The Italians are coming

Photograph by dutourdumonde, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Tuscany’s landscape swells with rolling hills, grapevines, cypress and olive trees. It prospers with pine forests and rugged coastlines. Rosemary, basil and lavender grow wild, everywhere. Medieval hilltop towns brim with the castello, the torre, the fortezza and the piazza. The masters’ frescoes and sculptures hang and preside in the duomo, the museo and the palazzo. Land of quintessential cultural convergence. Panorama, art, architecture, food and wine. Who would question the temerity or not gesture in obeisance to its pleasures. “We’re not worthy!” Now imagine my little boy excitement as I approach a table set with an armament of 16 Tuscan reds. Bliss of anticipation.

Have you ever been asked, “if you were stranded on a desert island with only one bottle of wine, what would it be?” Mon dieu, certainly not a greatest vintage of the century Bordeaux. An exclamatory colour of the Virgin Mary’s cloak no!, not Grand Cru Burgundy. Quel désastre! Not even vintage Champagne.

My go to is Tuscan. Dry as the desert Sangiovese. It presented me 25 years ago with my true, romantic, prima facie wine experience. I did study and live there once upon a time and the Zoltan did refer to me as one last week at a Barque Smokehouse, Marc Kent wine dinner. I also have a very soft spot for foods ending in “ini” but no, I am not Italian.

Modernization and metanoia have brought a new Renaissance to a place of  “antiquity ennobled by the Christian faith.” The wines of Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Bolgheri, Maremma and Morellino di Scansano all celebrate the venerable Sangiovese. The addition of international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc has proselytized Tuscany to a whole new religion.

The contemporary Etruscans in bottle are potions (concerti, arie) so composed (tight knit, fluent) it’s as if their ends seems to scream beginning. Pure Tuscan wines are Sangiovese’s shot at the firmament.

Look for these Tuscan wines this coming weekend

VINTAGES September 29th release

Triacca Spadino 2010 (288001, $15.95) brings the Maremma to the world and the world to the Tuscan coast. A sheep in dog’s clothing, Sangiovese so modern you might swear there was Garnacha or Syrah in the mix. A Maremmano of citrus zest and acidity sidling seeping, weeping cherries. The wood effect is not chocofied but rather toasty vanilla. Really good effort with broad appeal.  88

Michele Satta Bolgheri Rosso 2009 (39834, $19.95) is resplendent in reverse. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, Teroldego and Syrah acts like a top quality Chianti Classico. The expectation was for a rich, mocha driven IGT but the wine is actually old school; reserved, gravity defying, “un po di grazie.”  88

Ruffino Modus 2008 (912956, $28.95) displays more elegance and restraint in ’08. The ’07 was flat out gorgeous but also oaked to the hilt. Here Brunello-like scents of roses, sweet cherries and cedar together walk the IGT Toscana line. The future doffing of a running current of iron minerality will be welcome. Will break away and flesh out with time too.  “Certo! All the Italians do it.”  90

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2008 (285510, $28.95) is a wow wine. Viscous, sweet nectar, full on concentrated berries and polished rocks au jus. An opus dei call to vinous holiness and sanctity. Rapturous feeling of punch drunk love falls over me after sipping this noble Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile).  92

Le Pupille Poggio Valente Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2007 (230680, $29.95) hails from the appellation’s pilgrim winemaker Elizabetta Geppetti’s fattoria straordinario. Crocodile teeth and molto plenitude in Sangiovese form. A screen star of Tuscany’s newest stage, a Euro, Neo-Classical, Olafur Arnalds composition in bottle, über-Tuscan, full of mineral verve and transcendent beauty.  91

Other wines tasted

Toscolo Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 (69369, $24.95) at it’s core is elemental, reductive, jumpy.  88

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2006 (651141, $59.95) appears rusty and old school but is oleaginous, glycolic licorice and anise with a case of hyperglycemia. Best since ’99.  93

Livio Sassetti Brunello Di Montalcino 2005 (287284, $39.95) is essentially a riserva in this vintage. Funkified but does dissipate with a swirl, yet still wound tight.  90

Silvio Nardi Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (922054, $41.95) is laid back but aching to burst and bleed red-blooded Sangiovese. Earth, pine and cool in the centre.  91

Poggio Al Tesoro Sondraia 2008 (292391, $44.95) is rich, dark and modern. Pure as mocha-driven snow. Fleeting and confounding, refined almost to a fault.  90

Luca Della Vite Luce 2009 (685263, $99.95) is crazy stuff. Berry filled truffles, licorice liqueur drops and carob from the tropics. Sensual, voluptuous, Sophia Loren.  92

Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno 2009 (735597, $71.95) is a mouth full of chocolate covered crushed rocks. Animal waste scent adds a tragicomic note.  Not sure about this O.  89

Good to go!

