A March of French grapes to dinner

Vineyard PHOTO: FILE/POSTMEDIA NEWS

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With just about a month to go before grapevines in temperate climates begin an annual cycle by entering bud break, the 1st of March signals those first thoughts of renewal. I for one wait with anticipation to see how a new growing season will treat unique plantings. Like Rosewood’s Sémillon on the Beamsville Bench or Margan’s in Australia’s Hunter Valley. Like Tempranillo in California or Bonarda in Argentina. Like Palmer Vineyard’s Albariño on the North Fork of Long Island or Cabernet Franc in Prince Edward County.

Related – More Current Release Wines

But let’s face it. Once in a while credit needs to be given where credit is due. Five French grapes have dominated the landscape. This great group of world traveler grape varietals is known as Vitis Vinifera, the common European grape, cultivated worldwide to produce wine everywhere. Deserved or not and disagree if you must but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah continue to rule the world.

These most famous of the familiar entrenched their pedigreed roots in France. Their success is that of Burgundy, of Bordeaux and the south of France. My anti-’somewhereness‘ post if you will. This is to remind us of how we came this far, why we are all here, incessantly tasting, discussing and forever posturing about all things wine. Here lies a disparate group, all fashioned from erudite French grapes and produced in five different countries. Fine wines to work with dinner. All are available to seek out right now.

From left to right: Tarima Monastrell 2010; Vintage Ink Mark of Passion Merlot/Cabernet 2010; Te Awa Chardonnay 2010; Devils’ Corner Pinot Noir 2011; and Château La Vieille Cure 2009

The grapes: Monastrell, a.k.a. Mourvèdre

The history: From Bodegas Volver in the Alicante zone of southeastern Spain, fermented and aged sur lie in stainless steel

The lowdown: Surprisingly full-bodied and rich for the price. Laugh while you can but why wouldn’t you buy this?

The food match: Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Fresh Figs

Tarima Monastrell 2010 (310151, $12.95) of intense purple like Bindweed’s eye or an Alicante barrel cactus flower. Not to mention the crazy label’s Passion Flower. Spring fragrance, modern in milk chocolate and berries in vanilla simple syrup. Citrus note adds breadth and food pairing asperity. Alluring and seductive, a vixen of modern Spanish wine fashion.  87  @CSWS_Inc 

The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Virtual winery owned by Canadian giant Vincor

The lowdown: Aussie winemaker Keith Bown blends selected grapes from several Niagara Peninsula vineyards

The food match: Brisket Burnt Ends, smoked barley risotto

Brisket Burnt Ends, smoked barley risotto (Photo: Jill Chen/freestylefarm.ca)

Vintage Ink Mark of Passion Merlot/Cabernet 2010 (250209, $17.95) exudes NP passion with an exhibitionist’s amp stamp display. Clearly defined vinifera fruit, fine cedary lines. Alcohol is noticeable and is tempered by pencil lead, Zaida’s pipe tobacco and brier fruit that curls around the heat, landing on the button.  88

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Single estate vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels wine growing region in Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand

The lowdown: One of my most favourite wine discoveries is an off the charts, zinging value white from the South Pacific

The food match: Grilled Herb & Citrus Marinated Chicken Breasts

Te Awa Chardonnay 2010 (301135, $18.95) gives off a good dose of char but in a Penderish way with knowledge that it will dissipate, integrate and elevate this stony ‘River of God’ into a fine, swirling eddy of hard bop goodness. Gorgeous green enamel Ngaruroro meandering to gold. Oleic, alluvial consistency, with a sense of creamed corn, barren straw and built of a gravel verve, taking risks like a Sonny Rollins riff.  91  @TeAwaWinery

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Second label of Tasmania’s Tamar Ridge from the Brown Brother’s in Victoria, Australia. The Devil’s Corner is a calm section beyond a treacherous stretch of the Tamar River

The lowdown: Three words for you. Fruit, freshness, drinkability.

The food match: Confit of Duck, roasted potato, sautéed corn, pea shoots, cherry compote

Devils’ Corner Pinot Noir 2011 (317966, $20.95, SAQ, 10947741, $24.80) is radiant in scenic, ruby tone full of red spice opposite a cloying tang. Bobbing red apples caught in a juicy hurricane of vibrant acidity. “Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night.” Builds off the sound and the fury and lasts. For hair-trigger gratification and will do up to three years time.  89  @BrownBrothers 

The Splurge

The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: From Fronsac, in the Libourne area of the Right Bank of the Dordogne. Owned by an American team, The Old Parsonage Inc

The lowdown: Winemaking consultant Christan Veyrey (an associate to Michel Rolland) produces wines intended to peak between four and six years after bottling

The food match: Grilled NY Striploin, potato puree, asparagus, peppercorn butter

Château La Vieille Cure 2009 (191452, $36.85) has got the near-Brett funk I come to expect from a serious bottle of French red wine. Tobacco, swelling blackberries obfuscating with Châteauneuf-du-Pape- like heft and charm. Has got a leaden, lustrous chemical element, licorice and smoked meat. This is so good and not out of whack with Futures ($34) and current US ($34) pricing. To cure what ails you.  91  @EuropvinWines

Good to go!

Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow

Gray Monk Vineyard, Kelowna, BC PHOTO: TOURISM KELOWNA/BRIAN SPROUT

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Canada’s wine business is booming. To what do we owe this present day Renaissance of pleasant surprise and coast to coast quality? Passionate industry professionals for sure. We can thank the winemakers, marketing specialists, expatriate wine pros arriving in droves and especially the expert farmers and growers. A sea of grape-driven humanity, forging a template of success but also working together, towards a common goal.

Above all else, the rainbow’s fulcrum is the “somewhereness” of Canada’s wine regions. Terroir is the great catch word for wine. A vine’s home determines its potential, its structure, its sense of place. Micro-climates, soil, geology, altitude, slope and vegetation all contribute to the make-up of a wine forged from that specific parcel, lot or locale. If you are from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Austria or anywhere else where wine has been made for centuries, well then there is nothing new or revelatory about this train of thought. If you are from Nova Scotia, British Columbia or Ontario, the discussion exudes relevance.

Thanks to Robert Bell’s Wines in Canada, we have a great understanding of our vinous roots across the country. Johann Schiller, a German who served with the 29th Regiment of Foot in Quebec in 1784, is considered to be the father of the Canadian Wine Industry. Some of the first grape vines in Canada were planted in Nova Scotia in the 1600s. Today the maritime climate of the Gaspereau Valley is the catalyst behind a host of terrific Sparkling wines. In B.C. the Okanagan Valley is king. Defining geology and terroir in its sub-appellations is neither easy nor much discussed (as compared to Ontario), yet the wines of the sun-drenched shelf of land on the eastern slopes of Lake Okanagan’s Naramata Bench are surely ready to explode onto the scene.

It was nothing less than fortuitous for me to taste a Naramata Bench gem at the hands of a generous dinner guest. Without the tie of an unobstructed coast to coast railway carrying wine to and fro, Canadians are mostly shut out from their out-of province wine brethren and sistren. The most glaring unifying obstacle is the issue of guarded provincial borders. Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek in B.C. shouts this out loud:

Ontario’s scene is bursting with kinetic and frenetic energy. If you are a disbeliever just check out Ontario Wine Chat or MyWineShop.ca, or better yet, head on down to Cuvée 2013 this coming weekend. For a comprehensive look at our province, make sure you read A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards, & Vines by Konrad Ejbich. The discourse concerning somewhereness in Ontario is in full swing. In October of 2012 I wrote, “Character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. The future looks very bright for Ontario [wines].”

Reds from significantly warmer sub-appellations on the Niagara Peninsula, specifically Niagara River, Four Mile Creek & St David’s Bench, speak of their cozy abodes. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, varietals that benefit from extra hang time, are not only showing promise but excellence, especially in optimum climatic years like 2007, 2010 and waiting in barrel, 2012. Forgive me for waxing neo-nostalgic but welcome to the golden age. Here are four currently available Canadian wines to look for.

From left to right: Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2010; Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011; Norman Hardie Chardonnay 2009; Nichol Vineyard Syrah 2009

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: H of P has been working this Burgundian grape in so many styles, from so many vineyards

The lowdown: From another up and coming Niagara appellation, the Short Hills Bench

The food match: Grilled Halibut, olive oil, garlic, fresh thyme, lemon emulsion drizzle

Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2010 (268342, $19.95) is the best one yet. Some A16 but in a breezy, over the falls, misty wash. Like Riesling in a way, especially considering the Bench minerality. Sweet, creamy palate. Good stuff.  88

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: From the team of Grape King Curtis Fielding and winemaker Richie Roberts, 100% Niagara Peninsula grown grapes including fruit harvested from the estate vineyards

The lowdown: The Five Rows (Lowery) Vineyard is fast becoming THE go to terroir for the best possible red grapes in all of the Niagara Peninsula

The food match: Grilled Dry-Rub Butterflied Chicken, bbq sauce glaze

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011 (Approx. $21) has to be the best yet from @RichieWine. From a 35-acre Grand Cru (Five Rows) vineyard in the making in the heart of the warmest Niagara locale (St. David’s Bench). Zanthoxylum, capsicum and pencil shaving. Ropy grain, chewy, sylvan charm. 90  @FieldingWinery

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Prince Edward County’s iconoclast. Norman Hardie is “possessed of a will to hunt down the object of his life.”

