A Chile welcome to diversity

From left to right: Montgras Sauvignon Blanc Amaral 2014, Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Kalfu Sampai 2013, Emiliana Signos de Origen White Blend 2013, Via Wines Chardonnay Chilcas Single Vineyard 2013, Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2012, Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Syrah 2012, Santa Rita Cabernet Franc Floresta 2012, Calcu Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

From left to right: Montgras Sauvignon Blanc Amaral 2014, Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Kalfu Sampai 2013, Emiliana Signos de Origen White Blend 2013, Via Wines Chardonnay Chilcas Single Vineyard 2013, Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2012, Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Syrah 2012, Santa Rita Cabernet Franc Floresta 2012, Calcu Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

With Chris Waters as moderator, guest speaker Hector Vergara delivering the keynote address and a Chilean panel of eight winery representatives talking up their wares, the Wines of Chile road show trekked en masse through Toronto’s ROM for the annual cavalcade in exhibition.

Related – A Chile wind is blowing

Waters is Editor of VINES Magazine and author of a weekly wine column at canoe.ca. Vergara is Latin America’s only Master Sommelier & President of the Sommelier Association in Chile. The council of eight winemakers and export managers expounded on Pacific ocean mists, soil composition, varietal trials and expansion to the new Chilean terroir.

The theme of the 2014 edition of the WOC travelling wine expo was “discover diversity.” The breath of fresh air came by way of the opportunity to taste samples of the new Chile; from emerging regions and appellations, from varieties not expected to show in Toronto and from chances being taken. Wines from Huasco, Itata and Pumanque are not household names at the LCBO or in this city’s restaurants. The successes of Chile’s (primarily central) conspicuous regions are well-documented; MaipoRapelMaule, Curicó and Cachapoal valleys. The AconcaguaCasablanca and San Antonio valleys have found their own prosperity. The 2014 Wines of Chile experience will help impress emerging regions and purchasing diversification upon both consumer and licensee habits.

The cross-section of wines poured at the seminar offered a unique perspective into the Chilean portal, even if behind the scenes back in Chile you just know there is so much more to seek, discover and uncover. Montreal Gazette wine scribe Bill Zacharkiw wrote last week, “I saw cracks in the wall…three years later I’m back, and that crack has become a deep fissure.” Zacharkiw visited Chile for the first time in three years and was privy to a Chilean wine revolution. Bill witnessed first hand the changing face of Chile: winemakers rediscovering their rich heritage. He found plantings from old vines and revitalized vineyards that had been producing nothing but cheap table wines. The ROM seminar presided over a giant leap in exhibiting aspects of that vicissitude for Toronto but missing from the tasting were some exceptional and virtually unknown producers of the New Chile.

Wines of Chile

Wines of Chile

Many of Chile’s growing areas are driven by the mist (like Sonoma fog) which might go away by 11 or 12 pm, but according to Vergara, they “create the conditions for slow ripening.” Along the coast there are granitic soils, very good for Syrah. Limestone soils add new dimension to the wines. Cold air comes down into the valleys from the Andes mountains, to maintain freshness and to add aromatic complexity. The role played by the Pacific Ocean is also extremely important. Salinity is rampant in Chile’s wines.

Eight wines were poured at the Wines of Chile seminar. Here are the notes.

Wines of Chile Line-Up

Wines of Chile Line-Up

Montgras Sauvignon Blanc Amaral 2014, Leyda Valley, Chile (48025, $14.45, WineAlign)

A jumping and hopping Sauvignon Blanc, at once spicy and then fruit fresh. The aromatics rise from the San Antonio Valley vines, cooled by the Andes run off, in irrigated mist. The piquant puissance never quite relinquishes power to the crisp orchard drupe. Capsicum and especially white pepper dominate. A chew of white flowers fills the palate though it falls away quickly, like a shooting star. More than serviceable and user-friendly. Tasted October 2014  @MontGrasChile  @TKGCanada

Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Kalfu Sampai 2013, Huasco Valley, Chile (Agent, $40)

High end varietal placement, in geography and in market positioning. A new project for Ventisquero and winemaker Alejandro Galaz, from Chile’s most northerly wine growing area in the Atacama Desert. An arid yet verdant Sauvignon Blanc watered by the Huasco River, 20 km’s from the sea, 700 km’s north of Santiago. The first vintage was 2012. Only 600-800 bottles are being produced, that is until they have learned more about how to manage the terroir of the desert, like making wine on the moon.The wine flaunts its chalky soil with alluvial stones and red clay. The Camanchaca (a thick fog on the coasts of Peru and Chile) comes in every morning and aids in the long ripening period. The mineral pierce is frightening in as much as can be found in Chilean SB. High salinity, from both the soil and the water. A veritable salt spring without effervescence, replaced by evanescence and fervent vigor. Kalfu means blue, Sumpai is the name the mapuches gave to the mermaids. Finishes with a roasted green pepper note in neutral citrus, with thyme and peanuts. Yes, peanuts. Approx. $40. Yes, $40.  Tasted October 2014  @vventisquero  @TandemSelection

Emiliana Signos de Origen White Blend 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile (Agent, $19.95)

With a wine like this multi-varietal white blend, Fernando Castro explains “we’re going wide in a narrow place,” pushing boundaries, exploring new challenges. Diversity. From the western part of Casablanca, out of rocky and granitic decomposed maritime soils, the mix is (all approximations) Chardonnay (65 per cent), Rousanne (13), Viognier (12) and Marsanne (10). A healthy 33 per cent of the ferment is aged and housed in concrete egg fermenters, but also some French barriques. Imparts an oiliness on the palate. Chardonnay is more than evident, the sweetness in Rhône aromatics are ladders from which to climb, buoys from which to get lifted. A wine that does not play safe. Some spice, plenty of full palate sweetness so this needs a mess of fish and seafood in an aromatic broth. The alcohol is a generous 14.7 per cent though it has enough acidity to keep it aerified. Big wine. Really big wine.  Tasted October 2014  @VinosEmiliana

Via Wines Chardonnay Chilcas Single Vineyard 2013, Itata Valley, Chile (Agent, $18.95)

The inaugural vintage of the Chilcas Chardonnay hails from the northern most aspect of Chile’s southern most region, a cool climate 18 km’s from the Pacific coast. The granitic soils are variegated with alluvial and sandy loam aspects for complex gain in this 100 per cent single varietal wine that spent,12 months in oak. A partial malolactic fermentation means creamy but that texture is subservient to the aromatic profile. Itata is a 16th century planted vineyard (for the region) though this vineyard is only 10 years old. Average rainfall is on par with Bordeaux but the majority of the rainfall is in winter, not in the growing season. Drainage is good due to the slope of the granite soil. Has that creamed sugar brûléed sensation and is nearly vegetal, like buttered, fresh corn with salinity and spice.  Tasted October 2014  @ViaWines  

Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2012, Do Anconcagua Coast, Casablanca Valley, Chile (143214, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES September 13, 2014 release

This is from fruit drawn 10 km’s from the ocean. Morning fog helps with maintaining acidity, though aridity is the biggest challenge. A dry heat and a dry paint are apparent, though low yields produce a concentrated red, of dry herbs and dry ochre. Terrific mouthful – very Sonoma, in sweet raspberry, cherry and strawberry. Very Sonoma. More than decent length but not the most complex. Really approachable and lingering so it is worth several visits, in each glass, second glasses and subsequent bottles. Some new (20 per cent) oak. Cool climate Pinot Noir done in a warmer climate style.  Tasted October 2014  @MontesWines  @ProfileWineGrp

Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Syrah 2012, Aconcagua Costa, Chile (387910, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES September 27, 2014 release

Natural and modern in every respect. From schist rock over a clay base and out of a warm vintage, “to maintain the character of the wine.” Relish of richness and quite ripe with touches of wood resin, sinew and roasted meat, though it’s more OZ than Rhone, with less smoky beats and cured meat. Good acidity and slightly sweet. Cake-reductive as to an Aconcaguan Cabernet Sauvignon but enough spice and splinters to warrant aging towards increasing value. Really spicy finish.  Tasted twice, September and October 2014  @errazurizwines  @Dandurandwines

Santa Rita Cabernet Franc Floresta 2012, Pumanque, Chile (Agent)

Pumanque is located in Chile’s Colchagua Valley and was granted Doc status in September 2012. The soil is quite granitic and the exceptionality of the new terroir is gaining traction with proponents of symbiosis for Cabernet Franc. This Cabernet squared blend is Cabernet Franc (55 per cent) and the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark and pitchy, with much aromatic mince in mint, creosote, graphite, black but not green pepper, wood resin. The rapt wrapping bristles in angles and bitters. Chalky, grainy and needing time because it is quite tannic. Blessed with the most length of the reds on the table. A question of the iron crushed red fruit may arise but five years will certainly be an aid. So very mineral.  Tasted October 2014  @SantaRitaRD  @ImportWineMAFWM

Calcu Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile (Agent, approx. $16)

Calcu means “healing doctor” in Mapuche and while this may not be the poster wine prescription for cold and flu, it will cure an ail or two. Winemaker Rodrigo Romero adds Carménère and Petit Verdot to the varietal mix, for just enough structure beyond the fresh and fruity Cabernet. It also brings together a spot on varietal tendency, in dusty, grainy tannin, bitter tonic tinge, cool in the middle, but warm in girth and all around its edges. Spiced and piquant. Young, with decent acidity and though it will settle in a year or two, that will be the limit of its range.  @CalcuWines

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Recently tasted here, there and everywhere

Wihr au Val, Alsace (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Wihr au Val, Alsace
(c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

During my week-long visit to Alsace in June I tasted more than 300 different wines. Over the course of the four months that followed that most amazing journey to the heart of a great wine region, I published more than 50 tasting notes. I also told stories about the winemakers, the Grand Crus and lieu-dits. I will continue to write and publish equal or more amounts about Alsace.

