Article and
Tasting Notes by
George Heritier



We don’t need much in the way of an excuse to hop in the car and take a drive to the Niagara Peninsula. The region is beautiful and the wines coming out of there keep getting better and better, with many being downright brilliant. Add to that the prospect of great food and equally great wine and we’re already out the door, just tell us when to show up. Such was the case this past Easter weekend, when we paid a visit to our wacky friends Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan, Marty Freitas and Robin Caverhill for three days of holiday hijinx.

It all started with two bottles of then unreleased Ridge wines that were gifted to us last month by our friend Christina Donley (left). Christina is the Midwest Regional Sales Representative for Ridge Vineyards, and was in town very briefly, so Kim and I took the opportunity to get together for lunch before she flew back to the Left Coast. As she was about to depart, she presented us with fresh bottles of the 2007 Geyserville and the 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Bordeaux blend, telling us to give one to Alan Kerr. Somehow, something was lost in the translation, because we told Mr. Kerr that we were instructed to drink them together with him, so all we needed to do was set a date, and Easter weekend was perfect, so there it was.

As soon as we got to the Beamsville Bench, we made a stop at Angels Gate Winery, a handsome modern facility set on a hill overlooking well-tended vineyards. Even more impressive is the view of Lake Ontario and Toronto in the distance. The wines are all competently made and pleasant enough, but interestingly, the only one we want to take home is their 2006 Rosé, which we went through several of during our stay with Alan last August. We picked up a few more and our pleasant memories were confirmed, as my notes will indicate. What a great value for $9.65 Canadian.  That's like a couple of bucks, U.S! ;-)

We then made our way to Tawse Winery, which we had also visited last August to barrel taste. Even more striking than Angels Gate, Tawse is a state-of-the-art six level gravity-fed facility that uses geo-thermal energy for both heating and cooling during the winemaking process. Traditional artisanal techniques and both organic and biodynamic farming are employed in the winery and vineyards and the quality of the wines is quite impressive.

Mr. Kerr had contacted his friend at the winery, Laura McNab, and asked her to taste some of the current releases with us. Laura, who is like that great friend you’ve just met for the first time, did a splendid job and we quite liked what we tried.

Tawse Tasting Room Line-Up
Tawse Tasting Room Line-Up

2007 Tawse Pinot Noir, 13% alc., $32.00 Can.: Ruby red, with a pretty cranberry and red currant perfume; flavors echo on a very smooth, medium bodied, deceptively well structured frame. Notes of tobacco and smoke emerge with a little air. Find this wine

2006 Tawse Meritage, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, $48.00 Can.: Deeply colored, with toasty oak over deep, dark black currant and blackberry flavors and aromas; full bodied, sleek and well structured for several years of development. Find this wine

2006 Tawse David's Block Merlot, 13% alc., $45.00 Can.: Clean dark color, with moderate toast over blackberries, currants and a little cooked tomato; chewy, with good depth and structure, this can also age for several years. Find this wine

2004 Tawse Robyn's Block Estate Chardonnay, 13.7% alc., $42.00 Can.: Clean rich color, with apple, meringue and butterscotch flavors and aromas; medium full bodied and smooth, with good acids and length. Spent 24 months in oak, and while that can sometimes spell doom for Chardonnay, in this case, the wine is quite tasty.
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2007 Tawse Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine, 200 ml, 10.8% alc., $35.00 Can.: Shows a pretty light ruby color; one is immediately struck by the sharp acidity of the wine, which should carry it several years down the road. Flavors and aromas of sweet rhubarb, strawberry and hints of dark chocolate and old cheddar. Rich, ripe and very long on the finish. Too bad we don’t get more Ontario Ice Wines of this quality here in the US. Find this wine

Alan also suggested that we stop in at Flat Rock Cellars if the weather was clear for an even better view of the lake and for the Pinot Noirs as well, so we did and he wasn’t wrong. Unfortunately, they were only pouring one on this day, but it was good. Interestingly, this producer uses only Stelvin® screwcaps.

