Value the first wine of spring

Lake yet frozen, March 18, 2015

Lake not yet defrosted, March 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related – I shall be Riesling

Related – March 21 big guns

20150317_151442

Almost spring out on the lake

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

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013

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

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

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

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

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

 

Boutari Grande Reserve 2008

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

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

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013

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

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

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux

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

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

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

Last tasted March 2015

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012

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

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

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011

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

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

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

Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin  @Bachelder_wines

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

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

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

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Italian wines of the week

Wines of the week

Wines of the week

Fear not dear reader. This is not a top ten list or a call to promote the best of the worst. It is not, most thankfully, a post on what wines are being released at the LCBO through VINTAGES. No, a one or two-day break is being granted, mercifully, to explore some wines over at the SAQ in Quebec and others available, by the case, in consignment by way of Ontario agents.

WineAlign is ever so surely becoming the tasting office of choice. It offers the opportunity to explore that critic’s dream realm of “so many wines and so little time.” The home office checks in a close second, with samples ready and carefully kept under temperature control.  I tasted and scribbled with much verve last week and over the weekend. There will be more to follow, but for now, the Italian notes.

 

Torraccia Di Presura Leneo 2013, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

Leneo is 100 per cent Sangiovese, half of which is matured in small oak French barrels for approximately six months. From vineyards near Greve in Chianti, this is the epitome of fresh. The strawberry and raspberry aromas are so very height of summer, the tension having long left the ferment. Fruit and buoyant acidity remain to lift and cut spirit. A late flavour of rosemary and olive adds a nice Mediterranean touch.  Tasted March 2015  @TorracciaPresur  @TheVine_RobGroh

Capoverso Cortona Syrah 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

There is noticeable volatility in this Syrah though it strikes a congenial balance between fruit and alcohol. The wine is not hot but is currently unsettled. That comes through in the sooty sinew and tree sap aromas. Black raspberry fruit abounds, as does liquorice and black tea. The overall accord works the parts but some time will be required for reconciliation. Sweet and sour is accented by a savoury, though moderately lengthened finish.  Tasted March 2015  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore Rosato 2014, Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

A Sangiovese blush made from organic grapes, arid as the Corso Vannucci is long, linear and direct as la strada centrale leads to the Fontana Maggiore. Has a savoury flex and a salinity that central Italian Rosé almost always displays, a pull from two seas not hard to reach heading either east or west. The glycerin texture and tangy, just this side shy of reductive aromas are a propriety of pure yet driven fruit. Has the slant of Sangiovese, even in the absence of its sour edge and devitalizing tannin. A very fine example of Umbrian Rosé.  Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore Fiordaliso Grechetto 2014, Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

Fashioned from organic (and specialized clones of) Grechetto di Todi and Trebbiano Spoletino. The ordinary is abutted with prejudice in this Roccafiore take, in full mineral action out of Umbria. This one speaks to me, never mind the current reductive accent. The organic vines exude healthy fruit and this fleur-de-lis is regal, royal and full of life. Wet stones, not flinty but certainly crouching on the rocky forefront. The balance between orchard fruit, the rocks and the load carrying acidity is spot on. This is an expertly crafted, intelligent and gratifying white.  Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore ‘Melograno’ 2013, IGT Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

Sangiovese and Montepulciano combine forces in this organic Umbrian, the punica granatum or pomegranate. Like the uniquely variegated, sour, sweet and highly mineral fruit, this red mimics the savoury pleasures. It’s dry, possessive of natural salts and fruity, but not in a sugary way. The acids are citrusy, much like pomegranate, but void of true citrus. Very pure, penitent, clean and crisp, with mild tannins and a ferric touch. Very Umbrian, regal, Franciscan, Friars Minor to bigger, bolder Sangiovese. Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Brancaia Il Bianco 2013, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 11797174,$21.35, WineAlign)

Sauvignon Blanc stands soprattutto to Viognier, Gewürztraminer and Sémillon in this tannic white wine from Castellina in Chianti, in the far south-east corner of Chianti Classico. Five months on yeasts has not only built breadth but also compensated for no oak or malolactic. The repercussion is a curtailment and a feigning of qualitative casting, as if from sea stones and ancient feelings. Pretty pleasures are a supraliminal by-product of the effect, in a leavening of lime and rock. This reminds me of a young, petite Stratus White, in which a mélange of grape varieties combine and effectively cancel one another out, with nary a dominant, alpha varietal limelight steal. This Bianco would create even more buzz with a 10-20 per cent barrel influence.  Tasted March 2015  Brancaia

Capoverso Rosso Di Montepulciano 2012, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Here is Prugnolo Gentile with a swagger and quite the attitude. Don’t be fooled by the new adventist-adventurist, retro-romantic label. This Rosso has a mean streak. Funky aromas of the barn and the compost heap may be secondary to red fruit but they are definitely there. High iron content, less so in botany and rich like a long braise of dark veal shank ragu. Complexity is in, basics are out and there is much to dwell on in this Rosso, event if its intent is to induce simple pleasures. This needs salty protein, like the aforementioned idea of ragu.  Tasted March 2015   @TheVine_RobGroh

