All suss terroir

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

It has been more than 15 months since I returned from a pivotal, seminal and transmogrifying week in Alsace. The thoughts transposed to words continue to flow freely and with crystalline clarity. This may be the curtain call on that trip. Or not.

Type in the words “Alsace” and “philosophy” into a Google search page and the results will tell a Grand Cru story. The Alsace home page launches from terroir. It has to. Every winery, trade, marketing or governing organization’s website is ingrained to emphasize the rubric, to explain the true essence of Alsace wine. The local philosophy, indicating the cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine, is both necessary and fundamental. There is nothing remotely parenthetical about the notion of terroir, not in Alsace.

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Related – In a Grand Cru State of mind

As wine geeks we are constantly seeking it out and sometimes we imagine it, chat it up when it’s not really there. After we are immersed in Alsace, we cannot deny its existence. Terroir, defined as “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography and climate.” Or, goûts de terroir, as intaste of the earth.” Wherever wine is made around the world, soil is always as important, if not more important than any facet of the winemaking oeuvre. In Alsace, it is religion. I suss it, you suss it and in Alsace, they might say, “we all suss terroir.”

Alsace presents as a long strip of stupidly beautiful, verdant vistas, wedged between the faults and valleys forged with the Vosges Mountains on its west side and the Germany buffering Rhine River to the east. To consider its location as a province of France, drive 500 kilometres east of Paris and draw a line south from Strasbourg, to Colmar and to Basel. Wars have seen to make sure the region can never be too comfortable with its identity, causing an ever-annoying oscillation in governance.

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal's Fred Fortin

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal’s Fred Fortin

Alsatians are the possessed refugees of Europe, tossed around like orphaned children from one foster family to another. That they can be so comfortable in their own skin is to accept their conceit as a French paradox, through ignoring its Franco-Germanic past, its passage back and forth between hands and its current state as a region governed by France. The confluence of cultures and of shared borders (and airports) would think to cause a crisis of identity. The names of towns and villages may act out a who’s who or what’s what of French sobriquet and German spitzname. None of that matters. The people, the places, the food and the wine are purely and unequivocally in ownership of their own vernacular, dialect and culture: Alsatian.

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg Photo (c): Cassidy Havens,

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg
Photo (c): Cassidy Havens,

Related – A Blanck slate in Alsace

When a winemaker wants to lay an insult upon you he will say something like “oh, that’s so Anglo-Saxon.” Ouch. He will mean it, for sure, but he will also grace you with a wink and a smile. He likes you and he respects your choice to come from far away to learn something of his wines. And you like him. The winemaker will also complement you when your palate aligns with his, when your thoughts intuit something about his acuity and his groove. His flattery will be genuine. The winemaker will pour old vintages and without a hem or a haw. She will share generously, not because she wants to sell more, but because she wants better people to drink her wine.

To ascertain a grip on the Alsace codex it must begin in the vineyard. The steep slopes, zig-zagging ridges and fertile valleys are composed of highly intricate, alternating and complex geological compositions. The landscape switches repeatedly from clay to marl, from calcaire (limestone) to schist, from volcanic to granitic rock. Each vineyard and even more parochial, each plot contributes to define the wine that will be made from that specific micro-parcel. The wine grower and winemaker’s job is to treat the soil with utmost respect. To plow the land, to add organic material, to refuse the use of fertilizers and to spray with solutions composed of non-chemical material.

Organic and biodynamic viticulture is widespread across the globe but Alsace is a leader in the practices, particularly in the latter’s holistic, asomatous way. Though more than 900 producers make wines, including many who do not partake in a bio-supernal and subterraneal kinship with the vines and the earth, the ones who do are fanatical about their winegrowing ways. Alsatian winemakers bond with their fruit, by employing the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s teachings as a predicate from which to apply spiritual connections to the physical act of tending vines.

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Related – It was Josmeyer’s imagination

The belief is that great wine can only be made from healthy, natural and disease resistant plants. Steiner’s studies on chemical fertilizers looked into the effect on plants growing near bombs in the earth. The growth was observed to be abnormal and unhealthy. Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer compared this to humans, who eat too much salt and thus need to drink too much. I tasted more than 150 naturally made wines from biodynamically farmed soils. The proof of quality and complexity is in the glass.

The winemaker of Alsace shows a respect for the earth that might be seen as a verduous variation on the teachings of theologian, philosopher, physician, medical missionary and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. The Alsatian-born Schweitzer gave to the world his theory on the “reverence for life,” a term he used for a universal concept of ethics. “He believed that such an ethic would reconcile the drives of altruism and egoism by requiring a respect for the lives of all other beings and by demanding the highest development of the individual’s resources.” The biodynamic approach, through its human to vegetable relationship, echoes the concept. Careful care not to disrupt the balance of nature allows the vines to develop the strength to survive and to flourish in less than optimum climatic conditions, especially during times of drought. The quality of grapes and in turn, the complexity of wine, is the result.

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

The focus on soil and terroir is ultimately disseminated into the idea of tasting minerality in wine, a most contentious aspect of the wine tasting and writing debate. Nary an expert will admit that the impart of trace minerals can be ascertained from a wine’s aroma and most believe that it can be found in taste. An American geologist debunked the mineral to taste theory at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America held in Portland Oregon. “The idea is romantic and highly useful commercially, but it is scientifically untenable,” wrote Alex Maltman, a professor at the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University. Maltman’s claim is simple. Vines absorb minerals from the earth but the amount is far too small for human detection.

Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer in Wintzenheim agrees to disagree. Ehrhart concedes that the quantitative number is small (only three to five percent) for a vine to derive its personality, divined though the earth’s brine. The remainder is a consequence of photosynthesis. Ever the spiritual and natural advocate, Christophe borrows from the writings of David Lefebvre. The journalist and wine consultant’s The minerality from David Lefebvre tells the story of why natural wines without sulfur express minerality. Lefebvre makes clear the argument that naturally-farmed (biodynamic and/or, but necessarily organic) vines are qualitatively richer in (salt minerals) than those raised with chemicals. “All fermentation, from milk to cheese, from grape to wine, is accompanied by the appearance of the component saline, one could say mineral, in the taste of the fermented product.” Chemicals and fertilizers inhibit growth and vigor, ostensibly wiping out an already minuscule number. If food is available at the surface, vine roots will feed right there. They will then lose their ability to create the beneficial bacteria necessary to metabolize deep earth enzymatic material. They essentially abandon their will to fight for nutrition deep within the fissures of the rock. Lefebvre’s conclusion? “All biocides and other products that block mineralization, such as SO2, inhibit the expression mineral.”

At the end of the day Lefebvre is a wine taster and not a scientist and the argument must be considered within the realm of the natural world. “The taste of stone exists in Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire (all France) when the winegrower uses organic farming and indigenous, winemaking yeasts.” American made wine rarely does this, though change is occurring. Ontario winemakers are different. Taste the wines of Tawse or Southbrook and note the difference. Or, taste the difference a vegetable, like a tomato, or a piece of fruit, like a peach tastes when picked straight from the garden, or orchard, as opposed to the conventional piles of the supermarket. There can be no argument there.

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens,

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens,

A week tasting through nearly 300 wines in Alsace may sound exhausting when in fact it is an experience that had me constantly, “as the expression goes, gespannt wie ein Flitzebogens,” or as it is loosely employed from the German in the Grand Budapest Hotel, “that is, on the edge of my seat.” I watched Wes Anderson’s film on the Air France flight over from Toronto to Paris and enjoyed it so much that I watched it again on my return. That kind of spiritual, dry European humour is not unlike that of the fraternity of Alsatian winemakers and how they discuss their wines. From Olivier Zind-Humbrecht to Pierre Blanck, to MauriceBarthelmé and to Jean-Pierre Frick there is an Edward Norton to Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson to Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody to Ray Fiennes affinity. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Alsace is distinguished by a very specific set of vinous attributes. No other area in France is as dry and only Champagne is further north in latitude. The aridity of the summer months, followed by the humidity of the fall fosters the development of a beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea, the fungus better known as noble rot, which concentrates the sugars and preserves acidity. Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassman says all of his wines are noble rot wines, but he calls them Riesling.

The uninitiated into the wines of Alsace think it is one big pool of sickly sweet and cloying white wine. If perhaps this were, at least to some extent, once true, it is no longer. The progressive and philosophically attentive producer picks grapes (especially the particularly susceptible Pinot Gris) before the onset of botrytis. If a dry, mineral-driven style is the goal, picking must be complete before what Phillippe Zinck refers to as D-Day. Pinot Gris goes over the edge in an instant, even more so because of the advancing maturation due to the warm temperatures induced by Global Warming.

Sommerberg Grand Cru

Sommerberg Grand Cru

The global wine community’s ignorance to the multeity of Alsace wines, “as mutually producing and explaining each other…resulting in shapeliness,” needs addressing and so steps in the valedictorian, Christophe Ehrhart. The Josmeyer viniculturalist devised a system, a sugar scale to grace a bottle’s back label. Whites are coded from one to five, one being Sec (Dry) and five Doux (Sweet). The codification is not as simple as just incorporating residual sugar levels. Total acidity is taken into consideration against the sugar level, like a Football team’s plus-minus statistic. In Alsace the relationship between sugar, acidity and PH is unlike any other white wine region. Late Harvest (Vendanges Tardives, or Spätlese in German) is Late Harvest but Vin desprit sec or demi-sec in Alsace should not generally be correlated to similar distinctions in Champagne or the Loire. In Alsace, wines with vigorous levels of acidity and even more importantly PH bedeck of tannin and structure. Perceived sweetness is mitigated and many whites, though quantified with residual sugar numbering in the teens, or more, can seem totally dry.

Returning to the idea of increasingly warmer seasonal temperatures, the red wines of Alsace have improved by leaps and bounds. “We could not have made Pinot Noir of this quality 20 years ago,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Oh, the humanity and the irony of it all.

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann photo (c)

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann
photo (c)

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

This sort of quirky response to nature and science is typical of the artisan winemaker. There is more humour, lightness of being and constater than anywhere else on this winemaking planet. There just seems to be a collective and pragmatic voice. Maurice makes a 10,000 case Riesling called Cuvee Albert, “because I have to make a wine for the market.” Yet Maurice is also a dreamer and a geologist. To him, “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist.”

Domaine Albert Mann’s Jacky Barthelmé: “Before Jesus Christ was born we have had vines here in the Schlossberg. So it is a very old story.” The Alsace vigneron is only human and works in a vinous void of certitude. They do not fuck with their land or attempt to direct its course. The young Arnaud Baur of Domaine Charles Baur insists that you “don’t cheat with your terroir or it will catch up with you. You will be exposed. You can make a mistake but you will still lose the game.” What an even more wonderful world it would be if he only understood the complexity in his multiple entendre.

Philippe Blanck is a philosopher, a dreamer, an existentialist and a lover. He is Descartes, the aforementioned Bill Murray and Bob Dylan rolled into one, a man not of selection but of election. He is both prolific and also one who buys the whole record catalogue, not just the hits. He opens old vintages freely and without hesitation. When asked how often does he have the opportunity to open wines like these he answers simply, “when people come.”

Pierre Frick et Fils

Pierre Frick et Fils

Then there is the far-out Jean-Pierre Frick, the man who let a 2006 Auxerrois ferment for five years before bottling it in 2011. “After one year I check the wine and he is not ready. I see him after two years and he says I am not ready. So I wait. After five years he says, I am finished. So I put him in the bottle.” On his Riesling 2012 he says, “This is a wine for mouse feeding.” Upon cracking open his remarkable, natural winemaking at its peak 2010 Sylvaner he chuckles like M. Gustave and smirks, “he is a funny wine.”

