The death of wine scores?

 

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Not so fast.

As time goes by, I am hearing less comments like, “well that one got a 95,” and “that one is better value because it got a 90.” Wine ratings may increasingly becoming maligned and less frequently employed but that does not mean they don’t have their place. Scores continue to be necessary as a way to evaluate wines that lack a certain level of honesty. Wines on the edge of being dodgily made, encumbered by heavy-handed, industry-fed, mass marketing machines. Scores separate and differentiate the wheat from the chaff when dealing with over the top residual sugar, hyper-acidification, bloated alcohol and (lack of fruit) masking. Embrocating one Malbec an 85 over another’s 84 makes a comment on the relative validities of those two sweetened confections.

Attaching a rating to a tasting note is not a question of right versus wrong. Ratings measure a bottle of wine against its peers. That is the simple answer. The problem is that the tasting experience is a subjective one and each reviewer has personal preferences, so in order to align with one (or more), the consumer must self-calibrate alongside a critic whose palate they’ve figured out. Very difficult to do, so relying on scores has always been the easiest road to travel.

Part of the problem is that tasting notes, on their own, are often fleeting and impossible to grasp. Guilty as charged. Fred Swan put this is the most eloquent terms. “Tasting notes are like photographs, portraying a subject at one brief moment in time and without a back story.” If tasting notes are just snapshots, is that not compelling testimony as to the need for an accompanying score? Or is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?

Jamie Goode’s take. “I find myself in a tricky position: I use points even though I don’t like to because readers find them useful. And I have to calibrate my scale with the major critics. This pushes me into a corner.”

Still the debate is growing and for good reason. The wine community is tiring of seeing scores, especially those tabulated using the Robert Parker Jr. anointed 100-point scale, attached to a critic’s wine tasting note. The question has always been this. Why would you need scores to sell wine?

Mr. Parker feels so strongly about the entrenched longevity of his system that he’s announced the launch of a new lifestyle magazine called “100 Points by Robert Parker.” Does this sound like a last gasp fling from a captain going down with his ship? Bill Zacharkiw seems to intimate the idea, but the Montreal Gazette wine critic is smarter than to lash out and drag anyone through the mud. Taking a high road, Zacharkiw writes, “from grapes to wine styles, there is truly a wine for everyone. I have my taste, you have yours, and Parker has his.” No, nor scores neither. Nor scores neither.

The fervor and sometimes rage in the argument reminds me of the (second) most famous of Hamlet soliloquys. “Why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man!” Most of the voices chiming in on this hot topic only see the ratings world in black and white. There are more shades of grey than many would freely admit. Scores have their place.

Meanwhile, Decanter is reporting that Château Pontet-Canet made a bold decision to test (more than 20 years) of uncharted waters by setting their en Primeur pricing in advance of the taste and ratings levies by the major critics. Since the nineties the likes of Parker, Decanter and Wine Spectator have all but determined Bordeaux Futures pricing. Pontet-Canet’s move is being seen as another nail in the 100-point coffin. One Bordeaux négociant commented, “If other chateaux follow this same pricing model, we might as well go home now.”

The real issue is the bottle itself. In the new world of wine, who has not thrown new stock and a vested interest into wines made naturally, in sustainable, biodynamic or organic ways? Who has not made a resolution to drink more honest wine? Producing good wine still trumps the natural theatre of viticulture and viniculture but honesty is the new order. Honest wines should go forth and be free of wine ratings.

Wine scores can be ignored if we concentrate on what matters. Like apiculate yeast, fermentative vigor, microflora, clonal selection and soil. We also need to talk more about and mention flaws, like chlorinated compounds, hydrogen sulphide and volatile acidity. These are things that are too often brushed under the rug.

I will continue to post ratings of the wines I review on WineAlign because as a community of critics we offer a round table of opinions that allow the wine buyer to make gathered, educated and informed decisions. In consideration that this forum is a singular expression of opinions, this column will no longer attach scores to tasting notes. It’s quite obvious, plain and simple. I only write about honest wines for canada.com. The prose speaks for itself.

With spring beginning this Friday, no joke, here are the last of the great big winter reds. Five wines recently tasted that thrilled by way of their fairness, their honor and their virtue. Wines that need no score.

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (364133, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Stands out for its honest fruit, this Mendozan from San Roque district in Maipú county. Qualified by an admirable level of restraint, low in residual sugar and alcohol, straightforward, unencumbered. Winemakers María Eugenia Baigorria and Sergio Giménez have let the fruit speak in clean, level tones, in red berries, licorice red and black, a dusting of spice, red cherry and even strawberry. This is textbook hands off winemaking with nearly exceptional length and simply solid from start to finish. Mi sueno, mi terruño.  Tasted March 2014

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Francois Morissette’s 2010 is a pioneering example towards defining Bench appellation Cabernet Franc isomeric reactions. Relationships between grapes of a growing area and their ultimate destination in bottle. An affair of veraison, leaf drop, frost, hand harvesting, whole cluster sorting and berry oak fermenting.  Indigenous yeast, punch downs and overs for phenolic skin extraction and polymerization. Neutral oak and sulfur dioxide to provide antimicrobial and antioxidant protection. An eighteen month somniac’s rest, fine lees and no filtration. The structural arrangement in cohabitation of radicals and ions leads to such a Cabernet Franc. Fully expressive of an endemic, very ripe, vegetal varietal vicissitude that is both inbred and necessary. Currants and peppered berries of power and grit. Dry (2 g/L residual sugar), plump (13.7 per cent alcohol) and scarce (618 cases made). Reflective of the warm 2010 vintage and will always act in stark contrast to the elegant 2011.  Tasted July 2013 and March 2014  @PearlMorissette  On the card at Barque Smokehouse

Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, Tuscany, Italy (353201, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A re-release showing an exuberance of advanced character. Now acting out the strikingly rich and golden vintage, in Lamé and gilded iron. Speaking a most Tuscan, elite vernacular, already recognizable and evolving into its own skin, with a notion towards herbaceous, dried fruit. A classic pasta and roasted meats red wine. Nonna’s Trattoria kitchen in a glass. Drying just a touch, so drink up. Earlier note: “Slight earthy funk, imparted by the vineyard floor and in part from the wood. Sappy, resinous, distinctively warm-blooded, plummy fruit. Tuscan tang though light on pucker.”  Tasted October 2013 and March 2014

