What ya drinkin’?

Grilled Flank Steak

Grilled Flank Steak

There’s no time for preamble. VINTAGES rolls out another long list of wines for the weekend. All your summer bases are covered. The Pinot Noir from New Zealand are really, really good. There are whites from Greece, Niagara and South Africa to not only try but embrace. Two Ontario reds will satiate the grill. Here is a list of eight wines to look for right now.

From the left and clockwise: Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010

From the left and clockwise: Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

The gateway of the Tawse Riesling portfolio and first to be released is an omnipresent beacon for what is to come from the single-vineyard sistren. Built fruit forward from an orange zest, stone rose and lemon glade guide, this is the Sketches most juicy sensation yet. Incredible vacuum of citrus acidity waterfalling into a great white hole. Though surrounded by so many a Riesling with site specific personality, “she’ll carry on through it all.” Intensity in dry Riesling.  Tasted June 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Greece (371658, $17.95, WineAlign)

Assyrtiko is the rock but the composition is altered by smaller parts of Aidani and Athiri. Softer, warmer and much more approachable than the Santorini, not quite so stony but with more intense juice. A modern take on the ancient game. The palate lays out the uneven, tannic and rocky road to the amphitheatre. A long walk on carefully arranged boulders. A salt bath in warm springs. The wines of Argyros do so much to bring Greece to the world. Citrus finish and more salty mineral.  Tasted June 2014  @KolonakiGroup

Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (64592, $19.95, WineAlign)

Such a pretty and elegant take on Gewürztraminer, of flowers white and in bloom, nuts blanching away. A structural, searing tightness to the mineral laced fruit will develop yet unrealized tannin and tension. There may be nothing gangly or highly viscous about it and its style is nearly, completely dry. Notes of orange zest and lychee pit. Very clean. Elan, ecrue, pearl.  Tasted June 2013  @featherstonewne

Clos Henri Bel Echo Terroir Greywacke Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (159137, $22.95, WineAlign)

“It is a special joy for the Bourgeois family to make Pinot Noir in New Zealand.” That statement is one you just gotta love. The Henri Bourgeois clan clearly have a whole lotta love for the climate, soils, people and the possibilities the terroir presents for his dedication towards restrained, elegant Pinot Noir. Though this teases with highly modern and juicy elements, almost, dare I say, Sonoman, there remains a rooted, savoury sense of the earth. Takes a page out of Burgundy’s book and plants it in Marlborough. Plums, cherries, smoke, spice, some tannin and for the price, nearly impossible structure. Angles and bitters persist but beneath a wealth of fruit. “Keep a coolin’, baby.” The price is impossible. Great value.  Tasted June 2014  @ClosHenri

Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (381244, $29.95, WineAlign)

Would I not be remiss to ignore the Tawse Laundry Vineyard by way of comparison? With the Redstone, the sister winery puts forth the same amicable fruit with charred meat accents yet minus the hyper-specific Pender perfume and wisdom. Here is an ocean in between the waves. I came in to taste Redstone with an open mind, even “bet against the company again. They tried to redefine everything that I know and love. Gotta know you’re mine.” Winemaker Rene Van Ede has fashioned a delicious Cabernet Franc that speaks in a clear 2010 voice. A war on drugs. Though it bears no teeth of conceit there is a very positive funk and sanguine notes make a play, but ultimately submit to an overall red currant, sweet bell pepper and tobacco realm. The pyrazine ring compound binds many types of pepper, cracked, swelling and swollen. A long and rich elixir without the oak needing to be heard. It does not shout but whispers. Unmistakable Pender mentored Rock ‘N Roll Cabernet Franc. Really well made. Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @RedstoneWines

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa  (931006, $34.95, WineAlign)

From what is rapidly developing as a (if not already engraved in stone) Grand Cru site in the Hemel En Aarde Valley, 2012 is a vintage that comes to greater strength from strength. Every aroma, every nuance is characterized by elegance and elasticity. Romantic Chardonnay, so representative of real love, of mineral, of most excellent barrels, ripe fruit and deft touches. Hamilton Russell takes South African Chardonnay to an entirely higher level. “Thought I’d been in love before, but in my heart, I wanted more. Seems like all I really was doing was waiting for you.”  Tasted June 2014  @TrialtoON

Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (376731, $36.95, WineAlign)

Though the Paladin is four years in it still retains its barrel baby fat. The rich red fruit tower reels behind a slightly reductive must and a compromise of toast and splinters from18 months spent in a mixture of 25 per cent new and 75 older French oak barrels. There is a whole surrealist street gang of fruit lurking in shadows of a de Chirico drama. I can sense the ripe plums and the cherries ready and willing to bake in the proverbial pie, and though blisteringly dry (less than 1 g/L residual sugar), it will always see potential by way of total acidity (6.1g/L). Will realize a seamless transition to mid-life anxiety while the fruit simmers away in a cauldron of that fine acidity. Ruud Maasdam’s Pinot Noir is of the scuola metafisica kind.  Tasted June 2014  @StaeteLandtWine  @liffordretail

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

The richest Terroir Caché to date, making use of its barrel in judicious but never obnoxious ways. Huge Bench wine, needs 10 years for sure. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip.” From my earlier March 2013 note: “has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine”  Last tasted June 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Good to go!

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A go long weekend wine list

Pâté en Croûte, Niedermorschwihr, Alsace, France PHOTO: Michael Godel

Pâté en Croûte, Niedermorschwihr, Alsace, France
PHOTO: Michael Godel

The first long weekend of the 2014 summer is on the way. A fortuitous confluence of the calendar means a longer than usual respite from the tribulations of work, construction and city angst. Bottom line is with four straight days of nothing you’re going to need more wine. Last weekend’s VINTAGES release was filled with admiral and admirable choices, short on Canada’s finest mind you, but long on global composition.

Here are ten wines tasted, reviewed and given the Godello stamp of approval.

Clockwise from left to right: Angels Gate Mountainview Riesling 2009, Château De Gaudou Grand Lignée Malbec/Merlot 2010, Creekside Estates Laura's White 2012, Muriel Reserva 2008, Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2009, Tamaya Syrah Gran Reserva 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2011, Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, St. Supéry Rutherford Merlot 2010

Clockwise from left to right: Angels Gate Mountainview Riesling 2009, Château De Gaudou Grand Lignée Malbec/Merlot 2010, Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2012, Muriel Reserva 2008, Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2009, Tamaya Syrah Gran Reserva 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2011, Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, St. Supéry Rutherford Merlot 2010

Angels Gate Mountainview Riesling 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (373175, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Riesling that could dry tears. Just seems to write the Bench book. Dry and drier, numb and number. Though hard to see past the stark aridity there cries and froths forth a spirited and significant citrus zest.  A Riesling to be told, “don’t tell me you don’t know the difference, between a lover and a fighter.” The cry lingers for a Costello verse or three, then tiptoes away in everyday refrain. Drink up.  Tasted May 2014  @angelsgatewines

Château De Gaudou Grand Lignée Malbec/Merlot 2010, Ac Cahors, Southwest, France (370239, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

This southern French ArtPop blend of Malbec and Merlot will sell through a boat load of bottles if the post-modern palate gets a hold of its velvety crush and ambient oak overture. Decidedly more Malbec than Merlot in approach though the latter does offer softness and dusty grain. Wood spice and tobacco are fervent and ardent suppliers of good, peppery fun. A red meat, outdoor grill wine if there ever was one, its aridity only eclipsed by its ladylike modernity. If it went deeper toward le zone des buts it would merit more applause. As it is, geeks, critics and pop culture freaks will go gaga for it.  Tasted May 2014  @wineonline_ca

Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

With a tilt of the head to 90 degrees the bottle is assessed and the glass contemplated. She’s a flirt, a gregarious girl this Laura, so orchard driven and with a perfumed attraction. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “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.” Last Tasted May 2014  @CreeksideWine

Muriel Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (276030, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Call it tradition or simply forget the pleasantries and call a Bret a Brett. This old-school Tempranillo oozes character and the vineyard layering of a quilted past, never mind that it’s such an inexpensive young stud. Big, ripe red fruit, the stable’s terra mierda and iron rust. If you like a funky red with coarseness and a bit of age under its saddle, not to mention a penchant for the past, then this Rioja is for you.  Tasted May 2014

Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2009, Doc Umbria, Italy (372458, $21.95) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Rockin’ it old school goes this Montefalco with more terroir than fruit, more vine earth than crush. Great spice, old wood notes, licorice and stretched bitterness. A gritty, coarse, fun and combative wine. If there are fruits they are very red. Such tension. Great value.  Tasted May 2014

Tamaya Syrah Gran Reserva 2011, Limari Valley, Chile (374306, $21.95) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Sweet candied bacon and cool mountain scents. Salinity, tight and wonderful. Big, brawny, minty mountain herbs and greenery. Tobacco. Complex.  Tasted May 2014

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2011, Ac Alsace, France (21253, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Always exceptional value in Pinot Gris, picked on time and before any real discernible level of botrytis can set in. While it would never be considered truly dry, the round white tannins and salinity from volcanic subsoil in Schimberg’s Guebwiller valley give this bottling good structure, density and muti-national flavours. This vintage seems a bit softer though it is never a high acid monster. Juicy orchard fruit leading layers of flesh and zest grow better with time and develop a sweetness which stems from the purity and quality of the fruit.  Tasted May 2014  @VinexxCanada

Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Dop Naoussa, Greece (272013, $26.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Spicy Xinomavro, a veritable bonfire of Greek humility and good fortune in cinnamon, clove, anise, wood-spice, wood smoke and tobacco. Intriguing and worthy of its place. Not a young fresh red fruit-styled Xino but more so a deeper, earthy and smouldering one. A touch of matchstick and even more campfire. Great acidity and wow length. Yes sir.  Tasted May 2014  @KolonakiGroup

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Yet another look at the Saunders ’11 confirms its tapestry of texture and its density. A Boulangerie’s roll of perfect, flaky puff pastry filled with a honey drizzled nougat and marzipan filling. Very bright, full-on sunshine driven Chardonnay. From my earlier February 2014, November and July 2013 notes: “Saunders is quiet right now, in cool waiting and in display of the most elegance I’ve encountered from any Bachelder Chard, at anytime, anywhere. Background spice, backing vocals are in the isolated spotlight. This I am keying on as much as any note, in any wine here tonight. Not giving it up as easy as before. Extra swirl time required. Will re-visit in the summer. Right, Thomas? From my earlier July and November 2013 notes: “From Beamsville, right beside 30 bench, has a texture, a depth and a mouth feel in ’11 that bounds and leaps towards the ethereal. A dancing stag, displaying, performing a mating ritual dance. Melons, ripe and fleshy are in this Saunders. “What’s carrying this wine is site, site and site.” A great clay slice of the Beamsville Bench. From my earlier note: ”Takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.”  Last Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

St. Supéry Rutherford Merlot 2010, Napa Valley, California, USA (376939, $58.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Enormous Merlot in sonic youth, pushing ripeness boundaries but with so much natural fighting and balancing acidity. If you like dusty, cake-layered, oak oil-sweating, sweetly viscous bleeding Merlot, well, this is for you. It has all the stuffing with its huge fruit and big acidity, not to mention formidable tannins. Imbued in “shards of sweet shine of voice and flute.” This will go long, something like 20 years, into a dripping dream, slowly and gracefully integrating its largesse, all the while being generous for all that time.  Tasted May 2014  @StSupery

 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th

Ribs meet Turkey PHOTO: Michael Godel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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The Stratus-Momofuku continuum

Momofuku Daisho Toronto's Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON)

Momofuku Daisho Toronto’s Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON)

The wines of Stratus Vineyards and the cuisine of Momofuku Toronto. On Monday, May 26th and for the second straight year they conspired together in a beautiful collision of mutual beneficence. The single varietal mad science of winemaker J-L Groux and the singular, multifarious snacks of Momofuku Daishō. The food and wine play leaves wine writers satiated, thankful and speechless.

Stratus Single Varietal Tasting at Momofuku Daisho

Stratus Single Varietal Tasting at Momofuku Daisho

Related – Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity Incarnate and Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

This 2014 media lunch dubbed Stratus, the right to free assemblage forged yet another treat of the highest order, once again with the necessity in participation of Charles Baker, Suzanne Janke and Sarah Walker of Stratus, along with Momofuku Beverage Director Jonathan Gosenhauser, Service Director Steve De Sousa, Assistant FOH Manager Nicholas Papadatos and the Daishō team.

