We the Icewine

Xerox

Xerox Icewine Gala, Fallsview Casino Resort

Something has shifted in me, somewhere closer to the realm of sweet nirvana. It could be empathy, a delayed reaction in sensitive thought to what the winemakers and hard-working Niagara wine country folks had to endure in the winter of 2014. Maybe it’s a premature anticipation of the greatness that will come from sweet wines crafted from out of that polar vortex attenuated vintage. Could it just be that Icewine has grown on me, that the elixirs of Peninsula life have violated and occupied my parochial psyche?

For two weeks in January, Niagara Wine Festivals and Wine Country Ontario lay out the nectarous red carpet and everything comes up Icewine. If fans of the Toronto basketball franchise can ignore all the basic tenets and principals of modern English grammar, who’s to say the followers of Ontario’s world-class elixirs can’t do the same. Thus I give you, “We the Icewine.”

Admittedly the phrase does not resonate with equal credibility in comparison with what works in the realm of base, shallow and primitive sport. It does not matter to me. I’m still going with it. Niagara is the epicentre of the Icewine world, in the (near, near) north and we own the market and its successes. We the Icewine.

20 Years

20 Years of Icewine

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

Related – Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine 

The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are the backbone of the Icewine phenomenon in Ontario. Picking for the Icewine harvest in 2015 has stretched over a period exceeding 30 days, not necessarily out of the ordinary but it should make for a wide range of styles and quality in the vintage. Inniskillin Niagara Estate Winery began its thirty-first Icewine harvest on January 5th.

The Niagara Icewine Festival has wrapped up for another year but there are still many weekends left to get a taste of what took place throughout the month of January. There were street festivals in Twenty Valley‘s Jordan Village from January 9th – 11th, Niagara-on-the-Lake from January 16th – 18th and new this year, events in Niagara Falls. Winter continues along with the buzz across the Niagara Peninsula.

Visitors made use of the Discovery Pass, a passport to 35 wineries and culinary experiences along the Wine Route. Along with a variety of Icewines, visitors were offered the opportunity to taste sparkling and VQA red and white wines.

Gala

Icewine Gala decor

For all things Icewine here is a link to the festival site withy more information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena Kaiser and Wine Country Ontario on Friday, January 10th, 2014 I attended another Xerox Icewine Gala at the Fallsview Casino Resort. The following day I attended the Twenty Valley street festival in Jordan, Ontario.

With Icewine firmly on the brain I decided to make a go at as many samples that can safely be sampled in one night. Not to leave out the still and Sparkling in the room, I made sure to taste the generous and in some cases, pleasant surprises being poured by Niagara’s finest winemakers. Here are notes on twenty wines tasted over the weekend.

And don’t forget the anagram: A wet vial is fine nice agar.

Vineland Estates St. Urban Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

If this Riesling could go through a glück stage, now would be the time. There is a plump and resinous feel about it in 2015, quite possibly signalling the end of its first seven years en route to a minimum 14 more in its life. At this juncture it’s like hot stones washed down with salt water. Look for it to cool again as the year passes. From my earlier, April 2013 note: “Poured as a youthful and “hello” pleasant surprise though it’s just beginning to display secondary character. Has shed its tingling ferment skin without compromising the inherent citrus zest. Nectar lit by just emerging perky propellant and the ubiquitous, underlying ullage of St. Urban’s stones all combine forces to a life of amarita. All this to make believe 2028 will be just another year in its evolution.  Last tasted January 2015  @benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates
Pinot QRV

Creekside Estates Pinot Noir QRV 2013

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

The first made since the 2008 because of a new directional decision to hold onto and no longer forsake these exceptional Queenston Road Vineyard grapes. A wine that folds back the skyline skin of time and reveals a cloning from intimate belongings. Pinot blessed of a Dylan-esque drawl, from a comfortable and crooning time in its life. Penetrates into the QRV earth and draws out subtleties, slow food assuagement and makes no BS about its ease. Though posolutely whiffing and tasting of black cherry, it balances itself with an acerbic wit. This is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Partners in crime Yvonne Irving and Matt Loney concur. One sip and your partner may just lay across your “big brass bed.” You can always go back to Nashville.  Tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine  @CellarMonkey  @Matt_Loney

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (306902, $24.00, WineAlign)

Spice notes are the current rage, from out of the barrel and now into a next level of amalgamation with tree orchard fruit. Has lengthened somewhat since last summer. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) River fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.” Last tasted January 2015  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (586347, $24.95, WineAlign)

The warm clay of Montague plugs in and along with the barrel, layers toast, buttered toast and more toast upon the body of the 2012 Chardonnay. In many ways this is a serious bottling for the Peninsula; it’s all in and wants it all. A strong-willed, big-boned wine with much ado about varietal expressiveness. Paired with a plate of many elements and anchored by rich protein drawn from a salty ocean, this forward and weighty Chardonnay can do no wrong. With all its upfront personality it may not do the same with more than a few years age but there’s really nothing wrong with that. Enjoy it now and to 2017.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Vieni Estate wines

Vieni Estate wines

Vieni Estate Sparkling Brut Rosé 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $29.95)

Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Riesling, the Charmat method Rosé Sparkling is weighty at 13 per cent alcohol and so very savoury. Winemaker Mauro Salvador is finding new places for investigation in fizz-forming for Ontario. The ’12 Brut Rosé champions aridity and noble bitters. The aromas conjure up a botany and a herbalism that would make Pliny proud.  Think stinging nettles, rapini, arugula, strawberry leaf and the energy of carboniferous ponds. Though the acidity is mild as compared to Salvador’s Vidal/Pinot Gris ‘Momenti,’ it manages just enough balance in this blush sparkler.  Tasted January 2015  @VieniEstatesInc

Creekside Estate Winery Reserve Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s small production Viognier (maximum 80 cases) from the warmer micro-climate of the Queenston Road Vineyard heads back to near-boozy and a bit hot in the sudorific vintage. Oh the viscous humanity of it all, especially when the (all French, two year-old, nine months time) ferment was performed on 100 per cent of the six barrel juice. While it may not flirt with the dangers of say, a dirty peach martini, there is plenty of seasoning, rich, spicy and opulent fruit to at least declare a cocktail of some shaken kind. The ’12 Viognier drips and sweats of a humidity as much as any cool climate rendition can (at least in the context of the Niagara Peninsula). It may not be the ideal vintage but it just may be the one with the most excess.  Tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Single Vineyard Series Montague Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (997353, $29.95, WineAlign)

A crescendo of sorts has been struck in 2012 with the Montague Pinot Noir perpetuity, giving credence to the vineyard as a resource to be exploited. What the site does for Pinot, particularly in warm vintages like 2012, reminds of the Pfersigberg in Alsace, a plot which provides fruit for the Sainte-Claires bottling by Domaine Albert Mann. A site where water-retention is less than average, where soil colour and low humidity attract the radiance of intense heat, which leads to early ripening of the grapes. The richness of Montague’s clay is amplified in the vintage, providing elevated heat units for this red cherry, beet, cinnamon and toasted red of equally exceptional flavours. Fine, linear acidity takes it to depths and will lead it down long, paved roads.  Tasted January 2015

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard, Ontario (319525, $30.00, WineAlign)

Not quite halfway to the five year prediction, the filly is showing the first sign of slowing down. While time certainly remains on her side, the obvious maturation and calming down is nosed in the onset of a slow caramelizing aroma. While the gait may be in trot mode, the five year mark (2018) remains the signpost to look towards on the long track of her life. At that point, with an hour decant, Equuleus ’10 will be good to go. From my earlier, May 2013 note: “From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show. Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.”  Last tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Colaneri Estates Coraggioso Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.95, WineAlign)

Crafted in the appassimento style, the 2012 Coraggioso is made from 80 per cent dried fruit. Intended to mimic its maker (Michele “Mike” Colaneri), the wine is a bullish, strong silent type, protector of the family, or in this case, the dried grape, passed over style of the Veneto. The specs are bold and impossible; alcohol fortified at 15.3 per cent, residual sugar duplicitous at 7.8 g/L and acidity nearly non-existent at 0.97 g/L. The composition yet works, with help from natural fermentation (no cultured yeasts), six months in new barrels and an additional 13 more in used ones. The happy and old school aspect ratio is turned up by its dried bulb, root and packed earth aromatics; fennel, liquorice and just set concrete. The balance is paradoxical, nearly apocryphal, certainly Coraggioso (courageous). The dried fruit sensations continue right to the end, in lieu of acidity and tannin so the ability to age is there, even in the absence of traditional agents. Really unique and dare it be said, elegant Bordeaux-esque appasimento.  Tasted January 2015  @ColaneriWinery

