Local heroes

Henry of Pelham Estate  2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

Henry of Pelham Estate 2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

You can find them from coast to coast. This coming Saturday six VINTAGES Canadian releases, four from Ontario and two from British Columbia, are wines that speak on behalf of exceptional vineyards, out of important places. These are bottles made by winemakers entrenched in their territory and from grape varieties purposed to grow there.

Related – Tasting with Power

The Creekside Estates white blend known as Laura’s White has become a poster child for varietal blends on the Niagara Peninsula. Winemaker Rob Power has found a way to make a consistent expression in every vintage.

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Angela Kasimos was the winemaker at Riverview Cellars and is now leading the charge at Small Talk Vineyards. The Small Talk Syrah is yet another example to speak on behalf of pushing for more plantings, especially down by the Niagara Lakeshore. But that’s not all. Kasimos is also making Cider at Small Talk. It’s called Shiny Apple Cider, made from Grey County apples and Niagara grapes. You heard me. The White Cider is augmented by 10 per cent Riesling, the Rosé with 15 per cent Pinot Noir. You should try it on tap at Barque Smokehouse.

Related – The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom

The Cuvée Black Ball Riesling by François Morissette failed on several occasions to pass through the VQA panel’s strict discretion. The atypical one has finally broken down the barrier and it’s now your turn to decide if it pleases or causes consternation.  My chance to opine is laid clear in the review below.

From B.C., Gehringer Brothers out of Oliver offers a unique, Golden Mile take on Pinot Gris. More than just coincidence to be here today as yesterday marked a new direction for British Columbia‘s wine industry. The #GoldenMileBench just became the province’s first sub-appellation.

Related – A biography of Ontario and B.C. wines

Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek called the day momentous. She wrote this on her blog. “Something as elemental as the brown given to vineyard stones by a passing universe.  In casual simplicity, I toast to you, the Golden Mile Bench, British Columbia’s first sub appellation.”

The five recognized wine regions in British Columbia are The Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The new designation was announced by the provincial government on March 30 and will legally identify where grapes are grown. In this case, the escarpment southwest of Oliver which runs south from Fairview Road and near Highway 97.

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

So long as 95 per cent of the grapes were grown in the area, wineries will now legally be allowed to indicate the Golden Mile on their labels. The list includes CC Jentsche Cellars, Checkmate Artisanal Winery, Culmina Family Estate Winery, Fairview Cellars, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Hester Creek Estate Winery, Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards, Golden Mile Cellars, Rustico Farm and Cellars, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, and Willow Hill Vineyards.

In Jauary I wrote about Burrowing Owl Winery. I talked about the extreme nature of their location and what is does for their wines. “That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well-known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.”

Related – Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

The 2011 Syrah reviewed below drives the stake even deeper into the searing heart of the Owl. Here are notes on six new releases coming to stores this Saturday.

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura's White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign)

When I tasted the 2012 Laura’s White again with winemaker Rob Power two weeks ago my last note said “this has the grab, tempered by the warmth of the vintage, so look for ’13 to nail it with a hook.” That it does, along with the most balm and herbs of the last five vintages. This blues traveller goes deeper into complexion and white varietal compilation. The fruit is very tropical in 2013, softer, easier, lighter in complexity, but it has that musical trigger, the jingle, the popper, the hook. If ’12 was the revivalist blend, then ’13 will try to be the proselytizer. “Because the hook brings you back, ain’t tellin’ you no lie. The hook brings you back, on that you can rely.” Everyone can drink this. While it may not stand up a decade or longer later, you will be able to look back on it fondly and remember it was a wine for the times. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @CreeksideWine

Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (347203, $18.95, WineAlign)

A concrete set of aridity rules are the modus operandi here in a reserved, stoic and aerified sort of Okanagan Pinot Gris. Paler and thus less oxidative then the last vintage to pass through these parts. Very much cut into pear, less so of white peach. The grape tannin is noticeable, even obdurate. Generous alcohol contributes to the mulish attitude though with the aridity and slight citrus push you’d be hard-pressed to really notice the call.  Tasted March 2015  @GB_Wines  @UncorktheSun

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (415612, $24.95, 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

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (415612, $24.95, WineAlign)

In the hands of new winemaker Angela Kasimos, Small Talk Vineyards should consider going with and increasing their plantings of Syrah. It’s clear that Kasimos has inherited good solid fruit and the Small Talk (formerly Cornerstone Wines) treatment in ’12 is a very good start towards what should become a great varietal relationship. Smokey, savoury and full of positive brine vibrations, this has body but no overripe or caramelizing denouement. Nor is it green, though it exhibits tonalities that whisper volatility and chews that say sinew. Yet it persists healthy and clean. This is Syrah of lovely curves, rounded shapes, bright peaks and gently sloping valleys. Who doesn’t like Syrah young and infectious like this?  Tasted March 2015  @SmallTalkWines  @AngelaKasimos

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

Let’s get something immediately out of the way. The wines of François Morissette are not meant to please curmudgeons, skeptics, contrarians or members of the wine media. This Riesling has no desire to kiss ass. This will not appeal to late harvest lovers, from Kabinett to Auslese. Is it ripe? Not quite. Is it different? Absolutely. This compares to almost nothing. Like a Champagne ginger, lime and bronze filings cocktail, the Blackball ’13 is so very developed and despite the colour, is a hyperbole in primary existentialism. That it has essentially no residual sugar and an achieved 11.5 per cent alcohol is a complication only the clinical doyenne has the answers to. Riesling in between dreams, “never knowing shocking but we’re nothing.” The Blackball has struck, is not yet stricken and will offer remore pleasure for another six months. Then it will deconstruct, dissolve and devolve into darkness and funk. Five years later it may emerge like a phoenix, jack up like a Rangen Riesling, into the ethereal. Will it happen. I couldn’t possibly tell you. We may never know. But I can say that then, and only then, will it truly tell its story. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @PearlMorissette

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73072, $39.95, WineAlign)

Just when it seems that Burrowing Owl could not coax beyond the perceived maximum in ripeness and richesse out of desert sage country Syrah, the envelope pushes higher in this ripping 2011. An absolute circum whirl of dark fruit, crushed peppercorns, Cassis and candied violets draw syrupy into bottle. Big, brawny and modern, styled like Syrah from peak perches overlooking the French Riviera with a small percentage of mitigating northern Rhône sensibility. Texture is pure silk. Acids are tame but very present.  Tasted March 2015  @BurrowingOwlBC  @winebcdotcom  @LeSommelierWine

Good to go!

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Colmar and the volcano: Domaine Schoffit

Selection de Grain Nobles of Domaine Schoffit

Selection de Grain Nobles of Domaine Schoffit

Like so many Alsace winemakers, the Schoffits were and continue to be torch bearers who made wine to remember generations.  Though their history traces back more than four hundred years, the modernity of their oeuvre is a case of futuristic pioneering. That path is laid crystal clear by a tasting and a learning about their wines in discourse through the precocious young lens of Alexandre Schoffit.