Few wine regions tell their story through geology as succinctly and in as much variegated detail as Alsace. The exploration of its Grand (and other vital) Cru (for the purposes of this trip) was through soils (or not) variegated of clay, sandy clay, marl, granite, volcanic rock, limestone and sandstone. To complicate things further, a Cru can be composed of more than one type of terra firma and still others have more than one arrangement within the particular plot. All very complicated and yet so simple at the same time. The Crus tasted came from the following:

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens,

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens,

  1. Granitique/Granite (Brand, Herrenreben, Kaefferkopf, Langenberg, Linsenberg, Schlossberg, Sommerberg)
Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Domaine Schoenheitz Linsenberg Riesling 1990, Ac Alsace, France (Winery, 196618, WineAlign)

During a picnic, on a plateau up on the Linsenberg lieu-dit set above the Wihr-au-Val, this 24 year-old bottle acts as a kind of Alsatian Trou Normand. A pause between courses, which involves alcohol and you need to ask for its proof of age. Culled from deep dug vines out of stony and shallow granite soil. Soil rich in micas with a fractured basement. From a dream vintage with marvellous semi-low yields and a student of south-facing, self-effacing steep steppes. A sun worshipper prodigy of winemaker Henri Schoenheitz, a child of terroir du solaire. Rich and arid in simultaneous fashion (the RS is only 8-10 g/L), the years have yet to add mileage to its face and its internal clock. It may ride another 15, or 20. Drink 2015-2030. Tasted June 2015  @VinsSchoenheitz

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Domaine Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Reserve 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ $27.70 11903328WineAlign)

From fruit drawn off the granitic Grand Cru of the Brand but not labeled as such. Laser focus (what Jean Boxler wine is not) and texture. Possessive of the unmistakable Brand tang, like mineral rich Burgundy. The minerality ann the acidity from the granite are exceptional in a wine known as “Pinot Blanc Reserve.” As good a developing PB are you are ever likely to taste. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler Riesling Old Vines Sommerberg Grand Cru 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ, 11698521WineAlign)

A direct expression of winemaker (since 1996) Jean Boxler and his 150 year-old casks. This is Riesling suspended in the realm of dry extract, texture and a precision of finesse rarely paralleled in Alsace. It reads the truth of facteur for Sommerberg, its face, slope and pitch. Exceeds the clarity of the younger parcel in its contiguous continuance of learning, of pure, linear, laser styling. There is more maturity here and the must had to have been exceptional. “The juice must be balanced when it goes into the vats or the wine will not be balanced,” insists Jean Boxler. And he would be correct. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler Tokay-Pinot Gris Sommerberg Grand Cru 1996, Ac Alsace, France (Alsace)

From volcanic and granitic soils together combining for and equating to structure. A matter concerning “purity of what you can do from a great ground,” notes Master Sommelier Romain Iltis. Perception is stronger than reality because despite the sugar, the acidity reign to lead this to be imagined and reasoned as a dry wine. Ripe, fresh, smoky, with crushed hazelnut and seamless structure. Stays focused and intense in mouthfeel. Takes the wine down a long, long road. Quite remarkable. No longer labeled “Takay” after the 2007 vintage. Drink 2015-2026.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Calcaire/Limestone (Engelgarten, Furstentum, Goldert, Rosenbourg, Rotenberg, Schoffweg)

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Furstentum 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

The Marl accentuated Hengst and its muscular heft receives more Barthelmé limelight but the always understated Furstentum Grand Cru is a special expression of the variety. As refined as Pinot Gris can be, with a healthy level of residual sugar, “like me” smiles Marie-Thérèse Barthelmé. The sugar polls late to the party while the acidity swells in pools, but the finish is forever. “Pinot Gris is a fabulous grape but we serve it too young,” says Maurice. “It needs time to develop its sugars.” Truffle, mushroom, underbrush and stone fruit would match well to sweet and sour cuisine. Flinty mineral arrives and despite the residual obstacle, is able to hop the sweet fencing. The potential here is boundless. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @albertmannwines

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Domaine Paul Zinck Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Goldert 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

From the village of Gueberschwihr and from soil composed of sandstone, chalk and clay. The vines average 50 years in age and the wine saw a maturation on the lees for 11 months. Philippe Zinck notes that “the terroir is stronger than the variety.” If any grape would stand to contradict that statement it would be Gewürztraminer but the ’10 Goldert begs to differ. Its herbal, arid Mediterranean quality can only be Goldert talking. Though it measures 20 g/L of RS it tastes almost perfectly dry. It reeks of lemongrass, fresh, split and emanating distilled florals. This is classic and quintessential stuff. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

  1. Marno-Calcaire/Marl-Limestone (Altenberg de Bergheim, Clos Hauserer, Eichberg, Hengst, Kappelweg de Rorschwihr, Mambourg, Mandelberg, Osterberg, Pfersigberg, Sonnenglanz, Steingrubler)

Marcel Deiss Schoffweg “Le Chemins Des Brebis” 2010, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $60.95, WineAlign)

A pulsating and metallic, mineral streak turns the screws directly through this spirited Bergheim. From Schoffweg, one of nine Deiss Premier Crus planted to Riesling and Pinots. A pour at Domaine Stentz Buecher from fellow winemaker Carolyn Sipp simulates a trip, to stand upon a scree of calcaire, the earth below a mirror, reflecting above a multitude of stars. “He’s a character,” smiles Sipp, “and perhaps even he does not know the actual blend.” The amalgamate is surely Riesling dominant, at least in this impetuous ’10, a savant of fleshy breadth and caracoling acidity. The Schoffweg does not sprint in any direction. It is purposed and precise, geometric, linear and prolonging of the Deiss magic. This is a different piece of cake, an ulterior approach to assemblage, “a bigger better slice” of Alsace. It should not be missed.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $114.95, WineAlign)

In a select portfolio tasting that includes a trio of highly mineral yet approachable 2010’s (Rotenberg, Schoffberg and Schoenenbourg), the ’11 Mambourg stands out for its barbarous youth. It seems purposely reductive and strobes like a hyper-intensified beacon. Rigid, reserved and unforgiving, the Mambourg is also dense and viscous. Acts of propellant and wet concrete circulate in the tank, compress and further the dangerous liaison. This is a brooding Deiss, so different than the jurassic citrus from Rotenberg, the terroir monster in Schoffberg and the weight of Schoenenbourg. In a field of supervised beauty, the Mambourg may seem like punishment but there can be no denying the attraction. Five years will alter the laws of its physics and soften its biology. The difficult childhood will be forgotten. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Langenberg “La Longue Colline” 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $48.95, WineAlign)

Rogue Alsace, classic Deiss five varietal field blend specific to one hangout. The steep, terraced, granite Langenberg, terroir from Saint Hippolyte. Deiss coaxes, expects and demands precocious behaviour from four supporting varieties to lift and place the Riesling, with the intent being a result in “salty symphony.” This is approachable, something 2011 could not have been easy to accomplish. The accents are spice, sapidity and acidity, from the granite, for the people. Isn’t this what a mischievous brew should be about? Drink 2015-2022. Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Léon Beyer Riesling Cuvée Des Comtes D’Eguisheim 1985, Alsace, France (316174, $50.00, WineAlign)

I wonder is any Alsace Riesling sublimates history, religion and occupation more than Cuvée Des Comtes D’eguisheim. It breathes the past; of popes, Augustinians of Marbach, Benedictines of Ebersmunster, Cistercians of Paris and Dominicans of Colmar. From the limestone-clay for the most part of the Grand Cru Pfersigberg and only produced in exceptional vintages. In 1985 low yields, same for botrytis and then 29 years of low and slow maturation. In 2014, is the herbal, aromatic, limestone salinity a case of vineyards, grape or evolution? All of the above but time is in charge. It has evolved exactly as it should, as its makers would have wished for. It is ready to drink. The defined minerality, with fresh lemon and a struck flint spark has rounded out, without the need for sugar. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @TandemSelection

Charles Baur Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

Arnaud Baur understands his place and his family’s position in the Alsace continuum. “You can make a mistake and you can still lose the game.” His use of entendre is subconsciously brilliant. In 2009 the warmth went on seemingly forever and so Baur did not even bother trying to make a dry Riesling.  “We really respect the vintage,” says Arnaud. Meanwhile at 18 g/L RS and 7.0 g/L TA the balance is struck. Many grapes were dried by the sun, ripeness was rampant, flavours travelled to tropical and acidity went lemon linear. The 14.2 per cent alcohol concludes these activities. Matched with foie gras, the vintage is marinated and married. There is certainly some crème fraîche on the nose and the wine plays a beautiful, funky beat. As much fun and quivering vibration as you will find in Alsace Marno-Calcaire. Drink 2015-2024.  Tasted June 2014

Dinner wines at L'Epicurien, Colmar

Dinner wines at L’Epicurien, Colmar

Charles Baur Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2007, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

A good vintage for Riesling and considering the heat, an even better one for Gewürztraminer. The vineyard offers 50-70cm of clay atop Jurassic yellow limestone where roots can penetrate the rock. They suck the life into this enzymatic white. This, of digestibility, “a wine you don’t want to drink two glasses of, but three.” Delicious, clean, precise Gewürz that Mr. Baur recommends you “drink moderately, but drink a lot.” Arnaud is very proud of this ’07, for good reason. Two actually. Balance and length. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2013, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711, WineAlign)

Tasted not long after bottling, the yet labeled ’13 is drawn from a vintage with a touch of botrytis. “We don’t sell too much of this,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Along with the sweet entry there are herbs and some spice, in layers upon layers. Almost savoury, this interest lies in the interchange between sweet and savour, with stone fruit (peach and apricot) elevated by a feeling of fumée. A playful, postmodernist style of short fiction. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711WineAlign)

In 2008 the brothers Barthelmé used the Hengst’s strength and the vintage to fashion a remarkable Pinot Gris. It is blessed of antiquity, like concrete to bitters, with power, tension and a posit tub between fruit and sugar. At 34 g/L RS and 7.6 g/L TA there is enough centrifuge to whirl, whorl and pop, culminating in a healthy alcohol at 14 per cent. Quite the reductive Pinot Gris, to this day, with a sweetness that is manifested in mineral flavours, glazed in crushed rocks. “It smells like mushroom you threw into a dead fire,” notes Fred Fortin. This is the bomb. Needs four more years to develop another gear. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Steingrubler 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

From marly-limestone-sandstone, “a fa-bulous terroir,” says Maurice with a smile. The “stone carrier wagon” is mostly calcaire, especially in the middle slope. This has a roundness, an approachability. It really is clean, clean, Gewürztraminer. It’s erotic, gorgeous, certainly not slutty or pornographic. The colder limestone preserves the freshness, with a need for magnesium, to cool the factor further and to develop the terpenes. Gelid and stone cold cool wine. Drink 2018-2035.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Bott Geyl Riesling Grand Cru Mandelberg 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

The Mandelberg receives the early morning sun and so this Grand Cru is an early ripener and the first of the Bott-Geyls to be picked. The added warmth of 2010 introduced noble rot into a vineyard that often avoids it so the residual sugar here is elevated to an off-dry (even for Alsace) number of 30 g/L. The rush to pick in this case preserved the natural acidity, allowing the flint to speak. Additional notes of cream cheese and formidable dry extract have helped to balance the sweetness. Truly exceptional Riesling from Christophe Bott-Geyl. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @bott_geyl  @DanielBeiles

  1. Calcaro-gréseux/Limestone-Sandstone (Bergweingarten, Zinkoepfle)

Pierre Frick Sylvaner Bergweingarten 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

The vines of southeast exposure are in the 35 year-old range for this Vin moelleux, “young vines” says Jean-Pierre Frick. “I am a defender of Sylvaner.” This ’10 is freshly opened, as opposed to the ’09 poured after sitting open a week. That ’09’s healthy amount of noble rot is not repeated in this ’10, what Frick refers to as “a funny wine.” A two year fermentation and a potential for 17 per cent alcohol (it’s actually in the 14-15 range), a touch of spritz and no sulphur means it goes it alone, natural, naked, innocent. It’s a passionate, iconoclastic Sylvaner, distilled and concentrated from and in lemon/lime. It may carry 53 g/L of sugar but it also totes huge acidity. Enamel stripping acidity. Full of energy, that is its calling, its niche, its category. The honey is pure and despite the level of alcohol it’s as though it has never actually fermented. Natural winemaking at the apex, not out of intent but from a base and simply purposed necessity. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @LeCavisteTO

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

  1. Sablo-Argileux/Sandy-Clay (Schlossberg)

Domaine Albert Mann Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ 11967751 $48.25, WineAlign)

What a fantastic expression of the Schlossberg, like a cold granite countertop. A Riesling that tells you what is essentiality in granite from what you thought might be the sensation of petrol. Full output of crushed stone, flint and magnesium, but never petrol. Now just beginning to enter its gold stage, just beginning to warm up, in energy, in the sound of the alarm clock. “You can almost see the rock breaking and the smoke rising out,” remarks Eleven Madison Park’s Jonathan Ross. A definitive sketch with a 12 g/L sugar quotient lost in the structure of its terroir. A Schlossberg a day keeps the doctor away. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Related – Arch classic Alsace at Domaine Weinbach

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens,

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens,

  1. Argilo-calcaro-gréseux/Clay-Limestone-Sandstone (Goldert, Vorbourg)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011), Alsace, France (Winery)

