In a Pinot Noir province of mind

Niagara

Save for the Oregonian version, Ontario has become the place to produce Pinot Noir out of soils not called Côte de Nuits or Côte de Beaune
Photo: Rilasata/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

No other grape causes more of a stir, is responsible for more hair to fall and breaks more hearts. It doesn’t play well with others. It refuses to share, to be blended, to give anything less than 100 per cent. For many, there is no other variety. How often does a conversation begin with “what is your favourite wine” and end invidiously with “Burgundy?” End of argument. Nothing more to discuss. While Burgundy certainly persists as the historic locale possessive of the title “when it’s great, it’s the best,” Pinot Noir has flown the coop. The expatriate extraordinaire has migrated about the globe and is no longer always a wannabe facsimile where it’s now grown and bottled.

A bold statement to be sure is coming, now. Save for the Oregonian version, Ontario has become the place to produce Pinot Noir out of soils not called Côte de Nuits or Côte de Beaune. The argument finds root in the climate (cool) and the terroir (ideally suited). The anomaly that is this season’s Polar Vortex notwithstanding, Ontario’s weather is Pinot weather. The thin-skinned variety thrives in Ontario’s typical autumn conditions, maturing evenly and with a phenolic ripeness necessary to fulfill complex tendencies. Soil could not compose itself any better. The huge rock beneath the surface in Prince Edward County screams Pinot Noir, if by way of Burgundy. The Niagara Escarpment and its foothills beg to support Pinot vines. No, really. Go stand in the Lowrey Vineyard on the peninsula. The land beneath your feet will whisper sweet Pinot nothings into your ear.

Arguing the meritorious benefits of grapes and specific sites is an exhausting though compulsory one. I have been a staunch supporter of the need for planting Riesling and Gamay everywhere. Ontario can and will do no wrong with these varieties, whether it be PEC, LENS or any Niagara Peninsula terroir. Chardonnay too, though it produces the greatest wines in the appellations of the Beamsville Bench, Twenty Mile Bench and Vinemount Ridge. The benches likewise work wonders for Cabernet Franc, though many producers make terrific renditions down by the lake.

Pinot Noir requires more site-specific consternation. The learning curve inhabited by our top Pinot producing stars has pinpointed certain neighborhoods that support their clairvoyance and expensive habits. Norman Hardie knows the Pinot innuendo of both Prince Edward County and the Niagara Peninsula. Hardie’s Unfiltered 2012 ”brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket.” Thomas Bachelder makes Pinot in Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara, but it is his Lowrey Vineyard 2011 that blows my mind. “The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens.” The micro-terroir studies of Ed Madronich and Jay Johnston is the stuff of quantum eonology. The Summit Block 2011 does “impossible Burgundy,” between a Flat Rock and an escarpment.

So where is the best site for making Pinot Noir in Ontario? Prince Edward County? Twenty Mile Bench? Beamsville Bench? Vinemount Ridge? St. David’s? Has the industry matured to such a level that a Cru system should now be defined? The answer may not be forthcoming today but it’s just around the corner. Pinot needs to be cultivated and fostered so that plots can continue to be identified and qualified. The future of the industry depends on it.

I have recently tasted more than 30 Ontario Pinot Noir. Many are worthy of a second look and more than a dozen a place in my cellar. Here are notes on five more, all deserving of their place in the Pinot sun.

From left: CAVE SPRING PINOT NOIR DOLOMITE 2011, INNISKILLIN MONTAGUE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2011, TAWSE GROWER'S BLEND PINOT NOIR 2010, HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2010, and 13TH STREET ESSENCE PINOT NOIR 2010

From left: CAVE SPRING PINOT NOIR DOLOMITE 2011, INNISKILLIN MONTAGUE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2011, TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND PINOT NOIR 2010, HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2010, and 13TH STREET ESSENCE PINOT NOIR 2010

CAVE SPRING PINOT NOIR DOLOMITE 2011, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (26351, $21.95, WineAlign)

Part Beamsville Bench (70 per cent) and part Twenty Mile Bench (30), this best of both worlds Pinot is full of calcium magnesium carbonate, Jurassic bark. Playful as opposed to angry, this is not so much Snoop Dogg’s Dolomite but more like an animated Futurama. Seduces with a sweet red berry entry and bound by a really fine acid/tannin/fruit balance. Admittedly not overly complex but for the price it shows good structure. As far as Pinot goes, this one is a made for beef or rack of veal.  89  Tasted October 2013  @CaveSpring

INNISKILLIN MONTAGUE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2011, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (997353, $24.95, WineAlign)

Montague is a single-vineyard child of rain and heat. The flux of the growing season translates to a troubled and disjointed youth; musty, earthy and unforgiving. Still this Inniskillin is thick, unctuous, sharp, chewy and while currently situated on the darker side of Pinot, all this will change. Not yet showing what he is, the ’11 will “keep on keepin’ on, like a bird that flew,” and eventually be tangled up in blue.  89  Tasted October 2013  @InniskillinWine

TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND PINOT NOIR 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130989, $26.95, WineAlign)

The univocal Pender perfume permeates the Tawse stable of Pinot Noir and seems only magnified in the multiple site Grower‘s Blend. Vintage related warmth and inferable incrassation of fruit. Delves into a deep connection to disparate lands possessive of a common goal.  As if making wine is “your taste combined with all the years of wasting time.” Graceful Pinot Noir with moments touched by hot rocks, toasted red rice, a gentle smoulder and delicate grains of sand.  90  Tasted October 2013  @Tawse_Winery

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $40, WineAlign)

Clean, pure and crisp. As if raspberries covered in Beamsville dirt with an underlying lurk of grain and tannin. Crackling Pinot studded by caper berry and a sheer Mediterranean point of view. From an earlier note: “Takes my previous impressions to a higher plane. Standing correct by calling it a “a vintage relative release” but it’s so much more than “a quaffable, generous fruit sui generis.” Beets turn into plums. Opaque hue reminds of graceful Nebbiolo with a dancer’s legs in aperture. Wins in judicious use of French wood. Tannins persist in the rear-view mirror. Big ’10 that speaks of another level in Beamsville Pinot Noir. “Think about it, there must be higher love.” 91  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron 

13TH STREET ESSENCE PINOT NOIR 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (237222, $44.95, WineAlign)

Only the second coming of The Essence. Lucid, willing and able Pinot Noir from an assemblage of fruit sourced across the region. Atypical in that sense, speaking to a broader range of terroir and to a wider audience. Breadth and depth much like a Côte de Beaune, earthy of serious dirt layered over top a cherry core. Attention now and for five plus years is needed because though to taste it’s currently confounding, time will see more complexity, development and emerging emotion. It will then solicit a cry of  ”baby, sweet baby, you’re my drug. Come on and let me taste your stuff.”  91  Tasted October 2013  @13thStreetWines

Good to go!

13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

Here are 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

Here are 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013.
Photo: valeriy555/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

It has been a remarkable year in the evolution of the Canadian wine industry. Some will rant and others argue over the lack of cohesion and togetherness when the idea of a Canadian wine culture is discussed. What is of greater interest, at least in terms of the year in retrospect, is the wines themselves. When the wines are assessed and considered in part or as a whole, who would dare to say there are no great wines being produced?

I have personally tasted nearly 1,000 Canadian wines in 2013. This thanks to friends, colleagues, events, winery visits, LCBO media and vintner tastings, restaurant wine lists and agents. Not to mention the necessary organizations such as The Ontario Wine Society and the Wine Council of Ontario.

There was Cuvée 2013 and the Expert’s Tasting at Brock University. Somewhereness, County in the City, The Riesling Experience, Cool Chardonnay and Taste Ontario 2013 were just a few of the many events to discover the wonders of Ontario and Canadian wine. A summer visit to the west coast opened a window to the wonders of the Okanagan and B.C. Wine.

This was a very difficult list to narrow down. It is based on wines tasted but not necessarily released in 2013, though I did try to focus on more current selections. In the end, these choices are meant to offer both a cross-section and a definitive compilation of what Canadian winemakers do best. That is producing unique, cutting edge and brilliant takes on cool climate grapes. They also match beautifully with the songs referenced in their tasting notes. Here are 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013.

