The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

The School of Cool at #i4c14, Brock University: Studying Chardonnay with Zoltan Szabo, Mike di Caro and Godello,

The School of Cool at #i4c14, Brock University: Studying Chardonnay with Zoltan Szabo, Mike di Caro and Godello, photo (c) Kaitlyn Little

Tell me, why Chardonnay? Who can explain the exultantly singular science behind the world’s most wontedly planted, easily recognizable and widely endorsed white grape variety? How can something that seems so commonplace consistently blow people’s minds and convince them to have a go, over the course of a weekend in venues scattered about the Niagara Peninsula, at more than 100 samples in 50 hours? Where else is it possible that the fruit of one vine can be the sole proprietor to lead such a fervent tailgate of amaurotic yearning? What is the meaning of this Chardonnay?

The quest begins in Burgundy, centre of the Chardonnay universe, home to the icons, built upon centuries of micro-plotting and the act of influencing patrons, friends and enemies. At this point in history, success out of French vineyards is a given, blatant and obvious. Chardonnay’s foray into the global diaspora and subsequent boon is yet another matter.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

The most recent Cool Chardonnay conference is the parochial focus of attention so for the sake of local argumentation, lets connect a line direct from Burgundy to Niagara. Peninsula winemakers (along with those from Prince Edward County and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley) draw inspiration and knowledge from the mother land. The fourth annual #i4c14 celebration in July is the stuff of Chardonnay dreams because of the cool visions of vignerons like Thomas Bachelder, Harald Thiel, Norman Hardie, Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble, Martin Malivoire, Ed Madronich, Bill Redelmeier, Doug and Karen Whitty and Moray Tawse. Not to mention the foresight of Niagara’s biggest players; Inniskillin Wines, Peller Estates (Trius), Stratus Vineyards, Chateau des Charmes, Vineland Estates and Cave Spring Cellars.

To give Chardonnay its due and to build a stage from which it can parade about, belting out its songs, there must first be assembled a team of passionate folks. In addition to the winemakers and winery proprietors there is an army of volunteers. Their contribution is immeasurable. This group is led by the #i4c14 concierge; Dorian Anderson, Trisha Molokach, Britnie Bazylewski, Elena Galey-Pride and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser. Thanks must always be given to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University, along with CCOVI director Debbie Inglis and Marketing and Communications Officer Kaitlyn Little. Event chair Del Rollo brings the A-game, as does Peter Bodnar-Rod, life giver to Everyman and every Chardonnay. The ambassadors of cool are lead by a team of sommeliers; Bruce Wallner M.S., Will Predhomme, Mark Coster, Serge Janjic, Emily Pearce, Sheila Flaherty, Lindsay Groves, Brett Fraser, Heather MacDougall, Bob Latham and Peter Lavoie.

The generosity of the event hosts come to praise Chardonnay. Wine Country Ontario, Brock University, The Grape Growers of Ontario, White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa, 13th Street Wines, Cave Spring Cellars, Tawse Winery, Flat Rock Cellars, Southbrook Vineyards, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, Peller Estates Winery, Malivoire Wine Company, Reif Estate Winery, Vineland Research & Innovation Centre and Ravine Vineyard. The LCBO and VINTAGES join the party, setting aside time and space at the same time to sell some cool Chardonnay.

The School of Cool,  Photo (c) Elena Galey-Pride — at Brock University.

The School of Cool,
Photo (c) Elena Galey-Pride — at Brock University.

The weekend begins on Friday, July 18th with #TheSchoolofCool at Brock University. Luminaries are flown in to speak on behalf of the great grape. Tim Atkin (MW), Christy Canterbury (MW), W. Blake Gray (wine journalist, cool climate advocate) along with eleven panelists (winemakers, growers and researchers) of cool climate viticulture and winemaking explore, debate, provoke and disseminate.

John Szabo opens the Chardonnay Camp 2014 at Brock Univeristy Photo: Michael Godel

John Szabo opens the Chardonnay Camp 2014 at Brock Univeristy
Photo: Michael Godel

Three interactive sessions feature this global panel of experts. Renowned Master Sommelier John Szabo is the chair and most in control moderator of the panels. Here at Chardonnay Camp he is talk show host, politically motivated comedian and all-knowing Yoda wrapped into one Renaissance man package. Szabo notes that “quality, at the top end has diversified, especially in Burgundy.” He then wants to know “who is an acid lover?” The answer to that question is the first clue towards an understanding of the meaning in (cool) Chardonnay. “Does anyone here regret planting any variety? No? Nobody? Everything works in Ontario.” The sportive tone succeeds in marking a first strike for the grape guest of honour. As does his notation that “the panel is chosen to speak on the zeitgeist topics of Chardonnay.” A walk-around tasting of all 117 bottles being poured at the 2014 event following the sessions helps to build early Friday momentum.

Cool Chardonnay Camp Photo: Michael Godel

Cool Chardonnay Camp
Photo: Michael Godel

Tim Atkin begins. “We are here to have fun.” The British journalist spends his time defending the oft maligned variety, insisting that “the target of Riesling lovers should not be Chardonnay. It should be Pinot Grigio.” Atkin reminds that Chardonnay is still the fastest growing white variety in the world but that “even worse things have befallen this noble grape variety. It’s a victim of its own ubiquity and adaptability.” What makes it so special then? “Chardonnay expresses place, as well as production, terroir as well as technique.”

Grower Matthias Oppenlaender: “I like growing Chardonnay. It adapts to the different soil conditions in the sites I own. But I like drinking it even more.” The panelists debate Techno vs. Tech-No. Atkin’s take? “Recreating balance is a bad practice. All these things (manipulations in the winery) are fine if they are done sensitively. Overripe plus water equals bad.” Jeremy Dineen of Josef Cromy Wines in Tasmania says “wine should taste from a place, but also from a time.” His idea of technology “is to try to make my life simple. It’s a hell of a lot easier to plant in the right spot.” On reverse osmosis: “Technically, yes. Ethically, no.”

The panel seems to think it interesting that consumers consider that wine should be a natural and non-manipulated product, but food can be handled and bastardized in unlimited ways and be called gastronomy. First of all…consumers…really? Wine geeks, more like it. Secondly, wines comes from one ingredient: Grapes. Well, three if you count yeast and sulphur. Food composition is contrived out of a plethora of ingredients. Manipulation and over-handling is the norm, not the exception. Wine should follow the exact opposite course.

Manipulations, according to former Henry of Pelham winemaker, now of Niagara College Ron Giesbrecht include sorting, spraying, osmosis, acidification, de-acidification, overripe diluting, wood chips, adding tannin…the list goes on. He admits that “some degree of finessing and correction is OK. Add sometimes, but not any time.” Shiraz Mottiar of Malivoire is a purist. “When it comes to techno, I like (the ideas) of Calvin Harris (anyone get that…?). Add as little as possible, that’s my position. It would be unjust to the consumer to create something awkward and unusual.”

