All fall Ontario wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of December 2014:

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

Last tasted April and Sepetember 2015  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

Angles of Leaning Post

Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario is a must stop on every wine pursuer’s bucket list. The budding to burgeoning vintner may not call Beamsville, Vineland, Jordan, Virgil, St. David’s or Niagara-on-the-Lake home, but turning off of the QEW and onto the Fifty Road need never be thought of as a time-wasting detour.

Set in a warm nook abutting the Niagara Escarpment, Ilya and Nadia Senchuk‘s base is but a mere stone’s throw from significant points metropolitan, rural and urban Niagara, from Toronto, Hamilton, the towns along The Bench, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Oakville and Burlington. I have meandered through portfolios, tanks and barrels with Ilya mano a mano three times now, twice during visits on spring pilgrimages. His wines reside in the complex realm of obliquity, in a physical zone known as the borderland between fracas and order. And while they seem to follow no comfortable or obvious pattern, without prevarication I can safely say there is such a thing as the Senchuk style.

Related – Lean on, Macduff

Ilya Senchuk has little interest is making wine like everyone else in Niagara. His modus vivendi is predicated on basic, unembellished and crucial tenets. Three V’s. Vineyard, vintage and variance. Senchuk truly believes that greatness is determined by varietal variegation, from vineyard to vineyard and from year to year. Perspective and point of view are an advantage, not to mention prejudice. Hands-off winemaking? Natural wines? Forget about it. Make the best possible wine using the best possible fruit and in the best possible way. End of story.

Related – Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Senchuk is on mission. He is a Pinot Noir specialist and is one of only three winemakers to produce from holdings in arguably the finest Grand Cru (sic) Peninsula site, a.k.a. the Lowrey Vineyard. The others are Thomas Bachelder and Wes Lowrey. He makes Riesling with impunity. His Chardonnay is modernity incarnate. Gamay in a class of its own. Syrah to redefine what can be done in the cool countenance of the New World. The 2012 was pressed the night (second son) Ruslan was born so the wine is (rightfully so) dedicated to wife Nadia. It is also in support of a farm growing Syrah purposed for greatness.

Ilya arranged a tasting through his current portfolio. Melissa Bogaert was tasting next to me in the barn’s renovated room with assistant winemaker Ryan Corrigan. It was nice to put a face to a Twitter personality. Senchuk and I followed the current selections with a ride through some tanks and barrels to get a sense of the resting ’13 Pinot, Merlot and Syrah. My interest in his agglomerated use of both French and American oak was certainly piqued, but we’ll save that talk for another, finished wine in bottle day. The notes here are (mostly) on the finished wines.

At the Leaning Post tasting

At the Leaning Post tasting

Rosé 2014 (Winery, $25.00)

A Gamay (70 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (30) split, all picked at an acidity weight-bearing 19 brix from Cattail Creek’s farm. Unlike 99.9 per cent of the Rosé produced on this planet, this fruit was explicitly grown and picked with complicity for Rosé, not red wine. Saigneé be damned, Ilya Senchuk has entered a world of savoury relish, as opposed to herbal pain. From berries to citrus and mouth feel only such blush can know. There is weight without density, more rutaceae on the finish and in a strange Winona way, like a red ringer for skin contact Sauvignon Blanc. So says just a messenger. Drink 2015-2017. On tap at Barque Smokehouse.  Tasted multiple times in June and July 2015

Leaning Post Gamay 2013 and Rosé 2014

Leaning Post Gamay 2013 and Rosé 2014

Gamay 2014 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)

Increases the colline built of earth and endemic Gamay character. Keeps the funk grooving with a precise, focused beat. So very like Pinot, with grains and tannin interwoven to length. Chewy, sanguine and gamy, a manducate of meaty sashimi or a mouthful of raw, marbled rib-eye, seconded on charcoal for a split second. On tap at Barque Butcher Bar.

Leaning Post Rosé 2014 on tap at Barque Smokehouse

Leaning Post Rosé 2014 on tap at Barque Smokehouse

Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)

A year has clarified the must into a venerable, beneficial decay, like effulgent, liquid rust. The shine of antiquity and then a blast of cinnamon dominates for the first major swirl. So lithe and profound like wise Pinot Noir, minus the Niagara coat of arms and lacquered veneer. Whatever anxiety may have held down the brightness has eased to deliver this current, optimum drinking window. Drink 2015-2016.
From my earlier (tank sample) note of May 2014:

Guiltless and virtuous straight out of stainless, the meaty side of Gamay game boldly goes where few from the Bench have gone before. Like a rare venison steak sitting in a silky pool of lavender-scented demi-glace. Floral like Fleurie and despite zero new oak, vanilla joins the gravy. A Senchuk steal of quality Wismer (McLeary…sort of) fruit sets this Gamay up for easy sell success.

