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Our picks from a jam-packed Vintages wine release Saturday, plus a stunning Riesling from Vineland

By Rick VanSickle

For whatever reason, the LCBO decided to skip the Oct. 17 Vintages release and jam-pack the Oct. 31 release this Saturday with top wines you might want to grab for the Christmas holidays.

The main focus of the release showcases an extensive portfolio of high-end (and expensive) Napa and Sonoma wines from California. But we did manage to find a few excellent Niagara and Prince Edward County wines, including Huff Estates, Flat Rock, Henry of Pelham, Creekside and Cuddy by Tawse in the release that are sure to please your palate. We can also recommend a few international finds, including Niagara wine couple Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble’s Malbec from Argentina called Versado, a value Bordeaux, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a superb Gran Selezione Chianti Classico from Ruffino to tuck away in the cellar.

Also in this report, we review a gorgeous Riesling from Vineland Estates’ historic St. Urban Vineyard (vineyard pictured in the very top photo during harvest) and other photos from harvest 2020.

But first …

Ontario wines released
at Vintages Saturday

Ontario wine

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2017 ($35, 93 points) — Flat Rock has the reputation of being a top-notch Niagara Pinot Noir producer from vintage to vintage, but in the Pinot-friendly climate of 2017, this top-tier Gravity bottling dials it up a few notches. The wine is derived from the best barrels of Pinot grown in the estate’s Twenty Mile Bench vineyards. It’s aged in French oak, only 15% new, for 10 months and is bottled unfiltered. The complex nose shows ripe black cherries, raspberries, bramble, cassis, clove, damp earth and spice notes. It’s concentrated on the palate with layers of red berries, cassis, anise, silky tannins, well defined oak spices, a supple texture and a long, finessed finish. Can easily cellar this for 5+ years.

Henry of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2016 ($25, 92 points) — Whenever I think we’ve exhausted all the 2016 reds in Niagara, another one pops up out of nowhere. This is a beautifully aged Bordeaux variety blend with a rousing nose of dark fruits, spice and earthy/savoury notes that draw you into the glass. It has grippy tannins on the palate with a range of bold dark fruits, black cherries, enticing spice notes and a juicy, racy finish. Still lots of time left to put a few away in the cellar. Great value from a very good vintage in Niagara for bolder style reds.

Creekside Iconoclast Syrah 2016 ($25,91 points)This estate Syrah comes from the Queenston Road Vineyard in St. David’s. Classic Niagara Syrah with a nose of meaty/savoury/earthy notes followed by ripe plums, black currants, cassis and a range of barrel spices and savoury accents. It has evident tannic structure and the stuffing to cellar, but still some immediate pleasure with ripe dark fruits, peppery notes and a range of toasted oak spices through a long finish.

Cuddy by Tawse Chardonnay 2014 ($26, 89 points) – The nose exhibits pear, green apple, lemon, toasted oak and a subtle almond tone. On the palate the pear is front and centre backed by the apple and lemon with some spice notes – nutmeg/mace. Nicely balanced with lingering toasty oak and roasted almond. (Michael Lowe review)

Great Pinot from PEC

Huff Pinot Noir Reserve 2017, Prince Edward County ($35, 93 points) — The grapes spend 12 months in French oak, 10% of which is new wood. It has a highly perfumed nose of cran-cherry, minerals, touch of cassis, plums, and raspberry bramble with just a hint of elegant spice. It is a lean and taut PEC Pinot but reveals expressive cherry and raspberry bramble fruits, minerals, silky tannins, lovely texture, measured oak spices, juicy acidity and length through the finish. A beautifully balanced and nuanced Pinot Noir.

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed:

• Lakeview Cellars Cabernet Franc Icewine 2017 ($30 for 200 mL)
• Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir 2016 ($24)
• Leaning Post Pinot Noir 2016 ($30)
• Vieni Pinot Noir2017 ($19)
• Creekside Red Tractor 2018 ($18)
• The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Reserve Red 2018 ($25)
• Magnotta Venture Series Starlight Riesling/Vidal Sparkling NV ($30)
• 13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 ($22)
• Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2017 ($30)

International wines
released Saturday

Versado Malbec 2015, Argentina ($25, 90 points) — The same attention to detail and winemaking goes into the Versado entry-level wine as the top one, so this little beauty offers a snap shot of Malbec at its best. Very nice aromas of raspberries, dark cherries, cassis, dried herbs, anise/licorice and spice notes. On the palate, the red fruits are joined by plums, blackberries and herbal/spicy notes with enough juicy acidity to propel it through the finish. Versado, a small, historic Malbec planting in Mendoza, Argentina, is the wine project of Canadian winemakers Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble.

