The LCBO and WineAlign go local

Grange of Prince Edward Trumpour's Mill Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010

Grange of Prince Edward Trumpour’s Mill Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010

If you ask  Heather MacGregor or Lisa Murray, the two responsible for leading the LCBO’s media relations and communications department, they will tell you this. “For the last 23 years LCBO has been a steadfast and proud supporter of locally produced Ontario VQA wine.”  That is certainly true.

Three things would add measurable weight to that statement. Private VQA wine stores, increased shelf space in current LCBO stores and a lifting of  the embargo for “typicity” qualifying standards of locally and exceptionally produced wine. Not to mention speaking out publicly on the necessity of developing a Canadian wine culture by allowing the importing of VQA wine into Ontario that is made in other Canadian provinces. Oh, but I seriously digress.

Sales performance and trends

In fiscal 2013-14, sales of Ontario wine at LCBO were $396 million, 4.1per cent higher than the year before. VQA sales ended the year at $123 million, growth of nearly 2.1 per cent over fiscal 2012-13. Year-to-date 2014-15, VQA wines are up an impressive 5.8 per cent and significantly outpacing imports. Give credit where it is due. With their backs to the proverbial sandbox wall, the LCBO is working feverishly to put Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore on the monopoly map. They can thank Wine Country Ontario for the support, the expertise and the professional lead.

Growing product selection

The LCBO WINES category offers 526 Ontario- produced wines, including 330 VQA wines. What makes up the other 196 might be questioned and that category could be improved were it to include, let us say, for the purposes of argumentation, a Pearl Morisstte Riesling. That said, 330 is a highly significant number. Good on you LCBO.

Our Wine Country Boutiques

Three stores in St.Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Windsor boast excellent local wine selections. The sommelier and restaurant community in Toronto has embraced Ontario wines. Their presence at events like Cool Chardonnay and the Ontario Technical Sparkling Wine Symposium are proof of the phenomenon. So are dozens of wine lists city-wide. The question is why does an Our Wine Country Boutique not exist in a flagship store such as Queen’s Quay or Bayview Village? The Toronto consumer requires chiding and the flock will submit if shown the righteous path. Bring OWCB’s to the city.

The LCBO is doing yeomans work to help small wineries in their own parochial scene and the bigger picture is taken care of through VINTAGES releases. The work has just begun. Change and progress are necessary. A good first step is an event such as was held on Thursday August 14th: Taste Local, Love Local. The match was to pie, kitschy yet effective. There were 21 wines on hand. These were the best three.

Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (615062, $14.95, WineAlign)

As Gamay continues to gain traction, it is examples such as this ’12 from Grange that will help to solidify its position as a go to variety for versatile food matching and pure, simple quaffing pleasure. Though this ’12 and its warm vintage baggage render it beefy, spicy and veering to black cherry, it holds freshness and juicy acidity in retainer. The ripe tree fruit sensation never really relents so the style is heady but it shows the strength and excellent value to be found in Gamay.  Tasted August 2014  @grangewinery

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (275958, $21.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc receives a meld of mellow, blending support from 12.4 per cent Merlot and the marriage is quietly non-contentious. That blending decision by winemaker Ann Sperling, along with the praiseworthy choice to forgo obtrusive oak is as good as a golpe on the Niagara Cab Franc oeuvre. The use of large format (80 hectolitre), no splinters allowed oak vats over wood spice and milkshake imparting barrels is an easy swallow for sore palates. The ’12 Triomphe is an elongated and elastic Cab Franc, with nary a foray into the tobacco, bell pepper and cloying currant currency of so many predecessors. The co-fermenting of disparate, north and south, estate blocks in those vats has done wonders on the preservation of a warm vintage’s, judiciously-picked (21.8 per cent brix at harvest) fresh fruit. Terrific decisions all in for a highly accessible, brand and varietal ambassador for Niagara.  Tasted August 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention.  Tasted August 2014  @normhardie

Meanwhile, back at the WineAlign ranch, yet another local standout is available for tasting. This Pinot Gris was a most excellent surprise.

Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the deep soil of the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation, this is certainly made in a honeyed, Pinot Gris, noble bitter excellence style, conjuring up a Pierre Frick Pfaffenheim reminiscence. The golden hue and blanched nut aroma indicate a slight yet subtle advanced oxidation but the low (3.4) pH and necessary fortifying (5.8 g/L) acidity round-up and subdue the sugar (4.5 g/L) and alcohol (13.3 per cent), whose specs are nothing to cause any real concern in the first place. The intensity is only overshadowed by the natural sweetness which comes across the palate by way of texture and tannin. A mineral underlay is noted with props to a limestone and shale drip from the Bench down through soil towards the Niagara Lakeshore. This 2010 found symmetry in moving parts to reach its current peak and to propel the Excellence towards a 10 year future of graceful decline.  Tasted August 2014  @stoneyridgewine

Good to go!

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The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

The School of Cool at #i4c14, Brock University: Studying Chardonnay with Zoltan Szabo, Mike di Caro and Godello,

The School of Cool at #i4c14, Brock University: Studying Chardonnay with Zoltan Szabo, Mike di Caro and Godello, photo (c) Kaitlyn Little

Tell me, why Chardonnay? Who can explain the exultantly singular science behind the world’s most wontedly planted, easily recognizable and widely endorsed white grape variety? How can something that seems so commonplace consistently blow people’s minds and convince them to have a go, over the course of a weekend in venues scattered about the Niagara Peninsula, at more than 100 samples in 50 hours? Where else is it possible that the fruit of one vine can be the sole proprietor to lead such a fervent tailgate of amaurotic yearning? What is the meaning of this Chardonnay?

The quest begins in Burgundy, centre of the Chardonnay universe, home to the icons, built upon centuries of micro-plotting and the act of influencing patrons, friends and enemies. At this point in history, success out of French vineyards is a given, blatant and obvious. Chardonnay’s foray into the global diaspora and subsequent boon is yet another matter.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

The most recent Cool Chardonnay conference is the parochial focus of attention so for the sake of local argumentation, lets connect a line direct from Burgundy to Niagara. Peninsula winemakers (along with those from Prince Edward County and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley) draw inspiration and knowledge from the mother land. The fourth annual #i4c14 celebration in July is the stuff of Chardonnay dreams because of the cool visions of vignerons like Thomas Bachelder, Harald Thiel, Norman Hardie, Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble, Martin Malivoire, Ed Madronich, Bill Redelmeier, Doug and Karen Whitty and Moray Tawse. Not to mention the foresight of Niagara’s biggest players; Inniskillin Wines, Peller Estates (Trius), Stratus Vineyards, Chateau des Charmes, Vineland Estates and Cave Spring Cellars.

To give Chardonnay its due and to build a stage from which it can parade about, belting out its songs, there must first be assembled a team of passionate folks. In addition to the winemakers and winery proprietors there is an army of volunteers. Their contribution is immeasurable. This group is led by the #i4c14 concierge; Dorian Anderson, Trisha Molokach, Britnie Bazylewski, Elena Galey-Pride and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser. Thanks must always be given to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University, along with CCOVI director Debbie Inglis and Marketing and Communications Officer Kaitlyn Little. Event chair Del Rollo brings the A-game, as does Peter Bodnar-Rod, life giver to Everyman and every Chardonnay. The ambassadors of cool are lead by a team of sommeliers; Bruce Wallner M.S., Will Predhomme, Mark Coster, Serge Janjic, Emily Pearce, Sheila Flaherty, Lindsay Groves, Brett Fraser, Heather MacDougall, Bob Latham and Peter Lavoie.

The generosity of the event hosts come to praise Chardonnay. Wine Country Ontario, Brock University, The Grape Growers of Ontario, White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa, 13th Street Wines, Cave Spring Cellars, Tawse Winery, Flat Rock Cellars, Southbrook Vineyards, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, Peller Estates Winery, Malivoire Wine Company, Reif Estate Winery, Vineland Research & Innovation Centre and Ravine Vineyard. The LCBO and VINTAGES join the party, setting aside time and space at the same time to sell some cool Chardonnay.

The School of Cool,  Photo (c) Elena Galey-Pride — at Brock University.

The School of Cool,
Photo (c) Elena Galey-Pride — at Brock University.

The weekend begins on Friday, July 18th with #TheSchoolofCool at Brock University. Luminaries are flown in to speak on behalf of the great grape. Tim Atkin (MW), Christy Canterbury (MW), W. Blake Gray (wine journalist, cool climate advocate) along with eleven panelists (winemakers, growers and researchers) of cool climate viticulture and winemaking explore, debate, provoke and disseminate.

John Szabo opens the Chardonnay Camp 2014 at Brock Univeristy Photo: Michael Godel

John Szabo opens the Chardonnay Camp 2014 at Brock Univeristy
Photo: Michael Godel

Three interactive sessions feature this global panel of experts. Renowned Master Sommelier John Szabo is the chair and most in control moderator of the panels. Here at Chardonnay Camp he is talk show host, politically motivated comedian and all-knowing Yoda wrapped into one Renaissance man package. Szabo notes that “quality, at the top end has diversified, especially in Burgundy.” He then wants to know “who is an acid lover?” The answer to that question is the first clue towards an understanding of the meaning in (cool) Chardonnay. “Does anyone here regret planting any variety? No? Nobody? Everything works in Ontario.” The sportive tone succeeds in marking a first strike for the grape guest of honour. As does his notation that “the panel is chosen to speak on the zeitgeist topics of Chardonnay.” A walk-around tasting of all 117 bottles being poured at the 2014 event following the sessions helps to build early Friday momentum.

Cool Chardonnay Camp Photo: Michael Godel

Cool Chardonnay Camp
Photo: Michael Godel

Tim Atkin begins. “We are here to have fun.” The British journalist spends his time defending the oft maligned variety, insisting that “the target of Riesling lovers should not be Chardonnay. It should be Pinot Grigio.” Atkin reminds that Chardonnay is still the fastest growing white variety in the world but that “even worse things have befallen this noble grape variety. It’s a victim of its own ubiquity and adaptability.” What makes it so special then? “Chardonnay expresses place, as well as production, terroir as well as technique.”

Grower Matthias Oppenlaender: “I like growing Chardonnay. It adapts to the different soil conditions in the sites I own. But I like drinking it even more.” The panelists debate Techno vs. Tech-No. Atkin’s take? “Recreating balance is a bad practice. All these things (manipulations in the winery) are fine if they are done sensitively. Overripe plus water equals bad.” Jeremy Dineen of Josef Cromy Wines in Tasmania says “wine should taste from a place, but also from a time.” His idea of technology “is to try to make my life simple. It’s a hell of a lot easier to plant in the right spot.” On reverse osmosis: “Technically, yes. Ethically, no.”

The panel seems to think it interesting that consumers consider that wine should be a natural and non-manipulated product, but food can be handled and bastardized in unlimited ways and be called gastronomy. First of all…consumers…really? Wine geeks, more like it. Secondly, wines comes from one ingredient: Grapes. Well, three if you count yeast and sulphur. Food composition is contrived out of a plethora of ingredients. Manipulation and over-handling is the norm, not the exception. Wine should follow the exact opposite course.

Manipulations, according to former Henry of Pelham winemaker, now of Niagara College Ron Giesbrecht include sorting, spraying, osmosis, acidification, de-acidification, overripe diluting, wood chips, adding tannin…the list goes on. He admits that “some degree of finessing and correction is OK. Add sometimes, but not any time.” Shiraz Mottiar of Malivoire is a purist. “When it comes to techno, I like (the ideas) of Calvin Harris (anyone get that…?). Add as little as possible, that’s my position. It would be unjust to the consumer to create something awkward and unusual.”

Giesbrecht brings out base wines with the addition of “winemaking tricks.” One is lactic, lean, mean and filled with cheap acidity. Another is terpenic, gum leesy and full of rounder acids. A third is volatile, medicinal, sacchariferous. A fourth is done very lightly, yet thin. Oak chips, micro-barrels, gum Arabic, these are all tricks of the trade and they all lead to faults.

Session two discusses Yield and Context. Mattias Oppenlaender discusses the Ontario opportunity of growing grapes for the high end, quality market. “If I grow Pinot Noir at (only) two tons per acre, it’s pretty difficult to make it economically viable.” Dr. Jim Willwerth, CCOVI Brock University adds, “in Ontario it’s important to have low yields from late ripening varieties. Vine balance is the key.” Willwerth cautions against stereotyping the vine vigor quotient. “Lower yields to highest quality is not a direct linear relationship. We know it’s not the case.”

Yet Dimitri Bazas of Maison Champy in Burgundy concedes that zero yields is not the best. “You can make good Premier Cru wine with yields of 40-45 L/hl. Szabo then asks, “and you can taste the quality difference based on these number?” Bazas replies, “yes, yes I can your honour.” Matthew Lane of Peter Lehmann in Australia adds a trump card. “There’s an old vine factor that has to be considered when talking about yields.” Lane believes you can extract quality from fruit at higher yields. Like Willwerth, he believes in the ‘Sesame Street’ word of the day. “If you’ve got a warm year and vine health, you can get great balance.”