During a week in Alsace we tasted many wines 25 years and older. At that age there can be no guessing. At Schoffit we were presented wines that fell into the four to fourteen range. No longer primary and not yet secondary, the assessments of adolescence can be difficult, confusing, beyond comprehension. The relationship between many wine’s character with its aromatics and flavours is usually that of gristle and fat on the bone of meaning. But not Domaine Schoffit. There is no gap between the structure and the wine.

The Harth Lieu-dit is the Alsace home vineyard and grounded muse for the varietal wines of Domaine Schoffit. Eleven hectares of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Chasselas and Pinot Noir make up the core of the domain’s 100,000 bottle production. The alluvium, permeable pebble soils in Colmar and France’s most generous amount of sunshine provide the sustenance. Robert, Bernard and now Alexandre Schoffit are the facilitators of clockwork winemaking, on time, always with a shine.

If Harth is the guts, the glory comes from the volcanic sharp hillsides of the Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, acquired by Bernard in 1986. This is the only siliceous rocks and lava base in all of Alsace. It is here by the monopole and medieval church Clos St. Théobald that the foundation of the Schofitt legend lives. Rangen might borrow from the German, meaning “row.” Legend has it Saint Théobald brought the finger of the Archbishop from Bubbio, Italy because the ring was promised to the monks. The saint fell asleep in the vineyard and passed on. Another story tells of Hercules having been the one to sleep in the vineyard because the Rangen wine was so strong. His mace graces the label on the Schoffit coat of arms. Today the church and the monopole memorialize St. Théobald and his name.

From as far back as 1041 records discuss the 3rd incarnation of the monks who worked the vineyards on the treacherous slopes. Rangen Riesling and Pinot Gris need cellar time, to pay hommage to the provider’s history and to create one of its own. Grand Cru from these vines lives a life of its own. Notes Alexandre Schoffit, “in the Rangen we are not avoiding malolactic fermentation, but if it happens we are not bothered by it.” The monks knew of the connection between the Thur River’s dark waters and what happens to these wines after long rests in the cellar. “If you know the Rangen, you can tell it by the colour.”

Schoffit’s other Grand Cru is located in the Sommerberg, between the towns of Niedermorschwihr and Katzenthal. The granite hillsides are the proviso for mineral moxie and the resolution to provide what Riesling demands. Only le roi of Alsace grape varieties is made in Sommerberg. The crumbling granitic bedrock is ideally suited for the racy wines it begets.

Related – Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

Riesling is royalty in Alsace and at Domaine Schoffit, it is king. When he introduces his family’s Pinot Gris, Alexandre Schoffit explains, “the wines are a little more simple; full-bodied, concentrated.” This attitude is prevalent across the region though some winemakers seem to love all of their children equally. Others, like Alexandre and like Jean Boxler (Domaine Albert Boxler) clearly put Riesling on the throne.

Pinot Gris is a different sort of child to raise. As a rule in Alsace and especially on the volcanic or granitic steep slopes, it must go deeper than Riesling, must burrow even further into the fissures of rock for nutrients. In Pinot Gris the mineral extraction and grape tannin suppress any thoughts of cloying or insipid sweetness.

In June of 2014 I sat down with Alexandre Schoffit at the winery in Colmar to taste 14 of his wines, along with Montreal’s Fred Fortin, Sommelier au Restaurant Laurea and New York’s Jonathan Ross, Sommelier at .  A tour of the facility showed us the stark minimalism and puritanical cleanliness that defines the three generations of winemakers at the domain. The wines echo their attention to detail, their storied history and a focus on keeping up with advancements of the times.  Here are the notes from Domaine Schoffit.

Domaine Schoffit, Colmar

Domaine Schoffit, Colmar

Chasselas Vieilles Vignes 2012 (Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

Cropped at 40-50 hL/l because they are careful not to let it get out of control. According to Alexandre Schoffit this number is like 20 hL/L for any other grape variety. Chasselas here for easy drinking, with mildly sweet (4.7 g/L) flavours that express green herbs and vegetables. Round (12.8 per cent abv) and sound Chasselas, helped by the balance of the vintage. Though not exceptional in acidity (4.4 g/L) this is not the hallmark of the grape. A wine that is almost entirely exported to foreign markets.

Riesling Lieu-Dit Harth Tradition 2012,

From the winery’s home Colmar vineyard composed of gravel and sandstone, this has open-knit fruit of early morning flowers. An apricot tang, ripeness and just a few shades away from bone-dry (7 g/L RS) and yet in a balanced (7.2 g/L TA) dry style. To taste this is as traditional as Alsace Riesling can be. Proper, as expected.

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

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

Riesling Grand Cru Sommerberg 2011

From granitic soil, the first reaction is to the beguiling strike of a match, the split to fissure of rock, the firing of a gun. The impression that begins is not just one of smell, but deeper, as if a deafening sound. This and the brisk surround of near-extreme acidity (7.7 g/L). Only 800 bottles a year are produced of this startling Riesling, a rare production for a wine of so much stone and that searing, direct energy. Clean as Riesling can and ought to be.

Riesling Grand Cru Sommerberg 2005

During a week in which many 2005’s are laid out on tasting tables, here is another spot on example. “The vintage makes the wine,” insists Alexandre and this Sommerberg drives the point. The age has had very little evolutionary effect on the aromatics. The lapidarian has perhaps had its stone face suffused by a fleshy permeate, Jacked by a temporary balladeering smother, though it will undoubtedly re-emerge hard-core lithic further on down the road. Typical, it seems, of granite-based Alsatian Riesling. Begins in matchstick, enters lanolin, beeswax and wooly sphericity at eight to ten years of age, then returns to flint later in life. Acidity is the catalyst in this development. “And if we are fools in love, then a happy fool I would rather be, and I’ll be glad to learn from you,” though I know Sommerberg has nothing to learn from me. Racy Riesling, seemingly understood but never really known. “Well that’s the magical kind cause its flowing all the time.”

Riesling Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2012 (Agent, $60.00, WineAlign)

Here the volcanic axiom. Not the one that includes magnetic reversals, dinosaur populations and the stock market, but yes, the one concerning global rhythms. The 2012 global and Alsace vintage heat sees Rangen yield at just under 40 hL/L, with soaring aromatics in a wine that will lack the stuffing for longevity. Simpler and so lifted in florals while herbiage balms and bombs the (“Schistes” label-designated aridity) in salinity and fruit driven to immediate assets. The Clos St. Théo’s young acidity is so much rounder than ’10 and ’07, though still very disciplined. Purely and effortlessly representative Rangen to enjoy while the others sleep.

Riesling Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2010 (Agent, $60.00, WineAlign)

The label is also known as the “Schistes,” indicating a new de facto dry style and another example to speak about the Schoffit purity, clarity and precision. A whiff of smoke pursues the ethereal in this terrific and exemplary 2010, like the 2000’s of a decade earlier, balanced and elevated by a low and slow evolution. The schist soil impart brings a lime acidity in piercing precision. The near-optimum vintage is taken full advantage of, perfect to show off the Schoffit style. The only imperfection is the lack of economics, a result of the yields (under 30 hL/L). Never mind the wash, this has aridity and salinity in frozen waves, immense like a raging river’s falls suspended in animation. Rangen Riesling is as dramatic an expression as any in the world and this ’10 perches amongst the top of the class. Drink 2018-2030.

Riesling Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2007 (Agent, $60.00, WineAlign)

The ’07 Rangen is not showing age with the same advancement as the Sommerberg but the idea is just the same in that the roundness or richness has stepped in to soften the volcanic salinity and mineral mouthfeel. The rigid attributes persist but currently reside in a purgatorial state of temporary stoicism. The dry finish is the locus point to indicate (five more years) time is needed to see past the salty breakwater and to reach the true meaning in its character. Also, because this ’07 has been through malolactic, unlike the Sommerberg, yet the consequences are not a question of compromise for balance. Drink this from 2019-2027.

Quelques grappes du futur Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen Clos Saint-Théobald 2013 (c) https-::www.facebook.com:schoffit:

Quelques grappes du futur Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen Clos Saint-Théobald 2013
(c) https-::www.facebook.com:schoffit:

Pinot Gris Tradition 2011

Here the Schoffit proclivity towards the potency of Pinot Gris as a straightforward and heady white. The sugar (13.1 g/L) is felt and yet its strength is conveyed by elasticity, bespoken towards needing to give this a few years to settle. Propellant wound acidity (5 g/L) keeps the proportion in flavours of peach, pear and the appendix of savour. Drink this paradigmatic Pinot Gris from 2016-2020.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2010

In this volcanic soil plussed Pinot Gris the anxiety is palpable. The sugars are derived from orchard fruit at a ripeness pulled by acerbity (9.5 g/L) in clairvoyance of that volcanic mind, skewed and eschewed through utter dramatic density. A good bitterness prevails over the tension with a finish in citrus intensity. Moments of delicacy give a peek to where this will go, that and the incredulous observation on how remarkable 37 g/L of residual sugar is tempered along. Drink from 2018-2025.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2000

So here is what 14 years provides from the depths of a steep volcanic slope high atop the Rangen. Like a burning candle meets crème brûlée, the wax smouldering, the sugars caramelizing, the symbiotic augmentation crystallizing in natural sweetness, in seamless fusion. This represents the reason we take time to look at and see what happens to Pinot Gris, from altitude-afflicted vines with volcanic interruption and through the neurasthenia of originally-picked unsullied, purest fruit. The cleanest botrytis. Rapturous PG. Drink now through 2025.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald Vendanges Tardives 2010

Quite clean and lean for VT out of that exaggerated hyperbole of a terroir-driven vintage. The richness and fullness is on the palate at this early stage in its development. Very full (approximately 50-60 per cent) botrytis affected grapes in a repeat recording for hygienic, pellucid and precise. The aromas are from white fruit, flowers and tender apricot. The acidity (5.8 g/L) is unexceptional, observed in relation to a lower block’s fruit (on the middle slope) which is naturally lower in acidity and less concentrating (128 g/L) to the grapes. While the verve may have wandered away in marronage, the delicacy here stands apart. Drink sooner rather than later.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald Sélection de Grains Nobles 2007

From a vintage of concentration for SGN. A very smokey note bristles with the highlight of lit beeswax intensity. Telescoped and rapt aromas of peach and apricot turn syrupy on the palate. This SGN is extremely young at heart and bounds about like a whelp of limitless innocence and energy. If the highest pinot in volcanic absorption could be measured in Alsace, this Rangen might top the bimetal thermometer. Fills the fullness and complexity kettle yet somehow, miraculously remains light on its feet. With “hair of gold and lips like cherry it’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.” This is oozing (265 g/L) dessert wine, sticky, infiltrating the pores of fingers the moment it leaves the glass. The finish is marked by citrus (9.5 g/L) and the classic Schoffit lit wick. From George Jones to a Scony Mack kind of SGN, like the back of a woman’s knee.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald Sélection de Grains Nobles “Larme de Lave” 2007

A mere 500 plus bottles (with sugar at 510 g/L) are produced of this SGN which I believe will live forever. “This bottle is made to show what can be done,” says Alexandre Schoffit. “It’s more than a dessert wine. It’s a meditative wine.” When it pours into the glass it takes a moment to settle into itself. That’s how viscous it is. Moves beyond pure apricot, into the essence of a multitude of fruits. Picked hand by hand, seeking only the botrytis-affected berries. The unadulterated soul of natural grape sugar. Few words can express the need to ceremonialize its incredulity. With alcohol at 4.9 per cent and a potential of 37.2, the Lave will live more than 100 years, of that we can be sure.

Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald Sélection de Grains Nobles 2006

Richer, with an early increase in caramel, colour and in warm concentration. There is licorice (no, really) on the nose and also pine. “A really complicated vintage,” explains Alexandre. This has a drier sensibility as compared to the Pinot Gris, with dried fruit flavours of mango and apricot. An oily, petrol note adds to the confusion and a hard-pressed, on the spot ability to pick this out blind as Gewürztraminer would certainly be a reality. Orange peel and slate fall in late. The residual momentum (162 g/L), acidity (8 g/L) and alcohol (11.7 per cent) may be misfit bedfellows but messing with what the vintage and the slope gives would be a bite upon the hand that feeds. It is what it is, you can’t change it. This is the fragmentary varietal character of the Rangen.

Good to go!

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Value the first wine of spring

Lake yet frozen, March 18, 2015

Lake not yet defrosted, March 18, 2015

The lake remains frozen though stepping foot upon its precarious ice flow would not be recommended. By this time next week the waves will concuss the gelid islands and slowly deliquesce them down into the frigid water. As of this Saturday spring will have officially come to southern Ontario and with it a whole new outlook on life.

If you ask my colleague Rick VanSickle, the spring of 2015 will mean the boot up to overhaul the future of wine and craft beer sales in Ontario. According to VanSickle, “there is a brave new world coming for the retailing beer and wine in Ontario. These are heady times. Behind closed doors a lot of discussion is happening, a lot of debate and planning is going on in advance of the day Wynne’s Liberal government utters those words many of us have  longed to hear for so long: An end to the LCBO and Beer Store monopolies on wine and beer in Ontario.”

For Rick’s full report on his site WinesInNiagara, please click here:

Brave New World: How the new model for beer and wine retailing in Ontario could look

I read Rick VanSickle’s work on a regular basis and I know him to be as pragmatic and as skeptical as they come. I doubt very much that Rick would get ahead of himself on an issue with so much on the line. Using his ins to gain sagacity from insiders who possess relevant information, VanSickle writes with confidence that Kathleen Wynne has given Ed Clark and his privatization panel carte blanche to effect real change. The consequences of what Rick is predicting are enormous. For consumers, for industry professionals and for writers. We would all have to reconsider and recalibrate the way we approach wine and beer in Ontario.

