When Sangiovese comes to town

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2008

From left to right: Argiano Rosso Di Montalcino 2011, Banfi Poggio All’oro Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2007, Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Capanne Ricci Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2008, Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Paradisone Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

Love comes to town I’m gonna jump that train
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that plane

The Consortium of the Brunello of Montalcino is an “association between winemakers bent on safeguarding their wine and on accentuating its qualities.” The group organizes events in Italy and abroad, including trade fairs such as the Benvenuto Brunello. After 47 years of honing their description about one of Italy’s most famous wines, this is Brunello in the Consortium’s nutshell. “A visibly limpid, brilliant wine, with a bright garnet colour. It has an intense perfume, persistent, ample and ethereal. One can recognize scents of undergrowth, aromatic wood, berries, light vanilla and jam. To the taste the wine has an elegant harmonious body, vigorous and racy, it is dry with a lengthy aromatic persistence.”

On March 10, 2014, VINTAGES and the Conzorzio Del Vino Brunello Di Montalcino brought an impressive range of Rosso and Brunello to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Infatuation renewed. VINTAGES Shop Online added nearly 100 wines for sale on their website, many of which have no Ontario importer. For fans of Brunello, this offer is the Tuscan equivalent of the kid being given the keys to the candy store.

It was twenty years ago that B.B. King brought love to town and taught a band to play. It has also been twenty years since I last visited Montalcino. The next visit is high on the bucket list. Imagine the room full of happy tasters when Sangiovese came to town by way of Benvenuto Brunello 2014. The Grosso from Montalcino is loved by many.

Many cellars brim with Brunelli from 1997, 1999 and 2001. More than a handful from 2000, 2003 and 2004. The houses most represented chez Godello are Fuligni, Poggio Salvi, Poggio Antico, Agostini Pieri, Ciacci Piccolomini, Poggio Sotto, Siro Pacenti and Lisini. Like salting your food before knowing what it tastes like, there was a time when purchasing was done as much by habit as by probability. From the 2005 vintage forward there has been an apprehension to spend frivolously and without consent by way of tasting, assessing and determining value.

They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile

The 2006 vintage is both distressing and exciting. Simply speaking, it’s just not showing well right now and yet it may turn out to be great. Taking a flyer on the 06′s is a leap of faith. Power to those who do and win. The 2007′s are exquisite and in my mind, a short term gain. Some 2008′s are brilliant, others not so much. Picking was crucial, cliché to say, but crucial. The jury is still out on the difficult 2009′s.

So may I introduce to you 25 notes on Rosso and Brunello tasted @ConsBrunello Benvenuto Brunello.

Argiano Rosso Di Montalcino 2011, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 10252869 $24.10, WineAlign)

When a Montalcino vintage such as 2011 offers up prolonged heat and hang time, typicity can be challenged. Enter Argiano, Sangiovese specialist in adherence to what is base and necessary. Even in such a vintage, Rosso can never be confused with Brunello, the oak just doesn’t have the time to stake its claim. So here there is sour cherry, leather, currants, licorice, anise and especially spice. In 2011 the spice is royal and ancient. The alcohol is hot but the flavours are resplendent. The cherry is tempered by chalky tannin so as a Rosso, this ’11 will give a little bit. A masculine Rosso, “take his hand, you’ll be surprised.”

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (Agent $60.00, WineAlign)

A purposed, perennial powerhouse of consistency, the 2008 incarnation of Argiano keeps the streak alive in a not so perfectly certain vintage. A mess of mineral in polarizing magnetism connects red tree fruit to tilled crop soil. Tannins are not noticeably biting so long-term potential appears to be somewhat stifled. Though only one year into its young history, this Sangiovese Grosso already begs to be enjoyed, if admittedly just a few years young to be the life of the party.

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0154609 $53.00, WineAlign)

If Argiano’s treatment of the 2009 vintage is any harbinger for the community as a whole, sparks will surely fly. Like 2007 there is a sense of flamboyance but unlike ’07 the flirting and cajoling is less about desire and more about sodden, succulent Sangiovese. A rampart of medieval, marching tannin and a keen acidity mark the territory and the terroir. A beautiful vintage, in rejection of rusticity and sure to live for a decade and a half.

Banfi Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Tuscany, Italy (BCLDB 557967 $26.97, SAQ 864900 $25.00) Such a sneak preview at a precocious young wine can rarely do any true justice in the written assessment but Banfi’s ’12 offers more invitation than most. A wide-reaching, consumer-friendly cherry bomb this Rosso, ergo sumptuous, from a sweet fruit core to the uncritical fringes. Rosso vernacular, for the Hic et nunc.

Banfi Rosso Di Montalcino 2011, Tuscany, Italy (BCLDB 557967 $26.97, SAQ 864900 $25.00, WineAlign)

From estate vineyards in the southern part of Montalcino, clonal selection of the local Sangiovese always plays a focused and pivotal role in Banfi’s Rosso. In 2011 no single-vineyard Brunello wines were made (Poggio alle Mura and Poggio all’Oro) so this Rosso reeks of all the hallmarks of those iconic Brunelli; black fruit, violets, tobacco and the aridty of earth and spice. Most obvious is the sanguine scorched, iron fist that calls for time and as much patience as a Rosso can be afforded. Five years would be nice.

Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 378257 $59.95, BCLDB 127183 $69.95, SAQ 701920 $70.00, WineAlign)

Every bit of obdurate soil and the vintage’s inflexible impart have made their way into Banfi’s extreme games ’08. The pitch is black as night, the aroma dank, expressed espresso and the texture thick as tar. Perhaps it’s the southern Montalcino hills that work severe fruit towards this kind of complex end or maybe it’s just a Banfi thing. Regardless, I can’t think of a recent Banfi normale with such verve, length and attitude. Will settle eventually, to drift off into middle age as a classic Brunello.

Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura 2007, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, BCLDB 127183 $69.95, SAQ 701920 $70.00, WineAlign)

Beginning with this 2007, Banfi beamed the 15 year-old single-vineyard Poggio alle Mura fruit into state of the art, Horizon hybrid stainless steel and wood tanks. The double whammy effect of a most extraordinary gregarious and flamboyant vintage coupled with the new production style fast trekked this Sangiovese to yet seen, nosed or tasted heights. An elixir of satin sheen and glycerin texture, the Mura walks with a firm iron gait and bleeds a mineral rich, hematic ooze. Fierce and delicious at the same time, it’s almost too hot to handle now. Give it five years to settle and enjoy it for five more.

Banfi Poggio All’oro Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2007, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0354571 $95.00, BCLDB 439810 $144.00, WineAlign)

The single “Poggio all’Oro” (golden knoll) vineyard released in the 6th year after harvest needed every minute of its slumber before giving away any idea of itself. An absolute brut of a Brunello at this stage and this in a very forward vintage. Risible to think you understand him, this growling animale, this swelling bruise of pure, raging Sangiovese. Earthy red, rich, reactive, forceful and 20 years from ready.

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0372938 $49.95, WineAlign)

As expected, this is a gritty effort from Barbi, in part the impart of a testosterone-laden vintage, along with the drier and cooler climate from Barbi’s southeastern Montalcino vineyards. A low and slow ripening will surely translate to extended longevity, but the rusticity and leather/cherry continuum will never disappear. No doubt a classic example and very well-priced for such authenticity, still it can’t be helped to see Barbi’s ’08 as entrenched in an earlier period of time. The wine will need 10 years to soften its edges and reveal the refinement and elegance of a well-documented Brunello.

Capanne Ricci Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0375170, $27.00)

Sangiovese in such a primary state, A steaming, ferric soup of oxhide flavoured with wood spice. The kiss of chalk and grain confirms an aged intent that succeeds here, even if the practice is not normally recommended for the fresh and juicy Rosso and less so for the vintage. No matter, just wait a year and indulge.

Capanne Ricci Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0375162 $57.00)

An ultra modern Brunello from a vintage seeing more grit than gift. The fresh fruit fragrances and flavours, notably plum and black cherry, are hallmarks of innovation. This under 20 year-old producer dishes out gettable Brunello and this ’08 makes a clean accouch of the practice. Short term gains are on the plate so do no wait.

