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Impressive New Whites from Niagara’s Icon-in-Waiting

Christopher Waters, Vines Magazine

The whites from Stratus have always been proven to be the most challenging and interesting wines produced at the ambitious Niagara-on-the-Lake winery.  That’s certainly the case with the new crop of wines slated for release in the coming months.

It’s not that the red wines suffer by comparison.  It’s more a case that the red blend and various varietal wines produced each year have been more or less on an even keel.  Winemaker J-L Groux has always had a winning way with red wines – Stratus affords him more investment to patiently practice his craft.

The whites, meanwhile, continue to ebb and flow, as they have evolved apace with the vineyard and winemaking practices.  The forthcoming 2009 Chardonnay, which is one of the early wines to showcase the influence of consultant Paul Hobbs, is bound to turn heads.

But the highlights of a tasting with J-L Groux proved to be the winery’s signature white blend as well as its first ever White Meritage and an impressive Viognier.  This trio is among the most exciting releases yet from the high-profile property that is setting strong trends in Niagara.

Stratus Vineyards 2008 Stratus White

The Stratus White continues to evolve in positive ways.  The new vintage is predominantly Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, with small additions of Gewurztraminer and Viognier.  The resulting wine is fresher and leaner than past vintages, with greater potential for aging.  The palate is appreciatively dry, fresh and focused, with nicely layered flavours that have benefited from long maturation in French oak (up to 626 days for some components).  It is enjoyable now, but has the stuffing to evolve over the next five to seven years.

4 stars out of 5

Stratus Vineyards 2009 Meritage

Winemaker J-L Groux refers to this dynamic Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc as one of Stratus’ new adventures.  An experiment to blend the two together made a beautiful wine right off the bat, he says.  It wasn’t the plan to produce another white blend, but the result was impossible to ignore.  This powerful white interestingly enough includes Sauvignon Blanc, which was the first grapes picked at Stratus, and Semillon, which was the last to come into the winery, even after the harvest of some varieties for Icewine.  The finished wine offers an appealing mix of tropical and citrus fruit with some green notes in the form of asparagus and gooseberry.  The focus and balance are just right.  120 cases.  September release.

4 stars out of 5

Stratus Vineyards 2009 Viognier

After years of struggling with Viognier in the vineyard, the winemaking team at Stratus has come to grips with shepherding the variety to ripeness and maturity.  The 2009 Viognier offers good intensity floral and apricot aromas, with a tasty core of tropical fruit and cream flavours.  This is a rich and focused on the palate without turning flabby or too oaky – common complaints of the variety, especially in warmer climes – thanks to a grapefruit acidity that refreshes the finish.  The focus and balance are ptich-perfect, making this a wine that is lean yet solidly structured.  120 cases.

4 out of 5 stars

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