It is officially time to pull out the comfort wines as we wait for the inevitable — the harsh winter months that are coming all too fast.
A staple red wine for Niagara, built for chilly winter nights and hearty stews, is the Cab Merlot blend, or Meritage, as some like to call it. These wines are made with varying degrees of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Some wineries have started blending in other big red varieties to add new dimensions to these sturdy wines, but the theme is the same: Comfort reds crafted to complement comfort foods.
Two wineries in particular make the art of the red blend their forte no matter the vintage. Henry of Pelham and Chateau des Charmes both have excellent Bordeaux-style reds in their portfolios starting at the entry level and rising through to the top tier wines.
Here are three that have just been released:
Henry of Pelham Estate Cab Merlot 2010 ($25, at the winery now and Vintages on Dec. 8, 89 points) — From the ripe and hot 2010 vintage, Henry of Pelham has created a juicy and age-worthy blend of Cab Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose displays lovely cherry, plum, red currants, smoke, leather, oak vanilla toast and spice. It’s nicely structured on the palate with earthy fruits, mocha spice, bright acidity and a smooth texture through the finish. This will get better if you lay it down in your cellar for a couple of years.
Henry of Pelham Family Tree Red 2010 ($19, winery now, Vintages Nov. 10, 89 points) — Family Tree is a standalone label from H of P introduced a couple of vintages ago. The red and the white are both multi-grape blends that offer something a little different from the more traditional wines made at the Short Hills Bench winery. The red adds Syrah to Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot and it shows its savoury personality right from the get-go. The nose reveals smoky-spicy notes along with blackberry, roasted meats, currants, black pepper and plums. It’s quite savoury in the mouth with meaty red fruits, cassis, exciting spice and pepper notes with pretty good structure and acidity. This, too, can be cellared for a while or enjoyed now with grilled lamb chops.
Chateau des Charmes Estate Cabernet-Merlot 2009 ($13, LCBO, winery, 88 points) — I’m not sure you’ll find a better red blend at this price point in Niagara. The thing about the 2009 vintage, it wasn’t noted for its big red varietals, but des Charmes declassified its top fruit destined for the Equuleus (and other top reds) and it ended up in this wine with the bargain-price of $13. The nose shows crushed currants, cassis, plums and red fruits to go with toasted oak spices, mocha and vanilla. Surprisingly ripe cassis-cherry fruit sings on the palate with added raspberry and blackberry fruit to go with firm tannins and uplifting acidity. A nice wine for $13.
And a couple of other wines to enjoy:
Chateau des Charmes Rosé Sparkling Wine 2009 ($29, winery, online, 90 points) — This rosé sparkling wine is a classic blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made in the traditional method. The nose is all about strawberries, cherries, toasted vanilla and just a subtle note of crème de cassis. It’s made in a off-dry style with an energetic mousse on the palate to go with tasty red fruits and refreshing acidity to balance it all out. Easy to love sparkler.
Henry of Pelham Family Tree White 2010 ($18, winery, Vintages Nov. 10, 88 points) — Wow, a lot going on in this wild blend of Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Viognier and Chardonnay-Musque that sees some oak aging. The nose is expressive with peach-pear, vanilla cream, lychee, grapefruit and nutmeg aromas. The palate shows ripe and exotic flavours ranging from white peach to tropical fruits with integrated butterscotch-vanilla and cream notes. A white blend that stands out from the crowd.