Point, Dog Point

The wines of Dog Point Vineyard

The wines of Dog Point Vineyard

Dog Point Vineyard sits at the confluence of the Brancott and Omaka Valleys in Marlborough, New Zealand. Owned and operated by Ivan and Margaret Sutherland and James and Wendy Healy, the Wairau Valley vintners farm clay-loam soils sustainably and with organic, viticultural practices.

Sutherland and Healy are the men responsible for the success of the first iconic New Zealand brand, Cloudy Bay and together they left to form Dog Point in 2004. The name is in reference to the earliest European settlement of Marlborough, the sheep, their herders and the marauding dogs who prowled the scrub-covered hill overlooking the Wairau Plains. The early settlers called it Dog Point.

James Healy

James Healy

Dog Point produces Sauvignon Blanc which ranks amongst, if not tops the long list of New Zealand’s output, for quality, ubiquity and consistency.  The single-vineyard Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc takes the varietal intensity to another, barrel-influenced level. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are made in a uniquely Dog Point style, neither emulating nor simulating Burgundy. This is the essence of the winery’s modus vivendi.

James Healy and viticulturist Nigel Sowman brought Dog Point’s wines to Toronto last week, to celebrate their 10th anniversary. I sat down with them at WineAlign, along with Trialto Group’s Richard Dittmar and fellow WineAligners Sara d’Amato and Steve Thurlow. Here are the notes on the 10 wines poured.

Nigel Sowman and James Healy

Nigel Sowman and James Healy

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $24.95, WineAlign)

What James Healy calls “the generic Marlborough style,” with flint and ever-present though much faded reduction, grapefruit and lime. The vintage (2014) was not cold at all so it lacks the verdure. There is subtle, gentle clementine and palate viscosity. The acidity is all about bringing balance. So fresh, spritely, lime-juicy and always essential.

From my earlier note of March 2015:

So orderly and aligned, from ripe picked fruit with fervent acidity and all proportions in perfect working order. Four months settling in bottle has only worked to reinforce positive opinions. Grassless and flinty but no discernible elemental vagary, certainly no sulphur. This Sauvignon Blanc may just be the most consistent in every vintage, not only stylistically but also for the hedging of probability bets for guaranteed Marlborough quality. This is a superb vintage for the pied-à-terre phraseology. Like school in fall, winter and spring, the Dog Point is all class.

From my earlier note of November 2014:

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.

Last tasted May 2015

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $23.95, WineAlign)

Certainly showing some secondary characteristics in evolution and yet the composition is as close as a first cousin to the current 2014, with more than just thanks in part to identical yeasts. This has lees, “a feature of the 2011 wines,” notes James Healy. Time has magnified the flint but it has also stretched and elasticized it. The struck aromatic glint has passed and will continue to bob in slow motion. Dog Point in presentation of how and why Sauvignon Blanc can be enjoyed with age, over time.”Ain’t no reason to go up, ain’t no reason to go down. Ain’t no reason to go anywhere.” The late palate is lime, as per usual, but also lemon, in ’11, with a paraffin coating. “Time passes slowly and fades away.” Three to four more years for this SB. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $23.95, WineAlign)

It must be said straight out that a wine such as this wins hearts and points for its longevity, if nothing else. The kudos is warranted tenfold especially because it’s a Sauvignon Blanc and one that has emerged unscathed and even star bright. From a warmer year and extended growing season. Bigger bunches resulted, like in 2014 and this has evolved with considerable spice, as if, but not by wood, yet less developed than the petrol and lanolin slinging ’11. This is a wine that unequivocally proves that Sauvignon Blanc can age, gracefully and properly. Has an almost indiscernible flinty reduction, which means it never really had it in any concerning level in the first place. A vintage-specific white, with Chenin-like feigned sweetness and lactic feel. Marvellous to note that the final taste can be nothing but Sauvignon Blanc so in the end, the flavour profile wins out. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc Section 94 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (325977, $42.95, WineAlign)

The Section 94 is, in the estimation of James Healy, “a particularly good Sauvignon Blanc block.” Planted in the 1990’s, the now wise old plot is churning out exceptional fruit with cold, cold acidity. Says Healy, with respect to the vintage,” we didn’t want to muck around with malolactic,” so the fruit notches naturally in barrel, with indigenous yeasts. “They won’t stop prickling for over a year,” adds Healy. Bottled at about 18 months, this is a wine given the full solids treatment and is more than obviously a major step up in Sauvignon Blanc complexity. Offers a feel like pebbles bobbing and popping around in the clot of the wine. Wood spice and so much grapefruit are the grumous layers, along with lactic, citric acidity. Time has thus far been very kind, the matchstick reduction now really subsiding in this subsidized white. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc Section 94 2008, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (325977, $42.95, WineAlign)

It is interesting to note that 2012, from a cold vintage, has evolved with a lactic palate and yet this ’08 seems so very fresh. Petrol and developed, thickened honey in wax are the bees knees in here. While a touch lactic in its own right, the tapestry weaves into second, third and fourth layers. A Sauvignon Blanc that really offers the best of all worlds. The leesy, lactic-secondary and flint-tertiary feel is round and in surround. This is the most Bordeaux white of all in the DP-SB continuum, with presence, savoury herbiage and pointed, sumptuous flavours. Grapefruit and bitter, beautiful tonic orbiculates the finish. The unanimous conclusion is of a wine that is very much like Champagne, without the bubbles. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Dog Point Chardonnay

Dog Point Chardonnay 2010 and 2012

Dog Point Chardonnay 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (238568, $39.95, WineAlign)

The barrel, in and out of reduction, defines the yet early life stage of the ’12 Chardonnay. The count is 15 per cent new with heavy toast “because we just like that heavy toast flavour, just not too much of it,” notes James Healy. Fully malolactic, but a very late one, this slow-cooked Chardonnay, with matching matchstick acidity. In expression it is of a very cool-climate style with tons of lime and emulsified to a gemstone melt, green goddess consistency. A wine that could be a cousin to, share spirit with Paul Pender’s Vinemount Ridge Quarry Road, of “emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape.” The Dog Point etymology is two-thirds Mendoza clone and one-third Dijon 95, the former needing sugar to get ripe, but it provides the citrus and the acidity for the palate. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Dog Point Chardonnay 2010, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (238568, $39.95, WineAlign)

Remarkably similar to the later 2012, tasted side by side, here with toast, nuts and grapefruit. It may be just a touch warmer, with more fruit yet still cool by nature. The ’10 is not as green, not as salient in polished stone feel, with less weight and girth. The sugars and bitters are increasingly integrated and push more direct, unbiased pleasure. Just a strike of flint ties it to the sibling Sauvignon Blanc. “Statues made of matchsticks, crumble into one another.” Marlborough Chardonnay is better than you think, love minus zero, no limit. It’s true if it’s been said. “She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful, yet she’s true like ice, like fire.” The Dog Point ’10 persists, bobs, rhymes, talk in and out of line. It finishes strong, in grapefruit, without sophistry or equivocation. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (329672, $49.95, WineAlign)

From vines now coming of age (12-13 years old) and an increase in stem inclusion (20 per cent). Ripeness consistency was achieved with the aid of shoot cutting/thinning. All this to arrive at the Dog Point Pinot’s place in its necessary evolution. A wine of black cherry and roses, dark, dusty, ripe, in depth of earth, concentric circles of fruit and acidity. Great length.

From my earlier note of April 2015:

Perfectly bright Pinot Noir while simultaneously deep, dark and recondite. Energetic in spirit, ripe and packed with barbed, piquant fruit sewed in threaded badges of spice. Perfumed as if by cinnamon and displacing rose petals. Like the scent of a crystal clear summer’s night, all warm, dry and of dried strawberry juice cracked paint. Grounded and fulfilling, of its own holes, in the mouth and finishes with a feminine touch. A thoroughbred, a filly, that trots on an on, long after it has crossed the finish line. Drink 2016-2021.

Lasted tasted May 2015

Dog Point Pinot Noir

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2008 and 2006

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (329672, $49.95, WineAlign)

Just a small amount of stem inclusion, a practice that will increase in subsequent vintages, helps to define structure and to a lesser extent, aromatics and taste. Yet the effect is has on tempering and mitigating sweetness is overt and protrusive. “That whole ripe stem thing…it’s a dog’s breakfast, ” says James Healy. Both he and vineyard manager Nigel Sowman have accepted and embraced the necessity of stem inclusion but as Sowman notes, “is there such a thing as a ripe stem, because you’re after sap, not astringency.” The stems here have balanced out the really ripe, jammy fruit. This ’08 is all about florals, of many flowers that offer invitation to then investigate the Pinot Noir morphology. This has turned to liqueur yet still cracks, pops and finishes with bitter, tangy and swelling cranberry. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2006, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (329672, $49.95, WineAlign)

In 2006 stems were not yet part of the practicum and though the wine remains very much alive it has lost a modicum of structure and a minor key of balance. The highest degree (though certainly not over the top) of paint, varnish and veneer emanates from the edges of the jammy fruit. This youngest and lower on the amicable scale for a Dog Point Pinot Noir is both sweet and sour. The depth (mostly due to very young vines) pales in comparison with even ’08 and the flavours are disparate but what is there is fun and so very Pinot Noir. Can be nothing but and is really the most Burgundian of the three (’06, ’08 and ’12) tasted. That said, it’s not necessarily a good thing because Dog Point does and should try to avoid emulation. The final assessment and most poignant note concerns how barely evolved this nine year-old Pinot sits. Tasted blind you would be hard pressed to guess closely at its age. “If we had an ’06 vintage today we would make better wines,” admits James Healy. A touch of cola and a grapefruit note hit the finish. A Dog Point thing. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015

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Shades of South Africa

From left to right: Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2012, Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2013, De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Boschendal 1685 Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2013, Graham Beck The Game Reserve Shiraz 2012 and Kanonkop Pinotage 2012

From left to right: Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2012, Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2013, De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Boschendal 1685 Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2013, Graham Beck The Game Reserve Shiraz 2012 and Kanonkop Pinotage 2012

A sit down at Montecito Restaurant last month engaged three flights of South African wines, introduced by master of presentation ceremonies Will Predhomme, who declared a federal truth politic. “This is meant for sommeliers but you journalists will get what you need out of it.” Mr. affable’s public service announcement held great meaning. Pour 15 wines from South Africa to a group of somms, journos and consumers to discover there will be something for everyone.

