Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure

Frozen Niagara Falls

As frozen Niagara Falls, so frozen Niagara Falls
Photo: yobab/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Doesn’t every local wine writer’s pilgrimage begin this way? There’s 130 kilometres to Niagara Falls, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes (not really – the only thing we smoke is BBQ), it’s blinding winter morning light out and we’re wearing sunglasses. Well, one of us is.

Related – When expert’s break wine together

With Jake riding shotgun to Elwood we hit the QEW, pause for bench land visits to Flat Rock, Zooma Zooma and Creekside Estates, then make the frozen Falls by dusk. Two slackers we are, Bill and Ted, ponces submissive to wine, travelling through Niagara assembling a library of tasting notes to condign for memory in lieu of history missed and as practice for futures to come.

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

Niagara’s annual Cuvée rolls out the red carpet for a black-tie gala at Fallsview Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Touted as a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking, the event gathers more than 50 wineries and asks that they pour their winemakers’ favourite wines alongside a room full of esculent Niagara eats. Local chefs set lavish food stations and guests are treated to comestible ruminations composed by students from the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Sun Media Après Cuvée party features Icewine, sparkling wine and craft beer bars, not to mention a repeat performance by the impolitic, patent, I want you to be moved sound of Jonesy.

Zagat and Spotlight Toronto's Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena KaiserSmit

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Zagat and Spotlight Toronto’s Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit

Proceeds from the Cuvée Weekend go to the Niagara Community Foundation. Created in 2000, the Niagara Community Foundation has raised more than $23 million in endowment funds and has granted in excess of $5.5 million to charities working in the arts, heritage, environment, social services, health, education and community development. In 2015, the event will leave the very capable hands of the NCF and fall into the most capable hands of Brock University.

The word cuvée can mean many things in the world of wine. The Champagne tradition carries the most recognizable weight, the practice dictating that the best grapes be used and gently pressed to ultimately produce a sparkling wine of superior quality. In the end any cuvée is a blend no matter how you slice, interpret or break it down. It really comes down to the question of quality. Did Cuvée 2014 put its best foot forward? Were the ace grapes on display?

Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

The Cuvée gala, at one time an awards showcase ceremony, has welled to the point of a brimming kitchen sink, perhaps in danger of overflowing. Those who know and have been there agree the change in structure has been for the better. Growing pains are natural, inevitable side effects of growth. It’s more party than oenophile wine think tank, a cultural mosaic and for some, a melting pot. Speeches, awards, thank yous and acknowledgements are barely audible above the revelling din.

VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

PHOTO: Dan Trcka/grapeselections.com
VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

In 2013, to a wine, the pours were best of the best. My take was put into these words. Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary. In 2014 many vintners poured either their best (Domaine Queylus, Five Rows, Coyote’s Run, Rennie Estate, Stratus, Thirty Bench) or their most unique (Peninsula Ridge, Trius, Southbrook, Riverview, 13th Street, Malivoire). The event and the following morning’s Expert’s Tasting would not be diluted by a few more shots of Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore in the arm.

The real adventure lies in the attempt to taste everything in the room. Time and excessive schmoozing gets in the way so getting to more than half is a win, win. Here are notes on 10 wines tasted at Cuvée 2014 and the reasons for singling them out as separating themselves from their peers.

Riverview Gewurztraminer Angelina’s Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara River (368092, $18.95, WineAlign)

A creamy, corpulent expression with a stinging enzymatic yogurt texture. Would swear there was extended lees contact. Furthest thing from the truth says winemaker Angela Kasimos. That striking salve gives way to a vacuous aridity without conceding to nuts and residual sugar. Well-made and without interference. Thanks to Riverview, Gewürztraminer has found a home in the pliable, silty loam of Niagara River.  88  Tasted February 2014  @RiverviewWinery

Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Jamie Evans and Sauvignon Blanc share a kinesis. When kissed by the wise and wistful fruit that Wismer cedes, compounded by the vintage, this Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc inclines to aeaeae. All parts contribute to a stretched length, from fresh beginning to mouth-watering end. In between there is lees-stirred spice, dry and toasty points but the grass is never overgrown and the berries are golden. A kickstarter sour note propels the wine forward for an even longer taxi onward. What a vineyard, what a wine.  90  Tasted February 2014  @PeninsulaRidge

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29, WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.  90  Tasted February 2014

