Shades of South Africa

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

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

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

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

Lunch at Montecito

Lunch at Montecito

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

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

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

Winegrowing regions of South Africa

Winegrowing regions of South Africa

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

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

Montecito

Montecito

Whites Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

Bordeaux Cultivars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhône/Blend/Indigenous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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Searching for Somewhereness

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

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

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

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

Somewhereness lies the truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related, From April 2014 – The group of twelve

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

Related, From April 2014 – Why taste Ontario?

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

Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena Kaiser

Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser

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

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

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

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of August 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

From my earlier more of May 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

The wines of Hidden Bench

The wines of Hidden Bench

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

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

From my earlier note of September 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

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

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

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

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

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

From my earlier note of April 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of April 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of October 2014:

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

From my earlier note of July 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of March 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of April 2014:

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

From my earlier note of February 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

From my earlier note of April 2014.

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

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

From my earlier note of December 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

Malivoire

Malivoire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of April 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent uploads

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Recently grilled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s all been red before

Flat Iron steak, blood orange, scallion and chile

Flat Iron steak, blood orange, scallion and chile

At a major Burgundy tasting yesterday I tasted 18 whites and just three reds. Gasp! With the weather and the heaviness of winter still stuck to the bones it just can’t be helped. White wine is working right now.

Related – Whites of passage

So today reds it is and reds it will be, as it has been before. Tomorrow I’ll likely return to white once again. That’s all I have to say about that. Just reviews today folks. Mostly from the VINTAGES April 18th release coming this Saturday.

From left to right: M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013, Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2013, Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010, Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012 and Quail's Gate Pinot Noir 2013

From left to right: M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013, Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2013, Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010, Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012 and Quail’s Gate Pinot Noir 2013

M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013, Ac Languedoc-Roussillon, France (168716, $15.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Perennial stalwart, especially considering the big box price. There is just so much going on in this veritable melting pot of character and boundless potential, right from the word sniff. Certainly modern and ripe but also layered with brush, scrub, duff, roots and rocks. A touch of briny salinity merges to liquorice and then there are the tannins woven with acidity. The length is a given. Lots of earth, plenty of smoulder and priced to case joint after LCBO joint. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines  @LaRegionLR

Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2013, Vin De Pays Des Côtes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (277079, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

A depth into earth crusts the dark fruit from wise old vines. Fresh and spring run sappy, from heat to be sure but in classic waves and stretches emanating from a floral, aromatic beginning. The bumble berry traffic jam in the middle is not enough to render it done at that point, despite its inability to avoid working up a sweat towards a woven textured finish. The citrus accent adds enough grain to see it through four more good years. Easy to love, hard to miss and smart to give it a try. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @GBvins  @LaRegionLR

Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010, Elquí Valley, Chile (208371, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Meaty, smoked, cured, reduced, reactionary, reductive, brambly, sappy, syrupy and still warm after the kill. All of these elucidations and more. Coconut and flowers meld in creamy waves within the muscular girth, sinewy grit and confident gumption of this high altitude, cool-climate Syrah. A huge varietal expression, like Barossa in a sausage factory, masculine, testosterone-driven, with layers upon layers of fruit, earth, game, pork belly, pepper and tannin. Not to mention raging acidity. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @FalerniaWine  @ProfileWineGrp @DrinkChile

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Lodi, California (942599, $20.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Nearly a quarter of Petite Sirah blends into this (mostly) Lodi wizened vines fruit sourced out of San Joaquin County. Old vines are Zinfandel’s caché thing. The gnarly, petrified plants reach deeper underground and when the interstices of terroir and climate are in accord, the texture imparted by tannin is key. The ’12 Old Vines is a product of a maker (Joel Peterson), plot (Lodi) and conditions (cool and exceptional for the variety). Here a bottle to help define and divine Lodi. Elegance in as much as is possible, juicy in fruit in as much as can be found through texture and balance in so far as can be sheltered. Fresh is ascertained further along (as opposed to dry) on the spectrum, chewy of flesh, but not bone, silky and seductive. High quality Zinfandel in every respect. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted March 2015  @RavenswoodWine  @CBrandsCareers  @TheZinfandelOrg

Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012, Mclaren Vale, South Australia (377069, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Nothing about the source, treatment or specs on this Shiraz scream elegance or restraint but it’s “cool and slow with plenty of precision, with a back beat narrow and hard to master.” Four premium vineyards of mature vines between 20-40 years of age have laid a deeply drawn foundation. McLaren Vale sunshine has given it warmth (14.5 per cent alcohol). Individual lots spending 15 months in small French Oak barrels before being blended together has imparted creamy texture. Added up this might have forced the Titan through the doors to heavy burden. Not so. Dusty, rich, dried fruits and herbage merge seamlessly together. Smoke lodge and graphite, berries, back bite and beat fall into great structure. Big time McLaren Vale that does not sting like a wasp, nor is it a bully. Say what you will but “call it heavenly in it’s brilliance…soft drivin’, slow and mad, like some new language.” Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015    @southaustralia

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585760, $26.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

