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Sweet and sparkling treats headline Niagara wines released at Vintages Saturday

By Rick VanSickle

Well, this is it, your last big chance to stock up on the big Christmas offerings from Vintages stores on Saturday.

We have some recommendations from the Niagara wines being released Saturday (plus an Aussie Shiraz with a Niagara connection) at LCBO Vintages stores, but also want to remind consumers that there is still plenty of time to order online directly (or go right to the source) from Ontario wineries, many of which have some great deals going on right now.

When you buy direct from the winery, you are helping local farmers, families and employees, all of whom have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most Ontario wineries (cideries, breweries and distilleries as well) offer free shipping and there’s is plenty of time to get your order in time for Christmas.

Here’s what we can recommend from the Vintages release Saturday at LCBO stores throughout the province:

The Sweeties

The late Karl Kaiser in the icewine vineyard at Inniskillin.

Canada may not have invented icewine, but wineries here have certainly taken over as the world leader for this style of super-sweet liquid gold. One thing Canada CAN claim credit for is sparkling icewine. It’s believed Magnotta was the first to make this style of wine in 1997 with the release of a product it called Sparkling Ice. There was no category under VQA for this new style so Magnotta could not call it VQA or even put icewine on the label.

Inniskillin co-founder and winemaker, the late Karl Kaiser, is credited with making Ontario’s first VQA sparkling icewine and introducing it to the worlds in 1988. The first one was crafted with Vidal using the charmat method. It’s now made by winemaker Bruce Nicholson, who has made stunning versions of this sweet treat since taking the winemaking reins at Inniskillin.

The 2018 version leads off our recommendations for Niagara wines released Saturday.

Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2018 ($80 for 375 mL, 94 points) — This is such a hedonistic, luxurious wonder made by Nicholson. Making a sparkling icewine is tricky business and can only be accomplished via the charmat method where the secondary fermentation creates bubbles, which are captured under pressure in a sealed stainless tank. The bubbles act as a perfect foil for the 241 g/l of residual sugar from the icewine. This shows a subtle bubble in the glass and vivid notes of apricot jam, tropical fruits, peach compote, marmalade, lychee, wild honey and spice notes on the nose. The tiny bubbles of delight light up the palate followed by a gushing river of super-charged peach, apricot, pineapple, candied citrus, honeycomb and caramel that’s all concentrated and long on the finish but nicely held together by those lovely bubbles and acidity. What an exotic treat. Ready to drink now and not recommended for the cellar, if you can avoid, to better enjoy the bubbles.

Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2018 ($80 for 375 mL, 93 points) — Quite citrusy on the nose with sweet lemon and lime then ripe peach, nectarine and tropical fruits. It has a luxurious texture on the palate with honey for days then candied citrus, peach compote, tropical fruits, depth, complexity and juicy acidity to finish. I would love to see this after 10 years in the cellar as it gains fat and complexity and releases all those tantalizing tertiary notes.

The bubbles

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut Sparkling 2016 ($30, 93 points) — What a beautiful, nicely mature and elegant sparkling wine from J-T at a remarkably affordable price for a wine at this level. The grapes were hand picked from the estate vineyard and it is a blend of Chardonnay (49%), Pinot Noir (47%) and Pinot Meunier (4%) that was whole-bunch pressed, clarified and fermented in individual varietal batches then aged en tirage for three years. It has such a beguiling nose of lemon biscuit, green apple, brioche, creamy pear with a persistent bubble in the glass. It has mouth-filling flavours of apple, pear, quince, some tropical fruits and lemon tart with toasted vanilla, almonds, marzipan and a finessed, luxurious finish. There’s pure elegance here that’s reached a nice plateau and should continue for a few more years.

Trius Brut Rosé Sparkling NV ($30, 92 points) — The blend for this rosé brut (only 4 g/l of residual sugar) is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay (primarily for colour), with 18 months resting on the lees, and shows a pretty light pink hue in the glass. The nose is fresh and inviting with notes of crushed red berries, smoky/yeasty notes, cassis and biscuit. It’s lively on the palate with raspberries, strawberries and subtle cassis with bright acidity through the finish that keeps it fresh and popping.

