Get back to Cool Chardonnay

Chardonnay is one of the romantics. At the centre of cool belief are the fruits of isolated self-expression, of greatest importance and capable of discovering the highest truths. When chardonnay is treated with utmost respect it can commit to wines of sublime impulse that rearrange and execute the natural world in order to reflect its own preoccupations. Imagine chardonnay as a street scene, as a wine that might stumble into itself, of footsteps and flaring lights, of mystery beneath dreamy lamplight. It will always find the light. That’s what chardonnay does. Ontario is a place where people come to be intimate with the grape and while lovers of the cool stuff were unable to gather in July of 2020 or 2021 the movement has built momentum once again. In 2022 it was high time to get back to cool chardonnay.

School of Cool

Related – Niagara’s cool for chards

Yes, in 2021 visits are paid and wines are tasted, but there is no congress. In 2020, the writer leads a virtual thing. In July the School of Cool comes back to session at White Oaks Conference Resort where it belongs. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser reunites the community and introduces the long-awaited keynote speaker, columnist at Decanter and World of Fine Wine Magazine. “Andrew Jefford writes about wine like no other. He is a poet and a legend.” She is spot on. The author of the recently published anthology called “Drinking with the Valkries” asks the audience to “imagine wine as music. It brings solace to our lives, sends us beyond ourselves, just like music. The potential grandeur of a wine is a factor of its milieu, but it’s silent without the human.” Jefford notes that because of a changing climate the instructions are changing. “The music of many places is beginning to slide out of tune…varieties are the litmus of the vineyard. The most useful and adaptable of instruments is the piano…and that variety is chardonnay. Ask for chardonnay and you’ll be played any old tune on the piano, all well and good, anodyne. Wines produced at higher elevations on stony soils tend to be more percussive. Quality of clay and aptitude of soil structure is just as important as limestone would be for chardonnay. It’s Proteus, if you will.”

Andrew Jefford advises, tacitly implores his audience to listen. Pay attention. Take nothing for granted and understand that the parameters, goal posts and reference points are always changing. Chardonnay is indeed on the move and we must move with it or risk losing our rhythm, our mojo, our music. Practice makes perfect but innovation, cooperation and collaboration are imperative. Varietally speaking chardonnay may be the piano but other instrumentation is the requiem for completeness, satisfaction and glory. Chardonnay can achieve grandeur and continue to be the spirit of the sea, exist as past, present, and future, assume all sorts of shapes. To be regarded as a symbol of the original matter from which the world of white wine created. Chardonnay must always be protean, must always be on the move.

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The Great Chardo Swap

Moderator Chris Waters takes control. He explains how the powers of Ontario minds devise a most devilish and transformative scheme. The “Chardo Swap” concerns chardonnay grape must from the 2017 and 2018 vintages. In reverse 300L from the west’s Montague Vineyard are sent to eastern Niagara winemakers and 300L of Thirty Bench chardonnay is conversely transferred to six winemakers in western Niagara. Until now the custodians of Montague fruit have only been the originals, like Karl Kaiser, Phillip Dowell and Bruce Nicholson. For continuity the juice provided is pre-settled. One of the wildcards is a matter of cross pollination, of sites and yeasts present on these grapes. So be it. Play and work with what you’ve got. The results are astonishing and compose a picture of subject matter as nature versus nurture. Which matters more? Read up on 12 wines made in reserve and decide for yourself.

Chardo Swap

Craig McDonald, Trius Winery – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

An ideal season to gift the rich and the restrained, right in the sweet spot between reduction and openly recognizable to getable purity. And yet it was “the summer we didn’t get,” tells Craig McDonald, a late season, cleaner, with more choices available, extended elévage in neutral wood. “I took the opportunity to push and stretch this into this kind of milieu.” Comes out more salty, stays clear of wild and woolly. Great approach and treatment of east side Bench fruit. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022.

Gabriel DeMarco, Cave Spring Vineyard – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Bottled with and making full use of its laissez faire if highly useful lees, acting on behalf of and representing every variety’s profound catalyst. Wound tighter than many vintages of Niagara chardonnay, even at this four to five year mark. Chalk it up to the “other” fruit but also the oxidative winemaking and creation of a “flor” to bring cloudiness and texture. A definite fino brininess and yet less barrel effect (only 10 months) and ultimately transforming Montague fruit into something it’s never been known to do before. Also apposite to a Cave Spring chardonnay so in the end all cards that were on a table were flipped over for all to begin again. Drink 2022-2024.Tasted July 2022

J-L Groux, Stratus Vineyards – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

A case of the most experienced winemaker experiencing a fermentation that caused nightmares, perhaps because of a first try with new fruit, a season turned on its head, or both. But it came around and eventually complexity, “because of the thick coat of fur,” says J-L Groux. Bottled with its lees like a Stratus chardonnay would be but as a chardonnay it could not have resulted further from the maker’s truth. Drink 2022-2024.Tasted July 2022

Casey Kulczyk, Westcott Vineyards – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Four chardonnay into the great chardo swap and this one begins to emit or rather implode within itself due to untracked, no cracks reduction. No shock that a Burgundian sensation grabs our attention because barrels are key and with a few years got behind also melted into the background behind the fruit. This is perhaps the wine that acts as it would were it made by a western Niagara producer in that the richness of clay and loam raised chardonnay meets its wood host for a double whammy effect. You really notice and feel it all. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Amélie Boury,  Château des Charmes – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Formerly Oliveira Vineyard, in Amelie Boury’s hands a sense of crispness and restraint. Quite fresh and laden with apple-terpene juice. A chardonnay straight to the point, lemon and lime, a style of evolution and not necessarily what winemaking would have done with this juice ten or more years ago. Drink 2022.Tasted July 2022

Thomas Bachelder, Bachelder Wines – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2018

If Montague Vineyard fruit could actually speak it might ask “why has it taken so long for me to fall into the winemaking hands of Thomas Bachelder?” Good coopers, the right toast and the pragmatic meets ambitious elévage transforms Montague chardonnay into something other. Something vivid and lyrical but mostly something linguistic and long in the tooth. “Montague Vineyard looms large in my life,” looking back at OG Le Clos Jordanne times, “not just because of lions inthe industry, Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo, but because Montague is a really good vineyard.” Golden in every way, platinum, gem-like, gilded and if intense, also round. Thomas has coaxed oyster shell and a kind of Muscadet sea spray from this tract, something that has been noted at least one time in past iterations but now coming to the surface. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Chardo Swap Labels

Ann Sperling, Southbrook Organic Vineyards – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Feels so much more ’18 than ’17, fresher and gilded, fruit and wood high, mighty and in synch. And yet the ’17 fruit has remained fresh with thanks to some early, slightly unsettled and oxidative juice used, opened then protected so that time would do little in these formative years. Fabulous western take on east chardonnay, balanced and expressed in a higher key of varietal life. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Shiraz Mottiar, Malivore Wine – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

From a Niagara-on-the-Lake neophyte, Shiraz Mottiar, who had never worked with fruit from that source. “All I know is that I had to be really gentle with the fruit. And I am adverse to risk. I had no understanding of Montague, how it was growing, or how it should be pressed. So for me, most of the winemaking had already been done.” Demure, taut, reserved and restrained. Lean aromatically speaking, green apple snap, backed up on the palate in a streak of linear and purposed focus. Things get a bit warming going down, a glow of charcoal though the effect is hypnotic, energy raising and ultimately nurturing. This is winemaking that makes pale chardonnay, phenolics dropped out, clean all the way. Just feels like an expression of place. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Nicholas Gizuk, Inniskillin Wines – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Sap and resin, vanilla, wood all in, vinyl and tropical intentions. Tart pineapple, textural yet not creamy so finding its way with some poise after all. A chardonnay predicated of professionalism and flavour. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Emma Garner, Thirty Bench Wine Makers – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Feeling the angles, juts, zigs and zags of this chardonnay, not to mention the tightly wound intensity. Crisp though also mighty substantial, Bench fruit for certain and of a clarity, placed under and scrutinized by the magnifier. Reveals site above all else so yes, an example of a winemaker that heeded place and let it be, or used what was available to make that happen. Making magic and magnifique with Montague fruit. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Fabian Reis, Ferox Estate Winery – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

So very caramel and vanilla, sweetly fruited and creamy, textural in the smoothest and fullest way. Spice cupboard for tartes, tatine and madeleine. Really quite reductive and almost a reserve, thickened, glycerol and what just feels like appassimento in addendum. Incredible richness gained from Montague fruit. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Lawrence Buhler, Henry of Pelham Family Estate – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Of the 12 chardonnays in the great chardo swap this is the most reductive in that there is a shell that contains the fruit, part candied and part metallic. It’s a curious combination and solicits a response plus a focus of attention. The aspects of malolactic, textural in mouth feel and length are all fully formed and made longer by extension. So much wine and so little time but give it away and you will regret having acted with such haste. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

14C Friday night

Redefining Cool

Redefining Cool is much ado and to do about climate change. Winemaking is the proverbial canary in the cage, from cool latitude, altitude and attitude, devising an intellectual journey through a discussion on how to redefine Cool Chardonnay in 2022. “We are creatures of the interglacial…but we are flipping into a greenhouse world.” What does this means for winegrowers? Simply stated once again, “cool is on the move.” Six winemakers share their wines to help address and extoll the problems, virtues and answers toward this concern. Danielle Coetsee, Boschendal (White Wine Maker), South Africa; Clémentine Baud, Owner, Domaine Baud, Jura; Joseph Ryan, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager, Ernest Vineyards, Sonoma Coast; Nikki Callaway, Winemaker, O’Rourke Family Estate, Okanagan Valley, Lake Country, B.C.; Patricia Tóth, Winemaker, Planeta Winery, Sicily; Alex Baines, Winemaker, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Beamsville Bench, Ontario.

Trisha Molokach, Godello and Magdalena Kaiser

Please scroll through below for notes on the wines they poured. In total there were 67 chardonnay tasted that I have now reviewed from i4c2022, Niagara’s Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. It was great to be back, with thanks to the cool concierge team led by the intrepid and tireless Trisha Molokach, the i4c22 Board of Directors and Educational Committee; Mark Torrance, Anne Weis-Pennachetti, Suzanne Janke, Magdalena Kaiser, Rob Power, Elsa MacDonald, Mary Delaney-Bachelder, J.J. Syers, Scott Wilkins and Belinda Kemp. Gratitude to all the Ontario member wineries, VQA Wines of Ontario, Grape Growers of Ontario and visiting Ambassadors of Cool.

Tasting Chardonnay

Ontario Chardonnay

13th Street Chardonnay L. Viscek Vineyard 2020, VQA Creek Shores

L. Viscek Vineyard does not give a reductive chardonnay so much as the über fresh kind in which transparency and site honesty are gifted at a serious premium. This is the green apple snap, bite and crunch one comes to expect, followed by a lees filled donut of a middle, no holes and a real Chablisienne mentality. Perhaps with a side of Loire like chenin roundness. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Still trying to figure out how a chardonnay from the Wismer Vineyard, Foxcroft Block can come to a consumer’s glass at $24.95 yet here we are and thankful for the gift. A rich and relatively buttery one, snap, crackle and green apple bite included, aromatic, flavourful and textured all the while. Caramel crunch as the skin of that apple and plenty of length to stay and drink a while. What’s not to be smitten by? Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April and July 2022

Adamo Sogno Unoaked Chardonnay Lore Vineyard 2020, VQA Four Mile Creek

Crisp, clean, unadulterated fruit with a je ne sais quoi floral lift with thanks to some musqué clone vines interspersed in the chardonnay of the 1980s planted Lore Vineyard in the sub-appellation of Four Mile Creek. A vintage to recite from, act on behalf of and celebrate the execution of a no wood varietal purity extraction. Not so much a lees affectation but high in citrus and knowable as a chardonnay with a single vineyard attachment. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Vanessa McKean and Renan Theilloux, Adamo Estate

Adamo Estate Chardonnay 2019, VQA Ontario

Adamo based in the Hockley Valley (Mono, Ontario) makes fine use of Niagara fruit for their ubiquitous chardonnay. Here a wine started by former OG winemaker Shauna White and finished by the dynamic incumbent duo of (winemaker) Renan Theilloux and (vineyard manager and winemaker) Vanessa McKean. Quite focused and tightly wound with notable lees sensations, though no overt wood make-up. Does slide into an invigorating sour edge and then warming, almost nurturing upon the finish. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Youthful, fulsome, a slight tinge or rise to high tone. White caramel and a terrific zing to the palate. Lemon and lime in many ways; curd, zest and with the tell-tale green apple bite. Shows the focus of examples alight as if by a single block. Impressive and woven, warmth and yet wild of sprit. Great potential here. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

With Andrea Peters, Brock University

Bachelder Les Villages Bench Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Escarpment

While Les Villages pinot noir draws from and abides by Niagara-on-the-Lake it is the dolomitic outcrops of the Niagara Escarpment for chardonnay where hope springs eternal out of this geological source. Micro-climate too, where a vacuum between the long, semi-steep slope at the edge of the plateau and the lake make for a wondrous place to grow chardonnay. The space between the two separated areas at different heights and the limey clay creates this two-part harmony of metal-elemental fruit and reductive, barrel spiced accents. Bachelder’s Burgundian conceptualization comes to fruition with abundance and the fabric of oblate making. Correct and unsparing, a good combination.  Last tasted June and July 2022

“Les Villages” seems to be all in, fruit picked on the late side, wood complimenting with a wink and 2020 showing no signs of being left behind. Welcome to village chic, Escarpment style, full, luxe and round by design. Methinks Mr. Bachelder wants you to drink and enjoy this now, imagine a circle drawn through and around bench lands, all part of a community and a plan. This is life on “Le Bench.” Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted April 2022

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Foxcroft “Nord” 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Nord is a cool firecracker of a chardonnay, crisp and sweetly volatile, white peppery sharp and given some air time, also luxe and suave across the palate. One of the fullest, most accomplished and complete wines in so many respects, fruit sources imagined as being picked from orchards of all shapes, ilk and sizes. Apples to peaches, nectarines to pears. Oh hail great fruit and how cool it breathes. Nord for Wismer-Foxcroft is clearly the shizzle, not merely the best or most popular but the source for Bench chardonnay that can handle the truths of reduction and flint struck realities. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021 and July 2022

Thomas Pennacchetti and Gabriel Demarco, Cave Spring Vineyard

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Sharp and taut, an intense and fortified chardonnay. Precise and pure, exacting the Escarpment with focus like few others at this level and so indicative of a classic 2011-esque varietal Niagara vintage. Such performance in crunch and mystery with creative juices flowing, dreams realizing and a future filled with even greater potential. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Cave Spring Chardonnay Musqué Estate 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

A conversation with Thomas Pennacchetti and Gabriel Demarco wonders who has the most musqué planted in Ontario. No answer other than Cave Spring comes forth. Don’t sleep on both the intrigue and the significance of this chardonnay. Half the fruit is picked at 20/21 brix (early) and the other half in November. Acids and florals are each given their due. Skin contact time is 12-16 hours on both picks and so a “brownness” is pulled, “hard to get with musqué” tells Tom. A contract part terroir and part level of contact to achieve genuine character, but more so this candied orange peel aroma. In this warm vintage one could close their eyes and imagine friulano from Friuli, with thanks to the sticky wild yeasts leading to such an imagined result. Well also the bump in skin contact which also shows in the alcohol. As per the original statement: Intrigue and significance. This will age like old tokay. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Chardonnay in the Vineyard, Riverbend Inn

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Paul Bosc Estate 2020, VQA St. David’s Bench

Laden with dichotomously soft terpenes and the squeeze of orchard fruit juices. Just the chardonnay facts and nothing but, ultimately a spirited and focused chardonnay as lean as it is fleshy and saline with no barrel unction to distract from the main concern.  Last tasted July 2022

Takes no time at all to see this Paul Bosc Estate vintage of chardonnay by Château Des Charmes as a true crowd pleaser. It’s soft, delicate and supple on the palate. The oak is well integrated if sparsely adding any toast or nutty accents, with less than obvious salt and pepper seasoning. Even the vanilla is subtle, caramel too, the roundness just adding to the peaceful easy feeling. Hard to find more mildness and amenability in cool climate chardonnay. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted May 2022

Closson Chase Chardonnay The Brock 2019, VQA Niagara River

As a general rule the Brock is built upon K.J. Watson Vineyard fruit (in the Niagara River sub-appellation) with half seeing barrel time. For some reason it seems to show its oak more than the CCV and South Clos chardonnays albeit as a comfortably worn sweater in 2019. The scents are late summer, bergamot and then gardenia to tuberose. The bite is beneficial from out of this linear vintage and though there is a reductive quality the general outlook is aromatics above texture. Brock is a fine entry level chardonnay representative of Closson Chase working with Niagara fruit. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021 and July 2022

Closson Chase Chardonnay South Clos 2020, VQA Prince Edward County

More than 20 years of vine age, acumen and wisdom are the gain of a South Clos chardonnay and winemaker Keith Tyers is surely more than comfortable making it happen. Dry and warm vintage shows in the dried herbs, almost fennel to pollen dusting on the nose and a stoic presence in almost every respect. Would not go so far as to call this a taut and unforgiving chardonnay, nor is it particularly flinty or reductive. What it shows is utter purity and linearity, a platinum gemstone sheen and shine, controlled power and so much more packed away in reserve. The flavour bursts and energy spurts indicate just how long this will travel. Top, top. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Cloudsley Chardonnay Twenty Mile Bench 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A mix of Wismer fruit, part Wingfield and part Foxcroft, indigenous ferment and 18 months though only 28 per cent in new wood. Solid pH and also acidity numbers, more fruit and flesh, less flint, tension and spin. The accessible chardonnay for all to gain insight into the Twenty Mile Bench and how it raises these beautiful blancs. Length is outstanding in 2019. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Cloudsley Cellars Chardonnay Foxcroft Vineyard 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Winemaker Adam Lowy likes to get at it, especially with Foxcroft fruit out of the Wismer Vineyard. And so aging is for 18 months in 50 per cent new barrels for a truly flinty, flexed and tense chardonnay. Vines are 23 years of age at this harvest and their potency meeting potential for balance seems poised at the apex of excellence and understanding. So close to pay dirt now and yet for a Cloudsley chardonnay, perhaps so far away. Wait just a wee bit. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2020, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

A wild ferment and approximately 20 per cent new wood. Textural vintage for the Tradition, viscous and really very fluid, brioche imagined as a sweet liquid and also a liquor of buttery spice and botanicals. Quite a rich and developed chardonnay, product of a warm vintage resulting in ripe returns. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Réserve Du Domaine 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Much more intensity and higher ceiling of promise comes from the next level Réserve du Domaine, rising away from softness and up to a more rigid, biting and cracked spice precipice. Sharp at its most vital moments and vintage rich at times when generosity is warranted. Does it all really, with style and warmth. Still there is more nature than nurture in a chardonnay allowed to simply make it happen. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Ferox Estate Chardonnay “Vintages,” VQA Niagara Peninsula

Wholly unique aromatics, almost Icewine in favour, dense and intense with as much metallics as there are exotic fruits. A non vintage blend, also unusual but for reasons vintage related. And so this runs from 2016 to 2019, a blend of sites as well, warm moments and then turning cool, of yellow fruit from banana to pineapple and mango, then greens, in apple and herbals too. It’s pretty complex stuff if admittedly hard to wrap a brain about. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2016, Traditional Method, VQA Short Hills Bench

Never gets old does it? It’s like Christmas every time a new vintage of the Cuvée Catherine is opened, always with great anticipation and wonderment for what the most recent disgorgement will bring. In this case intensity juxtaposed by harmony in ways only the Carte Blanche can and with Niagara’s greatest fizz consistency. That’s the thing really. The bar and the pressure was set high long ago and this sparkling wine meets it, failing nothing, equally so, year in and year out. The 2016 is no exception with perfectly equanimous apple fruit and fine structural fortification. Just a delight, sturdy, openly fragrant, delectable and succulent. Resounding yes, as per expectation and adjudication. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted November 2021 and July 2022

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2020, VQA Short Hills Bench

Whole bunch pressed, barrel fermented with a cocktail of yeasts, one third new French oak and some further older usage ones as well. So perfectly middle of the road, proper and accessible, well managed by acids and really just the right and quick answer to what is Niagara and even more specifically Short Hills Bench chardonnay. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Next generation Speck, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Escarpment

Crisp and über clarity from the first nose and nary a moment of reduction, if any. Richness accumulates with aeration as the wood gains olfactory traction. Need to test the palate forces to know what goods and treasures lurk in this oh so young and impressionable chardonnay. Track record is more than a mere incendiary aspect of the Speck Family Reserve capability and knowing airtime and chronology are essential towards determining the future, well, you get the apple orchard and white caramelizing drift. So youthful and yet there is plenty of time. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021 and July 2022

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard Unfiltered 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Felseck sits at 37.59 North, a latitude working in cohorts with an escarpment’s nook and the lake laying low below.  Last tasted July 2022.

