Would you drink only Canadian wine for a year?

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The proposition is tougher than you think. “You may only purchase or open Canadian Wine for the duration of the challenge….for 365 days beginning on September 1st, 2013.” Only Canadian wine for a whole year? No Burgundy? No Brunello, Barolo, German Riesling, no Champagne???!!! This challenge might be harder than the Seinfeld contest.

Related – Canadian wine reviews

To be fair, some exceptions and exemptions will be allowed, “like international wine events that may be attended, dinner parties where the host unwittingly opens something non-Canadian, wine-related courses you may be taking where other wines may be opened.” Travel is also exempt. Still, every night at home you choose to open a bottle of wine it has to be something Canadian. That’s a whole year of shunning the rest of the cellar and 90 per cent of local wine store shelves. Tougher than you think.

Photo: Matt and Calvin Hanselmann and Uncork Ontario.

Two Canadian wine lovers are behind The Great Canadian Wine Challenge. Shawn McCormick of Uncork Ontario and Calvin Hanselmann were lamenting the fact that #CanadianWineDay (#CdnWineDay) is only one day. So they decided to challenge each other. Now at least 55 others have said they will do the same. I just spoke to Shawn who took some time away from family vacation time in Haliburton to bring me up to speed. What began as a late night joking around moment following the weekly #ONTWineChat turned into a tête-à-tête challenge between two Twitter buddies. I’m guessing the boys will be best of friends by year’s end.

Wine begins to flow across Canadian provinces

Shawn and Calvin both live in our nation’s capital and have plans this weekend to launch#TGCWC by cracking some, you guessed it, Canadian wine. Registration will be open through the month of September and prizes will be awarded, with special consideration given to the troopers who stick it out from the very beginning until the (not so) bitter end.

To join in the fun, declare your intention in the comments section of this post, or email thegreatcanadianwinechallenge@gmail.com. Commit to a weekly update, via Twitter (#TGCWC hashtag), a blog post, or an email to the organizers (thegreatcanadianwinechallenge@gmail.com) and they will track updates from participants in their weekly update.

Good luck to all who are participating.

Good to go!

Looking for love from Labour Day long weekend wines

Klaus Eppele/Fotolia.com PHOTO: KLAUS EPPELE/FOTOLIA.COM

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As the final long weekend of the summer approaches, Canadians are stocking up. The fervent feeding frenzy that takes place leading up to Christmas and even more so, New Year’s, is certainly the high selling point for the country’s provincial monopoly liquor stores. Not to be outdone, the Labour Day weekend is close behind when it comes to frantic shopping for beer, wines and spirits.

A bellying-up to the wine trough is in kinetic ambulation, as foodies, excessive imbibers and oenophiles prepare for the last of their warm weather bashes. It’s a good thing the cupboards are not bare: wonderful wines are there for the taking. From the LCBO, to the SAQNSLCNLC,MLMBCLS and beyond, here are 12 current releases to take you through the 2013 Labour Day long weekend.

From left: Varnier Fannière Grand Cru Brut Champagne, Taittinger Brut Réserve Champagne and Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne

The Bubbles

Varnier Fannière Grand Cru Brut Champagne (340158, $56.95, SAQ, 11528089, $57.00) is that under the radar, not yet discovered and eye-opening kind of bubbles you have been seeking. Made in tiny quantities from Grand Cru vines (4 hectares), attention to fine line and detail is obvious and jolting at the same time. Prominent yeast and biscuit aromas, citrus, ginger and  tropical pineapple combine for a creamy texture. Structured and consistent to the end.  92  @TrialtoON

Taittinger Brut Réserve Champagne (814723, $62.95, SAQ, 10968752, $62.50, BCLS,457713, $64.99, NLC, 13580, $67.38) is so good it blows my mind. Auricomous fizz whisperer procured in as fine a house style as any, laden with spice but not spicy, yeast but not yeasty, citrus but not citrusy. Sea breeze salinity bellowing by blow horn, beckoning oysters to come to the table.  92  @TaittingerUSA

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne (724559, $91.95, SAQ, 10812942, $93.50, Alberta,8002, $114.99) is expensive, granted, but not to be missed, especially if you are celebrating something special with a better half this weekend. Shiny, happy, strawberry snow-white speaking in a pith lime and ginger pithy foreign tongue. Savour it on the dock, at sunset and toast “to stir your drinks, and sittin’ still.” A pink of exceptional purity and quality, full of “gold and silver shine.”  91  @_Billecart

From left: Calamus Riesling Vinemount Ridge 2011, Creekside Estate Laura’s White 2011, Lailey Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Riesling 2010

The Whites

Calamus Riesling Vinemount Ridge 2011 (158642, $16.95, Manitoba, 14571,$19.99) is spartan and citrus tight so you’ve got to get to know her to unearth her frailties, fears, and subtleties.  Her Riesling character builds after quality time spent ante-spitting or swallowing. Like grape spirits, moving silently through the Vinemount Ridge. Following in the footsteps of Picone, Falls and Quarry Road, this Calamus adds credence to the notion that few Niagara acts are more salutary than making wine from grapes grown on the Vinemount Ridge.  88  @calamuswinery

