14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

In 2013 the number chosen to highlight excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Symmetry and permutations with repetition are one thing, quality in winemaking is yet another. The expectation is fully understood that next year there will be 15 wines on the list. And so on and so forth.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

What force has thus far driven and will continue to drive the wines of Canada? By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, mountains, rivers and valleys, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today, we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of women and men.

Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.

Winery visits were numerous in 2014. Thanks must be dispatched to all who opened their doors, to those with established roots and to risk takers who through their new planting, began burrowing their own. Like Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario. Like Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Tastings that go beyond the pale shed new élevage and barrel light. The light shed by such practices was no more in evidence than at Tawse with Paul Pender and Norman Hardie, but also at Flat Rock Cellars with Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich.

Memories of 2014 lead to thoughts of Cuvée, the Expert’s Tasting and the Sparkling Wine Symposium at Brock University. Taste OntarioSomewhereness, County in the City. July visits to Niagara and Nova Scotia gave up 10,000 words of free-flowing wine-speak about the Cool Chardonnay conference and with Peter Gamble in the Gaspereau Valley.

There were a few wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there time, space and a better headline to write. Gray Monk Riesling 2012, Okanagan Valley at ($15.00, WineAlign) is the best value for the niche in B.C. This is old-school, west coast Riesling with attributes to reflect and look back on generations of acumen. Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95, WineAlign) forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic and was a NWAC14 Platinum Medal Winner.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec ($22.95, WineAlignspeaks to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée. Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench ($38.00, WineAlign) though just recently re-tasted, was actually first assessed in November of 2013.

This list certainly concentrates on new releases, save for a few exceptions where older wines left a modern impression. Wines that found a way to break new ground also factored into the decisions. Here are the 14 Canadian wines tasted in 2014 that simply did it for me. Wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

 

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

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

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From The Group of twelve, April 28, 2014

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”  Tasted April 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake.  Tasted October 2014  @BlueMtnWinery

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.  Tasted April 2014  @normhardie

Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted twice, May and July 2014  @SperlingVyds

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign) From Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone, July 15, 2014

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Pilliteri Estates Merlot Family Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign) From Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine, January 17, 2014

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?   Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

 

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From Chardonnay is cool, July 9, 2014

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign) From A hip of wine at Hidden Bench

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025.  Tasted twice, September  and October 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $50, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.”  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign) From The Stratus-Momofuku continuum, May 30, 2014

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.  @StratusWines

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign) From Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases November 4, 2014

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

Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46470, $65.00, WineAlign) From Up on Creekside Estates, April 14, 2014

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.  Tasted March 2014  @CreeksideWine

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign) From Consider the Gaspereau Valley, October 1, 2014

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge

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Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

Gold Medal Plate, Toronto 2014: Canoe's Chef John Horne Grandview Short Ribs Glazd with Tree Syrups (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal winning plate, Gold Medal Plates, Toronto 2014: Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

When head judge David Lawrason asked me to join him and fellow WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato to preside over the wines at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, I paused for a brief moment. I knew right away the answer was an emphatic yes but I had to breathe in the possibilities. One: Sample 10 wondrous culinary creations by 10 sacrosanct chefs. Two: Spend an evening with Canadian Olympic medallists and recording artists. Three: Taste and judge the sagacious efforts by some of Ontario’s most venerated winemakers.

Gold Medal Plates was founded in 2003 and is so much more than an organization. It is a Canadian institution. The primary goal of the coast to coast galas are to “celebrate Canadian excellence in food, wine, athletic achievement and entertainment.” The tour makes stops in 11 Canadian cities and raises funds for the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support Olympic athletes. Net proceeds are donated to support high performance programs such as Own The Podium. To date over $8.2 million has been raised. (Update: Gold Medal Plates tweeted on December 10th that the number is now $9.5 million).

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter<br />  (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In each city the invited chefs prepare a regional dish and in Toronto, more than 700 people tasted through a complex variety of creations. The gold medal chef in each city goes on to compete at the Gold Medal Plates Finale at the Canadian Culinary Championships. In 2015 the host will be Kelowna, British Columbia on February 6 and 7. The term “career changer” is used to describe the chef who is crowned tops in Canada.

With unprecedented support from the event’s title sponsor Deloitte, the Toronto event was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Wednesday, November 12, 2014. The culinary judging was headed up by former Toronto Life Magazine food critic James Chatto. Joining Mr. Chatto were chef/author Sasha Chapman, chef/TV personality Christine Cushing, author/CBC radio host Anita Stewart, George Brown chef school’s John Higgins and the 2013 Canadian Culinary Champion Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant.

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

At the Toronto event, emcee skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. The entertainment on stage was an all-star Canadian band led by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. Cuddy was joined by The Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Roberstson, Barney Bentall, 5440’s Neil OsborneDanny Michel, Anne Lindsay and the astoundingly soulful guitarist Colin Cripps.

Slient auction signed guitar

Slient auction signed guitar

The plates in Toronto were really quite incredible. Canoe’s Chef John Horne was the gold medal winner. His Grandview Farms Short Ribs glazed with tree syrups was a ground breaker, an original composition of intrigue, a wild sequestered spot of gastronomy. The other plates were exceptional, each in their own right, but chef Horne travelled to a zone alone. Congratulations Chef.

Gold Medal Plates wines (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates wines
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In David Lawrason’s recap to the audience, he noted how close the wine judging really was. “It was the highest quality level from bottle to bottle I have seen in the country this year, making the judging of the Best of Show Award rather tough. But when each judged ranked their top five, the same five wines showed up. It was then the ordering that became difficult, and only two points separated first and second place.” In the end we chose Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011 as the Gold Medal winning wine. Hardie’s take on Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir is pure, complex and made with a deft, hands-off approach.

The wines ware all impressive, each and every one. The Hidden Bench approach on a Bordeaux-styled white is as impressive as any that have come before it, which is why the Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 finished a very close second, taking home the Silver Medal. Syrah in the hands of winemaker Rob Power is a beautiful thing indeed. Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012 was the Bronze Medal winner. Pinot Noir by Leaning Post and Cabernet Franc by Rosewood Estates were fractional points behind.