Don’t be fooled in thinking this is merely a reductive and green glade example of cool climate chardonnay. Solid and expected? Perhaps and yet also crunchy with shots of lemon and lime. Nothing out of sorts, tight enough to at times act hard to get and even anti-complex. There are secrets inherent in a cool climate world where so many chardonnays are made this is as interesting and innovative as the first.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

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

With Magdalena Kaiser, Chardonnay in the Vineyard

Icellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

Similar to 2017 at 13.5 per cent alcohol yet more phenolic and also in that sizeable frame of inclination that is captured in the full, ripe and potently efficacious 2018. This just feels like the best of both worlds in chardonnay, at once cream centred and then juxtaposed by just a bit of back bite. A lovely and somehow powerful wine of wine contrary forces in push and also pull, ying and yang, punches and then receives. Hard not to see everyone loving this chardonnay. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Icellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

And then ’18, which was a warmer year in this sub-appellation and a chardonnay more reductive but also bolder, fulsome and phenolic, feeling a bit boozy (only 0.3 higher than ’17 and ’19) and definitely riper, even feeling sweeter. Was inoculated as the yeast cultures have not quite established in the cellar. Plenty of phenolics here, raising the bar all around. More age-ability to be sure.  Last tasted July 2022

Devilishly rich with full compliments of berries and barrel working side by each to create this tropical fruit split that reaches the heights of chardonnay decadence. Runs the gamut from pineapple to green apple and though it does not snap back there is a fine elasticity to how the texture stretches and then releases. For those who like to strike it rich. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

Icellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

Favourite wine of Adnan Icel’s wife Elif, a fan of Bourgogne and made by (12 rows) planted on the property in the beginning in 2012, followed by eight rows in 2014. Always hand-picked, whole cluster pressed. As for 2017, fermented 12 months in 500L French barrels. Malo in barrel, stirred and two years in French oak kept on lees with no racking. A multitude of flavours, now fully emerged, developed and gifting to the very maximum. Showing so well.  Last tasted July 2022

From Niagara-on-the-Lake and 2010 founder Adnan Icel, a rich throttled chardonnay barrel fermented in 500L French oak puncheons, lees stirred for six months, then aged 12 months more. Tells us to expect rich, opulent, creamy and highly flavourful chardonnay. That it is. Flint-struck if only momentarily, correctly reductive in the sense of fresh encouragement combined with the Niagrified creamed corn, again, if only during this persistently youthful state. Maybe causes a note of bewilderment for some but stay with this wine, give it a year’s time and all will be worth it. Will drink in optimum and designed fashion eight months from now and for two-plus years thereafter. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Inniskillin Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Hard to ignore the Niagara peach character of this fruit in chardonnay that’s all about this and not really how residual oak might want to linger within. There are old blocks of chardonnay available and this is from Block 210, planted in 1993 through 1996. The peach leads to harder fruit drugs, golden pineapple and guava, some lees feel, plenty of nutrients and that oak then becomes one of low and slow accumulation, neither a piqued nor toasted. Well made indeed. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Blanc De Blanc Limited Release 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula

More than a moment of reduction requires agitation and then the apple/pear orchard fruit is released. More than lees affected blanc de blanc, ostensibly chardonnay and seemingly the first of its kind for J-T. More scintillant style than either the Brut or the sauvignon blanc, direct, linear and shedding a lovely lemon pith bitter set of flavours. Almost woolly for sparkling, like Loire or some Alsace and very long. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Kin Vineyards Chardonnay Carp Ridge 2019, VQA Ontario

Kin close to Ottawa is a fascinating species of Ontario wine where pinot noir and this chardonnay grows atop glacial till, clay loam over grey limestone of the Hazeldean Fault. Low to moderate alcohol (12.5 per cent), dry as the desert and expressive of the coolest of cool climate acidities all add up to something arriving this way with intensity through integrity. Green apple bites are what they should imagined to be in chardonnay and rusticity is only a state of mind. Must be tasted more than once, to appreciate the credence and join the new frontier seance. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

I believe it was April of 2017 when I first tasted the inaugural (2015) vintage of Ilya Senchuk’s The Fifty, a chardonnay that ferments in barrel but then transfers to finish up on lees in stainless steel. Not much has changed in five years but the wine has tightened and like a rare shelf fungi it is at its freshest finest when the teeth-like hymenium pores are barely visible. Senchuk bottles at precisely this point and that is something he has gotten really good at over the years. This chardonnay is remarkably precise, takes nothing for granted and delivers a layered experience in which more than one vineyard and sub-appellation contribute to the greater good. Might very well be the best one made of the six to date. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June and July 2022

Leaning Post Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk’s home playground is a matter of grey clay in alluvial soil with river stone, that is in terms of the vineyard and the winery’s back (or maybe front, as if it were a lake) location. The Winona-Grimsby couple are just starting to really understand, forge sensorial connections but even more so make their terroir relatable to the world. Even more piques and white peppery jolts than Wismer and Grimsby Hillside Vineyard combined, intense emotion and a crisp freshness that’s both hard to explain and also impossible to look away. Textural chardonnay that on the surface is nothing at all like Foxcroft or GHV. Come back again and again for five to seven years. My what a beautiful chardonnay world this is. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted June and July 2022

Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay Jordan Village 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

The second iteration of the Village chardonnay is again a parcel amalgamation of Twenty Mile bench Le Clos and Claystone vineyards along with that of Talon Ridge in the Vinemount Ridge. If this is to be considered another standout vintage then the fact that early malolactic, sluggish ferments and moderate alcohol must all come together with a seamless whoosh. Another year in the triumvirate averaging of vine age puts less pressure on balance and more on concentration, here resulting in true LCJ favour. So much furthered collective warmth is 20’s call to body and then mind takes over with succulent bites and crafty control. Should settle by the spring of 2023. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Glenn Symons and Chris Thompson, Lighthall Vineyards

Glenn Symons and Chris Thompson, Lighthall Vineyards

Lighthall Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County

Unique even for Prince Edward County chardonnay in a stainless meets barrel ferment with the latter a combination of new and third use 500L vessels. Warmer and fleshier than 2018, higher in alcohol by what feels like at least a per cent. Defines crisp pear, washed Phillipston Road cheese rind and crunchy bits of oyster shell but also salted white-spun aureate for local chardonnay. Pairing paraphrases aside this is made for the cheese board, a dozen oysters and a really good pretzel. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Lighthall Chardonnay 2018, VQA Prince Edward County

Mon dieu what a completely different animal than 2019, leaner, saltier and all about the oyster. No real orchard fruit flesh nor pith neither. Zest perhaps though the tight nature, lean disposition and more neutral flavours put this in wholly different regard, Alcohol is a mere 12.8 per cent (as compared to a minimum 13.5 in 2019). And so find some fattier fish (like halibut) and drink up. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Malivoire Chardonnay Estate Grown 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

“Estate” raises purposed and propping acids in 2020 with somewhat maintained if lessened pH (all as compared to Moira) if for no other reason than because (85 per cent) Moira fruit is accented by Mottiar and Estate. Comes away crisp, brisk and frisky, contagiously spiced by galangal and ginger, tastes like sweet lime without the sugar. Has been in bottle just under a year and while the quaff factor begin to run high it may be suggested that the best moments are still to come. Picking took place over three weeks in September and so the “stacked” cuvée makes for an omnipresent happening, variegated though contiguously seamless too. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Malivoire Chardonnay Moira 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

“Broad and tentative swipes” be done and so consistency thy name is Moira, or at least a vineyard’s persistence is manifest in a chardonnay that keeps the faith and the fluid movement of flavour alive. Lovely showing nine months on, window opening or at least now ajar to crawl through and feel the Beamsville love.  Last tasted July 2022.

Fun phantom power spirit on the aromatic front, perfumed to the hilt, creamy fruit and vanilla, well positioned and working as one. Quality if too youthful at present to fully appreciate. Causes a tragically hip perception of middle of the road but with an intention so great the future will change everything. “Don’t tell me what the poets are doing, on the street and the epitome of vague…Got to make it, that’ll make it by swimming” Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Shiraz Mottiar, Malivoire and Dan Sullivan, Rosehall Run

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

“I always hold my pH down below 3.2,” which is accomplished by understanding your vineyard, tells Shiraz Mottiar. “And you have to know (not only when but also) how to pick.” Which was October 5th in 2019 and so acidity remains high and persistent, fruit in a holding pattern and structure a real thing. More place resolved and revealed, vines clearly having well arrived into their state of balance and grace. As fine a chardonnay from the Beamsville Bench in this vintage as you are likely to find. So much more worthy than first considered.  Last tasted July 2022

Nicely, allegedly and properly reductive, especially as it pertains to chardonnay, a bit closed but nearly ready to spread its wings. Quite the fruit juicy tang, green apple bite and cool climate, sparked and piqued style. The sharpness of flavours works well with the wood and integration is just around the corner. Look for that moment in the Spring of 2022. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

On Seven The Pursuit Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara On The Lake

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021 and July 2022

Lydia Tomek, Ravine Vineyard

Ravine Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2019, VQA St. David’s Bench

Fully glazed, honeyed and barrel affected to an nth degree. Unctuous, caramel and pineapple, a huge chardonnay expression that means business and is surely priced accordingly. Matters not where it’s from because the wood is everything here. That said there is plenty of substance, namely fruit to carry the weight. For a specific crowd that will enjoy the experience, west coast style of certain recurring eras. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022 and at i4C22, July 2022

Rosehall Run Ceremony Estate Grown And Bottled Blanc De Blancs 2017, VQA Prince Edward County

More than ample and credible chardonnay vintage, especially for sparkling with thanks to a longer season. There is some lees lounging in 500L puncheon which, coupled with the further 42 months post tirage adds up to complexities on charts and those not able to be found on charts. Really toasty bubble, invigorating and yet also of a calming or at least nurturing stance. Like biting into a fizzy apple and having it tingle in your mouth, followed by a jettison of herbal, citric and wild forest edible flavours. Even a fruity chanterelle. Devilish stuff once again from Dan Sullivan. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2019, VQA Prince Edward County

Yet another stellar chardonnay from Rosehall’s JCR Vineyard and coupled with a most excellent varietal vintage the stars, Strats and stats are clearly aligned. Behold an increasingly accomplished wine that reveals the breadth and depth of this vineyard. It has been and continues to be made in a genre to gender bending approach, fusing the alternative with the electronic and achieving a rare balance of critical and commercial success. Dan Sullivan’s JCR, like St. Vincent is one to sing “I do a dance to make the rain come. Smile to keep the sky from falling down down down down. Collect the love that I’ve been given.” Marry Me JCR? Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April and July 2022

Southbrook Estate Grown Small Lot Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2020, VQA Four Mile Creek

As intense a grab of fruit, barrel and spice as ever in an Ann Sperling chardonnay. What with her classic handling whereby slightly unsettled juice receives some early oxidation, followed by an über protected elévage to bring it forward and into a now fruition. As a result drinks well right away but we known it will stall and little will change for the next few years. More chew than crunch, sweet and sour, encouraging and demanding at the same time. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Estate chardonnay, six years on the lees, traditional method. Generally speaking an inconsequential one gram of dosage, disgorged in February 2021. The other OG for Stratus based on the team’s research and development trials first executed back in 2006 and 2007. Another elevated autolytic example, not as toasty as ’13 but more textural and lees-directed. Further down the road to complexity of flavour washes, swarths and swaths as well. A woollen one, leaves a salve as it graces the palate and lingers long after the fluid thrill is gone. Everything is here, everyone should want some. It’s the Devil and Mr. Jones. Lucifer on the sofa. “There’s juju raining down all around you, yeah. Makes you heavy mental. It makes you tense.” Spoon-feed it to me when I can no longer do it myself. Drink 2022-2026. Tasted July 2022

Dean Stoyka, Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Chardonnay Unfiltered Bottled With Lees 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

As with so many 2020s the virtuous exercise patience during a vintage of sluggish ferments. Ask winemaker Dean Stoyka and he’ll tell you “it’s all about canopy.” In a hot and arid season chardonnay is kept “beneath a sombrero effect,” to avoid sun scorching, to access dappling but avoid 10am to 3pm sun. This practice is not new to the team at Stratus but they are truly now in the “balanced zone.” Chardonnay is a matter of (60 per cent) wood, 30 white clay and 10 stainless steel. This and the lees make for a cloudy if ducky wine of downy texture and very refreshing feel. A whole lot of R & D for which the maker and the consumer are loving the results.  Last tasted July 2022

Next vintage up for this singular Niagara Lakeshore chardonnay meets expectation where fruit substance and quality lees get to making some magic from out of the auspices of an hermetically sealed environment. Love it when chardonnay acts reductive without being either obvious or blatant, instead going about its high quality business like the natural professional it knows it can be. Whispering caramel and subtle smoulder set the bar high and as chardonnay there is this perching upon a gilded golden wire, in regal, confident and self-secured style. Most excellent rhythms, beats and tones set this up for a promising run. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Estate chardonnay, six years on the lees, traditional method. Generally speaking an inconsequential one gram of dosage, disgorged in February 2021. The other OG for Stratus based on the team’s research and development trials first executed back in 2006 and 2007. Another elevated autolytic example, not as toasty as ’13 but more textural and lees-directed. Further down the road to complexity of flavour washes, swarths and swaths as well. A woollen one, leaves a salve as it graces the palate and lingers long after the fluid thrill is gone. Everything is here, everyone should want some. It’s the Devil and Mr. Jones. Lucifer on the sofa. “There’s juju raining down all around you, yeah. Makes you heavy mental. It makes you tense.” Spoon-feed it to me when I can no longer do it myself. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Stratus Chardonnay Unfiltered Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

Same winemaking as the team put on the (Chardo swap) Thirty Bench Vineyards fruit and yet with these 30 year-old vines the result is night to the Bench’s day. Cloudier to a view, more advanced and developed, fully resolved citrus notes in juice, zest and pith entwine. Deeper and fuller intensity of flavours, fuller and dramatic. Conceptual.  Last tasted July 2022

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Estate David’s Block Spark Blanc De Blancs 2009, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Quite exciting to get a look at a new disgorgement nearly 10 years later for a chardonnay that sat on its lees like a Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG. While the ceiling of complexity may have reached maximum plateau a year, two or even three years ago, it matters little because this level of acidity and sparkling wine vintage favour met the terms of easy regard thrown to the wind. Gone is the woolliness, now replaced by flint and a vapour trail of David’s design. This was meant to wait and thanks to Tawse today is the day. Bears little resemblance to the wine tasted back in 2012. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Has thankfully shed its baby fat, the cheesy whey that sat atop all else last time I tasted. Today the epoisses is now mild Niagara Gold, or a creamy, Triple-Cream Brie. Still a wine of lees and leisure, with tangy green apple and sharp, piquant flavour.  Tasted December 2012

Jessica Otting, Tawse Estate Winery

Tawse Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

While Robyn’s Block is always a unique chardonnay for the Twenty Mile Bench in 2020 it’s part of a community because of a slow, actually a very slow (as in sluggish) ferment. Didn’t actually finish until April, a remarkable happenstance because malolactic was completed back in November. As late as winemaker Jessica Otting has ever seen and it happened with all the chardonnays, save for Quarry Road. The whole cellar was like this and so what does it all mean? Perdition might be the answer but miracles happen and composure begets fortune, leading to a reward in most excellent textural deference. Alcohol and acidity are both exemplary and know this. Chardonnay left alone will find its way, unforced and uncompelled. We may be stupefied by the journey but we are most impressed by the result. Be patient with while offering up a little extra time and mind for these ’20 chards. As here with Robyn they are demure and they are at peace. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Thirty Bench Chardonnay Small Lot 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

Really quite primary, an undisclosed while pleasingly reticent chardonnay from Emma Garner of gratitude and grace. The first because it thanks the Beamsville terroir and the second because it does so with soft spoken respect. A mélange of different fermentation batches, each small and precise come together for the final sumptuous and restrained blend. The tenets of fruit, acid and what ties them together is just about as seamless and easily layered as any of a Bench ilk and idiom. Not a chardonnay of style but instead stylish, not chic but surely sung with notes held, seemingly forever. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate

Trail Estate Chardonnay Cold Creek Vineyard 2020, VQA Prince Edward County

From a vineyard on the Danforth Road in Hillier and young vines of chardonnay. A 50/50 neutral and second fill barrel aging for 10 months in yet another 2020 fermentation that took seemingly forever to complete. This is attributed to a hot and dry summer and also harvest, with excess humidity causing sluggish and possibly even dormant yeasts. That said this Cold Creek shows plenty of zip and zest, clocking in at 14 per cent off of 23 brix. “Early” numbers though the pH was normal (3.2). Crazy for chardonnay, at heart and for trying, with plenty of dichotomously extrapolated energy and PEC drive. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Fruit is entirely taken from the 1959 planted Lenko Old Block, likely the first in Niagara. Twenty per cent new wood and no real sense of malo (up to a maximum 30 per cent) but says winemaker Adam Pearce, “we’re not looking for that route.” A brilliant chardonnay, cohesive and smart, taut and slowly revealing itself. The right and righteous stuff.  Last tasted July 2022

If unoaked takes full advantage of a terrific 2019 growing season then surely the oaked chardonnay will go after it with uninhibited abandon. Perhaps but just one sip and you see the cool demeanour, the artist restraint and the blessed balance afforded throughout the wine. Only hints of toast, smoulder and buttery biscuit wisp on through while the purity of warm terroir raised Niagara chardonnay shines, as it should. Most excellent work here from Adam Pearce and team. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted September 2021

Guest Chardonnay

Boschendal Chardonnay 2019, WO Elgin

The Elgin blocks are 15 kms from the Indian Ocean with sites ranging from 200-500m above the sea level and surrounded by mountains. Grown at an average of 300-plus metres at a latitude of 31.15 South. A prime example of the Elgin style, citrus led, stony and flinty from weathered shale soils but there can be no dispute about the fruit richness and sumptuous tactility for how this settles upon the palate. Thankfully a feeling of sea breeze passes through and maintains the freshness. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Ana Norris (Santillán) and Danielle Coetsee, Boschendal

Boschendal Cap Classique Jean Le Long Prestige Cuvée Blanc De Blancs 2009, WO Stellenbosch

Long on the lees (gotta be 120 months-plus) and as a 2009 well within a Cap Classique vernacular still with the “Méthode” verbiage at the lead. Long since developed its ceiling of complexity and although those last 12-18 months may have done little to advance, accelerate or diminish the returns, how can it even matter. Just consider the greatness here. Eloquently complex by nature and also design, all about fruit and earth, liquidity and dusty decomposition, delicasse and deconstruction. The level of acuity is commanding and beyond commendable for a comestible this long in reserve. A confession of wishing for just the slightest lessening of dosage, to avoid a softening and raise the energy bar. Otherwise this would be tops. As it stands it’s pretty special. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Catena Chardonnay Appellation Tupungato 2020, Mendoza, Argentina

Only Tupungato will do for chardonnay as this “High Mountain Vines” will do, equipping what could be the roundest, softest, creamiest and most delicious fruit set with a blast of freshness and atmospheric drive. This is exactly what you can expect from Catena’s work in specific appellative chardonnay, drilling down into the dirt of a place within a place with the same conviction found in their more expensive wines. No compromise. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Catena Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay 2019, Mendoza, Argentina

Kind of surprised how many years have passed since last seeing this über specialized Tupungato chardonnay in a VINTAGES release and thankful to see its auspicious return. The highest elevation and prized fruit from quantified rows put the specificity and trenchant expectation into a chardonnay of indelibly stamped, site explorative and barrel programmed richness. Truly fleshy but also elastic and stretched varietal wine of not only acumen and desire but also depth and understanding. The White Stones may be Catena’s chardonnay prize but do not sleep on this wine. It delivers all you could want from producer, place and grape. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted twice, July 2022

Côteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Côte 2020, Québec

The Robert Family takes chardonnay to the next level with their south facing vines on slopes of soils dotted by pebble and schist. A blessed sun dripping vintage for Québec chardonnay that takes full advantage of more climate change heat units and good fortune for no 2020 frosts. Crisp and crunchy to the nth degree, just reductive enough to stand taut and ever so slowly releasing its charm. Next chapter and a win win all around. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Baud Blanc De Blanc Brut, Crémant Du Jura

Varietal chardonnay that sees a year of lees aging with a dosage to reach the desired Brut. A richness and also dried herbal notes plus fennel that is offset by a creamy sweetness melting and melded through the pictorial texture of a wine so sharp and yet so soft. One imagines the Baud family being led by such humans and when a wine acts as an expression of they, well isn’t that the point in a wine like this? Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022.

Baud’s Crémant is made in true Blanc de Blancs style, from 100 per cent chardonnay and though faintly if beautifully oxidative, the cuvée pulses with great energy. The scents of fraying ginger batons, scraped orange skin and baking almond cookies are all a treat for the olfactory. Just enough but not too much sweetness fleshes the the body to get down to density in mouthfeel but never abandons its airy character. A terrific Champagne alternative that was disgorged in October of 2017. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2018

Clémentine Baud, Domaine Baud

Domaine Baud Cuvée Flor Côtes Du Jura 2020, Côtes Du Jura AOC

Clémentine Baud took over the family estate with her brother six years ago. The first father to daughter transition and with many to follow. The estate dates back to 1742, started by Jean-François. They farm 25 hectares, Clémentine’s father started with five and grew to 19 hectares when he retired. Picking for Sparkling now seems to happen in August, save for the difficult 2021 vintage. In 2017 70 per cent of the harvest was lost to the frosts, 50 in 2019 and 80 in 2021. “We have over 40 old varieties in the Jura, important for diversity, including those not allowed under the rules of the AOC,” tells Clém. The fruit for Cuvée Flor is grown at a latitude of 46.73 North and though very much a cool climate place for chardonnay the threats of warmer winters and seasonal frosts has wreaked havoc over the past 10 years. A chardonnay of remarkable lustre, concentration and purity, worked by way of oxidative aging, low alcohol expectation starting at 12 and finishing no higher than 14 to 14.5. A floral chardonnay, not one related to yeast and surely a pretty in Jura wine. From the younger vines, phenolic and hinting towards though remaining clear of emerging boozy. Filled with flavour, hazelnut and praline, peach and yellow plum. A world of its own. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Des Deux Roches Altugnac “Terres Amoureuses” 2020, AOP Limoux

From land at the edge of the Languedoc, on the Pyrenean foothills, “where the vines flirt with the scrubland.” A chardonnay of amorous lands, a golden hue of fortune and really fine balance. Light on its feet, forming a small wake, chardonnay of prosperity, dreams, space and a garden of thought. Alluring and inviting, ease of wood, spice and bites throughout. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Des Deux Roches Pouilly Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2020, Bourgogne aoc, France

There can be no doubt that an old vines cuvée in the hands of Deux Roches gifts impeccable and earnest profundity coupled with culpable concentration. A touch reserved in restraint though again expectation dictates that energy will release as the wine opens and ages. All the orchards are on the nose, transitioning into flavours full, layered and built by a liquid textural weave. Expansive chardonnay. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Joseph Ryan, Ernest Vineyards with Brooke Husband and Kelly Mason

Ernest Chardonnay Joyce Vineyard 2019, Sonoma Coast

Erin Brooks started the vineyard 10 years ago, as proximate to the ocean as much as any. West Sonoma Coast, now a new AVA with Brooks at the forefront of making that happen. Down at the bottom of the AVA, at 400ft of elevation, of marine bed, volcanic activity and metamorphic matter all present in one vineyard. Joseph Ryan is Winemaker and Vineyard Manager. Southeast facing at 38.44 North latitude on Goldridge soil, a sandy loam and a really mitigated diurnal shift of temperatures between 45 and 85 degrees (F). As such there is little cold or heat shock, plus what is gained by being so close to the ocean. Truth be told this is Sonoma Coast times 10 with a driven intensity of parts bloody captivating. Fruit and acids dancing intertwined and inseparable, unrelenting in a dizzying twirl of chardonnay wind and dust. “Oh, loving her was easy. The easiest thing in the world.” Hiss Golden Messenger. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Andrea Barker and Grant Chisholm, Foxtrot Vineyards

Foxtrot Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Quite wooden and also lean, tart and speaking in the kind of chardonnay tones that say professional and successful. Apples of greens and yellows, tart and creamy at the same time, blessedly flavourful if simply one dimensional. Solid and classic for a warm weather season out of a cool climate location losing that plus with every passing year. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022 and at 14C22, July 2022

Foxly Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Foxly is Foxtrot’s second label from Osoyoos and Similkameen fruit (as they only grown pinot noir on the Naramata Bench). This mix of northern and southern combines tension with roundness, two best worlds into one, hvac and evac. Fresh and taut with a downy cream centre.  Last tasted July 2022

Reductive to the point if just a bit stinky, not egregious mind you but the funk is in. These lees are in charge and upon the palate with a hit of true juicy fruit attacks, with beneficial fervour. In fact the lees do and are everything, living and dying with adamant behaviour to direct what will happen at every step along the way. Keep working with this chardonnay. It truly wants to offer up a just and pleasurable reward. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

With Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

Hamilton Russell Vineyard Chardonnay 2021, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa

A new return to a manageable vintage of warmth and generosity in which the beauty of Hemel-en-Aarde chardonnay comes across with sweeping charm, just as a vista will take in the scroll of hills, mountains and eventual fall, 100 kilometres away into the sea. The taut nature, tight control and expertly wound fruit behaviour follows a line of HR acidity like never before. The magnificence of the balance occupied by parts so known like home is what emanates from this chardonnay and the gracious people who make it. Can’t think of much better in South Africa. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

