In its short history Rosewood has made quite an impact from its little corner of the Beamsville Bench. Located on Moutainview Road, amongst the tight cluster of nine wineries, Rosewood has built a following for its Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sémillon and mead.
Early this year I was invited to a portfolio tasting of its current and up-coming line-up. Since great cool climate wines, like those produced on the Beamsville Bench, are always best accompanied with food. This year the winery teamed-up with George Brown's Chef's House to provide a small tasting menu paired with the wines.
The Chef's House is a state-of-the-art restaurant open to the public that gives students of the college's renown Chef School and School of Hospitality and Tourism Management practical experience under the guidance of its instructors. Staff worked closely with the Rosewood team and certainly delivered what was amongst the best wine tastings I experienced this year. The initial amuse-bouche of chicken tikka with mango chutney set the tone for the tasting. It was paired with the 2011 Harvest Gold mead. As Niagara's first meadery, honey wine is something very dear to the Roman family who are third generation beekeepers. But this particular mead holds an extra special place in their hearts. The 2006 Harvest Gold was the first mead Rosewood produced and this 2011 is a proud successor. Full of lilies, camomile, clover, asian pear, pineapple and a touch of bees wax, it's a very pretty beverage that melded well with the tropical and spice combination of the juicy chicken tikka thigh. The moderate acidity and medium-sweet finish make it a great alternative to the usual suspects of Gewürztraminer and off-dry Riesling, which are the go-to partners of spicy foods like chicken tikka. But the Harvest Gold might actually be a more prudent choice with its flavours standing-up better to the spice than many wines do.
The next pairing featured a flight of Rosewood's whites. The winery has a small block of Sémillon overlooking the small pond that separates it from its neighbour. Sémillon is a later-ripening variety you don't often see much of in Niagara, but tasting Rosewood's makes you wonder why because it's perennially one of it's most interesting wines. This vintage is a little like if the 2008 and 2010 had a love child. Like the 2008, it's driven by an aromatic core of honeydew melon, white peach, white grapefruit and pear. There's an intriguing hint of agave and white pepper on the finish that gives it a welcome extra dimension. It has a nice texture that doesn't quite reach the rich, weighty level of the 2010, but it still possess a pleasantly plush feel—a little like if you opted for skimmed rather than whole milk in your latte. Although the slightly off-dry 2011 Mima's Block Riesling with its bold citrus and stone fruit continues to be my favourite Rosewood Riesling, the 2010 Natalie's Süssreserve with its medium-sweet, lemon-lime driven flavour profile worked very well with the bold, salty-citrus flavours of the white fish ceviche. It's winemaker Natalie Spytkowsky was one of the first in the region to use this German technique of adding a bit of (naturally sweet) unfermented juice to the finished Riesling before bottling. The result is a lushness and sweetness, which balances against the higher-acidity of a cool climate like Ontario, and make it a versatile food partner that can comfortably hold its own with spicier and boldly flavoured companions.
My favourite reds of the line-up came during the third course of braised lamb shank tortellini. Up first was the 2010 Cabernet Franc. Winery general manger William Roman has a lot of love for this grape and it shows in the wine. The winemaking team has embraced the aromatic nature and herbal characteristics inherent in the Niagara expression of this grape, producing a wine with a gorgeous combination of raspberry, cedar and smoked tobacco aromas. When you take a sip you're greeted by layers of black currant, blackberry, black raspberry and more of the smoky tobacco spice. The finish features some cocoa, cinnamon and vanilla tones. It's a very balanced Cabernet Franc with the tannic structure and acidity playing off nicely against the silky Pinot-like texture. At $22 it's a solid value and worth making the trip out to the winery to purchase. The two other wines in the flight were Merlots. The conundrum with Merlot is that this earlier-ripening red grape has a reputation of making soft, fruity, juicy wines that drink nicely in their youth before declining. Surely that was built upon warmer climate new world Merlot because much like the right bank of Bordeaux, cool climate Niagara Merlot is often a rugged and untamed beast. In local Meritage blends that characteristic helps provide a strong, bold and desirable tannic structure, but on its own it can sometimes taste overwhelming amongst a line-up of more elegant reds. Rosewood has long produced a style that's a happy medium between the Dexter-like dichotomy of Merlot's personality, and it is being recognised and rewarded for it. It's 2010 Merlot earned Ontario's lone Gold Medal for a red at the internationally respected Decanter World Wine Awards this year. It's a wine that's bursting with black plum, black currant and boysenberry fruit. There's a great Goldilocks not-too-big-not-too-small aspect to the wine with tannins, body and acidity all in beautiful balance. It's supple and approachable now, but has enough structure to develop in the cellar over the next couple of years. The reserve Merlot is probably even better. There's a velvety texture as well as an intriguing vanilla-raspberry cream and strong chalky mineral note added to that mix resulting in a wine with some additional complexity.
The final course spoke to my dining sensibilities, ended with a bit of cheese rather than a sweet dessert. Here the salty-nutty combination of Thunder Oak Gouda was paired with 2008 Mead Royale. Unlike Harvest Gold this mead is aged in French oak barrels, so slight undertones of nutmeg and cinnamon join the white flowers, melon, Asian pear and waxy honey notes. The sweet-savoury contrast was a great way to end the tasting and the fresh honey comb, a rare treat given how hard the heat was on the bees this summer, echoed and underscored mead's uniqueness as an alternative dessert beverage.
A major change occurred at Rosewood about a week after the tasting. The winery and original winemaker Spytkowsky parted ways after seven vintages. Spytkowsky is “looking forward to new endeavors” and the Roman family is “excited about the next chapter” in the winery's history. Former assistant winemaker and vineyard manager Luke Orwinski, who has worked closely alongside Spytkowsky and the winemaking team, will succeed her as winemaker. Ross Wise, formerly winemaker at Flat Rock, will also be consulting and working with Orwinski during the transition, while William Roman takes on some increased responsibilities in the vineyard. Based on previous conversations I've had with with Orwinski, he has a great knowledge and passion for Niagara wines as well as Rosewood's estate vineyards and those of its partner growers. So for fans of Rosewood's wines the transition should be a seamless one. For those who are excited to taste what Orwinski's vision for Rosewood might be like, expect a preview sooner rather than later. He and William Roman have been collaborating on a special limited production red blend and it should be ready next year.
2011 Rosewood Harvest Gold
Availability: Winery come March 2013
2011 Rosewood Sémillon
Availability: Winery come Spring of 2013 & LCBO Vintages come June 2013
2010 Rosewood Natalie's Süssreserve Riesling
Availability: Right now at the winery & LCBO Vintages Come March 2013
2010 Rosewood Cabernet Franc
2010 Rosewood Merlot
Availability: Right now at the winery & LCBO Vintages come February 2013
2010 Rosewood Reserve Merlot Natural Fermentation
Availability: Winery come Spring of 2013
2008 Rosewood Mead Royale
Availability: Winery & LCBO Vintages 296178
Rosewood Estates Winery