Value the first wine of spring

Lake yet frozen, March 18, 2015

Lake not yet defrosted, March 18, 2015

The lake remains frozen though stepping foot upon its precarious ice flow would not be recommended. By this time next week the waves will concuss the gelid islands and slowly deliquesce them down into the frigid water. As of this Saturday spring will have officially come to southern Ontario and with it a whole new outlook on life.

If you ask my colleague Rick VanSickle, the spring of 2015 will mean the boot up to overhaul the future of wine and craft beer sales in Ontario. According to VanSickle, “there is a brave new world coming for the retailing beer and wine in Ontario. These are heady times. Behind closed doors a lot of discussion is happening, a lot of debate and planning is going on in advance of the day Wynne’s Liberal government utters those words many of us have  longed to hear for so long: An end to the LCBO and Beer Store monopolies on wine and beer in Ontario.”

For Rick’s full report on his site WinesInNiagara, please click here:

Brave New World: How the new model for beer and wine retailing in Ontario could look

I read Rick VanSickle’s work on a regular basis and I know him to be as pragmatic and as skeptical as they come. I doubt very much that Rick would get ahead of himself on an issue with so much on the line. Using his ins to gain sagacity from insiders who possess relevant information, VanSickle writes with confidence that Kathleen Wynne has given Ed Clark and his privatization panel carte blanche to effect real change. The consequences of what Rick is predicting are enormous. For consumers, for industry professionals and for writers. We would all have to reconsider and recalibrate the way we approach wine and beer in Ontario.

That is why I remain ever the conspiracy theorist. I remain unconvinced. I see the smoke and mirrors of the entire charade. Even when new licenses are granted, I imagine grocery retailers only selling the largest and most heavily marketed brands. I don’t see VQA wine stores and specialty shops tailored to the demographics of neighbourhoods. I see the LCBO and the Beer Store continuing to exercise their powers of monopoly and controlling how all the changes are implemented. I just do not see the revolution as being imminent and around the corner.

My apologies to you Rick. Your report is thorough and covers everything we need to know. Were these great advances to happen we would all be the beneficiaries but your words sound more like wishes than predictions. Ontario is not Alberta. It never has been and isn’t likely to happen any time soon. I hope I am dead wrong. I will owe you a sit down over a craft beer and a never before seen in Ontario stores bottle of wine if I am. If the revolution is upon us, I will happily count my blessings over one with you.

So, back to the business of reporting on the VINTAGES releases at the LCBO. With spring coming this Saturday so too does an entire new set of wines on shelves. Last week I talked up Riesling and iconic wines.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Related – March 21 big guns

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Almost spring out on the lake

The rest of the March 21st release is expressed in value, in wines that offer serious compensation for what you spend. Wines in generosity of backbone, psyche and enthusiasm. Wines that are simply good, regardless of their cost. Here are notes on nine.

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013, Barrel Fermented, Doca Rioja, Spain (518985, $15.95, WineAlign)

Here barrel fermented Rioja brings a buffet of culinary impressions to the aromatic and gustatory table. Soft scrambled egg and cream in Tortilla Española, Serrano ham, buttery puff pastry, natillas. All would pair well with the hickory stick barrel spice and the slightly volatile tang. Accents of orange juice and rind work the angles, along with the calcified acidity. This Rioja is not shy but it represents good complexity and value for the price.  Tasted March 2015  @Marques_Caceres  @RiojaWine  @DionysusWines

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Docg (375ml), Tuscany, Italy (403824, $16.95, WineAlign)

Kudos must be afforded Castello di Ama for putting CCR in half-bottles. It’s like listening to Green River on vinyl. The layers of texture, nuance, and groove are amplified. The expedited evolution and compact formula make cause for a bottled up compression, a concentration, not a reduction. More winemakers should bottle in the 375 mL container. There are so many reasons for it. Space, quality, half the cost and best of all, nothing left at the end of the night, just the empty bottle. This 2009 has seen its fair share of evolution, with notes of forest floor, truffle, mushroom and compost tea but in certain respects the aromas are old-school Brunello. The antiquity of the composition is nothing but endearing, a romantic comfort zone to give this Ama a sense of place. The wood, bite into sinew and gristle tannins add to the archaic mystique. Most modern imbibers would like more fruit but at this paltry price the complexity is more than enough reward. “Well, take me back down where cool water flow, yeh. Let me remember things I love.” Drink now.  Tasted March 2015  @CastellodiAma  @chianticlassico  @HalpernWine

 

Boutari Grande Reserve 2008

Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Naoussa, Greece (140111, $17.95, WineAlign)

In this Xinomavro there is beauty and bog consistence, like wild calla palustris. Imagine a wine thick as consonants, dense and defined by solid rock bubbling like stew, from out of a marsh. Wood adds intricate layers and a mothering of leather hiding and protecting dried cherries. Game, spice, liquorice, funk and things that heal flavour the wine’s liqueur. Silky smooth with a run of grain and the salinity of ancient longing. Racy acidity intrudes, puts in a charge and takes care to see six to eight years more life will be a guarantee. Easily and possibly 10 will pass before it sheds the chalky loops. Terrific vintage with impressive depth and range of flavour.  Tasted February 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine  @winesofnaoussa

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013, Ac Alsace, France (398172, $18.95, WineAlign)

The resident oenologist at Wolfberger is Bertrand Praz, in charge of the cooperative located in Eguisheim, south of Colmar. As far as a ‘basic’ union Pinot Gris is concerned, this one hits the right marks and preserves proper tradition. It’s both saline and full of pith, with lemon is scrapes and ladles, yet it could very well be thought of as Riesling were it tasted blind. Good ripeness, nothing serious and quite righteous with an intent to carry an Alsace torch of dry, finely crafted Pinot Gris. What’s most important is the statement it makes for what will follow out of the 2013 vintage.  Tasted March 2015  @wolfberger_fr  @Smarent

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac, France (180323, $18.95, WineAlign)

The pause of oxidation. The evidence concrete and stratified, the bite pure and hollow petrified, like into bone and the interval below the organic soil. Crisp cut above the normal. Mouth-filling and expansive. Perfectly bitter. Much lemon, ginger and further spice. Length too.

From my earlier note of April 2014: A southern French (Pyrenean foothills, just south of Carcassonne) blend dominated by the traditional grape variety of Limoux, Mauzac (90 per cent), with support from Chardonnay. The lees is very direct and in your face on this Limoux, the baking aromas strong and the texture quite dense. Citrus and white grapefruit crawl up the middle and aridity mixed with horseradish salt comes through on the finish. Claims territory in viridity of complexity, an acumen for dewiness and is blessed with a marked appeal to hipster fizzters.  @DneJLaurens  @LanguedocWines  @oenophilia1

Last tasted March 2015

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (411595, $24.95, WineAlign)

Twenty three years ago this October the Hip’s third record changed the course of Canadian Pop and Rock music. While this Jeff Hundertmark, Kingston-bred band and Bordeaux blend will not have a similar effect on the Ontario wine industry, it’s certainly not a tragically vinified red. It’s looking for a place to happen, has the wherewithal to age with some grace and the courage to represent Stoney Ridge with power. The wall of sound, smell and taste is achieved through forest compost, bruised berries, melted liquorice, plum flavour and glycerin texture. Hung “long out in the sun,” the pencil graphite and hard acidity is a scratch and a flaw but also a calling card to see this age in the classic Niagara red style. “Either it’ll move me or it’ll move right through me; fully, completely.”  Tasted March 2015  @stoneyridgewine  @WeirRidgeYnmakr  @thehipdotcom  @ImportWineMAFWM

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392738, $29.95, WineAlign)

The passion from the Thomas Bachelder Niagara project has shifted into Domaine Queylus. With no disrespect to Thomas’ eponymous bottling from vineyards so nearby, the quality time has now been granted the Tradition. Here lies Mountainview and Le Petite Colline earth, here crushes Niagara cherries in hand, juice running down a clay caked forearm. Fresh and bright yet streaked by chalk and enveloping brushstroke. Sour? For a flash but in neither malic nor astringent form. This is a must buy.