Creekside Estate Laura’s White 2011 (121764, $18.95) leaves behind the moniker “one of Niagara’s stylish white-blends” and in this vintage powers to great white heights. A crush of blonde berries meets savoury, roasted goose, verging to raspberry, creamier even, like mangosteen. The most tropical Laura to date, yet in a high acid vintage it elevates to expertly balanced sweet and sour confection territory. No public enemy here, Laura will work for many palates and many plates. “Get it, let’s get this party started right.”  88  @CreeksideWine

Lailey Chardonnay 2011 (193482, $19.95, Alberta, 739220, $35.67) is right on brother Derek. This not only joins the right excellent Chardonnay club; it’s the incumbent President. Lifted honeysuckle, honey and bright lemon aromas, the deftest kiss of oak and just a punch of spice. Tingles and lingers.  If ’10 was “almost great,” ’11 is. Mikey likes this very much.  90  @laileywinemakr

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009 (566026, $29.95, NLC, 13510, $29.29) makes its VINTAGES jam debut and at just the right time. Has changed gears and though young to do so, off he goes. Beneficial vitriolic petrol pearl, vital energy flowing but with terrific restraint, “like he’s ridin’ on a motorbike in the strongest winds.” Juicy, boosted and charged by a semi, hemi-powered engine. Brooding for Riesling, adult, empowered.  90  From an earlier note, ”comes from the oldest, lowest-yielding vines at the estate grown on the limestone, Beamsville Bench terrace. A three-month rest on its lees imparts honey on the nose though the palate is dryer than off-dry. Mineral, pop-driven even. A hoovering, wizened Riesling, puckering, turning inward, yet to hydrate. Unique for Escarpment ’09 and will realize a quenching later than most. I for one will put this aside and revisit at the end of the decade, when “golden slumbers fill your eyes.” 89  @CaveSpring

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Riesling 2010 (31039, $27.95, SAQ, 1083654, $30.25, Alberta, 9175, $55.99, ) may be viscous oily and fuming A16 but it’s also tangy and sacchariferous in an orange fruit quorum of peach, nectarine and tangerine. What’s the mineral? Limestone? Granite? Black Mica? Quite serious but more approachable Alsatian than you might think. Don’t hold for too long.  90  @olivier_dzh

From left: 13th Street Red Palette 2011, Tenuta Di Trecciano Terra Rosa Chianti Colli Senesi Riserva 2009, Settesoli Cartagho Mandrarossa Sicilia 2009 and Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2010

The Reds

13th Street Red Palette 2011 (249458, $15.95) while always funky, is always game, ready for anything. Many personalities share the bottle and are by no means remarkably complimentary and integrated without regards to master blender Jean Pierre Colas. Tart and bursting in fresh berry/plum/cherry fruit like Chianti, fresh and bouncy like Barbera, coal mining like Xinomavro.  87 @13thStreetWines

Tenuta Di Trecciano Terra Rosa Chianti Colli Senesi Riserva 2009 (344127, $20.95) from south-west of Siena is nearly moving on but charms with wisdom, prune warmth and love. Sangiovese from the mold of an old trattoria cellar, rubbed by leather and roasted game, Tuscananimale and licorice. Cheap and great gracious Chianti for the here and now because the fruit is marching on.  88  @ColliSenesi

Settesoli Cartagho Mandrarossa Sicilia 2009 (346593, $19.95) is certainly modern Nero D’avola though it shows breeding and class at the hands of a winemaker with deep, state-of-the-art equipped pockets.  Resonant warm clime aromas; orange grove, clove, cinnamon, carob, bokser and like 21st century Sicilian Syrah, it’s brooding and tannic too. Serious Nero, if a bit sun-drenched.  89  @CantineSettesol

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2010 (977629, $24.95, SAQ, 856484, $25.70) from the timeless oasis of Castellina brings game from the grab of the punt. Modern but wizened, with black cherry, obvious new oak (small French barrels) and gripped by tight tannin. Will be a study in CC for years to come. A wine that rolls with the times from the Elsa River Valley and deserving of a definite place in the cellar. “You ought to be who you be If you’re coming with me.”  90  @chianticlassico

Good to go!

Wine begins to flow across Canadian provinces

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When Canadian premiers met this summer in Niagara-on-the-Lake, British Columbia’s Christy Clark had every intention of sending a message to Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne: free my grapes and consider abolishing Ontario’s archaic liquor laws. Both sentiments fell on deaf ears.

Ask Vancouver lawyer Mark Hicken and he will tell you that Wynne continues to side and stand beside an “apparent adoption of a LCBO scripted anti-consumer position regarding inter-provincial wine shipping.” Despite a wave of protest, both the provincial monopoly and the Premier refuse to budge on the idea of relinquishing control of domestic sales for fear of losing billions in tax dollars.

