Only on the rarest of occasions do I consider the Zodiac. Same goes for the constellations though if you slump my tired body into the comfort fitting contours of a Thermarest on a Killarney campsite I’ll happily, dreamily stare up into a near-northern sky. Or on a dock in cottage country if the Aurora Borealis happens to make a magical appearance.
In September I spent some time scanning a South African, southern hemisphere sky with Ken Forrester. Ever the romantic, Ken offered up a short dissertation on one of the special treats afforded a stay in Stellenbosch. I have seen the Southern Cross several times before and yet standing there at 10:30 pm with the South African vigneron-poet, taking in the twinkling balls of time travel, something struck me anew.
I like to line things up. Wine tasting notes with music; a lyric or an artist. You may have noticed. I also find ways to forge bonds, synaesthetic perceptions and Chaldean correlations, regardless of whether they are there for the connecting. Sometimes you just need to fulfill the urge to divide the ecliptic into 12 equal, 30 degree pieces of a pie. Perhaps it’s just the M.O.T. in me.
This coming weekend VINTAGES rolls out the first major release in preparation for the looming holiday addiction. The headlines of “stars of the season,” and “star-studded” can mean only one thing. Expensive and iconic wines will dominate LCBO shelves from now through Christmas. And most of these high ticket items will sell through. Why is that you ask? Mainly because many of them are really good wines. Mostly because desperate people will buy anything when faced with holiday gift-giving deadlines.
My job is to separate the exciting from the boring, the exceptional from the drab. I’ve chosen 12 bottles, each with their own horoscopic identity, wines that illustrate their own idiosyncratic hook-up with a sign of the zodiac. It’s a stretch to be sure but it’s my stretch, so deal with it. If you connect and agree with just one, it may change your perception too.
Capricorn (The Goat)
Sure-footed, hard worker, self-disciplined, over-achiever
J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (430520, $19.95, WineAlign)
Kientzheim Riesling, full, fleshy, opulent but not tropical in style, aromatically fleshy and full of orange rind, lemon zest and tonic. Has that necessary mineral bleed and rock tang. Schlossberg like but not as tannic and certainly ready for prime time at a much younger age. Hints at sweetness but acidity by way of early picked fruit is key. Granite feel. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015 @VinsAlsace @Alsace_info @AlsaceWines @drinkAlsace
Virgo (The Virgin)
Gentle, creative, generous and sympathetic
Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)
This CCV Chardonnay is one of departed winemaker Deborah Paskus’ final acts at Closson Chase. It will forever be noted as a legacy-cementing, swan song of career excellence. Crafted by Paskus and bottled by the next one, current winemaker Keith Tyers, the 2013 CCV is simply a tour de force. No such combination of richness, tropicality and pure grape tannin has ever infiltrated this Chardonnay, from this vineyard. I’m not sure there is a comparison in Ontario, at this level of excellence and at this price. A wine of pure impression, with Montrachet-like structure and Folatières-like precision. Seemingly capacious, its facile legerity is hypnotizing, quantitatively escalating in assembly of aromas, flavours, through texture and finally to longevity. The wine spent 16 months in a mere (17.25 per cent new) oak. That it notes 12.5 per cent alcohol on the label is next to impossible. The substance is just too buttressed to be so tender and effete. Impeccable balance, refinement and mineral finish. This is Chardonnay to confuse the world’s fine white collectors, to wreak havoc at international tastings for five to 10 years. Only 712 cases are available and at $27.95, is down $2 in price from the 2012. Best ever, hands down. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted March 2015 @ClossonChase
Cancer (The Crab)
Sideways, subtle, sensitive and protective
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, Méthode Traditionnelle, Do, Spain (558825, $29.95, WineAlign)
An intricate and elaborate Reserva elevation of Cava, even a bit skunky in the most endearing of ways, like a 55 day dry-aged steak cooked rare. A waft of yet blown sulphur is managed and tempered by smartly sweet yeast. At once clunky and disjointed, then heavy in citrus and the shells of molluscs. Citrus climbs all over the finish, from lime to lemon and into pomello. Complex Cava with the taste of acquired affection in requiem of a very open mind. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015 @hseguraviudas @imbibersreport @cavaswine
Aquarius (The Water Carrier)
Friendly, generous, thoughtful and humanitarian
La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (265090, $32.95, WineAlign)
In a word, yes. Beautiful girl this Montmains, layered of delicate aromas, from flowers through kimmeridgian soil and into fresh forest glade. A child of the cooler, Butteaux sub-climat in which the citrus melds into the soft wooden (228L barriques) notes and all is elevated by such pinpoint-posted acidity. The oak lends cream, the lees fine spun silky texture and the talc a grape tannic ingrained sense of fullness. Terrific wine. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted October 2015 @VinexxCanada @chablisienne @BourgogneWines @BIVBChablis
Aries (The Ram)
Energy, life, vitality and courage
Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)
There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted April 2015 @HiddenBench @BenchVigneron @LeSommelierWine
Taurus (The Bull)
Plodding, peaceful and deliberate
Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)
In magnified aromatic persistence, on and over top of even two months earlier, in such a hyper-grapey way with terrific dry extract chained to tannin and humid minerality. The many months of leave in gentle oak is stating its technically procured, quote unquote de-classified case.