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 11334065 $45.00, WineAlign)

Any Brunello pushing the 15 percent alcohol by volume threshold could never be accused of resisting forward thinking. The Caprili ’08 revs its engine at the start line while the exhaust performs in a state of cathartic extravasation. Sangiovese Grosso aromas of old spew forth, like leather, tobacco smoke, salty cherry and the mineral grit of mean tannins. The car screeches forth in extravagation, leaves the old character behind and races towards a prodigal future. The zoom forward means a profile more akin to representing a superior clone’s expert ripening ability. Thankfully this Caprili resists homogeneity and sets a fine example for the new Brunello.

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (LCBOQ 0305888 $55.00, WineAlign)

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

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBOQ 0372755 $65.00, WineAlign)

Caprili’s 2008 Riserva will stand as one of the success stories from a vintage that thrives as a result of where the grapes are planted, a Montalcino truth that is undeniable for all involved. While others sing the blues because of the weather (rain) the Caprili whistles in pentose-underscored Anthocyanin reds, like rooibos and cherry. A leathery Riserva in confident control, marked by great acidity and formidable tannins.

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0961714 $145.00, WineAlign)

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

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 2006, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 403642 $46.50, WineAlign)

The Montalcino Sangiovese from 2006 will be long-lived and Col D’orcia’s normale bottling is a poster child for the notion. This wine exhibits everything you would expect from an adolescent Brunello of that vintage. Serious and contemplative, the typicity is patent; leather, cherry, smoke and hemic in texture, this is tightly wound and very real. Like so many renditions of 2006, the Col D’orcia showed well in its first year, stepped back to a gritty state and will show its best beginning in 2016. It will age gracefully for 10 more after that.

Col D’orcia Poggio Al Vento Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2004, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0965525 $129.00, WineAlign)

The juxtaposition of vintages (2004 and 2006) is both evident and stupefying. The latter is certainly one to look at in terms of 15-20 years, while the former is one of post-immediate gratification. Two extra years of age has done wonders for this Riserva’s evolution and desire to please. Lush, irresistibly delicious fruit strutting down the catwalk in smooth, leggy, creamy and linear fashion. Brunello rarely pleases in taste and refinement with modern clarity like this ’04. Enjoy now and for 10 more enchanting years.

Col D’orcia Poggio Al Vento Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2006, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0316158 $121.00, WineAlign)

Everything the ’06 Col D’orcia Brunello is, the Riserva is that and more. Densely concentrated, all is amplified; the leather, the cherry and the grit in savoury tannins. The weathered hand of rusticity and blue-collar Sangiovese ethic has a vice-tight grip on the suppressed fruit. It will take a minimum five years to see any type of true release from the natural fortifying acidity of the iron gate prison. Put this Brunello aside and forget about it. Revisit in 2020 and again five to 15 years after that.

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0998195 $75.00, WineAlign)

If La Fiorita’s 2008 Brunello is thatched of pure silk then this 2007 is a metaphorical pillow quilted and dripping of the finest velvet. Pure strung Sangiovese on the softest rope from a duo of Montalcino vineyards and carried ethereally on a Tuscan wind through Slavonian casks and into bottle five plus years later. All this and still remarkably tannic for a Brunello from 2007. A reversal of vintages in aperture, aroma and taste, the ’08 acting out the convivial philandering of its mates, this ’07 metagrobolizing the notion of a repeat performance but asking for more time.

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0998195 $75.00, WineAlign)

A stunning example of modern Brunello and the closest to pure silk as any at the Benvenuto. From two estate vineyards, Poggio al Sole and Pian Bossolino, one conveying strength, the other delicata. A “white” Brunello this Fiora, so fine, so fair, so beautiful. The fabric is so stylishly woven, it will never be easy to keep down in the cellar. So enjoy it if you can swing it, now and for five pleasurable years.

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2007, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0372557 $129.00, WineAlign)

La Fiorita’s Riserva is full of wildflower fragrance, deeply concentrated and very much a child of a best fruit forward vintage. Precociously evolved tannins and wizened tree fruit play the a modernity card in a rustic suit. A Brunello with sweet talent, all in for pleasure. A familiar and representative ’07.

Paradisone Rosso Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0374223 $40.00, WineAlign)

Colle degli Angeli’s 2008 Rosso is a pillar of Sangiovese strength with more structure than most, in girth, density and anxiety. The debate may rage on the merits, yay or nay of such seriousness but knowing what you’re getting is half the battle. Not that this is anti-fresh (there is plenty of cherry extract and rosehip), but the layers of fruit, acidity and tannin go deeper, if a bit towards the earth’s crust. Now six years on, a full settling is not entirely likely, but kudos for the effort. Will drink best in 2015 and for two to three years after that.

Paradisone Rosso Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0374223 $40.00, WineAlign) The success of Colle degli Angeli’s Rosso 2009 lies in its attention to the details of territory. Like the 2008, it sweats the larger things, namely the tensions between soil, vine vigor and the carbolic acid activity by way of the grape’s extract. Breaking down cherry is the obvious aroma and by natural extension, the flavour. In ’09, a splintered and sinewy rusticity dominates the proportion so match it to a sauce, be it dressing up pasta or smothering a stew. The wine will benefit from the companionship.

Paradisone Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0374215 $69.00, WineAlign) Colle degli Angeli’s 2007 Brunello goes against the vintage’s grain by exerting a testosterone attitude in a chapter of predominantly feminine inclination. Butch‘s horse kicks up 15 per cent abv dust, in well-performed aggregate of high alcohol and a sugar quotient of only 1.8 g/L of rose perfumed fruit. Grips the tannic gun tight and outrides Brunello’s sacred laws of palturition. In other words, despite the grit, this ’07 gives birth to a young wine that is quite approachable. The kid performs a sun dance as per the warm vintage. New to Ontario’s market, it might be asked, “who are those guys?”

Paradisone Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0374215 $69.00, WineAlign)

Colle degli Angeli’s 2009 Brunello forges a dramatic relationship between grapes, climate and territory. When considered in relative terms to the ’07, the sugar is up a touch (2.3 g/L) and the alcohol down (14.5 per cent). Negligible numbers really but the phenolic make up results in a Sangiovese whose sink is full of funk, alcohol, suede and creamy glycerin. Like the ’07, the grapes come from young, self-willed and boisterous vines ready and willing to tackle both a modern age in Montalcino and the rigors of climate variation. While the azienda agricola may not yet be a household name, the wines are indicative of the goût du terroir as expressed in this rendition.

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

The death of wine scores?

 

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

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

as seen on canada.com

Not so fast.

As time goes by, I am hearing less comments like, “well that one got a 95,” and “that one is better value because it got a 90.” Wine ratings may increasingly becoming maligned and less frequently employed but that does not mean they don’t have their place. Scores continue to be necessary as a way to evaluate wines that lack a certain level of honesty. Wines on the edge of being dodgily made, encumbered by heavy-handed, industry-fed, mass marketing machines. Scores separate and differentiate the wheat from the chaff when dealing with over the top residual sugar, hyper-acidification, bloated alcohol and (lack of fruit) masking. Embrocating one Malbec an 85 over another’s 84 makes a comment on the relative validities of those two sweetened confections.

Attaching a rating to a tasting note is not a question of right versus wrong. Ratings measure a bottle of wine against its peers. That is the simple answer. The problem is that the tasting experience is a subjective one and each reviewer has personal preferences, so in order to align with one (or more), the consumer must self-calibrate alongside a critic whose palate they’ve figured out. Very difficult to do, so relying on scores has always been the easiest road to travel.

Part of the problem is that tasting notes, on their own, are often fleeting and impossible to grasp. Guilty as charged. Fred Swan put this is the most eloquent terms. “Tasting notes are like photographs, portraying a subject at one brief moment in time and without a back story.” If tasting notes are just snapshots, is that not compelling testimony as to the need for an accompanying score? Or is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?

Jamie Goode’s take. “I find myself in a tricky position: I use points even though I don’t like to because readers find them useful. And I have to calibrate my scale with the major critics. This pushes me into a corner.”

Still the debate is growing and for good reason. The wine community is tiring of seeing scores, especially those tabulated using the Robert Parker Jr. anointed 100-point scale, attached to a critic’s wine tasting note. The question has always been this. Why would you need scores to sell wine?