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

The British wine writer Jamie Goode recently published two articles on the subject of wine criticism versus wine journalism. His first, Whatever happened to wine journalism, appeared on the website run by Tim Atkin MW. The second, Wine critics and wine writers on his own blog, Wine Anorak. Goode is a man on the pulse of what it real and what needs to be said. He is correct in telling us that the most engaging wine writing comes from scribes who visit vineyards and tell their stories. There can be no disputing this to be true.

Jamie hopes that the future of wine writing is not fraught with short reviews and inflated scores. He sees the Utopian model in experiential travel, in meeting hard-working people, wandering over variegated soils and terroir, tasting at the source. Jamie fears that his wine writer self will go the way of the wine critic, tapping away on a computer while tasting wine in an air-conditioned office. His version of wine hell. Riesling specialist Stuart Martin Piggot agrees.

But Jamie is not entirely right either. At least in the context of the Ontario model (and those of other Canadian provinces), along with I would imagine, many wine markets in other countries. Much of what wine writers taste on globetrotting journeys is not to be found on shelves back home. While that may be pathetic and certainly a pity worthy of some kind of wine crime, it is the brass tacks of the global wine industry. I agree with Goode that we should do everything in our power to change it and we should publish stories, not just tasting notes and scores.

The problem for the reader is that most, if not 95-plus percent of the wines that are reviewed from a region like Alsace are not available for purchase in Ontario. While that is just a crying shame, it is a reality. If you purchase wine in Ontario and look for critical voices to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, you require notes on available wines. That is why writers must spend so much time tasting samples in the sterile LCBO laboratory, at our dining room tables, in restaurants and with the hard-working for not enough reward Ontario wine agents. And we must write-up the tasting notes and publish them on websites like WineAlign. This is the fact of Ontario wine importing, purchasing and consumer life. Would it be any different if there was no provincial monopoly? Yes, but it wouldn’t help in the telling of better vineyard stories.

I taste wines here, there and everywhere. Here are 16 recent samples that gave me cause to raise an eyebrow, pause, ruminate and formulate a response to the spoken sentiments of the ferment. All 16 are available for purchase in Ontario.

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Vins De Pays Côtes De Gascogne, France (Agent 223222, $13.95, WineAlign)

This is a Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc that whistles boldly like a howling wind. While the nose is high-toned and full of herbal complexities, it’s also indiscreetly alarming. The aromas are quite massive; pine needles decomposing on a wet forest floor. Kefir, cloudy and enzymatic, curdling and churning into itself. Petrol spills on asphalt, baking in the midday sun. To taste it is tangy and juicy, but also very mineral, intensified by the outcroppings of retzine in the vineyard’s limestone. The overall composition punches way above its weight but the heightened sense of reality is also a bit hard to take. Terrific effort but comes with a warning sign.  Tasted November 2014  @CotesdeGascogne  @TrialtoON

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign)

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391300, $14.95, WineAlign)

Sets a (St. David’s) benchmark for how to reign in and then release the charmes of Sauvignon Blanc from the Niagara Peninsula. Done in a decidedly fresh and lively style, this gathers up a bunches and conservative yield-managed vineyard’s warmest, ripe fruit for the purpose of bonhomie potation. Smells of vitality, of fresh herbs and citrus just cut, of a salt spring, of things zoetic. Cream elevates the texture, albeit pellucid and unobtrusive. The triad coming together of Sauvignon Blanc, St. David’s Bench and 2013 is the new CdC yardstick. The price only cements the offer.  Tasted November 2014  @MBosc

Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Rhône, France (535849, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Ogier self-professed traits of patience, savoir-faire, observation and intuition are on tidy display in this piquant, spiced-note, olive branch and indigo traditional Rhône blend. So very Mediterranean, warm and herbal by day, cool and minty by night. One stage short of lush, one notch comfortably above thin, this slots into all right moves; pleasant, value-driven and so effective for so many purposes. Stand alone or with classically prepared fare, this is all you need. Bring on the roast chicken.  Tasted November 2014  @MaisonOgier  @Select_Wines

Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012, Bierzo, Spain (Agent, $16.95)

Mencia as it once must have demanded of itself, iron clad, funky and gamey. This Bierzo is no antiseptic perfumed bottle of modern, manufactured violet Febreeze, though it’s so very vanilla and rich as a Porchetta sandwich with the porcine cure and fat driven right in to every nook and cranny. Or a taste sensation like bacon wrapped cherries. High toned with formidable tannins. A chew of sinew both in faux-wood and as the conceptual result of a roasted animal’s tension. Value gained vicariously through complexity.  Tasted April 2014  @TheLivingVine

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta White Reserve Alentejano 2013, Alentejo, Portugal (Agent, $16.95)

An endemic blend of Antão Vaz (40 per cent), Roupeiro (40) and Arinto (20) from infertile rocky schist soils in southern Portugal’s Alentejo region. Ostensibly a field blend, like the Alsace cépage a terroir of Marcel Deiss, the Fita Preta or “black tape” comes from an extreme and arid land. Portuguese winemaker António Maçanita and resident English viticulturist consultant David Booth usher out flint and mineral to capture a host of synapses from a wine region that had failed to fire in years. The landscape described  as “Portugal’s Australia” gives a white like a cross between simple, flinty Chablis and aged Hunter Valley Sémillon. The acidity is in abject anti-congruence to the region’s usual heavy-leaded output, mimicking cool-climate Chardonnay in tight and bracing stonker fashion.  Tasted November 2014  @fitapretavinhos    @LeSommelierWine

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Southern Rhône, France 2011 (259721, $18.95, WineAlign)

In a world where anything is possible, the Guigal Côtes Du Rhône effect is predictable, trenchant and essential. The vintage specific focus in alacrity drives the savoury, rich black fruit to domesticated compliance, easy on the eyes, nose and palate. This just smells like a good meal; as if a game bird were roasting in the oven, surrounded by a rough and large kerf of mirepoix, of caramelizing root vegetables baptized by dried herbs and spices. Do not be fooled. This is a warm CdR with generous alcohol (14 per cent disclosed) and an even warmer, though not uncomfortably tannic or acidity riddled finish. It is a whack of Rhône grapes within grasp of a mere mortal’s budget. Drink now and for two years forward.  Tasted November 2014  @DOMAINEGUIGAL  @VinexxWine

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (68858, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 release

A modern take on Sangiovese to be certain with a penchant for the authenticity extracted from the best parts of history. Siena red dirt dredged, cherry macerated, fined, filtered and spiked with a crush of Brandy soaked Amaretti cookies. Clean and with Spring plum blossom in the air. Il Palio dirt for appetizer, Fiore di Zucca pie for dinner and sweet, nutty Panforte for dessert. So modern but so proper. Makes no bones about its made-up face but has plenty of solid ossein in its body. Good piquancy and a rush of verve on the back palate. Oaky but not creamy, bitter yes, but not woody.  Tasted November 2014  @oenophilia1

Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $19.99, WineAlign)

The savoury aspect of this Cabernet Franc steals the show out of what is just an ideal vintage. The fruit was sourced from the Dim Vineyard in the Creek Shores appellation, a piece of the Peninsula ideally suited to the sharp and earthy aspects of Cabernet Franc. Despite 20 months of seasoning in barrel, the Tractor has maintained its red fruit character, accented by currants, spice and a deep-rooted sense of licorice. There is enough grain in its texture to carry it for three or four more years but it will never be bigger than it is now, nor will its length grow any longer.  Tasted November 2014  @SideroadTwenty

Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal, Austria (453281, $21.95, WineAlign)

The ever-present, front loaded, laser sharp attack may feign spritz amid hushed whispers of CO2, but not from any chemical alteration. It’s actually a post fermentation, double negative breath of residual covalent bonding. The fast action bottling captures pressure to act as catalyst for freshness, especially in such a lean, high acidity vintage. A sway of tall grasses and that gas smothers whatever residual sugar might try to weigh down this low (11.5 per cent) alcohol stunner. Very much alive though the depth is challenged by all that forward thinking expression. Still a very good showing for this classic Grüner.  Tasted November 2014  @AustrianWine  @LeSommelierWine

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 release

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.  Tasted November 2014  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Wo Coastal Region, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Iconic Bordeaux partners with South Africa for a red that is a surprising saunter into fair Cabernet-Merlot territory. Ripeness, extraction and alcohol are all exercised with restraint. The South African gauze is wound but of a thin wrapping, thanks to the allowance for fruit to shine in bright, red cherry tones. Western Cape is a terrific place to express Bordeaux-styled reds, especially when done with such hands off ability. A bit sapid and even sour edged, this would be a fine example to share when partaking in a little R & R. Wait a year and drink up to 2018.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines  @WOSACanada

Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Ac Côtes De Roussillon Villages Latour De France (643239, $24.95, WineAlign)

From vineyards composed of Devonian Period gneiss and schist soils and Kimmeridgian period limestone. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The heft of this craggy, cultured terroir in a Côtes De Roussillon’s bottle is never in question, nor is the puritanical excellence of its harvested fruit. Some years just heat up to a point of no return, like this 2012. Chapoutier is fully cognizant of the warmth and savagery from the soils and the climate. Finding even temperament and balance is the challenge. This vintage comes across as over the scabrous edge, cooked by the sun and dredged in the particulate. Classic Mediterranean notes of brine, brush and lavender keep it grounded, not to mention graphite and grilled meat, but for the sappy and life-sapping heat, this would be a candidate for 10 years in the cellar. As it is, drink this with quality warm-blooded protein over the next year or two.  Tasted November 2014  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines

Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot d’Alsace is what Jean-Michel Deiss refers to as “du cépage a terroir” or “tous les cépages.” Though there can be as many as 13 grape varieties in the field blend, most of the content comes from the Pinot family. Though likely in Blanc, Gris and Auxerrois predominance, this is a co-planted field blend so if Jean-Michel were to change his tune from talking terroir to varietal percentages, even he would not know the true make-up. Regardless, this is a (vintage) rich and balanced white blend, an avatar for the Alsace idiom. A wanderer in angles, an adventurer into corners and a wearer of many aromatic costumes; sweet, sour, citrus, flint and spice. Indicates orange, lemon and grapefruit but it’s never that straightforward. More like Jincheng, Lemongrass and Pomello. An exemplary introduction to Deiss, Alsace and the dry summation of many white parts. Tasted twice, June and November 2014  @marceldeiss  @AlsaceWines

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)

Carries and buffets an unmistakable aromatic conveyance that comes from a grouping to include Le Clos Jordanne, Bachelder, Queylus and The Farm. Where the cherry tree digs its roots into the earth, where the fruit rolls in the clay dust, where the tension in fruit meets tannin, intersecting at acidity. Just a touch of funk in a non-reductive, vineyard sense and the fruit does flirt with right of centre cherry, inching towards the black side. Chalk and tangy dust, and finally, tannin that holds court. This is quite big for Niagara Pinot Noir and it will age righteously for three to five years. Though it is not yet ready to lay claim to greatness, Westcott is a vineyard to keep a wide and watchful eye.  Tasted October 2014  @WestcottWines

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

The real deal in Bench gain from out of the most enigmatic and occult vintage, the primitive vineyard giving life and lesson to Chardonnay. Austerity in second and third fill barrels sends butter in search of toast, imagined through pendular churning. A reckoning follows, connecting round fruit to linear acidity in character, oomph and excellence. Aromas indicate spirited confiture choices at the breakfast table to garnish flaky pastry. Biting and demanding yet sweet as a cool summer’s night.  Tasted October 2014  @ClossonChase

Good to go!

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Let the gems begin

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay County Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

If the premature lashing of cold, snow and ice weren’t enough to get you thinking about holiday shopping, get thee to a Liquor Control Board Ontario store on the weekend. Same time, every year. The LCBO stocks the shelves, isles and pyramid displays with more booze than anyone should ever be faced with in one visitation.

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

The bi-weekly VINTAGES release calendar whirs, undulates and clutters in rataplan overload at just this very juncture in preparation of the Christmas rush. Shoppers will tear down the walls of wine, beer and spirits, only to hear the burloque fall silent when the clock strikes closing time on the evening of December 24th.

There are exactly 35 days left in 2014 to do the right wine thing for that father, cousin, colleague, mentor or loyal, long-time suffering employee. Please heed the warnings and do not buy crap for the one you love or think you should. No matter who you are picking up a bottle for, treat them well and with fermented grape respect.

There are three category of wines to look for, at least within the context of this buying guide. First there are the values under $20, wines made so properly they should cost double or triple what they do. Second are the expensive but honest wines. These are the true gems that make most $100 bottles look bad. Last are the $100 examples that are truly iconic, despite their cost. Though priced beyond the means of most, they are not a mistake to take a flyer and give as a gift. After the hand off is complete, the all-knowing, unspoken nod will follow.

Here are 22 picks from the VINTAGES November 22, 2014 release, in stores now.

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Pdo Nemea, Greece (295618, $17.95, WineAlign)

Nemea strikes again. Dark rust, earth juiced on and of the rocks. Like Sangiovese with attitude, made by Romans, like Syrah the way it was made in mythological times, by Greeks. A classical garden. This is actually quite modern and expressive for Agiorgitiko. Acts as if it were a touch clay (or amphora) baked but it’s really just a Peloponnese take on oak aging (18 months) and further bottle rest (12 months). This is right in its window and will be friendly for three to five years more. What a steal.  Tasted November 2014  @DrinkGreekWine

Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Doc Pomino Bianco, Tuscany, Italy (65086, $19.95, WineAlign)

With thanks to Chardonnay, the Castello di Pomino 2013 elevates Pinot Blanc to a level not really found anywhere, save perhaps for one or two examples out of B.C. This one really leaves a tannic impression, not unlike some impossibly off-dry Pinot Gris from Alsace. There is a really sophisticated level of ambiance and a semblance of a distinctly rocky intent. Like high quality Sancerre or Chenin from Silex soils, the grain and veins running through the palate and the texture are coarse and cursive. This one writes a new script for Frescobaldi’s Florentine, Apennine mountain estate. Fresh, ventilated and airy as if breathing from blue skies at high altitudes. I can’t recall tasting this level of excellence before and would look forward to no less than five years of enjoying what it brings to the Tuscan table.  Tasted November 2014  @FrescobaldiVini  @liffordretail

Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (992560, $19.95, WineAlign)

A primarily (90 per cent) Sangiovese with smatterings, though not inconsequential, of Merlot and Syrah. From (non-estate) vineyards in Poggio La Mozza (Grosseto). Morellino Di Scansano, to a wine and exemplified here, sports a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility. The question is why should it only find occasional psychic prominence as a Sangiovese go to. Moris Farms makes the lesser-known accessible, with a (sees no oak) modern accent of dark fruit and spice atop simple, pleasurable Sangiovese. Pleasantries exchanged, the 2012 MdS will work dinner, inside a Tuscan vernacular and out.  Tasted October 2014  @Morisfarms  @oenophilia1

Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, Ac Burgundy, France (48793, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Bouillot Rosé, for my $20 is the most impressive of their line-up, always tender and ripe as if just picked fruit, namely strawberry and raspberry. The Perle D’aurore is a faintly hued and lighthearted take but not light on effort. Elegance defined in Bourgogne bubbles with a savoury edge to give it strength.  Tasted November 2014  @JCB_Wines  @ChartonHobbs

McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (724492, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2007 is another fascinating study in Hunter Valley Sémillon. Like the ’06, egressing secondary notes have emerged, in equatorial garrigue and fruit having already met its aurulent stenosis. A honey note persists though less so in ’07, as does the level of tempering acidity. This vintage brings out the calm and the clam, though the petrol and the mineral are omnipresent, perhaps elevated. Must keep in mind it’s only $20 but it does fall a bit short in texture and acidity. There is lemon drop and the essential atomic Sémillon stoicism from the Hunter Valley, but it’s a bit thin and hollow up the middle. All that acknowledged, not having a look or two would be a shame. Tasted November 2014  @MtPleasantWines  @PRAXISpr

