Life is a trilogy, believe it or not. Things come in threes, whether you like it or not. In 2012 the number one reason for pouring a glass of wine on Halloween was “you will sound much more intelligent when answering the question, “trick or treat?”
In 2013, the top answer on the board was “nothing like a glass of wine on Halloween puts you in the mood to have another glass of wine on Halloween.” This guy may have had one too many while designing pumpkins. His ‘Stem In A Box’ is nothing if not creative. The phrasing may be indelicate but its meaning is clear.
In the guise of an elevated pattern of harmony, a third and final installment in the trilogy of top 10 reasons to dole out the vino on All Hallows’ Eve is laid bare. The concept is as simple as a candle, without magic, no mystery. The addendum is music, tunes to play on the sickly sweet night where candy is everything. Songs to match the wine poured as dark as monster’s gore. And so, here are yet another 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.
You finally get to make use of those etched glasses you were gifted by the neighbour with really bad taste
Because sometimes adults need travelling sippy cups too
The polyphenols in red wine can help offset the horrible effects of eating a pound of refined white sugar
The flavonoids in wine are a most excellent match to those in the apples in your Trick-or-Treat bag
You don’t even have to leave the house to get the full effect
Red wine helps to harden enamel and prevent tooth decay. Halloween. Got it?
Wine will make Halloween night’s sub-freezing weather kind of bearable
Do the neighbourly thing and try pouring these wines on Halloween.
Rosewood Origin Series La Fumée 2013 and Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2011
Rosewood Origin Series La Fumée 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.80, WineAlign)
In 2012 La Fumée was less about its namesake, “the smoke” but in ’13 the opposite wafts like candy in the wind, like confection on brume, like smoke and a pancake. The significant acts of three months in oak for the Sauvignon Blanc plus the hallmark honeyed addition of (approximately 15 per cent), golden-skinned Rosewood Sémillon make for a smouldering and meandering La Fumée. In ’13 call it “Smoke Signal,” “The Big Smoke,” “On Top of Old Smoky” or “Smokearoo.” This one is full on, woven in tapestry texture and like a band on stage in the magic theatre, haunting its own house. This wine will make for a most excellent Halloween investigation, what with its consecrated combustion, but it should also be laid down to rest. Open the tomb in five years, remembering with wistful nostalgia the last of the great Sémillon contributions and see how this Fumée will have settled. It won’t be smokeless but it will be extinguished. “A smoke signal, no matter where you are.” Tasted October 2014 @Rosewoodwine
Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County, California (673798, $21.95., WineAlign)
From 60-80 year-old vines in three different sub-regions of Sonoma and from the how can we thank you enough 2011 vintage. All red berries, all in and at 14.5 per cent alcohol it is both subtle and carried with ease. The ever bearing berries are poured in every glass and seep into every pore. Maintains a level of class despite the big bones and the vivid excesses of Zinfandel repute. The cooler vintage is a natural for this Zinfandel, allowing the spices to spume and the coffee beans to percolate without needing to go muddy. In hue the Old Vines ’11 “flies the blackest way” so “sip it like you’re typical.” A raven in Zinfandel clothing, this is bang on and righteous, not to mention exemplary value in Sonoma Zin. Tasted October 2014 @CBrandsCareers@TheZinfandelOrg
Sonoma County is so massive a wine region it’s really quite futile to take account of a singular, defining personality. Diversity of wine styles and viticultural approaches are what elucidate Sounty County and its 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas). That much is true but the sheer geographical scope of California’s coastline, inward valleys and mountain vineyards make it all but impossible to distill the entire region into one simplified and understood junction of compounding synchronisms.
Imagine Sonoma in terms of soils and geology the way the Clare Valley and Barossa are making plans to split their vineyards into new sub-regions. “Rather than create a hierarchical system, proponents say the plans are part of a cultural shift in Australia’s wine industry that seeks to make technology in the cellar subservient to geological understanding and vineyard management.” Though erroneously, people talk about Sonoma wines as being the same, as sharing a commonality that allows for overused generalizations.
Sonoman varietals need to be characterized by an interpretation of sundry realities. Pinot Noir loses focus when simply labeled “Sonoma County.” Its actuality is much more specific than that. Dutton Goldfield’s Pinot Noir is a prime example; not exactly Russian River Valley nor Sonoma Coast. If its vineyard and those of countless hundreds of others were pinned down into a more micro-specific locale of soil and geology, justice might be served. Yet through all the talk of fining sub-appellations there is one constant in Sonoma. There is one manifest vital spark that runs through all of its fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance. Fog.
Growing grapes in Sonoma is all about the fog cycle prone zone, warm by day, cool by night. Grapes above the fog line on the mountain ranges and upper reaches have the highest chance of ripening. Wind screams in between the mountains and through the valleys to dry out the vines and protect them from disease. The region lies at the western edge of a hyperbolic, tectonic geology, causing not only earthquakes but also dramatically different soil structures. From out of this super active geology, this volcanic action and this movement of tectonic plates, is a cool climate viticulture along 100 km’s of Pacific Coast frontage.
The cool nights and days that rarely get oppressively hot (above 26-28 degrees celsius) contribute to layers of oceanic fog that creep into Sonoma’s interior valleys through numerous spots like the Petaluma Gap. The Russian River, meandering through a lush valley of vineyards, provides a conduit pulling fog through Healdsburg and into the Alexander Valley, as well as forming its own appellation.
Sonoma native Elizabeth Linhart Veneman, author of Moon Travel Guides, sums up Sonoma’s fog in one fell swoop statement: “Perhaps no aspect of the weather here is more important.” Then there is the most amazing time lapse video shot by Nicole Tostevin of Tostevin Design. Tostevin (not to be and to be confused with Tastevin, which means a taste of a wine and a small, shallow cup or saucer with a reflective surface, traditionally used by winemakers and sommeliers when judging the maturity of wine) was born in San Francisco. She is a 5th Generation Californian living in West Marin; she’s an independent freelance artist, interactive art director and motion graphics animator. The video titled, “Sonoma Morning Fog Dance” was shot using time lapse footage of The Anvil Ranch in the Annapolis Valley in Sonoma County, California.
This time last year, in November 2013, San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné wrote, “today, the state of the art for Pinot Noir – along with Chardonnay and, to some extent, Syrah and even Cabernet – has shifted into the coastal fog lands.” Green Valley is defined by fog. Fog discourse and computerized, animated maps are front and centre on the AVA’s website. “Green Valley is the first place where the fog comes in and the last place where it burns off, making it the coolest, foggiest part of the Russian River Valley.”
Walmart’s Sonoma Fog Area Rug
Sonoma fog can even be defined as a colour, like Siena brick red, or at the very least as a style. At Walmart you can buy a “Sonoma Fog Area Rug.” The mist of California’s coast has even had a couple of cocktails conceived in its name. The Sonoma Fog and Sonoma Fog Vinotini are sweet and sour variations on the Kamikaze or the Cosmopolitan, using Grapefruit and Icewine.
Sonoma’s fog is a stern exertion of soda and salt and when its atomic dipoles get together to dance with ripe grapes and the puffy gaieties of yeast, the syntagmatic rearrangement in the region’s wines are all the merrier and made most remarkably interesting. Fog complicates and makes complex the ferments from Sonoma’s hills and valleys. The second fiddle status to Napa Valley’s hugeness is both ridiculous and absurd. Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is already known for its kinetic inquisitiveness but other varieties are also gaining major traction. Cabernet Sauvignon, when ripened upwards of that fog and yet inextricably linked to the miasma, gains a level of synergistically precipitated elaboration that blows Napa out of the water.
WineAlign’s John Szabo MS says Sonoma County “is this big.”
Sonoma Vintners came to Toronto’s ROM for a trade tasting on October 9, 2014. With the ever resourceful moderator John Szabo MS of WineAlign at the microphone and nine winery representatives on hand to speak of their land, Sonoma was defended, savoured and celebrated. Here are notes on the 10 wines presented.
Sonoma County at the ROM
Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée 2006, Carneros (Agent, $37.00 – winery)
The brand was developed for the 1987 visit of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain. Seventeen base wines were blended to create the final (66 per cent Pinot Noir and 34 Chardonnay) cuvée. The Chardonnay is planted on lower sloped with deeper soil and the Pinot nicked from locales higher up where it’s rocky and volcanic. “Oh they’re ready for a tussle.” The immediate query is how can it act so fresh? Aged 7 years, the incongruous to electric power is mind altering, though the reaction in the seminar room is muted and should instead be filled with oohs and ahhs…am I wrong? Intense wine, highly lactic and dancing on tongues. Citrus, ginger, pear and Pinot length from the rockpile. And so it goes. @GloriaFerrer
Quivira Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County (Agent, $15 – winery)
Quivira’s expressive Sauvignon Blanc sells for a song what with its high level of minerality from gravelly soils, typical of Dry Creek Valley. Low acidity, and a quietude of heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds comes aided by a musky, Musqué SB clone. The terroir and the grapes speak for themselves, mostly out of stainless steel, with a bit of neutral oak, plus Acacia barrels, for texture. All in all, there is an elevated pattern of harmony. Biodynamic since 2006, Marketing Director Andrew Figelman notes, “going through biodynamic is like going through an IRS audit.” And worth it in the end. @quivirawinery@KylixWines
La Crema Chardonnay Saralee’s Vineyard 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma (Agent, $39 if it were available – winery)
So notable from the get go is this SV Chardonnay’s possessiveness of a muscular rhythm, where oak meets butter. High quality fruit comes from Saralee’s Block 89, a gravelly loam, with less vigorous vines and of course, much fog. Nine months in one third new French oak and a generous, if in check, 13.9 per cent alcohol. A mere 500 cases are produced of this new and titillating brand. Much orchard fruit on the nose, mineral on the palate and a wrapping of lemon curd. Has chalk and grain. La Crema’s (Ontario-born) winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas has teased us. “You can taste it but you can’t buy it,” Just don’t call it creamy. @LaCremaWines@bwwines
Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County (Agent, $56, WineAlign)
The Dutton’s have owned the farm for more than a hundred years and have been serious about viticulture for the last 40 or so. The fluffy, porous soils are composed of Goldridge loams, in which moisture runs right through. There is very little if any precipitation making this a sort of “dust bowl” Chardonnay, from five different sites. Distinctive, exotic, old vines give a Muscat-like character, plus mineral and structure. It reminds of a mildly spiced Gingerbread cookie on a dry, cold winter day. The Dutton receives the same elevage treatment as their other 13 Chardonnays; it’s the land that’s different. “We’re allowing these wines to be different by virtue of the terroir,” notes Donald Patz. This is mildly restrained in many ways. A very balanced wine, full of class. @PatzHall@TrialtoON
Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley (Winery, $72)
From the Estate’s 1996 planted Freestone Hill Vineyard, from the middle reach (far southwest corner) of the Russian River Valley, a full-on sunshine of fruit spent 17 recondite months in 55 per cent new oak. The resulting door affronting 13.8 per cent alcohol is a so very, if anoetic welcome mat. The Dutton family were the local pioneers. Says Warren Dutton, “if I can ripen apples, surely I can ripen Chardonnay or Pinot Noir,” Ripe red apples and a savoury candy shell have turned to grapes with aid in influence from the Petaluma Wind Gap, in an accruing of elegance and finesse from high acids and low sugars. If the common feeling is that it’s difficult to ripen fruit in this region, the bar must have been set to beanstalk heights. The Freestone Vineyard (which is almost in the Sonoma Coast appellation) is colder even than Green Valley, with an elevation just above the fog, for even ripening margins. The Duttons thought the vineyard not too cold for Pinot Noir, a thought even more astute than the idea of ripening coconuts in Fiji. This really is unadulterated Pinot, from a process that included (20 per cent) whole berry fermentation. The simple elevage turned into a simple yet complex result, with high toned fruit character, tangy black cherry, really fine grain tannin and acidity. Length is ascending and enveloping, from the hill. @DuttonGoldfield
Buena Vista was California’s first commercial winery, dating back to 1857. Winemaker and Sonoma native Brian Maloney, formerly of De Loach Vineyards crafted this tight and bracing Pinot Noir from the cooler vintage. The vintage may have been a result of global chaos but the wine is an unmitigated success. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contiguous vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine.” Tasted blind at World Wine Awards of Canada. Last tasted October 2014 @BuenaVistaWines@TandemSelection
Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2011, Sonoma County (Winery, $38)
From three ridgetop vineyards 1,200 feet above Dry Creek Valley; Westphall Ranch, Porcini Hill and Mauritson. Rockpile comes from the late 1880’s, founded by the local Sherrif Tennessee Bishop. Prisoners broke up rocks to make roads and they called it the rock pile. Near extreme elevation matters deeply in this wine, as do three clones, all in the name of layers of flavour. There is a massive waft of florality in Rockpile and a Zinessence that can only be Seghesio. A large yet somehow fog-tempered cool wine, the result of a unique marriage between an altitudinous though indispensable Sonoma climate. Fresh ground spices join the flowers at the hands of winemaker Ted Seghesio. To the palate and texture the wine turns a boisterous phrase, with natural acidity and that structure is defined by tannin and personality. There is heat, a bit of a heavy grain and lifted alcohol though it carries it well. “Veraison thinning is key,” notes Pete Seghesio. Narrowing the harvest window by removing berries from the double sorting table is practiced, along with halting the brix from rising at the hands of hydrating raisins releasing sugars during fermentation. The must is weighed down a touch, even if the practice in fear is just one of splitting hairs, as obviously this has everything Zin needs to be fresh and elastic. “If you miss Zinfandel by five days you have Port,” admits Seghesio. The 2011 got it right. @seghesio
