Why drink that?

Eat this, drink that

Eat this, drink that

We’re really just like moths, we seekers of wine, slaves to a fiery obsession, stopping occasionally to smell the adjectives, taking unnecessary financial risks and with any luck, happening into and finding enchantment. To remember generations. Is this why we drink wine?

We are looking for heroic entablature and architectural wonder in bottles of wine. We see them as DNA and in their liquids we can read their entire future. We sip them again and again until we taste them for the first time. We derive textures and flavours so solid, so tangible, it seems we can reach into the glass and grab handfuls of it. The glass itself has become the varietal, the engineering having expanded the notes and completed them, amplified and contained them. Is this why we drink that?

Not really. Sure we are looking for relevant encounters but what we really want is pleasure. Pleasure and escape. What we seek is value for our money. When we hit the stores and open or wallets we want honest juice at the lowest price. Bullshit aside, here are seven great values, in stores, by agents and down the road in our Niagara backyard.

From left to right: Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, Maipe Malbec 2013, Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, CedarCreek Merlot 2012, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013

From left to right: Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, Maipe Malbec 2013, Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, CedarCreek Merlot 2012, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013

Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (156125, $13.95, WineAlign)

Classic Niagara Peninsula aromas, of tart berries, pomegranate, cherries and wet clay exude and display. Stoney Ridge is simply giving this Pinot Noir away. Vinified bone dry (1.9 g/L residual sugar), pricked with acidity (7.2 g/L) and kissed by (eight months) of oak, this acuminates, as opposed to dials, in. The honing is crystalline, in bright and vibrant tones. There is a refined sugar aspect to its ratio but it’s really quite clean and nervy. The length impresses and sweeps to seal the $14 deal.  Tasted February 2015  @stoneyridgewine

Maipe Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (93823, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite intense, juicy and peppery for a $15 Malbec. A mix of red and black berries is accented by liquorice. Some chalky overlay, which goes short on integration, would do well to play nicer were it an underlay. A bit musky with cool savoury reserve and a very effective use of high (3000m) altitude fruit.  Tasted February 2015  @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @Chakana and Maipe: wines with an andean spirit​

Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (247882, $15.75, WineAlign)

Only 945 cases were made of this Shiraz (48 per cent), Cabernet Franc (23), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Merlot (9) blend. And that’s a shame. Some further bottle time has brought out the best in show. There is as much clear class and enjoyable drinking as a Niagara red blend is likely to earn by wing. The concept is quite OZ, the coalescence very Niagara and the sensibility so sly, Speck family. The brightness, oak influence and acidity linger as one to stretch and bound about in elastic joyeuse. Crosses Charlemagne-like stone swords of accessibility and put me aside confidence with vintage gain and restraint. Keen winemaking decisions by outgoing winemaker Ron Giesbrecht have produced great results. Made for everyday people, were the Family Tree Red pouring from keg it would fill my glass on a daily basis.”And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo.”  Tasted February 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Costa Mediana Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Veneto, Italy (377648, $16.95, WineAlign)

Re-taste. Beautiful red fruit, in density. clarity and showy Valpolicella dress. Thinks good clean fun and thoughts, open-knit and its tannins mingle with multiplying acidity. Would benefit from two to three years more time in bottle. It will then drink as it was intended and as it should. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Solid if newfangled Veneto that swivels from sulphur to sweetness. Has a Niagara Peninsula varnished quality, not so typical for the homeland. Also presses from both vineyard earthy and barrel stinky notes. Somewhat this and insipid but the late influx of fresh cherry brings it back and stretches its length.”  Last tasted February 2015  @Select_Wines  @C_Valpolicella  @MGMMondodelVino​

Nai E Senora Albariño 2013, Rias Baixas, Spain (Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

A very mineral driven Albariño with little fruit expression to ascertain. Though the grapes give way to fine-grained chalky salinity, is that not coequality from and for the quarry? Soil and stone lead a path to cool and collected acidity, not one so linear but more extrapolated, as if from lime in pith, not zest. A very composed Rias Baixas but not overly accessible. Rich broth with small bits of fresh fish would pair delectably and foil perfectly; keep it from doing the “rise up, rise up,” into aerified, out of this world, parachute club territory. A nip of this and “spirits time has come.”  Tasted February 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @RiasBaixasWines

CedarCreek Merlot 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BCLDB and BCVQA 408666 $19.95, WineAlign)

Quite the glass of liqueur, with fully ripe, rich and dense fruit. Admittedly on the twiggy and good green side of the varietal, in the right ways, with Merlot bells of chalk, grain and tannin in whistling interplay. A correct correlation and in certain kinship with St. Emilion but with Okanagan footprints. Handles its 14.5 per cent alcohol quite easily and transfers its weight through a cool centre and into an even cooler finish. Along that route are notes of mint, eucalyptus and graphite, not unlike Coonawarra or Stellenbosch. Fun Merlot at an attractive price. Another gem from CedarCreek.  Tasted February 2015

Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Mosel Valley, Germany (Agent, Approx. $25.00, WineAlign)

Architecturally precise, of cleanly drawn lines, like the Mosel Vinothek acquired and restored by Molitor in 1984 and winner of the “Architekturpreis Wein 2013.” The Riesling mimics the juxtaposition of historical and modern, seemingly steeped in the past and transposed to the present by state-of-the-art winemaking. This has slate, steep steppes rising from subterreanean acquired salinity and ingrained aridity. There is no way to hide from the scree of the past, avoid the incline towards the future, nor can it exist without the run-off of mineral left behind. Brilliant hue, matched density, matchstick wisp and wild tang. Honeyed and suckling porcine in an early roasting stage, with terrific texture. The beautiful arid length is purposed and linear, with much oomph in its gait. Will linger for five to 10 years easy.  Tasted February 2015  @TrialtoON

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A biography of Ontario and B.C. wines

Two Sisters Grapevines Photo © http://www.twosistersvineyards.com/

Two Sisters Grapevines
Photo © http://www.twosistersvineyards.com/

Like a weather map, when you take account of a wine, you are leafing through time. One could chart a wine through location, soils, geology and climatic influences. The biographical footprint is also measured after the vine has been stripped and in the winemaker’s hands.

The reconstruction of biography is about as arbitrary as predicting the future. It’s just as puzzling, untraceable and like running through a maze, is fraught with wrong turns and dead-ends. It’s about hunch work, gauging probabilities, accounting for what has come before and extrapolating towards what might be. It involves using  unsubstantiated and even unrecorded information to try proving a current state of affairs.

The conjuring of a wine to define the present and the future deals not with what is extant but what may never have been. It relies on tastes, sensations and feelings that have done the big vamoose and left no trace. Wines are reticent subjects, unable to defend themselves, posthumously fudged together. We gorge on the lives of famous wines and those culled from beneath overturned rocks, impressible with the fixations of our own.

We are lovers of wine; eager and desperate to be one with their psyche, to imagine it synched in sycophant fixation with our own. Yet all the salient facts and aspects of a wine’s journey, in viticulture, pH, residual sugar, total acidity, élevage and in tasting, are really nothing if we are unable to find the theory the wine and by extension, the winemaker live by.

In Ontario, wine writers spend an inordinate amount of time tasting new releases, generally the most current vintage of wines we have made acquaintance many times before. The bright lights of revelation dim increasingly out of sight due to the nature of that redundant beast. Yet on a Thursday in January at WineAlign the kid in a candy store factor presented through bottles yet discovered from wineries lined up and waiting to be counted.

A few weeks ago David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and I assembled to have a go at four new (or not nationally recognized) Canadian wineries. Redstone Wines is the newest venture from Moray Tawse, with director of winemaking Paul Pender as headmaster to the rising, structured elegance of winemaker Rene Van Ede‘s compositions. Two Sisters in Niagara has pounced on the scene with precocious nerve, having released a few vintages in a short time. Some older wines were crafted in virtual virtuosity by current Ravine winemaker Marty Werner. The Sisters (Angela Marotta & Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli) have come to the present with Adam Pearce at the helm and his affinity for aromatic whites is the newest Niagara revelation. I will look forward to seeing him push some envelopes, with barrels, hang time, micro-plots and fermentative experimentation.

Redstone Wines Rosé from KeyKeg at Campagnolo Restaurant Photo © Michael Godel

Redstone Wines Rosé from KeyKeg at Campagnolo Restaurant
Photo © Michael Godel

Though I’ve not tasted more than a handful from the Okanagan Valley’s CedarCreek Vineyards, all thus far have touched gold. Winemaker Daryl Brooker‘s varietal wines are pure, precise and affordable. This may just be one of the most exciting wineries to watch out for in British Columbia. Fort Berens does Burgundy in the shadow of Fraser Canyon’s Mountains. A taste of Rolf de Bruin‘s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offers terrific insight into DNA and in them you can read B.C.’s varietal future. Daydreamer Wines is winemaker Marcus Ansems‘ collective energy of intention, wines to sip again and again until you taste them for the first time.

Here are the notes on 23 Ontario and B.C. wines tasted on January 22, 2015.