O’Rourke Family Estate Chardonnay Twisted Pine 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

O’Rourke’s Family Tree brand from Lake Country in the northerly Okanagan just feels warm and nurturing, a 2020 Twisted Pine chardonnay in this glass with drawn butter, soft brioche and mulled spice. Lightly caramelized, with soft serve vanilla and ease of amenability. Oak is a true factor though it melts nicely into the background of the wine. This is chardonnay of a deeply calming presence. It is warm bread. It is dry shelter. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

O’Rourke Family Estate Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Lake Country is one of the newest geographical locations of eight or nine wineries in the Okanagan and really only minted a month ago. The furthest north in the Valley and ostensibly the coolest as a result. First chardonnay by O’Rourke Family Estate with winemaker Nikki Callaway (famed for her work at Quails’ Gate). A young at heart wine and project with vines just three to six years of age grown at a latitude of 50.05 North. A fruit salad because it comes from all the blocks and clones on the property, built above ancient glaciers and caves. All indigenous ferments, with great freshness in abundance. A sharper expression than the Twisted Pine, with more snap, crackle and bite, not to mention pop. Hints at a reductive flintiness though it’s really quite open and even generous. Really quite effusive and brings chardonnay fruit to the fore, celebrates its Okanagan fullness and is developed enough to be ready and willing for to please. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Paddy Borthwick Chardonnay 2020, Wairarapa, New Zealand

An extension of 2019 to be clear, of flint and reduction as well, though less so in this vintage. Same sectarian or free thinking where herbs and lime get as much playing time as the stony qualities showing tight and tart in this 2020 wine. Caramel apple in the most seductive way, a bite through savoury spun sugar into the flesh of apples and or pears plucked straight from the tree. Flavours are ripe and seductive, at times verdant, other times spiced. No missing the barrel here. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Planeta Chardonnay 2020, Sicilia DOC

From 43.25 North latitude. Chardonnay comes from two vineyards, Storico which is the large white rock at 270m above the Menfi lake and Marrocoli, where red grapes (cabernet franc, merlot and syrah) really thrive. Here chardonnay is given roundness to mix with the stoic-stony and intense directness of what it could have been. A place of vibrations and nerves and so Marrocoli is needed to tame and soften Storico’s blunt edginess. That it does, injecting peach fleshy sunshine into the linearity of the wine. Keep in mind that 200,000 bottles a year are made and that doesn’t even keep up with the demand. Arch classic Planeta bread and butter wine, also in style. One of the planet’s great chardonnays of double Q effect. Quantity and quality. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March and July 2022

Ronan Stewart, Quails’ Gate Estate Winery

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with Rowan Stewart and in agreement that this is meant to be the freshest possible, a chardonnay of lemon zest and glaze, spicy piques and back bite. Acidity is the factor in a chardonnay lacking no moments of ripeness and can be round when needed. In other words it reacts and shapes to the palate’s needs, doing so simply and with no wasted movements. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay Stewart Family Reserve 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From vines growing on Mt. Boucherie, a volcanic steppe right above the winery. Whole cluster and barrel fermented, combination of new and used wood, malo, lees and regular stirring. All because the top chardonnay fruit in the Stewart household wants and can handle this level of elévage truth, seeks the richesse and desires uncompromising complexity. A chardonnay rising and swelling with fruit flavours, spices and then lingering long after the liquid is gone. My goodness length is truly a six letter word. Like bezazz, jazzbo, pazazz and pizazz. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Vignoble Domaine Du Fleuve Chardonnay 2020, Québec

The drive for chardonnay to thrive in Québec vineyards is kept alive with this linear and driven example from de Fleuve. It is not good enough to just make chardonnay in the province and call out success. The variety must ripen well, find that sweet spot between phenolic and layered, in the zone where acids lift yet never lie. This does most things admirably well though there are some moments where sulphides and esters creep in. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex chardonnay in Niagara.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95)

Definitely a warm vintage, picked on the early side, bite still clamped down, a bit of pesto and far from reductive as noted in Quarry Roads of the recent past (i.e 2011 and 2013). Pine nut pronunciation, no malic residual transformations (there will never me) and just bloody good freshness. Last tasted July 2021

No shocker that Quarry Road always finds a way to morph and change gears, meaning every so often, a year and up to two years later there will be some significant movement in this wine. Something about the Vinemount Ridge and how its players are in constant flux, adjusting sentiments and character to keep things curious, interesting and alive. Still the unencumbered and free-flowing expression it set out to be, free to be Quarry Road and as for me, I am always enamoured by how it marries personality with age. Natural (not unlike the Natural version of itself), enigmatic and very personal. Let it be. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Fantastic ten years after flinty reduction from arguably the most cracking vintage of the previous decade. As it is said, “you’ve got to feed the beauty, it doth not come cheap.” And that is what Paul Pender went for in 2011. At 10 Quarry is light on its feet, fresh, spirited jumping rope and spinning in concentric chardonnay circles. It simply reeks of beautiful Vinemount Ridge stone.  Last tasted July 2021

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  Tasted May 2014

Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.  Tasted March 2012 (barrel sample)

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($34.95)

Prick, punch and torque from the conceptual vintage get-go, a classic 2019 in the making, if by so many yet to be understood standards. A chardonnay so cool it causes a brain freeze while simultaneously moving the soul. In fact put on some vinyl Gaye, get in on, or even disco foreshadowing Temptations, echoing the chardonnay law of the land. Don’t sleep on the high level fruit, not quite fleshy but surely potent and dynamic to match the season’s verve in acidity. Fine lees, better texture and all-around vitality so essential to chardonnay. Will improve with six more months in bottle. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.75)

A single-vineyard chardonnay once labelled Oliveira and then watching Tree Vineyard but no longer, though the source remains the same. Embraces a cool 2019 vintage played out through rewards in the guise of reduction, toast, flint and drive. In cool climate varietal terms this ’19 reminds of 2011 though to be clear and certain there is more focus where by the quantity and quality of ripenesses meet at the essential points of acidity and tannin. Here is a vintage to end a decade in the most poised and poignant way. Spot on, striking and graceful chardonnay. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Remarkable finesse, flavours and design @triuswines and Restaurant by Chef Frank Dodd with @coolchardonnay accompaniments.

Beyond Chardonnay

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench ($48.00)

Second vintage from a tightly contested and smaller crop, initiated by then winemaker Marlize Beyers and subsequently disgorged by Jay Johnston, following five years on the lees. Moves from the practice of poetics to the anticipatory embracing of tomorrow’s science. Full disclosure this was tasted while walking the Hidden Bench chardonnay vineyards with a traditional method sparkling wine in hand first disgorged in the summer of 2019, when the yeasts were removed and the bottle was topped with the same wine. This tasting featured a January 2021 disgorgement and the term “Brut Nature Zero Dosage used when no sugar is added to the finished wine, which provides the most authentic expression of (the Hidden Bench) terroir.” Truth and synchronicity, grace, striking engagement, pure citrus and pleasure. Who could not anticipate and wait on subsequent vintages of this wine? The best is yet to come. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Brut Nature Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($100.00)

Comes across a bit cloudy, at least as compared to the B de B with thanks to the natural, lees left intact style. The citrus component is so pronounced, as is the taut, direct, lean and intense manifold destiny of what is truly a singular Sparkling wine. That being a living, breathing, inhaling and exhaling wine, slowly releasing proteins, acids and realizing its B de B Nature dream. Just amazing what lees can do for sparkling wine.  Last tasted July 2021

Released side by each with the Stratus Blanc de Blanc 2013 and while vintage and grape are the same, the similarities almost seemingly, ostensibly and allegedly end there. Yes in fact this 100 per cent chardonnay is a child of the most excellent varietal vintage and like the B de B spent six years on the lees. Comparisons cast aside it is the very fact that because much of the lees were transferred to bottle by a minimalist’s disgorging that this cloudy bubble with a Canadian artist’s series set of labels can’t help but elicit another memory. The Lilies of Monet and their clouds represent neither the horizon, nor the top or the bottom. Nor does a bottle of this Zéro Dosage Brut. The elements of water, air, sky and earth become intertwined in a composition without perspective, or so it goes in this hazy, opaque and dry as the desert sparkling wine. So many layers of lemon can be peeled, juiced and scraped away. If a Stratus wine could be a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma then here it is. The texture here is palpable and the intrigue factor surely high, so it should be imagined that longevity will be this wine’s calling card. It’s more austere than the Blanc de Blanc but I think in fact it will. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($75.00)

One gram of dosage, disgorged in January 2020. Nearly six years on the lees based on the first R & D trials done in 2006 and 2007. High level autolytic entity, a toasted affair and an idea long time coming for the Stratus team. Fine tonic and bitters. With 15 minutes of air the blooming happens, floral, expressive and complex. This wine has really developed more layers, emotions and complexity.  Last tasted July 2021

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Vineyards “Field Blend” Ancestral 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($35.00)

The inaugural Stratus commercially labelled release is what winemaker Dean Stoyka refers to as “in the mindset of monks.” A field blend of sémillon, chardonnay, riesling and viognier. Pressed all together, fermented dry and then re-fermented in the bottle with no sugar added. Dry enough, or so it seems, non-disgorged, under crown cap and so very fruity. Floral, allspice and spiciness overtop apricot, pear and black walnuts conceptually turning into Vin de Noix or Nocino. A natural testament to assemblage and a great use of varieties without a home. 100 cases produced. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Spark Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Actually quite shocked I’ve never tasted this wine before, a Spark about which winemaker Paul Pender exults by saying “2013 is my favourite vintage for all our sparklings.” Traditional method, pinot noir from Heather Laundry’s double L vineyard and a fizz that fits and sparks. Gingered and toasty, crunchy, wave cresting and fulsome by six years on the lees. The dosage was five to six g/L, in that Pender sweet spot all around, just right, so well and good. A little romanticism goes a long way where science is concerned, especially in this medium and in Spark Blanc De Noirs 2013 one is simply good for the other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Estate Vineyard Spark 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasted side by side with the 2013 Blanc de Noirs, making for a striking if surprisingly antithetical contrasting contract with this Blanc de Blancs. Aged three years on the lees and finished with the same 5-6 g/L of dosage yet here so upfront, centred and personal. More immediate richness than what pinot seems to do from Laundry Vineyard and so even in sparkling it is David’s Block and chardonnay that gift quicker satisfaction. Likely vintage driven (again, even in sparkling), very pear and shortbread, a savoury dessert of a sparkling wine. Like olive oil cake, all about the simple pleasures. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($55.00)

The dry as the desert Brut nature initiates with a yeasty faradism of excitement from what strikes as a minimum four to five years spent sitting on those fascinating lees. While the wine does not exactly smoulder with a toasty salutation that is no matter because textural acidity and blooming aromatics also arrive to an applause of immediate gratification. There is an exceptional level of “croccante” satisfaction that parlays that “texture” into a lasting display of bits and bites. The make up is 50 per cent chardonnay and (45) pinot noir with (5) pinot meunier and 2014 being the primary vintage source, though there is some 2013 involved. Zero dosage, top tier, notch and drop. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Rosé Limestone Vineyard 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.95)

Tawse began crafting Rosé from (Vinemount Ridge) Quarry Road Vineyard fruit in 2017 and now here they come with Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir. From Limestone Vineyard this represents a heads and tails Rosé, meaning 40 per cent is used for Spark traditional method bubbles and the bookends is destined for this salty, straight-shooting and crisp-freckled single-vineyard blush. Double-redheaded wow! Grape, place and style all on side for so many good reasons. 1000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($27.15)

Not to be confused with the Lowrey Vineyard on St. David’s Bench and a best varietal vintage for Paul Pender. Far from being a “Miller-Lite or Corona” pinot gris, instead creamy, fulsome, well-versed and elastic. The furthest away from metallic and/or turbid, low on phenols, no bitters, nor tonics neither.  Last tasted July 2021

Fresh and while this young is full of its original fruit, which is the biggest plus for pinot gris because dry varietal wines have a hard time after enough time has passed on by. Sulphur is not really an issue so this delivers the varietal and stylistic goods with fruit at the lead. Good acids, persistence and balance. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted October 2020

Tawse Winery Carly’s Block Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A sleeper vintage, not necessarily exacting out of the blocks, not heavy cropped, middle of the road in so many respects. If I tasted this before memory fails to draw any retrospective conclusions) but Carly’s ’15 has already turned towards the petrol sun, “let the shadows fall behind you, don’t look back, just carry on.” This perhaps began more than a year or two ago and today acts Rihanna outspokenly so. Lime and almost cordial by now, warm and friendly as a riesling liqueur. Quite stable, animated, holding its patterning, likely to do so for an additional three or fours years. Drink before it returns home. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Unlike the Carly’s ’15 (tasted at the same time) this Limestone ’12 has not moved forward with any vehement haste. The lack of advancing towards petrol is curious but the softening is surely comforting. Still resplendent with a particular 2012 meets Twenty Mile Bench acidity, now oscillating while integrating with waning fruit. Drinking beautifully.  Last tasted July 2021

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity oft linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric.  Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Aromatiq! Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling, layered atop one another, full on hilt in spice, a hit of gingerbread, light in talc and salve. Good-natured and textured when well chilled, oxidative for sure, drinkable, pleasurable, done in one puncheon. Simple really. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Chardonnay Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster chardonnay, more spirited than the Aromatiq!, crunchy even, definitely with more spice and plenty of bite. More tannin too, structurally sound to allow more secondary character and time spent developing cooler, more energetic waves of spirit. Wild ride yet just sound and subtle enough to attract the right kind of attention. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95)

The inaugural gamay release from Hidden Bench is eight years in the planning and making, from 2013 through planting in 2017 and with third leaf fruit for this game changing 2019. That is because the grape and the maker were made for each other so the question begs, what took so long to take the plunge? No matter because such an auspicious start can never come too late. A wine of native yeasts, a properly prolonged, 24-day maceration, an eighth of new wood and the Lincoln Lakeshore being the ideal appellation for what wants and surely needs. More than impressive for such young vine fruit, of a light smoulder lending an essence of jasmine and by argan to red, red fruit, tightly winding acids and such gamay crunch, the likes of which are attributed to expectation, hopes and dreams. When the vineyard grows up there will be further anticipations, exegeses further afield to include cru and reserve concepts. That is a countable fact based on current evidence and credible speculation.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted April and July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Naturally refined, welcoming, open-knit and my oh my, juicy as a basket of Niagara plums and peaches blended into rooibos kombucha. Rachis, “main axis or shaft, a stem of a plant, bearing flower stalks at short intervals.” Derma, or Dermis, “the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin.” In R & D the inner workings of gamay are accessed at the natural axis between light to fruity and joyful to dark, before sous serious and after vide structured. Middle ground, believable and exhibiting intrinsic purity. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Noir Tintern Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($50.15)

This July 2021 tasting is my first for Pinot Noir Tintern 2013 in bottle but I did run through two different barrels with Paul Pender back in March of 2014. The vines were only three years old at the time, on a site (next door to John Howard) Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” From the Vosges medium toast the wine was already showing colour, freshness and drive. From the Vosges, medium plus toast it was a bit reductive, with more tannin and more sappy wood. This look back reveals not a vintage of varietal exhilaration but a malic one with credit due the high levels of potassium in the soil. A cherry generosity a la Central Otago by way of the Vinemount Ridge. Almost a volcanic presence, but not and yes a pinot from young vines come about as a result of winemaking. Up front, in motion, drinking really well. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Redstone Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($49.15)

Another high-toned pinot noir from an inverted vintage, in cherry spirit, a hit of fennel and enough lingering energy while there is a meld and morph towards darker black fruit. Broad shouldered, now tannic, settling in as a pretty big wine.  Last tasted July 2021

As for Cherry Avenue the twain is met, somewhere between Tintern and Quarry, in the middle of vintage and classic Tawse styling. Both firm and bright, the fruit a cherry but a darkening black one and then the grip of place though well within vintage reason. Less structured than Quarry but not as hematic and brooding as Tintern. Solid pinot noir. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted June 2020

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

How remarkably fresh, inviting, enticing and that is just the aromatic front. Effusive, the greater good of burgeoning, smelling like Bourgeuil in uncanny resemblance. Nothing leafy here, just the smell of youth, post-adolescence and from a notably warm vintage. A freshness that just may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come from 2021. Heat and water, humidity and rain, yet no vine stress nor disease pressure neither. A product of great agriculture and an example of 2010’s longevity. “On the riper side but not overly ripe,” tells Paul Pender with a pragmatically raised brow. Indeed. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Whole-souled, benevolent and keyed up though that’s the vineyard, persistent and in perpetuity. Red to charcoal fruit, quite firm and tannic for the Tawse-varietal relationship and in that sense mostly related to vintage. Was not picked until November 15th and stayed in barrel for 18 months. Not showy really, not the ripest vintage after all but surely one to promote variegation, fruit/acid layers and particularities. Wait long enough (as in seven-plus years) and these things become complexities. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

50 California blasts from the past

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

As each calendar year counts down I set out on a long December inward journey, sifting through thousands of tasting notes, looking for reminders to trigger emotion. The purpose is a honing, a zeroing in process, first to create a shortlist and then a numbered final register to match the century’s yearly suffix. The latest was Godello’s Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020. A bit painstaking to agglomerate while simultaneously offering a grouping of days in recollection of the year’s finest sips though rumination over the previous 365. On this the first of March 2021 there is a looming and gloaming of a particular sort, forced upon us by circumstance as the auspicious anniversary approaches. Thus it seems like a reasonably credible idea to act upon the concept of creating more top lists, or rather further “gathered reminiscences,” blasts from the past. These are 50 California wines tasted years ago, assessments that up until now remained raw and unfinished, just now committed to public record.

Carneros, Napa Valley

Chardonnay

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard 2014, Mendocino County

A vineyard of altitude and cool seven miles from the ocean at 1200 ft with fruit also sold to Kosta Browne. Her for banana, lemon and intense dry extract. Crisp as possible, freshness, balance, length, carries it all. No butter, no oil, no gratuitous aromas or flavours. Exceptional. Donald Patz has now retired having sold to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Buy it up. May never be this exceptional again. Wild ferment, full malolactic, 70 per cent new French wood. $60-70 US. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley

In the zone, reduction blowing off to the edges of the compound. The liberally spread butter fully absorbed, the wood subsidy subsided, now all laid out in retrospect. Ripeness from that beautiful vintage has settled into a cool, lemon curd tart and nectarous nectarine delectation. All tolled the cumulative is an effect of elegance, though in this case not necessarily richesse. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Kutch Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Santa Mateo County, really reductive, very mineral, the most thus far in a line-up of 13 California chardonnays , from what is surely the coolest spot from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Great rocks, stones and bones. Yes bones, by karst and the sea air reaching out to make this seriously cool. The great mountain tang and natural acidity, intense, snappy, snapping back and long. From Jamie Kutch, “Burgundian to a fault,” this being his first effort with chardonnay. An “abandoned” chardonnay vineyard, 12 per cent abv, pH to give you lemon juice but when you get lemons you know just what to do. $40 US. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016

Keller Estate Chardonnay Oro De Plata 2014, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County

This makes the previous wine (RS) seem oxidative. Reductive is at the fore for the Keller, freshness locked in, really wound on the coastal spindle, intense fruit and even more so, acidity, circular, reeling, wild. A Petaluma Gap leader to be sure, chardonnay of heritage with a winemaking tie to Hansell. No malolactic and all neutral oak. This is so very Chablis, Côte de Lechet and so, wow. $35 US, 800 cases. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Benovia Chardonnay Fort Ross Seaview 2014, Sonoma County

A coastal vineyard (and fruit that is also employed by Flowers) and many will rank this as the coolest spot in California for growing grapes. Mike Sullivan is the winemaker, with fruit that used to go to Marquesan. This done in a richer, expressive, layered style. Some tropical notes, deeply hued, mango, nectarine, creamsicle. Fresh, tart depth, Champagne like with toast and brioche. Luscious custard, 40 per cent new wood, 400 cases made. $55-60 US. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Melville Verna’s Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Barbara County

Both rich and really reductive, deeply hued, fully sun-worshipped and deftly but intently extracted fruit. A bite into a barrel, a Mutsu apple and the inside of a platinum pipe. Big, unabashed style with never ending mineral, tart, ripping and wisely no real malolactic. Plenty of lees though and the oldest of the oak. It’s all fruit, lemon curd and so dessert-like chardonnay but of savour and spicy sapidity. Saline finish. $40-50 US. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Migration Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

The richest and most “old-school” California of the lucky 13 tasting, fruit orchard apple and pear albeit folded and blended through ripe and creamy custard. Or at least the renderings thereof. Likely able to attribute that opaque, cloudy, clotted cream sensation from the fog injection. $40-45 US. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Presqu’ile Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County

Nice reserve on this nose, teasing some tropical fruit but keeping it calm, cool and collected. The calcareous aromas are quite fine, delineated like a chalky streak though less so on the palate follow through. Quite tart and nicely dry extract turn to creamy texture but not so thick in fluidity. Like barrel fermented chenin blanc so a unique expression. Listed at 13.9 abv, low pH, neutral oak and stainless, half and half. Matt Murphy is winemaker and co-owner. $35-40 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley

Some reduction and quite a corpulent, sweet herbology, genovese basil, pine nut and quality olive oil. Pesto of herb, glade, lemon and fine acidity. Always perfectly Russian River Valley, with a warm steal but ultimately cool. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted August 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley

Really showing some age from not the top of the top vintage, holding up but in display of its new barrels, nose oxidized and flavours still buoyed by acidity. So the corrective structure seems out of balance now while the wine marches on. Musty and microbial at this point with a fading sweetness on the finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted August 2016

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Beringer Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley

Continues along the Beringer scaling line of wood retreat, cool climate clarity and as a result a wider commercial appeal. Who would have predicted the success but it’s really working. There would never be a mistaking and the shining is always in play but the admiral work and practicum really does what is base, necessary and appreciated. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley Of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

A greener understanding, like the smell of algae on rock in a pretty little creek. Carries some unction and creamy sherbet texture on the palate. Listed at 13.7 abv, toasty by 40 per cent new french oak, full malolactic. It leans delicious but also verdant and commercial. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast

Classic taut and reductive chardonnay with Petaluma Wine Gap scream, in suffragette of creamy, rich fruit. Early harvest, compressed vintage. The fruit is caught in the wine’s vacuum, a wine tunnel creating this centrifuge of richness and acidity. Commercial, composed and so very effective. $25 US Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2016

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

A Wagner Family of Wines property, a fine restraint and a shine to cooler thoughts come from this highland chardonnay, with more than enough orchard pressed fruit to fill a trough for the quiet and the masses. Really ramps up and fleshes on the palate with some wild biters late. Good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2015, Central Coast

San Luis Obispo County, ocean proximate, cool spot, from the oldest producer in Edna Valley. Nicely lean, briny, saline, good acidity. Add some fish or seafood flesh and it will sing. Fresh and crisp. $18 US. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Menage A Trois Gold Chardonnay 2015

From the Trinchero Family Estates stable, classic buttery rich and slightly toasty broad California style. Barrel rendered middle road taken, wax polish, enamel-oleaginous spray. Intensely inward and uni-dimensional for commercial lobster fishing, crack a shell and pour into red plastic cup enjoyment. You know what’s it’s good for. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Scheid Chardonnay Escolle Road Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

