Sonoma County: Diverse by nature plus California, Italy and others in VINTAGES Oct 27th

Taste of Sonoma – Diverse by Nature

Related – WineAlign Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Preview – Oct 27th, 2018

In last week’s preview covering the October 27th release it was John who wrote about the “Premium Parade.” John has reminded us all, as did David in his previous report for October 13th that VINTAGES likes to roll out the big guns in the two months leading up to the holiday season. What a shocker. I’m pleased to follow-up on the theme with more than a few overflowing handfuls of high-end wines that settle with great weight and density into a more than similar ilk.

It’s more than just a late October release that delivers gifts of such hedonistic and full character flavour. The Sonoma County Vintners came through town just last week with armfuls of the good stuff. There was a trade and media walk-around tasting in the afternoon of the 16th followed by a VINTAGES supported consumer affair in the evening. Thirty-three producers showcased 75 wines and it is safe to say that Sonoma knows how to put on a show. What piqued my interest the most was a Masterclass/Tutored Tasting titled “Diverse by Nature” and hosted by none other than WineAlign’s John Szabo. My notes on the wines poured are featured just below. All of the 75 wines continue to be available for purchase on the VINTAGES Shop Online site.

The VINTAGES opinion is one that states “Sonoma County is predominantly family farmers who produce some of the world’s best grapes and wine and have done so for generations. It’s also the first wine region in the US to commit to becoming 100% sustainable by 2019.” They noted that the event features “a bounty of stellar Pinot Noirs, full-bodied Cabernets, stylish Chardonnays and spicy Zinfandels – most with 90+ scores.” This is nothing but truth. I scored all 10 wines I tasted at the Sonoma seminar at 90-plus.

Greg MacDonald, VINTAGES Category Manager, New World Wines, North America (excluding Ontario) & South Africa, explains where Sonoma stands in the current pantheon of California wines. “I would agree that many top wines from Sonoma can stand toe-to-toe with their Napa counterparts on quality and while many offer relative value, there are now iconic wines from Sonoma that can and do command similar top-tier price points. What Sonoma can still offer that Napa can’t anymore (for the most part), is wines at more approachable price points for everyday consumers – the sheer size of Sonoma County makes this possible.  This means it’s a win for both collectors and consumers. I don’t consider Sonoma an emerging region for California as a buyer – it’s arrived.”

John Szabo M.S.

So what is so special about Sonoma County? First look at its size. With approximately 75,000 planted acres only Bordeaux is bigger (much bigger) and Sonoma easily outgrows Napa Valley, New Zealand, Bourgogne and the Okanagan Valley. Nearly 500 wineries grow a multitude of varieties but there is some definitive concentration and specialization. In terms of hectares chardonnay is king, at 6,500 while pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon follow closely at roughly 5,400 each. The next four most planted grape varieties are zinfandel, merlot, sauvignon blanc and syrah.

Five distinct soils make up the multifarious terroir of Sonoma; Francisco Complex covers nearly half of the west and northern territories. Then we find Salinia, Glen Ellen Formation, Sonoma Volcanics and Wilson Grove Formation. The coolest spots and perfect for chardonnay are Green Valley and Carneros while it is the pinot noir appellations of Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley that bridge the gap to a moderate climate. In that mid-temperature category we see the merlot high ground of Chalk Hill and Bennet Valley.

Both chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon work well in the moderate to quite warm spots of Sonoma Mountain and Sonoma Valley. Slightly warmer are the zinfandel hot spots of Rockpile and Dry Creek Valley. The warmest areas that are best suited to cabernet sauvignon are Alexander Valley, Fountaingrove, Knights Valley and Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Park. Let us not forget the rest of the Sonoma County AVAs, Moon Mountain, Northern Sonoma and Petaluma Gap.

Most important these days is what’s found inside and within these distinct regional territories. In Sonoma they like to call them “neighbourhoods,” micro-climates like Middle Ranch and Laguna Ridge in the Russian River Valley. These are akin to the Villages of Bourgogne so consumers can now begin to seek out varietal specificities with which to align from these hoods.

These fantastic humans helped to bring the excellence of @sonomacountyvintners to Toronto today. And it was great ~ @california.wines #sonomacounty #sonoma #sonomavalley #alexandervalley

Don’t look for a singular regional-varietal character, but rather look at the towns, a.k.a in that Bourgogne sense of the ideal, the Villages. Look back to 1857, to the story of the Buena Vista Count, collector of European grapevines (mainly in Vienna) brought back to California. This got everything started, including the Croatian variety zinfandel which at the time was being cultivated as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Look at the transfer from bulk to premium wine in the 1970s and the infamous moment at the Judgement of Paris when Chateau Montelena was the shocking victorious wine.

John mentioned last week that the main VINTAGES theme for October 27th is in fact Italy and not California and so David and I offer up some critics’ love for the great wines of that vast producing country. We take you to Umbria, Veneto, Toscana (including Chianti Classico) and Piemonte for some stellar choices. We wrap up the selections with some miscellaneous wines from around the globe, including some homegrown picks just a jog down the QEW and onto the Niagara Peninsula.

Sonoma Chardonnay

Sonoma Picks

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, California (VINTAGES, $79.95, WineAlign)

From the confluence of three appellations, coast, valley and mountain, not to mention a combination of rock and soil in ratios that as assets determine influence. Buttery and if aromas were textured this would be viscous, licked up from the thickness of fog filling in the mid-palate. Notable is that here the change in Sonoma styles over the past decade is arriving at this gate of transparency. Sharper now and gummed by less glück is the simplest way to sum it all up. Expressive in the ways of varietal and place is the bigger picture summarized. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   threestickswines  halpernwine  @ThreeSticksWine  @HalpernWine  @threestickswines  @halpernwine

Patz & Hall Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, California (VINTAGES, $65.00, WineAlign)

Much more direct, sharp, pinpointed and poignant for modern day chardonnay, with ripe orchard park flavours, high acidity and great internalized impression. Five vineyards get together in this perfectly tidy house conglomerate and added up the stylistic is expressly P & H. From many famous Sonoma vineyards sometimes, often but not always inclusive of Sanchietti, Parmalee Hill, Pleasant Hill, Gap’s Crown, Dutton Ranch and Durell. A necessary parts when integrated are counted as contributors to the whole. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2018   patzhall  philippedandurandwines  @PatzHall  @Dandurandwines  @PatzHall  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, California (VINTAGES, $57.99, WineAlign)

Wild ferment and thrown in to bottle, literally. From Goldridge, those parochial, sought after soils, composed by 70 per cent Martinelli Charles Ranch and (30) Platt Vineyard. Rich without weight, texture without acting overly creamy. A beautifully balanced wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2018   rameywinecellars  liffordgram  @RameyWineCellar  @LiffordON  @RameyWineCellars  @liffordwineandspirits

Siduri Pinot Noir Parsons Vineyard 2015, Russian River Valley, California (VINTAGES, $70.00, WineAlign)

Just west of the winery is the flat topography characterized by compact clay soils of Parsons’ Vineyard on the Santa Rosa Plain. The 2015 pinot noir is one of high energy ripe fruit but also beautiful acids. This is the ripe pinot noir we’ve come to know from the last 20 years and occupying a chair at the hyperbole of thought and execution. Such a guarantee of what to expect from the Russian River Valley. Strawberry jam, cola and the artfully managed barrel dodger. Broad and velvety. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   siduriwines  halpernwine  @SiduriWines  @HalpernWine  @halpernwine  @Siduriwines  @halpernwine

Chalk Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley, California (VINTAGES, $80.00, WineAlign)

Broad, even riper, of real lush texture and a bit ferric. Tart, tight, intense with at the edge evolution, development and ripeness. This is the trimmer set to the finest setting, allowing some room for growth but also leaving behind a stylish, nearly clean to the skin style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   chalkhillestate  liffordgram  @ChalkHillEstate  @LiffordON  @chalkhillestate  @liffordwineandspirits

Deloach Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2014, Russian River Valley, California (VINTAGES, $70.00, WineAlign)

The organically and biodynamically farmed Olivet Ranch Vineyard estate block has been owned by Boisset Family Estates since 2003. In 2014 this is bigger, fuller, taller, riper and certainly imbued with more wood influence. This from the J.C. Boisset stable is almost a throwback to innocent and precocious times. While the acidity in this vintage carries the dark fruit to terrific heights, it really is impressive how this works the glass and the room. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2018   deloachvineyards  jc_boisset  jcb_collection  liffordgram  @DeLoachVineyard  @JC_Boisset  @LiffordON  @deloachvineyards  @BoissetCollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2015, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $55.00, WineAlign)

Shows an extreme ripeness of being reaching to the breach and teetering on the edge while so successfully camping there. Dark fruit, nearly dusty and so filled in. Ripe, figgy and raisined with managed acidity to keep things in swimming balance. Berries of varying ripeness on old vines make for the great multi-juxtaposed connections. The 22 per cent petite sirah increases the curiosity, that plus three types of oak. So much going on and a good vintage for this OV zin. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2018   drycreekvineyard  wineloversca  @DryCreekVnyd  @WineLoversCA  @drycreekvineyard  @WineLoversCA

Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $55.00, WineAlign)

