Looking up ‘Big Head’ in the dictionary, you’ll find all sorts of definitions for the colloquial term, including something along the lines of being “very boastful” and so on.
But Niagara’s Big Head Wines is far from that, and their name is derived from a more literal inspiration: Andrzej Lipinski, the winery’s Polish proprietor, has a big head (and according to him, so does his family and many other Poles) [Mike: being a Pole with a big head, I can confirm that this is an accurate and valid observation – no offence taken!].
Though the winery is firmly rooted in the Niagara Peninsula, Andrzej is originally from Poland. He came to Canada in the late 1980’s and was followed by his family, shortly thereafter. Working in the trades, he worked his way up doing odd jobs before his enterprise and quick learning abilities saw him rise from a construction worker to assistant winemaker at a local winery [Mike: very similar to my own family story, except my dad’s still making his wine in his basement… where his wine belongs!].
When we started Sparkling Winos in October 2016, we knew that Big Head was one of the first wineries we’d like to visit – certainly their reputation was growing rapidly, as was their portfolio of wines, along with the winery itself and the staff (who include Andrzej’s family, including Jakub and Kaja). The award tally has also piled up, which is no surprise to anyone who has tasted their wines. When we were awarded VQA Promoters of the Year in 2019, our first thought was: we need to treat ourselves to a special bottle of Big Head’s Big Bang (which had spent 60 months of lees). And boy, did that wine deliver quite the bang! 💥
Big Head Wines was in many ways ahead of its time in popularizing certain styles within the local wine ecosystem, including the use of the appassimento technique. However you feel about the drying of grapes to concentrate flavour and structure, Big Head was certainly a big player in supporting the use of appassimento here. The winery continues to innovate, including with their RAW series, which is their label for red and white wines created in their red, concrete vessels.
Speaking of which, in the depths of winter, we received Big Head’s new “Red, White & Bubbles” Pack, which contained the following wines:
- 2019 Chenin Blanc
- 2018 RAW Chenin Blanc
- NV Big Bang Black
- 2018 Big Red
- 2018 Big Red Select
- 2016 Bigger Red
…plus a 4-pack of Icewine Truffles w/ Big Head’s Icewine!
To say that this pack is epic is an understatement, as it contains some of our favourites from Big Head at the very approachable price point of $197.80 (with a retail value of $225 and complementary shipping in Ontario).
We structured our tasting of these wines from sparkling, to white to red (over the course of a few days… hey, we’re in lockdown and it’s just the two of us! 😜); beginning with…
NV Big Bang Black
It goes without saying that we have a fondness for Big Head’s bubbles, many of which benefit from the addition of a Chardonnay reciotto dosage (and this wine is no exception!). This NV Blanc de Noir wine is made from a blend of different vintages and is very rich in style. In the glass, the wine showcases a beautiful Portuguese gold hue (think gold, with the faintest touch of rose petal). On the nose, it’s a big wine: ripe Niagara tree fruit, red currant, pineapple, plenty of almond croissant and brioche. On the palate, we picked up similar notes but there was a pronounced Bosc pear and a lingering honey note (likely from the reciotto dosage), though the profile is very dry at just about 3 g/L of residual sugar.
2019 Chenin Blanc & 2018 RAW Chenin Blanc
We tasted these two wines side by side, mostly because we love Chenin, and we don’t really see much of it in Ontario so we thought it would be a fun exercise to compare Big Head’s two examples (respecting, also, that the wines are from two different vintages – so not a true apples to apples comparison). For both wines, the fruit comes from the Smith Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore (from different vintages). The 2019 Chenin Blanc was fermented in terra cotta, whereas the 2018 Chenin Blanc was fermented in large concrete vessels.
For the 2019 Chenin Blanc, we perceived plenty of Niagara Peninsula fruit – peaches, apples – and the white blossoms that precede them. A nice acidity balanced by the fruit forward character of this wine, we felt it had a lovely finish and is just asking for a sunny patio (or maybe we’re just bored of being stuck inside). In comparison, the 2018 RAW Chenin offered a similar profile on the nose, but with a bit more complexity – pear skins, a little bit of citrus zest and plenty of zippy ginger and honey. What struck us the most was how much drier this vintage of the RAW Chenin is compared to previous vintages, and how fresh and wonderfully electric it remains in the glass.
2018 Big Head Red & 2018 Big Red Select
Reds are what Big Head is known for, and we thought it would be best to taste these side by side. Same vintage and appellation, but a different blend went into making these beautiful reds. The 2018 Big Head Red is a blend of 43% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot (Ripasso), 20% Cabernet Sauvignon (Appassimento) and 7% Syrah. Between the blend and array of treatments applied, we were excited to taste this wine again. It is definitely a full bodied wine, with plenty of structure and a nose defined by ripe red and black berries, a bit of vanilla coke and and a bit of spice (from the oak and likely the touch of Syrah, or at least … we like to think so, being lovers of that particular grape). The 2018 Big Red Select offers a somewhat different blend, that leans heavily into Cabernet Franc (60% Cabernet Franc; 16% Cabernet Franc [appassimento]; and 24% Merlot [Ripasso]). Though the blend and treatments applied varied between the wines, the latter is more intense on the nose and palate. Think aromatic, stewed red fruit, but also black cherries in syrup, earth and forest floor and a more aggressive spiciness. All in all, it’s a punchy wine – think Big Head, but also strong arms and wide shoulders.
2016 Bigger Red
Sometimes you don’t get to tasting wines the way you hope – and certainly, tasting through 6 wines at home sometimes does not go as planned. We ended up tasting the 2016 Bigger Red last; and it was a good place to do so! Made from a blend of Petit Verdot (70%), Cabernet Franc (20%) and Malbec (10%), this wine takes advantage of some varieties that are less common around Niagara, but shine in Big Head’s lineup. The nose and palate here were defined by very ripe, stewed red fruit, along with cooked black and blueberries (like the kinds used for Polish jagodzanki, or blueberry pastries), violet, vanilla coke and plenty of gingerbread spice. You could say, between the Big Head, strong arms and wide shoulders, this wine also takes advantage of some strong legs to deliver a roundhouse kick. TKO? 👊😎 That’s way too many sports references for us and so a good place to wrap these notes up!
To grab your own epic “Red, White & Bubbles” Box (and we most certainly recommend that you do!), shop Big Head Wines online here.