The aromatics here are off the charts in the 13 strong grouping of this tasting. Waxy, caramel, smoky, flinty, butterscotch in gobs. Really odd conclusive nose and even stranger to taste, with a pencil lead and rubber tipped pencil flavour that reminds of childhood class boredom chewing mistakes. Inoculated, 7 per cent new oak, some of it “European.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

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

Other White

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

Ripe and creamy aromas take this sauvignon blanc into fresh and exotic territory but it’s one of those wines that really improves on the palate, carrying weighty and energy together, expanding and elevating the status in so many ways. A gregarious and resourceful sauvignon blanc with more upside than many peers. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

The high stirred SS, SB style, from high and dry extract effect, fine acidity and faux sugary spell. Full fleshy mouthfeel and terrific 2015 tang. Lays out the green carpet for the vintage, the varietal and what’s to come. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, California

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, which strikes as pinot grigio in style, dry extract to aromatic sweetness, warm and inviting. Tart and citrus intense, very appealing commercial style and a buttery finish which tells some barrel is involved. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Treana Blanc 2015, Central Coast

A blend of 45 each marsanne and roussanne plus viognier, a bit of aromatic reserve, quite rich and dense on the palate. Flavours of very ripe pear and even riper apple. A bit into the sauce and the purée. Could use a more purposed shot of acidity and courage. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon

Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

As only Heitz can do this provides the combination of elegance and structure and what may just be the finest tannins available from Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon. That this is so understated speaks volumes about the essence and the incredulity of a Martha’s and with the dry backdrop of a perfect Napa growing season this clambers through its reps with effortless ease, muscular tension and satisfying performance. More ballerina than gymnast and certainly more statesman than warrior. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley

Continues the thread of dry, dusty, beautifully savoury and fruit fleshy cabernet sauvignon from the Groth team. It’s like biting into that perfectly ripe and juicy plum, in texture, not sweetness or even specific to the fruit, but that texture, its unmistakeable. Seamless, tender, age worthy and so friendly (but at the same time serious) cabernet sauvignon. Grothiness refined and defined. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2016

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

A different world here, very floral, historic site with vines that go back as far as 1972, organic since the mid-1980’s. With a slice of reduction to grant forward structure where candied roses will always be there. Classic 1990’s Napa style, rich and full but focused, pure and detailed. Complex, 20 months in French wood, 60 per cent new, 88 per cent cabernet sauvignon 88 plus (8) cabernet franc and some petit verdot. The potential is great. This will become picture perfect. $185 US. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The combination of fruit (could it be any riper or improved upon), acumen and no expense spared makes this the cabernet sauvignon of great esteem in that echelon where few reside. Berries in many forms; fresh, puréed and in clafouti are fully engaged. What will this not do for you, for 20 years and more? Everything. The most refined and sophisticated such a wine can be. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted April 2016

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley

From Schramsberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley aromatic beauty, the most floral of any on this table and in so many ways the most Bordelais, or perhaps more specifically Margaux with such perfume only a scant few know or understand. So pretty and powerful, lovely, structured and intense. This will age for two decades easily and tasting this really puts it all into perspective. The palate brings more of the divine, silky, fleshy and with some spicy bite and chew. Really fine. Really, really fine. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted May 2016

 

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Oakville valley floor Napa fruit gravelly soil, from Rosemary Cakebread. First wine in this haute line-up to amalgamate the blue, red and black fruit, with some volcanic aromatics. Acidity works in and all around and so this has it all going on with a chocolate finish more refined. Mainly (75 per cent cabernet sauvignon plus (25) cabernet franc, suave from blueberry to red currant to black berry. The corporeal tone is elegant and muscular. Has some real elegance and is is simply excellent. 249 cases. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted September 2016

Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Deep, low, bench land gravelly soils, extended maceration, rich concentrated depth, amazingly void of chalk and grain though the tannin is intense. Very refined, spicy and great acidity. It’s all in napa, all in from Josh. Wow, so long. $157 US. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, Unfiltered

From 1990 planted hillside, bench site vineyards, gravelly with good drainage, young but structured, just east of the Silverado Trail. Rich, black fruit, chalky, fine-grained and very sweet tannin. All natural yeasts, 22 months in 65 per cent new oak. All in but because the fruit is so rich and pure there is balance. Rich, spicy and focused, tempered chocolate finish, a prime example of today’s Bordelais in the retro-modern world. $156 US. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Silverado Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Also high-toned but the level of serious, depth and bad-ass intent is on the table. From steep shale soils, there is a mountain herb aroma that is distinct, ahead of the chocolate curve,. All in 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 45 per cent new wood, heat factor notably reduced. There is a cool-menthol note but the flavour is a change of pace, into cool, thin mountain air and the tannins are a beast. Tart and grainy finish. Needs five to seven years to integrate. Exceptional wine. $150 US. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Y Rousseau Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Yannick’s work, in reduction and Mount Veeder depth. Further south with fog-maritime coverage so here winemaking is in, Bordelais for sure, reminds of St. Éstephe. Dark, pitchy, cimmerian, with a steep remoteness about it. Volcanic, serious at 2000 ft, so great acidity that just seems natural and raging. Candied flowers and this is just simply intense, gorgeous and alone. Eastern exposure, naturally fermented, 18 months in 75 per cent in new oak. The structure here is second to none with focus, determination and very aggressive tannins. Quite hot on the finish being the only detractor. 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Daou Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Soul Of A Lion 2013, Paso Robles

Carries a cool, Mediterranean savour on the nose, with spirit, vitality and a black olive tapenade. Seamless, ripe in acidity and intensely naked but never wavering from its energy. This is a massively structured wine and no doubt will last 25 years but touched anytime in the first 10 will require hours of aeration and a more than obvious, double-digit ounce weighed, protein fleshy sidekick. It may be big and high octane on the nose, carry a truck load of architectural bones on its corpulent frame but it never loses sight of finesse and dare it be said, elegance. Well, maybe not elegance but it is charming, handsome and fine, even in the face of massive extraction. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted April 2016

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Going deeper and darker on the floor, ripe and tart black raspberries, dusty Rutherford fruit, 87 cabernet with a long splash of petit verdot, with some merlot. Aged in 100 per cent American oak (30 new). Good valley floor fruit absorption, some exotic black and white fruit, pod and kernel. Acidity is low profile, tannin slightly more but this is quite easy to get at for a Honig. A wine of good volatility. $78 US. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

High Mediterranean-savoury component, in black olive and caper volatility. So much ripe but tang-tart-sour raspberry, a product of high sun hours at elevation with the need for canopy management. Old vines, erosion hills, fog-influence, history and repetition. Very savoury and another wine with its very own kind of funk. Oak and spice with grainy tannins all over the finish. Wild, disparate and complex wine. A bit early to get to know and then it carries a bit of an advanced character or a natural cure to it that may always be there as it ages over a good long period of time. $175 US. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

Valley floor fruit where healthy ground cover leads for major florals and minor Mediterranean scents, namely black olive. Gravelly, Oak Knoll natural acidity giving rise to the AVA nature, that ripe and round acidity for a cool feel. Aridity, pinch of salinity, rises and lingers. Minor pitches from malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Overall epitome of red fruit. Better value than most. $60 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Rocca Family Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley

Single vineyard on a 21-acre farm, high toned, dark fruit from a warm bench land site, alluvial soil, organic. Sees 20 months in 75 per cent French oak and in this case it is necessary because the fruit and the acidity are ravers and ragers. Such a cooling back side, minty, chocolate mint, rubbed between the fingers, yes, like malbec. Oak is huge. $108 US. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

More of a proprietary red, 75 cabernet with some merlot and a minor amount of cabernet franc, plus malbec and petit verdot. More acetic tendency, tart and direct, even stark at first. High octane over bullish concentration, not so subtle, aromatically closed but the acidity and the overall structure is gritty. This needs time to settle, for the composed acidity to get together and layer into the fruit. The finish while hot is more composed. There is some dried fruit advanced character. Multifarious, both by varietal and picking times, or so it would seem. $95 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Farella Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The tones are on the rise, up in the air, quite the herb influence, whiff of pipe tobacco, seems like a higher percent of malbec and/or petit verdot. From the most recently designated AVA, volcanic meets foxy, dried fruit with spice, fig, cherry, apricot, peach and plum. Chewy dried fruit, you need to work a while (it’s actually 100 per cent cabernet) some grainy, chalky tannin and really good length. New oak is well-integrated. Not as cultured and understood in fact perhaps a bit disjointed but so much potential and expectation runs high for what will come next. Oak is an imbalance factor. Simple finish. $65 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Sara d’Amato, ROM September 2016

Pinot Noir

Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros

The fullest of fruit, with spice and San Pablo Bay influenced tension. The combination of ripe and ripping, rich and ricocheting. Has found the right place. Typically atypical for Carneros or rather as Carneros within a Napa to Sonoma connectivity. Holds an ability to age like few varietal sistren or brethren in either AVA. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Longoria Wines Pinot Noir Lovely Rita 2015, Sta. Rita Hills

“Nothing can come between us.” A wine with a song in its title, offering up the lowest hanging fruit and ready for lyrical association. Fine and elegant pinot fruit, with slender, long fingers and legs, plenty of confidence and so perfectly Sta. Rita Hills representative of place. Restrained, elegant, beautiful and ethereal. That’s a really fine pinot noir with a shot of garrigue. Drink early, If for no other reason that there is no way to resist temptation. Drink 202017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County

Now under the ownership of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates, this is one of Donald Patz’s swan songs, a wine that has swept into a new price stratosphere, 50 per cent increase in the last what seems like five years (but is probably more like ten). Sweet pinot fruit in such a refined, elegant and classically secure Sonoma Coast style, with altitude, diurnal temperature changes and the maritime air all influencing the style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2013, Doña Margarita Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Marimar Estate’s Mas Cavalis 2013 pinot noir shows great tension as always, acts nominally rustic and engaging. A turnkey pinot noir, expertly ripe and accented with sweet if spicy oak, tart but never lactic. Just terrific varietal wine noting vineyard and AVA with alternating slash double entendre distinction. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Reata Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

From out of the Santa Lucia Highlands and a property owned by Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. Rich and velvety, slightly spicy but certainly spiced, very consumer friendly at the higher end of the scale, interesting in that it hits all the right notes and lingers nicely but it’s almost too vivid and appealing. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Benovia Pinot Noir Cohn 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Sweet tension, red berry emotion, tar and roses, not as intense as perhaps expected. Great example however of Russian River Valley fruit, though low acidity, easy to like, hard to keep around. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Other Red

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2013, Sonoma County

Full on deep, dark, arid and ranging wide trodding a silk road. Extensively far reaching red blend and with great formidable tannin and structure so perhaps the best of its ilk in many a moon. Top quality from Margo Van Staaveren through the looking glass of vivid transparency and vibrancy. Best I’ve tasted. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2016

Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

Duckhorn’s Three Palms ranks amongst the finest in Napa merlot and from 2012 I could paint my plate with this reduction. Thick, beautifully chocolatey and yet chalky, tart, angled and nearly bradding. It could pass for Masseto. Really Italianate and intense. So much chocolate and spice, clove, nutmeg, purple flowers. Not sure just anyone can handle its vivid truth but it’s a very intense and stylish merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Twomey Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

From Silver Oak Cellars, just now coming into its window with the formidable barrel continuing its slow melt, now in a calm and gelid stage. Coconut and plum combine and then there is this chocolate smooth consistency and always the dusty feel of merlot. Still pulsing with energy but this is such a full on expression. All chocolate and espresso on the finish. So much oak. Silver oak. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery Syrah 2012, Sierra Foothills

From the Sierra Foothills, this is deep mahogany red pitchy, meaty and cured syrah, full aromatic fleshy and mouth coating/filling with terrific silky addendum. A seamless syrah from start to finish. Turns into something firm (feels like granite) and even porcine at the finish. There’s a lot of fun complexity and ever-changing personality, from its roots to the Rhône and back again. Fascinating. approx. $40 CAN. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2013, Contra Costa County

Cline’s Big Break zinfandel 2013 is rich, brambly and so full of dark berry fruit, though also a bit of oxidation. Chalky, lactic, not overtly tart and I like the fennel, tar and roses aspect. Complex and really big. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

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Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

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WineAlign

Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

There are times when you do it just for the continuity because time marches on, no matter the circumstances. There is no disputing how different 2020 was and frankly the flip to 2021 will not bring about significant change or any semblance of a return to what was, at least not in the first several months. Yet the compelling urge is there, to quantify and qualify this annual Godello list of wines that opened, expanded and blew a mind in 2020. The concept for a year-end summation was launched in 2012 though it was the publishing of 14 in 2014 that made it very official, if only in the mind of one Godello. Matters little whether this qualifies as the seventh or the ninth because in wine one should always eschew semantics for the liquid truth found inside the bottle, elixirs they are of most profound, ethereal and honest propriety.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

This will be a much different list than ever before. While I did manage to squeeze in 25 days of travel in the first 56 of 2020 those were the last of this calendar year. That’s at least 75 short of my normal yearly schedule and so imagine that if an average of 30 wines are tasted each and every day on the road, well then that would tell us that at the very minimum 2,250 wines were missed this year. Not entirely true because at least half that many, if not 75 per cent more were made available to me and my WineAlign colleagues over these past nine month of quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing tastings. Still the make-up of what was tasted has been very different, the most notable being the lack of unrepresented or not found in market wines. Less discovery in 2020 to be sure.

Campo Spritz

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

According to my personal critic’s database on WineAlign I reviewed 4,450 wines in 2020, keeping in mind that many of those reviews were for wines tasted in 2019. Up until this year I was consistently behind or back-logged with hundreds if not more than a thousand tasting notes in the queue, unedited, unresolved, not yet reconciled, unfinished, not-posted. Since the global pandemic abruptly delivered me home in the dead of a late February night from Faenza to Firenze, through Frankfurt and to Pearson I have not been able to resume travel. These last 10 months have allowed for a massive catching up. There are now a thousand less wines to finesse and publish then there were this time last year, very few raw and rustic songs waiting for the editing process. All the choices on this 2020 list have been solidified and already been opined with confidence for the world to scrutinize. In 2020 there is nothing left on the table.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Slipped outta Dodge under the cover of darkness…

This year’s list is indeed different. The get togethers were few and far between. The travel non-existent. That is why you will recognize more producer names and also a more “archetypal” bent to the choices. The year dictates such a direction and as we all know, you have to listen to what the vintage tells you but also to remember and thank the true pioneers for getting all of us here. Perhaps the greatest influence on how this composition came to be was a conscious choice to omit the older vintages tasted in 2020. There were less to be sure but it just feels like keeping them kind of secretive is the way to go. Let’s hope a connection to that part of this exercise will make a return in 2021. As always, heartfelt thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, so please be encouraged and read on. Alas, Godello’s 20 mind-blowing wines of 2020.

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (23128, $17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Gets me every time. Not just one of the finest meets best value chenin blancs available out of South Africa but an example to hang all your hats on no matter where white wine comes from in this world. Still the knowing nod and incredulous head shake that $18 CDN can buy you fruit from six blocks that are mainly 38 years of age but could possibly include 1974 Helderberg planted vines in Stellenbosch. “Core of the business” and arrow through a chenin heart. Great ferment, like a (catherine) wheel. Layers of design, creamy with thanks to secondary lees aging but somehow still texturally chewy. Barrel notes make a point in a vanilla brûlée way and yet each sip is like taking a bite from a piece of firm, ripe fruit. “I need more texture. You need to give me more texture, texture, texture. You need to give me more texture.” Old Vine Reserve obliges every time. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Selbach Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2018, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (17498, $45.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

The triad of producer, appellation and vineyard gets no more arch classic than this with a riesling in Spätlese form at the hands of Selbach-Oster. The pitch and sway in this Wehlener Sonnenuhr vinyeard is 2018 dance card perfect, tight and fluid. Succulent acids are burgeoning and urging the fruit forward, sideways and every which way but loose. This is a wine that gets what needs and gives what is wanted. Will only improve with a few years and then there will come a day when an air or vapour trail falls away. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2020

Tyrrell’s Belford Sémillon 2017, Single Vineyard, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, South Australia (14322, $46.95, Select Wine Merchants)

Belford Vineyard (formerly Elliot Farm) is Hunter Valley leader Tyrrell’s single-vineyard leased sémillon with so much promise in its corner. A top varietal vintage for one thing and the well-draining sandy soils for another. Sémillon thrives in these conditions and so what comes from this awe-inspiring wine is exactly what you possibly wish for when selecting from Hunter Valley. This wine is swiftly, justly and perpetually lit, a smoky, paraffin waxy, über salty, elemental, aerified, verified mineral wine. So focused and precise. Mon dieu, Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Fresne Ducret La Grande Hermine Champagne Premier Cru 2008, AC Champagne, France ($78.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Hard to believe the age because while this almost certainly achieved an immediately retro toasted and evolved stage in its youth and though 12 years have passed the present day imaginings are dreamed to persist within that very immediate stage. As creamy as it is toasty, the textural body politic in La Grande Hermine is one of great cerebral and figurative impression. You feel, intuit and embrace such honesty and possibility. Drink this vintage dated Champagne all winter long. Its calming presence will preserve you in a state of grace lower than a snowman’s blood pressure. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2020

El Esteco

El Esteco 1947 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (15082, $24.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

From Argentina’s northern desert where some of the country’s oldest vines perpetuate existence while thriving fiercely in a hot climate. So yes it is true that some fruit from 70-plus year old vines, well trees really, make their way into this special Salta wine. Dense and concentrated, Cassis times 10, savoury and truly expressive. Oak is well-managed, not shy mind you but these old vines deserve some added and fortifying structure. Do not miss this. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted August 2020

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $160.00, Escalade Wines & Spirits)

Though essentially a cabernet sauvignon at minimum 90 per cent, it would normally need saying to never discount the blending attributes of cabernet franc, merlot and in recent years, petit verdot. The nooks and crannies filled by the other grape varieties are some of the senses of wonder that have illuminated and elucidated the magic of Don Melchor. And yet years of such thought is turned on its head in 2017 with a 98 per cent pure cabernet sauvignon Don Melchor and only two bits of cabernet franc. Speaks to winemaker Enrique Tirado’s vision of the varietal and vintage relationship. After all, this is his baby, a passion project that spans 20 vintages, from which he looks to “harvest the beauty of the balance of the Puente Alto terroir.” From Viñedo Don Melchor, D.O. Puente Alto and Valle del Alto Maipo, old vines planted 1979 to 1992, new from 2004-2013. The vintage was above average in terms of warmth, cooler temperatures at harvest preserved acidities and sealed the (near) mono-varietal deal. At 30 years into its tenure Don Melchor hits a new stride and it would be hard to argue against the levels of subtle, demure, balanced and ethereal in this 2017. Perfect fruit? Pretty darn close and a bouquet of fresh picked flower-herb-fruit that merge, meld and grace together. One for this age and to age gracefully, slowly and predictably for 20-25 years. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted October 2020

Taub Family Vineyards Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Napa Valley, California (849434, $235.00, Dionysus Wines & Spirits Ltd.)

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family has been prominently part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The 2017 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon are a very special lot. That much we know. Add in the pedigree, torch passing and respect for these necessary tenets of wine-producing business and well, hello. Utmost attention to detail, optimum extraction and concentration, sultry, supple and ultimately divine. There is this fine, fine, almost indescribable salty vein that cuts through the fruit and the fat like perfect umami seasoning in the most decadent dish. With meat or seafood, California or Japan, take your pick. Drink this either way. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $59.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Even though the ’18 HR PN took my breath away nine months ago, the not yet understood nuance of this wine surely clouded first impressions. However small a sample size this may be is more than enough to prove time’s effect on wine, pinot noir and Hamilton Russell’s spiritual connection with the grape and how it personifies the Hemel En Aarde Valley. Fragrance, perfume, essential oils, Lilac, Lilly of the Valley and the sweetest tobacco smoulder. Captivating now and quite likely will be so into the mid 30s.  Last tasted August 2020

There have been many Hamilton Russell pinot noir poured in my anxiously awaiting glasses over the last five years. It’s hard to believe we are here at 2018 but time is a joy when you are having a noirmance. The fruit is exceptional in this vintage because it just feels like the warm day/cool night fix is in. The diurnal flux has locked in freshness and sweet tension like no recent memory can recall. Makes for a most grippy yet excitable pinot noir of concentration, presence and promise. Benchmark in every respect. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted November 2019

That Marco Cirese Sangiovese stare. His Noelia Ricci and Pandolfo are crucial, fundamental and illustrative of what is possible in Emilia-Romagna. #sangiovesediromagna #viniadarte #viniadarte2020

Noelia Ricci Pandolfa Romagna Sangiovese Predappio DOC Godenza 2018, Emilia Romagna, Italy (The Vine Agency)

Godenza was the name of the podere (house) on site at a one hectare vineyard at 340m, the highest section of Ricci’s land. The introduction of concrete tanks is surely responsible (in part) to the freshness and reduction but also poor, well-draining calcareous soils that complete a relationship with open-knit and fragrant red fruit. Adds up to complexities and beauty, not to mention the hands-off, unadulterated feel of this wine. At the top end of quality and elaborate expression for the appellation. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted twice at Vini Ad Arte, Casa Spadoni, Faenza February 2020

Because he’s Dario F-in Faccin, that’s why g-dammit! #carobbio #sangiovese #chianticlassico #panzano #galestro

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($33.60, Alta Wines)

Stop in here for a rest and exult in the near perfect grace, charm and collective soul in the heart of an Annata. To say that the Novarese family and Dario Faccin should feel the greatest sangiovese reward from this appellation would be a grand understatement. This version of Panzano and Chainti Classico DOCG is what it is, what it can and must be. Should be. Has to be. Richly glorious and confidently understated. The cleanest sangiovese and the one that speaks most succinctly of the land. These are the reasons why Carobbio is the most underrated, but for how long? This ’16 will see proof to that and so much more. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted February 2020

With the brothers Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

Now to introduce you to the Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli brothers, Alessandro and Andrea, two men who covet, own and articulate their western wing of Castelnuovo terroir. As custodians of these classic southern Chianti Classico Alberese and Galestro vineyards they have come to understand their nuance and their specialities. So, Riserva from 2015 now comes to its beginning having needed every bit of the extra two years in bottle it has received. Yes this Geggiano ’15 Riserva still needs time and if you abide by the premise it will come alive, surmise and in turn, surprise. In fact it will make a lasting impression and stay with you forever. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Stem Wine Group)

The acumen, wisdom and also the persistent reduction are formidable in this incredibly concentrated wine. So Monsanto, so in delivery of San Donato in Poggio, so Laura Bianchi. Seemingly equipped with the needed stuffing in the way that 1968 managed to accrue over 50 years of travels. Here in Gran Selezione form the tendencies and the abilities are multiplied tenfold. Magnificent and magnanimous, the concentration is foiled by focus and precision, from all that has come before, moving into the present and then going forward with everything that occupies, in hopes and dreams. Drink 2025-2037.  Tasted February 2020

Vineyard at Salicutti

Podere Salicutti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Sorgente 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Organic, biodynamic and unfiltered, from the then first in Montalcino, at the hands of Francesco Leanza, in 1995. Now (and since 2015) in the custodial hands of Felix and Sabine Eichbauer, halfway between Montalcino and Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The last of the cru, single-vineyards planted at Salicutti and not surprisingly the one with most red fruity juiciness that keeps a lineage with the Rosso. If a portal into knowing what it makes to taste the bright side of 2015 could be described then why not make use of this ethereal Sorgente to learn of such things. Voltage, tension and vibration. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Francesco Ripaccioli

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Casaccia 2016, Tuscany, Italy (Le Sommelier Inc.)

