Seven south of $20 in VINTAGES April 2nd

Vinho Verde, Portugal

Vinho Verde, Portugal

Olá, a partir de Vinho Verde. At the moment I am whirling about in a scalene triangle of grapes up here in the cool, rainy, verdant north west region of Portugal. Alvarinho, Trajadura and Loureiro are on my mind, not to mention what red revelations lurk in Vinhao. I will return before you can shoot “look, there’s the Super New Moon.” No waxing prosaic preamble today folks while I scour the hills and cellars of Vinho Verde for the next great white epiphany. Next weekend’s April 2nd VINTAGES release is full of spills and chills, along with some fine values for spring sun and for 10 degree rainy days.

Related – Eight is enough

I will return next week with a report on what’s available for Passover taken from the March 19th release. For now here are seven sub-$20 values for April 2nd.

mers

Château Haut Philippon 2014, Ac Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux, France (445171, $14.95, WineAlign)

More and more the wines of Entre-Deux-Mers creep into the positive vibrations of Sauvignon Blanc pleasure. This highly expressive beauty makes great work of the ideal with 20 per cent Semillon and 10 Muscadelle lending balancing left and right hands. The herbiage is a cool savour and on the ripe mineral edge of flinty. The value quotient runs high between the seas. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @FWMCan

Dr. Hermann From The Slate Riesling 2013, Qualitätswein, Mosel, Germany (446617, $17.95, WineAlign)

Lovely mineral weight compresses the sugars in this mildly flinty and even more so, slight and lithe by citrus Riesling. Doctor, my eyes now see the light into this Qualitätswein from the house that Hermann built. “Cause I have wandered through this world and as each moment has unfurled,” because of acidity, in which there mingles tropical and beneficial bitters. The action makes for a great little drop from soils fractured with slate. Exemplary Mosel, especially at the gifted price. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @germanwineca  @WinesofGermany

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (261867, $18.95, WineAlign)

Made up in the direct, in your face, ripe and firm Mendoza style, from full on sunshine-fleshy Malbec with a decidedly ferric undertone. This has attitude and gumption. It needs a few years to settle into its leathery hide. Always one of the better value propositions although spiked in price for 2013 to where it should rightfully be. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @FabreMontmayou  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

Paolo Conterno Bricco Barbera D’alba 2014, Doc Piedmont, Italy (744714, $19.95, WineAlign)

Exemplary Barbera, firm and with tart red fruit, spikes of spice and nicely drying tannin. The sour lactic flavours are full of bright red berries and an edge of astringency while the length is more than merely exceptional. Bricco to win. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @LiffordON

Marques De Gelida Exlusive Brut Gran Reserva Cava 2010, Do Penedès, Spain (441956, $19.95, WineAlign)

The aromas are painted at dusk, misty, musty and compressed. The palate shows much more vitality and even a shot of exuberance. By the time the two ends of the sparkling spectrum come to an accord the baking spices of ginger, cardamom and turmeric have taken charge. Painted bottles and an oxidative Cava. Packaged to sell. “Painted ladies and a bottle of wine mama…They took my money like I knew they would.” Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016

Deu La Deu Alvarinho 2014, Monção E Melgaço, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (40642, $19.95, WineAlign)

Rich and unctuous Vinho Verde, full in with lemon and custard, like a Pasteis de Nata swimming in a pool of Moscatel liqueur. High in tang and even more so with spirit. Nothing really lithe about it though it expresses Vinho Verde life with clear and concise language. A far cry from the commercial Vinho Verde found on most LCBO shelves. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @terroirimports

Lodi

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, Lodi, California (942599, $19.95, WineAlign)

The old vines advantage is exercised with altruistic gifting in Joel Peterson’s 2014 through a stealth advent in savoury, smoky red fruit, a smouldering olive branch and off the Zinfandel chart, blooming roses. This has a fine streak running through, not mean, but assuredly firm, mildly tannic and very, very mineral. It reminds at times of schist Syrah and alluvial flats Grenache. There’s something about Zinfandel old vines that educes such a pipe dream. The metal backbone is neither copper nor rust but something umami ore other. Terrific complexity from OV Lodi. Let it rest a bit just to be sure you can handle its orthodoxy. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2016  @CBrandsCareers

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Napa Valley: The next generation

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

In 2007 Chris Hall of Long Meadow Ranch and five other members launched Napa Valley’s Next Generation with the mission to unify a group of family wineries and vineyards through collaborative marketing, education and fun. Now 30-plus strong, the group takes to the road with trade and consumer events to spread the entrepreneurial wine gospel and to inspire success for the next generation in wine.

Last month The California Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners brought a Quebec-Ontario-Manitoba Canadian wine contingent to pay a visit to St. Helena. The group was received by Chris Hall, renaissance man, St. Helena shepherd, ranch hand, multi-purpose Napa wine country purveyor and Next Generation co-founder at his family’s Long Meadow Ranch farmstead. Lisa Peju, Ryan Hill and Steve Burgess joined us for a tasting of two wines from each of their estates, cumulatively embracing and pitching the raison d’être for the concept of Next Generation wines.

Early #napa morning

Early #napa morning

Related – Napa Valley two: A question of age

There is nothing overtly or philosophically profound in the sweet jeux d’esprit ideal but at the NG tasting there assuredly was a deep connection between the wines. Altitude, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon, is a common thread running through Long Meadow Ranch, Peju, Hill Family Estate and Burgess Cellars. They all farm Napa vineyards of elevation, typically colder in winter, hotter in summer and short on the abundance of water. Mayacamas Estate, Pope Valley Ranch (at 2,000 feet, higher than Napa Valley), Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain contribute slope and attitude to the Cabernet wines culled from their terraces. It is out of these craggy places where a broader flavor palate emerges in wines that embody a struggle. These four vintners fight the good fight, to use the best grapes.

Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

Long Meadow Ranch next gen. winemakers setting @LMRwine @HFEWine @PEJUWinery @BurgessCellars #califwine #napavalley #sainthelena

Long Meadow Ranch next gen. winemakers setting @LMRwine @HFEWine @PEJUWinery @BurgessCellars #califwine #napavalley #sainthelena

Long Meadow Ranch

First settled in the late 1800s and abandoned during Prohibition, Long Meadow Ranch was revitalized in 1989 by proprietors Ted, Laddie and Chris Hall, who produce Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon using sustainable and organic farming practices. LMR farms three estates; Rutherford, Mayacamas and in Sonoma they farm Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris on the Anderson Valley Estate. The farmstead in St. Helena hosts a plethora of permanent fixtures and private events. There is a café, restaurants, chef’s table/wine tasting room, events facility, farmer’s market, bluegrass-fed concerts, eco-fitness and live fire with guest chefs.

Long Meadow Ranch

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $22 US)

The tenth vintage of this valley floor Sauvignon Blanc is grated with a proper pungency, graded with grape tannin and indexed by mineral. The feigned sweetness is attributed to vitality, the kind that pops in mouth, sings in spoon-fed bursts, like a “drop D metal band we called requiem” sister jack kind of SB. The lead in chords are early harvested fruit (first week of august), 100 per cent stainless steel ferment in tall skinny tanks and some surface area but not excessive lees contact. Finishes with salinity from proximity to the Napa River and a GCGC bar chord mineral tang. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @LMRwine

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $52 US, WineAlign)

On a trip to Napa Valley with many opportunities to taste ripe and elongated Cabernet Sauvignon from a long, dry (albeit coolish) growing season, Ashley Heisey’s LMR is a standout in the name of balance. Currants and peppercorns are popping in a very savoury aromatic sting, calling out varietal obviousness in a wise and abiding red. The cool, savoury, linear, focused and unabashed fruit, not in concentration or pomp, but in certainty of enough litheness meets cure. The right kind of purple fruit. This is primarily Mayacamas Estate but also Rutherford (with warmer, riper, dusty) fruit, in elevage of 50 per cent new and 50 used barrels for 18 months.  The kind of Napa Valley Cabernet that from now to 2022 will taste almost exactly as it does today. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016

Peju

In 1982 Tony and Herta Peju purchased 30 Rutherford acres between Highway 29 and the Napa River in a neighbourhood that includes Robert Mondavi, Inglenook and Beaulieu. Daughters Lisa and Ariana work alongside their parents. The winery earned organic certification for its Rutherford Estate Vineyard in 2007 and Peju is moving towards organic farming practices in all three of its Napa Valley vineyards; H.B. Vineyard in Rutherford, Persephone Vineyard (sustainable) in Pope Valley and Wappo Vineyard (sustainable) in Dutch Henry Canyon. Peju works with a wide range of varietals, including Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Peju Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $54.95, Winery, WineAlign)

From fruit grown at the Persephone Ranch, central to the sub-appellation of Pope Valley (behind Howell Mountain) out of one of the driest seasons in Napa history. Done up in (60 per cent new) French barrels of half toast resulting in medium glade, buttered only on one side. Six months on the lees to seek mostly the orchard and some smoky reduction, reactive like a lick of gemstone and teasing brimstone. Either way, it’s struck one way or the other. Finds its exit out of the barrel and wants to talk about the soil, the soil, the soil. Supper’s ready with this variegated Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @PEJU_Winery  @LeSommelierWine

Peju Red Wine Blend Fifty/Fifty 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $149.95, Winery, WineAlign)

A covenant betwixt Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and between French and American oak. Also from the Persephone Ranch vineyard, the harvest goddess, queen of the underworld. Good thing the varietal-wood (65 per cent new for 16 months) arrangement is bounded by Jesse Malin rhythms, with quite a bit of peppery warmth rising up the olfactory in a purposed floral lift, culminating in white light, snappy ardor. A direct red blend from some of the best blocks of Persephone that rarely sees the light of export day as it sells out every year from the winery. Big blends and bigger oak can be dangerous, “like an age old contradiction, with alcohol and lust.” When treated right by the hands of an experimental winemaker like Sara Fowler, danger turns to excitement. It will take you for “a ride on the tilt-a-whirl.” Enjoy it two years from now. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016

Hill Family Estate

After three decades of farming and selling Napa Valley grapes Doug Hill and family decided to enter the business of producing wine. Doug farms the grapes and helps craft the wine with winemaker Alison Doran while Ryan runs the sales at the Yountville winery. Production includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Rose’ of Pinot Noir.

