On a Rall in South Africa

Donovan Rall

When I returned from South Africa two months ago people immediately began to ask. What’s it like? What’s new, what’s changed, what’s hot? I asked myself the same questions and the most obvious answers forthcoming were charged with the notions of quality and especially confidence. Case in point, fact and controlled emotion regarding the man, the winemaker and the wines of Donovan Rall.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

Three years ago I had the opportunity to taste two of Rall’s wines at Cape Wine 2015. I was impressed with the quiet swagger of the Rall White and Rall Red. The former was from old Swartland (Paardeberg) and Stellenbosch (Bottelary and Helderberg) fruit I noted as “pure white stone groove.” The latter of Swartland schist to cure what troubles and saps. This sourcing, grabbing and snapping up grapes from vineyards, blocks and plots spread across the Western Cape is the humanistic phenomena of an independent South African winemaker’s condition. It’s what they do and yet Donovan Rall has taken the art form to a whole new level.

For one thing he has found the last Mohican of Wellington cinsault blanc and kept it alive for a very small portion of the world to enjoy. He’s mainly a Swartland guy but he also climbs high into the Piekenierskloof and dips into the depths of Darling cinsault. Mostly Donovan Rall is a Schistosier, a man of the Schist, El Schistorino, the Schister. He likes vines grown in the coarse-grained metamorphic rock, especially syrah and it is his latest varietal effort that blew my mind. It is truly one of South Africa’s most impressive varietal syrah.

Rall wines was established in 2008 after Donovan graduated with a Viticulture and Oenology degree from Stellenbosch University in 2005. He set out to travel and then returned to South Africa in 2007 for a Swartland vintage. Mediterranean varietals under his own label from scattered old Cape vineyards was the natural next step. Cape Wine 2018 marked the release of his 10th and 11th vintages in bottle, quite significant to mark the inaugural culmination of his early life’s work.

Donovan and I made eye contact at this most recent Cape Wine and I was flattered that he remembered tasting with me three years before. And so he went out of his way to pull seven bottles, disappear behind a partition and away from the mayhem of the Swartland booth and taste these seven South African beauties with me. The quantities are small but the hearts so very big. Here are my notes.

Rall Wines Cinsault Blanc 2017, Wellington, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The fruit comes from a 32 year-old, tiny 0.2 hectares of certified vines and the only remaining vineyard planted to the varietal. Like red cinsault this thing drops acid as fast as anything else. What you will taste is only the grape, on the skins three days for phenolic pulling and then straight into the clay. Seven months only, not too far and so freshness is preserved. Not just spirit but mouthfeel with the lightest frame and 10.5 per cent alcohol, with nice dry tannins. It’s like a shout out louds very loud matter of “nothing is hard cause something always comes out.” Lemon like you’ve never experienced before, leaning lime, like clairette and grenache blanc, but then again no. It’s just this. Donovan Rall managed 1005 bottles. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  #Rallwines    @RallWines

Rall Wines Grenache Blanc 2017, Piekenierskloof, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

It would be hard to argue with Donovan Rall that in the Western Cape grenache blanc needs to be made in the freshest, anti-oxidative, anti-leesy way. Zippy, salty, driven by minerals and acidity. In the Piekenierskloof, at 650m plus, done in concrete egg after early-picked fruit, but some skin-contact (like red wine, done in open top vessels constantly punched down) for texture because it’s approached with early-picked acidity preservation. Has the texture but no melon flavours. Love the unique epsom saltiness, low pH and generous spicing. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines White 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Leaving out the chardonnay component, the signature Rall White is now chenin blanc (60ish per cent), verdelho (30ish) and viognier. Mostly old oak, five years being the youngest, with various sizes. Other than the chard omission it’s the earlier picking that makes the difference to…lets say three years ago. That and the increase of the verdelho, which brings acidity. Whatever Donovan thought he might have been looking for and doing then, well he’s really doing it now. This shows how proper wine is being made out of necessity, not from a recipe, but most importantly out of adaptation. Great saltiness, bite, drive and instruction. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines Chenin Blanc AVA 2017, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

AVA is named after Donovan’s daughter. From an adjuvant site close to Riebeek-Kasteel off of 20 year-old vines that deliver great concentration by the impetus of decomposed shale, schist and quartz. There are two unique vineyards with rocks galore in the soil. Richly textured and so layered. The concentration delivered is ridiculous. It’s somehow stretched elastic and makes for this viscous, saline, briny and beautiful wine. Malo was done in a week, the pH low and then, nine months of beautiful fluidity and suppleness. While not exactly dry, the minor tough of sugar will help it go petrol, glück and oily over time. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines Cinsault 2017, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

From two vineyards, one in Swartland and one in Darling. A direct, lithe and purposed red looking for freshness and the Darling light transparency this varietal storm has created. Really pure berry fruit. Delightful, chalky, traversing the new South African ethos into a realm occupied by the ethereal. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines Red 2016, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Four poster blend, Rhône-related, deeply rendered with great transparency but also major tannins. The syrah is 18 months in barrels, the cinsault and carignan are 15 per cent 2017 vintage, allowed under Swartland regulations. They bring back freshness and nervousness into the wine. It helps to manage that tannin and injects some life and spirit into their grainy weight. The red fruit also balances the purple profile of the syrah. Good glycerin and length. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines AVA 2016, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The red blend carrying his daughter’s name is Donovan Rall’s 2.5 hectares sourcing from the schistose section of 18 year-old planted vines. This is consistent with with many of the vineyards he works with, from dry land conditions, cause he’s the Schist Man. It’s varietal syrah of 1000 bottles, a true cimmerian beast, from struggling vines, between 50-60 whole bunch (as opposed to 100 in the RED). Pure ferric initiative, real hematic following. The glycerin, candied flower and aged balsamico is almost IGT, of Cortona but really more so in a mind’s eye memory of Cornas. Freshness is preserved and structure is infinite. Great, great acidity. One of the Cape’s greatest achievements in syrah. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Donovan Rall

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

The Man of Madiran

Alain Brumont

In the southwest corner of France less than 100 kilometres east and inland from the Atlantic Ocean lay the wine lands of the Côtes de Gascogne, of Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh and of Madiran. It is here where the soils of argileux, galets stones and calcaire are of course found in a climate where it can get very warm, but there is this influence from the Pyrenees Mountains that bring drying winds, keeping temperatures down at night and making for dry conditions in the fall. There is also that Atlantic oceanic influence for the greater region of Gascogne, even if the sea lies 96 kilometres away, The waters are responsible for bringing fresh air and freshness into the wines of Madiran and are perhaps the greatest single key to the phenolic ripeness factor. All together the mitigating and micro-climate agglomerate conditions allow for longer grape hanging time deep into the season.

Tasting at WineAlign with Laurence Brumont, Alain Brumont and John Szabo M.S.

THE man of Madiran is a man known not just to his peers and colleagues nearby but to winemakers all over the world. Vineland Estate’s Brian Schmidt wrote, “this man has had a profound impact on wine all around the world.” Decanter’s Andrew Jefford has referred to them as “France’s most undervalued fine wines.” Indeed it is Alain Brumont’s pioneering work, with noble oak and barrels for making wine. “Elegance, freshness and apogée for a wine come with time, patience no acceleration of elements with an artifice like micro oxygénation,” says Laurence Brumont. “It’s the philosophy of Alain to give the time and the respect of environment, respect of grapes, respect of terroir.” Brumont is the dominant producer in his region and that he has found the way to teach and to tame the deepest and darkest of grapes is the stuff of legend. Monsieur Brumont and his wife Laurence brought their Château Montus and Château Bouscassé wines to the WineAlign offices just two weeks ago. They sat down with John Szabo and I to taste through a magnificent Pacherenc and a few examples of their exemplary Madiran. Here are the notes.

And @winealign we tasted the greatest of #madiran terroir with the Man himself, #alainbrumont of @montusbouscasse

Château Montus Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2013, Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh, Southwest, France (Agent, $30.99, WineAlign)

Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, from the regional-dialectal word “paisheradas,” translated roughly as “vineyard rows” and Vic-Bilh, meaning “old country.” The small appellation is adjacent to and roughly the same size as Madiran, as part of Gascogne in far southwestern France. The appellation specializes in sweet whites, can be and often is a 100 per cent varietal wine and in Alain Brumont’s case it’s truly Vin de Garde, made solely from petit courbu, aged in a variety of barrel shapes and sizes. The varietal gathering can include petit courbu, petit manseng, gros manseng, courbu blanc and arrufiac but Brumont uses essentially only the first, with just a few points of petit manseng. It’s a subtle smokiness and a seriously honeyed late harvest white with the most exceptional golden hue. Apricots come from the nose, with candied lemon peel and then this acidity that preps your buds before you’ve even taking a sip. From a vintage in France that may have confounded but it only works to develop and accentuate complexities. Caramelizations inclusive of a sentimental awareness of burnt orange come through and the length is dramatic, variegate and extended. It’s never sweet or cloying in fact it almost makes you think that’s it’s vinified nearly dry. This makes it most fascinating and only aids in abetting the dialectic. Has been made since 1991/1992. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted October 2018   vinsdemadiran  montusbouscasse  markanthonyon  @MontusBouscasse  @MarkAnthonyWine  Marine Madiran  @MontusBouscasse  @MarkAnthonyWine

Brumont Tour Bouscassé Madiran 2012, Southwest, France (414615, $17.95, WineAlign)

From a terroir with much variegation in the argileux; white, red, grey and black. Mostly tannat with some cabernet sauvignon. You do in fact need to taste this wine on repeat because at times it will surprise you with great freshness. Like now, at this moment, with bright (dark) black cherry fruit and striking acidity. There is still this brooding and structure with side snaps of brewed umami. Can’t help but be, what with tannat and wood. And yet, get your nose deep into this glass and the multifarious argileux will get right up into you. Drink 2018-2022.  Last tasted October 2018

There is always some pleasure to be derived from pre-aged Madiran at such a price, regardless of how polarizing a bottle can be. Brumont’s ’12 is lean, mean and more than touched by wood. There is chocolate and balsamic, soy and tar. Pre micro-oxidative work now sits comfortably at six years on and with many more to go. Good interest at $18. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted August 2018

Château Montus Madiran 2013, AC Madiran, Southwest, France (Agent, $33.76, WineAlign)

From the man Alain Brumont and at the lead for and with his neighbours who basically invented the by now highly strategized and in many cases essential practice of micro-oxidation. This is how and why Brumont’s tannat from southwestern France is able to move ever so slowly in bottle through the slow-developing evolutionary stages of life. The Montus is clearly structured to keep its character intact, through the hard shell of tannin and the pyramid built by barrels that teased oxygen early and now keep all important aspects locked up safe and tight. It’s a boozy feeling and yet high-toned, with the darkest of fruits and the sharpest of tacky edging. You can imagine this resting as is for a decade and then slowly revealing what secondary personality can only be coaxed when the tenets of tannin have begun to melt away. That said, the chocolate never will. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted October 2018

Château Montus La Tyre 2009, AC Madiran, Southwest, France (Agent, $135.27, WineAlign)

La Tyre, literally “the tire” is the pinnacle of Alain Brumont’s tannat from Madiran. It’s a wine that needs a decade to even begin to relent and open up for viewing, nosing and tasting. Pitchy to the nth cimmerian degree it would be hard not to see this wine as THE Madiran, the epitome of a red wine from Gascogne. The nose is über-umami and in fact in character it reminds so much more of Brunello Riserva meets sagrantino from Montefalco combined with Taurasi aglianico than it does Bordeaux. Not that Toscana, Umbria or Campania are the reference points but old school meets micro-oxidative winemaking surely is. The formidable acidity and the way in which the expense of barriques inject major influence is similar to what happens when sangiovese is subjected to said same sort of winemaking. The underbrush, garrigue and intensely concentrated argileux all combine, along with toasted wood to make this one of the most intense and structured red wines on the planet. Should seek and realize its best at some point in its late teens or early twenties. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted October 2018

Good to go!

godello

Alain Brumont

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Important and impromptu study session at Stratus

It was planned as a big chill weekend, set aside months before because if you don’t dot the calendar you will never find the time. It was a meeting of old friends who rarely see one another, coming from different cities and countries to gather in Niagara for reasons unknown. It was more than an important impromptu tasting at Stratus Vineyards on a blustery October Sunday. Thanks so much Ben, for the hospitality and new revelations.