Trius Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Less than 300 cases were produced of this, you guessed it, natural grape skin, wild yeast fermented unique Sauvignon Blanc. Cold bunch pressed and 11 months on the lees lend a fruit/wood spice and gregarious character that is impossible to miss. Winemaker Craig MacDonald shows a savvy Savvy love in his carefully considered treatment of this wine. This ’12 WF steals the show at Cuvée in the category of most compelling and thought-provoking.  91  Tasted February 2014  @TriusWines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95, WineAlign)

Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution. Earlier note: Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.  91  Tasted October 2013 and February 2014  @HiddenBench

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker's White 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

While the triple W represents neither traditional alchemy nor screaming value it begs to be considered for sheer shock and awe. A co-fermented, low brix, who varietal blend of 58 per cent Chardonnay, 27 Semillon and 15 Muscat, winemaker Ann Sperling’s capricious fancy white and nerdy captures the vintage to alight and delight effect. Spice, texture, florality and acidity really work the room. Though the varieties seem to sing ”we don’t move in any ‘ticular direction and we don’t make no collections,” they somehow join together.  White wine of whimsy, not shallow, like a Wes Anderson film.  88  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95, WineAlign)

Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice. Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with its a touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  91  Tasted November 2013 and twice February 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Five Rows Craft Wine Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $50, WineAlign)

Gimme soft and sage treatment of a vineyard’s wondrous, pure fruit transcends most previous notions of Niagara Pinot Noir. That Lowrey vineyard in the hands of its first family drives spice into red fruit direct from soil and vine. Winemaker Wes Lowrey handles his family vineyard fruit like it were a baby and from this comes a promiscuous perfume. The ’10 is so youthful but coming into the springtime of his voodoo, having now been in bottle for a year. Though thoughts were that “he was going to show me spring,” the wine should clearly be left to flesh for a few more seasons.  92  Tasted February 2014

Thirty Bench Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)

Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe.  92  Tasted February 2014  @ThirtyBench

Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Le Grande Reserve’ 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $65, WineAlign)

The Thomas Bachelder mentored, two-vineyard assemblage Grande Reserve Pinot Noir grinds more cracked pepper than any predecessor. Every barrel from the Twenty Mile Bench (formerly Le Clos Jordanne’s, Neudorf Family La Petite Colline Vineyard) and Mountainview vineyard were scrutinized to determine the final blend.Bachelder sees black fruit in the early life yet despite the ebullient seasoning, the LGR’s genes are intrinsically feminine. Red cherry, tellus fertility and a mother’s strength hold the family of barrel children together. This is an ambitious and hard to read Pinot Noir. Judgement reserved for five years before the word classic will be used.  92  Tasted March 2014  @QueylusVin

Good to go!

Winter white out wine, beer and food conditions

White wine in the snow

The weather will step aside in April. Until then, satiate yourself.
Photo: Sergio Di Giovanni/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The winter that never ends. White out conditions, snow squalls, wind advisory and chill warnings. Everything just feels heavy. The OPP’s request? Just stay home, Ontario. Prepare for the worst, hunker down and warm the belly with full-bodied wines, strong mocker, beer and hearty winter meals. The weather will step aside in April. Until then, satiate yourself.

Here are six strength fortifying libations to ride the final wave of winter’s brutal conditions.

Clockwise from left: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, 13th Street White Palette 2011, Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, and Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Clockwise from left: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, 13th Street White Palette 2011, Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, and Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, Scotland, United Kingdom (279349, $3.25)

Stout matured over American Oak Heartwood and infused with Irish Whiskey. A Cimmerian entry in hue and hunger peels back to a curious lightness of being. The wood tends to an Arabian mocha aroma, the whiskey to molasses and gingerbread baking spice. The 7.4 per cent alcohol is integrated though an incendiary smoky magic weighs in to toast biscuits and braise a beefy pot au feu. “The Smoky Life is practiced everywhere,” in the I & G. A beer of good charm, smooth, silky, singing in melodic grace and with confidence.  90  Tasted March 2014  @InnisandGun

The grapes: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay Musqué

The history: Niagara winery founded in 1998. Chablis native Jean-Pierre Colas joined 13th Street as winemaker in 2009. Co-owners of the winery, the Whitty family has been farming fruit in Niagara for well over 100 years

The lowdown: Much of the fruit comes from the estate’s Creek Shores appellation vineyards, sedimentary, well-drained lighter soils on a landscape highly dissected by its many streams.

