Release the summer wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone

Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill

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

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

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

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chardonnay is cool

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The froth on Crémant d’Alsace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crémant d'Alasace at Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

Crémant d’Alasace at Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar

Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar

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

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

Mackerel and Choucroute, Restaurant Le Théâtre Colmar

Mackerel and Choucroute, Restaurant Le Théâtre Colmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foie Gras at Restaurant L'Épicurien, , Colmar

Foie Gras at Restaurant L’Épicurien, , Colmar

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

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

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

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

Schoenheitz Picnic<br />

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

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

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

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

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

Casks at Jean-Pierre Frick

Casks at Jean-Pierre Frick

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

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

Good to go!

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What ya drinkin’?

Grilled Flank Steak

Grilled Flank Steak

There’s no time for preamble. VINTAGES rolls out another long list of wines for the weekend. All your summer bases are covered. The Pinot Noir from New Zealand are really, really good. There are whites from Greece, Niagara and South Africa to not only try but embrace. Two Ontario reds will satiate the grill. Here is a list of eight wines to look for right now.

From the left and clockwise: Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010

From the left and clockwise: Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

The gateway of the Tawse Riesling portfolio and first to be released is an omnipresent beacon for what is to come from the single-vineyard sistren. Built fruit forward from an orange zest, stone rose and lemon glade guide, this is the Sketches most juicy sensation yet. Incredible vacuum of citrus acidity waterfalling into a great white hole. Though surrounded by so many a Riesling with site specific personality, “she’ll carry on through it all.” Intensity in dry Riesling.  Tasted June 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Greece (371658, $17.95, WineAlign)

Assyrtiko is the rock but the composition is altered by smaller parts of Aidani and Athiri. Softer, warmer and much more approachable than the Santorini, not quite so stony but with more intense juice. A modern take on the ancient game. The palate lays out the uneven, tannic and rocky road to the amphitheatre. A long walk on carefully arranged boulders. A salt bath in warm springs. The wines of Argyros do so much to bring Greece to the world. Citrus finish and more salty mineral.  Tasted June 2014  @KolonakiGroup

Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (64592, $19.95, WineAlign)

Such a pretty and elegant take on Gewürztraminer, of flowers white and in bloom, nuts blanching away. A structural, searing tightness to the mineral laced fruit will develop yet unrealized tannin and tension. There may be nothing gangly or highly viscous about it and its style is nearly, completely dry. Notes of orange zest and lychee pit. Very clean. Elan, ecrue, pearl.  Tasted June 2013  @featherstonewne

Clos Henri Bel Echo Terroir Greywacke Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (159137, $22.95, WineAlign)

“It is a special joy for the Bourgeois family to make Pinot Noir in New Zealand.” That statement is one you just gotta love. The Henri Bourgeois clan clearly have a whole lotta love for the climate, soils, people and the possibilities the terroir presents for his dedication towards restrained, elegant Pinot Noir. Though this teases with highly modern and juicy elements, almost, dare I say, Sonoman, there remains a rooted, savoury sense of the earth. Takes a page out of Burgundy’s book and plants it in Marlborough. Plums, cherries, smoke, spice, some tannin and for the price, nearly impossible structure. Angles and bitters persist but beneath a wealth of fruit. “Keep a coolin’, baby.” The price is impossible. Great value.  Tasted June 2014  @ClosHenri

Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (381244, $29.95, WineAlign)

Would I not be remiss to ignore the Tawse Laundry Vineyard by way of comparison? With the Redstone, the sister winery puts forth the same amicable fruit with charred meat accents yet minus the hyper-specific Pender perfume and wisdom. Here is an ocean in between the waves. I came in to taste Redstone with an open mind, even “bet against the company again. They tried to redefine everything that I know and love. Gotta know you’re mine.” Winemaker Rene Van Ede has fashioned a delicious Cabernet Franc that speaks in a clear 2010 voice. A war on drugs. Though it bears no teeth of conceit there is a very positive funk and sanguine notes make a play, but ultimately submit to an overall red currant, sweet bell pepper and tobacco realm. The pyrazine ring compound binds many types of pepper, cracked, swelling and swollen. A long and rich elixir without the oak needing to be heard. It does not shout but whispers. Unmistakable Pender mentored Rock ‘N Roll Cabernet Franc. Really well made. Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @RedstoneWines

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa  (931006, $34.95, WineAlign)

From what is rapidly developing as a (if not already engraved in stone) Grand Cru site in the Hemel En Aarde Valley, 2012 is a vintage that comes to greater strength from strength. Every aroma, every nuance is characterized by elegance and elasticity. Romantic Chardonnay, so representative of real love, of mineral, of most excellent barrels, ripe fruit and deft touches. Hamilton Russell takes South African Chardonnay to an entirely higher level. “Thought I’d been in love before, but in my heart, I wanted more. Seems like all I really was doing was waiting for you.”  Tasted June 2014  @TrialtoON

Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (376731, $36.95, WineAlign)

Though the Paladin is four years in it still retains its barrel baby fat. The rich red fruit tower reels behind a slightly reductive must and a compromise of toast and splinters from18 months spent in a mixture of 25 per cent new and 75 older French oak barrels. There is a whole surrealist street gang of fruit lurking in shadows of a de Chirico drama. I can sense the ripe plums and the cherries ready and willing to bake in the proverbial pie, and though blisteringly dry (less than 1 g/L residual sugar), it will always see potential by way of total acidity (6.1g/L). Will realize a seamless transition to mid-life anxiety while the fruit simmers away in a cauldron of that fine acidity. Ruud Maasdam’s Pinot Noir is of the scuola metafisica kind.  Tasted June 2014  @StaeteLandtWine  @liffordretail

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

The richest Terroir Caché to date, making use of its barrel in judicious but never obnoxious ways. Huge Bench wine, needs 10 years for sure. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip.” From my earlier March 2013 note: “has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine”  Last tasted June 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

The South Coast is clear

Lake Erie

Lake Erie

It would be a stretch to expect anyone living more than 100-km away from Port Dover to know much about Ontario’s newest and next viticulture hot spot, Ontario South Coast Wines. The same concession might apply to most journalists working with regular intensity and immersion within the Ontario wine industry. OSCW should not be confused with its brethren further west, the wineries that make up the Lake Erie North Shore appellation. Ontario’s southwest? Wine route? You may ask yourself, how did I not know about this place? How can this be?

