Friday, March 18, 2011

Niagara-on-the-Lake Winery Visit: Lailey Vineyard

Continuing our series on Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, winery visits.
Lailey is a small Niagara-on-the-Lake winery that is a welcome change of pace from giants such as Inniskillin, Peller Estates, or Jackson-Triggs. In fact, the tasting room is about the size of the coatroom in these other wineries. Without the expansive grounds and the hype, this little winery can focus on producing some amazingly good wines.

Lailey Vineyards got its start back in the 1970s when David Lailey and his wife Donna converted the family fruit tree farm to growing vinifera grapes. After selling grapes to wineries for years, they obtained a winery license in 2000 and were joined by former customer Derek Barnett who took over the role of winemaker. Today Lailey is considered in the top tier of Niagara wineries and regularly wines prizes in prestigious wine competitions for their Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.

The tasting room is a blockish, modern-looking structure with enormous windows and a high ceiling. However, there just isn’t much room. A long bar runs the length of the room and there is just a small swath of standing room between the counter and the window. While the larger NOTL wineries can handle hundreds of visitors at a time, 20 visitors at Lailey is quite a crowd.

It reminded me a bit of standing in line for concessions at Yankee Stadium. However, once you make your way to the counter, you get something much better than warm beer and an overpriced hotdog.

We started off with the 2008 Counterpoint, an interesting white blend of Gewürztraminer (37%), Sauvignon Blanc(34%), Un-oaked Chardonnay (13%), Semillon (11%), and Riesling (5%). This was pleasant, but not a show-stopper. It had citrus flavors with a touch of peach. The bottle retails for $25.

Reds were on our minds and I started with the 2007 Gamay-Zweitgelt Niagara Peninsula. This is an off-beat wine that combines the fruity Gamay with the spicy Zweigelt. This is a fun and playful wine that would be right at home on the patio for a backyard barbecue. It only costs $14 and is a nice value. A check of the Lailey website shows that it is currently sold out.

The next glass was the 2008 Syrah. I have to give props to my server. When he was asked to describe the flavor of the wine he said, “salami, pastrami, and toffee.” What a combination! The wine was indeed delightfully complex with earthiness and flavors of smoked meat. You could take time unraveling the many layers of this wine. It has sufficient tannins to lay down for several years.

The grand finale was the 2008 Pinot Noir Brickyard Vineyard. The Brickyard is a tiny 3.2-acre vineyard growing Pinot Noir & Chardonnay. In 1800 settler John McFarland, a boat builder to King George III used the clay from this site to build his brick home. This is a beautifully balanced wine. It has flavor notes of jasmine and ripe red fruit. This was the standout wine of our visit.

Donna Lailey was the only female founding member of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA), which is now the standard for quality Canadian wine. Lailey is small, but packs a powerful and tasty punch.

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