2007 Flat Rock Estate Pinot Noir, 12.5% alc., $20.15.00 Can.: Smoky black cherry and plum, with undertones of rhubarb; smooth, dry and middleweight, with deceptive structure. A very good value for the price. Find this wine

2007 Flat Rock “Unplugged” Chardonnay Twenty Mile Bench (Unoaked), 12.5% alc., $ N/A: Clean lime tinged straw color, with straightforward apple and pear flavors and aromas underscored with a little sweet pea; ripe, but not too ripe, with good depth, balance and varietal character. So why don’t I like it that much? Maybe for the same reason I don’t like many unoaked Chardonnays from New Zealand and Australia...  Find this wine

From Flat Rock, it was on to Chez Kerr and evening #1 of serious food and wine. The plan was to spend Thursday with Alan, then drive to Marty and Robin’s on Friday, and return the Kerr’s for our final evening on Saturday. We got things started with a sweet white, as the Euro-trash do.

1996 Moulin Touchais Anjou, 13.5%: Pale golden color, with a sweet apricot nose that gains white peach and a little mineral in the mouth. Somewhat unctuous, oily, fairly intense and long on the finish. Quite delicious with some Thunder Bay gouda-styled cheese. Find this wine

Alan had about 2/3 bottle of the following wine vacu-vined from two days earlier on the shelf, so we had glasses while decanting the three dinner wines.

2005 Terra Noble Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserva, 14% alc.: Clean dark garnet color, with subtle toast and coffee over black currant and black berry; very smooth and claret-like and not at all overdone like too many from Chile. Very nice. Find this wine

The next two wines paired brilliantly with Chef Kerr’s red wine braised short ribs, caramelized onion and roasted root veggies.

Ridge Dry Creek Valley Syrah Lytton Estate1999 Ridge Dry Creek Valley Syrah Lytton Estate ATP, 92% Syrah, 7% Grenache, 1% Viognier, 14.8% alc.: Deep, dark color, with pretty Draper perfume over deep black fruit on the nose; very smooth in the mouth, yet quite dense at the same time, with flavors of lavender, violet, black plum and blackberry. The American oak still isn’t completely integrated, but neither is it at all intrusive. Rich and delicious, with the structure to age for another 5-10 years easily (Kerr says 20, and he may be right). Alan remarked that this is still “unbelievably spicy and youthful.”
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2000 Ridge Dry Creek Valley Syrah Lytton Estate ATP, 99% Syrah, 1% Viognier, 14.4% alc.: Clean dark color, but not giving much on the nose; similar in flavor profile to the ’99, with lavender, violet and black plum along with shades of tar and coffee, being more accessible, if a little less complex. Alan adds an impression of black pepper, observing that it’s “obviously from a tighter year, with less oak than the ’99, but the structure is still there. The 2000 has fruit, the ’99 has fruit and then some!” Indeed, it is more fruit driven than the previous vintage, and has the tannin-acid backbone for at least another five years in the cellar. Find this wine

Mr. Kerr threw the next selection in the mix to see how it compared with the older models, and it performed admirably.

2003 Ridge Dry Creek Valley Syrah Lytton Estate ATP2003 Ridge Dry Creek Valley Syrah Lytton West, 91% Syrah, 9% Viognier, 14.8% alc.: Inky color, nearly opaque, and obviously the youngest wine of the three in every way; just a trace of Draper perfume over deep, dark black fruit on the nose. Big black plum and blackberry on the palate, shaded with subtle lavender, a hint of violet and some American oak. Not as smooth as the first two, but full bodied, with big structure and solid depth, and while quite approachable, I’d wait on this for some years, perhaps as much as 10 years or longer. Find this wine

As an afterthought, Alan decided that we should compare one of Mike Officer’s Syrahs with the Mr. Ridge trio, so he went down to his cellar and returned with the following wine.

