The Stratus-Momofuku continuum

Momofuku Daisho Toronto's Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON)

Momofuku Daisho Toronto’s Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON)

The wines of Stratus Vineyards and the cuisine of Momofuku Toronto. On Monday, May 26th and for the second straight year they conspired together in a beautiful collision of mutual beneficence. The single varietal mad science of winemaker J-L Groux and the singular, multifarious snacks of Momofuku Daishō. The food and wine play leaves wine writers satiated, thankful and speechless.

Stratus Single Varietal Tasting at Momofuku Daisho

Stratus Single Varietal Tasting at Momofuku Daisho

Related – Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity Incarnate and Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

This 2014 media lunch dubbed Stratus, the right to free assemblage forged yet another treat of the highest order, once again with the necessity in participation of Charles Baker, Suzanne Janke and Sarah Walker of Stratus, along with Momofuku Beverage Director Jonathan Gosenhauser, Service Director Steve De Sousa, Assistant FOH Manager Nicholas Papadatos and the Daishō team.

An introduction by Charles Baker of Stratus Wines

An introduction by Charles Baker of Stratus Wines

Wildass Rosé 2013, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

At 13.9 per cent the kitchen sink blend is unwittingly light on its feet, with uplifting floral and stony scents. The patronage seems as though it could be a shot (or more) of an aromatic white addition like Viognier. This ’13 is a new approach to the Wildass Rosé, a metallic meets orange and berry citrus flavour explosion. Will be an August VINTAGES release at this modest and honest tag, certainly more accessible than in years past.

Stratus at Momofuku Daisho

Stratus at Momofuku Daisho

The single varietals

Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Technically Niagara Lakeshore but labeled Niagara on the Lake, winemaker J-L Groux insists this is the anti-New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a truism to get behind in this ’11’s more tropical style. “Depending on the year we adapt to the climate,” so here J-L’s classic boxwood seeking stands out. The combination of picking time and barrel aging on the lees has everything to do with style. The Stratus hangs (picked October 11th) and hangs out (641 days in French oak). Shows off the most metal mineral that Niagara can give to the variety, from a season with a totally rainy spring and fall but a torrid summer in between. “On whites it was certainly a better year to work with,” though the lack of acidity is due to a wet fall. It’s high-octane, “I’m not running after alcohol. I’m picking on aromatics. If I’m making barrel aged Sauvignon, I have to be patient, otherwise it’s not worth putting in barrel.” Nutty, toasty and full. The middle reaches for the end in an elastic and stretched full chain and connection. Rounder as opposed to acidic, it’s character comes by way of a periodic, numbers game in aromas. Zero hay, high phenols, very ripe.

Chardonnay 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 Chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex Chardonnay in Niagara.”

Sémillon 2011, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

The warmth of those July and August days has brought a combination of grapefruit and honey to the 2011 Sémillon, a highly aromatic vintage. Typically you don’t have very high acidity with this variety and though this was a difficult vintage to work with, here it teases late harvest, straight from the hip. The in-glass progression scales back and walks the wire with semi-high (6.9) acidity. “With illusions of someday, cast in a golden light,” the ’11 Sémillon will need time to marshal the erudition of (627 days) in barrel. At present the tragically declared fact that 24.6 brix equates to 11.6 per cent alcohol might just be lauded as another conversion rate, ahead by a century.

Sangiovese 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

A variety that can be picked much earlier than others, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Do the aromatics do Sangiovese? Yes, but in a mutated, concentrated and highly floral, expressive way. Clean, clear and embossed by surprising freshness and purity. The notes of typicity involve red fruits and a scorch of the earth. Handsome Sangiovese actually, anything but rustic and of a middle fleshing that threshes to mulct a citrus note on the end. This effort shows the most promise of the three expatriates (along with Tempranillo and Tannat) vying for J-L Groux’s new slang, varietal attention.

Tempranillo 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Were Rioja to come and take over Niagara this introduction would succeed in fulfilling expectations but not necessarily dreams. I will confess that it functions in ways California (where it’s simply too warm in places like Paso Robles and Santa Barbara) does not. Likewise Australian takes (“cool” Victoria and New South Wales) have yet to convince. Niagara’s climate is not such a stretch (though in most vintages too wet), but in 2010 the conditions were ripe for this experiment. The wine is admittedly lumbering, backward and chunky. It has that dusty, nearly funky nose, but it should be extolled in the name of character. High on vineyard aromatics and the density of wood, in ways so much more defined than the Sangiovese. Strangely Riojan and tasted blind would make for a curious ringer. Not huge by any stretch and blessed with good acidity and persistence.

Tannat 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

The wooden slumber (555 days) in 50 per cent new oak is just what the dark-skinned grape doctor ordered for the Niagara debut. You know it will be pitchy and tannic but the goal is to be looking for some striking acidity and balance of concentration. Violets are prominent in the highly floral aromatics. There is certain density and fine structure and so while Tannat is an integral Stratus assemblage variety it shows here that it can be very expressive and long on its own. Perhaps the equal of Malbec for Niagara and with great potential.

Malbec 2011, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

If the Stratus 2010 Malbec’s blue note belted out Philly Soul, the delicacy and structure of the ’11 plays a softer sound, a Stax, Memphis Soul. Stylish, funky and uptown without conceding to pop. Active but with less brawn and higher acidity than previous years. An and now aromatic session of so much tobacco and even more cigar box, in wafts, waves, puffs, billows and club clouds of smoke. A soul jam of black fruit, Booker T. finger roll acidity and tannin.

Cabernet Franc 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Some white pepper dust, not too much mind you, works with the sun “and that’s what makes Cabernet Franc find its ripeness.” That it has in spades here in ’10, giving it fullness without raisins, density without being plugged in. A rich and near berry chalk sample but finely judged. This is one of the best SV’s J-L has made. Incredible aromatics. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Patient as ever with the cool-climate, slow and low ripening Cabernet Franc, winemaker J-L Groux stuck with belief, regardless of the warm 2010 vintage. The Stratus single varietal space and time continuum of let it hang (though not to December), 20ish months of aging, nearly half in French oak barrels, has brought forth the most dense and luxe Cabernet Franc to date. “It’s never old school, all brand new,” with Groux so this red swells in wholly pure black currant fruit and is as big as it gets for J-L, which is saying something. This beastie boy will age over a 20-year period. Style is the thing, and yes, the aromatics.”

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.

Gewürztraminer 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Early harvested and vinified with the least amount of winemaker intervention, this is Gewürztraminer left to find its own way. In 2012 the natural sugars speak in clear and clean tones without needing too much attention. Has the most off-dry sensibility yet. It’s very floral, nearly medicinal and tacking. A zigging and zagging Gewürz, wavering, weaving, oscillating between its personalities, on one hand new and progressive, on the other, a nod to Alsace. There is really nothing dry about it. Dense on the palate, this Stratus single white varietal is textured and quickly making friends.

Mosaic Late Harvest 2013, Niagara Lakeshore (375ml), Ontario, (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The 2010 was the first and only one made at the time. When asked if he would make one again, J-L Groux replied “perhaps.” Well, three years later the 2013 enters considerably drier than that ’10 but full of stone tree fruit. The profile here is so different, now Gewürztraminer (78 per cent) dominated, with less residual assistance from Riesling (17) and Sémillon (5). The aromatics are medicinal and ashen before the attack turns so palate sweet, in marmalade and with a finish of noble bitterness.

Mystery Pour

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

Tasted blind this non-clarified sticky is high on grapefruit for sure, smells (for a fleeting moment) a bit like cat pee, is decidedly smoky and once again, is grapefruit all in. Stony sauternes, Niagara style. This can be used to great advantage. With 70 plus g/L of residual sugar and 7.9 of total acidity the sugar-acid continuum is expertly lucky. The grapes were picked on December 14th, causing another exclamation of WTF? Really delicious. Really.

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012

Following the single-varietal tasting, Momofuku Daisho rolled out eight signature dishes.

