In Niagara, Canada: Hidden Bench

Hidden Bench is one of Niagara’s leading boutique wineries. Owner Harald Thiel bought the Locust Lane vineyard, where the winery is located, in 2003 after selling a successful audiovisual business he ran with his brother. A year later, he added the Rosomel Vineyard, and then in 2007 the Felseck Vineyard. All are on the Beamsville Bench, and are certified organic, and the total vineyard area now stands at 35 hectares.

Harald Thiel, Magdalena Kaiser (of Wines of Ontario) and Jay Johnston

The soils here are glacial till, and have varying amounts of clay and limestone. Way back, the whole area was covered by a lake which disappeared 450 m years ago. Subsequently, there were four glacial periods, and the related geological events pulled the base of the lake up depositing it on the Niagara escarpment. As a result, the soils here are diverse, with limestone, clay and silt all mixed together. Different vineyards here have more clay and more limestone. This is why, Harald says, the wines from the bench area tend to have more complexity, because the soils are not homogeneous.

Hidden Bench is a 10 000 case winery, but they haven’t quite reached that production level yet. They have planted an extra 5 hectares that will be coming into production in 2021. More than half production is Pinot Noir, with quite a bit of Chardonnay, some Riesling, and then a few other things such as Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Just over a year ago, long time winemaker Marelize Beyers left and was replaced by Jay Johnston from Flat Rock Cellars. We tasted with him and Harald, but most of these wines would have been made by Marelize. One exception was a skin-contact Chardonnay trial that was quite beautiful, but that’s not an official release.

Hidden Bench Blanc de Blanc 2013
This has 9 months in barrel and 48 months on the lees afterwards. Zero dosage. There’s some tightness here with a nice citrus twist. This has delicacy and focus with very subtle toast and a lovely gentle, textured mid-palate. Dry and balanced with lovely fruit expression. A really lovely wine. 92/100

Hidden Bench Natur 2013
Zero dosage. A blend of 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. 7 months in barrel and 47 months on lees. Lively and bright with some cherry and citrus fruit. Lovely weight and intensity with good acidity. Has richness but it’s still balanced and fine. 91/100

Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Rosomel Vineyard Riesling 2014
11 g/l acid, pH 2.84, 10.5% alcohol, 10 g/l sugar. Intense and quite limey with lovely concentration and high acidity balanced out by some sugar. Striking with lovely weight and complexity. 91/100

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Riesling 2015
11% alcohol, 8.3 g/l acid, 9 g/l sugar, pH 2.87. Delicate and expressive with a nice lemon and lime core and some appealing texture. It’s really expressive with nice weight on the palate, with just a twist of sweetness. 90/100

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2016
11% alcohol, 8.5 g/l acid, 11 g/l sugar, pH 2.88. Powerful and lively with exuberant lively citrus fruits, with good balance between the sugar and the acid. Fruity and delicious with nice weight. 90/100

Hidden Bench Rosomel Vineyard Fumé Blanc 2016
Barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc. Delicate and textural with grapefruit and pear fruit. There’s a twist of oak here that’s really well integrated, and the palate has some subtle waxiness. Really good balance here. 91/100

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2016
94% Sauvignon, 6% Semillon, barrel fermented, 13% new oak. Complex and taut with well integrated oak and delicious freshness. Citrus fruits dominate with a waxy edge and a bit of grapefruit. Subtle hazelnut, too. A serious effort. 93/100

Hidden Bench Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2014
Linear and textured with some mealy, bready notes alongside smooth white peach and citrus fruit. Has freshness and poise with a bright finish. Subtle nuttiness and spiciness on the finish. 92/100

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2014
Fresh and expressive with bright citrus, pear and white peach fruit. Has nice texture with a bright, spicy, nutty finish. Good structure here with freshness and focus. 92/100

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016
From a warmer vintage. Rich, fruity and expressive with some peachy depth and a hint of melon. Has a fruit sweetness to it. Supple and appealing with nice smoothness, with very nice fruit. 89/100

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2017
Direct pressed with 20% saignee. 93% Pinot Noir, 7% Viognier. Dry, bright and quite stony with some citrus and apricot characters. Juicy and lively with nice strawberry and cherry hints. Really delicious in a dry style. 90/100

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2016
Warm vintage. Lighter colour with smooth, sweet cherry fruit and a hint of strawberry softness. Has a bit of bite and a smooth texture. Lovely approachable, friendly style with elegance and accessibility. 90/100

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015
20% new oak. Supple and textural with some nice structure under the sweet cherry and plum fruit. Sweetly fruited but structural with nice graininess. Quite mineral with some ferrous notes. 94/100

Hidden Bench Rosomel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015
First release of this, with Pinot Droit, 828 and 667 clones. 26% new oak. Distinctive with a nice savoury, mineral twist to the finely structured cherry and berry fruits. Has lots of detail and complexity with a liquorice and tar character under the fruit. Well structured with good concentration, but also nicely balanced. 94/100

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015
8% new oak. Locust Lane is the vineyard next to the winery. There is a bit more clay here and less limestone. Really fresh and vibrant with some grippy structure under the bright raspberry and red cherry fruit. Good acidity and structure to this wine, with some spiciness under the fruit. Structured with good potential. 93/100

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché 2015
A Bordeaux-style blend, 25% new oak. Lovely sweet, vivid blackcurrant fruit here with good freshness and acidity. Exuberant fruit and good structure with lovely immediacy, and some gravelly, spicy hints adding interest. Lovely weight here. 93/100

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