Giesbrecht brings out base wines with the addition of “winemaking tricks.” One is lactic, lean, mean and filled with cheap acidity. Another is terpenic, gum leesy and full of rounder acids. A third is volatile, medicinal, sacchariferous. A fourth is done very lightly, yet thin. Oak chips, micro-barrels, gum Arabic, these are all tricks of the trade and they all lead to faults.

Session two discusses Yield and Context. Mattias Oppenlaender discusses the Ontario opportunity of growing grapes for the high end, quality market. “If I grow Pinot Noir at (only) two tons per acre, it’s pretty difficult to make it economically viable.” Dr. Jim Willwerth, CCOVI Brock University adds, “in Ontario it’s important to have low yields from late ripening varieties. Vine balance is the key.” Willwerth cautions against stereotyping the vine vigor quotient. “Lower yields to highest quality is not a direct linear relationship. We know it’s not the case.”

Yet Dimitri Bazas of Maison Champy in Burgundy concedes that zero yields is not the best. “You can make good Premier Cru wine with yields of 40-45 L/hl. Szabo then asks, “and you can taste the quality difference based on these number?” Bazas replies, “yes, yes I can your honour.” Matthew Lane of Peter Lehmann in Australia adds a trump card. “There’s an old vine factor that has to be considered when talking about yields.” Lane believes you can extract quality from fruit at higher yields. Like Willwerth, he believes in the ‘Sesame Street’ word of the day. “If you’ve got a warm year and vine health, you can get great balance.”

Christy Canterbury reminds that crop yields are relative from variety to variety. Chardonnay in general is low (two to three tons per acre) as compared to Pinot Grigio and Riesling. “Perfect. An MW position there,” chides Szabo. Canterbury leads the room through four Chardonnays of various yields.

Maison Champy Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011, Burgundy, France (377705, $215.00, WineAlign)

Opposites attract and this urges the fruit-wood compendium forward in a direct, unabashed way, followed by a sledgehammer clubbing of formidable acidity. The yield for this 12 barrel salute to upper echelon Burgundy is 30 hl/L. There are waves of richness that jab, poke and stamp their way into your Chardonnay heart. Pierces and injects by way of a hypodermic, splintered syringe filled with creamy, smoky oak. The balance is currently upended though there can be little doubt bottle age will calm the high extract and lead it to a calmer future.  Tasted July 2014

Maison Champy Pernand Vergelesses En Caradeux Premier Cru 2011, Burgundy, France (344143, $49.95, WineAlign)

The technical specs (sugar, acidity, PH, natural alcohol) on this PV are very similar to Champy’s Corton Charlemagne. The yield out of marl and limestone soil was 50 per cent (45 hl/L) higher and the fruit was picked seven to 10 days ahead of the CC. There exudes plenty of peeling citrus perfume in sunshine and some essential oil release, in wood, though it is by no means excessive. Very much citrus stoked, also reeking in green apple, forest glade, even more sunshine. Holds a tight, angular texture. Needs time to flesh and convert those phenols into gold. Most attractive is its subtlety and balance, from shoot to bottle. A Chardonnay very cool for school.  Tasted July 2014

Peter Lehmann H&V Eden Valley Chardonnay 2012, Eden Valley, Australia (agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

Surprisingly green, herbal and cool spirit driven Chardonnay. There’s a lime spark and texture woven by shavings of slate and chalk. Pure, ripe fruit, picked prudently early, means for a tang and a half, in all the right back of the mouth ways. The nervous energy component gives the wine a divine fit, “sends a permanent shiver down my spine.” Clean expression out of the Eden Valley and so well made.  Tasted July 2014

Trius Winery Showcase ‘Single Barrel’ Heubel Estate Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Though the soil for this rare and tiny production Chardonnay is sandy-loam, the mineral component is both pronounced and uncanny. A difficult vintage for the variety, wet, not so warm, noted by winemaker Craig McDonald, “we didn’t really get a summer.” He concedes that the wine was an experiment, “mainly out of curiosity, as a collaboration with the grower.” Like so many Niagara ‘experiments’ this Trius will teach and pave roads to a tart, direct, firm tartaric future. A wine that will act as a beacon for forward thinking ideas on thinning, canopy management and how the viticulturist must “dial into the frequency of what the vineyard is saying.”  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay panel with Ann Sperling, Sébastien Jacquey, Miguel Torres Maczassek and W. Blake Gray Photo: Michael Godel

Chardonnay panel with Ann Sperling, Sébastien Jacquey, Miguel Torres Maczassek and W. Blake Gray
Photo: Michael Godel

Session three, The Living Vine: The Viticultural Continuum begins with W. Blake Gray. “If I buy an Ontario Chardonnay that you say has protected the earth but it’s not (organically) certified, I don’t know what that means.” In the world according to Gray, talk is cheap. Harald Thiel believes organics and biodynamics are much more complicated, beyond certification. “What is the buffer between organic/biodynamic vineyards and conventional ones,” he asks. “In Burgundy the rows are one metre apart. One sprays next to another.” Livelihoods are affected, compromised and yet who is policing the offenses?

Miguel Torres Maczassek admits “my family is a bit divided on organic and biodynamic but I am a great defender of organic viticulture.” Torres agrees and expands on Thiel’s concerns. “Being organic today is not enough. Organic needs to make an evolution. The problems are not the same anymore.” Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne: “Organic, biodynamic, sustainable. It’s about making wine that expresses something. We all need to work together.” Then John introduces Ann Sperling of Southbrook and Sperling Vineyards. “Ann, let me guess where you stand.” It is no secret that Sperling is a Canadian leader in this hotly debated field. “Biodynamics is something that allows me to connect with the vineyards.” Enough said.

Christy Canterbury wants to know who pays for the cost of lab analysis for wines looking for an organic affidavit. “The producer,” insists Sperling. “The consumer,” think many in the room. Four more wines are poured.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign)

From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.  Tasted July 2014

Sperling Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (378570, $31, WineAlign)

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (366500, $50, WineAlign)

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.  From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.  Lat tasted July 2014

Miguel Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2011, Conca de Barbera, Spain

Milmanda was part of a route of medieval castles that gave shelter to Christians during the time of the Reconquest. This is the estate’s top varietal bottling, a warm honeybee of a Chardonnay. The toast is set on high, the malolactic pull in elastic heaven and the lemon/lime in curd form. From deep clay soil, this is the least cool of the lot and though harvested early (late August), the oak quotient steals the show.  Tasted July 2014

Barrels and Bonfires at 13th Street Winery, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Barrels and Bonfires at 13th Street Winery, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

On Friday night the host is 13th Street Winery for Barrels and Bonfires. The credo is this: “Join the twelve winemakers who congregated around that fated bonfire in 2009 as they celebrate their vision as its come to life five years later.” Many more than 12 pour their wines from barrel tops in the heat of a July evening while the band plays. Meanwhile in another part of 13th Street’s town, Peter Bodnar-Rod holds court with an impromptu blind tasting. I fail miserably. Thanks Peter.