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012, Tasmania, Australia (162990, $22.95, WineAlign)

Pepik has elevated aromatic tones and though it appears lithe it reads like a weighty tome. Unique and of its Tasmanian self. Plums come to mind, as does red earth. The phenolic ripeness and varietal indications are ushered in with managed exceptions and are simply spot on. This does not strike as a Pinot Noir that will be long-lived because its black cherry and spice are riper than many contemporary editions in a similar price range, but it will offer great pleasure for two to three years.  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (394155, $23.95, WineAlign)

Thoroughly interesting study in German Pinot Gris despite the timid and reserved tonal nature. Aridity in as much as the variety can muster and in the largest, atmospheric sense. Though the palate has some fine-grained texture and feigned sweetness, it’s as if Baden can only do Pinots this way, in Gris and in Noir. Acidity is tempered and a willing accomplice to the diminished components of sugar and pH. A well designed Pinot Gris.  Tasted November 2014  @TheLivingVine  @WinesofGermany

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (390336, $28.95, WineAlign)

The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.  Tasted October 2014  @CreeksideWine

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $34.95, WineAlign)

Rubber dust, road macadam and strawberry jam. Fierce Bordeaux Blend home from a hot climate. This has gritty obduracy and doggedness. Like a red blend with a gun, walking the mean streets. Acidity shot through the roof. Bordeaux meets South Africa in every shared, resplendent and promising way. Rasping tannins contain bursting dark fruit, the grain running in multiple directions. Respect. Wait two more years on this and drink comfortably to 2020.  Tasted November 2014  @TrialtoON  @WOSACanada

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (727636, $34.95, WineAlign)

This is not the modern Crognolo as witnessed in the previous five vintages. In 2011 we have been granted the complex Crognolo. This has must and earth. It has grit and girth. Best Crognolo I have tasted. Tangy Sangiovese, with some chalk in tannin. Will live longer and offer unrequited love seven to 10 years down the road, to the patient and the faithful. Tasted November 2014  @TenSettePonti  @TrialtoON

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Doca Rioja, Spain (976662, $35.95, WineAlign)

It amazes me how kept wines from Rioja keep appearing as if they were just bottled yesterday but not this famous Gran Reserva. Syrupy and caramelized, bright and earthy. Mulled plum and clove with citrus accents. Bretty like a barn’s floor. Cedar and leather, big oak doors. Real mutton Rioja, still tannic, energetic and searing. Kicking it old school but wild and alive. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Were a full-term lecture taught on the pros and cons of the Brettanomyces brannigan, this Rioja might be exhibit A. Absolutely manifest fruit meets earth, meets game perfume compendium. Call it funky yeast if you must but here is a wine that can be approached by nose only and if the relationship were to end there, novels might be written. Lives on a fermented, catalytic and plucky edge but never submits to the bacterial spindrift. Leaden fruit, red and black, smooth and layered with a tension in tang that is paralyzing to the mouth. Thirteen years old and just hitting a secondary stride, with the oak slowly dissolving and not a hint of coffee or chocolate to be found. Sexy and down to earth at the same time.” Last tasted November 2014  @bodegasfaustino  @Select_Wines

Cune Gran Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (393553, $38.95, WineAlign)

Old school. Smells like Rioja. Smells like Spanish spirit and weeds, sinew, gristle and braising pig, all parts in. Smells like cedar, like American oak and a soak in a tub of spa earth and mineral salts. Like “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” This has already done the evolutionary dance so if you are looking for something to float your natural, honest boat, go here now. In a Rioja world where the times they are a changin‘, it will sail you back in time and away into a Mediterranean sunset.  Tasted November 2014  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (928028$49.95, WineAlign)

Firm and in a rustic vein, as per the Barbi dole, this one a bit funkier at the outset than many. Welcome to the classic firmness of 2008, antithesis of the flamboyant ’07’s but plan for 20 plus years of slow food elegance emission. Classic rose petal, tea leaves, dates and earth caked metal in this guy. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “As expected, this is a gritty effort from Barbi, in part the impart of a testosterone-laden vintage, along with the dryer and cooler climate from Barbi’s southeastern Montalcino vineyards. A low and slow ripening will surely translate to extended longevity, but the rusticity and leather/cherry continuum will never disappear. No doubt a classic example and very well-priced for such authenticity, still it can’t be helped to see Barbi’s ’08 as entrenched in an earlier period of time. The wine will need 10 years to soften its edges and reveal the refinement and elegance of a well-documented Brunello.”  Last tasted November 2014  @FATTORIABARBI  @Noble_Estates

Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (287854, $58.95, WineAlign)

A study in precision, exceptional quality and poise. Golden rays mixed with misty wisps, cool nights tempering warm days. Just a touch of wood spice pricks the finish. So much flavour.  Tasted November 2014  @DuttonGoldfield  @TheVine_RobGroh

Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Burgundy, France (390534, $59.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot Noir speaks for the two sides of every Burgundy argument, especially considering it comes from the gritty nook of Pommard. First impressions are floral and pretty, with spice and some sort of tropical flora whispering in cooing scents. The hill offers a buoyancy, a lifted spirit and a view of its own sweet regard. Travels through a mid-village weightless hover, then returns to terroir in prime time acidity and tannin to keep time. There is a sweet tart medicinal aspect ratio on the finish and overall this does things correctly. Does not finish with the same suave seduction that it teased at the start but it does continue to impress.  Tasted November 2014  @Select_Wines  @BourgogneWines

Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $60.95, WineAlign)

Aromatics are racing and rising from the glass. A red rain pouring in and out. Has yet to change course. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.” Last tasted November 2014  @VersadoWine

Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Champagne, France (983874, $84.95, WineAlign)

The reappraised vintage that was once considered good, now revealing itself as better than good uses examples like the Laurent Perrier Millésimé to drive the point. This is a classically symmetrical blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir possessive of much chaste class, incredible balance and held lotus posture. Through its waves of idiosyncratic brioche and linear citrus lines drawn in tactile angles this Champagne is unbent and unbroken. Its seamless transitions glide from delicate aromas, through a textured palate and groove forward in elastic length. Additionally graceful with an ever so slightly advanced and mature style from a mature world in vintage-dated Champagne.  Tasted November 2014  @ChampagneLPUSA  @Noble_Estates

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Mclaren Vale, Australia (242732, $114.95, WineAlign)

While the price is just about as absurd as a “yoga class for cats” or Raine Maida’s voice, it seems logical to wonder aloud how one could question this Carnival as not being one of the biggest and baddest Shiraz you will ever encounter. It’s a veritable run on sentence of Shiraz adjectives, adverbs and hyperbole. If your hankering remains entrenched in elevated alcohol, enormity of fruit, condensed and compressed mineral, lest to be forgetting the viscous ooze of Mclaren Vale syrup, well, then this jester should fill your stocking along with those of the rest of your circle of fortifying friends. From the maw of the beast here – blood gore and fruit guts. Holy crap is this extracted, tannic, mired in impropriety, full conceit and in zero jealousy of other Shiraz. It doth joust. Certainly no lady of peace. Wow.  Tasted November 2014  @MollydookerWine  @bwwines

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (936039, $139.95, WineAlign)

Magnificent and munificent wine. Really special, magnanimous in every way, ultra-luxurious but not over the top. Alcohol, oak and extraction judged and held in check, equity and in balance. The fruit is pure and delicate, marked by plum, blackberry and hovering licorice, anise and spices. Long in chain and really sweet tannins. Like gazing into a pool of real nineties Napa and across the pond to an older school of reasoning. Tasted November 2014  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Ac Margaux, 3e Cru, Bordeaux, France (261552, $167.95, WineAlign)

A heightened sense of Margaux reality in 2010 comes from the château with the hybrid name; first from Simon Malescot, King’s Counsel to Louis XIV at the Parliament of Bordeaux. Second, from the post French Revolution château purchaser, Count Jean Baptiste St Exupéry, grandfather of the aviator and writer Antoine de St Exupéry. This has to be the most hedonism ever bottled in a Malescot, within reason of course. The house does not know from over the top, save perhaps for the cost of this 2010. Cassis is certainly here, as is a medicinal tension, firm acidity and the most formidable tannins known to Margaux. The grain, chalk and tincture combine for full effect. This will need 10 years to chill, then go 10 plus 10 more to much applause and the request for a final curtain call. Tasted November 2014  @VinsdeBordeaux

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (399592, $167.95, WineAlign)

Wow. Aromatics are off the charts. Pine forest, leather, chestnut and cedar, savoury in every wild and sauvage way, but also pure. Berries, tobacco leaf, classical logic, structures and axioms lead me to imagine mid-nineties Paulliac. Seamless texture, ripe but not overripe, rich but never overly grainy. This is super fine and dialed back (with exotic spices and wood spice filling in the holes) in the cooler 2011 vintage. A Cabernet Sauvignon of the most savour and the most class. A ten to twenty year Spottswoode.  Tasted November 2014   @Spottswoode  @Smallwinemakers

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, Cabernet Franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smoldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014  @Smarent

Good to go!