From 1972 planted vines on Cortina soil and yet curiously not referred to as old vines. The high-toned dark fruit does in fact present a curious juxtaposition, ripe and hematic but also savoury, dusty and mineral. This is just around the corner from entering into the perfect window of its life, integrated and in delivery of its gravelly-loam origins. Only identifiable as Seghesio and always on point. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted October 2018   seghesio  pellerwines  @seghesio  @APImportAgency  @seghesio  Andrew Peller Import Agency

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $118.95, WineAlign)

Take some time to allow Silver Oak’s cabernet to settle in and you might just smile a bit more. Here we are at that point, certainly glued to a house style, big in barrel with American influence and set up with Daniel Baron’s signature passed on through Nate Weis, most recent accomplice as Director of Winemaking. Pencil shavings and early harvested balance plus some wood waiting out of that wood means you are given some Alexander Valley grace at this stage of fine tannin development. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted October 2018   silveroakcellars  halpernwine  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine @SilverOakCellars  @halpernwine

Rodney Strong Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rockaway Single Vineyard 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $100.00, WineAlign)

This is the “lay down in the third bed and it was just right” Rodney Strong cabernet sauvignon from half new French barrel and nicely integrated at this point. Here the darkness of fruit and tighter if rounder structure comes from mountain fruit. Dusty dark black with briny Mediterranean accents leads this down a spice route road. In a delicious spot right now with a finishing bite of very dark, high cocoa content chocolate. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   rsvineyards  markanthonyon  @rsvineyards  @MarkAnthonyWine  @Rodney.Strong.Vineyards  @MarkAnthonyWine

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES Oct 27th

California Picks

Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2016, Contra Costa County, Central Coast, California ($24.95)

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California ($39.95)

Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, California ($49.95)

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, California ($74.95)

Italian Picks

Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2016, Vento, Italy ($18.95)

Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, IGT Toscana, Italy ($28.95)

Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($47.95)

Castello Della Sala Cervaro Della Sala 2016, Umbria, Italy ($68.95)

Palazzo Brunello di Montalcino 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($69.95)

Ca’ Romé Romano Marengo Cerretta Barolo 2012, Piedmont, Italy ($72.95)

Grillesino Battiferro 2016 Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy ($18.95)

Miscellaneous Picks

Thelma Mountain Vineyards Sutherland Pinot Noir 2015, Elgin, South Africa ($19.95)

Redstone Chardonnay 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95)

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2017, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($27.20)

José Pariente 2016 Verdejo 2016, Rueda, Spain ($19.95)

Echeverria 2015 Gran Reserva Syrah, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95)

André Brunel 2015 Cuvée Sabrine Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($15.95)

Stoller Family Chardonnay 2016, Dundee Hills, Yamhill County, Oregon ($27.95)

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($29.95)

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($32.95)

I’ve been in fervent travel mode, scrambling voraciously around the globe gathering as much knowledge as my brain can handle. I’m also on the constant tasting and discovering lookout for gems to add into the WineAlign Exchange. Recent trips have taken me to Chianti Classico, Nova Scotia and Niagara. I’ve also recently judged with David Lawrason at the Great Kitchen Party (formerly Gold Medal Plates) in Toronto. I’m off to Argentina, followed by Chianti Classico and Piemonte. There will be no rest when there are so many wines to discover! Until later,

Good to go!

Godello

Taste of Sonoma – Diverse by Nature

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Three times three vertical with Laurel Glen Vineyard, Jordan Winery and Korbin Kameron

one-vineyards-cover-crop-is-another-mans-salad-laurelglenwine-organics-sonomamountain-cabernetsauvignon-sonoma-california-califwine

One vineyard’s cover crop is another man’s salad @LaurelGlenWine #organics #sonomamountain #cabernetsauvignon #sonoma #california #califwine

Sometimes the muse strikes when you least expect it. I was on the Frankfurt-Toronto leg on my return from Tuscany last night when it hit me. This time last year I was in Sonoma as part of a group invited by California Wines and tasted three vintage verticals (2012, 2008 and 2004) with three crucially constitutive California wineries; Laurel Glen, Jordan and Korbin Kameron. We were hosted (and benevolently fed) by Bettina Sichel, proprietor at Laurel Glen.

We also walked through Laurel Glen’s wondrous vineyard, a thousand feet up the slopes of Sonoma Mountain. In the pantheon of exceptional sites for cultivating cabernet sauvignon, Laurel Glen’s was pinpointed early and their first vintage was produced in 1981. The 16 acre vineyard was developed in the 1970’s by Sonoma wine pioneer Patrick Campbell. It is now farmed organically and is planted in particular to the Laurel Glen clone of cabernet sauvignon, certified as unique unto itself by the University of California at Davis.

The Laurel Glen vineyard was replanted to cabernet sauvignon in 1968 by Carmen Taylor at a time when such a proliferation was about to burst into an explosion. The grapes were sold for several years to Chateau St. Jean and at one time provided the backbone of Kenwood’s Artist Series. In 1977, Ms. Taylor sold the property to Campbell, who took cuttings from the existing three acres of cabernet vines to develop the modern vineyard.

I feel for you Canada. It's pretty cool in Sonoma too. Guess that's why the wines are so good.

I feel for you Canada. It’s pretty cool in Sonoma too. Guess that’s why the wines are so good.

Founders Tom and Sally Jordan established Jordan Winery in the Alexander Valley in 1972 so referring to them as Sonoma County pioneers is hardly a stretch. The first vintage was 1976, released in 1980. Second-generation vintner John Jordan and winemaker Rob Davis continue to craft the Healdsburg winery’s wines.

Jordan’s vineyards include estate blocks, which have more clay-rich soils similar to the Right Bank of Bordeaux, as well as well-drained, mid-slope grower parcels with mineral-rich soils more reminiscent of Bordeaux’s Left Bank. Rob Davis had this to say about the 2012 vintage. “The 2012 vintage validates our decision to elevate the black-fruit intensity in the wines without abandoning our house style. I didn’t think a wine like this was possible for Jordan twenty years ago.”

Korbin Kameron is the new kid on the block, or in their impressive 2,000-plus feet of altitude case, the mountain. Moon Mountain that is, a steep and picturesque, difficult to farm Mt. Veeder ridge that straddles the border between Sonoma and Napa counties. It is a family affair for Mitchell and Jenny Ming on their 186-acre estate, with their children Kristin and twins Korbin and Kameron.  The viticulturist is Phil Coturri and the winemaker is Timothy Milos.

The vineyard (referred to as both Korbin Kameron and Moonridge) sits on the ridge of the Mayacamas Mountain Range and straddles the Napa/Sonoma county line at 2,300 feet in elevation. It resides in both the Moon Mountain District and Mt. Veeder AVAs and is southwest facing, making it ideal for growing high quality Bordeaux varietals; cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. Korbin Kameron also farms sémillon and sauvignon blanc.

Laurel Glen, Jordan and Korbin Kameron share few connective commonalities and each came to make their cabernet sauvignon from three unrelated paths. Sonoma Mountain, Alexander Valley and Moon Mountain are non germane to one another. So what is the learned significance of such a three times three tasting of seemingly disparate and at the surface, unconnected Sonoma County wines? Putting a finger on the associations between three vintners is like trying to get a musical grip on an “adventurous jazz drummer/composer whose own music walks the line between atmospheric contemporary jazz and aggressive post-bop.” As in Birdman and Three Times Three composer Antonio Sanchéz. What was the point?

The answer lies in a three-pronged composition; varietal, practice and vintage. The choice of Bordeaux as the launching point is not new to California, but in these three pockets of Sonoma the French left bank ideal is the thing. It has always been and will not be displaced any time soon. Mimicry and loyalty to common ground agricultural practices are abided, shared and repeated. The tenets are all so similar; low yielding vines, organics, planting of cover crops and tilling those organics back into the earth. And finally it is the three by three vintages that forge the final act of cahoots. This quick and obvious look at 2012, 2008 and 2004 is a glaring gaze straight into the mirror of Sonoma’s recent past. The thread speaks to clarity and obviousness, of richness, challenge and pleasant surprise. Three vintages.

sonoma-vintners

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (Winery, Approx. $80, WineAlign)

The vintage saw late bud break and therefore an abbreviated growing season with a long veraison to an early harvest. The highest yields of the recent past meant quality not seen for Jordan in forever. This ’12 signals to turn on the light of red fruit epitome, picked at a lower than typical brix, high in acidity and simply rocking red cabernet. Red currants of a precise sort of ripeness with the crushed fresh bursting seeds of pomegranate and citrus but in its very, very own unique way. This can only come about in a way specific to place with sheer deliciousness from Jordan. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @jordanwinery

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $59.95, WineAlign)

The retreat in time is as much the reason, though not entirely, for the gritty, darker, somewhat secondary though not nearly tertiary taste of 2008. A strike of flint and smoke clouds the air above the glass. The smoke gassed into acidity acts vinyl reductive, high-toned and yet submits to grit performing the play of gravelly soil. The last acts are a tragicomedy by wood and from chocolate. Gets the heart pumping with excitement at this eight year mark, looking back at the challenge of the vintage. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted February 2016

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $59.95, WineAlign)

More than conceptually speaking this really fun and vitally alive look back 12 years solicits quick appreciation. The reference point is in reminiscence to left bank Bordeaux, capitulated into the geology of well-drained Sonoma County vineyards with mineral-rich, gravelly soils. Retroactive to and foreshadowing to what will come later in ’08 and ’12, the 12 year-old Jordan cabernet sauvignon holds firm and clear at 13.5 per cent alcohol, with a good cabernet franc component, for ripeness, for thoroughfare and for consistency. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted February 2016