In 2013 there is warmth all around; in vintage, fruit, alcohol, tannin and overall character. Much in the way of cherries, black liquorice, pepper and spice. Tilled earth but in no way bespattered or hazy. Fleshy and ripe, of a depth with bitter fathered tones that bite yet fall back in line with misty fun fruit times in Babylon. The upholstering is rewarding though it finishes with some brute stuffing. A warm reclining Pinot Noir for sure. The kind that makes me want to “smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved.” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @Quails_Gate  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco  @winebcdotcom

From left to right: Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013, Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2012, Illahe Pinot Noir 2013, Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011, Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2009 and Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

From left to right: Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013, Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2012, Illahe Pinot Noir 2013, Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011, Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2009 and Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013, Loire, France (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

There is Cabernet Franc, there is Samur and then there is Thierry Germain. Though a more intense single-vineyard bottle might render this one pedestrian, does it matter when the discussion involves biodynamic, 108 year-old, un-grafted, pre-phylloxera vines? The wow aromas and dense, dripping, liquid chalky, if intimidating texture is managed by wild sage, ancillary and marbled currants and acidity through the gambrel. The 2013 yield must have come in wild-eyed because while seemingly circular, in finished form it is a linear composition in diagrams intertwined. Not out of focus and will admittedly confuse a consumer or ten but if you can keep up with the changing gears the experience will be rewarding. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted October 2014 and March 2015  @rochesneuves  @GroupeSoleilTO  @LoireValleyWine

Domaines Des Roches Neuves 2013

Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013

Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (408963, $29.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Remarkably ripe and to the point of extract distraction in Merlot. A vintage-driven, heat days harnessed expression, all about fruit, with kisses from extended maceration and oak. Chewy, dense, rib-sticking red that cries for same in gastronomy. An air dominating smoulder and plenty of basting are sticky upon the mid-palate, a comfort to hold onto in median possession. This density lingers and delays before submitting to the salty lick of bitter denouement. One shouldn’t miss this near-decadent beauty even if the style agitates or aggravates fears of thick brushstroke style. This has five extended years ahead, at the least. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015  @PellerVQA  @winebcdotcom

Illahe Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon (403154, $31.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Chinook speak for “land, earth or soil,” that agglomeration is both calling card and impression left after a taste. When Pinot Noir from Oregon has that pointedly Willamette combination of super terram flora and subterranean salinity it speaks with clarity, however light and un-muscular it may be. One senses a drawn sapid tang from ancient burrowed riverbeds that crawl feel below the surface. Strawberry is the key fruit note but Burgundy is the desire. This reminds of yesterday’s Ponzi and Lemelson, but also today’s Johnson Vineyard, albeit on a frame less taut. The complexity may not equate but the subtlety exceeds those comparisons. It hits just the right piercing notes because it’s shrill is just so pretty. The grain running through is arid, zestful and saline. This has terrific citrus interwoven through texture and the 12.5 per cent alcohol is something to embrace. Were Lewis, Clark and Curtis in search of fine Pinot at the end of an expedition day, this would have been the one. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @illahevineyards  @wvwine

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (402651, $49.00, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Wow does this exuberant Kevin Judd Pinot Noir ever excite. The intensity of juicy calibrations and echoes, like breathtaking mountain peaks mirrored in the reflections of ancient lakes. Glassy and refractive, replaying upon itself, like a whirlpool of ocean tide. Silky like bean thread, transparent and glossy. A tug posits between cherry and anti-cherry. Layers of dried flowers and savoury accents. Accessible and worthy of a place in the deep cellar. Long and entirely special. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @Greywacke   @greywacker  @oenophilia1  @nzwine

Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2009, Ac Burgundy, France (121319, $52.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Interesting to see this 2009 released after the ’10, a vintage that had many swooning. This ’09 is charming and unbelievably accessible. It may strike some as bygone-evolved, ancient history even, but ripe fruit matched by silky tannins will dupe even the most experienced palate. Here the Beaune’s beauty is upfront, outgoing, warm, inviting and flirtatious. What a gorgeous layering of fresh berries and creamy, sweet redolence. Very feminine, fleshy and gregarious. The back end shows a little bit of tension, further proof that this Boucherottes has spine and time left in the till. Distinguished and wondrous as Jadot gets, ready to please and stuffed to last. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted March 2015  @ljadot  @HalpernWine  @BourgogneWines

Concha Y Toro

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $70.00, WineAlign)

VINTAGES Online Exclusive

The 2010 Don Melchor harkens backwards, to years like 2001 and 2003, rephrasing and rewriting the paradigmatic book. From seven contiguous, sub-divided blocks of Cabernet, the ’10 speaks most highly of Lot Two, emphasized by chocolate, menthol and mineral, in cohorts with Lot Four, in elegance and depth. Extended glom and time-lapse picking between April 22 and May 27 was the casualty turned blessing of a cooler growing season in the semi-arid Mediterranean-like scrub desert of Puente Alto. The alluvial motion hauteur of slow-ripened fruit can’t be overestimated. The frame by frame capture has resulted in aromatics wafting off the charts; violet, anise, roasting cocoa bean, garrigue, ferric filings, mortar on wet stone, Cassis and eucalyptus. There is no heat, rendering the 14.6 declared alcoholic irrelevant. Best of all, it smells like Chile as much as it does Cabernet. There is no need to discuss the (97 per cent) CS in terms of Bordeaux, that is until you taste. Then the tobacco angst and silky texture elicit Margaux. Black currants and fine chocolate melt on the finish, still with a mouthful of stones. For winemaker Enrique Tirado, this may be his “El opus.” It will age effortlessly for 12-15 years. For anyone who purchased this wine more than 10 vintages ago, comparing current cost can be a byproduct in natural preoccupation. Who would not want a return to the sub-$50 Don Melchor going back a decade or more? Yet while tasting the present decimus, $100 crosses the fiscal mind and seems completely apropos. At $70 the clarity and sonority of its value is the blazon of an epistle. Few Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines from Bordeaux or Napa Valley can compare. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @conchaytoro  @MikeAikins1  @DrinkChile

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Why taste Ontario?

