Whites of passage

Slightly Barque dry-rubbed Roast Chicken, scored butternut squash with butter, agave and backyard coriander seed and penne with grape tomato, padano and scallion

Slightly Barque dry-rubbed roast chicken, scored butternut squash with butter, agave and backyard coriander seed and penne with grape tomato, bocconcini, padano and scallion

Spring has finally sprung. The air and the psyche have found collective exosmosis, leaving the colder, thicker air of winter behind, to begin passage through the membrane into lower pressure. With the exhale and lighter sense of being comes the same in wine. We egress to ferments of lower concentration. In reds we will welcome Gamay, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Franc.

White wine has more potential in legerity and litheness of being. While Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are most certainly apropos choices for spring, there are others, variations on the theme, not technically “white” per se, but fitting the bill nonetheless. Like Sparkling wine, and Sake.

Tastings of late have focused on the white stuff and there are many that have already left an indelible mark during this period of emergence, this recent transudation through conduit, out of too many months mired in ice and snow. The parameters of white wine blurred a bit, this group of twelve wines will do you no harm. In fact, any or all will help restore that healthy attitude so desperately needed in this time of rejuvenation. Spring.

From left to right: Château De La Bretesche Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2013, Emiliana Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, La Joya Viognier Reserve 2014, Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2013, Hugel Gentil 2013 and Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012

From left to right: Château De La Bretesche Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2013, Emiliana Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, La Joya Viognier Reserve 2014, Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2013, Hugel Gentil 2013 and Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012

Château De La Bretesche Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2013, Ac Loire, France (412163, $12.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

From the stable of Domaine de la Chauvinière, the Château De La Bretesche is a gneiss Melon de Bourgogne, crafted at the hands of Muscadet master Jérémie Huchet. Melon of lightness, finesse, ripe restraint, elasticity and breadth beyond the norm. Karpos of many herbs and briny berries. Capable of nurturing and buttressing intensity. Though the scent here is subtle, when it comes to Muscadet, the fresh sea and shell of Pholas dactyls is necessary. In conjunction with its length and a price of $13, in this section of the Loire, the littoral zone and the peak are reached. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @MyLoireValley  @LoireValleyWine

Emiliana Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile (266049, $13.05, WineAlign)

It would be hard to imagine Sauvignon Blanc with wilder eyes, as much pop and nearly the zesty fortitude as the Emiliana Adobe. The clarity of organic/biodynamic health in vine and by extension fruit is on blinking display. Fresh and popping, the zest of ripe citrus circulates naturally, as acidity, in juicy squeezes and with nothing but tireless pep. This is an example of exemplary SB for Chile and one can only imagine the depths that might come from older vines and/or a wild yeast meets barrel ferment trial. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015  @VinosEmiliana

La Joya Viognier Reserve 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile (168542, $15.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

As impressive as this very New World take on Viognier was in 2013, the follow-up furthers the absorption. The accented matters of alcohol, residual, mineral, bright fruit and soil continue the train of thought with forward ’14 thinking. This is nothing but a feel good, “why don’t you touch me now” Viognier, a gem-filled musical box of herbs, blanched nuts, flowers and spices. It’s a round and melodic nursery rhyme that’s fun to sniff, taste and listen for its mysterious ministrations and magical charms. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted March 2015  @VBisquertt  @DrinkChile  @vonTeichman  @vonterrabev

Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (394734, $15.95, WineAlign)

I would liken this Columbia Valley Chardonnay to the Fourth of July. It’s got tiny moving parts, all in motion, trying to put it all together. Cool orchard fruit, a minor kiss of barrel, a raft of lees, some sweet tropical flavours and round acidity. Needs some time. If it succeeds “it will be like fireworks blowing up in the air like a Fourth of July night sky.” For now it’s a reserved, quietly efficient and harmless Chardonnay. But it does show signs of building momentum. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @KVintners  @Dandurandwines

Hugel Gentil 2013, Ac Alsace, France (367284, $15.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

The five grape blend works confidently and vehemently strives with more love and sympathy than the austerely commandeered Riesling. Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc matter here, helping to negate the dominant aromatic push of the Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. Quite dry (3.9 g/L RS), with twitching (5.86 g/L) though steady acidity. This has ingratiating integration and unswerving tannic grain. A coherently textured Riquewihr conflation that is more than well-made. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @Hugelwine  @HalpernWine  @VinsAlsace

Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012, Pdo Tokaj Hegyalja, Hungary (396366, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Hungary and more succinctly Hegyalja is on a terrific role of late. I would put many marbles into the probability basket and roll straight to the quality bank on the backs of so many Tokaji examples. This Furmint is not on the lighter, fresher side, but more so the seasoned and effluvious strand. “Regardless of the balance life has become” this Furmint is lush and conversely piercing, an acquired density, thick and profoundly cumbersome. Though it rallies and rails in many ways, “too heavy too light, too black or too white, too wrong or too right, today or tonight,” it’s also honeyed and a riot to drink. Would like to give this seven Mary three years to settle down. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @TokajCE  @WineofHungary

From left to right: Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011, La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut, Château Belá Riesling 2012, Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Momokawa G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu and Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011

From left to right: Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011, La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut, Château Belá Riesling 2012, Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Momokawa G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu and Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011

Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (382879, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Another VINTAGES (2011) shipment of this great value in Côte Chalonnaise Chardonnay from the most southerly portion of the Côte d’Or is fortuitous because eight months has only helped to extricate the fruit from its Marly soil, variegated with White Burgundy-loving limestone shell. This is Montagny with intensity and in language of Burgundy’s essential tenets. Aromas scheme as white fruit punch and fruit that packs a punch. Might be thought of as heavy, syrupy even, in terms of Chardonnay, but the meeting of equal and opposing tannin terms balance. The clay-crusted pebbles in the marl have crawled inside the bottle. Suck on them long enough and they will reveal their inner stone. I dare you to spit them out. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @VinexxWine

La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut, Penedès, Spain (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