Barrel Sample. Now this is something exceptional. This is what Casaccia is obviously capable of producing, The sweetest Canalicchio fruit of all, to date and with a rising low and slow angling of acidity (as opposed to straight verticality) that carries the fruit to great heights. This will be a triumph and in fact it is already tasting like a piece de Canalicchio resistance while it sings a long maestro song. A soloist that needs no accompaniment although food, company and peace would not hurt at all. Obviously this is more than just the northern side of Montalcino and more than Canalicchio. This is Casaccia. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted February 2020

Lorenzo Magnelli, Le Chiuse

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2013, Tuscany, Italy

The ’13 will be released on January 1st, 2023 and as the name Diecianni suggests it is a Riserva that 10 years minimum are needed before readiness begins to take shape. The selection is from the smallest grape clusters in estate vineyards and mainly the oldest vines, originally planted in 1987. The vintage of the great polyphonic-phenolic, elastic and stretched ripeness, by photosynthesis without heat, of muscles with energy and ones that will develop, remain and use their power to keep the fruit alive. That said it’s a wine of wood and the highest level of salinity, sapidity and a tang that is exhibited by no other Brunello di Montalcino. A concentration that is simply outstanding and in some minds, will even be eclipsed (or not) by 2016. The finesse and architecture of this wine are as good as it gets. Drink 2026-2042.  Tasted February 2020

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Roero Riserva DOCG Castelletto 2015, Piedmont, Italy ($59.95)

From Canale vines 50 years old and the most historical vineyard for Malabaila, as documents show. Riserva here means two years in two, three and four year-old barrels. Yet another silky Roero and example of nebbiolo that could not have been born anywhere else. The “little castle” is a charming nebbiolo, fine of all its constructive parts with an ease of sensuality that just shows how confident, casual and natural life as it is just happens to be. Castelletto knows what it is. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted January 2020

Elena Sottimano

Sottimano Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($103.95, Le Maitre de Chai)

Basarin in the newest Cru for Sottimano, established in 2014 though the vines are already between 45-50 years old. Released just at the start of 2020 and already displaying a prominence in aromatics that speak to this exceptional nook just below Neive. From a vintage blessed for its place in history matched by a requiem for a dream. Crunchy for nebbiolo surely caused by the policy of classically long Piedmontese maceration, drawing fruit with gentle impunity and long-grained tannins in thrushes and intermingling chains. Pure dark fruit (almost raspberry) and a generous application of wood varnish. Architecture, length and character, all together. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted January 2020

With Francesca Vaira

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco Delle Viole 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($113.95, Groupe Soleil)

The thing of Bricco delle Viole that is beauty emits with gala fruit force into the canals of the layers. Bricco dell Viole the singular Barolo cru, from which fruit, texture and extension are consistently planned out, mapped and organized. So wound, so found and following a path that runs along a line along a circle. Slow unwind and unfolding coming, culminating in developed notes, to be far away, somewhere between then and then. Too soon to tell. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted January 2020

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2017, South Australia, Australia (12016, $150.00, Mark Anthony Group)

Another old friend, St. Henri, once a wine for a special occasion, now one for all times. No, not a baby Grange but to me this is to Penfolds as Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus is to Maison Bouchard Père & Fils. Not that there is any resemblance to pinot noir save for the fact that in terms of shiraz, St. Henri is the elegant or if you will, the Burgundian one. Penfolds like to refer to Henri as “an intriguing counterpoint to Grange,” and that seems right in the sense that power and optimum concentration are never the point. It is a multi-regional blend, from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley and Port Lincoln. There is no new wood exercised; it spends 12 months in 50-plus year old vats. Distinct style, unique pedigree and alternative execution. Adds up to intrigue, enigma and mystery, which is just what an iconic and signature counterpoint should do. Acidity and structure are tops, bar none. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2018, Douro Valley, Portugal (12076, $160.00, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

The third consecutively declared Vintage Port by Taylor is one of 18’s most powerfully restrained. Taylor describes their 2018 from a “year (that) seems to have given it an additional layer of density and weight.” Apropos it needs saying because texture this viscous is clearly vintage driven. After record aridity in 2017 it was a wet March that was welcomed with open arms and water tables but the rain kept up and so mildew became the challenge. Worse was damage from hailstorms in the Pinhão area, including Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta do Junco. But the heat came and on August 3rd at Quinta de Vargellas they recorded a temperature of just over 44°C. Ripening happened in a shorter and more concentrated window, a good thing in the world of VP, as witnessed by the no holes, all in, singular in vision and style Taylor 2018. Not the gangster power surge of some others mind you and the violets give little aromatic space to fruit nor perfume that tries to steal the spotlight. These are remarkable tannins and it could be periods of ages and epochs before this begins to move into complexities secondary and tertiary. If I were as young as I think you are I’d invest in this Taylor for the next 30-plus years of evolution. Drink 2027-2044.  Tasted November 2020

Good to go!

godello

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WineAlign

Please reach out to California and a Mondavi retrospective at To Kalon

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Update: As much as 900,000 further acres have been lost to fire since September 14th and because of the recent Glass Fire there have been many evacuation orders for parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. As of today nearly 66,000 acres have burned. Three fires had merged, resulting in one big fire initially threatening Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. Thank goodness the containment has now reached 30 per cent but there is still a long way to go. The road to recovery will be even longer so please consider donating to help all the families, businesses and first responders.

Related – California Update: Napa Valley

The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund and Sonoma County Resilience Fund

Provides gift cards to evacuees and emergency relief services to those affected by the fire, including temporary shelter, meals, counselling and assistance in navigating insurance claims.

Wine Country Fire Relief Fundraiser

A gofundme campaign, launched by five wine industry marketing professionals, focuses on direct relief for farmworkers (a vital part of the wine industry’s fabric) affected by the Glass Fire Incident in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

California Wildfire Relief

Supports firefighters, low income families and animals that are suffering due to wildfires. It helps provide emergency supplies including food, water and medicine.

Latino Community Foundation

Distributes contributions to Latino-led organizations that are helping families displaced by wildfires across the state.

Women’s Foundation California Relief and Resilience Fund

Funding goes to every domestic violence shelter in the state to help care for survivors who are unhoused or feel unsafe.

Thank you to Karen MacNeil for her update and for sharing these words from Linda Reiff, President of Napa Valley Vintners:

“We are deeply grateful for the tremendous care from around the world, and for the hard work and dedication of fire fighters, first responders and volunteers who are here from near and far to help us.  At our core, we are a strong, agricultural community where grapes have been grown and wines made for more than 150 years. The Napa Valley is still here, our community spirit is fierce, we will get through and beyond this.”

We’re worried about all of you in northern California. Please stay safe.

Recalling simpler times

My last visit to To Kalon Vineyard was three and a half years ago, Oakville site of that consequential plottage, koan of sorts, most excellent agglomerate of soil, vine and canopy. To Kalon functions as an enigmatic invitation to rethink the meaning of wine, so speaking of The Robert Mondavi Winery and Arterra Wines Canada, enlightened educator Mark de Vere MW will soon be moderating a virtual tasting with Constellation Brands winemakers Thomas Rivers Brown and Carol Shrader. In a couple of weeks time, on Friday, October 9 at 1:00 pm (EST). I will be participating and tasting 2017 and 2018 Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon. The plan will be to explore the vast diversity and fine quality of the Oakville terroir and To Kalon Vineyard. Which brings me back to May of 2017 and a week spent in Napa Valley completing the Robert Mondavi Winery To Kalon Vineyard certification program.

There were cellar tastings, Chef Jeff Mosher prepared dinners, hot air balloon flights, vineyard cycling tours, UC Davis research investigations and most enriching seminars led by Director of Wine Education De Vere and winemaker Geneviève Janssens. Inside The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Copia, Napa classrooms the sessions taught included west coast, global and To Kalon examples of cabernet sauvignon. The Napa Valley panelist apprised cabernet sauvignon flights were filled with archetypes, icons and Mondavi retrospectives. Rarely does one get to go at so many learning tools and experiential gifts of history through such an array of high quality varietal wines. De Vere made a request by asking everyone to dig deep, do some soul searching and get to the bottom of the new versus old world paradigm. “Let’s get an unbiased impression of what the differences are and what might make them different. California has reliably dry summers but much more day/night diurnal temperature fluctuations. Bordeaux stays warm at night and thus differing ripening patters. Napa significantly more sunshine hours but not necessarily more total heat.”

Related – En route to Mondavi

#tokalon

Then the vineyard’s prodigy spoke. Graeme MacDonald’s experience and published work have by now made him THE historian of Napa Valley’s famed To Kalon Vineyard area near Oakville. MacDonald is a To Kalon farmer who has written a history of the famed grape growing area for the Historic American Landscapes Survey. His work is part of the Library of Congress. The vineyard was started in 1868 by Hamilton W. Crabb, an innovator in wine marketing and vineyard techniques while today the Robert Mondavi Winery, University of California Davis and Andy Beckstoffer control most of its land. For McDonald To Kalon is simply a place entwined with his family’s history. 

Start raising a child 100 years before they are born because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into. #tokalon #graememacdonald #tokalon2017 #tokalonvineyard

“It was really for me a great way to document the history for our children. I want to leave something that explains why I am so passionate about it,” MacDonald said. “Start raising a child 100 years before their birth because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into.” The Wappo people called it “Tu-ia-halusi, or ”beautiful land” to describe the upper Napa Valley. The name To Kalon is Greek for “highest beauty,” or the “highest good,” as per H.W. Crabb in 1889.   “I try to make it mean the boss vineyard,” says McDonald. Also a pivotal part in Aristotle and the most important (and first) wine poured in the time of Jesus. This from the most important winemaker in the history of Napa. It took 100 years after it was predicted by Crabb but that is when Graeme’s grandfather committed to Cabernet Sauvignon (circa 1978). The family wines were labeled under the name Detert Vineyards.

Flight #1

Global Styles

Château D’Issan 2013, AC Margaux, Bordeaux, France (511469, $114.00, WineAlign)

Tasted blind in Napa, the first impression is Chile due to the capsicum bite and wood that expresses as savour and piquancy. Herbal with currants and tobacco. Impressive smoky wood integration overtop gamey, Bretty, animale character which talks a Bordeaux vernacular. Fruit is subtle, restrained and waits for the finish. It’s Bordeaux, or course. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2017

#metaphysicalmonday #cliffmay #thenostalgiaoftheinfinite #dichirico #campanile #missionstyle

Concha Y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Terrunyo Las Terrazas Block, Andes Pirque Vineyard 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile (562918, $29.95, WineAlign, Escalade Wines)

Now a slight demure, dusty but cool, minty, creosote and graphite, like Coonawarra perhaps. Some granite soil funk so could also be South Africa and yet there is this very high acidity and eucalyptus. The aesthetic is more about fruit than tannic structure. Some carménère in here likely – the smoky edge would say so. It’s Chile because the herbs and black currants dominate so clearly from a warm part, i.e. Maipo. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2016

Big floral vintage for the single-vineyard Terrunyo cabernet, rich, lush and hedonism defined. The varietal stands out in the vintage with the heavy lean to fresh flowers, along with the waves of alternating blackberry and Cassis. The alcohol and the weight are certainly formidable but the aromatics and fruit heavy tonality keeps up with the heat. Big boned and barrel conscious, this CyT is a big wine for a modest price. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Mark de Vere MW

Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon Gigglepot 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (SAQ 12449825, $54.00, Breakthru Bev Canada)

Ripe, high acidity, elevated tones and dark fruit. More like Argentina here and the palate also suggests Bordeaux but it’s too ripe. The high acid, metafictional mochafication and extreme ripeness puts my guess in McLaren Vale but also because of the richness and ripeness. Some dark red fruit is exceptional, part dried, with liquorice, both red and black. Really lovely wine, juicy, with a high level of fruit from some great vineyards. A genuine product of Sarah and Sparky Marquis from which 16 per cent alcohol is pulled off with remarkable ease, with thanks to tannic structure and extract. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Me and Mondavi

Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon Three Pines 2013, Jonkershoek Valley, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (288316, $28.85, Vonterra)

This seems the most Californian but Alexander Valley in its current of currant and savour. Tastes like Clos du Bois, but we’re now in South Africa. Quite anti-reductive, little to do with granite, funky soil and rubber tree plants, but it hints at all this from Stellenbosch. like juicing liquorice, bokser and umeboshi plum mixed into Ribena for a juicy cocktail. This may be closer to Cali than the rest because of the supple triumvirate of fruit-acid-tannin for structure. Terrific representation from the Jonkershoek Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Flight #2

West Coast California

Justin Vineyards Isosceles 2015, Paso Robles, California (684282, $136.95, The Vine Agency)

Quite the Cassis richness and genteel nature, ripe but of a humble extraction with a distinct garrigue note. Very Napa-ilke though there is a high love of acidity. Tasted blind you might think it could very well be a Mondavi but it’s too jammy and there is a plethora of red fruit purée,. That it turns out to be from Paso Robles is a perfect example to show that further south can translate to a warmer climate… but not always. Cool nights are adding their own extreme example of diurnal temperature swings so that 16.0 per cent alcohol, coulis and acidity can coexist. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Chef Jeff Mosher’s Fresh Spring Pea Risotto at Mondavi

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains (89284, $86.95, Rogers and Company)

Quite savoury with Mediterranean accents, black olive and brine, cool and minty, seemingly accented with American oak. A cloudy moments suggests Alexander Valley, but clarity wins so better still Santa Cruz Mountains. So is this a Ridge? Elegant cabernet sauvignon, 75 per cent with merlot and bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Positioned to an ocean proximity overhanging Monterey Bay and above most of the fog so the growing climate is its own. Keeps sugar and alcohol down for a cool and elegant expression. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

From the next arid vintage with more immunity always gifted by the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir so that Ridge can do what they want and what is needed. Three-quarters cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent merlot and quick Pollockian slashes of petit verdot and cabernet franc meet in the studio to create and complete the piece. There is more acidity and tension on the nose than noted in 2012, with red currants and black fruit swirling in coulis centrifuge to distract from what wants to grip and tear you away. The purity and cool texture of a Ridge cabernet is unlike any other; it stretches this way and that, never breaking, tearing or shearing but not because is has been patched, quilted or restored. It was always this way and will stay so for 15 to 20 years. Tannins are fine and support what happens, in any way they are asked to do. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2017

Tacos at Morimoto

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County ($80.00)

A bit of demure, lots of black fruit and a note or orange rind. Again terrific acidity, and tart, crisp, chocolate edging. Sensing a combination of oaks in that chemistry effect when merging into the fruit of Alexander Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, (255513, $44.95)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February and June 2016, May 2017

Bob Swanson of #napavalleyballoons is the man. Slice through butter flight over the Sacramento Valley to 1000 ft, #splashanddash in Putah Creek and a smooth, exacting landing on a dime on the back of a flatbed.

Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Drawn from Seven Hills’ founding blocks, planted by winemaker Casey McClellan and his father in the early 1980s. Very ripe, rich and unctuous aromatics, also floral, big tannic structure, candied complexion with mint chocolate candy cane and yet its aridity dominates the back side. Continental climate with maritime overtones in a Walla Walla cabernet under the influence of the rain shadow. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #3

Napa Rocks

Inherit The Sheep Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coombsville AVA

Inherit The Sheep, a multi-play on words, launching point “the meek shall inherit the earth,” followed by “the farmers shall inherit the sheep” and prophesied as Clay and Tersilla Gregory may never inherit anything else in their lives. As for cabernet sauvignon, Coombsville just seems to be a natural extension from the concept of Napa Rocks. As Mondavi’s Mark de Vere made sure to point out, “the reputation of Napa comes form the quality of the wine made here, not the quantity.” About 150 million years ago a domino of events began to occur…ocean plate under the continental plate….volcanic influence and marine rock. A mish-mash, super geological group of alloy musicians. Coomsville gets it too, exemplified by this rich, highly perfumed aromatic cabernet, soil a major factor in the duality of tart meets tang, some dried herbs and dusty, chalky tannins. As a memory, Clay Gregory used to be a GM at Mondavi. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2017

The meek shall? Focused alternative #napavalley AVA expression #tokalon2017 #coombsville

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (731810, $76.75, Mondia Alliance)

Deeper, higher tonality and lifted though it’s from liqueur and not acidity necessarily. So much chocolate, perhaps dominant by American oak but also a comestible layering and pressing that comes by ripe and concentrated fruit out of Stags Leap District. East side of the valley, volcanic and alluvial, so perhaps the place and its victuals speak loudest, dark chocolate and red cherry, quite chewy and with middle palate tannin, focused and lined. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon (West To Kalon Vineyard) 2013, Napa Valley

Very juicy, acidity driven, extraction and high level tonality. A fineness discerned with immediate notice, layer upon layer of distinction and elegance. Tasting blind it could be the Mondavi Reserve, acidity is very present balanced by plush fruit ripeness, blacker than red, slightly savoury and so Oakville. Turns out it is west To Kalon Vineyard though not labeled as such. For Graeme McDonald “it tastes like home.” Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

With Sara d’Amato

Tres Sabores Cabernet Sauvignon Perspective 2013, Rutherford

The jam is in, a bit to the right of ripeness and so a left leaning structure. Already noting some balsamic, soy and even a faint tick of truffle, not quite raisin but there is an indication it’s beginning is around the corner. Tthe palate brings more energy but this lacks balance because the fruit is overripe. Three flavours. Rutherford Bench fruit. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Cade Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley (325027, $206.95, The Vine Agency)

Classic next level Napa Valley depth, structure and intendment. Full on welling sunken weight, oak very much apart of every moment but not overly spiced. Through that big oak bent there is something akin or at least draws memories to Atlas Mountain. Incredibly ripe with aggressive, thick, needing 10 years to devolve tannins. Could be Atlas but is in fact Howell Mountain, one of the eastern AVAs from which mountain fruit delivers more intensity of tannin. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #4

Oakville

Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley
From Linda Neal, long-time vineyard manager who purchased the Oakville property in 1987. A distinctly perfumed-floral cabernet sauvignon, of violets, but also a dusty, silty-salty mineral aroma. Terrific acidity, just terrific, the type of tart intensity that causes anticipatory salivation. Reminds of cabs off of Terra Rossa soil, a.k.a. Coonawarra but also the Panzano terroir of Carobbio. Geologically it’s volcanic in origin, off of a hillside vineyard. Intense and offering a fully focused commitment straight through the finish. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.95, The Vine Agency)

Richness but reserved, demure, unhurried in a calm state. More of an exotic perfume, jasmine and bougainvillea, still some salty grit and certainly mineral but fuller, with an ooze of dark chocolate and body politic by firmness and tannin. Beneficial bitters on the finish. It’s way, way too young to fully appreciate. Special fruit is saved for this next level cabernet sauvignon from its very own patch of free-draining alluvial soil. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Geneviève Janssens and Mark De Vere MW

Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley (39388, $29.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

An annual parade of quality comes from Franciscan with this Napa Valley cabernet, a wine that is quietly commercial and respectfully true to its roots. It’s quite chalky and the tannic grain is truly in focus while the fruit speaks with premium ability, certainly sheathed by Americanized vanilla oak. Savoury to a point but still quite naked truthful about fruit in its ripe clothing. Always well made and at its best in 2014. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted October 2017

Even more reserve and also into reductive, with darkest fruit, Cassis, carob and graphite. So much chocolate, dark, bitter and high in cocoa. Coating tannin, present and demanding, a bit west. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Huh. A day after tasting these #tokalon wines #tokalon2017

Nickel & Nickel John C Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.99, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Dark cherry and Cassis oscillate in waves, punishing the shores of first prefacing perfume and then recursing acidity. A distinct profile that speaks so similarly to a Mondavi To Kalon but in Oakville…it’s hard to know, distinguish and be certain but so tempting to hedge guessing bets on origins. Such fineness, dramatic acidity and persistence, so not surprising it’s just across the road (Hwy 29). A very special tract of terroir in its own right this John C. Sullenger Vineyard. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley (29207, $59.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Oakville’s rich Cassis and mocha swirl welcomes wood and baking spice, then floral meets herbaceous Freesia. As a Mondavi cabernet, Oakville sits high up on the sapid meets tart scale and is expressly long. The palate really suggests older world Bordeaux but it’s almost too ripe, chalky, chocolate ganache rich, especially at the finish. A touch of Brett brings me back to structure and old world but there is an equal and opposing fruit-tannin seamlessness and smoothness. Its fineness of acidity means that it ends up balanced. Markedly correct, intense and proprietary for 2013. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017 and February 2018

Flight #5

To Kalon

Narrowing it down to the vineyard, De Vere is insistent on what matters. “Elements of style and quality, not just, but a stylistic, a feel, difference, less broad in expression like Oakville or classic like the direct Napa Valley tier.” Rutherford’s alluvial fan vs. To Kalon’s alluvial fan complex vs the same, but different, from Oakville. The east side of the Oakville AVA receives more of the warm afternoon sun as compared to the sedimentary-gravelly alluvial loam on the west, with more volcanic but heavier soils on the east. There they are low to moderate fertility and fairly deep. All this adds up to more than 100 soil variations in Napa Valley, one half of what exists on earth. To Kalon receives shade a full hour earlier than the east side of the valley. It’s reserve fruit is more likely to be found where the large pebble, gravelly, well draining soils are found, further west, abutted up against the mountain range.

As an aside, talk about Napa Valley wines often leads to the fruit-jam complex. “Fruit bombs (you will know),” says De Vere, “are not just a factor of sun, ripeness, and brix. They are a result of less tannin and acidity, from vines stressed after veraison to develop ripeness but without the balancing factors. To kalon’s soils develop acidity earlier and maintain it. Acid-tannin-pyrazine, that’s the order of development.

