And so it begins. The annual get-em-while-they’re-hot Christmas bonanza wines sweep into Vintages beginning this Saturday. If you snooze you will certainly loose out on the best of the best Christmas-release wines. If past history is correct, come Christmas time, the only wines you’ll find on store shelves are the wines no one wants.
Best advice? See something you like for that someone special? Get it now. See something you like just for you? Buy it, tuck it away for the holidays. See something that would impress during holiday get togethers? Grab them and hang on until the festive season actually begins.
Yes, folks, the first of the Christmas releases hits store shelves Saturday and won’t stop until two weeks before Santa Claus pops down the chimney.
And it’s not just the bi-monthly release at Vintages, there are also the November and December Vintages Classics Collection releases (you can start ordering the November release this Thursday, see here for details.
I’ve picked out some Niagara wine highlights from both the Classics releases as well as picks from the Vintages release this Saturday.
The Foreign Affair Gran Q 2010 ($150, December Classics, 93 points) — This is Foreign Affair owner Len Crispino’s dedication to the late Giuseppe Quintarelli, Valpolicella’s most famous maker of Amarone wines. Quintarelli is his hero, the one who inspired him most to follow his path in Niagara. He and his wife Marisa flew to Veneto unannounced to see if they could talk to Giuseppe about making Amarone wines in Canada. Crispino was granted a meeting with the winemaker but arrived a half hour late because the winery is unmarked along a secluded road. Once he found the home and winery of Giuseppe he was made to wait a half hour (the amount of time he was late) before he got a few words with the man.
“He told me to ‘follow my dreams and you’ll get what you want,’ ” laughs Crispino. He left but not before asking for a photo, which Giuseppe insisted must be taken with his wife as well (see above).
The Gran Q, made from 100% dried grapes, is one of the biggest wines I have tasted from Niagara, made from grapes (Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Merlot) dried for an average 90 days. The wine was aged for 24-28 months in 80% new French oak. The nose is astonishing; gobs of black currant compote, rich, thick cassis, leather, graphite and sweet spices. The whopping 17.5% alc on the palate is backed up by luxurious, sweet and complex dark fruits, well-defined tannins and an array of spices that echo on the finish. Drink heartily, but serve with grilled red meat.
Wayne Gretzky Estates No. 99 The Icon 2010 ($99, December Classics, 92 points) — On Dec. 30, 1981, Wayne Gretzky scored five goals against the Philadelphia Flyers to seal a 7-5 victory for the Edmonton Oilers and record a currrently untouchable record of 50 goals in 39 games.
That was then, and this is now and perhaps his greatest achievement from a wine point of view is the Icon 2010 red, a bold blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon that saw 22 months in new oak and is finished unfined and unfiltered. This is one heck of a wine. It’s dark and thick in the glass with highly extracted black cherry, black currants, roasted Espresso bean, vanilla toast, mocha and an array of thrilling spices swirling around on the nose. It’s big, bold and brash, but not clunky, on the palate and built for the cellar with black fruits, lifted spices, cocoa, vanilla, black licorice, campfire smoke, persistence through the finish and grippy tannins. Needs time for the moving parts to all come together but I sense it will be a beautiful wine once that takes place. Note: Only one barrel of this wine was made.
In the November Classics Collection (not reviewed)
• Thirty Bench Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010 ($60)
In the December Classics Collection (not reviewed)
• Tawse Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir 2011 ($58)
In the regular Saturday Vintages release:
Cornerstone Riesling 2012 ($18) — Note, this wine was tasted from barrel, so no score given. A style that closely resembles German Mosel Rieslings with peach, citrus and subtle ginger spice. Simply delicious and balanced out by classic Niagara acidity.
Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2013 ($17, 89 points) — A consistently delightful Riesling from Featherstone with a nose of peach, lime, grapefruit and mineral notes. The palate reveals sweet-tart citrus fruit peach and a core of slate minerality. Love the mouthwatering verve and energy through the finish.
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011 ($65, 92 points) — Winemaker Sebastien Jacquey dials the oak down to 10% new in the top cuvee to better showcase the “natural concentration of fruit” from the best parcels of grapes from Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard. “We can still use the oak we need for the mid-palate,” he says. “It’s a much better way to differentiate Niagara from other regions.” The nose shows persistent apple, peach and lovely citrus notes with subtle minerality and soft oak spice offered up as gorgeous accents. This Chardonnay is all about the play of rich fruit, integrated spice and swirling minerality that’s bolstered and balanced by fresh acidity. A lovely drop from beginning to end.
Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2012 ($30, 91 points) — The 2012 Pinot vintage is the first from new winemaker Jay Johnston and he has taken full advantage of the warm growing season. The nose shows rich black cherry, vanilla toast, raspberry patch, earth and loam, cedar and attractive spice notes. The palate reveals bold brambly red fruits that are bathed in oak-derived spices and tannins that sing. There is an earthiness at the core of this bold Pinot yet the wine maintains its vibrancy through the finish.
The Foreign Affair Enchanted 2013 ($18, 88 points) — A luxurious nose of grapefruit, lime, citrus and integrated herbs and spice. It reveals freshness and energy on the palate with a full array of citrus fruit and just a hint of grass and herbs.
Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011 ($30, 88 points) — A nose of sour cherry, cedar, tobacco, raspberry bush and bramble. There is some structure on the palate with fresh acidity to go with raspberry-cherry and cassis notes that are a bit shy at the moment. I would suggest that this was a touch closed when I tasted it.
Also in the release but not reviewed:
• Pearl Morissette Cuvee Dix-Neuvieme Chardonnay 2009 ($40)
• Megalomaniac Bubblehead 2011 ($29)
• Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine 2012 ($20)
• Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012 ($29)
• Vintage Ink Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($17)
• Cave Spring Dolomite Cabernet Franc 2012 ($20)
• Hidden Bench Terroir Cache Meritage 2010 ($38)
• Raven’s Roost Cabernet/Merlot 2012 ($20)
International pick from the Saturday release:
Jean-Max Roger Cuvee Les Chante-Alouettes Pouilly-Fume 2013 ($29, 90 points) — A floral nose with citrus, tangerine, lemon-lime and minerals. The Sauvignon Blanc fruit is rich and ripe on the palate with lemon, gooseberry, grapefruit, jasmine and an interesting vein of minerality through a fresh, racy, vibrant finish.