That is why I remain ever the conspiracy theorist. I remain unconvinced. I see the smoke and mirrors of the entire charade. Even when new licenses are granted, I imagine grocery retailers only selling the largest and most heavily marketed brands. I don’t see VQA wine stores and specialty shops tailored to the demographics of neighbourhoods. I see the LCBO and the Beer Store continuing to exercise their powers of monopoly and controlling how all the changes are implemented. I just do not see the revolution as being imminent and around the corner.

My apologies to you Rick. Your report is thorough and covers everything we need to know. Were these great advances to happen we would all be the beneficiaries but your words sound more like wishes than predictions. Ontario is not Alberta. It never has been and isn’t likely to happen any time soon. I hope I am dead wrong. I will owe you a sit down over a craft beer and a never before seen in Ontario stores bottle of wine if I am. If the revolution is upon us, I will happily count my blessings over one with you.

So, back to the business of reporting on the VINTAGES releases at the LCBO. With spring coming this Saturday so too does an entire new set of wines on shelves. Last week I talked up Riesling and iconic wines.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Related – March 21 big guns

20150317_151442

Almost spring out on the lake

The rest of the March 21st release is expressed in value, in wines that offer serious compensation for what you spend. Wines in generosity of backbone, psyche and enthusiasm. Wines that are simply good, regardless of their cost. Here are notes on nine.

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013

Marqués De Cáceres Antea 2013, Barrel Fermented, Doca Rioja, Spain (518985, $15.95, WineAlign)

Here barrel fermented Rioja brings a buffet of culinary impressions to the aromatic and gustatory table. Soft scrambled egg and cream in Tortilla Española, Serrano ham, buttery puff pastry, natillas. All would pair well with the hickory stick barrel spice and the slightly volatile tang. Accents of orange juice and rind work the angles, along with the calcified acidity. This Rioja is not shy but it represents good complexity and value for the price.  Tasted March 2015  @Marques_Caceres  @RiojaWine  @DionysusWines

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Docg (375ml), Tuscany, Italy (403824, $16.95, WineAlign)

Kudos must be afforded Castello di Ama for putting CCR in half-bottles. It’s like listening to Green River on vinyl. The layers of texture, nuance, and groove are amplified. The expedited evolution and compact formula make cause for a bottled up compression, a concentration, not a reduction. More winemakers should bottle in the 375 mL container. There are so many reasons for it. Space, quality, half the cost and best of all, nothing left at the end of the night, just the empty bottle. This 2009 has seen its fair share of evolution, with notes of forest floor, truffle, mushroom and compost tea but in certain respects the aromas are old-school Brunello. The antiquity of the composition is nothing but endearing, a romantic comfort zone to give this Ama a sense of place. The wood, bite into sinew and gristle tannins add to the archaic mystique. Most modern imbibers would like more fruit but at this paltry price the complexity is more than enough reward. “Well, take me back down where cool water flow, yeh. Let me remember things I love.” Drink now.  Tasted March 2015  @CastellodiAma  @chianticlassico  @HalpernWine

 

Boutari Grande Reserve 2008

Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Naoussa, Greece (140111, $17.95, WineAlign)

In this Xinomavro there is beauty and bog consistence, like wild calla palustris. Imagine a wine thick as consonants, dense and defined by solid rock bubbling like stew, from out of a marsh. Wood adds intricate layers and a mothering of leather hiding and protecting dried cherries. Game, spice, liquorice, funk and things that heal flavour the wine’s liqueur. Silky smooth with a run of grain and the salinity of ancient longing. Racy acidity intrudes, puts in a charge and takes care to see six to eight years more life will be a guarantee. Easily and possibly 10 will pass before it sheds the chalky loops. Terrific vintage with impressive depth and range of flavour.  Tasted February 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine  @winesofnaoussa

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013

Wolfberger Signature Pinot Gris 2013, Ac Alsace, France (398172, $18.95, WineAlign)

The resident oenologist at Wolfberger is Bertrand Praz, in charge of the cooperative located in Eguisheim, south of Colmar. As far as a ‘basic’ union Pinot Gris is concerned, this one hits the right marks and preserves proper tradition. It’s both saline and full of pith, with lemon is scrapes and ladles, yet it could very well be thought of as Riesling were it tasted blind. Good ripeness, nothing serious and quite righteous with an intent to carry an Alsace torch of dry, finely crafted Pinot Gris. What’s most important is the statement it makes for what will follow out of the 2013 vintage.  Tasted March 2015  @wolfberger_fr  @Smarent

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac, France (180323, $18.95, WineAlign)

The pause of oxidation. The evidence concrete and stratified, the bite pure and hollow petrified, like into bone and the interval below the organic soil. Crisp cut above the normal. Mouth-filling and expansive. Perfectly bitter. Much lemon, ginger and further spice. Length too.

From my earlier note of April 2014: A southern French (Pyrenean foothills, just south of Carcassonne) blend dominated by the traditional grape variety of Limoux, Mauzac (90 per cent), with support from Chardonnay. The lees is very direct and in your face on this Limoux, the baking aromas strong and the texture quite dense. Citrus and white grapefruit crawl up the middle and aridity mixed with horseradish salt comes through on the finish. Claims territory in viridity of complexity, an acumen for dewiness and is blessed with a marked appeal to hipster fizzters.  @DneJLaurens  @LanguedocWines  @oenophilia1

Last tasted March 2015

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012

The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (411595, $24.95, WineAlign)

Twenty three years ago this October the Hip’s third record changed the course of Canadian Pop and Rock music. While this Jeff Hundertmark, Kingston-bred band and Bordeaux blend will not have a similar effect on the Ontario wine industry, it’s certainly not a tragically vinified red. It’s looking for a place to happen, has the wherewithal to age with some grace and the courage to represent Stoney Ridge with power. The wall of sound, smell and taste is achieved through forest compost, bruised berries, melted liquorice, plum flavour and glycerin texture. Hung “long out in the sun,” the pencil graphite and hard acidity is a scratch and a flaw but also a calling card to see this age in the classic Niagara red style. “Either it’ll move me or it’ll move right through me; fully, completely.”  Tasted March 2015  @stoneyridgewine  @WeirRidgeYnmakr  @thehipdotcom  @ImportWineMAFWM

Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011

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

The passion from the Thomas Bachelder Niagara project has shifted into Domaine Queylus. With no disrespect to Thomas’ eponymous bottling from vineyards so nearby, the quality time has now been granted the Tradition. Here lies Mountainview and Le Petite Colline earth, here crushes Niagara cherries in hand, juice running down a clay caked forearm. Fresh and bright yet streaked by chalk and enveloping brushstroke. Sour? For a flash but in neither malic nor astringent form. This is a must buy.

