It’s all been red before

Flat Iron steak, blood orange, scallion and chile

Flat Iron steak, blood orange, scallion and chile

At a major Burgundy tasting yesterday I tasted 18 whites and just three reds. Gasp! With the weather and the heaviness of winter still stuck to the bones it just can’t be helped. White wine is working right now.

Related – Whites of passage

So today reds it is and reds it will be, as it has been before. Tomorrow I’ll likely return to white once again. That’s all I have to say about that. Just reviews today folks. Mostly from the VINTAGES April 18th release coming this Saturday.

From left to right: M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013, Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2013, Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010, Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012 and Quail's Gate Pinot Noir 2013

From left to right: M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013, Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2013, Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010, Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012 and Quail’s Gate Pinot Noir 2013

M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013, Ac Languedoc-Roussillon, France (168716, $15.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Perennial stalwart, especially considering the big box price. There is just so much going on in this veritable melting pot of character and boundless potential, right from the word sniff. Certainly modern and ripe but also layered with brush, scrub, duff, roots and rocks. A touch of briny salinity merges to liquorice and then there are the tannins woven with acidity. The length is a given. Lots of earth, plenty of smoulder and priced to case joint after LCBO joint. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines  @LaRegionLR

Le Cirque Carignan/Mourvèdre/Syrah 2013, Vin De Pays Des Côtes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (277079, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

A depth into earth crusts the dark fruit from wise old vines. Fresh and spring run sappy, from heat to be sure but in classic waves and stretches emanating from a floral, aromatic beginning. The bumble berry traffic jam in the middle is not enough to render it done at that point, despite its inability to avoid working up a sweat towards a woven textured finish. The citrus accent adds enough grain to see it through four more good years. Easy to love, hard to miss and smart to give it a try. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @GBvins  @LaRegionLR

Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010, Elquí Valley, Chile (208371, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Meaty, smoked, cured, reduced, reactionary, reductive, brambly, sappy, syrupy and still warm after the kill. All of these elucidations and more. Coconut and flowers meld in creamy waves within the muscular girth, sinewy grit and confident gumption of this high altitude, cool-climate Syrah. A huge varietal expression, like Barossa in a sausage factory, masculine, testosterone-driven, with layers upon layers of fruit, earth, game, pork belly, pepper and tannin. Not to mention raging acidity. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @FalerniaWine  @ProfileWineGrp @DrinkChile

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Lodi, California (942599, $20.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Nearly a quarter of Petite Sirah blends into this (mostly) Lodi wizened vines fruit sourced out of San Joaquin County. Old vines are Zinfandel’s caché thing. The gnarly, petrified plants reach deeper underground and when the interstices of terroir and climate are in accord, the texture imparted by tannin is key. The ’12 Old Vines is a product of a maker (Joel Peterson), plot (Lodi) and conditions (cool and exceptional for the variety). Here a bottle to help define and divine Lodi. Elegance in as much as is possible, juicy in fruit in as much as can be found through texture and balance in so far as can be sheltered. Fresh is ascertained further along (as opposed to dry) on the spectrum, chewy of flesh, but not bone, silky and seductive. High quality Zinfandel in every respect. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted March 2015  @RavenswoodWine  @CBrandsCareers  @TheZinfandelOrg

Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012, Mclaren Vale, South Australia (377069, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Nothing about the source, treatment or specs on this Shiraz scream elegance or restraint but it’s “cool and slow with plenty of precision, with a back beat narrow and hard to master.” Four premium vineyards of mature vines between 20-40 years of age have laid a deeply drawn foundation. McLaren Vale sunshine has given it warmth (14.5 per cent alcohol). Individual lots spending 15 months in small French Oak barrels before being blended together has imparted creamy texture. Added up this might have forced the Titan through the doors to heavy burden. Not so. Dusty, rich, dried fruits and herbage merge seamlessly together. Smoke lodge and graphite, berries, back bite and beat fall into great structure. Big time McLaren Vale that does not sting like a wasp, nor is it a bully. Say what you will but “call it heavenly in it’s brilliance…soft drivin’, slow and mad, like some new language.” Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015    @southaustralia

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585760, $26.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

In 2013 there is warmth all around; in vintage, fruit, alcohol, tannin and overall character. Much in the way of cherries, black liquorice, pepper and spice. Tilled earth but in no way bespattered or hazy. Fleshy and ripe, of a depth with bitter fathered tones that bite yet fall back in line with misty fun fruit times in Babylon. The upholstering is rewarding though it finishes with some brute stuffing. A warm reclining Pinot Noir for sure. The kind that makes me want to “smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved.” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @Quails_Gate  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco  @winebcdotcom

From left to right: Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013, Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2012, Illahe Pinot Noir 2013, Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011, Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2009 and Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

From left to right: Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013, Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2012, Illahe Pinot Noir 2013, Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011, Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2009 and Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013, Loire, France (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

There is Cabernet Franc, there is Samur and then there is Thierry Germain. Though a more intense single-vineyard bottle might render this one pedestrian, does it matter when the discussion involves biodynamic, 108 year-old, un-grafted, pre-phylloxera vines? The wow aromas and dense, dripping, liquid chalky, if intimidating texture is managed by wild sage, ancillary and marbled currants and acidity through the gambrel. The 2013 yield must have come in wild-eyed because while seemingly circular, in finished form it is a linear composition in diagrams intertwined. Not out of focus and will admittedly confuse a consumer or ten but if you can keep up with the changing gears the experience will be rewarding. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted October 2014 and March 2015  @rochesneuves  @GroupeSoleilTO  @LoireValleyWine

Domaines Des Roches Neuves 2013

Domaine Des Roches Neuves 2013

Red Rooster Reserve Merlot 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (408963, $29.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Remarkably ripe and to the point of extract distraction in Merlot. A vintage-driven, heat days harnessed expression, all about fruit, with kisses from extended maceration and oak. Chewy, dense, rib-sticking red that cries for same in gastronomy. An air dominating smoulder and plenty of basting are sticky upon the mid-palate, a comfort to hold onto in median possession. This density lingers and delays before submitting to the salty lick of bitter denouement. One shouldn’t miss this near-decadent beauty even if the style agitates or aggravates fears of thick brushstroke style. This has five extended years ahead, at the least. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015  @PellerVQA  @winebcdotcom

