A traditional afternoon with the wines of Carpineto

Carpineto Molin Vecchio 2004

Carpineto Molin Vecchio 2004

Carpineto brings “la Toscana e i suoi vini magliori” to the world. The producer near Greve in Chianti fashions wines from most of the better, best, requisite and constituent locales of Tuscany. The Carpineto library has been laid down from foundations in the DOC and DOCGs of Montereggio, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. Were the Bolgheri on the Maremma coast a part of their portfolio their reputation would surely be further cemented amongst the elite agricole of the region.

What dials Carpineto’s wines in to the natural and honest zone, especially when compared to so many modern peers, is their attention to simple detail. The wines across the board are restrained in alcohol, low in residual sugar and unencumbered by an excess of new oak. The wines are pure Tuscany distilled with seamless though mitigated texture. To a bottle they are a pleasure to taste.

Last Thursday Antonio Michael Zaccheo Jr. of Carpineto came to the WineAlign offices, along with eight of his wines. Together with Tandem Selections, WineAlign principals David Lawrason and Steve Thurlow we tasted through this noteworthy cross section of the Carpineto registry.

From left to right: Rosato 2013, Dogajolo Rosso 2012, Chianti Classico 2012, Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 2007, Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Molin Vechio 2004

From left to right: Rosato 2013, Dogajolo Rosso 2012, Chianti Classico 2012, Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 2007, Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Molin Vechio 2004 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)

Rosato 2013, Tuscany, Italy (699934, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Dogajolo Rosato is a right proper and serviceable Rosé, made from 90 per cent Sangiovese and 10 Canaiolo from holdings in both Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile. Sells quite well at the LCBO and even better at the SAQ where there is a different “attitude towards Rosé.” A gaseous medicine with exceptional salinity. Very dry saigneé, savoury and approachable. The freshly pickled strawberry is a nice touch.

Farnito White 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95, WineAlign)

The Carpineto “White” is made from 100 per cent Chardonnay. Though the intent may be Burgundy, the Tuscan take here is very Italian; tight and forthright in flexure and focus. It is quite amazing how very primary it shows, with its whisper of a kiss by just a chip off the old barrel. Fresh, bone dry and bestowed the angle of Tuscan herbiage. So young that it offers the sensation of just having left the tanks and the wood. Like a leaner and cleaner version of the Cervaro della Sella. Can you say Linguine con le Vongole?

Dogajolo Rosso 2012, Igt Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (361501, $14.95, WineAlign)

Maybe it’s just a marketing term but Carpineto’s Antonio Michael Zaccheo Jr. refers to this as a “baby Super Tuscan,” because that is what it is. To pay $15 for a quarter century of winemaking acumen is anything but a hardship. Lithesome of fruit as opposed to sweet, it’s actually bone-dry (one g/L residual sugar), and artfully crafted for both the primi and secondi piatti. “Now we are in the Sangiovese camp, so good to go.” Well said, Antonio.

Chianti Classico 2012, Tuscany, Italy (356048, $21.95, WineAlign)

For Chianti Classico, 2012 was a good year, not too warm yet ripening occurred early, with the quality set to high, but the quantities were low. A winemaker’s vintage. Carpineto’s CC comes from the northern aspect of the appellation, from a conca (amphitheater) seven km’s east of Greve, by the piccolo hamlet of Dudda. It’s cooler in this part of Chianti, with more rock imparting flavour and textured sensations into the reds. The ’12 is essentially 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 per cent Canaiolo, give or take 10 per cent. Aromas of roses and wet rocks, fresh ripe plums mashed into tomatoes, herbs and a spicy side note. Old school and precisely what CC should be, minus the funk (which it does not have or need). Ultimate pasta wine right here. Traditional style in an up to date way with temperature control and all the tools of a modern facility. No VA, no barnyard, but really natural. This explains the axiom of maintaining tradition. With so many story lines already spoken for in sectarian Chianti, maybe that is the only thing Carpineto has left to hang their Zuccotto on. David Lawrason hits the nail head on. A Chianti that “resets the compass.”  Coming to VINTAGES April 18, 2015

Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Tuscany, Italy (47118, $29.95, WineAlign)

A wine that is “already performing at purchase time,” like the Chianti Classico but turned up to 11. This has a more than a touch of funk, not exactly barnyard, but surely an earthy forest carpeting. Attribute this to the extra concentration and the élevage – time spent soaking up the barrel. The added marinade works to opposite effect as compared to the CC normale and in my opinion it’s an adverse one. Lost is the freshness and spirit. Still a wine of great Tuscan antiquity, in maintenance of its acidity and full of dark, iron and sanguine pulsing fruit.

Carpineto line-up at www.winealign.com

Carpineto line-up at http://www.winealign.com

Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 2007, Tuscany, Italy (368910, $29.95, WineAlign)

Carpineto’s Vino Nobile hails from further inland, where the climate is more continental and the dry-farmed clay soils help carry the grapes through warm summers like 2007. Has an intense grapey, raisin and resin character. Really big fruit yet still old school enough to remind us all of the Carpineto oeuvre. This has stuffing, with nary an advancing moment towards a premature future. Blessed with a seamless nose to palate to tannins structure. This is really fine Vino Nobile, “scelto,” a chosen mocker. It’s thick and full but not from oak in any shaken or splintered way. This Prugnolo Gentile comes by its substance naturally, with minimal effort or need of applause.

Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Igt Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (996553, $29.95 WineAlign)

Cabernet planted as 8,000 vines per hectare in Montepulciano resulting in the production of one bottle per vine. Love that equation. Eight tons per hectare is low but not an economically impossible yield. Antonio Michael Zaccheo Jr. insists the single vineyard plot is the largest contiguous vineyard in all of Italy. The vineyard was 15 years old at the time this wine was made, so we’re talking prime time for making world class wine. Spent one year in one third new French and American oak and then a few years in bottle. Not quite as ready to pop and pour like the CCR, this has beast mode written all over its expatriate face. Juicy, chalky and dusty which puts it in contrast to the Sangiovese. This is much more internationally styled and “needs cholesterol of any kind, “ says Antonio Michael. It’s more floral than the Chiantis and the Vino Nobile. Ripe but not overripe, international but unmistakably Tuscany.

Molin Vechio 2004, I.G.T. Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (995308, $59.00, WineAlign)

This vintage is from a single, five hectare vineyard (the wine moves around through vineyards, depending on an assessment of which shows best from year to year). Spent one year in new oak and was bottled in spring 2006. The “Old Mill” is a Tuscan-Bordeaux-Rhône gathering of Sangiovese (70 per cent), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Syrah (10). This has a Boschetto al Tartufo (shaved white truffles in cheese) note that is intoxicating. From sandy clay soils, southerly facing with marine sediments planted in the early nineties so the marine impart is just starting to show. Recent vintages should give increased salinity and minerality. Has the aroma of roasting game and savoury, Mediterranean bushes – this is akin to some southern Rhône big wines but the texture is stretched and seamless, not cake-baked and chalky. Great acidity and length. Still quite edgy. Needs at least five more years to come around. Released as part of the VINTAGES September Classics.

Good to go!

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A common weal of September VINTAGES best buys

Innisfiil Sunflowers

Innisfiil Sunflowers

September has its share of excellence being revealed, particularly this coming weekend with the VINTAGES September 13, 2014 release. This is a perfect time to investigate the wares from this province. The weekend also marks the launch of the  initiative, in conjunction with Wine Country Ontario. Then on October 2nd, Wine Country is coming to the Royal Ontario Museum. There will be 255 wines poured by 55 producers at Taste Ontario.

Related – The LCBO and WineAlign go local

For years now the fine wine and premium spirits division of the LCBO, known benevolently to Wineontarians as VINTAGES, has been rolling out releases every two weeks. There are always somewhere between five and ten wines on each listing that, were I independently wealthy and helplessly wine obsessed in reckless abandon, would always buy. There are also upwards of 100 or more that I would not. Were I presented a glass half full, to most of them I would offer my thanks and sip away. There are also five to ten not worth the price of admission. As a member of the wine writer’s commonwealth of Ontario it is my trusted duty to help make sense of the bi-weekly barrage and to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Wine critics can be fussy people, tough mudders with palates sheathed by caparison. They can go from saying things like “not as good as the last shipment” to “I’m tired of tasting shit.” Even the most curmudgeonly of critics must play his part to promote the happiness, health, and wine safety of all of the people of a community. It is an honour to be trusted with a duty to taste, consider and then discard what is simply not right. The expectation and the responsibility is to find the most natural and honest wines made available, however fleeting and rare the opportunities may be.

Here are four from across the pond and 10 Ontario wines being unpacked onto LCBO shelves as we speak. Get out there and #LCBOGoLocal.

From left to right: Flat Rock Riesling 2013, Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2012                                      Photos: Jason Dziver

From left to right: Flat Rock Riesling 2013, Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2012 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)

Flat Rock Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)

The FR Riesling cover girl gets a swift kick in the backside by gas blanketed, dehydrated pear and a sprinkle of rock sugar. Citrus peel, candied again, with medicinal silt. Rocky Riesling spread liberally across a horizontal canvas. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Just bottled a few weeks ago so the note to self is to expect a subtraction of preoccupation. Anything but. Though not as frantic as the Nadja’s sampled from tank back in February, the preview to the ’13 Estate is in show of so much zest, premature acidity and an overly enthusiastic outpouring of juicy emotion. The scraped zest is present in every respect, along with green mango, Himalayan salt and a squeeze of lime. There is attitude and altitude from this precocious Riesling and there’s no doubt it and the ’13 Nadja will be better than anticipated out of tank. Forget the infancy, wow is it showing well.”  Last tasted August 2014  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Ap, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (377218, $17.95, WineAlign)

Corbieres excellence. Nothing funky going on here. A minor amount sees the inside of the fûts but how great it is to find such a clean, fruit forward, straight from the tank example. Made from (40 per cent) Grenache, (30) Syrah, (20) Carignan and (10) Mourvèdre. Certainly showing modern fruit but the low yield (35hl/ha) altruism and cleanliness is next to Midi-ness. A touch of chalk and milky chocolate with some vanilla and lavender too. Simple, effective (if a touch soapy) French red.  Tasted August 2014

Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Doc (338913, $17.95, WineAlign)

This is a massive Valpolicella, fully enriched by chocolate in countless ways, on many levels and in dry ice dreams. It’s a baby Amarone incarnate and if you are going that route, try this on instead for a mere pittance at $18. Huge wine, with exaggerated mannerisms in oak and high alcohol, though not volatile, even if the structure is value-driven pedestrian. Will work for a welcoming, big-hair crowd.  Tasted August 2014  @HHDImports_Wine

Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (132928, $21.95, WineAlign)

Today Dan Sullivan’s Chardonnay concentrates on its excellence while compressing in reduction. Beyond the encapsulating abstraction there are the rocks beneath the earth and by extension, the vines of hard-working fruit. Fruit surrounded by the spice of barrel. Tasted extensively over a 24 hour period I found this walks the line, takes on all comers, hovers over and has the guts to merely sigh at the distractions. Give this Chardonnay years, more than most, perhaps even 10 plus. In 2011, Chablis trumps barrel.  Tasted August 2014  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (598078, $21.95, WineAlign)