Argiano Non Confunditur 2012, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent 72397, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Argiano NC-IGT must be awarded points and applause for the sheer felicity it affords the discerning drinker who knows when they have been pleased. This is juicy stuff from a terrific vintage. A latin lover of voluptuous body and luscious-laden lips. A flirtatious Tuscan ragazza, outgoing, friendly, hand-holding and demonstrative. Liquid freshness, with layers of red fruit and circulating acidity. Very modern, in an Aussie Rhône-blend way, with liquorice, cocktail beginnings and Tawny Port ends. Quite a swirl of flavours and pulsations. Drink now and for another two years.  Tasted March 2015  @Argianowinery  @TrialtoON

Fontanafredda Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (Ontario Agent 20214, $30.00, WineAlign)

Traditional Nebbiolo that is neither austere nor of such a hard shell to crack. Roses and street cover in summer give sweet and fume aromas. Has an elemental scent, like a science lab but with experiments that broadcast harmony, synthesis and balance. Glycerin and tannin revolve around in the Nebbiolo oscillator. Some late funk creeps in, indicating some time (five years) needed to see a proper fruition. Represents very good value at $30.  Tasted March 2015  @Fontanafredda_  @Noble_Estates

Tolaini Al Passo 2011, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent $37.99, SAQ 11794344, $28.40, Manitoba Banville and Jones $34.99, WineAlign)

This IGT from Castelnuovo Berardenga blends Merlot into Sangiovese, a push and pull varietal relationship if ever there was one. The Sangiovese is Mary while the Merlot whispers. The sacred and the profane. The ancient and the modern. “Uh-will the wind ever remember the (Tuscan wine) names it has blown in the past?” A red house of aromas, a gypsy’s soul and balance are found in this whirling, flavour-filled glass of noise. This is wild Tuscan magic, if a bit disjointed and occupied by strange, though harmonious bedfellows. Rippling red wine, tannic and in need of a few years to soften. “After all the jacks are in their boxes and the clowns have all gone to bed.”  Tasted March 2015  @TolainiWines  @BanvilleJones  @bwwines

Capoverso Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

In antithesis to the angular ’12 Rosso, this ’11 Vino Nobile is Prugnolo Gentile at its liquor-like most. This is a painted Sangiovese, with impasto, with style that is strong of colour and meaning. With very plush, oak-managed Caciotti brush stroke and thick creamy flavours. Intensely glycerin, polished and agreeable, especially considering the often tannic and ferric side of Vino Nobile. This will not be a 20-year Tuscan as it already exhibits signs of age, in dried fruit, velutinous toffee and baking blackberry pie. Oh but it will go beautifully with a rare slice of roast and a side of truffled spuds. Tasted March 2015   @TheVine_RobGroh

Tolaini Valdisanti Tenuta S. Giovanni 2009, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent 137786, $49.00, Manitoba Banville and Jones $54.99, WineAlign)

The opposite, the antithesis, the polar paradox of to egregious IGT Tuscan blending is here in this delightful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. Oak plays a prominent, spicy and sandalwood barmy role, as does the (mere five per cent) CF, giving currant energy and savoury plug-in to the softer CS. The middle notes and flavours are all Sangiovese, which is a good thing and a wise winemaking decision. The request begs for more Cabernet Franc in Tuscan composites, please. The Castelnuovo Bereardenga and Tuscan climate as a whole agrees with the variety, fleshes it, embraces it, encourages it to support Sangiovese and the less animale Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Here squares off a total package, in substance and in familiarity. Tasted March 2015  TolainiWines  @BanvilleJones  @bwwines

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March 21 big guns

From left to right: Ridge Three Valleys 2012, Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011, Brezza Barolo 2010, Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Château Clerc Milon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Dominus 2011

From left to right: Ridge Three Valleys 2012, Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011, Brezza Barolo 2010, Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Château Clerc Milon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Dominus 2011

The first day of spring strikes me as a strange time to roll out a VINTAGES release full of big guns, from Cabernet Sauvignon passing by Pinot Noir to Zinfandel and from Nebbiolo to Sangiovese Grosso. A bold group in large numbers is usually reserved for the November and December offers leading up to wallet emptying Christmas shopping days. If the March 21st release is any indication, the powers that be at the LCBO must feel pretty good about the current state of Ontario’s economy.

Related – I shall be Riesling

How else to explain the laying out of the fine red wine carpet in purchasing timeline purgatory? The other alibi in justification is a concern of surplus and overcrowded warehouse shelving, caused by a back log of unsold Bordeaux futures and a consumer shift to less vivid, decreased drama and all around #GoGamayGo sentiment.

For all my reviews from the March 21, 2015 VINTAGES release, see them @WineAlign

I tasted through most of the bad boys on this release and while many are more overpriced than a $20 bucket of bullfrogs in an Algonquin Park bog, these six wines stood tall and shook their value obvious money-maker amongst a slouching and gouging crowd. Forceful wines, all meant to spend at least some slumbering time in the cellar.