“He has fermented five years,” says Jean-Pierre Frick, stone faced, matter of factly. “That’s how long he took.” Here, one of the most impossible, idiosyncratic and unusual wines made anywhere in the world. On on hand it’s a strange but beautiful experiment. On another there can be no logical explanation as to why one would bother. The third makes perfect sense; allowing a wine to ferment at its own speed, advocate for itself and become what it inherently wanted to be. Auxerrois with a little bit of sweetness (16 g/L RS) and a kindred spirit to the Jura (and with a potential of 15 per cent alcohol). This is drawn from the lieu-dit terroir Krottenfues, of marl-sandstone soils in the hills above the Grand Cru Vorbourg. Tasting this wine is like slumbering through a murky and demurred dream. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

  1. Argilo-calcaire/Clay-Limestone (Eichberg, Engelberg, Kanzlernerg, Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr, Steinert)

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Blanc Terroir 2011, Alsace, France (BCLDB 414557 $15.79, WineAlign)

From 35 year-old vines on Eguisheim’s argilo-calcaire slopes with straight out acidity, trailed by earth-driven fruit. Less floral than some and pushed by the mineral. A difficult vintage that saw a full heat spike to cause a mid-palate grape unction. Pinot Blanc with a late vintage complex because of that sun on the mid slope. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Gris Terroir 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $22.99, WineAlign)

From chalk and clay soils surrounding the Eichberg Grand Cru, this is a decidedly terroir-driven style and far from overripe. In fact, Philippe Zinck is adamant about picking time, especially with Pinot Gris. “The most tricky grape to harvest in Alsace,” he tells me. So hard to get serious structure and many growers are duped by high brix. Philippe tells of the 24-hour varietal picking window, the “D-Day” grape. Zinck’s ’12 is pure, balanced and bound by its earthy character. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Pierre Frick Muscat Grand Cru Steinert Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

“I like acidity, whoo-ahh,” says Pierre Frick, dry as Monsieur Ivan. The sugar on top of acidity here, it’s exciting. This one is a gift from nature, for culture. So interesting, a dream, a story. This has a citrus sweetness, telling a story never before experienced. There’s a depth of reduced apricot syrup, pure, natural, holy. “Tell no one. They’ll explain everything.” Drink 2015-2040.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Volcano-gréseux/Volcanic sandstone (Kitterlé, Muenchberg)

Pierre Frick Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 1992, Alsace, France (Winery)

From Argilo-Calcaire vineyards flanking the Rot Murlé, at a time when a minor amount of sulphuring was employed (1999 was their first sulphur-free vintage). Was Demeter certified, in 1992! This is all about intensity and acidity. An incredibly natural dessert wine, upwards of 150 g/L RS but balanced by nearly 10 g/L TA. The power is relentless, the finish on the road to never-ending. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Domaine Ostertag Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Muenchberg 1996, Alsace, France (Agent, $65, WineAlign)

From clay and limestone, fully aged in barrel, taking, sending and stratifying in and away from its own and everyone else’s comfort zone. Only the best barrels would do and yet the quality of the wood thought aside, this is Ostertag’s unique and fully autocratic take on Tokay-PG. Stands out with a structure wholly singular for the overall prefecture, with a twenty year note of white truffle, handled and enhanced by the wood maturation. Yellow fruits persist as if they were picked just yesterday but the glass is commandeered by the complex funk. It’s nearly outrageous, bracing and yet the flavour urged on by the aromatics return to their youth. To citron, ginger and tropical unction. This is oscillating and magnificent. Drink 2015-2026. Tasted June 2014  @TheLivingVine

  1. Argilo-Granitique/Clay-Granite (Kaefferkopf, Sonnenberg)

Audrey et Christian Binner Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010, Alsace France (Winery)

A blend of Gewürztraminer (60 per cent), Riesling (30) and Muscat (10) that spent two years in foudres. Christian has no time for technicalities, specs and conventions. “I just make wine.” At 13.5 per cent alcohol and 20 g/L RS the expectation would be vitality and striking lines but it’s really quite oxidative, natural and nearly orange. “But it’s OK. It’s the life,” he adds. An acquired, unique and at times extraordinary taste, complex, demanding, like Frick but further down a certain line. “For me, to be a great Alsace wine, it must be easy to drink. You have to pout it in your body.” Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Related – Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

  1. Volcanique/Clay-Granite (Rangen)

Related – Colmar and the volcano: Domaine Schoffit

  1. Marno-Calcaire-gréseux/Marl- Limestone-Sandstone (AltenbourgKirchberg de Ribeauvillé)
  1. Volcano-sédiment/Volcanic Sediment (Rangen)
  1. Graves du quaternaire/Alluvial (Herrenweg de Turckheim)

Related – The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens,

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens,

  1. Roche Volcanique/Volcanic rocks (Rangen de Thann)
  1. Marno-gypseux/Marl-gypsum (Schoenenbourg)
Jean Boxler, June 2014

Jean Boxler, June 2014

You see, no wine is poured, tasted and deliberated over without the introduction of the soil (or lack thereof) from which it came. To confine any study to just the Grand Cru would do the entire region an injustice. Though the original 1975 appellative system set out to define the plots of highest quality and esteem, many wines not classified GC are fashioned from terroir comingling with, surrounding, located next or adjacent to a vineyard called Grand Cru. Serious consideration is being given by CIVA and the winemakers to establish a Premier Cru and Villages system. While this will certainly increase levels of definition and understanding for Alsace, it may also disregard some quality wines, not to mention further alienate some producers whose artisanal and progressive wines go against the norm. A further consequence may result in elevating some average wines currently labeled Grand Cru into undeserved stratospheres.

Related – Trimbach, rhythm and soul

The Grand Cru story is heavy but not everything. Rarely has there been witnessed (outside of Burgundy) the kind of symbiotic relationship between vineyard and village. Perfect examples are those like Schlossberg and Furstentum with Kintzheim, Sommerberg and Niedermorschwihr, Hengst and Wintzenheim, Brand and Turckheim or Steingrübler and Wettolsheim. Domaine Weinbach’s cellars sit across and just down the road from both Kitzheim and Kayserberg. Albert Boxler’s cellar is right in the fairy tale town of Niedermorschwihr, just like Albert Mann’s location in Wettlosheim.

It is time, finally and thankfully, for a return to the reason for such a rambling on. With respect to the “cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine” being “necessary and fundamental,” examples tasted in June of 2014 indicate that the notion of terroir grows from nature and is nurtured by the vigneron. These 25 wines surmise and summarize, either by connecting the dotted lines of constellatory figuration or by Sudoku interconnectivity, the imaginable chronicle that is Alsace.

Good to go!

Once upon a time in the Western Cape

Cape Wine 2015

Cape Wine 2015

Independents, rebels, rogues, zoo biscuits, risk takers, revolution. Buzz words, gathered sects and constituents of rebellion. Clusters of assemblage ruminating, circulating and percolating at the latest edition of organized wine in South Africa.

Who among us might have foretold in dramatic foreshadowing the story of September’s Cape Wine 2015? Who could have known that the southern hemisphere’s largest gathering of producers, marketers, buyers, sellers, sommeliers and journalists would do more to quell preconceived notions and stereotypes for any wine producing country than any trade show that has come before? Total, utter energy.



Centuries ago, when the fishing and trading boats would return west to the Cape they would mistakenly enter the wrong basin. “There’s that confounded bay again,” they would curse. False Bay. During the week preceding and following Cape Wine we climbed aboard cars and vans headed out from Cape Town or Stellenbosch. En route to a farm, estate or winery, more often than not, out the window, there was False Bay, like a magnet, drawing attention, setting and re-setting the excursion compass. As we watched the bay ache into and fade out of view each jaunt-acquiesced day, it just seemed as though we were always heading north and gaining altitude. Not really.

Cape wine country meanderings exist in requiem well beyond points A to B. Directional challenges are inclusive of L-shapes, U-turns and rotations. Lines draw as much east, southeast and northeast as they do falsely north. Journeys always conclude in a valley, at the base of a mountain or in an amphitheatre bound by geological reality. The getting there is often hazy but the arrival always comfortable.

Maybe I’ve a reason to believe 
We all will be received 
In Graceland

South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. Ventures into the wine lands compounded the about-face turn of mind. Tastings, tours and zealous immersion into Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swartland and Hemel-En-Aarde saw to that. South Africa is not what you thought folks, but it just might be what you dare to dream. If you’ve not visited you can’t possibly know what revelations lurk.

The frontier is inhabited by cowboys and their multifarious varietal schemes. It’s surfeited by demi-century established Chenin Blanc bush vines, painted pell-mell with expatriate rootstock and cuttings outside the Bordeaux and Burgundy box; Nebbiolo, Barbera, Tinta Barocca, Albarino, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo and Tannat. Nothing is sacred and everything is fair game. Rhône blends are the current rage and Cinsault is going it alone with nothing short of remarkable results.

The Zoo Biscuits

The Zoo Biscuits

Natural fermentation, skin contact and carbonic maceration have infiltrated the winemaker’s psyche. The eco-bio movement has challenged the fundamentalist incumbency and forced sweeping reforms. Fresh, natural, orange, caliginous and tenebrous have taken the Cape by storm. Praetorian makers are changing their ways. Pinotage has abandoned decades of Bordeaux wannabe style to once again don bell bottoms and retro suede. In 2015 South Africa, cats and dogs are living together.

Zoo Biscuits poster

Zoo Biscuits poster

Introduce me to a winemaker who is not in tune with his or her terroir and I’ll show you a winemaker who is either faking it or blindly towing a company line. That breed is few and far between. In South Africa I met exactly none of that ilk. So what? What’s so special about a nation of winemakers who work as one with their soil, their meso-climate and their geology? You’re supposed to intuit those abstracts to make great wine. “You’re supposed to take care of your kids!”

No, what separates South African vignerons from the rest of the world is the playground mentality and the execution in consummation of those ideals. The soils and the weather are nothing short of perfect in the vast growing region known as the Western Cape, or in the local vernacular, the Cape Winelands. Any varietal of choice can find its way to achieve perfect phenolic ripeness virtually anywhere the grapes are planted. The mitigating effect of Cape winds eradicates all disease. The place is a veritable garden of viticulture eden. Or, as in the case of the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, a verdant, fertile valley known as “heaven on earth,” the adage takes on the paradisiacal guise of the sublime. South Africa is the wine collective equivalent of the wild west. In the Western Cape, anything goes.

Heap big trouble in the land of plenty
Tell me how we’re gonna do what’s best
You guess once upon a time in the west

I will expand, in due course, on all the wines tasted during the eight days I spent in South Africa. A list of top wines and a preponderant unfurling are sure to follow in the form of fifty odd tasting notes. For now I will concentrate, in the name of lede consistency, on the varietal and stylistic revolution taking place.

Swartland Independents

Swartland Independents

The following notes will unquestionably focus on three platoons, Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA), the Swartland Independents and the Zoo Biscuits. The first is a collective of straight-shooting, accordant, premium, independent wine producers from across the diverse wine regions of South Africa’s Western Cape. The second comprises 25 (give or take) cricket playing, indigenous fermenting, Anglikaans-gabbing grape shepherds. The third may draw their name from beloved childhood memories of packaged iced silhouettes of animals on cookies when in actuality they are a gaggle of like-minded, boundary-pushing, fun-loving, serious winemakers.

Suzaan and Chris Alheit

Suzaan and Chris Alheit

Cape Wine 2015 may have seen 300 presenters toting thousands of South African bottles but the swagger of 40 young vignerons stole the proverbial show. They did it with passion, innocence, acumen beyond years and attention to history. They go it alone and with a pack mentality. They care about old vines, tradition and respect for the land but they also have chutzpah. They don’t really give a fuck what the establishment thinks about their winemaking.

Jamie Goode and Godello, CapeWine2015

Jamie Goode and Godello, CapeWine2015

Three days at the Cape Town International Convention Centre allowed for extensive coverage of the South African wine scene. It was a perfectly organized show. Credit begins with the vignerons. Their work is tireless, especially when all must be dropped to focus on all-in, three relentless days of pouring while offering elaborate dissertations about their wines and their place in the South African scene.

