Pirates on a picnic

Salmon Amuse Bouche

Chef Victor Barry’s Salmon Amuse

The privacy, intimacy and relaxed atmosphere of a subterranean hashery is something we should all experience at least once in a gustatory lifetime. We should also be afforded the opportunity of a salubrious 12-course tasting menu designed by a reluctant superstar. Why ought we not be handled with extreme Sommelier care by the caress of a total professional? Give me a reason to not spend three hours locked in a room with eight others, all of generous wine and spirit?

The location was Splendido‘s downstairs dining room. The chef was Victor Barry. The Sommelier was Ellen Jakobsmeier. The company a group of friends and friends of friends with a common goal. Eat, drink and be merry. Maybe trash talk a little. Trade a few thousand e-mails ahead of time to fire the vinous juices. Get down to business. Taste fourteen wines blind, poured from paper bags, discuss and be humbled by knowing everything and yet nothing at all.

Chef Barry’s selections and his staff’s execution were beyond flawless, culled from trial, error and perfection, bobbing up into the ethereal. Ms. Jakobsmeier had less than 20 minutes to receive, prepare and pour in order, with timely precision, the agglomerated and cumulative progression of the wines. Like Euro rail time. Not a hair out-of-place. Big props Ellen.

One dinner companion said this. “Thank you so much for inviting me to join your Pirate festivities! The food was incredible, thanks for hosting us Victor. The wines were exciting, generous and delicious! Thanks to all of you for sharing the gems from your cellars. And thank you Ellen for doing such a great job pairing all the wines. A feast worthy of Pirates!”

Victor added his own words. “Thanks everyone. I had a blast. I really enjoyed sitting down stairs it made it much more enjoyable for me. Looking forward to the next event. PS that Tokai was fucking delicious. And the Premier Cru from that “Niagara appellation.”

I wrote this to the group. “Laid in bed last night thinking about every course. Too many details to comprehend. And then it was morning and my kids wanted their lunches packed. Good thing there was this pumpkin in my wine sleeve…generosity in wine just amazing. All thoughtful and just fucking generous. Fortunate to have met new faces. Looking forward to this again, and again. Great work JB and Victor, stars all around.”

And to you JB, you sure do know how to throw a party.

Champagne begins the pirates on a picnic dinner in the downstairs private dining space at Splendido Toronto

Champagne begins the pirates on a picnic dinner in the downstairs private dining vineyard at Splendido Toronto

Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV, Champagne, France

Just a wee coppery this rusty blush, savoury to solecism and uprooted by a tremendous fault that forces metamorphic salinity, no check that, bleeds from rock into the bottle. If Champagne could commandeer the senses to stop and take note, this LB is the one. Stoic, purposed, frank and blushing like a winter Olympic athlete after a gruelling race. This Rosé is as confident and masculine as can be for the genre. It opens the eyes, pores and heart for a long haul ahead of pulls, in corks, sips and gulps.  @LarmandierB

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV and Domaine Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru "Séchet" 2009

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV and Domaine Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru “Séchet” 2009

Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru “Séchet” 2009, Burgundy, France

To be blinded by rocks is to taste such a wine without knowing what it is, slicing like Silex, cutting with a jagged edge of mineral take, yet gripping of aridity that must come from singular Chablis. Something whips like paraffin but again, the missing wood, the fennel talc, the absolute purity just says Chardonnay. With levity requested, gotta borrow from Burghound on this one because he was spot on, “way beyond the shadow of a doubt, yeah.” After 30 minutes the Sechet left the quarry to enter a sweat lodge of smoke and toast with an eventual pause at the charred Shishito capsicum station. The coarse wail is the young Dauvissat crooning but with fear set aside, the wine will soften in time, like the fashion poet, the prince of thieves. This Séchet, mythological in name, is Chablis brightly lit and accepts another sung substitute for yes. “Oh it cuts like a knife , yeah but it feels so right.”  @BIVBChablis

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Popcorn dusted with dehydrated scallop dust? Damn straight.

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Salmon, skin, consommé

Salmon, skin, consommé

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007, Wachau, Austria (AgentWineAlign)

Something grand is brewing, of that there is no doubt, despite the skinny, indehiscent first moments. A petrol that comes with age, a suckling piggy with melifluous honeycomb in its mouth roasting away, tinned fruit cup of a jellied, agar-agar mandarin orange type; these are the bold scents of what must be Austria, possibly Riesling, certainly Wachau. Tannin and stone drip Alsace Grand Cru, of Riesling again, like Rangen, but the reveal of Grüner Veltliner makes so much sense. Crazy, mind-blowing example, as good as it gets, a bench and high-water mark from which a free fall off the high springboard makes a perfect splash into the glass. Ninety minutes later only a word is needed to stem the waves of petulant emotion. Unbelievable.  @TheLivingVine  @AustrianWine

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007 and Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007 and Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007

Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula (2013 268342WineAlign)

French oak kicks at the door, feeling young, dirty and fine though synchronicity is absent in most respects. This is certainly not Chassagne, definitely not Meursault, not even St. Aubin. Yet it is delicate and delectable despite its unkempt ways, selfless and if left to be, might settle into a relationship. To discover it’s the hot vintage of 2007 version of today’s Estate Chardonnay is nothing short of astounding and at the same time, disappointing, at odds, disassembled. After 20 minutes it falls apart, “in little pieces on the floor, too wild to keep together.” The wine’s inclusion was necessary, gave perspective and bent to receive the Uni, “and now the end has come.” The 2012 and 2013 will offer much more pleasure.  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Clos de Monsieur Noly’ 2002, Mâconnais, Burgundy, France

May as well be Josko Gravner Ribollo Gialla, or Ann Sperling’s Whimsy! Orange and yet in contempt of the oxidized and underripe cantaloupe be damned, Jura should be the call. But then there is the question of messing with the man acidity and a trippy delicacy as per the cook’s butcher. It is certainly not faulty, nor should it be faulted for developing au natural, on top of the sheets, on the bare side of the beach. OK, so really old Chenin Blanc and a very natural Outback white blend would make for good conversation, or not. Like mushrooms for toffee. Like mulled apples for cider done wrong. Dirty in the most righteous 12 year-old Sherry way. Love it with Lobster on a rock, octopus and some kind of sea cucumber.

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé 'Clos de Monsieur Noly' 2002 and Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Clos de Monsieur Noly’ 2002 and Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009

Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009, Côte de Beaune, France (AgentWineAlign)

Can anything really be known from a fleeting moment spent with this? Classic, viscous, rich Burgundy and nothing but, with more mineral than should be gained from just a pass. The maker had the unconscious intent of remembering generations. When told that hey, it’s a Latour, in Beaune, of Corton Charlemagne, by Grand Cru, it’s hard to gather your inner we’re not worthy but focus and intent need be the outward act. You can really taste the limestone, imagine walking the Corton hillside, feeling the maximum exposure of the sun. When you know what it is you know to take a slice of humble pie and remember the soil, the soil, the soil. In Burgundy since 1797.  @LouisLatour1797  @LouisLatourInc

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011 nº 30 Capataz Rivas

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011 nº 30 Capataz Rivas

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011, nº 30 Capataz Rivas, D.O. Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain

Tasted blind this pours as a glass of briny capers, sea peas, vetches and liquid basalt. It speaks a language that contains the ancient loneliness of ruins. Thoughts easily lean Manzanilla or Old Fino. Great nuts, bitters, horseradish, dry tang, daikon and like a dirty martini. Not to mention orange rind and lime rind, zest and akin to a Vin Doux. It’s origins are at the hands of capataz master Rafael Rivas, from juice originally preserved to add kick to more commercial releases but the decision instead was made to “touch” the 15 solera butts with “testimonial sacas” of only four or five arrobas (roughly 5 x 16 = 80 litres), to make a wine such as this. This is old school Manzanilla, the third saca, with a reductive flor, uniquely oxidative and an average age of around 15 years.  @EquipoNavazos  @SherryWines  @JerezXrsSherry