Redstone Winery Viognier 2013, Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Riesling 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Chardonnay 2012

Redstone Winery Viognier 2013, Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Riesling 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Chardonnay 2012

Redstone Viognier 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Where there’s Lincoln Lakeshore there is red clay and with it winemaker Rene Van Ede goes it old school. Staid and static, Viognier is the star, in as much as it can be in the solid soil by the lake. On the leesy side, a sprite of lime and a dusting of chalk give texture, augmenting an already noticeable, package deal Redstone white wine portfolio. A yeast strain trend seems to be the uniting force. This is weighty but not dense, solid for the varietal and indicative of the winemaker’s style.  Tasted January 2015  @RedstoneWines

Redstone Cabernet 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Part Cabernet Franc and parcel Cabernet Sauvingon, this Redstone spent 16 months in French oak. Having melded wood into savour, the plum fruit is more than up front ample, with a pepper over and a chocolate under. A fair shake of spice and insistent tannin makes for quite a bracing red mouthful, indicating needed air and age time. Like the Tawse Bordeaux-styled reds that have come before, here is yet another slice of red fruit meets the iron life.  Tasted January 2015

Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

If a Niagara Sauvignon Blanc could be endeared with the term ‘calcaire,’ Rene Van Ede’s Limestone Vineyard would lead the shortlist, not only because of the eponymous vineyard but because it oozes of the rock’s chalky chafe. Plenty of orchard fruit belies the lime, in an unoaked Chardonnay way and the wine makes full use of limestone’s hematic shed. This is one of the most stylish Sauvignon Blancs made in Canada, even if the average consumer were not able to recognize it as such. A winemaker from Sancerre would know it immediately and intuitively. Here a crushed reef of limestone memory permeates the wine from beginning to end. One of the more outstanding Sauvignon Blancs made in Ontario to date.  Tasted January 2015  @DanielatTawse

Redstone Winery Riesling 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Such a stoic, atomic, inwardly myopic, microscopic Riesling. Dry and drier on the not yet quite ripe pear side of the tree fruit diapason. A juicy, tangy palate follows, with viscous treasures tasting of lime curd kicked up by spice accents. A kinship here with the Tawse Limestone Ridge Vineyard, with minerals that have not forgotten what it’s like to think about magma. So much lime continues to kick in and the stone it acidulates. Narrow, focused, long and rising Riesling.  Tasted January 2015

Redstone Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Fruit for Redstone’s Pinot Noir is sourced from a 15 year-old block and it saw 16 months in French oak. A wine defined by up front spice, oak obviousness and a candescence in extraction. This the vintage gives, to clamber along with the barrel, in addition to red fruit tones that trump earth. The glass is filled with a waft of raspberry pie and a drizzle of macerated cherries. A ferric streak, as would absolutely be expected, line the red fruit basket and keeps the Redstone savour animated. Know this about Twenty Mile Pinot Noir. It is alive.  Tasted January 2015  @RedstoneWines

Redstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Redstone Vineyard is a plot of red clay and large stones, set within the 38-acre estate. This red beauty saw an extended stay (18 months) in French oak, a relevant encounter to see it come out with remarkable purity, not to mention sensuality. This from out of the 2011 vintage, one that did not flatter many Niagara reds though on the Lincoln Lakeshore much success has been found. Plum and strawberry scents emerge from a wine warmer than would be thought, sanded by chalky and grainy parts in synch. A well-delineated progressive and fine-tuned machine should age for a minimum five years.  Tasted January 2015

Redstone Winery Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

A very buttery Chardonnay, warm, tropical, steeped from rich soil, seeping orchard fruit and yet soaking from the generous amount of French oak. Handled with poise and ease, the fruit just seems to inuit its amalgamated Peninsula place and understand its place in the Niagara Chardonnay spectrum. This grows and grows, like a vine, upwards yet inwards, with instrumental interplay and no excess notes. Just the bare Chard essentials; no waste, all focus, trim and elegant.  Tasted January 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Two Sisters Vineyards  Merlot 2010

Two Sisters Vineyards Riesling 2013, Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Chardonnay 2013, Eleventh Post 2011 and Merlot 2010

Two Sisters Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

An auspicious coming out vintage from winemaker Adam Pearce with fruit sourced from the Foxcroft block of the Wismer Vineyard. So very Twenty Mile Bench, with fleshy, near to bursting exotic aromatics in the vein of other Foxcroft Rieslings, like those made by Paul Pender, Ilya Senchuk and Kevin Panagapka. The classic stone fruit, their stones and the soil’s stones trampled underfoot. The kinship goes deeper, with Jay Johnston’s Nadja and Pender’s Limestone Ridge. Pearce’s take endears with notes of clementine and creamy mango pudding. Though the residual inflates more expansively than all the others, there is an aridity in the end, one that intimates modern Alsace. A pleasure to taste, with good (though not great) acidity and low (10.6 per cent) alcohol. The finish improves with each pass of the lips.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

From the Creek Shores appellation, a precinct of the Peninsula with a habit of firing citrus shots into Riesling and Chardonnay. The injections are at their hyper best from June’s Vineyard and here, in this Adam Pearce crafted, barrel-broaching bottle of white stone immaculate. Tons of character graces this Chardonnay, with a salinity drawn from the heavy Creek Shores soil overtop solid rock that permeates the wine’s earth. Lees affected, this may well be Petite Chablis, what with its texture and sugary smells. There is a perceived effervescence, a lively streak that gives it life and a swelling of its heart. The acidity is rampant and despite the inkling of SO2, the wine is quite expressive and a step-up from many cut of the same genre.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Here is a veritable, potable example of Niagara SB 101, breath freshening, varietal refresher. Crafted with the lightest Sauvignon Blanc touch, with hints of grass and goose feathers, hold the berries. Soft, slight and slightly herbal with a thin veiled membrane of circular acidity. Amiably done.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Not unexpectedly, the Two Sisters oaked Chardonnay is a dramatically opposing force to the unplugged abbess. If not for the pierce afforded a Creek Shores drawn Chardonnay, winemaker Adam Pearce might have found himself stuck with a big, buttery bag of popcorn on its way to becoming a can a of creamed corn. The wooden ship is thankfully mitigated by citrus and sails calmly across buttery seas in search of herbal lands. The handling is not one fumbled by heavy mitts and the cool climate intent is managed bravely. There is admiral balance with just enough wood incantation to see it stretch across a few years time.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Eleventh Post 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that is very savoury, with a dry and dusty white/red pepper component. This has good verve from out of the challenging 2011 vintage. It forges ’10 louder, amps the dial up to ’11, in tempo and sapidity. A very persistent and intense heritage, with chalky tannin and grains running crosswise. Though the final wish would be for more length, it is a dogged specimen with a few years left ahead.  Tasted January 2015

Two Sisters Merlot 2010, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

This was a “virtually” made wine at the time by current Ravine Vineyard winemaker Martin Werner. From the warm and high ripening 2010 vintage, with additional blanketing and layering from the Niagara River appellation. Oak provides a creamy flannel swaddle. Certainly soft, dreamy and downy, void of tension and so easy to consume. Though by now it has fully evolved and is rapidly descending into the river’s sunset, its flavour temperament is more than Merlot palatable. Were the price considerably lower it would please on more levels.  Tasted January 2015  @2SistersVine

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013 and Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012, Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013 and Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012, Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

With a component of this wine having been housed in mammoth, old-school (2250 litre) oak barrels, the wood is spread like citrus honey butter, evenly and judiciously, through every sip. Chardonnay of tang and by lees, with apples everywhere, along with a streaky flint mien. Fine Chardonnay.  Tasted January 2015  @CedarCreekWine

CedarCreek Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 1995, this wild yeast inoculated Pinot Noir is tough, sinewy, rigid and masculine. Dark red fruits are surrounded by racing, bracing, running on the spot acidity. Here is a west coast wine that needs enough time, somewhere in the area of five years, to soften and bring flowers. When it does, they will be roses.  Tasted January 2015

Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013, VQA British Columbia (BC VQA, 559492, $19.99, WineAlign)

With Fraser Canyon’s mountains as the backdrop, the sandy soil and sage brush make for a cool yet herbal Chardonnay. The foothills earth gives Lillooet mineral, not unlike Chablis but in B.C., with a tropical twist. This has plenty of leesy, Chablis character. Quite spirited, chalky and with a hint of soft metals, as if the cold world melts, “the noise a song.” Any way you look at it or listen to its electronica grooves, this is another cool-climate beauty. With good oscillating texture and length, it could easily be imagined to be drinking a tankful on a hot summer’s day.  Tasted January 2015  @FortBerens

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2012, VQA British Columbia (Winery, $25.99, WineAlign)

This wine of many clones came together from Lilloet soils and was housed in barrels from many coopers. It’s bright, funky, meaty and fecundated with a clafouti of red fruits. Though jammy it’s neither hot nor over-extracted. The jam is a compote, teased by citrus rind and rubbed herb stems. In the end the sweetness prevails so find some salty charcuterie to match and drink up.  Tasted January 2015

Marcus Ansems Shiraz 2013

Daydreamer Wines Pinot Gris 2013, Jasper 2013, Amelia 2013 and Chardonnay 2013, Marcus Ansems Chardonnay 2013 and Shiraz 2013

Daydreamer Wines Pinot Gris 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Here a small batch Pinot Gris from winemaker Marcus Ansems out of an organic (Naramata Bench) vineyard. Dry and inhabiting atmospheric space, tightly wound, aerified and vacuous. Smells of fruit and blasted bits housed in concrete; pits, stones and blocks of rock. Flavours come from tree fruit, citrus and crushed seeds. Clean like Alsatian Pinot Gris (Schoffit comes to mind) and really balanced, with a soft crooning lilt. It’s quite elemental and elementary dear Watson, approachable and comforting. “When my head is heavy on my shoulders, daydreamer gonna make it over.” Linear acidity gives further meaning, in planar and stretched grooves. Deserving of the generic comment “really good food wine.”  Tasted January 2015  @Daydreamerwines

Daydreamer Wines Jasper 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.90, WineAlign)

This blend of Merlot (83 per cent) and Cabernet Franc is a dry, dusty pepper, mace and plum red with a silky texture and some advanced character. In retention of necessary acidity it manages to stay on the wire, with a citrus ability and a lees meets cheese rind cure. The flavours carry this forward with a chew of dried jerky, only to return to the aromatic takeover of dried flowers and cracked nasturtium pods. The great appeal here is on the nose, nothing to sneeze at or take for granted. The lasting appeal is a smell of salt pulling lilacs into the sea, or like a garden of flowers of trance inducing aromas that have absorbed many daydreams.  Tasted January 2015

Daydreamer Wines Amelia 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.90, WineAlign)

The organic B.C. winery presents a northern Rhône dreamer singing like a bird on its very personal Okanagan hejira. Composed of (90 per cent) Syrah and more than a dash (10 per cent) of Viognier, it also hits you like a linebacker, with waves of pepper and steeping cherries, or perhaps plums. Silky smooth and haunting up the middle, but the cure is in, the meats drying and the flavours massive. The fruits dehydrate in a way to question, have you got a date? Dates this Syrah has, in clusters, made saline by capers and sage. Leaves “vapor trails across the bleak terrain,” with streaks of octane fruit and tannin in refrain. This should be left to rest for a few years, to play out the song, to avoid “dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms.”  Tasted January 2015