When execution and style is so varied from within one very large wine region, things can turn into dramaturgy verging on the absurd. At any sort of political theatre tasting comprising a range of disparate wines, three things need to go right. First the presenter must have a keen sense of the rug that ties it all together. Second, the support needs to be in place from the larger powers that be and third, the wines must be good. Three for three, first in the care of Jimson Bienenstock and the kitchen at Montecito, then with thanks to Wines of South Africa Canada and finally by way of succinct explanation via Mr. Predhomme.

Lunch at Montecito

Lunch at Montecito

A tasting like this, explained Predhomme, “is about expressing what South Africa is but with wines that are available in our market.” South Africa’s wine history, or at least how it exists in relation to the modern world, is quite young yet has advanced with incredible speed. Imagine that Chardonnay did not arrive until 1983 and had to be smuggled in. Some of the world’s finest Chardonnay is now made on South African soils.

Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the country’s strive for democracy had a profound effect on the revolution, evolution and expedient rush to embrace modernity. Twenty one years later “South Africa as a whole is really starting to see where it fits,” says Predhomme, “though it will still take at least another generation to really figure it out.”

Home to 600 producers, the country exported 22 million litres in 1992 and 417 million in 2012. The U.K. is the number one buyer, followed by Holland and then Canada, who ranks number seven. “You can’t maintain this type of growth,” notes Predhomme, “but you can shape it.” This is why WOSA has set up shop in nearly a dozen countries.

Winegrowing regions of South Africa

Winegrowing regions of South Africa

South Africa is a geographical and geological land of wonder, of ancient soils and picturesque intrusions. Extreme examples include the shale and schist of Swartland that turns into dust and the granite domes of Paarl, which are 30 million years old. “Beginning of time stuff, but how does it impart into wine?” Taste fifteen wines and you will get a sense.

South Africa is barely older than Ontario in terms of the modern era of winemaking and yet it produces some 18,000 hectares of Chenin Blanc, double the amount in the Loire Valley. In Swartland the betide is nothing short of a Rhône revolution, with producers doing “whatever they want.” There are hot climate wines from dry-farmed table lands with bush vines similar to Mendoza, minus the Andes. A huge diurnal shift is taking place. Wines are coming from high elevations, where it’s hot but the nights are cool. New upcoming areas in cool, coastal areas, in places like Elgin, Bot River and Walker Bay’s Hemel-en-Aarde Valley have Sonoma like conditions, with maritime influences and fog. All of this adds to the diversity of the South African palette.

Montecito

Montecito

Whites Flight

Villiera Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Stellenbosch-Elgin, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $17.95, WineAlign)

Western Cape in the hands of winemaker Jeff Grier is all about varietal fruit, here Stellenbosch helped into blending-like ambition by young, spritely Elgin berries. A kitchen sink varietal nose gathers gooseberry and fig fruit, incorporates earthly elements (3.46 pH), medicines, sugars and tonics. The Sauvignon Blanc aspect is riper than most. Where the discombabulation comes is from atmospheric pressures, rescued in part by a candied (3.7 g/L RS) Granny Smith apple, pyrazine palate. The MOR alcohol (12.9 per cent) and final act of tart (6.3 g/L) acidity is the calling card to remember, acting as the twist, the tie and the rock. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015  @villiera  @AbconWine

Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2012, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (739995, $15.95, WineAlign)

Robust, high-strung, wrapped tight Chenin Blanc that acutely pushes the limits of excitable fruit. The aromatic tonality causes salivation and the eyes to water, as the nose drifts upwards, like the feeling of looking straight into the sun set high against a perfect blue sky. Then the palate lifts to off-dry, sending tingling sensations rippling through, with a cool-climate Chardonnay like prickling. Some oak and crunchy mineral add a smack of Stellenbosch in this rangy white from Alex Dale from the Winery of Good Hope. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @WineryGoodHope  @Noble_Estates

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2013, Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign)

The 2013 Forrester OV Chenin has less early, obvious and striking appeal but that does not take away from its persistent and indubitable quality. This is a most fine and elegant vintage, with a faint yet obvious quiver of honey. Yellow fruit and their flowers mingle with the fleeting sweetness, in the name of balance and purity. A slide from one moment effortlessly into another, through a waft, from a swirl. Though the fruit is harder to find, it’s a cause of placing the origin; something south Asian but not quite tropical sweet. Like Salak or Kumquat or Jack. So much mineral, tightly wound on a spindle, wound to unwind, unwinding to rewind. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (339762, $29.95, WineAlign)

Even at four years of age, the wood aspect of this Chenin Blanc exaggerates rather then amalgamates. At the time, winemaker Carl van der Merwe held nothing back to fashion a white with considerable heft and weight. Alcohol (14.1 per cent) persists in linking with the barrel for a humid, toasty and sultry affair, cosigned by matching (7.7 g/L) sugar and acid tones. This is a prime example of a love/hate Chenin Blanc relationship. If you are on the varietal fence then the magnifications will drive you away. If Chenin Blanc and barrel fermentation are your splintered cup of tea then this will woo you with passion. The hyperbole of rocks, medicines, tonics, peats, elements (including iodine and heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds) are all here. It’s a veritable CB feast. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @DeMorgenzonWine  @TandemSelection

Glenelly Cellars Grand Vin Chardonnay 2012, Wo Coastal Region, Stellenbosch, South Africa (382200, $19.95, WineAlign)

From out of Stellenbosch in the Idas Valley, on the southern slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, opened in 2010 by May de Lencquesaing. State-of-the-art facilities give range and class to this whole cluster pressed Chardonnay, aged for 10 months in new and second fill 500L barrels and left for nine months on the lees. The intensity of chalk, remedy, tang and tart fruit volleys and assails in many ways. It hangs on the edge and teases. You can take the Chardonnay out of the Coastal Region but you can’t remove the ancient geology granite and schist, reinforced iodine aroma from the Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @GlenellyWines  @HHDImports_Wine

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

Bordeaux Cultivars

Raats Family Cabernet Franc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

From decomposed Dolomite granite soils and vines in that vigorous young adulthood range of 18 to 25 years. A Cabernet Franc of ripeness, extraction, warmth, picked at fully realized sugar potential and vinified nearly bone dry. No stranger to wood, it spent 18 months in French Vicard and Mercury oak barrels (25% new, 25% second, 25% third fill and 25% fourth fill). Was neither fined nor filtered. All tolled it is quite steroidal, highly ferric and plugged in. Transmits currants by frenetic current, by bush smoulder and melts with macerated cherries. What minor holes in the oak blanket that show through are patched with a thin veneer of pungent compound, decomposed stone and the effects of dry farming. The lack of irrigation trumps the iron gait and grit, limiting the solvent to minute drips and drops. This is a big, arid red with few tears and many years ahead. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015  @RaatsWines  @TandemSelection

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Wo Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (403964, $48.00, WineAlign)

A mouthful to be sure, this Simonsberg is a cup runneth over “red wine bowl” of a Cabernet. Such a ripe, rich, rapturous and varietally obvious wine, overflowing with red fruit (berries and plums) and gilded enough to beat the ferrous inference into submission. Just a dusty rub of greenery, a sage and charcoal aggregate residue that dissolves into the sappy juice and the rush of late acidity. Quite a clout of sauvage and garrigue in this modern red with a loyal, rustic swell. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @KanonkopEstate  @Noble_Estates

Constantia Glen Three Cape Peninsula 2010, Constantia Valley, South Africa (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

A stone’s throw from of Cape Town comes this maritime red as close to cool-climate as you are likely to find in those environs. Two Cabs and a Merlot legato conjoin to continue the bent to modernist winemaking, with a twist of old world funk and soul. Smoky jazz beats darken the room filled with bright, ripe, con brio waves of concentrated fruit. Though this has the gauze and the grippy, firm, gritty B key blow of tenor sax, the cool middle tinkling keyboard bars temper the tension and the nerves. Bordeaux blend with a wall of sound and value to boot. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015   @ConstantiaGlen  @TandemSelection  @constantia1685