David, Sara and I tasted and judged 12 wines, 10 of which were paired to the 10 chef’s plates. Here are the tasting notes and pairings.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Peller Estates Baco Noir Private Reserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $17.95)

High acidity, negligible tannin and no surprise, the black burn of charcoal crushed, tarry fruit. A wallop of pepper for accented measure stings as per the effect of a Rhône, so like Syrah this is a good example of Baco. An airplane taxiing down a tobacco road. “But it’s home, the only life (its) ever known.” Definitely Baco.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Peller Estates Chardonnay Private Reserve  2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like bottled pastry, sweet, soft apples baking. Warm wafting aromatics, mild toast and caramelizing butter, effectively creamy and palate coating. Evolved to the point of full integration and absolute oak resolution. Drink now.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Creekside Estates Syrah Iconoclast 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $18.05) Paired with Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Farms Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups

Winemaker Rob Power is on the fast track (if he is not there already) at becoming the King of Syrah in Ontario. The Queenston Road vineyard helps. Years of acumen development is key. Passion for the Rhône and Niagara’s climatic and stylistic kinship wraps the package. A ton of effort goes into the production of this $19 wine. The methodology here differs greatly from the co-fermented two-clone meets Viognier (and twice the price) Brokenpress Syrah. Here the fruit from three vineyards (including the Queenston Road) were fermented separately in stainless steel tanks and 1 tonne fruit bins. Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel where the wine aged for 12 months. The (30 percent new) barrel mix is (53 per cent) American, (42) French and (five) Hungarian. The result? In Rob Power’s hands, you can take Syrah out of the Rhône and Australia but you can’t take the cool climate out of the Syrah. Meat, pepper and smoke pique, pinch and pop. Pow! A totem in proclivity for the variety. The water is at times dishy but the fruit swells and fills in every gap.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @CreeksideWine

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign) Paired with Bestellen’s Chef Rob Rossi’s 60 Day Dry-Aged Beef Crudo, B.C. Pine Mushrooms, Concord Grape Mustard and Truffle Sauce

Spice and rich fruit head straight to Gamay welkin derived direct from the soil’s core, of Sandstone, Schwenker and the winery’s home vineyard at Fourth Avenue. Swirl away the gathered must and moss to reveal more Cru fruit than you can shake a stirring rod at. Such verve, said grit, such persistence. The thing about Gamay is, “if you want inside of her, well boy you better make her a raspberry swirl.” 13th Street has certainly made the raspberry sing in the ’12 Gamay so “raspberry swirl, mmm let’s go.”  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @13thStreetWines

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign) Paired with Splendido’s Chef Victor Barry’s Smoked Rocky Point Oyster, Yukon Gold Potato and Chive

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

Marben Restaurant's Chef Rob Bragagnolo's Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond (c) Michael Godel

Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond
(c) Michael Godel

Rosewood Estates Cabernet Franc Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $26.20, WineAlign) Paired with Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond

From fruit grown on the Estate’s Beamsville Bench (Renaceau) vineyard. As per the house directive, this is not oak shy. So as the house finds collective varietal success from inside a barrel, the Origin Cabernet Franc 2012 falls into line. Fruit is bright and sour-edged, softened, filled in and tempered by wood. Lush berries and plums, herbs and did I mention oak? A roasted kind of sweetness comes wafting and pan-dripping in, with currants, mint and eucalyptus with a far away look. Intensely modish CF, with a swath of chocolate, springy and extensible length.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.20) Paired with Buca’s Chef Rob Gentile’s Ravioli alla Tonnara, Tuna Blood Pasta, Tuna N’duja and Stracciatella Cheese

The Chardonnay formerly known as Renaceau Estate Vineyard, followed by Reserve and now Origin continues to hail from the Beamsville locale and persists as one of the most viscous and rich of its ilk. The glaring mismatch in sugar (20.8 g/L) and acidity (1.8 g/L) could spell disaster but to the contrary, this finds its tongue. Quite drawn, in a southern sort of lobster dipped in butter drawl. Unrequited malo fermentative linguistics suppress any tension that might distract from the bounty of warm vintage, perfectly ripe fruit smothered in a creamy lather of French oak (nine months in 50% new and 50% seasoned).  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

The Farm Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) Paired with Café Boulud’s Chef Tyler Shedden’s Haida Gwaii Pink Salmon, Preserved Porcini Mushroom, Nasturtium and Smoked Sabayon

Those familiar with the Neudorf farm fruit know it well because of the single vineyard Pinot Noir “La Petite Colline” made by then Le Clos Jordanne winemaker Thomas Bachelder and carried forth by Sébastien Jacquey. Most of the harvest was then scooped up by Bachelder’s newest Niagara venture with some Quebec buddies at Domaine Queylus. In 2012 the Neudorf family decided to allocate a small commercial gifting of their own minuscule production of Estate Pinot Noir. Eleven restaurants in Southern Ontario carry this luxurious and humid red. The aromatics are pure Neudorf; a blackberry-rapt silt and clay-earth mingle with a sideshow of coated limestone primer. Just a smidgen past ripe, this blood pedigree redaction has plenty of charm if less earnest finesse than the Bachelder siphoned bottles.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

Langdon Hall's Chef Jason Bangerter's Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.20, WineAlign) Paired with Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root

One year later and in conjunction with stopping to think about them (other vintages and other reds at #GMP2014), the most terroir and aromatic focus comes from Ilya Senchuk’s ’10. Cherry, pomegranate and earth. Only Lowrey goes deep like this. Such a palate refresher. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these two mano a mano, in my life is a rubber soul stamp. “All these places have their moments.” 125 cases.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @LeaningPostWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Drake Hotel’s Chef Alexandra Feswick’s Beef Tongue, Plums and Almonds

The tension in the ’11 Niagara Pinot is palpable, ongoing and yet, as noted previously, not like it used to be. Expertly judged in a major key of complexity. Like candied nuts strung along a chain of tannin. Layers of depth and active ingredients. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention. Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @normhardie

