Consider the Gaspereau Valley

Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

No one gets us like we get ourselves. Not so long ago that statement still held more water than the combined towers in all of Canada’s small towns. Here’s another grandiloquent statement. Exceptional wine is made in British Columbia and in Ontario. The proverbial and parochial Canadian wine thinker is privy to that erudite credence, as are many global wine experts, but what of Nova Scotia? If you didn’t already know, Benjamin Bridge and more specifically, Peter Gamble have launched the revolution.

Related: The tides that bind: East Coast swing

Just past the mid-point of my July 2014 east coast swing there happened a planned yet improvisational reconnaissance with Gamble, Canada’s flying winemaker and A-team consultant. Gamble’s work with Stratus, Southbrook and Ravine Vineyards in Niagara, his partnership with Ann Sperling in B.C. and at Versado in Argentina are well documented. His work with Benjamin Bridge Vineyards is already the stuff of Canadian wine lore. What he will touch in his new appointment at Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards will make Nova Scotia history.

Godello, Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Proprietor Gerry McConnell

Godello, Consulting Benjamin Bridge Winemaker Peter Gamble and Proprietor Gerry McConnell/Godello, Benjamin Bridge Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Proprietor Gerry McConnell

I noted that “it is there, in the heart of the Gaspereau Valley, that the essence of Nova Scotia’s wine industry walks out from beneath the fog to reveal itself in an elongated moment of clarity.” I tasted with Gamble, Benjamin Bridge winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and proprietor Gerry McConnell at the Gaspereau Valley winery. The next day I toured the vineyards of Lightfoot & Wolfville with Peter, along with owners Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot, as well as winemaker Josh Horton. We also tasted through barrels. Other visits and tastings were done at Gaspereau and Luckett Vineyards. After the visit with Lightfoot, I was duly impressed.

Nova Scotia is home for Peter Gamble. When Gerry McConnell invited him to assess the potential for making wine in the Gaspereau Valley, Peter insisted, without equivocation, that the concepts of Vinifera and Sparkling be the driving equation. Bridge always wanted to make Sauvignon Blanc so the first idea was a given. But Sparkling wine? In Nova Scotia?

Peter Gamble had more than just a hunch. The Gaspereau’s cold, yet specific micro-climate was perfectly suited to ripening Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the classic varieties that make up traditional method, Champagne-styled Sparkling wine. The grapes in the Valley could be developed and harvested with the right level of brix (sugars) and acidity, as well as pH. Though still wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were less obviously suited to the climate, setting their place in Nova Scotia’s wine future has begun.

Hans Christian Jost was the first to plant in the Gaspereau Valley, in 1992-1993. Gerry McConnell bought his (seventh generation Westcott family) farm land in 1999. “We know what we don’t know and we don’t pretend to know what we don’t know,” admits McConnell. It was Gamble (recommended to McConnell by Jost) who sparked the idea of bubbles in 2000.

“Our mission was sparkling wines, world class,” says McConnell. They hired the late, great Champenois expert, oenologist Raphaël Brisebois to consult after Peter went to England for some collaborative discussion with Tom Stevenson, the British writer who many regard as the world’s leading authority on Champagne. Then in 2008, Jean (Lebron) Benoit Deslauriers was drafted from California on Raphaël’s recommendation.

McConnell wanted to plant all 50 acres “but I talked him down,” jokes (not) Peter. It took nearly 10 years but in 2010 they began to release what they considered to be their first (2004) crop of world-class Sparkling, a Brut Reserve and Blanc de Noirs.

Benjamin Bridge Vineyard

Benjamin Bridge Vineyard

So what makes Benjamin Bridge tick out of a region that resides in relative global obscurity? Number one, the river that runs through the valley doesn’t freeze; it’s a tidal flow. That water keeps the lower part of the vineyard safe, like a warm winter blanket. It conveys the moderating effect of the Bay of Fundy. Two, the soils are extreme in granulation, in rocks and stones under clay. Three, there is great air flow, between, in and out of slopes. Four, the vineyards are south-facing, almost direct and in full advantage of the westerly sun. Last and just as important, “there is always a factor of luck.” Words to make wine by, from the ever thankful and pragmatic Peter Gamble.

The Benjamin Bridge pansophy adheres to low-yielding productivity. The average yearly production (excluding winter effect) is one to one and a half tons per acre. “We consider the fruit from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on this property to be Grand Cru,” insists Gamble. ” The climactic micro-reality is really important here,” adds Deslauriers, in reference to the BB style. “All great wines have the acidity to express a sense of their environment. We want to express the vineyard in the bottle.”

Related – Notes on previously tasted Benjamin Bridge Sparkling wines:

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

Nova 7 2012, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99, WineAlign)

Nova 7 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99, WineAlign)

Brut Reserve Méthode Classique 2007, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

Brut Reserve Méthode Classique 2005, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

Benjamin Bridge

Here are notes on four new wines tasted.

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right: Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Brut Methode Classique 2009, Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right: Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Brut Methode Classique 2009, Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008

Brut Methode Classique 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1018464, NSLC $44.99, 313106, B.C. $49.97, WineAlign)

Essentially, or at least philosophically a Blanc de Blancs, the blend is 57 per cent L’Acadie Blanc, 25 Chardonnay and 18 Seyval Blanc. The acidity is key and certainly elevated (12.8 g/L), keeping line tabs on the stone ground, clean fruit in gingered mousse. A defined elegance and accumulated synergy of site comes from a lower-slope perceived sweetness, down by the river. By no means piercing, there is a length here that lays down the foundation for the high-end, Vinifera-driven Sparkling wine program. The Brut ’09 conveys the growing environment, in freshness and in ripeness. A wine with such a refreshing upside.  Tasted July 2014

Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1015073, NSLC $44.99 WineAlign)

A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the 2010 Brut Rosé is possessive of intricate intensity and unparalleled elegance for the style and genre. It is the watershed bottle, anywhere in Canada. These bubbles are the confluence of early picked red berries, distinct platinum minerality and bitterless savoury edges. Whether or not the bitter principle is masked or eliminated by a feigned sweetness matters little. “You taste so bitter and so sweet, oh I could drink a case of you darling and I would still be on my feet.” This sets the new benchmark for Rosé sparkling out of Canadian soils. It’s so blush and melodic it’s blue. In fact, the treatment here is tender, slow and steady, sad even, also spare and beautiful.  Tasted July 2014

Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign)

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014

Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1019689, NSLC $27.79,  WineAlign)

The 2013 marks the inaugural release for a wine that is “the by-product of an unconditional labour of love in commitment.” Gerry McConnell always wanted to make Sauvignon Blanc, Peter Gamble fostered the dream and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers made it a reality. A de facto Sauvignon force is behind the wine, 13 years in the making. Fashioned from drastically low yields, the ’13 SB is concentrated in literally handfuls of berries. It’s a style that could almost be considered eccentric. It feigns lees effect, slow fermentation, years of barrel age and late harvest. It’s a magnetic, beast of intensity, goes sweet up the middle (7 g/L residual sugar) and finishes extremely dry. There were 206 cases made.  Tasted July 2014

Lightfoot and Wolfville

This apple farm turned organic and biodynamic winery will take everything anyone has ever thought about the Nova Scotia wine industry and turn it on its head. Hybrids and local varieties will continue to be a part of the stratagem. In the unpredictable climate of Nova Scotia’s wine growing regions that is a necessity but it’s what Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will do that will put the province on the map and the world’s stage.