At the lead there is Wines of South Africa, headed by Michael Jordaan and Siobhan Thompson, chair and CEO, respectively. André Morgenthal and Laurel Keenan head up communications, marketing, events and PR for WOSA, in South Africa and in Canada. The show and the excursions around the Cape Winelands were made possible by their collective efforts. Their immense efforts and impeccable work can’t ever be overestimated

Chenin Blanc

No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of Chenin Blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Chenin Blanc Skin Contact 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

It begins with viticulturist Rosa Kruger and the cleanest fruit this side of Matroosberg Mountain. Vigneron and winemaker Chris and Andrea Mullineux use egg inversion to press and skin contact lasts for three months. This plus old barrels hyper-intensify umami; part bread dough, some pine forest, all wild yeast and a hint of Matsutake mushroom. The meld into acidity is a wild carpeted Chenin ride. Exhibits layers of Greekdom, in spice and complexity. The long inosinate to guanylate finish arrives and lingers in thanks to the scraped skins of many citrus fruits. They strip, stripe and spank the mouth. The spirited lashing and accumulated bejewelling is a sign of spiritual and plentiful life. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @MullineuxWines @MullineuxChris  @SwartlandRev

A A Badenhorst Wines

A A Badenhorst Wines

A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, SAQ 12135092 $18.05, BC $23.00, WineAlign)

From Adi Badenhorst, old bushvines planted in the 1950’s and 1960’s and whole bunch handled with no crushing or de-stemming. Fruit is transferred to concrete and 500l old foudres. The simple, minimalist approach and lots of less stirring, leading to great texture, right up there with the most complex Chenin. Also possessive of the righteous level in bitters, intense citrus and bookworm herbology. Lucent, lambent, capable Chenin Blanc. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @AABadenhorst  @SwartlandRev


Not exactly household or predominant by any stretch of the imagination, Riesling does play a bit part in the white idiomatic presentation of South African wine. With the emergence of Elgin as a cool climate growing area capable of expertly ripening both aromatic and aerified varieties, the future will crystallize with more Riesling, Gewürztraminer and offshoot concepts.

Paul Cluver Riesling Close Encounter 2013, Elgin, South Africa (Winery, LCBO 500396, $23.00  WineAlign)

A more serious effort than the sibling ‘Dry Encounter’ because this Riesling knows what it wants to be. On its left may be Alsace and on its right the Mosel but in truth this speaks to a Kabinett reasoning, with Elgin layering. At nine per cent alcohol, 36 g/L RS and 8.2 g/L TA it knows the difference and speaks the truth about off-dry Riesling, with elevated and yet balancing acidity. It pretends to be nothing but what is of and for itself. Flint and an attainable stratosphere (between 300-500m above sea level) accept the airy drifts of oceans and the gathering returns to earth with the weight of wax and glade. If you think South African Riesling is “a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,” taste Elgin and think again. The skeptical Nowhere man is ignorant to the new frontier for Riesling and to him I say “please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @paulcluverwines  @PIWOSA

White Blends

A category not to be taken lightly, what with so many varieties available to work together and with the idea of appellative blends not necessarily so far off or far-fetched. Chenin Blanc is most certainly the pillar and the rock with support ready, willing and applicable from Clairette Blanc, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Semillon, Roussane, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Colombard.

Duncan Rall

Donovan Rall

Rall Wines White Coastal Region 2014 (Winery)

A contiguous king blend of Chenin Blanc with Verdelho, Chardonnay and Viognier from vineyards allowing for increased production year after year. Natural fermentations acquiesce varying degrees and species of spiced dipped flowers set upon expressions of lees. The Chenin is 41 year-old Swartland (Paardeberg) fruit with Stellenbosch (Bottelary and Helderberg) quartz soil Chardonnay and Verdelho. Anise, star anise and pure white stone groove me in a gather of complimentary and controvertible Chenin (and friends) complexity. “Uhh! Awww, sookie sookie now!”  @SwartlandRev

Other White

What obscure or less heralded white grape variety would you like to play with? Ask the Cape winemaker that question and he or she might keep you awhile. The rules again need not apply. Spin the wheel and work your magic. Odds are at even that a handful of least employed Châteauneuf and/or Gemischter Satz varietal wines show up at a CapeWine Fair sometime soon.

Cederberg Bukettraube 2014, Cederberg Mountains, South Africa (Winery)

David Nieuwoudt’s Dwarsrivier rare take on the cultivar (less than 77 hectares of vines remain planted worldwide) is a wine with altitude and attitude. Cederberg is one of only three South African farms in kind of these vines in Glenrosa and sandstone soils on the escarpment atop the Cederberg Mountains. Natural sugar of 25 g/L from the arrested ferment is toothsome in a next to Spätlese way, though the citrus and herbal crasis separates this from Riesling. What brings it circling again is the formidable acidity, circulating and rounding up, culminating in a viscosity and a palate coating that ends with none word. Delicious. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @Cederseun  @imbibersreport  @PIWOSA


There was a time when all South African Rhône varietal wines needed to be compared to the mother land and many continue to encourage the adage “you can take the varieties out of the Rhône but you can’t take the Rhône out of the varieties.” The modern Cinsault maker has turned expatriate exploits on its axiomatic head. You’ve not likely had your way with these versions of Cinsault and like me, once you have, you may never go back.

Radford Dale 'Thirst' Cinsault and Gamay Noir

Radford Dale ‘Thirst’ Cinsault and Gamay Noir

The Winery of Good Hope Radford Dale Cinsault ‘Thirst’ 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

If the Thirst Gamay from vignerons Alex Dale and Jacques De Klerk is “a live rock concert rather than a manufactured, boyband studio album,” the carbonically macerated Cinsault is weekend long palooza replete with music, clowns, acrobats and roaming minstrels. The wonders of natural, nouveau Gamay are well known but the natural fermentation application on Cinsault goes funky, wild and complex in a whole other attitude. Chilled properly this Thirst adds a Mad max factor to the circus, tannins even and most certainly an explosive grit. If the Gamay is smashable, the Cinsault is obliterateable. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @Radforddale  @WineryGoodHope  @Noble_Estates  @PIWOSA


The globe trekking grape has been backed into a corner, with blood primarily spilled at the hands of big box Australian producers but some blame has also circulated South Africa’s way. Heavy petting, elevated heat and alcohol, street tar and vulcanized rubber have combined in resolute, culprit fashion to maim the great variety. As with Cinsault, but in an entirely more mainstream way, the fortunes of Syrah are wafting in the winds of change. Natural fermentations, some carbonic maceration and especially prudent picking from essential Syrah sites are turning the jammy heavy into the genteel and dignified wine it needs to be.

Journey's End

Journey’s End

Journey’s End Syrah ‘The Griffin’ 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

The ’12 signifies a departure and a new style for the winery and for Syrah in the Cape. Some (three weeks) of carbonic maceration leads to a dichotomous passion play in which the middle romance is acted out in seven barrels for 18 months of (70 per cent American and 30 per cent French) oak. It’s as if the grapes are shocked into an awakening and then slowly brought down to calm. As if the fruit develops a protective shell, protected from and coerced by and with ushering along by slow motion micro-oxidation. This is Syrah void of cracked nut, pepper, veneer and big league chew. It’s a terribly beautiful experiment, the Syrah equivalent of similar function world’s away, done with Chardonnay, in Orange and all the while with natural yeast that sling the fruit to destinations previously unknown. At least around here. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @JourneysEndWine  @colyntruter  @vonterrabev  @PIWOSA

Callie Louw's smoker

Callie Louw’s smoker

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

They call Callie Louw a lekker ou. Having played on his side and under his tutelage for a bowl and a bat or two, I can concur. He is a nice guy. Having eaten his smoked pork shoulder, brisket and wings, I can tell you that he is a master smoker. Having tasted his ’13 Syrah twice, I can also say he is a great winemaker. Louw is proficient at many things, including cricket and smoking Swartland’s best BBQ. Making Syrah from the schist soils of Riebeek Kasteel is his true calling and with thanks to Marc Kent (of Boekenhoutskloof) he is able to work with some of South Africa’s best fruit out of one of its harshest climats. Picked fruit is left to its own devices, 40 per cent in concrete eggs and 60 in larger foudres. I’d hate to smack a natural sticker on this one because it resides outside the realm of labels, generalizations and uneventful stipulations. It has killer tannins and the legs to walk the earth. What else do you need to know? Drink 2017-2030.  Tasted September 2015  @SwartlandRev

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013

Pinot Noir

The future for Pinot Noir is bright beyond the pale, with certain exceptional growing sites producing varietal fruit so pure and of ripe phenolics as profound as anywhere on the planet. A few producers have found their way. More will follow and when they do, South Africa will begin to tear away at the market share enjoyed by the likes of New Zealand and California.

Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines Pinot Noir Cuvée Terra Lux MMXI 2013 (Winery)

Winemaker Francois Haasbroek is not merely on to something. He has it figured out. The elegance of his wines (sourced from vineyards across the Western Cape) share a strong affinity with one another. In a consistently distinguished line-up this Pinot Noir may not be his most accomplished but it is his most definitive bottle. From three Elgin Vineyards this spent 18 months in older 225L barrels and help me if this does not purely express the humanity of Pinot Noir. Oh, the natural funk of Elgin, where Pinot Noir need be embraced and fostered. Not unlike Haasbroek’s Syrah, the sweetness is impossible, the imagined imaging haunting and asomatous. With time the true luxe will emerge, in the form of mushroom, truffle and candied cherry. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @Blackwaterwine  @ZooBiscuitsWine


For so long we ignorant, pathetic and far away people knew not from Pinotage. We imagined its machinations through, by way of and expressed like espresso, forced and pressed with nothing but wood in mind. That the grape variety could have a personality bright and friendly was something we had no reference from which to begin. A visit to the Cape Winelands re-charts the compass and the rebirth is nothing short of born again oenophilia. The new Pinotage may be what it once was but it is also what it can never be again.

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

From parcels of the highest possible elevation and black rock that imparts swarthy tannin on a frame of alcohol sharpened at 12.5 per cent. Nothing short of stunning aromatics. Whole bunch fermentation, three weeks of skin contact and minimal punch downs are directed with pinpoint precision to what Pinotage should and simply must be. Fresh, lithe and promising. Good-bye Pinotage being Pinotage. Hello Pinotage in pure, honest perfume. Older oak barrels (4th, 5th and 6th fill) round out the texture, amplify the arroyo seco and excellence washes through, with simple acidity and riverine length. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @DavidNadiaSadie  @SwartlandRev

Red Blends

The sky is the limit for what can be attempted and achieved with the varietal kitchen sink of availability. In consideration that any red variety can scour the Cape Winelands in a journeyed search for phenolic ripeness, a prudent pick, ferment (or co-ferment) will certainly, invariably conjoin towards assemblage nirvana. Rhône styling is most often mimicked, from both north and south but OZ indicators and even California flower child prodigies are both seen and heard. There is no tried and true in this outpost of red democracy. In the case of Cape wine, anarchy rules and there is really nothing wrong with that.

Sheree Nothnagel, Wildenhurst Wines

Sheree Nothnagel, Wildenhurst Wines

Wildenhurst Red 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Shiraz (62 per cent) co-fermented with Viognier (5) is joined in rank by Mourvèdre (33, though is some years it’s Cinsault) in an unembellished red that not only lies back but rises in free spirit. A red to express the personality of its maker, Sheree Nothnagel. Silk and lace, cure and mace, spice and so many things nice are the aspect ratios of a very natal wine, like a prevailing wind. A real stretch in tannin, sweet and smooth of grain leads to length, from Koringberg to the slopes of the Picketberg and Paardeberg mountains. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @WildehurstW  @ShereeNothnagel  @SwartlandRev

The wines of Duncan Savage

The wines of Duncan Savage

Savage Wines Follow the Line 2014 (Winery)

The Western Cape has likely never seen such polish and precocious affinity with its varied soils as it has or likely soon will when Duncan Savage is making wine. The blend of Cinsault (58 per cent), Grenache (21) and Syrah (21) is predominantly Darling grapes and shows a deeper, funkier understanding of Cape soil. Bright red cherry fruit supports life on this brooding planet and propagation is furthered with cinnamon-like spice and a purity for supplementary red fruit so direct and so very pure. The wine’s moniker comes from the farming expression “follow the line.” All rows lead to the farmhouse, eventually.  All winemaking roads in the Cape will lead to the name Duncan Savage or at least involve him in the conversation. He is the farmhouse. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam and Cartology

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam and Cartology

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Days of Yore 2014 (Winery)

Chris Alheit’s brand might allude to a chapter in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers but Days of Yore must pay some homage to the 80’s thrash metal band and with great irony. This Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault blend is no Doomsday for the Receiver and certainly No Place for Disgrace. What it is instead is pure liquid brilliance. Old 1960 Cabernet Sauvignon bush vines are (even if unintentionally) farmed the way they used to be, back in the days of yore. Now cropped, tended and produced in pitch perfect cure, the resulting wine (when Cabernet is blended with Albeit’s dry-farmed, stomped and tonic-singular Cinsault) shows smoky depth and musicality. Sour-edged or tart can’t begin to describe the tang. It’s something other, unnameable, sapid, fluid and beautiful. It brings South Africa from out of the heart of its wayfinding darkness. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisAlheit  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Other Red

Momento Wines

Momento Wines

Momento Wines Tinta Barocca 2013, Bot River, South Africa (Winery)

From a south-facing, 40 year-old, one and a half hectare vineyard in Bot River that Marlise Niemann convinced the farmer not to rip out so that she may continue to produce some 2,000 bottles of a variety you can’t really find or are want to grow anywhere else. This has been a small love affair since 2007 with this block. “My child, my charity case,” she admits.  I am not sure I tasted any other wine in South Africa with such fresh, pure, unspoiled innocence as this Tinta Barocca. “You have to have a connection to the vineyard. To guide it.” The underlay of perspicuity is a streak provided by Bokkeveld shale. The clarity of red fruit and deferential tannin is too sacred to spit, too beautiful to spill and too genteel to waste. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Godello and Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Godello and Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Good to go!

