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.

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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.…


There are 11 VINTAGES Release recommendations this week that are currently only available to our premium members. This complete article will be visible to all members 30 days after publication. We invite you to subscribe today to unlock our top picks and other Premium benefits.

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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


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Henry of Pelham Anniversary Bash