Young Vines in Lightfoot and Wolfville's Oak Knoll Vineyard

Young vines in Lightfoot and Wolfville’s Oak Isle Knoll Vineyard

Up on a hill near Avonport with a view of and at the head of the Gaspereau Valley is “Le Corton,” the Oak Isle knoll. It is here that Lightfoot and Wolfville, with the expertise of Peter Gamble, are banking on the future success of Vinifera grapes. There is more vigor up here in these vines (as compared to Benjamin Bridge) and the varieties planted are dual in purpose. One hand can make a serious Chardonnay, the other a Sparkling. It’s a question of vintage and ripening. The plan is essential for making wine in Nova Scotia.

Owners Jocelyn and Mike Lightfoot in the cellar at Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Owners Jocelyn and Mike Lightfoot in the cellar at Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

The winery will manage Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Chasselas and Scheurebe with New York Muscat and Vidal. I tasted through the 2013 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir resting in barrel, along with a most intriguing 2012 Late-Harvest Chasselas.

Lightfoot and Wolfville Winemaker Josh Horton with barrel samples of 2013 Chardonnay

Lightfoot and Wolfville Winemaker Josh Horton with barrel samples of 2013 Chardonnay

Pinot Noir 2013

This will be L &W’s first Pinot Noir, from 15 year-old vines in Canning, near Blomidon Estates and aged in three year-old (Stratus-used) barrels.  The fruit comes by way of a grower named Al McIntyre, who was convinced to reduce yields by dropping fruit, as he traditionally made Sparkling from more vigorous vines. The profile is both fresh fruity and gravelly, like Burgenland, or perhaps Baden. Bright, black cherry meets marly earth. The tannins are present and accounted for post-traditional two-year Burgundian élevage. This is Nova Scotia Pinot Noir and it is remarkably pure.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

From a sample out of a neutral barrel transferred halfway through the process into two year-old barrel. The old world autolytics are textbook and this Chardonnay has already added much of its weight. The reduction at this stage is at a nearly indiscernible level. If this does not intimate Chablis, it would be tough to imagine what does. Beautifully clean Chablis, with a wild yeast accent and tropical accessories. The tannins head straight for the back of the cheeks. This is Chardonnay from Nova Scotia? Yes, it is.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

From a sample out of a brand (medium toast) new barrel with Meursault the intended target. It certainly leans Côte de Beaune, with a lemon, honey and wet glade aromatic soup. The latter note comes across as something herbal without being earthy and sorry to use the M word but the minerality is definitely in here. Rich and glaring in grape, not wood tannins, the length is a testament to future endeavors.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

A blend of the two samples brings the ghosts of the farm’s apples together in the glass. Overall the fruit came in (early November) at 21.5 to 22.8 brix. The pH falls in at 3.18-3.2 and the total acidity 9-10 g/L.

Chasselas Late Harvest 2012

A sweet wine with stinking acidity and a dry finish. At 100 g/L, this has both sugar and acidity through the roof. “It wanted to be this,” notes Josh Horton. “We didn’t plan to go this route, but we did.” Unleashed and wild LH.

Gaspereau Vineyards

After a morning spent with the Lightfoots, Peter Gamble brought me to taste at Gaspereau Vineyards with Rebecca Griffin, Associate Winemaker & Vineyard Manager at the winery’s parent entity, Devonian Coast Wineries. Gaspereau winemaker Gina Haverstock, who I tasted with at Brock University’s Technical Sparkling Wine Symposium in May, was away on holiday. After being guided through Haverstock’s Rieslings, I can safely say that I will look forward to tasting future (and hopefully library vintages) with her on my next visit east.

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards - Front Label

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards – Front Labels

Griffin led us through renditions of Nova Scotia’s signature white, Tidal Bay, Icewine and five exceedingly promising Rieslings. The tightly wound and magnanimous acidity of the lot impressed not just for their food versatility but also their kinship with some of the greater Riesling producing regions of the world. Both Clare Valley and the Beamsville Bench came to mind, as well as the Okanagan Valley and Alsace. Here are notes on the wines tasted.

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards - Back Labels

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards – Back Labels

Riesling Black Dog 2010

The vintage gives rich fruit, tempered by a mineral and lime layering. Though very dry and somewhat angular with a clamp down bite, the warmth inherent and abundant flavours give it bounty.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Black Dog 2011

Tighter even, full-on snare driven Riesling. Less luxuriant than the ’10, with more pierce, a zigzagging beat in angles and relentless drive that’s “gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.” Gets the lead out with a juicy burst of orange zest. This Black Dog is a howler and goes on for minutes on end.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Warner’s Vineyard 2011

This single vineyard Riesling shows more brightness, in white fruit and an increase in mineral. Conversely it also displays a reductive funk. Wild, in ferment, with eyes that never lie and a timeless, earth-driven, low and slow layering.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Estate 2011

Bottled in a 500 mL format because of drastically low quantities. Only 125 cases in the half litres were made. At first it’s fresh, bright orchard fruit with a minor key in funk. Moves into ginger, lime and the white heat of lit limestone, or more specifically, gypsum. Smells a bit like machine gun powder, leading to a plugged in “ignited fever and I can’t put out the flame.” Hot Riesling in a band of gypsies, with a rat tat tat sound and a nose for excitement.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Tri0 2012

The Trio is assembled from Warner, Black Dog and Estate vineyards. Richer, warmer, rounder Riesling. The aromatics are more pronounced but also muddled together. Not as stark as compared to the others. Not so much sweeter as rounder, fuller and less piercing. Still, the Gaspereau Riesling funk persists.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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September 27th at VINTAGES rolls into October 2nd with Taste Ontario

Taste Local, Love Local Photo (www.lcbo.com)

Taste Local, Love Local
Photo (www.lcbo.com)

This coming weekend’s VINTAGES release will parlay values from around the globe into the meeting place of Ontario stores. Many of the bargains tie directly into a PB and J campaign, a parochial bandwagon advertising juggernaut. The LCBO and Wine Country Ontario‘s #Tastelocal, #Lovelocal and #LCBOGolocal slogans are currently omnipresent, fast forwardly gaining both steam and traction with restos, critics and consumers.

The late, great VINTAGES wine facilitator David Churchill once told me that putting together Taste Ontario was one of the LCBO’s great endeavors. David said the work and time that VINTAGES allotted the event was extraordinary and great care was always afforded the exercise. Next week the chance to taste the most current, largest and impressive cross-section of Ontario wines in one setting will happen with the annual Taste Ontario gala event. When Wine Country Ontario comes to town and joins forces with VINTAGES, it is the writers, sommeliers and restaurant wine junkies who collectively jump trains, catch flames and do what they do. This in the name of getting to know Ontario wines.

On September 27th VINTAGES will release the following 17 wines, though most will already be on shelves before you skim through this tasting note report with all the brevity you can afford. This week’s recommendations come by way of one Sparkling, four Chardonnay, two Riesling, three Pinot Noir, a Sangiovese, a Malbec, a Veneto, a Zinfandel, one Rhône and two Bordeaux blends.