October surprise

Beef shank, romano bean and lentil soup, tomato, basil, nasturtium

Beef shank, romano bean and lentil soup, tomato, basil, nasturtium

Just over two weeks separates us from another federal election, a national concern in address of criminal activity. Criminal because the choice, at least in the hazy, politically discharged context of my age of voting lifetime, has never been more difficult to make. This I can say. If any of the three leaders pulls out an October surprise from their proverbial political hat, I’m calling their bluff.

Political theory and editorial aside, the one organization that clearly invokes the OS trump card repeatedly and with outright conceit is the LCBO. The operating system is predicated on spin tactics to influence booze czars and to turn business reports inside out. Every month of the year can be aligned with surprise, to make certain the Province of Ontario and whichever elected (or keys to the castle given) Premier stays on the lee side.

Ontario beer, wine and spirit commentary aside, the VINTAGES release calendar continues to cycle on through with expert efficiency and en ever-increasing delightful, thoughtfully purchased and seemingly never-ending supply of quality wine. In 2015, the October surprise is one I can get behind, support and outright cheer for. Finding 10 wines I’d feel honoured to sip, pour and relegate to the mid-life crisis racks of the cellar is nothing short of shooting fish in a barrel. For October 3rd, here they are.

From left to right: Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013, Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte Du Py 2012, Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012, Rosewood Origin Cabernet Franc 2013 and 2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013, Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte Du Py 2012, Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012, Rosewood Origin Cabernet Franc 2013 and 2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (391995, $19.95, WineAlign)

Another notch on the Escarpment knows Cabernet Franc totem, with similar if deeper, earthy red fruit character in 2013 for the Cave Spring. The tonalities are further elevated in a vintage that should offer more balance. That it does in terms of handling ripeness in opposition to acidity but at a young age it is further from its intended truth than was the ’12. This may be a better, bigger and deeper CF of potentiality but it’s awkward right now. Give it a year plus to answer the bell. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2015  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte Du Py 2012, Ac Beaujolais, France (424804, $19.95, WineAlign)

Like dark cherry for freshness, maceration for thickness. Entirely, satisfyingly and flat-out rung up in juicy Côte de Puy. Meaty and leaning to roasted, this consistent Morgon makes an honest bedfellow with the Cru. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @Nicholaspearce_

Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (366005, $22.95, WineAlign)

Tremendously different Malbec, within the context of largesse. Deep, natural funk, like Syrah of meaty, smoky, porcine intent, from the northern Rhone or Franschhoek. But as Malbec, to Cahors, or not, it is simply cimmerian, intense, of iodine and blood, of minerals not often sensed. Well scripted by a big box outfit with much on its plate. High commendation to be sure. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2015 @ALHmalbec  @winesofarg

Rosewood Origin Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (427534, $25.95, WineAlign)

Cabernet Franc moving with all the correct intentions. Plods a disciplined direction of self-harnessing variegated power out of the ripening challenges abetted by The Bench’s rolling hillside vineyards. Esteemed of low alcohol, on a knife’s edge verge of ripe, ripe fruit and with tannin to add necessary stuffing. Depth of Cab Franc terroir clay, simulating the beautiful rascal flats of the lakeshore, here up higher, crusted by the Escarpment, combining for depth and matter. This matter. This bottle matters, this varietal necessity, this excerpt. It has meaty, smoky, binging bent. It will age for a minimum five and likely, efficiently, for an excavating seven or eight. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted September 2015  @Rosewoodwine

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (421362, $30.00, WineAlign)

In the hands of winemaker Kevin Panagapka, Craig Wismer’s fruit retains un underlay of power not recognized in other Foxcroft Chardonnays. Neither Thomas Bachelder nor Ross Wise (Keint-He) make anything near spirited as this 2027 take. Chardonnay loves the sun in the Foxcroft Block and Panagapka loves to see that sun hook up with the inside of a barrel. This ’12 makes a nice date for a wood wedding. A product of the Dijon 96 clone, the reduction in this Chardonnay drives its fresh, spritely if mettlesome nature, with a bark and a barrel bellow, but longevity will not suffer as a result. This could take 30 years to oxidize, it’s that audacious and also courageous. Let it and its buttered popcorn rest a while. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted May 2015  @2027cellars

From left to right: Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2013, Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2013 and Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

From left to right: Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2013, Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2013 and Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2013, Coonawarra, South Australia (509919, $34.95, WineAlign)

One thing is certain, never judge a Penfolds by its cover, in its youth. Here Shiraz is meaty and pepper laces the brawny fruit. A purely bovine expression with enough ganache to ice a birthday cake for 50. But the level of structure, brick laying foundation and utter momentous occasion means this must be assessed with a waiting for the compression to emerge, from out beneath the cumbrous suppression. In time, that it will. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @penfolds  @alyons_wine

Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008, Rioja, Spain (280545, $36.95, WineAlign)

Highly volatile at this stage and perhaps will be at further stages, but the fruit slinging to acidity bringing it to and from tannin is immense and beautiful. Big structure, stuffing and stage one temper. Has every right to fly its name up high because this represents firm 2008 Rioja with distinction and is as real as it gets. Needs three years to settle down and play a proper, righteous Rioja tune. Wow. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2015  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California (944843, $39.95, WineAlign)

Always fruitful, full and necessary. No holes, plentiful in high quality chocolate and bountiful by way of stuffing. Deep and intense. Big tannins. Tells it from Sonoma Mountain in the way the author would have prescribed. In the proper function of Cabernet, “to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” Persists as a top under $40 California Cabernet, as it always has. A London for the 10-15 year haul. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @KenwoodVineyard  @sonomavintners

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (349019, $44.95, WineAlign)

No combination of ripeness and desert derived concentration can be found in any Cabernet Franc, not just in this country but really anywhere. That the Owl can achieve such massive structure and red fruit containment is remarkable, unparalleled and in singular ownership of style. Extraction clearly matters, layering is key and quality must ride with ripeness. “You know what I’m saying baby,” this is a sky rocket of a Cabernet Franc. Full on, flat-out expression, without compromise.  Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine
Owl - Sky Rocket

Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013, Rhône, France (700922, $58.95, WineAlign)

A thankful. restful and wistful return to form, away from heat and into perfume. Cherry melting into garrigue, beautiful musty wood, the way things were, not so long ago, when the evening meal and the garden mattered. As things do and will again. This Donjon will be a part of future’s past. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2015  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine

Good to go!

East coast swing in pictures: Nova Scotia

Ahoy there

Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

Peggy's Cove, NS

Peggy’s Cove, NS

Peggy's Cove, South Shore, Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove, South Shore, Nova Scotia

Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse

Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

Bluenose II, Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

Bluenose II, Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

Desserts at Le Caveau, Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Desserts at Le Caveau, Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

St. James Anglican Church. Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

St. James Anglican Church. Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

Lutheran Church, Nova Scotia

Lutheran Church, Nova Scotia

Anglican Church, Nova Scotia

Anglican Church, Nova Scotia

The North Grand Pré Community Church

The North Grand Pré Community Church

Not a church, New Brunswick

Not Nova Scotia, not a church, New Brunswick

Good to go!

Top ten imports from the VINTAGES September 19th release

From left to right: Pella The Vanilla Chenin Blanc 2013, Dominio De Punctum Viento Aliseo Viognier 2014, Laurenz Und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner 2013, Barton Merlot 2012 and Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2011

From left to right: Pella The Vanilla Chenin Blanc 2013, Dominio De Punctum Viento Aliseo Viognier 2014, Laurenz Und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner 2013, Barton Merlot 2012 and Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2011

Back from South Africa and while I was gone some pretty good wines were released this past weekend. The VINTAGES September 19th release must have been methodized with this late September summer climatic empressement in mind. I tasted these 10 back in August and at the time said to myself, “self, these will make for superb late September sipping.” Here are the notes.

Pella The Vanilla Chenin Blanc 2013, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (389619, $14.95, WineAlign)

The vanilla is an odd moniker for any wine, let alone Chenin Blanc and the usage ends here. The bush vine savagery, atlantic wind and poor gravel soil have more influence than the barrel though there is a distinct aroma that reminds of wood fires on an old oak forest campsite. Creamiest of creamy Chenin Blanc, with the flavour of roasted marshmallow with almost no sweetness or cloy. An acquired taste to be certain but I will pull up a rock or a log to its comforts any day. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @SSVineyards  @WOSACanada

Dominio De Punctum Viento Aliseo Viognier 2014, Do La Mancha, Spain (424713, $15.95, WineAlign)

O and B Viognier of profound aromatics and lithe enough to call itself a gentleman. White flowers lit by beeswax candle, white pepper and prettier than most herbs. Punctuates with a palate built on mineral and perpetuates good feelings with acidity and structure. More La Mancha than Viognier and rightfully so. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @DePunctum  @TheLivingVine  @vinodelamancha

Laurenz Und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner 2013, Niederösterreich, Austria (87627, $16.95, WineAlign)

Stonking mineral Gruner, herbal and gravel inflected, its voice scratchy and smoky like a good Veltliner can be. Actually reminds me of Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, with the herbs and the minor spritz but as Gruner, that’s a bit of a stretch. Eminently drinkable nonetheless. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @KylixWines  @AustrianWine

Barton Merlot 2012, Wo Walker Bay, South Africa (424143, $14.95, WineAlign)

So much soil funk, gritty, chalky, like liquid concrete and crumbling clay, mixed into a high-acting cocktail. This Merlot is alive, full of tingles and tricks, rich and chocolate fixated. If the acidity were a bit north of the 34/19 line, it would be a formidable red to drink for 10 more years. As it is five will do just fine. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @WOSA_ZA

Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2011, Umbria, Italy (46417, $20.95, WineAlign)

Natural to a degree, ripe to a larger one and angled with juicy tang and ripe tannins. Nothing overdone, but there is deep intent, rigid lines and membranes, daunting like facing a large stance of game animals and their dangerous racks. Step aside, let them pass and come back when they are older and more docile. The tannins I mean. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @Scacciadiavoli1  @ConsSagrantino

From left to right: Tandem Macula 2006, Talbott Kali Hart Chardonnay 2013, Schiopetto Pinot Grigio 2013, Capanna Brunello Di Montalcino 2009 and Paschal Marchand Meursault 2012

From left to right: Tandem Macula 2006, Talbott Kali Hart Chardonnay 2013, Schiopetto Pinot Grigio 2013, Capanna Brunello Di Montalcino 2009 and Paschal Marchand Meursault 2012

Tandem Macula 2006, Navarra, Spain (424705, $24.95, WineAlign)

Like dried red fruit sprinkled with a fine aggregate of sweet concrete, if such a combination of inanimate flora existed, plated upon a pool of sanguine fauna below. Funky omeboshi and a torch of garrigue, like spruce tips and a struck match, Dripping, unctuous liquor of varietal amalgamation, having soaked up sunshine and now slowly, naturally leaning towards Nirvana. Where have you been Macula? Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @jmfraile  @hobbsandco  @navarrawine

Talbott Kali Hart Chardonnay 2013, Monterey County, California (46417, $27.95, WineAlign)

Always upscale and like a sheep in wolf’s clothing, matchstick jumpy and full of barrel bounty. Rich and thick like fresh churned butter on rye toast, spice and effectuality. Really ramps up in the vintage and makes a bold Monterey statement. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @TalbottVineyard  @MontereyWines  @Smallwinemakers

Schiopetto Pinot Grigio 2013, Doc Collio, Friuli, Italy (234757, $32.95, WineAlign)

Holy great mineral Batman. A coolio, Collio trove of fruit goodness and stony tang. Some musty notes and plenty of fruit offset the rocky, badass bent. Full and distinctive, with northern character and ready, steady climb. Build and builds. Many steps up from 99 per cent of Pinot Grigio realities. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @schiopetto  @LeSommelierWine

Capanna Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (378513, $44.95, WineAlign)

Liqueur distilled into Sangiovese, with Grosso layering and from a vintage that meant business from go. Cherries never dried so well, fennel never whiffed so sweet and wood resin never reduced to flavour with such elegance. A very pretty Brunello with massive tannins to send it down the 20 year road in all directions departing Montalcino. Beautiful stuff for a song. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted September 2015  @ConsBrunello

Marchand Tawse Meursault 2012, Burgundy, France (285866, $52.95, WineAlign)

Rich Meursault if two-dimensionally direct, out of a very good vintage. Unctuous along the line to mineral. Brings both butter and beauty. Layered and complex. Fine bass line, with percussion fills between the beats. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @MARCHANDTAWSE

 Good to go!

