Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs
PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

The year-end list. Why? To “free the individual from the collective.” To ponder, speculate and formulate a narrative. To create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines. In anthropological terms, “to make a housecleaning of belief.”

For the great majority, $25 is the threshold rarely exceeded when shopping for a bottle of wine. If a solid, honest to good bottle can’t be had for less, grape dismissal rears its ugly head and the switch turns to beer, or worse, rail booze mixed with sugar and/or chemical bitters. Oh, the drab humanity of it all.

But a great wine can be had for less than $25 and once found should be exalted and purchased by the case. The category of reds and in less instances whites, need company. This is where Sparkling, Sherry and even Dessert wines seek the embrace of an open mind and a willing palate. Spread the wealth, into glasses filled, from methods and styles unknown.

You will note that this list is filled with such rare animals and not just from the calculations in ferment, but from places unexpected, far off, of gestalt, historical significance and of the ancients. Places like Naoussa and Santorini in Greece, Montilla Moriles from Spain and Alsace, France.

These 15 wines are (almost all) culled from VINTAGES releases. I tasted countless other terrific under-$25 examples in 2014; local, parochial, from beyond Ontario’s borders and abroad. For the purposes of what the Ontario consumer needs to know and for what serves them best, restricting the bulk of the list to what is available in LCBO stores (or in many cases, what was and will again, as a newer vintage, be released), these 15 wines are not hard to find.

So yes, this is an ode, a nod, shout out and props to our faithful and loyal provider, the LCBO and truer to the point, VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the Ontario monopoly. The supply chain for great wine is alive and well, despite the efforts required to sift through the chaff, to separate it from the proverbial wheat. The gems, though oft-times hidden, can be unearthed. The diamonds will time and again be scooped from the rough and the cream will also rise to the top. Cliché is a by-product of wine life in Ontario.

What stands out and above is the contribution made and presented by the winemakers and vintners in this province. Six out of my 15 choices are from Ontario. The attitude that Ontario wines are too expensive and do not offer good value as compared to similar wines from Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand is rubbish. My decision to include six such beasts drives the point. Many excellent wines are available at the u-$25 price point.

Here are my wines of the year that came in under $25. Some are sold out, many are not. Find them before the year is out.

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign) From Recently tasted here, there and everywhere, November 24, 2014

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 Release

Always a diamond cut above its like-minded and similarly priced peers. Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc has the most wonderful smell of bleeding, oozing metal and the bitten into stones of many tree fruits, in bittering nobility. Not to mention the pith of citrus and the pits of tree nuts. Though currently in a sulphurous, reductive state, with age this will seek and find an earthen, honey bronzed gorgeousness, in say five to seven years and live in sweet CB infamy until 2025. For a wine that crosses oceans to arrive in your tasting glass, at $18 it represents the finest value in Chenin just about anywhere on the planet. Terrific length. Chenin meets Montrachet.  Tasted May 2014  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

Artichoke and Fiddleheads PHOTO: Michael Godel

Artichoke and Fiddleheads
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Alsace, France (392928, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 Release, Big release, bigger wines, November 7, 2014

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

Dirty Ramps

Dirty Ramps

Rosewood Select Sémillon 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (winery, $18.00,WineAlign) From Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality, October 8, 2014

After tasting Rosewood’s ’12, I urged the region’s cultivation of the great white wolf variety. Then the winter of 2014 happened. Rosewood’s vines were wiped clean off the map, erased like a child of parents who never met. The ’13 Sem is the last Mohican and its 12.5 per cent alcohol (down two from ’12) is a fitting, subdued and graceful epitaph to an amazing Beamsville run. This final cut is lean, stark, raving mad. So very savoury, tannic and built to linger for longer than most. The Rosewood honey is in hiding,”far from flying high in clear blue skies,” but like all memorable vintages of this wine, it will emerge in time. This Sémillon asks, “and if I show you my dark side, will you still hold me tonight?” Yes is the answer, and not just because she is the last one. Terrific curtain call.  Tasted October 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (372441, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES July 19, 2014 Release, Release the summer wine, July 17, 2014

Noticeably dry but also earthy/funky. Struck match and plowed earth. As it settles into its skin and your consciousness it develops body, depth and acidity. Grows and expands, reaches heights you thought it would not. The vintage works wonders for the Twenty Mile Bench and this block has expansive stuffing to take it long, not to mention the earthy complexity to see it change and evolve. It may go through a disturbing, unusual phase but be patient and set one aside for 15 years from now. You will be amazed what honey and deep geology it discovers and uncovers.  Tasted June 2014  @RockwayVineyard

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

Nugan King Valley Frasca’s Lane Chardonnay 2012, King Valley, Victoria, Australia (288191, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 7, 2014 Release, Australian rules VINTAGES, June 4, 2014

The toast in this Victorian charmer comes across in a mild-mannered, spoken word way with a simmering, buttery bass line. The fruit is high but the rhythms are delicate and even-keeled. More white flowers than your average Australian Chardonnay, brighter, with more grace and more beauty. She’s a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket eating angel cake. Still firm towards the back-end with citrus zest and mouth-watering acidity, she’s “fast and thorough and sharp as a tack.” Finishes with a long and persistent held trumpeting line. “Na,na,na,na,na,na.”  Tasted May 2014  @PMA_int

Katogi & Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (249615, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with song, October 10, 2014

It’s not that every Xinomavro is infallible but every Xinomavro is worth exploring. The Averoff is classic; smoky, rich plum meets cherry intensity, tannic and textured, layered, like old school Pinot Noir. Liqueur of Naoussa terra firma, rocks and sweet beets. Balance of earth, wind and fire, fun funky and moving. Shares the spice of life so “let this groove, light up your fuse, alright. Let this groove, set in your shoes.” Parts unknown gather to subvert the uninitiated and make them move to Greece.  Tasted October 2014  @katogistrofilia

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (360750, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES January 20, 2014 Release, From Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds, January 30, 2014

Magnificent Macedonian, built upon the unheralded yet stalwart variety Xinomavro. Pure, sweet-smelling gardenia and the refuse of ancient rolling stones express every bit of sun and wind-swept, low bush vines goodness. Purposefully and thankfully unfiltered, so that all the delicious sweet and sour cherry and great biting but sweet tannin are left in. Purity, good sugar/alcohol heights without oak corruption. Earth possessive of mythic undercurrent, sage, wealth of  knowledge, sweet anise and hyssop. Scents of game on the grill. Amazing complexity and length. While tasting this Xinomavro it made me “feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene.” Get your rocks off to the Greek Tasted January 2014  @thymiopoulosvin

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) From Take them home, County wines, May 20, 2014

The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort. @HuffEstatesWine

Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, Santorini, Greece (366450, $22.95, SAQ 11901091, $24.50, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release, On a wine and a prayer, March 24, 2014