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Snap Pea Salad, horseradish, jowl bacon, lily bulbs

Agnolotti, asparagus, ricotta, black truffle

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON), morels, ramps, smoked buttermilk

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON)

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON)

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (660704, $44.00, WineAlign)

From my September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.”  Last tasted May 2014

Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON), steamed buns, crab mayonnaise, green papaya slaw

Broccoli, lap cheong, black vinegar, tea egg

Nugget Potatoes, togarashi, kewpie, spiced ham

Stratus Red 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (131037, $44.00, WineAlign)

Tasted again, I do declare this to be the reigning bomb of Ontario red blends. Showing even better than I judged it two weeks ago. Intense ruby meets claret in every facet of its make-up. Rouge tomate, fresh and racy at the same time, with just enough chalk to lengthen the chain. You can actually imagine the hum in the clang and rhythm of its magic. Fleet of foot, mac-nanimously rendered red blend. “Chain keep us together, running in the shadow.” From my earlier note: “A study in restrained, gilt-edged use of only 15 per cent new oak during assemblage, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead and so prudent considering the extreme warmth of the vintage. Cabernet Franc imparts simple but intense spice. Red talented, fresh finesse, the oak in support as a James Dean, cherry stained leather jacket. De facto fresh, with just enough trenchant acidity.”  Last tasted May 2014

Tart, ricotta, honey apricots

 

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

Get your red hots

Leaning Morel

Leaning Morel

These are some of my favourite things. Wild edibles foraged from the duff in spring. Earthy red wines cultivated from healthy vines. Protein grilled on an open flame. Layered dishes baked in the oven. Baseball.

Gather them all together, add in some warm weather and the recipe is dressed for success. This past weekend VINTAGES rolled out the May 24, 2014 release. I touched on some good value whites last week so now it’s time to roll out some full-bodied, protein friendly reds. Get these four red hots in stores now.

From left to right: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2011, Telmo Rodriguez Lz 2012, Cosme Palacio Y Hermanos Reserva 2007, Castro Ventosa El Castro De Valtuille 2010, Sperling Vineyards Sper...Itz 2011

From left to right: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2011, Telmo Rodriguez Lz 2012, Cosme Palacio Y Hermanos Reserva 2007, Castro Ventosa El Castro De Valtuille 2010, Sperling Vineyards Sper…Itz 2011

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2011, Igp Pays D’oc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (177584, $14.95, WineAlign)

This perfectly tidy Syrah hails from the area near Mèze in the Languedoc region. The name borrows from a species of oak, the holly, the holm, or the evergreen. Dusty aromas blow quickly away into the savoury foliage of the Yeuse. What is then revealed is a rich, velvety Syrah of considerable stuffing, with a note of semi-sweet chocolate, smoky bacon and plenty of tang. Repeats the value shared by both the 2010 and the 2009. Make this your summer house red, when times are hot, when times are cool.  Tasted May 2014

Knuckers, Rib Eye and Ramps

Knuckers, Rib Eye and Ramps

Telmo Rodriguez Lz 2012, Doca Rioja, Spain  (172361, $15.95, WineAlign)

This is the most basic and affordable red in the Telmo Rodríguez line. From the outspoken winemaker who said, “In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.” So Rodríguez has decided to make wines without the suffocating slings and arrows of outrageous, appellative fortune. Notice this label notes no Crianza, no Reserva, no Gran Reserva. Fresh and juicy, with new history and tradition written in its code. Modern and forward while relaxed and old school at the same time. Great fruit and acidity, length is just fine and overall it’s a pleasurable, confident, compact wine and without crisis.  Tasted May 2014  @liffordwine

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

Cosme Palacio Y Hermanos Reserva 2007, Rioja, Spain (14662, $23.95, WineAlign)

A traffic jam of thick, rich and figgy fruit, accompanied by a tempering of chocolate. This Rioja is “good ole fashion medicated goo.” Though somewhat simple juice it bangs the right keys and solicits a stretched and bent weeping guitar accent. Dark as night with the stuffing to carry an album side. “So follow me, it’s good for you.”  Tasted May 2014  @Hannanealwines

Castro Ventosa El Castro De Valtuille 2010, Do Bierzo, Spain (366930, $27.95, WineAlign)

Owning a family-run estate for 252 years and farming Mencía vineyards in Bierzo from generation to generation has to count for something. Five parcels are gathered from pre-phyloxeric vineyards in Valtuille de Abajo. The estate manages the only sandy soils in Bierzo, mixed in with quartzite and slate. A solid Mencía, high on phenolic ripeness, verdigris and general stuffing. Rich, chewy, tarry and viscous. Can see this slowly smouldering, smoking, offering wamth and pleasure for 10-15 years. In that sense of longevity it represents excellent value.  Tasted May 2014  @HalpernWine

Beef Ribs

Beef Ribs

Sperling Vineyards Sper…Itz 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (364166, 375ml, $13.00, WineAlign)

A very pretty, quite sweet though not overly spritzy Moscato, with nary a waxy or medicinal note. Not exactly true to old world form but what a terrific palate cleanser it makes, like a lemon-lime granita or white pomegranate gelato. The half-bottle format for a big group will work just fine as just a thimbleful is all that’s needed before main course to liven up the palate and ready it for flesh and blood. On the card at Barque. Tasted twice, November 2013 and May 2014

Morels and Ramp

Morels and Ramp

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom

Pearl Morissette Riesling samples

Pearl Morissette Riesling samples

So you make wine from Ontario-grown grapes and it fails VQA inspection. The economic impact is potentially crippling. Here’s the short story. The sale of an Ontario VQA-certified bottle of wine sends approximately 15-20 per cent of the profit to the province. Without the stamp the tax cost is upwards of 50. There is no money to be made if your wine has not been blessed by VQA. Here is the long version:

The total Landed Cost (what the winery keeps) is calculated based on this:
Basic Price (retail price)  
minus Environmental Tax fee (same for VQA and non-VQA)
minus Bottle Tax/Levy (same for VQA and non-VQA)  
minus LCBO Wine Levy (applied to non-VQA only, yet minimal – $1.15 for $26btl)
minus LCBO mark-up (which is completely different between VQA and non-VQA – $0 for VQA, $8.5039 for a non-VQA wine based on a $26)
For a $25.20 ($25 + bottle deposit) bottle of wine, this is what the winery (Total Landed Cost in VQA language) keeps:
VQA retail: $20.56
VQA licensee: $20.56
non-VQA licensee: $12.44
These numbers come from a calculator, designed by VQA and the LCBO themselves that gives you the breakdown, once you enter the retail price.

François Morissette has that crazed look in his eye. The Quebec native faces the professional fight of his young winemaking life and has no intention of backing down. There will be no compromise of the viniculture oeuvre. Morissette’s day in, day out plight has been instigated by the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), the regulatory board that determines whether or not a wine made in Ontario gets its stamp of approval. It has already happened four times. VQA has rejected his Rieslings.

The pearl Morissette Cuvée Blackball Riesling 2011 is a $26 (retail price including bottle deposit) non-VQA bottle of wine and so the winery’s profit (before operating and production costs) is $12.98. Do the math. Sounds like a loss leader to me.

Pearl Morissette pigs

Pearl Morissette pigs

Morissette makes the wines at Pearl Morissette out of the Twenty Mile Bench in Jordan, Ontario. He’s opinionated and sometimes just plain pissed off. There are those who surely consider him a rogue, a dissident and an SD but at the end of the day, just how is he so different from his Niagara brethren and sistren? He is a farmer and a purveyor of fermented grapes. Granted his methods are progressive and experimental but the goal is the same as any honest and passionate winemaker. François Morissette wants to make memorable wine. Last July François Morissette told me “it’s not that we don’t want to make natural wines. We want to make wines with the least amount of impact.”

In July of 2013 at the i4C Cool Chardonnay Conference in Niagara, Francois expounded on some of the more important facets of making wine in Ontario. “Climate is the number one terroir driven aspect. The clone is nothing without the rootstock. They are inextricably linked.” He is a man who believes wholeheartedly in natural acidity. “You will have riper fruit on dry matter.” These are the ideas of a “rebel,” of a winemaker willing and ready to push the envelope. “I cannot ever apply what I learned in Burgundy as a farmer to Niagara. It’s a totally different animal.” These are the words of “pot-stirrer” Francois Morissette.

Foudre at Pearl Morissette

Foudre at Pearl Morissette

Today, Monday, May 26th, François and his girl Friday Svetlana Atcheva will once again go before the powers that be at VQA.  In their meeting with Executive Director Laurie Macdonald they will argue that their four-time rejected Riesling is bio-chemically sound, that it is a wine with no technical faults. The question of penalizing innovation will be raised, albeit in the spirit of cooperation. They will assert that the level of residual sugar (which the VQA panel seems to feel is “atypically” too low) and perceived sense of dryness must not be the focus. Morissette and Atcheva will explain to the panel that their Riesling is not oxidized but that the use of wood foudres (in addition to typically employed stainless steel tanks) allows for a gentle yet natural, controlled oxygen transfer. Ms. Macdonald will be asked the question on everyone’s mind. “How can an organization that reigns over such a young wine region be so sure what is correct and what is not?” What they should really say is “who are you to play God with wine?”