Beet, padano, sunflower sprout, balsamic, lemon, terrabianca olive oil

Beet, padano, sunflower sprout, balsamic, lemon, terrabianca olive oil

We get this sort of query all the time. “Why does Ontario wine cost so much?” Actually, it’s often more a complaint then a question. We get upset. Granted, many international wines are cheaper….but do you know why? My colleague and Man Friday Gerardo Diaz has this to say “Don’t complain. Do some research and come back.”

As many of you know, I play every day in the fortuitous role of Wine Director at Barque Smokehouse. As we speak I am in the throes of an auspicious new plan, setting the wine program with Diaz for Barque’s next venture. Coming soon. Two years ago, just after Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates was able to initiate the keg wine revolution by overhauling VQA regulations, we convinced Jonas Newman of Hinterland Wine Company in Prince Edward County to partner with us. Wine on Tap at Barque was born. Since then we have worked with a dozen Ontario wineries.

It’s more than accessibility that drives our decision to work with and pour exclusively of Ontario wines. We had always been supporters of the local industry but the keg program allowed us to expand the portfolio and the sales. Ontario wines account for nearly 50 per cent of all wine sold at Barque.

So when guests (and I get the same questions and complaints from family and friends) wonder aloud about the necessity for Ontario to be so present, I have much to say. The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Related – Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases

I also wrote this, quite some time ago. “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?”

Related – The group of twelve

As a cool-climate viticultural entity, there are few rivals around the world. The geology and micro-climate are ideal for growing specifically chosen vinifera. The winemakers in Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore are highly educated, state-of-the-art savvy and maniacally progressive professionals. In the categories of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Sparkling wine, Ontario crafts excellence at all price points. After the two brutal winters of 2014 and 2015, no other set of vintners could have succeeded with unfailing ability more than the women and men of Ontario’s industry.

World-renowned authorities are in the know. Find yourself face-to-face with any of these international writers, winemakers, buyers, sommeliers or masters of wine and you will be schooled; Ian D’Agata, Jamie Goode, Steven Spurrier, Matt Kramer, Jancis RobinsonAnthony Hamilton RussellRajat ParrTim Atkin M.W., Christy Canterbury M.W., Geoff Kruth M.S.Geoff Labitzke M.W. and Igor Ryjenkov M.W. You will.

Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is the most underrated and least known super power in global oenology education studies. Have you met Dr. Debbie Inglis, Barb Tatarnic, Dr. Belinda KempDr. Gary PickeringDr. Andrew G. ReynoldsDr. Jim Willwerth, Chris Waters, Rob Power or Peter Bodnar-Rod? You should.

Ontario wine writers know their shit. They would not have no much praise for Ontario wine if it were not world-class. Have you read any reviews or articles by Tony Aspler, David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Konrad Ejbich, Michael Vaughan, Beppi Crosariol, Rick VanSickle, Shawn McCormick, Jamie DrummondZoltan Szabo, City BitesMichael Pinkus, Michael Di Caro, Evan Saviolidis, Tim Appelt, Gord Stimmell, Alan McGinty, Carolyn HammondEric Vellend, Erin Henderson or André Proulx? You need to.

Proof of Ontario’s acumen and price-worthiness need not be found any further away than at your local LCBO. Private VQA wine shops and independent retailers would only advance the cause. Spend a few hours at an Ontario gathering and you will be changed forever. Shawn’s Ontario Wine Chat discusses and promotes the ideal every Wednesday night. The Ontario Wine Society holds tastings and events year ’round. The Ontario Wine Awards asks many of those top scribes to sniff, taste, sip and pick the best of the best. Wine Country Ontario is out there all the time, spreading the gospel. This is one religion you need to get behind.

The Ontario wine tasting season is now in full swing. Taste Ontario just recently passed through Montreal and Ottawa. WineAlign is bringing Prince Edward County to Toronto on April 16th with County in the City. Somewhereness also arrives in Toronto on April 20th. In July the 5th annual Chardonnay i4C conference will descend upon Niagara. The best way to experience Ontario wine is to get out and visit. I can recommend plenty.

Why do I taste Ontario wine every day? I do it in the LCBO lab, in Ontario’s tasting rooms and cellars, at Barque, when I order wine in other restaurants and at home. I do not need convincing but I do have decades more learning to do. Here are the recent Ontario wines that have passed my desk and my lips. Five are coming to VINTAGES next week as part of the April 18th release. Others are available at the winery. Seek them out. You will then count yourself among the converted. I guarantee it.