Christy Canterbury reminds that crop yields are relative from variety to variety. Chardonnay in general is low (two to three tons per acre) as compared to Pinot Grigio and Riesling. “Perfect. An MW position there,” chides Szabo. Canterbury leads the room through four Chardonnays of various yields.

Maison Champy Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011, Burgundy, France (377705, $215.00, WineAlign)

Opposites attract and this urges the fruit-wood compendium forward in a direct, unabashed way, followed by a sledgehammer clubbing of formidable acidity. The yield for this 12 barrel salute to upper echelon Burgundy is 30 hl/L. There are waves of richness that jab, poke and stamp their way into your Chardonnay heart. Pierces and injects by way of a hypodermic, splintered syringe filled with creamy, smoky oak. The balance is currently upended though there can be little doubt bottle age will calm the high extract and lead it to a calmer future.  Tasted July 2014

Maison Champy Pernand Vergelesses En Caradeux Premier Cru 2011, Burgundy, France (344143, $49.95, WineAlign)

The technical specs (sugar, acidity, PH, natural alcohol) on this PV are very similar to Champy’s Corton Charlemagne. The yield out of marl and limestone soil was 50 per cent (45 hl/L) higher and the fruit was picked seven to 10 days ahead of the CC. There exudes plenty of peeling citrus perfume in sunshine and some essential oil release, in wood, though it is by no means excessive. Very much citrus stoked, also reeking in green apple, forest glade, even more sunshine. Holds a tight, angular texture. Needs time to flesh and convert those phenols into gold. Most attractive is its subtlety and balance, from shoot to bottle. A Chardonnay very cool for school.  Tasted July 2014

Peter Lehmann H&V Eden Valley Chardonnay 2012, Eden Valley, Australia (agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

Surprisingly green, herbal and cool spirit driven Chardonnay. There’s a lime spark and texture woven by shavings of slate and chalk. Pure, ripe fruit, picked prudently early, means for a tang and a half, in all the right back of the mouth ways. The nervous energy component gives the wine a divine fit, “sends a permanent shiver down my spine.” Clean expression out of the Eden Valley and so well made.  Tasted July 2014

Trius Winery Showcase ‘Single Barrel’ Heubel Estate Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Though the soil for this rare and tiny production Chardonnay is sandy-loam, the mineral component is both pronounced and uncanny. A difficult vintage for the variety, wet, not so warm, noted by winemaker Craig McDonald, “we didn’t really get a summer.” He concedes that the wine was an experiment, “mainly out of curiosity, as a collaboration with the grower.” Like so many Niagara ‘experiments’ this Trius will teach and pave roads to a tart, direct, firm tartaric future. A wine that will act as a beacon for forward thinking ideas on thinning, canopy management and how the viticulturist must “dial into the frequency of what the vineyard is saying.”  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay panel with Ann Sperling, Sébastien Jacquey, Miguel Torres Maczassek and W. Blake Gray Photo: Michael Godel

Chardonnay panel with Ann Sperling, Sébastien Jacquey, Miguel Torres Maczassek and W. Blake Gray
Photo: Michael Godel

Session three, The Living Vine: The Viticultural Continuum begins with W. Blake Gray. “If I buy an Ontario Chardonnay that you say has protected the earth but it’s not (organically) certified, I don’t know what that means.” In the world according to Gray, talk is cheap. Harald Thiel believes organics and biodynamics are much more complicated, beyond certification. “What is the buffer between organic/biodynamic vineyards and conventional ones,” he asks. “In Burgundy the rows are one metre apart. One sprays next to another.” Livelihoods are affected, compromised and yet who is policing the offenses?

Miguel Torres Maczassek admits “my family is a bit divided on organic and biodynamic but I am a great defender of organic viticulture.” Torres agrees and expands on Thiel’s concerns. “Being organic today is not enough. Organic needs to make an evolution. The problems are not the same anymore.” Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne: “Organic, biodynamic, sustainable. It’s about making wine that expresses something. We all need to work together.” Then John introduces Ann Sperling of Southbrook and Sperling Vineyards. “Ann, let me guess where you stand.” It is no secret that Sperling is a Canadian leader in this hotly debated field. “Biodynamics is something that allows me to connect with the vineyards.” Enough said.

Christy Canterbury wants to know who pays for the cost of lab analysis for wines looking for an organic affidavit. “The producer,” insists Sperling. “The consumer,” think many in the room. Four more wines are poured.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign)

From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.  Tasted July 2014

Sperling Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (378570, $31, WineAlign)

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

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (366500, $50, WineAlign)

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.  From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.  Lat tasted July 2014

Miguel Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2011, Conca de Barbera, Spain

Milmanda was part of a route of medieval castles that gave shelter to Christians during the time of the Reconquest. This is the estate’s top varietal bottling, a warm honeybee of a Chardonnay. The toast is set on high, the malolactic pull in elastic heaven and the lemon/lime in curd form. From deep clay soil, this is the least cool of the lot and though harvested early (late August), the oak quotient steals the show.  Tasted July 2014

Barrels and Bonfires at 13th Street Winery, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Barrels and Bonfires at 13th Street Winery, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

On Friday night the host is 13th Street Winery for Barrels and Bonfires. The credo is this: “Join the twelve winemakers who congregated around that fated bonfire in 2009 as they celebrate their vision as its come to life five years later.” Many more than 12 pour their wines from barrel tops in the heat of a July evening while the band plays. Meanwhile in another part of 13th Street’s town, Peter Bodnar-Rod holds court with an impromptu blind tasting. I fail miserably. Thanks Peter.

Niagara's own PigOut Roasters, Image (c) Sherry Galey Photography

Niagara’s own PigOut Roasters, Image (c) Sherry Galey Photography

13th Street’s B & B party is a resounding success, complete with a pig roast by Niagara’s PigOut Roasters and a setting to combine casual, pastoral and The Hamptons, all in one stunning piece of real estate.

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Chef Therese deGrace of Good Earth Food and Wine, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Chef Therese deGrace of Good Earth Food and Wine, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,  Photo: Michael Godel

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,
Photo: Michael Godel

On Saturday a group of winemakers convene at Camp Cave Spring for some Chardonnay and mobile Pizza oven fun. Kistler, Talley, Maycas Limari and Cave Spring also do the #i4c14 unthinkable. They pour something other than Chardonnay. Shocking! Pinot Noir and Riesling are on hand. What a refreshing, if fleeting change. Thanks is owed the Pennachetti families, winemaker Angelo Pavan, Rob Groh from The Vine and the culinary team at the Stratford Chef School.

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Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven Photo: Michael Godel

Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven
Photo: Michael Godel

Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA 

The Estate Pinot is composed of fruit from three vineyards, Rincon (50 per cent), Rosemary’s (47) and Las Ventanas (3), then fermented for 13 months in 20 per cent new French oak barrels. Typically, even quintessentially California Pinot Noir with a developed, nearly candied palate made more complex by the earth of the Arroyo Grande Valley. Very ripe black cherry, some tar and plenty of warm spice. The alcohol reads 14 per cent but it manages to reflect a cool image in the mirror. Refined if expected Pinot Noir.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, California (330274, $77.95, WineAlign)

In yet another outstanding vintage Kistler flaunts its Pinot acumen, leaving other RRV neighbours to mire in a sickly, sweet and dusty trail of cola, syrup and black ash. Kistler’s take is rooted in wisdom, in plenitude and also restraint. “We remove any berries that are overripe,” announces Geoff Labitzke. This ’12 is singing, pinging and binging in red cherry. Picked in the cool of the night with a big crew, the RRV Pinot is tart, tight, intense and pure. The finish leaves with a slightly tannic, chalky residue, yet one that will integrate with five plus years time.  Tasted July 2014

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

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

According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 Year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Wines

Cave Spring Wines

On Saturday night the scene changes to the big show. Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is the host once again for the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Grand Tasting & Dinner. In civilized fashion, it launches with bubbles and oysters by Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company.

Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday’s menu featured the Vineyard Chefs: Adam Hynam-Smith of el gastrónomo vagabundo, Andrew McLeod, Jason Parsons of Peller Estates Winery, Justin Downes of Vineland Estates Winery, Ryan Crawford of Gastrohomestead, Paul Harber of Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery and Craig Youdale of The Canadian Food and Wine Institute. The selection of pies for dessert were from the 13th Bakery & Marketplace and Whitty Farms.

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

On Sunday, the Cool Chardonnay weekend wrapped up at Ravine Vineyards, with one last chance to taste a Chardonnay or 117, if for some reason there remained an elusive bottle.

keep the cool i4c love!, Photo (c) Sherry Galey Photography — at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.

keep the cool i4c love!, Photo (c) Sherry Galey Photography — at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.

Events at #i4C14 are made possible by Wine Country Ontario, LCBO, Grape Growers of Ontario, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, White Oaks Resort & Spa, Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Vines to Vintages Inc., Riedel Canada, Kerry Ingredients, Hope & Harder, A1 Label, The Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Richard Marazzi Design, Rempel Electric, cellar•tek, Lakeview Vineyard Equipment Inc., Winestains, Hunter Bottling, Special Event Rentals, Q water, De La Terre Kitchen, Dairy Farmers of Canada and Leslie Stowe Fine Foods.

The quantity of Chardonnays made available to taste through the course of the weekend was officially announced at 117. A number of them were wines that I have previously tasted and reviewed. Some I felt compelled to re-taste and update. For the sake of those I did not redo, I am including them here as contributing members of the Cool Chardonnay weekend and the links to their corresponding tasting notes, published at WineAlign.

13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay Johnson Vineyards 2012, Yamhill Carlton District

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Estate Bottled, VQA Niagara On The Lake

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012, VQA Prince Edward County

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula

Returning back to the original question, what is the true meaning of Chardonnay? It’s really quite simple. You’ve gotta be cool to be kind.

Stay tuned for tasting notes on 50 more #i4C14 Chardonnay. Coming soon.

 

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A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C.

East Coast Lobsters Photo: Michael Godel

East Coast Lobsters
Photo: Michael Godel

Yesterday I settled in at the WineAlign offices with the critics crew (David Lawrason, John Szabo, Steve Thurlow and Sara D’Amato) to taste some new releases. I chose to focus on British Columbia because of all the wines that cross my path, those from out west seem to be the few and the far between. Some Ontario wines not yet investigated were open and available so I worked through a handful of them as well.

Here are my notes, posted to WineAlign, gathered together here, in one place.

Southbrook Connect White 2013, Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013, Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Westcott Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2012

Southbrook Connect White 2013, Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013, Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Westcott Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2012

Southbrook Connect White 2013, Ontario (249078, $14.95, WineAlign)

Gone from the blend in 2013 is the Reimer Vineyard Gewürztraminer, essentially replaced with an increase of Vidal. A solid dose of Riesling and a smidgen of Sauvignon Blanc round out the blend. The sum of the parts means a stoic and supine white wine, submissive and malleable, ready for anything it needs to be. That it’s organic is a matter of good choice though not necessarily a contributing factor to this simple drinker’s personality. This is not a wine from stressed vines nor will it ever be in any sort or state of distress. Quality yet round acidity keeps it buoyant and free from any excess oxidation, allowing the flavour of basic orchard fruit with a lemon squeeze to shine. Perfectly good juice.  Tasted August 2014

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

What is so striking about Dan Sullivan’s unaoked Chardonnay is the classic and unmistakeable County perfume that can only be his. No matter the grape, a Sullivan white is a cold play of pear and citrus, made most obvious when oak is not around to confuse. A Rosehall white is always the most glycerin-textured in the County and Sullivan’s light touch ensures this PEC Chard is made in the vineyard. There is a lightness in its being but it is one of the better unoaked wines made in the region.  Tasted August 2014

Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $17.90, WineAlign)

Incredibly youthful Pinot Blanc, still in possession of its infant’s smell. A combination of baby powder and unadulterated sweat, in other words, a recent sulphuring and bottle unsettling. Peering beyond it is nearly quintessential B.C. PB. Hints of green apple, tangy white candy, lemon basil and lime sherbet make for a savoury-sweet appetizer in a glass. Got verve this Blue Mountain and when it relaxes by early fall it will be as versatile a shot of pure white wine adrenaline as you could ever hope to find. Will bring simple cohabitation pleasure to a wide range of food, from raw to smoked, from marinated to reduced.  Tasted August 2014

Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $18.90, WineAlign)

Upfront, come and get me, juicy expression of Sauvignon Blanc, free of encumbrances. Avoids grass and spice, reaching instead for tree fruits, both stone and orchard. A bit ambiguous for that reason, acting less varietal and more Okanagan, but that is a very good thing. Has terrific sapidity and more than admirable length. A touch of distracting, caustic herbal intensity on the finish.  Tasted August 2014

