Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning
Photo: AP Photo

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As a Super Bowl libation of choice do you consider wine a foray into the arena of the absurd? If so, you may be right, but you may be wrong. The Super Bowl is absurd. So, what are the odds that wine figures into your Super Bowl gathering? You might just be surprised.

I have participated in the same season-long NFL pool for the past 27 years. It was a “fax” pool in the 90′s and persists as an early days of the internet, send your picks in by e-mail endeavour. I’m still waiting for our administrator to make use of a free internet betting site but then again, there is a certain kind of comfort in the naiveté of low stakes, old-school pool participation. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t watch a single snap without something riding on the games. With apologies to my Peyton Manning-worshipping son, the NFL is just not that interesting and it’s a brutal sport.

Think about it. The game itself is a barbaric testosterone display of gladiator proportions, a war waged by freak of nature behemoths intent on killing one another between the blow of every whistle. Watch an NFL game and you’ll see that a player remains down and hurting after almost every play from scrimmage. When an elite athlete stays down, trust me, he’s hurt. Something has pulled, torn or broken nearly every time you see it.

Then there are the costs; production, hosting, advertising and tickets. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, “At $4M for Super Bowl ad, it’s ‘almost impossible’ to see return on investment.” The cost to Jersey City for hosting “is a tax on our resources to some degree,” said Mayor Steve Fulop. According to NewJersey.com, “the police presence alone will cost city taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars.” The market for ticket prices opened at $4,000 but now they are just giving them away, with $3,088 being the current average price as of Tuesday afternoon, this according to the Bleacher Report. If you think the prices are too high, you have no business going to the Super Bowl. In 2013 Beyoncé was not paid for performing at the halftime show, though she was awarded $600,000 for “production costs.”

Is this shaping up to be the saddest Super Bowl ever? Joshua M. Brown sure thinks so. “This Sunday, Super Bowl XLVIII (48) will be played in an open-air stadium, built atop a New Jersey swamp, in 2 degree weather, while pretending it’s actually taking place in New York.” So, now does it seem like such a far-fetched idea to drink wine while watching the Super Bowl? Sure, 99 per cent of the American Football hypnotized viewers will have a beer or 12 on Sunday. Hopefully a few thousand will be creative enough to get up from the couch and source something local and craft-related. I will be bringing fine-ish wine to the grid iron festivities. There are well thought out, dedicated and purposed reasons for my choices.

The original elite athletes on this planet were from ancient Greece. Though they may not have tossed around or beat each other silly over an oblong-shaped ball covered in pigskin, they personify the term ‘forbearer’ for real sport. Besides, real men drink Greek red wine.

Wine produced in a region defined by its volcano is also a must. Nowhere does the vinous world bequeath an emphatic lava flow of energy and verve like Etna. Football is a mob mentality game of raw and pure emotion, much like the terroir-driven Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from Sicily.

Zinfandel is a natural for the Super Bowl. Bold, deep, dark, rich and striking. The brambly flavours scream rough and tough. Zinfandel always lives on the edge. It will also stand up to and support the fatty, greasy and cheesy gamut of flavours on the SB coffee table.

A classic Cabernet-Merlot blend is a must for all the red meat that will be consumed on Sunday. Don’t bother with the modernity or overpricing of soft, voluptuous and velvety Bordeaux or Napa.  This game and your aged beef require some grit. If you live in Canada, go local, as in Okanagan Valley or Niagara Peninsula.

For the sensitive and cerebral man, the Peyton Manning armchair quarterback if you will, look for a well-aged and thoughtful white wine. Hunter Valley Semillon comes to mind. The last time the Seattle Seahawks played in the Super Bowl was 2006. That strikes me as a good vintage to help settle the score.

Here are my five wine picks for Super Bowl 2014 and some music to match.

From left: NICOSIA FONDO FILARA ETNA ROSSO 2010, THYMIOPOULOS VINEYARDS YN KAI OUPAVÓS XINOMAVRO 2010, MCWILLIAM'S MOUNT PLEASANT ELIZABETH SEMILLON 2006, RAVENSWOOD OLD VINE ZINFANDEL 2010, and MALIVOIRE 'STOUCK' CABERNET/MERLOT 2010

From left: NICOSIA FONDO FILARA ETNA ROSSO 2010, THYMIOPOULOS VINEYARDS YN KAI OUPAVÓS XINOMAVRO 2010, MCWILLIAM’S MOUNT PLEASANT ELIZABETH SEMILLON 2006, RAVENSWOOD OLD VINE ZINFANDEL 2010, and MALIVOIRE ‘STOUCK’ CABERNET/MERLOT 2010

NICOSIA FONDO FILARA ETNA ROSSO 2010, Sicily, Italy (362129, $19.95, WineAlign)

Wines from Sicily’s Mt. Etna region and the indigenous variety known as Nerello Cappuccio may seem like a space oddity to many but those who have opened their hearts and minds to the volcanic wonders float “in a most peculiar way.” This Rosso carves a bowie-knife line of lava mineral and Mediterranean salinity right through with bang on acidity and vitality of red fruit. A minor detractor in that it’s a bit saturated, muddled and earthy for Etna, but it brings the mountain down to the tasting room. Licorice, cirasu, plum and the dried grape feeling of zibbibbu. Contagious in spirit.  90  Tasted January 2014

THYMIOPOULOS VINEYARDS YN KAI OUPAVÓS XINOMAVRO 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (360750, $19.95, WineAlign)

Magnificent Macedonian, built upon the unheralded yet stalwart variety Xinomavro. Pure, sweet-smelling gardenia and the refuse of ancient rolling stones express every bit of sun and wind-swept, low bush vines goodness. Purposefully and thankfully unfiltered, so that all the delicious sweet and sour cherry and great biting but sweet tannin are left in. Purity, good sugar/alcohol heights without oak corruption. Earth possessive of mythic undercurrent, sage, wealth of  knowledge, sweet anise and hyssop. Scents of game on the grill. Amazing complexity and length. While tasting this Xinomavro it made me “feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene.” Get your rocks off to the Greek 91  Tasted January 2014  @thymiopoulosvin