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, 13th Street Merlot 2013, Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman's Chard 2011, Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, 13th Street Merlot 2013, Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman’s Chard 2011, Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)

Talk about bottled up compression. Twist the screwcap and thwop! The cap nearly popped like a Champagne cork. This baby has energy and drive. The vintage is compressed and pile-driven as nosed by the density opposed by reticulated 9.5 per cent alcohol. This has Mosel tattooed on its being, from neck to bottom. A dead ringer for fine Kabinett, the tropical fruit in apricot and dragon reaching back to join Ontario, in apple and pear. A good flinty stone and raging acidity combine forces to exaggerate a Riesling reticulum in what is not the missive’s greatest ever vintage. Will live five to seven easy and just go for soda. Go ahead and quaff the hell out of this one, from 2015-2020, from bottles one through twelve.  Tasted March 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

13th Street Merlot 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (270504, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Yet another Niagara red that could only have been crafted at the hands of winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas, a wild and dubiously natural Creek Shores Merlot. In 2013 the vineyard funk reeks of an instinctive, undomesticated slur in seldom seen Merlot speak. The variety normally avoids, scatters and runs away to the hills, but not this time. The flow is a movement of dried, caked, saline silt and pine needle paint. There is woodsmoke too but the suffusive Creek Shores cespitose encompasses all and runs wild. A settling will happen, so then it’s really a matter of fruit, a thing which in ’13 is not observed as overtly generous. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2015  @13thStreetWines

Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman’s Chard 2011, VQA Ontario (310243, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

In this BK variant, Chardonnay is procured by fruit not put through any drying and so very fresh it remains. The barrel helps and yet also distracts but not in any unusual or detrimental way. Just another solid Chardonnay with nothing to set it apart from the sea. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted March 2015  @BurningKilnWine

Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (258657, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

I have always been skeptical of the Peninsula take on the OZ-styled blending of a Bordeaux and a Rhône but if there is one Niagara winemaker to trust, Richie Roberts gets the nod. High-toned, crikey warm and struth oozing. Still, the balance is struck by Mediterranean-like savoury aromatics (black olive and brine), along with beautifully integrated wood. The VA is less than minimal, the fruit rosy, plum-filled and strawberry flavoured. Either variety can play second or short and both can make the turn. Will have a long life. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Accumulated cognizance exudes from the laid back Shed, here as relaxed and user-friendly as it has ever been. If the texture is not vintage induced and made of low yield than I’ll sell my LP’s and switch outright to Songza and Neil’s PonoMusic. The herbs are basil and chervil sweet, the verbena and lemon balm redolent, the flavours beaming, bolstered by preserved lemon and candied ginger. The stuffing must be questioned, but not the elegance. This Chardonnay is porous, blessed, void of rust and of an interior with plenty of space in the shed. Let it fill.

From my earlier note of February 2014: “There will be 660 cases of this barrel cherry-picked, now iconic Bench Chardonnay. The warm vintage called for a combo-malo approach, part batch all in, part arrested development. Gravity influenced top down blending also work to seek a svelte elegance and this ’12 really straddles the humid line. Thinks to be ribald but remains chaste, only allowing a kiss from the barrel and a caress from the rocks beneath the soil. Accept immediate but know that deferred gratification is the hallmark of this bottling.

Last tasted March 2015

Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)

This CCV Chardonnay is one of departed winemaker Deborah Paskus’ final acts at Closson Chase. It will forever be noted as a legacy-cementing, swan song of career excellence. Crafted by Paskus and bottled by the next one, current winemaker Keith Tyers, the 2013 CCV is simply a tour de force. No such combination of richness, tropicality and pure grape tannin has ever infiltrated this Chardonnay, from this vineyard. I’m not sure there is a comparison in Ontario, at this level of excellence and at this price. A wine of pure impression, with Montrachet-like structure and Folatières-like precision. Seemingly capacious, its facile legerity is hypnotizing, quantitatively escalating in assembly of aromas, flavours, through texture and finally to longevity. The wine spent 16 months in a mere (17.25 per cent new) oak. That it notes 12.5 per cent alcohol on the label is next to impossible. The substance is just too buttressed to be so tender and effete. Impeccable balance, refinement and mineral finish. This is Chardonnay to confuse the world’s fine white collectors, to wreak havoc at international tastings for five to 10 years. Only 712 cases are available and at $27.95, is down $2 in price from the 2012. Best ever, hands down. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2015  @ClossonChase

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

In the pantheon of 2012 Bench-Ridge-Escarpment Riesling, the CSV is bound for glory. As expected it unfailingly draws innate wisdom from vines that understand their soil with deep intent. It can be said that every vintage rocks a Cave Spring Riesling but this one brings fruit out of a willingness to give and give. Winemaking connects with this vineyard and this specific Riesling, like mother and child. The depth of fruit lies under a shale of uncompromising, petrous funk and acidity. All tolled, this is a top CSV that begins on edge and then walks along, pointed towards a fruitful direction. It stays the furcate course, captivates and lingers, with no immediate end in sight. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted March 2015  @CaveSpring