A touch of reduction but the thought goes straight to serious wine and attentive winemaking. The barrel is not king, the fruit big and boisterous. It’s a bit hyper-fruity, steroidal even but it is anything but thin and certainly not encumbered by process or wood. A hint of soap is a detractor admittedly, but the acumen and level of higher learning is evident and commendable. This will be a wine to look at for years to come.  Tasted August 2014  @PellerVQA

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 forego 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

Thirty Bench Red 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (320986, $24.00, WineAlign)

Big red machine, really ahead of the class, especially in this price range, with this much stuffing. A full complement of fruit, bushy and falling just as it’s picked from the trees, not to mention quality, quality, sweet earth. This is jazzy, boozy and sparked, from ‘round midnight, smoky, exotic and global. Has the discipline of a monk to groove low and low, the stuffing and Thelonious tannin to boot. Wait for it, let the band play then give way. The solo will be fantastic.  Tasted August 2014  @ThirtyBench

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

From left to right: Tawse Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Dell’ornellaia 2012, Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2009, Château Des Charmes Merlot St. David’s Bench Vineyard 2012, Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011, Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)

Tawse Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284570, $26.95, WineAlign)

Where at one time the GB Pinot Noir fought among its moving parts it now sits in permanent cease-fire mode. A position that realizes warm fruit, settled wood spice and linear acidity. Needs no more scaling or ropy ascension. It has reached the planing platform and going forward will glide effortlessly back down to ground. Where it began. From my earlier October 2013, April and May 2014 notes. “Though it’s a blend of several sites, this Tawse Pinot stands alone and of itself as a grower; it grows on you after multiple tastings. The first go ’round seems simple, vintage warm and tight. Taste again and the sappy wood seeps mineral, the phenolic red cherry ripeness turns black and the tempering is led by a sweet earth kind. Earth that smoulders in a rising Zeppelin kept afloat by tobacco and the swirling spores of pungent mushroom. Pinot Noir truth and value from a Niagara house of the holy kind. “You know-whoa, that’s right.” The univocal Pender perfume permeates the Tawse stable of Pinot Noir and seems only magnified in the multiple site Grower‘s Blend. Vintage related warmth and inferable incrassation of fruit. Delves into a deep connection to disparate lands possessive of a common goal.  As if making wine is “your taste combined with all the years of wasting time.” Graceful Pinot Noir with moments touched by hot rocks, toasted red rice, a gentle smoulder and delicate grains of sand.”  Last Tasted August 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Dell’ornellaia 2012, Igt Toscana (964221, $26.95,WineAlign)

What can you say about Le Volte? Is she the most immediately rewarding, fruit forward and accessible Super Tuscan ever put on offer? Does this cuvée  of Merlot (50 per cent), Sangiovese (30) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20) offer a portal through which to peer into the future of the Ornellaia grande? From a warm but not excessively hot season, the fruit teases, like a kiss that leaves a lipstick stain on the cheek, a taste that makes you crazy and dreaming of more. Time spent in barrels once used by the matron first wine equates to a morning of chocolate, Nutella and cappuccino in the piazza. Full on, with much more texture than ever before. She is beautiful, but is her beauty fleeting? Drink over the next two to four years.  Tasted August 2014  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON

Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2009, Bierzo, Spain (379891, $26.95, WineAlign)

Fruit for this Bierzo is from old vines and is aged in a combination of French and American oak. An industrious rolling stone and two steps up example above and beyond for what usually passes as basic and simple Mencia. The Dominio de Tares is exactly the reason to ante up. Bierzo as a region produces exceptional quality wines at this price point but suffers a stenosis in the lower ranges. Here the intoxicating and delicious fumes are resonant of just caramelizing brown sugared fruits, formidable though sweet tannins and an enveloping that’s “all right now, in fact, it’s a gas” Displays and prances about with an incredible amount of energy and jumping jack flash. “It’s a gas, gas, gas.”  Tasted August 2014  @oenophilia1

Château Des Charmes Merlot St. David’s Bench Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (453431, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vintage does Merlot a wondrous gifting and coupled with what strikes as an unusual salinity, this is a most unique take on the Merlot perspective. In the middle vacuum what is expected takes a turn; shaken, crushed berries with chocolate shavings and brushstrokes made by a weighty utensil but in the end it returns to the vintage specific layering. Well made with caveat to and from Merlot.  Tasted August 2014  @MBosc

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

The passion from the Thomas Bachelder Niagara project has shifted into Domaine Queylus. With no disrespect to Thomas’ eponymous bottling from vineyards so nearby, the quality time has now been granted the Tradition. Here lies Mountainview and Le Petite Colline earth, here crushes Niagara cherries in hand, juice running down a clay caked forearm. Fresh and bright yet streaked by chalk and enveloping brush stroke. Sour? For a flash but in neither malic nor astringent form. This is a must buy. From my earlier June 2014 note: “Reverberates with the unmistakable calling card character of the storied Neudorf family La Petite vineyard with equal and opposite amounts of attraction and new life breathed in by the Lincoln Lakeshore fruit. Ethereally sifted earth of old meets cherries of new. Enriching Pinot Noir, a bit gangling like a primitive young giraffe but near to finding its legs. Hard working red, insistent, confident and having already paid some dirty fingernail dues. Excellent length.”  Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin

Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

You can take Riesling from out of the Vinemount Ridge but you can’t take Vinemount Ridge out from a Charles Baker Picone. The layers of tectonic shale and the slowly espressed fruit that swim within the waves of those layers make for the total oscillating package. Has moved nowhere, not sideways even, since last tasted, though today, from this bottle, there’s an awkward, shy adolescence. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Some sweetness now, but not in a flirting way. This will be a September VINTAGES release (with pink on the label as part of an LCBO/Princess Margaret fundraiser). Has not so much evolved but rather “come groovin’ up slowly,” since last tasted. Still got “joo joo eyeballs,” still tough in tension. Years left before it will come together, yeah.” From my earlier, October 2013 note: “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.  Last tasted August 2014  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

This County ’12 by Norman Hardie needs fresh air, County air and time. Leave the wine alone in bottle counted out in five years time. There is pure intensity in aerified flight. Shows length, persistence, purity, phenolic ripeness and in time will show its ability to wade across raging rivers. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.” From my earlier October 2013 note: “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.”  Last tasted August 2014  @normhardie

Good to go!

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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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Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann<br /> photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines "Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist."

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann
photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines
“Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist.”

You won’t find a rare or carefully considered older vintage of Pinot Noir tasted and discussed at a Millésimes Alsace Master Sommelier class. Nor will it be featured in a magazine article’s varietal spotlight on the great wines of the region. The world may ignore the potentiality and the well-established roots of the expatriate Burgundian in Alsace, but there are winemakers who know. The future of the grape with a long history is already entrenched in the Alsace progression.

Pinot Noir is the only red grape variety authorized in Alsace. The official marketing and regulatory board for the region, Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA) recognizes the trenchant antiquity. “What is today considered a novelty in the region is in reality a legacy of the past that is becoming increasingly successful.” According to the Wine Society, the oldest recorded grape variety in Alsace is in fact Pinot Noir, predating Riesling by at least seven centuries.” That exaggeration aside, records dating back to the 16th century indicate that the grape variety was stored in Abbey caves and poached in tithes by the Church.

Out in the diaspora the affirmation of what best indicates Burgundy is the requiem for respect. Oregon, Central Otago and certain pockets of (cooler) California are well into their seasons of repute. Yet sometime around 10-15 years ago the $60 Sonoma Pinot Noir became serious fashion. Thanks to darlings like Kosta Browne, the sky became the limit, in California and elsewhere. A host of producers joined the ranks of the rich and famous. Looking back now, the black cherry bomb initiative temporarily cost the New World its mojo.

Those growing pains have worked to great advantage. Today you have to be better and fashion elegant Pinot Noir to attract an audience and become a hero. This goes for Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, the Willamette Valley, Marlborough, Martinborough, Nelson and Otago. This applies to the Okanagan Valley and South Africa too. Niagara and Prince Edward County have followed suit. Vignerons like Norman Hardie, Thomas Bachelder, Moray Tawse and Harald Thiel understand what needs. Their wines have ushered in a $40-plus Pinot Noir era in Ontario. But Alsace? Please. Today a reckoning about Pinot Noir incites nothing but a series of car wrecks along the wine route from Thann to Marlenheim.

Burgundy and Bordeaux do not accept varietal expatriate inclusions. So, why should Alsace? For one, global warming. Say what you will about that load of scientific horse crap but the biodynamic culture that permeates much of Alsace is in tune and well aware of temperature change and ripening schedules. More and more growers are picking their whites earlier, to preserve freshness and acidity, not to mention the conscious decision to cheat botrytis and elevated residual sugar. Embracing Pinot Noir is on many of their minds. Some are ahead of the curve and have already made some exceptional wines. Many examples from the first eight years of the 21st century are showing beautifully in 2014. Phillipe Blanck poured a very much alive 1991. How many Alsace wineries can lay claim to one of those in their cellars?

It’s common knowledge to an Alsatian cognoscenti that white wines drive the mecca. Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer and their associations with the Grand Cru and lieu-dits are the it vines. Vendanges Tardives (VT or, Late Harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN, or selection of noble berries) sit on thrones of glory. Even traditional varieties like Auxerrois and Muscat continue to outshine and suppress the possibilities for Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir has yet to receive any proper respect both in and outside of Alsace. Can there be justice served in a wine region where a noble variety must share nomenclature with a bottom feeder like Pinot d’Alsace, which is not really a Pinot at all. The scavenging white blend draws attention while making unsubstantiated use of the Pinot prefix. Pd’A need only contain a small percentage of any type of Pinot (Blanc, Auxerrois, Meunier or Noir) in conjunction with other white Alsatian varieties. According to wikipedia:”Lack of acidity and complexity often prevent Alsatian Pinot Noir from achieving anything more than pleasant, easy drinking, quality levels.” Them’s fighting words.

That faux Pinot sideshow is really a whole lot of nothing. The real terror is that if you grow exceptional quality Pinot Noir on Grand Cru terroir in Alsace you can’t label it as such. If you produce Riesling in the Hengst, you are good to go. If you grow Pinot Noir in any of the storied “male horse,” vineyards, the resulting wine, with respect to the variety, is only considered lieu-dit and must be labeled as such. This is the Alsace Grand Cru taboo.

As part of his recent three-part report on Alsace, British journalist Tom Cannavan covers some of the wines of the Grand Cru Hengst. Cannavan so rightly notes that “the problem is, not only is Pinot Noir ineligible for Grand Cru status, but the name Hengst cannot even appear on the label.” He did sample some basic Pinot examples and wondered aloud about the injustice being a non-sequitur. He missed the boat. Case in point Domaine Albert Mann. Back that up with Pinot Noir made elsewhere by Pierre Blanck, Jean-Pierre Frick and Mélanie Pfister, among others.

