Ten Canadians released for the holidays

Porchetta Panzerotti

Porchetta Panzerotti

I find the last week of November to be one of the strangest, most eery and unsettling times of the year. Calm before the storm. Frost, indigenous summer, zero degrees, crisp air, fall sunshine. We all know it’s coming; snow, holidays, ice, time off.  The acronym might ring true but I would suggest resting your worried mind and tucking those cynical philosophies into a drawer. Pull them out in January when it matters less. For now, have a peek into the VINTAGES catalogue for November 28th.

Inside you will be faced with a thematic titled “Holiday finery.” Twenty some odd iconic Super Tuscans, Venetians, Rhônes, Californians and various, multifarious and sundry bottles leap from the pages like three-dimensional wine beacons in full propagandistic regalia. They are expensive, massive wines with pedigrees to shack up with queens and kings. I’ll expand on them later this week. Some are truly exceptional and all are stupid expensive.

There is Icewine and there is what VINTAGES calls “signature study,” a short and apathetically effective use of white space to extol the virtues of Ontario’s most important cool-climate varietal plantings, of Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Also the notion that Sparkling wine is important to our wine psyche. It’s all true.

What fails is the idea of a feature in a magazine and corresponding release with only 10 wines to drive the point. An angle with five aspects needs more than two examples to prove the multi-pronged determination in support of the bottom line. Why feature Ontario’s signature varietals with next to no illustration? Hard to imagine a paradigm shift in consumer connection with Ontario wines out of such a lacklustre effort.

The good news is that of the ten wines on offer, all are solid and representative of the ideal, with seven worthy of being recommended here. An Icewine and two British Columbia reds round out the top ten list.

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

Typically juicy and tight, lithe and piercing, popping and reflexive. Very consistent, vintage to vintage. Knows just what it wants to be. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September and November 2015  @featherstonewne

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

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

Gilmour Corazón

Gilmour Corazón

Gilmour Corazón Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Ontario (440594, $22.95WineAlign)

Bordeaux blend bearing the name of the former Leaf’s Captain with Ontario sites fruit via Prince Edward County. From a warm vintage and showing every bit of that heat, in spice, not alcohol. Its credo should be “make Meritage love for the group, not varietal lust for the individual.” In it for the right reasons. Team. The fruit is quite green and loaded with pyrazines but quality wood fills the unplugged holes. The wine has heart, just like number 93, perhaps small in stature but gritty like no one else in the County league. A killer playoff red with the ability to weave back and forth behind the net until the wrap around is available. I was in the Gardens that night Doug, sitting in the sixth row behind that net. Big hair guy with his arms in the air, caught on the ESPN video. Gilmour represents one of the best Meritage values the County has yet seen. Good things happen when you add work ethic to the roster. The grapes are surely proud. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted November 2015  @KarloEstates  @MettleUnited

Coyote’s Run Rare Vintage Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (426437, $24.95, WineAlign)

A nicely, confidently, smartly adjudicated reductive Chardonnay with beautifully judged oak and a pretty white flower note that elevates the aromatic profile to the verified realm of the near ethereal. This is the prettiest bloody Chardonnay ever produced at Coyote’s Run. It is rare vintage indeed, for the appellation, the sub-appellation and the vigneron. Subtle, placid, restrained, smooth, integrated, just hinting at smoke and spice, easy on the lips, mouth and gums. This will follow a fine parallel line for five years, gain some honey and caramel for five more and fade into the Four Mile reflective sunset for five more after that. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted November 2015  @coyotesrun

Reif Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (304162, $25.95, WineAlign)

The Reif Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a wildly endearing and dangerously delicious wine that should evolve gracefully and purposefully for 10 years. Why? Because it has structure. What does that mean? It means that ripe, warmer(ish) Niagara River sub-appellation fruit was picked precisely on time, with acidity intact. It means that the extraction and maceration culled sweet, supporting tannin and the barrel program added just the right amount of accentuating care. This is dutifully doted over and offers Cabernet Sauvignon plaisir. Well done. Tasted November 2015.  Drink 2016-2023  @Reifwinery

Château Des Charmes Vidal Icewine 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake (200ml), VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (565861, $25.95, WineAlign)

The aromatics forge a beautiful relationship between tropical fruit and intensity. Represents the reason for using Vidal to hang at negative temperatures through the freezing nights of Niagara winters. The pineapple, longan and deep peach intent are the palpable culmination of patience leading to reward. This is a most excellent example of the necessity. The little sensation of drying tannin on the finish is the indicator for conterminous Riesling longevity too. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted twice, October and November 2015  @MBosc

Dirty Laundry Kay Syrah 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (437111, $25.95, WineAlign)

Really perfumed Syrah permeated by spice and promising permutations left, right and centre. Quite young, modern, piqued by white pepper and juicy by way of pomegranate, cranberry, more so raspberry and then vanilla. A really solid wine with nothing but pleasure in mind. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted November 2015  @DirtyLaundryVin  @HHDImports_Wine

Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (997353, $29.95, WineAlign)

A crescendo of sorts has been struck in 2012 with the Montague Pinot Noir perpetuity, giving credence to the vineyard as a resource to be exploited. What the site does for Pinot, particularly in warm vintages like 2012, reminds of the Pfersigberg in Alsace, a plot which provides fruit for the Sainte-Claires bottling by Domaine Albert Mann. A site where water-retention is less than average, where soil colour and low humidity attract the radiance of intense heat, which leads to early ripening of the grapes. The richness of Montague’s clay is amplified in the vintage, providing elevated heat units for this red cherry, beet, cinnamon and toasted red of equally exceptional flavours. Fine, linear acidity takes it to depths and will lead it down long, paved roads.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine  @CBrandsCareers

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (187377, $29.95, WineAlign)

Skips the cork, avoids the taint and caps with a crown. A king’s bubble in here, a king of pop perhaps, with “a mind like a diamond.” Like a fine, flat rock that cuts through crap and “red tape fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack.” I want a fizz that gets me up early. I want a Sparkling wine that knows what’s right. I want bubbles with “uninterrupted prosperity and smooth liquidation.” I want a sparkler “with a short skirt and a long, long jacket.” I want bubbles with tang, tang, tang, apples, pears, ginger and cardamom. One that I can drink with cake. Yes, perhaps the Riddled ’09 is just a bit abrupt, at times monotone, awkward in chord changes, tempo switches and suffers from a twittering finish. But it’s twitchy and characterful along the way. Tasted November 2014  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73098, $44.95, WineAlign)

In 2012 a beefed up wine of early life unsettling proportion, oversized, dilated, and maximized. Cut through with a current of pyrazine and distended with lots of barrel buoy, though not as over-wooded and clumsy as many. Has enough restraint and Cab character to keep things bustling and whistling, from Boston to Dixie. Cool, savoury, spicy centre. A large expression of multi-faceted desert aridity, all B.C., not Bordeaux. This will age nicely as the tannins are quite ripe. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted November 2015 @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel


Twelve stars align

Star shrouded downtown Toronto

Star shrouded downtown Toronto

Only on the rarest of occasions do I consider the Zodiac. Same goes for the constellations though if you slump my tired body into the comfort fitting contours of a Thermarest on a Killarney campsite I’ll happily, dreamily stare up into a near-northern sky. Or on a dock in cottage country if the Aurora Borealis happens to make a magical appearance.

In September I spent some time scanning a South African, southern hemisphere sky with Ken Forrester. Ever the romantic, Ken offered up a short dissertation on one of the special treats afforded a stay in Stellenbosch. I have seen the Southern Cross several times before and yet standing there at 10:30 pm with the South African vigneron-poet, taking in the twinkling balls of time travel, something struck me anew.

I like to line things up. Wine tasting notes with music; a lyric or an artist. You may have noticed. I also find ways to forge bonds, synaesthetic perceptions and Chaldean correlations, regardless of whether they are there for the connecting. Sometimes you just need to fulfill the urge to divide the ecliptic into 12 equal, 30 degree pieces of a pie. Perhaps it’s just the M.O.T. in me.

This coming weekend VINTAGES rolls out the first major release in preparation for the looming holiday addiction. The headlines of “stars of the season,” and “star-studded” can mean only one thing. Expensive and iconic wines will dominate LCBO shelves from now through Christmas. And most of these high ticket items will sell through. Why is that you ask? Mainly because many of them are really good wines. Mostly because desperate people will buy anything when faced with holiday gift-giving deadlines.

My job is to separate the exciting from the boring, the exceptional from the drab. I’ve chosen 12 bottles, each with their own horoscopic identity, wines that illustrate their own idiosyncratic hook-up with a sign of the zodiac. It’s a stretch to be sure but it’s my stretch, so deal with it. If you connect and agree with just one, it may change your perception too.

From left to right: J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011 and Stratus White 2012

From left to right: J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011 and Stratus White 2012

Capricorn (The Goat)

Sure-footed, hard worker, self-disciplined, over-achiever

J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (430520, $19.95, WineAlign)

Kientzheim Riesling, full, fleshy, opulent but not tropical in style, aromatically fleshy and full of orange rind, lemon zest and tonic. Has that necessary mineral bleed and rock tang. Schlossberg like but not as tannic and certainly ready for prime time at a much younger age. Hints at sweetness but acidity by way of early picked fruit is key. Granite feel. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @VinsAlsace  @Alsace_info  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

Virgo (The Virgin)

Gentle, creative, generous and sympathetic

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

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

Cancer (The Crab)

Sideways, subtle, sensitive and protective

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, Méthode Traditionnelle, Do, Spain (558825, $29.95, WineAlign)

An intricate and elaborate Reserva elevation of Cava, even a bit skunky in the most endearing of ways, like a 55 day dry-aged steak cooked rare. A waft of yet blown sulphur is managed and tempered by smartly sweet yeast. At once clunky and disjointed, then heavy in citrus and the shells of molluscs. Citrus climbs all over the finish, from lime to lemon and into pomello. Complex Cava with the taste of acquired affection in requiem of a very open mind. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @hseguraviudas  @imbibersreport  @cavaswine

Aquarius (The Water Carrier)

Friendly, generous, thoughtful and humanitarian

La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (265090, $32.95, WineAlign)

In a word, yes. Beautiful girl this Montmains, layered of delicate aromas, from flowers through kimmeridgian soil and into fresh forest glade. A child of the cooler, Butteaux sub-climat in which the citrus melds into the soft wooden (228L barriques) notes and all is elevated by such pinpoint-posted acidity. The oak lends cream, the lees fine spun silky texture and the talc a grape tannic ingrained sense of fullness. Terrific wine. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted October 2015  @VinexxCanada  @chablisienne  @BourgogneWines  @BIVBChablis

Aries (The Ram)

Energy, life, vitality and courage

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @LeSommelierWine

Taurus (The Bull)

Plodding, peaceful and deliberate

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In magnified aromatic persistence, on and over top of even two months earlier, in such a hyper-grapey way with terrific dry extract chained to tannin and humid minerality. The many months of leave in gentle oak is stating its technically procured, quote unquote de-classified case.

From my earlier note of April 2015:

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025

Last tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

From left to right: Stratus Red 2012, Bachelder wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, Ca'marcanda Promis 2013, Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 and J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

From left to right: Stratus Red 2012, Bachelder wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, Ca’marcanda Promis 2013, Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 and J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Libra (The Scales)

Indecisive, solicitous, harmonious and balanced

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015

Gemeni (The Twins)

Curious, generous and communicative

Bachelder Wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Drink 2015-2021.

