Twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021

Another year comes to a close, one filled with the dark moments and the light, the romantic entanglements and debacles, highs and lows. In life, love and wine, here with any reference to a gesture, gaze, smile or any other sensory reaction coming from an account of someone who witnessed it. In this particular case that would be Godello and much of what he saw and heard included odd little episodes that reveal how grapes really lived under the conditions of not only this vintage, but also the ones that came before. This ninth edition of 21 Canadian wines that rocked in 2021 comes out as a derivative, spin-off and postscript to all of this.

Godello in the Similkameen Valley

Related – Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

As a reminder, year-end lists are a matter of personal fascination and should be met with a certain level of judgement so that highly subjective descriptors such as “best” or “most” can be consumed with doubt, thoughts askance and even heated moments of disbelief. That which makes us feel moved, stirred, excited, ignited and set aflame could very well be someone else’s nothingness. Classification, indexing and charting is truly personal and as such opens up wide for criticism and hopefully, healthy debate. So keep it real but also civil, if you please.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

If we thought the 12 months that made up the 2020 calendar took things deep into the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, then 2021 left the stadium and flew into the stratosphere of the preposterous. One silly year led to another but this one just seems to be concluding with some sort of level best described as fraught with “Vonnegutian violence.” Thank goodness there is Canadian wine to fall back onto and though it has been said before, this was indeed the very best year for the local stuff. A 2021 from which the highest to date level of greatness was achieved. Though these holidays are bittersweet and conditioned with some great unknowns, take solace in Canadian wine and what can be learned from their progression, evolution and continued excellence. They never give in or up but always strive forward, getting better all the time. To quote and then paraphrase from Britt Daniel and his band Spoon, “when you think your thoughts be sure that they are sweet ones. Don’t you know, love, you’re alright…don’t you know your (glass) awaits and now it’s time for (tasting).”

Related – Godello’s 24-hour Nova Scotia revival

This latest rocking roster of Canadian made wine is now the ninth annual for an exercise that first began back in 2013. When 2022 comes to a close the 10th will come to fruition in print, with 22 of Canada’s best laid to order. In 2021 Canadian wines were made available at every turn, especially at the WineAlign tasting table. In July the WineAlign critics’ crü took in Niagara for a pseudo-i4C 2021 Cool Chardonnay weekend. Godello made his own way to Nova Scotia in September to meet with and taste alongside eight of that province’s great winemaking teams. In October the WineAlign judging cartel sat through more than 2,000 entries at the National Wine Awards of Canada in the Okanagan Valley. Events such as the VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness and Terroir Symposium were still no shows, or gos, nor walk-around tastings neither. Once again sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2022 will finally usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – Niagara’s cool for chards

As per previous incarnations of this annual compendium, “the numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2019 the list counted 19. In 2018 there were 18 and in 2017, 17 noted. In 2016 that meant 16 and 15 for 2015, just as in 2014 the filtered list showed 14, after  13 for 2013. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 20. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Note that a third of the 21 most exciting Canadian wines of 2021 are in sparkling form. Does that need to be qualified? Of course not. Godello gives you twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021.

13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Racy sparkling wine of traditional ways, dry, toasty and of great vigour. Top notch autolysis, fine lees and guesses to the end would have to be in the 48-plus month arena. The real deal, richly rendered, acids in charge, instructive and carrying the fruit to the mountain’s peak. Hard to top this in Canada. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noir 2013, Nova Scotia

While Ben Swetnam had wanted to dabble in sparkling going back to 2009 he can thank everyone in the Nova Scotia industry for showing him the ropes. That includes Gina Haverstock at Gaspereau, Bruce Ewart at L’Acadie, Simon Rafuse at Blomidon, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at Benjamin Bridge and others. The 2011 would have been the first vintage of pinot noir production with the intent of making sparkling wine, of hot to cool years and all others in between. Dijon clones and a warmer edge of a ’13 season, a riper style but brought in at classic sparkling numbers, acids 11-12.5 and brix 17-19, picking in the third week of October. An early vintage. Intensity meets richness halfway there, fruit flavours are exceptional, just shy of eight years on lees, disgorged three months ago. “For the pinot I always wanted to do a minimum five years and the acidity was always there,” tells Ben. “The tertiary qualities were not out yet so the pause every six months kept the decisions at bay.” Got this apricot chanterelle fungi character, mousse and bubble are really in tact, dosage is 7.5 g/L almost fully hidden by that Nova Scotia acidity. There is something about this sight that maintains higher acidity levels while sugars rise but as an example perhaps it’s the gypsum based soil underneath the whole vineyard, or the tidal rivers and the specific diurnal fluctuations, cooler at night and “it’s something we can always rely on, in every year, that backbone of acidity.” So very Nova Scotia. Usually 500 bottles produced per year. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Rosé 2017, Nova Scotia