From left to right: Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012

From left to right: Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012

Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Ac, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (179978, $19.95, WineAlign)

Organic and Biodynamic sparkler with a personality all its own. Made primarily from the local grape variety Mauzac (with some Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc), Blanquette is the dry and sylvan style of Limoux. The “little white one” is a lovely little lemon curd Blanquette pulsating in spatially atomic subtlety. Aerified notes hint at sulfur but the breeze is so minor so as not to obstruct the citrus and crucible of candied ginger.  Green apple flavour delights with really good gin and tonic (juniper), lime bitters and a muddle of basil. Pertinent and invigorating example.  Tasted September 2014  @AOCLIMOUX  @RareEarth_Wines

Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (179978, $21.95, WineAlign)

Much oak and buttery crustaceans in this need to relax and settle into a self-induced state of Chardonnay. Quite lactic but that’s not a detractor; it’s a textural overlay that with time will turn lacy, organza even. I would imagine the wrong kind of attitude will not see the acidity for the forest and instead feel that malic is short for malicious behaviour. On the contrary. This is a very good vineyard giving fruit of the right St. David’s kind. With five years it will prove its merit and play matronly with that fresh catch on your plate.  Too big and clunky you say? Put it down. Let it breathe. Take a good inhale/exhale yourself. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “It would be a shame to have missed the found ardor in this tractile, careening Chardonnay. Chances have been taken in 2012, from a vineyard near and dear to a proprietor’s heart and perhaps even his soul. Picked bright and early, vinified bone dry and sent to a Burgundian school, the Paul Bosc Vineyard Chardonnay suffers from ESS (early stricture syndrome) because it (and particularly its shaken lees) have yet to settle. The barrel is confusingly, hardly noticeable and so the ’12’s awkwardness must then be attributed to a milky, marmalade and blues-influenced free-form run. It’s as if the crowd is waiting for one (Garcia-Saunders) song to end and another to begin. The new “anyway you do” slang take on an old blues riff may be misconstrued but, when all is said and done, that’s alright mama, there’s jam and space for your kind too.”  Last tasted September 2014  @Mbosc

Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $75.95, WineAlign)

Expansive, all over the coast display of Kistler ambition and conceit. Fully ripe and not shy to swim with splinters. Lemon meringue pie, baked Alaska and tarte au citron on one gorging dessert plate. Then the flavours kick in. A lemon Negroni (is there such an animal?) and lemon Hollandaise atop white aspagarus. Decadent, even for Kistler, without the poise and subtlety of the single-vineyard bottlings.  A full on glass of California sunshine. From my earlier, (tasted three times), July 2014 note: “Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.”  Last tasted September 2014

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

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

Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile (738393, $22.95, WineAlign)

The wild ferment Francisco Baettig oeuvre brings into focus a nicely balanced and intimately-integrated-aligned Chardonnay. There is wildness in the form of a toasted bread, rich enzymatic energy and a leather strapping, bullied brawn. The countrified personality is tempered by a roundness, thus limiting its ability to display like an alpha male. Though not delicate or elegant by any stretch, this is Chilean power unleashed and reigned in. It represents really good value.  Tasted September 2014  @errazurizwines  @Dandurandwines

Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (557165, $17.95, WineAlign)

Classic Short Hills Bench Riesling, magnified by and exemplified in the vintage. Soda enriched fresh juice, bursting berry nose, off-dry palate. Meets all expectations for the realms of juicy and savoury. One of the best yet from H of P at this price. Great value.  Tasted September 2014  @HenryofPelham

From left to right: Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, omaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011

From left to right: Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, omaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011

Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Prädikatswein, Rheingau, Germany (378083, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the steepest Rheingau vineyard named after the nearby castle (Schloss) ruin “Ehrenfels” which was built in 1211. The stony terroir for this definitive Riesling is quarzite from the Taunus region with layers of slate. Oh, this has the sultry charm of most excellent Kabinett. Aerified to the stratosphere, dry, toasty and buoyant. The soda blows away into the sky with just a vigorous swirl and the aromas turn to fruit and to stone. Rocking great intensity of many fruits, of trees and of natural grape sugar (in the 80-90 g/L residual range) that is everywhere and nowhere. Acidity is linear and impossibly round at the same time. Typically low in alcohol (around 8 per cent by volume), this rude boy is a crazy Kabinett. It’s like a Barbadian songstress rated “R.” You may ask it “is you big enough?” It will answer, I’m as good as it gets.  Tasted September 2014

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Central Otago, New Zealand (35337, $29.95, WineAlign)

Rich, ripe black cherry and just a hint of earth. Some cola but of the cherry kind. Tart yet sweet, hot and roomy. Built of a scrupulous structure where tannin and astringency bend in many ways.  Does its yoga poses with reluctance then hits the gym. Confounding for Central Otago with what may perhaps be a great future ahead but for now, really wonky. Where is this going? To the dark side, to return in five years and to offer good value in aged CO Pinot Noir.   Tasted September 2014  @kimcrawfordwine  @CBrandsCareers

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (999516, $44.95, WineAlign)

he right and fantastic Pinot Noir stuff from the winemaker with the King Midas (or in this case the Queen Modjadji) touch. The Walker Bay Burgundian specialist fashions some most elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It seems that every vintage is turned to gold, or brings rain when there is drought. The 2012 is marked by bright cherries and really pungent, compressed earth. Fantastically ripe but just before the fall. Pleasure of the incarnate kind. The coat of South African red wine arms is animatedly there but it’s contained, restrained, elegant and yet still powerful. Long, fashionable flow with no visible finish line. This will age for a minimum 10 years and get that smoky glaze and glare.  Tasted September 2014  @TrialtoON

Domaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Ac, Burgundy, France (210906, $54.95, WineAlign)

Here the entry is musty, blows off considerably and leaves the leaf and sweet fruit from strawberry and raspberry. For the spell it’s clean, crisp, pure and inviting. Roses and red fruit, violets and violent rocks careening with a rushing spring river. Those musty notes do persist again, blanketing the dolce, disguising that red fruit. Sharpness stings like Kiwi. Packs a punch of tannin, a bitter, mineral rangy streak that elevates the middle hallows and sends this MSD into really lengthy elasticity. Creamy vanilla comes to the palate with herbal undertones, like Lavender ice cream. This is old school with a modern twist. A really fine example. Tasted twice, September 2014, including blind at the WWAC14  @AmethystWineInc

Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (283580, $24.00, WineAlign)

Big, bad and brooding. Black fruits are intense but surprisingly not overbearing or huge in demanded extract. Chalky, tannic, acidic, long. This is neither average nor to be ignored. It’s in the 13.5 per cent proper Chianti wheelhouse and marches in hipster stride without ever acting obnoxious. Some sanguine activity, along with iron and tension. The real deal. Not the brightest Chianti in the hills but one of a raw, unleashed power.  Tasted September 2014  @chianticlassico   @MajesticWineInc

From left to right: Versado Malbec 2013, Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, Château Léoville Las Cases 2006

From left to right: Versado Malbec 2013, Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, Château Léoville Las Cases 2006

Versado Malbec 2013, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)

The rocks beneath the earth precede the rich, dark fruit. After the berries and the candy beets and the spices subside the flowers grow and take over the room. The vintage brings more layers than before. Malbec of character and belief, even a touch of good VA, a coat that only the Southern Hemisphere can provide. It is not usually present in Mendozan Malbec so it’s really a breath of fresh paint here in the Versado. Great purity. Protracted length. Most expansive and intriguing vintage to date. The Reserva will be killer. Tasted September 2014  @VersadoWine

Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Doc, Veneto, Italy (695890, $18.95, WineAlign)

Classic really. Juicy must, musty juiciness. Earth and fruit. Fruity earth. Simple but so effective. Never gets beyond itself or out of its mind. Just the right amount of funk. Maybe the best yet. Great value.  Tasted September 2014  @Smallwinemakers

Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma County, California, USA (942151, $29.95, WineAlign)

Rich plum and spicy Zinfandel. Young and tightly wound on a spindle. Needs time to unravel and reveal its charms. In a varietal sense this vintage of the Seghesio has got everything Zin needs and more. More specifically, the definition is out of a cooler vintage, with clear, well-delineated fruit and acidity. Sharp,spicy, focused and full, without ever acting hot, or bothered.  Tasted September 2014  @seghesio

Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Ac, Rhône, France (960104, $29.95, WineAlign)