I pack my case, I check my face
I look a little bit older
I look a little bit colder
With one deep breath, and one big step
I move a little bit closer, I move a little bit closer
For reasons unknown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TG5X4kOjEX8

Related – Chase food pairings with Stratus

I’ve written about Stratus Vineyards before, about Yoda of assemblage and varietal maître winemaker J-L Groux. Ben Nicks is the winery’s hospitality master, mentor and guiding light. It’s no coincidence that Ben set us up with six current releases in the tasting board room with a tease of three local cheeses and a morsel of Mario Pingue’s salumi. A subtle arrangement this micro-pairing, seemingly inconsequential but oh so very poignant and perfect. 

The Ozonator

Related – The Stratus-Momofuku continuum

Ben leads us through the inner workings of Stratus and you should know that this behind-the scenes tour is no ordinary junket nor is what goes on back there any accident. Sustainability is key, planned to a T, in particular with respect to water use. We pass by the hydrosieve, a simple stainless box used to aerate wines during fermentation and Ben explains the great ozonator, to clean and preserve sterility in the winery. When ozone gas is introduced to an environment with bacteria, mold or any other organic material, it readily donates one of the oxygen atoms to oxidize or destroy that material. The ozonator is highly effective in controlling Brettanomyces populations.

More than an important impromptu tasting @stratuswines on a blustery October Sunday. Thanks so much Ben, for the hospitality and new revelations.

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

In the boardroom we set about tasting with the saturated vineyards as our backdrop. Grapes continue to hang though there is no surprise in that. Stratus is known to wait out the rest of the Peninsula in search of more phenolic ripeness and infinite aromatic possibilities. Here are the seven wines tasted on Sunday, October 28th.

Stratus Vineyards White 2014, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.00, WineAlign)

So what is White ’14’s status in late October 2018? Still pronouncing struck flinty with a capital F and elevated into the air on a pillow of fine smoulder. What is duly noted at this stage is the pause, at calm, unaffected by gravity and then, the length. In other words, a perfectly drinkable state.  Last tasted October 2018

White assemblage under the Stratus label is not like spinning a single record, it’s like Rock ‘n Roll radio. Opening a bottle brings great excitement and anticipation, with a sense of wonder. What songs am I going to hear or more to the point, which grape varieties am I going to taste, in which percentages and in what order? In 2014 it’s a medley of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, sémillon and gewürztraminer. The blend spent 21 months in (15 per cent) new oak. The fruits are varied and each one (or mélange of several) represented a hit in their own right. Tutti frutti, orange blossom special, little green apples, the lemon song, kiwi, peach, tangerine and forbidden fruit. In the end I heard it through the grapevine, by way of a conduit provided by great and necessary acidity. A top quality Stratus White, worthy of repeat plays. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted twice, May and June 2018

Stratus Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

This Stratus is the year of the utmost natural chardonnay, the one where knuckling down and waiting with great patience leads to the most ambient of varietal wines. Not that the indigenous yeast plan is new (it dates back to ’09) but it is unfiltered and the aromatics are wonderfully nostalgic. This too (like the White) has that uncanny and unmistakeable flinty smokiness but in the realm of chardonnay it’s surprisingly delicate and finessed. ’Twas a warm vintage and so there must be an initialization of richness and the lush contextual accession will continue to develop but for now its tighter and sitting in a pool of quietude. Revisits in two and three years will tell the wine’s story. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Gewürztraminer 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

The plantings are Clone 47, one of two from Alsace (along with 48) that are often used in Ontario. There are few regional equals like this one of subtle floral expression in lemon waxy spray, yellow rose fragrance and citrus oil incumbency. The acidity is buoyant, unaggressive and supportive and so the residual sugar number is probably higher than expected, perhaps in the mid to upper teens. Works the derivative volatile aroma compounds drawn from flowers, fruits, leaves, and stems to great aromatic effect. In any case it’s a health affirming gewürztraminer by essential oil and through the act of sumptuous behaviour. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Red 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (131037, $48.00, WineAlign)

Harvested over a week’s time in mid to late November from a warm if unremarkable vintage that followed a polar vortex winter, the just released 2015 Red is the five-headed Bordelais made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec. If indeed perception is conceived to occur through five senses then all are needed to feel the fingers and toes of this assemblage. It’s also a matter of mathematical relevance, especially if you’ve tasted a few vintages of this most consistent appellative blend. And so standard deviation is relevant in assessment. From one Stratus Red to another we are looking at two sets of five different numbers that have the same mean but different standard deviations and it can be argued (because of the methodology), the same standard deviation but different means. If only J-L Groux knows the answer to the mean and standard of each Red set we can still look at this ’15 and note how it’s quite dusty and high-toned in its youth, with a richness that will eventually bring it all down to earth. It’s a chewy Red with some dried, leathery fruit, as per the mean, equal and opposing to the fresh and friendly, as per the standard deviation. As a matter of assemblage it’s as classic and recognizable as any in the accumulative history and also reminiscent of the past, like ’07, ’10 and ’12, to name just a few. With cabernet sauvignon at the head it tells us that ripeness is the virtue and comfort the result. By the way, the varietal breakdown of 40, 24, 23, 11 and 2 equates to a mean of 20 and a standard deviation of 14.40. For what it’s worth. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (412759, $38.65, WineAlign)

The 2015 cabernet franc of warmth and layering is wise in the ways of fruit. It’s an overt and resolute varietal wine picked at intervals and in succession with on the fly intent. The endeavour is worthy of the ideal and in turn, every moment of our consideration. Here is where you can begin any one of your carefully thought on handful of cabernet franc explorations, not just any mind you but from those that start at the top of the pyramid, from the top down. What is striking about 2015 is the sweet herbal quality, with a bushy tisane in place of hard to ascertain, high-toned pyrazine. What you will find is actually quite simple; cabernet franc grown, raised and fashioned by winemaker J-L Groux at Stratus. I just love this fruit. These chips have fallen where they may. Drink 2020-2038.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Syrah 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Stratus turns back time and into varietal subtleties so that sniffs and sips of this ’14 are met with pauses. This iambic syrah is indeed something other, with dusty peppery notes and an unforced extraction that does little (at first) to challenge or demand that you work for your sips. The floral aromas form the crux of the unstressed syllables and are followed by strong flavours, a.k.a. the stressed syllables. The poetic feel is one of clause, pause and punctuation, with acidity strong but also fine and the even ripening from the grapes is a matter of obvious clarity. I suggest that the winemaking is more hands off than before and the wine needed little to no clutter to reach this goal. The richness is subdued and the balance as bountiful as it is beautiful. The drinker must read-render this syrah stanza so that it is both comprehended and appreciated. There may be some potential tension in doing so because you need to know how to seek out the stressors but also where to find the metrical pauses. Unearthing all the elements will help to pair with food that reads the same, like a seared duck breast, rare and sliced, or a lean piece of beef, carved tagliata style. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Sémillon Botrytis Affected 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

One of the most unique dessert wines in Ontario this is neither late-harvest nor Icewine in origin. Only the third time it has been made, the 2016 sémillon launches with a smoky beginning, as expected and yet, is always appreciated. Some of the fruit is harvested early, but other bunches in the same vineyard are some of the last to be harvested. This low alcohol anti-sticky is from the warm vintage and from the same spot in the vineyard, vintage in vintage out. Most interesting is how these pristine botrytis affected grapes are picked ahead of the rest of the clean fruit used for the dry sémillon. It’s a very vinous sém with distinct apricot and longan notes. Great acids in 2016. Has still retained some waxiness and found some tropical fruit despite the early pick. All of the counterintuitive ideals tell us that the warm vintages can make for top quality dessert wine. This is the masquerade party wine made by the Way Outs band. “That’s where the fun is, way out, WAY OUT!” Drink 2019-2028. Tasted October 2018

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Sonoma County: Diverse by nature plus California, Italy and others in VINTAGES Oct 27th

Taste of Sonoma – Diverse by Nature

Related – WineAlign Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Preview – Oct 27th, 2018

In last week’s preview covering the October 27th release it was John who wrote about the “Premium Parade.” John has reminded us all, as did David in his previous report for October 13th that VINTAGES likes to roll out the big guns in the two months leading up to the holiday season. What a shocker. I’m pleased to follow-up on the theme with more than a few overflowing handfuls of high-end wines that settle with great weight and density into a more than similar ilk.

It’s more than just a late October release that delivers gifts of such hedonistic and full character flavour. The Sonoma County Vintners came through town just last week with armfuls of the good stuff. There was a trade and media walk-around tasting in the afternoon of the 16th followed by a VINTAGES supported consumer affair in the evening. Thirty-three producers showcased 75 wines and it is safe to say that Sonoma knows how to put on a show. What piqued my interest the most was a Masterclass/Tutored Tasting titled “Diverse by Nature” and hosted by none other than WineAlign’s John Szabo. My notes on the wines poured are featured just below. All of the 75 wines continue to be available for purchase on the VINTAGES Shop Online site.

The VINTAGES opinion is one that states “Sonoma County is predominantly family farmers who produce some of the world’s best grapes and wine and have done so for generations. It’s also the first wine region in the US to commit to becoming 100% sustainable by 2019.” They noted that the event features “a bounty of stellar Pinot Noirs, full-bodied Cabernets, stylish Chardonnays and spicy Zinfandels – most with 90+ scores.” This is nothing but truth. I scored all 10 wines I tasted at the Sonoma seminar at 90-plus.

Greg MacDonald, VINTAGES Category Manager, New World Wines, North America (excluding Ontario) & South Africa, explains where Sonoma stands in the current pantheon of California wines. “I would agree that many top wines from Sonoma can stand toe-to-toe with their Napa counterparts on quality and while many offer relative value, there are now iconic wines from Sonoma that can and do command similar top-tier price points. What Sonoma can still offer that Napa can’t anymore (for the most part), is wines at more approachable price points for everyday consumers – the sheer size of Sonoma County makes this possible.  This means it’s a win for both collectors and consumers. I don’t consider Sonoma an emerging region for California as a buyer – it’s arrived.”

John Szabo M.S.

So what is so special about Sonoma County? First look at its size. With approximately 75,000 planted acres only Bordeaux is bigger (much bigger) and Sonoma easily outgrows Napa Valley, New Zealand, Bourgogne and the Okanagan Valley. Nearly 500 wineries grow a multitude of varieties but there is some definitive concentration and specialization. In terms of hectares chardonnay is king, at 6,500 while pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon follow closely at roughly 5,400 each. The next four most planted grape varieties are zinfandel, merlot, sauvignon blanc and syrah.

Five distinct soils make up the multifarious terroir of Sonoma; Francisco Complex covers nearly half of the west and northern territories. Then we find Salinia, Glen Ellen Formation, Sonoma Volcanics and Wilson Grove Formation. The coolest spots and perfect for chardonnay are Green Valley and Carneros while it is the pinot noir appellations of Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley that bridge the gap to a moderate climate. In that mid-temperature category we see the merlot high ground of Chalk Hill and Bennet Valley.

Both chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon work well in the moderate to quite warm spots of Sonoma Mountain and Sonoma Valley. Slightly warmer are the zinfandel hot spots of Rockpile and Dry Creek Valley. The warmest areas that are best suited to cabernet sauvignon are Alexander Valley, Fountaingrove, Knights Valley and Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Park. Let us not forget the rest of the Sonoma County AVAs, Moon Mountain, Northern Sonoma and Petaluma Gap.

Most important these days is what’s found inside and within these distinct regional territories. In Sonoma they like to call them “neighbourhoods,” micro-climates like Middle Ranch and Laguna Ridge in the Russian River Valley. These are akin to the Villages of Bourgogne so consumers can now begin to seek out varietal specificities with which to align from these hoods.