Niagara's own PigOut Roasters, Image (c) Sherry Galey Photography

Niagara’s own PigOut Roasters, Image (c) Sherry Galey Photography

13th Street’s B & B party is a resounding success, complete with a pig roast by Niagara’s PigOut Roasters and a setting to combine casual, pastoral and The Hamptons, all in one stunning piece of real estate.

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

Chef Therese deGrace of Good Earth Food and Wine, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Chef Therese deGrace of Good Earth Food and Wine, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,  Photo: Michael Godel

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,
Photo: Michael Godel

On Saturday a group of winemakers convene at Camp Cave Spring for some Chardonnay and mobile Pizza oven fun. Kistler, Talley, Maycas Limari and Cave Spring also do the #i4c14 unthinkable. They pour something other than Chardonnay. Shocking! Pinot Noir and Riesling are on hand. What a refreshing, if fleeting change. Thanks is owed the Pennachetti families, winemaker Angelo Pavan, Rob Groh from The Vine and the culinary team at the Stratford Chef School.

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Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven Photo: Michael Godel

Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven
Photo: Michael Godel

Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA 

The Estate Pinot is composed of fruit from three vineyards, Rincon (50 per cent), Rosemary’s (47) and Las Ventanas (3), then fermented for 13 months in 20 per cent new French oak barrels. Typically, even quintessentially California Pinot Noir with a developed, nearly candied palate made more complex by the earth of the Arroyo Grande Valley. Very ripe black cherry, some tar and plenty of warm spice. The alcohol reads 14 per cent but it manages to reflect a cool image in the mirror. Refined if expected Pinot Noir.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, California (330274, $77.95, WineAlign)

In yet another outstanding vintage Kistler flaunts its Pinot acumen, leaving other RRV neighbours to mire in a sickly, sweet and dusty trail of cola, syrup and black ash. Kistler’s take is rooted in wisdom, in plenitude and also restraint. “We remove any berries that are overripe,” announces Geoff Labitzke. This ’12 is singing, pinging and binging in red cherry. Picked in the cool of the night with a big crew, the RRV Pinot is tart, tight, intense and pure. The finish leaves with a slightly tannic, chalky residue, yet one that will integrate with five plus years time.  Tasted July 2014

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 Year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Wines

Cave Spring Wines

On Saturday night the scene changes to the big show. Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is the host once again for the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Grand Tasting & Dinner. In civilized fashion, it launches with bubbles and oysters by Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company.

Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday’s menu featured the Vineyard Chefs: Adam Hynam-Smith of el gastrónomo vagabundo, Andrew McLeod, Jason Parsons of Peller Estates Winery, Justin Downes of Vineland Estates Winery, Ryan Crawford of Gastrohomestead, Paul Harber of Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery and Craig Youdale of The Canadian Food and Wine Institute. The selection of pies for dessert were from the 13th Bakery & Marketplace and Whitty Farms.

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

On Sunday, the Cool Chardonnay weekend wrapped up at Ravine Vineyards, with one last chance to taste a Chardonnay or 117, if for some reason there remained an elusive bottle.

keep the cool i4c love!, Photo (c) Sherry Galey Photography — at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.

keep the cool i4c love!, Photo (c) Sherry Galey Photography — at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.

Events at #i4C14 are made possible by Wine Country Ontario, LCBO, Grape Growers of Ontario, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, White Oaks Resort & Spa, Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Vines to Vintages Inc., Riedel Canada, Kerry Ingredients, Hope & Harder, A1 Label, The Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Richard Marazzi Design, Rempel Electric, cellar•tek, Lakeview Vineyard Equipment Inc., Winestains, Hunter Bottling, Special Event Rentals, Q water, De La Terre Kitchen, Dairy Farmers of Canada and Leslie Stowe Fine Foods.

The quantity of Chardonnays made available to taste through the course of the weekend was officially announced at 117. A number of them were wines that I have previously tasted and reviewed. Some I felt compelled to re-taste and update. For the sake of those I did not redo, I am including them here as contributing members of the Cool Chardonnay weekend and the links to their corresponding tasting notes, published at WineAlign.

13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay Johnson Vineyards 2012, Yamhill Carlton District

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Estate Bottled, VQA Niagara On The Lake

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012, VQA Prince Edward County

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula

Returning back to the original question, what is the true meaning of Chardonnay? It’s really quite simple. You’ve gotta be cool to be kind.

Stay tuned for tasting notes on 50 more #i4C14 Chardonnay. Coming soon.

 

Good to go!

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Telmo’s Spanish dream

An afternoon with winemaker Telmo Rodríguez and Lifford Wines

\'Pasero\' detail, Competa, Malaga, September 2007

“Pasero” detail, Competa, Malaga, September 2007; “In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.”
Photo: Telmo Rodríguez

as seen on canada.com

Telmo Rodríguez the company is a small wine producer fashioning meager quantities from more DOs (and DOCAs) than can fit into a 620 x 400 jpeg. Telmo Rodríguez the man finds himself at the 20th anniversary year crossroads in celebrating the outgrowth of his dream. This critical juncture requires travel, evangelism and conceit, qualities the laser-focused, frank and facund winemaker possesses in spades.

Telmo Rodríguez tasting at Archive Wine Bar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Telmo Rodríguez tasting at Archive Wine Bar

“We created a (not mass market) Spanish category of wines available at a good price,” says Rodríguez, “a human type of category.” Spain, according to the flying oenologist, is a passionate country with gastronomic clubs, where people cook and eat, to foster a crazy love of local ingredients. Within a 100 km radius around Basque country, “you have the best available products anywhere in Europe,” he boasts. But, he complains, wine has gone in the other direction. He laments the overuse of international grapes, monosyllabic styling and a disappearance of regional character. Wine as fast food.

Telmo Rodríguez sites

PHOTO: telmorodriguez.com
Telmo Rodríguez sites

Rodríguez did not want to make wine from international varieties or from recipes. He wanted to make wine from places and their landscapes. After studying in France (Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley) he returned, not wanting to make wine in France, not wanting to emulate France. So began the terroir journey, from Rioja to Galicia, from Ribera to Rueda.

“In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.” So he makes wines without the suffocating slings and arrows of outrageous, appellative fortune; no Crianza, no Reserva, no Gran Reserva. “No designations to help the bad producer,” he quips. Tell us how you really feel Telmo.

All the Rodríguez vineyards are organic, but this is something matter of fact, not a literature littered calling card. “We prefer to be known as a good producer. We don’t give too much importance on the winemaker, but more on the place, with respect and with respect for the land. We don’t move grapes from one place to the other.” This is the import of the most parochial of winemakers. Here are tasting notes on a selection of eight wines chosen from across the vast Spanish Telmo Rodríguez portfolio.

