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Chocolate, cheese, wine for February, plus Vintages picks and Niagara wine reviews

By Rick VanSickle

Here’s hoping you emerged unscathed from Dry January and are ready to ease back into the pleasures of wine. We have just the ticket to help with that.

In this Niagara Wine Report, we offer details on February’s Chocolate and Cheese event, new wines from Henry of Pelham, Niagara wines coming to Vintages stores and a Cali treat from Sonoma to consider. But first …

Chocolate, Cheese and Wine

Niagara wine

Twenty wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake are celebrating the joy of chocolate, cheese and, of course, wine during all four weekends in February.

The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake association is inviting consumers to purchase a Chocolate and Cheese touring pass for the month of tastings spread over four weekends in February, which includes up to eight winery tastings per day.

Guests can choose from an individual tasting pass (16 tastings per person, $75) or a couple’s pass (16 tastings per couple, $75). These passes give you access to all properties with a maximum of eight winery tastings in one day. In other words, both passes are for a maximum of 16 tastings. If you want to taste at all 20 properties, you can add extra tastings to your passes. A couple tasting at eight wineries in one day would use one couple’s pass completely. An individual would need at least two days to visit all wineries. But whether individual or couple, you can also spread your visits out over the four three-day weekends and just visit two or three wineries at a time.

Tastings are available from 11 am to 5 pm. When purchasing your passes, indicate the wineries you wish to visit and on what date. (You are no longer required to book a specific time for your visit.) 

Reservations close at 6 am the day before event date. There are also designated driver passes available at a discounted rate available on the ticketing website.

You can reserve your winery selection when you purchase your passports, and these will be confirmed by email afterwards. For descriptions of all available tastings, plus purchasing tickets, go here.

Here’s a preview of three of the tasting packages available:

Pillitteri Estates Hole-in-One

Celebrate the winery’s partnership with professional golfer Taylor Pendrith. Enjoy the Taylor Pendrith Red paired with a chocolate golf ball on a green of whipped cream with a gumdrop flag. This pairing is a hole-in-one combination of the chocolate and the cherry notes of the red.

Byland Estate Wine and Soup Delight

Enjoy oaked Chardonnay paired with butternut and white chocolate symphony white chocolate soup and a savoury white chocolate scone.

Bella Terra Deconstructed Cheesecake

Deconstructed cheesecake with a berry compote, paired with the 2018 Bella Terra Cabernet Merlot.

A trio of new Henry of Pelham wines

I’m seeing some of the first wines from the 2023 vintage arriving now. Here’s two from Henry of Pelham, plus a 2020 Pinot Noir.

Henry of Pelham Sauvignon Blanc 2023 ($15, LCBO, 88 points) — A good value wine from the Short Hills Bench producer that features a nose of juicy kiwi, grapefruit, melon, herbs, and green pear. It’s bright and lifted on the palate with fresh citrus notes, honeysuckle, garden herbs and pear with a zesty finish.

Henry of Pelham Rosé 2023 ($15, LCBO, 88 points) — Is it ever too early for rosé? I think not. This shows fresh saline on the nose with bright/tart cherries, raspberries, a touch of herbs and watermelon. It has lovely dryness on the palate with expressive red berries, subtle earthy notes, herbs, anise, and a bright finish.

Henry of Pelham Painted Wagon Pinot Noir 2020 ($28, 91 points) — This estate Pinot Noir is a blend of four different clones grown on the Short Hills Bench. It has a robust nose of earthy red berries, anise, savoury notes, dried tobacco, and baking spices. It’s velvety on the palate with some structure in support of ripe dark cherries, black raspberries, anise, smoky cedar, rich spices and a long, lifted finish. Can cellar 5+ years.

Coming to Vintages LCBO stores Saturday

Not a huge selection of Niagara wines arriving at Vintages stores Saturday, but here’s what’s available (plus we have a review of an iconic California wine from Kenwood). Note: Wines in Niagara did not review any of the Niagara wines being released.

• Glass Tiger Sparkling Riesling 2019 ($23)
• Jackson-Triggs Reserve Sparkling Moscato 2022
• Lakeview Cellars Riesling Icewine 2019 ($35 for 200 mL)
• Vieni Vidal Icewine 2017 ($40 for 375 mL)
• Hare White Blend 2020 ($22)
• EastDell Gamay Noir 2019 ($19)
• Stratus Merlot 2020 ($45, online and Flagship stores only)

A collectible Cali Cab from Kenwood

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($60, online and Flagship stores only, 93 points) — For five decades, Kenwood Vineyards has been the exclusive producer of wines from the historic lava-terraced vineyards of the Jack London Ranch, located on the western slope of Sonoma Valley in Glen Ellen, California. Jack London was a pioneer of sustainable farming in Sonoma over 100 years ago and today the estate continues to be sustainably farmed by the same family. The Cabernet Sauvignon is the shining light from the vineyard that has includes Zinfandel, Merlot, and Syrah, all produced from the unique red-lava soil vineyards characterized by deep dark colours and rich varietal flavours. The Kenwood Jack London single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (with 16% Merlot) has been a staple for me when craving a rich and robust Cali. The wine is aged in a blend of French, American and Hungarian oak for 26 months in 30% new oak barrels with 14.8% abv. Everything I love about Sonoma Cabs is in this wine. The nose is rich and expressive with dense blackberries, black currants, anise, cocoa, dried tobacco, eucalypt, and toasty spice notes. It’s thick and plush on the palate with a heady combination of dense dark berries, elevated anise, fennel, tar, black olives, minty/cedary notes, graphite, and a graphite/mineral accent that all lead to a long, luxurious, and lifted finish. This has all the tannins, ripe fruit, and acidity needed to keep it improving in the cellar for 12+ years. A real treat for the cellar hunters out there and a lot less expensive than top Napa Cabs.

Note: Information for the Chocolate and Cheese event was provided to Wines in Niagara