It’s go Gamay go time

First wild leeks of the season with grilled rib-eye steaks and burgers PHOTO: Michael Godel

First wild leeks of the season with grilled rib-eye steaks and burgers
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Not that there is ever a bad time to partake in the wonders of Gamay, but with the mercury rising, spring is the right time to be with the Gamay you love. If you’ve never experienced the nuanced pleasure of great Gamay, whether it be from Beaujolais in Burgundy’s southern reaches or from Ontario’s cool-climate hinterlands, its prime time you did.

Dr. Janet Dorozynski coined the hashtag #GoGamayGo and it’s a good thing she did. Sometimes a little catch is all you need to get a ball rolling. Rhys Pender MW has written two prime articles on the subject, Gamay - The Grapes of Wrath and Gamay in British Columbia. Canadian winemakers are expanding production so the Gamay train is puling into wine stations across the country.

Related – Go Gamay Go

In May of 2013 this column noted “I wait for the #GoGamayGo network to convince our councils, marketing boards and vintners to establish a Canadian Cru system, or at least a comprehensive tasting of Canadian Gamay.” A varietal togetherness has yet to materialize but the appreciation is growing. Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Wines will be releasing his first Gamay go round from Wismer Vineyard 2013 fruit. “Gamay costs half of what Pinot Noir and Syrah do,” he notes. Conclusion? A small operation like Ilya’s can make an “entry-level” and consumer affordable wine for less money and without compromising their winemakeing oeuvre.

Gamay from Beaujolais in east-central France is thin-skinned, low in tannin and (more often than not), in acidity too. It is extremely versatile in its chameleon-like abilities and matches to more types of foods that you can likely prepare with any sense of range or flair. It makes much better wine than you think and it can outsmart you. Dismissing Gamay as in any way inferior is short-sighted and lazy.

Recent Gamay sightings and tasting are the impetus for these tasting notes. Ontario renditions were on display at Somewhereness and at County in the City. Woodman Wines and Spirits presented the Fleurie of Villa Ponciago at a recent Burgundy tasting. This spring, it’s go Gamay go time.

Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012

From left to right: Manoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010, Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012, Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, Villa Ponciago Cuvée Les Hauts Du Py 2012, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, Villa Ponciago Cuvée La Roche Muriers 2011

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

A six-month lay in French oak for 60 per cent of the Gamay fruit sourced exclusively from Malivoire’s Beamsville Bench estate vineyard is just what the go doctor ordered. Only Malivoire’s Gamay smells specifically like this; of tart and savoury capers, of small, earthy gemstones, of peppery currants, of meaty braising Bouille. A striking wine from a fortuitous Gamay vintage and great value that puts me in mind of how special the Courtney will be. Though the soils may differ, proximity wise they are close cousins.  Tasted at @Somewhereness, April 2014

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

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak.  The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat.  Tasted at County in the City, April 2014

Leaning Post Wines Gamay 2013 (Tank Sample, Projected Release Price $25)

Guiltless and virtuous straight out of stainless, the meaty side of Gamay game boldly goes where few from the Bench have gone before. Like a rare venison steak sitting in a silky pool of lavender-scented demi-glace. Floral like Fleurie and despite zero new oak, vanilla joins the gravy. A Senchuk steal of quality Wismer fruit sets this Gamay up for easy sell success.  Tasted @LeaningPostWine, April 2014

Manoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010, Ac, Beaujolais, France (364992, $24.95, WineAlign)

When the Gamay from Fleurie is spot on, the smells of meat and of flowers work both aromatic ends of the Beaujolais spectrum. Add some age to a solid core of black cherry fruit and voilà, get a nose of this Manoir Du Carra.  Clearly humid and drifting into a soft decline, the claymation action here weighs down and grounds this Gamay in an earthy impression. Would benefit by the company of some serious salty, savoury and roasted fare. In the name of balance. Fun to drink now, improvement with time is not in the Carra cards.  Tasted April 2014

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

If roses were stones they would produce an aroma that only 13th Street’s Sandstone Gamay would recall. Some previous vintages have pushed the boundary to sky-high excess and subterranean ferrous but in 2012 the perfume is both grounded and ethereal. The sandy tuff rock is so in that glass, like the smell of a rugged beach, mist and salinity spraying and rising off the rocks. The ’12 now knows “I don’t have to sell my soul.” Wholly singular Gamay and with hopes it will always be this going forward. Where as before it said “I want to be adored,” it now confirms “you adore me.”  Tasted at @Somewhereness, April 2014

Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012, Ac, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $30.00)

Slow ripening from up to 30 year-old vines on altitudinous slopes atop pink, granitic crystalline rock leads to increased elegance for La Réserve, beyond the paint and tar notes of the Millésime bottling. Cran-raspberry fruit gains density and vibrancy from the mineral-rich earth, transcending towards ripe strawberry. The lack of anxiety and tension is welcome and necessary for the simple pleasures given generously by this exemplary Gamay.  For the short-term, to 2016.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Villa Ponciago Cuvée Les Hauts Du Py 2012, Ac Fleurie, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $37.00)

From a critical high ranging and angling vineyard of granite bedrock with a vein of quartz running through it. Les Hauts Du Puy suffered  during the 2012 season, with gloomy wet weather, storms and hail. Thanks to a September anticyclone return, the fruit was able to dry and then slowly mature, thus avoiding being blinded by the light. This single vineyard uses that white crystal like a thread of silk, allowing the coats of harder aromas to hang but never clamber aboard. More angst than La Réserve in the form of tannin and structure, something that can be attributed to the terroir of the Puy. Pure Gamay with a spring in its step, resolutely defined and with a cooler, blue fruit feel, tight, mineral-fed and charred on the finish.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Villa Ponciago Cuvée La Roche Muriers 2011, Fleurie, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $60.00)

The harshest of the domain’s climatic and soil conditions lay a lashing of demand on this Gamay as much as any on the planet. It is nothing short of remarkable that it can maintain such a level of refinement and elegance so the fruit purity of this vineyard’s Gamay is noted and obvious. The most Burgundian of any Gamay out there today. Gone is the cranberry and tar of lesser locales, replaced by deeper tones and longer, elastic chains of tannin. A Gamay that nods knowingly and with impact.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Burgundy will always be royal

Chablis Bougros Grand Cru 2012, Pommard Rugiens Premier Cru 2012, Chablis Mont De Milieu Premier Cru 2012, Beaune Grèves Premier Cru Vigne De L'enfant Jésus 2012, Meursault Genevrières Premier Cru 2012, Nuits St Georges Les Cailles Premier Cru 2012, Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2012, Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2012

Chablis Mont De Milieu Premier Cru 2012, Pommard Rugiens Premier Cru 2012, Meursault Genevrières Premier Cru 2012, Nuits St Georges Les Cailles Premier Cru 2012, Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2012, Beaune Grèves Premier Cru Vigne De L’enfant Jésus 2012, Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2012

In a geographically focused world defined by its very own diacritic caste system, in climat, in villages, premier et grand cru, the wines from Burgundy will always be royal. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are entrenched in such status not because of wealth or conceit, but because of “humility and unassailable references” from hills, plots, rocks, soils, sun exposure and the test of time. They are, as Woodman Wines and Spirits’ Jason Woodman notes, from a place “where history, religion and quality intersect.”

From Wine-Searcher.com “Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) is an historic and highly respected wine region in eastern France. Burgundy wines have long had devout followers throughout the world and continue to do so today. Although Bordeaux produces about four times as much wine every year, Burgundy’s estimated 74,000 acres (30,000ha) of vineyards are considered to be of equal importance, producing some of the most exclusive wines on Earth.” Equally important? We’ll see about that.

To most wine-loving mere mortals, great Burgundy is inaccessible, a prepossessing supposition that supersedes reality. The pragmatic wine buyer imagines the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to personify greatness, without ever owning one. Most of the rest are viewed in a light of feigned eminence. The overpriced and the under-delivered. Quality time is spent sniffing out the paragons, the most difficult of all wines to find.

The song, Royals “is about how today’s music is all about what is considered the “good life,” filled with riches and fame, but not everyone can live that life, and so the average person is desperately reaching…” The wines of Burgundy certainly gravitate into the hands of a wealthy minority but behind the dollar signs they are simply bottles of farmed and fermented grapes.

The wines of the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Chablis, Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais speak more clearly of their terroir than anywhere else in the world. They need not boast nor flaunt their wares. They simply are what they are and Burgundy is what it is. Affordable to so few, disregarded as out of league and untouchable by the rest. “That kind of luxe just ain’t for us,” might be the complaint of the anti-Burgundian wino. Regardless of where you sit in the Burgundian aperçu, you are not alone. The Brannigan will always be debated.