Hartenberg Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

A healthy swath of oak (18 months in 60 per cent new and 40 in second fill French) buoys and blankets this deep, cimmerian Cabernet. The nose is quite candied and while floral too, those edibles are dipped in a frosty coating. There are separations between the lines of intention, at once all forest floor, truffle and mushroom and again sugary, sappy and like a stew. Lustrous and silky of texture, with a grain running on tension and a drying out on the finish. Big, brawny, toothsome and hot. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @HartenbergWine  @hobbsandco

Villiera Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

The nose is quite unusually pretty and floral. So much strawberry, of fruit and leaves. A cool and polished red with a late push of varietal ferrous on the back of the tongue. This has layer upon layer, wave over wave, a veritable cake and vegetable garden, a terrace of nightshades and beets. May not be everyone’s cup of multi-varietal Napolean but it is complex. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Rhône/Blend/Indigenous

Boschendal 1685 S & M Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2013, Wo Coastal Region, South Africa (403667, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the hands of winemaker Bertho van der Westhuizen, this puts 70 per cent Shiraz from vineyards in the Faure area of Stellenbosch, Helderberg and Bottelary hills sites together with 30 per cent Mourvèdre from the Paardeberg area. Goes directly to a happy place so not quite the S & M you might have expected. The playful reverse psychology and complex fermentation regimen spins the world right around (80 per cent of the wine went into 300L oak barrels, a quarter each in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill, while the remainder was left unoaked). The S & M spits out with a remarkable impression of weightlessness, of hovering inches above the ground. Like the gentle, almost awkward and swerving of a bouncing rubber ball, playful and innocent, into comfortable Rhône territory. Smoked berries, fine cherry and very persistent, in memory, forward and onwards. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @BoschendalWines  @LiffordON

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2011, Wellington, South Africa (Agent, $69.95, WineAlign)

A ripe, plush, super annotated, developed and slowly developed aromatic layering that defies even South African logic. A smoky, slow-roasted Syrah seemingly only winemaker Marc Kent could procure, like a combined 24-hour brisket and an entire porcine roast in a pit of sand on Brendan Beach. And yet tell me this does not somehow smell like Curry? Like a full-on, whole spice ground, stratified Masala, of cardamom, dalchini, jaiphal and kalonji. This is Syrah of intense concentration, ripe hauteur, serious breadth and a sense to be Rhône without the bacon cure. Won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @TheWolftrapWine  @TandemSelection  @PorcupineWines

Graham Beck The Game Reserve Shiraz 2012, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (383570, $18.95, WineAlign)

The game is in The Game with musky scents from just charred roast venison and wild boar hide. Also modern, reminiscent of internationally-styled blends from Terra Alta or Montsant. The game works in smothering partnership with heavy, fully ripe and extracted fruit. This is a strong, big willed and boned $18 South African red that should help to alleviate old prejudices and is really quite seamless at the price. Almost tastes volcanic. Wood is used and used well, without pretence or obnoxious behaviour. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @GrahamBeckWines  @VinexxCanada

Kanonkop Pinotage 2012, Wo Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Estate, pedigree and price raise all the bars of expectation for the grape with a modern crush on and for espresso and mochaccino. OK Pinotage, what have you got at $45? A deep red wine in demand to draw plenty of attention, to pluck strings with pizzicato and reverberation? The answer is yes and my attention is indeed captured. Light on chocolate, mocha, creme and nary a lissom or bouncing tone, but instead this Pinotage sings straight lines of red fruit. A stone temple of Pinotage, a pilot of its own fruitful flight. The Pinotage flavour, of tar in summer comes late, is more obvious, notable and grounded as the wine dries to its finish. This is one of the better, even great renditions to date. Bravo. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @KanonkopEstate  @Noble_Estates

Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal 2012, Hemel-En-Aarde, Walker Bay, South Africa (Agent, $47.99, WineAlign)

The varietal potpourri is an Italian-French polygamous matrimony, a cross-section of colour, aroma and flavour that somehow comes righteously together. Call it a lavandino della cucina or évier de cuisine but either way you translate this mix is one of gastronomy and oenology, crafted, blended, sautéed and vinified. Hanibal is barrel matured for sixteen months after fermenting the different grapes separately, comprised of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Mouvedre, with Nebbiolo and Barbera. The culmination revolves on an axis bold as love, of Brett, funk and circumstance. A wildly natural wine, very 1960’s, smoky and with wafts so thick you need a fork to eat and goggles to see through the haze. A wicked blend of heaven and earth. Meaty, cured, sanguine and charred. Super-charged and running hot. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @BouchFinlayson  @LiffordON

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Searching for Somewhereness

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

Somewhereness is not really a word. It’s hokum. Gibberish. Nonsense. Look it up in Merriam-Webster or Oxford. Not there. Its conceived convenience is recorded in Wiktionary, Your Dictionary and other online glossaries though, because there is always an online presence ready and willing to immortalize anything and everything.

The definition of Somewhereness, according to the online “dictionaries.”

  1. The state or quality of being in, occurring in, or belonging to a specific place.
  2. The state or quality of existing in a place that is unknown or cannot be pinpointed.
  3. The unique characteristics imparted on a wine by the conditions of the place in which it was grown.

Somewhereness lies the truth?

Somewhereness is not a state of mind, of being, of knowing something is intrinsically right within the parameters or context of here, there, anywhere or everywhere. Somewhereness is not merely a function of good decision-making, of exercising the ideal to expand on terroir, to create something to talk about. Yet that third so-called definition is on the right track. Belief says terroir is what happens in the vineyard, through environment, by geology, geography and topology, from naturally occurring elements and microbes in the soil, by air and of climate. Terroir is the great one. The impossible creator of perfect storms, from out of riddle and enigma. Somewhereness, by extension, is the next one.

Somewhereness exists, albeit with just as much abstruse behaviour and paradox, inside the finished bottle. That’s all you really need to know. Terroir happens before. Somewhereness happens after. The line is drawn when wine enters its final resting place. It evolves, develops and finds its somewhereness inside the bottle. In the case of Champagne (and the wines of Emidio Pepe), the first bottling is merely a temporary shelter and somewhereness knows to wait for the final call. In those cases there are the stages of terroir, disgorgement and finally, somewhereness.

In Ontario, somewhereness has been found (as opposed to “was founded”) by Norman Hardie, Jonas Newman, Vicky Samaras, Bill Redelmeier, Ann Sperling, J-L Groux, Charles Baker, Doug Witty, J.P. Colas, Ed Madronich, Jay Johnston, Tom and Len Pennachetti, Angelo Pavan, Moray Tawse, Paul Pender, Harald Thiel, Marlize Beyers, Mary Bachelder-Delaney, Thomas Bachelder, Martin Malivoire and Shiraz Mottiar.

Somewhereness may have been born to these Ontario parents but it has and will not remain exclusive to the 12 who discovered it. Somewhereness belongs to all wine with true and truthful origins in terroir. The great wines of the world share in the expression and the mystery, even if the gold inside their bottles has never been affixed with such a label. Somewhereness is found inside a bottle of Dujac Bonnes Mares. You will taste it in an Egon Müller Scharzhofberg. It can’t be missed from out of a Margaux pour by the hands of Paul Pontallier. Wines of manic manipulation will never find it. They either do or they don’t, will or they won’t. Somewhereness just happens. Don’t ask me to explain. I’m just the messenger.

Over the past few years, much godello.ca white space has been set aside for glossing in written word and the ever-evolving rumination on the spiritual effect of somewhereness.

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre's breads

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre’s breads

Related, From February, 2013 – Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow

“For a comprehensive look at our province, make sure you read A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards, & Vines by Konrad Ejbich. The discourse concerning somewhereness in Ontario is in full swing. In October of 2012 I wrote, “character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. The future looks very bright for Ontario [wines].”

Related, From April, 2013 – Come together, over wine

“Abeyance be gone, these next few years have the potential to cement an industry’s power. Only a minority has even the slightest clue that liquid gold is mined out of the peninsula’s glacial clay and limestone. The time is ripe to tell the world the story of somewhereness. The embryo is about to grow in a major way. Financial reward is within reach. So how to alert the world?”

Related, From April 2014 – The group of twelve

“History may one day remember them as the group of twelve, or perhaps, “The Ontario School.” They are the 12 wineries who have banded together to ensconce a strange but beautiful word on the tongue, in the dictionary and out in the world. Somewhereness. They are purveyors of the land from which their grapes grow and ferment into wine. Facilitators of terroir, working a canvas forged by millions of years of geological and climatic evolution. Their assembly is based on both exigency and on Moira; destiny, share, fate. Like that other famous group, “collectively they agree.” Ontario’s cool-climate wine regions need to qualify and certify a distinctive winemaking style. In juxtaposition to old world, European tradition, the intensity of somewhereness needs to reflect an increasingly Ontario-centric partiality.”

Related, From April 2014 – Why taste Ontario?

“The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena Kaiser

Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser

All wonderful hyperbole, to be sure. But for years I missed the point. Somewhereness is not about agreeing, in principle, on how to make wine from a particular place so that it can collectively result in a thing. It is something other. It’s in the bottle. It has always been there but the key lies in Ontario’s industry having matured to a point where we can now taste it, again and again, inside the bottle. The work made it happen. It is well-deserved.