From my earlier note of April 2015:
In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025
Last tasted June 2015 @StratusWines
Libra (The Scales)
Indecisive, solicitous, harmonious and balanced
Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)
The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024. Tasted April and June 2015
Gemeni (The Twins)
Curious, generous and communicative
Bachelder Wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)
From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Drink 2015-2021.
From my earlier note of May 2014:
Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.
Last tasted December 2014 @Bachelder_wines
Leo (The Lion)
Leader, lover, dignified, relaxed and proud
Ca’marcanda Promis 2013, Igt Toscana, Italy (745638, $55.95, WineAlign)
In the only vintage for which such a trial was performed (2003), the chance was had to taste this 2013 under cork side by side with that vintage under screw cap. The difference was vividly palpable, for good or bad, better or worse. Under cork the young wine is like a perfectly shone lump of cool, refulgent coal with so much spice and accent in permeate of an aromatic fruitcake wheel. Under Stelvin the 12 year-old Promis’s freshness is amplified, of early immortality, with the ripest of tannins. The acidity is markedly formidable and yet both wines display a cured nature in undercurrent. Two 10 years separated Promis of spine, spirit and grounded in earth. Leave this 2013 be for two more years, screw cap or not. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted October 2015 @StemWineGroup
Sagittarius (The Centaur)
Adventurous traveller, mythological and experiential
Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)
Peter Gamble describes the ’11 Reserva as “integrated right out of the gate” and blessed with “a little more fruit component.” That is can show such freshness this early in its life span (especially in consideration of the beasts that are 2009 and 2010) is nothing short of a Malbec miracle. This is a wine that saw spontaneous fermentation, which made for very nervous times in the winemaking hands of Roberto de la Mota. Stems were used and their participation lends a Mediterranean feel, in the aromatic impart of sea salinity and kelp. The oak is scaled back a touch so the chalk push, while present, integrates in finer grain within the gritty, iron structure. This is the softest (hyper-relatively speaking) Reserva to date with a newly defined massive attack. The temperature fluctuations of the vineyard are integral in its structure and the question needs to be asked, “how can you have a day without a night?” In the Versado Reserva 2011 you have both. It is a Malbec of unfinished sympathy. Drink this sooner, starting in 2017 and for longer, to 2030. Tasted September 2014 and October 2015 @VersadoWine @winesofarg
Pisces (The Fishes)
Graceful, passionate, religious, daydreamer
Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $64.95, WineAlign)
If 2013 is turning out to be the first truly great Chardonnay vintage of the century out of Sonoma, the Flowers SC is categorically up front and centre in that discussion. The epic’s lead paragraph initializes here in a wine that is severely accurate, a blinding and gorgeous expression that brings the flowers in its game. A wield of pulchritude and balance by acidity spot on. Pure flavour extract expands and the components zing on the finish. Could there lurk a Meursault notion in its lace? You know what, forget that. Strike comparisons from the record. The Flowers is extraordinary of Chardonnay, by Chardonnay and for Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted July 2015 @FlowersWinery @rogcowines @sonomavintners
Scorpio (The Scorpion)
Secretive, perceptive, intense, insightful, with a strength of will
J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon (432823, $64.95, WineAlign)
Lithe and extremely pretty Pinot Noir, reeking of that ancient underground, saline Willamette stream and above ground, Dundee Hills fresh summer berries. Has the best tense intentions, readily available sultry, soluble tannins and just pitch perfect, happy helping acidity. This has the svelte cure and the natural tug of positivity. Sanguine, hematic, volcanic. Great stuff. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted October 2015 @BellaVidaWine @Oregon_Wine @Select_Wines
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel