Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Wine tasting

Here are 10 current releases to help keep the wolves of virus and disease at bay.
Photo: chiyacat/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

I know you are about to scream at your screen. Not another column about the health benefits of drinking wine. Delete. Wait, hear me out.

Related: A wine prescription for cold and flu and Feeling under the weather? Drink wine

In a recent joint study between the Health Sciences Department, Brock University and the Oncology Department, McMaster University, scientists set out to prove the Inhibition of human lung cancer cell proliferation and survival by wine. Published a month ago, here is the paper’s conclusion: “Red wine inhibits proliferation of lung cancer cells and blocks clonogenic survival at low concentrations.” Nice.

The study was prefaced through the idea that “compounds of plant origin and food components have attracted scientific attention for use as agents for cancer prevention and treatment. Wine contains polyphenols that were shown to have anti-cancer and other health benefits.” Put two and two together and voilà. The group investigated the “effect of wine on proliferation and survival of human non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells and its effects on signaling events.” The findings are nothing short of astonishing.

The operative observation here is that low doses (read: moderate consumption) of wine may have anti-cancer and chemo-preventive properties.” White wine’s cancer fighting properties exist (at two per cent concentration) though they are not in the same league as Red wine (five per cent). Or, you need to (very rough math) drink 250 per cent more white wine to reap similar benefits. Such a quagmire.

Evangelia Litsa Tsiani, associate professor of community health sciences at Brock University added “our next step is to use doses of wine that correspond to moderate wine consumption in humans – one to two glasses per day – and examine the effect on tumor growth in mice.”

We already know that the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s lecture series (now in its seventh season) has had a major impact on the global grape industry. Dr. Belinda Kemp, CCOVI Scientist, Oenology noted that “they’re a great resource for the wine industry and wine researchers anywhere in the world.” I wonder if the department has plans for a wine and health benefits lecture during its eight season. Hint, hint.

The ancients, or late Bronze Age people’s such as the Egyptians, Arameans, Assyrians and Babylonians used the natural world to prevent sickness and disease. Archaeologists recently discovered wine in an Israeli wine cellar, dating back to 1700 BCE. Think the Greeks invented wine? This discovery is 1,262 years older than the Parthenon. That’s nearly as old as the Pyramids. Wine and health relations go back to a time when a woolly mammoth still walked the earth, a time when The Hammurabi code was written. The premise? A commitment to protection of the weak from being brutalized by the strong. Just like wine.

In an attempt to justify what may be construed as profligate connections, the fact of the matter remains. With each passing study conjured up and proven by internationally recognized educational institutions, the health benefits of wine continues to develop as a thing of undeniable valence. Take honest wine with food, take it regularly and live longer. Here are 10 current releases to help keep the wolves of virus and disease at bay.

From left: Dante Robino Bonarda 2011, Domaine Des Amadieu Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Bodegas Olarra Anares Reserva 2006, Fantinel Sant’helena Pinot Grigio 2012, and Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012

From left: Dante Robino Bonarda 2011, Domaine Des Amadieu Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Bodegas Olarra Anares Reserva 2006, Fantinel Sant’helena Pinot Grigio 2012, and Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012

Dante Robino Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (277640, $14.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Sourced from the Santa Rosa sub region of Mendoza. From sandy soils and built upon a brooding, musty set of wood-influenced aromatics that put the lurking fruit to test. Painfully dry with pronounced flavours of red licorice, sour black cherry, spice and baked figs. Gains richness as it breathes and then the drying tannins take over. Quite an effort for $15. Worth a look for something different and in spite of the idiomatic value it speaks.  88  Tasted February 2014  @DanteRobino

Provenant de la sous-région de Santa Rosa de Mendoza. De sols sableux et construit sur un ensemble de moisi couvaison des composés aromatiques du bois d’influence qui mettent le fruit qui se cache à l’épreuve. Péniblement sec aux saveurs prononcées de réglisse rouge, griotte, d’épices et de figues cuites. Les gains richesse comme il respire, puis les tanins de séchage prendre le dessus. Tout un effort pour 15 $. Cela vaut le coup pour quelque chose de différent et en dépit de la valeur idiomatique elle parle.  88   Dégusté Février 2014

Domaine Des Amadieu Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Rhone, France (354233, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Paying a bit of extra attention to lower-priced, high alcohol Rhônes can offer rewards. There is much metal and merit in this Cairanne. At the price it imitates the grandeur of more expensive villages, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and to a more realistic extent, Vacqueyras. Hued in drupe, holly berry pitch, saturated in berries, spiked by berry liqueur and seeping along with spices and extracts. Outwardly generous in flavour, knowing well that “while we’re on the way to there, why not share.” All in all he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother89  Tasted February 2014  @Amadieu_G

Payer un peu d’attention supplémentaire à bas prix, Rhônes forte teneur en alcool peut offrir des récompenses. Il ya beaucoup de métal et de mérite dans cette Cairanne. Au prix il imite la grandeur de villages plus chers, comme Châteauneuf-du-Pape et dans une mesure plus réaliste, Vacqueyras. Hued en drupe, houx hauteur de baie, saturé dans les baies, dopés par baie liqueur et infiltration avec des épices et des extraits. Extérieurement généreux en saveurs, sachant bien que “pendant que nous sommes sur le chemin de là, pourquoi ne pas partager.” Dans l’ensemble, il n’est pas lourd, il ya mon frère.  89   Dégusté Février 2014

Bodegas Olarra Anares Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain (244723, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Perhaps it’s just as a comparison to the rest of this Spanish armada fiasco I am in the throes of tasting but this Tempranillo with minor support from two G’s, Garnacha and Graciano, really has got a hold on me. I grant that it’s a bit faded and heading to melted toffee but at $20 and with the idea to enjoy it now, the wild raspberries, gariga and spicy wood notes are a treat. Savoury, licorice, roast tomato and grilling baby veal flavours will help with a slow braise of the animal’s tougher cut.  90  Tasted February 2014

Peut-être c’est juste que la comparaison avec le reste de cette armada fiasco espagnol je suis dans les affres de la dégustation mais ce Tempranillo avec le soutien mineur de deux G, Garnacha et Graciano, vraiment a obtenu une prise sur moi. Je reconnais que c’est un peu défraîchi et la position de caramel fondu mais à 20 $ et avec l’idée de profiter de ce moment, les framboises sauvages, gariga et des notes de bois épicés sont un régal. Salés, réglisse, rôti de tomate et griller saveurs bébé de veau aideront avec un lent braise de coupe plus difficile de l’animal.  90   Dégusté Février 2014

Fantinel Sant’helena Pinot Grigio 2012, Collio, Friuli, Italy (310144, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

High quality Pinot Grigio from Friuli, with an Alps to Adriatic micro-climate ideally suited to both warm and cool the needs of the variety. You might ask, what difference does that make? Plenty. So much more distinct than reputation would hold and anything but just a Northern Italian white. Lit candle waxy and spiced in Sandalwood, with a lemon peel feel, cool climate salinity and gravelly, silt-inflected Spring run-off. The world’s fleet of Pinot Grigio “have been through hell and high tide,” but thanks to Friuli, the grape keeps its respect. Full flavoured, with smithy verve, punchy, more than practical.  90  Tasted February 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Mike Weir Limited Edition Riesling 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (229286, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

The off-dry nose is an anomaly and I’m very curious to see where this goes. Persists very sweet to taste, without enough acidity, unfortunately, though the tropical flavours are boisterous and plentiful. This is a more than admirable attempt at a Kabinett style done right by a Mosel intimacy and attitude, though it’s lacking in body and structure. Still, it will age longer and develop more secondary characteristics than many a Niagara Peninsula Riesling, especially for the price. Worth tracking a case of 12 for five to 10 years.  89  Tasted February 2014  @WeirWine

Le nez de demi-sec est une anomalie et je suis très curieux de voir où cela va. Persiste très doux au goût, sans suffisamment d’acidité, malheureusement, bien que les saveurs tropicales sont bruyants et copieux. Il s’agit d’une tentative plus admirable à un style Kabinett bien fait par une intimité Moselle et de l’attitude, si elle fait défaut dans le corps et la structure. Pourtant, il va vieillir plus longtemps et développer des caractéristiques plus secondaires que beaucoup de Niagara Peninsula Riesling, surtout pour le prix. Suivi d’un cas de 12 pour cinq à 10 ans la peine.  89  Dégusté Février 2014

From left: Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011, and Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left: Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011, and Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (193573, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Southbrook’s seminal Cabernet has become that kind of go to, reliably delicious and affordable red, not unlike Sterling’s Napa bottling that emerged in the late 1990′s. That this can happen in any vintage out of the Niagara Peninsula is really quite amazing. Even more incredible is that here in 2012, it’s almost too much of a good thing, too hot, too sweet. Still, only Triomphe smells like this and on that note I must give it my thumbs up. The Peninsula’s earth, the purity of that warm, rich ’12 fruit, a touch of disco, that Sperling perfume. The palate is explicitly sweet, on that I’m sure most would agree but the wood is an afterthought. Alcohol is in check, berries are ripe, tannins are refined, ready to resolve slowly, efficiently and with pleasure. Direct, solid and righteous, despite the sugar high.  89  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine  @TrialtoON

