Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list

Fish and Chips at Small Town Food Bar

Fish and Chips at Small Town Food Bar

I taste a lot of wine. Lots of wine. Were I to manage a restaurant list with room for everything that deserves a place to call home, to share with the world the honest and the natural, a long list I would indeed create. The wine list at Barque Smokehouse I build is predicated on that premise but you can count on two hands the number of wines we offer by the glass. Necessity is our master.

Related – A resolution to drink honest wine

At the start of 2014 I penned that column and looking back eight months later, the ideas put out within that post-ice storm, mild January day apply to the concept of formulating a restaurant wine list. For the most part, a wine card should endorse the virtuous and the sincere. “Honest wine is juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life. For a bottle of wine to be on the up and up it must not be disguised by the unnatural ways of artificial intervention nor should it make itself so available as to be obvious. Fruit should reside in the realm of the sequestered and the sacred. I am not alone in hoping for table wines to be stirring, gripping, unsweetened and unencumbered by an excessive coat of oak. My hard-earned dollars should earn the right to be stimulated .”

If your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in. VINTAGES releases more than 100 new wines every two weeks. If 95 are what you might consider wantonly microdontic or overly tangential in influence, so be it. Five new wines every two weeks is more than enough to keep your list rocking, rolling, current and fresh. In Ontario the choices are many and the options endless. If driving the construction-riddled streets of Toronto is for you the time spent equivalent of root canal surgery in a Chilean coal mine then call an agent, request a tasting and let the cases be shipped to your doorstep.

“Wine only recognizes two temporal states. Fermentation and party time.” Be creative, read Tom Robbins, listen to the Tom Tom Club, mix it up a little, try new wines and add a spark to your wine program. Give it the genius of love. Guests just want to have fun. Here are 14 new releases, from VINTAGES and through some really terrific agents here in Ontario.

From left to right: Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Coyote's Run Pinot Noir 2013, Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 and Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012

From left to right: Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2013, Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 and Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012

Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Umbria, Italy (Agent, $16)

The “Spicca” family owned the farm where the vines now grow. For a Rosso, from Umbria, Toscana or Piemonte for that matter to stand out (spicarre), it must have something unique and noticeable. Le Velette’s understated Umbrian blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo is all about aromatics. Spicy cherries, leather and cinnamon with an underlying petrichor that seemingly bleeds fresh piquant juice straight from concrete. Like the oil exuding from lavender and rosemary growing out of the fissures of cracked terracotta over clay, after a warm summer rain. The palate gives a wee bit of spirited spritz and pizzazz. All this for $16 and change for a finishing espresso.   Tasted October 2014  @Noteworthywines

Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322545, $18.95, WineAlign)

Darker berries define the Paul Pender take on Gamay for Niagara and in ’13 there is a level of tension and girth not yet approached. This third Tawse Gamay is overt in attitude, connotative of Beaujolais Cru staging, an ovule of rebellion and a disposition just as though in the grips of Asmodeus. The Tawse effect is entrenched in clay and possessive of  knowledge as if derived by an invitation only junket to the Gamay motherland. If the stance seems serious, the fruit is up to the task. A Gamay for now and fully capable of aging five or more years.  Tasted October 2014

Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (390971, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

You can take the Spätburgunder out of the nomenclature but you can’t take the nomenclature out of the Spätburgunder. The porcine dry, crunchy bits are front and centre, the pig offal under the crust. This is Baden red wine of a bitter and surprisingly sweet palate nature, a modern take on old male Pinot pattern baldness. So worth trying towards gaining a deeper understanding of varietal diversity.  Tasted October 2014  @HalpernWine

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (53090, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Estate bottle represents a balanced amalgamation of terroirs with essential Niagara On-The-Lake Pinot Noir aromas, accents and distinction. Highly floral, thanks in kind to the red Trafalgar clay loam of the Red Paw Vineyard, as much as it has and will ever be. Extracted with reserved prejudice, with props to the dark Toledo clay loam of the Black Paw Vineyard, showing as a robust and retentive treacle, rich in tangy licorice and cherry pie. Much flavour is found in this Pinot Noir, so it will be well deserving of accolades and sales. If the sweetness prevails it is only because the fruit is shepherded in clean and Shepparded with blending acumen.  Tasted October 2014  @coyotesrun

Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Doca Rioja, Spain (208223, $20.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Old, old school Rioja ramped up, given a natural injection of rock brine and garriga then sent out to play. Rarely does Lealtanza give so much fresh conjecture, so much considered condensation and dense consideration. Soft and muddled palate, mottled rocks seeping berries and an accent of candied tomato leaf. Funky finish keeps it real.  Tasted October 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (36194, $21.95, WineAlign)  NWAC14 Silver Medal Winner

A dusty and gilded Cabernet Franc from one of the warmest Niagara vintages in recent memory. Vivid in Bench specific varietal tendency, as if the berries on the black currant bush were ripening and bursting in the late afternoon sun, right into the glass. A blueberry by you CF, spiced by the faint childhood memory of grandfather’s unlit pipe on the coffee table. There have been more tense and exciting Cab Franc’s by Richie Roberts but none so suave and grown-up as this 2012.  Tasted September 2014  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012, Doc, Piedmont, Italy (388660, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Don’t worry Mr. Parker, this rare chance at assessing a Langhe made from the Freisa grape will not join the 100-point club but I can say with certainty that this take is anything but “totally repugnant.” Borgogno’s Freisa is rustic, with dried figments of raisin and fig, though zero notes of reduction. More dried fruit, in carob and licorice with biting, spicy notes and the seeping of black tea leaves. The whole Mediterranean potpourri seethes in altitude and attitude. A dry and sensual red with enveloping chalk and acidity. Perhaps “Bobbo” Butch Cassidy should give this Langhe a whirl.  Tasted August 2014  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Ascheri Barolo 2010

From left to right: Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Ascheri Barolo 2010

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.  From my earlier, July 2014 note: “According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.”  Last tasted October 2014  @CaveSpring

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (707323, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

Despite the colour as dark as monster’s gore this is a relaxed X Merriman, not overly painted or rubbed by charcoal and rubber tree plant. The Bordeaux-styled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55 per cent), Merlot (37), Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec from South-West slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, Stellenbosch opens its tight angled gates to reveal a cool centre, with juicy, rich, iced espresso, though in decomposed granite grit it’s tannic as hell. Makes judicious use of its (41 per cent) new and (59 per cent) 2nd and 3rd-fill 225L French oak barrels, along with balance in alcohol (14.3 per cent) integration. Solid South African red with just enough primal activity to pleasantly alter the temperature in the brain, without causing concussion or grey matter to go totally askance. Will drink well into the next decade.  Tasted October 2014  @WoodmanWS

Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Mclaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (987784, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release