Westcott Lillias Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

You may ask who is Westcott and what is Lillias? They are Grant and Carolyn Westcott, a new player in the Chardonnay market and Lillias is a most unique expression from the Vinemount Ridge appellation. There is a grape spirit sensation, a limestone-influenced lemon-lime chord and a moscato-like medicinal glade component. Though it’s a bit scattered, unsure whether its softer or harder and running anyway, anyhow, anywhere, the personality is certainly on display. Though it “don’t follow the lines that been laid before,” there is always room for a new kind of Chardonnay, one that pushes boundaries and lays new tracks. Winemaker Arthur Harder has it all happening here; viscous fruit, citrus zest, limestone impart, milky texture, minute oxidation and rapturous acidity in a Chablis vein. The most serious unoaked Chardonnay, if not yet everyone’s cup of tannin. Auspicious beginning.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2013, Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012, Laughing Stock Viognier 2013, Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2013, Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012, Laughing Stock Viognier 2013, Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (123604, $22.00, WineAlign)

This Pinot Gris will get you high and the question is will it leave you dry. Laughing Stock’s whites are not shy, elevated in alcohol (here 13.8 per cent) and full-out striking in texture and tannin. The wondering here is if there may be enough dry extract so to keep the wine fresh, lively and willing to bend. Or, will it dry out and leave you hanging, with a head full of radio fuzz and wanting more fruit. This is a surly and brazen attempt at slightly botrytized Pinot Gris, with enough grit and grind to set it apart from a cloud of every day juice. It’s just a bit tough and overdone in my opinion.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (123604, $25.00, WineAlign)

Two Pinots (Blanc and Gris) and nearly a fifth of Viognier conjoin to conspire in cohorts for this well-defined B.C. white. Put your trust in winemaker David Enns as he leads you on this trip around the Okanagan through the eyes of co-existing white grapes. The first steps are those of spice and tree fruit pith, the second steps are those of good medicine. Dogged persistence brings near closure and a desire for another sip. Tasted August 2014

Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Of all the international varieties to plant and attempt to establish a cottage industry in B.C., Zweigelt should certainly be near the top of the list. The grape lends well to the cool climate and the altitude. It grows well in sandy and loam soils, especially with some gravel content. Penticton should become a haven for Zweigelt. Upper Bench’s take is overtly flavourful, sweet-smelling and easily approachable. It’s respectably dry (2.3 g/L residual) and appropriately balanced with good acidity. The flavours of black cherries come directly to mind. There’s the rub. Like many New World (and even some Austrian) Pinot Noir, the dark fruit flavours of ripe fruit, while they may taste delicious, lead the wine down a road of immediate gratification and a short stay. Personally I would like to see subsequent vintages picked earlier and at lower brix (here at 24.2) for a fresher and more vigorous take on Zweigelt. There is much promise in this program.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Viognier 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C., $26.00, WineAlign)

Of all the big whites in the Laughing Stock range, this Viognier fits the style and ragged glory pursuant the course. This hits the mark with flying colours, a rich and juicy wine full of peach flavours punching along with orchard fruit and white flower aromas. This is really crunchy and vigorous Viognier, with a kick of pepper along with some highly tropical moments along the way. Long finish to what will be 10 years of evolution. Tasted August 2014

Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

This is a lovely, fragrant and boisterous Pinot Noir with a warm heart and a balanced personality. Notes of orange and cherry blossom circle around the black cherry centre with just a hint of dusty chocolate. That is the 14 months in 30 per cent new French oak talking, adding a bit of sinew, but mostly dusty cocoa flavours and fine-grained tannin. A well made Pinot Noir with that wood adding a finishing touch of spice strung along the linear acidity.  Tasted August 2014

2027 Cellars Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2012, Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora Vrm 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2012, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012

2027 Cellars Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2012, Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora Vrm 2013, Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2012, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012

2027 Cellars Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

There are a scant 105 cases made of this Cherry, a site close to a similar national Pinot Noir made by Paul Pender at Tawse. The vineyard encourages a scrap of the vinous kind between earth and its manifest cherry-scented fruit. Cherry seems to hold back its charms and ask that patience be the virtue. “Loose lips sink ships,” so “can we show a little discipline” and leave it alone? The ripeness is certainly here but what is most promising is the lack of heat, the absence of volatility and the wall of pure fruit. Though a bit subdued this is a much more approachable, not quite as serious and all around friendly expression of Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir. The price is more than reasonable for the quality in the glass. Wait three years and watch it age easily to 2020.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora Vrm 2013, Okanagan , BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (agent, $30.00, WineAlign)

Here blends one-third each Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne, a veritable Rhône orgy in wild fermentation, aged on the skins in terra-cotta and amphorae. While I would not go so far as to call it an “orange wine,” I will use the “N” word to describe its agrarian ways. As natural as anything you are likely to taste out of B.C., this is a most untamed experiment and should not be missed. It verges on oxidation but refuses to climb over the edge. It’s floral, spicy and crowded. The texture is chalky and so full of rusty, clay rubbed streaks. Everything about this is unkempt and exotic, including the never cease and desist fermenting lychee and longan feel. Hard not to be wowed by this blend’s presence.  Tasted August 2014

Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (B.C., $30.00, WineAlign)

“Past performance is not an indicator of future returns.” A statement on the bottle insists that full trust be afforded the winemaker, his whimsy and the blending choices made from vintage to vintage. Not unlike a similar program that Ann Sperling employs at Southbrook, albeit not nearly as brash or brazen in attitude. The ’12 BT has the swagger and the oomph. A powerhouse of a Cabernet-based blend, full of B.C.’s finest black fruits and teeth gnashing tannins. Is this wine too serious for its own good? I don’t think so but it is no shrinking violet (though it smells like some, in a very modern Maremma or even Nebbiolo way). Thick juice, ramped up and yet delicious if too much young syrup to work past one full glass. Time will sooth the savage beast but it will never be a pussycat.  Tasted August 2014

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

There is definite gregarious character to this Pinot Noir and it finds a positive, altruistic methodology in its gathering of some obvious Niagara traits. Increased ripening from its Queenston Road Vineyard on the warm St. David’s Bench is its most obvious pronouncement. A shyness from out of what is an enigmatic Pinot vintage walks with the later harvest, dusty and earthy fruit. Most of all it can’t help but be Niagara Peninsula Pinot Noir, albeit in high caste and hyper-sensitive attention to detail. There is cola, rust, cherry, paint and extreme acidity. It’s hot, actually. Would like to see where this goes with anti-volatile time. Methinks a settling will happen. Tasted August 2014

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, St. Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

A highly perfumed Pinot Noir from winemaker Kevin Panagapka in 2012, complete with an exotic spice box of aromatics; potpourri, roses, cassia, clove and aamchur. The profile hydrates to a mulled simmer as the wine is once again warmed by the vineyard’s ability to ripen, exaggerated in ’12 but with more grace, bringing its personality in line with its modest (13 per cent) alcohol. The cherry flavour veers black with a paste of tar and charcoal, but again, the psyche is smooth and elongated. Long finish to this Queenston which should see it sing to 2018 and beyond. Tasted August 2014

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The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr
PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Were Olivier Humbrecht, MW a Rock ‘N Roll star, he would be the guy, the man, the boss, the one everyone wants to hang around. He’d be invited to every benefit concert, like No Nukes at MSG, Live Aid, Live 8 and a Tribute to Heroes. He would sing the biggest parts on the raise awareness and relief funds records like We are the World. He would headline every star-studded gathering to celebrate an influential musician’s career, like that of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan.

Olivier Humbrecht is a winemaker. He’s also smart, France’s first Master of Wine, rooted in his region’s history and hyper aware of every nuance in each terroir. He’s an extreme scientist, biologist, geologist, viniculturalist and viticulturalist. Olivier Humbrecht is a student of many Alsace genres, techniques and methods. He’s a bit of a perfectionist. So are many Alsatian winemakers. But Olivier also has the charisma, the persona and the drive to strive for bigger and better. People want to be near that.

The rock star complex manifests itself at a tasting of the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. Olivier has laid 14 wines on the cellar room table for a group of eight journalists and sommeliers. After leading the group through the lot, he checks his watch and sees there are a few minutes left in the allotted time. He opens two more bottles, then two more. Time is up. The group must press on. He opens another. Just one more, “for perspective,” he says. He can’t stop. The adrenaline is pumping. One more encore. Just one more Sélection de Grains Nobles…

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht is well-known to the world, considered the consummate professional vigneron d’Alsace. The wines are immaculate to a fault; pure, precise considerations out of a multitude of variegated and diverse terroirs; of those around the winery’s home in Turckheim, Wintzinheim, in Gueberschwihr, Thann and in Hunawihr. The Grand Cru holdings of Brand, Hengst, Goldert and Rangen de Thann provide the stuffing for exceptional produce but can any other winery in Alsace lay claim to so many exceptional wines from their lieu-dit and single-vineyards not classified Grand Cru? The trifecta phenomena of the Zind-Humbrecht hill parcels, “Les Clos”; Häuserer, Windsbuhl and Jebsal may as well be Grand Cru squared. The wines from these most worthy soils are dreamy and in top vintages, impossibly perfect.

Most vintners in Alsace are connected to a village, have vineyard holdings surrounding or on slopes leaning upwards from the town. Many crush and ferment in caves beneath their homes right there in the ancestral village. Above ground Zind-Humbrecht is more modern than most, in many ways the embodiment of the 21st century Alsatian facility but Olivier’s wines are deeply connected to Turckheim, the village closest to a large proportion of his vines. The region’s regulatory board decision to eliminate a village like Gueberschwihr from being used on a Riesling label is both curious and counter-productive. Olivier is an island here, not having found any other producer’s support to keep such a designation alive. The irony is not lost. A winemaker incredibly passionate about soil having to label his wine by that very concept and against his will.

I had the opportunity to taste with Olivier Humbrecht on two occasions, thanks to CIVA and SOPEXA, at the winery and at the Millésimes Alsace trade event on Monday, June 16th, 2014. Humbrecht’s brain is in constant churning motion. He will never rest and settle for the status quo. He has learned everything and has everything yet to learn.

Biodynamic farming is at the nucleus of Zind-Humbrecht’s practicum and by now spoken as an apothegm, not ad nauseam. Olivier notes that Colmar, the vinous hub of Alsace and just down the road from Turckheim, is the driest town in France. “We are in a region that in the past we had to fight for ripeness. This is not the case anymore. I have not had to chaptalize in 20 years.” Global warming has had a great effect on phenols but Olivier stands firm on timing. Plants, including grapevines, have very specific life cycles, from flowering to ripening. “I will be ready for picking September 1st,” he insists, “regardless of the weather.”

On varieties, Muscat D’alsace remains “important and fantastic.” Humbrecht insists on keeping it viable and alive. “Reds are trendy,” but not significant to Zind-Humbrecht, adding up to less than one per cent of total production. Ninety per cent are single-varietal wines. Riesling persists as the core variety. It’s a grape that hates to ferment so noble rot should be avoided, because it arrests fermentation.” For Riesling to succeed? “You need a majority of tartaric acid, slowly, coolly, through the cold of winter, to achieve proper malic acid, to achieve good Alsace Riesling. Basically you don’t even want to know it’s happening.”

Olivier is an ally to both phenol and tannin. “Phenols in white wine is something that is always neglected,” he says, and “I do appreciate tannins in white wine, especially in low acidity grapes like Gewürztraminer.” Too many people do not understand the aging capabilities in the wines of Alsace. “We’ve gotten rid of too many phenols in white wine,” he complains. “We love the anti-oxidants, which will not allow the wines to age well, with no protection against oxidation.”

The phenol-tannin-sugar-acidity sequence only succeeds when PH is in the mix. “PH is more important than acidity. Low PH is a guarantee for good evolution in bottle, and good phenols.” That said, skin contact is to be avoided in Humbrecht’s world. “Alsace already has high aromatics so contact is contradictory.” It can lead to the inclusion of green phenols which would be detrimental to making sound wine. Ripe phenols come from the vines and Olivier continues to refer to structure and acidity as a direct consequence of what happens in the vineyard.

The ZH processes include high density planting, hand harvesting, gravity feeding, cold cluster pressing and the use of wild (indigenous) yeasts. The total annual output is approximately 300,000 bottles from 40 hectares, a capacity reached in the mid 1990’s. “We are not interested in getting any bigger,” concedes Humbrecht.

The last piece and going forward of the Zind-Humbrecht puzzle concerns vintages. “Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” says Olivier. “2014 is very precocious.” Flowering was done the first week of June, almost two weeks ahead of the norm. This is similar to 2003 and 2011. “We made a lot of mistakes then, because it was the first time we had this.” The plan is to adapt to the climate by cooling down the soil, with more grasses to retain moisture. They will also let more branches grow to restrict sun and more canopy management. Biodynamic farming at work.