This is the area most likely to be Ontario’s next VQA-qualified appellation. Cool-climate remains the most apt descriptor, no different from LENS to the left and Niagara to the right, but this pocket of the lake is blessed of a specifically warm-ish micro-climate. The name itself presents as a bit of a misnomer, “Ontario South Coast Wines,” its geographical location set upon a ridge overlooking the north-east shore of Lake Erie running east from just west of Long Point, through Port Rowan, St. Williams, Turkey Point, Normandale, Port Ryerse and to Port Dover.

To agree with the emerging region’s calling card, simply draw a bunch of parallel and converging lines south from Lake Huron, through the Highway 401 straddling communities of London, Kitchener and Cambridge. Continue southeast past the Highway 403 delta of the Brantford area and through the Highway Three corridor towns of  Waterford, Courtland, Delhi and Simcoe. Spread out along the Eco-nature park-beach community-rugged coast and now you’ve got your bearings. This is the wine country of Norfolk County.

All aboard the Kayloe PHOTO: http://www.ontariosouthcoastwine.com/

All aboard the Kayloe
PHOTO: http://www.ontariosouthcoastwine.com/

Better still, follow the lead of Magdalena Kaiser-Smit of Wine Country Ontario and climb aboard the Kayloe, a 65-foot boat run by Nomada Charters and take a three-hour Lake Erie tour from the water, with a dozen or so local wineries on board and get to know the people and the place. Listen to Mike McArthur, President of the Grape Growers Association speak about 1996, the transition year for the area. Realize how an agricultural community that once housed tobacco farms make a communal decision to transform with the times and switch to grape growing. Hear him talk about the great history of viniculture in the least known of Ontario wine landscapes, a place where grapevines were spotted as early as the late 1600’s.

The boat trip and the wine speak mean nothing here without the idea of hospitality to accompany the local ferments, wines made not just from grapes, but from a wide variety of fruits. There are approximately 130 acres under vine in Grey and Norfolk counties. Nine wineries are located in Norfolk, with seven currently open for business. Liz Campbell and Trevor Taylor of F.W. Knechtel Food Catering make use of local asparagus, mushrooms and Lake Erie Perch to bring matching and meaning to the wines.

Outboard BBQ

Outboard BBQ

Fruit wines are an integral part of the South Coast experience so I decided to begin and end on high glucose notes. Berries have half the natural sugar content as grapes so cane sugar is added to give the yeasts enough convertible material to raise the alcohol to stable levels for longer preservation. Blueberry Hill was my first stop, a St. Williams winery that ferments with the hybrid Vidal, along with cranberries, raspberries and of course, blueberries. The wines are pure, distilled fruit expressions, with tart notes and flavours of the heart. Their straight-up blueberry is the best of the lot.

The uncontested Norfolk leader is Burning Kiln Winery and not just from a quality standpoint. Burning Kiln has positioned itself as a marketing and appellative promotional leader with Doug Beatty (formerly of Colio Estate Wines) as its spokesman, front and centre. Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski (formerly of Vineland Estates, Legends Estates, DeSousa, Fielding Estate, Megalomaniac, Foreign Affair and Organized Crime, now of Colaneri Estate and his own label, Big Head Wines) is an established Ontario master. His experience with the appassimento method is perfect for BK’s old tobacco kiln employment for drying grapes. Assistant winemaker Patti Fixter authored a feasibility study on Norfolk County’s Sand Plain and its ability to host a viable, sustainable viticultural industry. The winery is progressive, adventurous and ostensibly single-handedly responsible for putting South Coast on the current Ontario wine road map.

Burning Kiln Tank Samples

Burning Kiln Tank Samples

Doug Beatty brought some tank samples aboard. The springy and herbal 2013 Horse & Boat Riesling carries 20 g/L of residual sugar “to punch back the acids.” This is part of BK’s Green Kiln Series. A 2013 Savagnin tank sample carries similar texture but in elevated glycerin. The metal on top of that mouth feel really come forward to balance the residual and the alcohol (which is dramatically indiscernible). Grassy Sauvignon Blanc-like aromas and a very Jura palate are the hallmarks of a South Coast take in a wine that is such a baby.

The Harvest Party White tank sample gathers Chardonnay (59 per cent), Gewurztraminer (21), Riesling (18) and Pinot Gris (2). A chewy, textured, kitchen sink blend that stings of limestone, an herbal balm and a late edgy metallic bite. The Chardonnay 2013 tank sample spent 18 months in foudres. Reminds of a Lenko treatment, from fruit 50 per cent estate and 50 Niagara. Thin but linear and focused, with very good length, a crunch of green apple and round herbiage.

The 2011 Kiln Hanger from tank follows the same process at the ’10 from a less than scorching vintage but will arrive in bottle at 15.8 per cent alcohol. Only 400 cases will be produced from a cat-like specimen, still chewy, a chunk of major Cabernet Franc change. Higher in acidity and cool plums than in 2010, this is no shrinking Norfolk violet. Will show more style and less humidity than that ’10.

Burning Kiln Savagnin ‘Stick Shaker’ 2012, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign)

What BK refers to as dry white Vin de Curé, or the “Parish Priest’s,” this is their take on the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine). The South Coast may have a wine tradition that dates back to the 1600’s but Savagnin does not go back by the Ontario centuries.  At 14.9 per cent a heavy feeling would be expected but to the contrary, the SS is light as a feather, like a CSN ballad. Aromatically muted, the warmth of the vintage comes through in the textural density of the palate. Expressive and chewy like all of the Burning Kiln portfolio. A wine from two of only 10 total acres planted in the province. Though we may be “gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit,” here’s to helplessly hoping Savagnin takes root and flourishes in Ontario.