Gateway to Achaia, from Roditis to Mavrodaphne

Gate to Achaia Clauss Winery, Achaia

Gate to Achaia Clauss Winery, Achaia

A week of immersion on the ground running in Achaia drafts a new set of varietal tasting parameters. What is new to me are anent varieties of old. Roditis, Sideritis, Mavrodaphne and Mavro Kalavryta may be the grapes of ancients but obscurity be sprinkled, their resurrection blows forth in full paroxysmal scatter. The appeal is symptomatic of the new search for greatness in far away places.

Related – Till I reach Achaia ground

In  the second week of July I tasted through Patras and Achaia in the Greek Peloponnese. Here are 55 reviews from 10 producers.


8ο kil. Pounta-Kalavrita, Ano Diakopto, 25003, Greece, 2691097500 The most modern facility in all of Achaia, re-built after a fire destroyed the property more than 10 years ago. Owned and operated by the brothers Aristos and Stathis Spanos.

Panyiotis Panagianopoulos, Tetramythos Winery

Panyiotis Panagianopoulos, Tetramythos Winery

Oenologist since 1999 is Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos, a winemaker who may just have been separated from twin Frank Zappa at birth. Located at Ano Diakopto of Egialia, on the slopes of Mount Chelmos, the 14 hectares of vineyards (450-1,000m) are farmed organically (and have been since 1997). Bush vines make up 80 per cent and endemic varieties (85 per cent) cultivated (plus some expatriates) are Roditis, Malagousia, Sauvignon Blanc, Mavro Kalavryta, Agiorgitiko, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The total production is 13,000 cases with export to foreign markets (80 per cent) that exceeds peers by a wide margin.

Tetramythos Winery

Tetramythos Winery

Tetramythos Roditis 2014, PDO Patras, Greece (SAQ 12484575, $15.75, WineAlign)

Pulled from four vineyards at 650-850m of altitude and from vines 19-42 years old. No skin contact though it shows a light, slight tinge of colour. Nearly platinum in its yellow hue, perhaps attributed to organics says Papagiannopoulos, Eighty per cent was achieved through natural ferment (with zero malolactic) plus “one tank for security.” Roditis can go clean or develop anti-austerity, texture, viscosity in the direction of a dirty projector. The Tetramythos glides “forward through the clover and the bergamot.” I can see what she’s seeing. Tasting like a leesy ripe peach, this is the best “basic” Roditis tasted in Achaia. Serious match of Aleria Restaurant‘s Sea Bass Tartare. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Roditis 2014, PGI Peloponnese, Greece

Here speaks the truth in endemic Roditis, raised in unconscious, wild ferment, unfiltered, forsaken to fining and treated to minimal sulphur. From 47 year-old vines, this most natural Peloponnese is made for the French market (that includes Quebec) with elevated acidity, deeper mineral, higher tang, pomp, circumstance and attitude. Latin, really, striking actually. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Roditis 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

Roditis is here designated as the traditional Retsina, subjugated to wild yeasts in clay amphora and no sulphur during alcoholic fermentation. From 25 year-old vines out of a single vineyard and pine resin collected from trees on the edge of the vineyard. Post low and slow fermentation the wine rests on its lees for two months.  Such a wild and sauvage display of terroir, pine resin, beeswax, sealants and amphora. Like pure pine distillate without excessive herbaceousness and in subtlety of its own complacency. The palate follows the other Roditis renditions and the pine again returns on the finish. 14000 bottles made. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Malagoussia 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

A single vineyard at an altitude of 750m guided by 30 hours of skin contact, for mouthfeel, to saddle the cool climate herbiage, needed for structure and for distance. Exudes poise, presence, precision, not oily but somehow creamy, glistening, this glow of Malagousia. Expresses the longest hang time in the mouth, lingering like no Roditis can or is willing to. Thanks to early picking to preserve acidity, the alcohol is low (12.4 per cent) and that acidity (7.2 g/L) above and beyond. Only here does Malagousia keep this kind of flinty bite, in kind to a mid-September pick, keeping on the right side of soft and hot. I think this will live longer than you think.  Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Roditis 2008, PDO Patras, Greece

A wine to fulfill the promise of my own personal vindication. I had asked Angelos Rouvalis about laying Roditis down for three to five years or more, to see where it may go and he said, “why?” Here is why. Has fan vaulted to the skies, urged by petrol and a symphony of mythology. Akin and within aromatic mineral reach of Sémillon or Riesling, with just a basal drip of ambrosial, gaseous honey. The green notes (of pea and nettle) are exaggerated but that is attributed to 2008 fruit that may have never been fully ripe. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Roditis 2014 and Muscat Sec Blanc Nature 2014

Tetramythos Roditis 2014 and Muscat Sec Blanc Nature 2014

Tetramythos Muscat Sec 2014, PGI Peloponnese, Greece

A slightly carbonic, reductive character – its natural protection, to keep the oxygen at bay, as if nouveau white Beaujolais. Combines bay laurel and beatific citrus, namely grapefruit after the banana blows off through the shutters of the cabana. Quite silky for Muscat, of keys and zests citrus (major) and resin (minor). It may be sorry to leave you high and dry though there is no reason to feel a need to be weened off its charms. Far-out, groovy and compelling vin nature. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Muscat Sec Blanc Nature 2014, PGI Peloponnese, Greece

Nothing short of lucent, this friable, direct and crunchy raw Muscat. Effusive of individual vowels and consonants, typically Achaian, extrapolated to Greek in its lambent and inventive simplicity. More glade than wax, it coats with orange and the spirit of lime. So different and yet so familiar, inevitably dry and straight as an arrow. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Sauvignon Blanc Milia White 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

Not so many places are out there where Sauvignon Blanc grows at 1000m of altitude, so its got that going for it, which is nice. Add to that four months in new oak. What results is such a melon, citrus and high acidity tropical fruit mess. Wow is this piercing, almost over the top. Like Sémillon this struts, in nod to the Hunter Valley. With time there is a varietal emergence. Eventually. Will age a spell. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Mavro Kalavryta 2014 (SAQ 11885457WineAlign)

A terrific example for a grape saved from extinction, Tetramythos owns 1.9 of a total four hectares of MK. Kudos for the effort especially considering the variety is thin skinned, slow to mature and difficult to cultivate. Saw nearly 20 days of skin contact because “the variety dictates the practice,” notes Konstantinos Lazarakis M.W. The fruit and bitters express a push-pull of terroir. One of two wineries making dry wines from the endemic variety, here the fresh red grape, the food friendly marker. Here confidently struts modern Achaian winemaking, from the ashes of naturalism and antiquity, the way Gamay or Loire Cabernet Franc are wont to do. Vibrant, with verve and a necessary natural funk. Herbal and with a rub of tomato skin, creamy, cool yet resinous, followed through from aroma to texture. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Kotrotsos Moschofilero Erasmios 2014 and Tetramythos Mavro Kalavryta 2014

Kotrotsos Moschofilero Erasmios 2014 and Tetramythos Mavro Kalavryta 2014

Tetramythos Agiorgitiko 2013, PGI Peleponnese (SAQ 12178957WineAlign)

Raised in old oak barrels, it carries the wooden ship scent on the sea. Possessive of a world up in the wind, roofless, like an August cathedral and yet a grounding sense to burrow into earth. In all that sense it drafts like Nebbiolo indenture. Ferric and tannic, with end spice. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Milia Red 2012, PGI Peloponnese, Greece

A kaleidoscopic, cosmopolitan blend of Merlot (66 per cent), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Mavro (black) Kalavrita (14) aged in 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill barrels. Here, again the use of Bordeaux varietals that cloud the vision of what the land wants to say. Sure it will speak in a language that resembles Terra Alta or some IGT but it has a nowhere man feel, a lack of somewheress and surely no word from the mouth of Papagiannopoulos. Very Mediterranean in feel, with a tapenade of black olive and caper. Drink k 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, PGI Aegialia Slopes

A new Bordeaux language is created, in natural wild ferment, unfiltered and housed for 30 months in 2nd and 3rd fill barrels. A highly savoury Cabernet Sauvignon, with a lean and mean green streak. Tannic and very tight. Coated by a veneer and seething in teeth chattering acidity. Not for the faint of Cabernet Sauvignon and in need of double bottle time, in minimum two to one ratio of what it saw in wood. Much appreciation for the vision and the effort. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted July 2015

Tetramythos Mavrodaphne Vin Naturellement Doux, Peleponnese, Greece

As with so many of the Tetramythos line-up, this regional blend is the same but different. First it’s non vintage and second it is out of zone so not considered for PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras status. At 16 per cent alcohol and 58 g/L the sweet elixir spent nearly three years spent spinning in the excruciatingly slow centrifuge of natural fermentation. Traditional method adherence with the addition of organic, sun-dried raisins, “to increase the sugar levels.” The house quotient is three kilos of dried Black Corinth Raisin for every 100 L of must, in purport to increase the alcohol by one per cent. Here sweeps clean, sweet Mavro,  its port sensibility an aged, natural, dried fruit, nut and caramel melange. Pure beauty. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted July 2015

Domaine Mega Spileo (Cavino)

The domain is set within a dramatically oriented steppe of an amphitheatre, in a bowl beneath the shadow of a 940m rock that houses the great Greek Orthodox monastery of Mega Spileo (Grand Cave). Nowhere else in the Chelmos mountains does monk viticulture resonate as it does here. The great vineyard (Megali Ambelos) perches above the Vouraikos Canyon at 800m of height. The winemaker for the wines of Cavino and Mega Spileo is Stelios Tsiris. Varieties grown since re-planting in 1999 include Mavrodafne, Mavro Kalavritino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Lagorthi, Assyrtiko, Malagousia and Riesling.

Mega Spileo Monastery

Mega Spileo Monastery

Roditis 2014, PDO Patras, Greece

A textured Roditis, its constant refrain one of herbiage, mineral, savoury bite and a direct pinch of austerity. Radiates fashioned with poise and meaning. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted July 2015

Malagousia 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

From a blend of three vineyards at 800m in altitude, this is a creamier, riper, more tropical take on the categorical grape. It’s tropical even, leaving peach to ascertain mango. Like a comfortable broth of warm emotions, this Malagousia belongs to the generality of varietal Greek persistence. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Moschato 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

Nearly bone dry (4 g/L RS) and well-nigh nicked by acidity (6.2 g/L TA) this is really a true expression of the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, an elegant cold pour into a glass on a breezy, sunny day. Until now Muscat in Achaia “could never look me in the eye” but the flurry of aromatics sing like a songstress in white lace. Its gaze is like lemon and olive oil and its tongue like the sweet wax on the rind. Here the Moschato path has been properly and soulfully taken. Rich in gold, like the kingdom of Agamemnon at Mycenae. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted July 2015

Deus NV, Peloponnese, Greece

A blend of Moschato (80-90 per cent) and Sideritis, with a prodigious dosage to leave this sparkling wine larboard in the realm of 55 g/L of residual sugar. Translates to a tropical, custardy, sticky and waxy bubble that will repeatedly get you back in Achaia life again. Take a few sips “and I’ll drink and dance with one hand free.” You could really get stoned on this fizz. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Deus Rosato NV, Peloponnese, Greece

Made from 100 per cent Syrah and slightly sweeter than the Muscat, here at 60 g/L RS. The lees, cheese and funk from Syrah turned to sparkling distracts from the sweetness, sending this to parts of southern France in meditative, Mediterranean, savoire savour faire. Raspberry and cranberry vie for sweet and sour supremacy and the wine actually, seemingly turns dry on the peppery, fizzy, tanky and spirited back side. Never backs down and the last conceit is one of tannin. So much more successful than the Moschato. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted July 2015

Mega Spileo Moschato 2014 Deus and Deus Rose

Mega Spileo Moschato 2014 Deus and Deus Rose

Domaine Mega Spileo Grand Cave 2009, PGI Achaia

A dry vinified blend of Mavrodaphne (60 per cent) and Mavro (black of) Kalavritino that slumbers for 18-24 months (depending on who is offering the dissertation) in “squeaky clean” French oak. A pioneering bottle leading the charging trend to make dry wines from Mavrodaphne. Here so very layered, rich, ferric and in that vein, so very IGT. The oak is judged with a direct gaze into the eyes and density is furthered by demanding Daphne tannin, while flesh and elasticity is the work of the Kalavritino. Like a missile of tannic Syrah with Tuscan like cure in its veins and clotted plasma hanging on its dangling hook. Formidable to be sure. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2015

Domaine Mega Spileo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Peloponnese, Greece

An internationally stylized red that invokes the highest thoughts of all in, all out hedonism, more so than just about any varietal Bordeaux outside of Napa, Sonoma or the original mother land.