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Tasted from a sample, in bottle, not yet labeled. It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. The concept is simply off the charts with respect to fruit sourced out of arguably Tawse’s most important mineral site, the Quarry Road Vineyard. So, with that plot and winemaker Paul Pender’s inner vision, the progression to this point in Ontario winemaking is fascinating. “The law was never passed, but somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last. Have we really gone this far through space and time?” Pender must have shut his eyes tight, imagined the wonder and whiffed his ways through those barrels. Based on a taste through all the Quarry barrels with Pender in April 2014 (carrying 2013 fruit) I would think the Mercurey (Large barrel, CLL toast) would best suit the natural, oxidative bent of this Quarry. This plays the hallmark bass note in natural odour; funk, wondrous gentility, wood and rhythm and blues stone, as opposed to wood and rock. Something other, preposterous and gorgeous permeates the mess. Something melodic. The wine is perfectly in tact, piercing and exact. Direct, vibrant, positively wistful and wishful. Filled in by a strings mid-palate, with acidulated apple slices from a potent cocktail. The finish goes deeper, so the sum of the parts gains on the intricacies, teeing it up for much success. That said, don’t wait for it to fall apart. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted March 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay will not be recessed into the Peninsula’s everyday lexicon, nor does it draw any direct comparisons. How can this be? I will say that the 2013 exhibits less reduction, less elemental fever and a dramatic decrease in tension, so in that sense it has comes back to the norm. Yet it dances dramatically, like a blind bee in a ripe melon, in free spirited, holistic and counter-cultured ways. A wine of gold wiring, wrung out in splashes and swaths of lamé sheets. Shows a commitment to soil, full malolactic conditioning and punched down musts in its every breath. What is obvious is that 2013 is no putty in the hand. It’s moulded clay, shaped by the mitts of its maker, immortalized by the barrel’s oven and just about ready to begin being beautified by ornamentation. Time will effect its tribal markings and ultimate finish. Give it three to five so that it may add surge to its restrained power. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @normhardie

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Is Kosher wine being passed over?

From left to right: Hermon Mount Hermon White Kp 2013, Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2013, Segal's Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2011, Galil Mountain Pinot Noir Kp 2012 and Tabor Adama Merlot Kp 2010

From left to right: Hermon Mount Hermon White Kp 2013, Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2013, Segal’s Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2011, Galil Mountain Pinot Noir Kp 2012 and Tabor Adama Merlot Kp 2010

Passover is the hardest working holiday in Jew business. Trust me, I know. Having spent 20 years cooking professionally for the eight-day week commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, I know the trials, tribulations and strict adherence that must be followed to satisfy the Jewish soul. I have also followed the Kosher for Passover wine evolution for equally as long. I have spent time deliberating about the feast without yeast. It’s a fascinating study.

In 2012 I noted that “recommending wines that are Kosher for Passover used to be similarly daunting, (a science and an art unto itself), but the field has certainly improved.

Related – KP Duty – Kosher For Passover Wines

In 2013, optimism increased and I wrote, “a Jew’s worst, ’11th plague’ wine nightmare, the nights of suffering through cooked and stewed dry table wines, is (mostly) a thing of the past. I’m not suggesting that the golden age is upon us, but you may want to don the shades. The future is bright for Passover Kosher wine.”

The rules for Passover wines begin with the basic tenets. “All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are Kosher, but not all Kosher wines are Kosher for Passover. Kosher for Passover wine must be handled by Sabbath-observant Orthodox Jews and the wine can never come into contact with any leavening (grain, dough, bread) products, including yeast.” For the full story, read on.

Related – New wave under $20 wines go kosher for Passover

In 2014 I spent more time taking about the individual’s choice on how they go about observing the laws of Passover. Passover wine is particularly specific to a Jew’s level of Kosher. From Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox, all Jews have different variances of belief. A Reform Jew will likely drink any wine on Passover and then again, may not. But, he or she will almost certainly not require the bottle to be Meshuval. A Conservative may only drink Meshuval but in more cases than not, Kosher is good enough. An Orthodox Jew goes it only one way, or the highway. Strictly Meshuval KFP, do not pass go, do not collect Afikoman (the broken Matzah) money.” In last year’s post I discussed the recent trend towards bigger and bolder Passover reds, so read on.

Related – Passover that big glass of red

In the 2013 column I made five recommendations for the Passover table from a longer list laid out for tasting by the LCBO. At least eight were offered (and I seem to remember more, spread across more than one VINTAGES release). At that time the press release made mention “of the 33 seasonal products being released through the LCBO and VINTAGES in time for Passover, 26 are new listings, featuring traditional kosher wines, fortified wines, dessert wines and sparkling wines.” Thirty-three? Impressive number.

In 2014, the LCBO release said this. “In time for Passover, which begins on April 14, the LCBO is adding 27 seasonal releases to an already diverse selection of kosher products. In addition to the approximately 40 kosher products available throughout the year, a mixture of new listings and familiar favorites is being released through the LCBO and VINTAGES to coincide with Passover.” The number presented in the tasting lab for media and product consultants was down from 2013, but still a solid set of wines to try. Things were looking up again.

The eve of Passover and first Seder night is only a week away and yet the 2015 press release from the LCBO came out just yesterday. Preparing for the Passover festival, dinner and eight days of transforming homes into Kosher safe houses takes weeks of forethought. That includes buying wine. I can think of no reason why the press release could not have been prepared a week earlier. It would have been helpful to many.

For those who need to know, varied quantities of Kosher products are available in more than 500 LCBO stores across the province, with the largest selection available at three GTA stores: 180 Promenade Circle (Promenade Mall) in Thornhill, 1838 Avenue Road (south of Wilson Avenue) and 675 Wilson Avenue in North York.