A 100 per cent Assyrtiko from a 150 year-old, Cycladic Phylloxera sanctuary vineyard. Separates itself from other Santorini adelphoi by ageing 20 per cent of the inoxydable, ancient-minded grapes in French barrels. An Assyrtiko that can’t help be anything but stony, atomic driven goodness. Volcano flow and spew, with more texture than most, its elevated price a necessary reflection of a tertiary expertise. Elevated aromatics, locked in tight by the barrel and matched by extreme flavours, so primary, raw, powerful, relentless and grippy. A remarkable white wine that impresses with a sensation of mouth rope burn full of complex, seafaring knots, this Assytiko will age for 15 years in the cellar and develop into something ethereal. Will melt away in dreamy waves when it settles together. Myth will beget legend, legend will beget truth.  Tasted March 2014 @KolonakiGroup

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 Release, Wine on company time, October 23, 2014

If it were so because of cryogenic preserved must or an accidental tipping and topping up into an unused barrel by recent vintage juice I would not be left hanging with mouth fully agape. Considering the amount of time this flat out delicious Gran Reserva saw in barrel, the mystery must somehow be explained, how it came to be so surprisingly modern and bright (for its age), especially at $23. But it has been seen many times before, with no greater example than the Montecillo 1991 GR that drank fortuitously well into the last years of the previous decade. This is the magic of Rioja. That said, there is some sinew and some raw character here as well – that’s the old school treatment and style talking. Red cherry fruit. Ripe fruit roasted, rested and now sliced, showing its perfectly cooked rare cut. Juicy and with sanguine notes still running through its grain. Wonderful old school yet bright Rioja. Riotous red wine with a calming aura of quietude.  Tasted October 2014  @RiojaBordon  @Eurovintage  @RiojaWine

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (382945, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

An ’06 Chianti Classico Riserva you say, pre-aged, delivered to the Ontario market and presented here in 2014, all in for $24? You can’t fool us. We’ve been duped too many times before. This must fall into the “too good to be true” category. The answer depends on which style of Chianti you prefer. This walks all the halls, plies the trades and hits the marks of the CCR ancients. Comes from a remarkable vintage, holding on but in true advanced, oxidizing and fruit diminishing character. Mushrooms and truffles abound, as does game in the early roasting stage. A note of Brett is here too, not over the top but its presence can’t be denied. Acidity speaks, as does bitter chocolate. This is not for all but all should have a go.  Tasted November 2014  @Ilmolinodigrace  @chianticlassico

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($25, WineAlign) From The pearls of Morisstte’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

When tasted in July of 2013 the ’12 Barrique had only been in bottle for three days so the musk was quite front and centre. Aged in foudres (neutral, old wood casks) it held much latitude at such a young age with notes of herbiage (mint, tarragon), nary a drop of residual sugar and a wholly unique type of dry acidity. “It will not always show this way,” commented Morissette. Tasted 10 months later I can say this. The ’12 Riesling Barrique avoids excessive malic and tartaric acid, not to mention any amount of volatile acidity. It is viable, vital and technically sound. “This is a wine that will take time,” pleads François . “I care about texture, not about varietal character.” Though perplexing and untamed, the wine has undeniable body and that noble bitterness in its unsung tang. It is the anti-Riesling hero, full of experiential conceit and needs to be revisited often, to see where it will go.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014  @PearlMorissette

Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign) From Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies.  Tasted November 2014  @hinterlandwine  on the card at @barquebbq

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Bouillabaisse, paella and 32 wines

Chiado's Bouillabaisse

Chiado’s Bouillabaisse

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

Waxmas Whites

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

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

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

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

Waxmas Whites

Waxmas Whites

Four More Whites

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

Mendel Sémillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina

Quinta de Soalheiro Alvarinho 2012, Vinho Verde, Portugal

Pelle Pince Szt. Tamás Furmint 2012, Hungary

Four More Whites

Four More Whites

Eclectic Blancs

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

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

Pierre Frick Pinot Blanc de Noir 2006, Alsace, France

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

Eclectic Blancs

Eclectic Blancs

The Stealth Reds

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

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

Bodegas Poesia 2010, Mendoza, Argentina

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

The Stealth Reds

The Stealth Reds

Big Red Movements

Colinas De São Lourenço Principal Reserva 2007, Bairrada, Portugal

Brodie Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Martinborough, New Zealand

Re Manfredi Aglianico Del Vulture 2000, Campania, Italy

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

Big Red Movements

Big Red Movements

Seriously Red

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

Penfolds Cabernet Shiraz Bin 389 1995, South Australia, Australia

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Napa Valley, California

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino 2004, Tuscany, Italy

Seriously Red

Seriously Red

The Grace of Transition

Domaine Baud Crémant du Jura Brut Sauvage, Jura, France

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

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

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

The Grace of Transition

The Grace of Transition

Chef Michael Pataran’s Paella

Chef Michael Pataran's Paella

Chef Michael Pataran’s Paella

And in the End

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

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

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

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

And in the End

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

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

Over the past few years I’ve published some pieces on Sparkling wine, from technical to fluff and from focused horizontal tastings to scattered, random accumulations. The one aspect about bubbles I’ve not concentrated on, whether it be Champagne or from Ontario, is vintage.

Related – ”Ten Sparkling wines “to life!”

Vintage dated fizz is all the rage and I for one can’t really understand why. The most consistent Sparkling wine made anywhere and everywhere is the non-vintage produced stuff. Drawing the majority of juice from a single vintage and topping it up with a smaller amount from one or more previous (or even book-ending years) allows the winemaker to strike a seamless accord in continuity. It proliferates a house style. I had this to say in 2012: “The production of vintage-dated fizz in Ontario is certainly fashionable, as witnessed by more than 60% of the wines present, but for the purposes of consistency, local weather conditions should see the future trending a non-vintage path.”

Related – Lock, stock and sparkling wines

Vintage issued Sparkling wine has lost its luster. If the vintage is anything less than ideal, whether it be too cold or too warm, under ripe or over ripe grapes are hard to hide. Keep in mind that the grapes for bubbles are the first to be picked, no matter where you are, to preserve acidity. In funny climatic years modifications must be made. The blender will have to resort to either chapital or acid tricks of the trade. Another argument for non-dated fizz.

Related – New fizz on the Brock

Does the average, or even effervescence geek care about vintage bubbles? British wine journalist Jamie Goode doesn’t seem to think so. On vintage dated bubbles, Goode spoke (at the 2014 Brock University Technical Wine Symposium) from an unequivocal marketing perspective. “People don’t really care about vintage.” On the emerging Canadian and British sparkling wine industries. “Do English or Canadian wines need a special name?” No.

On the puffery side of the tracks I gave this: “Sparkling wine, fizz, bubbles, bubbly. Champagne. Mousseux, Crémant, Asti Spumante, Espumante, Cap Classique, Cava, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo, Brachetto, Sekt. Méthode champenoise, charmat, méthode ancestrale. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chenin Blanc, Arbois, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-Lo, Glera. It’s all just an amazing confluence of pressed juice, yeast, sugar and carbon dioxide. Nothing in the world screams “party!” like an effervescent bottle of fermented grapes. Who isn’t looking for a Sparkling wine to pop open this month? Should we put up our hands so we know who we are?”

