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Chateau des Charmes, Niagara, Canada

Visitors to Chateau des Charmes with its circular stone towers surrounded by vineyards can convince themselves they are in France but this winery is in Ontario, Canada, just north of the Rainbow Bridge border crossing from the United States at Niagara Falls.

It was founded by Paul Bosc, a fifth generation winemaker who emigrated from Burgundy, France in the 1960’s and decided to grow grapes. He founded his winery - Château des Charmes – in 1978 and the current impressive building was completed in 1994. Paul Bosc from the very start championed vinifera grape varieties at a time when hybrid and American vines were believed to be all that was possible to grow in Ontario.

I took the public tour at Château des Charmes. We walked out back behind the winery to a semi-circular vineyard. Here they experiment with different methods of trellising, planting densities and try out various rootstocks.

After descending into the cool of the barrel cellars we finished with a tasting. Ontario was undergoing a heat wave when I visited so we went outside, by a rose garden, and sheltered under canvas to taste:

Chardonnay, 2012.
VQA Niagara on the Lake.
This is a pretty serious Chardonnay. It was barrel fermented and the wood was present. Long long finish. A Chardonnay drinkers must.

2013 Rose
Cuvee de Andree
VQA Niagara on the Lake, 13%.
An attractive dark pink wine made from 100% Pinot Noir. Off-dry pleasant drinking which was the favourite with the tour group. Medium finish.

2011 Cabernet Franc
VQA Niagara on the Lake.
Soft rounded wine from poor year, with sweet fruit, good body and good structure.

I also tasted:

2010 Equuleus
Paul Bosc Estate
VQA St Davids Bench, 13.5%
A serious Bordeaux blend of 50% Cab Sauvignon, and 25% each of Cab Franc and Merlot. This is a midway between California and France in taste profile: warm and ripe without straying into jammy. Delicious wine.
Equuleus meaning ‘little horse’ references Paul Bosc’s habit of surveying his vineyards from horseback and the Equuleus constellation that rises above the vineyard at harvest.

2010 Gamay Noir Droit
VQA St Davids Bench
If you like unusual wines, and I do, then this hits all the buttons. It is a clone of Gamay. Paul Bosc noticed that one of his Gamay vines was growing its canes upright (droit) and he took cuttings to propagate them. Eventually he got this mutation recognised as a new variety. It ripens at least two weeks later than normal Gamay which means that the grapes have had more sun and are riper and higher in sugars.

This wine was Gamay on steroids: dark red in colour, ripe fruity and tangy with pepper and spice on the palate.

2009 Savignon Ice Wine
VQA St Davids Bench 9% abv
Another unusual variety from southern France. This unctuous sweet dessert wine offers peach and apricot flavours.

Winery tours (which include a tasting) take place in English at 13:00 (1pm) and 15:00 (3pm) and cost $10 of which $5 is redeemable against wine purchases.

(VQA - Vintners Quality Alliance guarantees 100% of the grapes are grown in Ontario in the appellations named)

Chateau des Charmes is on the web at www.fromtheboscfamily.com/chateau-des-charmes

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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

Peter F May paid for tasting tour and tasting of the first three wines mentioned above, and received a complimentary tasting of the last three.

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