Ridge Three Valleys 2012, Sonoma County, California (652875, $35.95, WineAlign)

This Sonoma County Zinfandel melting pot was first produced in 2001 and the 12th vintage contains grapes from seven different Sonoma vineyards. Many of Ridge’s wines bull the intent of single-vineyard, terroir-driven expression. The TV is more about bear assemblage, the search for differential balance and winemaking. Zinfandel (79 per cent) is joined by Carignane (12), Petite Sirah (8) and Alicante Bouchet. Approximately one fifth of the American oak is new, with the wood waft leaning to spices directed by clove, cocoa kernel and faint coconut that infiltrates the Draper perfume. The rich red fruits combine for a brawny voice, bold, peppery and so very ripe. Though not hesitant or introverted, this Zinfandel avoids excessive character and exemplifies the fine art of blending.  Tasted March 2015  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines

Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand (179754, $41.95, WineAlign)

The agglomeration of Central Otago wild vegetative conglomerate is in this Pinot Noir. Strawberries and their leaves, dug up clay, saturated syrup with dark cherries and braising meat make for big aromatics. This is a very meaty, terrifically cimmerian Pinot, with a replay in flavour of loamy and corpulent stock, like a reduction of mire poix and beef bones. Finishes with dried fruits, marigold, a kick of cinnamon spice and pine needles. A bit of wow from the hinterland of Central Otago.  Tasted March 2015  @Amisfield  @COPinotNoirLtd  @CentralOtago_NZ  @HalpernWine

Brezza Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (711788, $46.95, WineAlign)

The gusto and earnestness of antiquity is right upfront in this Nebbiolo, the silliness of modernity left to the practices of more fickle and irresolute houses. A faint and impertinent percussion of volatility beats the near term olfaction into temporary submission, but the wine is bright and the acidity chants with proper diction. The tannic grain is sweet and savoury, well-structured and you can certainly smell the roses. The taste of Nebbiolo is succinct and the overall design is a seven to year plan, with nothing but pleasure on the next decade’s horizon.  Tasted March 2015  @NaturalVines  @jcmeli

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, WineAlign)

Here flatters definitions of Sangiovese Grosso, of rusty and rustic pasts, big, bold beginnings and distant, slowly etched futures. A faint tease of soy in feign of premature corrosion is the product of the terroir’s liquor. This is so far from its secondary times. It’s as though it teases with an aroma and flavour of melted caramel but the mirage is tantalizing and unreal. The lack of sweetness confirms the notion and instead this Brunello offers dried flowers in dreams and fresh ones placed in vessels not yet tangible, nor yet set upon the table. Wild sauvage, sage and garriga are transubstantiated into liquorice, game and distilled amari. This is perhaps the finest Pian Delle Vigne of the (post 1990) modern age. Very exciting wine. Drink 2019 – 2029.  Tasted March 2015  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine  @ConsBrunello

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California (89284, $61.95, WineAlign)

A perennial three plus one quarter blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, give or take a few points, that always punches well above its weight and cost. Not just in relation to similarly priced Cabernets but when looked at alone and on its own merit. There is a searing red intensity in 2011, with steroidal currants and a whiff of lodge smoke, plenty of creamy vanilla and lavender. An injection of liquid chalk, circulating acidity and in the end, some bold coffee notes. No bell pepper. None. Well made, of course and despite the cold and the wet, the omnipresent Draper perfume and very good length. My only cavil would be a degree of over-employed new oak in a vintage where less would ironically be more.  Tasted March 2015  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines

Château Clerc Milon 2011, Ac Pauillac, 5e Cru, Bordeaux, France (301119, $89.95, WineAlign)

The principals at Clerc Milon consider 2011 “to be ranked among the finer, or perhaps even the finest” of Bordeaux vintages. The better news is that despite that declaration the price on this classic, structured and flat-out enjoyable Médoc is relatively affordable, especially considering the astronomy of pricing since 2000. This early picked (finished by September 28th) blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (54 per cent), Merlot (37), Cabernet Franc (7), Petit Verdot and Carmenère has vintage steal written all over its painted berry face. Terrific wood spice, more fruit from plum and rapturous acidity travel great lengths to pleasure. The coffee component is in but with just a light alcohol spike. This is really fine Paulliac, elegant, refined and not outrageously priced.  Tasted March 2015  @Noble_Estates

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (325027, $112.95, WineAlign) LCBO Inventory

Though prepped by notions of a cooler and later ripening vintage, there is even more savoury, tobacco and cool clime (altitude) aromatics than might have been imagined. This Cade is so very bright in a cherry-plum-pomegranate continuum yet in contrast to a (negatively impacting) sweet-sour-tang drupe. Tends to angles more akin to Tuscan summer savour, like lavender, rosemary, sage, and vanilla. The overall impression to palate is that of a chew of the toffee that might be made by the aromatic combination, or a pull of syrupy tea. In the end there is nothing simple about this thoughtfully crafted Cade.  Tasted October 2014  @CADEWinery  @TheVine_RobGroh

Dominus 2011, Napa Valley, California (212381, $176.95, WineAlign)

