We here at Spotlight Toronto love great wine. As far as we're concerned no special meal or get-together is complete without sharing a bottle or two amongst your company.
Over the past few years we've put together a shopping guide we call HoHoWine to help you find that great bottle to open at this time of year and to cross-off that wine lover on your gift list. We've continued the tradition and once again called on some of our favourite local wine writers to help us guide you toward a great bottle of juice to keep your glasses full and company happy this holiday season.
Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay, 2011
Availability: LCBO Vintages 89037
This is the “second wine” of Tawse, whose fancier chardonnays sell for $35 plus, and it’s a good one. Bold nose with lemon candy, some tropical fruit and a gentle oak note. It’s quite full on the palate (the difference a warm year makes) and there's a hint of roundness, but quite decent acidity. Some apple and pear fruit, a smoke note and a touch more tropical fruit on the finish. This is a richer-than-usual Niagara chard.
Wildass Red, 2011
Availability: LCBO Vintages 86363
Another “second wine”, this blend is from swanky Stratus. Rich nose with significant herbal notes and a nice hint of mint over nicely ripe cherry fruit. Fairly full on the palate, it's dry but there's a moderate amount of good red berry fruit. Tannins are obvious but smooth and acidity is good. Smoke and vanilla notes add depth and there’s a nice finish too. Here's a great example of the wisdom of seeking out a good winery's "second wine": the same great winemaker is making it.
Sandhill Cabernet Merlot, 2009
Availability: LCBO Vintages 269795
Only in Canada could “go local” refer to a winery 4,000 km away — and here’s a BC red worth a try. Sandhill’s cab-merlot has a very big and dark nose with tobacco, dark chocolate, licorice and ripe blackberry. It’s more dark than fruity on the palate, which is smoother than expected. Look for more tobacco, including cigar, and moderate tannins and a nice finish. This big BC beast cries out for a good steak.
Looking for something a little special to stuff in that wine lover’s stocking? I have chosen three wines, all widely available at Vintages stores, that are sure to bring a little holiday cheer. Two of the wines are from grapes that traditionally do well in Niagara — Pinot Noir and, of course, Riesling. The third is from a non-traditional grape — Pinot Gris — in a style that’s gaining traction with top winemakers, such as Inniskillin’s Bruce Nicholson. So here you, ho ho ho….
Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling, 2011
Availability: LCBO Vintages 38117
Beginning with this vintage, Vineland has merged the St. Urban and Elevation Rieslings into one. This is a classic Niagara white, a superb example of Bench Riesling with notes of grapefruit, citrus, white peach and river-fresh minerality on the nose. It’s a Riesling that gets your full attention in the mouth with all that citrusy-peach goodness on the palate, racy acidity and a classic tug of sweet and tart. There is underlying minerality that will express itself further as you age this beauty. And, yes, you can age it for five, or even 10, years. 92 points.
Inniskillin Legacy Pinot Gris, 2009
Availability: LCBO Vintages 229591
Winemaker Bruce Nicholson chooses his limited Legacy series wines carefully before he decides to put his signature on the gold label series. This is another winner. Such a great nose of hazelnuts, vanilla, toast, creamy peach and added tropical fruits chiming in. It’s honied and layered on the palate in an off-dry, elegant and concentrated style that shows oak, vanilla, nuts and gorgeous fruit from beginning to end. A beautiful and different Pinot Gris done in a style that’s a showcase for Niagara fruit. This is being released after some bottle age and I expect more pronounced nutty notes and better integration of the oak. 92 points.
13th Street Essence Pinot Noir, 2009
Availability: LCBO Vintages 237222
Didn’t winemaker JP Colas say you can’t make Pinot Noir in Niagara? Yes he did (sort of) and he explains (sort of) what he meant by that on the back label of this wonderful Pinot Noir, his first made in Niagara. All the classic aromas to start — mushroom, barnyard, forest floor, cedar — then followed by cherry, cranberry, strawberry with a hint of spice. Very feminine and delicate with finesse on the palate, fine texture, silky tannins and well balanced acidity. 91 points.