From my earlier June 2014 note: Reverberates with the unmistakable calling card character of the storied Neudorf family La Petite vineyard with equal and opposite amounts of attraction and new life breathed in by the Lincoln Lakeshore fruit. Ethereally sifted earth of old meets cherries of new. Enriching Pinot Noir, a bit gangling like a primitive young giraffe but near to finding its legs. Hard working red, insistent, confident and having already paid some dirty fingernail dues. Excellent length.

Last tasted August 2014  @QueylusVin  @Bachelder_wines

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (400051, $34.95, WineAlign)

An intimately affordable Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast fashioned by a family in its 157th year of production is a rarity. Even more so from a cool-climate region oft-marred by the misperception that its Chardonnay are fat, buttery, over-oaked fruit bombs. From fruit grown on the Rhinefarm Estate Vineyard on southwest slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, eight miles north of San Pablo Bay. Consider the antonymous solecism of zero per cent malolactic fermentation and you will see where this (20 per cent new) barrel fermented Chardonnay has come from and where it is going. Weekly battonage compresses and stirs up texture. Fog plays its part on the cool slopes of Huichica clay loam soils mixed in with gravel deposits. Acidity is preserved, hitting a classic number on top of healthy (14 plus per cent) alcohol. This is not a small Chardonnay. It stretches its legs and walks like a giant but not in 80’s or 90’s acid washed jeans or big hair ways. This is Chardonnay that leads in style and confidence of a most modern vernacular and fashion. It’s also a steal.  Tasted October 2014  @gunbunwine  @LeSommelierWine

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Take a bottle, leave a bottle

Wines of the week

Wines of the week

Lately I’ve noticed a whole bunch of take a book, leave a book mini libraries popping up on front lawns in many Toronto neighbourhoods. The concept is right on so many levels and it occurs to me that the same could be done with wine. Open a few bottles and have a taste of each then exchange them with a friend or colleague so that each of you can sample new wines the following night without having to open anything new.

Last week the practice was put to good use and it allowed me to taste upwards of 40 wines without the benefit of a trade or media tasting. I traded wines with friends and colleagues over the course of three days and two nights. Yes, you can trust your friends to keep the provenance of a bottle so that your experience is just as fulfilling as theirs. Yesterday’s post covered the notes on 12 wines from the boot.

Related – Italian wines of the week

Here are nine more tasting notes from a wider global range, with a focus on Victoria, McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek in Australia along with samples from the Mosel, Penedès, the Columbia Valley and the southern Rhône.

 

Urban Riesling 2014

Urban Riesling 2014, Mosel, Germany (Agent, $15.95, WineAlign)

Grapes from neighbouring vineyards in the Mosel are brought to St. Urbans Hof Winery and vinified in the Nik Weis way. This stresses the Weis notion where “cool climate vines develop flavours, not simply sugars.” Though straightforward and quite traditional, the Urban is clean and shy on flint but there is a slate’s medicinal bleed and piercing acidity. Lime and more lime. Quite dry and in moderate (9.5 per cent) alcohol. This represents quintessential entry-level Qualitätswein.  Tasted March 2015  @TheVine_RobGroh  @WinesofGermany

Taltarni 't' Series Shiraz 2013
Taltarni ‘T’ Series Shiraz 2013
, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia (Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

A warm, highly perfumed entry with a hot stone streak runs forward and uphill through waves of lush berries. A wrinkle of vim is but a moment of abstruse behaviour. The macerated fruit careens in sweetness above the subtleties of savour but the spice directed oak takes over, along with a scaleable wall of tannin. This woven textile of a Shiraz needs a few years to soften. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted March 2015  @Taltarni  @TheVine_RobGroh

Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Langhorne Creek, Australia (Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

Langhorne Creek is the source for winemaker Ben Glaetzer’s blend, an Australian curated combination that has secured its rightful ownership within the assemblage vernacular. The star anise on the label is apropos considering the red braised pork belly and Phở tái aromatic suggestiveness. That and red plums, poached and in a sweet bun’s paste. Add to them the steam from hot rocks and warm raspberry compote. Certainly on the syrupy side of texture but the palate is equally savoury as it is sweet. Lots of character here and a finish with extension.  Tasted March 2015  @heartlandwines  @langhornecreek  @TheVine_RobGroh

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Domaine du Séminaire Côtes du Rhône 2013, Rhône Valley, France (Agent, $14.95)

A rustic must is the truth serum here, the corollary of proper old school CdR winemaking. An affinity is sensed to both an Albert Mann Pinot Noir and a Baden Spätburgunder with porcine aromatics and an antediluvian aridity. Very cherry, dusty and plainspoken like a trending linear regression. Such a welcome step up from so many over the top sunshine dramatized Rhônes of excessive residual and alcohol. Though this clocks in at 14 per cent you would never know to read it on the spirit hydrometer. Direct energy and pulse would make this a very keg worthy red.  Tasted March 2015  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine  @HospiceduRhone  @TheLivingVine

Tapestry Bg & V Shiraz 2012

Tapestry Bg & V Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia (247155, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 7, 2015 release

A regional vigneron’s blend from two vineyards, BG and V: The Baker’s Gully (old Lloyd Light Vineyards) at the base of the Southern Mt. Lofty Ranges and Oliver’s Road (the continuation of Field Street) near to the Vale Township. Really elegant and refined in spite of a big, bold and juicy character. Ripe, sunny and warmer categorical climate expression. Quite tightly wound with a metallic iron post or fist in your face, layered and initializing the baking effect. Needs three or four years to fully integrate at which time the pie will be ready.  Tasted March 2015  @mclaren_vale

L'école No 41 Semillon 2013

L’école No 41 Semillon 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (SAQ 10707077, $22.25, 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

La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut Rose

La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut Rosé, Penedès, Spain (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

Blush Cava blend of Macabeu, Xarel-Lo and Trepat. Aromas scale the neck of the bottle with immediate desperation even before the cork has fully disengaged. The wine just looks savoury with its bronzing salmon patina. Possessive of an ultra-fine mousse, aridity in immediate initialization and very much the sum total of base elements. Sweeter than expected to taste, seemingly oxymoronic to the nose and in conjunction with a low to moderate 11.5 per cent alcohol. The overall package is one of those beautifully impossible pH/rS/aBV agglomerations. Flavours lean to strawberry and ginger. The Trepat gives it a Costers del Segre angle of anxiety. This has moments of Pinot Noir-esque kinship with some finer Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (like Louis Sipp) in such a refined way.   Tasted March 2015  @lavidaalcamp  @TheVine_RobGroh

Taltarni Pyrenees Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Taltarni Pyrenees Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

Bottled in 2012, this Taltarni is showing some age, in a positive way, in dried fruit and Cassis less sweet. Baking fruit and warm spice are grounded by earth and a chalky, citrus, lactic underlay. Has fully integrated components that some time ago included a grit of acidity and tannin, at this juncture no longer in control, but fully primed for peak time. In fact this Victorian has reached the secondary stage of its life. The raisining of fruit means drink it now and for another year.  Tasted March 2015  @Taltarni  @TheVine_RobGroh

