Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

Riesling, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Riesling, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Riesling happens. It brokers the nescient consumer with the gift of grape enlightenment. It plants an organoleptic ear worm, urging a leap of faith to discover, to seek out the world’s most versatile, divergent and tractile wine. Riesling comes in so many shapes and sizes and that is why it is so difficult to offer up one’s trust, because if you don’t know,  you never know what you are going to get. Dry, sweet, late harvest, dessert, racy, round, or a combination of it all?

Related – In a Grand Cru state of mind

Alsace is distinguished by a very specific set of vinous attributes. No other area in France is as dry and only Champagne is further north in latitude. In typical climatic years, the aridity of the summer months, followed by the humidity of the fall fosters the development of a beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea, better known as noble rot, which concentrates the sugars and preserves acidity. The catch is that not every vintage works to guarantee the pourriture noble. When conditions are prime, some producers insist on picking before it sets in. Others think of it as gold. Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassman says all of his wines are noble rot wines, but he calls them Riesling.

A trip to Alsace and a week of tasting with producers opens the door to Riesling perception. I begin my Haut-Rhin road to Riesling perspicacity with and the women of . Twenty-eight are poured, including eight from the exceptional 2000 vintage. The full day that follows at Millésimes Alsace with SOPEXA and CIVA enriches the trenchancy to act as Riesling 101 for the winemaker visits to come.

Colmar, Alsace, photo (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Colmar, Alsace, photo (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

To set the record straight, there has always been dry Riesling made in Alsace. There have also been white wines made in blatantly off-dry styles. Bringing the two poles together in seamless coordination is no easy task. The duality in character of combining straightforward, linear acidity and bright, sometimes exotic fruit is a concept, though in sweet emotive intention, that remains buoyant in the persevering air of aridity. It helps to define the transformative trend towards dry Alsatian Riesling.

Millésimes Alsace 2014, photo (c) Cassidy Havens,  http://teuwen.com/

Millésimes Alsace 2014, photo (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Here are Rieslings from a wide range of Alsatian Grand Cru and lieu-dits (single vineyard, named), in 31 flavours.

Maison Rolly Gassman

Riesling Réserve Millésime 2012 (61715, Wineworld Importers & Exporters Ltd, WineAlign)

“All are noble rot wines, but we call them Riesling.” This is the irony from the mouth of Pierre Gassman, especially in consideration of this, the driest in his portfolio. For so many Riesling, 12 g/L of residual sugar would ring like a morning alarm but the Réserve Millésime, a limestone chalky and buzz tangy Riesling, acts as if it’s super dry. This is the 9-plus g/L of acidity talking and the calcaire soil, though some clay gives it weight and grounding. A Gassman Riesling as dictionary entry to define the dichotomous behaviour of Alsatian Riesling. A perfect example that should taste sweet but does not. An impossible yet beautiful act of vinous science.

Riesling Silberberg De Rorschwihr 2010 (WineAlign)

The Silverberg is the “silver mountain,” a Grand Cru not unlike Zind-Humbrecht’s Clos Windsbuhl and located at Gassman’s home base, the Haut-Rhin village of Rorschwihr. This has to be the producer’s most impossible Riesling. The lab results of 16 g/L sugar, 13 g/L acidity, 2.86 pH and 14 per cent alcohol mean that it is not really wine at all. But it is, a linear drip of liquid silver with a direct hit of lemon-lime-orange-grapefruit solution carried within a membrane of viscous honey. Specs be damned, this is bone dry with a speeding, direct citrus laser hit. Riesling with its very own Gassman dialect known as the muschelkalk sound.

Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2000

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to spend any quality time with Gassman’s wines you will cop no advanced character from this late harvest mineral expression in bitterness unchained, yet restrained sumptuous VT. A clear entry pauses to smell the quince, apricot and white flowers. The ultimate resolve is a long aftermath tinged by an (80 per cent of the vines, highest in the Gassmann holdings) noble bitterness. The vines are also some of the oldest, dating back to 1942. Oiled density and excellent length define this Riesling though it’s hard to figure whether or not it acts like a reduction sauce or a spiked tipple. One does not taste and mull a VT like this without pause or cause to wonder. Not an easily understood wine by any stretch of reality so book a flight of fancy and enjoy the ride. One of many exceptional Rieslings from the 2000 vintage in which cloying is simply not an issue. Hard to imagine more versatility from this level of residual sugar to work alongside hors d’oeuvres, fish and the cheese plate.

Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2010

Kappelweg offers up fruit in matronly, door is always open generosity and maximum concentration as much as any terroir in Alsace. From 50 per cent noble rot affected at a resounding yet justly calculated 42 g/L residual sugar number, this baby-faced, early rock ‘n roll Riesling gives off its habitual white flower scent. A product of blue clay (closer to the sea) and a of a botrytis mined with calcaire in mind. “When you have Kappelweg, you have noble rot,” resigns Pierre Gassman. With a Gasmann Riesling “it’s one for the money, two for the show.” With Kappelweg it’s “three to get ready, now go, go, go!” The king of Riesling in blue suede shoes.

Riesling Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr 2000

The Pflaenzerreben translates as ‘plants de vignes’, or even more simplified as the ‘vineyard’!  From the Rorschwihr blue clay with silt and Muschelkalk limestone soils, the ’00 is still a baby. Yellow flowers blow from a complex nose, along with waxy, medicinal tones. The aromatics are high, which helps to subdue the noticeable (19 g/L) sugars. More aid comes by way of the Calcaire tannin and a six to eight-hour slow pressing, “ensemble,” notes Pierre, with no separation and a resulting “tout doucement” clear juice. The wonders of 2000 emit from the Gassman oeuvre.

Riesling Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr 2010

Here is Riesling that resides on two sides of the notorious Alsatian, sugar-acid ubiquitous fence. Pflaenzerreben reads like a veritable ECG. There is both citrus-spiked negative deflection as well as a sweet (16 g/L) elegance in positive deflection. The calcaire chalk posits the tug, the struggle between the poles. He/she admits “once a man, like the sea I raged, once a woman, like the earth I gave.” In the end this cinema show of a Riesling has “in fact more earth than sea.” One of the Genesis Rieslings of Alsace.

Domaine Maurice Griss

Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

An all rock, all out mineral wild thang from Josiane Griss, As dry as it gets (5 g/l sugar), as piercing as can be handled (10 g/l acidity) and in a state of aerified (12.8 per cent) alcohol. From granite terroir, near the top of a south-facing slope with high sun exposure. Though ’10 was not a particularly warm vintage, the high tartaric levels and late picking, slow developed berries post glorious September has everyone talking classic, for the ages. Impeccable balance here and a fortuitous match to Tarte flambée with salmon, leeks, basil pesto and cream. If asked the question, “how long have you been a Riesling,” the Sonnenberg would surely answer simply, “from creation.”

Josiane Griss with Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

Josiane Griss with Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

Domaine Pfister

Riesling Tradition 2012

Though Pfister continues to forge this Riesling from six micro-plots in the Silverberg lieux-dit, the name Tradition takes over, as a stylistic ode from 8th generation winemaker Mélanie Pfister to her father André. Built upon a solid permeate in limestone, the residual is dastardly low, in the 7th generation vintner’s way. Beautifully dry, somewhat misunderstood in its youth, in need of time.

Mélanie Pfister introducing the wines for Divines d'Alsace

Mélanie Pfister introducing the wines for Divines d’Alsace

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2012

The “Angel’s Hill,” a south-facing and third most northern Grand Cru in Alsace. The Pfister take is reserved with extreme umbrage, an arid tug between brix and acidity, a fragment of what it may become, a portal into a Riesling analect. There are ripe phenols to be sure and a gentle, lingering calm. This will need years to develop. Right now it’s all lemon, lime and flinty stone with no periodic oscillation.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2011

Here comes the Pfister mindset out of a warm vintage, picked early in September. Go figure the still bracing acidity trumps it’s still beating heart. A slight sense of sweetness lies therein but the obvious minimalist tradition persists. Lacks the length of ’12 and offers nearer gratification. This is an example of why acidity is not the number one catalyst for success and for aging, so ’11 will both be like and unlike ’12.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2010

The ’10 is altogether different. There is petrol on top, pumping invisible ozone with an elemental intention. The welkin adds richness and viscosity, though for Pfister that is merely relative as compared to say…Gassmann. The ’10 is a fastball and it is hard not to get caught looking. Vinified bone dry (2 g/L) and due to the difficulty of the vintage, Mélanie left it on the lees for two years. The result is a perceived sweetness chaperoned by texture. Will require 10 years minimum.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2000

Beautifully dry, primary still, laden with citrus. Though not as gorgeous as some, this bridges the gap and emphasizes the Pfister Engelberg opus. It is amazing that it is yet to show any discernible evolution and every indication says it will live on forever. Or at least 15-20 more years.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 1990

Here lies the crux of the Pfister vinous chrestomathy, like a literary work that cannot, in principle, ever be considered finished. From the third in a trilogy of great vintages, the ’90 has ego to spare, remaining so young and unresolved. The aroma profile is floral, almost medicinal and with a pronounced clotted cream note, the wise Cru remains youthful and nearly primary. Fine minutes in glass does bring texture and an aged cheese taste, like Tomme fermière des hautes Vosges.

The wines of Domaine Pfister

The wines of Domaine Pfister

Caves François Schmitt

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2012

The Grand Cru lies at an altitude ranging between 250 and 350 metres. The sub-soil is made up of calcareous sandstone and micaceous sandstone (Muschelkalk at the base and Bundsandstein at the top). Vines were first planted in the 1950’s. Paradis is a historical plot of land at the very heart of the vineyard, on one of the steepest areas. The ’12 Paradis by father and son François and Frédéric enters a sweetness zone without a sacrifice or surrender in loyalty to linear acidity. Peregrine fruit, in full feathery display is enraptured by tartaric of the highest degree. There is citrus atop rocks, a persistence and a perseverance that never relents.

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2000

The ’10 GCP is yet a baby and in hallmark readiness of its necessary terroir. The petrol note remains a faint feign though its imminent presence is known. Such intense aridity, citric perforations, notes of wet concrete, highborn bitterness and unerring balance. Strength is supplied by sandstone and limestone. As much of a treat in classic 2000 Riesling as one might ever hope to be poured.

Cave François Schmitt, http://www.francoisschmitt.fr/

Cave François Schmitt, http://www.francoisschmitt.fr/

Vins Jean-Baptiste Adam

Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010

The radiation here is mind-blowing. The citrus dartle, the rows and columns of acidity in geometrical patterns, the angles obtuse and abstruse. Such a tense and immature Riesling with a late gas attack and oxygen depleted atmosphere. Wow is the operative word though it remains to be seen if this will ever latch on to any gravitational pull or circle the cosmos for eternity. This Kaefferkopk dances in the dragon’s jaw, lies “up among the furs where it smells so sweet,” and it’s got me wondering where the lions are. Wow.

Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2000

Tasted from magnum. Incredibly atomic with a vineyard flinty stink that exhumes and exudes the benevolent bitterness of time. Has that vineyard dirt aroma and the wisdom of age. Something about this screams terroir, through earth caked stones, struck matchstick, wildness and purity.

Ginglinger-Fix

Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2012

The domain is family run since 1610 and biodynamic since 2009. Pheromones have been used since 1996 and they were one of the first villages to do so. Proudly announced as “vendanges à la main,” or, hand-picked grapes. This VV ’12 is bone dry, citrus in laser focus and a product of the calcaire solis with a pink quartzite quarry behind the village. The multitude of rock gives lightness in texture to this ’12 of wizened vines. This is a great example of Alsace Riesling emulated by VQA Bench Riesling in Niagara.

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru 2012

Here is rich example made by Éliane Ginglinger in Voegtlinshoffen. The Grand Cru vineyard gives as mush calcaire tang as any in the region, feigning oxidation but it’s really a most pronounced salinity. A piquant and forward Riesling with a whiff of violet. Further along in development than many ’12’s, the Goldert will be ready for prime time in two to three years.

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru 2011

The single-vineyard focus in ’11 is striking but not as piercing as some. The elegance factor here is a breath of Eguisheim air. Increased in poise, savoury accents and a florality that brings to mind chamomile tisane. At 13.5 per cent alcohol there is strength in balance.

