Reif Estate Winery has some serious history behind it. With the experience of 34 years growing grapes and nearly 30 years operating a winery in Niagara, Reif is one of Ontario's pioneering wineries.
So their team certainly knows what it takes to craft the best wine possible out of its corner of the province. Recently, Reif staff and winemaker Roberto DiDomenico were in Toronto at the Calphalon Culinary Centre to present some of their newest wines to media and restaurateurs.
At the tasting Reif poured a cross section of their line-up, which ranges from fresh aromatic whites all the way up to super premium, reserve reds. The 2011 whites stood out as particularly great among a strong field. That year was an interesting vintage. It wasn't quite the warm vintage, with just enough timely rain, that was 2010. Nor was it the cool and wet 2009 vintage, where the summer never really arrived and autumn brought unseasonably warm and dry weather. Instead 2011 was a combination of the two, with a fairly warm summer, but got quite cool and wet just as the transition to autumn was taking place. That made it a tricky vintage, particularly for earlier ripening grapes like Chardonnay. The cooler temperatures of 2009 favoured the crisp aromatic whites and delicate earlier ripening reds like Pinot Noir, giving them a fresh lively core and preserving those beautiful aromas. While 2010, with its dry heat and long growing season, was the polar opposite, favouring bold, late-ripening reds like Cabernet and Merlot, which can produce juicy, plush, fruit-forward wines if given enough heat and sun. But what's good for reds isn't necessarily good for whites and vice-versa. Luckily for white lovers, 2011 seems to possess a hybrid quality of those previous two vintages. There's a touch of the richness and ripeness that makes the 2010 vintage so approachable in the youth, while still retaining some of that electric liveliness that makes the 2009 vintage so exciting to drink and may make them even more exciting after they get a bit of age.
One of the big beneficiaries of the vintage is Reif's 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. This grape ripens later and is a bit winter sensitive, but in some of the warmer sub-appellations, like the warmest one of Niagara River where Reif has its vineyards, it can produce a compelling hybrid-style that is somewhere between the old world and new world. That's exactly what's on display with this wine which is full of old world flavours and aromas of: lemon, asian pear and white grapefruit. Supporting that citrus-forward core are flourishes of white flowers, fresh cut grass, tropical kiwi and starfruit reminiscent of the new world style that New Zealand made famous. But even with that tropical edge, this wine isn't as aggressive as many of those widely available Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs and maintains some of that subtler older world elegance ending on a strong lemon-grapefruit note. The wine has a lively core with acidity at the medium-plus level and is balanced with a surprisingly satisfying fleshy weight, considering the stainless steel fermentation and aging. The only downside is the wine is licensee-only — Reif's restaurant customers were asking for some exclusive products. The good news is it's priced at a level that should keep glasses at your favourite restaurants priced around the upper single digits.
Winemaker Roberto DiDomenico also made a licensee-only red to complement the Sauvignon Blanc. This 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (one of Sauvignon Blanc's parent grapes) is made in an easy-drinking style. That means you'll find lush and juicy black cherry, black raspberry and strawberry in the glass. It's very approachable and has just enough tannin and acidity to give it the structure it needs to pair well with food. DiDomenico says it contains some Cabernet that would normally end-up in a Reif reserve level wine. But in this vintage he felt the quality wasn't quite up to the standard of 2010, so it ended-up in this wine with no Reserve being made. That's a boon for consumers as the nine months of oak barrel aging really aids in a richer texture and lends a nice complementary hint of oak spice that you don't often get at this price level. Priced just a touch more than the Sauvignon Blanc it's the type of versatile and easy drinking red that should delight customers.
Still, the wine that really stood out at the tasting was the 2011 Chenin Blanc. You don't see much Chenin in Niagara and it's a bit of a shame because it's a versatile grape that can make anything from great sparklers to aromatic and bone dry, crisp whites to lush medium-sweet beauties and even decadent dessert wines. But it buds early so it's prone to frost, plus it's a late ripener and a vigorous grower, so requires a lot of attention in the vineyard to produce good results, according to DiDomenico. But he remains optimistic on the grape and quite excited at the interesting flavours and aromas that his single acre of vines have produced in the 2011 and 2012. The 2011 has a beautiful floral aspect to it with sweet aromas of orange blossom and white peach. That fragrant peach-citrus combination carries over to the palate and is joined by golden apple and an intriguing white cherry note. It has a nice satisfying texture like a bowl of squash soup on a cold fall day. Made in a dry style, the acidity is nicely balanced with it just on the right side of keeping the wine tasting and feeling lively rather than too rich and round.
One of the most interesting pours at the tasting was revisiting the 2007 First Growth Pinot Noir. The warm drought-like conditions of that vintage haven't been exceptionally kind to many of the earlier ripening grapes. Those grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, drank quite well upon release with a nice lush texture, lower acidity and ripe, juicy flavours. However, as some of those wines have aged and the vivid fruit begins to fade, they can lack the appealing juicy, vibrancy they once had. But this 2007 Pinot is drinking quite well. It has that classic Niagara profile with flavours and aromas of: sour cherry, kirsch, and a touch of intriguing gaminess, smoke, rose petal, vanilla and oak spice to keep things interesting. It also has a silky, elegant feel on the palate, the tannins have calmed nicely, and there's just enough acidity there to provide that Goldilocks not-too-small-not-too-big balance that makes Pinot such a versatile food partner.
If you're a fan of the small lot First Growth series it would be a great time to visit Reif as the stocks of the 2007 vintage wines are getting low. They probably won't be replenished for a while either. DiDomenico says he's still on the fence about whether there will be any First Growths from 2010, but reading between the lines it seems unlikely. When he tastes the wines he doesn't quite get that same big, bold, exciting flavours that he got in 2007 and he has thus far in the infancy of the 2012 wines. That comes as a bit of a surprise because the 2010 vintage has been hailed as the best ever in Ontario with many winemakers, especially those that specialise in big reds like Cabernets, very excited. But after 23 vintages at Reif and many spectacular wines DiDomenico certainly knows his vineyard well and what it's capable of producing. In the meantime there is plenty of good juice to enjoy in Reif's current line-up. As DiDomenico said “We're not a pretentious winery. We just like to delivery great tasting wines for our customers across our entire line-up.” That's something I'm sure every wine lover can get behind.
2011 Reif Sauvignon Blanc
Price: N/A. Licensee only.
Availability: Look for it on wine lists of restaurants that serve Reif.
2011 Reif Caberent Sauvignon
Price: N/A Licensee only.
Availability: Look for it on wine lists of restaurants that serve Reif.
2011 Reif Chenin Blanc
2007 Reif First Growth Pinot Noir
Reif Estate Winery
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.