Editorial and social media protests are colonizing the airwaves. The information is now coming fast and furious. Publications across Canada are printing love letters to the grape sharing movement and the endorsements have encouraged inter-provincial unions to emerge from the proverbial closet. As of today, the much discussed topic of inter-provincial wine shipping has just heated up to a whole new level. The anti-establishment entities of Free My Grapes and The Foodie Pages are actively seeking reform and they are not shy to act on it. In fact, the FP just launched a new faction of their website to actively promote, connect and enable Canadian wineries to ship directly to consumers in provinces where receiving wine is taboo.

Wait, is that allowed? The short answer is no, but rules are not necessarily laws. The province of Ontario may endorse the LCBO’s policy of not allowing its residents to order from beyond its borders, but there is no statute to stop them from doing so. The laws would have to be amended to make shipping practices illegal. Even if that were to happen, it could never be worth the cost, and how exactly might it be enforced?

So what’s the big deal? True, nothing has really changed, but the Foodie Pages are the first to publicly declare a war on provincial stubbornness. It’s no secret that Canadian wineries have been shipping (with the aid of Canada Post) their product around the country; it’s just that no one has had the cohones to build a business model around such an out-of-bounds subject.

Three weeks ago, two Canadian Sommeliers, Nillo Edwards and Matt Steeves, together wrote in the Vancouver Sun, “B.C. winemakers want to expand across Canada, but entrenched bureaucracy resists change…Simply put, when it comes to fostering success for the Canadian wine industry, our political decision-makers are being ill-advised by liquor boards that cannot see the vineyard for the grapes.”

In the September edition of Toronto Life Magazine, David Lawrason encourages Ontario consumers to order wines direct from British Columbia, despite the rules. There have been Successful contraband smuggle operation from ON to NS and from B.C to Ontario.

Foodie Pages CEO Erin Maynes says her initiative will connect Canadian wineries with out-of-province consumers. Master Sommelier John Szabo notes “with the recent changes in federal law permitting direct shipping, the timing is perfect for FoodiePages.ca to step in, as they do for local food producers, and connect artisanal winemakers with consumers.”

A wide range of Canadian wines that aren’t available through provincial liquor stores are marketed on the Foodie Pages website, but the actual buying and selling is direct with the winery. If, as a Canadian winery, you can’t meet LCBO requirements such as producing and offering 300 cases of a particular product, you can likely forget about finding shelf space. This is where Foodie Pages comes in, to help the little guy enable connections. When asked if she fears repercussions from provincial monopolies, Maynes’ answer was an emphatic, no. She insisted the website breaks no laws and the nine B.C. wineries who have chosen to ship direct to Ontario have every right to do so. As do the oppressed residents of Ontario to receive them.

Let’s face it. The current restrictions on ordering wine are built of concepts that date back to Prohibition days. That in itself is simply ridiculous. British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba have opened their doors. Canada is emerging from the dark ages and its medieval wine marketplace. To uphold protectionism and prohibit your citizens from purchasing a few hundred dollars worth of fermented produce from the smallest of farmers in another province is beyond rational. Mark Hicken has so rightly pointed out that wine drinkers are voters too. Will the next Ontario election effect change? Sadly, no, but this is a wave that will not die. The grapes will one day be free.

Good to go!

A paradox of wine accents

Soil and birthplace predetermines both wine and language.
PHOTO: JUNGE REBE/FOTOLIA.COM

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Wine and language, two very complex organisms, first and foremost predetermined by the land from which they’ve come. Soil and birthplace. Climate is so very important too, in ripening fruit and developing speech. Weather and pedigree. Then there are the clones, genetic variants of a cultivar, or in language, slang and urban/rural diction. Variety and dialect. The study of wine (oenology) is very much like the study of language (linguistics). It’s all in the accents, in articulation and tonality, in aroma, taste and texture.

Related – More from the VINTAGES August 17th, 2013 release

Wine is generally divided into Old and New World styles, old school versus new wave. Though many New World wines have bested Old World stalwarts in blind tastings, are those results more than just a matter of taste? Old World varieties of a common region who have been cohabiting side by side exhibit a wide assortment of accents. New World clones from disparate backgrounds that have been living together for just a few generations show similar accents.

Old World stereoisomer stereotypes suggest that if your wine smells like vanilla, it was likely aged in American oak. Got flint and steel? Chablis. Brioche and yeast? Champagne. All this may be true but the grand wines within a particular growing area like Chablis, Champagne, the Rhône Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Tuscany and Piedmont might share and yet bogart an infinite number of subtleties and dominant traits, each specific to the monopole, villages, indicazione geografica tipica, or appellation of origin. Napa Cabernet, whether from Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena or Howell Mountain, shares a commonality and decreased peculiarity so much more so than counterparts in the communes on the Left Bank in Bordeaux, including Paulliac, St-Estèphe, Pessac-Léognan, Margaux and St. Julien.

New World Chardonnay growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieu-dites in Burgundy. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers, and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, etc. While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within a Venn Diagram, the shared subtleties get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled.

In Old World locales such as France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal, the sustained adjacency of wine regions ought to carry considerable weight against differences in accents, while in a vast but small growing area like Canada, the relative isolation of wine regions ought to encourage regional intonations. Yet comparatively speaking, there is a great deal of similar speak among Canada’s various cool climate wines. So, the question begs. Has the maturity of Canadian vines and its isolated industries increased or decreased the diversity of dialects?