From my earlier note of May 2014:

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.

Last tasted December 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Leo (The Lion)

Leader, lover, dignified, relaxed and proud

Ca’marcanda Promis 2013, Igt Toscana, Italy (745638, $55.95, WineAlign)

In the only vintage for which such a trial was performed (2003), the chance was had to taste this 2013 under cork side by side with that vintage under screw cap. The difference was vividly palpable, for good or bad, better or worse. Under cork the young wine is like a perfectly shone lump of cool, refulgent coal with so much spice and accent in permeate of an aromatic fruitcake wheel. Under Stelvin the 12 year-old Promis’s freshness is amplified, of early immortality, with the ripest of tannins. The acidity is markedly formidable and yet both wines display a cured nature in undercurrent. Two 10 years separated Promis of spine, spirit and grounded in earth. Leave this 2013 be for two more years, screw cap or not. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted October 2015  @StemWineGroup

Sagittarius (The Centaur)

Adventurous traveller, mythological and experiential

Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

Peter Gamble describes the ’11 Reserva as “integrated right out of the gate” and blessed with “a little more fruit component.” That is can show such freshness this early in its life span (especially in consideration of the beasts that are 2009 and 2010) is nothing short of a Malbec miracle. This is a wine that saw spontaneous fermentation, which made for very nervous times in the winemaking hands of Roberto de la Mota. Stems were used and their participation lends a Mediterranean feel, in the aromatic impart of sea salinity and kelp. The oak is scaled back a touch so the chalk push, while present, integrates in finer grain within the gritty, iron structure. This is the softest (hyper-relatively speaking) Reserva to date with a newly defined massive attack. The temperature fluctuations of the vineyard are integral in its structure and the question needs to be asked, “how can you have a day without a night?” In the Versado Reserva 2011 you have both. It is a Malbec of unfinished sympathy. Drink this sooner, starting in 2017 and for longer, to 2030.  Tasted September 2014 and October 2015  @VersadoWine  @winesofarg

Pisces (The Fishes)

Graceful, passionate, religious, daydreamer

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $64.95, WineAlign)

If 2013 is turning out to be the first truly great Chardonnay vintage of the century out of Sonoma, the Flowers SC is categorically up front and centre in that discussion. The epic’s lead paragraph initializes here in a wine that is severely accurate, a blinding and gorgeous expression that brings the flowers in its game. A wield of pulchritude and balance by acidity spot on. Pure flavour extract expands and the components zing on the finish. Could there lurk a Meursault notion in its lace? You know what, forget that. Strike comparisons from the record. The Flowers is extraordinary of Chardonnay, by Chardonnay and for Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Scorpio (The Scorpion)

Secretive, perceptive, intense, insightful, with a strength of will

J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon  (432823, $64.95, WineAlign)

Lithe and extremely pretty Pinot Noir, reeking of that ancient underground, saline Willamette stream and above ground, Dundee Hills fresh summer berries. Has the best tense intentions, readily available sultry, soluble tannins and just pitch perfect, happy helping acidity. This has the svelte cure and the natural tug of positivity. Sanguine, hematic, volcanic. Great stuff. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted October 2015  @BellaVidaWine  @Oregon_Wine  @Select_Wines

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel


The Old Third and older County wines

First press from first pick of 2015 Cabernet Franc

First press from first pick of 2015 Cabernet Franc

“You have to have a fear of God and a fear of mother nature.” These are the words of winemaker Bruno Francois of The Old Third Vineyard on the Closson Road in Prince Edward County. His compact yet profound stretch of The Ridge has the most slope, perhaps more than any vineyard in PEC, situated around a bend in the road at the 3rd Concession. The Old Third.

Bruno Francois in the Cabernet Franc

Bruno Francois in the Cabernet Franc

Related – The ridges of Prince Edward County

Bruno takes me for a walk through the vineyard. He points out the south, southeast slope unique to this part of the ridge. He talks about soil, the Hillier Clay Loam and its 450 million year old friable Ordovician limestone bed. He picks up and kicks around fragments of limestone gravel and fossils, glacial till, granite, sandstone, quartz and marble. The vineyard is a veritable ice age mineral playground. Mostly he plucks and tastes berries. Cabernet Franc. He crushes a cluster as a test. No skin contact but its hue is penetrating, ardent, vivid. The acidity rages. It will be picked in one week’s time.

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

We get down to business in the restored 1860’s cathedral barn over Sparkling wine and a Pinot Noir vertical. This is my second tasting with Bruno. In July he drove like a madman out to Niagara to pour his wines for Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer, Sommelier Xavier Rousset, Master Sommelier John Szabo, Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser and I. We were at White Oaks Resort in St. Catharines in Old Third anticipation during the i4C Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration.

The Old Third Vineyard, Prince Edward County, Ontario

The Old Third Vineyard, Prince Edward County, Ontario

In Ontario, Chardonnay may be the go to for most Sparkling makers, but Blanc de Blancs be cursed, Bruno’s à la Volée, along with Jonas Newman’s (mixed varietal) Les Étoiles, tell us that Pinot Noir and the County are made for each other. After tasting à la Volée 2011, Matt Kramer said it was the best Sparkling wine ever made in North America. I have not tasted enough North American bubbles to go into heavy hyperbole but I can say this. Bruno Francois takes nothing for granted, has great skill as a winemaker and his best work is yet to come. Here are my thoughts on his wines.

Pinot Noir vertical, The Old Third

Pinot Noir vertical, The Old Third

The Old Third Sparkling Pinot Noir à la Volée 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $59, WineAlign)

“On the fly” is not exactly what comes to mind from this 100 per cent Pinot Noir, first Sparkling wine made by Bruno Francois. Calculated, attention to detail and intensity of ideation more like it. Three years on the lees, no dosage and from a vintage to speak in more than whispered voices, of acidity that announces its arrival with immediacy and a summons to contest. The nose does yeast, toast, citrus and ginger. A first release revelation as ever graced Ontario’s waves, as dry as the desert and lingering with switch back traces of its yeasty, toasty self. A single vineyard can be this way, equally and in opposition of natural and oxidative, with a hue less than Pinot Noir, though unrequited as a triumph when you get a ripe white from such Pinot. The production of 1200 bottles is relatively house high in a stunner that needs no sugar to draw up its flavours. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted twice, July and October 2015

The Old Third Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $42, WineAlign)

Rarely do the bitters of high density Pinot Noir plantings infiltrate with such courage layered by the richness of heavy clay and fractured, querulous limestone. Depending on how frequent your Pinot Noir tasting opportunities are you may be swayed with prejudice in one direction or the other because the astringency is a very real, authentic, hyperbole of Pinosity. Could this be more intoxicating? From four of five acres of Old Third Pinot Noir, billowing out liquorice, garrigue, tar, roses and the neverland yield of tonic. Though 100 per cent de-stemmed, adding them to “purify” colour would be a mistake. Others could do wonders with this type of correction leading to intensity. Grows chalky with time though adolescence is a hard nut to crack. Picking began on September 8th and the ripe, primary tannins suggest four years minimum to resolution. The nails in its heart will carry it across the girth of middle age. The seven-year mark will demarcate high water, as per the Old Third valour. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July and October 2015

Cathedral barn of The Old Third

Cathedral barn of The Old Third

The Old Third Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $42, WineAlign)

In exhibition of its post-punk, nearly new wave, boyish fruit charm. Identifies as Pinot Noir from vines planted in 2005, fruit that saw oak worked in the same way it would do, forward to 2013. Tannins are utterly, wholly resolved in present elegance from a summer swelter in matchable cohorts to young fruit. Ten bears sweetness to a light richness and a lithe energy. Also a vin nature respect, with respect to ’13 that hides its very nature. In ’10 a yeast meets fruit barefaced parity is at this critical mass juncture, five-year stage, an aged picture of parent-child appurtenant appearance. Just a minor missive of hash lumbers on the mid-palate. Finally there is aridity and faux salinity without citrus acidity. Not so much Cabaret Voltaire as much as Woodhead Monroe. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015

The Old Third Pinot Noir 2008, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35, WineAlign)

A taste and quickly it feels like an I’m not worthy moment, of respect, in thanks from the wise scribe David Lawrason and with admiration for the winemaker (Bruno Francois) who one and then four months later the other, pull this out of the magic hat. At seven it draws from and commits to memory for him, creates an epiphany for me and suggests the vines, on that slope, were always special. Memories like vampire weekends, epiphanies on County Pinot Noir and vines that were meant to be right from the start. The 2008 has barely moved. Unbelievers? “The world is a cold, cold place to be. Want a little warmth but who’s going to save a little warmth for me?”

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

Bruno Francois, Jens Korberg and their Old Third Pinot Noir, that’s who. From 4th leaf fruit, so yes, very young but of vines precociously grown to be of age. Single (not so very big) vineyard still supplying today’s Pinot Noir. This taste offers proof of inherent structure and ability to age. It reinforces the notion of the seven-year Prince Edward County Pinot Noir itch. The wood on this wine has threaded silk into leather, now comfortably worn in like bucket seats in a Thunderbird Convertible ’63. A puff of mushroom and little to no appointed astringency indicates the four or five year window that yet remains. A wine to justify staying up late and catching up during the day. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June and October 2015

The Old Third Pinot Noir 2015 (Barrel Sample)

Bruno remits a dreamy, murky decant into full sized stems on the tasting bar, a hazy demure from the year’s first September pick. Like all the Old Third wines (save for the odd Sparkler which uses a biodynamic Champagne yeast), the stage is set for the  freshest aspects of Pinot Noir ripeness. Presently carbonic, fresh, natural, funky and primary. From a 23 brix count, sans Mr. Chapital and with some lingering sugar from a cap yet to drop. This to tell you its cloudy. Wild yeast gives texture ahead of the imminent gate passage with zero risk of a warm vintage stuck ferment. Around the bend is a finish with a specific gravity and colour not yet seen. The sugar and yeast compound currently confuses the soothsaying but look past and see a deepening and utter balance. Southeast aspect, Hillier Clay loam, fractured limestone, brought up by tilling. The 11th leaf. All tolled, to 2015, a new charge.

Pizza by Geoff Heinricks at The Old Third Vineyard

Pizza by Geoff Heinricks at The Old Third Vineyard

Related – Meeting of the wines at Treadwell Cuisine

Older County Wines

In June of 2015 the crew at WineAlign convened in Niagara Falls to judge the best Canadian wines at the National Wine Awards of Canada. Each night during the week of NWAC15 we broke bread with Ontario winemakers and tasted their wines.

Bill Zacharkiw, Brad Royale and John Szabo at The Good Earth

Bill Zacharkiw, Brad Royale and John Szabo at The Good Earth

Related – To Trius, by air

During that week we were hosted by Nicolette NovakMike Boland and winemaker Ross Wise and treated to an extraordinary meal by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Wine Company. Dan Sullivan of Rosehall Run and Norman Hardie joined us and poured their wines.

Sablefish by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Winery

Sablefish by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Winery

During the preamble before dinner we gathered in the plenary idyllic evening Beamsville light, munched on olives and sundry bites while David Lawrason uncorked something like 20 older Prince Edward County bottles from his personal stash. Thank you David, if I did not already say it properly and with enough grateful inflection. The delve into history was mind-bending and if you know Godello, the significance waxes with each passing moon.