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Here are notes on the 20 Zind-Humbrecht wines tasted in Alsace on Monday June 16th and Wednesday June 18th, 2014.

Pinot Noir 2012

To Olivier Humbrecht, the location and managing the ripeness of Pinot Noir is key. “You can’t hide green character in Pinot Noir,” he asserts. Fruit comes from the Heimbourg vineyard, from west-facing slopes out of marl and limestone. This is a cooler, later ripening position with a draught between the hills. At 13 per cent alcohol it is pleasantly ripe but not as rich and intense as 2009. Still ripe enough for positive and effective phenols. Tannins are present and accounted for, wrapping a veil over the chalky, chewy, slighted coated fruit. The mineral is felt in texture coming from what is a simple, proper and elegant palate.

Muscat Goldert 2012

Like any self-respecting winemaker in Alsace, Olivier Humbrecht is intent on keeping Muscat d’Alsace alive with hopes that someday it will once again thrive. The white and red coloured, longer ripening, small berry Muscat Petite Grains receives minor (one or two per cent) support from grapey, soft and aromatic Muscat Ottonel. Raised from olitic limestone and marl soil, this Muscat is blessed with terroir inducing greater acidity and a dichotomous, silty ripeness, like a green, unripe Sauvignon Blanc. One has the sense that in this unique vintage the noble variety may age with an almost unexpected stride through the years.

Riesling Terroir d’Alsace Vin Sec 2012

This is the most basic and tenable wine in the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. For the uninitiated it is an ideal embarkation point from which to engage the dry elegance and saline minerality of Alsatian Riesling. This “entry-level” effort is from 11 year-old vines, a slow ripening vintage and the stark reality of granite soils. The ever-present Humbrecht honesty and richness is here but in its most subtle (and only 2 g/L residual sugar) scale. Quick notes of lime, chalk and ginger. Olivier says it is made for the Brasserie or the Gastropub market. Never mind that it’s the most junior of his Rieslings. Nobility begins here with this reassuring, air-dried, easy to understand wine.

Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim 2012

Here rolls the rock of the ZH stable. From gravelly, well-drained, poor soils around the winery. The citrus factor is front, centre and in surround sound but a natural richness and sweetness brings balance. This means the wine will gracefully incline through to a dry yet fruity future. A savoury austerity will increase the ageing quotient, in addition to the omnipresent mineral flavours by way of old (47 year-old) vines that burrow deep in the gravel, providing grit and strength, especially in drought vintages.

Riesling Calcaire 2012

The artist formerly known as Gueberschwihr is no longer. The new regulation regarding the production of village wines became effective with the 2011 harvest so, alone in its support for the quality of wine for the village, Humbrecht had no choice but a switch to the Calcaire nomenclature. From richer, cooler, alkaline soils. A touch more sugar (8 g/L) than the Turckheim counterparts, this also has higher acidity. Technically not so dry but this is the elevated, though not quite astronomical PH talking. It is dry enough to be considered Sec. Momentarily stuck in the proverbial petrol and mineral fence. The door will open shortly, to the ZH airy density and so physically speaking, this will taste drier as it ages. Even if “all this science I don’t understand,” I do know “it’s gonna be a long, long time” before the Calcaire comes down to earth and settles into its skin. Ten years to be sure. Rocket man.

Riesling Clos Häuserer 2012

Also Turckheim in origin (specifically Soedlen) but from marl soil atop really aggressive limestone from just under the Grand Cru Hengst’s nose. One of the highest in PH, this is austere and currently shut tight within a dry (4 g/L sugar) free lime zeppelin drum. Though aromatically mute, the mineral density on the palate is striking, like a reduction of half and half spread on sourdough toast. The 18 month lees program is most noticeable here and this Riesling will be led towards a petrol induction future. When it gets there, a taste will bring you into the Häuserer of the holy. The deep marl soil on top of calcareous Oligocene mother rock will speak and it will ask  “are you dizzy when you’re stoned?”

Riesling Brand Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11532951 $73.00, WineAlign)

There is a roundness to the Brand, in beautiful calming aromatics in defiance of the hard biotite granite, black and white mica soils. The pure mineralized clay silica brings heat to the land, with a high surface exchange quotient, not so different from the Schlossberg. This is precocious and precious Grand Cru that demands the wisdom and the fortitude of old vines, of a minimum 25-30 years of age. Zind Humbrecht’s average 66! With two per cent noble rot in the mix the wine reaches for more sugar (11.5 g/L) out of its desperately low yields. There is a high mineral ripeness and a tropical tingling, in melon and clementine.

Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 12133871 $101.00, WineAlign)

The Thann is a 22-hectare, low yielding Grand Cru. The terra is volcanic and dark sedimentary soil, very steep and homogeneous. The high mineral altitude and poor attitude means the Zind Humbrecht ambition is aromatically challenging to assess, even if to taste it’s so obviously exquisite in concentrated depth. Such a rich, intense grapey nose but the flint smothers the smoky smoulder that should be present. A tight, angular and sobering expression, more isometric and idiosyncratic than anything tasted to this point. An island in the line-up. Not the most loveable Rangen, like its name, which is too old to even know its meaning.

Riesling Heimbourg 2012

From the village of Turckheim, the vines are planted on the steepest aspect of the marl covered, oligocene limestone slope. More noble rot present here than in the Brand, resulting in, naturally higher sugar (15 g/L), richer fruit and a deeper hue. “The sweetest Riesling we’ve made in 2012,” admits Olivier. A most interesting specimen too, an upside down cake in alternating layers of apricot and crushed rocks. The flavours are high-toned, not necessarily tropical, but lush.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Alsace, France (agent, $80.00, WineAlign)

“Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” notes Humbrecht, exemplified by this blasted 2011 in contrast to all the ’12’s at these tastings. Here the fruit leans in the most elevated petrol direction, from a warm year and an earlier harvest. A younger evolution is taking place, showing immediate and gratified balance. The terroir is cool, rocky limestone with shells, similar to Burgundy. The clos is a gently sloping, six-hectare parcel. Overall it’s anti-floral, wet chalky creamy and striped by linear acidity. Only 4.5 g/L of sugar. These last two numbers mean nothing if you don’t recognize the PH because there are different acidities in wine. Here the acidity walks the fine line, side by side with its partners.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2007

From a different era, this was fermented bone-dry, dire, with less than 1 g/L of residual sugar. A Riesling to show just how tight the Zind-Humbrecht band was back then and it is just beginning to communicate in its mid-life, mineral voice. If as a lieu-dit subject it was once “incommunicado,” with no comment to make, this has changed. The notes are layered and together, the mid-palate extraordinarily full, the length in reverberating, extended play. Here in today’s communique he’s come clean, having moved on from the strict, straits style, once spun unbending. The experience of great players and exceptional monopole (Grand Cru deserving) terroir has given the ’07 Windsbuhl the foundation to realize a classic Riesling.

Pinot Gris Calcaire 2012

Fruit comes from the Heimbourg, providing pure limestone effect and a great nutty character. The sugar is nothing to forget about (10.6 g/L), here already commissioned and integrated. Provides support for Olivier’s declaration that “if anything should happen to a wine, it should be before you bottle it.” Much more accessible than the fastball-curveball-changeup, out of the strike zone ’11. Here it’s all down the middle,  juicy, hittable fastballs.

Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2012

The Rotenberg’s shallow, red soils (located on top of the Hengst) bring a whole new set of parameters to Pinot Gris, in stark contrast to the Calcaire. Two bottles were poured. A two-day old sample showed settled and mellow flavours. A new bottle was crackerjack reductive, leesy and with a shocky aridity so unusual for Pinot Gris. The soils bring concentration, here magnified and compressed by the hastened moment. All the hallmarks of the Zind-Humbrecht style are there, if suppressed; tang, herbiage and a spicy spike. Very dry (4 g/L) and really invigorating white wine.

Pinot Gris Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11545233 $74.25, WineAlign)

The noble grape in this Muschelkalk (calcareous) vineyard comes through in high concentration, with an increase in noble rot from very low yields (12 hl/L). There was hail here in 2012, just after flowering, not a devastating storm but enough to minimize quantity. The sweetness (35 g/L) is heightened and uncompromising yet always mitigated by intense mineral activity. The richest and most unctuous wine of the morning (to this point) with direct, pure ripe tree-fruit flavours. This is a Pinot Gris that remains firm against the dangers of oxidation and it will develop smoky and toasty aromas. The structure is what I would call remarkable but not exceptional. Time will tell. Here the wait needs to be a minimum five years and then to drink well past 2025.

Gewürztraminer Calcaire 2012

As of the 2011 vintage, the Wintzenheim bottling became the Calcaire, for village designation (or lack thereof) reasons. Fruit here in 2012 is mostly (not necessarily typically) from the Hengst Grand Cru vineyard. The marl and limestone leads to a very typical Alsatian and even more typical Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer. Full on glycerin, creamy, perceptibly sweet and protracted wine. Even at 35 g/L it is tempered by high tannic animation, as much as in Burgundy. Skin tannins are much more interesting than those from oak because they elevate the acidity by way of contrasting balance to the sugar. This is why they succeed.

Gewürztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2012

From old vines of the Hengst, the yield is half of the Calcaire, the concentration raising the bar in the opposite direction. The residual number is the same but the sugars are more complex, intensely natural and variegated. The texture and flavours cover a creamier, wider spectrum and even though some typical rose petal/lychee components are noted, they remain submerged beneath the piquancy and the richness. This Hengst will gain flesh and weight as it ages, elevating the potential for late harvest sensations and alcohol.

Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2012

The Muschelkalk calcareous, southeast facing slopes of this Clos employ slightly cooler temperatures and the stretched elasticity of slow-ripening to bring a sense of balance and poise to Gewürztraminer. The same can’t be said for Riesling on the same site, at least not in 2012. The Windsbuhl here speaks in more sweetness and less alcohol. “If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz,” says Olivier, “then you won’t see it in Riesling.” Here is an example that backs up one of his most telling axioms. “It’s the phenols of the grape that make it age gracefully better.” Age it will. Drink this beginning in 2020 and through 2040.

Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Hengst Grand Cru 2011

A wine not often made because of the dry climate in this Herrenweg vineyard. The gaining of full botrytis expression only happens once in every five or six years and when it does, this eager and vivid sweet wine is the result. Harvested at high ripeness and proportion (50 per cent) of noble rot, with a quick (one month) fermentation to achieve a sweet balance (vin liquoreux) not that far from some SGNs. At 102 g/L it is obviously quite sweet though once again, with acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character it strikes a balance. I don’t normally imagine late harvest wines to speak in terms of elegance or restraint and I’m not sure those are the most apt descriptors here. Yet the Hengst is as subtle as it gets for the genre and never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd.

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010

The residual on the 2010 Windsbuhl is remarkably high, this as a result of its long but (not compared to 2009) fermentation. From a historic vintage, with top-notch acidity (the goal was 16 g/L) and clean, precise botrytis. With the complexity and structure provisos of the Muschelkalk calcareous terroir and (43 year-old) vines, this exceptional dessert wine was given all the tools necessary for success. A parabola of a dessert wine, one sip and “we barely remember who or what came before this precious moment.” Attacks the mouth with an unparalleled sugar/acidity/tannin continuum. The flavours bring to mind quince, apricot and creamy mangosteen in out of control concentration. There is a reason sweet wines like these are so rare and receive such high praise. Exceptional fruit of uncompromising quality and a winemaker’s reverence are the reasons. Olivier Humbrecht prepared this 2010 to succeed and to live for decades. Drink from 2025 to 2055.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Good to go!

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Release the summer wine

A white wine for all seasons, Pinot Gris, by Maison Trimbach<br />

A white wine for all seasons, Pinot Gris, by Maison Trimbach
PHOTO: http://www.trimbach.fr/

These are the wines of summer.  Dry, saline Rosé made from classic varieties; Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. Crisp, flinty Riesling, turned to stone. All things Pinot. B.C. Cured Pinot Blanc struck by both juicy fruit and mouth-watering acidity. Pinot Gris from Alsace, impossibly dry. The same grape but from across the Rhine and under another name: Grauburgunder. Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County. Nothing else in the world smells like it. Smells like, teen spirit.

White wine that feigns bubbles and brings the wonder of Nova Scotia to the world. Chardonnay by a young winemaker in Ontario just coming into his own, ready to become a star. Classic varieties for summer grilling; Cabernet Sauvignon for a green day, Sangiovese to make your day, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and that melting pot of red wines, Châteauneuf Du Pape. All VINTAGES Ontario releases for July 19th. These are some of my summer wines. All 13 of them.

