I’m a little bit County

Keint-He Vineyards

Keint-He Vineyards

Aren’t we all? In the wake of recent frosts, a compounding ass-kicking at the hands of Mother Nature in the wake of two harsh winters, the farmers of Prince Edward County now have to work that much harder to make viable an already arduous road to growing Vinifera. I’m not so much the type to report on bad news so I leave it to my revered colleague Rick VanSickle to hand you the news. Rick does it with empathy, grace, subtlety and truth. Here is what he is telling us about vine damage in PEC.

UPDATED: Prince Edward County vineyards hit hard by brutal frost, Niagara assessing damage, Lake Erie North Shore spared wide-spread damage

If I was not before, with thoughts constantly streaming east to the north shores of Lake Ontario, where precarious soils sit like Buddha astride one very massive and far-stretching bed of limestone rock, at present I am a little bit County. Therefore today is the day to put some notes out on the Prince Edward County wines I tasted last month at Airship 37 in the Distillery district. The County came to town for their annual fair.

County in the City at Airship 37

County in the City at Airship 37

WineAlign primo scrittore David Lawrason presented his PEC state of the union address via the company website last week. David touched on some integral points for growers and winemakers in the County, including the rise of Riesling and a case for increasing plantings of varieties like Chenin Blanc. The story mentions new wineries and untrodden varietal production yet when all is said and done, the best wines on his recommended list are almost exclusively produced from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Those Burgundian soils don’t really lie, do they?

Related – Take them home, County wines

What strikes me most in this retrospective look at the 40 or so wines that I tasted last month is how varieties perform once the vines have matured and their profiles becoming increasingly County in character. Maturity, wisdom and acumen are developing a condensing of Prince Edward County hyperbole. The wines are serially developing a house style and regional disposition. With each successive vintage the wines of Norman Hardie, Dan Sullivan, Jonas Newman, Frédéric Picard, Glen Symons, Bryan Rogers, Paul Battilana, Gerry Spinosa, Colin Stanners, Caroline Granger, Bruno Francois, Bill Turnbull, Dan Tweyman, Deborah Paskus (to Keith Tyers) and the late Richard Karlo (with torch passed to Milan Vujnic) leave the Burgundy comparison behind to speak a strictly PEC vernacular.

Maggie Granger with The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009

Maggie Granger with The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009

The voice and the news is a very good thing. The clarity of the County is glaring and vivid, leading to what David Lawrason calls “great highs to significant lows,” but yes, Lawrason is correct in saying “overall the playing field is evening out.” Prince Edward County is coming into its own, growing comfortably into its cool skin and if mother nature has any balancing to offer, the future will be bright.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Keint He Chardonnay Voyageur 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389544, $16.00, WineAlign)

A quiet, somewhat demurred aromatic hone succeeds in drawing rather than distancing curiosity. Deeper inhalation gets to the toasty, nutty crux of the cool fruit and the conclusion is valour, chivalry and generosity. Picks right up where ’12 left off if just a bit more gelid by nature. Niagara fruit (Foxcroft, Queenston and Malivoire) provide ample combined cream and lactic limestone tack with palate driving citrus bent. Takes up several lanes of breadth on the texture trek to become a distinct PEC composed Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Chardonnay Portage 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The PEC derived Portage Chardonnay goes deeper than the Niagara Voyageur, no doubt in part to roots from maturing vines that work and dig for limestone. That raison d’être is the constant yet in ’13 the expression is rounder, fleshier, enigmatic, akin or at least prompts the idea of June’s Vineyard in Niagara. Shows its oak with increased weight, fuller favour and more beneficial bitters. The minor decrease in acidity stalls the Prince Edward County mechanism and solicits earlier term consumption. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Chardonnay Foxcroft 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

A year on the wilder times have settled for the early aromatics. The progression pauses at the juste milieu and gracefully glides across the palate to a similar nimble finish. Has reached the optimum condition of cool climate Chardonnay to remain in that state of pliancy for another year or two. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Fruit sourced from a single Niagara block. Despite having made the yeomans voyageur trek out to the County for vinification, integrity of the Foxcroft vibe has been maintained. Freshly cored Kenyan pineapple juice poured atop oat grain in a limestone molcajete. Bottled on Sept. 15th, like all the ‘12’s. Fullish, bullish extraction and at 13.5 percent abv, this Foxcroft has been handled with Wise acumen, with more rich texture than the others. A chew of nutty, non-acidic hard pineapple comes later and this finishes with a mild-mannered, even keel feel to it, like the winemaker and the estate’s keeper.