2003 Carlisle Russian River Syrah2003 Carlisle Russian River Valley Syrah, 15.5% alc.: Looks like a glass of ink and shows substantial oak over deep dark black plum and blackberry on the nose; flavors echo with a balsa-like undertone, and Kerr adds impressions of “very peppery, very spicy, and a little eucalyptus.” Kim mentions a vacancy on the mid-palate, and it does have a certain flat quality – perhaps it’s in an in-between period? Not over-the-top and not over-ripe; dry, but rich and structured for at least five more years of development. Not as impressive as the Ridges, but a solid Syrah in its own right with its best days ahead of it. Find this wine

On Friday, we all piled into the car and motored over to Marty and Robin’s for what was sure to be a delightfully festive evening. The stars of the night would be 1996 and 1997 vintages of Ravenswood Big River, Belloni and Monte Rosso Zinfandels, which would be paired with Marty’s strange and exotic roasted velk (a crossbreed of deer/venison and elk) with roasted fingerling potatoes and shallots. We got things started with a Torchon of Foie Gras and a nice Australian white followed by one from Ontario’s Prince Edward County.

2002 Hensche Barossa Tilly’s Garden2002 Hensche Barossa Tilly’s Garden, 13.5% alc.: As unlikely as it might seem, this blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay not only works, it’s quite tasty. Pretty pale gold in color, with a steely sweet pea and green bean nose that follows through expressively on the palate with a note of lime zest. Rich and smooth, with good acids, this is holding up quite nicely and shows no sign of fading any time soon.
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2007 Norman Hardie Prince Edward County Pinot Gris, 12% alc.: Pale to medium straw color, with steely under-ripe green apple, quince and a hint of lime in flavor and aroma; good presence and just enough acidity to keep it moving along. Find this wine

A delicious lobster and pea risotto was enjoyed with the previously noted 2007 Tawse Pinot Noir that we had picked up the day before, and then it was on the main course and the Ravenswoods.

1996 Ravenswood Russian River Valley Zinfandel Wood Road Belloni, 14.9% alc.: Deep dark color, with a spicy black raspberry nose that follows through beautifully on the palate; Kerr called it “very forest-y.” Still a big wine, well structured and rich, with many years ahead of it. Classic old school Zinfandel that walks that perfect line between ripe and earthy and to my tastes, an almost perfect wine. A blend sourced from four vineyards. Find this wine

1997 Ravenswood Russian River Valley Zinfandel Belloni, 14.7% alc: Inky in color, with big black raspberry, raisin, old wood and some slate and mineral on the nose, with flavors that echo loudly; Alan notes an almost jerky-like quality. Riper than the ’96; in fact, almost over-ripe and Amarone-like, but not as big in body. Has the structure to age for several more years, but perhaps a little too ripe for Alan. Find this wine

1996 Ravenswood Alexander Valley Zinfandel Big River, 14.9% alc.: Slightly rusty dark garnet color with balanced blackberry and black raspberry flavors and aromas, with some subtle earth underneath; Alan mentioned traces of smoked meat and dark chocolate. Kim added impressions of “no nose” and “very perfumed in the mouth.” Very claret-like, and if it’s not quite up to the Bellonis, it’s very nice on its own terms. Find this wine

Ravenswood Russian River Valley Zinfandel

1997 Ravenswood Alexander Valley Zinfandel Big River, 14.9% alc.: Almost looks like a glass of ink, and a little riper than the ’96 with spicy black raspberry and blackberry; good balance and claret-like in character, and like the ’96, not quite as impressive as the Bellonis, but nice on its own terms. Find this wine

1996 Ravenswood Sonoma Zinfandel Monte Rosso, 15% alc.: Clean dark garnet color, and claret-like, with rich, sweet black raspberry flavors and aromas that gain a subtle note of lavender with air. Riper than the ‘97 Monte Rosso, and perhaps in its optimum drinking window; it can go several more years with its solid structure, but I’m not sure there’s a good reason to wait. Delicious! Find this wine

1997 Ravenswood Sonoma Zinfandel Monte Rosso, 15.5% alc.: Another glass of ink here with an earthy, tarry nose that carries over onto the palate with a rich yet dry core of spicy blackberry and black raspberry fruit. Marty likened the earthiness to Domaine de la Vougeraie red Burgundies, and this is a beautiful Zinfandel with the depth and structure for several more years of aging and development. Find this wine

These are all lovely wines, and provide classic examples of what great Zinfandel can and should be. Many thanks to Alan and Marty for liberating them from their respective cellars, as it was an immense pleasure to taste through them all.

