Cuvée Grand Tasting

Written by Gary Killops


Wineries and winemakers from across Ontario gather at Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort once a year for the annual Cuvée Grand Tasting event, a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking now in its 26th year..

This year Brock University has taken over the planning and organizing of Cuvée from the Niagara Community Foundation. “It’s a natural fit for us” said Barb Tatarnic, who is the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s (CCOVI) manager of outreach and continuing education at Brock. “CCOVI has had a long-standing tradition with Cuvée so it was an easy transition for us to become the organizing body”.

Cuvée will continue in its existing format as a fundraiser, now supporting student bursaries and research that will benefit the Ontario grape and wine industry. “We are very appreciative of the support from the wine industry to the Foundation for the past 11 years through Cuvée,” said Liz Palmieri, executive director of Niagara Community Foundation. “Cuvée has enabled us to grow and sustain the Foundation. Our priority moving forward is to focus our resources on our core business.”

Now as the event evolves, proceeds will go to support the industry it showcases. “This is a terrific development,” said Brian Hutchings, Brock’s Vice-President of Finance and Administration. “It will ultimately support some of the very students and researchers who are crucial to sustaining and growing the industry in the future.”

The Cuvée Grand Tasting has changed focus over the past few years from a competition among winemakers to the story of the wine that the winemakers have selected to bring to the event: one wine, one winemaker and the opportunity to ask the winemaker why they selected the wine that they are showcasing.

Here is what a few of them said:

Rori McCaw (Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards) and Andrzej Lipinski (Big Head Wines)

Rori McCaw (Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards) and Andrzej Lipinski (Big Head Wines)

Steve Byfield (Nyarai Cellars,Niagara) selected the 2011 Cadence ($21.95). This is a blend of cabernet franc (42%), merlot (33%), cabernet sauvignon (20%), and syrah (5%). “The word ‘cadence’ means a sequence of notes or chords comprising the close of a musical phrase. I dedicated this wine to the many musicians with whom I’ve had the pleasure to collaborate.”

Rori McCaw (Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards, Lake Erie North Shore) chose the 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve ($34.95). “The vintage year was great for cab franc but it’s really the response from tasters who love it as much as I do. It’s also a wonderful example of full potential ripeness in the Lake Erie North Shore region, yet the specific terroir of our estate shines through with great uniqueness. The balance of the wine is superb.”

Andrzej Lipinski (Big Head Wines, Niagara) opted to showcase the 2013 Chenin Blanc ($22). “Chenin blanc is a long-lived and versatile grape. It ripens later than most but the spot from where we source has the protection of the lake to prevent winter damage. We leave it on the vine fairly late and are rewarded with intense phenolics that take days of breathing to fully awaken. This is the most exciting white in our portfolio.”

Michael Standen (Colaneri Estate Winery, Niagara) selected the 2012 Insieme ($34.95). The sommelier, who works retail for the winery, poured Lipinski’s wine. “The word ‘insieme’ in Italian means ‘together.’ This full-bodied wine is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and syrah done in the traditional appassimento style.”

Winemaker Martin Janz (right) of Pelee Island Winery

Winemaker Martin Janz (right) of Pelee Island Winery

Martin Janz (Pelee Island Winery, Lake Erie North Shore) picked the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot Vinedresser ($19.95). Cabernet sauvignon (85%), petit verdot (15%). “2012 was an excellent vintage for us, you can taste the ripe fruit in this wine.” Martin said it was hard to pick just one wine.

Emma Garner (Thirty Bench Wine Makers, Niagara) selected the 2012 Small Lot Pinot Noir ($35). “Pinot noir has become a genuine focus for us at Thirty Bench. I feel that in 2012 we struck a harmonious balance between power and finesse. The intense tobacco leaf and cherry aromatics and subtle oak accents are seductive and intriguing. This wine is a true testament to what we can achieve from our tiny pinot block that is now coming into its own. “

J-L (Jean-Laurent) Groux (Stratus Vineyards Niagara) decided on the 2012 Stratus White ($44). “In celebration of Stratus’s 10th anniversary, we are pleased to unveil the 10th bottling of our flagship White. Interestingly, it was at Cuvée 2005 that Stratus White made its world debut. This vintage preserves our original principle of assemblage and at the same time expresses a heightened finesse, structure and elegance.”

J-L is from France’s Loire Valley. He learned winemaking in Burgundy and Bordeaux and brings his old world style craft to Niagara’s Stratus Vineyards. An iconic winemaker who conducted several hundred blind tastings to build this blending of each vintage of Stratus White, he explained that there is no recipe for assemblage, only a goal. The 2012 is a blend of chardonnay (43%), sauvignon blanc (42%) and semillon (15%).

Cuvée is an annual celebration of Ontario winemaking. It started out 26 years ago with 18 wineries and one chef at Victoria Park in Niagara Falls. In 2015 the Cuvée Grand Tasting has grown to feature 52 VQA Ontario wineries, 13 chefs who prepared their signature dishes, and over 700 guests.

The Ontario grape and wine industry employs more than 14,000 people and attracts 1.9 million visitors to the province each year. According to research completed by the Canadian Vintners Association, it is an important driver to the provincial economy and contributes $3.3 billion to the economy annually. Certainly something to celebrate!


Gary Killops is a certified wine geek who loves to talk, taste and write about wine. He shares his wine tasting notes on EssexWineReview.com


About the author

Gary Killops

Gary Killops is a CAPS Certified Sommelier who loves to talk, taste and write about wine. He shares his wine tasting notes on EssexWineReview.com