Last tasted May 2015

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk’s swallow of Lowrey fruit from rows part sloping St. David’s Bench and Niagara-on-the-Lake flats are heretofore known as The “Pommatago.” Stated with utter, dire, climeractic swoon, it begs saying that it’s actually pretty. I mean gorgeous. Florals range from roses to violets. A departure from ’09 and ’10 to be sure, this combines Pommard (al fresco detail) and Central Otago (potpourri). The late grip, girth and mirth rounds out like Nebbiolo, with a (13 per cent alcohol) finality in litheness with legs. Structure to age is written in blatant physiognomy. The tannic grain wields from out of 15 months in barrel, followed by eight plus months in bottle, to release its hounds. Says Senchuk, “I like what Pinot does after 24 months.” So will we. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted June 2015

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Here, the numbers game. The 2012 Lowrey is riper and yet lighter than ’10, like taking ’10 and turning it up to ’11. A Pinot Noir of spine, tapped from Grand Cru Niagara Peninsula fruit, of St. David’s Bench underwritten by Niagara-on-the-Lake. From a year where 20 degrees was the new 28 (as in 2010) and so density at its very core is bankrolled by that vintage. Accents are the beast; spice, smoked brisket and still a hint of haute, though not quite as delicate like ’11. The delicacy is enriching even in the early absence of litheness. It’s gastronomy is old world, albeit a western one and then in retrospect on the finish, you realize it dances remarkably light on it hovering feet. The transition to tannin on the finish is seamless, moving beyond the fits, stops and restarts of ’11. The barrel sees it to this end. “Certainly, in the topsy-turvy world of heavy rock, having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is often useful.” Accessibility be thy Pinot name in 2012. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00)

“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015

Five from Leaning Post

Five from Leaning Post

Syrah Keczan Vineyard 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

As much as Pinot Noir attempts to define what Leaning Post represents, this intoxicating inhalant from the Lincoln Lakeshore elucidates the bent and the intent for 2012. Rich in smoking meats, lavender and white pepper, the Hwy. 8 vineyard (where Quarry Road comes down) site transmits flavour, purports cool-climate necessity and is yet warm enough to purpose ripe fruit of a briny, Mediterranean cure. The plot is one km closer to Beamsville than the Redstone Vineyard and very near to Malivoire’s Stouck. More than just prime Cabernet Franc territory, Keczan is the epicentre of Niagara Syrah. This has layers of texture, at once gripping and then conversely popping. At 13.8 per cent alcohol it’s physical without being crazy, warm yet short of cured, rich but shy of acting nubilous. A benchmark. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2014 (Barrel Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)

A oaked/unoaked split that Senchuk says this about.”I don’t like air in my Chardonnay. I like a bit of reduction (for freshness) but don’t want to make a reductive wine.” Tasted from barrel, on its lees (not stirred), this is all about texture. It is creamy with a hint of nuts in nougat. The reductive aspect is negligible to unnoticeable. Has kept its dextrous, youthful charm, inoculated by the lees, exhibiting nary a disparaging phrase. Will champion the style that is so very Senchuk.

Good to go!

Seven summer wines for 7/7/15

Mixed summer grill

Mixed summer grill

There is just something about the 15th of July that marks transitions. Today we cast aside doubts, quandaries and hesitations. On this day we know summer has settled in. The 15th of July augurs the advent of true picnic days, where the air is filled with prolonged heat and the nights linger warm.

Like religious officials observing natural signs and avian behaviour towards an indictment of divine approval, we too find ourselves in judgment of our climatological surroundings. We look up at blue skies, feel the warmth of sun on our skins and declare that this is nice. Then we look for our wine to jibe with the ensemble.

I just returned from Achaia in the Peloponnese region of Greece. This was a voyage into wines and the diversity of geography matched with gastronomy. On and of this I will expand upon, but later. Today I look back at the VINTAGES July 11th release and give to you seven more wines that were most certainly chosen with July 15th, 2015 in mind. With maps that barely overlap and caution thrown to the wind. It’s all about the symmetry of summertide.

From left to right: Falesco Vitiano 2013, Juvé Y Camps Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava 2011, Rosehall Run Cuvée County Pinot Noir 2011, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Salomon Undhof Kremser Tor Alte Reben Reserve Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014 and Hinterland Ancestral Sparkling 2014

From left to right: Falesco Vitiano 2013, Juvé Y Camps Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava 2011, Rosehall Run Cuvée County Pinot Noir 2011, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Salomon Undhof Kremser Tor Alte Reben Reserve Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014 and Hinterland Ancestral Sparkling 2014

Falesco Vitiano 2013, Igt Umbria, Italy (950204, $15.95, WineAlign)

The modern Falesco is quite ancient actually, with rustic amore Umbrian aromas of roses and bitters laminiferous over red fruit and gritty like Barbera. Yet the funk is seemingly more Tuscan, mutton to briny and when all is done the Rosso acts in liquor like ways. Has great presence on the palate with fruity, almost cured flavours and the acidity has no issues rearing up to lift and place. This is quite complex if hyper at times. Length is quite good. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015  @FalescoOfficial  @MarkAnthonyWine  @ImportWineMAFWM

Juvé Y Camps Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava 2011, Do Cava, Catalunya, Spain (352864, $18.95, WineAlign)

A sensation of concrete and the finespun oxidative astuteness put this in appraisal of a very serious Cava. Spanish fizz in demand of mull, brood and consternation, for minutes on end, relating to and in consideration of the very idea that is Cava. Very expansive mousse. Has real fruit layered with barrel cream to purpose and finesse for the mouthfeel. The acidity and stratospheric electricity may not add up to it being the brightest shiner in the system but that does not detract from the most excellent flavour. Lingers with a pastry note painted by a pasty salve on the chewy finish and that end is elongated and so very proud. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015 @juveycamps  @txelljuve  @ProfileWineGrp

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  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Salomon Undhof Kremser Tor Alte Reben Reserve Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal, Austria (392332, $21.95, WineAlign)

Quite the packaging, like turn of the last century printing press and not only old school, but other planetary. Really ramped up Grüner, so beautifully unctuous and massively structured at a cost that does not make mortal sense. The palate coated with honey and a melt of white candied flowers mixed with a salty, calcareous talc grit in liquid velvet is just awesome. This is the bomb at the price and it will see to a riper, wizened age for 10 more years. Just a touch of separating bitters keeps it from $22 perfection. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted June 2015  @grunerveltliner

