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

Passover that big glass of red

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs
PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

The Torah says, “Guard the month of the spring, and make [then] the Passover offering.” Meaning, Jews need to ensure that Passover is celebrated in the spring. In Canada that proclamation was in danger. Had Passover fallen in March, 2014 may just have seen the coming of the apocalypse.

An understanding of the rules and laws that govern wine on Passover is on a need to know basis. There are really just three key variants of information essential to purchasing and consuming on Pesach. This applies to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Number one. Passover wine is specific to a Jew’s level of Kosher. From Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox, all Jews have different variances of belief. A Reform Jew will likely drink any wine on Passover and then again, may not. But, he or she will almost certainly not require the bottle to be Meshuval. A Conservative may only drink Meshuval but in more cases than not, Kosher is good enough. An Orthodox Jew goes it only one way, or the highway. Strictly Meshuval KFP, do not pass go, do not collect Afikoman (the broken Matzah) money.

I covered the gory and bitter (herb) details in last year’s Passover wine column. “All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are kosher, but not all kosher wines are kosher for Passover.”

Related – New wave under $20 wines go kosher for Passover

In 2012 I spent some time on the limiting, frustrating and constipating food component of the ancient Jewish holiday. “Try cooking with and having to eat nothing but Matzo, eggs and oil for eight days.”

Related - KP Duty – Kosher For Passover Wines

Kosher wines migrate bigger and bigger with each passing Lunisolar calendar year and their not so arbitrary inclusion or not of an intercalary month (shanah meuberet – Adar I) added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the 19 year lunar cycle. Israel continues to race towards big, lush, often high alcohol reds. This trend could be seen as a masking or a compensating/mitigating strategy to oppose the rigors and past failings of making Kosher wine. It can also be viewed as a stylistic choice, to mirror what has taken place in Bordeaux, in California and in Australia for the past 20 years.

In Canada, Kosher wine selections are extremely limited. There are smaller, garagiste producers in Israel, especially in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, that are making fresher, less oaked reds, but good luck seeing them on shelves on this side of the ponds. It was refreshing, however, to find the Kosher contingent on the VINTAGES March 1st release to be Israel-focused. In past years the group was dominated by Australia, Italy, France and California. Israel is making the best Kosher wines on the planet. Go figure.

Barque Events offers a full Passover catering menu. View the selections. Here are six big reds and a token white tasted and recommended for the Passover table.

Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Galilee

From left to right: Recanati Chardonnay 2012, Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal, Upper Galilee, Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Galilee, Galil Mountain Alon 2010, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Teperberg Family Estate Meritage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Elah Valley, Tabor Earth Series Shiraz 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Saslove Aviv Marriage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Galil Mountain Yiron Kp 2009, Upper Galilee

Recanati Chardonnay 2012, Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal, Upper Galilee, Israel (128322, $19.95, WineAlign)

Rich, unctuous and viscous. Soft and discreet, more like a modern, New World sketch of a Grenache Rhône-blend than a warm climate Chardonnay. There is little or no affront to this clement and polite Israeli of scant tension or acidity.   Tasted February 2014

Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Kosher For Passover, Galilee, Israel (Vintage Wines – 611152, $26.95, WineAlign)

From winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, the stylish “G” will answer the pecuniary call for just about any Passover feast. Well-rounded, worldly, soft-spoken and generous of fruit. A 100 per cent Cabernet that knows its way around a blackberry, a ripe plum, a bouquet of violets and a chamber of faint tobacco smoke. Lush but not heavy, the only detractor is a slight caramel, oxidative note that indicates near-term consumption, which is basically a given anyway. The finish hints at a lava flow in the direction of the fourth cup, but because this G is so easy to drink, it should be enjoyed while still at the table.  Tasted April 2014

Galil Mountain Alon 2010, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Israel (354522, $20.95, WineAlign)

Alon makes use of Syrah to create its party mix, to work with 41 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 Petit Verdot and 6 Cabernet Franc. Another monster red blend, coming in hot and huge at 15.5 per cent alcohol. For the price, what more can you ask for? Passover may be a four glass exercise but two through four are top ups so it’s really a two glass night. This wine will not ruin your 2nd Seder morning wake-up after consuming a maximum two glasses at the 1st Seder. Rich, mocha berry driven shake, spicy and with non-invasive meaty aromas. Hot, sweet and bothered.  Tasted February 2014  @azureau 

Teperberg Family Estate Meritage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Elah Valley, Israel (157016, $23.95, WineAlign)

Proper Bordeaux aromatics, of tobacco, tea, black currant and grilled meat. Nothing gritty going on here, all four varieties playing a role and hanging together. With good tannins, sweet sinuous and slinky, this is a very versatile Passover red that will also benefit from a year or two in bottle. Better than average value.  Tasted February 2014

Tabor Earth Series Shiraz 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Israel (356709, $23.95, WineAlign)

In an unusual turn of the earth, this smells like someone dropped a piece of Emmental to melt in the heat upon the must of this Shiraz. It does swirl away and a solid core of red berry remains, though for just a spell. Simple, semi-structured and proper, without hard edges or tannins, but falls quickly. Will work well with many Passover flavours but drink it up in 2014.  Tasted February 2014

Saslove Aviv Marriage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Israel (354514, $29.95, WineAlign)

This Aviv consolidates Bordeaux, Piedmont and the Rhône into one complex and perplexing blend within the confines of a single bottle. The Northern Rhône meatiness of the Shiraz stands out firm and at attention, essentially suppressing the Meritage marriage intent and thus renders the wine monochromatic. Still its lively and spicy, ready for the bigger and more pungent foods on the Passover table. The Shiraz might say, “this is a crisis I knew had to come, destroying the balance I’d kept.” The other varieties, meaning Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Nebbiolo are the silent partners in this polygamy of a wine marriage. They play their parts despite the joy division.  Tasted February 2014

Galil Mountain Yiron Kp 2009, Upper Galilee, Israel (95075, $34.95, WineAlign)

The Yiron is a beast but because I am so pleased to see the Kosher feature composed of all Israeli wines (as opposed to Australia, France, Italy, Argentina and Chile) I am focused and ready to work with anything on this table. Despite the 15.5 per cent alcohol and plethora of oak treatment, this blend shines in rich, meaty and anise-spiked flavours. The mix of Cabernet Sauvignon (60 per cent), Merlot (35) and Petit Verdot (5) may seem monstrous but it is not stupidly expensive now and in relation to what it cost in previous vintages ($50). Though certainly not a wine of elegance, grace and restraint, the Yiron pulls no punches and remains true to its warm climate conditions. It is what it is.  Tasted February 2014

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

The death of wine scores?