The Chase's Chef Michael Steh's Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce (c) Michael Godel

The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce
(c) Michael Godel

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce

Tropical notes are currently blanketing the radar on the long flight to future decades. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus.” From my earlier, September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.” Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

The Shangri-La Hotel's Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion (c) Ronald Ng Photography

The Shangri-La Hotel’s Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Shangri-La Hotel’s Chef Damon Campbell’s Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion

There is still a tough outer layer to crack. A poem of many stanzas has only just begun. Mute yet delicate, the stratified vineyard is the Poetica’s poetry; tight, yet forwardly futuristic towards the ephemeral and the aerified. From my earlier July 2014 note: “Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.” From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @SouthbrookWine  @thesirengroup

Every barrel tells a story

Tawse Barrel Cellar PHOTO: www.tawsewinery.ca

Tawse Barrel Cellar
PHOTO: http://www.tawsewinery.ca

If you have never had the pleasure of visiting Tawse winery in Vineland and more specifically, the cool serenity of their barrel rooms, then you still have some wine living to do.

Related – Paul Pender’s Tawse and effect

Last month I was invited to work through the barrels once again with Pender, Norman Hardie, Redstone winemaker Rene Van Ede and the visiting Gautier Roussille of Tonnellerie de Mercurey. Hardie is instrumental in bringing the cooperage’s barrels to Ontario and Tawse employs them with coadjuvant good fortune. Pender gathered this group together to assess the sundry effects on his developing 2013’s, by tasting the wines out of particular barrels, from specific oak forests and with different levels of toast. Twenty-one or so passes of the thief later, the picture had been drawn. Every barrel tells a story.

Paul Pender, Gautier Roussile and Norm Hardie discuss a Mercurey barrel

Paul Pender, Gautier Roussile and Norm Hardie discuss a Mercurey barrel

Tawse makes use of wood from more than one cooperage so the comparisons of various barrels housing identical blocks of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir is a study in algebraic proportion. The reveal in such company is the real deal. What is abstruse to most lay palates is piously obvious to these major leaguers. When the going gets wooden, the wooden turn pro.

Stealing sips from a wine’s temporary wood house makes allowances to peer behind the scenes. The possibility exists to note the accentuating fruit effect of Eric Fourthon’s Okanagan-manufactured, 100% French oak from mineral forests ‘Céres’ barrels. There is the wine-tightening advance by another barrel from the Forêt de la Bertrange. To that antithesis there is the diametrically opposed impart of Tonnellerie de Mercurey’s CLL toasted oak. The precocious corollary of Billion’s Vosges or the curating texture of Jupilles. It’s all too fascinating. At the end of the day it’s about matching barrel to fruit, to fashioning better barrels, to make the best, most consistent wines, year after year.

When it comes to Chardonnay and choosing the forest from the trees, both Norm and Paul agree. Early picking and the right use of barrel leads to higher malolactic fermentation. Tastes from the Quarry Road Vineyard taught the most about barrel usage. The Quarry site was purchased by owner Moray Tawse from the holdings of Vineland Estates. “Best deal he ever made,” says Pender. All the early year’s bitterness is now mineral. “This is the County in Niagara,” he says.

Norm Hardie and Paul Pender in the Tawse Barrel Cellar

Norm Hardie and Paul Pender in the Tawse Barrel Cellar

Here are very brief notes on 21 wines, quickly run through out of barrel, many of which were tasted twice. Once on January 10th and again on April 23rd. A 21-oak salute to the work of Master Coopers, Norm Hardie, Rene Van Ede and Paul Pender.

Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (Neutral) Three year-old vines, density, tang, tropical melon in aroma and flavour.

Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Ceres (Mineral) This is very pretty, the most gem-like, the most like Burgundy. Will go to stainless on the lees in September for six more months before going into bottle. The purest expression from the best vineyard.

Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (CLL toast) The wood tightens this wine up considerably, mainly on the finish. High citrus notes and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish.

Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (Large barrel, CLL toast) Reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oak feel.

Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (One year-old, CLL toast) From the oldest (32 years) vines, the richest site, working best in tandem with new oak, here showing very primary, fermenting notes. A most restrained Robyn, reigned in.

Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 20123 Mercurey (New) Same old vines, increased tang and girth into which the barrel disappears. Sappy toast on the back end, quite young in its evolution. Rich, thick and the most density. Aromatically lime. Will function expertly as a foil to the Fourthon barrel in the final blend.

Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013, Céres (Mineral) Exclamatory fruit and this stage, this is the wine (barrel) to drink.

Lenko Chardonnay 2013, Céres (One year-old) From the oldest (1959) vineyard in Canada. Can handle the most oak. This is creamy, full and reminiscent of Robyn in 2008 and before. Anything but a lean style. Ain’t nothin’ but a house party. “Dig that crazy soul.”

Lenko Chardonnay 2013, Céres (Bertrange, new) Oak tightens up the wine, which has a tendency to be large, or blowsy. “I don’t like Chardonnay at two tons per acre,” notes Pender. “It’s too fat.”

Lenko Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (New) More sappiness and the tightest yet. Showing the most oak but three to four months should settle its issues.

Huff (South Bay, Prince Edward County) Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (Large CLL toast) The fat one, the tenor, with high lemon and lime notes. There is orange zest, lots of fruit and mineral, like licking a steel pipe. A citrus-bitter finish, the most yet, likely due to the very low (1/2 ton) per acre yield.

Huff (South Bay, Prince Edward County) Chardonnay 2013, Ceres (Mineral) Turns woody on County fruit. There’s a separation in this one and very ripe lemons and limes. “I almost think I should have picked this earlier.”

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Mercurey (Old barrel) Reductive, mineral, weighty, intense, firm, taut tannic structure.

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Céres (Bertrange) More richness but still firm and quite tannic. More painted layers, cherries, toasty, the wood a bit green.

