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Ho, ho, ho … what a release it is at Vintages for Part II of the Christmas crush for Niagara wines!


Oh, what a release it is … at Part II of Vintages big Christmas onslaught of top wines from around the world on Saturday.

Yes, of course there is Kistler Chardonnay, Montes Purple Angel, Sassicaia, Bollinger, Shafer, Caymus, Beringer, Duckhorn, Elderton Command, and on and on, but what really turns my crank is the world-class array of Niagara wines hitting the shelves.

Some of the highest-scoring Niagara wines of the past year flood holiday shelves and will no doubt attract plenty of attention as Jingles Bells plays gently in the background.

The hits include the Stratus Red 2012, Wines In Niagara’s top red wine of 2015, along with Henry of Pelham’s Speck Family Cab/Merlot 2010, a re-release that’s perfectly aged and at a reduced price from when it was first offered, plus a couple of beauties at Flagship Vintages stores from 13th Street and Tawse that will no doubt find favour with Ontario wine lovers.

There’s a lot more than that, and perhaps of particular interest might be the pair of beauties from Kevin Panagapka’s 2017 Cellars (that’s him in the top photo) — a single vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir — that you can only get via Vintages or at restaurants now that the former virtual winemaker works from a manufacturing licence and doesn’t have a retail store to sell from.


Also in this report, fans of Dillon’s distillery might want to note that a small parcel of the Cask 1 Rye Whisky is being released at the Queen’s Quay LCBO store in Toronto on Friday at 10 a.m. along with the new Vermouth.

We also have a couple of reviews for new releases from Chateau des Charmes. Read on, gentle reader, read on!

Vintages releases Saturday


2027 Cellars Aberdeen Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 ($30, 93 points) — So, winemaker Kevin Panagapka dials “everything” up a notch for this Beamsville Bench Chard — 18 months in French oak and full malo — that is sure to turn a few heads. The nose is gorgeous with penetrating notes of ripe apple, citrus, poached pear and a range of elegant oak spices. It is broad and complex on the palate with rich and creamy fruit, toasted oak spices and length through a long finish. The acidity is maintained to lift the range of fruit and help this wine sustain its integrity. Wonderful stuff here.


2027 Cellars Queenston Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 ($35, 92 points) — Panagapka calls 2013 vintage “the best Pinot year I’ve seen.” He’s always preferred the more masculine style of Pinot in Niagara, this from St. David’s Bench, and has left the 2013 in barrels longer (18 months) and increased the percentage of new oak (40%). It’s wild fermented and unfined but he did filter the wine. It has deep, rich aromatics of black cherry, earthy raspberry bush, concentrated cassis and a range of stylistic oak spices. It has grippy tannins and structure on the palate with earthy red fruits, a full range of barrel spices, with plenty of depth and power. This is a Pinot built to last five-plus years.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2010 ($40, 93 points) — When I think of Henry of Pelham, this is the wine that immediately comes to mind. Anyone who believes Niagara can’t make big, ripe Bordeaux style reds should try this in the best vintages like 2010. It performs like a Bordeaux with such a beautiful transformation as it ages and sheds the tautness of youth. This was tightly wound when first released but has come into beautiful harmony with this release — and arrives $10 less expensive than first released. The wine spent 18 months in French oak. The nose shows a brilliant array of black cherry, blackberry and crushed currants with mocha, vanilla and oak spice. It is highly structured on the palate with intense fruit, scorched earth, firm tannins and lovely secondary flavours of chocolate and cassis. This is drinking rather well right now, but history tells us it still has the stuffing to improve for at least another five years.

stratus-red-2012-labelStratus Red 2012 ($44, 94 points) — The newest top red from Stratus is a remarkable blend of 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, 13% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, and 3% Tannat that chimes in at a respectable 13.8% alcohol. Off the top, no red wine at Stratus can top this in any vintage; it is the culmination of all the hard work that has gone into the top-down program at the slick and stylish Niagara-on-the-Lake winery. The nose, even in its youth, shows dense and highly aromatic black currants, blackberries, plums, cassis and then oak spices, clove-cinnamon notes and charred vanilla toast. It is so lush, so persistent on the palate, yet it is defined by the richness and purity of the dark layered fruit that is bolstered by lavish spice, grippy tannins and a finessed feel through a long, velvety finish. It is big, no doubt about it, at this stage, but has the power, complexity and grace to reward with 10-20 years in the cellar. A beautiful wine. Named Red Wine of the Year in 2015 by Wines In Niagara.


Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009 ($30, 91 points) — The base wine is 92% Chardonnay with the rest Pinot Noir and spends four years on the lees before disgorging. The nose shows lovely and inviting brioche, toast, lemon-lime, grapefruit and apple notes. A soft but persistent mousse delivers an array of bright lime, green apple and creamy pear notes in this nicely aged and mature sparkling wine.