There are more expensive Burgundies. There are bigger names. Houses like Jayer, Romanée-Conti, Leflaive, Roumier, Leroy, Faiveley, Coche-Dury, Comte Liger-Belair, Dugat-Py, Ramonet and Rousseau. Golden escarpment producers that fetch higher prices for their top wines. There are just as productive and wide-reaching Burgundy conglomerates, like Latour and Boisset. But at the end of the day, is there a producer of red and white Burgundy that combines quality and quantity like Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils? The estate stretches over 48 km from north to south and is composed of 450 different vineyards. The Bouchard family has “been telling the history of Burgundy’s wine and its great appellations for over 280 years.” In Chablis, the rock stars may be Dauvissat and Raveneau, but who can argue the aggregate éclat of Domaine William Fèvre

On March 24, 2014, Woodman Wines brought the two need no introduction Burgundy producers to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club for a very grand tasting. The “rare and miraculous” 2012′s from Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils and Domaine William Fèvre. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of pedigree and learning. Producers with holdings in Burgundy as historic and regal as the domains of Kings and Queens. From places where winemaking is religion, where terroir is everything. The wines are expensive (in some cases frighteningly so) but they are a treat to taste.

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils

Aligoté Ancien Domaine Carnot Bouzeron 2012, Burgundy, France ($28.00, WineAlign)

From the Côte Chalonnaise between Chagny and Rully this was a rare chance to taste Aligoté and from the first village to receive AOC status for the variety. Bouzeron sits in what Bouchard describes as a “windswept funnel,” which might explain its crazy, natural acidity and spirited character. Begins “with a low whisper, windswept on the air.” To nose it is smooth, creamy, soft and fruity. To taste it’s tight, racy and lifted by a metallic tang. For the price it ferries exceptional quality and personality. “Windswept is on the tide, a feeling only or state of mind?”

Montagny Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($79.00, WineAlign)

From the Côte Chalonnaise, the most southerly portion of the Côte d’Or. A higher amount of Marly soil mixed with White Burgundy-loving limestone imparts richness and a soft, Malo creamy texture. At present there is a sulphur presence that stretches its legs and hides beneath a level of tart fruit. The wood effect is in a spicy radish tone adding complexity to the lightly dressed salad flavours. Finishes with terrific length.

Meursault Genevrières Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($119.00, WineAlign)

Bouchard’s Genevrières speaks in a definitively, regional tone, a Côte-d’Or oriental vernacular with absolute and utter clarity. A wine this pure and at the head of its class means “time flies, doesn’t seem a minute.” From East and Southeast vine exposures above obvious and necessary limestone that vacuums a metallurgy mixed with the finest, circular centrifuge of acidity. This is the wrapping that envelopes richness, depth and fresh produce of a fruit/vegetable continuum. One night in Genevrières “makes a hard man humble.” A contemplative moment with this ’12 Bouchard may cause longing, to look east. “Don’t you know that when you play at this level there’s no ordinary venue.”

Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($130.00, WineAlign)

From a plot of land that was called Morga, from the Latin margo which means edge border, in this case between the Côte d’Or and Saone-et-Loire. The soils in this mid-slope vineyard with a south-easterly exposure combine limestone and Marl and so Bouchard’s 2012 take shows an increased richesse and concentration. A Chardonnay with drive, determination and delineation. Noticeably toasty and though mostly quiet now, even it its youth it is already showing resurgent citrus and nutty tones. It will oscillate back and forth between the poles for five years or so and come together for many more beyond.

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($250.00, WineAlign)

The Bouchard description of “a scarce and promising vintage” will apply to this flagship Grand Cru as much as it will to any in the stable. Corton’s ode to King Charlemagne’s not to be stained white beard is the most difficult to contemplate, assess and articulate in its steely, whispering youth. This rare vineyard planted to both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, if just by chance it “crossed the diamond with the pearl,” is no cause for concern. This Charlemagne is just a kid, yet unaware of how it will rule with purity, personality and impunity. It does not yet know this and when it matures, it might be asked “did you realize that you were a champion in their eyes?” The creamy texture, subtle toast and extraordinary flavours are all there. Lay it down for 10 years and relive its limestone treasures for 20 more.

Gevrey Chambertin 2011, Burgundy, France (661330, $49.95, WineAlign)

With the largest number of Grand Crus is the area, is it any wonder how one Gevrey Chambertin finds a way to set itself apart from the others? This 2011 Bouchard does so with this refined, restrained and cleansing Pinot Noir. Earthy and sugary beet flavours echo similar aromas. Picking time was certainly key. Foregoes grit, girth and a belt’s tannic lash for elegance and a directive to balance along a straightforward, pleasing line. Will do its best work in short-term gains, from now to 2018.

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Lavières Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($62.00, WineAlign)

From a limestone and clay vineyard in Bouchard’s control for just over 100 years. Filled with “laves,” the big flat stones that characterize the land, this 1er Cru is painted by the soil, with a charred, mineral glaze. It’s also sweeter and scented by high-toned red fruit, less refined than other Beaune vineyards but all the while offering near-immediate gratification. Could use a couple of years to settle and will drink well for five or more.

Gevrey Chambertin 2012, Burgundy, France ($66.00, WineAlign)

In this vintage the Gevrey is a magnified version of itself, seemingly drawing every atom of mineral and fossil from its Triassic limestone bed. The table of clay potassium, phosphorous and iron are all in this bottle, expressed in earthy Pinot Noir character. This might be the Bouchard blazon and secret weapon; dangereux, tight, sharp and pointed. The fruit is pure and clearly defined but will require time to shed its tough outer layer. Put the 2012 Gevrey away for five years and look to see it open up to 2022.

Chambolle Musigny 2012, Burgundy, France ($76.00, WineAlign)

From the shallowest of Côte-d’Or soils, Bouchard’s Chambolle Musigny is extracted from delicate berries that rely on its vine’s roots to crawl down into limestone’s fissures in search of nutrients. Though many a Chambolle exhibits tenderness and elegance, this Bouchard hard-working vine has produced a quilted, tactile wine of texture and contour. It opens with its own special vineyard stink, a note of subterranean terroir that dissipates with a swirl. A wildly woven combination of chalk, grain and chewy licorice makes for a varied and salubrious mouthful. As big as it gets for the appellation and surely worth a go from 2018 and for a decade more.

Volnay Ancienne Cuvée Carnot Caillerets Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($118.00, WineAlign)

Caillerets and the term tête de cuvée go back as far as 1855 and with this iconic bottling there is proof in perpetuum that Bouchard knows Volnay. This is the house’s first vineyard dating to 1775 so it goes without saying that 237 years of experience is nothing to dismiss. The 2012 Cuvée Carnot is refined in a state of heightened awareness. The aromas are smoky, meaty and the favours concentrated. Distinctively opaque like a Pensieve with a swirling torrent of tannin pushed along by centrifugal force. Will need 10 years to immobilize, then to age rhythmically for 10 more.

Pommard Rugiens Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($146.00, WineAlign)

Bouchard’s Pommard Rugiens goes at the Pinot Noir diapason from every angle. At once fibrous and rigid, it is also highly perfumed by flowers, most notably violets. The rich iron-red soil imparts a large measure of ferrous aroma but the pure fruit sustains the mineral and the wine remains a good conversationalist. A metrosexual, acting out both masculine and feminine parts. The rest of the Bouchard red Burgundies tend to choose one side or the other but the gregarious Pommard lives on the edge. A streak of char and chalky tannin shows late and lingers throughout the lengthy finish.

Nuits St Georges Les Cailles Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($146.00, WineAlign)

A gorgeously refined wine built on finesse, clarity and concentration. All its graceful parts move in synch through structured stages of class, refinement and with a goal towards a realized, long evolution. Noticeable but sweet tannins are gained by a bleeding of the terroir‘s oolithic chalk by way of hard stones. Silky and feminine perfumed red fruit never wavers from its intent, to seduce and give pleasure. No dying quail this Nuits St Georges, nor a frozen rope, the wine hangs in balance effortlessly and for a long, long time. Enjoy it for 10-15 years.

Beaune Grèves Premier Cru Vigne De L’enfant Jésus 2012, Burgundy, France ($146.00, WineAlign)

From the just a shade under four hectare, formerly owned by Carmelites vineyard within the famous 32 hectare “Roi Soleil” Grèves appellation. Like its namesake (in reference to Louis XIV), this Bouchard is the red that displays the most control and Type-A personality. A wine that draws every bit of modern terroir from the gravelly clay. A wine of great excess, state-of-the-art, jeweled, luxurious and crafted with the heaviest hand. The sun king goes for much glory, but at what price? The price of needing to be loved in its youth. The question is will that cost L’enfant Jésus 2012 long-term success? With more abundant fruit than a Versailles Trianon and the guts to soldier on, it’s hard to imagine it not aging for 20 or more years.

