Once upon a time in the Western Cape

Cape Wine 2015

Cape Wine 2015

Independents, rebels, rogues, zoo biscuits, risk takers, revolution. Buzz words, gathered sects and constituents of rebellion. Clusters of assemblage ruminating, circulating and percolating at the latest edition of organized wine in South Africa.

Who among us might have foretold in dramatic foreshadowing the story of September’s Cape Wine 2015? Who could have known that the southern hemisphere’s largest gathering of producers, marketers, buyers, sellers, sommeliers and journalists would do more to quell preconceived notions and stereotypes for any wine producing country than any trade show that has come before? Total, utter energy.



Centuries ago, when the fishing and trading boats would return west to the Cape they would mistakenly enter the wrong basin. “There’s that confounded bay again,” they would curse. False Bay. During the week preceding and following Cape Wine we climbed aboard cars and vans headed out from Cape Town or Stellenbosch. En route to a farm, estate or winery, more often than not, out the window, there was False Bay, like a magnet, drawing attention, setting and re-setting the excursion compass. As we watched the bay ache into and fade out of view each jaunt-acquiesced day, it just seemed as though we were always heading north and gaining altitude. Not really.

Cape wine country meanderings exist in requiem well beyond points A to B. Directional challenges are inclusive of L-shapes, U-turns and rotations. Lines draw as much east, southeast and northeast as they do falsely north. Journeys always conclude in a valley, at the base of a mountain or in an amphitheatre bound by geological reality. The getting there is often hazy but the arrival always comfortable.

Maybe I’ve a reason to believe 
We all will be received 
In Graceland

South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. Ventures into the wine lands compounded the about-face turn of mind. Tastings, tours and zealous immersion into Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swartland and Hemel-En-Aarde saw to that. South Africa is not what you thought folks, but it just might be what you dare to dream. If you’ve not visited you can’t possibly know what revelations lurk.

The frontier is inhabited by cowboys and their multifarious varietal schemes. It’s surfeited by demi-century established Chenin Blanc bush vines, painted pell-mell with expatriate rootstock and cuttings outside the Bordeaux and Burgundy box; Nebbiolo, Barbera, Tinta Barocca, Albarino, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo and Tannat. Nothing is sacred and everything is fair game. Rhône blends are the current rage and Cinsault is going it alone with nothing short of remarkable results.

The Zoo Biscuits

The Zoo Biscuits

Natural fermentation, skin contact and carbonic maceration have infiltrated the winemaker’s psyche. The eco-bio movement has challenged the fundamentalist incumbency and forced sweeping reforms. Fresh, natural, orange, caliginous and tenebrous have taken the Cape by storm. Praetorian makers are changing their ways. Pinotage has abandoned decades of Bordeaux wannabe style to once again don bell bottoms and retro suede. In 2015 South Africa, cats and dogs are living together.

Zoo Biscuits poster

Zoo Biscuits poster

Introduce me to a winemaker who is not in tune with his or her terroir and I’ll show you a winemaker who is either faking it or blindly towing a company line. That breed is few and far between. In South Africa I met exactly none of that ilk. So what? What’s so special about a nation of winemakers who work as one with their soil, their meso-climate and their geology? You’re supposed to intuit those abstracts to make great wine. “You’re supposed to take care of your kids!”

No, what separates South African vignerons from the rest of the world is the playground mentality and the execution in consummation of those ideals. The soils and the weather are nothing short of perfect in the vast growing region known as the Western Cape, or in the local vernacular, the Cape Winelands. Any varietal of choice can find its way to achieve perfect phenolic ripeness virtually anywhere the grapes are planted. The mitigating effect of Cape winds eradicates all disease. The place is a veritable garden of viticulture eden. Or, as in the case of the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, a verdant, fertile valley known as “heaven on earth,” the adage takes on the paradisiacal guise of the sublime. South Africa is the wine collective equivalent of the wild west. In the Western Cape, anything goes.

Heap big trouble in the land of plenty
Tell me how we’re gonna do what’s best
You guess once upon a time in the west

I will expand, in due course, on all the wines tasted during the eight days I spent in South Africa. A list of top wines and a preponderant unfurling are sure to follow in the form of fifty odd tasting notes. For now I will concentrate, in the name of lede consistency, on the varietal and stylistic revolution taking place.

Swartland Independents

Swartland Independents

The following notes will unquestionably focus on three platoons, Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA), the Swartland Independents and the Zoo Biscuits. The first is a collective of straight-shooting, accordant, premium, independent wine producers from across the diverse wine regions of South Africa’s Western Cape. The second comprises 25 (give or take) cricket playing, indigenous fermenting, Anglikaans-gabbing grape shepherds. The third may draw their name from beloved childhood memories of packaged iced silhouettes of animals on cookies when in actuality they are a gaggle of like-minded, boundary-pushing, fun-loving, serious winemakers.

Suzaan and Chris Alheit

Suzaan and Chris Alheit

Cape Wine 2015 may have seen 300 presenters toting thousands of South African bottles but the swagger of 40 young vignerons stole the proverbial show. They did it with passion, innocence, acumen beyond years and attention to history. They go it alone and with a pack mentality. They care about old vines, tradition and respect for the land but they also have chutzpah. They don’t really give a fuck what the establishment thinks about their winemaking.

Jamie Goode and Godello, CapeWine2015

Jamie Goode and Godello, CapeWine2015

Three days at the Cape Town International Convention Centre allowed for extensive coverage of the South African wine scene. It was a perfectly organized show. Credit begins with the vignerons. Their work is tireless, especially when all must be dropped to focus on all-in, three relentless days of pouring while offering elaborate dissertations about their wines and their place in the South African scene.

At the lead there is Wines of South Africa, headed by Michael Jordaan and Siobhan Thompson, chair and CEO, respectively. André Morgenthal and Laurel Keenan head up communications, marketing, events and PR for WOSA, in South Africa and in Canada. The show and the excursions around the Cape Winelands were made possible by their collective efforts. Their immense efforts and impeccable work can’t ever be overestimated

Chenin Blanc

No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of Chenin Blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Chenin Blanc Skin Contact 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

It begins with viticulturist Rosa Kruger and the cleanest fruit this side of Matroosberg Mountain. Vigneron and winemaker Chris and Andrea Mullineux use egg inversion to press and skin contact lasts for three months. This plus old barrels hyper-intensify umami; part bread dough, some pine forest, all wild yeast and a hint of Matsutake mushroom. The meld into acidity is a wild carpeted Chenin ride. Exhibits layers of Greekdom, in spice and complexity. The long inosinate to guanylate finish arrives and lingers in thanks to the scraped skins of many citrus fruits. They strip, stripe and spank the mouth. The spirited lashing and accumulated bejewelling is a sign of spiritual and plentiful life. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @MullineuxWines @MullineuxChris  @SwartlandRev

A A Badenhorst Wines

A A Badenhorst Wines

A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, SAQ 12135092 $18.05, BC $23.00, WineAlign)

From Adi Badenhorst, old bushvines planted in the 1950’s and 1960’s and whole bunch handled with no crushing or de-stemming. Fruit is transferred to concrete and 500l old foudres. The simple, minimalist approach and lots of less stirring, leading to great texture, right up there with the most complex Chenin. Also possessive of the righteous level in bitters, intense citrus and bookworm herbology. Lucent, lambent, capable Chenin Blanc. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @AABadenhorst  @SwartlandRev


Not exactly household or predominant by any stretch of the imagination, Riesling does play a bit part in the white idiomatic presentation of South African wine. With the emergence of Elgin as a cool climate growing area capable of expertly ripening both aromatic and aerified varieties, the future will crystallize with more Riesling, Gewürztraminer and offshoot concepts.

Paul Cluver Riesling Close Encounter 2013, Elgin, South Africa (Winery, LCBO 500396, $23.00  WineAlign)

A more serious effort than the sibling ‘Dry Encounter’ because this Riesling knows what it wants to be. On its left may be Alsace and on its right the Mosel but in truth this speaks to a Kabinett reasoning, with Elgin layering. At nine per cent alcohol, 36 g/L RS and 8.2 g/L TA it knows the difference and speaks the truth about off-dry Riesling, with elevated and yet balancing acidity. It pretends to be nothing but what is of and for itself. Flint and an attainable stratosphere (between 300-500m above sea level) accept the airy drifts of oceans and the gathering returns to earth with the weight of wax and glade. If you think South African Riesling is “a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,” taste Elgin and think again. The skeptical Nowhere man is ignorant to the new frontier for Riesling and to him I say “please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @paulcluverwines  @PIWOSA

White Blends

A category not to be taken lightly, what with so many varieties available to work together and with the idea of appellative blends not necessarily so far off or far-fetched. Chenin Blanc is most certainly the pillar and the rock with support ready, willing and applicable from Clairette Blanc, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Semillon, Roussane, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Colombard.