Korbin Kameron Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Moon Mountain District, California (Winery, Approx. $80, WineAlign)

Korbin Kameron hails from the Moon Mountain District, a unique California locale that straddles Napa Valley and Sonoma County. This is my first rapport with this cabernet sauvignon from the 2100 foot, west facing ridge of Mt. Veeder, with views of both the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. It hopefully will not be my last. Fruit grown here faces much maligning and in requiem of major effort repelling mildew pressure so Korbin Kameron faces it head on by farming organically. They also have to deal with erratic coastal influences. The plantings were done in 2000, 2002 and 2013, First Bordeaux reds and then Bordeaux whites. The locale determines long hang time and high acidity, 3.4 to 3.6 pH and alcohol levels between 14 and 14.5 per cent. The geology is mostly well-draining, gravelly and clay loam. Such florals nosed with eyes and mouth wide-open are character separating, notable from dry-farmed, arid brushy aromatics. A mountain sensation noted is due to minimally irrigated, tiny berry goodness, thicker skin tannins and a very delicate chocolate. Very long, conifer driven aromatics. Just a terrific discovery.  Drink 2019-2027  @KorbinKameron

Korbin Kameron Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Moon Mountain District, California (Winery, Approx. $80, WineAlign)

As far as California vintages go 2008 was not one for the ages and the cabernet sauvignon continues to make development haste. Only five kicks at the can in there is pleasant surprise in Korbin Kameron’s 2008 try. There is something about the altitude-affected, Sonoma-Mt. Vedder coupling that while not yet really understood, it is a story that will begin to take great shape in a few year’s time. Here at the eight year summit the yet young fruit still intensifies with a bit of rubbery reduction and slathers of chocolate ganache. What holes exist are eco-rich in oak. A bit of smoke-injected northern California unorthodoxy in cabernet sauvignon hangs in with life but the wane is certainly in. It’s much more than a matter of preponderance and curiosity. We should all be so fortunate to grab a taste like this. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted February 2016

Korbin Kameron Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Moon Mountain District, California (Winery, Approx. $80, WineAlign)

Korbin Kameron will put cabernet sauvignon and other Bordeaux variety wines for Moon Mountain District on the map but for now, looking back to the first vintage, it’s all about a work in progress. The essential family tenets of know-how, determination, creativity, vision, compassion and exuberance are but a twinkle in the eye. This 2004 is quite advanced, with dried fruit aromas and flavours, fig, even a bit of prune. Tannins are persistent, acidity still apparent and fruit waning. Sharpness of the vintage is nicely integrated into facets of earth and brush, chocolate and game. There is much appreciation for the gastronomy of this wine. Drink 2016.  Tasted February 2016

Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Sonoma Mountain, California (392217, $62.95, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent, planted in particular to the UC Davis confirmed Laurel Glen clone of cabernet sauvignon, acidity is the defining factor here. As it essentially is with respect to all Sonoma Mountain Cabernet, from a place of diffuse morning light and immune to the hot afternoon sun. Laurel Glen’s carries in its genetic make-up a VA expertly nurtured and managed well within the acceptable and appreciated threshold. There is no shortage of 2012 ripeness, exfoliated and at cross-purposed beneficence with tart berries and sweet currants. Quite the creamy chocolate finish and a very balanced wine. The silky tannins prepare it for early and repetitive accessibility. A fine example of how a structured wine that drinks early will also age with grace. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted February 2016  @LaurelGlenWine  @Smallwinemakers

Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Sonoma Mountain, California (392217, $62.95, WineAlign)

Laurel Glen’s unique clone and exceptional vineyard-designate cabernet sauvignon is one of the winners from the challenging vintage in 2008. Sonoma Mountain has much to do with this eight years later retrospective perspective, now in secondary life, not just because of time. Yes, it may be a cliché but the reason is noted by fruit aromas that have dehydrated, into fig and yet the acidity is striking, piercing, and in your face. This is Laurel Glen’s calling card and what a dichotomous spin. The vintage made many sing “oh, what a tribulation.” Not so for Laurel Glen. This ’08 is rich and espresso dusty, of lava flowing, volcanic dust. From the Sonoma fire vintage but I think this wine is immune to that effect. Also remarkable balance from an imbalanced vintage where sugars spiked at harvest and in which flavours were dragged and lagging behind. “Forget your troubles and dance. Forget your sorrow and dance.” Cabernet Sauvignon to make Them Belly Full. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016

Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Sonoma Mountain, California (392217, $62.95, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent, planted in particular to the UC Davis confirmed Laurel Glen clone of cabernet sauvignon, acidity is the defining factor here. As it essentially is with respect to all Sonoma Mountain Cabernet, from a place of diffuse morning light and immune to the hot afternoon sun. Laurel Glen’s carries in its genetic make-up a VA expertly nurtured and managed well within the acceptable and appreciated threshold. There is no shortage of 2012 ripeness, exfoliated and at cross-purposed beneficence with tart berries and sweet currants. Quite the creamy chocolate finish and a very balanced wine. The silky tannins prepare it for early and repetitive accessibility. A fine example of how a structured wine that drinks early will also age with grace. Drink 2018-2028.   Tasted February 2016

hey-bret-really-lovely-little-drop-of-92-laurelglenwine-tnx-bettina-you-rock-califwines_ca

Hey Bret really lovely little drop of ’92 @LaurelGlenWine tnx Bettina you rock @CalifWines_CA

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Eleven fifteen

"We ate flank" "You ate flank?" "We ate flank."

“We ate flank”
“You ate flank?”
“We ate flank.”

It may just be my favourite time of day. The flurry begins at seven. It takes four hours to shake off the rust, clear the morning ill, brush away the demands piled up since the night before and effectively settle the morning score. By a quarter past the hour calm begins to set in. 11:15. And now, a bit of Torah, Bible and liturgy.

The imagery of sweet rock ‘n roll, Revelations style is synonymous with the farthing, quartern, mid-morning, all change of pace: The Seventh Trumpet. The day after the Shofar has sounded to end the holiest of holy Jewish days, a sonorous wind-blown through the ram’s horn, a call to lead a flock home and into a new year. Is there a connection between the purpose of the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur) and the end of satan’s authority at the Seventh Trumpet?

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.”

The Shofar. Old Testament instrument as central element of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. The summoner to assemble before the Lord, a sound for battle and the announced coronation of a new king. New Testament return of Christ in the clouds to gather God’s people via rapture, sound the Lord’s wrath of battle cry and Christ’s returning as the King of the world. Seems obvious enough but where is the eschatological connection: How does the Jew’s attempt to summon God’s past and promised redemption share common ground with the Christian’s call to Satan?

A rabbinic tradition may indicate that the shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashanah to confuse Satan (or some he who shall not be named evil tempting spirit). The multiple blows and shrieks invoke the idea (and promise) that the Messiah had arrived and thus putting an end to the pernicious authority. Revelations agrees. “It is time for the dead to be judged. To reward your servants, the prophets, the saints, and all who fear your name, both unimportant and important.”

There’s an angel standing in the sun, 
and he’s crying with a loud voice, 
“This is the supper of the mighty one”, 
Lord of Lords, 
King of Kings, 
Has returned to lead his children home, 
To take them to the new Jerusalem.

Nah. It’s simply a matter of judgment and kingship. Like suggesting wines from a VINTAGES release. October 15th is but two days away. At 11:15 am you may just be arriving at your local LCBO in search of a few bottles. Here are 11 recommendations.

3c

3c Premium Selection Cariñena 2013, Do Cariñena, Spain (461350, $14.95, WineAlign)

The grape the place come across with classic Cariñena firmness and regional culture out of the impressive Grandes Vinos e Vinedos cooperative. You may recognize Spain’s third largest cooperative as the producer of Beso de Vino garnacha. The 3c is juicy and gregarious like so many garnacha but here as cariñena, with moderate alcohol, acidity and amenable tannin. This represents very good value for the price, as well as the brusque and breviloquent Aragonese appellation. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @VinosCarinena  @Noble_Estates

Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251439, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Bench can’t help but determine the style but what winemaker Richie Roberts is able to gather and concede is what needs from the vintage. The brutal winter and subsequent mild, calm and elongated season means that acidity can be tempered, sugar should play a small role and fruit will lead the way. In this riesling it does, with help, let and place from the support staff. Really juicy, slightly tart, citrus-spiced and purely Bench styled. Proper. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

easy

Ernie Els Big Easy 2014, Wo Western Cape, South Africa (220038, $19.95, WineAlign)

This latest Big Easy swings harder than the previous 2013, a wine that quietly emulated its founder’s approach. This 2014 displays more grit, firm grip and big dog length. This is no three-wood off the tee, lay up or fat part of the green safe play. This goes straight for the pin, over water, false fronts be damned and defiant to danger all around. It’s exciting and full-throttle, high acid and risky. But the reward is now, busily bursting with energy, not mired in tannin and ready to play. Makes for great TV. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  @ErnieElsWinery  @TheBig_Easy  @VintageTrade  @_AlexHamilton_  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

loosen

Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett 2015, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (160846, $22.95, WineAlign)