Illahe Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon (403154, $31.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Chinook speak for “land, earth or soil,” that agglomeration is both calling card and impression left after a taste. When Pinot Noir from Oregon has that pointedly Willamette combination of super terram flora and subterranean salinity it speaks with clarity, however light and un-muscular it may be. One senses a drawn sapid tang from ancient burrowed riverbeds that crawl feel below the surface. Strawberry is the key fruit note but Burgundy is the desire. This reminds of yesterday’s Ponzi and Lemelson, but also today’s Johnson Vineyard, albeit on a frame less taut. The complexity may not equate but the subtlety exceeds those comparisons. It hits just the right piercing notes because it’s shrill is just so pretty. The grain running through is arid, zestful and saline. This has terrific citrus interwoven through texture and the 12.5 per cent alcohol is something to embrace. Were Lewis, Clark and Curtis in search of fine Pinot at the end of an expedition day, this would have been the one. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @illahevineyards  @wvwine

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (402651, $49.00, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Wow does this exuberant Kevin Judd Pinot Noir ever excite. The intensity of juicy calibrations and echoes, like breathtaking mountain peaks mirrored in the reflections of ancient lakes. Glassy and refractive, replaying upon itself, like a whirlpool of ocean tide. Silky like bean thread, transparent and glossy. A tug posits between cherry and anti-cherry. Layers of dried flowers and savoury accents. Accessible and worthy of a place in the deep cellar. Long and entirely special. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @Greywacke   @greywacker  @oenophilia1  @nzwine

Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2009, Ac Burgundy, France (121319, $52.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Interesting to see this 2009 released after the ’10, a vintage that had many swooning. This ’09 is charming and unbelievably accessible. It may strike some as bygone-evolved, ancient history even, but ripe fruit matched by silky tannins will dupe even the most experienced palate. Here the Beaune’s beauty is upfront, outgoing, warm, inviting and flirtatious. What a gorgeous layering of fresh berries and creamy, sweet redolence. Very feminine, fleshy and gregarious. The back end shows a little bit of tension, further proof that this Boucherottes has spine and time left in the till. Distinguished and wondrous as Jadot gets, ready to please and stuffed to last. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted March 2015  @ljadot  @HalpernWine  @BourgogneWines

Concha Y Toro

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $70.00, WineAlign)

VINTAGES Online Exclusive

The 2010 Don Melchor harkens backwards, to years like 2001 and 2003, rephrasing and rewriting the paradigmatic book. From seven contiguous, sub-divided blocks of Cabernet, the ’10 speaks most highly of Lot Two, emphasized by chocolate, menthol and mineral, in cohorts with Lot Four, in elegance and depth. Extended glom and time-lapse picking between April 22 and May 27 was the casualty turned blessing of a cooler growing season in the semi-arid Mediterranean-like scrub desert of Puente Alto. The alluvial motion hauteur of slow-ripened fruit can’t be overestimated. The frame by frame capture has resulted in aromatics wafting off the charts; violet, anise, roasting cocoa bean, garrigue, ferric filings, mortar on wet stone, Cassis and eucalyptus. There is no heat, rendering the 14.6 declared alcoholic irrelevant. Best of all, it smells like Chile as much as it does Cabernet. There is no need to discuss the (97 per cent) CS in terms of Bordeaux, that is until you taste. Then the tobacco angst and silky texture elicit Margaux. Black currants and fine chocolate melt on the finish, still with a mouthful of stones. For winemaker Enrique Tirado, this may be his “El opus.” It will age effortlessly for 12-15 years. For anyone who purchased this wine more than 10 vintages ago, comparing current cost can be a byproduct in natural preoccupation. Who would not want a return to the sub-$50 Don Melchor going back a decade or more? Yet while tasting the present decimus, $100 crosses the fiscal mind and seems completely apropos. At $70 the clarity and sonority of its value is the blazon of an epistle. Few Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines from Bordeaux or Napa Valley can compare. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @conchaytoro  @MikeAikins1  @DrinkChile

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Is Kosher wine being passed over?

From left to right: Hermon Mount Hermon White Kp 2013, Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2013, Segal's Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2011, Galil Mountain Pinot Noir Kp 2012 and Tabor Adama Merlot Kp 2010

From left to right: Hermon Mount Hermon White Kp 2013, Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2013, Segal’s Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2011, Galil Mountain Pinot Noir Kp 2012 and Tabor Adama Merlot Kp 2010

Passover is the hardest working holiday in Jew business. Trust me, I know. Having spent 20 years cooking professionally for the eight-day week commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, I know the trials, tribulations and strict adherence that must be followed to satisfy the Jewish soul. I have also followed the Kosher for Passover wine evolution for equally as long. I have spent time deliberating about the feast without yeast. It’s a fascinating study.

In 2012 I noted that “recommending wines that are Kosher for Passover used to be similarly daunting, (a science and an art unto itself), but the field has certainly improved.

Related – KP Duty – Kosher For Passover Wines

In 2013, optimism increased and I wrote, “a Jew’s worst, ’11th plague’ wine nightmare, the nights of suffering through cooked and stewed dry table wines, is (mostly) a thing of the past. I’m not suggesting that the golden age is upon us, but you may want to don the shades. The future is bright for Passover Kosher wine.”

The rules for Passover wines begin with the basic tenets. “All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are Kosher, but not all Kosher wines are Kosher for Passover. Kosher for Passover wine must be handled by Sabbath-observant Orthodox Jews and the wine can never come into contact with any leavening (grain, dough, bread) products, including yeast.” For the full story, read on.

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

In 2014 I spent more time taking about the individual’s choice on how they go about observing the laws of Passover. Passover wine is particularly specific to a Jew’s level of Kosher. From Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox, all Jews have different variances of belief. A Reform Jew will likely drink any wine on Passover and then again, may not. But, he or she will almost certainly not require the bottle to be Meshuval. A Conservative may only drink Meshuval but in more cases than not, Kosher is good enough. An Orthodox Jew goes it only one way, or the highway. Strictly Meshuval KFP, do not pass go, do not collect Afikoman (the broken Matzah) money.” In last year’s post I discussed the recent trend towards bigger and bolder Passover reds, so read on.

Related – Passover that big glass of red

In the 2013 column I made five recommendations for the Passover table from a longer list laid out for tasting by the LCBO. At least eight were offered (and I seem to remember more, spread across more than one VINTAGES release). At that time the press release made mention “of the 33 seasonal products being released through the LCBO and VINTAGES in time for Passover, 26 are new listings, featuring traditional kosher wines, fortified wines, dessert wines and sparkling wines.” Thirty-three? Impressive number.

