Top ten imports at VINTAGES from May 30th

Organic Sirloin, parsley, black olive

Organic Sirloin, parsley, black olive

Should you be counting and despite the number of wines you will read about below, I have to tell you honestly that I was a highly competent mathematics student through high school. Distractions including but not restricted to cooking, music, words, pop culture, sports and ancient works of antiquity paved new roads but I can still count to ten. This list goes up to eleven because I could not in good conscience leave Thomas Bachelder’s pulchritudinous NSG out in the first day of June cold.

Related – Du bon Bachelder: Burgundy, Oregon, Niagara

So I tasted again and have updated my note on La Petite Charmotte 2011, a beneficient Bourgogne that hit LCBO shelves this past weekend. The Bachelder project turns water into wine in three countries. By now you know all about the trinité-terroir schematic as I’ve written about Thomas and Mary many times. The fact that VINTAGES happens to now be releasing the 2011 LPC, predecessor to the already tasted and reviewed 2012, the “single-vineyard NSG hugged up on a northern slope,” is of consequence because it’s a memorable, cellar-worthy wine from a really stunning vintage.

Related – Eight Ontarians to be released on May 30th

The other top 10 all happen to be reds, save for one exiguous white Burgundy. France and Italy (a.k.a. Old World) dominate the remainder, except for a lone, paradigmatic Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and a refreshing McLaren Vale Shiraz. Get out there folks, spoken one more time in guiltless refrain. Here are your tasting notes.

From left to right: La Ferme Du Mont Première Côte Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Altivitis Ventoux 2011, Corino Dolcetto d'Alba 2013, Errazuriz Aconcagua Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: La Ferme Du Mont Première Côte Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Altivitis Ventoux 2011, Corino Dolcetto d’Alba 2013, Errazuriz Aconcagua Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012

La Ferme Du Mont Première Côte Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Ac Rhône, France (251645, $14.95, WineAlign)

A different sort of CdR works from this unfiltered red, on the side of winemaking that summons modern Rosso Sangiovese Grosso. That’s caused by the concentration of cherry liqueur, dried roses and a greater aromatic feeling of potpourri. Yet there is also fresh raspberry and at the other end of the spectrum, cured meat. With a touch of Brett it recalls Grosso in deeper, more expensive terms. The middle palate is a touch hollow, but at $15 beggars need not be choosers and so much pepper marks the austere finish. Add it up and the two words that come to mind are simply complexity and value. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015  @Eurovintage  @VINSRHONE

Altivitis Ventoux 2011, Ac Rhône, France (414359, $17.95, WineAlign)

Prodigious Ventoux for a pittance considering the stuffing and the Mencia-esque (think Pittacum) deep, dark, black cherry and purple berry dressing. Rich and actually structured with equal and opposing tannins. That said, it never sheds its high-toned, carbonic youthfulness and the aromas are peppered by five spice, mandarin and hoisin. Something about this also reminds of Cru Beaujolais, but like an immature, yet volatile tank sample of Brouilly. But it’s more new world than that, so I wouldn’t construe all this as complexity, or balance for that matter, but instead, distraction. It’s certainly worth a look, with near, value-driven greatness due to righteous acidity, in a modern, semi-distinct representation of the region. If you like to keep it dark and sorcerer powerful, go gothic with this Ventoux. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015  @AOCVentoux

Three from the Rhône Valley at VINTAGES May 30, 2015

Three from the Rhône Valley at VINTAGES May 30, 2015

Corino Dolcetto d’Alba 2013, Doc Piedmont, Italy (412353, $18.95WineAlign)

Three district aromas emanate; fresh carbon-stoned fruit, cheese and earth. Plums and liquorice on the palate. More cheese. High acidity with gramercy to punctuality, dimension and peak performance prickling. A minutiae of tannin ekes out an ageing component. Could go both ways bitter finish. Better than most Dolcetto. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015  @danieliwines  @vinidelpiemonte

Errazuriz Aconcagua Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (203364, $19.95, WineAlign)

Presence and exceptional poise define the role played by this Cabernet Sauvignon. The character portraiture is so very Chilean. Florals oscillate in waves of vanilla, along with currants and tobacco. Dig in some Aconcagua earth and bell pepper, melded into and lost in an ol’ tenebrous, cimmerian buttermilk sky. Lush, rich and piqued by cracked pepper, anise and the dusty redundancy of liquorice root. Legitimately oaky but that is entirely OK. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015  @errazurizwines  @Dandurandwines  @DrinkChile

Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012, Burgundy, France (299867, $20.95, WineAlign)

So stylish for entry-level Burgundy, ascertained and finessed by a light yet steady approach. Creamy texture stands out, above freshness and the under subtle tone of buttery oak. I don’t find it at all toasty but more of a slow, low temperature, moisture deprivation in the whirl of a dehydrator. Enter the forest through the gates of this Bourgogne on the route to Meursault. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015  @RochedeBellene  @Nicholaspearce_

From left to right: Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2012, Serafino Shiraz 2012, Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte Gigondas 2012, Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011 and Monte Faustino Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008

From left to right: Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2012, Serafino Shiraz 2012, Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte Gigondas 2012, Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011 and Monte Faustino Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008

Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2012, Ac Rhône, France (973453, $23.95, WineAlign)

I tasted this Vacqueyras back in the fall of 2014 but did not write a formal tasting note. Six months in bottle has done it some serious, generous justice, in the aromatic simulacrum of balance. Settling has tempered what heat there may have been in extreme youth, humouring and buttressing the lamina of red fruit to stand alone, in avoidance of an impasse in jam. This has class in all months, seasons and at every level of education. It is both student and T.A., dug in to study and to mentor younger Vacqueyras in search of such structure and wisdom. Spice and smoke throw signals of added coil, only to relent to the drupe and resolve for involution. Times also allow for pretty florals beholden to garrigue. Chalk and grain give the tannin elasticity. Exemplary and necessary Vac with an inconsequential asking price. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @Beaucastel  @ChartonHobbs  @VINSRHONE

Serafino Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (407718, $28.95, WineAlign)

A richly textured, solidly structured and surprisingly believable, relatively tame, low alcohol (14 per cent) McLaren Vale Shiraz. The flowers are strewn across the aromatic entry, relenting to cedar and ripe berries. What a sincere inhalation of beautiful. Classic bones to carry a sense of place, constructed with heady serenity and savour faire. Shiraz of a tall order, to please many camps, from finesse to power, for instant pleasure and in attraction of the cellar junky. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @SerafinoVino  @mclaren_vale

Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte Gigondas 2012, Rhône Valley, France (973453, $27.95, WineAlign)