From left: Basa Blanco 2012, Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, and Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011

From left: Basa Blanco 2012, Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, and Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011

Basa Blanco 2012, Rueda, Spain (SAQ, 10264018, $15.95, B.C. 586016, $18.99, WineAlign)

Verdejo so often reached by walking the flat earth is here circumnavigating a more complex world. Smells a bit like Sauvignon Blanc and Telmo Rodríguez admits “it’s the only mistake I made in my life.” Commercial confessional though it leads the way around a round earth. Cool and full of tang with a heavy emphasis on herbiage and metallurgy. Enticing example full of instant gratification.  88  Tasted February 2014

Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, Do Valdeorras, Spain (SAQ, 11896113, $17.85, WineAlign)

From Valdeorras, “gold country,” here Godello exhales its perfume in waves of gaseous fumes, rushes, meadow wildflowers, lemon thyme and balm. Viscous and nearly chewy, with a slight oxidative note breathing over dry patina hard candy. Stainless steel imagining itself as green oak and Mediterranean salinity combine to give an aura of Galician warmth. Sea, sun, wood and mineral.  88  Tasted February 2014

Mountain Blanco 2012, Málaga, Spain ($25.95)

“I didn’t want to produce this wine because Malaga was all about sweet, related to the past, to the ancestors, to something very deep. It took 10 years to decide to make this wine.” Sun-baked, trenchant, scorched Muscat. Liquid adobe cake from the brown slate soils, between 600 and 900 metres. Antique of a dry white, tinny, sharp, caramelizing, like the crust on a pork loin. Lengthy mountain jam makes you want to eat a peach. Reminiscent of Auxerrois, though certainly more southerly, Moorish even. Pure sec, 100 per cent Muscatel.  87  Tasted February 2014

Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011, Do Valdeorras, Spain (SAQ, 11861771, $18.00, WineAlign)

The most Atlantic-influenced wine of the tasting, this fluid, medium-rare red. Rodriguez’ base and necessary expression for the “the freshness of Galicia.” Shares an aromatic commonality with Cabernet Franc though its gait is more Northern Rhône Syrah. Anti-serious, easy wine, existing as “a link to the past.” Like going back in time to Valdeorras’ past, into a beautiful home with all its contents having sat untouched and unharmed for 100 years. Fermented in tank so though it may be unprocessed it has that underlay of mineral and grit. Nothing oxy, flashy or large-scale about it. To have wide but not mass appeal. Beneficial length. Increases in approachability as it lays in glass. A taste of chewing crushed granite and plump plum. Honest and humble Mencía.  89  Tasted February 2014

From left: M2 Matallana 2010, Lanzaga 2008, and Altos de Lanzaga 2004

From left: M2 Matallana 2010, Lanzaga 2008, and Altos de Lanzaga 2004

M2 Matallana 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($42.95, WineAlign)

M2 is 100 per cent Tinto Fino 14 months, aged half in new, half in second use barrels. A Tempranillo of dialect specific to place, just as Pinot would be in Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée or Volnay. Telmo not necessarily making Tempranillo, but rather Rodriguez making Ribera, or more specifically, a Tinto Fino gathering from Los Guijarros, Los Hundidos, Carrahoyales, Los Apriscales and La Pirileja. Blatant are the chalk and mineral intertwines, in marbled goodness. Makes quicker work than the Riojas, sheds its skin, peels away its oak and lets the fruit, soil and rock come forth.  92  Tasted February 2014

Lanzaga 2008, Rioja, Spain (SAQ, 11157151, $28.50, WineAlign)

Tempranillo with Graciano and Garnacha. From Rioja Alavesa, vines water-stressed to survive on shallow soil, digging in to Miocene sandstone strata. Begs for protein and development from an unforgiving, stony, calcareous and silty textured land. Fermented in large cement casks, allowing the fruit, which is nearly unparalleled for Rioja, to shine in all its ripe glory. A wind of perfume, a mistral espléndido. Finishes with chalk and ropy grain. Immense length.  92  Tasted February 2014

Altos de Lanzaga 2010, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)

Composed of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha, 3,000 bottles are made of this ‘Grand Cru’ of Lanzaga. Rodríguez here wants to “try to go as far as possible in the quality of the wine,” a notion that begins and ends with place. “There has to be a rare, exceptional vineyard or it does not make sense to produce a wine like this.” Fermented and aged in the old cellar, in large Foudres, for two years, “to bring back what once was, a long time ago,” with indigenous (wild) yeasts found in that cellar. Here Telmo reinventing the past, the old Rioja, hinting at something exceptional. There is an elevated sweetness that fades into flowers. Rodríguez feels that Rioja must have been a wine made with many different varieties, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Thus the use of the three grapes. Layer upon layer, thin transparent sheets that become one.  93  Tasted February 2014

Altos de Lanzaga 2004, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)

From 65-80 year old vines, 10 years on showing barely discernible age. This wine was an early step in developing the “field blend” dream, of combining several Riojan varieties, “to present the taste, idea and feel of what Rioja used to be.” This wine chases down Telmo’s dream of being a present day, sophisticated winemaker set in an 18th century vintners mind. Altos sets the bar high, in trying to make an exceptional wine, which they would not have been doing then. First and foremost, does this prove or disprove his theory that wine should never be masked by oak?  94  Tasted February 2014

Good to go!

Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Wine tasting

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

as seen on canada.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

Three-chord wines, hold the rants

Wine on the rocks

Here are six rock ‘n’ roll wines, in four-four time, ready and willing to ease your mind.
Photo: Pavel Drozda/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The world’s most famous wine critic is not happy. His claim of “wannabe” scribes hell-bent to focus on obscure wines most consumers can never find has raised a maelstrom of retort. Robert Parker published a diatribe last month about “a vociferous minority” of “euro-elitists” vying for journalistic market share “perpetrating nothing short of absolute sham on wine consumers.”

Them’s fightin’ words. No, not that rant by Robert Parker about Robert Griffin III. Wine critic Robert Parker Jr. railed against a bevy of unnamed bloggers on the natural, honest and low-alcohol wine supporting bandwagon. His claim? Natural wines will be exposed as fraud. Parker’s would-be assailants are an outspoken generation who would seek to bring down those classic grapes capable of ripe extraction and elevated levels of sugar and alcohol, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The intensity-loving reviewer has positioned himself as the establishment, a victim agonizing over the sanctification of “godforsaken grapes,” like Blaufränkisch and Trousseau.

Alder Yarrow of Vinography took exception and proposed a cage match. His column: Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation. Rebecca Gibb’s take: Should Robert Parker Have Listened to Disraeli? Jamie Goode put in his ever-wry two cents: Novelty at the expense of quality? This after Jancis Robinson chimed in with Bottle fight: Novelty v classic wines. Talia Baiocchi had this to say: The Robert Parker Tirade, Continued. Eric Asimov brought it down to a New York state of mind with Why Can’t You Find That Wine? Meanwhile, Steve Heimoff took the other side: There are some kinds of blogs we just don’t need.