These fantastic humans helped to bring the excellence of @sonomacountyvintners to Toronto today. And it was great ~ @california.wines #sonomacounty #sonoma #sonomavalley #alexandervalley

Don’t look for a singular regional-varietal character, but rather look at the towns, a.k.a in that Bourgogne sense of the ideal, the Villages. Look back to 1857, to the story of the Buena Vista Count, collector of European grapevines (mainly in Vienna) brought back to California. This got everything started, including the Croatian variety zinfandel which at the time was being cultivated as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Look at the transfer from bulk to premium wine in the 1970s and the infamous moment at the Judgement of Paris when Chateau Montelena was the shocking victorious wine.

John mentioned last week that the main VINTAGES theme for October 27th is in fact Italy and not California and so David and I offer up some critics’ love for the great wines of that vast producing country. We take you to Umbria, Veneto, Toscana (including Chianti Classico) and Piemonte for some stellar choices. We wrap up the selections with some miscellaneous wines from around the globe, including some homegrown picks just a jog down the QEW and onto the Niagara Peninsula.

Sonoma Chardonnay

Sonoma Picks

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, California (VINTAGES, $79.95, WineAlign)

From the confluence of three appellations, coast, valley and mountain, not to mention a combination of rock and soil in ratios that as assets determine influence. Buttery and if aromas were textured this would be viscous, licked up from the thickness of fog filling in the mid-palate. Notable is that here the change in Sonoma styles over the past decade is arriving at this gate of transparency. Sharper now and gummed by less glück is the simplest way to sum it all up. Expressive in the ways of varietal and place is the bigger picture summarized. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   threestickswines  halpernwine  @ThreeSticksWine  @HalpernWine  @threestickswines  @halpernwine

Patz & Hall Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, California (VINTAGES, $65.00, WineAlign)

Much more direct, sharp, pinpointed and poignant for modern day chardonnay, with ripe orchard park flavours, high acidity and great internalized impression. Five vineyards get together in this perfectly tidy house conglomerate and added up the stylistic is expressly P & H. From many famous Sonoma vineyards sometimes, often but not always inclusive of Sanchietti, Parmalee Hill, Pleasant Hill, Gap’s Crown, Dutton Ranch and Durell. A necessary parts when integrated are counted as contributors to the whole. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2018   patzhall  philippedandurandwines  @PatzHall  @Dandurandwines  @PatzHall  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, California (VINTAGES, $57.99, WineAlign)

Wild ferment and thrown in to bottle, literally. From Goldridge, those parochial, sought after soils, composed by 70 per cent Martinelli Charles Ranch and (30) Platt Vineyard. Rich without weight, texture without acting overly creamy. A beautifully balanced wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2018   rameywinecellars  liffordgram  @RameyWineCellar  @LiffordON  @RameyWineCellars  @liffordwineandspirits

Siduri Pinot Noir Parsons Vineyard 2015, Russian River Valley, California (VINTAGES, $70.00, WineAlign)

Just west of the winery is the flat topography characterized by compact clay soils of Parsons’ Vineyard on the Santa Rosa Plain. The 2015 pinot noir is one of high energy ripe fruit but also beautiful acids. This is the ripe pinot noir we’ve come to know from the last 20 years and occupying a chair at the hyperbole of thought and execution. Such a guarantee of what to expect from the Russian River Valley. Strawberry jam, cola and the artfully managed barrel dodger. Broad and velvety. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   siduriwines  halpernwine  @SiduriWines  @HalpernWine  @halpernwine  @Siduriwines  @halpernwine

Chalk Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley, California (VINTAGES, $80.00, WineAlign)

Broad, even riper, of real lush texture and a bit ferric. Tart, tight, intense with at the edge evolution, development and ripeness. This is the trimmer set to the finest setting, allowing some room for growth but also leaving behind a stylish, nearly clean to the skin style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   chalkhillestate  liffordgram  @ChalkHillEstate  @LiffordON  @chalkhillestate  @liffordwineandspirits

Deloach Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2014, Russian River Valley, California (VINTAGES, $70.00, WineAlign)

The organically and biodynamically farmed Olivet Ranch Vineyard estate block has been owned by Boisset Family Estates since 2003. In 2014 this is bigger, fuller, taller, riper and certainly imbued with more wood influence. This from the J.C. Boisset stable is almost a throwback to innocent and precocious times. While the acidity in this vintage carries the dark fruit to terrific heights, it really is impressive how this works the glass and the room. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2018   deloachvineyards  jc_boisset  jcb_collection  liffordgram  @DeLoachVineyard  @JC_Boisset  @LiffordON  @deloachvineyards  @BoissetCollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2015, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $55.00, WineAlign)

Shows an extreme ripeness of being reaching to the breach and teetering on the edge while so successfully camping there. Dark fruit, nearly dusty and so filled in. Ripe, figgy and raisined with managed acidity to keep things in swimming balance. Berries of varying ripeness on old vines make for the great multi-juxtaposed connections. The 22 per cent petite sirah increases the curiosity, that plus three types of oak. So much going on and a good vintage for this OV zin. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2018   drycreekvineyard  wineloversca  @DryCreekVnyd  @WineLoversCA  @drycreekvineyard  @WineLoversCA

Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $55.00, WineAlign)

From 1972 planted vines on Cortina soil and yet curiously not referred to as old vines. The high-toned dark fruit does in fact present a curious juxtaposition, ripe and hematic but also savoury, dusty and mineral. This is just around the corner from entering into the perfect window of its life, integrated and in delivery of its gravelly-loam origins. Only identifiable as Seghesio and always on point. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted October 2018   seghesio  pellerwines  @seghesio  @APImportAgency  @seghesio  Andrew Peller Import Agency

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $118.95, WineAlign)

Take some time to allow Silver Oak’s cabernet to settle in and you might just smile a bit more. Here we are at that point, certainly glued to a house style, big in barrel with American influence and set up with Daniel Baron’s signature passed on through Nate Weis, most recent accomplice as Director of Winemaking. Pencil shavings and early harvested balance plus some wood waiting out of that wood means you are given some Alexander Valley grace at this stage of fine tannin development. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted October 2018   silveroakcellars  halpernwine  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine @SilverOakCellars  @halpernwine

Rodney Strong Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rockaway Single Vineyard 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $100.00, WineAlign)

This is the “lay down in the third bed and it was just right” Rodney Strong cabernet sauvignon from half new French barrel and nicely integrated at this point. Here the darkness of fruit and tighter if rounder structure comes from mountain fruit. Dusty dark black with briny Mediterranean accents leads this down a spice route road. In a delicious spot right now with a finishing bite of very dark, high cocoa content chocolate. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   rsvineyards  markanthonyon  @rsvineyards  @MarkAnthonyWine  @Rodney.Strong.Vineyards  @MarkAnthonyWine

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES Oct 27th

California Picks

Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2016, Contra Costa County, Central Coast, California ($24.95)

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California ($39.95)

Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, California ($49.95)

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, California ($74.95)

Italian Picks

Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2016, Vento, Italy ($18.95)

Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, IGT Toscana, Italy ($28.95)

Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($47.95)

Castello Della Sala Cervaro Della Sala 2016, Umbria, Italy ($68.95)

Palazzo Brunello di Montalcino 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($69.95)

Ca’ Romé Romano Marengo Cerretta Barolo 2012, Piedmont, Italy ($72.95)

Grillesino Battiferro 2016 Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy ($18.95)

Miscellaneous Picks

Thelma Mountain Vineyards Sutherland Pinot Noir 2015, Elgin, South Africa ($19.95)

Redstone Chardonnay 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95)

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2017, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($27.20)

José Pariente 2016 Verdejo 2016, Rueda, Spain ($19.95)

Echeverria 2015 Gran Reserva Syrah, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95)

André Brunel 2015 Cuvée Sabrine Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($15.95)

Stoller Family Chardonnay 2016, Dundee Hills, Yamhill County, Oregon ($27.95)

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($29.95)

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($32.95)

I’ve been in fervent travel mode, scrambling voraciously around the globe gathering as much knowledge as my brain can handle. I’m also on the constant tasting and discovering lookout for gems to add into the WineAlign Exchange. Recent trips have taken me to Chianti Classico, Nova Scotia and Niagara. I’ve also recently judged with David Lawrason at the Great Kitchen Party (formerly Gold Medal Plates) in Toronto. I’m off to Argentina, followed by Chianti Classico and Piemonte. There will be no rest when there are so many wines to discover! Until later,

Good to go!

Godello

Taste of Sonoma – Diverse by Nature

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Tales of the Bardolino, Custoza and Lugana

Pizza, Pane, Passione – Saporé Downtown, Verona

A year goes by so fast. In October of 2017 there was this inquisitive week of immersion probing around much of Lago di Garda’s perimeter. The tour involved disinterred soils, precocious vines and the promising vendibility out of several important northern Italian DOCs. The grand excursion was advertised to centre around the avant-garde collection of Rosé wines assembled under the auspices of Chiaretto. For the most part it was and in a report published not too long ago I wrote about the extolled virtues of Bardolino and Valtènesi Rosato.

Related – Garda’s Chiaretto success

There was much more to that 2017 trip than mere pale pink deliciousness. There was the beauty, purity and honesty of Corvina-based Bardolino DOC reds; Classico and Superiore. There was more. There were morainic and argilleux whites; Custoza and Lugana, with clonal variants and an array of varietals carrying and sharing the load. The trebbiano of varying biotype degrees; di lugana, di toscana, castelli romani and the homegrown turbiana. Then there are considerations involving garganega (marco bona), fernanda (cortese di gavi), and trebbianello (tokay friulano). Here are 64 tasting notes of Bardolino, Custoza and Lugana based wines tasted one year ago save for two stumbled happily upon at Vino al Vino in Firenze. Some of these wines were produced in adherence to the local DOCs and others well, not exactly so.

Hostaria Wine Festival, Verona

Bardolino

Bardolino’s collinare morenico, limestone and marine fossil soils were carved out more than 100 million years ago on the eastern shore of Lago di Garda. The 80 kilometre long Veneto wine route of the Bardolino production zone sits in a morainic area on argiloso (clay) soils around the eastern and southern shores of Garda, on flats and up to the hills and plateaus above the lake. From Bardolino to the hills of Costermano the corvina path descends to Garda and Torri del Benaco. Back in Bardolino it climbs to Cavaion Veronese, Affi, Caprino Veronese and Rivoli Veronese, from where it leads to Monte Baldo. The wine route follows to Pastrengo, Castelnuovo del Garda and Lazise in the south, leading to Peschiera del Garda and Valeggio sul Mincio and ending in the villages of Sommacampagna, Sona and Bussolengo.

A typical Bardolino blend is corvina (70 per cent), with addendum by rondinella and molinara. Bardolino is now approved to hold a maximum 95 per cent corvina, increased from 80. Supporting rondinella must be included at a minimum five per cent and up to a maximum of 40, up from 15. Other varieties allowed to be cultivated in the area can be used for a maximum of 20 per cent and with a 10 per cent limit for each variety, except for molinara, allowed up to a maximum of 15 per cent.

The Bard of Bardolino Angelo Perreti

Simply put it is the crisp acidity and fine, light tannins of corvina that lend Bardolino its imminently drinkable amiability. The vines benefit from a Mediterranean climate, with warm summers and mild to cool winters. Lake Garda lowers the diurnal temperature range of the area while the Dolomite mountains protect from winter freezes and provide cold winds during the warm summer months. There are 2700 hectares under vine, 100 producers and 17 million annual bottles produced.

The DOC was created in 1968 and now that Chiaretto has been separated with its own distinction, next up is to recognize the frazioni, sub-zones that dig deeper, into the micro-climates of La Rocca, Montebaldo and Sommacampagna. La Rocca represents the ancient Bardolino district. Thanks to its biodiversity Montebaldo stands for the foothill area known as the botanic garden of Europe. Sommacampagna accounts for the southern Bardolino hills. Look for these menzioni geografiche on labels of Bardolino coming soon.

