Ontario’s Big Reds – 2021 Vintage Review
Neither winemaker nor grape grower will mince words about the 2021 vintage. It was hard. It presented more intense challenges than typical, with some saying it was the most difficult in living memory. The real kick-in-the-ass came at harvest with some reporting more than double the typical amount of rain and cloud cover over the span of mid-September to late-October. This led to a host of issues including water-logged, mold-prone grape bunches with splitting berries combined with multitudes of harvest challenges. We can expect the vintage to show on the wines, especially later ripening varieties (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot), and full-bodied reds might be difficult to find. They will have required more deft winemaking as Mama Nature decided to not lend her helping hand in this regard.
There are two things to keep in mind, please, if you love full-bodied reds from Niagara. Despite challenges, there are still going to be redeeming (but likely not exceptional) wines found in this difficult vintage. This will be a lesson in what to drink and what to hold, and personally I will be enjoying many 2021’s within a shorter drinking window (within the next 3 years) than those wines from 2020 or 2019 which will continue to drink well through 5 years and beyond. I will also likely be purchasing lots of 2021 rosés as I expect a considerable amount of red grapes will be destined for this style. Rosé season is a 12-month affair in my world, and any excuse to buy more of it is a-ok with me.
There is a wonderful silver lining for all of you red-heads out there; 2020 was truly kind to red varieties, especially those that make our fullest styles of wine – Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. I also am enamored with wines from these varieties from 2019 as they show freshness and elegance. Lastly, these styles from 2018 are currently arriving at the entrance to their best drinking windows.
So, while we wait to sample what 2021 has in store for reds, no breath held, here are some beauties from 2020 and earlier that you can enjoy now/soon/down-the-road a bit depending on your preference.
Malivoire Cabernet Franc ‘Wismer Vineyard’ Twenty Mile Bench 2020 (13.5%) $26.95
Rich with blackberry, plum, cassis, soft herbs, pencil shaving, incense. On the palate, up-front fruit and body, more obvious tannin/acid on the mid-palate and a long, flavorful finish. Another reason to adore Niagara Cab Franc.
Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot ‘Estate’ Short Hills Bench 2019 (13%) $27.95
A very elegant wine. Refined aromas- bright red fruit, cedar branch, violet floral notes. A surprising intensity on the palate, a depth of flavors that the nose did not necessarily allude to. Charming and serious at the same time.
Southbrook Cabernet Franc ‘Laundry Vineyard’ Lincoln Lakeshore 2019 (13.5%) $34.80
Aromatically this is super intriguing. Lots of black fruit, some flintiness, like charred rosemary ash, and savory earth notes. There is a lift to the aroma that gives me an old-world vibe. The palate shows ripeness and bang-on balance with acidity and structure. Classy, old-soul style wine. Blended from the best five barrels coming from this lauded vineyard.
Stratus ‘Red’ Niagara-on-the-Lake 2019 (13.3%) $49
Known for the art of the blend, this is a symphony of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Tannat and Syrah. Elegant, aromatic, unique. Nose of bright red fruits, violet, sage, tobacco leaf. Full and fleshy palate, with a tight tannin frame and nice freshness. Good length. A very appealing version of this wine. Drinking window between 2023-2029
Leaning Post Cabernet Franc ‘Wismer-Foxcroft’ Twenty Mile Bench 2018 (14%) $45
This is a perfect example of why Cab Franc is one of the best suited varieties to Niagara region. A wine that is all at once explosive and elegant, bold but nuanced. Mingled red and black fruit- cassis, Bing cherry, green tobacco leaf, allspice. Good tannin structure and ripeness, very present but really inviting. This had 20 months in about 40% new oak but is not overwhelmed by it at all. Great vigneron skill here on high quality grapes.
Kacaba Cabernet Franc ‘Reserve’ Niagara Escarpment 2018 (14.5%) $55
This takes me to California; an intense ripeness, black fruited, sweet cherry, pine sap and oak tones. Warming alcohol, lots of body and fruit, ripe, round tannins. Not typical Niagara Cab Franc. Drink soon- 2023-2026- but with food, preferably big grilled flavors.
Feature Photo: Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard | supplied by Malivoire