This blend of Macabeu, Xarel-Lo and Parellada is not only distinguished for Cava, it should be highly regarded in the pantheon of all Sparkling wine. Swelling with personality and urging in demonstrative energy that fizzes and suspends with fervent animation. The activity is one of quick reactions and accumulation. From sweet yeast in lees, from an on the line oxidative cold front and through the warmth of tropical spice. Cava like clouds combing stormy skies from equal and opposing directions and densities. Though marked by a leathery aromatic rind, it’s creamier and less lactic than outright citrus. These are fine bubbles, of twinkling titillations and striking flavours. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted March 2015  @lavidaalcamp  @TheVine_RobGroh

Château Belá Riesling 2012, Muzla, Slovakia (410951, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

For something completely different and yet not, look to Slovakian Riesling at the hands of a German icon. Here from Muzla, a most elemental, atmospheric and petrol driven wine, out of Loess, with blessings beyond Riesling character. A bit reductive, funky and porcine like Baden Grauburgunder, frankly. Heads to an off-dry intersection on the palate, in Spätlese-like headiness. Returns to Trocken in angles of mineral tang and a late, ferocious bite down. Stays this way for nearly a minute. A challenging and compelling respite away from the Mosel. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @ChateauBela  @WinesOfSlovakia

Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (388421, $21.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Blame it on the midnight, the rain or the Wairau River, but the flow past a rocky aquifer and into the vineyard weaves through this Sauvignon Blanc to achieve an uncanny Marlborough balance. The accord is struck between high tones and mineral undertones. Between tropical lushness and direct citrus connectivity. Between herbal grounding and stratospheric elevation. Really flavourful and structured by texture. In a saturated world it is noted “everywhere is all around, comfort in the crowd,” through a sea of Sauvignon Blanc. Shame on the moon but the Rapaura Springs Reserve stands out for its gentle, meandering and crooning ways. It is highly recommended. It is possessive of an ability to braid, reticulate and evolve. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @Rapaurasprings  @nzwine  @VinexxWine

Momokawa G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu, Oregon (239426, $26.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Made from pure, Sacramento Valley Calrose rice polished to 60 per cent and undiluted. The short trek to Oregon is made for the G, a Saké with a foot in two worlds. The Koji-kin and yeast strains are from Japan and the water from Oregon. The American-Japanese arrangement will succeed in pleasing palates east and west. Sacramento soil is in here, enriching the rice with savoury tall grasses and expanding spice. Oregon water draws subterranean salinity and combined with the Japanese elements, comes out like toasted nori. This is lovely and floral, rich and finishes with a feeling of wet stones.  Tasted March 2015  @SakeOne  @MetroWineSake

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011, Ac Alsace, France (995316, $29.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Some old vines and a strict selection of grapes from Ribeauvillé and vicinity compose the Trimbach Réserve, another storied chapter of sharpness and focus. Builds upon the similar 2010 and with greater depth. At this price on the Riesling plain this will be a star for the vintage, even it it takes five more years to reach adjudication. With this portal to the finest fruit and handling in mind, it can only be imagined what the same vintage will convey from the terroirs of Geisberg and Osterberg for Cuvée Frédéric Émile. The standard Réserve is rich and propelled to compounding causatum. Aromas go through lemon glade and glaze, then turn the key to lime. The texture is a crackling bite of corral with salinity drawn from oceans far away. The stone cold austerity is a frozen moment of time, a long pause in which there is nothing to do but swallow and forget. Small price to pay for such a thing. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @trimbach  @WoodmanWS  @AlsaceWines

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Why taste Ontario?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related – Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases

I also wrote this, quite some time ago. “That is producing unique, cutting edge and brilliant takes on cool climate grapes. They also match beautifully with the songs referenced in their tasting notes. When the wines are assessed and considered in part or as a whole, who would dare to say there are no great wines being produced?”

Related – The group of twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last tasted March 2015

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

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

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

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

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

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

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

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

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

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Path straying wines

Risotto

Risotto

The idea that something veers away from or afield of the norm is almost always intriguing. Fascinations with antidisestablishmentarianism, marching to the beats of different drummers and walking lonely roads is as essential as breathing. For the curious, the hungry and the alive.

Though the concept is a sound one, it need not always be about searching for wisdom and enterprise off the beaten path. There are times when the abstruse may be lying directly underfoot. Wine is a commensurate animal, altricial such as it is, acaudal, acersous, agnostic, aculeate and allocryptic such as it is not. Wine that is not so much off the beaten path as actually growing on one.

Two of the six wines recommended here jive with the idea, a Sicilian varietal wine made from the local Nerollo Mascalese and a Venetian dessert beauty crafted from who knows which and exactly how many chthonic varieties. No wine-producing nation knows about the concept of varietal celebration and keeping a historical watch on the relationship between path and vine more than Italy. No other agglomeration crafts from indigenous or endemic varieties with as much diversity.

This summed it up. “Finally, I find the irony in the idea that for a winemaker or vine grower to step off the quotidian they need to plant, cultivate and make wine from grapes once considered the norm and the go to in their region. You can’t help but notice that modern winemakers with a wistful eye are casting reflexively into the past with a hunger for vinous resurrection. By grafting their pre-Phylloxera ancient vines onto healthy root-stock they have turned the varietal compass on its head. As they have moved through their days with an open-mind to the panoply of grape interactions, they have beget the endemic revival.”

Related – Off the beaten Italian path

You see, winemakers don’t always have to champion the obscure, the endangered and the forgotten. There are times when place and plot are good enough to create an aura of obscurity and adventure. The wines in this column’s conspiracy are in cahoots to drive the point.

Related – Why hate wine?

A white Port; who drinks white Port? Sometimes you just need to walk along roads you never seem to take, take in the backstreets or sip along with something that’s always there but you just never bother. Port can be nondescript and it can also be like the Cálem Lágrima.

