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Cool Niagara Chardonnay featured in Vintages Saturday release; plus new wines from Flat Rock, Henry of Pelham

Ontario sparkling wine

A pair of Chardonnays lead the pack for Niagara wine releases at Vintages on Saturday, along with a re-release of the very fine Stratus Red 2012.

We have recommendations from the April 1 Vintages release, plus a look at upcoming Flat Rock and Henry of Pelham wines. Reviews are by Rick VanSickle (RV) and Michael Lowe (ML).

Niagara wines at Vintages Saturday

Niagara chardonnayFlat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2015 ($17, 88 points) — This straightforward, clean expression of chard is delightful. Nice green apple, pear and lemony accents and a fresh acid backbone that is held in check by some time on the lees, adding softness and weight on the palate. I paired it with smoked salmon, black garlic mascarpone cream, capers and fresh dill — it just works! (ML)

Ontario chardonnay

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013 ($30, 91 points) — Grapes are hand-picked from the oldest vineyard on the estate’s Short Hills Bench and fermented in French oak barrels. An elegant nose of pear, stylish oak spices, apple crisp and citrus for balance. It’s rich and intense on the palate with caressing pear, apple and citrus and lovely oak spices that are just starting to integrate. I want to pair this with lobster from P.E.I. with melted butter and garlic. (RV)

Best Ontario red wineStratus Red 2012 ($44, 94 points) — This remarkable vintage of Stratus’s top wine is a 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, showed 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. (RV)

Ontario Pinot Noir

Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2012 ($25, 88 points) — Sourced from various Niagara vineyards, this shows medium weight with a pretty nose of sweet tobacco, cherries, violets, strawberry and fragrant spice notes. The red fruits take a savoury tone on the palate with some structure, polished tannins, earth, bramble and spice. (RV)

Thirty Bench Wine Makers Double Noir 2015 ($19, 88 points) — Winemaker Emma Garner blends Gamay Noir (60%) and Pinot Noir (40%) and employs gentle French oak aging for this wonderful red that shows fresh raspberry, wild berries, undergrowth and subtle woodsy spice and tannins. A tasty lighter-style red for summer drinking. (RV)

Also released, but not reviewed:

  • Tzafona Cellars Cold Climate Unoaked Chardonnay KP 2015 ($23)
  • Vineland Estates Game Changer White 2013 ($15)
  • Wildass Riesling 2015 ($17)
  • Ridgepoint Wines Ripasso Cabernet/Merlot 2011 ($20)
  • Union Forte 2012 ($18 for 500 mL)
  • Burnt Ship Bay Vidal Icewine 2015 ($23 for 200 mL)
  • Chateau des Charmes Cabernet Icewine 2014 ($75 for 375 mL)
  • Tzafona Cellars Cold Climate Vidal Icewine KP 2015 ($40 for 375 mL)
  • Tawse Sketches of Niagara Cabernet/Merlot 2012 ($21)
  • Tzafona Cellars Cold Climate Cabernet Sauvignon KP 2014 ($30)

A good Cali Chard to try

La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2014 ($30, 92 points) —This Sonoma Coast offering shows an attractive nose of lemon, baked apple, ripe pear, butter, vanilla and sweet barrel spices. It’s open-knit on the palate with wonderful texture and a juicy core of creamy pear, apple, peach and elegant oak spices all lifted by zesty citrus notes on the finish. Lovely Chardonnay. (RV)

New Flat Rock Cellars wines

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2010 ($30, released May 13, 92 points) — This is a traditionally made 100% Chardonnay sparkler that is aged on the lees for 5+ years in bottle before disgorging last spring. It’s fermented and aged in neutral oak barrels prior to blending and tirage in the spring of 2011 with a dosage of 12 g/l is added for balance. All that and finished with a cool crown cap for easy access. Not a lot of wineries are going to all this trouble for a well-made sparkling wine, but we are going to start seeing a lot more of them as the category gains traction with consumers. It possesses a lovely nose of brioche, yeasty-toasty notes, soft lemon and creamy apple with a mousse that starts vigorously then mellows into a gentle bead. It is fresh, lively and complex on the palate with pear and apple flavours, bright and zesty citrus and electric acidity driving the back end. (RV)

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2015 ($17, May 13 release, 88 points) — Made from estate fruit primarily from a single block planted in 2004. The nose shows zippy lime, grapefruit and apple with mineral and a touch of ginger. It’s mouth-filling with river-rock minerality to go with rich apple, citrus, lime and grapefruit notes through the fresh and lively finish. (RV)

Flat Rock Pink Twisted 2016 ($18, 90 points) — The high percentage of pinot noir shines with plenty of white cherry and a hint of strawberry on the nose. Cherry dominates from the first sip, through mid-palate, and lingers on a medium to long finish. A decidedly versatile food wine, I paired it with fresh jalapeno-laced salsa and rice and bean burritos but it will match equally well with a simple roast chicken and ratatouille with fresh herbs. There’s just enough sweetness to balance slightly acidic foods and can stand up to a bit of spicy heat. (ML)

New Henry of Pelham wines

Henry of Pelham Riesling 2016 ($15, 87 points) — The nose opens with aromas of rose petal followed by a melange of citrus. On the palate there’s a solid core of juicy lemon-lime supported by stony mineral notes. Medium-dry, punctuated with firm acidity, this wine will pair nicely with creamy or hard, salty aged cheeses. (ML)

Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling 2016 ($18, 88 points) — Sourced from the estate’s Short Hills Bench from vines 30+ years old. The nose shows juicy lime, citrus rind, grapefruit and tangerine notes. There are sublime mineral notes on the palate to go with tangy citrus, pear, apple and racy acidity to keep the sweetness in balance. (RV)

Henry of Pelham Pinot Grigio 2016 ($15, 88 points) – A highly perfumed nose of pear, apple and delicate melon tempts the senses. There’s a lot to like here — from the fleshy ripe fruit, to the precise seam of minerality, to the refreshing acidity. The medium weight of the mouthfeel is notable, too. It’s very drinkable and will match with roasted or grilled fish or pasta with cream sauces. (ML)

Henry of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2015 ($25, 89 points) – This mid-weight pinot really struts its stuff. You name it, it’s in there – lots of raspberry and cherry aromas and flavours wrapped up with smoky, meaty notes, some clove spiciness, a leafy, earthy undertone and a touch of dark chocolate. Black tea-like tannins support the whole with a little vanilla rounding out the finish. Pair with duck with berry-based sauces and, well, anything mushroom based is a no-brainer. (ML)

Henry of Pelham Pink House Wine Co. Chardonnay Merlot Rose 2016 ($14, 87 points) — Made with fun in mind and to pair with anything off the summer grill, this rose has a fragrant nose of watermelon, raspberry, cherry and candy floss. It’s on the sweetish side on the palate with a basket of red fruits and just a hint of citrus on the finish. (RV)