A Pirramimma in the new vein from a warm and rich vintage. So hard to scale back when nature gives you this much fruit. Though 15 per cent is hardly a twinkle in its alcohol eye, there is only so much elegance that can be coaxed from this kind of hedonism. It’s big, juicy and just so alive. As simple as a candle, without magic and void of mystery. It will range hither and thither for 10 years before it makes the long, slow journey back home.  Tasted October 2014  @bwwines

Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (1560, $29.95, WineAlign)

Seven months have softened and mothered Gravity’s adolescence in ways to now see it as the most feminine, certainly of the last four vintages. Pretty dabs, perfumes of natural conditioning, warm days and warm nights in the bottle. More accessible than previous takes and of a new modernity perceived. Sweet dreams and sweet fragrances, roses and cinnamon, nothing fancy here mind you, with no bite and no gathering moss. Cherries and vanilla, lavender and simple pleasures. Straight up Gravity, no pull down, no drag and no excess weight. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “In a vintage potentially muddled by warmth and a humidor of radio frequency, duplicating berry phenolics, Flat Rock’s Gravity remains a definitive, signature house Pinot Noir. In 2011, the head of the FR class from its most expressive barrels shared the limelight (and top juice) with the Pond, Bruce and Summit one-offs. In ’12, Gravity’s sandbox was its own. The style is surely dark, extracted, black cherry bent, as per the vintage. Yet only the Rock’s soil does earth in this variegate, borne and elevated by the barrel’s grain. There are no fake plastic trees in a Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity always wins.”  Last tasted October 2014  @Brighlighter1  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Looks can be deceiving so much so Janine might look as is she were leading a bubble to red dye number 40. Not the case, rather the expressive hue is winemaker Frédéric Picard’s colourful bleed from 100 per cent Pinot Noir fruit. So, it must be sweet and tasting cloyingly like a bowl of sugared strawberries. Again, not so. Janine’s aromas are very berry and her texture is certainly cheese and crème fraiche-inflected from a 12 month lees mattress, but dry she goes. Much demonstrative behaviour and perspiring humidity comes from vintage warmth and here results in layering. Janine is an earthy, funky squared sparkler, with nothing shy or demurred about her, but all of the outwardly screaming smells and tastes are in check. Strawberry cream and shortcake cease from wrapped tight acidity coming in from the backside. Big bubbles.  Tasted October 2014  @HuffEstatesWine

Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (92478, $30.00, WineAlign)

From estate fruit on a single vineyard planted in 1969 on the Papatu Road, Manutuke, Gisborne. On Waihirere soils of heavy silt and Kaiti clay loam. A most mineral driven Chardonnay thanks in part to some Riesling in the mix. This varietal symbiosis, along with a co-planted orange grove gives what James Milton calls “the sharing of astrality.” The five year-old biodynamic Opou does whiff orange blossom, along with crisp green apple and the wet rocks of a summer rain. Quite full on the palate with a bite of black pepper and olive oil drizzle over toasted Ciabatta, smeared by churned, salted butter. The length indicates five more relish piqued years and five furthermore in slow decline.  Tasted October 2014  @TheLivingVine

Ascheri Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (341107, was $35.25, now LTO $32.25, WineAlign)

Standard issue Barolo of a canonical character so bankable as Nebbiolo and nothing but. Classic Piemontese funk comes wafting out, along with licorice in as many ways as can be described; anise, Sambuca or fennel. The palate is creamy and slightly sweet, accented with pepper and a dusty, grainy sensation. This is Barolo of old with a cough syrup confection, wild herbs and grit. It could not be mistaken for Malbec though its disjointed ways could use some finesse and polish.  Tasted October 2014  @liffordwine

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th

Ribs meet Turkey PHOTO: Michael Godel

Ribs meet Turkey, rubs by Barque Smokehouse
PHOTO: Michael Godel

The last four times the calendar’s folklorique confluence brought a Friday and the 13th of a month together occurred in December and September of 2013, July and April of 2012. On that April Friday the arbitrariness shared a birthday with the sinking of the titanic. That kind of anti-kismet “does not bode well for the superstitious kind.” So once again, if you are one of the many inflicted with paraskevidekatriaphobia then tomorrow may not be your favourite day. If you also suffer from oenophobia, I feel for you.

Here are thirteen things that make me think of the number thirteen.

  1. Apollo 13. Moon mission gone bad.
  2. Thirteen years ago this week Radiohead went to No. 1 on the UK album chart with their album Amnesiac.
  3. The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, Chapter XIII: “The weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”
  4. Thirteen Days, The Movie. John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  5. Friday the 13th in Port Dover, Ontario.
  6. The song “13” by Big Star.
  7. The 13 Principles of Jewish Faith.
  8. 13th Street Wines.
  9. The thirteenth man. How the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost the 2009 Grey Cup.
  10. June 13th, 1913. The New York Yankees win their 13th game of year after losing 36 games.
  11. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery and segue to the great Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013.
  12. Steve Nash. Dan Marino. Wilt Chamberlain. Mats Sundin. Godello.
  13. 13” the name of the new album by Black Sabbath.

Nice list. Of even greater importance is choosing some wine for the fitful 13th day of June and for Father’s Day on the weekend that follows. Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, for and with dad.

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012

Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (57349, $12.95, WineAlign) LCBO General List

Give this vibrant crush of boyish red fruit a slight chill and with this pinnacle ideal vintage, at this ridiculously right price, go hither and convince a world of Gamay naysayers to get on board. Never mind the many years of “uninspired, drenched and tired” Gamay beach songs and tired voyages. Never mind the bad rap and out of tune harmonies thrust upon the world by dull vintages and bulk fruit. This CdC Gamay continues to breach the value quotient. Here is fresh, pure, unadulterated adult’s juice. It cruises from harbour with a clove-studded orange spritz and sets out past a rocky jetty to open seas. “Sail on, sail on sailor.”  Tasted June 2014  @MBosc

Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Leyda Valley, Chile  (371138, $14.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

So very peppery and Ají Cristal notes come from this warm weathered Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, indicating a Leyda Valley specificity that can’t be denied. So much unctuous character swallows whole the herbiage and schmaltz, as does the rapid fire acidity. Powerful SB, not subtle, not understated. There is no shortage of fruit, with nettles and a volcano in current eruption. It’s as if it would plead, “spider got eight legs and I got two. This guitar got six strings, what about you, well, what do you got?” So much going on, with more palate tingling white pepper, bending notes and angles. Jacks from ballad to wailing guitar, from rhapsodic to metallic. A Sauvignon Blanc with fly farm blues. I think it has an appeal to a red wine drinker who wants to drink a big white and I think it will age quite well, something like five to seven more years.   Tasted May 2014  @WoodmanWS

Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Ac, Beaujolais, France (325134, $15.30, WineAlign) LCBO General List

When this Villages Millésime was mentioned for the purpose of offering a contrast to Ponciago’s La Réserve, it was honestly assessed as having “paint and tar notes.” When considered on its own merit it’s all about softness, perfume and poise. Pure red berry fruit just seems encased in a web of gossamer texture, it’s that pleasant to drink. Though it may lack the stuffing of La Réserve and Les Hauts Du Py, at $15 and change this is the real deal in Beaujolais. Even more impressive in consideration to the challenges of the vintage.  Tasted June 2014  @WoodmanWS

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (640516, $16.95, WineAlign)

Clone 809 strikes again. The pioneering Bosc family tells the usual oak suspects to stay clear of their pure St. David’s Bench meets Seven and Seven Vineyard fruit so the intensity of flowers and blanketing minerality can speak with utmost clarity. Never mind all that, this ’12 is the most tropical Chardonnay Musqué yet made by CdC. Its heart is a drum, “free as a driving wheel, circling around your iron will.” OK, so that Seven and Seven soil makes for alloy heaven. Just ring this clone and she will be at your beck and call.  Tasted May 2014  @MBosc

Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (361212, $18.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES May 24, 2014 release

Bonarda is on the rise and threatening to challenge Malbec in Mendoza, especially when it poses with such an obvious, rich and cakey Andean attitude. This example is clearly culled from a state of the art production facility because despite the slightly funky, gritty, tense and nervous layering and radio fuzz, it shows such a polished quality. Picked & mixed by real humans, this is varietal desert euphoria paradise, full of plum drive and chocolate coating.  Tasted May 2014  @Oenophilia1

Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Burgundy, France (375428, $18.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

The Grahier is an exhilarating, extremely arid, purposed blend of Pinot Noir (60 per cent) and Chardonnay (40). Though technically Extra Brut (less than 6 g/L residual sugar) this highly stylish Crémant teases with a perceived ripe orchard fruit sweetness. Versatility comes across in every spice and toast-driven bubble, for a cocktail pour, to blend into a cocktail or to match a wide range of dinner flavours. So useful and so smart. Offers up unparalleled value in Bourgogne sparkling.  Tasted June 2014  @Oenophilia1

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (591305, $19.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Malivoire presents a Pinot Gris in good temper, better balance and even greater controlled anxiety to add grit on top of the sweet, spicy pepper and lightly pickled palate. Really approachable, workable and elastic in extended length.  Tasted May 2014  @MalivoireWine

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2011, Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2011, Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007

Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Wonderfully balanced blend with a bit of wood spice, plenty of good character and tannin. Tense fruit, layered and tight. Tighter than I last tasted it. Must be the accumulation. From my earlier, February 2014 note: It’s funny, more than any other wine tasted, this Laura has that Niagara varnish other Creekside reds seem not to possess. “Stock up in the big years” suggests Matt Loney, and “consolidate in the tougher ones.” It could be argued that you can make more interesting wines in the lean years but this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot lays a claim to seriousness, if needing at least three years to settle down. There is much cassis, sweet oak, iodine and a milk/dark chocolate swirl. Complexity for sure if just a bit huge within its own skin.  Last tasted May 2014  @CreeksideWine

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) On the card at Barque Smokehouse  @barquebbq

Look, I get it. Wine is made from grapes so why command a host of other fruits to offer context for aromas and tastes? Just have a moment with Steve Byfield’s “virtual” Viognier 2012. Virtual tree meets stone fruit. Smells just like a ripe peach. The flavour bears an uncanny resemblance to apricots. Virtual my Equus africanus asinus. The winery is virtual, the Viognier anything but. Speaks a Condrieu varietal truth by way of Niagara’s Redfoot vineyard. Carries a soil-driven, mineral-flecked, microscopically-oxidized metal tang so essential to invigorating Viognier. Blessed stuff from a Shona’s humble hands.  Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @NyaraiCellars

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Burgundy, France (276436, $22.05, WineAlign) LCBO General List

The Champs Royaux from mainly purchased fruit may be the runt of the Fèvre litter but it’s no austere duck soup and this despite the challenging vintage. Chalk another win for organic viticulture, here again worked to great effect. The practice encourages acidity levels to consistent ends aligned with ripe fruit and year in, year out betterment of the wines. The ’12 Champs Royaux exudes the idea of classic unoaked and flinty Chablis, as well as seawater and the smell of a lit halogen bulb. Elemental without being metallic, it blinks from a citrus flash before finishing balmy and warm.  Tasted June 2014  @BourgogneWines

Thirty Bench Red 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (320986, $24.00, WineAlign)

The consistency and subtlety in red wine of the earth in this perennially approachable Bench wine can’t be overestimated. Really high quality red purity is ascertained from this blend, its spicy, tangy, moving parts coming together to unionize the fruit. Just enough tension to keep traffic moving, with Merlot really doing its yeoman’s work, Cabernet Franc as sweet and expressive as it can be without going over to the shaken, splintered and mocha chocolate dark side. This is always red and red-fruited. Ready, willing and will offer pleasure for five to seven years.  Tasted May 2014  @ThirtyBench

Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California, USA (363556, $39.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Holy reductive toast Napa man. Aromas of buttered toast, glade, duck fat and pencil graphite, which I must say is one stellar note. Flavours of ripe Mutsu (specifically) apple and a resinous chew of late autumn sweet forest needles. Yes the toast is high but so is the quality. Don’t blame the barrel, he’s just the messenger. A great Chardonnay for shellfish and molluscs of the briny kind. Linger on in your golden yellow eyes.  Tasted May 2014  @SmithMadrone

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

Good to go!

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Get your red hots

Leaning Morel

Leaning Morel

These are some of my favourite things. Wild edibles foraged from the duff in spring. Earthy red wines cultivated from healthy vines. Protein grilled on an open flame. Layered dishes baked in the oven. Baseball.

Gather them all together, add in some warm weather and the recipe is dressed for success. This past weekend VINTAGES rolled out the May 24, 2014 release. I touched on some good value whites last week so now it’s time to roll out some full-bodied, protein friendly reds. Get these four red hots in stores now.