Hill Family Estate Chardonnay Carly’s Cuvée 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $30 US)

Quite reductive and conservative out of the glass, reluctant to allow a netting or getting of the fruit. Attributable because of the shellac and then patience is deserving of a soft, caressing interior, opined in preserved citrus and groping white pH of grip. Density is not a texture thing but it is weighted. Grippy work from winemaker Alison Doran from fruit gathered out of the southern end of American Canyon, the coldest, windiest part of the valley. If any Napa Valley Chardonnay could be considered cool-climate, this is it. Done up in 60 per cent new, 40 per cent used barrels for only 10 months. “We’re not fans of a cube of butter and a baseball bat in a glass,”  says Ryan Hill.  Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @HFEWine

Hill Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Red Door 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $85 US)

A red door is a symbol of welcome, or for the Chinese, a center of positive energy, abundance, and opportunity. This portal parts a swath with extraction and from ripeness right there with the best of them. Silky, voluptuous, textured Cabernet crissed by a cool middle streak on the palate and crossed with caressing tannins. Clearly borne of an ideal vintage. The Red Door is the entrance door to the tasting room of reclaimed wood laminated onto a pine core and painted red. Yountville (10 per cent) Petit Verdot and Oak Knoll (10 percent) Malbec add firmness and ease to fill and fluff the Atlas peak Cabernet. Spent 16 months in 100 per cent French Oak. Bloody delicious stuff. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted February 2016

Burgess Cellars

Tom Burgess purchased the 1870’s era mountainside winery in 1972 with a plan to express terroir, from grapes, through wines, to reflect the vineyard’s soil, exposure and micro-climate. The home estate Burgess vineyard produces the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon. Haymaker vineyard is the spot for Syrah on the eastern side of Howell Mountain and Triere vineyard in the Oak Knoll District is the site for Merlot. In Ontario Burgess works directly with VINTAGES and the member’s based Opimian Society.

Burgess Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $48)

Deep, dark and brooding (92 per cent) Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot, from a vintage that supplied exceptional fruit though this strikes as hyper-ripe, not quite baked but at the frontier. Some caramel and light soy, along with a bit of rubbery reduction. I’m guessing the Syrah style will be very similar. Fruit is from between Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak lava so the borders were drawn with Burgess outside of the Howell Mountain box. The spot is at 1500m on the western side of the mountain and 1200m on the east side, above the fog and the frost. The altitude and attitude leads to the darkest of black fruit flavours.  Tufa soils are found at the winery, with the east side defined by volcanics and marine sediments. 6,000 cases were made. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

Burgess Cellars Syrah 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $36)

Brighter than the Cabernet with a very pretty floral and faint pepper scent. Don’t always get specific berries but here boysenberry and strawberry mix up the Syrah stylistic ideology to a Napa Valley end. Though sweetness pervades this has the chalky, grainy tannin to match the meaty suede of the fruit. From 100 per cent Syrah off of Steve’s brother’s vineyard on the east side of Howell Mountain. American oak vanilla and bourbon meld into the red and blue fruit. 500 cases were made. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016

Next Generation

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Eight is enough

Asparagus, chard, lemon and nutty cheese #chablis

Asparagus, chard, lemon and nutty cheese #chablis

I spent more than 20 years cooking. It was hard work and it was fulfilling work. When I was 19 a fellow McGill student asked my why I cooked so much. I said that when I was cooking I never thought I should be doing something else. I never felt guilty that I wasn’t studying or considered that I might be wasting time. I started writing about wine in 2005 and really had no plans to make a career out of it. I would have been content occupying my time working as hard as any wine professional, writing tasting notes and developing prose for eight or nine hours a day. I began the wine writing partly to avoid working on harder things but also for the pleasure of it.

Here I am 11 years later, working as a professional in wine. I feel like Dick van Patten, sitting at my desk in a house where kids come and go, typing away, solving life’s problems one wine at a time. Tom Bradford did not have VINTAGES bi-weekly releases to keep him busy but lucky me, I get to review 150-plus wines every month from the endless cycle of offerings.

For April 2nd and in the category of “expensive but affordable because they’re good” I think that eight is enough. Here are my notes.

Cunto

Alois Cunto Pallagrello Nero 2011, Igp Terre Del Volturno, Campania, Italy (440743, $24.95, WineAlign)

Possibly an ode to the 17th century fairytale “Lo cunto de li cunti,” the tale of tales, or story of stories, now called Pentamerone by seventeenth-century Italian poet and courtier Giambattista Basile. Maximum ripeness, almost into dried fruit but on the naturally cured and curated edge. Pallagrello Nero finds its way into ethereal while living dangerously close to that razor’s edge. Dry tannic finish, firm and ragged. If that collection of tales could influence the form of fairytales in Europe, perhaps the Alois Palagrello Nero can do the same for natural wine. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016  @vinialois  @Reg_Campania

Maison Chanzy En Rosey Rully 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (446153, $26.95, WineAlign)

Rusty and firm Pinot Noir from Rully with enough bright fruit and acidity to keep it from hiding in caves and stepping into shadows. Even brighter on the palate with Côte Chalonnaise’s own specific tangy red fruit flavour and really ripe tannins. Terrific Rully, better known for its Chardonnay but this is a stellar example of its Pinot Noir. A poor person’s Burgundy bargoon. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @le_tastevin  @maisonchanzy  @BourgogneWines

Ruffino Modus 2012, Igt Toscana, Italy (912956, $29.95, WineAlign)

A VINTAGES re-release for the ostensible Tuscan, a perennially accessible Super food with as much mineral feel and ferric substance as it has ever shown. Not so much a showy vintage as it is a production made for best in show. Red stone fruit bounds fleshy and just a touch of properly bitter accents are provided by wood, much appreciated by the weight and pitch. A tight but lyrically measured Modus of restraint and moderation that would do well with a major decant and some char on an aged hunk of flesh on the bone. Walk before you run to find this ode. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2016 @RuffinoWines  @CBrandsCareers

Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Chianti Classico Riserva 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (23358, $29.95, WineAlign)

Chianti Classico Riserva rarely smells like this these days. It’s not as though this harkens back twenty years but it certainly recalls a time from the turn of the century when Sangiovese was Sangiovese and Tuscans were Tuscans. The musk, sour cherry, leather, pannetone, meat and gladiator brawn from honest fruit sent to spend time in big casks sitting like giant buddhas underground. Here CCR does what it once did best, preserving and freezing time, only to emerge unscathed, healed and ready to tell a life-time of stories. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted March 2016  @ProfileWineGrp  @chianticlassico

Sylvain Mosnier Côte De Lechet Chablis 1er Cru 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (318139, $35.95, WineAlign)

Classic Chablis from a very old vineyard (belonged to the Pontigny’s monk) with southeast exposure west of the town of Chablis and just above the small village of Milly. Mosnier’s parcel gifts delicate fruit, just so fortuitous in quantity and quality of lees overtures on stony lime-driven texture. Chardonnay in hands of terroir so flinty, lacy, organza fine. What more could be asked of for this next to nothing 1er Cru Chablis price? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @BIVBChablis

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73072, $40.95, WineAlign)

More Northern Rhone depth drives a beefy steak through the desert heart of Burrowing Owl’s 2013 Syrah, a wine of smelting liqueur and fierce ooze. The layers are so compressed, like tumbled earth and rock at the bottom of a steep slope. The flavours are covered in a rich ganache for the time being but a gravelly unearthing is already starting to begin excavations. This is a big Syrah with plenty of time on its side. “Let it ride. Let it ride easy down the road. Let it take away all of the darkness.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine  @winebcdotcom

Jean Luc Colombo Terres Brûlées Cornas Syrah 2012, Ac Rhone, France (448837, $72.95, WineAlign)

The darkest knight for Colombo full of every crush imaginable. Hematic and welling up with tension. Rich behind the pale and with acidity that scales it back, not elevates it out of reach. Wild berries and some vineyard funk. Quite the mouthful and spicy kick on the back. Wow Cornas, sumptuous Syrah. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March 2016  @vinscolombo  @bwwines  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE

Groth

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (606517, $112.95, WineAlign)

Exactement. Exacting 2012 to explain the weather in Napa Valley from a vintage all were thankful for. High brix. Optimum ripeness. Rich and spicy. How does this Groth fall in line with the question to age? Ten years for sure. What about 25? Though it remains to be seen, today’s ripeness quotient in cool, dry, elongated years is not consistent with 1982, 1992 or 2002. This Groth ’12 finds itself poised in balance and answers no skewed questions of structure. It is more accessible than many peers and also as compared to itself, right now, or with the equivalent of a one year decant. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @GrothWines  @TheVine_RobGroh  @NapaVintners

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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The dawning of the age of Austrian wine

At a loess for words. Exceptional multi-vintage #grunerveltliner tasting with thanks to @austrianwine

At a loess for words. Exceptional multi-vintage #grunerveltliner tasting with thanks to @austrianwine

On Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 Grüner Veltliner supervened in Toronto. It was long past due for the community of Sommeliers, Media and Austrian advocates to convene for the purpose of a vertical tasting followed by an Austrian wine bar of product currently available in Ontario. An ausbreitung of the highest Grüner order. I was fortunate to be a part of the Spoke Club fest and thought it high time I said something about it.

