Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – June 23rd, 2018

A Canada Day Salute
By David Lawrason, with notes from Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

We send this report from Penticton, B.C. where we are in the thick of judging the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards. It is too early for results (which will start to flow in mid-July) but I can tell you that the scope of this tasting is grand with almost 1900 entries, and so many intriguing wines, from Vancouver Island, to the Okanagan, to the Great Lakes waters, to Quebec and Nova Scotia.

In this report – as a salute to Canada Day – we offer our collective Canadian wine picks from VINTAGES ample Canadian selection on the June 23 release.

But first a special mention to Niagara’s Henry of Pelham Winery which is celebrating its 30th anniversary on Canada Day itself, and is featured on this release with four wines. Henry of Pelham owns a special place in Niagara, among four other pioneering family wineries that have endured to this day. (The others are Cave Spring, Vineland Estates and Chateau des Charmes). These four underpinned the success of Niagara during the fragile 1980s and have continued to innovate and improve.

I first met the Speck family as they planned, bravely, to open the winery in 1988 in the wake of the Free Trade, when many assumed Niagara wine would be gobbled up by American imports. The entire family of five attended a wine course I offered to learn about ‘wine appreciation’ as it was called at the time. I am not even sure the youngest of the Speck boys was legal to taste, but they showed up diligently, and became fully engaged.

They brought hard-working, can-do, family ethic to the task of planting their vineyard in the Short Hills Bench appellation at Pelham Corners just east of St. Catharines. One of their notable early achievements was the focus on more full-bodied reds, crafted by a young winemaker named Ron Giessbrecht who had been working in the experimental red cellar program at Brights Wines. He brought forward the notion of generously oaking a red hybrid called baco noir, which to this day remains a signature for Henry of Pelham, and the most successful hybrid red in the country. But they also began making very good cabernet-merlot based blends, and later pinot noir.

Peter Yealands Pinot Noir 2016

By the late 90s they undertook another bold step, launching traditional method sparkling wines under the Cuvee Catharine brand. It wasn’t the first sparkler in Ontario but, again, it was the first made by a smaller family winery operation with a focus on quality, and it became the go-to local bubbly on many wine lists.  A few years later they launched a vintage dated blanc de blancs, aged five years on the lees, called Carte Blanche, which remains an industry leader.

The most recent work has been the development of the Speck Family Reserves, a top tier including Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Merlot, Pinot and Baco Noir that are made in small lots from the oldest vines.  And as those vineyards cross into their fourth decade, the quality of the fruit just gets better and better. Improvement in the wines has kept pace, and as Henry of Pelham moves into its fourth decade they do so under the guidance of veteran winemaker Lawrence Buehler.

The Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserves are among our Canadian picks this week.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES June 23rd:

The Whites

Henry Of Pelham 2016 Speck Family Reserve Riesling, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Harvested from the oldest vineyard planted in the 1980s, and harvested at low yield under two tonnes per acre, this is a full bodied, rich yet dry and intense Riesling with lifted aromas of yellow pear/peach fruit with lemon/grapefruit citrus, florals and spice. It is medium bodied, with quite concentrated and intense fruit on the palate.

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Riesling 2016Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2015Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2016

Charles Baker 2015 Picone Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($36.95)
David Lawrason – Charles Baker has remained steadfastly focused on single vineyard riesling since 2006 when he launched his “virtual” label within the walls of Stratus winery, where Charles also works as marketing director. This is a very classy, complete, wild fermented dry riesling that captures generous, complex aromas of peach/pear, honeysuckle, some petrol and lemon. It is mid-weight, dry and seamless with impressive focus and depth.

Cave Spring 2016 Estate Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($18.95)
Michael Godel – High quality fruit with the creaminess of apple purée keeps its bite with thanks to proper barrel use though I can’t help but think this almost feels unoaked, relatively speaking. This might also be a result of the floral perfume. The wood comes through late with a white peppery pique of spice.

Stratus 2016 Weather Report Chardonnay, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($27.95)
David Lawrason – This new tier from Stratus is a ripe, smooth almost satiny chardonnay with very generous peach, hazelnut, vanillin and fine toast on the nose and palate. It is mid-weight, polished with a lemon, nutty, slightly warm and mineral finish.