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010, Alsace, France (995316, $27.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Such a dry and powerful Alsatian example. Tight, angular, typically piercing and even more citrus-driven than ever. Jacked up, better than your average Joe Riesling. As a textbook example from a place where the variety rules, it tells “me that this world is no place for the weak.” Still, I find the Reserve bottling a bit overpriced, not having as much personality such as the cost-equivalent Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim. Another Trimbach that’s just “gotta have no illusions” and look sharp90  Tasted February 2014  @trimbach  @WoodmanWines

Un tel exemple alsacien sec et puissant. Tight, angulaire, généralement perçant et même plus agrumes axée que jamais. Mis sur cric, mieux que votre moyenne Joe Riesling. Comme un exemple classique d’un endroit où les règles de la variété, il dit “moi que ce monde n’est pas un endroit pour les faibles.” Pourtant, je trouve la Réserve embouteillage un peu trop cher, ne pas avoir autant de personnalité tels que le coût équivalent Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim. Un autre Trimbach qui est juste “Gotta Have pas d’illusions” et regardez pointu.  90   Dégusté Février 2014

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33894, $30.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Something’s missing, or rather something is happening here. The LCJ omnipresent warm Pinot coat of harm is conspicuous in its absence, or has it been reigned in? This 2011 is so much more friendly, more soft-spoken, expertly judged and picked ripe fruit richer than before. Plenty of tang and tannin but the pronouncement is in a savoury basil/chervil kind of way. Not just another high made by just another crazy guy. A most excellent, bright, Roxy Village Reserve, full of atmosphere and ambient music.  91  Tasted February 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Il manque quelque chose, ou plutôt quelque chose qui se passe ici. Le manteau chaud omniprésent LCJ de Pinot de préjudice brille par son absence, ou at-il été régné en? Ce 2011 est beaucoup plus convivial, plus à la voix douce, experte jugé et ramassé des fruits mûrs plus riche qu’avant. Beaucoup de saveur et de tanin mais la déclaration est dans un savoureux basilic / cerfeuil sorte de façon. Pas seulement un autre haut fait par juste un autre gars fou. Un excellent, clair, roxy Village Reserve, plein d’atmosphère et musique d’ambiance.  91  Dégusté Février 2014

Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011, Burgundy, France (285866, $66.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Winemaker Pascal Marchand possesses post-modern abilities to coax the most richesse from out of the basic of basic appellations in the Burgundian universe. This ’11 elevates an umbilical villages to exalted heights and it has really settled into its skin since I last tasted it in May of 2013.  The land is speaking and oozing in a primordial drenching. The tang and verve melts in the mouth, like foie gras cotton candy. What sets it apart is the end game mellow melding of pronounced flavours left to free fall effortlessly into a black hole of critical mass.  92  Tasted May 2013 and February 2014

Vigneron Pascal Marchand possède des capacités post-modernes pour amadouer le plus Richesse de l’extérieur de la base des appellations de base de l’univers bourguignon. Cette ’11 élève un villages ombilical à des hauteurs exaltées et il a vraiment installé dans sa peau depuis que j’ai goûté en mai 2013. La terre parle et suintant dans un trempage primordial. La soie et la verve fond dans la bouche, comme le foie gras de barbe à papa. Ce qui le distingue est la fin du jeu fusion douce de saveurs prononcées de gauche à la chute libre sans effort dans un trou noir de masse critique.  92  Dégusté mai 2013 et Février 2014

Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California (353706, $92.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

The vineyard speaks first, has the microphone, tells of its volcanic, limestone story going back to 1988. Talks in a Chablis whisper which may come across as narcissistic or somehow simple, but surely deserving to receive the benefit of the doubt. The kind of toast that has you reaching for the last jar of homemade berry jam. Lemon/lime reduction, as a gelée, consommé or demi-glace of fine Chardonnay whiffed by subtle smoke and non-discernible fat. The most subtle of all the Kistlers.  93  Tasted February 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh

Le vignoble parle d’abord, a le microphone, raconte sa volcanique, calcaire histoire remontant à 1988. Pourparlers dans un murmure Chablis qui peut apparaître comme narcissique ou en quelque sorte simple, mais sûrement digne de recevoir le bénéfice du doute. Le type de pain que vous a atteint pour la dernière pot de confiture de petits fruits maison. Citron / réduction de la chaux, comme une gelée, consommé ou demi-glace de fin Chardonnay whiffed par la fumée subtile et graisse indiscernable. Le plus subtil de tous les Kistlers.  93  Dégusté Février 2014

Good to go!

A resolution to drink honest wine

Heart wine

What is honest wine? Above all else it is made by the grower who sleeps with the grapes.
Photo: Aleksandr Volkov/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

When the book closed on the Gregorian calendar year for 2012, I made the most basic of wine resolutions for 2013. Drink better wine. That I did. A year on, with thousands more wines tasted and contemplated under my belt, an unconquerable will to seek acts of volition compels me to declare this. Let 2014 be the year to drink honest wine.

If wine were considered as a Roman anagram, the Latin quid est veritas, translated as “what is truth,” should prompt the response, “why, this honest wine.” Try this instead, Est vir qui adest, in other words, “it is this man here.” The winemaker, the vintner, the cooperative, the winery working for the man. It matters not who you are. To be successful in 2014 you must make honest wine.

What is honest wine? Above all else it is made by the grower who sleeps with the grapes. Not literally and not with the fishes, but greatness comes from the farmer who spend more hours walking the rows then the halls of the home. Soul love. By extension or shoulder to shoulder the high-minded winemaker knows “all I have is my love of love and love is not loving.”

Honest wine is juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life. Aromas and flavours emotive of the stages of the fruit’s history, its components; seed, pulp, skin and stem. The greatest wines, judged to make use of the entire fruit for best results, consider the parts as members of the whole.

For a bottle of wine to be on the up and up it must not be disguised by the unnatural ways of artificial intervention nor should it make itself so available as to be obvious. Fruit should reside in the realm of the sequestered and the sacred. The emotional response to sipping on fermented grapes can only be true if the juice offers no precise parameters. A fear of knowing and not knowing is key. Forbidden aromas and flavours are emotive because they are forbidden and they are forbidden because they are emotive.

Real wine elicits all of this and more. I am not alone in hoping for table wines to be stirring, gripping, unsweetened and unencumbered by an excessive coat of oak. My hard-earned dollars should earn the right to be stimulated and provoked to think in ways verging on stream of consciousness.

So welcome to 2014. The year of drinking honest wine. The more you seek it out, the more it will be made. Here are 10 current releases to get you going in the right direction.

From left: DE SOUSA SEASONS RESERVE MERITAGE 2011, QUINTA DAS CAMÉLIAS RESERVA 2010, 13TH STREET MERLOT 2010, and SEVEN FALLS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010

From left: DE SOUSA SEASONS RESERVE MERITAGE 2011, QUINTA DAS CAMÉLIAS RESERVA 2010, 13TH STREET MERLOT 2010, and SEVEN FALLS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010

DE SOUSA SEASONS RESERVE MERITAGE 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (315911, $14.95, WineAlign)

Aromatically drippy, reductive and heavy-handed in its oak soak but the concentration is really well-judged. Remains loyal and close to its Escarpment origins and walks the ridge point on a plane. Spice cupboard of scents dominate the basic, easy-going fruit. Proper and realistic use of its Bordeaux-derived, Cartesian coordinates. Worth a stroll through its Euclidean space.  87  Tasted December 2013  @DiamondEstates

QUINTA DAS CAMÉLIAS RESERVA 2010, Doc  Dão, Portugal (305334, $14.95, WineAlign)

Here comes another sure thing, best buy Portuguese red, this time from the rising star that is the Dão. Paradigmatic local combination of Touriga Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheiro. Modern but tight, brooding and juicy, approachable yet nearly, severely tannic. A Dão pulled in two directions by monster trucks, holding ground in bonded, erudite fashion, firmly in the middle. All thanks to a terrific combination of dark fruit and gritty, chunky grain. To this Dão I say, “I hope you appreciate the magnitude of your impending good fortune.”  88  Tasted December 2013  @NokhrinWines

13TH STREET MERLOT 2010, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, (270504, $17.95, WineAlign)

I’m just going to say three words to you baby.” Statu-tory buy. Can’t recommend it enough. What we have here is a really fine vintage for a Creek Shores appellation’s unique bottling. Merlot of shining bifid complexity, despite being a product of deep clay it’s dusty but not kicking up dust. There is palpable fruit but fruit does not lead the way. More so licorice and a lush crush of vinous allotropy. Solid wall of tannin will stand for 5-7 years and then crumble effortlessly, willingly, submissively. Add another notch on the Creek Shores chart for Merlot alongside fellow obvious variety, Cabernet Franc.  89  Tasted December 2013  @13thStreetWines

MAISON ROCHE DE BELLENE CUVÉE RÉSERVE BOURGOGNE 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (299859, $17.95, WineAlign)

