November 30th in Piemonte: Sandrone and Punset

In quieter, happier and still innocent times there were days when you could freely take a Saturday morning drive down the A33 from Asti, skirt past Alba and into the sleepy environs of Castiglione Falletto. On that last sunny one of November I did just that to pay a visit with Barbara Sandrone. Later that day I moved north to Barbaresco to do the same with Marina Marcarino at Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset. I am thinking of them both and their families at this most challenging time of the past 75 years. Their estates are so very different and yet both Barbara and Marina are two of Piemonte’s strongest women, fearless in their pursuit of excellence, integrity and their respective family’s dreams to tell exacting stories of very specific places.

With Marina Marcarino

Sandrone in found south down the slope and slightly to the west of the tiny hamlet of Castiglione Falletto, also the name of the commune in the Province of Cuneo. The town of Barolo is further afield south down SP3 Via Alba. Barbara’s family wines are made by her father Luciano, pioneer, founder and visionary, along with her uncle Luca. Luciano founded the winery in 1978 after working at Borgogno and being the cellar master in charge at Marchesi di Barolo. One of the winery’s most progressive concepts is actually a retro one. They concern Barolo that are neither selections nor Riserva but rather of intuition, “to free nebbiolo’s innate resistance to time.” Sibi et Paucis, “a few who are the favoured,” in that a small percentage of the three seminal nebbolo bottlings are held and stored in the winery’s cellar. “The harmony of wine expressed through passion and patience” is Sandrone’s credo and it is the Valmaggiore, plus Le Vigne and Aleste Barolo that are released six, 10 and 10 years forward (respectively) to supply restaurants with a desire to sell old vintages, but don’t necessarily have the space to store them. Here are the five wines I tasted that morning at Sandrone. Thank you Barbara and I hope you and your family are well.

With Barbara Sandrone

Sandrone

Sandrone Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2018 ($29.95)

The keys to the dolcetto city are granted when fruit, freshness and high level acidity coordinate as they do in bringing 10 different plot expressions together from Monforte and Barolo. High level excitability in control and though it has a short life expectancy (three to four years) there is charm and there is balance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Sandrone Barbera d’Alba DOC 2018 ($44.95)

From the area very close to Grasso at the top of the hill at 450m. Dark black cherry and weight from a hot vintage and so the wind and the aerification up at this great Langhe height has kept the wine fresh and breezy. Works well to accede and succeed going forward. Crisp for barbera d’alba. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Sandrone Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC Valmaggiore 2017 ($59.95)

Comes from sandy soils in Roero, the youngest and more openly friendly of the three brothers, along with Le Vigne and Aleste. One year in tonneaux and one year in bottle. Chalky and largely chunky but always the acidity and the charm. Solid as it can possibly get for the appellation, a mid-term traveller with everything under control. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Saturday morning @sandroneluciano on a perfectly November Piedmontese day. Grazie Barbara. Yours, your father’s and your family’s wines take care to do what’s good and beautiful and right.

Sandrone Barolo DOCG Le Vigne 2015 ($159.95)

A formidable construct forms the outline and strengthens the bones of Sandrone’s Le Vigne. This nebbiolo strikes the heart with what just seems like the crux-filling soul of these nebbioli standing at its own attention with intention and promise. The inner sanctum of succulence and intentionally high-strung parts moves the dial in the direction of forever with time-stopping ability. There seems no way forward now while at the same time the earth revolves because you just know it does. But you can’t feel it. What you can feel is yourself breathing and Le Vigne is teaching you through the moment. Drink 2023-2035.  Tasted November 2019

Sandrone Barolo DOCG Aleste 2015 ($179.95)

Aleste goes deeper and more introspectively into the clay and limestone with this uncanny ability and intuitiveness to mimic its compact terroir. You can imagine the nebbiolo here softening in cold, wet months and hardening when dry and warm. The tannic structure is not that of Le Vigne and in a way (if I can be allowed to say) there is more Luciano Sandrone’s youth years in Aleste and more morbido times of wisdom in Le Vigne. There can be no reason to consume cases of Aleste any earlier than the age of 10, or even 15. It’s packed so tight and without holes in its armour for to ensure longevity with the greatest Baroli and that includes the most historical, traditional and famous. What a moment this wine gives and will bring to those who make one their own. Drink 2025-2040.  Tasted November 2019

Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset

After a brief stop for lunch in Castiglione Falletto I made my way back up the Autostrada, took the SP3 Barbaresco off-ramp, crossed over the Tanaro, turned towards Castagnole Lanze and headed for Neive. In the hills above the village is Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset. The literal meaning is “beautiful hill” or “peak,” a name derived from dialectical Piedmontese legend which tells of this nickname given by the Count of Neive. Punset is run by fifth generation winemaker Marina Marcarino, organic instrumentalist, agricultural trailblazer and arguably the Langhe’s greatest disco dancer. Marcarino made a decision to farm organically in the 80s when commercialism, conventionalism and conservatism were the rampant norm. She was the witch of Barbaresco, feared and surely admired though many did not yet understand the breadth of her powers.