Tremendous verve, vitality and energy from buoyant and round acidity brings immediate balance to sweet citrus and tart tropical fruit. This Mosel ripper has a tender side and will sooth many a savage beast. Kind of like Elvis. If you want to turn someone onto riesling this is a wonderful place to start. So good and worth protecting. “Well, you can do anything but stay off of my blue” slate riesling. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted September 2016  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines  @germanwineca

optima

Anthonij Rupert Wines Optima L’ormarins 2012, Franschhoek, South Africa (455915, $24.95, WineAlign)

Franschhoek Bordeaux stylistic defined in affordability by structure and for dark, depth of fruit. Espresso dusty and soil imparted make for the specific Anthonij Rupert departure. The headline reads: Unheralded and righteous outfit makes red blend to go the distance. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2016  @AnthonijRupert  @Vinexxperts  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

manzoni

Rocche Dei Manzoni Bricco Manzoni Langhe Rosso 2010, Doc Piedmont, Italy (459651, $38.95, WineAlign)

And then there were three; Barolo, Barbaresco and Langhe. Here a serious perfume and brooding emits from Manzoni’s Langhe Rosso, a back to the genesis of roots nebbiolo highly skilled and deep into the motherlode of many equally appointed Barolo. “Ah well if you knew then, just what you know today,” the divergent paths of Langhe and Barolo may have been very different. Even if some of the Bricco Manzoni’s parts may walk at large the tannin is in your face and ready to rumble. There is a sweetness about the fruit and an oaky layering but darkness never descends upon this wine. It remains bright and alive. It will live for a decade or more. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted September 2016  @RoccheManzoni

juillot

Domaine Theulot Juillot Mercurey Premier Cru La Cailloute 2014, Burgundy, France (473793, $39.95, WineAlign)

The beautiful dichotomous relationship between ripe and juicy opposite firm and sweetly tannic is met in this functional Mercurey, a premier cru of upbeat excellence. Very representative of place because of the grip but it goes light years beyond the lithe and the under-performed. You could pour this for Burgundy label chasers and they would cry sweet Nuits St. Georges. Raspberry and strawberry with plenty of umami minerality and that firm tannin up the back. Really tempurpedic acidity never reacts and always supports. This is a 10-15 year Mercurey. No fooling. Drink 2018-2029. Tasted September 2016  @vinsdebourgogne  @BourgogneWines

ham-russell

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $42.95, WineAlign)

The pattern repeats in HR’s 2015 chardonnay, up there with the Cape’s most elegant and wholly indicative of the Hermanus oeuvre. Ripeness, just a hint of the barrel and windy sunshine locked up in chardonnay that could not come from anywhere but the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. The finish allows for some noted sensations indicative of yeast, warm bread, drawn butter and a golden bathed afternoon. A time to linger and make a polite request of this chardonnay to indicate best show times in the near to not-to-distant future. Though tempting to drink now this will improve and up the elegance factor. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016  @OliveHR  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @hermanuswine

orcia

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy (306852, $49.95, WineAlign)

Largesse and a firmess of being as per the house style are rampant in Col D’Orcia’s 2010, a wine that reminds me of 1998 and 2000. A wine that will seem lean, mean and terrifying in its youth but will prove everyone wrong when it hits the 12-15 year stride. This is a monster bringing leather and chocolate to the table. It is nearly unapproachable at the present time but you can imagine and embrace the possibility of potential. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted September 2016  @Coldorcia  @ConsBrunello  @DionysusWines

gagliardo

Gianni Gagliardo Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy (713602, $54.95, WineAlign)

Instinctive, intrinsically essential nebbiolo without any equivocation whatsover. The fruit at the core is the crux and the catalyst to aseemble the forces of Barolo entrance strategy. The floral freshness in potpourri does not concede any more quality than right here. Suave, gentle, restrained and yet so forthright, generous and inviting. The grip is right at the back, in the mouth and on the brain. Diligent, purposed and highly intelligent nebbiolo with decades of future ahead. Drink 2019-2039.  Tasted September 2016  @giannigagliardo  @WineLoversAgncy

ridge

Ridge Geyserville 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (723072, $63.95, WineAlign)

A deep and thoughtful vintage for Geyserville, from plenty of sunshine, deep aridity and top notch acidity. The fruit is wondrous, full of berries in all shades and even some black currants. Shadowing with less chocolate than some this is all about fruit with tannin to structure it for a long haul. So very Geyserville and nothing but pure pleasure in bottle. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2016  @RidgeVineyards  @VinoTorino  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: 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

Instagram: mgodello

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Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

Sonoma Coast Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Sonoma County is so massive a wine region it’s really quite futile to take account of a singular, defining personality. Diversity of wine styles and viticultural approaches are what elucidate Sounty County and its 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas). That much is true but the sheer geographical scope of California’s coastline, inward valleys and mountain vineyards make it all but impossible to distill the entire region into one simplified and understood junction of compounding synchronisms.

Imagine Sonoma in terms of soils and geology the way the Clare Valley and Barossa are making plans to split their vineyards into new sub-regions. “Rather than create a hierarchical system, proponents say the plans are part of a cultural shift in Australia’s wine industry that seeks to make technology in the cellar subservient to geological understanding and vineyard management.” Though erroneously, people talk about Sonoma wines as being the same, as sharing a commonality that allows for overused generalizations.

Sonoman varietals need to be characterized by an interpretation of sundry realities. Pinot Noir loses focus when simply labeled “Sonoma County.” Its actuality is much more specific than that. Dutton Goldfield’s Pinot Noir is a prime example; not exactly Russian River Valley nor Sonoma Coast. If its vineyard and those of countless hundreds of others were pinned down into a more micro-specific locale of soil and geology, justice might be served. Yet through all the talk of fining sub-appellations there is one constant in Sonoma. There is one manifest vital spark that runs through all of its fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance. Fog.

Growing grapes in Sonoma is all about the fog cycle prone zone, warm by day, cool by night. Grapes above the fog line on the mountain ranges and upper reaches have the highest chance of ripening. Wind screams in between the mountains and through the valleys to dry out the vines and protect them from disease. The region lies at the western edge of a hyperbolic, tectonic geology, causing not only earthquakes but also dramatically different soil structures. From out of this super active geology, this volcanic action and this movement of tectonic plates, is a cool climate viticulture along 100 km’s of Pacific Coast frontage.

The cool nights and days that rarely get oppressively hot (above 26-28 degrees celsius) contribute to layers of oceanic fog that creep into Sonoma’s interior valleys through numerous spots like the Petaluma Gap. The Russian River, meandering through a lush valley of vineyards, provides a conduit pulling fog through Healdsburg and into the Alexander Valley, as well as forming its own appellation.

Sonoma native Elizabeth Linhart Veneman, author of Moon Travel Guides, sums up Sonoma’s fog in one fell swoop statement: “Perhaps no aspect of the weather here is more important.” Then there is the most amazing time lapse video shot by Nicole Tostevin of Tostevin Design. Tostevin (not to be and to be confused with Tastevin, which means a taste of a wine and a small, shallow cup or saucer with a reflective surface, traditionally used by winemakers and sommeliers when judging the maturity of wine) was born in San Francisco. She is a 5th Generation Californian living in West Marin; she’s an independent freelance artist, interactive art director and motion graphics animator. The video titled, “Sonoma Morning Fog Dance” was shot using time lapse footage of The Anvil Ranch in the Annapolis Valley in Sonoma County, California.

This time last year, in November 2013, San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné wrote, “today, the state of the art for Pinot Noir – along with Chardonnay and, to some extent, Syrah and even Cabernet – has shifted into the coastal fog lands.” Green Valley is defined by fog. Fog discourse and computerized, animated maps are front and centre on the AVA’s website. “Green Valley is the first place where the fog comes in and the last place where it burns off, making it the coolest, foggiest part of the Russian River Valley.”

Walmart's Sonoma Fog Area Rug

Walmart’s Sonoma Fog Area Rug

Sonoma fog can even be defined as a colour, like Siena brick red, or at the very least as a style. At Walmart you can buy a “Sonoma Fog Area Rug.” The mist of California’s coast has even had a couple of cocktails conceived in its name. The Sonoma Fog and Sonoma Fog Vinotini are sweet and sour variations on the Kamikaze or the Cosmopolitan, using Grapefruit and Icewine.

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.

WineAlign's John Szabo MS says Sonoma County "is this big."

WineAlign’s John Szabo MS says Sonoma County “is this big.”

Sonoma Vintners came to Toronto’s ROM for a trade tasting on October 9, 2014. With the ever resourceful moderator John Szabo MS of WineAlign at the microphone and nine winery representatives on hand to speak of their land, Sonoma was defended, savoured and celebrated. Here are notes on the 10 wines presented.