From my earlier June 2014 note: Reverberates with the unmistakable calling card character of the storied Neudorf family La Petite vineyard with equal and opposite amounts of attraction and new life breathed in by the Lincoln Lakeshore fruit. Ethereally sifted earth of old meets cherries of new. Enriching Pinot Noir, a bit gangling like a primitive young giraffe but near to finding its legs. Hard working red, insistent, confident and having already paid some dirty fingernail dues. Excellent length.

Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin  @Bachelder_wines

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (400051, $34.95, WineAlign)

An intimately affordable Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast fashioned by a family in its 157th year of production is a rarity. Even more so from a cool-climate region oft-marred by the misperception that its Chardonnay are fat, buttery, over-oaked fruit bombs. From fruit grown on the Rhinefarm Estate Vineyard on southwest slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, eight miles north of San Pablo Bay. Consider the antonymous solecism of zero per cent malolactic fermentation and you will see where this (20 per cent new) barrel fermented Chardonnay has come from and where it is going. Weekly battonage compresses and stirs up texture. Fog plays its part on the cool slopes of Huichica clay loam soils mixed in with gravel deposits. Acidity is preserved, hitting a classic number on top of healthy (14 plus per cent) alcohol. This is not a small Chardonnay. It stretches its legs and walks like a giant but not in 80’s or 90’s acid washed jeans or big hair ways. This is Chardonnay that leads in style and confidence of a most modern vernacular and fashion. It’s also a steal.  Tasted October 2014  @gunbunwine  @LeSommelierWine

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Take a bottle, leave a bottle

Wines of the week

Wines of the week

Lately I’ve noticed a whole bunch of take a book, leave a book mini libraries popping up on front lawns in many Toronto neighbourhoods. The concept is right on so many levels and it occurs to me that the same could be done with wine. Open a few bottles and have a taste of each then exchange them with a friend or colleague so that each of you can sample new wines the following night without having to open anything new.

Last week the practice was put to good use and it allowed me to taste upwards of 40 wines without the benefit of a trade or media tasting. I traded wines with friends and colleagues over the course of three days and two nights. Yes, you can trust your friends to keep the provenance of a bottle so that your experience is just as fulfilling as theirs. Yesterday’s post covered the notes on 12 wines from the boot.

Related – Italian wines of the week

Here are nine more tasting notes from a wider global range, with a focus on Victoria, McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek in Australia along with samples from the Mosel, Penedès, the Columbia Valley and the southern Rhône.

 

Urban Riesling 2014

Urban Riesling 2014, Mosel, Germany (Agent, $15.95, WineAlign)

Grapes from neighbouring vineyards in the Mosel are brought to St. Urbans Hof Winery and vinified in the Nik Weis way. This stresses the Weis notion where “cool climate vines develop flavours, not simply sugars.” Though straightforward and quite traditional, the Urban is clean and shy on flint but there is a slate’s medicinal bleed and piercing acidity. Lime and more lime. Quite dry and in moderate (9.5 per cent) alcohol. This represents quintessential entry-level Qualitätswein.  Tasted March 2015  @TheVine_RobGroh  @WinesofGermany

Taltarni 't' Series Shiraz 2013
Taltarni ‘T’ Series Shiraz 2013
, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia (Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

A warm, highly perfumed entry with a hot stone streak runs forward and uphill through waves of lush berries. A wrinkle of vim is but a moment of abstruse behaviour. The macerated fruit careens in sweetness above the subtleties of savour but the spice directed oak takes over, along with a scaleable wall of tannin. This woven textile of a Shiraz needs a few years to soften. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted March 2015  @Taltarni  @TheVine_RobGroh

Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Langhorne Creek, Australia (Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

Langhorne Creek is the source for winemaker Ben Glaetzer’s blend, an Australian curated combination that has secured its rightful ownership within the assemblage vernacular. The star anise on the label is apropos considering the red braised pork belly and Phở tái aromatic suggestiveness. That and red plums, poached and in a sweet bun’s paste. Add to them the steam from hot rocks and warm raspberry compote. Certainly on the syrupy side of texture but the palate is equally savoury as it is sweet. Lots of character here and a finish with extension.  Tasted March 2015  @heartlandwines  @langhornecreek  @TheVine_RobGroh

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Domaine du Séminaire Côtes du Rhône 2013, Rhône Valley, France (Agent, $14.95)

A rustic must is the truth serum here, the corollary of proper old school CdR winemaking. An affinity is sensed to both an Albert Mann Pinot Noir and a Baden Spätburgunder with porcine aromatics and an antediluvian aridity. Very cherry, dusty and plainspoken like a trending linear regression. Such a welcome step up from so many over the top sunshine dramatized Rhônes of excessive residual and alcohol. Though this clocks in at 14 per cent you would never know to read it on the spirit hydrometer. Direct energy and pulse would make this a very keg worthy red.  Tasted March 2015  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine  @HospiceduRhone  @TheLivingVine

Tapestry Bg & V Shiraz 2012

Tapestry Bg & V Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia (247155, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 7, 2015 release

A regional vigneron’s blend from two vineyards, BG and V: The Baker’s Gully (old Lloyd Light Vineyards) at the base of the Southern Mt. Lofty Ranges and Oliver’s Road (the continuation of Field Street) near to the Vale Township. Really elegant and refined in spite of a big, bold and juicy character. Ripe, sunny and warmer categorical climate expression. Quite tightly wound with a metallic iron post or fist in your face, layered and initializing the baking effect. Needs three or four years to fully integrate at which time the pie will be ready.  Tasted March 2015  @mclaren_vale

L'école No 41 Semillon 2013

L’école No 41 Semillon 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (SAQ 10707077, $22.25, WineAlign)

Sauvignon Blanc (13 per cent) adds buoyancy to the main attraction in this vanguard and reputable Columbia Valley pioneer. Quite toasty and marked by early nose-hair splitting and splintering barrel notes. Dare say reductive but not in a rubber sap run way. More like Sémillon-dominated Bordeaux, of big bones, cut through soluble rock, created a sinkhole that swallows up flavours, only to release them in geyser like fashion in later years. So with patience and age-time in mind, this Sem will have better years ahead, when the heavy (14.5 per cent) alcohol integrates and the lemon drop-butterscotch flavours mellow. Generous pH (3.2) and high Brix (24.2) were the product of a very warm vintage. Rounded by concentric circles of acidity and bitter pith tannin, this is very tropical, like Gewürztraminer, but more in mango than lychee. Needs five years minimum because the oak is overdone. Tasted March 2015  @lecole41  @WINESofWA

La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut Rose

La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut Rosé, Penedès, Spain (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

Blush Cava blend of Macabeu, Xarel-Lo and Trepat. Aromas scale the neck of the bottle with immediate desperation even before the cork has fully disengaged. The wine just looks savoury with its bronzing salmon patina. Possessive of an ultra-fine mousse, aridity in immediate initialization and very much the sum total of base elements. Sweeter than expected to taste, seemingly oxymoronic to the nose and in conjunction with a low to moderate 11.5 per cent alcohol. The overall package is one of those beautifully impossible pH/rS/aBV agglomerations. Flavours lean to strawberry and ginger. The Trepat gives it a Costers del Segre angle of anxiety. This has moments of Pinot Noir-esque kinship with some finer Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (like Louis Sipp) in such a refined way.   Tasted March 2015  @lavidaalcamp  @TheVine_RobGroh

Taltarni Pyrenees Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Taltarni Pyrenees Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