Burning Kiln Harvest Party Red 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

From an overall 50/50, Estate/Niagara blend. The composition is Syrah (49 percent, all Niagara), Cabernet Franc (42 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (9). Reminds of Fielding’s Fireside Red in approachability and blending acumen. Though an understudy, the softness of the Cabernet Sauvignon is duly noted as a foil to the clay/kiln effect from the piquant Cabernet Franc. Some chalk and even more chew, in the beginning this is just mostly fresh and wild with low, obtuse angles.

Burning Kiln Cab Frank 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Named for the vineyard manager at Burning Kiln, Frank DeLeebeck was a tobacco farmer for more than 20 years. From 50/50 Estate/Niagara, 100 per cent kiln dried grapes for 10-14 days. This is CF all about concentration and a bridge from old tobacco to New World winemaking. Here kilns are the vehicle to transport the winery’s wines to the New World. Though this rich, cakey Cabernet Franc turns sweet on the finish, there is terrific acidity and admirable length. Holds its 14.3 per cent alcohol well. A unique appassimento.

Burning Kiln Strip Room Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

A 50/50 Estate and Niagara fruit split, classic Right Bank-styled blend of Merlot (55 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (45), kiln dried for 8-14 days. There is strength in alcohol (14.3 per cent) yet calm, dry reserve in (4.5 g/L) residual sugar. The aromatic profile is the most flirtatious of the BK stable, with the bruising and crushing of so many berries. There is a plum softness given by the Merlot, along with chalk, grain, vanilla and coconut from the generous six-month, three (French, Eastern European and American) oak layering. Like quality satellite St. Emilion, with so much noticeable tobacco.

Burning Kiln Kiln Hanger 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $59.95, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent Cabernet Franc, 100 per cent Kiln dried red made in two batches. Ages 32 months in Eastern European and American oak, half held back for this, The Sequel. Altogether there are 335 cases made of this huge, 15.9 per cent alcohol behemoth. The second coming furthers the already wealthy concentration with Alice anxiety and anaesthetizing mouth filling richesse. Here layers anything but a simple matter of loaded, dusty cocoa, decadent chocolate and creamy mocha. “I couldn’t tell if the bells were getting louder,” the entire cooperage preaching of “fanatical exposers on corners prophecy.”  Huge wine. Love it to death.

At Quai du Vin there are vineyards planted in 1970 by Redi and Roberto Quai. Today Jamie Quai makes the wine at the St. Thomas winery with the wisdom of those vines and the respectful touch of a winemaker with a minimal interventionist approach. Jamie Quai is concerned with the unearthing of micro-plot nuances in the Norfolk terroir. Quai du Vin farms 20 acres and has been open for business since 1990.

Quai du Vin

Quai du Vin

Quai du Vin Chardonnay 2012, Ontario (winery, $13.50)

From 15 year-old vines on the Sparta Moraine and what Jamie Quai calls “a field blend.” Though the soils are all heavy clay, there is a clay meets stone textural balance, surely thanks to five or six months lees contact. Like well-made southern Burgundy, the chosen yeast heightens the autolytic chain, allowing the flavours to veer tropical but not overly so. A Chardonnay that fell in love with a well-judged barrel while conceptualizing “good botrytis,” resulting in exceptional complexity for a song. Will drink beautifully through 2016.

Quai du Vin Red, Signature Series 2012, Ontario (winery, $12.50)

A blend of Marechal Foch (40 per cent), Baco Noir (30) and Merlot (30) from a host of appellations; Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Sparta Moraine Acres and Elgin County-North Shore Lake Erie. This has a thick brushstroke brought on by a predominance within the conglomerate of heavy clay. Unexpectedly tannic, chewy, with a sweet chocolate brownie finish. Not to mention tomato and the plant’s savoury leaf. The first vintage that Merlot made the cut in lieu of usually employed Cabernet Franc.

Quai du Vin Merlot 2012, Ontario (winery, $16.00)

Made from the same Merlot fruit in the Signature Red. Spent just over a year in barrel, the wine is still very primary and aromatically speaking, highly dusty. A painted note, green tea and rusty dry fruit are wrapped in an early reductive, nearly volatile note. Chewy, splintered, with grit, conceit and solid work. Note: Only 25 per cent of the vines will likely have survived the winter of 2014.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Mystery of Hrio 2013, Ontario (winery, $11.95)

A dry white made from three (numbered) hybrid grapes developed at Vineland Research Station.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Trout Fly Riesling 2012, Ontario  (winery, $12.50)

From 100 per cent Estate vines planted in 1996, this has that roots gathered mineral salinity from sandy loams so reminiscent of the Burgenland’s dry Rieslings. That Austrian run-off minerality is uncanny and when foiled by the old vines glycerin texture, the end result is quite a study in Simcoe complexity. A small amount of Traminer lifts the Riesling, along with some lees usage. Amazing discovery.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2012, Ontario  (winery, $15.95)

From Estate grapes planted around the year 2000. Lithe, pretty and certainly very Pinot. Like Kiwi Pinot in that the flesh is permeated by varnish. Wraps together cherry, pomegranate, cranberry and wet earth. If an Old World comparison might be made it would be to Mercurey, as it’s light, highly floral, with a break in the mid-palate and a stretched finish. “We’ve always ended up with light Pinot,” says winemaker and mad scientist Phil Ryan. That’s a good thing.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Norfolk Red 2013, Ontario  (winery, $11.95)

From Niagara and Norfolk (Marechal Foch, Baco Noir and Chambourcin) grapes. A hybrid party.

Villa Nova Estate Winery

Villa Nova Estate Winery

Frisky Beaver White 2012, VQA Ontario (345629, $13.95, WineAlign)

The all Niagara fruit blend is Vidal (75 per cent), Riesling (15) and Gewurztraminer (10). It’s considered VQA “Ontario” because Dover Vineyards awaits a viticultural designation. The irony here is that it may as well be labeled Niagara. This is clean and easy stuff, low in alcohol (11.2 per cent), elevated in sugar (18.4 g/L) but balancing in total acidity (5.6 g/L). Overall it has texture and tannic ability. Not a stressful blend by any stretch, it’s Pinot Gris like in Alsatian attitude with a juicy, peppery pear fruit tendency.