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Life is a Cabernet

The closures of Plumpjack

The closures of Plumpjack

The wineries of Plumpjack, Cade and Odette bring three distinct Napa Valley growing areas together; Oakville, Howell Mountain and the Silverado Trail. When the unified program cascades into town it has a tremendous evangelical effect, proselytizing many. Though well-known and regarded California grape varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah are part of the PCO output, that stalwart varietal behemoth called Cabernet Sauvignon stands alone. For this group of Napa wineries, life is a Cabernet.

Plumpjack is the heart and soul of the operation. In 2015 the Oakville outfit will celebrate 20 years of collocating wines from plots of Napa significance. In a universe steeped in the paradox of what was Bordeaux and is now California, Plumpjack makes work in fractive reflection of a vineyard’s take on that paradox. The estate’s 42 acres are nestled between the foothills of the Vaca mountain range and the Napa River flood zone. Cade works with Howell Mountain’s fog on 54 acres above the valley. The extremes of temperature and moisture do for Cade like the Petaluma Gap ushers to Sonoma but with more consistency from vintage to vintage. On Howell Mountain, balance is everything. Odette is the new, wunderkind venture, with Jeff Owens as winemaker, spiraled and sprawled across 54 acres against the Stag’s Leap Palisades knuckled down with all five Bordeaux varietals.

The Napa triumvirate of Plumpjack, Cade and Odette is represented in Ontario by The Vine Agency, a Toronto based wine bureau of authority, rebelliously in focus through the eyes of Rob Groh. Groh is an indefatigable defender of honest juice with a penchant for estate-grown, family procured, characterful wines. He and Derek Kranenborg brought General Manager John Conover to the Distillery District’s Cluny Bistro last month for an intense fixation, mostly and righteously on Cabernet Sauvignon.

From left to right: Adaptation Chardonnay 2011, Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010

From left to right: Adaptation Chardonnay 2011, Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010

Adaptation Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $32.95) Consignment

A full on crème filling feel is awash in tropical nuance. At once young and tender like hearts of palm and then again  like roasted cart nuts and a bonfire on the beach, eventually cooled by palm fronds and prevailing winds. Nothing would suit this better than a suckling pig and a mess of lobsters. Seamless in texture all the way through, finishing with dessert cream and buttery pastry.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Napa Valley, California (325019Agent, $67.00) VINTAGES Classics December 2014

Part Carneros and part St. Helena with the former trumping the latter as this is much cooler and linear, with apples in stereo acidity, cogitated in a self-professed “alternative California style.” Definition: zero malolactic fermentation. This is the second such recent animal (along with Gundlach-Bundschu) though the first Napa to do Ontario in such dissident manner. Feathers a tickle up the olfactory passage and bounds in restless bounce within the walls of the jumpy castle. Not quite indelicate but high-toned at the present time. Such a nimbly carved ride in wild yeast serried within an expressive ferment, with a Fernet note and a request for patience. Really long finish.  Tasted October 2014

Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (353102, $49.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Release November 8, 2014

As a second wine to Plumpjack, Adaptation offers a similar, if less complex mental state to the dean Cabernet. The stress-free vintage gives very ripe, lush and excelling fruit in the throes of oak and circumstance. Tones are bright, aromas defined, with patent black cherry and Cassis. As noted, oak is not unbeknownst but it infuses the fruit with just a little chalk and from a very fine grain. Somewhat savoury sweet currants bring delicate flavour, along with a mild cure in its marbled flesh. Turns devilish with spice box, a drag on a hand rolled cigar and a slice of rye toast, caramelized on the edges. Will adapt to protein, with banter and good cheer.  Tasted October 2014

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $91.95) Consignment

Though prepped by notions of a cooler and later ripening vintage, there is even more savoury, tobacco and cool clime (altitude) aromatics than might have been imagined. This Cade is so very bright in a cherry-plum-pomegranate continuum yet in contrast to a (negatively impacting) sweet-sour-tang drupe. Tends to angles more akin to Tuscan summer savour, like lavender, rosemary, sage, and vanilla. The overall impression to palate is that of a chew of the toffee that might be made by the aromatic combination, or a pull of syrupy tea. In the end there is nothing simple about this thoughtfully crafted Cade.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $78.95) Consignment

Fruit from the Oak Knoll Vineyard etched as ripe a Napa Merlot that can or would ever want to be. That it teeters on the scarp, laughing at the greens, partying with the reds and joking with the blacks, this Merlot is quite righteous in quintessential necessity. It screams fruit, picked just at THE moment. At 15.2 per cent the expectation would be intensity, like a moth with a fatal attraction to a book fire but it manages the sun and ripeness with ease. Drink this now, if you can afford it and wait five more to see where it goes.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Oakville 2007 (screwcap), Napa Valley, California (Winery)

There’s a dusty aromatic feel here with tar, charcoal and the ardor of wet stones roasting in a hot room. The barrel is still speaking this many years on, the fruit lurking, the wood caressing but with a strong and outstretched hand. Dark berries come out of the waft in full play and when tasted, with tobacco and many candied flowers. Very Paulliac. Full warmth, with a texture of cream, vanilla, layer cake and nuzzled by sweet tannins. In spite of the compass it is approachable (stupidly so) and still worthy of a lazy petering for 10 years forward.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Oakville 2007 (cork), Napa Valley, California (Winery)

Less dust but that’s splitting hairs. When making comparisons without the necessity of blind pours the minute distinctions are conjured by plotting and conjecture. Same wood up front, same sweet fruit behind. The texture of cream filled layer cake and some spice with tobacco on the back palate. This is extreme modernity incarnate. It seeks love and love it receives.  Tasted October 2014

Cluny Bistro Octopus

Cluny Bistro Octopus

Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Oakville, Napa Valley (296483, $140.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Release November 22, 2014

Just an incredible crack of aromatics mark what seems like 10-plus minutes of thunder Plumpjack; Spring wildflowers, black raspberry, roasted game and crushed steen as if from Gironde-banked, well-drained gravel, sandy stone and clay soils. Ripe, seamless and nonrigid. “I dare you to smell bell pepper in this,” chides General Manager John Conover. Though 2011 caused some Napa concern, Plumpjack will have had none of its woes and whimpers. The Oakville Cabernet “does this thing she calls the jump back Jack, she’s got the heart of a ballerina.” Dried and fresh herbs define its vintage-related nuance and their herbal presence, etched in balance with well-thought out barrels means “my heart’s wood, she’s a carpenter, she’s an angel in the night, what she does is alright.” Really approachable now, though it will go very long and deep.  Tasted October 2014  @PlumpJackWinery

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010 (cork), Napa Valley (325027, $99.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Release March 15, 2014

As rich and hedonistic as is the animal of Oakville ‘07, this 2010 is the bomb. Pure, clear mountain fruit, unencumbered, free, card-carrying member. Spokesperson and player, cool and collected, conceited, sure, gay, straightforward, then warm and lush again. This has layers and layers of fruit, waves of feigned sweetness, grape tannins interwoven in chains, molecules tumbling over one another. Heartfelt expression creates a massive Howell Mountain impression.  Tasted October 2014

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010 (screwcap), Napa Valley (325027, $99.95, WineAlign)

From a second bottle tasted from screwcap: Just as the comparison of ’07’s revealed, the similarities are just what the wine expects you to find. Large and full of fruit with sweet, integrated and ingratiating tannins. There is actually another level of open window brightness in the Stelvin, but that same (cork closure) spice and high altitude conceit takes the fruit on honeymoon and sexes the hell out of it.  Tasted October 2014

Odette Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Cabernet Stag’s Leap District 2012, Napa Valley (Agent, $145.00) Consignment, February 2015

Here storms in the inaugural vintage, personally carried, delivered and poured by John Conover. The level of purity trumps the rest. The clarity and chaste structure are defined in lines of no blur and no confusion. Full of brisk, red-blooded, indelible ink of a cabaret magician’s brew. Built on axon terminals of mnemonic neurons. Sweetest dewy smells, unreal fruit, remarkable wildflowers – this reminds me of an Ornellaia, an ’01 or and ’11. Essence of just picked berries – strawberry and blackberry, leaves in an instant and an ooze of freshness. Knots of tannin will take 15-20 years to untangle but the fruit is up to every moment of engagement. “It’s only a (Cabernet), old chum. And I love a (Cabernet).”

