had some great things going on in the glass (earthiness, bushes, and strawberries) but it didn’t translate in my mouth. This usually means for me that it needs air or time in bottle or both. It, unlike the chardonnay above, carried some heat from the modest ABV of 13.5%. I think that this wine will start to show it’s best stuff in a few years (3 – 5) or two innings of post season baseball in the glass.

Westcott_2012_Reserve_Chardonnay-124x3592012 Reserve Chardonnay $29.00 – This chardonnay was more serious, maybe austere, than the Estate. It held somewhat the same flavour profile fruit-wise – maybe some tropical notes added – a lot more integration of the oak – more balanced. The oak didn’t so much stand out as simply provide the foundation for the fruit. It was more restrained than I had expected. I would favourably compare this to any other oaked, upper-tier Niagara chardonnay. I noticed on their web site that this has a little less alcohol (13%). Top drawer effort for oaked chardonnay lovers. But in no way did we think it over-shadowed the Estate – just different. We, in fact, purchased the Estate. Maybe because of my pinot noir choice below. Weary wallet syndrome?

Westcott_2012_Pinot_Reserve2-124x3592012 Reserve Pinot Noir $46 – I hate it when my favourite wine costs the most. So, why was this my favourite? Well, first of all – the aroma in the glass had pronounced dirty stuff. I love dirty stuff. Oh behave, let me clarify – dirty stuff, for me, as in smelling or tasting like a musty shovel of loam – kind of. I know that most wine geeks would use earthy instead and dirty is not a desirable aroma or flavour, so maybe I’ll switch to that from now on. A friend of mine has told me that he doesn’t fancy pinot noir because of the ‘earthy’ stuff. I love it because of the earthy stuff! This wine delivered more on that earthy nose than the Estate. It opened quickly and had pronounced red fruit in the mouth. It delivered on Ted’s claim that Westcott pinots were assertive. I liked this a lot. Unfortunately for my bank account, they had plenty in stock. I would have opened one of these for Thanksgiving dinner but want to leave them to figure out what they’ll become when they grow up..

There are several other wines on offer at Westcott – a rosé (Delphine), an unoaked chardonnay (Lillias), and I believe they just released a sparkler (Violette) using the charmat method. At press time (always wanted to say that), there is no availability of their products at the LCBO. You can purchase their wines at the cellar door (call 905-562-7517 email info@westcottvineyards.com ahead) or on-line at http://www.westcottvineyards.com/shop/

Glad Ted gave us the heads up on Westcott Vineyards – a great addition to my Vinemount rotation. Get thee to a winery near you!

Images courtesy of the winery.

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

30 Sep

 

sas

This is my favourite time of year to visit the wineries close by in Niagara. I love the pumpkins showing in the fields, the squash and fresh crop apples at the farm stands, and the smell of wine being made in the winery itself – musty, fruity, yeasty. It’s particularly magical if you grab one of those days in the fall when it’s surprisingly warm and sunny.

When in Niagara, I tend to gravitate to the wineries around Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland. Not sure why. Maybe the familiarity? I’ve been there a bunch. The chance to stop in to Jordan Village and dine at the Inn On The Twenty? Tasty food and good shopping. Whatever – it’s a must stop for any trip to the Niagara region. And, if you’ve read my post on swallowing, you’ll recommend that I don’t visit too many in a row. So, 3 seems about right and then take the back roads to NOTL?

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

A little history and background is needed here. (Paraphrased from estate website) Sue-Ann Staff is a fifth generation grape grower, 2002 Ontario Winemaker of the Year, and two-time winner of the International Wine and Spirits Award in London, England (Top 4 “Women in Wine”). She also moonlights as the winemaker for Megalomaniac Wines, who I’ve featured here before. For Bordeaux freaks like me, she also assists with Megalomaniac’s sister property in St. Emillion, Chateau La Confession. I guess you could say that she’s got a pedigree?

Despite all that, this winery is about as laid back as you can get. We arrived in the midst of a wedding on the grounds. Now, grounds might be a stretch. This is a farm. It doesn’t hide the agriculture behind a faux chateau or architectural vanity piece. I think I even saw a tractor. The winery grounds open through a gravel drive and house a barn, implement shed, and farmhouse with attached tasting room. The bridesmaids were competing for space in the tasting room and the excitement was palpable. Very cool, if you dig weddings. I really do. Even with this distraction, staff were welcoming and engaged. I’ve said it before but the staff at Niagara wineries rival the best I’ve experienced in my travels. – informed, enthusiastic and focused on the customer. And, take note Napa, they do usually charge for tasting (a very nominal fee) that is always, always reimbursed when you buy, in my experience. Nothing makes me madder than paying as much as $20 a person to taste and not getting it forgiven if you buy. A rant for another time.