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign)

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection 

Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe, Bordeaux, France (259010, $149.85, WineAlign) An In-Store Discovery from the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A blend that in 2010 is extremely high in Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), with support from Merlot (12) and Petit Verdot (2). Immaculate hue in blue jasmine meets red ochre, echoed by blue and red fruit aromas. A purity of freshness and an exotic perfume distracts from the absurdity of the price, if just long enough to become intoxicated by its qualifications. It really does have it all. Red velvet layer cake made of the finest chocolate, the world’s least refined and highest quality sugar, spices only found in places reached and hand-picked by agile, primate-like humans. So approachable and marked by sweet tannins that will carry this Saint Estèphe for three decades.  Tasted March 2014

Good to go!

On a wine and a prayer

White wine

An assembly of really good white wine seems as good a plan as any to beg for spring weather
Photo: pagnacco/Fotolia.com

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I’ve been too long without summer,
In this winter home.

We’re going to begin the last week of March with a quartet of white wines as a prayer for the hopes of warmer weather. A bottle full of fresh and sprite grapes to be brought into the temple as a gift to lay down at the altar, sacrificial ferments meant to appease the harbinger gods of Spring. A prayer on the back of a wine angel to usher us out of the cold, to drink in long time missing, rarefied air.

Is this plea just a bit too Exodus 40:6 for you? “And thou shalt set the altar of the burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation.” Maybe too much like an American World War Two patriotic song? “And our trust in the Lord, we’re comin’ in on a wing and a prayer.” Do you read this and think, “See the rich man lost and lonely, watch him as he dines, sitting there just testing all the wines…” Does this make you roll your eyes due to a kitsch allergy? “Our wine, which art in heaven, hallowed by thy legs…For thine is the Chardonnay, the Merlot and the Cabernet. Forever and ever. Amen.”

An assembly of really good white wine seems as good a plan as any to beg for Spring weather, prosaic waxing or not. Let’s just make a plan. Open a bottle of white wine a day for four days, or open one and wait four days. Then look out the window. If I were a betting man I’d say Spring will have sprung.

From left: Casal Di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore 2011, Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Dillons Point Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, and Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2010

From left: Casal Di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore 2011, Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Dillons Point Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, and Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2010

Casal Di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore 2011, Doc Marche, Italy (268169, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

What once was, though no longer is a single (Montecarotto) vineyard designated Verdicchio, the exceptional quality of the grapes remains obvious, front and centre. A five months lees meets yeast cold soak and a distant, though influencing stone’s throw from a (somewhat) far away coast combine for complex effect. A brilliant platinum hue and loaded stony, mineral relish is piqued by a pinch of salinity. The overall elaboration is urged along by lime citrus in zest, aromatic bitters and evolving fruit entering a nut stage. Very, very Verdicchio.  89  Tasted March 2014  @UmaniRonchiVino  @Noble_Estates

Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Dillons Point Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand (66092, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

There is just something about Sauvignon Blanc from vineyards on or near the shore of Cloudy Bay. Alan and Petrina Shutkowski’s plot in Morgans Road joins ranks the likes of the original and iconic Cloudy Bay and te Pā as purveyors of distinct and inadmissible fruit. Rises to a next level concentration and exceptional length. Larger scale producer does upscale SB at a large-scale price with distinction. A thing that sings long and in the right green grass key. Avoids the sickly, herbal sweetness of overbearing aspara-gooseberry and bell pepper. Incredible acids and just the right kind of salivating, mouth-watering verve and tang. Just a pinch of grapefruit pith joins in to magnify the bitters in all the right ways.  Tasted March 2014.  91  @CoopersCreekNZ

Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, Santorini, Greece (366450, $22.95, SAQ 11901091, $24.50, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A 100 per cent Assyrtiko from a 150 year-old, Cycladic Phylloxera sanctuary vineyard. Separates itself from other Santorini adelphoi by ageing 20 per cent of the inoxydable, ancient-minded grapes in French barrels. An Assyrtiko that can’t help be anything but stony, atomic driven goodness. Volcano flow and spew, with more texture than most, its elevated price a necessary reflection of a tertiary expertise. Elevated aromatics, locked in tight by the barrel and matched by extreme flavours, so primary, raw, powerful, relentless and grippy. A remarkable white wine that impresses with a sensation of mouth rope burn full of complex, seafaring knots, this Assytiko will age for 15 years in the cellar and develop into something ethereal. Will melt away in dreamy waves when it settles together. Myth will beget legend, legend will beget truth.  93  Tasted March 2014  @KolonakiGroup

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula,Ontario (662841, $45.95, SAQ 11031443, $48.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

This current visit to the ever-ambrosial Robyn’s Block 2010 is unlike any that have come before. Seemingly lignified at present, a stranger in town, in an unexpected, dumb phase stalled as if by agostamento. Twenty Miles of limestone lurk and a green gem’s goddess figure hides behind the looking-glass. This regnant Robyn pleads “take away my inhibitions, take away my solitude.” While not the most flattering of her evolutionary positions, a retinue of resurgent fruit will lead to Robyn’s exodus. A few years patience and this cool climate Chardonnay will regain her warm, tropical smile, to shine again.  92  Tasted March 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Good to go!

March grape madness

Andrew Wiggins, #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks

Andrew Wiggins, #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks, drives upcourt as Marcus Smart, #33 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, defends during the Big 12 Basketball Tournament quarterfinal game at Sprint Center on March 13, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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Choosing wines from a wall of brace and girder filled options presents as much a degree of difficulty as picking winners from an NCAA March Madness bracket. When it comes to teenage basketball, do you stay the favourite course and go with all number one seeds? Should you think underdog, like Coastal Carolina Chanticleers or the Albany Great Danes? Who will be this year’s 2013 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles? Or the other 2013 final-four sleepers from Wichita State? Or Virginia Commonwealth in 2011? Butler, Davidson, George Mason, Kent State, Indiana, Loyola Marymount, Villanova, this list goes on. Who can forget the Jimmy V. coached 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack?