Southbrook

Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Whimsy! “Damy” Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

As a Whimsy sister to the XY Sirgue, XX Damy is a barrel blend that spent 10 months on lees in 100 percent French oak (25 new, 25 one year-old and 50 neutral). While undoutedly the more feminine of the two, she is also feistier and the Chardonnay possessive of a bigger personality. Damy exaggerates suppositions synthesized from both the 2011 micro-vintage and the macro-cool climate for Niagara Chardonnay. At present she seems stressed, with so much citrus anxiety, a sting in herbage and a medicinal lactic seeping. All need to come together, find the calm, common ground and spoon beside one another. This will happen, given a couple of years time and Damy will express herself more freely come then. Drink brother Sirgue first, the simpler and softer sibling.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

Creekside Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

A 21-month stay in an all French oak hotel has now reached integration in this Queenston Road Vineyard beauty. The fullness of its qualities are on display, running a circuitous aromatic and flavour gamut from dark chocolate to savoury black olive cake. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Impeccable correctness in terms of the variety from a year where the heat giveth and the heat taketh away. Works Cabernet properties properly, embracing and minimizing oak without pretending it’s not there. This red is expressly lush and oak driven, as it should be, it being Cabernet and all. Leaves its appendages out for a Mediterranean pedicure, a glaze of Cassis, black olive and black cherry dug in a chair entrenched in the warm confines of the St. David’s Bench.”  Last tasted January 2015  @CreeksideWine

Southbrook Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $54.95, WineAlign)

The Poetica Red is very warm, extracted and quite stylish. She did not miss much from the heat day quotient of the 2007 vintage in Niagara. “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane.” Anise and pencil graphite are shot straight from the wood-soaked barrel of a dark chocolate gun, leaving behind a pool of orange bitters with a slick of acidity. The (rounded up) one-half Cabernet Sauvignon, one-third Cabernet Franc and one-quarter Merlot, while bigger than its head, is so integral towards the future success of learning to reign in the power of this formidable Southbrook blend. Happiness is a warm Poetica.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

The Icewines

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Vidal Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (565861, 200 ml $25.95, WineAlign)

All the diamonds in this world seem to concentrate in fruit form within CdC’s Vidal ’13, “conjured up by wind and sunlight, sparkling on the sea.” The pang of smells opens with the prickly sting of memory, of childhood fruit cocktail, Turkish delight and the Big Turk. “Like a pearl in a sea of liquid jade.” The intensity of piercing acidity and hyper-cloying stone tree fruit is a searing and blinding crush on the eyes, teeth and mouth. So very tight and concentrated, this is a wow Vidal, an ‘o baby’ Icewine and all the while over the top. It may be a tad hard to handle but it offers crazy bang for the buck. Perhaps a few years will settle its crazies.  Tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Southbrook Vidal Icewine 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, 200 ml $26.95, WineAlign)

A naturally sweet monster from a vintage where ideal conditions allowed for early picking, especially for Vidal. That 150 g/L of sugar could be realized from a December baby is what strikes this condensed tropical fruit bomb into the lore of the genre. Indigenous fermentation using yeast lees from Southbrook’s 2010 Chardonnay barrels and some bacterial connectivity has resulted in early evolutionary notes, notably bitter burnt orange and oxidized mango. Highly complex for the Vidal sempiternity, the 2010 Vidal Icewine is no imminent retiring rose though its decline will hasten sooner rather than later.  Tasted January 2015  @SouthbrookWine

Inniskllin

Inniskllin

Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (560367, 375 ml $31.95, WineAlign)

The sweetness is highly elevated straight from the central core of this (200+ g/L RS) Charmat-method Sparkling Icewine. It’s more than interesting, I’ll grant it at least that and though the alcohol remains at or just below the (10 degrees) threshold, it acts quite hot. This is due to so much accenting spice, which seems to be a ropey-wooden-sappy injection, though the wine sees no barrel. Big, big tangy fruit flavours are smothered in the ubiquitous spice. Complexity is gained though elegance is lost. At least the ride is wild when in consideration of the price.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvée, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

From a base wine that is Chardonnay (70 per cent) and Pinot Noir (30), the aridity is markedly up front despite the sweet Vidal dosage style. Comes streaking across on the barking citrus palate. It’s broad, expansive, with a minute bit of oxidation. It builds upon itself and really develops the mouthfeel. A most excellent use of Vidal. So very long and solidifies the earlier anti-oppugning exceeds expectations declaration. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.” Last tasted January 2015  @PellerVQA

Ravine

Ravine Vineyards

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Less than 50 cases were produced of a wine sourced from fruit grown on the Lepp farm. Crafted from 100 per cent Cabernet Franc, the grapes were picked quite late (in January) in a vintage that saw thaw, freeze and thaw again before temperatures dropped to allow for the Icewine harvest. The fruit lost some freshness and the fluctuations also resulted in less syrupy viscosity. There are dried fruit notes, a calming mustiness and even some herbiage, in dill, anise and salinity crusted sea peas and vetches. The complexities continue into a palate that goes at it in more traditional ways, with apricot, orange peel and lemon rind. Add in liquorice and bokser. Acidity keeps it very much alive. The conclusion? Nature’s accords cannot be guessed at.  Tasted January 2015  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

Trius Winery At Hillebrand Showcase Vidal Icewine 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (Winery, 375 ml $60.00, WineAlign)

What strikes most upfront about the Trius Vidal ’12 is the anomalous and dichotomous reserve on the nose. Its very concentration is chained to the aromatics but they lurk in the background. This is no floozy of an Icewine. There is spice and very rich fruit but it does not flirt or give itself up with abandonment. Apricot is most noticeable, along with accents that indicate the roots and barks of South Asian trees. Acidity is downright proper. A solid and gallant Vidal.  Tasted January 2015  @TriusWines

Reif Estate Grand Reserve Riesling Icewine 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $74.90, WineAlign)

A slow ripening season with warm, never hot and at times quite cool temperatures made for one seriously gelid cat of a Riesling Icewine. This 2011 makes the mouth go ooohh with an array of frosty aromatics and flavours. A veritable study in wine’s sweet and sour science, there is mint, eucalyptus, citrus and a host of sweet fruits; yellow peach, clementine, juicy lime and crunchy apple. Spice notes pierce and prick in every hole. Though not as striking in its early stages, the coolness factor is refreshing and the understated style a harbinger for many years of slow development. It would be hard not to imagine the Grand Riesling ’11 as not being a 20-25 year wine.  Tasted January 2015  @Reifwinery

Reif Estate Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, 375 ml $94.95, WineAlign)

A glaringly vivid icebox Icewine from Reif in 2013, throwing the grocery gamut all in. From the top shelf come layers of sweetness; gelées, juices, purées and coulis in (at least) raspberry, Cassis and strawberry. From the middle swaths in thick brushstrokes, of rhubarb and caramelized Kabocha squash. From the bottom rises roasted nightshades and alium confit, in capsicum and red onion marmalade. A moderate alcohol (10.5 per cent) out of solid brix (38.8) in ’13 has arrived at this sugary mess of produce yet without the zip and zest required to really tie the Grütze together. The overall composition is certainly graphic and in exaggeration of its parts. That said, this just may be the best pairing for good quality chocolate ever composed in the Icewine category.  Tasted January 2015  @Reifwinery

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Is writing making a mess of wine?

Rave Review

Rave Review

Wine today is suffocated by an industrial and disproportionate number of writers, critics, reviewers and judges. There are so many voices vying for airtime, filling up virtual white pages with their comments, feelings and dissertations. There are homers and there are curmudgeons. When in balance, both keep the ship afloat, but more often than not the questions begs. Which ones are causing the wreck? The answer is both. The problem is not the intent but rather the execution.

You may have noticed that when I write about wine, which is pretty much all of the time, I use a whole lot of words. A mess of vocabulary. An inordinate amount of adjectives. A boundless number of references to music, song and pop culture. It’s how I roll. And it has got me thinking, again.

Tis’ about that time of year. A period for reflection and review, not on what was so great in the previous vintage but about the things that will be critical going forward in this new one. Please excuse the interlude while I hang suspended within the interval of hermeneutic, contemplation and debate. Reading books on anthropology, art world shenanigans and a post-holocaust personal journey are seeping into my thoughts like Sémillon into Sauvignon Blanc and the varietal blend is coming up complicated.