In 2014, the LCBO release said this. “In time for Passover, which begins on April 14, the LCBO is adding 27 seasonal releases to an already diverse selection of kosher products. In addition to the approximately 40 kosher products available throughout the year, a mixture of new listings and familiar favorites is being released through the LCBO and VINTAGES to coincide with Passover.” The number presented in the tasting lab for media and product consultants was down from 2013, but still a solid set of wines to try. Things were looking up again.

The eve of Passover and first Seder night is only a week away and yet the 2015 press release from the LCBO came out just yesterday. Preparing for the Passover festival, dinner and eight days of transforming homes into Kosher safe houses takes weeks of forethought. That includes buying wine. I can think of no reason why the press release could not have been prepared a week earlier. It would have been helpful to many.

For those who need to know, varied quantities of Kosher products are available in more than 500 LCBO stores across the province, with the largest selection available at three GTA stores: 180 Promenade Circle (Promenade Mall) in Thornhill, 1838 Avenue Road (south of Wilson Avenue) and 675 Wilson Avenue in North York.

There are 42 wines labeled Kosher for Passover on the current inventory list from the LCBO’s website. Some are older releases and so low in stock that they don’t really count at all. The true number is more like 30. The March 26th press release notes that 43 products are available year round and that “a mixture of new listings and familiar favorites is being released through LCBO and VINTAGES to coincide with Passover.” The marketing department is not hiding anything. Transparency is not the issue. That only five wines were purchased and presented to product consultants and media in time for in store consumer consultation, as well as print and online Passover promotion, is curious to say the least. All five offerings are from the Galilee. What about the Judean Hills, Samson, the Negev and Shomron? Azureau Wine Agency has at least four or five quality wines available for Passover not currently in the LCBO coffers and yet they are all wines that had been purchased in the past. Why the snub?

Why has the pursuit of quality and quantity in Passover wine decreased instead of the opposite? Despite the growth worldwide and the dramatic increases in global quality and Passover wine sales, might it be that the LCBO has decided to drop the ball? Perhaps the feeling is that Passover wine was a trend whose time has come and gone.

So I asked some questions and the LCBO was very gracious to send me a list of all the Kosher products that were purchased and subsequently released in the past two months, in preparation for Passover. Seeing the list certainly shows that more credit is deserved for the support for the niche but three questions persisted to nag at me. I pointed out to the representative in charge of Kosher wines how the list notes products released on various dates which coincided with VINTAGES releases. Then I asked if there was there a reason why only the March 21st Israeli release items were presented to media and PC’s and also and how was the public informed of these releases?

It was explained that “the Kosher program is more akin to LCBO categories.  It’s not really part of the VINTAGES brand. Some of theses (Kosher) auxiliary purchases are only 30 to 40 cases with direct distribution to locations with major kosher kiosks. Customers who shop the kosher section in stores like Promenade in Thornhill or the Wilson and Dufferin location basically discover new products among the regulars while shopping in-store.” The idea is that only the five Israeli Kosher wines are marketed because they are “for wine lovers whether they keep kosher or not.” I have heard that point of view before. It’s wishful thinking. Show me a wine lover who buys Kosher wine at the LCBO but does not keep Kosher and I’ll show you a wine lover who eats nothing but stew. If higher quality wines were on offer, the philosophy might strike a more believable accord.

The end result of my interaction with the LCBO rep. was a suggestion that they might consider organizing a media tasting for more of the Kosher portfolio. Despite the extreme niche market that is KFP wines, the idea makes sense considering the size of Ontario’s (and especially Toronto’s) Jewish community and the amount of those types of wines that are purchased every year. A tasting would make even more sense if it involved any of the hundreds of high quality Kosher wines that are never seen in this market but are so prevalent in a place like New York State.

I spoke yesterday with a former Ontario agent who at one time was a leading importer of Israeli wines. Many of the wineries represented through his portfolio are no longer on LCBO shelves. Why is that I asked him? The answer is that the wines were too expensive for the LCBO and they gave up wanting to take the risk of trying to sell them. After Passover comes and goes, left over stock means for product that won’t move.

Selling quality KFP wines is now left to a handful of sacramental agents like Mazel Wines and Simcha Wines. Though they are required to sell by the case (like every other Ontario importer), the other eye is turned at the practice of selling single bottles. Why? Because they pose no threat to LCBO sales. Their customers are walking away with product the LCBO has no interest in selling. The wines in question are those the LCBO would rather not touch. They have washed their hands of the $40+ Kosher market and never had a true vested interest in Kedem and Manischewitz in the first place.

It is understood that buyers change and also that Israeli stubbornness translates to no offer of discounts, even to the world’s largest wine buyer. Quality wines from Eretz are no longer coming to Ontario and no one seems to really care. If there is no mandate to buy them, no one will. It’s quite simple. Yet in recent years it seemed as though the LCBO cared more about a certain level of quality in the KFP niche. In 2015, these wines are out of sight and out of mind.

Maybe part of the problem is the lack of Kosher wine production in Canada. If wineries and consumers across the country are not interested, why should anyone else bother?

There have been some informative Kosher wine investigations in Canada, though certainly few and far between. Brock University hosted Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, a Rabbinic Coordinator with the Kashruth Division of the Orthodox Union for his presentation, “Demystifying Kosher Winemaking” on Monday, Dec. 12, 2012.

This time last year Mark Mietkiewicz of the Canadian Jewish News discussed the “eclectic tour of kosher wineries.” Mietkiewicz noted that sadly, (if not entirely accurate), the only true Kosher winery across Canada is located in Newfoundland. “You’ll have to travel about hour west of St. John’s until you reach Rodrigues Winery of Markland, Nfld. There, you’ll find its certified kosher blueberry, plum, cranberry and other fruit wines, liqueurs and brandies.” Rodrigues is represented in Ontario by Amethyst Wines Agency.

The best source for Canadian Kosher wines can be found on the Wines of Canada website. Two wineries in Ontario had joined Rodriguez in Kosher wine production, albeit with fruit and honey. They are Rush Creek and Munro Meadery. Rush Creek has changed ownership, however, and it seems that Kosher is no longer on the table. Munro continues with their COR certification. In Quebec, Domaine Pinnacle produces a Kosher Iced Cider. In British Columbia, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, while not Kosher, does produce a Kosher wine. It’s an uncooked $100 Tiferet.