The lowdown: French vines, limestone soils, unmistakable kiss from Mr. Hardie

The food match: Shrimp and Coconut Étouffée, peas, kale

Norman Hardie Chardonnay 2009 (184432, $35, SAQ, 11638501, $38.75) rocket launches spatially atomic as a bound, caryopsis hurtling of mineral schist, tangy stone fruit and smoking kernel. Angles to a vanishing point, laser perspective. Will realize a unique and defined vinous exegesis. Cosmic expression of Chardonnay out of Prince Edward County. 91  @normhardie

The grape: Syrah

The history: Alex Nichol was the first to commercially plant Syrah in the Okanagan in 1989

The lowdown: From a Naramata Bench vineyard owned by Ross Hackwith on a pocket of land tucked against steep, heat-radiating red granite cliffs

The food match: Braised Beef Short Ribs, coffee infused demi-glace

Nichol Vineyard Syrah 2009 ($35) is unquestionably the heftiest 12% you will ever experience. Cool climate Syrah, Northern Rhône meets Victoria (Oz) dare I say, nidorous, smokey, a quenched fire. Dark chocolate covered black olives. Stonking resolve, Naramata nerve, stirring. Oh.  91  @nicholvineyard

Good to go!

Wines with Oscar

Champagne at the Oscars PHOTO: KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/GETTY IMAGES

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What’s in a name? Oscar might mean “deer lover”, derived from Gaelic os “deer” and cara “lover”.  On Sunday night the 85th Academy Awards will air. I’ve read many a Tweet and been privy to a host of “no thank yous” by those who have sworn to boycott the annual spectacle, having tired of its one-dimensional, scripted, predictability. Not to mention CIA-influences,  bad decisions, six-figure dresses, the pomp and circumstance. But who really cares? The old bird is 85 for Louis B. Mayer‘s sake. Besides, this week has not been kind to the name so the question begs? Who’s watching the Oscars and what will they be drinking?

The first answer is 40 million viewers. In 2012 the ceremony generated 3.8 million comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, according to data generated by Cambridge, Mass.-based Bluefin Labs. Those numbers may appear far from staggering, especially as compared to the Grammys and minuscule by contrast to the Super Bowl. By television standards and on a singular network they are still big numbers. So, if you count yourself as one of the 40 M, maybe a cocktail will put you in the mood? James Nevison of HALFAGLASS suggests that a French 75, a classic Hollywood-styled cocktail composed of Gin, Champagne, lemon juice and sugar would set the scene. Rod Phillips of the Ottawa Citizen quips “maybe a wine from the Francis Ford Coppola winery?” Director’s Cut. When gold Sunday comes, these are the red, white and sparkling wines I would be cracking open with that little statuette named Oscar.

Piñol Ludovicus Tinto 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2011 and Hinterland Les Etoiles 2009

The grapes: Garnacha, Cariñena, Merlot and Syrah

The history: From Celler Piñol, in Terra Alta, wedged between the more famous regions of Montsant and Priorat

The lowdown: Organically motivated, Piñol is a vintner for the New World. Ask your local Product Consultant to pull one from next week’s release skid

The food match: Pancetta, Salami and Chorizo Charcuterie, grainy mustard

Piñol Ludovicus Tinto 2010 (313791, $13.95) is the entry level red you won’t want to miss. Best supporting charcuterie. From my note this time last year: “Molds Cariñena, Merlot and Syrah around a 50% frame of Garnacha. Grizzled vines for this entry level beauty claw, scratch and rope-a-dope their way through arid and unforgiving limestone soils. A fighter this Ludovicus. Dusty, rocky, bearded and sharp-dressed for the neoteric world. Climbs to the top of the hill and rips off a riff.  87  @CELLERPINOL

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Martin Malivoire and Moira Saganski are one of the Niagara region’s true visionary teams

The lowdown: Under the auspices of winemaker Shiraz Mottier, this wine company has progressed with nearly unparalleled success, becoming a champion of and for Cabernet Franc, Gamay and now Pinot Gris

The food match: Dry-Rub Chicken Sliders, amarelo da beira baixa, calabrese buns

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2011 (591305, $19.95) is a tropical, juicy rendition spiked by a fleck of necessary pepper. Like sweet and sour green mango with a dusting of salt and Lombok chile. A reductive waft parts ways and waves in the rear-view to the savory, odoriferous florals. Best adapted screenplay.  88  @MalivoireWine 

The grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

The history: Jonas Newman & Vicki Samaras are sparkling wine specialists in Prince Edward County & wait for it…coming very soon, Limnio in Limnos, Greece

The lowdown: You will not regret raising an Oscars toast with this lip-smacking specimen but you’ll need to visit the winery or one of these establishments to do so

The food match: Kumamoto Oysters, shallot mignonette

Hinterland Les Etoiles 2009 ($39) propounds way beyond obiter dictum that this classic overture ode to Champagne (a blend of 40% Pinot Noir and 60% Chardonnay) is the bomb in Ontario (Prince Edward County) Sparkling wine. Fruit picked riper and more mature in ’09, resulting in a fuller wine but still high in necessary acidity, for food and for balance. For under $40, there is no other place in the world to go for this level of class, execution and value. Searing citrus and laser acidity, walking a tightrope with a funambulist’s equilibrium. Gumption and length. Best direction.  92  @hinterlandwine

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Hockey and tasting notes

PHOTO: KYBELE/FOTOLIA.COM

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I’ve been for a walk. On a winter’s day.