Show me an off vintage of the Romane Machotte Gigondas and I’ll throw in the proverbial tasting towel. This Amadieu can never disappoint. The ’12 offers spicy, smoky, piquant accents over top big red fruit. Much reduced yet non-reductive freshness abounds, set upon a valance of liquorice and dried flowers. The stuffing is packed and brimming, the herbs and verdancy sacrosanct with just the right kind of sting. Has savour but I would stop short of calling it savoury. It’s raspy but not rapacious. The Grenache-Syrah blend bides and lingers, long as the road that links Romane and Machotte. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @Amadieu_G

Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Docg Tuscany, Italy (683474, $38.95WineAlign)

This is a very understated, creeping, impossibly concentrated Chianti Classico Riserva. Positively vital, as classic as classic gets while not once reverting to the kind of rusticity that refuses adaptation, ignores permutation or refutes progress. The cleanest fruit is scented by the dulcet appraisal of truffle and porcini. The pitch is just about perfect, the acidity ideal and the balance struck between fruit, barrel and age. Earth grounds the entire ordeal, rendering it peaceful and pleasurable, the possibilities playing out enjoyable and endless. The organic ’09 can be poured right now and the legs will take this down roads as long as the SP408 to Traversa and Gaiole in Chianti. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted May 2015   @coltibuono  @HalpernWine  @chianticlassico

Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign)

The spice notes reign in May, 2015. A smoulder stick of limestone wicks through the red, earthy fruit. Petite only in grace and largesse, in longevity this stretches from Nuits-Saint-Georges to roads leading in all directions. Careful, delicate and yet profoundly, powerfully restrained, not to be ignored Pinot Noir. Drink 2018-2025.

From my earlier note of November 2013:

Is so floral, mineral, intense and hypnotic it might be dubbed the Serpent Charmer. Iron and wine indeed, the iron of Nuits, the perfume of Beaune. This provocative bottling represents the third year of production, is conspicuous in Anis de Flavigny and an underlying gate. If montagnes is the harming one, this is the charming one. These are all from the same barrels, so what really affects the wines the most? Land and hand.

Last tasted May 2015  @Bachelder_wines

Monte Faustino Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008, Doc Veneto, Italy (327122, $56.95, WineAlign)

You know it’s big, hot and full-bodied. But oh if this isn’t the epitome of how Amarone can woo, thrill and hypnotize. The fig-date-palm-dried fruit feeling proliferates within an anise liqueur base. The caked, cracking and arid earth flakes, chips and cuts with a mustard of spices. The smooth and velvety mouthfeel has variegated chalk and grain. Such a promiscuous Valpolicella that fleshes and swells as it swirls. Intense, rich and yet neither overpowers nor climbs over the top. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2015  @RegioneVeneto

Good to go!

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March 7th seven blazon party

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

As VINTAGES rolls out another army of bottles in proclamations of blatant multiplicity and, as I mentioned yesterday, in duplicity, it is time to settle into the recommendations encampment. Trudging through the trenches of Sparkling, White, Red and Dessert the divisions are laid, dispatches ordered and strategies finalized. Staffers go here, front liners there and commanders bring up the rear.

Related – Why it matters to taste wines again

A little bit of everything, as always, defines the March 7th release. Tidy little sippers work the hardest and make sacrifices for the rest. In this release Kosher wines prepare to tackle Passover but that we will save for next week, or perhaps the week after. Italy is the focus, bellowing commands from the bull horn, making decrees like colosseum commentators at Hunger Games. “We have wines that are just too goddamn vivid!” “We have wines with language that is fairly formal and sometimes flowery!” “Occasionally we stop to smell the adjectives!”

Tuscan wines always seem to possess what has heretofore been referred to as collectively having “a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility.” As a group they are confident, steeped in tradition and now, as much as any wine-producing region, captured within the heart of the state of the art. The sea is murky because the obvious separations between varietal and blend are hard to discern but one aspect is not under dispute. Overall quality has never been higher. Tuscan wines are just plain fun to drink.

The seven blazon party from March 7th attacks with Chardonnay, Yellow Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and two rounds of Sangiovese. The notes, here, now.

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A'frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$14.95, WineAlign)

One of the best deals going in oak-less Chardonnay, a glug, glug, line up at the jug kind of guiltless white. Pure, cool-climate variegate, with the cool of the Peninsula overridden by the vacuous warmth in the saddle abutting the Escarpment. Very pear, all in slate, exit to daylight acidity for a Chardonnay that hit the switch. Spot on in 2013 with an even keel of personality, warm but never far from cool.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, Tokaj Hegyalja, Hungary (46508$15.95, WineAlign)

From Tokaj Hegyalja in Bodrogkeresztúr found tucked into the northeastern corner of Hungary. One could imagine the air thick as sweet cool soup in summer, perfumed by basil and lemon verbena. Designated “semi-sweet” the varietal is so much more than pedestrian when handled with this kind of poise and concern. Highly aromatic, viscous and wildflower floral. Honey and honeysuckle, fresh lemon, beeswax and citrus pith. Sweetness begins, abides, subsides and melts in the mouth. Buckley‘s medicinal to a fundamental degree but not to a fault. Delicate and delightful. Muscat of a grace that makes you feel and wish, “my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder.”  Tasted March 2015  @WineofHungary

The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$20.95, WineAlign)

While wood plays a prominent role it does not saturate to distraction. The barrel extract adds warmth and spice in contribution to balance. A high-toned syrup on the nose gives way to an evenly weighted palate. A scraped bean flavoured creamy toddy texture is topped with chocolate shavings, a dry of bell pepper and tobacco smoulder from out of the chamber. Nicely judged fruit, acidity and texture with admirable length. A necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.  Tasted March 2015  @goodearthtweets  @EpicW_S

Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (972695$23.95, WineAlign)

A very honest take on Sangiovese and Chianti Classico. When it appeared from the 2006 vintage it had been a while since this Panzano came to market, having been a stalwart presence in late 1990’s vintages. Modern now, very much a child of 21st century winemaking but in retention of loyalties to red, sour cherry and dusty 90’s Sangiovese. Remains slightly austere, angular and tension-filled, as if a scraping noise could be heard as the fruit, acidity and tannins fight for purchase on the floor. Chalky lactic and really juicy. Drink now and for three to five further on.  Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp  Castelli del Grevepesa

Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (350751$29.95, WineAlign)

Very expressive aromatics in dried flowers, earthy red perfumed fruits, orange peel, clove and a full crumble of cinnamon fill the air. Rampant but not relegating (at this early, five-year juncture) acidity drives the engine, running on vineyard funk, a hint of game and fruit ripened to optimum clarity. This is faultless Sangiovese of guts and guile, really well-made, classic yet modern CCR. Dances like Sangiovese should, “well, you wiggle to the left, you wiggle to the right, you do the ooby dooby with all your might.” No factory made CCR here, nor from out of the cosmos. Just simply down to earth. Were $30 all that I had to spend and a Chianti Classico Riserva the only choice, this would have to make the shortlist. Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Ac Pessac Léognan, Bordeaux, France (966010$31.95, WineAlign)

