Bouillabaisse, paella and 32 wines

Chiado's Bouillabaisse

Chiado’s Bouillabaisse

No words. No tasting notes. Just the wines. What happens at WineAlign‘s #waxmas14 stays at Waxmas14. I will say this. There was music.

Waxmas Whites

Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru La Moutonne 1996, Burgundy, France

Vergelegen G.V.B. White 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa

René Muré Riesling Clos Saint-Landelin 2008, Alsace, France

R. López de Heredia Viña Tondoni Reserva 1999, Rioja, Spain

Waxmas Whites

Waxmas Whites

Four More Whites

Domaine de Beaurenard Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2009, Rhône Valley, France

Mendel Sémillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina

Quinta de Soalheiro Alvarinho 2012, Vinho Verde, Portugal

Pelle Pince Szt. Tamás Furmint 2012, Hungary

Four More Whites

Four More Whites

Eclectic Blancs

Exultet Estates The Blessed 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2003, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Pierre Frick Pinot Blanc de Noir 2006, Alsace, France

Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Prädikatswein, Germany

Eclectic Blancs

Eclectic Blancs

The Stealth Reds

Domaine Alary, Cairanne L’Exclus d’Alary 2012, Cairanne, Rhône Valley, France

Bodega Chacra Pinot Noir Cincuenta y Cinco 2012, Patagonia, Argentina

Bodegas Poesia 2010, Mendoza, Argentina

Thibault Liger-Belair Moulin a Vent, Vieilles Vignes 2011, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France

The Stealth Reds

The Stealth Reds

Big Red Movements

Colinas De São Lourenço Principal Reserva 2007, Bairrada, Portugal

Brodie Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Martinborough, New Zealand

Re Manfredi Aglianico Del Vulture 2000, Campania, Italy

Domaine Jean Foillard Morgon Côte de Py 2011, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France

Big Red Movements

Big Red Movements

Seriously Red

Azienda Agricola Cos Cerasuolo Di Vittorio Classico 2008, DOCG Sicily, Italy

Penfolds Cabernet Shiraz Bin 389 1995, South Australia, Australia

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Napa Valley, California

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino 2004, Tuscany, Italy

Seriously Red

Seriously Red

The Grace of Transition

Domaine Baud Crémant du Jura Brut Sauvage, Jura, France

Vidonia Listan Blanco Vinas Viejas 2012, Valle de la Orotava, Spain

Pazo Pondal Albariño 2012, D.O. Rias Baixas, Spain

Hidden Bench Pinot Noir Felseck Vineyard 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario

The Grace of Transition

The Grace of Transition

Chef Michael Pataran’s Paella

Chef Michael Pataran's Paella

Chef Michael Pataran’s Paella

And in the End

Domaine Hatzidakis Assyrtiko de Mylos Vieilles Vignes 2011, Santorini, Greece

Cave de Tain l’Hermitage Hermitage Gambert de Loche 1998, Northern Rhône, France

Suertes del Marques El Esquilon 2012, Valle de la Orotava, Spain

Azienda Agricola Brezza Giacomo & Figli Cannubi 1989, Piedmont, Italy

And in the End

The love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

Gold Medal Plate, Toronto 2014: Canoe's Chef John Horne Grandview Short Ribs Glazd with Tree Syrups (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal winning plate, Gold Medal Plates, Toronto 2014: Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

When head judge David Lawrason asked me to join him and fellow WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato to preside over the wines at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, I paused for a brief moment. I knew right away the answer was an emphatic yes but I had to breathe in the possibilities. One: Sample 10 wondrous culinary creations by 10 sacrosanct chefs. Two: Spend an evening with Canadian Olympic medallists and recording artists. Three: Taste and judge the sagacious efforts by some of Ontario’s most venerated winemakers.

Gold Medal Plates was founded in 2003 and is so much more than an organization. It is a Canadian institution. The primary goal of the coast to coast galas are to “celebrate Canadian excellence in food, wine, athletic achievement and entertainment.” The tour makes stops in 11 Canadian cities and raises funds for the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support Olympic athletes. Net proceeds are donated to support high performance programs such as Own The Podium. To date over $8.2 million has been raised. (Update: Gold Medal Plates tweeted on December 10th that the number is now $9.5 million).

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter<br />  (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In each city the invited chefs prepare a regional dish and in Toronto, more than 700 people tasted through a complex variety of creations. The gold medal chef in each city goes on to compete at the Gold Medal Plates Finale at the Canadian Culinary Championships. In 2015 the host will be Kelowna, British Columbia on February 6 and 7. The term “career changer” is used to describe the chef who is crowned tops in Canada.

With unprecedented support from the event’s title sponsor Deloitte, the Toronto event was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Wednesday, November 12, 2014. The culinary judging was headed up by former Toronto Life Magazine food critic James Chatto. Joining Mr. Chatto were chef/author Sasha Chapman, chef/TV personality Christine Cushing, author/CBC radio host Anita Stewart, George Brown chef school’s John Higgins and the 2013 Canadian Culinary Champion Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant.

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

At the Toronto event, emcee skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. The entertainment on stage was an all-star Canadian band led by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. Cuddy was joined by The Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Roberstson, Barney Bentall, 5440’s Neil OsborneDanny Michel, Anne Lindsay and the astoundingly soulful guitarist Colin Cripps.

Slient auction signed guitar

Slient auction signed guitar

The plates in Toronto were really quite incredible. Canoe’s Chef John Horne was the gold medal winner. His Grandview Farms Short Ribs glazed with tree syrups was a ground breaker, an original composition of intrigue, a wild sequestered spot of gastronomy. The other plates were exceptional, each in their own right, but chef Horne travelled to a zone alone. Congratulations Chef.

Gold Medal Plates wines (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates wines
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In David Lawrason’s recap to the audience, he noted how close the wine judging really was. “It was the highest quality level from bottle to bottle I have seen in the country this year, making the judging of the Best of Show Award rather tough. But when each judged ranked their top five, the same five wines showed up. It was then the ordering that became difficult, and only two points separated first and second place.” In the end we chose Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011 as the Gold Medal winning wine. Hardie’s take on Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir is pure, complex and made with a deft, hands-off approach.

The wines ware all impressive, each and every one. The Hidden Bench approach on a Bordeaux-styled white is as impressive as any that have come before it, which is why the Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 finished a very close second, taking home the Silver Medal. Syrah in the hands of winemaker Rob Power is a beautiful thing indeed. Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012 was the Bronze Medal winner. Pinot Noir by Leaning Post and Cabernet Franc by Rosewood Estates were fractional points behind.