Rosehall Run Cuvée County Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County Ontario (225748, $22.95, WineAlign)

A lean and demanding vintage in which winemaker Dan Sullivan finds solace and freedom in aromatic wonderment. Only Rosehall Run divines and jacks rusty brightness in this way. Like dried cherries rubbed with white stripes of dusty calcaire and like grilled lavender oil, marinated blade steak. This is meaty despite its litheness and so very County, Sullivan style. In some ways this is Pinot Noir that is the hardest button to button but it charms with bending guitar notes and a crooning voice. Smitten is one term, paying attention is the other. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted June 2015  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $24.95, WineAlign)

What James Healy calls “the generic Marlborough style,” with flint and ever-present though much faded reduction, grapefruit and lime. The vintage (2014) was not cold at all so it lacks the verdure. There is subtle, gentle clementine and palate viscosity. The acidity is all about bringing balance. So fresh, spritely, lime-juicy and always essential.

From my earlier note of March 2015:

So orderly and aligned, from ripe picked fruit with fervent acidity and all proportions in perfect working order. Four months settling in bottle has only worked to reinforce positive opinions. Grassless and flinty but no discernible elemental vagary, certainly no sulphur. This Sauvignon Blanc may just be the most consistent in every vintage, not only stylistically but also for the hedging of probability bets for guaranteed Marlborough quality. This is a superb vintage for the pied-à-terre phraseology. Like school in fall, winter and spring, the Dog Point is all class.

From my earlier note of November 2014:

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.

Last tasted May 2015  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON

Hinterland Ancestral Sparkling 2014, VQA Ontario (426023, $25.00, WineAlign)

Not since ever has the Ancestral done such things. From baby maker to planned parenthood, with children now on the way. Yes Jonas and Vicky, you’re once seductive fizz has left the honeymoon and entered young progenitorship. Still reeks of lustful fruit but the structure has mellowed and taken a turn to programmed, mature decisions. The risks are down but the choices have worked out for the best. Ancestral is a product of a family couple after all. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of November 2014:

Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies.

Last tasted June 2015  @hinterlandwine

Good to go!

The natural wines of Emidio Pepe

Chiara and wines

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and the wines of Emidio Pepe at Barque Smokehouse, March 10, 2015

Emidio Pepe‘s granddaughter Chiara De Lulis Pepe says that in 5o years of winemaking nothing has changed. Nothing, save for a conglomerate-like expansion from 1.5 to 15 hectares of farming vines in Abruzzo. No seriously, do the math. Emidio Pepe remains and likely always will be a tiny, boutique, garagiste, artisan producer.

To say Emidio Pepe is unique and singular for Abruzzo and outwards into the natural winemaking diaspora is as gross an understatement as can be made. Consider the approach. Natural, healthy viticulture. No chemicals ever. Ever. Organic, biodynamic, only indigenous yeasts (more on that later), no fining or filtration. Red berries de-stemmed by hand. White grapes trod by foot. Fermentation in concrete. Bottling in early March and laid to rest. Then the bottles are decanted by hand, re-corked and released. The entire premise begins and ends with amazingly clean and pure fruit.

Pundits and critics will sit across a table and discuss. Point. “This is the essence of natural wine. No manipulation and zero handling.” Counterpoint. “There is no such thing. All wine is handled. All winemakers influence the outcome of their wines.” Point. “It’s all about the yeasts. They and their grapes are the heart and soul of natural wine.” Counterpoint. “To sell the wines, those yeasts and their grapes, once inside the bottle, must travel on planes, trains and automobiles. What is natural about that?”

The fact is Emidio Pepe‘s wines do not have to travel. They do not produce enough for that necessity but by heading out on tour they spread the gospel and bring a natural crush to the people. They are spokes-wines of history, health and possibility. They defy the naysayer’s argument because they are the godparents of natural wine.

If there is one single winemaker who defines natural, who lives, breathes and embodies the much maligned phrase “minimal intervention winemaking,” Emidio Pepe is the one. Not because of the techniques, practices and religious adherence to undomesticated viticulture, unadulterated and soulful viniculture. The reason Emidio Pepe is the benchmark and the region d’essere for natural wines to matter is because the wines are impossibly fantastic.

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe ©

The vineyards are located 10 km from the Adriatic and 45 minutes from the Gran Sasso D’Italia mountains. The unique saddle and its clay-limestone soil encourage roots to burrow five to six metres downward, to a subterranean comfort zone, where the temperature is always constant.  Hand de-stemming is a tradition “but we believe it makes a superior product,” says Chiara. Concrete fermentation is done “to keep the integrity of the wine.”

For Emidio Pepe it begins and ends with the yeasts. Complexity and richness comes from “the family of yeasts that started the fermentation.” Chiara truly believes that yeasts will determine the flavours of the wine. “Selective yeasts make for simple wines,” she insists. “If you use them in different countries, 50-60 percent of the taste of those wines will be the same.” With indigenous yeasts, “the years will put a stamp on the personality of the wine.”

I sat down with Mark Cuff and Zinta Steprans of The Living Vine, John Szabo M.S., Will Predhomme and Peter Boyd to taste with Chiara De Lulis Pepe at Barque Smokehouse in March. Chiara brought some special wines to the table. Here are the notes.