The sensory evaluation panel and decision makers maintain the necessity that “VQA wine grapes meet standards such as minimum ripeness levels (degrees brix) attained through careful viticultural practices.” This statement suggests that the Pearl Morissette Riesling fails to meet the criteria laid out by the decided governance. Does the system not sound like it is seeking conformity in the name of typicity? I spoke with Atcheva last Monday at the Generation Riesling tasting and she adamantly refutes the VQA position on Pearl Morissette’s wines. Skin ripeness, not sugar levels, indigenous yeasts, minimal interventionist winemaking and most of all quality should be the determining factors to passing their Ontario wine to VQA status. François just wants to be free to sell his wines to whoever he pleases without being shackled to taxes and bureaucracy. “My preference would be for 1,000 people to buy one bottle. But that takes time.”

Atcheva spoke at length this past weekend with a senior LCBO product consultant who elaborated on the selection process for the VQA panel. Up until a few years ago panel members were chosen based on their tasting experience. Today seniority lands spots on the tribunal. Work an LCBO cash for fifteen years and you too can decide the financial future of an Ontario winery.

Conrete Egg Fermenter

Conrete Egg Fermenter

For a full account on VQA evaluation processes and the rejection of Morissette’s wines, read Rick VanSickle’s article, The ‘black-balled’ Riesling from Pearl Morissette in Niagara and the storm that’s brewing over VQA rejection: Let’s talk about it. Another response by Tim Reed Manessy brings the VQA system’s shortcomings into proper focus. Behind the ‘Black Ball’ is Manessy’s take on his blog, Somm on the Run.

Hinterland's Jonas Newman, François Morissette, Montreal Gazette and Chacun Son Vin's Bill Zacharkiw, WineAlign's John Szabo M.S. , Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena Kaiser Smit and Assistant Winemaker Ryan Corrigan tasting Cabernet Franc

Hinterland’s Jonas Newman, François Morissette, Montreal Gazette and Chacun Son Vin’s Bill Zacharkiw, WineAlign’s John Szabo M.S. , Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser Smit and Assistant Winemaker Ryan Corrigan tasting Cabernet Franc

Through the generosity of François Morissette, Naomi Laurie, Ryan Corrigan, Cameron MacDonald and Svetlana Atcheva I have had the opportunity to taste, consider and assess the wines of Pearl Morissette out of tank, barrel, concrete egg fermenter and bottle on several occasions in the past year. Here are my notes on many of those moments.

Riesling Cuvée Blackball 2010, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($26)

This introduction to the experimental oeuvre of François Morissette holds attention and water. The delve into texture shaping by way of progressive malolactic fermentation during primary fermentation is a stirring exercise in character building. The ’10 is a conjoined cuvée of two, one of which contained 20% botrytis affected grapes. It spent eight months on fine lees in stainless steel and finished so very dry, at 1.27 g/L residual sugar. Biochemically correct, reeking and bleeding of the Peninsula’s veins, Blackball was submitted for VQA approval four times and rejected because it “lacked varietal typicity.” Perhaps it was the lack of human intervention, the anti-Bonzai approach, that doomed this diffident Riesling. Perhaps the texture should take it on the cheek for its brilliant disguise, for changing the subject and forcing the taster to open their mind and act innocent for a moment in time. The Blackball has that effect. Sadly, it too will be typical one day.  Tasted July 2013

Riesling Cuvée Blackball 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($26)

The 2011 Cuvée Blackball picks up where the ’10 left off. When tasted from a stainless steel, not yet labeled sample in bottle back in July of 2013 it showed high acidity and citrus but also a bottle-shock musky note. Nearly one year later the wine has fleshed into that sought after experimental texture, as if it were aged in foudres. It’s flexibility was encouraged by three months of aging on its fine lees. The ’11 is the jumping off point and the bridge towards understanding where the Riesling program is heading. Others will follow. “There’s no real reference for these wines,” admits Morissette and that’s the clue to understanding why haste judgments are passed. Fear of the unknown empowers tradition to stagnate and end up getting left behind.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014

Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29)

The craving for texture led François Morissette to employ small barrels to ferment a small (68 case) amount of 2011 Riesling, in this instance eight year-old neutral barriques. Close-minded, new world wine geeks might fear anarchy but ask any winemaker from Pfalz and they would say, “tell me something new.” The succor is so benign and simultaneously, subtly huge. The increased lees contact on small volumes of wine promotes corpulence and viscidity. The methodology results in more fruit presence; in pear and yellow plum, not to mention that unmistakable Niagara citrus. This ’11 has the most levels of expression. There is nothing revelatory or regulatory about it, beyond the fact that it works and that it would stand out as an excellent example in a flight of Trocken Riesling. The ’11 exemplifies the flesh versus acid continuum. The freshness of this Riesling has emerged, thanks to meticulous sorting, ne0-liberal winemaking and the use of a -1°C fridge. François Morissette does not like to race against time. His Riesling speaks volumes about that.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014

Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29, WineAlign)

When tasted in July of 2013 the ’12 Barrique had only been in bottle for three days so the musk was quite front and centre. Aged in foudres (neutral, old wood casks) it held much latitude at such a young age with notes of herbiage (mint, tarragon), nary a drop of residual sugar and a wholly unique type of dry acidity. “It will not always show this way,” commented Morissette. Tasted 10 months later I can say this. The ’12 Riesling Barrique avoids excessive malic and tartaric acid, not to mention any amount of volatile acidity. It is viable, vital and technically sound. “This is a wine that will take time,” pleads François . “I care about texture, not about varietal character.” Though perplexing and untamed, the wine has undeniable body and that noble bitterness in its unsung tang. It is the anti-Riesling hero, full of experiential conceit and needs to be revisited often, to see where it will go.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Rosé Cuvée LPR 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Sold out, $25)

Stylistically speaking, the bottles (and kegs) that emerged from the 225L hemorrhaging of Cabernet Franc from both oak and concrete vessels have no reference point. In fact, the advertence is one created by Francois Morissette. The flexible disposition is difficult to pinpoint and without trying to sound blowsy in assessment, this goes places yet visited by bone-dry Rosé. If it were the only wine made on premises the barn doors would always be banged upon. A most current wine, exigently red and almost indiscernible as Cabernet Franc. It suffers no stenosis and does not live a single green day. Another VQA rejected wine, the LPR walks down a boulevard of broken dreams and it sings, “I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known.”  Last tasted November 2013

Pinot Noir 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Sold out, $36)

With utmost integrity Pearl Morissette chose not to vinify Pinot Noir from the fruit of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages due to unacceptable levels of sour rot. With the 2011 harvest came inspiration. It was noted that local tree fruit farmers make use of the practice of storing their harvested fruit at 1° Celsius in a large refrigerator. This pseudo-cryogenic cooling practicum worked to halt the progression of the dreaded rot. Buying time allowed the crew to clean sort without having to worry about a single berry contaminating the lot. So what? So a pure, clean Pinot Noir was the result. Tasted four months after bottling, the modest (12.7 per cent alcohol) and vinified so dry (2 g/L residual sugar) ’11 held barking fruit on a tight leash and a moonscape of dusty, grainy tannin. Nine months later (to the day) the sensory evolution became as if cherries, strawberries and the tension in seeking ripe perfection were wine.  Tasted July 2013 and April 2014

Pearl Morissette Pinot Noir 2011

Pearl Morissette Pinot Noir 2011

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

François 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

19th Street Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (winery, $38, WineAlign)

First tasted from a barrel sample in July 2013. “From what is turning out to be a very elegant vintage, the 2011 Cabernet Franc is early proof that on the Twenty Mile Bench “we can turn a vineyard very quickly, in three years we can turn a vine.” This is significant in consideration that in Europe, vine age is always key.” Now in bottle the aromatics are hyper-pronounced and though the tannins are less rigid, less exerting and less demanding, they are not nearly ready to throw in the towel. Longevity will define ’11 and it will be the genesis of Pearl Morissette’s CF program used to compare future vintages. “The day of judgement’s come,” and you can bet that the wine’s been “resting, for this testing, digesting every word the experts say.” With the ambient transition of a hairless heart, the 2011 Cabernet Franc segues from anxiety to counting out time.  Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (limited library, $40, WineAlign)