Bottled in 2012, this Taltarni is showing some age, in a positive way, in dried fruit and Cassis less sweet. Baking fruit and warm spice are grounded by earth and a chalky, citrus, lactic underlay. Has fully integrated components that some time ago included a grit of acidity and tannin, at this juncture no longer in control, but fully primed for peak time. In fact this Victorian has reached the secondary stage of its life. The raisining of fruit means drink it now and for another year.  Tasted March 2015  @Taltarni  @TheVine_RobGroh

Jamsheed Harem La Syrah 2013

Jamsheed Harem La Syrah 2013, Yarra Valley and Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia (Agent,$29.95)

Only 900 cases were made of this blend of Upper Goulurn (80 per cent) and Yarra Valley (20) fruit. Indigenous yeasts were used and 80 per cent was fermented as whole bunches then aged in new and older 500L puncheons. So very fresh, the Harem (Harum…) was bottled with out fining or filtering eight months after picking. “Amidst a sea of wheat,” in a world of jammy Shiraz, say hello to this 13.2 per cent alcohol Victorian Syrah. This is fully exposed and in exposition of its naked beauty. Were more of Victoria produced in this progressive rock, singer/songwriter style, the throngs would applaud. Pure, smokey, opaque and sultry, not exceedingly complex but built on whole bunch bravery. Lyrical, harmonious and eminently listenable. Quite rightly so, shines on brightly, a good album side.  Tasted March 2015

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Pirates on a picnic

Salmon Amuse Bouche

Chef Victor Barry’s Salmon Amuse

The privacy, intimacy and relaxed atmosphere of a subterranean hashery is something we should all experience at least once in a gustatory lifetime. We should also be afforded the opportunity of a salubrious 12-course tasting menu designed by a reluctant superstar. Why ought we not be handled with extreme Sommelier care by the caress of a total professional? Give me a reason to not spend three hours locked in a room with eight others, all of generous wine and spirit?

The location was Splendido‘s downstairs dining room. The chef was Victor Barry. The Sommelier was Ellen Jakobsmeier. The company a group of friends and friends of friends with a common goal. Eat, drink and be merry. Maybe trash talk a little. Trade a few thousand e-mails ahead of time to fire the vinous juices. Get down to business. Taste fourteen wines blind, poured from paper bags, discuss and be humbled by knowing everything and yet nothing at all.

Chef Barry’s selections and his staff’s execution were beyond flawless, culled from trial, error and perfection, bobbing up into the ethereal. Ms. Jakobsmeier had less than 20 minutes to receive, prepare and pour in order, with timely precision, the agglomerated and cumulative progression of the wines. Like Euro rail time. Not a hair out-of-place. Big props Ellen.

One dinner companion said this. “Thank you so much for inviting me to join your Pirate festivities! The food was incredible, thanks for hosting us Victor. The wines were exciting, generous and delicious! Thanks to all of you for sharing the gems from your cellars. And thank you Ellen for doing such a great job pairing all the wines. A feast worthy of Pirates!”

Victor added his own words. “Thanks everyone. I had a blast. I really enjoyed sitting down stairs it made it much more enjoyable for me. Looking forward to the next event. PS that Tokai was fucking delicious. And the Premier Cru from that “Niagara appellation.”

I wrote this to the group. “Laid in bed last night thinking about every course. Too many details to comprehend. And then it was morning and my kids wanted their lunches packed. Good thing there was this pumpkin in my wine sleeve…generosity in wine just amazing. All thoughtful and just fucking generous. Fortunate to have met new faces. Looking forward to this again, and again. Great work JB and Victor, stars all around.”

And to you JB, you sure do know how to throw a party.

Champagne begins the pirates on a picnic dinner in the downstairs private dining space at Splendido Toronto

Champagne begins the pirates on a picnic dinner in the downstairs private dining vineyard at Splendido Toronto

Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV, Champagne, France

Just a wee coppery this rusty blush, savoury to solecism and uprooted by a tremendous fault that forces metamorphic salinity, no check that, bleeds from rock into the bottle. If Champagne could commandeer the senses to stop and take note, this LB is the one. Stoic, purposed, frank and blushing like a winter Olympic athlete after a gruelling race. This Rosé is as confident and masculine as can be for the genre. It opens the eyes, pores and heart for a long haul ahead of pulls, in corks, sips and gulps.  @LarmandierB

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV and Domaine Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru "Séchet" 2009

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru NV and Domaine Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru “Séchet” 2009

Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru “Séchet” 2009, Burgundy, France

To be blinded by rocks is to taste such a wine without knowing what it is, slicing like Silex, cutting with a jagged edge of mineral take, yet gripping of aridity that must come from singular Chablis. Something whips like paraffin but again, the missing wood, the fennel talc, the absolute purity just says Chardonnay. With levity requested, gotta borrow from Burghound on this one because he was spot on, “way beyond the shadow of a doubt, yeah.” After 30 minutes the Sechet left the quarry to enter a sweat lodge of smoke and toast with an eventual pause at the charred Shishito capsicum station. The coarse wail is the young Dauvissat crooning but with fear set aside, the wine will soften in time, like the fashion poet, the prince of thieves. This Séchet, mythological in name, is Chablis brightly lit and accepts another sung substitute for yes. “Oh it cuts like a knife , yeah but it feels so right.”  @BIVBChablis

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Popcorn dusted with dehydrated scallop dust? Damn straight.

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Salmon, skin, consommé

Salmon, skin, consommé

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007, Wachau, Austria (AgentWineAlign)

Something grand is brewing, of that there is no doubt, despite the skinny, indehiscent first moments. A petrol that comes with age, a suckling piggy with melifluous honeycomb in its mouth roasting away, tinned fruit cup of a jellied, agar-agar mandarin orange type; these are the bold scents of what must be Austria, possibly Riesling, certainly Wachau. Tannin and stone drip Alsace Grand Cru, of Riesling again, like Rangen, but the reveal of Grüner Veltliner makes so much sense. Crazy, mind-blowing example, as good as it gets, a bench and high-water mark from which a free fall off the high springboard makes a perfect splash into the glass. Ninety minutes later only a word is needed to stem the waves of petulant emotion. Unbelievable.  @TheLivingVine  @AustrianWine

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007 and Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2007 and Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007

Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula (2013 268342WineAlign)

French oak kicks at the door, feeling young, dirty and fine though synchronicity is absent in most respects. This is certainly not Chassagne, definitely not Meursault, not even St. Aubin. Yet it is delicate and delectable despite its unkempt ways, selfless and if left to be, might settle into a relationship. To discover it’s the hot vintage of 2007 version of today’s Estate Chardonnay is nothing short of astounding and at the same time, disappointing, at odds, disassembled. After 20 minutes it falls apart, “in little pieces on the floor, too wild to keep together.” The wine’s inclusion was necessary, gave perspective and bent to receive the Uni, “and now the end has come.” The 2012 and 2013 will offer much more pleasure.  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Clos de Monsieur Noly’ 2002, Mâconnais, Burgundy, France

May as well be Josko Gravner Ribollo Gialla, or Ann Sperling’s Whimsy! Orange and yet in contempt of the oxidized and underripe cantaloupe be damned, Jura should be the call. But then there is the question of messing with the man acidity and a trippy delicacy as per the cook’s butcher. It is certainly not faulty, nor should it be faulted for developing au natural, on top of the sheets, on the bare side of the beach. OK, so really old Chenin Blanc and a very natural Outback white blend would make for good conversation, or not. Like mushrooms for toffee. Like mulled apples for cider done wrong. Dirty in the most righteous 12 year-old Sherry way. Love it with Lobster on a rock, octopus and some kind of sea cucumber.