From left to right: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2011, Telmo Rodriguez Lz 2012, Cosme Palacio Y Hermanos Reserva 2007, Castro Ventosa El Castro De Valtuille 2010, Sperling Vineyards Sper...Itz 2011

From left to right: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2011, Telmo Rodriguez Lz 2012, Cosme Palacio Y Hermanos Reserva 2007, Castro Ventosa El Castro De Valtuille 2010, Sperling Vineyards Sper…Itz 2011

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2011, Igp Pays D’oc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (177584, $14.95, WineAlign)

This perfectly tidy Syrah hails from the area near Mèze in the Languedoc region. The name borrows from a species of oak, the holly, the holm, or the evergreen. Dusty aromas blow quickly away into the savoury foliage of the Yeuse. What is then revealed is a rich, velvety Syrah of considerable stuffing, with a note of semi-sweet chocolate, smoky bacon and plenty of tang. Repeats the value shared by both the 2010 and the 2009. Make this your summer house red, when times are hot, when times are cool.  Tasted May 2014

Knuckers, Rib Eye and Ramps

Knuckers, Rib Eye and Ramps

Telmo Rodriguez Lz 2012, Doca Rioja, Spain  (172361, $15.95, WineAlign)

This is the most basic and affordable red in the Telmo Rodríguez line. From the outspoken winemaker who said, “In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.” So Rodríguez has decided to make wines without the suffocating slings and arrows of outrageous, appellative fortune. Notice this label notes no Crianza, no Reserva, no Gran Reserva. Fresh and juicy, with new history and tradition written in its code. Modern and forward while relaxed and old school at the same time. Great fruit and acidity, length is just fine and overall it’s a pleasurable, confident, compact wine and without crisis.  Tasted May 2014  @liffordwine

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

Cosme Palacio Y Hermanos Reserva 2007, Rioja, Spain (14662, $23.95, WineAlign)

A traffic jam of thick, rich and figgy fruit, accompanied by a tempering of chocolate. This Rioja is “good ole fashion medicated goo.” Though somewhat simple juice it bangs the right keys and solicits a stretched and bent weeping guitar accent. Dark as night with the stuffing to carry an album side. “So follow me, it’s good for you.”  Tasted May 2014  @Hannanealwines

Castro Ventosa El Castro De Valtuille 2010, Do Bierzo, Spain (366930, $27.95, WineAlign)

Owning a family-run estate for 252 years and farming Mencía vineyards in Bierzo from generation to generation has to count for something. Five parcels are gathered from pre-phyloxeric vineyards in Valtuille de Abajo. The estate manages the only sandy soils in Bierzo, mixed in with quartzite and slate. A solid Mencía, high on phenolic ripeness, verdigris and general stuffing. Rich, chewy, tarry and viscous. Can see this slowly smouldering, smoking, offering wamth and pleasure for 10-15 years. In that sense of longevity it represents excellent value.  Tasted May 2014  @HalpernWine

Beef Ribs

Beef Ribs

Sperling Vineyards Sper…Itz 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (364166, 375ml, $13.00, WineAlign)

A very pretty, quite sweet though not overly spritzy Moscato, with nary a waxy or medicinal note. Not exactly true to old world form but what a terrific palate cleanser it makes, like a lemon-lime granita or white pomegranate gelato. The half-bottle format for a big group will work just fine as just a thimbleful is all that’s needed before main course to liven up the palate and ready it for flesh and blood. On the card at Barque. Tasted twice, November 2013 and May 2014

Morels and Ramp

Morels and Ramp

Good to go!

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Paul Pender’s Tawse and effect

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2010

From left and clockwise: Riesling Limestone Ridge 2012, Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, Riesling Carly’s Block 2012, Pinot Noir Quarry Road Estate 2010, Chardonnay Quarry Road 2011, Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2010, Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2010, Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2008, Pinot Noir Lauritzen 2010, Chardonnay Lenko Vineyard 2011, Pinot Noir Laidlaw 2010

Tawse winery is growing and gaining weight but just like its vineyards, the pursuit is wagered in natural and holistic ways. The Tawse effect distills a biodynamic appropinquation, in the acquisition of new vineyards, in the gathering of tonnage from Niagara and Prince Edward County growers, in the farming and production of estate grapes. I have been making regular visits to the Vineland, Ontario winery for the past three years. The natural, self-sustaining processes remain open, obvious, front and centre.

Related – Every barrel tells a story

Chardonnay fruit might travel across the 401 and down the QEW from South Bay at Huff Estates. It may skip across King Street and skirt up Cherry Avenue from Daniel Lenko. It may come to early fruition from young Tintern Vineyard Pinot Noir vines out of the Vinemount Ridge. Whatever the source, the approach is simple. Let winemaker Paul Pender get his mind and his mitts on that fruit. Then let him work his magic. Seek biodiversity, soil fertility, crop nutrition, and chemical-free pest, weed and disease control. Fight the good fight against the harshest of winters with vines of deeper roots and stronger canes.

Paul Pender and Tawse Robyn's Block Chardonnay 2008

Paul Pender and Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2008

The Tawse portfolio may now seem hyper-varied and even massive. Nothing and everything has changed. The lots remain small to manageable, the choice of varieties consistent and the wines, ever increasingly impressive. Whatever faults, idiosyncrasies or misunderstood characteristics there may have been in some older wines, they are no more. There are now purer and more vibrant aromas and flavours. Wait until you get a load of 2012 and 2013. Paul Pender’s acumen and winemaking professionalism has reached a whole new level of Rock ‘N Roll.

Paul Pender is a big picture guy. He is the Niagara renaissance man; songwriter, vocalist, lead guitar, producer and engineer. He’s Cuddy, Cripps and Chris Shreenan-Dyck rolled into one. Pender’s handling of growing, picking, fermenting, aging and bottling is nothing short of impossible and yet he does it with a conceit of ease. At last count I noted three Sparklings, three Rosé, two Dessert Wines, six Chardonnay, five Riesling, two Gewurztraminer, one Pinot Gris, one Sauvignon Blanc, six Pinot Noir, three Cabernet Franc, one Cabernet Sauvignon, one Merlot, one Cabernet-Merlot, one Meritage and one Gamay. Thirty-seven wines. One goal. Getting better all the time.

Tawse winemakers Rene Van Ede and Paul Pender

Tawse winemakers Rene Van Ede and Paul Pender

The winter and early spring of 2014 has found me cozying up to the wines of Tawse. On a frigid January evening on my way to Ice Wine Fest I spent time with winemaker Pender in the cellars, speed investigating my way through the barrels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Not to mention Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and even Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve tasted Tawse with Daniel Lafleur at Somewhereness, with Vinifera’s Daniel Beiles at Barque Smokehouse and at the winery’s portfolio tasting at The Spoke Club.

Tawse Spark Blend 2011 and Quarry Road Chardonnay 2008

Tawse Spark Blend 2011 and Quarry Road Chardonnay 2008

Here are notes on 14 Tawse wines tasted from bottle in April and May 2014.