One of the first wines to come to the surface with Pascal Agrapart’s involvement with winemakers Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Alex Morozov. When tasted the sentiment was that this particular vintage of this very particular sparkling wine was not yet there yet in terms of readiness or rather publicizing but truth be told, never have texture and acids come together as one in a BB Rosé. Crunch and chew, riff and rise, bellow and beauty, all despite the spiralling zeitgeist that underscores its urgency. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noirs 2016, Nova Scotia

Give or take 76 per cent pinot noir and 24 meunier, a similar vintage to 2015 (though a touch warmer) and here picked on the 17th of November. Almost all from Woodside Vineyard and some meunier off of the Blomidon estate vines, no longer here. Disgorged today, yes today and my oh my the potential here elevates to a very high ceiling. Just under 6 g/L RS so exactly extra brut, really primary but with the dosage that will arrive before you know it. The pinot delivers more fruit than the chardonnay, perhaps a counterintuitive concept but that’s Nova Scotia. And every vintage will flip the head and make you think again. Small lot, 50 cases or so. Searing succulence, a structural richness and transformative beyond the complex, curious and interesting. Assiduous if conceited blanc de noirs, pejorative to chardonnay, entangled inside enigma, mystery and riddle. Literally. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

A varietal estate grown chardonnay that spent upwards of 78 months sur lie is nothing short of dramatic, if not unconscionable. Not that no one else, anywhere else does such a thing but to do so, change so little and deliver unquestionable excellence is what dreams, expression and delivery are all about. If the Brut Reserve is Fillmore East than this Blanc de Blancs is Montreux, electric, mind-bending and so very exotique. João Gilberto, Marvin Gaye and Lou Reed wrapped into one, a sparkling wine of influence that only incidentally expands into mainstream visibility. This has stage presence and breaks fresh ground with creative sensibility, not to mention a deliciousness of flavour and mousse. That and 2012 in pocket permanently affixed to to the album cover. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted March 2021

Henry Of Pelham Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Centenary Estate Blanc De Blanc 2010, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario

As a reminder this top H of P traditional method sparkling wine is named after Catharine Smith, Henry of Pelham’s wife and this Centenary is the crème de la crème for the label. A rarity for the estate and for Canadian wine, partially (20 per cent) barrel fermented and aged for up to 100 months on the lees. All Short Hills Bench chardonnay, all in with a hyperbole of toasty development and the most brûlée of any bubble in the village. The sparkling stage presence and prescience of being so connected to grape and place make this true to itself. Not to be missed. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted December 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia

Was embargoed until September 9th after having just received the Lieutenant Governor Award. Has evolved into a seriously toasted arena, gone long with lees contact, looking for peaceful co-existence between yeast autolysis and the fruit of the wine. “You don’t want conflict, you want that harmony, tells Bruce Ewart.” Disgorged January 2021 and so spent more than the minimum five years on lees. An insignificant dosage (more than most of these wines). Bruce’s program goes at it in terms of two and five year aging and he believes that while Nova Scotia can do ten or more there is only a minor incremental increase in complexity by doing so. This at six-plus has hit such a sweet spot, still in retention of currant and white/red berry fruit but also low and slow golden, tanned and long as an August afternoon Gaspereau shadow. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Two Sisters Blanc De Franc 2018, VQA Niagara River, Ontario

Stellar work here in blanc de franc, understated and effusive, lifted of black currants and sweet pepperoncini yet grounded by serious grape tannin. A sparkling wine of grape extract so full of depth and breadth. Not a wine of high autolysis but rather tart, tight and in command of all it wants to be. Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021.

The third vintage of Adam Pearce’s ground-breaking Blanc de Franc is as you would imagine a white sparkling wine made from the red cabernet franc grape. The aromas are distinct and secure, squarely wrested from the red currant and sweet peppery varietal post, expressed in a uniquely Two Sisters bubble that may once again, or rather should continue to rock one’s world. More richness and also excitement than ever before, risk taken and reward achieved. No acquiescence, no adjacent meanders but head down, goal in sight and hurdles overcome. At the end of the day this is one of the most impressive and essential wines made in Ontario. Nova Scotia is on the franc idea and others locally are beginning to follow. Autolytic and delicious, on point and regal. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario

From vines planted by proprietor Martin Malivoire “close to home” in what is the eponymous vineyard. Moira is a Beamsville Bench icon and has been for quite some time now, without question, nothing to discuss here, case closed. There is a complex and layered developed notation that Vivant does not have, not fort better or worse but Moira requires more thought and consternation. You can no longer think on it in terms of salinity, sapidity and satisfaction. Something more and other must be considered. Style. Style is what separates Moira from most other Ontario Rosé and in 2020 it exudes with prejudice and finesse. When a sip of a wine in this category stays with you for as long as Moira does, well you just know greatness is in the glass. This can saunter with the very best of Southern France. That’s the truth. Kudos to winemaker Shiraz Mottiar for this. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted April 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Shane Munn’s riesling from the volcanic, clay and white quarts Fritzi’s Vineyard continues to get better, all the while with a wine he seems to do less and less to try and control. Must be the place and the fruit from this 21 year-old block (as of this 2018 vintage) seeking a 48 hour skin-contact for oxidatively handled juice. Pressed once, lightly and so softly treated, then transferred to German casks where it stays for up to eight months. Just bloody delicious, hard to not conjure a frothie for this freshest of phenolic rieslings, which incidentally was only sulphured once, four months into the trek. Walks about from grippy to lovely and back again, with silk stops along the way. Will shine brightest two years from now. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted twice, October and December 2021

A really creative sémillon, rich, creamy and fulsome which is classic Mt. Boucherie while never abandoning the grape’s pointed and intense linearity. Hard not to be impressed by the soil intendment and how it creates a backbone in the wine, beyond acidity and into something sarsen-like, upright, timeless, forever. Plenty of grip, essential elements, minerals and metallics. Keeps the sémillon sensibility alive of an unconquerable nature, varietal invictus, solid construct but with more than ample fruit. Convincing follow-up to 2019 and really quite on par in every respect. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

Notable reduction marks South Clos’ youthful entry and with that first nose in the glass we are put on immediate notice that 2019 will be a structured year for winemaker Keith Tyers’ and Closson Chase’s chardonnay. This and the following vintage will trade blows for bragging rights, longevity and excellence, so pay attention to this pool of varietal estate wines. That is something CC so generously affords their customers. Here at the top level the fruit is glorious, pristine, pure and cut by diamond clarity. The reduction flies away and a nose of marzipan, lemon preserve and a fresh bitten Ida Red apple come away from the vineyard. Acids here are tight, crunchy, friable, felt from the tongue’s tip to the wisdoms. The liquidity is so finely chalky with all signs pointing to spirit and balance with that ’19 crop of South Clos fruit at the core. Does not get much better from PEC, Ontario or Canada. Anywhere. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2018, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

Frost year for the valley but again an escape by the vines at Lightfoot & Wolfville with thanks to the tidal influence to keep the chardonnay vines happy, healthy and secure. So much fruit and warm summer sunshine, a glade bathed in light and a luminescence rarely found in chardonnay. Consistent L & W elévage, increasingly into puncheons and away from 225L barriques. You can never forget and not remember what chardonnay has done for L & W, while now the richness and restraint work in optimized tandem. Less reductive than previous incantations, with new and improved connotations, consistencies and harmonic sway. Also a matter of vintage and cooperage. Stability is the key to being great. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Westcott Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario

Almost seems redundant to say anything about the Reserve from 2020 because what more is there that was not already expounded upon from the Estate chardonnay. Same soft entry, slow developing charm, fruit neither richest nor gregarious but yet in Reserve truly ideal, less variegated and hinting at opulence. That is the crux and the key, hints, in shadows, speculations, possibilities and in Reserve form most surely probabilities. Elevates the crisp crunch and gets real trenchant with the pulverulent and tactile sensations. Seriously credible, professional and still emotive work here from Westcott at the pinnacle of Vinemount Ridge, but also Bench and Escarpment chardonnay. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