How about a Barossan, a Shiraz no less, but here because it is a wine from Neolithic soils, consumed and procreated on and upon itself. Then there is a South African white blend of such natural indeterminate plodding it has caused a break in critical ranks; is it sound or at fault to the point of no return? Last but certainly not musical least, a Napa Valley vintner with an infatuation for pairing wine to song. Sound familiar?

Related – WineAlign guide to VINTAGES April 4th and Easter recipes

In anticipation of the first April list to hit Ontario shelves, Sara d’Amato and I have compiled what you need to know and why. Click on this link to WineAlign to see the full report.

Off the Beaten Path, from East to West and a Battle of the Corkscrews

Here are my six path straying wines from the VINTAGES April 4th release.

From left to right: Cálem Lágrima White Port, Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart Of The Barossa Shiraz 2012, Lammershoek Roulette Blanc 2011, Calcagno Feudo Di Mezzo Nerello Mascalese 2011, Monte Faustino Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico 2008 and World's End If Six Was Nine Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

From left to right: Cálem Lágrima White Port, Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart Of The Barossa Shiraz 2012, Lammershoek Roulette Blanc 2011, Calcagno Feudo Di Mezzo Nerello Mascalese 2011, Monte Faustino Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico 2008 and World’s End If Six Was Nine Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Cálem Lágrima White Port, Dop Douro, Portugal (912568, $15.95, WineAlign)

Viscous and semlessly crafted White Port. There is very frank aridity in nuts and peels on the nose, along with tempering agave and citrus. The positable tug between sweet, sour and salty harks to older times and the munificent wafts of the warm nut cart. The agave drips thick on the palate, the spiced nuts are expertly roasted. Cool mint and eucalyptus fill the middle and fine acidity comes ’round the back. Terrific value. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @PortoClem  @WoodmanWS

Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart Of The Barossa Shiraz 2012, Barossa Valley, South Australia  (167189, $19.95, WineAlign)

Tasted from the 750 mL, this old vine Barossa vineyard bottle is reminiscent of the wise and precocious 2009. Nothing can be taken for granted here, this Shiraz from ancient, gnarled vines, many over a hundred years of age. A wine from neolithic soils, consumed and procreated on and upon itself. This is brash and once opened, the aromas are “orbiting your living room.” Makes me think of fig jam on venison wurst and a sauce made from licorice, clementine and dates as big as sausage flies. Tart, tight, racy and religious. Has a fisting Reggae beat, like The Clash doing Tosh and Dub. It may not transmit the only Barossan pirate radio Shiraz but it may just be one of the better values. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2015  @DandelionWines  @Wine_Australia

Lammershoek Roulette Blanc 2011, Wo Swartland, South Africa (225458, $21.95, WineAlign)

Talk about the passion. Fruit and reduction. Fruit and oxidation. Contradictions and oxymorons. This reeks of upside down passion fruit, apricot, honey and almond cake. Dripping syrup, parrafin and citrus. Waxy, like Sémillon and that’s where the advance comes in. The Roulette Blanc is meant to flesh, not wane in texture. The question is “combien, combine, combien de temps” does it take for a wine such as this to travel from wild and fresh to used and confused? The 2011 exhibits all the signs of great, complex fruit and corresponding accents. It has it all going on but a current stale, R.E.M. sleepy state clouds its future. “Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.” A really interesting wine with a long, bitter and tangy finish. How much longer will it age? Long enough. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @Lammershoek  @WOSACanada

Calcagno Feudo Di Mezzo Nerello Mascalese 2011, Igt Siciliy, Italy (408187, $34.95, WineAlign)

The Sicilian was treated to extended maceration under strict temperature control and the bleed is evident, modern, pitchy and black as a cloudless night. Then 12 months later “an improvement” is fashioned by the classic French oak “barriques” addition, followed by a minimum further four months in bottle. The result is a warm, alcohol elevated (14.5 per cent) state of the art Nerello Mascalese with a wonderful earthy grounding. Tenderly volcanic, the fruit comes from Passopisciaro between the Etna park and the Alcantara river park. Ancient lava flows leave an indelible mark on a wine without creases. Yet this is a direct, in your face expression that shares thoughts and feelings with deep clay and stray island sand. An extremely well-made wine even if it wanders away from the wonders of time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @oenophilia1  @VisitSicilyOP

Monte Faustino Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico 2008, Docg, Veneto, Italy (403857, 500ml, $45.95, WineAlign)

Once in a while there comes a Recioto in reserve of its own preciousness. A Recioto comfortable in its own skin, does not have to try too hard, posits only what it is safely made of. This elegant example whiffs dried fruit, strawberry, rhubarb and lovely aromatic, natural fruit tea. Licorice and fresh fennochio. A citrus poke. Good underscored, understated and under the radar personality. Great length. A real success. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March 2015

World’s End Cabernet Sauvignon If Six Was Nine 2010, Napa Valley, California (396127, $72.95, WineAlign)

What if “six turned out to be nine?” What if 14.9 per cent alcohol was just 14.6 instead of what really must be 15.9? What if the song in your head was sung by the tender emotional voice of Todd Rungren instead of the fuzz in Jimi’s clouded world? This Cabernet Sauvignon is so much more Hendrix, a full-throttle, heavy-layered, all-in barrel and total extract package. The fruit is hulking and the tannin equally so. Look ahead eight to ten years then fire up the black top. Heave on some marbled elephantine chops and all will be fine in the centre of the dizzying universe. “Wave on, wave on. Fall mountains, just don’t fall on me.” Maybe listen to a verse or two of Todd as well. “Hello, it’s me.” Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted March 2015  @ProfileWineGrp  @NapaVintners

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Local heroes

Henry of Pelham Estate  2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

Henry of Pelham Estate 2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

You can find them from coast to coast. This coming Saturday six VINTAGES Canadian releases, four from Ontario and two from British Columbia, are wines that speak on behalf of exceptional vineyards, out of important places. These are bottles made by winemakers entrenched in their territory and from grape varieties purposed to grow there.

Related – Tasting with Power

The Creekside Estates white blend known as Laura’s White has become a poster child for varietal blends on the Niagara Peninsula. Winemaker Rob Power has found a way to make a consistent expression in every vintage.

