October 31st is a date empowered. Each year I fall victim to its commercial holiday, Soma-coma induced temptations. I eat candy on Halloween (I never eat candy) and I write about what to drink with in compliment and in conjunction with its tasting menu confection. It’s all so very wrong on so many levels and yet I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame? Why? What is it about this impossibly sappy and gagged up day that sucks me into its vortex of plastic, vinyl, crinkle and excess?
I blame it on childhood, on a time when innocence, naiveté and gullibility ruled my universe. When running with friends and getting sick on candy was both joyous and an exercise in self-flaggelent stupid. When two hours meant freedom, rebellion and independence. Halloween is a kids’ version of travelling through Europe with a back pack. It’s like quitting a job, like going to Vegas on a stag (I hate the idea of going to Vegas on a stag).
Well, that explains it. As adults, we try to justify the ingenuousness, callousness and asinine holiday, to make sure our kids find happiness in its bent farcicality. We try to grin and bear it. We attempt to embrace its forced beauty and its urban chaos. And we drink wine.
A person with a candy bag full of vodka is an alcoholic. A person with a candy bag full of wine is classy
To reduce the chances of having a heart attack or stroke at the sudden comeuppance of the neighbour’s $10,000 Halloween movie set
Why should this night be different from any other?
The doorbell rings every few seconds and beer takes much longer to pour
It rhymes with Frankenstein
For the sake of keeping things new, I’ll add the final new reason to the list:
10. A few glasses of Pinot Noir will make you smile as you remember how much money you saved by staying true to fun-sized candy
Be the life of the neighbourhood and fill those travellers with any of these 10 Halloween wines, subject to budget and chosen from the VINTAGES October 31st release. I promise not to suggest any candy pairings.
The Richie Roberts take on Riesling brings Beamsville to the populace, combining the natural acidity of the variety with the micro-saddle-plot-climat ipseity that the sub-appellation provides. This early to market ’14 is quite tropical, offering an en primeur portal into what invariably will follow. Fresh, juicy, accessible and in near-perfect balance. Slate, calcareous bleed and fruit generosity make for one tidy, markedly gratifying Riesling. Tasted March 2015 @FieldingWinery@RichieWine
Carries with it the efforts and old barrel trials of generations in its classic aromas. Cedar, dried plum, bitumen, dried anise, wood soaking in natural sugar syrup. Really seamless, flourless and austere in a running wild kind of way. Possessive of length and deserving of that oddest of wine descriptions; supple. This will age for 10-12 years with ease. A great wine for the money, right up there with the Montecillo 1991, but cleaner, juicier and with more sex appeal. A red head, a ginger, Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone. Tasted March 2015 @bodegasmuriel@RiojaWine
Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2012, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign)
The richest, wealthiest and most lush Laura’s red to date. Constructed in high tones, big fruit and the most oak it has absorbed. Structurally speaking this climbs to play at the top of the Creekside regime game, with tannins formidable to demanding and a texture filled with spirited matter. Behind the scene and to a certain extent the veil there is Niagara, painted and dressed. Laura’s ’12 bites chocolate and picks at buds with impunity. This much plum and berry fruit will find a way to improve then strut in tastings years from now. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted twice, June and July 2015 @CreeksideWine@hobbsandco
Château Pey La Tour Réserve Du Château 2010, Ac Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France (349308, $19.95, WineAlign)
Here’s a well-organized, thought out and structured bit of tidy Merlot from the house of Dourthe. Bits of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec reinforce the pretty, dusty, deep blue fruit from between Bordeaux and St. Emilion. I wouldn’t call it rustic or old-school but I would mention its wise charm and traditional handling. Just a bit of astringency in the tannic composition will take this five years down the road. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted October 2015 @La_Cave_Dourthe@Dandurandwines
Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra, South Australia (606939, $23.95, WineAlign)
Prodigious Cabernet of and for protein. Melds flavours of salted caramel and real hot chocolate with melting berries like Churros filled with oozing centres, without sweetness. Has expansiveness and connectivity, with acids and direct displays of tannin. The real deal down in the depths of warm climate Cabernet Sauvignon. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015 @WolfBlassWines
Rich and very perfumed Vacqueyras composed of Grenache (50 per cent), Syrah (40) and Mourvedre (10). A wine with every intention to seek out a standing rib roast or duck confit to meet its every move. Charges that mix depth of fruit with grain of wood. Stratagem that marks violets moved to red berry fruit and reasonable acidity melded into a fine grain of tannin. There is just enough restraint in the process to consider this a finessed wine of gastronomy. It’s chewy but easy to digest, crusted and built of simple pleasures. Really well-made. No pretension, no attention drawn to itself and just plain affordable. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015 @oenophilia1@RhoneWine@VINSRHONE
Flat Rock’s ever involving vines (on 33 hectares planted in 2001 and 2002) enter a new phase with indicators blinking and refreshing in this 2013 Gravity Pinot Noir. Youthful adolescence and gregarious fruit expression initiated in 2010 and carried through the 2012 vintage. Those years saw to a world of astringency and tension relegated to mites in the rear-view mirror. The wine is now in a nexus cross-roaded with exigency holding pattern. To understand its confusion and survey fast forward to its future is not easy. Gravity is a bit large right now, seemingly advanced, but to me the fight is between that fruit abundant state and the return of, though eased by meditative Jedi tension. Gravity just needs a parachute to bring it back down to earth. That lifeline may not materialize in this 2013 but that does not take anything away from its discriminating and diagnostic tones. Brightness, astatic inflection and succulence. This vintage may suffer from some level of snafu but it will age, evolve and breath. That much fruit has to have some level of expectation. The follow up ’14 and ’15 will win the hearts of horses and men. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted October 2015 @Winemakersboots@UnfilteredEd@brightlighter1
Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (208694, $34.95, WineAlign)
Showing reduction and barrel youth in its veins, pores, gutters and buffers. Smells just like a young Chardonnay after spending 12-18 months in a combination of toasts and forests should smell. A changeling constantly shifting, grooving, picking up steps and notes. Spice, prick and pierce with the gems of proper acidity. Of emeralds and pepper grinds. The piquant nature begs for time. A stab in the Chardonnay dark says Okanagan as distant cousin to Beamsville Bench or Vinemount Ridge. In the end winemaking steals the show. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC, June 2015 @BurrowingOwlBC@LeSommelierWine
A highly perfumed Pinot Noir from winemaker Kevin Panagapka in 2012, complete with an exotic spice box of aromatics; potpourri, roses, cassia, clove and aamchur. The profile hydrates to a mulled simmer as the wine is once again warmed by the vineyard’s ability to ripen, exaggerated in ’12 but with more grace, bringing its personality in line with its modest (13 per cent) alcohol. The cherry flavour veers black with a paste of tar and charcoal, but again, the psyche is smooth and elongated. Long finish to this Queenston which should see it sing to 2018 and beyond. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted August 2014 @2027cellars
Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac 2008, Ac Saint Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France (425546, $39.95, WineAlign)
Showing a twinge of age at seven years, in rim and out of the natural whiffing forest aromas escaping with ease. The absolute right kind of earthy and barrel-influenced funk emanates, like experienced Bordeaux should, as would Rioja in similar approach to climacteric transition. A bit of leather, licquorice and aged beef join the gritty fray, mixed with aromatic citrus and grainy tannin to seal the destined way. This is ready to drink and yet two more years would not hurt its cause. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015 @Dandurandwines
Most consumers regard the LCBO as the only source for purchasing wine in Ontario. That is understandable when you consider the blanketing influence a monopoly has over the public. The commodification of wine in this province can be like gasoline and health care. You know exactly where to go when you need a fill-up, a prescription or a bottle of wine. Or, do you?
There are options. The most obvious is a one or two-hour drive west on the QEW or east on the 401 from Toronto, to the Niagara and Prince Edward County wine regions. A bit further west you can find cellar door availability in the Lake Erie North Shore and Ontario South Coast areas. There is something else out there. You can also buy by the case.
The greatest little secret in Ontario lies in the briefcases full of fine wine in the hands of Ontario’s importers and agents. The importers tote portfolios of consignment wines rarely seen on LCBO shelves, often found on restaurant lists, ready and willing to fill cellars, wine fridges and passive wine racks in homes scattered across this province. You just need to know where to look, who to ask and get some sound advice on what’s worth purchasing, by the case.
The thing is, you have to buy by the case when using an Ontario importer as your source and there are many reasons to do so. At WineAlign we break it down for you. Restaurant pours buy the glass, cellar-worthy wines, cases to split with friends, house wines, etc., etc.
There are some who might question the motive and the execution. It’s quite simple really and transparent. The agenda is straightforward and obvious. WineAlign is a dual-sided platform for wine commerce and education. One hand allows agents and local wineries to promote their wares and to introduce their hard work to a public that might not otherwise know they are there. The other hand allows critics from across the country to write independent reviews on their wines, the best of which are included in reports on those agents and vignerons. Some of the wines do not receive favourable reviews. As a consumer, do you want to see those reviews linked to in the article? Would you not rather be informed about what floated the critical boats and to know what to buy? The sponsored content is advertorial. The reviews are not.
“Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.”
A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign
For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here.
Over the past six months we have tasted wines from several portfolios. I wrote about the first Buy the Case with Trialto Wine Group, listed in the link above. Here are some of my reviews from the more recent tastings, from Noble Estates, Treasury Wine Estates, Cavinona and Da Capo Wines.
Domaine Pfister Pinot Blanc 2013, Alsace, France ($22.99, WineAlign)
Hillside Marl sites provide the fruit and fodder for this precise Pinot Blanc. Auxerrois can be used to infuse brio bolstering punch for such a pristine white made by the deft hands of winemaker Mélanie Pfister. I have tasted this 2013 more than 15 times and it always come up the same; clean, polished, lithe and on a sure bee-line away from the honey comb. The need for development is not the crux of this pleasure. Sips alone and swallows alongside much varied gastronomy is the matter at hand and should be on many an occasion. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted many times, November 2014 to September 2015
Planeta Etna Bianco 2014, Sicily, Italy ($29.99, WineAlign)
From Castiglione di Sicilia (Catania) and the most ancient of Sicilian grape varieties, what more could be ingratiated in depth of Carricante and its carbon dating fascination. The rich mineral layering is intense and munificent at the same time. Herbs and salinity in candied flowers grace both nose and palate. This is a near perfect vintage for such a wine. Clearly built slowly by sunshine and long shadows. Finishes as philanthropic as it began. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted September 2015 @PlanetaWinery@WinesOfSicily
Hedges Cuvee Marcel Dupont Syrah Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard 2012, Washington ($49.99, WineAlign)
Less than 3,000 cases were produced of this single-vineyard (Les Gosses), 100 per cent Syrah. This has the je ne sais quoi of Syrah meets Red Mountain AVA, in fact it has the JNSQ of anywhere in the Syrah diaspora. The regular attributes of meaty, gritty, peppery, pitchy and prime are all in. What sets it apart is balance and chivalry. “Everybody has their own opinion” and mine of this wine could lead to addiction. Addicted to the mountain song it sings in refrain, again and again. This is no Jane doe of a Syrah. It steals the limelight and puts on a terrific show. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted September 2015 @hedgeswine@WINESofWA
Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (142546, $174.99, WineAlign)
Gorgeous aromatics from the depths of deep clay, raised on sunshine and held back from crossing any extracted or sullen wood lines. A keen sense of graphite shredded into wheat and concrete streaks through the purity that is pristine 2012 Oakville fruit. This is Cabernet for the cellar, to collect by the half dozen (or more if you can afford it) and open one every two years for the next 12 to 24. This has the legs and the agility to slowly braise and develop for at least that long. The balance and the length are as good as it gets. Drink 2017-2036. Tasted October 2015 @NickelandNickel
Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée, Champagne, France (379982, $199.99, WineAlign)
Grand Siècle is a wine paid full attention in detail. The master’s blown glass should make that crystal clear. Chardonnay (55 per cent) and Pinot Noir (45), give or take a few approximating points is culled from a blend of 11 grands crus; Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Ambonnay, Bouzy, Louvois, Mailly, Tours-sur-Marne and Verzenay. If freshness, elegance and structure are the intent, here is a wine in kind of a perfect three for three, though elegance is the clear winner. When all aspects are aligned, where finesse talks in soft spoken tones and why Champagne can be so delicate is the mystery revealed in the Grand Siècle. A walk through this cuvée is getting lost in a ten foot flower garden, canopy overhead. A taste means delicate gastronomy. A glide to the finish is effortless. All this adds up to wonderful symmetry. Champagne can be great when it tows a direct, purposed line. This will last decades and it can certainly, twist my arm, be enjoyed now. Great combo. Drink 2015-2035. Tasted September 2015 @ChampagneLPUSA
Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California ($19.95, WineAlign)
This California-designated Cabernet is composed from fruit drawn out of the North Coast and Central Coast. The North Coast vineyards stretch from Sonoma to Lake County and the Central Coast fruit in Paso Robles and Santa Barbara. A warm (13.8 per cent alcohol) Cab to be sure but several shades this side of hot. The tones are elevated and a bit jumpy, with fruit noting plum, pomegranate and ultra ripe to sweetened cranberry. Wood spice (from eight months in French and American oak) gives cinnamon and Goji berry. The perfume keeps wafting in waves, intoxicatingly so, prepping the palate for really solid fruit flavours. Though not the deepest nor the longest spoke on the Cabernet wheel, this CSJ works in the simplest, apropos ways. Highly aromatic, well-structured, righteously crafted and respectfully restrained. The sweet finish is dipped in chocolate. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted May 2015 @CSJWines
Always at or near the apex of CCR value, the 2011 is of a rich, modern, pitched deeply and highly purposed vintage. It elevates its game in all facets; fruit, acidity, tannin and warmth. A muzzle of bees seems to add muted, buzzing complexity in a Sangiovese with a faint if unusual smell of honey. In this Riserva, the “sun gets passed, sea to sea…with the breeze blown through.” The natural ripening leads to aromas indicating slow-cured plum, anise, and candied rose petals. The deeper tones are like hot autostrada surface, the gait slow roasted, with charred protein and dehydrating red fruits. In three years the fruit will seem fully dried, slightly oxidized and potentially caramelized. Express compliance of these instructions need heed by agreeing to drink this in the short term with an hour or two of radio air time. This to allow the astringent tannin to be tamed. Roger, Wilco that. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted May 2015 @castgabbiano@chianticlassico
Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2012, Yarra Valley, Australia ($29.95, WineAlign)
Culled from the upper and lower Yarra Valleys, the ’12 is a high-toned tome of rusty, dusty, ricochet in fruit. Seemingly warmer than its 13.5 alcohol suggests, but like the Arizona desert, it’s a dry heat. The metal urgency of sloping hillside impart is a bit tense. The is the OZ equivalent of terse Burgundy when mired in youth. The copious quantity of red fruit, both tart and ripe, is admirably in and with more time, beyond the current anxious phase, will come around again. The depth of flavour and grain ingrained in texture pushes the point. The finish is distinctly parallel and long. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted May 2015
Etude Pinot Gris 2013, Carneros, California ($39.95, WineAlign)
Made in Pinot Gris exactitude, of inklings warm, in certitude dry, to intimations Alsatian, with nobly bitter flavours and a wealth of grape tannin. The preceding aromas recalled late August orchard’s stone fruit. With lieu-dit (think Altenbourg) premier cru (equivalent) ability, this is a very stylish Pinot Gris with layers of fruit and acidity. It’s certainly one for the cellar, to forget and allow for a secondary set of developments, in wax, honey and atmospheric, elemental aerified notions. Quite fearless PG. Were it $30, it would surely be a multi-case buy. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted May 2015 @etudewines@CarnerosWine
Mas Las Cabes Côtes Du Roussillon 2012, Ac Côtes Du Roussillon, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($19.75, WineAlign)
Beautifully funky southern French Syrah-Grenache meld, at once warm and then modern, entrenched in earth and laden with a smother and a smoulder. Syrupy but characterful far beyond simple, with spice, savour and garagiste intent. The garrigue accent runs across the grain in high altitude, windswept ways. Solid protein red for any day of the week and a candidate for restaurant list partner. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted August 2015 @LanguedocWines
Frank Family Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, California ($42.75, WineAlign)
A really lovely Zinfandel, of pure red fruits and just a fine, delineating, if zig-zagging swath of bramble. Though the alcohol (listed at 14.8 per cent) is anything but peckish, the heat does not overtake the fruit. This has so many barbecue forms and fetishes written into its DNA. It will comply with nary a complaint. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted August 2015 @FrankFamilyWine@TheZinfandelOrg
Point blank Barberesco, autarchic and traditional, built on memories and bent on making new ones. From a clay-limestone, south facing, single vineyard in a cru called Montersino (in the Treiso commune). Where it differs from the Ronchi is the natural cure coursing in slow food motion through its blood stream, carrying micro-oxygenated blood. There are notes of crushed aniseed and sweaty clay. The mouthfeel is silkier, more refined and the tannins sweeter. Can actually imagine this pleasing sooner and also for longer. Drink 2017-2032. Tasted August 2015 @regionepiemonte
Kudyah is the arabic name for the Sicilian town of Licodea Eubea nearest to Terre di Giurfo’s vineyards. Quite classic, rich, ruby red raspberry and earth Nero d’Avola. Tons of fruit, chews of liquorice and a mineral finish add up to a very direct, simple pleasure. A scrape of orange zest adds a florality to lift spirits and relieve stress. Just a bit salutary and saline on the finish. Very honest Nero. Tasted 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015 @WinesOfSicily
Statuesque, rustic, ancient ruin of Franciacorta, on a clear day, of tall grasses, oxidative apples and slices of hard Lombardian cheese. A total, classical, storied package of gastronomy in a bottle. Not so much Rosé as much as bubbles with a fostered history of age. Arid as the desert and piercing from acidity. This will be misunderstood by some, reveled in by others. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015 @contadicastaldi@Franciacorta
Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2011, Doc Umbria, Italy ($50.50, WineAlign)
From arguably a better vintage than 2012, this Montefalco exhibits a deeper treasury of fruit, thankful and necessary to handle the wood it has been dealt. The fusion into such a sanguine and ferric stream has been achieved with more direct consciousness than the free-feeling and liberismo 2012 normale. The red fruit here is dense, steroidal even, yet still pure and direct. Largesse in rusticity is the plainly assessed goings on, chewy and dusty, a figure head for Sagrantino in Umbria. This is Italian wine to define the meaning of provinciale, deeply ingrained for place, history and tradition. Like its baby brother it will need time to settle but not so much that the fruit submits to the tannin. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted July 2015
It has finally happened. It has come to this. Inflation has hit the LCBO. The old Mason-Dixon line for finer wine has left the building. We are finally rid of the oppressive bar of redundancy and free from the high water mark. First it was the penny, now it’s the $20 dollar bill. The over-under threshold of $21.95 is the new $19.95.
The wines I have chosen to recommend speak to the change, beginning with, going forth and prospering from the VINTAGES October 17th, 2015 release. One lonely bottle from the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia’s west coast stands to keep the frontier from moving north but the tide has risen and prices are no longer safe. Mark my words. Beginning in the fall of 2015, a twenty and a toonie in your pocket is the new requiem to make purchase for the common denominator in competent and felicitous dinner companions. On that note, everyone should be given a 20 per cent raise. Surely we don’t want any drinking of less than stellar LCBO issued wines.
Here are the picks.
From left to right: San Raffaele Monte Tabor Pinot Grigio 2014, Dirty Laundry Gewurztraminer Madames 2013, Palacios Remondo La Montesa 2012, Trimbach Riesling 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2013, and Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013 and Hinterland Borealis Method Charmat Rosé 2014
San Raffaele Monte Tabor Pinot Grigio 2014, Igt Veronese, Italy (204768, $14.95, WineAlign)
Ripeness extended out of extraction leads to slight distraction in 2014, with mineral notes falling off the charts. The vintage is one of hyperbole for this particular Pinot Grigio abstraction, fruit compressed, stones crushed and dry extract seared by arid ice. Salinity and brine are magnified too though the overall impression in ’14 is one of weight, like the elements are being sent substrata, as opposed to the typically aerified course. Still there can be no denying the complexity such a $14 white affords, even if the line here is a bit right of centre. Drink now for hedonistic pleasure, with any savoury sea creature and alongside the next 60 days of increasingly cooler nights. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted September 2015 @oenophilia1
Dirty Laundry Gewurztraminer Madames 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (423228, $21.95, WineAlign)
Illustrated Gewürztraminer of appreciably pointed attributes, on the off-dry side of town but with enough acidity to float on. Les Madames offers up the most sweet and inviting set of vinous virtues for the triple-threat DL schematic. The Summerland vines and warmth make for a fully expected and dramatized aromatic wine with the most unctuous behaviour. Were the pH and the grape tannin of a higher combined force this would also be a wine to lay down, to wait and watch for the sugars to slowly develop into things tertiary. As it is, find some flavourful and spicy fare to seek succulence through osmosis. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015 @DirtyLaundryVin@winebcdotcom@bottleneckdrive
This perennial confluence of the left and the right, of two oceans, grapes and barrels is the red wine portal into the Álvaro Palacios idiom. The modern polish and sanctity of Rioja conjoin for the most representative first pass at Tempranillo-Garnacha you will and should encounter. The vintage is not a rigid one, the wine a downy entry into the style and the equation. The fruit dominates calcareous longing and leaning but for the time being and the audience reached out to, there are no questions or complaints. Red plum and subtle liquorice meander into clay, get a sprinkle of white rock and distill into a seasoned, approachable liquid. Cracks are filled, bonds are cemented and dinner is properly accompanied. What won’t this work with and for? Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015 @WoodmanWS@RiojaWine
“Six plus months will do wonders” is a statement of probability for well-made Riesling and for Trimbach, of the obvious. Coequality between fruit and mineral bobs on the surface of the vineyard and the rim of pale platinum beauty. Illustrative Alsace. Drink 2015-2022.
From my earlier note of March 2015:
To Jean and Anne Trimbach and most Alsatians, this Riesling from their ‘Classic’ range may represent the best that basic can be but when it travels oversees it gains a stature well beyond its humble roots. Here is another one of the those dictionary entry wines meant to depict and define. Quite simply emblematic Alsace. Built with acidity to envelop sweetness, marked by herbiage that is alive and fresh. Weight and density draw from Ribeauvillé rocks. Parity is realized in osmosis by fruit and mineral. As always, there is the tannic underlay, the length and the purposed bitter finish.
Six months have amplified the current, running in a direct aromatic-flavour line from strawberry to black currant. Such healthy up front fruit with nary a moment of humidity shines while the wine remains just grounded enough to call it Niagara.
From my earlier note of December 2014:
Still organic through and through, despite only a small portion of estate fruit contributing to the overall design of the Triomphe Cabernet Franc ’13. Contracted growers fuel and fulfill the Southbrook ideology, to seek purity in healthy berries. The red fruit here shines on with Daliesque impunity. Its agglomeration makes a juicy, gregarious offer to sip. The vanilla-lavender streak brings elegance, more so than in ’12, along with an elevated sense of savour and really compounded red, red fruit. A natural sweetness and long finish are easy on the gustatory senses. Will be available at VINTAGES in February 2015, when the ’12 runs dry.
Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia (58073, $21.95, WineAlign)
The Mornington perfume, distinct, ethereal, lifted, elevated, fresh with a bit sauvage, not of musk, but of a wild road less trodden. A step beyond fresh, into learned territory and also above crisp, into crunchy. Very interesting and complex Pinot Noir, so obvious as anything but, yet unique, tart, striking and long. This should have many consumer fans and expand horizons for broad appeal, but also be a friend to the discerning taster. Most impressive. Tasted November 2014 @RedHillEstate@Noble_Estates
The Ancestral cousin continues its arid ways in 2014, ostensibly a better vintage for the sparkling tank methodology. The fruit, acidity, volatility and tension all elevate and there is nothing surprising about that but where this sophomore succeeds is in the dry take on Gamay bubbles. So many winemakers would be tempted into higher dosage and the soft allure of enticing a younger audience with sweetness. Jonas Newman won’t go there. This is fun and simple but its aridity and dry extract keep it real. Like a September Algonquin campsite gaze upwards at the Aurora Borealis. “The icy sky at night.” Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015 @hinterlandwine
From left to right: Creekside Estate Reserve Viognier Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2011, Tenuta Rocca Barolo 2010, Cvne Imperial Reserva 2009, Prunotto Barolo 2010, Tawse Pinot Noir Lauritzen Vineyard 2012, Duckhorn Merlot 2012 and Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello Di Montalcino 2010
Exceedingly mineral in 2013, decidedly varietal and power prepositioned for the purpose of small lot, attention to detail Creekside adjudication. Though Syrah and Cabernet Franc would seem to define the winery’s signature strokes, it is this small production Queenston Road Vineyard labour of love that crawls beneath the radar. The ’13 is outright juicy, unctuous, feathered in weight and warm-pitched to verdant greens. The vintage doles out more warmth than expected but acidity carries the weight, over the water and onto the dance floor. I’d wait a couple of years for some more floral and honeyed notes to develop. Drink 2017- 2022. Tasted October 2015 @CreeksideWine@hobbsandco
This is rich and powerful Mencia, even for itself, sheathed and layered by the alternating variegation of French and American oak. From Alliers to Missouri there is comfort to be found in its warm blanket, alcohol (14.5 degrees) and depth of fruit. It might come across as figgy and raisined and indeed those aromas and flavours are imagined, but they are fresh, not dried. Acidity and tannin envelop fruit. Old vines offer substantial heft, concentration and brambly fruit like Zinfandel and Primitivo, but here there is a citrus lift to carry the weight. Emblematic Bierzo that has and will be more exciting with just that much more freshness and tension. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015 @DominiodeTares@oenophilia1@dobierzo
Modern speak and safely on the pleasurable side of volatile. A real deal for Nebbiolo, ready and willing in afford of whatever’s in your pocket. Framework is well-delineated, wood properly judged, the view clearly visible from multiple correct vantage points. Not earth shattering but at the price reaches more than appropriate goals. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2015 @regionepiemonte
Another impressive, formidable and structured Tempranillo from the Cvne stable, from old vineyards and the comforts of both French and American oak. Such a rich and deep exhalant, as much fruit as tannin, mineral as acidity. There are many moving parts but one day they will align. Like a jigsaw falling into place, “the beat goes round and round,” swirling with tannic noise and plum fruit aromas, with earthy and botanical flavours. This begins with a murmur and ends with thunder. It rocks and wails in between. Rioja made only in the best vintages and the kind of $39 wine to lay down for 15 plus years. It will play on the radio and in your head for at least that long. Drink 2019-2029. Tasted October 2015 @Cvne@vonterrabev@RiojaWine
The faintest hue. The rusty pilgrim. Such a pretty scent. Fresh roses and the beginnings of osseous imagination, to seek a classic pairing, with osso bucco. The real deal in normale Barolo. The righteous Nebbiolo beginning. The jumping off point with no sharks in the water. The effortless offering. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2015 @HalpernWine
Typically Tawse and exemplary of Lauritzen. The highest of the vineyard tones and a plot up on a ridge (now 11 years of age) growing up before our eyes. The fruit is not shy in any way. Possessive of earth alternating with min real neither Cherry nor Quarry nor Laidlaw can lay claim. This is a Pender Pinot that seethes, oozes and owns its vineyard’s fruit, rocks and clay, earth and elements. Upwards and drying, with tannins that shriek. Ripping and yet at once, a few years down the road to be, elegant Pinot Noir. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted September 2015 @Tawse_Winery@Paul_Pender@DanielatTawse
Always rich and flavourful, the champion vintage here elicits a nearly massive Merlot in benchmark Napa ideal. This has strength in situation and there is something you can’t quite put a finger on, but it emanates from a special brand of umami. Strength, poise and sweetness that never cloys. There grades a balanced capability and pure, grainy, sweet, supple tannin. Alcohol travels a really grand yet gracious line. It’s not hot at all. This is a Merlot steal, with fruit to match a long, meandering road. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted September 2015 @duckhornwine@rogcowines@NapaVintners
Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy (372250, $69.95, WineAlign)
Arguably the most modern and stylishly put together Brunello on the market today yet without an overdoing of oak hinderance. Like the deliciously devilish 2007 this has a wealth of beauty and gregarious aromatics but unlike that precocious vintage there is weight and brooding behaviour as well. The depth of fruit and earth are not weighted down by excessive alcohol (a very good thing) though there is a bit of dried fruit and flowers mixed in to the cure. There is also a bitter almond pith note ties into the aggressive but starry-eyed tannins. This needs three to five years to come together. The hope is for that slight bit of green tannin to find its integrated way with the fruit. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted October 2015 @CastelloBanfi@AuthenticWineON
Time, tides and wine. In a place like the Bay of Fundy, the three intertwine with nearly inexplicable lightness of being. The traveler covets these things in wistful retrospection. East coast movement, water and the new frontier for viniculture. “Each day the tides carried us to promulgate layovers, to begin flowing again each seriate day, at the hour of its reversal.”