Domaine William Fèvre

Saint Bris 2012, Ac, Burgundy, France ($25.00, WineAlign)

From the commune of Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, this is light, cool-climate tension Sauvignon Blanc. A wine of impetuous and quick-step moments. The rush of just opened soda, the spray of a freshly bitten green apple, the knife cutting through juicy lemons and limes. A hyper-clean rendition of the Loire grape, this northern rendition will work an oyster with ease.

Chablis Les Lys Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($58.00, WineAlign)

Of the Fèvre Premier Cru designations, Les Lys exhibits the softest, downy touch and the more muted or demurred personality. The fine lees is distributed through the texture and the limestone gives way to chalk on top. Offers up more spongy fruit than Montmains or Monte de Milieu and finishes with charm.

Chablis Mont De Milieu Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($69.00, WineAlign)

The Fèvre Mont De Milieu is the smallest of the domain’s Premier Cru holdings with a struck by flint personality that is quite intense. Neither Les Lys or Montmains show such dynamic mineral effect. The most righteous of the Chablis Serein River banks brothers maintains that matchstick loving feeling, though it is temporarily relinquished to a honeyed moment. It’s “a love you don’t find every day, so don’t, don’t, don’t let it slip away.” Fear not, for the gathering is beautifully concentrated and the rocky, mineral bent never fully dissipates. A Milieu to savor from 2017 to 2025.

Chablis Bougros Grand Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($97.00, WineAlign)

While the appellation may not be the most sought after in terms of Chablis Grand Cru, the dominant Fèvre presence, experience and dedication to making Chardonnay in Bougros can’t be ignored. A good, if not exceptional vintage, 2012 is appropriate and defining. The sensations are of precious gems and metals and the exuberance restrained, but this Chablis seems on the verge. It’s as if a match has touched the strip and is about to alight. A powdering of Kimmeridgian clay is saturated by a smack of late lashing acidity. The Fèvre Bougros rises with energy from a standstill to high-speed. It will age harmoniously into the next decade.

Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($143.00, WineAlign)

The Fèvre take on Les Clos is the cradle of all the domain’s wines, in every respect. Intensely concentrated, this is Chardonnay expressive in every facet of its surroundings. The impart from compressed white limestone, ancient fossils and Jurassic minerals in distillate may seem abstract in description but how else can the feeling of a mouth full of rocks be conveyed? The remarkably complex Les Clos and its structured palate that goes on forever has come out of its Chablis vineyard cradle and will live on as one of the best ever. “It’s not a place, it’s a yearning. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.” There is no rush to drink it up. It will offer immense pleasure for 20-25 years.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Reds for a blood moon

Reds for a blood moon

From left to right: Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère 2008, Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, L’ecole No. 41 Red Wine 2011, Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Michele Castellani Colle Cristi Collezione Ca’ Del Pipa Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008, Domaine Des Martinelles Hermitage 2009, Painted Rock Red Icon 2011

That the ‘Blood Moon” tetrad of 2014-2015 fall on Passover and Sukkot should come as no surprise. That it’s snowing again on April 15th while the Moon meets the Earth’s shadow for a total lunar eclipse is a cosmic connection that requires red wine. Big reds.

Last weekend’s VINTAGES April 12th release had some beauties and a recent tasting at WineAlign of B.C. wines showed that power and finesse can co-exist on the Left Coast. Who knew they would come in handy with the mercury again dipping below zero and people everywhere howling at a moon they can’t see. Crazy times.

Thanks to Dave Dickinson, the lunar phenomenon is broken down into laymen’s terms, in shades of red. “Does the eclipsed Moon appear reddish to you? What you’re seeing is the sunlight of a thousand sunsets worldwide, streaming through the Earth’s atmosphere into the shadow. This color can vary considerably from eclipse to eclipse, causing it to appear anywhere from a dark tea-stained color to a bright cherry red. This variation is due to the amount of dust currently in the Earth’s atmosphere, and is measured on what is known as the Danjon scale.”

Here are seven immense red wines, from three continents, each with their own unique style, to match with a blood moon.

Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère 2008, Peumo Vineyard, Rapel Valley, Chile (169862, $19.95, WineAlign)

A trifecta of regard makes this worth looking at, the least of which, at first thought, is the effect of some age. The Concha y Toro Carmenère examination, in Carmín de Peumo, in Terrunyo and in Marques de Casa Concha is the Chilean reference point for the variety. The impart of deep, clay soils and the expectation of gentle tannins make for a curiosity call when considering an ’08 specimen. Tough and gritty, on one hand, on the other soapy, sandalwood and waxy. The third hand has smouldering wood, berries and tannins. Very much like its Cab and Merlot brethren, the fruit is just starting to be outrun. Try it now and see what Carmenère can bring.  Tasted March 2014  @conchaytoro

Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Coonawarra, South Australia (677476, $26.95, WineAlign)

Young-ish vines on the site of the old Coonawarra Penola cricket ground receive perpetual hydro-mineral support from porous limestone under rich terra rossa soil. That fruit is then blended with extract from estate vineyards in the Clare Valley. Smashes the cover off the grapes towards a full on gain of flavour. Charred peppers and lush black berries are smothered and splintered by a 50/50 split of French and American oak in no less than a crush of conceit. Tannin, grit, joy, flesh, full on deep fruit and mineral. Obviously over-swung and with too much club (switching sports), like using Driver used when a long iron would have sufficed. But you drive for show and this Barry can putt for dough.  Tasted March 2014  @Jimbarrywines

L’ecole No. 41 Red Wine 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA (366237, $29.95, WineAlign)

A really good, high-octane red blend if blatantly massive. Like the smell of a shiny, varnished, fresh wood cabin glazed by highly aromatic and resinous epoxy extract. That’s the simple tasting note. The more complex version includes a perfume potpourri of Bougainvillea, violet, orange peel, cinnamon, dark chocolate and a lumber factory. The electric, fully plugged in blend is Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Grenache (38, 36, 15, 6, 4 and 1). The quotient seeks learned Nirvana and with a little luck, some power chords, a bit of screaming and historical, retro-cult exoneration, it may just get there. Right now it just feels like High School. Impulsive and uncomfortable. Wouldn’t you believe it, it’s just my luck. No recess.”  Tasted March 2014  @lecole41

Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $36.00, WineAlign)

The Reserve Pinot is intoxicating to say the list. Some whole clusters in the fermentation process add mouth feel, cure and needed grit but how this can not be viewed overall in the shiniest west coast light would be confounding. The reserve ’11 is both “sky as I kite, sticky as lips” and “as licky as trips.” If there was ever an Okanagan Pinot Noir to get you high, this would be the one. What a boisterous effort out of a less than scorching vintage and considering the modest to riches price, no shame in visiting with flavourful fare, imbued with spice, any day of the week.  Tasted April 2014  @BlueMtnWinery

Michele Castellani Colle Cristi Collezione Ca’ Del Pipa Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008, Veneto, Italy (222109, $45.95, WineAlign)

The magic of age is a friend to Amarone and funk trumps fruit. In a nutshell the axiom describes the old-school Colle Cristi. A brooding Amarone, cut by zest that’s citrus-like and savoury/earthy in pine needles, juniper and a Venetian forest in autumn. Inviatura and Chiaroscuro. Caravaggio meets Giorgione. The most complex Valpolicella in the April 12th VINTAGES line-up.  Tasted March 2014

Domaine Des Martinelles Hermitage 2009, Rhone, France (112268, $54.95, WineAlign)

Clearly modern and style-heavy though not out-of-place in the world of Hermitage. From steep slopes of stony brown sand, a high level of grit might be expected but this Syrah is refined, lush and smooth as silk. At 14.5 percent it’s no shrinking violet, honest and futuristically traditional. At $55 it’s a mandatory, appellative Northern Rhone steal. Matter-of-fact acidity, verve and mineral content are all in, with elegance and balance. Really fine Syrah with a five to ten-year fruit-tannin power struggle ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Painted Rock Red Icon 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Agent, $55.00, WineAlign)

Painted Rock’s red icon could be considered more black than red, as exemplified by the layering of grapes, their pitchy extracts and the fruit associated with their gathering. If the man should ask, “tell him what we said ’bout ‘Paint It Black.’ Rock ‘n Roll is here to stay.” Yes, the Icon will be a big star someday and perhaps this ’11, despite the cooler vintage, will be the first. Might have to wait 13 years or more to find out because the tannic structure is in beast mode and will remain so for likely that much time. The wine plays memorable chords and its song lingers on the brain.  Tasted April 2014  @liffordwine  @PaintedRockJohn

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

Up on Creekside Estates

Creekside Estate Wines Photo: Eric Vellend

Creekside Estate Wines
 Photo: Eric Vellend

It was the weekend of Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure, a Niagara winepalooza that included the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Expert’s Tasting. On the road to The Falls there happened an extensive tank, barrel and vertical go round at Flat Rock Cellars and then, with chef riding shotgun, the next essential stop came up on Creekside Estates, a seventeen year-old Jordan winery on 4th Avenue.