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Angela Kasimos was the winemaker at Riverview Cellars and is now leading the charge at Small Talk Vineyards. The Small Talk Syrah is yet another example to speak on behalf of pushing for more plantings, especially down by the Niagara Lakeshore. But that’s not all. Kasimos is also making Cider at Small Talk. It’s called Shiny Apple Cider, made from Grey County apples and Niagara grapes. You heard me. The White Cider is augmented by 10 per cent Riesling, the Rosé with 15 per cent Pinot Noir. You should try it on tap at Barque Smokehouse.

Related – The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom

The Cuvée Black Ball Riesling by François Morissette failed on several occasions to pass through the VQA panel’s strict discretion. The atypical one has finally broken down the barrier and it’s now your turn to decide if it pleases or causes consternation.  My chance to opine is laid clear in the review below.

From B.C., Gehringer Brothers out of Oliver offers a unique, Golden Mile take on Pinot Gris. More than just coincidence to be here today as yesterday marked a new direction for British Columbia‘s wine industry. The #GoldenMileBench just became the province’s first sub-appellation.

Related – A biography of Ontario and B.C. wines

Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek called the day momentous. She wrote this on her blog. “Something as elemental as the brown given to vineyard stones by a passing universe.  In casual simplicity, I toast to you, the Golden Mile Bench, British Columbia’s first sub appellation.”

The five recognized wine regions in British Columbia are The Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The new designation was announced by the provincial government on March 30 and will legally identify where grapes are grown. In this case, the escarpment southwest of Oliver which runs south from Fairview Road and near Highway 97.

Related – A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C.

So long as 95 per cent of the grapes were grown in the area, wineries will now legally be allowed to indicate the Golden Mile on their labels. The list includes CC Jentsche Cellars, Checkmate Artisanal Winery, Culmina Family Estate Winery, Fairview Cellars, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Hester Creek Estate Winery, Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards, Golden Mile Cellars, Rustico Farm and Cellars, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, and Willow Hill Vineyards.

In Jauary I wrote about Burrowing Owl Winery. I talked about the extreme nature of their location and what is does for their wines. “That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well-known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.”

Related – Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

The 2011 Syrah reviewed below drives the stake even deeper into the searing heart of the Owl.

Sara d’Amato and I have compiled a list of recommended Canadian wines in the second of two WineAlign April 4th VINTAGES release reports.

Off the Beaten Path, from East to West and a Battle of the Corkscrews

Here are notes on six new local releases coming to stores this Saturday.

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura's White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign)

When I tasted the 2012 Laura’s White again with winemaker Rob Power two weeks ago my last note said “this has the grab, tempered by the warmth of the vintage, so look for ’13 to nail it with a hook.” That it does, along with the most balm and herbs of the last five vintages. This blues traveller goes deeper into complexion and white varietal compilation. The fruit is very tropical in 2013, softer, easier, lighter in complexity, but it has that musical trigger, the jingle, the popper, the hook. If ’12 was the revivalist blend, then ’13 will try to be the proselytizer. “Because the hook brings you back, ain’t tellin’ you no lie. The hook brings you back, on that you can rely.” Everyone can drink this. While it may not stand up a decade or longer later, you will be able to look back on it fondly and remember it was a wine for the times. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @CreeksideWine

Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (347203, $18.95, WineAlign)

A concrete set of aridity rules are the modus operandi here in a reserved, stoic and aerified sort of Okanagan Pinot Gris. Paler and thus less oxidative then the last vintage to pass through these parts. Very much cut into pear, less so of white peach. The grape tannin is noticeable, even obdurate. Generous alcohol contributes to the mulish attitude though with the aridity and slight citrus push you’d be hard-pressed to really notice the call.  Tasted March 2015  @GB_Wines  @UncorktheSun

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (415612, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sunlight is the key to this ripe Chardonnay, snatched from vines that grow on the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment’s sub-appellation. Here Henry of Pelham calmly puts its hegemony over Short Hills Bench Chardonnay on display. The fruit layering is very impressive, compressed even, with just a spiced spirit injection from the barrel. The Estate Chardonnay is in a mid-range class of its own, this gatherer of heat days, hoarder in spring water retention, cleanser in sand and gravel drainage. The vintage just seems perfect for this niche bottling, balanced, primed to finespun texture, stretched for length and good to age at least five years.  Last tasted March 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (415612, $24.95, WineAlign)

In the hands of new winemaker Angela Kasimos, Small Talk Vineyards should consider going with and increasing their plantings of Syrah. It’s clear that Kasimos has inherited good solid fruit and the Small Talk (formerly Stonechurch Wines) treatment in ’12 is a very good start towards what should become a great varietal relationship. Smokey, savoury and full of positive brine vibrations, this has body but no overripe or caramelizing denouement. Nor is it green, though it exhibits tonalities that whisper volatility and chews that say sinew. Yet it persists healthy and clean. This is Syrah of lovely curves, rounded shapes, bright peaks and gently sloping valleys. Who doesn’t like Syrah young and infectious like this?  Tasted March 2015  @SmallTalkWines  @AngelaKasimos

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

Let’s get something immediately out of the way. The wines of François Morissette are not meant to please curmudgeons, skeptics, contrarians or members of the wine media. This Riesling has no desire to kiss ass. This will not appeal to late harvest lovers, from Kabinett to Auslese. Is it ripe? Not quite. Is it different? Absolutely. This compares to almost nothing. Like a Champagne ginger, lime and bronze filings cocktail, the Blackball ’13 is so very developed and despite the colour, is a hyperbole in primary existentialism. That it has essentially no residual sugar and an achieved 11.5 per cent alcohol is a complication only the clinical doyenne has the answers to. Riesling in between dreams, “never knowing shocking but we’re nothing.” The Blackball has struck, is not yet stricken and will offer remore pleasure for another six months. Then it will deconstruct, dissolve and devolve into darkness and funk. Five years later it may emerge like a phoenix, jack up like a Rangen Riesling, into the ethereal. Will it happen. I couldn’t possibly tell you. We may never know. But I can say that then, and only then, will it truly tell its story. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @PearlMorissette

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73072, $39.95, WineAlign)

Just when it seems that Burrowing Owl could not coax beyond the perceived maximum in ripeness and richesse out of desert sage country Syrah, the envelope pushes higher in this ripping 2011. An absolute circum whirl of dark fruit, crushed peppercorns, Cassis and candied violets draw syrupy into bottle. Big, brawny and modern, styled like Syrah from peak perches overlooking the French Riviera with a small percentage of mitigating northern Rhône sensibility. Texture is pure silk. Acids are tame but very present.  Tasted March 2015  @BurrowingOwlBC  @winebcdotcom  @LeSommelierWine

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Why hate wine?