From left to right: Gassier Sables D'azur Rosé 2013, Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012, Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Gassier Sables D’azur Rosé 2013, Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012, Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2012

Gassier Sables D’azur Rosé 2013, Ac Côtes De Provence, France (33621, $14.95, WineAlign)

Always dry, dusty and salt lick oriented. A mineral bath of verdigris and rusty rainwater.  Light but all about minerals, salinity, beach and sun. What more should be requested and ascertained from value given Côtes De Provence Rosé?   Tasted June 2014  @MichelGassier

Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (372441, $18.95, WineAlign)

Noticeably dry but also earthy/funky. Struck match and plowed earth. As it settles into its skin and your consciousness it develops body, depth and acidity. Grows and expands, reaches heights you thought it would not. The vintage works wonders for the Twenty Mile Bench and this block has expansive stuffing to take it long, not to mention the earthy complexity to see it change and evolve. It may go through a disturbing, unusual phase but be patient and set one aside for 15 years from now. You will be amazed what honey and deep geology it discovers and uncovers.  Tasted June 2014  @RockwayVineyard

San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Maipo Valley, Chile (37911, $19.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, “well, I heard it all before.” This Maipo beauty begs to be different. Here is a $20 Cab with a $50 reductive funk. A heady, heavy red that needs more than just a swirl. The average Joe may smell a green day and not get it straight away. My advice would be to hang in there because with 10 minutes aeration the fresh currant, mint and rain-soaked flower aromatics will come around. And come around they do. Mocha and semi-chocolate driven, tannic like crazy and banging out a beat of crazy acidity. A ton of wine for $20.  Tasted June 2014  @Dandurandwines

Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia  (321612, $19.95, WineAlign)

Ah, terrific cool climate Pinot Blanc, with juicy acidity from a bite into a nectarine just falling from the tree. On a night like this “it goes deep, it goes deeper still,” in neo-tropical fruit (from seemingly slightly elevated alcohol). A most cured white wine, with a tannic quality that gives it texture and structure. Strike another Lloyd Braun mark on the British Columbia-Pinot Blanc free competition continuum to develop this variety with prejudice.  Seamless, with excellent length.   Tasted June 2014  @GrayMonkWinery

Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Prädikatswein, Germany (378349, $20.95, WineAlign)

This rare Pinot Gris VINTAGES sighting is a jet-gassy funky, disparate complex mess of penciled, earthy, grassy and off-dry stone fruit aromas. It’s also viscous, distracting, and propelled by thriving acidity. While the Grauburgunder hails from the other side of the Rhine, it shares a tannic, saline and mineral affinity with the Vosges PG’s of Alsace. Lives up to its Trocken designation through a rocky impart yet seems just slightly sweet in a very Kabinett way. Herbal and long. Contemporary Prädikatswein worth a look and a more than temporary place in the cellar.  Tasted June 2014  @TandemSelection

Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Ac Alsace, France (971762, $23.95, WineAlign)

For Trimbach this is a top quality vintage to make an example for one of the domain’s signature value wines. This firm and straight shooting Pinot Gris comes from limestone-dominant parcels not so different from the PG taken out of the winery’s Osterberg Grand Cru, just above Ribeauvillé. That a Pinot Gris can bring a nearly (8 g/L) elevated level of residual sugar to the table and come across bone dry, like a walkabout in the outback, remains one of life’s great mysteries. Picked prudently early, or as Alsatians like to say, “right on time,” this Trimbach is eloquent, reeks of wet, cold stone and lies over an ocean tasting of salty minerals. Pour it with the freshest, uncooked fish and a light vegetable pickle. Tasted June 2014  @trimbach

Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (373415, $25.00, WineAlign)

The most juicy, fruit forward and gregarious of the estate’s Pinots. Only Keint He Pinot smells like this, in Ontario, or elsewhere for that matter. Smells like teen spirit. It really is that unique but at the same time, undeniably Pinot. Just picked and torn cherry blossom petals and bitter chocolate dust strewn overtop fresh macerated cherries. Further coated with iron fillings. “And I forget just why I taste, oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile.” Prince Edward County Pinot Noir on the road to nirvana.  Tasted June 2014  @KeintheWinery

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, WineAlign)

From a bumper crop, there came to market 11,000 cases of this Nova Scotian feel good, faux-sparkling story. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ Nova 7 dissimulation in bubbles is a true trick of the trade and though this white wine strikes as if it were a child of a warm vintage, there is a classic lightness of Rosé fizz being in its ever so slight effervescence. A singular wine in many hybrid incarnations, in Muscat ways, of pink Perle de Csaba, segmented and pressed for a sweet burst of grapefruit. It’s low (7 per cent) in alcohol, excellent in acidity, sweet and sour, citrus zesty, juicy and dry at the same time. Batch delineated and loyal to continence, though if the quantity creeps much higher that may come in to question. Grown up pink lemonade and so easy to consume.  Tasted June and July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010, Cave Spring Riesling Csv 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Château Les Gravières 2010, Paul Autard Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010, Cave Spring Riesling Csv 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Château Les Gravières 2010, Paul Autard Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (285510, $27.95, WineAlign)

The entry of Dei’s balanced Vino Nobile was very juicy but at the same time serious and brooding. At first rhythmic, tight and anxious, you couldn’t but help but feel the strong mocker of this Sangiovese. Iron, hard rocks, knocks and a day in medieval life. If it should be opened any time in the next five years it will require a rare fleshy partner and plenty of air time. Though there was nothing faint about it, with time it found a path to a crescendo and then changed chords. It sang like a bird for a verse or two, softened enough to open a window to its future and when it spoke “I went into a dream.” Finished with a piano bass note that droned on for nearly a minute.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Cave Spring Riesling Csv 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario  (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 issue is the driest, slate-driven, flinty Cave Spring Csv as it can ever be. Don’t be looking at its heart for richness and body but there is a wall of texture forged in stone. The Csv speaks “of everything that is alive in my blue world.” One taste and all goes electric, lights up and the orchestra begins to play. Turn the stone of this statuesque Riesling to drink in the long and true loyalty to ever fibre and fissure of its rocky being. Excellent. What more could you expect, or want?  Tasted June 2014  @CaveSpring

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (33936, $30.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey’s “entry-level” Chardonnay currently resides in a bitten and certainly not shy mode. The 2011 is a Villages Reserve that is in a bit of a purgatorial place at the moment, closed down since its grand opening last summer. The rocks are speaking, as is the hubris of wood, but the fruit is up there, wafting in the proverbial wind. Let it blow and gather atmosphere, to return two or three years on, to reintegrate with the earthly elements and reform a convivial bond.  Tasted June 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Château Les Gravières 2010, Ac Saint-Émilion, Right Bank, Bordeau, France (257733, $36.85, WineAlign)

Highly concentrated, big berry crushed Saint-Émilion. Floral too and the fruits are exquisitely ripe and red. There is great tension and acidity. Crazy tannins. Exceptional wine but will need 15 years time to settle, integrate and play nice. Qualifies as the finest 14 per cent Bordeaux I’ve tasted in quite some time. A wild sense of mineral and animale climb on top. Highly ferric. Really fine.  Tasted June 2014

Paul Autard Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010, Ac, Rhône, France (380667, $49.95, WineAlign)

A refreshingly lithe and graceful 14.5 percent Châteauneuf Du Pape with every bit of richness necessary to fulfill its contract to typicity. Just a hint of both earth and animal musk, demanding tannin and more than its share of rocks and mineral give. A real winner for the vintage and in fresh air contrast to the gaining ridiculousness of extract and over-bearing alcohol-driven Rhônes. This might just be the bottle to reaffirm my waning faith in the region.  Tasted June 2014

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

The froth on Crémant d’Alsace

Colmar Canal PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Colmar Canal
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

The production of fizz by way of secondary fermentation in bottle is nothing to be ignored in Alsace. More than one in every five wines forged from the region’s vines is filled with bubbles. Most recently (in the past 18 to 24 months), certain things have come to light. A salient spike has been witnessed, with Sparkling wine increasing from 15 to more than 20 per cent of the region’s annual wine production. This means that Alsace now ranks second in France with a yearly production of more than 30 million bottles.

Six grape varieties are permitted for the production of Crémant d’Alsace; Auxerrois, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling. Chardonnay can only be used for Crémant and only Pinot Noir may be fermented to bottle a Rosé. More rules must be followed like grapes having to come from vines into its’ 3rd growing season and wines must rest a minimum nine months on the lees before bottling. Most lay longer, which helps to define this genre of Crémant’s creamy texture, matched in contrast by its stony, flinty and mineral style.

The effervescence of Crémant d’Alsace is known as prise de mousse. Basic wine is bottled with liqueur de tirage for second fermentation. Bottles are left to rest sur latte. Autolysis occurs and the dead yeast is removed by way of remuage. After aging on the fine lees, bottles are turned, deposits form in the collar, brought to the freezing point, evacuated by carbonic gas and replaced in volume by liqueur de dosage or liqueur d’expedition which yields a Crémant d’Alsace of three styles; Brut, Sec, or Demi-Sec. A balanced vintage for sparkling in 2012 yielded 270,000 hl of Crémant d’Alsace.

During my week in Alsace and with thanks to the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA) I was able to taste more than 30 producer’s Crémant. Here are my notes on 14.

Crémant d'Alasace at Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

Crémant d’Alasace at Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

Jean-Marie Haag Crémant d’Alsace, tasted at Domaine Stentz-Buecher with Les diVINes d’Alsace

Exemplary bubbles from Soultzmatt in la Vallée Noble, 20 km south of Colmar, from out of clay-limestone soils. Grapes here are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Auxerrois, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. A close-knit aridity and platinum tang are pronounced in an idiomatic lees-inflected language with a lightly oxidized lilt. A retaining wall of freshness and a slice of bitter honey-almond tart round out the complexity, intended or not, with elevated levels of Pinot vibrations making themselves known. Calls for a must return to see if it’s a one-off or a truly significant house style. Drink alongside a salty buffet.

Valentin Zusslin Crémant D’Alsace Sans Souffre Brut Zero, tasted at Domaine Stentz-Buecher with Les diVINes d’Alsace

The old vines blend from Clos Liebenberg is predominantly Pinot Auxerrois (95 per cent) with minor amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. It’s important to note the non-sulphur designation in that the not insignificant practice takes the wine to another level of Crémant sophistication. There is a savoury nut character to the Auxerrois but never in a fat, round or blanched way. The caryopsis are not like an almond but more like a roasted pistachio upon the mid-palate. Moving forward it’s like the smell of a nut-based, warm cereal. It’s quite intoxicating and lingers well into the finish.

Louis Hauller Crémant D’Alsace, tasted at Domaine Stentz-Buecher with Les diVINes d’Alsace

From 100 per cent Chardonnay, this is a fine, subtle, stylish, finessed and elegant interpretation that is a different sort of Alsace discrimination. Spent 11 months on the lees and sports more citrus than most others. Subtle bubbles here, with less froth and more Chardonnay character. Very good length.

Sipp Mack Crémant D’Alsace Rosé, tasted at Domaine Stentz-Buecher with Les diVINes d’Alsace

The smell of strawberry cream and the crème fraiche sapidity by way of sudoric lees. Fun and characterful if a bit of an ancestral taste.

Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar

Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar

Albert Mann Crémant D’Alsace Brut 2011, tasted at Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar with Albert Mann’s Marie-Thérèse Barthelme

A four-squared Pinot affair, in Blanc (66 per cent), Auxerrois (16), Noir (12) and Gris (6). This from a bottle that had just been disgorged one week prior to tasting. Out of clay-limestone and sand soils in vineyards from Kientzheim and Wettolsheim. Like album art, the Mann label is a crucial, sixth sense aspect of the wine experience. The 2011 Crémant is the artwork of François Bruetschy, “like a turnstile of fireworks while projecting fine sparks.” The 2011 Mann is very fine, misty, delicate, wistful and waiting in longing for an amuse bouche of mackerel with choucroute in a can. The wine makes me long for a walk in the vines.  @albertmannwines

Mackerel and Choucroute, Restaurant Le Théâtre Colmar

Mackerel and Choucroute, Restaurant Le Théâtre Colmar

Gustave Lorentz Crémant D’Alsace, tasted at Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar with George Lorentz

Though the label denotes this as non-vintage, the blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc is essentially from the 2011 vintage. This is what Lorentz describes as 2nd-tier house sparkling, with more ripeness in this bottle. That fruit maturity is all apple, with a minor note of oxidation and the full effect of 16 months on lees felt through texture. Once again the inclusion of Chardonnay takes the Crémant schematic condition to another level. Bring on the top-tier.