Kunde Family Estate Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma Valley (965921, $24.95, WineAlign)
Rich and utilitarian to a fundamental degree. Nothing but plum delicious, instilled with structure, tannin and early acidity. More spice and less florals by way of red volcanic rock soil, interspersed with a bit of sand and clay. Winemaker Zach Long is very specific about “that harvest moment” so Kunde’s Zinfandel can never be accused of hanging too long or cheating on the wrong side of ripeness. Cold soaks for five days with a low and slow, geek’s native yeast add layers of complexity to the ferment. With a peppering of Petit Sirah in the mix this has more tar, char and less brightness. It actually leans to black cherry, in Pinot-like dulcet tones which, in that particular direction, is a good thing. The only deterrent in the SV ’12 is a waning of finishing acidity at the end. @KundeEstate@imbibersreport
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (943472, $89.95, WineAlign)
International Sales Manager Vivien Gay introduces the Silver Oak by talking about the Alexander Valley as being the most fully planted AVA in Sonoma. This ’10 is warm and intense, hot to nose, potentially volatile, like a bouquet of hacksaws. Dusty, full-on mulberry fruit is indicative of Merlot but there is none – it’s 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. That teasing and varietal perplexity is an indication of complexity and also American oak, the usage of which began in 1972. Vanilla, coconut, then spiced, round and soft tannins come by way of 50 per cent new and 50 per cent one-year Missouri white barrels. The fruit quivers, like blackberry bushes in sweltering conditions, trying to shake themselves of the heat. Two years in oak plus one in bottle is a loyal and sentient journey, nearly devout and religious. A highly polarizing wine. @SilverOak@HalpernWine
Rodney Strong Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Brothers Ridge 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (Winery, $75)
This is the flagship Cabernet bottling from the winery that bears the ballet dancer’s name. Has layers of sweet Cassis, black cherry and blackberry fruit. Serrated with heat from a warm vineyard, picked at a generous (27.3 brix) and vinified (15.5 per cent alcohol) in a very big style. The Brothers Ridge fruit spent 21 months in 100 per cent French (43 per cent new) oak. The heat transmits through all the layers. So much java is espressed in this big boned Cabernet. Looking, sniffing and tasting the Brothers Ridge gives the impression of “a great big tall fella, about six foot tall. I shivered and I shook, couldn’t do any more.” Despite it’s heavy kinks, the BR is flat out delicious, hedonistic and as decidedly rich as any Cabernet from the Alexander Valley. Perhaps it is a lover, not a fighter. @rsvineyards@ImportWineMAFWM
From the Middle English octobre and the Latin October, meaning “eight,” just how the month of October became the Julian and Gregorian 10th is a matter of bad juju. The corporate bumbling by way of the insertion of January and February into the Roman calendar screwed up all available etymological kismet. Perhaps in abbreviation or acronym, October, shortened to OCT, means “On Company Time.” That might explain its delay and parlay to 10th month status.
October has made its sad and beautiful way into song, rarely in joy or rebirth, almost always in tragedy and death. What’s up with that? With leaves turning to every shade of a Tom Thomson watercolour amid Ontario’s landscape that is all pan and even more orama, why the long faces? James Mercer writes, “to hell again and back,” and Amy Winehouse “today my bird flew away.” The lyrics in these songs are anything but uplifting but the tunes themselves are scrappy.
Then there is the October as envisioned by U2, well, there’s an entire album of oppression, repression and depression. “And the trees are stripped bare, of all they wear, What do I care.”
The good news, through tough times and innocence lost, is the availability of wine. VINTAGES is our facilitator and we are the benefactors, to concentrate on seeking solace in the living, breathing and most complex organism that genies into great bottles of grape ferment. This coming weekend one of my favourite releases on the perennial calender rolls out more value and less plonk than usual. On the heels of anything will sell for Thanksgiving and predating the shelves emptying free for all that is Christmas, October 25th is ideal and satiating. Here are 16 new releases, guaranteed to restore faith in this most troubled month.
From left to right: Andreza Reserva 2011, Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2013, Morandé Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Château Rigaud 2012, Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2013
This blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz (Aragonez) from Lua Cheia em Vinhas Velhas is certainly funky and vineyard driven so that’s a bit of all right, isn’t it? Its phrasing is indelicate and slightly hot but its message is quite clear. Former winemaker for Offley Port and Technical Director for all the Sogrape Vineyards in Portugal João Silva e Sousa and consultant winemaker Francisco Baptista bring forth honest Douro red fruit, along with some mineral and righteous wood spice. Dark, deep and with a wonderful level of anxiety and tension. Gives purpose to modernity. Tasted October 2014 @FreeHouseWine@wines_portugal
A stoic and fruit aplenty Unplugged, less aromatic than some, equally magnanimous as others. Juicy, orchard fruit that is ripe and then elongated, with just enough acidity to keep it honest through the middle acts of savoury balm. Late tonic pungency lines the output. A very good, if not the finest ever unoaked Chardonnay at the hands of Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich. Then again, the ’07 tasted in February 2014 was a revelation. Who knows what the future may hold for this aloof ’13. Tasted October 2014 @brightlighter1@Winemakersboots
Morandé Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Maipo Valley, Chile (389254, $17.00, WineAlign)
Despite the 14.5 per cent alcohol this is beautifully bright, fresh, red cherry fruity and with nary a sign of abstruse chocolate or coffee. The southern hemisphere pulsates in here like a chromosphere of massive, meaty fruit. There is a funk per se but in earth, not wood. Good grain, honest grain, de facto grain. Spice from wood but just as an accent. A romantic one. Admittedly more Maipo than Cabernet but well thought on with the texture of haptic contours. Will satisfy a hunt for October reds to drink right now. Tasted October 2014 @MajesticWineInc
Château Rigaud 2012, Ap Faugères, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (393561, $17.95, WineAlign)
A bold and beautiful southern French rapport of 55 per cent Syrah, 26 Mourvèdre and 19 Grenache, so very modern and explicitly floral. A veritable Midi garden salad lives in the glass; chicory, acacia, iris, black cherry and lemon. Brassy blend from Languedoc-Roussillon, tangy and of the earth in cohorts for simple, if semi-hedonistic pleasure. Nothing about this screams oak and if the shed was open for a lay down it kept its splintered mits buried within the pockets of its staves. The ’12 Rigaud is meant for near-term luxury, alone or with sundry kinds of protein. Tasted October 2014 @oenophilia1@VinsAOPFaugeres
Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dac Kamptal, Austria (142240, $19.95, WineAlign)
Can any entry level (used with latitude) Grüner speak more clearly of varietal truth than Fred Loimer’s Kamptal? Saline, herbal, juicy and mineral all roll off the golden carpeted tongue. A ripe merging to oxidative line is straddled but acidity keeps reeling in the fruit so no harm, no foul. Flavours of citrus and white peach. Heads medicinally sweet on the finish and lasts longer than could ever be expected. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Increased hang time has put this Kamptal in a deeper state of focus and understanding concerning the intricacies of Langenlois Grüner Veltliner. Continues the pure, clean and crisp axiom of the basic Lois but here the aromatics are spoken in acroamatic terms, obvious to disciples and yet available for all to comprehend. Though five per cent big wood barrel aging does not seem significant, that practice along with four months of aging on the fine lees has had a textural impact. The added weight is a questionable thing, though arguably just splitting hairs. Will help carry this vintage through five to seven years of graceful settling. Last tasted October 2014 @FredLoimer@LeSommelierWine
From left to right: Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Domaine Hamelin Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2011, Giacosa Fratelli Bussia Barolo 2009, Giacosa Fratelli Bussia Barolo 2009, Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir 2011
If it were so because of cryogenic preserved must or an accidental tipping and topping up into an unused barrel by recent vintage juice I would not be left hanging with mouth fully agape. Considering the amount of time this flat out delicious Gran Reserva saw in barrel, the mystery must somehow be explained, how it came to be so surprisingly modern and bright (for its age), especially at $23. But it has been seen many times before, with no greater example than the Montecillo 1991 GR that drank fortuitously well into the last years of the previous decade. This is the magic of Rioja. That said, there is some sinew and some raw character here as well – that’s the old school treatment and style talking. Red cherry fruit. Ripe fruit roasted, rested and now sliced, showing its perfectly cooked rare cut. Juicy and with sanguine notes still running through its grain. Wonderful old school yet bright Rioja. Riotous red wine with a calming aura of quietude. Tasted October 2014 @RiojaBordon @Eurovintage@RiojaWine
Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $24.95, WineAlign)
Dog Point’s principals Ivan Sutherland and James Healy know the innuendo of that ever present Marlborough SB subtlety by allowing the vineyard to show up in the glass. That sussuration is the hallmark of this most righteous bottle. The VINTAGES October 25th release indicates a 2014 debut when in fact it is the ’13 that was presented for tasting and likely that vintage will show up on shelves. This ’13 bring elegance, less weight and more fruit. Round and rippling, spiced but in spicy check. Not the finest but persistent in class and crowing achievement for the stomping ground. Tasted October 2014 @DogPointWines@TrialtoON
Thierry Hamelin and his son Charles (no, not the Olympic Speed Skating gold medalist) are eighth generation family winemakers and their 2011 Beauroy, one of the most underrated vineyards in Chablis, or anywhere Chardonnay is made, is both an ode to tradition and an immaculately clean look at the future. Prototypical steely Chablis in every nook of its lithified being and befitting of a 1er Cru designation. Fruit comes by way of some pretty wizened vines (30-plus years) and steep, south-facing slopes. The exposition is both fresh and flinty, the logic sound and spotless. If a creamy, leesy note is felt it’s just a case of genes. In every other respect this is Chablis as both a child of the present and the future. Quality vineyard, vines and fruit given the gift of no mask. This will drink well for five plus years. Tasted October 2014 @BIVBChablis
From the hills of Monforte d’Alba in Piemonte, Bussia is laid out like an amphitheater, the soil is all clay and the Nebbiolo is rich and often austere. Now, here is what temperance and a reliability in attention to classicism is all about. Cherries and ferric earth. Roses and funky beet beats. Tannins stuck on 10, winding and unwinding, but mostly winding. Wild herbs, sweet candied flowers, tight angles, tough and beautiful. Needs many years to wind down. Exceptional value for the real deal in Nebbiolo. Tasted October 2014 @stradadelbarolo
The Claystone 2005 made by Thomas Bachelder was the single-vineyard ringer that shocked the Chardonnay world when it trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. The 2011 made by Sébastien Jacquey recently won a Silver Medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards. This Jordan, Ontario vineyard is a key clay-limestone foundation for both the Claystone and Village Reserve botttlings. Yet another exemplary ’11 Chardonnay with the omnipresent Jacquey handling for aromatic freshness and layering; candied flower, fresh morning glade and lemon drop, amplified to 11 in ’11. Moreover there is a level of honey not previously witnessed. It smells like natural sugars and like a bloom of sunflower lollipops. Very little (15 per cent new) oak was used so the texture is fluid and palpable, with just a touch of stone/toast/wood spice, but ultimately it’s the top quality fruit allowed to speak its own language. Tasted October 2014 @LeClosJordanne@20ValleyWine
Oh so pretty Claystone. Like a butterfly, delicate and gossamer. How can you not mark the change in direction to a most inviting and positive way for the Pinot program with Sébastien at the helm? The paint fumes are dissipating with each passing vintage. These vines belong in Jacquey’s hands – they were made for his touch. He understands them and they are now speaking so clearly, sweetly, with texture that underscores their elegance. When fruit is this subtle, acidity magnified and tannins feigning dry in the early stages of development, a wine can confound and sometimes even seem to be failing. In my view, it is the obtuse that are perhaps guilty of being under appreciative of the Pinot Noir paradox. Like the rest of the ’11’s in the LCJ stable, this is a terrific Claystone with 10 years ahead in sublimity. Tasted October 2014
From left to right: Ramey Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012, Besserat De Bellefon Cuvée Des Moines Brut Champagne, Jean Gagnerot Meursault 2011, Château Cantenac Brown 2010, Ornellaia 2011
Ramey Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012, Sonoma County, California (288035, $45.95, WineAlign)
Buttered toast and lemon meringue are clear and concise in this inner-coastal, altitudinous Chardonnay. You just know there is a pent up, wound intensity lurking. Somewhat slow to start, it not being a jump to the front of the pack, first furlong leader. Then it gathers horsepower from texture and power from acidity. While the fruit remains unreleased beneath the moving parts, it’s the spice, lime tang and bitters that propel this Sonoman from sheer wildness in complexity. Impeccable equine balance. Likes the longer track to make the most out of its endurance. Will show its best down the stretch, at the end of the decade. Tasted twice, October 2014 @RameyWineCellar@BarrelSelect
Besserat De Bellefon Cuvée Des Moines Brut Champagne, France (724955, $54.95, WineAlign)
This Cuvée Des Moines Brut is fashioned in a decidedly aerified yet grappling crémant style, of firm jaw and air of tragic nobility. Low pressure and dosage in this Chardonnay (35 per cent) , Pinot Noir (20) and Pinot Meunier (45) mix make cause for a new Champagne slang. More than a pinch of ginger burrows into the waft of baking apple scones, marked by sody saleratus and more (two and a half years) leesy tang than you can dip a canoe paddle into. The flavours continue with something akin to pickled apples and sweet pork, if there were such a souse. Really tangy and overtly complex, with a long, long finish, if just a shade on the oxidative side of town. Tasted October 2014 @BesseratB@DionysusWines