Three vintages and producers of Brunello di Montalcino

Three vintages and producers of Brunello di Montalcino

Though it may sound absurd, it’s true. There are some who hate wine. It may seem impossible to imagine, but not everyone cares for the stuff, in fact, they say they hate it. Pretty harsh, no?

They have their reasons. Either it’s pretentious, it pales in comparison to beer, causes headaches or simply tastes like shit. The haters also hate wine drinkers and they really can’t stand people who blabber on about what they smell and taste, especially wine writers. The vile, worthless, waste of the air they breathe kind of human. The virus with shoes.

They are out there but they are not the real problem. The bigger issue is the wine geek who hates certain wines. The wine aficionado who picks on specific bottles, bullies them to the point of hatred. Slags them beyond reproach. Rants to the world about the injustice of their existence.

I will tell you why I have to say what I have to say. When I entered the LCBO tasting lab last Friday I saw three bottles sitting on the sterile counter, three Pinot Noir that made hairs all over my body stand up in horrified attention. Three Chuck Wagner Pinots. Les Belle Glos. So I tweeted this.

That was a mistake and I apologize for having written that. My message is this. You may find flaws in wine. You may suss out mistakes in the way a wine is made, sniff out bacteria or mould. You may point out imbalance and general impropriety. But you should not hate.

After all, wine is made from grapes and has fermented into itself. No matter the manipulations, the heavy-handed preparations and the dismissal of varietal or territorial propriety, at the end of the day it is just a bottle of wine. It is still a card-carrying member of the heritage, the extraction and the house. The fact is that when you hate one wine, you hate all wine. Do you see, the instant that you hate a wine, then you hate the world of wine.

There is more. Every wine has a connection to the land it came from. Soft mutinies in the senescence of nature all contribute to the scarring of a wine, of an indelible truth that indicts the world it harmonizes in, like a tract of a forest long ago scorched by a fire. A vineyard shares a history, which each vine remembers, even after it has failed to survive, even after others have not survived, or have been felled or re-planted. All wine has a background, regardless of what it may have suffered during growth and fermentation.

Related – WineAlign guide to VINTAGES April 4th and Easter recipes

And so, please try to be nice. Not every bottle will thrill and most will even disappoint. But do not hate. These seven examples, coming to a VINTAGES kiosk on April 4th do nothing less than restore the faith. They are all classic returns, of familiar and favourite varieties. They are wines to love.

From left to right: Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2012, Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2008 and Vitanza Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

From left to right: Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2012, Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2008 and Vitanza Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (276030, $18.95, WineAlign)

Carries with it the efforts and old barrel trials of generations in its classic aromas. Cedar, dried plum, bitumen, dried anise, wood soaking in natural sugar syrup. Really seamless, flourless and austere in a running wild kind of way. Possessive of length and deserving of that oddest of wine descriptions; supple. This will age for 10-12 years with ease. A great wine for the money, right up there with the Montecillo 1991, but cleaner, juicier and with more sex appeal. A red-head, a ginger, Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone.  Tasted March 2015  @bodegasmuriel  @RiojaWine

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley, California (221887, $22.95, WineAlign)

The Mondavi course of intention stays on track once again in 2013 though the vintage for Sauvignon Blanc seems at its warmest and ripest in quite some time. This walks a highline of aromatics yet refrains from tragically creamy barrel notes or excessively hop toast. Fruit is the driver, “rushing by the machine revving tension.” That drupe is part fresh and part dried, whiffing citrus and potpourri. Zest is buzzing but not overbearing. Were I locked in the trunk of a car, this bottle of Fumé Blanc would keep good company. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @RobertMondavi  @CBrandsCareers

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (704346, $31.95, WineAlign)

The hue and distinguished generational character pay hommage and unconditional loyalties to the noble Sangiovese. Chianti Classico in which patience is a commendable virtue and extreme necessity. The wood and tonic inflate the near nose in screaming interface but five minutes works to soften the early edginess. Now the perfume is intoxicating, so typically IEO, from a beautiful parcel of Chanti Classico out of a very giving vintage. An alluring wine that draws you in with a flirtatious smile of depth and meaning, seamless in personality, never too rich, affected or grandiose. There is no resin and no slice of cake decadence. Though it retains some old-school properties, this CC keeps right in stride with the winemaking times. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @HalpernWine

Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2012, Burgundy, France (19364, $31.95, WineAlign)

Bring on the 2012 Chablis. Here, an early, exciting and intense look. Has a combination of spot on salinity and limestone flint from the central Vaillons Cru. Given time this eventually turns to honey, indicating great early promise. This Bichot Estate Chardonnay is ripe and extroverted. Though it won’t be the longest lived, the back-end stony merrymaking and overall exuberance is a great show. If ’12 Chablis is always this much fun, I’ll be buying front row seats. Tasted 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @Bichotwine  @BIVBChablis  @DionysusWines

Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (906420, $39.95, WineAlign)