Last tasted April 2015

Keint He Gamay Noir Voyageur 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)
From fruit sourced at Malivoire on the Beamsville Bench and from a vineyard that was lost to the ice storm of 2014. Really too bad considering the outright fresh and bright Gamay that has come forth out of this ’13. Black raspberry, at just the optimum brix fills in this shining though simple example. It has just the correct balance of tart and twinge of carbonic meets late spice. Its simplicity lies in the structure where one component concedes to the next, as opposed to layering upon one another. Very linear and immediate Gamay. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Pinot Noir Voyageur 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)

Quite a pretty vintage for the PEC Pinot traveller by way of Malivoire and Queenston Road in Niagara. With a spray of cola and an inside edge of liquorice root in its gait, the Peninsula Pinot has already ignited its development. The 18 months in bottle have finished designing the invitation to solicit partake in reward for prompt gratification. The world is a charming one, replete with interchangeable aromatics and flavours, replayed, rewound and woven within the fabrics. Very efficient and studious Pinot Noir. Very Pinot Noir. Drink 2015-20178.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Pinot Noir Portage 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Depth of character despite the light hue and frame, a dichotomy expressed in Pinot Noir, in this vintage most akin to entry-level Bourgogne and less like its County self. Goes directly subterranean, away from fruit, if only for a spell, to a bound and binding rock cavern. Returns later, is showered by peppers and bitters, ground by tannin and grinds back down to earth. Missing are the cherries and the chocolate, replaced by wacke and substrata. Perhaps give it a year or two to settle, refine and make another call for that hermetical fruit. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Pinot Noir Queenston Road 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Keint He’s take on a single-structured Pinot Noir from the Queenston Road is highly aromatic, warmer than (by comparison, Creekside Estate’s) and yet not obscured or veiled by any discernible layer of veneer. The cool, savoury centre is the oasis offering respite from the full environmental gamut on display at the hands of sweet, sour, salty and lardy. Quite characterful, bold and cool-climate kitschy with a kinesthetic, corporeal feel. When Bryan Rogers and Ross Wise gain another level of Queenston understanding, it will not be hard to imagine a churning of something special in 2013. I’d put my money on it. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015

The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

Daughter (Maggie) convinced mother (Caroline) to let her hold back 15 cases of this County Gamay, a variety that has some difficulty sharing the sandbox with limestone. The additional five years in bottle has brought the downy fruit back from acidity’s precarious cliff edge, from the brink of piercing danger and disaster. The current state is one of conciliation and quiescence. There remains a major key of funk mind you, parliamentary even, but sniff past and the plot thickens, as does the texture. Chalky, gritty and persistently grainy, this ’09 Gamay is very much alive, like a scaling bass line supported by a rising horn section. A real fun look at the past with an eye to drive the future. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

The anxiety of the vintage has not left the bottle while the raging fruit and acidity battle for supremacy. The space-time-chaos continuum will perdure in this Pinot Noir of unpaired anatomical structure. Wait a further three years minimum for the azygous to drain. The heft will subside. Drink 2018-2022.

From my earlier note of March 2013:

Norman Hardie needs little introduction. He is the reason Prince Edward County Pinot will secure a place on that grape’s world stage. The 2011 vintage will go down as a classic for PEC. The tens have mass appeal, the nines turned out to be stellar but it is the elevens that gather the best of both worlds; ripeness and acidity. Stock up. Paints the County red in layered and structured brushstrokes. Ripe, bright cherry tonality in super-heightened, mesmeric sensuality. Accented by weeping rock, black earth and that cherry. Would not figure this to be Norm’s most rugged or gregarious and yet it holds more heft than it looks. Currently in a great place and will live longer than any other.

Last tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier more of May 2014:

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.