Daydreamer Wines Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BC VQA, 410076, $29.90, WineAlign)

A weighty example in excess of the chameleon Chardonnay’s necessities, skittering with jerking movements and changing rapidly within the assessment in minutiae. Plenty of scorched earth and toasted barrel putter about and the aromatics remind of an old Eastern European home. Braising biennial Brassica, Pot au Feu and a wood smoker linger into a leesy and citrus tang. The sapidity takes charge and warms to the glass and the senses. A more than serviceable if scattered Chardonnay here brings much character to the table.  Tasted January 2015

Marcus Ansems Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BC VQA, 410076, $29.90, WineAlign)

The winemaker’s personal label is derived from more finesse and delves into upstanding seriousness than what is shown by his Daydreamer counterpart. Very cool-climate, acidity on top, with the suite of buttered toast, green apples and spice notes harmoniously intertwined. Pining notes opine to imagine pine forests and natural twine. Intense tang and verve stretch to protected length. Cooler in many ways, like a trio of established artists coming together for a first record, to offer their collective sound, on a “Friday evening, Sunday in the afternoon, what have you got to lose?” Nothing at all, from a glass of this blue-eyed Chardonnay.  Tasted January 2015  @HemispheresWine

Marcus Ansems Shiraz 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $34.90, WineAlign)

This Golden Mile Bench, west coast red leans northern Rhône with pronounced cured pork belly and smoked meat aromas. The savoury edge is like capers growing from cracks in limestone, the olives and other pickled berries coming by way of warmer, more southerly climes. Modern, violaceous and a touch oxidative, with some southern hemisphere gauze and rubber mercurial style points. There is a smell like that of baked potato, baked underground, after lightning has struck. A big wine from a little known pocket for Shiraz lore, the Ansems Shiraz will appeal to a masculine palate.  Tasted January 2015

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We the Icewine

Xerox

Xerox Icewine Gala, Fallsview Casino Resort

Something has shifted in me, somewhere closer to the realm of sweet nirvana. It could be empathy, a delayed reaction in sensitive thought to what the winemakers and hard-working Niagara wine country folks had to endure in the winter of 2014. Maybe it’s a premature anticipation of the greatness that will come from sweet wines crafted from out of that polar vortex attenuated vintage. Could it just be that Icewine has grown on me, that the elixirs of Peninsula life have violated and occupied my parochial psyche?

For two weeks in January, Niagara Wine Festivals and Wine Country Ontario lay out the nectarous red carpet and everything comes up Icewine. If fans of the Toronto basketball franchise can ignore all the basic tenets and principals of modern English grammar, who’s to say the followers of Ontario’s world-class elixirs can’t do the same. Thus I give you, “We the Icewine.”

Admittedly the phrase does not resonate with equal credibility in comparison with what works in the realm of base, shallow and primitive sport. It does not matter to me. I’m still going with it. Niagara is the epicentre of the Icewine world, in the (near, near) north and we own the market and its successes. We the Icewine.

20 Years

20 Years of Icewine

A recap of Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s production laws insist that Icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

Related – Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine 

The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are the backbone of the Icewine phenomenon in Ontario. Picking for the Icewine harvest in 2015 has stretched over a period exceeding 30 days, not necessarily out of the ordinary but it should make for a wide range of styles and quality in the vintage. Inniskillin Niagara Estate Winery began its thirty-first Icewine harvest on January 5th.

The Niagara Icewine Festival has wrapped up for another year but there are still many weekends left to get a taste of what took place throughout the month of January. There were street festivals in Twenty Valley‘s Jordan Village from January 9th – 11th, Niagara-on-the-Lake from January 16th – 18th and new this year, events in Niagara Falls. Winter continues along with the buzz across the Niagara Peninsula.

Visitors made use of the Discovery Pass, a passport to 35 wineries and culinary experiences along the Wine Route. Along with a variety of Icewines, visitors were offered the opportunity to taste sparkling and VQA red and white wines.

Gala

Icewine Gala decor

For all things Icewine here is a link to the festival site withy more information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena Kaiser and Wine Country Ontario on Friday, January 10th, 2014 I attended another Xerox Icewine Gala at the Fallsview Casino Resort. The following day I attended the Twenty Valley street festival in Jordan, Ontario.

With Icewine firmly on the brain I decided to make a go at as many samples that can safely be sampled in one night. Not to leave out the still and Sparkling in the room, I made sure to taste the generous and in some cases, pleasant surprises being poured by Niagara’s finest winemakers. Here are notes on twenty wines tasted over the weekend.

And don’t forget the anagram: A wet vial is fine nice agar.

Vineland Estates St. Urban Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

If this Riesling could go through a glück stage, now would be the time. There is a plump and resinous feel about it in 2015, quite possibly signalling the end of its first seven years en route to a minimum 14 more in its life. At this juncture it’s like hot stones washed down with salt water. Look for it to cool again as the year passes. From my earlier, April 2013 note: “Poured as a youthful and “hello” pleasant surprise though it’s just beginning to display secondary character. Has shed its tingling ferment skin without compromising the inherent citrus zest. Nectar lit by just emerging perky propellant and the ubiquitous, underlying ullage of St. Urban’s stones all combine forces to a life of amarita. All this to make believe 2028 will be just another year in its evolution.  Last tasted January 2015  @benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates
Pinot QRV

Creekside Estates Pinot Noir QRV 2013

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

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

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (306902, $24.00, WineAlign)

Spice notes are the current rage, from out of the barrel and now into a next level of amalgamation with tree orchard fruit. Has lengthened somewhat since last summer. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) River fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.” Last tasted January 2015  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (586347, $24.95, WineAlign)

The warm clay of Montague plugs in and along with the barrel, layers toast, buttered toast and more toast upon the body of the 2012 Chardonnay. In many ways this is a serious bottling for the Peninsula; it’s all in and wants it all. A strong-willed, big-boned wine with much ado about varietal expressiveness. Paired with a plate of many elements and anchored by rich protein drawn from a salty ocean, this forward and weighty Chardonnay can do no wrong. With all its upfront personality it may not do the same with more than a few years age but there’s really nothing wrong with that. Enjoy it now and to 2017.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Vieni Estate wines

Vieni Estate wines

Vieni Estate Sparkling Brut Rosé 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $29.95)

Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Riesling, the Charmat method Rosé Sparkling is weighty at 13 per cent alcohol and so very savoury. Winemaker Mauro Salvador is finding new places for investigation in fizz-forming for Ontario. The ’12 Brut Rosé champions aridity and noble bitters. The aromas conjure up a botany and a herbalism that would make Pliny proud.  Think stinging nettles, rapini, arugula, strawberry leaf and the energy of carboniferous ponds. Though the acidity is mild as compared to Salvador’s Vidal/Pinot Gris ‘Momenti,’ it manages just enough balance in this blush sparkler.  Tasted January 2015  @VieniEstatesInc

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

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

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Single Vineyard Series Montague Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (997353, $29.95, WineAlign)

A crescendo of sorts has been struck in 2012 with the Montague Pinot Noir perpetuity, giving credence to the vineyard as a resource to be exploited. What the site does for Pinot, particularly in warm vintages like 2012, reminds of the Pfersigberg in Alsace, a plot which provides fruit for the Sainte-Claires bottling by Domaine Albert Mann. A site where water-retention is less than average, where soil colour and low humidity attract the radiance of intense heat, which leads to early ripening of the grapes. The richness of Montague’s clay is amplified in the vintage, providing elevated heat units for this red cherry, beet, cinnamon and toasted red of equally exceptional flavours. Fine, linear acidity takes it to depths and will lead it down long, paved roads.  Tasted January 2015

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard, Ontario (319525, $30.00, WineAlign)

Not quite halfway to the five year prediction, the filly is showing the first sign of slowing down. While time certainly remains on her side, the obvious maturation and calming down is nosed in the onset of a slow caramelizing aroma. While the gait may be in trot mode, the five year mark (2018) remains the signpost to look towards on the long track of her life. At that point, with an hour decant, Equuleus ’10 will be good to go. From my earlier, May 2013 note: “From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show. Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.”  Last tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Colaneri Estates Coraggioso Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.95, WineAlign)

Crafted in the appassimento style, the 2012 Coraggioso is made from 80 per cent dried fruit. Intended to mimic its maker (Michele “Mike” Colaneri), the wine is a bullish, strong silent type, protector of the family, or in this case, the dried grape, passed over style of the Veneto. The specs are bold and impossible; alcohol fortified at 15.3 per cent, residual sugar duplicitous at 7.8 g/L and acidity nearly non-existent at 0.97 g/L. The composition yet works, with help from natural fermentation (no cultured yeasts), six months in new barrels and an additional 13 more in used ones. The happy and old school aspect ratio is turned up by its dried bulb, root and packed earth aromatics; fennel, liquorice and just set concrete. The balance is paradoxical, nearly apocryphal, certainly Coraggioso (courageous). The dried fruit sensations continue right to the end, in lieu of acidity and tannin so the ability to age is there, even in the absence of traditional agents. Really unique and dare it be said, elegant Bordeaux-esque appasimento.  Tasted January 2015  @ColaneriWinery

Southbrook

Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Whimsy! “Damy” Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

As a Whimsy sister to the XY Sirgue, XX Damy is a barrel blend that spent 10 months on lees in 100 percent French oak (25 new, 25 one year-old and 50 neutral). While undoutedly the more feminine of the two, she is also feistier and the Chardonnay possessive of a bigger personality. Damy exaggerates suppositions synthesized from both the 2011 micro-vintage and the macro-cool climate for Niagara Chardonnay. At present she seems stressed, with so much citrus anxiety, a sting in herbage and a medicinal lactic seeping. All need to come together, find the calm, common ground and spoon beside one another. This will happen, given a couple of years time and Damy will express herself more freely come then. Drink brother Sirgue first, the simpler and softer sibling.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