The Whites

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block Chardonnay 2018 ($25, 94 points) — I don’t know what more I can say about this bottling that I haven’t said before. The 2027 version of this same wine was Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling White Wine of 2018 and has never strayed far from the top of that list in the 10 years that winemaker/owner Kevin Panagapka has made it from the same vineyard. This blew through Vintages stores at $23 a bottle so quickly that consumers had trouble getting any. Don’t be that person now that another allotment is back in time for Christmas. This follows closely to all the other vintages of this wine and is made similar to all the others — 100% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented, wild malo with 100% French oak aging (20%, new oak). It’s a beautiful wine with a nose of fresh pear, quince, nougat/toasted almond, gunflint, lemon and elegant oak spices that only build in intensity as you come back to it. It’s certainly fresh and lively on the palate, but showing more concentration of layered pear/apple fruit and zesty citrus to go with light, toasted spices, flinty minerality, salinity and finesse through a long, long finish. So youthful right now and a definite candidate for the cellar, say 5+ years. Another superstar from 2027.

Chateau des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2015 ($19, 91 points) — Always a special wine from the St. David’s Bench. It’s a lime bomb on the nose with notes of lemon, crisp green apple and profound minerality. It’s zippy and fresh on the palate, a smidge of honey, with lime, grapefruit, ginger, stony minerality and balancing acidity. Should age well for another five years but already hitting its stride.

The Tragically Hip Ahead By A Century Chardonnay 2019 ($22, 89 points) — Sourced from three different vineyards in Niagara with aging in 50% stainless steel and 50% new French oak barrels for 7.5 months with lees stirring. A comforting, inviting nose of ripe apple, tropical fruits, toasty vanilla bean, buttercream and spices. It has spicy bite on the palate and is backed up by rich, ripe apple, lemon tart, tropical notes and a smidge of citrus zest to keep it all lively and vibrant through the core.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Padré Cabernet/Merlot 2018 ($19, 89 points) — Before starting a winery with his three sons, Paul Speck Sr. was a padré. Bringing together the triumvirate of grapes Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, this wine is made in his honour. The Padré was aged in 60% French oak barrels and 40% American oak for 16 months. It has a really expressive nose of cherries, black currants, cassis and barrel spice notes. It’s rich and fruit-laden with medium+ tannins and a mélange of black currants, cherries, integrated barrel spices and length on the finish. A red blend that punches above its weight glass.

Aussie wine with
a Niagara connection

Berton Vineyard Metal Label The Black Shiraz 2019 ($16 with $2 off Jan. 31-Feb. 27, Vintages, 90 points) — Flat Rock proprietor Ed Madronich met Berton Vineyards proprietor Bob Berton at ProWein, one of the world’s largest wine fairs held annually (but not 2021 due to COVID) in Düsseldorf, and looked forward to connecting with him every year. He loved Berton’s wines (and the price point) and believed they would thrive in the Ontario market. After several years of hard work negotiating with the LCBO, a listing was finally acquired. An example of friends helping friends and consumers can see for themselves why Madronich was so thrilled with this affordable Shiraz. It’s dense and thick in the glass but surprisingly restrained on the nose with nose of blackberries, kirsch, dark plums, toasty vanilla and spices. It’s more intense on the palate, showing concentrated black currants, plums, savoury notes, touch of pepper, Espresso bean and vanilla with toasty oak spices, good structure, ripe tannins and a long finish. This is good value Shiraz made in the Old School style that I loved so much as a younger wine drinker. Can cellar for 5+ years.

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed:

• Peller Estates Signature Series Classic Ice Cuvée Sparkling NV ($36)
• Featherstone Four Feathers 2019 ($15)
• Wildass Riesling 2018 ($19)
• Wayne Gretzky Whisky Oak Aged Red 2018 ($20)