Smoke & Gamble Gewurztraminer Süssreserve 2011, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Unfermented (11.8 per cent) appassimento juice is added back in for aromatic and textural effect. Semi-tropical and semi-dry, in pineapple and green apple but not lychee. This is Musqué in scent, clean, pure and true. From 100 per cent Norfolk fruit.

Smoke & Gamble Merlot Reserve 2011, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A wild at heart Merlot, brooding, serious, deep and full. Caramel and chocolate, ginger spice and ripe plum. Coat, paint, coat, repeat. Alcohol is big (14.4 per cent) but well-integrated and whatever perceived sweetness there may be (4 g/L) is mitigated by a leafy, savoury edge.

Smoke & Gamble Cabernet Franc Appassimento 2010, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Here is the deepest, post-modern wine made anywhere in the province. Reeking of rich, candied violets smothered in dark chocolate. Chalk and talc in licks and a dense, chewy mid-palate. A massive (14.5 per cent) wine with so much chocolate dust and thick glycerin. A stable of so many big attributes and in only winemaker Robert Gill ‘s second year dealing with the Amarone-style methodology. “The first year I was scared, I’ll admit.”

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Vidal 2012, Ontario (winery, $14.25)

From estate vines. Juicy, white peach and nectarine aromas, metal angles, straight up distillation of pure grapes.  Low brix and solid PH give it tannic thrust.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Riesling 2012, Ontario (winery, $15.95)

Estate fruit (100 per cent). Sweet and with aromatic energy. Off-dry all the way. Leans Mosel in kindred spirit. Orchard fruit and excellent acidity. Slightly bitter-tinged finish, but in a noble way.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Baco Noir 2011, Ontario (winery, $18.20)

A cheese in lees inflected BN, not the brooding and pitchy type. Some elegance, in as much as Baco Noir can show. Yet unusual because of that yogurt drip. Good acids, floral tones and citrus.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Chambourcin 2011, Ontario (winery, $18.20)

Once again, all the lees, cheese and citrus , but also sweet and sour with some soy and caramel. Tight and racy Chambourcin, certainly as complex and accomplished as any this side of Michigan.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2012 (Tank Sample)

High cranberry and dry earth bring this right back to Burgundy basics. Rosehip and sandalwood from old oak wrapped in sweet tannins. A bit of sinew and braised bouille. The coat is on.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Merlot 2012 (Tank Sample)

From Niagara (De Moura Vineyards) fruit. Chalk in limestone, chocolate and a medium wood toast. Some green tannin, tea for sure but also some sweet tannin. Also roasted, charred red meat.

We wrapped up with some of the most righteous fruit wines one could ever hope to taste by way of Wooden Bear L Winery Inc.  Kim Ludwig’s wines are full of wildflowers, citrus expression and great balance. Her Gay-La Apple wine from 100 per cent Gala apples is like savoury Sauvignon Blanc, with angles in metal, low acidity but it’s dry and crisp. Her Sangria in a bottle has a liqueur-like taste, a slightly reductive, good bitterness and so much spirit. Not to mention tons of grapefruit.

Planting palm trees in Port Dover

Planting palm trees in Port Dover

All is good out on the water and we made it safely back to Port Dover, just in time to watch the annual planting of the palm trees. You can’t make this stuff up.

Good to go!

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A go long weekend wine list

Pâté en Croûte, Niedermorschwihr, Alsace, France PHOTO: Michael Godel

Pâté en Croûte, Niedermorschwihr, Alsace, France
PHOTO: Michael Godel

The first long weekend of the 2014 summer is on the way. A fortuitous confluence of the calendar means a longer than usual respite from the tribulations of work, construction and city angst. Bottom line is with four straight days of nothing you’re going to need more wine. Last weekend’s VINTAGES release was filled with admiral and admirable choices, short on Canada’s finest mind you, but long on global composition.

Here are ten wines tasted, reviewed and given the Godello stamp of approval.

Clockwise from left to right: Angels Gate Mountainview Riesling 2009, Château De Gaudou Grand Lignée Malbec/Merlot 2010, Creekside Estates Laura's White 2012, Muriel Reserva 2008, Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2009, Tamaya Syrah Gran Reserva 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2011, Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, St. Supéry Rutherford Merlot 2010

Clockwise from left to right: Angels Gate Mountainview Riesling 2009, Château De Gaudou Grand Lignée Malbec/Merlot 2010, Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2012, Muriel Reserva 2008, Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2009, Tamaya Syrah Gran Reserva 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2011, Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, St. Supéry Rutherford Merlot 2010

Angels Gate Mountainview Riesling 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (373175, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Riesling that could dry tears. Just seems to write the Bench book. Dry and drier, numb and number. Though hard to see past the stark aridity there cries and froths forth a spirited and significant citrus zest.  A Riesling to be told, “don’t tell me you don’t know the difference, between a lover and a fighter.” The cry lingers for a Costello verse or three, then tiptoes away in everyday refrain. Drink up.  Tasted May 2014  @angelsgatewines

Château De Gaudou Grand Lignée Malbec/Merlot 2010, Ac Cahors, Southwest, France (370239, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

This southern French ArtPop blend of Malbec and Merlot will sell through a boat load of bottles if the post-modern palate gets a hold of its velvety crush and ambient oak overture. Decidedly more Malbec than Merlot in approach though the latter does offer softness and dusty grain. Wood spice and tobacco are fervent and ardent suppliers of good, peppery fun. A red meat, outdoor grill wine if there ever was one, its aridity only eclipsed by its ladylike modernity. If it went deeper toward le zone des buts it would merit more applause. As it is, geeks, critics and pop culture freaks will go gaga for it.  Tasted May 2014  @wineonline_ca

Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

With a tilt of the head to 90 degrees the bottle is assessed and the glass contemplated. She’s a flirt, a gregarious girl this Laura, so orchard driven and with a perfumed attraction. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Laura’s White combines Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer in a kitchen sink blend that sees a bit of oak. What’s notable about the ’12 is the omission of two highly aromatic components, the previously employed stalwarts Viognier and Chardonnay Musqué. The adage is justified in that you take what the vintage gives you. If it gives you lemons, (shift tangents) you let the busy aromatics of more flavourful grapes (like Chardonnay) do the floral work. Laura’s ’12 will be a standout for the concept, a revivalist blend to help bring back some religion to the region’s renditions. Coming to VINTAGES in June.” Last Tasted May 2014  @CreeksideWine

Muriel Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (276030, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Call it tradition or simply forget the pleasantries and call a Bret a Brett. This old-school Tempranillo oozes character and the vineyard layering of a quilted past, never mind that it’s such an inexpensive young stud. Big, ripe red fruit, the stable’s terra mierda and iron rust. If you like a funky red with coarseness and a bit of age under its saddle, not to mention a penchant for the past, then this Rioja is for you.  Tasted May 2014

Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2009, Doc Umbria, Italy (372458, $21.95) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Rockin’ it old school goes this Montefalco with more terroir than fruit, more vine earth than crush. Great spice, old wood notes, licorice and stretched bitterness. A gritty, coarse, fun and combative wine. If there are fruits they are very red. Such tension. Great value.  Tasted May 2014

Tamaya Syrah Gran Reserva 2011, Limari Valley, Chile (374306, $21.95) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Sweet candied bacon and cool mountain scents. Salinity, tight and wonderful. Big, brawny, minty mountain herbs and greenery. Tobacco. Complex.  Tasted May 2014

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2011, Ac Alsace, France (21253, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Always exceptional value in Pinot Gris, picked on time and before any real discernible level of botrytis can set in. While it would never be considered truly dry, the round white tannins and salinity from volcanic subsoil in Schimberg’s Guebwiller valley give this bottling good structure, density and muti-national flavours. This vintage seems a bit softer though it is never a high acid monster. Juicy orchard fruit leading layers of flesh and zest grow better with time and develop a sweetness which stems from the purity and quality of the fruit.  Tasted May 2014  @VinexxCanada

Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Dop Naoussa, Greece (272013, $26.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Spicy Xinomavro, a veritable bonfire of Greek humility and good fortune in cinnamon, clove, anise, wood-spice, wood smoke and tobacco. Intriguing and worthy of its place. Not a young fresh red fruit-styled Xino but more so a deeper, earthy and smouldering one. A touch of matchstick and even more campfire. Great acidity and wow length. Yes sir.  Tasted May 2014  @KolonakiGroup

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Yet another look at the Saunders ’11 confirms its tapestry of texture and its density. A Boulangerie’s roll of perfect, flaky puff pastry filled with a honey drizzled nougat and marzipan filling. Very bright, full-on sunshine driven Chardonnay. From my earlier February 2014, November and July 2013 notes: “Saunders is quiet right now, in cool waiting and in display of the most elegance I’ve encountered from any Bachelder Chard, at anytime, anywhere. Background spice, backing vocals are in the isolated spotlight. This I am keying on as much as any note, in any wine here tonight. Not giving it up as easy as before. Extra swirl time required. Will re-visit in the summer. Right, Thomas? From my earlier July and November 2013 notes: “From Beamsville, right beside 30 bench, has a texture, a depth and a mouth feel in ’11 that bounds and leaps towards the ethereal. A dancing stag, displaying, performing a mating ritual dance. Melons, ripe and fleshy are in this Saunders. “What’s carrying this wine is site, site and site.” A great clay slice of the Beamsville Bench. From my earlier note: ”Takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.”  Last Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

St. Supéry Rutherford Merlot 2010, Napa Valley, California, USA (376939, $58.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Enormous Merlot in sonic youth, pushing ripeness boundaries but with so much natural fighting and balancing acidity. If you like dusty, cake-layered, oak oil-sweating, sweetly viscous bleeding Merlot, well, this is for you. It has all the stuffing with its huge fruit and big acidity, not to mention formidable tannins. Imbued in “shards of sweet shine of voice and flute.” This will go long, something like 20 years, into a dripping dream, slowly and gracefully integrating its largesse, all the while being generous for all that time.  Tasted May 2014  @StSupery

 

Good to go!

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Down on the Ornellaia

Ornellaia 2011 PHOTO: http://www.ornellaia.com/

Ornellaia 2011
PHOTO: http://www.ornellaia.com/

It’s no secret the heart’s soft spot will gladly make room for fine and expensive wine, but not all will walk through that open door. Much Bordeaux intimidation vicariously hectors by way of outlandish collusion in en primeur dictation and so hardens the arteries. Though less so, the Burgundy intimidation relegates the lesser earthling to hide, cower and tense up in circulatory distress. Champagne can be quite kind. Even more so is the Bolgheri.

Tenuta Dell’ornellaia is the benchmark for Super Tuscan solicitude. It pours with pleasure. It reminds us of what was once good and approachable in the pretentious and obnoxious world of expensive wine. It resembles its patriarch, a man who comes to Toronto as a patron of the arts and as a steward of his wine’s goodness.

After tasting through mind-altering back vintages of Ornellaia I am typing away on my laptop in the Art Gallery of Ontario where the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi and winemaker Axel Heinz are generously sharing their wares with a group of journalists, sommeliers and restaurateurs. Ferdinando leans over on a knee, like Brando in the garden of the grand film and smiles at me. “Perché non mangi?” he asks. “Si accende, anche una piastra. Si prega, si mangia.” I may as well be in his home, in Tuscany, in his kitchen, snacking on formaggi. But I am in Toronto and contemplating $1000 worth of exceptional red wine.

One of the softest spots is for Ornellaia. It’s a gorgeously perfumed principessa. Both the previously tasted and reviewed 2010 and 2009 perpetuate the notion.