Was the ’09 DN this lush and so pretty last summer? Was it bronzing as if sun-kissed and so delicate? Tasted alongside Chef Cameron MacDonald’s White Bean Cassoulet, duck and pork neck wrapped pate it sings in a Lindley-esque falsetto. From my earlier, July 2013 note: “Tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.”  Last tasted May 2014

Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (sold out, $35, WineAlign)

Having had the opportunity to taste the 2010 Cuvée Dix Neuvieme on several occasions over the past 10 months, every layer and fibre of its being has ingratiated itself to me. The tropical, solar 2010 vintage required that steps were taken to preserve freshness for when the final blend was to be assembled. A small portion of the juice was fermented separately in stainless steel tank and then injected into the 18-month, neutral barrel mass. The ’10 is full of verve, rigor and grinning elegance. It speaks of a salinity so typical for PM Chardonnay which comes from the usage of lees. This is what could be referred to as a “tannic” white. While it lacks the intensity of the bookending vintages on either side, as a middle sibling it is the glue and the rock that speaks diplomatically and most eloquently for the family.  Last tasted May 2014

Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $35, WineAlign)

A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?   Tasted July 2013

Barrel and Tank Samples tasted July 2013 and May 2014

19th Street Cabernet Franc 2012

Tasted in July 2013 from one of two barrels, it’s not so (amazingly reductive) and redolent of the most earthly currants. From a very immense year, in primary quality, barely evolved. Blessed with such ripe tannins this will have even bigger structure. Francois declares “I’m now a believer that Cabernet Franc is the most important grape to grow in Ontario (on this side of St. Catherines). Nine months later, with the wine still sitting on its primary lees and not yet racked “it’s so torqued,” notes John Szabo. “We made a monster CF without cream,” adds François . Pure, énorme, immovable yet so stable. There was a nearly volatile spike during fermentation and malo but it’s done. A death metal beast.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014

19th Street Cabernet Franc 2013

From juice housed in concrete, wood and open top fermenters this occupies impossible Cabernet Franc colour territory. Sweaty, chalky and bloody, it’s a bit reductive in extract and intensity. Lifted florally and very savoury, this is quintessentially Cabernet Franc in character. Crunchy tannins come late in magnanimous fashion.  Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay 2013

Tighter than it looks, sitting on its lees, pushing the envelope. In a German 2,500L barrel it’s rounder and softer. In second fill Alsatian Foudre it gains tang, spirit and backbone. From the Koscis Vineyard’s heavy red clay there is less texture and mid-palate. Out of a smaller (228L) barrel the wood is felt in fluidity, structure and creamier, clearer fruit. The largest barrel adds (10 per cent) new oak and finishes the ferment the earliest. It brings textural tack and a chewy finish. “New oak doesn’t make it better. It energizes the wine,” says Morissette. Overall this will be a rich, ripe-fruit based opulent Chardonnay, high in potential (13+ per cent) alcohol with a remarkable sweetness despite little or no residual sugar.  Tasted May 2014

Chardonnay from barrel with Ryan Corrigan, Jonas Newman, Francois Morissette and John Szabo

Chardonnay from barrel with Ryan Corrigan, Jonas Newman, Francois Morissette and John Szabo

Rosé 2013

If this Cabernet Franc is flirting with an acetic danger it is not enough to scare me away. Certainly edgy and there is a chance it may be pushed to the fringe, hippest markets but that also may just be a necessity if it is once again rejected as VQA. And it should not be.  Tasted May 2014

Bill Zacharkiw making notes at Pearl Morissette

Bill Zacharkiw making notes at Pearl Morissette

Gamay 2013

In July 2013 Francois Morissette made this statement. “If we can’t make Gamay in a Cru Beaujolais Style, I’m not interested.” In May 2014 his ’13 Gamay causes Bill Zacharkiw to comment with blatant honesty, “just line up at the tank. Forget the bottle.” From 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. Once again the hue is just impossible. Sulphur-free, this walks a fine and perfect line of Cru banana Gamay. Pushes the Gamay envelope in that it’s gulpable but with a duress to remind you not to overdo it. A Gamay with a chamber of 32 doors. In it “I’d rather trust a man who doesn’t shout what he’s found.” François Morissette.   Tasted May 2014

 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Hot red Rhônes and real May two-four whites

Artichoke and Fiddleheads PHOTO: Michael Godel

Artichoke and Fiddleheads
PHOTO: Michael Godel

More often than not the Canadian May long weekend does not fall on the anniversary date of May 24, in remembrance of the 1819 birthday of Queen Victoria. In fact the last time the holiday Monday fell on the 24th was back in 2010. The not so phenomenal phenomenon happens every five or six years and the 24th never occurs before the Monday. So what? So, VINTAGES gets it right. The latest stop on the release calendar axis falls on the true May two-four, this coming Saturday.

Related – Wines over Two-Fours on Victoria’s Weekend

The May 24, 2014 release puts a heavy emphasis on the southern Rhône, a region that regrettably has lost its balanced way; to heat, extraction, high alcohol and sugar. Sure that may sound like an agglomerated generalization but it is not just the bulk of the 15 plus reds on this release that are guilty as charged. The issue is endemic and has been rising with impunity since the 2007 vintage, arguably even before. What was once a Rhône induced infatuation has rusted and faded away. Cellar stockpiling of once beloved Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape has grounded to a halt. How can the love supreme return?

There are diamonds in every rough and it is through relentless tasting that the wheat rises, the chaff settles and recommendations make themselves known. I am including a couple of reviews on wines weighed down by the encumbrance of over-ripeness and alcohol, if only to back up the rant and the theory. Where have all the good Rhônes gone? My guess is that it’s time to cross the sea and pay a visit, to find the producers who pick early, resist oak-bullying temptation and make honest, balanced wines. I know they’re out there.

So behold the Rhônes, some good, some not so much and other necessary May two-four whites to seek out this weekend.

From left to right: Beauvignac Picpoul De Pinet 2013, La Joya Viognier Reserve 2013, Calamus Riesling 2012, Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Château Saint Estève Massif D'uchaux 2010

From left to right: Beauvignac Picpoul De Pinet 2013, La Joya Viognier Reserve 2013, Calamus Riesling 2012, Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Château Saint Estève Massif D’uchaux 2010

Beauvignac Picpoul De Pinet 2013, Ac Coteaux De Languedoc, Sud De France, (350124, $13.95, WineAlign)

Capital, principled and tidy, tide-in Picpoul. Like Touraine meets Melon de Bourgogne with a bit of shell and a touch of green. Steamed ocean whitefish and fresh herbs meets raw bar. Begs for a Camaron Taco or Camarones en Salsa Verde. Would pair well on a soft beach with a traditional Oaxacan seafood spread.  Tasted May 2014

La Joya Viognier Reserve 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile (168542, $14.95, WineAlign)

Personal preferences aside, here is the right kind of value in other world Viognier. I much admire the restraint, keeping the alcohol and the residual at mostly acceptable levels, allowing what rocks there are in the Colchagua terroir to speak along with bright fruit. A heavy soil accent comes by way of tang and lift, it’s floral as needed and walks a line of good length. Well done.  Tasted May 2014

Calamus Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (158642, $16.95, WineAlign)

It is never wise to hide from the vintage and winemaker Arthur Harder is careful to work with the given lot. This ’12 is no doubt warm but the juicy acidity trumps any humidity that might want to creep in and set up shop. The profile here is more Germanic, more Trocken than was seen in the 2011. The winemaker’s history with Nahe, Rüdesheim and Geisenheim speaks in this vintage. Continues the Calamus roll of offering really good value and impresses the notion that you can take a Riesling out of the Vinemount Ridge but you can’t take the Vinemount Ridge out of the Riesling.  Tasted May 2014  @calamuswinery

Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué 2011, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario, Canada (996793, $17.95, WineAlign)

A highly aromatic Musqué, one step up from its Escarpment brethren, with more viscosity and density. Mathematically calculated for the demurred vintage with conscientious risk. Crispy and crunchy, with a touch a waxy fruit, like biting into a buffed and polished green apple.  Tasted May 2014  @VinelandEstates  @BenchWineGuy

Château Saint Estève Massif D’uchaux 2010, Côtes Du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France (370189, $18.95, WineAlign)