Creekside Estate Winery
2170 4 Ave. Jordan Station, ON L0R 1S0
1 (877) 262-9463 or (905) 562-0035

@CreeksideWine

Creekside was founded in 1997 by owner Laura McCain on a 15-acre vineyard at the 4th Ave. site. The early days of the winery saw an attitude towards varietal antidisestablishmentarianism, with Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz at the forefront of production. Daring to be different from the start, Creekside has carved an antithetical, Niagara Peninsula religious wine belief, slightly devious, with a manifesto towards creating wickedly good wines.

Creekside Estate winemaker Rob Power Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Creekside Estate winemaker Rob Power
Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

In the early days there was winemaker Rob Powers and mad scientist partner in crime Craig McDonald, now the chief of what happens in bottle at Trius. Powers graduated in the first oenology class out of CCOVI and began his vinous stirring with Creekside, a post he continues to develop, never-resting on earlier laurels. Back then the two cubs fermented and blended together, with caution swirling tohu vavohu in the wind. Some of those Meritage blends from the early 2000′s were brilliant strokes of luck, or as winemaker’s like to call it, hard work. Or destiny, or god’s favour. The Creekside credo has never wavered. Being overly serious is not an option. Having made decisions such as purchasing the unparalleled Queenston Road Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench on its side, Creekside thrives by an exhibition of capricious behaviour, adroit winemaking and the rope savvy marketing of veracious and affordable wines.

Assistant winemaker Yvonne “Cellar Monkey” Irvine and Director of Sales, Marketing and Necessary Evil Matt “Semi-Illustrious Career” Loney ushered a tasting of 12 Creekside wines. Here are the notes.

Creekside Estates Winery Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Creekside Estates Winery
Photo: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Sauvignon Blanc 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (620724, $13.95, WineAlign)

Leans and veers to the tropical side, no doubt as a result of a record-setting sugar vintage, but this ’12 manages to finish very dry. The arid descent follows a warm and fuzzy peach feeling, set about by some skin contact and buoyed by citrus and zest. Front yard value.

Backyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341792, $17.95, WineAlign)

A Creek Shores SB that bridges the gap between spring and summer fruit. From a year in which the choice was made to not blend off into the estate bottling. Recognizable Creekside aromatics stand out in a more than obvious mineral deposit and grapefruit zest way. Here the band plays across The Great Divide so “just grab your hat, and take that ride.” Will be a VINTAGES August 30 release.

Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142570, $26.95, WineAlign)

Seven barrels make up the Reserve, ferments new (four) and old (three), leading to a richer, fatter and spicier style. Dreamy really, as matchstick and flint join the fray in a Pouilly-Fumé way. That pierre à fusil is exaggerated by the warmth of 2012, with an elevated tang, rendering the flavours even more akin to Old World, Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Close your eyes and when you awake, “when you believe, you will relieve the only soul that you were born with, to grow old and never know.” The Creekside band created an old SB soul in ’12.

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

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.

Viognier Estate Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (22058, $29.95, WineAlign)

A 60-80 cases annual production from the Queenston Road Vineyard is not nothing because “ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest.” Aside from a miniscule addition out of stainless steel tank, this is all neutral barrel fermented fruit. Reigned in, less boozy and subordinate in oleaginous slide than in the sweaty years. Translation? A superlative vintage. The night they drove a whopping six rows of old ’11 Dixie Viognier fruit down for crushing the band began to play. This, knowing full well there would be no dirty peach martini, but rather a perfumed dropper distilling flowers, wildflower honey and wild tarragon. Rises and falls to verse like a Richard Manuel keyboard march with length to match the Queenston Road.

Rosé 2013 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $15.95)

A Cabernet Sauvignon (71 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (29) full-on saignée Rosé with colour balance given by way of the CF bleed. An arid entry creeps to sweet with a pause amongst the whispering pines, finishing tinny and with a breath of fresh herbs. Niagara Rosé can get lost sometimes, in extract, hue and a candied, sinking feeling. This is a scaled back vintage which is more than a good thing, so there’s no waiting, “until it all goes round…the lost are found.”

Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $15.95, WineAlign)

A healthy 3,200 cases are managed and executed with ease from mostly estate fruit. Certainly warm in this vintage, dare I say, like McLaren Vale. If it must not be said, too bad, but it’s also a bowl of fresh berries with a rocky Rhône intent. Terrific tar and ash finish.

Cabernet Shiraz Estate 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (305300, $16.95, WineAlign)

A traditional Oz combination of Cabernet Sauvignon (55 per cent) and Shiraz (45), clearly new world in style, as Yvonne Irvine says, like “trying to make a big, rich, unctuous Shiraz.” The question could be posed, “temptation stands just behind the door, so what you want to go and open it for?” This one goes right to the jawbone with serious backbone and streak of acidity. Not to mention chalk, grain and a Shiraz solo. The American oak accent is clear and the tannins say wait two to three years, please. The fruit may, or may not comply.

Laura’s Red 2010, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign)

It’s funny, more than any other wine tasted, this Laura has that Niagara varnish other Creekside reds seem not to possess. “Stock up in the big years” suggests Matt Loney, and “consolidate in the tougher ones.” It could be argued that you can make more interesting wines in the lean years but this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot lays a claim to seriousness, if needing at least three years to settle down. There is much cassis, sweet oak, iodine and a milk/dark chocolate swirl. Complexity for sure if just a bit huge within its own skin.

Merlot Reserve 2008, VQA St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Here is a wine that is aging gracefully, works with and fits into the vintage, Merlot as objet d’art, grown in stature as if by wizened verdigris. Smells like Goulash or Côte de boeuf à la Bordelaise, even cured meat. Might also be considered in terms of funk, a note sometimes brought on by Hungarian oak. Tons of red fruit, pencil, anise and “the smell of the leaves, from the magnolia trees in the meadow. King Harvest has surely come.” Few Ontario reds succeeded in ’08 like this Queenston Road stunner and few will live as long. Another classic by the band.

Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Impeccable correctness in terms of the variety from a year where the heat giveth and the heat taketh away. Works Cabernet properties properly, embracing and minimizing oak without pretending it’s not there. This red is expressly lush and oak driven, as it should be, it being Cabernet and all. Leaves its appendages out for a Mediterranean pedicure, a glaze of Cassis, black olive and black cherry dug in a chair entrenched in the warm confines of the St. David’s Bench.

Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula (46470, $65.00, WineAlign)

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Release the wines, catch an Ontario phrase

 

Pinot Noir from the Mountainview Road on the Beamsville Bench.  Photo: William Roman, http://www.rosewoodwine.com/

Pinot Noir from the Mountainview Road Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench.
Photo: William Roman, http://www.rosewoodwine.com/

In the past 10 days there have been opportunities to taste the Ontario wine industry’s state of the union. Tawse Winery rolled out the red carpet, the Key Keg and a must check ‘em out set of new wines in a sister brand known as Redstone Wines. County in the City presented a major introspective of Prince Edward County at the Berkeley Church and Somewhereness, the definitive Ontario goût de terroir on display April 9th at St. James Cathedral has the local wine community abuzz with new catch phrases.

Full reports on those three events will be coming out over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, Ontario wines and winemakers are well represented in this week’s VINTAGES April 12th release. That and a mess of catch phrases, idioms, colloquialisms and overall word play.

A sundry type of tasting note composition can theoretically make cause to “burn one’s boats” though the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” holds more water and instills greater confidence. Before feeling the need to act on a Mr. Bursian attack and screaming “release the hounds,” it is highly recommended to read between the lines, click on the pop culture references but refrain from and “don’t look the gift-horse in the mouth.”

Ontario wines have come so far and in such a short period of time. Sure there are some outfits that might be considered a “flash in the pan” and specific examples weighted down by “feet of clay.” Who does not hope that as a group, wines from Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore avoid a “hoist with one’s own petard’ or go “sailing under false colours.” There should be no fear. Ontario wines are no longer merely improving. They are “throwing down the gauntlet.” There is no reason to reject the idea of spending $38 on an Ontario red or white. Quality is officially and incontestably in the bottle.

Here are six wines in stores now, five from Ontario, the other made by an Ontario winemaker, to have a go at this weekend.