The Austrian Wine Fair comes to Toronto’s St. James Cathedral, Library & Snell Hall on April 14th, 2016. The Austrian Wine Marketing Board and 30 Austrian vintners will be showcasing 165 wines, to media, trade and in partnership with WineAlign, to an evening reception for consumers.

The Schedule

Tutored Tasting for Sommeliers and Media, 11 AM – 12:30 PM.

Trade Walk-Around Tasting for trade professionals only, 12:00 PM – 4:30 PM.

Austrian Wines – A Taste of Culture, consumer tasting 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM. Only $55 for WineAlign members (regular cost is $60). Reserve your tickets here.

WineAlign’s John Szabo, MS has this to say. Austria has a terrific culture of wine, producing and drinking. Beyond the world’s best Grüner Veltliner, you’ll also find astonishing Riesling, as well as more exotic white grapes with singular flavours. But it’s the Austrian reds – Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent & co. – that may shock you most, in tune with the zeitgeist of the modern drinker. I look forward to reconnecting with the folks who make them.”

For more information contact Birgitta Samarvarchian, toronto@advantageaustria.org, 416 967 3348. The closing date for registration is April 13, 2016.

Traditionally known for its white wines, few realize that one third of Austria’s vineyards are planted to red. At the Austrian tasting an educational seminar will feature flights of the three red aces, the indigenous grape varieties Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, plus a rare flight of Austrian Pinot Noir. Two years ago I concurred:

“The whites, mainly centered around the signature variety Grüner Veltliner, showed the mineral and salinity so necessary to the grape’s success. Reds made from Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch are Austria’s trump card, ready and willing to take on the world’s reds imbued of elegance and finesse.”

Related – A ramp to Austrian wine

Back to that October tasting. Outside of making the trip to Vienna and forging an itinerary that includes no less than a dozen high profile producers who generously agree to crack open some older vintages, what other setting could present Grüner Veltliner in such light? The age ability recognition factor knocked another one off the bucket list and opened new doors to perception. If for no other reason, and there are many, he Austrian tasting coming to Toronto should not be missed.

On the road w: @zoltanszabo & @tonyaspler we concur. Expert overture @austrianwine #grunerveltliner via @johnszabo

On the road w: @zoltanszabo & @tonyaspler we concur. Expert overture @austrianwine #grunerveltliner via @johnszabo

Flight #1

Stift Göttweig Grüner Veltliner Göttweiger Berg 2014, Kremstal, Austria

Freshness, with a minimal amount of Co2, herbal certainly, with pears and stones. The fruit finale is up, up and away. Very flavourful, almost tropical Grüner.

Fritsch Grüner Veltliner Ried Steinberg Ruppersthal 2014, Wagram, Austria

Has a candied meets medicinal nose and more than its share of mineral to taste. Lingers with a sweetness that is not sugar. It’s a tang derived from grape tannin.

Weixelbaum Grüner Veltliner Reserve Ried Wechselberg 2013, Kamptal, Austria

Very ripe, so tropical to nose and smells like candy floss, like enticing spun sugar. Mouthfeel is more like unoaked Chardonnay. Global entry strategy for Grüner to take the market by fresh storm turns exit strategy without reason.

Edlmoser Grüner Veltliner Ried Himmel 2013, Wien, Austria

The mineral expression of the young Grüner. Elemental and metallic. Good range of motion, right side of the mineral tracks. Really fine tracking and length.

Liegenfeld Grüner Veltliner Ried Himmelriech 2013, Burgenland, Austria

Full-ish and bullish, especially in flight comparison. Quite the fruit monster here, with a sugarless sour candy sensation and savoury linger. An eastern European cough candy with enough subtlety to keep it from crossing any uncomfortable lines. The outlier.

Flight #2

Holzappel Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Achleiten 2012, Wachau, Austria

A tiny bit of botrytis giving off a mushroom and truffle note, perfect at this stage for a ’12 though it will likely increase going forward, possibly at the compromise of the stellar fruit and even deeper mineral passion play. This is an intense wine with acidity that may be waning but the wine cuts a deep and serious bowie wound. The lees really rules and reigns in the rest. Turns to cider after 10-15 minutes. Changes. “Oh, yeah, Mmm. Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for. And my time was runnin’ wild.”

Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Kellerberg 2012, Wachau, Austria

Quite stoic, clear, clean, steely, like unoaked Chablis. Wondering where the lees are in this, how much and for how long because it has that distinct mineral tang that lees will give to a wine made like this. Exemplary but simple. Though the acidity is low so it finishes fat. Still, proper and simple.

FJ Gritsch Mauritiushof Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Singerriedel 2012, Wachau, Austria

This has the candied nose, the tropical fruit and the lactic feel. Quite a mouthful of same flavours in repeat on top of the aromatics and an overall layered tang. Like those white blends again.

Leth Grüner Veltliner Ried Scheiben “1ÖTW” 2012, Wagram, Austria

Powerful loess in concentration, smells like scraped wet soft tuff-like rocks, almost powdery and not a fruit-driven Grüner. Better acidity than some and finishing bitters. The first to do so.

Allram Grüner Veltliner Reserve Ried Gaisberg “1ÖTW” 2011, Kamptal DAC, Austria

Age is creeping in, with a petrol and tannic note that take this into steep slope, white stoicism. The slate is really in, the acacia barrel giving a near-nutty note and certainly white flower distillate. Like eau de vivre. Got a spark.

Salomon Undhof Grüner Veltliner Reserve “Von Stein” 2010, Kampstal DAC, Austria

Gas and stone again, with more verve and life. The first to give soil funk without sweetness or botrytis. A slight Co2 note, a spark, very mineral character. Old vines give concentration, rocks do tannin and acidity lingers nicely. Got stein. Old Riesling reduction and energy equals implosive energy. Flight #2 really speaks to the loess and here is it definitely on high.

Flight #3

Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Wösendorfer Hochrain 2008, Wachau, Austria

A fine slow decline in grace, elegance, bald, striking. Here the reason not to fear and for any and all decisions to protract age from Grüner. There has been no discernible deterioration and without a doubt the cleanest fruit in its original state. No flaws. So in that sense an ageless wonder. Strikes as so much younger; colour, aroma, flavour, tannin and linger. Ageless.

Brundlemayer Grüner Veltliner Reserve Ried Lamm 2007, Kamptal DAC, Austria

Certainly showing age here, through all its components and has a sugary gaseous feel. Says Trocken so I wonder what the RS really is. Mineral and acidity are in great interplay. Good length. Really smart and necessary look into aged Grüner. Reductive torque from a top vineyard. The French paradox in analogy is Sémillon.

Hiedler Grüner Veltliner “Familienreserve” 2006, Kamptal, Austria

There was some dirty fruit here, past its prime, late harvest certainly, smelling of tropical fruit past ferment and into decay. But, there is acidity so there is life. Lots of bitters. Some volatility. In a way, The Frick of Austria. Heavy lees, acacia barrels. No fining, no filtration, some biodynamic principals applied to grape growing.

Malat Grüner Veltliner “Das Beste vom Veltliner” 1999, Kremstal, Austria

I find this so much fun at 16 years of age with burnt orange, caramel, white pepper, spices, and an elemental, aerified glory that is some kind of serious inhalant and intoxicant. Late harvest again, clementine segments of flavour, with citrus acidity and great mental acuity. Great bitters. This is on par with some aged Alsace, somewhere between Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Weighs in and integrates its 19 g/L of RS with distinction.

Flight #4

Herbert Zillinger Grüner Veltliner Reserve “Radikal” 2013, Weinviertel DAC, Austria

Oxidative, spontaneous ferment, leading to tang upon tang. The methodology has led to tannin in layers, some orange segment and bitters. Acidity is not striking and its aridity means drink this early.

Geyerhof Grüner Veltliner “wildlux” 2013, Kremstal DAC, Austria

I get terpenes, like cool-climate Chardonnay, well, more cool than Chardonnay and then it gains in salinity, sea salts, brine, groove but not necessarily mineral. Has real verve, life and yet again, not for age. Known for their natural winemaking.

Zillinger Johannes Grüner Veltliner “Numen” 2013, Osterreich, Austria

Amphorae wine, old vines, certainly oxidative, thick texture from lees, but there is acidity. Orange again and edgy, with a piercing limestone tang that runs directly through. Numen “natural spirit inhabiting a place or just natural genius (of spirit).” No external intervention.

Sepp Moser Grüner Veltliner Ries Schnabel “Minimal” 2013, Weinland, Austria

Here is the Alsatian Grüner, natural and with the addition of slow micro-oxidation of old barrels. Eighteen months seems almost on the lee side of time, as we find so much preserved lemon and a lack of Grüner impression. Certified biodynamic. “Will not meet the expectations of wine consumers today.” Dill pickle meets a tomato of volatility.

Wimmer-Czerny Grüner Veltliner “Pur” 2012, Wagram, Austria

Hard to believe this is only 2 g/L of RS. Real Muscat character in aromatics and again terpenes but with a naturally oxidative bent.

One in the April 2nd, VINTAGES release

Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2014, Dac Kamptal, Austria (142240, $21.95, WineAlign)

Flat out delicious Grüner Veltliner with a nice split between fruit and mineral, mas o menos, neither really leading the other. Citrus and a bit of an airy, gravel feel. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @LeSommelierWine  @FredLoimer

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Napa Valley two: A question of age

Cuvaison Estate Wines

Cuvaison Estate Wines, Carneros, Napa Valley

In February, Cuvaison Estate Wines in Carneros, The California Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners welcomed a group of curious Canadians for a walk in the fields and a comprehensive tasting. Some older and old-ish bottles were opened in the session with Cuvaison’s winemaker Steve Rogstad, Groth’s Suzanne Groth, Schramsberg’s Hugh Davies and Trefethen’s Loren Trefethen. Journalists and sommeliers are always pleased to see some (bottle) age in a tasting.