Riesling Limestone Ridge 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity of linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric. Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Spark Blend 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $24.95)

This introductory release is a blend of 65 per cent Chardonnay, 22 Pinot Noir and 13 Pinot Gris. A linear, straight shooting star, a sparkler that is so “surprising it goes so fast.” Bright, flashy, attention grabbing and fleeting. These are bubbles with a plan, anything but bad company and quite remarkable for the price. Lemon, lime and ginger strum in wound tension and the wine gets on top very quickly, then disappears into the starry night. Exhilarating while it lasts.  Tasted April 2014

Chardonnay Grower’s Blend 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)

From fruit (east of Beamsville) next to Puddicombe, which is essentially Winona on the eastern edge of the Niagara Escarpment appellation. Some parcels of disparate Niagara fruit joins this inaugural effort, a rich, viscous and warming Chardonnay. Layered and expertly balanced, it carries the best of both the Quarry (mineral) and Robyn (approachable) worlds. The spicy accent gives the blend its singular personality.  Tasted May 2014

Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284570, $26.95, WineAlign)

Though it’s a blend of several sites, this Tawse Pinot stands alone and of itself as a grower; it grows on you after multiple tastings. The first go ’round seems simple, vintage warm and tight. Taste again and the sappy wood seeps mineral, the phenolic red cherry ripeness turns black and the tempering is led by a sweet earth kind. Earth that smoulders in a rising Zeppelin kept afloat by tobacco and the swirling spores of pungent mushroom. Pinot Noir truth and value from a Niagara house of the holy kind. “You know-whoa, that’s right.” Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Riesling Carly’s Block 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Boasts classic flint and citrus Twenty Mile Bench aromatics. In 2012 it’s also lush, rich and so very pear and longan fruity. Whorls like a wind turbine blowing the polar aspects against each other’s walls. Forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic. High tang and flavour. Big yet classic Riesling.  Tasted May 2014

Pinot Noir Quarry Road Estate 2010, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This is the second Pinot Noir made from the Vinemount Ridge vineyard, a place where the rock can’t help but tyrannize the fruit. The 2010 Quarry Road gains positive proportion in that it is painted and coated by the ripeness of the vintage. Of a tougher mind and shell than the other Tawse Pinots, a bird on the wire just trying to be free. Not as easy to approach or love, it might plead “if I, if I have been unkind, I hope that you can just let it go by.” Sings in a wise, raspy and rusty way, despite the youthfulness of the vineyard, but it shines. So in the end “hey, why not ask for more?” Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay Quarry Road 2008, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (111989, $34.95, WineAlign)

At this stage the 2008 Quarry Road is fully resolved, integrated and as soft as full malolactic Chardonnay can be. The unmistakable note of creamed corn lingers longer, as does the look on the winemaker’s face, but air brings it around. Returns to a fresh beginning, “from a year that might not have turned into anything,” admits Paul Pender. Now standing firm, the wine benefits six years on from clean, rotless fruit and pure, angular acidity, holding steady to the admirable finish. Tasted April 2014

Chardonnay Quarry Road 2011, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (111989, $34.95, WineAlign)

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.” From my earlier March 2012 (barrel tasting) note: “Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.” Last tasted May 2014

Pinot Noir Laidlaw 2010, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the Vinemount Ridge sub-Appellation of the Niagara Peninsula, the Tawse Laidlaw Pinot 2010 is the least gregarious, the quiet sibling, the most feminine, the sleeper. Laidlaw may play hardest to get and is the least obvious when considering perfume but her palate is the sweetest of the line-up. Strawberry macerates sous-bois for an authentic Burgundian experience. Patient, focused and structured. Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay Lenko Vineyard 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

The speed and the steel have slowed to yellow caution and the now honey-toned flesh has added more weight. There’s just something about Daniel Lenko at this juncture. From my earlier (tasted three times) July 2013 note: “From wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Last tasted April 2014

Pinot Noir Lauritzen 2010, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

A year in bottle has elevated the perfume, concentrated the cherry flavour and placed a crown on its regal head. The sweet tannic quotient resonates from its very core. Showing great at this time. From my earlier April 2013 note: “From the Vinemount Ridge is dry and cut with spice, a favourite for winemaker Paul Pender. The sour acidity from fruit such as cranberry and pomegranate are here in deep, concentrated and naturally sweet tones. Niagara limestone casts a Burgundy mineral shadow and the wine is iron tough yet silky due to the warmth of the vintage.” Last tasted April and May 2014

Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2008, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (662841, $45.95, WineAlign)

The 2008 Robyn’s Block neither matches the roundness nor the tempering acidity of the Quarry but what it lacks in those areas it makes up for in critical mass and balance. The creamed corn effect is here, as are apples in ciderish activity, from a wine that “was on a starved diet,” says Paul Pender. Though currently a bit reductive and funky, it’s not gun-flinty reduction, like the “smell of a battlefield on the morning after a civil war fight.” Swirling brings out cane sugar to replace the creamy silage and the rest is history. Calm, quiet and approachable inactivity. Tasted April 2014

Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2009, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (355867, $49.95, WineAlign)

What a wonderful vintage for Creek Shores Cabernet Franc and what a difference a year makes. Ripeness, development, rich layering, absence of chalk. Extreme elegance and void of an overbearing currant and bell pepper greening. Tannins are toned and fit. From my earlier, April 2013 note: “From the Creek Shores Appellation is proof that a well-rounded grape has no point. The Van Bers is winemaker Paul Pender’s purlieu, edgy, outlying, unconcerned with the norm or the banal. Makes full use of a cool vintage with heart-stopping acidity and eye-popping verve but not without delivering Soul, in the form of flowers and a fruit basket to your doorstep. “It’s like thunder and lightning.” Capers, camphor and a knock on wood add R & B complexity.” Last tasted May 2014

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (winery, $57.95, WineAlign)

From two acres of Pinot Noir planted in 2005 known as David’s Block within the Cherry Road Vineyard. A clash of hot and dry weather encouraged the young fruit to find ripeness, in flesh and in tannin. There is an elegance about this Cherry, in part no doubt to wine technique in acumen. The Paul Pender perfume, a combative interplay between cherries and earth, is here. “The in crowd say it’s cool” but it has yet to Rock the Casbah. Cherry 2010 is only offering a glimpse of greatness, so hold out for what will surely develop when the vines reach their next level of maturity. Tasted April 2014

Good to go!

 

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The group of twelve

History may one day remember them as the group of twelve, or perhaps, “The Ontario School.” They are the 12 wineries who have banded together to ensconce a strange but beautiful word on the tongue, in the dictionary and out in the world. Somewhereness.

They are purveyors of the land from which their grapes grow and ferment into wine. Facilitators of terroir, working a canvas forged by millions of years of geological and climatic evolution. Their assembly is based on both exigency and on Moira; destiny, share, fate.

Like that other famous group, “collectively they agree.” Ontario’s cool-climate wine regions need to qualify and certify a distinctive winemaking style. In juxtaposition to old world, European tradition, the intensity of Somewhereness needs to reflect an increasingly Ontario-centric partiality.