Mr. Parker feels so strongly about the entrenched longevity of his system that he’s announced the launch of a new lifestyle magazine called “100 Points by Robert Parker.” Does this sound like a last gasp fling from a captain going down with his ship? Bill Zacharkiw seems to intimate the idea, but the Montreal Gazette wine critic is smarter than to lash out and drag anyone through the mud. Taking a high road, Zacharkiw writes, “from grapes to wine styles, there is truly a wine for everyone. I have my taste, you have yours, and Parker has his.” No, nor scores neither. Nor scores neither.

The fervor and sometimes rage in the argument reminds me of the (second) most famous of Hamlet soliloquys. “Why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man!” Most of the voices chiming in on this hot topic only see the ratings world in black and white. There are more shades of grey than many would freely admit. Scores have their place.

Meanwhile, Decanter is reporting that Château Pontet-Canet made a bold decision to test (more than 20 years) of uncharted waters by setting their en Primeur pricing in advance of the taste and ratings levies by the major critics. Since the nineties the likes of Parker, Decanter and Wine Spectator have all but determined Bordeaux Futures pricing. Pontet-Canet’s move is being seen as another nail in the 100-point coffin. One Bordeaux négociant commented, “If other chateaux follow this same pricing model, we might as well go home now.”

The real issue is the bottle itself. In the new world of wine, who has not thrown new stock and a vested interest into wines made naturally, in sustainable, biodynamic or organic ways? Who has not made a resolution to drink more honest wine? Producing good wine still trumps the natural theatre of viticulture and viniculture but honesty is the new order. Honest wines should go forth and be free of wine ratings.

Wine scores can be ignored if we concentrate on what matters. Like apiculate yeast, fermentative vigor, microflora, clonal selection and soil. We also need to talk more about and mention flaws, like chlorinated compounds, hydrogen sulphide and volatile acidity. These are things that are too often brushed under the rug.

I will continue to post ratings of the wine’s I review on WineAlign because as a community of critics we offer a round table of opinions that allow the wine buyer to make gathered, educated and informed decisions. In consideration that this forum is a singular expression of opinions, this column will no longer attach scores to tasting notes. It’s quite obvious, plain and simple. I only write about honest wines for canada.com. The prose speaks for itself.

With spring beginning this Friday, no joke, here are the last of the great big winter reds. Five wines recently tasted that thrilled by way of their fairness, their honor and their virtue. Wines that need no score.

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (364133, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Stands out for its honest fruit, this Mendozan from San Roque district in Maipú county. Qualified by an admirable level of restraint, low in residual sugar and alcohol, straightforward, unencumbered. Winemakers María Eugenia Baigorria and Sergio Giménez have let the fruit speak in clean, level tones, in red berries, licorice red and black, a dusting of spice, red cherry and even strawberry. This is textbook hands off winemaking with nearly exceptional length and simply solid from start to finish. Mi sueno, mi terruño.  Tasted March 2014

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Francois Morissette’s 2010 is a pioneering example towards defining Bench appellation Cabernet Franc isomeric reactions. Relationships between grapes of a growing area and their ultimate destination in bottle. An affair of veraison, leaf drop, frost, hand harvesting, whole cluster sorting and berry oak fermenting.  Indigenous yeast, punch downs and overs for phenolic skin extraction and polymerization. Neutral oak and sulfur dioxide to provide antimicrobial and antioxidant protection. An eighteen month somniac’s rest, fine lees and no filtration. The structural arrangement in cohabitation of radicals and ions leads to such a Cabernet Franc. Fully expressive of an endemic, very ripe, vegetal varietal vicissitude that is both inbred and necessary. Currants and peppered berries of power and grit. Dry (2 g/L residual sugar), plump (13.7 per cent alcohol) and scarce (618 cases made). Reflective of the warm 2010 vintage and will always act in stark contrast to the elegant 2011.  Tasted July 2013 and March 2014  @PearlMorissette  On the card at Barque Smokehouse

Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, Tuscany, Italy (353201, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A re-release showing an exuberance of advanced character. Now acting out the strikingly rich and golden vintage, in Lamé and gilded iron. Speaking a most Tuscan, elite vernacular, already recognizable and evolving into its own skin, with a notion towards herbaceous, dried fruit. A classic pasta and roasted meats red wine. Nonna’s Trattoria kitchen in a glass. Drying just a touch, so drink up. Earlier note: “Slight earthy funk, imparted by the vineyard floor and in part from the wood. Sappy, resinous, distinctively warm-blooded, plummy fruit. Tuscan tang though light on pucker.”  Tasted October 2013 and March 2014

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign)

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

Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe, Bordeaux, France (259010, $149.85, WineAlign) An In-Store Discovery from the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A blend that in 2010 is extremely high in Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), with support from Merlot (12) and Petit Verdot (2). Immaculate hue in blue jasmine meets red ochre, echoed by blue and red fruit aromas. A purity of freshness and an exotic perfume distracts from the absurdity of the price, if just long enough to become intoxicated by its qualifications. It really does have it all. Red velvet layer cake made of the finest chocolate, the world’s least refined and highest quality sugar, spices only found in places reached and hand-picked by agile, primate-like humans. So approachable and marked by sweet tannins that will carry this Saint Estèphe for three decades.  Tasted March 2014

Good to go!

Winter white out wine, beer and food conditions

White wine in the snow

The weather will step aside in April. Until then, satiate yourself.
Photo: Sergio Di Giovanni/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The winter that never ends. White out conditions, snow squalls, wind advisory and chill warnings. Everything just feels heavy. The OPP’s request? Just stay home, Ontario. Prepare for the worst, hunker down and warm the belly with full-bodied wines, strong mocker, beer and hearty winter meals. The weather will step aside in April. Until then, satiate yourself.

Here are six strength fortifying libations to ride the final wave of winter’s brutal conditions.

Clockwise from left: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, 13th Street White Palette 2011, Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, and Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Clockwise from left: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, 13th Street White Palette 2011, Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, and Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, Scotland, United Kingdom (279349, $3.25)

Stout matured over American Oak Heartwood and infused with Irish Whiskey. A Cimmerian entry in hue and hunger peels back to a curious lightness of being. The wood tends to an Arabian mocha aroma, the whiskey to molasses and gingerbread baking spice. The 7.4 per cent alcohol is integrated though an incendiary smoky magic weighs in to toast biscuits and braise a beefy pot au feu. “The Smoky Life is practiced everywhere,” in the I & G. A beer of good charm, smooth, silky, singing in melodic grace and with confidence.  90  Tasted March 2014  @InnisandGun

The grapes: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay Musqué

The history: Niagara winery founded in 1998. Chablis native Jean-Pierre Colas joined 13th Street as winemaker in 2009. Co-owners of the winery, the Whitty family has been farming fruit in Niagara for well over 100 years

The lowdown: Much of the fruit comes from the estate’s Creek Shores appellation vineyards, sedimentary, well-drained lighter soils on a landscape highly dissected by its many streams.

The food match: Fish Tacos

13th Street White Palette 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (207340, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

JP’s who’s who bottle of white grapes, a mad scientist’s blend, the flask filled with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay Musque. A re-release and much improved with a year’s extra weight, its “got your body right now.” Fortified by a carapace of grape spirits and purposeful in a white meritage sense of community, plus citrus, pith and a far-reaching, right correct absinthian length. You better you bet.  88  Tasted October 2013  @13thStreetWines

Fish Tacos Photo: Michael Godel

Fish Tacos
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From Marlborough on the western side of the Waihopai Valley. The name is both the indigenous Maori word for “pathway” and Latin for “altar”

The lowdown: “With rugged mountains on either side and two icy rivers cutting through, it’s a pretty extreme place. The very definition of raw, cool climate conditions.”

The food match: Potato Frittata with Feta and Green Onions

Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (361279, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Immediate impressions are of a user-friendly Pinot Noir in conceit of black cherry, chocolate and blueberry spice. These are surface notes quickly displaced by an adventurous senses of living on the edge. The wine dips into a brine and lithic earth saturated by glacial melt. This is a different sort of Marlborough Pinot that speaks a modern english, if too young to be understood. “I’ve seen some changes but it’s getting better all the time.” Will try the Ara again in a year or two and likely say I melt with you.  89  Tasted February 2014  @AraWine_UK

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Planeta first made this wine 20 years ago in 1994. It has become “the image illustrating the changes taking place in Sicilian wines.”