Youthful ingress into back pages of @GrothWines nearly three decades past @NapaVintners @CalifWines_CA #napavalley

Youthful ingress into back pages of @GrothWines nearly three decades past @NapaVintners @CalifWines_CA #napavalley

We drink wine to experience moments that do not occur in other situations, settings or with other beverages. When we taste older wines we look into the past and pause, for thought and for who might have had a hand in this glass, back then, for us to wonder about now. To dislike older wines is to arraign a censuring of the past and a refusal to let it testify on its own behalf. The dismissal of aged wine is an act of complacent idleness. It is spiteful, incurious and therefore inept. It may seem pedantic to harp on the anti-older wine curmudgeon but let’s face it. The act of self-moralizing without admitting to being a moralist is just not cool.

In 1981 Napa Valley became the first Califronia-designate American Viticultural Area to hold such a distinction. You have to pay a visit not only to comprehend its beauty but also its stature. In terms of size it is just 30 miles long and a few miles wide, is planted to a mere five per cent for viticulture and represents just four per cent of California’s wine grape harvest. And it’s a mammoth in the global wine industry.

Cuvaison, Carneros, Napa Valley

Cuvaison, Carneros, Napa Valley

Los Carneros is the largest AVA and the only appellation located at the crossroads of two major wine regions, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The area is influenced by the maritime breezes and fog from its southern border with the extension of the San Francisco Bay. Cuvaison is a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialist taking full advantage to use that cool fog for its rolling hills perched above San Pablo Bay. Time spent in Carneros with winemaker Steve Rogstad and President Jay Schuppert leads to a coveting, of its undulating vineyards and its tasting room warmth. A room with a view and an uncanny ability to turn all into calm.

Manitoba

A great Manitoban tastes at Cuvaison

A motley Canadian crew of Quebeckers, Ontarians and one great Manitoban saunter through the winter mustard with Schuppert and Rogstad who explains that the plant material in Napa Valley then (twenty-five plus years ago) was not what it is today. There was so much virus so ripeness conversion was very different. Today with everything being so clean, ripeness is less of a challenge.

Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

Though this is one of the first stops on the compressed and consigned three-day Napa Valley tour, the thematic is already unfolding like the bedtime transformation inside a sustainable, high-tech, architecturally modish, 800 square foot, pre-fab home. Napa Valley’s chief concern, like the home’s comfort, efficiency, giving back to the grid and common sense, equates to ripeness. It’s what everyone is after. It’s what matters. If a grape completes its phenolic journey and achieves optimum ripeness, related to and specific to site, then the mission is complete. What follows is less important.

Though the quest for ripeness is easily assessed in 2016, especially because the last four Napa vintages have seen to produce perfect fruit, there is something to be said for what happened back in the day. Napa Valley garnered attention long before the vines were this clean of disease and virus. Ripeness was a virtue and still is, but today’s definition has little or nothing to do with what passed for fulfillment in the 8o’s and 90’s. Today’s wines are bigger, darker, deeper, higher in alcohol, hedonistic and lush. They are not this way because of stylistic divergence. They are this way because that’s what the weather and the vines are giving. My recent visit confirmed this sense of clarity.

We tasted eight comparative wines with Hugh, Steve, Suzanne and Loren. Here are my notes.

Tasting line-up at Cuvaison

Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 50th Anniversary Late disgorged 1999, Napa Valley, California (Winery $175 US, Agent)

In celebration of Schramsberg’s golden anniversary, 50 years after Jack and Jamie Davies revived the historic Schramsberg estate for the purpose of making the nation’s first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir based, bottle-fermented sparkling wines. A North Coast (57 per cent Napa, 25 Mendocino, 15 Monterey and 13 Sonoma) blend of 74 per cent Chardonnay and 26 Pinot Noir. Seventeen years have come to ginger, cumin, coriander and galangal in laminous, oxidative ingenuity, wholly arid in kicking up the aromatic dust. Flavours of pressed lemon, bitter brioche and then tannin, yes tannin. From a protracted year, picked as late as October 19th, disgorged in August of 2014 at a dosage of (very necessary) 11.5 g/L RS. Blessed with high natural acidity of 9.8 tA. How can I not concur with Hugh Davies. “What we’re really showing here is Napa Valley Chardonnay.” Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted February 2016  @Schramsberg  @TheVine_RobGroh

schram

Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 2007, Napa Valley, California (Winery $120 US, Agent)

A Blanc-domainted sparkling dedicated to Schramsberg’s founder Jacob Schram, gathered from the very best base wine lots of approximately 250 that simmer each year. North Coast (65 per cent Napa, 19 Sonoma, nine Mendocino and seven Marin) Chardonnay (84 per cent) and Pinot Noir (16) from significantly low pH, high habitual acidity and healthy dosage define the signature sparkler in the arsenal of winemakers Sean Thompson and Hugh Davies. Spent seven years on the lees and was disgorged less than a year ago. So similar to 1999 but obviously brighter, though the profile is a microcosmic version. With citrus more pronounced, by lime and grapefruit in addition to the lemon. I wonder if they might fully dissipate with time. Not as dense and pressed but again, thank/blame time and/or vintage relations, not to mention evolutionary stresses. Earlier dosage is certainly a factor. This 2007 is a more moderate bubble from a vintage finished by the end of September. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016

Steve Rogstad

Steve Rogstad

Cuvaison Pinot Noir Estate 2009, Los Carneros, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

Very expressive Pinot Noir that within the context of tone I find the VA noticeably elevated, as are the aromas of fennel and a transition from balsamic to soy. Quite advanced while aerating brings out a floral foil, namely violet. A sweet and tart palate comes with a bite of what seems ironically like mustard seed, thoughtfully Japanese in origin and condiment. This would pair well with the eclectic flavours of teppanyaki. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @cuvaison  @LiffordON

Cuvaison Pinot Noir Spire 2013, Los Carneros, California (Agent, Winery, $52.00 US)

Part of winemaker (since 2002) Steve Rogstad’s Single Block Series, from a drought vintage’s fruit aged for 16 months in French oak puncheons. Fresh and bright, within and without, from a solid black cherry core to framed by the same. Cool from San Pablo Bay fog, savoury and dusty with cocoa to long espresso. Typical Carneros ripe and pure Pinot Noir to the nth degree. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Groths

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $179.95, WineAlign)

Tasted alongside the alluring 1987 with Suzanne Groth. Extremely primary and struck as if by cool fog and mineral mist. Unmelted and unshaken tempered chocolate to be sure, cracked and fissured into shards. The flavours welcome Cassis and graphite with quite the lightning on the tongue. Enervating Cabernet, pulsating and tingling. Should age long but not quite like the 1980’s. Contains 12 per cent Merlot and saw 22 months in 100 per cent oak, but notes Suzanne, “other than that everything is completely different.” Drink 2018-2032.  Tasted February 2016 @GrothWines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1987, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (AgentWineAlign)

Not so much the look but it is the feel that is fuelled by dill weed and a touch of mushroom soy. Almost inconsequential older aromas are dissed by the positivity of flowers, some dried into potpourri while other’s drape sprung and stoic in the hanging pot’s balance. A slice of dried orange sits on the wrought iron porch table. Here is the wonder of 28 year-old Cabernet that persists as a pleasure to drink, not because it’s exciting but because its lovely and alive. Blessed with a truffled finish. Quite amazing actually. A child of a small crop and very healthy year, with 10 per cent Merlot, 22 months in 100 per cent French oak and the nerve to emerge like this in 2016, which is quite incredible. Made at a time when the fruit was protected from burn. “Definitely tastes like Cabernet from the 1980’s.” Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016

Trefethen

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll District 2001, Napa Valley, California (Agent, Winery $60 US)

From one of Napa Valley’s lithesome and adroit plots, the gravelly soils in the northwestern quadrant of Trefethen’s estate vineyard. Fifteen year-old Cabernet in a demurred state of grace, pausing, reflecting its own incredible condition. Cool and stretchy, still so primary, kernel coated in chocolate and dark berries. Mineral too with a few plus a couple of years to go. A creature conditioned by a soil’s alluvial fan giving courage and strength. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @trefethenfamily  @Vinexxperts

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll District 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery $60 US)

Forceful, almost brooding, with a plethora combined of chocolate and savour, from mint and with a touch of eucalyptus. Wonderful fruit components are accented by spice. Here the accumulated knowledge of re-planted vineyards has come to this in which elegance meets power and with your next great meal in mind. Loren Trefethen notes the use of double T trellising so that the grapes are subjected to a dapple light effect with which they are neither tanning nor shaded. Certainly some levied tones that will need to settle. Fascinating wine of geology, vineyard management and a redux return to an older way of fashion. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

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Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

You need only spend a few days in Napa Valley to gain a basic understanding of what drives the machine. Immerse yourself into three or four structured tastings and hear the mantra repeated. Listen to the winemaker and the viticulturist talk about the growing seasons and intuit the very basic premise, the essential doctrine and the constitutive aspect on everyone’s mind. Ripeness.

The 2011 vintage was an unmitigated disaster. Cold, rain and low brix levels made for less than stellar Napa Valley reds and whites. At the time it wasn’t so much swept under the rug as much as shrugged off. Still some very good wines were made. Even today critical proponents of cool-climate and understated wines will champion the elegance and proportion of 2011 Napa reds, especially the Cabernets. Talk to or listen to a local winemaker speak and know they will (mostly) all agree to disagree with those ideas. There was little to no phenolic journey fully completed in 2011. Relativity is the general, special and principle quizlet to compare and contrast Napa Valley wines. The next vintage afforded the opportunity to put 2011 behind them. The proximate three relegated 2011 to the footnotes of history.