Bachelder Bai Xu Gamay Noir Niagara Cru 2019, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario

Bai Xu is unique within the Bachelder gamay domain encompassing whole cluster ferments and cru investigations. It reminds us all that time and patience are a must, an academic approach is not enough and one must follow their intuition, instinct and heart to deliver appreciated wine. In Niagara the philosophy has merged with gamay in ways the monk could never have known were possible. Here 20 per cent whole cluster may be less than the 22 and 52 crus, but this is a broader matter and one that fruits beyond the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard. In a sense, a villages-plus wine (think Côte d’Or) but as a conceptual one. The clarity and slow release of flavour in Bai Xu happens without power, grip or forceful intent. The acidity neither startles nor does it cry out, but instead acts as architect for the infrastructure and the mosaic. Bai (it is presumed) from a Chinese language, meaning “pure,” (depending on the dialect and vowel’s accent) and Xu, “slowly, calmly.” Thomas Bachelder is surely looking for the chaste gamay, unadulterated and one that rushes nowhere, takes the slow and winding path, feet securely on solid ground. More than anything else, this gamay cru won’t chase after what it thinks may make us happy or search for things that deliver one and done, immediate and short-lived excitement. As another one of nature’s mysterious constructs the captured poise and effect make cause for great delight. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Cloudsley Cellars Cuesta Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Cuesta as a vineyard has more history behind it than one might have assumed, having been planted back in 2002. Adam Lowy has made 65 cases from Cuesta’s deeply resonant and soulful fruit, so as a consequence given it more new oak (28 per cent) than any of his other three single-vineyard pinot noirs. Clearly the brightest, most tonally effusive and transparent of the quadrangle, as Burgundian as it gets when it comes to mapping or contemplating the connectivity with the mothership. Just a lovely, elegant and sweet-scented pinot noir, classically arranged, scientifically opined and romantically delivered by Lowy’s prudent if so very hopeful elévage. The Côtes de Nuits notation is clearly defined, intuited and understood. Not quite but resembling Marsannay, or perhaps even something just a plot or three further south. Cuesta conduits as the “Robbinsian” one for which “the scientist keeps the romantic honest and the romantic keeps the scientist human.” Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Checkmate Silent Bishop Merlot 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

One of four Checkmate merlots, regional expressions, here a blend of three benches, Osoyoos West, Oliver North and Golden Mile. A Silent Bishop and a merlot are more powerful than those who speak and their ordinations may also be called consecrations. Here the silent 2015 is one that is dedicated, coordinated, devoted and sacred to proprietors, winemaker and place. When a merlot is silent it moves in dynamic tactical effect and like the bishop moving on a position, does not capture or attack an enemy piece. Truth be told this is a stealth merlot, of fruit so dark and mysterious, of structure hidden, enigmatic and prepared to go the distance. Such an efficient wine and the kind to cause a ripple effect. Taste this and you too will want to pursue making profound Okanagan merlot, an endeavour as frustrating as it can be elusive. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted June 2021

La Stella Maestoso “Solo Merlot” 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The decision whether to listen to Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 or Handel’s Allegro Maestoso (Water Music Suite 2) while tasting and sipping through La Stella’s “Solo” merlot is a difficult one. Less obvious than it might seem and the question is which piece best exemplifies “the highest peak in the crescendo, that moment of realizing you are in the presence of majesty.” Both, to be fair and so I find myself in good ears, and taste by the triad grace of Chopin, Handel and La Stella hands. Let’s revise to encompass all three, in decadence, rolling rhythm and Okanagan Valley merlot-defining precociousness come crashing onto a shore of strings. This is where the maestroso moment happens, in cumulative fruit substance joined by fine acid intensity, wrapped up in structural soundness. All this after a great deal of strong tempo variations which are prominent features in this Severine Pinte interpretation. The instruments are Glacio Fluvial and Fluvial Fan; Clay and Gravel mix, Alluvial deposit and Clay, playing in the orchestra of Osoyoos Lake District and Golden Mile. Support from the Okanagan’s best, written as a top merlot composition and executed flawlessly by the winemaking team. Bravissimo. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Two weeks later than the usual norm defined the 2017 spring but hot and dry summer weather confirmed the intensity of Phantom Creek Vineyard’s southern Okanagan growing season. The cabernet sauvignon grows on the lower terrace of the Black Sage Bench’s Osoyoos sandy loam and it has been approximately 15 years that these vines have been fostering these wines. Magnanimously ripe and conspicuously copious fruit sees the unabashed generosity of (75 per cent new) French wood in a bone dry, healthy acidity endowed and elevated pH cabernet. This is essential edging up and into quintessential Okanagan varietal chattel, a wine of substance, grip and winched binding, oozing with expensive taste, fine dark chocolate and a depth of fruit that aches to be heard. That will have to wait and so should you because the structural parsimony will need three years or more to release and allow for stretching and breathing room. A prouheze as they say. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Stag’s Hollow Syrah 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Roes floral, elegant, ethereal, really effusive and just lovely stuff. Nothing remotely over the top, no blow to the head nor a crashing upon the senses. Sweet acids and silky tannins are the finality in what is clearly generated to conclude upon the notion of a very great wine. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Winter wine matters