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES CHARDONNAY MUSQUÉ 2010, 8TH GENERATION VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, FIELDING ESTATE CABERNET FRANC 2011, QUAIL’S GATE PINOT NOIR 2011, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE JANINE SPARKLING ROSÉ 2010

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES CHARDONNAY MUSQUÉ 2010, 8TH GENERATION VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, FIELDING ESTATE CABERNET FRANC 2011, QUAIL’S GATE PINOT NOIR 2011, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE JANINE SPARKLING ROSÉ 2010

CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES CHARDONNAY MUSQUÉ 2010 (318303, $16.95, B.C. 230961, $18.99, WineAlign)

The song: The Rolling Stones, If You Can’t Rock Me

Intensifies in juicy, bright, nearly candied fruit cut by sour patch and blanched nut. Clean, cool Chardonnay and right on. My earlier note, from ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine) is the unoaked result of aromatic Clone 809 combed from the heavier clay-based soils from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the silty, mineral rich soils from Seven and Seven Vineyard. Tropical, strutting stunner with “a thousand lips I would love to taste.” Tell Ms. Musqué if you can’t rock me, nothing can.  90  Tasted April 2013  @MBosc  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

8TH GENERATION VINEYARD RIESLING 2012 (B.C., $20.90)

From Okanagan Falls bolts rapido from the gate with the ripest fruit (pear, plum) and though there is citrus, it’s really quite semi-dry. At 12.9 per cent alcohol and 24gr/L of residual sugar this may as well be Mosel Trocken Spätlese. Fantastic presence and awesome winemaking from Bernd and Stefanie Schales. Got me by the vines and will be on my table. 92  Tasted July 2013  @8th_Generation  From: B.C. Wine: From Vancouver to your table

FIELDING ESTATE CABERNET FRANC 2011  (36194, $21.95, WineAlign)

Sets the pepper mill on speed dial and certainly knows the inside of a barrel but what more could you possibly ask for? Unabashed, unbridled purple goodness. From my earlier note: “…has to be the best yet from Richie Roberts.  From a 35-acre Grand Cru (Five Rows) vineyard in the making in the heart of the warmest Niagara locale (St. David’s Bench). Zanthoxylum, capsicum and pencil shaving. Ropy grain, chewy, sylvan charm. On the card at Barque 90  Tasted March 2013  @FieldingWinery  From: Masters wines in purple, yellow and green jackets

QUAIL’S GATE PINOT NOIR 2011 (585760, $26.95, WineAlign)

With a flat-out ambrosial aromatic entry bequeaths extremely ripe, fleshy red stone fruit and a hit of java, hold the crema and the splinters. Toss in some cool eucalyptus to that tincture, perhaps, like De Loach Van Der Kamp. Intimates a Sonoman dream in confected perfume unlike any Okanagan predecessor. This is flamboyant stuff for OV, toothsome, and were it from California I might think it OTT but from B.C., not so. Expertly judged fruit/acid balance and such plush texture. Gobs of fruit with just enough grit to keep it real. “The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots and wonders at our quaint spirits.” 91  Tasted July 2013  @Quails_Gate  From: A midsummer night’s chill red wine 

HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE JANINE SPARKLING ROSÉ 2010 ($29.95, winery only, WineAlign)

The song: Genesis, In The Cage

100 per cent Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also ”turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  Tasted May 2013  @HuffEstatesWine  From: You can lead a county to the city

From left: NORMAN HARDIE COUNTY PINOT NOIR UNFILTERED 2012, PELLER ESTATES CABERNET FRANC ‘SIGNATURE SERIES’ 2010, PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011, and BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010

From left: NORMAN HARDIE COUNTY PINOT NOIR UNFILTERED 2012, PELLER ESTATES CABERNET FRANC ‘SIGNATURE SERIES’ 2010, PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011, and BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010

NORMAN HARDIE COUNTY PINOT NOIR UNFILTERED 2012 (125310, $35.00)

Cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.  93  Tasted October 2013  @normhardie  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

PELLER ESTATES CABERNET FRANC ‘SIGNATURE SERIES’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only, WineAlign)

The song: Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage

Has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100 per cent Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92  Tasted March 2013  @PellerVQA  From: A long and winding tasting road

PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011 303602, $40.00, WineAlign)

A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?  93  Tasted July 19, 2013  @PearlMorissette  From: Nine big November best buy wines

BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99, WineAlign)

The song: The Beatles, Dig a Pony

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC  From: Nine big November best buy wines

From left: STRATUS WHITE 2006, HIDDEN BENCH TÊTE DE CUVÉE CHARDONNAY 2009, BACHELDER WINES PINOT NOIR LOWREY VINEYARD 2011, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007

From left: STRATUS WHITE 2006, HIDDEN BENCH TÊTE DE CUVÉE CHARDONNAY 2009, BACHELDER WINES PINOT NOIR LOWREY VINEYARD 2011, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007

STRATUS WHITE 2006 (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

Was a “great recovery year,” after the winter damage of ’03, ’04 and ’05. A cool vintage, which required careful picking. The Sauvignon Blanc driven ’06 has the highest melon component, not to mention Boxwood. Yet that rose/floral/honey medicinal note is even stronger. Not over the hill at all and developing a graceful white wine character. Very French with late acidity and verve. Remarkable. Love this one. “This is a style of aged wine where I want to go,” says J-L. Nutty finish.  93  Tasted September 2013  @Stratuswines  From: Select tasting through the years of Stratus Red and Whites

HIDDEN BENCH TÊTE DE CUVÉE CHARDONNAY 2009 ($45, winery only, WineAlign)

From Big wines from California and the Bench from HB’s oldest, most highly regarded and meticulously maintained vines shows ravishing and refined restraint in elegance. Warm pineapple and mango coagulation jarred by the vintage’s piercing acidity and immense length. Head of the class, rings the bell, nails the lecture.  93  Tasted March and May 2013  @HiddenBench  From: Around the world in eight Chardonnays

BACHELDER WINES PINOT NOIR LOWREY VINEYARD 2011 (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

The Song: Bruce Sprinsgteen, Blinded by the Light

Defies logic in laying out the welcome mat. Fleshy St. David’s fruit, relentless aromatics, a glue of tannins pushing on the pedal. From my earlier note in Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013 “springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  Tasted Oct. 10 and Nov. 6, 2013  @Bachelder_wines  From: Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007 (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

The song: The Jam, Town Called Malice

Peter Gamble struck gold with this Gasperaux Valley, Nova Scotia Sparkling Wine project. This Bridge comes from ”radically and frighteningly low yields” (3/4 ton per acre, as opposed to the new 6 ton world of Champagne). The ’07 is spun so fine and endowed with a prominent and great leesy nose, along with baking biscuits and lemon purity. To taste there is zest, white pepper and ultimately this is streamlined and refined. A Gamble style that will integrate in ’08 the idea of emulating grower’s Champagne. One will find no holes and no holds barred, in tension and in ease. Like Iggy Pop, Paul Weller, Brandon Flowers and David Bowie rolled into one, a thin white duke with a lust for life in a killer town called malice. Eight some odd cases of the 2005 are still floating around in the monopoly’s system so keep an eye on the labels. You just might get lucky. Price tag, $75? Cost, “priceless.”  93  Tasted November 2013  @Benjamin_Bridge  From: Crack open these Canadian made apolitical wines

Good to go!

Nine big November best buy wines

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour.Photo: Phil_Good/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.comLike it or not, the first week of November demands that we begin planning for the holiday season. The wine industry’s senses in Canada are highly acute to the preparations, as witnessed by the unparalleled number of tastings, travel, discussions, wine competitions and awards.

Our provincial liquor boards are especially proactive, wasting no expense to roll out glossy magazines and the proverbial red carpet for a host of high-end, super rich and ripe wines. When the clock strikes Christmas, anything that presents to the consumer that necessary combination of excellence and value will have long been sold through.

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour. Another signal to seek advice from the wine retinue and to stock up for winter.

To get you headed down the white, yellow, red and black brick road to wine Oz, here are nine serious wines being released this coming weekend, to cellar and to share in these last frantic weeks of 2013.