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves and The Best Wine Releases of 2012

Facilitated by Authentic Wines and Spirits and Sherry Naylor and Associates, the Marchese Ferdinando Frescobaldi and Mr. Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja came to represent Ornellaia for a vertical tasting presented by Axel Heinz. The visit coincided with the 2011 vintage and its association with “Vendemmia d’Artista.” Beginning with the 2006 vintage, the Estate launched the special art project, purposed to celebrate the unique character of each new vintage matched by an artist’s interpretation of that vintage.

Vendemmia d'Artista

Vendemmia d’Artista

For 2011, the “Infinity” character or “L’Infinito” was interpreted by Canadian born artist Rodney Graham. Graham created a work of art and a series of exclusive labels for large format bottles. Each one individually signed and numbered and adorned 100 3-litre Double Magnums, 10 6-litre Imperials and a unique 9-litre Salmanazar. An auction was held at the AGO and raised $126,000 for the institution.

There are vertical tastings and then there are vertical tastings that bring you up. One such as this makes just cause to say I am down on Ornellaia. “People come from all around to watch the magic boy…Bring a nickel, tap your feet.” Here are my notes on the Ornellaia wines tasted at the AGO.

Ornellaia Vertical

Ornellaia Vertical

Le Serre Nuove Dell’ornellaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy (606194, $59.95, WineAlign)

Produced since the 1997 vintage, from younger vines and with the intent to produce a ripe and approachable wine. Agefd in barriques (25 per cent new and 75 per cent one year-old). Left for 15 months though assembled after 12 and returned for the last three. The practice induces settling and approachability. Cleary focused with an Ornellaia intent, with the goings on of deep, dark fruit and dusty hedonistic, mulberry fruit. Not quite the Da Vinci muscled cherub that is the big brother renaissance wine, but still the Serre Nuove can’t help show an uncanny resemblance as a younger sibling to Ornellaia. Rich, vanilla mocha, thick and mildly tannic. A three to five-year full-on gamut of pleasure awaits.  Tasted twice, October 2013 and June 2014

Ornellaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ, 11973238, $189.25, LCBO, 722470 (2010), $189.95, WineAlign)

The blend of the 2011 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (51 per cent), Merlot (32), Cabernet Franc (11) and Petit Verdot (6). From a near-sweltering vintage, tempered by a cooling spell in June and July. The late August heat spike brought on early ripening which explains the intense aromatic waft that fills the AGO’s tasting room air. Though following the same (post 12-month) assemblage and return to barriques for a further six months, the richesse in fruit quality and 70 per cent new oak envelopes this ’11 with so many structured layers there remains many years to see where it will go. The rose petal meets violet florality can elicit no parochial parallel, the anxiety in hematological ooze neither. A consideration of the phenolic exceptionality follows suit. Chalky tannins follow chains in a world spinning ’round in lush circles. This is the reference point for such assemblage in Bolgheri. The breakdown will not begin for a minimum 10 years and evolution will continue comfortably, gently and effortlessly for 15-30 after that.  Tasted June 2014

Ornellaia 2006, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (722470, $189.95, WineAlign)

The blend of the 2006 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (56 per cent), Merlot (27), Cabernet Franc (12) and Petit Verdot (5). Tasting its not yet developed charms, what is most clear is its strength and vigor. A different Ornellaia, with perfect conditions to ripen Merlot and Cabernet Franc so that their characters have combined to speak their peace. Rolling huge but cool, mint-spiked, black currant and stone emotions come across the aromatic profile. Those right side of the river brain varieties and the Cabernet Sauvignon dominant fruit were clearly all picked at such levels of ripeness as to put the ’06 at harmonious level of sugar, alcohol and rich fruit likely never before seen from this grand vin. The ’06 was fashioned with each vineyard block fermented separately, for a total of 66 different base wines. “So stealthy, so animal quiet,” give this Ornellaia 15 more years of time and it will come to your emotional rescue. It will whisper in a falsetto voice, “I’ll be your savior, steadfast and true.”  Tasted June 2014

Ornellaia 2001, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (Agent, $95.00, WineAlign)

The blend of the 2001 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (65 per cent), Merlot (30) and Cabernet Franc (5). Though strange to say and admittedly a retrospective comment, the minute quantity of Cabernet Franc and not yet inclusion of Petit Verdot result in a more straightforward and not as heavily layered Ornellaia. The structure is more linear and understandable, the fruit not as variegated. Complexity and Tuscan spiritualism are not compromised by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant line, in fact, assessing the evolution at 13 years on reveals the Bolgheri terroir in ways the magnanimous and opulent more recent vintages just don’t reach. There is a refreshing acidity in this young and developing ’01 in a streak that again, the baby Superiore do not seem to possess. This is a striking Ornellaia, a wine that would work with exceptional cuisine of varied cultures. It can be enjoyed now and will respond with grace and thanks for 30 plus years more. Tasted June 2014

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In a Grand Cru state of mind

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

I have been in Alsace now just over 48 hours and already feel as though I have been introduced to a lifetime of wine. Yet with every taste of the Alsace pansophy I am reminded just how long the unfathomable road to the region’s enlightenment remains to be. The combination of nuance, complexity and acuity of the Alsatian wine spirit may have no equal. Some highlights of the first two days in Alsace with SOPEXA and CIVA.

Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

What a way to be introduced to Alsace in 2014. Les diVINes d’Alsace, an organization of 70 industry women and Domaine Stentz-Buecher rolled forth a genealogical pedigree of Alsace past and present with food station matching in the winery’s garden and in the barrel rooms. First Crémant, then whites of many incarnations; Pinot Gris, blends, Gewürztraminer and many, many Rieslings. The final prize at the end of a long scroll of grand achievements were Grand Cru Riesling from the vintage 2000. The eight acted out a Grand Cru finale of generous spirit via and the women of

Louis Haller Brut Crémant D'Alsace / @diVINeSDaLSACE

Louis Haller Brut Crémant D’Alsace / @diVINeSDaLSACE

Les vigneronnes Mélanie Pfister and Carolyn Sipp introduced the three year-old organization, the winemakers, winemaker’s wives and sommeliers that form the membership of l’Association des Femmes de la Vigne & du Vin d’Alsace. “We are feminine but not feminism,” quipped Sipp. The idea began in 2009, following in the footsteps of similar women in the Rhône, Bourgogne and the Southwest of France. Women who have banded together to promote their region’s wines.