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

So with the assistance of Trisha Molokach, Dorian Anderson and the vintners who came to realize what happens when terroir is used to bottle divine pleasure, another Somewhereness (the event) happened, at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, on April 20, 2015. Food partners completed the stellar event; Best Baa Dairy, Monforte Dairy, Upper Canada Chees Company, Fat Chance Hand Sliced Cold Smoked Salmon Co., Chef Ryan Crawford & Beverly Hotchkiss of Backhouse, De La Terre Kitchen and Bakery and Schott Zwiesel. Hinterland was not present in 2015 and I skipped two tables, due to quite recent full portfolio tastings, at Bachelder and at Southbrook. Here are some other notes.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $21.00, WineAlign)

With less residual sugar than in 2012 and slightly higher alcohol (the bottle says 10.1 per cent but it’s actually 9.8), the house style persists, if only as a refrain that adjusts and adheres to the vintage. A hint of oyster shell is more than significant, in working alongside Hardie’s Calcaire, effected out of lees fermentation. The minute loss of high-toned aromatics is pitched in favour of fruit, if only from one exploited tank, within the context of producing 1000 cases. The ’13 (70 Niagara/30 PEC) is like very modern Alsace, akin to Schoffit, what with its texture fitted through a tiny hole. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Calcaire 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

The field blend of Marcel Deiss is the starting point. Lees imparts texture and the proverbial minerality is rounder than the Riesling, though the acidity just as linear. The breakdown is Chardonnay (40 per cent), Riesling (40), Melon de Bourgogne (10) and Pinot Gris (10). It should be noted that the mid-palate is caressed by a silky cheese curd, sour milk atonement. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of August 2014:

If any wine growing and producing region not called Alsace has the right to label a wine Calcaire, Prince Edward County is that place. The irony squared of Norman Hardie’s choice of nomenclature is not lost. Olivier Humbrecht makes use of the term because some of his single-varietal wines can no longer (under the local AOC rules) be labeled with the name of the wine-growing village. Marcel Deiss produces ‘field blends’ composed of several varieties grown on Grand Cru soil but he can’t (under other regional rules) label them Grand Cru. Hardie takes Niagara and PEC Grand Cru grapes, fashions an Ontario white blend, not unlike J-L Groux and calls it Calcaire, in ode to the limestone underlay of the County. Are you following me here? This may be new, innovative, yet understood and an early impression, but this cuvée initiates the PEC march to white blend supremacy, much like Stratus White has done over the course of 10 vintages in Niagara. Norm’s Calcaire is a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Melon de Bourgogne mélange, co-fermented on the lees, striking, all in limestone, full out mineral consequence. There is purified pear and white melon fruit in distillation. There is a house in Wellington, “they call the Rising Sun.” That this animal succeeds so early in its tenure shows the Norm conceit and the swagger. That it will define white blends for a millennium is an arrogance of traditional song and of scripture. So be it.

Last tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier more of May 2014:

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.

Last tasted April 2015

The wines of Hidden Bench

The wines of Hidden Bench

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Hidden Bench’s ’13 Riesling is a pure, soft-spoken and balanced reflection of her maker, winemaker Marlize Beyers. Only a month or two of lees and no stirring has brought her Riesling into this current corporeal state. The citrus is all flesh, void of pith and with acidity that has already incorporated, disguised and covered the zest. If any Hidden Bench Riesling suggest tropical fruit, here it is and yet again, not. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of September 2014:

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

Produced exclusively for licensee, the Bistro follows a very similar profile to the Estate Riesling, with exactitude in weight and alcohol 911 per cent). The flesh is less, the zest increased and overall you can sense more youth. The Bistro juice comes from Roman Block cuttings planted in Felseck Vineyard in 2008. The simmer here is a simpler, more straightforward pot of sustenance, entirely capable of acting as spokes-Riesling for the Hidden Bench house druthers. The vines will grow up and the juice will move on but other, newer, youthful cuttings will take up residence and the Bistro line will endure. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The (five to) six percent Sémillon speaks at present, in a waxy, bitter gourd winter melon and smoky flint tightness. In this wound moment, it is perceived that another year will be needed for the next unwind. Now vacuous, spinning and whirling as if in a processor’s bowl, an amphitheatre of expression. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier notes of September and (at Gold Medal Plates Toronto) November 2014:

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.”

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Rosé Locust Lane Vineyard 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A meandering young blend of Pinot Noir, Malbec and Viognier that is super dry (3.2 g/L of residual sugar), “hey, hey, my, my.” The aromas suggest a succession from strawberry to green and red onion but “there’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.” The medley, interrupted by ballads and road stories is like a subtle, sweet, sour and savoury gastronomical pickle, ramps in brine, scopes in sweet alkali. Can there be a drier, more windswept crag, neal to a southern French style made anywhere on the Peninsula than from the Escarpment coliseum up on Locust Lane? Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Rosé 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

While persistent in aridity as a disciple to the Locust Lane, this Bordeaux blend Rosé packs a fruitier punch. Elevated residual sugar (as compared to the Double L) mans a higher rate of variability and accessibility, not to mention more chance of Ontario patio success. This licensee bottling will work for summer, across the province. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted May 2015

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Still tightly wound with the tannic grain criss-crossing at interstices of fruit (pomegranate/cranberry/strawberry) and acidity (sharp/pointed/direct). A fine, pointillist’s rendering; Locust as Seurat, nobly bitter, to the end. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

The Locust Lane Vineyard, originally planted in 1998, was Hidden Bench’s first acquisition, in 2003. It has a unique perpendicular cross-slope effect, undulating in all four directions, gathering sun hours in its own special way. The vineyard produces the richest and warmest Pinot Noir with fruit flavours more akin to ripe plum and black cherry than almost anywhere on the Beamsville Bench, certainly as any from the Hidden Bench stable. While the ’11 is not the biggest beast nor the Bordeaux bully of the Terroir Caché, it is surprisingly tannic and strong. It’s anything but hot, though it attacks with fervor. Big berry fruit, macerated strawberry, rich pie notes and spice. A great Locust vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $34.95, WineAlign)

A year had added rich note to this ’11, furthering the inflammatory vibrations and purposefulness of Bordeaux (as opposed to Loire) red makings from the vintage. The depth of cherry merging to smoked currants is cool, collected and shaded by brushy, briny strokes. Hints at brambly, even. This is so very Cabernet Franc and even more so, Lincoln Lakeshore. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

A lean Laundry with as much finesse as winemaker Paul Pender has ever shown in his poignant Cabernet Franc realm. When a vintage deals you calm and scale you sit back and relax. The Lincoln Lakeshore advancing in years vines bring yet unseen front end red berry, licorice and red currant softness in 2011. There is elegance but also a refusal to yield its back end bite. A level of enveloping grain and chalk is unique to this bottle and should be seen as a very good effort with the possibility ahead

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Extra Dry Sparkling Riesling 2010, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the clay-limestone bench lands abutting the Escarpment, specifically one block of 11 year-old vines at the Beamsville Bench Cave Spring Vineyard. Traditional method fizz accessed of low brix (early picked, 19.3 degrees) and mortar (2.97 pH) numbers, then elevated under microscope magnified sugar (15.5 RS g/L) and acidity (8.4 g/L). So what? So this is a pure CS expression of Riesling, cured and curated in the house style, led to textile weave from 14 months on the lees and finalized just that side of Brut. Functions like a Blanc de Blancs suitably this side of acidity rage and with corresponding remarkable, if close to impossible aridity. Less fat than might be expected and with a swath of sauvage. There sweats ginger and the cuttings of foraged wild things. The extension on the finish is protracted even after the liquid has left the building. Finishes with dry stones, nuts and a rightful oxidative thrust. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2013, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

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

At present there are sweets, bitters and rich Adam fruit. Only the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment know why the Adam is so juicy. A chew like no other. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of October 2014:

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.

From my earlier note of July 2014:

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.

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391995, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Cabernet Franc needed six further months for the high-toned fruit to settle just enough for the spiced richness to shine. Though Dolomite-designated, this sheds Beamsville light purity, along with a grain variegated by (pomegranate) citrus and chalk. The cool centre is elongated and expansive though it seems to inuit the correct time for retraction. The aerial fruit stresses condense and accept the angles prepared by coriander and eucalyptus. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Twenty Mile Bench in Jay Johnston’s hands flat out rocks. The Chardonnays “they dig a funky spiel, they’ll make some spiel.” The ’12 Estate has crossed into pretty territory, not shy to wear its thin lamina of oak make-up and not too proud to say drink me now. Drink me here, there and everywhere. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of March 2014:

Has spent some quality time and knows its way around a barrel but its attitude is young, fresh and alive. From 12 and 13 year-old estate vines and kissed by only 15 per cent new oak. “But here’s a funky fact that I know is real.” Flat Rock’s Chardonnays are red hot and this fresh-faced ’12 has “baby appeal.” Blatant, colorable value on the Twenty.