David, Sara and I tasted and judged 12 wines, 10 of which were paired to the 10 chef’s plates. Here are the tasting notes and pairings.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Peller Estates Baco Noir Private Reserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $17.95)

High acidity, negligible tannin and no surprise, the black burn of charcoal crushed, tarry fruit. A wallop of pepper for accented measure stings as per the effect of a Rhône, so like Syrah this is a good example of Baco. An airplane taxiing down a tobacco road. “But it’s home, the only life (its) ever known.” Definitely Baco.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Peller Estates Chardonnay Private Reserve  2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like bottled pastry, sweet, soft apples baking. Warm wafting aromatics, mild toast and caramelizing butter, effectively creamy and palate coating. Evolved to the point of full integration and absolute oak resolution. Drink now.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Creekside Estates Syrah Iconoclast 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $18.05) Paired with Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Farms Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups

Winemaker Rob Power is on the fast track (if he is not there already) at becoming the King of Syrah in Ontario. The Queenston Road vineyard helps. Years of acumen development is key. Passion for the Rhône and Niagara’s climatic and stylistic kinship wraps the package. A ton of effort goes into the production of this $19 wine. The methodology here differs greatly from the co-fermented two-clone meets Viognier (and twice the price) Brokenpress Syrah. Here the fruit from three vineyards (including the Queenston Road) were fermented separately in stainless steel tanks and 1 tonne fruit bins. Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel where the wine aged for 12 months. The (30 percent new) barrel mix is (53 per cent) American, (42) French and (five) Hungarian. The result? In Rob Power’s hands, you can take Syrah out of the Rhône and Australia but you can’t take the cool climate out of the Syrah. Meat, pepper and smoke pique, pinch and pop. Pow! A totem in proclivity for the variety. The water is at times dishy but the fruit swells and fills in every gap.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @CreeksideWine

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign) Paired with Bestellen’s Chef Rob Rossi’s 60 Day Dry-Aged Beef Crudo, B.C. Pine Mushrooms, Concord Grape Mustard and Truffle Sauce

Spice and rich fruit head straight to Gamay welkin derived direct from the soil’s core, of Sandstone, Schwenker and the winery’s home vineyard at Fourth Avenue. Swirl away the gathered must and moss to reveal more Cru fruit than you can shake a stirring rod at. Such verve, said grit, such persistence. The thing about Gamay is, “if you want inside of her, well boy you better make her a raspberry swirl.” 13th Street has certainly made the raspberry sing in the ’12 Gamay so “raspberry swirl, mmm let’s go.”  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @13thStreetWines

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign) Paired with Splendido’s Chef Victor Barry’s Smoked Rocky Point Oyster, Yukon Gold Potato and Chive

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto November 2014  @HiddenBench

Marben Restaurant's Chef Rob Bragagnolo's Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond (c) Michael Godel

Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond
(c) Michael Godel

Rosewood Estates Cabernet Franc Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $26.20, WineAlign) Paired with Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond

From fruit grown on the Estate’s Beamsville Bench (Renaceau) vineyard. As per the house directive, this is not oak shy. So as the house finds collective varietal success from inside a barrel, the Origin Cabernet Franc 2012 falls into line. Fruit is bright and sour-edged, softened, filled in and tempered by wood. Lush berries and plums, herbs and did I mention oak? A roasted kind of sweetness comes wafting and pan-dripping in, with currants, mint and eucalyptus with a far away look. Intensely modish CF, with a swath of chocolate, springy and extensible length.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.20) Paired with Buca’s Chef Rob Gentile’s Ravioli alla Tonnara, Tuna Blood Pasta, Tuna N’duja and Stracciatella Cheese

The Chardonnay formerly known as Renaceau Estate Vineyard, followed by Reserve and now Origin continues to hail from the Beamsville locale and persists as one of the most viscous and rich of its ilk. The glaring mismatch in sugar (20.8 g/L) and acidity (1.8 g/L) could spell disaster but to the contrary, this finds its tongue. Quite drawn, in a southern sort of lobster dipped in butter drawl. Unrequited malo fermentative linguistics suppress any tension that might distract from the bounty of warm vintage, perfectly ripe fruit smothered in a creamy lather of French oak (nine months in 50% new and 50% seasoned).  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

The Farm Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) Paired with Café Boulud’s Chef Tyler Shedden’s Haida Gwaii Pink Salmon, Preserved Porcini Mushroom, Nasturtium and Smoked Sabayon

Those familiar with the Neudorf farm fruit know it well because of the single vineyard Pinot Noir “La Petite Colline” made by then Le Clos Jordanne winemaker Thomas Bachelder and carried forth by Sébastien Jacquey. Most of the harvest was then scooped up by Bachelder’s newest Niagara venture with some Quebec buddies at Domaine Queylus. In 2012 the Neudorf family decided to allocate a small commercial gifting of their own minuscule production of Estate Pinot Noir. Eleven restaurants in Southern Ontario carry this luxurious and humid red. The aromatics are pure Neudorf; a blackberry-rapt silt and clay-earth mingle with a sideshow of coated limestone primer. Just a smidgen past ripe, this blood pedigree redaction has plenty of charm if less earnest finesse than the Bachelder siphoned bottles.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

Langdon Hall's Chef Jason Bangerter's Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.20, WineAlign) Paired with Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root

One year later and in conjunction with stopping to think about them (other vintages and other reds at #GMP2014), the most terroir and aromatic focus comes from Ilya Senchuk’s ’10. Cherry, pomegranate and earth. Only Lowrey goes deep like this. Such a palate refresher. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these two mano a mano, in my life is a rubber soul stamp. “All these places have their moments.” 125 cases.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @LeaningPostWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Drake Hotel’s Chef Alexandra Feswick’s Beef Tongue, Plums and Almonds

The tension in the ’11 Niagara Pinot is palpable, ongoing and yet, as noted previously, not like it used to be. Expertly judged in a major key of complexity. Like candied nuts strung along a chain of tannin. Layers of depth and active ingredients. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention. Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @normhardie

The Chase's Chef Michael Steh's Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce (c) Michael Godel

The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce
(c) Michael Godel

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce

Tropical notes are currently blanketing the radar on the long flight to future decades. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus.” From my earlier, September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.” Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

The Shangri-La Hotel's Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion (c) Ronald Ng Photography

The Shangri-La Hotel’s Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Shangri-La Hotel’s Chef Damon Campbell’s Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion

There is still a tough outer layer to crack. A poem of many stanzas has only just begun. Mute yet delicate, the stratified vineyard is the Poetica’s poetry; tight, yet forwardly futuristic towards the ephemeral and the aerified. From my earlier July 2014 note: “Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.” From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @SouthbrookWine  @thesirengroup

Life is a Cabernet

The closures of Plumpjack

The closures of Plumpjack

The wineries of Plumpjack, Cade and Odette bring three distinct Napa Valley growing areas together; Oakville, Howell Mountain and the Silverado Trail. When the unified program cascades into town it has a tremendous evangelical effect, proselytizing many. Though well-known and regarded California grape varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah are part of the PCO output, that stalwart varietal behemoth called Cabernet Sauvignon stands alone. For this group of Napa wineries, life is a Cabernet.