Good to go!

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Five more impressive, cool-climate, fog-injected wines from Sonoma County

Sonoma County vines Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Sonoma, in terms of micro-climates, reckons itself as committed to three distinct turfs;  marine, coastal cool and coastal warm. Vines grow in all three spaces but it is only in the elevated mountain reaches upwards of the fog bank that the region considers itself anti-cool. Well, that’s just some people talking. Barometrically speaking, “coastal cold” is not on the radar.

Consider the moniker “cool-climate.” Can it mean one thing only? Is it to be labeled as a universal truth? Sonoma County can’t be compared to Niagara or the Okanagan Valley. That much we know. It’s no Prince Edward County. Chilling hours (below 45ºF) average approximately 1,300 per year but winemakers in Northern California are not “hilling up” or burying their vines to protect them from sub-20 degree zero Celsius temperatures in January and February.

Related – Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

Sonoma may not be the cool-climate region its winemakers and marketers make it out to be. To a true, we the north (verb-constricted) grape grower, Sonoma does not know from cold. But it’s really not a matter of direct comparison. Sonoma has a cool-climate bent no other geography can lay claim to. A fog bank all along the coastline blows in, accompanied by cold air capable of such rapid temperature shrinkage it can be measured by swings as much as 50 ºF. The manifest vital spark that runs through all of Sonoma County’s fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance is that fog.

Sonoma Vintners passed through Toronto last month. These three producers and five of their wines must not move on to the next town without mention. Here are the notes:

From left to right: Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Ramey Syrah 2012, Thomas George Pinot Noir 2011, Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011

From left to right: Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Ramey Syrah 2012, Thomas George Pinot Noir 2011, Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011

Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Sonoma County, California (397521, $30.00)

Shyness or hidden meaning are not a part of the MV’s MO. This is not brain salad surgery. What you see is what you get. Pure, unadulterated, separately vinified, last-minute blended, red and black indications of clean Sonoma fruit. Varietal barrel isolations are the key to nurturing individualistic phenolic development. The final composition’s hue shows no lack of anthocyanin and though not overtly long on tannin, the phenols have been laid bare on the same page. The first vintage of this circumstantial blend was in 2008 and by now the GB estate provides 70 per cent of the produce, helpful neighbours the remainder, though only in Cabernet and Merlot portions. Forty parts equal of those two are joined by Syrah (nine per cent), Zinfandel (eight) and smatterings of other Bordeaux grape varieties. Floral, juicy, pentose tannic and flat-out delicious is the struck chord at the hands of winemaker Keith Emerson. Not the most complex arrangement in the County, nor is it top 40, but it is certainly penned with a catchy hook. “It will work for you, it works for me.” Tasted October 2014  @gunbunwine

Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (Agent, 0400051, $34.95) Ontario Release date: March 21, 2015

An intimately affordable Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast fashioned by a family in its 157th year of production is a rarity. Even more so from a cool-climate region oft-marred by the misperception that its Chardonnay are fat, buttery, over-oaked fruit bombs. From fruit grown on the Rhinefarm Estate Vineyard on southwest slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, eight miles north of San Pablo Bay. Consider the antonymous solecism of zero per cent malolactic fermentation and you will see where this (20 per cent new) barrel fermented Chardonnay has come from and where it is going. Weekly battonage compresses and stirs up texture. Fog plays its part on the cool slopes of Huichica clay loam soils mixed in with gravel deposits. Acidity is preserved, hitting a classic number on top of healthy (14 plus per cent) alcohol. This is not a small Chardonnay. It stretches its legs and walks like a giant but not in 80’s or 90’s acid washed jeans or big hair ways. This is Chardonnay that leads in style and confidence of a most modern vernacular and fashion. It’s also a steal.  Tasted October 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Ramey Syrah 2012, Sonoma Coast (Agent, $47.99)

This is winemaker David Ramey’s sixth vintage composed from (91 per cent) Cole Creek Vineyard, with the rest coming from the Rodgers Creek Vineyard. Though not the first to draw roots and inspiration from a northern Rhône style, Ramey’s choice of co-planting five per cent Viognier is both curious and genius. The field blend supposition is gaining global traction and attraction, as witnessed by successes the likes we see with Marcel Deiss in Alsace. They are not just the rage; they are a philosophy and create a co-habituated/fermented energy. Though lifted by hedonism, this is a very pretty Syrah, yet it’s no timid lilac. A soft entry gives way to sharper tannins. The briny Mediterranean, smoked meat and roast pork belly notes arrive late, after the angles have softened and the integument has been cracked. There is much going on here, at once clear, other times in opaque fog, then back to blue skies. Follow this Syrah for five years to see the chains be connected by election.  Tasted October 2014  @RameyWineCellar  @BarrelSelect

Thomas George Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, 729417, $57.95, WineAlign)

A blend of three estate vineyards; Baker Ridge (49 per cent), Cresta Ridge (30) and Starr Ridge (21). Rigorous sorting, punch downs and the use of basket pressing combine for an all-out Pinot Noir expression of RRV’s diverse terrors, albeit within a framework outlined in smouldering charcoal chalk and coated with smooth sugars of inscrutability. Ranging in ways akin to Central Otago, this Pinot is bright yet earthy, intense and piercing. It combines cherries with ash and has got all the thyme in the world. Oak is not out of focus (the wine was aged for 11 months on lees in 100 per cent, 38 of it new, French barrels) but it still needs time to integrate. Two or three years will suffice and seven to eight more will turn a trick or two.  Tasted October 2014  @TGEWinery

Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, 729417, $60 US)

The Cresta Ridge is unique to the Russian River Valley and to the Thomas George Pinot execution as its soils at some of the highest elevation in the area are of the Goldridge series. Very deep and well-drained, its composition is of material weathered from weakly consolidated sandstone. Like all of their wines, the 100 per cent estate fruit from this particular ridge is a ream of pure silk, clean, pure and so much quieter on the brushstroke and basalt tendencies of the combined RRV bottling. The tannins truss the fruit to seek a low and slow rotisserie of development. Could drink a boat load of this refined Pinot Noir, now and for 10-12 more years.  Tasted October 2014  @bwwines

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Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases

Ontario Everbearing Strawberries

Ontario Everbearing Strawberries

Like the strawberry, yet on countless further levels, Ontario wines have elevated in quality with exponential consistency in recent times. I can remember rushing out to Simcoe County to pick strawberries in late June at Visser and Barrie Hill farms, only to see the season end as abruptly as it began, after just a few weeks of plump, flame-red, succulence. Times have changed. Like the plant belonging to the family of Fragaria genus, Ontario wines, across the board, have evolved. The Everbearing Strawberry can be picked well into the Fall. Was it not so long ago the consumer chose Ontario wines with sporadic indifference? To Japan, exports of Canadian wine have doubled in the last five years. This is no small feat and with thanks to an all Canadian wine store owned by Jamie Paquin called Heavenly Vines. Domestically speaking, purchases of local wine are as strong in October as they are in July. Times has changed.

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. I would not make the call that 2013 was a vintage of the decade but very good wines were made. There are no bad vintages in Ontario. That concept is mired in the pessimistic rhetoric of the past. The winemaking camaraderie excogitates to mature as one big happy guild in pursuit of the common good. Vintners are focused and intense; on terroir, micro-climate, canopy management, picking times, pure and clean fruit, élevage and on honest wine.

The industry is currently fixated on making great product. Whatever beefs critics and consumers have with varietal choices, marketing failures or suffocating consumer systems, what is happening in bottle is nothing short of brilliance. Morale is at an all-time high. How else to explain the ability to weather the storm of a brutal winter in 2014? Enzo Barresi of Colio Estates told me yesterday that he does not bemoan the loss of vines. Less Merlot? So what? The ability to make polished wines from other grape varieties replaces fear, dread and loathing. The same goes for Rosewood Estates. No more Sémillon? “What can you do.”  says Krystina Roman. Concentrate on excellence elsewhere. Soldier on.

The November 8th VINTAGES release coming up this weekend is a prime example of the strawberry in the room that is Niagara wine. I count no fewer than eight examples of an eminence front in output. From Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay and from Pinot Noir to a Bordeaux-styled blend, these eight wines are elephantine examples of what Ontario does best.