Pop can seafood

Pop can seafood

Intermezzo of smoked oyster and foam…

Carrot

Splendido’s Five-hour carrot

“Friends – ridiculous dinner last night, in the best way. Great wines with great friends is my favourite way to spend a night. Already looking forward to the next one – at which I will bring more than one wine.”
Hamachi collar, black bean paste

Hamachi collar, black bean paste

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997, Piedmont, Italy

Here the soprano sings, in bold, rich, deep tones, with a sense of entitlement and a swagger. It’s a royal, goodfella, masculine depth. The notes are sung, even danced in bourrée, crescendo, sostenuto and ritardando. The luscious bing cherry richesse gives it youth, intimating Sangiovese but true hematic Toscana can’t be this dark. The modernity of Nebbiolo it must be. Seamless, tireless and impossibly rose petal delicate with the omnipresent tar. Would be willing to go back to 1999 but for the black forest layering, though to find out it’s ’97 shatters myths, confidence and legend. Still dusty and tannic, with more years needed to shed the grains of sand chain. After 20 minutes it goes to candied flowers, oranges and Alba truffles. Bring on the soft scrambled eggs.

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997 and Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997 and Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997

Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997, Piedmont, Italy

Smells like spirited, youthful, though decidedly modern Nebbiolo. Rich, chalky, dense, viscous, unctuous and yet the opposite of the Manzoni grit. More feminine, of more voices, in fugue, at times in tarantella, then into arpeggio. The notes play from a radio in my head. “In the deepest ocean, the bottom of the sea, your eyes, they turn me.” That it’s my contribution, this weird fish of a Nebbiolo, makes me amazed at the complex world of Piemonte and the absurdity of knowledge. Sensory appreciation rocks, spoken through this Sarmassa, like a chant from an ancient tribe, sitting cross-legged upon the clays of Lugagnano. It seems there may be 20 years left on the Marchesi’s Nebbiolo. I can’t believe how well it showed.

 

Venison loin, heart, mushroom, beet, pig's blood chocolate sauce

Venison loin, heart, mushroom, beet, pig’s blood chocolate sauce

“Amazing night! Everything was spot on, from the food to the wines to the company. Thanks to all, looking forward to the next one.”
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (2011 480533, WineAlign)

Though the vintage was reported to be less than exceptional, the chance to taste this 37 years in/on and the longevity it displays combines for full, blow me away effect. The first vintage of Sassicaia was 1968 and this 10th try hits the mark of experience. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85 per cent) and (15) Cabernet Franc, the fruit came from vines over top soils of clay and limestone. The wine spent 20 months in Yugoslavian oak barrels (half of it being new, and half used once or twice before), while for the remaining 60 per cent, French oak was used (2/3 new and 1/3 used once or twice before. Tasted blind, the swirling and searching thoughts of Genesis retrospection assimilate aromas of truffle and mushroom, but at first there is no reply at all. Landing on a plot of excellence somewhere between Bordeaux and Piedmont, Tuscany rises from its hills. A silent conversation ask the Sassicaia “I get the feelin’ you’re tryin’ to tell me; Is there somethin’ that I should know?” Its condition is near perfect, its body full, its nature pristine and finally, so obviously in balance. After 30 minutes it begins to slide, to no surprise, but you can’t believe the expression it gives and the impression it leaves. And so, it is confirmed. 1977 was a fine vintage for Sassicaia.  @Smarent

 

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003, Tuscany, Italy (2010 987586WineAlign)

The crowd leans modern, young, New World Cabernet Franc or Bordeaux blend. Can’t help but concur. Turns out to be a blend, of Cabernet Sauvignon (75 per cent), Sangiovese (20) and Cabernet Franc (5). First produced in 1978, the Sangiovese was only introduced to Solaia in 1980. In 2003, the weather could be described with a single word. Hot. Limited rainfall and a record total of 2400° in daytime heat summation has brought this Solaia to its full on gain, 12 years in evolution. The vintage caused a full draw from stony calcareous soil of marl and friable albarese rock. The collective soul can appreciate its charms but the heavy aspect ratio can’t be denied. We sipped and “the punches came fast and hard.” Warm smacks to the face, rushes of heat and an ensanguined rush of chocolate fruit through the system. For now there is no caramel, no brûlée, no denoument. In the present there are caverns of tannin, the ‘sunny one’ playing the crowd, on a sunset strip. Soon and in the end, times fades away.  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003 and Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003 and Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993

Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993, Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary (2008 972836,, WineAlign)

Here the caramel unctuousness and apricot in chains of liquid gold is the work of a legendary purveyor, the Royal Tokaji company. With sweetness upwards of 150 g/L and acidity pushing the 10 g/L mark, this is no shrinking violet of a dessert wine. With 12 years of road under its belt, the blend of predominantly Furmint and Hárslevelú grape varieties (with a small percentage of Muscat) is firing on all cylinders. Racy and intense, this captures the essence of the 1st growth Nyulászó vineyard and brings it to the world. Bullies the desserts a bit, but all is forgiven considering the range of flavours within and complimented from without.  @Royal_Tokaji  @HHDImports_Wine

Then one more dessert course…”Milk and Cereal,” chamomile and maple tea gel, buttermilk quenelle, flaxseed granola.
Final treats

Final treats

A case for half bottles

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010 from a 375 mL bottle

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010 from a 375 mL bottle

It was Oscar night and I was paying very little attention to Hollywood. I was, however, in the kitchen as usual, storming about, strumming my chef’s knives and scrumming five dishes together. I had inadvertently left a case of wine just purchased hanging out on the church pew on the porch outside my kitchen door.

Just in time, or just a few minutes too late, depending on whether you believe in kismet or just plain bad luck, I grabbed the case and hauled it indoors, away from the negative one zillion degrees celsius this Ontario winter was wreaking upon the night. Checking through the case I was relieved to find no apparent damage. No frozen bottles…wait, what’s this? The cork of a half-bottle of Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010 was forcing its way upwards and crinkling the foil capsule on route to its exit.

I had to make a choice. I could force the cork back in and put the small bottle in the cellar, then hope for the best. Or, I could have a taste right here and now. I chose the latter and voila, here I am to tell the tale.

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010, Two Chicken Breasts and Red Sauce

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010, Two Chicken Breasts and Red Sauce

This sip from a 375 mL was revelatory. Not only did Paul Pender‘s exceptional blend of Quarry and Hillside Vineyards not show any ill effects of an hour in deep freeze, it shone like never before. The aromatics were bursting, the flavours compact and cold toasty, the texture mouth filling and expanding.

Why don’t we drink more from the 375 mL, half-bottle format. To me, it’s like listening to music on vinyl. Wine from these minis has more layers of texture, more nuance, more groove. The expedited evolution and compact formula make cause for a bottled up compression, a concentration, not a reduction.

More winemakers should bottle in the 375 mL container. There are so many reasons for it. Space, quality, half the cost and best of all, nothing left at the end of the night, just the empty bottle. I re-wrote my note for the Estate Chardonnay and upped my score. You can read it at WineAlign or, right here.