Sonoma County at the ROM

Sonoma County at the ROM

Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée 2006, Carneros (Agent, $37.00 – winery)

The brand was developed for the 1987 visit of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain. Seventeen base wines were blended to create the final (66 per cent Pinot Noir and 34 Chardonnay) cuvée. The Chardonnay is planted on lower sloped with deeper soil and the Pinot nicked from locales higher up where it’s rocky and volcanic. “Oh they’re ready for a tussle.” The immediate query is how can it act so fresh? Aged 7 years, the incongruous to electric power is mind altering, though the reaction in the seminar room is muted and should instead be filled with oohs and ahhs…am I wrong? Intense wine, highly lactic and dancing on tongues. Citrus, ginger, pear and Pinot length from the rockpile. And so it goes.   @GloriaFerrer

Quivira Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County (Agent, $15 – winery)

Quivira’s expressive Sauvignon Blanc sells for a song what with its high level of minerality from gravelly soils, typical of Dry Creek Valley. Low acidity, and a quietude of heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds comes aided by a musky, Musqué SB clone. The terroir and the grapes speak for themselves, mostly out of stainless steel, with a bit of neutral oak, plus Acacia barrels, for texture. All in all, there is an elevated pattern of harmony. Biodynamic since 2006, Marketing Director Andrew Figelman notes, “going through biodynamic is like going through an IRS audit.” And worth it in the end.   @quivirawinery  @KylixWines

La Crema Chardonnay Saralee’s Vineyard 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma (Agent, $39 if it were available – winery)

So notable from the get go is this SV Chardonnay’s possessiveness of a muscular rhythm, where oak meets butter. High quality fruit comes from Saralee’s Block 89, a gravelly loam, with less vigorous vines and of course, much fog. Nine months in one third new French oak and a generous, if in check, 13.9 per cent alcohol.  A mere 500 cases are produced of this new and titillating brand. Much orchard fruit on the nose, mineral on the palate and a wrapping of lemon curd. Has chalk and grain. La Crema’s (Ontario-born) winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas has teased us. “You can taste it but you can’t buy it,” Just don’t call it creamy.  @LaCremaWines  @bwwines

Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County  (Agent, $56, WineAlign)

The Dutton’s have owned the farm for more than a hundred years and have been serious about viticulture for the last 40 or so. The fluffy, porous soils are composed of Goldridge loams, in which moisture runs right through. There is very little if any precipitation making this a sort of “dust bowl” Chardonnay, from five different sites. Distinctive, exotic, old vines give a Muscat-like character, plus mineral and structure. It reminds of a mildly spiced Gingerbread cookie on a dry, cold winter day. The Dutton receives the same elevage treatment as their other 13 Chardonnays; it’s the land that’s different. “We’re allowing these wines to be different by virtue of the terroir,” notes Donald Patz. This is mildly restrained in many ways. A very balanced wine, full of class.  @PatzHall  @TrialtoON

Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley (Winery, $72)

From the Estate’s 1996 planted Freestone Hill Vineyard, from the middle reach (far southwest corner) of the Russian River Valley, a full-on sunshine of fruit spent 17 recondite months in 55 per cent new oak. The resulting door affronting 13.8 per cent alcohol is a so very, if anoetic welcome mat. The Dutton family were the local pioneers. Says Warren Dutton, “if I can ripen apples, surely I can ripen Chardonnay or Pinot Noir,” Ripe red apples and a savoury candy shell have turned to grapes with aid in influence from the Petaluma Wind Gap, in an accruing of elegance and finesse from high acids and low sugars. If the common feeling is that it’s difficult to ripen fruit in this region, the bar must have been set to beanstalk heights. The Freestone Vineyard (which is almost in the Sonoma Coast appellation) is colder even than Green Valley, with an elevation just above the fog, for even ripening margins. The Duttons thought the vineyard not too cold for Pinot Noir, a thought even more astute than the idea of ripening coconuts in Fiji. This really is unadulterated Pinot, from a process that included (20 per cent) whole berry fermentation. The simple elevage turned into a simple yet complex result, with high toned fruit character, tangy black cherry, really fine grain tannin and acidity. Length is ascending and enveloping, from the hill.  @DuttonGoldfield

Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)

Buena Vista was California’s first commercial winery, dating back to 1857. Winemaker and Sonoma native Brian Maloney, formerly of De Loach Vineyards crafted this tight and bracing Pinot Noir from the cooler vintage. The vintage may have been a result of global chaos but the wine is an unmitigated success.  From my earlier, August 2014 note: “This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contiguous vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine.” Tasted blind at World Wine Awards of Canada.  Last tasted October 2014  @BuenaVistaWines  @TandemSelection

Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2011, Sonoma County (Winery, $38)

From three ridgetop vineyards 1,200 feet above Dry Creek Valley; Westphall Ranch, Porcini Hill and Mauritson. Rockpile comes from the late 1880’s, founded by the local Sherrif Tennessee Bishop. Prisoners broke up rocks to make roads and they called it the rock pile. Near extreme elevation matters deeply in this wine, as do three clones, all in the name of layers of flavour. There is a massive waft of florality in Rockpile and a Zinessence that can only be Seghesio. A large yet somehow fog-tempered cool wine, the result of a unique marriage between an altitudinous though indispensable Sonoma climate. Fresh ground spices join the flowers at the hands of winemaker Ted Seghesio. To the palate and texture the wine turns a boisterous phrase, with natural acidity and that structure is defined by tannin and personality. There is heat, a bit of a heavy grain and lifted alcohol though it carries it well. “Veraison thinning is key,” notes Pete Seghesio. Narrowing the harvest window by removing berries from the double sorting table is practiced, along with halting the brix from rising at the hands of hydrating raisins releasing sugars during fermentation. The must is weighed down a touch, even if the practice in fear is just one of splitting hairs, as obviously this has everything Zin needs to be fresh and elastic. “If you miss Zinfandel by five days you have Port,” admits Seghesio. The 2011 got it right.  @seghesio

Kunde Family Estate Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma Valley (965921, $24.95, WineAlign)

Rich and utilitarian to a fundamental degree. Nothing but plum delicious, instilled with structure, tannin and early acidity. More spice and less florals by way of red volcanic rock soil, interspersed with a bit of sand and clay. Winemaker Zach Long is very specific about “that harvest moment” so Kunde’s Zinfandel can never be accused of hanging too long or cheating on the wrong side of ripeness. Cold soaks for five days with a low and slow, geek’s native yeast add layers of complexity to the ferment. With a peppering of Petit Sirah in the mix this has more tar, char and less brightness. It actually leans to black cherry, in Pinot-like dulcet tones which, in that particular direction, is a good thing. The only deterrent in the SV ’12 is a waning of finishing acidity at the end.  @KundeEstate  @imbibersreport

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (943472, $89.95, WineAlign)

International Sales Manager Vivien Gay introduces the Silver Oak by talking about the Alexander Valley as being the most fully planted AVA in Sonoma. This ’10 is warm and intense, hot to nose, potentially volatile, like a bouquet of hacksaws. Dusty, full-on mulberry fruit is indicative of Merlot but there is none – it’s 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. That teasing and varietal perplexity is an indication of complexity and also American oak, the usage of which began in 1972. Vanilla, coconut, then spiced, round and soft tannins come by way of 50 per cent new and 50 per cent one-year Missouri white barrels. The fruit quivers, like blackberry bushes in sweltering conditions, trying to shake themselves of the heat. Two years in oak plus one in bottle is a loyal and sentient journey, nearly devout and religious. A highly polarizing wine.  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Rodney Strong Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Brothers Ridge 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (Winery, $75)

This is the flagship Cabernet bottling from the winery that bears the ballet dancer’s name. Has layers of sweet Cassis, black cherry and blackberry fruit. Serrated with heat from a warm vineyard, picked at a generous (27.3 brix) and vinified (15.5 per cent alcohol) in a very big style. The Brothers Ridge fruit spent 21 months in 100 per cent French (43 per cent new) oak. The heat transmits through all the layers. So much java is espressed in this big boned Cabernet. Looking, sniffing and tasting the Brothers Ridge gives the impression of “a great big tall fella, about six foot tall. I shivered and I shook, couldn’t do any more.” Despite it’s heavy kinks, the BR is flat out delicious, hedonistic and as decidedly rich as any Cabernet from the Alexander Valley. Perhaps it is a lover, not a fighter.  @rsvineyards  @ImportWineMAFWM

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Seven Martinis shaken, not stirred

The Cabernet Sauvignon of Louis M. Martini Photo: (c) http://www.louismartini.com/

The Cabernet Sauvignon of Louis M. Martini
Photo: (c) http://www.louismartini.com/

To shake or to stir, that is the question. In the case of the Martini, the answer is always the former, unless Ian Fleming and James Bond are a part of the response. Author W. Somerset Maugham declared that “Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other.” Bond was quoted to declare that shaking, “bruises the gin.” Chardonnay is most certainly stirred through the process of bâttonage, to suppress Sulphur compounds, to increase maximum exposure to the cells and adulterants it is decomposing into and to promote texture.

What about Cabernet Sauvignon? To stir or not to stir is a hotly debated procedure. In the case of Niagara’s Château des Charmes, winemakers Paul Bosc and Amélie Boury have been known to agitate the ferment with a regular stirring of the lees. Ramey Vineyards performs monthly bâtonnage on their $100 “winemaker’s” Annum to coat the tannins and smoothly integrate the wood. Many winemakers will not touch their collective fine red lees settling of yeast and grape cells with a ten-foot stir stick. What about shaken? Well, that is another matter altogether.

The shaken not stirred reference may strike at the frailty of James Bond and his preference for how he wished his martini prepared. Scientists have speculated that Bond “was unlikely to be able to stir his drinks, even if he would have wanted to, because of likely alcohol induced tremor.” When it comes to wine, the term shaken refers to agitation, but not in the sense of a wobble, a quiver or a vibration. That would be bad. The term shaken has everything to do with what happens to a red wine due to barrel aging, in oak (primarily new) that leads to the development of flavours and texture resembling that of a milkshake.

