B.C. Wine part two: Eat, drink, love Vancouver

Stanley Park beach

as seen on canada.com

L’Abattoir, 217 Carrall St., Gastown, Vancouver, BC V6B 2J2 (604) 568-1701

Some restaurant experiences leave a mark. A night at L’Abattoir inks an indelible, permanent tattoo. Located in the heart of Gastown between Gaoler’s Mews and Blood Alley, the buzzing Vancouver resto is self-described as “French influenced West Coast fare.” My take was this:

To be fair, perspective is often limited to a single night’s snapshot but the staff and service want not for honing. Palate expanding cocktails break ice. Ministration pleases in perfect pace and pitch. Post-minimalist wine list dotted by just enough global diversity and local accent indulges comfort zones. Sommelier Robert Herman, while busy in occupation and clearly gliding confidently within his domain, did so right by me. First by pouring a tiny lot, rare Okanagan and then a monopole white Burgundy, punching so far above its pedigree.

Chef Lee Cooper’s canvasses are like tectonic, subterranean plates. Each dug in beneath the crust, reaching deeper layers, uncovering a treasure here, a fossil there. Memorable and sublime experience. Mean it.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
L’Abattoir kitchen

Domaine Michelot ‘Clos de Montmeix’ Monopole 2011 (wine-searcher.com, $28.60) from the heart of Meursault village is enervetic and yes, Meursault-ish in all the right ways. Lifted by layers of limestone and grounded by clay earth. Rich, refined and refreshing vixen, “gorgeous and alone, face to face.” Impossible Burgundy.  91

PHOTO: Michael Godel
L’Abattoir Steelhead and Potato Salad

Poplar Grove Viognier Haynes Creek 2012 ($14/68) made exclusively for L’Abattoir (45 cases) is resplendent as an orchard of orange blossom. Harnessed intensity, suggesting Condrieu but expressing Okanagan inward and outward. Sweet, fleshy fruit mottled with aka or edible tree lichen as of the Ponderosa Pine. Savoury quality in Viognier really ties the flavours and textures of salty, chewy, crunchy and piquant together.  91  @poplargrovewine

Upon departing L’Abattoir, I found Gastown in the crowded throes of the final laps of the Grand Prix, Global Relay. Nothing like a bit of high-level cycling to send you home spinning.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix

Cross the Burrard Street Bridge or cycle around False Creek, past Granville Island and find yourself in the quieter climes of Kitsilano. Kits Beach buzzes on a beautiful day and just in case there’s trouble, the fuzz are deployed in position.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Vancouver Police, Kitsilano Beach

Fable Kitchen, 1944 W 4th Ave Vancouver, BC V6J 1M7, (604) 732-1322

PHOTO: Fable Restaurant
Fable Restaurant, farm to table, top, and Fable ‘Canned Tuna’

The name forms an abridge from farm to table, coined by Top Chef Canada contestant Trevor Bird. Enter Fable, the Kitsilano buy local, serve fresh, keep it chill eatery. Bird’s vision? “Sourcing local product and delivering great flavors in a fun and non-pretentious setting.”

B.C.’s wineries are more than well represented, thanks to Bird, Kathy Schleyer and Ron MacGillivray. The wine card affords ample opportunity to sample the Okanagan Valley. ‘Canned Tuna’ not so much deconstructs as coddles Albacore, to be playful, sweet, soft shale lifted by necessary Maldon Salt.

From left: Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2012, Pentâge Winery Gamay Noir 2012, Intersection Milepost Red 2011, and Liquidity Pinot Noir 2011

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2012 ($18.49) from the sandy gravel soils of Tinhorn Creek Vineyard (Golden Mile) is 100% cold fermented in stainless steel tanks. Aglow in bright, band twanging ripe orchard aromas, makes you want to climb a tree and pick forbidden fruit. Intense flavours “gave my heart a throb, to the bottom of my feet.” Over delivers with the full intent to solicit early consumption. Sends you Up on Cripple Creek.  90  @TinhornCreek  @SandraOldfield

A most excellent appetizer I am convinced could offer repeated pleasure, once a week for a year is the “Spaghetti and Meatballs.” A study in luxe, calme et volupté. Duck, tender Tagliatelle and harmonious demi-glace demands a full basket of bread.

PHOTO: Fable Restaurant
Fable Spaghetti and Meatballs

Pentâge Winery Gamay Noir 2012 ($20) carries cherry in necessary Cru Beaujolais style spice and adds even more leagues of depth to the duck. A faculty of tobacco deepens the stratum, down to earth. Most righteous #GoGamayGo.  89  @PentageWinery

Intersection Milepost Red 2011 ($20) is 100% Merlot (Estate Grown) from Oliver, B.C. Impressive, direct and adroit red from such a young operation. A feeling of fine, friable tannin intersects ripe, erubescent maraschino.  88

Liquidity Pinot Noir 2011 ($24.90) is the pride of Okanagan Falls and despite a cool growing season gives fully and completely of itself. Relucent Pinot, working for Pickerel and for Slow Cooked Spring Salmon. Vivid violet mauve in bloom, approachable and delectable.  88  @liquiditywines

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Lynn Canyon, British Columbia

A great deal of eating and drinking needs to be followed by some quiet time in quiet settings. A morning in Lynn Canyon and an afternoon at North Vancouver’s Deep Cove does the trick.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Deep Cove, British Columbia

Good to go!