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

A 21-month stay in an all French oak hotel has now reached integration in this Queenston Road Vineyard beauty. The fullness of its qualities are on display, running a circuitous aromatic and flavour gamut from dark chocolate to savoury black olive cake. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Impeccable correctness in terms of the variety from a year where the heat giveth and the heat taketh away. Works Cabernet properties properly, embracing and minimizing oak without pretending it’s not there. This red is expressly lush and oak driven, as it should be, it being Cabernet and all. Leaves its appendages out for a Mediterranean pedicure, a glaze of Cassis, black olive and black cherry dug in a chair entrenched in the warm confines of the St. David’s Bench.”  Last tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine

Southbrook Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)

The Poetica Red is very warm, extracted and quite stylish. She did not miss much from the heat day quotient of the 2007 vintage in Niagara. “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane.” Anise and pencil graphite are shot straight from the wood-soaked barrel of a dark chocolate gun, leaving behind a pool of orange bitters with a slick of acidity. The (rounded up) one-half Cabernet Sauvignon, one-third Cabernet Franc and one-quarter Merlot, while bigger than its head, is so integral towards the future success of learning to reign in the power of this formidable Southbrook blend. Happiness is a warm Poetica.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

The Icewines

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Vidal Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (565861, 200 ml $25.95, WineAlign)

All the diamonds in this world seem to concentrate in fruit form within CdC’s Vidal ’13, “conjured up by wind and sunlight, sparkling on the sea.” The pang of smells opens with the prickly sting of memory, of childhood fruit cocktail, Turkish delight and the Big Turk. “Like a pearl in a sea of liquid jade.” The intensity of piercing acidity and hyper-cloying stone tree fruit is a searing and blinding crush on the eyes, teeth and mouth. So very tight and concentrated, this is a wow Vidal, an ‘o baby’ Icewine and all the while over the top. It may be a tad hard to handle but it offers crazy bang for the buck. Perhaps a few years will settle its crazies.  Tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Southbrook Vidal Icewine 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, 200 ml $26.95, WineAlign)

A naturally sweet monster from a vintage where ideal conditions allowed for early picking, especially for Vidal. That 150 g/L of sugar could be realized from a December baby is what strikes this condensed tropical fruit bomb into the lore of the genre. Indigenous fermentation using yeast lees from Southbrook’s 2010 Chardonnay barrels and some bacterial connectivity has resulted in early evolutionary notes, notably bitter burnt orange and oxidized mango. Highly complex for the Vidal sempiternity, the 2010 Vidal Icewine is no imminent retiring rose though its decline will hasten sooner rather than later.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

Inniskllin

Inniskllin

Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (560367, 375 ml $31.95, WineAlign)

The sweetness is highly elevated straight from the central core of this (200+ g/L RS) Charmat-method Sparkling Icewine. It’s more than interesting, I’ll grant it at least that and though the alcohol remains at or just below the (10 degrees) threshold, it acts quite hot. This is due to so much accenting spice, which seems to be a ropey-wooden-sappy injection, though the wine sees no barrel. Big, big tangy fruit flavours are smothered in the ubiquitous spice. Complexity is gained though elegance is lost. At least the ride is wild when in consideration of the price.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvée, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

From a base wine that is Chardonnay (70 per cent) and Pinot Noir (30), the aridity is markedly up front despite the sweet Vidal dosage style. Comes streaking across on the barking citrus palate. It’s broad, expansive, with a minute bit of oxidation. It builds upon itself and really develops the mouthfeel. A most excellent use of Vidal. So very long and solidifies the earlier anti-oppugning exceeds expectations declaration. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.” Last tasted January 2015  @PellerVQA

Ravine

Ravine Vineyards

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Less than 50 cases were produced of a wine sourced from fruit grown on the Lepp farm. Crafted from 100 per cent Cabernet Franc, the grapes were picked quite late (in January) in a vintage that saw thaw, freeze and thaw again before temperatures dropped to allow for the Icewine harvest. The fruit lost some freshness and the fluctuations also resulted in less syrupy viscosity. There are dried fruit notes, a calming mustiness and even some herbiage, in dill, anise and salinity crusted sea peas and vetches. The complexities continue into a palate that goes at it in more traditional ways, with apricot, orange peel and lemon rind. Add in liquorice and bokser. Acidity keeps it very much alive. The conclusion? Nature’s accords cannot be guessed at.  Tasted January 2015  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

Trius Winery At Hillebrand Showcase Vidal Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (Winery, 375 ml $60.00, WineAlign)

What strikes most upfront about the Trius Vidal ’12 is the anomalous and dichotomous reserve on the nose. Its very concentration is chained to the aromatics but they lurk in the background. This is no floozy of an Icewine. There is spice and very rich fruit but it does not flirt or give itself up with abandonment. Apricot is most noticeable, along with accents that indicate the roots and barks of South Asian trees. Acidity is downright proper. A solid and gallant Vidal.  Tasted January 2015  @TriusWines

Reif Estate Grand Reserve Riesling Icewine 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $74.90, WineAlign)

A slow ripening season with warm, never hot and at times quite cool temperatures made for one seriously gelid cat of a Riesling Icewine. This 2011 makes the mouth go ooohh with an array of frosty aromatics and flavours. A veritable study in wine’s sweet and sour science, there is mint, eucalyptus, citrus and a host of sweet fruits; yellow peach, clementine, juicy lime and crunchy apple. Spice notes pierce and prick in every hole. Though not as striking in its early stages, the coolness factor is refreshing and the understated style a harbinger for many years of slow development. It would be hard not to imagine the Grand Riesling ’11 as not being a 20-25 year wine.  Tasted January 2015  @Reifwinery

Reif Estate Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $94.95, WineAlign)

A glaringly vivid icebox Icewine from Reif in 2013, throwing the grocery gamut all in. From the top shelf come layers of sweetness; gelées, juices, purées and coulis in (at least) raspberry, Cassis and strawberry. From the middle swaths in thick brushstrokes, of rhubarb and caramelized Kabocha squash. From the bottom rises roasted nightshades and alium confit, in capsicum and red onion marmalade. A moderate alcohol (10.5 per cent) out of solid brix (38.8) in ’13 has arrived at this sugary mess of produce yet without the zip and zest required to really tie the Grütze together. The overall composition is certainly graphic and in exaggeration of its parts. That said, this just may be the best pairing for good quality chocolate ever composed in the Icewine category.  Tasted January 2015  @Reifwinery

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Is writing making a mess of wine?

Rave Review

Rave Review

Wine today is suffocated by an industrial and disproportionate number of writers, critics, reviewers and judges. There are so many voices vying for airtime, filling up virtual white pages with their comments, feelings and dissertations. There are homers and there are curmudgeons. When in balance, both keep the ship afloat, but more often than not the questions begs. Which ones are causing the wreck? The answer is both. The problem is not the intent but rather the execution.

You may have noticed that when I write about wine, which is pretty much all of the time, I use a whole lot of words. A mess of vocabulary. An inordinate amount of adjectives. A boundless number of references to music, song and pop culture. It’s how I roll. And it has got me thinking, again.

Tis’ about that time of year. A period for reflection and review, not on what was so great in the previous vintage but about the things that will be critical going forward in this new one. Please excuse the interlude while I hang suspended within the interval of hermeneutic, contemplation and debate. Reading books on anthropology, art world shenanigans and a post-holocaust personal journey are seeping into my thoughts like Sémillon into Sauvignon Blanc and the varietal blend is coming up complicated.

Related – Wine: It’s a matter of tasting notes

Old guard tasting notes are losing their relevance and not because they are wrong or inaccurate. They just don’t speak to wine in the 21st century. They don’t tell a story and they surely don’t have any fun. So what? Imagine taking a video of yourself working on your computer, browsing the internet, reading and interacting on social media. What would you see? A world of links and associations. A world where thoughts and comments bounce around like children in a jumpy castle. This is the realm of the new tasting note. This is what wine can do for you in the 21st century. It can lead you forward and take you back. Most of all it can really tie your life together.

Related – Three-chord wines, hold the rants

Then the whining. The constant shrill voice of conceit mixed with complaint. The words minced to poison with a hunger to attack. Paragraphs penned to warn of apocalypse and to relegate decent writers to the scrap heap and back to the depressing nine to five. Writers reacting only to what others do without creating anything of their own. Comedians of the wine world lashing out, ranting, shouting “got ‘em, need ‘em, hate ‘em.”

These attitudes and still the truth is not to be ignored. Reading a wine through a tasting note is like kissing a woman through a veil. “Translation is a kind of transubstantiation,” where one wine becomes another and another. You can choose your philosophy of critiquing just as you choose how to live. The freedom to personalize or substantiate thoughts on structure sacrifices the detail to meaning and meaning to preciseness. The winemaker is the writer or poet, moving from vines to vinous language. The critic moves in the opposite direction, or should, by attempting to read between the lines, to identify what can’t be seen, to interpret the mysterious implications of smell, taste and texture.

The lede firmly and flatly backs the headline, states, if asks, “is writing making a mess of wine?” Yes, that is a double entendre, a loaded gun of meaning and hypothesis, a million dollar question. While we want to know who’ll stop the rain, we also desperately need to understand the meaning of wine. So we put it down in words. We explain how wonderful life is with wine in the world. We also break it down, grape by grape, to a point where it often lies broken, disassembled, deconstructed, left for naked. What is it for? Are wine writers leaving behind a city of ruins?

Have they decided and determined that the winemaker’s works can be used to make a point? A point that belongs to the critic? Has the wine writer taken away the artist’s right to be, has the intent been obscured, or worse, the opposite and turned it into a curator’s right?

There are wines that claim you and wines that warn you away. Maybe the writers are just looking for wine that would teach them everything, like searching for one language, just as some would look for one woman’s face. The combined fugitive pieces of wine and its critics pose “questions without answers.” They must be asked very slowly.