Here are the five wines presented for evaluation by the LCBO. None really qualify as exceptional but all will work with distinction at the Seder table.

Hermon Mount Hermon White Kp 2013, Galilee, Israel (611327, $20.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

While this pseudonymous John Doe white varietal blend may not quite effect the idea of “puttin’ your hand in the hand of the man from-a Galilee,” it does offer an ocean of somewhat descriptive aromas to elicit a sip. Quite lactic, creamy and nondescript in terms of flavours. Well-made, though the guess at varietal make-up (Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier…) doesn’t really matter. There is a capsicum bite and a grassy chew. So when all is said and done, it’s got “enough of what it takes to get you through.” Drink 2015-2017  Tasted March 2015

Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2013, Galilee, Israel (283838, $20.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

Not to be confused with Oregon’s volcanic cinder cone, the city park on the volcano, and the neighborhood of Southeast Portland. This “small drum” (from the Latin), in consideration of its proximity to the cradle of civilization should constitute it being the original Mount Tabor. Tabor the mountain is situated on the border of Zebulun and Issachar, south-west of the Sea of Galilee (Joshua 19:22). There is no Hebrew word for the name Tabor but the likely etymology is from the verb ברר (barar), meaning to purge, purify or clean. So, what about the Cabernet Sauvignon? Another extreme and extracted expression from red fruit, with leather and rich blackberries atop Ugah Kushit. Some may count rubber reduction while others will simply feel the heat. The tannin and overall structure remind of Graves in a hot vintage. A funky green streak, like tea mixed with tobacco are part of the complexity, then more tobacco and more than decent length. This is a good choice for the shank and the rack. Drink 2015-2018.  @TaborWinery  @azureau

Segal’s Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2011, Galilee Heights,  Israel (157206, $22.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

Red gelid fruits are floating with viscous separation in simple syrup and oozing to the perimeter. That outer circle is bricking to caramel. Hanging on, but just barely.

From my earlier note of March 2013: Though muted is quite pleasant, aromatically speaking. Baking spice, woodsmoke, cherry and plum, like satellite St. Emilion. Scarlet colour, as if derived from Tola’At Shani. Dusty and down-grain, no cooked sensation, well-structured.

Last tasted March 2015.

Galil Mountain Pinot Noir Kp 2012, Galilee, Israel (121228, $22.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

Levity afforded for the sheer reason of ripe fruit. High octane Pinot is never a wise proposition but when the barrel lends spice and not a sheath of layer cake, that’s a positive. A warm west coast California style to be sure, with more than enough lavender cream to grease a squeaky canoli and then the rise of gaseous puddles blown by pipe smoke. Then there are the battling Epping Forests; of cedar and pine. Rich, spicy, smoky and forceful. Very ripe. Overripe and over extracted. Ready for prime time and with tannins that mean business. Just having entered its window of genesis, perhaps it would fare best next year when supper is ready in Jerusalem, “or, today is the day when they sort it out, sort it out.” Call it a draw. “So the Blackcap Barons toss a coin to settle the score.” Good enough. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted March 2015  @azureau

Tabor Adama Merlot Kp 2010, Galilee, Israel (400820, $26.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

He’s a wild one this Merlot and has come of age though he’s a bit licentious, carrying a load of liqueur and chewing on liquorice. Ferric and sugary red to black fruit melds with tubers grainy and cooked in a muddy cake with scorched earth buttercream icing. Prunes, figs and raisins are chopped into a mire poix and stuck in the frosting. Caramel time is here. Will work for Brisket. Drink as soon as possible. Drink now.  Tasted March 2015  @TaborWinery

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WineAlign guide to VINTAGES April 4th and Easter recipes

Lamb Ribs by Barque Smokehouse

Lamb Ribs by Barque Smokehouse

On January 18, 2013 I began adding wine reviews to WineAlign. Review ground zero was Mallory & Benjamin Talmard Mâcon Uchizy 2010, an inauspicious little Burgundy described in “the coat of white.” A Genesis of great #ffffff value.” Beginnings, Genesis, ground zero. The Godello thing.

Two plus years and 2,023 reviews later much has changed. The wisest of wine scribes David Lawrason and WineAlign head wineaux Bryan McCaw asked if I would like to become a part of the April 4th, VINTAGES release newsletter and buyer’s guide. With renaissance banzai and Master Sommelier John Szabo leading the charge, along with most generous guidance and help from cake baker and palate extraordinaire Sara d’Amato, I have joined the fray.

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part One

This week’s guide leads WineAlign subscribers to Easter Lamb and red wine, plus pre-dinner whites and a glass for dessert. The three recipes cover everything  you could possibly want at your table on the resurrection weekend. The recipes are for Traditional Easter lamb by John, Moroccan lamb loin chops by Chef Michael Pataran and Barque‘s smoked lamb ribs.

Here is what John wrote in his introduction of me. “If at first you don’t understand Michael’s reviews, just drop a couple of hits of acid, smoke a joint or put on some classic 70s tunes and they’ll all make more sense. Maybe.” The irony is that amongst the seven wines I contributed to the newsletter I made only one musical reference. Oh, and one to the Grand Budapest. So, maybe you will understand them. Maybe.

From left to right: Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013, Stéphane Aviron Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011, Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Fielding Estate Viognier 2013, Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010 and Mendel Malbec 2011

From left to right: Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013, Stéphane Aviron Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011, Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Fielding Estate Viognier 2013, Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010 and Mendel Malbec 2011

Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013, DOC Vinho Verde, Portugal (405217, $16.95, WineAlign)

A highly unique Vinho Verde that works as a sipper and as a solid, pair me with just about anything table wine. Savoury and blessed with a Bica de Queijo cheese aroma, you’ll be glad you gave it a swirl and a whiff. There is nothing shinking or violaceous about this. It’s medicinal like Moscato, toasty like Pouilly-Fumé and gangly like Garganega. Citrus juice and flesh add body and beautify its inherent male pattern baldness. Perhaps a bit of a river fish of a Vinho Verde but very fresh and a great catch. This Arinto will tie appetizers together and buy time until the bird, hock or shank is on the table with the feast’s big reds. Drink from 2015-2017.  Tasted March 2015  @vinhosverdes  @exCellarsWines