Just in case you were not privy to the wisdom, I’m here to put you in the know. Some phenomenal wine is made here in Ontario. A rather large and excited group at #ONWineChat talks about this very fact every Wednesday night. You can chime in or just eavesdrop. We also have some dedicated, propitious traffickers of the red, white and sparkling stuff, including Wines in Niagara, the Wine Council of Ontario, the Ontario Wine SocietySpotlight Toronto and Wine Align Cru.

If you are looking for an event that brings Ontario’s greatest wines, wineries and winemakers together, don’t miss CUVÉE WEEKEND 2013, taking place March 1 to March 3, 2013 in Niagara Falls and throughout the Niagara region.

Attending a wine festival is one way to spend three days away from the dolor and calamity of the city. Another way is to head north and leave the noisome and constant freezing/unfreezing behind. The freedom to seek peace and quiet is in itself a gift of something very special. It’s called time. Time to spend with family. Time to transcribe thoughts and notes, to watch a movie. Time to enjoy a glass of wine.

Three wines, hockey stick and puck

The kids clamber down through parapets of snow to the natural boathouse rink, a glassine envelope, like a reef’s teeming tide pool left behind by retreating waters. Inside is a sheltered 12′ x 40′ basin frozen in time with the lake laid out beyond the gate as far as the eye can see. Others bring the wine. Here are three calming selections to enjoy on such a winter’s day.

From left to right: Trius Pinot Grigio 2011, Kunde Zinfandel 2007, Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010

Trius Pinot Grigio 2011 (316414, $15.95) continues to throw smoke and amaze with its hue, this time reminiscent of crocus sativus linnaeus meets malachite green with an added fogging of rime. Herbal and balmy sweet, like pistachio halvah. Consistent with my previous note. “Out of the shell Ontario white.”  88  @TriusWines

Kunde Zinfandel 2007 (965921, $16.95) remains faithful in quiescence while we await the next incredibly valued vintage. The ’07′s bramble and brier are now more subtle, the sanguine notes now stanched. A Zinfandel in its later years, comfortable, content, grandfatherly. Enter retirement zin-city.  89  @KundeEstate  @imbibersreport

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010 ($37.95) like its half-sister Quarry Road, stands firm and smacks stubbornly up to the heat of the vintage. Opaque green of agate stone. Combines the apples and citrus from Quarry with Robyn’s musk and pear, but also the searing, mineral tang of Hillside. The assemblage is the most fleshy and forthcoming Chardonnay of the lot. Promises the best of all Tawse’s worlds, without stealing the spotlight from its single vineyard sistren.  90  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Boathouse wines

Winter tasting notes:

Related – VINTAGES February 16th, 2013 Release

Boutari Grande Reserve 2007 (140111, $16.95) from the family @boutari is rusty and evinced of a slight, smokey corrosion though not yet nearly ancient, especially by Macedonian standards. Tough red, granting notes of smoked gyros, Kalamata olive and acetic, Bebecou apricot. Unique and worth a try.  88  @KolonakiGroup

Fielding Estate Cabernet/Syrah 2010 (258657, $24.95) from @RichieWine is a veritable smoked porcine charcuterie board sprinkled with potpourri. Black currant and fig, expertly extracted fruit in a ripe and round package.  88  @FieldingWinery

Creekside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (662247, $34.95) from @CreeksideWine offers up 31 months of sweet oak scents and flavours yet resists over-mochafication. Rarely does a Niagara Cab bask in such a rich and full-bodied bath like this robin red, Queenston Road Vineyard beauty. Currants, citrus and herbs make appearances.  89 

Mocali Vigna Raunate Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (162552, $46.95) is a pin-up babe indicative of the vintage, of crimson visage, flaunting a tanned and curvy figure. Brunello as a sexy twitter pic. Red cherry, smoky tobacco, mouth-puckering dried fruit. Spicy, sassy, ready to party.  90  @liffordwine

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (994095, $57.95) is not, contrary to the LCBO information page, a VQA wine. Offers instant permeate gratification with a stunning translucence studded by a faint, rustic and sweet cherry resonance. Fine, downy texture and corporeal substance for near wild heaven indulgence, followed by R.E.M. sleep. “My heart thrown open wide.”  91  @rogcowines

Château de Pez 2009 (202697, $58.95) is no kidding Johnny, this pirate in Saint-Estèphe clothing. Firm, cedar, mocha saveur and shakin’ all over. “Sends quivers down my backbone” and while it may be unapproachable today, this will aim to please when it settles down in ten years time.  90

And the fort still stands.

Winter Fort

Good to go!

Real wines, whisky and Boys’ Night Out

(Photo: Kevin Hewitt/kevinhewitt.ca and Jill Chen/freestylefarm.ca)

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This has been a most excellent week for tasting real wines and high-spirited whisky.