Duncan Rall

Donovan Rall

Rall Wines White Coastal Region 2014 (Winery)

A contiguous king blend of Chenin Blanc with Verdelho, Chardonnay and Viognier from vineyards allowing for increased production year after year. Natural fermentations acquiesce varying degrees and species of spiced dipped flowers set upon expressions of lees. The Chenin is 41 year-old Swartland (Paardeberg) fruit with Stellenbosch (Bottelary and Helderberg) quartz soil Chardonnay and Verdelho. Anise, star anise and pure white stone groove me in a gather of complimentary and controvertible Chenin (and friends) complexity. “Uhh! Awww, sookie sookie now!”  @SwartlandRev

Other White

What obscure or less heralded white grape variety would you like to play with? Ask the Cape winemaker that question and he or she might keep you awhile. The rules again need not apply. Spin the wheel and work your magic. Odds are at even that a handful of least employed Châteauneuf and/or Gemischter Satz varietal wines show up at a CapeWine Fair sometime soon.

Cederberg Bukettraube 2014, Cederberg Mountains, South Africa (Winery)

David Nieuwoudt’s Dwarsrivier rare take on the cultivar (less than 77 hectares of vines remain planted worldwide) is a wine with altitude and attitude. Cederberg is one of only three South African farms in kind of these vines in Glenrosa and sandstone soils on the escarpment atop the Cederberg Mountains. Natural sugar of 25 g/L from the arrested ferment is toothsome in a next to Spätlese way, though the citrus and herbal crasis separates this from Riesling. What brings it circling again is the formidable acidity, circulating and rounding up, culminating in a viscosity and a palate coating that ends with none word. Delicious. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @Cederseun  @imbibersreport  @PIWOSA


There was a time when all South African Rhône varietal wines needed to be compared to the mother land and many continue to encourage the adage “you can take the varieties out of the Rhône but you can’t take the Rhône out of the varieties.” The modern Cinsault maker has turned expatriate exploits on its axiomatic head. You’ve not likely had your way with these versions of Cinsault and like me, once you have, you may never go back.

Radford Dale 'Thirst' Cinsault and Gamay Noir

Radford Dale ‘Thirst’ Cinsault and Gamay Noir

The Winery of Good Hope Radford Dale Cinsault ‘Thirst’ 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

If the Thirst Gamay from vignerons Alex Dale and Jacques De Klerk is “a live rock concert rather than a manufactured, boyband studio album,” the carbonically macerated Cinsault is weekend long palooza replete with music, clowns, acrobats and roaming minstrels. The wonders of natural, nouveau Gamay are well known but the natural fermentation application on Cinsault goes funky, wild and complex in a whole other attitude. Chilled properly this Thirst adds a Mad max factor to the circus, tannins even and most certainly an explosive grit. If the Gamay is smashable, the Cinsault is obliterateable. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @Radforddale  @WineryGoodHope  @Noble_Estates  @PIWOSA


The globe trekking grape has been backed into a corner, with blood primarily spilled at the hands of big box Australian producers but some blame has also circulated South Africa’s way. Heavy petting, elevated heat and alcohol, street tar and vulcanized rubber have combined in resolute, culprit fashion to maim the great variety. As with Cinsault, but in an entirely more mainstream way, the fortunes of Syrah are wafting in the winds of change. Natural fermentations, some carbonic maceration and especially prudent picking from essential Syrah sites are turning the jammy heavy into the genteel and dignified wine it needs to be.

Journey's End

Journey’s End

Journey’s End Syrah ‘The Griffin’ 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

The ’12 signifies a departure and a new style for the winery and for Syrah in the Cape. Some (three weeks) of carbonic maceration leads to a dichotomous passion play in which the middle romance is acted out in seven barrels for 18 months of (70 per cent American and 30 per cent French) oak. It’s as if the grapes are shocked into an awakening and then slowly brought down to calm. As if the fruit develops a protective shell, protected from and coerced by and with ushering along by slow motion micro-oxidation. This is Syrah void of cracked nut, pepper, veneer and big league chew. It’s a terribly beautiful experiment, the Syrah equivalent of similar function world’s away, done with Chardonnay, in Orange and all the while with natural yeast that sling the fruit to destinations previously unknown. At least around here. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @JourneysEndWine  @colyntruter  @vonterrabev  @PIWOSA

Callie Louw's smoker

Callie Louw’s smoker

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

They call Callie Louw a lekker ou. Having played on his side and under his tutelage for a bowl and a bat or two, I can concur. He is a nice guy. Having eaten his smoked pork shoulder, brisket and wings, I can tell you that he is a master smoker. Having tasted his ’13 Syrah twice, I can also say he is a great winemaker. Louw is proficient at many things, including cricket and smoking Swartland’s best BBQ. Making Syrah from the schist soils of Riebeek Kasteel is his true calling and with thanks to Marc Kent (of Boekenhoutskloof) he is able to work with some of South Africa’s best fruit out of one of its harshest climats. Picked fruit is left to its own devices, 40 per cent in concrete eggs and 60 in larger foudres. I’d hate to smack a natural sticker on this one because it resides outside the realm of labels, generalizations and uneventful stipulations. It has killer tannins and the legs to walk the earth. What else do you need to know? Drink 2017-2030.  Tasted September 2015  @SwartlandRev

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013

Pinot Noir

The future for Pinot Noir is bright beyond the pale, with certain exceptional growing sites producing varietal fruit so pure and of ripe phenolics as profound as anywhere on the planet. A few producers have found their way. More will follow and when they do, South Africa will begin to tear away at the market share enjoyed by the likes of New Zealand and California.

Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines Pinot Noir Cuvée Terra Lux MMXI 2013 (Winery)

Winemaker Francois Haasbroek is not merely on to something. He has it figured out. The elegance of his wines (sourced from vineyards across the Western Cape) share a strong affinity with one another. In a consistently distinguished line-up this Pinot Noir may not be his most accomplished but it is his most definitive bottle. From three Elgin Vineyards this spent 18 months in older 225L barrels and help me if this does not purely express the humanity of Pinot Noir. Oh, the natural funk of Elgin, where Pinot Noir need be embraced and fostered. Not unlike Haasbroek’s Syrah, the sweetness is impossible, the imagined imaging haunting and asomatous. With time the true luxe will emerge, in the form of mushroom, truffle and candied cherry. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @Blackwaterwine  @ZooBiscuitsWine


For so long we ignorant, pathetic and far away people knew not from Pinotage. We imagined its machinations through, by way of and expressed like espresso, forced and pressed with nothing but wood in mind. That the grape variety could have a personality bright and friendly was something we had no reference from which to begin. A visit to the Cape Winelands re-charts the compass and the rebirth is nothing short of born again oenophilia. The new Pinotage may be what it once was but it is also what it can never be again.

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

From parcels of the highest possible elevation and black rock that imparts swarthy tannin on a frame of alcohol sharpened at 12.5 per cent. Nothing short of stunning aromatics. Whole bunch fermentation, three weeks of skin contact and minimal punch downs are directed with pinpoint precision to what Pinotage should and simply must be. Fresh, lithe and promising. Good-bye Pinotage being Pinotage. Hello Pinotage in pure, honest perfume. Older oak barrels (4th, 5th and 6th fill) round out the texture, amplify the arroyo seco and excellence washes through, with simple acidity and riverine length. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @DavidNadiaSadie  @SwartlandRev

Red Blends

The sky is the limit for what can be attempted and achieved with the varietal kitchen sink of availability. In consideration that any red variety can scour the Cape Winelands in a journeyed search for phenolic ripeness, a prudent pick, ferment (or co-ferment) will certainly, invariably conjoin towards assemblage nirvana. Rhône styling is most often mimicked, from both north and south but OZ indicators and even California flower child prodigies are both seen and heard. There is no tried and true in this outpost of red democracy. In the case of Cape wine, anarchy rules and there is really nothing wrong with that.