A year later, back into the throes of the holiday season, a new batch of bubbles are on the scene. Here are 12 new picks, from $17 to $95, from Crémant d’Alsace to Champagne, to tolerate winter and ring in the new year.

From left to right: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d'Alsace, Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008

From left to right: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008

Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac Alsace, France (39016, $17.95, WineAlign)

Graceful and pink lithe, like cold smoked salmon, delightful Pinot Noir Rosé fizz. Nothing earth shattering, breath-taking or barrier breaking, just well made blush bubbles. The structure and balance are really spot on. Finishes strong and with confidence. Helps to define this genre of Crémant’s creamy texture, matched in contrast by its stony, flinty and mineral style.  Tasted November 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Do Penedès, Spain (392548, $19.95, WineAlign)

A stonking Cava this one, or the Spanish (enervante) equivalent. Relishing in quite high acidity, which is necessary and useful, considering the residual sugar left behind. Good tang, verve and a with a push to succeed in elevating everything it seeks to uphold; aroma, flavour and tannic texture. As good an example of Cava as I’ve tasted in recent times.  Tasted November 2014  @freixenet  @DionysusWines

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Méthode Classique, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (234161, $22.95, WineAlign)

This is a very effective bottle of bubbles, consistently produced, vintage after vintage. Some reserve on the nose, notable in its pear and yeasty aromas. Crunchy feel for fizz with a replay in flavour much like prickly pear and the tropical esters of yeast. Really good length. Simply well made.  Tasted November 2014  @Jackson_Triggs

Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign)

Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies.  Tasted November 2014  @hinterlandwine  on the card at @barquebbq

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

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

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008, Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania, Australia (393629, $29.95, WineAlign)

Love the balance and graceful point this has come to six years post much fine lees staging. So very elegant and demurred, like an actress on a silver screen imagined in a near-falsetto progressive rock singer’s croon. A strange but beautiful mismatch, given ambiance and vindication by a classical musician’s playing. Silent stardom take on cool climate bubbles to sip along with “early thirties gangster movies, set to spellbind population.” A friend to Mr. Cairo with a palate adding weight and a texture lustful in a creamy affair. Just a hair across the oxidized threshold, holding steady, acting very much like Champagne. Flies like a Mediterranean bird of prey, a Maltese falcon everyone is searching for. Always “shoots between the eyes.”  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004

Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, LCBO $47.95, 1018464, NSLC $44.99, 313106, B.C. $49.97, WineAlign)

L’Acadie used for a parochial teaching moment effect. Winemaker Jean Benoit Deslauriers embracing its Gaspereau ability, coaxing acidity within a context of optimum fruit attention. Brings a level of texture and structure rarely, if ever seen from the region, this contrived blend and the imagined attempt. The parts roll into and through one another seamlessly. This impresses from a point of expression, that being the BB vineyard. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Essentially, or at least philosophically a Blanc de Blancs, the blend is 57 per cent L’Acadie Blanc, 25 Chardonnay and 18 Seyval Blanc. The acidity is key and certainly elevated (12.8 g/L), keeping line tabs on the stone ground, clean fruit in gingered mousse. A defined elegance and accumulated synergy of site comes from a lower-slope perceived sweetness, down by the river. By no means piercing, there is a length here that lays down the foundation for the high-end, Vinifera-driven Sparkling wine program. The Brut ’09 conveys the growing environment, in freshness and in ripeness. A wine with such a refreshing upside. ” Last tasted November 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, Récoltant Manipulant, Ac Champagne, France (385369, $47.95, WineAlign)

The level of baking apples and yeasty aromas are overwhelming, at first, then settle down. Yeasty boy, screaming its oxidative angst. Big acidity, wild ginger tang, whipping and gesturing wildly as it raps in your mouth. Speaks its mind this one, breaks down stereotypes, wins the crowd.  Fans go wild. From my earlier, August 2014, WWAC 2014 (tasted blind) note: “Tends to a trend in sweet aromatic beginnings which is nothing but endearing. A leesy pear and ris de veau nose split by a bowie and filled with pearls of sugary syrup. To taste there is the metallic gaminess of uncooked other white meat. Sweet meat, sweet thing. The gathering sensation is an elemental display of ethereal, aerified climatic conditions. Though made in an oxidized style, the complexity of character is not to be denied.  “Runs to the center of things where the knowing one says, boys, boys, it’s a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing.”  Last Tasted November 2014

André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, France (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)

Zero dosage, 100 per cent Pinot Noir, grower produced and affordable. These are the attributes of Jean Francois Clouet’s Champagne. If any three are what you look for in righteous fizz, you have found what you need, for any occasion. The Clouet Silver (Blanc de Noir, Grand Cru from Bouzy) has that stark reality of aridity so necessary for Sparkling wine to knock you upside of the cerebral cortex. Sweetness is superfluous because the fruit is so exceptional. There are dried spices and ginger in many incantations; exotic, wild, dried and slowly dripping into every sip. The vacuous voids are filled with combustion, the lingering strands of texture elegance defined. This is exceptionally made Champagne, to the point and with confident, boyish presence.  Tasted November 2014  @GroupeSoleilTO

Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, France (268771, $64.95, WineAlign)

A most expressive house style, crowd pleasing and one step further into complex territory than many of a similar ilk. Creeping aromas, big flavours, enveloping texture, noble bitter finish. Citrus pith and darkening honey. So well made. Score an extra point. From my previous, August 2014 note: “The house style in this Pinot Blanc (55 per cent), Chardonnay (30) and Pinot Meunier (15) is amped on yeast and baked brioche. The elevation is of a modern and ambitious producer with a wild, expansive and yeast-moussy feel in the mouth. Spiced and spicy accents really help to open up the wine. An exemplary rendition of Sparkling wine if not quite willing to last as long as others.”  Last tasted November 2014  @LouisRoederer_

Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Ac Champagne, France (69831, $91.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes Champagne is blessed with a dirty presence that is just beautiful. This Moët could go either way. Struts with a copper hue and metal cruelty in its every move. Like cheese melting on a pipe. Like bonito flaking off a rusty anchor. Earthy and really into the oxidative souse but on a tasting line-up day when everything seems oxidized. Bitter pith and grapefruit flavours with a hint of coriander and a texture so damn divine. Is that corpulence enough to rescue it from the depths of bitter disdain? If at first you are not so sure, Rosé up and try again. This ’04 will take advantage of your every insecurity and grow on your unconscious.  Tasted November 2014  @MoetUSA

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004, Ac Champagne, France (508614, $93.95, WineAlign)

This Veuve 2004 just keeps coming, does it not? Fashioned in an evolved style, typical for the house, not so atomic and not so wild. Ginger beer and tropical fruit aromas give simple pleasure, followed by more ginger and green mango on the palate, drying and turning to a fine, pungent powder re-hydrated on a whippy, elastic finish. Better vintage than would have been expected.  Tasted November 2014  @VeuveClicquot  @ChartonHobbs

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Looking red ahead at December 6th in VINTAGES

Álvaro Palacios presents his wines from Priorat, Rioja and Bierzo Photo (c): Eric Vellend

Álvaro Palacios presents his wines from Priorat, Rioja and Bierzo
Photo (c): Eric Vellend

When I walk into the tasting lab at the LCBO this morning to taste the red wines on the December 6th release, there will be more than 100 bottles staring me down. Not just any 100 bottles. The assembled wines will be deep, dark, dense and intense, a December agglomeration meant to drink down with the holidays.