Maurice and Jacky Barthelmé of Domaine Albert Mann shirk the system with the use of a simple letter, an “H” or a “G” in place of Hengst and Pfersigberg. Phillipe Blanck of Paul Blanck & Fils does the same thing with an “F” for Furstentum. It’s a wink-wink, say-no-more kind of approach. A grand parade of life-giving packaging. The brothers Barthelmé and Mr. Blanck know what excellence lies in their Pinot Noir holdings and understand the bright red future for Alsace. “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a minerologist,” insists Maurice. Don’t think of the brothers as pioneers so much as pragmatists. CIVA has surely taken note and despite the resistance to add Burgundy to the charges, change is inevitable. The Pinot Noir eyes never lie.

Here are two dozen Pinot Noirs tasted in Alsace during a week in June.

Domaine Albert Mann

@Smallwinemakers

Diversity of the parcels of land, disseminated and however subtly intertwined, which are the particularity of the domaine

François Bruetschy

Pinot Noir (and Pinot Gris) of Domaine Albert Mann

Pinot Noir (and Pinot Gris) of Domaine Albert Mann

Pinot Noir Clos De La Faille 2012

Though geologically speaking this Pinot Noir out of 1997 plantings in calcaire and redstone soils is a fault on the hill of nature, as a wine it shows no discernible impropriety. This represents a tectonic shift for Alsatian Pinot Noir, a lithe and floral wine of articulation and an eye opener to prepare for the intensity of Mann’s Grand letters. It’s a lightly woven, silky soft Pinot, with a furrowed brow and the necessary Mann clarity of responsibility. Density is through a looking-glass, a gateway to Alsace and what future varietal decorum may be achieved.

Pinot Noir Les Saintes Claires 2012

From calcareous soil and still the Albert Mann zealous clarity, with similar intensity and protracted density. There is a lacuna permeated by a hint at black cherry but the ken is never fully realized. At 13 per cent abv and with a set of fine, sweet tannins (even more so than La Faille), these 20 year-old vines have procured a piled Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir Les Saintes Claires 2010

A top-notch (though cool and late harvested from a small crop) vintage for Mann (and Alsace) Pinot Noir, here the calcareous parcel at Sigolsheim above an old monastery called “Les Clarisses.” Some early rot and bottle reduction have both been stabilized as the wine peels off the rust and goes mellow, in full humanizing and sensual mystery. “How great the wine is when you can see the vintage, ” chimes Maurice. Controlling the effects of both nature and fermentation seems no biggie to the brothers Barthelmé. The act is of such minor tragedy, the climax characterful and sacred. A tingle of eastern spice twitches over bright fruit and a certain florality, materializing what can only be described as obvious commitment. It’s all about the journey.

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Noir Les Saintes Claires 2008 and Grand P 2012

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Noir Les Saintes Claires 2008 and Grand P 2012

Pinot Noir Grand “P” 2012 (Tasted from a 375 mL bottle)

From a blend of plantings (1975 and 2004) in Wintzenheim limestone-sandstone soils on the Grand Cru Pfersigberg. Whole bunch pressed grapes (60 per cent) saw a range of oak; 25 per cent new, 50 one-year old and 25 older barrels. A light filtration was used to combat some reduction. This P is a touch ferric, not unlike Volnay but also because of the vintage. The vines in ’12 were subject to cool, then humid, then dry weather. The flux makes for a full floral display, from iron through to roses, but the wave stays linear and rigid. In its youth, the P is calm and on a level plain along its ECG-considered PQRST journey. It will soon spike past Q, up to R and then settle in for the long haul. Will hit its glide at S and T at the end of the decade.

Pinot Noir Grand “P” 2011

From what Maurice Barthelmé describes as a “paradoxical vintage” that started out dry and turned rabidly humid. This has huge personality, less refinement but more delicacy than the Hengst. Once again it’s a touch reductive and that tenuity is in the form of cured meat. The style here emulates Burgundy more than any of the P’s, much more than the H’s and worlds beyond the Failles and the Claires. The iron gait exceeds ’12 with a railroading layer of grand P funk. A chain of earth-resin-tannin has “got the knack,” jumps up, jumps back, does the locomotion with “a little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul.” The 2011 Pfersigberg is unlike any other Alsatian Pinot. It requires plenty of air and even more time to unwind. Look for it to become a classic 20 years after release.

Pinot Noir Grand “P” 2009 (Tasted from a 375 mL bottle)

In the ’09 you can smell how five years of bottle time (slightly accelerated by the small format) brings Pfersigberg Pinot fruit into a Grand Cru station. This is in the zone and just about as perfect an example can be to represent the young cottage industry that is Alsace Pinot Noir. Five more years would send it into philosophical complexity. The classic “P” reduction is there, with amazing structure from the palate. Wonderful funk, the proverbial Brett-esque creature of Pfersigberg, along with cherry and resin of pine. Wonderful animal.

Pinot Noir Grand “H” 2012 (Tasted from a 375 mL bottle)

From a south-facing plot in Wintzenheim on the Grand Cru Hengst. The soils are deeper, the clive made of consolidated clay or marly limestone and sandstone. All aspects of the Pinot Noir here are enriched by the density of nutrition; extract, spice and tannin. Any thoughts of overripe character in any way are thwarted a circular saw of energy that cuts through the cake, breaking it down with extreme prejudice. Tasted at 9:00 am this is a wake up call of the highest order. Notes Maurice Barthelmé, “this must be planted in calcaire soil.” Strike another notch on the Grand Cru petition.