While the exercise of a vinous walking tour would seem to fitly tread the boards of Nova Scotia’s watery ways, even more so for stations achieved by bicycle, a car makes possible the desire to learn more in less time. The roads in Nova Scotia wine country lay out as an inferential and navigable labyrinth, in the Gaspereau Valley and along the shores of the Minas Basin, from Wolfville to Grand-Pré of King’s County. There, unbeknownst to who knows how many zonked global winos, the wines of Nova Scotia not so much hide as crouch. They are a real, new deal, fervidly expensive to those who don’t yet understand them, free to those who do. They are poised to join the ranks along with Canada’s best.
Peter Gamble has reached out a major hand to three essential facets for Nova Scotia’s wine renaissance. His consultancy has raised the profile and the bar for Sparkling wine from Benjamin Bridge Vineyards. He has been instrumental in the creation of the provincial appellative blend Tidal Bay, a regionally defining and commercially essential white wine. Ontario has fallen behind in not seeking out to create the same. Gamble’s work with the vinifera producing wines of Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards is the single most important revolution to happen in the Canadian wine industry in 20 years. I wrote this last summer. “What he will touch in his new appointment at Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards will make Nova Scotia history.”
Courtyard of Le Caveau at Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards
Over the course of two days in late July I foraged through a second annual investigation into the Wines of Nova Scotia. It began with a tasting through the Domaine De Grand Pré Vineyards portfolio led by Hanspeter Stutz. The estate’s Vintner’s Reserve Riesling 2013 was recently awarded one of three Awards for Excellence in Nova Scotia Wines at the recent Lieutenant Governor’s Vice-Regal Wine Awards. The other two winners were Blomidon Estate Winery Cuvée L’Acadie 2010 and Avondale Sky Winery Martock 2012. Blomidon and Avondale Sky are two estates at the top of my WONS bucket list I have yet to visit.
Le Caveau’s Beef Two Ways, grilled AAA hanger steak, beef shank galette, seasonal vegetables, barley
The following morning I sat down with Rachel and winemaker Josh Horton at Lightfoot, then travelled shotgun with Mike to taste at Bruce Ewart’s L’Acadie Vineyards. The estate’s Cuvée Rosé 2011 was awarded a Silver medal and the Vintage Cuvée 2012 a Bronzeat the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC15). We then paid a visit to Benjamin Bridge to peruse a Sparkling meets still appraisal with head winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and vineyard manager Scott Savoy.
Smell the slate and taste the natatory saliva, like liquid shells from the grape that transmits nascent maritime theology. Consider this variety that accentuates the terroir and reaches beneath the mud, to imagined aquifers for deep-rooted flavour
L’Acadie the grape variety harbours one of the great acidity secrets on the planet. Sparkling wine is possessive of dramatic excellence in Nova Scotia. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are moments away from certain greatness.
Le Caveau’s Charcuterie Plate, house-made and locally sourced, served with chutney, shallot compote and spiced bread
“The wines of Nova Scotia could not be drunk in the 1990’s. None of them.” These are the words of a now very proud Hanspeter Stutz, who in 1993 purchased the estate and re-planted 30 acres. The doors opened in 2000. In can be argued that no one in Nova Scotia has accomplished more and furthered the credibility of hybrid-produced wines than Hanspeter and (winemaker-son) Jürg Stutz.
Godello and Hanspeter Stutz at Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards
Domaine de Grand Pré Riesling Vintner’s Reserve 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $20, WineAlign)
Imagine lime as a tide, ripening in extreme oscillating waves and layers like the highs and lows of Fundy’s Minas Basin. Only a dike could stop the citrus from rising and falling twice at normal sipping speed within the time it takes to assess through a glass. Lactic and piercing with a finish that pops, like no other Riesling in the world. Such a lingering finish. Healthy in correct perspective at 11 per cent alcohol. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted July 2015
Domaine de Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2014 and Riesling Reserve 2013
Hanspeter’s favourite wine is this blend of L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Ortega, Muscat and Vidal Blanc. Using the maximum allowable 15 per cent Muscat Hanspeter explains the choice to “do fruity, with our strength and to a dry finish.” Muscat acts as the catalyst to achieve this end. At 11 per cent abv it is not overdone, remains in balance and leads the Tidal Bay armada. Defines terroir within a properly determined fragrant framework specific to the Nova Scotia appellative intention. Rocks no boats and expresses more character than a rhyme with bucket or most. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015
Domaine de Grand Pré Seyval Blanc 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $17, WineAlign)
The DGP equivalent of Chasselas along the Lake Geneva shoreline, straightforward, 12 per cent alcohol juicy, pure white simplicity. For those who would pin this hybrid to “empty cold and bare,” open your mind and conceptualize Seyval to be fish friendly to a Swiss degree. Terrific lemon acidity and smoke on the water bitters put this in perfect mind of place, with good length. White flames to deep purple. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
A smoky, unambiguous tobacco kiln and blueberry Baco. Sour cherry, salumi and pepper infuse the vina da tavola feel and like Syrah goes as meaty as can be. Refreshing because it smacks of Baco Noir, not oak. Rad sour finish. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted July 2015
Domaine de Grand Pré Castel Vintner’s Reserve 2014, Nova Scotia (Winery, $19.50, WineAlign)
The crossroads varietal happening is on display here with Cinsault and a member of the native North American Vitis ruprestis family (by Pierre Castel). Four to five thousand bottles of peppery black run off convey a taste of pickled black raspberries, cut by major chalk and minor tannin. Juicy and ready for roast game. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015
The reds of Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards
Domaine de Grand Pré Cabernet Foch 2012, Nova Scotia (Winery, $25, WineAlign)
Only made in top vintages (when Cabernet Sauvignon ripens) and in those years the Foch welcomes the bones and body, for ageability in accord with agreeability. Travels from Cassis to tar, chocolate to sour cherry. Chalk again, this time in grains of liquid sand and a pepper-laced finale. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015
Domaine de Grand Pré Foch Vintner’s Reserve 2012, Nova Scotia (Winery, $25, WineAlign)
Without the parenting role performed by Cabernet Sauvignon the Foch abandons the homestead and goes it alone. Kind of ironic considering the vinifera is the guest but old world pedigree and custom is hard to replicate. A mix of lead pencil, a curtailment of fruit and fermentation by attrition. A wild ride of savoireverte, tar and resilient verity. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
And I quote. “This blended red wine was created in honour of Tom Preston. Tom was probably the longest-serving field hand in the Nova Scotia wine industry. His career at Grand Pré placed him near the center of its remarkable growth; as witness, contributor and mentor to those who tend the vineyards today. Tom passed away in 2014 only two years after his retirement from the vineyards.” This 1300 bottle debut tribute consolidates 60 per cent Marquette from two vintages with Baco Noir and Cabernet Foch. The second encomium will go under another moniker. A blend that softens in simpatico, ripens with one another and pitches in together. There is cure in its depth with red plum on the road to palate. Quite the coat of veneer. All red fruit, incumbent acidity and red lactic citrus circulating throughout. To Tom. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015
Domaine de Grand Pré Riesling Icewine 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $54.50, WineAlign)
From Warner Vineyards in Lakeville, Nova Scotia. Barrel fermented and aged in American oak for 10 months. Incredible acidity on top of pure fruit that indicates pear and white fleshed peach. The yield comes from an orchard’s northern clime stone groove with nary an apricot in mind. This wine, as with the table whites and reds, never takes itself too seriously. In the words of Hanspeter “just have fun and work on it. That’s a start.” Drink 2017-2025. Tasted July 2015
“Tirage and terroir,” asserts Bruce Ewart, a pile of vineyard rocks and stones separating he and I on the tasting counter between us. The rocks are quarried out of slopes in the Gaspereau Valley spilling down towards the Bay of Fundy, from vineyards built of glacial till in the soil mixed with clay and loam. “Mineral flavours from mineral soils,” adds Ewart. Then we taste.
Godello and Bruce Ewart of L’Acadie Vineyards
L’Acadie is the signature grape of the L’AV command. When sourced from clay-loam it produces fruitier wines, from still to sparkling. The mineral increases from out of the glacial till. L’Acadie is certified organic and all of their wines are made with 100 per cent Nova Scotia grapes.
Glacial till stones of L’Acadie Vineyards
Bruce goes straight for the critical jugular and pulls out the best Sparklers in his portfolio. Make no mistake, no matter the hybrid content, the wines are cogent sticks of Nova Scotian dynamite with unprecedented levels of balance. They are as unheralded as any in North America. The only other house with less attention yet paid to its méthode traditionnelle programme that I have encountered is Sparkling Pointe on the North Fork of Long Island. Yet another example for a cool-climate region’s reason to make bubbles.
Sparkling wines of L’Acadie Vineyards, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia
L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (Winery, $45, WineAlign)
From the second harvest (following the 2008 vintage was from 2005 fruit) of the certified organic vineyard, a south facing Gaspereau Valley rocky plot blessed of ancient geology, like crushed pills of polar pottery and with perfect natural low vigour conditions. That first vintage of some 100 odd bottles still rests and will do so for likely up to seven or eight years. The 2009 is made in the traditional method and aged for five years on the lees. All estate fruit and that 60 months is needed to bring about harmony. Toasty, part cruller, part panettone and brut to the point of profundity (was six and is now 3 g/L of residual sugar). Bitters melt into length with alcohol set at 11.6 per cent. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted July 2015
L’Acadie Vineyards Vintage Cuvée 2012, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (Winery, $26, WineAlign)
A Cuvée cut with a bowie from grower’s fruit on clay-loam soils with less triage (24 months) than the other sparklers in the L’Acadie oeuvre. A fruit forward expression, persistent in biscuit baking but the result is more cookie than croissant. Reads like an eight line poem, the higher dosage (8 g/L) in drama of orchard fruit and lime zest. Hunky dory bubbles, “the key to the city, is in the sun that pins the branches to the sky, oh, oh, oh.” Drink 2015-2019. Tasted July 2015
L’Acadie Vineyards Cuvée Rosé 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (Winery, $26, WineAlign)
Blends dramatically early-picked Marechal Foch (40 per cent) with less antecedent specific to bubbly-grown L’Acadie (60) grapes. The Foch brings can/rasp/strawberry to the system of sparkling reckoning, in subject meaning for the latter to chastise with acidity. Comes to light like a new sparkling day, an awakening of bubbles senses, with a balanced attack of fruit flavours ushered within the pressured caisson of L’Acadie’s mineral chamber. Salinity, brine, sapidity and red citrus roll on. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015
L’Acadie Vineyards Rosé 2014, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia(Winery, $20, WineAlign)
An early picked Marechal Foch, lithe 11.6 per cent alcohol, crushed berry beauty. Terrific aridity, aromatic allure and redundant in nix of residual sugar. Another nerdy, essential example of what can be done with Rosé in Nova Scotia. Cranberry and strawberry expressed through citrus with the always necessary mineral balance provided by L’Acadie, in every reason, for harmony. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015
L’Acadie VineyardsEstate L’Acadie 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (Winery, $20, WineAlign)
Here the mineral and bone in till from the strong, outstretched arm of the sea lends sentient clarity, joined by the earth it bares. Smell the slate and taste the natatory saliva, like liquid shells from the grape that transmits nascent maritime theology. Consider this variety that accentuates the terroir and reaches beneath the mud, to imagined aquifers for deep rooted flavour. Think about vines that delve into the glacial recesses to divine subaqueous locution. As a hybrid L’Acadie may seem obtuse but as a Nova Scotian reality it may as well be Muscadet, or even Chablis. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015
L’Acadie Vineyards Passito 2012, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia(Winery, $23, WineAlign)
A Ripasso-style red made from 30 per cent dried grapes. An intriguing approach for hybrids and cool climate viticulture. Marechal Foch and Leon Millot are aged in American oak. The discerning is of dried figs and prunes, foxy and slick. Characterful, like duck prosciutto and dried, sour cherry liquorice, spiked by fennel seed and dipped into a pool of savoury syrup. Very interesting. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
L’Acadie Vineyards Alchemy 2010, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia(Winery, $43, WineAlign)
Here the Ripasso steps up to Appassimento. In 2009 the work was performed with 75 per cent Leon Millot and 25 Luci Kuhlmann aged for 24 months in American oak. The 100 per cent methodology in 2012 in the 500 mL bottle is all Foch and nothing but. Leads to a deeper brood, of rich, chocolate flavour melted and hardened over blackberry and a wild hit of sauvage. Intense red smouldering with tobacco and finishing in pulsating fashion, like currants on steroids. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015
Jean Benoit Deslauriers, along with viticulturalist Scott Savoy leads Mike Lightfoot and I through a transaction of Sparkling and still wines in the BB portfolio. Deslauriers offers a concise dissertation on phenolic maturity as a journey incarnate, out of the Gaspereau Valley’s long growing season, mitigated by the east west corridor. He talks on moisture vs heat and the dichotomy of swelling berries. “Its not California here” he says with a wry smile and I can tell he’s pleased with his winemaking lot in life. Here it’s real, tapping into hang time, phenolics and utterly eccentric levels of dry extract.