If you stood with one foot in a Niagara vineyard and the other in Prince Edward County, you might be disappointed to find that the geology, climate and wine accent are nearly indiscernible. A wine patriot might disagree with that statement with reverence or indifference, yet the average wine consumer would be hard pressed to intuit the subtlest of idiosyncrasies. Even in the case of, let’s say, the temperature disparity between a St. David’s Bench vineyard and one from the Queenston Road, as a winemaker, who are you speaking to anyway?

The wine world has attempted the vinous equivalent of heteroglossia, “a blending of world views through language that creates complex unity from a hybrid of utterances.” This heteroglossia is an abstract convenience for the benefit of geographical oenophiles. In the New World (especially), we are dealing with huge generalities. To say that each viticultural area is singularly unique from another is to suggest that one region’s accent starts where another one ends. This is simply not true.

The argument is no longer about good and bad, natural and synthetic, Old and New World. We’re not talking about a Roman Paradox here. In a short period of time it seems we have gone from saying “there’s a remarkably great deal of homogeneity in wine today” to now, “some wines are so over the top they could only be from that place.” A recent California Pinot Noir, heretofore known as “he who shall not be named” laid insult and depression upon a group of tasters. Pushing 16 per cent alcohol by volume and thicker than a McFlurry, this Pinot could not have been from just anywhere. Only the hot California sun and heavy winemaker’s hand could have produced such an utterly undrinkable, faux-chocolate, simulated berry shake.

Special thanks to Bill Bryson, who’s good read “Mother Tongue” was the inspiration for this column. Here are six examples of really fine wine, from the Old and the New World, each expressive of a particular set of accents, out of a specific place.

Clockwise from left: André Blanck Pinot Blanc Rosenberg 2011, Pillitteri Estates Viognier 2011, Daniel Lenko Estate Winery Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, Greenlane Estate Winery Cabernet 2010, Zema Estate Cluny Cabernet Merlot 2008 and Château La Croix De Gay 2009

André Blanck Pinot Blanc Rosenberg 2011 (626606, $14.95) is high on lime citrus and heavy in stones, so much more so than in ’09 and ’10. Green apple in tart tonality, lean and mean.  Much juicier and riper to taste, with the faintest lees note to ground it firmly on Alsatian terrain ferme.  Love this designation. Same vintage release from a year ago.  89  @drinkAlsace

Pillitteri Estates Viognier 2011 (330894, $19.95) from 20+ year old estate vines is really quite pretty. Honeysuckle and white flower aromas with a taste of honey dew, tangy mango fruit, creamy and soft, and  a hint of white pepper.  Will look for it to flesh a bit in a year or so.  88  @Pillitteriwines

Daniel Lenko Estate Winery Old Vines Chardonnay 2010 (352328, $22.95) punches its ticket to Niagara stardom but a toast and punch down period is the requiem to mellow before the fruit can truly and fully be assessed. It’s certainly large, inviting and warm, a cedar cottage with its hearth flaming and crackling. Borrows a page from Quarry Road’s handbook and takes risks, if ambitiously over-seasoning a bissel. The late buttery seafood note is striking and just makes you want to suck back a bucket of claw. Must pay heed to Lenko’s uncompromising winemaking. Were you to ask me what 10 Ontario Chardonnay would I buy, in any vintage, to study, follow the evolution and ultimately learn about cool climate Chardonnay, this Lenko OV 2010 would be a must.  91  @daniel_lenko

Greenlane Estate Winery Cabernet 2010 (winery, $14.95) combines Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (80/20) fruit in demurred Niagara/Vineland modulation for full, soft and silky effect. Black pepper in a key of fire-roasted sweet capsicum, anise and gun flint are met by the plasticity of black and red berries and cherries.  Deal.  88  @GreenLaneWinery

Zema Estate Cluny Cabernet Merlot 2008 (325910, $26.95) hollers modernity, in oxy-toffee, blueberry pie, eucalyptus and smoldering earth. Bordeaux fettle yet GSM-like in mineral meets lush fruit.  Frantic verve in acidity, crazy actually and certainly no fruit bomb. Almost citrus spiked, punchy and grainy on the finish. Requires patience. Intriguing Coonawarra.  90 @ZemaEstate

Château La Croix De Gay 2009 (192955, $51.95) is flat-out delicious. Grilled meat, licorice, big black fruit, raspberry, Merlot to the max and yet a very affordable Pomerol ’09. At $52 you may not find a better deal. Tannic heft deep as a coal mine, where mineral meets herbal bondage. Very long and true.  92

Good to go!

A midsummer night’s chill red wine

KEW Vineyards, Beamsville, ON
PHOTO: ADAM D’INTINO

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Just about this time last summer I suggested to chill red wines for another hot weekend. The recent moderate weather might be considered just cause to negate such a de facto refrain but look ahead to the weekend. Blue skies and a rising mercury are on the horizon.