From left to right:

From left to right: Pondview Riesling 2012, Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011, 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Rosewood Estates Reserve Pinot Noir 2010

Pondview Riesling 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (271148, $15.95, WineAlign)

While winemaker Fred di Profio’s ’12 remains true to the Pondview idea of mineral-driven Riesling, the vintage dictates the course and this one simply carries four miles of juicy fruit, accented by green herbs and a spread of lime jam. It’s dry, vinous and cidery with a slight sour aftertaste. A lamb Riesling, lambic, iambic and pedantic. Good value. Tasted March 2014  @Pondviewwinery

Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (131235, $18.95, WineAlign)

Ever orchard fruit bearing, omnipresent juicy Sauvignon Blanc. Pliable and informal, typical in itself and for the local marl. Kept on its toes by a wailing, sharp green peppercorn cut by caper line that runs through, then gracefully descends towards a grassy, song of freedom refrain. Tang is the final act of its redemption. Well-structured and proper. Does a Fielding wine ever not abide and chant “we forward in this generation, triumphantly?” Tasted March 2014  @FieldingWinery

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (147512, $19.95, WineAlign)

June’s vineyard, now in its (correct me if I’m wrong) 12th year is both nascent and senescent, increasingly producing a blatant expression of Creek Shores Riesling. Today’s fleeting study faces a direct, anti-diminutive aridity and more dried herbs. In 2011, the austere vineyard speaks but the Riesling realizes atonement through a corpulence of flesh and bone down by the sheltered shores. A much tougher assignment than the gilded platinum hand dealt to vineyards upon the upper reaches of the Escarpment.  Tasted September 2013  @13thStreetWines

From my September 2013 note: “from Niagara’s Creek Shores and built of the classic Alsatian Clone 49 inordinately defines place and time in an agglomerated manner. Maximum floral intensity, zero petrol tolerance and an arid accumulation speak volumes about the appellation. To taste you will note it just barely believes it’s off-dry. Unique and unambiguous, plosive Riesling.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Cabernet/Merlot 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130252, $20.95, WineAlign)

Call it whatever you like; house red, Bistro red, un verre de vin rouge maison. All phrases to describe a refreshing and wholly compatible glass of red wine. The Tawse is crafted for such purpose, combining Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in a Médoc state of mind. Aromatically it spews tobacco, tea, currants and white pepper, all wrapped in a tight, food-friendly package and demanding to be paired this way. Solid red.  Tasted March 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (273334, $29.95, WineAlign)

The citrus stands out today. If the base and necessary oak treatment is your kryptonite, by all means, walk away from the Oregon Bachelder Project. But that decision deprives that part of your brain that processes progress and reason. This is not the oak-driven Chardonnay of your 1985. This is the future. Embrace the angles, the quotients and the variables. Fruit as function, rock as relation and barrel as the algebraic cauldron that allows the wine to come to conclusion. Sure there’s oak but it drives the equation. Deal with it. Tasted April 2014  @Bachelder_wines

From my earlier February 2014 note: “Yet another three months later re-taste to show Bachelder’s Oregon terroir may be the most difficult to assess in its infancy. This short slumber has changed everything. Oregon distinction, smell it, commit it to memory and you’ll never forget it. “Picture yourself staring at a loved one in a restaurant,” says Thomas. “Would you be able to pick this out as Chardonnay?” Some ciderish activity, from sedimentary and volcanic soils that used to mingle with ocean waters, give this a sea salt and fossilized lava stillness. More buttery (dare I say, popcorn) goodness than the rest. And restrained tang. And length. Wow.

From my earlier November 2013 note: “While Burgundian in hopes and dreams, this is very much a $29 Oregon white. No mask, no hidden altruism, simply the right Chardonnay for the right price. Bone dry, orchard driven, high acid, void of harmful terpenes. There is a salinity and piquancy not influenced by PH, perhaps by the ocean, by sandstone, but regardless it’s unique to place, unlike Niagara, Prince Edward County, or for that matter Burgundy.”

Rosewood Estates Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (318345, $39.95, WineAlign)

Prettier in 2010 the Rosewood is, the aromas a precise glowing arcade of earthy, warm, peppery fire. April redolent of a burgeoning, sweet cranberry marsh. Present, accounted for though not tough tannins. Glazed by an unobtrusive candy shell. A fine, inviting, sweet and soft Rosewood Pinot, true to vintage and neighborhood. “Then I’ll dig a tunnel, from my window to yours.”  Tasted March 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Good to Go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

When Sangiovese comes to town

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2008

From left to right: Argiano Rosso Di Montalcino 2011, Banfi Poggio All’oro Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2007, Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Capanne Ricci Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2008, Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Paradisone Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

Love comes to town I’m gonna jump that train
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that plane

The Consortium of the Brunello of Montalcino is an “association between winemakers bent on safeguarding their wine and on accentuating its qualities.” The group organizes events in Italy and abroad, including trade fairs such as the Benvenuto Brunello. After 47 years of honing their description about one of Italy’s most famous wines, this is Brunello in the Consortium’s nutshell. “A visibly limpid, brilliant wine, with a bright garnet colour. It has an intense perfume, persistent, ample and ethereal. One can recognize scents of undergrowth, aromatic wood, berries, light vanilla and jam. To the taste the wine has an elegant harmonious body, vigorous and racy, it is dry with a lengthy aromatic persistence.”

On March 10, 2014, VINTAGES and the Conzorzio Del Vino Brunello Di Montalcino brought an impressive range of Rosso and Brunello to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Infatuation renewed. VINTAGES Shop Online added nearly 100 wines for sale on their website, many of which have no Ontario importer. For fans of Brunello, this offer is the Tuscan equivalent of the kid being given the keys to the candy store.

It was twenty years ago that B.B. King brought love to town and taught a band to play. It has also been twenty years since I last visited Montalcino. The next visit is high on the bucket list. Imagine the room full of happy tasters when Sangiovese came to town by way of Benvenuto Brunello 2014. The Grosso from Montalcino is loved by many.

Many cellars brim with Brunelli from 1997, 1999 and 2001. More than a handful from 2000, 2003 and 2004. The houses most represented chez Godello are Fuligni, Poggio Salvi, Poggio Antico, Agostini Pieri, Ciacci Piccolomini, Poggio Sotto, Siro Pacenti and Lisini. Like salting your food before knowing what it tastes like, there was a time when purchasing was done as much by habit as by probability. From the 2005 vintage forward there has been an apprehension to spend frivolously and without consent by way of tasting, assessing and determining value.

They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile

The 2006 vintage is both distressing and exciting. Simply speaking, it’s just not showing well right now and yet it may turn out to be great. Taking a flyer on the 06′s is a leap of faith. Power to those who do and win. The 2007′s are exquisite and in my mind, a short term gain. Some 2008′s are brilliant, others not so much. Picking was crucial, cliché to say, but crucial. The jury is still out on the difficult 2009′s.

So may I introduce to you 25 notes on Rosso and Brunello tasted @ConsBrunello Benvenuto Brunello.

Argiano Rosso Di Montalcino 2011, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 10252869 $24.10, WineAlign)

When a Montalcino vintage such as 2011 offers up prolonged heat and hang time, typicity can be challenged. Enter Argiano, Sangiovese specialist in adherence to what is base and necessary. Even in such a vintage, Rosso can never be confused with Brunello, the oak just doesn’t have the time to stake its claim. So here there is sour cherry, leather, currants, licorice, anise and especially spice. In 2011 the spice is royal and ancient. The alcohol is hot but the flavours are resplendent. The cherry is tempered by chalky tannin so as a Rosso, this ’11 will give a little bit. A masculine Rosso, “take his hand, you’ll be surprised.”

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (Agent $60.00, WineAlign)

A purposed, perennial powerhouse of consistency, the 2008 incarnation of Argiano keeps the streak alive in a not so perfectly certain vintage. A mess of mineral in polarizing magnetism connects red tree fruit to tilled crop soil. Tannins are not noticeably biting so long-term potential appears to be somewhat stifled. Though only one year into its young history, this Sangiovese Grosso already begs to be enjoyed, if admittedly just a few years young to be the life of the party.

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0154609 $53.00, WineAlign)

If Argiano’s treatment of the 2009 vintage is any harbinger for the community as a whole, sparks will surely fly. Like 2007 there is a sense of flamboyance but unlike ’07 the flirting and cajoling is less about desire and more about sodden, succulent Sangiovese. A rampart of medieval, marching tannin and a keen acidity mark the territory and the terroir. A beautiful vintage, in rejection of rusticity and sure to live for a decade and a half.

Banfi Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Tuscany, Italy (BCLDB 557967 $26.97, SAQ 864900 $25.00) Such a sneak preview at a precocious young wine can rarely do any true justice in the written assessment but Banfi’s ’12 offers more invitation than most. A wide-reaching, consumer-friendly cherry bomb this Rosso, ergo sumptuous, from a sweet fruit core to the uncritical fringes. Rosso vernacular, for the Hic et nunc.