Jamsheed Harem La Syrah 2013

Jamsheed Harem La Syrah 2013, Yarra Valley and Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia (Agent,$29.95)

Only 900 cases were made of this blend of Upper Goulurn (80 per cent) and Yarra Valley (20) fruit. Indigenous yeasts were used and 80 per cent was fermented as whole bunches then aged in new and older 500L puncheons. So very fresh, the Harem (Harum…) was bottled with out fining or filtering eight months after picking. “Amidst a sea of wheat,” in a world of jammy Shiraz, say hello to this 13.2 per cent alcohol Victorian Syrah. This is fully exposed and in exposition of its naked beauty. Were more of Victoria produced in this progressive rock, singer/songwriter style, the throngs would applaud. Pure, smokey, opaque and sultry, not exceedingly complex but built on whole bunch bravery. Lyrical, harmonious and eminently listenable. Quite rightly so, shines on brightly, a good album side.  Tasted March 2015

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I shall be Riesling

13th Street June's Vineyard Riesling 2013 - VINTAGES March 21, 2015 release

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2013 – VINTAGES March 21, 2015 release

Last weekend, in a packed Carriage House at Vineland Estates Winery I tasted through 19 Rieslings from the Escarpment, Vinemount Ridge and Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellations of the Niagara Peninsula. It got me thinking, again. Thinking about Riesling. Thinking about drinking more Riesling. Thinking about how my life is not complete, without Riesling.

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery - March 7, 2015

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery – March 7, 2015

More about that #CAPSCAN15 and Wine Country Ontario tasting at a later date. For now the delve need be into the history of Riesling and how it has had a profound effect on the world of fine wine. I have written about Riesling as much or more than on any other grape variety. In March of 2013 my column, 100 kilometre wine for spring stated firmly “can there be a more versatile white grape? From natural, mineral spring, bone-dry to concentrated, candied sweet, this grape runs the diversity gamut like no other.” In Niagara, “‘The Bench’ is home to a mineral wealth of local Riesling, singular in composition not only by way of a global comparison, but also from plot to plot, soil to soil and vineyard to vineyard.”

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east.
Any day now, any day now,
I shall be released.

In June of 2013 Are you wine experienced? was a post written about the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Riesling Experience 2013, an international celebration of style, structure and purity. At that time Mike Di Caro and I talked about Ontario Riesling and we agreed that sugar levels are both arbitrary and unpredictable so Niagara’s best is and should be of the dry variety.

In June of 2014 I wrote about Germany in Talkin’ ’bout my Generation Riesling. The theme of the show was the ever elusive Trocken Riesling and how “the new German wine label no longer feels the need to inform the consumer of every aspect contained within the wine’s birth certificate.” In August of that same year I penned Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes, a full-on summary of a June visit to Alsace with 31 tasting notes on, wait for it, Riesling.

So, with the VINTAGES March 21st, 2015 release just over a week away, I shall be Riesling.

From left to right: Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2010, Fielding Estate Riesling 2014, Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2013, 13th Street June's Vineyard Riesling 2013, Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 and Trimbach Riesling 2012

From left to right: Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2010, Fielding Estate Riesling 2014, Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2013, 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2013, Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 and Trimbach Riesling 2012

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2010, Pradikätswein, Mosel, Germany (402420, $17.95, WineAlign)

Here the wild, out there, cosmic side of Mosel Riesling is on display, amplifying peach and lemon notes through aromatic grunge filters, like a medicative tonic. The palate is sweet and spritzy, even oxidative and this is textured with heavy, monumental levels of pure Riesling noise. The acidity is marked by citrus in every incantation. Though this may be the kind of Mosel you’ve “just never tried, it’s still the place.” Not so much a dinosaur but a junior, a wild Kabinett for very little cost and from an increasingly endearing vintage. Tasted March 2015  @WinesofGermany

Fielding Estate Riesling 2014, Estate Bottled, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251439, $18.95, WineAlign)

The Richie Roberts take on Riesling brings Beamsville to the populace, combining the natural acidity of the variety with the micro-saddle-plot-climat ipseity that the sub-appellation provides. This early to market ’14 is quite tropical, offering an en primeur portal into what invariably will follow. Fresh, juicy, accessible and in near-perfect balance. Slate, calcareous bleed and fruit generosity make for one tidy, markedly gratifying Riesling.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Niagara Riesling Royalty at the LCBO Lab - March 6, 2015

Niagara Riesling Royalty at the LCBO Lab – March 6, 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula  (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

A year has turned a once frantic Nadja into a yet excited but in control Twenty Mile bencher. Acidity has circled the flock of juices; the sweet and the stony, to graze together. While ’12 expressed a texture to see it grace ages, here the up front verve makes for a more direct impression. There is no immediate hurry but the ginger on the lime indicates can earlier finality.

From my earlier note of February 2014: From a sample just pulled from the tank. Jay Johnston’s concept for Nadja is to create many fermentations together, using 2000L tanks and some barrels. The ferments are arrested when they achieve balance and then blended. Nadja still has her young fizz on and she’s exaggerated in Metallica meets a wondrous kind of sour. Already showing an unfurling of (mostly citrus) fruit but also spice and hurried depth. Frantic Riesling, will she “stop to warm at karmas burning, or look ahead, but keep on turning?”

Lasted tasted March 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (147512, $19.95, WineAlign)

Continues to throw its weight about and has now engaged a phase of typical J-P Colas redolence and pungency. Strict adherence to Creek Shores citrus minerality injects the June for future time-lapse release, an internal ooze that will take years to push its way upwards to the surface.

From my earlier note of December 2014: 2013 was a perfect follow-up for Niagara Riesling, after a vintage where so many exceptional wines were made. The ’12 June’s by Jean-Pierre Colas was his best and with this repeat performance in ’13, the consistency of June’s vineyard is further cemented. Once again, the citrus injection is a Creek Shores thing, a vehemence not matched by other sub appellations. Where ’13 differs is its weight. There is a textural density improved upon and at the same time dragging on the freshness of the fruit. The trade-off will mean less immediate gratification in lieu of more flesh and bone for a longer period of aging. Given at least five years rest, the 2013 June’s Riesling will discover a Ribeauvillé like future.  @13thStreetWines

Last tasted March 2015

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

The layering is nothing short of remarkable, like the rings that tell the history of a tree. In its youth the upper vertex where effluvium and concentration meet is painfully obvious but when it comes to Riesling, breath is meant to be taken away. The prose is already written, running on adrenaline, unparalleled, if not yet understood.