Pinot Noir Grand “H” 2009, 

Typically Hengst, with a whiff of reduction, though never as pronounced as the Pfersigberg. In the ’09, which was a star-caste vintage, the “H” stands for high. As in hue, extract and phenolics. It could be imagined that Syrah were blended in (Maurice said it) and like its namesake (German translation), “Hengst is a stallion.” The reduction is (sic), as Eleven Madison Park’s Jonathan Ross noted, “favourable flavour. A creaminess comes from grape tannin, not oak.” This is meaty Pinot Noir, seeking out rare flesh, in beef or game. It will travel well and live for a decade or more.

Kientzheim, Alsace

Kientzheim, Alsace

Pinot Noir 2008

This vintage preceded forward seasons that brought out warm, fully ripe and optimal phenol-realized fruit. From Maurice Barthelmé’s vineyard, between Mambourg and Furstentum, in Kientzheim. Clear, clean and precise. This was perhaps a bit ambitious in its oak soak from a year that Maurice considers “difficult and early,” but the parcel never lies and what a parcel it is. “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist, ” says Barthelmé. This is Mann’s purest Pinot, if a touch under ripe, but that is the key. Whole bunch pressing and the oak envelopment has created a round flavour lock and Maurice feels he needs 10 more years to master this technique. Though this may have been the early stages in the development of the Mann Pinot candidacy, by 2018 it will reign in Alsace.

Paul Blanck & Fils

@rogcowines

“We’re looking for authenticity. Not wines of impression, but wines of expression.

Phillipe Blanck

Phillipe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck & Fils

Phillipe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck & Fils

Pinot Noir 2012

From granite and gravel soils, the former bringing a bitter component, the latter what Phillipe Blanck calls “a facile aspect.” Dark fruits, like black cherry and plum are flecked with pepper and cloaked in a silky robe. “Almost a sort of texture wine,” considers Blanck. The bitterness is beautiful and offers a window of proof towards the ageing capabilities of Pinot Noir in Alsace. “Everybody has an idea of what is a Pinot Noir in the world,” says Phillipe. “This is a classic one. And they age crazy.” Classic vintage too. From now and for 10 years.

Pinot Noir 1991

From 20-year old vines (at the time) and a low-yielding (20 hl/ha), cold vintage. The wine was not filtered and 13 years on remains very much alive. Retains the unmistakable smell of Fragaria Vesca, fraise de bois, the herbaceous and wild alpine strawberry. Mix in a metallic, iron and wine tinge and still viable tannins and you’ve got yourself a wonderfully aged Alsace Pinot. An example to encourage a future for the grape variety in Alsace. “So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten.” Blanck said “nothing to prove, just to experiment. Some wet, moldy berry in here.” Roasted game lends a note as well to this upward, over the “mountain wine.”

Pinot Noir “F” 2009 

The F is for Furstentum, the Grand Cru on the northern slopes of the Weisbach valley split between the communes of Kientzheim and Sigolsheim. The soil is marl. Phillipe Blanck insists “we’re looking for authenticity. Not a wine of impression, but a wine of expression.” Here is cherry set on high, bright and exploding, with savoury wild herbs and direct linear of acidity. Authentic yes, silky no. Can age for 10 more years and somewhere along that line the direction will find a more approachable intersect.

Domaine Pfister

Pinot Noir 2009

From a vintage Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA) called “precocious” and of irresistible wines. Mélanie Pfister’s ’09 comes from the calcareous Clos Bamhauer, went through two weeks maceration in Inox and then spent a slow 18 months in Burgundy barriques. Incredibly fragrant, with a rich density and a charge of wood spice. Its black cherry waft brings Burgenland to mind, that and the elastic, silty grit by way of some vines grown on gravelly soil. What sets it apart from everywhere else not called Burgundy is the lack of any sort of varnished note. Purity prevails.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht

@TrialtoON

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.

Domaine Pierre Frick

“Wine is not intellect, it’s emotion.”

Jean-Pierre Frick

@LeCavisteTO

Pierre Frick Pinot Noir 2008 and 2009

Pierre Frick Pinot Noir 2008 and 2009

Pinot Noir Rot-Murlé 2009

This block is literally le muret rouge or, the red stone wall. From brown, ferric (ferrugineux), hard calcaire soils. In 2008 you could not write organic on the label (this changed with the 2012 vintage) so Frick sub-labeled the bottle Vin Biologique Zéro Sulfites Gioutés. Natural wine. Rustic, full of horns on acidity. The combination of clay, marl and the fact that the plot benefits from extended late-afternoon sun all lead to vigor, rigor and rigidity. This is Jean-Pierre Frick’s thickest and most Romantic brushstrokes. Richly textured like a Gaugin portrait of the The Schuffenecker Family. Post-impressionist Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir 2008

From the Strangenberg lieu-dit, a hill parcel known as la colline aux pendus. Soil composition is hard, durable brown calcaire. After a quick whiff of farm droppings blow off, Jean-Pierre Frick’s Pinot Noir reveals a bright, light and feminine side. It is now blessed by gentle, resolved tannins. The generous spirit, kind heart and gentle soul of this Pinot offer nothing but calm pleasure. Its coat has not even a trace of primer. It is simply thoughtful and considerate. The iron minerality persists but with static and clinging trace fibers. A wine perfectly suited for a middle course at today’s table.

