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

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!

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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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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

Good to Go!

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The Stratus-Momofuku continuum

Momofuku Daisho Toronto's Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON)

Momofuku Daisho Toronto’s Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON)

The wines of Stratus Vineyards and the cuisine of Momofuku Toronto. On Monday, May 26th and for the second straight year they conspired together in a beautiful collision of mutual beneficence. The single varietal mad science of winemaker J-L Groux and the singular, multifarious snacks of Momofuku Daishō. The food and wine play leaves wine writers satiated, thankful and speechless.

Stratus Single Varietal Tasting at Momofuku Daisho

Stratus Single Varietal Tasting at Momofuku Daisho

Related – Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity Incarnate and Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

This 2014 media lunch dubbed Stratus, the right to free assemblage forged yet another treat of the highest order, once again with the necessity in participation of Charles Baker, Suzanne Janke and Sarah Walker of Stratus, along with Momofuku Beverage Director Jonathan Gosenhauser, Service Director Steve De Sousa, Assistant FOH Manager Nicholas Papadatos and the Daishō team.

An introduction by Charles Baker of Stratus Wines

An introduction by Charles Baker of Stratus Wines

Wildass Rosé 2013, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

At 13.9 per cent the kitchen sink blend is unwittingly light on its feet, with uplifting floral and stony scents. The patronage seems as though it could be a shot (or more) of an aromatic white addition like Viognier. This ’13 is a new approach to the Wildass Rosé, a metallic meets orange and berry citrus flavour explosion. Will be an August VINTAGES release at this modest and honest tag, certainly more accessible than in years past.

Stratus at Momofuku Daisho

Stratus at Momofuku Daisho

The single varietals

Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Technically Niagara Lakeshore but labeled Niagara on the Lake, winemaker J-L Groux insists this is the anti-New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a truism to get behind in this ’11’s more tropical style. “Depending on the year we adapt to the climate,” so here J-L’s classic boxwood seeking stands out. The combination of picking time and barrel aging on the lees has everything to do with style. The Stratus hangs (picked October 11th) and hangs out (641 days in French oak). Shows off the most metal mineral that Niagara can give to the variety, from a season with a totally rainy spring and fall but a torrid summer in between. “On whites it was certainly a better year to work with,” though the lack of acidity is due to a wet fall. It’s high-octane, “I’m not running after alcohol. I’m picking on aromatics. If I’m making barrel aged Sauvignon, I have to be patient, otherwise it’s not worth putting in barrel.” Nutty, toasty and full. The middle reaches for the end in an elastic and stretched full chain and connection. Rounder as opposed to acidic, it’s character comes by way of a periodic, numbers game in aromas. Zero hay, high phenols, very ripe.

Chardonnay 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 Chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex Chardonnay in Niagara.”

Sémillon 2011, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

The warmth of those July and August days has brought a combination of grapefruit and honey to the 2011 Sémillon, a highly aromatic vintage. Typically you don’t have very high acidity with this variety and though this was a difficult vintage to work with, here it teases late harvest, straight from the hip. The in-glass progression scales back and walks the wire with semi-high (6.9) acidity. “With illusions of someday, cast in a golden light,” the ’11 Sémillon will need time to marshal the erudition of (627 days) in barrel. At present the tragically declared fact that 24.6 brix equates to 11.6 per cent alcohol might just be lauded as another conversion rate, ahead by a century.

Sangiovese 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

A variety that can be picked much earlier than others, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Do the aromatics do Sangiovese? Yes, but in a mutated, concentrated and highly floral, expressive way. Clean, clear and embossed by surprising freshness and purity. The notes of typicity involve red fruits and a scorch of the earth. Handsome Sangiovese actually, anything but rustic and of a middle fleshing that threshes to mulct a citrus note on the end. This effort shows the most promise of the three expatriates (along with Tempranillo and Tannat) vying for J-L Groux’s new slang, varietal attention.

Tempranillo 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Were Rioja to come and take over Niagara this introduction would succeed in fulfilling expectations but not necessarily dreams. I will confess that it functions in ways California (where it’s simply too warm in places like Paso Robles and Santa Barbara) does not. Likewise Australian takes (“cool” Victoria and New South Wales) have yet to convince. Niagara’s climate is not such a stretch (though in most vintages too wet), but in 2010 the conditions were ripe for this experiment. The wine is admittedly lumbering, backward and chunky. It has that dusty, nearly funky nose, but it should be extolled in the name of character. High on vineyard aromatics and the density of wood, in ways so much more defined than the Sangiovese. Strangely Riojan and tasted blind would make for a curious ringer. Not huge by any stretch and blessed with good acidity and persistence.

Tannat 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

The wooden slumber (555 days) in 50 per cent new oak is just what the dark-skinned grape doctor ordered for the Niagara debut. You know it will be pitchy and tannic but the goal is to be looking for some striking acidity and balance of concentration. Violets are prominent in the highly floral aromatics. There is certain density and fine structure and so while Tannat is an integral Stratus assemblage variety it shows here that it can be very expressive and long on its own. Perhaps the equal of Malbec for Niagara and with great potential.

Malbec 2011, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

If the Stratus 2010 Malbec’s blue note belted out Philly Soul, the delicacy and structure of the ’11 plays a softer sound, a Stax, Memphis Soul. Stylish, funky and uptown without conceding to pop. Active but with less brawn and higher acidity than previous years. An and now aromatic session of so much tobacco and even more cigar box, in wafts, waves, puffs, billows and club clouds of smoke. A soul jam of black fruit, Booker T. finger roll acidity and tannin.

Cabernet Franc 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Some white pepper dust, not too much mind you, works with the sun “and that’s what makes Cabernet Franc find its ripeness.” That it has in spades here in ’10, giving it fullness without raisins, density without being plugged in. A rich and near berry chalk sample but finely judged. This is one of the best SV’s J-L has made. Incredible aromatics. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Patient as ever with the cool-climate, slow and low ripening Cabernet Franc, winemaker J-L Groux stuck with belief, regardless of the warm 2010 vintage. The Stratus single varietal space and time continuum of let it hang (though not to December), 20ish months of aging, nearly half in French oak barrels, has brought forth the most dense and luxe Cabernet Franc to date. “It’s never old school, all brand new,” with Groux so this red swells in wholly pure black currant fruit and is as big as it gets for J-L, which is saying something. This beastie boy will age over a 20-year period. Style is the thing, and yes, the aromatics.”

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.

Gewürztraminer 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Early harvested and vinified with the least amount of winemaker intervention, this is Gewürztraminer left to find its own way. In 2012 the natural sugars speak in clear and clean tones without needing too much attention. Has the most off-dry sensibility yet. It’s very floral, nearly medicinal and tacking. A zigging and zagging Gewürz, wavering, weaving, oscillating between its personalities, on one hand new and progressive, on the other, a nod to Alsace. There is really nothing dry about it. Dense on the palate, this Stratus single white varietal is textured and quickly making friends.

Mosaic Late Harvest 2013, Niagara Lakeshore (375ml), Ontario, (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The 2010 was the first and only one made at the time. When asked if he would make one again, J-L Groux replied “perhaps.” Well, three years later the 2013 enters considerably drier than that ’10 but full of stone tree fruit. The profile here is so different, now Gewürztraminer (78 per cent) dominated, with less residual assistance from Riesling (17) and Sémillon (5). The aromatics are medicinal and ashen before the attack turns so palate sweet, in marmalade and with a finish of noble bitterness.

Mystery Pour

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

Tasted blind this non-clarified sticky is high on grapefruit for sure, smells (for a fleeting moment) a bit like cat pee, is decidedly smoky and once again, is grapefruit all in. Stony sauternes, Niagara style. This can be used to great advantage. With 70 plus g/L of residual sugar and 7.9 of total acidity the sugar-acid continuum is expertly lucky. The grapes were picked on December 14th, causing another exclamation of WTF? Really delicious. Really.

