Niagara wines

The first wave of the Vintages Christmas releases at the LCBO is still a couple of weeks away, but this Saturday you can find more than a few special wines from Niagara (and a beauty from B.C.) that will get you in the festive spirit.

Ontario wines

Winemaker Ann Sperling, above, who crafts wine in Niagara at Southbrook Vineyard, in Argentina with her husband Peter Gamble at their winery Versado, and her family’s Sperling Vineyard in the Okanagan Valley, has her gorgeous “Vision Series” Chardonnay released at LCBO “flagship” stores on Saturday. This is a fabulous wine and since we rarely see top B.C. wines in Ontario, it’s a good chance to try something at the high end.

Also in the release Saturday is a handful of Niagara wines, including a top-notch Riesling from Tawse, Henry of Pelham reserve Pinot, Foreign Affair’s Dream, Bachelder Chardonnay, Flat Rock Chardonnay, PondView sparkling and a delicious Kacaba red that offers good value.

Here are our highlights of what you can find on shelves this Saturday from Niagara (and on B.C. wine):

B.C. winesTawse Limestone Ridge-North Estate Bottled Riesling 2016 ($24, 93 points) — This is killer Riesling. The nose lights up with salinity, lime, grapefruit and racy wet-stone minerality. It’s steely and taut on the palate despite fairly hefty RS and shows vivid citrus, fresh-squeezed lime, lemon zest and it’s all balanced on a razor’s edge. Such incredible definition and freshness through the finish. Beautiful.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($35, 92 points) — The top-tier Pinots from the Speck brothers are sourced from the oldest estate vineyards on the Short Hills Bench that were planted in 1988. The warm vintage has given this wine fantastic concentration of dark cherries, cassis, wild raspberry and currants with earthy/brambly notes, violets and elegant oak spices on the nose. It’s all about the integrated red and dark fruits, even at this early stage, that are juicy yet poised and polished and meld perfectly with the oak spices. It’s all delivered on a bed of silky smooth tannins through a long finish. Lovely Pinot that will be ready to rock when released.

The Foreign Affair Dream 2015 ($30, 90 points) — 15% of the juice from this Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot blend comes grapes that were dried for four months appassimento style. The finished wine then spends 16 months in oak barrels before final blending and bottling. It is complex and expressive on the nose with aromas of figs, blackberries, sweet spices, leather/cedar, tobacco, anise and dark cherries. It’s a densely coloured wine in the glass and unfolds on the palate in layers of dark fruits, leather, eucalypt, licorice and a range of wood spices all supported by ripe, assertive tannins. Laying this down for at least two years is a must to give it time to all come together. If you can’t wait, try decanting it for at least two hours.

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2016 ($25, 90 points) — This three-vineyard blend of Bachelder’s main sources of grapes is a gorgeous Chardonnay for the money. The nose shows apple blossoms, pear, minerals and light spice notes. It’s pretty and balanced with fresh orchard fruits and flinty minerality all balanced nicely by firm acidity.

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2016 ($20, 88 points) — A nose of pear, apple, underlying citrus and peach with a pinch of vanilla and spice. It’s creamy and rich on the palate with lovely orchard fruits, barrel oak spice and freshening acidity.

Pondview Lot 74 Sparkling Brut ($25, 88 points) — Made in the charmat method from 100% Vidal, this sparkler has an inviting nose apple, peach, lemon and soft creamy notes. It has energetic bubbles on the palate with peach, grapefruit, lime and touch of sweetness on the finish.

Kacaba Cabernet 2016 ($15, LCBO, 88 points) — A mostly Cabernet Franc red blend that really challenges the notion that Niagara can’t provide quality red wines at lower price points. This is a lovely wine from the warm 2016 vintage in Ontario with a nose black cherries, cassis, black licorice, herbs and spice. The fruits turn darker on the palate with savoury spices, integrated herbs, smooth tannins and a juicy, but vibrant, finish. Could even cellar this for a couple of years. Good wine at an attractive price.

Also released but not reviewed:

• Cave Springs Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musque 2016 ($18)
• Cave Spring Indian Summer Riesling 2016 ($25 for 375 mL)
• Inniskillin Riesling Icewine ($80 for 375 mL)
• Lakeview Cellars Cabernet Franc Icewine 2017 ($30 for 200 mL)
• Stratus Red Icewine 2016 ($45 for 200 mL)
• Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2015 ($30)
• Vieni Momenti Sparkling Rose ($17)

Flagship stores only

Sperling Vision Series Chardonnay 2016 ($33, 93 points) — From the Okanagan Valley estate’s “Vision Series,” Ontario consumers have a chance to experience this thrilling wild fermented Chardonnay. From the first wave of aromas you are hooked, intrigued and simply want to dive right in. Such a range of elegant spice notes on top of pear, ripe apple, wet stone and toasted oak. It has depth on the palate with integrated orchard fruits and spice with a beautiful stony/flinty minerality through a long finish that you don’t always get with Okanagan Chardonnays. One of the top Chardonnays tasted from Canada this year.

Also released at flagship stores, but not reviewed:

• Chateau des Charmes Paul Bosc Vneyard Pinot 2016 ($39)
• Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012 ($33)