In 2011 the breakdown is Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), Petit Verdot (9) and Cabernet Franc (5). From an antithetical Napa growing season, wet, cold and in requiem of acumen to deal with what the winemaker in Bordeaux faces in every vintage not hailed as best of the century. The ’11 Dominus has been in the market for just a shade under a year, just the right amount of time for a poured glass to reveal its charms. The new barrel count is approximately 40 percent, a substantial but not egregious number. We want to know what fruit the vintage gives, regardless of the conditions and in ’11 that drupe is savoury, more sage than nettle, and saliferous. That minerality is cute and key because the expression remains huge, so the cure helps to leave an indelible mark. The attributes of massive fruit, (no small feat considering the weather), smoke and phite makes for a mess of aromatic intensity. The flavours are accessible and the texture quite full. Though not the thickest Dominus to date (due to the oak not overwhelming the fruit) this will offer up seven to 10 staid years of development, followed by another five to 10 of minor decline.  Tasted March 2015  @rogcowines

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March 7th seven blazon party

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

As VINTAGES rolls out another army of bottles in proclamations of blatant multiplicity and, as I mentioned yesterday, in duplicity, it is time to settle into the recommendations encampment. Trudging through the trenches of Sparkling, White, Red and Dessert the divisions are laid, dispatches ordered and strategies finalized. Staffers go here, front liners there and commanders bring up the rear.

Related – Why it matters to taste wines again

A little bit of everything, as always, defines the March 7th release. Tidy little sippers work the hardest and make sacrifices for the rest. In this release Kosher wines prepare to tackle Passover but that we will save for next week, or perhaps the week after. Italy is the focus, bellowing commands from the bull horn, making decrees like colosseum commentators at Hunger Games. “We have wines that are just too goddamn vivid!” “We have wines with language that is fairly formal and sometimes flowery!” “Occasionally we stop to smell the adjectives!”

Tuscan wines always seem to possess what has heretofore been referred to as collectively having “a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility.” As a group they are confident, steeped in tradition and now, as much as any wine-producing region, captured within the heart of the state of the art. The sea is murky because the obvious separations between varietal and blend are hard to discern but one aspect is not under dispute. Overall quality has never been higher. Tuscan wines are just plain fun to drink.

The seven blazon party from March 7th attacks with Chardonnay, Yellow Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and two rounds of Sangiovese. The notes, here, now.

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A'frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$14.95, WineAlign)

One of the best deals going in oak-less Chardonnay, a glug, glug, line up at the jug kind of guiltless white. Pure, cool-climate variegate, with the cool of the Peninsula overridden by the vacuous warmth in the saddle abutting the Escarpment. Very pear, all in slate, exit to daylight acidity for a Chardonnay that hit the switch. Spot on in 2013 with an even keel of personality, warm but never far from cool.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, Tokaj Hegyalja, Hungary (46508$15.95, WineAlign)

From Tokaj Hegyalja in Bodrogkeresztúr found tucked into the northeastern corner of Hungary. One could imagine the air thick as sweet cool soup in summer, perfumed by basil and lemon verbena. Designated “semi-sweet” the varietal is so much more than pedestrian when handled with this kind of poise and concern. Highly aromatic, viscous and wildflower floral. Honey and honeysuckle, fresh lemon, beeswax and citrus pith. Sweetness begins, abides, subsides and melts in the mouth. Buckley‘s medicinal to a fundamental degree but not to a fault. Delicate and delightful. Muscat of a grace that makes you feel and wish, “my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder.”  Tasted March 2015  @WineofHungary

The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$20.95, WineAlign)

While wood plays a prominent role it does not saturate to distraction. The barrel extract adds warmth and spice in contribution to balance. A high-toned syrup on the nose gives way to an evenly weighted palate. A scraped bean flavoured creamy toddy texture is topped with chocolate shavings, a dry of bell pepper and tobacco smoulder from out of the chamber. Nicely judged fruit, acidity and texture with admirable length. A necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.  Tasted March 2015  @goodearthtweets  @EpicW_S

Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (972695$23.95, WineAlign)

A very honest take on Sangiovese and Chianti Classico. When it appeared from the 2006 vintage it had been a while since this Panzano came to market, having been a stalwart presence in late 1990’s vintages. Modern now, very much a child of 21st century winemaking but in retention of loyalties to red, sour cherry and dusty 90’s Sangiovese. Remains slightly austere, angular and tension-filled, as if a scraping noise could be heard as the fruit, acidity and tannins fight for purchase on the floor. Chalky lactic and really juicy. Drink now and for three to five further on.  Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp  Castelli del Grevepesa

Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (350751$29.95, WineAlign)

Very expressive aromatics in dried flowers, earthy red perfumed fruits, orange peel, clove and a full crumble of cinnamon fill the air. Rampant but not relegating (at this early, five-year juncture) acidity drives the engine, running on vineyard funk, a hint of game and fruit ripened to optimum clarity. This is faultless Sangiovese of guts and guile, really well-made, classic yet modern CCR. Dances like Sangiovese should, “well, you wiggle to the left, you wiggle to the right, you do the ooby dooby with all your might.” No factory made CCR here, nor from out of the cosmos. Just simply down to earth. Were $30 all that I had to spend and a Chianti Classico Riserva the only choice, this would have to make the shortlist. Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Ac Pessac Léognan, Bordeaux, France (966010$31.95, WineAlign)