B.C. wine: From Vancouver to your table

Vancouver’s Blood Alley PHOTO: SINIDEX/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

On a recent West Coast swing I sampled wines from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley without ever leaving the city of Vancouver. A bicycle was all I needed to find Salt Tasting Room in Blood Alley. A couple of telephone calls to L’Abattoir and Fable Kitchen quickly and effortlessly landed me in the wine program hands of Robert Herman and Kathy Schleyer/Ron MacGillivray, all ready and willing to introduce me to a thing or two about B.C. wine. The Okanagan Valley’s indelible stamp is now etched upon my wild yeast, fermented brain.

PHOTO: Michael Godel English Bay Inukshuk

A well-known California wine writer recently lashed out against the city’s wine scene with this soul-searching, pharisaic headline. British Columbia: Okay Wines, Retarded Wine Culture. I feel for the author, who in his own right is possessive of a tremendous palate, for he could not locate a knowledgeable sommelier or a decent glass of B.C. wine anywhere in the city. But I suppose I shouldn’t blame him for never having solicited any advice from Anthony GismondiDJ Kearney, Jessica Bryans, Rhys Pender, Treve Ring, Frank Haddad, Kurtis Kolt, Andrea Vescovi, Lindsay Ferguson, Jay Whiteley, Barbara and Iain Phillip, Mark Taylor and Lynn Coulthard. Just a few names for next time. Nor can I hold him accountable for never having made it out to Penticton, or Kelowna. Two weeks later the Wine Blogger’s Conference in Penticton remained surreptitiously out of reach. I too am guilty of not being able to plan a side trip to the Okanagan during my quick western jaunt and yet I had no trouble unearthing several watering holes with more than a willingness to keep me in the B.C. wine loop. “It ain’t no big thing but it’s growin’.”

PHOTO: Michael Godel Second Beach, English Bay

Unlike Ontario, British Columbia has finally begun to emerge from the dark ages of wine legislation and pre-prohibition rules. Thanks to MP Dan Albas and the #freemygrapes movement, Ontario wineries (and others in Canada) can now ship their bottles to B.C., free from persecution. Private wine shops like Kitsilano Wine Cellar have begun to allot space to Ontario but the choices are few and far between. Blue Note agency’s Patrick Ellis is working towards more free movement of wine from Ontario to B.C.  Despite the prevailing tailwinds, shipping wines west to east remains taboo. Christy Clark will be handing out B.C. wines to fellow premiers at this week’s annual meeting. The ball is in your court Kathleen Wynne. People are talking.

The LCBO is so un-flush with B.C. wines the back-up is downright constipating. The monopoly threatens, the wall’s eastern bloc shows few faults and still B.C. wines (privately) flow east. Why? It’s the right thing to do. My table is set and ready for B.C. wine to be written all over it.

PHOTO: Michael Godel Summer table

Here are notes on eight Okanagan Valley wines tasted at Salt and on a hotel balcony overlooking phantasmagorical English Bay.

Salt Tasting Room, 45 Blood Alley, Gastown, Vancouver, BC V6B 0C4 (604) 633-1912

It’s 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, I’m in unfamiliar territory and Colin greets me with a turntable and Another Side of Bob Dylan. I know I’ve come to the right place. A half hour in I am turned over to Sommelier and General Manager Kyle Gartlan-Close, clearly a pragmatist when it comes to the wines of British Columbia. I sense he’s still waiting for the renaissance to happen and the local wines on his list must adhere to what are clearly his high standards of quality. I tasted 15 wines over a 90-minute stretch at the tasting bar. Not all were hits but Salt was clearly the portal to crawl through and cross over into Vancouver’s wine scene. All prices are B.C. at the winery, unless otherwise noted.

From left: Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut 2010, Thornhaven Tortured Grape 2012, Pentâge Winery Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2011, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011, 8th Generation Vineyard Riesling 2012, Synchromesh Pinot Noir Rosé ‘Palo Solara’ 2011, and Joie Farm Pinot Blanc 2012

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut 2010 ($35) at 11:00 am on the nose spins effortlessly out of the vinyl gate along with Dylan’s The Girl From North Country. No shrinking violet, this inaugural Brut, méthode Champenoise sparkler. Straining yeast, naphtha and prickling pear go crazy in acerbic pith. No Peggy Day neither, though “she stole my poor heart away.” Score one for Godello’s cellar.  90  @tantaluswine

Thornhaven Tortured Grape 2012 ($17.90) melds a kitchen sink of Okanagan Chardonnay, Riesling and Muscat. Slides down the pipe with edacious oomph, in a good way. The label’s eerie graphic might shock but this is no hollow or shallow white, but rather a hallow ode to blending with great floral intensity.  But, may I ask, who crop-thins with a scythe?  87  @ThornhavenWines

Pentâge Winery Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2011 ($20) is classically styled white Bordeaux divided between 65 per cent SB and 35 Sem, though it’s true to its roots and rocks, speaking uniquely of its place. Glides coolly and reggae rhythmically in cohorts with Bob’s Kaya, is perfumed by humid sea salt and oyster shell. SB imparts near tropical fruit and Sem brings terrific texture. Goes to show you “can’t run away from yourself.”  88  @PentageWinery

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011 (338434, $27.95, B.C. 732958, $21.90) from Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay sees minimal (15 percent new French) oak influence and while there is a ripe coconut tang, a sense of creamy butter and a spike of citrus, there really isn’t too much of anything at all. Tasted this fresh Okanagan a second time in Vancouver, alongside Another Side of Bob Dylan at Salt Tasting Room, I decided I could drink a barge full of the stuff. “All I really want to do, is, baby, be friends with you.”  90  @poplargrovewine

