2018 Thirty Bench “Small Lot” Cabernet France, Beamsville Bench VQA, Ontario, Canada (13% Alcohol, Residual Sugar 3 g/l) Thirty Bench Website $76 (750ml bottle)

Well, what can I say about this 2018 edition of one of my perennially favourite Ontario wines? I cracked open a bottle of this last night for  dinner with a neighbour, and it’s definitely up there as one of my wines of 2023.

Winemaker Emma Garner does a fantastic job with her Cabernet Francs, particularly these “Small Lot” releases, but given my personal preference for wines from slightly cooler vintages, I feel that she has done a particularly outstanding job with this 2018 release. 

Produced from absolutely pristine fruit sourced from a small organically farmed plot on the Beamsville Bench, this medium-full-bodied wine exhibits a profound depth of dark fruit (black raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, and black cherry), pronounced acidity, a wonderfully elegant structure, and a finish to die for. 

The bouquet is truly enchanting; as it opened up over the course of a couple of hours, it really began to show off its glorious complexities. While the black/blue fruit core is undeniably impressive, there’s a lot more on offer here, with warm vanilla spice, woodsmoke, cocoa nibs, and a subtle violet florality. 

Although 2018 was a cooler year on the Bench, there’s nary a hint of the green and/or harsh tannin that can often make an appearance in lesser wines. Much lower yields, extended hang time, removal of secondary grape clusters, leaf removal (to get sunlight into the canopy), removal of green seeds, gentle cap management, and judicious use of oak are all essential to making a wine of this exceptional calibre.

It’s a very polished wine, but it never feels anything close to overworked, allowing the quality of the Cab Franc fruit to shine through any winemaking artifact.

This is an impressively crafted, serious wine, and certainly one of Canada’s very best.

5 apples out of 5

(Five out of a possible five apples)