Every barrel tells a story

Tawse Barrel Cellar PHOTO: www.tawsewinery.ca

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

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

Related – Paul Pender’s Tawse and effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norm Hardie and Paul Pender in the Tawse Barrel Cellar

Norm Hardie and Paul Pender in the Tawse Barrel Cellar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

 

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Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

Mary Catherine Wasilik, (Merry Bee) the Assistant Winemaker of Rosewood Estates Winery checking out the Pinot Noir pick at Wismer Vineyard in Balls Falls, Ontario
PHOTO: KRYSTINA ROMAN, QUEEN SOCIAL BEE/ROSEWOOD ESTATES WINERY

as seen on canada.com

Taste Ontario is a special event. The VINTAGES prescribed gathering of Ontario wine, the makers and the marketers should never be missed. The Royal Ontario Museum is a terrific setting for such a palooza and the Bronfman Hall a cozy, comfortable and airy room to showcase the wines.

That this gathering is conspicuous as much for its omissions as it is for the unparalleled quality and consistency of the wines does not need to be overly debated. The figure of “80 wines from over 30 of Ontario’s most passionate and talented winemakers” is certainly a drawing card despite VQA Ontario‘s contention “there are over 125 Ontario wineries producing VQA wines of various appellations – all backed up by VQA Ontario’s assurance of origin and quality.”

The VINTAGES say in what specific bottles should be poured was certainly in evidence last Thursday and succeeded for the purposes of presenting the licensee and the consumer with a cross section of Ontario’s signature grapes. Chardonnay was not high in representation but considering the recent run from and following #i4C2013 (Cool Chardonnay) that was to be expected. What the general public does not know for certain is the quality potential in and necessity of Ontario’s production of Sparkling wine, Gamay and Syrah. Three categories virtually ignored at Taste Ontario 2013.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Red wines at Taste Ontario 2013

Taste Ontario was held in Ottawa (The Westin Hotel) on Monday, October 7th and in Toronto (ROM) on Thursday, October 10th with essential support from Wine Country Ontario. Thanks must go out to Hilary Dawson and Magdalena KaiserSmit for their pampering and generosity. The grand tastings were partnered with the LCBO “SHINE {ON}” campaign that ran from September 15 through October 12.

My reviews of wines that shone is specific to the event and let it be known there are dozens more to form best of lists, from producers represented and those who were not involved. Here are 16 top wines from Taste Ontario 2013.

From left: Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009, 2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012, Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006, and Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011

Sparkling

Tawse ‘Spark’ Riesling 2009 (winery only, $18.95) may just be that bottle of persuasive interrogation and torture to turn even the toughest hold-outs against Sparkling Riesling. A veritable homeland crush of signature grapes, put to a not so traditional test, emerge in piercing, capital dry scintillation. Sparks fly in Beamsville when winemaker Paul Pender and team, “the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot.” This sparkler does the E street shuffle and dances in the dark. The new deal in Ontario bubbles.  “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  89  @Paul_Pender  @Tawse_Winery

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009 (234161, $22.95) in just under a year has evolved to a grandiloquent level of sophistication.  Fino arid bubbles, with an elevated level of aromatic sweetness, ginger spice, lime and charcoal. Quite complex, jumpy, with pepper on the finish.  90  From my earlier note: “is a sweet-smelling misty mousse waterfall where white grapefruit replays from vapor to flavour. Driest fizz yet playing the Angostura angle. Good length.”  88  @Jackson_Triggs

Riesling

Cattail Creek Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (241547, $14.95) from Four-Mile Creek suggests peaches in every way; juice, flesh and pit. A battle cry bottle for the adage and generational anthem, “when in Niagara I drink Riesling for peace.” Really fine evolutionary Creek example for the price, located somewhere on the dry to off-dry line.  Palate cleansing, with solid rhythm and length, like Les Brers in A Minor. Makes me want to eat a peach.  88  @CTCWinery

2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012 (294041, $18.95) in contrast to brother Foxcroft, is the more serious vineyard in my estimation. Falls compresses less limestone chalk and instead thunder rolls out glacial boulders. Here there is less grass, herbs, citrus and sea, but rathergarrigue blanc, the windswept plain studded with gorse and deeper, sweeter, earthly purity.  91  @2027Cellars

Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006 (winery only) has achieved green patina and diesel in D minor as the wine is just beginning to act its age. A crisp, crunchy green apple bent persists and the fruit remains confidently perched on top of the wood pile. A smoulder of wood seems ghostly present, or at least as rusty ties keeping it upright. A self-supporting slice of Beamsville Bench recent history here. Really quite fantastic.  92  @ThirtyBench

Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011 (241182, $35.20) does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  93  @cbriesling

Chardonnay

Lailey Chardonnay 2011 (193482, $19.95, Alberta, 739220, $35.67) butters toast with delectable lemon curd and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Well-articulated, bundled Chardonnay fruit, in spice cadence, big but never brawny. A measure of Niagara balance.  90   From my earlier note: “is right on brother Derek. This not only joins the right excellent Chardonnay club; it’s the incumbent President. Lifted honeysuckle, honey and bright lemon aromas, the deftest kiss of oak and just a punch of spice. Tingles and lingers.  If ’10 was “almost great,” ’11 is. Mikey likes this very much.  90  @laileywinemakr

Tawse ‘Quarry Road’ Chardonnay 2011 (111989, $34.95) carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  92  From my earlier (barrel tasting) note: “resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.”  91-93

From left: Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011, Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011, Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012, and Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012

Sémillon

Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012 (winery only, $18.00) drifts along, like a city swan, a white Beamsville white cut from a different cloth, wholly unique. Rosewood’s Sem is the case and the point for others to follow, to plant, cultivate, embrace and perfect this grape in Ontario. The ’12 is immense, articulate, hungry. It makes cause to say, ”I’m starving in your gravity. You’re made from something different than I know.”  90  From my earlier note: “is their most intense ever. An exceptional growing season amps the honey sounds to 11, speeds up the sugars to 33 and while there is obviously no sign of chapitalization, added acid stabilizes the high tropical nuance. Huge style for Sémillon, mulched in miele, fruit flavours amplified and lengthened by 14.6 per cent alcohol. Une cousine to J.L. Groux’s Stratus SV, if less grapefruit and increased value.”  90  @Rosewoodwine

Pinot Noir

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011 (79228, $22.95) gets the best value nod because it’s just oh so pretty, in hue, bouquet, essence and mouth feel. Four-Mile Creek dusty wind, dried leaf grain and a unique sense of soil imparts earthly elegance and poise. Excellent stuff.  90  @coyotesrun

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011 (1560, $29.95) may at first strangely seem that it had ”stepped out of the wilderness all squint-eyed and confused” but my how a swirl elicits gorgeous red berries and an emphatic oomph, even without a sip. Impressively ripe, blooming red rose and cinnamon from the heart of a winemaker’s boots. A mineral streak brings to mind Volnay, in spirit and tragically hip Pinot essence.  92  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012 (125310, $35.00) cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.  93  @normhardie

PHOTO: Michael Godel Bachelder Pinot Noir ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ 2011

Bachelder Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2011 (361816, $44.95) springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  @Bachelder_wines

Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc

Lailey Vineyard Wines Cabernet Merlot 2011 (winery only, $15) speaks the language of vinous accommodation. Abundant very berry fruit if less knotty and peculiar and more accessible than most Niagara Bordeaux blends. No bones about it, languid Lailey in mind of its own wonder. Could drink it straight from the tap.  89  @Laileywinemakr

Cave Spring Cellars Cabernet Franc Estate Bottled 2011 (72751, $24.95) attains a level of varietal purity near categorically Niagara Escarpment perfect. A mess of sweet and tangy red fruit, namely berries, currants and cherries cut fine to licorice and the evolutionary effects of magnesium-rich limestone. Imagine cutting a cross-section of rock to project a swirl of this multifarious Cabernet Franc. An example to examine at an Expert’s Tasting 10 years on.  91  @CaveSpring

Gamay

Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012 (winery only, $17.95) is, without question, Richie’s best to date. A gleaming, ebullient, shining glass of rich Gamay fruit with an undercurrent of currant and gleaning vineyard floor. A Buddy and Gene snare drum attack. Takes the baton and parades about the province. Will lead the #GoGamayGo charge for the rest of 2012 and well into 2013.  89  @Fieldingwines  @RichieWine

Good to go!

A Chile wind is blowing

PHOTO: ZABET/FOTOLIA.COM
The Chilean wine industry is no stranger to adversity, hurdles and bumps in the road.

as seen on canada.com

The time of year when night bleeds into day. October winds blow colder and trees shed their skin. Fallen leaves cause urban sight lines to tighten with vertigo-effect like an intense, paranoid dolly zoom moment in a Hitchcock film. Fall is a time of super-heightened awareness and also the best time of year to focus on tasting and exploring wine.

Speaking of cold climates, the last two weeks have seen me taken to Chile, well actually, Chile has been brought to me. First, an unforeseen exclusive and intimate WineAlign tasting of the wines from Errazuriz with winemaker Francisco Baettig. Then, with the travelling main stage show that is the Wines of Chile, by seminar and through a comprehensive gathering at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Chilean wine industry is no stranger to adversity, hurdles and bumps in the road. But unlike Ontario and to a lesser extent B.C., Chile’s obstacles have been more than a matter of weather. I could go back further in time but for the purpose of getting straight to the point, let’s start with an 18 year dictatorship during a period when the wine industry could have been developing in earnest. The year is 1990, Pinochet is out and democracy is in. That Chile has developed as a cohesive wine producing, exporting and marketing unit in just 23 years is nothing short of astonishing.

That earthquakes, most notably the nearly devastating 8.8 measured big one in March 2010 and global economic crisis has not crippled the fast yet still ripening industry is a testament to a people of strength and fortitude. Chile’s wine growth seems to follow a two steps forward, one step back path. But it rarely wavers and always rebounds, as it will again following the most recent harsh frosts of 2013.

Two sets of “black” frosts hit Chile’s vineyards hard. Americas Export manager for Ventisquero Juan Ignacio Zuñiga told a room of journalists and sommeliers about the late September and early October double whammy. “The worst case scenario is 70 per cent of the crop,” said Zuñiga “and the best case, 30 per cent.”  Wineries employed wind machines and irrigation systems to spread the cold air and abate the damage but ran out of water by day three. “This is the worst type of frost,” he noted. “Beyond control.” From Reuters, “these frosts are the worst that agriculture has faced in 84 years, impacting the area from Coquimbo to Bio Bio,” the national agricultural society said.

Yet Chile will endure, as it always has. The Wines of Chile media seminar lent credence to the strong future in store for Chilean wines. Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine introduced six wines and their marketers after a quick yet concise dissertation on the effects of green viticulture on taste, cost and consumer appeal.

Chile’s wine regions are “blessedly Phylloxera-free,” hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean, the Andes Mountains and the Patagonian ice fields. The grape growing out of the many cool micro-climates are mitigated and assisted by beneficial winds that blow in from the edges of these three dramatic boundaries.

Waters quickly noted that the prevalence of organic farming and biodynamic wine production has surged throughout Chile’s wine regions. More dramatic is the adherence to the “sustainability code, of number one importance for gatekeepers.” This qualification has added essential meaning and is “a tool that winemakers have become empowered with.”

PHOTO: winesofchile.org
‘Wines of Chile: The natural choice’

For the Chilean wine industry, green practices are not enough. Wines must tell a great story, “carry a narrative,” says Waters. In Chile so many also happen to be made to the sustainability code. Five to 10 years from now that will be a universal given. Sustainability, story and content. “What makes these wines special is what’s in the glass.”

I tasted more than 40 wines at the Wines of Chile event. While some of the most impressive examples were to be found at the highest prices, it was the $15-30 range that showed what Chile can do best. Here are 10 examples of the new Chile.

Left to right: Via Chilcas Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Viña Ventisquero Grey Chardonnay 2012, Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2012, and Emiliana Coyam 2010

Via Chilcas Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($17.95, 309757) from the Maule Valley is graced by amazing freshness and vigorous, new wave energy. With an imagined dragon’s foot securely planted in the ancestry of Chilean wine, this radioactive red is a portal to the industry’s future. Roasted and brewed, in espresso yes but mocha, no. “Welcome to the new age, to the new age.”  91  @ViaWines

Viña Ventisquero Grey Chardonnay 2012 ($19.95) shows off Casablanca Valley elegance, from 13 year-old vines. Born of a south-facing slope on a single block of dirt within a vineyard. A mellow toast that sparkles aromatically is surely quartz and iodine speaking from out of the granite-flecked red clay over a granite foundation. A touch cool-climate turpenic, in citrus and apple. Veers anti-tropical with just a kiss (eight to ten months) of oak. Super fresh, low and slow bister layered despite the warm and challenging vintage.  89  @vventisquero  @FitoZuniga

Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($21.95, 143198) comes out of the Aconcagua Valley, very near and dear to its Andes ombra shadow. Maceration mouthfeel ushered in on a viscous, spicy, piquant, capsicum wave. High tree fruit notes for Sauvignon Blanc place the wine somewhere between California and Marlborough. An SB heavyweight, with spice that plays and replays, balm prominence and righteous length. Oh, brother, she’s got blue-eyed soul, “my mash potato baby, a little Latin Lupelu.”  90   @errazurizwines  @fcobaetting

Emiliana Coyam 2010 ($29.95, 649679) is the organic outfit’s “icon” wine, swarthy, round, powerful and well-rounded. While their flagship Gê achieves the apex of the sustainable movement, the Coyam is missing nothing. Has got everything but the girl; Syrah, Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot. A prime example of what stressed vines in healthy Colchagua Valley vineyards can do on a wild and volatile yeast journey. A broad spectrum of vinous material is on display and they cry out in unison, “like the deserts miss the rain.” Great freshness and so very berry, with supporting though not overbearing vanilla and a trenchant yet clean Syrah finish. Notes Export Manager Fernando Pavon, “a wine that avoids standardization.”  90

Errazuriz Wines

Left to right: Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Max Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2011, Max Reserva Syrah 2011, Don Maximiano 2007, and Kai 2010

WineAlign, Friday September 27, 2013, with Phillipe Dandurand Wines and winemaker Francisco Baettig

Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (LCBO $13.95, 262717, SAQ 262717, $14.95, B.C. 284125, $14.99) from Maipo fruit flaunts varietal typicity, plain and simple. Was bottled under screw cap back in 2003! A bissel of Cabernet Franc adds complexity by way of juicy currants, tart raspberries and caper berries.  87

Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (LCBO 263574, $12.95, B.C. 286385, $13.99) is uniquely and markedly realized upwards out of schist soil from a high Aconcagua crop that required some necessary thinning. Decidedly pale yet spirited, like old school Marlborough. Sagacious Kiwi mineral salinity, lean, dry and grassy. Less herbiage, intensity and flesh than the Max Reserva and yet its steely, stainless character is better and VGV, especially at $13.  88

Max Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2011 (LCBO $18.95, 335174, SAQ 335174, $16.95, B.C. 287805, $16.99) is executed with more of a cooler and less New World approach than the chocolate, Cassis and easy drinking 2010. Here the smells are Cab Franc-ish, with more pyrazine, less mocha, more berries and it is coated by finer tannins. Mint, eucalyptus and purple fruit but not so much a riper style. More elegance, structure and balance.  “If you want to protect the Cabernet, you should do so with the leaves,” notes Baettig. The tartness of the fruit tells beneath the syrup. A confident wine made with some transparency, through indirect light, not with the hot Aconcagua sun burning on the fruit.  89

Max Reserva Syrah 2011 (LCBO $18.95, 614750, SAQ 864678, $18.95, B.C. 361311, 2010, $19.99) whiffs the most confounding nose of the line-up so far, cooler than the ’10 vintage, and very, very Northern Rhone. Bacon, smoked meat, juicy and spicy olive, dark but not woody, splintered or Java-scripted. The nose gets better and better and it shows good length. This is the 15th year of this wine.  89

Don Maximiano 2007 (LCBO 501247, $80, SAQ, 11396557, 2008, $79.25, B.C. 5012547, 2008, $$89.99) at the six year mark is showing extreme refinement and is not the California fruit bomb you might have been warned about.  Tenuous teng, tang and verve, unique to place and mighty, mighty fine. Goes well beyond “all the sacred boundaries we’ve overgrown” to “build a brave new foundry close to home.” The 2009 is being released as the “Founder’s Reserve Cabernet” with touches of Syrah and Petit Verdot. That wine (tasted at Wines of Chile) will rewrite the Maximiano book.  91

Kai 2010 (Private Order, $144.95, SAQ 12051411, $116) charms, entertains and regales in spectacular aromatics. Currently in beast mode, this is rich, unctuous Carmenère. 2005 was this wine’s first vintage and here high-grained tannins will one day soften and round out in oak sweetness. For now there is some balsamic and spicy forest floor, which, says Baettig, “is part of the variety, so I try to keep it in the wine.” From alluvial, flat and thin soils, attacked by high sun exposure under less canopy. More fruit exposure leads to intensity. Long roots, rock, Carmenère.  93

Good to go!

Around the world in eight Chardonnays

PHOTO: SUTSAIY/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Chardonnay covers more than 400,000 acres seemingly everywhere and is the most widely planted wine grape on earth. Today marks its fourth annual global celebration. Who knew there was this marketing concept using social media as the thread that connects the global conversation together. If you live in Niagara and have some free time, then you my friend are in the right place. Many wineries (17 at last count) are offering special events and free tastings today, including Flat Rock CellarsTawseLaileyHidden BenchThirty BenchSouthbrookCoyote’s RunNiagara College Teaching WineryPondviewChateau des CharmesStratus13th StreetHenry of PelhamCave SpringMalivoire and Norman Hardie. Click here for a full list of events.

Chardonnay is cool, especially in Canada, blessed with a quintessential climate for growing the most international and recognizable of the world’s white grapes. Chardonnay comes in all shapes and styles, from unoaked to heavily toasted, aged in stainless steel or concrete vats to barrel fermented. Some styles use wood chips, some Chardonnay is fermented on its lees. Chardonnay is responsible for some of the world’s great Sparkling wines, especially Champagne. Is there a comparable white grape that speaks of its origins in more varied tones? Conversely, can another variety be singled out as having suffered through more international vinification manipulation? So, Chardonnay conjunction junction, what’s your function?  Want to know what Canadians are saying about Chardonnay? Ontario Wine Chat has the answers.

If you are looking to experience the wonders of Chardonnay, from a global perspective, surrounded by experts in a setting designed for relaxation and genuflection, look here:

In anticipation of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration #i4c2013 and to pay tribute to this marketing sensation that is International Chardonnay Day, here are eight great examples from near and far, all available to taste, try and sample somewhere close by.

Clockwise from left: Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Domaine du Chardonnay Chablis 2011, Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011, Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2010, Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011, Hidden Bench Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2009, Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, and Stratus Chardonnay 2010

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (246579, $15.95) from Wines for the Ides of March is fresh in chert, posy aromatic and stuffed with an airy, sense of whipped lemon cream. Salinity and white pepper add kick and spice to this Chardonnay cousin only Cave Spring seems to have mastered.  89  @CaveSpring

Domaine du Chardonnay Chablis 2011 (183574, $19.95) deserves 105 points for the domain name alone but really this is just solid, good fun. Chablis as I expect it to be. Apples and cinnamon, ginger, a hint of macadamia and citrus zest. Minor bitter note trumped by ripe fruit and a clean finish. Really quite good.  88

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011 ($21.95, 172338) from A wine pentathlon binds FSO2 with jack or durian, febrile fruit. For now hard to figure, like a grey rose or a Pink Floyd. Offers up a creamy warmth in resonant echoes but amplified as if still trapped inside the barrel. The best days remain ahead for this certified and biodynamic Chardonnay, which in two to three years time will “come streaming in on sunlight wings.” 89  @SouthbrookWine

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2010 (606186, $29.95) is about as internationally-styled as it gets from the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Smells like it’s still inside the barrel, as if the tropical fruit was wrapped up in a smoking, sweat lodge towel. Big on hot rocks, steaming and emitting earthy scents, nutty in every respect, big, big Chardonnay. Nerve, verve and understanding.  90  @WolfBlassWines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011 ($35, winery only) from Come together, over wine is not merely a window into the vintage but the portal. Bright, golden fruit, freakish level of mineral and longer than the old Greer Road. Norman will always have ’08 but the newbies will be lucky to discover 2011. Who wouldn’t fall for its charms. When it comes to this Prince Edward County Chardonnay, “one and one don’t make two, one and one make one.” I call that a bargain.  92  @normhardie

Hidden Bench Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2009 ($45, winery only) from Big wines from California and the Bench from HB’s oldest, most highly regarded and meticulously maintained vines shows ravishing and refined restraint in elegance. Warm pineapple and mango coagulation jarred by the vintage’s piercing acidity and immense length. Head of the class, rings the bell, nails the lecture.  93  @HiddenBench

Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne (599860, $46.95) continues a VINTAGES string of excellent value in Champagne releases. Made from 100% Chardonnay, this BdB is pronounced in , yeasty dough definition, hinting at agave and unwashed cheese rind. Where there’s bubbles there’s a way and I like where this one is going. The agave replays in sweet waves, as does the the sour in faint yet discernible sloshes. Much to contemplate in this NV sparkler.  90   @Halpernwine

Stratus Chardonnay 2010 ($55) from Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity incarnate from natural yeast, full batch (bunch) pressing and heeded by Paul’s call to full malolactic fermentation, this fruit was picked on November 15th, a day “you had to go run and pick fast.” Groux is not trying to make California or Burgundy but make the best in Niagara. Clarity and sun drenched hue, tropical fruit dominance, sweetness, malo-butterscotch obviousness. Some tart orchard fruit late but certainly warm vintage wine. Not the most arid Chardonnay but blessed with great length.  91  @Stratuswines

Good to go!

A lesson learned from the averted LCBO strike

PHOTO: PETER J. THOMPSON/NATIONAL POST

as seen on canada.com

Two words. Buy local.

It was like Armaggedon in LCBO stores across the province on Thursday and that’s exactly what the spin masters wanted to see. Everyone waited with bated breath while being told “talks are continuing in hopes of averting the strike, but if no deal is reached then the strike is on as of 12:01 a.m. Friday.” Yikes. What were the poor citizens of Ontario to do?

canada.com’s  said that “Ontario drinkers are having a bit of a freak out.” Really, Ontarians were losing their minds? Did they not already know that alternative, high quality and affordable options are right in our backyard?

The question is, why give the monopoly a “bump in sales” for “precious, soon to be (maybe) unavailable liquor.” Why fall for this (conspiracy theory alert) marketing juggernaut? Ontario is literally armed by a firmament of booze soldiers stationed at every visible post and outpost. You just have to know where to look.

Related – LCBO strike looms as drinkers stock up

Guess what. The strike was averted. Quelle surprise!

According to VQA Ontario, there are over 140 licensed wineries including grape and fruit wineries. Most people who live in this province are within an hour or two’s drive to Niagara, Prince Edward County or Lake Erie North Shore appellations.  With the exception of the May two-four weekend statutory holiday on Monday, May 20th, every winery will be open for business. Visit one. While you’re at it, check out a micro-brewery or micro-distiller. The Ontario Craft Brewers list 29 breweries on their site. At least one is likely very close to where you live. Still Waters Distillery and Dillon’s in Concord and Beamsville respectively are close enough to several million Ontarians. Check them out. #MeetTheMakers

Here are some tweets to get you thinking:

Here are three local wines, available for purchase at the winery or delivery (by the case) to see you through a fake LCBO strike.

From left: Château des Charmes Cabernet/Merlot 2010, Rosehall Run Pinot Gris Cuvée County 2011, and Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot Estate 2010

Château des Charmes Cabernet/Merlot 2010 ($19.95, winery) composed of two Cabs (Sauvignon and Franc) and one Merlot is both curvy and linear, Gehry-ish in structure, like the Art Gallery of Ontario. So juicy, so stupidly affordable and clearly designed for dinner; small plates, stove-top one stop, oven-roasted, big barbecue. It don’t matter to this Bordeaux-blend. Saturday? Next Wednesday instead? Any night of the week.  89  @MBosc

Rosehall Run Pinot Gris Cuvée County 2011 ($19.95, winery) combines fruit from their Estate Vineyard and the neighbouring Fieldstone Vineyard. Dan Sullivan’s PG is as glycerin-textured as any in the County. It’s mildly piquant, hugely pear, wearing big fruit flavours on its sleeve and even a touch of cheese. Calling it characterful.  90  @Rosehall_Run

Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot Estate 2010 ($24.95, winery) from the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment appellations called the Short Hills Bench, is a bit of a west side story. The two Cabs here are the Romeo (Tony) while the Merlot is somewhat of a Juliet (Maria). Their love story goes from “womb to tomb, birth to earth,” from plum to prune, vintage warmth to cool earthy flavour. This one tingles in the nose and also a dances on the buds in a twirling, dream-like state. Bright berries give way to classic Bordeaux-like aromas of tobacco, tea and licorice.  91  @HenryofPelham

Good to go!

‘London Calling’ for Canadian wine

PHOTO: NASKO/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Just in case you were under the impression that Canadian wine is made solely for and consumed only by Canadians, think again. The world is hungry for our prized grapes and unbeknownst to 99 per cent of the 35 million inhabitants of this vast country, the A-Team is out there in the field.

As I write this, Canada is re-introducing itself to the world by way of an essential and comprehensive tasting hosted today by The Canadian High Commission at Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London. A group of wine luminaries and emissaries are pouring sparkling wines, red wines produced from Pinot Noir, Bordeaux blends or varietals, Syrah or Gamay, white wines produced from Chardonnay or Riesling and Icewine. REDISCOVER Canadian Wine is an unprecedented event, working in conjunction with London’s Westbury Communications to remind and renew a European media and trade contingent of the quality and international viability of the wines from Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

Canada House, London (Photos: Janet Dorozynski)

The dream team is led by Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Global Practice Lead, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Global Business Opportunities Bureau, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Dr. Dorozynski’s deputies along to help promote the Canadian wines in London are the Wine Council of Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser-Smit, Director of PR and Linda Watts, Project Manager, Canadian wine expert ambassador Tony Aspler and Barb Tatarnic of Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute.

Winemakers, owners, vignerons, wine consultants, international sales directors, export directors and marketing consultants have made the trek after wineries from across Canada were invited to submit their wines in a blind tasting judged by a panel of Canadian judges. The panel previewed over 250 Canadian wines and selected 89 wines from 37 wineries to qualify for the London, England tasting.

With help in partnership with Foreign Affair and International Trade Canada, Wine Country Ontario, support from The Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University and from The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Canada House event is fully and completely positioned to raise the profile of the Canadian wine industry abroad.

London Calling: REDISCOVER Canadian wine

British wine scribe Stephen Brook notes, “Canada has long been out of the ‘promising newcomer’ category. These are wines we all need to discover.” Gerard Basset OBE MW MS adds, “I have discovered some superb wineries and producers with both flair and talent.”

For more information on the event click here.

In celebration of the calling to London, here are tasting notes on eight wines being poured today in London.

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, 1560winery) from A wine pentathlon reels in Twenty Mile Bench fruit in a warm vintage as well if not better than any of its peers. Founder Ed Madronich is clearly slope and soil obsessed and this Pinot Noir is a study in topography and geology. To paraphrase Madronich, it’s  ”more Pommard than Volnay, in a deeper and more masculine way than the Estate bottling.” Pinot barrels most representative of the Gravity style were chosen for the final blend, in this case noted by woodsy black cherry and spiced root vegetable. “Get a little savagery in your life.” 90   @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009 ($29.95, winery only) from Come together, over wine comes from the oldest, lowest-yielding vines at the estate grown on the limestone, Beamsville Bench terrace. A three month rest on its lees imparts honey on the nose though the palate is dryer than off-dry. Mineral, pop-driven even. A hoovering, wizened Riesling, puckering, turning inward, yet to hydrate. Unique for Escarpment ’09 and will realize a quenching later than most. I for one will put this aside and revisit at the end of the decade, when “golden slumbers fill your eyes.” 89  @CaveSpring

Charles Baker Riesling ‘Picone’ 2011 ($35, winery only) from Come together, over wine trembles with nervous energy and will need some bottle time to shed its shocking, A16 soda popping feeling. Right now “he got joo joo eyeballs.” Give it a year, or even two for the Vinemount Ridge clint (citrus and flint) to come together in a fit of focused, piercing acidity. This is Baker’s sharpest, knife-edge Riesling in the block and while I never thought it possible, this one is sure to outshine 2009. For Charles Baker ”one and one and one is three.”  93  @cbriesling

Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011 ($35, winery only) from You can lead a county to the city is exemplary even if it may not be proprietor Gerard Spinosa’s favourite vintage. Commands an ineffable presence in gold sheen and parses meaning through balance and poise. The new oak is very noticeable but the ’11 acidity is grand. Their integration is seamless, the wine shines and a few years time will only increase its lustre.  92  @ExultetEstates

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 (Alex Kolundzic, $35, winery only) from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2010 ($38, winery only) from A wine pentathlon takes my previous impressions to a higher plane. Standing correct by calling it a “a vintage relative release” but it’s so much more than “a quaffable, generous fruit sui generis.” Beets turn into plums. Opaque hue reminds of graceful Nebbiolo with a dancer’s legs in aperture. Wins in judicious use of French wood. Tannins persist in the rear-view mirror. Big ’10 that speaks of another level in Beamsville Pinot Noir. “Think about it, there must be higher love.” 91  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010 (Paul Bosc, $40, ONT, winery only, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25) from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  @MBosc

Stratus Syrah 2010 ($48) from Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity incarnate is picked early as compared to other well-known varieties like the Cabernets and this vintage saw a 25% yield decrease/concentration increase. Pretty, focused and indicative of candied flowers in replay with a note of citrus blossom. A Syrah that clearly speaks of Groux’s infatuation with aromatics. “What I do know, my Syrah is improving overall.”  90  @twineswines  @Stratuswines

Good to go!

You can lead a county to the city

South Bay Winery vineyard in Prince Edward County PHOTO: POSTMEDIA NEWS

as seen on canada.com

It’s time to discover the wines of bucolic Prince Edward County in south-central Ontario, a place possessed and structured of a learned and cultured essence. If you were born in PEC you likely never left and if you did, probably returned. Then there are those who migrated in search of an anti-metropolitan lifestyle. The landscape is encompassed by water, dotted with folkloric towns, farms and cottages. Wine destination comparisons might be made; to Niagara, to Muskoka, the Finger Lakes, the North Fork of Long Island, to parts of California. No definitive connection is obvious. After tasting through the formidable pours at County in the City last Thursday at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, it became abundantly clear that the wines are unique in and amongst themselves and also bound together as one. The refrain holds true. It must be the rocks.

The grape growers, winemakers and 30 some odd wineries in PEC are no longer a gaggle of obscure, off the beaten path, parochial folk. Their serious VQA wines are establishing footholds in our metropolitan markets. The County’s adage may well be, “you can lead a farmer to grapevines,” a sure statement of the obvious. This event proved you can also lead them to the city.

Photo: Wine Align

Photo: Wine Align

“The County” as it is affectionately known is Ontario’s newest and suddenly dynamic wine appellation. It’s climate and geological make-up has been compared to Burgundy, the world’s benchmark region for growing and producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is clearly the County’s signature variety, its staff of life, but the excitement extends well beyond that comfort zone. Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Vidal and especially sparkling wines are making inroads along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But what about Gamay? Casa Dea’s Paul Battilana crafts a Sparkling Rosé from estate grapes. Chadsey’s Cairns and Troumpour’s Mill both make solid Gamay Noir. Battilana makes a still Gamay, as does Hillier Creek Estates. Time for others to join the #GoGamayGo party.

Prince Edward County wineries are increasing their collective engagement in many ways. The PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society held their inaugural event April 27th, 2013, County Character at Hillier Town Hall. PEC winemakers have joined the progressive wine on tap program too, like Rosehall Run, Norman Hardie and sparkling wine specialist Hinterland Wine Company, who is kegging Charmat, Prosecco-style bubbles for Barque Smokehouse.  The coming months offer many opportunities to taste the County. The Terroir festival in late May is an annual showcase of the area’s rocks, soil and new release wines, put on by the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association. Wassail takes place in late fall/early winter, celebrates the harvest and the laying of the vines to rest. The summer of 2013 will be a great time to visit PEC and follow its wine trail.

Here are nine wines of note tasted at Wine Align‘s County in the City at The Berkeley Church.

From left: Sandbanks Rosé 2012, Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009, Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011, and Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010

Sandbanks Rosé 2012 (244616, $12.95) whispers summer by the lake in the face of a fading pastel, pink sunset. A magical and inexpensive combination of subtle strawberry, cream and bright acidity. Who would ask for more?  87  @SandbanksWinery

Keint-He Vineyards Voyageur Vidal 2012 ($17, winery only) is a warm and aromatic expression having taken full advantage of the vintage. Yellow and orange flesh melon abounds in sweetness tempered by just enough limestone influenced acidity. Incredibly easy to drink. Breathes new life into white wine.  88  @KeintheWinery

Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 (241612, $18.95, winery) coaxed maximum density from the vintage in fleshy, black cherry and yet is anhydrous from chocolate dust. Chalk up another redacted red from Casa Dea, in the same vein as the plush, ruby ’09 Pinot Noir. All of Paul Battilana’s wines are priced and offered like an open door. Mi Casa Dea et su Casa Dea.  88  @PECWinemaker

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris 2012 ($25, winery only) bottled one week ago, is not as you might think, in shock. A cleanse of pure pear purée with an open invitation for immediate gratification. Mellifluous and with no discernible A16 whatsoever. This one’s good to go. Who comes by chance will be the more easily let go. “Lay down my darling,” this PG ain’t for keeping.  91  @normhardie

Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011 ($25, winery only) succeeds because less is more. Less lychee, more lightness of being. This is Glenn Symons’ 2nd vintage from the famed Wismer Vineyards in Niagara (Jordan). Refuses to club you over the head with “correctness.” Despite the lack of oily, nutty and tropical girth it’s suffused with crisp pleasure.  90  @lighthallvyard

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from 100% Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also “turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  @HuffEstatesWine

Rosehall Run Wines Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run Wines
Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run ‘The Swinger’ Syrah 2011 ($34.95, winery only) gets my attention not just because it’s the only commercially planted and bottled Syrah in PEC but because it stands in front of the orchestra. I gotta believe winemaker Dan Sullivan cares deeply about this wine from fruit sourced on Dick Singer’s Fieldstone Vineyard. Nothing fatuous about its smoky, tart cranberry, Sangioveseness kissed by the salty waves of an unseen ocean. The Swinger “ain’t no cherry bomb,” waits for no one, with its tobacco voice, gravel, rocks and sand. Like a sweet little bullet from a pretty blue gun.  90  @Rosehall_Run

Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011 ($35, winery only) is exemplary even if it may not be proprietor Gerard Spinosa’s favourite vintage. Commands an ineffable presence in gold sheen and parses meaning through balance and poise. The new oak is very noticeable but the ’11 acidity is grand. Their integration is seamless, the wine shines and a few years time will only increase its lustre.  92  @ExultetEstates

Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010 (310474, $39.95, winery) has improved dramatically over the course of a year, now red verging to black fruit, if only for a fleeting moment of temporary insanity, in a Sonoma state of mind. Silky smooth, “the textures coat my skin.” Though I have seen “the best (Pinot Noir) minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” this CCV uses a cured bresaola flavour and a vivid flower scent to invigorate, ground the humidity and the “earthy beet.” Musical, earthy beat, as in All Cats are Grey meets Howl.  92  @ClossonChase

Good to go!