These are the members. 13th Street, Bachelder, Cave Spring, Flat Rock, Hidden Bench, Hinterland, Malivoire, Charles Baker, Norman Hardie, Southbrook, Stratus and Tawse. Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator used the term and now it defines an enterprise. “As a group of 12 wineries growing small lots of site-specific vines in Ontario’s ancient glacial soils, we’ve invoked Somewhereness as a word enabling us to articulate in one collective voice.”

How do you get to Somewhereness? As related to wine that is like asking, Who am I? Why do we exist? What is the meaning of life? The Somewhereness movement, the notion, comes to light through this statement. “Somewhereness is revealed in the mysterious time capsules we know as bottles of wine. As ethereal gifts of a carefully tended location and a moment in time, each is imprinted with a vineyard’s sense of place,
its soil, climate, seasons, vintage variations — and its maker’s methods.”

In 2013 I wrote about Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow. “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.”

In Come together, over wine I continued the discussion. “Intensity is in the air. The artists are at work, blessed with a geographical, geological and climatic canvas unique to the planet. They share arts and letters, compare and contrast methods, style and results. The sense of community is palpable, obvious and quite frankly awesome. They are Ontario winemakers and they are coming together. Right now.”

At the end of last year my column 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013 reviewed what Canadian winemakers do best. “That is producing unique, cutting edge and brilliant takes on cool climate grapes. They also match beautifully with the songs referenced in their tasting notes. When the wines are assessed and considered in part or as a whole, who would dare to say there are no great wines being produced?”

On Wednesday April 9th, Somewhereness brought the band to St. James Cathedral for a full-on tasting that is rapidly being recognized as a must not miss Ontario event. Here are notes on some of the wines I sampled.

From left to right:

From left to right: Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2008 and Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012

13th Street Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here you have an honest, 100 per cent stainless steel treated Pinot Gris from an estate vineyard located adjacent the market on Fourth Avenue in the Creek Shores appellation. So very dry and really fine fruit, crisp, neoteric, rising and falling in waves of tempered acidity. Made in a comfortable, country-twanged, folk-rock style, like a Cowboy Junkie. Juicy, mouth-watering work and very easy to fall for. An angel mine, this 13th Street, “and I know that your skin is as warm and as real as that smile in your eyes.” This effort by Jean-Pierre Colas is as good as it gets, a tally for Creek Shores and its kinship with the variety.

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A six-month lay in French oak for 60 per cent of the Gamay fruit sourced exclusively from Malivoire’s Beamsville Bench estate vineyard is just what the go doctor ordered. Only Malivoire’s Gamay smells specifically like this; of tart and savoury capers, of small, earthy gemstones, of peppery currants, of meaty braising Bouille. A striking wine from a fortuitous Gamay vintage and great value that puts me in mind of how special the Courtney will be. Though the soils may differ, proximity wise they are close cousins.

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”

Cave Spring Dolomite Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Part Beamsville Bench (70 per cent), part Twenty Mile Bench (30), this best of both worlds Pinot is full of calcium magnesium carbonate, Jurassic bark. Playful as opposed to angry, this is not so much Snoop Dogg’s Dolomite but more like an animated Futurama. Seduces with a sweet red berry entry and bound by a really fine acid/tannin/fruit balance. Admittedly not overly complex but for the price it shows good structure. As far as Pinot goes, this one is a made for beef or rack of veal.

Hinterland Whitecap 2013, VQA Ontario, Charmat Method, Ontario (332809, $22.00, WineAlign)

The most versatile fizz in the Hinterland portfolio, what winemaker Jonas Newman refers to as his “chameleon.” As aromatically floral as this Charmat method bubbles (secondary fermentation in tank) ever gets, the ’13 brings out the garden under the mist of a sprinkler, late on a summer evening. It’s not so much about fruit as it is about texture, pollen and wet rocks. Try it at Barque.

Bachelder Niagara Pinot Noir Wismer Park/Lowrey (Tank Sample) 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146985, $29.95, WineAlign)

This binary vineyard symbiosis will be bottled as the Niagara Pinot. Just filtered a few days ago it strides out with the utmost confidence in swagger, with a purity of fruit is spite of Thomas’ shock, awe and reductive apology. A bright sway of terroir gives rapture to a peaking raspberry bush imagined forward into a cooled pie. A renewed elegance abides with an absence of humidity and with a fully ameliorated knowing that a fleshing will happen. Really fine.

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146985, $29.95, WineAlign)

Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.

13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130195, $29.95, WineAlign)

If roses were stones they would produce an aroma that only 13th Street’s Sandstone Gamay would recall. Some previous vintages have pushed the boundary to sky-high excess and a subterranean ferrous burrowing but in 2012 the perfume is both grounded and ethereal. The sandy tuff rock is so in that glass, like the smell of a rugged beach, mist and salinity spraying and rising off the rocks. The ’12 now knows “I don’t have to sell my soul.” Wholly singular Gamay and with hopes it will always be this going forward. Where as before it said “I want to be adored,” it now confirms “you adore me.”

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $34.95, WineAlign)

A lean Laundry with as much finesse as winemaker Paul Pender has ever shown in his poignant Cabernet Franc realm. When a vintage deals you calm and scale you sit back and relax. The Lincoln Lakeshore advancing in years vines bring yet unseen front end red berry, licorice and red currant softness in 2011. There is elegance but also a refusal to yield its back-end bite. A level of enveloping grain and chalk is unique to this bottle and should be seen as a very good effort with the possibility ahead for movement and a gaining of flesh. A graceful, gently pressed Laundry.

Southbrook Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (260281, $34.95, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon whose barrel aging specs are integral to discussing its unfolding. This Whimsy is a seven barrel (172 case) lot of which 86 per cent was aged for 13 months in (71 per cent) French oak. Plain and simple, a wood-heavy decision that has provided allied excellence five years after that demanding vintage. The agglomeration is one of steroidal currants, rocket red berries and an assiduous savoury edge. Just now are the beginnings of a caramel oozing from out of the centre of a dark chocolate house. Really quite an amazing, rich cake example from the vintage. Showing so right and so strong now, in its territory and wheelhouse.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $35.20, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2008, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Tasted at Somewhereness 2014 as part of a vertical retrospective going back to 2007. The Vinemount Ridge’s now famous Picone Vineyard is set within a 10-acre estate on the Niagara Escarpment. Planted to the Weis 21 clone, the Riesling grown here digs in for complexity from sectional moieties of clay and sandy soil atop a unique base of limestone bedrock. Charles Baker began working with these grapes in 2005 and it is this 2008 where the learning curve took a turn for the Riesling stratosphere. The ’06 found luck in the stars but this vintage lays the framework and foundation for a master plan. At this stage in the ’08 evolution there is a prodigious and viscous honeyed textured. Ripening tree fruit juices run like maple sap in spring and the run off is beginning to think syrup. A cutting ridge of acidity arrests the sugaring, allowing citrus and flinty rock to recall the wine’s first, fresh steps. Baker’s Riesling time travels in circles with no real beginning and no real end. From my earlier, September 2012 note: ““Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.”