There are 42 wines labeled Kosher for Passover on the current inventory list from the LCBO’s website. Some are older releases and so low in stock that they don’t really count at all. The true number is more like 30. The March 26th press release notes that 43 products are available year round and that “a mixture of new listings and familiar favorites is being released through LCBO and VINTAGES to coincide with Passover.” The marketing department is not hiding anything. Transparency is not the issue. That only five wines were purchased and presented to product consultants and media in time for in store consumer consultation, as well as print and online Passover promotion, is curious to say the least. All five offerings are from the Galilee. What about the Judean Hills, Samson, the Negev and Shomron? Azureau Wine Agency has at least four or five quality wines available for Passover not currently in the LCBO coffers and yet they are all wines that had been purchased in the past. Why the snub?

Why has the pursuit of quality and quantity in Passover wine decreased instead of the opposite? Despite the growth worldwide and the dramatic increases in global quality and Passover wine sales, might it be that the LCBO has decided to drop the ball? Perhaps the feeling is that Passover wine was a trend whose time has come and gone.

So I asked some questions and the LCBO was very gracious to send me a list of all the Kosher products that were purchased and subsequently released in the past two months, in preparation for Passover. Seeing the list certainly shows that more credit is deserved for the support for the niche but three questions persisted to nag at me. I pointed out to the representative in charge of Kosher wines how the list notes products released on various dates which coincided with VINTAGES releases. Then I asked if there was there a reason why only the March 21st Israeli release items were presented to media and PC’s and also and how was the public informed of these releases?

It was explained that “the Kosher program is more akin to LCBO categories.  It’s not really part of the VINTAGES brand. Some of theses (Kosher) auxiliary purchases are only 30 to 40 cases with direct distribution to locations with major kosher kiosks. Customers who shop the kosher section in stores like Promenade in Thornhill or the Wilson and Dufferin location basically discover new products among the regulars while shopping in-store.” The idea is that only the five Israeli Kosher wines are marketed because they are “for wine lovers whether they keep kosher or not.” I have heard that point of view before. It’s wishful thinking. Show me a wine lover who buys Kosher wine at the LCBO but does not keep Kosher and I’ll show you a wine lover who eats nothing but stew. If higher quality wines were on offer, the philosophy might strike a more believable accord.

The end result of my interaction with the LCBO rep. was a suggestion that they might consider organizing a media tasting for more of the Kosher portfolio. Despite the extreme niche market that is KFP wines, the idea makes sense considering the size of Ontario’s (and especially Toronto’s) Jewish community and the amount of those types of wines that are purchased every year. A tasting would make even more sense if it involved any of the hundreds of high quality Kosher wines that are never seen in this market but are so prevalent in a place like New York State.

I spoke yesterday with a former Ontario agent who at one time was a leading importer of Israeli wines. Many of the wineries represented through his portfolio are no longer on LCBO shelves. Why is that I asked him? The answer is that the wines were too expensive for the LCBO and they gave up wanting to take the risk of trying to sell them. After Passover comes and goes, left over stock means for product that won’t move.

Selling quality KFP wines is now left to a handful of sacramental agents like Mazel Wines and Simcha Wines. Though they are required to sell by the case (like every other Ontario importer), the other eye is turned at the practice of selling single bottles. Why? Because they pose no threat to LCBO sales. Their customers are walking away with product the LCBO has no interest in selling. The wines in question are those the LCBO would rather not touch. They have washed their hands of the $40+ Kosher market and never had a true vested interest in Kedem and Manischewitz in the first place.

It is understood that buyers change and also that Israeli stubbornness translates to no offer of discounts, even to the world’s largest wine buyer. Quality wines from Eretz are no longer coming to Ontario and no one seems to really care. If there is no mandate to buy them, no one will. It’s quite simple. Yet in recent years it seemed as though the LCBO cared more about a certain level of quality in the KFP niche. In 2015, these wines are out of sight and out of mind.

Maybe part of the problem is the lack of Kosher wine production in Canada. If wineries and consumers across the country are not interested, why should anyone else bother?

There have been some informative Kosher wine investigations in Canada, though certainly few and far between. Brock University hosted Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, a Rabbinic Coordinator with the Kashruth Division of the Orthodox Union for his presentation, “Demystifying Kosher Winemaking” on Monday, Dec. 12, 2012.

This time last year Mark Mietkiewicz of the Canadian Jewish News discussed the “eclectic tour of kosher wineries.” Mietkiewicz noted that sadly, (if not entirely accurate), the only true Kosher winery across Canada is located in Newfoundland. “You’ll have to travel about hour west of St. John’s until you reach Rodrigues Winery of Markland, Nfld. There, you’ll find its certified kosher blueberry, plum, cranberry and other fruit wines, liqueurs and brandies.” Rodrigues is represented in Ontario by Amethyst Wines Agency.

The best source for Canadian Kosher wines can be found on the Wines of Canada website. Two wineries in Ontario had joined Rodriguez in Kosher wine production, albeit with fruit and honey. They are Rush Creek and Munro Meadery. Rush Creek has changed ownership, however, and it seems that Kosher is no longer on the table. Munro continues with their COR certification. In Quebec, Domaine Pinnacle produces a Kosher Iced Cider. In British Columbia, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, while not Kosher, does produce a Kosher wine. It’s an uncooked $100 Tiferet.