A thick, baking cake of a Gigondas, full of expected dark red Rhône fruitiness, but all in balance. Soapy sandalwood and chalky tannins. Quite grainy. Big, brawny and teeth staining, its “teeth ready, sharpened to bite.” It’s warm but not too hot. Cool centres, some spice and garrigue. Nothing to run away from. Though firm and loyal in the tradition of place, this has rolling stones in its blood so it will age gracefully in a well respected, cool, calm and collected manner. Will grow and grow on you as you work with it. This will age forever as there is just so much fruit. Hedging my bets on 25 years, safe to say.  Tasted September 2014  @rogcowines

Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117960, $19.95, WineAlign)

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

Château Léoville Las Cases 2006, Ac St Julien, 2e Cru, Bordeaux, France (566661, $299.00, WineAlign)

The LLC Grand Vin vineyard is very close to the Gironde river, creating a micro-climate that tempers the vines in climate control and matronly comfort. Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc develop here as well as anywhere in the world. Here is an interesting retrospective look at this formidable St. Julien, now having reached the tender and yet developed age of eight. Earthbound distance fruit by way of a chocolate (real dark) truffle and layers of soul stew. Still chalky and tannic, there is enough fruit to keep this going for a decade and a half, or more. Licorice, Cassis and graphite. Wow. Very broad across the late palate, indicating an integration that has begun to realize the potential of this wine. A very good vintage looking back, not one for the ages, but certainly expressive and rich.  Tasted September 2014  @Noble_Estates

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

The results are in. Closure has come. Category champions and Judge’s picks are now live.

The highly regarded WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada is categorized and justified as a “must enter” for winemakers and vintners who want to be a part of a genuine, above-board wine competition. For consumers in Canada it is a place to discover the best value wines available on the market today. Say what you will about the concours concept. The straightforward WineAlign offer implements an expertly designed bracket to ultimately crown a covey of thoroughly deserving champions. Wines are carefully scrutinized, judged with fair play and at times, brutal honesty. Each wine must impress the judges more than once. “Up to the task” is never in question. At “The Worlds,” the best minds are on the job.

Related – He spits, he scores: 2013 World Wine Awards of Canada results

Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14 Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

It was the week of August 18 to 22. Eighteen critics, two czars, a tech guy, a database custodian, a logistics steward, “her bitch” (sic) and a dedicated team of volunteers gathered to administer vinous justice for 1000 (give or take) hopeful wines. The tasting road was long yet filled with much success. Never have so many wines with the intention of offering value and simple pleasure shown so well and with so much grace.

Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

In today’s WineAlign WWAC14 results dissertation, Anthony Gismondi tells us that “nothing has value unless you give it some.” The awards are about assessing daily drinkers, wines that the repeat consumer look for often, especially the bargains. They are for consumers first, of and for the common people. For the wineries, agents and writers, the competition is effectuated without bias. “The tastings are computerized from start to finish allowing wineries, agents or retailers to enter, pay, and eventually track their results online.” 

In 2014 my position is this. Oak and cheap tricks are on the way out, at least when it comes to wines submitted to the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada. Sugar, wood chips, agar agar, artificial colour, manipulated flavour, reverse osmosis and added acidity are trade practices reserved for wines out there in the fast food stratosphere. The judges at the WWAC14 were fortunate to be granted immunity from having to taste and assess such a most unnatural lot. These awards represent and foster an altruistic commonality between vigneron and critic. Make an honest wine and it will be judged with honourable intent.

WWAC14 Judging Panel

WWAC14 Judging Panel

The writers and judges that make up the panels evaluate wines under $50 that are sold somewhere in Canada in the year of the competition. Entries are judged in flights along with similar varietal wines in three price categories; under $15, $15 to $25 and over $25. Starting with the 2014 awards all wines entered will not only be posted on WineAlign with bottle images, but reviews will be included as well (many in both French and English). Again in 2014, orchestration was overseen by one of North America’s most respected wine critics, Vancouver Sun columnist and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter.

Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Some startling results came out of this year’s tastings. Who would have ever put money on Carménère under $15 not only showing well, but blowing the collective minds of no less than five critics? Should Malbec in the $15-25 range, half of which are made by large and recognizable houses, have impressed with so much structure and restraint? A group of eight red blends under $15 were all good, five of them garnering very good scores. That same concept group of $15-25 were nearly all exceptional. Southern Italy fared with top value results in the under $15 category. Syrah/Shiraz $15-25 really surprised, as did Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the same range. Not to mention a flight of five fruit wines, four of which scored between 85 and 88. Not bad. All this can be attributed to one basic premise. WineAlign does not attract more producers than other concours. It attracts better ones.

WWAC14 judges Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

WWAC14 judges
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

As in 2013, this year I was invited to join the other 17 judges in Mississauga, Ontario. Fortune is measured by the company one keeps. The 2014 judges were David LawrasonSteve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Craig Pinhey, Rhys Pender, MWDJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan SaviolidisBruce Wallner, MSMichelle Bouffard, Emily Maclean, Adam Hijazi and Jake Lewis.

Released today, here are the results from #WWAC14, presented by WineAlign. Wines were awarded for the categories of Top Value WinesBest of CountryCategory Champions and Judges’ Choice. In addition to the work of the judges, the Worlds were really made possible by Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw, along with Earl Paxton, Jason Dziver (Photography), Carol Ann Jessiman, Sarah GoddardMiho Yamomoto and the volunteers.

2014 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

WWAC14

WWAC14

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on 30 wines tasted blind, across a wide range of categories, in August of 2014 at #WWAC14 and the songs they inspired.

Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011

Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25

Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (606939, $24.95, WineAlign)

Funny thing about Cabernet Sauvignon, “sometimes they rock and roll, sometimes they stay at home and it’s just fine,” Wolf Blass makes all kinds. This Coonawarra GL seems to do both. It’s ripe and presumptuous, rocks in the glass but also has good, homebody, varietal tendency. It has a heart that’s on fire, a wolf parade of iron, sanguine tension and tannin, but also hung walls of home woven tapestry texture. The core of fruit, earth and tar cries out for prey. The finish is long and returns, back to base Blass.

Icewine – Riesling-Gewurz-Apple

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec (39305, 375ml, $22.95, WineAlign)

“Breathe, breathe in the air” of intensity, in apples. One hundred squared apples on top of one another. Never mind the few bruised and oxidative ones because the fresh and concentrated mass smothers those minor notes. Pink and ambient, the major sweetness and top-notch acidity speak to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. Here you will find a Québécois response to “there is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact it’s all dark.” There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée, “balanced on the biggest wave.”

Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Riesling Icewine 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, 375ml, $59.95, WineAlign)

A vanimated astral week’s of emotion is met by an animal musk, both hard to define. There is a high quotient of lemon, in curd, zest and pith. The sweetness is tempered by nudging acidity though it lingers long. All Riesling Icewine has to do “is ring a bell and step right up” so despite the electric Kool-Aid sugar syrup moments, this one spins and twirls, as Riesling does, just like a ballerina.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Riesling Icewine 2012, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (601021, 375ml, $69.95, WineAlign)

Here sweetness, acerbity and a slightly advanced character are brought into balance by high grape sugar intensity and real linear acidity. Long and elastic, medicinally pretty and sacrosanct with seasoned complexity. Tasted this one and “felt a spark.” Tasted it twice and it tingled to the bone. What begun as a bob between evaluations ended with a simple twist of fate.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Pinot Noir $15-25

Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (146548, $21.95, WineAlign)

Deep earth and black cherry combine for the most extraction in the $15-25 Pinot Noir flight. There’s dust in them hills as the wine acts as if it were borne of the mountains. Has attitude in altitude. All things considered, the fruit is clean and crisp, perhaps a hair over the overripe line. The cool temperament and temperature in the cold room aid in giving it some love. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “That Villa Maria can make 80,000 cases of Pinot Noir this proper is nothing short of remarkable. Aged in French oak for 8-10 months. As Pinot like as could be hoped for considering the case amount. Every drop must go through Malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Josh Hammond and crew insist upon it, though it’s nothing but painstaking cellar/lab work. The Pinot character initially shines, with loads of plum and black cherry, but there is a momentary lapse. But, “if you’re standing in the middle, ain’t no way you’re gonna stop.” So, the definitive Marlborough ectodermal line painted through the in door speaks quickly and leaves by the out door. From a smoking gun, rising like a Zeppelin. Large volume, big production, drinkable in the evening Pinot Noir.”  Last tasted August 2014  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (winery, $$23.90, WineAlign)

Now here we’re talking about a Pinot Noir from a another mother. It heads generously into fragrances not yet nosed in this flight of $15-25 Pinot Noir. Exotic byrne of a perfume on high alert; jasmine, violets, roses and Summer ‘David’ Phlox. Exquisite, fresh and bright. There is tang and tannin. Vibrancy to raise eyebrows. Also wild sage, wild fruit, an animal on a walk in a virgin forest. So much Pinot Noir is hairy, this one is “living on nuts and berries.”  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Malbec $15-25

Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

This Golden Reserve Malbec by Trivento is a juicy, dusty, fruit tree addition to the #WWAC14 flight and arrives just in the nick of time. Despite the dark fruit, it has no Drake spoken word conceit. It sings in classic Drake lullaby, with beefy meet pine forest aromas and so “you find that darkness can give the brightest light.” Tender refrains soften chalky, stalky wood and corresponding bitter chocolate. Big tannins on this balladeer. Has impressive stuffing.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Red Blends over $25

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Wonderful, tangy red fruits define this well-structured Bordeaux blend. Cool and concise, it plays a tight riff and bangs a drum slowly. Comfortable on a big stage, it charges into a funky break and whips a crowd into a frenzy. So much energy from a band of five varietal friends, complimenting each other’s playing with mutual respect. Does the two Bench two-step and steals the show. “Celebrate we will because life is short but sweet for certain. We’re climbing two by two, to be sure these days continue.”

Vin Parfait Red 2012, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (350512, $29.95, WineAlign)

Circuitous mounds of round, stone ground aromas in coffee, Goji berry, red licorice and red ochre. A Jackson Pollock Expressionist splatter of notion and motion, flirtations and tension. Tempranillo, Shiraz and Grenache in does it, or will it come together beyond the abstract? Number 8 did. This one s’got to too.

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock www.jackson-pollock.org

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock
http://www.jackson-pollock.org

Grenache $10-20

Castillo de Monseran Garnacha 2013, Cariñena, Aragon, Spain (73395, $9.95, WineAlign)

A slightly cooked character is evident but within reason. Despite the heat it’s a bit of an arctic monkey, with tomato and cherry sprinkled over by Queso Fresco and followed up with a slice of blueberry pie. Simple yet effective, pleasant palate. There is some heat and tension from the tannins and “I’d like to poke them in their prying eyes,” but they do relent. The length is more than appropriate, given the tag. Only question is, “will the teasing of the fire be followed by the thud?” At $10, who really cares. Represents excellent value.

Artadi Artazuri Garnacha 2013, Navarra and Basque Country, Spain ($19.50, WineAlign)

Garnacha from the old world west with incredible citrus bursts, like orange blossoms and the spirit of the zest. A spritz from a lemon too. A smoulder of burning charcoal with a spit-roasting goat adds to the roadside attraction. Palm branches help to create the smoke. This is exotic and creative stuff. Finishes with a dessert note of bitter plum. Velada, “you got yourself a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 star reaction.” Really unique red.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Roadside+Attraction/33YBUM?src=5

Sauvignon Blanc Under $15

Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Leyda Valley, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (283648, $14.95, WineAlign)

A step up from multi-site, southern hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc with direct intentions, all the right moves and in all the right places. So much going on in both its aromatic and textural world. Wax, lanolin and Bordeaux-like temperance and consistent with the growing SB trend, “the grass is getting greener each day.” Decent one republic attack on the palate though nothing fantastic. Has heart and Sauvignon Blanc soul.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Southern Italy Under $15

Grandi Muri Primitivo Promovi Salento 2013, Puglia, Italy (agent, $13.50, WineAlign)

A red-veined Primitivo, with the savoury blood of Swiss Chard and hoisin and red bean paste coarsing through it. Smells like spicy and sweet Hunan dishes, sweet sweat and sour, but it is not a matter of oxidation. It’s a caramelized soy sensation but written in reverse. Spoon this over cereal, ice cream, charred beef, anything. It’s got Chinese five-spice powder and coriander. Like a bowl of most excellent Pho. Fantastic exotics. “We’re gettin’ you raw and it feels real good.” Rocking Primitivo.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Shiraz/Syrah $15-25

Layer Cake Shiraz 2012, South Australia, Australia ($24.99, WineAlign)

Unquestionably warm but with restraint. That may be perceived as a bad, obvious and reprehensible dichotomous comment but in transparency it speaks truths. Shows good savour and sapidity. It’s an aurulent burnt orange and smoked pineapple offering, blanketed in dusty chocolate and syrupy to a certain extreme. It’s long, creamy, silken and covered further in darker chocolate. “True colors fly in blue and black, bruised silken sky and burning flag.” Warm but you too will indubitably see the pleasures in its layer cake.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

White Blends Under $15

Pelee Gewurztraminer Riesling 2012, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (109991, $10.95, WineAlign)

A ray of golden sunshine. The glade and the classic Gewurz attributes are here and highly floral. Rose petals soaking in good medicine. This could be my beloved monster. Such a dry example. She wears “a raincoat that has four sleeves, gets us through all kinds of weather.” Match with BBQ’s eels. Not for everyone but it works.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Shiraz/Syrah Over $25

Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (390872, $29.95, WineAlign)

This is the most accomplished and wise drop of Shiraz tasted at the WineAlign #WWAC14. A hit of snowy sulphur shows just how much growing up it needs. Such a precocious and heady example. A thick, gluey mess of fruit, unsettled and in rapture within its tannic walls. The voilets and the rest of the garden rules really tie the room together. Shiraz entrenched, grown and raised, “where the nettle met the rose.” For five years later and on patrol for ten more after that. Wow.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion  WWAC 2014 Best of Country

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Delaine Syrah 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (86553, $32.95, WineAlign)

Here blows a fine, exuberant and expresive muzzle with ambrosial flavours. A garrigue and olive dirty martini with sweet drops pf berry syrup. Juniper and conifer verdure meet inklings of berries. There is a sense of mushroom and truffle which can go either way, but here it brings paradigmatic character. Like words added to an intense Billy Preston instrumental. This may “take your brain to another dimension. Pay close attention.” Dark, brooding and out of space. A prodigy and a real deal in cool climate Syrah.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice  WWAC 2014 Best of Country

Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25

Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (135202, $19.95, WineAlign)

A genesis in clean fruit of high extract order is linear, direct, forceful and in Cab conceit. A narcissistic brooder with ripples of underbrush and underworld scents. Thinks highly of itself, demands attention, seeks followers, stares into a pool. “The face in the water looks up and she shakes her head as if to say, that it’s the last time you’ll look like today.” With a few more reflecting and reflective refrains this Cabernet will realize a softness, turn away from the mirror and settle into its skin.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Lake Sonoma Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa – Sonoma – Mendocino, California, United States (Agent, $26.99, WineAlign)