Mr. Frost the melting snowman

Mr. Frost the melting snowman

Tell me you’re not looking for a January cure. A cure for what ails, a respite from depressing news, a way to get through winter’s second and third trimesters. I know you are upset at losing some of your favourite rocks stars or wholly annoyed with those who are. Regardless of which camp you’re in, look me in the eye and tell me a good, honest, proper and satisfying bottle of wine won’t help.

The simplicity of wine is a beautiful thing. A vine grows and produces grapes. That fruit is picked and ferments itself with help from yeast it just happens to carry in its luggage. Time passes and wine is made. No one had to invent it. The most basic example of shit happens.

With a little help from a farmer and a winemaker wine can become something very special. Choosing which examples pass the test is less than automatic and takes many years of trial and error, but eventually the equation reaches a tipping point. This is where probability begins to win over doubtfulness.

VINTAGES spins the wheel again this coming weekend with a list one hundred strong. I have chosen fifteen to win the hearts of the cold, the depressed, the sad, the first responder, the liberal, the conservative, the left, right and all points in between, the cultural injustice fighter, the social media troll and the curmudgeon. Whoever you are or imagine yourself to be, one of these wines may just make you feel a whole lot better. It’s alcohol, after all.

Popov

Popov Versnik Merlot 2011, Tikves, Macedonia (429746, $13.95, WineAlign)

Morality for the masses from parts unknown. Macedonian Merlot plush in carpeted ease. A touch of vinicultural funk bleeds into the drupe for good constancy. Wood is a factor but only for texture. Roast pork would work. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted January 2016  @bozvenimports  @WineofMacedonia

Ferme du Mont

La Ferme Du Mont Première Côte Côtes Du Rhône 2013, Ap Rhône, France (251645, $15.95, WineAlign)

The berries are the lead, the middle act and the finish. Extreme in fruit, fully ripened and punching well into classes. Acidity walks along with what heals and together the impression is regionally spot on. No need to look elsewhere for CdR style. Fashioned to induce consumer approaches that occur early, often and with heavy repetition. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted January 2016      @RhoneWine

Rabl

Rabl Langenlois Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kamptal, Austria (377457, $16.95, WineAlign)

A rouser this Rabl, highly aromatic and filled with creamy green dressing. Langenlois mineral by quatenary rocky red outcrop chip and scrape through the herbs and the citrus. Though a touch lean at present this has the legs and the foresight to age, like Semillon, like Riesling, like good Grüner Veltliner. Really persistent wine. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted January 2016    @austria_in_ca  @AustrianWine

Desmoiselles

Château Des Demoiselles 2010, Ac Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux, France (348755, $17.95, WineAlign)

A bit of a brooder this Castillon, dusty and all in with Merlot speaking as it should. Typically ripe, not wood shy and instantly gratifying as per the vintage so considering the cost this offers good reason to drink, but not cellar Bordeaux. The flavours add in dark chocolate with tangy angles opening windows and doors. Two to three years of simple pleasure. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted January 2016  @BordeauxWines  @HalpernWine

Pouilly

Domaine Chatelain Les Vignes De Saint Laurent L’abbaye Pouilly Fumé 2014, Ac Loire, France (958801, $19.95, WineAlign)