My 2012 column worked the chill into rich, warm grapes; Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This summer I’m scaling back the stretch and shock factor and returning to the fricative exercise of nipping but certainly not stifling more classic grapes. Gamay Noir can be so thirst quenching and is a natural fit to combat calefaction, along with Pinot Noir and the great Greek Xinomavro. Just a slight frost mind you, like clipped diction, for warm, not hot weather.

Here are four dream wines to chill on a midsummer night, in revelry and in waning light.

Clockwise from top left: Boutari Naoussa 2008, Evening Land Pinot Noir Spanish Springs Vineyard 2011, Quail’s Gate Pinot Noir 2011, and Domaine Des Houdières Fleurie 2011

The grape: Xinomavro

The history: The Boutari Company was established in 1879 in Naoussa. This was the first bottled red VQPRD to enter the Greek market, constituting a landmark for red wines in Greece

The lowdown: Excuse the profanity but, $13? AYFKM?

The food match: Lamb Kebabs, greek oregano pesto marinade, roasted tomato jam

Boutari Naoussa 2008 (23218, $12.95) like other Xinomavro shows that combination of pure fruit and ancient wisdom. Juicy and rustic at the same time, erupting in cherry and a lava flow of hot rocks. There is leather, dry spice and sun-dried fruit. Already bricking like Sangiovese, as if rustic Vino Nobile Rosso. There is simply no earthly reason not to drink this every night for the rest of the summer.  89  @boutari

The grape: Gamay

The history: Fleurie is one of the ten ‘crus’ of Beaujolais that include Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Regnié and St Amour. The Cru are made from Gamay grown on particularly favoured slopes

The lowdown: Incomparable value as compared to cost from a smaller and lesser-known producer (Perrier) at Villages pricing

The food match: Crispy Pig Ear and Pulled Pork Tacos, red onion marmalade, sorrel, maldon salt

Domaine Des Houdières Fleurie 2011 (342725, $16.95) is a calligraphic, violet floral invitation to fall in love with soft and dreamy Gamay. “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” Turns on her heel with a scrupulously phenolic char and licorice sour whip, then comes back again to glide gracefully around the last bend. Just what Fleurie should be, purposeful and simply terrific value for Cru Beaujolais. Waning midsummer excellence.  90  @VinexxCanada

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Run by the Stewart family, south of Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley

The lowdown: From grapes grown on volcanic Mount Boucherie bench slopes

The food match: The Beverly Hotel Toronto’s Beef Cheek, chantrelles, charred onion, tomato jam, kennebec fries

Quail’s Gate Pinot Noir 2011 (585760, $26.95) with a flat-out ambrosial aromatic entry bequeaths extremely ripe, fleshy red stone fruit and a hit of java, hold the crema and the splinters. Toss in some cool eucalyptus to that tincture, perhaps, like De Loach Van Der Kamp. Intimates a Sonoman dream in confected perfume unlike any Okanagan predecessor. This is flamboyant stuff for OV, toothsome, and were it from California I might think it OTT but from B.C., not so. Expertly judged fruit/acid balance and such plush texture. Gobs of fruit with just enough grit to keep it real. “The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots and wonders at our quaint spirits.” 91  @Quails_Gate

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: The name Evening Land Vineyards was inspired by the lure of Homer’s ideal garden and is the final chapter of Homer’s Odyssey

The lowdown: This is the second commercial vintage of purchased grapes from the Spanish Springs Vineyards, located only two miles from the Pacific Ocean sheltered behind the coastal range

The food match: California Plum Caprese Salad

Evening Land Pinot Noir Spanish Springs Vineyard 2011 (337147, $46.95, ISD) may just be too glorious to be true. There are blueberries in a savoury key, a citrus and anise accent and chalky grit. At 13 per cent ABV it’s remarkably real, honest and wanting for love. Prodigious floral and strawberry aromas, magnetic and resonant tension, like Nebbiolo in a Piemontese state-of-the-art mind, or like a Grand Cru Greek red, in Duke of Athens character.  Enigmatic Pinot that could never be mistaken for Burgundy and quite frankly might trick many to not know it’s Pinot. “Are you sure/That we are awake? It seems to me/That yet we sleep, we dream.”  93  @elwines

Good to go!

New white wine love for ‘The Savvy’

Sauvignon blanc, a green-skinned grape variety from Bordeaux, France PHOTO: SHCH/FOTOLIA.COM

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There’s this grape I want to tell you about. Sometimes there’s a grape. I won’t say a gambler but certainly an opportunist. I’m talking about “The Savvy,” that green-skinned grape variety from Bordeaux, France. Its name may derive from the words “sauvage” and “blanc” but it’s not really a wild one, is it? Well, except for that time it hooked up with Cabernet Franc to produce the offspring Cabernet Sauvignon. It has participated in the proliferation of some wonderful examples in its native Bordeaux, especially when blended with Sémillon. Grown and produced out of the Loire Valley it has shown to be the prototype for his time and place in Sancerre. Then it migrated to Marlborough.