From the outset this engages the imbiber simple because it acts as though its one time tension has been massaged and released. The flat feeling is there, though not detracting, because of an inherent notion that there was and still can be beautiful fruit. It just needs “that spark to get psyched back up.” A rapping modern facade is the cover page for earth savoury meets candied M & M flavour, docile, downy glycerin Cabernet texture, with acidity and tannin waning. Was serious, now friendly and will be late leaving the party.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Chardonnay $15-25

Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2013, Mendocino County, California, United States ($19.00, WineAlign)

This may be a winner. I love the immediacy of its fruit, the antebellum tension and just a kiss from the barrel. You know its there but in subtlety, class and as background noise. The aromas of citrus, beeswax and honey and all accents to clean orchard fruit. This has the most balance in a flight of eleven verry tidy Chardonnay in a consumer-driven $15-25 price bracket. Lady spirited and at times a bit anxious, or perhaps not yet entirely comfortable in its skin, this is nonetheless best in show.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Carmenère Under $15

Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Valle del Maule, Region del Valle Central, Chile (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

The first thought on this Carmenère is the scaling back of new oak, lifting it above the crowd in an under $15 flight. The freshness factor makes for a whole new animal, or botanical rather. This has candied jasmine, pansy, bergamot and nasturtium. It’s a veritable salad of candied edibles. The middle palate is marked by Mentholatum and the finale is persistent in acidulated action. What a warm, mazzy gift of a Carmenère, a star of a Chilean red that would be welcome, just like flowers in December. “Send me a flower of your December. Save me a drink of your candy wine.”  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Chardonnay Over $25

Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.90, WineAlign)

Quiet, muted, beautiful and reserved. This is the “iconoclastic and restlessly innovative” style of a wine that bravely explores other territories of pop Chardonnay. Anything but fashioned in an in your face style, this one is in it for the Hejira, the journey and the time. Ripe yellow apples and pears and then come the lees. Could pass for unoaked Chablis. The appreciation and gathering are a style that should be used more.  “No regrets coyote,” you just come “from such different sets of circumstance.”  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice  WWAC 2014 Top Value Wines

Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, California, United States (655381, $34.95, WineAlign)

Has hallmarks of essential fruit from a top notch vintage, the most complexity and schooling. The reduction is pure essence of grape must, with no fault to either the vine or the maker. Every wine’s “screwed up in their own special way.” A rmineral tannin gets on top early like a Ramones riff, stays for dinner and repeats in refrain. The crisp and mister punchy orchard fruit is kissed by wood. Sucks face. The texture is seamless and verve excellent, by acidity and forward to pronounced length.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Sparkling

Delouvin Bagnost N/V Brut, Champagne, France (agent, $42.75, WineAlign)

Tends to a trend in sweet aromatic beginnings which is nothing but endearing. A leesy pear and ris de veau nose split by a bowie and filled with pearls of sugary syrup. To taste there is the metallic gaminess of uncooked other white meat. Sweet meat, sweet thing. The gathering sensation is an elemental display of ethereal, aerified climatic conditions. Though made in an oxidized style, the complexity of character is not to be denied.  “Runs to the center of things where the knowing one says, boys, boys, its a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Pinot Noir Over $25

Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Valle de San Antonio, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (agent, $19.99, WineAlign)

You can always pick out the wines made from unique, little feat sites, wherever in the world they may have been raised. Even when they stink up the joint, smell like a 16 year-old hockey change room or like candied paint poured over fresh cedar planks, they stand out like beacons of Pinot amon din. Lord of the Pinot rings here that’s “been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet…baked by the sun,” fire lit, rosemary branches and oxtail smoldering and simmering over fresh cut ash from a deciduous forest. Cool mint and pine. The most savoury things of fantasy imagined. Wild ride in and most willin’ Pinot Noir.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Buena Vista Pinot Noir, Carneros 2011, Napa Valley, California, United States (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contigious vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine.  WWAC 2013 Category Champion  WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25  WWAC 2014 Category Champion  WWAC 2014 Top Value Wines

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2010, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.99, WineAlign)

The grace of time has ladled felicity upon this left coast Pinot Noir. What once were harsh and mephitic stuck in a cola can kind of smells have been released and are just a faint memory of their once formidable, terrible teeth gnashing remains. Twas root beer that fouled the air but now the saline sea and verdure of hills speaks in clear vernacular. The sailor has “sailed across weeks and through a year,” met with wild things, to now return home and offer up her Pinot Noir, to be enjoyed with supper that is still warm.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Riesling Under $15

Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Pfalz, Germany (agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

This has a lovely, head of its class, nearly value-driven exquisite nature and aromatic richness. In consideration of the price bracket, the sulphur is trumped by that radio dialed in richesse. Exotic Riesling specific fruit. A crisp apple meets a ripe pineapple. A wolf at the door, “out pops the cracker, smacks you in the head.” Decent acidity, better length, good bitters.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Red Blends Under $15

Miguel Torres Sangre de Toro 2012, Cataluña, Spain (6585, $12.95, WineAlign)

This Garnacha and Carignan blend works a stoned immaculate contrivance as well as any red blend under $15 you are ever likely to upend. “Soft driven slow and mad, like some new language.” The action is effective, properly conceived and opens the doors to value-based perception. Perhaps a bit thin but the lack of wood and sweetener is a breath of fresh air. What it lacks in girth it makes up for with complexity, in notes of graphite, fennel and sea air. Lovely little Mediterranean red.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

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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Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

Riesling, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Riesling, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Riesling happens. It brokers the nescient consumer with the gift of grape enlightenment. It plants an organoleptic ear worm, urging a leap of faith to discover, to seek out the world’s most versatile, divergent and tractile wine. Riesling comes in so many shapes and sizes and that is why it is so difficult to offer up one’s trust, because if you don’t know,  you never know what you are going to get. Dry, sweet, late harvest, dessert, racy, round, or a combination of it all?

Related – In a Grand Cru state of mind

Alsace is distinguished by a very specific set of vinous attributes. No other area in France is as dry and only Champagne is further north in latitude. In typical climatic years, the aridity of the summer months, followed by the humidity of the fall fosters the development of a beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea, better known as noble rot, which concentrates the sugars and preserves acidity. The catch is that not every vintage works to guarantee the pourriture noble. When conditions are prime, some producers insist on picking before it sets in. Others think of it as gold. Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassman says all of his wines are noble rot wines, but he calls them Riesling.

A trip to Alsace and a week of tasting with producers opens the door to Riesling perception. I begin my Haut-Rhin road to Riesling perspicacity with and the women of . Twenty-eight are poured, including eight from the exceptional 2000 vintage. The full day that follows at Millésimes Alsace with SOPEXA and CIVA enriches the trenchancy to act as Riesling 101 for the winemaker visits to come.

Colmar, Alsace, photo (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Colmar, Alsace, photo (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

To set the record straight, there has always been dry Riesling made in Alsace. There have also been white wines made in blatantly off-dry styles. Bringing the two poles together in seamless coordination is no easy task. The duality in character of combining straightforward, linear acidity and bright, sometimes exotic fruit is a concept, though in sweet emotive intention, that remains buoyant in the persevering air of aridity. It helps to define the transformative trend towards dry Alsatian Riesling.

Millésimes Alsace 2014, photo (c) Cassidy Havens,  http://teuwen.com/

Millésimes Alsace 2014, photo (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Here are Rieslings from a wide range of Alsatian Grand Cru and lieu-dits (single vineyard, named), in 31 flavours.