From left: BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012, PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011, and HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011

BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012 (12724, $22.95, SAQ 11154911, $24.75)

Though I was as first confused by the metal guts and bolts of this supertramp of a Chenin Blanc, in a short time I came to understand the greatness of its seasoned ways. From Niël Groenewald’s altitudinous bush vines, I put away the question, “who put Chardonnay in my Chenin Blanc” and replaced it with “don’t criticize, they’re old and wise.” His vines and their wisdom. Lemon drop, candied flower, buttered breakfast apples and apple pie. Can look into the pensieve and smell it in the morning from when I went to school.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BellinghamWines

PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011 (345769, $26.95)

An atomized and candied Kabinett brought into balance by zippy, ranging aromatic peaks. Porcupine tree of atmospheric disturbance, proving yet again that with German Riesling, “the more I get to know the less I find that I understand.” Royal flushed sweet entry, mid-palate plunging cliff jump and in the end a rising launch into the stratosphere of mouth watering acidity.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013

HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011 (68817, $28.95)A study in Beamsville Bench equitable tension, from its wagered ripe fruit in optimum extraction, to a responsible and fundamental barrel absorption. Woody but not wooden, woolly yet not woolen, would be greatness and not what would’ve been. Fine lines, linen and lace. A wine that echoes, acts and appears as an honest product of its makers. Further definitive stuff from Marlize Beyers, Harald Thiel and Hidden Bench.  91  Tasted July 20 and October 4, 2013   @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

From left: PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011, NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010, and BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010

PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011 303602, $40.00)

A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?  93  Tasted July 19, 2013  @PearlMorissette

NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010 (208702, $39.00, SAQ 11638481, $38.75)

That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious Pinot with only one coat of primer. Impressive.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @normhardie

BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99)

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

From left: CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006, and JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008

CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007 (156398, $49.95)

Stupid gorgeous Priorat and though inaccessible to most of us mere mortals, if you were to shell out $50 in November for one wine, this has to be considered. A blend of 65 per cent Cariñena, 22 per cent Garnacha, with a smattering of Syrah and Merlot. Pure purple pitch, an early summer Catalonian garden in bloom, air warm, breeze light. Wow. Blows high priced Napa and over the top Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of the water. The oak is so beautifully integrated.  94  Tasted October 4, 2013

CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006 (45682, $49.95)

She’s so very pretty, this righteous and bankable “girl with the right allocations.” She’s a lovely slice of layer cake, alternating in coffee, toffee, vanilla cream and mineral rime. Though her tannins are still grainy, her fruit lingers on. She’s “a girl with a smooth liquidation…a short skirt and a lonnnnng…. lonnng jacket.” Le Caillou continues to bite but she’s not huge, and that’s just right.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @VinsdePomerol

JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008 (737817, $59.95)

So, this 17th vintage tips the brix/alcohol scale in dangerous liaisons but it’s really quite a scorching, gorgeous number. A bomb to be sure, with layers and layers of the most savvy and sygian fruit. A realm of balance is achieved by way of a probing groove. Baking spice, blueberry pie, very peppery, tight, intense, tense, cohesive and righteous.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @Jimbarrywines

Good to go!

Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

Mary Catherine Wasilik, (Merry Bee) the Assistant Winemaker of Rosewood Estates Winery checking out the Pinot Noir pick at Wismer Vineyard in Balls Falls, Ontario
PHOTO: KRYSTINA ROMAN, QUEEN SOCIAL BEE/ROSEWOOD ESTATES WINERY

as seen on canada.com

Taste Ontario is a special event. The VINTAGES prescribed gathering of Ontario wine, the makers and the marketers should never be missed. The Royal Ontario Museum is a terrific setting for such a palooza and the Bronfman Hall a cozy, comfortable and airy room to showcase the wines.

That this gathering is conspicuous as much for its omissions as it is for the unparalleled quality and consistency of the wines does not need to be overly debated. The figure of “80 wines from over 30 of Ontario’s most passionate and talented winemakers” is certainly a drawing card despite VQA Ontario‘s contention “there are over 125 Ontario wineries producing VQA wines of various appellations – all backed up by VQA Ontario’s assurance of origin and quality.”

The VINTAGES say in what specific bottles should be poured was certainly in evidence last Thursday and succeeded for the purposes of presenting the licensee and the consumer with a cross section of Ontario’s signature grapes. Chardonnay was not high in representation but considering the recent run from and following #i4C2013 (Cool Chardonnay) that was to be expected. What the general public does not know for certain is the quality potential in and necessity of Ontario’s production of Sparkling wine, Gamay and Syrah. Three categories virtually ignored at Taste Ontario 2013.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Red wines at Taste Ontario 2013

Taste Ontario was held in Ottawa (The Westin Hotel) on Monday, October 7th and in Toronto (ROM) on Thursday, October 10th with essential support from Wine Country Ontario. Thanks must go out to Hilary Dawson and Magdalena KaiserSmit for their pampering and generosity. The grand tastings were partnered with the LCBO “SHINE {ON}” campaign that ran from September 15 through October 12.

My reviews of wines that shone is specific to the event and let it be known there are dozens more to form best of lists, from producers represented and those who were not involved. Here are 16 top wines from Taste Ontario 2013.

From left: Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009, 2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012, Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006, and Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011

Sparkling

Tawse ‘Spark’ Riesling 2009 (winery only, $18.95) may just be that bottle of persuasive interrogation and torture to turn even the toughest hold-outs against Sparkling Riesling. A veritable homeland crush of signature grapes, put to a not so traditional test, emerge in piercing, capital dry scintillation. Sparks fly in Beamsville when winemaker Paul Pender and team, “the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot.” This sparkler does the E street shuffle and dances in the dark. The new deal in Ontario bubbles.  “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  89  @Paul_Pender  @Tawse_Winery

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009 (234161, $22.95) in just under a year has evolved to a grandiloquent level of sophistication.  Fino arid bubbles, with an elevated level of aromatic sweetness, ginger spice, lime and charcoal. Quite complex, jumpy, with pepper on the finish.  90  From my earlier note: “is a sweet-smelling misty mousse waterfall where white grapefruit replays from vapor to flavour. Driest fizz yet playing the Angostura angle. Good length.”  88  @Jackson_Triggs

Riesling

Cattail Creek Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (241547, $14.95) from Four-Mile Creek suggests peaches in every way; juice, flesh and pit. A battle cry bottle for the adage and generational anthem, “when in Niagara I drink Riesling for peace.” Really fine evolutionary Creek example for the price, located somewhere on the dry to off-dry line.  Palate cleansing, with solid rhythm and length, like Les Brers in A Minor. Makes me want to eat a peach.  88  @CTCWinery

2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012 (294041, $18.95) in contrast to brother Foxcroft, is the more serious vineyard in my estimation. Falls compresses less limestone chalk and instead thunder rolls out glacial boulders. Here there is less grass, herbs, citrus and sea, but rathergarrigue blanc, the windswept plain studded with gorse and deeper, sweeter, earthly purity.  91  @2027Cellars

Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006 (winery only) has achieved green patina and diesel in D minor as the wine is just beginning to act its age. A crisp, crunchy green apple bent persists and the fruit remains confidently perched on top of the wood pile. A smoulder of wood seems ghostly present, or at least as rusty ties keeping it upright. A self-supporting slice of Beamsville Bench recent history here. Really quite fantastic.  92  @ThirtyBench

Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011 (241182, $35.20) does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  93  @cbriesling

Chardonnay

Lailey Chardonnay 2011 (193482, $19.95, Alberta, 739220, $35.67) butters toast with delectable lemon curd and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Well-articulated, bundled Chardonnay fruit, in spice cadence, big but never brawny. A measure of Niagara balance.  90   From my earlier note: “is right on brother Derek. This not only joins the right excellent Chardonnay club; it’s the incumbent President. Lifted honeysuckle, honey and bright lemon aromas, the deftest kiss of oak and just a punch of spice. Tingles and lingers.  If ’10 was “almost great,” ’11 is. Mikey likes this very much.  90  @laileywinemakr

Tawse ‘Quarry Road’ Chardonnay 2011 (111989, $34.95) carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  92  From my earlier (barrel tasting) note: “resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.”  91-93

From left: Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011, Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011, Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012, and Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012

Sémillon

Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012 (winery only, $18.00) drifts along, like a city swan, a white Beamsville white cut from a different cloth, wholly unique. Rosewood’s Sem is the case and the point for others to follow, to plant, cultivate, embrace and perfect this grape in Ontario. The ’12 is immense, articulate, hungry. It makes cause to say, ”I’m starving in your gravity. You’re made from something different than I know.”  90  From my earlier note: “is their most intense ever. An exceptional growing season amps the honey sounds to 11, speeds up the sugars to 33 and while there is obviously no sign of chapitalization, added acid stabilizes the high tropical nuance. Huge style for Sémillon, mulched in miele, fruit flavours amplified and lengthened by 14.6 per cent alcohol. Une cousine to J.L. Groux’s Stratus SV, if less grapefruit and increased value.”  90  @Rosewoodwine

Pinot Noir

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011 (79228, $22.95) gets the best value nod because it’s just oh so pretty, in hue, bouquet, essence and mouth feel. Four-Mile Creek dusty wind, dried leaf grain and a unique sense of soil imparts earthly elegance and poise. Excellent stuff.  90  @coyotesrun

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011 (1560, $29.95) may at first strangely seem that it had ”stepped out of the wilderness all squint-eyed and confused” but my how a swirl elicits gorgeous red berries and an emphatic oomph, even without a sip. Impressively ripe, blooming red rose and cinnamon from the heart of a winemaker’s boots. A mineral streak brings to mind Volnay, in spirit and tragically hip Pinot essence.  92  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012 (125310, $35.00) cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.  93  @normhardie