There isn’t a writer in the bunch I wouldn’t read, can’t learn from or don’t find funny, but the need to chime in on what is obvious and already understood leaves me dumbfounded. In wine, as in life, there are some things that just are what they are, like them or not. Mr. Parker, you carved your niche. Those who lay with you ate cake. The model worked. It held water and was extremely successful for a long time. You are this week’s Napa Wine Writers Symposium keynote speaker, where you will feel the love. No one will ask, what have you done for me lately? You created the establishment and are of course trying to protect the status quo. You’ve been ridiculously prolific. Integral to the high-frequency, high-end wine buyer. And you are just a writer. Really. So what if the dogs are seeing signs of Queegish dotage. You named no names in your rant, so who exactly did you mean to insult? The world is your oyster. What’s with the bitching?

Perhaps Parker touched an insecure spot, the one where self-doubt creeps in. The one that drives writers to defend themselves, even if the attack is not a personal one. The need to tear him down is strange at best. It smells of poli-campaign slander. If he’s no longer relevant, as a vehement bunch seem to scream and shout, why bother? Why is the wine writing community one where sides desperately need to be taken? To both sides I caution the high road. Let writers write and if you think they are wrong or have nothing to say, ignore them. Like a tree falling in the forest, is an unread writer ever really heard?

It’s understood that controversy sells and lively discourse is healthy. In this case it has produced more than a novella of interesting reads. The current generation of critics, bloggers and reviewers is replete with some stupidly smart writers who have chosen wine as their raison d’écrire. That they chime in and offer their take on everything from varietal obsessions to tasting bans and producer/journalist relationships is certainly fascinating. Arguing the merits of varietal worthiness is fine. Discussing the pros and cons of esoteric versus classic wines on restaurant cards is relevant. Throwing sticks onto the ice, choosing teams and starting fights simultaneous to the debate loses sight of the original topic. I am not suggesting a wine writer’s love in but would more levity and space not foster an environment where the wines themselves matter more than the people who talk about them?

Tasting, talking about and writing up wines seems the course to stay, whether it be reviews on varieties never heard of or an obnoxiously fat glass of buttery Chardonnay. Richard Auffrey fights the good fight but still takes a stab at the beast. The always dry W. Blake Gray floats on in his singular, ethereal way, and by doing so, gets it right. He wants you to know I’ll have some Roussillon, hold the Rivesaltes. With Tuba and Alto Sax. Perhaps Gray would agree with me. If I need a dose of scathing criticism or irony I’ll turn on Bill Maher, or put on a Bill Hicks Rant in E-Minor.

Music and wine can work magic when paired together. Jamie Goode has been exploring the possibilities. Sometimes it’s just a matter of breaking wine down to the base, choosing grapes from places where they are made in straightforward and simply powerful ways. Likewise, clicking an uncomplicated, three-chord arrangement on YouTube or the I-pod can really change the outlook of a day. Here are six rock ‘n’ roll wines, in four-four time, ready and willing to ease your mind.

Clockwise from left: Alamos Torrontés 2013, Lar De Paula Crianza Tempranillo 2008, Sophora Sparkling Cuvée, Grant Burge 5th Generation Shiraz 2012, Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010, and Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008

Clockwise from left: Alamos Torrontés 2013, Lar De Paula Crianza Tempranillo 2008, Sophora Sparkling Cuvée, Grant Burge 5th Generation Shiraz 2012, Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010, and Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008

Alamos Torrontés 2013, Salta, Argentina (81539, $13.95, WineAlign)

From Salta in north west Argentina, what is so appealing about this well-priced bottling is the salinity and outright humidity it always displays. Torrontés gives so much away aromatically, by way of flowers and the verdigris of mountain ferns. This Catena entry-level wine achieves all of the above and for a song. This Alamos is medicinal, reeks of orchids sweating in a greenhouse and teases with white pepper. It’s short and quick but efficient. Excellent value.  88  Tasted January 2014  @CatenaMalbec  @MalbecLife

Lar De Paula Crianza Tempranillo 2008, Rioja, Spain (358770, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Entry-level Rioja was nothing but a house party. Was surely rocking a year ago but now a fading, dry cake of rusticity, with the slightest hydration of charred sour cherry. Solid Crianza, though short-lived, with some bitter notes and good acidity in tight corners. Where once it “said move it, groove it,” now it laments “baby, don’t you lose it.”  87  Tasted February 2014  @HHDImports_Wine

Sophora Sparkling Cuvée, New Zealand (353656, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Frothy, gregarious sparkler from New Zealand with extraordinarily large bubbles, a soft downy texture and a cottony nose. Gentle spice, sweet easy bake brioche and juicy grapefruit is inviting, if advanced by mechanical means. Mellow, smooth, pure and clean with no obvious toast, soap or bitters. Well-priced, drink now fizz.  89  Tasted February 2014  @Select_Wines

Grant Burge 5th Generation Shiraz 2012, Barossa, South Australia, Australia (Agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

High powered, ocean size aromas here, expressing the power and pomp inflection of the Barossan attitude. Very berry and not alcohol shy though it’s a gathered heat and nothing shocking. Swirl this wave of big juice for long enough and though it will feel “like a tooth aching a jawbone,” it’s fleeting and releases to a softer finish. Still, a Shiraz more John than Jane.  88  Tasted January 2014  @GrantBurgeWines  @TrialtoON

Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010, Barossa, South Australia, Australia (922773, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Surreal, impossibly dense and terrifically complex Barossa Shiraz, full of dark fruit blues and hard-rocking rhythms. Metallic zinc tincture, causing heavy breathing, steaming like a locomotive with “no way to slow down.” Steals words and all sensitivity from teeth and gums. Such a big expression but certainly not one of the all-time one-dimensional losers. So much more than jammy fruit. To put aside and revisit in 20 years.  91  Tasted February 2014  @pontewine

Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008, Piedmont, Italy (596890, $49.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Pure Nebbiolo currency, bankable Barolo. This ’08 confirms the old-school austerity of the Colla caste and genre. Parlous handsome perfume, stark, raving Barolo, exact and definitive in angular tannin. Racy, deep and unctuous, nowhere even close to settled or responsive.  There is a lurking depth of flavour not yet willing to cooperate. My kingdom for your Bussia graces.  92  Tasted February 2014  @glencairnwines

Good to go!

Big houses, bigger wines, big-ish prices

Canadian money

The earnest call across the country to free my grapes continues though regrettably, stiff resistance stifles the cause.
Photo: ulga/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

If you live in Canada, purchasing wine ties you directly to a monopoly. There are exceptions, though still imperfect ones, like the free market culture of Alberta and the developing tiered system in British Columbia. The earnest call across the country to free my grapes continues though regrettably, stiff resistance stifles the cause.

Manitoba and BC allow direct to consumer inter-provincial wine imports. Consumers can order from out of province and receive direct shipments so long as the wine  is 100 per cent Canadian. Nova Scotia has passed enabling legislation that will follow a similar path. If you reside in Quebec or a fortiori, in Ontario, having wine shipped to you remains taboo. The alternate recourse of consignment wines available for purchase through local importers is an irregular option and having to buy by the case designs no compass of mass appeal.