Here scrambles forth a high-toned yet exuberant Hess. Dark fruit, old growth bark, fresh tar in summer and natural charcoal on the BBQ. These are the perceptions on a cimmerian, Patwin-coined, single-vineyard red wine from the eastern base of Howell Mountain. This micro-climate (relative to really cold places) experieneces freezing cold winters and later bud break than most of Napa. That difference comes across in the tension of this wine, the dichotomy of hot and cold and manifests by tongue-coating tannin-crusted fruit. Tannin that may take 10 years to integrate. Good concentration of fruit, acidity and that fierce tannin menas lots of energy and stereotypically speaking, even more structure. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @HessCollection  @liffordwine

Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (245225, $49.95, WineAlign)

Though the bark and bite of the vintage will try to test even the purest fruit, this Fuligni is immune, the Brunello to absorb difficulty and energe unscathed. Earth. forest, clean mushroom, plum, carob and fresh cherry band together as an admirable aromatic lot. Though the vintage worked against many Montalcino producers, those who picked, vinified and allowed the fruit to do its thing, to be its own talking head, to express itself, made good wine. Enter the house of Eredi Fuligni. This ’08 is like Heaven, talking heady, saying nothing at all. The tune is clear as a whistling from the depths of a canyon. The spice is fragrant, never biting. The oak is like an old favourite song.   The Brunello “in Heaven plays my favorite song. They play it once again, they play it all night long.” Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2015  @ConsBrunello  @HalpernWine

Vitanza Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Docg Tuscany, Italy (236232, $89.95, WineAlign)

Here sidlles up to the counter a huge, come home and lay with me now Brunello. Displays all the flirtaious and flamboyant hallmarks of the get me vintage. Gorgeous, juicy red fruit. This wine will make you want to head straight for the bar, load up and go home with wrong woman or man. A full on seducer, asking you, are you ready for love? It’s not so much that this Grosso is bad company, it’s just that it’s so bloody dangerous. It has layered fruit, earth and lace. It has the structure to age. The issue is how could you resist it now? “I’m ready for love. Oh for your love.” Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @TenutaV  @ConsBrunello

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Value the first wine of spring

Lake yet frozen, March 18, 2015

Lake not yet defrosted, March 18, 2015

The lake remains frozen though stepping foot upon its precarious ice flow would not be recommended. By this time next week the waves will concuss the gelid islands and slowly deliquesce them down into the frigid water. As of this Saturday spring will have officially come to southern Ontario and with it a whole new outlook on life.

If you ask my colleague Rick VanSickle, the spring of 2015 will mean the boot up to overhaul the future of wine and craft beer sales in Ontario. According to VanSickle, “there is a brave new world coming for the retailing beer and wine in Ontario. These are heady times. Behind closed doors a lot of discussion is happening, a lot of debate and planning is going on in advance of the day Wynne’s Liberal government utters those words many of us have  longed to hear for so long: An end to the LCBO and Beer Store monopolies on wine and beer in Ontario.”

For Rick’s full report on his site WinesInNiagara, please click here:

Brave New World: How the new model for beer and wine retailing in Ontario could look

I read Rick VanSickle’s work on a regular basis and I know him to be as pragmatic and as skeptical as they come. I doubt very much that Rick would get ahead of himself on an issue with so much on the line. Using his ins to gain sagacity from insiders who possess relevant information, VanSickle writes with confidence that Kathleen Wynne has given Ed Clark and his privatization panel carte blanche to effect real change. The consequences of what Rick is predicting are enormous. For consumers, for industry professionals and for writers. We would all have to reconsider and recalibrate the way we approach wine and beer in Ontario.

That is why I remain ever the conspiracy theorist. I remain unconvinced. I see the smoke and mirrors of the entire charade. Even when new licenses are granted, I imagine grocery retailers only selling the largest and most heavily marketed brands. I don’t see VQA wine stores and specialty shops tailored to the demographics of neighbourhoods. I see the LCBO and the Beer Store continuing to exercise their powers of monopoly and controlling how all the changes are implemented. I just do not see the revolution as being imminent and around the corner.

My apologies to you Rick. Your report is thorough and covers everything we need to know. Were these great advances to happen we would all be the beneficiaries but your words sound more like wishes than predictions. Ontario is not Alberta. It never has been and isn’t likely to happen any time soon. I hope I am dead wrong. I will owe you a sit down over a craft beer and a never before seen in Ontario stores bottle of wine if I am. If the revolution is upon us, I will happily count my blessings over one with you.

So, back to the business of reporting on the VINTAGES releases at the LCBO. With spring coming this Saturday so too does an entire new set of wines on shelves. Last week I talked up Riesling and iconic wines.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Related – March 21 big guns

20150317_151442

Almost spring out on the lake

The rest of the March 21st release is expressed in value, in wines that offer serious compensation for what you spend. Wines in generosity of backbone, psyche and enthusiasm. Wines that are simply good, regardless of their cost. Here are notes on nine.

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013, Barrel Fermented, Doca Rioja, Spain (518985, $15.95, WineAlign)

Here barrel fermented Rioja brings a buffet of culinary impressions to the aromatic and gustatory table. Soft scrambled egg and cream in Tortilla Española, Serrano ham, buttery puff pastry, natillas. All would pair well with the hickory stick barrel spice and the slightly volatile tang. Accents of orange juice and rind work the angles, along with the calcified acidity. This Rioja is not shy but it represents good complexity and value for the price.  Tasted March 2015  @Marques_Caceres  @RiojaWine  @DionysusWines

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Docg (375ml), Tuscany, Italy (403824, $16.95, WineAlign)

Kudos must be afforded Castello di Ama for putting CCR in half-bottles. It’s like listening to Green River on vinyl. The layers of texture, nuance, and groove are amplified. The expedited evolution and compact formula make cause for a bottled up compression, a concentration, not a reduction. More winemakers should bottle in the 375 mL container. There are so many reasons for it. Space, quality, half the cost and best of all, nothing left at the end of the night, just the empty bottle. This 2009 has seen its fair share of evolution, with notes of forest floor, truffle, mushroom and compost tea but in certain respects the aromas are old-school Brunello. The antiquity of the composition is nothing but endearing, a romantic comfort zone to give this Ama a sense of place. The wood, bite into sinew and gristle tannins add to the archaic mystique. Most modern imbibers would like more fruit but at this paltry price the complexity is more than enough reward. “Well, take me back down where cool water flow, yeh. Let me remember things I love.” Drink now.  Tasted March 2015  @CastellodiAma  @chianticlassico  @HalpernWine