PHOTO: Michael Godel Bachelder Pinot Noir ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ 2011

Bachelder Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2011 (361816, $44.95) springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  @Bachelder_wines

Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc

Lailey Vineyard Wines Cabernet Merlot 2011 (winery only, $15) speaks the language of vinous accommodation. Abundant very berry fruit if less knotty and peculiar and more accessible than most Niagara Bordeaux blends. No bones about it, languid Lailey in mind of its own wonder. Could drink it straight from the tap.  89  @Laileywinemakr

Cave Spring Cellars Cabernet Franc Estate Bottled 2011 (72751, $24.95) attains a level of varietal purity near categorically Niagara Escarpment perfect. A mess of sweet and tangy red fruit, namely berries, currants and cherries cut fine to licorice and the evolutionary effects of magnesium-rich limestone. Imagine cutting a cross-section of rock to project a swirl of this multifarious Cabernet Franc. An example to examine at an Expert’s Tasting 10 years on.  91  @CaveSpring

Gamay

Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012 (winery only, $17.95) is, without question, Richie’s best to date. A gleaming, ebullient, shining glass of rich Gamay fruit with an undercurrent of currant and gleaning vineyard floor. A Buddy and Gene snare drum attack. Takes the baton and parades about the province. Will lead the #GoGamayGo charge for the rest of 2012 and well into 2013.  89  @Fieldingwines  @RichieWine

Good to go!

‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Golden globes, Trius Winery at Hillebrand
PHOTO: ESTHER VAN GEEST OF STEVEN ELPHICK & ASSOCIATES

as seen on canada.com

In July of 2011, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association held their inaugural event, the celebration, the fourth “C.” On the weekend of July 19-21, 2013 the third Cool Climate Chardonnay conference occupied the greater good of the Niagara Peninsula, cementing a legacy begun two years previous.

Backtrack a few years, when in 2009 Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne’s ‘Claystone Terrace’ Chardonnay 2005 made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. A light bulb went on. Fast forward to April 2010 and a group of romantics from 28 Ontario wineries get together to defend a grape. Were they singing “that’s what I like about Chardonnay?” No, but the grape had been down on the rock for so long and the panel felt compelled to come to its defense. To suffer an indignity like “Anything But Chardonnay” was an aggression that could no longer be tolerated. Thus an idea was born, a manifesto drafted and i4C was soon to become a reality.

For such a gathering to succeed there necessitates grand effort, partnership, passion, star power and serious thematic examples. Germination began with those first cool thoughts back in 2010 and the journey has since laid song lines by way of a barmy march of vignerons with rootstock firmly dug in Niagara (Harald ThielAngelo Pavan) and those with a second foot tracking terroirsbeyond and abroad (Thomas BachelderFrancois Morissette). Mix in some of this generation’s best wine-producing and marketing minds; Ron Giesbrecht formerly of Henry of Pelham, now Niagara College, Stephen Gash (Malivoire), Peter Bodnar Rod (13th Street), Del Rollo (Inniskilin, Jackson Triggs, Le Clos Jordanne), Suzanne Janke (Stratus) and Jeff Aubry (Coyote’s Run). The yeoman’s load has been in the multi-tasking hands of those who will work ’till their fingers bleed. Give it up for the cool concierge team; Dorian Andrewes, Trisha Molokach, Elena Galey-Pride, Britnie Bazylewski, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and an army of volunteers.

Partnered in kind with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO, Cool Chardonnay has gone forth and prospered. Success can be directly attributed to community and a profound connection to the fruit of the land. Famous wine folk have come; Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook of Decanter, winemakers and vintners wherever cool Chardonnay is grown. Pours have been the best of the best.

For three straight days in 2013 they walked, talked, sung praises in favour of and flat-out got dizzy with Chardonnay. White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa became vinifera central for the visiting cognoscenti, including 1976 Judgment in Paris and Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier,U.K. wine writer Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak), Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and traveling winemakers from all over; Louis Jadot’s Jacques Lardière, South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell, New Zealand’s Ruud Maasdam and Spain/California’s Marimar Torres.

The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams. The level of local and global wine excellence on display is sweeping and staggering. The congress acts both as social function and unprecedented academic experience. Most of all, i4c fosters and develops relationships for people within the wine industry and with its fans.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Brock University CCOVI

 Dizzying was the operative word of the weekend. Each time I had only just digested, assimilated, internalized and committed a group of wines to memory, another gala event and tasting was upon me. Friday morning began with “Global Perspectives on Chardonnay,” a winemaker’s panel discussion at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, moderated in minimalist, less is more fashion by Mr. Spurrier. The colloquium was augmented by a tasting of seven wines attributed to panel members. “The base for all wines should be harmony,” began Spurrier, followed by ”simplicity and clarity are the key points in wine.” Four matter-of-course questions were put to the panel and the dissertations ambled in many directions. Could the room of several hundred not question, “why is this symposium different from all other symposiums?” There was plenty of talk on barrels, clones, rootstock, soil and climate but what about the heart of the matter. How and where does Ontario Chardonnay go forth and prosper? How will exceptional quality translate to financial success? The answer lay buried in the polite, respectful and viniculture responses of the panelists, all of whom chose not to ruffle any wine making philosophy feathers nor to breach the moderator’s benign agenda. There were highlights:

Grape grower Albrecht Seeger:

Thomas Bachelder on behalf of and in support of the eloquent and verbose Jacques Lardière:

The outspoken and candid Francois Morissette:

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chardonnay at Brock University CCOVI

Friday night at Trius (Hillebrand) in Niagara-on-the-Lake set off under blazing sun only to be swept away in tempest. What began with the promise of seemingly limitless and linear structured wine and food stations turned into weather induced, scrambled chaos. I may never see a group of cooks, servers, winemakers and volunteers work harder to save an event and satiate a crowd as I saw at Trius that night. Their efforts were nothing short of brilliant. It was difficult to focus on tasting but the scene afforded some priceless time spent with Niagara winemakers and Brit Jamie Goode as the event wound down and on the shuttle back to the hotel. Wine tastings rarely afford such personal moments, to talk about something other than phenolics and malolactic fermentation.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Marlize Beyers at of Hidden Bench, Mikael Falkman of Champagne Taittinger and Michael Godel at Trius Wines

Lunch events and tastings on Saturday were held at StratusPillitteriHidden Bench and at Southbrook, which I attended. While the first three conducted more formal, seated, panel discussion style luncheons, the scene at Southbrook was more of a walk about, casual nature. Once again this allowed for one-on-one time with some of Niagara’s wine minds. Great time was spent with Shiraz Mottiar of Mailvoire (Moira’s Chardonnay 2010) and Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne (LCJ Chardonnay Claystone Terrace 2010). Special thanks to Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier for their hospitality.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Mother Nature announces a change of plans – at Trius Wines

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre was host to the Saturday gala event. The gamut of Chardonnay flowed freely, including fizz by Cave Spring, Angel’s Gate and Taittinger alongside Tide and Vine oysters. Food stations adorned the lawn and the army of volunteers poured all available Chardonnay well into the night. My ABC moment came early Sunday thanks to Mike Di Caro and a very much alive bottle of ’98 Henry of Pelham Riesling. Sunday concluded with more, you guessed it, Chardonnay at Ravine Vineyard and some terrific eats. Pizza from the outdoor oven, prosciutto by Mario Pingue and great rib-eye hamburgers hot off the grill.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chef Vikram Vij at Vineland Research Centre

In excess of 100 unique expressions of Chardonnay were available to taste throughout the weekend. More than half were presented in an experiential way, with a present winemaker or a carefully crafted food pairing. I sampled 72 to be exact. Much as I have thus far avoided the questions, and they have been asked more than once, I am willing to address the demand for ”what were the highlights and what were your favourites?” Apologies in advance to those I either missed or could not properly assess due to the sheer enormity of the weekend. Also to the little ones, the hard-plodding, day-to-day pleasing value Chardonnay. With so many top-tier, global examples from Burgundy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia and Ontario on offer, the under $25 set may not have felt the love. Here are notes on 13, guilt-free, bring ‘em on Chardonnay poured at #i4c2013.