Gorgeous and subtle yet clearly spoken aromatics; just a hint of tonic piques some ripe orchard fruit, along with a crisp spike of very little citrus. Round, moving, enveloping and circling, parts unified and oscillating. Great round acidity as a membrane to a full, fleshy Chardonnay that returns again and again, to strength and from strength. The length goes on and snaps back to the beginning. Most excellent Meursault. Tasted October 2014 @grapewines@BourgogneWines
Château Cantenac Brown 2010, Ac Margaux, 3e Cru, Bordeaux, France (259424, $89.00, WineAlign)
Whether or not you have left the modern Bordeaux market, attention needs to be paid when an incredible wine at a fair price is made available. Not to be found for any less cash south of the border or across seas, the 2010, 3rd Growth, Margaux Cantenac Brown is the best $50-100 Bordeaux buy of the vintage. Composed of 66 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 34 per cent Merlot, the wine saw its fair share soak in 60 percent new oak. This classic beauty is the epitome of lush and welcoming Bordeaux from a vintage with more sun than 2005. It will make you stop to smell the adjectives. Rich red and black fruit, so very floral and void of any harsh moments about it. I don’t imagine this is to be the longest lived because of its inviting immediacy but it is no shrinking violet. The fruit is in charge and will give it five to 10 years of that parsimonious pleasure. Great late spice and line dancing energy. Tasted October 2014 @Cantenac_Brown
Hasn’t lost a moment of time through six months in bottle. This should give an indication as to its near-unprecedented longevity. Six years will cast a moment’s advancement, sixteen a fortnight. Not saying it can go 60 but half of that is in the realm of the serious and for certain. Candied yet tempered violets, rocks crushed and sprinkled on cryogenic frozen and restored heirloom berries of yesteryear. Huge tannins. From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The blend of the 2011 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (51 per cent), Merlot (32), Cabernet Franc (11) and Petit Verdot (6). From a near-sweltering vintage, tempered by a cooling spell in June and July. The late August heat spike brought on early ripening which explains the intense aromatic waft that fills the AGO’s tasting room air. Though following the same (post 12-month) assemblage and return to barriques for a further six months, the richesse in fruit quality and 70 per cent new oak envelopes this ’11 with so many structured layers there remains many years to see where it will go. The rose petal meets violet florality can elicit no parochial parallel, the anxiety in hematological ooze neither. A consideration of the phenolic exceptionality follows suit. Chalky tannins follow chains in a world spinning ’round in lush circles. This is the reference point for such assemblage in Bolgheri. The breakdown will not begin for a minimum 10 years and evolution will continue comfortably, gently and effortlessly for 15-30 after that.” Last tasted October 2014 @Ornellaia@sherry_naylor
I taste a lot of wine. Lots of wine. Were I to manage a restaurant list with room for everything that deserves a place to call home, to share with the world the honest and the natural, a long list I would indeed create. The wine list at Barque Smokehouse I build is predicated on that premise but you can count on two hands the number of wines we offer by the glass. Necessity is our master.
At the start of 2014 I penned that column and looking back eight months later, the ideas put out within that post-ice storm, mild January day apply to the concept of formulating a restaurant wine list. For the most part, a wine card should endorse the virtuous and the sincere. “Honest wine is juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life. For a bottle of wine to be on the up and up it must not be disguised by the unnatural ways of artificial intervention nor should it make itself so available as to be obvious. Fruit should reside in the realm of the sequestered and the sacred. I am not alone in hoping for table wines to be stirring, gripping, unsweetened and unencumbered by an excessive coat of oak. My hard-earned dollars should earn the right to be stimulated .”
If your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in. VINTAGES releases more than 100 new wines every two weeks. If 95 are what you might consider wantonly microdontic or overly tangential in influence, so be it. Five new wines every two weeks is more than enough to keep your list rocking, rolling, current and fresh. In Ontario the choices are many and the options endless. If driving the construction-riddled streets of Toronto is for you the time spent equivalent of root canal surgery in a Chilean coal mine then call an agent, request a tasting and let the cases be shipped to your doorstep.
“Wine only recognizes two temporal states. Fermentation and party time.” Be creative, read Tom Robbins, listen to the Tom Tom Club, mix it up a little, try new wines and add a spark to your wine program. Give it the genius of love. Guests just want to have fun. Here are 14 new releases, from VINTAGES and through some really terrific agents here in Ontario.
From left to right: Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Tawse Gamay Noir 2013, Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2013, Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 and Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012
Tenuta Le Velette Rosso di Spicca 2012, Umbria, Italy (Agent, $16)
The “Spicca” family owned the farm where the vines now grow. For a Rosso, from Umbria, Toscana or Piemonte for that matter to stand out (spicarre), it must have something unique and noticeable. Le Velette’s understated Umbrian blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo is all about aromatics. Spicy cherries, leather and cinnamon with an underlying petrichor that seemingly bleeds fresh piquant juice straight from concrete. Like the oil exuding from lavender and rosemary growing out of the fissures of cracked terracotta over clay, after a warm summer rain. The palate gives a wee bit of spirited spritz and pizzazz. All this for $16 and change for a finishing espresso. Tasted October 2014 @Noteworthywines
Darker berries define the Paul Pender take on Gamay for Niagara and in ’13 there is a level of tension and girth not yet approached. This third Tawse Gamay is overt in attitude, connotative of Beaujolais Cru staging, an ovule of rebellion and a disposition just as though in the grips of Asmodeus. The Tawse effect is entrenched in clay and possessive of knowledge as if derived by an invitation only junket to the Gamay motherland. If the stance seems serious, the fruit is up to the task. A Gamay for now and fully capable of aging five or more years. Tasted October 2014
Freiherr Von Göler Pinot Noir 2011, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (390971, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release
You can take the Spätburgunder out of the nomenclature but you can’t take the nomenclature out of the Spätburgunder. The porcine dry, crunchy bits are front and centre, the pig offal under the crust. This is Baden red wine of a bitter and surprisingly sweet palate nature, a modern take on old male Pinot pattern baldness. So worth trying towards gaining a deeper understanding of varietal diversity. Tasted October 2014 @HalpernWine
The Estate bottle represents a balanced amalgamation of terroirs with essential Niagara On-The-Lake Pinot Noir aromas, accents and distinction. Highly floral, thanks in kind to the red Trafalgar clay loam of the Red Paw Vineyard, as much as it has and will ever be. Extracted with reserved prejudice, with props to the dark Toledo clay loam of the Black Paw Vineyard, showing as a robust and retentive treacle, rich in tangy licorice and cherry pie. Much flavour is found in this Pinot Noir, so it will be well deserving of accolades and sales. If the sweetness prevails it is only because the fruit is shepherded in clean and Shepparded with blending acumen. Tasted October 2014 @coyotesrun
Lealtanza Reserva 2009, Doca Rioja, Spain (208223, $20.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release
Old, old school Rioja ramped up, given a natural injection of rock brine and garriga then sent out to play. Rarely does Lealtanza give so much fresh conjecture, so much considered condensation and dense consideration. Soft and muddled palate, mottled rocks seeping berries and an accent of candied tomato leaf. Funky finish keeps it real. Tasted October 2014 @ProfileWineGrp
A dusty and gilded Cabernet Franc from one of the warmest Niagara vintages in recent memory. Vivid in Bench specific varietal tendency, as if the berries on the black currant bush were ripening and bursting in the late afternoon sun, right into the glass. A blueberry by you CF, spiced by the faint childhood memory of grandfather’s unlit pipe on the coffee table. There have been more tense and exciting Cab Franc’s by Richie Roberts but none so suave and grown-up as this 2012. Tasted September 2014 @FieldingWinery@RichieWine
Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012, Doc, Piedmont, Italy (388660, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release
Don’t worry Mr. Parker, this rare chance at assessing a Langhe made from the Freisa grape will not join the 100-point club but I can say with certainty that this take is anything but “totally repugnant.” Borgogno’s Freisa is rustic, with dried figments of raisin and fig, though zero notes of reduction. More dried fruit, in carob and licorice with biting, spicy notes and the seeping of black tea leaves. The whole Mediterranean potpourri seethes in altitude and attitude. A dry and sensual red with enveloping chalk and acidity. Perhaps “Bobbo” Butch Cassidy should give this Langhe a whirl. Tasted August 2014 @TrialtoON
From left to right: Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Ascheri Barolo 2010
A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.” Last tasted October 2014 @CaveSpring
Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (707323, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release
Despite the colour as dark as monster’s gore this is a relaxed X Merriman, not overly painted or rubbed by charcoal and rubber tree plant. The Bordeaux-styled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55 per cent), Merlot (37), Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec from South-West slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, Stellenbosch opens its tight angled gates to reveal a cool centre, with juicy, rich, iced espresso, though in decomposed granite grit it’s tannic as hell. Makes judicious use of its (41 per cent) new and (59 per cent) 2nd and 3rd-fill 225L French oak barrels, along with balance in alcohol (14.3 per cent) integration. Solid South African red with just enough primal activity to pleasantly alter the temperature in the brain, without causing concussion or grey matter to go totally askance. Will drink well into the next decade. Tasted October 2014 @WoodmanWS
Pirramimma Shiraz 2011, Mclaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (987784, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release
A Pirramimma in the new vein from a warm and rich vintage. So hard to scale back when nature gives you this much fruit. Though 15 per cent is hardly a twinkle in its alcohol eye, there is only so much elegance that can be coaxed from this kind of hedonism. It’s big, juicy and just so alive. As simple as a candle, without magic and void of mystery. It will range hither and thither for 10 years before it makes the long, slow journey back home. Tasted October 2014 @bwwines
Seven months have softened and mothered Gravity’s adolescence in ways to now see it as the most feminine, certainly of the last four vintages. Pretty dabs, perfumes of natural conditioning, warm days and warm nights in the bottle. More accessible than previous takes and of a new modernity perceived. Sweet dreams and sweet fragrances, roses and cinnamon, nothing fancy here mind you, with no bite and no gathering moss. Cherries and vanilla, lavender and simple pleasures. Straight up Gravity, no pull down, no drag and no excess weight. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “In a vintage potentially muddled by warmth and a humidor of radio frequency, duplicating berry phenolics, Flat Rock’s Gravity remains a definitive, signature house Pinot Noir. In 2011, the head of the FR class from its most expressive barrels shared the limelight (and top juice) with the Pond, Bruce and Summit one-offs. In ’12, Gravity’s sandbox was its own. The style is surely dark, extracted, black cherry bent, as per the vintage. Yet only the Rock’s soil does earth in this variegate, borne and elevated by the barrel’s grain. There are no fake plastic trees in a Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity always wins.” Last tasted October 2014 @Brighlighter1@Winemakersboots@UnfilteredEd
Huff Estates Cuvée Janine 2012, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)
Looks can be deceiving so much so Janine might look as is she were leading a bubble to red dye number 40. Not the case, rather the expressive hue is winemaker Frédéric Picard’s colourful bleed from 100 per cent Pinot Noir fruit. So, it must be sweet and tasting cloyingly like a bowl of sugared strawberries. Again, not so. Janine’s aromas are very berry and her texture is certainly cheese and crème fraiche-inflected from a 12 month lees mattress, but dry she goes. Much demonstrative behaviour and perspiring humidity comes from vintage warmth and here results in layering. Janine is an earthy, funky squared sparkler, with nothing shy or demurred about her, but all of the outwardly screaming smells and tastes are in check. Strawberry cream and shortcake cease from wrapped tight acidity coming in from the backside. Big bubbles. Tasted October 2014 @HuffEstatesWine
Millton Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (92478, $30.00, WineAlign)
From estate fruit on a single vineyard planted in 1969 on the Papatu Road, Manutuke, Gisborne. On Waihirere soils of heavy silt and Kaiti clay loam. A most mineral driven Chardonnay thanks in part to some Riesling in the mix. This varietal symbiosis, along with a co-planted orange grove gives what James Milton calls “the sharing of astrality.” The five year-old biodynamic Opou does whiff orange blossom, along with crisp green apple and the wet rocks of a summer rain. Quite full on the palate with a bite of black pepper and olive oil drizzle over toasted Ciabatta, smeared by churned, salted butter. The length indicates five more relish piqued years and five furthermore in slow decline. Tasted October 2014 @TheLivingVine
Ascheri Barolo2010,Piedmont, Italy (341107, was $35.25, now LTO $32.25, WineAlign)
Standard issue Barolo of a canonical character so bankable as Nebbiolo and nothing but. Classic Piemontese funk comes wafting out, along with licorice in as many ways as can be described; anise, Sambuca or fennel. The palate is creamy and slightly sweet, accented with pepper and a dusty, grainy sensation. This is Barolo of old with a cough syrup confection, wild herbs and grit. It could not be mistaken for Malbec though its disjointed ways could use some finesse and polish. Tasted October 2014 @liffordwine
To shake or to stir, that is the question. In the case of the Martini, the answer is always the former, unless Ian Fleming and James Bond are a part of the response. Author W. Somerset Maugham declared that “Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other.” Bond was quoted to declare that shaking, “bruises the gin.” Chardonnay is most certainly stirred through the process of bâttonage, to suppress Sulphur compounds, to increase maximum exposure to the cells and adulterants it is decomposing into and to promote texture.