That VINTAGES was able to secure another sku of this Bordeaux Blanc is both fortuitous and a gift. For the cost of an I-Tunes song you can have a peak into the generosity of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage through the senses of a top-value producer. From Les Vignobles André Lurton comes this white beauty. Though slightly musty upon entry this shows immediate yet perfectly evolved poise. Ready to strike with much persistent verve and density in 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc singularity. Wood is very involved (10 months in 35 per cent new oak barrels on full lees with bâtonnage) by adding precious layers of necessity. Very layered indeed, honeyed, anti-hackneyed, buttressed, really fine and generous. Most excellent work by oenologists Denis Dubourdieu and Valérie Lavigne.  Tasted March 2015  @AndreLurton  @KirkwoodDiamond

Château Montelena Estate Zinfandel 2012, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California (69633$49.95, WineAlign)

A rare, in the neighbourhood of elegant and exquisitely refined Zinfandel gives all red fruit with just a faint raise of raisining. Quite pure, with heaps of liquorice, smouldering cedar bough, brushed and bushy, big but shy of the peak. The English punk of Zinfandel but with melody and charm. Says to the world we have “our own raison d’etre we can’t see?” The quality is in, raising the Zin bar to a level not oft seen, with restraint and complexity. Never mind the bullocks, Montelena offers a buzzcock of a Zinfandel. Here lies a Zinaison d’être.  Tasted March 2015  @ChMontelena  @rogcowines

Good to go!

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Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs
PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

The year-end list. Why? To “free the individual from the collective.” To ponder, speculate and formulate a narrative. To create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines. In anthropological terms, “to make a housecleaning of belief.”

For the great majority, $25 is the threshold rarely exceeded when shopping for a bottle of wine. If a solid, honest to good bottle can’t be had for less, grape dismissal rears its ugly head and the switch turns to beer, or worse, rail booze mixed with sugar and/or chemical bitters. Oh, the drab humanity of it all.

But a great wine can be had for less than $25 and once found should be exalted and purchased by the case. The category of reds and in less instances whites, need company. This is where Sparkling, Sherry and even Dessert wines seek the embrace of an open mind and a willing palate. Spread the wealth, into glasses filled, from methods and styles unknown.

You will note that this list is filled with such rare animals and not just from the calculations in ferment, but from places unexpected, far off, of gestalt, historical significance and of the ancients. Places like Naoussa and Santorini in Greece, Montilla Moriles from Spain and Alsace, France.

These 15 wines are (almost all) culled from VINTAGES releases. I tasted countless other terrific under-$25 examples in 2014; local, parochial, from beyond Ontario’s borders and abroad. For the purposes of what the Ontario consumer needs to know and for what serves them best, restricting the bulk of the list to what is available in LCBO stores (or in many cases, what was and will again, as a newer vintage, be released), these 15 wines are not hard to find.

So yes, this is an ode, a nod, shout out and props to our faithful and loyal provider, the LCBO and truer to the point, VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the Ontario monopoly. The supply chain for great wine is alive and well, despite the efforts required to sift through the chaff, to separate it from the proverbial wheat. The gems, though oft-times hidden, can be unearthed. The diamonds will time and again be scooped from the rough and the cream will also rise to the top. Cliché is a by-product of wine life in Ontario.

What stands out and above is the contribution made and presented by the winemakers and vintners in this province. Six out of my 15 choices are from Ontario. The attitude that Ontario wines are too expensive and do not offer good value as compared to similar wines from Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand is rubbish. My decision to include six such beasts drives the point. Many excellent wines are available at the u-$25 price point.

Here are my wines of the year that came in under $25. Some are sold out, many are not. Find them before the year is out.

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign) From Recently tasted here, there and everywhere, November 24, 2014

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

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 Release

Always a diamond cut above its like-minded and similarly priced peers. Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc has the most wonderful smell of bleeding, oozing metal and the bitten into stones of many tree fruits, in bittering nobility. Not to mention the pith of citrus and the pits of tree nuts. Though currently in a sulphurous, reductive state, with age this will seek and find an earthen, honey bronzed gorgeousness, in say five to seven years and live in sweet CB infamy until 2025. For a wine that crosses oceans to arrive in your tasting glass, at $18 it represents the finest value in Chenin just about anywhere on the planet. Terrific length. Chenin meets Montrachet.  Tasted May 2014  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

Artichoke and Fiddleheads PHOTO: Michael Godel

Artichoke and Fiddleheads
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Alsace, France (392928, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 Release, Big release, bigger wines, November 7, 2014

From a northern part of Alsace, southwest of Strasbourg comes this epitome of Dry Alsace Riesling, stone cold stoic and bereft. The impossibility of this style is what Alsace does with impunity and propriety; gaseous and aerified without petrol or vitriol. But it will condense and go there after five years time. The quality is excellent for the price, from a limestone and silica lieu-dit just this side short of Grand Cru. Citrus would be the wrong descriptor but it does act like an exuding of citric acid. So stark and beautiful. Such a mineral expression in every fighting sense of the argument. Like chewing on rock salts and dehydrated limestone, the second tablet then dropped into the glass. A famous wine merchant in London sells this for $25 CAN. In Ontario, this is a must purchase by the case.  Tasted October 2014  @HHDImports_Wine  @drinkAlsace

Dirty Ramps

Dirty Ramps

Rosewood Select Sémillon 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (winery, $18.00,WineAlign) From Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality, October 8, 2014

After tasting Rosewood’s ’12, I urged the region’s cultivation of the great white wolf variety. Then the winter of 2014 happened. Rosewood’s vines were wiped clean off the map, erased like a child of parents who never met. The ’13 Sem is the last Mohican and its 12.5 per cent alcohol (down two from ’12) is a fitting, subdued and graceful epitaph to an amazing Beamsville run. This final cut is lean, stark, raving mad. So very savoury, tannic and built to linger for longer than most. The Rosewood honey is in hiding,”far from flying high in clear blue skies,” but like all memorable vintages of this wine, it will emerge in time. This Sémillon asks, “and if I show you my dark side, will you still hold me tonight?” Yes is the answer, and not just because she is the last one. Terrific curtain call.  Tasted October 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (372441, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES July 19, 2014 Release, Release the summer wine, July 17, 2014

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

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Maine Lobsters

Maine Lobsters

Nugan King Valley Frasca’s Lane Chardonnay 2012, King Valley, Victoria, Australia (288191, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 7, 2014 Release, Australian rules VINTAGES, June 4, 2014

The toast in this Victorian charmer comes across in a mild-mannered, spoken word way with a simmering, buttery bass line. The fruit is high but the rhythms are delicate and even-keeled. More white flowers than your average Australian Chardonnay, brighter, with more grace and more beauty. She’s a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket eating angel cake. Still firm towards the back-end with citrus zest and mouth-watering acidity, she’s “fast and thorough and sharp as a tack.” Finishes with a long and persistent held trumpeting line. “Na,na,na,na,na,na.”  Tasted May 2014  @PMA_int

