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Are you dreaming of a wine Christmas? Niagara wines shine bright at big Vintages release

By Rick VanSickle

Just in time for the holidays, Vintages stores offers up a bounty of Niagara wines that are sure please any wine lover’s discerning palate.

Two of Ontario’s superstar grapes take centre stage, with both 2027 Cellars and Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnays as well as Pinot Noirs from Organized Crime and Tawse — perfect matches for the Christmas turkey. For the big red lover, don’t miss the perfectly aged 2012 Cabernet/Merlot from Henry of Pelham or a crowd pleasing white blend from Featherstone.

Niagara wines

We also highlight a gem from B.C.’s Culmina winery that’s also making an appearance at Vintages on Saturday, plus reviews for a new Riesling from Vineland Estates with German roots and two new releases from Niagara’s Kacaba.

First, our recommendations for Niagara wines released Saturday at Vintages stores.

Yule love these local offerings

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard-Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2017 ($23, 94 points) — This sensational Chardonnay was named Niagara’s Most Thrilling White Wine of 2018 by Wines In Niagara. When winemaker Kevin Panakapka hits it, he hits it out of the park. This is one of those wines from his favourite vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench (he’s not alone). Let’s get the technical notes out of the way. All 2027 Cellar Chards are 100% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented with 100% French oak aging (30%, new oak). The nose is mind-blowing; the first impression is like walking in a mountain stream, the vivid river rock aromas combining with gunflint, pear, fresh-picked bin apple, fine elegant spices and lemon/citrus accents. You could bury your nose in this Chard for days, but it gets better. It’s fresh and lively on the palate, a lean and edgy cool-climate Chard that combines layers of pear and apple with elegant spice and all that flinty goodness that is kept fresh by racy acidity. A sensational Chardonnay that clocks in at $23, for goodness sake. $23, you say? Crazy.

Tawse Quarry Road Pinot Noir 2016 ($36, 92 points) — This lovely Pinot spends 16 months in French oak barrels and shows surprising restraint on the nose for a Pinot from such a warm vintage as 2016. It displays pretty red fruits, fragrant rose petals, sandalwood and attractive spice notes. It’s ripe and racy on the palate with a gorgeous mélange of red fruit, integrated spices and a soft velvety texture through the finish.

Henry of Pelham Estate Cabernet Merlot 2012 ($25, 91 points) — Henry of Pelham does a lot of things right from the grapes that grow best in Niagara, and, in particular, the Short Hills Bench sub-appellation, but red blends from Bordeaux grapes in warm vintages is certainly one of its strong suits. I am convinced, now that I have seen most of the 2012 reds released, that this warm vintage was just about perfect for Niagara’s “big” reds — the blends from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This mid-tier red blend from the above grapes is just getting better in the bottle and still has a long way to go. Such a lovely, rich and enticing nose of blackberry, kirsch, cassis and oak barrel spices. It rocks on the palate, gorgeous, layered dark fruits, rousing spices, melting tannins and everything starting to harmonize beautifully. Exceptional value for a top Niagara red.

The Organized Crime Break-In Pinot Noir 2017 ($22, $21, 88 points) — The fruit was fully de-stemmed into concrete and wood for a five-day cold soak. The grapes spent between 19-21 days on the skins fermenting, with a mix of wild and inoculated yeasts. The wine went straight to barrel (all French, 8% new) after the primary ferment, and spent 10 months undisturbed before bottling. This follows winemaker Greg Yemen’s fondness for “light, juicy, drinkable wines.” It shows a lighter colour in the glass with medium body and a nose of cherries, raspberries, integrated spice and violets. The cherries rule the roost on the palate with touches of brambly raspberry, anise, earth and freshness on a finessed finish.

Featherstone Four Feathers 2018 ($15, 87 points) — This is a blend of the four grapes Featherstone grows at the estate — Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Lots going on here with a nose of lime, apple, peach, subtle lychee and spice. It’s bright and lively with the full range of orchard fruits, touch of ginger, lychee, grapefruit, lime and honey notes. A fun, everyday porch sipper.

A trio from Flat Rock

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2018 ($27, at Vintages Saturday, 89 points) – A fairly complex chardonnay showing plenty of apple and lemon supported by spice, toast and caramel notes. It’s full-bodied and well rounded on the palate with the balancing acidity keeping it fresh and lively. The finish is quite long with hints of vanilla and toffee. (Mike Lowe review).