Pakora and Salad Roll Appetizer by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Winery

Pakora and Salad Roll Appetizer by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Winery

It was primarily Pinot Noir that graced the Good Earth table, set in front of the pizza oven in the halcyon vineyard environs. A stray varietal here and there interrupted the Pinot flow with contrasting recreation and to watch a gaggle of geeks contort faces with significant gazes was as much fun as tasting the whereabouts of the wines in relation to PEC and Ontario history. I made notes on 15 wines.

Prince Edward County Retrospective

Prince Edward County Retrospective

Exultet “The Beloved” Pinot Noir 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

An important look back at not so past tense County Pinot Noir. A rich crush of red fruit, piercing in its limestone veneer and stretched, across large slabs of stone, reaching fissure harbouring mineral. This Beloved is “full of incidents and schemes… and sympathetic pharmacies.” Rooted, rustic, running so deep and lingering in flavour. The fruit sweet, the roots bitter, the memory luscious. Red electric honey. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015  @ExultetEstates

Exultet Pinot Noir 2008, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

A combination of vintage and one extra year’s time conspire to elevate the ’08 to a realm habituated by the callasthetic. Perception dreams up the magnetic, le beau ideal, from red fruit and energy, to defeat the volatile and the hungry. A tart, juicy, highly expressive Pinot Noir bred from a limestone ooze more scintillant than polish. Yet another 2008 County Pinot Noir to hit the seven year mark with an exactitude of response. In the County, well made Pinot planted in the right location will travel a septenary path. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015

Long Dog Pinot Noir Otto and Top Dog 2009

Long Dog Pinot Noir Otto and Top Dog 2009

Long Dog Pinot Noir ‘ Top Dog ‘ 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Unfiltered Pinot Noir chosen from the best barrels. This ’09 is such a pretty dog, drinking through unseasonably warm temperatures with the top down. All about the pulchritude, prepossessing and with blanketing comfort by barrel. Though persistent in its sylvan, inelastic, smoky constitution, the Top Dog is a sight, smell and sweet suggestion to behold. Will drink and drive this way for a few more years. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015  @longdogwine

Long Dog Pinot Noir ‘ Top Dog ‘ 2008, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Despite the tougher, cooler vintage, this ’08 is so much prettier than its ’09 successor, in part due to the extra year of settling. There is a sweetness about it and the limestone bleed is less hematic, decreasing in medicinal-honey, silky soft in texture and exfoliating that aforementioned seven-year PEC Pinot Noir wisdom. That in itself is the leading candidate for yet another 2008 to show best in 2015. It’s uncanny really, all these seven-year wines acting in synch as a partisan, best in show troop. Though volatile (aren’t they all) the Top Dog shines well within reason and exudes such enervating, renewable and reusable energy. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015

Long Dog Pinot Noir ‘The Otto’ Reserve 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

A lithe County 12.1 per cent alcohol, clear as a gaze across Wellington Bay on a clear day and like the Top Dog, a cold-soaked and cool fermented Pinot Noir. Also repeats the LD stratagem of 28 months spent in French bilion oak barrels. The Otto shows its wood like a placard with censored fruit, funky etchings and the same terse firmness that expresses the eastern PEC limestone ester of its grounding. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015

Long Dog Pinot Noir ‘The Otto’ Reserve 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

Mercurial to quite a vivid degree with a silky palate. Another entertaining and intriguing window from which to peer into the variable Pinot Noir attempts of Prince Edward County past. Drink 2015.  Tasted June 2015

The Dunes, Sandbanks, Prince Edward County

The Dunes, Sandbanks, Prince Edward County

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (225748, $21.95, WineAlign)

Influential exhibition for the ’09 double R Pinot Noir, in a sea of peers ranging from 2007 to 2009. Examples displaying more density, power, heavy petting and hue may hover and solicit love, but it is this Rosehall Vineyard that steals the drink me and enjoy show. It is simply less rigid and though some strikes have gone against it in a “tough on you kid” way, it has persevered to hit one out of the park. This is right where it needs to be. Pure, fluid, effortless and smooth. “Such a perfect fusion of expectation, intention, and execution.” Great swing. A splendid splinter. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard 2009

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard 2009

Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cold Creek 2005, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Tight, bracing, cured by its own development and topped with a grating of fine chocolate. Crack acidity adds an estimable, ornate layer. The surcease is held at bay in a 10 year old Cabernet Franc made at a time when it was by no means in varietal fashion. Not just spinning remarkably well but standing on a podium to receive its varietal emeritus professorship. The cool, savoury middle and relevant woody notes carry this through. Wonderful historical gaze, luck or not Dan Sullivan. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015

Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cold Creek 2005

Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cold Creek 2005

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Cuvee “L” Unfiltered 2009, VQA Ontario (Winery, $49.00, WineAlign)

A blend of 60 per cent Niagara and 40 per cent County fruit. Separate ferments were treated to vinifications for 12 months in French oak barrels, blended and put back to oak for a further six months. The L from nine is in beautiful tender demand. Though a firmness persists the future is viewed through this short window of the past. Lucent and lustrous County submits to matted and shadowy Niagara. The play is a one way ticket in 2009 so enjoy this soon and sooner. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015  @normhardie

Pizza by Norman Hardie Winery

Pizza by Norman Hardie Winery

Trumpour’s Mill Pinot Noir 2008, Estate Bottled, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (230227, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the artist formerly known as, here a peer into the past of The Grange of Prince Edward, a Pinot Noir that ingratiates not because it resembles, imitates or intimates anything, or any derived character from some endemic tradition, but because it has developed. Evolved from light and astringent into something other; something that resembles earthy, vegetal tar spread like confiture on a limestone slab of toast. Pleasure is not the operative but learning is. At $16.95 that would have been a small price to pay to wait seven years and see what’s up. I can promise that the 2022 Trumpour’s Mill Pinot Noir will be better for the education. Drink now.  Tasted June 2015  @grangewinery

Closson Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir CCV 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Most of the 2007 County Pinot Noir I’ve tasted have fallen by the longevity wayside by the age of eight and many of those even before that mark. There was considerable heat in ’07 and the young PEC Pinot industry was not yet equipped to make proper élevage plans for the future. This CCV has lost its lustre, run amok of fruit and is now relegated to the acidity heap of methane exhalation. A current score is kind of meaningless and keep in mind this must be imagined having breathed out bright cherry fruit earlier in life. Drink 2015.  Tasted June 2015  @ClossonChase

Huff Estates Pinot Noir 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery)

Firm, tannic and drying. Early in life there would have been sun on fruit but now, of a yawning, a void come into being, as chaos. Drink 2015.  Tasted June 2015

Huff Estates Pinot Noir 2007

Huff Estates Pinot Noir 2007

Keint He St. Laurent 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery)

Very pretty. Think about the prearrangement, talk about the passion. St. Laurent planted in PEC, forwarded eight years in pro tempore for Pinot Noir or whatever other varieties have already left the building. Are you kidding me? Like adult candy. Firm but soft and sweet to the touch. Like tart raspberries and demystified currants. Amazing. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015  @KeintheWinery

Keint He Pinot Noir Little Creek 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

A wine made by Geoff Heinricks from a time when everyone wanted and expected to make great Pinot Noir. A retrospective in 2015 shows that few actually succeeded but this, this is something other. A sweet, lithe and focused piece of history. The smoky hue and character rouses in vaporous waves. Getting high off this Pinot Noir seems not entirely out of the question. From stone roses to fully solarized, the browning is but a natural evolution, amazing, with dillling to dialled in raspberry moments. Little Creek sings “I could astound you if I wanted, I wouldn’t even have to try.” A moment of County found by the viticulture founder of the County. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015.

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel


Four times ten reasons to drink wine on Halloween

Smurfette does Halloween

Smurfette does Halloween

October 31st is a date empowered. Each year I fall victim to its commercial holiday, Soma-coma induced temptations. I eat candy on Halloween (I never eat candy) and I write about what to drink with in compliment and in conjunction with its tasting menu confection. It’s all so very wrong on so many levels and yet I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame? Why? What is it about this impossibly sappy and gagged up day that sucks me into its vortex of plastic, vinyl, crinkle and excess?

Related – Yet another 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween

I blame it on childhood, on a time when innocence, naiveté and gullibility ruled my universe. When running with friends and getting sick on candy was both joyous and  an exercise in self-flaggelent stupid. When two hours meant freedom, rebellion and independence. Halloween is a kids’ version of travelling through Europe with a back pack. It’s like quitting a job, like going to Vegas on a stag (I hate the idea of going to Vegas on a stag).

Related – Ten more reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween

Well, that explains it. As adults, we try to justify the ingenuousness, callousness and asinine holiday, to make sure our kids find happiness in its bent farcicality. We try to grin and bear it. We attempt to embrace its forced beauty and its urban chaos. And we drink wine.

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

Looking back at those lists from 2012-2014 and the thirty reasons given for drinking wine on Halloween, the best ten can be culled and reformatted into the following quaternary list:

  1. Because sometimes adults need travelling sippy cups too
  2. The polyphenols in red wine can help offset the horrible effects of eating a pound of refined white sugar
  3. Who doesn’t drop their pants for a Ghostly White Wine Spritzer?
  4. Wine makes you forget Halloween ever happened
  5. A person with a candy bag full of vodka is an alcoholic. A person with a candy bag full of wine is classy
  6. To reduce the chances of having a heart attack or stroke at the sudden comeuppance of the neighbour’s $10,000 Halloween movie set
  7. Why should this night be different from any other?
  8. The doorbell rings every few seconds and beer takes much longer to pour
  9. It rhymes with Frankenstein

For the sake of keeping things new, I’ll add the final new reason to the list:

10.  A few glasses of Pinot Noir will make you smile as you remember how much money you saved by staying true to fun-sized candy

Be the life of the neighbourhood and fill those travellers with any of these 10 Halloween wines, subject to budget and chosen from the VINTAGES October 31st release. I promise not to suggest any candy pairings.