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé 'Clos de Monsieur Noly' 2002 and Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Clos de Monsieur Noly’ 2002 and Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009

Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009, Côte de Beaune, France (AgentWineAlign)

Can anything really be known from a fleeting moment spent with this? Classic, viscous, rich Burgundy and nothing but, with more mineral than should be gained from just a pass. The maker had the unconscious intent of remembering generations. When told that hey, it’s a Latour, in Beaune, of Corton Charlemagne, by Grand Cru, it’s hard to gather your inner we’re not worthy but focus and intent need be the outward act. You can really taste the limestone, imagine walking the Corton hillside, feeling the maximum exposure of the sun. When you know what it is you know to take a slice of humble pie and remember the soil, the soil, the soil. In Burgundy since 1797.  @LouisLatour1797  @LouisLatourInc

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011 nº 30 Capataz Rivas

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011 nº 30 Capataz Rivas

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 2011, nº 30 Capataz Rivas, D.O. Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain

Tasted blind this pours as a glass of briny capers, sea peas, vetches and liquid basalt. It speaks a language that contains the ancient loneliness of ruins. Thoughts easily lean Manzanilla or Old Fino. Great nuts, bitters, horseradish, dry tang, daikon and like a dirty martini. Not to mention orange rind and lime rind, zest and akin to a Vin Doux. It’s origins are at the hands of capataz master Rafael Rivas, from juice originally preserved to add kick to more commercial releases but the decision instead was made to “touch” the 15 solera butts with “testimonial sacas” of only four or five arrobas (roughly 5 x 16 = 80 litres), to make a wine such as this. This is old school Manzanilla, the third saca, with a reductive flor, uniquely oxidative and an average age of around 15 years.  @EquipoNavazos  @SherryWines  @JerezXrsSherry

Pop can seafood

Pop can seafood

Intermezzo of smoked oyster and foam…

Carrot

Splendido’s Five-hour carrot

“Friends – ridiculous dinner last night, in the best way. Great wines with great friends is my favourite way to spend a night. Already looking forward to the next one – at which I will bring more than one wine.”
Hamachi collar, black bean paste

Hamachi collar, black bean paste

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997, Piedmont, Italy

Here the soprano sings, in bold, rich, deep tones, with a sense of entitlement and a swagger. It’s a royal, goodfella, masculine depth. The notes are sung, even danced in bourrée, crescendo, sostenuto and ritardando. The luscious bing cherry richesse gives it youth, intimating Sangiovese but true hematic Toscana can’t be this dark. The modernity of Nebbiolo it must be. Seamless, tireless and impossibly rose petal delicate with the omnipresent tar. Would be willing to go back to 1999 but for the black forest layering, though to find out it’s ’97 shatters myths, confidence and legend. Still dusty and tannic, with more years needed to shed the grains of sand chain. After 20 minutes it goes to candied flowers, oranges and Alba truffles. Bring on the soft scrambled eggs.

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997 and Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997

Podere Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano 1997 and Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997

Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997, Piedmont, Italy

Smells like spirited, youthful, though decidedly modern Nebbiolo. Rich, chalky, dense, viscous, unctuous and yet the opposite of the Manzoni grit. More feminine, of more voices, in fugue, at times in tarantella, then into arpeggio. The notes play from a radio in my head. “In the deepest ocean, the bottom of the sea, your eyes, they turn me.” That it’s my contribution, this weird fish of a Nebbiolo, makes me amazed at the complex world of Piemonte and the absurdity of knowledge. Sensory appreciation rocks, spoken through this Sarmassa, like a chant from an ancient tribe, sitting cross-legged upon the clays of Lugagnano. It seems there may be 20 years left on the Marchesi’s Nebbiolo. I can’t believe how well it showed.

 

Venison loin, heart, mushroom, beet, pig's blood chocolate sauce

Venison loin, heart, mushroom, beet, pig’s blood chocolate sauce

“Amazing night! Everything was spot on, from the food to the wines to the company. Thanks to all, looking forward to the next one.”
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (2011 480533, WineAlign)

Though the vintage was reported to be less than exceptional, the chance to taste this 37 years in/on and the longevity it displays combines for full, blow me away effect. The first vintage of Sassicaia was 1968 and this 10th try hits the mark of experience. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85 per cent) and (15) Cabernet Franc, the fruit came from vines over top soils of clay and limestone. The wine spent 20 months in Yugoslavian oak barrels (half of it being new, and half used once or twice before), while for the remaining 60 per cent, French oak was used (2/3 new and 1/3 used once or twice before. Tasted blind, the swirling and searching thoughts of Genesis retrospection assimilate aromas of truffle and mushroom, but at first there is no reply at all. Landing on a plot of excellence somewhere between Bordeaux and Piedmont, Tuscany rises from its hills. A silent conversation ask the Sassicaia “I get the feelin’ you’re tryin’ to tell me; Is there somethin’ that I should know?” Its condition is near perfect, its body full, its nature pristine and finally, so obviously in balance. After 30 minutes it begins to slide, to no surprise, but you can’t believe the expression it gives and the impression it leaves. And so, it is confirmed. 1977 was a fine vintage for Sassicaia.  @Smarent

 

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003, Tuscany, Italy (2010 987586WineAlign)

The crowd leans modern, young, New World Cabernet Franc or Bordeaux blend. Can’t help but concur. Turns out to be a blend, of Cabernet Sauvignon (75 per cent), Sangiovese (20) and Cabernet Franc (5). First produced in 1978, the Sangiovese was only introduced to Solaia in 1980. In 2003, the weather could be described with a single word. Hot. Limited rainfall and a record total of 2400° in daytime heat summation has brought this Solaia to its full on gain, 12 years in evolution. The vintage caused a full draw from stony calcareous soil of marl and friable albarese rock. The collective soul can appreciate its charms but the heavy aspect ratio can’t be denied. We sipped and “the punches came fast and hard.” Warm smacks to the face, rushes of heat and an ensanguined rush of chocolate fruit through the system. For now there is no caramel, no brûlée, no denoument. In the present there are caverns of tannin, the ‘sunny one’ playing the crowd, on a sunset strip. Soon and in the end, times fades away.  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003 and Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993

Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT 2003 and Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993

Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1993, Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary (2008 972836,, WineAlign)

Here the caramel unctuousness and apricot in chains of liquid gold is the work of a legendary purveyor, the Royal Tokaji company. With sweetness upwards of 150 g/L and acidity pushing the 10 g/L mark, this is no shrinking violet of a dessert wine. With 12 years of road under its belt, the blend of predominantly Furmint and Hárslevelú grape varieties (with a small percentage of Muscat) is firing on all cylinders. Racy and intense, this captures the essence of the 1st growth Nyulászó vineyard and brings it to the world. Bullies the desserts a bit, but all is forgiven considering the range of flavours within and complimented from without.  @Royal_Tokaji  @HHDImports_Wine

Then one more dessert course…”Milk and Cereal,” chamomile and maple tea gel, buttermilk quenelle, flaxseed granola.
Final treats

Final treats

Why drink that?

Eat this, drink that

Eat this, drink that

We’re really just like moths, we seekers of wine, slaves to a fiery obsession, stopping occasionally to smell the adjectives, taking unnecessary financial risks and with any luck, happening into and finding enchantment. To remember generations. Is this why we drink wine?

We are looking for heroic entablature and architectural wonder in bottles of wine. We see them as DNA and in their liquids we can read their entire future. We sip them again and again until we taste them for the first time. We derive textures and flavours so solid, so tangible, it seems we can reach into the glass and grab handfuls of it. The glass itself has become the varietal, the engineering having expanded the notes and completed them, amplified and contained them. Is this why we drink that?

Not really. Sure we are looking for relevant encounters but what we really want is pleasure. Pleasure and escape. What we seek is value for our money. When we hit the stores and open or wallets we want honest juice at the lowest price. Bullshit aside, here are seven great values, in stores, by agents and down the road in our Niagara backyard.