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2007, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $154.95, WineAlign)

Skip straight past the naming and intimating of aromas and flavours. Here it is not the point. Trebbiano that is a product of having finished fermentation in bottle, with natural CO2, now virtually dissipated but persisting in echoes, to act as a natural preservative. The moniker natural does this little justice. The sweet sapidity and etching of acidity are so very grown-up, classically-styled, mature, precise. Trebbiano in which texture, above all else, stands out and firm. There is a dichotomous relationship, between viscosity and delicatezza. Natural respect, of a grace on a face, in twinkling wrinkles and gossamer flowers tucked impossibly into an aigrette of golden hair. In every facet to acting natural with a stupidly frank elegance to defy age, showing no signs of movement after eight years. The Robin Wright of white wine, expressive of tenderness but certainly not shy. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2003, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $94.95, WineAlign)

At the teenage (in wine years) number 12 this is showing less evolution than expected, especially in consideration of the European year that was 2003. Another divaricating Abruzzo, with a dried fruit component that pullulates in a very hydrated way. From a scorching season where anxiety was felt by both the vines and their keepers. Possessive of a bricking that gives of the cracked earth, of dusty, ambivalent rocks and warm, pulpy air. Through the humid tones and with thanks to pergola trellising, balance prevails with close encounters in acidity of the rampant kind. Tannins rage as well, strong and bullish above the earthy notes and peppery berry bites. The old vines and sleight of winemaking hand are ensconced to this vision, void of faults and yet advancing from the frame. Needs just a few more years to find the median point on the chonometer. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2001, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $169.95, WineAlign)

If the ’03 acts a bit like a hormonal, impulsive, testy, cavilling or petulant teenager, this 2001 is the adolescent. Full of boundless energy, willingly and excitably adventurous and ready to participate in the game. This from a terrific vintage with great aging potential, here Montepulciano manifests with gravity defying weight, like careful Nebbiolo or graceful Burgundy. Where this separates itself from other Grand Cru varietal infinity is in its yeast directive. Singular, remarkable, devoid in spice as if by wood. The structure is innate, indigenously calculated, developing in bottle, verbalizing flavour. Like a bone from the skin of the clay, piaculum by limestone, passed through and brought to light by the leavening catalyst. Drink 2020-2036.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 1983, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $279.95, WineAlign)

Give Emidio Pepe’s reds thirty odd years to develop and the impossible happens. To postulate in a moment’s assessment without remembering the pious tradition with which this was made would be a crime against Pepe, Abruzzo, the natural world and the wonders of the universe. With this much passage the spice cupboard that emits is wow times a thousand. Clove, cinnamon, cardamon, orange peel, galangal and like golden raisins that pass through quarries to become rubies. This wine is perfect. It has not broken down an iota. It requires no decanting. It defies logic, perception and time. There is no sediment, only energy. Speaks from the glass as if it were a child of destiny and mythology. The 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva arrives from along the same road taken but its transmogrification proves that the result, with thanks again to the endemic froth, is different every time. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted March 2015

Good to go!

Why taste Ontario?

Beet, padano, sunflower sprout, balsamic, lemon, terrabianca olive oil

Beet, padano, sunflower sprout, balsamic, lemon, terrabianca olive oil

We get this sort of query all the time. “Why does Ontario wine cost so much?” Actually, it’s often more a complaint then a question. We get upset. Granted, many international wines are cheaper….but do you know why? My colleague and Man Friday Gerardo Diaz has this to say “Don’t complain. Do some research and come back.”

As many of you know, I play every day in the fortuitous role of Wine Director at Barque Smokehouse. As we speak I am in the throes of an auspicious new plan, setting the wine program with Diaz for Barque’s next venture. Coming soon. Two years ago, just after Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates was able to initiate the keg wine revolution by overhauling VQA regulations, we convinced Jonas Newman of Hinterland Wine Company in Prince Edward County to partner with us. Wine on Tap at Barque was born. Since then we have worked with a dozen Ontario wineries.

It’s more than accessibility that drives our decision to work with and pour exclusively of Ontario wines. We had always been supporters of the local industry but the keg program allowed us to expand the portfolio and the sales. Ontario wines account for nearly 50 per cent of all wine sold at Barque.

So when guests (and I get the same questions and complaints from family and friends) wonder aloud about the necessity for Ontario to be so present, I have much to say. The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Related – Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases

I also wrote this, quite some time ago. “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?”

Related – The group of twelve

As a cool-climate viticultural entity, there are few rivals around the world. The geology and micro-climate are ideal for growing specifically chosen vinifera. The winemakers in Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore are highly educated, state-of-the-art savvy and maniacally progressive professionals. In the categories of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Sparkling wine, Ontario crafts excellence at all price points. After the two brutal winters of 2014 and 2015, no other set of vintners could have succeeded with unfailing ability more than the women and men of Ontario’s industry.

World-renowned authorities are in the know. Find yourself face-to-face with any of these international writers, winemakers, buyers, sommeliers or masters of wine and you will be schooled; Ian D’Agata, Jamie Goode, Steven Spurrier, Matt Kramer, Jancis RobinsonAnthony Hamilton RussellRajat ParrTim Atkin M.W., Christy Canterbury M.W., Geoff Kruth M.S.Geoff Labitzke M.W. and Igor Ryjenkov M.W. You will.

Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is the most underrated and least known super power in global oenology education studies. Have you met Dr. Debbie Inglis, Barb Tatarnic, Dr. Belinda KempDr. Gary PickeringDr. Andrew G. ReynoldsDr. Jim Willwerth, Chris Waters, Rob Power or Peter Bodnar-Rod? You should.

