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!

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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

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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

Good to go!

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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.

Good to go!

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Mind blowing wines of 2014

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

In January it began with A resolution to drink honest wine, “juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life.” It continued with New year. Try new wines, where the goal was “the resolve to drink outside the comfort zone.” If the issue was Feeling under the weather? Drink wine, success was had. “Wine is your friend. When approached, integrated and embraced in the right way it can help to promote a healthy lifestyle. The defence rests.”

January was a busy month, complete with Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and ice wine, not to mention Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds. In February the opined focus zeroed inwards, to Ontario. What’s in a wine vintage? asked to reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites, the best wines made to date. Harsh words were spoken against Rosé, but only because of the obviousness of it all when said, You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine. Thomas Bachelder showed us Synchronicity in three terrors and he will do so again this coming Sunday when we break wine together down on the Peninsula. Calming influences saved days, having once more expounded on the music immersion, in and with wine, from Three-chord wines, hold the rants. The month concluded with more healthy advice and the question Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

In March the annual pilgrimage to Niagara produced more tasting notes and verbiage than was previously thought possible, in a three-part series. Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventureWhen experts break wine together and Wine experts Brock and roll, Brock on were also joined by a visit to Flat Rock Cellars in Bottles, barrels, tanks and a vertical. A two-year impassioned body of submissions to canada.com culminated with the final column, The death of wine scores?

Scores were subsequently dropped from godello.ca but continue to be sidled up to the notes at winealign.com. In April I found out what happens When Sangiovese comes to townBurgundy will always be royal and that it’s always Go Gamay go time. In the name of Somewhereness, The group of twelve was once again called to assembly. In May there was the omnipresent Kalon of MomPaul Pender’s Tawse and effect and a fascinating look at cooperage in Every barrel tells a story. Prince Edward County again proved its mettle in ’14 and consumers were encouraged to Take them home, County wines. VQA stood under scrutiny in The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom and another chapter was written in The Stratus-Momofuku continuum.

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Sparkling wine bubbled over in New fizz on the Brock, was Talkin’ ’bout my Generation Riesling and a trip to Alsace in June put me In a Grand Cru state of mind. I was Down on the Ornellaia and found out first hand, on a boat trolling across Lake Erie that The South Coast is clear. I offered up The froth on Crémant d’Alsace and in July told you that Chardonnay is cool. The eponymous conference yielded in excess of 10,000 words in August with 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more and The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind. I branded Olivier Zind-Humbrecht The cru chief of Alsace and felt what it was like to be Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes.

Tide's Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tide’s Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

A 5500 km trek to the tip of Cape Breton and back yielding poetic and prophetic expression in The tides that bind: East Coast swing. “The tractive is a thing to and of itself. The pauses to gather at points along the process remember lobsters roasting over an open fire, a cottage visit with new-found friends, a hike into the cavern of a waterfall and a swim in a tidal river. Memories are made in rites of passage, though in the end, like the photographs, they too will be demurred by time. Indelible stamps they are, cemented in commitment to reaching and by necessity, descending summits. A  road trip to the eastern part of Canada realizes the bigger plan. The key is making it safely home, before the tide rolls in.”

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

In September I tasted history with Taylor made Port and insisted on Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due. I ignored a publishing embargo to announce how The LCBO and WineAlign go local and went Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada by judging the best of the best. A recall to Consider the Gaspereau Valley brought me back to Benjamin Bridge, a visit with Peter Gamble and the declaration that “I have seen & tasted the future of vinifera in Nova Scotia and its name is Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.” Gamble’s work with partner Ann Sperling in Argentina is simply and skillfully The artfully applied science of Versado Malbec.

My report, Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality was met with lukewarm avoidance then rebounded, thanks to the tunes, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with songA hip of wine from Hidden Bench gave way to Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list, in which I insisted “if your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in.” I enjoyed some Wine on company time and Americans take note when Sonoma peaks from out of the fog.  For the third consecutive year I gave Yet another 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Local wines, notably Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases and in direct contrast, I went Off the beaten Italian path to discover endemic varietals. The Bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports had me reeling. “The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?”

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Two exposés on Alsatian wine, A Blanck slate in Alsace and It was Josmeyer’s imagination covered two distinct theories, of tabula rasa and wayfinding. On Sparkling wine I gave you Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence and Eleven 11th hour holiday bubbles. If value is your thing, I hope you read The final 14 bargains of 2014 and if great Canadian wine and cuisine float your gastronomic boat, my judging experience was captured at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014.

This is the third in the trilogy of best of reports for 2014. The first, 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014 was about “wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.” The second, Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014 was meant to 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.” The third instalment is meant purely to celebrate and to thank those who shared their bottles with me. Here are 16 wines tasted in 2014 that simply blew me away.