From left to right: Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2013, The Foreign Affair Sauvignon Blanc Enchanted 2013, Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine 2012, Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

The vintage delves into older school territory, elemental and elevated skywards, to atmosphere the Sheep has not recently climbed to. This airy void allows the Vineland rocks beneath to grind their way into all aspects of this Riesling. “Three bags full.” The lime rind and overall citrus circumvention brings the typical back to earth. This is a lean but fine Featherstone. Exemplary of the vintage, with plenty of wool.  Tasted October 2014  @featherstonewne

The Foreign Affair Sauvignon Blanc Enchanted 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389767, $19.95, WineAlign)

Appassimento-style Sauvignon Blanc is both curious and an open target for accusations of vivid excesses. The detractor will look for swift “walls of insincerity,” the complimenter will say “I was enchanted to meet you.” Foreign Affair’s take has been injected with a cocktail of intensity; steroidal, hormonal and from concentrate. All the juicy orchard fruits are there; plum, apple, pear, nectarine, lemon, lime and grapefruit. This passes the appassimento SB test, if only and commodiously because it spreads fruit like confiture on warm toast.  Tasted October 2014  @wineaffair

Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine 2012, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (370361, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Spark’s fermented in the bottle, cheesy, leesy warm ’12 turn, like melted Fontina on Formica, does dissipate following a moment or two and a bubble-bursting swirl. To taste there is much to delight in this inaugural release. Like the days leading up to ripe picked pears and a squeeze of striking, tart lemon. Good persistence is crackling, misty and even mysterious. Sparks squeezed from frenetic rhythm.  Tasted October 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

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

Shows its finesse from the start. Though today I sense a slightly candied nose it’s wrapped in a warm and fuzzy coat, gifted by the vintage but without heat. This may be the prettiest of Marlize’s (Estate) Chardonnay; enchanting, honeyed, floral. Yet there is a pulsating note, portending the time needed to bring this to an intended fruition. Stretches for conscious movement length. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”   Last tasted October 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

From left to right: Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011

Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1560, $29.95, WineAlign)

Seven months have softened and mothered Gravity’s adolescence in ways to now see it as the most feminine, certainly of the last four vintages. Pretty dabs, perfumes of natural conditioning, warm days and warm nights in the bottle. More accessible than previous takes and of a new modernity perceived. Sweet dreams and sweet fragrances, roses and cinnamon, nothing fancy here mind you, with no bite and no gathering moss. Cherries and vanilla, lavender and simple pleasures. Straight up Gravity, no pull down, no drag and no excess weight. At $30 and from the best barrels, this trumps $40-50 most locales not called Lowery, La Petite Vineyard, Central Otago, Hengst or Pfinstberg. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “In a vintage potentially muddled by warmth and a humidor of radio frequency, duplicating berry phenolics, Flat Rock’s Gravity remains a definitive, signature house Pinot Noir. In 2011, the head of the FR class from its most expressive barrels shared the limelight (and top juice) with the Pond, Bruce and Summit one-offs. In ’12, Gravity’s sandbox was its own. The style is surely dark, extracted, black cherry bent, as per the vintage. Yet only the Rock’s soil does earth in this variegate, borne and elevated by the barrel’s grain. There are no fake plastic trees in a Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity always wins.”  Last tasted October 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33894, $30.00, WineAlign)

A refined ’11 Pinot Noir, of combined vineyard fruit or not, this shows attention to clean, precise winemaking detail. Punches suffered during fermentation mean a fully healed wine in bottle. Good structure and grain in tannin with just a minor fleeting paint is only a fleeting reminder of previous VR’s. Sweet plum fruit, just ripe, skin cracking, flesh oozing and dripping of pure juice. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Something’s missing, or rather something is happening here. The LCJ omnipresent warm Pinot coat of harm is conspicuous in its absence, or has it been reigned in? This 2011 is so much more friendly, more soft-spoken, expertly judged and picked ripe fruit richer than before. Plenty of tang and tannin but the pronouncement is in a savoury basil/chervil kind of way. Not just another high made by just another crazy guy. A most excellent, bright, roxy Village Reserve, full of atmosphere and ambient music.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.00, WineAlign)

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

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

Certainly plays the most hard to get of the ’11 Chardonnays of fruit so fine and pure. Layered like Phyllo or Puff pastry, gathered and set back upon itself. Gains traction and intensity through developed flavours and overlays of texture, both solid like shale and lacy like organza. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.”  Last tasted October 2014

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Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

Sonoma Coast Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Sonoma County is so massive a wine region it’s really quite futile to take account of a singular, defining personality. Diversity of wine styles and viticultural approaches are what elucidate Sounty County and its 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas). That much is true but the sheer geographical scope of California’s coastline, inward valleys and mountain vineyards make it all but impossible to distill the entire region into one simplified and understood junction of compounding synchronisms.

Imagine Sonoma in terms of soils and geology the way the Clare Valley and Barossa are making plans to split their vineyards into new sub-regions. “Rather than create a hierarchical system, proponents say the plans are part of a cultural shift in Australia’s wine industry that seeks to make technology in the cellar subservient to geological understanding and vineyard management.” Though erroneously, people talk about Sonoma wines as being the same, as sharing a commonality that allows for overused generalizations.

Sonoman varietals need to be characterized by an interpretation of sundry realities. Pinot Noir loses focus when simply labeled “Sonoma County.” Its actuality is much more specific than that. Dutton Goldfield’s Pinot Noir is a prime example; not exactly Russian River Valley nor Sonoma Coast. If its vineyard and those of countless hundreds of others were pinned down into a more micro-specific locale of soil and geology, justice might be served. Yet through all the talk of fining sub-appellations there is one constant in Sonoma. There is one manifest vital spark that runs through all of its fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance. Fog.

Growing grapes in Sonoma is all about the fog cycle prone zone, warm by day, cool by night. Grapes above the fog line on the mountain ranges and upper reaches have the highest chance of ripening. Wind screams in between the mountains and through the valleys to dry out the vines and protect them from disease. The region lies at the western edge of a hyperbolic, tectonic geology, causing not only earthquakes but also dramatically different soil structures. From out of this super active geology, this volcanic action and this movement of tectonic plates, is a cool climate viticulture along 100 km’s of Pacific Coast frontage.

The cool nights and days that rarely get oppressively hot (above 26-28 degrees celsius) contribute to layers of oceanic fog that creep into Sonoma’s interior valleys through numerous spots like the Petaluma Gap. The Russian River, meandering through a lush valley of vineyards, provides a conduit pulling fog through Healdsburg and into the Alexander Valley, as well as forming its own appellation.

Sonoma native Elizabeth Linhart Veneman, author of Moon Travel Guides, sums up Sonoma’s fog in one fell swoop statement: “Perhaps no aspect of the weather here is more important.” Then there is the most amazing time lapse video shot by Nicole Tostevin of Tostevin Design. Tostevin (not to be and to be confused with Tastevin, which means a taste of a wine and a small, shallow cup or saucer with a reflective surface, traditionally used by winemakers and sommeliers when judging the maturity of wine) was born in San Francisco. She is a 5th Generation Californian living in West Marin; she’s an independent freelance artist, interactive art director and motion graphics animator. The video titled, “Sonoma Morning Fog Dance” was shot using time lapse footage of The Anvil Ranch in the Annapolis Valley in Sonoma County, California.

This time last year, in November 2013, San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné wrote, “today, the state of the art for Pinot Noir – along with Chardonnay and, to some extent, Syrah and even Cabernet – has shifted into the coastal fog lands.” Green Valley is defined by fog. Fog discourse and computerized, animated maps are front and centre on the AVA’s website. “Green Valley is the first place where the fog comes in and the last place where it burns off, making it the coolest, foggiest part of the Russian River Valley.”

Walmart's Sonoma Fog Area Rug

Walmart’s Sonoma Fog Area Rug

Sonoma fog can even be defined as a colour, like Siena brick red, or at the very least as a style. At Walmart you can buy a “Sonoma Fog Area Rug.” The mist of California’s coast has even had a couple of cocktails conceived in its name. The Sonoma Fog and Sonoma Fog Vinotini are sweet and sour variations on the Kamikaze or the Cosmopolitan, using Grapefruit and Icewine.

Sonoma’s fog is a stern exertion of soda and salt and when its atomic dipoles get together to dance with ripe grapes and the puffy gaieties of yeast, the syntagmatic rearrangement in the region’s wines are all the merrier and made most remarkably interesting. Fog complicates and makes complex the ferments from Sonoma’s hills and valleys. The second fiddle status to Napa Valley’s hugeness is both ridiculous and absurd. Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is already known for its kinetic inquisitiveness but other varieties are also gaining major traction. Cabernet Sauvignon, when ripened upwards of that fog and yet inextricably linked to the miasma, gains a level of synergistically precipitated elaboration that blows Napa out of the water.

WineAlign's John Szabo MS says Sonoma County "is this big."

WineAlign’s John Szabo MS says Sonoma County “is this big.”

