Last month, a quick trip to Niagara found me tasting at Megalomaniac, a winery owned by John Howard.
With 84 wineries listed in Wine Country Ontario’s 2018/19 travel guide and new wineries popping up every year, marketing can become a key factor in getting recognition. The older, established wineries such as Cave Spring Cellars, Inniskillin, and Henry of Pelham are fairly straightforward in their approach, but they were there from the beginning.
Newer wineries can benefit from finding an edge, something in the name to attract attention. “Big Head” and “Between the Lines” are a couple of examples. And then, there is Megalomaniac.
Mr. Howard explains that his first “retirement project was the purchase of Vineland Estates Winery, which he sold in 2004. He also partners in ownership of three properties in St. Emilion in France, including Chateau La Confession and Haut Pontet.
When asked if any of his Bordeaux wines ever appeared in Ontario, he said, “No, it is all goes to China!”When he sold Vineland Estates, he retained a number of acres, and it is there that Megalomaniac is now situated. Megalomaniac, whose subtitle is ‘John Howard Cellars of Distinction’ was originally intended as a one-shot vintage in support of Kid’s Health Foundation. When those initial 2,000 cases sold out quickly, the decision was made to proceed with the winery project, and since 2009, the production has grown to 45,000 cases.
As indicated on each bottle, John Howard’s original intention was to name the winery after himself. That was greeted by teasing scorn on the part of his friends, who accused him of being another “#@!x!” megalomaniac, and the name stuck.
It was a genius decision, one that is celebrated in the labelling of his wines, whose names and images cleverly carry forward the tongue-in-cheek campaign.
The labels usually feature a faceless ‘executive’ wearing a bowler hat, reminiscent of a Rene Magritte, the Belgian surrealist artist. For each wine, though, the label is changed to reflect a quality associated with the grape or the name chosen for the wine.
Brandever, an award-winning design company out of Vancouver, is responsible for the images.
Many of the wines appear on the regular shelves and in Vintages. They are also available through the winery as well as online at lcbo.com.The Narcissist Riesling 2017, $18.95, is a good example of clever labelling – and very good wine. Explaining that the wine truly reflects the vineyard in which the fruit is grown, the image is done in shiny, mirror-like silver. This design won double-gold in San Francisco.
As well, the name and title are in reverse print – providing the Narcissist with a mirror image. Expect it to be just a little off-dry, with citrus and mineral notes. It is well-balanced and versatile.
The Sonofabitch Pinot Noir 2016, $27.95, in Vintages with a man in a red cutaway jacket and the letters SOB on his chest acknowledges the difficulty of growing this temperamental grape. John Howard hopes buyers can lay this down for a couple of years to resolve the tannins, but it is successful with sour cherry and raspberry fruit leading to peppercorn and smoke notes on the finish.
The blend of Chardonnay Musqué., Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc is called Selfie, $17.95, and features a cellphone superimposed on the “executive image. Expect stone fruit and apple notes with lifting citrus at the end.
Pompous Red 2017, $15.95, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In keeping with the name, the figure wears a top hat instead of the bowler, and sports a luxuriant moustache. I like the character of this wine with its good plum and berry fruit and light tannin. It is medium-bodied and quite tasty with a sharp, briary note giving it a little edge.The Homegrown Riesling and Homegrown Red are currently $1 off at $13.95 and $14.95 respectively. In addition to the LCBO, they can be found, too at in-store Wine Rack shops. The imagery, featuring a broad-patterned plaid suit is subtle, in that the suit is actually a map, with the co-ordinates of the winery on it. Despite its 24 grams per liter of sugar, the Riesling is balanced, not overly sweet, and very easy to drink. The red is a mid-weight Cabernet Sauvignon (according to the LCBO) with a plump texture and good fruit. It would pair well with pasta dishes, having enough acidity to match up with the dish.
