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Vintages’ last big hurrah for the season features Niagara bubbles, Chard, Riesling and a big Cab Sauv


The last of the Vintages Christmas wine releases is this Saturday and, frankly, if you don’t get your shopping done soon, you will be left looking at empty shelves as the big day draws closer and closer.

The final holiday release of the year features a couple of very good sparklers, and a mix of other highly recommended Niagara wines including the debut Patrick Chan icewine from Flat Rock Cellars.

Here’s what to look for Dec. 12 at Vintages stores:

Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc de Blanc 2010 ($45, 92 points) — This top sparkling wine from HoP is made from 100% estate Chardonnay grown on the Short Hills Bench. About 20% of the fruit is barrel fermented and secondary fermentation in the bottle is followed by 54 months of aging on the lees. The nose is lemony with notes of biscuit, toasted vanilla, saline minerality and brioche. The palate reveals a lively bubble with lemon-citrus, toasty-yeasty notes, orange peel, and subtle earthiness on a luxurious, silky and vibrant finish. Such a beautiful and thought-provoking sparkling wine that can age gracefully in the cellar.


Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling Spark 2013 ($20, 89 points) – A single-vineyard Riesling sparkler made in the traditional method. A toasty-yeasty nose of bright lemon-citrus and baked apple. It is brilliantly refreshing and feels quite dry on the palate despite 12 grams/litre of residual sugar. The flavours are all about the lemon and grapefruit, which is juicy in the mouth and lifted by racy acidity.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2013 ($22, 90 points) — Doesn’t get anymore local than this signature wine from Featherstone. Estate Chardonnay, wild fermented (in oak barrels placed in the vineyard), with the oak coming from trees grown along the Grand River in Brantford. So, “our yeast, our grapes and our wood,” says Louise Engels. The nose shows rich pear, grilled pineapple, butterscotch-vanilla and creamy buttery notes. It’s spicy and lush on the palate, but not as over-the-top as the original vintages of this wine were while winemaker David Johnson was getting a feel for the grain of Canadian oak. There are notes of poached pear and baked apple with toasty spices and butterscotch with enough acidity to give this wine a fresh lift through the finish. Interesting and comforting Chard.


Tawse Limestone Ridge (North) Riesling 2013 ($22, 91 points) — This is the second vintage from the organically and biodynamically farmed Limestone Ridge Vineyard on the 20 Mile Bench. It has an interesting and floral nose of distinct river-bed minerality, green apple and racy citrus. The polished apple notes are joined by a range of citrus fruit on the palate with a vein of minerality and honey through a refreshing finish.

Foreign Affair Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($35, winery, 92 points) — 40% of the fruit was dried and the wine was aged for 18-20 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak. It has a deep, dark burgundy colour in the glass and reveals rich black currants, graphite, dark plums, mocha, nutmeg and cassis fruit. This is a big, bold, rich and nicely aged Cab at this point with flavourful dark fruits, a mouthful of spice and persistence through the finish. It’s a heady wine, thrilling in fact, if you like your wines with power and personality. Cellar or drink now with boldly spiced grilled meats.


Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2013 ($25, Vintages Essentials, 91 points) — This is Bachelder’s “regular” cuvee, if you can call it that. It’s labeled Niagara but is a blend of the three sites where he sources Chardonnay: Wismer Vineyard, Saunders Vineyard and Wismer Park Vineyard. It falls in line with Bachelder’s style, nothing out of order, a deft touch with oak and always a thought-provoking, complex wine. Here we have plenty of minerality, apple and pear fruit with a touch of lemon and spice. It’s well-rounded on the palate with juicy fruits and toasted spice notes but retains its poise and gracefulness through the long finish. Actually drinking quite nicely at the moment. Note new packaging.

Patrick Chan On Ice Riesling Icewine 2013 ($35 for 200 mL, 91 points) — An expressive nose of sweet quince, apricot, peach, citrus and honey accents. It’s honeycomb-sweet on the palate but nicely balanced by the acidity with gobs of apricot, peach, lemon and mango fruit. Fine balance, much like the man behind the wine.

Other Niagara wines being released, but not reviewed:

Hidden Bench Fume Blanc 2013 ($28)
 Frogpond Farm Gamay Noir 2013 ($16)
 Kew Soldier’s Grant 2011 ($19)
 Stratus Evergreen Red 2008 ($25)
 Trius Brut Rose ($30)
 Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2013 ($19)

Two international wines to recommend:


Versado Malbec 2013 ($26, 91 points) — Hard to call this “entry level” but it is the junior partner in the Versado lineup. It’s wild fermented in concrete vats and made using “very little” manipulation before aging in older French oak barrels. It has a beautiful nose of rich black currants, plums, raspberry, blueberry, kirsch and smoky/spicy notes. It’s a full-bodied Malbec on the palate with layers of dark fruits, sweet oak spices and touches of integrated herbs, licorice and savoury notes through a long finish that’s supported by fine tannins, structure and bright acidity.


Domaine Hamelin Beauroy Chablis 2012 ($34, 93 points) — This Premier Cru Chardonnay is made from grapes planted in 1980 on very steep south-facing slopes. It is aged 12 to 18 months in stainless steel vats before bottling without any oak aging. So beautiful with a nose of meadow wild flowers, acacia, intense chalky minerality, a range of citrus and apple fruit with a touch of smoke. It is finessed and focused on the palate with lemon zing, green apple, a powerful vein of minerality, earthiness and that lovely tension that is so desirable in cru Chablis. The intensity builds on the palate and travels on a long finish. Best to cellar up to five years.