Stratus Weather Report Chardonnay 2016Culmina Dilemma Chardonnay 2015Megalomaniac My Way Chardonnay 2016

Culmina 2015 Dilemma Chardonnay Margaret’s Bench, Okanagan Valley, BC ($47.95)
David Lawrason – Culmina is the serious new Golden Mile project by Donald Triggs and family. It was a quite hot vintage in the Okanagan, so expect ripe peach/mango fruit, nicely accented by flinty, vague smoke, nutty, lemon and herb butter notes. It is medium-full bodied, quite lean, mouthwatering and intense on the palate.

Megalomaniac 2016 My Way Chardonnay Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is a quite fine, leaner, well balanced chardonnay by new winemaker Sebastian Jacquey, the former winemaker at now defunct Le Clos Jordanne. Megalomaniac has never been better. It is a light to mid-weight, elegant fresh, even poised chardonnay with fine apple, lemon, spice and almond. There is a hint of bitterness but there is minerality. The length is very good.


Thirty Bench 2017 Small Lot Rosé, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment,  Ontario ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Newly packaged and priced upward, this catches the movement to premium rose coming out of Provence and to some degree California. It is very fine indeed, with palate richness and polished achieved with sweetness – very classy. Aromas and flavours of currants, tomato water, subtle pepper have good intensity and continuity.

Hidden Bench 2017 Locust Lane Rosé, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is a pinot noir rose from estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench. The nose is subtle with vague strawberry jam, fine herbs and spice. It is medium weight, almost creamy and richer on the palate than expected – yet totally dry. The understated flavours continue though the palate to very good length.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Rosé 2017Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2017Wildass Rosé 2017

Wildass 2017 Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is bright, pale quite glossy and polished rose with lifted aromas of currants, persimmon, fresh herbs and vaguely peppery spice. It is mid-weight with a hint of sweetness yet nicely piquant acidity.

Michael Godel – Wildass it is a blend of sauvignon blanc, riesling, tempranillo and cabernet franc. It hints at the present and the future of Niagara Peninsula Rosé in a nutshell albeit with high level fruit phenolics and a little bump up in residual sugar. The fruit here is fantastic and the warmth of the vintage can be thanked, especially from the extended fall and the later picking hands of a Stratus managed wine.


Henry of Pelham 2016 Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir, Ontario ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This beefy baco has something of a pinotage wildness going on, contained by loads of chocolaty, smoky oak, pepper and almost raisiny fruit. It has firm acidity, some herbaceosness, chocolate and some vanillin. Very tasty and ribald if not very elegant.

Henry of Pelham 2012 Speck Family Reserve Cabernet/Merlot, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($39.95)
Michael Godel – The warm 2012 is an ideal vintage for this very specific cabernets and merlot blend, a wine as deliberate and iconic to the Niagara effort as any that have come before or currently exist. The vintage falls into a line that remembers 1998 and 2002. The brightness of red fruit integrates quietly and when acidity joins, the balance is pitch perfect. Is this Cabernet-Merlot Speck Family Reserve one for the ages? In a word yes and likely to rival that 1998.
Sara d’Amato – An inviting and exuberant Bordelaise style blend in optimum condition for enjoyment.  Fleshy and mouthfilling without heaviness or heat. The wood spice and fruit have fully integrated while the depth of flavour builds progressively on the palate. Lingering notes of iron and mineral are sophisticated and memorable.

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2016Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2012Culmina Hypothesis 2013

Culmina 2013 Hypothesis, Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, BC ($47.95)
David Lawrason – This is an intense, dense, green, almost salty and edgy Bordeaux blend based on merlot. Too green for many I suspect, but it has power, structure and depth for ageing. Big intensity, with blackcurrant, cedar bough, capers, cordite and now some leather. Notably tannic so continue to age it.
Sara d’Amato – A stylish blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from Triggs’ Golden Mile Bench Estate. A rich, fruity and velvety wine that has gracefully evolved. Round and balanced with well-integrated tannins and impressive intensity. The palate is defined by freshness and offers flavours of fig and plum with delicate spice from barrique.
Michael Godel – The 2013 blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc combines the best of worlds put forth by the two previous vintages; ripe fruit, earthy-mineral tang, proper acidity and ripe, tonic tannin. The composition here is the most, accomplished and distinguished for enjoyment now or up to 10 years on. All this with thanks to exceptional balance.

And that’s a wrap from Penticton. We return next week with a preview of the July 6th release. Wishing everyone a great Canada Day weekend.

David Lawrason
VP of WineAlign

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Henry of Pelham Anniversary Bash