Inniskillin Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake has a great reputation and was the first winery started here in Ontario after Prohibition. Its success is mainly due to one of the co-founders, Donald Ziraldo, who is a pioneer not only in the Ontario wine industry, but in Canadian ice wine as well. In 2006, the winery was sold to Constellation Brands.
Ever wonder what happened to Ziraldo? He started his own brand of ice wine and Riesling table wines under his own name and in 2011 took on management of a Port winery (Senhora Do Convento) in Portugal’s Douro Valley. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with the icon and his wife, Victoria Gilbert (marketing director for the Portuguese winery) to taste the Ports and Douro table wines he oversees, as well as his own Niagara ice wine.
Senhora Do Convento is a 12th-century monastery high in the Douro Valley and has a long history of making Ports. Christian monks, who are long gone, originally grew the grapes for the wine. The winemaker today is Jean-Hughes Gros who has been with them since 1999 and is responsible for its production. At the tasting we were treated to three table wines, six Ports and one ice wine.
Let’s start with the table wines. The round and dusty 2012 Douro Red, made from three Port grapes, was full of dark fruit, tar, chocolate, leather, black licorice and coffee. (Estimated retail price is $18.95.) Next up was the 2012 Aguias. Intense, toasty dark berry, earthiness and spice abound in this well-structured, well-balanced “super-Portuguese” offering. (Estimated retail price is $39.95.) The 2009 Quinta do Convento delivered toasty dark fruit, cherry, spice, leather and tarry notes in a well-put-together vino. (Estimated retail price is $24.95.)
Up next were the Ports. We started with the regular Ruby and Tawny. The Ruby, a fresh, young, easy-drinking, medium-bodied style that smacked of ripe berries, apricots, figs, chocolate and coffee was delightful. The firm Tawny sported dried fruits, nuttiness, raisin, leather and crème brûlée notes with a touch of spiciness. Both retail in the LCBO for $16.95.
Two aged tawnies followed. The elegant 10 Year Old (estimated price is $19.95) was yummy with its toasty fig, jammy dried fruits and spice, while the excellent 20 Year Old (estimated price is $29.95) showed more complexity displaying vanilla, spice, tropical fruit, orange peel, caramel and Bourbon highlights along with amazing acidity.
Finally the vintage Ports took centre stage. The rich, yet elegant toasty vanilla 2009 (estimated price is $28.95) flowed with red fruit, plums, and spice and the stunning, rich, ripe 2011 (estimated price is $89.95) wowed with its herbaceous dark fruit, chocolate, black licorice, allspice, tar and gripping tannins. A real winner!
To top the tasting off was Ziraldo’s own Riesling ice wine made from fruit from the Victoria Vineyard that was planted in 2007 on the original Inniskillin Winery site in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The 2014 vintage is richly packed with buttery vanilla, tropical fruit, honey and gorgeous balancing acidity. A truly spectacular Ice wine! (Estimated selling price is $89.)
Although only the regular Ruby and Tawny Ports are available at the moment, it shouldn’t be too long before the others make the scene. Ziraldo divides his time between Portugal and Niagara and, I’m sure, spends much time on the road promoting all his ventures. One thing is certain, if Donald Ziraldo is involved with it, you can be sure it’s going to be great
The agent in Ontario is Eurovintage (eurovintage.com).