Before arriving here, Sue-Ann Staff meant riesling for me. I knew that they grew a bunch of riesling and had been supplying wineries for years before making their own. But, they make other wines as well.

What we tried:

11_Pinot_Grigio_large2011 Pinot Grigio $21.00 – Hey, I didn’t think anyone made a pinot grigio in Niagara either. Obviously, Bill has not been paying attention. This is an orange wine. I’ll let other more qualified people give the full explanation. Suffice it to say that the juice from white grapes spends some time on contact with the skins. To give it some colour, maybe tannins too. This wine was big in the glass – think Cerano de Bergerac spritzed with citrus fruit. It had an off-dry profile, citrus again until the finish which was surprisingly dryer. A nice switch from the ubiquitous crisp and nada PG’s that seem to flourish these days. My first orange wine!

2012 Loved By Lou Riesling $16.95 – Citrusy after a swirl. This is off-dry as well in the mouth with a steely personality. Enough acid to food pair but I found it the least individual of the wines. That is; it tasted like a lot of other mid range Rieslings that I’ve had from Niagara. In fairness, it isn’t a single vineyard or high-priced entry. This would be a good sipper around the patio.

11_Riesl_LU_3afe8d63-ce58-47ab-a8a5-f0a6e3b3c42c_large2011 Robert’s Block Riesling $26.00 – Now, we are talking. This is a dry effort that has a big hit of petrol on the nose (love that) but clean petrol not that oil sands stuff that our government blindly supports (Did I just make a political statement?). This is crisp and lip smacking in the mouth and on the finish but there is that petrol again and citrus fruit and maybe even a bit of tropicality too. Loved It! I think it could hold for a few years – at least that’s what I’m doing.

2011 Baco Noir $14.95 – This red was suggested as a possible red that The Director could drink. You see, she suffers from headaches when drinking reds. Which means? More red wine for Bill! This is a soft red – some muted acidity and tannins with strawberries and herbs making up much of the experience. I tend to heavier reds but Baco Noir has been good to me before. This one has some power without the weight. It seems perfect for those that like a very approachable red – maybe on a warmer day with snackees and a movie. Price is great too.

SAS_CAB_MERLOT_2a_5b68604f-373a-409d-a27b-d39923c3a63c_large2010 Cabernet Franc $21.95 – So, here we are at the wine that impressed me the most. Oh, I could talk about the 2010 Merlot but this is where I’d like to end. I’ve praised Niagara cab franc before and, damn, if I didn’t prefer the ones from down by NOTL. Well, this winery located near Jordan (Twenty Mile Bench and Vinemount) has me heading out to take another look at cab francs from here. This is a structured (by that I mean “not flabby”) and cellar worthy red with fruit close to the ground – dark raspberries and brush. Not huge but large enough to satisfy the bigophile. Balanced and polished. Perfect wine with game. What game? AL Wild Card and ribs. At least that what I’m having it with. Go Royals!

Lots of other tastes available too. They have all the usual suspects – icewines, sparkling, pinks. Oh, I forgot the dog. There’s a dog called Brix (picture below). Beautiful Bernese Mountain dog. Just laying around being a farm dog. Each bottle has a neck tag that has a picture of him and it says, “Brix Approved.” I love dogs.

Get Thee To A Winery Near You! And, if you’re doing the Niagara Region, go see Sue-Ann and Brix.

Next Post: New Kids On The Block – Westcott Vineyards

 

brix

Images courtesy of:

http://www.sue-annstaff.com

Down and Dirty – The Red Daily Slosh, a Splurge and a Revisit

14 Sep

The life of a blogger is pretty cool and dynamic. Right now I’ve spent a half hour trying to get my title to show on this post. I give up! What it says is – “Down and Dirty – The Red Daily Slosh, A Splurge, and ….. You don’t really care, do you? That and starting a Facebook page. Yes, I am going against my longstanding opinionated anti-Facebook rant and just drinking the Kool-Aid with the rest of you. Besides, I can see how much better I look than many of my old high school friends