Casting aside initial hot and bothered, massive attacks of baked cherry pie and predictable extraction disabling thoughts, this caresses with a really soft mouthfeel. Work with its phenolic ripe charm and let it build with meaty notes and finish smothered in a Bovril gravy textured by chalk and grain. Ultimately it’s quite sophisticated for the appellation and a more than commendably good effort.  Tasted May 2014  @chsaintesteve  @ProfileWineGrp

From left to right: Domaine Martin Plan De Dieu Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Gabriel Meffre Sainte Catherine Gigondas 2011, La Crau De Ma Mère Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011, Bosquet Des Papes Cuvée Tradition Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011, Lamiable Brut Grand Cru Champagne

From left to right: Domaine Martin Plan De Dieu Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Gabriel Meffre Sainte Catherine Gigondas 2011, La Crau De Ma Mère Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011, Bosquet Des Papes Cuvée Tradition Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011, Lamiable Brut Grand Cru Champagne

Domaine Martin Plan De Dieu Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011, Unfiltered, Ac, Rhône, France (370197, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here presents a Côtes Du Rhône acting the epitome of elegance lost. A wasteland lays forth in charred sinew, vineyard stink, buff, scorched earth, funk, baked shriveled berries, toughness and grit. That said it is possessive of flavours, endearing or not, that last. Like a funky, highly seasoned sweetmeat-flavoured gobstopper dissolving in highly tannic tea. Might be your thing. Tasted May 2014

Gabriel Meffre Sainte Catherine Gigondas 2011, Ap, Rhône, France (370270, $29.95, WineAlign)

From a vintage that just can’t seem to hide from itself, this is typically, egregia cum laude commonly rich, extracted and juicy but it’s also got angst and verve. The 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape to a wine are categorically, excruciatingly huge and this is why such a Gigondas is a breath of fresh, alternative air. A molten raspberry ooze paints a boulder-strewn Vaucluse crush of good Rhône things. Solid as a rock.  Tasted May 2014  @GabrielMeffre  @DiamondEstates

La Crau De Ma Mère Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011, Ac, Rhône, France (941740, $49.95, WineAlign)

This wine has been referred to as a “Provençal fruit bomb” and a red with “tannins enrobed in the finest chocolate.” Those compliments are as kind as any that should be given. As expected and to stereotype 2011 Châteauneuf Du Pape, this is a blind faith traffic jam of hyper-ripe, over-extracted, baked and sickly sweet liqueur. A Negroni imbalanced by the free pour of Red Vermouth from a tap. This is the kind of Rhône that needs to hear “come down off your throne and leave your body alone, somebody must change.” Wayward, wandering Grenache along with its Mourvèdre and Syrah apostles who are wasted and can’t find their way home.  Tasted May 2014

Bosquet Des Papes Cuvée Tradition Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011, Ac Rhône, France (726687, $50.95, WineAlign)

First off, three words for you babe: 16 per cent. One can only hope the rising tide of hot Rhône wines ends with this penultimate vintage. The licentiousness and quiver of extracted desperation is here in every grain of sugar. Smells like a candy factory in the heat of July and tastes like a fruit roll up mired in pectin quicksand. Big, big wine. So baked, so hot, so rich, so sweet. When did Bosquet Des Papes become the Belle Glos of the Rhône?  Tasted May 2014

Lamiable Brut Grand Cru Champagne, Ac, Champagne, France (374298, $53.95, WineAlign)

A $54 Grand Cru you say? Can it be? A most minor radian, de facto bruised apple, oxidized moment is quickly pardoned because this Champagne is really pushing boundaries. The verve, tang and 120 degree plus angles are simply sparkling. The white fig, sour peach, apricot and bitter almond aromas exceptional and tied together by the pith of all. Has that necessary mineral patina and wet stones, the platinum sting and the toast of nuts and bolts. Length is on top, not hiding below.  Tasted May 2014  @LAMIABLE
Good to go!

 

Tasting the village heart and regional soul of Burgundy

One Moment, One Bourgogne Wine... www.bourgogne-wines.com

One Moment, One Bourgogne Wine…www.bourgogne-wines.com

I would never turn down an invitation to taste des Grands Crus de Bourgogne. I would not hesitate to partake in a free for all of Premiers Crus. If the call came to experience the village heart and the regional soul of Burgundy’s Appellation wines, I would run, not walk to the show.

One Moment, One Bourgogne Wine... www.bourgogne-wines.com

Bourgognes

So, that’s what I did. At the gracious invitation of The Siren Group and Sopexa Canada Ltée I attended the One Bourgogne Wine event at Hôtel Le Germain, along with François Labet, Burgundy viticulture pioneer and chairman of the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) and Communication Commission. Mr. Labet expounded on terroir; from climats to lieux-dits. Burgundy is a geographical and geological landscape of Jurassic age and proportion. Its heritage is ancestral and has been shaped by twenty centuries of activity. The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) acts as its guarantor of quality, of terroir, production methods and what typifies the most famous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir anywhere on the planet.

John Szabo presents 15 wines from Burgundy at Hôtel Le Germain's Victor Restaurant on April 8, 2014

Master Sommelier John Szabo of WineAlign presents 15 wines from Burgundy at Toronto’s Hôtel Le Germain Victor Restaurant on April 8, 2014

The Bourgogne event was presented and moderated by Master Sommelier and WineAlign principal critic John Szabo. At the heart of the presentation was the regional diversity that defines real and affordable Burgundy. Mr. Szabo’s chosen wines delved deeper into the soul of the village and regional appellations beyond the Côte de Nuits and the most iconic parts of the Côte de Beaune. Textbook examples from Chablis to the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais were chosen to offer a true representation of the immensity that is the region.

Bourgogne Menu, Victor Restaurant

Bourgogne Menu, Victor Restaurant

The lunch that followed by way of Hôtel Le Germain’s Victor Restaurant was a reconnect for me and the cuisine of Chef David Chrystian. I first encountered chef’s raw and rooted flavours when he assuaged the Garlands at Café Societa on College Street. I remember with fond confusion his earthly layering foiled by the sterile mall, futuristic canvas of the Colonnade (Patriot). After Chef Anthony Rose left the Drake it was dead to me so mistakenly missed Chrystian’s lauded stint. Thanks to the Siren Group for luring me to Victor to reconnect with Chef David Chrystian once again.

Chef David Chrystian's  Sushi Pizza

Chef David Chrystian’s Sushi Pizza

Here are notes on the 15 wines poured and discussed at One moment, one Bourgogne wine.

Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012, Burgundy, France (207902, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES February 15, 2014 release

Canonical Chablis by the hands of independents. Family farmed and fruit fastidiously judged in timely picking and traditional vinification methods. Produced in allegiance to regional typicity, its nose is pierced by limestone’s necessary metallic tang. Apple tart yet ripe and balanced by plumbic weight. Proper, enjoy it all summer long, Chablis.  @ProfileWineGrp

La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2010, Ac, Burgundy, France (265090, $28.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 23, 2013 release

La Chablisienne alone represents nearly 25 per cent of the region’s plantings. The orchard’s juicy fruit brings expression to this Chablis though it’s more savoury than many and it’s document is read in an angular accent. That and patina transposing into aroma, like the smell of a wet, platinum pipe breaching the fruit’s ability to flesh out. Lubricant at the pipe’s elbow and a moment of quince, even melon, offer weight. This is very good but lacks heft and only shows fossilized mineral on the back palate. Good length but a bit carbonic and needs more flesh and bone to elevate its stratus.  Tasted twice, October 2013 and April 2014   @purechablis

Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2013, Ac, Burgundy, France (933077, $20.95, WineAlign)

Jadot’s Bourgogne Blanc is so essential it calls itself Chardonnay. From a vintage in which weather wreaked some havoc and fruit maturity was anything but consistent, the Jadot enterprise found a continued way to get it right, no small feat considering the quantity of triage required for a wine of such quantity. This entry-level white made full use of the warm summer heat, picking was clearly done in advance of the October chill and sorting found the right mix. It’s buttery, nut-browned and figuratively bubbly. The thick and rich texture is key to romancing the fruit into a riper realm than it likely really is. Commendable success from Jadot.   @ljadot

Joseph Drouhin Mâcon Villages 2012, Burgundy, France (356956, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES February 15, 2014 release