The VINTAGES releases are so protracted at this time of year the media tastings have to be split across two consecutive weeks. Champagnes and whites were put out last Friday so today’s reds will stain teeth, pile on the tannin and cause a general convocation in dehydration. A perfect Friday.

Luma's Bocconcini and Preserved Vegetable Salad

Luma’s Bocconcini and Preserved Vegetable Salad

Over the past few weeks I’ve managed to taste some of the releases at trade events, with my colleagues at WineAlign and yesterday with Álvaro Palacios. At the invite of Woodman Wines and Spirits I had the indubitable pleasure of being heralded through a paramount cross-section of the Spanish wandering winemaker’s portfolio, from Priorat, Rioja and Bierzo. Palacios poured six of his wines at Luma Restaurant in Toronto. Reviews for the Riojan La Vendimia, the Bierzo Corullón and the Priorats Camins and Les Terraces will be found on WineAlign.

Last fall I wrote about Spanish wines, insisting that Spanish winemakers “do not pussyfoot in producing superannuated yet contemporary wine.” I talked up the Iberian wine making superstars. Red and white wine heroes. Álvaro Palacios was at the top of the list. Jason Woodman felt and still feels this way. “If anyone embodies the promise and spirit of “The New Spain”, it is Álvaro Palacios.” I elaborated. “It has not been much more than 20 years since he took control of the esteemed empire built by his father, Jose Palacios Remondo, but Álvaro Palacios has already become one of Spain’s most famous and well-respected winemakers.”

Related – Ancient, state of the art Spanish wine

One Rioja and one Bierzo by the Palacios domain are reviewed here, along with six other new releases coming to stores December 6th. Here’s a sneak peek, looking red ahead.

Palacios Line-Up at Luma Restaurant Photo (c): Eric Vellend

Palacios Line-Up at Luma Restaurant
Photo (c): Eric Vellend

Palacios Remondo La Montesa 2011, Doca Rioja, Spain (674572, $18.95, WineAlign)

La Montesa epitomizes everything about the Álvaro Palacios application; professionalism, breviloquence and balance. It also brings together essentia to one common Riojan crossroads; Atlantic and Mediterranean, Tempranillo and Garnacha, French and American oak. In fact, it does the latter with such seamless ease, as neither barrel disturbs the proportion or the harmony. Fresh, pointed, serious and value-driven with ridiculous compete, the silky smooth Montesa uses calcareous soil as an organza overlay and acidity to keep it real. The alcohol is certainly real but like the wood (and the tannin), is never overdone. From now to 2018 with bells on.  Tasted November 2014  @WoodmanWS  @RiojaWine

Tenuta Rapitala Alto Nero d’Avola 2012, Sicily, Italy (Agent392852, $19.95, WineAlign)

The winery known as the “Beautiful Garden of God” has burnished a Nero d’Avola from the northwest corner of Sicily so perfumed you may consider dabbing some on your neck. Like the sweet-smelling roses that endow Nebbiolo with its characteristic charm, this Sicilian sports the same except that it is magnified by sunshine and salinity. A meeting of red fruits macerating in a bath of freshly squeezed plum juice does nothing but make you want to sip and sip. In the end there is tannin, but also prune juice and really daring acidity. This is a big but not over the top southern Italian red to enjoy now and for three more years. Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines

Cantina Zaccagnini 2012, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Doc, Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

There is much to admire about this most righteous and humble Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. From a west-facing vineyard with coarsely textured soils in the municipality of Bolognano, province of Pescara, very close to the Adriatic Sea. The maritime influence, while not dramatic, is significant, as nosed in salinity and humidity. The Zaccagnini spent a scant and refreshing four months in Slavonian oak barrels. The impart is gentle and sincere. The freshness and calm here reminds of a certain type of Syrah from St. Joseph, low in alcohol, preserved in acidity and full of savoury flavour. This is really well-judged, honest MdA that will linger in evolution for two to three more years of pure, simple drinking pleasure.  Tasted November 2014  @Zaccagninivini  

Lavau Rasteau 2012, Rhône, France (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Equal parts Syrah and Grenache gather in this very warm Rasteau that spent (15 per cent of the cuvée) 10 months in French oak barrels. Typical of the upward trend in Rhône reds of elevated alcohol and vibrant spirit. There is no shortage of ripe fruit, concentrated flavours and modern attitude here. Beyond the up front aromas of raspberry and baked clay the Lavau continues its hearth oven stay and churns out roasted game, savoury pie and smouldering Rosemary branches. It’s a veritable Lavau luau, with both beef and pork in the pit and in need of a glass of something rich and spicy. This Rasteau will do the trick.  Tasted November 2014  @WinesOfFrance  @oenophilia1

From left to right: Tenuta Rapitala Alto Nero d'Avola 2012, Cantina Zaccagnini 2012, Lavau Rasteau 2012, Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Trinchero Mario's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

From left to right: Tenuta Rapitala Alto Nero d’Avola 2012, Cantina Zaccagnini 2012, Lavau Rasteau 2012, Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Trinchero Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Clare Valley/Coonawarra, South Australia (142398, $24.95, WineAlign)

A most blanketed tapestry of aromas come flying like a magic carpet from this Clare Valley and Coonawarra specimen. The best of both worlds collide; blue fruits and cool mint/eucalyptus. Though slightly murky and vanilla distilled simple syrupy, the aromas make the grade and put on the show. The fine grain in tannin and chalky texture are a plus though they do cause separation anxiety for the delicate fruit. Very much like a good blue and red fruit Malbec, from Mendoza or the Clare Valley, this is not overly, varietally Cabernet Sauvignon but it is a very effective and spiced red for near-term drinking.  Tasted November 2014  @Taylors_Wines

Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2012, Do Bierzo, Spain, (675207, $26.95, WineAlign)