Last tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula  (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Always expressive of such manifest certitude, the 2014 can’t be anything but Nadja though there adds a fleshy dimension that pins it to the broader spectrum of Twenty Mile Bench, in as much as what the vineyard culls from its capacious diagrammatic. That broader outlook provides understanding into Nadja’s decrease of stentorian language in the fractionally stagnant vintage. There is a variegation within the sweetness lining the tunnel of aridity. Fourteen is nothing overly special and Nadja suffers as a result. It’s still a very, very good Riesling, just not one for the ages. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1545, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vintage acts as a launch point for Flat Rock Pinot Noir and prepares a palate for the 20 Mile Bench by coating it with utmost approachability. Violets and Nebbiolo-like roses are raised in warmth, albeit beneath the safety net of cloud cover. You’ll find no burn, rust spots and yet you will acquire comfort, in and out of sips. Drink 2015-2018.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

As with Flat Rock’s Chardonnays, here is a vintage and an evolutionary coming of age that becomes a matter of scaling back oak. The quotient here is less than 40 per cent new, leaving the wizened vines and maker’s acumen to coax maximum character, brilliant sheen and recognizable aroma. The 2012 Pinot teases black cherry but never really goes there.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Nearly 4000 cases will be available of this nearly-unfiltered, very established and always well-thought out Pinot Noir. A consideration of the plots and barrels micro-management that determine the crasis of this Estate wine demands an extrapolation in full-on assessment. The medium-coarse Chinois filtering lends to a tannic chain of texture thick in grain and chalk. A heavier Estate because when the weather gives you heat you make a climate appropriate wine. This monkey is not a product of arctic air and it “got too deep, but how deep is too deep?” Thermal vintage melt, ritzy ripe cherry stuff in 2012. From the Ritz to the Rubble, if you like, or the Flat Rock.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

From two blocks on one farm in the centre of Creek Shores, one picked earlier to avoid botrytis. No malo, stainless steel tank fermentation leads to pure, crisp and clean Pinot Gris. The soil-driven funk meets faux-sulphur is typically J.P. Colas, a specificity in undertone that culminates in a dry, variegated finish. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of April 2014.

Here you have an honest, 100 per cent stainless steel treated Pinot Gris from an estate vineyard located adjacent the market on Fourth Avenue in the Creek Shores appellation. So very dry and really fine fruit, crisp, neoteric, rising and falling in waves of tempered acidity. Made in a comfortable, country-twanged, folk-rock style, like a Cowboy Junkie. Juicy, mouth watering work and very easy to fall for. An angel mine, this 13th Street, “and I know that your skin is as warm and as real as that smile in your eyes.” This effort by Jean-Pierre Colas is as good as it gets, a tally for Creek Shores and its kinship with the variety.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk in for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Syrah ‘Essence’ 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $44.95, WineAlign)

Fruit was sourced mainly from Wismer Vineyard (Vineland) and a smaller proportion from AJ Lepp (Niagara-on-the-Lake) for this dry as the desert Syrah of deep extract, warmth and density of fruit. All set upon a highly tannic frame, with every indication that longevity will be its best friend, as much as any red has ever been produced in Ontario. A formidable vulcanization marks the entry, a not so inappropriate entreaty to beg for time and lots of it. The current pavane of fruit is exhibitive of excruciating physical reticence though behind the wall there is more than enough indicators to stand the test of time. No new oak (though the Essence saw an extended slumber in three to four year old barrels) has allowed the tapestry of intertwined layers to set up shop and dig in for the long haul. If big-boned Syrah and Niagara are in your cellar plans, this 13th Street 2012 has to have a prominent place. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire

Malivoire

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

A dual block blush, from two clones in the Moira Vineyard. Made from 100 per cent Pinot Noir, this second vintage is pale as can be, dry, saline and reeking of fresh peaches and strawberries. The level of purity and intensity is nothing short of amazing. This will rise quickly into the ranks of the Peninsula’s finest Rosés. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The purity and fine-lines of Pinot Gris are defined, delineated and deftly prepared by Shiraz Mottiar and team in 2014. This is a calm rendition, void of tremors, certainly not taking any risks but also not a white of unfulfilled promises. Herbs, lemon, mint and fine PG tannin draws salt from stone. A perfectly dry finish is in play, as with all malivoire whites, to cement the deal. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015.

Malivoire Stouck Meritage 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

It’s hard to recall memories of so much syrup, liqueur and high tonality as coming from Stouck, from any Meritage for that matter and yet the 2011 Bordeaux varietal wines out of Niagara continue to astound. If excess or vivid character is a negative, just look away. The combination of rich extraction and explicit oak generosity dope out fruit from a dry September into wonders of dried timbre and inflection. The drupe is enriched, as is the tannin and a Beamsville buttressing that warps and wraps like never before. At this four-year juncture, the Niagara ’11 varietal compendium is officially a thing, witnessed in example through this Stouck. More than just dramatic Shiraz Mottiar foreshadowing here, but further into thoughts of what vintages co do for red wine as a Peninsula whole. The ’11 Stouck Meritage stands upright at the mirror and its reflection looks right back. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The profundity of tart, keen, briny berries dilates in its own very useful layers of citrus, tannin and concentration, beyond even what was observed in 2012. The zesty, spritely argot resonates from the unfurling of floral essentia out of a Gamay in desperate need of time. The flavours and overlay are somewhat impenetrable and yet leave quite an impression. While patience might be the virtue and the reward, if #gogamaygo is the modus operandi, a swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road is certainly not out of the question. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

From the rich limestone and sandstone beneath the clay, 1.1 acre Misek vineyard, a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. A very linear Ivan combs the catacombs of the Escarpment’s underpinning. A retaining wall of vintage attenuated rocks and stones, a vineyard’s low yields and the voices in Charles’ head have produced a striking Riesling. In 2014 adolescence has entered adulthood. Now before us is a grown up Ivan, mature Ivan, maybe even wise Ivan. Texture is in manifest control in this loyal, stay at home Baker, not yet running wild like free-spirited Picone. Ivan has presence, sometimes a great notion and is Baker’s longest bit of prose to date. The next great Riesling vintage will make it iconic. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2008, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (126433, $35.20, WineAlign)

The petrol and mighty bee’s sting have taken over, with the honey again not far behind. A lemon prepares to spill its juices as it warms above a bunsen flame. At present it is almost too elemental to define. Will change course again when midnight strikes in 2016. Then it will come into its own. Drink 2016-2020.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

Tasted at Somewhereness 2014 as part of a vertical retrospective going back to 2007. The Vinemount Ridge’s now famous Picone Vineyard is set within a 10-acre estate on the Niagara Escarpment. Planted to the Weis 21 clone, the Riesling grown here digs in for complexity from sectional moieties of clay and sandy soil atop a unique base of limestone bedrock. Charles Baker began working with these grapes in 2005 and it is this 2008 where the learning curve took a turn for the Riesling stratosphere. The ’06 found luck in the stars but this vintage lays the framework and foundation for a master plan. At this stage in the ’08 evolution there is a prodigious and viscous honeyed textured. Ripening tree fruit juices run like maple sap in spring and the run off is beginning to think syrup. A cutting ridge of acidity arrests the sugaring, allowing citrus and flinty rock to recall the wine’s first, fresh steps. Baker’s Riesling time travels in circles with no real beginning and no real end. From my earlier, September 2012 note: ““Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.”

Last tasted April 2015

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Wildass Rosé 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71712, $17.95, WineAlign)

A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with some Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling added for lift and what J-L Groux admits is rendered “for the consumer.” This essentially marks the twain between sweet and dry, if not quite halfway then pretty darn close. Plenty of herbs and citrus nail the aromas on the proverbial head with more than a grapefruit or two on the half circle. A highly approachable, end-user friendly blush. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density, and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky, back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

t may not be the most idiosyncratic Gamay in Niagara but the Stratus 2012 is without a doubt the most advanced and complex. Gamay fusion is on display, at once a bottle of Niagara’s finest pulchritudinous veneer and then a charcuterie board laid ample with cured bovine parts and sun-dried grapes. Maximum ripeness and then even later picking, to no one’s surprise, have led to this. Two years of ageing in neutral oak barrels has brought about a humid roundness and yet the centre is controlled by Oz-like mint and eucalyptus notes. The jam is gelid, as opposed to temperate. Rarely does Gamay go to such depths, of blackberry, chalk and grain, with an overlord of tannin. Quite serious stuff. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April 2015

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Top 10 May 16th VINTAGES releases

Oyster, Fiddlehead, Morel

Oyster, Fiddlehead, Morel

Long weekend ahead. Must find wine. VINTAGES concentrates on Australia and I am happy to report that the choices are more than impressive, especially in shades of Chardonnay, Sémillon and Marsanne. Three Ontario whites are released with two offering perfect sipping opportunities, from the hands of Rob Power and Richie Roberts. The third, from Craig McDonald, will blow you away in the realm of wild and crazy cool Chardonnay.

Get out there folks, said in refrain, put on some music, pour a glass and seize the day.

From left to right: Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Tahbilk Marsanne 2013, Kuhlmann Platz Rosé Crémant D'alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Pinot Gris 2014 and Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Tahbilk Marsanne 2013, Kuhlmann Platz Rosé Crémant D’alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Pinot Gris 2014 and Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay 2012

Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (341792, $17.95, WineAlign)

The Backyard Block returns for another go around with as much Loire typicity as Niagara does in Sauvignon Blanc. Cements the Creek Shores varietal viability, in ripeness, greens and acidity.