 

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Not so fast.

As time goes by, I am hearing less comments like, “well that one got a 95,” and “that one is better value because it got a 90.” Wine ratings may increasingly becoming maligned and less frequently employed but that does not mean they don’t have their place. Scores continue to be necessary as a way to evaluate wines that lack a certain level of honesty. Wines on the edge of being dodgily made, encumbered by heavy-handed, industry-fed, mass marketing machines. Scores separate and differentiate the wheat from the chaff when dealing with over the top residual sugar, hyper-acidification, bloated alcohol and (lack of fruit) masking. Embrocating one Malbec an 85 over another’s 84 makes a comment on the relative validities of those two sweetened confections.

Attaching a rating to a tasting note is not a question of right versus wrong. Ratings measure a bottle of wine against its peers. That is the simple answer. The problem is that the tasting experience is a subjective one and each reviewer has personal preferences, so in order to align with one (or more), the consumer must self-calibrate alongside a critic whose palate they’ve figured out. Very difficult to do, so relying on scores has always been the easiest road to travel.

Part of the problem is that tasting notes, on their own, are often fleeting and impossible to grasp. Guilty as charged. Fred Swan put this is the most eloquent terms. “Tasting notes are like photographs, portraying a subject at one brief moment in time and without a back story.” If tasting notes are just snapshots, is that not compelling testimony as to the need for an accompanying score? Or is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?

Jamie Goode’s take. “I find myself in a tricky position: I use points even though I don’t like to because readers find them useful. And I have to calibrate my scale with the major critics. This pushes me into a corner.”

Still the debate is growing and for good reason. The wine community is tiring of seeing scores, especially those tabulated using the Robert Parker Jr. anointed 100-point scale, attached to a critic’s wine tasting note. The question has always been this. Why would you need scores to sell wine?

Mr. Parker feels so strongly about the entrenched longevity of his system that he’s announced the launch of a new lifestyle magazine called “100 Points by Robert Parker.” Does this sound like a last gasp fling from a captain going down with his ship? Bill Zacharkiw seems to intimate the idea, but the Montreal Gazette wine critic is smarter than to lash out and drag anyone through the mud. Taking a high road, Zacharkiw writes, “from grapes to wine styles, there is truly a wine for everyone. I have my taste, you have yours, and Parker has his.” No, nor scores neither. Nor scores neither.

The fervor and sometimes rage in the argument reminds me of the (second) most famous of Hamlet soliloquys. “Why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man!” Most of the voices chiming in on this hot topic only see the ratings world in black and white. There are more shades of grey than many would freely admit. Scores have their place.

Meanwhile, Decanter is reporting that Château Pontet-Canet made a bold decision to test (more than 20 years) of uncharted waters by setting their en Primeur pricing in advance of the taste and ratings levies by the major critics. Since the nineties the likes of Parker, Decanter and Wine Spectator have all but determined Bordeaux Futures pricing. Pontet-Canet’s move is being seen as another nail in the 100-point coffin. One Bordeaux négociant commented, “If other chateaux follow this same pricing model, we might as well go home now.”

The real issue is the bottle itself. In the new world of wine, who has not thrown new stock and a vested interest into wines made naturally, in sustainable, biodynamic or organic ways? Who has not made a resolution to drink more honest wine? Producing good wine still trumps the natural theatre of viticulture and viniculture but honesty is the new order. Honest wines should go forth and be free of wine ratings.

Wine scores can be ignored if we concentrate on what matters. Like apiculate yeast, fermentative vigor, microflora, clonal selection and soil. We also need to talk more about and mention flaws, like chlorinated compounds, hydrogen sulphide and volatile acidity. These are things that are too often brushed under the rug.

I will continue to post ratings of the wine’s I review on WineAlign because as a community of critics we offer a round table of opinions that allow the wine buyer to make gathered, educated and informed decisions. In consideration that this forum is a singular expression of opinions, this column will no longer attach scores to tasting notes. It’s quite obvious, plain and simple. I only write about honest wines for canada.com. The prose speaks for itself.

With spring beginning this Friday, no joke, here are the last of the great big winter reds. Five wines recently tasted that thrilled by way of their fairness, their honor and their virtue. Wines that need no score.

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (364133, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Stands out for its honest fruit, this Mendozan from San Roque district in Maipú county. Qualified by an admirable level of restraint, low in residual sugar and alcohol, straightforward, unencumbered. Winemakers María Eugenia Baigorria and Sergio Giménez have let the fruit speak in clean, level tones, in red berries, licorice red and black, a dusting of spice, red cherry and even strawberry. This is textbook hands off winemaking with nearly exceptional length and simply solid from start to finish. Mi sueno, mi terruño.  Tasted March 2014