To the beleaguered point five wines are here venerated and disfigured, assessed and cut to size. They are sniffed and sipped, thought of in song and regurgitated on the page. Do they lift or bury their maker’s plan? You be the judge.

From left to right: Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009

From left to right: Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (384339, $17.95, WineAlign)

Here, from Dominio del Plata, an experiment with clear merit. The attributes are so sizeable, with weight depth and no compromise. The dramatic effect works to ignore the “clouds of mystery pourin’ confusion on the ground.” The floral aromatic integrity of Torrontés is upheld within the leaden shackles of the wood, as is the savour. This is a honeyed white, suckling and mellifluous, like fully extracted ripe Sémillon, from and with the benefit of a warm vintage. Puts the fun back into varietal revival by way of a giant leap up from the thin, medicinal water clogging the arteries of South American white wines so often put to market. Here is a Torrontés to stop the rain.  Tasted January 2015  @ddpwinery  @ProfileWineGrp

Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Napa Valley, California (424179, $19.95, WineAlign)

There are so many reasons not to find a thrill in this regional blend of Pinot Noir fruit but none of them stick. Sweetness, simple syrup silky fruit, brown sugar, every red and purple berry in all varieties of fields (plus ripe plums) and warm to temperate alcohol (14.5 per cent declared) all combine for full California sunshine effect. All this and I just can’t turn away. With all the excess fruit, texture and multiplicity in good times, how can I? I ask this Pinot, “how come you, how come you dance so good?” The answer lies in the feel and the ability to turn a Noir trick or two. Not to mention a rolling of barrels and Napa Valley stones through its very core. Well done.  Tasted January 2015  @sterlingwines  @Diageo_News

Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, VQ Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Steve Byfield’s crimson blend of Cabernet Franc (42 per cent), Merlot (33), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Syrah (5) is at once so very Niagara while acting out anomalously in the 2011 vintage. Ripe, extracted fruit appears warm-vintage drawn, with its coated layers of primer, brushstroke and plummy stone fruit. The warmth is tempered by savour, oranges, figs and psalms. Its ability to find cadence and cascade keeps it “cool in the shade.” The varietal combining is delineated in balance, “sliding mystify, on the wine of the tide.” This effort, with its new name, could become one of the king’s amongst Ontario blends.  Tasted January 2015  @NyaraiCellars

Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Vienna, Austria (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

Here, the intensity of multi-varietal wine defined. From next to the Danube, out of the Ulm Vineyard, on a very steep southern slope on the eastern part of the Nussberg. The composition is nine-fold; Weissburgunder, Neuburger, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Traminer and Riesling. The aridity (1.3 g/L RS) is visionary. Beneath the vineyard there is coral from the tertiary period and in this wine you can hear the Geiger counter amplifying the faint eupnea of fossilized shells, thousands of years ago. Its resinous, sappy and majestic floating flowers are like “potions in a traveling show.” The layering is heavy (14.5 per cent ABV) and variegated, like sands and snails in a bottle or a vessel filled with an alcohol made from nature’s natural and fermenting bounty; carboniferous forest cosmology and the unpronounceable names of exotic fruit. Then there is the wooden smoulder, the white rock solder, the pine and the scene where “I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss.” The Gemischter Satz is granular but in liquid form, marbled and with a lovely wisp of oxidation. It exudes lemon custard and tonic in a wild yet beautiful breath of sauvage. It is your song. Tasted January 2015

Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009, Docg Umbria, Italy (403139, $49.95, WineAlign)

Here thickness is applied in every way imaginable. Sagrantino from the maw of the beast; raw, big-boned, musky, chewing sinew and spitting out teeth. Though fierce and ancient, eliciting vegetal scents as if Pliny’s natural history were scoured for every trace of pungent plants grown in iron rich earth, it is also the most modern expression of Umbria, or all of Italy even. In so many ways it’s pretty Gestanko, composted and of an incomparable spume. But it also desensitizes and endears in a soulful, ethereal way “like scattered leaves,” blowing in a stiff breeze. It folds back the skin of time, in waves of heat and at times is so very sweet. Bring this to the apocalyptic marshmallow roast. Leaves the red wine city in ruins and in the dust. Sagrantino at 16.5 %. Burn, baby burn.  Tasted January 2015  @TrialtoON  @TABARRINI

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Du bon Bachelder: Burgundy, Oregon, Niagara

Bachelder Wines tasting. December 28, 2014 Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines tasting: December 28, 2014
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Québec native and Niagara Peninsula resident Thomas Bachelder makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in three countries. He may not be the only gypsy winemaker on this planet but he certainly ranks as the most focused. Over the past few years I have had many opportunities to taste and be privy to the diversity, overlapping and incrassation of his portfolio. By now I know so much and understand so little.

There is one thing I do know for sure. Bachelder and partner Mary Delaney form a formidable wine-producing juggernaut. Together they are the vine and the fence. The question is which one is the vine and which one is the fence. If asked they and their guests would likely all produce different answers.

Thomas Bachelder Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Thomas Bachelder
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Thomas and Mary invited a group of us to taste through the Bachelder 2012’s just after Christmas. Ever the great hosts, Thomas and Mary not only poured 16 wines, they also offered up a most excellent feast and left us (Rick VanSickle, Michael Pinkus, Evan Saviolidis and Elena Galey-Pride) amazed and satiated.  Rick’s take on the tasting should be read here: Poetry in motion: Thomas Bachelder unveils his 2012 Pinots and Chardonnays from Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.

Bachelder Wines Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

In Oregon Bachelder made wines at Ponzi and Lemelson Vineyards. In Niagara he was best known for creating a world-renowned portfolio of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay through an artfully applied science at Le Clos Jordanne. Beyond Bachelder there is now the Thomas effect at Domaine Queylus. He’s like the Chicken Man, “he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere.”

In Ontario his Pinot Noir fruit mainly comes from the St. David’s Bench vineyard owned by the Lowrey family. The Chardonnays are drawn from the Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and the Saunders Vineyard closer to Lake Ontario. In Oregon, the sturdy contrariness of the vines show a marked preference for the sandstone and volcanic (Basaltic) strata, in Yamhill-Carlton and the Willamette, rhymes with dammit – thanks Mary … ;), Valley. In Burgundy the terroir in micro-plots diversify the stratagem even while some are considered lesser locales for growing great Burgundy. But one thing is clear. The lieu-dits that give of their fruit all qualify as appellative wonders of the Bachelder diaspora.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

For a brief history on the Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara terroirist, check out my two previous posts on the Bachelder project.

Related –  Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Related –  Synchronicity in three terroirs

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Order is an extreme obsession for Thomas Bachelder, in an organized, chaotic way. For this reason, the wines were tasted in the following progression, to make sense of the complexity and variegation in each country from the three distinct yet wholly antithetic bon (Burgundy-Oregon-Niagara) terroirs.

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bourgogne Aligoté Champs Pernot 2013, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089559, $24.00, WineAlign)

From old vines in the commune of Puligny-Montrachet, Bachelder’s Aligoté is a flinty, indiscreetly pinching and itinerant example. More complex than it needs to be, it can be accused of being a risk taker. If Chardonnay is considered in terms of finding excellence out of cool climates, this Aligoté is downright gelid. The wine doth go both ways, at once reductive and then terpenic. Lime citrus concentrates aromas and flavours within a very platinum, mineral frame. Speaks several languages that can be related to but only if you can pry through the cracks in the hard protective shell. Confounding really, yet a fascinating study. Bachelder could do for varietal Burgundy Aligoté in ways similar to Sylvaner in Alsace.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA  (333278, $34.95, WineAlign)

Primarily constructed from the fruit of Yamhill-Carlton vines, a third of which is Lazy River, an apropos moniker because by harvest time it hardly moves. The warm vintage adds a calm dimension to a Pinot Noir more Burgundian than the Bachelder’s Niagara and also more table friendly. Pure perfume and like life in layered, rosy hues, a vie en rose, from the land and the river’s subtle flows. The terra mobilis. The underlying dream in Thomas Bachelder’s Oregon movement is mineral, like salinity, not limestone but something ambiguous from the river’s pull and under the river. Elegance lived and relived. Here is a wine from a very available warm vintage, with a mess of fleshy fruit, yet Thomas does not obfuscate the terroir. In 2012 and needfully so, it is served from a light hand. Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec and coming to VINTAGES in Ontario, Spring 2015.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Niagara Lowrey Vineyard 2012

 

Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Bachelder’s local environ comes from Wismer Park within the essential Niagara vineyard, on the Lowrey farm of the St. David’s Bench. By way of setting bearings straight, the Park is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of the Lowrey Vineyard. A precocious and most positive net gain Pinot Noir most of which, as Thomas so adroitly points out, will be consumed before being allowed to hit its prime. Despite the generic labelling, this is not a mass-produced bottling by any stretch and was swallowed up by licences. It’s a hallmark expression of warmth, texture, vintage and the capability of Pinot Noir in this specific place. What Thomas has achieved, with effective persuasion, is a cloning from intimate belongings; earth, fruit, Lowrey.  Tasted December 2014

Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012, Burgundy, France ($45, WineAlign)

Named for La Montagne, to recognize it for place because local rules forbid calling it what it really is, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. So what was ‘La’ is now ‘Aux’ and with the change, in this vintage, comes something formidable, eliciting a response of aux la la. Let’s talk about this, with no mocking tone, just real thoughts. Anything but regional, this Bachelder is so very Villages, specifically lieu-dit, with its depth of earth and release of perfume. A piercing sort of Pinot Noir from a which a sauce could be fashioned out of its sheer intensity, to bathe meats. The concentration has a citrus feign, bright, in the back, along with a giving and Burgundy forgiving mineral funk. In this Burgundy, the mountain lurks, in spirit torque. Will unwind for up to 10 years. Available at the SAQ in Quebec.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon (SAQ 12065338, $44.50, WineAlign)