Even if The Savvy has at times been considered a lazy grape, when it found its way to New Zealand, everything changed. The Savvy became the most widely planted varietal and within a couple of short decades cornered the world market; incredible story. How did it happen so fast? West Coast writer Anthony Gismondi made reference to The Savvy’s “aromatic, lip-smacking fresh-tasting flavours” – very true. Meteoric rise, global acceptance and incredible sales numbers, but has the summit been reached? Suddenly it seems that now, not unlike the fate suffered by that other white dude, Chardonnay, the Savvy is losing ground, no longer currently feeling the love. New Zealand both gave it life and, through intense saturation, took it away. It may not seem obvious yet but as a story similar to Australian Shiraz, some noses are turning away from The Savvy.

Enter the Western Hemisphere. The Savvy is very much on the rise in these parts thanks to a profile built on fresh stone fruit, approachable acidity and best of all, a near complete absence of blanched green vegetables. What, no beans, no peas, no asparagus? Thank green goddess goodness. Though wine production techniques have improved dramatically over the past twenty years, there are still many Kiwi, South African and even Loire examples full of “excessively vegetative, bell pepper and canned asparagus notes and the bitter citrus rind flavours.” The Savvys from Ontario, California and Chile as a rule are clean and low on both the grassy and tropical polar ends of the spectrum. In fact, new, New World Sauvignon Blanc is not very Sauvignon Blanc-like at all.  So, thank you Savvy because “there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Well, I lost my train of thought here. But… aw, hell. I’ve done introduced it enough.” The Savvy abides.

From left: Riverview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Veramonte Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2011, and Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011

The history: Sicilian roots, family farm, Niagara-On-The-Lake locale

The lowdown: Biochemist, oenologist and winemaker Angela Kasimos makes use of Niagara’s cool climate for aromatic success.

The food match: Beet and Quinoa Tabouli

Riverview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (351494, $16.95) resides on the juicy plum fruit side of the Blanc spectrum, not unlike Pinot.  Friendly, hospitable and gracious, like Grillo. Effortless white, with a schwa for a mid-palate, a subtle vowel sound, a colourless murmur.  88 @RiverviewWinery

The history: Curtis and Heidi Fielding have confidently and meticulously built a small empire at Fielding Estate. Every angle, from exterior architecture to indoor design, to vineyard rows, to bottle images, is a study in fine lines and photographic possibility

The lowdown: SB reacts differently on the Beamsville Bench resulting in examples with more citrus and tropical fruit. Winemaker Richie Roberts finesses the you know what out of his grapes and makes no mistake with this warm ’12 vintage

The food match: Grilled Shrimp with Lime Powder and Parsley–Olive Oil Sauce

Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (131235, $18.95) rolls across the tongue like a diphthong, gliding effortlessly along, with nothing out of sorts or over the top. The zest is in a note of lemon, the tropical nuance in passion fruit. Excellent and wondrous sipper, put in mind of its own astonishment. Serve on its own or with marinated maritime delicacies off the grill.  89 @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

The history: Viña Veramonte from Chile’s Casablanca Valley

The lowdown: Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is noted for its racy and vibrant style, with bright fruit flavors and balanced acidity. Ritual was created to reach an elegant, yet approachable interpretation of Sauvignon Blanc

The food match: Elote al Echo Parque

Veramonte Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (328401, $19.95) after five months in French oak opens with a toasty, yet in check char. An SB of a different import entirely, with the acidity surrounding a ball of wet stone both encouraging and suppressing fruit bursts and releases. A bit built like a brick dunny, at times muddy and cranky, but possessive of tons of character. Hooting and hollering Savvy. One might say he lives.  90  @VeramonteWines

The history: Napa pioneer dating back to 1973. Their Sauvignon Blanc is fashioned from grapes throughout the Valley, with a large concentration from estate vineyards in the Rutherford, Calistoga, Carneros and southeastern Napa Valley regions.

The lowdown: This 2011 is the result of one of the coldest, wettest and latest vintages in memory. Whole cluster pressed SB, “Botox for white wine,” to keep the phenolics in check and to help the wine age quickly

The food match: Blueberry Cobb Salad

Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (707224, $39.95) shows off the verve of the vintage in pinging fruit balanced by creamy coconut. The tartness of the fruit still tells beneath the syrup so it certainly straddles a line of both tropical and piercing. The green note is spiced mango and there is a candle nut component. Very long.  92  @CakebreadWines

Good to go!

‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Golden globes, Trius Winery at Hillebrand
PHOTO: ESTHER VAN GEEST OF STEVEN ELPHICK & ASSOCIATES

as seen on canada.com

In July of 2011, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association held their inaugural event, the celebration, the fourth “C.” On the weekend of July 19-21, 2013 the third Cool Climate Chardonnay conference occupied the greater good of the Niagara Peninsula, cementing a legacy begun two years previous.

Backtrack a few years, when in 2009 Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne’s ‘Claystone Terrace’ Chardonnay 2005 made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. A light bulb went on. Fast forward to April 2010 and a group of romantics from 28 Ontario wineries get together to defend a grape. Were they singing “that’s what I like about Chardonnay?” No, but the grape had been down on the rock for so long and the panel felt compelled to come to its defense. To suffer an indignity like “Anything But Chardonnay” was an aggression that could no longer be tolerated. Thus an idea was born, a manifesto drafted and i4C was soon to become a reality.