Banfi Rosso Di Montalcino 2011, Tuscany, Italy (BCLDB 557967 $26.97, SAQ 864900 $25.00, WineAlign)

From estate vineyards in the southern part of Montalcino, clonal selection of the local Sangiovese always plays a focused and pivotal role in Banfi’s Rosso. In 2011 no single-vineyard Brunello wines were made (Poggio alle Mura and Poggio all’Oro) so this Rosso reeks of all the hallmarks of those iconic Brunelli; black fruit, violets, tobacco and the aridty of earth and spice. Most obvious is the sanguine scorched, iron fist that calls for time and as much patience as a Rosso can be afforded. Five years would be nice.

Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 378257 $59.95, BCLDB 127183 $69.95, SAQ 701920 $70.00, WineAlign)

Every bit of obdurate soil and the vintage’s inflexible impart have made their way into Banfi’s extreme games ’08. The pitch is black as night, the aroma dank, expressed espresso and the texture thick as tar. Perhaps it’s the southern Montalcino hills that work severe fruit towards this kind of complex end or maybe it’s just a Banfi thing. Regardless, I can’t think of a recent Banfi normale with such verve, length and attitude. Will settle eventually, to drift off into middle age as a classic Brunello.

Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura 2007, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, BCLDB 127183 $69.95, SAQ 701920 $70.00, WineAlign)

Beginning with this 2007, Banfi beamed the 15 year-old single-vineyard Poggio alle Mura fruit into state of the art, Horizon hybrid stainless steel and wood tanks. The double whammy effect of a most extraordinary gregarious and flamboyant vintage coupled with the new production style fast trekked this Sangiovese to yet seen, nosed or tasted heights. An elixir of satin sheen and glycerin texture, the Mura walks with a firm iron gait and bleeds a mineral rich, hematic ooze. Fierce and delicious at the same time, it’s almost too hot to handle now. Give it five years to settle and enjoy it for five more.

Banfi Poggio All’oro Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2007, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0354571 $95.00, BCLDB 439810 $144.00, WineAlign)

The single “Poggio all’Oro” (golden knoll) vineyard released in the 6th year after harvest needed every minute of its slumber before giving away any idea of itself. An absolute brut of a Brunello at this stage and this in a very forward vintage. Risible to think you understand him, this growling animale, this swelling bruise of pure, raging Sangiovese. Earthy red, rich, reactive, forceful and 20 years from ready.

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0372938 $49.95, WineAlign)

As expected, this is a gritty effort from Barbi, in part the impart of a testosterone-laden vintage, along with the drier and cooler climate from Barbi’s southeastern Montalcino vineyards. A low and slow ripening will surely translate to extended longevity, but the rusticity and leather/cherry continuum will never disappear. No doubt a classic example and very well-priced for such authenticity, still it can’t be helped to see Barbi’s ’08 as entrenched in an earlier period of time. The wine will need 10 years to soften its edges and reveal the refinement and elegance of a well-documented Brunello.

Capanne Ricci Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0375170, $27.00)

Sangiovese in such a primary state, A steaming, ferric soup of oxhide flavoured with wood spice. The kiss of chalk and grain confirms an aged intent that succeeds here, even if the practice is not normally recommended for the fresh and juicy Rosso and less so for the vintage. No matter, just wait a year and indulge.

Capanne Ricci Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0375162 $57.00)

An ultra modern Brunello from a vintage seeing more grit than gift. The fresh fruit fragrances and flavours, notably plum and black cherry, are hallmarks of innovation. This under 20 year-old producer dishes out gettable Brunello and this ’08 makes a clean accouch of the practice. Short term gains are on the plate so do no wait.

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 11334065 $45.00, WineAlign)

Any Brunello pushing the 15 percent alcohol by volume threshold could never be accused of resisting forward thinking. The Caprili ’08 revs its engine at the start line while the exhaust performs in a state of cathartic extravasation. Sangiovese Grosso aromas of old spew forth, like leather, tobacco smoke, salty cherry and the mineral grit of mean tannins. The car screeches forth in extravagation, leaves the old character behind and races towards a prodigal future. The zoom forward means a profile more akin to representing a superior clone’s expert ripening ability. Thankfully this Caprili resists homogeneity and sets a fine example for the new Brunello.

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (LCBOQ 0305888 $55.00, WineAlign)

From estate grapes grown on the hillside which slopes down towards the Orcia and Ombrone rivers. The Bartolommei family needed a summons of their winemaker’s acumen to reign in advanced fruit from a vintage that saw soaring summer temperatures. This ’09 runs on full throttle, high-octane Grosso and yet is a remarkably, obiter dicta fresh flood of sanguine, berry chalky juice. All that and more actually and while it’s flat out fun to taste at such a young age, its ability to go long is not a sure thing. Plan to enjoy now and for three to five big years.

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBOQ 0372755 $65.00, WineAlign)

Caprili’s 2008 Riserva will stand as one of the success stories from a vintage that thrives as a result of where the grapes are planted, a Montalcino truth that is undeniable for all involved. While others sing the blues because of the weather (rain) the Caprili whistles in pentose-underscored Anthocyanin reds, like rooibos and cherry. A leathery Riserva in confident control, marked by great acidity and formidable tannins.

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0961714 $145.00, WineAlign)

From a golden vintage, this ’97 is crazy good. A fixed, double-edged blade fighting knife dipped into a warm pool of developed liqueur-like sweetness. Seventeen years of languorous modulation and wood-fruit integration had resulted in a gracious Brunello, intrinsically delicious and living large in senescence. Life for the Col D’orcia ’97 is a bowl of cherries. Open one now and for the next three to five years and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get. Me, “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 2006, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 403642 $46.50, WineAlign)

The Montalcino Sangiovese from 2006 will be long-lived and Col D’orcia’s normale bottling is a poster child for the notion. This wine exhibits everything you would expect from an adolescent Brunello of that vintage. Serious and contemplative, the typicity is patent; leather, cherry, smoke and hemic in texture, this is tightly wound and very real. Like so many renditions of 2006, the Col D’orcia showed well in its first year, stepped back to a gritty state and will show its best beginning in 2016. It will age gracefully for 10 more after that.

Col D’orcia Poggio Al Vento Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2004, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0965525 $129.00, WineAlign)

The juxtaposition of vintages (2004 and 2006) is both evident and stupefying. The latter is certainly one to look at in terms of 15-20 years, while the former is one of post-immediate gratification. Two extra years of age has done wonders for this Riserva’s evolution and desire to please. Lush, irresistibly delicious fruit strutting down the catwalk in smooth, leggy, creamy and linear fashion. Brunello rarely pleases in taste and refinement with modern clarity like this ’04. Enjoy now and for 10 more enchanting years.

Col D’orcia Poggio Al Vento Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2006, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0316158 $121.00, WineAlign)

Everything the ’06 Col D’orcia Brunello is, the Riserva is that and more. Densely concentrated, all is amplified; the leather, the cherry and the grit in savoury tannins. The weathered hand of rusticity and blue-collar Sangiovese ethic has a vice-tight grip on the suppressed fruit. It will take a minimum five years to see any type of true release from the natural fortifying acidity of the iron gate prison. Put this Brunello aside and forget about it. Revisit in 2020 and again five to 15 years after that.

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0998195 $75.00, WineAlign)

If La Fiorita’s 2008 Brunello is thatched of pure silk then this 2007 is a metaphorical pillow quilted and dripping of the finest velvet. Pure strung Sangiovese on the softest rope from a duo of Montalcino vineyards and carried ethereally on a Tuscan wind through Slavonian casks and into bottle five plus years later. All this and still remarkably tannic for a Brunello from 2007. A reversal of vintages in aperture, aroma and taste, the ’08 acting out the convivial philandering of its mates, this ’07 metagrobolizing the notion of a repeat performance but asking for more time.

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0998195 $75.00, WineAlign)

A stunning example of modern Brunello and the closest to pure silk as any at the Benvenuto. From two estate vineyards, Poggio al Sole and Pian Bossolino, one conveying strength, the other delicata. A “white” Brunello this Fiora, so fine, so fair, so beautiful. The fabric is so stylishly woven, it will never be easy to keep down in the cellar. So enjoy it if you can swing it, now and for five pleasurable years.

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2007, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0372557 $129.00, WineAlign)

La Fiorita’s Riserva is full of wildflower fragrance, deeply concentrated and very much a child of a best fruit forward vintage. Precociously evolved tannins and wizened tree fruit play the a modernity card in a rustic suit. A Brunello with sweet talent, all in for pleasure. A familiar and representative ’07.

Paradisone Rosso Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0374223 $40.00, WineAlign)

Colle degli Angeli’s 2008 Rosso is a pillar of Sangiovese strength with more structure than most, in girth, density and anxiety. The debate may rage on the merits, yay or nay of such seriousness but knowing what you’re getting is half the battle. Not that this is anti-fresh (there is plenty of cherry extract and rosehip), but the layers of fruit, acidity and tannin go deeper, if a bit towards the earth’s crust. Now six years on, a full settling is not entirely likely, but kudos for the effort. Will drink best in 2015 and for two to three years after that.