From left to right: Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, Maipe Malbec 2013, Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, CedarCreek Merlot 2012, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013

From left to right: Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, Maipe Malbec 2013, Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, CedarCreek Merlot 2012, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013

Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (156125, $13.95, WineAlign)

Classic Niagara Peninsula aromas, of tart berries, pomegranate, cherries and wet clay exude and display. Stoney Ridge is simply giving this Pinot Noir away. Vinified bone dry (1.9 g/L residual sugar), pricked with acidity (7.2 g/L) and kissed by (eight months) of oak, this acuminates, as opposed to dials, in. The honing is crystalline, in bright and vibrant tones. There is a refined sugar aspect to its ratio but it’s really quite clean and nervy. The length impresses and sweeps to seal the $14 deal.  Tasted February 2015  @stoneyridgewine

Maipe Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (93823, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite intense, juicy and peppery for a $15 Malbec. A mix of red and black berries is accented by liquorice. Some chalky overlay, which goes short on integration, would do well to play nicer were it an underlay. A bit musky with cool savoury reserve and a very effective use of high (3000m) altitude fruit.  Tasted February 2015  @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @Chakana and Maipe: wines with an andean spirit​

Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (247882, $15.75, WineAlign)

Only 945 cases were made of this Shiraz (48 per cent), Cabernet Franc (23), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Merlot (9) blend. And that’s a shame. Some further bottle time has brought out the best in show. There is as much clear class and enjoyable drinking as a Niagara red blend is likely to earn by wing. The concept is quite OZ, the coalescence very Niagara and the sensibility so sly, Speck family. The brightness, oak influence and acidity linger as one to stretch and bound about in elastic joyeuse. Crosses Charlemagne-like stone swords of accessibility and put me aside confidence with vintage gain and restraint. Keen winemaking decisions by outgoing winemaker Ron Giesbrecht have produced great results. Made for everyday people, were the Family Tree Red pouring from keg it would fill my glass on a daily basis.”And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo.”  Tasted February 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Veneto, Italy (377648, $16.95, WineAlign)

Re-taste. Beautiful red fruit, in density. clarity and showy Valpolicella dress. Thinks good clean fun and thoughts, open-knit and its tannins mingle with multiplying acidity. Would benefit from two to three years more time in bottle. It will then drink as it was intended and as it should. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Solid if newfangled Veneto that swivels from sulphur to sweetness. Has a Niagara Peninsula varnished quality, not so typical for the homeland. Also presses from both vineyard earthy and barrel stinky notes. Somewhat this and insipid but the late influx of fresh cherry brings it back and stretches its length.”  Last tasted February 2015  @Select_Wines  @C_Valpolicella  @MGMMondodelVino​

Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, Rias Baixas, Spain (Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

A very mineral driven Albariño with little fruit expression to ascertain. Though the grapes give way to fine-grained chalky salinity, is that not coequality from and for the quarry? Soil and stone lead a path to cool and collected acidity, not one so linear but more extrapolated, as if from lime in pith, not zest. A very composed Rias Baixas but not overly accessible. Rich broth with small bits of fresh fish would pair delectably and foil perfectly; keep it from doing the “rise up, rise up,” into aerified, out of this world, parachute club territory. A nip of this and “spirits time has come.”  Tasted February 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @RiasBaixasWines

CedarCreek Merlot 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BCLDB and BCVQA 408666 $19.95, WineAlign)

Quite the glass of liqueur, with fully ripe, rich and dense fruit. Admittedly on the twiggy and good green side of the varietal, in the right ways, with Merlot bells of chalk, grain and tannin in whistling interplay. A correct correlation and in certain kinship with St. Emilion but with Okanagan footprints. Handles its 14.5 per cent alcohol quite easily and transfers its weight through a cool centre and into an even cooler finish. Along that route are notes of mint, eucalyptus and graphite, not unlike Coonawarra or Stellenbosch. Fun Merlot at an attractive price. Another gem from CedarCreek.  Tasted February 2015

Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Mosel Valley, Germany (Agent, Approx. $25.00, WineAlign)

Architecturally precise, of cleanly drawn lines, like the Mosel Vinothek acquired and restored by Molitor in 1984 and winner of the “Architekturpreis Wein 2013.” The Riesling mimics the juxtaposition of historical and modern, seemingly steeped in the past and transposed to the present by state-of-the-art winemaking. This has slate, steep steppes rising from subterreanean acquired salinity and ingrained aridity. There is no way to hide from the scree of the past, avoid the incline towards the future, nor can it exist without the run-off of mineral left behind. Brilliant hue, matched density, matchstick wisp and wild tang. Honeyed and suckling porcine in an early roasting stage, with terrific texture. The beautiful arid length is purposed and linear, with much oomph in its gait. Will linger for five to 10 years easy.  Tasted February 2015  @TrialtoON

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

http://www.winealign.com/profile/2058-mjg

Varietal Spanish wine

Meat Me in the Junction http://meatmeinthejunction.com

Meat Me in the Junction
http://meatmeinthejunction.com

In which camp do you take up permanent and loyal residence? Do you listen to, build your cellar around and taste exclusively of the singer-songwriter, the solo artist, the grape that goes it alone? Who are you? Varietal or blend?

Many a quarrel has landed on the subject of pitting meritage versus the single-varietal. The purist will argue that no combination of grapes can combine to make for the greatest of wines (save for Champagne). They will insist the skilled and important winemaker is one whose favourite medium is difficulty. That only the ones who are possessive of the cabalistic code can truly unlock the inner secrets of their art. That it can only done through the secret concentration and religious attention paid solely to one partner.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay perpetuate in globally made, 100 per cent single solutions, not to mention the behemoths of Shiraz, Malbec, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. To a lesser extent there are great vats composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Gamay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.

The viticultural right of assemblage is one of the perks in modern winemaking, propped up by and standing on the shoulders of Bordeaux giants. The blending of grapes in summations to argue that the whole is the proper gross of fractions is a celebration of the 21st century avant garde.

Related – Off the beaten Italian path

Yet times evolve, change and tesselate. Old becomes new again. In November I travelled off the beaten Italian varietal path in an investigation of the B-sides, the ones that no one else knows about. I met the awakening of the Italian grape vernacular, engineered for companionless a cappella troubadours, from Albana to Ribolla Gialla, endemic (or indigenous, if the nomenclature suits you) and ancient varieties that have entered a time of new dawn. A similar renaissance is happening in Spain.

In October, at the invite of the downright honourable good Dr. Barry Brown of the Spanish Wine Society, I had the opportunity to taste through a wide selection of the wines of Navarra. The region lies between Pamplona in the north and the Ebro River plain to the south. Non-native varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were introduced in the eighties, but it is the native Viura, Tempranillo and Garnacha that drive the Navarran machine.

The Rosado of Navarra were exceptional and the best examples were composed from 100 per cent Garnacha. The single-varietal compositions in Garnacha and Tempranillo by Bodegas Principe de Viana drove the companionless point. The exception to the rule was found in the wines of Bodegas Tandem. The small winery in Tierra Estella (Yerri Valley) is fashioning blends using Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in a combination of concrete vats and French oak. The slow ripening, meticulous handling and extended aging in wines crafted by José María Fraile is nothing short of exceptional. After all, they are called grape varieties and variety is the spice of life. Why shouldn’t blends have more fun?

In November I continued my Spanish odyssey with the wines of Garnacha. It was there that the solo records, in red and white really began to play in my varietal head. Garnacha (also known as Grenache) is one of the world’s oldest and most widely planted grapes. Its ability to assimilate the double-pronged effect of a Mediterranean climate and an Atlantic suffusion make it ideal for the Iberian Peninsula.

From left to right: Bodegas Tandem Ars Nova 2011, Bodegas Principe de Viana Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2012, Lafou Els Amelers 2013, Edetària Selecció Blanc 2012, Bodegas Pirineos Garnacha 2013 and Grandes Vinos y Viñedos El Anayón Selección Garnacha 2011

From left to right: Bodegas Tandem Ars Nova 2011, Bodegas Principe de Viana Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2012, Lafou Els Amelers 2013, Edetària Selecció Blanc 2012, Bodegas Pirineos Garnacha 2013 and Grandes Vinos y Viñedos El Anayón Selección Garnacha 2011

As the most notorious grape variety with the ability to go ying or yang, Ac or Dc, red or white, Garnacha makes for a fascinating study. Three examples expressive of Blanca’s western European white vinous supremacy opened my eyes to its capabilities. Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2012 (Agent, $16.00) from Somontano made use of four months in two year-old oak barrels to help develop texture in as good a value Garnacha Blanca as could hope to find. The Lafou Els Amelers 2013 (Agent, $28.95) from Terra Alta is a gorgeous wine of salinity, calcium, white flowers, fine lines and elegance. The Edetària Selecció Blanc 2012 (Agent, $39.95) also from Terra Alta is the pure distilled embodiment of Garnacha Blanca with its own unique and distinct aroma.

The Toronto Garnacha tasting ushered by Sopexa Canada brought into focus the grape’s diverse spectrum spread liberally around Spanish wine regions. When Garnacha goes it alone the results are extremely varied, from simple syrup, inexpensive drops to seriously structured compositions. As a varietal wine it is extremely accessible and offers exploratory song lines for all walks of wine consumer life.

From Somontano there is the Bodegas Pirineos Garnacha 2013 (Agent, $17.00), a prime starter’s example all about structure, with rock, chalk and lime-like citrus accents. This is a red Garnacha for the white wine drinker. Grandes Vinos y Viñedos El Anayón Selección Garnacha 2011 (Agent, $30.00) hails from Cariñena. Reeking ethereal and attenuated in American Oak, the high toast, citrus tone, vanilla and Rhône-esque garrigue is palpable. Crazy sweet tannins will carry this big fruit Garnacha to the next decade with pleasing clarity.

So with thanks to Macabeo, Prieto Picudo, Mazuelo, Graciano, Garnacha and the people who brought them to us, the individual is freed from the collective. In a twist of Descartian philosophy, of mind and mechanism, varietal wine is handled with the treatment of oxymoronic social sciences. The result is a triumph of secular materialism, the conceit of modernity and the reduction of the world to a single, simple mechanism. Varietal atom splitting is a resource to be exploited in blind interaction with the living planet.

In the end there is only one vine, one grape, concentrating, developing, existing one at a time. Here are six full tasting notes on varietal wines, each allowed to shine without intrusion and on their own line.

From left to right: Torre Oria Reserva Brut Cava, Dominio Dostares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009, Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009, Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010 and Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2009

From left to right: Torre Oria Reserva Brut Cava, Dominio Dostares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009, Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009, Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010 and Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2009

Torre Oria Reserva Brut Cava, Método Tradicional, Do Valencia, Spain (402255, $15.95, WineAlign)

Made from 100 per cent Macabeo, this is from a winery that is the first to produce Cava from outside of the Penedes DO. Here, from Valencia, up front there is dust, must and concrete, evidence of a lees-induced oxdative lean and wish upon a star aridity. There comes a time when dry fizz does not have to be the way to go, especially when trying to please many palates in too tight a space. So up steps this formidable Cava (with 9-10 g/L RS), in quality, with a crush of gala apple, a weight and a texture like a shag rug. Sure, it may be a bit disco but it’s also so very retro hip. Like Gorillaz and Clint Eastwood with “the essence, the basics,” and its “got sunshine, in a bag.” On the oxidative side? Yes and “the future is coming on.” Drink up.  Tasted January 2015  @cavaswine  @DO_Cava

Dominio Dostares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla Y León, Spain (393140, $15.95, WineAlign)

A rare sighting of Prieto Picudo, one of the more idiosyncratic of grape varieties. This is the entry-level offering from Dominio Dostares (they make more precious best plot selection versions). Vines as ancient as 90 years old contribute briery cedar and leathery veins but this is quite modern, straightforward and aiming to please. Though a bit hot and heavy, the aridity (2 g/L RS) and the mineral streak keep it real. A harmonious if gangly red (from high acid soils), keeping warm and huddled within its hermetic, endemic environment. Short and simple, sweet and tart. Represents striking value in something other. Tasted January 2015  @oenophilia1  @_Cast_y_Leon

Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009, Do Navarra, Spain (391656, $17.95, WineAlign)

The release of relief in the activity of opportunity to taste something other, like 100 per cent Mazuelo, is just excellent. Compounded with the breath of fresh Spanish DO brought to the table by the current wave of Navarran wines, the experience is made that much more enjoyable. The wine is neither modest nor is it a mouse. Its body travels “on a road shaped like a figure eight.” It builds more than nothing out of something. The traced aromas are filled with pots of fresh flowers and the space is occupied by plenty of stuffing. No. 8 has a seamless, put together structure from the start. Silky and so very juicy with a streak of reminiscing rusticity. Great proper acidity and very stretched length. A very pretty if grounded and ode to history made wine.  Tasted January 2015  @navarrawine

Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla, DO La Mancha, Spain (392522, $17.95, WineAlign)

Not unlike Rioja, the wines of Tierra De Castilla in the heart of Spain are blessed with a Mediterranean climate augmented by an Atlantic influence. This organic winery is located beneath the Gredos Mountains in the Province of Toledo. The vineyards are protected from the northern winds by the mountain ranges. Though oft considered lower in quality, the Vino de la Tierra de Castilla designation is emerging from out of the Castilla-La Mancha shell. Tasting this 100 per cent Graciano just after a few months in oak and a bunch more in bottle before release would have shown more bright fruit and verve. Now four plus years later there is still much to admire in the high notes and brightness of the nose. Hard not to notice the strikingly and hauntingly beautiful aromatics. Also some dried fruit, like prune and turkish apricot. Akin to some Dão and some Rhône, without ever flirting with being baked or stewed flavours. Aridty juiced from rocks, acidity that follows suit and to nudge it forward in longer strides.  Tasted January 2015

Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010, Doca Rioja, Spain (397166, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such a unique and life reaffirming, giving back red Riojan. The singular, singled out Graciano comeback revolution is upon us and we are all the beneficiaries. Here there exhibits a different sort of profile. A veritable profiterole of anise, cured chorizo, dried flowers and some spices (violets and the wafting aromas of Patatas a la Riojana). Not to be left off the redolent list is a funk, one that is not merde, but rather an old school, skinned hide. At the price and best of all is that the Graciano is so very, very long, like the Camino Frances, from the Pyrenees, through Roncesvalles and to Rioja.  Tasted January 2015  @RiojaWine

Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2009, DO Somontano, Spain (Agent, $32.00)

Took a sip and “the breeze blew back my hair.” Made from 100 per cent Garnacha, the elevated liqueur on the nose is invigorating and initially, somehow disturbing.  The combined forces of macerated, steeping cherries, melting liquorice and bubbling tar is extraordinary. Enveloped by a tinging, pinging acidity, the wine is structured in chalk, grain and gravelly tannin. The barrel influence is ingrained and the wine is most certainly huge but the overall composition is fresh, red and viscid. What to do after being hit in the face with a wine such as this? “How can I measure up to anyone new, after such a love as this?” Who are you Secastilla? Be patient, let it ride for years, let it soften. The comeback tour will be fun.  Tasted November 2014  @VinasdelVero  @WoodmanWS

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Coming wine from the cold

Boutari Naoussa 2010, Monasterio De Las Viñas Reserva 2006, Keint He Voyageur Chardonnay 2012, Quercecchio Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008, Vina Real Crianza 2010, Finca Del Marquesado Gran Reserva 2004, Driftwood The Collection Cabernet Merlot 2012

Boutari Naoussa 2010, Monasterio De Las Viñas Reserva 2006, Keint He Voyageur Chardonnay 2012, Quercecchio Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008, Vina Real Crianza 2010, Finca Del Marquesado Gran Reserva 2004, Driftwood The Collection Cabernet Merlot 2012

Is there another time of year that creeps under the skin like the coldest depths of winter? Does the craving to travel, the urge to visit distant places, the longing to slip silently and unnoticed away take over with such grip more so than when it so freakin’ cold outside? Is wanderlust tugging at your layers of sleeves? Is the fernweh calling, off in the distance, far away from home, urging you to escape from your everyday life?