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Billion (Jupilles, medium toast) Has the most elegance yet the toast is still very apparent but there is more sweetness, in how the fruit reacts with the tannins. Here is that curation of texture.

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Billion (Toasted head barrel) Brings out the black cherry nose but the tannin is green and drying. “It will rally, ” says Van Ede.

Pinot Noir Tintern 2013, Billion (Vosges, medium toast) From only three year-old vines on a site Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” The site is next door to John Howard and the wine is already showing colour, freshness and drive.

Pinot Noir Tintern 2013, Billion (Vosges, medium plus toast) A bit reductive, more tannin, more sappy wood.

Pinot Noir Quarry Road 2013, Billion (Old barrel) High limestone content means harder tannins. This is edgy and mean. Would work better with a lighter toast.

Pinot Noir Quarry Road 2013, Billion (Vosges, medium plus toast) Tarry, edgy, walking on the blade. The middle palate has more fill. “There’s a roughness in that vineyard,” explains Pender.

Pinot Noir Quarry Road 2013, Billion (Toasted head) Less edgy, rounder, fleshier, fresher. The gaps here are filled in.

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

Here are 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

Here are 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013.
Photo: valeriy555/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

It has been a remarkable year in the evolution of the Canadian wine industry. Some will rant and others argue over the lack of cohesion and togetherness when the idea of a Canadian wine culture is discussed. What is of greater interest, at least in terms of the year in retrospect, is the wines themselves. When the wines are assessed and considered in part or as a whole, who would dare to say there are no great wines being produced?

I have personally tasted nearly 1,000 Canadian wines in 2013. This thanks to friends, colleagues, events, winery visits, LCBO media and vintner tastings, restaurant wine lists and agents. Not to mention the necessary organizations such as The Ontario Wine Society and the Wine Council of Ontario.

There was Cuvée 2013 and the Expert’s Tasting at Brock University. Somewhereness, County in the City, The Riesling Experience, Cool Chardonnay and Taste Ontario 2013 were just a few of the many events to discover the wonders of Ontario and Canadian wine. A summer visit to the west coast opened a window to the wonders of the Okanagan and B.C. Wine.

This was a very difficult list to narrow down. It is based on wines tasted but not necessarily released in 2013, though I did try to focus on more current selections. In the end, these choices are meant to offer both a cross-section and a definitive compilation of what Canadian winemakers do best. That is producing unique, cutting edge and brilliant takes on cool climate grapes. They also match beautifully with the songs referenced in their tasting notes. Here are 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013.

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES CHARDONNAY MUSQUÉ 2010, 8TH GENERATION VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, FIELDING ESTATE CABERNET FRANC 2011, QUAIL’S GATE PINOT NOIR 2011, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE JANINE SPARKLING ROSÉ 2010

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES CHARDONNAY MUSQUÉ 2010, 8TH GENERATION VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, FIELDING ESTATE CABERNET FRANC 2011, QUAIL’S GATE PINOT NOIR 2011, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE JANINE SPARKLING ROSÉ 2010

CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES CHARDONNAY MUSQUÉ 2010 (318303, $16.95, B.C. 230961, $18.99, WineAlign)

The song: The Rolling Stones, If You Can’t Rock Me

Intensifies in juicy, bright, nearly candied fruit cut by sour patch and blanched nut. Clean, cool Chardonnay and right on. My earlier note, from ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine) is the unoaked result of aromatic Clone 809 combed from the heavier clay-based soils from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the silty, mineral rich soils from Seven and Seven Vineyard. Tropical, strutting stunner with “a thousand lips I would love to taste.” Tell Ms. Musqué if you can’t rock me, nothing can.  90  Tasted April 2013  @MBosc  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

8TH GENERATION VINEYARD RIESLING 2012 (B.C., $20.90)

From Okanagan Falls bolts rapido from the gate with the ripest fruit (pear, plum) and though there is citrus, it’s really quite semi-dry. At 12.9 per cent alcohol and 24gr/L of residual sugar this may as well be Mosel Trocken Spätlese. Fantastic presence and awesome winemaking from Bernd and Stefanie Schales. Got me by the vines and will be on my table. 92  Tasted July 2013  @8th_Generation  From: B.C. Wine: From Vancouver to your table

FIELDING ESTATE CABERNET FRANC 2011  (36194, $21.95, WineAlign)

Sets the pepper mill on speed dial and certainly knows the inside of a barrel but what more could you possibly ask for? Unabashed, unbridled purple goodness. From my earlier note: “…has to be the best yet from Richie Roberts.  From a 35-acre Grand Cru (Five Rows) vineyard in the making in the heart of the warmest Niagara locale (St. David’s Bench). Zanthoxylum, capsicum and pencil shaving. Ropy grain, chewy, sylvan charm. On the card at Barque 90  Tasted March 2013  @FieldingWinery  From: Masters wines in purple, yellow and green jackets

QUAIL’S GATE PINOT NOIR 2011 (585760, $26.95, WineAlign)

With a flat-out ambrosial aromatic entry bequeaths extremely ripe, fleshy red stone fruit and a hit of java, hold the crema and the splinters. Toss in some cool eucalyptus to that tincture, perhaps, like De Loach Van Der Kamp. Intimates a Sonoman dream in confected perfume unlike any Okanagan predecessor. This is flamboyant stuff for OV, toothsome, and were it from California I might think it OTT but from B.C., not so. Expertly judged fruit/acid balance and such plush texture. Gobs of fruit with just enough grit to keep it real. “The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots and wonders at our quaint spirits.” 91  Tasted July 2013  @Quails_Gate  From: A midsummer night’s chill red wine 

HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE JANINE SPARKLING ROSÉ 2010 ($29.95, winery only, WineAlign)

The song: Genesis, In The Cage

100 per cent Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also ”turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  Tasted May 2013  @HuffEstatesWine  From: You can lead a county to the city

From left: NORMAN HARDIE COUNTY PINOT NOIR UNFILTERED 2012, PELLER ESTATES CABERNET FRANC ‘SIGNATURE SERIES’ 2010, PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011, and BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010