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012

Following the single-varietal tasting, Momofuku Daisho rolled out eight signature dishes.

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Snap Pea Salad, horseradish, jowl bacon, lily bulbs

Agnolotti, asparagus, ricotta, black truffle

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON), morels, ramps, smoked buttermilk

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON)

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON)

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (660704, $44.00, WineAlign)

From my September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.”  Last tasted May 2014

Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON), steamed buns, crab mayonnaise, green papaya slaw

Broccoli, lap cheong, black vinegar, tea egg

Nugget Potatoes, togarashi, kewpie, spiced ham

Stratus Red 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (131037, $44.00, WineAlign)

Tasted again, I do declare this to be the reigning bomb of Ontario red blends. Showing even better than I judged it two weeks ago. Intense ruby meets claret in every facet of its make-up. Rouge tomate, fresh and racy at the same time, with just enough chalk to lengthen the chain. You can actually imagine the hum in the clang and rhythm of its magic. Fleet of foot, mac-nanimously rendered red blend. “Chain keep us together, running in the shadow.” From my earlier note: “A study in restrained, gilt-edged use of only 15 per cent new oak during assemblage, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead and so prudent considering the extreme warmth of the vintage. Cabernet Franc imparts simple but intense spice. Red talented, fresh finesse, the oak in support as a James Dean, cherry stained leather jacket. De facto fresh, with just enough trenchant acidity.”  Last tasted May 2014

Tart, ricotta, honey apricots

 

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom

Pearl Morissette Riesling samples

Pearl Morissette Riesling samples

So you make wine from Ontario-grown grapes and it fails VQA inspection. The economic impact is potentially crippling. Here’s the short story. The sale of an Ontario VQA-certified bottle of wine sends approximately 15-20 per cent of the profit to the province. Without the stamp the tax cost is upwards of 50. There is no money to be made if your wine has not been blessed by VQA. Here is the long version:

The total Landed Cost (what the winery keeps) is calculated based on this:
Basic Price (retail price)  
minus Environmental Tax fee (same for VQA and non-VQA)
minus Bottle Tax/Levy (same for VQA and non-VQA)  
minus LCBO Wine Levy (applied to non-VQA only, yet minimal – $1.15 for $26btl)
minus LCBO mark-up (which is completely different between VQA and non-VQA – $0 for VQA, $8.5039 for a non-VQA wine based on a $26)
For a $25.20 ($25 + bottle deposit) bottle of wine, this is what the winery (Total Landed Cost in VQA language) keeps:
VQA retail: $20.56
VQA licensee: $20.56
non-VQA licensee: $12.44
These numbers come from a calculator, designed by VQA and the LCBO themselves that gives you the breakdown, once you enter the retail price.

François Morissette has that crazed look in his eye. The Quebec native faces the professional fight of his young winemaking life and has no intention of backing down. There will be no compromise of the viniculture oeuvre. Morissette’s day in, day out plight has been instigated by the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), the regulatory board that determines whether or not a wine made in Ontario gets its stamp of approval. It has already happened four times. VQA has rejected his Rieslings.

The pearl Morissette Cuvée Blackball Riesling 2011 is a $26 (retail price including bottle deposit) non-VQA bottle of wine and so the winery’s profit (before operating and production costs) is $12.98. Do the math. Sounds like a loss leader to me.

Pearl Morissette pigs

Pearl Morissette pigs

Morissette makes the wines at Pearl Morissette out of the Twenty Mile Bench in Jordan, Ontario. He’s opinionated and sometimes just plain pissed off. There are those who surely consider him a rogue, a dissident and an SD but at the end of the day, just how is he so different from his Niagara brethren and sistren? He is a farmer and a purveyor of fermented grapes. Granted his methods are progressive and experimental but the goal is the same as any honest and passionate winemaker. François Morissette wants to make memorable wine. Last July François Morissette told me “it’s not that we don’t want to make natural wines. We want to make wines with the least amount of impact.”

In July of 2013 at the i4C Cool Chardonnay Conference in Niagara, Francois expounded on some of the more important facets of making wine in Ontario. “Climate is the number one terroir driven aspect. The clone is nothing without the rootstock. They are inextricably linked.” He is a man who believes wholeheartedly in natural acidity. “You will have riper fruit on dry matter.” These are the ideas of a “rebel,” of a winemaker willing and ready to push the envelope. “I cannot ever apply what I learned in Burgundy as a farmer to Niagara. It’s a totally different animal.” These are the words of “pot-stirrer” Francois Morissette.

Foudre at Pearl Morissette

Foudre at Pearl Morissette

Today, Monday, May 26th, François and his girl Friday Svetlana Atcheva will once again go before the powers that be at VQA.  In their meeting with Executive Director Laurie Macdonald they will argue that their four-time rejected Riesling is bio-chemically sound, that it is a wine with no technical faults. The question of penalizing innovation will be raised, albeit in the spirit of cooperation. They will assert that the level of residual sugar (which the VQA panel seems to feel is “atypically” too low) and perceived sense of dryness must not be the focus. Morissette and Atcheva will explain to the panel that their Riesling is not oxidized but that the use of wood foudres (in addition to typically employed stainless steel tanks) allows for a gentle yet natural, controlled oxygen transfer. Ms. Macdonald will be asked the question on everyone’s mind. “How can an organization that reigns over such a young wine region be so sure what is correct and what is not?” What they should really say is “who are you to play God with wine?”

The sensory evaluation panel and decision makers maintain the necessity that “VQA wine grapes meet standards such as minimum ripeness levels (degrees brix) attained through careful viticultural practices.” This statement suggests that the Pearl Morissette Riesling fails to meet the criteria laid out by the decided governance. Does the system not sound like it is seeking conformity in the name of typicity? I spoke with Atcheva last Monday at the Generation Riesling tasting and she adamantly refutes the VQA position on Pearl Morissette’s wines. Skin ripeness, not sugar levels, indigenous yeasts, minimal interventionist winemaking and most of all quality should be the determining factors to passing their Ontario wine to VQA status. François just wants to be free to sell his wines to whoever he pleases without being shackled to taxes and bureaucracy. “My preference would be for 1,000 people to buy one bottle. But that takes time.”

Atcheva spoke at length this past weekend with a senior LCBO product consultant who elaborated on the selection process for the VQA panel. Up until a few years ago panel members were chosen based on their tasting experience. Today seniority lands spots on the tribunal. Work an LCBO cash for fifteen years and you too can decide the financial future of an Ontario winery.

Conrete Egg Fermenter

Conrete Egg Fermenter

For a full account on VQA evaluation processes and the rejection of Morissette’s wines, read Rick VanSickle’s article, The ‘black-balled’ Riesling from Pearl Morissette in Niagara and the storm that’s brewing over VQA rejection: Let’s talk about it. Another response by Tim Reed Manessy brings the VQA system’s shortcomings into proper focus. Behind the ‘Black Ball’ is Manessy’s take on his blog, Somm on the Run.

Hinterland's Jonas Newman, François Morissette, Montreal Gazette and Chacun Son Vin's Bill Zacharkiw, WineAlign's John Szabo M.S. , Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena Kaiser Smit and Assistant Winemaker Ryan Corrigan tasting Cabernet Franc

Hinterland’s Jonas Newman, François Morissette, Montreal Gazette and Chacun Son Vin’s Bill Zacharkiw, WineAlign’s John Szabo M.S. , Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser Smit and Assistant Winemaker Ryan Corrigan tasting Cabernet Franc

Through the generosity of François Morissette, Naomi Laurie, Ryan Corrigan, Cameron MacDonald and Svetlana Atcheva I have had the opportunity to taste, consider and assess the wines of Pearl Morissette out of tank, barrel, concrete egg fermenter and bottle on several occasions in the past year. Here are my notes on many of those moments.