As a follow-up to the our Ravenswood tasting, Alan Kerr sent the following information:

Joel Peterson and Alan KerrA couple of days prior to tasting the vertical of 96 and 97 Ravenswood Zinfandels, I had the opportunity to partake in a tasting of three single vineyard wines from the 2006 vintage poured by none other than the winemaker Joel Peterson (far left with Kerr). The wines showed great depth and character and all have the ability to age well.

Ravenswood Zinfandel Dickerson 2006:There are so many aromas on the nose. It starts by delivering black cherry, dark sweet chocolate, dried mint and fleshy plum. The fruit is backed up with aromas of new leather and cedar. There are tannins, but they do not interfere with the present enjoyment. It will improve, but in a partnership with rare grilled meat, it would be superb to drink right now.
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Teldeschi Dry Creek Valley 2006: The depth of ninety year old vines is evident by the intensity of colour. It has a powerful nose of blackberry and dark fruits along with layers of sweet and Asian spices and a note of vanilla. The tannins are at a medium level, a little tight, but show no astringency whatsoever. The acids are lively and refreshing. The balance of the wine is prefect. Its finish is fruit laden and long. Made primarily from Zinfandel with a touch of Petit Sirah and Carignane.
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Barricia 2006: Clearly the tightest of the three wines, the Barricia is full of dark berry fruit, firm tannins, oak and layers of spice. It carries a thick creamy texture, good balance and a long finish. It is a wine for those with the patience to allow it to evolve. Made primarily from Zinfandel with a touch of Petit Sirah.
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Saturday morning found us leisurely drinking coffee and noshing on bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers. Finally, our intrepid troupe bid our adieus to Marty and Robin and returned to the House of Kerr, where we played 27 holes of Wii golf before breaking into the wine. We started off with two roses; our Angels Gate was uncorked first.

 Angels Gate and Ravine Vineyard Rose2006 Angels Gate Ontario Rosé, 49% Pinot Noir, 30% Cabernet Franc, 21% Merlot, 13% alc., $9.65 Can: Salmon pink in color, with an attractive mélange of strawberry, raspberry, cherry and watermelon flavors and aromas. Medium bodied, with good acids and depth; rich, round and a pleasure to drink, especially with Chef Kerr’s Thai lobster soup with shitake. Made with the saignée method. Find this wine

Alan had another rosé he wanted to put up against the Angels Gate, and it held its own quite well.

2007 Ravine Vineyard Niagara Peninsula Cabernet Franc Rosé, 13% alc.: Strawberry pink, with a decidedly creamy quality to the strawberry, raspberry and cherry flavors and aromas; smooth, rich and tasty, with good depth and acids. The creaminess might indicate that this saw some oak, but it’s not at all excessive. Find this wine

Finally, we got to the two wines that brought us here in the first place, and they are indeed very fine examples of Mr. Ridge at its best. We started with the Bordeaux blend, which paired beautifully with Alan’s grilled leg of lamb, arugula, grilled tomatoes and Portobello mushrooms.

Ridge Geyserville and Santa Cruz Mountains2006 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Estate, 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 2% Petite Verdot, 13.7% alc.: Deep dark color, almost opaque; black currant, cassis and tobacco shaded with some pretty cream and violet on the nose; plenty more of the same on the palate, with a dose of creamy oak, and yes, there’s some “Draper perfume” here. Smooth, full-bodied and solidly structured, this is already drinking well with some air and food, but can go several years in the cellar. A 10-year wine and more, and that should give the oak plenty of time to integrate. Very nice indeed! Find this wine

2007 Ridge Sonoma Geyserville, 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro, 14.4% alc.: Deep dark color, and throwing a lovely Draper perfume of sweet oak, lavender, violet, black raspberry and blueberry, all of which echoes and expands beautifully on the palate. Very smooth and ripe (but not over-ripe), and deceptively well structured for several years in the cellar, but really tasty right now. A beautiful Geyserville, this! Find this wine

Many thanks to Christina Donley, not only for her generosity, but also for setting us on the road to a brilliant weekend of wine, food and friendship!



Reporting from Day-twah,

geo t.

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© George Heritier April, 2009