MCWILLIAM’S MOUNT PLEASANT ELIZABETH SEMILLON 2006, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia  (724492, $19.95, WineAlign)

Such a rare occasion to peer into the portal of aged Hunter Valley Semillon so expectations run high along the lines of gain the ridge and peer out over the great expanse. Emerging classic secondary notes, in tropical low-bush, caramelizing tangy fruit meets sweet hive sticky fashion but, and I take care to be sure, the fruit suffers under a yoke of petrol and a scraping of rocks. The lemon is faint, the fruit disappointingly fading. Listen closely to her voice, “I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin.” Sure, acidity steals the show but at what cost? Still, a study in Semillon is always a positive so the cellar aging and delayed release must be appreciated. Oh, well89  Tasted January 2014   @McWilliamsWines

RAVENSWOOD OLD VINE ZINFANDEL 2010, Sonoma County, California, U.S.A. (673798, $21.95, WineAlign)

Consistency thy name is Ravenswood in the key of Zinfandel. From typically gnarly old vines scattered around Sonoma County and so young at heart. As solid as a wine can be when blending from so many sites. Vanilla is its calling card, flavouring the pool of berry syrup along with a tobacco-like smokey accent. Good tartness balances the rich fruit. At only 5g/L of residual sugar, this Zinfandel reaches sugar mountain with natural sweetness so, “ain’t it funny how you feel when you’re finding out it’s real.” Bring on the big game chili and beef stew.  89  Tasted January 2014

MALIVOIRE ’STOUCK’ CABERNET/MERLOT 2010, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (321836, was $29.95, now $24.25, WineAlign)

This Niagara Bordeaux-inspired blend comes from a legendary vineyard in the making. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot all ripen and develop phenolic pitch with Findhorn-like, remarkable quality. How and why it ended up on the VINTAGES Bin-End list is beyond explanation. It was a must buy before, now it’s a steal. From A long and ‘wine-ding’ tasting road:  ”From down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a pitchy rendition with a pronounced roasted espresso note. Seems to me the motherly, Cabernet Franc’s genes have imparted their wisdom into this (63%) Cabernet Sauvignon dominant beauty with big Cassis fruit. Chic, juicy, with a filled in mid-palate and stiff structure. Grab a glass, “leave your cares behind, these are the good times.”  91  Tasted March 2013  @MalivoireWine

Good to go!

In a Pinot Noir province of mind

Niagara

Save for the Oregonian version, Ontario has become the place to produce Pinot Noir out of soils not called Côte de Nuits or Côte de Beaune
Photo: Rilasata/Fotolia.com

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No other grape causes more of a stir, is responsible for more hair to fall and breaks more hearts. It doesn’t play well with others. It refuses to share, to be blended, to give anything less than 100 per cent. For many, there is no other variety. How often does a conversation begin with “what is your favourite wine” and end invidiously with “Burgundy?” End of argument. Nothing more to discuss. While Burgundy certainly persists as the historic locale possessive of the title “when it’s great, it’s the best,” Pinot Noir has flown the coop. The expatriate extraordinaire has migrated about the globe and is no longer always a wannabe facsimile where it’s now grown and bottled.

A bold statement to be sure is coming, now. Save for the Oregonian version, Ontario has become the place to produce Pinot Noir out of soils not called Côte de Nuits or Côte de Beaune. The argument finds root in the climate (cool) and the terroir (ideally suited). The anomaly that is this season’s Polar Vortex notwithstanding, Ontario’s weather is Pinot weather. The thin-skinned variety thrives in Ontario’s typical autumn conditions, maturing evenly and with a phenolic ripeness necessary to fulfill complex tendencies. Soil could not compose itself any better. The huge rock beneath the surface in Prince Edward County screams Pinot Noir, if by way of Burgundy. The Niagara Escarpment and its foothills beg to support Pinot vines. No, really. Go stand in the Lowrey Vineyard on the peninsula. The land beneath your feet will whisper sweet Pinot nothings into your ear.

Arguing the meritorious benefits of grapes and specific sites is an exhausting though compulsory one. I have been a staunch supporter of the need for planting Riesling and Gamay everywhere. Ontario can and will do no wrong with these varieties, whether it be PEC, LENS or any Niagara Peninsula terroir. Chardonnay too, though it produces the greatest wines in the appellations of the Beamsville Bench, Twenty Mile Bench and Vinemount Ridge. The benches likewise work wonders for Cabernet Franc, though many producers make terrific renditions down by the lake.

Pinot Noir requires more site-specific consternation. The learning curve inhabited by our top Pinot producing stars has pinpointed certain neighborhoods that support their clairvoyance and expensive habits. Norman Hardie knows the Pinot innuendo of both Prince Edward County and the Niagara Peninsula. Hardie’s Unfiltered 2012 ”brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket.” Thomas Bachelder makes Pinot in Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara, but it is his Lowrey Vineyard 2011 that blows my mind. “The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens.” The micro-terroir studies of Ed Madronich and Jay Johnston is the stuff of quantum eonology. The Summit Block 2011 does “impossible Burgundy,” between a Flat Rock and an escarpment.

So where is the best site for making Pinot Noir in Ontario? Prince Edward County? Twenty Mile Bench? Beamsville Bench? Vinemount Ridge? St. David’s? Has the industry matured to such a level that a Cru system should now be defined? The answer may not be forthcoming today but it’s just around the corner. Pinot needs to be cultivated and fostered so that plots can continue to be identified and qualified. The future of the industry depends on it.

I have recently tasted more than 30 Ontario Pinot Noir. Many are worthy of a second look and more than a dozen a place in my cellar. Here are notes on five more, all deserving of their place in the Pinot sun.