Tawse Estate (375 mL) Chardonnay 2010

Tawse Estate (375 mL) Chardonnay 2010

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (253518, 375 mL $20.95, WineAlign)

Tasted from a 375 mL, the Estate ’10 has come to fruition, at least in this format. Fruit, wood and texture are seamlessly integrated. The wine is fleshy and has reached a pure state of mineral meets residual concentration. This is Chardonnay of a charming combination of maize and acuity. Has raised the bar and the score. From my earlier note of January 2013: “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.”  Last tasted February 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

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Why drink that?

Eat this, drink that

Eat this, drink that

We’re really just like moths, we seekers of wine, slaves to a fiery obsession, stopping occasionally to smell the adjectives, taking unnecessary financial risks and with any luck, happening into and finding enchantment. To remember generations. Is this why we drink wine?

We are looking for heroic entablature and architectural wonder in bottles of wine. We see them as DNA and in their liquids we can read their entire future. We sip them again and again until we taste them for the first time. We derive textures and flavours so solid, so tangible, it seems we can reach into the glass and grab handfuls of it. The glass itself has become the varietal, the engineering having expanded the notes and completed them, amplified and contained them. Is this why we drink that?

Not really. Sure we are looking for relevant encounters but what we really want is pleasure. Pleasure and escape. What we seek is value for our money. When we hit the stores and open or wallets we want honest juice at the lowest price. Bullshit aside, here are seven great values, in stores, by agents and down the road in our Niagara backyard.

From left to right: Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, Maipe Malbec 2013, Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, CedarCreek Merlot 2012, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013

From left to right: Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, Maipe Malbec 2013, Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, CedarCreek Merlot 2012, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013

Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (156125, $13.95, WineAlign)

Classic Niagara Peninsula aromas, of tart berries, pomegranate, cherries and wet clay exude and display. Stoney Ridge is simply giving this Pinot Noir away. Vinified bone dry (1.9 g/L residual sugar), pricked with acidity (7.2 g/L) and kissed by (eight months) of oak, this acuminates, as opposed to dials, in. The honing is crystalline, in bright and vibrant tones. There is a refined sugar aspect to its ratio but it’s really quite clean and nervy. The length impresses and sweeps to seal the $14 deal.  Tasted February 2015  @stoneyridgewine

Maipe Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (93823, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite intense, juicy and peppery for a $15 Malbec. A mix of red and black berries is accented by liquorice. Some chalky overlay, which goes short on integration, would do well to play nicer were it an underlay. A bit musky with cool savoury reserve and a very effective use of high (3000m) altitude fruit.  Tasted February 2015  @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @Chakana and Maipe: wines with an andean spirit​

Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (247882, $15.75, WineAlign)

Only 945 cases were made of this Shiraz (48 per cent), Cabernet Franc (23), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Merlot (9) blend. And that’s a shame. Some further bottle time has brought out the best in show. There is as much clear class and enjoyable drinking as a Niagara red blend is likely to earn by wing. The concept is quite OZ, the coalescence very Niagara and the sensibility so sly, Speck family. The brightness, oak influence and acidity linger as one to stretch and bound about in elastic joyeuse. Crosses Charlemagne-like stone swords of accessibility and put me aside confidence with vintage gain and restraint. Keen winemaking decisions by outgoing winemaker Ron Giesbrecht have produced great results. Made for everyday people, were the Family Tree Red pouring from keg it would fill my glass on a daily basis.”And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo.”  Tasted February 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Veneto, Italy (377648, $16.95, WineAlign)

Re-taste. Beautiful red fruit, in density. clarity and showy Valpolicella dress. Thinks good clean fun and thoughts, open-knit and its tannins mingle with multiplying acidity. Would benefit from two to three years more time in bottle. It will then drink as it was intended and as it should. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Solid if newfangled Veneto that swivels from sulphur to sweetness. Has a Niagara Peninsula varnished quality, not so typical for the homeland. Also presses from both vineyard earthy and barrel stinky notes. Somewhat this and insipid but the late influx of fresh cherry brings it back and stretches its length.”  Last tasted February 2015  @Select_Wines  @C_Valpolicella  @MGMMondodelVino​

Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, Rias Baixas, Spain (Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

A very mineral driven Albariño with little fruit expression to ascertain. Though the grapes give way to fine-grained chalky salinity, is that not coequality from and for the quarry? Soil and stone lead a path to cool and collected acidity, not one so linear but more extrapolated, as if from lime in pith, not zest. A very composed Rias Baixas but not overly accessible. Rich broth with small bits of fresh fish would pair delectably and foil perfectly; keep it from doing the “rise up, rise up,” into aerified, out of this world, parachute club territory. A nip of this and “spirits time has come.”  Tasted February 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @RiasBaixasWines

CedarCreek Merlot 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BCLDB and BCVQA 408666 $19.95, WineAlign)

Quite the glass of liqueur, with fully ripe, rich and dense fruit. Admittedly on the twiggy and good green side of the varietal, in the right ways, with Merlot bells of chalk, grain and tannin in whistling interplay. A correct correlation and in certain kinship with St. Emilion but with Okanagan footprints. Handles its 14.5 per cent alcohol quite easily and transfers its weight through a cool centre and into an even cooler finish. Along that route are notes of mint, eucalyptus and graphite, not unlike Coonawarra or Stellenbosch. Fun Merlot at an attractive price. Another gem from CedarCreek.  Tasted February 2015

Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Mosel Valley, Germany (Agent, Approx. $25.00, WineAlign)

Architecturally precise, of cleanly drawn lines, like the Mosel Vinothek acquired and restored by Molitor in 1984 and winner of the “Architekturpreis Wein 2013.” The Riesling mimics the juxtaposition of historical and modern, seemingly steeped in the past and transposed to the present by state-of-the-art winemaking. This has slate, steep steppes rising from subterreanean acquired salinity and ingrained aridity. There is no way to hide from the scree of the past, avoid the incline towards the future, nor can it exist without the run-off of mineral left behind. Brilliant hue, matched density, matchstick wisp and wild tang. Honeyed and suckling porcine in an early roasting stage, with terrific texture. The beautiful arid length is purposed and linear, with much oomph in its gait. Will linger for five to 10 years easy.  Tasted February 2015  @TrialtoON

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Have wine forget winter

Plantain, strawberry and blueberry

Plantain, strawberry and blueberry

Now for a few argumentative words on logomachy, interpretive synergies and general rambling. Lets talk about wine and how it can make us forget about being chilled to the bone. Lets discuss the ways in which wine can bring forth a future being remembered with each passing sip.

Like stones as heavy, some winters are so stinging only silence helps you portage them, or soldier on through them. That and wine. When winter pisses and moans with a cold, cold heart, the purity and silence of wine can ease the pain. Fruit of the vine that remembers the eskers of the earth, minerals that have not forgotten magma, wine that gives an ancient, suspenseful feeling. Cold forgotten.

In July of 2012 the suggestion was to chill red wines for another hot weekend to ease the suffering in the throes of a sweltering, Ontario summer. A year on the thematic was pursued once again.

Related – A midsummer night’s chill red wine

“Just a slight frost mind you, like clipped diction, for warm, not hot weather.” Here we find ourselves in the opposite chasm, the anti-Hades, a seemingly endless void of polar hell. Perpetually stuck inside a frozen hadron collider. So history is the gradual intent. What to do? Drink wine.

February can be displaced with wine because the ferment has no beginning and no end. No sense of horizontal progression of time. Wine is set in a fractal globe, in which no facet of its character has a life of its own. Scale succumbs to intention.

Related – Feb. 21 wine and song salute

Tomorrow brings another VINTAGES release, a February 21st agglomeration with wines I suggest have discovered a remarkable balance achieved. Open them in a room and their blood will posit a similar temperature, one of warmth, so that soon, you will neither notice the alcohol or the heat, nor the deep freeze of winter. Here are eight more values to kick winter upside its proverbial ass.

From left to right: Gayda Viognier 2013, Esser Chardonnay 2012, Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz 2012, Domaine Des Huards Romo Cour Cheverny 2010, Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling 2012, Leasingham Winemakers Selection Bin 61 Shiraz 2012, Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011 and Domaine Du Grapillon D'or Gigondas 2012

From left to right: Gayda Viognier 2013, Esser Chardonnay 2012, Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz 2012, Domaine Des Huards Romo Cour Cheverny 2010, Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling 2012, Leasingham Winemakers Selection Bin 61 Shiraz 2012, Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011 and Domaine Du Grapillon D’or Gigondas 2012

Gayda Viognier 2013, Igp Pays D’oc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (395129, $13.95, WineAlign)

Simple, proper, sturdy and in certain respects, essential Viognier. Three sites each purpose a layer; chalk from limestone La Livinière, grain by clay-limestone Côteaux du Languedoc and metal tang through slate Roussillon. Florals are southern French Viognier obvious and spice adds a global touch. Quite versatile, well-made and complex beyond its simple roots. A nutty note rounds out the lean with a touch of fat. Good length takes it beneath the surface.  Tasted February 2015  @DomaineGayda  @TandemSelection

Esser Chardonnay 2012, Monterey County, California (675017, $18.95, WineAlign)

The musky and musty aromas in this off-chance gem from cooler Monterey draws fruit from the Riverview and Viento Vineyards in the north of Salinas Valley. The bottled up compression is relieved shortly after the cap is unscrewed, melting into a creamy textured Chardonnay and into the wind gaps of tall redwoods and pines. Round, sweet unctuous, easy to consume sips are both tropical and anything but buttery, heavy mouthfuls. Quite cool-classic actually, persistent, whiffing Monterey cone and framed by mineral adjunct meaning. More than impressive for the cost involved.  Tasted February 2015  @EsserVineyards  @DionysusWines

Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz 2012, Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria, Australia (265967, $19.95, WineAlign)

In Victoria’s Strathbogie Ranges cooler temperatures and heads prevail in this savoury, meaty, cured, grounded and earthy Shiraz. Dried flowers, caper berry and a bitterish angst are the Mediterranean accents from a low-yielding vine proviso. Though the wine is quite concentrated as a result of the peanut produce, the fruit is anything but baked. It may be a dweller on the threshold but it has lift, a natural acidity that emphasizes the freshness. The stone turned, this has “the music of the spheres,” a gaining in gathering momentum, beautiful vision and a background of accompanying voices.  Tasted February 2015  @FowlesWine  @vonterrabev

Domaine Des Huards Romo Cour Cheverny 2010, Ac, Loire, France (401257, $21.95, WineAlign)

A wildly original, not quite Loire white made from 100 per cent Romorantin, of a brilliant golden yellow colour and great metallic expression. Like sweating rocks, all sorts of soft and precious metals, a cool medallion around the neck. A tang that gets beneath the surface, though oxidative, remains fixed, in suspended animation. The length cements the fixation, with white flowers, their petals strewn about. A most uncomfortable pungency might frighten some olfaction, though the reek is just a by-product of calcareous clay with a lime reaction, not necessarily chalky but more like a lick of Blaisois loam on metal. Nutty, drying out on the finish but with acids stringing along in ability and pride.  Tasted February 2015  @MarkCuff    @TheLivingVine

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling 2012, Clare Valley, South Australia, Australia (262469, $25.95, WineAlign)

Clare Valley Riesling is one of those caché varietal in locale entities revered by so many. Fact is not all CVRs are sensational but when one is made like the 2012 Lodge Hill, the grape in place is nothing short of spectacular. A rather flinty meets petrol continuum vintage is massively forward and upward, getting right down to back of the skull business. Herbal yet stony, so arid, so much citrus and a tang of salinity bled from metal. Highly complex and blessedly dangerous length. But flack is cut because despite the anxiety the Lodge Hill “sang as if he knew me…singing clear and strong.” Riesling that soothes and delights, killing me softly with Riesling kindness and his song.  Tasted February 2015  @Jimbarrywines  @MikeAikins1  @ChartonHobbs  @Wine_Australia

Leasingham Winemakers Selection Bin 61 Shiraz 2012, Clare Valley, South Australia, Australia (448241, $25.95, WineAlign)

The history of the Bin 61 is a long, storied and reliable one to hang a perennial Shiraz hat on. In the late nineties and early 2000’s the fruit was darker, more extracted, the wines tannic and needing a dozen years to reach nirvana. Times have gradually shifted the fruit paradigm to red, fresh and vibrant. In 2012, immediate gratification increases, though the tempering vintage has not advanced the progression like in the most recent years. Here the stretched, busy and cake Leasingham persists, so five to seven years of justified evolution should be expected. Tightness grips with further sips so despite the current requiem for red fruit and acidity, this will need a brief taming. Not a Bin 61 for the ages but another winner to be sure.  Tasted February 2015  #Clarevalley

Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington (1594, $32.95, WineAlign)

A year later this Yakima Valley red has concentrated further, like sweet cherry tree gum resin and sap. Desert climate and high pH loess in coarse flood debris, once entirely gritty in the blend, are now beginning to integrate. Acidity remains on high amid diplomatic balance. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “A most interesting Washington blend out of a vintage worth seeking out. Abstruse fruit package in five varieties, conjoined like a semi-sweet chocolate dessert of flourless proportions and marked by a grain and an exceptional, altitudinous presence that can’t be denied. Berries of all colours and levels of sweet/tart, evergreen verdigris, velvety texture, richesse, luxury magic mountain air. “Walk in the sun, up on Magic Mountain, Red mountain wine, everybody laughs.” This Hedges has that effect. A more than sensible price for all that’s going on and anything but a burden.  Last tasted February 2015  @hedgeswine

Domaine Du Grapillon D’or Gigondas 2012, Southern Rhône, France (981787, $32.95, WineAlign)

Grenache dominant Rhône such as this from the Chauvet family goes deep into the ripest territory, with gorgeous aromatics that burst of red fruit incarnate. The large ancient barrels bring a subtle oak spice and a funk du cave unique and necessary to the Gigondas application. Alcohol is checked at the mid-palate, stepping aside for the vermillion fruit layering while so many spice accents, so Rhône, old and new, spike the zesty orange skin. The leathery hide will see to a decade of age, at the very least.  Tasted February 2015  @grapillondor

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Post Valentine’s polar vortex wines

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 with Pho Cuu Long Mien Tay

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 with Pho Cuu Long Mien Tay

Valentine’s Day came and went yet again. The 2015 edition of the polar vortex coincided with Cupid’s annual marketing juggernaut, bursting pipes, freezing the tails off brass monkeys everywhere and making life especially hell for those left out in the cold. Hearts were broken, mended and hopefully in more cases, joined as one.

Dundas Park Kitchen Valentine's Cake

Dundas Park Kitchen Valentine’s Cake

I was under the assumption you did not need my recommendations this year so I didn’t provide a pre-VD column to parade out a list of painfully obvious pink and sparkling wines. In the past I messed with the gratuitous holiday, first with just say no to pink wine for Valentine’s:

My advice is to just say no to pink. This year, you gotta be cruel to be wine for Valentine’s.

I followed that up by stating your man wants these wines for Valentine’s:

If you ask me, all I really want this Thursday, like any other day of the year, is a decent bottle of wine.

Last year I said You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine:

February 14th is so hyper-candied that ingredients like salinity, minerality, positive bitterness, animale and tannin are essential in the name of balance. Just don’t pair your dry red wine with chocolate.

Red Velvet Waffles

Red Velvet Waffles

In early retrospect, my take on 2015 remains frozen like the crust of precipitation on my windows and my copper pipes. Nothing much to say but wait for the thaw. There were of course the proverbial dinners, chocolates, desserts and all you need is love; enough to go around for the whole family. And there was wine. The family day weekend offered ample opportunity to sample and take note of a dozen bottles, none earth shattering or iconic but most aimed to please. Here are some notes.

The wines of Grange-Barbastre

The wines of Grange-Barbastre

Château De La Grange Barbastre Muscadet Sur Lie 2013, Cotes De Grand Lieu, Loire, France (Agent, $14.00, WineAlign)

Little in the way of aromatics here. Were Honeydew Melon dried like mango, this Melon de Bourgogne might be its simple sweet candied flavour. That and a chalky, thin leesy residue. The texture improves as a by-product of the tangy finish on that palate that turns musky melon funky, like whiskey in the jar. Like an ole’ Irish ballad singing “musha ring dumb a do dumb a da,” this Muscadet is characterful if nothing else and good value at $14.  Tasted February 2015  @LoireValleyWine

Domaine De La Grange Barbastre Sauvignon 2013, Igp Loire, France (Agent, $14.00, WineAlign)

Here is a very effective, oleaginous tank simple Sauvignon Blanc with a white flower and candied salt dominant nose. The candy replays on the palate though in a more medicinal and saccharine way. The sweetness is one that drowns, submerges, without a sound. More salinity and blanched nuts round out the smooth finish. Succulent if one dimensional Loire specimen.  Tasted February 2015

Domaine De La Grange Barbastre Pinot Gris Sauvignon 2013, Igp Loire, France (Agent, $14.00, WineAlign)

This 50/50 split between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris is a rare sighting indeed from out of the Loire Valley. In this instance the Alsatian elevates the Loire game with its ability to draw mineral and salinity from the earth, not to mention extract and the achievement in balance. Here the fruit leaves the salty stones in the dirt and then reaches higher, into the branches of the orchard, for zest and flesh, of pear and lemon. A gradated layering and roundness prevails. Sweet without being sweet, salty without being salty, in the end, all about flesh and bone. Good length.  Tasted February 2015

From left to right: Waterbrook Pinot Gris 2013

From left to right: Lanciola Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2012, Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Liberty School Chardonnay 2013, Eos Estate Petite Sirah 2012, Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Dei Rosso Di Montepulciano 2013, Waterbrook Pinot Gris 2013

Lanciola Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2012, Tuscany, Italy (330761, $16.95, WineAlign)

Entry level pricing rarely affords complexity and here, in this glycerin, shimmering Colli Fiorentini is an intoxicant of red fruit Sangiovese. Smells like warm celluloid and lamb. The “wool is soft and warm, gives off some kind of heat.” The plums within are charred, fleshy, clement and battered by a bretty funk. The carpet of texture is crawling with cellar micro-nutrients and gamey notes. There is nothing simple in the lamb’s coat and braised shank character. Wood splinters in the glass and the somewhat acquired flavours spread ambience through its broadway Florentine grooves. Another genesis Chianti Docg provides fodder for the further breaking down of appellations and designations of denominazione.  Tasted February 2015  @Collifiorentini  @LeSommelierWine

Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Naoussa, Greece (140111, $17.95, WineAlign) A VINTAGES March 21, 2015 release

In this Xinomavro there is beauty and bog consistence, like wild calla palustris. Imagine a wine thick as consonants, dense and defined by solid rock bubbling like stew, from out of a marsh. Wood adds intricate layers and a mothering of leather hiding and protecting dried cherries. Game, spice, liquorice, funk and things that heal flavour the wine’s liqueur. Silky smooth with a run of grain and the salinity of ancient longing. Racy acidity intrudes, puts in a charge and takes care to see six to eight years more life will be a guarantee. Easily and possibly 10 will pass before it sheds the chalky loops. Terrific vintage with impressive depth and range of flavour.  Tasted February 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine  @winesofnaoussa

Liberty School Chardonnay 2013, Central Coast, California (960120, $18.95, WineAlign)

A perfectly well-made, crowd-pleasing and sufficiently balanced Chardonnay with tree fruit notes in many shapes and sizes. The forward aromatics and restrained PG flavours are made for MOR, broad appeal. Though the texture and length are unexceptional, there is a spicy bite that slips more sips into the cards. A move along and return to again and again Chardonnay.  Tasted February 2015  @TrialtoON  @hopefamilywines

Eos Estate Petite Sirah 2012, Paso Robles, California (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Petite Sirah is so often inelegant and black as night so the Eos take is refreshing and relatively tame in comparison. Here defined by a multitude of red fruits and a varietally timid 14.3 per cent alcohol declaration that is more than believable. Has a large stone flecking earth character that reminds of Vacqueyras, amplified by liquorice, bramble and pseudo-garrigue. Fine-grained acidity and tannin add depth and linear, progressive attitude. The inherent hunches of ferric and sanguine seem Tuscan, when considered by way of comparative mythologies. The sole glaring detractor is folksy oak that will not fully integrate before fruit decline. Leans sweet without veering to cloying and all tolled, adds up to complexity for value at under $20.  Tasted February 2015  @EOSwinery  @LeSommelierWine

Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Alsace, France (392118, $19.95, WineAlign)

From Klevener de Heiligenstein, this is surely a step up in the Alsace Gewurz take.  Some reserve in the nose, holding back the far east florals and the sugar. There’s an aerified feel to this, an ethereal complement, a savoury edge. Really interesting and surely more than versatile aromatic white.  Good texture with creamy mangosteen and vanilla pod and then tight, even spicy, bracing acidity. Great deal here. Will live for a decade.   Tasted November 2014  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

Dei Rosso Di Montepulciano 2013, Tuscany, Italy (919430, $19.95, WineAlign)

Caterina Dei’s red fruit Rosso di Montepulciano is a noble seductress of necessity, younger and approachable, engaging for its purity and for its freshness. When compared to the Prugnolo Gentile that frames a Vino Nobile, it falls short, obviously, but its immediate appeal is what matters. Clean, clear and pristine juice is dropped with a tincture of beneficial medicine notes, for good sense, in place, measure and thought. A maquillage smear of sweet anise liqueure adds a dense streak in herbiage. The rehydrated fruit of tree pods is imagined, along with a vestige of Val D’Orcia garden shrub excretions. A malleable, permeating and nearly intoxicating Rosso. Drink now, now and again.  Tasted February 2015  @LeSommelierWine

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Tawse take on Unoaked Chardonnay is definitive, exemplary, righteous stuff. It does not clock you over the back of the head, nor does it beg for attention. Its stainless steel raising causes a dichotomous sensation, merging fruit seemingly drawn directly from the apple and pear orchards to melt into a mineral bath. It’s like a collision of hot and cold, like lightning. One taste of this pale, pure Gegenschein elicits the idea of a relevant encounter and one willing to be experienced again and again.  Tasted February 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Waterbrook Pinot Gris 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (918242, $22.95, WineAlign)

Very Gris (as opposed to Grigio), pure as Walla Walla running spring water, with mineral salts on the nose, juicy stone fruit on the palate and some tonic on the surprisingly long finish. Sweetness spoons over and lingers, perhaps trying just a bit too hard but “she brings the sunshine to a rainy afternoon.” Waterbrook’s PG is a yes wine, with components that are all expressive, if a bit scattered and not always in synch. If Washington Pinot Gris were progressive art rock, this Columbia Valley specimen might sing its song, with length to last out an album side.  Tasted February 2015  @WaterbrookWine  @LeSommelierWine