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip. From my earlier March 2013 note: “has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine”

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38.20, WineAlign)

Patient as ever with the cool-climate, slow and low ripening Cabernet Franc, winemaker J-L Groux stuck with belief, regardless of the warm 2010 vintage. The Stratus single varietal space and time continuum of let it hang (though not to December), 20ish months of aging, nearly half in French oak barrels, has brought forth the most dense and luxe Cabernet Franc to date. “It’s never old school, all brand new,” with Groux so this red swells in wholly pure black currant fruit and is as big as it gets for J-L, which is saying something. This beastie boy will age over a 20-year period. Style is the thing, and yes, the aromatics.

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

The Locust Lane Vineyard, originally planted in 1998, was Hidden Bench’s first acquisition, in 2003. It has a unique perpendicular cross-slope effect, undulating in all four directions, gathering sun hours in its own special way. The vineyard produces the richest and warmest Pinot Noir with fruit flavours more akin to ripe plum and black cherry than almost anywhere on the Beamsville Bench, certainly as any from the Hidden Bench stable. While the ’11 is not the biggest beast nor the Bordeaux bully of the Terroir Caché, it is surprisingly tannic and strong. It’s anything but hot, though it attacks with fervor. Big berry fruit, macerated strawberry, rich pie notes and spice. A great Locust vintage.

Good to go!

 

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Just say no? Deconstructing decanting

Does decanting eliminate the natural oxidative curve of a bottle of wine? Does it make a wine taste $20 better? Photo: FOOD-pictures/Fotolia.com

Does decanting eliminate the natural oxidative curve of a bottle of wine? Does it make a wine taste $20 better?
Photo: FOOD-pictures/Fotolia.com

The wine drinking experience is afforded more pleasure by decanting a bottle of wine. Decanting means aeration and separation of liquid from sediment. Plain and simple. Most wine drinkers have always bought into this belief. Does that still hold true today?

The debate rages high. Eric Asimov from the New York Times suggests he’s of the camp that takes the middle ground. “Many good red wines are not and continue to produce sediment, so once they reach middle age, decanting these wines, very carefully, remains advisable. I like to decant young reds that might be tannic or tight, like those made from Nebbiolo or Cabernet Sauvignon. Even young red Burgundies can benefit from decanting, though Burgundians might roll their eyes.” True middle ground comes by way of, ironically, Decanter Magazine. “Most modern-day wines do not require decanting, though even young wines may benefit from aeration.”

The famous Bordeaux house of Château Margaux states that “the main reason for decanting red wines is to separate the wine from the sediment that may have formed in the bottle over the years. This sediment consists mainly of the tannins that have been made insoluble by the chemical reactions responsible for the ageing process.” They, like so many other Bordeaux stalwarts, remain entrenched in the world of decanting.

Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal concurs. “All wine that will throw sediment should be decanted; this includes red Bordeaux, Rhône, Rioja, vintage Port and heavy grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Also—and this is open to discussion—young wines. In my experience, exposure to air unfurls the complex layers of flavor in young fine wine.” Chris Kissack fervently believes in the decanting process. “Decanting wines is not just for show, and even in this modern age of industrial, fined and filtered wines, some will still benefit from spending some time in a decanter.”

Consider these questions. Does decanting eliminate the natural oxidative curve of a bottle of wine? Does it make a wine taste $20 better? Is decanting elitist, obnoxious and unreachable for the average consumer? Cerebral decanting is another matter. Don’t hate a bottle of wine because it’s not been decanted. Hate it because it’s a bad bottle of wine.

And then there is hyper-decanting. This by way of Digital Deconstruction:

Gerardo Diaz is the Manager and Sommelier at Barque Smokehouse in Toronto. He is adamantly anti-decanting. Here is his well-thought out take:

Decanters come in various shapes and sizes, from functional to ornate to downright ugly. Decanters have played a role within the wine world for thousands of years. They have had many uses over time but for me, they have simply fallen out of practice and are representative of an archaic time, when wine was not made to be drunk immediately. This magnified by the fact that the technology of making wine back then was sub par in comparison.

Wine was held in amphorae, then in glass, metals or earthenware. These were the holding compartments for the fermented grape juice, then transferred off to decanters in order to minimize the amount of sediment within in the decanter/glass. It was used to aerate tighter wines and soften the tannins. Time has changed.

Decanters have become nothing more than a symbol of the past. With modern-making techniques and current trends, people want to be able to drink their choices immediately, and winemakers are following suit.

Wine is not what it used to be. Often over oxidized, aged for many years, with more vintage variation, etc… Nowadays when wine is bottled, it is what it is and does not change that much. As a matter of fact, aeration tends to do worse than better. People seem to believe that decanting hours prior benefits the wine. Quite the contrary. With modern wine techniques and just common sense, the aromatic compounds can only go far, that is to say that with time they will diminish as the minutes/hours go by. Decanting can be used for only two things, well aged wine and natural wines. But more now than ever, wines are not being made to age. They are being made to feed the immediate masses, the ever-growing population, but more so an ever-growing wine drinking population.

Tannins have a bad rep when speaking about wine, some say yay, other say nay. They provide structure, the very backbone to a wine. The added texture is the single most important thing in wine for me and acts as a natural preservative. Decantation is believed to soften these tannins that can be gripping, ever so drying, and to some, a turn off. This popular belief is misconstrued. Softening of the tannins takes place in the winery, with the winemaker. Decanting will only alter perception, kind of like a placebo effect. Yeah, decanters are a placebo effect.

I personally dislike decanters except for the two stated reasons, and even then, natural wines that almost exclusively lack preservations (sulphites), never need more aeration. The wine is what it is and will last a long time opened in bottle.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Up on Creekside Estates

Creekside Estate Wines Photo: Eric Vellend

Creekside Estate Wines
 Photo: Eric Vellend

It was the weekend of Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure, a Niagara winepalooza that included the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Expert’s Tasting. On the road to The Falls there happened an extensive tank, barrel and vertical go round at Flat Rock Cellars and then, with chef riding shotgun, the next essential stop came up on Creekside Estates, a seventeen year-old Jordan winery on 4th Avenue.