The food match: Fish Tacos

13th Street White Palette 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (207340, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

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  Tasted October 2013  @13thStreetWines

Fish Tacos Photo: Michael Godel

Fish Tacos
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From Marlborough on the western side of the Waihopai Valley. The name is both the indigenous Maori word for “pathway” and Latin for “altar”

The lowdown: “With rugged mountains on either side and two icy rivers cutting through, it’s a pretty extreme place. The very definition of raw, cool climate conditions.”

The food match: Potato Frittata with Feta and Green Onions

Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (361279, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Immediate impressions are of a user-friendly Pinot Noir in conceit of black cherry, chocolate and blueberry spice. These are surface notes quickly displaced by an adventurous senses of living on the edge. The wine dips into a brine and lithic earth saturated by glacial melt. This is a different sort of Marlborough Pinot that speaks a modern english, if too young to be understood. “I’ve seen some changes but it’s getting better all the time.” Will try the Ara again in a year or two and likely say I melt with you.  89  Tasted February 2014  @AraWine_UK

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Planeta first made this wine 20 years ago in 1994. It has become “the image illustrating the changes taking place in Sicilian wines.”

The lowdown: From Ulmo (calcareous with sections of deep vegetable matter) and Maroccoli (medium clay soil rich in limestone) vineyards in the area of Sambuca di Sicilia. Powerful Chardonnay.

The food match: Taco Night

Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Sicily, Italy (109652, $38.95, SAQ 00855114, $39.15, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 release

Wantonly lavish, heavy and tropically delicious. If ever there were a red wine substitute this is the one for the wishful thinker. Tasting this Sicilian is like liquid breathing sweet and salty, drawn butter. It’s a glass of dessert Chardonnay, dichotomous and oxymoronic in congealed warmth like cold-stabilized, oxygen-rich, perfluorocarbon. The tropical warmth is a combination of honey and lemon-glade, like Savennières with an unexpected aged Jura, oxidized, herbal angle. There can be no arguing the complexity of this Sicilian dream. Extreme humidity, with a bitter middle streak and ground nut flavours.  90  Tasted March 2014  @Noble_Estates  @PlanetaWinery 

Taco Night Photo: Michael Godel

Taco Night
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Thomas Bachelder, flying winemaker, architect of the Bachelder Project, of trois terroirs, in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy

The lowdown: “Burgundy is my favourite place to make wine,” admits Thomas Bachelder. “The large négociant control all (44) 1er cru vineyards so there are not a lot of small growers working with Beaune fruit.” Enter terroirman.

The food match: Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard

Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Is so floral, mineral, intense and hypnotic it might be dubbed the Serpent Charmer. Iron and wine indeed, the iron of Nuits, the perfume of Beaune. This provocative bottling represents the third year of production, is conspicuous in Anis de Flavigny and an underlying gate. If montagnes is the harming one, this is the charming one. These are all from the same barrels, so what really affects the wines the most? Land and hand.  93  Tasted November 2013  @Bachelder_wines

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Sangiovese Grosso

The history: The family has been in the wine business since Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Florentine Guild of Vintners in 1385. The Antinori estate is responsible for some of Tuscany’s most famous wines; Solaia, Tignanello and Guado al Tasso.

The lowdown: As stalwart a Brunello as any, Pian Delle Vigne is not immune to critical conjecture. Applying kudos to any big house in this polarizing vintage will raise an eyebrow or two. Why not Antinori?

The food match: Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, Nova Scotia 1006431, $64.80, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Goes at it older, bolder, tried and truer than had recently been the case, especially in 2007. Leather, cherries, seeping tea and peppery, earthy, funky dates. Purity of fruit, obviousness in Sangiovese Grosso aromatics and it is only when you taste that you are dealt with the full effect of its power and girth. Quite viscous on the palate, tough, gritty chain of tannin and qualified, felicitous bitters on a very long finish.  Best Pian delle Vigne in some time, at least back to 2001.  93  Tasted November 2013  @AntinoriFamily

Good to go!

Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014
Photo: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)

as seen on canada.com

The physiological and emotional roller coaster heaped upon grapes and growers these past 55 days has been nothing short of exhilarating, frightening and exhausting. First this monster climatic Dementor known as the Polar Vortex. Along with the demonic weather came the devastation of an ice storm, followed by record low temperatures. More recently, thaw and re-freeze. Consequences and challenges have abounded. Also, a silver lining. Freezing temperatures can kill grape buds on vines unprepared and left to fend for themselves. Those little vine kinder can also just be unlucky enough to grow up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some Niagara growers are reporting heavy losses to Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay vines. Here are the numbers as reported by Wines In Niagara’s Rick VanSickle.