From my earlier note of November 2014: Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Last tasted March 2015

Trimbach Riesling 2012, Ac Alsace, France (734517, $21.95, WineAlign)

To Jean and Anne Trimbach and most Alsatians, this Riesling from their ‘Classic’ range may represent the best that basic can be but when it travels oversees it gains a stature well beyond its humble roots. Here is another one of the those dictionary entry wines meant to depict and define. Quite simply emblematic Alsace. Built with acidity to envelop sweetness, marked by herbiage that is alive and fresh. Weight and density draw from Ribeauvillé rocks. Parity is realized in osmosis by fruit and mineral. As always, there is the tannic underlay, the length and the purposed bitter finish.  Tasted March 2015  @trimbach  @WoodmanWS

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Tasting with Power

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

Power, Rob Power. Niagara man of mystery, winemaker, barrel blender, junkie of dangerous varietal liaisons, license to chill. Power has been making the wines at Creekside Estate Winery for more than a decade. He is both the face and the enigma. Creekside is not a Peninsula vintner that rests on winemaking or marketing laurels. They change with and for the times.

Related – Up on Creekside Estates

I sat down with Rob Power and Rich Gaskin of Hobbs and Company last week at Barque Smokehouse to re-visit some wines tasted in the winter and fall of 2014, along with a couple of new issues. Here the notes, some updated and others in first time put to paper.

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (390336, $28.95, WineAlign)

From a taste five months further along in bottle and just shy of the 36 months on lees (37.5 to be precise) 2nd bottling about to be disgorged. Has chill thickened and fattened in the middle with a texture and a truffled funk like foie gras, heading backwards and upwards, like a video shot in reverse. Rises from an ocean of spume up to a slivered taste of a grapefruit moon. “Transmission’s on and up we go.” Cool and angular on the beautifully licensed, bitter finish.

From my earlier note of October 2014: The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.

Last tasted March 2015

Sauvignon Blanc ‘Iconoclast’ 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

The licensee SB jimmies from fruit out of a good (right at the winery) site, caught red-handed at peak ripeness on a very specific picking date and crushed immediately to coax maximum freshness. Readily identifiable as Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps more so than any other from the Niagara Peninsula. The fruit was oxidized a hair to the left, flipping this more Loire than New Zealand. A dichotomous activity from large juice tray oxygenation meeting reduction under screwcap causes initial confusion but when the hounds of Blanc are released the wine buffets into clear, crisp feelings. This is not “mean, green and pristine,” just simply clean. This one’s got “a license to chill and I believe I will.”  Tasted March 2015

Laura’s White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Rob Power corrects previously provided information and tells me Laura’s composition is 55 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and that there is some Viognier in here, an inclusion that justifies the back-end bite (in conjunction with Gewürztraminer) of noble bitterness. They and the rest of the varieties combine to imitate Sémillon because Power is “going for white Bordeaux” in this pole to pole, here ’till Sunday blend. This has the grab, tempered by the warmth of the vintage, so look for ’13 to nail it with a hook.

From my earlier, May 2014 note: With a tilt of the head to 90 degrees the bottle is assessed and the glass contemplated. She’s a flirt, a gregarious girl this Laura, so orchard driven and with a perfumed attraction.

From my earlier, February 2014 note: Laura’s White combines Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer in a kitchen sink blend that sees a bit of oak. What’s notable about the ’12 is the omission of two highly aromatic components, the previously employed stalwarts Viognier and Chardonnay Musqué. The adage is justified in that you take what the vintage gives you. If it gives you lemons, (shift tangents) you let the busy aromatics of more flavourful grapes (like Chardonnay) do the floral work. Laura’s ’12 will be a standout for the concept, a revivalist blend to help bring back some religion to the region’s renditions. Coming to VINTAGES in June.

Last Tasted March 2015

Viognier Estate Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (22058, $29.95, WineAlign)

Here free run juice gets just a little help from the press. Consistent with a very recent taste, with a density in concoction and blessed tonic on the finish.

From my earlier note of January 2015: Creekside’s small production Viognier (maximum 80 cases) from the warmer micro-climate of the Queenston Road Vineyard heads back to near-boozy and a bit hot in the sudorific vintage. Oh the viscous humanity of it all, especially when the (all French, two year-old, nine months time) ferment was performed on 100 per cent of the six barrel juice. While it may not flirt with the dangers of say, a dirty peach martini, there is plenty of seasoning, rich, spicy and opulent fruit to at least declare a cocktail of some shaken kind. The ’12 Viognier drips and sweats of a humidity as much as any cool climate rendition can (at least in the context of the Niagara Peninsula). It may not be the ideal vintage but it just may be the one with the most excess.

Last tasted March 2015

Cabernet-Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Tank Sample)

The blend is (very approximate) 35 per cent of each Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc) with 20 per cent Merlot. “Basically a baby Laura,” says Power. Currently smelling very tanky but fresh and bullish. Sniffing past the must is not so hard to do, especially with the waft of spices coming through with thanks to the good barrel. The Franc here comes from Virgil, “no man’s land,” from Frank Serluka’s vineyard. The lack of any discernible volatile acidity speaks volumes about the clean winemaking and the gregarious personality of that Four Mile Creek Cabernet Franc fruit. This will excel out of keg in late Spring.  Tasted March 2015

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Still the Kama Sutra Pinot Noir of inviting behaviour. Positions in aroma, taste and texture are all elastic and of an aphorism held together in intimacy. Virtuous and gracious Pinot Noir for the purpose of interaction and pleasure.

From my earlier note of January 2015: “The first made since the 2008 because of a new directional decision to hold onto and no longer forsake these exceptional Queenston Road Vineyard grapes. A wine that folds back the skyline skin of time and reveals a cloning from intimate belongings. Pinot blessed of a Dylan-esque drawl, from a comfortable and crooning time in its life. Penetrates into the QRV earth and draws out subtleties, slow food assuagement and makes no BS about its ease. Though posolutely whiffing and tasting of black cherry, it balances itself with an acerbic wit. This is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Partners in crime Yvonne Irving and Matt Loney concur. One sip and your partner may just lay across your “big brass bed.” You can always go back to Nashville.

Last tasted March 2015

Laura’s Red 2011, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign)

A combination of young and older Queenston Road Vineyard vine fruit meshes to creamy raspberry, spoken most upfront, in the absence of Franc, by the Sauvignon. Waiting for this to improve would be a calculated error so drink up by the end of the year.

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

Last tasted March 2015

Creekside Estates Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula (202127, $39.00, WineAlign)

At its spiciest best, alkaline and lifted by Viognier, though as the tannins mellow, the Viognier will slowly disappear. Continues the Rhône-ish tradition laid before by 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, yet in ’12, for the first time, in addition to the Broken Press, there will be one made from seven rows of the same block Syrah, picked about a week later, a 100 per cent Unbroken Press. From vintage to vintage, a Viognier lifted BP is the correct application but in ’12, to Power and his team, both made perfect sense.

From my earlier note of October 2014: Only Creekside Syrah smells like this, like bending down to smell black raspberries on the shores of a briny capsicum lake in the middle of a pine forest. The 2011 Syrah has fruit residing on the edge of impossibly ripe, factored inside a pipeline, while piping lavender and plum pastry cream float atop rare duck breasts. If Syrah were to ooze or drip without sticking to surfaces along the way, this would be it. If Syrah came forth from the maw of the beast it would speak in these demanding tones. Creekside’s BP talks the tense, nervous and twitching talk. It’s smeared with a coat of epoxy spread over fine grain in wood. It sweats an air of metallic cordiality. If given five years to come together it will vape and realize togetherness.