Sheree Nothnagel, Wildenhurst Wines

Sheree Nothnagel, Wildenhurst Wines

Wildenhurst Red 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Shiraz (62 per cent) co-fermented with Viognier (5) is joined in rank by Mourvèdre (33, though is some years it’s Cinsault) in an unembellished red that not only lies back but rises in free spirit. A red to express the personality of its maker, Sheree Nothnagel. Silk and lace, cure and mace, spice and so many things nice are the aspect ratios of a very natal wine, like a prevailing wind. A real stretch in tannin, sweet and smooth of grain leads to length, from Koringberg to the slopes of the Picketberg and Paardeberg mountains. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @WildehurstW  @ShereeNothnagel  @SwartlandRev

The wines of Duncan Savage

The wines of Duncan Savage

Savage Wines Follow the Line 2014 (Winery)

The Western Cape has likely never seen such polish and precocious affinity with its varied soils as it has or likely soon will when Duncan Savage is making wine. The blend of Cinsault (58 per cent), Grenache (21) and Syrah (21) is predominantly Darling grapes and shows a deeper, funkier understanding of Cape soil. Bright red cherry fruit supports life on this brooding planet and propagation is furthered with cinnamon-like spice and a purity for supplementary red fruit so direct and so very pure. The wine’s moniker comes from the farming expression “follow the line.” All rows lead to the farmhouse, eventually.  All winemaking roads in the Cape will lead to the name Duncan Savage or at least involve him in the conversation. He is the farmhouse. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam and Cartology

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam and Cartology

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Days of Yore 2014 (Winery)

Chris Alheit’s brand might allude to a chapter in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers but Days of Yore must pay some homage to the 80’s thrash metal band and with great irony. This Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault blend is no Doomsday for the Receiver and certainly No Place for Disgrace. What it is instead is pure liquid brilliance. Old 1960 Cabernet Sauvignon bush vines are (even if unintentionally) farmed the way they used to be, back in the days of yore. Now cropped, tended and produced in pitch perfect cure, the resulting wine (when Cabernet is blended with Albeit’s dry-farmed, stomped and tonic-singular Cinsault) shows smoky depth and musicality. Sour-edged or tart can’t begin to describe the tang. It’s something other, unnameable, sapid, fluid and beautiful. It brings South Africa from out of the heart of its wayfinding darkness. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisAlheit  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Other Red

Momento Wines

Momento Wines

Momento Wines Tinta Barocca 2013, Bot River, South Africa (Winery)

From a south-facing, 40 year-old, one and a half hectare vineyard in Bot River that Marlise Niemann convinced the farmer not to rip out so that she may continue to produce some 2,000 bottles of a variety you can’t really find or are want to grow anywhere else. This has been a small love affair since 2007 with this block. “My child, my charity case,” she admits.  I am not sure I tasted any other wine in South Africa with such fresh, pure, unspoiled innocence as this Tinta Barocca. “You have to have a connection to the vineyard. To guide it.” The underlay of perspicuity is a streak provided by Bokkeveld shale. The clarity of red fruit and deferential tannin is too sacred to spit, too beautiful to spill and too genteel to waste. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Godello and Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Godello and Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Good to go!



All fall Ontario wines

From left to right: Thirty Bench Riesling 2013, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, Rockway Estate Small Lot Meritage 2012, Huff Estate Gamay 2012, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013 and Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013

From left to right: Thirty Bench Riesling 2013, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, Rockway Estate Small Lot Meritage 2012, Huff Estate Gamay 2012, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013 and Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013

Currently off in South Africa on the Stellenbosch Wine Route with CapeWine2015 on the immediate horizon but I left some local reviews behind in anticipation of the VINTAGES September 19th release. A few are out for another go ’round and do hear this. Their timely and welcome recurrence is not something to take lightly. If you missed them the first time, get them now. It’s another one of those essential times of the year when we all fall into the cask of go local,  and reap the benefits of Wine Country Ontario. See you in a few weeks back in the old country for the first October release.

Thirty Bench Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (24133, $18.95, WineAlign)

The classification for Thirty Bench here as a ‘basic’ Riesling is such a stretch in consideration that the fruit is meant for this bottle and that fruit is of the highest Beamsville distinction. What a treat in 2013, ready to please with immediacy, great balance between sugar, acids and mineral-lactic travels to and fro, back and forth. Torque at its finest and most pure in Ontario. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015  @ThirtyBench

Kew Riesling, Young Family Organic Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (426460, $18.95, WineAlign)

The idea that Beamsville Riesling can attack such hallowed territory is one of exigency and wonder. Kew does so with organic, Germanic and elemental attitude to the apogee of Escarpment degree. Everything in the Phillip Dowell mastery mix exists in the rare air of Beamsville essentia. When it hits optimum minutia and does temporarily descend to the ground, the ’13 Riesling sticks in beeswax and lanolin, not to mention lemons dipped into more rosin. Quite singular, even within the context of a Beamsville style. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted repeated times, July, August and September 2015  @kewvineyards

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (86363, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard to figure any sub-$20 red Ontario blend showing a deeper sense of ripeness, wood intent, sinew, cure, triturate resin and dry barbecue rub – than this Stratus ’12. It’s a bit of a head scratching, game-changing meritage, altering the course for $20 red blends forever. At the risk of forming comparisons, it puts me in mind of other places, like Roussillon, Campania and Navarra. It has coal running through its arteries and tonic spewing out of its fountains. Wild my ass? Yes. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015  @StratusWines

Rockway Estate Small Lot Meritage 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (388264, $19.95, WineAlign)

Twenty Mile red charcuterie and ripe blackberries baked into a Peninsula pie. Highly consumable red blend, with natural feeling acidity and grainy, slightly bitter tannins. Will settle nicely in two years and drink for three more. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @RockwayVineyard

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk in for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April and Sepetember 2015  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Huff Estate Gamay 2012, VQA Ontario (423335, $24.95, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak. The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat. Tasted at County in the City, April 2014 and again, September 2015  @HuffEstatesWine  @PECWines

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (427484, $24.95, WineAlign)

The barrel fermented and aged Estate Chardonnay spent 12 months in two-thirds new and one-third second fill wood. Lees stirring is slightly increased as compared to the unplugged. Again, it’s about aromatic intensity leading the way to palate density. By the sounds of Westcott’s comments “we’re pleased with its remarkable irony — dry and sturdy, yet creamy and rather curvy,” you might think the team was stirring with impunity. Not so. The Estate Chard does the dance of mild spice and butter on toast to reach a texture that would appease savages. Unavoidable and typical low yields from the Vinemount Ridge picked at the right moment and handled with caring tabula rasa are the spirit in this wine. Delightful and charming. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June, July and September 2015  @WestcottWines

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April  and September 2015  @normhardie

Good to go!



Whites after Labour Day

September salad

September salad

What is the only way to tell the difference between a wine geek and a wine snob? A geek will not drink just anything but will taste everything. In the name of science, of course.

Silly high society rules, like not drinking whites after Labour Day are the wine equivalent of late 19th century fashion precepts and as ridiculous as they may seem, you just can’t make this shit up. Just ask Google.

The first VINTAGES release of the new year (on the Hebrew calendar) or depending on your angle, the last of the summer (preceding Labour Day), is rich with excellent whites. There are 15 choices from September 5th that I highly recommend. Get them while they and it, are hot.

From left to right: Old Vines In Young Hands White 201, Dr. L Dry Riesling 2014, Domaine La Haute Févrie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, Flat Rock Riesling 2014, Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2014 and Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: Old Vines In Young Hands White 201, Dr. L Dry Riesling 2014, Domaine La Haute Févrie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, Flat Rock Riesling 2014, Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2014 and Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Old Vines In Young Hands White 2013, Doc Douro, Portugal (424374, $12.95, WineAlign)

Young winemakers, a country’s support, a new vernacular, simplicity and imaging in ode to old ways. The packaging and the intent is spot on. The wine follows suit. Arid, saline, savoury and elemental, like QBA Riesling or Peloponnese Kidonitsa. I’m digging and buying the style, both in clean winemaking and in appeal to a whole new world. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @MichaelAndBrand  @winesportugalCA

Dr. L Dry Riesling 2014, Qualitätswein, Mosel, Germany (409680, $13.95, WineAlign)

Another sock it to me Dr. L, straight up, spot on, exactly what it purports to be. General index of Riesling expression. Read it, use it as a reference, calibrate your palate to where you want to go. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted August 2015  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines  

Domaine La Haute Févrie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Ac Loire, France (390625, $13.95, WineAlign)

Perfectly, typically, ostensibly and decidedly Melon for what it’s worth. The sea, its salt, a briny shell and crisp acidity for what ails. Simple, slightly spritzy, a touch balmy and ultimately refined, when cooled, with a mess of sea creatures. Odelay, “of elevator bones and your whip-flash tones.” Where it’s at. At your beck and call Muscadet. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @LoireValleyWine  @oenophilia1

Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Wo Elgin, South Africa (203877, $14.95, WineAlign)

Striking Sauvignon Blanc, minted by a flinty beginning, with perhaps the highest discernible level of sweet gooseberry on the nose that has ever been measured by the olfactometer. Hard to imagine such an inexpensive Elgin white to be so dramatically forthright in smile and open arms. Grapefruit of the pinkest, ripest most juicy crunch burst into flame flavours well-defined, not overbearing, properly bitter and in reprise, like a bite into juicy citrus with just perfectly ripe acidity. A new benchmark for value Sauvignon Blanc in South Africa. Raises the bar folks. Look to Elgin. Ask the producers to plant more. Impossibly long SB finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @ThelemaWines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @EpicW_S

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

As good as 2013 is a vintage for Niagara Chardonnay, relatively speaking it may be an even bigger quality boon for the aromatic Musqué. The level of depth, breadth and weight in this Cave Spring is new and improved. The florals are heightened, as if bottled in eau de. The parfum is an intoxicant and the flavours compressed, like roll up, like a Musqué napolean, of peach, plum and pear. Who knew? A fall necessity. Better than before. Drink 2015-2017.  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

From my earlier note of May 2o15:

Produced from the 77 clone, the vintage has heightened the high herbal and feigned sweetness aromatic pastis. The palate is extraordinarily viscous, with Yellow Muscat and Gewürztraminer attributes, not so out of the ordinary considering Cave Spring’s older world execution. Drives from lemon to mandarin, through almond pit and into peach. Always solid Musqué.
Last tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)

Talk about bottled up compression. Twist the screwcap and thwop! The cap nearly popped like a Champagne cork. This baby has energy and drive. The vintage is compressed and pile-driven as nosed by the density opposed by reticulated 9.5 per cent alcohol. This has Mosel tattooed on its being, from neck to bottom. A dead ringer for fine Kabinett, the tropical fruit in apricot and dragon reaching back to join Ontario, in apple and pear. A good flinty stone and raging acidity combine forces to exaggerate a Riesling reticulum in what is not the missive’s greatest ever vintage. Will live five to seven easy and just go for soda. Go ahead and quaff the hell out of this one, from 2015-2020, from bottles one through twelve. Tasted March 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2014, Pdo Santorini, Greece (47985, $18.95, WineAlign)

A weighty Assyrtiko of breadth and gumption. The varietal salinity found virtually nowhere else is omnipresent and yet different of fruit in the hands of Boutari. Opulence beyond the Santorini norm and yet held back as if to say, “not yet, not yet.” There is a cool, wet patina as if by ruins slowly grown over at the bottom of the sea. A white swath of scraped rock paints the middle palate and is not removable. Can’t go wrong with a chilled bottle and a gaggle of calamari on the grill. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @Santoriniwines

Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Burgundy, France (424655, $19.95, WineAlign)

Flint meets reduction in a Saint Bris plugged in both ways, AC/DC. Sauvignon Blanc of dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Quite savoury, spicy and cool up the nose like mint and eucalyptus ointment. Serious and strong, like Aligoté but with more verve and natural musculature. No shrinker here and very long, juicy and crazy for acidity. Such expression is rare for the hallowed if needfully paid further attention appellation. Show up anytime at my place with a bottle of Saint Bris, “We’ll have ourselves a ball.” Drink 2015-2018. Tasted August 2015  @BourgogneWines  @VinexxCanada

From left to right: Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009, Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013, Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012 and Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne 2005

From left to right: Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009, Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013, Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012 and Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne 2005

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sunlight is the key to this ripe Chardonnay, snatched from vines that grow on the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment’s sub-appellation. Here Henry of Pelham calmly puts its hegemony over Short Hills Bench Chardonnay on display. The fruit layering is very impressive, compressed even, with just a spiced spirit injection from the barrel. The Estate Chardonnay is in a mid-range class of its own, this gatherer of heat days, hoarder in spring water retention, cleanser in sand and gravel drainage. The vintage just seems perfect for this niche bottling, balanced, primed to finespun texture, stretched for length and good to age at least five years.  Last tasted March 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (409680, $21.95, WineAlign)

Blue slate in deep soil and steep, southwest-facing slopes elucidate the Graacher Himmelreich enterprise, quite possibly the most personal vineyard in the Mosel. Autonomy, astronomy, autocratic assuage and elemental tyranny are not for the Riesling faint of benevolence. The Studert Prüm Spätlese from the GH vineyard in 2009 is so very stubborn, stark and austere like matches struck on rocks, rocketing flares as if in a sci-fi action scene. It is possessive of a full, sweet and medicinal palate and enough energy if not the most balancing of acidities ever paired with the flint and the petrol. Good bitters and exceptional length will lead to many years of marbling evolution. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted August 2015  @StudertPruem  

Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (424648, $22.95, WineAlign)

If a Niagara Sauvignon Blanc could be endeared with the term ‘calcaire,’ Rene Van Ede’s Limestone Vineyard would lead the shortlist, not only because of the eponymous vineyard but because it oozes of the rock’s chalky chafe. Plenty of orchard fruit belies the lime, in an unoaked Chardonnay way and the wine makes full use of limestone’s hematic shed. This is one of the most stylish Sauvignon Blancs made in Canada, even if the average consumer were not able to recognize it as such. A winemaker from Sancerre would know it immediately and intuitively. Here a crushed reef of limestone memory permeates the wine from beginning to end. One of the more outstanding Sauvignon Blancs made in Ontario to date.  Tasted January 2015   @RedstoneWines

Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Ac Alsace Grand Cru, France (686451, $24.95, WineAlign)

Arid and direct, quite an ascending Pinot Gris, with almost unfindable residual and yet not the most distinct Grand Cru you are ever going to ponder. Has more weight and sweetness on the palate which tends to lychee, pineapple, apricot and lemon pith. Proper old school Mambourg. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @ProfileWineGrp

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

A best of both worlds Chardonnay; indicative of the giving vintage (in quality, not quantity, prestige, not prosper) and an Estate, house style with some cosmetics to enhance the consequence. Really typifies and explains what a Marlize Beyers Chardonnay is. Elegant, stylish, with perfect skin, tones, understated beauty and the soft vernacular of few yet precise words. The texture and feel of this Chardonnay is downy, lacey and so very understated. You simply can’t take your eyes off its charms and your palate away from its soft feel. A wine of character and poise. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @LeSommelierWine

Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (416057, $38.95, WineAlign)

Prudently flinty Vau de Vey, full of rocks, stones, cragges, broken pieces and slices of pure limestone. Such struck sensation could go too far but here it rises and lingers, tickles, fancies and plays, never bothering or acting with distraction. Quite remarkable and gentle of handling. Softer on the palate but still the limestone beats, with bitters. Just not enough circulating acidity in the end. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted August 2015  @DomaineLaroche  @BIVBChablis  @Select_Wines

Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne 2005, With Gift Box, Ac Champagne, France (280461, $219.95, WineAlign)

Surprisingly waxing en route to the oxidative side yet suspended in crystal animation. Apperceive the level of concentration, finesse and poise, a trinity of DPVBC not to be tested. These are serious, brooding, executively organized and effected bubbles. They are the real deal and they are not for everyman, either by price or for pleasure. They do not effect change or progress but they do speak of what has been, has worked and will not soon see any arresting waver. Another what it is moment in iconic Champagne. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted August 2015  @MoetUSA  @ChartonHobbs  @Champagne  @ChampagneBureau

Good to go!



Chase food pairings with Stratus

The Chase Restaurant's Pom-pom Mushrooms, braised bacon and peppery greens

The Chase Restaurant’s Pom-Pom Mushrooms, braised bacon and peppery greens

Master of assemblage and varietal maître J-L Groux sits at the head of the underground table while a busy lunch crowd fills in overhead at The Chase Restaurant in Toronto. Highly apropos not just because the Stratus winemaker is over-qualified to preside over the Niagara winery’s 10th anniversary tasting and dissertation on his wines. No, it’s because the posit perfectly illustrates the writer’s yet unspoken epiphany. Groux’s work under the Stratus Vineyards and its offshoot labels have made for some of Ontario’s great food matching wines.

Stratus 10-year anniversary tasting

Stratus 10-year anniversary tasting

Related – The Stratus-Momofuku continuum

It may not be obvious to most but Godello is not much of a food and wine pairing guy. Chef is a fan of great wine and food compatibility but not when generalities need define the directive and the prose. When it comes to the wines of Stratus, a pattern is emerging with incredible clarity. Momofuku, Select Bistro, The Chase. Three Toronto food destinations with high quotients of quality and progressive gastronomy. Three connections with Stratus. Three hits.

Stratus winemaker J-L Groux and WineAlign's David Lawrason

Stratus winemaker J-L Groux and WineAlign’s David Lawrason

Related – Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

The wines are repeatedly discussed and assessed with assemblage and varietal tendency in mind. I have worked through the portfolio or a representative cross-section no fewer than six times in the past three years and yet for the first time the sound was one of a culinary vernacular, a voice heard out of ingredient and mise en place, a dawning of purpose.

The Chase Octopus, harissa, spiced merguez sausage, sauteed red onions

The Chase Octopus, harissa, spiced merguez sausage, sautéed red onions

Related – Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity incarnate

The Chase tasting was presented by the Stratus team of Groux, Charles Baker, Suzanne Janke and Nadia Skorupski. The exceptional lunch was prepared at the hands of Nigel Finley. Here are the notes on 18 wines poured.

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In magnified aromatic persistence, on and over top of even two months earlier, in such a hyper-grapey way with terrific dry extract chained to tannin and humid minerality. The many months of leave in gentle oak is stating its technically procured, quote unquote de-classified case.

From my earlier note of April 2015:

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density, and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky, back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025

Last tasted June 2015

Stratus White 2005, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

The blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Sémillon with a not necessarily before announced whisper of Viognier was culled from vines “getting older, staying true to our technique,” recalls J-L Groux. The grapes were growing at the bottom of the vines which “made for a challenging wine.” The Gewurz acts in upwards accent to the others, its far-easter flavours speaking with scrunch. Concentration is in compression without density to soft spoken. The most unusual bunch location certainly had something to do with my aforementioned “whiff of terroir that blew away” and according to Groux “the year was very nice.” The Stratus White 2005, tasted again, as well.