From left: CAVE SPRING PINOT NOIR DOLOMITE 2011, INNISKILLIN MONTAGUE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2011, TAWSE GROWER'S BLEND PINOT NOIR 2010, HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2010, and 13TH STREET ESSENCE PINOT NOIR 2010

From left: CAVE SPRING PINOT NOIR DOLOMITE 2011, INNISKILLIN MONTAGUE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2011, TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND PINOT NOIR 2010, HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2010, and 13TH STREET ESSENCE PINOT NOIR 2010

CAVE SPRING PINOT NOIR DOLOMITE 2011, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (26351, $21.95, WineAlign)

Part Beamsville Bench (70 per cent) and part Twenty Mile Bench (30), this best of both worlds Pinot is full of calcium magnesium carbonate, Jurassic bark. Playful as opposed to angry, this is not so much Snoop Dogg’s Dolomite but more like an animated Futurama. Seduces with a sweet red berry entry and bound by a really fine acid/tannin/fruit balance. Admittedly not overly complex but for the price it shows good structure. As far as Pinot goes, this one is a made for beef or rack of veal.  89  Tasted October 2013  @CaveSpring

INNISKILLIN MONTAGUE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2011, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (997353, $24.95, WineAlign)

Montague is a single-vineyard child of rain and heat. The flux of the growing season translates to a troubled and disjointed youth; musty, earthy and unforgiving. Still this Inniskillin is thick, unctuous, sharp, chewy and while currently situated on the darker side of Pinot, all this will change. Not yet showing what he is, the ’11 will “keep on keepin’ on, like a bird that flew,” and eventually be tangled up in blue.  89  Tasted October 2013  @InniskillinWine

TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND PINOT NOIR 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130989, $26.95, WineAlign)

The univocal Pender perfume permeates the Tawse stable of Pinot Noir and seems only magnified in the multiple site Grower‘s Blend. Vintage related warmth and inferable incrassation of fruit. Delves into a deep connection to disparate lands possessive of a common goal.  As if making wine is “your taste combined with all the years of wasting time.” Graceful Pinot Noir with moments touched by hot rocks, toasted red rice, a gentle smoulder and delicate grains of sand.  90  Tasted October 2013  @Tawse_Winery

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $40, WineAlign)

Clean, pure and crisp. As if raspberries covered in Beamsville dirt with an underlying lurk of grain and tannin. Crackling Pinot studded by caper berry and a sheer Mediterranean point of view. From an earlier note: “Takes my previous impressions to a higher plane. Standing correct by calling it a “a vintage relative release” but it’s so much more than “a quaffable, generous fruit sui generis.” Beets turn into plums. Opaque hue reminds of graceful Nebbiolo with a dancer’s legs in aperture. Wins in judicious use of French wood. Tannins persist in the rear-view mirror. Big ’10 that speaks of another level in Beamsville Pinot Noir. “Think about it, there must be higher love.” 91  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron 

13TH STREET ESSENCE PINOT NOIR 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (237222, $44.95, WineAlign)

Only the second coming of The Essence. Lucid, willing and able Pinot Noir from an assemblage of fruit sourced across the region. Atypical in that sense, speaking to a broader range of terroir and to a wider audience. Breadth and depth much like a Côte de Beaune, earthy of serious dirt layered over top a cherry core. Attention now and for five plus years is needed because though to taste it’s currently confounding, time will see more complexity, development and emerging emotion. It will then solicit a cry of  ”baby, sweet baby, you’re my drug. Come on and let me taste your stuff.”  91  Tasted October 2013  @13thStreetWines

Good to go!

Gripping wines from Spain and Italy

Europe

How can winemaking trump terroir?
Photo: 1xpert/Fotolia.com

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Winemakers in the most famous regions of Spain and Italy have gone pro in the practicum of wine that speaks loud and clear. If there is a downside it is the blurring of lines and overlapping of circles, where regions set far apart show similar, if near identical characteristics in their wines. How does this happen? How can winemaking trump terroir?

The simple answer is wood. Barrel usage is a global affair, with wineries scouring oak forests the world over to age their wine. French oak is most used and whether you make wine in central Italy or northern Spain, the oak you employ may result in more than just the commonality of wood. If your processes are tied by similar or even identical ties, your wines may taste eerily like one another, if not outright like kissing cousins.

Despite the oligopoly of technique and the lack of winemaking individuality gone viral in this generation, there are three things that continue to work in favour of regional character. The first is obvious. Soil. Or, more importantly, the components, the rocks and minerals that fleck the earth. Secondly, attitude. Call it conceit if you like but when a winemaker has the guts to make wines we like to call grippy, you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Third and so important to the consumer, is price. Spending $15-30 on wines from the most historic locales such as Burgundy and Bordeaux is almost always nonsensical and a waste. No where else in the world offers grip, pomp and pride like Spain and Italy and in that go to mid-price range.

A pentavalent and benevolent group fits this requiem for commercial gain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain. Chianti and Abruzzo in Italy. A Venn diagram of commonality can be agglomerated from their proclivities. It is in these fab five Old World wine regions where a twain of ancient and state of the art collide. Here are seven gripping wines from Spain and Italy.

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

Ribera Del Duero

The history: Located in north-central Spain, on a plateau, 90 minutes from Madrid. Ribera, or “river bank,” extends from both sides of the Duero. The Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero dates back to 1982.

The lowdown: Highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes. Summers are hot, winters are cold, rainfall is minimal. Lower vineyards are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. Higher ones built of limestone, marl and chalk. Tempranillo in the main grape. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

CEPA 21 HITO 2010, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (360503, $17.95, WineAlign)

Oh the shaken, modern humanity. Nothing shocking here, this 100 per cent Tempranillo parfait of silky chocolate, mixed berries, vanilla and wood chips. Finds parity in biting red cherry flavour. Though it may as well be any ambiguous, heterogeneous or hermaphroditic $30 IGT, its price puts it at the front of the line. Fun to drink, high-toned, textured and structured, though its origins are not at once obvious. Will evolve felicitously for five to seven years.  89  Tasted December 2013  @DrinkRibera

ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (355099, $21.95, WineAlign)

Amid a sea of Spanish reds, this Ribera stands alone as the most modern on the table. Dusty, trenchant dark chocolate, mocha crema, thick, syrupy, rehydrated plum fruit. Accented by both white and black pepper, anise and a late lash of astringent tannin. Abrasive as a pleading Waits croon, this Crianza is “better than a cup of gold. See only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy my soul.” Another Ribera with qualities akin to present day, Sangiovese dominated Chianti Classico. Immaculate confection.  89  Tasted December 2013  @EuroVinatage

RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain  (355107, $31.95, WineAlign)

Typically modern version with just the right amount of age. Interesting to see nearly 10 year-old Ribera, with so much obvious oak and modernity retain its fruit lushness and presence after such a chunk of time could have stripped away its freshness. Candied violets and pansy, peppery nasturtium and marble slab, rocky road ice cream. Oak nearly integrated but persistent in chalky texture. Confounding bareback ride on a wild 100 per cent Tempranillo horse that bucks as if Bordeaux or Rhône varieties would seem to bolster the whole.  90  Tasted December 2013

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

Abruzzo

The history: Central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea.