I spoke with winemaker Paul Pender of Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ontario yesterday. Paul is both unconcerned and not yet ready to make any sort of call on damage to his crops. “It’s still too early to tell,” he notes, “I won’t really head out to assess any potential damage until early March.” While Beamsville vineyards are reportedly hard hit, Pender is confident that his team’s strident and prudent vineyard management will see the vines through.

Balanced pruning means leaving a specific number of buds during the winter on a dormant cane for this year’s crop, the number based on the amount the vine grew the previous season. Tawse’s canes are cut back to two feet, the dead wood removed before winter’s freeze can hit. Buds this season were thinned from 12 to six, giving those tender bits a fighter’s chance to survive. And while Pender will not enter into an unequivocal conversation with respect to the heartiness of his vineyards as a consequence of 100 per cent organic and biodynamic farming, I can hear the surety in his voice and imagine the twinkle in his eye at the thought.

Other growers concern themselves with what may happen inside the many parts of the vine when there are freezes, thaws and re-freezes. Again, Pender is not concerned. Proper pruning should prepare a vine for a harsh winter, whether or not they are protected by a warm blanket of snow. In New York’s Finger Lakes region, Lenn Thompson is reporting “some minor bud damage to vinifera vines, but little to no vine death.” Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyards on Seneca Lake had this to say. “Yes, this winter is definitely presenting itself in a rather volatile manner. As far as I can tell from checking a number of varieties and many buds, there does not seem to be any catastrophic primary bud kill. There is damage, but not too bad so far. I do not think that with things being this wacky that we can really rest easy until most of the winter has passed.” Brock University’s Cool Climate and Viticulture Institute in St. Catherines helps local growers with much needed information and infrastructure to deal with damaging weather. Their VineAlert program helps protect vineyards during frigid temperatures.

Icewine Hours 2013

PHOTO: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)
Icewine Hours 2013

The news is not all bad. According to many icewine makers in Niagara, 2013 will shape up to be what many are forecasting the best ever vintage for the province. Temperatures dipped to the requiem in late December and most picked their shriveled, sugary berries before the new year. That is unprecedented, allowing this season’s icewine to remain high in necessary balancing acidity and well ahead of the fermentation arresting challenges from most years. Wine Country Ontario reported that “early icewine harvest in Wine Country Ontario starts the festival fever.” Look for the most balanced icewines out of 2013. Not to mention the Grape Grower’s of Ontario reporting the province’s grape growers gathered a record 79,756 tonnes of grapes in 2013 valued at nearly $100 million.

The Niagara Icewine Festival encompasses three weekends in January dedicated to the region’s beloved ambrosial elixir, wines that have become the calling card beyond the broader confines of Canadian borders. Icewine has been made since 1981 and in that short span of 33 years, Ontario and B.C. winemakers have challenged, and in many cases lapped their counterparts in Germany and Austria. Canadian icewine is globally renowned, even if it is not the most important wine resource bequeathed upon the rest of the world.

Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s stringent Bolshevik Initial Decrees-like laws insist that icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

A national icewine debate is ongoing, inflamed by a recent Macleans Magazine article discussing the ideological differences between the VQA law preventing vine and grape separation before pressing and the Quebec practice of letting the grapes freeze in nets. Quebec growers do this out of necessity for fear of their fruit being smothered by excessive snowfall. Ontario’s old guard vehemently oppose the practice. The irony of VQA Ontario’s website low volume statistic, “with average yields of 500 litres for each acre netted,” is not lost on the curious. Two questions arise. How many grapes in Ontario nets end up in bottles of VQA labelled icewine and how can a culture of Canadian icewine be brought together without some form of compromise and collaboration? Yet again, is togetherness integral to the success of Canadian icewine, or more specifically, Ontario’s industry?

According to Klaus W. Reif of Reif Estate, apparently there are 3,750 berries needed for one bottle of 375ml icewine. Just consider the concentration for a moment, the hand-picked (though not all) labour involved and the specificity of the practice. The sweetest wine known to Canadians can indeed be re-worked as a palindrome for Niagara Ice Wine Festival.