Stéphane Aviron Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011, AC Beaujolais, Burgundy, France (405779, $21.95, WineAlign)

Old vines and Fleurie scream holiday dinner wine in my books. Here struts out where it’s at Gamay from a terrific Cru, of maturity, chutzpah and depth. Bang on 13 per cent alcohol, most mature and munificent, so very forward and yet of a depth, richness and layering in fruit meeting acids. Black cherry with an accent of mint, sour citrus drop and blueberry. A minor chalky grain, just enough to evoke oak tenderness, but not enough to be cut by splinters. Very Burgundian, where it’s at and even better length. Talk about a red wine that could equally double down for the Easter and Passover table. Gamay that swings both ways, AC/DC, “it’s got two turntables and a microphone.” Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @DiscoverBojo  @warren_walden

Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Ahr, Germany (409649, $21.95, WineAlign)

Ahr Pinot Noir (as opposed to those from Germany’s Baden region) are just that much more accessible and wider table friendly. That’s because of volcanic soil and older vines like you find in this Qualitätswein. The fruit is richer, the cure more refined, the flavours full and the wine structurally sound. Give this some air and the roast swine will make an entry, with intoxicating aromas, balanced by earthy notes, ripe plums and berries. Structurally sound, the ripeness continues into a fleshy cure of wurst with good bite. The citrus tang is round and barkless. No matter the colour of your braise or roast, this Pinot Noir will compliment the hue. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted March 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @WinesofGermany

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $24.95, WineAlign)

So orderly and aligned, from ripe picked fruit with fervent acidity and all proportions in perfect working order. Four months in bottle has settled only worked to reinforce positive opinions. Grassless and flinty but no discernible elemental vagary, certainly no sulphur. This Sauvignon Blanc may just be the most consistent in every vintage, not only stylistically but also for the hedging of probability bets for guaranteed Marlborough quality. This is a superb vintage for the pied-à-terre phraseology. Like school in fall, winter and spring, the Dog Point is all class. Drink from 2015-2024.

From my earlier note of November 2014:

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.

Last tasted March 2015  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON  @nzwine

Barque Smokehouse Lamb Ribs - Spring 2014

Barque Smokehouse Lamb Ribs – Spring 2014

Fielding Estate Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142323, $25.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Richie Roberts has worked tirelessly with Viognier to find out where it fits into the lexicon and ambience of Niagara Peninsula white grape varieties. The 2013 vintage marks a turning point in his and by extension, all of our understanding. The tropical fruit is now reigned in and the tension on the back bite a perfect foil to that well-judged, rich fruit. Trumps the layered ’12 with a new, aerified floraility that gives it more prototypal Viognier style. Short of leaving fruit to hang into late harvest (not recommended for the variety) this is like being wrapped in banana leaf along side young bamboo. Sip it joyously on its own or bring on the Easter Rijsttafel and a strolling procession down the cuisine of Kho San Road.  Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010, Ac Graves, Bordeaux, France (235424, $27.95, WineAlign)

Who wouldn’t want to find a well-priced and expertly made Bordeaux to accompany an Easter feast? The abstraction is not as easy as it may have once been but once in a Paschal full moon a wine comes along and affords the opportunity. Stately structured, mid-range Graves that is so very much a combination of Cabernets. It reeks of currants, cool mint, Cassis, caramel and chocolatey oak. Kept shy in alcohol (13 per cent) and heat, the tannins are mildly grainy and though just a touch oxidative, it is a a most serviceable, generous and honest Bordeaux. From a workingman’s vintage of the century. This Graves will seal the Easter deal with its cool savour and chocolate hops. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted March 2015  @BordeauxWines  @ProfileWineGrp

Mendel Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (108225, $27.95, WineAlign)

On the rare occasion when a Mendoza Malbec exhibits restraint, balance and all around congenial behaviour, it is imperative to sit up and take notice. This is finely fashioned juice, albeit rich, smokey red fruit swathed in good quality chocolate and a late kick of spice. Suppose there’s nothing really wrong with that. The Mendel will seduce, hypnotize and cause general swooning. Like a Grand Budapest Hotel box of treats, it will sooth even the savage beast. Ripe tannins will make this drinkable now to 2020. Tasted March 2015  @MendelWines  @TrialtoON  @winesofarg

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Value the first wine of spring

Lake yet frozen, March 18, 2015

Lake not yet defrosted, March 18, 2015

The lake remains frozen though stepping foot upon its precarious ice flow would not be recommended. By this time next week the waves will concuss the gelid islands and slowly deliquesce them down into the frigid water. As of this Saturday spring will have officially come to southern Ontario and with it a whole new outlook on life.

If you ask my colleague Rick VanSickle, the spring of 2015 will mean the boot up to overhaul the future of wine and craft beer sales in Ontario. According to VanSickle, “there is a brave new world coming for the retailing beer and wine in Ontario. These are heady times. Behind closed doors a lot of discussion is happening, a lot of debate and planning is going on in advance of the day Wynne’s Liberal government utters those words many of us have  longed to hear for so long: An end to the LCBO and Beer Store monopolies on wine and beer in Ontario.”

For Rick’s full report on his site WinesInNiagara, please click here:

Brave New World: How the new model for beer and wine retailing in Ontario could look

I read Rick VanSickle’s work on a regular basis and I know him to be as pragmatic and as skeptical as they come. I doubt very much that Rick would get ahead of himself on an issue with so much on the line. Using his ins to gain sagacity from insiders who possess relevant information, VanSickle writes with confidence that Kathleen Wynne has given Ed Clark and his privatization panel carte blanche to effect real change. The consequences of what Rick is predicting are enormous. For consumers, for industry professionals and for writers. We would all have to reconsider and recalibrate the way we approach wine and beer in Ontario.

That is why I remain ever the conspiracy theorist. I remain unconvinced. I see the smoke and mirrors of the entire charade. Even when new licenses are granted, I imagine grocery retailers only selling the largest and most heavily marketed brands. I don’t see VQA wine stores and specialty shops tailored to the demographics of neighbourhoods. I see the LCBO and the Beer Store continuing to exercise their powers of monopoly and controlling how all the changes are implemented. I just do not see the revolution as being imminent and around the corner.