Today’s world of natural wine has got nothing on Marina Marcarino. She was into the match long before today’s winemakers were even out of huggies. Marina explains what her wishes are going forward. “What I would like for the future? Being able to communicate my experience as an example of personal achievement to the new generations, spurring them to get into the game.” Never before have philosophies like this meant so much. Most recently Marcarino has devoted an incredible amount of time and effort as President of the L’Associazione Produttori Vini Albesi. Dear Marina, I trust you are staying positive through these troubling months and I have an important request. When we all come through this, please save the next dance for me. These are the nine wines tasted with Marina on that day in late November.

Punset Neh! Langhe Bianco DOC 2018 ($18.95)

Ne’? is the “Piedmontese” way of ending a sentence, like ‘eh in Canada. A 50-50 arneis and favortita mix, salt missive over fruit and extremely fresh. The aperitíf white that connects dialectal territory with those in the diaspora that want a taste. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Neh! Langhe Rosso DOC 2017 ($18.95)

Mainly dolcetto (70 per cent) with barbera and nebbiolo. Not much of the latter but necessary to widen the expression of the Langhe. Here it’s an explanation point, not a question, as in a confirmation of the exclamatory Piedmontese expression. Bright red amalgamated fruit with proper acidity and the ability to work alongside anyone and all. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Arneis Langhe DOC 2018 ($26.95)

The gastronomic DOC Langhe with 100 per cent arneis and right from the top you can tell the difference. Not just the increase in limestone mineral push but also texture and even structure. Liquid salty wave, creamy without abandoning roots and reason. Lingers longer than most arneis and you’re very pleased to have it hang about. Besides it’s more a winter white than a summer one. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Dolcetto d’Alba Langhe DOC 2017 ($21.95)

The luxuriously natural dolcetto, richly phenolic and rustic, lactic and reasonably so. A pure varietal expression, true to place and to form. Great fruit and essential first course red. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Barbera d’Alba DOC 2018 ($24.95)

From two vineyards, one planted in 1996 and one in 2003. Rich and spicy with some of the varieties’ greatest clarity. Very few comes across with this sort of red fruit. Maintains the fragrance and the “frankness” of the variety. No French oak, no confiture. “It’s the easiest wine for us because we do nothing,“ shrugs Marina Marcarino, expect for picking at the right times and pressing gently. That and cement. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2017 ($31.95)

From the tiniest production made from the youngest vines from times when there is more vegetation and verticality for health. This practice started about 20 years ago, which harks to a very specific pruning system and because Guyot is tough on the vines. They are nurtured like the children they are and the results are in the natural order of things and in the personality of this genuine Langhe. It’s volatile you should know. It’s also biodynamic, dynamic and beautiful. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2014 (302786, $66.95)

Very traditional nebbiolo coming from the southeast part of Marina Marcarino’s vineyards, very steep, the rock bed 8m deep. Classic nebbiolo with classic tannins, 40 days on skin, softly removed. Slavonian 2500L and no less than two years refining time, 14 months of that in the wood. Emits a not to be missed scent of menthol and faint herbs mixed with fennocchio, It’s the vineyard talking and though we would want to there’s nothing more to specifically name, so just chalk it up to memories created, of another time and in this same place. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2013 (302786, $66.95)

If 2014 in general was not considered a great vintage it might as well have been so here, of mild temperatures and not so wet. Fresh and excitedly savoury with a mint-vegetative note but it matters little because this ’13 is different and was built with bigger structure, not the power of some and many, though surely these never are. The aroma is very similar and so we deduce that this is what Punset Barbaresco smells exactly like. Something growing in the vineyard, or maybe something deep and well within the ground, or even in the air. It’s just what it smells like. An aroma divine. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2019

An afternoon tasting through the Neive wines of Italy’s first organic wine producer. Marina Marcarino began her impassioned and unwavering journey in 1982 ~ Shout out to @nicholaspearcewines for getting these gems to Ontario.

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Campo Quadro Riserva 2012 ($71.95)

A cru Barbaresco, meaning squared, and the place is just like a painting. Carries a double entendre and as Marina Marcarino explains, there “probably is a third meaning that we don’t know.” Take in the math of 12,000 square metres and 12,000 bottles of wine produced, making use of 70 per cent of the potential. Different aromatics than the very traditional, non-Riserva Barbaresco, deeper and richer, more sweet red fruit and less savour. A bigger vintage, with a similar fermentation and aged in French barriques and botti. Some spice for sure, with 36 wood aging a major part of the profile, followed by 36 further months in bottle. Great structure, wild ride, all in total control. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Good to go!

godello

Castiglione Falletto from Via Alba

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Avoid the LCBO. Buy local. Support wine agents. Start now.

This public service message will be brief. My colleague and great friend John Szabo M.S. has already made the pronouncement in his weekly VINTAGES round-up over at WineAlign. I only wish to reiterate and help show you the way. Wine is woven into the fabric of our lives and the time is impressed upon us to change what, how, from where and why we make our purchases. In these unprecedented times we the people must act to plank the COVID-19 curve and we must do so together. We must stay home. We should not be making trips to the LCBO.

Related – Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st, 2020

The LCBO is not an essential service. Their employees should not be put in the uncompromising position of working through the pandemic while their head offices remain shuttered tight. Hospitality giants choose to save lives and act as heroes by closing their doors for the common good. Even if it means going out of business. If the LCBO will not do the right thing then the people of Ontario need to act for them. The alternatives for finding booze are too numerous to count, safer and by trusting the word of writers, restauranteurs and sommeliers you will open your eyes and palates to the world class wines, beers and spirits found right here in your backyard.

Please see attached a Press Release from the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, VQA Wines of Ontario and Wine Country Ontario announcing that over 95 Ontario VQA wineries are offering free shipping to Ontario residents, with most of them extending this offer until Easter Weekend, including April 13th, 2020.

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/over-95-ontario-vqa-wineries-offer-free-shipping-to-ontario-residents-870436522.html

Please follow this link to see this list.

https://winecountryontario.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/VQA-Wineries-Free-Shipping.pdf

To see which Ontario importing wine agencies are offering free shipping on cases (and mixed cases) of wines in their portfolio from across the globe, please click here.

Related – Wine Agents Offering Free Shipping in Ontario

One more thing. During these suffocating, devastating and potentially bankrupting times for the local hospitality industry it would be a business-saving adjustment if our restaurants could sell wine and beer to go along with their take-out and delivery sales. Please sign the petition to lobby our politicians.

Related – Allow Ontario Restaurants to include wine, beer, cider, spirits in take-out & deliveries

Good luck to all, stay inside, stay healthy and stay safe. I am looking forward to sharing a lesser distancing glass of wine with each and every one of you when we all emerge together, better than we were before, on the other side.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Gone Vajra in Piemonte

Stained Glass Window by Padre Costantino Ruggeri and Vajra’s Inox Tanks

Head west from the village of Barolo, climb the SP3 up to 400 metres above sea level and you will arrive in Vergne, the highest village of the regal Piedmontese appellation. This is where the most forward thinking, visionary and traditionally romantic estate of G. D. Vajra is found. Vajra is the house that Aldo and Milena Vaira built, are in the continued process of building (literally) and produce wines along with their children, Francesca, Giuseppe and Isidoro. On a recent December 2019 trip to Piemonte I drove down the A33 from Asti through Alba, skirted Barolo up the SP3 to spend a few hours with Isidoro and Francesca Vaira on a soggy Sunday morning. Vajra’s wines have been trending big time, gaining ground, rising in prominence and spreading fast. I knew it was time to find out why things have gone Vajra.

Family, roots and vineyards. Having talked and tasted with Francesca and Isidoro @vajra_barolo there can be no doubt many words and feelings will follow. Their’s is a story of resilience and constant renewal.

If you engage in obsessive study or even share a casual interest in religious iconography and emblematic ordnance then the term Vajra will no doubt be recognizable. Vajra, a symbolic ritual tool or object used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism to represent the unyielding power of spirit. Vajra, the symbol of the Vajrayāna school of Buddhism, a type of club with a ribbed spherical head, the “diamond thunderbolt.” The family may not adhere to the far eastern credo or for that matter even mention any possibility of connection, but a listen to their story and a study of their life’s work can be looked at in the emblematic light of ideals relating to indestructibility and irresistible force. An explanation is forthcoming and in due course.

Dude’s getting married next week. No wonder Isidoro Vaira is a happy man.

It’s only one week before his wedding and Isidoro generously takes the time to meet. He begins with a winter’s tale, extolling the virtues of snow cover, which incidentally arrived to the slopes in December and early January, then subsequently disappeared for the remainder of the mild 2020 winter. The Piedmontese saying goes like this. Sotto la neve, il pane, orunder the snow, the bread.” Snow is better than water because it holds more oxygen and encourages the plants to draw more nutrients from the soil. This is an example of generational knowledge because as Isidoro reminds us, when you spend time with your father and the elders “you learn the importance of nature.”

sotto la neve, il pane

under the snow, the bread

Aldo Vaira began this six decades old journey in 1970 with a 0.3 hectare plot at Bricco Viole. The first vintage was 1972, of no ripeness and fruit sold away. He thought “with this money I don’t pay for my work,” and so began to bottle for himself. By 1986 Aldo was farming seven hectares but on the 29th of May the storm of the century killed everything, save for 300 bottles worth of fruit. He was in his mid-30s, with one child already born and two more to come over the next four years. It was what we call the point of calling it quits or forging ahead with no turning back. Milena stepped up, in fortitude, conviction and an ultimatum issued to her husband. Aldo responded, made a life decision and ploughed ahead.

The Vairas began anew, hailstorms occurring five to seven times each decade be damned and dug their heels into the Vergne terra firma.  With experience as a teacher and having built a winery Aldo became affectionately known as Dutur, a dialectical Piedmontese term of endearment which could allude to the word doctor but also as a part of the Italian word for producer, or produttore. Francesca tells me that 1986 is the vintage form which “you could have (or begin) your dream, by being resilient, persistent and move forward.” She shrugs. “It had to be a priority.” And so from 1986 on the Viaras completely changed direction and course.

Thirty-three years have beget great success. Francesca explains the impetuses for how her family goes about their lives. “What we have learned from our parents is not just life and to make wine but a social motivation to have the life of the people. Imagine a life without these things; music, art, books and wine. It’s not possible.” The goal is to make connections. “We need to make wine to make people happy. Our prices are very democratic.” There are always new considerations, like the “diversification of risk” and it has become the ingrained philosophy, in terms of wines and varieties but also the idea of a two-month long picking time. Always diversity, all the time. One step inside the winery and the light shines in. The stained glass windows that adorn the fermentation room are a reflection of everything that is embodied by the Vajra oeuvre.

They hang in their stark and prolate ways as a severe yet arrant contrast to the line of steel tanks below. When Aldo and Milena went to visit the artist at Canepanova Convent in Pavia he answered the door dressed as a Franciscan Monk with a blue hat. A crazy man in a crazy beautiful studio. Padre Costantino Ruggeri was in fact a real monk, ordained a priest in 1951 by Cardinal Schuster in the Cathedral of Milan. That meeting yielded no conclusion for a commission, or so thought the Vairas, that is until the Father showed up with the first installation, in 1989. He was given no instruction or direction. The rest as they say is history and the works are nothing short of magnificent. They succeed, in Ruggeri’s words, “in that moment of light and mystery the stained glass window captures (the infinite) and introduces it naturally into the temple, as a total dimension that is divine as well as human.” The metal that holds the glass is effected a piombo, aplomb, vertical, exact. No two pieces are the same.

What congruence links a Ruggeri stained glass to other masterpieces of art? Gazing upon the padre’s windows elicits a feeling of consonance and beauty is easy to find. They are arranged exactly as they should be, that much is clear. Their power is felt because of their interaction with their cold and utilitarian surroundings. They hold our gaze and work together with us, inexplicably and without reservation. Their universal appeal transfers energy, pivots, solicits our personal and singular nature so that we share in their consonant form.

On June 24th 2007, his last sculptural work representing “Franciacorta’s Facets” was presented in Adro, his birthplace. On the following day, June 25th 2007, Costantino died at the hospital of Merate, near the convent of Sabbianello, where he had spent the last weeks of his life. The spirit of his work carries on at Vajra where 160 different fermentations are carried out because explains Francesca “harvest is the only time of year when you can really learn. If you have to ask for permission then you are not a true artist.” Just like Father Costantino who created without asking.

“Always think of the cherry. The grapes will follow,” reminds Isidoro. Organics. Methodologies. Patience. Picking decisions are made day by day, by brother Giuseppe and by Aldo. For them 2018 was a great nebbiolo vintage, of cold nights and warm days with humidity. The high risk of rainstorms at harvest made for some sleepless nights and the weather was tough on the skins of the grapes. So 100 pickers were employed, to ensure quality but Vajra’s altitude and attitude makes them one of the last to pick so the harvesters were available. They finished on October 22nd and in 2019 on the 23rd. 

On that day in December Francesca poured seven of her family’s wines, including riesling, dolcetto, freisa, barbera and nebbiolo. These are my notes.

G.D. Vajra Riesling Pétracine 2018, Langhe DOC ($55.95)

The law changed to be able to plant in 1985 and a new opportunity arose in 2018 for a vineyard with sandy soil beneath the clay. Going back the first planting came from a Geisenheim clonal selection and planted at the top of the hill above the cru Fossati. The second vineyard is from Marcel Deiss clonal selection material, just outside the Barolo production area. Here a combination of the two, and the first wine that got together was 2011. There’s weight, energy and balance to this riesling and it is so very real. Remarkable verve and youthful freshness and the impression of great aridity. It is in fact quite dry. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati 2018, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC ($31.95)

From two old cru Barolo vineyards, Coste di Vergne and Fossati, close by to one another at the top of their shared hill. De-stemmed and crushed separately, of vines 40 years in age. If there is dolcetto that carries the structure to age you best believe this is the one. Tannic in its youth, a house with the potential to grow roses in one year and then violets in another. Modern and grounded, better with fresh eggs and delicate proteins, certainly the romantic tartufo Piemondtese. Already teasing something floral but still in a shell and cast under a spell. Wait two years or more. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2017 ($31.95)

Like the dolcetto, barbera is drawn off of two vineyards with tow soil types, from Bricco delle Viole and in Serralunga d’Alba, Bricco Bertone. An east-west expression, at once rich and luxurious and then inward, implosive and almost intolerant. Could only be barbera with its sweet fruit and dark berry compote but it’s a variety that needs time, it needs the bottle and then, the glass. Somehow bright through all the dark fruit, like the singular stained glass that allows light to shine in.  Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Kyè 2015, Freisa Langhe DOC ($60.95)

Like the French “C’est qui?” this dialectical freisa is actually two syllables, key-eh, and you cannot define this wine with anything or any other freisa. Darker, woolly and a bit of wild, feral and animale beauty. Like somewhere between red Sancerre and Faugères but bigger, more power and also more control. Herbaceous, iron-clad and hematic. Mimics blood-red preparations of proteins; duck breasts, rack of lamb, venison. Also Rhône-ish and laying somewhere between barbera and nebbiolo. Make your head spin with comparisons when none are correct. There is evidence of climatic cut and biodynamic preparations. Earthy, rich and poignant. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2018 ($34.95)

The Baroli are made from vines minimum 10 years old and the younger vines are used for this Langhe, which includes fruit from Bricco Bertone just outside the territory. Creeps up with its structure, nothing powerful or demanding but nebbiolo architecture nonetheless. Cherries, pencil lead and mountain herbs. Keeps the vineyard faith and accumulates even as it opens which tells us it is also youthfully closed. The potential is two years and thence forth. Tasted from two bottles opened a day apart, the first ready and willing, the second yes at first and then making a request for time. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Coste Di Rose 2015 ($101.95)

A very sandy decomposed peculiar site and soil type rich in Arenaria (sandstone) with the presence of sandstone rocks of quite decent size. The first vintage is this 2015 and from vines 30 years old going up the hill from Bussia. Delivers very pretty fruit of sneaky structure and intent. The rose floral gift of a vineyard, part apposite and part complimentary to Bricco delle Viole. It’s a ventilated place translating to a great freshness in the wine. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco delle Viole 2015 ($113.95)

An about face in style and character with more dimensions accessed and so many aromatics acquiesced. Vines are 40-80 years old and the handling involves a diversification of treatments; longer maceration and fermentation, up to 45-60 days. A tight, compact and fine-grained construct with so much taken from the beneficial skins and the assistance of a submerged cap (a merso) during that fermentation (in stainless steel), followed by at least 24 months in large casks, some 25hL and some 50 hL. Some tonneaux but just as an addendum. Such a tactile nebbiolo, fruit of presence and intricacy out of a Cru that is felt as much as it is nosed or tasted. It’s not just a matter of nebbiolo and Barolo but a thing of great importance, mainly tradition and family. Drink 2023-2034.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

Stained Glass and Inox Tanks

Twitter: @mgodello

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Malivoire gets Mottiar and Mottiar

Back in January a group of Ontario-centric, local-fanatical and intrepid Toronto-based journos made the annual trek around the QEW horn and down into the Niagara Peninsula’s land of plenty. The Friday night destination was Fallsview Casino for the annual Niagara Icewine Festival, annual gala of wine and dine stars. We dressed to the occasion; John Szabo M.S., Jamie Drummond, Malcolm Jolley, Sara d’Amato and Godello. You can read up more about that essential event in Sara’s roundup over on WineAlign.

Godello, Sara d’Amato and John Szabo M.S.

Related – Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 25th, 2020

On the morning after we five and the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario’s (WMAO) Magdalena Kaiser paid a visit with winemaker Shiraz Mottiar of Malivoire, a Beamsville Bench producer moving from strength to strength and purveyor of Bench wines simply getting hotter and hotter. Or, as it is said, Mottiar and Mottiar. Malivoire’s are some of Ontario’s most thoughtful varietal wines occupying all the necessary levels and tiers; estate bottlings, small lots and single-vineyards. The whites focus on chardonnay and melon de bourgogne, the reds in gamay and pinot noir. The ace in the hole concerns the province’s finest grouping of Rosé and in fact the Moira Vineyard gifts arguably the best in Ontario. That vineyard along with the winemaker’s home Mottiar block are inching upwards into Premier Cru territory.

Shiraz Mottiar is a thoughtful man of grace, empathy and conviction. He’s also an experimenting scientist with an artist’s brush touch, at the leading edge of his work through wild ferments, whole bunch fermentation, stem inclusion and carbonic styling. He pushes boundaries, slides into percentages many would fear to tread and his wines always come out clean. He has the magic touch and everyone knows it. And he makes wines everyone can afford. You could build an entire cellar by way of Malivoire’s multi-varietal work and the many tiers they fashion from drink now, through mid-term aging and those that will go long. I’ve tasted a few older Malivoires lately and have been blown away by their longevity.

Meeting the Bench man of great insight for a morning’s barrel through the @malivoire oeuvre ~ All carefully, thoughtfully and properly conceived. New marketing and labels pretty sharp too.

The group tasted through 10 examples with Shiraz and these notes reflect that gathering, along with two tasted at the Icewine Festival and one older Melon from last summer. The notes on the 2019 Pinot Noir and Gamay barrels tasted through are restricted to internal rumination and imagination but know this. When those wines hit the bottle they will re-write the varietal script for Ontario. Wait for them.

Malivoire Bisous Rosé, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($29.95)

The latest disgorgement of Bisous Rosé from Bench pinot noir still sees 24 months of lees aging but now strikes drier than expected. There’s crème fraîche and strawberry tang, more angst than before, crunchy fruit and well-propositioned delineation.  Last tasted January 2020

This ambitious dry Rosé from Malivoire is all about the kisses, not so much in a tuck you in at night sort of way, but in a greet you at the beginning of the night peck on both cheeks. It’s really quite down to earth this Bisous, taken from the rich limestone chalky and cakey soil up on the Beamsville Bench. Twenty-four months of lees aging deliver a strong message of texture but not enough to harden what is ostensibly soft and hugging, traditional method sparkling wine. Now in bottle 18 months this has settled into a comfortable and familiar ambient space, “it’s like heaven to me I must confess.” I’ll be happy to steal my kisses from you, Bisous. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted December 2017

Malivoire Melon 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($21.95)

Just about to be bottled (Tuesday January 14th). Picked late because the acids extended longer than usual and 10 per cent of the fruit comes from winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s home vineyard. Sugary (not sugared) melons, undeniable and absolute salty and marine shell-like melon de bourgogne notations. The specificity of citrus with ever-present neutral grape spirit streak of embracing acidity. Woke melon, wake-up call to more please. Imagine the possibilities with an increased sur-lie styling. More plantings and potential yields could make this happen. Will receive one last sulphuring before bottling. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Melon 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario

Impeccable balance and extension have come to this in what is the freshest white you could want at six years of age and almost no cost towards getting it here. Melons and lemons and plenty of unction. An argument for this grape, that beautiful Bench and the amount of time invested. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2019

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($24.95)

Production is “as much as I can get from that site,” tells Shiraz Mottiar, so maximum 800 cases. As always the aridity and the salinity continue to rise, the acids, minerality, near brininess and ultimate stoic balance so secure at the top of the game. Such a high acid vintage for everything but certainly that includes Rosé, yet still the least amount of skin-contact of the three Malivoire blush. Acids just don’t correlate to hue and flesh. Thank pH for the needle’s movement in how this translates from vintage to vintage. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Vivant Rosé 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (498535, $19.95)

The production can max out at 1,300 cases and yes there is more vivant life, energy and expression than the Moira. Different fruit makes for different strokes yet same folks will love what’s going on. Sharp, high acid vintage, sapid, salty and fine. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Chardonnay Estate Grown 2018, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $19.95)

A blend of fruit from three farms, though mostly Moira in origin. Rich and developed vintage, fruit considered and managing to climb up another rung to imagine fruit from all over, orchards everywhere. Nothing buttery about this chardonnay, just crisp, cracking, “aggression played with,” Shiraz style. More oxygen at the juice level, half fermented in old barrels, through April/May. It’s ideal at this cost and you can’t do much better in Ontario. Approximately 2,500 cases made, a VINTAGES Essential. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($34.95)

To be released imminently, meaning Spring at some point. A block picked early at high acid and low pH, whole cluster fermented, natural fermentation and only 10 months in barrel. For chardonnay it was a vintage for freshness, quite wet throughout but hot and ideal through harvest. The adapted vines caught up, came to speed and delivered high quality. This is a prime example of what is possible when minor miracles come about and for a Mottiar chardonnay that means stoicism, structure and length. Very balanced and poised MC. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Pinot Noir Moira 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($34.95)

A short amount of time in barrel (only five to six months), needing a modicum of structure strengthening and keeping freshness intact. High fruit pectin from what is ostensibly a top Rosé block though not a top red made from pinot noir site. As straightforward and easily understood pinot noir as the Bench will ever give. Such a high-end entry point for varietal and place. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Pinot Noir Mottiar 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($34.95)

The fruit is just juicier, sweeter, more mature and expressive than Moira but also equipped with a next level structure that elevates the Bench game. The one sitting on the darker savour side as opposed to the red popping one. A healthy stem inclusion raises the tension though truth be told you just can’t escape from the beauty of this vintage, the flowers that emit and the pleasure you just get from what can’t help but simply be. Pretty wine from a pretty time. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Small Lot Gamay 2018, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($21.95)

Gamay as we know and love, peppery and jolting, embracing and inclusive for all to find joy. From a Malivoire site up aboard a ridge that may not have always been the best site for planting but is increasingly rising into the golden age of gamay reality. More plantings are not merely trend follows but knowing the next 10-20 years of good sites for good wine. Juicy stuff, invigorating and affirming. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Analog 2018, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($34.95)

Semi-carbonic, whole cluster fermented cabernet franc with (the same) in gamay and then some pinot noir. A blend of Wismer and Bench fruit, “tuffeau reverb” and dialled up to “11.” Less than 200 cases made of this most curious and never before connected three-pronged blend, like a Euro receptacle for power plugged in with northern North American grooves. An as is red blend with a bit of sweetness for sipping purpose while rocking out .“Why not just make 10 louder?” Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Wismer Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($26.95)

Quite the juicy little cabernet franc number with all the notes sung as expected, some savoury, some sweetly peppery and some just red fruit juicy. Red citrus, red current and red liquorice. Easy and nary a heady or anxious moment. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted January 2020

Malivoire Stouck Farmstead Red 2017, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario ($29.95)

The Farmstead carries forward from the red blend previously known simply as Meritage, of 60 per cent merlot and (40) cabernet sauvignon. Still so very youthful, quite reductively protected and mired behind a varnished and savoury candied shell. There’s a litany of high quality 2017 Stouck Vineyard fruit lurking behind and also stuck behind a veil of oak curtains, of French and also American in origin. Acts as if Niagara in Rioja clothing by way of Bordeaux styling. Perhaps confusing in youth that will reveal all charms and dignities, not to mention Lincoln Lakeshore nobility when some mid-range years have melted past. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted January 2020

Good to go!

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