8th Generation Vineyard Riesling 2012 ($20.90) from Okanagan Falls bolts rapido from the gate with the ripest fruit (pear, plum) and though there is citrus, it’s really quite semi-dry. At 12.9 per cent alcohol and 24gr/L of residual sugar this may as well be Mosel Trocken Spätlese. Fantastic presence and awesome winemaking from Bernd and Stefanie Schales. Got me by the vines and will be on my table. 92  @8th_Generation

Synchromesh Pinot Noir Rosé ’Palo Solara’ 2011 ($18.90) from an east-Kelowna vineyard is made using the traditional saignée method. The result is a cottony texture and clinquant cantaloupe hue. An alkali, dry Provence notion is raised dutifully by bright but savoury fruit notes, like rhubarb and watermelon. Only 150 cases produced and true to serious Rosé everywhere.  90 @SynchromeshWine

Okanagan Crush Pad Gamay (on Tap) rolls melodically around the mouth in fresh fruit flavours so it must be Piano Man time. Solid black cherry core, good extraction, simple structure and no hard lines combine for basic but beneficial keg effect. “La la la, di da da. La la, di da da da dum.”  87  @OKCrushPad

Joie Farm Pinot Blanc 2012 ($23) found at Kitsilano Wine Cellar elevates a yeoman’s grape to mountain heights. Okanagan acidity injects life to do away with “useful” and score a notch for necessary. Like Gamay, Pinot Blanc should receive more planting consideration in B.C.  Zesty, invigorating and refreshing. A tumbler of delectation when matched with a view of English Bay.  89  @JoieFarm

Good to go!

Gimme Shelter Island, Fenway Park and North Fork wine

Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park, Boston, Mass.
June 27, 2013
Photo: Michael Godel

as seen on canada.com

There is nothing quite like a good road trip. No matter the intended destination, a journey through heartlands, heaving cities and bucolic paths stir, enrich and develop the final stew. A roadhouse in Syracuse, N.Y. The Blue Jays at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass. The Cross Island Ferry to Orient, N.Y. Shelter Island, N.Y. Sag Harbor, Montauk, Amagansett, East Hampton and Wainscot, N.Y. The East Island Golf Club and Greenport, N.Y.

All stops contribute towards what will eventually become a wine region’s interest in laying up the riches of the mind. The eastern tip of Long Island mesmerizes as a sandy headland of bluff and dune begging into the Atlantic. Shelter Island is equally if not doubly halcyon in pace and though tiny in mass, seems enveloped in rainforest-like green and canopy. I traveled across and back, circumnavigated its perimeter and sat motionless on its beaches for hours. Time standing still.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Shelter Island

Though other visits on the North Fork Long Island wine trail offered a taste of local flavour, the exception and lost time came from a small family operation in Southold. Here are my notes on nine heart struck wines not yet widely discovered.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Michael and Christine

Mattebella Vineyards

46005 Route 25 (Main Rd)
Southold, NY 11971

North Fork wines have yet to storm cellars and tables beyond metropolitan New York, but it’s not for lack of quality or concupiscence. Case in point Mattebella Vineyards. Drive up the gravel driveway, turn past the herb garden, overgrown fennocchio and try to figure out which quaint little building is the tasting room. Crawl inside, pull up a bench and spend two hours sampling, contemplating and discussing with Christine Tobin what just may be the least known, most complex set of wines you would least likely expect to discover. Walk away feeling a part of the famiglia. Cottage industry incarnate. “We’re so chill here” says Chris. Goosebumps.

Christine Tobin holds the fort while Florida to Southold and back commuter husband/winemaker Mark is away on business. The couple purchased the 1997 planted vineyard in 2005. Their photo resides in that dictionary entry titled “labour of love.” Low density, French existentialist-style, 2200 plants per acre viticulture cursed by an oft-inhospitable, maritime climate is what Chris calls a “lottery ticket” of vines. Chardonnay not to be considered as Mâconnais or Meursault. Bordeaux blends not to be measured by either bank of the Gironde. These wines are expressions of this terroir, this spit of sandy soil a stone’s hurl from the Sound. The Magic of Findhorn.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Mattebella Vineyards

Famiglia Chardonnay 2009 ($17) is the child of a wet and cold growing season yet composes itself with help from a persistent toast quotient that speaks of new oak. Tart green apple and juicy acidity beg for fatty fare; braised pork belly, buttery, braised rabbit or rillettes of either. Tree fruit brings game, brightly, like tangerine.  88

Famiglia Chardonnay 2010 ($19) spent 18 months in (20 per cent) new oak barrel.  Warmer, tame and propitious with a squeeze of lemon and a dusting of scorched earth. Butternut, in squash and roasted almond as if it were waving to Sebastopol, but only to shout, “hey, we are North Fork Chardonnay.” 90 

Reserve Chardonnay 2010 ($25) squared up the new oak barrel ferment for a butter and marmalade spread so rich and continental I could drink it for breakfast. The toast meets oceanic salinity intimates spa mineral, beach shell and fine stone. Deft winemaking has given this absolute steal structure and length.  91

Rosé 2011 ($18) seeks dry Provence and as far as the savoury strawberry/rhubarb is concerned, in that it succeeds. “A little more stark than in ’12,” concedes Chris, but the length follows a tine and it should never be envisaged as simple and sugary. Amazing what Merlot can concede here for Rosé.  88

Rosé 2012 ($18) is a fleshier, rounder style, savoury still and with more Cab Franc bell pepper. The rhubarb gives way to strawberry gelée and the complexity quotient warms up with a crumble of chèvre.  87

Famiglia Red NV ($18) serves a consistency of style for table wine purpose. A union from many plots and clones that sees some oak and more stainless. Raspberry, currants and tobacco smoke stand out. Perfectly reasonable Vino di Tavola.  86