The milkshake phenomenon is something I have touched upon many times in the past. In November of 2012 I penned the column, “Wine is the new coffee,” in which I waxed on about the mocha, java, arabica and jamocha flavours in the current and prevalent state of red wine. I wrote, “iconic red wines from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Napa Valley and Burgundy are heavily influenced by the barrels that house megalitres of famous juice, but for the most part, the premier or grand cru grape ferment is up to the splintered task.” I’ve talked about mocha milkshakes, talcy acidity, whipped beet shakes of hide, vanilla and lavender and reds gone over to the shaken, splintered and mocha chocolate dark side.

When oak is corrupted, misused or used to make a federal case, the resulting wine will sport black eyes of puffy redness caused by a bonfire in the barrel. When oak is used generously yet judiciously it still remains one of the most endearing techniques towards making fabulous red wine. The trend finally seems to be scaling back from the (here it comes) Parkerized, high extraction and alcohol red behemoths but where there is retreat there also persists the stay of the course. The wines of Louis M. Martini embody that doctrine.

Louis M. Martini Tasting at The Vintage Conservatory

Louis M. Martini Tasting at The Vintage Conservatory

For 80 years the Martini family has made Cabernet Sauvignon the focus of their portfolio, searching for the best grapes in Napa and Sonoma to make the best wines.  As third-generation winemaker Mike Martini, likes to say, “Cabernet: it’s what we do.” Martini brought his briefcase full of shaken Cabernet Sauvignon to Toronto’s Vintage Conservatory in September, with the obliging and expedient assistance of parent company E. & J. Gallo and their Ontario facilitator, Praxis PR. Mike Martini opened with “we’re shaken, not stirred.” How refreshing is truth spoken without pretense. Very.

Martini took over the winemaking duties in 1977. “All of us put in something, mostly personality.” The Cabernet Sauvignon style, drawn from many iconic Sonoma and Napa sites is both barefaced and to the fore. Despite the unfavourable monetary translations to Canadian and especially LCBO dollars, their Sonoma County, Napa Valley and Alexander Valley brands represent fortuitous value in full-bodied, reliably-crafted Cabernet. There is no mistaking a Martini rendition of the Bordeaux grape. Ripe, optimum extraction and unabashed richness from quality time spent in high percentages of new French, American (and sometimes) Hungarian oak barrels.

The élevage of a Martini Cabernet Sauvignon is both unapologetic and expected. It is, what it is. Their Cabernet may be treated to cold soaks, warmed to tropical temperatures, pumped over, oxygenated (délestage), subjected to extended maceration, racked by gravity and housed in toasted barrels, but there is no stirring of the fine lees. The adage holds true. A Martini Cabernet is shaken, not stirred.

Seven wines were tasted at the Martini event, followed by a lunch that included one of the better hanger steaks I have ever had the pleasure to taste. Michael Martini was both gracious and humorous in his presentation, spending plenty of time reliving the great legacy left by his father along with some terrific anecdotes along the way. The Martini codex is classic; immigrant family develops a world-renowned blend, takes on investment from a corporate behemoth, uses the resources to great effect and finds the wherewithal to keep the original name alive, front and centre. Great story.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2012, California, USA (292151, $18.95, WineAlign)

The case load is large (will be 400,000 by 2014) and the concept, according to winemaker Michael Martini is to capture the “idea” of Sonoma County, simply done. “We think of it as cold, by California standards,” says Martini. The Sonoma bottling is higher in acidity and structured tannin than most in its class. While it sees “a few chips,” its tank mentality gives it separation and reform. It is played in movements and even in religious moments. There are bits of cocoa nibs, chocolate chips and the flavour of a cookie out of a good recipe. Some (not over-extracted) Merlot and Petit Sirah add just enough continental, savory texture with final notes of black olive and caper. All in the name of linear yet wound at the same time.  Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, California, USA (232371, $29,95, WineAlign)

Michael Martini calls 2011 a “radically different vintage, not normal for Napa,” in others words, near-perfect. Nothing about the élevage (18 months in 40 per cent new oak) strays from the company line nor will it cause any radical concern. Give a nose and many contorted faces will result due to the herbaceous piquancy and near-capsicum rise. Changes to a country lane on the palate, in rolling, twangy, welcoming and delicious flavours. Good oak integration in holistic extraction substantiates a grapiness of fruit to balance a smoky, stewarded rod of wood. Has girth, weight and jamming length not present in its Sonoman counterpart. If “you were sorting through the odds and ends, you was looking for a bargain,” in Napa Cabernet Sauvignon then you’ve come to the right place.  Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2011, California, USA (Agent, $37.00)

“We’re still making 8,000 cases. That’s where we started,” says Michael Martini. The treatment here is a quintessentially kinetic Martini, a pure distillation of Alexander Valley straight from the shaker. After 18 months in a mélange of French, American and Hungarian oak the ’11 is getting a leather and tobacco in terroir component, straight from the vineyard, a sculpted earth tone and a sage that is Alexander Valley. Smoke, spice and spiciness runs through, from the mid-palate to the sumptuous finale. Has a sense of chewy density  with seamless integration of oak through to tannin. The acidity does not ring, it pops. Drink now and for three to five more years.  Tasted September 2014

Monte Rosso 2004, 2008 and 2010

Monte Rosso 2004, 2008 and 2010

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso 2004, Sonoma Valley, California, USA (Agent, $100.00, WineAlign)

This 10 years forward retrospective taste of the Monte Rosso 2004 shows surprisingly little development. From fruit grown on 30 feet of level, volcanic, pumice stone replete with holes that serve as water reservoirs. A 15 per cent abv bruiser that spent quality time in new and used French oak barrels, for an average of 26 months. From an extremely early vintage, this is what Michael Martini describes as “almost phlegmy upfront,” made in a similar style to the Lot 1, minus the screen. The vines averaged 45 years and for the first time, a Martini wine out of the red soil shows some funk, magnified by 10 years time. “If you can taste the alcohol, you’ve got too much,” says Martini and here, though that is the case, it is rendered aphonic and transformed into a taste of spiked, highest quality chocolate. The fruit is cured and spice accented in a seemingly youthful Cabernet. So much for the five to 12 year declared window from the Martini team. Drink for five more, at the very least.  Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso 2008, Sonoma Valley, California, USA (Agent, $100.00, WineAlign)

The red (in the Mayacamas) mountain has been in the family since 1938 and this 70 years later Sonoman is one of its most relucent. Aged 27 months in 83 per cent French and 17 New American Oak, there is no shortage of modernity in its sweet, thick skin. From a challenging vintage replete with heat spikes and low yields, the ’08 MR is blessed with luminous and lustrous fruit. It goes supple, it goes dark, it goes deep, “like the pale moon before the darkness spills,” then it goes brighter still. Sunshine breathes floral scents, vanilla and red fruit in soft, high caste with a hit of citrus. A very forward Cabernet with round, circling acidity. The mid-palate to end game is cool and layered b ut never thick or crushing.This has seven to 10 years of life ahead.  Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso 2010, Sonoma Valley, California, USA (Agent, $100.00, WineAlign)

As in 2009, storms tested the harvest on the (Mayacamas range) “Red Mountain.” Heeding the warning and learning from the previous year’s challenge, Michael Martini saw the bunches through the mud below his feet, chose a regimen of advanced picking and cut some of the later picked fruit that got mired in the weather’s muck. The result was a tighter Monte Rosso, most backward of the three (’04 and ’08) tasted and wound up without any release. This MR does not give away any of its charms quite so easy. It retains a cocoa dusting and a cool, linear band of acidity. Elusive yet seamless, the acumen combined with the formidable summons to create something lasting out of everything toilsome has produced a most age-worthy wine. Blessed with “na, la, na, la, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na” length, this ’10 will be the night they drove old rosso down. Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 1 2010, Napa Valley, California, USA (Agent, $150.00, WineAlign)

The Lot 1 Cabernet is Michael Martini’s cementing of a father’s legacy. It is a Napa Valley thickening of history, plot and extraction, through ripe fruit and new wood. Draws from AVA fruit of the most promising ontogeny, from Pritchard Hill in St. Helena, Spring Mountain, Stag’s Leap, Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain. The 2003 was the first vintage and by now the cabal has reached maximum density to bursting within its two-year soak in brand spanking new oak. Approximately 400 cases are made (and will be 650 in 2013) from out of the gravity flow, (former sugar dairy) Gallo-funded million dollar winery. A very black wine, vampiric in pitch, with fruits, peels, pods, roots and herbs, like cherry, orange, bokser, licorice and sage. The massive tannins are woven of chalk, grain and chew. The flavours range from bitter chocolate to caramelized beef to wood smoke. They continue to cook, evolving into crusted layers of roasting, rendering meat and a sauce made from dusty cocoa, espresso and beef blood. Such a massive wine, wanting to search for elegance. Needs more punching down and time. “As soon as you smell the carbonic,” notes Martini, “you punch it down.” Or lay it down. For 10 years. Tasted September 2014

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

The results are in. Closure has come. Category champions and Judge’s picks are now live.

The highly regarded WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada is categorized and justified as a “must enter” for winemakers and vintners who want to be a part of a genuine, above-board wine competition. For consumers in Canada it is a place to discover the best value wines available on the market today. Say what you will about the concours concept. The straightforward WineAlign offer implements an expertly designed bracket to ultimately crown a covey of thoroughly deserving champions. Wines are carefully scrutinized, judged with fair play and at times, brutal honesty. Each wine must impress the judges more than once. “Up to the task” is never in question. At “The Worlds,” the best minds are on the job.