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Francois Morissette’s 2010 is a pioneering example towards defining Bench appellation Cabernet Franc isomeric reactions. Relationships between grapes of a growing area and their ultimate destination in bottle. An affair of veraison, leaf drop, frost, hand harvesting, whole cluster sorting and berry oak fermenting.  Indigenous yeast, punch downs and overs for phenolic skin extraction and polymerization. Neutral oak and sulfur dioxide to provide antimicrobial and antioxidant protection. An eighteen month somniac’s rest, fine lees and no filtration. The structural arrangement in cohabitation of radicals and ions leads to such a Cabernet Franc. Fully expressive of an endemic, very ripe, vegetal varietal vicissitude that is both inbred and necessary. Currants and peppered berries of power and grit. Dry (2 g/L residual sugar), plump (13.7 per cent alcohol) and scarce (618 cases made). Reflective of the warm 2010 vintage and will always act in stark contrast to the elegant 2011.  Tasted July 2013 and March 2014  @PearlMorissette  On the card at Barque Smokehouse

Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, Tuscany, Italy (353201, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A re-release showing an exuberance of advanced character. Now acting out the strikingly rich and golden vintage, in Lamé and gilded iron. Speaking a most Tuscan, elite vernacular, already recognizable and evolving into its own skin, with a notion towards herbaceous, dried fruit. A classic pasta and roasted meats red wine. Nonna’s Trattoria kitchen in a glass. Drying just a touch, so drink up. Earlier note: “Slight earthy funk, imparted by the vineyard floor and in part from the wood. Sappy, resinous, distinctively warm-blooded, plummy fruit. Tuscan tang though light on pucker.”  Tasted October 2013 and March 2014

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign)

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection 

Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe, Bordeaux, France (259010, $149.85, WineAlign) An In-Store Discovery from the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A blend that in 2010 is extremely high in Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), with support from Merlot (12) and Petit Verdot (2). Immaculate hue in blue jasmine meets red ochre, echoed by blue and red fruit aromas. A purity of freshness and an exotic perfume distracts from the absurdity of the price, if just long enough to become intoxicated by its qualifications. It really does have it all. Red velvet layer cake made of the finest chocolate, the world’s least refined and highest quality sugar, spices only found in places reached and hand-picked by agile, primate-like humans. So approachable and marked by sweet tannins that will carry this Saint Estèphe for three decades.  Tasted March 2014

Good to go!

Ten more reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween

Top 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween
PHOTO: QUAYSIDE/OTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

If you missed or would like to be reminded of last year’s top ten list, care to tempt a fate of Sisyphean dread or comedic retribution, then click here:

Related - Top ten reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween

Halloween candidly breaks down continence as the most pagan, gluttonous and sickly-sweet, over indulgent night of the year. Sure, self-restraint takes a baseless plunge into holiday abysses; Christmas, Eid al-Fitr, Easter, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Hari Raya Puasa, Sukkot and the list goes on around the world. But a night of candy? Don’t kid yourself. Your not the only one. One Mars bar for the cute seven year-old in the Smurfette costume, two Oh Henry’s for you.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Cute seven year-old in a Smurfette costume

A few weeks post liminal to the Halloween hangover of 2012 I penned the entry, A toast to the endangered Twinkie. This Twinkie posturing was not only met with cries of “WTF?” but lambasted in the outright anger of many a hipster and political cognoscente who felt insulted and damaged by the hideous notion. The raillery between the lines in my faux ode to the extinct snack was clearly lost, despite a reference to the “Twinkieapocalypse.” So, I swear on the vinocratic oath and please, no wine and peanut butter cup pairings this year. No bubbles and sour candies, no port and milk chocolate bars. If it were available, I might however, have recommended this wine:

https://twitter.com/eugene_vin/status/395214036880470016

I’m no stranger in being an advocate as to the health benefits that can be enjoyed from a glass or two of wine. My column, A wine prescription for cold and flu was met with much love and even more sniggering. Yet the fact remains that a balanced meal and a glass or two of good quality (read: non-chaptalized, honest, light-handed) wine is good for the mind, body and soul.

My suggestion? Eat that early meal, pour yourself and your better half a glass and keep that bottle open for the neighbours and their begging to be topped up travellers.  Do be careful what you wish for – you might be the popular, go to house. Just don’t forget to stock up on extra treats. Here are another top 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine and the three bottles I plan to open and dole out on Halloween.

  1. So you will consider the phrase “trick or treat, smell my feet” as a compliment
  2. To build up immunity to better brave the cold and show off your sexy Halloween costume.
  3. So you have a proper excuse to turn down a creepy Blood Hemorrhage or Martha Stewart Blood Orange cocktail
  4. To help forget about traffic infuriating October construction, Ford more years, Miley Cyrus, Senate cheques and work for at least for one night
  5. To reduce the chances of having a heart attack or stroke at the sudden comeuppance of the neighbour’s $10,000 Halloween movie set
  6. Nothing says “thank you neighbour” like a good glass of wine on Halloween
  7. If you are not already, you just might become more tolerable of gay and lesbian rights and of children dressed up as Kathleen Wynne
  8. A person with a candy bag full of vodka is an alcoholic. A person with a candy bag full of wine is classy
  9. A good man can make the hot witch costume you are wearing make you feel sexy, wanted, desired…oh, wait… that’s a bottle of wine
  10. Nothing like a glass of wine on Halloween puts you in the mood to have another glass of wine on Halloween

From left: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Cabernet/Merlot 2010, Rosewood Estates Pinot Noir 2011, and Bodegas La Val Orballo Albariño 2011

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Cabernet/Merlot 2010 (222372, $19.95) from two Cabs and Merlot picked out of select estate vineyards, is aged for nine months in French oak. Sanguine, sweat and sweet-smelling, racing, pulsating red. Liquid adult candy, chewy licorice, a walk in the dark weald. Hallow wine, a thriller, “for no mere mortal can resist.”  88  @Mbosc

Rosewood Estates Pinot Noir 2011 (winery, $20) and her libidinous solid core of red fruit habituated by a fencing of skin-tight acidity will see prolonging returns. Will run on like a Dave Matthews jam, in wine years scads longer than the temperate Rosewood ’10 . An Escarpment’s native flint rocky note whispers “hey little dreamer’s eyes open and staring up at me…wait until I come I’ll take your soul.” Halloween wine indeed.  89  @RosewoodWine

Bodegas La Val Orballo Albariño 2011 (Profile Wine Group, $19.95) from the estate’s Pexegueiro vineyard in Spain’s Rías Baixas region is a brazenly, stony straight, sharpshooting white. Rock star sniper with a retinue of advising. aromatic angles, including citrus and green, tropical tree fruit . “Cold dry stone” granitic smile, nearly discernible effervescence and long, salivating freshness. Albariño in chains. On the card at Barque.  89  @BodegaslaVal  @ProfileWineGrp

Good to go!