Riesling Cuvée Blackball 2010, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($26)

This introduction to the experimental oeuvre of François Morissette holds attention and water. The delve into texture shaping by way of progressive malolactic fermentation during primary fermentation is a stirring exercise in character building. The ’10 is a conjoined cuvée of two, one of which contained 20% botrytis affected grapes. It spent eight months on fine lees in stainless steel and finished so very dry, at 1.27 g/L residual sugar. Biochemically correct, reeking and bleeding of the Peninsula’s veins, Blackball was submitted for VQA approval four times and rejected because it “lacked varietal typicity.” Perhaps it was the lack of human intervention, the anti-Bonzai approach, that doomed this diffident Riesling. Perhaps the texture should take it on the cheek for its brilliant disguise, for changing the subject and forcing the taster to open their mind and act innocent for a moment in time. The Blackball has that effect. Sadly, it too will be typical one day.  Tasted July 2013

Riesling Cuvée Blackball 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($26)

The 2011 Cuvée Blackball picks up where the ’10 left off. When tasted from a stainless steel, not yet labeled sample in bottle back in July of 2013 it showed high acidity and citrus but also a bottle-shock musky note. Nearly one year later the wine has fleshed into that sought after experimental texture, as if it were aged in foudres. It’s flexibility was encouraged by three months of aging on its fine lees. The ’11 is the jumping off point and the bridge towards understanding where the Riesling program is heading. Others will follow. “There’s no real reference for these wines,” admits Morissette and that’s the clue to understanding why haste judgments are passed. Fear of the unknown empowers tradition to stagnate and end up getting left behind.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014

Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29)

The craving for texture led François Morissette to employ small barrels to ferment a small (68 case) amount of 2011 Riesling, in this instance eight year-old neutral barriques. Close-minded, new world wine geeks might fear anarchy but ask any winemaker from Pfalz and they would say, “tell me something new.” The succor is so benign and simultaneously, subtly huge. The increased lees contact on small volumes of wine promotes corpulence and viscidity. The methodology results in more fruit presence; in pear and yellow plum, not to mention that unmistakable Niagara citrus. This ’11 has the most levels of expression. There is nothing revelatory or regulatory about it, beyond the fact that it works and that it would stand out as an excellent example in a flight of Trocken Riesling. The ’11 exemplifies the flesh versus acid continuum. The freshness of this Riesling has emerged, thanks to meticulous sorting, ne0-liberal winemaking and the use of a -1°C fridge. François Morissette does not like to race against time. His Riesling speaks volumes about that.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014

Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29, WineAlign)

When tasted in July of 2013 the ’12 Barrique had only been in bottle for three days so the musk was quite front and centre. Aged in foudres (neutral, old wood casks) it held much latitude at such a young age with notes of herbiage (mint, tarragon), nary a drop of residual sugar and a wholly unique type of dry acidity. “It will not always show this way,” commented Morissette. Tasted 10 months later I can say this. The ’12 Riesling Barrique avoids excessive malic and tartaric acid, not to mention any amount of volatile acidity. It is viable, vital and technically sound. “This is a wine that will take time,” pleads François . “I care about texture, not about varietal character.” Though perplexing and untamed, the wine has undeniable body and that noble bitterness in its unsung tang. It is the anti-Riesling hero, full of experiential conceit and needs to be revisited often, to see where it will go.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Rosé Cuvée LPR 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Sold out, $25)

Stylistically speaking, the bottles (and kegs) that emerged from the 225L hemorrhaging of Cabernet Franc from both oak and concrete vessels have no reference point. In fact, the advertence is one created by Francois Morissette. The flexible disposition is difficult to pinpoint and without trying to sound blowsy in assessment, this goes places yet visited by bone-dry Rosé. If it were the only wine made on premises the barn doors would always be banged upon. A most current wine, exigently red and almost indiscernible as Cabernet Franc. It suffers no stenosis and does not live a single green day. Another VQA rejected wine, the LPR walks down a boulevard of broken dreams and it sings, “I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known.”  Last tasted November 2013

Pinot Noir 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Sold out, $36)

With utmost integrity Pearl Morissette chose not to vinify Pinot Noir from the fruit of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages due to unacceptable levels of sour rot. With the 2011 harvest came inspiration. It was noted that local tree fruit farmers make use of the practice of storing their harvested fruit at 1° Celsius in a large refrigerator. This pseudo-cryogenic cooling practicum worked to halt the progression of the dreaded rot. Buying time allowed the crew to clean sort without having to worry about a single berry contaminating the lot. So what? So a pure, clean Pinot Noir was the result. Tasted four months after bottling, the modest (12.7 per cent alcohol) and vinified so dry (2 g/L residual sugar) ’11 held barking fruit on a tight leash and a moonscape of dusty, grainy tannin. Nine months later (to the day) the sensory evolution became as if cherries, strawberries and the tension in seeking ripe perfection were wine.  Tasted July 2013 and April 2014

Pearl Morissette Pinot Noir 2011

Pearl Morissette Pinot Noir 2011

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

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

19th Street Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (winery, $38, WineAlign)

First tasted from a barrel sample in July 2013. “From what is turning out to be a very elegant vintage, the 2011 Cabernet Franc is early proof that on the Twenty Mile Bench “we can turn a vineyard very quickly, in three years we can turn a vine.” This is significant in consideration that in Europe, vine age is always key.” Now in bottle the aromatics are hyper-pronounced and though the tannins are less rigid, less exerting and less demanding, they are not nearly ready to throw in the towel. Longevity will define ’11 and it will be the genesis of Pearl Morissette’s CF program used to compare future vintages. “The day of judgement’s come,” and you can bet that the wine’s been “resting, for this testing, digesting every word the experts say.” With the ambient transition of a hairless heart, the 2011 Cabernet Franc segues from anxiety to counting out time.  Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (limited library, $40, WineAlign)

Was the ’09 DN this lush and so pretty last summer? Was it bronzing as if sun-kissed and so delicate? Tasted alongside Chef Cameron MacDonald’s White Bean Cassoulet, duck and pork neck wrapped pate it sings in a Lindley-esque falsetto. From my earlier, July 2013 note: “Tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.”  Last tasted May 2014

Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (sold out, $35, WineAlign)

Having had the opportunity to taste the 2010 Cuvée Dix Neuvieme on several occasions over the past 10 months, every layer and fibre of its being has ingratiated itself to me. The tropical, solar 2010 vintage required that steps were taken to preserve freshness for when the final blend was to be assembled. A small portion of the juice was fermented separately in stainless steel tank and then injected into the 18-month, neutral barrel mass. The ’10 is full of verve, rigor and grinning elegance. It speaks of a salinity so typical for PM Chardonnay which comes from the usage of lees. This is what could be referred to as a “tannic” white. While it lacks the intensity of the bookending vintages on either side, as a middle sibling it is the glue and the rock that speaks diplomatically and most eloquently for the family.  Last tasted May 2014

Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $35, WineAlign)

A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?   Tasted July 2013

Barrel and Tank Samples tasted July 2013 and May 2014

19th Street Cabernet Franc 2012

Tasted in July 2013 from one of two barrels, it’s not so (amazingly reductive) and redolent of the most earthly currants. From a very immense year, in primary quality, barely evolved. Blessed with such ripe tannins this will have even bigger structure. Francois declares “I’m now a believer that Cabernet Franc is the most important grape to grow in Ontario (on this side of St. Catherines). Nine months later, with the wine still sitting on its primary lees and not yet racked “it’s so torqued,” notes John Szabo. “We made a monster CF without cream,” adds François . Pure, énorme, immovable yet so stable. There was a nearly volatile spike during fermentation and malo but it’s done. A death metal beast.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014