From my earlier note of September 2013:

‘Twas a deadly vintage (worst frost in Niagara on the Lake) and the only one with smacking aromas from the vineyard floor. “A zoo growing season,” notes Groux, “with grapes hanging high and low.” Chardonnay leads the troops in ’05, in elevated acidity and earthiness from grapes picked “in a different type of environment, near to the earth.” Highly textured and mature, leggy fruit. Though its best years are behind (because the fruit will no longer support the oak), the Groux seven-year ageing goal has easily been reached. The whiff of terroir does blow away and the honey liniment and rose emerges. So much consistency, so rapidly developed. Amazing. Witness here the winemaking acumen out of an atypical vintage and confounding result.

Last tasted June 2015

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

As per the house promulgation, in Chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier note of May 2014:

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 Chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex Chardonnay in Niagara.”

Las tasted June 2015

Stratus Chardonnay Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Even now its wick seems lit, a febrile wicker thatch of reed, bamboo and rattan, a little wicked even. Versatile like vin jaune, of oxidative rushwork, a product of a time when the regimen was all new oak. Preserved lemon and wax, late bitters within reason and with thanks, surprising freshness. Though the oak was overdone at the time, the slow food preservation has rendered the fat and left behind sharpness, even at 13 years of age.  Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00)

The most tropical unction of seemingly all Viognier known to human kind, Stratus issue or not, at the hands of J-L Groux or any other aromatic junkie in the winemaking world. Hung like an ancient painting on a modernist gallery’s bright white walls. A pepper-laced, creamy white paste cuts through the similarly positioned texture. A quench of peach, apricot and nectarine sits on the palate, like an August fruit cup from Ontario trees, with a cut of nut pith. And lemon too. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015

Stratus Red 2002, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

Tasted from two bottles. The blend was Cabernet Franc (40 per cent), Merlot (37), Cabernet Sauvignon (16) and Gamay (5)…roughly. Gremlins from a closet in a funky way, in causation by time though for every thought of flaw there are 10 in depth and layering. The second pour is brighter and popping but if a master of time, partially, arguably so is considered, then the years have had their say. Both palates are alive, tense, terse and resonant in deep horns, where fog meets contrabass. The specs are interesting to note; 7.2 total acidity, pH at 3.19 and sugar (brix), 22.3. Says J-L Groux “we would never pick at that number today.” High acidity keeps it alive, this mix of fruit that is oxidized, nearing the suggestion of maderized and whiffing like 55-day, dry-aged beef. Only the second bottle offers up true savour and cooler instincts. Fascinating. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

A Cabernet Franc of settled, harmonious tones, of oak that sets sights and heights to heah, now integrated at such an early age. The grape succeeds and bleeds an exemplary, stalwart varietal suspension within the Stratus pantheon, a sanctuary where fiddles are yet played by other outfits across the region. Cabernet Franc will increase in the Stratus Red, for good measure and reason. This ’12 is simply smothered in an embarrasment of red fruit, smoky from raspy reds to plugged in currants. It is of a favour in flavour that reminds of Swedish berries, in modulated hög, though not in sweetness. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2005, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Of a bygone era, an older style. Thicket or copse, but of a green, verdant, newby character. Like a shell, membrane or rim of shellac on an expressly full-bodied corpse. Smells like a grandfather’s old pipe, comforting and parched. Flavours have left piquant behind, settling with senectitude into orange and clove. Alive if well-aged and evolved. A push-pull of warmth and cool elasticity, humidity and savour. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

Few varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in Niagara stand out, firm and yet back from the pack. The Stratus is anything but “six and one, half dozen the other.” This prochaine exit strategy to the NSOR 2010 is an admirable follow, of dusty fill and grind of pepper, a touch of brine and “a cup of rhyme.” Structurally it is like a swan, elongated, muscular and elastic. It is elegant within a markedly rigid frame. It also flies freely, like a hummingbird. “You can crop it higher and it’s going to make good quality,” notes J-L. Hurrah. Another varietal success for Life’s Rich Paegent. Let it catch some R.E.M. to settle its tannins. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Petit Verdot 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142638), $30.75, WineAlign)

Picked at nearly the same time as the ’12 Gamay and with prudent acidity preserving fashion – early. A variety that travels with happy expedience into sugar (26 brix) and maintains that aforesaid acidity without intrusion. A tightly spun PV, in need of five years easy to unwind and hopefully recoil. The wall of rigidity is woven in chalk and grain, the lift round, all-in, immediate and lingering. Then it comes back around again, ever-increasing the high tones of the wine. So very metagrobilizing genera, this ’12 Petit Verdot. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

“We try to treat Gamay as a noble variety,” says J-L Groux. This is the child of a short (three weeks) Stratus maceration. Today the nose indicates concentrated strawberry compote. Gamay of the most hue, tone and texture. “We don’t want to go back to the light years of Gamay.” This futuristic vintage (of two years in oak and high, high brix) sees to that concern. Subsequent vintages will scale back but won’t be “light, easy and breezy,” though they will shed the weight of raisin and fig.

From my earlier note of May 2015:

Esteem elevated by structure, matched in poise and presence mottled in smears of darker, richer black cherry. If a slight absence of brightness is sensed due to the syrupy compression, like New World, west coast Pinot Noir, the gleaning from acidity and tannin times perfectly the effluent escape.

From my earlier note of April 2015:

It may not be the most idiosyncratic Gamay in Niagara but the Stratus 2012 is without a doubt the most advanced and complex. Gamay fusion is on display, at once a bottle of Niagara’s finest pulchritudinous veneer and then a charcuterie board laid ample with cured bovine parts and sun-dried grapes. Maximum ripeness and then even later picking, to no one’s surprise, have led to this. Two years of ageing in neutral oak barrels has brought about a humid roundness and yet the centre is controlled by Oz-like mint and eucalyptus notes. The jam is gelid, as opposed to temperate. Rarely does Gamay go to such depths, of blackberry, chalk and grain, with an overlord of tannin. Quite serious stuff. Drink 2017-2020.

Last tasted April 2015

Stratus Sangiovese 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

With no true recognition of, for or in cohort conscious decision to align with a clone, of Montalcino, Montepulciano or Chianti, this Stratus take on Sangiovese must go it alone. That said, so much modernity links it to some Tuscan brethren. “We have Italian winters that tell us our Sangiovese is not a crazy one,” explains J-L Groux. Nothing in this ’12 speaks of lightness, beets or simple, red fruit. Two years in French oak, blah, blah, blah leads to a Riserva style. This is not about making CC, simulating CCR, mimicking Gentile or copying Grosso. It’s about leaving a wine for two years to develop aromatic complexity and structure. “It’s a curiosity,” adds Suzanne Janke. Nail’s head, hit. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Tempranillo 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

In 2012 the J-L Groux take on the expatriate Spaniard is warm, rich, cake-driven and yet balanced in ways the 2010 was unable to exhort. This vintage appeases Groux’s ends of the earth search for aromatics, picking on them, executing vinification to encourage them and barrel-aging for the purpose of cementing them. The 2012 is an aromatic success. It exudes red fruit, flowers, baker’s kitchens and wet Niagara on the Lake earth. This is a clean and jerk Tempranillo, a bouquet to success. The palate, mouthfeel and mellow finish return the favour of 2010 when it was noted that the variety in this place is a stretch, overweening perhaps, certainly self-effacing if admittedly short of contumelious behaviour. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Tannat 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

“To me this is one of the most successful new varieties we are planting,” exclaims J-L Groux. In similar ways with Stratus varietal cousin Petit Verdot, acidity rules the roost. Smells like a just sliced open bag of organic earth, freshly neutral, funkless and emptying into a (first use) terra cotta pot. A rich, looking straight ahead expression. What it hides in fruit is lost to the brilliance of balance though plum is the operative hidden flesh and it will make a clearer impression when it steps clear of the tar and the tannin. This is pitchy sagacity, with poise and length. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Once again, the tone climbs and hangs in the upper reaches, where structure lurks, preceded with intent by four plus weeks of maceration, followed by (sic) two years in oak. Some new, some old, to be technical and precise. Will be some time before this is able to shed the bathetic, syrupy aromatics and meaty, eat that soup with a fork texture. The concentration it treated and tempered with a pantomime shred of elegance. Not as Rhoneish as some other vintages (contemporarily not a bad thing) but this combines worlds in copacetic ways. Tomato and herbs crisped in good olive oil make for good gastronomy in this consumer-friendly, balanced Syrah. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted June 2015.

Stratus Malbec 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Unexpectedly floral, perhaps more than any other Stratus varietal red. That aroma bite strikes me as cool. Just a hint of fennel and coriander seed offer up an herbal hand of complexity. The texture advances to integrated, coming about with a softer red in tow, with less severe acidity than the others. More bitters on the finish as well. Less attitude, more fat, though decidedly rich. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015

Stratus Wildass Rosé 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71712, $17.95, WineAlign)

A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with some Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling added for lift and what J-L Groux admits is rendered “for the consumer.” This essentially marks the twain between sweet and dry, if not quite halfway then pretty darn close. Plenty of herbs and citrus nail the aromas on the proverbial head with more than a grapefruit or two on the half circle. A highly approachable, end-user friendly blush. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April and June 2015

Stratus Botrytis Affected Semillon 2012 at The Chase

Stratus Botrytis Affected Semillon 2012 at The Chase

Good to go!



Catch 22 wines

Godello's garden meets Greek Horaitiki

Godello’s garden meets Greek Horaitiki

Twenty two wines I tasted from the August 22nd release. Some are really good. So what’s the catch? Some not so much. As always, take a grain of salt and judge for yourself. Godello is not traditionally a site to explore the good, the bad and the ugly. The good news is that the worst of these 22 are actually quite well-made. The bad news is that each will only satisfy a certain kind of palate and a specific sort of temperament.

Something for everyone. LCBO 101. I hope you find something you like.

From left to right: Koncho and Co. Tsinandali 2012, Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, Grace Lane Riesling 2013, Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Perrin Réserve Rosé 2014, Vineland Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and The Crusher Viognier 2013

From left to right: Koncho and Co. Tsinandali 2012, Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, Grace Lane Riesling 2013, Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Perrin Réserve Rosé 2014, Vineland Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and The Crusher Viognier 2013

Koncho & Co. Tsinandali 2012, Kakheti, Georgia (412981, $12.95, WineAlign)

Boxy, foxy, contained, constrained, aromatics waiting to burst, in big timbre and quite spicy. A bit reductive and very juicy. Boisterous, wild-eyed expression. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @GeorgianWineSoc

Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, Wo Coastal Region, South Africa (126847, $13.95, WineAlign)

Good texture and mouthfeel in this Chenin, dry but unctuous, direct and filling. Works coastal wonders in many ways. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @WOSACanada

Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341586, $14.95, WineAlign)

Though Riesling dominant this is a shared experience, with cool climate Chardonnay and richly aromatic Gewurztraminer lifting spirits and exhaling breaths. The Sauvignon Blanc seems to add ripeness and juicy palate flow. A mouthful of ripe fruit to be certain and amenable beyond its pragmatic ways. One of the better value white blends and one to look at for Niagara Peninsula propensity within the context of designing an appellative blend. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @featherstonewne

Grace Lane Riesling 2013, Yakima Valley, Washington (420737, $14.95, WineAlign)

Simple, straightforward, slightly spritzy Riesling with a full-blown lemon lime palate and a finishing set of bitter piths. Good length gives it life. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015

Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Igp Vins De Pays Du Val De Loire, France (672345, $15.95, WineAlign)

A lithe and petite Sauvignon Blanc, balmy, touched by spice accents and a whisper of lemon/lime. Tart but not really striking or biting. Soft Sauvignon Blanc, quick and effortless. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted August 2015  @ChartonHobbs

Perrin Réserve Rosé 2014, Ac Côtes Du Rhone, France (719062, $15.95, WineAlign)

Pretty Rosé, arid enough though really juicy and presentable to a wide army of followers. Some tonic and even more brine. A late feeling of pickles and preserves. Better than many. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @Beaucastel  @ChartonHobbs  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE

Vineland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (551168, $16.95, WineAlign)

Spicy vintage for the Escarpment, concentrated in many ways, for juicy fruit, capsicum and savoury herbs. A touch effervescent which does not detract, but rather adds a buoyant lifeline because the tart acidity is really something else. Fun with Sauvignon Blanc from up on the shelf. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted August 2015  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

The Crusher Viognier 2013, Wilson Vineyard, Clarksburg, California (361964, $16.95, WineAlign)

Reductive Viognier, nice and fresh for a change, cool Clarksburg fruit thankfully kept shy and in absence of high alcohol, overly heated sunshine gluck. A bit of a mouth breather, tropical in a longan way and of enough though not striking acidity. Finishes overly bitter, in lime pith and a kind of nettle. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @SebastianiWines  @Select_Wines

From left to right: Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014, Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Herdade Do Rocim Red 2011,S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014 and Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013

From left to right: Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014, Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Herdade Do Rocim Red 2011,S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014 and Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013

S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014, Doc Lombardy, Italy (200097, $17.95, WineAlign)

Tanky and metallic, coastal and postal for Trebbiano di Lugana. Quite herbal, reminiscent of Sancerre, with spice, nettle and linear length. Layered and structured white with a seriousness in its expression. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015

Herdade Do Rocim Red 2011, Alentejo, Portugal (423574, $17.95, WineAlign)

A regional blend of Antao Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro. Very cimmerian, rich and dense Alentejano, wildly berry delicious and yet fierce. Lots of oak, lots of optimism and plenty of swagger. Very spicy and toasty finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted August 2015  @winesportugalCA

Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Do Rías Baixas, Spain (350041, $18.95, WineAlign)

Concrete and tank Albarino, steely and mineral, cool and bristling. Turns to stone fruit on the palate, gets down to juicy and then ricochets off the walls, drawing salinity and pulverized limestone into the very linear finish. Such a calcareous, wound white wine, on a spindle, in a vacuous void of aggregate and steel. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @pacolola  @azureau

Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014, Ap Languedoc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (373985, $18.95, WineAlign)

Dry, floral, medicinal, quite tight and angled, not angular Rosé. The sea salinity and briny strawberry confluence is quite striking. Doesn’t really linger so in the end it’s a bit of a simple quaffing Rosé but what of it? That’s right. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted August 2015  @GBvins  @LanguedocWines  @FwmWine

Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Loire, France (971887, $19.95, WineAlign)

A neat feat to stretch Sauvignon Blanc like this, in phyllo layers and like bitter greens braised to sweet tenderness. Savoury though the herbs are not the most recognizably cultivated, used or considered. Like winter savoury, or Spruce tip, edible seaweed even. All tossed lightly, gingerly in a citrus vinaigrette. Playful SB, at times tight and bracing and then generous, giving, forthcoming. Previous vintages have had more shine. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @HalpernWine  @LoireValleyWine

Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (588731, $19.95, WineAlign)

Heavy handed, much wood and chalky, full on bloody Malbec. Has Oz strength and gumption. Good lengthy finish. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of August 2014:

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.  @TriventoArg  @Select_Wines  @winesofarg

Last tasted August 2015

Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (321612, $20.95, WineAlign)

Into another cool climate Pinot Blanc poster from Gray Monk, the standard bearer for the variety, in this price and stylistic niche, for anyone who cares or dares to join the bandwagon. Juicy stone fruit of a peach, yellow plum and nectarine fold, circular bites of acidity and mineral bleed and just a touch of tonic to tie it all together. Always great stuff. Length even better than in 2012. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted August 2015  @GrayMonkWinery

From left to right: Domaine De Rochebin Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013, Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013, Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Featherstone Onyx 2010, King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2013, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012 and Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010,

From left to right: Domaine De Rochebin Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013, Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013, Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Featherstone Onyx 2010, King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2013, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012 and Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010,

Domaine De Rochebin Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013, Ac Bourgogne, Burgundy, France (424275, $22.95, WineAlign)

Such a pretty red cherry, fine earth and cinnamon heart confluence on the aromatic front, with no palate or late tannin affront. The acidity seems particularly natural and fitting, the finish quick and efficient. Very good old world look at the world of Bourgogne. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @BourgogneWines

Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013, Carneros, Sonoma County, California (67405, $23.95, WineAlign)

Cream in your coffee, sui generis housed and reductive Chardonnay with a chip on its shoulder. Aromatic rhythms are modulated by the barrel’s influence while flavours are pleasant though not wholly distinctive or full of character. Very directed Chardonnay and an exemplary regional example for the price. Will show better a year on. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted August 2015  @BuenaVistaWines  @TandemSelection

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $24.95, WineAlign)

Down $1 in price from this time last year.