Mike Weir Pinot Noir, 2009
Availability: LCBO Vintages 75
One of the last of Ontario's fantastic 2009 Pinot Noirs to be released, this wine has been worth waiting for. The nose is primarily cherry, raspberry, and red currants; with a lovely earthiness and a light mineral component that reminds me of graphite. There's hints of coffee and milk chocolate there too, but so slight that they come as an afterthought. Served somewhat cool, this wine's palate is dominated by cherries and black raspberries, and just the hint of tart cranberries. Light cigar box notes from the oak become more influential as the wine warms, bringing out more vanilla and sweet spice notes. Delectable paired with Beef Stroganoff, and even more so if you can afford to cook the Stroganoff using the same wine. A great value at $19.95.
Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore, 2009
Availability: LCBO Vintages 479766
I drink mostly Ontario wines day to day, but occasionally the dreary winter gets to me and I want a big, warm luscious wine that is tough to replicate here at home. On those days, I turn to a Amarone, Ripassa or Zinfandel for my "fix". This particular Ripassa is one that I have been recommending (for years) to friends who want a nice rich red that won't offend discerning hosts. The somewhat simplistic (but key) descriptor I give for this wine is "smooth". It is filled with luscious dark fruit, mocha, and sweet spice, and the fine-grained tannins don't impede that silky mouthfeel one bit. It is a big enough wine to accompany stronger cheeses, yet equally well-suited to tomato-based pasta dishes. Don't worry if your store still has 2008 stock — they are both very good. A nice Amarone substitute that is great for sharing at $24.95.
2010 Stratus Icewine Red
Price: $39.95 for a 200mL bottle
Availability: LCBO Vintages 56689
At 15.5% alcohol, a lot of the sugar in this wine has been fermented into alcohol. But it is by no means lacking in sweet, juicy fruit at 140g/L. The nose hits you right away — strawberry-rhubarb pie…not just out of the oven but more after the fruit has cooled slightly and offers a bit more of those jammy notes. The acid is in total balance with the sugar in this beauty and is likely the finest, most appealing icewine I’ve encountered yet. You could pair it with just about any holiday season dessert and it will shine. The Holidays are all about indulgences after all.
Grant Burge Miamba Shiraz, 2010
Availability: LCBO 284091
The black/violet colour heralds a perfume of blackberries, crème de cassis, plums, raspberries, violets, spice and hints of tar. Full bodied, the wine is rich and mouth coating, with loads of dark fruit, mocha and spice. The plummy tannins are integrated to the point that some might not even perceive them. Drink this well priced Shiraz over the next 5 years. 89 Points.
Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009
Availability: LCBO 738823
This well-priced Cab has a definite savoury streak which weaves through the cassis, dark cherries, plums, violets, cocoa and spice. The supple tannins, moderate alcohol and fruit driven finish makes for a thoroughly enjoyable glass of wine with meatloaf, pot roast or chili. Put a few bottles aside for holiday get-togethers, as it is a wine that will surely please everyone. 88 Points.
Joseph Drouhin Chablis Vaudon, 2010
Availability: LCBO 284026
This is addition to the LCBO general list is a superb value from the realm of Chablis! This textbook example starts off with a pale straw colour and then heads into a mélange of lemons, minerals and green apples. There is very good length and brisk acidity, which makes you want to shuck a dozen or so oysters…and go to town! 88 Points.
Michael Di Caro's Picks (@mikedicaro)
For this year's HoHoWine I've gone with three Niagara wines from the sun-kissed vintage of 2010. The reds from that year are ripe, immediately enjoyable and sure to please the wine lover on your list or anyone around the holiday table. My first pick is a Mertiage blend, an area where Ontario can excel creating a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. The second is a serious Gamay Noir, an often overlooked variety that can produce some of the province's best reds. The last is a Chardonnay because it's not only Ontario's most-widely planted grape, but it consistently produces world-class wines. And just to round things out for the discerning wine lover on your list, an intriguing red Burgundy with a Niagara connection.