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Domaine Paul Blanck et Fils Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983, Alsace, France (From A Blanck slate in Alsace, December 1, 2014)

From Altenbourg, a lieu-dit located at the base of the Furstentum vineyard. Here is Blanck’s “fairy tale,” a wine you would have always heard about but never had a chance to taste or likely ever seen. The terroir is limestone mixed with clay and you will have to excuse my Alsatian, but a single sniff and taste releases the expression, “are you fucking kidding me?” This 31-year old Muscat is an impossibility, a first time feeling, a never before nosed perfume. Speaks in a limestone vernacular, of grapes given every chance to survive long after their innocence had been lost. A forest herb, tree sap, evergreen resin, lemongrass and bitter orange coagulation rises from its viscous mist. The acidity has lost nothing on the fruit, acts in perfect foil and leaves you with a sense of loneliness that is just beautiful.  Tasted June 2014  @DomaineBlanck

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) From The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

In July 2013 Francois Morissette made this statement. “If we can’t make Gamay in a Cru Beaujolais Style, I’m not interested.” In May 2014 his ’13 Gamay causes Bill Zacharkiw to comment with blatant honesty, “just line up at the tank. Forget the bottle.” From 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. Once again the hue is just impossible. Sulphur-free, this walks a fine and perfect line of Cru banana Gamay. Pushes the Gamay envelope in that it’s gulpable but with a duress to remind you not to overdo it. A Gamay with a chamber of 32 doors. In it “I’d rather trust a man who doesn’t shout what he’s found.” François Morissette.   Tasted May 2014  @PearlMorissette  @3050imports

Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora VRM 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (agent, $30.00, WineAlign) From A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C., August 8, 2014

Here blends one-third each Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne, a veritable Rhône orgy in wild fermentation, aged on the skins in terra-cotta and amphorae. While I would not go so far as to call it an “orange wine,” I will use the “N” word to describe its agrarian ways. As natural as anything you are likely to taste out of B.C., this is a most untamed experiment and should not be missed. It verges on oxidation but refuses to climb over the edge. It’s floral, spicy and crowded. The texture is chalky and so full of rusty, clay rubbed streaks. Everything about this is unkempt and exotic, including the never cease and desist fermenting lychee and longan feel. Hard not to be wowed by this blend’s presence.  Tasted August 2014  @lfngwine  @liffordretail

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2006, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (241182, $35, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Only Charles can follow Charles, as only Jimi could follow Jimi. Just ask Peter Townshend. The combined forces of vintage, off-dry level of residual sugar (23.9 g/L) and age have ushered this Picone into a realm of adipose, butyraceous, chewy texture. The ’06 is emblematic of its time, stunning, psychedelic, experienced. It speaks clearly and with conceit. Tasting it eight years on you can hear Baker’s 2006 voice saying “if you can just get your mind together uh-then come on across to me.” We have and continue to follow Charles, and we are paying close attention to every vintage along the ride.  Tasted March 2014  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) From Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, June 12, 2014

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign) From The death of wine scores?, March 26, 2014

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection   @liffordretail

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($143.00, WineAlign) From Burgundy will always be royal, April 22, 2014

The Fèvre take on Les Clos is the cradle of all the domain’s wines, in every respect. Intensely concentrated, this is Chardonnay expressive in every facet of its surroundings. The impart from compressed white limestone, ancient fossils and Jurassic minerals in distillate may seem abstract in description but how else can the feeling of a mouth full of rocks be conveyed? The remarkably complex Les Clos and its structured palate that goes on forever has come out of its Chablis vineyard cradle and will live on as one of the best ever. “It’s not a place, it’s a yearning. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.” There is no rush to drink it up. It will offer immense pleasure for 20-25 years.  @WoodmanWS  @BourgogneWines

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0961714 $145.00, WineAlign) From When Sangiovese comes to town, April 7, 2014

From a golden vintage, this ’97 is crazy good. A fixed, double-edged blade fighting knife dipped into a warm pool of developed liqueur-like sweetness. Seventeen years of languorous modulation and wood-fruit integration had resulted in a gracious Brunello, intrinsically delicious and living large in senescence. Life for the Col D’orcia ’97 is a bowl of cherries. Open one now and for the next three to five years and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get. Me, “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”  Tasted April 2014  @Coldorcia  @ConsBrunello

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2001, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (Agent, $189.95, WineAlign) From Down on the Ornellaia, June 24, 2014

The blend of the 2001 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (65 per cent), Merlot (30) and Cabernet Franc (5). Though strange to say and admittedly a retrospective comment, the minute quantity of Cabernet Franc and not yet inclusion of Petit Verdot result in a more straightforward and not as heavily layered Ornellaia. The structure is more linear and understandable, the fruit not as variegated. Complexity and Tuscan spiritualism are not compromised by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant line, in fact, assessing the evolution at 13 years on reveals the Bolgheri terroir in ways the magnanimous and opulent more recent vintages just don’t reach. There is a refreshing acidity in this young and developing ’01 in a streak that again, the baby Superiore do not seem to possess. This is a striking Ornellaia, a wine that would work with exceptional cuisine of varied cultures. It can be enjoyed now and will respond with grace and thanks for 30 plus years more.  Tasted June 2014  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON  @sherry_naylor

Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Ac St Julien, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402529, $599.00, WineAlign) From A Bordeaux family of wines, September 29, 2014

This 2nd Growth, Grand Vin is a product of nurturing and environment, a study in 12 superb soil subsets, from sand to clay to stone. From mature, edified vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), Cabernet Franc (16) and Merlot (14). The LLC ’95 is grounded and centered on its highly confident axis while swirling within a centrifuge of inwardly concentrated, ripe but not ripest fruit. Merlot here is the anchor, Cabernet Sauvignon the mast. This is a relationship of pure linear fruit meets acidity. The full and fresh attack is refined with soft-pedaled tannins. It’s neither St. Julien nor Paulliac. It is Las Cases. No other Bordeaux is such an island, a distinctly personal expression, an event of its own. This is a window to the greatest vintages, a portal to extend to the benchmarks of 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009, but also to step into the history of physiological cortex, to gain insight into previous legendary vintages, like 90, 89 and 82. The ’95 is silky, caressing, rapturous enveloping in a reverse osmosis of fruit and acidity, acidity and tannin. Another sip notices the layering, the grain left in tannin, the lingering richness of the fruit. The absolute sweet caress.  Tasted September 2014  @Noble_Estates

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

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.  Tasted September 2014  @Smarent  @Splendido_TO

Contino

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974 at XocoCava, with Chef Chris McDonald and Rob Groh of the Vine Agency, October 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  @TheVine_RobGroh  @Cvne

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014 PHOTO: Michael Godel

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Château Margaux 1989, Ac Bordeaux, France (176057, $1,645.00, WineAlign) From Château Margaux hits the road, May 5, 2014

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”  Tasted April 2014  @Noble_Estates

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009 (From The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht, August 5, 2014)

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.  Tasted June 2014  @olivier_dzh  @TrialtoON

Schlumberger

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945 (From In a Grand Cru state of mind, June 18, 2014)

From an area of sandstone soil that predates the appellation. “This is an old story,” says Sommelière Caroline Furstoss by way of introduction at a Millésime master class. “This is a wine of God,” in allusion to the success of a vintage immediately following the end of World War Two. So emotional to taste, of a Riesling with 20-25 g/L of residual sugar and a recondite, balancing level of acidity. Complete and clean, persistent in its power and vitality. There is orange peel and spice, cinnamon and spike. Must have been a warm yet somehow perfect vintage. Sixty-nine years on there is the slightest hint of toffee and nougat with a whispered promise to age for at least 30 more effortless and graceful years. The length lasts for minutes. The heart and the hearth. Just the thought of producing this wine at that time is unfathomable and mystifying. There are no superlatives to do it justice.  Tasted June 2014  @VinexxWine

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $3,995.00, WineAlign) From Taylor made Port, September 2, 2014

The two casks of 1863 reached the Taylor family in pristine condition, from one of the last great pre-Phylloxera vintages of the 20th century. This wine came from the cool and damp Port lodges of Oporto, “the cathedrals of wine.” This was a once in a lifetime chance to taste a piece of history, a most natural and organic fluid encased for 151 years in its integument of time. The year 1863 was significant in many respects, including being the birth year of Henry Ford and Franz Ferdinand. This is Port that creates the future and yet dwells on the past. The hue is both progressive and fathomless in subterranean fantasy. Its many shades of warm, advancing colours resemble the faux brown rings of Mars. The aromas are built around toffee and with accents of many mints; spearmint, chocolate and pepper. You can smell the 1863 from rooms and world’s away. It conjures up many songs. “When you’re half way from a dream, is it hard to work out what is real?” That is its love illumination. It has the strange advance “of killing time and dreams.” The flavours are extreme and exotic, with South-Asian spices highlighting its deep, late night humidity. The finish is endless. Is this brilliance or a stroke of incredible luck? It is certainly pristine and wondrous. It has to be considered a perfect wine, for its niche and genre, by its makers, David Guimaraens and Adrian Bridge. Having let the days of 151 years go by, this is not a wine to compare with others, it is not the same as it ever was. In the end, “you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?” Thanks to Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits.  Tasted August 2014  @TaylorsPortWine  @Smarent

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

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

Maine Lobsters

Maine Lobsters

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!

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