Related – Five Canadians to watch for during 2014 March Madness tournament

When you consider what wines to open alongside the march to the Final Four, or what to drink in March, are you thinking Cinderella story or go to, can’t miss favourites? Being partial to the underdog, the lesser known, smaller lot, less marketing backed bottle is not only smart but worth the risk. Winning the pool because you chose the right lower seed and picking out a wine gem from a sea of same-old, same-old is a winning combination. Here are six unsung heroes, dark horse wines to seek out this March. Get a little madness in your life.

Clockwise from top left: Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha 2012, Maison Adrien Vacher Les Adrets Altesse Roussette De Savoie 2012, Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Tawse Gamay Noir 2012, Prà Soave 2012, and Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Clockwise from top left: Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha 2012, Maison Adrien Vacher Les Adrets Altesse Roussette De Savoie 2012, Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Tawse Gamay Noir 2012, Prà Soave 2012, and Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha 2012, Vinho Verde, Portugal (276220, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Up a buck but for its nerve, ball fake, back-door cut and caution thrown to the wind, deserves to be so. Fast breaking mineral Vinho Verde without the hot spring, travertine effervescence. Rocks upon rocks, torched by the sun and set beneath a ripe apple orchard. A good bitterness, blanched nuts and lime in full-toasted flavour. Not your avô’s VV and that’s a good thing. Progress matters.   89  Tasted February 2014  @winesportugalCA

Maison Adrien Vacher Les Adrets Altesse Roussette De Savoie 2012, Savoie, France (365163, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Expectations run high for this montane white to be light, ethereal and delicately floral. To the contrary, the Savoie Altesse/Roussette (sort of like saying Bourgogne Blanc/Chardonnay) is at first an offensive foul, a bit stinky, sweaty and humid, like the efflux of a runny, unwashed rind cheese. Auto emissions too, acquired aromas for sure, with more mineral to taste, along with funky apples on steroids. Thoroughly invigorating. Can you get on board?  89  Tasted February 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2011, Niagara Peninsula (321893, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Backs up the 2010 with another vintage that offers talented local ”Meritage balance for under $20.” The blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is a Nik Stauskas-like pure shooter, a thing of BEEF: Balance, eyes, elbow, follow through. Solid extract winged by top-notch acidity and nicely packaged with waves of fruit. The extraction may not allow this modestly priced red to age without some deconstructing so enjoy the fresh and vibrant fruit now and for two or three more years. Will really work with game nights.  88  Tasted February 2014  @Rockway Vineyard

Tawse Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322545, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

The Tawse 2012 Gamay is a roaming shark with a Hammerhead-butt of (the serious side of) varietal aromas; tar, char and cherry pie. Capable of scoring points in the paint, a double-double even, like the twin tower Brampton brothers at New Mexico State. A very humid ’12, as per the vintage, with full-on flavour and in avoidance of the floor’s splinters. Forsakes the shaken and reductive instability of some young Tawse (big reds in barrel) for easy buckets kissed off the glass. For now and with every meal, including breakfast. Tang, inhibition, ball-stripping, #GoGamayGo.  89  Tasted February 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Prà Soave 2012, Veneto, Italy  (74534, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 1, 2014 Release

Enter screw cap, exit the designation Classico. Pra Soave the man repossesses its self-respect and re-brands itself under the name “Otto.” This Garganega ventures into rangy, rambunctious, starburst territory. The tang pitches in many tones, there is texture to chew and it travels to lengths not typical for entry-level Soave. Bold Venetian. Madness even. “And I remember how we’d play simply waste the day away,” something the Otto will gladly encourage. The only Soave you might consider eating on a plate but Otto insists “couldn’t enjoy it any more, Mom. Mm, mm, mmm.” And one!  89  Tasted February 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh

Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench (33902, $45.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Extremely good showing for this stalwart in what is becoming a classic Twenty Mile Bench vintage. Cran/Raspberry earthy-straw scents layered in a cake of overlapping, alternating flavours in raspberry (again) and quality chocolate. More intensity than the other ’11 LCJ’s at this early stage, simultaneously concentrated and light, like a ball-distributing point guard with 20-20 vision. Increased oak in dribble drive motion really ties the spiced flavours together, without sacrificing freshness. This will improve for five years, if not more. Winemaker Sébastien Jacquey must have called on his muse for this LCJ because “some kind of madness has started to evolve,” and from here on in this Pinot will solicit a “need to love.”  92  Tasted February 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Good to go!

Bottles, barrels, tanks and a vertical

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Photo: Brian Barton

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Listening to Flat Rock Cellars’ winemaker Jay Johnston rattle off the numbers and particulars of his 2013 Pinot Noir harvest you can’t help but survey the odds of something preternatural. Vintage speculation for 2013 in Niagara has met with tempered interpretation, a play down on the effects of weather and generalizations that it was just another normal meets classic year. Nothing to see here. You sure about that?

This according to VQA Ontario. “2013 was an interesting year with some significant weather variations through the growing season…weather conditions during the 2013 season were quite variable…with some isolated late frosts in Niagara…temperatures through September and October were slightly higher than normal but October was wet putting pressure on harvest schedules and many wineries worked long hours to optimize harvest strategies around the weather.” Sound the alarm?

Flat Rock’s vineyard is a wondrous bit of topography. Peer out from the conclave tasting room and witness a rolling set of undulating and breaking waves, ascending, descending and demarcating the landscape. Let Ed Madronich point out individual plots and blocks. Imagine each sub-section of the vineyard as its own little hermetic world, with its own soil biology and guided by its own little set of rules. Now taste Pinot Noir tank samples from 19 disparate parcels. Internalize, disseminate, deconstruct and reconstruct. As if you were the master of single varietal assemblage. Mind blowing actually. Nerdy, but mind-blowing.

House and Home Food Editor Eric Vellend and I sat down with Johnston and Madronich at the winery for a comprehensive look at those ’13 Pinots, fresh out of their infancy and just beginning to offer a glimpse of what they will be. A total of 185 tonnes were harvested at a more than modest 24 to 24.5 brix, a sugar quotient effectuated by timing as much as sunshine. Nineteen chapters delineate the story, in 160 barrels and in the end there will be two wines. The 2011 Block Series experiment will once again go unrepeated, though Jay notes a return could be considered for 2014.