Albino Piona Bardolino DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (528646, $16.95, WineAlign)

Albino Piona’s corvina based Bardolino comes from a wild ferment and the lowest of fermentation temperatures. It’s all spice, sage and garriga with the classic red fruits beneath, subtle in a pinot nero way, not your typical Bardolino but a deserving winner of awards. This takes the presence to a whole new level. Reeks of fresh spring flowers, lilac and then roses. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted twice, October 2017 and March 2018

Albino Piona Bardolino DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (528646, $16.95, WineAlign)

The 2013 is perhaps a child of the very atypical vintage, with certainly a note of botrytis because saffron is once again a part of the mix. This is not just reserved for white wines and it’s a clean botrytis, remarkable, spicing up quince paste swirled with a light white fig. Once again so cool. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Bardolino Superiore DOC “SP” 2013, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The morainic area south of Lake Garda is where Piona’s corvina and rondinella finds it top expression. This special cuvée is so very cherry, with white fig again, not so much the saffron but yes into the mushroom and even a developing truffle. Lovely. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Bardolino Superiore DOC “SP” 2011, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The Bardolino SP 2011 is a wow red blend, coming in firm, intense, tart and with more clay (argileux) influence for sure. Takes the cherry and the porcine feel and turns it up to eleven. Serious structure this time around. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Tortelli di Zucca alla moda del Gonzaga at Borsa Vallegio

Bergamini Bardolino DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Bardolino from Lasize, of 70 per cent corvina and 20 per cent molinara, fruity and firm. Quite aromatic, first potpourri dominated by dried roses, tart and all dark cherry flavours. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted October 2017  bergaminiaziendaagricola  Bergamini Azienda Agricola

Bergamini Bardolino Superiore DOC Colline Di Colà 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Bardolino Superiore Colline di Colà is a construct from vines 50-plus years old, in 500L oak barrels for one year. The site is found in a small village near Lasize upon the hill of Colà. This is a form extricated, extracted and exercised with structure and takes Bardolino to a completely different place. Needs to settle in awhile. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2017

Bergamini Corvina Veronese Vigneto Monte Casa 2011, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Vigneto Monte Casa is only produced in the best vintages and its a corvina blessed of perfume and spice. Half of the juice not used for Chiaretto is further fermented without sulphites, with seeds and stems, then led through malo and put into big barrels. Remarkable wine. So cool. Exactly how to take the vines of Bardolino to another level. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017

Bigagnoli Alias Rosato Veronese IGT 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Alias Rosato didn’t pass the panel so not labeled Chiaretto because the panel said it smelled like onion skin. I don’t really get it. It may not be the most typical Chiaretto but really? Tangy and intense. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Bigagnoli Bardolino DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Alessio Bignanoli’s one man band Bardolino is true blue, black and red cherry fruity, deep and intense, bottled under a screwcap with a pillow membrane, to allow a micro-oxygenation, to simulate cork. This is quite typical in blend only, of 75 per cent corvina plus rondinella and molinara. A bit reductive without surprise and with plenty of peppery spice. Again, not shocking. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017

Bigagnoli Bardolino DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Bardolino 2015 has cherry cola, ribena and black currant while the early reductiveness has melted away. The florals have emerged and the time in bottle under screwcap has released the fun. It’s dancing now. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017

Bigagnoli Scrum 2015, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Scrum 2015 is a blend of new teams, corvina (80 per cent) and roseleta. Cool savoury syrup which mixes the black cherry into the ribena, harvested in November, the grapes dried directly on the plants. Even in 2017 despite the heat Alessio will harvest late November because of a technique known as “Sciaccia” a pinching technique that allows desiccation without further development of sugar and ripeness. One of the more umami-singular wines in the region, to be very, very sure. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2017

Cantina Castelnuovo Del Garda Bardolino Classico DOC Ca’ Vegar 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

“Ca’ Vegar” is a blend of corvina (80 per cent), rondinella (15) and molinara (5) for a lactic, sour, “for local people to combine with fat fish from the lake,” Bardolino. With a chill. So composed, contrived and uninteresting. Chaptalized and acidified. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017   cantinacastelnuovo  @BoscodelGalCantina Castelnuovo del Garda

Cantina Di Custoza Bardolino DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Bardolino 2016 is full-bodied and fruity, juicy, pushed by 6 g/L RS. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Cantina Di Negrar Bardolino Classico DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

The traditional blend of corvina, rondinella and molinara sees seven days of maceration transforming into a colour still stuck in the past, mired in recent antiquity, as is the sugar. There are 900,000 bottles made in this reductive, vinous to the nth degree, currants on steroids style. Needs a great chill, acids are acids, like acid verité. A Black cherry corvina, tart and angular. Massive vat of Bardolino corrected into correctness. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017   cantina_valpolicella_negrar  noble_estates  @CantinaNegrar@Noble_Estates@CantinaValpolicellaNegrar@NobleEstates

Cantine Tinazzi Bardolino DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The blend is 70 per cent corvina, (15) molinara, (10) rondinella and (5) rosara (a clone of rondinella). Vinous again, there is no separation here from a certain style of Valpolicella, of sour (dark black) cherry, balsamic and it really reeks of fennel and spice from more than generous wood. Green, herbal and minty and a bit sweetly syrupy. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  cantine.tinazzi  @CantineTinazziCantine Tinazzi

Casaretti Corvina Rosato 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Corvina Rosato is apposite to Chiaretto, a smaller production, from only corvina a vineyard, added by 10 months in tonneaux with battonage and bottled in September. Weighty at 14 per cent alcohol, again reductive but not overly so, creamy from lees stirring, round, fruity and full on texture. Almost unusual but it works somehow, like deconstructed cherry pie. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017   stefano_rossi  Azienda Agricola Casaretti

Lago di Garda wildlife

Casaretti La Nogara 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

La Nogara is the name of the pergola trained vineyard of 15 year-old vines raised to corvina, rondinella, molinara and sangiovese with some garganega co-planted in. Low-yields even more so in this vintage in a place of low humidity and the oh-so necessary diurnal fluctuations for acid-fruit relationships. Again as per the house style so bloody reductive, tart, of rusty-red cherries, charcuterie and lots of furthered red fruit. Needs air and/or time. Really good acidity. Needs another year for the tonic to settle in. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2017

Casaretti La Nogara 2015, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

La Nogara 2015 is the first vintage without Bardolino on the front label, equipped with more red fruit freshness, elegance and for the first time, no reduction. Tangy without being acetic or sour, this is a beautifully rendered wine from a very warm, vintage. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Casaretti La Nogara 2014, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

La Nogara 2014 is the most curative tonic and spinning red fruit blend of the three in the mini-vertical. It has some reserved (15-20) per cent juice from 2013 mixed in. In this region there is simply no one else who does this and perhaps this is why in 2015 he moves away (or in a sense loses) the Bardolino designation. Nor does he care. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Casaretti Bardolino Classico Olte Longhe 2015, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Olte Longhe spent one year in 20 hL oak barrel and is now also a year in bottle. Lots of fruit on the palate, cherry pie all over accented by the Bardolino spice of life. It’s a wine of joie de vivre and really concentrated. This is just lovely, like Chianti Classico Riserva but from an alternate limestone universe. Here the house follows local law at an 80/20 mix but will in the future be 100 per cent corvina. Just the name of the vineyard “Olte Longhe … or perhaps Alte Langhe? Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted October 2017

Gentili Bardolino Classico DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The blend is 80 per cent corvina with 10 each sangiovese and rondinella, picked later, for body and for structure. Spent 12 days maceration on skins, “this is an Italian red wine” so more than one year of aging in the winery. Steel tank housed but in 2017 they will be blended with some wood aged fruit. Darker fruit but very Bardolino. There is nothing shocking here. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2017   Azienda agricola Gentili

Il Pignetto Bardolino DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Bardolino with no molinara and up to 10 per cent sangiovese. Again a wine of major fruit with a bit more dark berry and no barrel thatwill develop some spice in place of the fruit. This is a bit oxidative so it will also gain a concrete feel with time. A very soft expression. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017    ilpignetto  Cantina Il Pignetto

Le Fraghe Bardolino DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

In Matilde Poggi’s Bardolino the wild strawberries leap, hop, bound and shout. It’s uncanny, this Fraghe character. Here, out of light, bright and breathe easy corvina with (20 per cent rondinella) but a grip, not firm, but just a 10 day maceration for a minor, stainless steel fresh introduction with only a few microbes of tannin. Wild strawberry in a glass. Simply so effective and so honest. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Le Fraghe Bardolino DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Again, of course, the wild strawberry but there is a curative, lovely dusty and now also into raspberry reserve, like CCR or Rioja but cleaner, no wood, perfectly developed. Riper and the cherry to chocolate note that has developed is corvina, riper 2015 and Le Fraghe. How could you not want to drink a shed full of this juice. Two years exact past vintage is simply perfect for Matilde’s wines. They are so precocious in their wisdom. Can’t wait for 2017. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Le Fraghe Bardolino Classico DOC Bol Grande 2015, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $31.95, WineAlign)

Brol as in “clos,” a wall with stones, from a vineyard re-planted in 2000. Matilde Poggi began this process of separating the fruit beginning in 2011, of 80 per cent corvina and 20 rondinella, a stainless steel ferment, followed by one year in 42 hL botti. Less stones, still in the Classico area, at the base of the mountain (Moscal). You won’t see this on her label (from a soon to be appellation made with Ripasso and Appassimento method wines), close to the lake. The thread does not stray from the base and necessary Le Fraghe concept, from freshness and the wild strawberry into the cherry, now plus a hint of chocolate extract. There is an extra layer of soil-given tart, curative and even a minor grilled meaty flesh note and herbs. Certainly more tannin, structure and dare I say it for Matilde, seriousness and complexity. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017

Le Fraghe Bardolino Classico DOC Bol Grande 2012, Veneto, Italy (Agent, $31.95, WineAlign)

Brol Grande 2012 is so similar to 2015 and while warmer, there is even more firmness and structure. Still the comparisons are there, in wild strawberry, cherry and the ubiquitous chocolate. Has softened and found its ideal secondary stage. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017

Le Fraghe Rondinella Veneto IGT Chelidon 2015, Veneto, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Rondinella, the varietal red and the bird chelidon, from the ancient Greek, a swallow. First made in 2010, because there was extra, and a star was born, but only in the better years. Stainless steel fermentation but one year in large oak barrels. Not as fragrant as corvina, later harvested, not always the ripest varietal but ’15 is not a problem this way. Yet this does not strike as openly free and wild. It is fresh however and she (Matilde Poggi) is perhaps the only varietal producer of rondinella. It is as she says “esile,” not exactly elegant but more like “delicate.” The handsome varietal red, but yes, the delicate one. Not the most complex red in the book but so readable. A bit of cherry-chocolate-coffee, but not shaken or mocha. You can drink it three to four years on, with mineral emerging, but don’t get too serious about it. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Le Ginestre Bardolino Classico DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

From Macro Ruffato here is Bardolino Classico composed by corvina, corvinone and rondinella, in the classic, endemic, indigenous, autochthonous way. Dusty, rusty, sour cherry, very much in the zesty, honest way that proper Chianti Classico and Langhe will be. Really note the red bled vein of white limestone. Really honest Bardolino. Very solid. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017   leginestrewine    Marco Ruffato

Le Morette Bardolino Classico DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Can’t recall any Bardolino nosing so much like bell pepper as this, perhaps with the lowest number from corvina, only 65 per cent. Gets to black cherry so it’s still residing on the riper hung side and with some ious firmness. Finishes in syrup of full on tang. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Poggio Delle Grazie Bardolino DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From Castelnuovo del Garda, Poggio alla Grazie is the child of Stefano and Massimo Brutti. Bardolino 2016 is composed of 80 per cent corvina and 20 rondinella, filtered for no sediment and so similar in (the winery’s Chiaretto) vein, leaving off from strawberry and into sour red cherry, tart and spirited. This is the unadulterated sapid and bloody delicious Bardolino, as if in a world before these great endemic grapes were messed with. This is how it should be made. This is what Bardolino is supposed to be. It’s like plasma for the red wine drinking soul. There are 10,000 bottles made. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted twice, October 2017 and January 2018  poggiodellegrazie  winerypoggodellegrazie  Poggio delle Grazie – ufficial page  Elisabetta Panetto  Massimo Brutti