Slight hyperbole of Sauvignon Blanc with epitomizing smoky flint and vegetation healthy to overgrowing. Fresh and spicy, thematic and screaming out loud. The abbeys always make the most authentic wines. This one is no exception. Classic serial killer. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted January 2016  @WoodmanWS  @LoireValleyWine

Morgon

Laurent Gauthier Grand Cras Vieilles Vignes Morgon 2013, Ac Beaujolais, France (279059, $19.95, WineAlign)

Lovely floral entry and good close encounter with the Morgon kind. Certainly on the ripe black cherry trellis but not over, no, by no means over. Firm, charred tight and charcoal lit with the acidity to propel and excite. Gamay as it should be with a red lactic finale. Well done. Cras, cras, not cray, cray. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted January 2016  @DiscoverBojo

Pecina

Señorío De P. Peciña Crianza 2011, Doca Rioja, Spain (313726, $22.95, WineAlign)

Old school alert. Fruiting body notes of telomorph yeast and room temperature evaporations. High tones and waves of liqueurs. Big old wood barriques and a slow evolutions over decades, with knowledge ingrained and methodology followed with religious zeal. Cherries and cedar, leathers and all sorts of gamy hides. Attack one and put two away and see the past in the distant future. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted January 2016  @BodegasPecina01  @LeSommelierWine  @RiojaWine_ES

Blue Mountain

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

The confident, well-delineated structure of a Blue Mountain wine furthered here, with Chardonnay you are simply and unequivocally happy to drink. Mild, mild wood. Minor, minor but present reduction. Flavours overtop flavours, like green apple dipped in mellifluous agave. Salinity, a touch of flint and just general copacetic effectualizing behaviour. Another winner. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted January 2016  @BlueMtnWinery  @winebcdotcom

Louis

Eric Louis Sancerre Rouge 2013, Ap Loire, France (66613, $24.95, WineAlign)

Red Sancerre plumb, plum too and cerise. Iron strength and a cumbersome ratification to be certain, for longevity and plenty that comes before. From flavour favour savour to acidity tannin in continuum. Rolls through the numbers and the highlights. Alcohol subtlety is a friend at 12.5 per cent and playing bigger than others twice the size. You can use this terrific example from Eric Louis for just about anything your experience desires. Sip, grill fish, finish post meal. Anything really. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted January 2016  @EricLouisWinery  @LoireValleyWine

Martin Ray

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (57067, $28.95, WineAlign)

A really nice, relatively inexpensive example from the RRV. The aromatics are balanced with notes ranging from melted duck fat on golden roasted potatoes to a garden with vegetables ripening under a warm morning sun. The attitude towards the barrel is well adjusted and integrated, the flavours built of viscosity and generosity. Quite impressive and persistent with a spice accent on the finish. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted January 2016  @martinraywinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Marchand

Marchand Tawse Saint Romain 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (440206, $31.95, WineAlign)

The genesis of reduction is the man, even four plus years into its time in bottle, here on earth. What to make of this showing at this juncture? From Saint Roman, The Melodist, “Pindar of rhythmic poetry” and very restrained in wood. Who would dare to make Chardonnay this way from this place, to wait for so long. “And all this time has passed me by? It doesn’t seem to matter now.” The fixed expression, the weight gain, the lean, flinty, bony structure in change. Not yet, not yet a musical box of flesh but it will be. Patience for another year. Great acidity. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted January 2016  @MARCHANDTAWSE  @Burgundy_Direct

Cotes de Nuits

Marchand Tawse Côtes De Nuits Villages 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (440263, $31.95, WineAlign)

Conspicuously and distinctly Pascal Marchand perfumed village Burgundy to showcase regional distinction in the vicinity of affordability. Smells like roses and the aromal water imparted by fresh petals. Tastes like ropey strawberries, a squeeze of cranberry and a crush of pomegranate. Transports to walks up and down slopes in the morning mist. Will wait for fairer weather to come and a harvest table set al fresco. Pinot Noir off grace to invite friends and co-workers to the table. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January 2016  @MARCHANDTAWSE  @Burgundy_Direct

Girardin

Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Santenay 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (435552, $37.95, WineAlign)

An old vines Santenay from Girardin that demarcates a line back to the way things used to be. Modernity cast aside this is a firmer and cooler Santenay and it is very young. Not yet shed its carbon fat, stemmy tannin and barrel weight. This will need three years to settle, find its strokes and to allow the fruit to be extracted from its tannic and wooden house. “Oh the heart beats in its cage.” Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted January 2016