2013 Vintage Flat Rock Pinot Noir Samples

PHOTO: Eric Vellend
Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir samples from the 2013 vintage

The tank room was very cold on this last day of February 2014 (you don’t say) so Johnston brought up the samples in what can only be described as a highly classified, secret society of winemakers, high-tech way; in plastic water bottles and Erlenmeyer Flasks. The goal was to offer a representation of the fingerprint of the vineyards and the fermentation management through full composite blends of each batch. We tasted through eight of the 19. The first three are from batches that end up in the Flat Rock Estate Pinot Noir. Clonal selections are noted in brackets.

Flat Rock Cellars 2013 Tank Samples

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Flat Rock Cellars 2013 Tank Samples

 

South (115)

Tang at the forefront, a mineral streak, red berries and a lingering whisper of citrus squeeze from recent (X-mas) sulphuring.

Horseshoe (777)

Dusty and also juicier, from an icy, polar beginning to come back around, calm down and seek a softer, common (to South) end.

Road (777)

Beastly, meanest sucker of the three, speaking with the most rock. The only one (of the first set of three) with some funk.

Monster (A blend of clones)

Funkadelic funky but also the fresh maker. Cherries and high-toned perfume, a feral hint in a leafy, good compost way.

Pond (667/777)

Most like cousin Monster, with increased ferrous activity and striking as the most recognizable to be Flat Rock Pinot Noir, even at only four months of age.

Mountain (667)

The darkest hue yet, with more smoke, heavy rock and a fuller structure.

Bruce/Summit

Bottom and top of the (west) vineyard collide with a mineral tie connecting the two. Grit and toughness here, depths of Mordor and Prunus Serotina, cherries gone black. The combo effect confuses the fruit, rendering the B/S the least subtle and distinctive.

Bruce West

Back to dust but also tang and bigger tannins. Vines with less vigor and smaller berries to thank.

These eight samples all begin in antipodal and far away places but come together to seek common ground. As a window to the outlook for 2013 I can say with unequivocal doubt that if these wines were in bottle they could all be enjoyed right here and now. Pinot Nouveau. They are possessive of a computation in complexity to each tell an individual story. It would be hard to figure Jay and Ed waiting a full 12 months to see them into bottle, especially from the showy blocks. Look for Flat Rock to knock some off to racking in late spring to preserve their amazing level of freshness. The 2013 vintage looks to offer immediate gratification. Its longevity remains to be seen.

Vineyard view, Flat Rock Cellars

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Vineyard view, Flat Rock Cellars. Note the warmest rows.

 

Notes on (not yet released) 2012′s and 2013′s

Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1545, $18.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Essential

Nearly 4000 cases will be available of this nearly-unfiltered, very established and always well-thought out Pinot Noir. A consideration of the plots and barrels micro-management that determine the crasis of this Estate wine demands an extrapolation in full-on assessment. The medium-coarse Chinois filtering lends to a tannic chain of texture thick in grain and chalk. A heavier Estate because when the weather gives you heat you make a climate appropriate wine. This monkey is not a product of arctic air and it “got too deep, but how deep is too deep?” Thermal vintage melt, ritzy ripe cherry stuff in 2012. From the Ritz to the Rubble, if you like, or the Flat Rock.  88

The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

There will be 660 cases of this barrel cherry-picked, now iconic Bench Chardonnay. The warm vintage called for a combo-malo approach, part batch all in, part arrested development. Gravity influenced top down blending also work to seek a svelte elegance and this ’12 really straddles the humid line. Thinks to be ribald but remains chaste, only allowing a kiss from the barrel and a caress from the rocks beneath the soil. Accept immediate but know that deferred gratification is the hallmark of this bottling.  89

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

From a sample just pulled from the tank. Jay Johnston’s concept for Nadja is to create many fermentations together, using 2000L tanks and some barrels. The ferments are arrested when they achieve balance and then blended. Nadja still has her young fizz on and she’s exaggerated in Metallica meets a wondrous kind of sour. Already showing an unfurling of (mostly citrus) fruit but also spice and hurried depth. Frantic Riesling, will she “stop to warm at karmas burning, or look ahead, but keep on turning?”  89-90 

Pinot Noir Rosé 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (39974, $16.95, WineAlign)

Tasted from a tank sample. The 2013 Rosé marks a change in direction and approach. No longer a one-dimensional, typical method blush made by saignée, bled off cold soaks, the ’13 goes at it half and half through skin fermenting. As soon as the skins dry out they are removed. The result (though not really apparent four months in) will be aridity with the sweet balance arriving by way of a six to seven percent sulphured dose of Gewürztraminer. The sample swims both upstream and down, through waves of salinity and dulcitude. Will lay claim to being one of the more interesting Rosés from the vintage.  87-88

Red Twisted 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (86918, $19.95, WineAlign)

Tasted from a barrel sample, this singular Bench brew of Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir. After 14 months in barrel, all separated at birth, the varieties were blended in mid-January and will be bottled this March. Yet unsettled, there is a level of unctuousness and cake layering. A big red for the believers, for those who lust for big reds. Currently showing its wood, freshness, acids and potential for balance.  87-88

Sparkling Brut 2006, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (0238311, $35.00, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Ed Madronich at the winery. This was Flat Rock’s first ever Sparkling wine made in a challenging vintage. The base wine was fermented dry and sent to neutral barrels. Sugar and yeast were added after eight months and it then entered the bottle. Newer vintages may see time stretched to 20 months. At this stage it is very much alive, showing the whole orchard and nothing but the orchard, albeit with some fallen fruit. Some sugar lingers but not enough to pull it from dry. With time the orchard gives to grapefruit. In the end it’s big and biscuitous. Says Madronich, “Our wines can go 15 years, no problem.” We’ll see about that.  89 

Unoaked Chardonnay 2007, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (68015, $16.95, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Ed Madronich at the winery. Six and a half years have done this unoaked Chardonnay six and a half years of wonder. Green herbs and apple jam spread on a whole wheat cracker. To believe there is not a day of oak on this wine is to bury one’s head in the sand and begin again. It’s that stubborn Bench limestone doing the fooling. “We have great soil,” grins Ed. A few minutes and a few more swirls in it begins talking in the vernacular of Chablis, in a matchstick tone. It’s also fleshing as it goes. Six plus years and $17? “It’s crazy.”  90

Flat Rock Cellars Rusty Shed Vertical

PHOTO: Eric Vellend
Flat Rock Cellars Rusty Shed Vertical

 

Rusty Shed Chardonnay Vertical 2011-2006,  VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (1552, $24.95)

Barrel fermented, barrel aged, gravity fed. No other Niagara winery can offer up a vertical like this, in this price range. If there is another, let me know and I’m there.

