The Wines Are All Reif
Every now and again Mother Nature hands winegrowers an almost perfect hand. It doesn’t happen often but when it does – especially in a temperamental climate like that of Niagara, Ontario – savvy oenologists put it all on the line with the hope of creating some truly memorable bottles.
The 2007 harvest was perhaps one of the best on record in Ontario, prompting the winemaking team at Reif Estate Winery to resurrect its “First Growth” line of premium red wines. Made only in the most promising years, the last First Growth series was bottled in 2002. According to winemaker Roberto Di Domenico, the idea behind the First Growth line was to showcase the particular terroir of the Reif vineyards and to answer the question: “Can we make great reds?”
“First Growth is an ultra-premium line created to demonstrate the intensity of the fruit harvested from ten to 12-year-old vines.” To showcase this intensity the yields are kept low – less than two tonnes per acre (readers can work out the metric math on this if need be). The fruit is hand-picked, lightly pressed and kept in new oak barrels for two to three years.
Over a four-course lunch designed to showcase the nuances of the wines (expertly delivered by Wine Country Catering) we sampled the 2007 First Growth Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Merlot.
The Pinot Noir, though initially a touch reserved aromatically, showed typical raspberry-tinged fruit when given some time. Balanced and supple with good length and complexity, it paired nicely (and rather surprisingly) with a warm salad of seared peppered smoked salmon (that appeared to be neither warm or seared, but this is a minor quibble; the match was a good one).
The Merlot offered up smoky plum, currant and mild spice aromas. In the mouth it showed admirable concentration with dark fruit, mineral and a mild earthiness leading to a vanilla-tinged finish. The Cabernet Sauvignon is still a baby that will need considerable cellar time. On the nose it revealed some dusty black currant notes with a hint of wet slate. Still tight and tannic on the palate, it nevertheless revealed generous levels of fruit and frim, balanced structure. The Cabernet Merlot blend sported the suppleness of the Merlot and the backbone of the Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a collage of ripe plum, blackberry and black cherry notes both on the nose and palate. Long and lingering on the finish, it, too, sported the smoky, mineral notes of the two preceding wines.
Only 200 cases of each wine were vinified and all are (or were – keep reading) priced at $50.00 per bottle (a price that hasn’t changed since the original 2001 vintage). Now for the bad news; we wrote this piece before checking to see whether any stock was still available. Bad move. According to riefwinery.com the First Growth line is now completely sold out. However, those interested should call the winery at (905) 468-7738 to be absolutely sure, or to get a few recommendations on which of Rief’s other quality red wines might offer suitable alternatives.