Last tasted March 2015

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Why it matters to taste wines again

Dumplings

Dumplings

It would be foolish to think that a single taste or a brief assessment can ascertain everything that a wine will bring to the table. So many factors play into that moment in time; how that bottle came to arrive at this place, how long it had been open, its current temperature and certainly the temperament and mood of the taster.

The only true and valid important bits of information that we can cull from a fleeting meeting with a bottle of wine is whether or not it is marred by a fault, or faults. Is the wine tainted with TCA (trichloroanisole)? Does it contain high levels of Brettanomyces? Is it raging with volatile acidity? It is oxidized or reductive? Has lady bug taint found its way into the bottle? And so on and so forth. Quality can be guessed at with high probability but time is so essential to knowledge. This is why tasting for a second and third time matters.

Wines should always be afforded the opportunity to be reconsidered, especially after some bottle settling time. The fascination with seeing evolution from organic ferments is real. Wine changes, often for the better, that much we know. Wines deserve second chances, re-dos and re-tastes.

Writing updated notes is the essential by-product of re-tasting and the catalyst that acts as the chaperone to get to know a particular bottle and by extension, a winemaker’s portfolio. Here are seven new releases, coming into VINTAGES on March 7th. They are actually re-releases, having been previously made public by the winery or through the LCBO. I tried them all once again and can say with confidence, by way of the tasting note, that all seven have confirmed their quality and improved with time. These are the seven new notes for seven March 7th VINTAGES re-releases.

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

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

Juicy, spirited and eminently approachable. Citrus and peach fruit beg to be gulped by the key keg load.

From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The gateway of the Tawse Riesling portfolio and first to be released is an omnipresent beacon for what is to come from the single-vineyard sistren. Built fruit forward from an orange zest, stone rose and lemon glade guide, this is the Sketches most juicy sensation yet. Incredible vacuum of citrus acidity waterfalling into a great white hole. Though surrounded by so many a Riesling with site specific personality, “she’ll carry on through it all.” Intensity in dry Riesling.”

Last tasted March 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (373407, $18.00, WineAlign)

Carries the weight of the Peninsula within the bright frame of clarity that is the PEC oeuvre. In ’12 the warmth and the weight can’t help but break down to burrow into earth. Fine, grainy tannins and an increased structure will give this three more years of development but do not hesitate to enjoy it now.

From my earlier April 2014 note: “Tasted a second time, the floral lift is clearer than before, as is the understated earthiness. Also showing more body and verve so it appears the Voyageur is starting to come into its own. From my earlier February 2014 note: “Fruit here comes from two Niagara vineyards, Queenston and Malivoire. An earthy Pinot that positions itself in isolation away from its suave and handsome Portage and Benway brethren with a waft of merde. Taste brightens as a sweet cranberry, chalky, root beer float. Kudos deserved as it’s clearly recognizable as Pinot with a medium finish and a pinch of horseradish salt on a lithe 12.5 per cent frame.”

Last tasted March 2015  @KeintheWinery

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (118638, $19.95, WineAlign)

Brilliant hue, like a ceiling fresco of gold-scrolled tiers. Has that feel of lemon peel shrivelling to scent. Was a Category Champion at the 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada.

From my earlier September 2014 note: “Pinot Gris with pears and more pears. A no hold barred, straight up, bring it with orchard fruit example. A spoonful of sweet lemon curd indicates a just post ripe picking and now oxidation, if not necessarily the intention. Off-dry with acidity that joins but does not round the shining fruit into absolute form.”

Last Tasted March 2015  @GrayMonkWinery

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is spot on, both as 13th Street and as Niagara Peninsula Gamay. Very ripe, to the edge of extracted distraction and less funky than previous vintages. Really defines the genre, acts the act, walks the walk, executes the execution. Drives the point, carves the cliché, go Gamay go.

From my earlier note when tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014: “Spice and rich fruit head straight to Gamay welkin derived direct from the soil’s core, of Sandstone, Schwenker and the winery’s home vineyard at Fourth Avenue. Swirl away the gathered must and moss to reveal more Cru fruit than you can shake a stirring rod at. Such verve, said grit, such persistence. The thing about Gamay is, “if you want inside of her, well boy you better make her a raspberry swirl.” 13th Street has certainly made the raspberry sing in the ’12 Gamay so “raspberry swirl, mmm let’s go.”

Last tasted March 2015  @13thStreetWines

Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Napa Valley, California (396150, $29.95, WineAlign)

There are so many reasons not to find a thrill in this regional blend of Pinot Noir fruit but none of them stick. Sweetness, simple syrup silky fruit, brown sugar, every red and purple berry in all varieties of fields (plus ripe plums) and warm to temperate alcohol (14.5 per cent declared) all combine for full California sunshine effect. All this and I just can’t turn away. With all the excess fruit, texture and multiplicity in good times, how can I? I ask this Pinot, “how come you, how come you dance so good?” The answer lies in the feel and the ability to turn a Noir trick or two. Not to mention a rolling of barrels and Napa Valley stones through its very core. Well done.  Tasted January 2015  @sterlingwines  @Diageo_News

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

A new release, mindful of micro-plot. From out of a Bachelder barrel, the great mystery of wood is not that it smoulders, but that it rests on water, or in this case, on grape juice. To label this Wismer as Wingfield is to give this Chardonnay a scientific specificity, a concentration of fruit so capable of inducing the ethereal, to hover as if in suspension. This is Wismer-Wingfield. The Chardonnay that floats, like hope.

From my earlier July 2014 note: ‘Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”

Last Tasted March 2015  @Bachelder_wines

Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru ‘La Creux De La Net’ 2011, Burgundy, France (LCBO 403485, $47.95, SAQ 12089524, $38.50, WineAlign)

Purity abounds, florals leap and the heart fills with an arrow of red fruit. So linear, so direct. Wears the crux of Bachelder integrity on its sleeve. The pinpoint accuracy of plot, the ubiquity of gypsy soul, the bandwidth of frequency. Yet another Bachelder “ere the bonnie boat was won, as we sailed into the mystic.” Acidity rears and rails right through. Tannin trails like a burning star. Ten more years will see this to a moondance of quietude.

From my earlier February 2014 note: A metallurgical slant this time around and iodine, though sweet, like a geologist’s preferred cocktail. The palette is Rothko maroon and in cohorts with what is ascertained by the palate, scheme fruits and hearts both red and black.

From my earlier note of November 2013: Has the sense to be subtle, effortless and akin to Chambolle. Not so much openly ripe fruit but more the flowers that come before. Cherries dabbed by a citrus fragrance, or the spritz of squeezed zest and an unusually smoky musk. Insinuates new world (think Oregon) though it tells a rubble tale of its limestone slope climat.

Last tasted March 2015

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