From a bumper crop, there came to market 11,000 cases of this Nova Scotian feel good, faux-sparkling story. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ Nova 7 dissimulation in bubbles is a true trick of the trade and though this white wine strikes as if it were a child of a warm vintage, there is a classic lightness of Rosé fizz being in its ever so slight effervescence. A singular wine in many hybrid incarnations, in Muscat ways, of pink Perle de Csaba, segmented and pressed for a sweet burst of grapefruit. It’s low (7 per cent) in alcohol, excellent in acidity, sweet and sour, citrus zesty, juicy and dry at the same time. Batch delineated and loyal to continence, though if the quantity creeps much higher that may come in to question. Grown up pink lemonade and so easy to consume.  Tasted June and July 2014, July 2015  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

Featherstone Onyx 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (372433, $29.95, WineAlign)

Strikes as Cabernet Franc dominant and quite savoury so, slightly cured and richly layered. Merlot appeals and appears with its own distinct clarity, gift-wrapped with tidy flavours in refrain of Franc that acts like fruity Cabernet Sauvignon. The vintage is very in and though it’s warmer and coated with more wood than would best service its needs, this has settled into a really nice glass of red berry and plum red wine. Kudos to the blender and the patience afforded the result. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @featherstonewne

King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon (984005, $34.95, WineAlign)

High quotient of ripeness, astringency below, earth above sprinkled and saturating. Quite an effusive design and rambunctious effort. All over the map. Big, bouncy and biting. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @KingEstate

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

This ripe Picone in 2012, not a surprise and ripping at the same time. The orchard stands out, the texture overlaid and the length outstanding. Picone in ’12 has presence of more immediate notice, standing firm and tall to be counted early and then, for years to come, often. Like juice bled from escarpment cragges, a speciality that is singularly Picone. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier note of June 2014:

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases.

From my earlier note of March 2014:

“Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010, Docg Piedmont, Italy (922880, $37.95, WineAlign)

Nebbiolo of intonation, modulation and stress, with a noticeable mid-life moment in volatility, in contrast to an enamoured aromatic loveliness in rose petal and candied flower. Dusty swirls and tight red fruit meets stark acidity. A Barbaresco such as this has historical advantage on its side but scares a bit in the present. A very fair price for a wine that has to be stashed away for at least three years for the angst to subside. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @piemonte_italia

Good to g0!



Got August, go cottage, get wine

Fiore di Zucca Fritti (Fried Zucchini Flowers)

Fiore di Zucca Fritti (Fried Zucchini Flowers)

Let’s just cut to the chase. It has been more than three weeks since I’ve posted to Godello, thanks to a trip to Greece, Cool Chardonnay and my #eastcoastswing15. Let’s face it, I’ve left you hanging, waiting, wondering and perchance, livid at not having received a recommendation for summer wines since, well, since July 15th. As my Achaian friend Dimos is like to say, on repeat, “sorry about that.”

VINTAGES rolls out the smallest (by quantity) release of the calendar but I’ve got to say that per wine offer capita, the quality level is set to high. There is much to choose, from refreshing whites to grill worthy reds. Got, go, get.

From left to right: Espelt Viticultors Old Vines Garnacha 2013, Rosewood Süssreserve Riesling 2014, Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2013, Lone Birch Syrah 2013 and The Foreign Affair Sauvignon Blanc Enchanted 2013

From left to right: Espelt Viticultors Old Vines Garnacha 2013, Rosewood Süssreserve Riesling 2014, Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2013, Lone Birch Syrah 2013 and The Foreign Affair Sauvignon Blanc Enchanted 2013

Espelt Viticultors Old Vines Garnacha 2013, Do Empordà, Spain (422469, $14.95, WineAlign)

Such a formidable and concentrated liqueur dominates the nose on this heavily-textured Garnacha from maritime-influenced vines grown on decomposed granitic soils. Minor yet judicious oak works minor magic on the fruit for a feeling that is organza in sentiment if like fruit-roll up in reality. The couverture is quite natural and free-flowing, like waves lapping up a windless shore. Though flavours like liquorice, pomegranate and morello cherry are thought intrusive, the actuality here is simply Garnacha in pure, unadulterated form. This should be a late summer, early fall go to for BBQ, barbecue and grilling by all means possible. Gritty, grippy finish. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @CellerEspelt  @DOEmporda  @EmpordaWine  @ChartonHobbs

Rosewood Süssreserve Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (258806, $14.95, WineAlign)

If you have never sussed out the Rosewood adaptation on the deutsches sweetness enhancement technique for Riesling, it’s honey time you did. The vintage brings out the best in and of all worlds; texture, high-rising graceful aromatics, burgeoning acidity and wait for it…honey. Mellifluous honey. This vintage seems to throw a gallon of juice at the charge in ways previous vintages did not seem to do. This is very easy and yet direct on the palate. Look at this Riesling and note there is nothing to hide. “She is good to me and there’s nothing she doesn’t see,” so in ’14, “honey, I want you.” Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @Rosewoodwine

Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2013, Igp Côtes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (179838, $24.95, WineAlign)

Combines Grenache Blanc with Vermentino for an identity crisis of Italo-French proportions and in the end it reminds so much of a southern French take on Viognier. Aromatically precious, from white flowers and tropical fruit. Has a cool metal stir to keep it alive, punchy, vibrant and then acidity up the back side, flip-flopping about and turning “cartwheels ‘cross the floor.” A harum of flavours follows suit, as per the modern protocol. Though it’s merely a whiter shade of pale there is more than ample personality and whip to work up a frenzy, to mingle and to sit down with dinner. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @DomaineLafage  @LaRegionLR

Lone Birch Syrah 2013, Yakima Valley, Washington (420695, $19.95, WineAlign)

A good, inexpensive, once upon a time in the west Syrah is hard to locate so when one like the Lone Birch comes along, it’s time to saddle up. The spice, pure fruit and smoky meat aromas are of an outdoor intoxicant kind, joined by notions of mesquite, lavender, creosote and thyme. The verbiage here is not so much green but more like the purple flowers that emerge late in the season. The chalky edge to the bright acidity makes for a fun texture to finish interplay. This is a great change in Syrah gears with horsepower and grace. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted August 2015  @LoneBirchWines  @WINESofWA  @HHDImports_Wine

The Foreign Affair Sauvignon Blanc Enchanted 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389767, $19.95, WineAlign)

Appassimento-style Sauvignon Blanc is both curious and an open target for accusations of vivid excesses. The detractor will look for swift “walls of insincerity,” the complimenter will say “I was enchanted to meet you.” Foreign Affair’s take has been injected with a cocktail of intensity; steroidal, hormonal and from concentrate. All the juicy orchard fruits are there; plum, apple, pear, nectarine, lemon, lime and grapefruit. This passes the appassimento SB test, if only and commodiously because it spreads fruit like confiture on warm toast.  Tasted October 2014  @wineaffair

From left to right: L’école No 41 Semillon 2013, Rieflé Pinot Gris Steinert Grand Cru 2010, Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Easton Zinfandel 2012 and Domaine Pavelot Savigny Les Beaune Aux Grains 1er Cru 2012

From left to right: L’école No 41 Semillon 2013, Rieflé Pinot Gris Steinert Grand Cru 2010, Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Easton Zinfandel 2012 and Domaine Pavelot Savigny Les Beaune Aux Grains 1er Cru 2012

L’école No 41 Semillon 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (982157, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sauvignon Blanc (13 per cent) adds buoyancy to the main attraction in this vanguard and reputable Columbia Valley pioneer. Quite toasty and marked by early nose-hair splitting and splintering barrel notes. Dare say reductive but not in a rubber sap run way. More like Sémillon-dominated Bordeaux, of big bones, cut through soluble rock, created a sinkhole that swallows up flavours, only to release them in geyser like fashion in later years. So with patience and age-time in mind, this Sem will have better years ahead, when the heavy (14.5 per cent) alcohol integrates and the lemon drop-butterscotch flavours mellow. Generous pH (3.2) and high Brix (24.2) were the product of a very warm vintage. Rounded by concentric circles of acidity and bitter pith tannin, this is very tropical, like Gewürztraminer, but more in mango than lychee. Needs five years minimum because the oak is overdone. Tasted March 2015  @lecole41  @WINESofWA  @TrialtoON

Rieflé Pinot Gris Steinert Grand Cru 2010, Ac Alsace, France (408229, $24.95, WineAlign)

Annick, Jean-Claude, Paul et Thomas Rieflé make their highly affordable Grand Cru Pinot Gris near Pfaffenheim in the southern stretch of the Vosges Mountains, on soils composed in limestone of marine origin intercalated with marls. This is rich, layered and spicy Pinot Gris, full on calculated with ripe, sunshine-laced fruit, orchards upon orchards of variegation and some, though not excessive tropical intentions. Has that distinct calcaire inflection that reminds of struck rocks, petrol and gardens giving off pretty smells at dusk. The finish is really long here so look for this to work well into the next decade. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted August 2015  @RiefleLandmann  @TandemSelection     @AlsaceWines

Easton Zinfandel 2012, Amador County, California (328377, $27.95, WineAlign)

A ripe, buoyant and near flashy example of Zinfandel without any necessity for speed, heat or mountain jam. Fruit is steamy but you can touch it. Aromas can cut through what Zinfandel often hides, which is freshness. There is spice on the nose for sure but it’s an accent, not a deterrent for disguise. The palate is racy and alive and while there is some cure and dried fruit in the mix it stops well short of confiture. The tailing trail of minor exhaust propels, not halts the length. Really good vintage for the Amador Zinfandel. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @rhonist  @TheZinfandelOrg  @bwwines

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (285510, $27.95, WineAlign)

In terms of the modern Vino Nobile vernacular and even grander to a wider Tuscan vicissitude, Dei takes the reigns and offers zero apology for the way in which the wines talk their turkey. Clean, pure and plenty are the words to describe this Prugnolo Gentile, but also graceful and slender. Spoons out copious quantities of fruit and is yet chewy enough you might think of eating it with a fork. Has aromas that recall concepts both fresh and dry. Vino Nobile to gimme fiction, history and tradition. “Comes when you pirouette,” dances light and treading across the tongue, never hot and heavy, but stylish and pliantly balletic. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted August 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @consorzionobile  @Strada_Nobile

Domaine Pavelot Savigny Les Beaune Aux Gravains 1er Cru 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (206136, $53.95, WineAlign)

Even in Burgundy there is a scarcity and rarity with which a particular bottle can please, impress and instruct, vintage after vintage. Pavelot’s Aux Gravains is pure Beaune, even if it is on the showy side of Pinot Noir. This is just plain and simple perfectly ripe and at the same time grippy with the grandest ‘G” that can be drawn. The cherry, earth and roots are smouldering and yet not remotely smoky. It smells like a cigar as it’s being rolled, with nary a green moment. The palate is chewy, cranky, pure again and racked by veraciously munching acidity. Naturally cured as well. Such a Pinot Noir is to be lauded. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted August 2015  Vinifera Wine Services @DanielBeiles

Good to go!