Plumpjack is the heart and soul of the operation. In 2015 the Oakville outfit will celebrate 20 years of collocating wines from plots of Napa significance. In a universe steeped in the paradox of what was Bordeaux and is now California, Plumpjack makes work in fractive reflection of a vineyard’s take on that paradox. The estate’s 42 acres are nestled between the foothills of the Vaca mountain range and the Napa River flood zone. Cade works with Howell Mountain’s fog on 54 acres above the valley. The extremes of temperature and moisture do for Cade like the Petaluma Gap ushers to Sonoma but with more consistency from vintage to vintage. On Howell Mountain, balance is everything. Odette is the new, wunderkind venture, with Jeff Owens as winemaker, spiraled and sprawled across 54 acres against the Stag’s Leap Palisades knuckled down with all five Bordeaux varietals.

The Napa triumvirate of Plumpjack, Cade and Odette is represented in Ontario by The Vine Agency, a Toronto based wine bureau of authority, rebelliously in focus through the eyes of Rob Groh. Groh is an indefatigable defender of honest juice with a penchant for estate-grown, family procured, characterful wines. He and Derek Kranenborg brought General Manager John Conover to the Distillery District’s Cluny Bistro last month for an intense fixation, mostly and righteously on Cabernet Sauvignon.

From left to right: Adaptation Chardonnay 2011, Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010

From left to right: Adaptation Chardonnay 2011, Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010

Adaptation Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $32.95) Consignment

A full on crème filling feel is awash in tropical nuance. At once young and tender like hearts of palm and then again  like roasted cart nuts and a bonfire on the beach, eventually cooled by palm fronds and prevailing winds. Nothing would suit this better than a suckling pig and a mess of lobsters. Seamless in texture all the way through, finishing with dessert cream and buttery pastry.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Napa Valley, California (325019Agent, $67.00) VINTAGES Classics December 2014

Part Carneros and part St. Helena with the former trumping the latter as this is much cooler and linear, with apples in stereo acidity, cogitated in a self-professed “alternative California style.” Definition: zero malolactic fermentation. This is the second such recent animal (along with Gundlach-Bundschu) though the first Napa to do Ontario in such dissident manner. Feathers a tickle up the olfactory passage and bounds in restless bounce within the walls of the jumpy castle. Not quite indelicate but high-toned at the present time. Such a nimbly carved ride in wild yeast serried within an expressive ferment, with a Fernet note and a request for patience. Really long finish.  Tasted October 2014

Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (353102, $49.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Release November 8, 2014

As a second wine to Plumpjack, Adaptation offers a similar, if less complex mental state to the dean Cabernet. The stress-free vintage gives very ripe, lush and excelling fruit in the throes of oak and circumstance. Tones are bright, aromas defined, with patent black cherry and Cassis. As noted, oak is not unbeknownst but it infuses the fruit with just a little chalk and from a very fine grain. Somewhat savoury sweet currants bring delicate flavour, along with a mild cure in its marbled flesh. Turns devilish with spice box, a drag on a hand rolled cigar and a slice of rye toast, caramelized on the edges. Will adapt to protein, with banter and good cheer.  Tasted October 2014

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $91.95) Consignment

Though prepped by notions of a cooler and later ripening vintage, there is even more savoury, tobacco and cool clime (altitude) aromatics than might have been imagined. This Cade is so very bright in a cherry-plum-pomegranate continuum yet in contrast to a (negatively impacting) sweet-sour-tang drupe. Tends to angles more akin to Tuscan summer savour, like lavender, rosemary, sage, and vanilla. The overall impression to palate is that of a chew of the toffee that might be made by the aromatic combination, or a pull of syrupy tea. In the end there is nothing simple about this thoughtfully crafted Cade.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $78.95) Consignment

Fruit from the Oak Knoll Vineyard etched as ripe a Napa Merlot that can or would ever want to be. That it teeters on the scarp, laughing at the greens, partying with the reds and joking with the blacks, this Merlot is quite righteous in quintessential necessity. It screams fruit, picked just at THE moment. At 15.2 per cent the expectation would be intensity, like a moth with a fatal attraction to a book fire but it manages the sun and ripeness with ease. Drink this now, if you can afford it and wait five more to see where it goes.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Oakville 2007 (screwcap), Napa Valley, California (Winery)

There’s a dusty aromatic feel here with tar, charcoal and the ardor of wet stones roasting in a hot room. The barrel is still speaking this many years on, the fruit lurking, the wood caressing but with a strong and outstretched hand. Dark berries come out of the waft in full play and when tasted, with tobacco and many candied flowers. Very Paulliac. Full warmth, with a texture of cream, vanilla, layer cake and nuzzled by sweet tannins. In spite of the compass it is approachable (stupidly so) and still worthy of a lazy petering for 10 years forward.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Oakville 2007 (cork), Napa Valley, California (Winery)

Less dust but that’s splitting hairs. When making comparisons without the necessity of blind pours the minute distinctions are conjured by plotting and conjecture. Same wood up front, same sweet fruit behind. The texture of cream filled layer cake and some spice with tobacco on the back palate. This is extreme modernity incarnate. It seeks love and love it receives.  Tasted October 2014

Cluny Bistro Octopus

Cluny Bistro Octopus

Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Oakville, Napa Valley (296483, $140.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Release November 22, 2014

Just an incredible crack of aromatics mark what seems like 10-plus minutes of thunder Plumpjack; Spring wildflowers, black raspberry, roasted game and crushed steen as if from Gironde-banked, well-drained gravel, sandy stone and clay soils. Ripe, seamless and nonrigid. “I dare you to smell bell pepper in this,” chides General Manager John Conover. Though 2011 caused some Napa concern, Plumpjack will have had none of its woes and whimpers. The Oakville Cabernet “does this thing she calls the jump back Jack, she’s got the heart of a ballerina.” Dried and fresh herbs define its vintage-related nuance and their herbal presence, etched in balance with well-thought out barrels means “my heart’s wood, she’s a carpenter, she’s an angel in the night, what she does is alright.” Really approachable now, though it will go very long and deep.  Tasted October 2014  @PlumpJackWinery