Related – He spits, he scores: 2013 World Wine Awards of Canada results

Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14 Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

It was the week of August 18 to 22. Eighteen critics, two czars, a tech guy, a database custodian, a logistics steward, “her bitch” (sic) and a dedicated team of volunteers gathered to administer vinous justice for 1000 (give or take) hopeful wines. The tasting road was long yet filled with much success. Never have so many wines with the intention of offering value and simple pleasure shown so well and with so much grace.

Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

In today’s WineAlign WWAC14 results dissertation, Anthony Gismondi tells us that “nothing has value unless you give it some.” The awards are about assessing daily drinkers, wines that the repeat consumer look for often, especially the bargains. They are for consumers first, of and for the common people. For the wineries, agents and writers, the competition is effectuated without bias. “The tastings are computerized from start to finish allowing wineries, agents or retailers to enter, pay, and eventually track their results online.” 

In 2014 my position is this. Oak and cheap tricks are on the way out, at least when it comes to wines submitted to the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada. Sugar, wood chips, agar agar, artificial colour, manipulated flavour, reverse osmosis and added acidity are trade practices reserved for wines out there in the fast food stratosphere. The judges at the WWAC14 were fortunate to be granted immunity from having to taste and assess such a most unnatural lot. These awards represent and foster an altruistic commonality between vigneron and critic. Make an honest wine and it will be judged with honourable intent.

WWAC14 Judging Panel

WWAC14 Judging Panel

The writers and judges that make up the panels evaluate wines under $50 that are sold somewhere in Canada in the year of the competition. Entries are judged in flights along with similar varietal wines in three price categories; under $15, $15 to $25 and over $25. Starting with the 2014 awards all wines entered will not only be posted on WineAlign with bottle images, but reviews will be included as well (many in both French and English). Again in 2014, orchestration was overseen by one of North America’s most respected wine critics, Vancouver Sun columnist and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter.

Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Some startling results came out of this year’s tastings. Who would have ever put money on Carménère under $15 not only showing well, but blowing the collective minds of no less than five critics? Should Malbec in the $15-25 range, half of which are made by large and recognizable houses, have impressed with so much structure and restraint? A group of eight red blends under $15 were all good, five of them garnering very good scores. That same concept group of $15-25 were nearly all exceptional. Southern Italy fared with top value results in the under $15 category. Syrah/Shiraz $15-25 really surprised, as did Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the same range. Not to mention a flight of five fruit wines, four of which scored between 85 and 88. Not bad. All this can be attributed to one basic premise. WineAlign does not attract more producers than other concours. It attracts better ones.

WWAC14 judges Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

WWAC14 judges
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

As in 2013, this year I was invited to join the other 17 judges in Mississauga, Ontario. Fortune is measured by the company one keeps. The 2014 judges were David LawrasonSteve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Craig Pinhey, Rhys Pender, MWDJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan SaviolidisBruce Wallner, MSMichelle Bouffard, Emily Maclean, Adam Hijazi and Jake Lewis.

Released today, here are the results from #WWAC14, presented by WineAlign. Wines were awarded for the categories of Top Value WinesBest of CountryCategory Champions and Judges’ Choice. In addition to the work of the judges, the Worlds were really made possible by Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw, along with Earl Paxton, Jason Dziver (Photography), Carol Ann Jessiman, Sarah GoddardMiho Yamomoto and the volunteers.

2014 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

WWAC14

WWAC14

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on 30 wines tasted blind, across a wide range of categories, in August of 2014 at #WWAC14 and the songs they inspired.

Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011

Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25

Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (606939, $24.95, WineAlign)

Funny thing about Cabernet Sauvignon, “sometimes they rock and roll, sometimes they stay at home and it’s just fine,” Wolf Blass makes all kinds. This Coonawarra GL seems to do both. It’s ripe and presumptuous, rocks in the glass but also has good, homebody, varietal tendency. It has a heart that’s on fire, a wolf parade of iron, sanguine tension and tannin, but also hung walls of home woven tapestry texture. The core of fruit, earth and tar cries out for prey. The finish is long and returns, back to base Blass.

Icewine – Riesling-Gewurz-Apple

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec (39305, 375ml, $22.95, WineAlign)

“Breathe, breathe in the air” of intensity, in apples. One hundred squared apples on top of one another. Never mind the few bruised and oxidative ones because the fresh and concentrated mass smothers those minor notes. Pink and ambient, the major sweetness and top-notch acidity speak to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. Here you will find a Québécois response to “there is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact it’s all dark.” There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée, “balanced on the biggest wave.”

Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Riesling Icewine 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, 375ml, $59.95, WineAlign)

A vanimated astral week’s of emotion is met by an animal musk, both hard to define. There is a high quotient of lemon, in curd, zest and pith. The sweetness is tempered by nudging acidity though it lingers long. All Riesling Icewine has to do “is ring a bell and step right up” so despite the electric Kool-Aid sugar syrup moments, this one spins and twirls, as Riesling does, just like a ballerina.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Riesling Icewine 2012, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (601021, 375ml, $69.95, WineAlign)

Here sweetness, acerbity and a slightly advanced character are brought into balance by high grape sugar intensity and real linear acidity. Long and elastic, medicinally pretty and sacrosanct with seasoned complexity. Tasted this one and “felt a spark.” Tasted it twice and it tingled to the bone. What begun as a bob between evaluations ended with a simple twist of fate.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Pinot Noir $15-25

Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (146548, $21.95, WineAlign)

Deep earth and black cherry combine for the most extraction in the $15-25 Pinot Noir flight. There’s dust in them hills as the wine acts as if it were borne of the mountains. Has attitude in altitude. All things considered, the fruit is clean and crisp, perhaps a hair over the overripe line. The cool temperament and temperature in the cold room aid in giving it some love. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “That Villa Maria can make 80,000 cases of Pinot Noir this proper is nothing short of remarkable. Aged in French oak for 8-10 months. As Pinot like as could be hoped for considering the case amount. Every drop must go through Malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Josh Hammond and crew insist upon it, though it’s nothing but painstaking cellar/lab work. The Pinot character initially shines, with loads of plum and black cherry, but there is a momentary lapse. But, “if you’re standing in the middle, ain’t no way you’re gonna stop.” So, the definitive Marlborough ectodermal line painted through the in door speaks quickly and leaves by the out door. From a smoking gun, rising like a Zeppelin. Large volume, big production, drinkable in the evening Pinot Noir.”  Last tasted August 2014  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (winery, $$23.90, WineAlign)

Now here we’re talking about a Pinot Noir from a another mother. It heads generously into fragrances not yet nosed in this flight of $15-25 Pinot Noir. Exotic byrne of a perfume on high alert; jasmine, violets, roses and Summer ‘David’ Phlox. Exquisite, fresh and bright. There is tang and tannin. Vibrancy to raise eyebrows. Also wild sage, wild fruit, an animal on a walk in a virgin forest. So much Pinot Noir is hairy, this one is “living on nuts and berries.”  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Malbec $15-25

Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

This Golden Reserve Malbec by Trivento is a juicy, dusty, fruit tree addition to the #WWAC14 flight and arrives just in the nick of time. Despite the dark fruit, it has no Drake spoken word conceit. It sings in classic Drake lullaby, with beefy meet pine forest aromas and so “you find that darkness can give the brightest light.” Tender refrains soften chalky, stalky wood and corresponding bitter chocolate. Big tannins on this balladeer. Has impressive stuffing.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Red Blends over $25

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Wonderful, tangy red fruits define this well-structured Bordeaux blend. Cool and concise, it plays a tight riff and bangs a drum slowly. Comfortable on a big stage, it charges into a funky break and whips a crowd into a frenzy. So much energy from a band of five varietal friends, complimenting each other’s playing with mutual respect. Does the two Bench two-step and steals the show. “Celebrate we will because life is short but sweet for certain. We’re climbing two by two, to be sure these days continue.”

Vin Parfait Red 2012, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (350512, $29.95, WineAlign)

Circuitous mounds of round, stone ground aromas in coffee, Goji berry, red licorice and red ochre. A Jackson Pollock Expressionist splatter of notion and motion, flirtations and tension. Tempranillo, Shiraz and Grenache in does it, or will it come together beyond the abstract? Number 8 did. This one s’got to too.

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock www.jackson-pollock.org

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock
http://www.jackson-pollock.org

Grenache $10-20

Castillo de Monseran Garnacha 2013, Cariñena, Aragon, Spain (73395, $9.95, WineAlign)

A slightly cooked character is evident but within reason. Despite the heat it’s a bit of an arctic monkey, with tomato and cherry sprinkled over by Queso Fresco and followed up with a slice of blueberry pie. Simple yet effective, pleasant palate. There is some heat and tension from the tannins and “I’d like to poke them in their prying eyes,” but they do relent. The length is more than appropriate, given the tag. Only question is, “will the teasing of the fire be followed by the thud?” At $10, who really cares. Represents excellent value.