Fielding Estate Riesling 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251439, $18.95, WineAlign)

The Richie Roberts take on Riesling brings Beamsville to the populace, combining the natural acidity of the variety with the micro-saddle-plot-climat ipseity that the sub-appellation provides. This early to market ’14 is quite tropical, offering an en primeur portal into what invariably will follow. Fresh, juicy, accessible and in near-perfect balance. Slate, calcareous bleed and fruit generosity make for one tidy, markedly gratifying Riesling.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Fielding Estate Riesling 2014

Bodegas Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (276030, $18.95, WineAlign)

Carries with it the efforts and old barrel trials of generations in its classic aromas. Cedar, dried plum, bitumen, dried anise, wood soaking in natural sugar syrup. Really seamless, flourless and austere in a running wild kind of way. Possessive of length and deserving of that oddest of wine descriptions; supple. This will age for 10-12 years with ease. A great wine for the money, right up there with the Montecillo 1991, but cleaner, juicier and with more sex appeal. A red head, a ginger, Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone.  Tasted March 2015  @bodegasmuriel  @RiojaWine

Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008

Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2012, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign)

The richest, wealthiest and most lush Laura’s red to date. Constructed in high tones, big fruit and the most oak it has absorbed. Structurally speaking this climbs to play at the top of the Creekside regime game, with tannins formidable to demanding and a texture filled with spirited matter. Behind the scene and to a certain extent the veil there is Niagara, painted and dressed. Laura’s ’12 bites chocolate and picks at buds with impunity. This much plum and berry fruit will find a way to improve then strut in tastings years from now.  Drink 2016-2020. Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @CreeksideWine   @hobbsandco

Creekside Estate Laura's Red 2012

Château Pey La Tour Réserve Du Château 2010, Ac Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France (349308, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here’s a well-organized, thought out and structured bit of tidy Merlot from the house of Dourthe. Bits of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec reinforce the pretty, dusty, deep blue fruit from between Bordeaux and St. Emilion. I wouldn’t call it rustic or old-school but I would mention its wise charm and traditional handling. Just a bit of astringency in the tannic composition will take this five years down the road. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted October 2015  @La_Cave_Dourthe  @Dandurandwines

Château Pey La Tour Réserve Du Château 2010

Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra, South Australia (606939, $23.95, WineAlign)

Prodigious Cabernet of and for protein. Melds flavours of salted caramel and real hot chocolate with melting berries like Churros filled with oozing centres, without sweetness. Has expansiveness and connectivity, with acids and direct displays of tannin. The real deal down in the depths of warm climate Cabernet Sauvignon. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015  @WolfBlassWines

Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Lavau Vacqueyras 2012, Ac Rhone, France (104927, $24.95, WineAlign)

Rich and very perfumed Vacqueyras composed of Grenache (50 per cent), Syrah (40) and Mourvedre (10). A wine with every intention to seek out a standing rib roast or duck confit to meet its every move. Charges that mix depth of fruit with grain of wood. Stratagem that marks violets moved to red berry fruit and reasonable acidity melded into a fine grain of tannin. There is just enough restraint in the process to consider this a finessed wine of gastronomy. It’s chewy but easy to digest, crusted and built of simple pleasures. Really well-made. No pretension, no attention drawn to itself and just plain affordable. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @oenophilia1  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE

Lavau Vacqueyras 2012

Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1560, $29.95, WineAlign)

Flat Rock’s ever involving vines (on 33 hectares planted in 2001 and 2002) enter a new phase with indicators blinking and refreshing in this 2013 Gravity Pinot Noir. Youthful adolescence and gregarious fruit expression initiated in 2010 and carried through the 2012 vintage. Those years saw to a world of astringency and tension relegated to mites in the rear-view mirror. The wine is now in a nexus cross-roaded with exigency holding pattern. To understand its confusion and survey fast forward to its future is not easy. Gravity is a bit large right now, seemingly advanced, but to me the fight is between that fruit abundant state and the return of, though eased by meditative Jedi tension. Gravity just needs a parachute to bring it back down to earth. That lifeline may not materialize in this 2013 but that does not take anything away from its discriminating and diagnostic tones. Brightness, astatic inflection and succulence. This vintage may suffer from some level of snafu but it will age, evolve and breath. That much fruit has to have some level of expectation. The follow up ’14 and ’15 will win the hearts of horses and men. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted October 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (208694, $34.95, WineAlign)

Showing reduction and barrel youth in its veins, pores, gutters and buffers. Smells just like a young Chardonnay after spending 12-18 months in a combination of toasts and forests should smell. A changeling constantly shifting, grooving, picking up steps and notes. Spice, prick and pierce with the gems of proper acidity. Of emeralds and pepper grinds. The piquant nature begs for time. A stab in the Chardonnay dark says Okanagan as distant cousin to Beamsville Bench or Vinemount Ridge. In the end winemaking steals the show. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC, June 2015  @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2013

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (421370, $35.00, WineAlign)

A highly perfumed Pinot Noir from winemaker Kevin Panagapka in 2012, complete with an exotic spice box of aromatics; potpourri, roses, cassia, clove and aamchur. The profile hydrates to a mulled simmer as the wine is once again warmed by the vineyard’s ability to ripen, exaggerated in ’12 but with more grace, bringing its personality in line with its modest (13 per cent) alcohol. The cherry flavour veers black with a paste of tar and charcoal, but again, the psyche is smooth and elongated. Long finish to this Queenston which should see it sing to 2018 and beyond. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2014  @2027cellars

Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac 2008, Ac Saint Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France (425546, $39.95, WineAlign)

Showing a twinge of age at seven years, in rim and out of the natural whiffing forest aromas escaping with ease. The absolute right kind of earthy and barrel-influenced funk emanates, like experienced Bordeaux should, as would Rioja in similar approach to climacteric transition. A bit of leather, licquorice and aged beef join the gritty fray, mixed with aromatic citrus and grainy tannin to seal the destined way. This is ready to drink and yet two more years would not hurt its cause. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @Dandurandwines

Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac 2008

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel


$21.95 is the new $19.95

October fruit

October fruit

It has finally happened. It has come to this. Inflation has hit the LCBO. The old Mason-Dixon line for finer wine has left the building. We are finally rid of the oppressive bar of redundancy and free from the high water mark. First it was the penny, now it’s the $20 dollar bill. The over-under threshold of $21.95 is the new $19.95.

The wines I have chosen to recommend speak to the change, beginning with, going forth and prospering from the VINTAGES October 17th, 2015 release. One lonely bottle from the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia’s west coast stands to keep the frontier from moving north but the tide has risen and prices are no longer safe. Mark my words. Beginning in the fall of 2015, a twenty and a toonie in your pocket is the new requiem to make purchase for the common denominator in competent and felicitous dinner companions. On that note, everyone should be given a 20 per cent raise. Surely we don’t want any drinking of less than stellar LCBO issued wines.

Here are the picks.

From left to right: San Raffaele Monte Tabor Pinot Grigio 2014, Dirty Laundry Gewurztraminer Madames 2013, Palacios Remondo La Montesa 2012, Trimbach Riesling 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2013, and Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013 and Hinterland Borealis Method Charmat Rosé 2014

From left to right: San Raffaele Monte Tabor Pinot Grigio 2014, Dirty Laundry Gewurztraminer Madames 2013, Palacios Remondo La Montesa 2012, Trimbach Riesling 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2013, and Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013 and Hinterland Borealis Method Charmat Rosé 2014

San Raffaele Monte Tabor Pinot Grigio 2014, Igt Veronese, Italy (204768, $14.95, WineAlign)

Ripeness extended out of extraction leads to slight distraction in 2014, with mineral notes falling off the charts. The vintage is one of hyperbole for this particular Pinot Grigio abstraction, fruit compressed, stones crushed and dry extract seared by arid ice. Salinity and brine are magnified too though the overall impression in ’14 is one of weight, like the elements are being sent substrata, as opposed to the typically aerified course. Still there can be no denying the complexity such a $14 white affords, even if the line here is a bit right of centre. Drink now for hedonistic pleasure, with any savoury sea creature and alongside the next 60 days of increasingly cooler nights. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted September 2015  @oenophilia1

Dirty Laundry Gewurztraminer Madames 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (423228, $21.95, WineAlign)

Illustrated Gewürztraminer of appreciably pointed attributes, on the off-dry side of town but with enough acidity to float on. Les Madames offers up the most sweet and inviting set of vinous virtues for the triple-threat DL schematic. The Summerland vines and warmth make for a fully expected and dramatized aromatic wine with the most unctuous behaviour. Were the pH and the grape tannin of a higher combined force this would also be a wine to lay down, to wait and watch for the sugars to slowly develop into things tertiary. As it is, find some flavourful and spicy fare to seek succulence through osmosis. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015  @DirtyLaundryVin  @winebcdotcom  @bottleneckdrive

Palacios Remondo La Montesa 2012, Doca Rioja, Spain (674572, $21.95, WineAlign)

This perennial confluence of the left and the right, of two oceans, grapes and barrels is the red wine portal into the Álvaro Palacios idiom. The modern polish and sanctity of Rioja conjoin for the most representative first pass at Tempranillo-Garnacha you will and should encounter. The vintage is not a rigid one, the wine a downy entry into the style and the equation. The fruit dominates calcareous longing and leaning but for the time being and the audience reached out to, there are no questions or complaints. Red plum and subtle liquorice meander into clay, get a sprinkle of white rock and distill into a seasoned, approachable liquid. Cracks are filled, bonds are cemented and dinner is properly accompanied. What won’t this work with and for? Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @WoodmanWS  @RiojaWine

Trimbach Riesling 2012, Ac Alsace, France (734517, $21.95, WineAlign)

“Six plus months will do wonders” is a statement of probability for well-made Riesling and for Trimbach, of the obvious. Coequality between fruit and mineral bobs on the surface of the vineyard and the rim of pale platinum beauty. Illustrative Alsace. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier note of March 2015:

To Jean and Anne Trimbach and most Alsatians, this Riesling from their ‘Classic’ range may represent the best that basic can be but when it travels oversees it gains a stature well beyond its humble roots. Here is another one of the those dictionary entry wines meant to depict and define. Quite simply emblematic Alsace. Built with acidity to envelop sweetness, marked by herbiage that is alive and fresh. Weight and density draw from Ribeauvillé rocks. Parity is realized in osmosis by fruit and mineral. As always, there is the tannic underlay, the length and the purposed bitter finish.

Last tasted October 2015  @trimbach  @WoodmanWS

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (275958, $21.95, WineAlign)

Six months have amplified the current, running in a direct aromatic-flavour line from strawberry to black currant. Such healthy up front fruit with nary a moment of humidity shines while the wine remains just grounded enough to call it Niagara.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Still organic through and through, despite only a small portion of estate fruit contributing to the overall design of the Triomphe Cabernet Franc ’13. Contracted growers fuel and fulfill the Southbrook ideology, to seek purity in healthy berries. The red fruit here shines on with Daliesque impunity. Its agglomeration makes a juicy, gregarious offer to sip. The vanilla-lavender streak brings elegance, more so than in ’12, along with an elevated sense of savour and really compounded red, red fruit. A natural sweetness and long finish are easy on the gustatory senses. Will be available at VINTAGES in February 2015, when the ’12 runs dry.