Boxwood Estate Trellis 2012

Boxwood Estate Trellis 2012

Boxwood Estate Trellis 2012, Middleburg, Virginia (Agent, $39.00, WineAlign)

A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc produced at John Kent Cooke’s historic estate, the Trellis spent 12 months in one to three year-old French oak. Classic nor-eastern aromatics share a kinship with North Fork clarets, but here warmer, riper and fuller of flesh. The advance comes by way of the 2012 heat day quotient and the latitude. The swath is a fresh coat, not sublimated from dried fruit. The plumpness is in fig, prune and plum, hydrated, dense and twisted with ties of tannin and acidity. The unmistakeable feel of cool-climate, new world expatriate Bordeaux-styled reds is explicitly fresh and clean. If it were $20 instead of $40 it would be an absolute no-brainer. As it stands, it’s worth a look though at the price its audience will not be large.  Tasted February 2015  @boxwoodwinery  @TrialtoON

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Feb. 21 wine and song salute

Godello's Tamales

Godello’s Tamales

Fear not good reader, this is only a list of seven, a set lucky wines and songs to play as you sip. On February 21st VINTAGES will roll a mid-winter classic release and though my recommendations will think globally next week, here the choices come out of Ontario, from parts Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore.

My picks are varied and the wines of a coagulated character best described as sui generis. Grapes come from old vines, are dried in kilns, fashioned in the Venetian Ripasso method and left on the vine to be stricken by the noble rot known as botrytis.

The brilliant leap of modern winemaking science allows the ancient to be realized in the present. Wines that pour themselves. Just as the earth has invisibly predisposed the vines, from cataclysms and through its evolution, so history is the unhurried intent. Winemakers are the messenger.

All this from Wine Country Ontario. Get to know it.

Speaking of WCO, if you happen to be heading to Ottawa for Winterlude this coming weekend, the VQA Wine Truck will be there, in Confederation Park.

Meanwhile back in Toronto, my seven wine and song salute begins here.

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Bricklayer's Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Bricklayer’s Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign)

Showy and yet so balanced and pristine. The cleanest fruit representing classic Niagara Peninsula Riesling from the ’12 vintage yet with an open mind to be walking far from home. Though void of agitation, there is plenty of verve and life. It comes by way of a mineral meets saline intensity, of iron and life, in wine. Like “sour building high as heaven,” and the components all kiss each other clean. Full of fine pastry layering, glycerine textured but not oily fruit, full and yet somehow so lacy. A really special Riesling from down by the lake.  Tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Ripasso Style, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (270488, $19.95, WineAlign)

Ridgepoint’s Ripasso style Merlot takes the varietal, stands it on its head and shakes the rust from out of its bones. It wears “a coat of feelings and they are loud,” with drying and painted flavours over top porcine, cocoa, wild and tight aromas. Merlot in a purple bottle, an animal collective, peppery, interesting, very Niagara, very Ripasso. Good length.  Tasted January 2015  @Ridgepointwines

Bricklayer’s Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (406124, $19.95, WineAlign)

In Colio’s Cabernet Sauvignon there is dark chocolate everywhere, at every turn, in every crevice. Black pepper, fleur de del, currants and tobacco accent that chocolate ubiquity, with warmth and oak spice. Cherries seeped in astringent tannin offer a silky sweet sadness and “under this skin, there lies a heart of stone.” Counting for value, the Bricklayer’s reward is mercy, by way of character, texture and that wholesome chocolate. It may not be everyone’s cup of cocoa but it will age as long as the crow flies, into the next decade.  Tasted January 2015  @ColioWinery

Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign)

Burning Kiln’s latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) is that much more exceptional than what came before. The peaceful, heavy yet easy feeling continues, in alcohol weight and aromatic lift, ’cause it’s “already standin’ on the ground.” Like an eagle soaring, the Savagnin is a wild creature and yet solid, of a gamey, textural density. Imagine dried grasses and fruits, baked bricks, steamed crabs and honey. A wine so unique, mouth filling, viscous and tangy, from a wine region (province) with a maximum 10 planted acres. A white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.  Tasted January 2015  @BurningKilnWine

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (203703, $30.00, WineAlign)

Thirty Bench’s vintage-affected Chardonnay is rounded, full of warm, ripe fruit and noticeable oak. No darts are tossed, neither by woodsmoke nor spice and it ventures quite outward bound. This adventurous, appealing wine takes some chances, looks beyond its borders, reaching for notes both gravelly and scented; like cumin, coriander and a beautifully bittersweet Tom Collins. The rocks are certainly in, as are the sticks and stones, though they do not break bones. The price is another matter, affordable to some, prohibitive to “the little boys who never comb their hair.” For a Chardonnay such as this, of layers and riches, “they’re lined up all around the block, on the nickel over there.” It time waits for this, value will increase and it will become a wine for tomorrow.  Tasted January 2015  @ThirtyBench

Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (405043, $30.20, WineAlign)

Here Sauvignon Blanc is wild and free, bares then sells its soul and is runnin’ with the devil. The expression is a free dance of varietal character, flinty and extremely juicy in simultaneous movements. Though the SO2 level is high (it cleans the passages), the compote is peachy, at times canned and soaking in syrup, but the accents are laden with capsicum, lactic white plums and wet grasses. Slightly bruised and/or oxidative, the mineral tang is pushy and formative. This is serious Niagara-on-the-Lake SB, crazy and compressed stuff. It lives its “life like there’s no tomorrow, finding “the simple life ain’t so simple.” Like vintage Van Halen.  Tasted January 2015  @PellerVQA

Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign)

Inscribed into the Inniskillin ‘Discovery Series” for good reason, the BA Viognier is a product of luck and circumstance, a small parcel of grapes blessed with the not oft success of climate leading to ripening and noble rot. Grapes left to hang into late harvest (as opposed to freezing on the vine for the production of Icewine) is not a common Viognier practice. While the frank and masculine aromatic presence may be compromised here (the nose is quite reserved), the overall ubiquity is omnipresent and enveloping. Such a clean and young botrytis offers soft chords and a lifting voice. You can smell the fruits east and west; green and yellow plantain, peaches and plums. Flavours of lemon curd and pineapple arrive at a point where the tannin finds a way to “fuse it in the sun.” It can be imagined this Vendanges Tardives simulation will go long so “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup, with the promise of a man.”  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

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A biography of Ontario and B.C. wines

Two Sisters Grapevines Photo © http://www.twosistersvineyards.com/

Two Sisters Grapevines
Photo © http://www.twosistersvineyards.com/

Like a weather map, when you take account of a wine, you are leafing through time. One could chart a wine through location, soils, geology and climatic influences. The biographical footprint is also measured after the vine has been stripped and in the winemaker’s hands.

The reconstruction of biography is about as arbitrary as predicting the future. It’s just as puzzling, untraceable and like running through a maze, is fraught with wrong turns and dead-ends. It’s about hunch work, gauging probabilities, accounting for what has come before and extrapolating towards what might be. It involves using  unsubstantiated and even unrecorded information to try proving a current state of affairs.

The conjuring of a wine to define the present and the future deals not with what is extant but what may never have been. It relies on tastes, sensations and feelings that have done the big vamoose and left no trace. Wines are reticent subjects, unable to defend themselves, posthumously fudged together. We gorge on the lives of famous wines and those culled from beneath overturned rocks, impressible with the fixations of our own.

We are lovers of wine; eager and desperate to be one with their psyche, to imagine it synched in sycophant fixation with our own. Yet all the salient facts and aspects of a wine’s journey, in viticulture, pH, residual sugar, total acidity, élevage and in tasting, are really nothing if we are unable to find the theory the wine and by extension, the winemaker live by.