Tasting at Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia
Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, $49.95, WineAlign)
Even if it’s not the first Bridge record, a milestone moment is here in this the last wine with hybrid contents (within this particular BB program). Though it houses 10 per cent Chardonnay and 10 per cent Pinot Noir, the remainder (80) is Seyval Blanc, L’Acadie Blanc and Vidal. At this Brut level it’s so very bluesy and deceptive in consideration that it is a hybrid based wine, but at the sensory level, miles beyond and a whole other matter. The tempo is furious, the muscularity of tone like bebop in chorus. It has citrus fleshed, aromatically autolytic patisserie and caramelizing onion richness. It’s a searing, raging scintillant, still throbbing and thriving. There is so much grapefruit here in crazy intensity. Work with it and the toast, the brioche and the baking spices come out, come clean and linger. Drink 2015-2023. Tasted July 2015
Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2004, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $95.00, WineAlign)
The ’04 is hanging in beautifully, on a wire of impossible balance, at 11 years old not yet really transitioning. There is simply too much brightness for it to give up its youth. You have to strain your ears, nose and throat to assuage just a hint at oxygen, life affirming breaths and then a keener sense of toast and yeast. Still behold the grapefruit, a sign of remarkable adolescence, the hang time amplified and in mass hyperbole here, in this current appraisal, address and time. How can richness act and display with such alpha freshness? How can an aging body not shed baby weight, turn lanky, lean and awkward? How is it neither the bitter pill of juvenility or senility has been swallowed? That is not the case here in a Blanc de Blancs which still has five to seven years of very active life ahead. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted July 2015
Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign)
From dry extracts that were off the charts, the ’08 comes to play with massive intensity. A unique Co2 effervescence, expansive instead of contracting. A wine of palate sensory driven speculation and assessment. Unrelenting mousse, exploding outwards, persisting straight through to the finish. Richness matches the foundation of freshness, with a full citrus fruit palate. Density from super low yields (a decadent tonne per acre, 1/6th of champagne) in another cool year, or in other words, “a vintage of opportunity.”
From my earlier note of July 2014:
The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.
Derived from veritas, the Latin word for truth. If Tidal Bay is an appellative Nova Scotia blend that walks from the sea, Vēro is the Bridge’s worthy adversary that emerges from the land. This vintage is composed of 35 per cent Chardonnay, 10 Sauvignon Blanc, 15 Riesling, 20 Ortega and 20 Vidal. It appeals with an increase of ore and aridity, despite and in spite of 17 g/L of residual sugar. It is a formidable, linear, focused, 11 per cent alcohol straight shooter. Hybrids speak in foxy white linen and lace. A striking and popping white blend. Quite wild, really. 500 cases made. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
As in the forward ’14, this ’13 is again built on the foundation of freshness and the highest of aromatic components. Percentages are (60) Chardonnay, (30) L’Acadie and (10) Riesling, the latter of which is noticeable, adding petrol and terpene to the still beating, vibrant palate. Compounded by full flesh on viscous mouthfeel. Has a natural, nearly oxidative feel just beginning to happen so it behooves to ask if these are the wines that define idealism as adversary to the stylistic Tidal Bay way? Finishes with terrific bitters and a L’Acadie oyster shell coarseness. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted July 2015
Benjamin Bridge Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, Nova Scotia (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)
A Nova Scotia first, this blush made from 100 per cent Cabernet Franc. The minerality comes straight from stone, sans flint, and the epigrammatic aromatic notion is saucissons and rillettes, not wild berry. Simulacrum to a Loire Valley format, like Chèvre on a log after a forest rainstorm. Stone age Breton on exhibit. Salinity and aridity in spite of its meagre 7 g/L RS. Bright, fresh and vivid tones are wrapped up in the enigma of very cool climate grown Cabernet Franc. Sea and brine entrammel the flavours. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
There is really no vintage in, vintage out agenda on a journey to categorical dryness for Nova 7, so it is thrown like caution to the Fundy wind and fermented at lower temperatures. The risk road taken preserves the Co2, which stays in the solution instead of leaving, thanks to the cool temperatures. Terpenes, phenols and esters remain. Low alcohol (8 per cent), elevated (80 g/L) RS, aromatics and effervescence are the amalgamated result. A unique wine out of an extreme environment, this is a plainly, nearly painfully mother humming cliffhanger from Benjamin Bridge. Beautifully waxy, of a pink aridity, brightness, fresh acidity with a dry finish, in as much as such a level of sweetness can allow. Will stay fresh, age and linger for five to seven years, easy. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted July 2015
Natural challenges, winter temperatures in the -20 range, late frosts, hurricanes. Welcome to growing grapes in Nova Scotia. And yet Lightfoot & Wolfville is producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Mike Lightfoot attributes vine survival to nutritional balance in the natural systems through organic and biodynamic viticulture.
Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rosé
The pioneering activities do not end there. L & W has also added 4.5 acres of rare and classic vinifera to their “Corton” Oak Island vineyard. Chenin Blanc, Scheurabe, Sauvignon Blanc, Kékfrankos just to name a few. “These grapes were chosen based on climate and soil chemistry,” with the future in mind, for sparkling, still, and sweet wines.
These are the wines I tasted (from bottle and tank/barrel samples) in July with winemakers Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot.
A sneak peak at Lightfoot and Wolfville’s Tidal Bay
Lightfoot & Wolfville Tidal Bay 2014, Nova Scotia (Winery, Approx. $21-22, WineAlign)
A Muscat-less blend of Geisenheim, L’Acadie Blanc, Chardonnay and Chasselas with a directive to drive by aromatics if easy on the turns. A Tidal Bay borne on the architecture of spine, a step shy of sacra perfume. A white to pair with local necessity, a seafood marker, a buoy to the stock pot and the grill. Its release is imminent (the intention was between August 17th to 27th). Represents pure citrus distillate, in lemon and lime, with a median balancing action in 12 g/L of residual sugar, which really doesn’t show, no, not even close, though certainly the acidity balance helps (9 g/L of TA). Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015
Lightfoot & Wolfville Rosé 2014, Nova Scotia(Winery, Approx. $18-20, WineAlign)
Pinot-driven, of Noir and Pinot Meunier with tiny amounts of Geisenheim and Frontenac Rouge. Arid, rusty, simply and purposefuly pale red that emerges straight from the earth. Has a plasma sensation, with lemon and dry red earth. Natural feel. A cure of veal. More structured than even its makers are giving early credit for. A portal to the more ”serious” solo, mano a mano Pinot/Pinot to come. A hue and style originated and heading in the right direction. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
Welcome to the new Chardonnay ethos, an east coast compages for la belle nouvelle écosse, the new borderland for Canadian vinifera. The respite found in Lightfoot & Wolfville’s first release is like breathing for the first time. As I noted a year ago while tasting through (mostly older) barrel trials, I have unearthed a Canadian winery animated in the architectural rendering of Premier Cru Chablis. Full textured, creamy aromatics, layers of lace and luxe, popping acidity and with length stretched to service now and later. Approximately 135 cases made. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted July 2015
I see the light. Innaugaural releases of Lightfoot and Wolfville’s Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013
If de novo for Pinot Noir is to be found in Nova Scotia then count me in because the inaugural release from Lightfoot & Wolfville is the trailblazer for and from the extrinsic frontier. Tasting the painstakingly measured yet barely handled 2013 for the first time (from bottle) is like falling into a glass of Nova Scotia cherries. Somehow there is this simultaneous and virtual voyage abroad to imagine a comparison with Nuits-Saint-Georges, in its earth crusted, sanguine, welled up tension that begs questions and belies answers. A year yonder the taste from barrel and what can be said? Pinot Noir adjudicated, into a cortex of recognizable consciousness and thus into the natural Nova Scotia mystic. Ignore and forgive the dope of first returns, for no one could have imagined such ripeness and immediate gratification. Future releases will dial back in the name of structure. That said, in 2013 there is a red citrus, ferric debate that will send this to an exordium seven years down the road. Impossible inaugural release. Approximately 50 cases made. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted July 2015
Lightfoot & Wolfville Sparkling Blanc de Blancs 2012 (Sample)
Not yet disgorged with a plan for leaving them for five to seven years on the lees. From estate fruit (five year-old vines at the time) tanking in stainless, with no dosage. Full input charged citrus reminds of Brut Zero (i.e. Tarlant) in its classic, linear, straight pierce, dart to the heart. Needs lees texture for body which time will accord. Really classically styled.
Lightfoot & Wolfville Sparkling Blanc de Blancs 2012 (Second Sample)
Here the use of a small amount of oak. A slight bit of reductiveness (being employed as an idea going forward in defining a house style) shows up as smoke and flint. The triage leads to green apple and a different kind of citrus, with more body and warmth, partly in alcohol but more so elegance and a linger in this not so fleeting fizz.
Ripeness, of phenolic targets hit for the second year on a row. In 2014, marked a reduction experiment, from a brand new demi-barrel, seeking a covering up of the reductive qualities. An approach to amalgamate the best of both worlds.
Lightfoot & Wolfville Rosé 2014 (Tank Sample)
Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. An hour or two quick breaking of the skins on the press. Incredible aromatics, chewy, with a pepper kick, of an edge that will be smoothed over by a bit of residual in the finished wine. Just the right proper citrus ands a touch of animale. So special. Potential release is late September/Early October.
The recent releases of Lightfoot & Wolfville’s Tidal Bay and Rosé 2014 were met with much ado in the Halifax wine bars, just like the reception giventhe Pinot Noir and Chardonnay one month before. Naysayers (including some critics who have tasted these wines) want to burst the bubble, not because of truth but out of a closed mind set that will not allow for change, or evolution. The treatment in contempt of possibility is born of narrow, jaded vision. Despite the exceptional and opprobrious hurdles that climate places on vinifera and its attempted journey to phenolic ripeness, L & W, Benjamin Bridge, Domaine de Grand Pré and L’Acadie Vineyards are ripening grapes, beyond and along with winter-resistant hybrids. Advanced viticulture and winemaking prowess are primed for the new Nova Scotia millennium, on the new frontier. Pay a visit and see for yourself. Then get ready for a policy change of the mind.
Travel. From either the early French travailler or Middle English travailen“to work hard,” “to make a journey” and “to torment.” The word conjures up intellection of exaggeration and impression, of simulacrum and eidolon. To think about picking up and going somewhere is nothing if not exciting. Embracing the notion of a journey makes mindful the portent for drifts far away and also those of inward retreat.
Travel in search of and on behalf of wine encompasses the territories defined in the etymology of the word. Yes, it is fun, certainly it can be glamorous and without equivocation, requires work ethic, stamina and focus. Then there is the travel, for work, with wine, to Greece. No journey with grapes in mind might be apprised in kind, of reflection, revelation and utter exhalation than what dwells in a rendezvous in specie with the northern Peloponnese. In Achaia, the confluence of grapes, gastronomy and tourism simply blows the mind. It also brings about utter balance and an ingress back down to earth.
The variegated landscape of Achaia, from Selinous to Kalavryta, from Patras to Ano Diakofto, are to a winemaker a place of great passion, history and in many respects, a supernatural calling from the processes of human imagination. It is here where the great Greek paradox is lived, like mysticism and mathematics conjoined, in the attitude of Greek philosophical winemaking. The work is achieved through the dichotomy of platonic thought and socratic character. Making wine from endemic or indigenous grapes is a calling to a higher love, in spite of harsh conditions, geographical difficulties and the relative channels of global obscurity.
Winemakers do not worry or care about what stands in their way. Here they make wine because that is what they know from, but now it is more than that. Today the younger, aspiring viti-viniculturalists have European oenology degrees and come armed with a profane, ecumenical arsenal to make clean and progressive wines. The whole consolidation is awesome and yet Greek wine will never be mainstream. The people just like to drink their own wine. They export less than five per cent of their output and in Achaia, the number is even lower. It is high time for the world to sing bring me Achaia love.
Train from Ano Diokopto to Kalvryta
While the allure of vine and wine are the most important agricultural draws in Achaia, tourism is inextricably tied to points of interest dotted throughout the region. A ride up through the Vouraikos Canyon on the Diokfto to Kalavryta rack railway is essential towards understanding geology, topography and climate variation.
Cave of the Lakes (Spilaio Limnon)
The Monastery of Megalo Spileo (Big Cave) oversees the great sloping vineyard of the Cavino stable and the Cave of the Lakes (Spilaio Limnon) are one of the great wonders of the (under) world. The Hades connection is not lost on anyone who walks through the subterranean, mythos labyrinth of rock and water.
The port city of Patras houses the architecturally and historically significant early civilization collection at the Archaeological Museum of Patras. An Achaian visit is made complete on a spectacular Patras beach such as Pounta and a trip across (and return by ferry) the not to be believed until having seen it Rio-Antirio Bridge.
Rio-Antirrio Bridge, Patras
Now the food. The unavoidable truth in Achaian pastime is one of variegated and highly diverse gastronomy. The cuisine from down on the Rio-Patras shore and up into the hills of Eigalia and Kalavryta makes perfect and surfeited use of local products.
Athens Fish Market
Fish and lamb are at every meal though the briarean advantage of vegetarian options offers an immense and restorative upside. Meals are long, extensive and dangerously satiating.
To Katafygio, 15ο km. Provincial Road Poudas – Kalavrita, 30 269 109 7292, email@example.com.
The Greek Salad, To Katafygi, Egialia, Achaia
Home cooking at its Kalvritan best, of homemade spanakopita pie and braised meats to die for. Breathtaking view up in the mountains on the Kalavrita-Pounta Provincial road, on a pass with views of many peaks and the Corinthian Gulf.
By the glass, 3 G. Souris Str & Philellinon, Athens, Greece, 30 210 3232 560
Sometimes a little, persistent or incessant lobbying can effect change, even at the LCBO. At the Danforth outlet of the LCBO, the largest collection of Greek wines (said to exist outside of Greece) is now to be found. This is no doubt in part with thanks to Steve Kriaris of The Kolonaki Group. Mr. Kriaris and his successful online shopgreekwine.com is an innovative model to champion and sell Greek wine. Kudos to the liquor board for the leap of hellenic faith. Representation for Achaian wine is negligible, though you can purchase Tentura Liqueur by Loukatos. The Mega Spileo Red is currently being presented in the consignment program. (Represented by United Stars (Michael Polienko, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Authorities on Achaia
A visit to Achaia begins with the New Wines of Greece, the national inter-professional organization of vine and wine of Greece, based in Athens, headed up by Sofia Perpera and George Athanas. Perpera is a Bordeaux trained Oenologist and former Director of the Greek Wine Federation.