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru Vendanges Tardive 1998

A late harvest VT scaled astern to a mere 14 g/L in sugar. Has developed such a deep golden hue, this muliebrity representative who proclaims sapidity in staunch mineral behaviour. Remarkably elegant and crisp for her age, the Goldert VT shows nothing particularly sweet about her. No conceit either, intense yes, but very fresh. Were I a proclaimer I would surely sing “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door.” I’m gonna be wanting another go at this ’98 next time I find myself in Alsace.

Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

Riesling Weingarten 2010

From a south-facing slope and sandstone soil, Haag’s Weingarten shows good potential for aging. “A grower’s vintage,” notes Myriam Haag. “A winemaker’s vintage,” one that required acumen and experience. There is a dry elegance about this grainy white, an imperial brackishness and a sense of  “écrou bougie,” or candle nut. Will age and needs to.

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle Cuvée Marion 1999

Shows rich, viscous complexity with the sensation of star anise and menthol. There is a fumée discernment, an oily, nutty and spicy feel.  Singular and enticing, like a chestnut dessert, layered with mousse, sabayon and toasted dust.

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2011

Luxuriance abounds from this ’11, elevating the oft-pierced variety to levels of lavishness and prodigality. Though it takes wing in petrol, it’s really just the spoken texture and flavours of the bleeding rocks. Bitters abound too but is this not what you want from Grand Cru Riesling? Fine, ritual, yet highly modern stuff.

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2012

An enervating wine with richness bled from rocks and a finishing noble bitterness. The orchard fruit here is very ripe, more so than much of the 100+ Rieslings tasted over the course of a Colmar week. Marked by green apple, citrus and a middle-slope calcaire limestone (with sandstone on the edges) pierce. Such direct freshness and palate texture from that silty rock. A slow release wine, similar to the Zinnkoepfle 2008, a Riesling now in its secondary stage of development.

The wines of Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

The wines of Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

Domaine Valentin Zusslin

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg Vendanges Tardives 2000

Here the noble rot has produced a Riesling thick in gluck and bright, golden sunshine fruit. Clearly protected from rain and wind by the Massif forest above, the 2000 has not yet relinquished the warmth in the bottle, along with a confected concoction of marmalade and blanched nuts. Though it has been bequeathed a slight mineraliztion with 14 years time, there is weariness to the fruit. Now is the window for maximum enjoyment.

Domaine Sipp-Mack

Riesling Grand Cru Osterberg 2012

The Osterberg Grand Cru is situated in Ribeauvillé and the Riesling is characterized by a stratified tartaric acidity. The ’12 is neither linear nor round, but layered instead and is a pure analogue of that rich style, with a slight residual subsidy. Extended hang time seems the bent so ripeness follows. The fruit is bulky and beefy though in a white veal way. If overall there is a curtailment in grip and outright anxiety the ’12 Osterberg will age unhurriedly for 10 years.

Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2000

The comparison with the other seven GC 2000’s on the table is hard to avoid so this one would make me think it leans late harvest. The Rosacker too is young and primary, teases and feigns VT but don’t be fooled by its unctuous sunshine. The dry quotient is extreme, despite the nuts. It is viable and rocketing in an elemental chew of salted stones. The finish is long and beautifully bitter.

2000 Rieslings

2000 Rieslings

Domaine Barmès-Buecher

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2000

Under the direction of winemaker Geneviève Barmès, energy is the primary distinction of the domain’s wines, exemplified by this all out mineral Hengst. Carrying forth a tradition initiated by Francois (Geneviève’s late husband), biodynamic farming brings out an autonomy to define that energy and here specifically a stark, terrific bitterness so prevalent from the Hengst Grand Cru. Not so much a study in bright fruit, the flesh is one of stone texture, flinty accents and an awe-inspiring, old school funk. Very serious Riesling. Not for the faint of white.

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

Riesling Grand Cru Steingrubler 2000

The Steingrubler soils are some of the most complex and variegated in all of Alsace. Marno-calcaires and argilo-sableux incorporates calcaires oligocènes and smaller areas of fine granite. The smorgasbord of terroir makes for an elemental potpourri impart, a bitter limestone tablet dissolving as it rolls through a gasoline alley. The bitters are everywhere, in underlay, in overlay, in granitic streaks. Having entered secondary life, this 2000 is “goin’ home, running’ home,” back to where it was born. It may be said that this particular Riesling represents its terroir as much as any that can be assessed. A steward of place.

Good to go!

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The LCBO and WineAlign go local

Grange of Prince Edward Trumpour's Mill Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010

Grange of Prince Edward Trumpour’s Mill Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010

If you ask  Heather MacGregor or Lisa Murray, the two responsible for leading the LCBO’s media relations and communications department, they will tell you this. “For the last 23 years LCBO has been a steadfast and proud supporter of locally produced Ontario VQA wine.”  That is certainly true.

Three things would add measurable weight to that statement. Private VQA wine stores, increased shelf space in current LCBO stores and a lifting of  the embargo for “typicity” qualifying standards of locally and exceptionally produced wine. Not to mention speaking out publicly on the necessity of developing a Canadian wine culture by allowing the importing of VQA wine into Ontario that is made in other Canadian provinces. Oh, but I seriously digress.

Sales performance and trends

In fiscal 2013-14, sales of Ontario wine at LCBO were $396 million, 4.1per cent higher than the year before. VQA sales ended the year at $123 million, growth of nearly 2.1 per cent over fiscal 2012-13. Year-to-date 2014-15, VQA wines are up an impressive 5.8 per cent and significantly outpacing imports. Give credit where it is due. With their backs to the proverbial sandbox wall, the LCBO is working feverishly to put Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore on the monopoly map. They can thank Wine Country Ontario for the support, the expertise and the professional lead.

Growing product selection

The LCBO WINES category offers 526 Ontario- produced wines, including 330 VQA wines. What makes up the other 196 might be questioned and that category could be improved were it to include, let us say, for the purposes of argumentation, a Pearl Morisstte Riesling. That said, 330 is a highly significant number. Good on you LCBO.

Our Wine Country Boutiques

Three stores in St.Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Windsor boast excellent local wine selections. The sommelier and restaurant community in Toronto has embraced Ontario wines. Their presence at events like Cool Chardonnay and the Ontario Technical Sparkling Wine Symposium are proof of the phenomenon. So are dozens of wine lists city-wide. The question is why does an Our Wine Country Boutique not exist in a flagship store such as Queen’s Quay or Bayview Village? The Toronto consumer requires chiding and the flock will submit if shown the righteous path. Bring OWCB’s to the city.

The LCBO is doing yeomans work to help small wineries in their own parochial scene and the bigger picture is taken care of through VINTAGES releases. The work has just begun. Change and progress are necessary. A good first step is an event such as was held on Thursday August 14th: Taste Local, Love Local. The match was to pie, kitschy yet effective. There were 21 wines on hand. These were the best three.

Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (615062, $14.95, WineAlign)

As Gamay continues to gain traction, it is examples such as this ’12 from Grange that will help to solidify its position as a go to variety for versatile food matching and pure, simple quaffing pleasure. Though this ’12 and its warm vintage baggage render it beefy, spicy and veering to black cherry, it holds freshness and juicy acidity in retainer. The ripe tree fruit sensation never really relents so the style is heady but it shows the strength and excellent value to be found in Gamay.  Tasted August 2014  @grangewinery

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (275958, $21.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc receives a meld of mellow, blending support from 12.4 per cent Merlot and the marriage is quietly non-contentious. That blending decision by winemaker Ann Sperling, along with the praiseworthy choice to forgo obtrusive oak is as good as a golpe on the Niagara Cab Franc oeuvre. The use of large format (80 hectolitre), no splinters allowed oak vats over wood spice and milkshake imparting barrels is an easy swallow for sore palates. The ’12 Triomphe is an elongated and elastic Cab Franc, with nary a foray into the tobacco, bell pepper and cloying currant currency of so many predecessors. The co-fermenting of disparate, north and south, estate blocks in those vats has done wonders on the preservation of a warm vintage’s, judiciously-picked (21.8 per cent brix at harvest) fresh fruit. Terrific decisions all in for a highly accessible, brand and varietal ambassador for Niagara.  Tasted August 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention.  Tasted August 2014  @normhardie

Meanwhile, back at the WineAlign ranch, yet another local standout is available for tasting. This Pinot Gris was a most excellent surprise.

Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the deep soil of the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation, this is certainly made in a honeyed, Pinot Gris, noble bitter excellence style, conjuring up a Pierre Frick Pfaffenheim reminiscence. The golden hue and blanched nut aroma indicate a slight yet subtle advanced oxidation but the low (3.4) pH and necessary fortifying (5.8 g/L) acidity round-up and subdue the sugar (4.5 g/L) and alcohol (13.3 per cent), whose specs are nothing to cause any real concern in the first place. The intensity is only overshadowed by the natural sweetness which comes across the palate by way of texture and tannin. A mineral underlay is noted with props to a limestone and shale drip from the Bench down through soil towards the Niagara Lakeshore. This 2010 found symmetry in moving parts to reach its current peak and to propel the Excellence towards a 10 year future of graceful decline.  Tasted August 2014  @stoneyridgewine

Good to go!

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50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

I arrived at Brock University for the Cool Chardonnay conference on Friday and we began tasting the first of 117 sometime around 11:00 am. On Friday night we convened under the stars st 13th Street Winery for the Barrels and Bonfires event. On Saturday I taxied up the Cave Spring Road runway for an afternoon in the Cave Spring vineyard with the Pennachettis and on Saturday bussed over to Vineland Research and Innovation Centre for the grand Cool Chardonnay dinner.

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

On Sunday we wrapped up at Ravine Vineyard. In between events, we tasted Chardonnay in the Media Room at White Oaks Resort and Spa. All of this not would not have been possible without the efforts of Wine Country Ontario.  I posted 20 or so tasting notes in Monday’s column, scribbles apropos to the events associated with the presented wines.

Here are 50 more tasting notes in 5,000 Godello words, add or subtract a few hundred. If you follow doctor’s orders and take one Chardonnay every hour for 50 hours, this is the result.

I've fallen and I can't get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

Angels Gate Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116350, $23.95, WineAlign)

The long hanging fruit left to develop sugar and richness, the new oak, the eight months rest on the lees. These are all winemaker favourite things, stylistic choices that contribute to a viscous mess of a Chardonnay. A full take has been liberally advantaged from the hot vintage. The alcohol is listed at 13.5 per cent but the wine sweats higher, in a sun-caramelized toast, leaning to oxidative, even bruised and battered orchard fruit territory. As a consequence and in retreat, the acidity dot does follow. The new wood has melded well and good so in terms of texture, the old vines feel right.  Tasted July 2014

Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116384, $15.25, WineAlign)

The Mountainview, despite being a value offering as compared to the Old Vines just seems to be in better temper. There is more mineral on the palate, too. Angles here are less extreme, fruit not as languid or encumbered. The persistence in length seems greater, thanks in most part to freshness, even if the fruit is not quite as fleshy as the OV.  Tasted July 2014

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  Last Tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.”  Last tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

Today a fine misty Blancs, looking very much the coppery, crisp slice of apple it need be. Slate stone tone directive, grapefruit very much in play. A slice of tart key lime pie. From my earlier May 2014 note: “The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity.” From my earlier, December 2012 note: “Sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.” Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Dolomite Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (902610, $16.95)

The Dolomite is the eponymous CS Chardonnay via 86 per cent Beamsville Bench (Cave Spring Vineyard) and 14 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore . Driven to the licensee market, this is 25 years of winemaking in a nut (or limestone) shell. Made in a fresh, clean, juicy and oh so approachable style, the Dolomite finishes with a slight bitter pith, very obvious citrus zest slant. Remains clean and pure throughout, thanks in large part to the 26 percent more aromatic and very presentable portion of Chardonnay Musqué.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Musqué is slowly creeping into the Niagara consciousness and into the hearts of winemakers across the peninsula. The aptitude with which it accedes to perfumed heights and respectable complexity without needing excessive coercion makes it both necessary and inviting, especially when a vigneron like Cave Spring is attempting to produce so many levels of quality juice. Chardonnay made easy and without compromise, exemplified here, though the CS take heads straight to the mandarin-clementine stage. Dry, direct, linear, fine and knowing Musqué, not unlike basic yet effective Gruner Veltliner.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vine age on the Estate runs between 18 and 35 years, a wisdom not to be ignored. Usage of older Hungarian oak lends spice to Chardonnay on-line and always climbing the right and proper varietal tower. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.”  Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Though currently subtle and reserved, if the Csv were once in a wonky phase, the doors to a new perception are now open. Soaked orchard fruit, the underlay of stone and a surround sound of chalky tenderness leads to length, for time is what this Chardonnay has got. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable.” Last tasted July 2014