What about Cabernet Sauvignon? To stir or not to stir is a hotly debated procedure. In the case of Niagara’s Château des Charmes, winemakers Paul Bosc and Amélie Boury have been known to agitate the ferment with a regular stirring of the lees. Ramey Vineyards performs monthly bâtonnage on their $100 “winemaker’s” Annum to coat the tannins and smoothly integrate the wood. Many winemakers will not touch their collective fine red lees settling of yeast and grape cells with a ten-foot stir stick. What about shaken? Well, that is another matter altogether.
The shaken not stirred reference may strike at the frailty of James Bond and his preference for how he wished his martini prepared. Scientists have speculated that Bond “was unlikely to be able to stir his drinks, even if he would have wanted to, because of likely alcohol induced tremor.” When it comes to wine, the term shaken refers to agitation, but not in the sense of a wobble, a quiver or a vibration. That would be bad. The term shaken has everything to do with what happens to a red wine due to barrel aging, in oak (primarily new) that leads to the development of flavours and texture resembling that of a milkshake.
The milkshake phenomenon is something I have touched upon many times in the past. In November of 2012 I penned the column, “Wine is the new coffee,” in which I waxed on about the mocha, java, arabica and jamocha flavours in the current and prevalent state of red wine. I wrote, “iconic red wines from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Napa Valley and Burgundy are heavily influenced by the barrels that house megalitres of famous juice, but for the most part, the premier or grand cru grape ferment is up to the splintered task.” I’ve talked about mocha milkshakes, talcy acidity, whipped beet shakes of hide, vanilla and lavender and reds gone over to the shaken, splintered and mocha chocolate dark side.
When oak is corrupted, misused or used to make a federal case, the resulting wine will sport black eyes of puffy redness caused by a bonfire in the barrel. When oak is used generously yet judiciously it still remains one of the most endearing techniques towards making fabulous red wine. The trend finally seems to be scaling back from the (here it comes) Parkerized, high extraction and alcohol red behemoths but where there is retreat there also persists the stay of the course. The wines of Louis M. Martini embody that doctrine.
Louis M. Martini Tasting at The Vintage Conservatory
For 80 years the Martini family has made Cabernet Sauvignon the focus of their portfolio, searching for the best grapes in Napa and Sonoma to make the best wines. As third-generation winemaker Mike Martini, likes to say, “Cabernet: it’s what we do.” Martini brought his briefcase full of shaken Cabernet Sauvignon to Toronto’s Vintage Conservatory in September, with the obliging and expedient assistance of parent company E. & J. Gallo and their Ontario facilitator, Praxis PR. Mike Martini opened with “we’re shaken, not stirred.” How refreshing is truth spoken without pretense. Very.
Martini took over the winemaking duties in 1977. “All of us put in something, mostly personality.” The Cabernet Sauvignon style, drawn from many iconic Sonoma and Napa sites is both barefaced and to the fore. Despite the unfavourable monetary translations to Canadian and especially LCBO dollars, their Sonoma County, Napa Valley and Alexander Valley brands represent fortuitous value in full-bodied, reliably-crafted Cabernet. There is no mistaking a Martini rendition of the Bordeaux grape. Ripe, optimum extraction and unabashed richness from quality time spent in high percentages of new French, American (and sometimes) Hungarian oak barrels.
The élevage of a Martini Cabernet Sauvignon is both unapologetic and expected. It is, what it is. Their Cabernet may be treated to cold soaks, warmed to tropical temperatures, pumped over, oxygenated (délestage), subjected to extended maceration, racked by gravity and housed in toasted barrels, but there is no stirring of the fine lees. The adage holds true. A Martini Cabernet is shaken, not stirred.
Seven wines were tasted at the Martini event, followed by a lunch that included one of the better hanger steaks I have ever had the pleasure to taste. Michael Martini was both gracious and humorous in his presentation, spending plenty of time reliving the great legacy left by his father along with some terrific anecdotes along the way. The Martini codex is classic; immigrant family develops a world-renowned blend, takes on investment from a corporate behemoth, uses the resources to great effect and finds the wherewithal to keep the original name alive, front and centre. Great story.
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2012, California, USA (292151, $18.95, WineAlign)
The case load is large (will be 400,000 by 2014) and the concept, according to winemaker Michael Martini is to capture the “idea” of Sonoma County, simply done. “We think of it as cold, by California standards,” says Martini. The Sonoma bottling is higher in acidity and structured tannin than most in its class. While it sees “a few chips,” its tank mentality gives it separation and reform. It is played in movements and even in religious moments. There are bits of cocoa nibs, chocolate chips and the flavour of a cookie out of a good recipe. Some (not over-extracted) Merlot and Petit Sirah add just enough continental, savory texture with final notes of black olive and caper. All in the name of linear yet wound at the same time. Tasted September 2014
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, California, USA (232371, $29,95, WineAlign)
Michael Martini calls 2011 a “radically different vintage, not normal for Napa,” in others words, near-perfect. Nothing about the élevage (18 months in 40 per cent new oak) strays from the company line nor will it cause any radical concern. Give a nose and many contorted faces will result due to the herbaceous piquancy and near-capsicum rise. Changes to a country lane on the palate, in rolling, twangy, welcoming and delicious flavours. Good oak integration in holistic extraction substantiates a grapiness of fruit to balance a smoky, stewarded rod of wood. Has girth, weight and jamming length not present in its Sonoman counterpart. If “you were sorting through the odds and ends, you was looking for a bargain,” in Napa Cabernet Sauvignon then you’ve come to the right place. Tasted September 2014
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2011, California, USA (Agent, $37.00)
“We’re still making 8,000 cases. That’s where we started,” says Michael Martini. The treatment here is a quintessentially kinetic Martini, a pure distillation of Alexander Valley straight from the shaker. After 18 months in a mélange of French, American and Hungarian oak the ’11 is getting a leather and tobacco in terroir component, straight from the vineyard, a sculpted earth tone and a sage that is Alexander Valley. Smoke, spice and spiciness runs through, from the mid-palate to the sumptuous finale. Has a sense of chewy density with seamless integration of oak through to tannin. The acidity does not ring, it pops. Drink now and for three to five more years. Tasted September 2014
Monte Rosso 2004, 2008 and 2010
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso 2004, Sonoma Valley, California, USA (Agent, $100.00, WineAlign)
This 10 years forward retrospective taste of the Monte Rosso 2004 shows surprisingly little development. From fruit grown on 30 feet of level, volcanic, pumice stone replete with holes that serve as water reservoirs. A 15 per cent abv bruiser that spent quality time in new and used French oak barrels, for an average of 26 months. From an extremely early vintage, this is what Michael Martini describes as “almost phlegmy upfront,” made in a similar style to the Lot 1, minus the screen. The vines averaged 45 years and for the first time, a Martini wine out of the red soil shows some funk, magnified by 10 years time. “If you can taste the alcohol, you’ve got too much,” says Martini and here, though that is the case, it is rendered aphonic and transformed into a taste of spiked, highest quality chocolate. The fruit is cured and spice accented in a seemingly youthful Cabernet. So much for the five to 12 year declared window from the Martini team. Drink for five more, at the very least. Tasted September 2014
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso 2008, Sonoma Valley, California, USA (Agent, $100.00, WineAlign)
The red (in the Mayacamas) mountain has been in the family since 1938 and this 70 years later Sonoman is one of its most relucent. Aged 27 months in 83 per cent French and 17 New American Oak, there is no shortage of modernity in its sweet, thick skin. From a challenging vintage replete with heat spikes and low yields, the ’08 MR is blessed with luminous and lustrous fruit. It goes supple, it goes dark, it goes deep, “like the pale moon before the darkness spills,” then it goes brighter still. Sunshine breathes floral scents, vanilla and red fruit in soft, high caste with a hit of citrus. A very forward Cabernet with round, circling acidity. The mid-palate to end game is cool and layered b ut never thick or crushing.This has seven to 10 years of life ahead. Tasted September 2014
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso 2010, Sonoma Valley, California, USA (Agent, $100.00, WineAlign)
As in 2009, storms tested the harvest on the (Mayacamas range) “Red Mountain.” Heeding the warning and learning from the previous year’s challenge, Michael Martini saw the bunches through the mud below his feet, chose a regimen of advanced picking and cut some of the later picked fruit that got mired in the weather’s muck. The result was a tighter Monte Rosso, most backward of the three (’04 and ’08) tasted and wound up without any release. This MR does not give away any of its charms quite so easy. It retains a cocoa dusting and a cool, linear band of acidity. Elusive yet seamless, the acumen combined with the formidable summons to create something lasting out of everything toilsome has produced a most age-worthy wine. Blessed with “na, la, na, la, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na” length, this ’10 will be the night they drove old rosso down. Tasted September 2014
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 1 2010, Napa Valley, California, USA (Agent, $150.00, WineAlign)
The Lot 1 Cabernet is Michael Martini’s cementing of a father’s legacy. It is a Napa Valley thickening of history, plot and extraction, through ripe fruit and new wood. Draws from AVA fruit of the most promising ontogeny, from Pritchard Hill in St. Helena, Spring Mountain, Stag’s Leap, Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain. The 2003 was the first vintage and by now the cabal has reached maximum density to bursting within its two-year soak in brand spanking new oak. Approximately 400 cases are made (and will be 650 in 2013) from out of the gravity flow, (former sugar dairy) Gallo-funded million dollar winery. A very black wine, vampiric in pitch, with fruits, peels, pods, roots and herbs, like cherry, orange, bokser, licorice and sage. The massive tannins are woven of chalk, grain and chew. The flavours range from bitter chocolate to caramelized beef to wood smoke. They continue to cook, evolving into crusted layers of roasting, rendering meat and a sauce made from dusty cocoa, espresso and beef blood. Such a massive wine, wanting to search for elegance. Needs more punching down and time. “As soon as you smell the carbonic,” notes Martini, “you punch it down.” Or lay it down. For 10 years. Tasted September 2014
A visit to the Beamsville Bench on a warm September morning is a beautiful thing. Facilitated by their sagacious Ontario agent Bernard Stramwasser of Le Sommelier, the royal welcome was presented at Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery. Proprietor Harald Thiel and winemaker Marlize Beyers left no barrel, vine, wine or helping left to the imagination. What a terrific day.