Spend even a fraction of the time I do in trying to seek out the best values, at the best prices and in the categories that cater specifically to personal tastes and you will understand how difficult it is to be satiated in such a constricting climate. I am not the only one seeking out red wines made in the vineyard, through minimalist oak intervention, unhindered by residual sugar, produced by passionate and honest winemakers who are vigilant with the softest of hands.

Who does not want their wine to have mass in it, as in life? Who would reject an elixir drawn from iron-rich earth, boiled through limestone and warmed to a rosy madder? Who can deny the pure joy culled from a wine that might steal the words from the mouths of poets?

In Canada, unearthing such gems requires intestinal fortitude, especially considering the search is mapped out in government-controlled stores. Stock norms do not include wines made from lesser-known grapes, from regions and appellations less frequented. It takes time, effort and most of all, patience. Life can get in the way of the endless and unavailing chase; work that pays, kids, weather, fatigue. Sometimes it just makes sense to abide and even embrace the easier, well-worn path. This is where the bigger wineries step in, toting larger case loads and a middle-of-the-road, radio bathos experience.

There are varietal vicissitudes to ferret out from varieties you might have chosen to avoid. New World Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Zinfandel. Rhône blends. Sangiovese blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo. All these grapes are often mistreated, modernized, smothered in oak and homogenized so that their indigenous origins are blurred into a bar of mass-produced chocolate. Occasionally they are done right by their makers.

In what has been such relentless cold, snow and ice, now into the oppressive dog days of winter, don’t think of drinking commercial wine as copping out. The big houses can be your friend, so loosen up and trust me when I tell you I’ve worked very hard to weed out the chaff and promise only to recommend the whole wheat. Here are seven current releases that made the pecuniary cut.

From left: Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Clos Du Val Zinfandel 2011, and Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011

From left: Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Clos Du Val Zinfandel 2011, and Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia (545012, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Here’s a juicy plum wine with noticeable warm alcohol that goes subterranean and won’t make you homesick for alien Pinot Noir. Athletic red with a quick first step and nerve, running a west coast offence, scoring points.  Char in licorice and a grid-iron, “uptight, uptight” bitter tendency but is a most saucy rendition. Extra point from clean, easy sweet tannins. Good length. Pinot on the radio. Really attractive price puts it at the head of its class.  90  Tasted February 2014  @MissionHillWine

Clos Du Val Zinfandel 2011, Napa Valley California, USA (590216, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Every so often a grape variety confounds and astounds, like this pretty in zinc Zinfandel. Almost mute as far as Zin goes, this CdV ”set out on the heels of the unknown.” Times like these normally produce lumbering, high-octane interpretations but this radical face is the Simon and Garfunkel of the variety. Singing with soft harmonies and composed as if by a deft balladeer. Flair comes from Spanish-like modernity – a good thing for Zin. Less bramble, more Ribera. Less reduction, more Montsant. Smooth as silk, reeking in vanilla, raspberry and symptomatic by a kiss of mineral. If but for one hollow mid-verse this would truly sing but that really is no big thing.  90  Tasted February 2014  @ClosDuValNapa

Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley, California, USA (310409, $25.95, WineAlign)

One of the more quintessential, mid-range, rich and opulent Napa Chardonnays that steps out of the lobster butter dish in 2011. Apple-tinged terpenes show their presence, along with tarragon and a bag of just opened good and plenty. Piquant, poignant vintage, peppery and acting cooler than I ever remember it to be. Whether by chance or by choice, this is a welcome direction though I doubt its kind will soon be seen again.  89  Tasted January 2014  @RobertMondavi

From left: Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Wairau River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvédre 2011, and Beronia Viñas Viejas 2010

From left: Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Wairau River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvédre 2011, and Beronia Viñas Viejas 2010

Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Igt Rubicone Emilia-Romagna, Italy (225086, $29.95)

Decidedly modern in many ways; oak impart, varietal alliance and braggadocio. The nose speaks highly of unsettled alcohol and alchemy. Big on black cherry and earthy with a welcoming and necessary roasted rare and still kicking game component. The mellow support of Cabernet Sauvignon is kicked upside the head by full throttle, oak-laden Sangiovese. Though hot and bothered, there is a keen sense of acumen on display by the Emilia-Romagna team at Umberto Cesari.  89   Tasted January 2014  @UmbertoCesari

Wairau River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand (361253, $29.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Wonderful value in premium Marlborough Pinot Noir. Alluring sylvan aromatics, in a potpourri of violet, rose, plum and strawberry. Sharp, cranberry-pomegranate-cherry fruit flavours, the grain of red fife, and eye-popping acidity. An earthy terroirist, layered and delicious. Warm but not alcohol driven, touched by oak but not shaken and with just one coat of paint.  91  Tasted February 2014  @wairauriver

Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvédre 2011, Barossa, South Australia (Agent, 236257, $29.95, WineAlign)

The right Rhône immediacy of the 2011 Barossa vintage gets its hooks right in. Snapping with a direct blow uppercut to the jaw, this Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvédre blend goes right for the jugular with passion, not sugar. It’s a tricky mix, angular yet smooth, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Terrific charred, meaty flavours mixed with juniper and black raspberry, savoury spice and a chain of tannic length. Will age with metronome precision over a period of 10-15 years.  91  Tasted January 2014  @GrantBurgeWines

Beronia Viñas Viejas 2010, Rioja, Spain  (Agent, $30.00, WineAlign)

This 100% Tempranillo is Beronia’s enigma. Sourced from 40-plus year-old vines and housed for 14 months in new French oak. The Van Morrison bottling, if you will. Forget thoughts of a gnarly, tar and brambly red. This one is compliant and inviting. Cherry cheesecake gives it a dessert-like funk, with a baking spice and savoury plum pudding chaser. Vanilla is the unifying factor, the glaze, the icing on the cake, thanks to those new barrels. “You say “France” and I’ll whistle.” This is a pleasure to taste and ready for consumption.  90  Tasted January 2014  @BodegasBeronia

Good to go!

Gripping wines from Spain and Italy

Europe

How can winemaking trump terroir?
Photo: 1xpert/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Winemakers in the most famous regions of Spain and Italy have gone pro in the practicum of wine that speaks loud and clear. If there is a downside it is the blurring of lines and overlapping of circles, where regions set far apart show similar, if near identical characteristics in their wines. How does this happen? How can winemaking trump terroir?

The simple answer is wood. Barrel usage is a global affair, with wineries scouring oak forests the world over to age their wine. French oak is most used and whether you make wine in central Italy or northern Spain, the oak you employ may result in more than just the commonality of wood. If your processes are tied by similar or even identical ties, your wines may taste eerily like one another, if not outright like kissing cousins.