Menos Angelakis is head of the trade missions unit for Menos Angelakis is head of the trade missions unit for Enterprise Greece, 109 Vasillisis Avenue, 115 21, Athens, Greece, 30 210 335 5735, email@example.com
The Chamber of Achaia is the office charged with the responsibility for commerce and industry in Patras. Attorney Nora Nikolopoulou is the Head of International Relations, 58 Michalakopoulou str., 26221 Patras, 30 2610 277 779, firstname.lastname@example.org
Konstantinos Lazarakis MW is Greece’s only Master of Wine. Konstantinos is one of Greece΄s most ardent ambassadors and has written the definitive book on Greek wine, The Wines of Greece. He and his wife Antonia run one of the most heralded wine schools under WSET auspices and offer courses for the Court of Master of Sommeliers program. 6-8 Krinis Str., 185 39, Piraeus, Greece, 30 698 659 0404, email@example.com
Grigoris Michailos Aiws is a Sommelier and partner in the Wine Commanders, a web-based platform with the goal to “communicate our passion for Greek wine without exaggeration but with creativity and integrity and to persuade you to try them.” 30 6985941963, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dimostanos Zanakos works for Achaia tours. He may be young but is wise beyond his years. With Dimos as translator, mediator, cruise director and navigating wizard, a trip to Achaia runs with perfection.
This today by way of Sofia Perpera. “The Greek Embassy in Ottawa noted that Greek wine sales from January to July 2015 in Canada were up by 7,5% in value over the same period last year. The average wine imports of other countries were up by only 3,7%! #DrinkGreekWine
Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace
It has been more than 15 months since I returned from a pivotal, seminal and transmogrifying week in Alsace. The thoughts transposed to words continue to flow freely and with crystalline clarity. This may be the curtain call on that trip. Or not.
Type in the words “Alsace” and “philosophy” into a Google search page and the results will tell a Grand Cru story. The Alsace home page launches from terroir. It has to. Every winery, trade, marketing or governing organization’s website is ingrained to emphasize the rubric, to explain the true essence of Alsace wine. The local philosophy, indicating the cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine, is both necessary and fundamental. There is nothing remotely parenthetical about the notion of terroir, not in Alsace.
As wine geeks we are constantly seeking it out and sometimes we imagine it, chat it up when it’s not really there. After we are immersed in Alsace, we cannot deny its existence. Terroir, defined as “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography and climate.” Or, goûts de terroir, as in “taste of the earth.” Wherever wine is made around the world, soil is always as important, if not more important than any facet of the winemaking oeuvre. In Alsace, it is religion. I suss it, you suss it and in Alsace, they might say, “we all suss terroir.”
Alsace presents as a long strip of stupidly beautiful, verdant vistas, wedged between the faults and valleys forged with the Vosges Mountains on its west side and the Germany buffering Rhine River to the east. To consider its location as a province of France, drive 500 kilometres east of Paris and draw a line south from Strasbourg, to Colmar and to Basel. Wars have seen to make sure the region can never be too comfortable with its identity, causing an ever-annoying oscillation in governance.
Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal’s Fred Fortin
Alsatians are the possessed refugees of Europe, tossed around like orphaned children from one foster family to another. That they can be so comfortable in their own skin is to accept their conceit as a French paradox, through ignoring its Franco-Germanic past, its passage back and forth between hands and its current state as a region governed by France. The confluence of cultures and of shared borders (and airports) would think to cause a crisis of identity. The names of towns and villages may act out a who’s who or what’s what of French sobriquet and German spitzname. None of that matters. The people, the places, the food and the wine are purely and unequivocally in ownership of their own vernacular, dialect and culture: Alsatian.
When a winemaker wants to lay an insult upon you he will say something like “oh, that’s so Anglo-Saxon.” Ouch. He will mean it, for sure, but he will also grace you with a wink and a smile. He likes you and he respects your choice to come from far away to learn something of his wines. And you like him. The winemaker will also complement you when your palate aligns with his, when your thoughts intuit something about his acuity and his groove. His flattery will be genuine. The winemaker will pour old vintages and without a hem or a haw. She will share generously, not because she wants to sell more, but because she wants better people to drink her wine.
To ascertain a grip on the Alsace codex it must begin in the vineyard. The steep slopes, zig-zagging ridges and fertile valleys are composed of highly intricate, alternating and complex geological compositions. The landscape switches repeatedly from clay to marl, from calcaire (limestone) to schist, from volcanic to granitic rock. Each vineyard and even more parochial, each plot contributes to define the wine that will be made from that specific micro-parcel. The wine grower and winemaker’s job is to treat the soil with utmost respect. To plow the land, to add organic material, to refuse the use of fertilizers and to spray with solutions composed of non-chemical material.
Organic and biodynamic viticulture is widespread across the globe but Alsace is a leader in the practices, particularly in the latter’s holistic, asomatous way. Though more than 900 producers make wines, including many who do not partake in a bio-supernal and subterraneal kinship with the vines and the earth, the ones who do are fanatical about their winegrowing ways. Alsatian winemakers bond with their fruit, by employing the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s teachings as a predicate from which to apply spiritual connections to the physical act of tending vines.
Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim
The belief is that great wine can only be made from healthy, natural and disease resistant plants. Steiner’s studies on chemical fertilizers looked into the effect on plants growing near bombs in the earth. The growth was observed to be abnormal and unhealthy. Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer compared this to humans, who eat too much salt and thus need to drink too much. I tasted more than 150 naturally made wines from biodynamically farmed soils. The proof of quality and complexity is in the glass.
The winemaker of Alsace shows a respect for the earth that might be seen as a verduous variation on the teachings of theologian, philosopher, physician, medical missionary and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. The Alsatian-born Schweitzer gave to the world his theory on the “reverence for life,” a term he used for a universal concept of ethics. “He believed that such an ethic would reconcile the drives of altruism and egoism by requiring a respect for the lives of all other beings and by demanding the highest development of the individual’s resources.” The biodynamic approach, through its human to vegetable relationship, echoes the concept. Careful care not to disrupt the balance of nature allows the vines to develop the strength to survive and to flourish in less than optimum climatic conditions, especially during times of drought. The quality of grapes and in turn, the complexity of wine, is the result.
Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace
The focus on soil and terroir is ultimately disseminated into the idea of tasting minerality in wine, a most contentious aspect of the wine tasting and writing debate. Nary an expert will admit that the impart of trace minerals can be ascertained from a wine’s aroma and most believe that it can be found in taste. An American geologist debunked the mineral to taste theory at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America held in Portland Oregon. “The idea is romantic and highly useful commercially, but it is scientifically untenable,” wrote Alex Maltman, a professor at the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University. Maltman’s claim is simple. Vines absorb minerals from the earth but the amount is far too small for human detection.
Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer in Wintzenheim agrees to disagree. Ehrhart concedes that the quantitative number is small (only three to five percent) for a vine to derive its personality, divined though the earth’s brine. The remainder is a consequence of photosynthesis. Ever the spiritual and natural advocate, Christophe borrows from the writings of David Lefebvre. The journalist and wine consultant’s The minerality from David Lefebvre tells the story of why natural wines without sulfur express minerality. Lefebvre makes clear the argument that naturally-farmed (biodynamic and/or, but necessarily organic) vines are qualitatively richer in (salt minerals) than those raised with chemicals. “All fermentation, from milk to cheese, from grape to wine, is accompanied by the appearance of the component saline, one could say mineral, in the taste of the fermented product.” Chemicals and fertilizers inhibit growth and vigor, ostensibly wiping out an already minuscule number. If food is available at the surface, vine roots will feed right there. They will then lose their ability to create the beneficial bacteria necessary to metabolize deep earth enzymatic material. They essentially abandon their will to fight for nutrition deep within the fissures of the rock. Lefebvre’s conclusion? “All biocides and other products that block mineralization, such as SO2, inhibit the expression mineral.”
At the end of the day Lefebvre is a wine taster and not a scientist and the argument must be considered within the realm of the natural world. “The taste of stone exists in Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire (all France) when the winegrower uses organic farming and indigenous, winemaking yeasts.” American made wine rarely does this, though change is occurring. Ontario winemakers are different. Taste the wines of Tawse or Southbrook and note the difference. Or, taste the difference a vegetable, like a tomato, or a piece of fruit, like a peach tastes when picked straight from the garden, or orchard, as opposed to the conventional piles of the supermarket. There can be no argument there.
A week tasting through nearly 300 wines in Alsace may sound exhausting when in fact it is an experience that had me constantly, “as the expression goes, gespannt wie ein Flitzebogens,” or as it is loosely employed from the German in the Grand Budapest Hotel, “that is, on the edge of my seat.” I watched Wes Anderson’s film on the Air France flight over from Toronto to Paris and enjoyed it so much that I watched it again on my return. That kind of spiritual, dry European humour is not unlike that of the fraternity of Alsatian winemakers and how they discuss their wines. From Olivier Zind-Humbrecht to Pierre Blanck, to MauriceBarthelmé and to Jean-Pierre Frick there is an Edward Norton to Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson to Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody to Ray Fiennes affinity. Or perhaps it’s just me.
Alsace is distinguished by a very specific set of vinous attributes. No other area in France is as dry and only Champagne is further north in latitude. The aridity of the summer months, followed by the humidity of the fall fosters the development of a beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea, the fungus better known as noble rot, which concentrates the sugars and preserves acidity. Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassman says all of his wines are noble rot wines, but he calls them Riesling.
The uninitiated into the wines of Alsace think it is one big pool of sickly sweet and cloying white wine. If perhaps this were, at least to some extent, once true, it is no longer. The progressive and philosophically attentive producer picks grapes (especially the particularly susceptible Pinot Gris) before the onset of botrytis. If a dry, mineral-driven style is the goal, picking must be complete before what Phillippe Zinck refers to as D-Day. Pinot Gris goes over the edge in an instant, even more so because of the advancing maturation due to the warm temperatures induced by Global Warming.
Sommerberg Grand Cru
The global wine community’s ignorance to the multeity of Alsace wines, “as mutually producing and explaining each other…resulting in shapeliness,” needs addressing and so steps in the valedictorian, Christophe Ehrhart. The Josmeyer viniculturalist devised a system, a sugar scale to grace a bottle’s back label. Whites are coded from one to five, one being Sec (Dry) and five Doux (Sweet). The codification is not as simple as just incorporating residual sugar levels. Total acidity is taken into consideration against the sugar level, like a Football team’s plus-minus statistic. In Alsace the relationship between sugar, acidity and PH is unlike any other white wine region. Late Harvest (Vendanges Tardives, or Spätlese in German) is Late Harvest but Vin desprit sec or demi-sec in Alsace should not generally be correlated to similar distinctions in Champagne or the Loire. In Alsace, wines with vigorous levels of acidity and even more importantly PH bedeck of tannin and structure. Perceived sweetness is mitigated and many whites, though quantified with residual sugar numbering in the teens, or more, can seem totally dry.
Returning to the idea of increasingly warmer seasonal temperatures, the red wines of Alsace have improved by leaps and bounds. “We could not have made Pinot Noir of this quality 20 years ago,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Oh, the humanity and the irony of it all.
This sort of quirky response to nature and science is typical of the artisan winemaker. There is more humour, lightness of being and constater than anywhere else on this winemaking planet. There just seems to be a collective and pragmatic voice. Maurice makes a 10,000 case Riesling called Cuvee Albert, “because I have to make a wine for the market.” Yet Maurice is also a dreamer and a geologist. To him, “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist.”
Domaine Albert Mann’s Jacky Barthelmé: “Before Jesus Christ was born we have had vines here in the Schlossberg. So it is a very old story.” The Alsace vigneron is only human and works in a vinous void of certitude. They do not fuck with their land or attempt to direct its course. The young Arnaud Baur of Domaine Charles Baur insists that you “don’t cheat with your terroir or it will catch up with you. You will be exposed. You can make a mistake but you will still lose the game.” What an even more wonderful world it would be if he only understood the complexity in his multiple entendre.
Philippe Blanck is a philosopher, a dreamer, an existentialist and a lover. He is Descartes, the aforementioned Bill Murray and Bob Dylan rolled into one, a man not of selection but of election. He is both prolific and also one who buys the whole record catalogue, not just the hits. He opens old vintages freely and without hesitation. When asked how often does he have the opportunity to open wines like these he answers simply, “when people come.”
Pierre Frick et Fils
Then there is the far-out Jean-Pierre Frick, the man who let a 2006 Auxerrois ferment for five years before bottling it in 2011. “After one year I check the wine and he is not ready. I see him after two years and he says I am not ready. So I wait. After five years he says, I am finished. So I put him in the bottle.” On his Riesling 2012 he says, “This is a wine for mouse feeding.” Upon cracking open his remarkable, natural winemaking at its peak 2010 Sylvaner he chuckles like M. Gustave and smirks, “he is a funny wine.”