A wet vial is fine nice agar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Rick James Ice Sculpture, Niagara Icewine Festival

On Friday, January 10th, 2014 I was a most elated guest at the Xerox Icewine Gala: A Bacchus Evening of Icewine and Revelry. For a list of continuing events this weekend and next, here is a link to the festival site. More information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena KaiserSmit and Wine Country Ontario, I had the good fortune to taste a host of Niagara’s finest renditions, along with some very special bottles of sparkling and still wines. Here are notes on six wines sampled at the Fallsview Casino Grand Ballroom last Friday night.
From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Onatrio (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.  90  Tasted January 2014  @PellerVQA

CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95, WineAlign)

The floral lift from three to four percent Viognier gives notice to bend the brawny, savoury black olive and blistered Ancho fruit into balance. Syrah in a sunshine state but not from concentrate. Would accept a glass of this Brokenpress at any beck and call. “Grab your wine, take me where you been, with the violin time and the moon gettin’ thin.” From my earlier note: “Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.”  91  Tasted twice, October 2013 and January 2014  @CreeksideWine

PILLITTERI ESTATES MERLOT FAMILY RESERVE 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign)

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?  93  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (20483, $55.00, WineAlign)

This Bordeaux style blend (40 per cent Merlot, 33.3 Cabernet Sauvignon and 26.7 Cabernet Franc) is clothed in a coat of arms all about texture. A drawn and raised relief of dried, candied bramble fruit and charcoal lines of savoury, earthy hickory and herbs. Hearty warmth from a cool vintage, meat on a stick in a glass, charred, roasted and smoking. A spit of gamey goodness. Holding strong but drink now.  90  Tasted January 2014  @RavineVineyard

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, Niagara On The Lake (46557, 375 ml, $60.00, WineAlign)

A most unique and striking rendition, wearer of many hats, confounding and curious. There is a funk about him that stands apart from the rest. Like a really well-aged, superb piece of washed rind cheese, then turning unabashedly sweet, with verve and symphonic tone. An orange sky of an icewine, anti-bittersweet, accented by mace and anise, carob even. “Here is what I know now brother. Here is what I know now sister.” Cabernet Sauvignon, in a vintage equipped with striking acidity, can turn into something to look forward to. One of the more interesting icewines to date.  91  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (163018, 375 mL, $60.00, WineAlign)

This represents the icewine revolution, for the first time adding 15 percent Vidal juice into the Riesling mix. In 2012, the normally stand alone Riesling needed a shot in the arm, provided by the Vidal, a dose of icewine magic by winemaker Brian Schmidt. Lifted tree fruit blossom and added weight are the result, without hyper-sweet flavours. Riesling is the rock, Vidal the roll as this RV crashes into me. The pit orchard fruit is reduced and recognizable to taste, yet reserved and in phonic harmony. “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll.” Brotherly love icewine, full of Schmidt wisdom.  93  Tasted January 2014  @benchwineguy

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!

Momofuku meet Henriot

Momofuku Daishō’s Roasted Rice Cakes
PHOTO: GABRIELE STABILE

as seen on canada.com

Stratus pairing last Spring defined modernity incarnate. Dinner at David Chang’s Má Pêche in NYC’s Chambers Hotel introduced me to “dishes as colourful canvasses, never over-painted nor as monochromatic abstractions.” Supper at Toronto’s Daishō this past September acquainted me with chef’s meticulous small plates and the finest crab dip the city has ever seen.

A 200 year-old Champagne house tasting was my fourth Momofuku experience and though it flashed before my eyes, it may have left the deepest impression. The Daishō kitchen and team, most notably Beverage Director Jonathan Gosenhauser and Front of House Manager Steve Sousa popped and poured five renditions of Henriot Champagne in expedient time. With out missing the beat of a room full of writers’ bleeding hearts, the gang then delivered six sublime courses in 15 minutes flat. Impossible. No.

The group was in a hurry to travel 20 minutes north on foot to the Royal Ontario Museum for the Napa Vintners Association seminar and tasting. With no disrespect intended, I would have been quite content to spend some further quality time with cellar master Laurent Fresnet of Henriot, our hosts Russell, Jason and Rachel Woodman, Mr. Gosenhauser and the all-day textures of Daishō’s plates. Another time.