From Ricardo Palacios, nephew to and with Álvaro, this Mencia is so indicative and representative as the “naked grape” of Bierzo. Anointed with a concentrated perfume and panegyrized by a fruit transparency that is just not present in the Palacios wines of Rioja and Priorat. With Mencia, what you see, smell and taste is what you get. It’s varietally obvious and this Palacios plays the part with thespian control. A caramel note lifts, not drags this dense, purposed red, purple in every way, condensing the happy freshness of the vintage. Lactic black fruits are milky, developing to creamy, then on to licorice and candied nasturtium. Has a Bordeaux-like dusty camino real drive to it, in perfect sunshine, the vapors rising off the arid track. The Mencia asks “and would you let me walk down your street, naked if I want to.” Yes is the answer, because it is such an honest, moby grape. In ferment it makes cause for another composed wine by Palacios.  The clarity and ambition will take it safely to the next decade.  Tasted November 2014

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (398073, $44.95, WineAlign)

From estate grapes grown on the hillside which slopes down towards the Orcia and Ombrone rivers. The Bartolommei family needed a summons of their winemaker’s acumen to reign in advanced fruit from a vintage that saw soaring summer temperatures. This ’09 runs on full throttle, high-octane Grosso and yet is a remarkably, obiter dicta fresh flood of sanguine, berry chalky juice. All that and more actually and while it’s flat out fun to taste at such a young age, its ability to go long is not a sure thing. Plan to enjoy now and for three to five big years.  @Caprili  @NaturalVines

Trinchero Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (399600, $64.95, WineAlign)

There is nothing chary about this single-vineyard Cabernet, named after the winery’s founder, situated in St. Helena. From soils ranging from gravelly to loamy to alluvial, the vines were only 12 years old when this dark beauty was made. Pitchy fruit is roped and tied by a whack of French oak, surrounding it with an aromatic bubble filled with lavender, charcoal, vanilla and licorice. A multi-plex of a red, darker than many, structured yet reliant on that mask of oak. Due to the mass and mess of fruit this will age nicely for 10 years but the wood will never go away. It’s just made that way.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines

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Recently tasted here, there and everywhere

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

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

During my week-long visit to Alsace in June I tasted more than 300 different wines. Over the course of the four months that followed that most amazing journey to the heart of a great wine region, I published more than 50 tasting notes. I also told stories about the winemakers, the Grand Crus and lieu-dits. I will continue to write and publish equal or more amounts about Alsace.

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

The British wine writer Jamie Goode recently published two articles on the subject of wine criticism versus wine journalism. His first, Whatever happened to wine journalism, appeared on the website run by Tim Atkin MW. The second, Wine critics and wine writers on his own blog, Wine Anorak. Goode is a man on the pulse of what it real and what needs to be said. He is correct in telling us that the most engaging wine writing comes from scribes who visit vineyards and tell their stories. There can be no disputing this to be true.

Jamie hopes that the future of wine writing is not fraught with short reviews and inflated scores. He sees the Utopian model in experiential travel, in meeting hard-working people, wandering over variegated soils and terroir, tasting at the source. Jamie fears that his wine writer self will go the way of the wine critic, tapping away on a computer while tasting wine in an air-conditioned office. His version of wine hell. Riesling specialist Stuart Martin Piggot agrees.

But Jamie is not entirely right either. At least in the context of the Ontario model (and those of other Canadian provinces), along with I would imagine, many wine markets in other countries. Much of what wine writers taste on globetrotting journeys is not to be found on shelves back home. While that may be pathetic and certainly a pity worthy of some kind of wine crime, it is the brass tacks of the global wine industry. I agree with Goode that we should do everything in our power to change it and we should publish stories, not just tasting notes and scores.

The problem for the reader is that most, if not 95-plus percent of the wines that are reviewed from a region like Alsace are not available for purchase in Ontario. While that is just a crying shame, it is a reality. If you purchase wine in Ontario and look for critical voices to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, you require notes on available wines. That is why writers must spend so much time tasting samples in the sterile LCBO laboratory, at our dining room tables, in restaurants and with the hard-working for not enough reward Ontario wine agents. And we must write-up the tasting notes and publish them on websites like WineAlign. This is the fact of Ontario wine importing, purchasing and consumer life. Would it be any different if there was no provincial monopoly? Yes, but it wouldn’t help in the telling of better vineyard stories.

I taste wines here, there and everywhere. Here are 16 recent samples that gave me cause to raise an eyebrow, pause, ruminate and formulate a response to the spoken sentiments of the ferment. All 16 are available for purchase in Ontario.

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Vins De Pays Côtes De Gascogne, France (Agent 223222, $13.95, WineAlign)

This is a Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc that whistles boldly like a howling wind. While the nose is high-toned and full of herbal complexities, it’s also indiscreetly alarming. The aromas are quite massive; pine needles decomposing on a wet forest floor. Kefir, cloudy and enzymatic, curdling and churning into itself. Petrol spills on asphalt, baking in the midday sun. To taste it is tangy and juicy, but also very mineral, intensified by the outcroppings of retzine in the vineyard’s limestone. The overall composition punches way above its weight but the heightened sense of reality is also a bit hard to take. Terrific effort but comes with a warning sign.  Tasted November 2014  @CotesdeGascogne  @TrialtoON

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign)

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391300, $14.95, WineAlign)

Sets a (St. David’s) benchmark for how to reign in and then release the charmes of Sauvignon Blanc from the Niagara Peninsula. Done in a decidedly fresh and lively style, this gathers up a bunches and conservative yield-managed vineyard’s warmest, ripe fruit for the purpose of bonhomie potation. Smells of vitality, of fresh herbs and citrus just cut, of a salt spring, of things zoetic. Cream elevates the texture, albeit pellucid and unobtrusive. The triad coming together of Sauvignon Blanc, St. David’s Bench and 2013 is the new CdC yardstick. The price only cements the offer.  Tasted November 2014  @MBosc

Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Rhône, France (535849, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Ogier self-professed traits of patience, savoir-faire, observation and intuition are on tidy display in this piquant, spiced-note, olive branch and indigo traditional Rhône blend. So very Mediterranean, warm and herbal by day, cool and minty by night. One stage short of lush, one notch comfortably above thin, this slots into all right moves; pleasant, value-driven and so effective for so many purposes. Stand alone or with classically prepared fare, this is all you need. Bring on the roast chicken.  Tasted November 2014  @MaisonOgier  @Select_Wines

Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012, Bierzo, Spain (Agent, $16.95)

Mencia as it once must have demanded of itself, iron clad, funky and gamey. This Bierzo is no antiseptic perfumed bottle of modern, manufactured violet Febreeze, though it’s so very vanilla and rich as a Porchetta sandwich with the porcine cure and fat driven right in to every nook and cranny. Or a taste sensation like bacon wrapped cherries. High toned with formidable tannins. A chew of sinew both in faux-wood and as the conceptual result of a roasted animal’s tension. Value gained vicariously through complexity.  Tasted April 2014  @TheLivingVine

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta White Reserve Alentejano 2013, Alentejo, Portugal (Agent, $16.95)