Despite the oligopoly of technique and the lack of winemaking individuality gone viral in this generation, there are three things that continue to work in favour of regional character. The first is obvious. Soil. Or, more importantly, the components, the rocks and minerals that fleck the earth. Secondly, attitude. Call it conceit if you like but when a winemaker has the guts to make wines we like to call grippy, you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Third and so important to the consumer, is price. Spending $15-30 on wines from the most historic locales such as Burgundy and Bordeaux is almost always nonsensical and a waste. No where else in the world offers grip, pomp and pride like Spain and Italy and in that go to mid-price range.

A pentavalent and benevolent group fits this requiem for commercial gain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain. Chianti and Abruzzo in Italy. A Venn diagram of commonality can be agglomerated from their proclivities. It is in these fab five Old World wine regions where a twain of ancient and state of the art collide. Here are seven gripping wines from Spain and Italy.

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

Ribera Del Duero

The history: Located in north-central Spain, on a plateau, 90 minutes from Madrid. Ribera, or “river bank,” extends from both sides of the Duero. The Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero dates back to 1982.

The lowdown: Highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes. Summers are hot, winters are cold, rainfall is minimal. Lower vineyards are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. Higher ones built of limestone, marl and chalk. Tempranillo in the main grape. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

CEPA 21 HITO 2010, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (360503, $17.95, WineAlign)

Oh the shaken, modern humanity. Nothing shocking here, this 100 per cent Tempranillo parfait of silky chocolate, mixed berries, vanilla and wood chips. Finds parity in biting red cherry flavour. Though it may as well be any ambiguous, heterogeneous or hermaphroditic $30 IGT, its price puts it at the front of the line. Fun to drink, high-toned, textured and structured, though its origins are not at once obvious. Will evolve felicitously for five to seven years.  89  Tasted December 2013  @DrinkRibera

ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (355099, $21.95, WineAlign)

Amid a sea of Spanish reds, this Ribera stands alone as the most modern on the table. Dusty, trenchant dark chocolate, mocha crema, thick, syrupy, rehydrated plum fruit. Accented by both white and black pepper, anise and a late lash of astringent tannin. Abrasive as a pleading Waits croon, this Crianza is “better than a cup of gold. See only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy my soul.” Another Ribera with qualities akin to present day, Sangiovese dominated Chianti Classico. Immaculate confection.  89  Tasted December 2013  @EuroVinatage

RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain  (355107, $31.95, WineAlign)

Typically modern version with just the right amount of age. Interesting to see nearly 10 year-old Ribera, with so much obvious oak and modernity retain its fruit lushness and presence after such a chunk of time could have stripped away its freshness. Candied violets and pansy, peppery nasturtium and marble slab, rocky road ice cream. Oak nearly integrated but persistent in chalky texture. Confounding bareback ride on a wild 100 per cent Tempranillo horse that bucks as if Bordeaux or Rhône varieties would seem to bolster the whole.  90  Tasted December 2013

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

Abruzzo

The history: Central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea.

The lowdown: Mostly mountainous and wild terrain. The four DOC produced in Abruzzo are the Contro Guerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Montepulciano is the most planted red variety. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2009 and 2010.

CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, Abruzzo, Italy (663939, $17.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker superstar to be Francesco Cirelli does what more should do. Age organic grapes of purity and pristine quality in clay Amphore. The natural empathy and wisdom of crop rotation (for more than just grapevines) drives the logic and proportion of Cirelli’s wines. This Md’A smirks and balks at thoughts of it as entry-level, though it concedes to the moniker ’poster child’. From 15 year-old vines set in sandy clay soils near Atri in the Colline Teramane zone. The fruit is like raspberry felt, lifted, spritely, gregarious and inviting. The wine never plunges into bitterness, nor does it depend on any crutch to remain upright and weightless.  90  Tasted September 2013 and January 2014  @TheLivingVine

Chianti

The history: In central Tuscany. The two Chianti zones, Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.

The lowdown: Chainti Classico must have a minimum 80 per cent Sangiovese, the main variety of the region. Other indigenous grapes include Canaiolo and Colorino, bur Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also used. Soils vary from marl of layered sandstone, to chalk and clay, blue-grey sandstone and clay-limestone. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2007 and 2011.

CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (680496, $22.95, WineAlign)

Heather meadow Sangiovese, emotive of old school Chianti Classico aromas, notably tea, new leather and sour cherry. Texturally succulent and lush, like mini-modern Sangiovese Grosso. Nearly syrupy and 90′s-styled by a heavy-handed, wood-soaked guilty conscience. The kind of CC to “waste away the weekend with perfect regard for how cavalier we used to be.”  89  Tasted December 2013  @ChiantiClassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Priorat

The history: In Catalunya, northeast Spain. The most recent regulations of the DOQ were defined in 2006.

The lowdown: Dominated by hillside vineyards with poor soils, the dark slate called Licorella and low-fielding old vines. Garnacha and Carinena are the most planted, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, Priorat, Spain, (314559, $24.95, WineAlign)

Clearly contemporary, voluptuous Garnacha blend, in symmetry with foil Carinena, In support are small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), Merlot (five) and Syrah (five). Chalk, grain and chocolate intensity, scents of dusty mulberry, menthol tobacco, eucalyptus and licorice. Works its international styling to great effect, if a bit heavy, woody and hollow up the middle. Lags just behind the stellar 2008 and yet this ’09 will have many a follower. Just a bit more structure would make it a prize.  89  Tasted December 2013

Rioja

The history: In northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (DOCA), established in 1926.

The lowdown: Confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with soils ranging from chalky-clay, to ferrous-clay and alluvial. Tempranillo is the most planted (red) grape. Finest recent vintages include 2005, 2005, 2010 and 2011.

ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004, Rioja, Spain (725895, $25.95, WineAlign)

The animal that is an ’04 Rioja Reserva is a VINTAGES darling. Here is yet another example in a long line-up spread out over several months of releases. 2004 palate fatigue should certainly have set in but for this youthful yet learned Ontañón. The dichotomy is not lost with much wood to be nosed though it’s neither abstruse nor resinous. More like a smoking cedar plank beneath the rendering weight of a slow-roasting porcine slab. Tangy cherry, sour plum and really stretched length. Mineral finish. Brillo Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano.  91  Tasted December 2013  @TandemSelection

Good to go!

Feeling under the weather? Drink wine

Wine is your friend.

Wine is your friend.
Photo: chiyacat/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

A year ago today the lead to my January 15th, 2013 column spoke succinctly to the mantra. “A glass or two of wine might just be the thing to help ward off the common cold and the flu.” In that rant some substantiating evidence was laid out in support of drinking wine (in moderation) to help fight off the nasty bugs of winter. A year on my conviction does not waver. Wine can help cure what ails. A wine prescription for cold and flu has been a curiosity read for many over the past 365 days. Ridiculousness? Perhaps. Personal hermeneutic? Yup. Something to consider? Definitely. Words to live by? You be the judge.

In that article I talked about wine’s antioxidant properties (called flavonoids) and compounds that attack bacteria, like resveratrol and polyphenols. All in the name of trying to immunize the body against hundreds of common viruses. What I failed to discuss was the positive mental health of a lifestyle that includes wine. Wine drinkers, at least the ones I spend time with here in Ontario, are happy people. Friendly folk, community-driven, supportive, neighbourly. Wine brings everyone together. It’s really something to see and be a part of.