PHOTO: champagne-henriot.com
Champagne Henriot

The wines of Champagne Henriot are a relatively new addition to the Ontario market. Founded in 1808, under Apolline Henriot, this is one of the last independent and family-owned houses in Champagne. Chardonnay is Henriot’s muse and each of the five wines at the Momofuku tasting stood singularly in contrast to one another. If I had to consider one to define the Henriot style, it would have to be the assemblage of their Blanc de Blancs. First, the plates.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Momofuku Daishō’s Falafel Bun, sesame, turnip, yogurt

Kimchi, napa cabbage
Falafel Bun, sesame, turnip, yogurt
Roasted Rice Cakes, pork sausage, Chinese broccoli, tofu
Hanger Steak, (McGee farms ON), kimchi, onions, bibb lettuce
Whole Speckled Trout, (kolapore ON), shrimp, tomato, smoked milk
Brussels Sprouts, fish sauce, puffed rice, mint
Crack Pie

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Momofuku Daishō’s Whole Speckled Trout, (kolapore ON), shrimp, tomato, smoked milk

Champagne Henriot Tasting, presented by Woodman Wines and Spirits

Momofuku Daishō - Monday, October 21, 2013

From left: Brut Souverain NV, Blanc De Blancs NV, Brut Millésimé 2005, and Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1998

Brut Rosé NV (Consignment) from 15 blended crus, contains a smidgen of Pinot Meunier along with a shade less than 15 per cent Pinot Noir to mantle the Chardonnay in bronze patina. Though not intended as a “visual wine,” Fresnet noted “We blend rosé in dark glasses so we’re influenced only by nose & taste, not by colour.” The quip that followed: “Perhaps everyone should blend in dark glasses.” Limitless aromatics, pear, ginger and the ticking kicker, the freshest peach. An alluvial toast, citrus emergence and a bull’s-eye of atomic probing all wrap this blush into one consumer-friendly basket of bubbles. Boundless beyond base.   92

Brut Souverain NV (959643, Nov. 9th, $59.95) from upwards of 25 crus hunts house parity in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Looking back in retrospect of the tasting, the Souverain is a brutally honest vampire in binding a consistency of the stable’s house style. So much so, “you found you’ve walked along these halls.” Faux-fumé, in a way, with toasted nuts, spice, grapefruit citrus and charcoal. An arid arrow through my Champagne heart, perfect for weekend sipping.  89

Blanc De Blancs NV (Private Order) is an assemblage of Chardonnay grapes mainly from the Côte des Blancs and village crus: Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Vertus, Montgueux, Trépail, Epernay and the Vitry region. Though a blend of vintages, this B de B sulks and broods in adolescence. Red, skinless apple and citrus pith are its card of youthful exuberance. Gorgeous in reserve juice with a brioche waft on the back end. In a phase of careful consideration, this NV fizz will be held in kind hands for a good, long time.  91

Brut Millésimé 2005 (Private Order) is a du pareil au même complex union of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from 15 crus, mainly Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims; Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Mareuil-surAÿ, Avenay, Verzy and Verzenay. In light of its own accord and magnificence from increased toast and an exotic level of perceived sweetness. The most ethereal of the line-up.  92

Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1998 (83774, VINTAGES Classics) is a mother of pearl, equipoise of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from six Grand Crus: Mailly Champagne, Verzy, Verzenay on Montagne de Reims, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize and Chouilly on Côte des Blancs. Shows plenty of lively, savoury goods; caper berry, herbal sauvage, marmite jam, baking orchard fruit, aromatic bitters. The elaboration is confounding and a lesson in 15 year-old Champagne humility. The deciduous, Crazy Mary of the line-up. One Champagne lover’s edulcoration is another one’s bitter pill. “Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around.”  90

Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1990 (Private Order, from magnum) from 15 crus, including the most prestigious: Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Mareuil-surAÿ, Oger, Verzy, Verzenay, Ay and Vertus. Showing more youth than that bottle of blooming ’98. Spoons out more segmented grapefruit, more saveur, more washed Langres rind. Blithesome like an evergreen forest after rain. Wild fennel and citrus in the most parched way. Linear nobility and mobility that appeals to my mathematical mind. Speaks as if to say, “I want to change your mind, said I want to set it right this time.”  Moving Champagne.  94

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!

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!

A midsummer night’s chill red wine

KEW Vineyards, Beamsville, ON
PHOTO: ADAM D’INTINO

as seen on canada.com

Just about this time last summer I suggested to chill red wines for another hot weekend. The recent moderate weather might be considered just cause to negate such a de facto refrain but look ahead to the weekend. Blue skies and a rising mercury are on the horizon.

My 2012 column worked the chill into rich, warm grapes; Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This summer I’m scaling back the stretch and shock factor and returning to the fricative exercise of nipping but certainly not stifling more classic grapes. Gamay Noir can be so thirst quenching and is a natural fit to combat calefaction, along with Pinot Noir and the great Greek Xinomavro. Just a slight frost mind you, like clipped diction, for warm, not hot weather.

Here are four dream wines to chill on a midsummer night, in revelry and in waning light.