That VINTAGES was able to secure another sku of this Bordeaux Blanc is both fortuitous and a gift. For the cost of an I-Tunes song you can have a peak into the generosity of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage through the senses of a top-value producer. From Les Vignobles André Lurton comes this white beauty. Though slightly musty upon entry this shows immediate yet perfectly evolved poise. Ready to strike with much persistent verve and density in 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc singularity. Wood is very involved (10 months in 35 per cent new oak barrels on full lees with bâtonnage) by adding precious layers of necessity. Very layered indeed, honeyed, anti-hackneyed, buttressed, really fine and generous. Most excellent work by oenologists Denis Dubourdieu and Valérie Lavigne.  Tasted March 2015  @AndreLurton  @KirkwoodDiamond

Château Montelena Estate Zinfandel 2012, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California (69633$49.95, WineAlign)

A rare, in the neighbourhood of elegant and exquisitely refined Zinfandel gives all red fruit with just a faint raise of raisining. Quite pure, with heaps of liquorice, smouldering cedar bough, brushed and bushy, big but shy of the peak. The English punk of Zinfandel but with melody and charm. Says to the world we have “our own raison d’etre we can’t see?” The quality is in, raising the Zin bar to a level not oft seen, with restraint and complexity. Never mind the bullocks, Montelena offers a buzzcock of a Zinfandel. Here lies a Zinaison d’être.  Tasted March 2015  @ChMontelena  @rogcowines

Good to go!

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Pirates on a picnic

Salmon Amuse Bouche

Chef Victor Barry’s Salmon Amuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Oysters, popcorn, scallop dust

Popcorn dusted with dehydrated scallop dust? Damn straight.

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Trout roe, maple, ice cream cone

Salmon, skin, consommé

Salmon, skin, consommé

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

Sea urchin, toast, squid ink, lobster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pop can seafood

Pop can seafood

Intermezzo of smoked oyster and foam…

Carrot

Splendido’s Five-hour carrot

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

Hamachi collar, black bean paste

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

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

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

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

Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa 1997, Piedmont, Italy

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

 

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

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

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977

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

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

 

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

Pumpkin in a pumpkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final treats

Post Valentine’s polar vortex wines

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 with Pho Cuu Long Mien Tay

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 with Pho Cuu Long Mien Tay

Valentine’s Day came and went yet again. The 2015 edition of the polar vortex coincided with Cupid’s annual marketing juggernaut, bursting pipes, freezing the tails off brass monkeys everywhere and making life especially hell for those left out in the cold. Hearts were broken, mended and hopefully in more cases, joined as one.

Dundas Park Kitchen Valentine's Cake

Dundas Park Kitchen Valentine’s Cake

I was under the assumption you did not need my recommendations this year so I didn’t provide a pre-VD column to parade out a list of painfully obvious pink and sparkling wines. In the past I messed with the gratuitous holiday, first with just say no to pink wine for Valentine’s:

My advice is to just say no to pink. This year, you gotta be cruel to be wine for Valentine’s.

I followed that up by stating your man wants these wines for Valentine’s:

If you ask me, all I really want this Thursday, like any other day of the year, is a decent bottle of wine.

Last year I said You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine:

February 14th is so hyper-candied that ingredients like salinity, minerality, positive bitterness, animale and tannin are essential in the name of balance. Just don’t pair your dry red wine with chocolate.

Red Velvet Waffles

Red Velvet Waffles

In early retrospect, my take on 2015 remains frozen like the crust of precipitation on my windows and my copper pipes. Nothing much to say but wait for the thaw. There were of course the proverbial dinners, chocolates, desserts and all you need is love; enough to go around for the whole family. And there was wine. The family day weekend offered ample opportunity to sample and take note of a dozen bottles, none earth shattering or iconic but most aimed to please. Here are some notes.

The wines of Grange-Barbastre

The wines of Grange-Barbastre

Château De La Grange Barbastre Muscadet Sur Lie 2013, Cotes De Grand Lieu, Loire, France (Agent, $14.00, WineAlign)

Little in the way of aromatics here. Were Honeydew Melon dried like mango, this Melon de Bourgogne might be its simple sweet candied flavour. That and a chalky, thin leesy residue. The texture improves as a by-product of the tangy finish on that palate that turns musky melon funky, like whiskey in the jar. Like an ole’ Irish ballad singing “musha ring dumb a do dumb a da,” this Muscadet is characterful if nothing else and good value at $14.  Tasted February 2015  @LoireValleyWine

Domaine De La Grange Barbastre Sauvignon 2013, Igp Loire, France (Agent, $14.00, WineAlign)

Here is a very effective, oleaginous tank simple Sauvignon Blanc with a white flower and candied salt dominant nose. The candy replays on the palate though in a more medicinal and saccharine way. The sweetness is one that drowns, submerges, without a sound. More salinity and blanched nuts round out the smooth finish. Succulent if one dimensional Loire specimen.  Tasted February 2015

Domaine De La Grange Barbastre Pinot Gris Sauvignon 2013, Igp Loire, France (Agent, $14.00, WineAlign)

This 50/50 split between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris is a rare sighting indeed from out of the Loire Valley. In this instance the Alsatian elevates the Loire game with its ability to draw mineral and salinity from the earth, not to mention extract and the achievement in balance. Here the fruit leaves the salty stones in the dirt and then reaches higher, into the branches of the orchard, for zest and flesh, of pear and lemon. A gradated layering and roundness prevails. Sweet without being sweet, salty without being salty, in the end, all about flesh and bone. Good length.  Tasted February 2015