Wines were tasted at the following venues:

Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)

Trius Winery at Hillebrand (TWH)

Southbrook Vineyards (SV)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre Rittenhouse Media Room  (RMR)

Ravine Vineyard (RV)

Southbrook Chardonnay Whimsy! ‘Sirgue’ 2011 (344531, $34.95) may come from the ‘masculine barrels’ but the integration is already seamless, in soft French cream spooned over a grove of ripe lemon dessert. Sister ‘Damy’ (sampled at 5-Star Casa Loma) is certainly ultra-feminine but together they speak of the symbiotic relationship between winemaker (Ann Sperling) and cooperage. Stone-free Chardonnay, “free to ride the breeze.”  90  (TH, SV) @SouthbrookWine

Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (335760, $34.00) is not so much a more concentrated version of the estate’s normale as a hotter sister. Like her sibling, the reserve does not rely on any one feature but she is classically styled, quaffed, a marble bust made up as maenad. Sappy white and savoury, meloniuos winter fruit, spiced apple butter and cool, steely goodness alights. “Felonious my old friend, So glad that you’re here again.”  90  (TWH, VRIC) @poplargrovewine

Staete Land Chardonnay ‘Josephine’ 2010 (332494, $57.00) is built upon a Marlborough hendiadys, a complex conjunction of rocks and earth. Sharp, focused and broad across the palate. Ruddy specimen this Josephine and simply gorgeous.  90  (VRIC)  @liffordwine

Miguel Torres Chardonnay ‘Cordillera De Los Andes’ 2011 (296624, $18.95) out of the cooler Limari Valley impresses in structure from mountain top to valley floor. Candied lemon peel, spicy bite and a crisp, cool centre make a case for value Chilean Chardonnay of the year. I might go so far as to say the highest quality ever from Chile.  91  (RMR)  @MarimarTorres

Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011 (344796, $44.95) ”from wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times.  91  (TH, VRIR, SV)  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 (931006, $32.95) may just be the most fascinating wine of the weekend. Aromatically it’s so understated and semi-breve spoken the oak-driven note is of the quasihemidemisemiquaver kind. Taste and find it ”is bathed every veyne in swich licour.” Chaucer-esque form, texture and meaning.  91  (VRIC, RV)  @WOSACanada

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009 (303644, $40), tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.  92  (TH)  @Pearl Morissette

Domaine Genot-Boulanger Meursault Clos du Cromin 2010 (331660, $59.00) intimates a sunshine daydream future carrying on wistfully in lustful fruit. Longevity will be supported by tight citrus and the wine, long on life, is long on deliverance.  92  (VRIC, VRI)

Bachelder Chardonnay ’Saunders Vineyard’ 2011 (324103, $44.95) takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Sapid, savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.  92  (CCOVI)  @Bachelder_wines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011 (346049, $35.00) toasted low and slow enervates and implodes to its very core. Then it sparks, revs the engine and climbs to 140 fearlessly and without peer. For those who can withstand the atomic launch, what follows is a reward of the highest quality Berkshire porcine whip, melting in the mouth like adult cotton candy.  Slow simmered apple paste, spiced and cooling reaps moisture and vacuums in the cheeks. Madness in Prince Edward County Chardonnay.  92  (RMR)  @normhardie

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2010 (120311, $90) is a study in Russian River Valley emotional depth, structured belief, reserved compassion and stoic understanding. Yes John Milton, there is intensity of the California sun present yet expertly judged in ripeness, concentration and restraint. Smooth, glabrous, luxuriant and prurient Chardonnay. Sip it, “look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.”  93  (RMR)

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011 ($40) is a child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or NOL in 2011?  93  (CCOVI)

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2010 (332270, $129.00) is sinfully young to assess, enjoy and evaluate. Stinging nettle, metal and silken, concentrated wildflower honey think mellifluous thoughts. “Him that yon soars on golden wings” sings in gold ingot yellow, in sweet harmony. Milton meets Costello, not quite in its Utopian place but will one day achieve peace, love and understanding.  94  (RMR)

Good to go!

Around the world in eight Chardonnays

PHOTO: SUTSAIY/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Chardonnay covers more than 400,000 acres seemingly everywhere and is the most widely planted wine grape on earth. Today marks its fourth annual global celebration. Who knew there was this marketing concept using social media as the thread that connects the global conversation together. If you live in Niagara and have some free time, then you my friend are in the right place. Many wineries (17 at last count) are offering special events and free tastings today, including Flat Rock CellarsTawseLaileyHidden BenchThirty BenchSouthbrookCoyote’s RunNiagara College Teaching WineryPondviewChateau des CharmesStratus13th StreetHenry of PelhamCave SpringMalivoire and Norman Hardie. Click here for a full list of events.

Chardonnay is cool, especially in Canada, blessed with a quintessential climate for growing the most international and recognizable of the world’s white grapes. Chardonnay comes in all shapes and styles, from unoaked to heavily toasted, aged in stainless steel or concrete vats to barrel fermented. Some styles use wood chips, some Chardonnay is fermented on its lees. Chardonnay is responsible for some of the world’s great Sparkling wines, especially Champagne. Is there a comparable white grape that speaks of its origins in more varied tones? Conversely, can another variety be singled out as having suffered through more international vinification manipulation? So, Chardonnay conjunction junction, what’s your function?  Want to know what Canadians are saying about Chardonnay? Ontario Wine Chat has the answers.

If you are looking to experience the wonders of Chardonnay, from a global perspective, surrounded by experts in a setting designed for relaxation and genuflection, look here:

In anticipation of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration #i4c2013 and to pay tribute to this marketing sensation that is International Chardonnay Day, here are eight great examples from near and far, all available to taste, try and sample somewhere close by.

Clockwise from left: Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Domaine du Chardonnay Chablis 2011, Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011, Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2010, Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011, Hidden Bench Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2009, Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, and Stratus Chardonnay 2010

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (246579, $15.95) from Wines for the Ides of March is fresh in chert, posy aromatic and stuffed with an airy, sense of whipped lemon cream. Salinity and white pepper add kick and spice to this Chardonnay cousin only Cave Spring seems to have mastered.  89  @CaveSpring

Domaine du Chardonnay Chablis 2011 (183574, $19.95) deserves 105 points for the domain name alone but really this is just solid, good fun. Chablis as I expect it to be. Apples and cinnamon, ginger, a hint of macadamia and citrus zest. Minor bitter note trumped by ripe fruit and a clean finish. Really quite good.  88

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011 ($21.95, 172338) from A wine pentathlon binds FSO2 with jack or durian, febrile fruit. For now hard to figure, like a grey rose or a Pink Floyd. Offers up a creamy warmth in resonant echoes but amplified as if still trapped inside the barrel. The best days remain ahead for this certified and biodynamic Chardonnay, which in two to three years time will “come streaming in on sunlight wings.” 89  @SouthbrookWine

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2010 (606186, $29.95) is about as internationally-styled as it gets from the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Smells like it’s still inside the barrel, as if the tropical fruit was wrapped up in a smoking, sweat lodge towel. Big on hot rocks, steaming and emitting earthy scents, nutty in every respect, big, big Chardonnay. Nerve, verve and understanding.  90  @WolfBlassWines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011 ($35, winery only) from Come together, over wine is not merely a window into the vintage but the portal. Bright, golden fruit, freakish level of mineral and longer than the old Greer Road. Norman will always have ’08 but the newbies will be lucky to discover 2011. Who wouldn’t fall for its charms. When it comes to this Prince Edward County Chardonnay, “one and one don’t make two, one and one make one.” I call that a bargain.  92  @normhardie

Hidden Bench Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2009 ($45, winery only) from Big wines from California and the Bench from HB’s oldest, most highly regarded and meticulously maintained vines shows ravishing and refined restraint in elegance. Warm pineapple and mango coagulation jarred by the vintage’s piercing acidity and immense length. Head of the class, rings the bell, nails the lecture.  93  @HiddenBench

Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne (599860, $46.95) continues a VINTAGES string of excellent value in Champagne releases. Made from 100% Chardonnay, this BdB is pronounced in , yeasty dough definition, hinting at agave and unwashed cheese rind. Where there’s bubbles there’s a way and I like where this one is going. The agave replays in sweet waves, as does the the sour in faint yet discernible sloshes. Much to contemplate in this NV sparkler.  90   @Halpernwine

Stratus Chardonnay 2010 ($55) from Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity incarnate from natural yeast, full batch (bunch) pressing and heeded by Paul’s call to full malolactic fermentation, this fruit was picked on November 15th, a day “you had to go run and pick fast.” Groux is not trying to make California or Burgundy but make the best in Niagara. Clarity and sun drenched hue, tropical fruit dominance, sweetness, malo-butterscotch obviousness. Some tart orchard fruit late but certainly warm vintage wine. Not the most arid Chardonnay but blessed with great length.  91  @Stratuswines

Good to go!

You can lead a county to the city

South Bay Winery vineyard in Prince Edward County PHOTO: POSTMEDIA NEWS

as seen on canada.com

It’s time to discover the wines of bucolic Prince Edward County in south-central Ontario, a place possessed and structured of a learned and cultured essence. If you were born in PEC you likely never left and if you did, probably returned. Then there are those who migrated in search of an anti-metropolitan lifestyle. The landscape is encompassed by water, dotted with folkloric towns, farms and cottages. Wine destination comparisons might be made; to Niagara, to Muskoka, the Finger Lakes, the North Fork of Long Island, to parts of California. No definitive connection is obvious. After tasting through the formidable pours at County in the City last Thursday at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, it became abundantly clear that the wines are unique in and amongst themselves and also bound together as one. The refrain holds true. It must be the rocks.