Laurence Hauller showed the 100 per cent Chardonnay Louis Hauller Crémant d’Alsace, a fine, subtle, stylish, finessed and elegant interpretation of Chardonnay that is a different sort of Alsace discrimination. Eliane Ginglinger presented her bone dry, citrus in laser focus Ginglinger Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2012. Myriam Haag offered up Domaine Jean-Marie Haag’s Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2011, an enervating wine with richness bled from rocks and a finishing noble bitterness. Myriam Schmitt brought her Domaine François Schmitt Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2012 that though in sweet emotive intention remains buoyant in the persevering air of aridity. It defines the transformative trend towards Dry Alsatian Riesling. Josiane Griss of Domaine Maurice Griss’ Riesling Sonnenberg 2010 if asked the question, “how long have you been a Riesling” would surely answer simply, “from creation.”

Grand Cru Riesling 2000

Grand Cru Riesling 2000

The Riesling Grand Cru from 2000 were a varied and electric bunch. The Caves François Schmitt Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2000 is a baby still and in hallmark readiness of its necessary terroir. The Domaine Sipp-Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2000, also young and primary teases and feigns late harvest but don’t be fooled by its sunshine. This chew of salted stones has a long, long finish. the show stealer was the Magnum of Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2000 by Vins Jean-Baptiste Adam. Incredibly atomic with a vineyard flinty stink that exhumes and exudes the benevolent bitterness of time. Wildness and purity.

Godello and Pierre Gassman of Rolly Gassman

Godello and Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassmann

The main event of Monday, June 16th was the Millésimes Alsace, the professional trade fair for Alsace, Wines. Nearly 90 exhibitors showed off their terroir, in Crémant d’Alsace, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Muscat and Pinot Noir. A morning Master Class seminar featured eight world-class Sommeliers leading the room through seven “typical” Alsace wines. Maison Rolly Gassmann’s Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2000 is late harvest mineral expression in bitterness unchained yet restrained.

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 and Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Furstentum 1994

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 and Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Furstentum 1994

The afternoon Master Class covered older vintages. Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 lays in an evolution that has come to a balance in weightlessness. Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Furstentum 1994 has a tannic impression and smells like flowers from warmer France. Caroline Furstoss reminded everyone that it is “an expression of a daughter.” Impeccable balance.

Mélanie Pfister

Mélanie Pfister

The third of a most excellent Alsatian vintage trilogy was represented by Domaine Pfister’s Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 1990. With a clotted cream note the wise Cru remains youthful and nearly primary.

The wines of Jean-Marie Haag

The wines of Jean-Marie Haag

Domaine Jean-Marie Haag’s Riesling Cuvée Marion 1999 showed rich, viscous complexity with the sensation of star anise and menthol.

Kuentz-Bas Riesling 1983 and Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

Kuentz-Bas Riesling 1983 and Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

The high point of the day came with a rare and beautiful chance to taste the Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945. The heart and the hearth. Just the thought of producing this wine at that time is unfathomable. There are no superlatives to do it justice. This must end on that note. More on the Kuentz-Bas Riesling 1983 another day.

Good to go!

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Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th

Ribs meet Turkey PHOTO: Michael Godel

Ribs meet Turkey, rubs by Barque Smokehouse
PHOTO: Michael Godel

The last four times the calendar’s folklorique confluence brought a Friday and the 13th of a month together occurred in December and September of 2013, July and April of 2012. On that April Friday the arbitrariness shared a birthday with the sinking of the titanic. That kind of anti-kismet “does not bode well for the superstitious kind.” So once again, if you are one of the many inflicted with paraskevidekatriaphobia then tomorrow may not be your favourite day. If you also suffer from oenophobia, I feel for you.

Here are thirteen things that make me think of the number thirteen.

  1. Apollo 13. Moon mission gone bad.
  2. Thirteen years ago this week Radiohead went to No. 1 on the UK album chart with their album Amnesiac.
  3. The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, Chapter XIII: “The weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”
  4. Thirteen Days, The Movie. John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  5. Friday the 13th in Port Dover, Ontario.
  6. The song “13” by Big Star.
  7. The 13 Principles of Jewish Faith.
  8. 13th Street Wines.
  9. The thirteenth man. How the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost the 2009 Grey Cup.
  10. June 13th, 1913. The New York Yankees win their 13th game of year after losing 36 games.
  11. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery and segue to the great Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013.
  12. Steve Nash. Dan Marino. Wilt Chamberlain. Mats Sundin. Godello.
  13. 13” the name of the new album by Black Sabbath.

Nice list. Of even greater importance is choosing some wine for the fitful 13th day of June and for Father’s Day on the weekend that follows. Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, for and with dad.

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012

Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (57349, $12.95, WineAlign) LCBO General List

Give this vibrant crush of boyish red fruit a slight chill and with this pinnacle ideal vintage, at this ridiculously right price, go hither and convince a world of Gamay naysayers to get on board. Never mind the many years of “uninspired, drenched and tired” Gamay beach songs and tired voyages. Never mind the bad rap and out of tune harmonies thrust upon the world by dull vintages and bulk fruit. This CdC Gamay continues to breach the value quotient. Here is fresh, pure, unadulterated adult’s juice. It cruises from harbour with a clove-studded orange spritz and sets out past a rocky jetty to open seas. “Sail on, sail on sailor.”  Tasted June 2014  @MBosc

Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Leyda Valley, Chile  (371138, $14.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

So very peppery and Ají Cristal notes come from this warm weathered Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, indicating a Leyda Valley specificity that can’t be denied. So much unctuous character swallows whole the herbiage and schmaltz, as does the rapid fire acidity. Powerful SB, not subtle, not understated. There is no shortage of fruit, with nettles and a volcano in current eruption. It’s as if it would plead, “spider got eight legs and I got two. This guitar got six strings, what about you, well, what do you got?” So much going on, with more palate tingling white pepper, bending notes and angles. Jacks from ballad to wailing guitar, from rhapsodic to metallic. A Sauvignon Blanc with fly farm blues. I think it has an appeal to a red wine drinker who wants to drink a big white and I think it will age quite well, something like five to seven more years.   Tasted May 2014  @WoodmanWS

Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Ac, Beaujolais, France (325134, $15.30, WineAlign) LCBO General List

When this Villages Millésime was mentioned for the purpose of offering a contrast to Ponciago’s La Réserve, it was honestly assessed as having “paint and tar notes.” When considered on its own merit it’s all about softness, perfume and poise. Pure red berry fruit just seems encased in a web of gossamer texture, it’s that pleasant to drink. Though it may lack the stuffing of La Réserve and Les Hauts Du Py, at $15 and change this is the real deal in Beaujolais. Even more impressive in consideration to the challenges of the vintage.  Tasted June 2014  @WoodmanWS

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (640516, $16.95, WineAlign)

Clone 809 strikes again. The pioneering Bosc family tells the usual oak suspects to stay clear of their pure St. David’s Bench meets Seven and Seven Vineyard fruit so the intensity of flowers and blanketing minerality can speak with utmost clarity. Never mind all that, this ’12 is the most tropical Chardonnay Musqué yet made by CdC. Its heart is a drum, “free as a driving wheel, circling around your iron will.” OK, so that Seven and Seven soil makes for alloy heaven. Just ring this clone and she will be at your beck and call.  Tasted May 2014  @MBosc

Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (361212, $18.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES May 24, 2014 release

Bonarda is on the rise and threatening to challenge Malbec in Mendoza, especially when it poses with such an obvious, rich and cakey Andean attitude. This example is clearly culled from a state of the art production facility because despite the slightly funky, gritty, tense and nervous layering and radio fuzz, it shows such a polished quality. Picked & mixed by real humans, this is varietal desert euphoria paradise, full of plum drive and chocolate coating.  Tasted May 2014  @Oenophilia1

Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Burgundy, France (375428, $18.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

The Grahier is an exhilarating, extremely arid, purposed blend of Pinot Noir (60 per cent) and Chardonnay (40). Though technically Extra Brut (less than 6 g/L residual sugar) this highly stylish Crémant teases with a perceived ripe orchard fruit sweetness. Versatility comes across in every spice and toast-driven bubble, for a cocktail pour, to blend into a cocktail or to match a wide range of dinner flavours. So useful and so smart. Offers up unparalleled value in Bourgogne sparkling.  Tasted June 2014  @Oenophilia1

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (591305, $19.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Malivoire presents a Pinot Gris in good temper, better balance and even greater controlled anxiety to add grit on top of the sweet, spicy pepper and lightly pickled palate. Really approachable, workable and elastic in extended length.  Tasted May 2014  @MalivoireWine

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2011, Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2011, Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007

Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Wonderfully balanced blend with a bit of wood spice, plenty of good character and tannin. Tense fruit, layered and tight. Tighter than I last tasted it. Must be the accumulation. From my earlier, February 2014 note: It’s funny, more than any other wine tasted, this Laura has that Niagara varnish other Creekside reds seem not to possess. “Stock up in the big years” suggests Matt Loney, and “consolidate in the tougher ones.” It could be argued that you can make more interesting wines in the lean years but this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot lays a claim to seriousness, if needing at least three years to settle down. There is much cassis, sweet oak, iodine and a milk/dark chocolate swirl. Complexity for sure if just a bit huge within its own skin.  Last tasted May 2014  @CreeksideWine

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) On the card at Barque Smokehouse  @barquebbq

Look, I get it. Wine is made from grapes so why command a host of other fruits to offer context for aromas and tastes? Just have a moment with Steve Byfield’s “virtual” Viognier 2012. Virtual tree meets stone fruit. Smells just like a ripe peach. The flavour bears an uncanny resemblance to apricots. Virtual my Equus africanus asinus. The winery is virtual, the Viognier anything but. Speaks a Condrieu varietal truth by way of Niagara’s Redfoot vineyard. Carries a soil-driven, mineral-flecked, microscopically-oxidized metal tang so essential to invigorating Viognier. Blessed stuff from a Shona’s humble hands.  Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @NyaraiCellars

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Burgundy, France (276436, $22.05, WineAlign) LCBO General List

The Champs Royaux from mainly purchased fruit may be the runt of the Fèvre litter but it’s no austere duck soup and this despite the challenging vintage. Chalk another win for organic viticulture, here again worked to great effect. The practice encourages acidity levels to consistent ends aligned with ripe fruit and year in, year out betterment of the wines. The ’12 Champs Royaux exudes the idea of classic unoaked and flinty Chablis, as well as seawater and the smell of a lit halogen bulb. Elemental without being metallic, it blinks from a citrus flash before finishing balmy and warm.  Tasted June 2014  @BourgogneWines

Thirty Bench Red 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (320986, $24.00, WineAlign)

The consistency and subtlety in red wine of the earth in this perennially approachable Bench wine can’t be overestimated. Really high quality red purity is ascertained from this blend, its spicy, tangy, moving parts coming together to unionize the fruit. Just enough tension to keep traffic moving, with Merlot really doing its yeoman’s work, Cabernet Franc as sweet and expressive as it can be without going over to the shaken, splintered and mocha chocolate dark side. This is always red and red-fruited. Ready, willing and will offer pleasure for five to seven years.  Tasted May 2014  @ThirtyBench

Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California, USA (363556, $39.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Holy reductive toast Napa man. Aromas of buttered toast, glade, duck fat and pencil graphite, which I must say is one stellar note. Flavours of ripe Mutsu (specifically) apple and a resinous chew of late autumn sweet forest needles. Yes the toast is high but so is the quality. Don’t blame the barrel, he’s just the messenger. A great Chardonnay for shellfish and molluscs of the briny kind. Linger on in your golden yellow eyes.  Tasted May 2014  @SmithMadrone

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

Good to go!

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