Related – Wine: It’s a matter of tasting notes

Old guard tasting notes are losing their relevance and not because they are wrong or inaccurate. They just don’t speak to wine in the 21st century. They don’t tell a story and they surely don’t have any fun. So what? Imagine taking a video of yourself working on your computer, browsing the internet, reading and interacting on social media. What would you see? A world of links and associations. A world where thoughts and comments bounce around like children in a jumpy castle. This is the realm of the new tasting note. This is what wine can do for you in the 21st century. It can lead you forward and take you back. Most of all it can really tie your life together.

Related – Three-chord wines, hold the rants

Then the whining. The constant shrill voice of conceit mixed with complaint. The words minced to poison with a hunger to attack. Paragraphs penned to warn of apocalypse and to relegate decent writers to the scrap heap and back to the depressing nine to five. Writers reacting only to what others do without creating anything of their own. Comedians of the wine world lashing out, ranting, shouting “got ’em, need ’em, hate ’em.”

These attitudes and still the truth is not to be ignored. Reading a wine through a tasting note is like kissing a woman through a veil. “Translation is a kind of transubstantiation,” where one wine becomes another and another. You can choose your philosophy of critiquing just as you choose how to live. The freedom to personalize or substantiate thoughts on structure sacrifices the detail to meaning and meaning to preciseness. The winemaker is the writer or poet, moving from vines to vinous language. The critic moves in the opposite direction, or should, by attempting to read between the lines, to identify what can’t be seen, to interpret the mysterious implications of smell, taste and texture.

The lede firmly and flatly backs the headline, states, if asks, “is writing making a mess of wine?” Yes, that is a double entendre, a loaded gun of meaning and hypothesis, a million dollar question. While we want to know who’ll stop the rain, we also desperately need to understand the meaning of wine. So we put it down in words. We explain how wonderful life is with wine in the world. We also break it down, grape by grape, to a point where it often lies broken, disassembled, deconstructed, left for naked. What is it for? Are wine writers leaving behind a city of ruins?

Have they decided and determined that the winemaker’s works can be used to make a point? A point that belongs to the critic? Has the wine writer taken away the artist’s right to be, has the intent been obscured, or worse, the opposite and turned it into a curator’s right?

There are wines that claim you and wines that warn you away. Maybe the writers are just looking for wine that would teach them everything, like searching for one language, just as some would look for one woman’s face. The combined fugitive pieces of wine and its critics pose “questions without answers.” They must be asked very slowly.

To the beleaguered point five wines are here venerated and disfigured, assessed and cut to size. They are sniffed and sipped, thought of in song and regurgitated on the page. Do they lift or bury their maker’s plan? You be the judge.

From left to right: Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009

From left to right: Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (384339, $17.95, WineAlign)

Here, from Dominio del Plata, an experiment with clear merit. The attributes are so sizeable, with weight depth and no compromise. The dramatic effect works to ignore the “clouds of mystery pourin’ confusion on the ground.” The floral aromatic integrity of Torrontés is upheld within the leaden shackles of the wood, as is the savour. This is a honeyed white, suckling and mellifluous, like fully extracted ripe Sémillon, from and with the benefit of a warm vintage. Puts the fun back into varietal revival by way of a giant leap up from the thin, medicinal water clogging the arteries of South American white wines so often put to market. Here is a Torrontés to stop the rain.  Tasted January 2015  @ddpwinery  @ProfileWineGrp

Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Napa Valley, California (424179, $19.95, WineAlign)

There are so many reasons not to find a thrill in this regional blend of Pinot Noir fruit but none of them stick. Sweetness, simple syrup silky fruit, brown sugar, every red and purple berry in all varieties of fields (plus ripe plums) and warm to temperate alcohol (14.5 per cent declared) all combine for full California sunshine effect. All this and I just can’t turn away. With all the excess fruit, texture and multiplicity in good times, how can I? I ask this Pinot, “how come you, how come you dance so good?” The answer lies in the feel and the ability to turn a Noir trick or two. Not to mention a rolling of barrels and Napa Valley stones through its very core. Well done.  Tasted January 2015  @sterlingwines  @Diageo_News

Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, VQ Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Steve Byfield’s crimson blend of Cabernet Franc (42 per cent), Merlot (33), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Syrah (5) is at once so very Niagara while acting out anomalously in the 2011 vintage. Ripe, extracted fruit appears warm-vintage drawn, with its coated layers of primer, brushstroke and plummy stone fruit. The warmth is tempered by savour, oranges, figs and psalms. Its ability to find cadence and cascade keeps it “cool in the shade.” The varietal combining is delineated in balance, “sliding mystify, on the wine of the tide.” This effort, with its new name, could become one of the king’s amongst Ontario blends.  Tasted January 2015  @NyaraiCellars

Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Vienna, Austria (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

Here, the intensity of multi-varietal wine defined. From next to the Danube, out of the Ulm Vineyard, on a very steep southern slope on the eastern part of the Nussberg. The composition is nine-fold; Weissburgunder, Neuburger, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Traminer and Riesling. The aridity (1.3 g/L RS) is visionary. Beneath the vineyard there is coral from the tertiary period and in this wine you can hear the Geiger counter amplifying the faint eupnea of fossilized shells, thousands of years ago. Its resinous, sappy and majestic floating flowers are like “potions in a traveling show.” The layering is heavy (14.5 per cent ABV) and variegated, like sands and snails in a bottle or a vessel filled with an alcohol made from nature’s natural and fermenting bounty; carboniferous forest cosmology and the unpronounceable names of exotic fruit. Then there is the wooden smoulder, the white rock solder, the pine and the scene where “I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss.” The Gemischter Satz is granular but in liquid form, marbled and with a lovely wisp of oxidation. It exudes lemon custard and tonic in a wild yet beautiful breath of sauvage. It is your song. Tasted January 2015

Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009, Docg Umbria, Italy (403139, $49.95, WineAlign)

Here thickness is applied in every way imaginable. Sagrantino from the maw of the beast; raw, big-boned, musky, chewing sinew and spitting out teeth. Though fierce and ancient, eliciting vegetal scents as if Pliny’s natural history were scoured for every trace of pungent plants grown in iron rich earth, it is also the most modern expression of Umbria, or all of Italy even. In so many ways it’s pretty Gestanko, composted and of an incomparable spume. But it also desensitizes and endears in a soulful, ethereal way “like scattered leaves,” blowing in a stiff breeze. It folds back the skin of time, in waves of heat and at times is so very sweet. Bring this to the apocalyptic marshmallow roast. Leaves the red wine city in ruins and in the dust. Sagrantino at 16.5 %. Burn, baby burn.  Tasted January 2015  @TrialtoON  @TABARRINI

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Seven compelling picks from VINTAGES for January 24

Potato Pancakes

Potato Pancakes

Today I will go out and taste another set of wines, graciously if institutionally laid out by our hosts at the LCBO. The challenge in assessment will be, as always, in the unearthing of the gems from within the larger group. There are always great wines to discover. That is the joy.

Two weeks ago I did the same. From that mass of juice I first published last week on the Spanish beauties that stood out to be counted. As far as a feature thematic goes, the Spanish armada was very impressive. Does that not say something about the state of quality in Spanish wine today? Like the wines presented below, those Spaniards are another group of wines whose future is being remembered with each passing sip.

Related – Varietal Spanish wine

In wine there exists minute atomic particles spinning and interacting in space, in the bottle and in the glass. Sure that’s really all there is. But we think, perhaps too much, yet still we think. The ritual relationship between vines and wines is based not only on rooted human connections to these vines and wines but also on a far more subtle intuition. It’s based on the idea that the vines and wines are breathed into actuality by civilized consciousness. Wine is compelling and begs to be entwined and transformed by the human imagination.

So, after that piece of grand advice, shopping list in hand, find a store nearby with any or all of these seven recommended bottles and have a great, wine-soaked January weekend.