What followed 2011 was drought, extended drought, difficult times drought. Grapevines do quite will when they struggle, provided their keepers have equipped them with the organic and self-preserving tools to survive without water. While the rest of the state suffered, Napa Valley grapevines produced exceptional fruit. From 2012 to 2015 the pilgrimage to maturity happened with ease. Quality over quantity? Sometimes both. In 2012 there was a huge crop from an incredible growing vintage. Along with 2013 they are being heralded as two of the best vintages in the last 30 years.

If a tutored Napa Valley tasting is centred around Cabernet Sauvignon and parent grape variety Sauvignon Blanc then the mind may wander into comparative territories with Bordeaux clearly on the analogous radar. Cabernet defines Napa Valley, hook, line and sinker. Nearly everyone grows it, bottles it and employs it to define who and what they are. The numbers corroborate the abstraction. Cabernet is still the king. The interesting diversion is Sauvignon Blanc. In the context of Bordeaux it is not a diversion at all but Napa growers and producers are infatuated with it. It makes for good but rarely great wines. Chardonnay has proven its Napa Valley pedigree. So why Sauvignon Blanc?

If Bordeaux epitomizes a mono-worshipping culture then deconstructing Napa Valley reflects the effort of extricating monotheism out of a polytheistic context. But Napa is not Bordeaux and also avoids the affectation and mannerisms of monotheistic worship, something that is very specific to Bordeaux and even more so to other ancient wine-producing regions. In Napa there is great interest and time set aside for Chardonnay but also some love Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Cabernet Sauvignon leads with authoritarianism on a chilling scale and Sauvignon Blanc exists in a polar opposite vacuum. Nothing is inexpensive to grow and most markets expect to pay a premium for quality. Demand will perpetually support Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Sauvignon Blanc above $20 and not from Bordeaux is different. It is Napa’s greatest curiosity, made with great care and thrown caution to the marketplace wind. And it sells. Looked at from both sides clarity is noted in the adage that Napa Valley is not Bordeaux.

Berry to bottle

Berry to bottle

On February 9th, 2016 nine Canadians sat down to taste with the principals of three Napa wineries, Joseph Phelps, St. Supery and host Silverado Vineyards. Karen MacNeil is a wine author, journalist, educator and consultant. MacNeil moderated a two-varietal tasting with Bill Phelps (President of Joseph Phelps Vineyards), Emma Swain (CEO at St. Supery), Russ Weis and John Emmerich (GM and winemaker at Silverado). From berry to bottle was organized by the California Wine Institute and Napa Vintners.

“Dirt is once again the sexy part of the business,” began MacNeil’s presentation. “Place is the core construct and inescapable construct.” The hills, slopes, ridges and valleys of the Valley are indeed intricate and the soil sets as diverse as you are want to find anywhere. Napa Valley contains 33 soil series with more than 100 soil variations and half of the soil orders that exist within the world can be found in the Napa Valley. At the end of the day ripeness follows. At all other times it leads. We tasted six wines that day. Here are the notes.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Graced by and driven for texture, with lees, out of second fill barrels and finished struck across a scraped mineral tang. Highly refreshing compression of density and weight. Long linger of stone fruit, primary peach and secondary apricot. Non-discernible citrus. Phelps has been producing this wine since 1975 from the home ranch vineyard, typically in increments of 2500 cases. If Sauvignon Blanc were made in Alsace, this is what it would be like. Unpronounced acidity and a floral note pay thanks to integrated Musque clones Bill Phelps says are integral to the mix. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @josephphelps  @LiffordON

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012, Napa Valley, California (710400, Agent, $299.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Insignia had me at first whiff. At first sip I could not be reached. Massive aromatics blast from this formidable Insignia, clearly noted with immediate clarity as a proprietary blend for the ages. The current torrent is so plugged in and highly climatic, like a visibly sparking conduit, storm and fire all wrapped into one electric happening. The peaks, valleys, waves and intonations are bred of perfectly ripe fruit sets traveling as one in perfect syncopation. The ripe, chain-link tannins will take this very, very far. This is as fine a California wine as I have ever tasted.  The first vintage was 1974. All five bordeaux varietals are represented which is not often the equation. In 2012 the blend is 75 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 Merlot, 10 Petit Verdot with bits of Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Drink 2018-2045. Tasted November 2015 and February 2016

St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc Dollarhide Estate 2014, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US)

An altitude effected, single-vineyard, warm days, cool nights Sauvignon Blanc so much more in residence of varietal hyperbole, from grass to gooseberry, apple terpenes and finishing spice. Highly emotional SB of San Pablo Bay cooling and antithetical drought thanks to Sierra Nevada snowpack, or lack thereof. Stainless on lees stirred weekly bolstered in texture by 18 per cent barrel fermentation. Aussie expat winemaker Michael Schultz controls this big, vivid and vital style. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @StSupery  @vonterrabev

St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Dollarhide Estate 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $100 US)

Dollarhide was a cattle farm, a 1530 acre enormity of a ranch, now one of the more impressive Napa vineyards of altitude, micro-climate and heterogeneous soil series. The 2012 is a 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon cornered from the finest (number eight) 30 year-old vines parcel, planted in 1982. It is youthful and even a bit reductive, with dark red fruit and cooler savoury curation. Possessive of some black olive and mint-like coolness. Sweet tannins and espresso, specified and agreed from all French oak, left to decide a hillside expression. A fine chocolate finish is far from bitter with paid homage to that parcel which is a combination of volcanic and ancient sea sediment. Large shells have been found in the vineyard at 1200 feet. Tres cool. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted February 2016

Silverado Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Miller Ranch 2014, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US, WineAlign)

Fruit from vines burrowed into seep soil on a Yountville site between Hopper Creek and the Napa River (though 5 per cent is from Soda Creek Vineyard). A small elbow (four per cent) of Sémillon injects a shot of vitality into the arm of Sauvignon Blanc. For winemaker Jon Emmerich Miller Ranch in a climate sweet spot, a go between in which cool evening and morning temperatures mitigate the sweat of warm sunshine. Its home soils are blessed with terrific water capacity. No de-stemming is performed and the wine sees a long, cold (up to two months) fermentation. All in the name of aromatics. And so the Silverado home ranch Sauvignon Blanc lies somewhere in between the excitable and the elegant. Quite Bordelais but also grapefruit refreshing, with a slight spritzy tingle. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @SilveradoSOLO  @KylixWines

Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solo 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent $119.00, WineryWineAlign)

From heritage Cabernet Sauvignon vines recognized by the University of California, Davis, in other words, a clone unto itself. The home ranch estate vineyard was planted in 1968 and over two decades the vines adapted to Silverado’s steep, shale soils and mutated. Through meticulous field selections an entirely new clone of Cabernet Sauvignon emerged. Here is one of only three Cabernet Sauvignons to attain this status and the only one from Stags Leap District. Who knew such magic lurked in the Napa hills? The stuff of Roald Dahl imagination. This is a dusty and grounded red, of chaparral in arid, arenose, hillside forest floor character. Higher tones (there is a bit of VA) leaps with this SOLO’s Cabernet metamorphosed self, in a semblance of the clone it used to be. It honours a perfect growing season. From General Manager Russ Weis: “In Stag’s Leap we are not looking for something mouth-filling as much as mouth coating.” Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

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VINTAGES March 19th beauty is a joy forever

Shanks for the memories

Shanks for the memories

If reporting on the VINTAGES wine release wheel were considered as a species of religious writing, say like Marilynne Robinson in her Emersonian Gilead, then the bi-weekly offer would be like the morning, a splendid dawn passing over each of our houses every two weeks on its path to Ontario wine stores. We the consumer roll out of sleep and into the constant, grandly announced VINTAGES light and we just turn over in it.

Related – The Italian cometh

So every VINTAGES release is in fact the selfsame release, materializing every two weeks and within which everything turns to light. Or like Keats, “therefore, on every (wine), are we wreathing.” The $15 Chenin Blanc, the $24 Méthode Cap Classique and the $58 Pinot Noir, all from South Africa. The $18 and $27 Syrahs, from Chile and France. The $29 Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc and the $32 Sonoma Pinot Noir. The $40 Spanish Tempranillo, the $47 Châteauneuf Du Pape and the $57 Haut Médoc. There are many others that might be invited up to the sanctuary in one of the most unconventional conventionally popular wine programs of the 21st Century. Limits must be imposed for reasons 0f space and clarity and so these are the 10 wines on the March 19th altar.