Last tasted April 2015

Casa Dea Gamay 2013, Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012 and Karlo Estates Pinot Grigio 2013

Casa Dea Gamay 2013, Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012 and Karlo Estates Pinot Grigio 2013

Karlo Estates Pinot Grigio 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.00, WineAlign)

The adage is so very true; a good Pinot Grigio is hard to find, just like a man. The take here is decidedly and strikingly Pinot Grigio, a flash of Friuli and a Bessie to be reckoned with. This just has that positive, smithy oxidative side, the kind that rocks and stones mixed with winemaking cause an exchange of electrons between reactants. The fruit is big, lucidly piqued by pear, but also leaning mango and jack. Quite fleshy, with schematic, scenic, natural acidity and panoramic minerality. This is about as mnemonic as it gets for Gris, or in this case Grigio, in Prince Edward County, especially considering who the buyers will be. One can only hope they intuit the condition and here’s to planning for that consumer base to expand. “Lord, a good (Pinot Grigio) is hard to find, you always get another kind.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Lighthall Sparkling Rosé ‘The Fence’ 2014, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

This is Glen Symon’s first Sparkling Rosé, a 100 per cent Pinot Noir from estate vineyards, refermented using the Charmat method. Intensely fizzy, in toto fruity and actually gives off a Pinot Noir vibe. Something racy, spicy and wild runs rampant, rendering this blush bubble in an Ontario class of its own. It’s like 1980’s alt-dance fizz, with a New Order or B-52 thing going on. It just seems to do the “she-ga-loo, shy tuna, camel walk, hip-o-crit, coo-ca-choo, aqua velva, dirty dog and escalator.” Has the direct beat, retro and futuristic at the same time. Dance this mess around, in sweet and savoury tones, warm, day-glo, slow and gyrating. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

This may not be the first Pinot Noir made by Glen Symons but it marks a categorical paradigm shift for the Lighthall oeuvre. Elicits a “well, well, what have we here” response. Unfiltered, reflexive and flexing, not so much in weight as in protein. This is an entirely different sort of Prince Edward County Pinot Noir, neither dark as black cherry nor bright as sour cherry. It’s aromas and flavours recall both. I can’t say for sure that any Ontario Pinot has crossed into such territory. Offers a shade of calignosity for those who believe that genuine Pinot Noir only thrives in the dark. Yet the clarity is conversely illuminating. It’s pure, crisp and forking over real gastronomic delicacy. Intimates aspects of Sonoma and Otago with PEC intimacy. Really well-defined and culminating with a positive bitter finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012, Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013 and Sparkling Rosé 'The Fence' 2014

Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012, Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013 and Sparkling Rosé ‘The Fence’ 2014

Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Reductive but not to excess. If you can appreciate a Norm Hardie Chardonnay then Huff’s style is a walk in the park. A few swirls brings the rest of the players to the fore stage and the party. This is big band Chardonnay, with a feminine and demonstrative lead vocalist. Richly textured, from PEC plots at South Bay that are the Niagara equivalent of Wismer Vineyards, lending warmth, soil fixation and unconscious aid. There is a level of supposition that leads to breeding a sensation of succulence that is not found anywhere else in the County. Barrel is important, mostly unobtrusive and so this gathers up layers, separates, divides and then meshes. The wood is employed towards a west coast groove but it works with the best, best fruit. The corpulence is not built on butter but rather demi-glace, or perhaps perfect beurre-blanc. A very long and driven Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015

Rosehall Run Riesling The Righteous Dude 2014

Rosehall Run Riesling The Righteous Dude 2014

Rosehall Run Riesling The Righteous Dude 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Thank you Dan Sullivan for the fodder, to go on more tangents than should be allowed in a tasting note. And thank you for fixing a righteous Riesling, exemplary to Twenty Mile Bench and in a vein that represents the Double R. Has Mosel meets 20 Mile in verse. Feigned sweetness is managed by thriving acidity, much as others have similarly done in the area; Jay Johnston with Nadja and Paul Pender with Limestone Vineyard. Here lies Niagara Riesling you can really sink your teeth into, made by PEC-minded folk, really tying the Ontario room together. A hooked rug of Niagara and PEC in the hands of Sullivan, with really fine lines and good length. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Casa Dea Gamay 2013, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

Fine work in 2013, for Gamay, by winemaker Paul Batillana. Gamay is so very welcome when the fruity matter matters most, as witnessed by this Casa Dea. Some depth from soil and an ever so slight scorch of earth add complexity to hang a #GoGamayGo hat upon. Has the bends in a way, going just a bit too deep but rescues itself with a fresh radio frequency and a changeling face to red orchard fruit. This has real cru class, good funky bass and a driving sound to regeneration. Will evolve nicely for five years. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Good to go!

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Searching for Somewhereness

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

Somewhereness is not really a word. It’s hokum. Gibberish. Nonsense. Look it up in Merriam-Webster or Oxford. Not there. Its conceived convenience is recorded in Wiktionary, Your Dictionary and other online glossaries though, because there is always an online presence ready and willing to immortalize anything and everything.