A Sancerre Thanksgiving

French vegetable garden
PHOTO: NEIRFY/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

October is a very busy month in the world of fermented grapes. The local harvest will (almost) entirely see to its conclusion and winemakers will breathe a communal and proverbial sigh of collected relief. They will gaze up into the blue sky and engage in salutary acts of gratitude. They will thank mother nature for allowing their babies to hang long enough for the purpose of achieving phenolic ripeness in varietal maturity.

Appreciation will be shown in spades this week when we wine geeks convene to taste recent years’ wares at Taste Ontario. The event is hosted in Ottawa (The Westin Hotel) today and in Toronto (ROM) on Thursday by VINTAGES and Wine Country Ontario. The grand tasting coincides with the LCBO “SHINE {ON}” campaign that runs from September 15 through October 12.

The lead up week to Canadian Thanksgiving also means the Wines of Chile are coming to the ROM. Chilean wines have lately been blowing my mind in ways not previously perceived. Case in point a recent WineAlign session with winemaker Francisco Baettig of Errazuriz. Later this month there will be stupefying opportunities to sample wines from Napa Valley, Champagne and the Loire Valley.

Ah, there’s the rub. The Loire. Can there be a region anywhere in the world with more varied and obvious wines to match the wealth and richness of foods at the Thanksgiving table? Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. A holy trinity of Silex mineral, peppery goodness and piercing acidity to cut through the utterly gluttonous and hoggish Thanksgiving feast. I have already delved into Canadian wines for the coming weekend. Here I add an Argentine Chardonnay, a Nebbiolo from Piedmont, a Pinot Noir from Burgundy and a couple of stupidly good and expensive Cabernets from Napa Valley. Most of all I am so proud to recommend the most altruistic Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted in a long time.

So, happy Thanksgiving Canada. I offer up Sancerre thanks, Escondida that emotion and hope to be blessed with a Cabernet on the Corison. Ugh. Sigh.

From left: Finca La Escondida Reserva Chardonnay 2012, Paul Prieur et Fils Sancerre 2011, Pertinace Vigneto Nervo Barbaresco 2009, Aurélien Verdet Moray Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, and Phillip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: From 100 year-old Bodega La Rosa’s San Juan Andean vineyards, under the much larger ownership of Argentina’s Grupo Peñaflor

The lowdown: This is a phenomenal deal at $15

The food match: Cauliflower Steaks with Tomatoes

Finca La Escondida Reserva Chardonnay 2012 (270207, $14.95) has the Zonda lemon drop I love and look for in Argentinian Chardonnay. Attitude from altitude, the faintest smokey char and terrific restraint. Cool climate rendition and nearly as lovely as Chile’s Le Cordillera. Tight and a bit tingling. There’s a soulful, quiescent component too, if a bit stunted by a stannic cedilla. Never mind the stops and starts. “If you got the notion” buy a boatload of this elegant Chardonnay. Escondida that emotion.  90  @fincalaescondid  @winesofarg

PHOTO: Jill Chen/FreestyleFarm.ca
Barque Smokehouse Baby Back Ribs

The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

The history: Eleven generations have been making Sancerre on this 18-hectare vineyard at the foot of the Monts Damnés

The lowdown: Like I said before, superb

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Baby Back Ribs

Paul Prieur et Fils Sancerre 2011 (350421, $25.95, SAQ, 11953245, $22.95) has that je ne Sancerrais quoi, first in a fountainhead of Verdingy geology and then in plating everything that is Sancerre; verve, attack, the faintest herbiage and rustling, brushing grass. Tittilating and galvanizing in the most golden, autumnal way. To quote the canonical David Lawrason, if I may, “you can always use a good Sancerre.” Damn straight.  92  @LoireValleyWine

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: A single-vineyard bottling from Cantina Vignaioli (Elvio Pertinace) in Piedmont, Italy

The lowdown: Patience or a good two hour decant is necessary to seek reward from this generously VINTAGES priced red. It’s generally a $50-60 dollar bottle south of the border

The food match: Pasta Al Forno with Pumpkin and Pancetta

Pertinace Vigneto Nervo Barbaresco 2009 (344705, $39.95) is a tight, saliva-sucking, bone dry, ossified, ferric Nebbiolo. Just two sips and my tongue and gums feel like a lorry has run over them. That and the crimson smell of climbing roses. Classic really.  92

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: A storied vineyard just above the very famous Clos Du Tart in the Côte de Nuits

The lowdown: This producer may not be a household name for its holdings in this Burgundy plot but step aside Bruno Clair, Lignier-Michelot and Pascal Marchand. Verdet can handle the terroirof Morey-St.-Denis

The food match: Grilled Arctic Char, za-atar crust, nasturtiums

Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010 (353416, $44.95) noses my kind of MSD aromatics. Soft vanilla, black cherry, smoke and obdurate limestone toughness. Coated in fine, tinny tannin and stretchy length, this represents big value for the appellation.  92  @BadDogWine

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Cathy Corison holds a Master’s in Enology from U.C. Davis, made wine for Chappellet Vineyard, Staglin Family Vineyard, York Creek Vineyards and Long Meadow Ranch and produced her first Corison in 1987.