Related – March of the Canadians

Vinum

Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2013, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (739995, $15.95, WineAlign)

Flinty, reductive, lemon scented and weighty Chenin Blanc with just the right amount of strength. A Winery of Good Hope product of master blending by winemaker Jacques de Klerk. Always great value. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @WineryGoodHope  @Noble_Estates  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Ninquén Antu Chilean Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile (675371, $17.95, WineAlign)

Fathoms of red fruit, tones to match and the unwavering smoky beat of slow meat roasts and smoulders beneath herbal branches. Black olives, their brine and aromatic bark are thrown into the pit. Pitchy tannin and then finally, after the smoke clears, that fruit, unquestioned in its ripeness. A well-crafted and priced Colchagua Syrah that finishes with heaps of tar and tannin. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @KirkwoodDiamond

Graham Beck

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs 2010, Robertson, South Africa (907568, $23.95, WineAlign)

Robertson Chardonnay with a purpose, a Champenoise intent and success by way of controlled and slow-evolving micro-oxidation. The autolytic effect is one of slow release, the oxidative lean just a tease at present. There is near-ethereal weight (or lack thereof) on the palate and the citrus injects drive and meaning into airy mousse. Some bitters, pith and stone fruit pit add complexity. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @GrahamBeckWines  @Vinexxperts  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Château De L’ou Infiniment Syrah 2012, Igp Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, Midi, France  (440610, $26.95, WineAlign)

Massive, brooding, full on chocolate Syrah with enough structure to house an addition with no further need for supports. The cantilever of fruit, wood and grain is synched to impossibly obscene. Can a wine be so bloody versed in the ways of modern Syrah architecture and still achieve balance? With tannin and length to match the effective conclusion here would seem to say yes. That’s the objectivity of assessment. Will it please? You get to answer that. Maybe wait a year to find out. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @ChateaudeLou  @Vins_Roussillon

Clos Henri

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand (675629, $28.95, WineAlign)

Full on flavour wildly maxed out, all in Sauvignon Blanc, with bright acidity, ripe fruit and a mineral quality. Beautiful from start to finish. carrying itself with class and focused, positive direction. Grapefruit is juicy, lemons are preserved and lime is sweet. Very nice. Should age into honeyed territory. For now serve this darjeeling limited SB as a refresher to passengers settling in their cars. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016  @ClosHenri  @ChartonHobbs   @nzwine

La Crema Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (732040, $31.95, WineAlign)

The brightest red cherries infiltrate the notes in every aspect of this Sonoman crafted from vines in Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Los Carneros and Green Valley. Then exhilaration of a great Pinot Noir vintage comes across with mid-palate spice and late structure bite. You can’t deny the quality of 2013 fruit nor can you argue what the winemaker has left for it to pursue. Really good length lines the immediate to near future time frame. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted (from both 375 mL and 750 mL) March 2016 @LaCremaWines  @sonomavintners  @bwwines  @thesirengroup

Muga Selección Especial Reserva 2010, Rioja, Spain (712067, $39.95, WineAlign)

A rich, concentrated and effectively tangy Tempranillo, full of cedar, leather and baking spice. The Muga Seleccion Especial straddles the north/south, old school/new class line better than any with one foot mired and the other wired to new social convention. The flavours are flirtatious and yet markedly sunken into the sands of Riojan time. Many grains gather, sift and re-collect to speak of history and filter progress. This drink now Tempranillo will give five years more of elementary pleasure. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016  @bodegasmuga  @RiojaWine_ES  @Vinexxperts

Château Mont Redon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011, Ac Rhône, France (959627, $46.95, WineAlign)

Ripe and warm though structure from the outset is a thing in 2011. Mount Redon celebrates firm fruit, tannin and acidity no matter the level of phenolics so in 2011 the all in mentality will carry the torch and send this deep into the next decade. The level of concentration and intention is less than massive but there is decadence to be sure. This is a balanced Chateauneuf with temperament and understanding resting comfortably on its side. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted March 2016  @MontRedonWines  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine  @FWMCan

Château Coufran 2005, Ac Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France (446666, $56.95, WineAlign)

Bang on righteous, well made and properly preserved Haut-Medoc that while not inexpensive is a must buy for those who can afford and want to drink older Bordeaux. There is some earthy complexity and cheveux de cheval but there is plenty of brightness and unshaken personality. Does not swagger but rather dances. A show piece for the dinner table without having to raid someone else’s cellar. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @imbibersreport  @BordeauxWines

HR

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2013, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (999516, $57.95, WineAlign)

It’s a funny direction to go, having tasted the 2014 HR back in September, six months ahead of this 2013, but one whiff and I get the feeling the order was pre-ordained for a reason and a purpose. This 2013 needed the extra time. It must have been a demanding drop in its early youth, as it still is, but the fine-grained fruit and even finer tannin can now speak its Hemel-en-Aarde vernacular mind. Only that valley brings this type of sweetness, not sweet, but sweetness. The red fruit, painted ochre and then mineral, juxtaposed, intertwined and bled from the earth. Though the days of $40 and $45 are gone, the price is justified for such Grand Cru South Africa. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @OliveHR  @TrialtoON  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @hermanuswine

Good to go!

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Where does the taste of Ontario go from here?

"Sun come up it was blue and gold." #cuvee2016 #pictureinaframe #niagarafalls

“Sun come up it was blue and gold.” #cuvee2016 #pictureinaframe #niagarafalls

The Ontario wine industry has powered through many big weeks during the tenure of its young but wise, short howbeit concentrated  history. None seemed larger than the first week of March, beginning with Taste Ontario at the Royal Ontario Museum and ending with the 28th edition of Cuvée at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

In between and as a preamble to Ontario’s annual gala celebration there was the presentation of the Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence, presented by Mr. Aspler to viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt, for advancing viticulture in Ontario by accessing the best vinifera varietals from nurseries around the world and fighting bureaucracy to do it.

Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence winner for 2016 viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt and Tony Aslper (c) Brock University

Father and son grape growers Howard and Wes Lowrey from St. David’s were honoured with the Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award sponsored by BASF Canada Inc. The 2016 category was best red vinifera and the Lowrey’s were recognized for their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. The winner is chosen by an expert panel that makes field visits throughout the growing season to monitor quality.

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award winners Wes and Howard Lowery are flanked by grower Matthias Oppenlaender and Julia Harnal, BASF Canada Inc.

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award winners Wes and Howard Lowery are flanked by grower Matthias Oppenlaender and Julia Harnal, BASF Canada Inc. (c) Brock University

The VQA Promoter’s Awards are designed to recognize exceptional contributors to Ontario’s wine industry. The honours were endowed as follows. For Education, Peter Blakeman of The Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Promoter-at-Large, Norm Hardie of Norman Hardie Wines. In the LCBO category, Nina Hofer, Product Consultant.  In Hospitality, Peter Elmhirst of Elmhirst Resort. For Lifetime Achievement, Peter Gamble, formerly of Hillebrand, VQA, Stratus and Ravine, now consulting winemaker at Benjamin Bridge, Lightfoot & Wolfville and Versado Wines.

Cuvee desserts

Proceeds from the Cuvée Grand Tasting go to support the Cuvée Legacy Fund established after the 2015 event. The fund has already awarded $15,000 in academic scholarships and contributed $13,000 toward industry-driven research projects. At the awards ceremony, the 2015 scholarships were also handed out.

Cuvée 2016 was orchestrated by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute who will also play host to the Expert’s Tasting of Ontario wines in April. At this year’s reception 52 VQA wineries each poured one carefully selected wine for the Grand Tasting and were joined by 13 culinary partners. Earlier that week, Taste Ontario was hosted by VQA Wines of Ontario and Wine Country Ontario. Upwards of thirty producers contributed more than 125 wines to the media and trade event.

Taste Ontario reds

Taste Ontario reds

The food establishments on hand were granted the space and signage to show off and showcase their talents. Having their names projected onto the walls around the perimeter of the room made it very easy to locate who was placed where. The wineries received no such similar sort of spotlight signage so happenstance played a significant role on what got tasted. Still it was nice to see a Toronto neighbourhood friendly face in Ossington joint Actinolite Restaurant with chef Justin Cournoyer acting out his special brand of an Ontario forest passion play.

Forest flavours of Actinolite

Forest flavours of Actinolite

The pork belly ‘Lollipops’ from Vintage Inn – Escabeche by Chef Chris Smythe, Korean fried chicken by Garrison House Chef David Watt and Duck Mu-shu from Golden Lotus Restaurant’s Chef Sing How were exceptional. Also on hand was omnipresent Niagara events food contributor Artisan Ontario presented by Chef Mark Hand and Mario Pingue. I somehow missed out on Backhouse Chef Ryan Crawford’s burrata and braised beef short rib ravioli tasting plates. No chef had a longer line-up all night long.

pork belly 'Lollipops' from Vintage Inn – Escabeche Chef Chris SmythP

Pork belly ‘Lollipops’ from Vintage Inn – Escabeche Chef Chris Smythe

Insofar as an assessment of Ontario wines is concerned, from a varietal point of view, Riesling and Chardonnay have not relinquished any stronghold on their domination, nor should they any time soon. I can’t help but feel and notice that winemakers continue to reach for the big red machine and wish upon an intangible Bordeaux star when they should be concentrating on fresh, gulpable Cabernet Franc and Gamay. They should also take some chances with these necessary, best Ontario option red varieties. Press less, reveal freshness and let natural ferments find low-alcohol impressions of impossible, ethereal beauty.

Pingue Prosciutto

Pingue Prosciutto

At Cuvée there was no shortage of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and big red blends. Where was the Cabernet Franc? Kudos to Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates for his varietal choice, albeit in a perfect little tidy $15 package. It was the only one. That is a travesty. Kacaba’s 2013 Cabernet Franc was a Platinum Award winner at the 2015 WineAlign Awards of Canada. They can’t be blasted for pouring their 2012 Syrah and you can only pick on but others should have seized the opportunity.  J-L Groux of Stratus Vineyards offered up his 2013 Gamay from magnum. Brilliant! Where was the rest of Ontario’s Go Gamay Go arsenal? Varietal lampoonery I tell ya.

Perhaps I can be accused of filtering my view of the evening through the oculus of an infundibuliforms installation. Just maybe I’m a wee bit harsh in my assessment of choices made but there were several wines poured at Cuvée that we’ve seen many times before. While the inevitable will influence choices because of inventories and the bottom line, the event is not about finding buyers. The purpose and long-term vision should focus on teaching, on educating and ultimately on celebrating what Ontario does best. Not just what, but where. Choosing what to pour must come out of a disseminated varietal necessity so that sub-appellations can be further defined and understood.

My top ten wines tasted at the two bookending events were these.