The definition of Somewhereness, according to the online “dictionaries.”

  1. The state or quality of being in, occurring in, or belonging to a specific place.
  2. The state or quality of existing in a place that is unknown or cannot be pinpointed.
  3. The unique characteristics imparted on a wine by the conditions of the place in which it was grown.

Somewhereness lies the truth?

Somewhereness is not a state of mind, of being, of knowing something is intrinsically right within the parameters or context of here, there, anywhere or everywhere. Somewhereness is not merely a function of good decision-making, of exercising the ideal to expand on terroir, to create something to talk about. Yet that third so-called definition is on the right track. Belief says terroir is what happens in the vineyard, through environment, by geology, geography and topology, from naturally occurring elements and microbes in the soil, by air and of climate. Terroir is the great one. The impossible creator of perfect storms, from out of riddle and enigma. Somewhereness, by extension, is the next one.

Somewhereness exists, albeit with just as much abstruse behaviour and paradox, inside the finished bottle. That’s all you really need to know. Terroir happens before. Somewhereness happens after. The line is drawn when wine enters its final resting place. It evolves, develops and finds its somewhereness inside the bottle. In the case of Champagne (and the wines of Emidio Pepe), the first bottling is merely a temporary shelter and somewhereness knows to wait for the final call. In those cases there are the stages of terroir, disgorgement and finally, somewhereness.

In Ontario, somewhereness has been found (as opposed to “was founded”) by Norman Hardie, Jonas Newman, Vicky Samaras, Bill Redelmeier, Ann Sperling, J-L Groux, Charles Baker, Doug Witty, J.P. Colas, Ed Madronich, Jay Johnston, Tom and Len Pennachetti, Angelo Pavan, Moray Tawse, Paul Pender, Harald Thiel, Marlize Beyers, Mary Bachelder-Delaney, Thomas Bachelder, Martin Malivoire and Shiraz Mottiar.

Somewhereness may have been born to these Ontario parents but it has and will not remain exclusive to the 12 who discovered it. Somewhereness belongs to all wine with true and truthful origins in terroir. The great wines of the world share in the expression and the mystery, even if the gold inside their bottles has never been affixed with such a label. Somewhereness is found inside a bottle of Dujac Bonnes Mares. You will taste it in an Egon Müller Scharzhofberg. It can’t be missed from out of a Margaux pour by the hands of Paul Pontallier. Wines of manic manipulation will never find it. They either do or they don’t, will or they won’t. Somewhereness just happens. Don’t ask me to explain. I’m just the messenger.

Over the past few years, much godello.ca white space has been set aside for glossing in written word and the ever-evolving rumination on the spiritual effect of somewhereness.

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre's breads

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre’s breads

Related, From February, 2013 – Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow

“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].”

Related, From April, 2013 – Come together, over wine

“Abeyance be gone, these next few years have the potential to cement an industry’s power. Only a minority has even the slightest clue that liquid gold is mined out of the peninsula’s glacial clay and limestone. The time is ripe to tell the world the story of somewhereness. The embryo is about to grow in a major way. Financial reward is within reach. So how to alert the world?”

Related, From April 2014 – The group of twelve

“History may one day remember them as the group of twelve, or perhaps, “The Ontario School.” They are the 12 wineries who have banded together to ensconce a strange but beautiful word on the tongue, in the dictionary and out in the world. Somewhereness. They are purveyors of the land from which their grapes grow and ferment into wine. Facilitators of terroir, working a canvas forged by millions of years of geological and climatic evolution. Their assembly is based on both exigency and on Moira; destiny, share, fate. Like that other famous group, “collectively they agree.” Ontario’s cool-climate wine regions need to qualify and certify a distinctive winemaking style. In juxtaposition to old world, European tradition, the intensity of somewhereness needs to reflect an increasingly Ontario-centric partiality.”

Related, From April 2014 – Why taste Ontario?

“The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena Kaiser

Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser

All wonderful hyperbole, to be sure. But for years I missed the point. Somewhereness is not about agreeing, in principle, on how to make wine from a particular place so that it can collectively result in a thing. It is something other. It’s in the bottle. It has always been there but the key lies in Ontario’s industry having matured to a point where we can now taste it, again and again, inside the bottle. The work made it happen. It is well-deserved.