Easier said then done and so turn instead to wine. Wine of a different sort of ilk. Wine that causes controversy, or at the least, differences of opinion. Wine to one disappointed taster that is seemingly, annoyingly tainted. To another it is full of wizened life. Wine that polarizes individuals, asks of others to choose sides and yet always remains content and confident within its weathered skin. Wine with age.

It strikes me as remarkable that the same wine opened to two tasters will elicit profoundly divergent opinions. Imagine if two wines popped and tasted side by side could be in dialogue with one another. Like paintings that hang adjacent or opposite one another in a gallery, if the critics had left the room, would they continue the conversation? If they did, what would they say to one another?

They might say have a go at me and transport yourself away, in the moment, to somewhere else. That longing can be satiated with wine but not just any old bottle will do. It’s going to take something that indicates ancient thoughts, bottles that intimate the expression of far away lands, wines that speak a different language. In some cases it may simply involve grapes with a wanderlust of their own, voyageurs born in one place and raised in another. Or a varietal bonding that emulates indigenous assemblage.

This coming Saturday will mark the first VINTAGES release of 2015. I tasted through the offer back in December and it was mostly the Old World that stood apart, speaking in simple vernaculars, tracing steps back to the European continent. These eight wines, all under $20, spoke loudest and with much clarity. Here are their notes.

Boutari Naoussa 2010, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (23218, $13.95, WineAlign)

Always the bebop beat and bomb of Greece for a song. Great earth, solid fruit, a monk’s tale in Naoussa pure adrenaline fidelity. What composure this $14 red speaks with and acts in silent, loyal, religious accord. Minerals in, acidity flies out. Excellence in simple thought and Xinomavro prayer. A Monk’s dream, with body and soul, sweet and lovely.  Tasted December 2014  @boutari    

Monasterio De Las Viñas Reserva 2006, Do Cariñena, Spain (166579, $14.95, WineAlign)

Heavy thoughts and weight are stratified in this very affordable Reserva. Showing zero effects of eight years age so again, the DNA (as being 100 per cent forthright in vintage juice) gives pause for thought. Should the impossibility be questionable? Yes, but the elevated levels of funk and circumstance make a case for utmost integrity, not to mention the old-school thought and grit. This is beautifully funky juice, scented with purple flowers and pumped up by pomp.  Tasted December 2014  @Noble_Estates  @DoCarinena

Keint He Voyageur Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389544, $16.00, WineAlign)

Keint He hit the Niagara mark with the ’12. All the right moves are struck; ripe fruit, mild toast, full yet unobtrusive malo, texture without excessively seeking success. Really well made in finding balance. Ten months to another point. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Grapes for this Prince Edward County bottling made the long trip (thus the moniker) and were blended from three Niagara vineyards; Queenston, Malivoire and Foxcroft. This 13 per cent abv peninsula gathering saw 12 months in oak and leans leesy Chablis in temperament. Doughy Jenekek smothered in honey butter and washed down by a sprinkle of cream of tartar in soda. Mildly tropical but not bathed in sunshine. Elegant wine, especially at the price, so in that sense it’s very good value.  Last tasted December 2014  @KeintHeWinery

Quercecchio Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Doc Tuscany, Italy (394973, $16.95, WineAlign)

There is s deep perfume to this Rosso, a concentrated mess of flowers, dried citrus and a forest of evergreen. Good value. Not so tight, though the acidity has an advantage. Not so drying as some, as this has brightness and red cherry fruit. Nothing dank. Good value I say but certainly on the simple side of the Sangiovese Grosso tracks.  Tasted December 2014

Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008, Umbria, Italy (357079, $16.95, WineAlign)

Musty and yet so very expressive. Showing signs of wisdom in age and yet still bright and full of funky sunshine. Wood spice notes and lines stretched and moving. Definitely, maybe a touch of back beat funk. The drying tannins and dried fruit flavours might be interpreted as flaws so “they’re gonna throw it back to you,” but you have heard it all before, you much maligned Umbrian oasis blend of Sangiovese, Sagrantino, Merlot and Cabernet. “By now you should’ve somehow realized what you gotta do.” Be yourself. Embrace your modern take on ancient, wonderwall ideas. You have power and prowess. You are inexpensive as can be imagined and aged well, like a many days-in marbled steak.  Well done.  Tasted December 2014  @DionysusWines

Vina Real Crianza 2010, Doca Rioja, Spain (657411, $19.95, WineAlign)

Another fine value here from the Riojan stable of Cvne. At first a modern mercury rise but with classical lines and structures, sharp and so very real. A Crianza whose message is old, yeah this message is true.” Queen Tempranillo that speaks of the old life, drawing character from vine and earth. Struck with tight acidity, yet verbose, melodic and artesian. As if the wine rises under pressure from a permeable stratum overlaid by impermeable rock. Is it perhaps an acquired attraction? Does it matter when it offers so much value for so little?  Tasted December 2014  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

Finca Del Marquesado Gran Reserva 2004, Doca Rioja, Spain (384248, $19.95, WineAlign)

Not just funky, this is an ’04 Gran Reserva that couldn’t be anything but. Oxidized, paralysed, stupefied. Wow. Old school, highly evolved, has passed every ritualistic benchmark and here presents life in Rioja as it may have once been, albeit 100 years ago. Toffee, caramel, the old barrel, sinew, roasted game, you name it – here it is. Would venture to even say this has even evolved prematurely, quicker than it perhaps even should have. But it’s so very, archaically pretty in a myriad of dirty ways. Hanging on for dear Tempranillo life so try it now, with a great braise, a perfect pork chop, or Sichuan-style red braised beef ribs.  Tasted December 2014

Driftwood The Collection Cabernet Merlot 2012, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia (399857, $19.95, WineAlign)

Margaret River Bordeaux done with a heavy hand and lifted richesse. High toned, big-boned, going it alone. Sumptuous and jammy, savoury and savvy. Clearly Bordeaux-styled with utmost modernity. Tannic too. Need to want both Oz and Bordeaux to get into this bruiser. Will age gorgeously and provide great value appeal 10 years down the road.  Tasted December 2014  @Grapexpctations  @margaretrivers

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Contino, McDonald and the Vine

Contino Head

The Rioja Reservas of Bodega Viñedos del Contino

Near the end of September, at the invite of two exceptionally grounded wine men, Rob Groh and Derek Kranenborg of The Vine Wine Agency, I attended a tasting at Cava Restaurant with Technical Director Jesús Madrazo of Rioja’s Bodega Viñedos del Contino. With former Cava Chef Chris McDonald providing the worthy and soulful snacks, Madrazo poured eight wines. Eight to leave lasting memories in impression. Edibles to boot, complex concentrations by Chef McDonald with his last Cava days coming near. Everything about the tasting, in both wine and food, was intense. I hope all were paying attention.

Two of chef’s hors d’oeuvre-style compositions were Foie gras and partridge Croquetas and Frogsicles with Pimento Alioli. Both unique, both instrumental in elevating the old and wise Riojas upwards atop a rightful pedestal. The wines of Contino are very classic Rioja, at times understated and at others overwhelming. Contino’s Rioja buzz with energy and verve. They are very alive. They ooze earth and soil.