nostre paisAbout six months ago, I recommended a 2010 red from the south of France. It threw “all sorts of regional flavours into the mix – lavender, spice, and garrigue (in my wine tasting lexicon, that’s French for ‘earthy, lime-stoney, shrubby’ and is typical of wines from here)”. This week the 2011 vintage is out and like the write up says, this is even better. At our house we simply say, “This s@@* is good.” The 2011 Nostre Païs Costières de Nïmes #295410 $19.95 from the land that brought us denim comes full of the same regional smells and flavours (above mentioned) but with a lot more heft. I think that this is less a Vin de Pays d’Oc (which it isn’t) and more a true southern Rhone wine, which it kind of is. Maybe the heavy emphasis on grenache and very little if any syrah makes it so. That line above is confusing. I mean to say that it isn’t Arrogant Frog or Fat Bastard – ish (both wines from the Langudoc, I believe). Less one-dimensional and a truly great value. Case purchase! Plus, one of the most interesting labels ever.

sueannstaffTraveling last spring around Niagara, I made it a point to drop in on Sue-Ann Staff’s place. This is truly a cellar door winery. No fancy wood trims and anything that didn’t try and connect the place with the land. After all, wine making is first and foremost agriculture. So, barns, earthy equipment, etc. all within sight. Just perfect for me having spent my formative years working on farms; driving tractors, picking tomatoes, hanging tobacco, eating strawberries and stealing produce. Maybe better left for another post? Anyway, I believe that it’s best to keep viticulture firmly rooted to the……roots, soils and activities of farms. Sue-Ann is an exceptional winemaker who has been recognized worldwide for her contribution to the growth of Ontario’s wine economy. This week, her 2010 Sue-Ann Staff Merlot #358416 $17.95 is on the shelves. This is rich without being heavy or thick. Does that make sense? Lots of red fruits but still a dark side in the mouth and no hint of the green pepper or stemmy stuff that I find in many single Bordeaux varietal reds from Niagara. A fine dinner wine – beef roast, beef stew, something meaty but not too fatty. And, next time you’re doing the Niagara wine stumble, avoid the tour buses, the crowds and make it a point to drop into this lovely little winery.

falascoI wonder sometimes why the mother ship places a wine that’s almost always available into their “special release”. But, in this case, why argue with that? They know best. They own the place. They don’t have to make sense or be interested in logic. The 2011 Valpantena del Falasco Ripasso Valpolicella #642421 $16.95 is a verrrrrry nice little wine. I know there are Ripasso lovers out there. I don’t always think that Ripassos are a significant improvement from a fresh Valpolicella Classico but the masses have spoken and I am kind of listening. Well, listening this time anyway. This is a pretty smooth number – no harsh, sharp tannins – just some juicy acidity and loads of red fruits like cherries. A perfect – I said – PERFECT pizza wine!

lanI’m stretching the “Daily” part of the Red Daily Slosh because I’m not doing a splurge section for this release. I recommended a Beronia Reserva a few weeks back. Actually, I was effusive in my praise. I gushed about it. I just love Rioja that’s ready and it was. But, I heard from Grant that he didn’t like it – too harsh for him. I appreciate the feedback – everyone has their spot – sweet spot – that they like a wine to be close to. Confession? I don’t like sherry. Love the whole “how sherry is made” thing but don’t like it. So, this is for Grant – this next wine isn’t for you! These Rioja reds can have a dirtiness to them. I love dirty reds. Not dirty as in tasting like dirt or like Brittany Spears – just not clean, fresh, and smooth. Rather – edgy, nervy, smoky, leathery, and well, dirty sums it up best. The 2005 LAN Gran Reserva #928622 $27.95 made primarily from tempranillo is smoking dirty. Think of a reserva from a bodegas that we know, say, Muga, and then add some tarriness and leather. Beautiful! Never, ever, have this without food unless you write a blog; making those rules totally unnecessary.

Revisiting an earlier recommendation – 2008 Talamonti Tre Saggi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo #204016 $15.95 – this wine brings bacon on the nose and chocolate on the finish. Now, if you’ve ever had bacon flavoured chocolate – you’ll know that this is special at this price. I said before it was medium bodied but maybe it was the moment – it’s fuller than that and round and scrumptious.

I apologize for the rather monotone narrative this week. I’m feeling a bit under the weather. I’ll be back next week with snappy repartee, clever double entendres and some wine stuff too. Can’t remember who to attribute this to but – Remember: Wine is groceries not a luxury!

 

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