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

So with the assistance of Trisha Molokach, Dorian Anderson and the vintners who came to realize what happens when terroir is used to bottle divine pleasure, another Somewhereness (the event) happened, at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, on April 20, 2015. Food partners completed the stellar event; Best Baa Dairy, Monforte Dairy, Upper Canada Chees Company, Fat Chance Hand Sliced Cold Smoked Salmon Co., Chef Ryan Crawford & Beverly Hotchkiss of Backhouse, De La Terre Kitchen and Bakery and Schott Zwiesel. Hinterland was not present in 2015 and I skipped two tables, due to quite recent full portfolio tastings, at Bachelder and at Southbrook. Here are some other notes.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $21.00, WineAlign)

With less residual sugar than in 2012 and slightly higher alcohol (the bottle says 10.1 per cent but it’s actually 9.8), the house style persists, if only as a refrain that adjusts and adheres to the vintage. A hint of oyster shell is more than significant, in working alongside Hardie’s Calcaire, effected out of lees fermentation. The minute loss of high-toned aromatics is pitched in favour of fruit, if only from one exploited tank, within the context of producing 1000 cases. The ’13 (70 Niagara/30 PEC) is like very modern Alsace, akin to Schoffit, what with its texture fitted through a tiny hole. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Calcaire 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

The field blend of Marcel Deiss is the starting point. Lees imparts texture and the proverbial minerality is rounder than the Riesling, though the acidity just as linear. The breakdown is Chardonnay (40 per cent), Riesling (40), Melon de Bourgogne (10) and Pinot Gris (10). It should be noted that the mid-palate is caressed by a silky cheese curd, sour milk atonement. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of August 2014:

If any wine growing and producing region not called Alsace has the right to label a wine Calcaire, Prince Edward County is that place. The irony squared of Norman Hardie’s choice of nomenclature is not lost. Olivier Humbrecht makes use of the term because some of his single-varietal wines can no longer (under the local AOC rules) be labeled with the name of the wine-growing village. Marcel Deiss produces ‘field blends’ composed of several varieties grown on Grand Cru soil but he can’t (under other regional rules) label them Grand Cru. Hardie takes Niagara and PEC Grand Cru grapes, fashions an Ontario white blend, not unlike J-L Groux and calls it Calcaire, in ode to the limestone underlay of the County. Are you following me here? This may be new, innovative, yet understood and an early impression, but this cuvée initiates the PEC march to white blend supremacy, much like Stratus White has done over the course of 10 vintages in Niagara. Norm’s Calcaire is a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Melon de Bourgogne mélange, co-fermented on the lees, striking, all in limestone, full out mineral consequence. There is purified pear and white melon fruit in distillation. There is a house in Wellington, “they call the Rising Sun.” That this animal succeeds so early in its tenure shows the Norm conceit and the swagger. That it will define white blends for a millennium is an arrogance of traditional song and of scripture. So be it.

Last tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier more of May 2014:

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.

Last tasted April 2015

The wines of Hidden Bench

The wines of Hidden Bench

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Hidden Bench’s ’13 Riesling is a pure, soft-spoken and balanced reflection of her maker, winemaker Marlize Beyers. Only a month or two of lees and no stirring has brought her Riesling into this current corporeal state. The citrus is all flesh, void of pith and with acidity that has already incorporated, disguised and covered the zest. If any Hidden Bench Riesling suggest tropical fruit, here it is and yet again, not. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of September 2014:

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

Produced exclusively for licensee, the Bistro follows a very similar profile to the Estate Riesling, with exactitude in weight and alcohol 911 per cent). The flesh is less, the zest increased and overall you can sense more youth. The Bistro juice comes from Roman Block cuttings planted in Felseck Vineyard in 2008. The simmer here is a simpler, more straightforward pot of sustenance, entirely capable of acting as spokes-Riesling for the Hidden Bench house druthers. The vines will grow up and the juice will move on but other, newer, youthful cuttings will take up residence and the Bistro line will endure. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The (five to) six percent Sémillon speaks at present, in a waxy, bitter gourd winter melon and smoky flint tightness. In this wound moment, it is perceived that another year will be needed for the next unwind. Now vacuous, spinning and whirling as if in a processor’s bowl, an amphitheatre of expression. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier notes of September and (at Gold Medal Plates Toronto) November 2014:

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 April 2015

Hidden Bench Rosé Locust Lane Vineyard 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A meandering young blend of Pinot Noir, Malbec and Viognier that is super dry (3.2 g/L of residual sugar), “hey, hey, my, my.” The aromas suggest a succession from strawberry to green and red onion but “there’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.” The medley, interrupted by ballads and road stories is like a subtle, sweet, sour and savoury gastronomical pickle, ramps in brine, scopes in sweet alkali. Can there be a drier, more windswept crag, neal to a southern French style made anywhere on the Peninsula than from the Escarpment coliseum up on Locust Lane? Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Rosé 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

While persistent in aridity as a disciple to the Locust Lane, this Bordeaux blend Rosé packs a fruitier punch. Elevated residual sugar (as compared to the Double L) mans a higher rate of variability and accessibility, not to mention more chance of Ontario patio success. This licensee bottling will work for summer, across the province. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted May 2015

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Still tightly wound with the tannic grain criss-crossing at interstices of fruit (pomegranate/cranberry/strawberry) and acidity (sharp/pointed/direct). A fine, pointillist’s rendering; Locust as Seurat, nobly bitter, to the end. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

The Locust Lane Vineyard, originally planted in 1998, was Hidden Bench’s first acquisition, in 2003. It has a unique perpendicular cross-slope effect, undulating in all four directions, gathering sun hours in its own special way. The vineyard produces the richest and warmest Pinot Noir with fruit flavours more akin to ripe plum and black cherry than almost anywhere on the Beamsville Bench, certainly as any from the Hidden Bench stable. While the ’11 is not the biggest beast nor the Bordeaux bully of the Terroir Caché, it is surprisingly tannic and strong. It’s anything but hot, though it attacks with fervor. Big berry fruit, macerated strawberry, rich pie notes and spice. A great Locust vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $34.95, WineAlign)

A year had added rich note to this ’11, furthering the inflammatory vibrations and purposefulness of Bordeaux (as opposed to Loire) red makings from the vintage. The depth of cherry merging to smoked currants is cool, collected and shaded by brushy, briny strokes. Hints at brambly, even. This is so very Cabernet Franc and even more so, Lincoln Lakeshore. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

A lean Laundry with as much finesse as winemaker Paul Pender has ever shown in his poignant Cabernet Franc realm. When a vintage deals you calm and scale you sit back and relax. The Lincoln Lakeshore advancing in years vines bring yet unseen front end red berry, licorice and red currant softness in 2011. There is elegance but also a refusal to yield its back end bite. A level of enveloping grain and chalk is unique to this bottle and should be seen as a very good effort with the possibility ahead

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Extra Dry Sparkling Riesling 2010, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the clay-limestone bench lands abutting the Escarpment, specifically one block of 11 year-old vines at the Beamsville Bench Cave Spring Vineyard. Traditional method fizz accessed of low brix (early picked, 19.3 degrees) and mortar (2.97 pH) numbers, then elevated under microscope magnified sugar (15.5 RS g/L) and acidity (8.4 g/L). So what? So this is a pure CS expression of Riesling, cured and curated in the house style, led to textile weave from 14 months on the lees and finalized just that side of Brut. Functions like a Blanc de Blancs suitably this side of acidity rage and with corresponding remarkable, if close to impossible aridity. Less fat than might be expected and with a swath of sauvage. There sweats ginger and the cuttings of foraged wild things. The extension on the finish is protracted even after the liquid has left the building. Finishes with dry stones, nuts and a rightful oxidative thrust. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2013, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

At present there are sweets, bitters and rich Adam fruit. Only the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment know why the Adam is so juicy. A chew like no other. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of October 2014:

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.

From my earlier note of July 2014:

According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391995, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Cabernet Franc needed six further months for the high-toned fruit to settle just enough for the spiced richness to shine. Though Dolomite-designated, this sheds Beamsville light purity, along with a grain variegated by (pomegranate) citrus and chalk. The cool centre is elongated and expansive though it seems to inuit the correct time for retraction. The aerial fruit stresses condense and accept the angles prepared by coriander and eucalyptus. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Twenty Mile Bench in Jay Johnston’s hands flat out rocks. The Chardonnays “they dig a funky spiel, they’ll make some spiel.” The ’12 Estate has crossed into pretty territory, not shy to wear its thin lamina of oak make-up and not too proud to say drink me now. Drink me here, there and everywhere. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of March 2014:

Has spent some quality time and knows its way around a barrel but its attitude is young, fresh and alive. From 12 and 13 year-old estate vines and kissed by only 15 per cent new oak. “But here’s a funky fact that I know is real.” Flat Rock’s Chardonnays are red hot and this fresh-faced ’12 has “baby appeal.” Blatant, colorable value on the Twenty.