An endemic blend of Antão Vaz (40 per cent), Roupeiro (40) and Arinto (20) from infertile rocky schist soils in southern Portugal’s Alentejo region. Ostensibly a field blend, like the Alsace cépage a terroir of Marcel Deiss, the Fita Preta or “black tape” comes from an extreme and arid land. Portuguese winemaker António Maçanita and resident English viticulturist consultant David Booth usher out flint and mineral to capture a host of synapses from a wine region that had failed to fire in years. The landscape described  as “Portugal’s Australia” gives a white like a cross between simple, flinty Chablis and aged Hunter Valley Sémillon. The acidity is in abject anti-congruence to the region’s usual heavy-leaded output, mimicking cool-climate Chardonnay in tight and bracing stonker fashion.  Tasted November 2014  @fitapretavinhos    @LeSommelierWine

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Southern Rhône, France 2011 (259721, $18.95, WineAlign)

In a world where anything is possible, the Guigal Côtes Du Rhône effect is predictable, trenchant and essential. The vintage specific focus in alacrity drives the savoury, rich black fruit to domesticated compliance, easy on the eyes, nose and palate. This just smells like a good meal; as if a game bird were roasting in the oven, surrounded by a rough and large kerf of mirepoix, of caramelizing root vegetables baptized by dried herbs and spices. Do not be fooled. This is a warm CdR with generous alcohol (14 per cent disclosed) and an even warmer, though not uncomfortably tannic or acidity riddled finish. It is a whack of Rhône grapes within grasp of a mere mortal’s budget. Drink now and for two years forward.  Tasted November 2014  @DOMAINEGUIGAL  @VinexxWine

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (68858, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 release

A modern take on Sangiovese to be certain with a penchant for the authenticity extracted from the best parts of history. Siena red dirt dredged, cherry macerated, fined, filtered and spiked with a crush of Brandy soaked Amaretti cookies. Clean and with Spring plum blossom in the air. Il Palio dirt for appetizer, Fiore di Zucca pie for dinner and sweet, nutty Panforte for dessert. So modern but so proper. Makes no bones about its made-up face but has plenty of solid ossein in its body. Good piquancy and a rush of verve on the back palate. Oaky but not creamy, bitter yes, but not woody.  Tasted November 2014  @oenophilia1

Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $19.99, WineAlign)

The savoury aspect of this Cabernet Franc steals the show out of what is just an ideal vintage. The fruit was sourced from the Dim Vineyard in the Creek Shores appellation, a piece of the Peninsula ideally suited to the sharp and earthy aspects of Cabernet Franc. Despite 20 months of seasoning in barrel, the Tractor has maintained its red fruit character, accented by currants, spice and a deep-rooted sense of licorice. There is enough grain in its texture to carry it for three or four more years but it will never be bigger than it is now, nor will its length grow any longer.  Tasted November 2014  @SideroadTwenty

Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal, Austria (453281, $21.95, WineAlign)

The ever-present, front loaded, laser sharp attack may feign spritz amid hushed whispers of CO2, but not from any chemical alteration. It’s actually a post fermentation, double negative breath of residual covalent bonding. The fast action bottling captures pressure to act as catalyst for freshness, especially in such a lean, high acidity vintage. A sway of tall grasses and that gas smothers whatever residual sugar might try to weigh down this low (11.5 per cent) alcohol stunner. Very much alive though the depth is challenged by all that forward thinking expression. Still a very good showing for this classic Grüner.  Tasted November 2014  @AustrianWine  @LeSommelierWine

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 release

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.  Tasted November 2014  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Wo Coastal Region, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Iconic Bordeaux partners with South Africa for a red that is a surprising saunter into fair Cabernet-Merlot territory. Ripeness, extraction and alcohol are all exercised with restraint. The South African gauze is wound but of a thin wrapping, thanks to the allowance for fruit to shine in bright, red cherry tones. Western Cape is a terrific place to express Bordeaux-styled reds, especially when done with such hands off ability. A bit sapid and even sour edged, this would be a fine example to share when partaking in a little R & R. Wait a year and drink up to 2018.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines  @WOSACanada

Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Ac Côtes De Roussillon Villages Latour De France (643239, $24.95, WineAlign)

From vineyards composed of Devonian Period gneiss and schist soils and Kimmeridgian period limestone. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The heft of this craggy, cultured terroir in a Côtes De Roussillon’s bottle is never in question, nor is the puritanical excellence of its harvested fruit. Some years just heat up to a point of no return, like this 2012. Chapoutier is fully cognizant of the warmth and savagery from the soils and the climate. Finding even temperament and balance is the challenge. This vintage comes across as over the scabrous edge, cooked by the sun and dredged in the particulate. Classic Mediterranean notes of brine, brush and lavender keep it grounded, not to mention graphite and grilled meat, but for the sappy and life-sapping heat, this would be a candidate for 10 years in the cellar. As it is, drink this with quality warm-blooded protein over the next year or two.  Tasted November 2014  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines

Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot d’Alsace is what Jean-Michel Deiss refers to as “du cépage a terroir” or “tous les cépages.” Though there can be as many as 13 grape varieties in the field blend, most of the content comes from the Pinot family. Though likely in Blanc, Gris and Auxerrois predominance, this is a co-planted field blend so if Jean-Michel were to change his tune from talking terroir to varietal percentages, even he would not know the true make-up. Regardless, this is a (vintage) rich and balanced white blend, an avatar for the Alsace idiom. A wanderer in angles, an adventurer into corners and a wearer of many aromatic costumes; sweet, sour, citrus, flint and spice. Indicates orange, lemon and grapefruit but it’s never that straightforward. More like Jincheng, Lemongrass and Pomello. An exemplary introduction to Deiss, Alsace and the dry summation of many white parts. Tasted twice, June and November 2014  @marceldeiss  @AlsaceWines

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)

Carries and buffets an unmistakable aromatic conveyance that comes from a grouping to include Le Clos Jordanne, Bachelder, Queylus and The Farm. Where the cherry tree digs its roots into the earth, where the fruit rolls in the clay dust, where the tension in fruit meets tannin, intersecting at acidity. Just a touch of funk in a non-reductive, vineyard sense and the fruit does flirt with right of centre cherry, inching towards the black side. Chalk and tangy dust, and finally, tannin that holds court. This is quite big for Niagara Pinot Noir and it will age righteously for three to five years. Though it is not yet ready to lay claim to greatness, Westcott is a vineyard to keep a wide and watchful eye.  Tasted October 2014  @WestcottWines

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

The real deal in Bench gain from out of the most enigmatic and occult vintage, the primitive vineyard giving life and lesson to Chardonnay. Austerity in second and third fill barrels sends butter in search of toast, imagined through pendular churning. A reckoning follows, connecting round fruit to linear acidity in character, oomph and excellence. Aromas indicate spirited confiture choices at the breakfast table to garnish flaky pastry. Biting and demanding yet sweet as a cool summer’s night.  Tasted October 2014  @ClossonChase

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Let the gems begin

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay County Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

If the premature lashing of cold, snow and ice weren’t enough to get you thinking about holiday shopping, get thee to a Liquor Control Board Ontario store on the weekend. Same time, every year. The LCBO stocks the shelves, isles and pyramid displays with more booze than anyone should ever be faced with in one visitation.