The lowdown: From Ulmo (calcareous with sections of deep vegetable matter) and Maroccoli (medium clay soil rich in limestone) vineyards in the area of Sambuca di Sicilia. Powerful Chardonnay.

The food match: Taco Night

Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Sicily, Italy (109652, $38.95, SAQ 00855114, $39.15, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 release

Wantonly lavish, heavy and tropically delicious. If ever there were a red wine substitute this is the one for the wishful thinker. Tasting this Sicilian is like liquid breathing sweet and salty, drawn butter. It’s a glass of dessert Chardonnay, dichotomous and oxymoronic in congealed warmth like cold-stabilized, oxygen-rich, perfluorocarbon. The tropical warmth is a combination of honey and lemon-glade, like Savennières with an unexpected aged Jura, oxidized, herbal angle. There can be no arguing the complexity of this Sicilian dream. Extreme humidity, with a bitter middle streak and ground nut flavours.  90  Tasted March 2014  @Noble_Estates  @PlanetaWinery 

Taco Night Photo: Michael Godel

Taco Night
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Thomas Bachelder, flying winemaker, architect of the Bachelder Project, of trois terroirs, in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy

The lowdown: “Burgundy is my favourite place to make wine,” admits Thomas Bachelder. “The large négociant control all (44) 1er cru vineyards so there are not a lot of small growers working with Beaune fruit.” Enter terroirman.

The food match: Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard

Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Is so floral, mineral, intense and hypnotic it might be dubbed the Serpent Charmer. Iron and wine indeed, the iron of Nuits, the perfume of Beaune. This provocative bottling represents the third year of production, is conspicuous in Anis de Flavigny and an underlying gate. If montagnes is the harming one, this is the charming one. These are all from the same barrels, so what really affects the wines the most? Land and hand.  93  Tasted November 2013  @Bachelder_wines

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Sangiovese Grosso

The history: The family has been in the wine business since Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Florentine Guild of Vintners in 1385. The Antinori estate is responsible for some of Tuscany’s most famous wines; Solaia, Tignanello and Guado al Tasso.

The lowdown: As stalwart a Brunello as any, Pian Delle Vigne is not immune to critical conjecture. Applying kudos to any big house in this polarizing vintage will raise an eyebrow or two. Why not Antinori?

The food match: Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, Nova Scotia 1006431, $64.80, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Goes at it older, bolder, tried and truer than had recently been the case, especially in 2007. Leather, cherries, seeping tea and peppery, earthy, funky dates. Purity of fruit, obviousness in Sangiovese Grosso aromatics and it is only when you taste that you are dealt with the full effect of its power and girth. Quite viscous on the palate, tough, gritty chain of tannin and qualified, felicitous bitters on a very long finish.  Best Pian delle Vigne in some time, at least back to 2001.  93  Tasted November 2013  @AntinoriFamily

Good to go!

You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine

Pink lipstick

Here are five wines that say “you can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine.”
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Friday is Valentine’s Day, again. May as well be Groundhog Day, only the movies aren’t as good. You do know that songs about Valentine’s Day rarely look at the bright side of life. Case in point David Bowie, Linkin Park, Marilyn Manson and even JewelLast year I played the cruel card against a worthy Valentine’s adversary, the wine in the pink pajamas, Rosé. Like it or not, I’m sticking to the 2013 pronouncement, “just say no to pink wine for Valentine’s.”

I can and will pick wines for any and every occasion, from the Ice Storm to the Super Bowl, from Halloween to sipping along with Rock and Roll. Valentine’s Day receives no exemption but there can be no sugar coating cupid’s get in the mood juice by way of the pink stuff. Blush and bride do not connect as the greatest Valentine’s Day pairing.  A real man will drink Rosé any day of the year, just not tomorrow. 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.

The wines I’ve picked out for her, for him and for each other all exhibit at least a few complex characteristics. They also hail from nooks in the world a patron saint of lovers might find a respite away from the demands on his match-making time. Here are five wines that say “you can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine.”

From left: Terres Blanches Muscat Sec 2012, Boutari Santorini 2012, Domaine Lambrusques Esprit Sauvage 2011, The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2012, and Verbena Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

From left: Terres Blanches Muscat Sec 2012, Boutari Santorini 2012, Domaine Lambrusques Esprit Sauvage 2011, The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2012, and Verbena Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

White for her

Terres Blanches Muscat Sec 2012, Pays D’oc, Languedoc-Roussillon (Midi), France (653188, $13.95 WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Dry Muscat can be dull as paint drying and though this entry-level rarity (for Canada) is a bit aromatically quiet for the species, the palate really shines. This must be the place to explore the dry example of the variety. A naïve melody with “feet on the ground, head in the sky.” Will appeal to fans of Unoaked Chardonnay and white Rhône blend rangers. Tasty bits of clementine, nougat and anise. The good bitters of a cocktail coming up to room temperature. Good tangy finish that goes on for quite some time. We’re talking head of the class.  88  Tasted February 2014

White for him

Boutari Santorini 2012, Santorini, Greece  (47985, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

The soda, stones and salinity of Assyrtiko from Santorini can be a trifecta of allegorical wonderment. This one has all that but it is the lemon drop nose that leads so in that sense it’s more basic than others. That said it is a perfect pale-bronzing entry into Thira’s Cycladic, Aegean world. At this price there is more pith and bitter nut oils but the wine remains lively. Add to that the savoury garrigue of the island’s low-bush vineyards and a slow-flowing note of warm lava. Not surprising given the above average temperatures of 2012, leading to a reductive note. Still, Assyrtiko always thrills.  89  Tasted February 2014  @Boutari  @DrinkGreekWine

Red for her

Domaine Lambrusques Esprit Sauvage 2011, Pic Saint Loup, Languedoc-Roussillon (Midi), France (354142, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

This Languedoc-Roussillon red blend wheels out a quirky beat but is so generous of flavour it will have great appeal, if not to the masses. Unmasked by wood or cane, it almost seems to apologize for being so tasty. Pic St. Loup may not be a household name and though it “started off with nothing,” this village might tell the Esprit Sauvage  “you’re proud that you’re a self-made man.” Confident in bracing tannin and acidity though they steal away like a Xeroxed, three-minute George Harrison pop song. At the end of the day I’m happy to be stuck in Midi with a Pic St. Loup.  89  Tasted February 2014

Red for him

The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (149237, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Quickly reminiscent of its 2011 predecessor but also different, in a basking, vintage-related warmth and reductive currency. This could not have been an easy wine to temper in 2012 considering the ripasso methodology. Just softened plum is painted all over its sheen with the poaching aromas steaming away. Grilled, melting licorice, caramelizing and disapparating before your eyes. Not to mention a French vanilla creamy garagiste waft, like nuts and bolts ice cream. But I will admit the tang, acidity and tenacity increases with each sip and swirl. Such a unique bottling to Ontario. Is there anything else like it not from Lake Erie North Shore?  89  @wineaffair  Tasted February 2014

Red for each other

Verbena Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (165126, $39.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

A conundrum here. On one hand this Verbena is ready to take up residence in the modern world. On the other, there are hallmark ancient Sangiovese Grosso varietal and Montalcino cellar smells. Leather, game, seeping, weeping cherries, dried flowers, cave must and animale. The game really stands out and though it’s neither mutton nor bretty funk, it’s got musk. Angular yet sweet tannins envelop flavours of roasted plum and licorice. Copiously endowed with intense, dense, chewy fruit so expect this to last for 10-15 years. Makes for great value in Brunello out of a trying but thankfully not flamboyant vintage.  92  Tasted February 2014  @ConsBrunello

Good to Go!

Gripping wines from Spain and Italy

Europe

How can winemaking trump terroir?
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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!

Top ten wines $30 and under for 2013

Wine in the haystack


Finding the needles in the proverbial haystack is no simple assignment so tasting through thousands of wines each year is the necessity to the mother of invention.
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Folks like best of lists and I for one am happy to offer them up. Historical farsightedness can be one of life’s great pleasures so cue the retrospective view.