Old World Blend 2007 ($35) murmurs in melodious tones flecked by iron and anise, like tender-aged IGT. From 667 cases, with black cherry, charcoal and plums rolling away. Tannins have a few lashes left in them. There is something Henry of Pelham ’07 Cab-Merlot about this Matebella. Heading soon to toffee and über relaxed REM sleep. A red to share with “a perfect circle of acquaintances and friends.” What the tasting room felt like on this day.  89

Old World Blend 2008 ($30) produced 489 cases of gorgeous, lush, velvety crimson fruit despite the wet vintage. Whatever underground anxiety may once have unsettled this Lou meets Nico meritage is now long gone. Deft winemaking here. When you’ve got Merlot, you make Merlot. When you’ve got Bordeaux grapes, you make Bordeaux. But this is pure North Fork. “I’ll be your mirror, reflect what you are, in case you don’t know.”  91

Old World Blend 2009 ($35) is the child of a tempestuous vintage, marred by a pittance of fruit set, no need for any drop and therefore only 220 cases produced. This one’s got the funk, smoking coal, pipe tobacco and licorice. Tight, focused and with a quick dissertation heard from the Petit Verdot. Tobin’s consistency of style shows once again, despite the rigours of fighting inconsistent vintages.  92

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Island’s End Golf Club, Greenport, N.Y.

Good to go!

Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

Malivoire Wine Company

as seen on canada.com

My skies of late have espied no dark clouds and no rain. While torrential storms and unprecedented flooding hit Toronto last week I was fortunate to be basking in six days of Vancouver sun. I returned home to those same kind of skies, only now the mercury has climbed north of 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity well beyond the perspiration line.

There are two things you need to beat this kind of summer heat. Wine and wine. Start with Rosés and crisp, refreshing, aromatic whites. My current release recommendations also include a few reds (for the grill) and most are so hot that you’d better act fast because blink and they will be gone.

The second is to seek out Chardonnay. Cool, cool Chardonnay. This weekend I will be gathering with wine lovers making a pilgrimage to Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula to celebrate Cool Chardonnay, three vinifera and exceptional cuisine packed days (July 19-21, 2013) in my backyard’s great wine region. The international cool climate celebration is known as #i4c2013, an unprecedented gathering “spent exploring seductive shades of the most planted grape on earth.” The event’s mantra is simple. “40,000 acres can’t be wrong.” Cool Chardonnay will be three days of wine tasting and food pairing bent on altering and furthering the perception of the grape and just how incredible it can be in the hands of the cool climate winemaker. More than 120 wines from 60-plus wineries worldwide will be represented, including the greats from Niagara, Prince Edward County and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

To celebrate the re-birth of cool, seek out any of these suggested wines and raise a toast to the cool climate winemaker, the gift of their land and the fine Chardonnay made by their hands.

Clockwise from left: Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011, Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012, Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012, Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007, Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009, and Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011

The Chardonnays

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (318303, $16.95, B.C. 230961, $18.99) intensifies in juicy, bright, nearly candied fruit cut by sour patch and blanched nut. Clean, cool Chardonnay and right on. My earlier note, from ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine) is the unoaked result of aromatic Clone 809 combed from the heavier clay-based soils from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the silty, mineral rich soils from Seven and Seven Vineyard. Tropical, strutting stunner with “a thousand lips I would love to taste.” Tell Ms. Musqué if you can’t rock me, nothing can.  90  @MBosc

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011 (338434, $27.95, B.C. 732958, $21.90) sees minimal (15 percent new French) oak influence and while there is a ripe coconut tang, a sense of creamy butter and a spike of citrus, there really isn’t too much of anything at all. Tasted this fresh Okanagan a second time in Vancouver, alongside Another Side of Bob Dylan at Salt Tasting Room, I decided I could drink a barge full of the stuff. “All I really want to do, is, baby, be friends with you.”  90  @poplargrovewine

Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay 2010 (345819, $44.95,) is so sumptuous, presumptuous and precocious. Ahead of the curve, effortless and full of 20 mile mineral length. The ripe green apple never quits. My earlier note from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94  @Bachelder_wines

The Rosés

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012 (39974, $16.95) achieves pink Pinot nirvana by way of foxy strawberry, vanilla crème, and orange rind. Peppery red currants bring balance, some sizzle and spice.  88  @Winemakersboots

Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012 (71209, $17.95) is the hot weather cold maker, big in ripe, strawberry fruit, citrus and red apple. Imagine a glass’ glistening condensation by the seawall on a hot afternoon, the wine deliquescing like dew, Hemingway open at page one.  89

Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012 (323386, $15.95) goes classic holy trinity Midi in Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Creamy, frosty and savoury in strawberry, rhubarb, balmy tarragon and shrubbery. Finishes with salinity pressed like a salt herring.  91  @chateaudangles

The Aromatic Whites

Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007 (328872, $19.95) elevates the grape to great heights. Gold carat, rich golden marmalade and aromatics simulating Sauternes. Pencil leads apricot and clementine in this life-sustaining sap. Has lived well and will live long.  90

Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009 (335711, $24.95) gives a goblet of lavish, good pleasure in honey and near Gewürztraminer, lychee-ish tropical fruit. Not so smoky but pulchritudinous in yellow candy apple and its fumé comes from a scotch oak flavour. Replicates upon itself in rich and viscous waves. Total and utter unique Ontario white.   89  @Stratuswines            

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2010 (241182, $35.20) from the Vinemount Ridge appellation can’t help but froth forth in soda and A16 out of such a warm vintage but still, only CB perfumes like this. Ahhh, that Baker perfume. No level of encomium can express the intoxicating effect of Picone, vintage in, vintage out. So much apple, great acidity but more nut warmth than ’09. Shuns lassitude and shines bright.  90  @cbriesling

The Reds

Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011 (269464, $16.95) is mineral prone like the northern Rhône in iron and bloody intense in sanguine rush. Not sure I could drink too much but it’s a study for sure.  Long on blueberry, pencil and though McLaren Vale issue, it seems reminiscent of older, Great Western Seppelt Shiraz, circa 2000.  89

Malivoire Cabernet Franc 2011 (310383, $24.95) reaches deep into the well to draw up an elixir of incredible luxuriance bolstered by a tart and tight, ripe red currant depth. Layered by Christmas and Black Forest cake with a sour black cherry glaze and a garth of earth and bushes.  91  @MalivoireWine

Good to go!