Flat Rock Riddled Sparkling 2017 ($35, at Vintages Saturday, 89 points) – A nice sparkler made with 61% Pinot Noir and 39% Chardonnay. It pours with a vigorous, frothy mousse leaving very fine, persistent bubbles in the glass. Look for notes of buttery brioche, lemon, apple and pear. It’s crisp on the palate with apple and lemon zest balanced by a slightly creamy texture and clean finish. (Mike Lowe review)

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2018 ($25, at Vintages now, previously reviewed, 91 points) – This vintage exhibits a very expressive and enticing nose of citrus tree blossoms, lemon and lime zest, grapefruit, and green apple notes. The off-dry sweetness and vibrant, juicy citrus flavours burst on the palate backed up by racy acidity and a distinct seam of minerality. It’s a perfect partner for mildly spicy dishes, much like the vegetable curry I paired it with. (Mike Lowe review)

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed:

• Stratus Riesling Icewine 2017 ($45 for 200 mL)
• Featherstone Joy Premium Cuvée Sparkling 2013 ($35)
• Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharines Carte Blanche Estate Blanc de Blanc 2014 ($50)
• Trius Brut Rosé Sparkling NV ($33)
• Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2017 ($25)
• Rosewood Riesling AF 2018 ($16)
• Wildass White 2017 ($20)
• Megalomaniac Frank Cabernet 2017 ($25)
• Megalomaniac Sonofabitch Pinot Noir 2017 ($28)
• Vieni Pinot Noir 2017 ($17)
• Wayne Gretzky Whisky Oak Aged Red 2018 ($20)
• Wildass Red 2016 ($22)

A B.C. gem to consider

(Flagship stores only)

Culmina Dilemma Chardonnay 2015 ($40, 92 points) — Sourced entirely from the new Chardonnay vines planted on the estate’s Margaret’s Bench in 2011, this wine has a wonderful, rich nose of apples, vanilla toast, minerals, elegant barrel spices and underlying lemon and citrus. It is pure sophistication on the palate, a proper and graceful Chardonnay with a sense of place that shows the fine minerality of the vineyard and lovely toasted oak that works well with the baked apple, pear and spice flavours that are well-balanced to the very end. A winner of a Chardonnay.

Kabinett meeting in Niagara

Vineland Estates Kabinett Riesling St. Urban Vineyard 2018 ($19, winery now, 90 points) — In the year 1245 German monks designed a cellar (or Kabinett, “cabinet” as the English might say) specifically for the storage of the best wines. It was natural, therefore, in 1971 when the German Wine Classification came into existence that the first level of “Prädikat” (predicated or top ranked wine) would be called Kabinett. Vineland Estates Winery’s first “Riesling Kabinett” was envisioned by assistant winemaker Tobias Fiebrandt, above, who is of German decent. He wanted a wine that would representatively span the Atlantic with a grape variety historically “born” in Germany that has been successfully transplanted to the New World. As the same time, Fiebrandt also wanted to adapt the ancient German traditions to the terroir of Vineland Estates. He has crafted a minerally and fresh Riesling that impresses with lime, lemon, apple skin and swirling floral notes. On the palate, this lithe and personable Riesling is about freshness and vibrancy to go with juicy lime, slate minerality and tension from playful notes of honey competing with a racy vein of acidity. All that and only 8.5% abv.

A pair from Kacaba

Kacaba Cabernet 2017 ($15, 90 points) – The wine is a blend of 63% Cabernet Franc and 37% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose expresses freshly crushed red berries, a note of roasted pepper, and some cocoa as it opens up. On the palate the red berries and currants are integrated with moderate tannins with some mocha on the finish. It’s fruity and dry with good length. At this price it’s a great value for a wine of this quality. (Mike Lowe review)

Kacaba Unoaked Chardonnay 2018 ($16, 89 points) – Very aromatic with notes of stone fruit, citrus and pear. It’s a veritable fruit-basket on the palate, dominated by peach and pear with a lemon-tinged, tropical fruit finish. The fruit is balanced by juicy acidity — a nice refreshing white and an exceptional value. (Mike Lowe review)