My apologies to you Rick. Your report is thorough and covers everything we need to know. Were these great advances to happen we would all be the beneficiaries but your words sound more like wishes than predictions. Ontario is not Alberta. It never has been and isn’t likely to happen any time soon. I hope I am dead wrong. I will owe you a sit down over a craft beer and a never before seen in Ontario stores bottle of wine if I am. If the revolution is upon us, I will happily count my blessings over one with you.

So, back to the business of reporting on the VINTAGES releases at the LCBO. With spring coming this Saturday so too does an entire new set of wines on shelves. Last week I talked up Riesling and iconic wines.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Related – March 21 big guns

20150317_151442

Almost spring out on the lake

The rest of the March 21st release is expressed in value, in wines that offer serious compensation for what you spend. Wines in generosity of backbone, psyche and enthusiasm. Wines that are simply good, regardless of their cost. Here are notes on nine.

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013, Barrel Fermented, Doca Rioja, Spain (518985, $15.95, WineAlign)

Here barrel fermented Rioja brings a buffet of culinary impressions to the aromatic and gustatory table. Soft scrambled egg and cream in Tortilla Española, Serrano ham, buttery puff pastry, natillas. All would pair well with the hickory stick barrel spice and the slightly volatile tang. Accents of orange juice and rind work the angles, along with the calcified acidity. This Rioja is not shy but it represents good complexity and value for the price.  Tasted March 2015  @Marques_Caceres  @RiojaWine  @DionysusWines

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Docg (375ml), Tuscany, Italy (403824, $16.95, WineAlign)

Kudos must be afforded Castello di Ama for putting CCR in half-bottles. It’s like listening to Green River on vinyl. The layers of texture, nuance, and groove are amplified. The expedited evolution and compact formula make cause for a bottled up compression, a concentration, not a reduction. More winemakers should bottle in the 375 mL container. There are so many reasons for it. Space, quality, half the cost and best of all, nothing left at the end of the night, just the empty bottle. This 2009 has seen its fair share of evolution, with notes of forest floor, truffle, mushroom and compost tea but in certain respects the aromas are old-school Brunello. The antiquity of the composition is nothing but endearing, a romantic comfort zone to give this Ama a sense of place. The wood, bite into sinew and gristle tannins add to the archaic mystique. Most modern imbibers would like more fruit but at this paltry price the complexity is more than enough reward. “Well, take me back down where cool water flow, yeh. Let me remember things I love.” Drink now.  Tasted March 2015  @CastellodiAma  @chianticlassico  @HalpernWine

 

Boutari Grande Reserve 2008

Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Naoussa, Greece (140111, $17.95, WineAlign)

In this Xinomavro there is beauty and bog consistence, like wild calla palustris. Imagine a wine thick as consonants, dense and defined by solid rock bubbling like stew, from out of a marsh. Wood adds intricate layers and a mothering of leather hiding and protecting dried cherries. Game, spice, liquorice, funk and things that heal flavour the wine’s liqueur. Silky smooth with a run of grain and the salinity of ancient longing. Racy acidity intrudes, puts in a charge and takes care to see six to eight years more life will be a guarantee. Easily and possibly 10 will pass before it sheds the chalky loops. Terrific vintage with impressive depth and range of flavour.  Tasted February 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine  @winesofnaoussa

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013, Ac Alsace, France (398172, $18.95, WineAlign)

The resident oenologist at Wolfberger is Bertrand Praz, in charge of the cooperative located in Eguisheim, south of Colmar. As far as a ‘basic’ union Pinot Gris is concerned, this one hits the right marks and preserves proper tradition. It’s both saline and full of pith, with lemon is scrapes and ladles, yet it could very well be thought of as Riesling were it tasted blind. Good ripeness, nothing serious and quite righteous with an intent to carry an Alsace torch of dry, finely crafted Pinot Gris. What’s most important is the statement it makes for what will follow out of the 2013 vintage.  Tasted March 2015  @wolfberger_fr  @Smarent

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac, France (180323, $18.95, WineAlign)

The pause of oxidation. The evidence concrete and stratified, the bite pure and hollow petrified, like into bone and the interval below the organic soil. Crisp cut above the normal. Mouth-filling and expansive. Perfectly bitter. Much lemon, ginger and further spice. Length too.

From my earlier note of April 2014: A southern French (Pyrenean foothills, just south of Carcassonne) blend dominated by the traditional grape variety of Limoux, Mauzac (90 per cent), with support from Chardonnay. The lees is very direct and in your face on this Limoux, the baking aromas strong and the texture quite dense. Citrus and white grapefruit crawl up the middle and aridity mixed with horseradish salt comes through on the finish. Claims territory in viridity of complexity, an acumen for dewiness and is blessed with a marked appeal to hipster fizzters.  @DneJLaurens  @LanguedocWines  @oenophilia1

Last tasted March 2015

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (411595, $24.95, WineAlign)

Twenty three years ago this October the Hip’s third record changed the course of Canadian Pop and Rock music. While this Jeff Hundertmark, Kingston-bred band and Bordeaux blend will not have a similar effect on the Ontario wine industry, it’s certainly not a tragically vinified red. It’s looking for a place to happen, has the wherewithal to age with some grace and the courage to represent Stoney Ridge with power. The wall of sound, smell and taste is achieved through forest compost, bruised berries, melted liquorice, plum flavour and glycerin texture. Hung “long out in the sun,” the pencil graphite and hard acidity is a scratch and a flaw but also a calling card to see this age in the classic Niagara red style. “Either it’ll move me or it’ll move right through me; fully, completely.”  Tasted March 2015  @stoneyridgewine  @WeirRidgeYnmakr  @thehipdotcom  @ImportWineMAFWM

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392738, $29.95, WineAlign)

The passion from the Thomas Bachelder Niagara project has shifted into Domaine Queylus. With no disrespect to Thomas’ eponymous bottling from vineyards so nearby, the quality time has now been granted the Tradition. Here lies Mountainview and Le Petite Colline earth, here crushes Niagara cherries in hand, juice running down a clay caked forearm. Fresh and bright yet streaked by chalk and enveloping brushstroke. Sour? For a flash but in neither malic nor astringent form. This is a must buy.

From my earlier June 2014 note: Reverberates with the unmistakable calling card character of the storied Neudorf family La Petite vineyard with equal and opposite amounts of attraction and new life breathed in by the Lincoln Lakeshore fruit. Ethereally sifted earth of old meets cherries of new. Enriching Pinot Noir, a bit gangling like a primitive young giraffe but near to finding its legs. Hard working red, insistent, confident and having already paid some dirty fingernail dues. Excellent length.

Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin  @Bachelder_wines

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (400051, $34.95, WineAlign)

An intimately affordable Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast fashioned by a family in its 157th year of production is a rarity. Even more so from a cool-climate region oft-marred by the misperception that its Chardonnay are fat, buttery, over-oaked fruit bombs. From fruit grown on the Rhinefarm Estate Vineyard on southwest slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, eight miles north of San Pablo Bay. Consider the antonymous solecism of zero per cent malolactic fermentation and you will see where this (20 per cent new) barrel fermented Chardonnay has come from and where it is going. Weekly battonage compresses and stirs up texture. Fog plays its part on the cool slopes of Huichica clay loam soils mixed in with gravel deposits. Acidity is preserved, hitting a classic number on top of healthy (14 plus per cent) alcohol. This is not a small Chardonnay. It stretches its legs and walks like a giant but not in 80’s or 90’s acid washed jeans or big hair ways. This is Chardonnay that leads in style and confidence of a most modern vernacular and fashion. It’s also a steal.  Tasted October 2014  @gunbunwine  @LeSommelierWine

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Tasting with Power

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

Power, Rob Power. Niagara man of mystery, winemaker, barrel blender, junkie of dangerous varietal liaisons, license to chill. Power has been making the wines at Creekside Estate Winery for more than a decade. He is both the face and the enigma. Creekside is not a Peninsula vintner that rests on winemaking or marketing laurels. They change with and for the times.

Related – Up on Creekside Estates

I sat down with Rob Power and Rich Gaskin of Hobbs and Company last week at Barque Smokehouse to re-visit some wines tasted in the winter and fall of 2014, along with a couple of new issues. Here the notes, some updated and others in first time put to paper.

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (390336, $28.95, WineAlign)

From a taste five months further along in bottle and just shy of the 36 months on lees (37.5 to be precise) 2nd bottling about to be disgorged. Has chill thickened and fattened in the middle with a texture and a truffled funk like foie gras, heading backwards and upwards, like a video shot in reverse. Rises from an ocean of spume up to a slivered taste of a grapefruit moon. “Transmission’s on and up we go.” Cool and angular on the beautifully licensed, bitter finish.

From my earlier note of October 2014: The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.

Last tasted March 2015

Sauvignon Blanc ‘Iconoclast’ 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

The licensee SB jimmies from fruit out of a good (right at the winery) site, caught red-handed at peak ripeness on a very specific picking date and crushed immediately to coax maximum freshness. Readily identifiable as Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps more so than any other from the Niagara Peninsula. The fruit was oxidized a hair to the left, flipping this more Loire than New Zealand. A dichotomous activity from large juice tray oxygenation meeting reduction under screwcap causes initial confusion but when the hounds of Blanc are released the wine buffets into clear, crisp feelings. This is not “mean, green and pristine,” just simply clean. This one’s got “a license to chill and I believe I will.”  Tasted March 2015

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

Winemaker Rob Power corrects previously provided information and tells me Laura’s composition is 55 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and that there is some Viognier in here, an inclusion that justifies the back-end bite (in conjunction with Gewürztraminer) of noble bitterness. They and the rest of the varieties combine to imitate Sémillon because Power is “going for white Bordeaux” in this pole to pole, here ’till Sunday blend. This has the grab, tempered by the warmth of the vintage, so look for ’13 to nail it with a hook.

From my earlier, May 2014 note: With a tilt of the head to 90 degrees the bottle is assessed and the glass contemplated. She’s a flirt, a gregarious girl this Laura, so orchard driven and with a perfumed attraction.

From my earlier, February 2014 note: Laura’s White combines Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer in a kitchen sink blend that sees a bit of oak. What’s notable about the ’12 is the omission of two highly aromatic components, the previously employed stalwarts Viognier and Chardonnay Musqué. The adage is justified in that you take what the vintage gives you. If it gives you lemons, (shift tangents) you let the busy aromatics of more flavourful grapes (like Chardonnay) do the floral work. Laura’s ’12 will be a standout for the concept, a revivalist blend to help bring back some religion to the region’s renditions. Coming to VINTAGES in June.

Last Tasted March 2015

Viognier Estate Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (22058, $29.95, WineAlign)

Here free run juice gets just a little help from the press. Consistent with a very recent taste, with a density in concoction and blessed tonic on the finish.

From my earlier note of January 2015: 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.

Last tasted March 2015

Cabernet-Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Tank Sample)

The blend is (very approximate) 35 per cent of each Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc) with 20 per cent Merlot. “Basically a baby Laura,” says Power. Currently smelling very tanky but fresh and bullish. Sniffing past the must is not so hard to do, especially with the waft of spices coming through with thanks to the good barrel. The Franc here comes from Virgil, “no man’s land,” from Frank Serluka’s vineyard. The lack of any discernible volatile acidity speaks volumes about the clean winemaking and the gregarious personality of that Four Mile Creek Cabernet Franc fruit. This will excel out of keg in late Spring.  Tasted March 2015

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

Still the Kama Sutra Pinot Noir of inviting behaviour. Positions in aroma, taste and texture are all elastic and of an aphorism held together in intimacy. Virtuous and gracious Pinot Noir for the purpose of interaction and pleasure.

From my earlier note of January 2015: “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.

Last tasted March 2015

Laura’s Red 2011, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign)

A combination of young and older Queenston Road Vineyard vine fruit meshes to creamy raspberry, spoken most upfront, in the absence of Franc, by the Sauvignon. Waiting for this to improve would be a calculated error so drink up by the end of the year.

From my earlier note of September 2014: The most dead red Laura to date, juicy and earthy, like a licorice, plum and pomegranate demi-glace. Really expressive of earth and fruit.  Traditional house blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot. A no coat unfastened Niagara, consumer-friendly but also swelling with stuffing. “The light is red. The camera’s on,” the strokes are rich in energy though the tannins dry out a touch. Drink now and for two more years.

Last tasted March 2015

Creekside Estates Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula (202127, $39.00, WineAlign)

At its spiciest best, alkaline and lifted by Viognier, though as the tannins mellow, the Viognier will slowly disappear. Continues the Rhône-ish tradition laid before by 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, yet in ’12, for the first time, in addition to the Broken Press, there will be one made from seven rows of the same block Syrah, picked about a week later, a 100 per cent Unbroken Press. From vintage to vintage, a Viognier lifted BP is the correct application but in ’12, to Power and his team, both made perfect sense.