Last tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula  (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Always expressive of such manifest certitude, the 2014 can’t be anything but Nadja though there adds a fleshy dimension that pins it to the broader spectrum of Twenty Mile Bench, in as much as what the vineyard culls from its capacious diagrammatic. That broader outlook provides understanding into Nadja’s decrease of stentorian language in the fractionally stagnant vintage. There is a variegation within the sweetness lining the tunnel of aridity. Fourteen is nothing overly special and Nadja suffers as a result. It’s still a very, very good Riesling, just not one for the ages. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1545, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vintage acts as a launch point for Flat Rock Pinot Noir and prepares a palate for the 20 Mile Bench by coating it with utmost approachability. Violets and Nebbiolo-like roses are raised in warmth, albeit beneath the safety net of cloud cover. You’ll find no burn, rust spots and yet you will acquire comfort, in and out of sips. Drink 2015-2018.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

As with Flat Rock’s Chardonnays, here is a vintage and an evolutionary coming of age that becomes a matter of scaling back oak. The quotient here is less than 40 per cent new, leaving the wizened vines and maker’s acumen to coax maximum character, brilliant sheen and recognizable aroma. The 2012 Pinot teases black cherry but never really goes there.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Nearly 4000 cases will be available of this nearly-unfiltered, very established and always well-thought out Pinot Noir. A consideration of the plots and barrels micro-management that determine the crasis of this Estate wine demands an extrapolation in full-on assessment. The medium-coarse Chinois filtering lends to a tannic chain of texture thick in grain and chalk. A heavier Estate because when the weather gives you heat you make a climate appropriate wine. This monkey is not a product of arctic air and it “got too deep, but how deep is too deep?” Thermal vintage melt, ritzy ripe cherry stuff in 2012. From the Ritz to the Rubble, if you like, or the Flat Rock.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

From two blocks on one farm in the centre of Creek Shores, one picked earlier to avoid botrytis. No malo, stainless steel tank fermentation leads to pure, crisp and clean Pinot Gris. The soil-driven funk meets faux-sulphur is typically J.P. Colas, a specificity in undertone that culminates in a dry, variegated finish. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of April 2014.

Here you have an honest, 100 per cent stainless steel treated Pinot Gris from an estate vineyard located adjacent the market on Fourth Avenue in the Creek Shores appellation. So very dry and really fine fruit, crisp, neoteric, rising and falling in waves of tempered acidity. Made in a comfortable, country-twanged, folk-rock style, like a Cowboy Junkie. Juicy, mouth watering work and very easy to fall for. An angel mine, this 13th Street, “and I know that your skin is as warm and as real as that smile in your eyes.” This effort by Jean-Pierre Colas is as good as it gets, a tally for Creek Shores and its kinship with the variety.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk in for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Syrah ‘Essence’ 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $44.95, WineAlign)

Fruit was sourced mainly from Wismer Vineyard (Vineland) and a smaller proportion from AJ Lepp (Niagara-on-the-Lake) for this dry as the desert Syrah of deep extract, warmth and density of fruit. All set upon a highly tannic frame, with every indication that longevity will be its best friend, as much as any red has ever been produced in Ontario. A formidable vulcanization marks the entry, a not so inappropriate entreaty to beg for time and lots of it. The current pavane of fruit is exhibitive of excruciating physical reticence though behind the wall there is more than enough indicators to stand the test of time. No new oak (though the Essence saw an extended slumber in three to four year old barrels) has allowed the tapestry of intertwined layers to set up shop and dig in for the long haul. If big-boned Syrah and Niagara are in your cellar plans, this 13th Street 2012 has to have a prominent place. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire

Malivoire

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

A dual block blush, from two clones in the Moira Vineyard. Made from 100 per cent Pinot Noir, this second vintage is pale as can be, dry, saline and reeking of fresh peaches and strawberries. The level of purity and intensity is nothing short of amazing. This will rise quickly into the ranks of the Peninsula’s finest Rosés. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The purity and fine-lines of Pinot Gris are defined, delineated and deftly prepared by Shiraz Mottiar and team in 2014. This is a calm rendition, void of tremors, certainly not taking any risks but also not a white of unfulfilled promises. Herbs, lemon, mint and fine PG tannin draws salt from stone. A perfectly dry finish is in play, as with all malivoire whites, to cement the deal. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015.