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010 (cork), Napa Valley (325027, $99.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Release March 15, 2014

As rich and hedonistic as is the animal of Oakville ‘07, this 2010 is the bomb. Pure, clear mountain fruit, unencumbered, free, card-carrying member. Spokesperson and player, cool and collected, conceited, sure, gay, straightforward, then warm and lush again. This has layers and layers of fruit, waves of feigned sweetness, grape tannins interwoven in chains, molecules tumbling over one another. Heartfelt expression creates a massive Howell Mountain impression.  Tasted October 2014

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010 (screwcap), Napa Valley (325027, $99.95, WineAlign)

From a second bottle tasted from screwcap: Just as the comparison of ’07’s revealed, the similarities are just what the wine expects you to find. Large and full of fruit with sweet, integrated and ingratiating tannins. There is actually another level of open window brightness in the Stelvin, but that same (cork closure) spice and high altitude conceit takes the fruit on honeymoon and sexes the hell out of it.  Tasted October 2014

Odette Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Cabernet Stag’s Leap District 2012, Napa Valley (Agent, $145.00) Consignment, February 2015

Here storms in the inaugural vintage, personally carried, delivered and poured by John Conover. The level of purity trumps the rest. The clarity and chaste structure are defined in lines of no blur and no confusion. Full of brisk, red-blooded, indelible ink of a cabaret magician’s brew. Built on axon terminals of mnemonic neurons. Sweetest dewy smells, unreal fruit, remarkable wildflowers – this reminds me of an Ornellaia, an ’01 or and ’11. Essence of just picked berries – strawberry and blackberry, leaves in an instant and an ooze of freshness. Knots of tannin will take 15-20 years to untangle but the fruit is up to every moment of engagement. “It’s only a (Cabernet), old chum. And I love a (Cabernet).”

Good to go!

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Big release, bigger wines

Chicken and beef destined for tortillas

Chicken and beef destined for tortillas

As we creep deeper and deeper into late autumn days, with afternoons bereft of light and evenings full of chill, we begin to search for more than a pipkin of warmth. Wine can fill the void and it is no simple folderol that we seek. The bicameral brain on one lobe wants deep, earthy reds, dynamic and changeless, the other asks for bombs with damp fuses.

But enough about that. Tomorrow marks the VINTAGES November 8th release. One short of the big holiday mess but full of big wines nonetheless. Here are nine to pass the time, to tell the cold to buzz off and to share with an unbridled generosity of spirit.

From left to right: Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Chante Alouettes Pouilly Fumé 201, Michael David 6th Sense Syrah 2012, Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2012

From left to right: Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Chante Alouettes Pouilly Fumé 201, Michael David 6th Sense Syrah 2012, Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2012

Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Alsace, France (392928, $17.95, WineAlign)

From a northern part of Alsace, southwest of Strasbourg comes this epitome of Dry Alsace Riesling, stone cold stoic and bereft. The impossibility of this style is what Alsace does with impunity and propriety; gaseous and aerified without petrol or vitriol. But it will condense and go there after five years time. The quality is excellent for the price, from a limestone and silica lieu-dit just this side short of Grand Cru. Citrus would be the wrong descriptor but it does act like an exuding of citric acid. So stark and beautiful. Such a mineral expression in every fighting sense of the argument. Like chewing on rock salts and dehydrated limestone, the second tablet then dropped into the glass. A famous wine merchant in London sells this for $25 CAN. In Ontario, this is a must purchase by the case.  Tasted October 2014  @HHDImports_Wine  @drinkAlsace

Michael David 6th Sense Syrah 2012, Lodi, California (394395, $24.95, WineAlign)

Considering it’s only $25, this is a screaming deal. The level of quality and concentration, regardless of the excess, is almost impossible. Not so much smelling like Syrah (it is devoid of any sort of roasting or cured meat) but what it lacks in porcine caramelization it makes up for in candied flowers, dense all-day cake and smoked beef ribs. So much rub (with too much brown sugar) needs slow cooking to assimilate, so wait a few years. This reminds me of good value Napa Petite Sirah (no relation) but for Lodi, at this price, this is the finest Syrah to be found. Great acidity, verve, incredulous modernity, unabashed behaviour and high alcohol – but it handles it well.  Tasted October 2014  @MDWinery  @imbibersreport

Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Chante Alouettes Pouilly Fumé 2013, Loire, France (391623, $28.95, WineAlign)

Calm, reserved and intelligent. Just a faint hint of smoke, a whiff or a puff, here today, gone tomorrow.  Glade after a misty rain, glacial till, tangy in very good ways, intense but on the right edge of bearishness. Good quality.  Tasted October 2014  @oenophilia1

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2012, Igt Toscana, Italy (147876, $31.95, WineAlign)

La Difese, “the defences,” is the third wine of Tenuta San Guido and has been produced since 2003. The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent) and Sangiovese (30). Though the price hike is a slight, if splitting hair concern, in 2012 the IGT continues to, as they say, consegnare la merce. The vintage persists in ripe fruit and firm alcohol (14 per cent) but exhibits just the right sort of modernity. Sugars, oak and acidity follow suit, all in check. Smells like all sorts of licorice, below, above and in the ground. A seamless wine, so perfect for pasta and protein, an expatriate grape influenced baby Brunello, in a way, but clean and never gamy. Polished and with a foot entrenched in tradition. A delicious vintage for the Difese.  Tasted October 2014  @Smarent

From left to right: Ontanon Gran Reserva 2001, Churton Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell'annunziata Barolo 2008, Jonata Todos Red 2010, Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne

From left to right: Ontanon Gran Reserva 2001, Churton Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell’annunziata Barolo 2008, Jonata Todos Red 2010, Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne

Ontanon Gran Reserva 2001, Rioja, Spain (939736, $39.95, WineAlign)

A re-taste ups the ante and the score. Here, finally a 2001 Rioja that reeks of the maturity it announces. For a 13 year-old wine it displays all the tertiary components that are in high demand; worn leather, dried fruit, roasted cherries and the demi-glazing bones of a young calf. Imagine this with the finest preparation of ri de veau. Oh baby. Still churning its creamy oak and dried spice accents with some verve and just a wisp of cherry wood smoking in the open air fire pit. Really lovely. From my earlier August 2014 note: “This Tempranillo dominant and Graciano blend is of a funk more sister than brother. Class, breeding and elegance are the call cards, while grace, control and style are her moves. Still, a funk’s a funk, like Thomas East or Gloria Williams. Sister Funk with no words. An all-instrumental Rioja, with old-school rampart fortification, smells of coffee ground through stones and a flowing, dressy, showy and colourful display of fabric and texture. She has a slight temper but so much confidence. A strutting Gran Reserva, in leather boots and tight, curled acidity.  Last tasted November 2014  @OntanonWines  @TandemSelection