From my earlier note of October 2014: Only Creekside Syrah smells like this, like bending down to smell black raspberries on the shores of a briny capsicum lake in the middle of a pine forest. The 2011 Syrah has fruit residing on the edge of impossibly ripe, factored inside a pipeline, while piping lavender and plum pastry cream float atop rare duck breasts. If Syrah were to ooze or drip without sticking to surfaces along the way, this would be it. If Syrah came forth from the maw of the beast it would speak in these demanding tones. Creekside’s BP talks the tense, nervous and twitching talk. It’s smeared with a coat of epoxy spread over fine grain in wood. It sweats an air of metallic cordiality. If given five years to come together it will vape and realize togetherness.

Last tasted March 2015

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Why it matters to taste wines again

Dumplings

Dumplings

It would be foolish to think that a single taste or a brief assessment can ascertain everything that a wine will bring to the table. So many factors play into that moment in time; how that bottle came to arrive at this place, how long it had been open, its current temperature and certainly the temperament and mood of the taster.

The only true and valid important bits of information that we can cull from a fleeting meeting with a bottle of wine is whether or not it is marred by a fault, or faults. Is the wine tainted with TCA (trichloroanisole)? Does it contain high levels of Brettanomyces? Is it raging with volatile acidity? It is oxidized or reductive? Has lady bug taint found its way into the bottle? And so on and so forth. Quality can be guessed at with high probability but time is so essential to knowledge. This is why tasting for a second and third time matters.

Wines should always be afforded the opportunity to be reconsidered, especially after some bottle settling time. The fascination with seeing evolution from organic ferments is real. Wine changes, often for the better, that much we know. Wines deserve second chances, re-dos and re-tastes.

Writing updated notes is the essential by-product of re-tasting and the catalyst that acts as the chaperone to get to know a particular bottle and by extension, a winemaker’s portfolio. Here are seven new releases, coming into VINTAGES on March 7th. They are actually re-releases, having been previously made public by the winery or through the LCBO. I tried them all once again and can say with confidence, by way of the tasting note, that all seven have confirmed their quality and improved with time. These are the seven new notes for seven March 7th VINTAGES re-releases.

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

Juicy, spirited and eminently approachable. Citrus and peach fruit beg to be gulped by the key keg load.

From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The gateway of the Tawse Riesling portfolio and first to be released is an omnipresent beacon for what is to come from the single-vineyard sistren. Built fruit forward from an orange zest, stone rose and lemon glade guide, this is the Sketches most juicy sensation yet. Incredible vacuum of citrus acidity waterfalling into a great white hole. Though surrounded by so many a Riesling with site specific personality, “she’ll carry on through it all.” Intensity in dry Riesling.”

Last tasted March 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (373407, $18.00, WineAlign)

Carries the weight of the Peninsula within the bright frame of clarity that is the PEC oeuvre. In ’12 the warmth and the weight can’t help but break down to burrow into earth. Fine, grainy tannins and an increased structure will give this three more years of development but do not hesitate to enjoy it now.

From my earlier April 2014 note: “Tasted a second time, the floral lift is clearer than before, as is the understated earthiness. Also showing more body and verve so it appears the Voyageur is starting to come into its own. From my earlier February 2014 note: “Fruit here comes from two Niagara vineyards, Queenston and Malivoire. An earthy Pinot that positions itself in isolation away from its suave and handsome Portage and Benway brethren with a waft of merde. Taste brightens as a sweet cranberry, chalky, root beer float. Kudos deserved as it’s clearly recognizable as Pinot with a medium finish and a pinch of horseradish salt on a lithe 12.5 per cent frame.”

Last tasted March 2015  @KeintheWinery

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (118638, $19.95, WineAlign)

Brilliant hue, like a ceiling fresco of gold-scrolled tiers. Has that feel of lemon peel shrivelling to scent. Was a Category Champion at the 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada.

From my earlier September 2014 note: “Pinot Gris with pears and more pears. A no hold barred, straight up, bring it with orchard fruit example. A spoonful of sweet lemon curd indicates a just post ripe picking and now oxidation, if not necessarily the intention. Off-dry with acidity that joins but does not round the shining fruit into absolute form.”

Last Tasted March 2015  @GrayMonkWinery

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is spot on, both as 13th Street and as Niagara Peninsula Gamay. Very ripe, to the edge of extracted distraction and less funky than previous vintages. Really defines the genre, acts the act, walks the walk, executes the execution. Drives the point, carves the cliché, go Gamay go.

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

Last tasted March 2015  @13thStreetWines

Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Napa Valley, California (396150, $29.95, 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

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

A new release, mindful of micro-plot. From out of a Bachelder barrel, the great mystery of wood is not that it smoulders, but that it rests on water, or in this case, on grape juice. To label this Wismer as Wingfield is to give this Chardonnay a scientific specificity, a concentration of fruit so capable of inducing the ethereal, to hover as if in suspension. This is Wismer-Wingfield. The Chardonnay that floats, like hope.

From my earlier July 2014 note: ‘Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”

Last Tasted March 2015  @Bachelder_wines

Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru ‘La Creux De La Net’ 2011, Burgundy, France (LCBO 403485, $47.95, SAQ 12089524, $38.50, WineAlign)

Purity abounds, florals leap and the heart fills with an arrow of red fruit. So linear, so direct. Wears the crux of Bachelder integrity on its sleeve. The pinpoint accuracy of plot, the ubiquity of gypsy soul, the bandwidth of frequency. Yet another Bachelder “ere the bonnie boat was won, as we sailed into the mystic.” Acidity rears and rails right through. Tannin trails like a burning star. Ten more years will see this to a moondance of quietude.

From my earlier February 2014 note: A metallurgical slant this time around and iodine, though sweet, like a geologist’s preferred cocktail. The palette is Rothko maroon and in cohorts with what is ascertained by the palate, scheme fruits and hearts both red and black.

From my earlier note of November 2013: Has the sense to be subtle, effortless and akin to Chambolle. Not so much openly ripe fruit but more the flowers that come before. Cherries dabbed by a citrus fragrance, or the spritz of squeezed zest and an unusually smoky musk. Insinuates new world (think Oregon) though it tells a rubble tale of its limestone slope climat.

Last tasted March 2015

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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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