Louis Sipp Crémant D’Alsace Rosé, tasted at Restaurant Le Théâtre, Colmar with Etienne Sipp

The Sipp Crémant comes from various parcels in Ribeauvillé, from Weinbaum, Sulz and Rengelsbrunn. Etienne tells us it is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir, playfully mocking the AOC’s rule that only that variety can be used for sparkling Rosé. Sipp’s Pinot is grown in mainly heavy and deep clay soils. Picked at optimum ripeness, this is fizz that has spent 18 months aging in bottle after not having gone the way of malolactic fermentation. The result is a dry, dense, savoury and layered Pinot Noir Rosé. This third Crémant in a group with Mann and Lorentz proves that though tonight is not a competition, we see that all three have won.

Hummus, La Table de Gourmet, Riquewihr<br />

Hummus, La Table de Gourmet, Riquewihr
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Paul Zinck Crémant D’Alsace, tasted at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr with Phillippe Zinck

An efficient, sparkling requiem for success in a blend of three vintages and varieties; Pinot Noir (60 per cent), Chardonnay (30) and Pinot Blanc (10). A soft receptive, inviting and proper amalgamation in which mousse apropos peach and soft French cream delight without needing to be tough or street savvy in any way. Crémant giving like une crème de luxe, to sip with Hummus, La Table de Gourmet style and with nary a difficult moment.

Domaine Bott-Geyl Crémant D’Alsace Cuvée Paul-Edouard Brut Millésime 2007, tasted at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr with Jean-Christophe Bott  @JLBrendel   

Jean-Christophe Bott’s may be the most complex and intriguing bottle of Crémant you would have a chance to taste in the course of a week in Alsace. Bott gathers top quality Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from growers then lays the fruit low for four years on their lees. The rich and sunny vintage is vinified in what is really an Extra Brut style without any dosage whatsoever. This is small production Alsatian bubbles (2500+ bottles) disgorged in 2011 and in very early stages of development. The acidity stands in upright attention while the fruit submits to wait. The rocks and salinity raise upwards to march in extreme lengths. A sublime match to an Amuse Bouche of Cured Watermelon, pistachio, basil and mustard flower.

Foie Gras at Restaurant L'Épicurien, , Colmar

Foie Gras at Restaurant L’Épicurien, , Colmar

Charles Baur Crémant d’Alsace, tasted at Restaurant L’Épicurien, Colmar with Arnaud Baur

After its second ferment this blend of Pinot Blanc (40 per cent), Auxerrois (40) and Chardonnay (20) spent a compages-inducing 24 months on the lees. This is Baur’s main cuvée for Crémant, always made from two vintages, in this case 2009 and 2010. Most definitive and classic for the appellation. Falls within the aromatic white fruit/white flower spectrum with flavours that tease ripe Mirabelle, apricot and peach. Soft, elegant, feminine, demurred and clean. Baur’s take is a Catherine wheel of Alsatian bubbles with “all the things you dream while spinning ’round.”

Audrey et Christian Binner Crémant d’Alsace KB, tasted at Restaurant L’Épicurien, Colmar with Christian Binner 

Binner’s exotic-scented sparkling is from Kayserberg, “the emperor’s mountain,” next to the Schlossberg Grand Cru site. Old vines out of colder parcels more appropriate for making Crémant consist of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The terroir here is granitic and poor in soil, if that is what it can be called. The house style is quite oxidative and distinctively earthy, as if the rocks were breaking down into a fine, funky soil remineralization. The most terpenes yet from bubbles tasted in Alsace, with a bruised apple hematoma, a pickle of some colonialist kind and a spice cupboard to fill a curry recipe. In the end this is unusual, yet vivid and jazzy fizz.

Schoenheitz Picnic<br />

Schoenheitz Picnic
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Vins Schoenheitz Crémant d’Alsace Millesimé 2007, tasted on the steep slopes of the valley of Munster with Dominique, Henri and Adrien Schoenheitz

Primarily focused upon Pinot Auxerrois and righteously so, with just a 10 per cent buoyancy from Pinot Blanc. The combination of striking Auxerrois fruit grown on the estate’s (400-500m) high altitude steep slopes and a memorable Alsace vintage is just deadly. The varietal choice in low acidity out of a vintage with character and temper here translates to aridity (1 g/L residual sugar) and long on lees texture. Like a Ron Sexsmith ballad, a listen, one look at its bronze patina, one taste and you will “see the forest for the trees,” because there’s gold in them hills. Perfect timing to break out an all-natural, no dosage ’07, marked by gratuitous acidity and mountain verve. An auspicious start to a picnic in the hills.  @VinsSchoenheitz

Pierre Frick Crémant d’Alsace 2013, tasted at Domain Pierre Frick with Jean-Pierre Frick

Jean-Pierre Frick poured two just bottled yet raw examples meant to set a perspective table for the 2013 finished wine that followed. The 50/50 Pinot Blanc et Noir (NV and 2013) were both picked ripe (nearly overripe), pressed direct and treated with nothing, nada, niente, zilch, rien. No sulphites, yeast or sugar. With zero dosage and opening too soon in evolution, these bottles were marked by arrested fermentation. The absence of the second fermentation meant for a flat, oxidative result. The experiment may have meant no Crémant but it helped to organize, define and ultimately assess the ’13. Same minimalist method but with a secondary ferment, this bottle (though warm) offered high citrus and biting, forceful, sharp acidity. When returned to an hour later and from a cold bottle, the wine was much brighter and atomically fresh. Frick’s method and style mean his sparkling must spend a minimum one year in bottle before it can be sold.

Casks at Jean-Pierre Frick

Casks at Jean-Pierre Frick

Pierre Frick Crémant d’Alsace 2012, tasted at Domaine Pierre Frick with Jean-Pierre Frick

One of JP’s “funny wines.” Once again, no sulphur but this time with natural yeasts. Notated by a slight coppery, salmon tinge and minimally oxidative, though in no way over the top. “My idea was a dry Crémant but he’s not dry. C’est la vie.” To Frick this is a wine for young and really old people. Toasted brioche, buttered toast and almond extract are joined by a late arriving, very interesting, savoury sweetness. The finish smoulders, with that ever-bearing herbiage adding another layer. This Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc split comes in at 12.5 – 13.5 per cent alcohol. Frick doesn’t really know. “I write 13 per cent because I just have to put something on the bottle.”

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What ya drinkin’?

Grilled Flank Steak

Grilled Flank Steak

There’s no time for preamble. VINTAGES rolls out another long list of wines for the weekend. All your summer bases are covered. The Pinot Noir from New Zealand are really, really good. There are whites from Greece, Niagara and South Africa to not only try but embrace. Two Ontario reds will satiate the grill. Here is a list of eight wines to look for right now.

From the left and clockwise: Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010

From the left and clockwise: Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010

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

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.  Tasted June 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Greece (371658, $17.95, WineAlign)

Assyrtiko is the rock but the composition is altered by smaller parts of Aidani and Athiri. Softer, warmer and much more approachable than the Santorini, not quite so stony but with more intense juice. A modern take on the ancient game. The palate lays out the uneven, tannic and rocky road to the amphitheatre. A long walk on carefully arranged boulders. A salt bath in warm springs. The wines of Argyros do so much to bring Greece to the world. Citrus finish and more salty mineral.  Tasted June 2014  @KolonakiGroup

Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (64592, $19.95, WineAlign)

Such a pretty and elegant take on Gewürztraminer, of flowers white and in bloom, nuts blanching away. A structural, searing tightness to the mineral laced fruit will develop yet unrealized tannin and tension. There may be nothing gangly or highly viscous about it and its style is nearly, completely dry. Notes of orange zest and lychee pit. Very clean. Elan, ecrue, pearl.  Tasted June 2013  @featherstonewne

Clos Henri Bel Echo Terroir Greywacke Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (159137, $22.95, WineAlign)

“It is a special joy for the Bourgeois family to make Pinot Noir in New Zealand.” That statement is one you just gotta love. The Henri Bourgeois clan clearly have a whole lotta love for the climate, soils, people and the possibilities the terroir presents for his dedication towards restrained, elegant Pinot Noir. Though this teases with highly modern and juicy elements, almost, dare I say, Sonoman, there remains a rooted, savoury sense of the earth. Takes a page out of Burgundy’s book and plants it in Marlborough. Plums, cherries, smoke, spice, some tannin and for the price, nearly impossible structure. Angles and bitters persist but beneath a wealth of fruit. “Keep a coolin’, baby.” The price is impossible. Great value.  Tasted June 2014  @ClosHenri

Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (381244, $29.95, WineAlign)

Would I not be remiss to ignore the Tawse Laundry Vineyard by way of comparison? With the Redstone, the sister winery puts forth the same amicable fruit with charred meat accents yet minus the hyper-specific Pender perfume and wisdom. Here is an ocean in between the waves. I came in to taste Redstone with an open mind, even “bet against the company again. They tried to redefine everything that I know and love. Gotta know you’re mine.” Winemaker Rene Van Ede has fashioned a delicious Cabernet Franc that speaks in a clear 2010 voice. A war on drugs. Though it bears no teeth of conceit there is a very positive funk and sanguine notes make a play, but ultimately submit to an overall red currant, sweet bell pepper and tobacco realm. The pyrazine ring compound binds many types of pepper, cracked, swelling and swollen. A long and rich elixir without the oak needing to be heard. It does not shout but whispers. Unmistakable Pender mentored Rock ‘N Roll Cabernet Franc. Really well made. Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @RedstoneWines

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa  (931006, $34.95, WineAlign)

From what is rapidly developing as a (if not already engraved in stone) Grand Cru site in the Hemel En Aarde Valley, 2012 is a vintage that comes to greater strength from strength. Every aroma, every nuance is characterized by elegance and elasticity. Romantic Chardonnay, so representative of real love, of mineral, of most excellent barrels, ripe fruit and deft touches. Hamilton Russell takes South African Chardonnay to an entirely higher level. “Thought I’d been in love before, but in my heart, I wanted more. Seems like all I really was doing was waiting for you.”  Tasted June 2014  @TrialtoON

Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (376731, $36.95, WineAlign)

Though the Paladin is four years in it still retains its barrel baby fat. The rich red fruit tower reels behind a slightly reductive must and a compromise of toast and splinters from18 months spent in a mixture of 25 per cent new and 75 older French oak barrels. There is a whole surrealist street gang of fruit lurking in shadows of a de Chirico drama. I can sense the ripe plums and the cherries ready and willing to bake in the proverbial pie, and though blisteringly dry (less than 1 g/L residual sugar), it will always see potential by way of total acidity (6.1g/L). Will realize a seamless transition to mid-life anxiety while the fruit simmers away in a cauldron of that fine acidity. Ruud Maasdam’s Pinot Noir is of the scuola metafisica kind.  Tasted June 2014  @StaeteLandtWine  @liffordretail

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

The richest Terroir Caché to date, making use of its barrel in judicious but never obnoxious ways. Huge Bench wine, needs 10 years for sure. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip.” From my earlier March 2013 note: “has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine”  Last tasted June 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

The South Coast is clear

Lake Erie

Lake Erie

It would be a stretch to expect anyone living more than 100-km away from Port Dover to know much about Ontario’s newest and next viticulture hot spot, Ontario South Coast Wines. The same concession might apply to most journalists working with regular intensity and immersion within the Ontario wine industry. OSCW should not be confused with its brethren further west, the wineries that make up the Lake Erie North Shore appellation. Ontario’s southwest? Wine route? You may ask yourself, how did I not know about this place? How can this be?

This is the area most likely to be Ontario’s next VQA-qualified appellation. Cool-climate remains the most apt descriptor, no different from LENS to the left and Niagara to the right, but this pocket of the lake is blessed of a specifically warm-ish micro-climate. The name itself presents as a bit of a misnomer, “Ontario South Coast Wines,” its geographical location set upon a ridge overlooking the north-east shore of Lake Erie running east from just west of Long Point, through Port Rowan, St. Williams, Turkey Point, Normandale, Port Ryerse and to Port Dover.

To agree with the emerging region’s calling card, simply draw a bunch of parallel and converging lines south from Lake Huron, through the Highway 401 straddling communities of London, Kitchener and Cambridge. Continue southeast past the Highway 403 delta of the Brantford area and through the Highway Three corridor towns of  Waterford, Courtland, Delhi and Simcoe. Spread out along the Eco-nature park-beach community-rugged coast and now you’ve got your bearings. This is the wine country of Norfolk County.

All aboard the Kayloe PHOTO: http://www.ontariosouthcoastwine.com/

All aboard the Kayloe
PHOTO: http://www.ontariosouthcoastwine.com/

Better still, follow the lead of Magdalena Kaiser-Smit of Wine Country Ontario and climb aboard the Kayloe, a 65-foot boat run by Nomada Charters and take a three-hour Lake Erie tour from the water, with a dozen or so local wineries on board and get to know the people and the place. Listen to Mike McArthur, President of the Grape Growers Association speak about 1996, the transition year for the area. Realize how an agricultural community that once housed tobacco farms make a communal decision to transform with the times and switch to grape growing. Hear him talk about the great history of viniculture in the least known of Ontario wine landscapes, a place where grapevines were spotted as early as the late 1600’s.