A hard-working wine that reaches for fibres not available for weave in the Bachelder ‘basic’ Oregon Pinot, the Johnson digs into the salty waters beneath the earth. Draws up its hydration, the astonishing fidelity of minerals magnetized and then redacts the smokey, splintering spokes of wood. The juice in 2012 flows and follows the inconsistencies of the skin and the barrel like the river travels along the irregularities of the land. Rich, dusty, brooding and intuitive. The Johnson is bent on serious intent, like a sculptor’s dentil relief, with increased shadow, less mannerist in 2012, deeper, darker and of more solemnity. When the ’11 was at first hard to figure then soon after revealed its charms, this ’12 will take much longer to unravel. The brightness of Oregon Pinot Noir is perhaps its greatest attribute so here that light is not yet known. Wait three to five years to find out its truth.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

A balanced and thoughtful wine, from five rows of mostly mysterious, and unknown clones. There simply is no other locale in Ontario that you can grow Pinot Noir any further away from lake and river and still unearth such depth. Though terroir-driven, this shares little with other geographical perimeter outliers, like Ravine and Coyote’s Run. Can only be Lowrey; folkish, demotic, St. David’s Bench vernacular. From my earlier, October 2014 note: “To those who wonder aloud about the annual love affair with this vineyard, suck it and see. This connectivity and this wine renew again. Same time, this year. Bursts of all that have come from it before, are here now and in temptation of what will be for years to come. Has “the type of kisses where teeth collide,” a Sam Cooke ages to Arctic Monkeys kind of reckless serenade. It’s also a balladeer, this scaled back Bachelder, if that can be said to be done. Here now soft, elegant, perfumed, demurred, sweet, downy, pretty, not yet fleshed, surprisingly void in tannin, anxiety and tension. Work with it for 10 minutes and it will then begin to bite back, show its teeth, pearly white as they are, grind it out. There will be 10 years of development in this Lowrey, if not less, but in ’12, that is more.”  Last tasted December 2014

Nuits St Georges La Petite Charmotte 2012, Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign)

Here grinds a wine that could want for some decant, a pause for thought while the imbibers assess their ways through Oregon, Niagara, Johnson and Lowrey. A pent-up perfume, when allowed to breath in and then out, results in a concentration of aromatic certainty. Tight and bracing, with cedar and bitumen, cherry and rose, this single-vineyard NSG hugged up on a northern slope is both adamantine Nuits and the pretty dame of Beaune. Straddles the arrondissement’s Burgundian twain, the Neaune, from iron to sublime. The imprint of yearning and distance.  Tasted December 2014

Les Bas Liards Savigny Lès Beaune 2012, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089567, $38.25, WineAlign)

Only two barrels (one and two year-old, zero per cent new oak) were procured of this 100 per cent Pinot Blanc. “I’m a barrel fermenting maniac,” admits Bachelder. He might also say “I’ve got a job, I explore, I follow every little whiff and I want my life to smell like this.” Stone fruit is in resolution and integration, fully, completely. This quenches thirst, like chewing on raw fish. Why Pinot Blanc in Savigny Lès Beaune is the $64K question with an answer tragically not really known. Its taste is not just Pinot Blanc, it is the flavour of Savigny Lès Beaune. It is PB looking for a place to happen. The argument is logomachy, the reality is Savigny. What it delivers is a clean, hip Burgundian message and at the same time asks, “do you taste Chardonnay?” Yes? No, I taste Savigny Lès Beaune.  Tasted December 2014

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95, WineAlign)

From the best four of twenty barrels (and 15 – 18 per cent new oak). The salinity drawn is deeper still, like a bone from the skin of the sea. Rich tones, components, tannic texture, filibuster Chardonnay. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “More specifically a product of its ocean meets sous terre soil than Bachelder’s basic (term used loosely) Chardonnay, the Johnson nicks more richesse, around and around fullness. Not to mention the cerebral wisdom of two Scots and a Charlemagne. Johnson’s progressive and forward thinking maker works with inconspicuous wood and the science of introducing oxygen into wine in a controlled manner.  He might say “for it is wisdom that we have for sale.” Like a white-winged dove, the 2012 will trod lightly towards a long walk to a very long life. It can be imagined aging to the edge of seventeen. The earthy feel, the salinity, not from tannin but from soil, “the music there, well, it was hauntingly familiar.” This is iridescent Oregon in a Bachelder voice. No doubt.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (VINTAGES Essential 302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Primarily fruit sourced from Wismer-Foxcroft and Wismer-Wingfield plots, the oak treatment is 15 per cent new. Shows so much more warmth than Oregon. More honey and tropical notes than many peers as well. And still limestone crusted apple is the major finishing key in a Chardonnay that sings a familiar Niagara hymn. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Bottled just one month ago, contrary to the monk’s assertion, there is nothing shocky about her. Her fruit is downy soft, round without being fat because as Bachelder maintains, real as always, you “can’t have the minerality of that perfect 2011, I’m not going to bullshit you.” The 2012 is a wine unconscious in its own obviousness, ready for anything. Gregarious, golden, fresh fruit that was ready to roll out of its barrel and into the waiting glass long before its maker was prepared to open the valve. And of course there is a mineral finish. It can’t help but be.” Last tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Coming to VINTAGES, Spring 2015. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “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.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

An appraisal of Wismer, much further up on the Bench as compared to Saunders, is always fraught with side by each guilt. The two coax and dissuade each other in every respect, from vintage to vintage and in flip-book oscillation. Once again, the reversal is complete in 2012. Wismer gives not just power and warmth, but layering. Its voice is an astonishing fidelity of native rock magnetized. Wismer finds a way to make grace necessary and to make necessity graceful. While Saunders made yeoman’s work of 11’s crazies with precision and poise, Wismer takes the glow of ’12 and turns it into cool sunshine. This Chardonnay of wealthy fruit, controlled oak, olivine and feldspar tannin will slowly wash up like driftwood on the gravelly beach of life. Give it a year or two to assimilate the components and drink it for 10 more.  Tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012, Burgundy, France (272005, $35.95, WineAlign)

From lower Puligny, this is rich, forward and expressive Chardonnay. While it may gangle out with a fierce, pierce of the tang, a change fills the air after much discussion about a barrel, how it is used and to what effect, both for its current and predictable future. Has that honeyed, lemon toasty unctuousness, a weave that is weighty and glazed. Some wood spice and a colourable, creamy curd of citrus. Oak compounds the sweetness and layering. Puligny runs through its wooden veins and pumps micro-oxygenated nutrients to the important, internal organs. The eventuality here is the alleviation of pressure and a retrofit of fruit to elegance. Strike another notch up and step forward for the Bachelder Burgundy sojourn. There is still so much to learn and even this will seem pedestrian compared to what will come but for now it’s just fine, thank you very much.  Tasted December 2014

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012 

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012 

Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012, Burgundy, France ($39.25, WineAlign)

The ‘King’s Hill’ which is just half of the misnomer because how can a plot of such ability be considered so low on the Cru pole. Half of a new barrel went into the minuscule (two barrel) blend. Chardonnay like lace, from nothing less than an appellation prepared to offer up fine drink, in pastry and in textile. Tropical tree fruits hang in rows, connected by cream and the contending forces of smoke and bite. Always the end game of rock envelops the whole, like gabbroid nodules, permeating every fissure.  And so, because a Bachelder Chardonnay must comply, as the earth invisibly prepares its vines for successes and failures, so history is the creeping intent.  Tasted December 2014

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Red, white and orange at Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Whimsy! Reds, Whites and Orange

She says she’s making a similar wine in British Columbia, but Ann Sperling will tip no varietal hat, will offer up no hints, will not reveal the make-up in her new, all-natural Orange wine. That’s right. Orange wine.

To arrive at this (nothing rhymes with orange) juncture, a bit of background on the winemaker and her Ontario employer, Southbrook Vineyards. Sperling is from B.C., where she makes Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and piercing Sparkling Wines at Pioneer Ranch, the family heritage farm under her eponymous Sperling Vineyards label.

Related – A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries

Southbrook as a winery and a vineyard is a leader in Ontario’s increasingly developing biodynamic and organic direction. Ann Sperling introduced proprietors Marilyn and Bill Redelmeier to the sprawling property in Niagara-on-the-Lake and it is there that their commitment to farming organically and biodynamically is managed in the vineyard by Scott Jones and in the winery by Brian Hamilton and Regan Kapach.

The Redelmeiers are no strangers to the concepts and the agrarian way. Who does not remember making necessary stops at their farmstead and pumpkin patch on Major Mackenzie Rd. between Dufferin and Bathurst in Richmond Hill. Southbrook defined that concept in the 80’s and 90’s, by bringing a distinctly rural Ontario feel to the edge of Toronto civilization. People came from all four directions for their farm fresh produce. Chappell Farms, Chudleighs and Whittamore’s all owe a major level of their success to Southbrook’s pioneering concept.

The Redelmeier cattle farm on the 19th century property in Richmond Hill morphed into that roadside vegetable stand in the 1980s. Winemaking came next and then in 2005, Bill and Marilyn relocated to Niagara. Having chosen to pursue certifications for both the vineyard and the winery – including LEED, biodynamic and organic certification, the Redelmeiers have been instrumental in the revolution.

Ann Sperling is a natural fit for their manifesto, to produce high quality wine from estate fruit under the strict O & B directive. The upper echelon Southbrook wines are bottled under the labels of Triomphe, Whimsy! and Poetica. That she has now decided to make an orange wine is, well, natural. I think a great deal of Ontario wine drinkers, along with those beyond these borders don’t quite get Southbrook. Gaining insight as to why the Orange wine should be made is no less difficult than acquiring an understanding as to what the Southbrook portfolio is all about. You need to spend time with the wine and the winemaker. This point is essential.

Winemakers are intensely focused individuals. Their wines live and breath. As a parent to their children, winemakers feel their every step. Their hopes and dreams rise and fall with every breath they take. Sperling had thought about it for years but the 2014 vintage allowed her to take the experimental, all natural plunge.