Ontario wine writers know their shit. They would not have no much praise for Ontario wine if it were not world-class. Have you read any reviews or articles by Tony Aspler, David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Konrad Ejbich, Michael Vaughan, Beppi Crosariol, Rick VanSickle, Shawn McCormick, Jamie DrummondZoltan Szabo, City BitesMichael Pinkus, Michael Di Caro, Evan Saviolidis, Tim Appelt, Gord Stimmell, Alan McGinty, Carolyn HammondEric Vellend, Erin Henderson or André Proulx? You need to.

Proof of Ontario’s acumen and price-worthiness need not be found any further away than at your local LCBO. Private VQA wine shops and independent retailers would only advance the cause. Spend a few hours at an Ontario gathering and you will be changed forever. Shawn’s Ontario Wine Chat discusses and promotes the ideal every Wednesday night. The Ontario Wine Society holds tastings and events year ’round. The Ontario Wine Awards asks many of those top scribes to sniff, taste, sip and pick the best of the best. Wine Country Ontario is out there all the time, spreading the gospel. This is one religion you need to get behind.

The Ontario wine tasting season is now in full swing. Taste Ontario just recently passed through Montreal and Ottawa. WineAlign is bringing Prince Edward County to Toronto on April 16th with County in the City. Somewhereness also arrives in Toronto on April 20th. In July the 5th annual Chardonnay i4C conference will descend upon Niagara. The best way to experience Ontario wine is to get out and visit. I can recommend plenty.

Why do I taste Ontario wine every day? I do it in the LCBO lab, in Ontario’s tasting rooms and cellars, at Barque, when I order wine in other restaurants and at home. I do not need convincing but I do have decades more learning to do. Here are the recent Ontario wines that have passed my desk and my lips. Five are coming to VINTAGES next week as part of the April 18th release. Others are available at the winery. Seek them out. You will then count yourself among the converted. I guarantee it.

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, 13th Street Merlot 2013, Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman's Chard 2011, Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, 13th Street Merlot 2013, Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman’s Chard 2011, Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)

Talk about bottled up compression. Twist the screwcap and thwop! The cap nearly popped like a Champagne cork. This baby has energy and drive. The vintage is compressed and pile-driven as nosed by the density opposed by reticulated 9.5 per cent alcohol. This has Mosel tattooed on its being, from neck to bottom. A dead ringer for fine Kabinett, the tropical fruit in apricot and dragon reaching back to join Ontario, in apple and pear. A good flinty stone and raging acidity combine forces to exaggerate a Riesling reticulum in what is not the missive’s greatest ever vintage. Will live five to seven easy and just go for soda. Go ahead and quaff the hell out of this one, from 2015-2020, from bottles one through twelve.  Tasted March 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

13th Street Merlot 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (270504, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Yet another Niagara red that could only have been crafted at the hands of winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas, a wild and dubiously natural Creek Shores Merlot. In 2013 the vineyard funk reeks of an instinctive, undomesticated slur in seldom seen Merlot speak. The variety normally avoids, scatters and runs away to the hills, but not this time. The flow is a movement of dried, caked, saline silt and pine needle paint. There is woodsmoke too but the suffusive Creek Shores cespitose encompasses all and runs wild. A settling will happen, so then it’s really a matter of fruit, a thing which in ’13 is not observed as overtly generous. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2015  @13thStreetWines

Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman’s Chard 2011, VQA Ontario (310243, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

In this BK variant, Chardonnay is procured by fruit not put through any drying and so very fresh it remains. The barrel helps and yet also distracts but not in any unusual or detrimental way. Just another solid Chardonnay with nothing to set it apart from the sea. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted March 2015  @BurningKilnWine

Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (258657, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

I have always been skeptical of the Peninsula take on the OZ-styled blending of a Bordeaux and a Rhône but if there is one Niagara winemaker to trust, Richie Roberts gets the nod. High-toned, crikey warm and struth oozing. Still, the balance is struck by Mediterranean-like savoury aromatics (black olive and brine), along with beautifully integrated wood. The VA is less than minimal, the fruit rosy, plum-filled and strawberry flavoured. Either variety can play second or short and both can make the turn. Will have a long life. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Accumulated cognizance exudes from the laid back Shed, here as relaxed and user-friendly as it has ever been. If the texture is not vintage induced and made of low yield than I’ll sell my LP’s and switch outright to Songza and Neil’s PonoMusic. The herbs are basil and chervil sweet, the verbena and lemon balm redolent, the flavours beaming, bolstered by preserved lemon and candied ginger. The stuffing must be questioned, but not the elegance. This Chardonnay is porous, blessed, void of rust and of an interior with plenty of space in the shed. Let it fill.

From my earlier note of February 2014: “There will be 660 cases of this barrel cherry-picked, now iconic Bench Chardonnay. The warm vintage called for a combo-malo approach, part batch all in, part arrested development. Gravity influenced top down blending also work to seek a svelte elegance and this ’12 really straddles the humid line. Thinks to be ribald but remains chaste, only allowing a kiss from the barrel and a caress from the rocks beneath the soil. Accept immediate but know that deferred gratification is the hallmark of this bottling.