Paradisone Rosso Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0374223 $40.00, WineAlign) The success of Colle degli Angeli’s Rosso 2009 lies in its attention to the details of territory. Like the 2008, it sweats the larger things, namely the tensions between soil, vine vigor and the carbolic acid activity by way of the grape’s extract. Breaking down cherry is the obvious aroma and by natural extension, the flavour. In ’09, a splintered and sinewy rusticity dominates the proportion so match it to a sauce, be it dressing up pasta or smothering a stew. The wine will benefit from the companionship.

Paradisone Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0374215 $69.00, WineAlign) Colle degli Angeli’s 2007 Brunello goes against the vintage’s grain by exerting a testosterone attitude in a chapter of predominantly feminine inclination. Butch‘s horse kicks up 15 per cent abv dust, in well-performed aggregate of high alcohol and a sugar quotient of only 1.8 g/L of rose perfumed fruit. Grips the tannic gun tight and outrides Brunello’s sacred laws of palturition. In other words, despite the grit, this ’07 gives birth to a young wine that is quite approachable. The kid performs a sun dance as per the warm vintage. New to Ontario’s market, it might be asked, “who are those guys?”

Paradisone Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0374215 $69.00, WineAlign)

Colle degli Angeli’s 2009 Brunello forges a dramatic relationship between grapes, climate and territory. When considered in relative terms to the ’07, the sugar is up a touch (2.3 g/L) and the alcohol down (14.5 per cent). Negligible numbers really but the phenolic make up results in a Sangiovese whose sink is full of funk, alcohol, suede and creamy glycerin. Like the ’07, the grapes come from young, self-willed and boisterous vines ready and willing to tackle both a modern age in Montalcino and the rigors of climate variation. While the azienda agricola may not yet be a household name, the wines are indicative of the goût du terroir as expressed in this rendition.

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Passover that big glass of red

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 Torah says, “Guard the month of the spring, and make [then] the Passover offering.” Meaning, Jews need to ensure that Passover is celebrated in the spring. In Canada that proclamation was in danger. Had Passover fallen in March, 2014 may just have seen the coming of the apocalypse.

An understanding of the rules and laws that govern wine on Passover is on a need to know basis. There are really just three key variants of information essential to purchasing and consuming on Pesach. This applies to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Number one. Passover wine is specific to a Jew’s level of Kosher. From Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox, all Jews have different variances of belief. A Reform Jew will likely drink any wine on Passover and then again, may not. But, he or she will almost certainly not require the bottle to be Meshuval. A Conservative may only drink Meshuval but in more cases than not, Kosher is good enough. An Orthodox Jew goes it only one way, or the highway. Strictly Meshuval KFP, do not pass go, do not collect Afikoman (the broken Matzah) money.

I covered the gory and bitter (herb) details in last year’s Passover wine column. “All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are kosher, but not all kosher wines are kosher for Passover.”

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

In 2012 I spent some time on the limiting, frustrating and constipating food component of the ancient Jewish holiday. “Try cooking with and having to eat nothing but Matzo, eggs and oil for eight days.”

Related - KP Duty – Kosher For Passover Wines

Kosher wines migrate bigger and bigger with each passing Lunisolar calendar year and their not so arbitrary inclusion or not of an intercalary month (shanah meuberet – Adar I) added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the 19 year lunar cycle. Israel continues to race towards big, lush, often high alcohol reds. This trend could be seen as a masking or a compensating/mitigating strategy to oppose the rigors and past failings of making Kosher wine. It can also be viewed as a stylistic choice, to mirror what has taken place in Bordeaux, in California and in Australia for the past 20 years.

In Canada, Kosher wine selections are extremely limited. There are smaller, garagiste producers in Israel, especially in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, that are making fresher, less oaked reds, but good luck seeing them on shelves on this side of the ponds. It was refreshing, however, to find the Kosher contingent on the VINTAGES March 1st release to be Israel-focused. In past years the group was dominated by Australia, Italy, France and California. Israel is making the best Kosher wines on the planet. Go figure.

Barque Events offers a full Passover catering menu. View the selections. Here are six big reds and a token white tasted and recommended for the Passover table.

Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Galilee

From left to right: Recanati Chardonnay 2012, Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal, Upper Galilee, Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Galilee, Galil Mountain Alon 2010, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Teperberg Family Estate Meritage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Elah Valley, Tabor Earth Series Shiraz 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Saslove Aviv Marriage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Galil Mountain Yiron Kp 2009, Upper Galilee

Recanati Chardonnay 2012, Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal, Upper Galilee, Israel (128322, $19.95, WineAlign)

Rich, unctuous and viscous. Soft and discreet, more like a modern, New World sketch of a Grenache Rhône-blend than a warm climate Chardonnay. There is little or no affront to this clement and polite Israeli of scant tension or acidity.   Tasted February 2014

Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Kosher For Passover, Galilee, Israel (Vintage Wines – 611152, $26.95, WineAlign)

From winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, the stylish “G” will answer the pecuniary call for just about any Passover feast. Well-rounded, worldly, soft-spoken and generous of fruit. A 100 per cent Cabernet that knows its way around a blackberry, a ripe plum, a bouquet of violets and a chamber of faint tobacco smoke. Lush but not heavy, the only detractor is a slight caramel, oxidative note that indicates near-term consumption, which is basically a given anyway. The finish hints at a lava flow in the direction of the fourth cup, but because this G is so easy to drink, it should be enjoyed while still at the table.  Tasted April 2014

Galil Mountain Alon 2010, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Israel (354522, $20.95, WineAlign)

Alon makes use of Syrah to create its party mix, to work with 41 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 Petit Verdot and 6 Cabernet Franc. Another monster red blend, coming in hot and huge at 15.5 per cent alcohol. For the price, what more can you ask for? Passover may be a four glass exercise but two through four are top ups so it’s really a two glass night. This wine will not ruin your 2nd Seder morning wake-up after consuming a maximum two glasses at the 1st Seder. Rich, mocha berry driven shake, spicy and with non-invasive meaty aromas. Hot, sweet and bothered.  Tasted February 2014  @azureau 

Teperberg Family Estate Meritage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Elah Valley, Israel (157016, $23.95, WineAlign)

Proper Bordeaux aromatics, of tobacco, tea, black currant and grilled meat. Nothing gritty going on here, all four varieties playing a role and hanging together. With good tannins, sweet sinuous and slinky, this is a very versatile Passover red that will also benefit from a year or two in bottle. Better than average value.  Tasted February 2014

Tabor Earth Series Shiraz 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Israel (356709, $23.95, WineAlign)

In an unusual turn of the earth, this smells like someone dropped a piece of Emmental to melt in the heat upon the must of this Shiraz. It does swirl away and a solid core of red berry remains, though for just a spell. Simple, semi-structured and proper, without hard edges or tannins, but falls quickly. Will work well with many Passover flavours but drink it up in 2014.  Tasted February 2014

Saslove Aviv Marriage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Israel (354514, $29.95, WineAlign)

This Aviv consolidates Bordeaux, Piedmont and the Rhône into one complex and perplexing blend within the confines of a single bottle. The Northern Rhône meatiness of the Shiraz stands out firm and at attention, essentially suppressing the Meritage marriage intent and thus renders the wine monochromatic. Still its lively and spicy, ready for the bigger and more pungent foods on the Passover table. The Shiraz might say, “this is a crisis I knew had to come, destroying the balance I’d kept.” The other varieties, meaning Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Nebbiolo are the silent partners in this polygamy of a wine marriage. They play their parts despite the joy division.  Tasted February 2014

Galil Mountain Yiron Kp 2009, Upper Galilee, Israel (95075, $34.95, WineAlign)

The Yiron is a beast but because I am so pleased to see the Kosher feature composed of all Israeli wines (as opposed to Australia, France, Italy, Argentina and Chile) I am focused and ready to work with anything on this table. Despite the 15.5 per cent alcohol and plethora of oak treatment, this blend shines in rich, meaty and anise-spiked flavours. The mix of Cabernet Sauvignon (60 per cent), Merlot (35) and Petit Verdot (5) may seem monstrous but it is not stupidly expensive now and in relation to what it cost in previous vintages ($50). Though certainly not a wine of elegance, grace and restraint, the Yiron pulls no punches and remains true to its warm climate conditions. It is what it is.  Tasted February 2014

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Mr. Pearson’s Opus

David Pearson has been the CEO of Opus One since February of 2004. His job is both simple at heart and complex of mind. Two legendary wine men, California’s Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux’s Baron Philippe de Rothschild combined (in 1978) to create one of Napa Valley’s most iconic wines. “At its core, Opus One is an idea,” relates Mr. Pearson. The wine is a blend of Mondavi and Mouton, a reflection of the character of two families.