The lowdown: Mostly mountainous and wild terrain. The four DOC produced in Abruzzo are the Contro Guerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Montepulciano is the most planted red variety. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2009 and 2010.

CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, Abruzzo, Italy (663939, $17.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker superstar to be Francesco Cirelli does what more should do. Age organic grapes of purity and pristine quality in clay Amphore. The natural empathy and wisdom of crop rotation (for more than just grapevines) drives the logic and proportion of Cirelli’s wines. This Md’A smirks and balks at thoughts of it as entry-level, though it concedes to the moniker ’poster child’. From 15 year-old vines set in sandy clay soils near Atri in the Colline Teramane zone. The fruit is like raspberry felt, lifted, spritely, gregarious and inviting. The wine never plunges into bitterness, nor does it depend on any crutch to remain upright and weightless.  90  Tasted September 2013 and January 2014  @TheLivingVine

Chianti

The history: In central Tuscany. The two Chianti zones, Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.

The lowdown: Chainti Classico must have a minimum 80 per cent Sangiovese, the main variety of the region. Other indigenous grapes include Canaiolo and Colorino, bur Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also used. Soils vary from marl of layered sandstone, to chalk and clay, blue-grey sandstone and clay-limestone. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2007 and 2011.

CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (680496, $22.95, WineAlign)

Heather meadow Sangiovese, emotive of old school Chianti Classico aromas, notably tea, new leather and sour cherry. Texturally succulent and lush, like mini-modern Sangiovese Grosso. Nearly syrupy and 90′s-styled by a heavy-handed, wood-soaked guilty conscience. The kind of CC to “waste away the weekend with perfect regard for how cavalier we used to be.”  89  Tasted December 2013  @ChiantiClassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Priorat

The history: In Catalunya, northeast Spain. The most recent regulations of the DOQ were defined in 2006.

The lowdown: Dominated by hillside vineyards with poor soils, the dark slate called Licorella and low-fielding old vines. Garnacha and Carinena are the most planted, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, Priorat, Spain, (314559, $24.95, WineAlign)

Clearly contemporary, voluptuous Garnacha blend, in symmetry with foil Carinena, In support are small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), Merlot (five) and Syrah (five). Chalk, grain and chocolate intensity, scents of dusty mulberry, menthol tobacco, eucalyptus and licorice. Works its international styling to great effect, if a bit heavy, woody and hollow up the middle. Lags just behind the stellar 2008 and yet this ’09 will have many a follower. Just a bit more structure would make it a prize.  89  Tasted December 2013

Rioja

The history: In northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (DOCA), established in 1926.

The lowdown: Confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with soils ranging from chalky-clay, to ferrous-clay and alluvial. Tempranillo is the most planted (red) grape. Finest recent vintages include 2005, 2005, 2010 and 2011.

ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004, Rioja, Spain (725895, $25.95, WineAlign)

The animal that is an ’04 Rioja Reserva is a VINTAGES darling. Here is yet another example in a long line-up spread out over several months of releases. 2004 palate fatigue should certainly have set in but for this youthful yet learned Ontañón. The dichotomy is not lost with much wood to be nosed though it’s neither abstruse nor resinous. More like a smoking cedar plank beneath the rendering weight of a slow-roasting porcine slab. Tangy cherry, sour plum and really stretched length. Mineral finish. Brillo Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano.  91  Tasted December 2013  @TandemSelection

Good to go!

Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014
Photo: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)

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The physiological and emotional roller coaster heaped upon grapes and growers these past 55 days has been nothing short of exhilarating, frightening and exhausting. First this monster climatic Dementor known as the Polar Vortex. Along with the demonic weather came the devastation of an ice storm, followed by record low temperatures. More recently, thaw and re-freeze. Consequences and challenges have abounded. Also, a silver lining. Freezing temperatures can kill grape buds on vines unprepared and left to fend for themselves. Those little vine kinder can also just be unlucky enough to grow up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some Niagara growers are reporting heavy losses to Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay vines. Here are the numbers as reported by Wines In Niagara’s Rick VanSickle.

I spoke with winemaker Paul Pender of Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ontario yesterday. Paul is both unconcerned and not yet ready to make any sort of call on damage to his crops. “It’s still too early to tell,” he notes, “I won’t really head out to assess any potential damage until early March.” While Beamsville vineyards are reportedly hard hit, Pender is confident that his team’s strident and prudent vineyard management will see the vines through.

Balanced pruning means leaving a specific number of buds during the winter on a dormant cane for this year’s crop, the number based on the amount the vine grew the previous season. Tawse’s canes are cut back to two feet, the dead wood removed before winter’s freeze can hit. Buds this season were thinned from 12 to six, giving those tender bits a fighter’s chance to survive. And while Pender will not enter into an unequivocal conversation with respect to the heartiness of his vineyards as a consequence of 100 per cent organic and biodynamic farming, I can hear the surety in his voice and imagine the twinkle in his eye at the thought.