 

Boutari Grande Reserve 2008

Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Naoussa, Greece (140111, $17.95, WineAlign)

In this Xinomavro there is beauty and bog consistence, like wild calla palustris. Imagine a wine thick as consonants, dense and defined by solid rock bubbling like stew, from out of a marsh. Wood adds intricate layers and a mothering of leather hiding and protecting dried cherries. Game, spice, liquorice, funk and things that heal flavour the wine’s liqueur. Silky smooth with a run of grain and the salinity of ancient longing. Racy acidity intrudes, puts in a charge and takes care to see six to eight years more life will be a guarantee. Easily and possibly 10 will pass before it sheds the chalky loops. Terrific vintage with impressive depth and range of flavour.  Tasted February 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine  @winesofnaoussa

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013, Ac Alsace, France (398172, $18.95, WineAlign)

The resident oenologist at Wolfberger is Bertrand Praz, in charge of the cooperative located in Eguisheim, south of Colmar. As far as a ‘basic’ union Pinot Gris is concerned, this one hits the right marks and preserves proper tradition. It’s both saline and full of pith, with lemon is scrapes and ladles, yet it could very well be thought of as Riesling were it tasted blind. Good ripeness, nothing serious and quite righteous with an intent to carry an Alsace torch of dry, finely crafted Pinot Gris. What’s most important is the statement it makes for what will follow out of the 2013 vintage.  Tasted March 2015  @wolfberger_fr  @Smarent

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac, France (180323, $18.95, WineAlign)

The pause of oxidation. The evidence concrete and stratified, the bite pure and hollow petrified, like into bone and the interval below the organic soil. Crisp cut above the normal. Mouth-filling and expansive. Perfectly bitter. Much lemon, ginger and further spice. Length too.

From my earlier note of April 2014: A southern French (Pyrenean foothills, just south of Carcassonne) blend dominated by the traditional grape variety of Limoux, Mauzac (90 per cent), with support from Chardonnay. The lees is very direct and in your face on this Limoux, the baking aromas strong and the texture quite dense. Citrus and white grapefruit crawl up the middle and aridity mixed with horseradish salt comes through on the finish. Claims territory in viridity of complexity, an acumen for dewiness and is blessed with a marked appeal to hipster fizzters.  @DneJLaurens  @LanguedocWines  @oenophilia1

Last tasted March 2015

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (411595, $24.95, WineAlign)

Twenty three years ago this October the Hip’s third record changed the course of Canadian Pop and Rock music. While this Jeff Hundertmark, Kingston-bred band and Bordeaux blend will not have a similar effect on the Ontario wine industry, it’s certainly not a tragically vinified red. It’s looking for a place to happen, has the wherewithal to age with some grace and the courage to represent Stoney Ridge with power. The wall of sound, smell and taste is achieved through forest compost, bruised berries, melted liquorice, plum flavour and glycerin texture. Hung “long out in the sun,” the pencil graphite and hard acidity is a scratch and a flaw but also a calling card to see this age in the classic Niagara red style. “Either it’ll move me or it’ll move right through me; fully, completely.”  Tasted March 2015  @stoneyridgewine  @WeirRidgeYnmakr  @thehipdotcom  @ImportWineMAFWM

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392738, $29.95, WineAlign)

The passion from the Thomas Bachelder Niagara project has shifted into Domaine Queylus. With no disrespect to Thomas’ eponymous bottling from vineyards so nearby, the quality time has now been granted the Tradition. Here lies Mountainview and Le Petite Colline earth, here crushes Niagara cherries in hand, juice running down a clay caked forearm. Fresh and bright yet streaked by chalk and enveloping brushstroke. Sour? For a flash but in neither malic nor astringent form. This is a must buy.

From my earlier June 2014 note: Reverberates with the unmistakable calling card character of the storied Neudorf family La Petite vineyard with equal and opposite amounts of attraction and new life breathed in by the Lincoln Lakeshore fruit. Ethereally sifted earth of old meets cherries of new. Enriching Pinot Noir, a bit gangling like a primitive young giraffe but near to finding its legs. Hard working red, insistent, confident and having already paid some dirty fingernail dues. Excellent length.

Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin  @Bachelder_wines

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (400051, $34.95, WineAlign)

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  @gunbunwine  @LeSommelierWine

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Tasting with Power

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

Power, Rob Power. Niagara man of mystery, winemaker, barrel blender, junkie of dangerous varietal liaisons, license to chill. Power has been making the wines at Creekside Estate Winery for more than a decade. He is both the face and the enigma. Creekside is not a Peninsula vintner that rests on winemaking or marketing laurels. They change with and for the times.

Related – Up on Creekside Estates

I sat down with Rob Power and Rich Gaskin of Hobbs and Company last week at Barque Smokehouse to re-visit some wines tasted in the winter and fall of 2014, along with a couple of new issues. Here the notes, some updated and others in first time put to paper.

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

From a taste five months further along in bottle and just shy of the 36 months on lees (37.5 to be precise) 2nd bottling about to be disgorged. Has chill thickened and fattened in the middle with a texture and a truffled funk like foie gras, heading backwards and upwards, like a video shot in reverse. Rises from an ocean of spume up to a slivered taste of a grapefruit moon. “Transmission’s on and up we go.” Cool and angular on the beautifully licensed, bitter finish.

From my earlier note of October 2014: 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.