Clois du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, California, USA (421941, $28, WineAlign)

Inserting the calcaire nomenclature into your RRV label is to announce that your Chardonnay is influenced by calcium carbonate and the ancient, long ago decomposed bones of coral and foraminifera. A heady designation for sure and Clos Du Bois backs it up with its sedimentary and chalky textured ’11. There is a fine stone-ground spice and floral lilt, not to mention a demurred wave, like an under water coral and vegetative scene in slow motion. Clean, pure, lively fruit, picked just in time and left to develop low and slow. I can see this Calcaire gaining complexity for 10 plus years and always living up to its name.   Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2012, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (379297, $29, WineAlign)

A macadam drafts from the Creation drawn from what might provocatively be a pair of gravel pits at the base of the Hemel En Aarde Valley. A soul 2012 brother to the Sumaridge though grounded and layered by the lower slopes. That said it does the heavy lifting, offers up more green apple driven fruit and less tannic mineral activity. A bigger wine but by no means a serf to its wood liege. Another stellar ’12.  Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2013, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (378554, $32, WineAlign)

Creation brightens in 2013, lifts up to more intense rose flower and potpourri aromas. The intensity follows on the very viscous palate, bringing an increased ocean breeze salinity and scraped rock sensibility. There is a granitic feel that reminds of Rangen Riesling in its own tannic way. In the end the elegance factor takes over and the wine perseveres for a spell.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Villa Savigny Les Beaune Blanc 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (378208, $40.95, WineAlign)

From low-yielding (20 hL/l) vines, like all of Burgundy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), as opposed to the 40-45 quotient that might be expected from much of ‘lighter’ Savigny Les Beaune, especially for Chardonnay. Aged for 12 months in two year-old, 500l barrels, there is an alluring and rich feel here, though the wine is fresh, inviting and immediately integrated. A more than approachable White Burgundy to relish now and for a quick tour of the village.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Villa Saint Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay 2012, Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France (377713, $69, WineAlign)

From the partnership of Olivier Decelle, Pierre-Jean Villa and the confidence of winemaker Jean Lupatelli. The town is Gamay, the variety Chardonnay. Only five barrels (125 cases) were produced by a trio of men with zero interest in speculating over land, fruit or success. Barrel fermentation is key, natural yeast a must and a kinship with Puligny uncanny. Not surprising considering the famed locale is but three kilometres away. This cooler fruit spent 15 months in two year-old barrels and though only bottled five weeks prior to tasting there is nary a shocky note. Such a well-adjusted Gamay. Entrancing and engaging Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376095, $58.95, WineAlign)

Unusual nose that begins with white candy floss, transforms to gun powder and finishes into the toasty mystic. Unexpectedly warm, buttery and tingling on the tongue, though that is just a faint and fleeting notion. A taste brings out apple-butter terpenes, though once again, that’s just for an instant. While looking for richness their instead ticks intelligence but everything is in foreign tongue shorthand. Balance is key and that it has but ultimately there lacks a certain level of depth.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Les Terres Blanches Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376079, $105, WineAlign)

Big, boisterous and highly terpenic, so steroidal in apples. MdC  “Donut wines…a hole in the middle.” A tang as well that just doesn’t sit right, a dog that bites. Bitter, tight, bracing, non repentant for its sins.  Don’t really get it.   Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay 2012, AC Midi, France (377671, $33.00, WineAlign)

Rich, honeyed and seemingly sweet, not from sugar (3 g/L) but rather the pressing, squeezing and juicing of stones. That limestone tannin is a trick only grape must and its parent vines know, wondrous and inexplicable. Great body and mouthfeel come from this baby Aigle, a Chardonnay with locally incomparable structure, if not quite the elastic length and girth of the Bertrand Royal. Exceptional quality from the Midi.  Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Aigle Royal Chardonnay 2012, AP Limoux, Midi, France (377689, $75.00)

Anxiety in high caste mineral, in ingot and in southern French platinum rock. Full textured beauty of attitude and high-slope altitude, with formidable weight, smouldering, perfumed toast and exceptional texture. Full in every way, taking every liberty in the name of equality, and quality. A who knew such bounds could be leaped by the warmth of the place.  Tasted July 2014

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”  Last tasted July 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Bottled in March of 2014, the Felseck draws fruit from vines planted in 1988. Proprietor Harald Thiel notes a three-pronged picking regimen, early, mid and late, vinified separately and brought together to bring layering and tapestry out of this extraordinary vineyard and into the finished wine. The many folds and clay-silt soil provide a tannic structure dichotomously “champlant” in style, pastoral even, subdued and ethereal. The nerve in this Chardonnay comes by way of the active limestone, highest in Felseck as compared to any other HB block. This may be the most direct Chardonnay in all of Niagara, the house of permanent cards, the as of yet not witnessed balance achieved. This is the check that affirms a stand and a step towards a legacy.  Tasted twice, July 2014

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2012, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22)

Chardonnay of stainless steel from Chromy’s estate vineyard at Relbia in northern Tasmania, cool, savoury green, spirited and grinding in tight, sharp angles. From what winemaker Jeremy Dineen describes as “a pungent must,” the Pepik is entry-level and anything but. There is a gentle, stable and clarified zesty personality in ‘er, fragrant, snappy and poignant. Versatile for a walkabout with many a pre-dinner flavour.  Tasted July 2014

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2013, Tasmania, Australia (378232, $32, WineAlign)

In a world where 30+ degrees celsius is a veritable anomaly and the maritime winds spray salt to and fro, there can be little argument against the celebration of (winemaker) Jeremy Dineen’s Chardonnay at a cool climate conference. Sulphured early and housed in one-third new French oak, his lees were stirred often and always. Highly textured, he is succinctly clean, cutting and crunchy with an underlying chalky rationale and smokey, tonic toast. The Chromy ’13 is a demanding croon that must creep up to get a hold of you. Though you tell him “you treat me badly, I love you madly,” there is a miracle in his non-malolactic ways.   Tasted July 2014

Kistler Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $80, WineAlign)

Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2012, Carneros, California (agent, $80, WineAlign)

The Carneros vineyard of Tuscan clay is filled with giant river stones. It consequently offers up more of a stone groove, but also an everglade humidity, a lemony spray and a rub of savoury, evergreen. The palate brings a crisp, cool, mountain morning, a rushing stream of fresh water and the cool mountain air. There is a piercing bite on the mid-palate, a peppery spice that lingers than releases for a full wash, a cleanse in mineral. Amazing balance in tightrope tension and length to a horizon out of sight.  Great wine. Finds its elegance and its cool without any effort, like the power lift of a ballet dancer.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast, California (agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

This is from the vineyard in surround of Kistler’s home base and from soil anything but flattering to the host vines. Sandy, deficient in nutrients, “like beach sand,” says Geoff Labitzke, MW, that seemingly has no bottom. Irrigational tubing is employed and perhaps some nitrogen in mid-summer but as per the Kistler stratagem, the VH is dry-farmed. This has the most golden sunshine of the three Chardonnays tasted at #i4C14. It’s brighter, with linear acidity and a very toasty, nutty feel. Sitting with it a while is necessary to appreciate its charm and gathering power.  Tasted July 2014

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 2004 on the east end of the Lailey property, right next to the river. The red clay soil, the cooler nights and the longer growing season produced just 70 cases of this highly singular and stupidly inexpensive Niagara Chardonnay. This is a vineyard transformed over 10 years from a brickyard and cherry tree farm, now rich yet elegant in simultaneous motion, not to mention seamless in transition, within and without. Brother Derek Barnett is generously giving this rare, small lot Chardonnay away, all the while “talking, about the space between us all…and life flows on,” along the Niagara River.  Tasted July 2014

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $40.20, WineAlign)

The old Vines were planted between 1974 and 1978, ancient by Niagara standards. Only gnarly old, gristle veteran dudes like these could handle the beastly burden of 16 months in 50 per cent new French oak, not to mention all the while sitting on top of the lees heap. It may ask you “am I hard enough, am I rough enough, am I rich enough?” You may tell it “you’re tropical, you’re subtle, you’re sweet yet cool in mouthfeel, you’re elegant and you’re “not too blind to see,” but you carry that oak with ease.  Tasted July 2014

Malivoire Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $19.95, WineAlign)

Essentially bone-dry, kissed by a minor peck of new oak and consistently established, here from fruit out of Estate, Moira and (10 per cent) Vinemount Ridge vineyards. The latter adds flinty complexity by way of an intangible, aeriform note, magnified by the warmth of the vintage. The humidity is very minor, thanks to prudent early (September 1 to 12) picking of Beamsville Bench grapes in ever-present rooted stability. Here is hospitable Chardonnay gaining traction and interest with each passing vintage, showcasing the work of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar and as a portal to the investigations of Small Lot, Moira, Mottiar and Cat on the Bench. Tasted July 2014

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In admiral control this summer, rich in stone-churned butter and in residence of a right honourable place. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.”  Last tasted July 2014

Manciat-Poncet Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV, Burgundy, France (378653, $28)

A tragically gingered peach, a candied rhinestone, a ready to bake hip cake for the easy oven. Safe bubbles here, “pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire, sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire,” from a distance, with simplicity and caution. Like getting caught in New Orleans with a sinking feeling.  Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Morizottes Mâcon 2012, Burgundy, France (376137, $27, WineAlign)

There are some unhinged and unusual aromas in this Mâcon, of carbon copies, a stainless tank and Musa. Pears too, pinballing and ready for poaching. Faux or perhaps near-mineral texture, slightly saline, with flint and slate. The complexities are boundless and confounding. Highly expressive but the expressions are not all created equal.   Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Petites Bruyères Pouilly-Fuissé 2012, Burgundy, France (376129, $39, WineAlign)

There is a deep rust, faded jeans vine wisdom in the Pouilly-Fuissé. It steps out with more richness and tension than the Mâcon. Balanced energy and stretched length.  Tasted July 2014

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, (331918, $49, WineAlign)

First notes are high in the hills of the tropics, in pineapple, mango and papaya. A veritable smoothie of very ripe, creamy fruit and though it carries a 14 per cent mark in alcohol there rests a jury of acceptable behaviour. Finesse has won the argument, leaving bits of white pepper, reduction and vineyard funk behind. There is a persistence that belies the price on this judiciously-oaked Chardonnay, complete with its avocation of high-powered notations in an expensive suit.  Tasted July 2014

THe Chardonnay of #i4c14

The Chardonnay of #i4c14

Maycas Del Limarì Sumaq Chardonnay 2013, Limari Valley, Chile (Agent, $15.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley, Chile (162040, $20.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarì Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2011, Limari Valley, Chile

Known as the “dry cliff” this is from a southern parcel (Pinot Noir comes from the north), a calcium carbonate plot that leads to this stone-driven Chardonnay. Nearly 200 metres above sea level, the altitude brings more cool to this bottling, more ventilated salinity, an almost wet-air, asthmatic sense of breathing. Really defined by oyster shell, this has more fruit than the value-based offerings, increased density, more citrus, both dried and condensed. A lot going on here, quite unique and worth a good look.  Tasted July 2014

Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.15, WineAlign)

From the St. David’s Bench, this avant-garde label saw 11 months in French and American barriques, along with regular lees stirring. Certainly hovering and circulating in wide-ranging textural graces. A whole lotta love and learning is in this bottle; it’s round and golden with a high-spirited tang. At once typical and contrived, it’s also reeking and soaking like a sponge. Many an orchard makes an aromatic class audit. A high-toned citrus exam demands attention and focus. The wood is obvious but it too will learn. All in all this is cool Chardonnay, well-made and ready for the world.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $24.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) river fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381905, $40.00, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent hillside Estate fruit, a limestone and slate parcel in St. David’s on the Niagara Escarpment. This is fruit from low yields that spent 24 months of unabashed pleasure in French oak. Though highly concentrated and bent in an oxygenated stratosphere, the reduction is in elevated citrus aromas and piercing mineral flavours. Bigger than many, than your head, than a yottabyte. The complex notations are elevated in so many ways. Strung tighter than a leer kite, the heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds are years away from settling so put this Ravine away. Come back next decade to see where it’s at.  Tasted July 2014

Rex Hill Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (378455, $46.00, WineAlign)