An introduction by Charles Baker of Stratus Wines

An introduction by Charles Baker of Stratus Wines

Wildass Rosé 2013, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

At 13.9 per cent the kitchen sink blend is unwittingly light on its feet, with uplifting floral and stony scents. The patronage seems as though it could be a shot (or more) of an aromatic white addition like Viognier. This ’13 is a new approach to the Wildass Rosé, a metallic meets orange and berry citrus flavour explosion. Will be an August VINTAGES release at this modest and honest tag, certainly more accessible than in years past.

Stratus at Momofuku Daisho

Stratus at Momofuku Daisho

The single varietals

Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Technically Niagara Lakeshore but labeled Niagara on the Lake, winemaker J-L Groux insists this is the anti-New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a truism to get behind in this ’11′s more tropical style. “Depending on the year we adapt to the climate,” so here J-L’s classic boxwood seeking stands out. The combination of picking time and barrel aging on the lees has everything to do with style. The Stratus hangs (picked October 11th) and hangs out (641 days in French oak). Shows off the most metal mineral that Niagara can give to the variety, from a season with a totally rainy spring and fall but a torrid summer in between. “On whites it was certainly a better year to work with,” though the lack of acidity is due to a wet fall. It’s high-octane, “I’m not running after alcohol. I’m picking on aromatics. If I’m making barrel aged Sauvignon, I have to be patient, otherwise it’s not worth putting in barrel.” Nutty, toasty and full. The middle reaches for the end in an elastic and stretched full chain and connection. Rounder as opposed to acidic, it’s character comes by way of a periodic, numbers game in aromas. Zero hay, high phenols, very ripe.

Chardonnay 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 Chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12′s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex Chardonnay in Niagara.”

Sémillon 2011, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

The warmth of those July and August days has brought a combination of grapefruit and honey to the 2011 Sémillon, a highly aromatic vintage. Typically you don’t have very high acidity with this variety and though this was a difficult vintage to work with, here it teases late harvest, straight from the hip. The in-glass progression scales back and walks the wire with semi-high (6.9) acidity. “With illusions of someday, cast in a golden light,” the ’11 Sémillon will need time to marshal the erudition of (627 days) in barrel. At present the tragically declared fact that 24.6 brix equates to 11.6 per cent alcohol might just be lauded as another conversion rate, ahead by a century.

Sangiovese 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

A variety that can be picked much earlier than others, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Do the aromatics do Sangiovese? Yes, but in a mutated, concentrated and highly floral, expressive way. Clean, clear and embossed by surprising freshness and purity. The notes of typicity involve red fruits and a scorch of the earth. Handsome Sangiovese actually, anything but rustic and of a middle fleshing that threshes to mulct a citrus note on the end. This effort shows the most promise of the three expatriates (along with Tempranillo and Tannat) vying for J-L Groux’s new slang, varietal attention.

Tempranillo 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Were Rioja to come and take over Niagara this introduction would succeed in fulfilling expectations but not necessarily dreams. I will confess that it functions in ways California (where it’s simply too warm in places like Paso Robles and Santa Barbara) does not. Likewise Australian takes (“cool” Victoria and New South Wales) have yet to convince. Niagara’s climate is not such a stretch (though in most vintages too wet), but in 2010 the conditions were ripe for this experiment. The wine is admittedly lumbering, backward and chunky. It has that dusty, nearly funky nose, but it should be extolled in the name of character. High on vineyard aromatics and the density of wood, in ways so much more defined than the Sangiovese. Strangely Riojan and tasted blind would make for a curious ringer. Not huge by any stretch and blessed with good acidity and persistence.

Tannat 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

The wooden slumber (555 days) in 50 per cent new oak is just what the dark-skinned grape doctor ordered for the Niagara debut. You know it will be pitchy and tannic but the goal is to be looking for some striking acidity and balance of concentration. Violets are prominent in the highly floral aromatics. There is certain density and fine structure and so while Tannat is an integral Stratus assemblage variety it shows here that it can be very expressive and long on its own. Perhaps the equal of Malbec for Niagara and with great potential.