The boat trip and the wine speak mean nothing here without the idea of hospitality to accompany the local ferments, wines made not just from grapes, but from a wide variety of fruits. There are approximately 130 acres under vine in Grey and Norfolk counties. Nine wineries are located in Norfolk, with seven currently open for business. Liz Campbell and Trevor Taylor of F.W. Knechtel Food Catering make use of local asparagus, mushrooms and Lake Erie Perch to bring matching and meaning to the wines.

Outboard BBQ

Outboard BBQ

Fruit wines are an integral part of the South Coast experience so I decided to begin and end on high glucose notes. Berries have half the natural sugar content as grapes so cane sugar is added to give the yeasts enough convertible material to raise the alcohol to stable levels for longer preservation. Blueberry Hill was my first stop, a St. Williams winery that ferments with the hybrid Vidal, along with cranberries, raspberries and of course, blueberries. The wines are pure, distilled fruit expressions, with tart notes and flavours of the heart. Their straight-up blueberry is the best of the lot.

The uncontested Norfolk leader is Burning Kiln Winery and not just from a quality standpoint. Burning Kiln has positioned itself as a marketing and appellative promotional leader with Doug Beatty (formerly of Colio Estate Wines) as its spokesman, front and centre. Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski (formerly of Vineland Estates, Legends Estates, DeSousa, Fielding Estate, Megalomaniac, Foreign Affair and Organized Crime, now of Colaneri Estate and his own label, Big Head Wines) is an established Ontario master. His experience with the appassimento method is perfect for BK’s old tobacco kiln employment for drying grapes. Assistant winemaker Patti Fixter authored a feasibility study on Norfolk County’s Sand Plain and its ability to host a viable, sustainable viticultural industry. The winery is progressive, adventurous and ostensibly single-handedly responsible for putting South Coast on the current Ontario wine road map.

Burning Kiln Tank Samples

Burning Kiln Tank Samples

Doug Beatty brought some tank samples aboard. The springy and herbal 2013 Horse & Boat Riesling carries 20 g/L of residual sugar “to punch back the acids.” This is part of BK’s Green Kiln Series. A 2013 Savagnin tank sample carries similar texture but in elevated glycerin. The metal on top of that mouth feel really come forward to balance the residual and the alcohol (which is dramatically indiscernible). Grassy Sauvignon Blanc-like aromas and a very Jura palate are the hallmarks of a South Coast take in a wine that is such a baby.

The Harvest Party White tank sample gathers Chardonnay (59 per cent), Gewurztraminer (21), Riesling (18) and Pinot Gris (2). A chewy, textured, kitchen sink blend that stings of limestone, an herbal balm and a late edgy metallic bite. The Chardonnay 2013 tank sample spent 18 months in foudres. Reminds of a Lenko treatment, from fruit 50 per cent estate and 50 Niagara. Thin but linear and focused, with very good length, a crunch of green apple and round herbiage.

The 2011 Kiln Hanger from tank follows the same process at the ’10 from a less than scorching vintage but will arrive in bottle at 15.8 per cent alcohol. Only 400 cases will be produced from a cat-like specimen, still chewy, a chunk of major Cabernet Franc change. Higher in acidity and cool plums than in 2010, this is no shrinking Norfolk violet. Will show more style and less humidity than that ’10.

Burning Kiln Savagnin ‘Stick Shaker’ 2012, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign)

What BK refers to as dry white Vin de Curé, or the “Parish Priest’s,” this is their take on the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine). The South Coast may have a wine tradition that dates back to the 1600’s but Savagnin does not go back by the Ontario centuries.  At 14.9 per cent a heavy feeling would be expected but to the contrary, the SS is light as a feather, like a CSN ballad. Aromatically muted, the warmth of the vintage comes through in the textural density of the palate. Expressive and chewy like all of the Burning Kiln portfolio. A wine from two of only 10 total acres planted in the province. Though we may be “gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit,” here’s to helplessly hoping Savagnin takes root and flourishes in Ontario.

Burning Kiln Harvest Party Red 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

From an overall 50/50, Estate/Niagara blend. The composition is Syrah (49 percent, all Niagara), Cabernet Franc (42 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (9). Reminds of Fielding’s Fireside Red in approachability and blending acumen. Though an understudy, the softness of the Cabernet Sauvignon is duly noted as a foil to the clay/kiln effect from the piquant Cabernet Franc. Some chalk and even more chew, in the beginning this is just mostly fresh and wild with low, obtuse angles.

Burning Kiln Cab Frank 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Named for the vineyard manager at Burning Kiln, Frank DeLeebeck was a tobacco farmer for more than 20 years. From 50/50 Estate/Niagara, 100 per cent kiln dried grapes for 10-14 days. This is CF all about concentration and a bridge from old tobacco to New World winemaking. Here kilns are the vehicle to transport the winery’s wines to the New World. Though this rich, cakey Cabernet Franc turns sweet on the finish, there is terrific acidity and admirable length. Holds its 14.3 per cent alcohol well. A unique appassimento.

Burning Kiln Strip Room Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

A 50/50 Estate and Niagara fruit split, classic Right Bank-styled blend of Merlot (55 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (45), kiln dried for 8-14 days. There is strength in alcohol (14.3 per cent) yet calm, dry reserve in (4.5 g/L) residual sugar. The aromatic profile is the most flirtatious of the BK stable, with the bruising and crushing of so many berries. There is a plum softness given by the Merlot, along with chalk, grain, vanilla and coconut from the generous six-month, three (French, Eastern European and American) oak layering. Like quality satellite St. Emilion, with so much noticeable tobacco.

Burning Kiln Kiln Hanger 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $59.95, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent Cabernet Franc, 100 per cent Kiln dried red made in two batches. Ages 32 months in Eastern European and American oak, half held back for this, The Sequel. Altogether there are 335 cases made of this huge, 15.9 per cent alcohol behemoth. The second coming furthers the already wealthy concentration with Alice anxiety and anaesthetizing mouth filling richesse. Here layers anything but a simple matter of loaded, dusty cocoa, decadent chocolate and creamy mocha. “I couldn’t tell if the bells were getting louder,” the entire cooperage preaching of “fanatical exposers on corners prophecy.”  Huge wine. Love it to death.

At Quai du Vin there are vineyards planted in 1970 by Redi and Roberto Quai. Today Jamie Quai makes the wine at the St. Thomas winery with the wisdom of those vines and the respectful touch of a winemaker with a minimal interventionist approach. Jamie Quai is concerned with the unearthing of micro-plot nuances in the Norfolk terroir. Quai du Vin farms 20 acres and has been open for business since 1990.

Quai du Vin

Quai du Vin

Quai du Vin Chardonnay 2012, Ontario (winery, $13.50)

From 15 year-old vines on the Sparta Moraine and what Jamie Quai calls “a field blend.” Though the soils are all heavy clay, there is a clay meets stone textural balance, surely thanks to five or six months lees contact. Like well-made southern Burgundy, the chosen yeast heightens the autolytic chain, allowing the flavours to veer tropical but not overly so. A Chardonnay that fell in love with a well-judged barrel while conceptualizing “good botrytis,” resulting in exceptional complexity for a song. Will drink beautifully through 2016.

Quai du Vin Red, Signature Series 2012, Ontario (winery, $12.50)

A blend of Marechal Foch (40 per cent), Baco Noir (30) and Merlot (30) from a host of appellations; Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Sparta Moraine Acres and Elgin County-North Shore Lake Erie. This has a thick brushstroke brought on by a predominance within the conglomerate of heavy clay. Unexpectedly tannic, chewy, with a sweet chocolate brownie finish. Not to mention tomato and the plant’s savoury leaf. The first vintage that Merlot made the cut in lieu of usually employed Cabernet Franc.

Quai du Vin Merlot 2012, Ontario (winery, $16.00)

Made from the same Merlot fruit in the Signature Red. Spent just over a year in barrel, the wine is still very primary and aromatically speaking, highly dusty. A painted note, green tea and rusty dry fruit are wrapped in an early reductive, nearly volatile note. Chewy, splintered, with grit, conceit and solid work. Note: Only 25 per cent of the vines will likely have survived the winter of 2014.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Mystery of Hrio 2013, Ontario (winery, $11.95)

A dry white made from three (numbered) hybrid grapes developed at Vineland Research Station.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Trout Fly Riesling 2012, Ontario  (winery, $12.50)

From 100 per cent Estate vines planted in 1996, this has that roots gathered mineral salinity from sandy loams so reminiscent of the Burgenland’s dry Rieslings. That Austrian run-off minerality is uncanny and when foiled by the old vines glycerin texture, the end result is quite a study in Simcoe complexity. A small amount of Traminer lifts the Riesling, along with some lees usage. Amazing discovery.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2012, Ontario  (winery, $15.95)

From Estate grapes planted around the year 2000. Lithe, pretty and certainly very Pinot. Like Kiwi Pinot in that the flesh is permeated by varnish. Wraps together cherry, pomegranate, cranberry and wet earth. If an Old World comparison might be made it would be to Mercurey, as it’s light, highly floral, with a break in the mid-palate and a stretched finish. “We’ve always ended up with light Pinot,” says winemaker and mad scientist Phil Ryan. That’s a good thing.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Norfolk Red 2013, Ontario  (winery, $11.95)

From Niagara and Norfolk (Marechal Foch, Baco Noir and Chambourcin) grapes. A hybrid party.

Villa Nova Estate Winery

Villa Nova Estate Winery

Frisky Beaver White 2012, VQA Ontario (345629, $13.95, WineAlign)

The all Niagara fruit blend is Vidal (75 per cent), Riesling (15) and Gewurztraminer (10). It’s considered VQA “Ontario” because Dover Vineyards awaits a viticultural designation. The irony here is that it may as well be labeled Niagara. This is clean and easy stuff, low in alcohol (11.2 per cent), elevated in sugar (18.4 g/L) but balancing in total acidity (5.6 g/L). Overall it has texture and tannic ability. Not a stressful blend by any stretch, it’s Pinot Gris like in Alsatian attitude with a juicy, peppery pear fruit tendency.

Smoke & Gamble Gewurztraminer Süssreserve 2011, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Unfermented (11.8 per cent) appassimento juice is added back in for aromatic and textural effect. Semi-tropical and semi-dry, in pineapple and green apple but not lychee. This is Musqué in scent, clean, pure and true. From 100 per cent Norfolk fruit.

Smoke & Gamble Merlot Reserve 2011, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A wild at heart Merlot, brooding, serious, deep and full. Caramel and chocolate, ginger spice and ripe plum. Coat, paint, coat, repeat. Alcohol is big (14.4 per cent) but well-integrated and whatever perceived sweetness there may be (4 g/L) is mitigated by a leafy, savoury edge.

Smoke & Gamble Cabernet Franc Appassimento 2010, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Here is the deepest, post-modern wine made anywhere in the province. Reeking of rich, candied violets smothered in dark chocolate. Chalk and talc in licks and a dense, chewy mid-palate. A massive (14.5 per cent) wine with so much chocolate dust and thick glycerin. A stable of so many big attributes and in only winemaker Robert Gill ‘s second year dealing with the Amarone-style methodology. “The first year I was scared, I’ll admit.”

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Vidal 2012, Ontario (winery, $14.25)

From estate vines. Juicy, white peach and nectarine aromas, metal angles, straight up distillation of pure grapes.  Low brix and solid PH give it tannic thrust.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Riesling 2012, Ontario (winery, $15.95)

Estate fruit (100 per cent). Sweet and with aromatic energy. Off-dry all the way. Leans Mosel in kindred spirit. Orchard fruit and excellent acidity. Slightly bitter-tinged finish, but in a noble way.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Baco Noir 2011, Ontario (winery, $18.20)

A cheese in lees inflected BN, not the brooding and pitchy type. Some elegance, in as much as Baco Noir can show. Yet unusual because of that yogurt drip. Good acids, floral tones and citrus.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Chambourcin 2011, Ontario (winery, $18.20)

Once again, all the lees, cheese and citrus , but also sweet and sour with some soy and caramel. Tight and racy Chambourcin, certainly as complex and accomplished as any this side of Michigan.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2012 (Tank Sample)

High cranberry and dry earth bring this right back to Burgundy basics. Rosehip and sandalwood from old oak wrapped in sweet tannins. A bit of sinew and braised bouille. The coat is on.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Merlot 2012 (Tank Sample)

From Niagara (De Moura Vineyards) fruit. Chalk in limestone, chocolate and a medium wood toast. Some green tannin, tea for sure but also some sweet tannin. Also roasted, charred red meat.