A sound return to North Fork wine

Kontokosta Winery, Greenport, Long Island PHOTO: MICHAEL GODEL

as seen on canada.com

Just under I year ago I trekked to the western reaches of the North Fork wine region of Long Island, N.Y. I visited a few wineries on a spit of land between Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, an area no wider than the geography between the Humber and Don Rivers of Toronto. Tasting sessions at Clovis Point and Palmer Vineyards opened my eyes to the exceptional wines that can be forged from such a rugged landscape and demanding climate.

I returned in 2013 to seek out wines made further east, in Greenport and in Southold. The former, Kontokosta Winery, is a brand new facility just opened in June, 2013 and the latter, Sparkling Pointe, a specialist of Champagne-style fizz. The common thread is winemaker Gilles Martin and a sharp view of the future for the region’s grapes. The wines of New York’s North Fork are piercing, intuitive and kind. They speak of the stark terrain, the abrupt and spontaneous terroirand the eleemosynary earth.

Kontokosta Winery

825 North Road – Rte. 25, Greenport, New York 11944

Brothers Michael and Constantine Kontokosta are the owners of Greenport Long Island’s newest and most easterly winery, alone in Greenport and one of few LEED gold certified wineries in North America. Situated on sixty-two acres, the winery boasts over a quarter-mile of Long Island Sound waterfront. The winery’s sustainable elements include reclaimed wood siding, 90% recycled-content steel, an enormous wind turbine feeding the property energy, xeriscape method landscaping and an organic community garden that support local non-profits.

PHOTO: Michael Godel Kontokosta Winery tasting room exterior

Beginning with the 2012 vintage, the winemaker is Gilles Martin who is rapidly gaining a reputation as North Fork’s go to consultant. The first vines at Kontokosta Winery were planted in 2002 under the guidance of the late Long Island wine pioneer Ray Blum. Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling produce 3,000 cases annually, with some bottlings currently on offer having been fashioned from fruit sourced further west, mainly near Peconic Bay. Eric Fry of Lenz Winery made the wines prior to 2012.

I tasted the wines on Canada Day, July 1st, a mere 18 days after the winery’s opening. Despite such a brief time period of public interaction, Miles Trautman ushered me through with precision and passion. Though I was certainly no John Rambo to his cool, calm and collected colonel, I did my best to gain a true picture of the brother’s philosophy to “combine the latest technological innovations with centuries-old traditions in the cellar to develop and ensure the best expression of the unique Long Island vineyard site.” And by the way, the First Blood reference is real. Trautman is related to the uncle who was the writer’s inspiration for the fictional Richard Crenna chatacter.

PHOTO: kontokostawines.com Kontokosta Winery

Anemometer White NV ($16) combines Sauvignon Blanc from two vintages. The goal here is Loire so for parochial intents and purposes it succeeds. The fruit does yeoman’s works through the albedo of white grapefruit and a citric acid shell. Refreshing and acceptably tart.  86

Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($25) is both ahead of the curve and a harbinger for white vinifera North Fork expectations resulting out of the warm 2012 growing season. Blessed by the luck of an early bud break and wisely picked ahead of Sandy’s torrent. Intimates the tropical flavours of pollarded, fruit trees but also races with vitesse.  89

Orient Chardonnay 2009 ($17) makes use of non-estate purchased fruit from out of the Sargon Vineyard bathed in neutral French oak to achieve an opinionated Chablis termagant in green apple and chèvre. Tongue-tying and teasing metallic but rolls out no stones.  89

Rosé 2011 ($15) is uniquely 100 per cent Merlot and though its girth is diluted by the rains of Irene, the herbiage, strawberry and rhubarb more than make up for the lack of concentration. Made in a decidedly French, dry style. Works the vin de pays grape with ease.  87

Viognier 2010 ($25) excels beyond expectation from one of only two local vineyards extolling the virtues of Condrieu. A touch of tiger balm but certainly not OTT, warm cashew buttery, viscous and radiant. Terrific sense of balance at 13.8 percent out of the maritime vineyards of the North Fork.  91

PHOTO: Michael Godel Kontokosta tasting room

Anemometer Red 2006 ($19) is 100 per cent untrodden Syrah having already laid down long enough to now give of itself. An angel of red raspberry, rhubarb, plum and loose tannin marked by lit charcoal. All told it brings Greek reds to mind, like Agiortiko. “Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere.” Cool Syrah from young vines living beyond its golden years.   89

Merlot ‘Blum’ 2007 ($19) from the late grower’s Ackerly Pond Vineyards achieves toothsome mouthfeel from solid brix and 13.3 per cent Peconic Bay fruit at the hands of the local Long Island AVA pioneer. Here French oak imparts generous vanilla and spice and an ever so slight coat. Sinewy stickum from unresolved tannin settles and fleshes out while in the glass. Ends with a pretty, floral and feminine note. Just now beginning to fade, like the sun over the sound.  89