Clockwise from top left: Boutari Naoussa 2008, Evening Land Pinot Noir Spanish Springs Vineyard 2011, Quail’s Gate Pinot Noir 2011, and Domaine Des Houdières Fleurie 2011

The grape: Xinomavro

The history: The Boutari Company was established in 1879 in Naoussa. This was the first bottled red VQPRD to enter the Greek market, constituting a landmark for red wines in Greece

The lowdown: Excuse the profanity but, $13? AYFKM?

The food match: Lamb Kebabs, greek oregano pesto marinade, roasted tomato jam

Boutari Naoussa 2008 (23218, $12.95) like other Xinomavro shows that combination of pure fruit and ancient wisdom. Juicy and rustic at the same time, erupting in cherry and a lava flow of hot rocks. There is leather, dry spice and sun-dried fruit. Already bricking like Sangiovese, as if rustic Vino Nobile Rosso. There is simply no earthly reason not to drink this every night for the rest of the summer.  89  @boutari

The grape: Gamay

The history: Fleurie is one of the ten ‘crus’ of Beaujolais that include Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Regnié and St Amour. The Cru are made from Gamay grown on particularly favoured slopes

The lowdown: Incomparable value as compared to cost from a smaller and lesser-known producer (Perrier) at Villages pricing

The food match: Crispy Pig Ear and Pulled Pork Tacos, red onion marmalade, sorrel, maldon salt

Domaine Des Houdières Fleurie 2011 (342725, $16.95) is a calligraphic, violet floral invitation to fall in love with soft and dreamy Gamay. “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” Turns on her heel with a scrupulously phenolic char and licorice sour whip, then comes back again to glide gracefully around the last bend. Just what Fleurie should be, purposeful and simply terrific value for Cru Beaujolais. Waning midsummer excellence.  90  @VinexxCanada

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Run by the Stewart family, south of Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley

The lowdown: From grapes grown on volcanic Mount Boucherie bench slopes

The food match: The Beverly Hotel Toronto’s Beef Cheek, chantrelles, charred onion, tomato jam, kennebec fries

Quail’s Gate Pinot Noir 2011 (585760, $26.95) with a flat-out ambrosial aromatic entry bequeaths extremely ripe, fleshy red stone fruit and a hit of java, hold the crema and the splinters. Toss in some cool eucalyptus to that tincture, perhaps, like De Loach Van Der Kamp. Intimates a Sonoman dream in confected perfume unlike any Okanagan predecessor. This is flamboyant stuff for OV, toothsome, and were it from California I might think it OTT but from B.C., not so. Expertly judged fruit/acid balance and such plush texture. Gobs of fruit with just enough grit to keep it real. “The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots and wonders at our quaint spirits.” 91  @Quails_Gate

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: The name Evening Land Vineyards was inspired by the lure of Homer’s ideal garden and is the final chapter of Homer’s Odyssey

The lowdown: This is the second commercial vintage of purchased grapes from the Spanish Springs Vineyards, located only two miles from the Pacific Ocean sheltered behind the coastal range

The food match: California Plum Caprese Salad

Evening Land Pinot Noir Spanish Springs Vineyard 2011 (337147, $46.95, ISD) may just be too glorious to be true. There are blueberries in a savoury key, a citrus and anise accent and chalky grit. At 13 per cent ABV it’s remarkably real, honest and wanting for love. Prodigious floral and strawberry aromas, magnetic and resonant tension, like Nebbiolo in a Piemontese state-of-the-art mind, or like a Grand Cru Greek red, in Duke of Athens character.  Enigmatic Pinot that could never be mistaken for Burgundy and quite frankly might trick many to not know it’s Pinot. “Are you sure/That we are awake? It seems to me/That yet we sleep, we dream.”  93  @elwines

Good to go!

New white wine love for ‘The Savvy’

Sauvignon blanc, a green-skinned grape variety from Bordeaux, France PHOTO: SHCH/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

There’s this grape I want to tell you about. Sometimes there’s a grape. I won’t say a gambler but certainly an opportunist. I’m talking about “The Savvy,” that green-skinned grape variety from Bordeaux, France. Its name may derive from the words “sauvage” and “blanc” but it’s not really a wild one, is it? Well, except for that time it hooked up with Cabernet Franc to produce the offspring Cabernet Sauvignon. It has participated in the proliferation of some wonderful examples in its native Bordeaux, especially when blended with Sémillon. Grown and produced out of the Loire Valley it has shown to be the prototype for his time and place in Sancerre. Then it migrated to Marlborough.