Few wine regions tell their story through geology as succinctly and in as much variegated detail as Alsace. The exploration of its Grand (and other vital) Cru (for the purposes of this trip) was through soils (or not) variegated of clay, sandy clay, marl, granite, volcanic rock, limestone and sandstone. To complicate things further, a Cru can be composed of more than one type of terra firma and still others have more than one arrangement within the particular plot. All very complicated and yet so simple at the same time. The Crus tasted came from the following:
Domaine Schoenheitz Linsenberg Riesling 1990, Ac Alsace, France (Winery, 196618, WineAlign)
During a picnic, on a plateau up on the Linsenberg lieu-dit set above the Wihr-au-Val, this 24 year-old bottle acts as a kind of Alsatian Trou Normand. A pause between courses, which involves alcohol and you need to ask for its proof of age. Culled from deep dug vines out of stony and shallow granite soil. Soil rich in micas with a fractured basement. From a dream vintage with marvellous semi-low yields and a student of south-facing, self-effacing steep steppes. A sun worshipper prodigy of winemaker Henri Schoenheitz, a child of terroir du solaire. Rich and arid in simultaneous fashion (the RS is only 8-10 g/L), the years have yet to add mileage to its face and its internal clock. It may ride another 15, or 20. Drink 2015-2030. Tasted June 2015 @VinsSchoenheitz
Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val
Domaine Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Reserve 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ $27.70 11903328, WineAlign)
From fruit drawn off the granitic Grand Cru of the Brand but not labeled as such. Laser focus (what Jean Boxler wine is not) and texture. Possessive of the unmistakable Brand tang, like mineral rich Burgundy. The minerality ann the acidity from the granite are exceptional in a wine known as “Pinot Blanc Reserve.” As good a developing PB are you are ever likely to taste. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted June 2014
Domaine Albert Boxler Riesling Old Vines Sommerberg Grand Cru 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ, 11698521, WineAlign)
A direct expression of winemaker (since 1996) Jean Boxler and his 150 year-old casks. This is Riesling suspended in the realm of dry extract, texture and a precision of finesse rarely paralleled in Alsace. It reads the truth of facteur for Sommerberg, its face, slope and pitch. Exceeds the clarity of the younger parcel in its contiguous continuance of learning, of pure, linear, laser styling. There is more maturity here and the must had to have been exceptional. “The juice must be balanced when it goes into the vats or the wine will not be balanced,” insists Jean Boxler. And he would be correct. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted June 2014
Domaine Albert Boxler
Domaine Albert Boxler Tokay-Pinot Gris Sommerberg Grand Cru 1996, Ac Alsace, France (Alsace)
From volcanic and granitic soils together combining for and equating to structure. A matter concerning “purity of what you can do from a great ground,” notes Master Sommelier Romain Iltis. Perception is stronger than reality because despite the sugar, the acidity reign to lead this to be imagined and reasoned as a dry wine. Ripe, fresh, smoky, with crushed hazelnut and seamless structure. Stays focused and intense in mouthfeel. Takes the wine down a long, long road. Quite remarkable. No longer labeled “Takay” after the 2007 vintage. Drink 2015-2026. Tasted June 2014
Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Furstentum 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)
The Marl accentuated Hengst and its muscular heft receives more Barthelmé limelight but the always understated Furstentum Grand Cru is a special expression of the variety. As refined as Pinot Gris can be, with a healthy level of residual sugar, “like me” smiles Marie-Thérèse Barthelmé. The sugar polls late to the party while the acidity swells in pools, but the finish is forever. “Pinot Gris is a fabulous grape but we serve it too young,” says Maurice. “It needs time to develop its sugars.” Truffle, mushroom, underbrush and stone fruit would match well to sweet and sour cuisine. Flinty mineral arrives and despite the residual obstacle, is able to hop the sweet fencing. The potential here is boundless. Drink 2018-2026. Tasted June 2014 @albertmannwines
Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr
Domaine Paul Zinck Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Goldert 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)
From the village of Gueberschwihr and from soil composed of sandstone, chalk and clay. The vines average 50 years in age and the wine saw a maturation on the lees for 11 months. Philippe Zinck notes that “the terroir is stronger than the variety.” If any grape would stand to contradict that statement it would be Gewürztraminer but the ’10 Goldert begs to differ. Its herbal, arid Mediterranean quality can only be Goldert talking. Though it measures 20 g/L of RS it tastes almost perfectly dry. It reeks of lemongrass, fresh, split and emanating distilled florals. This is classic and quintessential stuff. Drink 2015-2025. Tasted June 2014 @domainezinck@LiffordON
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Goldert Grand Cru 1985
Tasted from magnum at Les Millésimes Alsace, a wine described by Caroline Furstoss as “unusual for late harvest,” because the terroir is simply stronger than the variety. Another economically non-viable low yield LH, “from a vintage more on the reductive than the oxidative side.” Even at 30 years it requires aeration and time to open up. Travels from spicy to smoky with that air. There is a density in bitterness, an attrition miles away from resolve and a promise for rebate, if further patience is granted. The spices inherent are ground, exhumed and combine with the base elements to rise atomically. A spatially magnificent wine of sugars not yet clarified and an acquired taste not quite elucidated. A taste of an ancient kind. Drink 2015-2035. Tasted June 2014
Marno-Calcaire/Marl-Limestone (Altenberg de Bergheim, Clos Hauserer, Eichberg, Hengst, Kappelweg de Rorschwihr, Mambourg, Mandelberg, Osterberg, Pfersigberg, Sonnenglanz, Steingrubler)
Marcel Deiss Schoffweg “Le Chemins Des Brebis” 2010, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $60.95, WineAlign)
A pulsating and metallic, mineral streak turns the screws directly through this spirited Bergheim. From Schoffweg, one of nine Deiss Premier Crus planted to Riesling and Pinots. A pour at Domaine Stentz Buecher from fellow winemaker Carolyn Sipp simulates a trip, to stand upon a scree of calcaire, the earth below a mirror, reflecting above a multitude of stars. “He’s a character,” smiles Sipp, “and perhaps even he does not know the actual blend.” The amalgamate is surely Riesling dominant, at least in this impetuous ’10, a savant of fleshy breadth and caracoling acidity. The Schoffweg does not sprint in any direction. It is purposed and precise, geometric, linear and prolonging of the Deiss magic. This is a different piece of cake, an ulterior approach to assemblage, “a bigger better slice” of Alsace. It should not be missed. Tasted June 2014 @LeSommelierWine
Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $114.95, WineAlign)
In a select portfolio tasting that includes a trio of highly mineral yet approachable 2010’s (Rotenberg, Schoffberg and Schoenenbourg), the ’11 Mambourg stands out for its barbarous youth. It seems purposely reductive and strobes like a hyper-intensified beacon. Rigid, reserved and unforgiving, the Mambourg is also dense and viscous. Acts of propellant and wet concrete circulate in the tank, compress and further the dangerous liaison. This is a brooding Deiss, so different than the jurassic citrus from Rotenberg, the terroir monster in Schoffberg and the weight of Schoenenbourg. In a field of supervised beauty, the Mambourg may seem like punishment but there can be no denying the attraction. Five years will alter the laws of its physics and soften its biology. The difficult childhood will be forgotten. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted June 2014 @LeSommelierWine
Rogue Alsace, classic Deiss five varietal field blend specific to one hangout. The steep, terraced, granite Langenberg, terroir from Saint Hippolyte. Deiss coaxes, expects and demands precocious behaviour from four supporting varieties to lift and place the Riesling, with the intent being a result in “salty symphony.” This is approachable, something 2011 could not have been easy to accomplish. The accents are spice, sapidity and acidity, from the granite, for the people. Isn’t this what a mischievous brew should be about? Drink 2015-2022. Tasted June 2014 @LeSommelierWine
Léon Beyer Riesling Cuvée Des Comtes D’Eguisheim 1985, Alsace, France (316174, $50.00, WineAlign)
I wonder is any Alsace Riesling sublimates history, religion and occupation more than Cuvée Des Comtes D’eguisheim. It breathes the past; of popes, Augustinians of Marbach, Benedictines of Ebersmunster, Cistercians of Paris and Dominicans of Colmar. From the limestone-clay for the most part of the Grand Cru Pfersigberg and only produced in exceptional vintages. In 1985 low yields, same for botrytis and then 29 years of low and slow maturation. In 2014, is the herbal, aromatic, limestone salinity a case of vineyards, grape or evolution? All of the above but time is in charge. It has evolved exactly as it should, as its makers would have wished for. It is ready to drink. The defined minerality, with fresh lemon and a struck flint spark has rounded out, without the need for sugar. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted June 2014 @TandemSelection
Charles Baur Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)
Arnaud Baur understands his place and his family’s position in the Alsace continuum. “You can make a mistake and you can still lose the game.” His use of entendre is subconsciously brilliant. In 2009 the warmth went on seemingly forever and so Baur did not even bother trying to make a dry Riesling. “We really respect the vintage,” says Arnaud. Meanwhile at 18 g/L RS and 7.0 g/L TA the balance is struck. Many grapes were dried by the sun, ripeness was rampant, flavours travelled to tropical and acidity went lemon linear. The 14.2 per cent alcohol concludes these activities. Matched with foie gras, the vintage is marinated and married. There is certainly some crème fraîche on the nose and the wine plays a beautiful, funky beat. As much fun and quivering vibration as you will find in Alsace Marno-Calcaire. Drink 2015-2024. Tasted June 2014
Dinner wines at L’Epicurien, Colmar
Charles Baur Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2007, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)
A good vintage for Riesling and considering the heat, an even better one for Gewürztraminer. The vineyard offers 50-70cm of clay atop Jurassic yellow limestone where roots can penetrate the rock. They suck the life into this enzymatic white. This, of digestibility, “a wine you don’t want to drink two glasses of, but three.” Delicious, clean, precise Gewürz that Mr. Baur recommends you “drink moderately, but drink a lot.” Arnaud is very proud of this ’07, for good reason. Two actually. Balance and length. Drink 2017-2027. Tasted June 2014
Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2013, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711, WineAlign)
Tasted not long after bottling, the yet labeled ’13 is drawn from a vintage with a touch of botrytis. “We don’t sell too much of this,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Along with the sweet entry there are herbs and some spice, in layers upon layers. Almost savoury, this interest lies in the interchange between sweet and savour, with stone fruit (peach and apricot) elevated by a feeling of fumée. A playful, postmodernist style of short fiction. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted June 2015 @albertmannwines@Smallwinemakers
Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711, WineAlign)
In 2008 the brothers Barthelmé used the Hengst’s strength and the vintage to fashion a remarkable Pinot Gris. It is blessed of antiquity, like concrete to bitters, with power, tension and a posit tub between fruit and sugar. At 34 g/L RS and 7.6 g/L TA there is enough centrifuge to whirl, whorl and pop, culminating in a healthy alcohol at 14 per cent. Quite the reductive Pinot Gris, to this day, with a sweetness that is manifested in mineral flavours, glazed in crushed rocks. “It smells like mushroom you threw into a dead fire,” notes Fred Fortin. This is the bomb. Needs four more years to develop another gear. Drink 2018-2033. Tasted June 2015 @albertmannwines@Smallwinemakers
Domaine Albert Mann Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Steingrubler 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)
From marly-limestone-sandstone, “a fa-bulous terroir,” says Maurice with a smile. The “stone carrier wagon” is mostly calcaire, especially in the middle slope. This has a roundness, an approachability. It really is clean, clean, Gewürztraminer. It’s erotic, gorgeous, certainly not slutty or pornographic. The colder limestone preserves the freshness, with a need for magnesium, to cool the factor further and to develop the terpenes. Gelid and stone cold cool wine. Drink 2018-2035. Tasted June 2015 @albertmannwines@Smallwinemakers
Bott Geyl Riesling Grand Cru Mandelberg 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)
The Mandelberg receives the early morning sun and so this Grand Cru is an early ripener and the first of the Bott-Geyls to be picked. The added warmth of 2010 introduced noble rot into a vineyard that often avoids it so the residual sugar here is elevated to an off-dry (even for Alsace) number of 30 g/L. The rush to pick in this case preserved the natural acidity, allowing the flint to speak. Additional notes of cream cheese and formidable dry extract have helped to balance the sweetness. Truly exceptional Riesling from Christophe Bott-Geyl. Drink 2015-2025. Tasted June 2014 @bott_geyl@DanielBeiles
Pierre Frick Sylvaner Bergweingarten 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)
The vines of southeast exposure are in the 35 year-old range for this Vin moelleux, “young vines” says Jean-Pierre Frick. “I am a defender of Sylvaner.” This ’10 is freshly opened, as opposed to the ’09 poured after sitting open a week. That ’09’s healthy amount of noble rot is not repeated in this ’10, what Frick refers to as “a funny wine.” A two year fermentation and a potential for 17 per cent alcohol (it’s actually in the 14-15 range), a touch of spritz and no sulphur means it goes it alone, natural, naked, innocent. It’s a passionate, iconoclastic Sylvaner, distilled and concentrated from and in lemon/lime. It may carry 53 g/L of sugar but it also totes huge acidity. Enamel stripping acidity. Full of energy, that is its calling, its niche, its category. The honey is pure and despite the level of alcohol it’s as though it has never actually fermented. Natural winemaking at the apex, not out of intent but from a base and simply purposed necessity. Drink 2015-2025. Tasted June 2014 @LeCavisteTO
Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick
Domaine Albert Mann Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ 11967751 $48.25, WineAlign)
What a fantastic expression of the Schlossberg, like a cold granite countertop. A Riesling that tells you what is essentiality in granite from what you thought might be the sensation of petrol. Full output of crushed stone, flint and magnesium, but never petrol. Now just beginning to enter its gold stage, just beginning to warm up, in energy, in the sound of the alarm clock. “You can almost see the rock breaking and the smoke rising out,” remarks Eleven Madison Park’s Jonathan Ross. A definitive sketch with a 12 g/L sugar quotient lost in the structure of its terroir. A Schlossberg a day keeps the doctor away. Drink 2015-2025. Tasted June 2014
Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011), Alsace, France (Winery)
“He has fermented five years,” says Jean-Pierre Frick, stone faced, matter of factly. “That’s how long he took.” Here, one of the most impossible, idiosyncratic and unusual wines made anywhere in the world. On on hand it’s a strange but beautiful experiment. On another there can be no logical explanation as to why one would bother. The third makes perfect sense; allowing a wine to ferment at its own speed, advocate for itself and become what it inherently wanted to be. Auxerrois with a little bit of sweetness (16 g/L RS) and a kindred spirit to the Jura (and with a potential of 15 per cent alcohol). This is drawn from the lieu-dit terroir Krottenfues, of marl-sandstone soils in the hills above the Grand Cru Vorbourg. Tasting this wine is like slumbering through a murky and demurred dream. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted September 2015
Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)
Argilo-calcaire/Clay-Limestone (Eichberg, Engelberg, Kanzlernerg, Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr, Steinert)
Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Blanc Terroir 2011, Alsace, France (BCLDB 414557 $15.79, WineAlign)
From 35 year-old vines on Eguisheim’s argilo-calcaire slopes with straight out acidity, trailed by earth-driven fruit. Less floral than some and pushed by the mineral. A difficult vintage that saw a full heat spike to cause a mid-palate grape unction. Pinot Blanc with a late vintage complex because of that sun on the mid slope. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted June 2014 @domainezinck@LiffordON
Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Gris Terroir 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $22.99, WineAlign)
From chalk and clay soils surrounding the Eichberg Grand Cru, this is a decidedly terroir-driven style and far from overripe. In fact, Philippe Zinck is adamant about picking time, especially with Pinot Gris. “The most tricky grape to harvest in Alsace,” he tells me. So hard to get serious structure and many growers are duped by high brix. Philippe tells of the 24-hour varietal picking window, the “D-Day” grape. Zinck’s ’12 is pure, balanced and bound by its earthy character. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted June 2014 @domainezinck@LiffordON
“I like acidity, whoo-ahh,” says Pierre Frick, dry as Monsieur Ivan. The sugar on top of acidity here, it’s exciting. This one is a gift from nature, for culture. So interesting, a dream, a story. This has a citrus sweetness, telling a story never before experienced. There’s a depth of reduced apricot syrup, pure, natural, holy. “Tell no one. They’ll explain everything.” Drink 2015-2040. Tasted June 2014
From Argilo-Calcaire vineyards flanking the Rot Murlé, at a time when a minor amount of sulphuring was employed (1999 was their first sulphur-free vintage). Was Demeter certified, in 1992! This is all about intensity and acidity. An incredibly natural dessert wine, upwards of 150 g/L RS but balanced by nearly 10 g/L TA. The power is relentless, the finish on the road to never-ending. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted September 2015
Domaine Ostertag Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Muenchberg 1996, Alsace, France (Agent, $65, WineAlign)
From clay and limestone, fully aged in barrel, taking, sending and stratifying in and away from its own and everyone else’s comfort zone. Only the best barrels would do and yet the quality of the wood thought aside, this is Ostertag’s unique and fully autocratic take on Tokay-PG. Stands out with a structure wholly singular for the overall prefecture, with a twenty year note of white truffle, handled and enhanced by the wood maturation. Yellow fruits persist as if they were picked just yesterday but the glass is commandeered by the complex funk. It’s nearly outrageous, bracing and yet the flavour urged on by the aromatics return to their youth. To citron, ginger and tropical unction. This is oscillating and magnificent. Drink 2015-2026. Tasted June 2014 @TheLivingVine
Audrey et Christian Binner Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010, Alsace France (Winery)
A blend of Gewürztraminer (60 per cent), Riesling (30) and Muscat (10) that spent two years in foudres. Christian has no time for technicalities, specs and conventions. “I just make wine.” At 13.5 per cent alcohol and 20 g/L RS the expectation would be vitality and striking lines but it’s really quite oxidative, natural and nearly orange. “But it’s OK. It’s the life,” he adds. An acquired, unique and at times extraordinary taste, complex, demanding, like Frick but further down a certain line. “For me, to be a great Alsace wine, it must be easy to drink. You have to pout it in your body.” Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015
You see, no wine is poured, tasted and deliberated over without the introduction of the soil (or lack thereof) from which it came. To confine any study to just the Grand Cru would do the entire region an injustice. Though the original 1975 appellative system set out to define the plots of highest quality and esteem, many wines not classified GC are fashioned from terroir comingling with, surrounding, located next or adjacent to a vineyard called Grand Cru. Serious consideration is being given by CIVA and the winemakers to establish a Premier Cru and Villages system. While this will certainly increase levels of definition and understanding for Alsace, it may also disregard some quality wines, not to mention further alienate some producers whose artisanal and progressive wines go against the norm. A further consequence may result in elevating some average wines currently labeled Grand Cru into undeserved stratospheres.