Angles of Leaning Post

Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario is a must stop on every wine pursuer’s bucket list. The budding to burgeoning vintner may not call Beamsville, Vineland, Jordan, Virgil, St. David’s or Niagara-on-the-Lake home, but turning off of the QEW and onto the Fifty Road need never be thought of as a time-wasting detour.

Set in a warm nook abutting the Niagara Escarpment, Ilya and Nadia Senchuk‘s base is but a mere stone’s throw from significant points metropolitan, rural and urban Niagara, from Toronto, Hamilton, the towns along The Bench, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Oakville and Burlington. I have meandered through portfolios, tanks and barrels with Ilya mano a mano three times now, twice during visits on spring pilgrimages. His wines reside in the complex realm of obliquity, in a physical zone known as the borderland between fracas and order. And while they seem to follow no comfortable or obvious pattern, without prevarication I can safely say there is such a thing as the Senchuk style.

Related – Lean on, Macduff

Ilya Senchuk has little interest is making wine like everyone else in Niagara. His modus vivendi is predicated on basic, unembellished and crucial tenets. Three V’s. Vineyard, vintage and variance. Senchuk truly believes that greatness is determined by varietal variegation, from vineyard to vineyard and from year to year. Perspective and point of view are an advantage, not to mention prejudice. Hands-off winemaking? Natural wines? Forget about it. Make the best possible wine using the best possible fruit and in the best possible way. End of story.

Related – Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Senchuk is on mission. He is a Pinot Noir specialist and is one of only three winemakers to produce from holdings in arguably the finest Grand Cru (sic) Peninsula site, a.k.a. the Lowrey Vineyard. The others are Thomas Bachelder and Wes Lowrey. He makes Riesling with impunity. His Chardonnay is modernity incarnate. Gamay in a class of its own. Syrah to redefine what can be done in the cool countenance of the New World. The 2012 was pressed the night (second son) Ruslan was born so the wine is (rightfully so) dedicated to wife Nadia. It is also in support of a farm growing Syrah purposed for greatness.

Ilya arranged a tasting through his current portfolio. Melissa Bogaert was tasting next to me in the barn’s renovated room with assistant winemaker Ryan Corrigan. It was nice to put a face to a Twitter personality. Senchuk and I followed the current selections with a ride through some tanks and barrels to get a sense of the resting ’13 Pinot, Merlot and Syrah. My interest in his agglomerated use of both French and American oak was certainly piqued, but we’ll save that talk for another, finished wine in bottle day. The notes here are (mostly) on the finished wines.

At the Leaning Post tasting

At the Leaning Post tasting

Rosé 2014 (Winery, $25.00)

A Gamay (70 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (30) split, all picked at an acidity weight-bearing 19 brix from Cattail Creek’s farm. Unlike 99.9 per cent of the Rosé produced on this planet, this fruit was explicitly grown and picked with complicity for Rosé, not red wine. Saigneé be damned, Ilya Senchuk has entered a world of savoury relish, as opposed to herbal pain. From berries to citrus and mouth feel only such blush can know. There is weight without density, more rutaceae on the finish and in a strange Winona way, like a red ringer for skin contact Sauvignon Blanc. So says just a messenger. Drink 2015-2017. On tap at Barque Smokehouse.  Tasted multiple times in June and July 2015

Leaning Post Gamay 2013 and Rosé 2014

Leaning Post Gamay 2013 and Rosé 2014

Gamay 2014 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)

Increases the colline built of earth and endemic Gamay character. Keeps the funk grooving with a precise, focused beat. So very like Pinot, with grains and tannin interwoven to length. Chewy, sanguine and gamy, a manducate of meaty sashimi or a mouthful of raw, marbled rib-eye, seconded on charcoal for a split second. On tap at Barque Butcher Bar.

Leaning Post Rosé 2014 on tap at Barque Smokehouse

Leaning Post Rosé 2014 on tap at Barque Smokehouse

Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)

A year has clarified the must into a venerable, beneficial decay, like effulgent, liquid rust. The shine of antiquity and then a blast of cinnamon dominates for the first major swirl. So lithe and profound like wise Pinot Noir, minus the Niagara coat of arms and lacquered veneer. Whatever anxiety may have held down the brightness has eased to deliver this current, optimum drinking window. Drink 2015-2016.
From my earlier (tank sample) note of May 2014:

Guiltless and virtuous straight out of stainless, the meaty side of Gamay game boldly goes where few from the Bench have gone before. Like a rare venison steak sitting in a silky pool of lavender-scented demi-glace. Floral like Fleurie and despite zero new oak, vanilla joins the gravy. A Senchuk steal of quality Wismer (McLeary…sort of) fruit sets this Gamay up for easy sell success.

Last tasted May 2015

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk’s swallow of Lowrey fruit from rows part sloping St. David’s Bench and Niagara-on-the-Lake flats are heretofore known as The “Pommatago.” Stated with utter, dire, climeractic swoon, it begs saying that it’s actually pretty. I mean gorgeous. Florals range from roses to violets. A departure from ’09 and ’10 to be sure, this combines Pommard (al fresco detail) and Central Otago (potpourri). The late grip, girth and mirth rounds out like Nebbiolo, with a (13 per cent alcohol) finality in litheness with legs. Structure to age is written in blatant physiognomy. The tannic grain wields from out of 15 months in barrel, followed by eight plus months in bottle, to release its hounds. Says Senchuk, “I like what Pinot does after 24 months.” So will we. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted June 2015

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

Here, the numbers game. The 2012 Lowrey is riper and yet lighter than ’10, like taking ’10 and turning it up to ’11. A Pinot Noir of spine, tapped from Grand Cru Niagara Peninsula fruit, of St. David’s Bench underwritten by Niagara-on-the-Lake. From a year where 20 degrees was the new 28 (as in 2010) and so density at its very core is bankrolled by that vintage. Accents are the beast; spice, smoked brisket and still a hint of haute, though not quite as delicate like ’11. The delicacy is enriching even in the early absence of litheness. It’s gastronomy is old world, albeit a western one and then in retrospect on the finish, you realize it dances remarkably light on it hovering feet. The transition to tannin on the finish is seamless, moving beyond the fits, stops and restarts of ’11. The barrel sees it to this end. “Certainly, in the topsy-turvy world of heavy rock, having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is often useful.” Accessibility be thy Pinot name in 2012. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015

Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00)

“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015

Five from Leaning Post

Five from Leaning Post

Syrah Keczan Vineyard 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

As much as Pinot Noir attempts to define what Leaning Post represents, this intoxicating inhalant from the Lincoln Lakeshore elucidates the bent and the intent for 2012. Rich in smoking meats, lavender and white pepper, the Hwy. 8 vineyard (where Quarry Road comes down) site transmits flavour, purports cool-climate necessity and is yet warm enough to purpose ripe fruit of a briny, Mediterranean cure. The plot is one km closer to Beamsville than the Redstone Vineyard and very near to Malivoire’s Stouck. More than just prime Cabernet Franc territory, Keczan is the epicentre of Niagara Syrah. This has layers of texture, at once gripping and then conversely popping. At 13.8 per cent alcohol it’s physical without being crazy, warm yet short of cured, rich but shy of acting nubilous. A benchmark. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2014 (Barrel Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)

A oaked/unoaked split that Senchuk says this about.”I don’t like air in my Chardonnay. I like a bit of reduction (for freshness) but don’t want to make a reductive wine.” Tasted from barrel, on its lees (not stirred), this is all about texture. It is creamy with a hint of nuts in nougat. The reductive aspect is negligible to unnoticeable. Has kept its dextrous, youthful charm, inoculated by the lees, exhibiting nary a disparaging phrase. Will champion the style that is so very Senchuk.

Good to go!