The lowdown: From Corison, “time on the vine allowed the development of the full range of flavors that Cabernet can achieve (red and blue fruits grading into the darker, purple and black notes) at moderate alcohol. Cold nights promoted great natural acidity.” Some Napa Cabernet is built upon smoke and mirrors. They cause fires. The honesty of Corison’s wines induce irrigation and germination

The food match: Duck Confit, potato galette, berry jus

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (333328, $113.95) is certainly in its wheelhouse, offering up sweet, Napa plaisir. Not as fleshy as expected but open-handed and magnanimous in behaviour. Ceanothus, blue and perfumed. Berries, red and ever bearing. A (Geraldine) Brooksian wine that allows you “to fall down a rabbit hole, where the rest of the world disappears.”  93  @cathycorison

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Napa icon, from a vineyard at 2000 feet, near the top of Spring Mountain

The lowdown: Togni’s Cabernet has oft been compared to the wines of the Medoc, specifically Margaux

The food match: Grilled Beef Tenderloin

Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (31351, $137.95) may brood and bark but it is not over the top, in alcohol or extract. Imbued of mellifluous perfume, great grain and lay of the land. The 2010 is big on elemental design for Napa, cool in the middle, iron and sanguine at the end. This is serious stuff.  94

Good to go!

Red earth, white wine and September sparkling fire

Photo: ASK-Fotografie/Fotolia.co

as seen on canada.com

The weekend brought us autumn. A certain type of exhaustion creeps in when summer turns over, especially after two weeks of early September, hectic activity. So I sipped my weekend wine, let the ghosts come, allowed them to crash my dreams. It was the least I could do. Then, with a sibilant call, I cast out the spirits rattling like a guttering candle, browsed through some tasting notes and found many a wine reason to usher in the fall.

I did so with perfunctory ease. A bottle of red terroir here, a couple of neo-classical Ontario whites and a revelatory British Columbian sparkler there. Don’t let the sun go down on your wine year just because the mercury is falling. A red Mercurey from Burgundy might be all you need to enjoy the fall. That and some Canadian juice.

Canadian wine pilgrims are living in what is arguably the most exciting time in wine’s history. A time when the greatest wines are fetching the highest prices, where revolutionary activities are taking place in almost every realm of vinous endeavour. During this renaissance new world winemakers have had to re-calibrate their wine linguistics, so Bordeaux became “Meritage,” (Red) Bourgogne became “Pinot Noir” and Champagne became “Sparkling Wine.” The world’s data banks for terms and parlance (wine dictionaries) of examples in context is dwarfed by the collection winemakers all carry around subconsciously in their heads. Thus we have “White Palette” (Jean-Pierre Colas), “Sketches” (Paul Pender) and “Methode Classique” (Jason James). Pilgrim extraordinaire Thomas Bachelder gives us Pinot Noir opposite the iconic Domaine Faiveley’s Bourgogne.

Here are five wines of the lexicographical order to look for this coming weekend and to welcome the fall.

Clockwise from left: 13th Street White Palette, Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling 2012, Domaine Faiveley Mercurey 2010, Bachelder Pinot Noir Oregon 2011, and Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay Methode Classique Brut 2008.

13th Street White Palette 2011 (207340, $15.95) is JP’s who’s who bottle of white grapes, a mad scientist’s blend, the flask filled with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay Musque. A re-release and much improved with a year’s extra weight, its “got your body right now.” Fortified by a carapace of grape spirits and purposeful in a white meritage sense of community, plus citrus, pith and a far-reaching, right correct absinthian length. You better you bet.  88  @13thStreetWines

Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling 2012 (89029, $17.95) s’got quite the tropical warmth for Bench Riesling. When considered in terms of the vintage, this is nearly a Riesling in the service of a Pinot Gris. Very juicy fruit, dry but bursting in fricative verve. Extreme quality, low-cost. Now on tap at Barque Smokehouse.  89  @Tawse_Winery

Domaine Faiveley Mercurey 2010 (341925, $22.95, B.C. 486217, $28.99) is really quite nice TYVM. Dug from the pungent autumnal earth, expressing ripe cherry, cranberry and strawberry. Pure, elegant and charming. When first tasted and without knowing the price I made this note: “If it’s under $25 it’s a very, very good buy – assuming it is.” Sold.  90

Bachelder Pinot Noir Oregon 2011 (333278, $34.95) bleeds Willamette terroir. Punctiliously phenolic from marine sediment and seemingly obvious early-ripening. Provocative in ruby, sugar-sour cranberry meets redolent raspberry. Chalky, tannic and serious. It’s tough on me right now. Come on Thomas, would ya please lighten up? I don’t want to have to wait to drink the first case.  90  @Bachelder_wines

Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay Methode Classique Brut 2008 (264879, $25.95) makes use of B.C.’s future, the necessary signature white variety Pinot Blanc with assistance from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Very fine lees and yeast aromas are followed by a fantastic jumping and grooving party in the mouth. Tart apples, dry and crisp. Sprightly with 3-D sparkling fire texture. Tertiary maturity has nearly arrived.  91  @SumacRidgeWine

Good to go!

Low alcohol wine for the High Holidays

Barque Smokehouse Smoked Chicken Thighs. Serve with Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2011
PHOTO: KEVIN HEWITT AND JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

A quick bit of Jewish 101. Tomorrow night is a Jew’s big night. There will be a great feast. Apples and honey will grace every table. The big meal will be followed by much sweet indulgence. Rosh Hashanah is marked on the Jewish calendar by the first day of Tishrei, meaning the “head of the year.” This new calendar year beginning is referred to as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, a time to make sincere resolutions for the future. Jews will say, L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem, “may you immediately be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” Rosh Hashanah is a time for renewal, where symbolic pleasantries are shared, exchanged and not surprisingly, Jews make use of food and drink to exercise the festivities.

