Burke's Top Ten New York and Southern Ontario Wines
Illustration by Josh Flanigan
Lailey 2008 Old Vines Chardonnay ($40)
Lailey leads the Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries in burgundian styles, and this lusty, earthy, single-vineyard chardonnay may be the best argument for Niagara chardonnay on the market. Try it with a wild mushroom risotto or a Port Salut cheese for a luxurious experience.
Reif 2010 Reserve Meritage ($30
The long, warm 2010 produced formidable red wines, particularly blends, in Niagara. This well-structured blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot shows black currant and savory earth character and muscular tannins. Grill a porterhouse or bison steak and let the bottle breathe while you’re cooking.
Southbrook Whimsy! 2008 Winemaker’s Red ($35)
Everything from this biodynamic, true-to-terroir winery is worth trying, particularly in the chardonnay department, but the Whimsy! series produces many singular examples of winemaker Ann Sperling’s place-driven style. This low-maintenance Bordeaux-style blend from the cool 2008 vintage shows true, focused fruit character, warm spice oak notes, and just the right heft; it’s perfect wine for a homemade pizza or roast-vegetable pasta.
Vineland 2010 Cabernet Franc ($13)
Vineland winemaker Brian Schmidt loves his cabernet franc, and given the perfect vintage, it’s no surprise he turned out something special here. Classic peppery notes and wet earth with plenty of black cherry give way to beautiful structure and a long finish. This is a natural match for soppressata pizza or beef, pepper, and mushroom kebabs on the grill.
Hermann J. Wiemer Gewurztraminer 2011 ($25)
Wiemer’s known for powerhouse riesling, and rightly so, but I love directing bored riesling fans to the grape’s patchouli-burning, unpredictable flower-child little sister, gewurztraminer. Wiemer does it right with an aromatic yet delicate white offering rose petal, magnolia, and lychee flavors, and the lively acidity that only the Finger Lakes can infuse into this grape. It’s a no-brainer with Indian or Thai cuisine.
Heron Hill 2009 Ingle Vineyard Riesling ($15)
It’s not easy to pick a favorite Finger Lakes riesling in any vintage, but 2009 was particularly intriguing for its cold, wet behavior. This steely example, however, spoke to me the way a single melancholy high note signals the peak of a cello solo, with firm minerality and the pure peach suppleness for which the region has made its name. A little pork tenderloin and apple gallette and this is heaven on earth.
Arrowhead Spring 2010 Syrah ($35)
Intense, brambly, and dark, this syrah snaps the drinker to attention like a good suit, but unfolds after several minutes of decanting for a truly transformative Niagara experience. If I could introduce anyone to Niagara reds for the first time, it would be with this haunting example. Spring for some venison or a lamb stew to pay homage to its Northern Rhone styling.
Leonard Oakes 2010 Frontenac ($17)
Chances are you’re unfamiliar with the frontenac grape, but Leonard Oakes winemaker Jonathan Oakes doesn’t mind—he’ll happily show you how it’s done. A strange and wonderful interplay of savory meat character and cotton candy fruit makes for a fascinating wine; its restrained oak treatment and firm acidity, meanwhile, make for great versatility when it comes to pairing. My standby is barbecued ribs.
Schulze Blanc de Blanc Brut ($25)
This is a staple in my family for all special occasions for its festive yet accessible personality. A celebration of the versatile vidal grape, this sparkling wine shows beautiful acidity and lemon-pear notes. While it’s suitable for just about any meal, I love it best with some foie gras or lardo and a little bit of mostardo.
Eveningside 2010 Cabernet Franc ($23)
Randy Biehl, owner and vineyard manager at Eveningside Vineyards on the Niagara Escarpment, grows two varietals in house: chardonnay and cabernet franc. They live in his backyard, and you can bet they’re his babies. Accordingly, the grapes from these cherished vines produce his most impressive wines, and his cabernet franc has been my weekend dinner wine of choice for as long as I can remember. In this special vintage, it’s as