In Ontario, wine writers spend an inordinate amount of time tasting new releases, generally the most current vintage of wines we have made acquaintance many times before. The bright lights of revelation dim increasingly out of sight due to the nature of that redundant beast. Yet on a Thursday in January at WineAlign the kid in a candy store factor presented through bottles yet discovered from wineries lined up and waiting to be counted.

A few weeks ago David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and I assembled to have a go at four new (or not nationally recognized) Canadian wineries. Redstone Wines is the newest venture from Moray Tawse, with director of winemaking Paul Pender as headmaster to the rising, structured elegance of winemaker Rene Van Ede‘s compositions. Two Sisters in Niagara has pounced on the scene with precocious nerve, having released a few vintages in a short time. Some older wines were crafted in virtual virtuosity by current Ravine winemaker Marty Werner. The Sisters (Angela Marotta & Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli) have come to the present with Adam Pearce at the helm and his affinity for aromatic whites is the newest Niagara revelation. I will look forward to seeing him push some envelopes, with barrels, hang time, micro-plots and fermentative experimentation.

Redstone Wines Rosé from KeyKeg at Campagnolo Restaurant Photo © Michael Godel

Redstone Wines Rosé from KeyKeg at Campagnolo Restaurant
Photo © Michael Godel

Though I’ve not tasted more than a handful from the Okanagan Valley’s CedarCreek Vineyards, all thus far have touched gold. Winemaker Daryl Brooker‘s varietal wines are pure, precise and affordable. This may just be one of the most exciting wineries to watch out for in British Columbia. Fort Berens does Burgundy in the shadow of Fraser Canyon’s Mountains. A taste of Rolf de Bruin‘s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offers terrific insight into DNA and in them you can read B.C.’s varietal future. Daydreamer Wines is winemaker Marcus Ansems‘ collective energy of intention, wines to sip again and again until you taste them for the first time.

Here are the notes on 23 Ontario and B.C. wines tasted on January 22, 2015.

Redstone Winery Viognier 2013, Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Riesling 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Chardonnay 2012

Redstone Winery Viognier 2013, Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Riesling 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Chardonnay 2012

Redstone Viognier 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Where there’s Lincoln Lakeshore there is red clay and with it winemaker Rene Van Ede goes it old school. Staid and static, Viognier is the star, in as much as it can be in the solid soil by the lake. On the leesy side, a sprite of lime and a dusting of chalk give texture, augmenting an already noticeable, package deal Redstone white wine portfolio. A yeast strain trend seems to be the uniting force. This is weighty but not dense, solid for the varietal and indicative of the winemaker’s style.  Tasted January 2015  @RedstoneWines

Redstone Cabernet 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Part Cabernet Franc and parcel Cabernet Sauvingon, this Redstone spent 16 months in French oak. Having melded wood into savour, the plum fruit is more than up front ample, with a pepper over and a chocolate under. A fair shake of spice and insistent tannin makes for quite a bracing red mouthful, indicating needed air and age time. Like the Tawse Bordeaux-styled reds that have come before, here is yet another slice of red fruit meets the iron life.  Tasted January 2015

Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

If a Niagara Sauvignon Blanc could be endeared with the term ‘calcaire,’ Rene Van Ede’s Limestone Vineyard would lead the shortlist, not only because of the eponymous vineyard but because it oozes of the rock’s chalky chafe. Plenty of orchard fruit belies the lime, in an unoaked Chardonnay way and the wine makes full use of limestone’s hematic shed. This is one of the most stylish Sauvignon Blancs made in Canada, even if the average consumer were not able to recognize it as such. A winemaker from Sancerre would know it immediately and intuitively. Here a crushed reef of limestone memory permeates the wine from beginning to end. One of the more outstanding Sauvignon Blancs made in Ontario to date.  Tasted January 2015  @DanielatTawse

Redstone Winery Riesling 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Such a stoic, atomic, inwardly myopic, microscopic Riesling. Dry and drier on the not yet quite ripe pear side of the tree fruit diapason. A juicy, tangy palate follows, with viscous treasures tasting of lime curd kicked up by spice accents. A kinship here with the Tawse Limestone Ridge Vineyard, with minerals that have not forgotten what it’s like to think about magma. So much lime continues to kick in and the stone it acidulates. Narrow, focused, long and rising Riesling.  Tasted January 2015

Redstone Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Fruit for Redstone’s Pinot Noir is sourced from a 15 year-old block and it saw 16 months in French oak. A wine defined by up front spice, oak obviousness and a candescence in extraction. This the vintage gives, to clamber along with the barrel, in addition to red fruit tones that trump earth. The glass is filled with a waft of raspberry pie and a drizzle of macerated cherries. A ferric streak, as would absolutely be expected, line the red fruit basket and keeps the Redstone savour animated. Know this about Twenty Mile Pinot Noir. It is alive.  Tasted January 2015  @RedstoneWines

Redstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Redstone Vineyard is a plot of red clay and large stones, set within the 38-acre estate. This red beauty saw an extended stay (18 months) in French oak, a relevant encounter to see it come out with remarkable purity, not to mention sensuality. This from out of the 2011 vintage, one that did not flatter many Niagara reds though on the Lincoln Lakeshore much success has been found. Plum and strawberry scents emerge from a wine warmer than would be thought, sanded by chalky and grainy parts in synch. A well-delineated progressive and fine-tuned machine should age for a minimum five years.  Tasted January 2015

Redstone Winery Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

A very buttery Chardonnay, warm, tropical, steeped from rich soil, seeping orchard fruit and yet soaking from the generous amount of French oak. Handled with poise and ease, the fruit just seems to inuit its amalgamated Peninsula place and understand its place in the Niagara Chardonnay spectrum. This grows and grows, like a vine, upwards yet inwards, with instrumental interplay and no excess notes. Just the bare Chard essentials; no waste, all focus, trim and elegant.  Tasted January 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Two Sisters Vineyards  Merlot 2010

Two Sisters Vineyards Riesling 2013, Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Chardonnay 2013, Eleventh Post 2011 and Merlot 2010

Two Sisters Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

An auspicious coming out vintage from winemaker Adam Pearce with fruit sourced from the Foxcroft block of the Wismer Vineyard. So very Twenty Mile Bench, with fleshy, near to bursting exotic aromatics in the vein of other Foxcroft Rieslings, like those made by Paul Pender, Ilya Senchuk and Kevin Panagapka. The classic stone fruit, their stones and the soil’s stones trampled underfoot. The kinship goes deeper, with Jay Johnston’s Nadja and Pender’s Limestone Ridge. Pearce’s take endears with notes of clementine and creamy mango pudding. Though the residual inflates more expansively than all the others, there is an aridity in the end, one that intimates modern Alsace. A pleasure to taste, with good (though not great) acidity and low (10.6 per cent) alcohol. The finish improves with each pass of the lips.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