Last tasted March 2015

Sauvignon Blanc ‘Iconoclast’ 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

The licensee SB jimmies from fruit out of a good (right at the winery) site, caught red-handed at peak ripeness on a very specific picking date and crushed immediately to coax maximum freshness. Readily identifiable as Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps more so than any other from the Niagara Peninsula. The fruit was oxidized a hair to the left, flipping this more Loire than New Zealand. A dichotomous activity from large juice tray oxygenation meeting reduction under screwcap causes initial confusion but when the hounds of Blanc are released the wine buffets into clear, crisp feelings. This is not “mean, green and pristine,” just simply clean. This one’s got “a license to chill and I believe I will.”  Tasted March 2015

Laura’s White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Rob Power corrects previously provided information and tells me Laura’s composition is 55 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and that there is some Viognier in here, an inclusion that justifies the back-end bite (in conjunction with Gewürztraminer) of noble bitterness. They and the rest of the varieties combine to imitate Sémillon because Power is “going for white Bordeaux” in this pole to pole, here ’till Sunday blend. This has the grab, tempered by the warmth of the vintage, so look for ’13 to nail it with a hook.

From my earlier, May 2014 note: With a tilt of the head to 90 degrees the bottle is assessed and the glass contemplated. She’s a flirt, a gregarious girl this Laura, so orchard driven and with a perfumed attraction.

From my earlier, February 2014 note: Laura’s White combines Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer in a kitchen sink blend that sees a bit of oak. What’s notable about the ’12 is the omission of two highly aromatic components, the previously employed stalwarts Viognier and Chardonnay Musqué. The adage is justified in that you take what the vintage gives you. If it gives you lemons, (shift tangents) you let the busy aromatics of more flavourful grapes (like Chardonnay) do the floral work. Laura’s ’12 will be a standout for the concept, a revivalist blend to help bring back some religion to the region’s renditions. Coming to VINTAGES in June.

Last Tasted March 2015

Viognier Estate Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (22058, $29.95, WineAlign)

Here free run juice gets just a little help from the press. Consistent with a very recent taste, with a density in concoction and blessed tonic on the finish.

From my earlier note of January 2015: Creekside’s small production Viognier (maximum 80 cases) from the warmer micro-climate of the Queenston Road Vineyard heads back to near-boozy and a bit hot in the sudorific vintage. Oh the viscous humanity of it all, especially when the (all French, two year-old, nine months time) ferment was performed on 100 per cent of the six barrel juice. While it may not flirt with the dangers of say, a dirty peach martini, there is plenty of seasoning, rich, spicy and opulent fruit to at least declare a cocktail of some shaken kind. The ’12 Viognier drips and sweats of a humidity as much as any cool climate rendition can (at least in the context of the Niagara Peninsula). It may not be the ideal vintage but it just may be the one with the most excess.

Last tasted March 2015

Cabernet-Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Tank Sample)

The blend is (very approximate) 35 per cent of each Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc) with 20 per cent Merlot. “Basically a baby Laura,” says Power. Currently smelling very tanky but fresh and bullish. Sniffing past the must is not so hard to do, especially with the waft of spices coming through with thanks to the good barrel. The Franc here comes from Virgil, “no man’s land,” from Frank Serluka’s vineyard. The lack of any discernible volatile acidity speaks volumes about the clean winemaking and the gregarious personality of that Four Mile Creek Cabernet Franc fruit. This will excel out of keg in late Spring.  Tasted March 2015

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Still the Kama Sutra Pinot Noir of inviting behaviour. Positions in aroma, taste and texture are all elastic and of an aphorism held together in intimacy. Virtuous and gracious Pinot Noir for the purpose of interaction and pleasure.

From my earlier note of January 2015: “The first made since the 2008 because of a new directional decision to hold onto and no longer forsake these exceptional Queenston Road Vineyard grapes. A wine that folds back the skyline skin of time and reveals a cloning from intimate belongings. Pinot blessed of a Dylan-esque drawl, from a comfortable and crooning time in its life. Penetrates into the QRV earth and draws out subtleties, slow food assuagement and makes no BS about its ease. Though posolutely whiffing and tasting of black cherry, it balances itself with an acerbic wit. This is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Partners in crime Yvonne Irving and Matt Loney concur. One sip and your partner may just lay across your “big brass bed.” You can always go back to Nashville.

Last tasted March 2015

Laura’s Red 2011, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign)

A combination of young and older Queenston Road Vineyard vine fruit meshes to creamy raspberry, spoken most upfront, in the absence of Franc, by the Sauvignon. Waiting for this to improve would be a calculated error so drink up by the end of the year.

From my earlier note of September 2014: The most dead red Laura to date, juicy and earthy, like a licorice, plum and pomegranate demi-glace. Really expressive of earth and fruit.  Traditional house blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot. A no coat unfastened Niagara, consumer-friendly but also swelling with stuffing. “The light is red. The camera’s on,” the strokes are rich in energy though the tannins dry out a touch. Drink now and for two more years.

Last tasted March 2015

Creekside Estates Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula (202127, $39.00, WineAlign)

At its spiciest best, alkaline and lifted by Viognier, though as the tannins mellow, the Viognier will slowly disappear. Continues the Rhône-ish tradition laid before by 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, yet in ’12, for the first time, in addition to the Broken Press, there will be one made from seven rows of the same block Syrah, picked about a week later, a 100 per cent Unbroken Press. From vintage to vintage, a Viognier lifted BP is the correct application but in ’12, to Power and his team, both made perfect sense.

From my earlier note of October 2014: Only Creekside Syrah smells like this, like bending down to smell black raspberries on the shores of a briny capsicum lake in the middle of a pine forest. The 2011 Syrah has fruit residing on the edge of impossibly ripe, factored inside a pipeline, while piping lavender and plum pastry cream float atop rare duck breasts. If Syrah were to ooze or drip without sticking to surfaces along the way, this would be it. If Syrah came forth from the maw of the beast it would speak in these demanding tones. Creekside’s BP talks the tense, nervous and twitching talk. It’s smeared with a coat of epoxy spread over fine grain in wood. It sweats an air of metallic cordiality. If given five years to come together it will vape and realize togetherness.

Last tasted March 2015

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