When it comes to yayin (wine), Shekar, or “strong drink” is not necessarily the obvious, fermented choice. Last November I wrote a rant on the jumboism rampant in so many current wines on the market. “Biblical thought says there was a time when “wine” was simply the juice of pressed fruit, non-fermented, void of alcohol, the “pureblood of the grape.” The post-deluge patriarch (Noah) purportedly discovered that if you let natural yeasts run wild they would turn grape juice and sugar into mocker, “strong drink.” Researches say that ancient barm barely peaked at 12 per cent alcohol by volume.”

Like a pair of brothers in heated debate over ”integrity versus compromise,” choosing wine for the High Holidays is fraught and fought with philosophical and religious intensity. Kosher or conventional? Traditional or modern? Low alcohol or high-octane? Many Jewish tables will be set with Kosher (not Meshuval or, Kosher for Passover) wine. Many will not. For many modern Jews, on holidays not called Passover, Kosher is not a prerequisite when it come to choosing wine. Jews, in general, will daven to that 12 percent abv mark, give or take a percent. When talking wine, the Jew should never be labelled a Mundus Novian. Keep in mind that with all that food going down, heavy-handed winemaking has no place at the Rosh Hashanah banquet.

Related – More from the VINTAGES August 31st, 2013 Release

Then there is the etymology of the expression L’Chaim. At one point the condemned were given wine so that their execution would be less painful. The phrase “to life” was coined to express a sentiment to the contrary. Here are five excellent, low-alcohol wines to look for thisRosh Hashanah, to raise a glass to the new year, to exclaim L’Chaim!

Clockwise from left: Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2012, 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011, Jean-Marc Brocard Sainte Claire Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2011, Château Hyot 2010, and Domaine De La Garodière Morgon 2011

Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2012 (Stem Wine Group, $18.99) is so low in alcohol (five per cent) you might think you are drinking cider but fermented apples could never achieve such complexity with such incredibly economical syntactic structure. Slightly sweet and also sparkling, this Moscato makes itself readily accessible to new wine drinkers. I may not be one but how can I not be tempted by its forbidden stone fruits. I’ll drink it with the sups at the RH table. Moscato 101 indeed. On the card at Barque.  90

The food match: Halibut, pan roasted, charred sweet pepper jam, steamed broccoli & heirloom carrots

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011 (147512, $19.95) from Niagara’s Creek Shores and built of the classic Alsatian Clone 49 inordinately defines place and time in an agglomerated manner. Maximum floral intensity, zero petrol tolerance and an arid accumulation speak volumes about the appellation. To taste you will note it just barely believes it’s off-dry. Unique and unambiguous, plosive Riesling.  89

The food match: Quinoa Salad, summer corn, peas, cilantro, lime chili vinaigrette

Jean-Marc Brocard Sainte Claire Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2011 (329995, $24.95, SAQ, 2010,11589658, $24.95) marks a return to memories of old vines Brocard I’ve loved before. “The winds of change continue blowing,” so Chablis is sometimes not what it used to be.  This VV is not quite steely but is structured like a good old country ode, with all the correct components. Just a kiss of all things Chablis. Rock, flint, sapid ardor and a racy, new slang, tang thang. As good as it gets from something other than Grand or Premier Cru.  89

The food match: Salmon with tomato & preserved lemon salsa, sautéed baby kale, lemon zest, crushed almonds

Château Hyot 2010 (63537, $16.95) from 70 percent Merlot, 20 Cabernet Franc and 10 Cabernet Sauvignon goes properly and structurally sound into the Côtes de Castillon night. Forty year-old vines capitulate ripe red fruit, tangy accents, zest and just enough bite to keep it lengthy and fresh. A farmer’s Bordeaux, natural in feel, oxygenated low and slow, micro-managed. Solid if prosaic. Kudos to winemaker Amélie Aubert for reigning in the overripe and over extracted tendencies of consultant Michel Rolland.  88

The food match: Smoked Beef Brisket, bbq Jus, rice pilaf, wild and basmati rice, bok choy and ginger

Domaine De La Garodière Morgon 2011 (330126, $17.60, SAQ, 10368204, $18.60) is rich modern Beaujolais but also tight and bound by enough sour acidity to balance the ripe extraction. Hard to believe this clocks in at only 12.5 percent abv. Rock solid Gamay, ready for a fight. Vinous compost with some southern French style Medi-savoury, black olive garrigue. Complex and fortifying.  91

The food match: Duo of Beef: NY Striploin & Braised Beef Cheek, smoked kishka

Good to go!

Alternative wines for the August long weekend

Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

A word of advice if I may. Grab hold of the coming long weekend and put it in your pocket. Take full advantage of the time you have with family and friends. Eat corn. Local ears will never be as tender, sweet and perfect as they are right now. If Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are your go to grapes, by all means, enjoy them. The caveat comes now; just one more whisper of unsolicited wisdom to consider. Try something new.

Canadians will be sharing meals in larger groups so in many cases, a single bottle of wine will not suffice. Why not engage in a grape showdown? Open two wines of the same grape but from different producers or regions. So much can be learned from the comparison, most notably your preference so you will know what to buy next time around. Here are seven alternative wines to look for this coming August holiday long weekend.

Clockwise from left: Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011, Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011, Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009, Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011, Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011, Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010, and Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: Native to the Loire Valley in France and cultivated world-wide but is most notably and commercially successful in South Africa

The lowdown/showdown: Loire versus Stellenbosch. Two polar opposite and conflicting styles, both representative of place and the versatility of Chenin, especially in dry styles such as these

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn

Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011 (LCBO $19.95, 685362, SAQ $19.55, 10267809) indicates grapevines grown of a mineral-rich terroir, like land left after the draining of a lake. Travels into the Loire Valley’s heart of darkness but also shows some increased honey in ’11, fattening the ever-present lemon drop, candied peel, ginger and stony goodness. Chenin as a man in pink pajamas. There is just no worthy value adversary to this tight, racy and wondrous Vouvray.  91  @ProfileWineGrp   @LoireValleyWine

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011 ($17.95, 231282) has an extended stay on the lees to thank for its impressive level of complexity. Works near-dangerous toasty oak to great advantage. Elevates Chenin to skillfully reckoned, barrel fermented Chardonnay status. Snug and spicy, viscous, charged and rising into a golden stratosphere. A bit furry and furtive in movement. Would be enriched by luxuriant food.  89  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

The grape: Riesling

The history: No longer an idiosyncratic Alsatian or German wine. Whether from Marie-Thérèse, Louis Rolly and Piere Gassmann in Alsace or Dianne Smith in Vineland, Riesling is incredibly versatile

The lowdown/showdown: Aromatic Alsace or Piercing Niagara?