Creekside Estate Winery
2170 4 Ave. Jordan Station, ON L0R 1S0
1 (877) 262-9463 or (905) 562-0035

@CreeksideWine

Creekside was founded in 1997 by owner Laura McCain on a 15-acre vineyard at the 4th Ave. site. The early days of the winery saw an attitude towards varietal antidisestablishmentarianism, with Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz at the forefront of production. Daring to be different from the start, Creekside has carved an antithetical, Niagara Peninsula religious wine belief, slightly devious, with a manifesto towards creating wickedly good wines.

Creekside Estate winemaker Rob Power Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Creekside Estate winemaker Rob Power
Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

In the early days there was winemaker Rob Powers and mad scientist partner in crime Craig McDonald, now the chief of what happens in bottle at Trius. Powers graduated in the first oenology class out of CCOVI and began his vinous stirring with Creekside, a post he continues to develop, never-resting on earlier laurels. Back then the two cubs fermented and blended together, with caution swirling tohu vavohu in the wind. Some of those Meritage blends from the early 2000’s were brilliant strokes of luck, or as winemaker’s like to call it, hard work. Or destiny, or god’s favour. The Creekside credo has never wavered. Being overly serious is not an option. Having made decisions such as purchasing the unparalleled Queenston Road Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench on its side, Creekside thrives by an exhibition of capricious behaviour, adroit winemaking and the rope savvy marketing of veracious and affordable wines.

Assistant winemaker Yvonne “Cellar Monkey” Irvine and Director of Sales, Marketing and Necessary Evil Matt “Semi-Illustrious Career” Loney ushered a tasting of 12 Creekside wines. Here are the notes.

Creekside Estates Winery Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Creekside Estates Winery
Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Sauvignon Blanc 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (620724, $13.95, WineAlign)

Leans and veers to the tropical side, no doubt as a result of a record-setting sugar vintage, but this ’12 manages to finish very dry. The arid descent follows a warm and fuzzy peach feeling, set about by some skin contact and buoyed by citrus and zest. Front yard value.

Backyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341792, $17.95, WineAlign)

A Creek Shores SB that bridges the gap between spring and summer fruit. From a year in which the choice was made to not blend off into the estate bottling. Recognizable Creekside aromatics stand out in a more than obvious mineral deposit and grapefruit zest way. Here the band plays across The Great Divide so “just grab your hat, and take that ride.” Will be a VINTAGES August 30 release.

Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142570, $26.95, WineAlign)

Seven barrels make up the Reserve, ferments new (four) and old (three), leading to a richer, fatter and spicier style. Dreamy really, as matchstick and flint join the fray in a Pouilly-Fumé way. That pierre à fusil is exaggerated by the warmth of 2012, with an elevated tang, rendering the flavours even more akin to Old World, Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Close your eyes and when you awake, “when you believe, you will relieve the only soul that you were born with, to grow old and never know.” The Creekside band created an old SB soul in ’12.

Laura’s White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign)

Laura’s White combines Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer in a kitchen sink blend that sees a bit of oak. What’s notable about the ’12 is the omission of two highly aromatic components, the previously employed stalwarts Viognier and Chardonnay Musqué. The adage is justified in that you take what the vintage gives you. If it gives you lemons, (shift tangents) you let the busy aromatics of more flavourful grapes (like Chardonnay) do the floral work. Laura’s ’12 will be a standout for the concept, a revivalist blend to help bring back some religion to the region’s renditions. Coming to VINTAGES in June.

Viognier Estate Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (22058, $29.95, WineAlign)

A 60-80 cases annual production from the Queenston Road Vineyard is not nothing because “ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest.” Aside from a miniscule addition out of stainless steel tank, this is all neutral barrel fermented fruit. Reigned in, less boozy and subordinate in oleaginous slide than in the sweaty years. Translation? A superlative vintage. The night they drove a whopping six rows of old ’11 Dixie Viognier fruit down for crushing the band began to play. This, knowing full well there would be no dirty peach martini, but rather a perfumed dropper distilling flowers, wildflower honey and wild tarragon. Rises and falls to verse like a Richard Manuel keyboard march with length to match the Queenston Road.

Rosé 2013 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $15.95)

A Cabernet Sauvignon (71 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (29) full-on saignée Rosé with colour balance given by way of the CF bleed. An arid entry creeps to sweet with a pause amongst the whispering pines, finishing tinny and with a breath of fresh herbs. Niagara Rosé can get lost sometimes, in extract, hue and a candied, sinking feeling. This is a scaled back vintage which is more than a good thing, so there’s no waiting, “until it all goes round…the lost are found.”

Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $15.95, WineAlign)

A healthy 3,200 cases are managed and executed with ease from mostly estate fruit. Certainly warm in this vintage, dare I say, like McLaren Vale. If it must not be said, too bad, but it’s also a bowl of fresh berries with a rocky Rhône intent. Terrific tar and ash finish.

Cabernet Shiraz Estate 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (305300, $16.95, WineAlign)

A traditional Oz combination of Cabernet Sauvignon (55 per cent) and Shiraz (45), clearly new world in style, as Yvonne Irvine says, like “trying to make a big, rich, unctuous Shiraz.” The question could be posed, “temptation stands just behind the door, so what you want to go and open it for?” This one goes right to the jawbone with serious backbone and streak of acidity. Not to mention chalk, grain and a Shiraz solo. The American oak accent is clear and the tannins say wait two to three years, please. The fruit may, or may not comply.

Laura’s Red 2010, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign)

It’s funny, more than any other wine tasted, this Laura has that Niagara varnish other Creekside reds seem not to possess. “Stock up in the big years” suggests Matt Loney, and “consolidate in the tougher ones.” It could be argued that you can make more interesting wines in the lean years but this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot lays a claim to seriousness, if needing at least three years to settle down. There is much cassis, sweet oak, iodine and a milk/dark chocolate swirl. Complexity for sure if just a bit huge within its own skin.

Merlot Reserve 2008, VQA St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Here is a wine that is aging gracefully, works with and fits into the vintage, Merlot as objet d’art, grown in stature as if by wizened verdigris. Smells like Goulash or Côte de boeuf à la Bordelaise, even cured meat. Might also be considered in terms of funk, a note sometimes brought on by Hungarian oak. Tons of red fruit, pencil, anise and “the smell of the leaves, from the magnolia trees in the meadow. King Harvest has surely come.” Few Ontario reds succeeded in ’08 like this Queenston Road stunner and few will live as long. Another classic by the band.

Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Impeccable correctness in terms of the variety from a year where the heat giveth and the heat taketh away. Works Cabernet properties properly, embracing and minimizing oak without pretending it’s not there. This red is expressly lush and oak driven, as it should be, it being Cabernet and all. Leaves its appendages out for a Mediterranean pedicure, a glaze of Cassis, black olive and black cherry dug in a chair entrenched in the warm confines of the St. David’s Bench.

Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula (46470, $65.00, WineAlign)

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello