On tasting blind and VINTAGES April 30th

"Every time I look at you I go blind." #timetotaste @WineAlign

“Every time I look at you I go blind.” #timetotaste @WineAlign

Saturday will bring forth yet another LCBO Ontario VINTAGES release. Every other Friday (and most Tuesdays) I taste through them, along with my colleagues at WineAlign (David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S. and Sara d’Amato), as well as a dozen or more multifarious and multi-motley wine writers. The wines and spirits are laid out with Warsaw Pact jibing intendment and we plod through, free as birds, privy with full disclosure for what we are assembled to inspect.

Related – Heading out for the west coast

At WineAlign David, John, Sara, Steve Thurlow and I spend quality time with LCBO and/or VINTAGES destined products but we do so with wine-apprisement obliquity. When we arrive at the office and sit down to taste we are met with bottles covered with aluminum foil. We taste blind. Not completely mind you. A spreadsheet tells us the varietal(s) and region/country of origin. I too wonder if this can be truly be considered tasting blind.

The debate chases down critics and systems of evaluation with dogged persistence. Should wine be judged without any prior knowledge or preconceived notion about what’s in the glass? Must a tasting be conducted blind for a critic to objectively dispense an unbiased, unswayed and uninfluenced assessment of a wine?

The short answer is yes. Wine competitions are conducted blind, with only the varietal and perhaps place of origin as the sole bits of information with which to go on. The understanding is that if there are medals to be doled out, picking winners must be done with prejudice and favouritism set deliberately aside. But the wringer runs deeper. By definition, should any information be available at all?

Blinds

To blind or not to blind, that is the question

As for grapes, a Gamay should be judged against other Gamays and so a critic may as well know that the flight is filled with nothing but Gamay. Mixing varietals within a flight distorts the playing field and skews the results. Place of origin is more complicated. While it is helpful to know where a wine hails from so that it may get a fair shake against competitors or peers composed of the same grape, that seemingly insignificant bit of information adds bias to the process. At the WineAlign Wine Awards of Canada the region is not pre-disclosed, except that the judges know that all the wines come from Canada. In competitions involving wines from around the world the regions are also excluded. Only the grape and price range is mentioned. Shouldn’t we do the same for all blind tastings? In fact, the bias of price might also be avoided.

I don’t know what it is

Something in me just won’t give it a chance

I think it’s just that I feel more confused by the deal

The tougher question is whether we as critics should be tasting all wines blind, all the time, or at least whenever possible. That is to say, whenever investigations are being processed for the purpose of publishing tasting notes and perhaps more importantly, assigning scores or ratings. Who does not believe that wine must be tasted without any assistance from marketing, pedigree and prior experience? The devil’s advocate approach would declare it unfair to so many honest wines to not be given credit for many years of hard work and success. Why should a wine with a longstanding reputation for excellence have to begin again in every vintage just to prove itself? The rub I feel, is there.

I think it’s that because I have seen all the fuss

And it’s no big deal

The following 11 recommendations from the VINTAGES April 30th release were not tasted blind. They succeed because they are honest, well-made and accurate representations of varietal and place. I am confident they would all fare just as well had they been assessed without knowing what they were. Good wine has a habit of finding its way into a taster’s heart, blind, or not.

Mcguigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2015, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (444554, $14.95, WineAlign)

Distinguishes itself for the Hunter Valley oeuvre with impossibly pale yet rich and stark-dressed fruit. More fruity than most and so nearly, just on the cusp of getable at such a young age. A terrific example to gain entry into the valley’s great white varietal hope while waiting for the serious crew to open the doors to their longevity-accrued perceptions. Takes one for the team with bells ringing and whistles blowing. It will drink well for five years and just develop a bit of that aged Semillon character near the end of the fruit line. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @mcguiganwines  @Wine_Australia  @ChartonHobbs

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

Impressively expressive early to market 2015 Riesling, off-dry, partially pungent and markedly concentrated. The Black Sheep always smells and tastes like this; fifty-fifty fruit to mineral, concentrated and sweet from ripe extract and tannin. Whether you are an expert or a newbie to Niagara Peninsula Riesling, the Black Sheep is guaranteed. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @featherstonewne

El Maestro Sierra Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Do Jerez, Spain (451468, $17.95, WineAlign)

Now. We. Are. Talking. Vino dulce natural of quite reasonably low alcohol and extreme elevated unction. Nutty and full of dried apricots, sweeter than some but really well balanced. Dessert all by itself with just enough acidity. Tart and tight, nuts again, spice and marzipan. Really tricks the tongue and pricks the senses. Sweet. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @MaestroSierra  @TFBrands

Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc Zapallar Vineyard 2015, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (389643, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is an exciting hyperbole of Chile, a Sauvignon Blanc from the coast with wild flavours and singing aromatics. An inwardly deliciousness SB filled from within by a lactic streak and an exceptionally reserved tartness. Great length. So different, so new, so exciting. If it’s a bit warm and perhaps higher than alcohol than it notes, so be it. It has real vitality. Job well done with this newly directed Montes. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @MontesWines  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @ProfileWineGrp

Wildass

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (86363, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard to figure any sub-$20 red Ontario blend showing a deeper sense of ripeness, wood intent, sinew, cure, triturate resin and dry barbecue rub – than this Stratus ’12. It’s a bit of a head scratching, game-changing meritage, altering the course for $20 red blends forever. At the risk of forming comparisons, it puts me in mind of other places, like Roussillon, Campania and Navarra. It has coal running through its arteries and tonic spewing out of its fountains. Wild my ass? Yes. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015  @StratusWines

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April and Sepetember 2015, April 2016  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Chianti

Tenuta Di Capraia Chianti Classico 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (135277, $21.95, WineAlign)

Extreme freshness, ripe red fruit and ripping acidity in such a young Chianti Classico. Possessive of an underlying mineral and dry tannic structure with such correct use of older oak and kept clean under the threshold of over-modernising alcohol. This reeks of some whole cluster work and tastes of the soil though never in any funky way. It’s extreme purity and cleanliness is second to none. This will last for longer than imagined. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted April 2016    @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2014, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22.95, WineAlign)

Combines beauty and bitters for a streak of natural selection through a field of texture. Heads for the cream risen to the top of rich, pulls over and steps aside to allow for a crunch of green apple. The bite is real, lit by match and cut with spice. Great length. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Grendel

De Grendel Shiraz 2013, Wo Coastal Region, Durbanville, Coastal Region, South Africa (174557, $24.95, WineAlign)

Strapping, youthful, dark as night Cape of Good Hope Shiraz, full of rich beginnings, soil reduction and barrel imaging. Vivid off the charts, rich red fruit, mineral undercurrent, wreaths of floral tethering and a rip tide riding rolling waves of cape intensity. Quite wow. Crazy good value. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted April 2016  @degrendelwines  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @imbibersreport

Vincent Mothe Chablis 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (390468, $26.95, WineAlign)

Perfectly pretty little village Chablis, flinty, lemon piercing and pouring like crystal clear, tiny drops of rain. Chardonnay on needles and pins, a white scintillant with tart berries, tannin and extra layers of dry extract. Terrific for so many reasons and with every reason to pair and to believe. While others moan “I been meek and hard like an oak,” with a glass of the Mothe I am blessed with “buckets of moonbeams in my hand.” If this were $20 it would be right up there with best ever. Close enough. This is a perfect example of why everyone should drink Chablis. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016    @BIVBChablis  @bourgognespress  @BourgogneWines

Crawford

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Corner 50 Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet 2013, Hawkes Bay, North Island, Marlborough, New Zealand (447433, $29.95, WineAlign)

Made from fruit grown in the Corner 50 vineyard located in the Bridge Pa Triangle wine district on the western side of the Heretaunga Plains of Hawke’s Bay. Diverse soils of Ngatarawa Gravels, Takapau Silty-loam (free draining red metal of mixed alluvial and volcanic origin) work towards a Bordeaux kind of varietal character and charm. Red recreational fruit and ripe, ropey acidity interact together in this very spirited North Island red. A Hawke’s Bay beauty with vivid and spirited energy. The oak is still very much in play but in no way on top. The cake factor is very low, the lushness happening in texture though not on the level of plush. Really good effort. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @kimcrawfordwine @CBrandsCareers  @nzwine  @NZwineCanada

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

It’s hard not to compare Norman Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay side by side with his County-grown and produced estate counterpart but also with other top end Niagara bottles. The fruit he sources from Duarte Oliveira’s Beamsville Bench farm offers the first leg up. The reductive and minimalist handling style is the second piece of the impossibility puzzle. Though not as closed as some in the past, freshness has never been so bright. The slow Hardie Chard evolution and painstaking road to malolactic could result in perdition but miraculously never does. The cumulative culled from out of patience leads to a reward in near perfect textural deference and defiance. The 12.2 per cent declaration of alcohol is exemplary though it could hardly cross the 11.5 threshold if it wanted to or tried. Chardonnay left alone, to find its way, fend for itself, unstirred, unassailed and deft above or beyond reproach. Enjoy a Hardie Niagara Chardonnay in its early youth. They are not meant to be stashed away forever. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Ambrosia 2010, Single Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina (402941, $39.95, WineAlign)

The pitchiest Malbec of dark black fruit, weight and substance. Really ambrosial, a thick swath of berry, wood and tannin. This Malbec can run with the players any day of the week. Structurally sound and massive, fully, completely accomplished and offering much reward. There is a resinous, cedar and briar note of amalgamation and complexity. It will take three or more years to bring all the exceptional components together. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2016  @TrapicheWines  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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Heading out for the west coast

Pinot Noirs of Oregon

Pinot Noirs of Oregon

On a Friday in mid-April a group of veteran wine tasters come upon a table of Oregon Pinot Noir laid out beneath the white neon wash of light in the LCBO sensory lab. Most are more than duly impressed. One extreme professional refers to the line-up as the greatest grouping ever assembled for a VINTAGES release. Roger that straight from the shoulder VINTAGES assessment.

Related – Sonoma gaps and single vineyards

The quaternary Oregon Pinot Noir contingent stands out like a fantastic four in a justice league of second tier super heroes. The rest of the Pacific thematic from Oregon and Washington is filled with average to good examples, the best of which are the A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay and the Unbroken Bordeaux Blend from Horse Heaven Hills in Washington. The act of trying to assay these wines invites California thoughts, especially with Sonoma County Pinot Noir so latterly fixated upon by personal hermeneutic. Those who sell you on the idea that Oregon is becoming like California have never truly immersed themselves into the underground Willamette salinity and ancient riverbed imparting minerality. Nor do they intuit that no two wines from Sonoma County are the same. “The multeity of style and the illimitable viticultural approach illustrates how Sonoma’s 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) are a study in variegation and variance.”

California dreaming aside, let’s shift our thoughts back to Oregon. More than anywhere else in the diaspora where the Burgundy expatriate is re-produced, the Pinot Noir from out of the Willamette Valley transmogrifies the parataxis of French narration. It understands that to repeat a note can be an enrichment, not an exhaustion. Oregon doesn’t merely resemble Burgundy, it actually exceeds it.

In Ontario we consider specific Niagara sub-appellations as capable of narrating a Beaune fictive, including those from the Benches of Beamsville and St. David’s. Prince Edward County’s limestone viaduct of geology and Burgundian geography is always part of the wine country Ontario Pinot Noir discussion. Central Otago and other New Zealand regions can be given due genetic consideration, as can very isolated parcels in Alsace, the Western Cape, the Mornington Peninsula and the Ahr. In the case of Oregon vs. Burgundy, ask Norman Hardie, Thomas Bachelder, Will Predhomme or Nicholas Pearce. They will tell you that it is most certainly not Niagara and while neither are Burgundy, it is the former where the closest comparisons can be made.

I reviewed the four Pinot Noir coming through VINTAGES on April 30th. They are all worth the investigation and two are exceptional. To the purpose of expanding on the west coast leitmotif I have added a white from Oregon, a sumptuous red blend from Washington and two big reds from California and B.C. Next weekend, head out for the west coast.

Portlandia Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon (445486, $28.95, WineAlign)

West coast offence Pinot, essentially Willamette Valley though labeled as Oregon. Rich and just a bit soil funky, with a slight rubber reductive quality in its still beating youth. The glass is very full when Pinot such as this is poured, the dial turned up and the sun seemingly always high in the sky. Will use of most of its energy in the next few years. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @RareEarth_Wines

Solena

Soléna Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2012, Yamhill Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon (446112, $35.95, WineAlign)

Gorgeously perfumed Pinot Noir from Domaine Danielle Laurent, crossing femininity with a lithe scorching and torching of earth. Ripeness is a virtue, the road is full of bloody tension, “beauty walks a razor’s edge” and the partnership between fruit and tannin is rife with love. Big within correct and structured means. There have been others but this YC-WV is currently on my mind, to put aside and then “someday I’ll make it mine.” Perfect companion with which to take shelter from the storm. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2016  @solenaestate  @Oregon_Wine  @Nicholaspearce_

Willakenzie

Willakenzie Estate Gisèle Pinot Noir 2013, Certified Sustainable, Yamhill Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon (452656, $36.95, WineAlign)

So pretty and so very restrained, near tart and sweet but never going too close to either edge. Drinking this on a daily basis would be so easy to abide, with its ripe and slightly spicy berries, plums and mild citrus. Would expect it to turn tart or sour but it leans to mild tannin instead. Not necessarily a wine for 10 years but exceptional for five. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @willakenziewine  @MalcolmCocks1

Lenvoye

Maison L’envoyé Two Messengers Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon (453357, $41.95, WineAlign)

The two messengers are winemakers Louis-Michel Liger-Belair and Max Marriott and somehow they have crafted a most amazing Pinot Noir from out of the potentially disastrous tale of three harvests: fruit picked before, during and then after the typhoon. The fruit comes from four AVA’s and eight vineyards: Eola Amity – Eagle Crest, Eola Springs, Popcorn; McMinnville – Hyland; Willamette Valley – Croft; Yamhill Carlton – Fairsing, Gran Moraine, Stardance. A Côte de Nuits ringer in Willamette clothing, multi-terroir dependent and singing the amalgamated praises of its serious sense of place. Whatever combination of hill, nook and petite colline this was culled from has fed the Burgundy machine. The sweetness is palpable but created by soil and tannin. Quite seamless, not to mention travelling along underfoot with the Willamette salinity rolling along in the ancient river below. Terrific Pinot Noir with stuffing and age ahead ability. Does it succeed in “pursuing transcendent Pinot Noir through gilded terroir?” I’d say yes. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2016  @MaisonLEnvoye

A To Z Wineworks Chardonnay 2014, Oregon (269258, $24.95, WineAlign)

Plenty of grape extract feigning sweetness, more exuberant on the palate then in the aromatics. A composed and highly concentrated Chardonnay with accents, spice and extra flavour provided by the barrel plans. Crafty and well-executed in craft. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  @AtoZWineworks  @Gr8TanninWines  @Nicholaspearce_

McKinley Springs Unbroken Blended Red 2012, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington (444729, $26.95, WineAlign)

Cabernet Sauvignon (43 per cent), Merlot (37), Malbec (19) and Cabernet Franc (11) fill in the baritone blend, unbroken, as in spirit, as opposed to thinking in terms of single-varietal. Though the warmth and wood are gainful and very much a part of the chain, the fruit and the grain are interwoven, fully integrated, spice regaled and determinate. Great red fruit, graphite and grip. So very impressed with the spirit of this Horse Heaven Hills red. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @mckinleysprings  @WINESofWA  @HHDImports_Wine

LFNG

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, Ontario (71464, $54.95, WineAlign)

The five-varietal classic Bordeaux blend in 2013 is Merlot (41 per cent), Cabernet Sauvignon (30), Cabernet Franc (18), Malbec (8) and Petit Verdot (3). Together they seamlessly amalgamate in 36 per cent new barrel and (64) second fill for 19 months. All tolled the group is characterized as not shy. There is a squaring of deep, deep intent, dark, dark pitchy hue and full, full body. Phenolically ripe and properly volatile on the edge of the precipice with bringing it acidity. Tastes of berries and brine, rare venison and caramelized plantain. The more abstract flavour profile is described as a ferric welling with hematic humour. For now take one deep breath of the beauty and wait two years with the rest for full enjoyment. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016  @lfngwine  @winebcdotcom

Ferrari

Ferrari Carano Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mountain Vineyards, Alexander Valley, California (450429, $74.95, WineAlign)

Hefty, rich and spicy Cabernet with yet raging, formidable tannins. Caky, savoury, currant, graphite and cassis laden fruit. Some liquorice, peace stone and dipped chocolate berries. All of everything, the above, earth and sky. The fountains and the cup runneth over. Hedonistic, oak behemoth of exceptional mountain vineyard fruit overlooking the Alexander Valley. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted April 2016  @FerrariCarano  @HalpernWine

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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Sonoma gaps and single vineyards

Exceptional @sonomavintners discourse @patzhall @FlowersWinery @BoissetFamille @DeLoachVineyard #hartfordcourt #santarosa #sonomacounty #sonoma #califwine #pinotnoir #chardonnay

Exceptional @sonomavintners discourse @patzhall @FlowersWinery @BoissetFamille @DeLoachVineyard #hartfordcourt #santarosa #sonomacounty #sonoma #califwine #pinotnoir #chardonnay

No two wines from Sonoma County are the same. I believe that statement to ring expressly true and so should you. Jean-Claude Boisset saw the potential in Sonoma and created Boisset Family Estates with singular viniculturaliste swagger. Boisset Family Estates is led by Jean-Charles Boisset, who is also President of Boisset, La Famille des Grands Vins. Eight wineries make up the California collection, including DeLoach Vineyards. It was there that we tasted eight conspicuous examples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Mapping a cru systematic out of Sonoma County is a massive and seemingly boundless undertaking. This wine country section of Northern California is one of the most complex regions in the world, with valleys, plains, ridges, slopes and mountains of every aspect. There are more single-vineyard wines pulled from vines dotting micro-climatic, highly specific sites than anywhere in the world. Or so it seems. Unlike Burgundy, so many vintners farm and/or produce the only wine made from that specific parcel. The permutations of cru definition are multiplied 100-fold. The diagram is drawn with near-infinite numbers of circles and lines.

The multeity of style and the illimitable viticultural approach illustrates how Sonoma’s 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) are a study in variegation and variance. The multifarious geographical scope of coast, penetrating valleys and mountain ranch land conspire to design the impossibility of squeezing out clarity from a region in direct contrast to concepts that choose to exhort compounding synchronisms.

Related – Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

The last time I approached the Sonoma expostulation I talked of course about the fog. “Sonoma’s fog is a stern exertion of soda and salt and when its atomic dipoles get together to dance with ripe grapes and the puffy gaieties of yeast, the syntagmatic rearrangement in the region’s wines are all the merrier and made most remarkably interesting. Fog complicates and makes complex the ferments from Sonoma’s hills and valleys. The second fiddle status to Napa Valley’s hugeness is both ridiculous and absurd. Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is already known for its kinetic inquisitiveness but other varieties are also gaining major traction. Cabernet Sauvignon, when ripened upwards of that fog and yet inextricably linked to the miasma, gains a level of synergistically precipitated elaboration that blows Napa out of the water.”

That still holds water but it’s just not that simple, nor is it a matter of direct comparison. Sonoma’s cool-climate condition is incomparable to other aptly-named wine regions, from Napa to Niagara. The coastal fog bank blows in, “accompanied by cold air capable of such rapid temperature shrinkage it can be measured by swings as much as 50 ºF. The manifest vital spark that runs through all of Sonoma County’s fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance is that fog.”

Related – Five more impressive, cool-climate, fog-injected wines from Sonoma County

When I returned from California in February I wrote “the most pertinent question now in my mind is this. Can European wine keep up with the fictionality of North American reality?” Unearthing discoveries from idiosyncrasy to heterogeneity is what people want and it’s not just rambling wine journalists or thrill-seeking sommeliers who are looking for wine-contrariety nirvana. Craft is in. Small batch, low-production, around the corner from nowhere, never heard of that is what sells. And Sonoma has got more than enough answers to last for centuries.

Which brings us to the discussion centring on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the varietal darlings of Sonoma County, especially when the vineyards that grow them are tied directly to the fog’s greatest chaperone, the Petaluma Wine Gap. The different strokes inherent to the Burgundian expatriates raised on the coast, on inbound slopes and on craggy ridges is mind-numbing. The thread that ties them together is related to the fog but it is not enough to formalize, generalize or philosophize a unifying theme. Bring the wines of DeLoach, Patz & Hall, Flowers and Hartford together in one room and you might expect some repetition. I found none, save for one mien of chiaroscuro connection. Creep out from that shadow and find a world of deference and difference, from Pinot to Pinot and from Chardonnay to Chardonnay.

In conjunction with California Wines Canada, The California Wine Institute, Sonoma Vintners and Boisset Family Estates, a group of Canadian journalists and sommeliers were invited to DeLoach Vineyards to taste four Pinot Noir and four Chardonnay. Here are my notes.

Flowers

Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, California (416529, US $80.00, WineAlign)

Camp Meeting Ridge is what Director of Winemaking Dave Keatly considers a “remarkable site” with shallow soils, a product of volcanic and tectonic activity. Even with two plus years tucked away this persists as a tight, tense infant of a Chardonnay suspended within a reductive environment. The trenchant draught seems to emanate directly from the wildly imagined vineyard, with the scent of white flowers and ripping green fruits, from lime to mango. Focused, linear, compact, wound, wire patrolling Chardonnay. This was bottled 17 months after pick with a tank aging component, for phenolic structure and a healthy presentation of fruit. Certainly the most Burgundian (from Boisset Estates and in the greater Sonoma sphere) with engaging spice. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines

Flowers Pinot Noir Estate Sea Ridge Vineyard 2013, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, California (328062, US $65.00, WineAlign)

Older vines (planted in 1998) provide the wisdom while winemaking (Dave Keatly) encourages atticism. A 50 degree, nine day cold soak, native fermentation and 18 months in (35 per cent) new French oak lay down the parameters. Post nurturing it’s all about time travel back to nature. Back to the organic and biodynamically farmed extreme (with elevations of 1,400 to 1,875 feet) Sea View Ridge Estate Vineyard. The site is antediluvian, a former sea bed where ridge tops are shallow and rocky, lower blocks are volcanic and high ones filled with broken sandstone and shale. Yields are naturally, unavoidably low. This Pinot Noir is defined not just by its elevation but also by its proximity to the coast. Sea Ridge is not on the label but will eventually be. The pleasure and maritime elegance is winnowed from the start. There is no need to wait for it. Quite amazing considering the young age of the vineyard. Very pure, almost impossibly so and yet, just a bit of sweetness softens and demures. A mineral driven and lithe red though the hue is not a harbinger for what will follow. The tannic structure will let this go at it with purpose and drive but without haste. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Zio Tony Ranch 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, US $70.00, WineAlign)

Cool, infinitely linear Chardonnay that when considered in mind of Dutton Ranch and Hyde Vineyard, is prepossessed of a creamier, open-door policy. From an easy vintage to ripen, it was treated with grand respect, first with whole clusters and then small barrel fermentation, 100 per cent malolactic, sur lie. From fruit on a Frei Road farm owned by the Martinelli family, an east facing, rolling vineyard on the western hills of the Gravenstein highway. The soil is fluffy Goldridge,”like walking through flour, volcanic, porous and dusty up to the knees,” explains Donald Patz. Rarely does Chardonnay seem ferric but Zio Tony carries that metal from a feeling deep into that soil. The output is small, between 300-500 cases a year. The high acid site makes for Chardonnay incurrent as toasty and taut, tense and terse. The open door will be agape after its need for some time to unwind. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @PatzHall  @TrialtoON

Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (Winery, US $70.00, WineAlign)

From a vineyard with boundless potential, still young and procuring youthful wines. All necessary energies have graced this Pinot Noir, nothing has been left behind or filtered out. The sweetness on the nose is an intoxicant and a bit of reduction joins in, realized upon a sniff. There is anxiety in both its ripeness and its tannin though the acidity plateaus on an even stephen hep. The Gap’s Crown is furthest east of a set of four vineyard cousins, significant for its rocky hillside essence. Done up with 15 per cent whole clusters and indeed it’s not entirely fruity, anything but blackberry juice, leaning more to the savour and the chaparral. With thanks to the Petaluma Wind Gap bringing in all that cool air. The Sonoma Coast, fog, mineral, Patz & Hall style. They all “gather up strength, as thoroughfare gap. No distance, it’s the ride.” All towards a crowning achievement. Sometime early in the coming decade towards that end. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted February 2016

Hartford Court Chardonnay Fog Dance 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (Agent, US $65.00, WineAlign)

Though this coils in tight wind to a certain degree there is more cream, increased silken texture and a more obvious dose of newer oak. An all indigenous ferment, 16 months barrel fermentation and sur lie. There is a density of all the aspects; aroma, flavour and lees texture. Add the parlay of barrel feel and you get so much layered density and character for your money. The slightly southwest facing vineyard that runs down to Green Valley creek, “in a little bowl” is named Fog Dance says winemaker Jeff Stewart, “because it’s a lot sexier than Jones or Ross Road.” That or the time lapse view of the fog coming in over this 500 foot ridge top. The vines grow in a toupée of yellowish, fluffy soil, farmed organically, of no ferric adjunct and impelling citrus drive, but also exotic with a heavy accent. Like a margarita, yes, it has that too, thought the thought of Chablis runs in its RRV veins. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016      @RRVWinegrowers

Hartford Court Pinot Noir Fog Dance 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (Winery, US $65.00, WineAlign)

Pinot Noir from a hillside vineyard in full vaporous view and under the influence from the omnipresent swirling samba of Sonoma fog. Pine and black combine for an elevated, revenant-rich, full-bodied and warm expression. Also possessive of a reductive, almost rubber-accented note but on second thought, even more so of meaty and smoky flavour. From classic Goldridge soils, planted in the 1990’s, from the holy trinity of Dijon clones, 667, 777 and 115.  The sidling saunter of a blood orange note separates itself from the rest. So very viscous and bone dry, this is a big Pinot Noir, even for Hartford. It could use another year in bottle to collect composure and then drink with style for five more after that. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

DeLoach Vineyards Chardonnay Estate 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, US $50, WineAlign)

Rich and decadent, into some simplicity, supple, safe and yet savoury Chardonnay. The taster is aware of the lees, malo and barrel, all hyper present and apparent. From loamy soil with a clay layer two or three feet down, these are vines that must be controlled to keep the roots from descending too far. Beautifully presented Chardonnay with no smoke or mirrors, from whole clusters, native yeasts, 14-15 months and 40-50 per cent new oak. A classic drink young, glass half full expression. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @DeLoachVineyard  @LiffordON

DeLoach Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $70, WineAlign)

Eric Pooler grows Pinot Noir from 20 year-old vines in Huichica Loam for DeLoach on the Olivet Ranch Vineyard. This estate block is farmed organically and biodynamically and has been owned by Boisset Family Estates since 2003. The vegetal aspect of this Pinot Noir purports strength, umami flavours and an abstract celebration of the vineyard’s health from metabolic growth. From safflower through barley and into grapes, the structure and conditioning of this Pinot has travelled from medicinal, through cereal and now into fruit richness. Good 2013 ripeness and extraction passes through a toll of sweet and sour complexion. The reduction and meaty vinyl is in here as well. There is a definite thread running through the De Loach Estate, the Hartford Fog Dance and the Patz & Hall Gap’s Crown. Only the Flowers Sea Ridge doesn’t seem to have it. It is more than fog; it’s the Pinot Noir version of chiaroscuro, in which strong contrasts between light and dark affect the greater composition. Picked clone by clone, block by block, the last of which saw whole cluster fermentation, adding weight and tension. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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The LCBO keeps Kosher

Kosher Wines

Kosher Wine Boutique, 675 Wilson Ave. (near Dufferin), North York

The LCBO has begun to keep Kosher, that is they have just celebrated the grand opening of three kosher boutique stores as part of the relatively new initiative “Products of the World” program. In addition to the boutique stores, more seasonal kosher products have been release than ever before, ahead of Passover, including Canada’s first kosher Icewine.

Each of the three destination stores offer more than 100 different kosher wines and spirits. While more than 500 LCBO stores across Ontario carry kosher offerings, the three destination boutiques are stocked with an expanded selection pulled from exclusive wines and spirits out of the Consignment Program. The selection will be regularly refreshed and will include many products previously only available to licensees. The LCBO kosher boutique locations are:

·      675 Wilson Ave. (near Dufferin), North York

·      180 Promenade Circle, Promenade Mall, Thornhill

·      502 Lawrence Ave. W. (near Bathurst), Toronto

Related – Is Kosher wine being passed over?

The LCBO boutique program is a renaissance of sorts for the Kosher category, one that only last year seemed to be entering the category of “passed over.” I had relayed the concern to more than one higher level VINTAGES representative and while I am quite confident my message had nothing to do with the elevated attention, perhaps I was not the only voice of dissidence. Good on the LCBO for stepping up their Kosher game.

Related – New wave under $20 wines go kosher for Passover

Last minute Passover shopping is upon the Jewish community of Ontario. I reviewed the five VINTAGES products from the March 19th, 2016 release. While these five are just a drop in the available bucket, they are the only wines that were presented to the media for assessment.

Kosher Boutique, Wilson and Dufferin LCBO

Kosher wine section, Wilson and Dufferin LCBO

Tzafona Cellars Cold Climate Riesling Kp 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (445569, $19.95, WineAlign)

Light, middle of the road, innocuous, easy-going Riesling. Slightly dilute and yet certainly, obviously and respectably Riesling. You could commit worse acts of hostess gifting by bringing this to auntie Mimi’s Seder. Drink 2016.  Tasted March 2016

Teperberg Vision Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah Kpm 2014, Samson, Israel (325746, $19.95, WineAlign)

Interesting Samson blend, both in bedfellows and locale. The Petite Sirah inclusion is more than obvious. This one is decidedly cooked. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted March 2016

Segal’s Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2013, Galilee Heights, Israel (157206, $24.95, WineAlign)

High-toned aromatics, plums and cherries, very modern and not so Bordeaux. Not so shaken and splintered, which is nice but it is a bit carbonic and lactic. Simple and drinkable with a spice accent on the back end. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016

Related – KP Duty – Kosher For Passover Wines

Gilgal Pinot Noir Kp 2013, Galilee, Israel (440651, $29.95, WineAlign)

From Yarden, Golan Heights Winery. This smells just like a cup of tea. Fruit tea, orange zinger, rooibos or something fruity. Simple, easy Pinot with negative tannins and just a hint of staying alive acidity. Certainly Pinot though and with no baking activity whatsoever. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted March 2016

Tulip Winery Just Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Upper Galilee, Israel (440420, $29.95, WineAlign)

Have always appreciated the natural and honest feel of the Tulip Cabernet Sauvignon, with pure and ripe red fruit. It’s just and right, picked and developed with simple, sweet, spicy and leathery flavours. Cassis gets in there. It’s well made. Hanging round for days. “Teach you how to be a holy cow.” Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016

Psâgot Winery M Series Chardonnay Kp 2014, Jerusalem Mountain Vineyards, Israel (441675, $33.95, WineAlign)

A new and improved Chardonnay listing for the LCBO from limestone at altitude (900m) in the Jerusalem (Mountains) Hills. Not exactly “Great Revolt” or “Amphora” antiquity but this has some old school Chardonnay character while making spicy use of the modern barrel. Apples and mango or somewhere in between define the fruit while cool, upper altitude climate reminds of Sonoma. Wish it carried terrific acidity. If it had it would have been the best KFP Chardonnay to grace this market in a stone age. Still decent work for Mevushal. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted March 2016

Related – Passover that big glass of red

Recanati David Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2012, Upper Galilee, Israel (356683, $42.95, WineAlign)

Shaken, presently volatile, rich and reductive Cabernet with plenty of new, rich and swaddling oak. With this David Vineyard release the house is clearly going for a rich west coast style though the acidity, acetic venting and tart fruit puts it more in line with the Galilee. And that’s a good thing, a biblical foil to what it doesn’t get right. There is a hint of cooked fruit on the hot finish and loads of tannin. The pentateuch of fruit, mineral, oak, acidity and tannin may at times seem overbearing but there is a sensitivity that greatly refreshes if sometimes estranges. I can promise however, it will not be familiar to those who have been drinking Mevushal wines for many years. Drink 2016-20219.  Tasted March 2016

Good to go!

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An open invitation to the reds

Yeoman's try not yet having been taught by @mkaiserwine #schnitzel

Yeoman’s try not yet having been taught by @mkaiserwine #schnitzel

Funny time of year, ain’t it? Are the winter blahs and blues really behind us? Today I believe they are. The sun shines and my immediate Ontario wine community family finds itself entrenched at the mid-point of a week filled with a persistent number of sequential events; California Wine Fair, LCBO lab, WineAlign group tasting, Austrian Wine Fair, County in the City, LCBO April 30th release. I will taste 300 wines this week. Easy.

Got a crazy sensation, go or stay? now I gotta choose
And I’ll accept your invitation to the blues

As is my pejorative want, I tend to recommend, purchase and drink wines that seem to contradict the moment, the weather and the mood. Last week I prepped with The White Stuff, fighting off gelid temperatures and an intruding cold with pale tannin and clear fluids. The blues can always be dealt with when wine is in your life.

Wine doles out the importance of appeal, with the dynamism of narrative to bring truths to light and incite the tumescence of pleasure. Though I have been and will continue to enjoy more whites, today marks a necessary paradigm shift, towards accepting an open invitation to the reds.

The VINTAGES April 16th release is filled with such a summons, from Croatia to Chianti, Chinon to Coonawarra. I’ve got 10 reds to recommend. Here:

Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2013, Istria, Croatia (450437, $15.95, WineAlign)

Juicy and ripe Croatian with survivalist acidity and some liquorice flavour dipped in tannin. Ferric and hematic, like deep Garnacha or Cannonau, welling with earth and dark red fruit. I can’t imagine it improving much but I can certainly see it pairing beautifully with a spice-rubbed roast chicken and potatoes. Points awarded for originality and sheer drinkability. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016 @WinesofCroatia  

Chinon

Couly Dutheil Les Gravières D’amador Abbé De Turpenay Chinon 2014, Ac Loire, France (446328, $19.95, WineAlign)

When Cabernet Franc properly and confidently exhibits grassy, herbaceous and red peppery accents the verse is written by Chinon and this Couly Dutheil takes a page out of that savoury book. This is wise, sage and tarragon bombed balm, with full on dark red fruit and mineral stony play. Quite rich for the genre, deep and full of oscillating (advancing) cool and (receding) warm tides. Extreme unction and flavour form Cabernet Franc. Were the Peninsula’s Lincoln Lakeshore Francs always this forthcoming then Niagara would surely rise above. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016      @HHDImports_Wine

Hauner

Hauner Salina Rosso 2013, Igp Sicily, Italy (440784, $19.95, WineAlign)

The basic Hauner Rosso picks up where the bigger brother Hiera leaves off, albeit with a flinty funk exposed. Red earth and redder fruit shales and strives for depth within the secondary framework and for all intents and purposes it really succeeds. There is some advanced character so don’t wait to enjoy. Personally I would like to see this paired alongside Sicilian Purpu Vugghiutu with a smear of briny, black olive tapenade. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  #hauner  @WinesOfSicily  @WoodmanWS

Fevre

William Fèvre Chile Espino Gran Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Maipo Valley, Chile (444430, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Fevre Cabernet take is decidedly Maipo, full of currants and a raging current of grand energy. Capsicum tingles the senses, red fruit wraps around the tongue and the barrel takes over the approach. Quite fresh and refreshing for the varietal play. Cabernet of altitude and a fresh attitude. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @williamfevrecl  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile

Bel Echo

Bel Echo Pinot Noir By Clos Henri 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand (159137, $23.95, WineAlign)

Lovely aromatic Pinot Noir by Clos Henri, sumptuous, ideologically sweet and celebratory of its river stones terroir. The fruit is primed to ripeness, conjuring dreams of perfect weather and utter calm. The palate delivers the tension with precisely handled reason and well within the limits of healthy curiosity. Distinctly Marlborough and frankly effortless. Such ideal value. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @ClosHenri  @ChartonHobbs  @nzwine

wynns

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (511600, $24.95, WineAlign)

The blend formerly known as “Cabernet Hermitage” involves vines dating back as far as 1969. Versatility and varietal integration is so very key to success when Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot share the Terra Rossa sandbox, or any soil receptacle for that matter. This has real even keel, somewhat feminine character, silky smooth texture and is yet built on sharp wit. Would like to match it with seven straight nights of variegated dinners. A highly quaffable red blend that brilliantly shows the deft touch of winemaker Sue Hodder. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @sueatwynns  @Wine_Australia  @CoonawarraWine  

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2014, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (445494, $25.95, WineAlign)

The research and development continues, reeling deeper in 2014, to sous bois, fraises du bois and with true raison d’être. A healthy press and crush fills the earthy cup with dark fruit, real determination and ripe darkness. This is assemblage to reach for dinner and reap serious reward. The culmination of R & D is this D-league red blend, Culmina 250. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted April 2016  @CulminaWinery  @FWMCan  @winebcdotcom

San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2011, Tuscany, Italy (716266, $27.95, WineAlign)

A most perfectly funky, robust and dusty CCR with meat on its bones and velutinous structure in its demi-glace. Dried strawberry, roses and aniseed all contribute exoticism and danger. Colloquially old-school and yet at war with itself because of the welling up tension coursing through its Sangiovese-oozing arterial veins. A Duke of a Riserva not yet in its comfort zone and with so many years left ahead. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016  @AgricolaSFelice  @ChartonHobbs  @chianticlassico

Bressades

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Quintessence 2013, Ap Costierès De Nîmes, Rhône, France (443085, $32.95, WineAlign)

Extracted from hyper-low yields, this is a big expression for Grenache, especially from the Costierès De Nîmes, built on a solid foundation of alcohol and rich fruit. Brings with it high tones, acidity and waves of chocolate ganache. Very reminiscent of say Fagus, hailing from Aragon’s Campo de Borja, but bigger, broader and more exuberant. The ambition is palpable and the curiosity, at least in terms of Grenache, should be encouraged. A fine example even if it may seem expensive to those who might not afford the stretch. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @VINSRHONE      @Vinexxperts

La Lecciaia Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy (121905, $57.95, WineAlign)

Deep and driven Sangiovese inhalant, of fully exonerated fruit having developed a wide swath of brushstroke aromatics; red berries, cherries, earth, graphite, iron and the imagined, enchanted garden. Full bodied but so far from heavy, typically Brunello but atypically fresh and yet densely layered like sagaciously-executed mille feuille piccolo forno, Montalcino style. If you are going to buy one walk-in to VINTAGES available Brunello in plus-one increments, this just has to be the one. La Lecciaia will evolve slowly, effortlessly, with beguiling behaviour over a 20 years span. Drink 2018-2038.  Tasted April 2016    @ConsBrunello

Good to go!

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All in the Primum Familiae Vini

Primum Familiae Vini tasting at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel, April 23rd, 2015

Primum Familiae Vini tasting at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, April 23rd, 2015

Can there be a more visceral wine experience than tasting some of the world’s greatest wine estates and all the while their principals just seem to only talk about history and family? Makes me think about parents, grandparents and children. About accomplishments, passing torches and smelling roses. Or something like that.

Perhaps it was the news of Etienne Hugel’s passing that was the impetus for me to relive this day, where giants gathered and mere mortals did their best to take in the magnitude of such a coterie of distinction. That afternoon gifted me and others their five minutes with Mr. Hugel, the epitome of Alsatian, a tireless ambassador for the Hugel brand, Alsace wines and the Primum Familiae Vini congregation of producers. Or maybe it was just the right time, a crossroads one year later where the confluence of circumstance and thought conjoined to let the notes come out.

Primum Fam

Tastes of PFV

As a stark contrast to the increasingly agitating globalization of wine, the Primum Familiae Vini members stand out as leading wine families whose aim it is “to defend and promote the traditions and values of family owned wine companies, and ensure that such ideals survive and prosper for future generations.” The PFV is an international association of some of the world’s finest wine producing families from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Created in 1992, membership into the organization is by invitation only, with a maximum of 12 highly respected families contributing generations of expertise.
PFV

PFV

The PFV estate principals arrived in Toronto for an April 23rd, 2015 Press Lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel organized by wine ambassador Christophe Brunet. On hand were Hubert De Billy, Etienne Hugel, Laurent Drouhin, Egon Müller, Miguel Torres, Priscilla Incise della Rocchetta, Thomas Perrin, Allegra Antinori, Julien Beaumarchais de Rothschild, Pablo Alvarez and Rupert Symington. Each arrived to represent eleven of the world’s leading families that at the time of the tasting, made up the association: Marchesi Antinori, Château Mouton Rothschild, Joseph Drouhin, Egon Müller Scharzhof, Hugel & Fils, Champagne Pol Roger, Famille Perrin, Symington Family Estates, Tenuta San Guido, Miguel Torres and Vega Sicilia. Each family owns vineyard estates, is one of its country’s most prestigious producers, and enjoys an international reputation for its wines. Each year in turn, a member of the association is elected President. The 2014/2015 President was Alessia Antinori, while in 2015/2016 she was succeeded by Miguel Torres.

PFV wines

PFV wines

Primum Familiae Vini supports charitable causes, hosting gala dinners to raise funds for a local charity by auctioning a PFV Collection Case. The beneficiaries have primarily been focused on helping disadvantaged children, the handicapped and specialist hospitals including. Some of these beneficiaries have been Childhood Brazil, Brasil, San Patrignano Charity, Italy, Grapes for Humanity, USA, Somdetya Charity Fund, Thailand, Kidney Dialysis Foundation (KDF), Singapore, The Public Welfare of Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo and the The Toronto Foundation for Student Success. In total, over $325K has been raised.

Pablo Alvarez, Vega Sicilia with Godello and Larent Drouhin, Maison Joseph Drouhin

Pablo Alvarez, Vega-Sicilia with Godello and Larent Drouhin, Maison Joseph Drouin

As you well know it’s all about the wine and the tasting note for Godello. The art of composing snapshots of wines tasted is a cathartic experience and the only way to bring about closure. It is a necessary process, cannot and will not be abandoned. The scores attached can stay put or go away. Neither relevant nor essential, scores are merely road signs on the exegetical path through wine. Once you pass them by their use is no longer needed.

My notes for the wines tasted are long and prosaic, even longer than most that I write, which says something about the profundity of such a tasting. That it took me the better part of a year to finalize my thoughts is not surprising. Until now I found no way to serve proper justice to these wines.

Primum Familiae Vinum

Primum Familiae Vini

Famille Hugel Riesling Jubilee 2010, Aoc Alsace, France (731448, $55.00, WineAlign)

The Jubilee’s style mirrors a reflection, of name, its maker and in the ripples it will gently spread as it progresses through time. Riesling that will eventuate to luxe, calme et volupté, like coming home after 50 years, resolved of sin, “in this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property.” Hugel’s Jubilee is sourced from family-owned vines on the steep slopes of the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg above the village of Riquewihr. Terroir of great variegation; Keuper, marl, dolomite and gypsum, quaternary siliceous gravel, Vosges sandstone, Muschelkalk and periphery Lias marl limestones. The vintage is special, with no allowance for yields to climb and rife with sought after Riesling attributes. That of tannic intent, coursing coarseness of mineral condensation and repossessing acidity wrapped up in an enigma. Going forward it will gently give back but also remain rigid, slightly hidden, at times dormant, until such time when paraffin and honey take over. One of the finer Riesling cuvées of Alsace. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @FamilleHugel  @HalpernWine  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace

Super #champagne overture. I will always surrender. @Pol_Roger #sirwinstonchurchill 2002 #primumfamiliaevini

Super #champagne overture. I will always surrender. @Pol_Roger #sirwinstonchurchill 2002 #primumfamiliaevini

Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Vintage Brut Champagne 2002, Champagne, France (SAQ, 12027016, $247.25,  WineAlign)

From one of the great Champagne vintages of the last 20 years, the 2002 ode to the British Bulldog is full of French vigor and supernatant rationalism. In 2015 its hue is golden gingered and the fine mousse causes sensory skips in the heart’s beats. These bubbles pay attention and tease the most sensitive olfactory nerve endings. The brioche baking and crumbs toasting are still just mere twinkles in the aromatic eye. The year 1996 is on many tasters’ minds and this wine has no qualms telling a direct lineage tale. Can there be more proof than what is spoken in the structure of this young wine? The bitters are forged from compression, without weight and void of oppression. A pleasure to taste, this Champagne is a deactivated refugee from an ancient European dominion. It’s hard to imagine it ever being anything but elegant and cool. Drink 2016-2027.  Tasted April 2015  @Pol_Roger  @Champagne  @HalpernWine

Scallop, kumquat, baby leek, caviar #fourseasonstoronto #julienlaffargue #primumfamiliaevini with #drouhin #chablis grand cru les clos 2012 and #egonmuller #riesling #scharzhofberger kabinett 1994

Scallop, kumquat, baby leek, caviar #fourseasonstoronto #julienlaffargue #primumfamiliaevini with #drouhin #chablis grand cru les clos 2012 and #egonmuller #riesling #scharzhofberger kabinett 1994

Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012

Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012

Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012, Burgundy, France (SAQ, 10998708, $88.00, WineAlign)

Drouhin’s Les Clos is Chablis incarnate. It delivers the importance of form and structure, with the incantatory power of storytelling to foresee the eventuality of its Moirai. It possesses the staying power to reveal the truth and reward with the fullness of gratification. Imagine pears, some dried and some fresh, pulverized and turned into gold stone. That is Les Clos. Barrels used are one to four years old and since 2004 there is no stirring of the lees. This determination arranges to opt for longevity of structure over immediacy in elegance. The enclosure is lacy organza, the interior filled with ripe fruit. Time (60 minutes) induces a mine of mineral wealth emergence, of shifting plates and rising outcrops from the quarry underfoot. Patience is required to bring all the moving parts in line. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted April 2015  @JDrouhin   @BIVBChablis @BourgogneWines  @FWMCan  @Dandurandwines

Keep the car running. Magic 1994 #riesling from #egonmuller #primumfamiliaevini #scharzhofberger #rieslingkabinett

Keep the car running. Magic 1994 #riesling from #egonmuller #primumfamiliaevini #scharzhofberger #rieslingkabinett

Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Kabinett Riesling 1994, Mosel, Germany (SAQ, 12587945, $79.75, WineAlign)

It must first be said that after 90 minutes in the glass the orange blossoms open in the early morning to release their spring fragrance into the room. In a conference room at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. Now I don’t really know if the Scharzhofberg vineyard was actually planted by the Romans or if it was occupied by eighth century Trier St Marien ad Martyres monks. If following the French Revolution it was in the possession of the Duchy of Luxembourg I couldn’t say. I can equivocate, with irrefutable conviction that tasting Egon Müller’s 1994 twenty one years after its release confirms the vineyard’s reputation for housing irreverent Riesling. The arcade fire of remarkable hue, life-affirming aromatic energy and sky-lift brilliance is palpable. At 20 plus years the ideology, eventuality and passionate progression of purely distilled Mosel fruit is realized. Currently suspended in jet-trail animation, the sugars over gas of this Kabinett are quantitatively resilient. The relationship has seen a symbiotic feeding for longevity. Riesling of stoicism, classic prevalence and perfect balance. The specific Scharzhofberg tang has been revised to elevate a new order derivative recorded in every pure note. “There’s a weight that’s pressing down, late at night you can hear the sound.” Time held will move forward ever so slowly. Keep the car running. Drink 2015-2034.  Tasted April 2015    @germanwineca

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana 2010

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana 2010

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Penedès, Spain (129676, $59.00, WineAlign)

The Torres Mas La Plana explains to the world why Penedès is one of the most important Cabernet Sauvignon outposts on the planet. In deference to its moniker, flat is not the operative word. With such lifted exuberance, richness and depth of fruit, it must be dared said that Bordeaux wisdom speaks from its Spanish roots. If Mas La Plana can always be good, this vintage is great. The layering of wood over Penedès soil gives it spice and subterranean pungency; cinnamon, clove, truffle and morel. This wine is now an internationally-styled giant, an expatriate made French wine with Spanish flair. Layered, structured and so much special fruit. All about the fruit. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted April 2015  @TorresWines  @dopenedes

The reds of lunch. #vegasicilia #moutonrothschild #sassicaia #solaia #chateaudebeaucastel #maslaplana #primumfamiliaevini

The reds of lunch. #vegasicilia #moutonrothschild #sassicaia #solaia #chateaudebeaucastel #maslaplana #primumfamiliaevini

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2005

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2005

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2005, Rhône, France (711317, $89.95, WineAlign)

Expectations are high for 2005 and the opening notes of warmth, amenity and avail confirm the dream. Soon thereafter the Beaucastel plays hard to get, walks away and closes down. At this 10 year juncture its evolution is only matched by its elegance, especially considering the initial arterial ardor in mimic of the vintage. Resurfacing to conjure up character in aromatics, mint, eucalyptus, garrigue, coal and tar evince this pure Châteauneuf Du Pape. A wine of global receptiveness, the 2005 rendition tames the conception. There is very little about its personality that is parochial but rather it represents what it means to be a star, everywhere, omnipresent, for everyone. After 60 minutes it actually closes down again. This will be one of the longest lived Beaucastels. Drink 2017-2045.  Tasted April 2015  @Beaucastel  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE  @ChartonHobbs

Antinori Solaia 2007

Antinori Solaia 2007

Antinori Solaia 2007, Igt Toscana, Italy (987586, $249.95, WineAlign)

Tasting the 2007 Solaia feels like looking directly skyward into the high noon sun with a semi-peeled orange in one hand, juices dripping, zest split and fragrant. Flowers bloom all around, cypress trees stand as sentries, sentient and giving off a savoury musk. The rosemary joins in, as do the lavender and the fennochio, because there is a breeze. Then there is only the pitchy darkness, the iron and the animale. This Solaia exudes sunshine, creme caramel and maturity. As per the style, especially in warmer vintages, Solaia always speaks of early evolved character though you know it will last for a very long time. This I have come to know, expect and believe. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Braised Bison Shortrib, spring carrot, pommes dauphines @FSToronto #solaia 2007 #moutonrothschild 2005 #vegasiciliaunico 2004 #primumfamiliaevini #julienlaffargue #fourseasonstoronto

Braised Bison Shortrib, spring carrot, pommes dauphines @FSToronto #solaia 2007 #moutonrothschild 2005 #vegasiciliaunico 2004 #primumfamiliaevini #julienlaffargue #fourseasonstoronto

Sassicaia 2009, Doc Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Now increasingly accessible, the ripe and ferric Sassicaia ’09 continues to roar but the gamy musk of the wild beast is on the subside. The tannins have begun to relent and yet no holes, empty spaces or time-outs are to be found. With 60 minutes of air time the fruit speaks of plum hyperbole and dried flowers fill the air. Ten more years lay comfortably ahead. Drink 2015-2025. Last tasted April 2015     @Smarent

Sassicaia 2009

Sassicaia 2009

From my earlier note of November 2012:
The raven brunette is anything but sappy or syrupy yet is impossibly viscous. Hints at ripe berries growing in the crags of maritime gravel and the most expected hits of sanguine, animal musk. A huge wine in the making, the adolescent hunter Sassicaia off-roads up a steep incline to go tell it on the mountain of tannin. Disappears into parts unknown and will only reappear as a mature adult. Look to 2025 and it may say “the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey.”

No cartoon. The real deal. Gehry lines. #chateaumoutonrothschild 2005 @PFvini #firstgrowth #paulliac #bordeaux #onceinalifetime #primumfamiliaevini

No cartoon. The real deal. Gehry lines. #chateaumoutonrothschild 2005 @PFvini #firstgrowth #paulliac #bordeaux #onceinalifetime #primumfamiliaevini

Château Mouton Rothschild 2005, Ac Pauillac, Bordeaux, France (SAQ 10654286, $965.00, BCLBDB, 649582, $1895.00, WineAlign)

Where to begin? That Cabernet Sauvignon can so facilely lay down the law, with deputy Merlot and deputized Cabernet Franc in support, that it can syncopate and elucidate the infinite, of soil information into warmth and depth, that is does so in such a wondrous way, well, that is the crux. Mouton of incredulous form, of a liqueur that is wholly unique, even to Bordeaux. An intoxicant and yes, funky, a distilled terroir, compressed, eschewing the fractional and essaying to integration. Reduced, layered and yet bereft of cheese, cloy or cake. Healthy as a community of organisms can be, wealthy in its archetypal discretion and drawn of an architectural line to ritualize structure. Precise, innate, insistent and balanced. The cleanest, purest and ripest fruit from 10 years ago had always and continues to cut an exegetical rug on one of the greatest dance floors of wine. An age exemplary Mouton in requiem of Italian sculptor Giuseppe Penone’s label design. After 60 minutes it neither closes nor shrinks away. Open for business. Drink 2015-2045.  Tasted April 2015  

Vega-Sicilia Único 2004

Vega-Sicilia Único 2004

Vega-Sicilia Único 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (702852, $475.00, WineAlign)

In a room full of Primum Familiae Vini no iconic red stands out with more singular parlous deference than the 2004 Unico. Sitting next to Pablo Alvarez and seeing his immediate reaction speaks volumes about its place in time and how it is showing. Alvarez does not smile so much as he simply acknowledges the work put in. Unico is correct and it is priceless. Is Alvarez making a comparison in his mind? Is he thinking 1970 or perhaps 1994? It does not matter because this blend of Tempranillo (87 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (13) obviates derivative characteristics and so exhibits a kind of synoptic insatiability. Its persona is simply me, myself and I. The liqueur is not Bordeaux or IGT. The aromatics are exotic to the nth degree. The succulence and sucking inward grape tension is old and wise but the wine has 30-40 years of undetected evolution ahead. There is no need for a longevity prayer, just let it be. My ears hear “mais qu’est-ce que c’est bon!” perhaps from Alvarez, or maybe it came from Laurent Drouin to my left. The youthful Unico is like Les Enfantastiques, it has the “no se que” and we can call it terroir, from place, soil, climat and culture. Something that advances this early and yet has gone nowhere should be impossible. The precocious wisdom is beyond years, has reached a point at 10 that is palpable and yet so far from what it may become. It should be left alone for five more to find out. Drink 2020-2055.  Tasted April 2015  @Tvegasicilia  @DORibera

1977 @grahams_port...Oh to live to 111 and re-taste in 2077. @PFvini #symington #symingtonfamilyestates #rupertsymington #port #vintageport #primumfamiliaevini

1977 @grahams_port…Oh to live to 111 and re-taste in 2077. @PFvini #symington #symingtonfamilyestates #rupertsymington #port #vintageport #primumfamiliaevini

Graham’s Vintage Port 1977, Douro, Portugal (706663, $109.00, WineAlign)

The year 1977 was a huge one for the Douro and this Peter Symington vintage interpretation echoes the overemotionalism. The pitchy rim seems to be writhing, the aromatics roiling and my first thought is one of a houseguest that wishes he could escape an over vivid host. Vegetative freshness calms the savage beast; bouquet garni, garrigue and savoury herbiage from high yielding fruit. If cherries were roses and vice versa, they too would deter and distract. This VP has presence and distinction. It changes tempo, wades in the waters of age and treads with minimum effort. The toasted nut component is subtle, more than many and certainly in comparison to the modern era of Graham’s and others. The dry florals whiff as if the petals never dropped or ever will. The perfume drives upwards, to the ethereal. Nice little piece of Vintage Port history. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @grahams_port  @winesportugalCA

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The white stuff

From broth to Phở bò tái nạm

From broth to Phở bò tái nạm

While rambling in Vinho Verde last week, I was taken by overnight precipitation that would carpet the mountains above 400m with white stuff. It was magical to wake up in Amarante, Ponte da Barca and Melgaço to see the late March greenery contrasted with a jacket of celestial deliquescence. Then I returned to Toronto. Early April snow just didn’t quite have the same heart-stirring effect.

In VV the reputation is for producing crisp, light and refreshing wines. This from a place where it rains a lot. Nearly all the time. The land is so green you can see the fairies and pixies scurrying about. The place is such a verdant paradise it feels as though life springs from every tuft, tuffet and bit of life-affirming turf. With so much damp, wet and soggy abound you might think that hearty reds are both essential and necessary. To the contrary, it is Alvarinho, Loureiro, Arinto and Avesso that speak the most sincere truths. White wines rule.

The VINTAGES April 16th release is the launching pad for whites and my seven picks will lock in to every wheelhouse wished for, from $16 to $30 and from grape varieties both recognizable and habituated outside the familiar box. From Jacquere to Assyrtiko, through Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Something for all.

Here we are in mid-April, temperatures still hovering around the zero mark and Spring still fighting to break out. Like Frog and Toad I keep turning around, left and right, expecting to find Spring just around the corner. It never seems to come. So in ode to Vinho Verde, the current plan is to seek out cool, crisp whites and to wait patiently, for without even realizing it has happened, Spring will have sprung.

ch and Vine

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign)

The happy place effect by age in the Château Des Charmes’ vines coupled with location is usually enough to carry this Riesling through an obvious and readily identifiable tunnel but 2013 confounds. The elemental ratio, derived from multiplying reduction by altitude leans thoughts to the Vinemount Ridge or the Cave Spring Escarpment Vineyard. The compound aromatic waft, or more succinctly, the deconstructed stone, the breaking down of periodic Hollywood squares is a force to reckon. That this arrives from such close proximity to the lake is nothing short of amazing. It’s as if this Riesling is the product of stressed vines and the pierce is just so pinpointed. Less accessible than ’12 for sure, so drink up previous vintages going back at least three before even thinking about getting to know 2013. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted May 2015 and April 2016  @MBosc  @WineCountryOnt

Sparr

Pierre Sparr Réserve Pinot Gris 2014, Ac Alsace, France (983395, $16.95, WineAlign)

Mineral trumps fruit is this dry take on Pinot Gris from a house on a seriously competitive roll. Good beneficial bitters join tannic sweetness on the broad palate. This is a prime example of what PG can and should be, albeit without the intensity delivered out of more demanding Alsatian vineyards. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  #PierreSparr @VinsAlsace  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @ProfileWineGrp

Jean Perrier & Fils Cuvée Gastronomie 2014, Ac Savoie Abymes, France (320093, $18.95, WineAlign)

This montane-raised 100 per cent, low alcohol (11.5 per cent) Jacquere is built on premises of tart, savoury, herbal and peppery fruit not so high in acidity. A very aromatic and flavourful Savoie that could easily confuse for Sauvignon Blanc and without transversing over to high tones territory. Good for patio imbibing and for spring vegetables of all shapes, sizes and subjected to various levels of sauté. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here in 2014 the triumvirate expression that is St. Urban, of low alcohol, captured natural acidity and necessary sugar talks the Elevation talk. This is a vintage in which expectation is met without waver, whatsoever. It’s very young and not yet exciting. The aerified territory is in teasing, not succeeding mode and the tension floats without ties to anything grounded. This ’14 will have to wait. It should be letf to waft around in the Riesling winds of Bench time until a future arrives when secondary notes will begin to appear, like acacia, honey and maple nectar. At present the stoicism is a trifle frustrating. The willingness to wait will offer just reward. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted April 2016  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Argyros

Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2015, Pdo Santorini, Greece (387365, $22.95, WineAlign)

Seems to be richer, deeper and increasingly unctuous in 2015 though its extreme youth could be the source. The sheer, utter mineral macho meaning is always felt, along with the purity of its fun. What is so special about this Santorini is not just the early life mineral with the soothsaying protraction to a future filled with thyme-infused honeyed fruit drizzled over stone. No, it’s more complex than that. It’s about the true-heartedness with which it represents consciousness. This essential Argyros always offers the pleasure to bathe in its saline, sunlit waters and drink of its energy. Never failing Assyrtiko. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @Santoriniwines  @DrinkGreekWine  @KolonakiGroup

Coming to #VINTAGES April 16th @vassefelix Filius #chardonnay 2014. Try and find more gem for $25 #idareyou #youcant #margaretriver #virginiawillcock

Coming to #VINTAGES April 16th @vassefelix Filius #chardonnay 2014. Try and find more gem for $25 #idareyou #youcant #margaretriver #virginiawillcock

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2014, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia (416511, $24.95, WineAlign)

It would be an impossible expectation for winemaker Virginia Willcock to do more for the Filius Chardonnay with equal or less in 2014. The 2013 is a cracker for a pittance. The 2014 holds the candle and bears the torch. A prodigal ‘son of’ fathers Premier and Heytsbury and up to the Margaret River task, Filius is the good. Fashioned in the freshest, reductive and ultra-modern way with a sous-vide savoury and animale gait. Crispy, crunchy green apple fruit is joined by a transparent, manifest barrel written in cursive and ladling out a healthy dose of duck soup. This is Australia’s great cool-climate value Chardonnay. The mineral finish is excavated agleam of gemstones. Case buy. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016  @vassefelix  @MargaretRiverWi  @WestAustralia  @Wine_Australia  @bwwines

Bouchard

Bouchard Père & Fils Montagny Premier Cru 2013, Burgundy, France (653683, $29.95, WineAlign)

Quite the round and reductive Chardonnay with exceptional ripe fruit and tamed acidity. Love the tannin and the rotation. This is highly pleasurable though not meant to linger for much of an extended stay. Enjoy it now with something that swam, flakes and is marked by a slight char. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  #BouchardPereEtFils  @WoodmanWS  @BourgogneWines  @bourgognespress

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