2011 (WineAlign) Conspicuous by its texture from a mild to middling vintage “when you picked before or after the rain.” Though combined, the antechamber of acidity and good cheer trumps the mudroom of funk and doldrums. A Guns ‘n Roses vintage, a pull in two directions, with a potential for breakdown. “Ev’rything was roses when we held on to the guns.” A soft, buttery note tempers the tang and yet that tang lifts the fruit. The tension is what sets the ’11 up for a classic run.  91

2010 (WineAlign) Increased sugar from a hot year with early ripening. Picking decisions played a crucial role, the prudent winery avoiding the heat of the day. This was key to preserving freshness and acidity. Though the aromas are soft and muted, the palate is lush and plush with a mid-section of adolescent body fat.  89

2009 (WineAlign) A slow and even ripening season culminated with a warm and dry harvest. Ideal harvest conditions. This ethereal ’09 has that late harvest come of age feel but is unwavering from a dry sense of humour. Acting as fresh as the day it was bottled, ole’ blue eyes is in ownership of the best of all the surrounding vintages. It was a very good year for the old Rusty Shed, like “life as vintage wine from fine old kegs, from the brim to the dregs and it poured sweet and clear.” A classic crooner, with wood now neutral and supportive, that will last alongside fruit, to the autumn of its years.  91

2008 (WineAlign) From a cooler, wetter, “Burgundian” vintage. Noticeable terpenes and delineated streaks in the aroma, palate continuum. Like mild cider in a diluted but not watered down way. A matter of elegance and refinement. The oak integration may be the most calming yet and the wine has maintained its freshness. A vintage to measure with clonal ancestors and distant cousins if not Flat Rock siblings.   90

2007 (WineAlign) From a very warm and dry vintage with low yields. Dichotomous, with clean fruit working with and against some barrel and earthy notes. Was a tough year to “manage acidity and freshness,” a fight that was paramount to success. Flint and matchstick also work this ’07, as much like Riesling as Chablis so in that sense this is reminiscent of the Unplugged. In another way, the earth says this is as much of a Brett-influenced vintage as any.  89

2006 (WineAlign) Like the 2007, this has that golden hue so it appears that seven to eight years is the marker for the apogee of consumption. A vintage tough on reds, good on whites. Though not high on opulence, the ingot sheen is like fool’s gold and the trickery works to great effect. A fortune is won in patience because this elegant ’06 eventually sheds its rust, gives up fresh apple and palate cleansing acidity. A show of age and propriety.  90

One more for the road.

Pinot Noir 2003, VQA Niagara Peninsula (WineAlign)

Less than a case is left of this first Pinot Noir made by Ed Madronich. At the time Flat Rock made just 500 cases, including two Rieslings (Estate and Nadja) plus two barrels (43 cases) of Chardonnay. From a cool vintage, 11 years on this Pinot is reddening to maroon, with sour cherry flavours submitted to earth. A hint of soy and toffee. Herbaceous, young vine minted, accented by dill and mushroom. Holding on and showing that older vintages had (not known at the time) depth and structure. Creamy texture if not the cleanest Pinot ever made. First world problem.  88

Good to go!

Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure

Frozen Niagara Falls

As frozen Niagara Falls, so frozen Niagara Falls
Photo: yobab/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Doesn’t every local wine writer’s pilgrimage begin this way? There’s 130 kilometres to Niagara Falls, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes (not really – the only thing we smoke is BBQ), it’s blinding winter morning light out and we’re wearing sunglasses. Well, one of us is.

Related – When expert’s break wine together

With Jake riding shotgun to Elwood we hit the QEW, pause for bench land visits to Flat Rock, Zooma Zooma and Creekside Estates, then make the frozen Falls by dusk. Two slackers we are, Bill and Ted, ponces submissive to wine, travelling through Niagara assembling a library of tasting notes to condign for memory in lieu of history missed and as practice for futures to come.

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

Niagara’s annual Cuvée rolls out the red carpet for a black-tie gala at Fallsview Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Touted as a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking, the event gathers more than 50 wineries and asks that they pour their winemakers’ favourite wines alongside a room full of esculent Niagara eats. Local chefs set lavish food stations and guests are treated to comestible ruminations composed by students from the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Sun Media Après Cuvée party features Icewine, sparkling wine and craft beer bars, not to mention a repeat performance by the impolitic, patent, I want you to be moved sound of Jonesy.

Zagat and Spotlight Toronto's Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena KaiserSmit

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Zagat and Spotlight Toronto’s Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit

Proceeds from the Cuvée Weekend go to the Niagara Community Foundation. Created in 2000, the Niagara Community Foundation has raised more than $23 million in endowment funds and has granted in excess of $5.5 million to charities working in the arts, heritage, environment, social services, health, education and community development. In 2015, the event will leave the very capable hands of the NCF and fall into the most capable hands of Brock University.

The word cuvée can mean many things in the world of wine. The Champagne tradition carries the most recognizable weight, the practice dictating that the best grapes be used and gently pressed to ultimately produce a sparkling wine of superior quality. In the end any cuvée is a blend no matter how you slice, interpret or break it down. It really comes down to the question of quality. Did Cuvée 2014 put its best foot forward? Were the ace grapes on display?

Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

The Cuvée gala, at one time an awards showcase ceremony, has welled to the point of a brimming kitchen sink, perhaps in danger of overflowing. Those who know and have been there agree the change in structure has been for the better. Growing pains are natural, inevitable side effects of growth. It’s more party than oenophile wine think tank, a cultural mosaic and for some, a melting pot. Speeches, awards, thank yous and acknowledgements are barely audible above the revelling din.

VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

PHOTO: Dan Trcka/grapeselections.com
VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

In 2013, to a wine, the pours were best of the best. My take was put into these words. Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary. In 2014 many vintners poured either their best (Domaine Queylus, Five Rows, Coyote’s Run, Rennie Estate, Stratus, Thirty Bench) or their most unique (Peninsula Ridge, Trius, Southbrook, Riverview, 13th Street, Malivoire). The event and the following morning’s Expert’s Tasting would not be diluted by a few more shots of Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore in the arm.

The real adventure lies in the attempt to taste everything in the room. Time and excessive schmoozing gets in the way so getting to more than half is a win, win. Here are notes on 10 wines tasted at Cuvée 2014 and the reasons for singling them out as separating themselves from their peers.

Riverview Gewurztraminer Angelina’s Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara River (368092, $18.95, WineAlign)

A creamy, corpulent expression with a stinging enzymatic yogurt texture. Would swear there was extended lees contact. Furthest thing from the truth says winemaker Angela Kasimos. That striking salve gives way to a vacuous aridity without conceding to nuts and residual sugar. Well-made and without interference. Thanks to Riverview, Gewürztraminer has found a home in the pliable, silty loam of Niagara River.  88  Tasted February 2014  @RiverviewWinery

Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Jamie Evans and Sauvignon Blanc share a kinesis. When kissed by the wise and wistful fruit that Wismer cedes, compounded by the vintage, this Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc inclines to aeaeae. All parts contribute to a stretched length, from fresh beginning to mouth-watering end. In between there is lees-stirred spice, dry and toasty points but the grass is never overgrown and the berries are golden. A kickstarter sour note propels the wine forward for an even longer taxi onward. What a vineyard, what a wine.  90  Tasted February 2014  @PeninsulaRidge

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29, WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.  90  Tasted February 2014

Trius Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Less than 300 cases were produced of this, you guessed it, natural grape skin, wild yeast fermented unique Sauvignon Blanc. Cold bunch pressed and 11 months on the lees lend a fruit/wood spice and gregarious character that is impossible to miss. Winemaker Craig MacDonald shows a savvy Savvy love in his carefully considered treatment of this wine. This ’12 WF steals the show at Cuvée in the category of most compelling and thought-provoking.  91  Tasted February 2014  @TriusWines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95, WineAlign)

Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution. Earlier note: Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.  91  Tasted October 2013 and February 2014  @HiddenBench

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker's White 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

While the triple W represents neither traditional alchemy nor screaming value it begs to be considered for sheer shock and awe. A co-fermented, low brix, who varietal blend of 58 per cent Chardonnay, 27 Semillon and 15 Muscat, winemaker Ann Sperling’s capricious fancy white and nerdy captures the vintage to alight and delight effect. Spice, texture, florality and acidity really work the room. Though the varieties seem to sing ”we don’t move in any ‘ticular direction and we don’t make no collections,” they somehow join together.  White wine of whimsy, not shallow, like a Wes Anderson film.  88  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95, WineAlign)

Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice. Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with its a touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  91  Tasted November 2013 and twice February 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Five Rows Craft Wine Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $50, WineAlign)

Gimme soft and sage treatment of a vineyard’s wondrous, pure fruit transcends most previous notions of Niagara Pinot Noir. That Lowrey vineyard in the hands of its first family drives spice into red fruit direct from soil and vine. Winemaker Wes Lowrey handles his family vineyard fruit like it were a baby and from this comes a promiscuous perfume. The ’10 is so youthful but coming into the springtime of his voodoo, having now been in bottle for a year. Though thoughts were that “he was going to show me spring,” the wine should clearly be left to flesh for a few more seasons.  92  Tasted February 2014

Thirty Bench Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)

Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe.  92  Tasted February 2014  @ThirtyBench

Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Le Grande Reserve’ 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $65, WineAlign)

The Thomas Bachelder mentored, two-vineyard assemblage Grande Reserve Pinot Noir grinds more cracked pepper than any predecessor. Every barrel from the Twenty Mile Bench (formerly Le Clos Jordanne’s, Neudorf Family La Petite Colline Vineyard) and Mountainview vineyard were scrutinized to determine the final blend.Bachelder sees black fruit in the early life yet despite the ebullient seasoning, the LGR’s genes are intrinsically feminine. Red cherry, tellus fertility and a mother’s strength hold the family of barrel children together. This is an ambitious and hard to read Pinot Noir. Judgement reserved for five years before the word classic will be used.  92  Tasted March 2014  @QueylusVin

Good to go!

Winter white out wine, beer and food conditions

White wine in the snow

The weather will step aside in April. Until then, satiate yourself.
Photo: Sergio Di Giovanni/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The winter that never ends. White out conditions, snow squalls, wind advisory and chill warnings. Everything just feels heavy. The OPP’s request? Just stay home, Ontario. Prepare for the worst, hunker down and warm the belly with full-bodied wines, strong mocker, beer and hearty winter meals. The weather will step aside in April. Until then, satiate yourself.

Here are six strength fortifying libations to ride the final wave of winter’s brutal conditions.

Clockwise from left: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, 13th Street White Palette 2011, Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, and Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Clockwise from left: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, 13th Street White Palette 2011, Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, and Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, Scotland, United Kingdom (279349, $3.25)

Stout matured over American Oak Heartwood and infused with Irish Whiskey. A Cimmerian entry in hue and hunger peels back to a curious lightness of being. The wood tends to an Arabian mocha aroma, the whiskey to molasses and gingerbread baking spice. The 7.4 per cent alcohol is integrated though an incendiary smoky magic weighs in to toast biscuits and braise a beefy pot au feu. “The Smoky Life is practiced everywhere,” in the I & G. A beer of good charm, smooth, silky, singing in melodic grace and with confidence.  90  Tasted March 2014  @InnisandGun

The grapes: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay Musqué

The history: Niagara winery founded in 1998. Chablis native Jean-Pierre Colas joined 13th Street as winemaker in 2009. Co-owners of the winery, the Whitty family has been farming fruit in Niagara for well over 100 years

The lowdown: Much of the fruit comes from the estate’s Creek Shores appellation vineyards, sedimentary, well-drained lighter soils on a landscape highly dissected by its many streams.