Bodega Viñedos del Contino is a part of the Cvne (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) stable. Founded in 1879, Cvne today is three distinct wineries; Cune, Viña Real and Viñedos del Contino. Contino was born in 1974.

In 2006 Madrazo began producing the white wine experience. The challenge was in getting approval from the board of directors. After much experimentation, the first vintage came in 2010. Grown on calcium carbonate soils, the white Viura draws energy from stones, some larger than the solar collecting galets of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The rocks are the heliacal conductors to the vines, creating a paradox, of water loss and energy giving life. This, accomplished through dry, organic farming. “That’s how we play the game,” notes Madrazo.

At the Cava tasting, the ageability of the Riojas was the concept under investigation, but it was the three others wines poured, the flotilla leaders Blanco, Graciano and Viña del Olivo that really drove the point across. Longevity is the key to the Rioja heart. The Rioja Reservas are the soul. “In Spain,” says Madrazo, “we (continue to) fix everything. We release our Rioja in the 5th year.” Here are notes on the eight wines tasted.

Contino

The line-up at Cava Restaurant: Bodega Viñedos del Contino

Blanco 2012, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $48.95, WineAlign)

The third vintage of Contino’s crown jewel white is (80 per cent) Viura with Malvasia (five per cent) and Garnacha Blanca (15). The latter will bull its way into future vintage mix with incremental proportion as a result of increased plantings. “The Queen” gets right up into the face and nose, indicating success for its primary goal. To seek a capacity for aging. “Viura can age,” insists winemaker Jesús Madrazo. “Here I can see at least six years of life, maybe ten.” The Blanco has a meddling mid-palate metal and creamy sensibility. Big (90 per cent new oak) barrels housed the wine for six months to seek its second goal; fruit spiciness. This effect is magnified by the south-facing, down to the river slopes, one of the warmest areas in Rioja. The third objective is acidity but with the malic tendency well-managed, to seek equilibrium. The single block Garnacha and Malvasia elevate and balance out the estate’s omnipresent, all over the map Viura. The paradox lies in the terroir, where hot, solar conduit stones cause evaporation and yet give energy in simultaneous activity. Old vines (some as much as 70 years) draw and release, draw and release. The ebb and flow in ardor gives this Blanco verve and it is showing with style right now. It will live as Jesús said it would but it’s life will be hard and fast. Drink now and for three or four years.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 2008, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $48.95, WineAlign)

From a late harvest (two to four weeks behind the norm), the ’08 is an example of the philosophy yet entrenched in the past, with a desire for pure quality, regardless of the picking time. The conditions meant no single-varietal Graciano bottling and only a small case load of the Viña del Olivo. Quality was essentially earmarked for the Reserva, scoured from 62 hectares of Estate Tempranillo. The vintage is defined by straight up red fruit with some spice and a warm-climate, tree bark/resin effect. The wine’s personality come from out of the nerve centre’s tangy inflection. Though it’s a touch warm and zealous of alcohol (14.5 per cent), it speaks in cants of the Contino chateau style.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 2004, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

“If it’s not broke, we fix it,” admits Jesús Madrazo of Contino. The estate’s ’04 says exactly what it should and it must. Old barrels (50-50 French and American) plus two years in bottle bring out the hard vine life heartbreak and hyperbole in fruit grown on calcium carbonate soils with stones bigger than Les Galets of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Stones that heat up from the sun, acting as solar conductors to the vines. Acidity may have been compromised but not structure. There is Rioja Alvesa sweetness, set against a whiskey town backdrop. There are plums, prunes and Phở. Yes, this is a quixotic and exotic Contino, ripe, spicy, floral, meaty but not gamy. Roast pork, Vietnamese style. Immaculate of youth, of original energy and of garrigue. The 2004 Reserva tells the Contino story like Ryan Adams sings about a broken heart. “Some things are born too strong, have to learn how to fight.” So, the Tempranillo will say, “you’ll have to excuse me if I break my own heart.”  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1998, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

Not unlike the book that wrote ’08, the vintage challenged with cold weather during harvest, this coming on the fits meets stops on heels and tiptoe starts that defined the overall growing season.  A first flawed bottle aside, a second one opened is musty in its own ancient and charming way. With only 10 per cent Graciano in the blend, this here is essential, old-school Tempranillo. Beyond the dust is a round and smooth elixir with a ferric vein of animal funk. There is liquorice and there is chalk. The grain of this Contino is like liquified barley or bulgur, with an earthy faro aroma, a creamy texture and long on glutinous structure. Earth keeps fruit in subterranean submission, though there will always be hints of dried plums and flowers to sustain life.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1980, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

Here the Tempranillo has walked the sands, survived the winds of time and has arrived at the sultanate’s tent, exhausted, somewhat delirious yet basking in the accomplishment. The tapestry woven by 34 years of development has laid on a platter a veritable feast of dried fruits; prune, apricot and date, all chewy and densely concentrated. A diesel fume aroma indicates a modernity evolved and the oiled track shows the way out of Damascus (or in this case, Álava). The ’80 is a bit funkified too, with great acidity and length that lingers for a most amazing amount of mouth time. Dried flowers, namely violets define the perfumed finish. A Tempranillo possessive of exceptional survival skills.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

An impossibly youthful 40 year-old Tempranillo, even surpassing the more evolved ’80 in that regard, with aniseed, coconut and beeswax in its current aromatic state. Less gamy and animal funky, yet persistent in earthy beats. The vegetal scents act as conduit to the light bulb shining brightly of circuitous flavours and resolved textures. Lingers in mouth feel, its layers of time slowly peeling back, revealing in length, a slide show of the wine’s life. With many year’s still ahead, this is a Tempranillo revelation and from one going back this far that gained no support from Graciano (because it was planted in 1979). Its apostle following instead comes by way of the white Viura. Pair with Chef Chris McDonald’s Foie Gras and Partridge Croquetas.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Graciano 2010, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $128.95, WineAlign)

Contino’s SV Graciano is the estate’s portent into the portal of ageability, beyond Tempranillo. Such formidable aromatics are on display, a result of low pH and high polyphenolic compounds. Has got something, but what it is, I can’t seem to place. It’s neither flora nor fauna, not rock, nor fruit. A combination of them all and a piercing streak of acidity leads to the expanse of a broad mouth texture. Sense perhaps black fruit, currants and berries. A toast, macerations, citrus even. This Graciano, the soul of Contino. Crème de cassis, eucalyptus, camphor, menthol and aniseed are all seemingly there, in colour, natural acidity, alive and dancing. Or are they? I looked at this Graciano, “from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow,” it’s a challenge to see through the clouds. It’s so very large, exceeding the ministrations of other alterior SV examples, like that of Petit Verdot, Malbec or Cabernet Franc. In here it’s Graciano’s illusions I recall so I suppose I really don’t know Graciano at all. Imagine drinking this for 20 plus years.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Viña del Olivo 2011, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

The flagship wine from Contino has an uncanny braised pork belly in spirited wines reduction nose, spiced with star anise. The aromas then go straight to the back of the brain, bypassing the frontal lobes and acute senses of nose and tongue. A wine that drives a stake directly into the nervous system, leaves one twitching and paralyzed. From arid, calcareous clay, the 34 year-old vines are just deadly, direct and make for some seriously demonstrative fruit. The mineral expression can’t be denied; this represents the most in the estate’s terroir driven directive. The blend is Tempranillo (80 per cent), Graciano (10) and Garnacha (10). New oak (100 per cent) is split between French (70), American (20) and various other European wood. A wine that will need a minimum five years to reach adulthood and perhaps 10 more to enlightenment. Though it is marked and baked by chalk and cake the mineral keeps it so ver real.  Tasted September 2014.

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