Barbi

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Docg Tuscany, Italy (928028, $49.95, WineAlign)

Quite approachable for the normally firm and hands off in its youth Barbi. Always with a foot firmly rooted in the past and yet the house seems to be slowly waltzing into the modernity of the future. This has hallmark roses and cherries under leathery hides but also a beautifully bright and dynamic luminescence. It also carries a silky texture that should have it pause less than the habitual five years to fully shine. So, a newer and earlier gifting Sangiovese and that’s quite alright. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted January 2016  @FattoriaBarbi  @ConsBrunello  @Noble_Estates

Franus

Peter Franus Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (907477, $66.95, WineAlign)

The floral aspects of this mountain Cabernet are a delight to behold. The ripeness and concentration are optimum to be sure and are mitigated by a cool, altitude-salubrious repairing factor. Cassis and a hint of what smells like juniper are noted. It’s quite botanical actually, in distillate, not fresh or dried. The Franus angles are direct and retractable. Traces steps up and down, in switch backs and with a creamy, acidity backed rise, fall and repeat. Peter elicits notes heightened “in the firmament above and in the deep.” This 2012 is a sustainer, a Parvadigar, a prayer set to music. Very musical Cabernet, scaling, of arpeggios et al. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted January 2016  @ProfileWineGrp

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14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

In 2013 the number chosen to highlight excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Symmetry and permutations with repetition are one thing, quality in winemaking is yet another. The expectation is fully understood that next year there will be 15 wines on the list. And so on and so forth.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

What force has thus far driven and will continue to drive the wines of Canada? By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, mountains, rivers and valleys, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today, we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of women and men.

Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.

Winery visits were numerous in 2014. Thanks must be dispatched to all who opened their doors, to those with established roots and to risk takers who through their new planting, began burrowing their own. Like Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario. Like Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Tastings that go beyond the pale shed new élevage and barrel light. The light shed by such practices was no more in evidence than at Tawse with Paul Pender and Norman Hardie, but also at Flat Rock Cellars with Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich.

Memories of 2014 lead to thoughts of Cuvée, the Expert’s Tasting and the Sparkling Wine Symposium at Brock University. Taste OntarioSomewhereness, County in the City. July visits to Niagara and Nova Scotia gave up 10,000 words of free-flowing wine-speak about the Cool Chardonnay conference and with Peter Gamble in the Gaspereau Valley.

There were a few wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there time, space and a better headline to write. Gray Monk Riesling 2012, Okanagan Valley at ($15.00, WineAlign) is the best value for the niche in B.C. This is old-school, west coast Riesling with attributes to reflect and look back on generations of acumen. Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95, WineAlign) forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic and was a NWAC14 Platinum Medal Winner.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec ($22.95, WineAlignspeaks to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée. Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench ($38.00, WineAlign) though just recently re-tasted, was actually first assessed in November of 2013.

This list certainly concentrates on new releases, save for a few exceptions where older wines left a modern impression. Wines that found a way to break new ground also factored into the decisions. Here are the 14 Canadian wines tasted in 2014 that simply did it for me. Wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

 

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From The Group of twelve, April 28, 2014

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”  Tasted April 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake.  Tasted October 2014  @BlueMtnWinery

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.  Tasted April 2014  @normhardie

Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted twice, May and July 2014  @SperlingVyds

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign) From Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone, July 15, 2014

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

Pilliteri Estates Merlot Family Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign) From Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine, January 17, 2014

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?   Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

 

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From Chardonnay is cool, July 9, 2014

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign) From A hip of wine at Hidden Bench

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025.  Tasted twice, September  and October 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $50, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.”  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign) From The Stratus-Momofuku continuum, May 30, 2014

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.  @StratusWines

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign) From Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases November 4, 2014

Certainly plays the most hard to get of the ’11 Chardonnays of fruit so fine and pure. Layered like Phyllo or Puff pastry, gathered and set back upon itself. Gains traction and intensity through developed flavours and overlays of texture, both solid like shale and lacy like organza. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46470, $65.00, WineAlign) From Up on Creekside Estates, April 14, 2014

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.  Tasted March 2014  @CreeksideWine

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign) From Consider the Gaspereau Valley, October 1, 2014

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge

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