Merlot Estate 2007 ($29) elevates to 13.9 per cent in estate fruit, seemingly more masculine than the Blum. Richer, fuller in body mass, increased in concentrate.  Akin, if I may, to IGT Merlot, not quite Masseto but Super Tuscan (in hopes and dreams) nonetheless. Struts in increasedstrada tension, acidity and tannin. Less agreeability, more ageability.  90

Cabernet Franc 2007 ($29) remains dark and mysterious under the canopy though light creeps in on the edge of the forest. Spiralling cedars, bough smoke and vanilla from new oak have mellowed into a soft, approachable and aromatic cool climate Cab Franc. A red and black commingling of never too ripe fruit lingers on.  88

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($22) achieves definitive varietal ripeness from what should be a harsh host environment. Soft red berries, an ebullience of ease and suave felt ready this warm vintage red for immediate and only immediate pleasure. Hard to coax much better out of the sand and grass.  88

Sparkling Pointe

39750 County Road 48 Southold, NY 11971

The winery can be found along Long Island’s North Fork Wine Trail and is the sole producer in New York State dedicated to the exclusive production of Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wines. Fully estate grown seen 2007, don’t be fooled by the Brazilian carnival kitsch surrounding the tasting room. These bubbles are refined and serious. Sure, I will admit that Roederer EstateSchramsberg and Domaine Chandon make some terrific wines in the California sun but Sparkling Pointe speaks volumes towards yet another cool-climate region’s reason to make bubbles. If you lead them, they will follow. Look for more fizz on the North Fork in the coming years.

Champagne fans and founders Cynthia and Tom Rosicki manage 29 acres of vineyard, planted with the traditional Champagne grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Their winemaker is North Fork’s super winemaking human Gilles Martin. Tasting room manager Kelsey Cheslock led me through a portfolio of six sparklers, half of which turned my head full round.

PHOTO: Michael Godel Sparkling Pointe

Brut 2009 ($29) goes long on tradition with 59 percent Chardonnay, 31 Pinot Noir and five Pinot Meunier, then bucks the trend by adding five per cent reserve wine into the mix. A fine mousse dissipates in haste from a bottle that had been opened longer than a while. Readied by oak influence with green apple flavour and tropical fruit from the added juice reserves. Despite the heavy rains of the vintage a citrus acidity carries on and the wine is remarkable dry.  88

Blanc de Blancs 2008 ($42) is 100 per cent Chardonnay noticeable in bread, biscuit and yeast. Four years spent on its fine yeast lees leads the toast to a bigger note than the plum fruit but a magnum of grapefruit and its pith are even stronger. Large in breadth and long on depth. Handsome B de B with a hairy chest. Selleckian.  90

Topaz Imperial 2010 ($37) is a dry, rosy Rosé composed of a 55/41 per cent Chardonnay and Pinot mix. Two and a half years spent sur lie here results in more toast, less tart and a vivid display of North Fork salinity. Watermelon, strawberry cream and a savoury note show the finesse, structure and balance of a wholesome, inviting and unintimidating natural wine. Sadly, there were none for sale.  91

Brut Seduction 2003 ($60) is a 51/49 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir mix and most clearly demonstrates the house style. Nuts, yeast bolts and an organoleptic finesse find their way inside this enigmatic fizz. A mature cuveé that would be interesting to taste blind against other house-blend Bruts, like Veuve or Bollinger.  92

Blancs de Noirs 2008 ($75) makes use of the year’s Pinot excess, is the first and only vintage of this Pinot man, with Meunier leading Noir 54 to 46. A copper patina, like a certain style of dry Rosé, shows off the contact with the red skins. Not quite as seductive like the 10 year-old Brut but this one is full frontal fruit with an accent of savoury, smoked meat, slow-roasting over shimmering red coals.  92

Cuveé Cardinal NV ($27) is a rare Merlot (66) and Chardonnay (34) blend, a one-off as the vines are now gone, replaced by Pinots. Flirty and forward with all kinds of fruit. Strawberry and rhubarb from the tangy Merlot, mango and apricot from the soft Chardonnay. Pushes sparkling boundaries, with a bowie knife in hand, in dramatic make-up and alternative dress. “You’ve got your mother in a whirl. She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl,” this rebel rebel.  87

Good to go!

Finding the wine pulse of the Finger Lakes

Grape crush at Shaw Vineyards

Grape crush at Shaw Vineyards
Photo: Shaw Vineyards

as seen on canada.com

New York’s Finger Lakes is the largest wine growing region in the state, located along and adjacent the south-north flows of Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga and Canandaigua. The pastures perched nearly 1000 feet high upon the plateaus terraced upwards from their shores teem in colour and fertility; in red cherry, in knobbly purple asparagus, in wild, green grasses and grapevines.

Though pastoral and eerily quiet, the Finger Lakes area is anything but boring or benign. It necessitates some required reading and historical courting. That begins with Elmira’s own Mark Twain and without question a visually stunning and cerebral cortex stimulating visit to the Corning Museum of Glass. The collection of royal and ancient glass, interactive exhibits and live demonstrations are mind-blowing and utterly unique. Best of all, the @corningmuseum is run like a business and a cooperative, free from the suffocating, bureaucratic strings of government interest. Employees are young, near-hipster, informed and confident, with and without attitude.

Drive north from Corning in the late afternoon sun and see deer grazing in farmer’s fields. Walk the pier at the southern tip of Seneca Lake and go old school dining. Watkins Glen State Park is the site of a set of waterfalls so gorgeous you will imagine yourself anywhere but in the heart of New York. Oft-referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East (a stretch for sure), it truly is something else.