We wrapped up with some of the most righteous fruit wines one could ever hope to taste by way of Wooden Bear L Winery Inc.  Kim Ludwig’s wines are full of wildflowers, citrus expression and great balance. Her Gay-La Apple wine from 100 per cent Gala apples is like savoury Sauvignon Blanc, with angles in metal, low acidity but it’s dry and crisp. Her Sangria in a bottle has a liqueur-like taste, a slightly reductive, good bitterness and so much spirit. Not to mention tons of grapefruit.

Planting palm trees in Port Dover

Planting palm trees in Port Dover

All is good out on the water and we made it safely back to Port Dover, just in time to watch the annual planting of the palm trees. You can’t make this stuff up.

Good to go!

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In a Grand Cru state of mind

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

I have been in Alsace now just over 48 hours and already feel as though I have been introduced to a lifetime of wine. Yet with every taste of the Alsace pansophy I am reminded just how long the unfathomable road to the region’s enlightenment remains to be. The combination of nuance, complexity and acuity of the Alsatian wine spirit may have no equal. Some highlights of the first two days in Alsace with SOPEXA and CIVA.

Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

What a way to be introduced to Alsace in 2014. Les diVINes d’Alsace, an organization of 70 industry women and Domaine Stentz-Buecher rolled forth a genealogical pedigree of Alsace past and present with food station matching in the winery’s garden and in the barrel rooms. First Crémant, then whites of many incarnations; Pinot Gris, blends, Gewürztraminer and many, many Rieslings. The final prize at the end of a long scroll of grand achievements were Grand Cru Riesling from the vintage 2000. The eight acted out a Grand Cru finale of generous spirit via and the women of

Louis Haller Brut Crémant D'Alsace / @diVINeSDaLSACE

Louis Haller Brut Crémant D’Alsace / @diVINeSDaLSACE

Les vigneronnes Mélanie Pfister and Carolyn Sipp introduced the three year-old organization, the winemakers, winemaker’s wives and sommeliers that form the membership of l’Association des Femmes de la Vigne & du Vin d’Alsace. “We are feminine but not feminism,” quipped Sipp. The idea began in 2009, following in the footsteps of similar women in the Rhône, Bourgogne and the Southwest of France. Women who have banded together to promote their region’s wines.

Laurence Hauller showed the 100 per cent Chardonnay Louis Hauller Crémant d’Alsace, a fine, subtle, stylish, finessed and elegant interpretation of Chardonnay that is a different sort of Alsace discrimination. Eliane Ginglinger presented her bone dry, citrus in laser focus Ginglinger Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2012. Myriam Haag offered up Domaine Jean-Marie Haag’s Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2011, an enervating wine with richness bled from rocks and a finishing noble bitterness. Myriam Schmitt brought her Domaine François Schmitt Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2012 that though in sweet emotive intention remains buoyant in the persevering air of aridity. It defines the transformative trend towards Dry Alsatian Riesling. Josiane Griss of Domaine Maurice Griss’ Riesling Sonnenberg 2010 if asked the question, “how long have you been a Riesling” would surely answer simply, “from creation.”

Grand Cru Riesling 2000

Grand Cru Riesling 2000

The Riesling Grand Cru from 2000 were a varied and electric bunch. The Caves François Schmitt Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2000 is a baby still and in hallmark readiness of its necessary terroir. The Domaine Sipp-Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2000, also young and primary teases and feigns late harvest but don’t be fooled by its sunshine. This chew of salted stones has a long, long finish. the show stealer was the Magnum of Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2000 by Vins Jean-Baptiste Adam. Incredibly atomic with a vineyard flinty stink that exhumes and exudes the benevolent bitterness of time. Wildness and purity.

Godello and Pierre Gassman of Rolly Gassman

Godello and Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassmann

The main event of Monday, June 16th was the Millésimes Alsace, the professional trade fair for Alsace, Wines. Nearly 90 exhibitors showed off their terroir, in Crémant d’Alsace, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Muscat and Pinot Noir. A morning Master Class seminar featured eight world-class Sommeliers leading the room through seven “typical” Alsace wines. Maison Rolly Gassmann’s Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2000 is late harvest mineral expression in bitterness unchained yet restrained.

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 and Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Furstentum 1994

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 and Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Furstentum 1994

The afternoon Master Class covered older vintages. Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 lays in an evolution that has come to a balance in weightlessness. Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Furstentum 1994 has a tannic impression and smells like flowers from warmer France. Caroline Furstoss reminded everyone that it is “an expression of a daughter.” Impeccable balance.

Mélanie Pfister

Mélanie Pfister

The third of a most excellent Alsatian vintage trilogy was represented by Domaine Pfister’s Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 1990. With a clotted cream note the wise Cru remains youthful and nearly primary.

The wines of Jean-Marie Haag

The wines of Jean-Marie Haag

Domaine Jean-Marie Haag’s Riesling Cuvée Marion 1999 showed rich, viscous complexity with the sensation of star anise and menthol.

Kuentz-Bas Riesling 1983 and Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

Kuentz-Bas Riesling 1983 and Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

The high point of the day came with a rare and beautiful chance to taste the Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945. The heart and the hearth. Just the thought of producing this wine at that time is unfathomable. There are no superlatives to do it justice. This must end on that note. More on the Kuentz-Bas Riesling 1983 another day.

Good to go!

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Talkin’ ’bout my Generation Riesling

Nadien Poss, Generation Riesling PHOTO: http://germanwinecanada.com/

Nadine Poss, German Wine Queen
PHOTO: http://germanwinecanada.com/

I’m not trying to ’cause a big s-s-sensation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
 I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-g-generation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

Nadine Poss from Windesheim in the Nahe region was elected 65th German Wine Queen back in September, 2013. That is a much bigger deal than you might think. Being chosen for the distinction is like winning the Miss America pageant and winemaker of the year at the same time, wrapped into one title. Ms. Poss travels the world to promote German wine. She represents 20,000 German wine growers nationally and internationally.

The 23 year-old Poss and Toronto Sommelier Will Predhomme presented Generation Riesling to a Toronto audience of writers, sommeliers, restaurant buyers and LCBO product consultants at Arcadian Court on May 20th, 2014. A walk around tasting followed with many a young face in the crowd. The concept and the intent is simple.  Generation Riesling is all about bringing German wine to young people, to the millennial, to an “innovative, open-minded, well-educated, internationally oriented, and ambitious younger generation.”

With the queen in tow, the marketing and appeal is clear. Bring on the young people, teach them to drink dry (trocken, halbtrocken, classic or selection) wine. They will concentrate on what they like and they are not afraid to try new things. The new German wine label no longer feels the need to inform the consumer of every aspect contained within the wine’s birth certificate. While the wine name’s estate, the grape variety and the vintage are all likely to be there, arbitrary listings like style, quality level, the region, the town, grower or cooperative indication and quality control numbers may become label distinctions of the past.

According to Predhomme, Generation Riesling is about highlighting the dry wines coming to market. “The important thing is that people are having the conversation.” It had been difficult to sell German wines, but this has changed, in the appeal to and with thanks to the aforementioned millennials. Riesling also pairs with hard to figure foods. “For egg yolks, turn to Riesling,” insists Predhomme. He means it.

Generation Riesling Tasting

Generation Riesling Tasting

The 10 wines poured were anything but household names with each sample drier than the next. Not a single wine presented at the lunch seminar are available in VINTAGES or at the LCBO. These are wines that any progressive wine retailer must make available on their shelves. The choice of introducing new and under the radar producers to the Ontario market is brilliant as far as I am concerned. Now let’s see the style and vanguard approach gain market share. That ambiguity remains to achieve fruition and to be seen.

Weingut Willems & Hofmann/Fritz Mueller Perlwein 2010, Willems, Rheinhessen (agent, $18.95)

Tongue and cheek play on the Müller Thurgau grape, Prosecco style. On the fruity side, straightforward, compact and with good persistence. Aromas of pear, tarragon and a smooth, pale streak of concrete.  @LeSommelierWine

G.H. von Mumm’sches Weingut Riesling 50 Degrees 2013, Rheingau ($14.95)

Dry to be sure though the aridity is not furthered by the breakdown of elemental particles and the peach intent never drifts into off-dry territory. Though this lacks the acidity necessary for lift there’s a clean slate and atomically, soil-driven bent. Later on there’s a note of Muscat-like grapey reduction. Simple and effective.

Weingut Prinz von Hessen Riesling Dachsfilet 2012, Rheingau (agent, $41.95)

A step up for sure, with a bag of mineral tricks, aromatic heights, some tropical notes but only in zest and rind. Like a hybrid of watermelon and papaya. There’s an intensity here in the dry-fresh continuum but also balm viscidity and textural tiling.  Named one of Wines of Germany’s top 50 wines for 2014.  @KylixWines

Weingut Bergdolt Reif & Nett Riesling Trocken Black Edition 2013, Pfalz, (agent)

From a winery just south of Frankfurt blessed with a Mediterranean climate. Here this Riesling helped along with a cure of 20 per cent barrel ferment, “goes deep, it goes deeper still,” in golden, sun spot, citrus activity. Comes to it early, waxy, polishing, in a Semillon-like, dry, tight, mouth-watering well of deprivation. It’s not petrol but gas-driven. Something unnamed gives it air, this helium voiced, weightless, gravity defying Riesling. Could certainly drink this on a night like this, or any other.

Ruppertberger Winzerverein Riesling Ruppertsberger Nussbien Dry 2013, Pfalz (agent)

This has a stable periodic table of balance and concrete interference of the stellar kind. Layered and textural must in grape spirits moving through black forests. Tight and imbued of great tang. More intensity from Pfalz. Lime finish. Great match to the soubise.

Meyer-Näkel & Klumpp Grauburgunder Pinot Gris ‘Hand in Hand’ 2013, Baden (agent, $25.00)

A touch of laundry stink in this Pinot Gris is neither off-putting nor should it be ignored. It is one of intelligent character and intriguing interest. PG also quivering on the fruity, peachy and approachable spectrum, low on spark and pepper, low on spice accent. A clean vernacular, a quiet approach. The palate is another story. Alive, kicking, the spark is there, as is the push to greater, future moments.  @VonTeichman

Weingut Dreissigacker Riesling Organic 2013, Rheinhessen (agent, $27.50)

From winery’s name that means “30 acre,” here gifts a sour patch note and because of the arid profile, the lack of residual sends it into sundry territory. With air it climbs out of the tart and into straight dry, pauses and finishes in the desert. To the sour note it simply says “we used to be friends.” There is something textured about it that speaks of a barrel but it’s too dandy and riveting to be like the Nett. It seems to say “it was a greeting I send to you, short and sweet to the soul I intend.” The winemaker is not worried about roundness and though this has fermentative smells, that’s just fine.  @kswineimports

Burg Ravensburg Pinot Noir 2012, Baden (agent, $27.95)

Feminine and so very pretty for German Pinot Noir. A veritable potpourri of violets, orange skins and ripe cherries. The lack of paint is almost impossible. Just barely beyond 12 months of age on this wine. Not a lot of pop, but it’s softness is endearing. A palate that is expressive of strawberry. Not about power. Thoughts need not go there.  @TheLivingVine

Weingut Runkel Bechtheimer Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Rheinhessen 2011, (agent, $24.95)

Bright and earthy cherry and a really great bit of vineyard funk. Reminds me of Niagara’s 13th Street in style. There’s a fuzzy berry feel to it but it’s clear and precise, like a Bruce Cockburn instrumental. Vanilla in pods and juice from the middle onwards. Fresh scraped vanilla in sugar syrup extract. So very vanilla. Paint and vanilla, repeat. It’s a bit of imbalance but it carries the notes for great and with conviction. This is the most cerebral of the three Pinot Noirs. Spätburgunder at the end of all rivers@Matthias_Runkel

Weingut Klumpp Pinot Noir 2011, Baden (agent)

A much deeper, must and musky animal, earth-driven, black cherry Pinot Noir. More of a modern expression, higher in extract and seemingly longer hang time. The fruit has further development on it which will make for immediate gratification but not necessarily a longevity of gratitude. Strikes as coming from a hot vintage. SA citrus and persimmon vintage. Simply delicious, fleeting, now necessary Pinot.   @TheLivingVine

Generation Riesling Line-Up

Oliver & Bonacini Events, Arcadian Loft
401 Bay Street, Simpson Tower, 9th Floor
Toronto, ON  M5H 2Y4

Phone: 416.364.1211

Nicole Karmali – Operations Manager, O&B Events

Chef Michael Robertson – Executive Chef, Arcadian

Generation Riesling Lentils
Poached Hen’s Egg, dupuy lentils, smoked bacon

Generation Riesling Menu

Monday, May 20, 2014

Scallop Crudo, sunflower, lemon balm

Poached Hen’s Egg, dupuy lentils, smoked bacon

Grilled Salmon, broiled asparagus, onion soubise

Thyme and Roasted Garlic Braised Beef Short Rib, braised cabbage, marinated beans

Nosey Goat Camelot, Comfort Cream, walnut and cherry compote, artisan chocolate

Generation Rieling Logo

Good to go!

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