For such a gathering to succeed there necessitates grand effort, partnership, passion, star power and serious thematic examples. Germination began with those first cool thoughts back in 2010 and the journey has since laid song lines by way of a barmy march of vignerons with rootstock firmly dug in Niagara (Harald ThielAngelo Pavan) and those with a second foot tracking terroirsbeyond and abroad (Thomas BachelderFrancois Morissette). Mix in some of this generation’s best wine-producing and marketing minds; Ron Giesbrecht formerly of Henry of Pelham, now Niagara College, Stephen Gash (Malivoire), Peter Bodnar Rod (13th Street), Del Rollo (Inniskilin, Jackson Triggs, Le Clos Jordanne), Suzanne Janke (Stratus) and Jeff Aubry (Coyote’s Run). The yeoman’s load has been in the multi-tasking hands of those who will work ’till their fingers bleed. Give it up for the cool concierge team; Dorian Andrewes, Trisha Molokach, Elena Galey-Pride, Britnie Bazylewski, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and an army of volunteers.

Partnered in kind with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO, Cool Chardonnay has gone forth and prospered. Success can be directly attributed to community and a profound connection to the fruit of the land. Famous wine folk have come; Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook of Decanter, winemakers and vintners wherever cool Chardonnay is grown. Pours have been the best of the best.

For three straight days in 2013 they walked, talked, sung praises in favour of and flat-out got dizzy with Chardonnay. White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa became vinifera central for the visiting cognoscenti, including 1976 Judgment in Paris and Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier,U.K. wine writer Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak), Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and traveling winemakers from all over; Louis Jadot’s Jacques Lardière, South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell, New Zealand’s Ruud Maasdam and Spain/California’s Marimar Torres.

The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams. The level of local and global wine excellence on display is sweeping and staggering. The congress acts both as social function and unprecedented academic experience. Most of all, i4c fosters and develops relationships for people within the wine industry and with its fans.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Brock University CCOVI

 Dizzying was the operative word of the weekend. Each time I had only just digested, assimilated, internalized and committed a group of wines to memory, another gala event and tasting was upon me. Friday morning began with “Global Perspectives on Chardonnay,” a winemaker’s panel discussion at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, moderated in minimalist, less is more fashion by Mr. Spurrier. The colloquium was augmented by a tasting of seven wines attributed to panel members. “The base for all wines should be harmony,” began Spurrier, followed by ”simplicity and clarity are the key points in wine.” Four matter-of-course questions were put to the panel and the dissertations ambled in many directions. Could the room of several hundred not question, “why is this symposium different from all other symposiums?” There was plenty of talk on barrels, clones, rootstock, soil and climate but what about the heart of the matter. How and where does Ontario Chardonnay go forth and prosper? How will exceptional quality translate to financial success? The answer lay buried in the polite, respectful and viniculture responses of the panelists, all of whom chose not to ruffle any wine making philosophy feathers nor to breach the moderator’s benign agenda. There were highlights:

Grape grower Albrecht Seeger:

Thomas Bachelder on behalf of and in support of the eloquent and verbose Jacques Lardière:

The outspoken and candid Francois Morissette:

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chardonnay at Brock University CCOVI

Friday night at Trius (Hillebrand) in Niagara-on-the-Lake set off under blazing sun only to be swept away in tempest. What began with the promise of seemingly limitless and linear structured wine and food stations turned into weather induced, scrambled chaos. I may never see a group of cooks, servers, winemakers and volunteers work harder to save an event and satiate a crowd as I saw at Trius that night. Their efforts were nothing short of brilliant. It was difficult to focus on tasting but the scene afforded some priceless time spent with Niagara winemakers and Brit Jamie Goode as the event wound down and on the shuttle back to the hotel. Wine tastings rarely afford such personal moments, to talk about something other than phenolics and malolactic fermentation.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Marlize Beyers at of Hidden Bench, Mikael Falkman of Champagne Taittinger and Michael Godel at Trius Wines

Lunch events and tastings on Saturday were held at StratusPillitteriHidden Bench and at Southbrook, which I attended. While the first three conducted more formal, seated, panel discussion style luncheons, the scene at Southbrook was more of a walk about, casual nature. Once again this allowed for one-on-one time with some of Niagara’s wine minds. Great time was spent with Shiraz Mottiar of Mailvoire (Moira’s Chardonnay 2010) and Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne (LCJ Chardonnay Claystone Terrace 2010). Special thanks to Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier for their hospitality.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Mother Nature announces a change of plans – at Trius Wines

