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Licenced to Thrill

Niagara-on-the-Lake played host to the second annual Niagara Wine Auction last weekend, a star-studded affair that included performances by The Pointer Sisters and The Temptations and appearances by Jann Arden, Michael Burgess and Jason Priestley. There was a lot of celebrity sizzle surrounding what was effectively the coming out party for Niagara's 2007 vintage.

    Many of the participating wineries were pouring aromatic white wines, such as Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs, and roses from 2007 vintage, which is living up to the hopes expressed by winemakers last fall. Last year's harvest had all of the weather conditions to push grapes into impressive levels of ripeness — the raw materials were there to produce truly exceptional wines.

   The early results are looking promising, indeed.

   Take a tour of the VQA (short for Vintners Quality Alliance, the winemaking standards body that governs Ontario wine) sections of the LCBO and Vintages shelves and you'll see a number of 2007 options already on-sale. Even more selections are available direct from the winery through cellar door or online purchases. The third-party retailer Winery to Home, www.winerytohome.com, also stocks a diverse number of wines from Ontario producers.

   We'll have to wait until later in the year before we'll see some of the barrel-aged Chardonnays and red wines. The best examples will be held back at the wineries until well into 2008 to allow the wines more time to integrate and mature in barrel and bottle.

   In such cases, our patience should be nicely rewarded.

   This year's barrel auction included exciting Cabernet-based blends from Henry of Pelham Family Estates, Hillebrand Winery and Thirty Bench Wine Makers. These were young tannic wines, but they clearly had the stuffing to produce something compelling when they finally reach the bottle.

   Attendees were able to taste and bid on cases of wine from 16 different barrel lots, which they would be able to pick up 12 to 18 months from now. The money raised through the barrel auction as well as the silent and live auctions staged during the gourmet weekend was to be shared by the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and the St. Catharines General Hospital Foundation.

   Another early look at the 2007 vintage will come with this week's Niagara New Vintage Festival, which includes a number of tasting and special events. Visit www.niagaranewvintagefestival.com for more information.

Wines of the Week:
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Calamus Estate Winery 2007 Pinot Gris
Niagara Peninsula $15
   Good balance of honeyed fruit and racy acidity gives this vibrant Pinot Gris nice sweet and sour tension. The refreshing style makes this a good summer sipper or al fresco dinner option. Nicely done! Available from www.calamuswines.com.

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Malivoire Wine Co. 2007 Ladybug
Niagara Peninsula $16 (559088)
   Owner Martin Malivoire takes a personal interest in the rosé produced at his Beamsville boutique winery. A frequent traveler to the south of France, Malivoire explains his first order of business after clearing the airport is sitting down to collect himself with a glass of rose. The new 2007 vintage is an exciting, full flavoured pink wine. This beautifully balanced rose offers bright flavours and terrific crisp character, it will work with a wide assortment of dishes. (LCBO Vintages)

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Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery 2007 Wismer Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula $18.95
    Winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas, who traded Burgundy's Domaine Laroche for Niagara's Peninsula Ridge, has made his biggest impact to date with his expressive Sauvignon Blancs. The 2007 Wismer Vineyard bottling offers rich and sweet fruit flavours and terrific balance. Well-done. Available from www.peninsularidge.com.

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Vineland Estates Winery 2007 Semi-Dry Riesling
Niagara Peninsula $13.95 (232033)
   Vineland Estates has always been synonymous with Riesling, and the 2007 Semi-Dry Riesling carries on that pedigree. The flavour profile of this refreshing white wine suggests citrus and grapefruit with lively acidity that perks up the finish. The fruit and acid balance makes for an invigorating and enjoyable wine. www.vineland.com (LCBO General List)

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