Palate cleansing Chardonnay, an attribute that can’t be stressed or praised enough when tasting 117 renditions in a span of 50 hours. The Rex Hill is lithe, crisp and pure, a wine with a sense of wisdom. He is a subtle act of wine generosity. He smells like clove-scented, fine-casted ingot and is full of health increasing salinity and minerality. A wine of direct discovery, simple professionalism, restraint and impeccable balance. There is a green apple flavour, gently pressed and juiced. There is a texture from quarry rocks, the creamed kind, slightly piquant, merely dusted. The Rex is a very fine, calm representative with a sure sense of place.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This special, specific and idiosyncratic batch by winemaker Ann Sperling is a whirlwind of terpene, wood and lees, all in a whorl. Though all three demanding notions make a play to bully the fruit, this is no ordinary fruit and touched by no passive hands. Complex and textured like angelic cake, there is a distinct aroma coming from the righteous barrel, a high octane, tropical nuance, in smouldering pineapple, creamy mango and mangosteen. This Chardonnay spits the vintage heat out through the gap in its front teeth, goes all tense and nervous, does not relax. There is chalk and stone, like slate, like Calcaire Riesling, all in at 14.3 per cent abv. An all out intense effort, a wow bit of Niagara, but what exactly is this monster? The amazing thing is that there is just a ton of fruit so you can let this settle down for 10 years or more. As BMS notes, “it’s raw and unleashed.”  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.00, WineAlign)

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

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2012, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

In direct antithesis to what was a more than commendable 2011, this follow-up takes the Sumaridge illustrious Cru torch and raises the Hemel En Arde bar to the most complex portion of the ridge. Proprietor Holly Bellingham notes the near perfect vintage, with rain falling gracefully and slowly throughout, unlike the heavy shelling just before the 2011 harvest. Here the seamless connections of ocean winds, granite give and beatific vines mean this ’12 is super bad. Sunshine intensity, cool godfather of soul moves and dancing nerve are all as one. This is like a mineral sponge, sopping up fresh fruit and the slightest notion of toasted nuts. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Heeeeey, (scream). Uh, come on!” How will Sumaridge top this?  Tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

Though it lacks the elegance of the astonishing 2012, there is a freshness and a vigor that still defines the Valley. The aromatics create an expectation despite the heavy rains at harvest, a deluge that had a thinning effect on the fruit. The kick or punch in the pith caused neither dilution nor disease and this ’11 rebounded to carry the fire. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.”  Last tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (agent, $41.95, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Brian Talley at Cave Spring Vineyard in a setting to do justice for a wine with an irrigated gully of heart. Barrel fermented, using wild yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak, 20 per cent of it new. Pours thick, rich and viscous into the glass with a reality that is pure, light and elegant. This is so much cooler in direction than could be perceived or believed. “I want to make wine that tastes like our grapes and not someone else’s barrels,” insists Talley. That philosophy equates to a pansophy of orange citrus and the misty spray of its scored skin, so aromatic, so in blossom, so floral. Not sure there has been nosed such succulence in restraint from Arroyo, from California or from anywhere Chardonnay grows in warm climes.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (winery, $61.95, WineAlign)

The Rincon Block was planted in 1984, the “home” vineyard next to the winery. Tight, bracing, savoury and bound by a tannic, mineral extraction. Only 17 barrels (just under 500 cases) were produced of this 100 per cent (14 months in 20 per cent new oak) barrel fermented Chardonnay marked by wow intensity. “Jump back, what’s that sound, here she comes, full blast and top down.” Wailin’ Halen Chardonnay trampled underfoot, what can you say, like chanting “Panama ah-oh-oh-oh-oh.” Talley’s Rincon ’12 never relents, stays on the throttle, puts the pedal to the metal and speeds the van towards a persistent, consistent finish. Bring on the Digby, Nova Scotia scallops, from coast to coast.  Tasted July 2014

Tantalus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (VINTAGES 378821, $42, BC VQA, 114884, $29.90, WineAlign)

The immediacy of this Chardonnay is felt, in perfumed poise, in palate roundness, in a velvet wrap of texture. A finely balanced and over-achieving elegance from out of a single vineyard, specifically “block 6,” which sits above a gravel bed, on an eastern aspect in South East Kelowna. A mild toast, a blanch of nuts and creamy citrus coagulate to create a transcendent B.C. Chardonnay experience, one that seems like it could be eaten with a spoon. “It peels off and ties that bind me,” and after tasting I saw the light. Chardonnay with an unconscious redirection of feelings, a transference unique and welcome.  Tasted July 2014

Thelema Mountain Blanc de Blancs 1994, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (376111, $28)

Méthode Cap Classique fine bubbles still motivated and in blender motion that if fading can be excused with a thousand pardons. With no more than 2 g/L of residual sugar it’s an Extra Brut style that has survived two decades. Far eastern spices and orange melon that remain cool, juicy and unfermented give it youthful aromas. One of those hard to believe 20 year-old success stories that will continue to give to 25. Wild yeast and grated wasabi square off the peg in this Stellenbosch ringer for vintage Champagne. Buy one now at VINTAGES Shop Online, bring it to a party, be the coolest Chardonnay cat around.  Tasted July 2014

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (20431, $23, WineAlign)

Fruit divides time and space from the (sandy, Black Sage) Diamondback Vineyard and the (sandy gravel, Golden Mile) Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. So what? So let’s dance to Andrew Moon and Sandra Oldfield’s fresh recognisance mission, to offer up a slight oak and stirred lees textural sui generis, but mostly the intent to keep things crisp and real. The sugar and PH are low, the acids medium to high. Overall there generates a cool orchard fruit blooming breeze and a south-west feeling of ease. Bring it on.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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

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

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

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

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

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool Chardonnay Camp Photo: Michael Godel

Cool Chardonnay Camp
Photo: Michael Godel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miguel Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2011, Conca de Barbera, Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,  Photo: Michael Godel

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,
Photo: Michael Godel

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

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Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven Photo: Michael Godel

Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven
Photo: Michael Godel

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

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

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

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

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

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

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

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

Cave Spring Wines

Cave Spring Wines

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

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

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

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

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay Johnson Vineyards 2012, Yamhill Carlton District

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley

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

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

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012, VQA Prince Edward County

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

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

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

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

 

Good to go!

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A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C.

East Coast Lobsters Photo: Michael Godel

East Coast Lobsters
Photo: Michael Godel

Yesterday I settled in at the WineAlign offices with the critics crew (David Lawrason, John Szabo, Steve Thurlow and Sara D’Amato) to taste some new releases. I chose to focus on British Columbia because of all the wines that cross my path, those from out west seem to be the few and the far between. Some Ontario wines not yet investigated were open and available so I worked through a handful of them as well.

Here are my notes, posted to WineAlign, gathered together here, in one place.

Southbrook Connect White 2013, Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013, Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Westcott Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2012

Southbrook Connect White 2013, Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013, Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Westcott Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2012

Southbrook Connect White 2013, Ontario (249078, $14.95, WineAlign)

Gone from the blend in 2013 is the Reimer Vineyard Gewürztraminer, essentially replaced with an increase of Vidal. A solid dose of Riesling and a smidgen of Sauvignon Blanc round out the blend. The sum of the parts means a stoic and supine white wine, submissive and malleable, ready for anything it needs to be. That it’s organic is a matter of good choice though not necessarily a contributing factor to this simple drinker’s personality. This is not a wine from stressed vines nor will it ever be in any sort or state of distress. Quality yet round acidity keeps it buoyant and free from any excess oxidation, allowing the flavour of basic orchard fruit with a lemon squeeze to shine. Perfectly good juice.  Tasted August 2014

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

What is so striking about Dan Sullivan’s unaoked Chardonnay is the classic and unmistakeable County perfume that can only be his. No matter the grape, a Sullivan white is a cold play of pear and citrus, made most obvious when oak is not around to confuse. A Rosehall white is always the most glycerin-textured in the County and Sullivan’s light touch ensures this PEC Chard is made in the vineyard. There is a lightness in its being but it is one of the better unoaked wines made in the region.  Tasted August 2014

Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $17.90, WineAlign)

Incredibly youthful Pinot Blanc, still in possession of its infant’s smell. A combination of baby powder and unadulterated sweat, in other words, a recent sulphuring and bottle unsettling. Peering beyond it is nearly quintessential B.C. PB. Hints of green apple, tangy white candy, lemon basil and lime sherbet make for a savoury-sweet appetizer in a glass. Got verve this Blue Mountain and when it relaxes by early fall it will be as versatile a shot of pure white wine adrenaline as you could ever hope to find. Will bring simple cohabitation pleasure to a wide range of food, from raw to smoked, from marinated to reduced.  Tasted August 2014

Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $18.90, WineAlign)

Upfront, come and get me, juicy expression of Sauvignon Blanc, free of encumbrances. Avoids grass and spice, reaching instead for tree fruits, both stone and orchard. A bit ambiguous for that reason, acting less varietal and more Okanagan, but that is a very good thing. Has terrific sapidity and more than admirable length. A touch of distracting, caustic herbal intensity on the finish.  Tasted August 2014

Westcott Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

You may ask who is Westcott and what is Lillias? They are Grant and Carolyn Westcott, a new player in the Chardonnay market and Lillias is a most unique expression from the Vinemount Ridge appellation. There is a grape spirit sensation, a limestone-influenced lemon-lime chord and a moscato-like medicinal glade component. Though it’s a bit scattered, unsure whether its softer or harder and running anyway, anyhow, anywhere, the personality is certainly on display. Though it “don’t follow the lines that been laid before,” there is always room for a new kind of Chardonnay, one that pushes boundaries and lays new tracks. Winemaker Arthur Harder has it all happening here; viscous fruit, citrus zest, limestone impart, milky texture, minute oxidation and rapturous acidity in a Chablis vein. The most serious unoaked Chardonnay, if not yet everyone’s cup of tannin. Auspicious beginning.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2013, Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012, Laughing Stock Viognier 2013, Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2013, Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012, Laughing Stock Viognier 2013, Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (123604, $22.00, WineAlign)

This Pinot Gris will get you high and the question is will it leave you dry. Laughing Stock’s whites are not shy, elevated in alcohol (here 13.8 per cent) and full-out striking in texture and tannin. The wondering here is if there may be enough dry extract so to keep the wine fresh, lively and willing to bend. Or, will it dry out and leave you hanging, with a head full of radio fuzz and wanting more fruit. This is a surly and brazen attempt at slightly botrytized Pinot Gris, with enough grit and grind to set it apart from a cloud of every day juice. It’s just a bit tough and overdone in my opinion.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (123604, $25.00, WineAlign)

Two Pinots (Blanc and Gris) and nearly a fifth of Viognier conjoin to conspire in cohorts for this well-defined B.C. white. Put your trust in winemaker David Enns as he leads you on this trip around the Okanagan through the eyes of co-existing white grapes. The first steps are those of spice and tree fruit pith, the second steps are those of good medicine. Dogged persistence brings near closure and a desire for another sip. Tasted August 2014

Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Of all the international varieties to plant and attempt to establish a cottage industry in B.C., Zweigelt should certainly be near the top of the list. The grape lends well to the cool climate and the altitude. It grows well in sandy and loam soils, especially with some gravel content. Penticton should become a haven for Zweigelt. Upper Bench’s take is overtly flavourful, sweet-smelling and easily approachable. It’s respectably dry (2.3 g/L residual) and appropriately balanced with good acidity. The flavours of black cherries come directly to mind. There’s the rub. Like many New World (and even some Austrian) Pinot Noir, the dark fruit flavours of ripe fruit, while they may taste delicious, lead the wine down a road of immediate gratification and a short stay. Personally I would like to see subsequent vintages picked earlier and at lower brix (here at 24.2) for a fresher and more vigorous take on Zweigelt. There is much promise in this program.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Viognier 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C., $26.00, WineAlign)

Of all the big whites in the Laughing Stock range, this Viognier fits the style and ragged glory pursuant the course. This hits the mark with flying colours, a rich and juicy wine full of peach flavours punching along with orchard fruit and white flower aromas. This is really crunchy and vigorous Viognier, with a kick of pepper along with some highly tropical moments along the way. Long finish to what will be 10 years of evolution. Tasted August 2014

Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

This is a lovely, fragrant and boisterous Pinot Noir with a warm heart and a balanced personality. Notes of orange and cherry blossom circle around the black cherry centre with just a hint of dusty chocolate. That is the 14 months in 30 per cent new French oak talking, adding a bit of sinew, but mostly dusty cocoa flavours and fine-grained tannin. A well made Pinot Noir with that wood adding a finishing touch of spice strung along the linear acidity.  Tasted August 2014

2027 Cellars Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2012, Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora Vrm 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2012, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012

2027 Cellars Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2012, Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora Vrm 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2012, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012

2027 Cellars Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

There are a scant 105 cases made of this Cherry, a site close to a similar national Pinot Noir made by Paul Pender at Tawse. The vineyard encourages a scrap of the vinous kind between earth and its manifest cherry-scented fruit. Cherry seems to hold back its charms and ask that patience be the virtue. “Loose lips sink ships,” so “can we show a little discipline” and leave it alone? The ripeness is certainly here but what is most promising is the lack of heat, the absence of volatility and the wall of pure fruit. Though a bit subdued this is a much more approachable, not quite as serious and all around friendly expression of Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir. The price is more than reasonable for the quality in the glass. Wait three years and watch it age easily to 2020.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora Vrm 2013, Okanagan , BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (agent, $30.00, WineAlign)

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

Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (B.C., $30.00, WineAlign)

“Past performance is not an indicator of future returns.” A statement on the bottle insists that full trust be afforded the winemaker, his whimsy and the blending choices made from vintage to vintage. Not unlike a similar program that Ann Sperling employs at Southbrook, albeit not nearly as brash or brazen in attitude. The ’12 BT has the swagger and the oomph. A powerhouse of a Cabernet-based blend, full of B.C.’s finest black fruits and teeth gnashing tannins. Is this wine too serious for its own good? I don’t think so but it is no shrinking violet (though it smells like some, in a very modern Maremma or even Nebbiolo way). Thick juice, ramped up and yet delicious if too much young syrup to work past one full glass. Time will sooth the savage beast but it will never be a pussycat.  Tasted August 2014

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

There is definite gregarious character to this Pinot Noir and it finds a positive, altruistic methodology in its gathering of some obvious Niagara traits. Increased ripening from its Queenston Road Vineyard on the warm St. David’s Bench is its most obvious pronouncement. A shyness from out of what is an enigmatic Pinot vintage walks with the later harvest, dusty and earthy fruit. Most of all it can’t help but be Niagara Peninsula Pinot Noir, albeit in high caste and hyper-sensitive attention to detail. There is cola, rust, cherry, paint and extreme acidity. It’s hot, actually. Would like to see where this goes with anti-volatile time. Methinks a settling will happen. Tasted August 2014

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

A highly perfumed Pinot Noir from winemaker Kevin Panagapka in 2012, complete with an exotic spice box of aromatics; potpourri, roses, cassia, clove and aamchur. The profile hydrates to a mulled simmer as the wine is once again warmed by the vineyard’s ability to ripen, exaggerated in ’12 but with more grace, bringing its personality in line with its modest (13 per cent) alcohol. The cherry flavour veers black with a paste of tar and charcoal, but again, the psyche is smooth and elongated. Long finish to this Queenston which should see it sing to 2018 and beyond. Tasted August 2014

Good to go!

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The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr
PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Were Olivier Humbrecht, MW a Rock ‘N Roll star, he would be the guy, the man, the boss, the one everyone wants to hang around. He’d be invited to every benefit concert, like No Nukes at MSG, Live Aid, Live 8 and a Tribute to Heroes. He would sing the biggest parts on the raise awareness and relief funds records like We are the World. He would headline every star-studded gathering to celebrate an influential musician’s career, like that of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan.

Olivier Humbrecht is a winemaker. He’s also smart, France’s first Master of Wine, rooted in his region’s history and hyper aware of every nuance in each terroir. He’s an extreme scientist, biologist, geologist, viniculturalist and viticulturalist. Olivier Humbrecht is a student of many Alsace genres, techniques and methods. He’s a bit of a perfectionist. So are many Alsatian winemakers. But Olivier also has the charisma, the persona and the drive to strive for bigger and better. People want to be near that.

The rock star complex manifests itself at a tasting of the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. Olivier has laid 14 wines on the cellar room table for a group of eight journalists and sommeliers. After leading the group through the lot, he checks his watch and sees there are a few minutes left in the allotted time. He opens two more bottles, then two more. Time is up. The group must press on. He opens another. Just one more, “for perspective,” he says. He can’t stop. The adrenaline is pumping. One more encore. Just one more Sélection de Grains Nobles…

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht is well-known to the world, considered the consummate professional vigneron d’Alsace. The wines are immaculate to a fault; pure, precise considerations out of a multitude of variegated and diverse terroirs; of those around the winery’s home in Turckheim, Wintzinheim, in Gueberschwihr, Thann and in Hunawihr. The Grand Cru holdings of Brand, Hengst, Goldert and Rangen de Thann provide the stuffing for exceptional produce but can any other winery in Alsace lay claim to so many exceptional wines from their lieu-dit and single-vineyards not classified Grand Cru? The trifecta phenomena of the Zind-Humbrecht hill parcels, “Les Clos”; Häuserer, Windsbuhl and Jebsal may as well be Grand Cru squared. The wines from these most worthy soils are dreamy and in top vintages, impossibly perfect.

Most vintners in Alsace are connected to a village, have vineyard holdings surrounding or on slopes leaning upwards from the town. Many crush and ferment in caves beneath their homes right there in the ancestral village. Above ground Zind-Humbrecht is more modern than most, in many ways the embodiment of the 21st century Alsatian facility but Olivier’s wines are deeply connected to Turckheim, the village closest to a large proportion of his vines. The region’s regulatory board decision to eliminate a village like Gueberschwihr from being used on a Riesling label is both curious and counter-productive. Olivier is an island here, not having found any other producer’s support to keep such a designation alive. The irony is not lost. A winemaker incredibly passionate about soil having to label his wine by that very concept and against his will.

I had the opportunity to taste with Olivier Humbrecht on two occasions, thanks to CIVA and SOPEXA, at the winery and at the Millésimes Alsace trade event on Monday, June 16th, 2014. Humbrecht’s brain is in constant churning motion. He will never rest and settle for the status quo. He has learned everything and has everything yet to learn.

Biodynamic farming is at the nucleus of Zind-Humbrecht’s practicum and by now spoken as an apothegm, not ad nauseam. Olivier notes that Colmar, the vinous hub of Alsace and just down the road from Turckheim, is the driest town in France. “We are in a region that in the past we had to fight for ripeness. This is not the case anymore. I have not had to chaptalize in 20 years.” Global warming has had a great effect on phenols but Olivier stands firm on timing. Plants, including grapevines, have very specific life cycles, from flowering to ripening. “I will be ready for picking September 1st,” he insists, “regardless of the weather.”

On varieties, Muscat D’alsace remains “important and fantastic.” Humbrecht insists on keeping it viable and alive. “Reds are trendy,” but not significant to Zind-Humbrecht, adding up to less than one per cent of total production. Ninety per cent are single-varietal wines. Riesling persists as the core variety. It’s a grape that hates to ferment so noble rot should be avoided, because it arrests fermentation.” For Riesling to succeed? “You need a majority of tartaric acid, slowly, coolly, through the cold of winter, to achieve proper malic acid, to achieve good Alsace Riesling. Basically you don’t even want to know it’s happening.”

Olivier is an ally to both phenol and tannin. “Phenols in white wine is something that is always neglected,” he says, and “I do appreciate tannins in white wine, especially in low acidity grapes like Gewürztraminer.” Too many people do not understand the aging capabilities in the wines of Alsace. “We’ve gotten rid of too many phenols in white wine,” he complains. “We love the anti-oxidants, which will not allow the wines to age well, with no protection against oxidation.”

The phenol-tannin-sugar-acidity sequence only succeeds when PH is in the mix. “PH is more important than acidity. Low PH is a guarantee for good evolution in bottle, and good phenols.” That said, skin contact is to be avoided in Humbrecht’s world. “Alsace already has high aromatics so contact is contradictory.” It can lead to the inclusion of green phenols which would be detrimental to making sound wine. Ripe phenols come from the vines and Olivier continues to refer to structure and acidity as a direct consequence of what happens in the vineyard.

The ZH processes include high density planting, hand harvesting, gravity feeding, cold cluster pressing and the use of wild (indigenous) yeasts. The total annual output is approximately 300,000 bottles from 40 hectares, a capacity reached in the mid 1990’s. “We are not interested in getting any bigger,” concedes Humbrecht.

The last piece and going forward of the Zind-Humbrecht puzzle concerns vintages. “Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” says Olivier. “2014 is very precocious.” Flowering was done the first week of June, almost two weeks ahead of the norm. This is similar to 2003 and 2011. “We made a lot of mistakes then, because it was the first time we had this.” The plan is to adapt to the climate by cooling down the soil, with more grasses to retain moisture. They will also let more branches grow to restrict sun and more canopy management. Biodynamic farming at work.

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Here are notes on the 20 Zind-Humbrecht wines tasted in Alsace on Monday June 16th and Wednesday June 18th, 2014.

Pinot Noir 2012

To Olivier Humbrecht, the location and managing the ripeness of Pinot Noir is key. “You can’t hide green character in Pinot Noir,” he asserts. Fruit comes from the Heimbourg vineyard, from west-facing slopes out of marl and limestone. This is a cooler, later ripening position with a draught between the hills. At 13 per cent alcohol it is pleasantly ripe but not as rich and intense as 2009. Still ripe enough for positive and effective phenols. Tannins are present and accounted for, wrapping a veil over the chalky, chewy, slighted coated fruit. The mineral is felt in texture coming from what is a simple, proper and elegant palate.

Muscat Goldert 2012

Like any self-respecting winemaker in Alsace, Olivier Humbrecht is intent on keeping Muscat d’Alsace alive with hopes that someday it will once again thrive. The white and red coloured, longer ripening, small berry Muscat Petite Grains receives minor (one or two per cent) support from grapey, soft and aromatic Muscat Ottonel. Raised from olitic limestone and marl soil, this Muscat is blessed with terroir inducing greater acidity and a dichotomous, silty ripeness, like a green, unripe Sauvignon Blanc. One has the sense that in this unique vintage the noble variety may age with an almost unexpected stride through the years.

Riesling Terroir d’Alsace Vin Sec 2012

This is the most basic and tenable wine in the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. For the uninitiated it is an ideal embarkation point from which to engage the dry elegance and saline minerality of Alsatian Riesling. This “entry-level” effort is from 11 year-old vines, a slow ripening vintage and the stark reality of granite soils. The ever-present Humbrecht honesty and richness is here but in its most subtle (and only 2 g/L residual sugar) scale. Quick notes of lime, chalk and ginger. Olivier says it is made for the Brasserie or the Gastropub market. Never mind that it’s the most junior of his Rieslings. Nobility begins here with this reassuring, air-dried, easy to understand wine.

Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim 2012

Here rolls the rock of the ZH stable. From gravelly, well-drained, poor soils around the winery. The citrus factor is front, centre and in surround sound but a natural richness and sweetness brings balance. This means the wine will gracefully incline through to a dry yet fruity future. A savoury austerity will increase the ageing quotient, in addition to the omnipresent mineral flavours by way of old (47 year-old) vines that burrow deep in the gravel, providing grit and strength, especially in drought vintages.

Riesling Calcaire 2012

The artist formerly known as Gueberschwihr is no longer. The new regulation regarding the production of village wines became effective with the 2011 harvest so, alone in its support for the quality of wine for the village, Humbrecht had no choice but a switch to the Calcaire nomenclature. From richer, cooler, alkaline soils. A touch more sugar (8 g/L) than the Turckheim counterparts, this also has higher acidity. Technically not so dry but this is the elevated, though not quite astronomical PH talking. It is dry enough to be considered Sec. Momentarily stuck in the proverbial petrol and mineral fence. The door will open shortly, to the ZH airy density and so physically speaking, this will taste drier as it ages. Even if “all this science I don’t understand,” I do know “it’s gonna be a long, long time” before the Calcaire comes down to earth and settles into its skin. Ten years to be sure. Rocket man.

Riesling Clos Häuserer 2012

Also Turckheim in origin (specifically Soedlen) but from marl soil atop really aggressive limestone from just under the Grand Cru Hengst’s nose. One of the highest in PH, this is austere and currently shut tight within a dry (4 g/L sugar) free lime zeppelin drum. Though aromatically mute, the mineral density on the palate is striking, like a reduction of half and half spread on sourdough toast. The 18 month lees program is most noticeable here and this Riesling will be led towards a petrol induction future. When it gets there, a taste will bring you into the Häuserer of the holy. The deep marl soil on top of calcareous Oligocene mother rock will speak and it will ask  “are you dizzy when you’re stoned?”