Marlize Beyers is as close to artisanal perfectionism as it gets on the Niagara Peninsula. The texture and grace of the wines reflect their maker. Beyers showed off the underbelly of Hidden Bench, including the 600L concrete egg fermenter (which actually holds 700L of juice). The concrete must be primed with tartaric acid before use or the egg will de-acidify the wine. What will emerge from within the thick chitinous walls of that oospore is on my future tasting agenda.
Out in the vineyard, vigneron Harald Thiel tells the story of Fel-seck, the “corner of a cliff,” in the angled nook of the Niagara Escarpment. The soil is filled with glacial till left from ancient Lake Iroquois pulled up from four retreating glaciers. “The glacial till deposit IS the Bench,” says Thiel. His winery operates on more than a quarter of the Beamsville Bench, in high density plantings. All wines are made from estate fruit. The control centre manages that fruit 24/7. The crux of the operation. And leaves.
Harald Thiel in front of Pinot Noir vines in the Felseck Vineyard
Leaves are a huge preoccupation at Hidden Bench. “Rule of thumb is you need 14 leaves to ripen one bunch,” confirms Harald. Canopy leaf management is a rigorous exercise, to compensate for wrong orientation. The inherited Felseck was planted east-west, but the south gets the sun, the north not so much. The spur pruning system (as opposed to double-Guyot) works to benefit in Felseck. To compensate for the winter of ’14 and to stop the “middle-age spread,” the leaves (shoots) are kept between wires. Other benefits include less disease stress and no fruit shadowing.
Sun on the fruit in the morning is key and to avoid sunburn, the leaf orientation is managed accordingly. “Manage the umbrella leaves,” notes Thiel. What about birds? “We use 32 km’s of nets,” and no bird bangers. “Pinot Noir is the favourite varietal of birds,” because they turn colour first. Anti-aviary veraison. Insects? “We use sexual confusion to ward off (insects).” There are 7500 pheremone ties (of the Paralobesia Viteana or female Grape Berry Moth) in the vineyards. Confuses the hell out the males. Translation: No insecticides.
Harald is proud to say this about Marlize. “Winemaking is an artfully applied science.” This was Beyers’ answer to the age-old question,”art or science?” So it goes without saying that grapes are picked on flavour, not sugar levels determined in the laboratory. You take what the vintage gives and make the appropriate, corresponding wine. Ideally Chardonnay is picked at 21-22 degrees brix, but regardless, at Hidden Bench it is always picked on flavour.
Pinot Noir comes from high density planting, with one cane and a single Guyot system. Yields are Grand Cru in quantity (1.6 – 1.9 tonnes per acre or 26-28 hL/L) but not at proportionate pricing. To many a consumer and outspoken wine trade professional they are exceedingly high. Spend some time with Harald and Marlize and you may just figure out why.
The two have developed a “Bistro” line bottled for the restaurant licensee industry. The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Red Blend and Rosé are essentially the sum total of the collected and filtered run-off from the rich and select HB vineyard pool. The Riesling ’13 slings sugar and salinity in a push-pull, posit tug. It serves up typicity with bias and honesty. The Chardonnay ’13 is a perfectly round sipper, coagulating all of Marlize’s varietal plans; canopy management, earlier picking, gentle pressing, pumpover, the management of new wood barrels – all in the name of affordable structure. The Red ’11 is composed of Cabernet Franc (68 per cent), Malbec and Merlot. The CF smothers and smoulders above the M & M’s with all its currant, tobacco and black pepper power.
Here are notes on the 16 other wines tasted at Hidden Bench that day. Not to mention a sumptuous Coq au Vin.
Hidden Bench La Brunante 2011 and Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2013
The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be. Tasted September 2014
Felseck, “the corner of the cliff,” creates twisted Riesling, as per the directive in this angled, mineral nook of the Niagara Escarpment. Choose your planting politics if you will, left of centre Chardonnay or right of the compass Riesling, to determine which one speaks in the amphitheater’s clearest varietal vernacular. If sugar is a determinant or a catalyst in this ’13, it would take a zafrero to suss out that truth because sweetness succumbs to noble bitterness. The Felseck Riesling mixes ginger in tonic in a hyper-linear solution. It’s tightly wound, like a spooled reel rid of memory and twisting. A soldier marching in patriotic allegiance, to the soil and to the maker. There is no hurry to drink this ’13. Its pot will sweeten after the fighting’s done. Tasted September 2014
Of the estate’s Rosomel Vineyard from vines exceeding 35 years in age. This is the belletristic Riesling in the Hidden Bench stable, handled with mathematical precision and utmost care; specific sun exposure, green harvesting, low yields (29.4 L/hL) and a free run juice cap at (500 L). The density and distinct crux of the Bench nook character circulates aromatics in through the out-door. Lime melds to lemon and returns. The wine is plentiful, nearly generous but not all is sweet and amenable. Roman is policed by wild sage in dusty herbal efficacy unleashed. Honey is a fleeting tease but the numeral knowledge indicates mellifluous viscosity down the road. This is Riesling of finesse to realize power and sting. “It’s murder by numbers, one, two, three. It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s.” Wait five years and settle with Roman’s synchronicity for five years more. Tasted September 2014
Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel. Tasted September 2014
The varietal components of the 2007 NB were not blended until August 2008 and then filtered to bottle. That barrel time and prior weekly stirring provided the pelage texture and now developed, tepefying character. Rumour has it I’d tasted this ’07 once before when it fact it was the ’08 in March of 2012. Must be the “marzipan, musky and risky, on the edge of a roasted, toasted Nutella thing.” The Niagara white Bordeaux idiom and its use of prime vineyard space has yet to prove itself so to this Nuit Blanche I would say, “you made my heart melt, yet I’m cold to the core.” Perhaps by ‘21 that attitude will have changed. Tasted September 2014
The key to ripeness is sunlight, something both 2012 and the practice of leaf removal on the East sides of the canopy gave this Felseck stunner. Oh so full with a hint of that typical glycerin and bitter pith so necessary for definition. This reminds me of an off-dry Zind-Humbrecht take, with its late feel of residual sugar and planing finish. There is a wonderfully humid condensation of south Asian drupe and fruit moisture droplet, never in syrup, but rather on the glistening, post-rain skin. Top Bench example. Tasted September 2014
East sides of the canopy to encourage fruit ripening
Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.” Last tasted July 2014
The richness has yet to melt away, nor will it likely do so any time soon. Must give credit where due; ’10 managed to seek out tempering acidity where it was not necessarily in sui generis mind, nor did it want to be found. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Akin to Russian River Valley, allowing the comparison, in platinum, edging to gold and in stony, mineral rigidity. Tends to the orchard in a fell swoop of swelling fruit. Nobody does it better on the Bench. The sec who loves me, “makes me feel sad for the rest.” Last tasted September 2014
Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign)
Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025. Tasted twice, September and October 2014
Now into the mid-point of its six to seven year life, this essential Bench Pinot brings worlds together. A toffee, taffy, salted (not caramelized) caramel mulch comes from pinpoint smoke oak. Has a palpable sende of chew and density. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “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.” From my earlier, October 2013 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.” Last tasted September 2014
The summer swelter of the 2007 vintage was not lost on this Pinot Noir and although the black fruit spectrum was picked clean from all available plum, fig and cherries, they and their tannins have evolved in clemency and snug harmony. That and a whipped beet shake of hide, vanilla and lavender. This would be a diverting and polarizing ringer to toss into a blind tasting. Tasted September 2014
Transplants Nuits-Saint-Georges into the coliseum of Felseck with frisky and fine-grained tannin. The aromatic aggregate of flowers, orange grove and red cherry is akin to Les Perrières. This is micro-managed, micro-plot Niagara at its very core, the diminutive, wee berries singing the nook’s furtive, foxy and salient song. The late bitter note is both beautiful and honed in on the vineyard’s frequency. Graphite trails with back-end nerve. This Felseck has entered the zone. Drink over the next three years. Tasted September 2014
On benches all along the Niagara Escarpment, each single-vineyard grown, vinified and bottled Pinot Noir has an affinity for a particular vintage. The Locust Lane and 2010 share a commonality that exceeds the level of companionship seen in the more rigid, bookend vintages of ’09 and ’11. Here is the richest density, though still teasing and leaning against the black cherry tree. There is a limestone, Alsatian, Albert Mann thing going on, rolling like thunder, bobbing like drinking birds. Still formidable, the stuffing yet burst from its cloud. A sniff and a sip of the ’10 “and the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill. Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.” The vineyard takes heat and gives Pinot Noir its energy. The ardor will slowly release over the next eight to 10 years. Tasted September 2014
With another summer beneath its brooding belt, the aromatics are now in full flight. From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The richest Terroir Caché to date, making use of its barrel in judicious but never obnoxious ways. Huge Bench wine, needs 10 years for sure. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.” Last tasted September 2014
Welcome to the world ’11 LB, the flotilla leader in the Hidden Bench brigade. This fierce Bordeaux-styled blend of exemplary fruit out of the three Estate parcels is composed from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Not home from a hot climate, and not the most likely candidate to be made in the 2011 vintage, La Brunante is “like a mudship becalmed in a rusty bay cracking with an emboldened abandon.” Bottled in a strong compression but without aggression, it lies in wait, creaking, twitching, smoldering and aching with desire. When it should be released, somewhere up to 10 years down the road, it will sail, cutting through waves of tannin, with multiple berries, dust, diesel and into a show that never ends. Tasted September 2014
The benchmark for such a rare Niagara animal is of course Alsace and more specifically the iconic and consumer-recognizable brands such as Zind-Humbrecht and Domaine Weinbach from the Hengst and Furstentum Grand Crus. This HB is decidedly not that. Even the kings of Alsace late harvest only go to bofttle in the finest vintages, when a level upwards of 50 percent botrytis is achieved. After a few freeze/thaw cycles the fruit was picked on the 28th of November. The ’13 Vendanges Tardives has the subtlety and attributes to call itself VT, with residual sugar (119 g/L) and alcohol (10.5 per cent) numbers in line. Near-needed acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character mix to balance and so the reduction in sweetness is nicely tempered. Pears meet apricots in hinted whispers. As per the Alsatian requiem, this never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd. Utilitarian to a fundamental degree, in the end I would have liked more acidity in this very pretty wine. Tasted September 2014
Some wine is made all in the family. These days I am particularly intrigued by the ancestral homestead turned grape-growing entity. This past summer I paid a visit to Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley. Mike Lightfoot‘s apple farm has transformed into a 21st century outpost for Vinifera and local, indigenous viticulture.
Blue Mountain Vineyards has been a family business since 1971. For twenty years Jane and Ian Mavety grew and sold grapes to the commercial wine industry. In 1991 they began bottling under the Blue Mountain name. Next generation winemaker Matt Mavety came to Niagara in July for the annual 14C Cool Chardonnay event and I had the pleasure of tasting with him. His wines have been arriving in Ontario with record B.C. import speed. They have become a darling of the LCBO, the WineAlign crew and consumers for good reason. The purity of the all-estate grown wines are a study in South Okanagan clarity. The persistence in consistency across the board is increasingly apparent.
Blue Mountain’s tale of cultivation is one of intensive labour. It’s a hands-on approach in the vineyard; suckering, shoot thinning, shoot positioning, fruit thinning and harvesting are all done this way. The winery focuses on varietals; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, and Pinot Noir. In addition to the single-varietal bottles, no less than five different Sparkling variations are made in the traditional method. It’s a toss-up between the two styles to decide what the Okanagan farm does best. Neither analect should be missed.