Maison Rolly Gassman

Riesling Réserve Millésime 2012 (61715, Wineworld Importers & Exporters Ltd, WineAlign)

“All are noble rot wines, but we call them Riesling.” This is the irony from the mouth of Pierre Gassman, especially in consideration of this, the driest in his portfolio. For so many Riesling, 12 g/L of residual sugar would ring like a morning alarm but the Réserve Millésime, a limestone chalky and buzz tangy Riesling, acts as if it’s super dry. This is the 9-plus g/L of acidity talking and the calcaire soil, though some clay gives it weight and grounding. A Gassman Riesling as dictionary entry to define the dichotomous behaviour of Alsatian Riesling. A perfect example that should taste sweet but does not. An impossible yet beautiful act of vinous science.

Riesling Silberberg De Rorschwihr 2010 (WineAlign)

The Silverberg is the “silver mountain,” a Grand Cru not unlike Zind-Humbrecht’s Clos Windsbuhl and located at Gassman’s home base, the Haut-Rhin village of Rorschwihr. This has to be the producer’s most impossible Riesling. The lab results of 16 g/L sugar, 13 g/L acidity, 2.86 pH and 14 per cent alcohol mean that it is not really wine at all. But it is, a linear drip of liquid silver with a direct hit of lemon-lime-orange-grapefruit solution carried within a membrane of viscous honey. Specs be damned, this is bone dry with a speeding, direct citrus laser hit. Riesling with its very own Gassman dialect known as the muschelkalk sound.

Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2000

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to spend any quality time with Gassman’s wines you will cop no advanced character from this late harvest mineral expression in bitterness unchained, yet restrained sumptuous VT. A clear entry pauses to smell the quince, apricot and white flowers. The ultimate resolve is a long aftermath tinged by an (80 per cent of the vines, highest in the Gassmann holdings) noble bitterness. The vines are also some of the oldest, dating back to 1942. Oiled density and excellent length define this Riesling though it’s hard to figure whether or not it acts like a reduction sauce or a spiked tipple. One does not taste and mull a VT like this without pause or cause to wonder. Not an easily understood wine by any stretch of reality so book a flight of fancy and enjoy the ride. One of many exceptional Rieslings from the 2000 vintage in which cloying is simply not an issue. Hard to imagine more versatility from this level of residual sugar to work alongside hors d’oeuvres, fish and the cheese plate.

Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2010

Kappelweg offers up fruit in matronly, door is always open generosity and maximum concentration as much as any terroir in Alsace. From 50 per cent noble rot affected at a resounding yet justly calculated 42 g/L residual sugar number, this baby-faced, early rock ‘n roll Riesling gives off its habitual white flower scent. A product of blue clay (closer to the sea) and a of a botrytis mined with calcaire in mind. “When you have Kappelweg, you have noble rot,” resigns Pierre Gassman. With a Gasmann Riesling “it’s one for the money, two for the show.” With Kappelweg it’s “three to get ready, now go, go, go!” The king of Riesling in blue suede shoes.

Riesling Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr 2000

The Pflaenzerreben translates as ‘plants de vignes’, or even more simplified as the ‘vineyard’!  From the Rorschwihr blue clay with silt and Muschelkalk limestone soils, the ’00 is still a baby. Yellow flowers blow from a complex nose, along with waxy, medicinal tones. The aromatics are high, which helps to subdue the noticeable (19 g/L) sugars. More aid comes by way of the Calcaire tannin and a six to eight-hour slow pressing, “ensemble,” notes Pierre, with no separation and a resulting “tout doucement” clear juice. The wonders of 2000 emit from the Gassman oeuvre.

Riesling Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr 2010

Here is Riesling that resides on two sides of the notorious Alsatian, sugar-acid ubiquitous fence. Pflaenzerreben reads like a veritable ECG. There is both citrus-spiked negative deflection as well as a sweet (16 g/L) elegance in positive deflection. The calcaire chalk posits the tug, the struggle between the poles. He/she admits “once a man, like the sea I raged, once a woman, like the earth I gave.” In the end this cinema show of a Riesling has “in fact more earth than sea.” One of the Genesis Rieslings of Alsace.

Domaine Maurice Griss

Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

An all rock, all out mineral wild thang from Josiane Griss, As dry as it gets (5 g/l sugar), as piercing as can be handled (10 g/l acidity) and in a state of aerified (12.8 per cent) alcohol. From granite terroir, near the top of a south-facing slope with high sun exposure. Though ’10 was not a particularly warm vintage, the high tartaric levels and late picking, slow developed berries post glorious September has everyone talking classic, for the ages. Impeccable balance here and a fortuitous match to Tarte flambée with salmon, leeks, basil pesto and cream. If asked the question, “how long have you been a Riesling,” the Sonnenberg would surely answer simply, “from creation.”

Josiane Griss with Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

Josiane Griss with Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

Domaine Pfister

Riesling Tradition 2012

Though Pfister continues to forge this Riesling from six micro-plots in the Silverberg lieux-dit, the name Tradition takes over, as a stylistic ode from 8th generation winemaker Mélanie Pfister to her father André. Built upon a solid permeate in limestone, the residual is dastardly low, in the 7th generation vintner’s way. Beautifully dry, somewhat misunderstood in its youth, in need of time.

Mélanie Pfister introducing the wines for Divines d'Alsace

Mélanie Pfister introducing the wines for Divines d’Alsace

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2012

The “Angel’s Hill,” a south-facing and third most northern Grand Cru in Alsace. The Pfister take is reserved with extreme umbrage, an arid tug between brix and acidity, a fragment of what it may become, a portal into a Riesling analect. There are ripe phenols to be sure and a gentle, lingering calm. This will need years to develop. Right now it’s all lemon, lime and flinty stone with no periodic oscillation.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2011

Here comes the Pfister mindset out of a warm vintage, picked early in September. Go figure the still bracing acidity trumps it’s still beating heart. A slight sense of sweetness lies therein but the obvious minimalist tradition persists. Lacks the length of ’12 and offers nearer gratification. This is an example of why acidity is not the number one catalyst for success and for aging, so ’11 will both be like and unlike ’12.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2010

The ’10 is altogether different. There is petrol on top, pumping invisible ozone with an elemental intention. The welkin adds richness and viscosity, though for Pfister that is merely relative as compared to say…Gassmann. The ’10 is a fastball and it is hard not to get caught looking. Vinified bone dry (2 g/L) and due to the difficulty of the vintage, Mélanie left it on the lees for two years. The result is a perceived sweetness chaperoned by texture. Will require 10 years minimum.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2000

Beautifully dry, primary still, laden with citrus. Though not as gorgeous as some, this bridges the gap and emphasizes the Pfister Engelberg opus. It is amazing that it is yet to show any discernible evolution and every indication says it will live on forever. Or at least 15-20 more years.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 1990

Here lies the crux of the Pfister vinous chrestomathy, like a literary work that cannot, in principle, ever be considered finished. From the third in a trilogy of great vintages, the ’90 has ego to spare, remaining so young and unresolved. The aroma profile is floral, almost medicinal and with a pronounced clotted cream note, the wise Cru remains youthful and nearly primary. Five minutes in glass does bring texture and an aged cheese taste, like Tomme fermière des hautes Vosges.

The wines of Domaine Pfister

The wines of Domaine Pfister

Caves François Schmitt

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2012

The Grand Cru lies at an altitude ranging between 250 and 350 metres. The sub-soil is made up of calcareous sandstone and micaceous sandstone (Muschelkalk at the base and Bundsandstein at the top). Vines were first planted in the 1950’s. Paradis is a historical plot of land at the very heart of the vineyard, on one of the steepest areas. The ’12 Paradis by father and son François and Frédéric enters a sweetness zone without a sacrifice or surrender in loyalty to linear acidity. Peregrine fruit, in full feathery display is enraptured by tartaric of the highest degree. There is citrus atop rocks, a persistence and a perseverance that never relents.