Artadi Artazuri Garnacha 2013, Navarra and Basque Country, Spain ($19.50, WineAlign)

Garnacha from the old world west with incredible citrus bursts, like orange blossoms and the spirit of the zest. A spritz from a lemon too. A smoulder of burning charcoal with a spit-roasting goat adds to the roadside attraction. Palm branches help to create the smoke. This is exotic and creative stuff. Finishes with a dessert note of bitter plum. Velada, “you got yourself a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 star reaction.” Really unique red.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Roadside+Attraction/33YBUM?src=5

Sauvignon Blanc Under $15

Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Leyda Valley, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (283648, $14.95, WineAlign)

A step up from multi-site, southern hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc with direct intentions, all the right moves and in all the right places. So much going on in both its aromatic and textural world. Wax, lanolin and Bordeaux-like temperance and consistent with the growing SB trend, “the grass is getting greener each day.” Decent one republic attack on the palate though nothing fantastic. Has heart and Sauvignon Blanc soul.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Southern Italy Under $15

Grandi Muri Primitivo Promovi Salento 2013, Puglia, Italy (agent, $13.50, WineAlign)

A red-veined Primitivo, with the savoury blood of Swiss Chard and hoisin and red bean paste coarsing through it. Smells like spicy and sweet Hunan dishes, sweet sweat and sour, but it is not a matter of oxidation. It’s a caramelized soy sensation but written in reverse. Spoon this over cereal, ice cream, charred beef, anything. It’s got Chinese five-spice powder and coriander. Like a bowl of most excellent Pho. Fantastic exotics. “We’re gettin’ you raw and it feels real good.” Rocking Primitivo.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Shiraz/Syrah $15-25

Layer Cake Shiraz 2012, South Australia, Australia ($24.99, WineAlign)

Unquestionably warm but with restraint. That may be perceived as a bad, obvious and reprehensible dichotomous comment but in transparency it speaks truths. Shows good savour and sapidity. It’s an aurulent burnt orange and smoked pineapple offering, blanketed in dusty chocolate and syrupy to a certain extreme. It’s long, creamy, silken and covered further in darker chocolate. “True colors fly in blue and black, bruised silken sky and burning flag.” Warm but you too will indubitably see the pleasures in its layer cake.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

White Blends Under $15

Pelee Gewurztraminer Riesling 2012, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (109991, $10.95, WineAlign)

A ray of golden sunshine. The glade and the classic Gewurz attributes are here and highly floral. Rose petals soaking in good medicine. This could be my beloved monster. Such a dry example. She wears “a raincoat that has four sleeves, gets us through all kinds of weather.” Match with BBQ’s eels. Not for everyone but it works.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Shiraz/Syrah Over $25

Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (390872, $29.95, WineAlign)

This is the most accomplished and wise drop of Shiraz tasted at the WineAlign #WWAC14. A hit of snowy sulphur shows just how much growing up it needs. Such a precocious and heady example. A thick, gluey mess of fruit, unsettled and in rapture within its tannic walls. The voilets and the rest of the garden rules really tie the room together. Shiraz entrenched, grown and raised, “where the nettle met the rose.” For five years later and on patrol for ten more after that. Wow.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion  WWAC 2014 Best of Country

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Delaine Syrah 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (86553, $32.95, WineAlign)

Here blows a fine, exuberant and expresive muzzle with ambrosial flavours. A garrigue and olive dirty martini with sweet drops pf berry syrup. Juniper and conifer verdure meet inklings of berries. There is a sense of mushroom and truffle which can go either way, but here it brings paradigmatic character. Like words added to an intense Billy Preston instrumental. This may “take your brain to another dimension. Pay close attention.” Dark, brooding and out of space. A prodigy and a real deal in cool climate Syrah.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice  WWAC 2014 Best of Country

Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25

Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (135202, $19.95, WineAlign)

A genesis in clean fruit of high extract order is linear, direct, forceful and in Cab conceit. A narcissistic brooder with ripples of underbrush and underworld scents. Thinks highly of itself, demands attention, seeks followers, stares into a pool. “The face in the water looks up and she shakes her head as if to say, that it’s the last time you’ll look like today.” With a few more reflecting and reflective refrains this Cabernet will realize a softness, turn away from the mirror and settle into its skin.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Lake Sonoma Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa – Sonoma – Mendocino, California, United States (Agent, $26.99, WineAlign)

From the outset this engages the imbiber simple because it acts as though its one time tension has been massaged and released. The flat feeling is there, though not detracting, because of an inherent notion that there was and still can be beautiful fruit. It just needs “that spark to get psyched back up.” A rapping modern facade is the cover page for earth savoury meets candied M & M flavour, docile, downy glycerin Cabernet texture, with acidity and tannin waning. Was serious, now friendly and will be late leaving the party.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Chardonnay $15-25

Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2013, Mendocino County, California, United States ($19.00, WineAlign)

This may be a winner. I love the immediacy of its fruit, the antebellum tension and just a kiss from the barrel. You know its there but in subtlety, class and as background noise. The aromas of citrus, beeswax and honey and all accents to clean orchard fruit. This has the most balance in a flight of eleven verry tidy Chardonnay in a consumer-driven $15-25 price bracket. Lady spirited and at times a bit anxious, or perhaps not yet entirely comfortable in its skin, this is nonetheless best in show.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Carmenère Under $15

Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Valle del Maule, Region del Valle Central, Chile (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

The first thought on this Carmenère is the scaling back of new oak, lifting it above the crowd in an under $15 flight. The freshness factor makes for a whole new animal, or botanical rather. This has candied jasmine, pansy, bergamot and nasturtium. It’s a veritable salad of candied edibles. The middle palate is marked by Mentholatum and the finale is persistent in acidulated action. What a warm, mazzy gift of a Carmenère, a star of a Chilean red that would be welcome, just like flowers in December. “Send me a flower of your December. Save me a drink of your candy wine.”  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Chardonnay Over $25

Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.90, WineAlign)

Quiet, muted, beautiful and reserved. This is the “iconoclastic and restlessly innovative” style of a wine that bravely explores other territories of pop Chardonnay. Anything but fashioned in an in your face style, this one is in it for the Hejira, the journey and the time. Ripe yellow apples and pears and then come the lees. Could pass for unoaked Chablis. The appreciation and gathering are a style that should be used more.  “No regrets coyote,” you just come “from such different sets of circumstance.”  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice  WWAC 2014 Top Value Wines

Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, California, United States (655381, $34.95, WineAlign)

Has hallmarks of essential fruit from a top notch vintage, the most complexity and schooling. The reduction is pure essence of grape must, with no fault to either the vine or the maker. Every wine’s “screwed up in their own special way.” A rmineral tannin gets on top early like a Ramones riff, stays for dinner and repeats in refrain. The crisp and mister punchy orchard fruit is kissed by wood. Sucks face. The texture is seamless and verve excellent, by acidity and forward to pronounced length.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Sparkling

Delouvin Bagnost N/V Brut, Champagne, France (agent, $42.75, WineAlign)

Tends to a trend in sweet aromatic beginnings which is nothing but endearing. A leesy pear and ris de veau nose split by a bowie and filled with pearls of sugary syrup. To taste there is the metallic gaminess of uncooked other white meat. Sweet meat, sweet thing. The gathering sensation is an elemental display of ethereal, aerified climatic conditions. Though made in an oxidized style, the complexity of character is not to be denied.  “Runs to the center of things where the knowing one says, boys, boys, its a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Pinot Noir Over $25

Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Valle de San Antonio, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (agent, $19.99, WineAlign)

You can always pick out the wines made from unique, little feat sites, wherever in the world they may have been raised. Even when they stink up the joint, smell like a 16 year-old hockey change room or like candied paint poured over fresh cedar planks, they stand out like beacons of Pinot amon din. Lord of the Pinot rings here that’s “been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet…baked by the sun,” fire lit, rosemary branches and oxtail smoldering and simmering over fresh cut ash from a deciduous forest. Cool mint and pine. The most savoury things of fantasy imagined. Wild ride in and most willin’ Pinot Noir.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Buena Vista Pinot Noir, Carneros 2011, Napa Valley, California, United States (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contigious vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine.  WWAC 2013 Category Champion  WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25  WWAC 2014 Category Champion  WWAC 2014 Top Value Wines

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2010, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.99, WineAlign)

The grace of time has ladled felicity upon this left coast Pinot Noir. What once were harsh and mephitic stuck in a cola can kind of smells have been released and are just a faint memory of their once formidable, terrible teeth gnashing remains. Twas root beer that fouled the air but now the saline sea and verdure of hills speaks in clear vernacular. The sailor has “sailed across weeks and through a year,” met with wild things, to now return home and offer up her Pinot Noir, to be enjoyed with supper that is still warm.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Riesling Under $15

Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Pfalz, Germany (agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

This has a lovely, head of its class, nearly value-driven exquisite nature and aromatic richness. In consideration of the price bracket, the sulphur is trumped by that radio dialed in richesse. Exotic Riesling specific fruit. A crisp apple meets a ripe pineapple. A wolf at the door, “out pops the cracker, smacks you in the head.” Decent acidity, better length, good bitters.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Red Blends Under $15

Miguel Torres Sangre de Toro 2012, Cataluña, Spain (6585, $12.95, WineAlign)

This Garnacha and Carignan blend works a stoned immaculate contrivance as well as any red blend under $15 you are ever likely to upend. “Soft driven slow and mad, like some new language.” The action is effective, properly conceived and opens the doors to value-based perception. Perhaps a bit thin but the lack of wood and sweetener is a breath of fresh air. What it lacks in girth it makes up for with complexity, in notes of graphite, fennel and sea air. Lovely little Mediterranean red.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Good to go!

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