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

The bi-weekly VINTAGES release calendar whirs, undulates and clutters in rataplan overload at just this very juncture in preparation of the Christmas rush. Shoppers will tear down the walls of wine, beer and spirits, only to hear the burloque fall silent when the clock strikes closing time on the evening of December 24th.

There are exactly 35 days left in 2014 to do the right wine thing for that father, cousin, colleague, mentor or loyal, long-time suffering employee. Please heed the warnings and do not buy crap for the one you love or think you should. No matter who you are picking up a bottle for, treat them well and with fermented grape respect.

There are three category of wines to look for, at least within the context of this buying guide. First there are the values under $20, wines made so properly they should cost double or triple what they do. Second are the expensive but honest wines. These are the true gems that make most $100 bottles look bad. Last are the $100 examples that are truly iconic, despite their cost. Though priced beyond the means of most, they are not a mistake to take a flyer and give as a gift. After the hand off is complete, the all-knowing, unspoken nod will follow.

Here are 22 picks from the VINTAGES November 22, 2014 release, in stores now.

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Pdo Nemea, Greece (295618, $17.95, WineAlign)

Nemea strikes again. Dark rust, earth juiced on and of the rocks. Like Sangiovese with attitude, made by Romans, like Syrah the way it was made in mythological times, by Greeks. A classical garden. This is actually quite modern and expressive for Agiorgitiko. Acts as if it were a touch clay (or amphora) baked but it’s really just a Peloponnese take on oak aging (18 months) and further bottle rest (12 months). This is right in its window and will be friendly for three to five years more. What a steal.  Tasted November 2014  @DrinkGreekWine

Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Doc Pomino Bianco, Tuscany, Italy (65086, $19.95, WineAlign)

With thanks to Chardonnay, the Castello di Pomino 2013 elevates Pinot Blanc to a level not really found anywhere, save perhaps for one or two examples out of B.C. This one really leaves a tannic impression, not unlike some impossibly off-dry Pinot Gris from Alsace. There is a really sophisticated level of ambiance and a semblance of a distinctly rocky intent. Like high quality Sancerre or Chenin from Silex soils, the grain and veins running through the palate and the texture are coarse and cursive. This one writes a new script for Frescobaldi’s Florentine, Apennine mountain estate. Fresh, ventilated and airy as if breathing from blue skies at high altitudes. I can’t recall tasting this level of excellence before and would look forward to no less than five years of enjoying what it brings to the Tuscan table.  Tasted November 2014  @FrescobaldiVini  @liffordretail

Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (992560, $19.95, WineAlign)

A primarily (90 per cent) Sangiovese with smatterings, though not inconsequential, of Merlot and Syrah. From (non-estate) vineyards in Poggio La Mozza (Grosseto). Morellino Di Scansano, to a wine and exemplified here, sports a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility. The question is why should it only find occasional psychic prominence as a Sangiovese go to. Moris Farms makes the lesser-known accessible, with a (sees no oak) modern accent of dark fruit and spice atop simple, pleasurable Sangiovese. Pleasantries exchanged, the 2012 MdS will work dinner, inside a Tuscan vernacular and out.  Tasted October 2014  @Morisfarms  @oenophilia1

Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, Ac Burgundy, France (48793, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Bouillot Rosé, for my $20 is the most impressive of their line-up, always tender and ripe as if just picked fruit, namely strawberry and raspberry. The Perle D’aurore is a faintly hued and lighthearted take but not light on effort. Elegance defined in Bourgogne bubbles with a savoury edge to give it strength.  Tasted November 2014  @JCB_Wines  @ChartonHobbs

McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (724492, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2007 is another fascinating study in Hunter Valley Sémillon. Like the ’06, egressing secondary notes have emerged, in equatorial garrigue and fruit having already met its aurulent stenosis. A honey note persists though less so in ’07, as does the level of tempering acidity. This vintage brings out the calm and the clam, though the petrol and the mineral are omnipresent, perhaps elevated. Must keep in mind it’s only $20 but it does fall a bit short in texture and acidity. There is lemon drop and the essential atomic Sémillon stoicism from the Hunter Valley, but it’s a bit thin and hollow up the middle. All that acknowledged, not having a look or two would be a shame. Tasted November 2014  @MtPleasantWines  @PRAXISpr

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012, Tasmania, Australia (162990, $22.95, WineAlign)

Pepik has elevated aromatic tones and though it appears lithe it reads like a weighty tome. Unique and of its Tasmanian self. Plums come to mind, as does red earth. The phenolic ripeness and varietal indications are ushered in with managed exceptions and are simply spot on. This does not strike as a Pinot Noir that will be long-lived because its black cherry and spice are riper than many contemporary editions in a similar price range, but it will offer great pleasure for two to three years.  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (394155, $23.95, WineAlign)

Thoroughly interesting study in German Pinot Gris despite the timid and reserved tonal nature. Aridity in as much as the variety can muster and in the largest, atmospheric sense. Though the palate has some fine-grained texture and feigned sweetness, it’s as if Baden can only do Pinots this way, in Gris and in Noir. Acidity is tempered and a willing accomplice to the diminished components of sugar and pH. A well designed Pinot Gris.  Tasted November 2014  @TheLivingVine  @WinesofGermany

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (390336, $28.95, WineAlign)

The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.  Tasted October 2014  @CreeksideWine

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $34.95, WineAlign)

Rubber dust, road macadam and strawberry jam. Fierce Bordeaux Blend home from a hot climate. This has gritty obduracy and doggedness. Like a red blend with a gun, walking the mean streets. Acidity shot through the roof. Bordeaux meets South Africa in every shared, resplendent and promising way. Rasping tannins contain bursting dark fruit, the grain running in multiple directions. Respect. Wait two more years on this and drink comfortably to 2020.  Tasted November 2014  @TrialtoON  @WOSACanada

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (727636, $34.95, WineAlign)

This is not the modern Crognolo as witnessed in the previous five vintages. In 2011 we have been granted the complex Crognolo. This has must and earth. It has grit and girth. Best Crognolo I have tasted. Tangy Sangiovese, with some chalk in tannin. Will live longer and offer unrequited love seven to 10 years down the road, to the patient and the faithful. Tasted November 2014  @TenSettePonti  @TrialtoON

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Doca Rioja, Spain (976662, $35.95, WineAlign)