Here are the five wines presented for evaluation by the LCBO. None really qualify as exceptional but all will work with distinction at the Seder table.

Hermon Mount Hermon White Kp 2013, Galilee, Israel (611327, $20.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

While this pseudonymous John Doe white varietal blend may not quite effect the idea of “puttin’ your hand in the hand of the man from-a Galilee,” it does offer an ocean of somewhat descriptive aromas to elicit a sip. Quite lactic, creamy and nondescript in terms of flavours. Well-made, though the guess at varietal make-up (Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier…) doesn’t really matter. There is a capsicum bite and a grassy chew. So when all is said and done, it’s got “enough of what it takes to get you through.” Drink 2015-2017  Tasted March 2015

Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2013, Galilee, Israel (283838, $20.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

Not to be confused with Oregon’s volcanic cinder cone, the city park on the volcano, and the neighborhood of Southeast Portland. This “small drum” (from the Latin), in consideration of its proximity to the cradle of civilization should constitute it being the original Mount Tabor. Tabor the mountain is situated on the border of Zebulun and Issachar, south-west of the Sea of Galilee (Joshua 19:22). There is no Hebrew word for the name Tabor but the likely etymology is from the verb ברר (barar), meaning to purge, purify or clean. So, what about the Cabernet Sauvignon? Another extreme and extracted expression from red fruit, with leather and rich blackberries atop Ugah Kushit. Some may count rubber reduction while others will simply feel the heat. The tannin and overall structure remind of Graves in a hot vintage. A funky green streak, like tea mixed with tobacco are part of the complexity, then more tobacco and more than decent length. This is a good choice for the shank and the rack. Drink 2015-2018.  @TaborWinery  @azureau

Segal’s Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2011, Galilee Heights,  Israel (157206, $22.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

Red gelid fruits are floating with viscous separation in simple syrup and oozing to the perimeter. That outer circle is bricking to caramel. Hanging on, but just barely.

From my earlier note of March 2013: Though muted is quite pleasant, aromatically speaking. Baking spice, woodsmoke, cherry and plum, like satellite St. Emilion. Scarlet colour, as if derived from Tola’At Shani. Dusty and down-grain, no cooked sensation, well-structured.

Last tasted March 2015.

Galil Mountain Pinot Noir Kp 2012, Galilee, Israel (121228, $22.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

Levity afforded for the sheer reason of ripe fruit. High octane Pinot is never a wise proposition but when the barrel lends spice and not a sheath of layer cake, that’s a positive. A warm west coast California style to be sure, with more than enough lavender cream to grease a squeaky canoli and then the rise of gaseous puddles blown by pipe smoke. Then there are the battling Epping Forests; of cedar and pine. Rich, spicy, smoky and forceful. Very ripe. Overripe and over extracted. Ready for prime time and with tannins that mean business. Just having entered its window of genesis, perhaps it would fare best next year when supper is ready in Jerusalem, “or, today is the day when they sort it out, sort it out.” Call it a draw. “So the Blackcap Barons toss a coin to settle the score.” Good enough. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted March 2015  @azureau

Tabor Adama Merlot Kp 2010, Galilee, Israel (400820, $26.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

He’s a wild one this Merlot and has come of age though he’s a bit licentious, carrying a load of liqueur and chewing on liquorice. Ferric and sugary red to black fruit melds with tubers grainy and cooked in a muddy cake with scorched earth buttercream icing. Prunes, figs and raisins are chopped into a mire poix and stuck in the frosting. Caramel time is here. Will work for Brisket. Drink as soon as possible. Drink now.  Tasted March 2015  @TaborWinery

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WineAlign guide to VINTAGES April 4th and Easter recipes

Lamb Ribs by Barque Smokehouse

Lamb Ribs by Barque Smokehouse

On January 18, 2013 I began adding wine reviews to WineAlign. Review ground zero was Mallory & Benjamin Talmard Mâcon Uchizy 2010, an inauspicious little Burgundy described in “the coat of white.” A Genesis of great #ffffff value.” Beginnings, Genesis, ground zero. The Godello thing.

Two plus years and 2,023 reviews later much has changed. The wisest of wine scribes David Lawrason and WineAlign head wineaux Bryan McCaw asked if I would like to become a part of the April 4th, VINTAGES release newsletter and buyer’s guide. With renaissance banzai and Master Sommelier John Szabo leading the charge, along with most generous guidance and help from cake baker and palate extraordinaire Sara d’Amato, I have joined the fray.

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part One

This week’s guide leads WineAlign subscribers to Easter Lamb and red wine, plus pre-dinner whites and a glass for dessert. The three recipes cover everything  you could possibly want at your table on the resurrection weekend. The recipes are for Traditional Easter lamb by John, Moroccan lamb loin chops by Chef Michael Pataran and Barque‘s smoked lamb ribs.

Here is what John wrote in his introduction of me. “If at first you don’t understand Michael’s reviews, just drop a couple of hits of acid, smoke a joint or put on some classic 70s tunes and they’ll all make more sense. Maybe.” The irony is that amongst the seven wines I contributed to the newsletter I made only one musical reference. Oh, and one to the Grand Budapest. So, maybe you will understand them. Maybe.