From left to right: Waterbrook Pinot Gris 2013

From left to right: Lanciola Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2012, Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Liberty School Chardonnay 2013, Eos Estate Petite Sirah 2012, Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Dei Rosso Di Montepulciano 2013, Waterbrook Pinot Gris 2013

Lanciola Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2012, Tuscany, Italy (330761, $16.95, WineAlign)

Entry level pricing rarely affords complexity and here, in this glycerin, shimmering Colli Fiorentini is an intoxicant of red fruit Sangiovese. Smells like warm celluloid and lamb. The “wool is soft and warm, gives off some kind of heat.” The plums within are charred, fleshy, clement and battered by a bretty funk. The carpet of texture is crawling with cellar micro-nutrients and gamey notes. There is nothing simple in the lamb’s coat and braised shank character. Wood splinters in the glass and the somewhat acquired flavours spread ambience through its broadway Florentine grooves. Another genesis Chianti Docg provides fodder for the further breaking down of appellations and designations of denominazione.  Tasted February 2015  @Collifiorentini  @LeSommelierWine

Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Naoussa, Greece (140111, $17.95, WineAlign) A VINTAGES March 21, 2015 release

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

Liberty School Chardonnay 2013, Central Coast, California (960120, $18.95, WineAlign)

A perfectly well-made, crowd-pleasing and sufficiently balanced Chardonnay with tree fruit notes in many shapes and sizes. The forward aromatics and restrained PG flavours are made for MOR, broad appeal. Though the texture and length are unexceptional, there is a spicy bite that slips more sips into the cards. A move along and return to again and again Chardonnay.  Tasted February 2015  @TrialtoON  @hopefamilywines

Eos Estate Petite Sirah 2012, Paso Robles, California (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Petite Sirah is so often inelegant and black as night so the Eos take is refreshing and relatively tame in comparison. Here defined by a multitude of red fruits and a varietally timid 14.3 per cent alcohol declaration that is more than believable. Has a large stone flecking earth character that reminds of Vacqueyras, amplified by liquorice, bramble and pseudo-garrigue. Fine-grained acidity and tannin add depth and linear, progressive attitude. The inherent hunches of ferric and sanguine seem Tuscan, when considered by way of comparative mythologies. The sole glaring detractor is folksy oak that will not fully integrate before fruit decline. Leans sweet without veering to cloying and all tolled, adds up to complexity for value at under $20.  Tasted February 2015  @EOSwinery  @LeSommelierWine

Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Alsace, France (392118, $19.95, WineAlign)

From Klevener de Heiligenstein, this is surely a step up in the Alsace Gewurz take.  Some reserve in the nose, holding back the far east florals and the sugar. There’s an aerified feel to this, an ethereal complement, a savoury edge. Really interesting and surely more than versatile aromatic white.  Good texture with creamy mangosteen and vanilla pod and then tight, even spicy, bracing acidity. Great deal here. Will live for a decade.   Tasted November 2014  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

Dei Rosso Di Montepulciano 2013, Tuscany, Italy (919430, $19.95, WineAlign)

Caterina Dei’s red fruit Rosso di Montepulciano is a noble seductress of necessity, younger and approachable, engaging for its purity and for its freshness. When compared to the Prugnolo Gentile that frames a Vino Nobile, it falls short, obviously, but its immediate appeal is what matters. Clean, clear and pristine juice is dropped with a tincture of beneficial medicine notes, for good sense, in place, measure and thought. A maquillage smear of sweet anise liqueure adds a dense streak in herbiage. The rehydrated fruit of tree pods is imagined, along with a vestige of Val D’Orcia garden shrub excretions. A malleable, permeating and nearly intoxicating Rosso. Drink now, now and again.  Tasted February 2015  @LeSommelierWine

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Tawse take on Unoaked Chardonnay is definitive, exemplary, righteous stuff. It does not clock you over the back of the head, nor does it beg for attention. Its stainless steel raising causes a dichotomous sensation, merging fruit seemingly drawn directly from the apple and pear orchards to melt into a mineral bath. It’s like a collision of hot and cold, like lightning. One taste of this pale, pure Gegenschein elicits the idea of a relevant encounter and one willing to be experienced again and again.  Tasted February 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Waterbrook Pinot Gris 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (918242, $22.95, WineAlign)

Very Gris (as opposed to Grigio), pure as Walla Walla running spring water, with mineral salts on the nose, juicy stone fruit on the palate and some tonic on the surprisingly long finish. Sweetness spoons over and lingers, perhaps trying just a bit too hard but “she brings the sunshine to a rainy afternoon.” Waterbrook’s PG is a yes wine, with components that are all expressive, if a bit scattered and not always in synch. If Washington Pinot Gris were progressive art rock, this Columbia Valley specimen might sing its song, with length to last out an album side.  Tasted February 2015  @WaterbrookWine  @LeSommelierWine

Boxwood Estate Trellis 2012

Boxwood Estate Trellis 2012

Boxwood Estate Trellis 2012, Middleburg, Virginia (Agent, $39.00, WineAlign)