Thirty-two “boom shaka-laka-laka boom shaka-laka-laka” months in new French and american oak will do that, shouting “I want to take you Achaia” and in retort you should plead don’t leave me Achaia dry.

Looking back, in making decisions to make a wine like this, the thought would be “it’s the best thing that you ever had, the best thing you ever, ever had.” Fruit showtime is now fruit showing its age while oak is determined to suspend structure in purgatory. “Ain’t no valley low enough” so this style must have been tempting to have a go at the time, but times are changing. Ain’t no mountain Achaia enough? Not these days. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2015

Cavino Mavrodafne Reserve 2000 (Winery)

“We are about to experience one of the best underdogs of Greece,” says Konstantinos Lazarakis M.W. by way of introduction. The world had to wait 18 months plus seven years years for this to appear. A Port-style fortified red, fashioned from the 27 best judged oak barrels and finished in October of 2000. The mix is Mavrodaphne (70 per cent) and Black Corinth (30), expertly amassed and positioned at a time when using the 49 percent maximum allowance of dried raisin was the norm. Ahead of its time in that regards but also because of its rangy acidity, incredible acidity actually, something that gives this dessert wine the essence and spirit of raisin radio. That and a beautiful oxidation and it succeeds in wooing palates, not to mention fulfilling the promise laid bare by Mr. Lazarakis. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015


Achilleos str., 264 42 Proastio, Patras, Greece, 30 2610 420334,

Antanassis Parparoussis and Moschato Vines, Domaine Parparoussis

Athanassios Parparoussis and Moschato Vines, Domaine Parparoussis

Founded in 1974 by oenologist Athanassios Parparoussis who works as winemaker while daughters   Erifili and Dimitra support on the business and marketing side. The winery is located in Patras and the property includes 10 hectares at Movri Achaias. Grapes are farmed organically and Parparoussis is one of only two vintners ion the region making wines from the rare and indigenous Sideritis. Parparoussis farms organically in principal but is not certified, nor is Athanassios concerned with the designation. It’s a matter of being devoutly pragmatic. “The soil is alive, so why kill it.”

Parparoussis Sideritis Dons De Dionysos 2014, Peloponnese, Greece (SAQ 11900995, $21.00, WineAlign)

The 2014 “gift of Dionysus” is herbal, arid, directly unassuming and fixed with a very savoury, nearly resinous pastel palate. The wind blows rosemary and lavender and truthfully it’s like a naturally cured red feeling in a white package. All lemon citrus at the tail. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Parparoussis Rosé “Petite Fleur” 2014, PGI Achaia, Peloponnese, Greece

Just under 300 cases are made of this pale, lithe and prodigiously lithe blush wine, like the Dionysus, made from 100 per cent Sideritis. Skin maceration was performed overnight, “a one night stand,” while indigenous yeast was employed for a natural, dry vinification. The light and rust-directed antiquity of caste excess has caused an exaggerated herbal, namely oregano aroma. The overall feel is suppositious and may just be one of the great Rosé stories ever told. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Parparoussis Sideritis Gift of Dionysus 2014 and Agiorgitiko Reserve 2010

Parparoussis Sideritis Gift of Dionysus 2014 and Agiorgitiko Reserve 2010

Parparoussis Les Dons de Dionysus 2010, PGI Achaia, Greece

Barrel Fermented blend of Assyrtiko (75 per cent) and Althorn (25). The first bottle is “not exactly as it should be,” oxidized and unpropitious, while the second pour much less so. In fact it tethers and teeters beautifully near that edge, on that razor the small creature walks, in a Dylan “what’s a sweetheart like you” way. So much more gumptive, anti-preemptive of depth, perception and possibility. Striking in its layering, stinging pierce of Assyrtiko with a suction of Althiri authority. Climbs upon itself and lingers in the air. “It’s done with a flick of the wrist.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015

Parparoussis Reserve Epilegmenos Oenos 2010, PDO Nemea, Greece

Further afield south in the Peloponnese comes this 100 per cent Agiorgitiko. The first bottle has a lactic-cheesy flaw, as if acetate of a mercaptan. One man’s flaw is another man’s history so the question does beg, was this meant to be? A winemaker’s intention? Apparently not. The second bottle, while still blessed of of a definite funk but one that is cleaner, unturned, a washed rind. So very dry. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Parparoussis Rose Petite Fleur 2014 and Taos 2010

Parparoussis Rose Petite Fleur 2014 and Taos 2010

Parparoussis Taos 2010, PGI Achaia, Greece

A barrel fermented, dry vinified, 100 per cent Mavrodaphne. Naturally pitchy, high in acidity and purposed in tannin. A rare zero dilution at the hands of Black Corinthian Raisin and therefore not so high in alcohol, despite the richness of hue. Actually has a modern next tier level of complexity, complexion and aromatic intensity. Purple flowers and plum swirl in its circuitous, cycloid multiplicity. The savoury, resinous black bay laurel and chalky, cooked lentil, the grill and its smouldering charcoal are all in. Further resinous of bay oil on the back bitters and a very Tentura finish. Wild, sauvage, beautiful and built for the ling haul. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted July 2015

Paparoussis Mavrodaphne of Patras Reserve 2003, PDO Patras, Greece

Vin Doux Nature poured from a 500 mL bottle, at 19 per cent, this is intensely nutty, of crème caramel and Cassis together as one. A marriage of godly sanctified vin santo cordial, with quite the balance from a brilliant vintage. There is heat that never burns, and a piquancy that offers no needed warning, Mavrodaphne of an aged, expertly developed expression. Such bitters at the finish end with wow. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted July 2015

Paparoussis Muscat of Rio 2010, PDO Rio Patra

The sugar here is a strapping 160 g/L and the cost 15 euros for a 500 mL bottle. A vin de paille with so much more delicacy, structure and elegance and at only 13.5 per cent, a remarkable wine. Spice and relish is so smothered, coddled and pampered. The length is incredible. This is remarkable dessert wine with all tempos in balanace. Drink 2015-2030.  Tasted July 2015

Oenoforos (Rouvalis)

Selinous, 25100 – Aiyion, Greece, 30 2691029415,

Aneglos Rouvalis and WineAlign's DJ Kearney

Aneglos Rouvalis and WineAlign’s DJ Kearney

Eonologist is Angelos Rouvalis, a winemaker with an encyclopedic knowledge of every hill and slope in the mountains above Patras and where each variety grows best. Established in 1990 by Rouvalis, a Bordeaux-trained winemaker, recognized internationally as a pioneer in the renaissance that has taken place in the Greek wine industry in recent years. In 1994 Yannis Karabatsos, an agricultural engineer and expert in Greek viticulture joined the winery. “The Oenoforos winery consists of five levels on the slopes of Aigialeia in the village of Selinous. It combines monastic simplicity with state-of-the-art technology.”

Oeneforos Roditis ‘Asprolithi’ 2014, PDO Patras, Greece (SAQ 978197, $16.50, WineAlign)

The “white stone” could be considered the Pinot Grigio of Greece though the pink-skinned variety grown here between 800-1000m is such a bleed of high altitude calcaire. An amalgamated, aromatic accumulation is all about citrus without the airs of pierce and secondary sandarac meets kedros that reminds of clementine. At 11.5 per cent alcohol and low pH it might confuse for Trocken Riesling if not for its classic herbiage and austerity. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Oenoforos Chardonnay Ianos 2009, Peloponnese, Greece

So buttered and creamy, in condition of its two years in oak. Age has delivered corn to popcorn. It’s both unambiguous and atypically Peloponnese, if certainly symptomatic of Chardonnay in a diaspora that veers from its regional path. Like the oak of all clothed Chardonnays, expect the excepted and drink up. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted July 2015

Oenoforos Cabernet Sauvignon Ianos 2004, Peloponnese, Greece (SAQ 11607342, $22.95, WineAlign)

A current release, all in Cabernet Sauvignon 10 plus years down its road after two years in French oak. A bold and state-of-the art for its time cool-climate take, with a clear and ad hoc Sonoma-like intention, with attitude out of altitude despite ’04’s nothing but average growing season. Herbaceous and currant direct Cabernet with plenty of fruit that has remained true and in the bottle. Sweet scents, floral and red citrus and expressly, naturally Greek. Red fruit from red soil. Has a natural, slightly oxidative cure that has emerged out of that oak shell. Strikes as a wine that needed this extended held-back time to get to this place. The palate’s fruit is dried and saline now, with tannin insistent in persistence. Rich but not nearly so, a gently rolling and evolving Cabernet with life in it yet, though the raisin character suggests now is better than tomorrow. Not so much mythologically invented, as it is internationally purposed, so it’s more a matter of higher and lower. The wine’s universe is a flat disc with hills, touched at its rims by the vast dome of the heavens. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Oeneforos Rosé Mikros Vorias 2014, Peloponnese, Greece

Syrah with Viognier and Roditis. A layer upon layer blush combing of dry extract over full extract. Another example of the region’s ability to achieve Rosé excellence and the practice should both be encouraged and expanded upon. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Oeneforos Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc Mikros Vorias 2014, Peloponnese, Greece

The white blend representation for the house line of fresh and direct wines translates to “small northern wind,” and here the SB sticks out like an Achaian thumb, dominating the nose with grass and capsicum. It’s toasty and almost Pouilly-Fumé smokey mixed with a pinch of Fuissé. The identity quandary brings Galician Albariño to mind, seen in the spirited almost effervescent tinniness. Very lime palate and fast forwards to stage right, running all the way. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Oenoforos Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon Mikros Vorias 2014, Peloponnese, Greece

Rusty and cured, just not quite ripe red plum, from a 60-40 combo, with a healthy level of veneer. Has gumption, pierce and a citrus red bleed. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Oenoforos Asprolithi 'White Stones' 2014 and Syrah Ianos 2007

Oenoforos Asprolithi ‘White Stones’ 2014 and Syrah Ianos 2007

Oenoforos Syrah Ianos 2007, Peloponnese, Greece

Ferric, volatile, bretty but believe me when I say, all in a good way. The lingering meaty chew and porcine Mulligatwany is the expatriate Syrah equivalent of high gastronomy. A wild and wooly match to the Beef Stifado at To Katafygio. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Antonopoulos Vineyards

25008 Vassiliko Chalandritsas, Patra, 30 2694061447,

The winery was founded by the late visionary winemaker, Constantinos Antonopoulos near the city of Patras in the northwestern of Peloponnese. Constantinos saw the vast, untapped potential of this diverse landscape, especially the mountainous region of Achaia and the unique winemaking opportunities it presented. A new up to-date winery has been built recently at Vasiliko, Achaia, where the majority of the winery’s vineyards are. Indigenous Greek varieties are the focus. All three Antonopoulos wines tasted at the winery Achaia Clauss were clearly achieved through very serious work. Though clean beyond the pale, they all exhibit slightly to more than leesy and all finish with so much salinity and limestone inflection. The only thing missing is the crustaceous accent.

Antonopoulos Vineyards

Antonopoulos Vineyards

Antonopoulos Moschofilero 2014, PGI Arkadia, Greece

A rich, striking, citrus Moschofilero with a beautifully severe tannic tang and many layers, scraped from a stone’s bleed and a gaze into the rock’s mirror. A wine akin to a creation of a true alphabet, made complex like the dactylic hexameter in poetry or a rhythmic scheme. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Antonopoulos Adholi This White 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

Essential and pedigreed blend of Lohorthi 65 per cent), Chardonnay (20) and Roditis (15) that expresses increased aromatics much like Viognier. Nearly profoundly tropical but so very dry, like Assyrtiko in its cracking open but with the feel of wild yeast and the feign of barrel. Chalk it up to 800-900m clay-limestone speak and no more than that, creasing to a crisp effervescence without bubble, yet it does tingle of the tongue. Like it’s working all the while, then on to citrus on the end, in lemon and lime torque as if by Riesling. The Moschofilero might be Mycenaean Linear B and this the other, later Greek alphabet. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Antonopoulos Malagousia 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

From sand and clay vineyards in the region of Aghios-Athanasios at a height of 600-900m. Picked late near the end of September to early october and cocrete and thought the ferment is a stainless one, this Malgousia exhibits a natural yeasty funk commingling with moving texture and savour that incorporates grasses. The sting of nettle wins over the softness and spumes a hay fever of grass. A warming, adult of a wine, with some power to age. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted July 2015

Acheon Winery

Korinthou 121, Aigio, Greece, 30 26910 28062,

Sosanna Katsikosta is Oenologist and General Manager while Katerina heads up business and marketing operations. The sisters are carrying on a winemaking tradition passed on to them from their late father. Konstantinos Katsikostas carried the torch from his father Luke who founded the winery in 1946 in the area of Palaiokamares of Aegio. Annual production of 2,000 cases. Katsikosta is desperately, passionately practicing, experimenting, trying to stir up vinous ghosts and find their way back to ancestry, to ways of elders, to bring to light what used to be and to establish an identity for the world to see.