From left to right: Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013, Stéphane Aviron Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011, Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Fielding Estate Viognier 2013, Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010 and Mendel Malbec 2011

From left to right: Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013, Stéphane Aviron Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011, Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Fielding Estate Viognier 2013, Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010 and Mendel Malbec 2011

Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013, DOC Vinho Verde, Portugal (405217, $16.95, WineAlign)

A highly unique Vinho Verde that works as a sipper and as a solid, pair me with just about anything table wine. Savoury and blessed with a Bica de Queijo cheese aroma, you’ll be glad you gave it a swirl and a whiff. There is nothing shinking or violaceous about this. It’s medicinal like Moscato, toasty like Pouilly-Fumé and gangly like Garganega. Citrus juice and flesh add body and beautify its inherent male pattern baldness. Perhaps a bit of a river fish of a Vinho Verde but very fresh and a great catch. This Arinto will tie appetizers together and buy time until the bird, hock or shank is on the table with the feast’s big reds. Drink from 2015-2017.  Tasted March 2015  @vinhosverdes  @exCellarsWines

Stéphane Aviron Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011, AC Beaujolais, Burgundy, France (405779, $21.95, WineAlign)

Old vines and Fleurie scream holiday dinner wine in my books. Here struts out where it’s at Gamay from a terrific Cru, of maturity, chutzpah and depth. Bang on 13 per cent alcohol, most mature and munificent, so very forward and yet of a depth, richness and layering in fruit meeting acids. Black cherry with an accent of mint, sour citrus drop and blueberry. A minor chalky grain, just enough to evoke oak tenderness, but not enough to be cut by splinters. Very Burgundian, where it’s at and even better length. Talk about a red wine that could equally double down for the Easter and Passover table. Gamay that swings both ways, AC/DC, “it’s got two turntables and a microphone.” Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @DiscoverBojo  @warren_walden

Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Ahr, Germany (409649, $21.95, WineAlign)

Ahr Pinot Noir (as opposed to those from Germany’s Baden region) are just that much more accessible and wider table friendly. That’s because of volcanic soil and older vines like you find in this Qualitätswein. The fruit is richer, the cure more refined, the flavours full and the wine structurally sound. Give this some air and the roast swine will make an entry, with intoxicating aromas, balanced by earthy notes, ripe plums and berries. Structurally sound, the ripeness continues into a fleshy cure of wurst with good bite. The citrus tang is round and barkless. No matter the colour of your braise or roast, this Pinot Noir will compliment the hue. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted March 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @WinesofGermany

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

So orderly and aligned, from ripe picked fruit with fervent acidity and all proportions in perfect working order. Four months in bottle has settled only worked to reinforce positive opinions. Grassless and flinty but no discernible elemental vagary, certainly no sulphur. This Sauvignon Blanc may just be the most consistent in every vintage, not only stylistically but also for the hedging of probability bets for guaranteed Marlborough quality. This is a superb vintage for the pied-à-terre phraseology. Like school in fall, winter and spring, the Dog Point is all class. Drink from 2015-2024.

From my earlier note of November 2014:

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

Last tasted March 2015  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON  @nzwine

Barque Smokehouse Lamb Ribs - Spring 2014

Barque Smokehouse Lamb Ribs – Spring 2014

Fielding Estate Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142323, $25.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Richie Roberts has worked tirelessly with Viognier to find out where it fits into the lexicon and ambience of Niagara Peninsula white grape varieties. The 2013 vintage marks a turning point in his and by extension, all of our understanding. The tropical fruit is now reigned in and the tension on the back bite a perfect foil to that well-judged, rich fruit. Trumps the layered ’12 with a new, aerified floraility that gives it more prototypal Viognier style. Short of leaving fruit to hang into late harvest (not recommended for the variety) this is like being wrapped in banana leaf along side young bamboo. Sip it joyously on its own or bring on the Easter Rijsttafel and a strolling procession down the cuisine of Kho San Road.  Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010, Ac Graves, Bordeaux, France (235424, $27.95, WineAlign)

Who wouldn’t want to find a well-priced and expertly made Bordeaux to accompany an Easter feast? The abstraction is not as easy as it may have once been but once in a Paschal full moon a wine comes along and affords the opportunity. Stately structured, mid-range Graves that is so very much a combination of Cabernets. It reeks of currants, cool mint, Cassis, caramel and chocolatey oak. Kept shy in alcohol (13 per cent) and heat, the tannins are mildly grainy and though just a touch oxidative, it is a a most serviceable, generous and honest Bordeaux. From a workingman’s vintage of the century. This Graves will seal the Easter deal with its cool savour and chocolate hops. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted March 2015  @BordeauxWines  @ProfileWineGrp

Mendel Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (108225, $27.95, WineAlign)

On the rare occasion when a Mendoza Malbec exhibits restraint, balance and all around congenial behaviour, it is imperative to sit up and take notice. This is finely fashioned juice, albeit rich, smokey red fruit swathed in good quality chocolate and a late kick of spice. Suppose there’s nothing really wrong with that. The Mendel will seduce, hypnotize and cause general swooning. Like a Grand Budapest Hotel box of treats, it will sooth even the savage beast. Ripe tannins will make this drinkable now to 2020. Tasted March 2015  @MendelWines  @TrialtoON  @winesofarg

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