In light of its entry-level Bourgogne nature, this boasts a notable if unconventional, charming, candied nose. Pronounced dried cherries and currants are emphatic, categorically atypical of this Pinot Noir. More like Oregon, or even Prince Edward County, in pomegranate and earth. That said, this RDB is not overtly or overly earthy. Sharp yet piercing though only just beneath the surface. A late injection of astringency is expected and keeps this Pinot grounded. Really quite exceptional at $18 by (Canadian) winemaker Matt Chittick. Could this be an indicator of brilliance to come for the ’11s? Looks to be.  89  Tasted December 2013  @RochedeBellene

SEVEN FALLS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Wahluke Slope, Washington, U.S.A.  (360222, $18.95, WineAlign)

A friable feeling from this Chateau Ste. Michelle proposal submits to ripe plum and sourish pomegranate falling effortlessly from their trees. Affable, convenient, well-made Giling Basah, not overly extracted or justified. Mulberry kicked-up Arabica, wet-hulled, reminding of Merlot, or at least as stiff support to a Cabernet blend. Gotta be. Warming, gentle tannins, like Oz, without the jam.  88  Tasted December 2013  @SteMichelle

From left: MALIVOIRE GUILTY MEN CABERNET/MERLOT 2010, CUSUMANO NOÀ 2010, PIERRE AMADIEU LA GRANGELIÈRE VACQUEYRAS 2011, ADARO 2009, and KISTLER PINOT NOIR 2011

From left: MALIVOIRE GUILTY MEN CABERNET/MERLOT 2010, CUSUMANO NOÀ 2010, PIERRE AMADIEU LA GRANGELIÈRE VACQUEYRAS 2011, ADARO 2009, and KISTLER PINOT NOIR 2011

MALIVOIRE GUILTY MEN CABERNET/MERLOT 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (186247, $19.95, WineAlign)

A gritty, layered effort, carried forth by transcendental blues. Offers up the strange sensation of a P, B and J sandwich with kudos to (winemaker) Shiraz Mottiar for nut putting chocolate in the peanut butter. “Careful what you ask for, you don’t know ’til you try.” Roasted, semi-confected and counterintuitive in circulatory acidity and juicy madness. Might be Bordeaux blend-inspired but this leans Loire-ish because “back roads never carry you where you want ‘em to.” Speaks loud and clear with a practiced oration of place, in rocks, stones, clay and the aggregate of it all.  88  Tasted December 2013  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

CUSUMANO NOÀ 2010, Sicily, Italy (109512, $19.95, WineAlign)

A bodacious, Jethro, flaunting display is shown by this Sicilian blend of 40 per cent Nero D’Avola, 30 Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 Merlot. Fig cake, thick as a brick, drizzled over by good quality aged balsamic. Fruit from young-ish (12 year-old) vines coached by the barrel states flatly, “I may make you feel but I can’t make you think.” Splinters the tongue, coats the insides and raises the roof. Leaves the vines behind, soothes the beast by flute and focuses on what comes later, of course. “The elastic retreat rings the close of play as the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.”  88  Tasted December 2013  @SpeckBros

PIERRE AMADIEU LA GRANGELIÈRE VACQUEYRAS 2011, AC, Rhône, France (76398, $19.95, WineAlign)

Merde, if only a whiff, just a whiff, bumps into lush, red berry fruit and is then carried away with the mistral. Really fine cherry and tangy raspberry, bit by the subterranean soil mineral I must have in my Rhône. Oak spoken in Franco-Provençal, Occitan not as profound, intrusive or demanding. Delish Vaq, with a good middle palate and solid grasp on the dry finish, not long, but there in spirit.  90  Tasted December 2013

ADARO 2009, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (345686, $29.95, WineAlign)

This 100% Tempranillo from the Real Sitio de la Ventosilla Estate has that something other. The no sé lo que of Ribera, a liqueur nose that won’t overwhelm the liquor of pressed, squeezed and juiced flowers. Compact in luxurious flavours, like Napa Cabernet Cassis or Kirsch in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For the price this is so much more interesting than the comparative mythologies of those other terroirs. Beware the wood shavings soaked to the bone. Adult red licorice.  92  Tasted December 2013  @Noble_Estates

KISTLER PINOT NOIR 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (330274, $79.00, WineAlign)

Such a musical display in assemblage, this soundtrack of aptitude and wisdom, bringing together a selection of barrels that form an attitude to tell a Russian River Valley Pinot story. Though Chardonnay is Kistler’s claim to fame, this Pinot rises above so many others. It could be told “you’ll meet them all again on the long journey to the middle.” Nary a barrel intrusion, smokeless and without char, though there is a leathery component. Viscous but not jammy, sharp but not pointed, sweet but never cloying. Absolutely California with warm bands of black cherry, almost plum famous but all in balance. ”It’s all happening.”  93  Tasted December 2013  @TheVine_RobGroh

Good to go!

All I want for Christmas is a big red wine

Red wine

If you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you.
Photo: 7artman/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The three of you who read my bi/tri-weekly column must have noticed by now that I am diplomatic, almost to a fault, to be as inclusive as possible. I certainly make a point to unearth and make public the best Canadian wines that I can find, especially when they originate so close to home.

Old world, new world, rosé, Sparkling, red wine, and an increasing focus on white wine may have some of you running for the hills but spreading the wealth is the name of the game. Diversity is my keeper but there comes a time when logic and proportion need a break. All I want for Christmas, and for those of you who know me that’s a ridiculous thing to say, is a great big ole’ bottle of red wine.

Who doesn’t? If you have missed the last 25 or so recommendations I’ve laid at your gift giving feet, if you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you. Or, you can buy them all, seven reds for $250 and change. Not too shabby.

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, North Coast, California (356113, $19.95, WineAlign)

This 2010 is a new let’s groove label from the somewhat ambiguously defined North Coast appellation of California. An area of three million acres that includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and portions of Marin and Solano counties. Dusty entry, peppery finish. In between there is distilled cooler red fruit which sweet-heat spikes if only temporarily and ultimately settles into a fine balance of earth, wind and fire. Gifts an admirable sense of wood restraint. Simply “let this groove, set in your shoes” and enjoy its simple pleasures. Available in small quantities for a limited time.  87  Tasted December 2013  @hk_Canada

BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain (350215, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Iberian cousin to the North Coast Cabernet an ocean away likewise enters the fray dusty and flecked by white pepper. What gives it immediate density identity is the juicy, just picked cherry flesh and pencil lead minerality. A sweet blueberry flavour gets lift from edgy tannins so as you ponder this Tempranillo you will note that ”it’s gonna take you years to find out” what it’s all about. But there’s hope, however presently buried, in the descendent nature of its roots.  88  Tasted November 2013

ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (930966, $21.95, WineAlign)

One of the most reliable Tuscan houses offers no apology for this CCR’s flamboyance and it works a great vintage for the genre to maximum advantage. There is an intoxicating, exotic soaking of teak, vine stem and bhang counterbalanced by a berry sweetness that cannot be denied. In the end there’s the expected enunciation in modern Italian verse. Like a Tuscan-treated Gaja, gorgeous and tough.  89  Tasted November 2013  @roccadellemacie

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (48579, $26.95, WineAlign)

Behold the utter pitchy Barossan, privileged by full-on extraction in as much fruit this amount of money can buy. Tempered by a cool centre, complimented by a tangy finish. The coverall make-up is in high fashion and the big red lives to tell a passionate story after 22 months maturity in oak. Lifted by temperate zest and though it’s more Barossa than Cabernet per se, there is a fortune to be won in the bottle.  89  Tasted November 2013  @SaltramWines

WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, Napa Valley, Califonia (357723, $49.95, WineAlign)

A curious magnum of this highly underrated Napa Cabernet appeared for tasting. Really delicate and already maturing savoury/sweet florals lengthened by a chain of vanilla grain. Fruit looming large, with a Gershwin summertime grace and Holiday ”unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity.”  Cool, soulful, jazzy Cabernet, loaded with pepper and phite. Lady Day Easy Living90  Tasted November 2013  @WhiteOakWinery

LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, Rhône, France (700922, $57.95, WineAlign)

Following a string of excellent vintages from 2003 to 2010, this clumsy Donjon could be dismissed as not up to par but I beg to differ. Such distinct aromatics can only come from a Donjon. Redolent red berry musk, exotic spices from islands east and west, metal replicate and a brush of vineyard funk. Though it thistle-stings the palate and is presently held back by a tannic core, this CdP has the track record and muscle memory for moving forward. Gathers anise, more funk and so much fruit as it aerates but clearly so much time is needed to settle it down. Look to patience in the requiem realm of 10+ years.  92  Tasted November 2013

BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010, British Columbia, Canada (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

Good to go!

Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

I\'ve made this list, checked it twice and formulated plenteous if euphuistic tasting notes on 10 meaningful and expensive wines to look for this holiday season

I’ve made this list, checked it twice and formulated plenteous if euphuistic tasting notes on 10 meaningful and expensive wines to look for this holiday season
Photo: ElenaR/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

I will gladly be first in line to bust the myth that says wine must be expensive to be good.

Much time and energy is spent seeking out wines that over-deliver, especially those well-made, honest and outright delicious ferments that clock in at under $20. The caveat here is the time of year when the exception to that value rule is personified by the need for luxuriance, surfeit and speed. The December holidays are embroidered of an entirely different import. Folks just seem to want to join the appliqué party, to take advantage of the generosity of the season, to drink the good stuff. Champagne, certainly, but also big wines, the kind that stick to your teeth for a week.