Last tasted June and September 2015  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling

Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia (58073, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Mornington perfume, distinct, ethereal, lifted, elevated, fresh with a bit sauvage, not of musk, but of a wild road less trodden. A step beyond fresh, into learned territory and also above crisp, into crunchy. Very interesting and complex Pinot Noir, so obvious as anything but, yet unique, tart, striking and long. This should have many consumer fans and expand horizons for broad appeal, but also be a friend to the discerning taster. Most impressive.  Tasted November 2014  @RedHillEstate  @Noble_Estates

Hinterland Borealis Method Charmat Rosé 2014, VQA Ontario (431817, $22.00, WineAlign)

The Ancestral cousin continues its arid ways in 2014, ostensibly a better vintage for the sparkling tank methodology. The fruit, acidity, volatility and tension all elevate and there is nothing surprising about that but where this sophomore succeeds is in the dry take on Gamay bubbles. So many winemakers would be tempted into higher dosage and the soft allure of enticing a younger audience with sweetness. Jonas Newman won’t go there. This is fun and simple but its aridity and dry extract keep it real. Like a September Algonquin campsite gaze upwards at the Aurora Borealis. “The icy sky at night.” Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015  @hinterlandwine

From left to right: Creekside Estate Reserve Viognier Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2011, Tenuta Rocca Barolo 2010, Cvne Imperial Reserva 2009, Prunotto Barolo 2010, Tawse Pinot Noir Lauritzen Vineyard 2012, Duckhorn Merlot 2012 and Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

From left to right: Creekside Estate Reserve Viognier Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2011, Tenuta Rocca Barolo 2010, Cvne Imperial Reserva 2009, Prunotto Barolo 2010, Tawse Pinot Noir Lauritzen Vineyard 2012, Duckhorn Merlot 2012 and Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Creekside Estate Reserve Viognier Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, St. David’s Bench, Ontario (264168, $26.95, WineAlign)

Exceedingly mineral in 2013, decidedly varietal and power prepositioned for the purpose of small lot, attention to detail Creekside adjudication. Though Syrah and Cabernet Franc would seem to define the winery’s signature strokes, it is this small production Queenston Road Vineyard labour of love that crawls beneath the radar. The ’13 is outright juicy, unctuous, feathered in weight and warm-pitched to verdant greens. The vintage doles out more warmth than expected but acidity carries the weight, over the water and onto the dance floor. I’d wait a couple of years for some more floral and honeyed notes to develop. Drink 2017- 2022.  Tasted October 2015  @CreeksideWine  @hobbsandco

Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2011, Bierzo, Spain (379891, $26.95, WineAlign)

This is rich and powerful Mencia, even for itself, sheathed and layered by the alternating variegation of French and American oak. From Alliers to Missouri there is comfort to be found in its warm blanket, alcohol (14.5 degrees) and depth of fruit. It might come across as figgy and raisined and indeed those aromas and flavours are imagined, but they are fresh, not dried. Acidity and tannin envelop fruit. Old vines offer substantial heft, concentration and brambly fruit like Zinfandel and Primitivo, but here there is a citrus lift to carry the weight. Emblematic Bierzo that has and will be more exciting with just that much more freshness and tension. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @DominiodeTares  @oenophilia1  @dobierzo

Tenuta Rocca Barolo 2010, Docg Piedmont, Italy (395103, $36.95, WineAlign)

Modern speak and safely on the pleasurable side of volatile. A real deal for Nebbiolo, ready and willing in afford of whatever’s in your pocket. Framework is well-delineated, wood properly judged, the view clearly visible from multiple correct vantage points. Not earth shattering but at the price reaches more than appropriate goals. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @regionepiemonte

Cvne Imperial Reserva 2009, Doca Rioja, Spain (424390, $38.95, WineAlign)

Another impressive, formidable and structured Tempranillo from the Cvne stable, from old vineyards and the comforts of both French and American oak. Such a rich and deep exhalant, as much fruit as tannin, mineral as acidity. There are many moving parts but one day they will align. Like a jigsaw falling into place, “the beat goes round and round,” swirling with tannic noise and plum fruit aromas, with earthy and botanical flavours. This begins with a murmur and ends with thunder. It rocks and wails in between. Rioja made only in the best vintages and the kind of $39 wine to lay down for 15 plus years. It will play on the radio and in your head for at least that long. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted October 2015  @Cvne  @vonterrabev  @RiojaWine

Prunotto Barolo 2010, Docg Piedmont, Italy (928721, $40.95, WineAlign)

The faintest hue. The rusty pilgrim. Such a pretty scent. Fresh roses and the beginnings of osseous imagination, to seek a classic pairing, with osso bucco. The real deal in normale Barolo. The righteous Nebbiolo beginning. The jumping off point with no sharks in the water. The effortless offering. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @HalpernWine

Tawse Pinot Noir Lauritzen Vineyard 2012, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (431601, $44.95, WineAlign)

Typically Tawse and exemplary of Lauritzen. The highest of the vineyard tones and a plot up on a ridge (now 11 years of age) growing up before our eyes. The fruit is not shy in any way. Possessive of earth alternating with min real neither Cherry nor Quarry nor Laidlaw can lay claim. This is a Pender Pinot that seethes, oozes and owns its vineyard’s fruit, rocks and clay, earth and elements. Upwards and drying, with tannins that shriek. Ripping and yet at once, a few years down the road to be, elegant Pinot Noir. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender  @DanielatTawse

Duckhorn Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, California (992529, $59.95, WineAlign)

Always rich and flavourful, the champion vintage here elicits a nearly massive Merlot in benchmark Napa ideal. This has strength in situation and there is something you can’t quite put a finger on, but it emanates from a special brand of umami. Strength, poise and sweetness that never cloys. There grades a balanced capability and pure, grainy, sweet, supple tannin. Alcohol travels a really grand yet gracious line. It’s not hot at all. This is a Merlot steal, with fruit to match a long, meandering road. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @duckhornwine  @rogcowines  @NapaVintners

Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy (372250, $69.95, WineAlign)

Arguably the most modern and stylishly put together Brunello on the market today yet without an overdoing of oak hinderance. Like the deliciously devilish 2007 this has a wealth of beauty and gregarious aromatics but unlike that precocious vintage there is weight and brooding behaviour as well. The depth of fruit and earth are not weighted down by excessive alcohol (a very good thing) though there is a bit of dried fruit and flowers mixed in to the cure. There is also a bitter almond pith note ties into the aggressive but starry-eyed tannins. This needs three to five years to come together. The hope is for that slight bit of green tannin to find its integrated way with the fruit. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted October 2015  @CastelloBanfi  @AuthenticWineON

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel


All suss terroir

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

It has been more than 15 months since I returned from a pivotal, seminal and transmogrifying week in Alsace. The thoughts transposed to words continue to flow freely and with crystalline clarity. This may be the curtain call on that trip. Or not.

Type in the words “Alsace” and “philosophy” into a Google search page and the results will tell a Grand Cru story. The Alsace home page launches from terroir. It has to. Every winery, trade, marketing or governing organization’s website is ingrained to emphasize the rubric, to explain the true essence of Alsace wine. The local philosophy, indicating the cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine, is both necessary and fundamental. There is nothing remotely parenthetical about the notion of terroir, not in Alsace.

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Related – In a Grand Cru State of mind

As wine geeks we are constantly seeking it out and sometimes we imagine it, chat it up when it’s not really there. After we are immersed in Alsace, we cannot deny its existence. Terroir, defined as “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography and climate.” Or, goûts de terroir, as intaste of the earth.” Wherever wine is made around the world, soil is always as important, if not more important than any facet of the winemaking oeuvre. In Alsace, it is religion. I suss it, you suss it and in Alsace, they might say, “we all suss terroir.”

Alsace presents as a long strip of stupidly beautiful, verdant vistas, wedged between the faults and valleys forged with the Vosges Mountains on its west side and the Germany buffering Rhine River to the east. To consider its location as a province of France, drive 500 kilometres east of Paris and draw a line south from Strasbourg, to Colmar and to Basel. Wars have seen to make sure the region can never be too comfortable with its identity, causing an ever-annoying oscillation in governance.

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal's Fred Fortin

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal’s Fred Fortin

Alsatians are the possessed refugees of Europe, tossed around like orphaned children from one foster family to another. That they can be so comfortable in their own skin is to accept their conceit as a French paradox, through ignoring its Franco-Germanic past, its passage back and forth between hands and its current state as a region governed by France. The confluence of cultures and of shared borders (and airports) would think to cause a crisis of identity. The names of towns and villages may act out a who’s who or what’s what of French sobriquet and German spitzname. None of that matters. The people, the places, the food and the wine are purely and unequivocally in ownership of their own vernacular, dialect and culture: Alsatian.

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg
Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Related – A Blanck slate in Alsace

When a winemaker wants to lay an insult upon you he will say something like “oh, that’s so Anglo-Saxon.” Ouch. He will mean it, for sure, but he will also grace you with a wink and a smile. He likes you and he respects your choice to come from far away to learn something of his wines. And you like him. The winemaker will also complement you when your palate aligns with his, when your thoughts intuit something about his acuity and his groove. His flattery will be genuine. The winemaker will pour old vintages and without a hem or a haw. She will share generously, not because she wants to sell more, but because she wants better people to drink her wine.

To ascertain a grip on the Alsace codex it must begin in the vineyard. The steep slopes, zig-zagging ridges and fertile valleys are composed of highly intricate, alternating and complex geological compositions. The landscape switches repeatedly from clay to marl, from calcaire (limestone) to schist, from volcanic to granitic rock. Each vineyard and even more parochial, each plot contributes to define the wine that will be made from that specific micro-parcel. The wine grower and winemaker’s job is to treat the soil with utmost respect. To plow the land, to add organic material, to refuse the use of fertilizers and to spray with solutions composed of non-chemical material.

Organic and biodynamic viticulture is widespread across the globe but Alsace is a leader in the practices, particularly in the latter’s holistic, asomatous way. Though more than 900 producers make wines, including many who do not partake in a bio-supernal and subterraneal kinship with the vines and the earth, the ones who do are fanatical about their winegrowing ways. Alsatian winemakers bond with their fruit, by employing the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s teachings as a predicate from which to apply spiritual connections to the physical act of tending vines.

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Related – It was Josmeyer’s imagination

The belief is that great wine can only be made from healthy, natural and disease resistant plants. Steiner’s studies on chemical fertilizers looked into the effect on plants growing near bombs in the earth. The growth was observed to be abnormal and unhealthy. Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer compared this to humans, who eat too much salt and thus need to drink too much. I tasted more than 150 naturally made wines from biodynamically farmed soils. The proof of quality and complexity is in the glass.

The winemaker of Alsace shows a respect for the earth that might be seen as a verduous variation on the teachings of theologian, philosopher, physician, medical missionary and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. The Alsatian-born Schweitzer gave to the world his theory on the “reverence for life,” a term he used for a universal concept of ethics. “He believed that such an ethic would reconcile the drives of altruism and egoism by requiring a respect for the lives of all other beings and by demanding the highest development of the individual’s resources.” The biodynamic approach, through its human to vegetable relationship, echoes the concept. Careful care not to disrupt the balance of nature allows the vines to develop the strength to survive and to flourish in less than optimum climatic conditions, especially during times of drought. The quality of grapes and in turn, the complexity of wine, is the result.

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

The focus on soil and terroir is ultimately disseminated into the idea of tasting minerality in wine, a most contentious aspect of the wine tasting and writing debate. Nary an expert will admit that the impart of trace minerals can be ascertained from a wine’s aroma and most believe that it can be found in taste. An American geologist debunked the mineral to taste theory at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America held in Portland Oregon. “The idea is romantic and highly useful commercially, but it is scientifically untenable,” wrote Alex Maltman, a professor at the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University. Maltman’s claim is simple. Vines absorb minerals from the earth but the amount is far too small for human detection.

Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer in Wintzenheim agrees to disagree. Ehrhart concedes that the quantitative number is small (only three to five percent) for a vine to derive its personality, divined though the earth’s brine. The remainder is a consequence of photosynthesis. Ever the spiritual and natural advocate, Christophe borrows from the writings of David Lefebvre. The journalist and wine consultant’s The minerality from David Lefebvre tells the story of why natural wines without sulfur express minerality. Lefebvre makes clear the argument that naturally-farmed (biodynamic and/or, but necessarily organic) vines are qualitatively richer in (salt minerals) than those raised with chemicals. “All fermentation, from milk to cheese, from grape to wine, is accompanied by the appearance of the component saline, one could say mineral, in the taste of the fermented product.” Chemicals and fertilizers inhibit growth and vigor, ostensibly wiping out an already minuscule number. If food is available at the surface, vine roots will feed right there. They will then lose their ability to create the beneficial bacteria necessary to metabolize deep earth enzymatic material. They essentially abandon their will to fight for nutrition deep within the fissures of the rock. Lefebvre’s conclusion? “All biocides and other products that block mineralization, such as SO2, inhibit the expression mineral.”