The $20-30 category brims to overflowing with soft wines, so often heavy, overworked, reeking of new oak and unforgiving in contrivance. That niche can also be occupied by some of the greatest wine values on the planet. Wines that are neither entry-level nor flagship. Wines that define the attitude and intention of their producers.

Finding the needles in the proverbial haystack is no simple assignment so tasting through thousands of wines each year is the necessity to the mother of invention. Looking back, I am pleased to note that Ontario wines proved their worth in this reasonable if not cheap category. That four of the ten represented here were chosen locally is a testament to the quality and the marketability of $25 Niagara whites and reds.

Here are my top ten wines, on the number or below, released and tasted in 2013.

Ten wine releases $30 and under

From left: SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, and SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009

From left: SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, and SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009

SIGALAS SANTORINI ASSYRTIKO 2011, Santorini, Greece (74781, $21.95, WineAlign)

Must be a fairy tale, a Boucles d’or narrative of structure and complexity from the first swirl and sniff. Airy, saline, built of rich, gold guts. Perfectly ripened orchard fruit and fresh-squeezed grapefruit. Taste it and there’s a joyous dance, a kefi bursting inside, like great Champagne but minus the bubbles.  92  Tasted April 2013  @KolonakiGroup  From: See the humanity in real value wine

SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (ON, VINTAGES Essential, 193573, $22.95, WineAlign)

Drifts effortlessly along in an extreme brightness and lightness of being. A perfumed exotic beauty that displays definitive Cabernet Sauvignon character. Tea, tobacco, Cassis, vanilla, dark berries, proper acidity, good grip and length. Dictionary entry for the vintage, the Niagara-on-the-Lake appellation and the genre. No other sub-$25 Ontario Cab does the warm vintages (’02. ’05, ’07 and ’10) with this kind of grace and power. From and kudos to winemaker Ann Sperling.  91  Tasted September 2013  @SouthbrookWine  From: Good Look Ahead at Canadian Wines For Thanksgiving

GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011 ,VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (351486, $22.95, WineAlign)

Cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.  91  Tasted July 2013  @GreenLaneWinery  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend

DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, Ac Loire, France (319855, $23.95, WineAlign)

Screams “I am Chenin Blanc,” in honey on the pedal and maximum mineral metal. Aggressive, pursuing machine ”stealing honey from a swarm of bees.” Petrol stinky, tangy thick, sticky with honey oozing everywhere, in comb and sweet-smelling suckle. Seriously huge and flashy. Will be stunning when it settles down.  92  Tasted April 2013  @Savennieresaoc  From: Top ten wines for May Day

DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, Ac Alsace, France (249623, $25.95, WineAlign)

Wants to tell you she’s late harvest but you know better. “You might say you can only fool yourself.” Golden gorgeous, silken pear custard and southern hemisphere, capsicum spiked fruit. Walks on little feat but ultra-marathon runs a sweet to dry crescendoing gamut.  92  Tasted June 2013  @drinkAlsace  From: Working wines for the Canada Day long weekend

From left: SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY 'COURTNEY' 2011, and THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS 'STEEL POST' VINEYARD RIESLING 2011

From left: SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY ‘COURTNEY’ 2011, and THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS ‘STEEL POST’ VINEYARD RIESLING 2011

SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, Tuscany, Italy (716266, $26.95, SAQ, 703363, $27, WineAlign)

Clocks in at 12.8 per cent abv. Are you following the theme here? This CCR is just so flippin’ foxy and gorgeous to nose. It’s also demanding in iron, dried sanguine char and tough like the label’s Titian-painted medieval knight. CCR stretched out on the rack, Italianate through and through and likely in need of 10 years lay down time. Funkless which, considering the lack of coat and obfuscation, is very, very interesting.  92   Tasted August 2013  From: Fall is the wine time to be with the Tuscan you love

LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, Rioja, Spain (928622, $27.95, WineAlign)

Its makers may now just be a cog in the Sogrape empire but it continues to do its own thing. Has that evolution I look for in Rioja. The slightest oxidative note, heaps of herbs and the umami of salty clashes with smokey Jamon. Rioja expressive of one love and one heart. Caught bobbing, dancing and wailing right in its wheelhouse, giving everything it’s made of, no holds barred and no questions asked. “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?” Yes, in a glass of a weathered, leathery and just flat out real as it gets red Rioja.  92  Tasted September 2013  @BodegasLan  From: Ancient state of the art Spanish wine

ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California, (294181, $29.95, WineAlign)

Composed of approximately 60 per cent Chardonnay and 40 Pinot Noir. As close to greatness a house style from California can achieve. Discovers some secrets shared by cool-climate Sparkling wine, first with a delicate floral waft from out of a salmon copper tone. Complex, savoury bubbles, in rhubarb, tarragon and poached pear. Round, really fine, earthly, grounded stuff that spent a minimum two years on the lees. Marked by citrus too, namely pink grapefruit and creamy vanilla from the addition of some oak-aged wine.  91  Tasted November 2013  From: Ten sparkling wine to life

MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY ‘COURTNEY’ 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, winery only,)

Spent 14 edifying months in French oak and will live adroitly for another five years as a result. So much plum inherent in all its faculties, berries and currants too. The winemaker star of Shiraz Mottiar is rising higher into the cool climate stratosphere with each passing vintage. His wines walk a haute couture runway of class and style.  91  Tasted April 2013  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  From: Come together over wine

THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS ‘STEEL POST’ VINEYARD RIESLING 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($30, winery only, WineAlign)

From the Andrew Peller stable leans late-harvest or Spätlese, with 18.5 grams per litre of residual sugar. Clean, crisp, precise and near perfect Beamsville Bench expression. Flinty minerality and fantastic whorl by way of winemaker Emma Garner. Equal to if not more of a bomb than the stellar ’09.  93  Tasted March 2013  @ThirtyBench  100 kilometre wine for Spring

Good to go!

All I want for Christmas is a big red wine

Red wine

If you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you.
Photo: 7artman/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The three of you who read my bi/tri-weekly column must have noticed by now that I am diplomatic, almost to a fault, to be as inclusive as possible. I certainly make a point to unearth and make public the best Canadian wines that I can find, especially when they originate so close to home.

Old world, new world, rosé, Sparkling, red wine, and an increasing focus on white wine may have some of you running for the hills but spreading the wealth is the name of the game. Diversity is my keeper but there comes a time when logic and proportion need a break. All I want for Christmas, and for those of you who know me that’s a ridiculous thing to say, is a great big ole’ bottle of red wine.

Who doesn’t? If you have missed the last 25 or so recommendations I’ve laid at your gift giving feet, if you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you. Or, you can buy them all, seven reds for $250 and change. Not too shabby.

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, North Coast, California (356113, $19.95, WineAlign)

This 2010 is a new let’s groove label from the somewhat ambiguously defined North Coast appellation of California. An area of three million acres that includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and portions of Marin and Solano counties. Dusty entry, peppery finish. In between there is distilled cooler red fruit which sweet-heat spikes if only temporarily and ultimately settles into a fine balance of earth, wind and fire. Gifts an admirable sense of wood restraint. Simply “let this groove, set in your shoes” and enjoy its simple pleasures. Available in small quantities for a limited time.  87  Tasted December 2013  @hk_Canada

BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain (350215, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Iberian cousin to the North Coast Cabernet an ocean away likewise enters the fray dusty and flecked by white pepper. What gives it immediate density identity is the juicy, just picked cherry flesh and pencil lead minerality. A sweet blueberry flavour gets lift from edgy tannins so as you ponder this Tempranillo you will note that ”it’s gonna take you years to find out” what it’s all about. But there’s hope, however presently buried, in the descendent nature of its roots.  88  Tasted November 2013

ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (930966, $21.95, WineAlign)

One of the most reliable Tuscan houses offers no apology for this CCR’s flamboyance and it works a great vintage for the genre to maximum advantage. There is an intoxicating, exotic soaking of teak, vine stem and bhang counterbalanced by a berry sweetness that cannot be denied. In the end there’s the expected enunciation in modern Italian verse. Like a Tuscan-treated Gaja, gorgeous and tough.  89  Tasted November 2013  @roccadellemacie

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (48579, $26.95, WineAlign)

Behold the utter pitchy Barossan, privileged by full-on extraction in as much fruit this amount of money can buy. Tempered by a cool centre, complimented by a tangy finish. The coverall make-up is in high fashion and the big red lives to tell a passionate story after 22 months maturity in oak. Lifted by temperate zest and though it’s more Barossa than Cabernet per se, there is a fortune to be won in the bottle.  89  Tasted November 2013  @SaltramWines

WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, Napa Valley, Califonia (357723, $49.95, WineAlign)

A curious magnum of this highly underrated Napa Cabernet appeared for tasting. Really delicate and already maturing savoury/sweet florals lengthened by a chain of vanilla grain. Fruit looming large, with a Gershwin summertime grace and Holiday ”unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity.”  Cool, soulful, jazzy Cabernet, loaded with pepper and phite. Lady Day Easy Living90  Tasted November 2013  @WhiteOakWinery

LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, Rhône, France (700922, $57.95, WineAlign)

Following a string of excellent vintages from 2003 to 2010, this clumsy Donjon could be dismissed as not up to par but I beg to differ. Such distinct aromatics can only come from a Donjon. Redolent red berry musk, exotic spices from islands east and west, metal replicate and a brush of vineyard funk. Though it thistle-stings the palate and is presently held back by a tannic core, this CdP has the track record and muscle memory for moving forward. Gathers anise, more funk and so much fruit as it aerates but clearly so much time is needed to settle it down. Look to patience in the requiem realm of 10+ years.  92  Tasted November 2013

BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010, British Columbia, Canada (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

Good to go!

Twelve days of wine for Christmas

Wine for Christmas

Now is the time to begin shopping, that is unless you are a glutton for line-up punishment in the last 12 days leading up to Christmas.
Photo: jillchen/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Christmas is but three weeks away and so the countdown begins. Wine shops from coast to coast are officially at maximum inventory, knowing full well that if you stock it, they will come.

In Ontario, VINTAGES sections at the LCBO have more to offer than at any other time of the year. The same can be said for the SAQ in Quebec. Alberta’s private wine shops are loaded up with selections, as are the VQA stores in British Columbia and every other provincial liquor board store.

Now is the time to begin shopping, that is unless you are a glutton for line-up punishment in the last 12 days leading up to Christmas. Starting tomorrow you have exactly one week left to search and acquire any of these twelve terrific wines. Come on people, get out there!

From left: QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, CHÂTEAU BERTINERIE MERLOT/CABERNET 2009, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, LORNANO LE BANDITE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS CLOS DE LA MARCHE SAVENNIÈRES 2009, and RIOJA BORDÓN GRAN RESERVA 2004

From left: QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, CHÂTEAU BERTINERIE MERLOT/CABERNET 2009, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, LORNANO LE BANDITE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS CLOS DE LA MARCHE SAVENNIÈRES 2009, and RIOJA BORDÓN GRAN RESERVA 2004

QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, Doc Dão, Portugal  (546309, $13.95, WineAlign)

Simple, straight cut, hedonistic Dão pleasure from winemaker Manuel Vieira and the Sogrape Vinhos’ empire. Nothing wrong with that except that at $14 it feels like stealing. An evincive blend of 50 per cent Touriga Nacional, 20 Tinta Roriz and 30 Jaen. Red and black fruit, mineral tension, somewhat gritty but lush in plum, licorice feel and flavour. Really good stuff.  89  Tasted November 2013  @winePortugalCA

CHÂTEAU BERTINERIE MERLOT/CABERNET 2009, Ac Côtes De Bordeaux, Blaye (244640, $18.95, WineAlign)

Intrigue and nary a sign of Brett or funk. Warm, java fruit ninja subsidized by the tension that possesses it. A bit overripe perhaps, also rocky and hematic, unstaunched and with good length. Satisfyingly good, deep, dark wine. At $19 this has December stews written all over its Blays face.  90  Tasted November 2013  @Bertinerie

DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, Wo Robertson, South Africa (355438, $18.95, WineAlign)

This is exactly what I come to expect and hope for in calcareous, gravel and clay Cape Chardonnay. Robertson study in balance, fortitude and anxiety. Palpable proof of De Westhof’s self-professed attitude towards “site-specific vineyard management and wine-making.” Really pretty white flowers, citrus in C minor and piercing acidity. Proficiently ripe, toasted without tempting caramel and really well-judged. All in for $19. No ifs and or buts.  91  Tasted November 2013

LORNANO LE BANDITE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, Docg Tuscany, Italy  (230672, $19.95, WineAlign)

Goes out Brett funky straight away and without trepidation. Le Bandite indeed, rough, rural, musky, manly, stealing fruit from the well dressed, the hygienic and the entitled. Robin Hood CCR, prince of fresh fruit thief, or perhaps the man in tights, as in iron, Italianate, searing, sanguine attitude. Throwing rocks, stones, rioting, looting and shooting arrows through my Chianti heart. Could you tell I liked it?  90  Tasted November 2013  @FrontierWine

DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS CLOS DE LA MARCHE SAVENNIÈRES 2009, Ac Loire, France (250571, $23.95, WineAlign)

A bottle full of apple, lemon and flinty rock. At first, a Chenin Blanc study for The Dance. The aromatics seem just a bit closed today and the texture a touch more downy than from memory, but it is far from oxidized. Arid, tight and then a slow emergence. The stones begin to traipse on the tongue in a Matissean La Danse clarity of light, form and simplicity, tingle to the core, circle round and round. Textbook Savennières.  91  Tasted November 2013  @LoireValleyWine

RIOJA BORDÓN GRAN RESERVA 2004, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $24.95, SAQ 11383561, $22.45, Alta. $34.99, WineAlign)

A Rioja that wears its alcohol and emotions on its sleeve. Robust attack, cranky acidity and lashing tannin. A cup of sweet and sour cherries in jubilation and rigmarole. Quite the boisterous, reactive Rioja animal. Hard to figure on but quite something. Classic actually.  90  Tasted November 2013  @RiojaBordon

From left: DE MARTINO LIMÁVIDA OLD BUSH VINES 2010, THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE TEMPTRESS ‘ABBRACCIO’ 2009, BONNY DOON LE CIGARE VOLANT 2008, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY 2010, and CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010

From left: DE MARTINO LIMÁVIDA OLD BUSH VINES 2010, THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE TEMPTRESS ‘ABBRACCIO’ 2009, BONNY DOON LE CIGARE VOLANT 2008, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY 2010, and CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010

DE MARTINO LIMÁVIDA OLD BUSH VINES 2010, Maule Valley, Chile  (360131, $35.95, WineAlign)

If a seriously heaving berry, dark as night Chilean red can add a bit of euphoria into your life, this SV might just be the one. Wet earth drenched in a sudoric blanket of wood soaked in fine liqueur. Limited production blend of Malbec, Carmenère, Carignan and Tannat from “terroir más excepcionales de Chile.” Noticeable porcine note from a wine seemingly old and wise but beneath the hard shell it’s actually berry-chocolate fruity and tangy. Has tension and nerve but the parts don’t always equate to the whole. Terrific attempt at a serious Maule Valley red of singular expression.  90  Tasted November 2013  @DeMartinoWines  @Halpernwine

THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE TEMPTRESS ‘ABBRACCIO’ 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (127340, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the estate’s Crispino Vineyard, the blend of 65 per cent Merlot, 30 Cabernet Sauvignon and five Petit Verdot is chosen from the best barrels. Activates Ilya Senchuk’s take on the appassimento style, in structure and in spades. This is the vintage where 14 became 15, but that alcohol has to be forgiven, considering the outright bravado embrace of the rehydrated fruit. Plum deep, syrup drippy, espresso and dark chocolate bitterness. Works against the grain, but again, must be forgiven considering the overall achievement. Gotta check this one out between 2019-2022.  91  Tasted November 2013  @wineaffair

BONNY DOON LE CIGARE VOLANT 2008, Central Coast, California (975847, $48.95, SAQ 10253386, $49.00, WineAlign)