From my earlier note of February 2014: A Creek Shores SB that bridges the gap between spring and summer fruit. From a year in which the choice was made to not blend off into the estate bottling. Recognizable Creekside aromatics stand out in a more than obvious mineral deposit and grapefruit zest way. Here the band plays across The Great Divide so “just grab your hat, and take that ride.”  Tasted again in August 2014 and last tasted May 2015  @CreeksideWine  @rich_hobbsandco

Tahbilk Marsanne 2013, Nagambie Lakes, Central Victoria, Australia (117945, $17.95, WineAlign)

In this Marsanne music from the big flint can be heard, with more than a wisp of woodsmoke and an aridity that hollows out the theatrical sound. Has that lean, stoic feeling, like Hunter Valley Sémillon, with a mouthful of mineral and stone. Since you asked, yes it does get to the Rhône point and lingers efficiently for longer than a band’s last waltz organ line. Though so dry it dips into the Nagambie Lakes well and seeks epic Evangeline poetic longevity. Marsanne from out of the blue that will gain weight and will age into a Riesling like future, with petrol and honey. Then it will play in refrain, its theme repeated for a good, long, lingering time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @TahbilkWinery  @GrapeExpects  @winevic

Kuhlmann Platz Rosé Crémant D’alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Alsace, France (400788, $18.95, WineAlign)

Crémant cut from cloth neither chary nor coy, prompted with prejudice though in the archaic, piercing, ultra arid K-P style. Elemental my dear Rosé and cherries, struck by lightning and melting into the silky, sultry and lactic palate. Anything but oxidative with thunderous, Pinot Noir appeal. Pour this everywhere, off of fountains and into large vessels. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015    @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace  

Fielding Pinot Gris 2014, Estate Bottled, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251108, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such a ripe and extroverted Pinot Gris, in a style created and honed by winemaker Richie Roberts, here in 2014 near its apex. Singular without feeling the pressure to induce rapture or revelation. Fleshy ripe, of peaches, plums and nectarines. Typically and expectedly fresh, juicy, industrious, vehement and good, spicy length. Always well-made, hitting essential, doctrinal Pinot Gris notes and so very food versatile. May I suggest a whole grilled fish, lemon and fresh herbs. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015  @RichieWine  @FieldingWinery

Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay 2012, Great Southern, Western Australia, Australia (410027, $22.95, WineAlign)

Flint or sulphur, pick your poison and in the case of this Howard Park Chardonnay, it must be called good medicine. Such a lively, struck match seethe, intimating and participating in the act of cool climate performance. A Sandman, an algid atmospheric cover band to the real Metallica, with mineral, toasty notes and driving anxiety. If only there was more than this, more fruit and flesh, this would be a stunner. As it is, the value it represents can’t be denied. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2015  @HowardParkWines  @imbibersreport  @WestAustralia

From left to right: Tyrrell's Brookdale Sémillon 2013, D'arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011, Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

From left to right: Tyrrell’s Brookdale Sémillon 2013, D’arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011, Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

Tyrrell’s Brookdale Sémillon 2013, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (269316, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hunter Valley Sémillon should never, ever be underestimated. The starved, crazed and raving mad personality is delirium incarnate. This Tyrrell’s ‘basic’ Brookdale is like orchard fruit on a focused and intense diet, thirsty from drought and hungry from deprivation. And it’s simply gorgeous. Wiry, angular and lean, it’s also careening and funky, actually, like a tincture made from dried roots, fruit skins and grasses, ground between two schisty stones. Like lemons left out in the sun to dry, pulverized and inculcated to a professor’s fine elemental powder. For now it knows “all I have is baking and going simple slowly.” Close your eyes and feel past the young tension, to where the body of the wine indicates expansion, to five years on where honey and sweet cold collation will lead this to a special place. Put aside the indifference engine and suck it up buttercup. This is exemplary Hunter Valley Sémillon for a pittance. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2015  @TyrrellsWines  @Wine_Australia  @HunterValleyAUS

D’arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011, Mclaren Vale, Australia (48785, $25.95, WineAlign)

This Love Grass is the kind of Shiraz with the right stimulants, high-toned but with a kind of resinous, dried fruit that hydrates with an intoxicating perfume. The vineyard’s weed infiltrates and adds savour, stimulating the senses with cool Mediterranean aromas mixed with the flavour of beautifully bitter chocolate. Sticky and able to attach itself across the taste buds, the wolf steps on every nerve, then attacks the teeth and the back palate. All the while you are left with a calm yet enervating feeling. Chester Osborn, “you know the dealer, the dealer is a man, with the love grass in his hand.” This D’arenberg is worth every penny of its $26, especially when the pusher is considered against many peers $20-$30 more costly. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @darenbergwine  @mclaren_vale  @imbibersreport

Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign)

The ambiguity of site is of little consequence in this texturally striking Niagara Chardonnay. The bookend vintages of 2010 and 2012 list the Oliveira Vineyard on the label and not surprisingly display character akin to Norm Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay. From Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, Hardie calls it Beamsville Bench, Craig McDonald deems it Lincoln Lakeshore. Regardless, those wines of fruit with a “golden tan, ready to go” are undomesticated and wild. This Trius 2011 is different. The fruit’s source is unspecified and the bursting personality takes Peninsula Chardonnay architecture past and well right of the centre line. Rich, ripe and buttressed, from pivot to gyrate, with acidity circling the life affirming yeasts. Pear trees in spring bloom and ready to pick fruit in a dream of tenses, with personality like a Hengst Grand Cru Pinot Gris. The style and varietal take are highly unique, expertly configured, judged and primed to age. Speaks the treble language of the vintage, predicated on bold ideas looking forward towards a bright future. Ultimately it is yeast and vintage, non partisan to site, that elaborate the Wild Ferment 2011. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted May 2015  @TriusWines

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (410753, $41.95, WineAlign)

Both estate and purchased fruit sources from several sites make up the Old Stones, a Willamette Chardonnay in which those stones can be imagined travelling a subterranean river, along with salt and volcanic bombs. Balance defined for Oregon, with soft and subtle fruit melded into stiff vintage-driven acidity. This is a not a heavyweight by any stretch, but rather an elegant, confident, demurred Chardonnay with lots of class. It has its popping moments, not quite eruptive but the activity can be sensed. It will evolve and slowly dissipate with time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted May 2015  @Bergstromwines  @HalpernWine  @wvwines

D'arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

D’arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California (220517, $150.00, WineAlign)

A tremendously ripe, rich and layered Syrah that has few equals or rivals in California so in that sense the price is benevolently justified. Winemaker Matt Dees is no flash in the pan. His wines are cerebrated and cogitated with no stone left unturned. They are showy, chiselled wrestlers, boxers and ultimate fighters but they are the real deal. This ’08 is a veritable protein potpourri, of wafts from the finest boucherie, all hung limbs and wrapped sheep’s cheeses, in caves, on counters and under glass. The expression is also very Côte Rôtie meets côte de bœuf rôtie, with added luxe perfume, chalk and lacy grain. The fruit boundaries are endless, the chew meaty, cured and smoky. Ultra Syrah of never wavering red fruit in a packed vessel with alcohol declared at a meagre 14.9 per cent. Even if it is really more like 15.5, the wealth of fruit, acidity, tannin and structure can handle the heat. With so much happening, this wine will age like the prized hind quarters and mother’s milk solids it smells of. Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008 says something and I’d love to hear what that is 15 years down the road. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2015  @WoodmanWS  @CalifWines_CA

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Buy the case

Trialto Group tasting at WineAlign with Zalto glasses

Trialto Group tasting at WineAlign with Zalto glasses

“What wines would you recommend that are not available at the LCBO?” has made its constitutive and bounden way to the top of the FAQ list. This applies to both consumers in search of quality and ease of acquisition, along with restaurateurs who want to build a diverse, anterior, ulterior and eclectic wine list. The answer is consignment. Working with Ontario wine importing agents opens up a world you never knew existed and they deliver direct to your door.

“But I don’t want to purchase by the case” is the most common response. “What if I don’t like the first bottle?” The answer is WineAlign. You already trust and put your dollars in the hands and palates of a critic or a group of critics whose judgements you trust. You order stuff online all the time, mainly because they are products you want to purchase but also because you love the home or office delivery aspect of the transaction. Wine? Yes, it’s possible. In cases of six or 12, of a wine you trust will do nothing but please, it just makes sense to order by the case.

As you know, I am a regular and increasingly active contributor at WineAlign, the most essential source for critical reviews of wines released in Ontario. Just like the coverage in this province, WineAlign tackles the scenes in Alberta and British Columbia as well. More and more samples of B.C. wine has have traipsed through the office doors so the opportunity to taste west coast output has become a regular duty and a pleasure. Still, the release gamut in Ontario remains the primary focus.

At WineAlign we have launched a new program called Buy The Case. To understand what the ‘Buy The Case’ program is really all about, click on the link to hear it from our most esteemed critic David Lawrason.

Buy The Case: Trialto Wine Group

I sat down with David and Sara d’Amato to taste through a cross-section of the Trialto Wine Group portfolio. Trialto has a great Canadian presence, in Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The Ontario team has a group of highly knowledgeable wine professionals and their portfolio is chock full of gems, top values and products that will appeal to the most cerebral and fastidious of Sommeliers or discerning consumers.

The following list highlights the wines that I chose as most representative for the Buy The Case program, employing the top 10 good reasons as the guideline for making such decisions.