Rosewood Mead Royale Honey Wine 2015 ($17 for 500 mL, 92 points) — This is a barrel fermented and barrel aged wine made from the honey of bees raised on the estate. The nose shows wildflower honey, creamy pear, lanolin and white flower notes. It possesses such gorgeous texture on the palate with sweet wild honeycomb, almonds, vanilla cream and a smooth, rich delivery through the finish.

Flagship stores only


Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2012 ($38, 91 points) — The certified organic/biodynamic grapes are from three estate vineyards — Robyn’s Block, David’s Block and Hillside Vineyard all on the Twenty Mile Bench. The wine is barrel fermented with wild yeast and aged 12 months in French oak, 30% of which is new. A lovely nose of green apple, citrus, juicy pear, river-rock minerality and subtle, integrated spice notes. It’s caressing on the palate but lively with apple/pear fruit that’s bright, clean, complete and nicely balanced.


13th Street Sandstone Gamay Noir 2013 ($30, 92 points) — Long before Gamay had its own hashtag (#GoGamayGo) there was 13th Street Sandstone Gamay, one of top examples of this grape from anywhere in Canada. Planted in 1983 with a rare, old clone of Gamay Noir, the Willms family manage this vineyard with a minimal interventionist approach utilizing cover crops between rows, low yields and integrated pest management techniques. Drip irrigation systems were installed after severe drought conditions in the 2007 vintage but water is only used now for new vines and in very severe weather conditions. Four Mile Creek is one of the hottest, sunniest sub-appellations in Niagara. That combined with the dry, crumbly, Sandstone loam soils and old vines provide ultimate ripeness and a unique expression of this grape in Niagara. For winemaker JP Colas, who is using less and less oak in the Sandstone, and, with this vintage, minimal sulphur in the wine: “The grapes are king. I don’t want to showcase the winemaker, I want to showcase the grapes.” He has created a beautiful Gamay from the 2013 vintage with an attractive nose of rich red fruits, super-charged cherries, ripe plums, black currants, subtle spice and a floral note. It has wonderful mouthfeel, chewy tannins, underbrush and spice to go with a basket of red fruits, currants, leather and rousing acidity. This is serious Gamay to be enjoyed now or cellared for up to five years.

Also released, but not reviewed

• Stratus Red Icewine 2013 ($40 for 200 mL)
• Contraband Sparkling Chardonnay ($20)
• Contraband Sparkling Riesling ($19)
• Union Forte 2012 ($18 for 500 mL)
• Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling 2013 ($25 for 375 mL)
• Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2014 ($19)
• Coyote’s Run Rare Vintage Chardonnay 2014 ($25)

• Lakeview Cellars Eddy’s Blend 2014 ($25)
• Peninsula Ridge Beal Vineyard Reserve Merlot 2015 ($20)
• Stratus Petit Verdot 2012 ($38)

Dillon’s Cask 1 Rye Whisky release


On Friday, Niagara distiller Dillon’s will be at the Queen’s Quay LCBO beginning at 10 a.m. for the official release of the LCBO exclusive Cask 1 Rye Whisky plus a preview release of the distiller’s first ever Vermouth. Bottle signing by Geoff Dillon and Manhattan samples will be available between 10 a.m.-12 p.m. (sampling starts at 11 a.m.)

There is a limit of two bottles per person for the Cask 1 Rye.

A pair of new releases from Chateau des Charmes

Chateau des Charmes St. David’s Bench Chardonnay 2014 ($20, boutique stores in Toronto and Ottawa, winery, 89 points) — This Chardonnay, according to Chateau des Charmes, is made “the way Paul Bosc Sr. was taught to make it back in school in Dijon — barrel fermented, barrel aged with regular lees stirring.” It has a rich and concentrated nose of spicy pear, Meyer lemon, vanilla and toast, and baked apple notes. It’s lovely on the palate with juicy ripe fruit, elegant spice notes, minerality and a pinch of zesty citrus on the finish.

Chateau des Charmes Estate Cabernet/Merlot Old Vines 2012 ($22, Vintages Dec. 10, winery, 91 points) — This is being re-released at Vintages and is the “end of the line” for the wonderful 2012 vintage with no follow up immediately planned. If you are a fan of the ripe 2012 vintage, you may want to stock up on this. The nose reveals black cherries, currants, sweet barrel spices, cocoa and leather notes. It’s ripe, rich and structured on the palate with full-on cherry and cassis and harmonic barrel spices that work nicely with the soft tannins. A really nice wine at a great price.