Ontario wine. Can you feel the love?

File Photograph, National Post

as seen on canada.com

There’s a whole lot of tweeting going on. The polarizing effect of social media certainly builds hyperbole on the buzz and though you were doubtful and dare I say it, in denial, you need to know this. Ontario wine is feeling the love.

Everyone is talking about Ontario wine these days, in restaurants, around the office coolers, in the hot tubs. And yes, especially on Twitter. Here are a few to follow:

@DavidLawrason

@rickwine

@spotlightcity

@RichieWine

Then there are the festivals and tastings. Savour Stratford just wrapped up and the Niagara Wine Festival is in full swing. On Friday, September 28th the huge tasting event, Taste Ontario will present more than 100 wines from 33 producers.

When it comes to Ontario wine, the  state of the union looks as promising as it ever has. In 2011/12 (fiscal year ending March 31, 2012) the sales volume in litres of all Ontario wine grew by 2.6 per cent. In absolute terms, the 2.6 per cent increase of sales volume represented an increase of 1.5 million litres sold of Ontario wine last year.  This compares to an increase of 1.9 million litres of imported wine sold last year in Ontario (2.3 per cent growth) through these reported channels.

The 2012 wine harvest will unleash the lion. The overall quality of the wines will surpass all that has come before. This may not translate to an immediate takeover of market share, but the trickle down effect will see a pendulum switch of those consumption numbers in two to three years time. Ontario wine will be king. Mark it on your 2014 calendar.

In the meantime, here are three more Ontario wines to look for.

The grape: A unique clone of Chardonnay, native to southern Burgundy, known for its spicy, Muscat-like flavours

The history: A single block of 13-year-old vines on the Beamsville Bench

The lowdown: The most mineral Chardonnay Musqué to date, owing to the limestone, shale and sandstone in the soil

The food match: Fried Zucchini Blossoms with sea salt and a squirt of lemon

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Cave Spring Vineyard Chardonnay Musqué 2009 (246579, $15.95) flaunts its unique, ersatz Chardonnay visage but also erupts volcanic and metallic. Flinty to nose, sweet to taste, with juicy acidity of peach/apple/almond flesh and pit. Relents to an ursine finish.  87

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: The vineyards are farmed organically and moving towards biodynamics

The lowdown: Winemaker Deborah Paskus writes the book on Prince Edward County Chardonnay

The food match: BBQ Chicken on the Grill with a sweet glaze

Closson Chase Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 (148866, $29.95) acts as though centuries of aggregated skill have had a hand in its success. Twelve years actually and this CCC is of a colour the golden-yellow of a yolk laid by a chicken with time and space. Smack of lemon and apple, oak in balance, cut of a skilled lapidary. Where goodness resides.  90

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: From the Lake Erie North Shore Appellation, in Essex/Pelee Island Coast Wine Country

The lowdown: Where has this beauty been hiding for the past five years?

The food match: Smoked and Grilled Barque Baby Back Ribs

Colio Estate CEV Reserve Cabernet Franc 2007 (432096, $20.95) receives a rare Erie North Shore endorsement. Sound body and soul, garden smells and strong tobacco note keep the CEV from breaking out of its rusty cage. “Hits like a Phillips head” right now but don’t hesitate because the cage will soon open. Admirable effort from a strong vintage.  88

Good to go!

Big night of wine at Barque Smokehouse

Wine and BBQ. Photo courtesy Jill Chen @ freestylefarm.ca

as seen on canada.com

On Tuesday night Barque Smokehouse welcomed South African winemaker Marc Kent and RKW Imports for an eight course paired tasting event alongside eight wines from the Boekenhoutskloof portfolio. The ambitious Kent is the vintner equivalent of an air force pilot. Thrill seeker, pioneer, risk-taker, restless soul and difference maker. Very few South African outfits manage to fill two polar niches with such a high level of success ; the Porcupine Ridge and Wolftrap ranges appeal to the market inhabited by the everyday drinker and Kent’s serious Syrah goes out to the collector.

Barque Smokehouse

The cellar master from this outrageously efficacious Franschhoek operation works tirelessly to champion Syrah and to indulge in atypical varietals (for South Africa) like Semillon. Now in his (very) early 40′s, the buoyant Kent’s wines continue to express a longing for the northern Rhône,  though they fall into their own, unique category. To a red, the sanguine, savoury, warm climate, mountain and maritime sensation is always present. Syrah of liquid white pepper sprinkled over a periodic table of elements.

Marc Kent

The affable Kent and master of ceremonies Zoltan Szabo led a group of 85 diners through the Boekenhoutskloof range concomitant to an astute and benevolent menu from chefs David Neinstein and Bryan Birch.

Shrimp with tarragon crème fraiche, garlic chips

Wolftrap Rosé 2012 (169409, $12.95) talks turkey and shrimp of a Turkish delight, candied strawberry and cream tongue. Sprinkled with spiced nuts. 86

Salad of warm fior de latte, heirloom tomatoes, basil and reduced balsamic

Wolftrap White 2011 (263608, $14.95) makes use of a balanced and warmer vintage, allowing the honey and pep of Chenin Blanc to truss the Viognier and Grenache Blanc together as one. “It’s richer in ’11, ” says Kent, “and still commercial, if I can use the term.” My thoughts too.  87

BBQ Chicken and Goat Cheese croquettes

Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2011 sees no oak, only the cool, steel walls of the tank. High acidity and herb pistou, unctuous and great value for SB, anywhere.  88

White Fish En Papillote leeks, oyster mushrooms, lemongrass broth

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2009 is my WOTN. Made in miniscule quantities, a near-Bordeaux ringer attributed with white CDP-like Marsanne, Roussane vigor. Runs a gamut of aromas and mouthfeel; honey, wax, acorn, lime, ginger, peach and orange blossom. “The truth is in the second half of the bottle, ” notes Kent.  91

Marc Kent wrapping briskets

Pulled Duck Tacos , pickled carrots, scallions, ahoy sauce

Wolftrap Red 2011 (292557, $13.95) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Dictionary red fruit in every sense of the inclination. The South African version of broad appeal Australian Shiraz. The only bottle without SA typicity. Tasty yet homeless and residing in Smallville. Begs the question. “What are you, man or Superman?”  86

Brisket (photo courtesy of Jill Chen @ freestylefarm.ca)

BBQ Brisket with hush puppies

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2011 (595280, $14.95) the consistent one outsells all other VINTAGES Essentials. Why? Because it’s well-made, affordable and precocious. Dips into Northern Rhône waters and swims with the fishes. Walks out unscathed, vintage after vintage.  88

Braised Short Rib, creamy polenta, green peppercorn jus

The Chocolate Block 2010 (129353, $39.95) sends Syrah to study abroad. Though the blend is Rhône plus 13% Cab, the intense chocolate notes (go figure) seem not unlike Chile’s elite Carmenère and Cabernet blends. Montes Purple Angel and Don Melchor come to mind.  Dusty Theobroma cacao, purple flowers and reduced red berries join forces for what really is an elegant brew.  Knows the pathway to your heart. 89

NY Striploin with black pepper dumpling

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2009 (52076, $59) is the doctrine to preach Marc Kent’s ability to procure excellence. Balanced and focused to a sip and in every sip. Distinctly Guigal and even Delas in refinement. A varietal likeness no other SA Syrah can touch. Never over the top, here “quality is in the second half of the bottle.” Kudos Kent.  90

Good to go!

Two dinners, 16 diners, 18 wines

The Gilead Café and Bistro’s Jamie Kennedy and Ken Steele (photograph courtesy of Jo Dickins)

as seen on canada.com

This memory goes back a bit in time. Here are two wine and food out-of-body experiences. Vine and dine encounters of the fortunate kind. The Gilead Café and Bistro’s Jamie Kennedy and Ken Steele worked an enticing concomitant seven-course tasting menu alongside 11 superstars, including a First Growth and two legends of Napa vinolore. Less than a week earlier Chef C and Sous E prepared the simplest, most extraordinary dishes to reign in seven stellar and all together unique bottles.

The Gilead Café and Bistro (photograph courtesy of Jo Dickins)

Le Mesnil Blancs de Blancs Brut Champagne (88) Sweet citrus nose, delicate and fine mousse, tart apples on a finessed palate. A NV to sip with food, though we downed the splash pour before any arrived.

WHITEFISH ROE & ORGANIC EGG TORTE, chervil, crisp toast

Flight One

Creekside Estates Viognier Reserve Queenston Road 2009 (89) Citrus slides straight from the bubbly into this limited production (80 cases) St. David’s Bench beauty. Pale yellow as if Clare Valley Riesling. The scent of Sevilla orange blossom. Organza of downy acidity. A unique local savoir-faire. Thin and tin, as in contrary viscosity and subtle minerality. Like petals falling from the flower almost before the touch of the hand.

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Cuvee ‘L’ 2007 (86) The candied Sonoma nose and beguiling scents of spice islands made lift for heights great. A Prince Edward County celebrity so imagine the long faces when the fruit was absent at the first sip. Time is a recently opened wine’s friend so waited we did but never the twain did meet. More cogitation, then a vacuum of acidity in a flat finish. If closed down, reprieve on a round globe awaits. If lost, a flat Pinot pre-Columbus earth.

GRILLED ASPARAGUS, yam, white mushroom sauce

Flight Two

The general origins of these three wines were blindly determined but each not in the speculated glass. How is it that eight wine geeks can have their seasoning shattered by a single flight? “All the things I thought I’d figured out, I have to learn again.” The heart of the matter.

Oyosoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2003 (91) One of three in a variable flight to confound. Black cherry in clusters, a power forward fruit first step then backed by biting tannins and striking acidity. Could have sworn it was the Napa. Held its own against two serious contenders. Eye opening as to the power of BC.

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain 2000 (90) The cigar box and mineral tone threw me in front of the train with the surety I was nosing a Cos ringer. Smoky, distinct graphite and fruit half hidden suggested a 2000 Left Bank not nearly in its prime. Wrong!

Château Pontet Canet, 5th Growth, Paulliac 2000 (93) Was the best wine of the three, even when I thought it was the Larose! Poise, balance, length, insert fourth cliché here. Still youthful, a beautiful teenager before the awkward years. Will be seamless at 20.

LAMB, new potatoes, herb paste

J.K. BEEF SHORT RIB, marrow sauce

Flight Three

Château Haut-Brion, 1st Growth, Péssac-Leognan 1990 (98) Are there words to describe a wine so sublime? The essence of fresh picked berries from the edge of a forest so silent. The embodiment of still life beauty, as a bowl of plums and cherries just picked from the tree. The vehemence of the Haut-Brion in prime will remain entrenched as memorabilia for as long as I can produce cognitive thought. Why do I wax sentimental? “How can love survive in such a graceless age?” I thank CL for the opportunity and no man who partook should forget.

Dominus 1990 (93) Incredulous thought. Could it be? Is that dank and dour odour the beast within? Patience, patience. Now five minutes in and the wet duff smell vanishes. The wafting emergence of a cracking covey of nose candy. Heavy sigh of relief. Without warning the fruit eddies out and it’s gone. What the Sam Hill is going on here? Then 15 minutes later it oscillates again, scrambles from the depths and treads water effortlessly for the duration. Exhausting. Thanks M for providing the skiff.

CHEESE, pied de vent, sieur de duplessis, goat taurine, cow’s creamery cheddar

One More Red

Opus One 1989 (95) Unbelievable. A lesson in Napa iconoclasm. What every great 22-year old New World wine should strive to become. In harmony with every part of itself; fruit, tannin, acidity. Beauty within and without. Dark, sultry, full of all things berry and oak. The full gamut of red and black fruit, vanilla, mocha and chocolate. Like walking into your childhood and being handed the keys to Charlie’s factory. Another M gem.

APRICOT BEIGNETS, dulce de leche ice cream

Inniskilin Riesling Icewine 1998

Hugel Riesling SGN 2000

CROSTINI, goat cheese, honeycomb, fleur de sel, olive oil

Charles Baker (Stratus) Picone Vineyard Riesling 2008 (89) “Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.

FRESH TAGLIATELLE, morels

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières 2008 (92) Restrained but tropical nose. So far from show time. In rehearsal the acidity is followed by fruit. By late decade opening night will display impeccable balance.

Closson Chase Iconoclast Chardonnay 2005 (90) Antithesis of the Leflaive; fruit first, acidity last. Bananas and I’m curious as George to behold PEC fruit yielding such a determined, complex specimen? Fortuitous choice to open now as I fear oxidization is around the bend. Still in a state of aggrandizement. Plaudits for Paskus.

Foxen Sea Smoke Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (93)  Classic Santa Rita Hills candied red apple, sugaring pomegranate and fresh ground spices. A Michelin three-star complex dish with layers of fruit, spice and finished with a rosy-red rhubarb sauce. Full of life. Finishes long and true. Terrific example.

BRISKET AND FLAT IRON SLIDERS, american cheese, wonder buns, side of grilled raddicchio and belgian endive

Château Cos d’Estournel, 2nd Growth, St Estèphe 2003 (92-94) You could set your alarm clock, for tomorrow morning or after a cryogenic freeze, by the Cos ’03. A reasonable practicum suggests opening it, have a night’s rest, to wake six hours later and be told its story. Smokey, gripped by graphite and tannin, impossibly structured out of the 2003 heat. Showing no signs of age and despite warnings to drink up, the ’03 Cos will deliver for years to come.

Ca’ Bianca Barolo 1997 (91) Not the rose petals and violets of your zio‘s Barolo but bigger than your head cheese. Funky resin, more than raisins yes, raisins with a college education. A Pudd’Nhead Wilson moniker getting figgy with it. Barbaric and fantastic.

CHEESES, monforte dairy

Gaja Sito Moresco 2008 (89) A tale of two Cabs (Sauv and Franc) was my first thought but cut the Dickens out of my finger if that impression was way off the mark. The Langhe blend is Nebbiolo/Cab Sauv/Merlot and only Gaja would have first dared to trod such territory. Smooth, easy to consume and could have suffered as an admonished follower to the line-up previous. Stands tall, welcoming the tang of the formaggi.

MACERATED ONTARIO STRAWBERRIES, vanilla ice cream

Good to go!

Five wines are the apple of my I

Roasted Lobster with Tarragon Butter Sauce/Eric Vellend

as seen on canada.com

Over the past week I’ve offered up suggestions for great Ontario wines and screaming values from new sites in the Old World. My phone is now dialed in and my eye set on some bottles straight from the church of Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration. They may not be cheap but their 5g speed and spiritually restorative powers will see you through the decompressing weekends of your life.

The Sparkling

The grapes: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

The history: Roederer Estate Brut was the first California sparkling wine to be produced by Champagne house Louis Roederer

The lowdown: Is there a better California sparkling wine than this Anderson Valley star?

The food match: West Coast oysters on the half-shell

Roederer Estate L’ermitage Brut Sparkling Wine 2003 (183392, $54.95) nine years on whiffs more aromas than a perfume factory. There is yeast, of course, along with citrus, pear, lime, ginger, strawberry leaf, toffee and even tobacco. Utterly iridescent, at once feminine and erudite of Champagne and then shuffles to a leesy and tangy filled udder of rudesse. “Sparks fly on E Street” when the Ermitage “walk it handsome and hot.”  92

The White

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Heavy-handed style from Laura Catena out of Mendoza

The lowdown: Full-on California treatment, complete with toasted oak and tropical fruit

The food match: Pan-roasted lobster, tarragon butter

Luca G Lot Chardonnay 2010 (167338, $27.95) casts a simple twist of fate as it’s tropically restrained and not overblown as found in previous vintages. Toast in balance, big on pineapple, passion and bananas, porcine but at the same time crustaceous. Tons of vanilla custard, crème catalana and spicy to finish.   89

The Reds

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Crafted from a blend of fruit from across different vineyard plots in the Mayacamas Mountains, 2,800 feet above the Sonoma valley

The lowdown: The moderating effects of mountain altitude combined with forested hilltops helps to produce profound Cabernet fruit

The food match: Roasted beef tenderloin, foraged mushrooms

Stonestreet Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (4002, $29.95) concentrates herbs, olives, cocoa and campfire smoke. Rides the oak train in first class. Alexander Valley does Cabernet in a Rhôneish way, more Streetheart than Rolling Stones. A coup de coeur under my thumb. Hard core CVR** for the price.   90

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From a stalwart Pinot producing village in the Côte Chalonnaise south of Beaune in Burgundy

The lowdown: Nothing entry-level about this Mercurey. This is serious juice from a less than household name producer

The food match: Seared and rendered duck breast, pinot noir and peach reduction

Château Philippe-le-Hardi Mercurey Les Puillets 1er Cru 2009 (295071, $29.95) is a resplendent sniffer, rich, robust and steeped in cherry wood. The tannins and back bite may cause a screwface but this open door to the heady 2009 Burgundy vintage shows off Mercurey’s potential.  “Oh, now! I tell you what red is!”   89

The grape: Sangiovese

The history: Named for one of the feudal properties of the Ricasoli family

The lowdown: Guicciarda is the type of wine that bridges the gap between ancient Chianti and the modern world

The food match: Tuscan braised beef short ribs, caramelized cipollini onions, kale

Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (943613, $24.95) is a velvet gloved, shag carpeted, darkly hued modern Tuscan. The sun-dried berries, spicy currants and granular acidity recall the momento mori, carrying its ancestors in it’s every gesture. The price has remained fixed for as long as I can remember so the Guicciarda retains it’s spot as best CCR under $25.  90

CVR** – Vintage Direct Curiosity-to-Value Ratio

Good to go!

Five wines under $15 to seek out on September 15th

Photograph by Delphimages, Fotolia.com

Photograph by Delphimages, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

When it comes to wine advice, the $64,000 question is “can you recommend some value wines?” I’m always happy to abide but how much do you want to spend? The typical response goes something like “I’m hoping to keep it at under $15 a bottle, without sacrificing quality, for those in the know. Is this a pipe dream?”

Related – The 2012 wine harvest and six current Ontario releases

It is very possible. The search for affordable, quality wines found recent gold in the New World group of progressive wine-making nations. The A-list includes Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It now seems the pendulum of frissonic retribution and excitement is switching back to the Old World. The wine-producing regions of Loire (France), Veneto (Italy), Sicily (Italy), Dão (Portugal) and Mencía (Spain) are certainly no Burgundy, Tuscany, Piedmont, Douro and Rioja. No matter. For my $15, these are the “new” lands I would look to first.

The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

The history: Sancerre of the Loire Valley, Marlborough of New Zealand and Bordeaux. The SB market oligopoly resides in these locales

The lowdown: Touraine rides inexplicably invisible on the global Sauvignon Blanc radar. Prices remain sneakily low as a result

The food match: Green, purple and yellow beans sautéed with garlic and good olive oil

Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon Touraine 2011 (745349, $12.95) causes me to react with a start and murmur “this i have nosed before.” That therapeutic aroma would be Sancerre and this a tributary of an SB from a vineyard high above the offshoot Cher River. A Touraine to traverse switchback and likewise advise your visceral mind to drink without the least bit of hesitation. Purple moor scraggly grass, warm legumes, zippy solder. Strength in value.  87

The grape: Garganega

The history: Utilitarian and humble varietal from Italy’s Veneto region

The lowdown: Inexpensive Soave has improved in leaps and bounds. Case in point this excellent example under $15

The food match: Crispy-Skin Roast Turkey with cornbread stuffing

Adalia Singat Soave 2011 (289603, $13.95) offers more than a paucity of affirmative evidence for the discovery of quality Garganega under $15. Clean lemon, toasty wax and plaster aromas. Temerity of acidity for a common Soave. No umbrage but rather bud palate restorative on the smooth finish.  87

The grape: Nero D’avola

The history: Most planted red varietal of Sicily

The lowdown: The skins of pressed ND’a is deeply hued like Syrah and handled similarly in fashion.

The food match: Spaghetti with a Holy Trinity Meat Sauce of beef, pork and veal

Morgante Nero D’avola 2010 (40816, $14.95) burnishes purple to black in sheen, perfume and vim. Like incandescent charcoal.  Welling hematoma of Aussie licorice, baking spices and lingonberry. Maxes out Nero D’avola’s ability to defend itself against all food comers. Even pancakes and pigs in a blanket.  It should be noted that a second sample was corked.  90

The grapes: Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Pinheiro and Jaen

The history: The emergence of Portugal’s Dão is upon us. Philosophy intent on oak forsaken for vineyard driven, honest wine

The lowdown: Cooperative produced kitchen sink blend aged for 12 Months in Steel Vats and in Cement-Coated Epoxy

The food match: Osh Savo, a Bukharan braise of beef, potato, lentils and dried fruit