19th Street Cabernet Franc 2013

From juice housed in concrete, wood and open top fermenters this occupies impossible Cabernet Franc colour territory. Sweaty, chalky and bloody, it’s a bit reductive in extract and intensity. Lifted florally and very savoury, this is quintessentially Cabernet Franc in character. Crunchy tannins come late in magnanimous fashion.  Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay 2013

Tighter than it looks, sitting on its lees, pushing the envelope. In a German 2,500L barrel it’s rounder and softer. In second fill Alsatian Foudre it gains tang, spirit and backbone. From the Koscis Vineyard’s heavy red clay there is less texture and mid-palate. Out of a smaller (228L) barrel the wood is felt in fluidity, structure and creamier, clearer fruit. The largest barrel adds (10 per cent) new oak and finishes the ferment the earliest. It brings textural tack and a chewy finish. “New oak doesn’t make it better. It energizes the wine,” says Morissette. Overall this will be a rich, ripe-fruit based opulent Chardonnay, high in potential (13+ per cent) alcohol with a remarkable sweetness despite little or no residual sugar.  Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay from barrel with Ryan Corrigan, Jonas Newman, Francois Morissette and John Szabo

Chardonnay from barrel with Ryan Corrigan, Jonas Newman, Francois Morissette and John Szabo

Rosé 2013

If this Cabernet Franc is flirting with an acetic danger it is not enough to scare me away. Certainly edgy and there is a chance it may be pushed to the fringe, hippest markets but that also may just be a necessity if it is once again rejected as VQA. And it should not be.  Tasted May 2014

Bill Zacharkiw making notes at Pearl Morissette

Bill Zacharkiw making notes at Pearl Morissette

Gamay 2013

In July 2013 Francois Morissette made this statement. “If we can’t make Gamay in a Cru Beaujolais Style, I’m not interested.” In May 2014 his ’13 Gamay causes Bill Zacharkiw to comment with blatant honesty, “just line up at the tank. Forget the bottle.” From 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. Once again the hue is just impossible. Sulphur-free, this walks a fine and perfect line of Cru banana Gamay. Pushes the Gamay envelope in that it’s gulpable but with a duress to remind you not to overdo it. A Gamay with a chamber of 32 doors. In it “I’d rather trust a man who doesn’t shout what he’s found.” François Morissette.   Tasted May 2014

 

Good to go!

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Take them home, County wines

County in the City PHOTO: Michael Godel

County in the City at the Berkeley Church

Life is old there, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Can you think of an island (leaving Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand out of the discussion) of greater interest anywhere for growing grapes and making world-class wine? Prince Edward County’s just a shade more than 1000 square kilometers, 800 kilometers of shoreline and tiny 22,000 population is that place. It’s geology and climate eerily mimics that of Burgundy. A superficial layer of limestone peppered clay loam hovers above penetrable layers of larger limestone. Fissures in that bedrock allow vines to reach deep into its crevices. It’s a veritable mineral wonderland.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Huff Estates Photo: Michael Godel

Huff Estates

More than 30 wineries dot the land and water interspersed honeycomb of a wine trail. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the obvious cornerstone varieties but unique Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris have joined the attention gaining fray. Ontario’s finest Sparkling wine is being made at Hinterland. Vintners like Rosehall Run and Keint-He Winery exemplify top to bottom consistency. They and others like Lacey Estates are involved in the yeoman’s ambassador work, in the field, at tastings or through social media. Smaller production houses like The Old Third Vineyard, Hubbs Creek and Exultet Estates are sought after by those who know.

Stanners

Stanners

The County returned to the city on April 3, 2014 to showcase a cross-section of their wares at Toronto’s Berkeley Church. The usual suspects continued to impress, yet the collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman and Vicky Samaras at Hinterland. If White Cap and Ancestral are any beacon to be drawn towards, plantings of Vidal, Riesling and Gamay should be employed in earnest in the turning towards pressure in the bottle. Lighthall’s Glen Symons gets it, as does Frédéric Picard, with his Cuvées, not to mention Bill Turnbull and his 3630 Bubbles. True, Casa Dea has the shy Dea’s Cuvée and the Grange makes a Sparkling Brut and a Riesling (346726, $24.95). But the questions begs, is fizz just another word for everything to lose in the County?

Here are notes on 23 wines tasted. The soundtrack to these PEC Wines includes Foo Fighters, Cracker, Nine Inch Nails, Modest Mouse, REM, Sufjan Stevens, The Beatles and Dire Straits.

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

Casa Dea Riesling 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario  (winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

Pours and perches in the glass dry and stoic, as if bled from concrete or amphora. Swirled or not this fighter begins to rumble in a growing momentum of tang and acidity, as if it were being fed by sugar and feeding on yeast. So primary, like a sample in thief, yet already circling in complexity. A spike of spicy sweetness, a delicate dressing of aglio e olio, a chiffonade of basil on top. The County does this style of dry Riesling at this price in ways no one in Niagara can. This is no foo but rather a “blessing in disguise. Believe it or not, hands on a miracle.”   @casadeawinery

Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (155606, $17.95, WineAlign)

Note the VQA Ontario designation, meaning the fruit is a combination of PEC and Niagara. The former brings limestone to the table while the latter weight and substance. Typically soda-driven and spatially atomic in maximum thrust. Turns towards the lake with sweet emotion and sails off into the sunset. Multi-purposed, works to great summer afternoon effect, especially with the waves of the bay lapping at the shore.  @HuffEstatesWine 

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Light, airy, delicate and nearly ethereal Pinot Gris that takes few chances, instead choosing an acquiescence with life’s simple pleasures. The vanilla of Gris, malleable, agreeable and ready to pair with whatever comes its way. A minor spike of Hillier minerality gives accent to pears and its blossoms.

Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

A most non-pretentious sparkler that holds a pertinacious attitude towards anything but serious fun. From estate Vidal grapes that has seen a second fermentation using the Charmat Method, Lighthall’s ’12 picks up right where its solid ’11 left off. Picked early to preserve freshness and acidity, the Progression is big on tart green apple preserved by a squeeze of lemon. Chill it, refresh with it, serve it up and bring the house down.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara borrows 30 per cent County fruit to complete Hardie’s cracker Riesling. Low in alcohol (9.1 per cent) and residual, bound by jacked up acidity and tension. Pale platinum with an old-school aromatic sentiment that “fruit is rusting on the vine,” and flavours recalling that “the fruit is calling from the trees.” A masonic force of winemaking, “like being low, hey hey hey like being stoned.”  @normhardie

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort.  @HuffEstatesWine

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Karlo’s take is Riesling in torsion, barrel fermented & aged in older (six-year) French Oak. The program adds wax and herbal mucilage to what otherwise would have been a frenetic study in bone chilling acidity. This unique and neo-progressive intuit invites a global Riesling symposium to the County to learn something old and something new within this single bottling. Riesling with attitude that’s got glycerin and a medicinal meets floral, pear extract meets candied lilac viscidity. Though so young, it seems wise, with an anamnesis for old Mosel, a coolant aroma and a taste that recalls white sangria. Yes, it’s different and eclectic. Anti-bracing stuff, not for everyone, but everyone should be for it.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Vinemount Ridge, VQA Ontario  (winery, $23, WineAlign)

This is the inaugural Riesling release for Stanners, from a single Vinemount Ridge plot. If it were not so winged-footed it might gain more positive repute from the appellation’s quarry effect, but in time and with experience, Colin Stanners will settle the grassy aromas into the limestone demand. For now it remains effortless and balanced with a dismounting of acidity and well provided apple and lemon flavours.  @StannersWines

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2011, Niagara River, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 Brock has settled into its Niagara River appellative skin, having now been in bottle 18 months. Working with fruit from 300 kilometres away increases the unknown quotient, magnifying the adage that you have “one chance to get everything right,” Closson’s ’11 is neither modest nor is it a mouse but it is less frenetic than it acted when tasted repeatedly last year. The hard deposits have oozed into liquid metal gold and the ripe orchard fruit has mellowed into a creamy pudding with a hint of spice. I don’t see the Brock as a very public wine, but more from a maker, for friends, from habit, for family. A wine that you need to get to know, to patronize with repeated listening’s, to accept.   @ClossonChase

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Brock was only sulphured and bottled a month ago so it’s quite shocky and shaky. Still in the REM sleep stage, the ’12 is not quite ready to reveal the warmth so generously granted by the Niagara River appellation’s extending growing season. The ripe tropical fruit notes are there, if subdued and the omnipresent minerality will rear its rocky head before too long. This Brock will see a lifting “but gravity is holding” it down for now. Look to see the weights fall away late in 2014 “and in review,” you will have noted “the air was singing,” all the way to 2020.