Churton Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand (237164, $39.95, WineAlign)

A whole lot more complexity here for $40 than the bulk of Marlborough Pinot Noir – more earth, mineral and biodynamic love are in this bottle with egos checked at the door. Florality trumps varnish, fruit is occupied but always ready to be bitten, crushed rocks are crumbling and bleeding in the bottle. Finesse, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,” regal red fruit and dirt so fine, filtered and sweet. High quality and ageability intuit their philosophy into the practicum because the acidity and tannin are refined, hydrated, yet gritty in their ultra-composed way. Bring on the Petit Manseng.  Tasted October 2014  @LeSommelierWine  @ChurtonWines

Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell’annunziata Barolo 2008, Docg Piedmont, Italy (293761, $51.95, WineAlign)

A most daunting yet approachable Rocche by Settimo, cinnamon splintered and floral spice in a flat out rocking Nebbiolo. With roses and tisane of orange rind mixed with coriander and pungent earth, this has all the aromatics you could dream on, along with a whack of dry, grainy tannin. A most excellent and righteous, properly made, capable of aging for a minimum two decades Barolo.  Tasted October 2014  @AURELIOSETTIMOV

Jonata Todos Red 2010, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California  (218941, $67.95, WineAlign)

Lays out a new Santa Ynez Valley Rhône ranging slang. Huge wine but so beautifully Syrah. Literally dripping with memories of rendered, just crisping Pancetta and barque crusted smoked meat. Offers a sensation of Mediterranean brine, the warmth of a sunshine coast and the density of a thousand layers of chocolate covered cracklings. Wow. Huge and intense in every way; fruit, acidity, texture and tannin. Could further dream of consuming in Todos completion with the largest pork rib from the most ancient, prehistoric pig. This is a 30-year wine. Has to be. Best ever Todos made by Jonata.  Tasted October 2014  @WoodmanWS

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne, Champagne, France (384529, $75.95, WineAlign)

A wine of social heredity, the Bollinger is tranquilized, entreated and centered by meditation. An arid, atomic and piercing Bollinger. Fine and misty, with ultra-classic subtlety, a living, breathing embodiment of a beloved house style. Exotic to a degree, these are bubbles in colourful pageantry, the Bollywood of Champagne, in grace, of flowing robes, hues in ochre and pastels, flowing like song and dance. There are beautiful bitter tonics on the finish. How can you not admire and be entranced by this style? What’s not to like?  Tasted October 2014  @BollingerFrance  @andrewhanna

Good to go!

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A hip of wine from Hidden Bench

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

A visit to the Beamsville Bench on a warm September morning is a beautiful thing. Facilitated by their sagacious Ontario agent Bernard Stramwasser of Le Sommelier, the royal welcome was presented at Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery. Proprietor Harald Thiel and winemaker Marlize Beyers left no barrel, vine, wine or helping left to the imagination. What a terrific day.

Marlize Beyers is as close to artisanal perfectionism as it gets on the Niagara Peninsula. The texture and grace of the wines reflect their maker. Beyers showed off the underbelly of Hidden Bench, including the 600L concrete egg fermenter (which actually holds 700L of juice). The concrete must be primed with tartaric acid before use or the egg will de-acidify the wine. What will emerge from within the thick chitinous walls of that oospore is on my future tasting agenda.

Out in the vineyard, vigneron Harald Thiel tells the story of Fel-seck, the “corner of a cliff,” in the angled nook of the Niagara Escarpment. The soil is filled with glacial till left from ancient Lake Iroquois pulled up from four retreating glaciers. “The glacial till deposit IS the Bench,” says Thiel. His winery operates on more than a quarter of the Beamsville Bench, in high density plantings. All wines are made from estate fruit. The control centre manages that fruit 24/7. The crux of the operation. And leaves.

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard

Leaves are a huge preoccupation at Hidden Bench. “Rule of thumb is you need 14 leaves to ripen one bunch,” confirms Harald. Canopy leaf management is a rigorous exercise, to compensate for wrong orientation. The inherited Felseck was planted east-west, but the south gets the sun, the north not so much. The spur pruning system (as opposed to double-Guyot) works to benefit in Felseck. To compensate for the winter of ’14 and to stop the “middle-age spread,” the leaves (shoots) are kept between wires. Other benefits include less disease stress and no fruit shadowing.

Sun on the fruit in the morning is key and to avoid sunburn, the leaf orientation is managed accordingly. “Manage the umbrella leaves,” notes Thiel. What about birds? “We use 32 km’s of nets,” and no bird bangers. “Pinot Noir is the favourite varietal of birds,” because they turn colour first. Anti-aviary veraison. Insects? “We use sexual confusion to ward off (insects).” There are 7500 pheremone ties (of the Paralobesia Viteana or female Grape Berry Moth) in the vineyards. Confuses the hell out the males. Translation: No insecticides.

Harald is proud to say this about Marlize. “Winemaking is an artfully applied science.” This was Beyers’ answer to the age-old question,”art or science?” So it goes without saying that grapes are picked on flavour, not sugar levels determined in the laboratory. You take what the vintage gives and make the appropriate, corresponding wine. Ideally Chardonnay is picked at 21-22 degrees brix, but regardless, at Hidden Bench it is always picked on flavour.

Pinot Noir comes from high density planting, with one cane and a single Guyot system. Yields are Grand Cru in quantity (1.6 – 1.9 tonnes per acre or 26-28 hL/L) but not at proportionate pricing. To many a consumer and outspoken wine trade professional they are exceedingly high. Spend some time with Harald and Marlize and you may just figure out why.

The two have developed a “Bistro” line bottled for the restaurant licensee industry. The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Red Blend and Rosé are essentially the sum total of the collected and filtered run-off from the rich and select HB vineyard pool. The Riesling ’13 slings sugar and salinity in a push-pull, posit tug. It serves up typicity with bias and honesty. The Chardonnay ’13 is a perfectly round sipper, coagulating all of Marlize’s varietal plans; canopy management, earlier picking, gentle pressing, pumpover, the management of new wood barrels – all in the name of affordable structure. The Red ’11 is composed of Cabernet Franc (68 per cent), Malbec and Merlot. The CF smothers and smoulders above the M & M’s with all its currant, tobacco and black pepper power.