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley ($250.00 estimate, Halpern Enterprises)

Presented by Eduardo Dingler, Napa Sommelier. High toned, deep, deep dark fruit, gets right up the olfactory. Young, chalky, tart and with the dark fruit sitting serious and looming, like a cross-legged Buddha on the ledge of a 10-foot To Kalon wall. Sees 62 per cent new French oak after six to eight weeks cold soak pre-fermentation. In an environment without alcohol you get this layered juiciness and tart aromatics without astringency. That’s the crux and the key. Balance, density, true to the To Kalon spirit. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2017

Alpha Omega Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($188.00 estimate)

Presented by Alpha Omega’s founding winemaker Jean Hoefliger. “Napa has a consistency of climate that is unmatched, anywhere.” On Andy Beckstoffer, “Andy was very receptive to my very expensive lap dances,” and about the vineyard, “in an era of globalization, To Kalon’s DNA is the most important in Napa Valley. The site in Napa easiest to find in a blind tasting because of acidity and tannin, backbone and skeleton.” Hoefliger’s ’13 cabernet sauvignon is a construct of granularly dense tannic structure and non-readjusted acidity. Darkness ascends or descends as the glass goes, brooding, seemingly from deeper clay soils within the alluvial variegation, a wine in which the tannins have been joined, linked, layered, polymerized. Having used a long maceration makes this dense, intense and ageable. To be exact, 45 days on skin, then in the end unfined and unfiltered. Wow does this remind me of modern Piedmontese nebbiolo but with so much more intense red fruit, notes of incense, wild fennel, cinnamon and candy hearts. Just tremendous structure. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted May 2017

Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($220.00 estimate)

Bright but at the same time with a hint of dried fruit so good balance between the two, meaning the acidity is in control. John Hazak: “What To Kalon has that separates itself from our iconic Hewitt Vineyard is age ability and a dense core that opens up with age. It sets it apart from our top Rutherford sites.” A chewy To Kalon by tempered ganache, a child reared on plenty of barrel fermentations to capture individual parcels of beautiful fruit. Carries a cool minty savour at the finish and lingers across the top of the gums above the teeth, leaving that anaesthetizing feeling. Brilliant in that respect, not quite ready though will come into its own not too far from now. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Station 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($150.00 estimate)

Certainly more dusty notes, garrigue, savour and a hint of black olive, but all red fruit. From Oakville Station (labeled as such, from the UC Davis grown plots of vines). “The best way to understand To Kalon on the surface is to take a bike ride,” says Charles Thomas. “to understand why a gradation across a kilometre is so crucial. There is ample tannin in To Kalon but also a fineness of tannin. It is forgiving of many aspects of viticulture and especially winemaking. You always see the vineyard.” A transitional wine, ripeness but not super so, perfumed and the subtleties of the vineyard. Cherry blossom big time. An island surrounded by Mondavi on all sides, more fertility here in this block, a soft, delicious chocolate finish. A transitional era styled wine. Aromatic and not with the same density (with 10 merlot and 5 cabernet franc)but beautiful all the same. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $149.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Mondavi’s 2013 Reserve from the iconic To Kalon Vineyard plays a different role when nosed side by five each with other similar terroir cabernets, in this case by Cliff Lede, Alpha Omega, Provenance and Cornerstone. The Mondavi would show as a muscular cabernet in a solo tasting irrespective of the flight but with relative reference points the Mediterranean savour stands apart, especially in this high-toned aromatic vintage. The wine is embossed and eschews syrup for chew and density, the chalky tannins already beginning to show some development and integration. After going through the basket press, the haute cultured barrels bring out this insieme-collective of sophisticated To Kalon sweet acidity and tannin, leaving extracted bitterness behind. This works in elevating the texture of silk and softness, insisting upon and stamping a guarantee of longevity. The excellence is rounded out with some fragrance from petit verdot and further finessed, grainy tannin by cabernet franc. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $300.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Tasted during a To Kalon Vineyard retrospective in Napa. Though sinfully young the 2014 seems bright and focused, accessible, closer to ready than the 2013. The secret, special, double secret bottle, only 150 cases made, not really available for trade, pure To Kalon. Refined, here and only here as 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, spice but melted and oozing into that liqueur, there is a seamlessly woven fabric of vineyard that just seems soft, supple and elastic. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2017

And a few more Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon tasted that May

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010, Napa Valley

The 2010 Reserve is a sensory wine in the most attention grabbing way, as experiential and inspirational as can be when such an inhalant gets hold of the senses. Deepest dark fruit of impossibly zero evolution and everything in line with the classic Mondavi-To Kalon relationship. Blackberry, Cassis, black olive and silkened in texture as the Reserve can ever be. Pure weave, ethereal liquidity, fresh, finessed, focused and exacting. Tough on a winemaker? That’s why this is so good. A grand cru Oakville classic, great wine from a challenging vintage. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Napa Valley

Actually some development here, straight into secondary time framing from which balsam and spice are front and centre. The masala comes from cassia stick, bokser pod and liquifies in plum liqueur. Lots of chocolate ganache and in some ways the least indicative Mondavi Reserve vintage for a To Kalon cabernet sauvignon. Acidity is quiet and perhaps this is just a moment in time. Maybe in a year or two the acids will step out of the shadows and rear up once again but I wouldn’t wait nor hold my breath. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, Napa Valley

Tasted in an auspicious group that included a Gros Clos Vougeot ’13, Grange ’11, Haut-Brion ’11 and Sassicaia ’11, all led by Mark de Vere MW and culminating at this Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve ’05. Or as what De Vere quips, “just another night in Napa Valley.” A cool vintage now showing some secondary notes though still presenting balsam, tempered chocolate ganache, pencil lead and graphite. Floral vintage of ethereal whispers and the trilogy promise of the EPF. Elegance, power and finesse. Dark To Kalon fruit and mouth-watering acidity with a vanishing point of mystery still on the horizon, like walking with someone we don’t fully know but feel comfortable in their presence. Still elicits more questions than answers so for a vintage like 2005, 12 years seems to be peak performance. The tannic finish supports Cassis, dried herbs and a briny Mediterranean black olive bite. Tannin begets fine bitters. “Using oak is the virtuoso way to express To Kalon fruit,” says Geneviève Janssens, “after fermentation, to preserve the personality of To Kalon.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1988, Napa Valley

A vintage of reducing and concentrating liqueur, high-toned, distillate, California IGT. A bottling style of the time and the vintage must have procured such fruit meets tannic intensity that it has taken a long time to relent. Higher in acidity than savour, pulsating, energetic. Still a bit frenetic in its wildly animated state of perpetual suspension. A bit Bretty but 1988 carries such an old world sentimentality and the many ties that bind. Despite the great and gritty acidity it remains a balanced cabernet sauvignon, earthy and old school but I’d wager it will continue to drink this way for seven to 10 more years. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1976, Napa Valley

“What order to do pour a vertical tasting,” asks Mark de Vere MW. “When you have 1988, 1999 and 2000 in the mix? You have to think about how the wines were made, how the grapes were grown, without sophisticated equipment, with vineyard managers and winemakers who didn’t know then what they know now.” But, this house named Mondavi has seemingly always known, respected and responded collectively over these things. The terroir – To Kalon. Since tasting 1975 one year ago I can say this: 1976 is remarkably alive, sound and vital. From a very dry year. Ten days of “prolonged” skin-contact. Dill present along with preserved plum, of course mushroom, truffle and what separates this from ’75 is acidity, equal to over even performing above that of 1980. Spice! Tart and still intense. Amazing. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville BDX Red Wine 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley (SAQ, $75.75)

As always the high quality To Kalon fruit as a base source puts the odd in high favour but the idea here is to use parcels that produce lushness and lower tannin so that the wine gifts quite a bit more instant gratification. Mostly cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and originally only sold on premise. Extension through barrel is 24 months in mixed (55/45) Allier French for a liquid chalky result, preserved top notch acidity and a sharpness that demands protein attention. Can’t miss the graphite/pencil lead and in this specific case, tongue tripping vowels which talk the talk of this specific red blend. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville District, Napa Valley

When tasted side by side the genetic lineage and connection to 1999 at ten years apart is uncanny and so it is To Kalon that ties the two, threads the similarity and is the reason. Black olive as always, dusty garrigue and this medi-pedi (Mediterranean pedigree) that unites all cabernet sauvignon from Oakville sites. Same wisdom and freedom, same feeling felt. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley

Has aged with To Kalon grace and while texture is seemingly everything, still you are reminded to engage with the fully seasoned, exigent exhale from the spice box. Aromatically present in balsam and fig, the vineyard’s black olive and then acidity off the proverbial charts. We see how To Kalon mellows in Oakville form, integrates and acts out the marshmallow of time. Hinting now at the tertiary which comes quicker in this range and that is perfectly, allegedly understandably fine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2013, Napa Valley

As with the sauvignon blanc the fruit source is Schweitzer Vineyard, here for the cabernet from three blocks all leading to a bigger, fleshier style. Treated similarly to the Oakville cabernet, long maceration in oak fermenters and 24 months barrel time, six more than the Oakville Reserve because these tannins need further taming. Deep red fruit in tones of strawberry, raspberry and plum with moments that are not unlike European reds in hot climate/seasons. Turns to spicy white toffee, vanilla and before too long the screeching breaks down the scree of tannin. Wait five years. Trust that idea. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2017

A few basic bottles were on hand to greet us @RobertMondavi before the finest wines and cake were offered.

And the opening wines in Mondavi’s cellars

Château Haut Brion Premier Grand Cru Classé 2011, Ac Pessac Léognan (263251, $1,599.85)

A cabernet sauvignon dominant Pessac Léognan off of gravel soils in contrast to some other First Growths Haut Brion is keenly about Château, of reputation, history and acumen. A Bordeaux to cause revelry and from 2011 fresh like you could never expect or imagine. Lithe and mineral, dusty stone and focused. Of continental temper and elegance, black olive and quality chocolate, toasty espresso and late arriving spice. Taste, gather, repeat. Will surely develop next level time-honoured notes of forest floor, mushroom and delicately rendered baking spice. In 20 years and further long-lived expectations. My kind of longevity though the fineness says it will ready itself quite soon. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Domaine Gros Frère Et Soeur Clos De Vougeot Grand Cru “Musigni” 2013, AOC Bourgogne ($300.00)

From the top of the slope at Musigny in a distinct and compelling Clos de Vougeot of intensity and finesse. Deep rooted earth and black cherry fruit, so much fragrance and delicate. A just sharpened pencil, a brush with fennel and lavender, a gaze through a looking glass. At its most calm, a palate silky and accented by a complex mix of spice. A wine to ask “what makes a great wine.” So much more than the length and the finish, always circling back to the start and about the quality of the bitters in their refinement. Where in the process does this occur? When is the magic performed? All the way through and as a by-product of the paradigm of site. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $229.95)

Showing maximum warmth and spirit, high savour by liquorice, mint, fennel and so much spice. Marchese Niccolò Incisa della Rocchetta fixing Bolgheri just as his father did while Robert Mondavi was doing so in Oakville at To Kalon. Revolutions is different places and for Sassicaia, a clear varietal vernacular. Apposite Bordeaux like power and a supple wrist in using extra hands with cabernet franc. Still those chalky tannins. Drink 2020-2029.  Last tasted May 2017

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, cabernet franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smouldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014

Good to go!

godello

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

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WineAlign

California Update: Napa Valley

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

We have all been thinking about California lately. As of September 15th a staggering 7,718 wildfires have burned 3,154,107 acres, damaged or destroyed 5,412 structures and killed 20 people. Devastating numbers and when you begin to read headlines like “Maps: Fires and Air Quality in California, Oregon and Washington,” “California wildfires leave behind trail of devastation and death” and “Smoke from the U.S. wildfires has reached six Canadian provinces,” well then you begin to worry about so many more people and places. Be thankful there is wine.

If intoxicating then well, wine is also nourishing, may even heal the ulcers through which we in the world are bleeding and the acreage where those on the west coast are burning. That is why yesterday’s communication from Napa Valley Vintners struck a chord. The press release began this way. “Wine has the power to bring people of all different backgrounds together. The vintners in Napa Valley believe our community and industry should be open and welcoming to people of colour, whether working in the industry, visiting Napa Valley or enjoying our wines anywhere. With that in mind, today we pledge over $1,000,000 in scholarship and mentorship programs to increase diversity, inclusivity and opportunity in all aspects of the wine industry.” Amazing. The world is burning all around and Napa Valley keeps working towards what’s better, planning for what’s essential and announcing the following:

We are proud to team up with the following organizations to achieve this goal:

  • Bâtonnage: Educating on the challenges and opportunities women and minorities face in the wine industry
  • UNCF (United Negro College Fund): Giving all Americans equal access to a college education
  • Wine Unify: Amplifying the diverse voices of wine professionals

This new support builds on NVV’s longtime commitment to youth mentorship programs in Napa County through Auction Napa Valley proceeds. This year alone, nearly $2 million was invested in nine local non-profits whose mission is to close the achievement gap and help at-risk youth succeed. We have asked our members and trade partners to join us in this effort. While there is still much work ahead, we look forward to welcoming an increasingly diverse chorus of voices to our valley and our industry. Learn more about the NVV efforts.

Invest $1 million in new scholarships

NVV will partner with UNCF to create a new scholarship program for people of color to pursue college degrees in subjects ranging from grape growing, winemaking, marketing, business and more. Each year over the next five years, NVV will invest $200,000 in scholarships and will encourage its members to bolster the scholarship program with donations to help even more students and to ensure the effort extends beyond five years. UNCF has been managing scholarships for minority students for 75+ years and is the largest and most successful minority organization of its kind.

Invest more than $100,000 in two new mentorship programs

  • Bâtonnage fosters solutions for a more positive, inclusive path forward for women and ethnic and racial minorities to achieve equal representation, equal opportunities and equal leadership positions within our industry. Over the next three years, NVV will help fund a mentorship program aimed at providing resources, guidance, recommendations, internships and training programs.
  • Wine Unify was founded by Napa locals Martin Reyes MW, DLynn Proctor, and Mary Margaret McCamic MW. Their mission is to welcome, elevate, and amplify the voices of underrepresented minorities through mentorship and education. NVV has committed to work with Wine Unify over the next three years to help fund their ongoing programs.

Which brings me back to an event in Toronto one year ago, hosted by Napa Valley Vintners and their Canadian partner Paula Oreskovich at Energy Plus Communications. Napa Valley “Celebration of Excellence” Speed Tasting and Trade Tasting was held on November 7th at the Royal Ontario Museum. More than 25 vintners from the Napa Valley were on hand. Trade were afforded three minutes with each producer/vintner to hear their story, taste their two wines per station and ask questions before moving on to the next vintner. It was a thrilling experience as a dating journey to Napa Valley from grape to glass. Wines from Napa, Spring Mountain, Oak Knoll, Oakville, Stags Leap, St. Helena, Yountville, Rutherford, Calistoga and other appellations were poured. Most impressive were the many varied back vintages shared by these producers and their Ontario agents. 

Donate here to California Wildlife Fire Funds and also here

So the question begs, why am I sharing my tasting notes with you now, almost one year later. First and foremost to remind us all that California needs to be front and centre in our minds and hearts. Second, many of these singular wines are still available in very limited quantities through VINTAGES. Third, because I feel like it. Here are my notes on 24 wines tasted.

Artesa Vineyards And Winery Estate Pinot Noir 2016, Carneros (12519, $60.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

From the Napa Valley side of Carneros but also with fruit grown up as far as the foothills of Mount Veeder. Very pure and clear pinot, red fruit juicy, candied in a terrifically stylish and delicious way. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Blackbird Vineyards Arise 2016, Napa Valley ($79.00, Paradigm Fine Fine Agency)

From winemaker Aaron Pott, mainly Oak Knoll fruit off of 20-plus lots sourced in Napa Valley off mountain tops, from hillsides, on bench lands and off of valley floor vineyards. Nearly two years in half new, half seasoned French barrels. A blend of merlot (55 per cent), cabernet franc (25) and cabernet sauvignon 17) with a splash of petit verdot in a mere mortal’s affordable flagship red. Surely a nod to Pomerol with a wink at Napa Valley. Tart, intense tang and really good acidity but also woody and yes the name is Beatles related. “All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.” Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Black Stallion Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Transcendent 2015, Napa Valley (439968, $200.00, Select Wine Merchants)

From the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley and surely Black Stallion’s head of the stable, signature triple-crown wine. A top tier cabernet sauvignon made from the best grapes grown on mountain sites above the fog line. Not just one hilltop vineyard with a view but several; Veeder, Spring, Diamond and Howell, with two per cent Oakville tossed in for good grounding and balancing measure. A four-part essential, Mountain Napa a cappella performance that simply demonstrates, in complex music written for four voices, what a layered wine cane be and in doing so, expresses wow factor times four. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Cain Vineyard And Winery Cain Five 2013, Napa Valley (727925, $199.95, Rogers and Company)

Bordeaux idea with fruit from Spring Mountain, five pronged and truth be told only Cain Five smells this. Earth and soil, elevation and intensity. Botanicals, tar, hillside tea, brush and weeds, natural yeasts and so bloody savoury. Sensorial experience in the fifth degree. Persistently doles out palate amercements with seamless consistency and the pain is all pleasure, each lashing accepted submissively like the one before. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2015, Napa Valley (12544, $100.00, The Vine Agency)

Fruit sources are both Stags Leap District and Yountville AVAs with smaller portion support by petit verdot, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s predominately SLD with one quarter coming from Yountville in a most classically dark-berried and unctuous Napa Valley style. The aridity of the vintage and at this point the age have conspired to accentuate the concentration and the spice. Correct to the nth degree. Drink 2019-20212.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon Hommage 2014, Napa Valley (739219, $156.00, Azureau Wines and Spirits)

A reserve cabernet sauvignon at 77 per cent with petit verdot in Calistoga. Bloody unctuous, deliciously lush and luxe cabernet. Though set into a price range with parameters of equivocation, for those who seek the tête de cuvée of a professional Napa Valley estate’s cabernet range with a true microcosmic sense of place, this Hommage signature from Clos Pegase will rise to that fore. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley ($150.00, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

The signature cabernet sauvignon from southern valley sites where cooler winds can prevail and off of estate vineyards in the Mount Veeder and Napa Valley AVA’s. This ’16 is possessive of it all with twang acidity tang surrounding the rich chalky liquidity of the southern valleys’ cabernet beauty. Highly composed wine, in total clarity, control and surprisingly fresh alacrity. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Eleven Eleven Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Laki’s Vineyard 2016, Napa Valley

From winemaker Kirk Venge who practices the art of fashioning varietal wines “for more glasses”, and making a wish for all of us to stop everything you’re doing, to take stand and notice that “this is what we’ve made.” Not so much a contemplation, rumination or meditation as a recognition and an appreciation. In this case a 100 per cent estate Oak Knoll cabernet aged in 80 per cent new French Oak for silky smooth texture and dry as the desert styling. Quite finessed and harnessed for exemplary balance. Ready to rock. Drink 2  020-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley (96016, $25.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Hand-brushed vineyards, which is winemaker Jenny Wagner’s way of crop thinning. Good acidity lean and sharp, really impressive and in a vein quantifiable as the most appreciable of all the Caymus stylings. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena (12521, $269.00, Lifford Wines and Spirits)

From the family property in St. Helena and cabernet sauvignon planted in 1990 on deep and low fertility Cortina soils. Mixes in one-quarter cabernet franc from Rosemary Cakebread’s vineyards in the Oakville range, 130m above the Silverado Trail. All organic, with the franc brining in components of florals and posit tugs of savour, sapidity and physicality. Not that the sauvignon needed any help because that fruit is rich, wise and complex as a stand alone but the franc surely elevates the entire collective into rareified air. Tasted with Gallica’s Sales Director Alex French. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Oakville (606517, $120.00, The Vine Agency)

Suzanne Groth’s 2015 is the first vintage with new Director of Winegrowing Cameron Parry, hired in 2014 as only the third winemaker in Groth’s history since the family’s first vintage in 1982. The estate cabernet’s fruit comes from right in Oak Knoll and may just be the dictionary entry for parochial red fruit with its distinct savoury edginess. That said you feel or at least intuit the 14 per cent inclusion of merlot what with a subtle doubling down of brushy autumnal dried fruit and verdant notes. Overall tart and beautiful, an honest and true expression of Groth and Oak Knoll. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (273391, $99.00, Noble Estates)

Hall is based in St. Helena and in a Napa Valley tasting of 24 diverse options of great and elevated quality it is unequivocally the most forward and naturally understood wine in the room. If perhaps it presents as simple on the outside it is confidently complex on the inside. In this regard you can imagine the sentiment provided by 50 per cent new oak but you feel it bigger, better and more so on the palate. Provides the context for texture, of a seamless blending in chocolate and chalk. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville (534800, $113.00, Wilson Group Wines & Spirits)

From the 1983 planted 10 acre estate vineyard in Oakville, very much considered the flagship wine. Only To Kalon shares a volcanic element affinity with the quarter portion at Hoopes, an important if not profound geological inclusion in the Oakville sub-appellation. Lindsay Hoopes is justifiably high on this 2014 from Spencer Hoopes and fruit found at the base of Yountville Hill. In addition to being basaltic it’s also the most geologically diverse on the valley floor; contains sand and clay in packed density and as determined by the legend David Howell, ’tis is magical place, here confirmed in what is truly a cabernet of magic. Now having arrived in its window, have a go and then repeat for the next 10 years. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Keenan Merlot 2015, Napa Valley ($50.00, Profile Wine Group)

Plum dusty, chalky and verdant. Showing some dried fruit. Spring Mountain portion is quantifiably structured, though also agreeable in ageable fruit. Thirty five is Carneros fruit so a merge of two cool climates. Quite charming in the end. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley ($84.95, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

Ashley Heisey’s 2014 is more than just a child of a most arid vintage in Napa Valley’s recent history, it was also early and with no frost during bud break, the strong, early fruit set in the vineyard organized the season on a collision course with all things warmth. High temperatures and no rain meant an early August harvest of cabernet fruit already deep into black cherry and blackberry. By 2019 this LMR signature red is speaking in Mayacamas Mountains tones, resonant, baritone and profound. The drying of fruit, spices and tannins are combining at a vanishing point from which perspective optimizes in the here and now. Drink this in perfect window opportunity over the next two years. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Luna Vineyards Sangiovese 2016, Napa Valley (La Céleste Levure)

From two elevations, floor and foothills, mainly planted in 1999. Game Farm Vineyard on the Silverado Trail below Rector Creek Dam is the most important source, of shallow, rocky soils that stress the deprivation out of need to struggle sangiovese. The cooler Napa Valley sites bring the savour and ulterior form of tension to the mix. Elévage is warm fermentation, malolactic encouraged, 30 per cent new French and Hungarian oak barrels for 20 months. The result is in a Chianti Classico Riserva vein, fruit highly concentrated with some dried desiccated notes and no shortage of local savour. That’s really what separates it into a Napa Valley thing, far away from the Tuscan homeland. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2010, Napa Valley ($140.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Fabulous retrospective look back at a wine produced by the then 32 year-old winery from a selection of grapes from all four estate vineyards located in the home lands of the winery. A highly specific gander into Napa Valley’s smallest AVA, very influenced by marine essence for a guarantee of freshness that persists even today. Rich but compressed and dried herb sumptuous. Beautiful wine, so textured and having been purposed for structure now resides in a realm dominated by sweet spice. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Revana Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, St. Helena (12528, $265.00, Le Sommelier Inc.)