Katogi & Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (249615, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with song, October 10, 2014

It’s not that every Xinomavro is infallible but every Xinomavro is worth exploring. The Averoff is classic; smoky, rich plum meets cherry intensity, tannic and textured, layered, like old school Pinot Noir. Liqueur of Naoussa terra firma, rocks and sweet beets. Balance of earth, wind and fire, fun funky and moving. Shares the spice of life so “let this groove, light up your fuse, alright. Let this groove, set in your shoes.” Parts unknown gather to subvert the uninitiated and make them move to Greece.  Tasted October 2014  @katogistrofilia

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (360750, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES January 20, 2014 Release, From Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds, January 30, 2014

Magnificent Macedonian, built upon the unheralded yet stalwart variety Xinomavro. Pure, sweet-smelling gardenia and the refuse of ancient rolling stones express every bit of sun and wind-swept, low bush vines goodness. Purposefully and thankfully unfiltered, so that all the delicious sweet and sour cherry and great biting but sweet tannin are left in. Purity, good sugar/alcohol heights without oak corruption. Earth possessive of mythic undercurrent, sage, wealth of  knowledge, sweet anise and hyssop. Scents of game on the grill. Amazing complexity and length. While tasting this Xinomavro it made me “feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene.” Get your rocks off to the Greek Tasted January 2014  @thymiopoulosvin

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) From Take them home, County wines, May 20, 2014

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

Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, Santorini, Greece (366450, $22.95, SAQ 11901091, $24.50, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release, On a wine and a prayer, March 24, 2014

A 100 per cent Assyrtiko from a 150 year-old, Cycladic Phylloxera sanctuary vineyard. Separates itself from other Santorini adelphoi by ageing 20 per cent of the inoxydable, ancient-minded grapes in French barrels. An Assyrtiko that can’t help be anything but stony, atomic driven goodness. Volcano flow and spew, with more texture than most, its elevated price a necessary reflection of a tertiary expertise. Elevated aromatics, locked in tight by the barrel and matched by extreme flavours, so primary, raw, powerful, relentless and grippy. A remarkable white wine that impresses with a sensation of mouth rope burn full of complex, seafaring knots, this Assytiko will age for 15 years in the cellar and develop into something ethereal. Will melt away in dreamy waves when it settles together. Myth will beget legend, legend will beget truth.  Tasted March 2014 @KolonakiGroup

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 Release, Wine on company time, October 23, 2014

If it were so because of cryogenic preserved must or an accidental tipping and topping up into an unused barrel by recent vintage juice I would not be left hanging with mouth fully agape. Considering the amount of time this flat out delicious Gran Reserva saw in barrel, the mystery must somehow be explained, how it came to be so surprisingly modern and bright (for its age), especially at $23. But it has been seen many times before, with no greater example than the Montecillo 1991 GR that drank fortuitously well into the last years of the previous decade. This is the magic of Rioja. That said, there is some sinew and some raw character here as well – that’s the old school treatment and style talking. Red cherry fruit. Ripe fruit roasted, rested and now sliced, showing its perfectly cooked rare cut. Juicy and with sanguine notes still running through its grain. Wonderful old school yet bright Rioja. Riotous red wine with a calming aura of quietude.  Tasted October 2014  @RiojaBordon  @Eurovintage  @RiojaWine

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (382945, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

An ’06 Chianti Classico Riserva you say, pre-aged, delivered to the Ontario market and presented here in 2014, all in for $24? You can’t fool us. We’ve been duped too many times before. This must fall into the “too good to be true” category. The answer depends on which style of Chianti you prefer. This walks all the halls, plies the trades and hits the marks of the CCR ancients. Comes from a remarkable vintage, holding on but in true advanced, oxidizing and fruit diminishing character. Mushrooms and truffles abound, as does game in the early roasting stage. A note of Brett is here too, not over the top but its presence can’t be denied. Acidity speaks, as does bitter chocolate. This is not for all but all should have a go.  Tasted November 2014  @Ilmolinodigrace  @chianticlassico

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($25, WineAlign) From The pearls of Morisstte’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

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

Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign) From Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies.  Tasted November 2014  @hinterlandwine  on the card at @barquebbq

Good to go!

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The final 14 bargains of 2014

Today I tasted through the VINTAGES January 10, 2015 release. Thinking about that for a moment I find it hard to believe that yet another year has passed, with thousands of wines having passed my lips and into many levels of my consciousness. What a year it has been. More on that to come.

Related – Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

For now the task at hand is to find some wine to get us through the weeks leading to Christmas and into the new year. Bargains and values come in many colours, shapes and sizes. Earlier this week I gave up a dozen Sparkling wines to look for. Today it’s all about the red and white table wines, from cocktail sippers to serious main course friends. Here are the last 14 recommended values coming to VINTAGES December 6th, which happens to be tomorrow.

From left to right: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épice Syrah 2012, Tselepos Classic Moschofilero 2013, Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling 2012, Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Mountadam Estate Chardonnay 2009, Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013

From left to right: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épice Syrah 2012, Tselepos Classic Moschofilero 2013, Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling 2012, Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Mountadam Estate Chardonnay 2009, Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2012, Midi, France (177584, $15.95, WineAlign)

That, at $16, a Midi Syrah can throw this much smoked meat, bacon and genuine roasted porcine goodness into a bottle, kudos must be thrown straight back. The braise is accented by allspice, winter savoury, black olives and licorice root. It’s a veritable pot au feu, filled to brimming with meat, mire poix and herbs de provence. Wow. All, in.   Tasted November 2014  @VinsPaysdOcIGP

Tselepos Classic Moschofilero 2013, Peloponnese, Greece (724583, $17.95, WineAlign)

A textured, minutely oxidative and bronzing Moschofilero with a confident sense of itself. The orchard has ripened and spilled into this bottle with peaches, apricots and citrus Portokalia Lakonias. Great metal tang, world turning acidity and length as long as the Nestani’s walk to Demeter’s Temple.  Tasted November 2014  @Tseleposwines

Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling 2012, VQA Niaagara Peninsula, Ontario (392126, $18.95, WineAlign)

Classic and I mean classic Bench Riesling entry. The richness of Bench soil, the elevation enriching the texture, the off-dry aromas impossible to avoid. There is a creamy, medicinal, tannic feel, so apropos and a scant, succulent scent of roses. The acidity at present is not quite in the groove and will be needed to travel the long, bright road ahead. If this ’12 is not the one, future vintages will surely one day realize the dream. Nevertheless this Kew is typical to ’12 and to the Bench and has begun a new chapter for the genre.  Tasted November 2014  @kewvineyards