Real wine is made in the vineyard. That refrain plays truer than ever in 2013. Robert Parker and Antonio Galloni have left the Wine Advocate. The pendulum is swinging in the right direction, back to balanced wines that work for food. The winemaker to follow today is a farmer at heart, a commissioner of the soil and a student of geology. Their wines speak of geography defined, connect to specific plots and preach on behalf of precise parcels. They do not winnow away the chaff, nor do they manipulate by adding and subtracting that which is unnatural. They may ferment and blend as a scientist might experiment but when all is said and done, they are the land’s faithful and loyal messenger.

Whisky is another matter altogether. Can any other distilled spirit rise so guilelessly at the hands of the master blender? Manipulation and pedagogue are essential and necessary to the production of great malts. Like wine, Whisky certainly talks terroir but not without tough love intervention. On Wednesday night I hosted a boys’ night out at Barque Smokehouse, poured three Single Malt Scotch Whiskies and one of a Canadian Single Barrel. The next afternoon I tasted the most unique and delicious red to date in 2013, thanks to the generosity of Gerardo Diaz. That was followed up with a cross-section of the Tawse Winery portfolio, poured by the one and only Daniel Beiles. As we head into the Family Day Weekend, here are seven wine and whisky tasting notes.

Girolamo Russo San Lorenzo 2008  from agronomist and oenologist Giuseppe Russo lives a Sicilian dream. Composed of Etna’s indigenous Nerello Mascalese with a small percentage of Nerello Cappuccio, this red is a veritable lava flow of molten magma, volcanic igneous solder and opulent Scoria. Pure, unchained fruit, no disguise, striking.  94

Tawse Gamay Noir 2011 (322545, $18.95) indicates Cru vineyard quality in its mineral character, fresh plum fruit and serious structure. Modern Burgundy meets unlikely Niagara. Akin to Moulin à Vent if you will, though this Paul Pender inaugural bottling is all Niagara Peninsula.  Coming to VINTAGES March 2, 2013.  88  @Tawse_Winery

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2010 (111989, $34.95) continues to belay the warmth of the vintage, having emerged from a green apple shell and into a citrus revolution. Minor oak dawn is gone but not the thrill. Vinemount Ridge appellation limestone living large here with a colour to lead the imagination free to see the patina of its future. From minimum barrel char to maximum VR, as in very racy. So good, so right. You never come back from Quarry Road.  92  @Paul_Pender

Boys’ Night Out

Barque Smokehouse

Smoked Maple Glazed Peameal and Slaw Sliders
Duck Tacos with Pickled Radish, Carrots and A-Hoy-Sin Sauce

The Benriach Matured in Sherry Wood 12 Years Old Single Malt (303123, $66.95) from the Gaelic meaning “speckled or gray mountain” hails from Speyside. The Ben-ree-uck is aged in Spanish Oloroso and Pedro Jimenez casks resulting in a rich, caramel colour. Fig, date and Tawny Port like aromas. Sweet anise and faint chocolate. From a house once in disrepute, this SMS is now in full re-peat.   90  @TheBenRiach

Wemyss Malts Caol Ila Islay 1996 Single Malt (273896, $122.95) went to cask in 1996 and was bottled as a 15 year-old in 2011. Incredibly troggish Islay, of sea salts, aesculapian iodine and mephitic peat. Monstrous in odor yet subtle in colour and nectarous in flavour. An exercise in triumvirate Scotch mastery. Wild thing, “you make my heart sing.”  94  @WemyssMalts

Smoked Dry Rub Chicken Wings
Smoked Competition Chicken Thighs
Polenta and Parmigiano-Reggiano Fries

Barque Chicken Wings
(Photo: Kevin Hewitt/kevinhewitt.ca and Jill Chen/freestylefarm.ca)

Caribou Crossing Single Barrel Canadian Whisky (205906, $84.95) from the Sazerac Spirit Company in Louisiana is Canadian Whisky bottled in Kentucky.  You might think this butterscotch and woodpile in a bottle would suffer from identity crisis but it is actually quite-well adjusted. Smooth and creamy going in, harsh and demanding going down. A rye-raging SB, wholly unique and unlike any other, including its brothers and sisters of the same barrel.  88  @sazeracrye

The Macallan Fine Oak 15 Years Old (620229, $134.95) is a twist on a very familiar favourite friend. From three barrels, American Bourbon, American Sherry and Spanish Sherry Cask. Creamy malted milk, musky barley and turbinado sugar with the faintest whiff of smoke on a Speyside peat frame. Dried orange peel and chocolate, lithe and airy, delicate but sure.  Class in a bottle.  92  @The_Macallan

Barque Sampler Platter
(Photo: Kevin Hewitt/kevinhewitt.ca and Jill Chen/freestylefarm.ca)

Smoked Brisket
Barque Rack O’bama aka an Alabama Style Rib aka Make Sticky Ribs
Roasted Vegetables
Chocolate Cheesecake

Good to go!