Kim Crawford Signature Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, New Zealand ($25, 90 points) — You’ve likely tasted and enjoyed the entry level Savvy from this prodigious producer in New Zealand. The reserve offers up more intensity and flavour for a few dollars more. The nose is rife with passion fruit, gooseberries, lime, grapefruit, herbs and lemon zest. It’s fresh and lively on the palate and made in a perfectly dry style with a mineral edge. Look for gooseberries, a full citrus attack, some guava and tropical fruits with a zesty, vibrant finish.

Mouton Cadet Heritage Red 2017, Bordeaux ($25, 89 points) — Baron Philippe de Rothschild makes incredible Bordeaux wines from entry level to the finest First Growth vineyards in Pauillac. The Mouton Cadet “Heritage” is a level up from the entry level wine and represents good value and a taste of Bordeaux for those seeking wines from the region who don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for the top wines. The blend is 85% Merlot with the rest split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It has a generous nose of black cherries, black currants, perfumed spices and cassis. It’s surprisingly concentrated, yet fresh on the palate with layers of black and red berries, some savoury/earthy notes, soft tannic structure, wood spices and a clean, vibrant finish. Could cellar 3+ years.

Ruffino Romitorio di Santedame Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2016 ($70, 94 points) — Santedame is the estate property owned by Ruffino near Castellina, in the heart of the Chianti Classico region in Tuscany. Gran Selezione is the highest quality tier for the region and this is made in a traditional style without any international grapes in the blend (it was formerly a Super Tuscan wine using at least some Bordeaux varities) featuring Sangiovese with 10% Colorino. What a treat this wine is, and it should be purchased with an eye to tucking a few away in the cellar for 5+ years to fully appreciate its full potential. The expressive nose shows gorgeous savoury cherries, anise, minty herbs, elegant oak spice notes, cloves, leather and a floral note. It’s tightly structured and needs time to fully open up, but decant and swirl to experience a full-bodied red with dense black cherries, anise/licorice notes, Cuban cigar leaf, savoury herbs, blackberries, led pencil shavings and a long, spicy finish with bright acidity. This is such an enthralling wine that will develop further with 10+ years in the cellar.

Beauty of a Riesling
from Vineland Estates

Vineland Estates winemaker Brian Schmidt has released his Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2019 and the information on the back label might shock you. It’s finished at 7.5% alcohol, one of the lowest thresholds for ABV I have seen in a table wine in Niagara. The combination of low alcohol and high acidity should allow this wine to age gracefully for decades to come as it slowly develops those tertiary flavours that will take this wine to a new level.

Here is our review:

Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2019 ($20, 93 points) — Such a pretty and expressive nose on this single-vineyard Riesling from the historic St. Urban Vineyard planted in 1979. Look for gushing lime, sweet canned pear, profound wet stones and saline minerality, grapefruit and green apple. Certainly off-dry at 45 g/l and light on the palate at 7.5% ABV but offset by a firm acidic backbone that brings a nice tingling tension in the mouth. The citrus, apple, pear and peach fruits have that yin-yang thing of sweet/tartness that build in intensity through the vibrant finish. There is a lovely wild honey note that provides nice texture and flavour on the mid-palate. Cellar 10 or even 15 years and watch this beauty show its true potential. Great value, top-notch Niagara Riesling from the Twenty Mile Bench.

The German connection
at Vineland Estates

Vineland Estate assistant winemaker Tobias Fiebrandt holds up juice from his 2020 Rotling.

While on the subject of Vineland Estates, I was able to observe assistant winemaker Tobias Fiebrandt process his co-fermented blend of Cabernet Franc and Vidal for his unique rosé style wine he calls Rotling. This is the third vintage of the wine that is pressed like a sparkling wine, but made as a still rosé. Assisting Fiebrandt on this day was Brad Gowling and head winemaker Brian Schmidt. This is a delicious wine that will be available in the spring. Note, the finished wine Fiebrandt is holding in a 2019 bottle (see photo) won’t be that richly coloured once it’s bottled. This unique style of wine is steeped in German tradition, but it is also practical. Historically, Rotling was created from a “field blend” of grapes that survived to the end of harvest and it was meant to be an everyday wine of comfort. Fiebrandt, who is from Germany, wanted to introduce this “wine of the people” through estate’s portfolio and is now part of portfolio every vintage.

The Cabernet Franc and Vidal is co-pressed and fermented.
Vidal is loaded in the press.
Winemaker Brian Schmidt makes room for more grapes in the press.
Brad Gowling makes sure the Vidal gets to the press in an orderly fashion.