The Grand Cru story is heavy but not everything. Rarely has there been witnessed (outside of Burgundy) the kind of symbiotic relationship between vineyard and village. Perfect examples are those like Schlossberg and Furstentum with Kintzheim, Sommerberg and Niedermorschwihr, Hengst and Wintzenheim, Brand and Turckheim or Steingrübler and Wettolsheim. Domaine Weinbach’s cellars sit across and just down the road from both Kitzheim and Kayserberg. Albert Boxler’s cellar is right in the fairy tale town of Niedermorschwihr, just like Albert Mann’s location in Wettlosheim.
It is time, finally and thankfully, for a return to the reason for such a rambling on. With respect to the “cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine” being “necessary and fundamental,” examples tasted in June of 2014 indicate that the notion of terroir grows from nature and is nurtured by the vigneron. These 25 wines surmise and summarize, either by connecting the dotted lines of constellatory figuration or by Sudoku interconnectivity, the imaginable chronicle that is Alsace.
Independents, rebels, rogues, zoo biscuits, risk takers, revolution. Buzz words, gathered sects and constituents of rebellion. Clusters of assemblage ruminating, circulating and percolating at the latest edition of organized wine in South Africa.
Who among us might have foretold in dramatic foreshadowing the story of September’s Cape Wine 2015? Who could have known that the southern hemisphere’s largest gathering of producers, marketers, buyers, sellers, sommeliers and journalists would do more to quell preconceived notions and stereotypes for any wine producing country than any trade show that has come before? Total, utter energy.
Centuries ago, when the fishing and trading boats would return west to the Cape they would mistakenly enter the wrong basin. “There’s that confounded bay again,” they would curse. False Bay. During the week preceding and following Cape Wine we climbed aboard cars and vans headed out from Cape Town or Stellenbosch. En route to a farm, estate or winery, more often than not, out the window, there was False Bay, like a magnet, drawing attention, setting and re-setting the excursion compass. As we watched the bay ache into and fade out of view each jaunt-acquiesced day, it just seemed as though we were always heading north and gaining altitude. Not really.
Cape wine country meanderings exist in requiem well beyond points A to B. Directional challenges are inclusive of L-shapes, U-turns and rotations. Lines draw as much east, southeast and northeast as they do falsely north. Journeys always conclude in a valley, at the base of a mountain or in an amphitheatre bound by geological reality. The getting there is often hazy but the arrival always comfortable.
South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. Ventures into the wine lands compounded the about-face turn of mind. Tastings, tours and zealous immersion into Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swartland and Hemel-En-Aarde saw to that. South Africa is not what you thought folks, but it just might be what you dare to dream. If you’ve not visited you can’t possibly know what revelations lurk.
The frontier is inhabited by cowboys and their multifarious varietal schemes. It’s surfeited by demi-century established Chenin Blanc bush vines, painted pell-mell with expatriate rootstock and cuttings outside the Bordeaux and Burgundy box; Nebbiolo, Barbera, Tinta Barocca, Albarino, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo and Tannat. Nothing is sacred and everything is fair game. Rhône blends are the current rage and Cinsault is going it alone with nothing short of remarkable results.
The Zoo Biscuits
Natural fermentation, skin contact and carbonic maceration have infiltrated the winemaker’s psyche. The eco-bio movement has challenged the fundamentalist incumbency and forced sweeping reforms. Fresh, natural, orange, caliginous and tenebrous have taken the Cape by storm. Praetorian makers are changing their ways. Pinotage has abandoned decades of Bordeaux wannabe style to once again don bell bottoms and retro suede. In 2015 South Africa, cats and dogs are living together.
Zoo Biscuits poster
Introduce me to a winemaker who is not in tune with his or her terroir and I’ll show you a winemaker who is either faking it or blindly towing a company line. That breed is few and far between. In South Africa I met exactly none of that ilk. So what? What’s so special about a nation of winemakers who work as one with their soil, their meso-climate and their geology? You’re supposed to intuit those abstracts to make great wine. “You’re supposed to take care of your kids!”
No, what separates South African vignerons from the rest of the world is the playground mentality and the execution in consummation of those ideals. The soils and the weather are nothing short of perfect in the vast growing region known as the Western Cape, or in the local vernacular, the Cape Winelands. Any varietal of choice can find its way to achieve perfect phenolic ripeness virtually anywhere the grapes are planted. The mitigating effect of Cape winds eradicates all disease. The place is a veritable garden of viticulture eden. Or, as in the case of the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, a verdant, fertile valley known as “heaven on earth,” the adage takes on the paradisiacal guise of the sublime. South Africa is the wine collective equivalent of the wild west. In the Western Cape, anything goes.
I will expand, in due course, on all the wines tasted during the eight days I spent in South Africa. A list of top wines and a preponderant unfurling are sure to follow in the form of fifty odd tasting notes. For now I will concentrate, in the name of lede consistency, on the varietal and stylistic revolution taking place.
The following notes will unquestionably focus on three platoons, Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA), the Swartland Independents and the Zoo Biscuits. The first is a collective of straight-shooting, accordant, premium, independent wine producers from across the diverse wine regions of South Africa’s Western Cape. The second comprises 25 (give or take) cricket playing, indigenous fermenting, Anglikaans-gabbing grape shepherds. The third may draw their name from beloved childhood memories of packaged iced silhouettes of animals on cookies when in actuality they are a gaggle of like-minded, boundary-pushing, fun-loving, serious winemakers.
Suzaan and Chris Alheit
Cape Wine 2015 may have seen 300 presenters toting thousands of South African bottles but the swagger of 40 young vignerons stole the proverbial show. They did it with passion, innocence, acumen beyond years and attention to history. They go it alone and with a pack mentality. They care about old vines, tradition and respect for the land but they also have chutzpah. They don’t really give a fuck what the establishment thinks about their winemaking.
Jamie Goode and Godello, CapeWine2015
Three days at the Cape Town International Convention Centre allowed for extensive coverage of the South African wine scene. It was a perfectly organized show. Credit begins with the vignerons. Their work is tireless, especially when all must be dropped to focus on all-in, three relentless days of pouring while offering elaborate dissertations about their wines and their place in the South African scene.
No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of Chenin Blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality.
Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Chenin Blanc Skin Contact 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
It begins with viticulturist Rosa Kruger and the cleanest fruit this side of Matroosberg Mountain. Vigneron and winemaker Chris and Andrea Mullineux use egg inversion to press and skin contact lasts for three months. This plus old barrels hyper-intensify umami; part bread dough, some pine forest, all wild yeast and a hint of Matsutake mushroom. The meld into acidity is a wild carpeted Chenin ride. Exhibits layers of Greekdom, in spice and complexity. The long inosinate to guanylate finish arrives and lingers in thanks to the scraped skins of many citrus fruits. They strip, stripe and spank the mouth. The spirited lashing and accumulated bejewelling is a sign of spiritual and plentiful life. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted September 2015 @MullineuxWines@MullineuxChris@SwartlandRev
A A Badenhorst Wines
A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, SAQ 12135092 $18.05, BC $23.00, WineAlign)
From Adi Badenhorst, old bushvines planted in the 1950’s and 1960’s and whole bunch handled with no crushing or de-stemming. Fruit is transferred to concrete and 500l old foudres. The simple, minimalist approach and lots of less stirring, leading to great texture, right up there with the most complex Chenin. Also possessive of the righteous level in bitters, intense citrus and bookworm herbology. Lucent, lambent, capable Chenin Blanc. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015 @AABadenhorst@SwartlandRev
Not exactly household or predominant by any stretch of the imagination, Riesling does play a bit part in the white idiomatic presentation of South African wine. With the emergence of Elgin as a cool climate growing area capable of expertly ripening both aromatic and aerified varieties, the future will crystallize with more Riesling, Gewürztraminer and offshoot concepts.
Paul Cluver Riesling Close Encounter 2013, Elgin, South Africa (Winery, LCBO 500396, $23.00 WineAlign)
A more serious effort than the sibling ‘Dry Encounter’ because this Riesling knows what it wants to be. On its left may be Alsace and on its right the Mosel but in truth this speaks to a Kabinett reasoning, with Elgin layering. At nine per cent alcohol, 36 g/L RS and 8.2 g/L TA it knows the difference and speaks the truth about off-dry Riesling, with elevated and yet balancing acidity. It pretends to be nothing but what is of and for itself. Flint and an attainable stratosphere (between 300-500m above sea level) accept the airy drifts of oceans and the gathering returns to earth with the weight of wax and glade. If you think South African Riesling is “a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,” taste Elgin and think again. The skeptical Nowhere man is ignorant to the new frontier for Riesling and to him I say “please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing.” Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015 @paulcluverwines@PIWOSA
A category not to be taken lightly, what with so many varieties available to work together and with the idea of appellative blends not necessarily so far off or far-fetched. Chenin Blanc is most certainly the pillar and the rock with support ready, willing and applicable from Clairette Blanc, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Semillon, Roussane, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Colombard.
A contiguous king blend of Chenin Blanc with Verdelho, Chardonnay and Viognier from vineyards allowing for increased production year after year. Natural fermentations acquiesce varying degrees and species of spiced dipped flowers set upon expressions of lees. The Chenin is 41 year-old Swartland (Paardeberg) fruit with Stellenbosch (Bottelary and Helderberg) quartz soil Chardonnay and Verdelho. Anise, star anise and pure white stone groove me in a gather of complimentary and controvertible Chenin (and friends) complexity. “Uhh! Awww, sookie sookie now!” @SwartlandRev
What obscure or less heralded white grape variety would you like to play with? Ask the Cape winemaker that question and he or she might keep you awhile. The rules again need not apply. Spin the wheel and work your magic. Odds are at even that a handful of least employed Châteauneuf and/or Gemischter Satz varietal wines show up at a CapeWine Fair sometime soon.
David Nieuwoudt’s Dwarsrivier rare take on the cultivar (less than 77 hectares of vines remain planted worldwide) is a wine with altitude and attitude. Cederberg is one of only three South African farms in kind of these vines in Glenrosa and sandstone soils on the escarpment atop the Cederberg Mountains. Natural sugar of 25 g/L from the arrested ferment is toothsome in a next to Spätlese way, though the citrus and herbal crasis separates this from Riesling. What brings it circling again is the formidable acidity, circulating and rounding up, culminating in a viscosity and a palate coating that ends with none word. Delicious. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015 @Cederseun@imbibersreport@PIWOSA
There was a time when all South African Rhône varietal wines needed to be compared to the mother land and many continue to encourage the adage “you can take the varieties out of the Rhône but you can’t take the Rhône out of the varieties.” The modern Cinsault maker has turned expatriate exploits on its axiomatic head. You’ve not likely had your way with these versions of Cinsault and like me, once you have, you may never go back.
