Icewine Festival, Stratus

Icewine Festival,

You don’t need to know anything about Stratus’ history to realise this is a winery that is serious about its craft. One pull on handle of the impossibly tall doors of the minimalist rectangular prism reveals a room of clean lines in shades of black, white and grey.

. Extensive use of steel, glass and a geothermal heating system (which allows the the entire winery to be heated for $20-25 a month in winter) allowed it to become Canada’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building and the first winery in the world to receive this certification.

But as slick as the minimalist space is for visiting guests, it is first and foremost a facility for winemaking. Not having the benefit of a natural hillside the winery was built on multiple levels and makes extensive use of the elevator at harvest to begin the winemaking process which sees the wine move via gravity all the way to bottling. The theory is that handling  the wine in small batches and moving it only via gravity flow rather than large pumps should be gentler. Minimal movement, especially on more delicate varieties, should allow the wines to keep more of the volatile aromatics and prevent the bitter flavours in the seeds and skins from being released while being agitated. Even a great facility does little good without the right people involved which is why Stratus has also invested in top viticulture and winemaking talent including consultants Donna Lailey, Peter Gamble, Ann Sperling and of course head winemaker Jean-Laurent Groux. An Ontario Winemaker of the Year, Groux was responsible for the first Trius (a blend of the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) back in 1989 while he was head winemaker for Hillebrand for some 15 years. Groux’s philosophy has been to make use of the 55 acres on the property to grow 19 grape varieties and multiple clones. The goal is an assemblage—a french term for taking individually vinified grape varieties and blending them to create the best wine possible. Ideally the wine is layered with a complexity that goes beyond the sum of its components  Both the flagship Stratus Red and White are made using philosophy. Groux and this winemaking team sample amongst the hundreds of stacked barrels to produce a blend that they believe best represents the estate in that particular vintage. This  approach continues throughout the line-up including Icewine.

On third and fourth Sunday of January the winery is giving guests a unique opportunity to experience this with a horizontal flight of its 2008 Icewines. The sit down tutored tasting will lead guests through the 2008 Riesling Icewine, the 2008 vintage of the assemblage Red Icewine as well as two firsts for Stratus the 2008 Sémillon and the estate’s first ever assemblage White Icewine. The flight starts with the 2008 Riesling Icewine. The 2007 vintage, which is available at the winery, had a nose that was primarily candied lime and caramelised sugar. On the palate those candied flavours are joined by hints of sweet pear and apricot. Like many Rieslings from the hot and dry 2007 vintage there is a bit of a petrol note—a characteristic that tends to show-up on aged Riesling. On the finish there is an interesting note of almond skin that when combined with medium level of acidity tends to provide good balance against the Icewine’s sugar.

The 2008 Sémillon Icewine is a Niagara rarity (Pillitteri has produced some in the past) so this is an excellent opportunity to try a Canadian take on the star grape responsible for Sauternes. Putting your nose into the glass you’re rewarded with aromas of honey and juicy white peaches with an underlying floral perfume. When you tip the golden liquid on to your tongue there are flavours of honey, apricots and tropical fruit with a rich and satisfying velvety mouth feel. The acidity doesn’t taste quite as strong as the Riesling but enough is still there to provide balance.

Up next is the 2008 White Icewine which is a blend of both the Riesling and Sémillon. Stratus is giving guests the opportunity to judge the success of its assemblage philosophy by first tasting the two component single varietal wines before tasting the final blend in this flight. The nose is rich with both the candied lime of the Riesling and floral peach notes of the Sémillon. On the palate the Sémillon provides apricots, tropical fruits and a full mouth feel while the Riesling brings citrus notes and a refreshing acidity. It’s a complex and balanced wine that makes a strong case for the concept of assemblage. To finish the flight Stratus is pouring the 2008 vintage of its Red Icewine made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This assemblage has aromas and flavours of dried strawberries, raspberries, cherries and black current. There’s also a hint of licorice and a spicy pepper note which adds some additional complexity. The finish is long and the sugar is well balanced against the acidity. WIth the aim of combating some of the syrupy sweetness in Icewine Groux looks to ferment a little more sugar than is typical leading to alcohol levels that are on the higher side for Icewines (the Sémillon is 13% and the White is 12.5%) according to staff.

If you can’t make it to the either of the tasting on Sunday afternoon, staff say there will likely be a more limited Icewine flight available at the bar on weekends throughout  the Icewine festival. It also selling this 2008 horizontal Icewine flight in package through its website if you would like to replicate the tasting experience with a group of friends at home.

2008 Horizontal Icewine pack $159.70

Horizontal Tasting of 2008 Stratus Icewines
$25 per person Sunday Jan 16th & 22nd from 2-3pm
Please book by phoneing the wnery a 905-468-1806 x 232

Stratus Vineyards
2059 Niagara Stone Road (Map)
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
(905) 468-1806 

Written by Mike Di Caro

Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.

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