“Well I’ve always had a deep respect,” for the boisterous wines of Randall Grahm “and I mean that most sincere.” Less rope and more felicity etch this ’08 into a Rhône book of yesteryear. This Volant has its cigar and smokes it too, having entered peak toasted spice form, with sweet Grenache, peppery Syrah and the strengthening, fortifying assistance from Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignane. Raspberry youthful, mineral tough, juicy and gorgeous, full-bodied, ripe, essential ranger. Bites down hard on the blistered finish. This is really, really nice Central Coast California juice. Right up there with CDP’s in a similar tax bracket.  91  Tasted November 2013  @BonnyDoonVineyd  @RandallGrahm

DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, Monopole, Ac, Burgundy, France (46706, $89.95, WineAlign)

From Mathieu Mangenot’s ”Grand Cru” plots, the Monopole holdings in the steep amphitheatre slope of Vaudésir and the gentle rise of Les Preuses. The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine. He spoons piles of flint and chunks of rock. He explains the tin pan elevation of Chablis and Chardonnay squeezed from the bedrock, capturing every last drop of geology, refuse of stars and fossils of the ancient animals. Stoic, metazoic, super Chablis, with tremendous length. How can this Chablis have so much fruit but no apple, no lemon, no pith. “You think things are straight but they’re not what they seem.” Candy for the soul. Novacaine in liquid form. Amazing.  94  Tasted November 2013.

PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY 2010, Sonoma Coast, California (222117, $99.95, SAQ 11936111, $97.00, Alta. 737672, $104.76, WineAlign)

The offspring of two famous vineyards, Wayfarer and Ritchie. Two plots that bring strength and style, Captain and Tenille. The sumptuous cajoling of this dense Sonoman could never be accused of lying low or lacking confidence. When “some sweet talking guy comes along singing his song,” like this Pahlmeyer, the trickery is palpable and that burst into song, “love will keep us together,” is unavoidable. It’s the unabashed, high density fruit, the layers of enveloping wood and the crustaceans dripping butter. It’s the thick and chewy texture, unlike almost any other, but it’s also the woody, resinous, strikingly ripe, brix combative turned alcohol heavy feeling and the creamed cornucopia of whipped polenta, lemon and burnt sugary crème brûlée. Huge style.  91  Tasted November 2013  @Pahlmeyer

CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, Ac Burgundy, France (344887, $101.95, Quebec $85.00, WineAlign)

A mild sylvan reductive stink is neither abstruse nor in fruit obstruction. What we have here is a brass tax in Chardonnay histrionics. Yellow and green tree fruit, wicked wild yeast game and just about as much ruminating, mineral tang as one might desire. Something wicked this way woos my wistful longing for quality white Burgundy. I could imagine drinking this well into my pension days.  95  Tasted November 2013

Good to Go!

Wine around the boot in 40 days

Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included.
PHOTO: KLAUS EPPELE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

It began in the middle of October, on a Tuesday, on the ides I believe. Two weeks earlier I had penned this column: Fall is the time for Tuscan wine.

I was wrong. Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included. At no time of year is there more of a conscious, active pursuit of Italian produce and gastronomy; salumi, chestnut, porcini, truffle and especially wine.

For the better part of a month and a half I have been tasting Italian wine, from just about everywhere it is made around the boot. Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emiglia Romagna, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Molise, Piemonte, Sardegna, Sicilia, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria and Veneto. Three essential events brought Italy to Canada, two being of the intimate and tutored kind. The third, a massive annual affair (though no VinItaly) tied the Italian federation of wine-producing regions together under one gorgeously acoustic roof.

Lunch with Fiorenzo Dogliani of Beni di Batasiolo and Charton Hobbs, October 25, 2013

George Restaurant, 111 Queen St E, Toronto, (416) 863-6006 @georgeonqueen

The Dogliani family produce a wine range of wines in Piemonte and although love has not been lost for the “beni,” properties encasing the symbiotic relationship between farmhouses and vineyards, or tradition as a guiding force, Batasiolo is not out-of-place in the fast, forward thinking aesthetic of modern Italian winemaking. “Past and future co-exist” and wine speaks of the estate’s “Great Vineyards,” Briccolina, Boscareto, Cerequio and Bofani. Vineyards that persist in producing outstanding produce.

Tutored tasting with Gaia Gaja of Gaja Wines and Stem Wine Group, October 31, 2013

Bosk - Shangri-La Hotel, 188 University Avenue, Toronto, (646) 788-8888  @BoskTO @wineguy2005

Gaja owns 250 acres of vineyards in Barbaresco and Barolo. In 1994 they acquired Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino, Tuscany and in 1996 they added Ca’Marcanda in Bolgheri, Tuscany on the coast. The significance of this acquisition lies in the Bordeaux varieties grown there; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and especially Cabernet Franc. There will come a day, not so far away, when that Cabernet Franc will make some truly exceptional wine.

The Gaja brand, while nearly 155 years young, has recently climbed into a league of its own. To consider the wines, the estates and the aura that surrounds, you might think there was a marketing team of hundreds blanketing the earth.  On the contrary. There is Gaia Gaja.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Gaia Gaja and Sperss Langhe 1999

Gaia Gaja brought her family’s wines to Toronto. She spoke for more than an hour. Non-stop. “I am a woman and I am Italian,” she confessed. No one complained. All were captivated by the presentation and the presenter.

It is quite something to have the opportunity to taste wines like the 2008 Rennina Brunello di Montalcino, 2009 Barbaresco, 2008 Conteisa Barolo and the ethereal 1999 Sperss Langhe. Angelo Gaja is the rogue master of Piemonte, the first to think outside the box and break down ancient restrictions and boundaries. Who would argue that success is owed, more than in part, to his determination to rid the region of pride and stubbornness.

The dichotomy in images and in wine is not something easily understood unless you have listened to someone like Gaia Gaja tell the story. Here, a small village in Piemonte, the photograph showing a rag-tag assembly of small homes packed tightly together. The story told that beneath every house there is a winery and the greatest Nebbiolo on the planet there being produced. The farmers growing grapes on slopes so famous, not because the terroir may be noted as terre bianche or terre brune, but because the wines, like Sori Tildin or Sori San Lorenzo transform the produce into magic and command never imagined prices.

Gaja, the brand, is as famous as any from Italy, but Gaia takes nothing for granted. She is the perfect spokesperson for her family’s business. She is outwardly nostalgic, plotting a course from the very origins of the family’s connection to the land. Her attention to the simple is what Edward Steinberg noted in his Gaja memoir, The Vines of San Lorenzo. “The growing of grapes on one plot of land and their subsequent transformation is the story of Everywine.”

On November 4, 2013 I attended the annual Taste Italy, a tasting of wines from Italy at Roy Thomson Hall. I was particularly impressed with the terrific value to be found in the wines of Ca’ Dei Mandorle and the excellence from Pietro Rinaldi. Rinaldi’s BARBERA SUPERIORE (90) elevates the genre while the BARBARESCO 2010 (93) exudes a sweet, floral perfume. Castellare di Castellina remains one of my favourite Tuscan houses. The CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011 (90) comes from a vintage of agglomeration; the brood and weight of ’06 combined with the beauty and hedonism of ’07. The ’11 CC is fresh, elegant and full of rich fruit.

Here are eight full tasting notes on a wide range of Italian wines, from the hills of Piemonte in the northwest to the tiny island of Sardegna in the south.