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Alsace, France (392118, $19.95, WineAlign)

A step up in the Alsace Gewurz take.  Some reserve in the nose, holding back the far east florals and the sugar. There’s an aerified feel to this, an ethereal complement, a savoury edge. Really interesting and surely more than versatile aromatic white.  Good texture with creamy mangosteen and vanilla pod and then tight, even spicy, bracing acidity. Great deal here. Will live for a decade.  Tasted November 2014  @drinkAlsace

Mountadam Estate Chardonnay 2009, South Australia, Australia (333211, $21.95, WineAlign)

There’s a sugary high to this Chardonnay and some sulphur though it blows away with ease. The texture is brilliant, flavours round and glazing. So much citrus to go around, with so little time to appreciate the varieties, levels and nuances. Oak, while anything but an after thought toasts in nuts and bolts. This will do no harm and ingratiate itself to all sorts of white palates for five years or more.   Tasted November 2014

Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia (58073, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Mornington perfume, distinct, ethereal, lifted, elevated, fresh with a bit sauvage, not of musk, but of a wild road less trodden. A step beyond fresh, into learned territory and also above crisp, into crunchy. Very interesting and complex Pinot Noir, so obvious as anything but, yet unique, tart, striking and long. This should have many consumer fans and expand horizons for broad appeal, but also be a friend to the discerning taster. Most impressive.  Tasted November 2014  @RedHillEstate  @Noble_Estates

From left to right: Clos De Los Siete 2011, Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Château Cambon Le Pelouse 2010, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2011, Paitin Sori' Paitin Barbaresco 2010, Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

From left to right: Clos De Los Siete 2011, Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Château Cambon Le Pelouse 2010, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2011, Paitin Sori’ Paitin Barbaresco 2010, Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Clos De Los Siete 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

If the triumvirate of extraction, Argentine beefiness and intermingled layers of wood and cake are the thing you crave, come to Mendoza for all that and more. If that ternion comes in a package of $22 and is drawn from seven altitudinous agricultural entities, Clos de los Siete the perennial success story is a go to for the genre. From out of the Uco Valley, at the district of Vista Flores, Tunuyán. The ’11 misses no beats, brings chocolate, licorice and macerated plums to the barbecue. This Malbec blend (with Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) intimates, attracts and culls a hunk of steak from off the coals and settles in for a long, healthy, belly fulling pairing.  Tasted November 2014  @closdelossiete  @closdelos7  @Dandurandwines

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (382945, $23.95, WineAlign)

An ’06 Chianti Classico Riserva you say, pre-aged, delivered to the Ontario market and presented here in 2014, all in for $24? You can’t fool us. We’ve been duped too many times before. This must fall into the “too good to be true” category. The answer depends on which style of Chianti you prefer. This walks all the halls, plies the trades and hits the marks of the CCR ancients. Comes from a remarkable vintage, holding on but in true advanced, oxidizing and fruit diminishing character. Mushrooms and truffles abound, as does game in the early roasting stage. A note of Brett is here too, not over the top but its presence can’t be denied. Acidity speaks, as does bitter chocolate. This is not for all but all should have a go.  Tasted November 2014  @Ilmolinodigrace  @chianticlassico

Château Cambon Le Pelouse 2010, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France (256016, $29.95, WineAlign)

Always a solid, full-bodied for little compensation Bordeaux, this time in full cake and grain throttle. Though it lacks the fullness up the middle of more accomplished ’10 houses, the fruit is grounded, the acidity on top and the tannins daring, yet working to towards future gains.  Tasted November 2014  @CambonLaPelouse

13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130195, $29.95, WineAlign)

A return to the Sandstone 2011 sees the high-toned aromatics and blessedly funky earth coming together, if in ever so timorous tone, to form some kind of Gamay union. There is something lurking now, coming out, intimating roses and tea, eastern spices and potpourri. Something Nebbiolo like, or possibly, more specifically Pelaverga. This is Sandstone. Nothing else in Ontario smells like Gamay from this place. Nothing. The complexity of its aromatic life is now beginning, though due to the burdensome barrel the palate lags behind. Give it two more years to take a turn at expression.  Tasted November 2014  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Paitin Sori’ Paitin Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy (106591, $41.95, WineAlign)

Classic, quintessential, “entry-level” Barbaresco, so much more than utilitarian Nebbiolo from as quality and consistent a producer as can be found. The 2010 has all the right attributes and hits all the correct marks. Regal, matronly, sharp, focused and so attached. Gorgeous perfume, marked by candied flowers, with noble, astringent tannins but there is more than good and plentiful fruit. This will age for 20 years, as long as any Paitin from recent times.  Tasted November 2014  @GroupeSoleilTO

Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (237263, $49.95, WineAlign)

Rustic, stark, intense and tense from a vintage that separates the bold from those that can’t handle the climatic truth. Corte Pavone spoons it in stride, chews it up, spits it out. True blue Brunello feel here; bracing, aromatically buffed and bouffant, of sweet plum flavours, tobacco, smoky and make-up smeared all over its face. A wild herb and gritty tannic finish. This is trouble come running, magical, wild, exceptionally out there and with 5-10 years it should reel in the reigns, slow down, relax and smile with “clean, clean thoughts.” Tasted November 2014  @ConsBrunello

Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley, California (992438, $119.95, WineAlign)

Showing a smidgen of age at this eight year mark. The warm touch of caramel on plum flavours are wrapped up in an aromatic potpurri in  many flowers, dried and also blooming. Violets for sure, but also a rose and citrus blossom. Trailside is in a relaxed state of wine. Has moments of dark, dusty chocolate and a tonic to tie the flavours together. It’s expensive but it’s a classic Napa drop and worth every dollar.  Tasted November 2014  @liffordretail

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

The death of wine scores?

 

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Not so fast.

As time goes by, I am hearing less comments like, “well that one got a 95,” and “that one is better value because it got a 90.” Wine ratings may increasingly becoming maligned and less frequently employed but that does not mean they don’t have their place. Scores continue to be necessary as a way to evaluate wines that lack a certain level of honesty. Wines on the edge of being dodgily made, encumbered by heavy-handed, industry-fed, mass marketing machines. Scores separate and differentiate the wheat from the chaff when dealing with over the top residual sugar, hyper-acidification, bloated alcohol and (lack of fruit) masking. Embrocating one Malbec an 85 over another’s 84 makes a comment on the relative validities of those two sweetened confections.

Attaching a rating to a tasting note is not a question of right versus wrong. Ratings measure a bottle of wine against its peers. That is the simple answer. The problem is that the tasting experience is a subjective one and each reviewer has personal preferences, so in order to align with one (or more), the consumer must self-calibrate alongside a critic whose palate they’ve figured out. Very difficult to do, so relying on scores has always been the easiest road to travel.