Here are notes on the 16 other wines tasted at Hidden Bench that day. Not to mention a sumptuous Coq au Vin.

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (28312, $28.00, WineAlign)

Felseck, “the corner of the cliff,” creates twisted Riesling, as per the directive in this angled, mineral nook of the Niagara Escarpment. Choose your planting politics if you will, left of centre Chardonnay or right of the compass Riesling, to determine which one speaks in the amphitheater’s clearest varietal vernacular. If sugar is a determinant or a catalyst in this ’13, it would take a zafrero to suss out that truth because sweetness succumbs to noble bitterness. The Felseck Riesling mixes ginger in tonic in a hyper-linear solution. It’s tightly wound, like a spooled reel rid of memory and twisting. A soldier marching in patriotic allegiance, to the soil and to the maker. There is no hurry to drink this ’13. Its pot will sweeten after the fighting’s done.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Of the estate’s Rosomel Vineyard from vines exceeding 35 years in age. This is the belletristic Riesling in the Hidden Bench stable, handled with mathematical precision and utmost care; specific sun exposure, green harvesting, low yields (29.4 L/hL) and a free run juice cap at (500 L). The density and distinct crux of the Bench nook character circulates aromatics in through the out-door. Lime melds to lemon and returns. The wine is plentiful, nearly generous but not all is sweet and amenable. Roman is policed by wild sage in dusty herbal efficacy unleashed. Honey is a fleeting tease but the numeral knowledge indicates mellifluous viscosity down the road. This is Riesling of finesse to realize power and sting. “It’s murder by numbers, one, two, three. It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s.” Wait five years and settle with Roman’s synchronicity for five years more.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2007, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The varietal components of the 2007 NB were not blended until August 2008 and then filtered to bottle. That barrel time and prior weekly stirring provided the pelage texture and now developed, tepefying character. Rumour has it I’d tasted this ’07 once before when it fact it was the ’08 in March of 2012. Must be the “marzipan, musky and risky, on the edge of a roasted, toasted Nutella thing.” The Niagara white Bordeaux idiom and its use of prime vineyard space has yet to prove itself so to this Nuit Blanche I would say, “you made my heart melt, yet I’m cold to the core.” Perhaps by ‘21 that attitude will have changed.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Gewürztraminer Felseck Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.00)

The key to ripeness is sunlight, something both 2012 and the practice of leaf removal on the East sides of the canopy gave this Felseck stunner. Oh so full with a hint of that typical glycerin and bitter pith so necessary for definition. This reminds me of an off-dry Zind-Humbrecht take, with its late feel of residual sugar and planing finish. There is a wonderfully humid condensation of south Asian drupe and fruit moisture droplet, never in syrup, but rather on the glistening, post-rain skin. Top Bench example.  Tasted September 2014

East sides of the canopy to encourage fruit ripening

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”  Last tasted July 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

The richness has yet to melt away, nor will it likely do so any time soon. Must give credit where due; ’10 managed to seek out tempering acidity where it was not necessarily in sui generis mind, nor did it want to be found. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Akin to Russian River Valley, allowing the comparison, in platinum, edging to gold and in stony, mineral rigidity. Tends to the orchard in a fell swoop of swelling fruit. Nobody does it better on the Bench. The sec who loves me, “makes me feel sad for the rest.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign)

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025.  Tasted twice, September  and October 2014

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

Now into the mid-point of its six to seven year life, this essential Bench Pinot brings worlds together. A toffee, taffy, salted (not caramelized) caramel mulch comes from pinpoint smoke oak. Has a palpable sende of chew and density. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution.” From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.”  Last tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2007, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (274753, $29.95, WineAlign)

The summer swelter of the 2007 vintage was not lost on this Pinot Noir and although the black fruit spectrum was picked clean from all available plum, fig and cherries, they and their tannins have evolved in clemency and snug harmony. That and a whipped beet shake of hide, vanilla and lavender.  This would be a diverting and polarizing ringer to toss into a blind tasting.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Transplants Nuits-Saint-Georges into the coliseum of Felseck with frisky and fine-grained tannin. The aromatic aggregate of flowers, orange grove and red cherry is akin to Les Perrières. This is micro-managed, micro-plot Niagara at its very core, the diminutive, wee berries singing the nook’s furtive, foxy and salient song. The late bitter note is both beautiful and honed in on the vineyard’s frequency. Graphite trails with back-end nerve. This Felseck has entered the zone. Drink over the next three years.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

On benches all along the Niagara Escarpment, each single-vineyard grown, vinified and bottled Pinot Noir has an affinity for a particular vintage. The Locust Lane and 2010 share a commonality that exceeds the level of companionship seen in the more rigid, bookend vintages of ’09 and ’11. Here is the richest density, though still teasing and leaning against the black cherry tree. There is a limestone, Alsatian, Albert Mann thing going on, rolling like thunder, bobbing like drinking birds. Still formidable, the stuffing yet burst from its cloud. A sniff and a sip of the ’10 “and the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill. Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.” The vineyard takes heat and gives Pinot Noir its energy. The ardor will slowly release over the next eight to 10 years.  Tasted September 2014

http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/playhtml?file=http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/2GntSr2rbWHU3Gg0DLdK/mov/1

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.00, WineAlign)

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

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $75.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to the world ’11 LB, the flotilla leader in the Hidden Bench brigade. This fierce Bordeaux-styled blend of exemplary fruit out of the three Estate parcels is composed from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Not home from a hot climate, and not the most likely candidate to be made in the 2011 vintage, La Brunante is “like a mudship becalmed in a rusty bay cracking with an emboldened abandon.” Bottled in a strong compression but without aggression, it lies in wait, creaking, twitching, smoldering and aching with desire. When it should be released, somewhere up to 10 years down the road, it will sail, cutting through waves of tannin, with multiple berries, dust, diesel and into a show that never ends.  Tasted September 2014

Hidden Bench Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The benchmark for such a rare Niagara animal is of course Alsace and more specifically the iconic and consumer-recognizable brands such as Zind-Humbrecht and Domaine Weinbach from the Hengst and Furstentum Grand Crus. This HB is decidedly not that. Even the kings of Alsace late harvest only go to bofttle in the finest vintages, when a level upwards of 50 percent botrytis is achieved. After a few freeze/thaw cycles the fruit was picked on the 28th of November. The ’13 Vendanges Tardives has the subtlety and attributes to call itself VT, with residual sugar (119 g/L) and alcohol (10.5 per cent) numbers in line. Near-needed acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character mix to balance and so the reduction in sweetness is nicely tempered. Pears meet apricots in hinted whispers. As per the Alsatian requiem, this never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd. Utilitarian to a fundamental degree, in the end I would have liked more acidity in this very pretty wine.  Tasted September 2014

Good to go!