Huff Estates Gamay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak.  The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat.

Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Proprietor Glen Symons sources his fruit for this unctuous Gewürztraminer from Vineland at the base of the Escarpment’s steps. Highly tropical and exaggerated by the warm summer of 2012 to the point of candied, but with an edge. Just restless enough to divine temptation for further sips which when multiplied, relax the palate rather than excite it. The flavours turn nutty, waxy, even and calm. A mistral wind blows through in a breezy finish.

Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It should be assumed that the four types of wood used to house this warm and inferential Choa (cherry, hickory, oak and ash) would smother and smoulder other aromatic suitors but those woods are actually quite subtle. The other woods, as in forest, backyard and compost are the acute players. The Choa goes from fromage to funky, from an enzymatic leesy feeling to inner, inward innards. It barks of a dogged persistence, I will give it that. Most definitely singular of style to be sure and will need a few years to settle down.

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The oak repeal in decreased new barrel impact allows the County to speak in the clearest of voice. As it should, from a South Bay landscape and terroir as rugged and dramatic that can be found anywhere Chardonnay is made in Ontario. There is a honeyed unctuous and viscous feel to the South Bay ’10, no doubt a result of its middle filled in by a meritorious and pure lees. Limestone wraps up the fruit in a clean, crisp and pure package.

Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The licensee only Loyalist is the micro-embodiment of the Deborah Paskus style. Rich, compact and built to satisfy a need for lush, nearly tropical Chardonnay. From a vintage that saw bud reducing spring frosts and resulting yields of only one tonne per acre. The oak influence comes to it with a scaled back embracing, allowing the County’s rock bent to connect and form a bond with the acidity’s bracing intent. Perhaps the profits will suffer from the year’s miniscule crop, but the level of quality will making it all right.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Ontario (winery, $30, WineAlign)

A year later has softened considerable and thinking of laying down in softer pastures.  From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Combines 60% (horizontal) County fruit with 40 per cent (vertical) Niagara (Lincoln Lakeshore) grapes in balance and with finesse. Simply apply the distance formula to figure out the length of the hypotenuse. Bridging the kilometres that lie between, though inadmissible to some, comes by way of a deft winemaker’s vision and touch. Plum good, mineral rich and perceptibly tannic without breaching a threshold of varnish. Cherry toffee speaks of the sunshine and indicates time is of the essence. Will look forward to full-on County issue for 2013 in the hands of Cliff and Colin Stanners.”  Last tasted April 2014

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (winery, $30, WineAlign)

After wetting their Pinot Noir feet with a few vintages that coalesced Niagara and County fruit, this is the first go it alone release for Stanners. It’s yet another effortless and quiet handed response to impressionist County fruit. A noticeable step up from what came before, this has primary balance, secondary (floral) aromatics and tertiary brightness. Like Hillier lavender, drying on the rocks in the waning afternoon sun.

Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $33.00, WineAlign)

Mounds of respect are due any Ontario winemaker that decides to tackle single-varietal Petit Verdot, especially in a climate-forsaken locale like the County. Richard Karlo tackles such a struggle between good and evil, looking to elevate this fifth most important Bordeaux grape (not Malbec?) to great PEC heights. His dark, brooding wine of massive extraction starts off into the toffee, the after dinner mints and a suck of coffee cream through a wood straw. Twiggy, angular, resinous and wired, the wine then turns incredibly floral, in violets, from boron to aether and then returns to its roots. The rebound is to acidity, freshness and tang. An intriguing wine that “used to be angry young man” but the evolution it shows in glass bodes well for its future. Give it three to five years to achieve quintessence. “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Only 165 cases were produced of this Niagara born Pinot Noir. Discreet and unpretentious in every facet of its being. Like the colour of beautiful Rosé, the Watson causes such small-scale tannic pain. Though elegant and lithe, don’t be fooled. It’s not Burgundy. It’s Deborah Paskus. It’s Closson Chase. Profoundly appointed, in mind of those who mind. A signal to the understanding and knowledge of what the variety is and from this place. Clarity comes from an intensity in flowers, quality from a high sense of purpose.  Really fine.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $35.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

The calcareous clay, the edgy stone, the molt of the earth. Dense, cluttered and clamorous fruit. A different animal then what walks the County. Magnanimous Pinot Noir full of fruity flesh and medieval attitude. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious example with only one coat of primer. Impressive.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

Norman Hardie’s uncanny ability to coax hyperbole at the lowest alcohol levels is again blatantly apparent in this climatically epochal, yet restlessly cool County Chardonnay. Recalling and expanding on the exceptional ’08, the tonality, texture and motion are achieved by way of a) early picking, b) indigenous yeasts, c) arrested fermentation, d) lees and e) moxie. The dire straits of the vintage wants to exaggerate the fricassee, the roasted nuts and the chemical flow but who might argue against the gape at Burgundian reduction? She’s a roller girl this ’10, taking chances. She skates away, “making movies on location,” all in the name of learning ahead of the curve.

Good to go!

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Paul Pender’s Tawse and effect

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2010

From left and clockwise: Riesling Limestone Ridge 2012, Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, Riesling Carly’s Block 2012, Pinot Noir Quarry Road Estate 2010, Chardonnay Quarry Road 2011, Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2010, Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2010, Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2008, Pinot Noir Lauritzen 2010, Chardonnay Lenko Vineyard 2011, Pinot Noir Laidlaw 2010

Tawse winery is growing and gaining weight but just like its vineyards, the pursuit is wagered in natural and holistic ways. The Tawse effect distills a biodynamic appropinquation, in the acquisition of new vineyards, in the gathering of tonnage from Niagara and Prince Edward County growers, in the farming and production of estate grapes. I have been making regular visits to the Vineland, Ontario winery for the past three years. The natural, self-sustaining processes remain open, obvious, front and centre.

Related – Every barrel tells a story

Chardonnay fruit might travel across the 401 and down the QEW from South Bay at Huff Estates. It may skip across King Street and skirt up Cherry Avenue from Daniel Lenko. It may come to early fruition from young Tintern Vineyard Pinot Noir vines out of the Vinemount Ridge. Whatever the source, the approach is simple. Let winemaker Paul Pender get his mind and his mitts on that fruit. Then let him work his magic. Seek biodiversity, soil fertility, crop nutrition, and chemical-free pest, weed and disease control. Fight the good fight against the harshest of winters with vines of deeper roots and stronger canes.

Paul Pender and Tawse Robyn's Block Chardonnay 2008

Paul Pender and Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2008

The Tawse portfolio may now seem hyper-varied and even massive. Nothing and everything has changed. The lots remain small to manageable, the choice of varieties consistent and the wines, ever increasingly impressive. Whatever faults, idiosyncrasies or misunderstood characteristics there may have been in some older wines, they are no more. There are now purer and more vibrant aromas and flavours. Wait until you get a load of 2012 and 2013. Paul Pender’s acumen and winemaking professionalism has reached a whole new level of Rock ‘N Roll.