From left: NORMAN HARDIE COUNTY PINOT NOIR UNFILTERED 2012, PELLER ESTATES CABERNET FRANC ‘SIGNATURE SERIES’ 2010, PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011, and BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010

NORMAN HARDIE COUNTY PINOT NOIR UNFILTERED 2012 (125310, $35.00)

Cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.  93  Tasted October 2013  @normhardie  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

PELLER ESTATES CABERNET FRANC ‘SIGNATURE SERIES’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only, WineAlign)

The song: Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage

Has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100 per cent Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92  Tasted March 2013  @PellerVQA  From: A long and winding tasting road

PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011 303602, $40.00, WineAlign)

A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?  93  Tasted July 19, 2013  @PearlMorissette  From: Nine big November best buy wines

BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99, WineAlign)

The song: The Beatles, Dig a Pony

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC  From: Nine big November best buy wines

From left: STRATUS WHITE 2006, HIDDEN BENCH TÊTE DE CUVÉE CHARDONNAY 2009, BACHELDER WINES PINOT NOIR LOWREY VINEYARD 2011, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007

From left: STRATUS WHITE 2006, HIDDEN BENCH TÊTE DE CUVÉE CHARDONNAY 2009, BACHELDER WINES PINOT NOIR LOWREY VINEYARD 2011, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007

STRATUS WHITE 2006 (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

Was a “great recovery year,” after the winter damage of ’03, ’04 and ’05. A cool vintage, which required careful picking. The Sauvignon Blanc driven ’06 has the highest melon component, not to mention Boxwood. Yet that rose/floral/honey medicinal note is even stronger. Not over the hill at all and developing a graceful white wine character. Very French with late acidity and verve. Remarkable. Love this one. “This is a style of aged wine where I want to go,” says J-L. Nutty finish.  93  Tasted September 2013  @Stratuswines  From: Select tasting through the years of Stratus Red and Whites

HIDDEN BENCH TÊTE DE CUVÉE CHARDONNAY 2009 ($45, winery only, WineAlign)

From Big wines from California and the Bench from HB’s oldest, most highly regarded and meticulously maintained vines shows ravishing and refined restraint in elegance. Warm pineapple and mango coagulation jarred by the vintage’s piercing acidity and immense length. Head of the class, rings the bell, nails the lecture.  93  Tasted March and May 2013  @HiddenBench  From: Around the world in eight Chardonnays

BACHELDER WINES PINOT NOIR LOWREY VINEYARD 2011 (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

The Song: Bruce Sprinsgteen, Blinded by the Light

Defies logic in laying out the welcome mat. Fleshy St. David’s fruit, relentless aromatics, a glue of tannins pushing on the pedal. From my earlier note in Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013 “springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  Tasted Oct. 10 and Nov. 6, 2013  @Bachelder_wines  From: Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007 (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

The song: The Jam, Town Called Malice

Peter Gamble struck gold with this Gasperaux Valley, Nova Scotia Sparkling Wine project. This Bridge comes from ”radically and frighteningly low yields” (3/4 ton per acre, as opposed to the new 6 ton world of Champagne). The ’07 is spun so fine and endowed with a prominent and great leesy nose, along with baking biscuits and lemon purity. To taste there is zest, white pepper and ultimately this is streamlined and refined. A Gamble style that will integrate in ’08 the idea of emulating grower’s Champagne. One will find no holes and no holds barred, in tension and in ease. Like Iggy Pop, Paul Weller, Brandon Flowers and David Bowie rolled into one, a thin white duke with a lust for life in a killer town called malice. Eight some odd cases of the 2005 are still floating around in the monopoly’s system so keep an eye on the labels. You just might get lucky. Price tag, $75? Cost, “priceless.”  93  Tasted November 2013  @Benjamin_Bridge  From: Crack open these Canadian made apolitical wines

Good to go!

Nine big November best buy wines

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour.Photo: Phil_Good/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.comLike it or not, the first week of November demands that we begin planning for the holiday season. The wine industry’s senses in Canada are highly acute to the preparations, as witnessed by the unparalleled number of tastings, travel, discussions, wine competitions and awards.

Our provincial liquor boards are especially proactive, wasting no expense to roll out glossy magazines and the proverbial red carpet for a host of high-end, super rich and ripe wines. When the clock strikes Christmas, anything that presents to the consumer that necessary combination of excellence and value will have long been sold through.

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour. Another signal to seek advice from the wine retinue and to stock up for winter.

To get you headed down the white, yellow, red and black brick road to wine Oz, here are nine serious wines being released this coming weekend, to cellar and to share in these last frantic weeks of 2013.

From left: BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012, PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011, and HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011

BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012 (12724, $22.95, SAQ 11154911, $24.75)

Though I was as first confused by the metal guts and bolts of this supertramp of a Chenin Blanc, in a short time I came to understand the greatness of its seasoned ways. From Niël Groenewald’s altitudinous bush vines, I put away the question, “who put Chardonnay in my Chenin Blanc” and replaced it with “don’t criticize, they’re old and wise.” His vines and their wisdom. Lemon drop, candied flower, buttered breakfast apples and apple pie. Can look into the pensieve and smell it in the morning from when I went to school.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BellinghamWines

PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011 (345769, $26.95)

An atomized and candied Kabinett brought into balance by zippy, ranging aromatic peaks. Porcupine tree of atmospheric disturbance, proving yet again that with German Riesling, “the more I get to know the less I find that I understand.” Royal flushed sweet entry, mid-palate plunging cliff jump and in the end a rising launch into the stratosphere of mouth watering acidity.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013

HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011 (68817, $28.95)A study in Beamsville Bench equitable tension, from its wagered ripe fruit in optimum extraction, to a responsible and fundamental barrel absorption. Woody but not wooden, woolly yet not woolen, would be greatness and not what would’ve been. Fine lines, linen and lace. A wine that echoes, acts and appears as an honest product of its makers. Further definitive stuff from Marlize Beyers, Harald Thiel and Hidden Bench.  91  Tasted July 20 and October 4, 2013   @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