Acheon Roditis 2014, PDO Patras, Greece

A quintessential “Fox” Roditis, from low yields (40 hL/L), 900 m above sea level, in organic balance at 12 per cent alcohol. A distinct stone tang, push, pierce and a slight tingle or fizz on the tip of the tongue. Highly concentrated out of an elevated dry extract, with mineral and lemon. One of the more expressive push-pull of fruit and mineral. For everyday consumption with a bit of honey in its two to three year future. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Acheon Sideritis 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

The nearly extant one, a rare variety, being revived, planted at low altitudes, with yields 70-75 hL/L. Aromatic and misunderstood, with a Savagnin character, a funky, musky skin, like leather but not as deep, yet something oddly tropical, like jackfruit, or gummy bear, dusty ginger, and resin, like thyme. Another variety being worked with to see what it can be and to link back to what once was. Really good acidity. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Acheon Sideritis 2014 and Rose Fairytale 2014

Acheon Sideritis 2014 and Rose Fairytale 2014

Acheon Moschato 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

A banana and metal White Muscat, with plenty of herbal qualities, terrific saline and stony acidity dominating the palate. A medicinal grapefruit chew, not of pith, but of skin. Arid as a grove in wind and finishing with good length. Very interesting. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted July 2015

Acheon Laura Nera 2012, PGI Eigialia Slopes

Mavrodaphe and nothing but, vinified dry, subjected to no aging. The smell of bay laurel (thus the varietal name) and fashioned for freshness. Still in command of a musty emmision this one, a strange cure, like some cool-climate, winter hardy hybrids, like Maréchal Foch and Frontenac. Perhaps a touch warmer, like opening the doors to Pinotage without the toast and the oak to fill and sweeten the green, reductive gaps. Has the roadhouse blues so “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.” Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted July 2015

Acheon Rosé Fairytale, Peloponnese, Greece

A semi-sweet Rosé composed from 90 per cent Muscat co-fermented with 10 per cent Mavrodaphne. Dessert of blush hue and sappy, leesy, medicinal bitters. Very orange rind and chlorite, somewhat port-esque but so much more a tisane of pekoe and cough elixir. Totally off the charts different. Really like nothing tasted before. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Wines of Parparoussis, Loukatos and Kontrotsos, Parparoussis Winery, Patras

Wines of Parparoussis, Loukatos and Kontrotsos, Parparoussis Winery, Patras


Vassiliko Achaias TK. 25008, 30 26940 61 900, Winemaker is Giannis Kotrotsos.

Kotrotsos Erasmios Moschofilero 2014, Peloponnese, Greece

An unctuous, ambrosial Moschofilero, highly aromatic, of citrus and orange grove. A 12.5 appealing alcohol per cent and surround sound of acidity, good length and a bitter ending that follows a twinge of steely crick. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Kotrotsos Muscat NV, PDO Muscat of Rio Patras

Also based on the 2013 vintage and c charging in at 15 per cent alcohol, here there is more rust, funk and metal, certainly not as fruit forward as expected. Sweetness is elongated, stretched and elastic, then snaps back to linear and upright. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted July 2015

Kotrotsos Mavrodaphne NV, PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, Greece The standard 15 per cent alcohol and in this plugged in, short fuse sweet wine is highly intense and lit caper green, dried fruit and a serious pasticcio of botanicals, distilled into a major excitative and concentrated sweetness.  The second bottle tasted has so much more life and character. Much more sweet floral attractiveness and the sweetness is less pronounced as a result. Goes from spice and piquancy to sweetness with the right transitory methodology, culminating in a great LBV Port finish. Nutty and spicy. Tremendous fruit forward expression.  Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted July 2015

Kotrotsos Chardonnay Oinos Aekos 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece

Combinbes barrel and resin for a full on savoury effect and so much noticeable, piercing grape tannin. Fierce, uncompromising, non-integrating invaluable invalid of tannin. So very cool climate savoury Chardonnay. Striking actually and a very acquired taste. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Kotrotsos Agiorgitiko Erasmios 2012, Nemea, Greece An intoxicating perfume, of violets and charcuterie, floral and cure, vegetative and saline. Lactic, talcy, opaque and dusty, like Cabernet Franc from the coolest locale. Finishes saline again, chewy even. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015

Karelas Winery

Georgios J. Karellas A.V.E.E, 41-43, Skagiopouliou Str., Patras, 262 22, 30 2610 321 000,

Karelas Winery was founded in 1936 by Georgios Karelas. Using the native ‘Mavrodaphne’ grape, the company is renowned for it’s sweet, dessert style Mavrodaphne wine.

Karelas Pelagos 2013, PGI Achaia, Greece

Merlot and Mavrodaphne share the cure and the veneer of a strange bedfellow blend, the old and the new, the rust and the dust, the red and the black, the visitor and the been there done that. Tough acidity and tannin over red citrus fruit. Not shy. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2015

Karelas Achais 2013, PGI Achaia, Greece

Cabernet Sauvignon and Mavrodaphne smothered in more  obvious oak, though less tension and demand. A softer wine in using Cabernet over Merlot, ripened easier, better, with a second gear and then  into acidity mode. Again the cool climate veneer with a warm, savoury, minty middle. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted July 2015

Mega Spileo Mavrodaphne and Karelas Mavrodaphe Reserve 2009

Mega Spileo Mavrodaphne and Karelas Mavrodaphe Reserve 2009

Karelas Mavrodaphne Reserve 2009, PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, Greece

The only Mavrodaphne aged in highly seasoned toasted new French barrels. The standard weight bearing 15 per cent alcohol and a similar feeling as with previous kicks at the sweet Mavrodaphne can, but more red fruit and brighter raisins in the sun. The spice and liqueur here seem less spirited and combine for a more mature, seasoned, reasoned, direct and ultimately cleaner expression. Captain Jack (or George) will get you Achaia tonight “and take you to your special island.” Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted July 2015


Loukatos Bros, Β 3 & ΟΤ 24, Industrial Zone Patra 25018 Achaia / Patra, Greece, 30 2610 647588,

Perhaps most famous for their local production of spirits, namely Tentura and Mastic, Loukatos does a bang up job with dessert wines, especially in their handling of Muscat from Patras.

Loukatos Mavrodaphne NV, PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, Greece

Vin de liqueur clocking in at 15 per cent alcohol. The dried roses and red flowers in liqueur link it to the likes of a Late Bottle Vintage Port. Wakes with a start, in sting and presence. Really lingers, tasting of blanched nuts and Halls mentholyptus. This batch was blended with 47 percent corinithian grape. The finish is so Manischevitz. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted July 2015

Loukatos Muscat of Patras and Mavrodaphne of Patras

Loukatos Muscat of Patras and Mavrodaphne of Patras

Loukatos Muscat NV, PDO Muscat of Patras (WineAlign)

A 15 per cent abv Vin de Liqueur largely based on the 2013 vintage. Very clementine and apricot nosed, impeccably balanced from viscous to intensity in grape, with nothing musty or musky about it, though there is a musk melon sense, a botrytis that is very clean. Another excellent, natural sweet Patras example of what Muscat can do, again at super low cost, with high flavour and here, more fruit forward than the Kotrotos. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted July 2015

Hahalis (Chahalis) Mavrodaphne 2011, PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, Greece

Spent one year in barrel, the Tentura Castro “The Castle” is raisined and resinous with so much heavy artillery and coats of armour. The macro intent so black and porous, oxidative but alive, heavy and warm in alcohol but spirited and shooting cupid’s arrows. Sweet and Amarone trophy in a sense, with licorice and spice unlike anything else. Idiosyncratic to the nth degree. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted July 2015

Achaia Clauss Mavrodaphne NV, PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, Greece

From a lot penned Bin 601 at the standard 15 per cent alcohol and acting like it came from a 100 year-old barrel, of sitting bull wisdom and Bavarian history. Much like port, like brandy spirits and liquorice melting into cinnamon and clove. Not so idiosyncratic but resinous, sappy and piquant. Once you come to know these wines they speak this very direct language. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted July 2015

Patraiki Mavrodpahe NV, PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, Greece

A direct, rich, full-bodied leathery red of fruit the same that soaks in simple, sweet liqueur. The most accessible, commercial macro-intention of the black laurel lot. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015

Crisis? No one’s gonna bring Greece down, nor me neither, ’till I again reach Achaia ground.

Good to go!

All fall Ontario wines

From left to right: Thirty Bench Riesling 2013, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, Rockway Estate Small Lot Meritage 2012, Huff Estate Gamay 2012, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013 and Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013

From left to right: Thirty Bench Riesling 2013, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, Rockway Estate Small Lot Meritage 2012, Huff Estate Gamay 2012, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013 and Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013

Currently off in South Africa on the Stellenbosch Wine Route with CapeWine2015 on the immediate horizon but I left some local reviews behind in anticipation of the VINTAGES September 19th release. A few are out for another go ’round and do hear this. Their timely and welcome recurrence is not something to take lightly. If you missed them the first time, get them now. It’s another one of those essential times of the year when we all fall into the cask of go local,  and reap the benefits of Wine Country Ontario. See you in a few weeks back in the old country for the first October release.

Thirty Bench Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (24133, $18.95, WineAlign)

The classification for Thirty Bench here as a ‘basic’ Riesling is such a stretch in consideration that the fruit is meant for this bottle and that fruit is of the highest Beamsville distinction. What a treat in 2013, ready to please with immediacy, great balance between sugar, acids and mineral-lactic travels to and fro, back and forth. Torque at its finest and most pure in Ontario. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015  @ThirtyBench

Kew Riesling, Young Family Organic Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (426460, $18.95, WineAlign)

The idea that Beamsville Riesling can attack such hallowed territory is one of exigency and wonder. Kew does so with organic, Germanic and elemental attitude to the apogee of Escarpment degree. Everything in the Phillip Dowell mastery mix exists in the rare air of Beamsville essentia. When it hits optimum minutia and does temporarily descend to the ground, the ’13 Riesling sticks in beeswax and lanolin, not to mention lemons dipped into more rosin. Quite singular, even within the context of a Beamsville style. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted repeated times, July, August and September 2015  @kewvineyards

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (86363, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard to figure any sub-$20 red Ontario blend showing a deeper sense of ripeness, wood intent, sinew, cure, triturate resin and dry barbecue rub – than this Stratus ’12. It’s a bit of a head scratching, game-changing meritage, altering the course for $20 red blends forever. At the risk of forming comparisons, it puts me in mind of other places, like Roussillon, Campania and Navarra. It has coal running through its arteries and tonic spewing out of its fountains. Wild my ass? Yes. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015  @StratusWines

Rockway Estate Small Lot Meritage 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (388264, $19.95, WineAlign)

Twenty Mile red charcuterie and ripe blackberries baked into a Peninsula pie. Highly consumable red blend, with natural feeling acidity and grainy, slightly bitter tannins. Will settle nicely in two years and drink for three more. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @RockwayVineyard

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk in for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April and Sepetember 2015  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Huff Estate Gamay 2012, VQA Ontario (423335, $24.95, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak. The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat. Tasted at County in the City, April 2014 and again, September 2015  @HuffEstatesWine  @PECWines

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (427484, $24.95, WineAlign)

The barrel fermented and aged Estate Chardonnay spent 12 months in two-thirds new and one-third second fill wood. Lees stirring is slightly increased as compared to the unplugged. Again, it’s about aromatic intensity leading the way to palate density. By the sounds of Westcott’s comments “we’re pleased with its remarkable irony — dry and sturdy, yet creamy and rather curvy,” you might think the team was stirring with impunity. Not so. The Estate Chard does the dance of mild spice and butter on toast to reach a texture that would appease savages. Unavoidable and typical low yields from the Vinemount Ridge picked at the right moment and handled with caring tabula rasa are the spirit in this wine. Delightful and charming. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June, July and September 2015  @WestcottWines

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April  and September 2015  @normhardie

Good to go!