From left to right: Montresor Capitel Alto 2013, Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barbera D'alba 2013, Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne 2012, Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012, Terras Gauda Abadia San Campio Albariño Rias Baixas, Montresor Castelliere Delle Guaite Primo Ripasso 2011 and 2014 Neal Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

From left to right: Montresor Capitel Alto 2013, Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barbera D’alba 2013, Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne 2012, Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012, Terras Gauda Abadia San Campio Albariño Rias Baixas, Montresor Castelliere Delle Guaite Primo Ripasso 2011 and 2014 Neal Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Curio Selections

Montresor Capitel Alto 2013, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

High floral tones are at the top end for Soave and here more than a step up from the Classico bottling. The primrose and aster give way to creamy chestnut folded into savoury custard. A smooth palate feel turns to nuts, stones, fine bitters and gentle tonics. Quite the salubrious Soave, purveyor of good feelings and with the words party pleaser inscribed across its Veronese face. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @TurismoVeneto

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barbera D’alba 2013, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Popping Barbera full of strapping substantial fruit, mind-meddling acidity and thankfully, playful rhythm and blues chords. Full of plums and cherries baked in the sun, rehydrated to syrup and filled with a whole lot of old-school, funky, soulful flavour. Once this Hozier Barbera finds its way through, past a “mid-youth crisis all said and done, it then needs “to be youthfully felt, cause God” it “never felt young.” Goes round and round, like vinyl on a well-used turntable. We could grow old with this and more vintages of Borgogno’s Barbera. Years in “we’ll name our children Jackie and Wilson, raise ’em on rhythm and blues.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @regionepiemonte

Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne 2012, Burgundy, France (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Pinot Noir’s most base cumulative history has arrived here, in the second decade of the 21st century, in this commodious and convenient 2012, fashioned to the letter of entry-level Bourgogne law. Bright, animated, ripe, affable, under-currant earthy and wholly, purposefully, decidedly approachable. Strawberry and raspberry mixed with dried rose-dominated potpourri. The thrill of acidity flush with direct energy jigs to finis. What more might be petitioned from the fruit of les villages? Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @BourgogneWines

Function Wines

Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012, DOC Piedmont, Italy (Agent, $26.95, WineAlign)

Modern, ripe and pushing maximum extraction in Nebbiolo. A single-vineyard Langhe of full, flaunting expressive ideas and protein matching aspirations. The combination of Cassis, cedar, currants and berries link this, in aromatic tumescence, to Sonoma Cabernet. Yet its prevailing and concurrent Nebbiolo presence, of tar and roses, are really magnified and inextricably tied to its declassified Barolo vineyard. Quite sappy sentimental, with sinew to one side and dusty chocolate to the other. Quality acidity and tannin keep it brutally honest. Drink 2016-2010. Tasted April 2015  @vietti_vino  @vinidelpiemonte

Seasonal Wines

Terras Gauda Abadia San Campio Albariño Rias Baixas 2014Albariño/Alvarinho, Spain (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

From Bodegas Terras Gauda in Galicia this likens to white blend style, in complex varietal aromatics, as if a combing of Pinot Gris, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were vying for and forming connections in conundrums. Has a slight Vinho Verde effervescence and plenty of bright, spirited character. A monk’s white, quietly serving in piety and in the presence of the unspoken. Lingers for longer than expected. Fine example of Albariño. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted April 2015  @TerrasGauda @RiasBaixasWines

Cellaring Wine

Montresor Castelliere Delle Guaite Primo Ripasso 2011, Doc Valpolicella Superiore, Veneto, Spain (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

Fortified village of Venetian varietal strength, yelping with warm, extracted, dense and chewy Valpolicella fruit and stepping beyond the acid scrubbed boundaries of the typical gauge. Pitches braised beef and a full on drupe of berry, plum and fig fruit. While at present time the confluence of worked over flavours are an over abundance of riches, this will flesh and caramelize towards a mini-Quintarelli-like future, where the rust and antiquity of innate history turns liqueur into ethereal mocker. Buy a case, wait up to 10 years and drink it over the next 10. You’ll revel in telling everyone how much you paid in back in 2015. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted April 2015  @RegioneVeneto

Neal Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $59.00, WineAlign)

Nothing but Cabernet Sauvignon from both mountain and valley floor fruit. Has that keen, innate sense of proprietary wisdom. A wine that seemingly has more age on it, as if it were already 15 plus years old, when the fact is it’s a mere toddler. Somehow you just yet know it will evolve in this exact state for another 10 before fading anywhere near towards a tequila sunset. Spirited, elated, elevated tones and full, fleshy fruit endow this Neal with long term capabilities. Sweet tannins and a soft, creamy oak blanketing contain the tension and a desire for hurried, premature development. Velveteen chocolate to be sure but one of really fine grain. Very good length. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015  @NealVineyards  @NapaVintners

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The natural wines of Emidio Pepe

Chiara and wines

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and the wines of Emidio Pepe at Barque Smokehouse, March 10, 2015

Emidio Pepe‘s granddaughter Chiara De Lulis Pepe says that in 5o years of winemaking nothing has changed. Nothing, save for a conglomerate-like expansion from 1.5 to 15 hectares of farming vines in Abruzzo. No seriously, do the math. Emidio Pepe remains and likely always will be a tiny, boutique, garagiste, artisan producer.

To say Emidio Pepe is unique and singular for Abruzzo and outwards into the natural winemaking diaspora is as gross an understatement as can be made. Consider the approach. Natural, healthy viticulture. No chemicals ever. Ever. Organic, biodynamic, only indigenous yeasts (more on that later), no fining or filtration. Red berries de-stemmed by hand. White grapes trod by foot. Fermentation in concrete. Bottling in early March and laid to rest. Then the bottles are decanted by hand, re-corked and released. The entire premise begins and ends with amazingly clean and pure fruit.

Pundits and critics will sit across a table and discuss. Point. “This is the essence of natural wine. No manipulation and zero handling.” Counterpoint. “There is no such thing. All wine is handled. All winemakers influence the outcome of their wines.” Point. “It’s all about the yeasts. They and their grapes are the heart and soul of natural wine.” Counterpoint. “To sell the wines, those yeasts and their grapes, once inside the bottle, must travel on planes, trains and automobiles. What is natural about that?”

The fact is Emidio Pepe‘s wines do not have to travel. They do not produce enough for that necessity but by heading out on tour they spread the gospel and bring a natural crush to the people. They are spokes-wines of history, health and possibility. They defy the naysayer’s argument because they are the godparents of natural wine.

If there is one single winemaker who defines natural, who lives, breathes and embodies the much maligned phrase “minimal intervention winemaking,” Emidio Pepe is the one. Not because of the techniques, practices and religious adherence to undomesticated viticulture, unadulterated and soulful viniculture. The reason Emidio Pepe is the benchmark and the region d’essere for natural wines to matter is because the wines are impossibly fantastic.

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe © https://www.facebook.com/emidiopepewines?fref=ts

The vineyards are located 10 km from the Adriatic and 45 minutes from the Gran Sasso D’Italia mountains. The unique saddle and its clay-limestone soil encourage roots to burrow five to six metres downward, to a subterranean comfort zone, where the temperature is always constant.  Hand de-stemming is a tradition “but we believe it makes a superior product,” says Chiara. Concrete fermentation is done “to keep the integrity of the wine.”

For Emidio Pepe it begins and ends with the yeasts. Complexity and richness comes from “the family of yeasts that started the fermentation.” Chiara truly believes that yeasts will determine the flavours of the wine. “Selective yeasts make for simple wines,” she insists. “If you use them in different countries, 50-60 percent of the taste of those wines will be the same.” With indigenous yeasts, “the years will put a stamp on the personality of the wine.”

I sat down with Mark Cuff and Zinta Steprans of The Living Vine, John Szabo M.S., Will Predhomme and Peter Boyd to taste with Chiara De Lulis Pepe at Barque Smokehouse in March. Chiara brought some special wines to the table. Here are the notes.

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2007, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $154.95, WineAlign)

Skip straight past the naming and intimating of aromas and flavours. Here it is not the point. Trebbiano that is a product of having finished fermentation in bottle, with natural CO2, now virtually dissipated but persisting in echoes, to act as a natural preservative. The moniker natural does this little justice. The sweet sapidity and etching of acidity are so very grown-up, classically-styled, mature, precise. Trebbiano in which texture, above all else, stands out and firm. There is a dichotomous relationship, between viscosity and delicatezza. Natural respect, of a grace on a face, in twinkling wrinkles and gossamer flowers tucked impossibly into an aigrette of golden hair. In every facet to acting natural with a stupidly frank elegance to defy age, showing no signs of movement after eight years. The Robin Wright of white wine, expressive of tenderness but certainly not shy. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2003, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $94.95, WineAlign)

At the teenage (in wine years) number 12 this is showing less evolution than expected, especially in consideration of the European year that was 2003. Another divaricating Abruzzo, with a dried fruit component that pullulates in a very hydrated way. From a scorching season where anxiety was felt by both the vines and their keepers. Possessive of a bricking that gives of the cracked earth, of dusty, ambivalent rocks and warm, pulpy air. Through the humid tones and with thanks to pergola trellising, balance prevails with close encounters in acidity of the rampant kind. Tannins rage as well, strong and bullish above the earthy notes and peppery berry bites. The old vines and sleight of winemaking hand are ensconced to this vision, void of faults and yet advancing from the frame. Needs just a few more years to find the median point on the chonometer. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2001, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $169.95, WineAlign)

