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waters on wine

Thirty Bench built its impressive reputation on distinctive rieslings made from vineyards surrounding the winery and in Niagara wine country.

Riesling was the first grape variety to be planted on the site in Beamsville. Founding winemaker Dr. Tom Muckle, a Hamilton physician and inventive winemaker, liked to release experimental wines so consumers could see the effect of different winemaking techniques. Depending on the vintage, Muckle might have explored the styles of riesling made from early harvested grapes compared to ones picked later in the season. He also investigated the effect of aging riesling in oak barrels for different periods of time.

Those trial wines were often more interesting than enjoyable, especially when compared with the quality of traditional rieslings produced each year. When Muckle and partners sold the winery to Andrew Peller Ltd. in 2005, the dedication to exploring the potential of the vineyard’s riesling passed to a team with more money and a larger work force behind it.

The latest innovation to come from Thirty Bench is what the winery calls “a more-subtle bubble.” It’s a gently sparkling wine produced from riesling in 2018, which was fermented in bottle and released with the lees remaining in the wine. Lees are the spent yeast cells left over from fermentation. They are typically removed so consumers will enjoy a clear wine with jewel-like clarity.

The Effervescent Riesling is made in a different style than Thirty Bench’s Sparkling Riesling, which comes with a dry and crisp character. The Sparkling Riesling only spends 11 months in contact with the lees to preserve the freshness and intensity of the finish wine.

Lees can contribute a lot to the winemaking process, particularly sparkling wine production where aging on the dead yeast contributes flavour and texture to the wine. As a wine stays in contact with its lees, it gains more pronounced nutty and toasty aromas and flavours while the yeast cells break down.

Bottling a wine with its lees is a playful and fun approach that allows consumers to have a hand in the style of wine that reaches their glasses. While far from commonplace, an increasing number of boutique wineries around the world have released wines bottled with lees to offer consumers something different.

Standing the wine bottle up for a few days will help ensure all the lees settle at the bottom of the vessel. If you are gentle when you pour, the first glass of the Thirty Bench riesling will be crystal clear, and the refreshing flavour will be marked by the lemon curd and lime zest flavours of the riesling. The final glass, however, will look and taste completely different. It will be hazy, and the richer flavour will present more nutty and toasty notes, with the citrussy presence of riesling coming through on the finish.

An alternative approach is inverting the bottle a few times before opening so the lees are more evenly dispersed in the wine. In either case, this is a thought-provoking wine that’s tantalizing to the taste buds.

In addition to Thirty Bench’s new release, this week’s recommendations suggest two other styles of sparkling wine alongside some affordable wines for entertaining and two red wines that are sure to be of interest to collectors.

Argento Estate Reserva Organic Malbec 2019 (Argentina), $14.65

Rating:88 /100

This ripe and round malbec is produced from organic grapes grown in vineyards located in Luján de Cuyo and Altamira, two celebrated sites in Mendoza. The mix of juicy dark berry and cola flavours and a supple texture make for a satisfying red that is easy to appreciate. Vegan friendly. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in British Columbia and Alberta.

Domaine Jean Bousquet Malbec Organic 2019 (Argentina), $14.95

Rating:88 /100

A savoury and complex red wine made from organic grapes grown in Tupungato in the Uco Valley, this offers tart fruit, spice and cedar aromas and flavours. Its vibrant acidity and raw tannins suggest this would be best enjoyed with a meal. Vegan friendly. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price, $15.99 in British Columbia, $16.04 in Manitoba, $17.99 in New Brunswick.

Feudo Antico Organic Pecorino 2019 (Italy), $15.95

Rating:89 /100

This crisp and refreshing Italian white wine is a terrific expression of the pecorino grape, which despite being an ancient variety that continues to be grown throughout central Italy, will never enjoy the global reputation of the hard, salty cheese. This fresh white comes from Abruzzo and presents bright lemon, apple and peach notes. It’s an appealing aperitif or a dining companion that strikes me as a winning match for fish, seafood or a chunk of pecorino cheese. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price.

Hester Creek Ti Amo 2020 (Canada), $19.99

Rating:88 /100

Hester Creek’s Ti Amo is a tank-fermented sparkling wine modelled after the floral and fruity style of prosecco. The Okanagan winery blends together pinot gris, gewürztraminer and sémillon to make a bubbly with mass appeal. There’s an appealing range of citrus, floral and peach flavours that make this enjoyable on its own or a solid base for a Bellini. Drink now to 2023. Vegan friendly. Available in British Columbia at the above price or direct through

Jeeper La Grande Cuvée Millésime Brut Champagne 2005 (France), $97.95

Rating:90 /100

This rich and rewarding vintage Champagne offers fresh and creamy character with complex nutty, toasted and coffee aromas and flavours. The style makes it best enjoyed with a meal. The richer the dish, the better for a substantial bubbly like this. Available in Ontario.

Le Sughere di Frassinello 2016 (Italy), $29.95

Rating:91 /100

Located near Grosseto in the Maremma region of Tuscany, Rocca di Frassinello is a joint-venture between Chianti producer Castellare di Castellina and Lafite-Rothschild from Bordeaux. Le Sughere is a blend of sangiovese with merlot and cabernet that results in a fresh and vibrant red, with a savoury character that really impresses. Drink now to 2031. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.

Martin’s Lane Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 (Canada), $100

Rating:93 /100

The Simes Vineyard in Kelowna is one of the sites singled out by Martin’s Lane to produce its ambitious range of single vineyard pinot noirs in the Okanagan. A blend of pinot noir clones, harvest dates and different parcels in the vineyard, this stylish red makes the most of its rich and concentrated flavours. It’s ripe but not heavy. The wine’s elegant structure makes it approachable now, but it should age well. Drink now to 2026. Available in British Columbia at the above price or direct through

Thirty Bench Wine Makers Effervescent Riesling Bottled With Lees 2018 (Canada), $38.95

Rating:91 /100

This enjoyable sparkling wine is bottled with lees, which contribute biscuit and bready notes, while adding richness to the texture of the wine. A gentle pour will allow more of the lemon curd and lime zest character to shine, while a hazy glass from the bottom of the bottle shows more richness and complexity with a clean sweep of citrus on the finish. Drink now to 2028. Available direct through

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