From left to right: Aubert Visan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2013, Rosehall Run Cuvée Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2011, Vignobles De Balma Vénitia Cuvée Saint Roch Vacqueyras 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling 2011, William Fèvre Chablis Montmains Premier Cru 2012, Podere La Vigna Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

From left to right: Aubert Visan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2013, Rosehall Run Cuvée Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2011, Vignobles De Balma Vénitia Cuvée Saint Roch Vacqueyras 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling 2011, William Fèvre Chablis Montmains Premier Cru 2012, Podere La Vigna Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Aubert Visan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2013, Ac Rhône, France (224915, $15.95, WineAlign)

Highly modern, evolved and warm weather friend. Red fruits dominate the aromas and on the palate a good angst lurks of something darker and ferric, though not over the top. Has a level of complexity that will see it to future days of coming together. Tannins and acidity are tough so give it three to five years. Well made and more than laudable value in Côtes Du Rhône.  Tasted January 2015  @warren_walden  @VINSRHONE

Rosehall Run Cuvée Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County (401208, $19.95, WineAlign)

With five months to solidify the intent, now the County fruit is revealed as a very upfront and happy place fitted, unbaked Chardonnay. “Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing,” the wine is hungry in heart, riverine pointed and a touch effervescent. This is to be liked, in an Irish belt and Germanic sangfroid meets Moscato d’Asti melding way. Not as dry as some other Ontario unplugged but inflected of a similar floral and leesy profile. Very unique take. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “What is so striking about Dan Sullivan’s unoaked Chardonnay is the classic and unmistakeable County perfume that can only be his. No matter the grape, a Sullivan white is a cold play of pear and citrus, made most obvious when oak is not around to confuse. A Rosehall white is always the most glycerin-textured in the County and Sullivan’s light touch ensures this PEC Chard is made in the vineyard. There is a lightness in its being but it is one of the better unoaked wines made in the region.” Last tasted January 2015  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2011, Tuscany, Italy (168286, $21.95, WineAlign)

You have to swirl the stuffing out of this Chianti Classico, to aerify the concentrated must, soften the smithy metal and shake the dust out of the skeletal toys in the attic. In Chianti sometimes “nothing’s seen, real’s a dream.” After that it’s so very volatile, angry, biting, scathing and downright agitated. But it’s big and bruising, full of prune, fig and a real CC swagger. Very large for CC, in full conceit and with all those opposing forces in battle, I can see this aging for 10 plus years. Would like to see where it goes when it settles. In the later stages there is a funk, of the extra-terrestial Tuscan kind. Fun Sangiovese.  Tasted January 2015  @chianticlassico

Vignobles De Balma Vénitia Cuvée Saint Roch Vacqueyras 2011, Ac Rhône, France (4003822, $24.95, WineAlign)

Delicious smelling Vacqueyras, of pure red fruit distillation, bursting berries and a smouldering of warm earth. Breath deeply and it doth not burn at all, a sign of great restraint and seamless forward thinking. Nice soft structure and carries itself with such poise. What’s not to love here?  Tasted January 2015  @TheCaseForWine

Domaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling 2011, Ac Alsace Grand Cru, France (627950, $33.95, WineAlign)

To the north of Guebwiller, the vineyard is “the peninsula on the plain.” More often than not drier than the others, less weighty than Kitterlé and on par with Kessler, 2011 is the year of its kinship. Here alights the lemon drop, petrol, vintage given and vintage using searing Schlumberger. I have tasted the last five (in Saering, Kessler and Kitterlé) and here is the most intense of the group. Really wound tight, rolled into a fine Riesling cigar, with the stuffing to see that its “gonna go far, fly high…never gonna die.” Saering, those who wait patiently for you to become a star, “they’re gonna love you.” Tart and chalky, very calcareous, very serious. This needs 10 years to see heights elevated into another stratosphere.  Tasted January 2015  @drinkAlsace

William Fèvre Chablis Montmains Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France (977587, $49.95, WineAlign)

A revisit (nine months after first tasting) confirms the ascertained earth, the gathered calcaire and the efficiency of mastering this plot. While neither as elegant as Les Lys or as intense as Mont Milieu, the Montmains is struck by stark, lees melding structure and mouthfeel. The sensation is like sucking on a slow-release tablet of concentrated Montmains. It’s pointed, rigid and saline, like a bone from the skin of the sea. Amazing tannin. The weight is gathered from dynamism that turns seas to rock, rock to liquid. Needs five more years.  Last tasted January 2015  @WilliamFevre  @WoodmanWS  @BIVBChablis

Podere La Vigna Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (390807, $49.95, WineAlign)

If ever there was a glaring example of how a wine can polarize a room full of tasters, the Podere La Vigna Brunello is the dictionary entry. There is no doubt that it reeks of classic Sangiovese Grosso, of leather hides, centuries old liqueurs and hanging carcasses. Straight up, this is an animal, of Montalcino animale and animated beyond suspended belief. A combination of heavy syrup and evolution are well ahead of the curve. That in itself is not the issue, but rather the earthy, pruned fruit, overripe and heavily extracted. It’s a hematoma of a Brunello, with the swelling rising in the wine like bruises but, that said, it’s so very Brunello. Acidity is present but falls a bit short, while the length is just decent. I am not blown away by its ancient and pageant charms because it will not last. Were it a ’95 it would have huge appeal. but if consumed in 2033 it will most certainly provide for some muddy water.  Tasted January 2015  @buonvini  @ConsBrunello

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Du bon Bachelder: Burgundy, Oregon, Niagara

Bachelder Wines tasting. December 28, 2014 Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines tasting: December 28, 2014
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Québec native and Niagara Peninsula resident Thomas Bachelder makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in three countries. He may not be the only gypsy winemaker on this planet but he certainly ranks as the most focused. Over the past few years I have had many opportunities to taste and be privy to the diversity, overlapping and incrassation of his portfolio. By now I know so much and understand so little.

There is one thing I do know for sure. Bachelder and partner Mary Delaney form a formidable wine-producing juggernaut. Together they are the vine and the fence. The question is which one is the vine and which one is the fence. If asked they and their guests would likely all produce different answers.

Thomas Bachelder Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Thomas Bachelder
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Thomas and Mary invited a group of us to taste through the Bachelder 2012’s just after Christmas. Ever the great hosts, Thomas and Mary not only poured 16 wines, they also offered up a most excellent feast and left us (Rick VanSickle, Michael Pinkus, Evan Saviolidis and Elena Galey-Pride) amazed and satiated.  Rick’s take on the tasting should be read here: Poetry in motion: Thomas Bachelder unveils his 2012 Pinots and Chardonnays from Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.

Bachelder Wines Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

In Oregon Bachelder made wines at Ponzi and Lemelson Vineyards. In Niagara he was best known for creating a world-renowned portfolio of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay through an artfully applied science at Le Clos Jordanne. Beyond Bachelder there is now the Thomas effect at Domaine Queylus. He’s like the Chicken Man, “he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere.”

In Ontario his Pinot Noir fruit mainly comes from the St. David’s Bench vineyard owned by the Lowrey family. The Chardonnays are drawn from the Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and the Saunders Vineyard closer to Lake Ontario. In Oregon, the sturdy contrariness of the vines show a marked preference for the sandstone and volcanic (Basaltic) strata, in Yamhill-Carlton and the Willamette, rhymes with dammit – thanks Mary … ;), Valley. In Burgundy the terroir in micro-plots diversify the stratagem even while some are considered lesser locales for growing great Burgundy. But one thing is clear. The lieu-dits that give of their fruit all qualify as appellative wonders of the Bachelder diaspora.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

For a brief history on the Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara terroirist, check out my two previous posts on the Bachelder project.

Related –  Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Related –  Synchronicity in three terroirs

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Order is an extreme obsession for Thomas Bachelder, in an organized, chaotic way. For this reason, the wines were tasted in the following progression, to make sense of the complexity and variegation in each country from the three distinct yet wholly antithetic bon (Burgundy-Oregon-Niagara) terroirs.

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bourgogne Aligoté Champs Pernot 2013, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089559, $24.00, WineAlign)

From old vines in the commune of Puligny-Montrachet, Bachelder’s Aligoté is a flinty, indiscreetly pinching and itinerant example. More complex than it needs to be, it can be accused of being a risk taker. If Chardonnay is considered in terms of finding excellence out of cool climates, this Aligoté is downright gelid. The wine doth go both ways, at once reductive and then terpenic. Lime citrus concentrates aromas and flavours within a very platinum, mineral frame. Speaks several languages that can be related to but only if you can pry through the cracks in the hard protective shell. Confounding really, yet a fascinating study. Bachelder could do for varietal Burgundy Aligoté in ways similar to Sylvaner in Alsace.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA  (333278, $34.95, WineAlign)

Primarily constructed from the fruit of Yamhill-Carlton vines, a third of which is Lazy River, an apropos moniker because by harvest time it hardly moves. The warm vintage adds a calm dimension to a Pinot Noir more Burgundian than the Bachelder’s Niagara and also more table friendly. Pure perfume and like life in layered, rosy hues, a vie en rose, from the land and the river’s subtle flows. The terra mobilis. The underlying dream in Thomas Bachelder’s Oregon movement is mineral, like salinity, not limestone but something ambiguous from the river’s pull and under the river. Elegance lived and relived. Here is a wine from a very available warm vintage, with a mess of fleshy fruit, yet Thomas does not obfuscate the terroir. In 2012 and needfully so, it is served from a light hand. Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec and coming to VINTAGES in Ontario, Spring 2015.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Niagara Lowrey Vineyard 2012

 

Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Bachelder’s local environ comes from Wismer Parke within the essential Niagara vineyard. By way of setting bearings straight, the Park is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of the Lowrey Vineyard. A precocious and most positive net gain Pinot Noir most of which, as Thomas so adroitly points out, will be consumed before being allowed to hit its prime. Despite the generic labelling, this is not a mass-produced bottling by any stretch and was swallowed up by licences. It’s a hallmark expression of warmth, texture, vintage and the capability of Pinot Noir in this specific place. What Thomas has achieved, with effective persuasion, is a cloning from intimate belongings; earth, fruit, Lowrey.  Tasted December 2014

Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012, Burgundy, France ($45, WineAlign)

Named for La Montagne, to recognize it for place because local rules forbid calling it what it really is, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. So what was ‘La’ is now ‘Aux’ and with the change, in this vintage, comes something formidable, eliciting a response of aux la la. Let’s talk about this, with no mocking tone, just real thoughts. Anything but regional, this Bachelder is so very Villages, specifically lieu-dit, with its depth of earth and release of perfume. A piercing sort of Pinot Noir from a which a sauce could be fashioned out of its sheer intensity, to bathe meats. The concentration has a citrus feign, bright, in the back, along with a giving and Burgundy forgiving mineral funk. In this Burgundy, the mountain lurks, in spirit torque. Will unwind for up to 10 years. Available at the SAQ in Quebec.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon (SAQ 12065338, $44.50, WineAlign)

A hard-working wine that reaches for fibres not available for weave in the Bachelder ‘basic’ Oregon Pinot, the Johnson digs into the salty waters beneath the earth. Draws up its hydration, the astonishing fidelity of minerals magnetized and then redacts the smokey, splintering spokes of wood. The juice in 2012 flows and follows the inconsistencies of the skin and the barrel like the river travels along the irregularities of the land. Rich, dusty, brooding and intuitive. The Johnson is bent on serious intent, like a sculptor’s dentil relief, with increased shadow, less mannerist in 2012, deeper, darker and of more solemnity. When the ’11 was at first hard to figure then soon after revealed its charms, this ’12 will take much longer to unravel. The brightness of Oregon Pinot Noir is perhaps its greatest attribute so here that light is not yet known. Wait three to five years to find out its truth.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

A balanced and thoughtful wine, from five rows of mostly mysterious, and unknown clones. There simply is no other locale in Ontario that you can grow Pinot Noir any further away from lake and river and still unearth such depth. Though terroir-driven, this shares little with other geographical perimeter outliers, like Ravine and Coyote’s Run. Can only be Lowrey; folkish, demotic, St. David’s Bench vernacular. From my earlier, October 2014 note: “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.”  Last tasted December 2014

Nuits St Georges La Petite Charmotte 2012, Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign)

Here grinds a wine that could want for some decant, a pause for thought while the imbibers assess their ways through Oregon, Niagara, Johnson and Lowrey. A pent-up perfume, when allowed to breath in and then out, results in a concentration of aromatic certainty. Tight and bracing, with cedar and bitumen, cherry and rose, this single-vineyard NSG hugged up on a northern slope is both adamantine Nuits and the pretty dame of Beaune. Straddles the arrondissement’s Burgundian twain, the Neaune, from iron to sublime. The imprint of yearning and distance.  Tasted December 2014

Les Bas Liards Savigny Lès Beaune 2012, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089567, $38.25, WineAlign)

Only two barrels (one and two year-old, zero per cent new oak) were procured of this 100 per cent Pinot Blanc. “I’m a barrel fermenting maniac,” admits Bachelder. He might also say “I’ve got a job, I explore, I follow every little whiff and I want my life to smell like this.” Stone fruit is in resolution and integration, fully, completely. This quenches thirst, like chewing on raw fish. Why Pinot Blanc in Savigny Lès Beaune is the $64K question with an answer tragically not really known. Its taste is not just Pinot Blanc, it is the flavour of Savigny Lès Beaune. It is PB looking for a place to happen. The argument is logomachy, the reality is Savigny. What it delivers is a clean, hip Burgundian message and at the same time asks, “do you taste Chardonnay?” Yes? No, I taste Savigny Lès Beaune.  Tasted December 2014

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95, WineAlign)

From the best four of twenty barrels (and 15 – 18 per cent new oak). The salinity drawn is deeper still, like a bone from the skin of the sea. Rich tones, components, tannic texture, filibuster Chardonnay. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “More specifically a product of its ocean meets sous terre soil than Bachelder’s basic (term used loosely) Chardonnay, the Johnson nicks more richesse, around and around fullness. Not to mention the cerebral wisdom of two Scots and a Charlemagne. Johnson’s progressive and forward thinking maker works with inconspicuous wood and the science of introducing oxygen into wine in a controlled manner.  He might say “for it is wisdom that we have for sale.” Like a white-winged dove, the 2012 will trod lightly towards a long walk to a very long life. It can be imagined aging to the edge of seventeen. The earthy feel, the salinity, not from tannin but from soil, “the music there, well, it was hauntingly familiar.” This is iridescent Oregon in a Bachelder voice. No doubt.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (VINTAGES Essential 302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Primarily fruit sourced from Wismer-Foxcroft and Wismer-Wingfield plots, the oak treatment is 15 per cent new. Shows so much more warmth than Oregon. More honey and tropical notes than many peers as well. And still limestone crusted apple is the major finishing key in a Chardonnay that sings a familiar Niagara hymn. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Bottled just one month ago, contrary to the monk’s assertion, there is nothing shocky about her. Her fruit is downy soft, round without being fat because as Bachelder maintains, real as always, you “can’t have the minerality of that perfect 2011, I’m not going to bullshit you.” The 2012 is a wine unconscious in its own obviousness, ready for anything. Gregarious, golden, fresh fruit that was ready to roll out of its barrel and into the waiting glass long before its maker was prepared to open the valve. And of course there is a mineral finish. It can’t help but be.” Last tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Coming to VINTAGES, Spring 2015. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

An appraisal of Wismer, much further up on the Bench as compared to Saunders, is always fraught with side by each guilt. The two coax and dissuade each other in every respect, from vintage to vintage and in flip-book oscillation. Once again, the reversal is complete in 2012. Wismer gives not just power and warmth, but layering. Its voice is an astonishing fidelity of native rock magnetized. Wismer finds a way to make grace necessary and to make necessity graceful. While Saunders made yeoman’s work of 11’s crazies with precision and poise, Wismer takes the glow of ’12 and turns it into cool sunshine. This Chardonnay of wealthy fruit, controlled oak, olivine and feldspar tannin will slowly wash up like driftwood on the gravelly beach of life. Give it a year or two to assimilate the components and drink it for 10 more.  Tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012, Burgundy, France (272005, $35.95, WineAlign)

From lower Puligny, this is rich, forward and expressive Chardonnay. While it may gangle out with a fierce, pierce of the tang, a change fills the air after much discussion about a barrel, how it is used and to what effect, both for its current and predictable future. Has that honeyed, lemon toasty unctuousness, a weave that is weighty and glazed. Some wood spice and a colourable, creamy curd of citrus. Oak compounds the sweetness and layering. Puligny runs through its wooden veins and pumps micro-oxygenated nutrients to the important, internal organs. The eventuality here is the alleviation of pressure and a retrofit of fruit to elegance. Strike another notch up and step forward for the Bachelder Burgundy sojourn. There is still so much to learn and even this will seem pedestrian compared to what will come but for now it’s just fine, thank you very much.  Tasted December 2014

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012 

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012

Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012, Burgundy, France ($39.25, WineAlign)

The ‘King’s Hill’ which is just half of the misnomer because how can a plot of such ability be considered so low on the Cru pole. Half of a new barrel went into the minuscule (two barrel) blend. Chardonnay like lace, from nothing less than an appellation prepared to offer up fine drink, in pastry and in textile. Tropical tree fruits hang in rows, connected by cream and the contending forces of smoke and bite. Always the end game of rock envelops the whole, like gabbroid nodules, permeating every fissure.  And so, because a Bachelder Chardonnay must comply, as the earth invisibly prepares its vines for successes and failures, so history is the creeping intent.  Tasted December 2014

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Varietal Spanish wine

Meat Me in the Junction http://meatmeinthejunction.com

Meat Me in the Junction
http://meatmeinthejunction.com

In which camp do you take up permanent and loyal residence? Do you listen to, build your cellar around and taste exclusively of the singer-songwriter, the solo artist, the grape that goes it alone? Who are you? Varietal or blend?