Paul Pender is a big picture guy. He is the Niagara renaissance man; songwriter, vocalist, lead guitar, producer and engineer. He’s Cuddy, Cripps and Chris Shreenan-Dyck rolled into one. Pender’s handling of growing, picking, fermenting, aging and bottling is nothing short of impossible and yet he does it with a conceit of ease. At last count I noted three Sparklings, three Rosé, two Dessert Wines, six Chardonnay, five Riesling, two Gewurztraminer, one Pinot Gris, one Sauvignon Blanc, six Pinot Noir, three Cabernet Franc, one Cabernet Sauvignon, one Merlot, one Cabernet-Merlot, one Meritage and one Gamay. Thirty-seven wines. One goal. Getting better all the time.

Tawse winemakers Rene Van Ede and Paul Pender

Tawse winemakers Rene Van Ede and Paul Pender

The winter and early spring of 2014 has found me cozying up to the wines of Tawse. On a frigid January evening on my way to Ice Wine Fest I spent time with winemaker Pender in the cellars, speed investigating my way through the barrels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Not to mention Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and even Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve tasted Tawse with Daniel Lafleur at Somewhereness, with Vinifera’s Daniel Beiles at Barque Smokehouse and at the winery’s portfolio tasting at The Spoke Club.

Tawse Spark Blend 2011 and Quarry Road Chardonnay 2008

Tawse Spark Blend 2011 and Quarry Road Chardonnay 2008

Here are notes on 14 Tawse wines tasted from bottle in April and May 2014.

Riesling Limestone Ridge 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity of linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric. Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Spark Blend 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $24.95)

This introductory release is a blend of 65 per cent Chardonnay, 22 Pinot Noir and 13 Pinot Gris. A linear, straight shooting star, a sparkler that is so “surprising it goes so fast.” Bright, flashy, attention grabbing and fleeting. These are bubbles with a plan, anything but bad company and quite remarkable for the price. Lemon, lime and ginger strum in wound tension and the wine gets on top very quickly, then disappears into the starry night. Exhilarating while it lasts.  Tasted April 2014

Chardonnay Grower’s Blend 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)

From fruit (east of Beamsville) next to Puddicombe, which is essentially Winona on the eastern edge of the Niagara Escarpment appellation. Some parcels of disparate Niagara fruit joins this inaugural effort, a rich, viscous and warming Chardonnay. Layered and expertly balanced, it carries the best of both the Quarry (mineral) and Robyn (approachable) worlds. The spicy accent gives the blend its singular personality.  Tasted May 2014

Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284570, $26.95, WineAlign)

Though it’s a blend of several sites, this Tawse Pinot stands alone and of itself as a grower; it grows on you after multiple tastings. The first go ’round seems simple, vintage warm and tight. Taste again and the sappy wood seeps mineral, the phenolic red cherry ripeness turns black and the tempering is led by a sweet earth kind. Earth that smoulders in a rising Zeppelin kept afloat by tobacco and the swirling spores of pungent mushroom. Pinot Noir truth and value from a Niagara house of the holy kind. “You know-whoa, that’s right.” Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Riesling Carly’s Block 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Boasts classic flint and citrus Twenty Mile Bench aromatics. In 2012 it’s also lush, rich and so very pear and longan fruity. Whorls like a wind turbine blowing the polar aspects against each other’s walls. Forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic. High tang and flavour. Big yet classic Riesling.  Tasted May 2014

Pinot Noir Quarry Road Estate 2010, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This is the second Pinot Noir made from the Vinemount Ridge vineyard, a place where the rock can’t help but tyrannize the fruit. The 2010 Quarry Road gains positive proportion in that it is painted and coated by the ripeness of the vintage. Of a tougher mind and shell than the other Tawse Pinots, a bird on the wire just trying to be free. Not as easy to approach or love, it might plead “if I, if I have been unkind, I hope that you can just let it go by.” Sings in a wise, raspy and rusty way, despite the youthfulness of the vineyard, but it shines. So in the end “hey, why not ask for more?” Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay Quarry Road 2008, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (111989, $34.95, WineAlign)

At this stage the 2008 Quarry Road is fully resolved, integrated and as soft as full malolactic Chardonnay can be. The unmistakable note of creamed corn lingers longer, as does the look on the winemaker’s face, but air brings it around. Returns to a fresh beginning, “from a year that might not have turned into anything,” admits Paul Pender. Now standing firm, the wine benefits six years on from clean, rotless fruit and pure, angular acidity, holding steady to the admirable finish. Tasted April 2014

Chardonnay Quarry Road 2011, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (111989, $34.95, WineAlign)

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.” From my earlier March 2012 (barrel tasting) note: “Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.” Last tasted May 2014

Pinot Noir Laidlaw 2010, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the Vinemount Ridge sub-Appellation of the Niagara Peninsula, the Tawse Laidlaw Pinot 2010 is the least gregarious, the quiet sibling, the most feminine, the sleeper. Laidlaw may play hardest to get and is the least obvious when considering perfume but her palate is the sweetest of the line-up. Strawberry macerates sous-bois for an authentic Burgundian experience. Patient, focused and structured. Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay Lenko Vineyard 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

The speed and the steel have slowed to yellow caution and the now honey-toned flesh has added more weight. There’s just something about Daniel Lenko at this juncture. From my earlier (tasted three times) July 2013 note: “From wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Last tasted April 2014

Pinot Noir Lauritzen 2010, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

A year in bottle has elevated the perfume, concentrated the cherry flavour and placed a crown on its regal head. The sweet tannic quotient resonates from its very core. Showing great at this time. From my earlier April 2013 note: “From the Vinemount Ridge is dry and cut with spice, a favourite for winemaker Paul Pender. The sour acidity from fruit such as cranberry and pomegranate are here in deep, concentrated and naturally sweet tones. Niagara limestone casts a Burgundy mineral shadow and the wine is iron tough yet silky due to the warmth of the vintage.” Last tasted April and May 2014

Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2008, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (662841, $45.95, WineAlign)

The 2008 Robyn’s Block neither matches the roundness nor the tempering acidity of the Quarry but what it lacks in those areas it makes up for in critical mass and balance. The creamed corn effect is here, as are apples in ciderish activity, from a wine that “was on a starved diet,” says Paul Pender. Though currently a bit reductive and funky, it’s not gun-flinty reduction, like the “smell of a battlefield on the morning after a civil war fight.” Swirling brings out cane sugar to replace the creamy silage and the rest is history. Calm, quiet and approachable inactivity. Tasted April 2014

Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2009, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (355867, $49.95, WineAlign)

What a wonderful vintage for Creek Shores Cabernet Franc and what a difference a year makes. Ripeness, development, rich layering, absence of chalk. Extreme elegance and void of an overbearing currant and bell pepper greening. Tannins are toned and fit. From my earlier, April 2013 note: “From the Creek Shores Appellation is proof that a well-rounded grape has no point. The Van Bers is winemaker Paul Pender’s purlieu, edgy, outlying, unconcerned with the norm or the banal. Makes full use of a cool vintage with heart-stopping acidity and eye-popping verve but not without delivering Soul, in the form of flowers and a fruit basket to your doorstep. “It’s like thunder and lightning.” Capers, camphor and a knock on wood add R & B complexity.” Last tasted May 2014

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (winery, $57.95, WineAlign)

From two acres of Pinot Noir planted in 2005 known as David’s Block within the Cherry Road Vineyard. A clash of hot and dry weather encouraged the young fruit to find ripeness, in flesh and in tannin. There is an elegance about this Cherry, in part no doubt to wine technique in acumen. The Paul Pender perfume, a combative interplay between cherries and earth, is here. “The in crowd say it’s cool” but it has yet to Rock the Casbah. Cherry 2010 is only offering a glimpse of greatness, so hold out for what will surely develop when the vines reach their next level of maturity. Tasted April 2014

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

Château Margaux hits the road

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014 PHOTO: Michael Godel

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014
PHOTO: Michael Godel

The wines of Château Margaux need no introduction. First Growth Bordeaux. One of the most famous brands in the world. Iconic and beyond mortal means, especially in the greatest vintages; 1953, 1961, 1982, 1989, 1996, 2000, 2009. So why is Paul Pontallier on the road to promotion? Do the wines not automatically sell themselves?