Part of the problem is that tasting notes, on their own, are often fleeting and impossible to grasp. Guilty as charged. Fred Swan put this is the most eloquent terms. “Tasting notes are like photographs, portraying a subject at one brief moment in time and without a back story.” If tasting notes are just snapshots, is that not compelling testimony as to the need for an accompanying score? Or is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?

Jamie Goode’s take. “I find myself in a tricky position: I use points even though I don’t like to because readers find them useful. And I have to calibrate my scale with the major critics. This pushes me into a corner.”

Still the debate is growing and for good reason. The wine community is tiring of seeing scores, especially those tabulated using the Robert Parker Jr. anointed 100-point scale, attached to a critic’s wine tasting note. The question has always been this. Why would you need scores to sell wine?

Mr. Parker feels so strongly about the entrenched longevity of his system that he’s announced the launch of a new lifestyle magazine called “100 Points by Robert Parker.” Does this sound like a last gasp fling from a captain going down with his ship? Bill Zacharkiw seems to intimate the idea, but the Montreal Gazette wine critic is smarter than to lash out and drag anyone through the mud. Taking a high road, Zacharkiw writes, “from grapes to wine styles, there is truly a wine for everyone. I have my taste, you have yours, and Parker has his.” No, nor scores neither. Nor scores neither.

The fervor and sometimes rage in the argument reminds me of the (second) most famous of Hamlet soliloquys. “Why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man!” Most of the voices chiming in on this hot topic only see the ratings world in black and white. There are more shades of grey than many would freely admit. Scores have their place.

Meanwhile, Decanter is reporting that Château Pontet-Canet made a bold decision to test (more than 20 years) of uncharted waters by setting their en Primeur pricing in advance of the taste and ratings levies by the major critics. Since the nineties the likes of Parker, Decanter and Wine Spectator have all but determined Bordeaux Futures pricing. Pontet-Canet’s move is being seen as another nail in the 100-point coffin. One Bordeaux négociant commented, “If other chateaux follow this same pricing model, we might as well go home now.”

The real issue is the bottle itself. In the new world of wine, who has not thrown new stock and a vested interest into wines made naturally, in sustainable, biodynamic or organic ways? Who has not made a resolution to drink more honest wine? Producing good wine still trumps the natural theatre of viticulture and viniculture but honesty is the new order. Honest wines should go forth and be free of wine ratings.

Wine scores can be ignored if we concentrate on what matters. Like apiculate yeast, fermentative vigor, microflora, clonal selection and soil. We also need to talk more about and mention flaws, like chlorinated compounds, hydrogen sulphide and volatile acidity. These are things that are too often brushed under the rug.

I will continue to post ratings of the wines I review on WineAlign because as a community of critics we offer a round table of opinions that allow the wine buyer to make gathered, educated and informed decisions. In consideration that this forum is a singular expression of opinions, this column will no longer attach scores to tasting notes. It’s quite obvious, plain and simple. I only write about honest wines for canada.com. The prose speaks for itself.

With spring beginning this Friday, no joke, here are the last of the great big winter reds. Five wines recently tasted that thrilled by way of their fairness, their honor and their virtue. Wines that need no score.

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (364133, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Stands out for its honest fruit, this Mendozan from San Roque district in Maipú county. Qualified by an admirable level of restraint, low in residual sugar and alcohol, straightforward, unencumbered. Winemakers María Eugenia Baigorria and Sergio Giménez have let the fruit speak in clean, level tones, in red berries, licorice red and black, a dusting of spice, red cherry and even strawberry. This is textbook hands off winemaking with nearly exceptional length and simply solid from start to finish. Mi sueno, mi terruño.  Tasted March 2014

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

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

Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, Tuscany, Italy (353201, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A re-release showing an exuberance of advanced character. Now acting out the strikingly rich and golden vintage, in Lamé and gilded iron. Speaking a most Tuscan, elite vernacular, already recognizable and evolving into its own skin, with a notion towards herbaceous, dried fruit. A classic pasta and roasted meats red wine. Nonna’s Trattoria kitchen in a glass. Drying just a touch, so drink up. Earlier note: “Slight earthy funk, imparted by the vineyard floor and in part from the wood. Sappy, resinous, distinctively warm-blooded, plummy fruit. Tuscan tang though light on pucker.”  Tasted October 2013 and March 2014

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign)

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection 

Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe, Bordeaux, France (259010, $149.85, WineAlign) An In-Store Discovery from the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A blend that in 2010 is extremely high in Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), with support from Merlot (12) and Petit Verdot (2). Immaculate hue in blue jasmine meets red ochre, echoed by blue and red fruit aromas. A purity of freshness and an exotic perfume distracts from the absurdity of the price, if just long enough to become intoxicated by its qualifications. It really does have it all. Red velvet layer cake made of the finest chocolate, the world’s least refined and highest quality sugar, spices only found in places reached and hand-picked by agile, primate-like humans. So approachable and marked by sweet tannins that will carry this Saint Estèphe for three decades.  Tasted March 2014

Good to go!

Top ten wines $30 and under for 2013

Wine in the haystack


Finding the needles in the proverbial haystack is no simple assignment so tasting through thousands of wines each year is the necessity to the mother of invention.
Photo: Africa Studio/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Folks like best of lists and I for one am happy to offer them up. Historical farsightedness can be one of life’s great pleasures so cue the retrospective view.

The $20-30 category brims to overflowing with soft wines, so often heavy, overworked, reeking of new oak and unforgiving in contrivance. That niche can also be occupied by some of the greatest wine values on the planet. Wines that are neither entry-level nor flagship. Wines that define the attitude and intention of their producers.

Finding the needles in the proverbial haystack is no simple assignment so tasting through thousands of wines each year is the necessity to the mother of invention. Looking back, I am pleased to note that Ontario wines proved their worth in this reasonable if not cheap category. That four of the ten represented here were chosen locally is a testament to the quality and the marketability of $25 Niagara whites and reds.

Here are my top ten wines, on the number or below, released and tasted in 2013.