At the end of the day Lefebvre is a wine taster and not a scientist and the argument must be considered within the realm of the natural world. “The taste of stone exists in Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire (all France) when the winegrower uses organic farming and indigenous, winemaking yeasts.” American made wine rarely does this, though change is occurring. Ontario winemakers are different. Taste the wines of Tawse or Southbrook and note the difference. Or, taste the difference a vegetable, like a tomato, or a piece of fruit, like a peach tastes when picked straight from the garden, or orchard, as opposed to the conventional piles of the supermarket. There can be no argument there.

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

A week tasting through nearly 300 wines in Alsace may sound exhausting when in fact it is an experience that had me constantly, “as the expression goes, gespannt wie ein Flitzebogens,” or as it is loosely employed from the German in the Grand Budapest Hotel, “that is, on the edge of my seat.” I watched Wes Anderson’s film on the Air France flight over from Toronto to Paris and enjoyed it so much that I watched it again on my return. That kind of spiritual, dry European humour is not unlike that of the fraternity of Alsatian winemakers and how they discuss their wines. From Olivier Zind-Humbrecht to Pierre Blanck, to MauriceBarthelmé and to Jean-Pierre Frick there is an Edward Norton to Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson to Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody to Ray Fiennes affinity. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Alsace is distinguished by a very specific set of vinous attributes. No other area in France is as dry and only Champagne is further north in latitude. The aridity of the summer months, followed by the humidity of the fall fosters the development of a beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea, the fungus better known as noble rot, which concentrates the sugars and preserves acidity. Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassman says all of his wines are noble rot wines, but he calls them Riesling.

The uninitiated into the wines of Alsace think it is one big pool of sickly sweet and cloying white wine. If perhaps this were, at least to some extent, once true, it is no longer. The progressive and philosophically attentive producer picks grapes (especially the particularly susceptible Pinot Gris) before the onset of botrytis. If a dry, mineral-driven style is the goal, picking must be complete before what Phillippe Zinck refers to as D-Day. Pinot Gris goes over the edge in an instant, even more so because of the advancing maturation due to the warm temperatures induced by Global Warming.

Sommerberg Grand Cru

Sommerberg Grand Cru

The global wine community’s ignorance to the multeity of Alsace wines, “as mutually producing and explaining each other…resulting in shapeliness,” needs addressing and so steps in the valedictorian, Christophe Ehrhart. The Josmeyer viniculturalist devised a system, a sugar scale to grace a bottle’s back label. Whites are coded from one to five, one being Sec (Dry) and five Doux (Sweet). The codification is not as simple as just incorporating residual sugar levels. Total acidity is taken into consideration against the sugar level, like a Football team’s plus-minus statistic. In Alsace the relationship between sugar, acidity and PH is unlike any other white wine region. Late Harvest (Vendanges Tardives, or Spätlese in German) is Late Harvest but Vin desprit sec or demi-sec in Alsace should not generally be correlated to similar distinctions in Champagne or the Loire. In Alsace, wines with vigorous levels of acidity and even more importantly PH bedeck of tannin and structure. Perceived sweetness is mitigated and many whites, though quantified with residual sugar numbering in the teens, or more, can seem totally dry.

Returning to the idea of increasingly warmer seasonal temperatures, the red wines of Alsace have improved by leaps and bounds. “We could not have made Pinot Noir of this quality 20 years ago,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Oh, the humanity and the irony of it all.

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann
photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

This sort of quirky response to nature and science is typical of the artisan winemaker. There is more humour, lightness of being and constater than anywhere else on this winemaking planet. There just seems to be a collective and pragmatic voice. Maurice makes a 10,000 case Riesling called Cuvee Albert, “because I have to make a wine for the market.” Yet Maurice is also a dreamer and a geologist. To him, “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist.”

Domaine Albert Mann’s Jacky Barthelmé: “Before Jesus Christ was born we have had vines here in the Schlossberg. So it is a very old story.” The Alsace vigneron is only human and works in a vinous void of certitude. They do not fuck with their land or attempt to direct its course. The young Arnaud Baur of Domaine Charles Baur insists that you “don’t cheat with your terroir or it will catch up with you. You will be exposed. You can make a mistake but you will still lose the game.” What an even more wonderful world it would be if he only understood the complexity in his multiple entendre.

Philippe Blanck is a philosopher, a dreamer, an existentialist and a lover. He is Descartes, the aforementioned Bill Murray and Bob Dylan rolled into one, a man not of selection but of election. He is both prolific and also one who buys the whole record catalogue, not just the hits. He opens old vintages freely and without hesitation. When asked how often does he have the opportunity to open wines like these he answers simply, “when people come.”

Pierre Frick et Fils

Pierre Frick et Fils

Then there is the far-out Jean-Pierre Frick, the man who let a 2006 Auxerrois ferment for five years before bottling it in 2011. “After one year I check the wine and he is not ready. I see him after two years and he says I am not ready. So I wait. After five years he says, I am finished. So I put him in the bottle.” On his Riesling 2012 he says, “This is a wine for mouse feeding.” Upon cracking open his remarkable, natural winemaking at its peak 2010 Sylvaner he chuckles like M. Gustave and smirks, “he is a funny wine.”

Few wine regions tell their story through geology as succinctly and in as much variegated detail as Alsace. The exploration of its Grand (and other vital) Cru (for the purposes of this trip) was through soils (or not) variegated of clay, sandy clay, marl, granite, volcanic rock, limestone and sandstone. To complicate things further, a Cru can be composed of more than one type of terra firma and still others have more than one arrangement within the particular plot. All very complicated and yet so simple at the same time. The Crus tasted came from the following:

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Granitique/Granite (Brand, Herrenreben, Kaefferkopf, Langenberg, Linsenberg, Schlossberg, Sommerberg)
Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Domaine Schoenheitz Linsenberg Riesling 1990, Ac Alsace, France (Winery, 196618, WineAlign)

During a picnic, on a plateau up on the Linsenberg lieu-dit set above the Wihr-au-Val, this 24 year-old bottle acts as a kind of Alsatian Trou Normand. A pause between courses, which involves alcohol and you need to ask for its proof of age. Culled from deep dug vines out of stony and shallow granite soil. Soil rich in micas with a fractured basement. From a dream vintage with marvellous semi-low yields and a student of south-facing, self-effacing steep steppes. A sun worshipper prodigy of winemaker Henri Schoenheitz, a child of terroir du solaire. Rich and arid in simultaneous fashion (the RS is only 8-10 g/L), the years have yet to add mileage to its face and its internal clock. It may ride another 15, or 20. Drink 2015-2030. Tasted June 2015  @VinsSchoenheitz

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Domaine Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Reserve 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ $27.70 11903328WineAlign)

From fruit drawn off the granitic Grand Cru of the Brand but not labeled as such. Laser focus (what Jean Boxler wine is not) and texture. Possessive of the unmistakable Brand tang, like mineral rich Burgundy. The minerality ann the acidity from the granite are exceptional in a wine known as “Pinot Blanc Reserve.” As good a developing PB are you are ever likely to taste. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler Riesling Old Vines Sommerberg Grand Cru 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ, 11698521WineAlign)

A direct expression of winemaker (since 1996) Jean Boxler and his 150 year-old casks. This is Riesling suspended in the realm of dry extract, texture and a precision of finesse rarely paralleled in Alsace. It reads the truth of facteur for Sommerberg, its face, slope and pitch. Exceeds the clarity of the younger parcel in its contiguous continuance of learning, of pure, linear, laser styling. There is more maturity here and the must had to have been exceptional. “The juice must be balanced when it goes into the vats or the wine will not be balanced,” insists Jean Boxler. And he would be correct. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler Tokay-Pinot Gris Sommerberg Grand Cru 1996, Ac Alsace, France (Alsace)

From volcanic and granitic soils together combining for and equating to structure. A matter concerning “purity of what you can do from a great ground,” notes Master Sommelier Romain Iltis. Perception is stronger than reality because despite the sugar, the acidity reign to lead this to be imagined and reasoned as a dry wine. Ripe, fresh, smoky, with crushed hazelnut and seamless structure. Stays focused and intense in mouthfeel. Takes the wine down a long, long road. Quite remarkable. No longer labeled “Takay” after the 2007 vintage. Drink 2015-2026.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Calcaire/Limestone (Engelgarten, Furstentum, Goldert, Rosenbourg, Rotenberg, Schoffweg)

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Furstentum 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

The Marl accentuated Hengst and its muscular heft receives more Barthelmé limelight but the always understated Furstentum Grand Cru is a special expression of the variety. As refined as Pinot Gris can be, with a healthy level of residual sugar, “like me” smiles Marie-Thérèse Barthelmé. The sugar polls late to the party while the acidity swells in pools, but the finish is forever. “Pinot Gris is a fabulous grape but we serve it too young,” says Maurice. “It needs time to develop its sugars.” Truffle, mushroom, underbrush and stone fruit would match well to sweet and sour cuisine. Flinty mineral arrives and despite the residual obstacle, is able to hop the sweet fencing. The potential here is boundless. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @albertmannwines

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Domaine Paul Zinck Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Goldert 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

From the village of Gueberschwihr and from soil composed of sandstone, chalk and clay. The vines average 50 years in age and the wine saw a maturation on the lees for 11 months. Philippe Zinck notes that “the terroir is stronger than the variety.” If any grape would stand to contradict that statement it would be Gewürztraminer but the ’10 Goldert begs to differ. Its herbal, arid Mediterranean quality can only be Goldert talking. Though it measures 20 g/L of RS it tastes almost perfectly dry. It reeks of lemongrass, fresh, split and emanating distilled florals. This is classic and quintessential stuff. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Goldert Grand Cru 1985

Tasted from magnum at Les Millésimes Alsace, a wine described by Caroline Furstoss as “unusual for late harvest,” because the terroir is simply stronger than the variety. Another economically non-viable low yield LH, “from a vintage more on the reductive than the oxidative side.” Even at 30 years it requires aeration and time to open up. Travels from spicy to smoky with that air. There is a density in bitterness, an attrition miles away from resolve and a promise for rebate, if further patience is granted. The spices inherent are ground, exhumed and combine with the base elements to rise atomically. A spatially magnificent wine of sugars not yet clarified and an acquired taste not quite elucidated. A taste of an ancient kind. Drink 2015-2035.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Marno-Calcaire/Marl-Limestone (Altenberg de Bergheim, Clos Hauserer, Eichberg, Hengst, Kappelweg de Rorschwihr, Mambourg, Mandelberg, Osterberg, Pfersigberg, Sonnenglanz, Steingrubler)

Marcel Deiss Schoffweg “Le Chemins Des Brebis” 2010, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $60.95, WineAlign)

A pulsating and metallic, mineral streak turns the screws directly through this spirited Bergheim. From Schoffweg, one of nine Deiss Premier Crus planted to Riesling and Pinots. A pour at Domaine Stentz Buecher from fellow winemaker Carolyn Sipp simulates a trip, to stand upon a scree of calcaire, the earth below a mirror, reflecting above a multitude of stars. “He’s a character,” smiles Sipp, “and perhaps even he does not know the actual blend.” The amalgamate is surely Riesling dominant, at least in this impetuous ’10, a savant of fleshy breadth and caracoling acidity. The Schoffweg does not sprint in any direction. It is purposed and precise, geometric, linear and prolonging of the Deiss magic. This is a different piece of cake, an ulterior approach to assemblage, “a bigger better slice” of Alsace. It should not be missed.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $114.95, WineAlign)