Riesling Brand Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11532951 $73.00, WineAlign)

There is a roundness to the Brand, in beautiful calming aromatics in defiance of the hard biotite granite, black and white mica soils. The pure mineralized clay silica brings heat to the land, with a high surface exchange quotient, not so different from the Schlossberg. This is precocious and precious Grand Cru that demands the wisdom and the fortitude of old vines, of a minimum 25-30 years of age. Zind Humbrecht’s average 66! With two per cent noble rot in the mix the wine reaches for more sugar (11.5 g/L) out of its desperately low yields. There is a high mineral ripeness and a tropical tingling, in melon and clementine.

Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 12133871 $101.00, WineAlign)

The Thann is a 22-hectare, low yielding Grand Cru. The terra is volcanic and dark sedimentary soil, very steep and homogeneous. The high mineral altitude and poor attitude means the Zind Humbrecht ambition is aromatically challenging to assess, even if to taste it’s so obviously exquisite in concentrated depth. Such a rich, intense grapey nose but the flint smothers the smoky smoulder that should be present. A tight, angular and sobering expression, more isometric and idiosyncratic than anything tasted to this point. An island in the line-up. Not the most loveable Rangen, like its name, which is too old to even know its meaning.

Riesling Heimbourg 2012

From the village of Turckheim, the vines are planted on the steepest aspect of the marl covered, oligocene limestone slope. More noble rot present here than in the Brand, resulting in, naturally higher sugar (15 g/L), richer fruit and a deeper hue. “The sweetest Riesling we’ve made in 2012,” admits Olivier. A most interesting specimen too, an upside down cake in alternating layers of apricot and crushed rocks. The flavours are high-toned, not necessarily tropical, but lush.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Alsace, France (agent, $80.00, WineAlign)

“Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” notes Humbrecht, exemplified by this blasted 2011 in contrast to all the ’12’s at these tastings. Here the fruit leans in the most elevated petrol direction, from a warm year and an earlier harvest. A younger evolution is taking place, showing immediate and gratified balance. The terroir is cool, rocky limestone with shells, similar to Burgundy. The clos is a gently sloping, six-hectare parcel. Overall it’s anti-floral, wet chalky creamy and striped by linear acidity. Only 4.5 g/L of sugar. These last two numbers mean nothing if you don’t recognize the PH because there are different acidities in wine. Here the acidity walks the fine line, side by side with its partners.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2007

From a different era, this was fermented bone-dry, dire, with less than 1 g/L of residual sugar. A Riesling to show just how tight the Zind-Humbrecht band was back then and it is just beginning to communicate in its mid-life, mineral voice. If as a lieu-dit subject it was once “incommunicado,” with no comment to make, this has changed. The notes are layered and together, the mid-palate extraordinarily full, the length in reverberating, extended play. Here in today’s communique he’s come clean, having moved on from the strict, straits style, once spun unbending. The experience of great players and exceptional monopole (Grand Cru deserving) terroir has given the ’07 Windsbuhl the foundation to realize a classic Riesling.

Pinot Gris Calcaire 2012

Fruit comes from the Heimbourg, providing pure limestone effect and a great nutty character. The sugar is nothing to forget about (10.6 g/L), here already commissioned and integrated. Provides support for Olivier’s declaration that “if anything should happen to a wine, it should be before you bottle it.” Much more accessible than the fastball-curveball-changeup, out of the strike zone ’11. Here it’s all down the middle,  juicy, hittable fastballs.

Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2012

The Rotenberg’s shallow, red soils (located on top of the Hengst) bring a whole new set of parameters to Pinot Gris, in stark contrast to the Calcaire. Two bottles were poured. A two-day old sample showed settled and mellow flavours. A new bottle was crackerjack reductive, leesy and with a shocky aridity so unusual for Pinot Gris. The soils bring concentration, here magnified and compressed by the hastened moment. All the hallmarks of the Zind-Humbrecht style are there, if suppressed; tang, herbiage and a spicy spike. Very dry (4 g/L) and really invigorating white wine.

Pinot Gris Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11545233 $74.25, WineAlign)

The noble grape in this Muschelkalk (calcareous) vineyard comes through in high concentration, with an increase in noble rot from very low yields (12 hl/L). There was hail here in 2012, just after flowering, not a devastating storm but enough to minimize quantity. The sweetness (35 g/L) is heightened and uncompromising yet always mitigated by intense mineral activity. The richest and most unctuous wine of the morning (to this point) with direct, pure ripe tree-fruit flavours. This is a Pinot Gris that remains firm against the dangers of oxidation and it will develop smoky and toasty aromas. The structure is what I would call remarkable but not exceptional. Time will tell. Here the wait needs to be a minimum five years and then to drink well past 2025.

Gewürztraminer Calcaire 2012

As of the 2011 vintage, the Wintzenheim bottling became the Calcaire, for village designation (or lack thereof) reasons. Fruit here in 2012 is mostly (not necessarily typically) from the Hengst Grand Cru vineyard. The marl and limestone leads to a very typical Alsatian and even more typical Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer. Full on glycerin, creamy, perceptibly sweet and protracted wine. Even at 35 g/L it is tempered by high tannic animation, as much as in Burgundy. Skin tannins are much more interesting than those from oak because they elevate the acidity by way of contrasting balance to the sugar. This is why they succeed.

Gewürztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2012

From old vines of the Hengst, the yield is half of the Calcaire, the concentration raising the bar in the opposite direction. The residual number is the same but the sugars are more complex, intensely natural and variegated. The texture and flavours cover a creamier, wider spectrum and even though some typical rose petal/lychee components are noted, they remain submerged beneath the piquancy and the richness. This Hengst will gain flesh and weight as it ages, elevating the potential for late harvest sensations and alcohol.

Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2012

The Muschelkalk calcareous, southeast facing slopes of this Clos employ slightly cooler temperatures and the stretched elasticity of slow-ripening to bring a sense of balance and poise to Gewürztraminer. The same can’t be said for Riesling on the same site, at least not in 2012. The Windsbuhl here speaks in more sweetness and less alcohol. “If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz,” says Olivier, “then you won’t see it in Riesling.” Here is an example that backs up one of his most telling axioms. “It’s the phenols of the grape that make it age gracefully better.” Age it will. Drink this beginning in 2020 and through 2040.

Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Hengst Grand Cru 2011

A wine not often made because of the dry climate in this Herrenweg vineyard. The gaining of full botrytis expression only happens once in every five or six years and when it does, this eager and vivid sweet wine is the result. Harvested at high ripeness and proportion (50 per cent) of noble rot, with a quick (one month) fermentation to achieve a sweet balance (vin liquoreux) not that far from some SGNs. At 102 g/L it is obviously quite sweet though once again, with acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character it strikes a balance. I don’t normally imagine late harvest wines to speak in terms of elegance or restraint and I’m not sure those are the most apt descriptors here. Yet the Hengst is as subtle as it gets for the genre and never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd.

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010

The residual on the 2010 Windsbuhl is remarkably high, this as a result of its long but (not compared to 2009) fermentation. From a historic vintage, with top-notch acidity (the goal was 16 g/L) and clean, precise botrytis. With the complexity and structure provisos of the Muschelkalk calcareous terroir and (43 year-old) vines, this exceptional dessert wine was given all the tools necessary for success. A parabola of a dessert wine, one sip and “we barely remember who or what came before this precious moment.” Attacks the mouth with an unparalleled sugar/acidity/tannin continuum. The flavours bring to mind quince, apricot and creamy mangosteen in out of control concentration. There is a reason sweet wines like these are so rare and receive such high praise. Exceptional fruit of uncompromising quality and a winemaker’s reverence are the reasons. Olivier Humbrecht prepared this 2010 to succeed and to live for decades. Drink from 2025 to 2055.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

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

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

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Release the summer wine

A white wine for all seasons, Pinot Gris, by Maison Trimbach<br />

A white wine for all seasons, Pinot Gris, by Maison Trimbach
PHOTO: http://www.trimbach.fr/

These are the wines of summer.  Dry, saline Rosé made from classic varieties; Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. Crisp, flinty Riesling, turned to stone. All things Pinot. B.C. Cured Pinot Blanc struck by both juicy fruit and mouth-watering acidity. Pinot Gris from Alsace, impossibly dry. The same grape but from across the Rhine and under another name: Grauburgunder. Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County. Nothing else in the world smells like it. Smells like, teen spirit.

White wine that feigns bubbles and brings the wonder of Nova Scotia to the world. Chardonnay by a young winemaker in Ontario just coming into his own, ready to become a star. Classic varieties for summer grilling; Cabernet Sauvignon for a green day, Sangiovese to make your day, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and that melting pot of red wines, Châteauneuf Du Pape. All VINTAGES Ontario releases for July 19th. These are some of my summer wines. All 13 of them.

From left to right: Gassier Sables D'azur Rosé 2013, Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012, Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Gassier Sables D’azur Rosé 2013, Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012, Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2012

Gassier Sables D’azur Rosé 2013, Ac Côtes De Provence, France (33621, $14.95, WineAlign)

Always dry, dusty and salt lick oriented. A mineral bath of verdigris and rusty rainwater.  Light but all about minerals, salinity, beach and sun. What more should be requested and ascertained from value given Côtes De Provence Rosé?   Tasted June 2014  @MichelGassier

Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (372441, $18.95, WineAlign)

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

San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Maipo Valley, Chile (37911, $19.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, “well, I heard it all before.” This Maipo beauty begs to be different. Here is a $20 Cab with a $50 reductive funk. A heady, heavy red that needs more than just a swirl. The average Joe may smell a green day and not get it straight away. My advice would be to hang in there because with 10 minutes aeration the fresh currant, mint and rain-soaked flower aromatics will come around. And come around they do. Mocha and semi-chocolate driven, tannic like crazy and banging out a beat of crazy acidity. A ton of wine for $20.  Tasted June 2014  @Dandurandwines

Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia  (321612, $19.95, WineAlign)

Ah, terrific cool climate Pinot Blanc, with juicy acidity from a bite into a nectarine just falling from the tree. On a night like this “it goes deep, it goes deeper still,” in neo-tropical fruit (from seemingly slightly elevated alcohol). A most cured white wine, with a tannic quality that gives it texture and structure. Strike another Lloyd Braun mark on the British Columbia-Pinot Blanc free competition continuum to develop this variety with prejudice.  Seamless, with excellent length.   Tasted June 2014  @GrayMonkWinery

Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Prädikatswein, Germany (378349, $20.95, WineAlign)

This rare Pinot Gris VINTAGES sighting is a jet-gassy funky, disparate complex mess of penciled, earthy, grassy and off-dry stone fruit aromas. It’s also viscous, distracting, and propelled by thriving acidity. While the Grauburgunder hails from the other side of the Rhine, it shares a tannic, saline and mineral affinity with the Vosges PG’s of Alsace. Lives up to its Trocken designation through a rocky impart yet seems just slightly sweet in a very Kabinett way. Herbal and long. Contemporary Prädikatswein worth a look and a more than temporary place in the cellar.  Tasted June 2014  @TandemSelection

Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Ac Alsace, France (971762, $23.95, WineAlign)

For Trimbach this is a top quality vintage to make an example for one of the domain’s signature value wines. This firm and straight shooting Pinot Gris comes from limestone-dominant parcels not so different from the PG taken out of the winery’s Osterberg Grand Cru, just above Ribeauvillé. That a Pinot Gris can bring a nearly (8 g/L) elevated level of residual sugar to the table and come across bone dry, like a walkabout in the outback, remains one of life’s great mysteries. Picked prudently early, or as Alsatians like to say, “right on time,” this Trimbach is eloquent, reeks of wet, cold stone and lies over an ocean tasting of salty minerals. Pour it with the freshest, uncooked fish and a light vegetable pickle. Tasted June 2014  @trimbach

Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (373415, $25.00, WineAlign)

The most juicy, fruit forward and gregarious of the estate’s Pinots. Only Keint He Pinot smells like this, in Ontario, or elsewhere for that matter. Smells like teen spirit. It really is that unique but at the same time, undeniably Pinot. Just picked and torn cherry blossom petals and bitter chocolate dust strewn overtop fresh macerated cherries. Further coated with iron fillings. “And I forget just why I taste, oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile.” Prince Edward County Pinot Noir on the road to nirvana.  Tasted June 2014  @KeintheWinery