Related – Wine Chat: Top 3 Wine Myths and more from the November 23rd, 2013 VINTAGES release

Gift giving is the other rampant and obvious part of December. No one wants to look cheap, ungrateful and thoughtless when gifting a bottle to an employee, a friend or a loved one. So I’ve made this list, checked it twice and formulated plenteous if euphuistic tasting notes on 10 meaningful and expensive wines to look for this coming weekend. Be proactive, track down one of these wine gems and prepare to channel your inner St. Nick, or if you like, your Ded Moroz, La Befana, Tomte, Jolasveinar or Pere Noel.

From left: TALBOTT LOGAN SLEEPY HOLLOW VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2011, URBINA GRAN RESERVA ESCECIAL 1994, SELLA & MOSCA MARCHESI DI VILLAMARINA ALGEHRO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

From left: TALBOTT LOGAN SLEEPY HOLLOW VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2011, URBINA GRAN RESERVA ESCECIAL 1994, SELLA & MOSCA MARCHESI DI VILLAMARINA ALGEHRO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

TALBOTT LOGAN SLEEPY HOLLOW VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2011, SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS, MONTEREY COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, USA (716290, $27.95)

Slow glazed, golden cream velvety nose, of a demurred beauty’s proportion, arced yet elongated. An island of Chardonnay enchantment, where the wood is soft, “there is no suffering” and sweet lemon sherbet flows. Frank yet curtailed extraction, good acidity and a relaxed Surfer Rosa tension. That soft buttery oak only comes through on the finish, which drifts and lasts.  91  Tasted Oct. 25, 2013

URBINA GRAN RESERVA ESPECIAL 1994, DOC RIOJA, SPAIN (355743, $46.95)

Will not be your wine of the year but you absolutely must give it a try. Holding strong 19 years on, surely something to hang a hat on. There is some must, but it’s as much attributed to a classic, 90′s Tempranillo temperamental style as it is to the barrel and the bottle. Some prune and lingering alcohol detracts from the now waning fruit. That Rioja character, once obvious, now harder to recognize, maintains its weight and import. Some grain and chalk lingers due to oak that has not fully worked its way in and out. Wonderful study if not pure or gorgeous and alone.  90  Tasted Oct. 25, 2013

SELLA & MOSCA MARCHESI DI VILLAMARINA ALGEHRO 2008, DOC ALGHERO, SARDINIA, ITALY (954081, $46.95)

A Cabernet Sauvignon with an undeniably high level of unconventionally modern and stylish set of aromas. A very specific Italian smell mostly absent today, pushing the question “has it gone for good, or is it coming back around?” Acetate, wet hay and dried brick funky monkey that could endanger and render it non-negotiable, but it manages to walk the safer side of a fine line. Like great old school Brunello, herbaceous, tarred and feathered, stuck with thorns of roses and a waft of vanilla cherry coke, cough drop alcohol. Shouts Sardinian somewhereness in a way that is just so appealing. The iron, the sanguine, the Italian, the fireside, it’s all there. Sure it’s nearly balsamic but it will likely stay exactly this way for years.  93  Tasted October 25, 2013

PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008, PIEDMONT, ITALY (280412, $68.00)

This just has the look, the look of love. “A look that time can’t erase.” Nebbiolo you can see right through, this impossible light, this impossible life. Tea, tar and roses. A mineral spring, iron-earth field, where the game runs wild. You can relate to this Barolo, love it, relish it now but it will give pleasure for years. Not necessarily 25 but certainly 10-15. “Well, it takes my breath away.” Great vineyard.  94  Tasted October 25, 2013

M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, AC, NORTHERN RHÔNE, FRANCE (280420, $82.95)

Strictly beautiful Syrah. The offspring of the Côte Rôtie’s two necessary points of view. First, the schist, silt and shingle of the Brune. Second, the silica and limestone of the Blonde. In combination they produce an iron-rust wine of a ferruginous nature, in colour and in aroma. Seeping, exotic Rooibos tea, Provençal tapenade and smouldering flowers send smoke signals clear as day. Smells so rich though it’s full of grace and bathed in ultra-elegance.  94  Tasted October 25, 2013

From left: CATENA ZAPATA NICASIA VINEYARD MALBEC 2009, CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, MASI CAMPOLONGO DI TORBE AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, and ORNELLAIA 2010

From left: CATENA ZAPATA NICASIA VINEYARD MALBEC 2009, CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, MASI CAMPOLONGO DI TORBE AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, and ORNELLAIA 2010

CATENA ZAPATA NICASIA VINEYARD MALBEC 2009, LA CONSULTA, UCO VALLEY, MENDOZA, ARGENTINA (132357, $87.95, SAQ 11443860, $80.25, BCLS 461707, $89.00, ANBL 098709088658, $100.98)

This Nicasia is the more monstrous of the two Catena single vineyard Malbecs coming to VINTAGES. So set in the future of its dreams and as a result hard to assess what it means to drink right now. A mountain of licorice, anise and Andean aromatics, in Jacaranda and Lupine, gorgeous in giant alpine bloom. Rich, unctuous, magnetic and in perpetual unfolding motion. If the chalk and circumstance come on too strong you might switch to the La Gualtallary Adriana Vineyard, for she is quieter, more accessible, wanting love earlier and unconditionally. Still the structure of the Nicasia cannot be denied, especially if it is allowed five plus years in time and space. Will be unbelievably memorable in 15. Mean it!  94  Tasted October 25, 2013

CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, AC, SOUTHERN RHÔNE, FRANCE (711317, $89.95, SAQ 11352335, $90.25, BCLS 277988, $92.00)

This refreshing and right proper vintage of Beaucastel dramatizes the Rhône epitome of elegance. Sure, the Kirsch and the ripping ripe berries are there but they are stirred, not shaken. Confident, full of tart, hubristic and racy energy, this CdP is great, hopping fun. Has an underlay of classic rocky and subtle pernicious tones. Pure pleasure, good chain of command, tannic as it needs to be.  94  Tasted October 25, 2013

MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, DOC, VENETO, ITALY (215764, $99.95)

If a wine clocking in at 16 per cent alcohol by volume can be considered elegant and restrained and if that’s even possible, the Mazzano is the one. Though there is nothing outright prune, dried raisin or fig paste about it, this single-vineyard Amarone is enormously tannic. Any attempt at cracking its hard shell inside of 15-20 years should be thought of as counter-productive. Smells like the aforementioned fruit just picked at maximum ripeness so there is nothing cooked, roasted or overdone here. You simply have to wait for tertiary complexity to see what it will become. I sense great. Near-perfect vintage.  96  Tasted October 25, 2013

MASI CAMPOLONGO DI TORBE AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, DOC, VENETO, ITALY (548677, $99.95)

Speaks in similarly heavy and futuristic tones but is not nearly as demanding and obtuse as brother Mazzano. Reduced red plums, riper, drier raisins and licorice here, sweeter and rounder, though that’s just a  tête-à-tête relative observation. Will require 10-15 years patience for the purpose of proper scrutiny and the definite probability for enjoyment.  94  Tasted October 25, 2013

ORNELLAIA 2010, DOC BOLGHERI SUPERIORE, TUSCANY, ITALY (722470, $189.95, SAQ 11973238, $185.00, ALTA. Devine Wines, $209.99, B.C. Marquis Wine Cellars, $190.00)

The label, celebrating the iconic IGT’s 25th anniversary, intimates the kitsch of say, Marilyn Merlot. Not exactly fitting for this perennial lady-killer from Bolgheri. Does it make you think about what it was like when you were young? Peering past appearances, cracked pepper highlights the turned up to 11, ever-present alcohol nose. The enormity of this Ornellaia is obvious and currently overwhelming. Pitchy, black as night, and bent of collector Napa-like extraction. Not exactly a red berry vintage for Mr. Brightside from Bolgheri, this has chalk, grain, funk, dark blackberry, kirsch, anise and mephitic fight. It’s a hugely serious, dank and brooding Cabernet-controlled Tuscan. The ’10 is “burning down the highway skyline, on the back of a hurricane.” Killer on the teeth, the mouth and the tongue. Twenty-five lashes for every vintage.  94  Tasted Oct. 25 and Nov. 3, 2013

Good to go!

Free my Canadian grapes and other love songs

People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band.
PHOTO: JARP/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

The discussion is no longer reserved for wine geeks and industry professionals. People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band. The waves of interest may oscillate in the chatter of the public sector and the media, but the time gaps between are narrowing. Talk is no longer cheap. Canadians are speaking up. Restaurant owners are crying out. Farmers are the lead vocalists. Politicians are listening. The cause and the demand is agreed upon. The song remains the same. Free my grapes.

To the uninitiated, the ignorant and the critic, the love-in happening for Canadian wine right now seems slightly counter-culture. The songs may sound a bit Kumbaya-ish or like covers of Lennon and Harrison chants. Make no mistake about it, this is about the business of selling wine and Canadian wineries want a fair deal.