Other growers concern themselves with what may happen inside the many parts of the vine when there are freezes, thaws and re-freezes. Again, Pender is not concerned. Proper pruning should prepare a vine for a harsh winter, whether or not they are protected by a warm blanket of snow. In New York’s Finger Lakes region, Lenn Thompson is reporting “some minor bud damage to vinifera vines, but little to no vine death.” Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyards on Seneca Lake had this to say. “Yes, this winter is definitely presenting itself in a rather volatile manner. As far as I can tell from checking a number of varieties and many buds, there does not seem to be any catastrophic primary bud kill. There is damage, but not too bad so far. I do not think that with things being this wacky that we can really rest easy until most of the winter has passed.” Brock University’s Cool Climate and Viticulture Institute in St. Catherines helps local growers with much needed information and infrastructure to deal with damaging weather. Their VineAlert program helps protect vineyards during frigid temperatures.

Icewine Hours 2013

PHOTO: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)
Icewine Hours 2013

The news is not all bad. According to many icewine makers in Niagara, 2013 will shape up to be what many are forecasting the best ever vintage for the province. Temperatures dipped to the requiem in late December and most picked their shriveled, sugary berries before the new year. That is unprecedented, allowing this season’s icewine to remain high in necessary balancing acidity and well ahead of the fermentation arresting challenges from most years. Wine Country Ontario reported that “early icewine harvest in Wine Country Ontario starts the festival fever.” Look for the most balanced icewines out of 2013. Not to mention the Grape Grower’s of Ontario reporting the province’s grape growers gathered a record 79,756 tonnes of grapes in 2013 valued at nearly $100 million.

The Niagara Icewine Festival encompasses three weekends in January dedicated to the region’s beloved ambrosial elixir, wines that have become the calling card beyond the broader confines of Canadian borders. Icewine has been made since 1981 and in that short span of 33 years, Ontario and B.C. winemakers have challenged, and in many cases lapped their counterparts in Germany and Austria. Canadian icewine is globally renowned, even if it is not the most important wine resource bequeathed upon the rest of the world.

Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s stringent Bolshevik Initial Decrees-like laws insist that icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

A national icewine debate is ongoing, inflamed by a recent Macleans Magazine article discussing the ideological differences between the VQA law preventing vine and grape separation before pressing and the Quebec practice of letting the grapes freeze in nets. Quebec growers do this out of necessity for fear of their fruit being smothered by excessive snowfall. Ontario’s old guard vehemently oppose the practice. The irony of VQA Ontario’s website low volume statistic, “with average yields of 500 litres for each acre netted,” is not lost on the curious. Two questions arise. How many grapes in Ontario nets end up in bottles of VQA labelled icewine and how can a culture of Canadian icewine be brought together without some form of compromise and collaboration? Yet again, is togetherness integral to the success of Canadian icewine, or more specifically, Ontario’s industry?

According to Klaus W. Reif of Reif Estate, apparently there are 3,750 berries needed for one bottle of 375ml icewine. Just consider the concentration for a moment, the hand-picked (though not all) labour involved and the specificity of the practice. The sweetest wine known to Canadians can indeed be re-worked as a palindrome for Niagara Ice Wine Festival.

A wet vial is fine nice agar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Rick James Ice Sculpture, Niagara Icewine Festival

On Friday, January 10th, 2014 I was a most elated guest at the Xerox Icewine Gala: A Bacchus Evening of Icewine and Revelry. For a list of continuing events this weekend and next, here is a link to the festival site. More information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena KaiserSmit and Wine Country Ontario, I had the good fortune to taste a host of Niagara’s finest renditions, along with some very special bottles of sparkling and still wines. Here are notes on six wines sampled at the Fallsview Casino Grand Ballroom last Friday night.
From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Onatrio (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.  90  Tasted January 2014  @PellerVQA

CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95, WineAlign)

The floral lift from three to four percent Viognier gives notice to bend the brawny, savoury black olive and blistered Ancho fruit into balance. Syrah in a sunshine state but not from concentrate. Would accept a glass of this Brokenpress at any beck and call. “Grab your wine, take me where you been, with the violin time and the moon gettin’ thin.” From my earlier note: “Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.”  91  Tasted twice, October 2013 and January 2014  @CreeksideWine

PILLITTERI ESTATES MERLOT FAMILY RESERVE 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign)

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?  93  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (20483, $55.00, WineAlign)

This Bordeaux style blend (40 per cent Merlot, 33.3 Cabernet Sauvignon and 26.7 Cabernet Franc) is clothed in a coat of arms all about texture. A drawn and raised relief of dried, candied bramble fruit and charcoal lines of savoury, earthy hickory and herbs. Hearty warmth from a cool vintage, meat on a stick in a glass, charred, roasted and smoking. A spit of gamey goodness. Holding strong but drink now.  90  Tasted January 2014  @RavineVineyard

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, Niagara On The Lake (46557, 375 ml, $60.00, WineAlign)

A most unique and striking rendition, wearer of many hats, confounding and curious. There is a funk about him that stands apart from the rest. Like a really well-aged, superb piece of washed rind cheese, then turning unabashedly sweet, with verve and symphonic tone. An orange sky of an icewine, anti-bittersweet, accented by mace and anise, carob even. “Here is what I know now brother. Here is what I know now sister.” Cabernet Sauvignon, in a vintage equipped with striking acidity, can turn into something to look forward to. One of the more interesting icewines to date.  91  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (163018, 375 mL, $60.00, WineAlign)

This represents the icewine revolution, for the first time adding 15 percent Vidal juice into the Riesling mix. In 2012, the normally stand alone Riesling needed a shot in the arm, provided by the Vidal, a dose of icewine magic by winemaker Brian Schmidt. Lifted tree fruit blossom and added weight are the result, without hyper-sweet flavours. Riesling is the rock, Vidal the roll as this RV crashes into me. The pit orchard fruit is reduced and recognizable to taste, yet reserved and in phonic harmony. “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll.” Brotherly love icewine, full of Schmidt wisdom.  93  Tasted January 2014  @benchwineguy

Good to go!

Feeling under the weather? Drink wine

Wine is your friend.