The answer is both yes, and no. Château Margaux annually produces 130,00o bottles of its Grand Vin. The 2009 is listed at nearly $1,800 in Ontario. They will sell through, if not this year, certainly eventually and inclusive of the calculated, incremental cost of inflation. The more pressing incendiary matter is a concern of distributive demand. Chinese and other south Asian markets have spent the better part of the last decade scooping up First Growths by the palette load. Mr. Pontallier clearly understands if you can’t see the forest for the trees, you risk losing touch with how you arrived here in the first place. Château Margaux needs to reconnect with North America.

Paul Pontallier is the Managing Director of Château Margaux. He joined the team of Corinne Mentzelopoulos in 1983. Along with Aurélien Valance, Senior VP Commercial Director, the most distinguished of Margaux houses came to Toronto’s The National Club at the facilitating invitation of wine agent Noble Estates on Thursday May 1, 2014. A 10:00 am start. Château Margaux for breakfast. “Probably the best time to taste wine,” quips Pontallier.

Château Margaux Tasting

Chateau Margaux Tasting

At the estate’s crux is the significance of territory. The wines are “not just a marketing ploy,” asseverates Pontallier, “they are based on the insistence of the terroir.” There exists a significant heterogeneity between the plots. “We try to protect them as much as possible. We can’t expand.” There is a sense of frustration in the director’s voice. “Château Margaux hasn’t changed since the late 17th century.”

Then there is savoir-faire. “Even three or 400 years isn’t a lot of experience. There is only one possibility, one harvest each year, for experimentation. But, the asset, the depth of experience is as important as the terroir.” Does the excellence of top Bordeaux require genius? No, contends Pontallier. He speaks of hard work, respect for history and the constant need to change, not just for its own sake, but to doubt what’s come before and to improve every gesture. Organic, though it won’t ever be noted on the label, is the end result of many years of research and development. “Our tradition in not a closed one. We are open to what science can bring us.”

On change? “How can we pretend that our tastes do not change. Language, accents, words, everything changes.” Though the accusation is of a response to market demand, the Margaux position is one that insists that it is about a natural evolution, not a response to consumer demand. Change is inevitable. “It would risk not reaching excellence. It would write off the wonderful experience we have inherited. We can adapt, we can play, within reason.”

On the 2013 (challenging) vintage from which weather during flowering affected the quantity. A wonderfully dry, hot summer gave way to damp and wet weather at the end of September. Perfect conditions were set up for rot (botrytis) to develop. Margaux rushed to pick five to six days earlier than usual. “In these conditions, the exceptionality of terroir was so important.” The conclusion? “Less complexity, less depth, less quality. In Bordeaux as a whole, the lesser terroirs were affected by the situation.” According to Pontallier the result of the mediocre conditions did not result in mediocre wines because of the technical progress achieved over the last 25-30 years.

Pontallier is a pragmatist, a funny thing to say considering the domain he oversees. “It’s not always the most impressive wines that are the most pleasurable to drink,” he admits. “Burgundy has a wonderful balance.” His thoughts on the primeur system? “It has always been efficient for some, or just a few wines. If you can find wines a few years later on the market at the same price, it doesn’t make sense.” Here are notes on the fives wines poured.

From left: Pavillon Blanc Du Château Margaux 2011, Pavillon Rouge 2004, Pavillon Rouge 2009, Château Margaux 1999, Château Margaux 1989

From left: Pavillon Blanc Du Château Margaux 2011, Pavillon Rouge 2004, Pavillon Rouge 2009, Château Margaux 1999, Château Margaux 1989

Pavillon Blanc Du Château Margaux 2011, Ac Bordeaux, France (374579, $142.40, WineAlign)

Extreme temperatures in June sent signals to convince the grapes to begin ripening in mid July. Though harvest would be the earliest since 1893, vintage imbalance was averted by cooler summer temperatures. A limited production, 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc with 300 years of experience in its blood. Once known as Vin Blanc de Sauvignon, the Pavillon earned its modern era moniker in 1920. From a single block that was abandoned near the turn of the century because it was sensitive to frost. Re-discovered and re-planted in the 1970’s and 80’s, the plot is a haven for aromatic protection and preservation. Today’s Pavillon is made from only one-third of the estate’s Sauvignon Blanc production, the rest secretly sold off in bulk. The ’11 saw eight months in barrel, 25 per cent new oak. Sparks with intense minerality and creamy corpulence contained within an acidity enclosure. Feigns early advancement though not near ready to burst and bust open, with the sense that terroir will trump variety. A slow release of ripe fruit will be measured in decades. Tremendous concentration, density and depth. Has Sauvignon Blanc ever ingratiated itself with such poise? Will begin to open in two to three years and ripple in waves for 20-25 more.

Pavillon Rouge 2009, Ac Margaux, 2nd Wine Of Château Margaux, Bordeaux, France ($132.45, WineAlign)

From a wine that “used to be a tool,” comments Paul Pontallier to a “second wine” out of an incredible vintage “at least as good, or better than the four previous vintages of the first wine.” Them are fighting words and no sooner are they more truthfully spoken then over a swirling glass of the wine that has improved the most at Château Margaux. The Pavillon Rouge ’09 is indeed the best in modern times, in part due to immaculate selection and because it makes up just one-third of the total red grape production at Margaux. In the 1980’s it was the opposite but with a third wine now pushed to the European and Japanese restaurant market beginning in this vintage, Pavillon is now a grand brand, in a connected and assiduous way as never before. There are 100 lesser ’09 Bordeaux that fail to assimilate the wood and the crush of density, not to mention the tannin and Expressionist brushstroke. Pavillon manages a suppression of the admiral elements, including the scientific ones. The fruit is deeper, riper, with more brooding levels of pectin and anthocyanin. An earthy funk makes a late appearance on a finish of extended length to indicate where this Pavillon will range, forward 25-30 years and back to a 1989 type of history.

Pavillon Rouge 2004, Ac Margaux, 2nd Wine Of Château Margaux, Bordeaux, France ($119.50, WineAlign)

The Pavillon 2004 was and remains a “second wine,” insomuch that it predates the greatness of the modern Pavillon and because it finds itself sandwiched between two magnanimous harvests, 2003 and 2005. “We accept the fatalism of lesser vintages,” admits Mr. Pontallier, “selection is key to success.” The goal is to always make a good wine so it was necessary the Pavillon ’04 set out to benefit from “extreme” berry selection. Spent 18 months in 50 per cent new oak. Persistently young and overwhelmingly perfumed, in violet, tobacco and strawberry so ripe yet still must fight for aromatic airspace with dewy earth. Soft, velvety tannins envelop the Margaux notion of restraint and elegance. The ’04 has found success, despite the conditions, something that could not be said of the Château’s wines made 25-30 years ago. Drinking well now and will continue to do so for five to 10 more years.