From left: PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011, NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010, and BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010

PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011 303602, $40.00)

A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?  93  Tasted July 19, 2013  @PearlMorissette

NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010 (208702, $39.00, SAQ 11638481, $38.75)

That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious Pinot with only one coat of primer. Impressive.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @normhardie

BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99)

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

From left: CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006, and JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008

CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007 (156398, $49.95)

Stupid gorgeous Priorat and though inaccessible to most of us mere mortals, if you were to shell out $50 in November for one wine, this has to be considered. A blend of 65 per cent Cariñena, 22 per cent Garnacha, with a smattering of Syrah and Merlot. Pure purple pitch, an early summer Catalonian garden in bloom, air warm, breeze light. Wow. Blows high priced Napa and over the top Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of the water. The oak is so beautifully integrated.  94  Tasted October 4, 2013

CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006 (45682, $49.95)

She’s so very pretty, this righteous and bankable “girl with the right allocations.” She’s a lovely slice of layer cake, alternating in coffee, toffee, vanilla cream and mineral rime. Though her tannins are still grainy, her fruit lingers on. She’s “a girl with a smooth liquidation…a short skirt and a lonnnnng…. lonnng jacket.” Le Caillou continues to bite but she’s not huge, and that’s just right.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @VinsdePomerol

JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008 (737817, $59.95)

So, this 17th vintage tips the brix/alcohol scale in dangerous liaisons but it’s really quite a scorching, gorgeous number. A bomb to be sure, with layers and layers of the most savvy and sygian fruit. A realm of balance is achieved by way of a probing groove. Baking spice, blueberry pie, very peppery, tight, intense, tense, cohesive and righteous.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @Jimbarrywines

Good to go!

‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Golden globes, Trius Winery at Hillebrand
PHOTO: ESTHER VAN GEEST OF STEVEN ELPHICK & ASSOCIATES

as seen on canada.com

In July of 2011, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association held their inaugural event, the celebration, the fourth “C.” On the weekend of July 19-21, 2013 the third Cool Climate Chardonnay conference occupied the greater good of the Niagara Peninsula, cementing a legacy begun two years previous.

Backtrack a few years, when in 2009 Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne’s ‘Claystone Terrace’ Chardonnay 2005 made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. A light bulb went on. Fast forward to April 2010 and a group of romantics from 28 Ontario wineries get together to defend a grape. Were they singing “that’s what I like about Chardonnay?” No, but the grape had been down on the rock for so long and the panel felt compelled to come to its defense. To suffer an indignity like “Anything But Chardonnay” was an aggression that could no longer be tolerated. Thus an idea was born, a manifesto drafted and i4C was soon to become a reality.

For such a gathering to succeed there necessitates grand effort, partnership, passion, star power and serious thematic examples. Germination began with those first cool thoughts back in 2010 and the journey has since laid song lines by way of a barmy march of vignerons with rootstock firmly dug in Niagara (Harald ThielAngelo Pavan) and those with a second foot tracking terroirsbeyond and abroad (Thomas BachelderFrancois Morissette). Mix in some of this generation’s best wine-producing and marketing minds; Ron Giesbrecht formerly of Henry of Pelham, now Niagara College, Stephen Gash (Malivoire), Peter Bodnar Rod (13th Street), Del Rollo (Inniskilin, Jackson Triggs, Le Clos Jordanne), Suzanne Janke (Stratus) and Jeff Aubry (Coyote’s Run). The yeoman’s load has been in the multi-tasking hands of those who will work ’till their fingers bleed. Give it up for the cool concierge team; Dorian Andrewes, Trisha Molokach, Elena Galey-Pride, Britnie Bazylewski, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and an army of volunteers.

Partnered in kind with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO, Cool Chardonnay has gone forth and prospered. Success can be directly attributed to community and a profound connection to the fruit of the land. Famous wine folk have come; Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook of Decanter, winemakers and vintners wherever cool Chardonnay is grown. Pours have been the best of the best.

For three straight days in 2013 they walked, talked, sung praises in favour of and flat-out got dizzy with Chardonnay. White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa became vinifera central for the visiting cognoscenti, including 1976 Judgment in Paris and Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier,U.K. wine writer Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak), Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and traveling winemakers from all over; Louis Jadot’s Jacques Lardière, South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell, New Zealand’s Ruud Maasdam and Spain/California’s Marimar Torres.

The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams. The level of local and global wine excellence on display is sweeping and staggering. The congress acts both as social function and unprecedented academic experience. Most of all, i4c fosters and develops relationships for people within the wine industry and with its fans.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Brock University CCOVI

 Dizzying was the operative word of the weekend. Each time I had only just digested, assimilated, internalized and committed a group of wines to memory, another gala event and tasting was upon me. Friday morning began with “Global Perspectives on Chardonnay,” a winemaker’s panel discussion at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, moderated in minimalist, less is more fashion by Mr. Spurrier. The colloquium was augmented by a tasting of seven wines attributed to panel members. “The base for all wines should be harmony,” began Spurrier, followed by ”simplicity and clarity are the key points in wine.” Four matter-of-course questions were put to the panel and the dissertations ambled in many directions. Could the room of several hundred not question, “why is this symposium different from all other symposiums?” There was plenty of talk on barrels, clones, rootstock, soil and climate but what about the heart of the matter. How and where does Ontario Chardonnay go forth and prosper? How will exceptional quality translate to financial success? The answer lay buried in the polite, respectful and viniculture responses of the panelists, all of whom chose not to ruffle any wine making philosophy feathers nor to breach the moderator’s benign agenda. There were highlights:

Grape grower Albrecht Seeger:

Thomas Bachelder on behalf of and in support of the eloquent and verbose Jacques Lardière:

The outspoken and candid Francois Morissette:

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chardonnay at Brock University CCOVI