Last tasted March 2015

Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)

This CCV Chardonnay is one of departed winemaker Deborah Paskus’ final acts at Closson Chase. It will forever be noted as a legacy-cementing, swan song of career excellence. Crafted by Paskus and bottled by the next one, current winemaker Keith Tyers, the 2013 CCV is simply a tour de force. No such combination of richness, tropicality and pure grape tannin has ever infiltrated this Chardonnay, from this vineyard. I’m not sure there is a comparison in Ontario, at this level of excellence and at this price. A wine of pure impression, with Montrachet-like structure and Folatières-like precision. Seemingly capacious, its facile legerity is hypnotizing, quantitatively escalating in assembly of aromas, flavours, through texture and finally to longevity. The wine spent 16 months in a mere (17.25 per cent new) oak. That it notes 12.5 per cent alcohol on the label is next to impossible. The substance is just too buttressed to be so tender and effete. Impeccable balance, refinement and mineral finish. This is Chardonnay to confuse the world’s fine white collectors, to wreak havoc at international tastings for five to 10 years. Only 712 cases are available and at $27.95, is down $2 in price from the 2012. Best ever, hands down. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2015  @ClossonChase

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

In the pantheon of 2012 Bench-Ridge-Escarpment Riesling, the CSV is bound for glory. As expected it unfailingly draws innate wisdom from vines that understand their soil with deep intent. It can be said that every vintage rocks a Cave Spring Riesling but this one brings fruit out of a willingness to give and give. Winemaking connects with this vineyard and this specific Riesling, like mother and child. The depth of fruit lies under a shale of uncompromising, petrous funk and acidity. All tolled, this is a top CSV that begins on edge and then walks along, pointed towards a fruitful direction. It stays the furcate course, captivates and lingers, with no immediate end in sight. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted March 2015  @CaveSpring

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Tasted from a sample, in bottle, not yet labeled. It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. The concept is simply off the charts with respect to fruit sourced out of arguably Tawse’s most important mineral site, the Quarry Road Vineyard. So, with that plot and winemaker Paul Pender’s inner vision, the progression to this point in Ontario winemaking is fascinating. “The law was never passed, but somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last. Have we really gone this far through space and time?” Pender must have shut his eyes tight, imagined the wonder and whiffed his ways through those barrels. Based on a taste through all the Quarry barrels with Pender in April 2014 (carrying 2013 fruit) I would think the Mercurey (Large barrel, CLL toast) would best suit the natural, oxidative bent of this Quarry. This plays the hallmark bass note in natural odour; funk, wondrous gentility, wood and rhythm and blues stone, as opposed to wood and rock. Something other, preposterous and gorgeous permeates the mess. Something melodic. The wine is perfectly in tact, piercing and exact. Direct, vibrant, positively wistful and wishful. Filled in by a strings mid-palate, with acidulated apple slices from a potent cocktail. The finish goes deeper, so the sum of the parts gains on the intricacies, teeing it up for much success. That said, don’t wait for it to fall apart. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted March 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay will not be recessed into the Peninsula’s everyday lexicon, nor does it draw any direct comparisons. How can this be? I will say that the 2013 exhibits less reduction, less elemental fever and a dramatic decrease in tension, so in that sense it has comes back to the norm. Yet it dances dramatically, like a blind bee in a ripe melon, in free spirited, holistic and counter-cultured ways. A wine of gold wiring, wrung out in splashes and swaths of lamé sheets. Shows a commitment to soil, full malolactic conditioning and punched down musts in its every breath. What is obvious is that 2013 is no putty in the hand. It’s moulded clay, shaped by the mitts of its maker, immortalized by the barrel’s oven and just about ready to begin being beautified by ornamentation. Time will effect its tribal markings and ultimate finish. Give it three to five so that it may add surge to its restrained power. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @normhardie

Good to go!

Local heroes

Henry of Pelham Estate 2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

Henry of Pelham Estate 2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

You can find them from coast to coast. This coming Saturday six VINTAGES Canadian releases, four from Ontario and two from British Columbia, are wines that speak on behalf of exceptional vineyards, out of important places. These are bottles made by winemakers entrenched in their territory and from grape varieties purposed to grow there.

Related – Tasting with Power

The Creekside Estates white blend known as Laura’s White has become a poster child for varietal blends on the Niagara Peninsula. Winemaker Rob Power has found a way to make a consistent expression in every vintage.

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Angela Kasimos was the winemaker at Riverview Cellars and is now leading the charge at Small Talk Vineyards. The Small Talk Syrah is yet another example to speak on behalf of pushing for more plantings, especially down by the Niagara Lakeshore. But that’s not all. Kasimos is also making Cider at Small Talk. It’s called Shiny Apple Cider, made from Grey County apples and Niagara grapes. You heard me. The White Cider is augmented by 10 per cent Riesling, the Rosé with 15 per cent Pinot Noir. You should try it on tap at Barque Smokehouse.

Related – The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom

The Cuvée Black Ball Riesling by François Morissette failed on several occasions to pass through the VQA panel’s strict discretion. The atypical one has finally broken down the barrier and it’s now your turn to decide if it pleases or causes consternation.  My chance to opine is laid clear in the review below.

From B.C., Gehringer Brothers out of Oliver offers a unique, Golden Mile take on Pinot Gris. More than just coincidence to be here today as yesterday marked a new direction for British Columbia‘s wine industry. The #GoldenMileBench just became the province’s first sub-appellation.

Related – A biography of Ontario and B.C. wines

Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek called the day momentous. She wrote this on her blog. “Something as elemental as the brown given to vineyard stones by a passing universe.  In casual simplicity, I toast to you, the Golden Mile Bench, British Columbia’s first sub appellation.”

The five recognized wine regions in British Columbia are The Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The new designation was announced by the provincial government on March 30 and will legally identify where grapes are grown. In this case, the escarpment southwest of Oliver which runs south from Fairview Road and near Highway 97.