Sperling Vineyards comes from along history near Kelowna, B.C. Giovanni and Lorenzo Casorso began the farm in 1884, going on to become the largest grower of fruits and vegetables in the area. Giovanni’s sons all planted vineyards in the Okanagan beginning in 1925. Pioneer Ranch, home to Sperling Vineyards, is one of those sites. Since 2008, Sperling has been harvesting and building the 21st century legacy of that famous Kelowna property.
Ann Sperling is one of Canada’s superstar winemakers. Alone and along with partner Peter Gamble, Sperling has elevated the efficacious fortunes of Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara and Versado in Argentina. Her categorical work on the home front has raised the bar for the Okanagan and for Sperling Vineyards.
The Kelowna winery concentrates on a Sparkling wine program, along with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Marechal Foch from some very old (1960’s planted) vines. Chances to taste the Sperling output have been more frequent of late, from i4C to VINTAGES releases and with Ann at a special LCBO tasting.
Here are notes on 17 wines tasted over the past few months from Sperling and Blue Mountain.
Sperling Vineyards Sparkling Brut 2009
Sperling Vineyards Sparkling Brut 2009, Traditional Method, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (361436, $40.00, B.C. winery, $40.00, WineAlign)
From winemaker Ann Sperling’s Kelowna family vineyard (dating back to the 1880’s) this is fashioned from 100 per cent (Estate only) Pinot Blanc. The vineyard sits adjacent the Old Vines Riesling of Tantalus Vineyards, another quintessential B.C. example of vines that lambaste and biff out racy, tension filled grapes. Though the ’09 is more round than linear and an invitation to a more prescient pleasure or vatic gratification, the concept is base and relative to an assessment of the ’08. The Sperling citrus, the undefined citrus, is an amalgamation or vagary of lemon, lime, grapefruit, pomello and orchard fruit that acts like citrus in nature. This ’09 is initially warm but then builds with intensity, unlike the ’08 which was (and still is) that way from the outset. In a year this should join the accessibility shelf in parallel to its one year older sibling. Tasted September 2014 @SperlingVyds
Sperling Vineyards Sparkling Brut 2008, Traditional Method, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (361436, $40.00, B.C. winery, $40.00, WineAlign)
The Sperling citrus layering is nowhere near locating the entrance to an unraveling descent. From an early vintage with an early frost, there is little wonder why it possesses so much pent-up aggression. Note to self: Wait another year, find Ann Sperling and must re-try. From my earlier, November 2013 notes: “Fasten the seatbelt for these Okanagan bubbles of tension nonpareil, acids beyond compare, fruit screaming to be heard. Estate-grown Pinot Blanc picked and aged at classic Champagne numbers, 18 brix, 2.95 PH and 36 months on the lees. Low in alcohol (11.3 per cent) and supportive in reverse balancing residual sugar (6 gr/l). Of note were green seeds, “so we’re not fighting green character,” says Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Non varietally-driven fizz that concentrates on mouthfeel, place and method. Does this Brut have the most tension ever from a B.C. Sparkling wine? Travels electrically from pole to pole, wired tight, inside a smart machine. A tale of a northern soul, “too busy staying alive.” Last tasted September 2014
Sperling Vineyards Sparkling Brut Reserve 2010, Traditional Method, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C. winery, $79.95, WineAlign)
This blend of Pinot Noir (70 per cent) and Chardonnay (30) was just recently riddled and disgorged so it comes across stonking and stomping on the freshness and fervor scale. After a few months in, the diminished low-dosage and Reserve style will settle and merge into an ever so slightly oxidized, Champagne stage, the platinum eyes will shine, the ginger spice will bite and the expansive mousse will blow. This is a very mature and wise bottle of Okanagan bubbles with a wistful look on its many faces, imagining what might have been, with today’s ability, in that lane of unmade Okanagan Sparkling wine. Ooh la la, Ann Sperling might say, ” I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.” Tasted September 2014
Sperling Vineyards Sparkling Brut Rosé 2012, Traditional Method, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C. winery, $50.00, WineAlign)
Ann Sperling’s Rosé fizz is 100 per cent Pinot Noir of a style in high contrast to the Brut bottlings. Higher brix (19) and sugar dosage, shorter lees time, really low (though classic Champagne number – 2.95) pH and high-ranging acidity (10 g/L) all combine for a consistent yet very different airy apprehension. There is a sweet lavender soap aroma, a savoury edge and the classic Sperling citrus, here in lemon-lime pull. There is really nothing strawberry-rhubarb or berry-centric about it. This is Sparkling Rosé with hold the ball old school feel and modern era scoring ability. Tasted September 2014
Sperling Vineyards Old Vines Riesling 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (361204, $34.95, WineAlign)
From a 1978 planting, this teases late harvest-like with a sweet-sliding aromatic entry that glides effortlessly on the changeover to the palate and then bam! A red-letter sharp and acidulated takeover. The roots dug deep for the wise and wizened vines overtop a full limestone overlay “naturally stretch the nutrients in the bunches,” notes Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Low, old and slow, “all about circulation and flow.” Finishes with pith and citrus intensity. Yikes Riesling. Tasted November 2013
Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign)
High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine. Tasted twice, May and July 2014
Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir
Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (382283, $27.95, WineAlign)
Winemaker Ann Sperling stresses clonal selection for the success of this Okanagan Pinot Noir. The structured clone 144 inhabits a south-facing block, while 777 (higher degree of sugar, weaker acidity) and 828 are planted on the north facing side. Sperling’s goal is minerality, to seek a fine streak, drawn up from soil through vine, transmitted direct to berry, cutting a multi-dimensional line crossing and interpolating the finished wine. That success is here carved from hillsides, burrowed into must and released simultaneously into wine. Ministrations are gathered from small bunch pressings, indigenous yeasts and small puncheon aging to minimize wood impact. This ’12 is a buckaroo bright, light silt and gravel textured Pinot Noir of cherries fruity and pit-tinged. As for the mineral streak, call it metaphor hyperbole if you must, but how else to explain the subtle tickle in polytypic sensation? Like a banzai effect, “a simultaneous plane of existence with our own.” Minerality. Tasted September 2014
Blue Mountain Brut, Méthode Traditionnelle, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (206326, $27.95, WineAlign)
Blue Mountain is the poster child for B.C. bubbles and this forth-righteous, tight to expansive, quintessential cool-climate Okanagan is the stalwart for the genre. The unabashed intensity in citrus acidity, zero dosage style is exactly what it should be. If you have never experienced west coast bubbles, this is the pace to start. Tasted December 2013
Blue Mountain Brut Rose R.D. 2010, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $32.90, WineAlign)
A blend of primarily Pinot Noir with approximately 15 per cent Chardonnay, the Rosé bubbles by Blue Mountain rest 36 months on lees. Perpetuates the clear and concise house style, shared in common excellence with the Reserve Dry bottle. The smells of strawberries are key, the texture so important to character and aridity the driving force behind its level of elegance. So faintly pink, rusty really, this is blush fizz of the domicile kind; loyal, agreeable and persistent. It pleases from the first sip and lingers with consistent tones to the last drop. What beach sit, couch lag or special event stand wouldn’t be improved with a glass of these Okanagan bubbles? Tasted October 2014
Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs
Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2007, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $39.90, WineAlign)
Blue Mountain’s B de B is all in Chardonnay, a 100 per cent estate fruit, cuvée first press, finished dry (6 g/L RS) and left on the lees sparkler for six years. This is quite an olfactory clot of yeast, yogurt and yellow fruit. Full and widening in the mouth, the flavours expand and contract, then expand again like fizz on life support. It’s hard to tell where this will go; the So2 is noticeable and though it blows to the mistral, beyond the element there are more elements. Magnetic to be sure and all over the mountain, these bubbles are confounding and exciting, but confounding nonetheless. Tasted October 2014
Blue Mountain Reserve Brut R.D. 2006, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $39.95, WineAlign)
The RD from estate fruit is Pinot Noir based, with approximately one-third support from Chardonnay and a pittance of Pinot Gris. The extended lees sit is seven years and if that is not the texture kicker than nothing is. Strawberries persist throughout this very dry sparkler, from leaves on the nose to bled fruit on the palate. This carries more arid character than the Blanc de Blancs, more texture and less atomic airiness. Finishes dusty and gingered, with a hint of mineral though the subtlety is sketched. The poise here is to be commended, the grace embraced. Calming fizz for any occasion. Tasted October 2014
Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)
Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.” Last tasted July 2014
Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)
A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014
Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $18.90, WineAlign)
Upfront, come and get me, juicy expression of Sauvignon Blanc, free of encumbrances. Avoids grass and spice, reaching instead for tree fruits, both stone and orchard. A bit ambiguous for that reason, acting less varietal and more Okanagan, but that is a very good thing. Has terrific sapidity and more than admirable length. A touch of distracting, caustic herbal intensity on the finish. Tasted August 2014
Blue Mountain Pinot Gris 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, $21.00, WineAlign)
The astucity is palpable, the innuendo more than just a suggestion. This silent but deadly Pinot Gris is quietly explosive, fruit shuddering beneath a wall of texture and grain. Aromatically speaking it gives very little of itself but in the mouth the feel is so broad and coating. This is one of those very special wines that must be tasted with prejudice to appreciate just how dramatic and evidenced it can be. The acidity is stony laminous, the juice squeezed of many an orange variety, from Mandarin to Moros Blood. The finish gets an accent in Pomello. Blue-chip value in B.C. PG. Tasted October 2014
Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $36.00, WineAlign)
The Reserve Pinot is intoxicating to say the list. Some whole clusters in the fermentation process add mouth feel, cure and needed grit but how this can not be viewed overall in the shiniest west coast light would be confounding. The reserve ’11 is both “sky as I kite, sticky as lips” and “as licky as trips.” If there was ever an Okanagan Pinot Noir to get you high, this would be the one. What a boisterous effort out of a less than scorching vintage and considering the modest to riches price, no shame in visiting with flavourful fare, imbued with spice, any day of the week. Tasted April 2014
Blue Mountain Gamay
Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign)
The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake. Tasted October 2014
Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Photo: (www.leclosjordanne.com)
Whatever your plans are for Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I highly recommend they include wine and music. Last year my picks to meet the bird emanated from a Loire state of mind. A new Sancerre makes this year’s shortlist because “you can always use a good Sancerre.”
The consistency with which wine picks jive from one year to the next is self-consciously and self-prophecy predicting, to be sure, with Chile and California making repeat appearances. New and bold in choice for 2014 is the idea that “now you say Morocco and that makes me smile. I haven’t seen Morocco in a long, long while.” A promising wine region lurks in the North African dessert and for $15, find out for yourself.
Two years ago I also offered up a brief history lesson on the origins of Thanksgiving when I said “Canada, let me pour your Thanksgiving wines.” At the time I was not suggesting we all go out and fill a curved goat’s horn with fruit, grain and Pinot Noir.
There are better ways to get your cornucopia or horn of plenty on.
In 2013 the message was simple. Thanksgiving is a weekend to celebrate the harvest, all that was once and will again be good. When I took a good look ahead at Canadian wines for Thanksgiving I meant what I said and I said what I meant. Canadian wine will impress you, 100 per cent.
This Thanksgiving the great indulgence that should grace your meditative and purposed consciousness is a local one. When should it not be? At a time when Thomas Bachelder was making wine at Le Clos Jordanne out of the vineyards on the Jordan Escarpment, greatness emanated and worship followed. Though it may have seemed so at the time, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at LCJ were not the ideal terroir for Bachelder. His work there, albeit progressive, standard setting and earth shattering, was only a precursor for his true calling; to Wismer, Saunders, Willamette and Beaune. Granted his total touches seek and mine gold but the LCJ soils were meant for a different pair of mits.
Those hands belong to winemaker Sébastien Jacquey, Burgundian, naturist, environmentalist, terroirist. Jacquey’s résumé reads like a laureate’s; university diploma in Technology and Biology in 2002. National Diploma in Oenology and Professional Agricultural Aptitude certificate in 2004 and Master of Earth and Environment studies, specializing in Vine Management and Terroir in 2005 at l’Institut Jules Guyot. Engineer of Oenology and Viticulture in 2007 at l’Institut Supérieur d’Agriculture, Rhones-Alpes.