She is not the first to do the orange wine thing. In his May, 2014 Macleans article, Orange is the new white (wine), John Szabo reported on his involvement with making such a beast in Ontario. Together with Norman Hardie and François Morissette, they have fashioned one from Riesling in Prince Edward County. Szabo wrote, “Ontario vintners are experimenting with an ancient Georgian technique and a 500-litre qvevri. “With an imported clay vessel their wine currently rests in a 500-litre qvevri in Hardie’s cellar. Szabo had also discovered that Richie Roberts of Fielding Estate was the first orangista in Canada. Roberts made 400 bottles of skin-fermented Viognier in 2012, though not in clay. Szabo had previously referred to Stanners Vineyard Pinot Gris Cuivré 2010 as “the first orange wine made in Ontario.”

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

The natural/orange wine debate is hot right now and not because of the reasons you might think. The smoke and mirrors of discussing the merits of making such wines or to question whether it’s rubbish is clouding the discussion. Or as Alexandra Gill reports in her most recent Globe and Mail article, “fault-indulgent hippie juice as a major scam,” or the smell of “stale, mouth-puckering morning breath.” The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”

Then along comes the Hosemaster of Wine, Ron Washam who insists “don’t publish anything about natural wine on your blog in 2015.” Washam is right when he comments on the hypocrisy of “natural wine shipped in an ocean-polluting tanker…loaded on an exhaust-belching truck…and you feel good about it because the guy who made it didn’t spray Roundup?” This N-word wine story, however, is allowed. Here we are discussing an Orange wine made with attention to ancient detail, in our Niagara backyard, the one I travelled to the source to taste and you know something, it’s pretty fucking good? You’re a funny man and a really good writer but let me ask you something. You got a problem with that Ron?

I sat down with Ann, Wines In Niagara writer Rick VanSickle and Paul DeCampo, Southbrook’s Director of Marketing & Sales on Sunday, December 28th to taste the new or yet released Triomphe ’13’s, Whimsy! ’12’s and Poetica ’12’s. A ’13 Cabernet Franc Icewine and the mysterious, ubiquitous and enigmatic Orange wine rounded out the tasting card. The experience went a long way towards adding Southbrook Vineyards to the loftier queue’s cerebral vinous database. Going forward, I’ll surely never look at these wines in the same light.

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

“We’ve been waiting to do small batch, stem fermentation,” Ann Sperling tells us as we have a good look at the lustrous, foggy glass of orange-yellow colour more micro-described as either croceate or gamboge. “Now we have the infrastructure to do so.” Stems add architecture (and a preservative effect), something that is otherwise compromised in a sulphite-free wine. This nameless natural wine was biodynamically-raised, indigenously-yeasted and freed from the constraints of temperature control. No wood was used, only stainless steel and glass carboys. The orange and natural classification comes by way of the complex ebullition (closest in style to the Collio hills wines of Josko Gravner), in colour, weight, elegance and the dichotomy of skin fermentation. Sperling used acumen derived from the concept at Argentina’s Versado, where skins are employed in a similar way when making Malbec with husband Peter Gamble. This young wine is filled with terpenes and is highly, desperately aromatic. Lemon curd is up front and centre. It’s got a tart tang and at (approximately) 11.8 per cent alcohol, the gravity is impossibly beautiful. Sperling’s take is “a fair reflection on the vintage” and it’s the mouthfeel that sets it apart. What’s the varietal make up, single or a blend? If the latter, was it co-fermented? Ann will only tell us that it was harvested over a two week period in October. The big question is will it receive VQA approval. Viognier and Pinot Gris should certainly be options but I’m not aware of Southbrook ever having employed their use. Sperling’s Whimsy! Winemaker’s White uses Muscat so perhaps we could go that direction but the aromatics don’t jive. Riesling is the simplest road to take and if the Southbrook Connect Organic White 2013 is any indication, the combined effect with Vidal could certainly steer this Orange ship. But If I were made to guess, to have some fun with concept, I would suggest that it’s a blend of white and red grapes, but Southbrook does not grow Pinot Noir so that should rule out Chardonnay as well. So I conjure up a song. “Well I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky.” With a union of grape varieties standing by. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc feed my Spidey senses, so under the auspices of that marriage, what we might have here is an offspring, a Cabernet Sauvignon. A very natural one. An orange one.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent estate fruit (so it’s organic and biodynamic), the accesibility here is immediate and gratifying. So ever-very raspberry, like berries and savoury flower dust rehydrated into a sweet yet tart and viscous tisane baked into a pie. That does not articulate a cooked component, but rather a concentrated vehemence. As far as Peninsula Merlot goes, this really finds both its varietal and vintage capitalized way. It’s both cool and critical, exemplary and snappy. Early thought leads towards a five to seven-year run.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Still organic through and through, despite only a small portion of estate fruit contributing to the overall design of the Triomphe Cabernet Franc ’13. Contracted growers fuel and fulfill the Southbrook ideology, to seek purity in healthy berries. The red fruit here shines on with Daliesque impunity. Its agglomeration makes a juicy, gregarious offer to sip. The vanilla-lavender streak brings elegance, more so than in ’12, along with an elevated sense of savour and really compounded red, red fruit. A natural sweetness and long finish are easy on the gustatory senses. Will be available at VINTAGES in February 2015, when the ’12 runs dry.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Triomphe '13's

Southbrook Triomphe ’13’s

Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

The VINTAGES Essential is fashioned from mostly estate fruit (making it mostly biodynamic) save for a tonne or two grower’s supplementation. The 13’s are just beginning to hit shelves as ’12 stock depletes and in many ways the new vintage excels and exceeds the success of the split decision ’12. Where the ’13 lags is in showy complexity, though I’m not sure that is the Triomphe Cab Sauv’s most distinguishing or valuable asset. The new year brings a darker, pitchier, heavier brooder and as a second thought, a slower build to complexity. If ’12 was the rare marble, this is the braising cut. The triumph is now an impression as a sum of parts, not outwardly obvious and live. Not so easy to disseminate, the ’13 could likely have benefited from a less urgent rush to market. The drive to appease the sellers may inhibit a quick response understanding of its fruit intent so consumers should be aware of the need to exercise just a half-year or so of patience.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Sémillon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95)

A getable Sémillon of plenary indulgence, of deep-seated intent, already blessed and blissful of honey. From a two-barrel lot, fermented in stainless steel with lees contact. This is an Ann Sperling special, both biodynamic and unfined, so it serves public notice as a Southbrook affiche in promotion of naturalism. And then it really begins to rock. Sulphites are present and perceptible but so are the more panegyrizing notes of salinity, mineral and rocks with ideas. Single-varietal Sémillon is an amazing thing, possessive of a clarity few can match. It ages with ease and it knows it. “When you know that your time is close at hand, maybe then you’ll begin to understand.” The ’13 Whimsy! Sémillon is an iron maiden, luminescent metal intense with even more honey on the back-end. Sémillon, hallowed be thy name.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Chardonnay ‘Minerality’ 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for release in January or February 2015, “Minerality” as sister to “Richness” is the wilder of the two, less weighty (though up there at 14 per cent alcohol), possessing nothing in any discernible or palpable, tropical void. This little sister is “shakin’ like a tree. rollin’ like a log, shakin’ and a rollin’ now, that ain’t all.” Minerality occupied (40 per cent new, 12 per cent one-year and 48 per cent older) French oak barrels for 12 months, then sat in bottle for 12 more. Until now. Ray of power here unleashed, like a rock ‘n roll genie, finger-picking god ranging all over the map of scales. Though her sulphur edges to watering eyes, the aqueous emulsion from barrel selections leading to tight, reductive early life tendency will one day be forgiven. In fact, Minerality was rejected by the VQA panel on her first go round, bad girl as she was, but she’s now settling into her band-aid skin. She’s now a release away from being almost famous. The rigidity in redux has stirred through, having trod beyond pyridine freshness, though you can still feel the ghosts. Acts seemingly evolved but it manifests as an aromatic nougat. “Reduction is an indication of aging potential, or verve,” says Sperling. A comparison might be made to a 2000 Mosel, which was untouchable early on, but is now a classic. Could Minerality stand the weather? It has a very particular profile, a tactile mouthfeel and great, sweet length, from soul to soul. So yes, this is 2012 Chardonnay on the Peninsula.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for a January/February 2015 release, the 100 per cent estate (organic and biodynamic) ’12 Whimsy Cabernet Franc spent time in (41 per cent) new wood. The significance of the barrel imprint is not lost on territorial influence as related to texture, more than anything else. A warming trend is balanced by a layering of savoury savoir faire and citrus (or the thought of). A repetitive drumming tang drives this tome with trepidation in reserved activity and acidity. Lacking any discernible tobacco, currant or notes of piquancy, this will request consumer patience before it comes into its own and out to the party. Though quite elegant and possessive of better than good length, I prefer the freshness and personality of the (’12 and ’13) Triomphe, for the money. Here I am reminded of some Tuscan CCR’s. Like a time-clocked, sui generis oaked and stately Chianti, this Whimsy will offer more charm when it reaches middle age, at least five years down the road and it will display plenty of caramel, wood polish and charcuterie cure at that time.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

In a warm year like 2012, the perfect Southbrook synoptic storm for Cabernet Sauvignon gives cause for thought. Awash in agriculture (organic and biodynamic), of fruit (100 per cent estate) and from barrels (nearly half new and just Four Mile Creek shy of two years), this winemaker’s vagary palavers on verve, torpid integration and inevitable aging. The rich berry and earth weave is a veritable, variegated loaf of aggie layering. But it’s more than that. The centre is filled with cool runnings; mint, eucalyptus and chains of pyromorphite. All tolled you can feel the showiness of the vintage in this Whimsy’s emphatic overall statement.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Petit Verdot 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95)

Welcome to the new world of single-varietal junkets and Four Mile Creek Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon (13.3 per cent) and Merlot (1.3) offer up contiguous Bordeaux support for this Southbrook first (under the full varietal name – this used to be called “Who You Calling Petit”), slated for an April or May 2015 release. Culled from the estate’s biodynamic and organic vineyard. Musty, dusty and undomesticated, Sperling’s take is a swirling mistral of wild berries, sauvage, herbs, garrigue and even mushroom. It has yet to recede from its barrel play, showing nary a sign of evolution. Big tannins, high concentration and abrupt ministrations are the crux of its personality. It seems that it will stride out in two years, score early and often, then retire to the bench. The late candied flavours indicate a successful, if short career. Less than 70 cases were produced.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Poetica Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($54.95, WineAlign)