The food match: Summer Corn Chowder

Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009 (328898, $20.95) has entered secondary life which only emphasizes its semi-dry mien. Mineral peach tang and non-taxing, petrol beach buoyancy are met by nectarine pith and ambient nut.  By George, this is quintessential, basal Alsace. “There’s one for you, nineteen for me.” Complex impressions cuz’ he’s the gassman.  90

Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011 (351486, $22.95) cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.  91  @GreenLaneWinery

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: Loire Valley reds are the benchmark but tell me this isn’t the most important varietal to grow in Ontario

The lowdown/showdown: Two consumer-friendly versions, both made by farmers working in natural and sustainable ways. One shows off the ambient climate of the Twenty-Mile Bench, the other the long tempered growing season of the Lincoln Lakeshore

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s The Big Prawn Pizza

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011 (64618, $16.95) from David Johnson and Louise Engel is girl-next door pretty, perfumed by violet and mid-summer red berries. American oak lends a whiff of tobacco and spice.  Modern and tarried in capacious extraction yet unencumbered by the oak. Not overly chewy, unctuous or layered but just right.  88  @featherstonewne

Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010 (130997, $31.95) assures us of several things. First, 2010 was a gift for making idiot-proof Cab Franc in Niagara, Second, the Lincoln Lakeshore is one of three obvious and essential CF locales in Niagara. Third and most important, properly adjudicated new oak can elevate CF to the upper reaches of the cool-climate troposphere. While not as masculine or bovine like brother Van Bers, Laundry’s got black cherry, tar, coal, herbs and a peaceful, grilling feeling. Essential CF from winemaker Paul Pender.  92  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Parlour Yaletown Ahi Lettuce Wraps

The grapes: Gros Manseng, Arrufiac and Petit Courbu

The history: From Maumusson in southwestern France, Domaine Capmartin produces 12 wines, which roughly divide into 65% Madiran reds, 20% Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh whites, and 15% Côtes de Gascogne reds and whites

The lowdown: For something bull and full-bodied, unique and completely different,

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s Ahi Lettuce Wraps

Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011 (328617, $15.95) is built upon 80 per cent Gros Manseng plus 10 each of the other two (Arrufiac and Petit Courbu).  Though 80 per cent of the juice ferments in tanks, the remaining 20 that spends time in oak barrels adds histrionic weight and structure. Philosophically elevated in brix and alcohol yet sweet talks dry. Akin to cool climate Chardonnay made in a restrained oak style. Vivacity, rigor and passion here, dissing the notion of simple sipper. There are notes of lime zest and ginger and the wine is both tight and tingling . Also possessive of an earthy morel-ness. Steal it. Give it a whirl.  90

Good to go!

Working wines for the Canada Day weekend

Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

June has been long, wet, arduous and full of promise. Exhausting too. It began with a cooking ordure show for 1,300 Ultimate athletes. There have been food and wine tastings all over Ontario. The palate may never experience this level of fatigue as it does at the end of June. Think about how the Wine Align team feels!

Last week I attended the Stop Night Market, an unforgettable food and beverage extravaganza that rivals any outdoor gastro-experience you are likely to find, anywhere. The unparalleled $50 all you eat and drink ticket from the best of Toronto’s best aside, the SNM helped to solidify the STOP’s position as a leader in community food programs.  The next night I attended Sip and Savour Ontario in the Fermenting Cellar located within the historic Distillery District. Wine and food pursuers lapped up Ontario wines in every incantation matched by seriously excellent small edibles. Sip & Savour Ontario is dedicated to bringing education, support and accessibility of Ontario’s local wine, culinary and agricultural industries to the public, all in support of Houselink.

This coming Friday, June 28th has been declared #CanadianWineDay (or #CdnWineDay) so get out there and sample whatever you can find out of our wine regions, from coast to coast. Make sure to tweet what you tasted.

Time for a brief respite. Canada’s wine and food industry peeps and tweeps have been working overtime, taking care of business, working for the weekend.  What we all need is an extended rest, out in the air, down by the bay, surrounded by family and friends, with a good glass of wine. Here are 10 current releases, ready and willing to work for your long weekend.

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

The Sparkling

The grapes: Muscat, Perle of Csaba

The history: Traditional Champagne style bubbles from a Nova Scotia pioneer out of the Gaspereau Valley

The lowdown: Think Moscato D’asti from Piedmont mixed with the Hungarian Vinifera derived grape. The remarkably low 6.5 percent alcohol aims to please and refresh every palate on a warm Canada Day weekend

The food match: Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012 (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99) while nowhere near Champagne in proximity nor character holds a perfume immediate in marmalade, candied orange peel, lit wick and melting paraffin. To taste it sweetens up a sun-setting, waning day with a convexity of creamy rhubarb, orange sherbet, strawberry and pink grapefruit. Like a song in 6/4 compound, musical meter. With so much going on this is certainly a bridge to somewhere and it’s “gettin’ there fast.” 90  @Benjamin_Bridge

The Whites

The grape: Grillo

The history: Native and classic Sicilian varietal, dating back to B.C.E times though it now only comprises 3 per cent of the white grapes planted in Sicily