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, WineAlign)

From a bumper crop, there came to market 11,000 cases of this Nova Scotian feel good, faux-sparkling story. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ Nova 7 dissimulation in bubbles is a true trick of the trade and though this white wine strikes as if it were a child of a warm vintage, there is a classic lightness of Rosé fizz being in its ever so slight effervescence. A singular wine in many hybrid incarnations, in Muscat ways, of pink Perle de Csaba, segmented and pressed for a sweet burst of grapefruit. It’s low (7 per cent) in alcohol, excellent in acidity, sweet and sour, citrus zesty, juicy and dry at the same time. Batch delineated and loyal to continence, though if the quantity creeps much higher that may come in to question. Grown up pink lemonade and so easy to consume.  Tasted June and July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010, Cave Spring Riesling Csv 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Château Les Gravières 2010, Paul Autard Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010, Cave Spring Riesling Csv 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Château Les Gravières 2010, Paul Autard Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (285510, $27.95, WineAlign)

The entry of Dei’s balanced Vino Nobile was very juicy but at the same time serious and brooding. At first rhythmic, tight and anxious, you couldn’t but help but feel the strong mocker of this Sangiovese. Iron, hard rocks, knocks and a day in medieval life. If it should be opened any time in the next five years it will require a rare fleshy partner and plenty of air time. Though there was nothing faint about it, with time it found a path to a crescendo and then changed chords. It sang like a bird for a verse or two, softened enough to open a window to its future and when it spoke “I went into a dream.” Finished with a piano bass note that droned on for nearly a minute.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Cave Spring Riesling Csv 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario  (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 issue is the driest, slate-driven, flinty Cave Spring Csv as it can ever be. Don’t be looking at its heart for richness and body but there is a wall of texture forged in stone. The Csv speaks “of everything that is alive in my blue world.” One taste and all goes electric, lights up and the orchestra begins to play. Turn the stone of this statuesque Riesling to drink in the long and true loyalty to ever fibre and fissure of its rocky being. Excellent. What more could you expect, or want?  Tasted June 2014  @CaveSpring

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (33936, $30.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey’s “entry-level” Chardonnay currently resides in a bitten and certainly not shy mode. The 2011 is a Villages Reserve that is in a bit of a purgatorial place at the moment, closed down since its grand opening last summer. The rocks are speaking, as is the hubris of wood, but the fruit is up there, wafting in the proverbial wind. Let it blow and gather atmosphere, to return two or three years on, to reintegrate with the earthly elements and reform a convivial bond.  Tasted June 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Château Les Gravières 2010, Ac Saint-Émilion, Right Bank, Bordeau, France (257733, $36.85, WineAlign)

Highly concentrated, big berry crushed Saint-Émilion. Floral too and the fruits are exquisitely ripe and red. There is great tension and acidity. Crazy tannins. Exceptional wine but will need 15 years time to settle, integrate and play nice. Qualifies as the finest 14 per cent Bordeaux I’ve tasted in quite some time. A wild sense of mineral and animale climb on top. Highly ferric. Really fine.  Tasted June 2014

Paul Autard Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010, Ac, Rhône, France (380667, $49.95, WineAlign)

A refreshingly lithe and graceful 14.5 percent Châteauneuf Du Pape with every bit of richness necessary to fulfill its contract to typicity. Just a hint of both earth and animal musk, demanding tannin and more than its share of rocks and mineral give. A real winner for the vintage and in fresh air contrast to the gaining ridiculousness of extract and over-bearing alcohol-driven Rhônes. This might just be the bottle to reaffirm my waning faith in the region.  Tasted June 2014

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Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone

Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill

Niagara’s Cool Chardonnay Conference is but three days away so in anticipation I’ve drawn up more tasting notes for three that will be on hand at the great #i4C14 event. The wines made by Thomas Bachelder, 13th Street and Sumaridge are all extremely different, stalked from disparate soils and assembled in ways to render them disconnected by their very specific varietal vicissitudes. This is what you get when you seek Chardonnay.

Charles Baker does not make Chardonnay, but no other winemaker in Niagara does Riesling in such a focused, micro-specific way. Baker’s Ivan and Picone Vineyards are to Riesling as Wismer, Saunders, Quarry, Robyn, Mottiar and LCJ are to Chardonnay. Like Johnson in Oregon. Like the granite and quartzite ridges of South Africa’s Hemel En Aarde Valley. I’ve tasted Baker’s Rieslings going back to 2006 over the past year or so. Their evolution shows conceit extracted from limestone and a tempering from hot to cool. Riesling too is très cool.

Here we actually have three Chardonnays with one hailing from the exceptional June’s Vineyard. Yet another example of nuanced Niagara, a plot of land in the 13th Street empire that will one day be recognized for its soil and receive Cru status. The grand breakdown needs to happen, not yet, but in another 10 years time when the obvious can no longer be denied nor held down. A time when VQA, winemakers and their terroir decide to come together to celebrate individuality and progress.

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (236745, $21.95, WineAlign)

Chardonnay should always be a product of the vineyard and this ’12 June is just that. Everything it is and more comes amplified by the vintage; the sweetness of the fruit, the peat earthy, camphoraceous terpene aroma from clay and sand loam, and the leesy, chalky texture out of yellow limestone. Depending on preference, this June may be construed as over the top or layered with all the goodness of the great 15 year-old, Fifth Avenue vineyard. Though she may exaggerate her terroir, in a toothsome, tart citrus and earthy tone,” and I know that June is true. She can be yorn too if you open up to her ways.  Tasted May 2014  @13thstreetwines

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2013, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

Welcome to the cult of Charles Baker Riesling. Baker’s vehement search for new Riesling territory materialized in the (Bob) Misek vineyard, a plot of rich limestone and sandstone that sits below clay, named after the grower’s dad. The 1.1 acres of Riesling within a 12-acre mixed planting just south and up the ledge from Highway 8 is just north of Tawse and just down the hill on the eastern side of Cherry Avenue. For this 2013 vintage the vines were 16 years of age, now into that sweet spot of adolescent maturity. Baker is hell-bent on delivering solid blue material from important fruit. “This is the driest Riesling I’ve ever made,” he points out with shy conceit. At 10 percent alcohol by volume you might want to imagine practical, nearing off-dry Germany but the comparison can’t be made. This is oyster wine, from a wonky weather, under cloud cover, great Riesling vintage. When it comes to the noble variety, “seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun or the rain.” Picked on average aggregate, in early October and with so much fruit in contrast to stone-grooved Picone, this Ivan is a friend to farmers, Romeo and Juliet. A Riesling that lives above ground. There are 198 cases made. Tasted May 2014  @cbriesling

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (agent, $29.50, WineAlign)

Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.  Tasted May 2014  @Sumaridge

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2007, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

If Charles Baker got lucky, babe, or in my estimation, experienced with the outcome of his striking 2006, this follow-up suffers a sophomoric stenosis, if only because it was the hardest Niagara (hot) vintage to deal with and understand. The vintage tricked with a false front, teasing winemakers to push envelopes and many over did their wines. Had his fruit only spoken up and said “you better watch what you do to me, don’t get carried away,” the wine would show better seven years later. Yet Baker was savvy enough to manage the residual sugar by keeping it dry with tannin by way of acidity and PH. I agree this is one of the finer takes on Niagara Riesling in 2007. When stacked against other Bakers it pales because it’s evolving rapidly and it can’t be helped. The petrol quotient is sky-high, like a rumbling volcano, like bicarbonate. True to the Baker oeuvre it cuts with laser focus and linear drive.  Tasted May 2014

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA (agent, $44.95)

More specifically a product of its ocean meets sous terre soil than Bachelder’s basic (term used loosely) Chardonnay, the Johnson nicks more richesse, around and around fullness. Not to mention the cerebral wisdom of two Scots and a Charlemagne. Johnson’s progressive and forward thinking maker works with inconspicuous wood and the science of introducing oxygen into wine in a controlled manner.  He might say “for it is wisdom that we have for sale.” Like a white-winged dove, the 2012 will trod lightly towards a long walk to a very long life. It can be imagined aging to the edge of seventeen. The earthy feel, the salinity, not from tannin but from soil, “the music there, well, it was hauntingly familiar.” This is iridescent Oregon in a Bachelder voice. No doubt.  @Bachelder_wines

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Chardonnay is cool

If you know Godello it never comes as a shock to read of his praises on Chardonnay. His particularistic ABC definiendum is “Abide By Chardonnay,” at all costs. It is true that Godello enjoys referring to himself in the third person. What self-respecting Chardonnay supporter doesn’t?

Chardonnay doesn’t suck and if you have doubts, a reluctant spirit to join in or just plain need to insist that you hate the stuff, consider this. Chardonnay is cool. It’s true, the good folks at i4C showed me, more than once. Ontario winemakers have proved it to me. The South Africans really get it, as do the fine makers from New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and the not necessarily ready for prime time cool climate players from Australia and California too. Don’t even get me started on that Burgundy stuff.

Godello and Paul Pender of Tawse PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello and Paul Pender of Tawse
PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates

Chardonnay is a grape of dreams. In recent weeks I’ve referred to Norman Hardie’s 2012 County Unfiltered as “climatically epochal, yet restlessly cool County Chardonnay.” About Hidden Bench’s Estate 2012 I said “when you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, ‘you’ve got to pick up every stitch.” On the textural clarity of Thomas Bachelder’s Saunders 2011 I recently added to an already verbose note, “in cool waiting and in display of the most elegance I’ve encountered from any Bachelder Chard, at anytime, anywhere.” You see, Chardonnay IS cool. The coolest winemakers have told me so.

The recent ups and downs of Shiraz are well documented but has any grape variety been both so venerated and maligned as Chardonnay. Is it the most cerebral of the vinifera? Maybe not, but at least it deserves an honorary degree. Other varieties have their own day but it too demands the global respect by way of celebration. Oak and Chardonnay have at times a love-hate relationship and walk admittedly close to the edge. But let me repeat, “is there a comparable white grape that speaks of its origins in more varied tones?” Who would not wish to travel around the world in eight Chardonnays? At this time last year I was preparing to make the pilgrimage down to Niagara for the Cool Chardonnay Conference. A year on and further enamoured by the great white hope, I am ready to do it again.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

That link will help you look back and to understand what the Cool Chardonnay experience is all about. If you are looking to experience the wonders of Chardonnay, from a global perspective, surrounded by experts in a setting designed for relaxation and genuflection, please read about the 2013 show. Godello, he’s prepping for #i4C14.

The Grape Growers of Ontario and Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute will host the “School of Cool,” an intensive one-day Chardonnay workshop. The weekend’s glass to follow will be filled with Chardonnay at every turn. Keynote speaker Tim Atkin MW and 58 winemakers will be on hand to pour, discuss and break down everything there is to know about Chardonnay, from Friday, July 18 to Sunday July 20, 2014. With i4C’s Dorian Anderson and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit leading the charge, Chardonnay in Niagara will once again be the stuff of dreams.

The 2014 slogans mark a path to Chardonnay clarity. Begin with “earth’s coolest grape reveals hundreds of secrets.” Continue on “grown in cool places, shared in warm company.” Conclude by ensuring that “three summer days that will alter your Chardonnay belief system.”

In May we gathered at Allen’s on the Danforth to raise a glass to the international marketing day known as Chardonnay Day. I tasted through 20 or so and wrote some notes. Here are a few in advance anticipation of #i4C14 happening eight days and 20 hours from now.