Related – A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C.

So long as 95 per cent of the grapes were grown in the area, wineries will now legally be allowed to indicate the Golden Mile on their labels. The list includes CC Jentsche Cellars, Checkmate Artisanal Winery, Culmina Family Estate Winery, Fairview Cellars, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Hester Creek Estate Winery, Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards, Golden Mile Cellars, Rustico Farm and Cellars, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, and Willow Hill Vineyards.

In Jauary I wrote about Burrowing Owl Winery. I talked about the extreme nature of their location and what is does for their wines. “That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well-known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.”

Related – Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

The 2011 Syrah reviewed below drives the stake even deeper into the searing heart of the Owl.

Sara d’Amato and I have compiled a list of recommended Canadian wines in the second of two WineAlign April 4th VINTAGES release reports.

Off the Beaten Path, from East to West and a Battle of the Corkscrews

Here are notes on six new local releases coming to stores this Saturday.

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura's White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign)

When I tasted the 2012 Laura’s White again with winemaker Rob Power two weeks ago my last note said “this has the grab, tempered by the warmth of the vintage, so look for ’13 to nail it with a hook.” That it does, along with the most balm and herbs of the last five vintages. This blues traveller goes deeper into complexion and white varietal compilation. The fruit is very tropical in 2013, softer, easier, lighter in complexity, but it has that musical trigger, the jingle, the popper, the hook. If ’12 was the revivalist blend, then ’13 will try to be the proselytizer. “Because the hook brings you back, ain’t tellin’ you no lie. The hook brings you back, on that you can rely.” Everyone can drink this. While it may not stand up a decade or longer later, you will be able to look back on it fondly and remember it was a wine for the times. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @CreeksideWine

Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (347203, $18.95, WineAlign)

A concrete set of aridity rules are the modus operandi here in a reserved, stoic and aerified sort of Okanagan Pinot Gris. Paler and thus less oxidative then the last vintage to pass through these parts. Very much cut into pear, less so of white peach. The grape tannin is noticeable, even obdurate. Generous alcohol contributes to the mulish attitude though with the aridity and slight citrus push you’d be hard-pressed to really notice the call.  Tasted March 2015  @GB_Wines  @UncorktheSun

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sunlight is the key to this ripe Chardonnay, snatched from vines that grow on the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment’s sub-appellation. Here Henry of Pelham calmly puts its hegemony over Short Hills Bench Chardonnay on display. The fruit layering is very impressive, compressed even, with just a spiced spirit injection from the barrel. The Estate Chardonnay is in a mid-range class of its own, this gatherer of heat days, hoarder in spring water retention, cleanser in sand and gravel drainage. The vintage just seems perfect for this niche bottling, balanced, primed to finespun texture, stretched for length and good to age at least five years.  Last tasted March 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (415612, $24.95, WineAlign)

In the hands of new winemaker Angela Kasimos, Small Talk Vineyards should consider going with and increasing their plantings of Syrah. It’s clear that Kasimos has inherited good solid fruit and the Small Talk (formerly Stonechurch Wines) treatment in ’12 is a very good start towards what should become a great varietal relationship. Smokey, savoury and full of positive brine vibrations, this has body but no overripe or caramelizing denouement. Nor is it green, though it exhibits tonalities that whisper volatility and chews that say sinew. Yet it persists healthy and clean. This is Syrah of lovely curves, rounded shapes, bright peaks and gently sloping valleys. Who doesn’t like Syrah young and infectious like this?  Tasted March 2015  @SmallTalkWines  @AngelaKasimos

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

Let’s get something immediately out of the way. The wines of François Morissette are not meant to please curmudgeons, skeptics, contrarians or members of the wine media. This Riesling has no desire to kiss ass. This will not appeal to late harvest lovers, from Kabinett to Auslese. Is it ripe? Not quite. Is it different? Absolutely. This compares to almost nothing. Like a Champagne ginger, lime and bronze filings cocktail, the Blackball ’13 is so very developed and despite the colour, is a hyperbole in primary existentialism. That it has essentially no residual sugar and an achieved 11.5 per cent alcohol is a complication only the clinical doyenne has the answers to. Riesling in between dreams, “never knowing shocking but we’re nothing.” The Blackball has struck, is not yet stricken and will offer remore pleasure for another six months. Then it will deconstruct, dissolve and devolve into darkness and funk. Five years later it may emerge like a phoenix, jack up like a Rangen Riesling, into the ethereal. Will it happen. I couldn’t possibly tell you. We may never know. But I can say that then, and only then, will it truly tell its story. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @PearlMorissette

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73072, $39.95, WineAlign)

Just when it seems that Burrowing Owl could not coax beyond the perceived maximum in ripeness and richesse out of desert sage country Syrah, the envelope pushes higher in this ripping 2011. An absolute circum whirl of dark fruit, crushed peppercorns, Cassis and candied violets draw syrupy into bottle. Big, brawny and modern, styled like Syrah from peak perches overlooking the French Riviera with a small percentage of mitigating northern Rhône sensibility. Texture is pure silk. Acids are tame but very present.  Tasted March 2015  @BurrowingOwlBC  @winebcdotcom  @LeSommelierWine

Good to go!

March 7th seven blazon party

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

As VINTAGES rolls out another army of bottles in proclamations of blatant multiplicity and, as I mentioned yesterday, in duplicity, it is time to settle into the recommendations encampment. Trudging through the trenches of Sparkling, White, Red and Dessert the divisions are laid, dispatches ordered and strategies finalized. Staffers go here, front liners there and commanders bring up the rear.

