Monday, June 25, 2012

Stratus Red 2007 - One of the Best Wines in North America (Niagara Penninsula, Canada)

I haven’t covered enough Canadian wine. This comes from the fact that I haven’t been traveling to Canada near as much as I was even seven years ago. But I remain a true and constant fan of the wines. I must first claim ignorance. I am an accidental traveler in that country, and have yet to spend a real trip there, combing through the wine country, and enjoying the many vineyards I know are there.

While at Eastern Wineries Expo 2012, I ran across a wine and winemaker I have no idea existed….onyl to find out he was already considered a national treasure, and the wine a monumental Canadian wine. Talk about feeling stupid.

Stratus is considered one of the great wines of Canada, even though it is relatively new. And it has a sustainability mission statement that also bubbles it up to the top.

"The wine we grow is dependent on the health of the land on which it is grown. We farm our vineyard and guide our winemaking as though our children's future depends on it. Each vintage bottled is a reflection of this ongoing commitment." - Environmental Mission Statement

The winery is a building designed to make premium wine. A facility where almost every piece of equipment can be reconfigured in response to the demands of winemaking. Even equipment as basic as the table where the grapes from their vineyard are sorted by hand can be set up in more than 17 different ways. A four-storey tank elevator helps them move wine without pumping, which can introduce air and compromise flavors. Instead, their wine flows naturally, through gravity, from stainless steel or oak fermenters into carefully selected French oak barrels, where it will age under the care of the cellar master.

Then, there’s the winemaker. J-L (Jean-Laurent) Groux is a native of France's Loire Valley who learned his craft in the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux. And while he venerates the traditions of winemaking, he won't be bound by them. Instead, J-L is open to fresh ideas and to establishing what he calls "new traditions." So, at Stratus you'll find many new approaches to grape-growing and winemaking. Judged by the age-old standard of "what works best," these innovations help J-L pursue a very traditional goal – outstanding, age-worthy wines that capture the essence of vintage and vineyard.

At EWE 2012 the tone when discussing JL was one of great warmth, and tremendous respect. Known as one of Niagara’s winemaking pioneers, J-L brought his vision of creating premium New World wines through the Old World art of assemblage to Stratus. Using the vineyard as his palette, he creates complexity through diversity by blending several grape varieties into one layered and richly textured wine.

Stratus grows 11 varieties of red wine grapes in its vineyard: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tannat and Tempranillo. This diversity gives J-L a wide range of choices options for crafting a signature Stratus Red.

The wine I had was the Stratus 2007 Red. The grapes were harvested from October 13 - November 13, 2007. The average brix at Harvest: 22.9°. 644 days in French Oak - 88% New, 10% one year old, 2% two year old oak barrels. The final wine is 13.5% alcohol.
After a rigourous sorting removes any imperfect berries, red varieties at Stratus free fall into classic Burgundian oak fermenters. There, they ferment and rest for four to six weeks. This extended soak gently extracts maximum character and color from the grapes.

According to JL’s notes, “The hot, dry vintage of 2007 is a hallmark for the Niagara Peninsula. The vintage was ideal for the art of assemblage as each varietal was able to show signature typicity. Predominately Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, other varieties were included to lift the body and nose. The result is a concentrated, complex and ageworthy wine that expresses the diversity of our vineyard.”

“Fruit from the Stratus Vineyard was allowed to mature into the fall before being harvested based on tasting for optimum maturity. Each cluster was picked by hand, followed by an intensive whole- cluster sorting in the winery. All fruit was then destemmed and individual berry sorting was done before crushing and falling into tank for fermentation. After an extended post-fermentation maceration, the wine was gently basket-pressed into new and older barrels originating from numerous French forests, from selected coopers. The wine was then allowed to mature on the lees in barrel; and individual barrels were selected by tasting after almost two full years for the best balance, intensity, and varietal character. After 593 days in barrel, the wines were blended and bottled by gravity,” he continued.

The wine was easily one of the best red wines, made not only on the east coast, but in North America. It was incredible. Big, dark, and impressive up front with its colors, but it’s nose was floral with big dark juicy berries, hints of cassis, vanilla, mocha, and lakvar. The wine itself was big and chewy, and delicious. Prune, plum, cassis were all evident. But it was also more elegant than that! It had a finesse and elegance to it that were astonishing. But don’t just believe me….

"The first red to reach a full 5 star rating during the writing of this edition. Deep and brilliant garnet hue to the rim; full, rich nose with top notes of banana and cherry. Lush but not opulent texture—clean, not lean—somewhere between satin and velvet. Fabulous depth and richness of ripe fruit flavours, with black cherry and plum dominating early, and balancing hints of apple skin in the end palate. Tremendously complex and already delicious, this one’s worth holding back for several years. Not cheap but exceptionally good value. Drink now to 2025.”
5 stars out of 5
- Konrad Ejbich, A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards & Vines

“Before all other wines are made at Stratus this is the wine they focus on first and foremost, so says winemaker JL Groux – (stamped it, no erasies). About this wine JL has two things to say: 1) “I am confident that this is a great wine.”; and 2) “this is the Stratus Red with the least amount of varieties in it: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and some Gamay” – he says this referring back to the other Stratus reds he has made in the past. This wine is a delicious addition to the Stratus portfolio; a wine with really good complexity, fruit, barrel notes, spice, tannins and acidity – there’s also vanilla, cinnamon and lovely red fruit on the finish. My notes finish with two words: ‘Sweet’ and ‘Supple’. JL is confident that this is a “great wine” – I’m confident in giving it 4½ stars and telling you “you’ll like it” and also to lie it down for some ageing – 7-10 years will do nicely. Release is expected Winter 2010.
Rating: ****½
- Michael Pinkus, Ontario Wine Review, June 2010

For Canadians, all I can say is, you’re just damn lucky! For Americans, it’s not easy to find Stratus, but it is possible for your local store to order. Get it! Buy it now. It’s a bargain at the price you’ll pay, and its wine you can drink now or cellar for the next 10 years. A work of art!