From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.  Tasted May 2014  @CaveSpring

Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable. Tasted May 2014

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Bottled just one month ago, contrary to the monk’s assertion, there is nothing shocky about her. Her fruit is downy soft, round without being fat because as Bachelder maintains, real as always, you “can’t have the minerality of that perfect 2011, I’m not going to bullshit you.” The 2012 is a wine unconscious in its own obviousness, ready for anything. Gregarious, golden, fresh fruit that was ready to roll out of its barrel and into the waiting glass long before its maker was prepared to open the valve. And of course there is a mineral finish. It can’t help but be.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Walker Bay, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Hermanus, South Africa

From fruit grown on the same ridge as the Sumaridge but at greater altitude. Cooler in attitude, really crisp, with increased zest and tightly wound around an aromatic spindle. Really pushing the granitic mineral envelope in tension, cat-like reactions and electric company. The total acidity (6.8 g/L) and PH (3.48) derived from the slope’s marginal fertility in sedimentary ironstone means for a salinity that is misty as the prevailing oceanic breezes. A dry (2.1 g/L residual sugar) Carolyn Martin expression of cool climate Chardonnay, as striking as it is a pleasure to drink.  Tasted May 2014  @creationwines

Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench, Ontario  (243113, $39.95, WineAlign)

Moira’s barrel speaks in a level of volume best suited under the ambient comfort of headphones, listening to the White Album while lying on shag carpet in the dark. Maybe just a bit too specific but that sort of solitude and concentration is needed to gain privy of every nuance and notion travelling in stereo from side to side. Pay respectful attention and note that the butter on the toast integrates while in the glass, indicating this Moira is so effortlessly structured, thinks the most positive thoughts and will give generously early and often. Has the feel of barrel but in George -esque grace and texture, not flavour. Give it a year or three and drink for 8-10 more.  In the end you will say, “it took a long long long time. Now I’m so happy I found you.”  Tasted May 2014  @MalivoireWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.  Tasted May 2014  @normhardie

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014

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The froth on Crémant d’Alsace

Colmar Canal PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Colmar Canal
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

The production of fizz by way of secondary fermentation in bottle is nothing to be ignored in Alsace. More than one in every five wines forged from the region’s vines is filled with bubbles. Most recently (in the past 18 to 24 months), certain things have come to light. A salient spike has been witnessed, with Sparkling wine increasing from 15 to more than 20 per cent of the region’s annual wine production. This means that Alsace now ranks second in France with a yearly production of more than 30 million bottles.

Six grape varieties are permitted for the production of Crémant d’Alsace; Auxerrois, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling. Chardonnay can only be used for Crémant and only Pinot Noir may be fermented to bottle a Rosé. More rules must be followed like grapes having to come from vines into its’ 3rd growing season and wines must rest a minimum nine months on the lees before bottling. Most lay longer, which helps to define this genre of Crémant’s creamy texture, matched in contrast by its stony, flinty and mineral style.

The effervescence of Crémant d’Alsace is known as prise de mousse. Basic wine is bottled with liqueur de tirage for second fermentation. Bottles are left to rest sur latte. Autolysis occurs and the dead yeast is removed by way of remuage. After aging on the fine lees, bottles are turned, deposits form in the collar, brought to the freezing point, evacuated by carbonic gas and replaced in volume by liqueur de dosage or liqueur d’expedition which yields a Crémant d’Alsace of three styles; Brut, Sec, or Demi-Sec. A balanced vintage for sparkling in 2012 yielded 270,000 hl of Crémant d’Alsace.

During my week in Alsace and with thanks to the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA) I was able to taste more than 30 producer’s Crémant. Here are my notes on 14.

Crémant d'Alasace at Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

Crémant d’Alasace at Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

Jean-Marie Haag Crémant d’Alsace, tasted at Domaine Stentz-Buecher with Les diVINes d’Alsace

Exemplary bubbles from Soultzmatt in la Vallée Noble, 20 km south of Colmar, from out of clay-limestone soils. Grapes here are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Auxerrois, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. A close-knit aridity and platinum tang are pronounced in an idiomatic lees-inflected language with a lightly oxidized lilt. A retaining wall of freshness and a slice of bitter honey-almond tart round out the complexity, intended or not, with elevated levels of Pinot vibrations making themselves known. Calls for a must return to see if it’s a one-off or a truly significant house style. Drink alongside a salty buffet.

Valentin Zusslin Crémant D’Alsace Sans Souffre Brut Zero, tasted at Domaine Stentz-Buecher with Les diVINes d’Alsace

The old vines blend from Clos Liebenberg is predominantly Pinot Auxerrois (95 per cent) with minor amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. It’s important to note the non-sulphur designation in that the not insignificant practice takes the wine to another level of Crémant sophistication. There is a savoury nut character to the Auxerrois but never in a fat, round or blanched way. The caryopsis are not like an almond but more like a roasted pistachio upon the mid-palate. Moving forward it’s like the smell of a nut-based, warm cereal. It’s quite intoxicating and lingers well into the finish.

Louis Hauller Crémant D’Alsace, tasted at Domaine Stentz-Buecher with Les diVINes d’Alsace

From 100 per cent Chardonnay, this is a fine, subtle, stylish, finessed and elegant interpretation that is a different sort of Alsace discrimination. Spent 11 months on the lees and sports more citrus than most others. Subtle bubbles here, with less froth and more Chardonnay character. Very good length.

Sipp Mack Crémant D’Alsace Rosé, tasted at Domaine Stentz-Buecher with Les diVINes d’Alsace

The smell of strawberry cream and the crème fraiche sapidity by way of sudoric lees. Fun and characterful if a bit of an ancestral taste.

Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar

Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar

Albert Mann Crémant D’Alsace Brut 2011, tasted at Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar with Albert Mann’s Marie-Thérèse Barthelme

A four-squared Pinot affair, in Blanc (66 per cent), Auxerrois (16), Noir (12) and Gris (6). This from a bottle that had just been disgorged one week prior to tasting. Out of clay-limestone and sand soils in vineyards from Kientzheim and Wettolsheim. Like album art, the Mann label is a crucial, sixth sense aspect of the wine experience. The 2011 Crémant is the artwork of François Bruetschy, “like a turnstile of fireworks while projecting fine sparks.” The 2011 Mann is very fine, misty, delicate, wistful and waiting in longing for an amuse bouche of mackerel with choucroute in a can. The wine makes me long for a walk in the vines.  @albertmannwines

Mackerel and Choucroute, Restaurant Le Théâtre Colmar

Mackerel and Choucroute, Restaurant Le Théâtre Colmar

Gustave Lorentz Crémant D’Alsace, tasted at Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar with George Lorentz

Though the label denotes this as non-vintage, the blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc is essentially from the 2011 vintage. This is what Lorentz describes as 2nd-tier house sparkling, with more ripeness in this bottle. That fruit maturity is all apple, with a minor note of oxidation and the full effect of 16 months on lees felt through texture. Once again the inclusion of Chardonnay takes the Crémant schematic condition to another level. Bring on the top-tier.

Louis Sipp Crémant D’Alsace Rosé, tasted at Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar with Etienne Sipp

The Sipp Crémant comes from various parcels in Ribeauvillé, from Weinbaum, Sulz and Rengelsbrunn. Etienne tells us it is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir, playfully mocking the AOC’s rule that only that variety can be used for sparkling Rosé. Sipp’s Pinot is grown in mainly heavy and deep clay soils. Picked at optimum ripeness, this is fizz that has spent 18 months aging in bottle after not having gone the way of malolactic fermentation. The result is a dry, dense, savoury and layered Pinot Noir Rosé. This third Crémant in a group with Mann and Lorentz proves that though tonight is not a competition, we see that all three have won.

Hummus, La Table de Gourmet, Riquewihr<br />

Hummus, La Table de Gourmet, Riquewihr
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Paul Zinck Crémant D’Alsace, tasted at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr with Phillippe Zinck

An efficient, sparkling requiem for success in a blend of three vintages and varieties; Pinot Noir (60 per cent), Chardonnay (30) and Pinot Blanc (10). A soft receptive, inviting and proper amalgamation in which mousse apropos peach and soft French cream delight without needing to be tough or street savvy in any way. Crémant giving like une crème de luxe, to sip with Hummus, La Table de Gourmet style and with nary a difficult moment.

Domaine Bott-Geyl Crémant D’Alsace Cuvée Paul-Edouard Brut Millésime 2007, tasted at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr with Jean-Christophe Bott  @JLBrendel   

Jean-Christophe Bott’s may be the most complex and intriguing bottle of Crémant you would have a chance to taste in the course of a week in Alsace. Bott gathers top quality Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from growers then lays the fruit low for four years on their lees. The rich and sunny vintage is vinified in what is really an Extra Brut style without any dosage whatsoever. This is small production Alsatian bubbles (2500+ bottles) disgorged in 2011 and in very early stages of development. The acidity stands in upright attention while the fruit submits to wait. The rocks and salinity raise upwards to march in extreme lengths. A sublime match to an Amuse Bouche of Cured Watermelon, pistachio, basil and mustard flower.

Foie Gras at Restaurant L'Épicurien, , Colmar

Foie Gras at Restaurant L’Épicurien, , Colmar

Charles Baur Crémant d’Alsace, tasted at Restaurant L’Épicurien, Colmar with Arnaud Baur

After its second ferment this blend of Pinot Blanc (40 per cent), Auxerrois (40) and Chardonnay (20) spent a compages-inducing 24 months on the lees. This is Baur’s main cuvée for Crémant, always made from two vintages, in this case 2009 and 2010. Most definitive and classic for the appellation. Falls within the aromatic white fruit/white flower spectrum with flavours that tease ripe Mirabelle, apricot and peach. Soft, elegant, feminine, demurred and clean. Baur’s take is a Catherine wheel of Alsatian bubbles with “all the things you dream while spinning ’round.”

Audrey et Christian Binner Crémant d’Alsace KB, tasted at Restaurant L’Épicurien, Colmar with Christian Binner 

Binner’s exotic-scented sparkling is from Kayserberg, “the emperor’s mountain,” next to the Schlossberg Grand Cru site. Old vines out of colder parcels more appropriate for making Crémant consist of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The terroir here is granitic and poor in soil, if that is what it can be called. The house style is quite oxidative and distinctively earthy, as if the rocks were breaking down into a fine, funky soil remineralization. The most terpenes yet from bubbles tasted in Alsace, with a bruised apple hematoma, a pickle of some colonialist kind and a spice cupboard to fill a curry recipe. In the end this is unusual, yet vivid and jazzy fizz.

Schoenheitz Picnic<br />

Schoenheitz Picnic
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Vins Schoenheitz Crémant d’Alsace Millesimé 2007, tasted on the steep slopes of the valley of Munster with Dominique, Henri and Adrien Schoenheitz

Primarily focused upon Pinot Auxerrois and righteously so, with just a 10 per cent buoyancy from Pinot Blanc. The combination of striking Auxerrois fruit grown on the estate’s (400-500m) high altitude steep slopes and a memorable Alsace vintage is just deadly. The varietal choice in low acidity out of a vintage with character and temper here translates to aridity (1 g/L residual sugar) and long on lees texture. Like a Ron Sexsmith ballad, a listen, one look at its bronze patina, one taste and you will “see the forest for the trees,” because there’s gold in them hills. Perfect timing to break out an all-natural, no dosage ’07, marked by gratuitous acidity and mountain verve. An auspicious start to a picnic in the hills.  @VinsSchoenheitz

Pierre Frick Crémant d’Alsace 2013, tasted at Domain Pierre Frick with Jean-Pierre Frick

Jean-Pierre Frick poured two just bottled yet raw examples meant to set a perspective table for the 2013 finished wine that followed. The 50/50 Pinot Blanc et Noir (NV and 2013) were both picked ripe (nearly overripe), pressed direct and treated with nothing, nada, niente, zilch, rien. No sulphites, yeast or sugar. With zero dosage and opening too soon in evolution, these bottles were marked by arrested fermentation. The absence of the second fermentation meant for a flat, oxidative result. The experiment may have meant no Crémant but it helped to organize, define and ultimately assess the ’13. Same minimalist method but with a secondary ferment, this bottle (though warm) offered high citrus and biting, forceful, sharp acidity. When returned to an hour later and from a cold bottle, the wine was much brighter and atomically fresh. Frick’s method and style mean his sparkling must spend a minimum one year in bottle before it can be sold.

Casks at Jean-Pierre Frick

Casks at Jean-Pierre Frick

Pierre Frick Crémant d’Alsace 2012, tasted at Domaine Pierre Frick with Jean-Pierre Frick

One of JP’s “funny wines.” Once again, no sulphur but this time with natural yeasts. Notated by a slight coppery, salmon tinge and minimally oxidative, though in no way over the top. “My idea was a dry Crémant but he’s not dry. C’est la vie.” To Frick this is a wine for young and really old people. Toasted brioche, buttered toast and almond extract are joined by a late arriving, very interesting, savoury sweetness. The finish smoulders, with that ever-bearing herbiage adding another layer. This Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc split comes in at 12.5 – 13.5 per cent alcohol. Frick doesn’t really know. “I write 13 per cent because I just have to put something on the bottle.”

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