2010 Peninsula Ridge Reserve Meritage
Availability: LCBO Vintages 234161
Peninsula Ridge winemaker Jamie Evans has been quietly doing a great job crafting some very nice wines. During an LCBO GoLocal tour of Niagara earlier this year, this 2010 Meritage stood out as my top red. Bursting with juicy black cheery, black raspberry and blackberry, it captures the warmth of that sun-kissed vintage. The finish brings black plum, and hint of dark cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla and oak spice. The supple and velvety texture is balanced by just enough tannin to give it a strong frame and there's enough acidity to keep it feeling lively on your palate. This would make a lovely gift for the winelover on your list to cellar for a couple of years. But for those who can't wait that long it would be a fantastic edition to the table for a Christmas roast dinner—just make sure to decant it for a about and hour.
13th Street Old Vines Gamay Noir, 2010
Availability: LCBO Vintages 130195
Gamay is Ontario's sleeper variety. Although not widely produced, those that do make one often turn theirs into one of the region's most compelling red wines. 13th Street and the Sandstone vineyard perennially produces what is amongst the best of these Gamay Noirs and this 2010 continues that tradition. It's an elegant wine, well-balanced with grippy tannin and bright acidity. There's core of red raspberry, cherry, strawberry and blueberry. With a swirl and a little time in the glass a supporting layer of licorice, clove, leather and black pepper reveals itself. The fruity and savoury dichotomy would make it a beautiful match for special holiday fare like roasted heritage pork loin with fennel, quail or arctic char. This all adds up to a great red that just might change the minds of those that think the only Noir worth drinking is Pinot.
Bachelder Wines Niagara Chardonnay, 2010
Availability: LCBO Vintages 302083
Thomas Bachelder is a virtuoso with Ontario's signature grape. He believes that the best expressions come from great vineyards and though the magic of barrel fermentation and long aging in mostly older oak — new barrels are only used to replenish the retired ones. With this 2010 he was able to capture the strength and power of that warm vintage, while still retaining that crisp, lithe, cool climate focus that makes Niagara Chardonnay so enchanting. It draws you in with tree-ripened golden apple, Niagara yellow peach, lemon curd and Comice pear. That gorgeous citrus-tree fruit cocktail plays perfectly against the savoury tang of greek yogurt, nutty peach pit and nutmeg before a lengthy finish of stony Beamsville Bench minerality. This is a great wine to have around this holiday season as it crosses the white-red divide. The minerality and acidity provides the tension and liveness white lovers crave, while the red-only drinkers at the table will be pleased by the opulent texture that only barrel fermentation and aging can provide.
Marchand-Tawse Gevery-Chambertin, 2008
Availability: Vintages Online 254425
There's a Canadian connection at the heart of Tawse-Marchard. It came about when Tawse Winery owner Moray Tawse and French-Canadian winemaker and consultant Pascal Marchand (who has consulted at Tawse) decided to join forces to take Marchard's small-production Burgundy label to the next level. This 2008 red Burgundy from the Gevery-Chambertin commune of Burgundy's Côte de Nuit, which is noted for its intense, powerful expression of Pinot Noir, is a great window it what the label is all about. It reflects the character of that moderate and elegant vintage. There's layers of red and black fruit like dark berries and cherries, but what will really excite wine lovers is the layers of herbs, chalky limestone minerality, mushrooms and damp forest floor notes. There's a sparky core of bright acidity and a great tension that will impress the oenophile on your list. This 2008 is available through vintages online, which will deliver the bottles you order to your neighbourhood LCBO or a convenient one of your choice. But if you or that special person on your list prefers Burgundy that's little bolder a few bottles of the 2009 are also still around in select Vintages.