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Stratus Vineyards winemakers Jean-Laurent (J-L) Groux and Dean Stoyka.Handout

When Stratus Vineyards opened its tasting room in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in 2005, it raised eyebrows with its state-of-the-art facility and a strict focus on producing non-traditional proprietary blends, Stratus White and Stratus Red. The ambitious plan drew comparisons with Napa Valley projects determined to produce top-quality wine.

Jean-Laurent (J-L) Groux, a French-trained winemaker who came to Canada to work at Hillebrand Estates Winery (now Trius Wines) was hired to oversee the vineyard and cellar in 2004. He and the winemaking team would taste through the barrels of wine produced each vintage, looking to identify the best ones to include in the flagship white and red wines. After those blends were identified, they would look for single-varietal wines, such as cabernet franc, merlot and chardonnay, to release from the estate.

Today, Groux is excited to introduce wine-lovers to Stratus White Label, a new portfolio to market wines driven by a greater understanding of the vineyard, in particular how the different soil types lead to a diversity of flavours.

“Instead of relying on barrel selections, which we still do for the classic label, we start from the beginning,” says Groux, who explains Stratus’ new White Label wines are born out of years of observation and tasting analysis to get a handle of maximizing the potential of the vineyard. The new range features a cabernet sauvignon, merlot and a red blend featuring cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, with merlot, malbec and petit verdot. (Next year, Stratus will add two more wines, a chardonnay and cabernet franc aged in earthenware containers instead of small French oak barrels.)

“We have built up this library of knowledge, which increases our confidence of how we manage things to grow and make the wines,” he says.

The new releases are expensive by any standards, ranging from $95 to $145 a bottle. They are also remarkable by any measure, earning outstanding ratings (95 points or higher) when tasted last month at the winery. I’m recommending the Stratus White Label Merlot as part of this week’s selections of noteworthy Canadian wines that have impressed of late.

Blasted Church Viognier 2022 (Canada), $23.99

Rating:91 /100

Viognier grapes from vineyards in Osoyoos are used to great effect in this fragrant and flavourful white wine from Blasted Church in the Okanagan. Classic peach and apricot flavours mingle with tropical fruit, floral and citrus notes in a wine with admirable texture, weight and complexity. This has the structure to age, but I’d suggest drinking sooner rather than later to enjoy its fresh, fruity character. Drink now to 2027. Available at the above price in British Columbia, $24 direct from, various prices in Alberta.

Blue Grouse Pinot Noir 2021 (Canada), $38.99

Rating:90 /100

Blue Grouse attracted international attention when it was purchased last year by members of the Jackson family, which owns notable California wineries, such as Kendall-Jackson, La Crema and Freemark Abbey, and estates in Italy, France and Australia. Produced with pinot noir grown in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, this is a bright and juicy red wine that’s easy to appreciate. The core of fresh red fruit is complemented by savoury notes, which makes this light yet flavourful pinot noir really satisfying. Drink now to 2027. Available direct,

Clos du Soleil Signature 2020 (Canada), $54.99

Rating:93 /100

Signature is the flagship red wine from Clos du Soleil, an impressive British Columbia winemaker based in the Similkameen. In 2020, the blend features merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, with small additions of malbec and petit verdot, which were selected as the best barrels in the cellar. Expect a mix of ripe and concentrated dark fruit flavours with herbal and cedar notes as part of a red wine with a nicely structured and polished style. Signature is made to age and the latest edition has the stuffing to mature gracefully. Vegan. Drink now to 2035. Available at the above price in British Columbia, $55.90 direct,

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc de Blancs 2017 (Canada), $49.95

Rating:94 /100

The Carte Blanche label represents the best expression of Henry of Pelham’s sparkling-wine program each vintage. Produced with old vine chardonnay grown on the winery’s estate in west St. Catharines, Ont., the base wine is a blend of barrel- and tank-fermented wine to provide freshness and flavour to the final product. After secondary fermentation in-bottle, the wine ages for 4½ years before release, which contributes richer flavours and texture to this impressive bubbly. There’s a lot to appreciate about this complex and mature sparkling wine with its sophisticated and persistent character. Drink now to 2030. Available at the above price in Ontario or direct,

Moon Curser Roussanne Marsanne 2022 (Canada), $27.99

Rating:91 /100

One of the most exciting wines in the current crop of Moon Curser releases, this white blend features roussanne and marsanne grapes that were co-fermented in a stainless steel tanks and some smaller French oak barrels to build complexity and texture. The style is rich and inviting, with appealing yellow apple, honey and citrus flavours and nice balance between the fruit, acid and alcohol. Vegan friendly. Drink now to 2028. Available at the above price in British Columbia, $26.99 direct,

Sandhill Blanc de Blancs Method Traditional 2020 (Canada), $35

Rating:89 /100

This traditional method sparkling wine is a new addition to Sandhill’s small lots program, which focuses on single-vineyard wines from the Okanagan Valley. The base wine was made from chardonnay grapes grown in the King Vineyard in Naramata and underwent a second fermentation in the bottle before aging for 18 months prior to release. The finished wine is refreshing and bright, with pear, green apple and lemon flavours enhanced by fresh bread notes. Over all, it’s a solid value, harmonious sparkling wine with good structure. Drink now to 2028. Available direct,

Stratus White Label Merlot 2020 (Canada), $95

Rating:95 /100

Made from merlot grown near the winery, a cooler spot for growing grapes that helped maintain acidity in the grapes during Niagara’s warm growing season in 2020, that resulted in a distinctively plummy and complex red wine with some floral and spice notes. Its full-bodied and appealing character is approachable now, but the richly flavoured and structured style will continue to develop in the bottle. Drink now to 2035. Available direct,

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