The day started out in Union Station in downtown Toronto, where I met Deacon Doctor Fresh for a lackluster breakfast at, of all places, Harvey’s. The good Doctor was uninspired by breakfast and neither one of us would (or could) recommend, in good conscience the fried egg, bacon and tomato served on yesterday's hamburger bun - yuck ... the home fries are nothing to write home about either; they're basically potato wedges (large French fries). To put it mildly Treadwell’s had no competition from our petite dejeuner, their perch, duck and cream brulee stood miles above what we had consumed in the AM.
Unbeknownst to me, the Deacon is quite a song-meister, and his playful tune about his colon problems, due in part to our lousy breakfast (and something he may have eaten the night before), stuck with me the rest of the day and well into the next; in fact I can still hum it now. But enough of that, let's all head to the winery.
Upon our arrival, we were handed a glass of the newly bottled, and soon to be released, 2007 Riesling ($35.00), a melon infused nose with lemon freshness and a touch of mandarin orange in the background. The taste follows the nose with its melon and lemon flavours, good crisp acidity and a touch of sweetness (1). Stratus doesn't grow their own Riesling for this bottling, it's actually Beamsville Bench fruit, but winemaker J.L. Groux has done a marvelous job with it.
We moved into a small private tasting room to enjoy a flight of Stratus staples - their White and Red - notes below.
We then wandered outside for a look at the vineyard and witness the early stages of bud-break on the vines. The Cabernet Franc seemed a little more advanced than the Cabernet Sauvignon, but J.L. said that was usual for this time of year. I spied a vine named "Alison” and wondered if all 55,000+ plants were named. As it turns out, to get the full experience of what it takes to grow grapes, each employee is given a plant to take care of; this is Alison’s vine.
J. L. explained to us that Stratus grows and plants vines that it believes it can make good "assemblage" wine from (assemblage = the art of blending various wines to achieve a single wine - a la Bordeaux) - and not because of weather conditions or vines they expect to be more winter hardy; hence there is also Malbec, Tannat, and Sangiovese grown on the property. A little WildAss Rosé (great dry strawberry flavours - $19.00) was served on the patio before lunch. WildAss is Stratus' second tier of wines and in my opinion was named thus because to hear J.L. say the word "WildAss", in his French accent, is quite humorous, and not a word you would expect to come out of his mouth.
As mentioned lunch was outstanding, especially when compared to breakfast, and the Deacons colon had little to rumble negatively about it. Lunch was served with the 2006 Gewurztraminer, a wine I have previously reviewed and adored; the 2005 Cabernet Franc, a black cherry, blackberry, tobacco and cedar laced number which is pure liquid gold on the tongue - I maintain this is Ontario's grape bar none; and finally, the 2007 Red Icewine - a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah - a beautiful nose of strawberry, raspberry, and cherry with a hint of rhubarb pie. It’s full-on red fruit bowl in the mouth - so delectable and luscious you won't be able to stop sipping. I believe it's even better then last year's version, and I had nothing but praise for that one.
As I said from the start, I am not one whose opinion is swayed easily - Status has not changed my opinion about their high prices - I believe they're still too high – though the quality of their wines and methods are excellent … I have no problem recommending their wines - I just don't see myself buying any anytime soon, due to budget restraints. What I must respect, is that Stratus has never wavered, like some other wineries, when it comes to their price points, they have consistently stayed the course they set for themselves. I wish they had wines on their shelves for the under $20.00 consumer, if that is who you are (and there are many of us), this is not your winery. Now their WildAss brand (made for the wild mass) is a different story; I would suggest keeping your eyes peeled for the 2005 WildAss wines due out in vintages come November – then you’ll be able to get a taste of Stratus for less - around $19.00 a bottle and not sold at the winery.
Stratus over the years ...
The tasting of three vintages worth of the Red and White showed not only the differences of vintage, but how these wines will age and how the art of the blend can save a mediocre season (see the 2004’s) - all wines retail(ed) for $44.00.
White ... (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling)
2002 - Deep golden color compared to the other two wines, the nose was bruised tree fruit and honeyed-spice. The palate was starting to show signs of oxidized sweetness with honeyed/dried pineapple core notes; there was also a peculiar finish. J.L. said it would hold another couple of years ... but I say drink now. (no longer available)
2004 - Beautiful nose of melon, pear, Mac apple, floral and orange notes. This one comes in stages. A touch sweet on the mid-palate with floral and tropical fruitiness; then there’s a dry vanilla-orange medium-length finish. The integration between barrel flavours and fruit is seamless - this one's peaking and should be delicious for another couple of years at least. (no longer available)
2005 - Tropical fruit and floral aromas mix with the oaky-vanilla barrel notes. All aromas replay on the tongue with pineapple and buttery-caramel ... complex group of flavors on the tongue with a long finish. Delicious. (currently available)
Red … (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Gamay, Petit Verdot - unless otherwise noted)
2002 – (no Malbec, Petit Verdot and little to no Syrah) pleasant nose that delivers plumy and pruney aromas wrapped in oak. Good acidity with a long aftertaste … black fruit and oaky on the palate. (no longer available)
2004 - not a "great" growing year by any stretch of the imagination, but this wine is rescued by the art of the blend. The nose is red fruit and white pepper, and develops red licorice and cinnamon as it sits in the glass. Taste is pure heaven. Spicy-herbed red fruit with some raspberry and mocha undertones, tannins are currently fine, supple, and easy drinking – a subtle wine full of elegance and complexity. Drinking beautifully right now - J.L. says it will easily hold till 2014 - I have no reason to doubt him. (no longer available)
2005 - still young and needs plenty of aeration to get anything now. Spicy, black fruit with lots of barrel notes on the nose. A little more comes through on the tongue with peppery-black fruit holding court with some cedary tones. Nice balance of tannins and acidity makes it approachable now, or hold for a decade in the cellar. (currently available)