In Argentina, Bodega Norton has forged and maintained some of the longest contracts with growers in comparison to anywhere in the vinous world. Vines, mountains, rivers, roots and the hands of workers are all treated with respect, professionalism, honesty and commitment. Norton’s wines are accessible and affordable, including the flagship Privada, described by winemaker Jorge Riccitelli with the fanciful comment “you can feel the grapes inside your mouth.” I sat down with Mr. Riccitelli on Monday, November 11th, 2013 at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Toronto. The hour with Mr. Riccitelli sent me away with one profound thought. When you take care of your people, your team and the tonic you produce, health and happiness are not far behind. The tasting with Jorge was the stuff of pure joy. A visit to Norton must surely follow.

Michael Godel and Jorge Riccitelli

Michael Godel and Jorge Riccitelli

A recent mini spat slash argument in Toronto Life on the subject of 0rganic and biodynamic wines helps to push the point. In response to an inflammatory comment noting the ”pseudo-scientific claptrap of biodynamic agriculture” the cosmogonal-minded Bench Vigneron Harald Thiel retorted, “the primary difference between organic and biodynamic production practices is the “cosmic and stellar” forces that biodynamic producers believe differentiate their wines.” To each his own says Thiel. I’m quite certain that Harald would concur that drinking wine can help bolster the immune system but going the natural route, in theory, will boost defences multi-fold.

Some take it to the extreme like Alain and Philippe Viret, winemakers who go beyond being organic and even biodynamic. They practice cosmoculture. Their vineyard is studded with menhirs and ‘planetary beacons’ in order to connect with celestial and earthly energies. It embraces Maya and Inca agricultural and spiritual concepts.

Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle is a flying ambassador who believes in the credo. At an October Trialto Group lunch at Luma Restauarant, the eerie connection between the restaurant group’s acronym and the act of natural winemaking was not lost on me.  The devastation of Chile’s black frosts were being discussed and the magnificent Ms. Lapostolle-Marnier pushed the sapient necessity of O & B practices to a group of diners/tasters. “Being organic and biodynamic, the vines are heartier, able to handle the frost’s potential damage, budding time and produce healthy vines.” Casa Lapostolle also has scientific data to prove that organic and biodynamic vines mature 10 days ahead of the others.

Trialto Lunch at O & B's Luma Restaurant

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Trialto Lunch at O & B’s Luma Restaurant

No one works harder or believes in the O & B philosophy to achieve wine nirvana more than Paul Pender of Tawse Winery. Everything Mr. Pender makes comes from fully certified and sustainable vineyards. I tasted through 25 barrels with Paul last Friday. His 2013 Chardonnays will be amongst the best we have ever seen on the Niagara Peninsula. The group of 2012 Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are all showing lush, deeply resonant aromatics, all pies of one fruit or another and with minimal oak intrusion. More pudding proof will come from the most recent tightly planted Pinot Noir, in the Tintern Road Vineyard from the Vinemount Ridge appellation. At only three years of age, the juice from those healthy vines already emit an aura of verve, wisdom and viability.

Not all of the wines reviewed here come from O & B vineyards but each and every one can contribute to your mental and physical health. Wine is your friend. When approached, integrated and embraced in the right way it can help to promote a healthy lifestyle. The defence rests.

From left: NORTON RESERVA MALBEC 2010, CENTUNO NERO D'AVOLA 2010, LA CARTUJA TINTO 2012, LAPOSTOLLE CUVÉE ALEXANDRE APALTA VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011, and TAWSE GROWER'S BLEND CABERNET FRANC 2011

From left: NORTON RESERVA MALBEC 2010, CENTUNO NERO D’AVOLA 2010, LA CARTUJA TINTO 2012, LAPOSTOLLE CUVÉE ALEXANDRE APALTA VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011, and TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND CABERNET FRANC 2011

NORTON RESERVA MALBEC 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (17061, $17.95, WineAlign)

As Malbecs come and go, group themselves into dime a dozen pigeon holes and fall from serious wine grace, this stalwart stays the course. Norton’s Reserva bottling has a proven track record for consistency. My most recent ’02′s spoke of strength, longevity and balance. In 2010, true to form, violets lead the arrangement of multi-floral scents and a kinder, gentler, sweeter set of tannins promote connectivity. Restrained and calm, this Norton forgoes the jams and jellies of other moderately-priced Malbecs and carries with it a smooth, long finish.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BodegaNorton

CENTUNO NERO D’AVOLA 2010, Sicily, Italy (357103, $17.95, WineAlign)

Though not exactly a chick magnet or my Sicilian dream, this Nero D’Avola is chock full of animal magnetism. It reeks of four-legged musk, circus mammal and deep-sea predator. Despite the oppressive mob of animale there is also lush berry to attract more than just the curious imbiber. A dense fruit roll up, unfurling, spewing earth, prune and coal. Will petition the non-sectarian toper.  88  Tasted December 2013  @Eurovintage

LA CARTUJA TINTO 2012, Priorat, Spain  (358861, $18.95, WineAlign)

This symbiotic blend of 70 per cent Garnacha and 30 Carinena rolls out the red carpet straight from the heart, not unlike Terrabianca’s 70/30 Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon Tuscan Campaccio. Only here the value is palpable, especially for Priorat. Fueled by blazing red cherry and plum. Vivacity with bright fruit seeped in acidity but also a coated note, though not of over-oak, that paints the tongue red. A rumbling layer of licorella slate lies atop eruptive rock and beneath a rolling thunder of boulders. This is high-octane Spanish winemaking, a red velvet car that doesn’t “even touch the break.”  89  Tasted December 2013

LAPOSTOLLE CUVÉE ALEXANDRE APALTA VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile (947929, $24.95, WineAlign)

“We don’t want too ripe, jammy or confiture,” pleads Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle. While this Super-Chilean is certainly full-bodied, it remains a finessed red and silky in every way. Leans IGT, as opposed to Bordeaux or warmer climate (California). Stupidly easy to drink, built for resto luxuriousness and really is a terrific value. A choir of dark fruit aromatics, sung like songs by the birds of the vineyard and a late sensation of charcoal and char are expressed in this Cabernet of fashion and caste.  90  Tasted twice in August and October 2013  @LapostolleWine

TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND CABERNET FRANC 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (284570, $26.95, WineAlign)

From selected prime Cabernet Franc vineyard sites across the headland, the Grower’s Blend reaches near maximum potential in 2011. An immediate sense that “leaves are falling all around” in a composted layering of earth, cedar, savoury produce and sweet herbiage. A tart tincture spikes and sauces the fruit, straight from the “darkest depths of Mordor.” Winemaker Paul Pender’s perfume permeates the mess, lifting the CF to great Niagara heights. Ramble on Grower’s Blend.  90  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender  Tasted October 2013

Good to go!