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2000

The ’10 GCP is yet a baby and in hallmark readiness of its necessary terroir. The petrol note remains a faint feign though its imminent presence is known. Such intense aridity, citric perforations, notes of wet concrete, highborn bitterness and unerring balance. Strength is supplied by sandstone and limestone. As much of a treat in classic 2000 Riesling as one might ever hope to be poured.

Cave François Schmitt, http://www.francoisschmitt.fr/

Cave François Schmitt, http://www.francoisschmitt.fr/

Vins Jean-Baptiste Adam

Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010

The radiation here is mind-blowing. The citrus dartle, the rows and columns of acidity in geometrical patterns, the angles obtuse and abstruse. Such a tense and immature Riesling with a late gas attack and oxygen depleted atmosphere. Wow is the operative word though it remains to be seen if this will ever latch on to any gravitational pull or circle the cosmos for eternity. This Kaefferkopk dances in the dragon’s jaw, lies “up among the furs where it smells so sweet,” and it’s got me wondering where the lions are. Wow.

Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2000

Tasted from magnum. Incredibly atomic with a vineyard flinty stink that exhumes and exudes the benevolent bitterness of time. Has that vineyard dirt aroma and the wisdom of age. Something about this screams terroir, through earth caked stones, struck matchstick, wildness and purity.

Ginglinger-Fix

Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2012

The domain is family run since 1610 and biodynamic since 2009. Pheromones have been used since 1996 and they were one of the first villages to do so. Proudly announced as “vendanges à la main,” or, hand-picked grapes. This VV ’12 is bone dry, citrus in laser focus and a product of the calcaire solis with a pink quartzite quarry behind the village. The multitude of rock gives lightness in texture to this ’12 of wizened vines. This is a great example of Alsace Riesling emulated by VQA Bench Riesling in Niagara.

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru 2012

Here is rich example made by Éliane Ginglinger in Voegtlinshoffen. The Grand Cru vineyard gives as mush calcaire tang as any in the region, feigning oxidation but it’s really a most pronounced salinity. A piquant and forward Riesling with a whiff of violet. Further along in development than many ’12’s, the Goldert will be ready for prime time in two to three years.

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru 2011

The single-vineyard focus in ’11 is striking but not as piercing as some. The elegance factor here is a breath of Eguisheim air. Increased in poise, savoury accents and a florality that brings to mind chamomile tisane. At 13.5 per cent alcohol there is strength in balance.

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru Vendanges Tardive 1998

A late harvest VT scaled astern to a mere 14 g/L in sugar. Has developed such a deep golden hue, this muliebrity representative who proclaims sapidity in staunch mineral behaviour. Remarkably elegant and crisp for her age, the Goldert VT shows nothing particularly sweet about her. No conceit either, intense yes, but very fresh. Were I a proclaimer I would surely sing “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door.” I’m gonna be wanting another go at this ’98 next time I find myself in Alsace.

Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

Riesling Weingarten 2010

From a south-facing slope and sandstone soil, Haag’s Weingarten shows good potential for aging. “A grower’s vintage,” notes Myriam Haag. “A winemaker’s vintage,” one that required acumen and experience. There is a dry elegance about this grainy white, an imperial brackishness and a sense of  “écrou bougie,” or candle nut. Will age and needs to.

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle Cuvée Marion 1999

Shows rich, viscous complexity with the sensation of star anise and menthol. There is a fumée discernment, an oily, nutty and spicy feel.  Singular and enticing, like a chestnut dessert, layered with mousse, sabayon and toasted dust.

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2011

Luxuriance abounds from this ’11, elevating the oft-pierced variety to levels of lavishness and prodigality. Though it takes wing in petrol, it’s really just the spoken texture and flavours of the bleeding rocks. Bitters abound too but is this not what you want from Grand Cru Riesling? Fine, ritual, yet highly modern stuff.

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2012

An enervating wine with richness bled from rocks and a finishing noble bitterness. The orchard fruit here is very ripe, more so than much of the 100+ Rieslings tasted over the course of a Colmar week. Marked by green apple, citrus and a middle-slope calcaire limestone (with sandstone on the edges) pierce. Such direct freshness and palate texture from that silty rock. A slow release wine, similar to the Zinnkoepfle 2008, a Riesling now in its secondary stage of development.

The wines of Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

The wines of Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

Domaine Valentin Zusslin

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg Vendanges Tardives 2000

Here the noble rot has produced a Riesling thick in gluck and bright, golden sunshine fruit. Clearly protected from rain and wind by the Massif forest above, the 2000 has not yet relinquished the warmth in the bottle, along with a confected concoction of marmalade and blanched nuts. Though it has been bequeathed a slight mineraliztion with 14 years time, there is weariness to the fruit. Now is the window for maximum enjoyment.

Domaine Sipp-Mack

Riesling Grand Cru Osterberg 2012

The Osterberg Grand Cru is situated in Ribeauvillé and the Riesling is characterized by a stratified tartaric acidity. The ’12 is neither linear nor round, but layered instead and is a pure analogue of that rich style, with a slight residual subsidy. Extended hang time seems the bent so ripeness follows. The fruit is bulky and beefy though in a white veal way. If overall there is a curtailment in grip and outright anxiety the ’12 Osterberg will age unhurriedly for 10 years.

Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2000

The comparison with the other seven GC 2000’s on the table is hard to avoid so this one would make me think it leans late harvest. The Rosacker too is young and primary, teases and feigns VT but don’t be fooled by its unctuous sunshine. The dry quotient is extreme, despite the nuts. It is viable and rocketing in an elemental chew of salted stones. The finish is long and beautifully bitter.

2000 Rieslings

2000 Rieslings

Domaine Barmès-Buecher

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2000

Under the direction of winemaker Geneviève Barmès, energy is the primary distinction of the domain’s wines, exemplified by this all out mineral Hengst. Carrying forth a tradition initiated by Francois (Geneviève’s late husband), biodynamic farming brings out an autonomy to define that energy and here specifically a stark, terrific bitterness so prevalent from the Hengst Grand Cru. Not so much a study in bright fruit, the flesh is one of stone texture, flinty accents and an awe-inspiring, old school funk. Very serious Riesling. Not for the faint of white.

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

Riesling Grand Cru Steingrubler 2000

The Steingrubler soils are some of the most complex and variegated in all of Alsace. Marno-calcaires and argilo-sableux incorporates calcaires oligocènes and smaller areas of fine granite. The smorgasbord of terroir makes for an elemental potpourri impart, a bitter limestone tablet dissolving as it rolls through a gasoline alley. The bitters are everywhere, in underlay, in overlay, in granitic streaks. Having entered secondary life, this 2000 is “goin’ home, running’ home,” back to where it was born. It may be said that this particular Riesling represents its terroir as much as any that can be assessed. A steward of place.

Good to go!

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

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

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

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

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

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool Chardonnay Camp Photo: Michael Godel

Cool Chardonnay Camp
Photo: Michael Godel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miguel Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2011, Conca de Barbera, Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,  Photo: Michael Godel

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,
Photo: Michael Godel

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

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Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven Photo: Michael Godel

Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven
Photo: Michael Godel

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

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

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

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

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

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

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

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

Cave Spring Wines

Cave Spring Wines

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

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

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

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

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay Johnson Vineyards 2012, Yamhill Carlton District

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley

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

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

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012, VQA Prince Edward County

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

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

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

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

 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

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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