At the winery is a line of upscale wines going by the name, “Bespoke”, reflecting fashionable suits made specifically for the wearer. They are in the $40 to $60 range. The 2015 Merlot, $59.95, rivals many fine St.Emilion examples with its smooth mouth-feel and deep, extracted flavours. Long on the finish, you enjoy it long after it has been swallowed. Watch out, too, for the Cabernet Sauvignon when it is released. It is going to be sensational.
The labels remind us not to take ourselves too seriously, but the wines inside the bottle can make for some serious pleasure.
September 29 Vintages Release
This issue features a “Bouquet list” of wines you just have to try. One of each will set you back over $1,000.. Add in the recommended Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac at $4,000, and the price goes up dramatically.
I will just suggest a few others that may help you get over passing on the Remy XIII.
CalvadosCalvados is a brandy made from apples, and generally is associated with Normandy. Whiskey expert Margaret Swaine gave the Louis XIII a “100”, and she gave the G.E. Massenez Vieux Cavados, $52.95, a 95, calling “rounded and smooth with deep apple flavours.” Which one will you buy? Say goodnight, Louis.
Southbrook Seriously Cool Chardonnay 2016, $14.95, from Niagara is entirely organic and will express the grape purely. Peaches, apples and citrus are found on both the nose and the palate according to André Proulx who gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
Aveleda Alvarinho 2017, $14.95, from Portugal is new to the LCBO. According to Robert Parker, it “has an open straw colour and a clear, shining appearance. An intense, harmonious wine, it has a surprising taste and a velvety structure. It possesses a long, fruity after-taste with notes of passion fruit, white flowers and citrus, with an elegant, persistent after taste.” -87.Joseph Cattin Gewurztraminer 2016, $1795, from Alsace, will convey lychee, nectarine and orange fruit in a tangy and fresh style. It has great balance and carries a Wine Enthusiast 89. Try it against the Cave Spring Estate 2015, $18.95 version, which is harvested at optimal ripeness to provide an unctuous note to accompany the apple/peach/spice flavours without sacrificing good acidity. This is already on the shelves, and would be great with your turkey this weekend.
Luigi Bosca Chardonnay 2017, $18.95, is a winner from Argentina. From high altitude vines, it experiences 20% oak aging, bringing “a touch of smoke [that] complements the overall creamy texture. Descorchados – 92.
Kadabra Cabernet Sauvignon 2106, $15.95, from Argentina is said to be rich and juicy with currant, blackberry and chocolate notes showing –James Suckling gives it a 92.
Loma Gorda Vino de Parcela Cervera de la Cañada 2013, $16.95. A blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo, this is said to be massive and structured with a long dry finish. – plum, earth and licorice are cited. Intriguing, though not f r everyone. It has a 93 from James Suckling.
Parusso Piani Noce Dolcetto d’Alba 2016, $20.95. From the Piedmont in Italy, this is a “unique and difficult grape” according to robertparker.com, with “a solid wall of dark fruit intensity followed by rich textural appeal.” 90+.
Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, $21.95, gives us a chance to compare it to the Lodi version already in stores. About a quarter of the blend is actually other varietals often found in the old California Field blends, including Petite Syrah and Carignane. The wine enters quietly but becomes more and more dense, all leading to a lifted finish. The fruit is dark, and the tannins are present but gentle, with a peppery note on the finish. It is solid and versatile and would be great with seasoned dishes.Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2015, $29.95, clearly illustrates why B.C.’s Okanagan is optimal for quality red wines of structure and depth. Gentle tannins coat the mouth and surround lashings of bright strawberry and plummy fruit. It has medium length and is altogether delicious with a light coffee note emerging on the finish.
Already in stores you can find the Crew Merlot 2016, S17.95, from the Lake Erie Northshore region near Windsor. It is mid-weight, but structured with ripe supple fruit. A very good wine for the price.Also available is the Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2013, $29.95, from the Niagara Bench. It was barrel-fermented and aged 23 months before bottling, and is everything a good Pinot Noir should be. It enters quietly, then builds and builds and builds. Cherry and plum, a subtle earthiness, and a floral accent make this wine delightful. Well worth the purchase. John Howard recommended my visit to Westcott, and he was right.