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The LCBO and WineAlign go local

Grange of Prince Edward Trumpour's Mill Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010

Grange of Prince Edward Trumpour’s Mill Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010

If you ask  Heather MacGregor or Lisa Murray, the two responsible for leading the LCBO’s media relations and communications department, they will tell you this. “For the last 23 years LCBO has been a steadfast and proud supporter of locally produced Ontario VQA wine.”  That is certainly true.

Three things would add measurable weight to that statement. Private VQA wine stores, increased shelf space in current LCBO stores and a lifting of  the embargo for “typicity” qualifying standards of locally and exceptionally produced wine. Not to mention speaking out publicly on the necessity of developing a Canadian wine culture by allowing the importing of VQA wine into Ontario that is made in other Canadian provinces. Oh, but I seriously digress.

Sales performance and trends

In fiscal 2013-14, sales of Ontario wine at LCBO were $396 million, 4.1per cent higher than the year before. VQA sales ended the year at $123 million, growth of nearly 2.1 per cent over fiscal 2012-13. Year-to-date 2014-15, VQA wines are up an impressive 5.8 per cent and significantly outpacing imports. Give credit where it is due. With their backs to the proverbial sandbox wall, the LCBO is working feverishly to put Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore on the monopoly map. They can thank Wine Country Ontario for the support, the expertise and the professional lead.

Growing product selection

The LCBO WINES category offers 526 Ontario- produced wines, including 330 VQA wines. What makes up the other 196 might be questioned and that category could be improved were it to include, let us say, for the purposes of argumentation, a Pearl Morisstte Riesling. That said, 330 is a highly significant number. Good on you LCBO.

Our Wine Country Boutiques

Three stores in St.Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Windsor boast excellent local wine selections. The sommelier and restaurant community in Toronto has embraced Ontario wines. Their presence at events like Cool Chardonnay and the Ontario Technical Sparkling Wine Symposium are proof of the phenomenon. So are dozens of wine lists city-wide. The question is why does an Our Wine Country Boutique not exist in a flagship store such as Queen’s Quay or Bayview Village? The Toronto consumer requires chiding and the flock will submit if shown the righteous path. Bring OWCB’s to the city.

The LCBO is doing yeomans work to help small wineries in their own parochial scene and the bigger picture is taken care of through VINTAGES releases. The work has just begun. Change and progress are necessary. A good first step is an event such as was held on Thursday August 14th: Taste Local, Love Local. The match was to pie, kitschy yet effective. There were 21 wines on hand. These were the best three.

Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (615062, $14.95, WineAlign)

As Gamay continues to gain traction, it is examples such as this ’12 from Grange that will help to solidify its position as a go to variety for versatile food matching and pure, simple quaffing pleasure. Though this ’12 and its warm vintage baggage render it beefy, spicy and veering to black cherry, it holds freshness and juicy acidity in retainer. The ripe tree fruit sensation never really relents so the style is heady but it shows the strength and excellent value to be found in Gamay.  Tasted August 2014  @grangewinery

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (275958, $21.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc receives a meld of mellow, blending support from 12.4 per cent Merlot and the marriage is quietly non-contentious. That blending decision by winemaker Ann Sperling, along with the praiseworthy choice to forgo obtrusive oak is as good as a golpe on the Niagara Cab Franc oeuvre. The use of large format (80 hectolitre), no splinters allowed oak vats over wood spice and milkshake imparting barrels is an easy swallow for sore palates. The ’12 Triomphe is an elongated and elastic Cab Franc, with nary a foray into the tobacco, bell pepper and cloying currant currency of so many predecessors. The co-fermenting of disparate, north and south, estate blocks in those vats has done wonders on the preservation of a warm vintage’s, judiciously-picked (21.8 per cent brix at harvest) fresh fruit. Terrific decisions all in for a highly accessible, brand and varietal ambassador for Niagara.  Tasted August 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention.  Tasted August 2014  @normhardie

Meanwhile, back at the WineAlign ranch, yet another local standout is available for tasting. This Pinot Gris was a most excellent surprise.

Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the deep soil of the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation, this is certainly made in a honeyed, Pinot Gris, noble bitter excellence style, conjuring up a Pierre Frick Pfaffenheim reminiscence. The golden hue and blanched nut aroma indicate a slight yet subtle advanced oxidation but the low (3.4) pH and necessary fortifying (5.8 g/L) acidity round-up and subdue the sugar (4.5 g/L) and alcohol (13.3 per cent), whose specs are nothing to cause any real concern in the first place. The intensity is only overshadowed by the natural sweetness which comes across the palate by way of texture and tannin. A mineral underlay is noted with props to a limestone and shale drip from the Bench down through soil towards the Niagara Lakeshore. This 2010 found symmetry in moving parts to reach its current peak and to propel the Excellence towards a 10 year future of graceful decline.  Tasted August 2014  @stoneyridgewine

Good to go!

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The tides that bind: East Coast swing

Tide's Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tide’s Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tides. The Maritimes. The new viticulture.

Headed out for the East Coast, pulled by a great maritime tide, family in tow. To a cape and back. Ontario-New York-Massachusetts-New Hampshire-Maine-New Brunswick-Nova Scotia-New Brunswick-Quebec-Ontario. The voyage imagined as a whole is revealed as an ebb that rides a crest outward bound for the tip of Cape Breton Island. A drive to reaches with no ability to seek accessory in further extensions. The inward sail as a retreat back to the Big Smoke, requiring returns equal and proportionate to the outward gains. Each day the tides carried us to promulgate layovers, to begin flowing again each seriate day, at the hour of its reversal.

Corneybrook Falls, Cape Breton Island

Corneybrook Falls, Cape Breton Island

Some tides 101. Tides are the periodic rise and falling of large bodies of water. They are created because like magnets, the Earth and the moon are attracted to each other. The gravitational force of the moon is one ten-millionth that of earth, but when you combine other forces such as the earth’s centrifugal force created by its spin, you get tides.  The sun is important as well, but in minutia as compared to the moon.

Water is what the Earth holds on to and every day (well, actually in a span of 12 hours and 25 minutes), there is a period between two high tides. Spring tides occur during the full moon and the new moon. Neap tides occur during quarter moons.

Tide out, Big Cove, Northumberland Strait

Tide out, Big Cove, Northumberland Strait

Are you in or are you out?