Grape growers and vintners in Canada have a really good thing going save for one small obstacle. Most provinces won’t allow wine lovers to have out of province wine shipped to them. Ontario is not only the largest producer and consumer of wine in Canada, their government is also the most powerful roadblock to free grapes. Will this ever change? I’ve touched on the subject before.

Related - Wine begins to flow across Canadian provinces and Free grapes of colour

The short answer is yes, if the current level of lobbying is any indication. Last night’s Ontario and B.C. Wine chats, the weekly Twitter/Internet discussion boards created and mediated by Shawn McCormick (Ont.) and Sandra Oldfield (B.C.) took the discourse to an entirely new level. There were many new voices on board. The debates centred on Bill 98, the movement of Free My Grapes and liquor review policy, from one government to the next. Bill 98 is a Private Members (MPP Rob Milligan) Bill that could this make it legal for Ontarians to order and have shipped out of province wines. The opposition members bill has PC support and the promising potential for the NDP to follow suit. Bill 98 entitled “An Act Respecting the Importation of Wine, Beer and Spirits from other Provinces” amends the Liquor Control Act to add a provision that permits individuals of legal age to import wine into Ontario from another province as long as it is for personal consumption only.” The bill has passed second reading, following on the heels of MP Dan Albas’ gains in British Columbia.

Last month Sandra Oldfield posted this essential list on her blog. Top 10 reasons to free my grapes. From a local perspective, allowing grapes to flow across the country increases support for farmers, promotes a Canadian wine culture and increases local tourism. Looking at it globally, changing liquor laws and knocking down pre-prohibition provincial walls would drag Canada out of the laughing-stock category in the world of wine-producing countries. There’s the rub. Critics agree that the deregulation of provincial monopolies and the addition of private liquor stores will not cause tax loss suffering. Oldfield goes so far as to suggest the idea of a flat tax should be investigated. She’s not wrong.

What is the truth of the matter? Does the Ontario government lack the courage to effect change over the LCBO? Is tax collection and the billions of dollars annually endowed from the LCBO to the Ontario government coffers the real issue? Are inflated, algorithmic wine and spirits mark-ups at the heart of the matter?

Regardless of the answer, ears are burning, e-mail is buzzing, letters to MPP’s are increasing and petitions are being signed. Kathleen Wynne is at the centre of the storm and her party can no longer avoid the rising tide of change. It’s simply time to get this done and move on to the matter of making and selling great wine. It’s time to focus on terroir, on soil, on somewhereness.

Just yesterday Ontario wine folks tasted through single vineyard blocks of Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir and celebrated the 25th anniversary of winemaking at Henry of Pelham. Why must Canadians continue to waste their time pleading for Canada’s provincial governments to free the grapes?

So, while everyone waits for the inevitable here at home, wine remains a global concern. The greatest redeeming quality of the all-powerful LCBO is in the VINTAGES releases. The coming weekend features some other love songs, six terrific buys highlighted here. There is one lonely, singular offer from British Columbia, the terrific Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2011. Try it and spread the word. Free my grapes.

From left: Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012, Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011, Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010, Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010, Journey’s End Shiraz 2007, and Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010

Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (251439, $18.95) as per the warm vintage humidifies in increased tropical soupçon. There is a feeling of creamy pineapple and mangosteen, nearly sherbet like, with an expedient and harmonizing lemon/granite boost.  Frothy too and coconut feathery. Finishes pithy but not overly so. Complex Beamsville Riesling.  89  @FieldingWines  @RichieWine

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011 (13150, $19.95) is a carnival of red fruit, sans mask. Raspberry, plum and strawberry, pressed, flattened and rolled.  Blueberry too – it’s a freakin’ berry party. Plum and red licorice sneak in for good measure. That said, why wouldn’t you want your Niagara Peninsula Merlot to smell like this? Very approachable, friendly, with tart acidity to wrap it up in a winning package.  Do not look for anything serious here.  88  @featherstonewne

Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010 (395855, $24.95) is dug in deep, in pedigree, track record and potential. Mysterious, haunting, cave dwelling fruit. Burrows even deeper, with obvious espresso timber assistance. Balanced, structured and long. A classic H of P CM in the making, throwing muses like the ’98, that will show well to 2022. It’s true, it told me. “It tastes like water, but I’m drunk.”  90  @HenryofPelham

Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010 (342980, $23.95) in her elegance and grace from the Northern Rhône is the Syrah to quench even the most desperate anadispic thirst. So lithe, so pretty strawberry, so effortless, so drinkable, so food-friendly. Nothing dramatic or overly exceptional here save for a singer-songwriter, Adamsian, heartfelt angst, but this Syrah is crushed with old school desire without being rustic or misunderstood. “With no secrets, no obsession.” Metal felt but not metallic. Just sit back and enjoy.  90

Journey’s End Shiraz 2007 (337642, $19.95) initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak.  Has ancient experience in its blood.  92  @JourneysEndWine

Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010 (262402, $49.95) is imbued with alluring candied morning glory and ginger aromas. Tight, upright and above sweet suspicion. A front-runner for the genre, faintly painted in dawn pastels and flavoured by a puncheon of strawberry and rhubarb. “Tomorrow never knows what it doesn’t know too soon.” Statis Pinot Noir that is the oasis from the peninsula.  93  @YabbyLake

Good to go!

He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results

Fresh off the presses, here are the results from World Wine Awards of Canada 2013, presented by WineAlign
Photo: kotoyamagami/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Drinking, by definition, includes consuming and that would obviously be counterproductive to the wine evaluation process. So, wine writers and critics spit for their living. Why would anyone buy a wine on the recommendation from someone who spit it into a bucket? Good question.

Consider another question. How many wine critics does it take to change a light bulb? If the answer were 10, that would be because it would take one to hold the bulb and nine to spin the room. Or the answer might be three. One to decant, taste and spit, and two to take him to the hospital before he bleeds to death. Is the joke and are these responses indicative of how the general public feels about wine criticism? If yes, then the wine consumer’s attitude towards the relevance of wine competitions and the doling out of awards may not exactly be positive and indiscriminate.

A bit of insight for you into the modus vivendi of those who judge wine. Chew over this. A wine is submitted to a concours, tasted several times by a minimum of three critics, all of whom are kept blind as to the clues regarding producer, appellation, region and country. These wine professionals are chosen by and with their peers to judge, sniff, sip, spit and repeat. They consider, contemplate and formulate on the spot tasting notes and then discuss the attributes with a panel before passing final judgement. Seems like a perfectly and indisputably sound and reasonable approach, don’t you think? But what about the spitting part?

Whatever you might think about the use of such an exercise to determine the merit of a bottle of wine, competitions, when run and operated with unbiased integrity, do in fact empower justice to the entrants. Poke fun at the wine critic if you must, felicity knows they can take it, but know their modus operandi is just the same as yours. To seek out the most worthy and best value wines available in their market. The wine critic is self-taught, to internalize the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of a wine without swallowing it. It takes focus and years of practice to figure it out.

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

PHOTO: WineAlign.com
WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

The WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC) held in September featured a week-long evaluation process for nearly 1,000 wines (996 to be exact) from around the world. Assembled and organized by an army of volunteers, the Herculean task was orchestrated by one of North America’s most respected wine critics and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter. The Vancouver Sun columnist was also responsible for the immeasurable and exacting task of overseeing the pouring and the critical timing of delivery to the judges. Not to mention piles upon piles of tasting notes and scores.

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

The WWAC is open to both imported and domestic wines for sale in Canada, provided the wine sells for less than $50 somewhere in the country.  This affords an unparalleled opportunity for all wines sold in Canada to show that they can compete in quality and value with wines from anywhere in the world.  Wines are tasted in three price categories based on the lowest selling price in Canada. Less than $15, from $15 to $25 and from $25 to $50. As a consequence WWAC is really three competitions in one with wines being tasted alongside their peers by price and with awards given by price category.

I was invited to join the other 17 judges for the preliminary rounds. If I were to measure my prosperity by the company I keep, I would indeed be a pecunious wine scribe. I was joined in Mississauga, Ontario by David Lawrason, John Szabo, MS, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Marc Chapleau, Rhys Pender, MW, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson, DJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan Saviolidis, Anne Martin and Zinta Steprans.

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d'Amato

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d’Amato

Judges sit three or four together at a table, taste solo through flights of like varieties, procure notes and assign individual scores. Each flight of (three to 12) wines is then discussed, argued, debated and an ultimate meeting of the vinous minds either pushes a wine through to the next round or relegates it to the discard heap. This method of awarding by committee ensures that good wines receive their due blessings and flawed specimens are put in their rightful place.Here’s the kicker. Aside from knowing the price range and specific variety or varieties in a blend, the judges taste all the wines blind. Continent, country, region, appellation and vineyard are not part of the equation. This ensures the most equitable results.

So, fresh off today’s presses, here are the results from WWAC13, presented by WineAlign. Special thanks go out to Head Wineaux, Bryan McCaw, along with Steve Thurlow, Carol Ann Jessiman and Sarah Goddard.

2013 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on my 28 of them, across a wide range of categories.