Simple, pleasant, solid and effective Chardonnay. A true and literal portrayal of the Bourgogne goût de terroir. Warm, gently expressed fruit along with requisite mineral, chalk and lime. Made of a quick resolve to satisfy, quench and move on. An open door to true Chardonnay with nothing shocking, striking or problematic.  @JDrouhin

Domaine Jaeger Defaix Rully 1er Cru, Mont-Palais 2011, Burgundy, France (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

From the holdings of Chablis specialist Bernard Defaix, the domain’s variegated clay/chalk vineyards are located in the south of Côte de Beaune. The Mont-Palais vineyard comes from the Niepce family, winegrowers since the 16th century. Now managed by Hélène Jaeger-Defaix, this Rully is utterly unique to Chardonnay. There is a steely, patina Chablis quality to it, but also a concentration in magnetic aroma, whirling in an unstoppable centrifuge, not yet ready to spill those aromas forth. Screams both southern and cool climate, new world Chardonnay, in forward ways like South Africa and like Niagara on the Lake. Not to mention a silty, white salinity. Roger Wilco that. “There’s a light, what light. There’s a light, white light.”  @liffordnicole

Château Vitallis Vieilles Vignes Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Burgundy, France (360495, $27.95, WineAlign)

From 45-70 year old vines, from clay and limestone (Marls). Really, really smart, succulent and mathematical Chardonnay. A stony example who’s tangent space is complexified by a vector of gritty, spiked leaden aromas, like lime, ginger and lemon zest but also by a second vector of herbiage, as in torn, sweet basil leaf. Length stretched by a scalar multiplication, engaging another consideration. Would such a fine example not benefit, at least in theory, from a Premier Cru classification? Surely the winemaker and the vintner would abide.

Château De Beauregard Vers Cras Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Burgundy, France (agent, $48.99, WineAlign)

The famous “Cras” climat on the windy and chalky plateau of Beauregard means “chalk” in the local dialect. Not surprisingly, the chalky mineral impart takes centre stage and the oak treatment fleshes the fruit out in the early stages of the wine’s life. This Pouilly Fuissé solicits attention, love and engagement. An example in clarity of débourbage, the strict sorting technique employed before pressing. Exuberant fruit acts as if it were of a higher caste, a higher Cru. This is a testament to treatment, to extreme minerality. This makes the expression. A very good vintage, ready to consider and expect it to keep on seducing to at least 2020.

Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011, Burgundy, France  (364141, $55.95, WineAlign)

The quality of Girardin’s Chassagne Montrachet is clear, the age and maturity of the vines explicitly noted. There is an increased sense of depth and density that clearly required attention and coaxing. The 14-month, scaled down (15 percent) new oak barrel concept pushes substance to the forefront and wood to the rear. This is rich without being fat, textured but not splintered. The stirred lees add layers to the essentia, accruing a woven tapestry of phenols, lunar-driven gravity and anaerobic activity.  Tasted twice, January and April 2014  @HalpernWine

From left to right: Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2010, Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2013, Joseph Drouhin Mâcon Villages 2012, Château Vitallis Vieilles Vignes Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Château De Beauregard Vers Cras Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011

From left to right: Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2010, Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2013, Joseph Drouhin Mâcon Villages 2012, Château Vitallis Vieilles Vignes Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Château De Beauregard Vers Cras Pouilly Fuissé 2010, Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011

André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010, Burgundy, France (366427, $20.95, WineAlign)

The thought here is catholic Burgundy, entry-level, old-school, from antiquity and for the people. Smells like and tastes like grand-père’s Bourgogne Rouge. Cherry fruity, dare I say, Gamay like and marked by tannin that doubles the astringency on the drying finish. Nothing scandalous and well-plundered.

Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Burgundy, France (Agent, $32.50, WineAlign)

The Thénard family has owned land in Givry since 1760 and this Cellier aux Moines vineyard dates to 1258, named by the Cistercian Monks of the Abbey of Ferte. This is iconic 1er Cru for Givry, from relatively old vines (35-40 years) on a single plot, in mid-slope of southern exposure. Straight out notes of sinew, stem and savour. Esses all around. A vegetal and rustic infirmity comes across and travels through the wine as you work with it. Smells oddly like…hemp. Or perhaps it’s a more delectable weed than that, like rapini, or dandelion. The charred back-end scent reminds of a just extinguished joint. The flavours are dubious, maritime and of the antediluvian earth. For the brave Burgundy heart. Perhaps five to 10 years will soften its edges, peel away the foreign matter and allow a hidden fruit purity to shine.

Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Chateau Rouge 2009, Burgundy, France (325142, $36.90, WineAlign)

If today is the day to splurge on red Burgundy but crossing to the dark side of the VINTAGES section is not going to happen, take comfort in this LCBO general (Signature) listing. Dictionary entry actually, but also something funky this way Beaunes. Produced from a whole whack (17 parcels) of Premier Cru, the animal is strong but decidedly feminine. Clear, precise, distinct perfume with each swirl and replayed with every sip. Like raspberries and the sweet smell of the trodden earth after the dew subsides. Could drink this for breakfast with organic bacon post morning stroll and before a dreamy nap.

Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Burgundy, France  (Agent, $46.95, WineAlign)

So very primary, this Beaune, from the work of Nicholas Potel and winemaker Matt Chittick. Some of Les Grèves vines are nearly 110 years-old and there is clear wisdom beyond the edgy, masculine fruit. Those vines are selected for selection massale, a propagation technique that breeds perpetual health and consistency of style for present and future wines. A different sort of animal resides in this one, of musk, and mineral. Like the Beaune equivalent to traditional Brunello. Yet this Beaune from a very desirable vintage is nimble, moves with quick steps and cat-like reflexes.  @RochedeBellene

Albert Bichot Domaine Du Pavillon Clos Des Ursulines Pommard 2011, Burgundy, France (23820, was $49.95, now $40.75, WineAlign)

The funk in this Pommard is unflappable, modish, flirting and so elevated in stained high-acid and tone. Incredibly tight and sour upon sour. A strenuous Pinot Noir to ponder and even harder to ignore. If the tasting were to last for hours into the afternoon I could imagine a resurgence but often the old adage is true. If it isn’t there to begin with, it will never be. Would like to look ahead and say “it’s not what it was before,” but this is either lacking fruit or it’s just so far away. The texture is plush, the mouthfeel aching, breaking hearts. Mineral, astringent long finish. Tough as nails.  Tasted twice, November 2013 and April 2014

Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Burgundy, France  (353416, was $44.95, now $36.25, WineAlign) From a storied vineyard just above the very famous Clos Du Tart in the Côte de Nuits. This producer may not be a household name for its holdings in this Burgundy plot but step aside Bruno Clair, Lignier-Michelot and Pascal Marchand. Verdet can handle the terroir of Morey-St.-Denis. Was and still is an unexpected gem. Rich, textured, layered cran-raspberry and earthy flavours. Persistent though sweet and engaging tannins. From my earlier, September 2013 note. “Noses my kind of MSD aromatics. Soft vanilla, black cherry, smoke and obdurate limestone toughness. Coated in fine, tinny tannin and stretchy length, this represents big value for the appellation.”  Last tasted April 2014

Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011, Burgundy, France  (356600, $53.95, WineAlign) Classic and as representative as it gets for the appellation, this is firm, time-honoured Burgundy. The old vines, the earth beneath its tendrils and the medieval forest are all in the glass. Though terse and tense, this Pinot Noir will come around to fill glasses with humanistic pours 10 to 15 years down the road. That extended wait will be needed to integrate the earthiness into the formidable tannins so that the lurking red fruit can rise to the top. A fine example with a model, lengthy finish.

From left to right: André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010, Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Chateau Rouge 2009, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011

From left to right: André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2010, Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Chateau Rouge 2009, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011

 

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https://twitter.com/mgodello

Take them home, County wines

County in the City PHOTO: Michael Godel

County in the City at the Berkeley Church

Life is old there, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Can you think of an island (leaving Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand out of the discussion) of greater interest anywhere for growing grapes and making world-class wine? Prince Edward County’s just a shade more than 1000 square kilometers, 800 kilometers of shoreline and tiny 22,000 population is that place. It’s geology and climate eerily mimics that of Burgundy. A superficial layer of limestone peppered clay loam hovers above penetrable layers of larger limestone. Fissures in that bedrock allow vines to reach deep into its crevices. It’s a veritable mineral wonderland.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Huff Estates Photo: Michael Godel

Huff Estates

More than 30 wineries dot the land and water interspersed honeycomb of a wine trail. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the obvious cornerstone varieties but unique Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris have joined the attention gaining fray. Ontario’s finest Sparkling wine is being made at Hinterland. Vintners like Rosehall Run and Keint-He Winery exemplify top to bottom consistency. They and others like Lacey Estates are involved in the yeoman’s ambassador work, in the field, at tastings or through social media. Smaller production houses like The Old Third Vineyard, Hubbs Creek and Exultet Estates are sought after by those who know.