The caveat to this report begins with an admission of remission to the wineries, distilleries and breweries not visited on account of not being located on the western trail of Route 14 up Seneca Lake. Certainly remiss to have missed visiting the iconic Dr. Frank, the emerging star Anthony Road, Two Goats Brewing and Finger Lakes Distilling. A pang of regret lingers for lost time spent underwhelmed at Magnus Ridge. The 1970’s tasting room and stemware felt like a mirror that adds 30 lbs and who can concentrate on MOR Riesling, Pinot Gris and Lemberger while the vineyard manager (at least that’s the part he seemed to be playing) sweats, rehydrates and flashes a never-blinking, hairy eyeball your way. I felt like Pudd’nhead Wilson, tasting through wines as Cauliflower, “nothing but cabbage with a college education.” I suppose a rain check benefit of the doubt should be extended, considering the owners were away in Florida.

A 10 deep tasting at Fulkerson Wines showed off every style under the FL sun and that was only a small percentage of what could have been sampled. Dry Rieslings, in particular the William Vigne showed best. Gruner Veltliner 2012 and Pinot Noir 2010 ponied up the highest level of intrigue to walk out with a bottle of each. Still, the excess of portfolio dilutes and commercializes the exercise.  Riesling and Cabernet Franc are and should be the region’s signature wines. Dabbles in Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Brut-style bubbles are all to be encouraged.

“High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.”

The sense of community and cohesion that to me defines Ontario’s wine industry, especially in Niagara, is here not at once obvious. Many vintners make reference to the oenology research and development department at Cornell University and so it seems to be both the region’s patriarch and unifying factor. Next weekend’s Finger Lakes Wine Festival would likely go a long way to impress upon a taster a truer sense of famiglia. A myriad of wine making and production styles mark the region’s 100 plus wineries and two Seneca Lake houses struck me as buoy markers for the past and as harbingers for the future of viticulture in Yates County. Hermann J. Wiemer clearly sets the Finger Lakes standard while unheralded Shaw Vineyards shines as the hidden gem. Though polar opposites in attitude and execution, together they mark the Finger Lakes twain. They to me present a model to compare and contrast the stylistic spectrum of wine production found in the Finger Lakes.

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

Dundee, NY, http://wiemer.com/, @HermannJWiemer

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

PHOTO: wiemer.com
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

To those who say that the concept of terroir is bullshit, the principals at Wiemer scream to disagree. They believe so strongly in micro-climates and site specific growing areas that they designed the greatest ever wine map of their vineyard holdings and hung it in the tasting room for all to see. “Seneca Lake is the conduit between the sun and soil, giving its blessing and transforming the land fortunate enough to be near it to become terroir.” Wiemer has set the modern era bar for excellence and international approval in the Finger Lakes. Their Riesling speaks of the soil, shale and bedrock below, their facility of grace, elegance and architectural fine lines. Sustainability and biodynamic practices are more than buzz words. I’ve never seen so many ‘regulars’ paying a visit to say hello, taste through the portfolio and walk away with so much product. Wiemer has it figured out – their finger is pointed directly upon the pulse of the lakes. Co-owner Oskar Bynke lead me through the distinguished line-up.

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard wine map

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard wine map

Rosé Cuvée NV ($12.50) argues old-school values by blending vintages and does so in sheer modernity from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and a quick date with Chardonnay. Suggests a dry, southern French attitude.  87

Dry Riesling 2012 ($18.50) seems near-Kabinett to nose but is really what Oskar calls “Trocken Spätlese,” or dry, late-harvest. A smack dosage of tree fruit in hyper-ripe tone gets upside and personal with your sense of smell. Terrific entry into the world of Wiemer Riesling.  89

Riesling Reserve 2012 (not yet released) tasted from a tank sample increases in viscous velocity and fueled tension. With this one “I think it’s gonna be a long, long, time ’til touchdown brings me ’round again to find” the reserve ready to offer Riesling gratification. In terms of this grape, in this part of the world, this one’s a rocket man90-91

Dry Riesling Magdalena Vineyard 2012 (not yet released) from tank ramps up the citrus and petrol and at an increased level of concentration. Magdalena comes from a more Northern site, away from the sheltered warmth of the lake. Cooler in dimension, not unlike the laser-pitch of Beamsville’s Thirty Bench Steelpost. This is dazzling juice, with diamond clarity and pure, cool-climate fruit.  91-92

Semi-Dry Riesling 2012 ($17.00) summers in warmer climes, snacks on ripe, tropical fruit and lays down for a siesta. Closest of the line-up to a true Mosel Kabinett, minus the slate, mineral and flint. Flirty and foxy, “a cute little heartbreaker.” Lady of the house.  88

Hermann J. Wiemer wines, from left: Dry Riesling 2012, Gewürztraminer 2012, Cuvée Brut 2006, Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009, Bunch Select Late Harvest Riesling (TBA) 2008

Hermann J. Wiemer wines, from left: Dry Riesling 2012, Gewürztraminer 2012, Cuvée Brut 2006, Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009, Bunch Select Late Harvest Riesling (TBA) 2008

Late Harvest Riesling 2012 ($24.50) emulates the Spätlese thematic and unlike its Ontario counterparts is really not like dessert wine at all. Has enough atomic weight to match food of spice and capsicum-laced ethnicity while still remaining earthbound. A honeyed accent speaks for the bees. Delicate and floral on the lighter (5.6 per cent alcohol) side of vinous life.  90

Gewürztraminer 2012 ($25.00) from the oldest plantings in the region is as good as it gets in North America. No, really. This is the best expression to date. Impeccable balance, nary a bitter note and all the varietal components are there. Rosewater, South-Asian tree fruit, almond blossom, citrus and density. Dry and dewy. Delish.  91