Wine is your friend.
Photo: chiyacat/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

A year ago today the lead to my January 15th, 2013 column spoke succinctly to the mantra. “A glass or two of wine might just be the thing to help ward off the common cold and the flu.” In that rant some substantiating evidence was laid out in support of drinking wine (in moderation) to help fight off the nasty bugs of winter. A year on my conviction does not waver. Wine can help cure what ails. A wine prescription for cold and flu has been a curiosity read for many over the past 365 days. Ridiculousness? Perhaps. Personal hermeneutic? Yup. Something to consider? Definitely. Words to live by? You be the judge.

In that article I talked about wine’s antioxidant properties (called flavonoids) and compounds that attack bacteria, like resveratrol and polyphenols. All in the name of trying to immunize the body against hundreds of common viruses. What I failed to discuss was the positive mental health of a lifestyle that includes wine. Wine drinkers, at least the ones I spend time with here in Ontario, are happy people. Friendly folk, community-driven, supportive, neighbourly. Wine brings everyone together. It’s really something to see and be a part of.

In Argentina, Bodega Norton has forged and maintained some of the longest contracts with growers in comparison to anywhere in the vinous world. Vines, mountains, rivers, roots and the hands of workers are all treated with respect, professionalism, honesty and commitment. Norton’s wines are accessible and affordable, including the flagship Privada, described by winemaker Jorge Riccitelli with the fanciful comment “you can feel the grapes inside your mouth.” I sat down with Mr. Riccitelli on Monday, November 11th, 2013 at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Toronto. The hour with Mr. Riccitelli sent me away with one profound thought. When you take care of your people, your team and the tonic you produce, health and happiness are not far behind. The tasting with Jorge was the stuff of pure joy. A visit to Norton must surely follow.

Michael Godel and Jorge Riccitelli

Michael Godel and Jorge Riccitelli

A recent mini spat slash argument in Toronto Life on the subject of 0rganic and biodynamic wines helps to push the point. In response to an inflammatory comment noting the ”pseudo-scientific claptrap of biodynamic agriculture” the cosmogonal-minded Bench Vigneron Harald Thiel retorted, “the primary difference between organic and biodynamic production practices is the “cosmic and stellar” forces that biodynamic producers believe differentiate their wines.” To each his own says Thiel. I’m quite certain that Harald would concur that drinking wine can help bolster the immune system but going the natural route, in theory, will boost defences multi-fold.

Some take it to the extreme like Alain and Philippe Viret, winemakers who go beyond being organic and even biodynamic. They practice cosmoculture. Their vineyard is studded with menhirs and ‘planetary beacons’ in order to connect with celestial and earthly energies. It embraces Maya and Inca agricultural and spiritual concepts.

Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle is a flying ambassador who believes in the credo. At an October Trialto Group lunch at Luma Restauarant, the eerie connection between the restaurant group’s acronym and the act of natural winemaking was not lost on me.  The devastation of Chile’s black frosts were being discussed and the magnificent Ms. Lapostolle-Marnier pushed the sapient necessity of O & B practices to a group of diners/tasters. “Being organic and biodynamic, the vines are heartier, able to handle the frost’s potential damage, budding time and produce healthy vines.” Casa Lapostolle also has scientific data to prove that organic and biodynamic vines mature 10 days ahead of the others.

Trialto Lunch at O & B's Luma Restaurant

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Trialto Lunch at O & B’s Luma Restaurant

No one works harder or believes in the O & B philosophy to achieve wine nirvana more than Paul Pender of Tawse Winery. Everything Mr. Pender makes comes from fully certified and sustainable vineyards. I tasted through 25 barrels with Paul last Friday. His 2013 Chardonnays will be amongst the best we have ever seen on the Niagara Peninsula. The group of 2012 Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are all showing lush, deeply resonant aromatics, all pies of one fruit or another and with minimal oak intrusion. More pudding proof will come from the most recent tightly planted Pinot Noir, in the Tintern Road Vineyard from the Vinemount Ridge appellation. At only three years of age, the juice from those healthy vines already emit an aura of verve, wisdom and viability.

Not all of the wines reviewed here come from O & B vineyards but each and every one can contribute to your mental and physical health. Wine is your friend. When approached, integrated and embraced in the right way it can help to promote a healthy lifestyle. The defence rests.

From left: NORTON RESERVA MALBEC 2010, CENTUNO NERO D'AVOLA 2010, LA CARTUJA TINTO 2012, LAPOSTOLLE CUVÉE ALEXANDRE APALTA VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011, and TAWSE GROWER'S BLEND CABERNET FRANC 2011

From left: NORTON RESERVA MALBEC 2010, CENTUNO NERO D’AVOLA 2010, LA CARTUJA TINTO 2012, LAPOSTOLLE CUVÉE ALEXANDRE APALTA VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011, and TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND CABERNET FRANC 2011

NORTON RESERVA MALBEC 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (17061, $17.95, WineAlign)

As Malbecs come and go, group themselves into dime a dozen pigeon holes and fall from serious wine grace, this stalwart stays the course. Norton’s Reserva bottling has a proven track record for consistency. My most recent ’02′s spoke of strength, longevity and balance. In 2010, true to form, violets lead the arrangement of multi-floral scents and a kinder, gentler, sweeter set of tannins promote connectivity. Restrained and calm, this Norton forgoes the jams and jellies of other moderately-priced Malbecs and carries with it a smooth, long finish.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BodegaNorton

CENTUNO NERO D’AVOLA 2010, Sicily, Italy (357103, $17.95, WineAlign)

Though not exactly a chick magnet or my Sicilian dream, this Nero D’Avola is chock full of animal magnetism. It reeks of four-legged musk, circus mammal and deep-sea predator. Despite the oppressive mob of animale there is also lush berry to attract more than just the curious imbiber. A dense fruit roll up, unfurling, spewing earth, prune and coal. Will petition the non-sectarian toper.  88  Tasted December 2013  @Eurovintage

LA CARTUJA TINTO 2012, Priorat, Spain  (358861, $18.95, WineAlign)