Pierre Frick Pinot Noir Strangenberg 2003 and Pinot Noir 2008

Pierre Frick Pinot Noir Strangenberg 2003 and Pinot Noir 2008

Pinot Noir Strangenberg 2003

Sub-label notes this ’03 as Vin Biologique Vinifié Sand Souffre. Years before it was fashionable or righteous to farm and vinify organically and without sulphites, Jean-Pierre Frick was looking to the stars. The Strangenberg is a very dry part of Alsace, Mediterranean in climate. This is earthy Pinot, like reds from Corbières or Sardinia, with its mutton-funky and roasted game aromas. Here is proof that non-sulphured wine can age, with the simple equation of fruit, acidity and tannin. It’s actually hard to believe so much tannin can emit from the collines of Haut-Rhin in Pinot Noir. Crazy actually. There is an underdeveloped green note along with some roasted and cooked flavours so peak has been reached. When left for 30 minutes in the glass the tannins begin to dry out. Like southern French and Italian reds, another 10 years would bring caramel, soy, figs and raisins. Either way. now or then, this Frick will also be interesting.

Domaine Schoenheitz

Pinot Noir Linzenberger 2013 (Barrel Sample)

Spent six months in one-year old (Allier forest) barrels. Bright, tight, full-on red cherries. A quick, fun, pure expression, clean and full of cherry. A two to three-year Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir Sainte Gregoire 2012

From the Val Saint Grégoire lieu-dit, the historic name of the Valley of Munster (before the Protestant reform). The soil is decomposed granite rich in micas. Leans warm and extracted but with a high-toned, spiced coat tension. A generalization would place it more New World than Old, verging to black cherry, though again, the spirit is high. In contrast the yields were low (17 hl/ha) from the Cru, let alone the top-level of output from such a low yielding vintage. “When nature isn’t generous the yields go down fast,” confirms Dominique Schoenheitz. Good balance and well-judged.

Gustave Lorentz

@AmethystWineInc

Pinot Noir La Limité 2009

From the lieu-dit Froehn on the edge (the limit) of the Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim. Such a spicy florality and the underlay of calcaire from what is ostensibly hard limestone and Jurassic Lias marls meet one another in a geological confluence of fossils, red ferruginous soil and hard rock. A slow 12-month accumulation to fermentation has brought this Pinot Noir to land’s end. It bares un uncanny resemblance to the Prince Edward County Pinot Noir ’12 by Norman Hardie. Over exposure to sun, wind and everything else nature delivers gives this wine its vigor, its core strength and its vibrant personality.

Edmond Rentz

Pinot Noir Piece de Chene 2011

The Rentz take on Pinot Noir grows up in oak for 14-18 months, from a mix of new and used (no older than four years) barrels. The style is decidedly rich Pinot of a sweet tooth with a soft spot for quality chocolate. Spice supplements of orange and cinnamon, along with ethical acidity bring forth a wine bien charpentée, agreeable and ready for PDQ consumption.

Domaine Paul Zinck

@liffordretail

Pinot Noir Terroir 2012

Flat out fresh, mineral Pinot Noir. Only 100 cases were produced from a chalk and clay single parcel, on the Grand Cru Eichberg. GC yes to Phillipe Zinck, “but not official.,” Very little barrel influence here, in fact two-thirds of the Terroir was fermented in stainless steel, “to keep the mineral.” The cherry scents has tinges of plum, licorice and black olive, but just around the periphery. It’s otherwise bright and fresh with a quiescent streak throughout. Excellent.

Domaine Boyt-Geyl

Pinot Noir Galets Oligocène 2010

From the village of Beblenheim, this Pinot Noir gets the moniker from deposits of Oligocène of the tertiary period consisting of conglomerated rock on a base of marl. Jean-Christophe Bott considers the low-lying grapes of this terroir on lower slopes to be Grand Cru (in quality). Picked early to avoid resinning, cooked or jammy flavours, the wine was matured in (one year-old) barriques for 14 to 18 months. Quite earthy and spiced explicitly by cinnamon, though delicious, this is Pinot that flirts with what Bott wants to avoid. Served with a good chill it harmonizes its intent.

Good to go!

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Three release love for the last long weekend

Taco Night

Taco Night

Good things come in threes and once in a calendar blue moon the LCBO’s VINTAGES wine release cycle rolls out that magic number. There can be no better month than August for the cosmic confluence to occur, particularly when the 31-day stretch hovers and encompasses two Canadian long weekends.

The fundamental postulate of accepting abetment to be ushered down a path of vinous enlightenment and the subsequent pleasure derived from having matched recommended bottles to the meals of summer is a priceless thing indeed. Make the connection enough times and behold the sense of empowerment. The beneficiary then becomes the facilitator. A torch is passed and the gift pays forward. Say what you will but no other wine program offers this type of retail-critic-consumer relationship. This is the beauty of the VINTAGES program. Bordeaux futures don’t count. That’s a racket.

The three August releases of the 2nd, 16th and 30th, though encumbered by a sea of suffusion, are also filled with excellence. Here are nine wines to consider for the final (gasp) summer long weekend of 2014.

Clockwise, from left to right: The Royal Old Vine Steen Chenin Blanc 2013, Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012, Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Huff Estates South Bay Chardonnay 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, (c) Jason Dziver, www.winealign.com

Clockwise, from left to right: The Royal Old Vine Steen Chenin Blanc 2013, Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012, Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Huff Estates South Bay Chardonnay 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, (c) Jason Dziver, http://www.winealign.com

The Royal Old Vine Steen Chenin Blanc 2013, Wo SwartlandSouth Africa (376871, $13.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

While other expat varieties ride in to town, “see the glory, of the royal scam” and dupe new consumers into thinking greatness has immigrated here, Chenin Blanc in South Africa, like Malbec in Argentina, is the real deal. That an example like this Steen old vines can offer ten degrees of advanced proficiency in steely, dan-like refrain is a testament to the necessity of its promotion. Chenin Blanc is the grape for Swartland, for Stellenbosch, for the Western Cape, for South Africa. It comes equipped with energy, “wearing coats that shined, both red and green, colors from their sunny island, from their boats of iron.” It works many sides of the wine pairing practicum, for protein fleshy and flaky, for vegetables prepared in many ways. The Royal is textured and even if the tale is told with quick and efficient pluck, at $14 per play, what more is there to say.  Tasted August 2014  @oenophilia1  @kysela

Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341792, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 30, 2014 Release

A Creek Shores SB that bridges the gap between spring and summer fruit. From a year in which the choice was made to not blend off into the estate bottling. Recognizable Creekside aromatics stand out in a more than obvious mineral deposit and grapefruit zest way. Here the band plays across The Great Divide so “just grab your hat, and take that ride.” Will be a VINTAGES August 30 release.  Tasted February 2014  @CreeksideWine

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (256834, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 30, 2014 Release

The CdC Pinot schematic is never predicated on pectin or reduction but rather the pungent molasses of earth. What better vintage (until the 2012 comes our way) can there be to accentuate the warmth of the St. David’s Bench (within a Pinot Noir plat) and to elevate sylvan fruit for complex results? The raisining is within reason and concentrates botany, not plums or figs. The somewhat elevated (7.0 g/L) residual comes across in tannin and texture so forgiveness is granted. Bigmouth (critic) strikes again, “oh…sweetness, sweetness,” but “I was only joking.” The Old Vines Pinot brings about smithy balance, of brix, treacle, iron, acidity, rusticty and mortar. It should be considered as good a value at $18 as any basic Bourgogne rouge.   Tasted August 2014  @MBosc

Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (381251, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 16, 2014 Release

This inaugural Riesling foray from atop the Twenty Mile Bench out of the Limestone Vineyard is a sister to the Tawse exploration from same. The comparisons end right there. Paul Pender’s take is kinetic, frenetic and electric. Redstone winemaker Rene Van Ede tends to and lends from a reconnaissance that heralds Mosel. His first, fixed take is off-dry (in obvious ubiquity) with circular acidity. The co-agitation is early picked at low brix, with realized high residual sugar (36.4 g/L) and low alcohol (10 per cent). Toothsome, with a ying/yang, lemon/lime, push/pull. The case load is formidable for a first go ’round (1000 plus) yet paddled through limestone acreage with effortless strokes.  Tasted May 2014  @RedstoneWines

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (378414, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

Look, I get it. Wine is made from grapes so why command a host of other fruits to offer context for aromas and tastes? Just have a moment with Steve Byfield’s “virtual” Viognier 2012. Virtual tree meets stone fruit. Smells just like a ripe peach. The flavour bears an uncanny resemblance to apricots. Virtual my Equus africanus asinus. The winery is virtual, the Viognier anything but. Speaks a Condrieu varietal truth by way of Niagara’s Redfoot vineyard. Carries a soil-driven, mineral-flecked, microscopically-oxidized metal tang so essential to invigorating Viognier. Blessed stuff from a Shona’s humble hands.  Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @NyaraiCellars

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Napa Valley, California (221887, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

A nod to the typical White Bordeaux blend with 87 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and 13 Semillon. Another vintage that shows the direction taken by the winery is a righteous one. Drawn in chromatic patina, characterized by an oxidized style and with extreme arid prejudice. Though it’s a storied expression of warm Napa Valley it bears an uncanny resemblance to a wild yeast affected, cool climate Sauvignon Blanc style, with extended lees contact. There is ripe pear and some chalk, excellent tang, faux sugars and stretched out length. Served well chilled is a plus, accentuating the zest and mineral components. Very good showing and vintage for this iconic wine.  Tasted April 2014  @CBrandsCareers

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand (164228, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

With caution to what is likely a captain obvious comment, the suggestion here is that this (former Cloudy Bay winemaker) Kevin Judd Sauvignon Blanc makes perfect use of the over thruster to travel back in time. A time in the late 90’s/early 2000’s when Marlborough SB was the white bomb. Might it be more than obvious to ask for some briny Pacific oysters to accompany and match the elegance in salinity of this Woodbourne, Renwick and Rapaura fruit amalgamation? Potent, if distilled Marlborough delivering excellence here, with a notion of sweetness, not of a suffering palate, but in aromatics. The late summer garden by the sea, in a stiff mineral breeze and in ripening, southern hemisphere tree fruit. The grasses are somewhere else, there are no speed limits and no undesirable tang. The Greywacke is refined, perhaps to a fault, but prime and worth every bit of its dime.  Tasted August 2014  @greywacker

Huff Estates South Bay Chardonnay 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (88955, $29.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

The oak repeal in decreased new barrel impact allows the County to speak in the clearest of voice. As it should, from a South Bay landscape and terroir as rugged and dramatic that can be found anywhere Chardonnay is made in Ontario. There is a honeyed unctuous and viscous feel to the South Bay ’10, no doubt a result of its middle filled in by a meritorious and pure lees. Limestone wraps up the fruit in a clean, crisp and pure package.  Tasted April 2014  @HuffEstatesWine

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33894, $33.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 2, 2014 Release

Something’s missing, or rather something is happening here. The LCJ omnipresent warm Pinot coat of harm is conspicuous in its absence, or has it been reigned in? This 2011 is so much more friendly, more soft-spoken, expertly judged and picked ripe fruit richer than before. Plenty of tang and tannin but the pronouncement is in a savoury basil/chervil kind of way. Not just another high made by just another crazy guy. A most excellent, bright, roxy Village Reserve, full of atmosphere and ambient music.  Tasted February 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.20, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES August 30, 2014 Release

 Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.  Tasted May 2014  @normhardie

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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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