Related – Why it matters to taste wines again

A little bit of everything, as always, defines the March 7th release. Tidy little sippers work the hardest and make sacrifices for the rest. In this release Kosher wines prepare to tackle Passover but that we will save for next week, or perhaps the week after. Italy is the focus, bellowing commands from the bull horn, making decrees like colosseum commentators at Hunger Games. “We have wines that are just too goddamn vivid!” “We have wines with language that is fairly formal and sometimes flowery!” “Occasionally we stop to smell the adjectives!”

Tuscan wines always seem to possess what has heretofore been referred to as collectively having “a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility.” As a group they are confident, steeped in tradition and now, as much as any wine-producing region, captured within the heart of the state of the art. The sea is murky because the obvious separations between varietal and blend are hard to discern but one aspect is not under dispute. Overall quality has never been higher. Tuscan wines are just plain fun to drink.

The seven blazon party from March 7th attacks with Chardonnay, Yellow Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and two rounds of Sangiovese. The notes, here, now.

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A'frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$14.95, WineAlign)

One of the best deals going in oak-less Chardonnay, a glug, glug, line up at the jug kind of guiltless white. Pure, cool-climate variegate, with the cool of the Peninsula overridden by the vacuous warmth in the saddle abutting the Escarpment. Very pear, all in slate, exit to daylight acidity for a Chardonnay that hit the switch. Spot on in 2013 with an even keel of personality, warm but never far from cool.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, Tokaj Hegyalja, Hungary (46508$15.95, WineAlign)

From Tokaj Hegyalja in Bodrogkeresztúr found tucked into the northeastern corner of Hungary. One could imagine the air thick as sweet cool soup in summer, perfumed by basil and lemon verbena. Designated “semi-sweet” the varietal is so much more than pedestrian when handled with this kind of poise and concern. Highly aromatic, viscous and wildflower floral. Honey and honeysuckle, fresh lemon, beeswax and citrus pith. Sweetness begins, abides, subsides and melts in the mouth. Buckley‘s medicinal to a fundamental degree but not to a fault. Delicate and delightful. Muscat of a grace that makes you feel and wish, “my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder.”  Tasted March 2015  @WineofHungary

The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$20.95, WineAlign)

While wood plays a prominent role it does not saturate to distraction. The barrel extract adds warmth and spice in contribution to balance. A high-toned syrup on the nose gives way to an evenly weighted palate. A scraped bean flavoured creamy toddy texture is topped with chocolate shavings, a dry of bell pepper and tobacco smoulder from out of the chamber. Nicely judged fruit, acidity and texture with admirable length. A necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.  Tasted March 2015  @goodearthtweets  @EpicW_S

Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (972695$23.95, WineAlign)

A very honest take on Sangiovese and Chianti Classico. When it appeared from the 2006 vintage it had been a while since this Panzano came to market, having been a stalwart presence in late 1990’s vintages. Modern now, very much a child of 21st century winemaking but in retention of loyalties to red, sour cherry and dusty 90’s Sangiovese. Remains slightly austere, angular and tension-filled, as if a scraping noise could be heard as the fruit, acidity and tannins fight for purchase on the floor. Chalky lactic and really juicy. Drink now and for three to five further on.  Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp  Castelli del Grevepesa

Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (350751$29.95, WineAlign)

Very expressive aromatics in dried flowers, earthy red perfumed fruits, orange peel, clove and a full crumble of cinnamon fill the air. Rampant but not relegating (at this early, five-year juncture) acidity drives the engine, running on vineyard funk, a hint of game and fruit ripened to optimum clarity. This is faultless Sangiovese of guts and guile, really well-made, classic yet modern CCR. Dances like Sangiovese should, “well, you wiggle to the left, you wiggle to the right, you do the ooby dooby with all your might.” No factory made CCR here, nor from out of the cosmos. Just simply down to earth. Were $30 all that I had to spend and a Chianti Classico Riserva the only choice, this would have to make the shortlist. Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Ac Pessac Léognan, Bordeaux, France (966010$31.95, WineAlign)

That VINTAGES was able to secure another sku of this Bordeaux Blanc is both fortuitous and a gift. For the cost of an I-Tunes song you can have a peak into the generosity of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage through the senses of a top-value producer. From Les Vignobles André Lurton comes this white beauty. Though slightly musty upon entry this shows immediate yet perfectly evolved poise. Ready to strike with much persistent verve and density in 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc singularity. Wood is very involved (10 months in 35 per cent new oak barrels on full lees with bâtonnage) by adding precious layers of necessity. Very layered indeed, honeyed, anti-hackneyed, buttressed, really fine and generous. Most excellent work by oenologists Denis Dubourdieu and Valérie Lavigne.  Tasted March 2015  @AndreLurton  @KirkwoodDiamond

Château Montelena Estate Zinfandel 2012, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California (69633$49.95, WineAlign)

A rare, in the neighbourhood of elegant and exquisitely refined Zinfandel gives all red fruit with just a faint raise of raisining. Quite pure, with heaps of liquorice, smouldering cedar bough, brushed and bushy, big but shy of the peak. The English punk of Zinfandel but with melody and charm. Says to the world we have “our own raison d’etre we can’t see?” The quality is in, raising the Zin bar to a level not oft seen, with restraint and complexity. Never mind the bullocks, Montelena offers a buzzcock of a Zinfandel. Here lies a Zinaison d’être.  Tasted March 2015  @ChMontelena  @rogcowines

Good to go!