Your man wants these wines for Valentine’s

Valentine’s Day wines PHOTO: ANNA/FOTOLIA.COM

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Cupid’s got a dilemma. He knows his arrow will pierce the man in the relationship’s heart, hypnotize him to hunt and gather the finest chocolate and sweet-smelling roses that money can buy. But what about the other, more feminine half? They just might not feel the same V-Day pressure. Besides, beyond the cliché, what exactly or specifically is the appropriate gift for Valentine’s Day?

Related – Current release wine recommendations

Even divas fuss over the pink holiday. Nicki Minaj has told us that Cupid’s Got a Gun. Carrie Underwood’s version is a shotgun. Yikes. If you ask me, all I really want this Thursday, like any other day of the year, is a decent bottle of wine. Is that not what every man wants? Matches the profile of the ones I hang out with. Your man probably likes Italian wine. Maybe he imagines himself Romeo to your Juliet?

While it would certainly put a smile on my face, I’m not holding my breath for a ripe, rare and bleeding Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (24190, $74.95, 91), though I wouldn’t kick one out of bed for cacophonous quacking.  Nor would I run away from a classic, opaque and rustic cherry Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (994095, $57.95, 91).  Here are six current and affordable releases sure to please the love of your life.

The grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

The history: Classic varietals and small lots from winemaker Emma Garner on the Beamsville Bench

The lowdown: TB’s Rieslings have long been blowing my mind but this Bordeaux-styled blend trips new light

The food match: Dry-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Breast Tacos, aged whited cheddar, tomato

Thirty Bench Red 2010 (320986, $24.00) shows off the ripeness of the vintage at an indubitably balanced 13.6% ABV. Exhibits red licorice, funk of the earth and currants in a demi-glace kind of way. Beamsville sand and gravel meet savoury herbs, lashed together by dusty tannin. Quite serious, more IGT than Bordeaux or Loire.  88  @ThirtyBench

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot

The history: Left Bank, Haut-Médoc Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

The lowdown: So unclassified you’ve likely never heard of it but so what?

The food match: Grilled Beef and Veal Baseballs, roasted garlic, parsley, artichoke aioli

Château Fort-Lignac 2009 (307264, $17.95) gives plum pudding heaped with baking spice and even a note of fine cigar. Judicious wood adds espresso, chew and chalk to this unassuming red. Lots of Bordeaux for $18.  89

The grape: Syrah

The history: Delas Frères is one of the smaller Rhone négociants but their recent run is nothing less than remarkable

The lowdown: Crozes-Hermitage at this price is so often thin and metallic but this ultra-modern ’10 is a hit

The food match: Lamb- and Rose-Stuffed Quails

Delas Frères Les Launes Crozes-Hermitage 2010 (701359, $20.95, B.C., 174664, $24.99, 2009) like hipster coffee dislikes authority and marches to the beat of a different drummer. Understated Syrah black pitch and no smoked meat or confit here. Instead there is purple, floral heliotrope gorgeousness and plum fruit. Big mineral component too. This one’s for the masculine gifter and the feminine giftee.  90  @HHDImports_Wine

The grape: Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile)

The history: From Montepulciano in Tuscany’s south

The lowdown: Bar none the best and most consistent value in Vino Nobile

The food match: Roast Beef Tenderloin, fried Tuscan potatoes

Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2009 (988055, $25.95, SAQ, 11194832, $26.20) is blessed with such a lush texture and post-modern attraction that a couple of sips could lead to some serious heavy petting. Retains just enough Italianate, gamey, iron mineral qualities to keep it real but this is berry, chocolate, acqua vitae equipped to reach many, many folk. Best VNM for the buck, year in and year out.  90  @Noble_Estates

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: From Diano d’Alba and Rodello in Piedmont’s Lower Langhe, characterized by vines and cereals

The lowdown: From third generation proprietor Mario Giribaldi, farmer at heart, lover of all things Langhe

The food match: Frico (cheese crisp) with Potato, Onion and Sausage Filling

Giribaldi Barbaresco 2006 (101147, $31.95) the dichotomous Nebbiolo of live rust looks old, as though it has lived hard when it’s actually quite young at heart. Classic Barbaresco bouquet of rose, tar, peeled orange and pepper berries. Banging acidity, coffee vapor and a powder finger of tannin. Don’t worry, there’s no real fear that this one “would fade away so young.”  91

The grapes: Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malvasia Nero

The history: Dates back to 1972, from Gaiole in Chianti, in the province of Siena

The lowdown: Self-described as “a place of cultic importance in the wine world.” Works for me

The food match: Bucatini with Pancetta, Tomato and Onion

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (39768, $34.95, SAQ, 11315403, $33.75) is always top quality CCR. So sweet and savoury at the same time, licorice whipped, tightly wound, with a foot marching to the future, yet still traditional. A righteous, sinless song of Sangiovese fruit, with a backing band of varietals, written for everyone. Proof that while some in Chianti have forgotten their past, many have not. “Somebody said it’s different now, look, it’s just the same.”  91  @CastellodiAma

Good to go!

Just say no to pink wine for Valentine’s

PHOTO: KUBAIS/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

If you have spent some quality time with @mgodello you will know by now that he is not shy to champion rosés, especially Ontario’s ambient, rich pinks and the savoury, dry versions from the south of France. Valentine’s Day is traditionally a magnet for blush and fizz but it is my wine imperative to think outside the bottle.

The wines I will be seeking out this coming Thursday will need to be possessive of verve, show the sufferings of slings and arrows and display an irresistible, animal attraction. My advice is to just say no to pink. This year, you gotta be cruel to be wine for Valentine’s.

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: From winemaker Charl du Plessis and the 1997 Charles Back founded Swartland winery

The lowdown: Predominantly Chenin Blanc from a 34-year-old vineyard on the Rheeboksfontein farm blessed by just a kiss of oak-aging

The food match: Crab and Hearts of Palm Gratin

Spice Route Chenin Blanc 2011 (174623, $16.95) of oxy/petrol, almond/vanilla extract and nutty, molasses/honey is a veritable reeking pantry. Not for the weak or meek, only South African Chenin Blanc smells like this. A complex, drawn out affair, land specific, desensitizing to the mouth. I wasn’t so sure at first but a second attempt attacks my emotions and reels me in.  89  @SpiceRouteZA

The grape: Riesling

The history: Sourced from three separate vineyard blocks within two vineyards, Richie Roberts went cold, cold, cold on this Riesling’s behind, in fermentation and stabilization

The lowdown: Early picked fruit, self-promoted as a “crowd pleaser” but it is so much more than that

The food match: County General Two Way Fried Chicken, hoisin bbq, mint, thai basil, coriander, green onion, avocado, sesame and steamed buns

Fielding Estate Riesling 2011 (251439, $18.95) jumps out like a thunder crack with an instant emergence of gassy soda, lime and stone fruit. The citrus remains in attack mode and “her brains they rattle and her bones they shake.” Does the “jump back jack” and dances all around in the mouth, on the tongue and down the hatch. Very long persistence, almost glycerin in texture which for NP Riesling is simply awesome.  90  @FieldingWinery @RichieWine

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: From the hillside of Monforte d’Alba, Località Ornati in Piedmont, Italy

The lowdown: It really does not get much more modern than this but Nebbiolo of this quality for $22? AYFKM?

The food match:  Red Beans and Rice Soup with Andouille Sausage

Tenuta Rocca Ornati Langhe 2006 (309369, $21.95, SAQ, 11599320, $23.15) is serious Piemontese juice for nothing less than a miracle of quantification. Perfumed like a starlet and of an extraction the colour of modern Hermitage. Verve and ragu guts, confident in bold espresso, tempered chocolate and holds an acidity to pair with anything. There isn’t a pasta on earth I wouldn’t drink this with. The question is, who are you and would you drink this kind of wine? In the nick of time for Valentines, “Cruel to be kind, means that I love you baby.” Emphatic yes.  91

The grape: Merlot

The history: From Wismer Estate vineyards on the 20 Mile Bench

The lowdown: Has improved so dramatically in just three months I am serving a self-imposed penance for my earlier mini-dis

The food match: Balsamic Baby Back Ribs With Truffled Baked Potatoes

Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010 (211896, $22.00) has evolved way past “enjoyable if unremarkable.” Continues to show a reductive note in the form of vanilla and maple syrup, no honey actually, but all signs point to further excellence. High quality chocolate spiked by cherry, orange and a peppery, nasal tickle open up beautifully and expressively towards the dusty, berry main event. Knock your baby’s socks off with this double-stuffed Oreo and let the night unfold.  89  @Rosewoodwine

Good to go!

Wine chat anyone?

PHOTO: ONDREICKA/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

It’s not as those everyone is doing it, but chatting live online about your favourite pastime is all the rage these days. Discussions can be about food, sex, music and yes, wine. I join experts across Canada every Thursday at 2:00 pm EST to lead a group-think on the ubiquitous subject. Today we’ll be talking about Fortified and Dessert wines.

If you host it they will come. Shawn McCormick of Uncork Ontario is passionate about Ontario wine and was quite certain if he presented a live forum, people would show up to the party. Fifty-five minutes in he tweeted this:

When asked why he chose to host the chat at this time, McCormick replied, “there’s been a #WineChat and a #BCWineChat for a while now. A few of us on Twitter were discussing why there wasn’t an #ONWineChat, so I decided to just start it and see where it goes. Why Wednesday night? I wedged it in between the other two wine chats, mainly because at some point we’ll likely combine chats with #BCWineChat for a two hour special on topics of similar concern.”

Photo: Robert Holmes, California Travel & Tourism Commission

A who’s who of Ontario vinophiles showed up to talk Ontario wine, from signature varietals to micro-climates. In the end McCormick noted, “Summary for #ONWineChat tonight? Do what does well in your micro-climate. Try to focus (not do everything). Make great wine.” Seems like the band of merry prankster wine geeks couldn’t let go either. The chat was slated to begin at 10:00 am EST but a few keeners jumped in early and despite Shawn’s call at 11:00 pm, the last post/tweet signed off well after midnight. Passion indeed.

But wait, there’s more. Wine romantics in British Columbia had their very own round table as well. Thanks to Tinhorn Creek’s Sandra Oldfield,  BC Wine Chats also presents online Wednesdays at 8:00 pm PST and last night’s topic was “Will TED Talks BC Next Year Affect BC’s Food and Wine Future?” The Canadian wine train is steaming full-speed ahead. Time to get on board.

Okanagan wine-making region (Photo: Handout/Postmedia News).

The canada.com chat has thus far been an exhilarating and educational experience. Rod Phillips brings an unparalleled academic and pinpoint perspective. Gurvinder Bhatia shares a wealth of international experience and is a champion of the sui generis varietal. James Nevison loves his Sparkling wines, never wavers from his zeal and adds essential energy to the discussion. We have also been joined by many guest experts, including John Szabo, M.S., Rick VanSickleW. Blake GrayCraig PinheyDebbie TrenholmeMichael Pinkus and this week, Janet Dorozynski joins the panel.

Come join the chat, you might learn something.

Good to go!

We played pond hockey, we drank wine

Taylor Cup 2013 (Photo: Kevin Hewitt/kevinhewitt.ca)

Taylor Cup 2013 (Photo: Kevin Hewitt/kevinhewitt.ca)

as seen on canada.com

Pond Hockey. Is there a comparable Canadian cold weather activity yet apposite to define our sense of place or recreational state of being? Summer assigns us to a canoe but winter demands a bipedal, upright physicality built of speed and agility. In 2012 my yardarm to yardarm hockey and libation report journeyed beyond beer, to wine of course. It’s a natural tangent for me because of a keen awareness for all things terroir. Our roots grow out of the woods and lakes, from water sliced by the tip of a paddle and ice cut by the blade of a skate. Wine rides shotgun, like a loyal and faithful companion, wherever the trip may take me.

Taylor CupPhoto courtsey Dany Le Goaix

Taylor Cup
(Photo: Dany Le Goaix)

In 2006 some neighborhood friends gathered together in Lakefield, Ontario for a pond hockey tournament in honour of Judy Taylor, our hosts’ great friend who had recently lost her battle with Sarcoma. The Taylor Cup is in tribute and in memory of Judy, with funds raised benefiting the Princess Margaret Sarcoma Research Fund, to ultimately help others who are fighting this deadly disease.

In 2007 the tournament was moved to Bayview Wildwood Resort on Sparrow lake in Port Stanton, northwest of Orillia. I have now participated in my eighth consecutive Taylor Cup Pond Hockey Tournament to raise money for Cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital.

This year nearly $140,000 was donated, bringing our eight-year total close to $960,000. My team, VanHooterman raised $25,568, tops in the tournament. Props to my teammates as our eight-year total has now exceeded more than $105,000.

Taylor Cup 2013 (Photo: Ian Chalmers)

Taylor Cup 2013 (Photo: Ian Chalmers)

We skated to a 3-1 record in the 35-team draw, matching our previous best. Once again we did not have to play on Sunday, save for the parents and kids shinny, a must do Taylor Cup tradition. The 2013 Taylor Cup champions were the three-peat boys from Around the Horn, defeating the Hamilton Houdinis for the second straight year.

Two wines from Ontario’s Prince Edward County made the trip and hung out rink side while we played. We were very careful not to shatter their glassine envelopes. As for the other teams, well mostly they just drank beer.

Keint-He Wines Photo courtesy Kevin Hewitt www.kevinhewitt.ca

Keint-He Wines
(Photo: Kevin Hewitt/www.kevinhewitt.ca)

Keint-He Chardonnay Prince Edward County 2009 ($20) forges a connection between Ordovician limestone-driven shoder and tropically travelled cutch. Ebullient, golden hue, lip-smacking cracker acidity and the stride of a long-distance skater. Creamy, crowd pulling Chardonnay. Confident and generous like a deft-passing, puck moving Defenceman. On the card at Barque.  90  Keint-He Winery

Keint-He Pinot Noir Foxtail Prince Edward County 2009 ($15) makes tender use of Hillier clay loam and young vines. Impossibly and remarkably light on its feet, ruddy bright and fragrant of raspberry, cranberry and pine. Smooth skater with a game built on finesse and stamina. Great current value from Bryan Rogers and a PEC defining Pinot Noir future with winemaker Ross Wise. Also at Barque.  88  @KeintheWinery

Good to go!