Ten wine releases $30 and under

From left: SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, and SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009

From left: SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, and SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009

SIGALAS SANTORINI ASSYRTIKO 2011, Santorini, Greece (74781, $21.95, WineAlign)

Must be a fairy tale, a Boucles d’or narrative of structure and complexity from the first swirl and sniff. Airy, saline, built of rich, gold guts. Perfectly ripened orchard fruit and fresh-squeezed grapefruit. Taste it and there’s a joyous dance, a kefi bursting inside, like great Champagne but minus the bubbles.  92  Tasted April 2013  @KolonakiGroup  From: See the humanity in real value wine

SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (ON, VINTAGES Essential, 193573, $22.95, WineAlign)

Drifts effortlessly along in an extreme brightness and lightness of being. A perfumed exotic beauty that displays definitive Cabernet Sauvignon character. Tea, tobacco, Cassis, vanilla, dark berries, proper acidity, good grip and length. Dictionary entry for the vintage, the Niagara-on-the-Lake appellation and the genre. No other sub-$25 Ontario Cab does the warm vintages (’02. ’05, ’07 and ’10) with this kind of grace and power. From and kudos to winemaker Ann Sperling.  91  Tasted September 2013  @SouthbrookWine  From: Good Look Ahead at Canadian Wines For Thanksgiving

GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011 ,VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (351486, $22.95, WineAlign)

Cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.  91  Tasted July 2013  @GreenLaneWinery  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend

DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, Ac Loire, France (319855, $23.95, WineAlign)

Screams “I am Chenin Blanc,” in honey on the pedal and maximum mineral metal. Aggressive, pursuing machine ”stealing honey from a swarm of bees.” Petrol stinky, tangy thick, sticky with honey oozing everywhere, in comb and sweet-smelling suckle. Seriously huge and flashy. Will be stunning when it settles down.  92  Tasted April 2013  @Savennieresaoc  From: Top ten wines for May Day

DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, Ac Alsace, France (249623, $25.95, WineAlign)

Wants to tell you she’s late harvest but you know better. “You might say you can only fool yourself.” Golden gorgeous, silken pear custard and southern hemisphere, capsicum spiked fruit. Walks on little feat but ultra-marathon runs a sweet to dry crescendoing gamut.  92  Tasted June 2013  @drinkAlsace  From: Working wines for the Canada Day long weekend

From left: SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY 'COURTNEY' 2011, and THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS 'STEEL POST' VINEYARD RIESLING 2011

From left: SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY ‘COURTNEY’ 2011, and THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS ‘STEEL POST’ VINEYARD RIESLING 2011

SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, Tuscany, Italy (716266, $26.95, SAQ, 703363, $27, WineAlign)

Clocks in at 12.8 per cent abv. Are you following the theme here? This CCR is just so flippin’ foxy and gorgeous to nose. It’s also demanding in iron, dried sanguine char and tough like the label’s Titian-painted medieval knight. CCR stretched out on the rack, Italianate through and through and likely in need of 10 years lay down time. Funkless which, considering the lack of coat and obfuscation, is very, very interesting.  92   Tasted August 2013  From: Fall is the wine time to be with the Tuscan you love

LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, Rioja, Spain (928622, $27.95, WineAlign)

Its makers may now just be a cog in the Sogrape empire but it continues to do its own thing. Has that evolution I look for in Rioja. The slightest oxidative note, heaps of herbs and the umami of salty clashes with smokey Jamon. Rioja expressive of one love and one heart. Caught bobbing, dancing and wailing right in its wheelhouse, giving everything it’s made of, no holds barred and no questions asked. “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?” Yes, in a glass of a weathered, leathery and just flat out real as it gets red Rioja.  92  Tasted September 2013  @BodegasLan  From: Ancient state of the art Spanish wine

ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California, (294181, $29.95, WineAlign)

Composed of approximately 60 per cent Chardonnay and 40 Pinot Noir. As close to greatness a house style from California can achieve. Discovers some secrets shared by cool-climate Sparkling wine, first with a delicate floral waft from out of a salmon copper tone. Complex, savoury bubbles, in rhubarb, tarragon and poached pear. Round, really fine, earthly, grounded stuff that spent a minimum two years on the lees. Marked by citrus too, namely pink grapefruit and creamy vanilla from the addition of some oak-aged wine.  91  Tasted November 2013  From: Ten sparkling wine to life

MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY ‘COURTNEY’ 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, winery only,)

Spent 14 edifying months in French oak and will live adroitly for another five years as a result. So much plum inherent in all its faculties, berries and currants too. The winemaker star of Shiraz Mottiar is rising higher into the cool climate stratosphere with each passing vintage. His wines walk a haute couture runway of class and style.  91  Tasted April 2013  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  From: Come together over wine

THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS ‘STEEL POST’ VINEYARD RIESLING 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($30, winery only, WineAlign)

From the Andrew Peller stable leans late-harvest or Spätlese, with 18.5 grams per litre of residual sugar. Clean, crisp, precise and near perfect Beamsville Bench expression. Flinty minerality and fantastic whorl by way of winemaker Emma Garner. Equal to if not more of a bomb than the stellar ’09.  93  Tasted March 2013  @ThirtyBench  100 kilometre wine for Spring

Good to go!

Twelve days of wine for Christmas

Wine for Christmas

Now is the time to begin shopping, that is unless you are a glutton for line-up punishment in the last 12 days leading up to Christmas.
Photo: jillchen/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Christmas is but three weeks away and so the countdown begins. Wine shops from coast to coast are officially at maximum inventory, knowing full well that if you stock it, they will come.

In Ontario, VINTAGES sections at the LCBO have more to offer than at any other time of the year. The same can be said for the SAQ in Quebec. Alberta’s private wine shops are loaded up with selections, as are the VQA stores in British Columbia and every other provincial liquor board store.

Now is the time to begin shopping, that is unless you are a glutton for line-up punishment in the last 12 days leading up to Christmas. Starting tomorrow you have exactly one week left to search and acquire any of these twelve terrific wines. Come on people, get out there!

From left: QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, CHÂTEAU BERTINERIE MERLOT/CABERNET 2009, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, LORNANO LE BANDITE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS CLOS DE LA MARCHE SAVENNIÈRES 2009, and RIOJA BORDÓN GRAN RESERVA 2004

From left: QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, CHÂTEAU BERTINERIE MERLOT/CABERNET 2009, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, LORNANO LE BANDITE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS CLOS DE LA MARCHE SAVENNIÈRES 2009, and RIOJA BORDÓN GRAN RESERVA 2004

QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, Doc Dão, Portugal  (546309, $13.95, WineAlign)

Simple, straight cut, hedonistic Dão pleasure from winemaker Manuel Vieira and the Sogrape Vinhos’ empire. Nothing wrong with that except that at $14 it feels like stealing. An evincive blend of 50 per cent Touriga Nacional, 20 Tinta Roriz and 30 Jaen. Red and black fruit, mineral tension, somewhat gritty but lush in plum, licorice feel and flavour. Really good stuff.  89  Tasted November 2013  @winePortugalCA

CHÂTEAU BERTINERIE MERLOT/CABERNET 2009, Ac Côtes De Bordeaux, Blaye (244640, $18.95, WineAlign)

Intrigue and nary a sign of Brett or funk. Warm, java fruit ninja subsidized by the tension that possesses it. A bit overripe perhaps, also rocky and hematic, unstaunched and with good length. Satisfyingly good, deep, dark wine. At $19 this has December stews written all over its Blays face.  90  Tasted November 2013  @Bertinerie

DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, Wo Robertson, South Africa (355438, $18.95, WineAlign)