Revana Family Vineyards is owned by Dr. Madaiah Revana who currently is a practicing Cardiologist in Houston, Texas. Thomas Rivers Brown is now employed as winemaker and Jim Barbour as Vineyard Manager. Taken from eight acres, planted in 1998 with the first vintage being 2001, originally in the hands of Heidi Barrett and this was her last vintage. A geological site in St. Helena of alluvial flow off of the Mayacamas range. Intense black olive and very Mediterranean in complex scenting with great acidity. All in Cassis fills the flavour profile. Ten year-old cabernet sauvignon still going strong. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Rocca Family Vineyards Vespera 2016, Napa Valley ($84.00, Brand New Day Wines & Spirits)

“Vespera,” as in late-evening, gathering time. Estate grown and organically farmed red blend from Collinetta Vineyard in Coombsville and Grigsby Vineyard in Yountville. Varietal composition is 57 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (37) syrah and (6) merlot, aged 17 months in small French oak barrels, 65 per cent new. Floral and beautiful, silky, silken, lush and so elongated. Spiced and juicy peppery, warm to humid with generous alcohol though very fluid and forward. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley (60152, $124.95, Profile Wine Group) 

A massively structured and concentrated wine with teeming and oozing fruit, heavy barrel accord in which texture and tannin weave a future likely to unwind over two decades time. Classic Signorello spice and red citrus. Very limited quantities (by mailing list only) and out of the hands of a new winemaking team. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Silenus Cabernet Sauvignon Tyros 2015, Napa Valley (16409, $49.95, Carpe Vinum International)

From Oak Knoll and fruit that used to be sold to Mondavi, very modern and with 22 per cent merlot. Verdant liqueur tones and real glycerin. Herbal and slick with a thinning in elasticity. “Mini” debauching here. As for the name, Tyros means apprentice, in reference to Silenus being mentor to charge or beginner Dionysus. Also an old Greek naval town in Arcadia, Peloponnese. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Taub Family Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges Iii Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (12538, $225.00) 

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family is part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The overall pedigree is at the top of the unparalleled game and so huge fruit expected, hedonistic result gained. So much fruit, spicy and massive structure with the future holding so much truffle and charcoal, figs so very Rutherford and could only be from the place. Massive chew of cabernet sauvignon fruit and also very seasoned into the Ribena. All that said there is something hidden, something potentially profound about the Chiaroscuro magic concealed within. Wouldn’t be in a such a hurry to find out what lurks inside this rare Napa Valley wine. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Trefethen Family Vineyards Merlot The Cowgirl And The Pilot 2016, Napa Valley ($125.00, Vinexx)

A tribute to Janet & John Trefethen, Cowgirl and Pilot respectively, from a vineyard planted in 2003. Merlot grows best on the clay-loam-silty soil valley floor and the site confirmed the potential from the very first vintage, so says Jon Ruel, CEO and viticulturalist. This truly is Napa merlot, from thinned clusters, trimmed of tips and shoulders like pinot, evenly ripened and it shows. Seamless merlot to be sure with a beautifully spicy finish. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon BRV 2013, Napa Valley (514224, $120.00, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

Part of the third generation Heritage Collection line in the hands of Bob Torres nearly 70 years into the family’s work at Trinchero. Off of soils ranging from gravelly to loamy to alluvial, the BRV comes from the Atlas Peak AVA and my is it big and brawny. So much black olive, brood and badass attitude, inclusive of a 10 percent mix of malbec and petit verdot. They add structure in a wine of crazy high pH (3.95). Just wow. Still a bambino. Drink 20121-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Good to go!

godello

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

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WineAlign

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

Alternative and unexpected California

Pop goes @california.wines unexpected whites with phenomenal insight by @hawk_wakawaka ~ Thank you Elaine, Paula @CalifWines_CA

Elaine Chukan Brown came to town and if you’ve never heard her speak on the subject of California wines then you have yet lived. The California Wine Fair has been rolling through Canada for coming upon forty years running and this past April she and the show stopped in Toronto. It has continued to exist as the largest Canadian gathering of that state’s wines under one roof you are ever going to find. The American specialist at JancisRobinson.com, contributing writer with Wine & Spirits Magazine and eloquent meets erudite penner of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews was the keynote speaker at the trade luncheon but it was her morning presentation of California’s unexpected white varietals that got me thinking. Thinking about California wine.

Elaine Chukan Brown

Unexpected might also mean alternative though when talking about grape varieties grown in a place where nothing is truly endemic and everything is expatriate, is there truly such an animal? I could digress into commentary about immigration policies but I’ll stay the course and stick to wine. Brown’s seminar was appropriately referenced with more than one headline because it wasn’t just about varietals. The lecture indeed touched upon malvasia bianca, vermentino and chenin blanc but it also spoke of sparkling, Rosé and iconic blends made by archetypal producers. Not a singular notion by any means of conferral and so ultimately necessary to be expressed in diversified terms. Alternative and unexpected but not without a hit of developed orthodoxy and a whack of doctrinal emigration.

The cross-Canada celebration of California’s wine community began as a single-city event in Ottawa in 1980 and is now the largest annual wine tour across Canada. The California Wine Fair is is the hands of Praxis PR’s Paula Oreskovich and I would be shocked if there is a more successful regional tour, especially at this scale. The 2018 edition was no exception and adding Elaine Chukan Brown to the bill was both a coup and a stroke of brilliant thinking.

There were 10 wines involved in the determinate and evaluative discourse. I could kudize the selections and the seamless flow from reception wine Rosé through epiphanic Brut and across a swath of right proper showing white wines. I could but I’d rather concentrate on Brown’s photographic mind and ability to convey California wine growing region geography, topography and climatic influences. To present these things to a Toronto wine body politic eager for information. This presentation was science incarnate, pure and motivating. It dispatched the essence of the California dialectic and if you understand varietals, growing conditions and economics, what you soak in may actually allow you to write down what will happen in the future, much like you might write down the history of the past. A California history that speaks of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir. A California future that is alternative, unexpected and wide open.

Folded Hills Lilly Rosé 2017, Santa Inez Valley, California (Winery, WineAlign)

From the Bush family, Rhône varietals are the impetus with this second fruit from a Rosé vineyard set situated in proximation of Ballard Canyon, where things ripen quite formidably. It’s a top location for pinot noir but here an even better place for grenache and syrah. The wine spent 24 hours on skins, was fermented and aged in neutral oak. Crisp acidity speaks to the area’s growing conditions and in its way acts as grenache vin gris, of tart pink to red currants in a glass. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  folded hills  @foldedhills  Folded Hills

Caraccioli Brut Cuvée 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, California (Winery, WineAlign)

Caraccioli Brut Cuvée 2010 is a pinot noir speciality transferred to sparkling for flinty, smoky, salty and briny sea fresh character from out of a cold Alaskan bred Pacific current. Top, absolute upper end of Brut with 12 g/L sugar and high natural acidity, which is essential. Four years on lees, but that burgeoning acidity works more magic than the yeasts do for texture. As tart as sparkling wine gets and it’s from California. A journey that began in 2010 for only 96 cases made. Price is $52 at the winery. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2018  caracciolicellars  @caraccioliwines  Caraccioli Cellars

Palmina Malvasia Bianca 2016, Santa Ynez Valley, California (Agent, WineAlign)

East of centre in the valley, just crossing into Ballard Canyon, from sand over chalk. These are soils that warm up fast, ripening a variety that wants to be bitterly phenolic but finds a way to make use of fog from coastal influences in a nook where the mountains run west to east. The limestone in turn acts as the conduit in delivery of great acidity. From green apple to south asian tropical fruit but I can’t say I’ve ever tasted anything like it before. Yes, the acidity is grand and yes, there is a bitter phenolic note though it’s like great gin. A wildly aromatic wine. There are 62 cases made. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  palminawines  barrelselect  @palminawines  @BarrelSelect  Palmina Winery  @barrelselect

Ryme Cellars Hers Vermentino 2016, Carneros, Sonoma County, California (Winery, WineAlign)

From just over on the Sonoma side of Carneros, the last vineyard before you hit marshlands in San Pablo Bay. Alto, musky and floral notes on the nose, a deep sax, A Love Supreme. What’s curious and high level is the texture, which speaks to place, soil and I suppose, winemaking. It’s part malolactic from neutral oak to further explain, with a mix of stainless steel to keep it Trane chord change airy, elevated, ante-flat earth society vermentino. Approximately $25-29 US. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  ryme_cellars  @RymeCellars  Ryme Cellars

Matthiasson White Blend 2015, Napa Valley, California (Winery, WineAlign)

Ostensibly an example of a ribolla gialla led, Friuli styled blend by Steve Matthiasson. It’s a grouping of sauvignon blanc, sémillon, ribolla gialia and tokai friuli (friulano) as the components, turning the Friuli a bit on its head but its more about fruit than pyrazine with a ribolla lick off the ground. There is a nutty note, namely almond from tokai and a flinty strike by sémillon. Unilaterally fermented in neutral barrels and then eventually transferred back in. Great balance, complex and long as the coastal range. Come back to it and it has a wonderful savoury, candied childhood memory feeling. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  matthiasson_wine  @matthiassonwine  Matthiasson Wines

J Vineyards And Winery Pinot Gris 2016, Russian River Valley, California (Agent, WineAlign)

Introduced by Elaine Brown as “a testament to the notion that pinot gris is a noble grape, that expresses its place and adaptation from place to place.” A wine as child of western Sonoma County daily fog incursion, absorbed by the clay, a gift of natural refrigeration, non-pushed sugar development, working for gris, not just noir. Semi-mouth watering freshness, unctuousness and notable sweetness.”Round and hovering,” full and tart, mid-range in the mouth. Minor barrel fermented plus 15 per cent new, as kisses for a nutty depth and orange marmalade flavour. Quite delicious, full of texture and flavour. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  #jvineyardsandwinery  gallocareers  @JWinery  @gallocareers  J Vineyards & Winery  Gallo Family Vineyards  E. & J. Gallo Winery

Birichino Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Old Vines 2016, Santa Ynez Valley, California (Winery, WineAlign)

From a site protected from wind, a diurnal temperature shift with more of a breeze effect, above the fog line at a high (1100 ft.) elevation. All this to say that you’ll end up with increased aromatics, from own-rooted vines planted in the 70s on sandy soils. Chèvre funky, tangy on the acid notes, with layers of ripeness, but with no developed botrytis and then some fruit picked in December mixed right in. It’s green, white, pink and yellow. It’s all in, not overly punchy but very expressive. From apple to brine and back again. This may be the vintage that has it all. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  birichino_official    Birichino

Chateau Montelena Riesling Potter Valley 2016, Mendocino, California (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The first wine Montelena ever released was in fact riesling, a Bo Barrett obsession, slightly inland in the far north on Mendocino. It’s a high elevation at 900 ft., on highly oxygenated, well-draining, gravelly-loam soils with a touch of clay. Made in a combination of stainless steel and neutral oak. The lullaby phenolic and dreamy glycerin fruit content is high, with help from minor (4 g/L) of RS and what is essentially an arrested acidity. A very underdeveloped riesling, youthful and rich, just bloody delicious. Lime, snappy green apple and gravel stone bleed. Riesling as good as it gets in California, from Mendocino all the way down. Perfect for this desert life. “If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts. You can never escape, you can only move south down the coast…Hey Mrs. Potter won’t you talk to me.” Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  chmontelena  rogersandcompanywines  @ChMontelena  @rogcowines  Chateau Montelena Winery  Rogers & Company

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc To Kalon Reserve 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

The Reserve is the top level for fumé blanc (aside from the I-Block) and a wine made since 1966. There must be more sémillon in 2014 because it’s as smoky and flinty as it ever has been. A portion of the 1945 I-Block vines generously add sauvignon blanc in this wine. This is the original, the history of California wine, the alternate varietal spoken ahead of all the others. Reduced vigour vines from volcanic, well-draining soils for purity and decades long honesty. Always absurdly fresh, integrated, with an ability to age low and slow. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted April 2018  robertmondavi  #constellationbrands  @RobertMondavi  @cbrands  Robert Mondavi Winery  Constellation Brands

Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit De Tablas Blanc 2015, Paso Robles, California (Agent, 735506, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the far western side’s folded, undulated hills on the western range that bring in cold air through its streams. A place of cold night and even some persistent cool air during the day. It’s roussanne based, but this ulterior vintage means an elongated ripening so the roussanne was low in acidity, therefore more picpoul was employed for acid. It’s fleshy, creamy toffee, candied floral and candied citrus plus orchard fruit and mango. Should turn waxy and seem more mineral as the alloys emerge and the fruit dissolves. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  tablascreek  @TablasCreek  @ChartonHobbs  Tablas Creek Vineyard  CHARTON-HOBBS QUEBEC

Pop goes @california.wines unexpected whites with phenomenal insight by @hawk_wakawaka ~ Thank you Elaine, Paula @CalifWines_CA

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

No, wines do not have to be old to blow your mind but there is just something so mysterious, magical and hypnotizing about the experience of age in preservation. When we use the cliché “tasting history” it distracts from what is most poignant about tasting older wines. It’s the humbling and how wisdom, acumen and meteorological circumstance conspire to take us away from our troubles, to forget about life for a while and to realize that forces greater than us are truly in charge.

There are also young wines so precocious and wise beyond their years that they somehow intuit the future. These too can blow our minds, addle us as if lovestruck and disoriented so that only this confluence of smell, taste, texture and structure are what we know. It takes all kinds to populate a list that separates greatness from the rest, but that does not means only 17 wines were tasted to be extraordinary in 2017.  It means that some struck a vein while others grazed on the skin. Most important is that all were experienced because someone chose to share them. Thank you to the producers and the benefactors for bringing these bottles to light.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Honourable Mentions

Château Haut-Brion 1986, Saffredi 2004, Brokenwood Sémillon 2007, Domaine Gros Frères Clos Voguent Musigni 2013, M. Lapierre Morgon 2010, Domaine G. Roumier Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1996, Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie 2006, Coppo Barbera d’Asti Nizza Riserva della Famiglia 2009, Le Fraghe Bardolino 2015, Sordo Barolo Riserva Gabutti 2006, Carobbio Chianti Classico 1990, J & J Eger Kékfrankos 2006, Château Léoville Las Cases 2001, François Cotat Chavignol Sancerre Rosé 2009, Domaine La Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pâpe La Crau 2005, D’Arie Syrah 2012, Julia Bertram Handwerk Spätburgunder 2015, Planeta Carricante Eruzione 1614 2015, Dominus 1994, Château Lafite Rothschild 1998 and Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques 1993.

Several times a years I gather with groups of like-minded, wine-spirited folks, to break bread and to pop established icons, singular archetypes, varietal rarities and supernumerary misfits. Many of the wines on this 2017 list are a result of having been fortunate enough to be included in repeated repasts with pirates on picnics and doctors at dinner.  Most of the rest are travel related, in fact this year alone I tasted approximately 700 sangiovese, 200 barbera, 200 corvina and 100 nebbiolo. So many more of those praiseworthy reds and rosés deserved spots on this docket but alas, the list is short. I do not fulminate them, nor you neither. Here are Godello’s 17 mind-blowing wines of 2017.

It began like this and I got 15 dollars hid above the stove.

Möet & Chandon Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut Champagne 1990, Champagne, France (280461, AgentWineAlign)

Tasted blind the hue immediately leads the mind in one of two directions; hot vintage or decades of age. I’m tempted to consider a combination of the two, so the decision is warm vintage and a minimum of twenty years age. Further introspection takes me back to 1990 and when the reveal confirms this and in the abide of Dom Pérignon it means one thing. Start the process of thinking again. This wine has done its work, having accumulated a diverse set of developmental traits and processed them so that the language it now speaks is clear and pure. At 27 years of age it’s delicate, smooth, soft-spoken and settled. The finest golden toast (again in hue and more importantly in aroma) glows into the creamy texture, like preserved lemon transformed into gelid curd. The mouthfeel is exceptional with baking bread rising, puffy and satiny glazed across the palate. The seamlessness of this Champagne seeks, solicits and makes rendezvous with no peer or challenger its equivalent, not should any comparison be made. Kudos to a wine that stands on its own and makes you feel this good. It will continue to do so up to and perhaps beyond its 40th birthday. Drink 2017-2030.  Tasted March 2017  moetchandon  @chartonhobbs  @MoetUSA  @ChartonHobbs  @Champagne  Moët & Chandon  Charton Hobbs Canada  Champagne

Famille Picard Saint Aubin Premier Cru Le Charmois 2014, AOC Bourgogne (522078, $57.95, WineAlign)

This is a chardonnay to place the village of Saint Aubin in a remarkable light if only because it’s the most stony, flinty and tightly wound example just about ever. The Charmois is the elevator that carries the appellation into a purity of climat for Bourgogne Premier Cru. In this case terroir delivers the idea of Climat but it is the interaction of the maker that defines the notion simply because there is no mess and no fuss. It just feels like drinking straight from a bleed of the calcareous land, as might happen in a limestone goblet filled with Montrachet. You have no idea how good a deal this is from the most excellent 2014 vintage. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted October 2017  domainesfamillepicard  profilewinegroup  #bourgognewines #FamillePicard  @ProfileWineGrp  @BourgogneWines  Domaines Famille Picard  Profile Wine Group  Bourgogne Wines

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2015, AOC Bourgogne (Agent, $480.00 WineAlign)

Chevalier-Montrachet is a matter of aromatics, of the finest of the finest, preserved, reserved, impressionable and of quietly powerful impression. The deistic and the parrhesiastic are reached in this Grand Cru, “one who speaks the truth to power.” Elysium in chardonnay is captured for the perfectly ripe orchard and crushed stones. The young palate is almost severe but takes its first steps down the most ethereal path, with the finest drawn lines and rendered streaks of energy lit, sparked and smouldering. This is Bourgogne of intrinsic value, slowly rising to a crescendo where a flame flickers but within the sheltered lamp of a hurricane. How is such harnessed power even possible? Only like this, in Chevalier-Montrachet . Drink 2021-2037.  Tasted April 2017  bouchardpereetfils  woodmanws  vinsdebourgogne  @BouchardPere  @WoodmanWS  @VinsdeBourgogne  Bouchard Père & Fils  Woodman Wines & Spirits  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines

Domaine Sigalas Kavalieros 2015, Santorini, Greece (SAQ 11814421WineAlign)

I’ve not yet tasted the Kavalieros 2014, so this single-vineyard, 18 months on lees done in stainless steel Kavalieros 2015 made by “Mr. George” is the benchmark for Santorini, assrytiko and salty white wines everywhere. The first release was 2009. Straight up and turning the world on its head, like the old man on the label and upside down against Apollo’s Aegean Cyclades. This ’15 richer still, more than the seven villages wines and a hyperbole as compared to the entry-level assyrtiko, of deeper mineral, compressed, layered and fantastic. Crushed rocks permeate in aggregate, it’s quixotically saline and textured, of intense presence and finally, structured. For 15 years at least. A late shot of natural Santorini tonic swirls in centrifuge with assyrtiko so wound up. This will need 10 years to unwind and allow for cracks to form in the mineral shell, followed by the birth of its fruit. It should never be forgotten that assyrtiko can and will show fruit but with Kavalieros you’ll have to be patient. Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2017  @DomaineSigalas  @MajesticWineInc  winesofgreece  domainesigalas  @MajesticWineInc  @DrinkGreekWine  @DomaineSigalas  Panayiota Kalogeropoulou  Wines of Greece

Penfolds Grange 2011, South Australia (356121, $750.00, WineAlign)

There is just something about cool, rainy and irreconcilably regarded vintages that brings out the best in wines made by winemakers of elite acumen. Deliver your best from the greatest of harvests but also “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Leave the middle of the road to someone else. This Grange faced adversity and won. The yields and output may only be 50 per cent of normal but what gives is the silky texture of Grand Cru Bourgogne. This chosen one of singular vision to represent the multi-tiered and faceted Penfolds Estate tells us about the world inhabited by the instinctual and the ethereal. It combines tannin, structure and aesthetic deeply engrossed in the shadow of its own looming destruction, but is designed from the first with an eye to its later existence as a ruin, forever preserved. If a perfect plum and a magical olive were crossed they would welcome this collective spice of no equal. The quality of bite and chew lead to rumination and the savour rests on a chart clearly defined but in high contrast and only to itself. An analgeisc meets hypnotic cooling is mentholated though if not specific in origin it is only and highly natural. Legendary vintage? Why not. This calm, cool and collected 2011 may just outlast some of the more recently considered top vintages of ’06, ’08 and ’10. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017  penfolds  markanthonyon  wineaustralia  @penfolds  @MarkAnthonyWine  @Wine_Australia  Penfolds  @MarkAnthonyWine  Wine Australia

A deep #eredichiappone vertical delve with Daniele for perspective and a release of endorphins @ilNizza possibilities #progrettovini #collisionimonferrato

Erede Di Chiappone Armando Barbera D’asti Superiore Nizza DOC RU 2006, Piedmont, Italy (WineAlign)

RU by Daniele Chiappone is this, at first something altogether inexplicable but when tasted alongside his 2005, 2010 and 2011 it makes such perfect sense. Sense in where this fits in his evolution and to speak on behalf of the age-worthy ability of Nizza barbera. In a world where barbera perfume so often performs with perfunctory brevity this goes on and on. It is a unique combination of fennel frond, incense, hibiscus and violet to create an intoxicant and an anaesthetic. Yet another exceptional vintage is revealed, traditional and so alive, spun from earth crusting over cherry and then this smooth leather. The portal backwards 10 years allows for looks forward 10 more, especially into what’s coming from 2015 and 2016. To say the match with a prodigiously spiced in aromatic ragu over linguine was agreeable would be the understatement of the Monferrato century. Perfectly timed acidity seals the deal. This is barbera folks, of wit, age and history. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  erededi  ilnizza  @erededi  @ilNizza  Erede Di Chiappone Armando  IlNizza

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017  robertmondavi  @RobertMondavi  Robert Mondavi Winery

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Columbia Valley, Washington (Agent, WineAlign)

A truly remarkable nose, notably violets and peregrine species of spices. There is so much perfume and beauty, an Aishwarya Rai Bachchan nose and then there is the fruit. Blackberry, Cassis then into vanilla, scented happiness like ruby red grapefruit and bergamot. If it should have aged I can’t say but it’s still a voluminous and voluptuous thing to sip. It blinds like first Growth Bordeaux with its perfect extraction. Thoughts keep at it, to blueberries, cigar box and Kirsch. The tannins are sweet and gritty, not fully resolved and imagine Margaux. You could consider taking out a mortgage on yours and your neighbour’s house for this one. It was one of many great reds tonight but I’ve just tasted this. And I wept. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted March 2017  @QuilCreekWinery  @thevineagency  winesofwashington  wa_state_wine  @QuilCreekWinery  @TheVine_RobGroh  Quilceda Creek Vintners  @WINESofWA  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency  Washington State Wine

A great honour to taste this 1995 #carobbio #leone and in memory of #carlonovarese Thank you Dario and Silvia. Would like the chance to do it again in 22 years #toscana #sangiovese

Tenuta Carobbio Leone 1995, IGT Toscana, Italy (WineAlign)

Leone 1995 was made under the auspices of the Vittorio Fiore-Gabriella Tani oenology stylistic for Carlo Novarese. To say that this single-vineyard sangiovese is youthful would be the biggest IGT understatement of the century. From vines that at the time were 25 years-old, Leone is not just a survivor of a universally-declared incredible vintage, it is a singular expression from 1990’s Tuscany, in Chianti Classico and for Panzano. The violets, dried espresso and plum-amaretti semifreddo (savoury, not sweet) mixes with fennel frond, fresh rosemary and the 20-plus years lingering Carobbio tobacco. The acidity is fully intact, still travelling up and down the sides of the tongue, repeatedly and soliciting so much savour, sapidity, a desire for a mouthful of hematic, rare sear of Claudia’s beef filet and then more and more sipping. After 20 minutes the aromatics deliver a raspberry purée and even a black olive and mineral-saline, short of briny caper into the fray by stroke of some aromatic brush and bush in the light afternoon wind. That’s enough. I’m not sure my heart can take any more. Time for Vin Santo. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted February 2017  carobbio_wine  chianticlassico  @Tenuta_Carobbio  @chianticlassico  Tenuta Carobbio  Chianti Classico

In @chianticlassico mano nella mano 1986, @fontodi #vignadelsorbo & #flaccianello thank you Giovanni Manetti for sharing these two opposing forces of the Tuscan paradox #chianticlassico

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 1986, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Flaccianello in 1986 is actually though not surprisingly so different from Vigna del Sorbo, more than any other reason because of the cabernet sauvignon, but in a more philosophical way, because they have built a paradox, from the Super Tuscan ideal in revolution. Now the sangiovese going forward will be the most important and also the best wine, like looking back at this 1986, OK, not better than Sorbo but purer, honest, a clearer picture from which to learn from and ultimately a model for the future. Beautiful power, restraint, structure and yes, the kind of wine that deserves to be praised with the term elegance, overused, or not. Perfectly rustic, earthy and full of fruit with its accompanying complimentary, enervating and necessary acidity. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted September 2017  Fontodi  chianticlassico    @chianticlassico  Chianti Classico  Az. Agr. Fontodi

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2010, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $202.95, WineAlign)

There are few Brunello vintages afforded more attention in the last 10-plus, certainly ’04 and ’06, increasingly better even from ’08 and looking forward towards what greatness will come in 2015. Yes but not solely magnified through the lens of patience and bottle time, from 2010 La Mannella has coupled upon and layered over itself like compressed fruit and puff pastry. Though it begs for drink now attention, another seven years will be needed before it can safely be labeled as uncoiled and to reveal all that is wrapped so tight. Rich is not the operative but unmistakeable as Cortonesi it is; that natural clay soil funk of resolution and fully hydrated chalk. This is to sangiovese as Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis or Rangen Grand Cru Alsace are to Riesling. It carries in its pocket the absolute meaning and genetic responsibility of where it comes from, with a curative and restorative ability to get you lost. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted February 2017  marcora85  nicholaspearcewines  brunellodimontalcino  @LaMannella  @Nicholaspearce_  @ConsBrunello  Tommaso Cortonesi  Nicholas Pearce  Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Grand Cru Clos De La Roche 1998, AOC Bourgogne, France (Agent, $364.95, WineAlign)

Clos de La Roche 1998 may be 19 years old but you have to swirl the britches out of this Grand Cru because reduction persists in its make-up. Once you work your way over the wall a field of wildflowers and a roses bouquet lays out as far as the nose can mind’s eye. This is pure candy in its most arid, blessed and gout de terroir way. It is as charming as Burgundy can be and yet so fine of tannin, tight and duplicitously-grained in clone upon itself. One of those wines so difficult to put to words because it teaches and you can do nothing but listen. I’d still want to wait two more years, maybe more, before knowing I’ve waited long enough. Close de la Roche speaks to me but to answer with any real credibility and respect I will need to think some more. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted February 2017  domaine_de_bellene  nicholaspearcewines  vinsdebourgogne  @RochedeBellene  @Nicholaspearce_  @VinsdeBourgogne  Bellene  Nicholas Pearce  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines

Not just #meerlust more like major lust. Thank you for the sexy time travel @meerlustwine Laurel Keenan and The South African Wine Society.