In a select portfolio tasting that includes a trio of highly mineral yet approachable 2010’s (Rotenberg, Schoffberg and Schoenenbourg), the ’11 Mambourg stands out for its barbarous youth. It seems purposely reductive and strobes like a hyper-intensified beacon. Rigid, reserved and unforgiving, the Mambourg is also dense and viscous. Acts of propellant and wet concrete circulate in the tank, compress and further the dangerous liaison. This is a brooding Deiss, so different than the jurassic citrus from Rotenberg, the terroir monster in Schoffberg and the weight of Schoenenbourg. In a field of supervised beauty, the Mambourg may seem like punishment but there can be no denying the attraction. Five years will alter the laws of its physics and soften its biology. The difficult childhood will be forgotten. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Langenberg “La Longue Colline” 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $48.95, WineAlign)

Rogue Alsace, classic Deiss five varietal field blend specific to one hangout. The steep, terraced, granite Langenberg, terroir from Saint Hippolyte. Deiss coaxes, expects and demands precocious behaviour from four supporting varieties to lift and place the Riesling, with the intent being a result in “salty symphony.” This is approachable, something 2011 could not have been easy to accomplish. The accents are spice, sapidity and acidity, from the granite, for the people. Isn’t this what a mischievous brew should be about? Drink 2015-2022. Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Léon Beyer Riesling Cuvée Des Comtes D’Eguisheim 1985, Alsace, France (316174, $50.00, WineAlign)

I wonder is any Alsace Riesling sublimates history, religion and occupation more than Cuvée Des Comtes D’eguisheim. It breathes the past; of popes, Augustinians of Marbach, Benedictines of Ebersmunster, Cistercians of Paris and Dominicans of Colmar. From the limestone-clay for the most part of the Grand Cru Pfersigberg and only produced in exceptional vintages. In 1985 low yields, same for botrytis and then 29 years of low and slow maturation. In 2014, is the herbal, aromatic, limestone salinity a case of vineyards, grape or evolution? All of the above but time is in charge. It has evolved exactly as it should, as its makers would have wished for. It is ready to drink. The defined minerality, with fresh lemon and a struck flint spark has rounded out, without the need for sugar. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @TandemSelection

Charles Baur Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

Arnaud Baur understands his place and his family’s position in the Alsace continuum. “You can make a mistake and you can still lose the game.” His use of entendre is subconsciously brilliant. In 2009 the warmth went on seemingly forever and so Baur did not even bother trying to make a dry Riesling.  “We really respect the vintage,” says Arnaud. Meanwhile at 18 g/L RS and 7.0 g/L TA the balance is struck. Many grapes were dried by the sun, ripeness was rampant, flavours travelled to tropical and acidity went lemon linear. The 14.2 per cent alcohol concludes these activities. Matched with foie gras, the vintage is marinated and married. There is certainly some crème fraîche on the nose and the wine plays a beautiful, funky beat. As much fun and quivering vibration as you will find in Alsace Marno-Calcaire. Drink 2015-2024.  Tasted June 2014

Dinner wines at L'Epicurien, Colmar

Dinner wines at L’Epicurien, Colmar

Charles Baur Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2007, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

A good vintage for Riesling and considering the heat, an even better one for Gewürztraminer. The vineyard offers 50-70cm of clay atop Jurassic yellow limestone where roots can penetrate the rock. They suck the life into this enzymatic white. This, of digestibility, “a wine you don’t want to drink two glasses of, but three.” Delicious, clean, precise Gewürz that Mr. Baur recommends you “drink moderately, but drink a lot.” Arnaud is very proud of this ’07, for good reason. Two actually. Balance and length. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2013, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711, WineAlign)

Tasted not long after bottling, the yet labeled ’13 is drawn from a vintage with a touch of botrytis. “We don’t sell too much of this,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Along with the sweet entry there are herbs and some spice, in layers upon layers. Almost savoury, this interest lies in the interchange between sweet and savour, with stone fruit (peach and apricot) elevated by a feeling of fumée. A playful, postmodernist style of short fiction. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711WineAlign)

In 2008 the brothers Barthelmé used the Hengst’s strength and the vintage to fashion a remarkable Pinot Gris. It is blessed of antiquity, like concrete to bitters, with power, tension and a posit tub between fruit and sugar. At 34 g/L RS and 7.6 g/L TA there is enough centrifuge to whirl, whorl and pop, culminating in a healthy alcohol at 14 per cent. Quite the reductive Pinot Gris, to this day, with a sweetness that is manifested in mineral flavours, glazed in crushed rocks. “It smells like mushroom you threw into a dead fire,” notes Fred Fortin. This is the bomb. Needs four more years to develop another gear. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Steingrubler 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

From marly-limestone-sandstone, “a fa-bulous terroir,” says Maurice with a smile. The “stone carrier wagon” is mostly calcaire, especially in the middle slope. This has a roundness, an approachability. It really is clean, clean, Gewürztraminer. It’s erotic, gorgeous, certainly not slutty or pornographic. The colder limestone preserves the freshness, with a need for magnesium, to cool the factor further and to develop the terpenes. Gelid and stone cold cool wine. Drink 2018-2035.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Bott Geyl Riesling Grand Cru Mandelberg 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

The Mandelberg receives the early morning sun and so this Grand Cru is an early ripener and the first of the Bott-Geyls to be picked. The added warmth of 2010 introduced noble rot into a vineyard that often avoids it so the residual sugar here is elevated to an off-dry (even for Alsace) number of 30 g/L. The rush to pick in this case preserved the natural acidity, allowing the flint to speak. Additional notes of cream cheese and formidable dry extract have helped to balance the sweetness. Truly exceptional Riesling from Christophe Bott-Geyl. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @bott_geyl  @DanielBeiles

  1. Calcaro-gréseux/Limestone-Sandstone (Bergweingarten, Zinkoepfle)

Pierre Frick Sylvaner Bergweingarten 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

The vines of southeast exposure are in the 35 year-old range for this Vin moelleux, “young vines” says Jean-Pierre Frick. “I am a defender of Sylvaner.” This ’10 is freshly opened, as opposed to the ’09 poured after sitting open a week. That ’09’s healthy amount of noble rot is not repeated in this ’10, what Frick refers to as “a funny wine.” A two year fermentation and a potential for 17 per cent alcohol (it’s actually in the 14-15 range), a touch of spritz and no sulphur means it goes it alone, natural, naked, innocent. It’s a passionate, iconoclastic Sylvaner, distilled and concentrated from and in lemon/lime. It may carry 53 g/L of sugar but it also totes huge acidity. Enamel stripping acidity. Full of energy, that is its calling, its niche, its category. The honey is pure and despite the level of alcohol it’s as though it has never actually fermented. Natural winemaking at the apex, not out of intent but from a base and simply purposed necessity. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @LeCavisteTO

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

  1. Sablo-Argileux/Sandy-Clay (Schlossberg)

Domaine Albert Mann Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ 11967751 $48.25, WineAlign)

What a fantastic expression of the Schlossberg, like a cold granite countertop. A Riesling that tells you what is essentiality in granite from what you thought might be the sensation of petrol. Full output of crushed stone, flint and magnesium, but never petrol. Now just beginning to enter its gold stage, just beginning to warm up, in energy, in the sound of the alarm clock. “You can almost see the rock breaking and the smoke rising out,” remarks Eleven Madison Park’s Jonathan Ross. A definitive sketch with a 12 g/L sugar quotient lost in the structure of its terroir. A Schlossberg a day keeps the doctor away. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Related – Arch classic Alsace at Domaine Weinbach

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Argilo-calcaro-gréseux/Clay-Limestone-Sandstone (Goldert, Vorbourg)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011), Alsace, France (Winery)

“He has fermented five years,” says Jean-Pierre Frick, stone faced, matter of factly. “That’s how long he took.” Here, one of the most impossible, idiosyncratic and unusual wines made anywhere in the world. On on hand it’s a strange but beautiful experiment. On another there can be no logical explanation as to why one would bother. The third makes perfect sense; allowing a wine to ferment at its own speed, advocate for itself and become what it inherently wanted to be. Auxerrois with a little bit of sweetness (16 g/L RS) and a kindred spirit to the Jura (and with a potential of 15 per cent alcohol). This is drawn from the lieu-dit terroir Krottenfues, of marl-sandstone soils in the hills above the Grand Cru Vorbourg. Tasting this wine is like slumbering through a murky and demurred dream. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

  1. Argilo-calcaire/Clay-Limestone (Eichberg, Engelberg, Kanzlernerg, Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr, Steinert)

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Blanc Terroir 2011, Alsace, France (BCLDB 414557 $15.79, WineAlign)

From 35 year-old vines on Eguisheim’s argilo-calcaire slopes with straight out acidity, trailed by earth-driven fruit. Less floral than some and pushed by the mineral. A difficult vintage that saw a full heat spike to cause a mid-palate grape unction. Pinot Blanc with a late vintage complex because of that sun on the mid slope. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Gris Terroir 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $22.99, WineAlign)

From chalk and clay soils surrounding the Eichberg Grand Cru, this is a decidedly terroir-driven style and far from overripe. In fact, Philippe Zinck is adamant about picking time, especially with Pinot Gris. “The most tricky grape to harvest in Alsace,” he tells me. So hard to get serious structure and many growers are duped by high brix. Philippe tells of the 24-hour varietal picking window, the “D-Day” grape. Zinck’s ’12 is pure, balanced and bound by its earthy character. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Pierre Frick Muscat Grand Cru Steinert Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

“I like acidity, whoo-ahh,” says Pierre Frick, dry as Monsieur Ivan. The sugar on top of acidity here, it’s exciting. This one is a gift from nature, for culture. So interesting, a dream, a story. This has a citrus sweetness, telling a story never before experienced. There’s a depth of reduced apricot syrup, pure, natural, holy. “Tell no one. They’ll explain everything.” Drink 2015-2040.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Volcano-gréseux/Volcanic sandstone (Kitterlé, Muenchberg)

Pierre Frick Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 1992, Alsace, France (Winery)

From Argilo-Calcaire vineyards flanking the Rot Murlé, at a time when a minor amount of sulphuring was employed (1999 was their first sulphur-free vintage). Was Demeter certified, in 1992! This is all about intensity and acidity. An incredibly natural dessert wine, upwards of 150 g/L RS but balanced by nearly 10 g/L TA. The power is relentless, the finish on the road to never-ending. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Domaine Ostertag Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Muenchberg 1996, Alsace, France (Agent, $65, WineAlign)

From clay and limestone, fully aged in barrel, taking, sending and stratifying in and away from its own and everyone else’s comfort zone. Only the best barrels would do and yet the quality of the wood thought aside, this is Ostertag’s unique and fully autocratic take on Tokay-PG. Stands out with a structure wholly singular for the overall prefecture, with a twenty year note of white truffle, handled and enhanced by the wood maturation. Yellow fruits persist as if they were picked just yesterday but the glass is commandeered by the complex funk. It’s nearly outrageous, bracing and yet the flavour urged on by the aromatics return to their youth. To citron, ginger and tropical unction. This is oscillating and magnificent. Drink 2015-2026. Tasted June 2014  @TheLivingVine