Encostas De Penalva 2009 (293423, $14.95) is downright Joycean in unusual intelligence, sensitivity and character for a blend from a Portuguese cooperative. Soft perhaps, but nary a bitter deterrent mars this cup of crushed raspberries. A young artist’s deep portrait of Dão colour, forged of surreal fleshy extraction, verbose and flamboyant.  90

The grape: Mencía

The history: Indigenous red variety of Northwestern Spain that was once thought to be a cousin of Cabernet Franc

The lowdown: Bodegas Peique is your value maker out of Bierzo. They’ll be making this by the 100, 000′s before you can say “dios mios

The food match: Smoked Beef Brisket, bbq beef gravy

Peique Tinto Mencía 2010 (219204, $14.95) vanquishes hardship for violet pleasure. Sublunary stones rolling through subterranean tar beds of caramelizing sugars. Roses and red berry fruit rise from the burn.  88

Good to go!

The 2012 harvest and six current Ontario releases

Backyard Tomato, Basil and Nasturtium

as seen on canada.com

Ontario wine lives well, but the playing field is rapidly changing. Greatness, albeit in fits and spurts, can comfortably be adduced from vineyards going back to at least 1998. I’ve no intention of raining on recent parades but 2012 is shaping up to be something extraordinary. A collective level of confidence and consciousness, meted by a hot, dry summer will surely translate to a banner year for Ontario wines. Niagara’s Man Friday suggests we’re  “heading for a concentrated and ripe (but small) grape Harvest for 2012.” That said, if the tweets and comments coming from the winemakers out of Niagara and Prince Edward County are any indication, some “best ever” bottlings are on the horizon…

Some “best ever” bottlings are on the horizon:

Dan Sullivan, Rosehall Run:

“Fast, furious and fantastic- if the weather holds a little longer this year’s harvest will be a grand-slam in quality!”

Paul Pender, Tawse:

“Harvest has begun in earnest. 16 tonne of premium organic Chardonnay picked and processed.”

Richie Roberts, Fielding Estate:

“Picking Beamsville bench old vine Sauv Blanc today. Coming off with beautiful acid and flavour. Giddy up.”

Brian Schmidt, Vineland Estates:

“We have had an incredibly HOT and dry year.. Weights are quite low but quality is very high.”

Marlize Beyers, Hidden Bench:

“Sparking cuvée pick done and pressed, looking good by the numbers but tasting even better.”

Kevin Panagapka, 2027:

“Crazy early year.. Sparkling in the bag, Pinot next on the radar.”

In the meantime…

While we wait patiently for 21st-century master strokes of vinous genius, here are six current releases to fill your stems.

2027 Falls Vineyard Riesling 2011 (294041, $18.95) from the racy Vinemount Ridge finds Mr. Panagapka in Single-Vineyard heaven. May not be a Genesis ode to a Pat & Lyle ambient masterpiece but the VINTAGES release happens to be on the 32nd anniversary of  Bill Evans’ passing. Flint, lemon yellow sintered micro crystal, bone-dry, brisk acidity. One for the vine. I thought I recognized the 2027 “by the way he fell, and by the way he stood up, and vanished into air.”  89

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (193482, $19.95) looks buttercup yellow and casts a pungent spice note, a trompe d’ail. Resolves quickly into ubiquitous balance and elegance, subtle beauty, body then melting to a creamy, slightly bitter finish. Almost great and one of the best to date.  88

Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2011 (38117, $19.95) reserves the right to live off the land with local knowledge and extreme confidence. Riesling made in the vineyard like no other. Off-dry, lingering lemon/lime and utopian acidity. Who knows what minerality lurks in the vineyard of St. Urban? The Escarpment knows.  88

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010 (64618, $16.95) of rooted mahogany and well-deep, depth of fruit is solid as a rock. Lends credence to naming 2010 as Ontario’s best Cab Franc vintage ever, as previously noted. Excellent value here.  88

Henry of Pelham Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 (268391, $24.95) is the bomb. Effectively Cali-candified, it floats in the rarefied air of upper echelon Canadian Pinot. All is resolved at this juncture; fruit, acidity, tannins. A note of rare, roasted game bird keeps it real. Impressive.  89

Norm Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010 (125310, $35.00) may just be the most beautiful purple meets ruby-red Canadian Pinot I have ever laid my eyes on. Vibrant red berries, wildflower blooms and scraped vanilla beans. Warm cereal cooking on a campfire. Then the fruit is turned upside down by carbonate limestone. Wait five years for the mineral to meld into magic.  91

Good to go!