This is exactly what I come to expect and hope for in calcareous, gravel and clay Cape Chardonnay. Robertson study in balance, fortitude and anxiety. Palpable proof of De Westhof’s self-professed attitude towards “site-specific vineyard management and wine-making.” Really pretty white flowers, citrus in C minor and piercing acidity. Proficiently ripe, toasted without tempting caramel and really well-judged. All in for $19. No ifs and or buts.  91  Tasted November 2013

LORNANO LE BANDITE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, Docg Tuscany, Italy  (230672, $19.95, WineAlign)

Goes out Brett funky straight away and without trepidation. Le Bandite indeed, rough, rural, musky, manly, stealing fruit from the well dressed, the hygienic and the entitled. Robin Hood CCR, prince of fresh fruit thief, or perhaps the man in tights, as in iron, Italianate, searing, sanguine attitude. Throwing rocks, stones, rioting, looting and shooting arrows through my Chianti heart. Could you tell I liked it?  90  Tasted November 2013  @FrontierWine

DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS CLOS DE LA MARCHE SAVENNIÈRES 2009, Ac Loire, France (250571, $23.95, WineAlign)

A bottle full of apple, lemon and flinty rock. At first, a Chenin Blanc study for The Dance. The aromatics seem just a bit closed today and the texture a touch more downy than from memory, but it is far from oxidized. Arid, tight and then a slow emergence. The stones begin to traipse on the tongue in a Matissean La Danse clarity of light, form and simplicity, tingle to the core, circle round and round. Textbook Savennières.  91  Tasted November 2013  @LoireValleyWine

RIOJA BORDÓN GRAN RESERVA 2004, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $24.95, SAQ 11383561, $22.45, Alta. $34.99, WineAlign)

A Rioja that wears its alcohol and emotions on its sleeve. Robust attack, cranky acidity and lashing tannin. A cup of sweet and sour cherries in jubilation and rigmarole. Quite the boisterous, reactive Rioja animal. Hard to figure on but quite something. Classic actually.  90  Tasted November 2013  @RiojaBordon

From left: DE MARTINO LIMÁVIDA OLD BUSH VINES 2010, THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE TEMPTRESS ‘ABBRACCIO’ 2009, BONNY DOON LE CIGARE VOLANT 2008, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY 2010, and CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010

From left: DE MARTINO LIMÁVIDA OLD BUSH VINES 2010, THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE TEMPTRESS ‘ABBRACCIO’ 2009, BONNY DOON LE CIGARE VOLANT 2008, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY 2010, and CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010

DE MARTINO LIMÁVIDA OLD BUSH VINES 2010, Maule Valley, Chile  (360131, $35.95, WineAlign)

If a seriously heaving berry, dark as night Chilean red can add a bit of euphoria into your life, this SV might just be the one. Wet earth drenched in a sudoric blanket of wood soaked in fine liqueur. Limited production blend of Malbec, Carmenère, Carignan and Tannat from “terroir más excepcionales de Chile.” Noticeable porcine note from a wine seemingly old and wise but beneath the hard shell it’s actually berry-chocolate fruity and tangy. Has tension and nerve but the parts don’t always equate to the whole. Terrific attempt at a serious Maule Valley red of singular expression.  90  Tasted November 2013  @DeMartinoWines  @Halpernwine

THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE TEMPTRESS ‘ABBRACCIO’ 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (127340, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the estate’s Crispino Vineyard, the blend of 65 per cent Merlot, 30 Cabernet Sauvignon and five Petit Verdot is chosen from the best barrels. Activates Ilya Senchuk’s take on the appassimento style, in structure and in spades. This is the vintage where 14 became 15, but that alcohol has to be forgiven, considering the outright bravado embrace of the rehydrated fruit. Plum deep, syrup drippy, espresso and dark chocolate bitterness. Works against the grain, but again, must be forgiven considering the overall achievement. Gotta check this one out between 2019-2022.  91  Tasted November 2013  @wineaffair

BONNY DOON LE CIGARE VOLANT 2008, Central Coast, California (975847, $48.95, SAQ 10253386, $49.00, WineAlign)

“Well I’ve always had a deep respect,” for the boisterous wines of Randall Grahm “and I mean that most sincere.” Less rope and more felicity etch this ’08 into a Rhône book of yesteryear. This Volant has its cigar and smokes it too, having entered peak toasted spice form, with sweet Grenache, peppery Syrah and the strengthening, fortifying assistance from Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignane. Raspberry youthful, mineral tough, juicy and gorgeous, full-bodied, ripe, essential ranger. Bites down hard on the blistered finish. This is really, really nice Central Coast California juice. Right up there with CDP’s in a similar tax bracket.  91  Tasted November 2013  @BonnyDoonVineyd  @RandallGrahm

DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, Monopole, Ac, Burgundy, France (46706, $89.95, WineAlign)

From Mathieu Mangenot’s ”Grand Cru” plots, the Monopole holdings in the steep amphitheatre slope of Vaudésir and the gentle rise of Les Preuses. The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine. He spoons piles of flint and chunks of rock. He explains the tin pan elevation of Chablis and Chardonnay squeezed from the bedrock, capturing every last drop of geology, refuse of stars and fossils of the ancient animals. Stoic, metazoic, super Chablis, with tremendous length. How can this Chablis have so much fruit but no apple, no lemon, no pith. “You think things are straight but they’re not what they seem.” Candy for the soul. Novacaine in liquid form. Amazing.  94  Tasted November 2013.

PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY 2010, Sonoma Coast, California (222117, $99.95, SAQ 11936111, $97.00, Alta. 737672, $104.76, WineAlign)

The offspring of two famous vineyards, Wayfarer and Ritchie. Two plots that bring strength and style, Captain and Tenille. The sumptuous cajoling of this dense Sonoman could never be accused of lying low or lacking confidence. When “some sweet talking guy comes along singing his song,” like this Pahlmeyer, the trickery is palpable and that burst into song, “love will keep us together,” is unavoidable. It’s the unabashed, high density fruit, the layers of enveloping wood and the crustaceans dripping butter. It’s the thick and chewy texture, unlike almost any other, but it’s also the woody, resinous, strikingly ripe, brix combative turned alcohol heavy feeling and the creamed cornucopia of whipped polenta, lemon and burnt sugary crème brûlée. Huge style.  91  Tasted November 2013  @Pahlmeyer

CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, Ac Burgundy, France (344887, $101.95, Quebec $85.00, WineAlign)

A mild sylvan reductive stink is neither abstruse nor in fruit obstruction. What we have here is a brass tax in Chardonnay histrionics. Yellow and green tree fruit, wicked wild yeast game and just about as much ruminating, mineral tang as one might desire. Something wicked this way woos my wistful longing for quality white Burgundy. I could imagine drinking this well into my pension days.  95  Tasted November 2013

Good to Go!