From left: Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, and De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011

Riesling $0-15

Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Alsace, France $14.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety Under $15

Peppery, perspiring, basal, nasal fruit. Propellant driven with a bite of crisp golden delicious apple and green goddess acidity. At under $15 this achieves Trocken success. Unshakable, abecedarian if not the most formidable Riesling.  88  @AmethystWineInc  @drinkAlsace

Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling 2012, Qualitätswein Mosel, Germany $13.95

Pressed and packed with tropical fruit, as if a roll-up, in liquid form. Thoughts head east and south but the textural, angular and vertical intensity peels back that inclination. The extended play and fruit replay is a study in delineated Riesling depth. There must be some history behind the bottle.  87  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines

Jackson Triggs Reserve Riesling 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, $13.99

Drawn to the off-dry resonance which is both tropical and florid in citrus maxima. That pomello repeats to taste but it falls under a balmy and herbal spell, in a relaxed way. A valley’s elongated attitude, at the foot of a mountain and architecturally sound. Re-mastered, utilitarian Riesling.  85  @Jackson_Triggs

Chardonnay Oaked $15-25

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012, California, USA $16.95

Deft, lissome touch of oak. Subtle, determined orchard fruit, namely pear, barely kissed by a rose and the barrel. Exiguous yet meaningful and pragmatic aromatics. Bright Chardonnay so “a light hits the gloom on the grey.” Seals the deal astir with tang on the snappy finish.  88

PHOTO: Michael Godel White wine flight at the WineAlign WWAC13

Sauvignon Blanc $15-25

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile $9.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $15.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Equatorial and profuse but not over the top. Quick, painless slice of jalapeno, a sweet heat capsicum moment. Sauvignon Blanc with a drop of Sriracha, spritz of lime and pinch of salt on ripe tree fruit, like papaya and mango. Add in golden pineapple and kumquat for good salad measure. Nearly great value, if only it were graced with a bit more finesse.  88  @yealands  @TrialtoON

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand $15.99

Stoic initially, with acute notes of gooseberry, grass and blanched legume. Turns tropical and balmy with a sense of orange marmalade. Confounding in that it could be South Island or Sancerre, but being subjected to such toe tipping is this Sauvignon Blanc’s calling card.  88  @MariscoWine

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $18.95

Commodious Sauvignon Blanc, candid, candied and calcified. Tropical from what must be an intense vintage, whiffing dewy teak gold plum and prickly pear. Full-bodied and blessed with a long aftertaste. A slice of southern hemisphere confiture on toast.  88  @kimcrawfordwine

White Blends $15-25

De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.00

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25

A Rhône-ish boy with a tithe of Marsanne in support of equal 45′s of Roussane and Viognier. Mutters in rhyme, beating the drum slowly, in a subtle white flower, pretty print dress. Nothing muddy about the waters this graceful swimmer treads. Sidled by just enough rigor to replay in refrain, “I’m a natural born lovers” wine. Egalitarian revolutions per minute.  90  @deVineVineyards

Road 13 Honest John’s White 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $25.95

A group of seven grapes, riding on a carousel. A who’s who of white varieties going “round and round and round and round with you. Up, down, up, down, up, down, too.” Elegant and in control, like the stationary horses, this endearing and human blend. Nectarine and longan make appearances in the by committee, ensemble performance.  88  @Road13Vineyards

Pfaffenheim Tete A Tete Pinot Gris Riesling 2012, Alsace, France $15.49

A 50/50 split of Riesling and Pinot Gris, please do not adjust your set, go head to head, mano a mano to duke it out, agree to disagree and ultimately settle to blend and accept the results. Together they procure Époisses and worn socks. On the bright side there is orange zest and fresh squeezed grapefruit. “So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.” Tangy and pithy finish. Abbreviated and horizontal.  85  @AlsaceWines

From left: Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, and Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008

Syrah $0-15

Fifth Leg Old Dog New Tricks Shiraz 2011, Western Australia, Australia, $15.95

Less calamitous fruit compression in relation to the rest of the flight. Blueberry pie and a concord of baking spices predominate, along with unsettling though bracketing elevated levels of tannin and acidity. Wild and whacking lack of overall integration but possessive of many positive moving parts.  87

Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $19.60

A convection of raspberry jam and forest floor verdant wildness. Notable in not being nearly as wood-driven in relation to peers in adjacent stemware. An inelasticity and diaphanous texture suggests Syrah. Simpatico Shiraz.  87  @MissionHillWine

Red Blends $0-15

Hardys Stamp Series Shiraz/Cabernet 2012, South Eastern Australia, Australia $10.05

Initial thoughts lean towards flattery, in finesse and generosity. Rhône-like rocks and stones trot out the red fruit, spiked by citrus (ripe orange, juiced and reduced). Structured in oxymoronic astringent elegance. Decent to medium length.  87

Sumac Ridge Cabernet Merlot Private Reserve 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $14.99

Stands apart from the under $15 Red Blend flight as an axiomatic, soft conifer in a forest of hardwoods. I was admittedly fooled into thinking Niagara when it really calls the Okanagan Valley home. Semi-hemi-ripe, red stone fruit soused in halogen, spiced by Ween’s seventh album and Korean red pepper. “Even If you don’t” like the alternative character you will be charmed by its friendly production and likable wine/musicianship.  87  @SumacRidgeWine

Louis Bernard Côtes Du Rhône Rouge 2012, Rhone, France $13.00

A copacetic Grenache and Syrah Côtes du Rhône blend that just seems to exist in an Iberian state of mind. It’s the modernity speaking, in deep mauve, lilaceous essence and a palate clotted with poached tomato. Stops adroitly short of cooked or stewed fruit character. Juicy fruit from presumably young vines. Quick yet resplendent.  87  @LouisBernard84  @AuthenticWine

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2011, Mendoza, Argentina $13.95

Malbec and Venetian Corvina in Ripasso’s Argentinian hands. Raising, hair-triggering, eye-opening aromas in acerbic Daikon intensity. Black bean paste and cedar, earth and char. The flavours echo and further Ripasso’s absorptive ability. Tack on a  snippet of sour mix and an elevated, grizzly bear, altitudinous attitude. This one leaves me “frozen in my tracks.” Certainly not gun-shy85 

Merlot $15-25

Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.99 WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Like a wine lover’s dessert, this JT Merlot spoons gobs of sun-dried fruit, anise and dried raisin over a compressed and chalky cake of balmy green tea. Youth purloined by developed character, marked by the sauce, not unlike some manic red advance cassettes from Italy’s Mezzogiorno. Now long in the tooth, “how you wound me so tight,” with your unique style, so “don’t say that I’ve lost you.” Its heft will carry it through.  88  @JacksonTriggsBC

Michael Godel, Zinta Steprans and David Lawrason at the WineAlign WWAC13

Red Blends $15-25

Musella Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2009, Verona, Veneto, Italy, $15.95

Soaked and sappy, with braised tree fruit flavours, concentrated and passed over upon itself. Certainly trying very hard to entice and invite hedonistic pleasure. Like an upside down plum and fig cake, dripping in macerated syrup but with enough mineral tension to prorogue another day. Good rehydrated example.  88  @3050Imports

La Fiole Cotes Du Rhone 2010, Rhone, France $15.05

Simultaneously juicy and brooding. Tension from the get go. A depth of dried, fruit leathery plum, soaking in spiked Kefir grain. Bound tight but aching to race free. In Rhône ranger territory, or a Rhône acting on a Hollywood set. Tannic, oaky, manly yes, but I like it too. Admirable length.  88

California Square Paso Robles Red Bland 2012, California, USA $18.95

Downy soft, delicate, cheerful red blend. Pastel watercolour, flower-patterned print as perfume. Warm climate red licorice, plum permeate and cherry saturate, well-integrated acidity and some iron astriction. Would gain weight alongside rich foods.  86  @TrialtoBC

Vignoble Rancourt Meritage 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada $19.80

Chalk dust followed by quality, perceptive, frank and just red fruit. Understated, not overly expressive and walking softly down the road.  85

The Cloof Cellar Blend 2009, Wo Darling, South Africa $20.00

Leaps from the glass with earth expanding aromas. Strapping Pinotage java component shows accommodating restraint in advance of a Turkish viscidity. Red fruit is bright, adhesive and enervetic. Overall a bouncy, tannic and splintered affair.  85  @Cloofwines_ZA

Red Blends $25-50

Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $25.00

A count five psychedelic strawberry and savoury rhubarb aromatic behemoth. Crazy cherries too. Then, a mind-altering, animal hide moment, not exactly gamey, but something other, enough to cause a psychotic reaction. “(Shouted) And it feels like this!”  90  @Road13Vineyards

Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, Walker Bay, South Africa $32.50

A requiem for an exaggerated swirl, or at least the respect of a decant. Quite a head-smacking whack of mineral-iron-metal, with the tempering lift of a citrus-scented candle. Kirsch, vanillin oak “and my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite, who’s chokin’ on the splinters.” I am the loser, the wine is the winner. Very berry, big and beautiful.  90  @gradwellwines

Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008, DocVeneto, Italy $35.25

Quite the animal, this plum juicy and high-octane alcohol, cloying acetone and chocolate-dipped red licorice Venetian red blend. Sounds ridiculously Ripasso and near-Amarone delicious and were it endowed with the balance and structure to walk with the giants I’d sing its praises. Even so, I really believe it’s a “soul who’s intentions are good” so please don’t let it be misunderstood.  87

Masi Costasera Amarone 2008, Veneto, Italy $39.95

A stew of red fruit, prune and fig. Cauterized, steroidal, excessive, welling sensory overload. Leaking car fluids. Certainly a problematic, off-bottle from a reliable, age worthy brand.  80

Pinot Noir $25-50

Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile $45.00

Beaucoup de terre, or more likely, mucho suelo. An extreme example of Pinot Noir, a flamboyant king, ostentatious, peacockish and wired by a constriction of spices. There is perhaps too much earthly, saftig body. Though my first impression was admittedly old world, there is no way that theory will hold. A glass in and the thrill is gone, “And now that it’s over, all I can do is wish you well.”  87  @BadDogWine  @WinesofChile

Good to go!

Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

Malivoire Wine Company
PHOTO: STEVE ELPHICK, MALIVOIRE.COM

as seen on canada.com

My skies of late have espied no dark clouds and no rain. While torrential storms and unprecedented flooding hit Toronto last week I was fortunate to be basking in six days of Vancouver sun. I returned home to those same kind of skies, only now the mercury has climbed north of 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity well beyond the perspiration line.

There are two things you need to beat this kind of summer heat. Wine and wine. Start with Rosés and crisp, refreshing, aromatic whites. My current release recommendations also include a few reds (for the grill) and most are so hot that you’d better act fast because blink and they will be gone.

The second is to seek out Chardonnay. Cool, cool Chardonnay. This weekend I will be gathering with wine lovers making a pilgrimage to Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula to celebrate Cool Chardonnay, three vinifera and exceptional cuisine packed days (July 19-21, 2013) in my backyard’s great wine region. The international cool climate celebration is known as #i4c2013, an unprecedented gathering “spent exploring seductive shades of the most planted grape on earth.” The event’s mantra is simple. “40,000 acres can’t be wrong.” Cool Chardonnay will be three days of wine tasting and food pairing bent on altering and furthering the perception of the grape and just how incredible it can be in the hands of the cool climate winemaker. More than 120 wines from 60-plus wineries worldwide will be represented, including the greats from Niagara, Prince Edward County and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

To celebrate the re-birth of cool, seek out any of these suggested wines and raise a toast to the cool climate winemaker, the gift of their land and the fine Chardonnay made by their hands.

Clockwise from left: Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011, Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012, Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012, Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007, Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009, and Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011

The Chardonnays

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (318303, $16.95, B.C. 230961, $18.99) 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  @MBosc

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011 (338434, $27.95, B.C. 732958, $21.90) sees minimal (15 percent new French) oak influence and while there is a ripe coconut tang, a sense of creamy butter and a spike of citrus, there really isn’t too much of anything at all. Tasted this fresh Okanagan a second time in Vancouver, alongside Another Side of Bob Dylan at Salt Tasting Room, I decided I could drink a barge full of the stuff. “All I really want to do, is, baby, be friends with you.”  90  @poplargrovewine

Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay 2010 (345819, $44.95,) is so sumptuous, presumptuous and precocious. Ahead of the curve, effortless and full of 20 mile mineral length. The ripe green apple never quits. My earlier note from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94  @Bachelder_wines

The Rosés

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012 (39974, $16.95) achieves pink Pinot nirvana by way of foxy strawberry, vanilla crème, and orange rind. Peppery red currants bring balance, some sizzle and spice.  88  @Winemakersboots

Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012 (71209, $17.95) is the hot weather cold maker, big in ripe, strawberry fruit, citrus and red apple. Imagine a glass’ glistening condensation by the seawall on a hot afternoon, the wine deliquescing like dew, Hemingway open at page one.  89

Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012 (323386, $15.95) goes classic holy trinity Midi in Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Creamy, frosty and savoury in strawberry, rhubarb, balmy tarragon and shrubbery. Finishes with salinity pressed like a salt herring.  91  @chateaudangles

The Aromatic Whites

Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007 (328872, $19.95) elevates the grape to great heights. Gold carat, rich golden marmalade and aromatics simulating Sauternes. Pencil leads apricot and clementine in this life-sustaining sap. Has lived well and will live long.  90

Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009 (335711, $24.95) gives a goblet of lavish, good pleasure in honey and near Gewürztraminer, lychee-ish tropical fruit. Not so smoky but pulchritudinous in yellow candy apple and its fumé comes from a scotch oak flavour. Replicates upon itself in rich and viscous waves. Total and utter unique Ontario white.   89  @Stratuswines            

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2010 (241182, $35.20) from the Vinemount Ridge appellation can’t help but froth forth in soda and A16 out of such a warm vintage but still, only CB perfumes like this. Ahhh, that Baker perfume. No level of encomium can express the intoxicating effect of Picone, vintage in, vintage out. So much apple, great acidity but more nut warmth than ’09. Shuns lassitude and shines bright.  90  @cbriesling

The Reds

Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011 (269464, $16.95) is mineral prone like the northern Rhône in iron and bloody intense in sanguine rush. Not sure I could drink too much but it’s a study for sure.  Long on blueberry, pencil and though McLaren Vale issue, it seems reminiscent of older, Great Western Seppelt Shiraz, circa 2000.  89

Malivoire Cabernet Franc 2011 (310383, $24.95) reaches deep into the well to draw up an elixir of incredible luxuriance bolstered by a tart and tight, ripe red currant depth. Layered by Christmas and Black Forest cake with a sour black cherry glaze and a garth of earth and bushes.  91  @MalivoireWine

Good to go!

Working wines for the Canada Day weekend

Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

June has been long, wet, arduous and full of promise. Exhausting too. It began with a cooking ordure show for 1,300 Ultimate athletes. There have been food and wine tastings all over Ontario. The palate may never experience this level of fatigue as it does at the end of June. Think about how the Wine Align team feels!

Last week I attended the Stop Night Market, an unforgettable food and beverage extravaganza that rivals any outdoor gastro-experience you are likely to find, anywhere. The unparalleled $50 all you eat and drink ticket from the best of Toronto’s best aside, the SNM helped to solidify the STOP’s position as a leader in community food programs.  The next night I attended Sip and Savour Ontario in the Fermenting Cellar located within the historic Distillery District. Wine and food pursuers lapped up Ontario wines in every incantation matched by seriously excellent small edibles. Sip & Savour Ontario is dedicated to bringing education, support and accessibility of Ontario’s local wine, culinary and agricultural industries to the public, all in support of Houselink.

This coming Friday, June 28th has been declared #CanadianWineDay (or #CdnWineDay) so get out there and sample whatever you can find out of our wine regions, from coast to coast. Make sure to tweet what you tasted.

Time for a brief respite. Canada’s wine and food industry peeps and tweeps have been working overtime, taking care of business, working for the weekend.  What we all need is an extended rest, out in the air, down by the bay, surrounded by family and friends, with a good glass of wine. Here are 10 current releases, ready and willing to work for your long weekend.

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012, Villa Tonino Grillo 2010, Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012, Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008, Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011, Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011, Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010, and Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

The Sparkling

The grapes: Muscat, Perle of Csaba

The history: Traditional Champagne style bubbles from a Nova Scotia pioneer out of the Gaspereau Valley

The lowdown: Think Moscato D’asti from Piedmont mixed with the Hungarian Vinifera derived grape. The remarkably low 6.5 percent alcohol aims to please and refresh every palate on a warm Canada Day weekend

The food match: Barque Breakfast, eggs, pulled pork, potato pancakes, guacamole

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012 (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99) while nowhere near Champagne in proximity nor character holds a perfume immediate in marmalade, candied orange peel, lit wick and melting paraffin. To taste it sweetens up a sun-setting, waning day with a convexity of creamy rhubarb, orange sherbet, strawberry and pink grapefruit. Like a song in 6/4 compound, musical meter. With so much going on this is certainly a bridge to somewhere and it’s “gettin’ there fast.” 90  @Benjamin_Bridge

The Whites

The grape: Grillo

The history: Native and classic Sicilian varietal, dating back to B.C.E times though it now only comprises 3 per cent of the white grapes planted in Sicily

The lowdown: Boundless personality of a white wine from the thick-skinned and bold grape built for the blazing Sicilian sun and arid Mediterranean climate

The food match: Chickpea, Parmesan & Fennel Salad

Villa Tonino Grillo 2010 (289579, $14.95) owns a melon’s ripe musk melding to fermenting aroma, matched by a warm, juicy and mouth-watering texture. Blanched nut, coconut and lime zest party on the beach with steaming decapod crustaceans. Grillo, grilling and the sur beating up the sea wall would do just fine.  89  @RegazziWines

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Family owned & operated winery, located in the Yakima Valley of Washington State

The lowdown: Just a bit more than 4,000 cases produced and has only been in bottle for three months

The food match: Pacific Rim Chowder

Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2012 (324905, $15.95) gives away a whole lotta’ love for 16 bones. Rich, ropy mandarin and orange melon acidulated with a shot of white pepper coolant. LB, “you’ve been cooling and baby I’ve been drooling.” Dizzying on the tongue, gone bananas and twiddling on every bud.  90 @WINESofWA

The grape: Sémillon

The history: Beamsville’s Rosewood Estate has been pouring their heart, soul and honey (not literally) into this  varietal’s future

The lowdown: Most often employed in combination with Sauvignon Blanc to forge the dry white wines of Bordeaux and more famously, the dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Rosewood is leading the North American charge. #StandSémillonStand

The food match: The Spoke Club‘s Crab Salad + Braised Pork Belly with spring onion and sea buckthorn

Rosewood Estates Sémillon 2011 (177758, $17.95) is the leader of the pack. The honey is uncanny. From an earlier note: “is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.”  91  @RosewoodWine

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Alsace family estate winery dates back to 2010.