This symbiotic blend of 70 per cent Garnacha and 30 Carinena rolls out the red carpet straight from the heart, not unlike Terrabianca’s 70/30 Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon Tuscan Campaccio. Only here the value is palpable, especially for Priorat. Fueled by blazing red cherry and plum. Vivacity with bright fruit seeped in acidity but also a coated note, though not of over-oak, that paints the tongue red. A rumbling layer of licorella slate lies atop eruptive rock and beneath a rolling thunder of boulders. This is high-octane Spanish winemaking, a red velvet car that doesn’t “even touch the break.”  89  Tasted December 2013

LAPOSTOLLE CUVÉE ALEXANDRE APALTA VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile (947929, $24.95, WineAlign)

“We don’t want too ripe, jammy or confiture,” pleads Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle. While this Super-Chilean is certainly full-bodied, it remains a finessed red and silky in every way. Leans IGT, as opposed to Bordeaux or warmer climate (California). Stupidly easy to drink, built for resto luxuriousness and really is a terrific value. A choir of dark fruit aromatics, sung like songs by the birds of the vineyard and a late sensation of charcoal and char are expressed in this Cabernet of fashion and caste.  90  Tasted twice in August and October 2013  @LapostolleWine

TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND CABERNET FRANC 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (284570, $26.95, WineAlign)

From selected prime Cabernet Franc vineyard sites across the headland, the Grower’s Blend reaches near maximum potential in 2011. An immediate sense that “leaves are falling all around” in a composted layering of earth, cedar, savoury produce and sweet herbiage. A tart tincture spikes and sauces the fruit, straight from the “darkest depths of Mordor.” Winemaker Paul Pender’s perfume permeates the mess, lifting the CF to great Niagara heights. Ramble on Grower’s Blend.  90  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender  Tasted October 2013

Good to go!

New year. Try new wines

Red wine

Here are five new releases to get you going in that risk-taking direction
Photo: colors0613/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

More wine predictions have been paraded out in the first week of 2014 than disgraced senators, mayors and potential Olympic men’s hockey team selections. What do they all mean? Will any of them really come true? Will support not continue to the largest brands, produced for the most middle of the road, common denominator consumer?

Tyler Colman polished his crystal ball to determine wine trends for the new year at wine-searcher.com. Jamie Goode insists “it’s going to be a good year for the Balkans and the ancient wine countries  and it’s going to be a bad year for many wine writers.” Ron Washam, the Hosemaster of Wine said “I read Dr. Vino’s predictions for 2014, and they were exactly the same as his predictions for 2013.” So he walked on the wild side, noting “I’m pretty sure “Supernatural” wines will catch on.” Chris Losh followed up with his satirical Chris-tal Ball from Just Drinks.

The global community of wine writers, critics and commentators collectively seem to be saying no to the status quo. They are predicting sweeping changes to consumer tastes. They are not wrong, but neither are they right. The largest wine corporations and super-negociants will continue to push their brands built on four or five grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Pinot Grigio and Malbec) because bottles produced from those vineyards planted over the past 15 years with their huge excess of juice have to be sold. That can’t change. By all means, go ahead and march out a full-on pageant of obscure grapes my good-friend Zoltan; Kadarka, Fetească Neagră, Xinomavro, Blaufränkisch, Mavrud, Saperavi, Furmint, Harslevelu, Juhfark, Antao Vaz and Rktsiteli. Serve them at my table, please. It’s just that everyone else will look at you kind of funny.

Then there’s the hush, wink, say-no-more evil of the mega-purchaser model (read between those lines) of bullying the Brettanomyces out of your suppliers. You know who you are, you wine enabling vinous behemoths the equivalent of Sobeys and Walmart.

Today, at 2 p.m. ET the weekly PostMedia Wine Chat will resume. Gurvinder BhatiaRod PhillipsJanet Dorozynski and I will discuss the resolve to drink outside your comfort zone. We’re going to put aside what we know, leave the couch and venture forth to grapes, regions and hidden appellations either ignored or perhaps never visited. We’re going to recommend that you do the same. Here are five new releases to get you going in that risk-taking direction.

From left: REYES D'ARAGON BRUT RESERVA CAVA 2010, BODEGAS BERONIA VIURA 2012, CHATEAU JOLYS 2011, and BLUE MOUNTAIN BRUT METHODE TRADITIONELLE

From left: REYES D’ARAGON BRUT RESERVA CAVA 2010, BODEGAS BERONIA VIURA 2012, CHATEAU JOLYS 2011, and BLUE MOUNTAIN BRUT METHODE TRADITIONELLE

REYES D’ARAGON BRUT RESERVA CAVA 2010, Spain (194803, $14.95, WineAlign)

Offers a rare opportunity for vintage-dated Spanish fizz and from somewhere other than Penedès. From Bodegas Langa and built upon a foundation of Chardonnay (along with Macabeo), this Cava takes a direct route through the village of white grapefruit, returns and replays there again and again. A high road dosage of sweetness lingers over licorice root and the rangy flavours include Manchego and green olive. Good, if not spectacular quality Cava. At $15 you have to appreciate the slightly oxidative bronze patina and refreshing copper minerality.  89  Tasted December 2013

BODEGAS BERONIA VIURA 2012, Rioja, Spain (190801, $14.95, WineAlign)

Great tenacity for such entry-level Rioja vin blanco. What more could you want? Freshness, grape must, tang, just a hit of spice, pepper. From my earlier note: “Exsufflates super ripe, fresh picked pear and emollient herbiage in pure, angled control. One hundred per cent, quick macerated and cold stabilized Viura of aromatics locked in tight. A pour that leads to a starburst of flavour. Complexity reaches the sea in an underlying tide of salinity.”  89  Tasted July and December 2013  @WoodmanWines  @BodegasBeronia

CHATEAU JOLYS 2011, Ac Jurançon Sec, Southwest, France (362046, $16.95, WineAlign)

Shake it up with this delicious if slightly unusual, tangy, edgy stuff. Out there and beyond your average French sipper, shaped by lemon curd and zest, tangy grapefruit and lengthened by rubber-legged dancing elasticity. May drive its car under the influence but it’s not warm and fat. Busts ” the move with the quirky jerk.”  88  Tasted December 2013