JERZU CHUÈRRA RISERVA CANNONAU DI SARDEGNA 2008, Sardinia, Italy (270272, $16.95)

Ancient carsic cave dweller, inhabitant of underground hollows, Brett monster, heartbreaker saying “don’t you mess around with me.” A salt lick studded with crushed aniseed on a bed of Mediterranean flowering maquis and garrigue. Coal-fired, stonking stuff full of tannic tension.  A bit offal-ish and not for the faint of stomach or heart. For others a dream maker.  89  Tasted October 2013  @FrontierWine

DI MAJO NORANTE CONTADO RISERVA AGLIANICO DEL MOLISE 2010, Molise, Italy (967208, $17.95, SAQ 11294817, $17.35)

Has travelled a well-worn path up on cripple creek. The band played a veritable fruit and vegetable smoothie, pulsed from prune, oxidative purple plum, chewy raisin, tomato leaf and pulp in concentrate. Really excellent tension and a tar/coal/charcoal tendency came late. “When that nag to win came around the track” sure enough this Aglianico had won. If it weren’t for so much tomato on the nose this would have been a very fine wine.  88  Tasted October 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Banfi Cuvée Aurora Rosé 2009

BANFI CUVÉE AURORA ROSÉ 2009, Alta Langa, Metodo Classico (355693, $24.95)

The fifth and surely seminal year in production of this French oak barrique aged, 100 per cent Pinot Noir fizz, composed from 90 per cent ”clear wine” and 10 per cent juice of the previous vintage. Follows classic, traditional skin contact cold maceration methodology and seems to emulate the style of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Dry and savoury, distinctly rhubarb-scented, showing amazing freshness and wild borealis waves. A conglomerate Tuscan outfit paying attention to the small details in Piedmont.  90  Tasted November 2013  @CastelloBanfi

CA’MARCANDA PROMIS 2010, IGT Tuscany, Italy (745638, $47.95, NLL 7997, 2005, $46.11)

A syrupy rich and aromatically confected Tuscan coastal blend of 55 per cent Merlot, 35 per cent Syrah and 10 per cent Sangiovese. Anchored by a mineral stranglehold and intense aniseed studded grit. Dried rose, black tea and a trattoria’s wooden walls put you sitting in the taverna, waiting for the boar ragu to arrive. Will see to a serious future if the blackberry and Cassis fruit can hold up. The Promis is in ode to the past made in a clean and concise manner. Negotiates a partnership between the ancient Piemontese world of Angelo Gaja and a new generation of Tuscany style.  91  Tasted on October 25th and November 19th, 2013  @StemWineGroup

GAJA DAGROMIS BAROLO 2008, Piedmont, Italy (Stem Wine Group, $74.99, B.C. 161141, $69.99, NLL 7999, 2003, $84.99)

A Nebbiolo produced from two old vineyards owned by the Gromis family, acquired by Gaja in 1995, one in Serralunga adjacent to the iconic Sperss and the other in La Morra adjacent to Conteisa. Clay and marl Tortonian-era soils are its fodder and this Barolo comes across like iron-rich earth, boled through stucco and warmed to a rosy madder. Cultures 14.5 per cent abv with the most unimaginable, delicate nature. Mirror of her maker.  94  Tasted October 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Batasiolo Line-Up at George Restaurant

BATASIOLO LANGHE ROSSO 2011, Piedmont, Italy (981019, $16.95)

Several local varieties (Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto) are sourced here from the hills of Langhe. Forward fruity, vinous and in turn, resinous, built solid and structured with juicy acidity. Plays all the right components to offer value. This Rosso is well-thought out, not heavy-handed nor overly composed. Excellent value.  89  Tasted October 2013

BATASIOLO BAROLO 2009, Piedmont, Italy (178542, $29.00, SAQ 10856777, $29.40)

Spent a year in bottle following its 100 per cent new oak, two-year, early settling. Produced from a combination of nine disparate vineyards, ranging from valley low to hilltop high, it is ultimately a very fine value in approachable, qualified and legitimate Barolo as you are likely to come across. A farmer’s finesse loads up red berry fruit and ripe plum, bursting fresh and massaged by a healthy level of grainy tannin. A general list Barolo that acts quite serious, if perhaps out of a vintage leaning towards the austere.  89  Tasted October 2013

BATASIOLO VIGNETO CORDA DELLA BRICCOLINA BAROLO 2007, Piedmont, Italy (992271, $75.00, SAQ 10814631, 1.5L $108.25)

From a chord running through a vineyard across a ridge at the top of a hill. Full sun exposure boldly transmutes to modernity out of the highest extraction. An underlying funk pays homage to the single vineyard designation’s storied past and this Nebbiolo is to Batasiolo as Madonna del Piano is to Valdicava. Hard as nails, rapt mineral composure, linear and precise like the vineyard it comes from. So far from opening the door to conjugal visits. There will be chestnut Zabaglione when the times comes 10 years forward. At $75 this is Cru Piemontese for a song. 93  Tasted October 2013

Good to go!

Friday wine bites

Wine bottles

Sometimes you just need to grow your hair, let your freak flag fly and put out a random set of reviews.
Photo: Konstantin Kulikov/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

It would seem that 99 per cent of the time wine columns are composed of a particular thematic that weaves facts, theories and tasting notes and into one tight, informative package. Most would consider it helpful and appropriate for wine stores shelves to be organized by varietal or style, as opposed to country or region. Why should a wine column be any different?

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

Sometimes you just need to grow your hair, let your freak flag fly and put out a random set of reviews. So, here are six unconnected wines, save for the fact they are all highly recommended and available right now, at a store nearby.

From left: FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012 and KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008

FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012, left, and KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008

FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95)

Has steadily become one of Niagara’s most recognizable and copacetic Rieslings. The 2012 is shaped and defined by tight corners and sharp angles. Crisp fruit, sour lemon drop, lime zest, unmistakable in Niagara Peninsula manner but added to by the blessedly atypical warm vintage. Early picking preserved freshness towards realizing a salient, direct arrow into a pierced Riesling heart.  Tasted November 19, 2013  88  @featherstonewne

KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008, Sonoma County, California (965921, $22.95, note that store inventory could be 2008 or 2010, Alta. 722895, $22.99, Sask. 16998, $25.87)

Has hit that age when brambly fruit begins to wane and alcohol takes over. Has not breached the tipping point but it’s coming soon. Dark berries and charred, smokey meat are still warm and inviting but a fig paste and effervescent hop, flanked by an astringent bite, take over at the midpoint. I am still a fan of this bottling, despite an adorned, arching swing of the fresh fruit pendulum. Though it does not venture over the top, it’s no shrinking violet. Certainly not squarely in whack but this Zinfandel uses its fins for maneuverability, buoyancy and a sharp attack.  Tasted November 2013  89  @KundeEstate

From left: HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011 and SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011, left, and SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95)

Deeper, earthen, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.  Tasted October 2013  90  @HiddenBench

SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (361204, $34.00, B.C. 2010 $32.00)

From a 1978 planting, this teases late harvest-like with a sweet-sliding aromatic entry that glides effortlessly on the changeover to the palate and then bam! A red-letter sharp and acidulated takeover. The roots dug deep for the wise and wizened vines overtop a full limestone overlay “naturally stretch the nutrients in the bunches,” notes Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Low, old and slow, “all about circulation and flow.” Finishes with pith and citrus intensity. Yikes Riesling.  Tasted November 2013  91  @SperlingVyds

From left: ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008 and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005

ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008, left, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005

ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, Nova Scotia 1006431, $64.80)

Goes at it older, bolder, tried and truer than had recently been the case, especially in 2007. Leather, cherries, seeping tea and peppery, earthy, funky dates. Purity of fruit, obviousness in Sangiovese Grosso aromatics and it is only when you taste that you are dealt with the full effect of its power and girth. Quite viscous on the palate, tough, gritty chain of tannin and qualified, felicitous bitters on a very long finish.  Best Pian delle Vigne in some time, at least back to 2001. Tasted November 2013  93  @AntinoriFamily

BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (Note: carried in specific flagship stores and could either be 2005 or 2007, 275396, $74.95, Nova Scotia 1012526, $74.79)

Takes no time at all to “stimulate some action,” and “give an exhibition.” Tasting this piece of Canadian Sparkling history is a curated event, offering living, bubbling proof that Nova Scotia is THE place to make fizz.  Flaunts more baking aromas than I can recall from first nosing it two weeks ago. Gravenstein apple skin, gingerbread and freshly grated horseradish layered over Malagash Thrumcap oysters. Expansive, sharp, piquant and hinting towards a verge of oxidative tendency but I must note that this bottle is a bit warm and fuzzy. Though the maturity, elegance and judging is in another league, on a side note, there is something here that reminds me of North Fork’s Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction 2003. Kindred spirits. The Bridge is charged, demanding and I believe this ’05 would continue to benefit from a few more years relaxation before finding its true elegance. Before midnight or after midnight, it doesn’t matter. Get some and you’re “gonna find out what it is all about.”  Tasted October 25th and November 19, 2013  93  @Benjamin_Bridge

Good to go!