The food match: Fish Tacos

13th Street White Palette 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (207340, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

JP’s who’s who bottle of white grapes, a mad scientist’s blend, the flask filled with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay Musque. A re-release and much improved with a year’s extra weight, its “got your body right now.” Fortified by a carapace of grape spirits and purposeful in a white meritage sense of community, plus citrus, pith and a far-reaching, right correct absinthian length. You better you bet.  88  Tasted October 2013  @13thStreetWines

Fish Tacos Photo: Michael Godel

Fish Tacos
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From Marlborough on the western side of the Waihopai Valley. The name is both the indigenous Maori word for “pathway” and Latin for “altar”

The lowdown: “With rugged mountains on either side and two icy rivers cutting through, it’s a pretty extreme place. The very definition of raw, cool climate conditions.”

The food match: Potato Frittata with Feta and Green Onions

Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (361279, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Immediate impressions are of a user-friendly Pinot Noir in conceit of black cherry, chocolate and blueberry spice. These are surface notes quickly displaced by an adventurous senses of living on the edge. The wine dips into a brine and lithic earth saturated by glacial melt. This is a different sort of Marlborough Pinot that speaks a modern english, if too young to be understood. “I’ve seen some changes but it’s getting better all the time.” Will try the Ara again in a year or two and likely say I melt with you.  89  Tasted February 2014  @AraWine_UK

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Planeta first made this wine 20 years ago in 1994. It has become “the image illustrating the changes taking place in Sicilian wines.”

The lowdown: From Ulmo (calcareous with sections of deep vegetable matter) and Maroccoli (medium clay soil rich in limestone) vineyards in the area of Sambuca di Sicilia. Powerful Chardonnay.

The food match: Taco Night

Planeta Chardonnay 2010, Sicily, Italy (109652, $38.95, SAQ 00855114, $39.15, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 release

Wantonly lavish, heavy and tropically delicious. If ever there were a red wine substitute this is the one for the wishful thinker. Tasting this Sicilian is like liquid breathing sweet and salty, drawn butter. It’s a glass of dessert Chardonnay, dichotomous and oxymoronic in congealed warmth like cold-stabilized, oxygen-rich, perfluorocarbon. The tropical warmth is a combination of honey and lemon-glade, like Savennières with an unexpected aged Jura, oxidized, herbal angle. There can be no arguing the complexity of this Sicilian dream. Extreme humidity, with a bitter middle streak and ground nut flavours.  90  Tasted March 2014  @Noble_Estates  @PlanetaWinery 

Taco Night Photo: Michael Godel

Taco Night
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Thomas Bachelder, flying winemaker, architect of the Bachelder Project, of trois terroirs, in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy

The lowdown: “Burgundy is my favourite place to make wine,” admits Thomas Bachelder. “The large négociant control all (44) 1er cru vineyards so there are not a lot of small growers working with Beaune fruit.” Enter terroirman.

The food match: Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard

Bachelder La Petite Charmotte Nuits Saint Georges 2011, Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Is so floral, mineral, intense and hypnotic it might be dubbed the Serpent Charmer. Iron and wine indeed, the iron of Nuits, the perfume of Beaune. This provocative bottling represents the third year of production, is conspicuous in Anis de Flavigny and an underlying gate. If montagnes is the harming one, this is the charming one. These are all from the same barrels, so what really affects the wines the most? Land and hand.  93  Tasted November 2013  @Bachelder_wines

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

The grape: Sangiovese Grosso

The history: The family has been in the wine business since Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Florentine Guild of Vintners in 1385. The Antinori estate is responsible for some of Tuscany’s most famous wines; Solaia, Tignanello and Guado al Tasso.

The lowdown: As stalwart a Brunello as any, Pian Delle Vigne is not immune to critical conjecture. Applying kudos to any big house in this polarizing vintage will raise an eyebrow or two. Why not Antinori?

The food match: Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, Nova Scotia 1006431, $64.80, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 15, 2014 release

Goes at it older, bolder, tried and truer than had recently been the case, especially in 2007. Leather, cherries, seeping tea and peppery, earthy, funky dates. Purity of fruit, obviousness in Sangiovese Grosso aromatics and it is only when you taste that you are dealt with the full effect of its power and girth. Quite viscous on the palate, tough, gritty chain of tannin and qualified, felicitous bitters on a very long finish.  Best Pian delle Vigne in some time, at least back to 2001.  93  Tasted November 2013  @AntinoriFamily

Good to go!

Telmo’s Spanish dream

An afternoon with winemaker Telmo Rodríguez and Lifford Wines

\'Pasero\' detail, Competa, Malaga, September 2007

“Pasero” detail, Competa, Malaga, September 2007; “In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.”
Photo: Telmo Rodríguez

as seen on canada.com

Telmo Rodríguez the company is a small wine producer fashioning meager quantities from more DOs (and DOCAs) than can fit into a 620 x 400 jpeg. Telmo Rodríguez the man finds himself at the 20th anniversary year crossroads in celebrating the outgrowth of his dream. This critical juncture requires travel, evangelism and conceit, qualities the laser-focused, frank and facund winemaker possesses in spades.

Telmo Rodríguez tasting at Archive Wine Bar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Telmo Rodríguez tasting at Archive Wine Bar

“We created a (not mass market) Spanish category of wines available at a good price,” says Rodríguez, “a human type of category.” Spain, according to the flying oenologist, is a passionate country with gastronomic clubs, where people cook and eat, to foster a crazy love of local ingredients. Within a 100 km radius around Basque country, “you have the best available products anywhere in Europe,” he boasts. But, he complains, wine has gone in the other direction. He laments the overuse of international grapes, monosyllabic styling and a disappearance of regional character. Wine as fast food.