The grape growers, winemakers and 30 some odd wineries in PEC are no longer a gaggle of obscure, off the beaten path, parochial folk. Their serious VQA wines are establishing footholds in our metropolitan markets. The County’s adage may well be, “you can lead a farmer to grapevines,” a sure statement of the obvious. This event proved you can also lead them to the city.

Photo: Wine Align

Photo: Wine Align

“The County” as it is affectionately known is Ontario’s newest and suddenly dynamic wine appellation. It’s climate and geological make-up has been compared to Burgundy, the world’s benchmark region for growing and producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is clearly the County’s signature variety, its staff of life, but the excitement extends well beyond that comfort zone. Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Vidal and especially sparkling wines are making inroads along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But what about Gamay? Casa Dea’s Paul Battilana crafts a Sparkling Rosé from estate grapes. Chadsey’s Cairns and Troumpour’s Mill both make solid Gamay Noir. Battilana makes a still Gamay, as does Hillier Creek Estates. Time for others to join the #GoGamayGo party.

Prince Edward County wineries are increasing their collective engagement in many ways. The PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society held their inaugural event April 27th, 2013, County Character at Hillier Town Hall. PEC winemakers have joined the progressive wine on tap program too, like Rosehall Run, Norman Hardie and sparkling wine specialist Hinterland Wine Company, who is kegging Charmat, Prosecco-style bubbles for Barque Smokehouse.  The coming months offer many opportunities to taste the County. The Terroir festival in late May is an annual showcase of the area’s rocks, soil and new release wines, put on by the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association. Wassail takes place in late fall/early winter, celebrates the harvest and the laying of the vines to rest. The summer of 2013 will be a great time to visit PEC and follow its wine trail.

Here are nine wines of note tasted at Wine Align‘s County in the City at The Berkeley Church.

From left: Sandbanks Rosé 2012, Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009, Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011, and Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010

Sandbanks Rosé 2012 (244616, $12.95) whispers summer by the lake in the face of a fading pastel, pink sunset. A magical and inexpensive combination of subtle strawberry, cream and bright acidity. Who would ask for more?  87  @SandbanksWinery

Keint-He Vineyards Voyageur Vidal 2012 ($17, winery only) is a warm and aromatic expression having taken full advantage of the vintage. Yellow and orange flesh melon abounds in sweetness tempered by just enough limestone influenced acidity. Incredibly easy to drink. Breathes new life into white wine.  88  @KeintheWinery

Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 (241612, $18.95, winery) coaxed maximum density from the vintage in fleshy, black cherry and yet is anhydrous from chocolate dust. Chalk up another redacted red from Casa Dea, in the same vein as the plush, ruby ’09 Pinot Noir. All of Paul Battilana’s wines are priced and offered like an open door. Mi Casa Dea et su Casa Dea.  88  @PECWinemaker

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris 2012 ($25, winery only) bottled one week ago, is not as you might think, in shock. A cleanse of pure pear purée with an open invitation for immediate gratification. Mellifluous and with no discernible A16 whatsoever. This one’s good to go. Who comes by chance will be the more easily let go. “Lay down my darling,” this PG ain’t for keeping.  91  @normhardie

Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011 ($25, winery only) succeeds because less is more. Less lychee, more lightness of being. This is Glenn Symons’ 2nd vintage from the famed Wismer Vineyards in Niagara (Jordan). Refuses to club you over the head with “correctness.” Despite the lack of oily, nutty and tropical girth it’s suffused with crisp pleasure.  90  @lighthallvyard

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from 100% Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also “turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  @HuffEstatesWine

Rosehall Run Wines Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run Wines
Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run ‘The Swinger’ Syrah 2011 ($34.95, winery only) gets my attention not just because it’s the only commercially planted and bottled Syrah in PEC but because it stands in front of the orchestra. I gotta believe winemaker Dan Sullivan cares deeply about this wine from fruit sourced on Dick Singer’s Fieldstone Vineyard. Nothing fatuous about its smoky, tart cranberry, Sangioveseness kissed by the salty waves of an unseen ocean. The Swinger “ain’t no cherry bomb,” waits for no one, with its tobacco voice, gravel, rocks and sand. Like a sweet little bullet from a pretty blue gun.  90  @Rosehall_Run

Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011 ($35, winery only) is exemplary even if it may not be proprietor Gerard Spinosa’s favourite vintage. Commands an ineffable presence in gold sheen and parses meaning through balance and poise. The new oak is very noticeable but the ’11 acidity is grand. Their integration is seamless, the wine shines and a few years time will only increase its lustre.  92  @ExultetEstates

Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010 (310474, $39.95, winery) has improved dramatically over the course of a year, now red verging to black fruit, if only for a fleeting moment of temporary insanity, in a Sonoma state of mind. Silky smooth, “the textures coat my skin.” Though I have seen “the best (Pinot Noir) minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” this CCV uses a cured bresaola flavour and a vivid flower scent to invigorate, ground the humidity and the “earthy beet.” Musical, earthy beat, as in All Cats are Grey meets Howl.  92  @ClossonChase

Good to go!

Come together, over wine

Stratus Vineyard
Photo: Stratus Wines

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Intensity is in the air. The artists are at work, blessed with a geographical, geological and climatic canvas unique to the planet. They share arts and letters, compare and contrast methods, style and results. The sense of community is palpable, obvious and quite frankly awesome. They are Ontario winemakers and they are coming together. Right now.

Somewhereness

Somewhereness is not just a buzz word, it’s the operative word. The notion is attributed to Wine Spectator Magazine editor Matt Kramer and the application has been conceived, depending on your take, by osmosis, by derivative extension or through extrapolation, by the original six founding member wineries of Stratus, Charles Baker, Tawse Winery, Norman Hardie Winery, Flat Rock Cellars and the Malivorie Wine Company. The group has now grown to 12 Ontario winemakers, embracing Cave Spring Cellars, Hidden Bench Winery, Southbrook Vineyards, 13th Street Winery, Thomas Bachelder and Hinterland Wine Company. That this forward and fast thinking gang, collectively conspicuous like another famous gathering of Canadian artists, has embraced Somewhereness, mandated, habituated and held it dear in unequivocal belief, speaks of their collective consciousness. Terroir feeds their raison d’être,” imprinted with a vineyard’s sense of place, its soil, climate, seasons, vintage variations — and its maker’s methods.”

Mr. Kramer said “Somewhereness is more than just an event. It allows us to recognize the particular beauty of a place. Since Ontario’s wines have just such a particular beauty, the Somewhereness celebration makes sense in a single sip.” It was also Mr. Kramer who said that Somewhereness is something you can’t take, nor is it something that you can really define, or figure out its source. Somewhereness is not something undefined, like umami, nor is it akin to karma, or zeitgeist. It’s very real. In the soil, the vines, the fruit and in the wine. The sparkling, white and red wines of Ontario are obvious and recognizable. They should never be mistaken as having been made anywhere else.

Recognition

A concept like Cool Chardonnay takes it to the road to spread the prophecy and also plays host to events that attract dignitaries from around the world. More organizations like i4C are needed to spread the Ontario gospel. The next summit of #i4C2013 (third annual) will take place this coming July 19-21. Still, something is missing. Industry folk share an understanding, celebrate internally and not unlike any well-organized clique, pat one another on the back. But what about the local consumer? Do they realize they’re missing out on the illustrious muckle right under their noses? There’s the rub. It’s not just Americans and Europeans who are ignorant to the exceptional quality of Ontario wine. Abeyance be gone, these next few years have the potential to cement an industry’s power. Only a minority has even the slightest clue that liquid gold is mined out of the peninsula’s glacial clay and limestone. The time is ripe to tell the world the story of Somewhereness. The embryo is about to grow in a major way. Financial reward is within reach. So how to alert the world?