If the ’03 acts a bit like a hormonal, impulsive, testy, cavilling or petulant teenager, this 2001 is the adolescent. Full of boundless energy, willingly and excitably adventurous and ready to participate in the game. This from a terrific vintage with great aging potential, here Montepulciano manifests with gravity defying weight, like careful Nebbiolo or graceful Burgundy. Where this separates itself from other Grand Cru varietal infinity is in its yeast directive. Singular, remarkable, devoid in spice as if by wood. The structure is innate, indigenously calculated, developing in bottle, verbalizing flavour. Like a bone from the skin of the clay, piaculum by limestone, passed through and brought to light by the leavening catalyst. Drink 2020-2036.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 1983, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $279.95, WineAlign)

Give Emidio Pepe’s reds thirty odd years to develop and the impossible happens. To postulate in a moment’s assessment without remembering the pious tradition with which this was made would be a crime against Pepe, Abruzzo, the natural world and the wonders of the universe. With this much passage the spice cupboard that emits is wow times a thousand. Clove, cinnamon, cardamon, orange peel, galangal and like golden raisins that pass through quarries to become rubies. This wine is perfect. It has not broken down an iota. It requires no decanting. It defies logic, perception and time. There is no sediment, only energy. Speaks from the glass as if it were a child of destiny and mythology. The 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva arrives from along the same road taken but its transmogrification proves that the result, with thanks again to the endemic froth, is different every time. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted March 2015

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It’s a themed based life. Most of what we taste is packaged into categories; country, region, appellation, varietal, blends, White, Red, Sparkling, Rosé and Dessert. Tastings promote a place or at the very least a gathering of sympathies, of wines meant to share a table.

Sometimes we taste in random preoccupation, with holistic hazard grace, in absence of direction, without a care to the world. More often than not my tasting notes are uploaded to WineAlign. Here are nine uploaded singles, in no particular and seemingly random order, save for the prices. They are all available at the LCBO.

From left to right: Guardian Reserva Red 2012, Château Des Charmes Cuvée D'andrée Rosé Estate Bottled 2014, Château Des Charmes Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled 2012, Bodegas Castaño Solanera Viñas Viejas 2012 and Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2013

From left to right: Guardian Reserva Red 2012, Château Des Charmes Cuvée D’andrée Rosé Estate Bottled 2014, Château Des Charmes Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled 2012, Bodegas Castaño Solanera Viñas Viejas 2012 and Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2013

Guardian Reserva Red 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile (392787, $13.60, WineAlign)

A commencement red in which the parts control the sum, before, during and after. Quite frankly that’s okay. That Cabernet Franc and Carménère can be picked out so glaringly yet without harsh tones is a reward of sorts, an investigation into the varietal relationship with Colchagua, the guardian of these grapes. More fruit than earth is the basic tenet of the dependancy, again just fine, with the secondary players acting out the vibes of smoke, very ripe flowering shrubs and oak. Good show. The length says three to four acts more. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted March 2015  @LFEWINES  @DrinkChile  @Noble_Estates

Château Des Charmes Cuvée D’andrée Rosé Estate Bottled 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (333260, $14.95, WineAlign)

If any Rosé intimates a blush Niagara Brut (sans bubbles) I’d have to give the nod to this CdC named for family matriarch Madame Andrée Bosc. Early picked at less than 20 brix in a Sparkling wine state of mind and balanced in which sugar (6.1 g/L) and acidity (6.1 g/L) countermand one effacing the other. From out of the void comes pure Pinot Noir fruit, in varietal articulation, lustrous, vivid and painted in cool, receding sheen. The flavours are an early summer bowl of berries. Strawberries to mark the beginning of hope. In 2013 the complexity reached for another level. Here in 2014 the Cuvée D’andrée keeps it simple. A Foy Vance tune. “That was the last day of June. This is the first of July.” Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015  @MBosc

Château Des Charmes Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (370320, $14.95, WineAlign)

Grabs hold of the vintage and runs with it, in a sprint. Everything about this is comfortable, expressive, flannel blanketed for warmth. Soft, cuddly Cabernet with huge potential in consideration of price. The oak on top of extraction speaks of a handled totality alongside great fruit. Contending fruit. Basks in a blinding glow in a fine example of what Cabernet can do in Niagara, from warmer spots. That said I do believe that fresh fruit like this, left to its own devices, without any significant barrel coverage, would have managed just fine for five years or more. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @MBosc

Castaño Solanera Viñas Viejas 2012, Do Yecla, Spain (276162, $16.95, WineAlign)

Crafted specifically for a North American market palate, this blends Mourvedre dominated (70 per cent), maximum extraction Yecla fruit with equal supporting bits of Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha Tintorera. The latter two juicy bombshells help to smooth, flesh and melt the ooze of the firm, dredging and heavy of foot Mourvedre. Reeking of modernity, machination and posturing, the gangly, brambly and grippy old vines Solanera is a huge wine, a macho, manly, masculine and muscular red. It’s a shaken mess of fruit, edible flowers and has a smoky, cigar leaf edge. The only real concern is a lack of chivalrous acidity. What is there feels added, not integrated and will be quick to abandon ship when the fruit needs a life raft. At present there is no disputing the quantity of the composition for the money. Two years from now it will have less to say. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015  @BodegasCastano  @andrewhanna

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2013, California (359257, $17.95, WineAlign)

The Vintner’s Blend is Ravenswood’s opportunity to anatomize disparate, old vine California fruit into one Wonka blend, to craft a harmonious if homogeneous Zinfandel expression. The house style in consistency is nothing short of something palmary, here perpetuated in the dried fruit crannies of this 2013. Zinfandel and nothing but, though the variety carries a three quarters presence, the remainder in Petite Sirah, Syrah and “Mixed Blacks.” When the paltry asking price is considered, the VB gives the oak away, asking for little in return, save for a stoked grill or smoker and some well-rubbed slabs of protein. Combine the sweet, savoury, dark, brambly fruit with slow-cooked ribs and a fuligin crust. Men from all around will come calling. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @CBrandsCareers  @TheZinfandelOrg

From left to right: Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, Pedroncelli Alto Vineyards Sangiovese 2012, Brezza Cannubi Barolo 2010 and Château Lafon Rochet 2004

From left to right: Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, Pedroncelli Alto Vineyards Sangiovese 2012, Brezza Cannubi Barolo 2010 and Château Lafon Rochet 2004

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (279117, $19.95, WineAlign)

Southbrook’s Rosé is a triumph of philosophy and direction in varietal election. Fundamental to a matter of degree, this is a wine to help cast little doubt on Cabernet Franc’s pink necessity for Niagara. Only CF adds a sweet, sour and savoury push to to a blush bleed, with a push-pull undertone of earth. Only this variety can draw salinity and funk from the soil without requiring additional reductive, rubbery underpinning. Here the sour berries are bright and the wine is light on its feet, yet clear and precise. If not for the apocopic finish, this would be exceedingly exceptional Rosé. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling

Pedroncelli Alto Vineyards Sangiovese 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (204461, $20.00, WineAlign)

Genuine take on Sangiovese, ebullient in red cherry, leather and chestnut. Swelling pulpy and if acidity does not at first succeed, it tries and tries again until vehemence is achieved. Sangiovese never looked so good in expatriate clothing for $20. Worth trying one now and putting a few away to see how they evolve. Sends a message to growers and producers in the Dry Creek Valley. Treat the variety with minimal oak love and seek out special terroir like the Alto Vineyards. Done right, Sangiovese can provide a bright and complementing alternative to Zinfandel. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @Pedroncelli  @drycreekvalley

Brezza Cannubi Barolo 2010, Docg Piedmont, Italy (713511, $64.95, WineAlign)

Here, in the Cannubi vineyard, the classic impossible dichotomy of Nebbiolo, like an anvil and a feather, falling at the same rate, in a vacuum. The floral tones are set to eleven, while layers of many elixirs, liqueurs and tonics swirl in B-52 activity, bled from candied roses and chestnuts. A flavour that brings to mind fresh leather in cream sauce and a nutty glaze, like pistachio crème brûlée. Spiky, silken texture is akin to a web spun of savoury cookies strands. Tannins take over late and the sour finish, of fruits fed through a syringe by fills of intensity and verve. Wow Cannubi. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted April 2015 @NaturalVines   @regionepiemonte

Château Lafon Rochet 2004, Ac St Estèphe, 4e Cru, Bordeaux, France (197228, 2009 $84.25, WineAlign)

An adolescent resolved, on the whole and as a rule for 2004’s, now advanced to adulthood. Chocolate and dusty weigh in straight away, as per the wood smothering of the time, so upfront and prevalent the fruit is the understudy. The whole in the heart of the middle is like the only living boy in New York, “half of the time we’re gone but we don’t know where, and we don’t know where.” So it must be filled with popular song. Then the wine shines, in Mediterranean tones, savoury ways, with black olives and sweet yet bitter solemnity. Quite perfectly fine, oldish Bordeaux, two-part harmony St. Estèphe. It will not rock your world but it will play scaling, soothing bass lines and lend echoing acoustics. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015  @Lafonrochet  @BordeauxWines

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