Friday night at Trius (Hillebrand) in Niagara-on-the-Lake set off under blazing sun only to be swept away in tempest. What began with the promise of seemingly limitless and linear structured wine and food stations turned into weather induced, scrambled chaos. I may never see a group of cooks, servers, winemakers and volunteers work harder to save an event and satiate a crowd as I saw at Trius that night. Their efforts were nothing short of brilliant. It was difficult to focus on tasting but the scene afforded some priceless time spent with Niagara winemakers and Brit Jamie Goode as the event wound down and on the shuttle back to the hotel. Wine tastings rarely afford such personal moments, to talk about something other than phenolics and malolactic fermentation.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Marlize Beyers at of Hidden Bench, Mikael Falkman of Champagne Taittinger and Michael Godel at Trius Wines

Lunch events and tastings on Saturday were held at StratusPillitteriHidden Bench and at Southbrook, which I attended. While the first three conducted more formal, seated, panel discussion style luncheons, the scene at Southbrook was more of a walk about, casual nature. Once again this allowed for one-on-one time with some of Niagara’s wine minds. Great time was spent with Shiraz Mottiar of Mailvoire (Moira’s Chardonnay 2010) and Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne (LCJ Chardonnay Claystone Terrace 2010). Special thanks to Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier for their hospitality.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Mother Nature announces a change of plans – at Trius Wines

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre was host to the Saturday gala event. The gamut of Chardonnay flowed freely, including fizz by Cave Spring, Angel’s Gate and Taittinger alongside Tide and Vine oysters. Food stations adorned the lawn and the army of volunteers poured all available Chardonnay well into the night. My ABC moment came early Sunday thanks to Mike Di Caro and a very much alive bottle of ’98 Henry of Pelham Riesling. Sunday concluded with more, you guessed it, Chardonnay at Ravine Vineyard and some terrific eats. Pizza from the outdoor oven, prosciutto by Mario Pingue and great rib-eye hamburgers hot off the grill.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chef Vikram Vij at Vineland Research Centre

In excess of 100 unique expressions of Chardonnay were available to taste throughout the weekend. More than half were presented in an experiential way, with a present winemaker or a carefully crafted food pairing. I sampled 72 to be exact. Much as I have thus far avoided the questions, and they have been asked more than once, I am willing to address the demand for ”what were the highlights and what were your favourites?” Apologies in advance to those I either missed or could not properly assess due to the sheer enormity of the weekend. Also to the little ones, the hard-plodding, day-to-day pleasing value Chardonnay. With so many top-tier, global examples from Burgundy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia and Ontario on offer, the under $25 set may not have felt the love. Here are notes on 13, guilt-free, bring ‘em on Chardonnay poured at #i4c2013.

Wines were tasted at the following venues:

Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)

Trius Winery at Hillebrand (TWH)

Southbrook Vineyards (SV)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre Rittenhouse Media Room  (RMR)

Ravine Vineyard (RV)

Southbrook Chardonnay Whimsy! ‘Sirgue’ 2011 (344531, $34.95) may come from the ‘masculine barrels’ but the integration is already seamless, in soft French cream spooned over a grove of ripe lemon dessert. Sister ‘Damy’ (sampled at 5-Star Casa Loma) is certainly ultra-feminine but together they speak of the symbiotic relationship between winemaker (Ann Sperling) and cooperage. Stone-free Chardonnay, “free to ride the breeze.”  90  (TH, SV) @SouthbrookWine

Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (335760, $34.00) is not so much a more concentrated version of the estate’s normale as a hotter sister. Like her sibling, the reserve does not rely on any one feature but she is classically styled, quaffed, a marble bust made up as maenad. Sappy white and savoury, meloniuos winter fruit, spiced apple butter and cool, steely goodness alights. “Felonious my old friend, So glad that you’re here again.”  90  (TWH, VRIC) @poplargrovewine

Staete Land Chardonnay ‘Josephine’ 2010 (332494, $57.00) is built upon a Marlborough hendiadys, a complex conjunction of rocks and earth. Sharp, focused and broad across the palate. Ruddy specimen this Josephine and simply gorgeous.  90  (VRIC)  @liffordwine

Miguel Torres Chardonnay ‘Cordillera De Los Andes’ 2011 (296624, $18.95) out of the cooler Limari Valley impresses in structure from mountain top to valley floor. Candied lemon peel, spicy bite and a crisp, cool centre make a case for value Chilean Chardonnay of the year. I might go so far as to say the highest quality ever from Chile.  91  (RMR)  @MarimarTorres

Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011 (344796, $44.95) ”from wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times.  91  (TH, VRIR, SV)  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 (931006, $32.95) may just be the most fascinating wine of the weekend. Aromatically it’s so understated and semi-breve spoken the oak-driven note is of the quasihemidemisemiquaver kind. Taste and find it ”is bathed every veyne in swich licour.” Chaucer-esque form, texture and meaning.  91  (VRIC, RV)  @WOSACanada

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009 (303644, $40), tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.  92  (TH)  @Pearl Morissette

Domaine Genot-Boulanger Meursault Clos du Cromin 2010 (331660, $59.00) intimates a sunshine daydream future carrying on wistfully in lustful fruit. Longevity will be supported by tight citrus and the wine, long on life, is long on deliverance.  92  (VRIC, VRI)

Bachelder Chardonnay ’Saunders Vineyard’ 2011 (324103, $44.95) takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Sapid, savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.  92  (CCOVI)  @Bachelder_wines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011 (346049, $35.00) toasted low and slow enervates and implodes to its very core. Then it sparks, revs the engine and climbs to 140 fearlessly and without peer. For those who can withstand the atomic launch, what follows is a reward of the highest quality Berkshire porcine whip, melting in the mouth like adult cotton candy.  Slow simmered apple paste, spiced and cooling reaps moisture and vacuums in the cheeks. Madness in Prince Edward County Chardonnay.  92  (RMR)  @normhardie

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2010 (120311, $90) is a study in Russian River Valley emotional depth, structured belief, reserved compassion and stoic understanding. Yes John Milton, there is intensity of the California sun present yet expertly judged in ripeness, concentration and restraint. Smooth, glabrous, luxuriant and prurient Chardonnay. Sip it, “look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.”  93  (RMR)

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011 ($40) is a child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or NOL in 2011?  93  (CCOVI)

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2010 (332270, $129.00) is sinfully young to assess, enjoy and evaluate. Stinging nettle, metal and silken, concentrated wildflower honey think mellifluous thoughts. “Him that yon soars on golden wings” sings in gold ingot yellow, in sweet harmony. Milton meets Costello, not quite in its Utopian place but will one day achieve peace, love and understanding.  94  (RMR)

Good to go!

Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow

Gray Monk Vineyard, Kelowna, BC PHOTO: TOURISM KELOWNA/BRIAN SPROUT

as seen on canada.com

Canada’s wine business is booming. To what do we owe this present day Renaissance of pleasant surprise and coast to coast quality? Passionate industry professionals for sure. We can thank the winemakers, marketing specialists, expatriate wine pros arriving in droves and especially the expert farmers and growers. A sea of grape-driven humanity, forging a template of success but also working together, towards a common goal.

Above all else, the rainbow’s fulcrum is the “somewhereness” of Canada’s wine regions. Terroir is the great catch word for wine. A vine’s home determines its potential, its structure, its sense of place. Micro-climates, soil, geology, altitude, slope and vegetation all contribute to the make-up of a wine forged from that specific parcel, lot or locale. If you are from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Austria or anywhere else where wine has been made for centuries, well then there is nothing new or revelatory about this train of thought. If you are from Nova Scotia, British Columbia or Ontario, the discussion exudes relevance.

Thanks to Robert Bell’s Wines in Canada, we have a great understanding of our vinous roots across the country. Johann Schiller, a German who served with the 29th Regiment of Foot in Quebec in 1784, is considered to be the father of the Canadian Wine Industry. Some of the first grape vines in Canada were planted in Nova Scotia in the 1600s. Today the maritime climate of the Gaspereau Valley is the catalyst behind a host of terrific Sparkling wines. In B.C. the Okanagan Valley is king. Defining geology and terroir in its sub-appellations is neither easy nor much discussed (as compared to Ontario), yet the wines of the sun-drenched shelf of land on the eastern slopes of Lake Okanagan’s Naramata Bench are surely ready to explode onto the scene.

It was nothing less than fortuitous for me to taste a Naramata Bench gem at the hands of a generous dinner guest. Without the tie of an unobstructed coast to coast railway carrying wine to and fro, Canadians are mostly shut out from their out-of province wine brethren and sistren. The most glaring unifying obstacle is the issue of guarded provincial borders. Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek in B.C. shouts this out loud:

Ontario’s scene is bursting with kinetic and frenetic energy. If you are a disbeliever just check out Ontario Wine Chat or MyWineShop.ca, or better yet, head on down to Cuvée 2013 this coming weekend. For a comprehensive look at our province, make sure you read A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards, & Vines by Konrad Ejbich. The discourse concerning somewhereness in Ontario is in full swing. In October of 2012 I wrote, “Character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. The future looks very bright for Ontario [wines].”

Reds from significantly warmer sub-appellations on the Niagara Peninsula, specifically Niagara River, Four Mile Creek & St David’s Bench, speak of their cozy abodes. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, varietals that benefit from extra hang time, are not only showing promise but excellence, especially in optimum climatic years like 2007, 2010 and waiting in barrel, 2012. Forgive me for waxing neo-nostalgic but welcome to the golden age. Here are four currently available Canadian wines to look for.

From left to right: Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2010; Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011; Norman Hardie Chardonnay 2009; Nichol Vineyard Syrah 2009

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: H of P has been working this Burgundian grape in so many styles, from so many vineyards

The lowdown: From another up and coming Niagara appellation, the Short Hills Bench

The food match: Grilled Halibut, olive oil, garlic, fresh thyme, lemon emulsion drizzle

Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2010 (268342, $19.95) is the best one yet. Some A16 but in a breezy, over the falls, misty wash. Like Riesling in a way, especially considering the Bench minerality. Sweet, creamy palate. Good stuff.  88

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: From the team of Grape King Curtis Fielding and winemaker Richie Roberts, 100% Niagara Peninsula grown grapes including fruit harvested from the estate vineyards

The lowdown: The Five Rows (Lowery) Vineyard is fast becoming THE go to terroir for the best possible red grapes in all of the Niagara Peninsula

The food match: Grilled Dry-Rub Butterflied Chicken, bbq sauce glaze

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011 (Approx. $21) has to be the best yet from @RichieWine. From a 35-acre Grand Cru (Five Rows) vineyard in the making in the heart of the warmest Niagara locale (St. David’s Bench). Zanthoxylum, capsicum and pencil shaving. Ropy grain, chewy, sylvan charm. 90  @FieldingWinery

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Prince Edward County’s iconoclast. Norman Hardie is “possessed of a will to hunt down the object of his life.”

The lowdown: French vines, limestone soils, unmistakable kiss from Mr. Hardie

The food match: Shrimp and Coconut Étouffée, peas, kale

Norman Hardie Chardonnay 2009 (184432, $35, SAQ, 11638501, $38.75) rocket launches spatially atomic as a bound, caryopsis hurtling of mineral schist, tangy stone fruit and smoking kernel. Angles to a vanishing point, laser perspective. Will realize a unique and defined vinous exegesis. Cosmic expression of Chardonnay out of Prince Edward County. 91  @normhardie

The grape: Syrah

The history: Alex Nichol was the first to commercially plant Syrah in the Okanagan in 1989

The lowdown: From a Naramata Bench vineyard owned by Ross Hackwith on a pocket of land tucked against steep, heat-radiating red granite cliffs

The food match: Braised Beef Short Ribs, coffee infused demi-glace

Nichol Vineyard Syrah 2009 ($35) is unquestionably the heftiest 12% you will ever experience. Cool climate Syrah, Northern Rhône meets Victoria (Oz) dare I say, nidorous, smokey, a quenched fire. Dark chocolate covered black olives. Stonking resolve, Naramata nerve, stirring. Oh.  91  @nicholvineyard

Good to go!