Cattail Creek

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A Cattail Creek joint starring Roselyn Dyck and consulting winemaker Steve Byfield, from a block of Clone 21 (Weiss) Riesling planted in 1976, one of the oldest in Ontario. This OV loitered in subdued maturation because of a brutal winter, a cold spring and a cool summer. A beautiful fall abrogated what came before and brightened the possibilities. Dyck and Byfield took full advantage, channeled their inner Mosel science of the mind, dialled back the sugar and submitted to the vintage’s desires. The result is a scintillant of Riesling with texture and acidity getting together to”grab a piece of something that you think is gonna last,” reelin’ in the year and shining like new. Steely Riesling at its Niagara flats finest, short of bracing and far from cloying. Though a long ways from the Bench, put this ’14 in the vineyard cru discussion with Picone, St. Urbain, Carly’s Block, Triangle, Steelpost and CSV. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @CattailWinery  @TerroirLover

Fielding Estate Viognier 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142323, $25.95, WineAlign)

If the 2013 from Fielding Estate helped decipher the code of the how, where and why of Peninsula Viognier, this follow up 2014 speaks at the symposium. Sourced from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation, a locale fast becoming the consensus ground zero for the option, this single-vineyard is farmed by grower Rick Smith. Low-cropped and hand-picked, this is the cleanest Viognier in town.The spice kick starts au fait late, sneaks up the backside and boom. Gotcha! Winemaker Richie Roberts has a vested investigated interest in this white variety amongst Niagara choices deeply pondered and painstakingly explained. Some off-roading chances taken going forward will elevate this wine into territory occupied by the excellent and the outstanding. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2014, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Vintage in and out this is the manifestation of an unequivocal Niagara icon for Chardonnay. An unwavering, stylistically consistent, best fruit first cuvée from Pelham’s oldest (1988) estate vineyards in the Short Hills Bench. Quite reductive and dramatic Chardonnay in 2014 with multi-macerated flavours. Needs some time for the barrel and the malo to get together with tangy, soil-driven fruit. A bit clunky at the present time. Should be fascinating to watch it develop, oscillate, flip-flop and ultimately settle into something fine over five years time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Tenacity

16 Mile Cellar ‘Tenacity’ Chardonnay Unfiltered 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Call this an experiment if you will and while winemaker Regan Kapach was blessed with a perfect ferment (and one that would not, could not be repeated in 2014 and 2015), don’t believe for a moment that divine skill was not integral to making this wine happen. Like an early 1990’s MTV production of Neil Young, David Bowie and Nirvana all wrapped up into one unplugged special, here is what happens when unfined, unfiltered and unsulphured jam as one. One major “un” omission, or inclusion in this case is French oak, the catalyst and the glue to keeping this freak of Chardonnay nature together. True, this is the one grape that can handle such a hands off winemaking process, but in Ontario? Not so simple. From the Little Vineyard up on The Bench, the Tenacity is not so much. It’s dreamy, creamy, lightly toasty and full of gelato texture and flavour. It glides and slides, lifts and cleanses. It’s a beautiful impossibility. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @16milecellar

Rosehall Run Ceremony Blanc De Blanc Brut, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

A little ceremonial joy in the division here with Dan Sullivan taking some fizz chances to create a new PEC sparkling order. A multiple vintage cuvée from estate grown fruit of weight, substance, tang, drive, a shot put of citrus, servitude to PEC Chardonnay, certitude to B de B style and structure. Just enough pierce to go through and come out clean, even in the face of oxidative time, on the other side. Dips into the well of Champagne to recover its fearless tactility. These are bubbles that “travel first and lean towards this time.” Timing is everything. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Cave Spring CSV Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (237198, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (202127, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted March 2016   @CreeksideWine  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco

Domaine Queylus Réserve Du Domaine Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Oh yes the vineyard speaks, like previous vintages but with clenched teeth and a hyperbole of natural yeast and soil funk. The most charcuterie salts and dehydrates from the middle sibling in 2013, with wisdom and a tale of future memories created in the here and now. Then you will return, to this time that will be its past, when things were so different and the assessment a figment of later imagination. At least three years (and possibly five) will pass before things are set straight for this past to be revealed. The level of smarts and savvy riches are amplified in the Réserve 2013. It is the strongest reminder that reconciliation takes time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @QueylusVin

Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

Beautifully floral Lowrey from Thomas Bachelder, squeezed with restraint and pressed for pitch perfect Niagara Pinot fashion. Lowrey at its elegant best, ripe red though on the edge of anxious, eyes rolling and persuasions lolling though just shy of any sentimentality. Another layer of lovely infiltrates a taster’s psyche, grabbing hold of the heartstrings and then relents, lets go, stays on the righteous path of peurility. The ’13 Lowrey Vineyard gifts such texture and tannins that flirt with danger. It is a wine of life-affirming footnotes. I ask of it, “oh ye teasing beautiful Pinot Noir. When can I drink of thee?” Soon, but not yet. There is no greed from this vineyard and in these hands. As always, Thomas does the right thing. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Good to go!

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The Italian cometh

They diverge and divulge so much @FattoriaBarbi @Noble_Estates @mrkcstr Raffaela Guidi Federzoni #brunellodimontalcino #2004 #vignadelfiore #riserva

They diverge and divulge so much @FattoriaBarbi @Noble_Estates @mrkcstr Raffaela Guidi Federzoni #brunellodimontalcino #2004 #vignadelfiore #riserva

As we head into the March break, here is a little something to think about in advance of next weekend’s VINTAGES March 19th Italian themed release. The offer is substantial and it comes on the heels of last week’s brilliant display of Sangiovese Grosso at the Art Gallery of Ontario for the recent coming of Benvenuto Brunello 2016.

Two of my favourite actors (Lee Marvin and Jeff Bridges) played pivotal roles in John Frankenheimer’s adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s famous play. The Iceman Cometh is set in 1912 America with hard characters who live a pipe dream in their collective search for political and religious salvation. In one way or another they seek the sentimental reminiscences of their glory days and form a covenant to return to them tomorrow. The Iceman represents a sort of messiah meets grim reaper, killing the fantasy of the “tomorrow movement,” offering not salvation, but death.

So what does this have anything to do with Italian wine? Pretty much absolutely nothing, except for the plain and simple analysis about the Italians on offer for March 19. I recommend some beauties so don’t think that the death or the apocalypse of Italian wine is upon us. In fact, the greater category is booming, selling more product in Ontario and Canada as a whole then it ever has. Last month’s Vancouver International Wine Festival laid testament to the fact.

No, it’s just that so many of the reds and whites in the themed release walk a straight, boring and predictable path right down the middle of the road. Italy’s vast pool of talent would love to send us the best of the best, at $15, $50 and $150, if only the monopoly would receive. And so my friends, today I choose to consider the LCBO as the Iceman, all in good fun, of course. Who takes me seriously anyway? Certainly not me, fool as I am.

Here we have six stars from the VINTAGES release and six ethereal Brunelli still ringing in my ears and singing in my mouth. Sangiovese with the uncanny and impossible ability to linger for four days. There were many more worth mentioning because when you are holed up in a room full of Brunello, life is perfectly grand.

Where for art thou Brunello?

La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino

La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (Agent$65.00WineAlign)

La Fiorita’s 2009 normale is a special bottle of Brunello from a best of all worlds vintage. It exhibits the charms and shares the gifts of a posit tug between firmness and elegance. At this seven-year stage it evidences the first signs of secondary character, with spices dissolved in mulled liqueur and a new fathom of depth perceived. The measure of intensity is not one of dank, darkness or even pitch but rather profundity. The translation reads as both Sangiovese chapter and verse. Excellent 2009 example just beginning to drink as it should. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted March 2016  @vadoapiedi

Col D’orcia Poggio Al Vento Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2008, Tuscany, Italy (0965525, $129.00WineAlign)

Only 8,000 bottles were made of Col D’Orcia’s always formidable and classically structured Brunello. Elegance offers a glimpse of hopeful emergence even while its firmness is still fully intact. The added determination and epic struggles of the vintage translate to a singular Sangiovese type of funk from a vineyard, like so many other south-facing Montalcino slopes, of what may just be the greatest physical involuntariness in the world. The fruit and texture are delicate, of a veritable Tuscan gastronomy, pure vernacular and of a leathery lightness of brogan being. The youth in this Brunello is palpable, nearly awkward but certainly not backward. It is progressing as it should, lentamente, lentamente. Three more years minimum is needed to coax it out of its coriaceous hide. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted March 2016

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2004, Tuscany, Italy (Agent$100.00WineAlign)

The Riserva contains no single vineyard (Vigna del Fiore) fruit and is composed of a selection dictated by different vineyard qualities, not necessarily all on equal footing and all brought in to be vinified separately. As per the directive, an average of three years is spent in oak, followed by a transfer into stainless tank. The aim is a traditional, classic, typical, true masculine expression of Sangiovese Grosso. With the firm intent kept in mind, the 2004 is unstirring, closed, macho and fist clenched, even after all these years. An hour later it extends an outstretched finger or two of kept fruit and bred in the bone funk in your direction, but no more. This Riserva is gripped by a fine dust and even finer, senescent and patrician grains of tannin equal in quantity to the stars in the sky. If 2004 is not one of Barbi’s better to greater vintages for Riserva the constellations will have to be re-drawn. To me this represents a foregone conclusion to purchase, further cellar briefly and open when the skies are blue. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted March 2016  @FattoriaBarbi  @Noble_Estates

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino Vigna del Fiore 2004, Tuscany, Italy (Agent 93609$100.00WineAlign)