On the Northumberland, very free, and easy

Tide in, on the Northumberland, very free, and easy

Of all the impressive vistas, formidable rock faces and seemingly endless, edge of the world bodies of water to perpend, way out and beyond on the east coast of Canada, none feast more blatant than the Bay of Fundy. Each day 160 billion tonnes of seawater flows in and out of the Bay that intersects Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Nowhere else in the world resembles the scabrous shorelines, islands and waters of this wondrous place.

Now you can’t break the ties that bind
You can’t forsake the ties that bind

The Bay of Fundy lies in a rift valley known as the Fundy Basin and is home to the world’s biggest tides, highest in the Minas Basin, Nova Scotia. “The uniqueness of the Fundy tides can be attributed to three factors, the shape and size of the bay, the substantial amount of water that flows in and out of the bay, and the gravitational pull of the moon, which pulls the water towards itself, causing a bulge on the ocean surface.”

The Flower Pot Rocks

The Flower Pot Rocks

In a quirk of geographical fate, the amount of time it takes an incoming wave to get to the end of the Bay of Fundy and return to the ocean coincides with the time between high and low tides – 12.4 hours. “Like a father pushing his daughter on a swing, the gentle Atlantic tidal pulse pushes the waters of the Bay of Fundy-Gulf of Maine basin at nearly the optimum frequency to cause a large to-and-fro oscillation.” The galance is simply awesome.

Grand Manan Lighthouse

Grand Manan Lighthouse

Nicknames abound. Its waters near St. John and west to Grand Manan Island are known as the “aquarium without walls,” and the shores near the 1984 dinosaur bones unearthed at Parsborro harbour are called “nature’s jewel box.” It’s the winemakers of the Gaspereau Valley who conspired to coin the most significant moniker. Fundy is hereby known as “Tidal Bay.”

Tidal Bay Blends 2013

Tidal Bay Blends 2013

Tidal Bay is the first wine appellation for Nova Scotia and is crafted from carefully selected varieties, produced exclusively by (now) 12 wineries. To be labeled Tidal Bay, maximum brix levels and minimum acidity (9 g/L) must be reached. Pressing takes place by bladder or basket, all in the name of a “regionally recognizable local style.” The 100 per cent Nova Scotian blends “pair well with seafood and ocean views.” Though essential to the maritime wine oeuvre, the Tidal Bay wave remains young and the wines a work in progress. I will connect with the full range in a year or two, perhaps on it 15th birthday, in 2017. Here are three tasted in July.

Gaspereau Vineyards Tidal Bay 2013

Gaspereau Vineyards Tidal Bay 2013

Gaspereau Vineyards Tidal Bay 2013 (Winery, $21.99)

Aromatics are the show in this cool breeze blend. Combines Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and (13 per cent) mitigating and rounding Muscat. In character of what it sets out to define, this 2013 Tidal Bay concentrates Nova Scotia brightness with tight acids and a clear, stain removing shout into the machine. A warm streak of Fundy salinity soothes the savage cool-climate beast.  @gaspereauwine

L’Acadie Vineyards Estate L’Acadie 2011 (Winery, $21.99)

Made from Nova Scotia’s most promising L’Acadie Blanc variety in combination with Chardonnay. Winemaker Bruce Ewart coaxed maximum freshness and a consolidation in balance. Chardonnay gives body but does not steal the show. Acids are prominent yet never treacherous. Though not technically an example of  Tidal Bay, the sexy, waxy, saline and bright personality make it distinctly Nova Scotia. Tasted at the Governors Pub, Sydney.  @lacadiewine

Luckett Vineyards

Luckett Vineyards

Luckett Vineyards Tidal Bay 2013 (Winery, $20.00)

Heterocyclic aromatics go bonkers in this blend of Traminette, L’Acadie and Vidal Blanc. Smells like ready to ripen Sauvignon Blanc, grassy, high in citrus and spiked by capsicum. An ear-to-ear smile of brightness and acidity drives the blend and you might ask it, “you walk cool, but darlin’, can you walk the line?” In the Nova Scotian world of Tidal Bay, Pete Luckett’s take can do just that and so it will not break the ties that bind.  @luckettvineyard

And when we are strangers, wherever we go,
There’s always a side that we still do not know;

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Tidal bores, red mudflats, flowerpot rocks, sea caves, the largest whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere, all impossible irregularities that belong to the Bay of Fundy. So what? The muddy beaches and chocolate rivers might be characterized by the Acadian expression, “Quelle baraque!” or, they might induce chills, “gorziller,” hallucinations even. When a moment is taken, they become unique, quirky barometers to re-calibrate the mire of mundane repetitious behaviour and one’s dizzying and insignificant place in this great big world.

The fascinating geology of the natural rock formations at the Hopewell Rocks, on the Bay of Fundy, is a history worth learning.

Chocolate coastline, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick

Chocolate coastline, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick

and some days I am a door wide open,
shouting to the wind, singing to the sea.

Chase Lobsters, Port Howe, NS

Chase Lobsters, Port Howe, NS

Shake’s head. Emerges from the dream. Begins to put the pieces together. Memories of a long trip. An east coast swing.

Hole in the Wall, Grand Manan, New Brunswick

Hole in the Wall, Grand Manan, New Brunswick

From Black’s Harbour to Grand Manan Island, through St. John’s and up to Big Cove by Baie Verte. A Northumberland Straight traverse past Port Howe, Am Baile Mór, Inverness, a jog up to Cheticamp and Corneybrook. Around the Cabot Trail of Cape Breton Island, a sidetrack to Bay St. Lawrence and Meat Cove, then a decussate and a zig-zag of the fiords to mark an “X” in Sydney.

Cooking lobster on Grand Manan

Cooking lobster on Grand Manan

Up the heart of the province, past Truro, down the Annapolis Valley and a u-turn back up and into Wolfville. It is there, in the heart of the Gaspereau Valley, that the essence of Nova Scotia’s wine industry walks out from beneath the fog to reveal itself in an elongated moment of clarity.

Campfire lobster supper

Campfire lobster supper

The tractive is a thing to and of itself. The pauses to gather at points along the process remember lobsters roasting over an open fire, a cottage visit with new-found friends, a hike into the cavern of a waterfall and a swim in a tidal river. Memories are made in rites of passage, though in the end, like the photographs, they too will be demurred by time. Indelible stamps they are, cemented in commitment to reaching and by necessity, descending summits. A  road trip to the eastern part of Canada realizes the bigger plan. The key is making it safely home, before the tide rolls in.

Next up will be the wines of the Gaspereau Valley, inextricably linked by a prodigal son come home in the name of Peter Gamble. Until then, take it slow and easy, on the East Coast.

East Coast cottage country

East Coast cottage country

Good to go!

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