Malbec 2011, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

If the Stratus 2010 Malbec’s blue note belted out Philly Soul, the delicacy and structure of the ’11 plays a softer sound, a Stax, Memphis Soul. Stylish, funky and uptown without conceding to pop. Active but with less brawn and higher acidity than previous years. An and now aromatic session of so much tobacco and even more cigar box, in wafts, waves, puffs, billows and club clouds of smoke. A soul jam of black fruit, Booker T. finger roll acidity and tannin.

Cabernet Franc 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Some white pepper dust, not too much mind you, works with the sun “and that’s what makes Cabernet Franc find its ripeness.” That it has in spades here in ’10, giving it fullness without raisins, density without being plugged in. A rich and near berry chalk sample but finely judged. This is one of the best SV’s J-L has made. Incredible aromatics. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Patient as ever with the cool-climate, slow and low ripening Cabernet Franc, winemaker J-L Groux stuck with belief, regardless of the warm 2010 vintage. The Stratus single varietal space and time continuum of let it hang (though not to December), 20ish months of aging, nearly half in French oak barrels, has brought forth the most dense and luxe Cabernet Franc to date. “It’s never old school, all brand new,” with Groux so this red swells in wholly pure black currant fruit and is as big as it gets for J-L, which is saying something. This beastie boy will age over a 20-year period. Style is the thing, and yes, the aromatics.”

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.

Gewürztraminer 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Early harvested and vinified with the least amount of winemaker intervention, this is Gewürztraminer left to find its own way. In 2012 the natural sugars speak in clear and clean tones without needing too much attention. Has the most off-dry sensibility yet. It’s very floral, nearly medicinal and tacking. A zigging and zagging Gewürz, wavering, weaving, oscillating between its personalities, on one hand new and progressive, on the other, a nod to Alsace. There is really nothing dry about it. Dense on the palate, this Stratus single white varietal is textured and quickly making friends.

Mosaic Late Harvest 2013, Niagara Lakeshore (375ml), Ontario, (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The 2010 was the first and only one made at the time. When asked if he would make one again, J-L Groux replied “perhaps.” Well, three years later the 2013 enters considerably drier than that ’10 but full of stone tree fruit. The profile here is so different, now Gewürztraminer (78 per cent) dominated, with less residual assistance from Riesling (17) and Sémillon (5). The aromatics are medicinal and ashen before the attack turns so palate sweet, in marmalade and with a finish of noble bitterness.

Mystery Pour

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

Tasted blind this non-clarified sticky is high on grapefruit for sure, smells (for a fleeting moment) a bit like cat pee, is decidedly smoky and once again, is grapefruit all in. Stony sauternes, Niagara style. This can be used to great advantage. With 70 plus g/L of residual sugar and 7.9 of total acidity the sugar-acid continuum is expertly lucky. The grapes were picked on December 14th, causing another exclamation of WTF? Really delicious. Really.

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012

Following the single-varietal tasting, Momofuku Daisho rolled out eight signature dishes.

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Snap Pea Salad, horseradish, jowl bacon, lily bulbs

Agnolotti, asparagus, ricotta, black truffle

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON), morels, ramps, smoked buttermilk

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON)

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON)

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (660704, $44.00, WineAlign)

From my September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.”  Last tasted May 2014

Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON), steamed buns, crab mayonnaise, green papaya slaw

Broccoli, lap cheong, black vinegar, tea egg

Nugget Potatoes, togarashi, kewpie, spiced ham

Stratus Red 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (131037, $44.00, WineAlign)

Tasted again, I do declare this to be the reigning bomb of Ontario red blends. Showing even better than I judged it two weeks ago. Intense ruby meets claret in every facet of its make-up. Rouge tomate, fresh and racy at the same time, with just enough chalk to lengthen the chain. You can actually imagine the hum in the clang and rhythm of its magic. Fleet of foot, mac-nanimously rendered red blend. “Chain keep us together, running in the shadow.” From my earlier note: “A study in restrained, gilt-edged use of only 15 per cent new oak during assemblage, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead and so prudent considering the extreme warmth of the vintage. Cabernet Franc imparts simple but intense spice. Red talented, fresh finesse, the oak in support as a James Dean, cherry stained leather jacket. De facto fresh, with just enough trenchant acidity.”  Last tasted May 2014