Education

When Canadian agencies send wine abroad, its best foot must be put forward. West coast wine writer Anthony Gismondi made this point to Canada’s quintessential wine ambassador, Janet Dorozynski:

More than anything, retail stores that specialize in cool climate wines are necessary to force feed confidence to the buying public. Shops devoid of cloying Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Shiraz that cloud the wine IQ of young minds. I’m guessing you don’t see Gamay as a great hope for the future of sales out of this province. You are not the only one. If Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are considered essential varieties for success, how can Gamay be excluded from hanging out at the top of the list? Only three were poured at Somewhereness, two of which were from Malivoire. Tawse, Stratus and Cave Spring should all have been pouring theirs. Consider this statement. “Wines produced between 41˚ and 44˚ north are more aromatic, lighter in body and higher in acidity than their warm-climate cousins.” If that does not shout Gamay, please tell me what does. The #GoGamayGo troupe is in full tweeting mode:

Simply put, more Gamay (Noir) needs to be planted in Ontario’s vineyards. OK, so the name isn’t the sexiest. Could you call it Niagara Noir? I don’t think so. Gamay and its small berries (especially from new clonal plantings) are ideally suited to the climate and the wines are drop dead delicious. The bandwagon is growing, with zealots like @thespitter, @winetrackmind, @BillZacharkiw@mkaisersmit@TheGrapeGuy@zoltanszabo and @johnszabo leading the charge.

Caretakers of the Earth

Indeed, Ontario is a special place to grow grapes. Our 12 winemakers feel this way about their wines, noting they offer “deeper refreshment, exquisite harmony with food, and great ageing potential. Welcome to the coolest fine wine region on earth. Our wineries sit on a fortuitous composition of earthly constituents: some 12 meters of glacial clay and silt capped by a few feet of clay and limestone-laced topsoil. Clay limits a vine’s ability to produce large crops. Instead we get tiny berries in small yields, giving us high concentrations of sugars, acids, minerals and wantonly exotic flavour compounds.”

On Tuesday, April 16th the group of 12 poured their best at the MaRSDiscovery District. A warm thank you goes to Cool Chardonnay, i4C VIP Concierge Trisha Molokach for helping to set the Somewhereness table. Here are eight shining examples of the coolest wine made on earth.

From left: 13th Street Cuvée Rosé NV, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009, Malivoire Wine Company Gamay ‘Courtney’ 2011, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009, Charles Baker Riesling ‘Picone’ 2011, Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011, Hinterland Wine Company Rosé 2010 Method Traditional, and Tawse Pinot Noir ‘Lauritzen Vineyard’ 2010

13th Street Cuvée Rosé NV ($24.95, winery only) is autolytic, Brut-finished, traditional method sparkling that has that something in her style. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay emitting so much strawberry energy you might find yourself lost in the fields forever. But there is more than that, “something in the way she woos me,” maybe the rhubarb replay, or the tarragon, or the faint tang of cheese. You gotta like the Jean Pierre Colas style and to like her, you need to like her style.  89  @13thStreetWines

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009 ($29.95, winery only) comes from the oldest, lowest-yielding vines at the estate grown on the limestone, Beamsville Bench terrace. A three month rest on its lees imparts honey on the nose though the palate is dryer than off-dry. Mineral, pop-driven even. A hoovering, wizened Riesling, puckering, turning inward, yet to hydrate. Unique for Escarpment ’09 and will realize a quenching later than most. I for one will put this aside and revisit at the end of the decade, when “golden slumbers fill your eyes.” 89  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Wine Company Gamay ‘Courtney’ 2011 ($29.95, winery only) spent 14 edifying months in French oak and will live adroitly for another five years as a result. So much plum inherent in all its faculties, berries and currants too. The winemaker star of  Shiraz Mottiar is rising higher into the cool climate stratosphere with each passing vintage. His wines walk a haute couture runway of class and style.  91  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009 ($32.95, winery only) occupies hallowed Beamsville Bench middle ground between the beastly corpulence of 2008 and the rich, voluptuous 2010. Puzzling blend. Approachable and formidable. I sip and sip and sip her majesty in spite of her necessary acidity and tenacious tannin. “I want to tell her that I love her a lot but I gotta get a bellyful of wine.”  92  @HiddenBench

Charles Baker Riesling ‘Picone’ 2011 ($35, winery only) trembles with nervous energy and will need some bottle time to shed its shocking, A16 soda popping feeling. Right now “he got joo joo eyeballs.” Give it a year, or even two for the Vinemount Ridge clint (citrus and flint) to come together in a fit of focused, piercing acidity. This is Baker’s sharpest, knife-edge Riesling in the block and while I never thought it possible, this one is sure to outshine 2009. For Charles Baker “one and one and one is three.”  93  @cbriesling

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011 ($35, winery only) is not merely a window into the vintage but the portal. Bright, golden fruit, freakish level of mineral and longer than the old Greer Road. Norman will always have ’08 but the newbies will be lucky to discover 2011. Who wouldn’t fall for its charms. When it comes to this Prince Edward County Chardonnay, “one and one don’t make two, one and one make one.” I call that a bargain.  92  @normhardie

Hinterland Wine Company Rosé 2010 Method Traditional ($37, winery only) is imbued faintly and sweetly in pink hue and lithe bubble. The grace and ease of Prince Edward County is forgotten when the wine hits the tongue and attacks with force. A peppery anesthetization ensues, followed by a soma-like, numbing sensation. She’s no cheap date, gives you no money, “but oh, that magic feeling.” Like a two-side playing of Abbey Road, she reels you in slowly, works to a feverish pitch and drifts off slowly into dream. A bit exhausting but worth the trip.  90  @hinterlandwine

Tawse Pinot Noir ‘Lauritzen Vineyard’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) from the Vinemount Ridge is dry and cut with spice, a favourite for winemaker Paul Pender. The sour acidity from fruit such as cranberry and pomegranate are here in deep, concentrated and naturally sweet tones. Niagara limestone casts a Burgundy mineral shadow and the wine is iron tough yet silky due to the warmth of the vintage.  91  @Tawse_Winery

Good to go!

Time to buy these great wines

PHOTO: DRAMARGAR/FOTOLIA.COM

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Smaller investments lead to bigger fortunes. This is the credo that works for me when it comes to wine. I practice what I preach and taste as many wines as possible, to determine the personality of my palate, to make informed, diagnostic and visceral decisions when it comes to purchasing for my cellar.

Related – More Current Release Wines

Admittedly, I am offered many opportunities to taste wine. They are out there for you too, whether you live in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia or British Columbia. Wine events are happening almost daily, in event venues, in restaurants, in wine shops and at your local monopoly. Get out there and taste Canada. Put a little money and time into your wine future. Take a course. Taste often and always. Training and immersion is key. Taste!

In the meantime, one of my many jobs is to help with buying strategies. Some recent releases are out there for the taking. I have also discovered a remarkable (soon to arrive in Canada) New Zealand producer, thanks to the generosity of the Speck Family (Henry of Pelham, Ontario) and Family Wine Merchants.  Their Icons of Wine, The Inaugural Family Wine Merchants Portfolio Tasting in Toronto was held on April 15, 2013 at Arcadian Lofts. The Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from the Marlborough winery called Te Pā are a revelation. In anticipation of a spring concert of Prince Edward County wine events and new tastings, here is a terrific Pinot from the man himself, Norman Hardie. All in all, here are five new wines to look for, right now and in the near future.

From left: Santi Vigneti Di Monteforte Soave Classico 2011, Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2009, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ‘Speck Family Reserve’ 2009, and Te Pā Winery Pinot Gris 2012

The grapes: Garganega and Trebbiano

The history: Produced in the Veneto region of northern Italy and owned by Lamberti S.P.A., an Italian chemical company

The lowdown: Really remarkable Soave at an entry-level price speaks for itself, despite the odd marriage between winery and massive chemical overlord

The food match: Cauliflower Soup with Coconut, Turmeric and Lime

Santi Vigneti Di Monteforte Soave Classico 2011 (316067, $14.95) is spangled of a mineral green and gold like lichen and moss on rocks long dripped on by a spraying waterfall. Fettered elegance, waxy like aged Semillon and positively exclusive of balm, oil, cloy or bitter peat. Smooth, direct, agreeable white.  88 @pmacanada

The grape: Sangiovese

The history: Property in Panzano (Greve) in Chianti that dates back hundreds of years, when it was called “Cahago”, which means “enclosed, cultivated field”

The lowdown: Open the dictionary and search “Chianti Classico.” CC defined

The food match: Spaghetti, 2012 harvest Roma tomato, basil sprouts, Parmigiano-Reggiano

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2009 (176776, $19.95, SAQ, 571539, $24.60) whispers come-hither, pour a glass of me. You will not be disappointed. Straddles the Chianti meridian, offering up the best of both worlds; a tough, tannic and gritty stalking wolf and an alluring, silky modern fox. Iron and saltpeter meets dark chocolate filled with raspberry liqueur. Blessed with a piacevole retrogusto. “There’s still time for the midnight wine. Life just as it happens going down the line.”  90  @VillaCafaggio  @VinexxCanada

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Long established Marlborough, New Zealand property with vineyards right by the waters of Cloudy Bay at the Wairau Bar, though they’ve only recently begun to bottle under their own label