Château Margaux 1999

Château Margaux 1999

Château Margaux 1999, Ac Margaux, Bordeaux, France (BCLDB 187799 $1,000.00, WineAlign)

The 1999 Château Margaux is a timeless wine. Tasted alongside the notorious 1989, its inhibitions are forced on display. Though repressed by the diluting effects of late September heavy rain, the 1999 may be subtle and modest, lack any discernible funk, but by no means is it soft. Wondrous aromatically like a hanging garden, with roses everywhere. “This is the perfume of Château Margaux,” notes Paul Pontallier. A difficult wine to describe. Its complexity, warmth and perfumed character define Margaux. Not as dense as the ’89, from grapes that benefitted from maturation conditions, from perfectly ripe if slightly diluted fruit. The proportions and shape (12.5 per cent alcohol by volume) are perfect and exacting but on a smaller scale. Smooth and resolved at a young 15 year-old, teenage age. The tenuous tranquility can be a point of deception. Beneath the lace there is body and hidden depth to give it 15 to 25 more years of growth. “Fall fall fall fall, into the walls. Jump jump out of time.” Though not the beast that is the ’89, this ’99 is a suffused bottle of remarkable concentration, of luxe, calme et volupté. A wine to help cure what ails.

Chateau Margaux 1989

Château Margaux 1989

Château Margaux 1989, Ac Bordeaux, France (176057, $1,645.00, WineAlign)

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

The group of twelve

History may one day remember them as the group of twelve, or perhaps, “The Ontario School.” They are the 12 wineries who have banded together to ensconce a strange but beautiful word on the tongue, in the dictionary and out in the world. Somewhereness.

They are purveyors of the land from which their grapes grow and ferment into wine. Facilitators of terroir, working a canvas forged by millions of years of geological and climatic evolution. Their assembly is based on both exigency and on Moira; destiny, share, fate.

Like that other famous group, “collectively they agree.” Ontario’s cool-climate wine regions need to qualify and certify a distinctive winemaking style. In juxtaposition to old world, European tradition, the intensity of Somewhereness needs to reflect an increasingly Ontario-centric partiality.

These are the members. 13th Street, Bachelder, Cave Spring, Flat Rock, Hidden Bench, Hinterland, Malivoire, Charles Baker, Norman Hardie, Southbrook, Stratus and Tawse. Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator used the term and now it defines an enterprise. “As a group of 12 wineries growing small lots of site-specific vines in Ontario’s ancient glacial soils, we’ve invoked Somewhereness as a word enabling us to articulate in one collective voice.”

How do you get to Somewhereness? As related to wine that is like asking, Who am I? Why do we exist? What is the meaning of life? The Somewhereness movement, the notion, comes to light through this statement. “Somewhereness is revealed in the mysterious time capsules we know as bottles of wine. As ethereal gifts of a carefully tended location and a moment in time, each is imprinted with a vineyard’s sense of place,
its soil, climate, seasons, vintage variations — and its maker’s methods.”

In 2013 I wrote about Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow. “Above all else, the rainbow’s fulcrum is the “somewhereness” of Canada’s wine regions. Terroir is the great catch word for wine. A vine’s home determines its potential, its structure, its sense of place. Micro-climates, soil, geology, altitude, slope and vegetation all contribute to the make-up of a wine forged from that specific parcel, lot or locale.”

In Come together, over wine I continued the discussion. “Intensity is in the air. The artists are at work, blessed with a geographical, geological and climatic canvas unique to the planet. They share arts and letters, compare and contrast methods, style and results. The sense of community is palpable, obvious and quite frankly awesome. They are Ontario winemakers and they are coming together. Right now.”

At the end of last year my column 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013 reviewed what Canadian winemakers do best. “That is producing unique, cutting edge and brilliant takes on cool climate grapes. They also match beautifully with the songs referenced in their tasting notes. When the wines are assessed and considered in part or as a whole, who would dare to say there are no great wines being produced?”

On Wednesday April 9th, Somewhereness brought the band to St. James Cathedral for a full-on tasting that is rapidly being recognized as a must not miss Ontario event. Here are notes on some of the wines I sampled.

From left to right:

From left to right: Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2008 and Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012

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

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

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A six-month lay in French oak for 60 per cent of the Gamay fruit sourced exclusively from Malivoire’s Beamsville Bench estate vineyard is just what the go doctor ordered. Only Malivoire’s Gamay smells specifically like this; of tart and savoury capers, of small, earthy gemstones, of peppery currants, of meaty braising Bouille. A striking wine from a fortuitous Gamay vintage and great value that puts me in mind of how special the Courtney will be. Though the soils may differ, proximity wise they are close cousins.

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”

Cave Spring Dolomite Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Part Beamsville Bench (70 per cent), part Twenty Mile Bench (30), this best of both worlds Pinot is full of calcium magnesium carbonate, Jurassic bark. Playful as opposed to angry, this is not so much Snoop Dogg’s Dolomite but more like an animated Futurama. Seduces with a sweet red berry entry and bound by a really fine acid/tannin/fruit balance. Admittedly not overly complex but for the price it shows good structure. As far as Pinot goes, this one is a made for beef or rack of veal.

Hinterland Whitecap 2013, VQA Ontario, Charmat Method, Ontario (332809, $22.00, WineAlign)

The most versatile fizz in the Hinterland portfolio, what winemaker Jonas Newman refers to as his “chameleon.” As aromatically floral as this Charmat method bubbles (secondary fermentation in tank) ever gets, the ’13 brings out the garden under the mist of a sprinkler, late on a summer evening. It’s not so much about fruit as it is about texture, pollen and wet rocks. Try it at Barque.

Bachelder Niagara Pinot Noir Wismer Park/Lowrey (Tank Sample) 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146985, $29.95, WineAlign)

This binary vineyard symbiosis will be bottled as the Niagara Pinot. Just filtered a few days ago it strides out with the utmost confidence in swagger, with a purity of fruit is spite of Thomas’ shock, awe and reductive apology. A bright sway of terroir gives rapture to a peaking raspberry bush imagined forward into a cooled pie. A renewed elegance abides with an absence of humidity and with a fully ameliorated knowing that a fleshing will happen. Really fine.

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146985, $29.95, WineAlign)

Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.

13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130195, $29.95, WineAlign)

If roses were stones they would produce an aroma that only 13th Street’s Sandstone Gamay would recall. Some previous vintages have pushed the boundary to sky-high excess and a subterranean ferrous burrowing but in 2012 the perfume is both grounded and ethereal. The sandy tuff rock is so in that glass, like the smell of a rugged beach, mist and salinity spraying and rising off the rocks. The ’12 now knows “I don’t have to sell my soul.” Wholly singular Gamay and with hopes it will always be this going forward. Where as before it said “I want to be adored,” it now confirms “you adore me.”

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

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

Southbrook Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (260281, $34.95, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon whose barrel aging specs are integral to discussing its unfolding. This Whimsy is a seven barrel (172 case) lot of which 86 per cent was aged for 13 months in (71 per cent) French oak. Plain and simple, a wood-heavy decision that has provided allied excellence five years after that demanding vintage. The agglomeration is one of steroidal currants, rocket red berries and an assiduous savoury edge. Just now are the beginnings of a caramel oozing from out of the centre of a dark chocolate house. Really quite an amazing, rich cake example from the vintage. Showing so right and so strong now, in its territory and wheelhouse.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $35.20, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2008, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

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

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

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”

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38.20, WineAlign)

Patient as ever with the cool-climate, slow and low ripening Cabernet Franc, winemaker J-L Groux stuck with belief, regardless of the warm 2010 vintage. The Stratus single varietal space and time continuum of let it hang (though not to December), 20ish months of aging, nearly half in French oak barrels, has brought forth the most dense and luxe Cabernet Franc to date. “It’s never old school, all brand new,” with Groux so this red swells in wholly pure black currant fruit and is as big as it gets for J-L, which is saying something. This beastie boy will age over a 20-year period. Style is the thing, and yes, the aromatics.

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

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

Good to go!

 

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