A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc produced at John Kent Cooke’s historic estate, the Trellis spent 12 months in one to three year-old French oak. Classic nor-eastern aromatics share a kinship with North Fork clarets, but here warmer, riper and fuller of flesh. The advance comes by way of the 2012 heat day quotient and the latitude. The swath is a fresh coat, not sublimated from dried fruit. The plumpness is in fig, prune and plum, hydrated, dense and twisted with ties of tannin and acidity. The unmistakeable feel of cool-climate, new world expatriate Bordeaux-styled reds is explicitly fresh and clean. If it were $20 instead of $40 it would be an absolute no-brainer. As it stands, it’s worth a look though at the price its audience will not be large.  Tasted February 2015  @boxwoodwinery  @TrialtoON

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Snow whites and the seven reds

The seven reds from left to right: Resta Salice Salentino 2011, Mocali Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Rustenberg Shiraz 2011, Coyote's Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Beni Di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006, Fattoi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

The seven reds from left to right: Resta Salice Salentino 2011, Mocali Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Rustenberg Shiraz 2011, Coyote’s Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Beni Di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006, Fattoi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Just as a child will willfully accept the naive and basic truth in a fairy tale, most of us will search for wines deeply buried within their simplicity. Then we have a sip. When we begin to think about that sip we delve deeper into the story and the mythology of the wine. This is where things begin to get complicated.

Maybe we invent comparative mythologies from tales and into wine just to play with the unconscious expressions of ourselves, or perhaps we just need to have some fun. Wine is not our yesteryear’s religion, nor is it something, once consumed, that can be held onto. It is fleeting and ever-changing. It is conceivable to think that wine drinkers of past eras were more childlike and held wine in more fairy-tale like hands. Today we act as though modern wines speak religiously, as if they each belong to one sect or another. Strange, but true.

On Saturday VINTAGES will roll out another lengthy tale of new releases, with a major focus on Italian reds. Like the analysis of the most famous of fairy tales, meaning is derived, not unlike an assessment of Italians and their wines, imagined as a desperate need to rule their own kingdom. The ferric, mineral and tannic nature of the group require that their rage be danced away with time, to re-gain control of their beauty and their lives.

For more recommendations from the VINTAGES February 7th, 2015 release:

Related – Is writing making a mess of wine

Here are the winter snow whites and seven Italian reds to look for, in stores now.

The snow whites from left to right: Poulet Et Fils Brut Crémant De Die, Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012, Domaine De Saint Pierre Sancerre 2013, Girard Chardonnay 2012, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2012, Taittinger Prestige Brut Rosé Champagne

The snow whites from left to right: Poulet Et Fils Brut Crémant De Die, Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012, Domaine De Saint Pierre Sancerre 2013, Girard Chardonnay 2012, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2012, Taittinger Prestige Brut Rosé Champagne

Resta Salice Salentino 2011, Doc Puglia, Italy (324731, $15.95, WineAlign)

Negroamaro (80 per cent) and Malvasia Nero combine for a mess of tar, composted earth, density in chewy dates, figs and ground funk drawn from dark, dank places. A Salice suspended, after the bruise of fermentation, like a charcoal tracing, like shadow with just an osculant of faint light. A cheesy note hangs, of a salinity out of cultures and wet vats. This may not be everyman’s cup of spume, peat and sedge, with its rough tannin too, but its value lies in complexity and value under $16.  Tasted January 2015  @winesofpuglia  @puglia

Mocali Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (317115, $16.95, WineAlign)

Morellino that is briery, earthy and with a soaked, cedar chip overlay on dark fruit. Brambly, purple pitchy and almost but not quite flamboyant. Slow as geology seeping, tile weeping, liqueur steeping then turning gritty with drying tannins. Good persistence and a bitter finish. Good value.  Tasted January 2015  @InfoMorellino  @liffordwine

Poulet Et Fils Brut Crémant De Die, Rhône, France (392555, $17.95, WineAlign)

The unique sparklers from the Die, made from (mostly) Clairette are somewhat of a rarity in Ontario waters. The bitter pith nose, ranging tangy palate and slightly oxidative style is a bit touchy but the length is nearly exceptional for the Euro. In the realm of Crémants, this Rhône dips pear slices past cracker nasturtium pods bobbing in a bowl of beneficial bitters. With a Mediterranean climate and altitude-influenced elemental aroma as if burnished pewter, the bird is anything but fowl. The case is made for these bubbles.  Tasted January 2015  @VINSRHONE  @WineandFood_RA  @TheCaseForWine

Rustenberg Shiraz 2011, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (399246, $19.95, WineAlign)

As per the Stellenbosch Shiraz stratagem, this may lean to sweetness but it’s all about rich, ripe fruit running wild and free. Savoury support comes from green tea, smoking branches and fulminating esters. Neither heavy nor burning, the ’11 is warm, clean and highly accessible. Impressive density and at 14.5 degrees alcohol, really quite soft, unwavering in its ability to suppress the demands of the octane push. Drink in the near term.  Tasted January 2015  @RustenbergWines  @StellWineRoute

Coyote’s Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (79228, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is an intense and vexing vintage for the Red Paw, a Pinot Noir of delicacy in constant search for the right dancing partner. In 2012 the soil seems to have been magnetized with a gravity of ferric density, causing juicy and spontaneous fits of revelry and a painting of the Paw red. Cherries, stones and figs are in, along with ether, earth and peat. The longevity quotient comes into question as the tenure already seems quite evolved but in its current state it is quite fun to drink.  Tasted January 2015  @coyotesrun

Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (282772, $25.95, WineAlign)

This barrel-aged Chenin Blanc is toasty, reductive and stratified, scaling heights few whites reach for, to seek other worldly atmospheres. I don’t find anything remotely tropical about it, on the contrary, it’s way out of the equatorial zone and into the upper reaches of the ozone. This has the Loire imprint of longing and distance. It will need time to come back down to earth, what with its hyper fruit meet mineral nuances. When it does it will walk through rain forests and dry flood plains with those extreme noisome notes in tow, to settle amongst the stones by the river. For some, this will be a rare find.  Tasted January 2015  @Simonsig_Estate  @WOSACanada  @WoSA_USA  @StellWineRoute

Domaine De Saint Pierre Sancerre 2013, Loire Valley, France (170258, $26.95, WineAlign)

A most promising and textured Sauvignon Blanc, full of chalky fruit and a lamina of minerality, like a strudel of stone fruit spread between layers of Phyllo pastry greased by pulverulant butter. Though this Sancerre does not and will not travel the longest route for the Loire, it is a seamless wine and one that is well-designed. Has a modernity about it while yet keeping a finger on and an ear to the radiocarbon chronometer.  Tasted January 2015  @LoireValleyWine

Girard Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (338434, $26.95, WineAlign)

Quite a different sort of California Chardonnay, cooler and in avoidance of the sub-equatorial fruit of the tropics. With a wisp of woodsmoke and a toothpick poke or two of smokey spice, this RRV bottling puts foggy Sonoma first in line, ahead of warm Cali sunshine. The one warm aspect is a vanilla overlay on creamy mango, a texture that is present but not over the top. The ripeness gathers moss and little stones, gets going, gains steam and fleshes out across a length that steers forward towards a future of nice value.  Tasted January 2015  @GirardWinery  @imbibersrepotr  @sonomavintners

Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (685180, $29.95, WineAlign)

Here a most modern Vino Nobile from Salcheto, through its forward and public fruit to its fine designed label. Retains a sensible and loyal texture, wearing its coat of arms in reverence of its past. Argumentative tannin and acidity speak loud, over the voices of tar, ferrous vernacular, black and blue bruises and rolling stones. Like rusty blood seeping into the cracked earth of a water-starved forest, this Sangiovese gets inside and under the skin. “Come si chiama, what’s your game?” She will answer, Vino Nobile, that’s my name.  Tasted January 2015  @SalchetoWinery  @AMH_hobbsandco

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (276675, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vintage does not strike so much a new direction for the Poplar Grove Chardonnay as much as a blip on the cool climate radar. Before extrapolating on that comment it must be said that this is a well-made wine. It’s riper, with more gregarious character, an increase in topicality and into a nearly candied buttercup feel. Rich in glück and circumstance. Where in ’11 there were many notes in ripe coconut and green tones, they are a merely a suggestion in ’12, not a composition. A brûlée of lemon and ginger with a sprinkle of cinnamon finds the palate in think mode moving forwards in slurry strides towards a cemented and fixed positional finish. This is for the here and now.  Tasted January 2015  @poplargrovewine

Beni Di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006, Doc Piedmont, Italy (330704, $39.95, WineAlign)

Time yet remains on the diminishing side of this Barolo of necessity, regaling and expressive of tea, tannin and flowers, dried and crumbled over fine earth. A modern and high-toned La Morra that is representative of very good value. The tannins persist in clenched chops and will need up to five years to resolve. The BdB Riserva ’06 may not be the Nebbiolo to mortgage the cellar on, but it does have the ability to be a wine to arouse the longing of one who waits.  Tasted January 2015  @ChartonHobbs  @MikeAikins1

Fattoi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (33498, $39.95, WineAlign)

The porcine cure of a Fattoi Brunello is a thing of mesmerism, here alongside a gamey note of soft, braised heart of beef. In ’09 the aromatics are a bit closed at present, atypical for the vintage but likely more a product of the curated, house style. Leather and some judicious oak spice offer up characteristic Grosso sentiments, dug into sweet earth and a feign of candied fruits and flowers. Sumptuous and terrific stuff. Here Brunello that effects the blinding potency of vines screaming of their fruit.  Tasted January 2015  @BrunelloImports  @ConsBrunello

Taittinger Prestige Brut Rosé Champagne, Ac Champagne, France (993113, $67.95, WineAlign)

A sweeping scopic range of bitters, soft tonics and savoury Polygonaceae circulate in the vacuum of this point beleaguering Champagne. She plies a rough trade, with a flinty, smouldering gun effect that simulates a toasted barrel blowing smoke upwards a riotous Rosé’s crystal glass. With citrus acidity off the charts, a pampered and churned pamplemousse ever expanding, the Taittinger excites and jointly strikes the heart with elegance and beauty. Her style is both chic and confidential, “she’s a combination Anita Eckberg, Mamie van Doren.” A Champagne that avoids freud and “drives a candy pink Cadillac,” that will “make you want to give up high school.”  For immediate pleasure and years of future memories.  Tasted January 2015  @Taittinger_News  @TaittingerUSA

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