Cuvée Brut 2006 ($32.00) disgorged in 2013 is tightly wound around itself, magnetic, animated, indefatigable bubbles. Yeasty bread speaks of the Champenoise, as does the arid Tarlant Zero tart apple style. Good fizz.  90

Cabernet Franc 2010 ($23.00) spends time in neutral barrels so a scant trace of vanilla succumbs to ripe cranberry, red rose and July Chemung cherries. Peppery without ringing a bell and current but not tart currant. For pleasure in the here and now.  88

Cabernet Franc Reserve 2010 ($28.00) deepens the focus. Fermented in individual 100 gallon lots and aged for 10 months in new and older French oak barrels. More bite, grit and conversation here. “The average man don’t like trouble and danger,” but I’ll chew on this CF any day.  A Huckleberry Finn to the normale‘s Tom Sawyer.  90

Bunch Select Late Harvest Riesling (TBA) 2008 ($95.00, 375 mL) does German Trockenbeerenauslese like no one else on this side of the pond. As a dessert wine it walks that fine sugary line, refusing to sacrifice acidity for love. An expertly extracted and refined sweety that holds “the ends out for the tie that binds.”  Just a drop will do you.  Cash money.  93

Shaw Vineyard

Himrod, NY, http://shawvineyard.com/

Steve Shaw has been involved in Finger Lakes viticulture for 40 years. In appearance, he and his winery seem the antithesis of their state-of-the-art brethren down the road. But don’t be fooled by appearances. Serious winemaking and an experimental scientist’s work is at hand. Shaw is part J. L. Groux (Stratus Vineyards), Arlo Guthrie and Jim Clendenan. His wines currently on the market have been aged low and slow. “I know we are a little off the radar compared to other Finger Lakes wineries, but we kind of like it like that” he says. “We are working hard to offer a nice line up of aged and age worthy wines for the wine drinkers that want something a little different.” Shaw chooses not to focus on the over-discussed. He is unconcerned with disingenuous wine speak. He needs not linger over the merits of indigenous yeasts and pseudo bio-dynamics. He avoids bâtonnage, is frank about the necessity of sulphuring and concerning a winemaker’s duty to resist overburdening wine with heavy oak distraction. His reds reach healthy brix levels and they are encouraged to speak their mind. They are pure expressions of Seneca and Keuka Lake grapes and are truly made in the vineyard. He notes, “our unique approach to wine making uses gentle extraction methods with both our red and white wines.”


PHOTO: Shaw Vineyards

Chardonnay 2005 ($15.00) was whole cluster pressed and barrel aged in (two to three year-old) French oak for approximately 24 months. Reminiscent of older Chablis, in green apple, citrus and ever so slightly blooming cheese.  Lithe and ready to desist. Catch a Lake Trout, grill and match.  87

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($19.00) was hand-picked at optimal varietal ripeness and flavor, whole cluster pressed and shocked with an initial cold ferment. Shaw then went Dr. Frankenstein on his juice by choosing to leave it on the fine lees for over one year to help develop complexity and mouthfeel. Singular to itself, incomparable to Loire, Marlborough or Stellenbosch for that matter. Possessed of a perfume, like honey-fragrant dogwoods, like marshy white cranberry. “Nothing in the world smells like this” SB. “Smells like, victory.”  90

Riesling 2008 ($17.00) developed some Botrytis (noble rot), was whole cluster pressed, cool fermented,  properly sulphured and left on fine lees for 36 months. Riesling vinified by a rogue master’s attitude. Exculpates sweetness and humidity, turns arid and is metered by citrus cohones and prickly petrol. Crazy cool.  91

LiBella Pinot Grigio NV ($15.00) blends the cool ferments of 2011 (60 per cent) and 2012 (40) and also receives the Shaw proprietary lengthy 12-24 months of fine lees contact. Similar in aromatic profile to the Chardonnay but with a richer palate. Certainly not your Alto Adige PG, nor Veneto neither. All Finger Lakes.  85

Pinot Noir Reserve 2008 ($30.00) was unfiltered, unfined and subjected to a lengthy cold soak. Whole berry fermentation, repeated punch downs and gentle, low pressure pressing has allowed for what Shaw sees as a “fuller, more complex flavor and surprising aromatics.” Spent 36 months in French oak searching for and discovering the holy trinity balance between alcohol, fruit and acidity.  89

Keuka Hill Reserve 2007 ($30.00) looks to the Gironde with 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 Cabernet Franc and 30 Merlot. Deft and coddling vinification processes were employed as they are with all of Shaw’s reds. A lengthy 48 months in French oak barrels has done the tannin softening and perfused this Bordeaux blend with a complex, Old World style. A glass of warming, resolved and velvety carmine ink.  91

Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($35.00) saw very similar treatment and also spent 48 months in primarily French oak barrels but also some Pennsylvania oak, resulting in already soft tannins and subtle aromatics. Another one of Shaw’s gracefully-aged experiments “more interested in laying up the riches of the mind” than burdening the taster with mocha jam and crème anglaise.  89

Cabernet Franc 2007 ($35.00) slumbered cryogenically for 48 months in primarily French and with some American oak. The variety’s kinship with the climate and a winemaker’s keen understanding of crop reduction makes for a more aromatically profuse wine and so I prefer it over the Cabernet Sauvignon. Avoids the grape’s natural vegetative tendency and finds natural balance. Has retained more bite and looks to have plenty of life ahead.  90

Shaw Vineyard Riesling 2008

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Shaw Vineyard Riesling 2008

Good to go!