  1. Argilo-Granitique/Clay-Granite (Kaefferkopf, Sonnenberg)

Audrey et Christian Binner Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010, Alsace France (Winery)

A blend of Gewürztraminer (60 per cent), Riesling (30) and Muscat (10) that spent two years in foudres. Christian has no time for technicalities, specs and conventions. “I just make wine.” At 13.5 per cent alcohol and 20 g/L RS the expectation would be vitality and striking lines but it’s really quite oxidative, natural and nearly orange. “But it’s OK. It’s the life,” he adds. An acquired, unique and at times extraordinary taste, complex, demanding, like Frick but further down a certain line. “For me, to be a great Alsace wine, it must be easy to drink. You have to pout it in your body.” Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Related – Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

  1. Volcanique/Clay-Granite (Rangen)

Related – Colmar and the volcano: Domaine Schoffit

  1. Marno-Calcaire-gréseux/Marl- Limestone-Sandstone (AltenbourgKirchberg de Ribeauvillé)
  1. Volcano-sédiment/Volcanic Sediment (Rangen)
  1. Graves du quaternaire/Alluvial (Herrenweg de Turckheim)

Related – The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Roche Volcanique/Volcanic rocks (Rangen de Thann)
  1. Marno-gypseux/Marl-gypsum (Schoenenbourg)
Jean Boxler, June 2014

Jean Boxler, June 2014

You see, no wine is poured, tasted and deliberated over without the introduction of the soil (or lack thereof) from which it came. To confine any study to just the Grand Cru would do the entire region an injustice. Though the original 1975 appellative system set out to define the plots of highest quality and esteem, many wines not classified GC are fashioned from terroir comingling with, surrounding, located next or adjacent to a vineyard called Grand Cru. Serious consideration is being given by CIVA and the winemakers to establish a Premier Cru and Villages system. While this will certainly increase levels of definition and understanding for Alsace, it may also disregard some quality wines, not to mention further alienate some producers whose artisanal and progressive wines go against the norm. A further consequence may result in elevating some average wines currently labeled Grand Cru into undeserved stratospheres.

Related – Trimbach, rhythm and soul

The Grand Cru story is heavy but not everything. Rarely has there been witnessed (outside of Burgundy) the kind of symbiotic relationship between vineyard and village. Perfect examples are those like Schlossberg and Furstentum with Kintzheim, Sommerberg and Niedermorschwihr, Hengst and Wintzenheim, Brand and Turckheim or Steingrübler and Wettolsheim. Domaine Weinbach’s cellars sit across and just down the road from both Kitzheim and Kayserberg. Albert Boxler’s cellar is right in the fairy tale town of Niedermorschwihr, just like Albert Mann’s location in Wettlosheim.

It is time, finally and thankfully, for a return to the reason for such a rambling on. With respect to the “cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine” being “necessary and fundamental,” examples tasted in June of 2014 indicate that the notion of terroir grows from nature and is nurtured by the vigneron. These 25 wines surmise and summarize, either by connecting the dotted lines of constellatory figuration or by Sudoku interconnectivity, the imaginable chronicle that is Alsace.

Good to go!



Whites after Labour Day

September salad

September salad

What is the only way to tell the difference between a wine geek and a wine snob? A geek will not drink just anything but will taste everything. In the name of science, of course.

Silly high society rules, like not drinking whites after Labour Day are the wine equivalent of late 19th century fashion precepts and as ridiculous as they may seem, you just can’t make this shit up. Just ask Google.

The first VINTAGES release of the new year (on the Hebrew calendar) or depending on your angle, the last of the summer (preceding Labour Day), is rich with excellent whites. There are 15 choices from September 5th that I highly recommend. Get them while they and it, are hot.

From left to right: Old Vines In Young Hands White 201, Dr. L Dry Riesling 2014, Domaine La Haute Févrie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, Flat Rock Riesling 2014, Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2014 and Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: Old Vines In Young Hands White 201, Dr. L Dry Riesling 2014, Domaine La Haute Févrie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, Flat Rock Riesling 2014, Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2014 and Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Old Vines In Young Hands White 2013, Doc Douro, Portugal (424374, $12.95, WineAlign)

Young winemakers, a country’s support, a new vernacular, simplicity and imaging in ode to old ways. The packaging and the intent is spot on. The wine follows suit. Arid, saline, savoury and elemental, like QBA Riesling or Peloponnese Kidonitsa. I’m digging and buying the style, both in clean winemaking and in appeal to a whole new world. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @MichaelAndBrand  @winesportugalCA

Dr. L Dry Riesling 2014, Qualitätswein, Mosel, Germany (409680, $13.95, WineAlign)

Another sock it to me Dr. L, straight up, spot on, exactly what it purports to be. General index of Riesling expression. Read it, use it as a reference, calibrate your palate to where you want to go. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted August 2015  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines  

Domaine La Haute Févrie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Ac Loire, France (390625, $13.95, WineAlign)

Perfectly, typically, ostensibly and decidedly Melon for what it’s worth. The sea, its salt, a briny shell and crisp acidity for what ails. Simple, slightly spritzy, a touch balmy and ultimately refined, when cooled, with a mess of sea creatures. Odelay, “of elevator bones and your whip-flash tones.” Where it’s at. At your beck and call Muscadet. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @LoireValleyWine  @oenophilia1

Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Wo Elgin, South Africa (203877, $14.95, WineAlign)

Striking Sauvignon Blanc, minted by a flinty beginning, with perhaps the highest discernible level of sweet gooseberry on the nose that has ever been measured by the olfactometer. Hard to imagine such an inexpensive Elgin white to be so dramatically forthright in smile and open arms. Grapefruit of the pinkest, ripest most juicy crunch burst into flame flavours well-defined, not overbearing, properly bitter and in reprise, like a bite into juicy citrus with just perfectly ripe acidity. A new benchmark for value Sauvignon Blanc in South Africa. Raises the bar folks. Look to Elgin. Ask the producers to plant more. Impossibly long SB finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @ThelemaWines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @EpicW_S

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

As good as 2013 is a vintage for Niagara Chardonnay, relatively speaking it may be an even bigger quality boon for the aromatic Musqué. The level of depth, breadth and weight in this Cave Spring is new and improved. The florals are heightened, as if bottled in eau de. The parfum is an intoxicant and the flavours compressed, like roll up, like a Musqué napolean, of peach, plum and pear. Who knew? A fall necessity. Better than before. Drink 2015-2017.  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

From my earlier note of May 2o15:

Produced from the 77 clone, the vintage has heightened the high herbal and feigned sweetness aromatic pastis. The palate is extraordinarily viscous, with Yellow Muscat and Gewürztraminer attributes, not so out of the ordinary considering Cave Spring’s older world execution. Drives from lemon to mandarin, through almond pit and into peach. Always solid Musqué.
Last tasted May 2015

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

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

Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2014, Pdo Santorini, Greece (47985, $18.95, WineAlign)

A weighty Assyrtiko of breadth and gumption. The varietal salinity found virtually nowhere else is omnipresent and yet different of fruit in the hands of Boutari. Opulence beyond the Santorini norm and yet held back as if to say, “not yet, not yet.” There is a cool, wet patina as if by ruins slowly grown over at the bottom of the sea. A white swath of scraped rock paints the middle palate and is not removable. Can’t go wrong with a chilled bottle and a gaggle of calamari on the grill. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @Santoriniwines

Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Burgundy, France (424655, $19.95, WineAlign)

Flint meets reduction in a Saint Bris plugged in both ways, AC/DC. Sauvignon Blanc of dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Quite savoury, spicy and cool up the nose like mint and eucalyptus ointment. Serious and strong, like Aligoté but with more verve and natural musculature. No shrinker here and very long, juicy and crazy for acidity. Such expression is rare for the hallowed if needfully paid further attention appellation. Show up anytime at my place with a bottle of Saint Bris, “We’ll have ourselves a ball.” Drink 2015-2018. Tasted August 2015  @BourgogneWines  @VinexxCanada

From left to right: Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009, Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013, Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012 and Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne 2005

From left to right: Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009, Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013, Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012 and Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne 2005

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

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

Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (409680, $21.95, WineAlign)

Blue slate in deep soil and steep, southwest-facing slopes elucidate the Graacher Himmelreich enterprise, quite possibly the most personal vineyard in the Mosel. Autonomy, astronomy, autocratic assuage and elemental tyranny are not for the Riesling faint of benevolence. The Studert Prüm Spätlese from the GH vineyard in 2009 is so very stubborn, stark and austere like matches struck on rocks, rocketing flares as if in a sci-fi action scene. It is possessive of a full, sweet and medicinal palate and enough energy if not the most balancing of acidities ever paired with the flint and the petrol. Good bitters and exceptional length will lead to many years of marbling evolution. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted August 2015  @StudertPruem  

Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (424648, $22.95, WineAlign)

If a Niagara Sauvignon Blanc could be endeared with the term ‘calcaire,’ Rene Van Ede’s Limestone Vineyard would lead the shortlist, not only because of the eponymous vineyard but because it oozes of the rock’s chalky chafe. Plenty of orchard fruit belies the lime, in an unoaked Chardonnay way and the wine makes full use of limestone’s hematic shed. This is one of the most stylish Sauvignon Blancs made in Canada, even if the average consumer were not able to recognize it as such. A winemaker from Sancerre would know it immediately and intuitively. Here a crushed reef of limestone memory permeates the wine from beginning to end. One of the more outstanding Sauvignon Blancs made in Ontario to date.  Tasted January 2015   @RedstoneWines

Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Ac Alsace Grand Cru, France (686451, $24.95, WineAlign)

Arid and direct, quite an ascending Pinot Gris, with almost unfindable residual and yet not the most distinct Grand Cru you are ever going to ponder. Has more weight and sweetness on the palate which tends to lychee, pineapple, apricot and lemon pith. Proper old school Mambourg. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @ProfileWineGrp

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

A best of both worlds Chardonnay; indicative of the giving vintage (in quality, not quantity, prestige, not prosper) and an Estate, house style with some cosmetics to enhance the consequence. Really typifies and explains what a Marlize Beyers Chardonnay is. Elegant, stylish, with perfect skin, tones, understated beauty and the soft vernacular of few yet precise words. The texture and feel of this Chardonnay is downy, lacey and so very understated. You simply can’t take your eyes off its charms and your palate away from its soft feel. A wine of character and poise. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @LeSommelierWine

Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (416057, $38.95, WineAlign)

Prudently flinty Vau de Vey, full of rocks, stones, cragges, broken pieces and slices of pure limestone. Such struck sensation could go too far but here it rises and lingers, tickles, fancies and plays, never bothering or acting with distraction. Quite remarkable and gentle of handling. Softer on the palate but still the limestone beats, with bitters. Just not enough circulating acidity in the end. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted August 2015  @DomaineLaroche  @BIVBChablis  @Select_Wines

Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne 2005, With Gift Box, Ac Champagne, France (280461, $219.95, WineAlign)

Surprisingly waxing en route to the oxidative side yet suspended in crystal animation. Apperceive the level of concentration, finesse and poise, a trinity of DPVBC not to be tested. These are serious, brooding, executively organized and effected bubbles. They are the real deal and they are not for everyman, either by price or for pleasure. They do not effect change or progress but they do speak of what has been, has worked and will not soon see any arresting waver. Another what it is moment in iconic Champagne. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted August 2015  @MoetUSA  @ChartonHobbs  @Champagne  @ChampagneBureau

Good to go!