The lowdown: Grand Cru Pinot Gris. Kessler has been sold under its own name since 1830

The food match: Citrus Smoked Salmon Salad, goat cheese mousse, pickled strawberry, baby frisée

Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Pinot Gris 2008 (249623, $25.95) wants to tell you she’s late harvest but you know better. “You might say you can only fool yourself.” Golden gorgeous, silken pear custard and southern hemisphere, capsicum spiked fruit. Walks on little feat but ultra-marathon runs a sweet to dry crescendoing gamut.  92  @drinkAlsace

The Rosé

The grapes: Grenache, Rolle, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvedre

The history: From the Côtes de Provence, the brainchild of Bordeaux royalty Sacha Lichine (Chateau Prieure Lichine) and Patrick Leon (Baron Phillipe de Rothschild)

The lowdown: As classic a southern French Rosé as you are likely to find, gaze upon or taste, anywhere

The food match: Buttermilk Pancakes, bacon

Caves D’esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2012 (325076, $19.95) of calm, pale arctic char hue and creamy alabaster porcelain skin is a most statuesque and regal RoséWild herbs and country spice walk along a dry road in this most excellent pink drink.  89  @WhisperingAngeI 

The Reds

The grape: Pinot Meunier

The history: This is the third vintage for Vinleand Estates and the rare planted (approximately 1.5 acres) cousin of Pinot Noir

The lowdown: Winemaker Brian Schmidt is exploring the “potential of this unique varietal within the dynamic frame of Niagara. More reliable and consistent that it’s often “psycho” mirror image, Pinot Noir.”

The food match: Steak & Frites, Marinated Skirt Steak, Smoked Pepper Relish

Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2011 (225508, $17.95) offers a simple twist of fate from the vinous research control centre in Niagara. Has now gone well beyond experimentation, this 2011 tingles to the bone with pronounced floral waves and a sweet, tangy, concentrated cherry core. Solid focus and structured to please.  Piques a familiar rich scent of leather. Drank it “as the evening sky grew dark.”  88  @benchwineguy

The grape: Gamay

The history: Cru Gamay from Morgon. After Brouilly, Morgon is the largest winemaking area in Beaujolais. From the Georges Duboeuf stable

The lowdown: Straddles a serious and commercial line but the consistency of this Gamay is not to be disputed

The food match: Fried Green Tomatoes, corn salsa, feta

Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon 2011 (946186, $17.95, SAQ 856898, $19.30, B.C. 866673 $21.99) is simply rich and decadent in raspberry, a bit cakey and jammy for the appellation yet structured and stylish. Barbera-like with tar, roses, fennel and balancing tannin.  89  @Dandurandwines

The grape: Merlot

The history: From master and mad scientist J.L Groux, winemaker at marketing and class organization extraordinaire Stratus Vineyards

The lowdown: When Stratus rolled out the Tollgate line I was skeptical. Where the Wildass group might hit you upside the head (in a good way, of course) the Tollgates earn their stripes with finesse and elegance. Created primarily for the restaurant industry. An ode to agricultural activity of Upper Canada

The food match: Panko-Custed, Pulled Slow-Cooked Beef Chuck, horseradish aioli, charred brussel sprouts

Stratus Tollgate Merlot 2010 (344101, $24.95) is a picture of modernity, warm and a touch oxy. Raspberry jam, dusty mulberry. Indicative of how special 2010 was for Merlot in Niagara. Really well made, built of a confident structure, mindful of an incandescence in finesse. Linear experience, with no breaks or pauses. Solid red.  88  @Stratuswines

The Splurge

The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault

The history: From the Rhône Valley in Southern France, Château La Nerthe was born in the 12th Century around the time vines were first planted in the stone-strewn soil of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (literally the “Pope’s new castle”)

The lowdown: While the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are anything but cheap, they more often than not offer the best high-end wine values in the world. This is one of the best.

The food match: Braised Duck Leg, duck fat potatoes, ontario cherries

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (735407, $43.95) exudes a bigger, bolder cherry and Kirsch liqueur than from memory, indicating both a flamboyance of the vintage and a torrent to a long future. A swirl of black cassock cooling the candied, cherry blossom centre is met by a wall of harsh tannin with a lash of tang pushing back the fruit. Will be stellar in five, or more likely ten years on. Love this house.  92 

Good to go!

See the humanity in real value wine

Glass of red wine PHOTO: FONS LAURE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

There is no secret that Canadians and especially the wine consumer from Ontario, desperately want more choice. We want private wine shops that can specialize in niche products. We want all Canadian grapes to be granted passports to travel freely from province to province. We want access to real wines made by passionate human beings. We don’t want plonk.

Twice a month I taste through in excess of 100 hundred wines scheduled for release through VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the LCBO. On some days the wines, as a group, seem merely “better than dough.” On other days they cause one or more of my colleagues to say things like “this is the worst red wine day of my life.” The public knows that we have lagged for many years in wine retail. The public is ahead of the LCBO think tank on this.

Fortunately, or not, depending on how bright a side of life you look, more often than not I can look through and beyond the barbaric fringes and pick out a few primitive, unfettered warriors from the monopolistic offering. Once in a while the sea of humanity reveals itself and many wines shine, express their terroir, their somewhereness, their completeness. Here are nine estimable examples ready for immediate enjoyment, now in a store near you.

Clockwise from left: Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012, Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010, Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire, Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011, Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010, Château Lyonnat 2006, Château La Grange De Bessan 2009, Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011, and Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010

Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012 (224964, $13.95) is all sun and strawberry, almond and grapefruit tree scents after dark, so much spirit in the night. Salinity, markedly well-made and Muga-like. “Stand right up now and let it shoot through you.”  87  @HHDImports_Wine

Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010 (264648, $14.95) is simply a ton of wine for $15. That said, it takes extraction to the maximum and is yet blessed with a graceful level of gravitas. I wouldn’t want to drink too much of this, or any other similarly concentrated and heavily fruit- endowed Rhône but there is enough mineral and tar character to keep Le Gravillas honest.  88

Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire (141077, $15.95) foams frothy forth alive and expansive out of a yeasty starter, spins lightly on its A16 axis and revolves tightly wound around a citrus spindle. A working class Marechal, real and made for the people. Perhaps not La Grande Illusion but a wine that will “show the common humanity present across these divisions.” About as good as Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling Loire Chenin Blanc can be and priced to fly.  89

Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011 (57042, $17.95, SAQ, 858886, $17.60) speaks sedimentary cryptocrystalline vernacular to narrate its Loire Chenin Blanc story by way of a ripe apple and blooming rose style. Off-dry and dehydrated by the chert, that defining, dusty silex soil. There should be land-driven $18 wine available, always and everywhere.  89  @LoireValleyWine

Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010 (21253, $19.95, SAQ, 913897, $22.85) returns the storied Alsatian to top form after a confounding ’09. Cool climate, perfervid pear considers dressing up in lime-spiked papaya but chooses to turn on its heel to put on a sequin-dotted silk dress. Spot on, shimmering scintillant.  90  @drinkAlsace

Château Lyonnat 2006 (243774, $19.95) built upon 85 percent Merlot, 11 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and four percent Cabernet Franc has ancient and learned Right Bank morphology written all over its sweet, scorched earth perfume. Has entered the zone, in toasted cedar and grilled beef on the bone integration but caramel and kindling are just around the corner. Get in while the coals are smoking. Reminds me of the good oak days.  89

Château La Grange De Bessan 2009 (321331, $19.95) is a poster child for affordable, humanistic Médoc, Left Bank, hyped vintage Bordeaux. Mutton on the reductive nose does not impose a run and hide. Purple flowers, parquet smoke and dark chocolate co-mingle with iron, calcium and limestone. Meat-friendly, complex, well-structured.  90  @BordeauxWines

Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011 (74781, $21.95) must be a fairy tale, a Boucles d’or narrative of structure and complexity from the first swirl and sniff. Airy, saline, built of rich, gold guts. Perfectly ripened orchard fruit and fresh-squeezed grapefruit. Taste it and there’s a joyous dance, a kefi bursting inside, like great Champagne but minus the bubbles.  92  @KolonakiGroup

Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010 (318121, $23.95) from Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon is bottled, golden Californian sunshine, rich, unctuous and tanned. Will be accused of being obnoxious, bellicose, even Sisyphean, but she and I don’t care. Spicy, candied yellow apple, sappy, honeysuckle scent meets an efflux of buttery cashew, like toasted Chardonnay crossed with aged Chenin. Grand Cali Viognier.  91  @jbonaccorsi

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Grapes and Peaches

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

as seen on canada.com

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!