Sorsei Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante DOC, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante is a quieter, reserved, less ostentatious sparkling, of increased berry fruit flavours, more like Chiaretto in expectation and with some character and nuance. Nicely composed. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017  cristiana.bettili  @cristianacollection

Tenuta La Presa Bardolino DOC Baldovino 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Corvina makes up 70 per cent with rondinella (20) and molinara plus sangiovese (10). From the Caprino Veronese and Località La Presa. Just another textbook, clinical, stainless steel, red fruit, orange skin and basic fruity Bardolino. It’s perfect in every way; ripe, juicy, risk-free, clean and tangy. Dictionary entry. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  tenutalapresa    Tenuta La Presa

Valetti Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante DOC, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The Chiaretto Spumante is charmat method, no dosage, grape juice added of the same must from the same wine in tank to create the second fermentation. There are 6,000 bottles made and it’s actually quite a textured Spumante. I think it seems sweeter than it really is because of the layers of juiciness, created by the added juice, not sugar, so it’s quite naturally composed as a result. A bit of a pink lemonade and tonic, if you will. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017  valetticantina  @CantinaValettiAzienda vinicola Valetti Luigi srl

Valetti Bardolino Classico DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Echoing the thoughts of patriarch and grandfather Angelo, the new generation tells us that “wine has to be destroyed. How else could we make more wine? Agriculture is the only system where you have to destroy something in order to preserve tradition.” And so their Bardolino Classico 2016 made from 60 per cent corvina, (30) rondinella and (10) sangiovese gets neither more basic nor more technically sound than this. It messes neither with tradition nor risk. It is the everyman Bardolino. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Valetti Bardolino Classico Superiore DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Bardolino Classico Superiore 2015 repeats the same mix, of 60 corvina, 30 rondinella and 10 sangiovese, aged for one year in any vessel of choosing (according to rule), in this case 6-8 months of that time in half new/half new barriques. The same wine though with spice, vanilla and an exaggeration of vinous fruit flavours. It’s not a departure and will offend no one, said everyone. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017

Villa Cordevigo

Villabella Villa Cordevigo Bardolino Classico DOC Biologico 2015, Veneto, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

The organic Bardolino blend is 70 per cent corvina, (20) rondinella and (10) corvinone in skin contact for 10 days, no oak and all stainless steel. Once again there is a stylistic adjustment, away from marmalade wines by Bardolino and into preserved freshness, parallel to the Chiaretto model but more so in going back to (more than 100 years ago) to roots. The ideal shares an affinity with pinot noir, or Beaujolais, so let’s say, “Bardolino Villages.” You can sense it, smell it and taste it, with some vinous flavours, from vineyards just in from of the villa. The nose is indeed red fruits with spices. What is special is the length, long and consistently true. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017   vignetivillabella  villacordevigo  stemwinegroup  @VillaCordevigo  @StemWineGroup  @VignetiVillabella  @stemwine 

Lunch at Villa Cordevigo

Villabella Bardolino Classico DOC Vigna Morlongo Anniversario Trentanni 2013, Veneto, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

The concept means more complexity and less fruit (with age apparent evolution) and also more spice. You also note plenty of boxwood, fennel and liquorice. Really mild tannins, some dried fruit and chocolate shavings dusted with black pepper and black olive. A very Mediterranean wine, with a true sense of garriga tempered by a just slightly sour (or lime-soil) edge. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Villa Calicantus Bardolino Superiore DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

From Daniele Delaini’s biodymamic farm on the moranic hill above Bardolino and Lazise, higher up than Cavaion, in Calmasino. His Bardolino Superiore emits more citrus than the “alleged” Rosé and still there is this impossibility of fun funky, oxidative and earthy attitude. It’s corvina with sangiovese and again is a purely, expressly and unmitigated take on what the land insists on giving. There are many who would argue the opposite but like the listening and attentive author who allows the stories to come, Delaini is the winemaker equivalent. The last 100 years of winemaking have stolen away the voice of the earth and here it reclaims its territory. For better or for worse. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  villacalicantus  thelivingvine    @TheLivingVine  @VillaCalicantus  The Living Vine inc.

Villa Calicantus Bardolino Superiore Avresir DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Avresir means Riserva and Daniele Delaini makes his from 20 year old vines. “All my thinking is about this wine. I don’t sleep with this wine.” It’s his come back to the old way of making Bardolino, bot just the wine but the way of being. This is corvina, when there was more thinking about the vineyard and less about the wine.” It begins with lower yields and so 1600 plants produce 1700 bottles. Fermentation is with stems but not pressed with skins but again it begins in the filed where vines are grown with balance. This is fucking beautiful red wine and as the man himself explains, “you are the interpreter of the vines.” Such structure and tannin is understood to be exacting and righteous. This is that comparison we like to say is Burgundian, or at least its the reference point. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted October 2017

Villa Calicantus Bardolino Superiore Avresir DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Bardolino Superiore Avresir 2014 again shows the difference of vintage as the rains fell in great abundance with plenty of warmth but certainly not a matter of heat. The reduced quantity is one thing and while there is more perfume and liqueur there is certainly a softening os structure. It’s terrific corvina once again and while it may be splitting hairs when comparing this to 2013, the leanness is noticeable. Still a lovely wine to speak on behalf of Bardolino lands. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2017

Custoza

The Custoza DOC covers the municipalities of Sommacampagna, Sona, Valeggio sul Mincio, Villafranca di Verona and Bussolengo. Custoza is unique because it is not characterized by a prevailing vine variety, but it is based on other than the local varieties in addition to a traditional blend of grapes including garganega, trebbianello and bianca fernanda. The area is historically famous for having been the site of the First Battle of Custoza fought on July 24 and 25, 1848 during the First Italian War of Independence between the armies of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia.

Albino Piona Bianco Di Custoza DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (SAQ 12469383, $19.50, WineAlign)

Garganega leads at 40 per cent, with two local clones, fernanda (cortese di gavi) and trebbianello (tokay friulano). Just a minor amount of chardonnay and two others minor grapes join the fray. This is the image and feel of the local white from Custoza, a wine that really brings the glycerin on top of the increased aromatics, young and fresh. The texture is elevated and this is what mostly gives the pleasure. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  sil_pio  lesvinsdupre    @lesvinsdupre@AlbinoPionaMonica Piona@lesvinsdupre

Albino Piona Bianco Di Custoza DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (SAQ 12469383, $18.90, WineAlign)

The 2015 white blend carries even more glycerin but with a different, almost porcine aromatic waft, plus some vegetal preserve and a squeeze of persevered lemon. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Bianco Di Custoza DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (SAQ 12469383, $18.90, WineAlign)

This Custoza blend has entered stage two with great sapid-saline-mineral-salty notes, smoky, flinty and with great acidity. Of all the vintages in this recent vertical it is the one that brings apricot, pith, lemon, pear and riesling character. Still a bit of CO2 residual here as well. Just bloody delicious. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Bianco Di Custoza DOC 2013, Veneto, Italy (SAQ 12469383, $19.50, WineAlign)

A year described by winemaker Silvio Piona as a stranieri, with botrytis, certainly different, funky and with the glück of an alternate universe vintage. Chamomile tea and something inexplicable. “I told you when I came I was a stranger” insists this varietal mix. The stranger song. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Custoza Superiore DOC “SP” 2013, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

SP is the experiment Custoza, more aromatic even than the “normale” but again in a difficult way to explain,. It’s vegetal, nosing weird lemon, so much saffron (zafferano) that it’s uncanny really and is what graces the umami with an increased sapidity. Grassy too, but in the end its risotto milanese, with linear, lean and tart acidity, then herbs (basil and tarragon), from a cool, heavy clay site. Preserved lime in the end. Not so standard but very clean. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Custoza Superiore DOC “SP” 2011, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The SP 2011 is like a repeat of the 2013, noted by even more hyperbole from the botrytis-affected sweet viscosity and the saffron. Here in Custoza Bianco texture meets umami, glycerin abides but it’s also somehow lean and direct. Such a weird and beautiful dichotomy, then turning herbal and with lime. A bit oxidative at this point but so very clean. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Custoza Superiore DOC Campo del Selese 2013, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Campo del Selese delivers even more saffron, exaggerated still and those balmy herbs are joined now with a minor note of funghi. Would like to think of freshness but it’s differences set it away from these thoughts. More of a glacial till site changes the physiology and again, there is the definite presence of botrytis. What does it smell like in a dry white? Well, like this of course. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Custoza Superiore DOC Campo del Selese 2012, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Campo del Selese 2012 is yet another matter of that omnipresent Custoza saffron again but much less this time around, with more flinty, smoky and tight, taut, tart, riesling lines. This really wraps around the tongue like a twist-tie and I am really impressed by the ageing of this particular vintage. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Custoza DOC Campo del Selese 1999, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

It’s one of the Veneto’s unknown, this wonderment about Custoza and its ability to age. Well if Campo del Selese 1999 is any indication, the possibilities are boundless. Yes it’s alive, from a time before the Superiore designation, fading but quite spirited somehow, but it has lost the saffron (assuming it was once there). Now in a green day, with preserved lemon, bitter pith and tonic but what it has preserved is really mushroom melding into umami protein. Tré cool, like the drummer. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Albino Piona Gran Cuvée Metodo Classico 2009, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Gran Cuvée Metodo Classico 2009 is corvina (70 per cent) plus (30) garganega e trebbiano (toscana). It’s a dry, no dosage brut zero with so much spice, crazy ginger, dry as the desert, a bit of concrete, very intense. Not so much citrus though despite the intensity, a bit porcine as well and chewy in a way. It grows on you. Spent 66 months on the lees and is now just a wave of toast with the spices so much more in control. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted October 2017

Cantina Di Custoza Custoza DOC Vino Biologico Terre In Fiore 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Custoza must include the three mandatory grapes; garganega, cortese and trebbiano di lugana (tokay), found here along with trebbiano di toscana, plus manzini and chardonnay, you know, for aromatics. Quite metallic, green, balmy, lean but with a sweet edge. Quite commercial. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017  @cantina.custoza

Cantina Di Custoza Custoza DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Custoza DOC 2016 is of a similar profile but further into texture and mouthfeel, less lean and green and also less apparently buoyed by sugar. Rounder and better sign, sealed and zipped seals. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017

Cantina Di Custoza Custoza DOC Le Noce 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Custoza Le Noce arrives with more of a cortese/manzoni injection, which shows up not in florals but on the palate as a creamy salve, leesy but the acidity is greater. Better wine but still much of the same. Variations on one consistent theme. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Il Pignetto Custoza DOC 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Il Pignetto’s Custoza is garganega (40 cent), trrebiano di toscana, cortese and tokay. Here is your Veneto aperitif, easy drinking white blend, defining as an appellative blend of Custoza. An example to make great use of were the category really defined in the hands of some marketing caché. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Il Pignetto Custoza ‘218’ 2015, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

This late harvest Custoza is not made in botrytis affected years, shows off good gassy petrol and complex interest. Not so much residual sugar, down the middle at 13 per cent alcohol, very dry and hissing with mineral, tang. A unique white from which there was no need to arrest fermentation. It is surprisingly a great and impossible wine. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Le Fraghe Garganega Camporengo Veneto IGT 2016, Veneto, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Camporengo is name of the vineyard, poured from magnum, of 100 per cent garganega. In Bardolino it used to be co-planted with the red grapes and is the latest to pick, mashed very cold to prevent oxidation. Raised only and all in stainless, whole bunch pressed, from morainic, mixed glacial stony soil between Lago di Garda and the Adige Valley, at 150m. The corporeal textured garganega, like crushed stones, salty and tannic, molto sale. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017   #lefraghe  thevineagency  #matildepoggi    @TheVine_RobGroh   Le Fraghe  Matilde Poggi  @thevineto

Le Fraghe Garganega Camporengo Veneto IGT 2015, Veneto, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Camporengo is the vineyard planted in 1992 and with just a year in bottle something in garganega multiplicity has emerged. It’s sesame reductive, with flinty sapidity, sulphur in minor yes but more the thing that happens with sémillon, as can happen with garganega. At crunchy too, so nearing a petrol moment. These would be ideal at three to four years of age, though not likely 7-10. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017

Le Fraghe Garganega Camporengo Veneto IGT 2007, Veneto, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Camporengo Garganega 2007 is from what was at the time 15 year-old fruit. A big role played by the screwcap closure, keeping it remarkably fresh, whereas cork bottles would be totally oxidized. So sémillon, gas and spirit, petrol, flint and truly struck from the stone. Just a touch of honey. So tasty and this was the first screwcap vintage. Doesn’t even need acidity, also thankful to the residual CO2 still there. Prepared for cork and bottled under screw. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017

Lugana

Even if the production regulations allow for the presence of up to 10 per cent of complementary white varieties (as long as they are non-aromatic), nowadays the zone’s producers tend to make their Luganas exclusively from turbiana. Five different styles are permitted: standard Lugana (accounting for 90 per cent of the DOC’s wines), Superiore, Riserva, Vendemmia Tardiva (Late Harvest) and Spumante (Sparkling).