The Vigna del Fiore single-vineyard designate Sangiovese tells an engraved, emblematic and heraldic Montalcino story. First made in 1981, the infamous Barbi Grosso was originally crafted as a celebration for Francesca Colombini’s 50th birthday. Previous to that inaugural release the grapes from the most southeastern part of the property were used in the blend of the Brunello Riserva. Inferential importance exists within the context of familial connectivity in this Blue label Barbi. Ancestral lineage matters, as does the nurturing femininity of the undertaking. Spends its first, early developing year in older French barriques, followed by two years in traditional, regionally employed (700L) traditional Slavonian oak. If the 2004 (or subsequent vintages) are perceived as expressive of an international style, chalk that up to effete but so much vineyard and next stage, secondary through tertiary evolution agrees to confound. The ’04 lays in soft exude with the wise smell of its original, naturally curated state, of cherries, roses and earth. Today the texture floats in the optimum buoyant air above a contiguously circled round globe, begs for and speaks of aged Tuscan cheese, like Brillo Pecorino DiVino or Toscano Stagionato. The next few years will be the best. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016

La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Docg Tuscany, Italy (279083, $47.95, WineAlign)

Tasted alongside La Mannella’s 2010 Riserva this seems tame, elegant and baby-faced in comparison but it is no shrinking Sangiovese Grosso violet. No, sir. Assessed on its own it is in itself a wholly complex and beastly thing. The tonality is stratospheric, with a distant, amplified and magnified set of cherry to leather parameters. Very floral and blessed by holy drops of liquor. All that said, this 2010 Brunello of basic and modest means can be approached in the here and now provided a good decanting is strictly followed. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @LaMannella  @Nicholaspearce_

Oh #brunello where art thou? You are here @PodereLeRipi listening to the vines @agotoronto #benvenutobrunello #brunellodimontalcino #50thanniversary #italiantradeagency

Oh #brunello where art thou? You are here @PodereLeRipi listening to the vines @agotoronto #benvenutobrunello #brunellodimontalcino #50thanniversary #italiantradeagency

Podere Le Ripe Lupie Sirene Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2009, Tuscany, Italy

A classy and classic, traditionally-styled, pure and ripe Sangiovese. Cherries, leather, sweet liqueur and anise confer in perfume. What a revelation, with late spice and a chocolate-laced finish. Lovely and really fine. The right stuff and though on the sweet side, that should dissipate with five to eight years in bottle. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @PodereLeRIpi

The Italians cometh

Jerzu

Jerzu Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna 2011, Doc Sardinia, Italy (270272, $17.95, WineAlign)

Lovely dry, dusty, musty and prickling Sardignian, properly Grenache rustic and approaching a level of divine. Cannonau of chew, leather, carbon fruit sketch, arid and rehydrated in residual freshness endowment. Get behind all $18 of this honest weighted red and put your char on. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @AntichiPoderi

Greco di Tufo

Terredora Di Paolo Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2014, Docg Campania, Italy (983197, $19.95, WineAlign)

Herbal is the understatement, saline the connecting cable, texture the conduit for extreme unction. Cumulatively intellectual qualities that endow this Greco di Tufo with more sumptuousness than it had achieved in recent times. Aromatic wealth comes by way of citrus preserved, pressed and layered. The overall impression is warmth, stress without breakdown and excessive personality. Still somehow its strikes as endemic, ancient, weird and wonderful. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted March 2016  @Terredorawines  @HalpernWine  @Reg_Campania

Il Molino Di Grace Il Margone Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010, Tuscany, Italy (435115, $39.95, WineAlign)

In a VINTAGES feature of more MOR Italy then should be rolled out in one media tasting, at least here we have multiple semblance of personality. Not quite sure we’ll call to celebration $40 of dynamism but there are inherent deep invested Sangiovese characteristics nonetheless. Tight angles, rigid corners and a Brunello-Sangiovese-like liqueur. Grosso in as much as CCR can be, with some dedicated rusticity and tannins still in action. Dries out nicely on the finish. Put some away for a 2020 rainy day. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @Ilmolinodigrace  @chianticlassico

Donatella Cinelli Colombini

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy (431718, $56.95, WineAlign)

A vintage perceived as tough, difficult, demanding and volatile is just now entering the zone of changing perceptions. It has taken all this time to realize its abilities. Longevity for one. Beauty behind the mask, the other. Concentration is not so much ripeness and richness but of deeper meaning than that. Nothing here sits on the surface. Peel away a layer of orange, spice bark and bulb husk to taste from the inner fruit. From the core. “There is fire, there is life, there is passion, fever and fury.” That is Brunello. The tannins persist with near nastiness but there is so much to look forward too. Wait two more years. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted March 2016  @news_donatella  @ConsBrunello  @LeSommelierWine

Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso Ca’ Del Merlo 2007, Igt Veneto, Italy (722470, $99.95, WineAlign)

Rich Ca’ del Merlo from Quintarelli heeded with volatility and consumption. Veneto of war and peace, light, bracing, angular, seeping, steeping, macerated, tea leave studded and tannic for further thought. In this 2007 it is hard to not get caught up in the amalgamation’s bright sweep. Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Croatina and Sangiovese, like reading Tolstoy, all together “alive, and very much so.” Will live for quite some time, but wait two years before embarking on the journey. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted March 2016  @RegioneVeneto  @LiffordON

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (722470, $195.50, WineAlign)

Takes the purity of 2011, furthers the integration and mimics the precision, then pumps up the volume. Takes a breath and then, with soluble efficiency it refines the intricately woven lines a few steps furtrher, if that is even possible. I will say that the tannins are a bit tougher in ’12, with a tight string wound depressively around the fruit’s long and elegant tendrils. Fruit is the determinate factor, pure, blossoming and fragrant. It adds up to a consensus of one thought, that this vintage is yet another legend in the making, a fine and linear Ornellaia that should travel 30 plus years, perhaps longer. What liqueur, such botanicals and endless valleys passing through fertile hills. Drink 2019-2045.  Tasted November 2015  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON  @AuthenticWine

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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March of the Canadians

Shrimp, mussel, kale, salsa verde #jacksonpollock risotto

Shrimp, mussel, kale, salsa verde #jacksonpollock risotto

If you’ve yet to see the CBC video discussing the success of Canadian wine in the UK, do it now.

Brits love our wine

The British, reports Aaron Saltzman, are developing a taste for fine Canadian vintages, and not just Icewine. “It’s a niche market, but it’s being received quite well.” Even though Icewine still accounts for 75 per cent of sales in England (1.2 out of a total 1.59 million Canadian dollars), in 2015, Canada sold $168,500 worth of table wine to the U.K. That number was five times lower in 2013, at $34,889.

In Decanter Magazine’s April 2016 issue they discuss “The best Pinot Noirs in the world (outside Burgundy).” Five from Canada are nominated out of more than 80 total. Ian d’Agata included the Bachelder 2013 Lowrey Vineyard, along with two others from Ontario, Flat Rock Cellars Gravity 2012, Twenty Mile Bench and Norman Hardie Winery, Cuvée L 2012, Prince Edward County. The two recognized from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia are Meyer Family Vineyards 2013, McLean Creek Road Vineyard and  Tantalus Vineyards 2012.

The Canadian wine renaissance is attributed to high-end, artisan winemakers like Norman Hardie and Thomas Bachelder. That’s the cool factor. The truth of the matter is that Canadian winemakers have realized and capitalized on the significance and exceptionality of their terroirs in regions such as Niagara, Prince Edward County and the Okanagan Valley. Journalists and buyers from around the globe know it and have begun to spread the Canadian gospel.

Dr. Jamie Goode has had a profound effect on alerting fellow Brits to the Canadian thing and that ambassadorship has filtered through to the wine shop owners and trickled down to the consumer. Much of the education is attributed to Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Global Practice Lead for Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in Ottawa. Dr. Dorozynski has brought the wines and their makers to England and pried open the doors to perception.

Last week I tasted through a hundred or more Ontario wines at Taste Ontario and at Cuvée 2016 in Niagara. Those notes are coming soon. For now let’s concentrate on the VINTAGES March 19th release. Here are some of the Canadian wines up for grabs.

Tawse Sketches Riesling 2014

Tawse Sketches Riesling 2014

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

Really striking Sketches Riesling here in 2014, aromatically wild and full of complex flavours. So representative, lemony beyond lemon and full of juicy acidity. Almost too much of a good thing but it should settle a bit and replace some of that stark contrasting acidity with copacetic sweetness. Great fruit in 2014. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Culmina Decora Riesling 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (444836, $24.95, WineAlign)

Judging from the ripeness, strength, density and effective grape tannin this may as well be noted as pulchra, decor, charissima, that is, powerful, beautiful, charming. All three are apropos in this really forward and mineral tangy Riesling. Could this come from anywhere but the Okanagan Valley? Should develop with intellect into a honeyed, elastic expression. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2015 and March 2016  @CulminaWinery  @winebcdotcom

Riesling squared- Culmina Decora 2013 and Charles Baker Picone 2012

Riesling squared- Culmina Decora 2013 and Charles Baker Picone 2012

Henry Of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (395855, $24.95, WineAlign)

Exceeds elegant expectations with poise and presence, a Bordeaux blend so refined it pleases. Effectively restrained and remedies with tonic. Circulating acidity ranges while chocolate whips, but wholly within reason. Spice accents assist in the celebration (why not?) to effectuate this red’s firm grip and grasp of Claret reality. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015 and March 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (364380, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Dream is a ripping, layered and well executed appassimento from Barclay Robinson. Much oak influence but with that fencing there is more than the spice is right. Sweetness is valued in the context of ripeness, acidity and burgeoning tannin. Here we find a big wine and well within the parameters of the sensibility. Tasting and thinking on the dried and rehydrated grape approach can leave you “lost in the dream, or just the silence of a moment, it’s always hard to tell.” With the ’12 Abbraccio, “Il Sogno” shares the passion for the planning and shows that “love’s the key to the things that we see.” And a little bit of unknown appassimento magic. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @wineaffair  @BarclayRobinson  @EpicW_S

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted March 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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