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Thomas Bachelder’s top Chardonnay is up for grabs online Saturday at Vintages

By Rick VanSickle

One of the best Chardonnays — maybe THE best ever made in Niagara (in this writer’s estimation) — is coming to the Vintages online release on Aug. 27 and you simply need to have it in your cellar.

The Bachelder Wismer-Wingfield Ouest Chardonnay 2019, long ago sold out at Bachelder, was Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling White Wine in 2021 (garnering the highest score for a Canadian Chardonnay since this site began 12 years ago) and someone, somewhere in the vastness of the LCBO had the foresight to secure some of this stunning wine for the online release that goes live on Saturday. While I have been critical over the LCBO’s experimentation this summer with fewer listings at Vintages stores (especially when it comes to local wines), it’s hard to complain when someone gets it absolutely right in sourcing Niagara wines for these releases.

Niagara wine

It’s only one of two Ontario wines in a sparse release, but they nailed it with the top single-vineyard Bachelder (vineyard above). The other Niagara wine available is the Stratus Field Blend Ancestral Sparkling 2021, which I have not tasted but the producer is usually top notch.

Here is my review of the Bachelder, with new wine reviews for Flat Rock Cellars’ Twisted series and Henry Pelham following.

Bachelder Wismer-Wingfield Ouest Chardonnay 2019 ($48, 96 points) — This consistently exquisite Chardonnay is sourced by from “the hill of Wingfield,” in what Thomas Bachelder not so quietly refers to as “grand cru” even though it is a classification that still has no standing in Niagara (but should!). The Chardonnay grapes grown in this parcel, which is at the highest elevation and furthest from Lake Ontario, are the latest ripening in Wingfield. As Bachelder says, and in this I agree 100%: “This wine’s beauty is certainly at least partially in the eye of the beholder, but, come on, the Wingfield is grandiose!” The vineyard is located 6.8 km from Lake Ontario at an altitude of 160 metres. The Wingfield parcel has always shown profound, singular terroir on a perfectly exposed, well-drained slope on the east side of Victoria Street in Vineland. Wingfield, shown above, is picked 10 days to two weeks after other Chardonnay vineyards in the Bachelder family. The vines are now nearly 30 years old, planted in 1993 on lighter silty/clay and dolomitic limestone soil, and shows the classic Vineland (as distinct from Jordan) combination, of what Bachelder calls “plush richness and tight minerality.” The Wismer-Wingfield block has always been sourced from the western part of the parcel, which makes for a long hang-time and “an intense, rich, noble flavour, overlaid by a tight, long minerality.” It has been named (more than once) as Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling Wine of the Year and consistently scores 93+ points (the 2018 was awarded 94 points). The 2019 version is a wonder, the best ever produced and worthy of all the accolades it is getting, even if it needs time to fully reveal itself. Such a gorgeously perfumed and floral nose with ripe pear, bergamot, granny smith apple, vanilla toast, light creamy accents, elegant oak spices and defined by a stony/slate minerality that is just beginning to reveal itself. But, OMG, one taste and it vaults to another level. It’s rich, dense, and concentrated on the palate while still maintaining a saline, stony, flinty minerality profile. Next comes defined fruits of ripe pear, lemon curd, apple skin and an ever-so-subtle note of reduction that makes this highly complex and attractive with rich and toasty spices and an eternally long and finessed finish. Tight, yes, but wait for this to fully reveal itself. Cellar 7+ years but try at least one of them now so you can watch the evolution.

Also released online, but not reviewed:

• Stratus Field Blend Ancestral Sparkling 2021 ($35)

New-look Twisted wines
from Flat Rock Cellars

The innovative and popular Twisted family of wines will look a little different the next time you see them on the shelves at Vintages stores or the winery.

The series — a red blend, white blend, and rosé blend — has undergone an attractive and eye-catching label redesign that will certainly stand out in a crowd and fairly represents the intent of the Twisted family. The Twisted wines are a mix of estate fruit and grapes from “carefully selected vineyards” from across the Niagara region.

“When everybody else zigs, we like to zag,” says Flat Rock in explaining the motive behind the Twisted brand, “and in a time where small-batch, limited edition bottlings are all the rage, this is certainly a different approach to sharing the best Niagara has to offer. In true Twisted style, we celebrate the fact (that) we’re happily, slightly twisted.”

Here’s what I liked from the new releases under the new label and now finding their way to store and winery shelves:

Flat Rock Cellars Twisted 2020 ($18, Vintages Essential, grocery, winery, 89 points) — This is the white version in the Twisted family of Flat Rock wines. It’s a proprietary blend of Riesling (72%), Gewurztraminer (17%) and the rest Chardonnay. The nose is firmly in the Riesling camp with bright, fresh lime, grapefruit, and crisp apple with a lovely floral and pear component. It’s quite robust on the palate with fleshy grapefruit, lychee, a touch of ginger and lime zing on the finish.

Flat Rock Cellars Red Twisted 2021 ($20, LCBO, winery, 89 points) — A unique blend of Gamay (72%), Merlot (25%) and Pinot Noir (3%) with each component aged separately in barrel before establishing the final blend. I chilled my sample, which seemed appropriate because it was smoking hot this summer and, well, Gamay is always better slightly chilled. The nose is rife with plums, dark cherries, raspberry bramble, and cassis. It has an intriguing meaty/earthy entry on the palate with wild berries, plums, smooth tannins, subtle spice notes and a lifted, finessed finish. A delight.

Flat Rock Cellars Pink Twisted 2020 ($18, LCBO, winery, 90 points) — This blend of Pinot Noir (56%), Riesling (31%) and the rest Gewurztraminer shows a pale-pale salmon colour in the glass with aromas of brambly red berries, forest floor and a lovely floral lift. There is a subtle sweet/ripe feel on the palate with wild raspberries, strawberry tart, and juicy acidity on the finish.

A pair of new wines from Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham Painted Wagon Pinot Noir 2019 ($28, winery now, Vintages Sept. 10, 92 points) — The Painted Wagon Pinot is made from estate Short Hills Bench fruit and consists of four different clones. It has a deep and rich nose of brambly raspberries, dense black cherries, baking spices, underlying earthy notes and herbs. It’s highly structured on the palate with firm tannins and an earthy entry that opens up to ripe red berries, anise, fine oak spice notes and a long, finessed finish. Could use some cellaring to bring everything into harmony. Cellar 5-7 years.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2020 ($35, winery now, Vintages Sept. 24, 93 points) — This is the Speck brothers’ top expression of Chardonnay from the estate’s Shorts Hill Bench. It was barrel fermented and aged in oak for 10 months. Like most red and white wines from 2020 at this level, it’s quite rich and overt on the nose with ripe orchard fruits, creamy/spicy notes, and underlying lemon zest. It’s creamy and luxurious on the palate and teeming with poached pear, golden apple, elegant spice notes, toasted vanilla bean and enough citrus zest on the finish to carry this bold and expressive Chardonnay to a happy, fresh finish. Great job. Drinking really nice right now but can cellar 4-5 years.