Radford Dale ‘Thirst’ Cinsault and Gamay Noir
The Winery of Good Hope Radford Dale Cinsault ‘Thirst’ 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)
If the Thirst Gamay from vignerons Alex Dale and Jacques De Klerk is “a live rock concert rather than a manufactured, boyband studio album,” the carbonically macerated Cinsault is weekend long palooza replete with music, clowns, acrobats and roaming minstrels. The wonders of natural, nouveau Gamay are well known but the natural fermentation application on Cinsault goes funky, wild and complex in a whole other attitude. Chilled properly this Thirst adds a Mad max factor to the circus, tannins even and most certainly an explosive grit. If the Gamay is smashable, the Cinsault is obliterateable. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015 @Radforddale@WineryGoodHope@Noble_Estates@PIWOSA
The globe trekking grape has been backed into a corner, with blood primarily spilled at the hands of big box Australian producers but some blame has also circulated South Africa’s way. Heavy petting, elevated heat and alcohol, street tar and vulcanized rubber have combined in resolute, culprit fashion to maim the great variety. As with Cinsault, but in an entirely more mainstream way, the fortunes of Syrah are wafting in the winds of change. Natural fermentations, some carbonic maceration and especially prudent picking from essential Syrah sites are turning the jammy heavy into the genteel and dignified wine it needs to be.
The ’12 signifies a departure and a new style for the winery and for Syrah in the Cape. Some (three weeks) of carbonic maceration leads to a dichotomous passion play in which the middle romance is acted out in seven barrels for 18 months of (70 per cent American and 30 per cent French) oak. It’s as if the grapes are shocked into an awakening and then slowly brought down to calm. As if the fruit develops a protective shell, protected from and coerced by and with ushering along by slow motion micro-oxidation. This is Syrah void of cracked nut, pepper, veneer and big league chew. It’s a terribly beautiful experiment, the Syrah equivalent of similar function world’s away, done with Chardonnay, in Orange and all the while with natural yeast that sling the fruit to destinations previously unknown. At least around here. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted September 2015 @JourneysEndWine@colyntruter@vonterrabev@PIWOSA
Callie Louw’s smoker
Porseleinberg Syrah 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
They call Callie Louw a lekker ou. Having played on his side and under his tutelage for a bowl and a bat or two, I can concur. He is a nice guy. Having eaten his smoked pork shoulder, brisket and wings, I can tell you that he is a master smoker. Having tasted his ’13 Syrah twice, I can also say he is a great winemaker. Louw is proficient at many things, including cricket and smoking Swartland’s best BBQ. Making Syrah from the schist soils of Riebeek Kasteel is his true calling and with thanks to Marc Kent (of Boekenhoutskloof) he is able to work with some of South Africa’s best fruit out of one of its harshest climats. Picked fruit is left to its own devices, 40 per cent in concrete eggs and 60 in larger foudres. I’d hate to smack a natural sticker on this one because it resides outside the realm of labels, generalizations and uneventful stipulations. It has killer tannins and the legs to walk the earth. What else do you need to know? Drink 2017-2030. Tasted September 2015 @SwartlandRev
Porseleinberg Syrah 2013
The future for Pinot Noir is bright beyond the pale, with certain exceptional growing sites producing varietal fruit so pure and of ripe phenolics as profound as anywhere on the planet. A few producers have found their way. More will follow and when they do, South Africa will begin to tear away at the market share enjoyed by the likes of New Zealand and California.
Blackwater Wines Pinot Noir Cuvée Terra Lux MMXI 2013 (Winery)
Winemaker Francois Haasbroek is not merely on to something. He has it figured out. The elegance of his wines (sourced from vineyards across the Western Cape) share a strong affinity with one another. In a consistently distinguished line-up this Pinot Noir may not be his most accomplished but it is his most definitive bottle. From three Elgin Vineyards this spent 18 months in older 225L barrels and help me if this does not purely express the humanity of Pinot Noir. Oh, the natural funk of Elgin, where Pinot Noir need be embraced and fostered. Not unlike Haasbroek’s Syrah, the sweetness is impossible, the imagined imaging haunting and asomatous. With time the true luxe will emerge, in the form of mushroom, truffle and candied cherry. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2015 @Blackwaterwine@ZooBiscuitsWine
For so long we ignorant, pathetic and far away people knew not from Pinotage. We imagined its machinations through, by way of and expressed like espresso, forced and pressed with nothing but wood in mind. That the grape variety could have a personality bright and friendly was something we had no reference from which to begin. A visit to the Cape Winelands re-charts the compass and the rebirth is nothing short of born again oenophilia. The new Pinotage may be what it once was but it is also what it can never be again.
David and Nadia Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014
David and Nadia Paardebosch Pinotage 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)
From parcels of the highest possible elevation and black rock that imparts swarthy tannin on a frame of alcohol sharpened at 12.5 per cent. Nothing short of stunning aromatics. Whole bunch fermentation, three weeks of skin contact and minimal punch downs are directed with pinpoint precision to what Pinotage should and simply must be. Fresh, lithe and promising. Good-bye Pinotage being Pinotage. Hello Pinotage in pure, honest perfume. Older oak barrels (4th, 5th and 6th fill) round out the texture, amplify the arroyo seco and excellence washes through, with simple acidity and riverine length. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @DavidandNadia@SwartlandRev
The sky is the limit for what can be attempted and achieved with the varietal kitchen sink of availability. In consideration that any red variety can scour the Cape Winelands in a journeyed search for phenolic ripeness, a prudent pick, ferment (or co-ferment) will certainly, invariably conjoin towards assemblage nirvana. Rhône styling is most often mimicked, from both north and south but OZ indicators and even California flower child prodigies are both seen and heard. There is no tried and true in this outpost of red democracy. In the case of Cape wine, anarchy rules and there is really nothing wrong with that.
Sheree Nothnagel, Wildnhurst Wines
Wilde hurst Red 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)
Shiraz (62 per cent) co-fermented with Viognier (5) is joined in rank by Mourvèdre (33, though is some years it’s Cinsault) in an unembellished red that not only lies back but rises in free spirit. A red to express the personality of its maker, Sheree Nothnagel. Silk and lace, cure and mace, spice and so many things nice are the aspect ratios of a very natal wine, like a prevailing wind. A real stretch in tannin, sweet and smooth of grain leads to length, from Koringberg to the slopes of the Picketberg and Paardeberg mountains. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015 @WildehurstW@ShereeNothnagel@SwartlandRev
The Western Cape has likely never seen such polish and precocious affinity with its varied soils as it has or likely soon will when Duncan Savage is making wine. The blend of Cinsault (58 per cent), Grenache (21) and Syrah (21) is predominantly Darling grapes and shows a deeper, funkier understanding of Cape soil. Bright red cherry fruit supports life on this brooding planet and propagation is furthered with cinnamon-like spice and a purity for supplementary red fruit so direct and so very pure. The wine’s moniker comes from the farming expression “follow the line.” All rows lead to the farmhouse, eventually. All winemaking roads in the Cape will lead to the name Duncan Savage or at least involve him in the conversation. He is the farmhouse. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015 @ZooBiscuitsWine
Chris Alheit’s brand might allude to a chapter in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers but Days of Yore must pay some homage to the 80’s thrash metal band and with great irony. This Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault blend is no Doomsday for the Receiver and certainly No Place for Disgrace. What it is instead is pure liquid brilliance. Old 1960 Cabernet Sauvignon bush vines are (even if unintentionally) farmed the way they used to be, back in the days of yore. Now cropped, tended and produced in pitch perfect cure, the resulting wine (when Cabernet is blended with Albeit’s dry-farmed, stomped and tonic-singular Cinsault) shows smoky depth and musicality. Sour-edged or tart can’t begin to describe the tang. It’s something other, unnameable, sapid, fluid and beautiful. It brings South Africa from out of the heart of its wayfinding darkness. Drink 2015-2025. Tasted September 2015 @ChrisAlheit@ZooBiscuitsWine
Momento Wines Tinta Barocca 2013, Bot River, South Africa (Winery)
From a south-facing, 40 year-old, one and a half hectare vineyard in Bot River that Marelise Niemann convinced the farmer not to rip out so that she may continue to produce some 2,000 bottles of a variety you can’t really find or are want to grow anywhere else. This has been a small love affair since 2007 with this block. “My child, my charity case,” she admits. I am not sure I tasted any other wine in South Africa with such fresh, pure, unspoiled innocence as this Tinta Barocca. “You have to have a connection to the vineyard. To guide it.” The underlay of perspicuity is a streak provided by Bokkeveld shale. The clarity of red fruit and deferential tannin is too sacred to spit, too beautiful to spill and too genteel to waste. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015 @ZooBiscuitsWine
Beef shank, romano bean and lentil soup, tomato, basil, nasturtium
Just over two weeks separates us from another federal election, a national concern in address of criminal activity. Criminal because the choice, at least in the hazy, politically discharged context of my age of voting lifetime, has never been more difficult to make. This I can say. If any of the three leaders pulls out an October surprise from their proverbial political hat, I’m calling their bluff.
Political theory and editorial aside, the one organization that clearly invokes the OS trump card repeatedly and with outright conceit is the LCBO. The operating system is predicated on spin tactics to influence booze czars and to turn business reports inside out. Every month of the year can be aligned with surprise, to make certain the Province of Ontario and whichever elected (or keys to the castle given) Premier stays on the lee side.
Ontario beer, wine and spirit commentary aside, the VINTAGES release calendar continues to cycle on through with expert efficiency and en ever-increasing delightful, thoughtfully purchased and seemingly never-ending supply of quality wine. In 2015, the October surprise is one I can get behind, support and outright cheer for. Finding 10 wines I’d feel honoured to sip, pour and relegate to the mid-life crisis racks of the cellar is nothing short of shooting fish in a barrel. For October 3rd, here they are.
From left to right: Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013, Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte Du Py 2012, Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012, Rosewood Origin Cabernet Franc 2013 and 2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012
Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (391995, $19.95, WineAlign)
Another notch on the Escarpment knows Cabernet Franc totem, with similar if deeper, earthy red fruit character in 2013 for the Cave Spring. The tonalities are further elevated in a vintage that should offer more balance. That it does in terms of handling ripeness in opposition to acidity but at a young age it is further from its intended truth than was the ’12. This may be a better, bigger and deeper CF of potentiality but it’s awkward right now. Give it a year plus to answer the bell. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2015 @CaveSpring@TheVine_RobGroh
Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte Du Py 2012, Ac Beaujolais, France (424804, $19.95, WineAlign)
Like dark cherry for freshness, maceration for thickness. Entirely, satisfyingly and flat-out rung up in juicy Côte de Puy. Meaty and leaning to roasted, this consistent Morgon makes an honest bedfellow with the Cru. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015 @Nicholaspearce_
Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (366005, $22.95, WineAlign)
Tremendously different Malbec, within the context of largesse. Deep, natural funk, like Syrah of meaty, smoky, porcine intent, from the northern Rhone or Franschhoek. But as Malbec, to Cahors, or not, it is simply cimmerian, intense, of iodine and blood, of minerals not often sensed. Well scripted by a big box outfit with much on its plate. High commendation to be sure. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2015 @ALHmalbec@winesofarg
Cabernet Franc moving with all the correct intentions. Plods a disciplined direction of self-harnessing variegated power out of the ripening challenges abetted by The Bench’s rolling hillside vineyards. Esteemed of low alcohol, on a knife’s edge verge of ripe, ripe fruit and with tannin to add necessary stuffing. Depth of Cab Franc terroir clay, simulating the beautiful rascal flats of the lakeshore, here up higher, crusted by the Escarpment, combining for depth and matter. This matter. This bottle matters, this varietal necessity, this excerpt. It has meaty, smoky, binging bent. It will age for a minimum five and likely, efficiently, for an excavating seven or eight. Drink 2015-2023. Tasted September 2015 @Rosewoodwine
In the hands of winemaker Kevin Panagapka, Craig Wismer’s fruit retains un underlay of power not recognized in other Foxcroft Chardonnays. Neither Thomas Bachelder nor Ross Wise (Keint-He) make anything near spirited as this 2027 take. Chardonnay loves the sun in the Foxcroft Block and Panagapka loves to see that sun hook up with the inside of a barrel. This ’12 makes a nice date for a wood wedding. A product of the Dijon 96 clone, the reduction in this Chardonnay drives its fresh, spritely if mettlesome nature, with a bark and a barrel bellow, but longevity will not suffer as a result. This could take 30 years to oxidize, it’s that audacious and also courageous. Let it and its buttered popcorn rest a while. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted May 2015 @2027cellars
From left to right: Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2013, Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2013 and Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013
Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2013, Coonawarra, South Australia (509919, $34.95, WineAlign)
One thing is certain, never judge a Penfolds by its cover, in its youth. Here Shiraz is meaty and pepper laces the brawny fruit. A purely bovine expression with enough ganache to ice a birthday cake for 50. But the level of structure, brick laying foundation and utter momentous occasion means this must be assessed with a waiting for the compression to emerge, from out beneath the cumbrous suppression. In time, that it will. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted September 2015 @penfolds@alyons_wine
Highly volatile at this stage and perhaps will be at further stages, but the fruit slinging to acidity bringing it to and from tannin is immense and beautiful. Big structure, stuffing and stage one temper. Has every right to fly its name up high because this represents firm 2008 Rioja with distinction and is as real as it gets. Needs three years to settle down and play a proper, righteous Rioja tune. Wow. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted September 2015 @Cvne@vonterrabev
Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California (944843, $39.95, WineAlign)
Always fruitful, full and necessary. No holes, plentiful in high quality chocolate and bountiful by way of stuffing. Deep and intense. Big tannins. Tells it from Sonoma Mountain in the way the author would have prescribed. In the proper function of Cabernet, “to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” Persists as a top under $40 California Cabernet, as it always has. A London for the 10-15 year haul. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted September 2015 @KenwoodVineyard@sonomavintners
Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (349019, $44.95, WineAlign)
No combination of ripeness and desert derived concentration can be found in any Cabernet Franc, not just in this country but really anywhere. That the Owl can achieve such massive structure and red fruit containment is remarkable, unparalleled and in singular ownership of style. Extraction clearly matters, layering is key and quality must ride with ripeness. “You know what I’m saying baby,” this is a sky rocket of a Cabernet Franc. Full on, flat-out expression, without compromise. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015 @BurrowingOwlBC@LeSommelierWine
Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013, Rhône, France (700922, $58.95, WineAlign)
A thankful. restful and wistful return to form, away from heat and into perfume. Cherry melting into garrigue, beautiful musty wood, the way things were, not so long ago, when the evening meal and the garden mattered. As things do and will again. This Donjon will be a part of future’s past. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted September 2015 @VINSRHONE@RhoneWine