The lowdown: If Te Pā can find a way to get their wines into VINTAGES stores, they could be priced as low as $18.95. If that happens I will buy them by the case and hand them out on Halloween as adult treats

The food match: Za’atar Spiced Rabbit Gözleme

Te Pā Winery Pinot Gris 2012 (coming soon, $31.95) from a single vineyard made up of three plots and only the best fruit is chosen for the final blend. Hurtles like a ballistic missile fueled by bombarding and bombastic pear fumes, not to mention pungent capsicum. Was “headed for the overload” when suddenly it spun around by way of a dramatic yet finessed, flinty mineral chord change, like a “D” dropped into a Keith Richards’ open “G”. Gets your rocks off. The Sauvignon Blanc popped my eyeballs straight from their sockets. This Pinot Gris is even finer.  92  @nzwine  @winemarlborough

The Splurges

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Norman Hardie needs little introduction. He is the reason Prince Edward County Pinot will secure a place on that grape’s world stage

The lowdown: The 2011 vintage will go down as a classic for PEC. The tens have mass appeal, the nines turned out to be stellar but it is the elevens that gather the best of both worlds; ripeness and acidity. Stock up

The food match: Capercaillie and coniferous forest from Fäviken

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011 (125310, $35.00) paints the County red in layered and structured brushstrokes. Ripe, bright cherry tonality in super-heightened, mesmeric sensuality. Accented by weeping rock, black earth and that cherry. Would not figure this to be Norm’s most rugged or gregarious and yet it holds more heft than it looks. Currently in a great place and will live longer than any other.  92  @normhardie  @TastetheCounty

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Established in 1988, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery is run by the late Paul Speck Sr.’s three sons, Matthew, Daniel and Paul. H of P amalgamates iconic Niagara pedigree with forward thinking and familial kinship

The lowdown: While there is little doubt that winemaker Ron Giesbrecht’s greatest success is and has been cemented in his Cabernet-Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling, his soft spot has got to be for this Speck Family Reserve Pinot

The food match: Tomato Dijon Tart

Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ‘Speck Family Reserve’ 2009 (657874, $40) has arrived in its happy place. The escarpment abutting, protected position and sheltered warmth away from the lake makes the Short Hills Bench a valued Pinot site. Crushed red berries, exaggerated florals and less earth/funk than many peers lead to the SFR’s singular sagacity. Fine-grained chalky tannins befitting the vintage will see this linger with pleasure for another five years. Yet another fine example of ’09 Niagara Pinot clarity forged by skilled and experienced hands.  91  @SpeckBros

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Grapes and Peaches

Má Pêche, Momofuku – Duck Two Ways PHOTO: GABRIELE STABILE

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If I had my little way

I’d eat peaches every day

Eat a peach. Listen to the music. Taste wine. Feel like a president. My wine codex is in full, binary cross-cultural mode. These days I can’t help myself singing (in a quiet whisper) Dave Grohl songs – I’m not even such a big fan of his music! Maybe it’s because he seems to be everywhere; in tweets about the SXSW Festival, on the cover of Delta’s in-flight magazine, on satellite radio in the rental car. Recent wine events and food experiences have left me with the distinct impression that “it’s times like these you learn to live again.”

Passionate chefs, exceptional “100km” wines, and a good cause are a triumvirate for success. Also, a city that never sleeps, a superstar chef’s empirical outpost, and sublime food are a second triad for victory. And what do these two scenarios have in common? Grapes and peaches.

BAAH! The Great Lamby Cook-Off, Thursday, March 21st, 2013, Imperial Ballroom, Fairmont Royal York Hotel

BAAHTony Aspler knows more about wine than just about anyone I know. That he has taken his knowledge, his craft and his contacts in the food and wine world to champion a noble cause, well that is something to be admired. The organization he gives time to is called Grapes for Humanity, globally providing much needed relief to those less fortunate. Mr. Aspler organized yet another memorable GFH event, to benefit a child’s education by constructing a needed school in Guatemala. Twelve chefs, 12 lamb dishes, 12 wine pairings. You couldn’t spit without hitting a sommelier or a local oenologist. Chef Michael Pataran took home the top prize for his Goan Lamb Shoulder with a coconut, chili, lime chutney and paddle skewer. The best wine pairing went to the Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Reserve 2010, poured alongside Pataran’s “curry”; a double win. Stock Sommelier Zoltan Szabo directed the room with tireless energy.

Here, my favourite three wines at “BAAH”, plus a gorgeous Gigondas tasted in NYC on Saturday night.

From left: Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010, Tawse Merlot ‘David’s Block’ 2010, Norman Hardie ‘County Unfiltered’ Cabernet Franc 2011, and Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas 2007

Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010 (211896, $22.00) on this night walked a Niagara Wallendian tightrope of balance between heft and deft, sidling effortlessly up to Barque Smokehouse chefs David Neinstein and Tony Starratt’s ‘Mici‘ and travelling further on up the evolutionary road past “enjoyable if unremarkable.” From my earlier note: “Continues to show a reductive note in the form of vanilla and maple syrup, no honey actually, but all signs point to further excellence. High quality chocolate spiked by cherry, orange and a peppery, nasal tickle open up beautifully and expressively towards the dusty, berry main event. Knock your baby’s socks off with this double-stuffed Oreo and let the night unfold.  89 @Rosewoodwine

Tawse Merlot ‘David’s Block’ 2010 ($49.95) from certified organic and biodynamic estate fruit puts the double ‘L’ back in lush. Endowed of a caressing cashmere. Could act as spokesperson for Niagara Merlot announcing, “there are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who like Merlot, and those who don’t.” Calm, confident and marked by an insouciant nature. Earlier note: “Suffers no stenosis and instead flows as a sanguine and savoury riverine expression. Olives and the smokey whiff of yeasty bread on the grill. Not surprising considering the quality of Pender’s lees so often collected and added back to the next generation’s barrels.”  91  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Norman Hardie ‘County Unfiltered’ Cabernet Franc 2011 ($25) rolls the barrel out from a velvet underground into the Prince Edward County sun, pours singular Foster Vineyard fruit over crushed limestone then infuses the juice with ripe cherries. The warmth of 2010 lingers on in the ’11 CF’s pale blue eyes. Makes “the world as pure and strange as what I see.” Persists as the definitive expression of this grape in The County.  91  @normhardie

Dinner at Momofuku, Má Pêche, 15 w. 56th street, New York City, @momofuku

Má Pêche knows how to treat a lady, the President of the United States, and me. David Chang’s midtown eatery located in the Chambers Hotel opened in April, 2010. The Executive Chef is Paul Carmichael, a Barbados native who transmits Chef’s vision through elegant, restrained and poetic flavours. Carmichael and Chef de Cuisine Johnny Leach compose dishes as colourful canvasses but they are never over-painted nor monochromatic abstractions. Food of distinction and singularly distinct from plate to plate. Vegetables, many of the root kind, are succulent, glossy, al dente, and clearly defined. Service offers no pretense, no hovering, no massaging. Casual and professional. No hipster attitude neither.

Má Pêche AppetizersPhoto: Michael Godel

Má Pêche Oysters
Photo: Michael Godel

Oysters, especially New Brunswick Hurricane and Salt Pond Rhode Island are fresh makers, like spirits moving through the ocean. Washed those suckers down with 21st Amendment “Bitter American” Extra Pale Ale. Spanish Mackerel is a smokey, charred wave of umami with crisp, crunchy romaine and a silken tofu sauce, like citrus-spiked tahini. Barnegat Light Scallops are buttery, whispering, ethereal.

Appetizers

Má Pêche Appetizers

Chatham, MA Cod is foam cloud-enveloped, braised fish and brussel sprout ‘chips’ attenuated by malt vinegar. Jurgielewicz Farm, PA Duck two ways is perfect pink breast accented by candied orange rind and also piquant mici-like sausage, bucked by peppery spice. Provitello Fams, NJ Veal is fall apart, rosy neo-osso bucco, soft, supple and flat out delicious. The only non-wow moment comes from Barnegat Light, NJ Monkfish which shows indifference and a dry, dusty mole that barely mingles with needs to be further-rendered skin.

The wine list is more than thoughtful, embracing many needed food companion varieties, like Sylvaner, Trebbiano, Scheuerebe, Cabernet Franc, Nerello Mascalese and Teroldego. I opted for a southern Rhône Grenache blend imbued with just the perfect amount of age.

Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas 2007 ($31, Menu: 375 mL $32) of black/crimson mephitic and inky berry blush and lush, full-on sun-drenched fruit has reached full resolve. Licorice, kirsch and stony, meta-anthracite show off in the wine’s perfect window.  Decadent Gigondas.  92

Good to go!