Malivoire Stouck Meritage 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

It’s hard to recall memories of so much syrup, liqueur and high tonality as coming from Stouck, from any Meritage for that matter and yet the 2011 Bordeaux varietal wines out of Niagara continue to astound. If excess or vivid character is a negative, just look away. The combination of rich extraction and explicit oak generosity dope out fruit from a dry September into wonders of dried timbre and inflection. The drupe is enriched, as is the tannin and a Beamsville buttressing that warps and wraps like never before. At this four-year juncture, the Niagara ’11 varietal compendium is officially a thing, witnessed in example through this Stouck. More than just dramatic Shiraz Mottiar foreshadowing here, but further into thoughts of what vintages co do for red wine as a Peninsula whole. The ’11 Stouck Meritage stands upright at the mirror and its reflection looks right back. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The profundity of tart, keen, briny berries dilates in its own very useful layers of citrus, tannin and concentration, beyond even what was observed in 2012. The zesty, spritely argot resonates from the unfurling of floral essentia out of a Gamay in desperate need of time. The flavours and overlay are somewhat impenetrable and yet leave quite an impression. While patience might be the virtue and the reward, if #gogamaygo is the modus operandi, a swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road is certainly not out of the question. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

From the rich limestone and sandstone beneath the clay, 1.1 acre Misek vineyard, a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. A very linear Ivan combs the catacombs of the Escarpment’s underpinning. A retaining wall of vintage attenuated rocks and stones, a vineyard’s low yields and the voices in Charles’ head have produced a striking Riesling. In 2014 adolescence has entered adulthood. Now before us is a grown up Ivan, mature Ivan, maybe even wise Ivan. Texture is in manifest control in this loyal, stay at home Baker, not yet running wild like free-spirited Picone. Ivan has presence, sometimes a great notion and is Baker’s longest bit of prose to date. The next great Riesling vintage will make it iconic. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2008, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (126433, $35.20, WineAlign)

The petrol and mighty bee’s sting have taken over, with the honey again not far behind. A lemon prepares to spill its juices as it warms above a bunsen flame. At present it is almost too elemental to define. Will change course again when midnight strikes in 2016. Then it will come into its own. Drink 2016-2020.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

Tasted at Somewhereness 2014 as part of a vertical retrospective going back to 2007. The Vinemount Ridge’s now famous Picone Vineyard is set within a 10-acre estate on the Niagara Escarpment. Planted to the Weis 21 clone, the Riesling grown here digs in for complexity from sectional moieties of clay and sandy soil atop a unique base of limestone bedrock. Charles Baker began working with these grapes in 2005 and it is this 2008 where the learning curve took a turn for the Riesling stratosphere. The ’06 found luck in the stars but this vintage lays the framework and foundation for a master plan. At this stage in the ’08 evolution there is a prodigious and viscous honeyed textured. Ripening tree fruit juices run like maple sap in spring and the run off is beginning to think syrup. A cutting ridge of acidity arrests the sugaring, allowing citrus and flinty rock to recall the wine’s first, fresh steps. Baker’s Riesling time travels in circles with no real beginning and no real end. From my earlier, September 2012 note: ““Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.”

Last tasted April 2015

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Wildass Rosé 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71712, $17.95, WineAlign)

A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with some Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling added for lift and what J-L Groux admits is rendered “for the consumer.” This essentially marks the twain between sweet and dry, if not quite halfway then pretty darn close. Plenty of herbs and citrus nail the aromas on the proverbial head with more than a grapefruit or two on the half circle. A highly approachable, end-user friendly blush. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density, and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky, back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

t may not be the most idiosyncratic Gamay in Niagara but the Stratus 2012 is without a doubt the most advanced and complex. Gamay fusion is on display, at once a bottle of Niagara’s finest pulchritudinous veneer and then a charcuterie board laid ample with cured bovine parts and sun-dried grapes. Maximum ripeness and then even later picking, to no one’s surprise, have led to this. Two years of ageing in neutral oak barrels has brought about a humid roundness and yet the centre is controlled by Oz-like mint and eucalyptus notes. The jam is gelid, as opposed to temperate. Rarely does Gamay go to such depths, of blackberry, chalk and grain, with an overlord of tannin. Quite serious stuff. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April 2015

Good to go!

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Why taste Ontario?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related – Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases

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

Related – The group of twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last tasted March 2015

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

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

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

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

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

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

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

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

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

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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!

 

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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!