BOUTARI GRANDE RESERVE 2007, Naoussa, Greece (140111, $16.95, WineAlign)

Once you go Xinomavro, especially with this stupidly good value, you never go back. An inoculate of bright cherry liqueur is beginning to brick but holding steady and strong. Years of seeping have led to this moment of slight prune-ish activity but the old school beauty and charm is nothing short of wonderful.  Cherry wood resinous and still markedly tough tannins bring out the bitters but the wine glides smoothly forward into a soft, eloquent finish  90  Tasted December 2013  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup

BLUE MOUNTAIN BRUT METHODE TRADITIONELLE, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (206326, $27.95, WineAlign)

Blue Mountain is the poster child for B.C. bubbles and this forth-righteous, tight to expansive, quintessential cool-climate Okanagan is the stalwart for the genre. The unabashed intensity in citrus acidity,  zero dosage style is exactly what it should be. If you have never experienced west coast bubbles, this is the place to start.  90  Tasted December 2013  @BlueMtnWinery

Good to go!

Three Rieslings to believe

Grape leaf

More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on Canuck Riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.
Photo: hayo/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

There are many reasons to believe in Riesling, that versatile and brutally honest grape. Riesling holds no punches, speaks its mind, tells it like it is. Grown worldwide and vinified in so many varying styles, Riesling is not so much a chameleon but rather a mutant. It takes root in every vineyard, marking its terroir, expressing itself singularly and without apology.

Canucks make Icewine from many different varieties; Vidal, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and most often, Riesling. This coming weekend the most passionate Icewine lovers will gather to get silly with Niagara’s nectar gift to the gods. The annual #icewinefest is set to begin on Friday, roll through the weekend and continue on for three more activity filled weeks. Wine Country Ontario has all the details. For more information, click here.

In 2006, a Gothamist author made a poignant call in the column A Riesling to believe. Quote, “there was so much going on in the glass that it truly captured our undivided attention.” There’s one rub. In 2012, The BC Wine Guys stated in their post, You Give Me a Riesling to Believe, “thankfully, a hand full of the original vintners in the province held to the belief that world-class Rieslings could, and would, be made in BC.” True that. Wineries of Niagara on the Lake also employs the catch phrase in their discussion on several local wineries fashioning excellent versions of Riesling, notably Between the Lines, Cattail Creek, Konzelmann and Strewn. Montreal Gazette wine columnist Bill Zacharkiw‘s more than appropriate recent rodomontade stated that 2014 will be the year of Riesling. His stance? “It’s time to spread the gospel about this glorious and misunderstood grape.”

Riesling held centre stage in this column twice last year. In the post, 100 kilometre wine for spring, there was this: “A modern-day Riesling narrative takes place less than a 100 kilometres away, along the Niagara Escarpment and above the pictorial towns of Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland.” In June, there was the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Riesling Experience 2013. It was there I asked the $128,000 question, “are you wine experienced?” It was also there in St. Catherines that Nik Weis of the Mosel’s St. Urbans Hof winery furtively suggested, “Riesling is better than an isotonic sports drink.”

Over the past two-four months I have exonerated and upheld with the highest Riesling belief that Canada does the variety justice above and beyond the pale, in the vineyard and in the glass. Gushing praise has been doled out to Tawse, Greenlane, Flat Rock, Angels Gate, Sperling, Hidden Bench, Thirty Bench, Rosewood, Charles Baker (Stratus), 2027, Cattail Creek, Chateau des Charmes, 8th Generation, Featherstone, Fielding Estate, 13th Street, Calamus, Cave Spring, Tantalus, Colaneri, The Foreign Affair, Hinterland, Vineland Estates, Malivoire and John Howard. More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on Canuck Riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.

If there is a better place to produce Riesling than up on the Beamsville Bench and the upper reaches of the Niagara Escarpment (the Mosel in Germany notwithstanding) then I’d like to know about it. With no disrespect to the Rheingau, Pfalz, Baden, Nahe, Rheinhessen, Alsace, Wachau, Clare Valley,  Eden Valley, Marlborough or the Finger Lakes, Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and to a lesser extent, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley should and will be making some of the planet’s finest juice.

As if the list of nearly 25 Niagara producers was not long enough, here are two more to add along with their three combined terrific Riesling interpretations.

From left: SUE ANN STAFF LOVED BY LU RIESLING 2012, SUE ANN STAFF GRACE'S DRY RIESLING 2011, and HINTERBROOK RIESLING 2012

From left: SUE ANN STAFF LOVED BY LU RIESLING 2012, SUE ANN STAFF GRACE’S DRY RIESLING 2011, and HINTERBROOK RIESLING 2012

SUE ANN STAFF LOVED BY LU RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (322636, $16.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps camping in that gray area between a laugh and a tear, ostensibly off-dry and simple in succulence yet an undeniable stonking acidity manifests its ability for give and take. Honey, lemon, melon and yellow plum combine for fruit forgiveness, with no petrol and “I know there’s a balance, see it when I swing past.” Really terrific.  88  Tasted December 2013  @SueAnnStaff

SUE ANN STAFF GRACE’S DRY RIESLING 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (367086, $18.95, WineAlign)

Hard lemon drop sour candy, beautifully medicinal and waxy Riesling, dry yet intimating something more, something hung and harvested longer. More lemon, freshly squeezed and grapefruit too, with Alsatian promise but with a bent towards what I don’t know. Intriguing, beguiling and herbal, like a lemon balm tisane. “I know that you are strong enough to handle what I need.” Very unique Niagaran giving yet another reason to believe in the Peninsula as a dashboard confessional for Riesling prayer.  89  Tasted December 2013

HINTERBROOK RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (270512, $17.95, WineAlign)

Despite the pale hue this has body and a certain, distinct clarity. Nearly but not quite off-dry, this makes use of lake-effect for balance. There are fresh herbs, the tang of yellow plum and even an odd licorice note. Springs a full stein of mouth-watering Riesling belief, so much so that a “congregation gathers down by the riverside.” Another hymn to Riesling is sung.  88  Tasted December 2013  @Hinterbrook

Good to go!