The lowdown: Boundless personality of a white wine from the thick-skinned and bold grape built for the blazing Sicilian sun and arid Mediterranean climate

The food match: Chickpea, Parmesan & Fennel Salad

Villa Tonino Grillo 2010 (289579, $14.95) owns a melon’s ripe musk melding to fermenting aroma, matched by a warm, juicy and mouth-watering texture. Blanched nut, coconut and lime zest party on the beach with steaming decapod crustaceans. Grillo, grilling and the sur beating up the sea wall would do just fine.  89  @RegazziWines

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Family owned & operated winery, located in the Yakima Valley of Washington State

The lowdown: Just a bit more than 4,000 cases produced and has only been in bottle for three months

The food match: Pacific Rim Chowder

Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012 (324905, $15.95) gives away a whole lotta’ love for 16 bones. Rich, ropy mandarin and orange melon acidulated with a shot of white pepper coolant. LB, “you’ve been cooling and baby I’ve been drooling.” Dizzying on the tongue, gone bananas and twiddling on every bud.  90 @WINESofWA

The grape: Sémillon

The history: Beamsville’s Rosewood Estate has been pouring their heart, soul and honey (not literally) into this  varietal’s future

The lowdown: Most often employed in combination with Sauvignon Blanc to forge the dry white wines of Bordeaux and more famously, the dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Rosewood is leading the North American charge. #StandSémillonStand

The food match: The Spoke Club‘s Crab Salad + Braised Pork Belly with spring onion and sea buckthorn

Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011 (177758, $17.95) is the leader of the pack. The honey is uncanny. From an earlier note: “is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.”  91  @RosewoodWine

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Alsace family estate winery dates back to 2010.

The lowdown: Grand Cru Pinot Gris. Kessler has been sold under its own name since 1830

The food match: Citrus Smoked Salmon Salad, goat cheese mousse, pickled strawberry, baby frisée

Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008 (249623, $25.95) wants to tell you she’s late harvest but you know better. “You might say you can only fool yourself.” Golden gorgeous, silken pear custard and southern hemisphere, capsicum spiked fruit. Walks on little feat but ultra-marathon runs a sweet to dry crescendoing gamut.  92  @drinkAlsace

The Rosé

The grapes: Grenache, Rolle, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvedre

The history: From the Côtes de Provence, the brainchild of Bordeaux royalty Sacha Lichine (Chateau Prieure Lichine) and Patrick Leon (Baron Phillipe de Rothschild)

The lowdown: As classic a southern French Rosé as you are likely to find, gaze upon or taste, anywhere

The food match: Buttermilk Pancakes, bacon

Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012 (325076, $19.95) of calm, pale arctic char hue and creamy alabaster porcelain skin is a most statuesque and regal RoséWild herbs and country spice walk along a dry road in this most excellent pink drink.  89  @WhisperingAngeI 

The Reds

The grape: Pinot Meunier

The history: This is the third vintage for Vinleand Estates and the rare planted (approximately 1.5 acres) cousin of Pinot Noir

The lowdown: Winemaker Brian Schmidt is exploring the “potential of this unique varietal within the dynamic frame of Niagara. More reliable and consistent that it’s often “psycho” mirror image, Pinot Noir.”

The food match: Steak & Frites, Marinated Skirt Steak, Smoked Pepper Relish

Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011 (225508, $17.95) offers a simple twist of fate from the vinous research control centre in Niagara. Has now gone well beyond experimentation, this 2011 tingles to the bone with pronounced floral waves and a sweet, tangy, concentrated cherry core. Solid focus and structured to please.  Piques a familiar rich scent of leather. Drank it “as the evening sky grew dark.”  88  @benchwineguy

The grape: Gamay

The history: Cru Gamay from Morgon. After Brouilly, Morgon is the largest winemaking area in Beaujolais. From the Georges Duboeuf stable

The lowdown: Straddles a serious and commercial line but the consistency of this Gamay is not to be disputed

The food match: Fried Green Tomatoes, corn salsa, feta

Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011 (946186, $17.95, SAQ 856898, $19.30, B.C. 866673 $21.99) is simply rich and decadent in raspberry, a bit cakey and jammy for the appellation yet structured and stylish. Barbera-like with tar, roses, fennel and balancing tannin.  89  @Dandurandwines

The grape: Merlot

The history: From master and mad scientist J.L Groux, winemaker at marketing and class organization extraordinaire Stratus Vineyards

The lowdown: When Stratus rolled out the Tollgate line I was skeptical. Where the Wildass group might hit you upside the head (in a good way, of course) the Tollgates earn their stripes with finesse and elegance. Created primarily for the restaurant industry. An ode to agricultural activity of Upper Canada

The food match: Panko-Custed, Pulled Slow-Cooked Beef Chuck, horseradish aioli, charred brussel sprouts

Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010 (344101, $24.95) is a picture of modernity, warm and a touch oxy. Raspberry jam, dusty mulberry. Indicative of how special 2010 was for Merlot in Niagara. Really well made, built of a confident structure, mindful of an incandescence in finesse. Linear experience, with no breaks or pauses. Solid red.  88  @Stratuswines

The Splurge

The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault

The history: From the Rhône Valley in Southern France, Château La Nerthe was born in the 12th Century around the time vines were first planted in the stone-strewn soil of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (literally the “Pope’s new castle”)

The lowdown: While the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are anything but cheap, they more often than not offer the best high-end wine values in the world. This is one of the best.

The food match: Braised Duck Leg, duck fat potatoes, ontario cherries

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (735407, $43.95) exudes a bigger, bolder cherry and Kirsch liqueur than from memory, indicating both a flamboyance of the vintage and a torrent to a long future. A swirl of black cassock cooling the candied, cherry blossom centre is met by a wall of harsh tannin with a lash of tang pushing back the fruit. Will be stellar in five, or more likely ten years on. Love this house.  92 

Good to go!