Tart, ricotta, honey apricots

 

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

Get your red hots

Leaning Morel

Leaning Morel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knuckers, Rib Eye and Ramps

Knuckers, Rib Eye and Ramps

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

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

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

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

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

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

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

Beef Ribs

Beef Ribs

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

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

Morels and Ramp

Morels and Ramp

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

Tasting the village heart and regional soul of Burgundy

One Moment, One Bourgogne Wine... www.bourgogne-wines.com

One Moment, One Bourgogne Wine…www.bourgogne-wines.com

I would never turn down an invitation to taste des Grands Crus de Bourgogne. I would not hesitate to partake in a free for all of Premiers Crus. If the call came to experience the village heart and the regional soul of Burgundy’s Appellation wines, I would run, not walk to the show.

One Moment, One Bourgogne Wine... www.bourgogne-wines.com

Bourgognes

So, that’s what I did. At the gracious invitation of The Siren Group and Sopexa Canada Ltée I attended the One Bourgogne Wine event at Hôtel Le Germain, along with François Labet, Burgundy viticulture pioneer and chairman of the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) and Communication Commission. Mr. Labet expounded on terroir; from climats to lieux-dits. Burgundy is a geographical and geological landscape of Jurassic age and proportion. Its heritage is ancestral and has been shaped by twenty centuries of activity. The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) acts as its guarantor of quality, of terroir, production methods and what typifies the most famous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir anywhere on the planet.

John Szabo presents 15 wines from Burgundy at Hôtel Le Germain's Victor Restaurant on April 8, 2014

Master Sommelier John Szabo of WineAlign presents 15 wines from Burgundy at Toronto’s Hôtel Le Germain Victor Restaurant on April 8, 2014

The Bourgogne event was presented and moderated by Master Sommelier and WineAlign principal critic John Szabo. At the heart of the presentation was the regional diversity that defines real and affordable Burgundy. Mr. Szabo’s chosen wines delved deeper into the soul of the village and regional appellations beyond the Côte de Nuits and the most iconic parts of the Côte de Beaune. Textbook examples from Chablis to the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais were chosen to offer a true representation of the immensity that is the region.

Bourgogne Menu, Victor Restaurant

Bourgogne Menu, Victor Restaurant

The lunch that followed by way of Hôtel Le Germain’s Victor Restaurant was a reconnect for me and the cuisine of Chef David Chrystian. I first encountered chef’s raw and rooted flavours when he assuaged the Garlands at Café Societa on College Street. I remember with fond confusion his earthly layering foiled by the sterile mall, futuristic canvas of the Colonnade (Patriot). After Chef Anthony Rose left the Drake it was dead to me so mistakenly missed Chrystian’s lauded stint. Thanks to the Siren Group for luring me to Victor to reconnect with Chef David Chrystian once again.

Chef David Chrystian's  Sushi Pizza

Chef David Chrystian’s Sushi Pizza

Here are notes on the 15 wines poured and discussed at One moment, one Bourgogne wine.

Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012, Burgundy, France (207902, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES February 15, 2014 release

Canonical Chablis by the hands of independents. Family farmed and fruit fastidiously judged in timely picking and traditional vinification methods. Produced in allegiance to regional typicity, its nose is pierced by limestone’s necessary metallic tang. Apple tart yet ripe and balanced by plumbic weight. Proper, enjoy it all summer long, Chablis.  @ProfileWineGrp

La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2010, Ac, Burgundy, France (265090, $28.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 23, 2013 release

La Chablisienne alone represents nearly 25 per cent of the region’s plantings. The orchard’s juicy fruit brings expression to this Chablis though it’s more savoury than many and it’s document is read in an angular accent. That and patina transposing into aroma, like the smell of a wet, platinum pipe breaching the fruit’s ability to flesh out. Lubricant at the pipe’s elbow and a moment of quince, even melon, offer weight. This is very good but lacks heft and only shows fossilized mineral on the back palate. Good length but a bit carbonic and needs more flesh and bone to elevate its stratus.  Tasted twice, October 2013 and April 2014   @purechablis

Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2013, Ac, Burgundy, France (933077, $20.95, WineAlign)

Jadot’s Bourgogne Blanc is so essential it calls itself Chardonnay. From a vintage in which weather wreaked some havoc and fruit maturity was anything but consistent, the Jadot enterprise found a continued way to get it right, no small feat considering the quantity of triage required for a wine of such quantity. This entry-level white made full use of the warm summer heat, picking was clearly done in advance of the October chill and sorting found the right mix. It’s buttery, nut-browned and figuratively bubbly. The thick and rich texture is key to romancing the fruit into a riper realm than it likely really is. Commendable success from Jadot.   @ljadot

Joseph Drouhin Mâcon Villages 2012, Burgundy, France (356956, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES February 15, 2014 release

Simple, pleasant, solid and effective Chardonnay. A true and literal portrayal of the Bourgogne goût de terroir. Warm, gently expressed fruit along with requisite mineral, chalk and lime. Made of a quick resolve to satisfy, quench and move on. An open door to true Chardonnay with nothing shocking, striking or problematic.  @JDrouhin

Domaine Jaeger Defaix Rully 1er Cru, Mont-Palais 2011, Burgundy, France (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

From the holdings of Chablis specialist Bernard Defaix, the domain’s variegated clay/chalk vineyards are located in the south of Côte de Beaune. The Mont-Palais vineyard comes from the Niepce family, winegrowers since the 16th century. Now managed by Hélène Jaeger-Defaix, this Rully is utterly unique to Chardonnay. There is a steely, patina Chablis quality to it, but also a concentration in magnetic aroma, whirling in an unstoppable centrifuge, not yet ready to spill those aromas forth. Screams both southern and cool climate, new world Chardonnay, in forward ways like South Africa and like Niagara on the Lake. Not to mention a silty, white salinity. Roger Wilco that. “There’s a light, what light. There’s a light, white light.”  @liffordnicole

Château Vitallis Vieilles Vignes Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Burgundy, France (360495, $27.95, WineAlign)

From 45-70 year old vines, from clay and limestone (Marls). Really, really smart, succulent and mathematical Chardonnay. A stony example who’s tangent space is complexified by a vector of gritty, spiked leaden aromas, like lime, ginger and lemon zest but also by a second vector of herbiage, as in torn, sweet basil leaf. Length stretched by a scalar multiplication, engaging another consideration. Would such a fine example not benefit, at least in theory, from a Premier Cru classification? Surely the winemaker and the vintner would abide.

Château De Beauregard Vers Cras Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Burgundy, France (agent, $48.99, WineAlign)

The famous “Cras” climat on the windy and chalky plateau of Beauregard means “chalk” in the local dialect. Not surprisingly, the chalky mineral impart takes centre stage and the oak treatment fleshes the fruit out in the early stages of the wine’s life. This Pouilly Fuissé solicits attention, love and engagement. An example in clarity of débourbage, the strict sorting technique employed before pressing. Exuberant fruit acts as if it were of a higher caste, a higher Cru. This is a testament to treatment, to extreme minerality. This makes the expression. A very good vintage, ready to consider and expect it to keep on seducing to at least 2020.

Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011, Burgundy, France  (364141, $55.95, WineAlign)

The quality of Girardin’s Chassagne Montrachet is clear, the age and maturity of the vines explicitly noted. There is an increased sense of depth and density that clearly required attention and coaxing. The 14-month, scaled down (15 percent) new oak barrel concept pushes substance to the forefront and wood to the rear. This is rich without being fat, textured but not splintered. The stirred lees add layers to the essentia, accruing a woven tapestry of phenols, lunar-driven gravity and anaerobic activity.  Tasted twice, January and April 2014  @HalpernWine

From left to right: Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2010, Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2013, Joseph Drouhin Mâcon Villages 2012, Château Vitallis Vieilles Vignes Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Château De Beauregard Vers Cras Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011

From left to right: Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2010, Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2013, Joseph Drouhin Mâcon Villages 2012, Château Vitallis Vieilles Vignes Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Château De Beauregard Vers Cras Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011

André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010, Burgundy, France (366427, $20.95, WineAlign)

The thought here is catholic Burgundy, entry-level, old-school, from antiquity and for the people. Smells like and tastes like grand-père’s Bourgogne Rouge. Cherry fruity, dare I say, Gamay like and marked by tannin that doubles the astringency on the drying finish. Nothing scandalous and well-plundered.

Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Burgundy, France (Agent, $32.50, WineAlign)

The Thénard family has owned land in Givry since 1760 and this Cellier aux Moines vineyard dates to 1258, named by the Cistercian Monks of the Abbey of Ferte. This is iconic 1er Cru for Givry, from relatively old vines (35-40 years) on a single plot, in mid-slope of southern exposure. Straight out notes of sinew, stem and savour. Esses all around. A vegetal and rustic infirmity comes across and travels through the wine as you work with it. Smells oddly like…hemp. Or perhaps it’s a more delectable weed than that, like rapini, or dandelion. The charred back-end scent reminds of a just extinguished joint. The flavours are dubious, maritime and of the antediluvian earth. For the brave Burgundy heart. Perhaps five to 10 years will soften its edges, peel away the foreign matter and allow a hidden fruit purity to shine.

Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Chateau Rouge 2009, Burgundy, France (325142, $36.90, WineAlign)

If today is the day to splurge on red Burgundy but crossing to the dark side of the VINTAGES section is not going to happen, take comfort in this LCBO general (Signature) listing. Dictionary entry actually, but also something funky this way Beaunes. Produced from a whole whack (17 parcels) of Premier Cru, the animal is strong but decidedly feminine. Clear, precise, distinct perfume with each swirl and replayed with every sip. Like raspberries and the sweet smell of the trodden earth after the dew subsides. Could drink this for breakfast with organic bacon post morning stroll and before a dreamy nap.

Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Burgundy, France  (Agent, $46.95, WineAlign)

So very primary, this Beaune, from the work of Nicholas Potel and winemaker Matt Chittick. Some of Les Grèves vines are nearly 110 years-old and there is clear wisdom beyond the edgy, masculine fruit. Those vines are selected for selection massale, a propagation technique that breeds perpetual health and consistency of style for present and future wines. A different sort of animal resides in this one, of musk, and mineral. Like the Beaune equivalent to traditional Brunello. Yet this Beaune from a very desirable vintage is nimble, moves with quick steps and cat-like reflexes.  @RochedeBellene

Albert Bichot Domaine Du Pavillon Clos Des Ursulines Pommard 2011, Burgundy, France (23820, was $49.95, now $40.75, WineAlign)

The funk in this Pommard is unflappable, modish, flirting and so elevated in stained high-acid and tone. Incredibly tight and sour upon sour. A strenuous Pinot Noir to ponder and even harder to ignore. If the tasting were to last for hours into the afternoon I could imagine a resurgence but often the old adage is true. If it isn’t there to begin with, it will never be. Would like to look ahead and say “it’s not what it was before,” but this is either lacking fruit or it’s just so far away. The texture is plush, the mouthfeel aching, breaking hearts. Mineral, astringent long finish. Tough as nails.  Tasted twice, November 2013 and April 2014

Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Burgundy, France  (353416, was $44.95, now $36.25, WineAlign) From a storied vineyard just above the very famous Clos Du Tart in the Côte de Nuits. 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 terroir of Morey-St.-Denis. Was and still is an unexpected gem. Rich, textured, layered cran-raspberry and earthy flavours. Persistent though sweet and engaging tannins. From my earlier, September 2013 note. “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.”  Last tasted April 2014

Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011, Burgundy, France  (356600, $53.95, WineAlign) Classic and as representative as it gets for the appellation, this is firm, time-honoured Burgundy. The old vines, the earth beneath its tendrils and the medieval forest are all in the glass. Though terse and tense, this Pinot Noir will come around to fill glasses with humanistic pours 10 to 15 years down the road. That extended wait will be needed to integrate the earthiness into the formidable tannins so that the lurking red fruit can rise to the top. A fine example with a model, lengthy finish.

From left to right: André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010, Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Chateau Rouge 2009, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011

From left to right: André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010, Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Chateau Rouge 2009, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011

 

Good to go!

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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!