Telmo Rodríguez sites

PHOTO: telmorodriguez.com
Telmo Rodríguez sites

Rodríguez did not want to make wine from international varieties or from recipes. He wanted to make wine from places and their landscapes. After studying in France (Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley) he returned, not wanting to make wine in France, not wanting to emulate France. So began the terroir journey, from Rioja to Galicia, from Ribera to Rueda.

“In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.” So he makes wines without the suffocating slings and arrows of outrageous, appellative fortune; no Crianza, no Reserva, no Gran Reserva. “No designations to help the bad producer,” he quips. Tell us how you really feel Telmo.

All the Rodríguez vineyards are organic, but this is something matter of fact, not a literature littered calling card. “We prefer to be known as a good producer. We don’t give too much importance on the winemaker, but more on the place, with respect and with respect for the land. We don’t move grapes from one place to the other.” This is the import of the most parochial of winemakers. Here are tasting notes on a selection of eight wines chosen from across the vast Spanish Telmo Rodríguez portfolio.

From left: Basa Blanco 2012, Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, and Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011

From left: Basa Blanco 2012, Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, and Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011

Basa Blanco 2012, Rueda, Spain (SAQ, 10264018, $15.95, B.C. 586016, $18.99, WineAlign)

Verdejo so often reached by walking the flat earth is here circumnavigating a more complex world. Smells a bit like Sauvignon Blanc and Telmo Rodríguez admits “it’s the only mistake I made in my life.” Commercial confessional though it leads the way around a round earth. Cool and full of tang with a heavy emphasis on herbiage and metallurgy. Enticing example full of instant gratification.  88  Tasted February 2014

Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, Do Valdeorras, Spain (SAQ, 11896113, $17.85, WineAlign)

From Valdeorras, “gold country,” here Godello exhales its perfume in waves of gaseous fumes, rushes, meadow wildflowers, lemon thyme and balm. Viscous and nearly chewy, with a slight oxidative note breathing over dry patina hard candy. Stainless steel imagining itself as green oak and Mediterranean salinity combine to give an aura of Galician warmth. Sea, sun, wood and mineral.  88  Tasted February 2014

Mountain Blanco 2012, Málaga, Spain ($25.95)

“I didn’t want to produce this wine because Malaga was all about sweet, related to the past, to the ancestors, to something very deep. It took 10 years to decide to make this wine.” Sun-baked, trenchant, scorched Muscat. Liquid adobe cake from the brown slate soils, between 600 and 900 metres. Antique of a dry white, tinny, sharp, caramelizing, like the crust on a pork loin. Lengthy mountain jam makes you want to eat a peach. Reminiscent of Auxerrois, though certainly more southerly, Moorish even. Pure sec, 100 per cent Muscatel.  87  Tasted February 2014

Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011, Do Valdeorras, Spain (SAQ, 11861771, $18.00, WineAlign)

The most Atlantic-influenced wine of the tasting, this fluid, medium-rare red. Rodriguez’ base and necessary expression for the “the freshness of Galicia.” Shares an aromatic commonality with Cabernet Franc though its gait is more Northern Rhône Syrah. Anti-serious, easy wine, existing as “a link to the past.” Like going back in time to Valdeorras’ past, into a beautiful home with all its contents having sat untouched and unharmed for 100 years. Fermented in tank so though it may be unprocessed it has that underlay of mineral and grit. Nothing oxy, flashy or large-scale about it. To have wide but not mass appeal. Beneficial length. Increases in approachability as it lays in glass. A taste of chewing crushed granite and plump plum. Honest and humble Mencía.  89  Tasted February 2014

From left: M2 Matallana 2010, Lanzaga 2008, and Altos de Lanzaga 2004

From left: M2 Matallana 2010, Lanzaga 2008, and Altos de Lanzaga 2004

M2 Matallana 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($42.95, WineAlign)

M2 is 100 per cent Tinto Fino 14 months, aged half in new, half in second use barrels. A Tempranillo of dialect specific to place, just as Pinot would be in Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée or Volnay. Telmo not necessarily making Tempranillo, but rather Rodriguez making Ribera, or more specifically, a Tinto Fino gathering from Los Guijarros, Los Hundidos, Carrahoyales, Los Apriscales and La Pirileja. Blatant are the chalk and mineral intertwines, in marbled goodness. Makes quicker work than the Riojas, sheds its skin, peels away its oak and lets the fruit, soil and rock come forth.  92  Tasted February 2014

Lanzaga 2008, Rioja, Spain (SAQ, 11157151, $28.50, WineAlign)

Tempranillo with Graciano and Garnacha. From Rioja Alavesa, vines water-stressed to survive on shallow soil, digging in to Miocene sandstone strata. Begs for protein and development from an unforgiving, stony, calcareous and silty textured land. Fermented in large cement casks, allowing the fruit, which is nearly unparalleled for Rioja, to shine in all its ripe glory. A wind of perfume, a mistral espléndido. Finishes with chalk and ropy grain. Immense length.  92  Tasted February 2014

Altos de Lanzaga 2010, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)

Composed of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha, 3,000 bottles are made of this ‘Grand Cru’ of Lanzaga. Rodríguez here wants to “try to go as far as possible in the quality of the wine,” a notion that begins and ends with place. “There has to be a rare, exceptional vineyard or it does not make sense to produce a wine like this.” Fermented and aged in the old cellar, in large Foudres, for two years, “to bring back what once was, a long time ago,” with indigenous (wild) yeasts found in that cellar. Here Telmo reinventing the past, the old Rioja, hinting at something exceptional. There is an elevated sweetness that fades into flowers. Rodríguez feels that Rioja must have been a wine made with many different varieties, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Thus the use of the three grapes. Layer upon layer, thin transparent sheets that become one.  93  Tasted February 2014

Altos de Lanzaga 2004, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)

From 65-80 year old vines, 10 years on showing barely discernible age. This wine was an early step in developing the “field blend” dream, of combining several Riojan varieties, “to present the taste, idea and feel of what Rioja used to be.” This wine chases down Telmo’s dream of being a present day, sophisticated winemaker set in an 18th century vintners mind. Altos sets the bar high, in trying to make an exceptional wine, which they would not have been doing then. First and foremost, does this prove or disprove his theory that wine should never be masked by oak?  94  Tasted February 2014

Good to go!