Many a quarrel has landed on the subject of pitting meritage versus the single-varietal. The purist will argue that no combination of grapes can combine to make for the greatest of wines (save for Champagne). They will insist the skilled and important winemaker is one whose favourite medium is difficulty. That only the ones who are possessive of the cabalistic code can truly unlock the inner secrets of their art. That it can only done through the secret concentration and religious attention paid solely to one partner.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay perpetuate in globally made, 100 per cent single solutions, not to mention the behemoths of Shiraz, Malbec, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. To a lesser extent there are great vats composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Gamay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.

The viticultural right of assemblage is one of the perks in modern winemaking, propped up by and standing on the shoulders of Bordeaux giants. The blending of grapes in summations to argue that the whole is the proper gross of fractions is a celebration of the 21st century avant garde.

Related – Off the beaten Italian path

Yet times evolve, change and tesselate. Old becomes new again. In November I travelled off the beaten Italian varietal path in an investigation of the B-sides, the ones that no one else knows about. I met the awakening of the Italian grape vernacular, engineered for companionless a cappella troubadours, from Albana to Ribolla Gialla, endemic (or indigenous, if the nomenclature suits you) and ancient varieties that have entered a time of new dawn. A similar renaissance is happening in Spain.

In October, at the invite of the downright honourable good Dr. Barry Brown of the Spanish Wine Society, I had the opportunity to taste through a wide selection of the wines of Navarra. The region lies between Pamplona in the north and the Ebro River plain to the south. Non-native varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were introduced in the eighties, but it is the native Viura, Tempranillo and Garnacha that drive the Navarran machine.

The Rosado of Navarra were exceptional and the best examples were composed from 100 per cent Garnacha. The single-varietal compositions in Garnacha and Tempranillo by Bodegas Principe de Viana drove the companionless point. The exception to the rule was found in the wines of Bodegas Tandem. The small winery in Tierra Estella (Yerri Valley) is fashioning blends using Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in a combination of concrete vats and French oak. The slow ripening, meticulous handling and extended aging in wines crafted by José María Fraile is nothing short of exceptional. After all, they are called grape varieties and variety is the spice of life. Why shouldn’t blends have more fun?

In November I continued my Spanish odyssey with the wines of Garnacha. It was there that the solo records, in red and white really began to play in my varietal head. Garnacha (also known as Grenache) is one of the world’s oldest and most widely planted grapes. Its ability to assimilate the double-pronged effect of a Mediterranean climate and an Atlantic suffusion make it ideal for the Iberian Peninsula.

From left to right: Bodegas Tandem Ars Nova 2011, Bodegas Principe de Viana Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2012, Lafou Els Amelers 2013, Edetària Selecció Blanc 2012, Bodegas Pirineos Garnacha 2013 and Grandes Vinos y Viñedos El Anayón Selección Garnacha 2011

From left to right: Bodegas Tandem Ars Nova 2011, Bodegas Principe de Viana Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2012, Lafou Els Amelers 2013, Edetària Selecció Blanc 2012, Bodegas Pirineos Garnacha 2013 and Grandes Vinos y Viñedos El Anayón Selección Garnacha 2011

As the most notorious grape variety with the ability to go ying or yang, Ac or Dc, red or white, Garnacha makes for a fascinating study. Three examples expressive of Blanca’s western European white vinous supremacy opened my eyes to its capabilities. Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2012 (Agent, $16.00) from Somontano made use of four months in two year-old oak barrels to help develop texture in as good a value Garnacha Blanca as could hope to find. The Lafou Els Amelers 2013 (Agent, $28.95) from Terra Alta is a gorgeous wine of salinity, calcium, white flowers, fine lines and elegance. The Edetària Selecció Blanc 2012 (Agent, $39.95) also from Terra Alta is the pure distilled embodiment of Garnacha Blanca with its own unique and distinct aroma.

The Toronto Garnacha tasting ushered by Sopexa Canada brought into focus the grape’s diverse spectrum spread liberally around Spanish wine regions. When Garnacha goes it alone the results are extremely varied, from simple syrup, inexpensive drops to seriously structured compositions. As a varietal wine it is extremely accessible and offers exploratory song lines for all walks of wine consumer life.

From Somontano there is the Bodegas Pirineos Garnacha 2013 (Agent, $17.00), a prime starter’s example all about structure, with rock, chalk and lime-like citrus accents. This is a red Garnacha for the white wine drinker. Grandes Vinos y Viñedos El Anayón Selección Garnacha 2011 (Agent, $30.00) hails from Cariñena. Reeking ethereal and attenuated in American Oak, the high toast, citrus tone, vanilla and Rhône-esque garrigue is palpable. Crazy sweet tannins will carry this big fruit Garnacha to the next decade with pleasing clarity.

So with thanks to Macabeo, Prieto Picudo, Mazuelo, Graciano, Garnacha and the people who brought them to us, the individual is freed from the collective. In a twist of Descartian philosophy, of mind and mechanism, varietal wine is handled with the treatment of oxymoronic social sciences. The result is a triumph of secular materialism, the conceit of modernity and the reduction of the world to a single, simple mechanism. Varietal atom splitting is a resource to be exploited in blind interaction with the living planet.

In the end there is only one vine, one grape, concentrating, developing, existing one at a time. Here are six full tasting notes on varietal wines, each allowed to shine without intrusion and on their own line.

From left to right: Torre Oria Reserva Brut Cava, Dominio Dostares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009, Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009, Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010 and Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2009

From left to right: Torre Oria Reserva Brut Cava, Dominio Dostares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009, Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009, Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010 and Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2009

Torre Oria Reserva Brut Cava, Método Tradicional, Do Valencia, Spain (402255, $15.95, WineAlign)

Made from 100 per cent Macabeo, this is from a winery that is the first to produce Cava from outside of the Penedes DO. Here, from Valencia, up front there is dust, must and concrete, evidence of a lees-induced oxdative lean and wish upon a star aridity. There comes a time when dry fizz does not have to be the way to go, especially when trying to please many palates in too tight a space. So up steps this formidable Cava (with 9-10 g/L RS), in quality, with a crush of gala apple, a weight and a texture like a shag rug. Sure, it may be a bit disco but it’s also so very retro hip. Like Gorillaz and Clint Eastwood with “the essence, the basics,” and its “got sunshine, in a bag.” On the oxidative side? Yes and “the future is coming on.” Drink up.  Tasted January 2015  @cavaswine  @DO_Cava

Dominio Dostares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla Y León, Spain (393140, $15.95, WineAlign)

A rare sighting of Prieto Picudo, one of the more idiosyncratic of grape varieties. This is the entry-level offering from Dominio Dostares (they make more precious best plot selection versions). Vines as ancient as 90 years old contribute briery cedar and leathery veins but this is quite modern, straightforward and aiming to please. Though a bit hot and heavy, the aridity (2 g/L RS) and the mineral streak keep it real. A harmonious if gangly red (from high acid soils), keeping warm and huddled within its hermetic, endemic environment. Short and simple, sweet and tart. Represents striking value in something other. Tasted January 2015  @oenophilia1  @_Cast_y_Leon

Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009, Do Navarra, Spain (391656, $17.95, WineAlign)

The release of relief in the activity of opportunity to taste something other, like 100 per cent Mazuelo, is just excellent. Compounded with the breath of fresh Spanish DO brought to the table by the current wave of Navarran wines, the experience is made that much more enjoyable. The wine is neither modest nor is it a mouse. Its body travels “on a road shaped like a figure eight.” It builds more than nothing out of something. The traced aromas are filled with pots of fresh flowers and the space is occupied by plenty of stuffing. No. 8 has a seamless, put together structure from the start. Silky and so very juicy with a streak of reminiscing rusticity. Great proper acidity and very stretched length. A very pretty if grounded and ode to history made wine.  Tasted January 2015  @navarrawine

Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla, DO La Mancha, Spain (392522, $17.95, WineAlign)

Not unlike Rioja, the wines of Tierra De Castilla in the heart of Spain are blessed with a Mediterranean climate augmented by an Atlantic influence. This organic winery is located beneath the Gredos Mountains in the Province of Toledo. The vineyards are protected from the northern winds by the mountain ranges. Though oft considered lower in quality, the Vino de la Tierra de Castilla designation is emerging from out of the Castilla-La Mancha shell. Tasting this 100 per cent Graciano just after a few months in oak and a bunch more in bottle before release would have shown more bright fruit and verve. Now four plus years later there is still much to admire in the high notes and brightness of the nose. Hard not to notice the strikingly and hauntingly beautiful aromatics. Also some dried fruit, like prune and turkish apricot. Akin to some Dão and some Rhône, without ever flirting with being baked or stewed flavours. Aridty juiced from rocks, acidity that follows suit and to nudge it forward in longer strides.  Tasted January 2015

Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010, Doca Rioja, Spain (397166, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such a unique and life reaffirming, giving back red Riojan. The singular, singled out Graciano comeback revolution is upon us and we are all the beneficiaries. Here there exhibits a different sort of profile. A veritable profiterole of anise, cured chorizo, dried flowers and some spices (violets and the wafting aromas of Patatas a la Riojana). Not to be left off the redolent list is a funk, one that is not merde, but rather an old school, skinned hide. At the price and best of all is that the Graciano is so very, very long, like the Camino Frances, from the Pyrenees, through Roncesvalles and to Rioja.  Tasted January 2015  @RiojaWine

Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2009, DO Somontano, Spain (Agent, $32.00)

Took a sip and “the breeze blew back my hair.” Made from 100 per cent Garnacha, the elevated liqueur on the nose is invigorating and initially, somehow disturbing.  The combined forces of macerated, steeping cherries, melting liquorice and bubbling tar is extraordinary. Enveloped by a tinging, pinging acidity, the wine is structured in chalk, grain and gravelly tannin. The barrel influence is ingrained and the wine is most certainly huge but the overall composition is fresh, red and viscid. What to do after being hit in the face with a wine such as this? “How can I measure up to anyone new, after such a love as this?” Who are you Secastilla? Be patient, let it ride for years, let it soften. The comeback tour will be fun.  Tasted November 2014  @VinasdelVero  @WoodmanWS

Good to go!

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Coming wine from the cold

Boutari Naoussa 2010, Monasterio De Las Viñas Reserva 2006, Keint He Voyageur Chardonnay 2012, Quercecchio Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008, Vina Real Crianza 2010, Finca Del Marquesado Gran Reserva 2004, Driftwood The Collection Cabernet Merlot 2012

Boutari Naoussa 2010, Monasterio De Las Viñas Reserva 2006, Keint He Voyageur Chardonnay 2012, Quercecchio Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008, Vina Real Crianza 2010, Finca Del Marquesado Gran Reserva 2004, Driftwood The Collection Cabernet Merlot 2012

Is there another time of year that creeps under the skin like the coldest depths of winter? Does the craving to travel, the urge to visit distant places, the longing to slip silently and unnoticed away take over with such grip more so than when it so freakin’ cold outside? Is wanderlust tugging at your layers of sleeves? Is the fernweh calling, off in the distance, far away from home, urging you to escape from your everyday life?

Easier said then done and so turn instead to wine. Wine of a different sort of ilk. Wine that causes controversy, or at the least, differences of opinion. Wine to one disappointed taster that is seemingly, annoyingly tainted. To another it is full of wizened life. Wine that polarizes individuals, asks of others to choose sides and yet always remains content and confident within its weathered skin. Wine with age.

It strikes me as remarkable that the same wine opened to two tasters will elicit profoundly divergent opinions. Imagine if two wines popped and tasted side by side could be in dialogue with one another. Like paintings that hang adjacent or opposite one another in a gallery, if the critics had left the room, would they continue the conversation? If they did, what would they say to one another?

They might say have a go at me and transport yourself away, in the moment, to somewhere else. That longing can be satiated with wine but not just any old bottle will do. It’s going to take something that indicates ancient thoughts, bottles that intimate the expression of far away lands, wines that speak a different language. In some cases it may simply involve grapes with a wanderlust of their own, voyageurs born in one place and raised in another. Or a varietal bonding that emulates indigenous assemblage.

This coming Saturday will mark the first VINTAGES release of 2015. I tasted through the offer back in December and it was mostly the Old World that stood apart, speaking in simple vernaculars, tracing steps back to the European continent. These eight wines, all under $20, spoke loudest and with much clarity. Here are their notes.

Boutari Naoussa 2010, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (23218, $13.95, WineAlign)

Always the bebop beat and bomb of Greece for a song. Great earth, solid fruit, a monk’s tale in Naoussa pure adrenaline fidelity. What composure this $14 red speaks with and acts in silent, loyal, religious accord. Minerals in, acidity flies out. Excellence in simple thought and Xinomavro prayer. A Monk’s dream, with body and soul, sweet and lovely.  Tasted December 2014  @boutari    

Monasterio De Las Viñas Reserva 2006, Do Cariñena, Spain (166579, $14.95, WineAlign)

Heavy thoughts and weight are stratified in this very affordable Reserva. Showing zero effects of eight years age so again, the DNA (as being 100 per cent forthright in vintage juice) gives pause for thought. Should the impossibility be questionable? Yes, but the elevated levels of funk and circumstance make a case for utmost integrity, not to mention the old-school thought and grit. This is beautifully funky juice, scented with purple flowers and pumped up by pomp.  Tasted December 2014  @Noble_Estates  @DoCarinena

Keint He Voyageur Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389544, $16.00, WineAlign)

Keint He hit the Niagara mark with the ’12. All the right moves are struck; ripe fruit, mild toast, full yet unobtrusive malo, texture without excessively seeking success. Really well made in finding balance. Ten months to another point. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Grapes for this Prince Edward County bottling made the long trip (thus the moniker) and were blended from three Niagara vineyards; Queenston, Malivoire and Foxcroft. This 13 per cent abv peninsula gathering saw 12 months in oak and leans leesy Chablis in temperament. Doughy Jenekek smothered in honey butter and washed down by a sprinkle of cream of tartar in soda. Mildly tropical but not bathed in sunshine. Elegant wine, especially at the price, so in that sense it’s very good value.  Last tasted December 2014  @KeintHeWinery

Quercecchio Rosso Di Montalcino 2012, Doc Tuscany, Italy (394973, $16.95, WineAlign)

There is s deep perfume to this Rosso, a concentrated mess of flowers, dried citrus and a forest of evergreen. Good value. Not so tight, though the acidity has an advantage. Not so drying as some, as this has brightness and red cherry fruit. Nothing dank. Good value I say but certainly on the simple side of the Sangiovese Grosso tracks.  Tasted December 2014

Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008, Umbria, Italy (357079, $16.95, WineAlign)

Musty and yet so very expressive. Showing signs of wisdom in age and yet still bright and full of funky sunshine. Wood spice notes and lines stretched and moving. Definitely, maybe a touch of back beat funk. The drying tannins and dried fruit flavours might be interpreted as flaws so “they’re gonna throw it back to you,” but you have heard it all before, you much maligned Umbrian oasis blend of Sangiovese, Sagrantino, Merlot and Cabernet. “By now you should’ve somehow realized what you gotta do.” Be yourself. Embrace your modern take on ancient, wonderwall ideas. You have power and prowess. You are inexpensive as can be imagined and aged well, like a many days-in marbled steak.  Well done.  Tasted December 2014  @DionysusWines

Vina Real Crianza 2010, Doca Rioja, Spain (657411, $19.95, WineAlign)

Another fine value here from the Riojan stable of Cvne. At first a modern mercury rise but with classical lines and structures, sharp and so very real. A Crianza whose message is old, yeah this message is true.” Queen Tempranillo that speaks of the old life, drawing character from vine and earth. Struck with tight acidity, yet verbose, melodic and artesian. As if the wine rises under pressure from a permeable stratum overlaid by impermeable rock. Is it perhaps an acquired attraction? Does it matter when it offers so much value for so little?  Tasted December 2014  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

Finca Del Marquesado Gran Reserva 2004, Doca Rioja, Spain (384248, $19.95, WineAlign)

Not just funky, this is an ’04 Gran Reserva that couldn’t be anything but. Oxidized, paralysed, stupefied. Wow. Old school, highly evolved, has passed every ritualistic benchmark and here presents life in Rioja as it may have once been, albeit 100 years ago. Toffee, caramel, the old barrel, sinew, roasted game, you name it – here it is. Would venture to even say this has even evolved prematurely, quicker than it perhaps even should have. But it’s so very, archaically pretty in a myriad of dirty ways. Hanging on for dear Tempranillo life so try it now, with a great braise, a perfect pork chop, or Sichuan-style red braised beef ribs.  Tasted December 2014

Driftwood The Collection Cabernet Merlot 2012, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia (399857, $19.95, WineAlign)

Margaret River Bordeaux done with a heavy hand and lifted richesse. High toned, big-boned, going it alone. Sumptuous and jammy, savoury and savvy. Clearly Bordeaux-styled with utmost modernity. Tannic too. Need to want both Oz and Bordeaux to get into this bruiser. Will age gorgeously and provide great value appeal 10 years down the road.  Tasted December 2014  @Grapexpctations  @margaretrivers

Good to go!