Sonoma Vintners came to Toronto’s ROM for a trade tasting on October 9, 2014. With the ever resourceful moderator John Szabo MS of WineAlign at the microphone and nine winery representatives on hand to speak of their land, Sonoma was defended, savoured and celebrated. Here are notes on the 10 wines presented.

Sonoma County at the ROM

Sonoma County at the ROM

Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée 2006, Carneros (Agent, $37.00 – winery)

The brand was developed for the 1987 visit of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain. Seventeen base wines were blended to create the final (66 per cent Pinot Noir and 34 Chardonnay) cuvée. The Chardonnay is planted on lower sloped with deeper soil and the Pinot nicked from locales higher up where it’s rocky and volcanic. “Oh they’re ready for a tussle.” The immediate query is how can it act so fresh? Aged 7 years, the incongruous to electric power is mind altering, though the reaction in the seminar room is muted and should instead be filled with oohs and ahhs…am I wrong? Intense wine, highly lactic and dancing on tongues. Citrus, ginger, pear and Pinot length from the rockpile. And so it goes.   @GloriaFerrer

Quivira Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County (Agent, $15 – winery)

Quivira’s expressive Sauvignon Blanc sells for a song what with its high level of minerality from gravelly soils, typical of Dry Creek Valley. Low acidity, and a quietude of heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds comes aided by a musky, Musqué SB clone. The terroir and the grapes speak for themselves, mostly out of stainless steel, with a bit of neutral oak, plus Acacia barrels, for texture. All in all, there is an elevated pattern of harmony. Biodynamic since 2006, Marketing Director Andrew Figelman notes, “going through biodynamic is like going through an IRS audit.” And worth it in the end.   @quivirawinery  @KylixWines

La Crema Chardonnay Saralee’s Vineyard 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma (Agent, $39 if it were available – winery)

So notable from the get go is this SV Chardonnay’s possessiveness of a muscular rhythm, where oak meets butter. High quality fruit comes from Saralee’s Block 89, a gravelly loam, with less vigorous vines and of course, much fog. Nine months in one third new French oak and a generous, if in check, 13.9 per cent alcohol.  A mere 500 cases are produced of this new and titillating brand. Much orchard fruit on the nose, mineral on the palate and a wrapping of lemon curd. Has chalk and grain. La Crema’s (Ontario-born) winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas has teased us. “You can taste it but you can’t buy it,” Just don’t call it creamy.  @LaCremaWines  @bwwines

Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County  (Agent, $56, WineAlign)

The Dutton’s have owned the farm for more than a hundred years and have been serious about viticulture for the last 40 or so. The fluffy, porous soils are composed of Goldridge loams, in which moisture runs right through. There is very little if any precipitation making this a sort of “dust bowl” Chardonnay, from five different sites. Distinctive, exotic, old vines give a Muscat-like character, plus mineral and structure. It reminds of a mildly spiced Gingerbread cookie on a dry, cold winter day. The Dutton receives the same elevage treatment as their other 13 Chardonnays; it’s the land that’s different. “We’re allowing these wines to be different by virtue of the terroir,” notes Donald Patz. This is mildly restrained in many ways. A very balanced wine, full of class.  @PatzHall  @TrialtoON

Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley (Winery, $72)

From the Estate’s 1996 planted Freestone Hill Vineyard, from the middle reach (far southwest corner) of the Russian River Valley, a full-on sunshine of fruit spent 17 recondite months in 55 per cent new oak. The resulting door affronting 13.8 per cent alcohol is a so very, if anoetic welcome mat. The Dutton family were the local pioneers. Says Warren Dutton, “if I can ripen apples, surely I can ripen Chardonnay or Pinot Noir,” Ripe red apples and a savoury candy shell have turned to grapes with aid in influence from the Petaluma Wind Gap, in an accruing of elegance and finesse from high acids and low sugars. If the common feeling is that it’s difficult to ripen fruit in this region, the bar must have been set to beanstalk heights. The Freestone Vineyard (which is almost in the Sonoma Coast appellation) is colder even than Green Valley, with an elevation just above the fog, for even ripening margins. The Duttons thought the vineyard not too cold for Pinot Noir, a thought even more astute than the idea of ripening coconuts in Fiji. This really is unadulterated Pinot, from a process that included (20 per cent) whole berry fermentation. The simple elevage turned into a simple yet complex result, with high toned fruit character, tangy black cherry, really fine grain tannin and acidity. Length is ascending and enveloping, from the hill.  @DuttonGoldfield

Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)

Buena Vista was California’s first commercial winery, dating back to 1857. Winemaker and Sonoma native Brian Maloney, formerly of De Loach Vineyards crafted this tight and bracing Pinot Noir from the cooler vintage. The vintage may have been a result of global chaos but the wine is an unmitigated success.  From my earlier, August 2014 note: “This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contiguous vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine.” Tasted blind at World Wine Awards of Canada.  Last tasted October 2014  @BuenaVistaWines  @TandemSelection

Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2011, Sonoma County (Winery, $38)

From three ridgetop vineyards 1,200 feet above Dry Creek Valley; Westphall Ranch, Porcini Hill and Mauritson. Rockpile comes from the late 1880’s, founded by the local Sherrif Tennessee Bishop. Prisoners broke up rocks to make roads and they called it the rock pile. Near extreme elevation matters deeply in this wine, as do three clones, all in the name of layers of flavour. There is a massive waft of florality in Rockpile and a Zinessence that can only be Seghesio. A large yet somehow fog-tempered cool wine, the result of a unique marriage between an altitudinous though indispensable Sonoma climate. Fresh ground spices join the flowers at the hands of winemaker Ted Seghesio. To the palate and texture the wine turns a boisterous phrase, with natural acidity and that structure is defined by tannin and personality. There is heat, a bit of a heavy grain and lifted alcohol though it carries it well. “Veraison thinning is key,” notes Pete Seghesio. Narrowing the harvest window by removing berries from the double sorting table is practiced, along with halting the brix from rising at the hands of hydrating raisins releasing sugars during fermentation. The must is weighed down a touch, even if the practice in fear is just one of splitting hairs, as obviously this has everything Zin needs to be fresh and elastic. “If you miss Zinfandel by five days you have Port,” admits Seghesio. The 2011 got it right.  @seghesio

Kunde Family Estate Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma Valley (965921, $24.95, WineAlign)

Rich and utilitarian to a fundamental degree. Nothing but plum delicious, instilled with structure, tannin and early acidity. More spice and less florals by way of red volcanic rock soil, interspersed with a bit of sand and clay. Winemaker Zach Long is very specific about “that harvest moment” so Kunde’s Zinfandel can never be accused of hanging too long or cheating on the wrong side of ripeness. Cold soaks for five days with a low and slow, geek’s native yeast add layers of complexity to the ferment. With a peppering of Petit Sirah in the mix this has more tar, char and less brightness. It actually leans to black cherry, in Pinot-like dulcet tones which, in that particular direction, is a good thing. The only deterrent in the SV ’12 is a waning of finishing acidity at the end.  @KundeEstate  @imbibersreport

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (943472, $89.95, WineAlign)

International Sales Manager Vivien Gay introduces the Silver Oak by talking about the Alexander Valley as being the most fully planted AVA in Sonoma. This ’10 is warm and intense, hot to nose, potentially volatile, like a bouquet of hacksaws. Dusty, full-on mulberry fruit is indicative of Merlot but there is none – it’s 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. That teasing and varietal perplexity is an indication of complexity and also American oak, the usage of which began in 1972. Vanilla, coconut, then spiced, round and soft tannins come by way of 50 per cent new and 50 per cent one-year Missouri white barrels. The fruit quivers, like blackberry bushes in sweltering conditions, trying to shake themselves of the heat. Two years in oak plus one in bottle is a loyal and sentient journey, nearly devout and religious. A highly polarizing wine.  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Rodney Strong Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Brothers Ridge 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (Winery, $75)

This is the flagship Cabernet bottling from the winery that bears the ballet dancer’s name. Has layers of sweet Cassis, black cherry and blackberry fruit. Serrated with heat from a warm vineyard, picked at a generous (27.3 brix) and vinified (15.5 per cent alcohol) in a very big style. The Brothers Ridge fruit spent 21 months in 100 per cent French (43 per cent new) oak. The heat transmits through all the layers. So much java is espressed in this big boned Cabernet. Looking, sniffing and tasting the Brothers Ridge gives the impression of “a great big tall fella, about six foot tall. I shivered and I shook, couldn’t do any more.” Despite it’s heavy kinks, the BR is flat out delicious, hedonistic and as decidedly rich as any Cabernet from the Alexander Valley. Perhaps it is a lover, not a fighter.  @rsvineyards  @ImportWineMAFWM

Good to go!

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