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre was host to the Saturday gala event. The gamut of Chardonnay flowed freely, including fizz by Cave Spring, Angel’s Gate and Taittinger alongside Tide and Vine oysters. Food stations adorned the lawn and the army of volunteers poured all available Chardonnay well into the night. My ABC moment came early Sunday thanks to Mike Di Caro and a very much alive bottle of ’98 Henry of Pelham Riesling. Sunday concluded with more, you guessed it, Chardonnay at Ravine Vineyard and some terrific eats. Pizza from the outdoor oven, prosciutto by Mario Pingue and great rib-eye hamburgers hot off the grill.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chef Vikram Vij at Vineland Research Centre

In excess of 100 unique expressions of Chardonnay were available to taste throughout the weekend. More than half were presented in an experiential way, with a present winemaker or a carefully crafted food pairing. I sampled 72 to be exact. Much as I have thus far avoided the questions, and they have been asked more than once, I am willing to address the demand for ”what were the highlights and what were your favourites?” Apologies in advance to those I either missed or could not properly assess due to the sheer enormity of the weekend. Also to the little ones, the hard-plodding, day-to-day pleasing value Chardonnay. With so many top-tier, global examples from Burgundy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia and Ontario on offer, the under $25 set may not have felt the love. Here are notes on 13, guilt-free, bring ‘em on Chardonnay poured at #i4c2013.

Wines were tasted at the following venues:

Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)

Trius Winery at Hillebrand (TWH)

Southbrook Vineyards (SV)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre Rittenhouse Media Room  (RMR)

Ravine Vineyard (RV)

Southbrook Chardonnay Whimsy! ‘Sirgue’ 2011 (344531, $34.95) may come from the ‘masculine barrels’ but the integration is already seamless, in soft French cream spooned over a grove of ripe lemon dessert. Sister ‘Damy’ (sampled at 5-Star Casa Loma) is certainly ultra-feminine but together they speak of the symbiotic relationship between winemaker (Ann Sperling) and cooperage. Stone-free Chardonnay, “free to ride the breeze.”  90  (TH, SV) @SouthbrookWine

Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (335760, $34.00) is not so much a more concentrated version of the estate’s normale as a hotter sister. Like her sibling, the reserve does not rely on any one feature but she is classically styled, quaffed, a marble bust made up as maenad. Sappy white and savoury, meloniuos winter fruit, spiced apple butter and cool, steely goodness alights. “Felonious my old friend, So glad that you’re here again.”  90  (TWH, VRIC) @poplargrovewine

Staete Land Chardonnay ‘Josephine’ 2010 (332494, $57.00) is built upon a Marlborough hendiadys, a complex conjunction of rocks and earth. Sharp, focused and broad across the palate. Ruddy specimen this Josephine and simply gorgeous.  90  (VRIC)  @liffordwine

Miguel Torres Chardonnay ‘Cordillera De Los Andes’ 2011 (296624, $18.95) out of the cooler Limari Valley impresses in structure from mountain top to valley floor. Candied lemon peel, spicy bite and a crisp, cool centre make a case for value Chilean Chardonnay of the year. I might go so far as to say the highest quality ever from Chile.  91  (RMR)  @MarimarTorres

Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011 (344796, $44.95) ”from wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times.  91  (TH, VRIR, SV)  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 (931006, $32.95) may just be the most fascinating wine of the weekend. Aromatically it’s so understated and semi-breve spoken the oak-driven note is of the quasihemidemisemiquaver kind. Taste and find it ”is bathed every veyne in swich licour.” Chaucer-esque form, texture and meaning.  91  (VRIC, RV)  @WOSACanada

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009 (303644, $40), tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.  92  (TH)  @Pearl Morissette

Domaine Genot-Boulanger Meursault Clos du Cromin 2010 (331660, $59.00) intimates a sunshine daydream future carrying on wistfully in lustful fruit. Longevity will be supported by tight citrus and the wine, long on life, is long on deliverance.  92  (VRIC, VRI)

Bachelder Chardonnay ’Saunders Vineyard’ 2011 (324103, $44.95) takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Sapid, savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.  92  (CCOVI)  @Bachelder_wines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011 (346049, $35.00) toasted low and slow enervates and implodes to its very core. Then it sparks, revs the engine and climbs to 140 fearlessly and without peer. For those who can withstand the atomic launch, what follows is a reward of the highest quality Berkshire porcine whip, melting in the mouth like adult cotton candy.  Slow simmered apple paste, spiced and cooling reaps moisture and vacuums in the cheeks. Madness in Prince Edward County Chardonnay.  92  (RMR)  @normhardie

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2010 (120311, $90) is a study in Russian River Valley emotional depth, structured belief, reserved compassion and stoic understanding. Yes John Milton, there is intensity of the California sun present yet expertly judged in ripeness, concentration and restraint. Smooth, glabrous, luxuriant and prurient Chardonnay. Sip it, “look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.”  93  (RMR)

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011 ($40) is a child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or NOL in 2011?  93  (CCOVI)

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2010 (332270, $129.00) is sinfully young to assess, enjoy and evaluate. Stinging nettle, metal and silken, concentrated wildflower honey think mellifluous thoughts. “Him that yon soars on golden wings” sings in gold ingot yellow, in sweet harmony. Milton meets Costello, not quite in its Utopian place but will one day achieve peace, love and understanding.  94  (RMR)

Good to go!