The Poetica Red ’12, slated for a Spring 2015 release, is amazing and intriguing on many levels. But for the fact that Petit Verdot (26.5 per cent) plays such a major varietal role, what must first be declared is the disseminated learning applied to this application. The dos and don’ts of previous (only produced in) warm vintage Poetica Reds will see a shedding of those don’ts in this 2012. Ann Sperling ushers in a new era for Niagara Bordeaux assemblage and if this wine is any harbinger, others will follow suit. Here celebrates a love for the land (environment), poetry and more specifically, Canadian poets. Chief Dan George, he of North Vancouver and the Hollywood screen, penned “Words to a Grandchild.” In it he wrote, “in the midst of a land without silence, you have to make a place for yourself.” Poetica Red ’12 will have done that when viewed retrospectively, 10-15 years from now. It will have grown old, but also wise. As for now it’s brooding, melancholy even. It’s all of that and this; endemic, entrenched, crenellated, ensconced and indoctrinated with Niagara knowledge. Has a dusty, earthy, even funky poetry. More depth than many, much realized acumen and will live long. Given 30 minutes of air it showed the ribbons of classic Niagara reds. All these concepts combine to see Poetica Red ’12 not so much as huge, but with depth and complexity.  Tasted December 2014.

Poetica Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($49.95, WineAlign)

Whole cluster pressed, all estate fruit spent 18 months in only 15 per cent new (100 per cent French, mainly 300L) barrels. Indigenous yeasts saw more rotation than stirring and classic Chardonnay fermentation, which is code for “they always stick.” As a result, there was no need to impress a finish on fermentation. As per the Poetica practicum, poetry sidles up to the Estate’s flagship white, joined in ’12 by Chief Dan George, the Burrard Inlet, B.C. Tsleil-Waututh Nation chief. The Little Big Man (Old Lodge Skins) academy-award winning actor and poet penned “Keep a Few Embers From the Fire.” The final line “for a new life in a changed world” alludes to the Poetica’s destiny, affirmed by the success of this vintage. When it is released in the Spring of 2015, it will strike an immediate accord with tasters and consumers alike because it is markedly more accessible than previous vintages. Rich and unctuous, it is neither as tropical nor as misunderstood as Poeticas that have come before. Focus is laser sharp, balance is key and integration realized. The level of osmosis in its parts is just awesome. Though reductive, power will propel this Poetica to parts native and familiar, with élan in evolution. Tannins are great but certainly yet spun by sunburst. In 20 years time, words will describe this Poetica as best ever. That much is certain.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($69.95, WineAlign)

An all estate, indigenous and inoculated Icewine, even if it were not thought possible to do so. Spoons out pure raspberry and apricot distillate, this Cabernet Franc is a product of happily fermented yeast because of a clean, natural and healthy vineyard. Bacteria neither takes a prominent seat nor dominates in the fermentation. Plenty of nutrition (or just enough, depending on the angle) is available in the fermentative state and then again in barrel. No trouble will come running. No Brettanomyces nor acetic negativity can survive. There is orange, pomegranate molasses and cinnamon stick in here. Goes straight to the cavity, with sugars and acidity set on high, along with structure and length. Really as good as Cabernet Franc gets in the idiom and finishes alternatively, distinctly dry. Will not turn Bretty like some older vintages. A thinker of clean, clean Icewine thoughts, from a desert of fermentation to realize a dessert garden of eden. I took a sip and “I got taken away, by a heavenly host, to a heavenly place.”  Tasted December 2014

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Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

Dusty the Burrowing Owl Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Dusty the Burrowing Owl
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

The Burrowing Owl Vineyard portfolio is a big one, in varietal scope and in style. That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.

A second point of interest centres on the winery being at the forefront of a captive breeding program to help the endangered Burrowing Owl in British Columbia. Fundraising at the winery has helped make possible a recovery program to reestablish them in the Okanagan. The natural grassland habitats available to the owls comprises less than one per cent of the province. It’s a matter of burrows. Agriculture and civilization are taking away their space. Why save the owl? Because they are different – they nest in underground burrows rather than in cavities or in the branches of trees and they are often active in broad daylight. The winery’s co-operation is an example of the landowner’s stewardship agreements needed to ensure the owl’s survival.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl was started by Jim Wyse and its location in one of North America’s most diverse ecosystems is the source of one of the wine world’s most constant preoccupations. Caring for wildlife and wine don’t also coincide but they do at BO. Jim’s son Chris is now at the head of the portfolio. Wyse brought the show to Toronto Fine Wine Reserve along with their Ontario agent, Le Sommelier.

The Burrowing Owl wines do not shrink away from tasters, are not shy and to a bottle show their strength in elicitation. They are wines that give a hoot and leave a zaftig impression. Their strengths travel from big to bigger but in the end, after tasting nine examples, palate fatigue is not an issue. Balance is struck across the portfolio, as is diversity and a shared private moment. Thanks to Bernard Stramwasser, Jan Didriksen and of course, Chris Wyse. Here are 12 Burrowing Owl wines tasted in November at the FWR and at the LCBO Media lab for VINTAGES releases.

Burrowing Owl Vineyard Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Vineyard
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Calliope Figure 8 Red 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (324582, $17.95, WineAlign)

For all intents and purposes this is Okanagan Syrah, in content (75 per cent), protein (meat and smoke) and cool climate aromatics (mint, eucalyptus and graphite). The (25 per cent) Merlot component adds little to nothing, save for mellow softening. That, or the simple fact of what four years of age will elucidate fruit made to simply please from the get go. Elevation may have once made a terse statement but is now resolved with an easy-going temperament. At this time the Calliope is a slice of sweet, tart and savoury cherry pie, at once “revved up like a deuce,” but now just “another runner in the night.” Still, at $18, painted and abrasive, it can leave one blinded by the light. Still has the legs to make it through the night.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Malbec 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00 – B.C.)

The fruit comes from the southern reaches, near Osoyoos Lake. The Malbec differs from the other reds; it’s both stoic and pleasant, easy on the olfactory and gustatory senses. So very red, in direct proportion for smell and taste, of berries, in plum, for tea and spices. In condition of being a Burrowing Owl red, it tightens late but takes longer to not play nice, to turn away from its easy-going ways. Extended leisure time prevents an early turn to reach deeper into the bed of intensity and so this Malbec finishes more abruptly with shorter length than the others.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (208694, $33.95, WineAlign)

Intimates warm sunshine but can’t hide from its cool nights. An element of periodic surprise wafts straight up and grabs the little nose hairs by the tips, tugs and then lets go. Hatchoo. Wisps green apple skin, daikon radish and a metal tang. Full on fruit-mineral-earthy expression. Big Chardonnay as ripe as its gets for the Okanagan but carries a hefty (though you might ponder an inordinate exorbitance of 14.5 per cent abv) with relative ease. Goes on at length, about what, I do not yet know, but I’m willing to hang in there for 5-7 years to find out.  Tasted September and November 2014

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585737, $40.95, WineAlign)

The softest and only downy wine in the Burrowing Owl lot, elegant, pure, ripe and yet intimately Merlot. Just a minor crack of the whip shudders on the back-end, indicating some minor tannic matters that are yet to be resolved. Three more years of attitude reducing time will fully complete this ’10’s adjunct necessity. Though it’s not the most dusty of Merlots, nor masculine neither, overall it’s bright and vibrant.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (556613, $40.95, WineAlign)

The hot climate, sandy soil and water-deprivation all combine to intensify Burrowing Owl’s Pinot Noir, like desert fruit in a Sonoran landscape. It exhibits extreme unction in high tones; of cherry extraction, blanketed warmth and west coast favour. Sun, ripeness and a full hand scooping through the olive tart. Has heft and flavours in abundance, of rich plum treacle, like Christmas cake in Pinot Noir form. The angles are all on the back end, in voluminous, hydrated granules of gravelly fruit. The Black Sage vineyard runs through, infiltrating every pore. Crazy, overblown and over the top.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent 73072, $41.95, WineAlign)

Here there lists a depth of intensity, from out of a vintage that gave cause for struggle and the necessity in fortitude. Richly layered, full on red fruit, smoky, smouldering and mired in solder. Iron wine, on a horse, from out of the sinking depths of deep, deep sand. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “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 because “everything has got to be just like you want it to.”  Last tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (349019, $43.95, WineAlign)

The Owl’s ’12 Cabernet Franc is first real-time proof in magnified proportion of the true savour of the magnanimous red line up. This is the wine that proves the varietal transparency, the wise and sage terroir that all the wines can’t help but put on display for the world to engage. Cabernet Franc that is distinct, popping, bracing and very physical.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Athene 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (371336, $44.95, WineAlign)

A co-fermented, single tank Syrah (60 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40) blend from vineyards in Oliver and Osoyoos. A generously oaked, eerily Barossan mimicked concoction that spent 18 months in 40 per cent new French and American barrels. The vanilla, chocolate, mocha, lavender and coconut shake texture and waft is uncompromising and concomitant. Burrowing Owl’s experimentations indicated that co-fermentation leaves a desired effect, much more so than separate vinification. While it’s a rich, hooting, wild-eyed and shivery red, this shows more elegance than the solo Syrah. It’s a different sort of intensity, of sage, Cassis and graphite, but also a sandy grit liquified. Shorter too and admissable as evidence of heavy blending, as a shrewd companion of heroes and a goddess of heroic endeavour.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

The Meritage ’10 has integrated in niceties, settled into domesticated, symbiotic grips with its varietal relationships. Though it may have struggled earlier on, it has now entered its period of glory. The pitchy brood on the back palate persists, wrapped in strength to strength from texture and through structure. Epitomizes the attitude of a Burrowing Owl red. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.”  Last tasted November 2014

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