Stanners

Stanners

The County returned to the city on April 3, 2014 to showcase a cross-section of their wares at Toronto’s Berkeley Church. The usual suspects continued to impress, yet the collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman and Vicky Samaras at Hinterland. If White Cap and Ancestral are any beacon to be drawn towards, plantings of Vidal, Riesling and Gamay should be employed in earnest in the turning towards pressure in the bottle. Lighthall’s Glen Symons gets it, as does Frédéric Picard, with his Cuvées, not to mention Bill Turnbull and his 3630 Bubbles. True, Casa Dea has the shy Dea’s Cuvée and the Grange makes a Sparkling Brut and a Riesling (346726, $24.95). But the questions begs, is fizz just another word for everything to lose in the County?

Here are notes on 23 wines tasted. The soundtrack to these PEC Wines includes Foo Fighters, Cracker, Nine Inch Nails, Modest Mouse, REM, Sufjan Stevens, The Beatles and Dire Straits.

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

Casa Dea Riesling 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario  (winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

Pours and perches in the glass dry and stoic, as if bled from concrete or amphora. Swirled or not this fighter begins to rumble in a growing momentum of tang and acidity, as if it were being fed by sugar and feeding on yeast. So primary, like a sample in thief, yet already circling in complexity. A spike of spicy sweetness, a delicate dressing of aglio e olio, a chiffonade of basil on top. The County does this style of dry Riesling at this price in ways no one in Niagara can. This is no foo but rather a “blessing in disguise. Believe it or not, hands on a miracle.”   @casadeawinery

Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (155606, $17.95, WineAlign)

Note the VQA Ontario designation, meaning the fruit is a combination of PEC and Niagara. The former brings limestone to the table while the latter weight and substance. Typically soda-driven and spatially atomic in maximum thrust. Turns towards the lake with sweet emotion and sails off into the sunset. Multi-purposed, works to great summer afternoon effect, especially with the waves of the bay lapping at the shore.  @HuffEstatesWine 

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Light, airy, delicate and nearly ethereal Pinot Gris that takes few chances, instead choosing an acquiescence with life’s simple pleasures. The vanilla of Gris, malleable, agreeable and ready to pair with whatever comes its way. A minor spike of Hillier minerality gives accent to pears and its blossoms.

Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

A most non-pretentious sparkler that holds a pertinacious attitude towards anything but serious fun. From estate Vidal grapes that has seen a second fermentation using the Charmat Method, Lighthall’s ’12 picks up right where its solid ’11 left off. Picked early to preserve freshness and acidity, the Progression is big on tart green apple preserved by a squeeze of lemon. Chill it, refresh with it, serve it up and bring the house down.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara borrows 30 per cent County fruit to complete Hardie’s cracker Riesling. Low in alcohol (9.1 per cent) and residual, bound by jacked up acidity and tension. Pale platinum with an old-school aromatic sentiment that “fruit is rusting on the vine,” and flavours recalling that “the fruit is calling from the trees.” A masonic force of winemaking, “like being low, hey hey hey like being stoned.”  @normhardie

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort.  @HuffEstatesWine

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Karlo’s take is Riesling in torsion, barrel fermented & aged in older (six-year) French Oak. The program adds wax and herbal mucilage to what otherwise would have been a frenetic study in bone chilling acidity. This unique and neo-progressive intuit invites a global Riesling symposium to the County to learn something old and something new within this single bottling. Riesling with attitude that’s got glycerin and a medicinal meets floral, pear extract meets candied lilac viscidity. Though so young, it seems wise, with an anamnesis for old Mosel, a coolant aroma and a taste that recalls white sangria. Yes, it’s different and eclectic. Anti-bracing stuff, not for everyone, but everyone should be for it.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Vinemount Ridge, VQA Ontario  (winery, $23, WineAlign)

This is the inaugural Riesling release for Stanners, from a single Vinemount Ridge plot. If it were not so winged-footed it might gain more positive repute from the appellation’s quarry effect, but in time and with experience, Colin Stanners will settle the grassy aromas into the limestone demand. For now it remains effortless and balanced with a dismounting of acidity and well provided apple and lemon flavours.  @StannersWines

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2011, Niagara River, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 Brock has settled into its Niagara River appellative skin, having now been in bottle 18 months. Working with fruit from 300 kilometres away increases the unknown quotient, magnifying the adage that you have “one chance to get everything right,” Closson’s ’11 is neither modest nor is it a mouse but it is less frenetic than it acted when tasted repeatedly last year. The hard deposits have oozed into liquid metal gold and the ripe orchard fruit has mellowed into a creamy pudding with a hint of spice. I don’t see the Brock as a very public wine, but more from a maker, for friends, from habit, for family. A wine that you need to get to know, to patronize with repeated listening’s, to accept.   @ClossonChase

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Brock was only sulphured and bottled a month ago so it’s quite shocky and shaky. Still in the REM sleep stage, the ’12 is not quite ready to reveal the warmth so generously granted by the Niagara River appellation’s extending growing season. The ripe tropical fruit notes are there, if subdued and the omnipresent minerality will rear its rocky head before too long. This Brock will see a lifting “but gravity is holding” it down for now. Look to see the weights fall away late in 2014 “and in review,” you will have noted “the air was singing,” all the way to 2020.

Huff Estates Gamay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak.  The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat.

Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Proprietor Glen Symons sources his fruit for this unctuous Gewürztraminer from Vineland at the base of the Escarpment’s steps. Highly tropical and exaggerated by the warm summer of 2012 to the point of candied, but with an edge. Just restless enough to divine temptation for further sips which when multiplied, relax the palate rather than excite it. The flavours turn nutty, waxy, even and calm. A mistral wind blows through in a breezy finish.

Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It should be assumed that the four types of wood used to house this warm and inferential Choa (cherry, hickory, oak and ash) would smother and smoulder other aromatic suitors but those woods are actually quite subtle. The other woods, as in forest, backyard and compost are the acute players. The Choa goes from fromage to funky, from an enzymatic leesy feeling to inner, inward innards. It barks of a dogged persistence, I will give it that. Most definitely singular of style to be sure and will need a few years to settle down.

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The oak repeal in decreased new barrel impact allows the County to speak in the clearest of voice. As it should, from a South Bay landscape and terroir as rugged and dramatic that can be found anywhere Chardonnay is made in Ontario. There is a honeyed unctuous and viscous feel to the South Bay ’10, no doubt a result of its middle filled in by a meritorious and pure lees. Limestone wraps up the fruit in a clean, crisp and pure package.

Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The licensee only Loyalist is the micro-embodiment of the Deborah Paskus style. Rich, compact and built to satisfy a need for lush, nearly tropical Chardonnay. From a vintage that saw bud reducing spring frosts and resulting yields of only one tonne per acre. The oak influence comes to it with a scaled back embracing, allowing the County’s rock bent to connect and form a bond with the acidity’s bracing intent. Perhaps the profits will suffer from the year’s miniscule crop, but the level of quality will making it all right.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Ontario (winery, $30, WineAlign)

A year later has softened considerable and thinking of laying down in softer pastures.  From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Combines 60% (horizontal) County fruit with 40 per cent (vertical) Niagara (Lincoln Lakeshore) grapes in balance and with finesse. Simply apply the distance formula to figure out the length of the hypotenuse. Bridging the kilometres that lie between, though inadmissible to some, comes by way of a deft winemaker’s vision and touch. Plum good, mineral rich and perceptibly tannic without breaching a threshold of varnish. Cherry toffee speaks of the sunshine and indicates time is of the essence. Will look forward to full-on County issue for 2013 in the hands of Cliff and Colin Stanners.”  Last tasted April 2014

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (winery, $30, WineAlign)

After wetting their Pinot Noir feet with a few vintages that coalesced Niagara and County fruit, this is the first go it alone release for Stanners. It’s yet another effortless and quiet handed response to impressionist County fruit. A noticeable step up from what came before, this has primary balance, secondary (floral) aromatics and tertiary brightness. Like Hillier lavender, drying on the rocks in the waning afternoon sun.

Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $33.00, WineAlign)

Mounds of respect are due any Ontario winemaker that decides to tackle single-varietal Petit Verdot, especially in a climate-forsaken locale like the County. Richard Karlo tackles such a struggle between good and evil, looking to elevate this fifth most important Bordeaux grape (not Malbec?) to great PEC heights. His dark, brooding wine of massive extraction starts off into the toffee, the after dinner mints and a suck of coffee cream through a wood straw. Twiggy, angular, resinous and wired, the wine then turns incredibly floral, in violets, from boron to aether and then returns to its roots. The rebound is to acidity, freshness and tang. An intriguing wine that “used to be angry young man” but the evolution it shows in glass bodes well for its future. Give it three to five years to achieve quintessence. “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Only 165 cases were produced of this Niagara born Pinot Noir. Discreet and unpretentious in every facet of its being. Like the colour of beautiful Rosé, the Watson causes such small-scale tannic pain. Though elegant and lithe, don’t be fooled. It’s not Burgundy. It’s Deborah Paskus. It’s Closson Chase. Profoundly appointed, in mind of those who mind. A signal to the understanding and knowledge of what the variety is and from this place. Clarity comes from an intensity in flowers, quality from a high sense of purpose.  Really fine.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $35.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

The calcareous clay, the edgy stone, the molt of the earth. Dense, cluttered and clamorous fruit. A different animal then what walks the County. Magnanimous Pinot Noir full of fruity flesh and medieval attitude. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious example with only one coat of primer. Impressive.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

Norman Hardie’s uncanny ability to coax hyperbole at the lowest alcohol levels is again blatantly apparent in this climatically epochal, yet restlessly cool County Chardonnay. Recalling and expanding on the exceptional ’08, the tonality, texture and motion are achieved by way of a) early picking, b) indigenous yeasts, c) arrested fermentation, d) lees and e) moxie. The dire straits of the vintage wants to exaggerate the fricassee, the roasted nuts and the chemical flow but who might argue against the gape at Burgundian reduction? She’s a roller girl this ’10, taking chances. She skates away, “making movies on location,” all in the name of learning ahead of the curve.

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Every barrel tells a story

Tawse Barrel Cellar PHOTO: www.tawsewinery.ca

Tawse Barrel Cellar
PHOTO: http://www.tawsewinery.ca

If you have never had the pleasure of visiting Tawse winery in Vineland and more specifically, the cool serenity of their barrel rooms, then you still have some wine living to do.

Related – Paul Pender’s Tawse and effect

Last month I was invited to work through the barrels once again with Pender, Norman Hardie, Redstone winemaker Rene Van Ede and the visiting Gautier Roussille of Tonnellerie de Mercurey. Hardie is instrumental in bringing the cooperage’s barrels to Ontario and Tawse employs them with coadjuvant good fortune. Pender gathered this group together to assess the sundry effects on his developing 2013’s, by tasting the wines out of particular barrels, from specific oak forests and with different levels of toast. Twenty-one or so passes of the thief later, the picture had been drawn. Every barrel tells a story.

Paul Pender, Gautier Roussile and Norm Hardie discuss a Mercurey barrel

Paul Pender, Gautier Roussile and Norm Hardie discuss a Mercurey barrel

Tawse makes use of wood from more than one cooperage so the comparisons of various barrels housing identical blocks of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir is a study in algebraic proportion. The reveal in such company is the real deal. What is abstruse to most lay palates is piously obvious to these major leaguers. When the going gets wooden, the wooden turn pro.

Stealing sips from a wine’s temporary wood house makes allowances to peer behind the scenes. The possibility exists to note the accentuating fruit effect of Eric Fourthon’s Okanagan-manufactured, 100% French oak from mineral forests ‘Céres’ barrels. There is the wine-tightening advance by another barrel from the Forêt de la Bertrange. To that antithesis there is the diametrically opposed impart of Tonnellerie de Mercurey’s CLL toasted oak. The precocious corollary of Billion’s Vosges or the curating texture of Jupilles. It’s all too fascinating. At the end of the day it’s about matching barrel to fruit, to fashioning better barrels, to make the best, most consistent wines, year after year.

When it comes to Chardonnay and choosing the forest from the trees, both Norm and Paul agree. Early picking and the right use of barrel leads to higher malolactic fermentation. Tastes from the Quarry Road Vineyard taught the most about barrel usage. The Quarry site was purchased by owner Moray Tawse from the holdings of Vineland Estates. “Best deal he ever made,” says Pender. All the early year’s bitterness is now mineral. “This is the County in Niagara,” he says.

Norm Hardie and Paul Pender in the Tawse Barrel Cellar

Norm Hardie and Paul Pender in the Tawse Barrel Cellar

Here are very brief notes on 21 wines, quickly run through out of barrel, many of which were tasted twice. Once on January 10th and again on April 23rd. A 21-oak salute to the work of Master Coopers, Norm Hardie, Rene Van Ede and Paul Pender.

Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (Neutral) Three year-old vines, density, tang, tropical melon in aroma and flavour.

Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Ceres (Mineral) This is very pretty, the most gem-like, the most like Burgundy. Will go to stainless on the lees in September for six more months before going into bottle. The purest expression from the best vineyard.

Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (CLL toast) The wood tightens this wine up considerably, mainly on the finish. High citrus notes and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish.

Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (Large barrel, CLL toast) Reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oak feel.

Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (One year-old, CLL toast) From the oldest (32 years) vines, the richest site, working best in tandem with new oak, here showing very primary, fermenting notes. A most restrained Robyn, reigned in.

Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 20123 Mercurey (New) Same old vines, increased tang and girth into which the barrel disappears. Sappy toast on the back end, quite young in its evolution. Rich, thick and the most density. Aromatically lime. Will function expertly as a foil to the Fourthon barrel in the final blend.

Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013, Céres (Mineral) Exclamatory fruit and this stage, this is the wine (barrel) to drink.

Lenko Chardonnay 2013, Céres (One year-old) From the oldest (1959) vineyard in Canada. Can handle the most oak. This is creamy, full and reminiscent of Robyn in 2008 and before. Anything but a lean style. Ain’t nothin’ but a house party. “Dig that crazy soul.”

Lenko Chardonnay 2013, Céres (Bertrange, new) Oak tightens up the wine, which has a tendency to be large, or blowsy. “I don’t like Chardonnay at two tons per acre,” notes Pender. “It’s too fat.”

Lenko Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (New) More sappiness and the tightest yet. Showing the most oak but three to four months should settle its issues.

Huff (South Bay, Prince Edward County) Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (Large CLL toast) The fat one, the tenor, with high lemon and lime notes. There is orange zest, lots of fruit and mineral, like licking a steel pipe. A citrus-bitter finish, the most yet, likely due to the very low (1/2 ton) per acre yield.

Huff (South Bay, Prince Edward County) Chardonnay 2013, Ceres (Mineral) Turns woody on County fruit. There’s a separation in this one and very ripe lemons and limes. “I almost think I should have picked this earlier.”

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Mercurey (Old barrel) Reductive, mineral, weighty, intense, firm, taut tannic structure.

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Céres (Bertrange) More richness but still firm and quite tannic. More painted layers, cherries, toasty, the wood a bit green.

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Billion (Jupilles, medium toast) Has the most elegance yet the toast is still very apparent but there is more sweetness, in how the fruit reacts with the tannins. Here is that curation of texture.

Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Billion (Toasted head barrel) Brings out the black cherry nose but the tannin is green and drying. “It will rally, ” says Van Ede.

Pinot Noir Tintern 2013, Billion (Vosges, medium toast) From only three year-old vines on a site Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” The site is next door to John Howard and the wine is already showing colour, freshness and drive.

Pinot Noir Tintern 2013, Billion (Vosges, medium plus toast) A bit reductive, more tannin, more sappy wood.

Pinot Noir Quarry Road 2013, Billion (Old barrel) High limestone content means harder tannins. This is edgy and mean. Would work better with a lighter toast.

Pinot Noir Quarry Road 2013, Billion (Vosges, medium plus toast) Tarry, edgy, walking on the blade. The middle palate has more fill. “There’s a roughness in that vineyard,” explains Pender.

Pinot Noir Quarry Road 2013, Billion (Toasted head) Less edgy, rounder, fleshier, fresher. The gaps here are filled in.

Good to go!

 

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