Una composizone unica di agrille che dona un’impronta inconfondibile al vino is the way in which the Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC describes the wines produced with the uniqueness of turbiana at its core. The clay-based soils on a narrow spit at the southern end of lake Garda are what gives these fresh and aromatic whites their distinct flavour profile.

Bigagnoli I Bianco Veronese 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

I Bianco is composed of trebbiano di lugana and marco bona (garganega) grown only in the hills of Bardolino, Only three vineyards have this garganega clone and Alessio also blends in tokay (trebbianello), tokay friulano and very little castelli romani (a clone of trebbaino toscana). Lemon scented with exceptional acidity and waxy, perfect for fatty fish. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted October 2017  bigagnoliwines  @bigagnoliwinesAlessio Bigagnoli

Cascina Maddalena Lugana DOC Capotesta 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Capotesta is the head and the heartbeat for this soft, friable dust in the wind Lugana soil. Grape tannic, linear, direct, certainly lean and so very crisp. A clean, pure, no bells and whistles white involved and in it for all the right reasons. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018   cascinamaddalena  @CascinaMaddalena

Cascina Maddalena Lugana DOC Clay 2014, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Extending the turbiana from Capotesta here we climb through much more texture, more expressive of this Lugana argilo and full Garda lake effect. The trace elements drawn up from this soil feel persistently apparent for inspirational infiltration. Yes it’s similar or even in closest kinship with the Capotesta as it should be because their is honesty, transparency and delicacy running through in soulful refrain. A textured chorus of plush extension opens up to allow a moment’s solo of a soprano’s dynamite intensity. So particular, finessed and Lugana instructive. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted February 2018

Le Morette Lugana DOC Mandolara 2016, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

This white is made from a distinctly separate variety, not a biotype of turbiana, not actually trebbiano di lugana but a grape special to the house. From high clay sites on the narrow strip of land on the southern shore of Lago di Garda. Makes for a round and plush white, with fresh herbs and lime in combination that brings terroir and varietal together. Shows good concentration from this grape whose uniqueness owes thanks to the estate’s clonal research and is simply classic for this place. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  lemorettelugana  @@lemorette.lugana

Le Morette Benedictus 2015, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Benedictus is Le Morette’s cru, 45 year-old vineyard turbiana, picked and stirred for one night in the maceration room. It’s a full-textured, clean and creamy white like perfectly clarified mellifluous honey finished in second passage French tonneaux. A flinty note celebrates a preserved reductive freshness and confirms the lovely feel. It’s almost a sémillon like character but there is so much body and really quite a lot of fruit. It’s ripe, juicy, a fruit cup mildly tinned and just great to drink. Will gain interest with a bit of age. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017

Le Morette Lugana Riserva DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Le Morette’s Riserva is a story in typology of Lugana that began only a few years ago. A unique wine that by regulation can be released to market only two years after vintage. This is a winery selection, not one of vineyard. A wine that is used to express “the potential of the vineyard.” Here it is contiguous from Benedictus in flint and juicy spirit but with further concentration and also intensity. Not as delicate as Benedictus and perhaps a bit adorned but very much a causation for transformation into a more serious realm. If this is the necessity it must own it. And it does. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted October 2017

Pizza, Pane, Passione – Saporé Downtown, Verona

Godello

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Going back to South Africa

In just a few more sleeps I’ll be back in South Africa. Since attending Cape Wine in 2015 I have had the great fortune to spend many mornings, evenings and excursions with several groups of South African producers here in Ontario. In the past year we entertained visits from the Premium Independent Winemakers (PIWOSA) and most recently this May Chris Mullineux led a masterclass on mostly Chenin Blanc at lbs. Restaurant. Chabrol Restaurant also held a tasting and lunch with representatives from seven outstanding South African wineries.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

On my way to one of those events I was in the car and listening to the CBC. The DJ began talking about Handel as being the composer who could have become a hip hop artist. I’ll explain what he meant in a minute. When I think about South African wines it’s almost impossible to put your finger down to think of it as one thing, one style, or one type of music. You can apply this just about anywhere but in the Capelands there is so much diversity; there are rock n’ roll stars in the Swartland, R & B, soul & Motown in Stellenbosch, Jazz in Elgin, Classical music wherever you want to hear it. But what there is everywhere is flow. Reggae flow, soulful Stevie Wonder flow, hip-hop flow.  What the DJ was trying to say is that a composer who writes with this ease of ability, with an unconscious penning of notes coming from a place that was always there from the beginning, with a creativity that comes out of effortless ease, it just flows. South African wines, collectively, have flow.

Great soils, weather and a Mediterranean climate

When I returned from that 2015 Cape Wine congress I said that South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. 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.

Related – Once upon a time in the Western Cape

LK @wosa_ca introducing Chris @mullineuxwines for what will be a wild ride through the Western Cape ~ #winesofsouthafrica

I don’t feel the same way, not quite exactly the same way, three years later. Now I see the necessity of not planting whatever you feel like wherever you feel like, but specializing, picking out micro-plots of terroir for very specific grape varieties. Narrowing the focus, figuring out what works best and why. It’s the Burgundian way and indeed the way all great wine regions make their mark. I am also inclined to agree with the heritage seekers and protectors. Old vines, especially dry, bush-farmed vineyards are the backbone of South Africa’s diversity and possibility.

At the lbs gathering Chris Mullineux noted there was a time when chenin blanc tasted like sauvignon blanc, green and sharp, or creamy like chardonnay and sweet. There have been so many styles. Mullineux explained. “We’re no longer trying to make chenin taste like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, or Huet for that matter.” The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, since the 1650s and it can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well. 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. Sixteen wines were presented that morning, including eight by Andrea and Chris Mullineux.

Into the South African mystic ~ A formidable line-up led by @mullineuxwines with thanks to Chris, LK @WOSACanada JG @lbstoronto @wosa_za @NicholasPearce_

Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (981167, $13.95, WineAlign)

From Stellenbosch, the pride and joy, the rainmaker, hay-maker, large volume wine. Decomposed shale provides perfume to chenin, picked over three passes, early acidity, middle palate savour and later harvest tropical fruit, namely guava. There is texture, something firm in its structure and a clear-cut ripeness of acidity. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted twice, May 2018   simonsigwines  azureau  @SimonsigWines  @azureau  @SimonsigWines  @azureauwinesandspirits

MAN Family Wines Chenin Blanc Essay 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

‘Essay’ is MAN’s chenin blanc with more more stone and citrus fruit, crisp, almost crunchy, getting into texture and would really elevate the fish game. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018   manfamilywines  vonterra  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @MANFamilyWines  @vonterra

Deetlefs Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Breedekloof, Western Cape, South Africa (465443, $16.95, WineAlign)

The youngest wine route in South Africa and just 90 km outside of Cape Town, the Breedekloof wine route lies in the Breede River Valley, which stretches from Gouda in the west, McGregor in the south, Montagu in the east and the Tankwa-Karoo National Park in the north. “We call it over the mountains,” explains Chris Mullineux, “around that bend from Cape Town.” It’s an area with a long history of chenin by the river bed. A place of fertile soils, where young vines have great vigour and then when they reach 35 years plus, deliver great concentration. Some green pepper and pyrazine here, a throwback to the sauvignon blanc ringer days and also more weight and laced up tightness. It’s a savoury but quite cool expression. Gets crunchy and chewy, one and then the other, like Napolitano pizza dough, in a way. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018   deetlefswineestate  nicholaspearcewines  @Deetlefs_Wine  @Nicholaspearce_   @DeetlefsWineEstate  Nicholas Pearce

May 23rd, 2018 #lobsterroll by @lbstoronto ~ #lostinamoment ~ pairs beautifully with South African #cheninblanc

Pearce Predhomme Chenin Blanc Old Vine/Wild Ferment 2017, Clear Mountain, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $22.99, WineAlign)

The next chapter in the Nicholas Pearce-Will Predhomme chenin blanc joint is the richest to date, as a matter of unction without presumption. The great blended barrel and tank amalgamation dishes an orchard tone citrus smoothie with rigour, tension and then perhaps, yes, a posit tug of confident Stellenbosch belief. Presumption even, knowing that you will adore it. And you will. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2018   pearcepredhomme  nicholaspearcewines  willpredhomme  @PearcePredhomme  @Nicholaspearce_   @WillPredhomme  Nicholas Pearce  willpredhomme

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $17.95, WineAlign)

Texture from old plants can never be underestimated and this number two of four tiers in the Forrester stable digs so much deeper. It’s more passionately meets seriously defined out of a labour of love so you have to pause and stay with it.  Last tasted May 2018

Reserve is a funny term for wines like this because it speaks to the idea that it should be put aside for further use. I don’t think that is Ken Forrester’s plan and here he once again raises his old vines game with the 2016 chenin blanc. Fruit and mineral are entrenched in this great posit tug of war, each shredding the twain and meeting at the trenchant median. Stellenbosch continues to dole out some of the planet’s most striking and finest whites with chenin blanc at the centre of it’s value universe. With major thanks to Ken Forrester. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017   fmcwine  noble_estates  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates  Ken Forrester  Ken Forrester  @NobleEstates

I want to eat the dishes chef wants to cook ~ @jwillcook killed it last night @lbstoronto with the wines of South Africa

Survivor Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $17.95, WineAlign)

Survivor is richer, deeper, creamier, the chardonnay chenin, in a way, with round and mild acidity. Very tropical, from guava and papaya to mango and ultimately, simple like a banana, with coconut and cream. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018   survivorwines  kirkwooddiamondcanada  @SurvivorWines  @KDC_NATIONAL  @SurvivorWines  @KirkwoodDiamondCanada

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc Old Vines 2017, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $27.26, WineAlign)

Still in the middle of drought, the 100 per cent chenin is so youthful right at this stage. Part Paardeberg, ancient granite decomposed into sand, plus rocky, shallow slate, better in the blend out of cooler years. Still a flint strike but also something verdant, smouldering too, like white tobacco, if there is such a thing.  Last tasted May 2018

You would think this came straight from the vines and into the glass because fresh was never this new, exciting and getable. In fact when thinking about tasting 2015, 2016 and now this 2017 there is no doubt this is the most immediate and gratification guaranteeing Kloof Street yet. It’s already in delivery of ripe citrus, orchard and tropical fruit, all three, fleshy, unctuous and divine. So juicy, unconsciously so and as drinkable as any chenin blanc on the planet. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted January 2018   mullineuxwines  nicholaspearcewines  @MullineuxWines  @Nicholaspearce_  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxWines

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc Old Vines 2016, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

From the very dry year this 100 per cent chenin is from 36 and 38 year old vines in two vineyards, so considered old vines because its certified (above 35, a labelling law that came into place this year). Natural ferment, freshness meets a terrific sense of place, with downy texture by one third barrel. Aging nicely.  Last tasted May 2018

Some older vines (in the 40 year range) combed off of variegated soil types from several Swartland vineyards combine for definitive Western Cape effect. Kloof Street is the poster child for the way in which Chris and Andrea Mullineux’s are taking South African by storm. Though they spend so much effort concentrating on specific soils with über specific wines, this chenin blanc is the multi-purpose white to teach a thing or two about the rest of their work. It’s exemplary of ripe and perfectly extracted, multi-sensory fruit and personality. Though this 2016 is a bit warmer and deeper than previous vintages (and the portion of barrel ferment is further felt), it continues the thread of honesty, decency and consumer educational necessity for the Cape wine oeuvre. It will also develop some peaches, herbs and honey with time. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017

Mullineux Old Vines White 2016, Unfiltered & Unfined, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The old vines are between 36 and 65 years old and the 60-65 per cent chenin blanc is blended with grenache blanc, clairette blanc and viognier. There is also a smidgen of sémillon gris, unique to sémillon, then mutated after 45-50 years, becoming like gewürztraminer. Really flinty, lightning across the sky moving with strikes through the glass, but somehow rich and grippy, then elastic, slippery, moving like an glacial ooze. Extraordinary really. Cryptic white blend, in the end.  Tasted again, May 2018

From French water mill to Swartland bread basket the Old Vines White continues to woo and sooth savages with its exceptional quality. From winemaker Andrea Mullineux this is equation building by chenin blanc (62 per cent) plus grenache blanc (15), viognier (11), clairette blanc (8) and sémillon. It may as well be Meursault Premier Cru Genevrières or Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc transposed into the body of chenin-plus in South Africa. The combination of flinty strike and sun-fleshy body is perfectly tugged with posit force, stretching, flexing and relaxing with each effortless sway. The tease of lemon curd, sweet herbal pesto and creamy warm climate fruit never submit to the realities of ambition or extension. All remains calm, purposed and transfixed. As am I. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Old Vines White 2015, Unfiltered & Unfined, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The Old Vine White 2015 is a revelation, built by 36-65 year-old vines, of 60ish per cent chenin blanc mixed with grenache blanch, clairette blanc, viognier and the mutated sémillon gris. A year adds almost nothing to the development save for a minor magnification of the flinty feeling but the linger, oh the linger. This is length unparalleled for South African white wine and how it is left to breathe in its broad expression is there forever. You can walk around the block and these old vines will be with you, by your side, in mind, body, spirit and never-ending flavour. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc The FMC 2016, Stellenbosch, South Africa (37291, $64.95, WineAlign)

The straight-lined FMC is chenin blanc on a path of the shortest distance between two points from straight-shooting Ken Forrester. It’s ambitious and righteously so, a statement wine, no longer (if ever) Loire but now indelibly Stellenbosch stamped,. Not an off-dry, botrytis copying style but now from larger barrel and so minor oak and lack of noble rot addendum. It’s simply older vines from the same old vineyard and so comfortable in its own skin. Yes it has a honeyed note but it’s from the bees replete with a sexy, waxy feeling. The aging possibilities are long to endless. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2018

Varietal and single-vineyard wines are great but #cartology is forever ~ so pleased to get a chance at this today ~ another laser from @chrisalheit

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bushvine Chenin Blanc Sémillon 2016, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $46.95, WineAlign)

Chris and SuzaanGroupe Soleil Fine WinesAlheit’s Cartology ’16 exhibits a citrus layering that separates it from other Western Cape white blends and an implosive intensity that is simply stunning, but also frightening. As a reminder the blend is a smaller amount of eighty year-old La Colline sémillon from Franschhoek running ambagious with 30-40 year old chenin blanc grown in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary Hills and Kasteelberg. Few white wines anywhere in the world are even remotely positioned in this field where energy and light spin with infinite speed in the centrifuge of life. That doesn’t even speak to texture for a wine that is the topographical depiction of these nooks of the Western Cape. Needs two years to flesh out, evolve just a hair and bring another level of interest to the glass. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Suzaan Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Mullineux Schist Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s Schist is a 100-120 case production (though only 72 in 2014), from schist, of course, not granite, which adds mid-palate weight and texture. Also from older (36 and 40 years) vines based from soils of the Kasteelberg. It’s a heartfelt message and cerebral pulling string from the 2014 density gifting vintage. Older barrels wrap like a blanket for fruit richer than you’d ever imagine, full-bodied, beautiful and robed in petticoat unction. It’s also dry as the farmland desert. Truly one of the finest chenin blancs from South Africa and beyond. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted May 2018

Mullinuex Olerasay Straw Wine NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s non-vintage Straw Wine is fashioned from grapes hung in trees for three weeks. The key is to concentrate the acidity which doubles from the pressing number, plus sweetness that is off the charts. No rain in the picking season means no fear of rot. The use is of chenin blanc from the same vineyard as Kloof Street and it’s amazing how the same grapes can deliver such a different expression from the same place but with the simplest adjustment of winemaking methodology. An amazing look from a healthy 14 barrels made, so distinct as a dessert wine, with pineapple, lemon preserve and apple purée. Bold and delicious. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted May 2018

A little bit of this, a little bit of that. A little bit of schist, a little bit of granite. Amazing vintage variation, from ethereal to powerful. Singular @mullineuxwines

Mullineux Syrah 2016, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s Syrah is sourced from several different vineyards around the Swartland, from granite, schisty slate (structure and tannin), plus the mid-palate giver, from lighter, porous soil suited to arenicolous vines. Here is a complex weave of geology, barrel usage and ultimately textures. There is a meaty char but also a floral, violet potpourri. A wine with a lot of integrity and generosity. From a vintage widely considered fantastic everywhere, moderate in every respect; cool, rain, sun, wide picking window. Easy. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2018

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

A few wines from the PIWOSA visit, June 2017

Paul Cluver Riesling Close Encounter 2015, Elgin Valley, South Africa (Agent, $23.99, WineAlign)

Paul Cluver’s Close Encounter is a matter of remarkable contrast elevated by texture so that sugar and acidity are seamlessly meshed, gathering both apple orchard and mango grove into one sweet and sour package. Channels its inner Rheinhessen like no other southern hemisphere riesling but does so with pure Elgin elegance and individuality. Most excellent riesling.  Last Tasted June 2017

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  hobbsandcompany  @paulcluverwines  @amargarethobbs  @paulcluver  @HobbsandCo

De Grendel Op Die Berg Pinot Noir 2014, Elgin Valley, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

“The Latch” in Dutch it means, where once settlers used the hill as a beacon for navigation. A crunchy, chewy and soil driven pinot noir, so bloody terroir driven, as if the bleed of the earth wells in the bottle and glass. There is fineness to the tannin but more than this acidity that defines the structure, or drives it and leaves you sipping on repeat. Cool summer nights do the savoury, spicy accents. Clearly this piece of Elgin was meant to raise pinot noir. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June 2017   degrendelwines  churchillcellars  @degrendelwines  @imbibersreport   @degrendelwines  @imbibersreport

Exceptional lads of South African wine take Toronto @chabrolto led by fearless leader Will ~ @WOSACanada @WOSA_Za

Seven producers, seven varietal wines

This tasting was led by master South African messenger Will Predhomme at Chabrol, Toronto’s smallest space and largest kept secret in the hands of Niall McCotter and Chef Doug Penfold.

First up was Sean Griffiths introducing Mulderbosch, based in Stellenbosch, “the centre of the universe,” He spoke of how South Africa has a long history of winemaking and Mulderbosch started in 1659. Looking forward to 2019 that is 360 years, a perfectly symmetrical number, of degrees, coming around full circle.

Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (933424, $17.95, WineAlign)

The 2017 is the 25th vintage and “we’re always looking for cool-climate fruit.” notes Sean Griffiths. Fermented with its lees in the search for a fuller, richer style. It is surely round, rich and finish-able. A wine of great heritage, for itself and South Africa as a bigger entity but it’s not a replica of anything, least of all “old world.” Hints at a subtlety of weight, pungency, citrus, thiols, vegetation and flint. It’s 100 per cent sauvignon blanc, more passion than pamplemousse, more fruit than mousse. Touched but not bound by tradition. Maritime salinity finishes the spirit. Everything is under control. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018   mulderboschvineyards  abconwine  @MulderboschV  @AbconWine  @Mulderbosch  Abcon Wine

Next up, Johannes De Wet from pioneering chardonnay specialist De Wetshof in Roberston, an area of limestone presence and the context of that rock is important. All estate work; farming, winemaking and bottling. First regional planting of chardonnay was in the late 1970s and then in the early 1980s. Johannes’ dad was a chardonnay smuggler.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Unwooded Chardonnay 2017, WO Robertson, South Africa (419622, $16.95, WineAlign)

From four vineyards on clay with high limestone content, and high pH soils. Citrus abounds, all around, first lemon peel, and then grapefruit. Lots of lees (110 days) but unoaked with the end result being a desired weight. The source is 80 kms from the sea, a place of wind and cold nights, not surprisingly a great area for bubbly. Limestone Hill is a ridge, a step up to the mountain. This chardonnay is striking, sharp, full of energy and then calm, so drinkable. Crunchy and pure, honest, transparent and in its way, just perfect. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018  dewetshofwines  glencairnwines    @glencairnwines  @dewetshofwines  @GCwines

Marthinus van der Vyver is Country Manager, North America, Ken Forrester Wines. Ken began with five restaurants in Stellenbosch and one day he saw an auction sign and three hours later, boom he walked away with a winery. If you have met or just heard of Ken Forrester, you know he is a force not just in wine, but a figure larger than life and hugely responsible for putting South African wines on the world’s stage. Partly because of his work to establish a premium level Chenin Blanc but also because of a tireless ethic, an entrepreneurial spirit and certainly his ambassadorial work. Forrester is a team player in the way a Football or Rugby captain rallies his teammates, his club and his country. I’ve had the pleasure of a four-hour tasting session with Ken in Stellenbosch and that interaction is indelibly stamped in my memory forever. Great guy whom Marthinus has the pleasure of calling Dad. He is Ken’s son-in-law and is responsible for taking care of the most important treasures in his life.

Ken Forrester Roussanne 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

The 2016 is the third vintage of this wine, from 39 year-old vines. ‘Tis a risk-reward white held at bay, away from the safety of blending, of barref fermentation, and time spent in 80 per cent used 400L barrels. The vineyard is on the second last farm before you reach the Heldeberg, where hot days give way to late afternoon sea breezes. These are 15 of 60 roussanne hectares in Stellenbosch. Striking aromatics, a flinty, saline and pulsating white with presence and a stand up demand to be noticed. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2018  fmcwine  noble_estates  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates  Ken Forrester  Ken Forrester  @NobleEstates

Stephen Joubert is viticulturalist at DGB. “My passion is to understand South African terroir and to figure out what grows best and where.” Ocean is the thing, heavy soils, cold winters, dry summers, sea breeze influence, to keep acidity and freshness. We happened to have been in Sicily at the same time back in May. I’m curious to see what grape varieties gave him ideas for what to do back home in The Cape.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (12724, $29.95, WineAlign)

This Bellingham Estate chenin blanc from old vines watched over by viticulturist Stephen Joubert carries an indelible stamp of richness, from that vine age and the leesy style. From granite and weathered shales, a minor note of reduction climbs over top of the rich, chic, stylish and full fruit and while it seems like the wood is very much in play it’s really more lees than anything that terms the texture and renders the weight. Old vines provide the density and structure to allow wood to take part in an ambitious attempt to create longevity. The locked in    spirit will go a long way to seeing some developed fruition but there may be a bit too much extraction so an oxidative quality might creep in before the wood has fully settled and integrated. Should work out well in the mid-term. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2018   bellingham_wines  dionysuswines  @Bellinghamwines  @DionysusWines   @bellinghamwines  @DionysusWinesTO

Danie de Kock presents Spier from Stellenbosch, going strong since 1692, always family owned, most recently purchased in 1993 and since 1996 Johannes Smith is the viticulturalist. Using the word “Signature” on their labels infers or might be what the chef wants to be known for. You should recognize varietal and get what you expect from that name on the bottle. In Spier’s case merlot should be a grape that gives you a great big hug.

Spier Signature Merlot 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (454827, $15.95, WineAlign)

Spier’s Signature Merlot 2016 is raised on alluvial soils, some estate, some purchased. “We’re trying to show a good solid wine.” Receives seven to eight months of dance floor wood for the fruit to express its moves, of 3rd and 4th passage. The best selling South African merlot in the LCBO happens to be the only one. Acidity and tartness at good height and level while reduction is lower than low. Breadth is a matter that is chalky, in chocolate guise and far from reduced, cooked out, even with just a touch of honest pyrazine. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018   spierwinefarm  @SpierWineFarm  @SylvestreWSON  @spierwinefarm  Stephen Marentette

Francois Bezuidenhout from MAN family wines explains how the estate’s seven varietal wines are each equipped with an Afrikaans name. The vintner started out with three friends looking to make everyday varietal wines in 2001, as an anagram after their wives, Marie, Annette and Nicky. MAN. Chenin is the signature white.

Man Vintners Shiraz Skaapveld 2016, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (71332, $14.95, WineAlign)

Named Skaapveld, meaning “sheep’s field” this shiraz is a spicy, deep plum and raspberry red fruit red, a touch reductive and rusty-firm-grippy-transparent. Fruit is essentially from Paarl (with also some out of Stellenbosch), on decomposed granite and clay, dry-farmed and not the usual irrigation because of water retentive soils. Liquid chalky, talcy, oozing of chocolate and a shot of espresso but always returns to the red fruit. Mediterranean, black olive mixed with the chocolate. Peppery rotundo and lovely really. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018   manfamilywines  vonterra  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @MANFamilyWines  @vonterra

Murray Barlow manages the winemaking at the 880 hectare property, larger than Pomerol, from an estate who’s first wine was made in 1692. In the early 1800s it was split in two, one purchased by John X Merriman. Rustenberg was one of the first to re-plant vineyards after phylloxera. The pioneer owned it until 1926 and was also the last Prime Minister previous to modern day South Africa. In 1941 Peter and Pamela Barlow bought the estate. Their son Simon took over the running of the farm in 1987. Winemaker Barlow represents the third generation of his family to make wine at Rustenberg wines on the foot of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Murray is the vini, father Simon is the viti. The Barlows have been at Rustenberg for 77 years: the longest period any one family has owned the farm during its well over 300 years old term. It’s a new world estate and like many others is  much older than the Boredelaise.”

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2014, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (707323, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is from altitudes between 250-500m, of deep rich red granite, high iron soils at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountains. Always 100 per cent estate fruit, merlot on south facing slopes which are cooler spots and then cabernet from those leading west (for afternoon sun). Fruit that thrives on cooling influences but no frost or hail and including beneficial breezes. A wet season preceding three successive drought vintages. Wow in that it’s so very Bordeaux and that’s saying alot because so many varietal or regional ode South African blends are not like their old world ancestors. Here all five Bordelais varieties work together, see plenty of barrel (20 months) and bottle time (one year) for it all to come together. Tobacco, olive, chocolate, classic Bordeaux stylistically and in the hands of a true South African pioneer, right along with the Meerlust Rubicon. Best at 10-15 years but can go 30. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2018   rustenbergwines  woodmanws  @RustenbergWines  @WoodmanWS  Rustenberg Wine Estate  @WoodmanWS

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Sottimano a Sottimano

It was back in April when Bernard asked John and I to meet for a quick tasting because Elena Sottimano was in town. Several decades ago her father Rino Sottimano began his nebbiolo journey with just a few hectares but those precious blocks were in the Cottá Cru. It suffices to say that it was more than luck but also the Piemontese version of land meeting human intervention that have brought these wines to the pinnacle they are found to be at today.

Sottimano is the 18 hectare, Neive in Barbaresco project of Rino Sottimano, his wife Anna and children, Andrea and Elena. These are some of the most human, understood, necessary, gratifying and satisfying Piemontese wines you are ever going to taste. They make you think, smile, wink, cry and sigh. They speak of the vineyard and how properly they are treated. The nebbioli get under your skin, teach you what you need to know and tell you that everything is alright. They are good friends, therapists and if need be, they can be festaioli.

Elena led us through delightful dolcetto, ante-brooding barbera, worth twice the price Langhe and then six Barbaresco from four outstanding Cru; Pajoré, Fausoni, Cottà and Currá. Thanks to Le Sommelier, Sottimano’s Ontario agent and Taverna Mercatto, for hosting. Here are my notes on the nine wines.

John Szabo M.S., Godello and Elena Sottimano

Sottimano Dolcetto d’Alba DOC Bric Del Salto 2016, Piemonte, Italy (330738, $22.95, WineAlign)

From a vintage certified as classical for a modern and grounded dolcetto style in the vein of 2004 and 2010. This from the first vineyard planted by Elena’s father in 1975 and 41 years later turns out a purity of fruit for one of the most important modern vintages in Piemonte. Warm days, cold nights, easy and simple work in the winery, so overall just perfect conditions. Simply put this is found to be rich, salty, fresh and bright. Bric del Salto is a fantasy name, the “jump or peak of the hill,” made up for this combing of three vineyards. It’s curative, made ideal with hard crumbly cheese and a bowl of red sauce pasta plus a slice of pizza. And this bottle. Rendered only in stainless steel, fresh and perfect. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  az.agr.sottimano ElenaSottimano  @AzAgrSottimano  @LeSommelierWine  @AziendaAgricolaSottimano  Elena Sottimano  @LeSommelierWine</

Sottimano Barbera d’Alba DOC Superiore Pairolero 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $33.95, WineAlign)

Barbera’s is a similar vinification, 25 days like Barbareso, a long maceration, bringing the magical, natural cure and understated barbera skin affection. Sees a small (10) per cent of new French wood plus second, third and fourth passage barrels, eight to 10 months sur lie and natural malolactic. There is nothing so wound, tart, tang and gently sour like this, in fact it’s perfect for barbera. Red fruit perfect, no darkness and no brooding. Vines are in San Cristoforo and Basarin, on sandy clay soil, keeping it mineral, salty, long and ultimately classic. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (454017, $32.95, WineAlign)

Langhe Nebbiolo is from the Basarin Vineyard, not used for single-vineyard Barbaresco because the vines are only 15-20 years old, planted in 2000. It is aged for one year in oak, eight to 10 months sur lie. Elena Sottimano admits that perhaps their fruit will be committed to Basarin as they age, but for now they are separated or if you will, de-classified. There is a cool, mentholated streak running through, with a particular spice and though it used to be 25 per cent new barrel, starting in 2015, it’s a mere 10 per cent new. The lees is so apparent, in texture but also in the way the wine knows itself from birth and doesn’t need time to announce who and what it is. Chalky and tannic in a greater ionic way, prosodic of two short followed by two long syllables, architectural in the way nebbiolo must be. At this price and labeled Langhe this from Sottimano slings more pleasure and as much structure as at least half af all Barbaresco twice its cost. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018

John Szabo M.S. and Elena Sottimano at Tavrena Mercatto

Sottimano Barbaresco Pajoré DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $103.95, WineAlign)

Pajoré materializes off pure limestone soil at a hovering 380m of altitude. It’s really just a name this Cru, dialectical, as is its nebbiolo. Sees two years in 220L barrels made by François Frères, La Tonnellerie who receive a sample of your wines before deciding what barrels to send, if any. Time on lees is 20 months and there is no racking. This is pure nebbiolo in requiem of zero to next to no sulphur. It gets neither more natural nor more understated and exacting as this. The wine knows itself like a great human perfectly comfortable in its own skin and it might live to 2040 without experiencing one single moment of stress. It is truly a remarkable condition of the human meeting vine equating to wine spirit. Pajoré is a Cru worthy of a word to describe what you would get by combining ambiente with intervento umano. As in Climat, but Italian. Tannins are as formidable and elegant as there can dialectically be. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Fausoni DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $103.95, WineAlign)

Fausoni is a small one point five hectare plot of sand and clay only six kilometres away from Pajoré. The vines range in age from 50 to 70 years old and there is certainly more depth and richness though contrastively speaking, more freshness and open aromatic perfume. There is also a verdant note and then this taut fixture of body and architecture in structure through the overall feeling. Deeper and more pressing, an antithetical nebbiolo, intense and perhaps not what you would expect. Likely a matter of sub-strata, of mystery and enigma. Pajoré just seems to intuit its character while Fausoni will need to feel, shift and oscillate its way through life. As with Pajoré the wood is retrofitted by La Tonnellerie François Frères, surfeiting Fausoni for a life more passionate and hard-lived if not quite as calm and relaxing as the one enjoyed by Pajoré. Top quality nebbiolo irregardless of style or fashion. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted April 2018

Cottá Azienda Agricola Sottimano cru spoiled by Elena Sottimano and Le Sommelier, Wine Agency ~ going vertical with Barbaresco and John Szabo — at Taverna Mercatto.

Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $103.95, WineAlign)

From the two point eight hectare vineyard with 45 year-old vines, Cottà receives the same élévage as Pajoré and Fausoni, on skins for 25 days and in Tonnellerie François Frères for 24 months. Fifteen per cent are new and the remainder of the barrels have been used up to four times. It’s like a combination of the other Cru, their best of both worlds in symbiosis, deep and exacting, comfortable and with a structure that never quits or breaks down. It’s unrelenting, with aromatic exoticism, power, precision, more fragrance and balance. The tannic building blocks are exceptional, verging into unparalleled. Drink 2022-2045.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà DOC 2013, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $178.95, WineAlign)

A confounding vintage for thinking about drinking in 2018 because it is simply too young but there can be no discounting the acumen of restraint and the wisdom imparted. This from a Cru that knows full well what it will give. The 1970s planted vines add up to a shade under three hectares, southwest facing, in delivery of energetic red fruit, sweet herbs and that always present Sottimano cure. Cottà is the estate’s great constant, with the most layers needing to be husked for its kernels of wisdom and pearls of pulchritude to be revealed. Patience will be your virtue if you can just wait for the reward. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà DOC 2010, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $234.95, WineAlign)

While tasting through Pajoré, Fausoni, Currá and a mini-vertical of Cottá with Elena Sottimano it is here for the first time that some development appears in a wine. This glimpse into what might happen with their Barbaresco may only be a minor crack in the oasis but it begins to fall away from the curative, tannic intensity into something stretching its limbs towards the ethereal. I can ruminate with this nebbiolo swirling around in my mouth while I wonder how far along we are or have come. But it comes with knowing that no matter how much distance we walk there is still a marathon to run. There is this perfect wonderwall of wild cherry spinning like vinyl liqueur over the cheeks, tongue and gums, refreshing and working its magical fruit dance up to the edges of my nerves. “I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me. And after all,” you’re Sottimano. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Currá DOC 2013, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $178.95, WineAlign)

Only 200 bottles produced from this single hectare Cru of vines edging beyond 55 years-old. The vinification process mimics that of Pajoré, Fausoni and Cottà but Currá remains in bottle for an additional six months because it is special and asks for this. There is humour in that minor extension because opening this Cru from such a recent vintage any earlier than seven or eight years into its life will deprive you of its magic and potential charms. The smell of the sea is in Currá, fossil shells briny and salty, certainly mineral. It’s measurable, quantifiable and verifiable. It’s there in the taste. The reaction is more than one of epiphany, it’s a revelation. No, in fact it’s more than that. If for a moment it is explainable it then moves on and flees, remaining out of grasp. Damn you Currá. Drink 2021-2045.  Tasted April 2018

Good to go!

Godello

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