It has taken Sébastien Jacquey a few vintages under belt (three as assistant and now two as chief winemaker) to feel the groove of his vineyards. To me, 2011 marks the turning point and the launch pad for the exceptional career that will define the winemaker. To a wine, every 2011 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir I have tasted has the finesse, restrained richness and markedly pure clarity of great Burgundy. More important is that the wines are clearly Niagara and even more so, distinctly Le Clos Jordanne. One step further even. All Sébastien Jacquey.
All of Ontario must rejoice, applaud and give credit to the effortless grace with which he is bringing evolution to the LCJ continuum. I urge you to try his wines. On this October 11th, 2014 VINTAGES release and in stores this coming Thanksgiving weekend the two eponymous vineyard bottlings hit the shelves. Try a Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard with friends and family. Then put another two away for future consideration. You will be glad you did. Here are 10 wines to seek out for the October long weekend and some tunes to spin alongside.
From left to right: Solar Das Bouças Loureiro 2013, Domaine De Sahari 2012, Argyros Assyrtiko 2013, Katogi & Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro 2008, San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Carmenère 2011
Solar Das Bouças Loureiro 2013, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (221036, $13.95, WineAlign)
Initially this opens slower than snail’s snot so “mute it to a whisper and spin your solar sister.” Petillance hidden, this is rich, greasy, fat and sumptuous Vinho Verde, not your avô’s take, that’s for certain. Can’t say I’ve yet nosed these kind of tropical aromas in VV before, so in that sense it’s a Posies breath of alternative, equatorial air. Comes back to pears and herbs, citrus on the palate and wraps up with wild acidity. Like frosting on the beater. Quite a bang for $14 bucks. Good, long finish. The minor spritz comes after the buzzer. Tasted October 2014 @VinhoVerdeCA
Domaine De Sahari 2012, Guerrouane A.O.G., Morocco (92825, $14.95, WineAlign)
Considering the geography and the utter aridity of the climate, more than just latitude should be afforded this Vin Rouge de Maroc. That’s because it’s a well-made, properly judged, toothsome Bordeaux-styled blend. Think Australian claret, say from Margaret River or even Coonawarra. If “that’s much too old a story to believe,” have a taste and note the fine balance betwixt Cabernet and Merlot, between earth and sky. Slightly rustic and funky, there is real, leathery fruit and a wood-chalky texture. The acidity is wound tight and the residual sugar slightly elevated but if “you say Morocco and that makes me smile,” I’ll know I’ve just had a taste of something fine. Tasted August 2014 @TandemSelection
This Assyrtiko has a small bass note, down below, beneath the snare and the jump back. It causes quite a Rufus rumpus. Its got sax notes that drive a wild personality. While not blessed with the usual fruit to meet its acid intensity, the consistency persists. Santorini’s sun-drenched rocks break it down and the indigenous sapidity of Greek garrigue can’t help but stamp the authenticity. This needs to develop a year or two to get beyond its awkward, acetic adolescence. “If one should bite before I wake, jump back baby jump back.” It will serve purposed grilled meats when it does. Tasted October 2014 @Santoriniwines@KolonakiGroup
It’s not that every Xinomavro is infallible but every Xinomavro is worth exploring. The Averoff is classic; smoky, rich plum meets cherry intensity, tannic and textured, layered, like old school Pinot Noir. Liqueur of Naoussa terra firma, rocks and sweet beets. Balance of earth, wind and fire, fun funky and moving. Shares the spice of life so “let this groove, light up your fuse, alright. Let this groove, set in your shoes.” Parts unknown gather to subvert the uninitiated and make them move to Greece. Tasted October 2014 @katogistrofilia
San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Carmenère 2011, Maule Valley, Chile (249201, $19.95, WineAlign)
Nose of notable Carmenère character checked and in restraint. Certainly modern, somewhat fortified, but acceptably precipitous, delectable and fun. The whiffer is sweet pepper, currants and rings of defined tobacco. The give way goes to flavours silky in roasted pepper and a shot of espresso. If, “in the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive,” this Carmenère would have kept us warm. No cake, no jam, no overwrought excessive behaviour. Though like any good band, it does drive Dixie down. Well made. Tasted October 2014 @Dandurandwines
From left to right: Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2012, Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011, Le Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011, Siduri Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012, Pommery Brut Silver Champagne
Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2012, Ac, Loire, France (65573, $26.95, WineAlign)
The most chalky, medicinal and intensely forward of the Jean Max Roger stable. Also the most floral and aromatic, like Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Muscat even. It is anything but, of course, and one taste quells thoughts of Rhône-ish or Alsatian aromatic whites and allows Sauvignon Blanc to give of its green grass and wet hay. There is a coarse, hoarse voice in Les Caillottes, the small pebble, stony, flinty Sancerre. It’s a striking, swashbuckling, swordplay but “clear the thistles and brambles” because time waits for Sancerre. Not years mind you, so drink this Cuvée out of the clay-limestone soils in the village of Bué and in the hamlet of Amigny between 2015 and 2017 for maximum pleasure. Tasted October 2014 @oenophilia1
Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33910, $40.00, WineAlign)
A 2011 assessment of the winery’s Chardonnay quartet shows this vineyard from the eastern section of the Le Clos Jordanne estate as divulging the most amplified soundgarden of floral proclivity. The cool vintage made demands for a choate winemaking process, all in the name of freshness. Vosges forests provided the bulk of the wood (15 per cent or less new oak), barrel ageing was ceased at 13 months and limited stirring in older barrels were all performed in the name of carrying the freshness name. Leaving them to age in bottle for up to six months prior to release confirmed the commitment to completing a prime time wine. The LCJ vineyard also expressed itself by way of candied marigold and nasturtium. This is Chardonnay with a full sunshine aspect, southerly and rich in ways not previously observed. It also shares an affinity with other 2011 Niagara whites, in citrus and fresh tendrils of burgeoning acidity, like simliar takes in Semillon and Riesling, in honeyed, stony layers. Balance is brought together by tannic texture, giving the wine grip and glide through a glade carpeted in ground cover, like lemon thyme and creeping sweet moss. For winemaker Sébastien Jacquey, this level of excellence may have been a “long time coming,” but it’s just the beginning. Tasted October 2014 @LeClosJordanne
Le Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench (33902, $45.00, WineAlign)
The most cherry meets earth LCJ to date, in the vein of a Cherry Road Pinot Noir, regardless the vintner. So much attention to clean fruit detail, this has lines and streaks of rock, chalk and variegated soil, piercings, tattoos and fine art running through its veins. Sébastien has coaxed maximum freshness and given it supporting balance. From my earlier February 2014 note: “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.” Last tasted October 2014 @LeClosJordanne
The nonexclusive Sonoma Coast from Siduri comes by way of an even keeled vintage. It marries plush with lissomeness. Aptly concentrated while simultaneously acting out of pure Coast decorum, this is exemplary of place, mind and space. Pinot Noir that is “always looking for the sun to shine.” Raspberries romp through its fibers, reel, allow a minor savoury slant, then return, replay and remain the dominant fruit characteristic. Heading to the finish it’s momentarily ripping but the ripe and supple character ride on gentle waves, then bring it back to class. Can’t imagine it falling from grace anytime soon so enjoy to the end of the decade. Tasted August 2014 @SiduriWines
The Silver is a gorgeous, grand green patina, stoic and manifest dry, classic glass of Champagne. Aromas are in exaction, in compliance and in direct connectivity to a grower’s condition. Just a sliver of earthy, sweet oxidative sumptuousness streaks up the middle palate, lingers, turns away from the sun and lets the mist fall in late. Fine, linear acidity takes over and tangs the tame beginning, which proceeds to relinquish submissively, relegating it as just a faint memory. “What a swell party this is! What Pommery!” Exceptional class, chaste and chasmic-bridging Champagne. Well, did you evah? Tasted October 2014 @LeSommelierWine
Wine Country came to town last week betwixt what has seemed like the most expansive sectarian LCBO campaign in recent memory, or possibly ever. Hashed out, tagged and promoted by such catch slogans as #LCBOtastelocal, #LCBOGoLocal and #LoveLocal, Ontario’s wine superstars have been dancing on the monopoly’s main stage and in stores, since September 15th and through to October 11th. As part of the phrontifugic campaign, the LCBO has quaintly persisted in matching local wine with pie.
It has not just been a talking affair, this love for the wine regions of Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. VINTAGES walked the walk by welcoming 55 Ontario wineries last Thursday, October 2, 2014 to Toronto’s Bronfman Hall at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Taste Ontario is a curated and correlated gathering and the sixth annual did something the first five failed to accomplish. The agglomeration left no book of wines behind on the varietal bus. This year the offering sought a cogent cross-section of everything Ontario works its vinicultural tail off at, from stalwart signatures Chardonnay and Riesling through to the global gamut of expatriate Vinifera. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc continued their most righteous and requisite climb to prominence. The increasingly genuflected niches occupied by Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Red Meritage Blends upped the ante and their game. Finally and with much market grab ado, Sparkling, Gamay and Syrah crossed the bridge to be more than gratuitously represented.
This is what happens when Wine Country Ontario, the LCBO and the winemakers do whatever it takes to get on the same page. The miserable and disenfranchised put their gripes aside. There was no talk of private wine stores, organics, biodynamics and wishes to reformulate the VQA certification process. No, all of the important issues facing the Ontario wine industry were swept under the rug to focus on one thing. Current and recent releases.
Ontario’s expansion in diversity and prosperity has not climbed aboard the gravy train without challenges. Growing, nurturing and manufacturing (despicable term, I know) the varieties of the European shtetl is a labour of New World love. The results have polarized the region, dividing its critics into glass half full or empty rural planners, into partisans and dissidents. The wines themselves can be brutally honest takes, but also classic, arguably heroic examples of despair refusing to take itself seriously.
The critic will tell the Ontario winemaker who strays from the comfortable cool home confines for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc that all else is a complete waste of viticultural time. They will insist that you can’t have doppeltesGlück, that your bread cannot be buttered on both sides. Cake is not to have and eat it too. The winemaker will respectfully disagree.
Never before, in the presence of so many Ontario wines at a single tasting, have the poles been blurred, bent and bemused. Martin Werner’s 2013 Riesling challenges the laws of typicity, even while it expands on the boundaries of what can be achieved. VQA found no fault. Francois Morissette did the same (and more) and yet his Cuvée met with the ball’s black curtain. Ravine’s Riesling barely caused a batting of the VQA lash. Gordon Robert’s Gamay 2013 has a sense of Cru with a tension that belies Beaujolais. Others found it thin and volatile, yet it breaks new ground and carries a #GoGamayGo torch. Marynissen Estates has re-invented itself (with Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in tow) and still the paradigmatic radar gun is silent, its registry empty and reading zero in the wrist slap department. Is everyone paying attention?
Taste Ontario has bore the ancient marvelous into the modern everyday. The gathering has developed as a show of VQA magic realism, a look at the mundane through a hyper-realistic lens. While there are many consumers who would still not drink these wines at a Leamington tomato auction, the number of converts increases exponentially with each passing congress. With yet another Taste Ontario in the books, the conversation has been furthered, the level of fitness elevated and the report card in. Ontario wine is worthy of cerebral ramparts. Discussion to ensue.
I tasted more than 50 wines through the course of the provincial day and with time, space and brevity as my leader, I have thus far reviewed but a lagniappe, beginning with those that spoke with the clearest voice and tender personality. Polarized or not, here are 10 new releases assessed, in a wide range of categories, tasted at Ontario’s signature event.