Pearson is responsible for all production, marketing, sales and administrative activities at Opus One. He is the caretaker of a single bottle of wine. Can there be another brand, anywhere in the world (not called a First Growth) that carries such weight or specificity of concentration? The job requires serious moxie and intuition. The soft-spoken David Pearson is Opus One. That much is clear. Thirty-five years later “we’re just at the beginning of the process,” explains Pearson, “In evolution, of developing this great marriage.” For the uninitiated, Opus One is a Bordeaux table blend of the traditional five varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, made in a “California style.”

Opus One Vineyard Photo: http://en.opusonewinery.com/

Opus One Vineyard
Photo: http://en.opusonewinery.com/

It started as a pure concept, with no actual vineyard, in the Baron’s bedroom back in the 1970′s. “The wine is a child that resembles its parents,” notes Pearson. He sees its growth has now reached a maturity stage for individual vintages to be judged as either that child or as an adult. Pearson, Craig de Blois and Mark Coster of Noble Estates brought four vintages of Opus One to Luma Restaurant on March 27th. Pearson asked that the group of sommeliers and wine scribes decide which of these wines have left their parent’s home. The exercise seemed simple enough, especially with a level of clarity made readily available by the fact that all four vintages poured were fostered and nurtured by current winemaker Michael Silacci. Silacci joined Opus One in March 2001 as director of viticulture and enology and became winemaker in January of 2004. After tasting a stunning set from 2010, 2009, 2006 and 2001, the solicited clarity was revealed.

All natural acidity, an ever-earlier picking stratagem and less frequent racking define the Opus direction. The Opus team considers their winemaking “minimalist” and though in wine-speak that is certainly a relative term, as a group the wines do present with a meritorious level of fruit purity. That can’t be said for many Napa Valley brands that seek more hedonism than is often necessary. Saying that the price of a bottle is inflated by a historical elevage of personality and fashion branding neither does Opus One an injustice nor does it relegate the commenter as a castaway to a deserted island. Opus One is a brilliant and gorgeous red. It’s also very expensive.

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant Photo: Eric Vellend

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant
Photo: Eric Vellend

In September of 2012 I had the pleasure of tasting the Opus One 1989. My tasting note:

Opus One 1989 Unbelievable. A lesson in Napa iconoclasm. What every great 22-year old New World wine should strive to become. In harmony with every part of itself; fruit, tannin, acidity. Beauty within and without. Dark, sultry, full of all things berry and oak. The full gamut of red and black fruit, vanilla, mocha and chocolate. Like walking into your childhood and being handed the keys to Charlie’s factory. Another M gem.

Notes from the March 2014 tasting: Opus One, Napa Valley (26310, $399.95 – 2009 vintage)

2010 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (84 per cent), Cabernet Franc (5.5), Merlot (5.5), Petit Verdot (4) and Malbec (1). Fiercely approachable, a rope of gemstones falling effortlessly into the palm of a velvet glove. Imminently modern, reeking of toothsome Napa and working without Old World parental support. Dense texture, high acidity and exceptional length. Layers upon layers of fruit powered by audacity and prowess. Even this formidable ’10 will struggle to find immunity from the weird vintage. It’s ripe, anything but green and manages an admirable level of elegance. Lives for today. Will it age like its older siblings? Yes, but not as long.

2009 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (81 per cent), Cabernet Franc (9), Petit Verdot (6), Merlot (3) and Malbec (1). The immediate and obvious cerebration is all about its incredible sense of balance. A garden of perfume, the most Bordeaux-bent of the tasting and a mineral reverberation carried on through a seemingly never-ending finish. Blessed by a long and sweet chain of tannin. This ’09 has that Mediterranean brush stroke of garrigue and black olive smothered by a smear of sun-drenched California fruit. Another challenging vintage where picking time was so crucial. That September 21st to October 20th window must have been the right one.

Opus One Bottle

2006 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (77 per cent), Merlot (12), Cabernet Franc (5), Petit Verdot (3) and Malbec (3). A kinaesthesia with age is sent forward by the tertiary complexity of its make-up. Dusty, still marked by acidity, along with a note of toffee and a raisining of the fruit. Savoury too, in gentle middle-age, it gives away strange sensations and aromas that suggest a potpourri of powders; rose, bacon, espresso and Filé. Full of grace and contentment. A cool year that saw no end-of-year heat spike, this is a most unique Opus one.

2001 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (87 per cent), Merlot (6), Malbec (3), Cabernet Franc (2) and Petit Verdot (2). The ’01 conjures up instant funk and “the beat is really soothing.” The Bretty streak stretches, dissipates and is cleansed as the wine aerates, but the groove lingers on. An Opus that clearly states “I got my mind made up.” Of the vineyard and for the vineyard, with a note of wet forest. The Bar Mitzvah boy is acting as one would expect, as an agent to a coming of age law, like a leather satchel filled with dehydrating, concentrated fruit. Swirl some more and that jerky is then drizzled by a Mickey of berry liqueur and dusted by 13 year-old dirt. A vintage defined by 14 per cent alcohol, still vital, powerful and neo-gritty. Forty-five minutes in, the lingering funk is fading but the thought, the chalk and the grain sends this Opus One back across the Atlantic, to the world of Mouton.

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 wine’s 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!

On a wine and a prayer

White wine

An assembly of really good white wine seems as good a plan as any to beg for spring weather
Photo: pagnacco/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

I’ve been too long without summer,
In this winter home.

We’re going to begin the last week of March with a quartet of white wines as a prayer for the hopes of warmer weather. A bottle full of fresh and sprite grapes to be brought into the temple as a gift to lay down at the altar, sacrificial ferments meant to appease the harbinger gods of Spring. A prayer on the back of a wine angel to usher us out of the cold, to drink in long time missing, rarefied air.

Is this plea just a bit too Exodus 40:6 for you? “And thou shalt set the altar of the burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation.” Maybe too much like an American World War Two patriotic song? “And our trust in the Lord, we’re comin’ in on a wing and a prayer.” Do you read this and think, “See the rich man lost and lonely, watch him as he dines, sitting there just testing all the wines…” Does this make you roll your eyes due to a kitsch allergy? “Our wine, which art in heaven, hallowed by thy legs…For thine is the Chardonnay, the Merlot and the Cabernet. Forever and ever. Amen.”

An assembly of really good white wine seems as good a plan as any to beg for Spring weather, prosaic waxing or not. Let’s just make a plan. Open a bottle of white wine a day for four days, or open one and wait four days. Then look out the window. If I were a betting man I’d say Spring will have sprung.

From left: Casal Di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore 2011, Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Dillons Point Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, and Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2010

From left: Casal Di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore 2011, Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Dillons Point Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, and Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2010

Casal Di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore 2011, Doc Marche, Italy (268169, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

What once was, though no longer is a single (Montecarotto) vineyard designated Verdicchio, the exceptional quality of the grapes remains obvious, front and centre. A five months lees meets yeast cold soak and a distant, though influencing stone’s throw from a (somewhat) far away coast combine for complex effect. A brilliant platinum hue and loaded stony, mineral relish is piqued by a pinch of salinity. The overall elaboration is urged along by lime citrus in zest, aromatic bitters and evolving fruit entering a nut stage. Very, very Verdicchio.  89  Tasted March 2014  @UmaniRonchiVino  @Noble_Estates

Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Dillons Point Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand (66092, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

There is just something about Sauvignon Blanc from vineyards on or near the shore of Cloudy Bay. Alan and Petrina Shutkowski’s plot in Morgans Road joins ranks the likes of the original and iconic Cloudy Bay and te Pā as purveyors of distinct and inadmissible fruit. Rises to a next level concentration and exceptional length. Larger scale producer does upscale SB at a large-scale price with distinction. A thing that sings long and in the right green grass key. Avoids the sickly, herbal sweetness of overbearing aspara-gooseberry and bell pepper. Incredible acids and just the right kind of salivating, mouth-watering verve and tang. Just a pinch of grapefruit pith joins in to magnify the bitters in all the right ways.  Tasted March 2014.  91  @CoopersCreekNZ

Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, Santorini, Greece (366450, $22.95, SAQ 11901091, $24.50, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

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.  93  Tasted March 2014  @KolonakiGroup

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula,Ontario (662841, $45.95, SAQ 11031443, $48.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

This current visit to the ever-ambrosial Robyn’s Block 2010 is unlike any that have come before. Seemingly lignified at present, a stranger in town, in an unexpected, dumb phase stalled as if by agostamento. Twenty Miles of limestone lurk and a green gem’s goddess figure hides behind the looking-glass. This regnant Robyn pleads “take away my inhibitions, take away my solitude.” While not the most flattering of her evolutionary positions, a retinue of resurgent fruit will lead to Robyn’s exodus. A few years patience and this cool climate Chardonnay will regain her warm, tropical smile, to shine again.  92  Tasted March 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Good to go!