Even if The Savvy has at times been considered a lazy grape, when it found its way to New Zealand, everything changed. The Savvy became the most widely planted varietal and within a couple of short decades cornered the world market; incredible story. How did it happen so fast? West Coast writer Anthony Gismondi made reference to The Savvy’s “aromatic, lip-smacking fresh-tasting flavours” – very true. Meteoric rise, global acceptance and incredible sales numbers, but has the summit been reached? Suddenly it seems that now, not unlike the fate suffered by that other white dude, Chardonnay, the Savvy is losing ground, no longer currently feeling the love. New Zealand both gave it life and, through intense saturation, took it away. It may not seem obvious yet but as a story similar to Australian Shiraz, some noses are turning away from The Savvy.

Enter the Western Hemisphere. The Savvy is very much on the rise in these parts thanks to a profile built on fresh stone fruit, approachable acidity and best of all, a near complete absence of blanched green vegetables. What, no beans, no peas, no asparagus? Thank green goddess goodness. Though wine production techniques have improved dramatically over the past twenty years, there are still many Kiwi, South African and even Loire examples full of “excessively vegetative, bell pepper and canned asparagus notes and the bitter citrus rind flavours.” The Savvys from Ontario, California and Chile as a rule are clean and low on both the grassy and tropical polar ends of the spectrum. In fact, new, New World Sauvignon Blanc is not very Sauvignon Blanc-like at all.  So, thank you Savvy because “there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Well, I lost my train of thought here. But… aw, hell. I’ve done introduced it enough.” The Savvy abides.

From left: Riverview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Veramonte Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2011, and Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011

The history: Sicilian roots, family farm, Niagara-On-The-Lake locale

The lowdown: Biochemist, oenologist and winemaker Angela Kasimos makes use of Niagara’s cool climate for aromatic success.

The food match: Beet and Quinoa Tabouli

Riverview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (351494, $16.95) resides on the juicy plum fruit side of the Blanc spectrum, not unlike Pinot.  Friendly, hospitable and gracious, like Grillo. Effortless white, with a schwa for a mid-palate, a subtle vowel sound, a colourless murmur.  88 @RiverviewWinery

The history: Curtis and Heidi Fielding have confidently and meticulously built a small empire at Fielding Estate. Every angle, from exterior architecture to indoor design, to vineyard rows, to bottle images, is a study in fine lines and photographic possibility

The lowdown: SB reacts differently on the Beamsville Bench resulting in examples with more citrus and tropical fruit. Winemaker Richie Roberts finesses the you know what out of his grapes and makes no mistake with this warm ’12 vintage

The food match: Grilled Shrimp with Lime Powder and Parsley–Olive Oil Sauce

Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (131235, $18.95) rolls across the tongue like a diphthong, gliding effortlessly along, with nothing out of sorts or over the top. The zest is in a note of lemon, the tropical nuance in passion fruit. Excellent and wondrous sipper, put in mind of its own astonishment. Serve on its own or with marinated maritime delicacies off the grill.  89 @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

The history: Viña Veramonte from Chile’s Casablanca Valley

The lowdown: Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is noted for its racy and vibrant style, with bright fruit flavors and balanced acidity. Ritual was created to reach an elegant, yet approachable interpretation of Sauvignon Blanc

The food match: Elote al Echo Parque

Veramonte Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (328401, $19.95) after five months in French oak opens with a toasty, yet in check char. An SB of a different import entirely, with the acidity surrounding a ball of wet stone both encouraging and suppressing fruit bursts and releases. A bit built like a brick dunny, at times muddy and cranky, but possessive of tons of character. Hooting and hollering Savvy. One might say he lives.  90  @VeramonteWines

The history: Napa pioneer dating back to 1973. Their Sauvignon Blanc is fashioned from grapes throughout the Valley, with a large concentration from estate vineyards in the Rutherford, Calistoga, Carneros and southeastern Napa Valley regions.

The lowdown: This 2011 is the result of one of the coldest, wettest and latest vintages in memory. Whole cluster pressed SB, “Botox for white wine,” to keep the phenolics in check and to help the wine age quickly

The food match: Blueberry Cobb Salad

Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (707224, $39.95) shows off the verve of the vintage in pinging fruit balanced by creamy coconut. The tartness of the fruit still tells beneath the syrup so it certainly straddles a line of both tropical and piercing. The green note is spiced mango and there is a candle nut component. Very long.  92  @CakebreadWines

Good to go!