From left to right: Coyote’s Run Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc 2013, Rosewood Select Sémillon 2013, Di Profio Wines Limited Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2013, Marynissen Estates Gamay Noir 2013
A most pleasant symbiosis of Pinots in this rhyming wine. Juicy equal parts align and run together in fresh time. Extraction is bang on, with gentle lime pressings layered in line. Scents of orange rind and lemon thyme. Reminiscent of another land and another time, gathering up old knowledge and I me mine. “No one’s frightened of playing it, everyone’s saying it” and this white blend is “flowing more freely than wine.” Very functional, with just enough Loire meets Alsace, which is fine, working in unison to keep a welcoming consumer feel the sun shine. Tasted October 2014 @coyotesrun
After tasting Rosewood’s ’12, I urged the region’s cultivation of the great white wolf variety. Then the winter of 2014 happened. Rosewood’s vines were wiped clean off the map, erased like a child of parents who never met. The ’13 Sem is the last Mohican and its 12.5 per cent alcohol (down two from ’12) is a fitting, subdued and graceful epitaph to an amazing Beamsville run. This final cut is lean, stark, raving mad. So very savoury, tannic and built to linger for longer than most. The Rosewood honey is in hiding,”far from flying high in clear blue skies,” but like all memorable vintages of this wine, it will emerge in time. This Sémillon asks, “and if I show you my dark side, will you still hold me tonight?” Yes is the answer, and not just because she is the last one. Terrific curtain call. Tasted October 2014 @Rosewoodwine
From estate fruit out of the Mia Cara Vineyard in Jordan Station. Not sure any Ontario SB has ever hit the nail on the proverbial head like Fred Di Prfio’s ’13. Subtle touches of wet hay, mowed grass, capsicum, juiced berries, goose feathers and passing through the rising steam of just about to be blanched green vegetables. Acidity brings the party to another level but it’s not an all night affair. The verve is quick, dancing on tongues, layered on the floor, spread on a raft of herbs, ready for smoking beneath the fish just out of the river. Great, late balm, like after the rain in an equatorial zone. Yes to this beauty. Tasted October 2014 @diprofiowines
Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (172338, $22.95, WineAlign)
The immediate impression is the increased richness as compared to 2012, as if the “Richness” fruit were here in the Triomphe. What this will mean in terms of the Whimsy’s potential should be cause for anticipation. This is the most triumphant essential Southbrook Chardonnay to date and much thanks must be awarded the Saunders Vineyard for helping to bolster the mix. The gentle Beamsville Bench of old-vine Chardonnay impart is ephemeral, in mineral and lushness. The layered result atop Niagara flatland fruit in Triomphe ’13 is texture. This is the key and the king component. In that sense what you have here is a wine of social heredity. It is drinking well now and will do so for five plus years. Tasted October 2014 @SouthbrookWine
Marynissen Estates Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (winery, $25.00, WineAlign)
Really clean Gamay, ripe but entangled nowhere in the vicinity of over extraction. Ambrosial entry, nectarous middle and sweet finish. Has a sense of Cru with a tension that belies Beaujolais. Cherries in fleshy drupe simulating veraison to black cherries, anise in legume gumming to licorice. What’s not to like? Its vapours, tranquilized and centred by meditation are the furthest thing from volatile. A new genesis of anesthetizing Gamay, like a “Freudian slumber empty of sound.” This does the #GoGamyGo train proud. Tasted October 2014 @Marynissen
From left to right: reekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Tawse Meritage Grower’s Blend 2011, Ravine Vineyard Riesling 2013, Creekside Estates Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2011, Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012
Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $28.95, WineAlign)
The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day. Tasted October 2014
Having tasted through single-varietal Bordeaux barrels with Paul Pender last January, I was amazed to be informed at Taste Ontario that much of that juice was declassified into this inaugural Grower’s Blend. At that time the richness and poise of the varieties seemed destined for the winemaker’s top of the heap Meritage. That loss is this blend’s gain. Composed of Cabernet Sauvignon (42 per cent), Merlot (40) and Cabernet Franc (18), the GB brings together the hallways of always high quality David’s Block Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Redstone Cabernet Franc. So very juicy, the fruit is mastered by a tannic anxiety so in its current state, the wine is haunted by its own house. This Tawse 2011 is a haunting idle, “an instrumental that serves as a breath-catcher,” If the finish of minutes riding the quark is any indication, sometime between five and 10 years from now this union will speak with wonderful clarity. Tasted October 2014 @Tawse_Winery
Martin Werner’s botrytis-affected 2013 accesses virgin territory, embraces a unique if puzzling style and challenges Niagara Riesling scholarship. Something in this St. David’s Bench yield reminds me of Rolly Gassman’s (Alsace) Pflaenzerreben but also the eccentric and magnetic Benjamin Bridge (Gaspereau Valley) Sauvignon Blanc. The winemaker lineage from Werner, through Peter Gamble to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers is cause for fellowship-fraternity thought. The methodology here makes use of 40 per cent noble rot impaired (organically and biodynamically raised) grapes that were arrested in fermentation at a residual sugar number in the 35-40 g/L range. The intent may have been Germanic (or more specifically, a Mosel one) but the vernacular spoken in yogurty tones and the abrupt dry finish confound thoughts at seeking direct comparisons. Its hydrated puffballs of bacterial fuzz give intensity and yet this is a Riesling that defies known laws of atomic weight. So interesting, so unique. Requires a re-visit in five years time. Tasted October 2014
Only Creekside Syrah smells like this, like bending down to smell black raspberries on the shores of a briny capsicum lake in the middle of a pine forest. The 2011 Syrah has fruit residing on the edge of impossibly ripe, factored inside a pipeline, while piping lavender and plum pastry cream float atop rare duck breasts. If Syrah were to ooze or drip without sticking to surfaces along the way, this would be it. If Syrah came forth from the maw of the beast it would speak in these demanding tones. Creekside’s BP talks the tense, nervous and twitching talk. It’s smeared with a coat of epoxy spread over fine grain in wood. It sweats an air of metallic cordiality. If given five years to come together it will vape and realize togetherness. Tasted October 2014 @CreeksideWine
To those who wonder aloud about the annual love affair with this vineyard, suck it and see. This connectivity and this wine renew again. Same time, this year. Bursts of all that have come from it before, are here now and in temptation of what will be for years to come. Has “the type of kisses where teeth collide,” a Sam Cooke ages to Arctic Monkeys kind of reckless serenade. It’s also a balladeer, this scaled back Bachelder, if that can be said to be done. Here now soft, elegant, perfumed, demurred, sweet, downy, pretty, not yet fleshed, surprisingly void in tannin, anxiety and tension. Work with it for 10 minutes and it will then begin to bite back, show its teeth, pearly white as they are, grind it out. There will be 10 years of development in this Lowrey, if not less, but in ’12, that is more. Tasted October 2014 @Bachelder_wines
Versado Vineyard Manager Sergio Rinaldi reviews the plan for the harvest with winemakers Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)
A popular but unconfirmed theory claims that Malbec is a mathematical acronym, “Math, Algorithms, Learning, Brains, Engineering, Computing.” The inky and tannic grape variety no doubt connects growers and winemakers in scientific ways but that hardly separates the expatriate, signature Argentinian from other varietal relationships. The learning, perception, and behaviour of the people who produce the dark wine is the crux and the rub.
Malbec’s spread may be the work of a Hungarian peasant, it was surely introduced to Argentina by French agronomist and botanist, Miguel Aimé Pouget and the natural lines differentiating modern renditions of Cahors and Argentina blur like the Clarets of Napa and Bordeaux. The homogeneity in style, mainly due to elevated quantities in production, has begun to deplete the star power of the Mendozan idol. The computative cipher jives because Malbec requires an analytically brilliant dream team to coax humanity from the quotidian grape. The wine making axiom, “is it science or art” applies to Malbec as much as any other. Making exceptional Malbec requires artfully applied science.
In 2007, Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling, winemakers who may as well be endowed with the title “First Canadian Couple of Wine,” went to Argentina to seek their cerebral Malbec fortune. With the aid of investors Moray Tawse and Gerry McConnell, the two found their varietal calling in Mendoza. They settled at the estate of Villa Viamonte in the old town of Chacras de Coria, now a neighbourhood of Mendoza.
With the aid of the experienced and professional Roberto de la Mota they purchased an ancient vineyard on the legendary Cobos Road. Altitude, meso-climates, topography and ‘micro-terroirs’ became their linguistic vernacular, a royal, ancient and new Malbec their opera omnia. Vineyard Manager Sergio Rinaldi directs all the daily viticulture activities.
Versado means ‘well-versed’ and the phrase describes the Gamble-Sperling output as well as any that can be equivocated. The Canadian dream team travels circuitously from British Columbia, to Ontario, Nova Scotia and through Argentina in mimic of the seasons for a vine’s life cycle. Through the stages of weeping, flowering, fruit set, veraison and harvesting, Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling are in constant motion, checking in at all their properties to make essential decisions. I am exhausted by the prospect.
Versado is a unique Malbec outpost, a place of river, road and air. The ancient bed of the Rio Mendoza, the Calle Cobos and the cool air corridor of that river combine for a micro-climate to challenge all micro-climate comers in the region. Increased thermal amplitude (up to 15 to 16°C difference between day and night-time temperatures) means low pH numbers for their Malbec. The results should translate to elegance and balance. As the Versado team begins to scale back their oak program, the wines will increasingly reflect their specialized and cooler terroir.
Peter Gamble told me “we’re making them with classic tannin structures.” That statement intimates French and even Italian but with Mendoza’s already rich history, it also endorses a notion of Argentina. Versado’s Malbecs are both serious and epicurean. They are gorgeous and alone. They come from a very specific parcel of land, though Peter Gamble admits that “borders are sort of Alice in Wonderland in Argentina.” The Versado Malbec origins may participate in a Mendozan Venn Diagram but their character is utterly unique. Here are six tasted over the past 12 months.
Versado Malbec 2013, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)
The rocks beneath the earth precede the rich, dark fruit. After the berries and the candy beets and the spices subside the flowers grow and take over the room. The vintage brings more layers than before. Malbec of character and belief, even a touch of good VA, a coat that only the Southern Hemisphere can provide. It is not usually present in Mendozan Malbec so it’s really a breath of fresh paint here in the Versado. Great purity. Protracted length. Most expansive and intriguing vintage to date. The Reserva will be killer. Tasted September 2014
Versado Malbec 2012, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)
Having been defined early in its development by the Mistral-esque drying eastern lee slopes Andean wind known as viento zonda, the low-yielding 2012 Malbec is berry intense and highly concentrated. The foehn or, rain shadow wind had a major effect on flowering and so 2012 may be considered a Malbec example of what happens when vines are subjected to the first law in thermodynamics. The vintage gaveth depth and structure, even as it taketh away moisture, quantity and profits. In this Malbec, earth in terroir stands firm and while the fruit is full, it must fight for early investigative attention. Though presently rigid, a time will come when that fruit will fully receive its due. Sanguine and ferric, the adiabatic Versado 2012 is a heat transfer work in progress. Its system will integrate into its surroundings after a minimum three years have passed. Drink from 2015-2022. Tasted September 2014
Versado Malbec 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)
The sub-terra tectonic shift and uprising to firma awakening is just beginning to give after four integrated years. That said, this Malbec continues to play a ragtime roll in shades of cumulative bandwidth. When the ’10 entered bottle it may have insisted “I don’t care what mama don’t allow I’ll play my guitar anyhow.” Now settled, somewhat, it persists in saying “I don’t care what mama don’t allow, we’re all gonna play all at the same time anyhow.” The dusty fruit, the resolving tannins, the revolving door of driving blues, of crossover terroirs. “Borders are sort of Alice in Wonderland in Argentina,” notes Peter Gamble. The Venn circles include piano, rare earth, bass, big fruit and guitar. Tasted September 2014
Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)
Peter Gamble describes the ’11 Reserva as “integrated right out of the gate” and blessed with “a little more fruit component.” That is can show such freshness this early in its life span (especially in consideration of the beasts that are 2009 and 2010) is nothing short of a Malbec miracle. This is a wine that saw spontaneous fermentation, which made for very nervous times in the winemaking hands of Roberto de la Mota. Stems were used and their participation lends a Mediterranean feel, in the aromatic impart of sea salinity and kelp. The oak is scaled back a touch so the chalk push, while present, integrates in finer grain within the gritty, iron structure. This is the softest (hyper-relatively speaking) Reserva to date with a newly defined massive attack. The temperature fluctuations of the vineyard are integral in its structure and the question needs to be asked, “how can you have a day without a night?” In the Versado Reserva 2011 you have both. It is a Malbec of unfinished sympathy. Drink this sooner, starting in 2017 and for longer, to 2030. Tasted September 2014
Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)
The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.” Last tasted September 2014
Versado Malbec Reserva 2009, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)
From a vintage the seasoned Mendozan pro knew to rank with the best, the 2009 Reserva persists as a concentrated, wild beast. On a rare occasion, such as tasting this Reserva, Malbec leans in an Italianate direction, no doubt a result from the combining forces of aridity, concentration and micro-heteroclitic terroir. The dry, slow ripening conditions sealed a vineyard funk into the shriveled, dehydrated berries. Though the wine is just now beginning to come around, that funk will take years more to play nice with the huge flavours, striking structure and resounding tannins. Fast forward to 2017 and imagine the crest over which a plateauing initiative will trigger. It may very well be 2025 before the slow decline begins. Tasted September 2014