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Contino, McDonald and the Vine

Contino Head

The Rioja Reservas of Bodega Viñedos del Contino

Near the end of September, at the invite of two exceptionally grounded wine men, Rob Groh and Derek Kranenborg of The Vine Wine Agency, I attended a tasting at Cava Restaurant with Technical Director Jesús Madrazo of Rioja’s Bodega Viñedos del Contino. With former Cava Chef Chris McDonald providing the worthy and soulful snacks, Madrazo poured eight wines. Eight to leave lasting memories in impression. Edibles to boot, complex concentrations by Chef McDonald with his last Cava days coming near. Everything about the tasting, in both wine and food, was intense. I hope all were paying attention.

Two of chef’s hors d’oeuvre-style compositions were Foie gras and partridge Croquetas and Frogsicles with Pimento Alioli. Both unique, both instrumental in elevating the old and wise Riojas upwards atop a rightful pedestal. The wines of Contino are very classic Rioja, at times understated and at others overwhelming. Contino’s Rioja buzz with energy and verve. They are very alive. They ooze earth and soil.

Bodega Viñedos del Contino is a part of the Cvne (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) stable. Founded in 1879, Cvne today is three distinct wineries; Cune, Viña Real and Viñedos del Contino. Contino was born in 1974.

In 2006 Madrazo began producing the white wine experience. The challenge was in getting approval from the board of directors. After much experimentation, the first vintage came in 2010. Grown on calcium carbonate soils, the white Viura draws energy from stones, some larger than the solar collecting galets of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The rocks are the heliacal conductors to the vines, creating a paradox, of water loss and energy giving life. This, accomplished through dry, organic farming. “That’s how we play the game,” notes Madrazo.

At the Cava tasting, the ageability of the Riojas was the concept under investigation, but it was the three others wines poured, the flotilla leaders Blanco, Graciano and Viña del Olivo that really drove the point across. Longevity is the key to the Rioja heart. The Rioja Reservas are the soul. “In Spain,” says Madrazo, “we (continue to) fix everything. We release our Rioja in the 5th year.” Here are notes on the eight wines tasted.

Contino

The line-up at Cava Restaurant: Bodega Viñedos del Contino

Blanco 2012, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $48.95, WineAlign)

The third vintage of Contino’s crown jewel white is (80 per cent) Viura with Malvasia (five per cent) and Garnacha Blanca (15). The latter will bull its way into future vintage mix with incremental proportion as a result of increased plantings. “The Queen” gets right up into the face and nose, indicating success for its primary goal. To seek a capacity for aging. “Viura can age,” insists winemaker Jesús Madrazo. “Here I can see at least six years of life, maybe ten.” The Blanco has a meddling mid-palate metal and creamy sensibility. Big (90 per cent new oak) barrels housed the wine for six months to seek its second goal; fruit spiciness. This effect is magnified by the south-facing, down to the river slopes, one of the warmest areas in Rioja. The third objective is acidity but with the malic tendency well-managed, to seek equilibrium. The single block Garnacha and Malvasia elevate and balance out the estate’s omnipresent, all over the map Viura. The paradox lies in the terroir, where hot, solar conduit stones cause evaporation and yet give energy in simultaneous activity. Old vines (some as much as 70 years) draw and release, draw and release. The ebb and flow in ardor gives this Blanco verve and it is showing with style right now. It will live as Jesús said it would but it’s life will be hard and fast. Drink now and for three or four years.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 2008, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $48.95, WineAlign)

From a late harvest (two to four weeks behind the norm), the ’08 is an example of the philosophy yet entrenched in the past, with a desire for pure quality, regardless of the picking time. The conditions meant no single-varietal Graciano bottling and only a small case load of the Viña del Olivo. Quality was essentially earmarked for the Reserva, scoured from 62 hectares of Estate Tempranillo. The vintage is defined by straight up red fruit with some spice and a warm-climate, tree bark/resin effect. The wine’s personality come from out of the nerve centre’s tangy inflection. Though it’s a touch warm and zealous of alcohol (14.5 per cent), it speaks in cants of the Contino chateau style.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 2004, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

“If it’s not broke, we fix it,” admits Jesús Madrazo of Contino. The estate’s ’04 says exactly what it should and it must. Old barrels (50-50 French and American) plus two years in bottle bring out the hard vine life heartbreak and hyperbole in fruit grown on calcium carbonate soils with stones bigger than Les Galets of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Stones that heat up from the sun, acting as solar conductors to the vines. Acidity may have been compromised but not structure. There is Rioja Alvesa sweetness, set against a whiskey town backdrop. There are plums, prunes and Phở. Yes, this is a quixotic and exotic Contino, ripe, spicy, floral, meaty but not gamy. Roast pork, Vietnamese style. Immaculate of youth, of original energy and of garrigue. The 2004 Reserva tells the Contino story like Ryan Adams sings about a broken heart. “Some things are born too strong, have to learn how to fight.” So, the Tempranillo will say, “you’ll have to excuse me if I break my own heart.”  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1998, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

Not unlike the book that wrote ’08, the vintage challenged with cold weather during harvest, this coming on the fits meets stops on heels and tiptoe starts that defined the overall growing season.  A first flawed bottle aside, a second one opened is musty in its own ancient and charming way. With only 10 per cent Graciano in the blend, this here is essential, old-school Tempranillo. Beyond the dust is a round and smooth elixir with a ferric vein of animal funk. There is liquorice and there is chalk. The grain of this Contino is like liquified barley or bulgur, with an earthy faro aroma, a creamy texture and long on glutinous structure. Earth keeps fruit in subterranean submission, though there will always be hints of dried plums and flowers to sustain life.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1980, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

Here the Tempranillo has walked the sands, survived the winds of time and has arrived at the sultanate’s tent, exhausted, somewhat delirious yet basking in the accomplishment. The tapestry woven by 34 years of development has laid on a platter a veritable feast of dried fruits; prune, apricot and date, all chewy and densely concentrated. A diesel fume aroma indicates a modernity evolved and the oiled track shows the way out of Damascus (or in this case, Álava). The ’80 is a bit funkified too, with great acidity and length that lingers for a most amazing amount of mouth time. Dried flowers, namely violets define the perfumed finish. A Tempranillo possessive of exceptional survival skills.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

An impossibly youthful 40 year-old Tempranillo, even surpassing the more evolved ’80 in that regard, with aniseed, coconut and beeswax in its current aromatic state. Less gamy and animal funky, yet persistent in earthy beats. The vegetal scents act as conduit to the light bulb shining brightly of circuitous flavours and resolved textures. Lingers in mouth feel, its layers of time slowly peeling back, revealing in length, a slide show of the wine’s life. With many year’s still ahead, this is a Tempranillo revelation and from one going back this far that gained no support from Graciano (because it was planted in 1979). Its apostle following instead comes by way of the white Viura. Pair with Chef Chris McDonald’s Foie Gras and Partridge Croquetas.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Graciano 2010, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $128.95, WineAlign)

Contino’s SV Graciano is the estate’s portent into the portal of ageability, beyond Tempranillo. Such formidable aromatics are on display, a result of low pH and high polyphenolic compounds. Has got something, but what it is, I can’t seem to place. It’s neither flora nor fauna, not rock, nor fruit. A combination of them all and a piercing streak of acidity leads to the expanse of a broad mouth texture. Sense perhaps black fruit, currants and berries. A toast, macerations, citrus even. This Graciano, the soul of Contino. Crème de cassis, eucalyptus, camphor, menthol and aniseed are all seemingly there, in colour, natural acidity, alive and dancing. Or are they? I looked at this Graciano, “from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow,” it’s a challenge to see through the clouds. It’s so very large, exceeding the ministrations of other alterior SV examples, like that of Petit Verdot, Malbec or Cabernet Franc. In here it’s Graciano’s illusions I recall so I suppose I really don’t know Graciano at all. Imagine drinking this for 20 plus years.  Tasted September 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Viña del Olivo 2011, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

The flagship wine from Contino has an uncanny braised pork belly in spirited wines reduction nose, spiced with star anise. The aromas then go straight to the back of the brain, bypassing the frontal lobes and acute senses of nose and tongue. A wine that drives a stake directly into the nervous system, leaves one twitching and paralyzed. From arid, calcareous clay, the 34 year-old vines are just deadly, direct and make for some seriously demonstrative fruit. The mineral expression can’t be denied; this represents the most in the estate’s terroir driven directive. The blend is Tempranillo (80 per cent), Graciano (10) and Garnacha (10). New oak (100 per cent) is split between French (70), American (20) and various other European wood. A wine that will need a minimum five years to reach adulthood and perhaps 10 more to enlightenment. Though it is marked and baked by chalk and cake the mineral keeps it so ver real.  Tasted September 2014.

Good to go!

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