It amazes me how kept wines from Rioja keep appearing as if they were just bottled yesterday but not this famous Gran Reserva. Syrupy and caramelized, bright and earthy. Mulled plum and clove with citrus accents. Bretty like a barn’s floor. Cedar and leather, big oak doors. Real mutton Rioja, still tannic, energetic and searing. Kicking it old school but wild and alive. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Were a full-term lecture taught on the pros and cons of the Brettanomyces brannigan, this Rioja might be exhibit A. Absolutely manifest fruit meets earth, meets game perfume compendium. Call it funky yeast if you must but here is a wine that can be approached by nose only and if the relationship were to end there, novels might be written. Lives on a fermented, catalytic and plucky edge but never submits to the bacterial spindrift. Leaden fruit, red and black, smooth and layered with a tension in tang that is paralyzing to the mouth. Thirteen years old and just hitting a secondary stride, with the oak slowly dissolving and not a hint of coffee or chocolate to be found. Sexy and down to earth at the same time.” Last tasted November 2014  @bodegasfaustino  @Select_Wines

Cune Gran Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (393553, $38.95, WineAlign)

Old school. Smells like Rioja. Smells like Spanish spirit and weeds, sinew, gristle and braising pig, all parts in. Smells like cedar, like American oak and a soak in a tub of spa earth and mineral salts. Like “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” This has already done the evolutionary dance so if you are looking for something to float your natural, honest boat, go here now. In a Rioja world where the times they are a changin‘, it will sail you back in time and away into a Mediterranean sunset.  Tasted November 2014  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (928028$49.95, WineAlign)

Firm and in a rustic vein, as per the Barbi dole, this one a bit funkier at the outset than many. Welcome to the classic firmness of 2008, antithesis of the flamboyant ’07’s but plan for 20 plus years of slow food elegance emission. Classic rose petal, tea leaves, dates and earth caked metal in this guy. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “As expected, this is a gritty effort from Barbi, in part the impart of a testosterone-laden vintage, along with the dryer and cooler climate from Barbi’s southeastern Montalcino vineyards. A low and slow ripening will surely translate to extended longevity, but the rusticity and leather/cherry continuum will never disappear. No doubt a classic example and very well-priced for such authenticity, still it can’t be helped to see Barbi’s ’08 as entrenched in an earlier period of time. The wine will need 10 years to soften its edges and reveal the refinement and elegance of a well-documented Brunello.”  Last tasted November 2014  @FATTORIABARBI  @Noble_Estates

Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (287854, $58.95, WineAlign)

A study in precision, exceptional quality and poise. Golden rays mixed with misty wisps, cool nights tempering warm days. Just a touch of wood spice pricks the finish. So much flavour.  Tasted November 2014  @DuttonGoldfield  @TheVine_RobGroh

Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Burgundy, France (390534, $59.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot Noir speaks for the two sides of every Burgundy argument, especially considering it comes from the gritty nook of Pommard. First impressions are floral and pretty, with spice and some sort of tropical flora whispering in cooing scents. The hill offers a buoyancy, a lifted spirit and a view of its own sweet regard. Travels through a mid-village weightless hover, then returns to terroir in prime time acidity and tannin to keep time. There is a sweet tart medicinal aspect ratio on the finish and overall this does things correctly. Does not finish with the same suave seduction that it teased at the start but it does continue to impress.  Tasted November 2014  @Select_Wines  @BourgogneWines

Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $60.95, WineAlign)

Aromatics are racing and rising from the glass. A red rain pouring in and out. Has yet to change course. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.” Last tasted November 2014  @VersadoWine

Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Champagne, France (983874, $84.95, WineAlign)

The reappraised vintage that was once considered good, now revealing itself as better than good uses examples like the Laurent Perrier Millésimé to drive the point. This is a classically symmetrical blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir possessive of much chaste class, incredible balance and held lotus posture. Through its waves of idiosyncratic brioche and linear citrus lines drawn in tactile angles this Champagne is unbent and unbroken. Its seamless transitions glide from delicate aromas, through a textured palate and groove forward in elastic length. Additionally graceful with an ever so slightly advanced and mature style from a mature world in vintage-dated Champagne.  Tasted November 2014  @ChampagneLPUSA  @Noble_Estates

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Mclaren Vale, Australia (242732, $114.95, WineAlign)

While the price is just about as absurd as a “yoga class for cats” or Raine Maida’s voice, it seems logical to wonder aloud how one could question this Carnival as not being one of the biggest and baddest Shiraz you will ever encounter. It’s a veritable run on sentence of Shiraz adjectives, adverbs and hyperbole. If your hankering remains entrenched in elevated alcohol, enormity of fruit, condensed and compressed mineral, lest to be forgetting the viscous ooze of Mclaren Vale syrup, well, then this jester should fill your stocking along with those of the rest of your circle of fortifying friends. From the maw of the beast here – blood gore and fruit guts. Holy crap is this extracted, tannic, mired in impropriety, full conceit and in zero jealousy of other Shiraz. It doth joust. Certainly no lady of peace. Wow.  Tasted November 2014  @MollydookerWine  @bwwines

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (936039, $139.95, WineAlign)

Magnificent and munificent wine. Really special, magnanimous in every way, ultra-luxurious but not over the top. Alcohol, oak and extraction judged and held in check, equity and in balance. The fruit is pure and delicate, marked by plum, blackberry and hovering licorice, anise and spices. Long in chain and really sweet tannins. Like gazing into a pool of real nineties Napa and across the pond to an older school of reasoning. Tasted November 2014  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Ac Margaux, 3e Cru, Bordeaux, France (261552, $167.95, WineAlign)

A heightened sense of Margaux reality in 2010 comes from the château with the hybrid name; first from Simon Malescot, King’s Counsel to Louis XIV at the Parliament of Bordeaux. Second, from the post French Revolution château purchaser, Count Jean Baptiste St Exupéry, grandfather of the aviator and writer Antoine de St Exupéry. This has to be the most hedonism ever bottled in a Malescot, within reason of course. The house does not know from over the top, save perhaps for the cost of this 2010. Cassis is certainly here, as is a medicinal tension, firm acidity and the most formidable tannins known to Margaux. The grain, chalk and tincture combine for full effect. This will need 10 years to chill, then go 10 plus 10 more to much applause and the request for a final curtain call. Tasted November 2014  @VinsdeBordeaux

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (399592, $167.95, WineAlign)

Wow. Aromatics are off the charts. Pine forest, leather, chestnut and cedar, savoury in every wild and sauvage way, but also pure. Berries, tobacco leaf, classical logic, structures and axioms lead me to imagine mid-nineties Paulliac. Seamless texture, ripe but not overripe, rich but never overly grainy. This is super fine and dialed back (with exotic spices and wood spice filling in the holes) in the cooler 2011 vintage. A Cabernet Sauvignon of the most savour and the most class. A ten to twenty year Spottswoode.  Tasted November 2014   @Spottswoode  @Smallwinemakers

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, Cabernet Franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smoldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014  @Smarent

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Big release, bigger wines

Chicken and beef destined for tortillas

Chicken and beef destined for tortillas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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