From the Creek Shores appellation, a precinct of the Peninsula with a habit of firing citrus shots into Riesling and Chardonnay. The injections are at their hyper best from June’s Vineyard and here, in this Adam Pearce crafted, barrel-broaching bottle of white stone immaculate. Tons of character graces this Chardonnay, with a salinity drawn from the heavy Creek Shores soil overtop solid rock that permeates the wine’s earth. Lees affected, this may well be Petite Chablis, what with its texture and sugary smells. There is a perceived effervescence, a lively streak that gives it life and a swelling of its heart. The acidity is rampant and despite the inkling of SO2, the wine is quite expressive and a step-up from many cut of the same genre.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Here is a veritable, potable example of Niagara SB 101, breath freshening, varietal refresher. Crafted with the lightest Sauvignon Blanc touch, with hints of grass and goose feathers, hold the berries. Soft, slight and slightly herbal with a thin veiled membrane of circular acidity. Amiably done.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Not unexpectedly, the Two Sisters oaked Chardonnay is a dramatically opposing force to the unplugged abbess. If not for the pierce afforded a Creek Shores drawn Chardonnay, winemaker Adam Pearce might have found himself stuck with a big, buttery bag of popcorn on its way to becoming a can a of creamed corn. The wooden ship is thankfully mitigated by citrus and sails calmly across buttery seas in search of herbal lands. The handling is not one fumbled by heavy mitts and the cool climate intent is managed bravely. There is admiral balance with just enough wood incantation to see it stretch across a few years time.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Eleventh Post 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that is very savoury, with a dry and dusty white/red pepper component. This has good verve from out of the challenging 2011 vintage. It forges ’10 louder, amps the dial up to ’11, in tempo and sapidity. A very persistent and intense heritage, with chalky tannin and grains running crosswise. Though the final wish would be for more length, it is a dogged specimen with a few years left ahead.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Merlot 2010, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

This was a “virtually” made wine at the time by current Ravine Vineyard winemaker Martin Werner. From the warm and high ripening 2010 vintage, with additional blanketing and layering from the Niagara River appellation. Oak provides a creamy flannel swaddle. Certainly soft, dreamy and downy, void of tension and so easy to consume. Though by now it has fully evolved and is rapidly descending into the river’s sunset, its flavour temperament is more than Merlot palatable. Were the price considerably lower it would please on more levels.  Tasted January 2015  @2SistersVine

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013 and Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012, Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013 and Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012, Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

With a component of this wine having been housed in mammoth, old-school (2250 litre) oak barrels, the wood is spread like citrus honey butter, evenly and judiciously, through every sip. Chardonnay of tang and by lees, with apples everywhere, along with a streaky flint mien. Fine Chardonnay.  Tasted January 2015  @CedarCreekWine

CedarCreek Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 1995, this wild yeast inoculated Pinot Noir is tough, sinewy, rigid and masculine. Dark red fruits are surrounded by racing, bracing, running on the spot acidity. Here is a west coast wine that needs enough time, somewhere in the area of five years, to soften and bring flowers. When it does, they will be roses.  Tasted January 2015

Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013, VQA British Columbia (BC VQA, 559492, $19.99, WineAlign)

With Fraser Canyon’s mountains as the backdrop, the sandy soil and sage brush make for a cool yet herbal Chardonnay. The foothills earth gives Lillooet mineral, not unlike Chablis but in B.C., with a tropical twist. This has plenty of leesy, Chablis character. Quite spirited, chalky and with a hint of soft metals, as if the cold world melts, “the noise a song.” Any way you look at it or listen to its electronica grooves, this is another cool-climate beauty. With good oscillating texture and length, it could easily be imagined to be drinking a tankful on a hot summer’s day.  Tasted January 2015  @FortBerens

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2012, VQA British Columbia (Winery, $25.99, WineAlign)

This wine of many clones came together from Lilloet soils and was housed in barrels from many coopers. It’s bright, funky, meaty and fecundated with a clafouti of red fruits. Though jammy it’s neither hot nor over-extracted. The jam is a compote, teased by citrus rind and rubbed herb stems. In the end the sweetness prevails so find some salty charcuterie to match and drink up.  Tasted January 2015

Marcus Ansems Shiraz 2013

Daydreamer Wines Pinot Gris 2013, Jasper 2013, Amelia 2013 and Chardonnay 2013, Marcus Ansems Chardonnay 2013 and Shiraz 2013

Daydreamer Wines Pinot Gris 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Here a small batch Pinot Gris from winemaker Marcus Ansems out of an organic (Naramata Bench) vineyard. Dry and inhabiting atmospheric space, tightly wound, aerified and vacuous. Smells of fruit and blasted bits housed in concrete; pits, stones and blocks of rock. Flavours come from tree fruit, citrus and crushed seeds. Clean like Alsatian Pinot Gris (Schoffit comes to mind) and really balanced, with a soft crooning lilt. It’s quite elemental and elementary dear Watson, approachable and comforting. “When my head is heavy on my shoulders, daydreamer gonna make it over.” Linear acidity gives further meaning, in planar and stretched grooves. Deserving of the generic comment “really good food wine.”  Tasted January 2015  @Daydreamerwines

Daydreamer Wines Jasper 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.90, WineAlign)

This blend of Merlot (83 per cent) and Cabernet Franc is a dry, dusty pepper, mace and plum red with a silky texture and some advanced character. In retention of necessary acidity it manages to stay on the wire, with a citrus ability and a lees meets cheese rind cure. The flavours carry this forward with a chew of dried jerky, only to return to the aromatic takeover of dried flowers and cracked nasturtium pods. The great appeal here is on the nose, nothing to sneeze at or take for granted. The lasting appeal is a smell of salt pulling lilacs into the sea, or like a garden of flowers of trance inducing aromas that have absorbed many daydreams.  Tasted January 2015

Daydreamer Wines Amelia 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.90, WineAlign)

The organic B.C. winery presents a northern Rhône dreamer singing like a bird on its very personal Okanagan hejira. Composed of (90 per cent) Syrah and more than a dash (10 per cent) of Viognier, it also hits you like a linebacker, with waves of pepper and steeping cherries, or perhaps plums. Silky smooth and haunting up the middle, but the cure is in, the meats drying and the flavours massive. The fruits dehydrate in a way to question, have you got a date? Dates this Syrah has, in clusters, made saline by capers and sage. Leaves “vapor trails across the bleak terrain,” with streaks of octane fruit and tannin in refrain. This should be left to rest for a few years, to play out the song, to avoid “dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms.”  Tasted January 2015

Daydreamer Wines Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BC VQA, 410076, $29.90, WineAlign)

A weighty example in excess of the chameleon Chardonnay’s necessities, skittering with jerking movements and changing rapidly within the assessment in minutiae. Plenty of scorched earth and toasted barrel putter about and the aromatics remind of an old Eastern European home. Braising biennial Brassica, Pot au Feu and a wood smoker linger into a leesy and citrus tang. The sapidity takes charge and warms to the glass and the senses. A more than serviceable if scattered Chardonnay here brings much character to the table.  Tasted January 2015

Marcus Ansems Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BC VQA, 410076, $29.90, WineAlign)

The winemaker’s personal label is derived from more finesse and delves into upstanding seriousness than what is shown by his Daydreamer counterpart. Very cool-climate, acidity on top, with the suite of buttered toast, green apples and spice notes harmoniously intertwined. Pining notes opine to imagine pine forests and natural twine. Intense tang and verve stretch to protected length. Cooler in many ways, like a trio of established artists coming together for a first record, to offer their collective sound, on a “Friday evening, Sunday in the afternoon, what have you got to lose?” Nothing at all, from a glass of this blue-eyed Chardonnay.  Tasted January 2015  @HemispheresWine

Marcus Ansems Shiraz 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $34.90, WineAlign)

This Golden Mile Bench, west coast red leans northern Rhône with pronounced cured pork belly and smoked meat aromas. The savoury edge is like capers growing from cracks in limestone, the olives and other pickled berries coming by way of warmer, more southerly climes. Modern, violaceous and a touch oxidative, with some southern hemisphere gauze and rubber mercurial style points. There is a smell like that of baked potato, baked underground, after lightning has struck. A big wine from a little known pocket for Shiraz lore, the Ansems Shiraz will appeal to a masculine palate.  Tasted January 2015

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