Meerlust Rubicon 1984, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Meerlust dates back to 1693, the house that is “love or pleasure of the sea.” Less than five kms south from the Atlantic Ocean, the property was purchased in 1756 and to this day remains family owned, now in its eighth generation with 260 years of continuity. Rubicon 1984 is poured (with brilliant decision making) from magnum and is therefore fresher than the 1996 with an incredibly controlled level of fineness in tannin, from acidity and at the threshold of understood volatility. “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood,” like this early Rubicon. The future of Meerlust is foretold with Orwellian transparency, bold honesty and expert ability. “Who controls the past controls the future.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2017  meerlustwine  wosa_za  wosa_ca  liffordgram  @MeerlustWine  @LiffordON  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  MEERLUST ESTATE  Lifford Wine and Spirits  Wines of South Africa

Boscarelli Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 1982, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The Boscarelli acts like a much younger Nobile, from an exceptional vintage and a producer way ahead of its time. The key is to decide which side of the evolutionary fence we’re on, closer to that 1967 from Contucci or to what is happening today. This may actually be the turning point for Vino Nobile because it really has one foot entrenched in each world. Very much in the mushroom and truffle aromatic atmosphere, where sangiovese should feel free and comfortable to travel in the twilight of its golden years. This is beautiful, with some dark fruit persisting and acidity still in charge. You can imagine the old tannins but they no longer make any demands. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #PoderiBoscarelli  lucadeferrarildf  artisanal_wine_imports  consorzionobile  #poderiboscarelli  Nicolò De Ferrari   Luca De Ferrari  @artisanalwineimports

Antichi Poderi Dei Marchesi Di Barolo Gia’ Opera Pia Barolo 1958, Piedmont, Italy (WineAlign)

Poured by Ernesto Abbona on his wife Anna’s birthday, a ’58 at the ripe old age of 58 (though it will turn 59 later this year). Simply, in the words of the Abbona family, “a special evening, special friends, special vintage,” with a cork that looks as good as new, though Ernesto takes great time and care in its extraction. The aromas are blessed of a collective umami but would better be served by a new descriptor because they are antediluvian and impossibly preserved. Forget mushrooms and truffles. These scents are brand new, with no truly identifiable frame of reference, as if plucked from some guise of Eden where never before tasted dark berries fall effortlessly into the hand off of gariga savoury-scented bushes, brambly and crawling intertwined with nasturtium on a composting forest floor. The 1958 was and still is a nebbiolo of struttura, of a fibra morale that tells a story of consistency and longevity. With air it became more complex if deeper and turbido. That this magical nebbiolo from another era hovered in the lasting air of a 30 minute long ethereal says that you could open a few more but perhaps not much beyond its 60th birthday. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  marchesibarolo  majesticwinesinc  @MarchesiBarolo  @MajesticWineInc  @marchesibarolo  Majestic Wine Cellars

The mythology of #thorle #riesling in Beerenauslese and Trockenbetenauslese #weingutthörle #gabsheim #rheinhessen #holle

Thörle Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Hölle 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

The Hölle TBA 2011 is a minuscule 180 bottle single-vineyard production and the vintage was simply perfect for the effort. The process involved the collection of a few berries at a time over the course of three weeks, started in the fridge and was then pressed when the amount of approximately 100L could be obtained. “This is the king’s discipline for creating such a riesling” explains Christoph Thörle. Thick like honey, full of unctuousness and viscosity. It is expressly noticed how the colour and the development have not advanced considering the six year mean. The exoticism is what separates this, with fruits far east, creamy and perfectly easy to assimilate, in flavour, consistency and understanding. Sweet herbology, of thai basil and thyme and candied mandarin rind. Here, a piece of history and legacy from Christoph and Johannes. Drink 2021-2041.  Tasted March 2017  thorle_c  thorleestatewinery  univinscanada  @thoerle  @UNIVINS  @germanwineca  @gen_riesling

Will be a top ’17 from 2017 #louisguntrum #1976 @weininstitut #rieslingauslese #niersteiner #heiligen #nierstein #niersteinamrhein #roterhang

Weingut Louis Guntrum Riesling Auslese Niersteiner Heilibengaum 1976, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

“Roter Hang is a geological statement” says Louis Konstantin Guntrum. If you want to hang around and try to understand its red soils and friable limestone fettle it requires a focused state of mind. Guntrum introduces this 1976 by saying “it’s a young guy, 40 years old,” the same thing he could have said years ago about a 1917 Roter Hang Riesling. The comparative studies is a matter of perspective, a theory of relativity, in reduction, colour, drama, florality and fabulousness. While certain vintages and specific wines will blow you away more than others there is something to be said about older just being more interesting, whether 1917, 1976 or whatever back vintage you want to try your luck with. It’s simply remarkable and crazy how sugar and acidity can preserve riesling like this, especially and/or truly withstanding the Roter Hang. The honey and candied orange blossom are so prevalent but it almost seems dry (relatively speaking) even though 100 grams or more of sugar have driven this wine. Beauty from bitter phenols blend with lanolin, paraffin, ginger and ginseng. Keep returning for 15 more years. Drink 2017-2031.  Tasted March 2017  #louisguntrum  @weininstitut  wines_of_germany  @LouisGuntrum  @WinesofGermany  Weingut Louis Guntrum  German Wine Institute i.e. Wines of Germany

\

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

 

How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

Every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one man band, but #i4c Sunday @ravinevineyard is always #homewardbound

It’s #i4c, the coolest of chardonnay celebrations. It’s a pilgrimage to a local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.

Few ideals or notions are hotter these days than those relating to cool climate viticulture and the selvage regions from where such wines are produced. That is why each summer for the past seven Niagara has attracted a world-class global presence for its most important annual congress. The seventh installation of the International Cool Chardonnay Celebration made an ironic and apropos choice in California’s Karen MacNeil to act as keynote speaker at The School of Cool. Ironic for obvious reasons because MacNeil spends most of her time talking about and educating on matters pertaining to growing areas generously gifting maximum sunshine to its grapes. Apropos because like any top quality orator she chose to speak about a rapidly changing world and a paradigm shift for wine growing, producing and ultimately consuming being led down an extreme, on the fringe and ultra cool path.

@KMacwine on @coolchardonnay Refrigerated sunlight, conscious marginality, sophisticated choreography. #i4c17

Cool, as in temperature and slowly developed phenolic ripeness. Cool, as in places like Champagne, Nova Scotia, Austria, Uruguay, northern Chile and Ontario. But MacNeil was quick to point out that the greatest terroirs may yet to be known, despite the proverbial Canadian wine cognoscenti already in the possession of harnessed and usable power through information, knowledge that tells us that five of the 15 (also known as one-third) coldest wine regions growing quality grapes, are found in Canada. “Elegance is directly connected to coolness, the slow dance, refrigerated sunlight,” waxes the poetic and rhapsodic MacNeil, “from couch potato chardonnay to lift, spirit and class.” She admits to pitting the world versus “us,” as a challenge against “them,” the overwrought, overblown and over-produced. She asks the question, “why are they not over it already, these cream puff of chardonnays?” and then “oak is like a tattoo, it doesn’t always look good with age.”

If all these warmed by the hot, hotter and hottest sun and fashioned to express this in hyperbole wines all taste so similar, is this really something reassuring and knowable? Apparently it still is, this persistent overloaded ice cream sundae style of chardonnay that will just not go away. But wake up and smell the altitude and the stone-based, craggy outlooks of  “marginal” vineyard locations. “All of the world’s greatest grapes are only great if they exist on the edge,” said the great Willamette Valley Oregonian David Lett. “Complexity is only achieved, paramount to success, by a slow dance or heartbeat. A great wine revels itself sequentially, over time,” insists KMac, as opposed to mindless and soulless. With acidity at the crux of cool climate wines she talks of “conscious marginality” and “sophisticated choreography.” This is how we should see the future, not only in chardonnay, but in all wines subjected and connected to global climate change.

Says @johnszabo apparently winemakers matter too. #i4c17 @coolchardonnay I do it my way #schoolofcool

Related – A link to the School of Cool presentation download

In the first of three Friday School of Cool sessions at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa it is MC Master Sommelier and WineAlign Partner/Critic John Szabo who introduces the “soil smackdown.” The question “is there a best soil type for chardonnay” is meant to instigate a healthy discourse but like every #i4c that came before it quickly turns to a dissing of the “m” word. Paul Anamosa of Vineyard Soil Technologies, the main man down in California, is the first to speak. He rambles on about trace minerals, nematicides, oils and clay minerals – kaolinite is the smallest and yet still a very big molecule. “I don’t know too many winemakers with deflated ego problems,” is interjected. “Minerality is a metaphor, not a simile (like what it shown on the aroma wheel). It does not get up and impart flavour into the wine. It’s a romantic notion. Limestone doesn’t give up its water readily or easily.” Here we go again.

Anamosa will give up the idea that poor soil structure allows for a low and slow hydration transfer, with no spikes up or down and this uptake certainly affects vine growth, nutrient transfer and ultimately flavour, but its the elements found in the water that effect these impressions. Not “minerality.” Must be hard to go through life with such a scientifically nihilist approach. It sounds exhausting.

I don’t know too many winemakers with deflated ego problems. Paul Anamosa @coolchardonnay #soilsmackdown #i4c17

Three winemakers go pro on the mineral ideal. Paul Berger of Berger-Rive has been making his wine since he was four-years old and unsulphured Rosé no less. He talks of clay over limestone, places where “the ground is in love.”  Thomas Bachelder monkifies the soil plant matrix made to transmit minerality. “It’s as much about photosynthesis in the new world but minerality is still apart of it. Jory soils in Oregon bring a salty tang, a savour. It’s true.” Shiraz Mottiar notes that calcareous soils that start wet and sticky eventually turn to concrete. “They don’t crumble, there is no soil tilt, they are angular, evolving and difficult, self-compacting and that hard-pan deals with high mineral content. So we use cover crops for developing soil tilt and friable structure.” There points for the mineral team. Szabo concludes with “anyone getting the sense that this is pure crap? We’re going to continue with the program anyway. Monkeys in a parallel universe are doing this and doing it better.”

In the second session, “Chardonnay, I do it my way,” Szabo told several hundred #i4c junkies “apparently winemakers matter too.” I thought Invivo Wines’ Mark Boardman said it best. “Rob (winemaker “Crusher” Cameron) is not trying to make a $100 Burgundy here folks,” but rather chardonnay can be so happy in so many places, in so many ways. Here it’s from one of the warmest parts of New Zealand, with high rainfall, on Pacific coast of the South Island. It’s about pleasing the customers, being approachable and “nice” on the palate. “Respect, not patronize the consumer.”

François Morissette, vigneron of Pearl Morissette talked technique. “Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. Ravine Vineyard’s Marty Werner remarked on the high degree of heat units but also the cool nights in 2014 so his chardonnay received no cooling, some sulphur for a night, straight to barrel and left a bit empty. Why? “Because it’s different in Niagara, you need to get some oxygen in there, so that we develop some more fruit characteristic.”

Dr. Jamie Goode

Heidi Noble, Owner & Winemaker of B.C.’s Joie Farm coined the term “juiceidity.” She told the crowd, “when (cellarmaster) Karl speaks it’s incredibly important and poignant,” he knows the truth about location, from the most northerly tip of the Sonoran desert but in a zone of what Karen MacNeil called “conscious marginality,” a micro climate of cool within a hot zone.

And finally, le grand ami himself Norman Hardie. “Solids matter to me,” he explains. “We pump out the separated clear juice until the point where I feel like we are getting to the danger zone.” They make use of horizontal tanks, “so the ratio of solids to juice is much higher.” Solids are critical to expressing terroir but too many solids and it’s too reductive. “I’ve gotten braver and braver as time’s gone on.” Mackenzie Brisbois talked about the 2015 vintage, her first full one at Trail Estate. Her methods include hyper-oxidized, cold-settled, natural ferments in stainless steel, put to barrel towards the end, 4o per cent new, 60 neutral, full malo, 10 more months, sulphured, racked out of barrel and a coarse filtration so it’s called unfiltered. “Hopefully my lack of filtration helps you to hear the music in my wine.”

The third School of Cool session looked at dosage in bubbles. “The Sugar Trials,” or as moderator John Szabo M.S. told us “sparkling wines are wines of process and one of the most important events happens right at the end of the trail and that’s called dosage.” Essentially, the crux of what it is, the sugar trials define how much, if any, should be added.

A Sunday #i4c @coolchardonnay morning at the P & P and Josh Ritter covering Modest Mouse. Johnny Cash next.

Dr. Belinda Kemp led the panel discussion and her research at Brock University’s CCOVI lies at the heart of the Ontario wine industry’s investigations. Tawse winemaker Paul Pender had this to say. “Balance is something I strive for but rarely achieve.” He noted that it’s about pleasure, hedonism sometimes, ultimately something that makes you smile, and tastes good. It’s always a moving target, so many things effect how it tastes and more so your perception of sugar and acidity, even what you had for breakfast this morning. “Sugar kind of takes away terroir.” Dr. Jamie Goode added, “it turns out we all live in different taste worlds. Because we model touch, taste, smell and all the sensory perceptions into an unconscionable, alt-reality which bears no real resemblance to how a wine actually tastes. It’s highly personal.”

The i4c weekend takes winemakers, journalists and consumers from White Oaks’ School of Cool and over to Niagara Airport’s hangar for a grand, cool affair. It shuttles past lunch tastings scattered across and throughout the Niagara Peninsula and Escarpment locations and lands at Ridley College for the worlds most grand chardonnay event. It culminates on Sunday at Ravine and Redstone wineries for brunch and if you’ve not had your fill, more chardonnay. Most of all it brings people together but not without an army of volunteers to make it happen. It functions seamlessly because of people like the Cellar Sisters, Angie Jewell and MJ Macdonald, Paul Dearborn and Kari-and Macknight Dearborn. The Cool Chardonnay weekend delivers year after year with thanks to VQA Wines of Ontario, Dorian Anderson and Trisha Molokach and the chefs of Niagara. The media are treated (better than we deserve) because of Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser, Joanna Muratori and Ryan Zanette.

I was not able to taste and review every chardonnay on hand at #i4c17 but I did get to a better percentage than I actually thought I had at the time. Many of these wines are available in small quantities through the VINTAGES Online platform through August 3rd so you have exactly three more days to act. Here are 69 reviews. If you are thinking about injecting some cool chardonnay into the rest of your summer plans then read on and make your picks. I hope I’ve been of some assistance.

Are you ready for an #i4c17 @coolchardonnay Saturday night?

Invivo Chardonnay 2016, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (499855, Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

A nicely green and cool Gisborne composed chardonnay is just the ticket for warm nights, frâche-inflected appetizers and a good chill. This is quite fleshy, creamy and tangy, just stopping short of citrus-sour piercing and intense. It’s that creamy sherbet and tangy gelato character that balances it out. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted June and July 2017  invivowines  nicholaspearcewines  @InvivoWines   @Nicholaspearce_  @InvivoWines  Nicholas Pearce

Maycas del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2015, Limarí Valley, Chile (143768, $18.95, WineAlign)

Lovely vintage and cool-climate conditioning with A-plus exemplary effort from the Limarí specialist. The ripe and bright fruit is buoyed by classically rendered acidity that never relents. I really like the elegance and the way the wood is just a spice accent, not a cream churning machine. Not to be missed. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May and July 2017  maycasdellimari  #thevineagency  wines_of_chile_canada  @Maycasdellimari  @TheVine_RobGroh  @WinesofChile  @maycasdellimari  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency  @WinesOfChile

Cheesecake Bar by Chef Frand Dodd, Trius Winery and Restaurant

Trius Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (346064, Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Quite flinty and mineral smoky, even for Trius and Niagara chardonnay so it would seem that winemaker Craig McDonald prepared this larger batch with a friendly reductive environment. The aim, goal and result adds up to locked in freshness and a decoding of oak to relegate the label as secondary to the post-modern future of this bottling. It’s crisp, crunchy, spoken of and for place with edging cut with spice. The creamy centre is present and delivers texture, not weight. Really fine effort. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Esterházy Chardonnay Leithaberg DAC 2015, Burgenland, Austria (511386, Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Tangibly full and rich style of chardonnay with a flinty, smoky limestone foundation edge, a pierce running through the barrel spiced mid-palate and quite generous length. Really fleshy, lemon-citrus sparked, clean, precise and stony good. Of markedly fine compression, layers woven of tart and stone. A highly composed and forged composition, in action and temperament, so kudos to the great work out of a warm vintage. It’s a complete wine all the way through, perhaps restrained at first but structure is the key to its success. An Austro-pure, appellative finessed chardonnay if ever there was from a place where the grape thrives unencumbered and blessedly expressive. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted twice, with Stefan Tscheppe, July 2017  #esterhazy @esterhazywein  austrianwine  Esterhazy Wein  @NaturalVines  @oesterreichwein  @AustrianWine  @BirgittaSamavar  Marzia Gallo  @austrianwine

Pierre Sparr Le Clos Sainte Odile Brut Crémant D’alsace, Traditional Method, Ac, Alsace, France (457788, Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sparr’s site specific Crémant would seem counterintuitive to the free and easy-going genre which prides itself on the purpose of wide-ranging food matching but the divergence here in minimal. Le Clos Sainte Odile is equally proportioned though it carries a marked increase in lees and texture. Smells more like Champagne and acts this way too, so in that sense the quality improves and food will benefit several fold. The length is exceptional. Still creamy Crémant but with more layers and fine complex stills. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June and July 2017  #pierresparr  profilewinegroup  vinsalsace  drinkalsace  #PierreSparr  @ProfileWineGrp  @AlsaceWines @VinsAlsace  Pierre Sparr  Bernard Sparr  Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs  Profile Wine Group  @AlsaceWinesOfficial  @vinsalsace

Pierre Sparr Crémant D’alsace Chardonnay Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac Alsace, France (416040, Agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

In Sparr’s eponymous Crémant bottling the dosage is evident in every facet of fizz being to balance out the sour acidity and formidable tension. The most Champagne like of the flight is contextual, textural, elevated and serious. It is a bit on the sweet side (at 8 g/L of RS) as compared to (3.7 TA and pH of 3.29) with 18 months minimum on the lees and aging in oak casks. There is no shortage of fruit and that acidity is surprisingly lively. Tasted with Bernard Sparr who says quite simply, it’s “easy to drink.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  #pierresparr  profilewinegroup  vinsalsace  drinkalsace  #PierreSparr  @ProfileWineGrp  @AlsaceWines @VinsAlsace  Pierre Sparr  Bernard Sparr  Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs  Profile Wine Group  @AlsaceWinesOfficial  @vinsalsace

Marcel Cabelier Crémant De Jura Organic 2014, Jura, France (738641, Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

A most engrossing and provocative Crémant, at first aromatically onion skin sweaty and sweetly caramelized. No citrus to really speak of and then lemon sweetness to taste. Sapid to be sure, leaner, crisp, on the path to a searing style. Fascinating when you consider the dosage number is upwards to 12.3 RS while the actual acidity is 5.26 TA. An elevated 3.37 pH and a ripeness from the warm vintage really helps to hide its sugar, incredibly so. Texture never hurts as well as this spent 24 months on the lees. Will age nicely into secondary waxy territory. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted with winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin at i4c, July 2017  #marcelcabelier  #andrewpellerimportagency  #jurawine  #marcelcabelier  @APImportAgency  @JuraWine   #marcelcabelier  @APImportAgency  @JuraWine

Cremaschi Furlotti Chardonnay Single Vineyard 2015, Do Loncomillo, Maule Valley, Chile (511097, Agent, $22.00, WineAlign)

DO Loncomilla lies at the heart of the Maule Valley, a place of serious Chilean history. The Battle of Loncomilla was the decisive campaign of the 1851 Chilean Revolution between conservative government and liberal rebel forces. It’s also apparently a terrific place to grow chardonnay. Winemaker Gonzalo Perez’ 2015 is a fuller expression, with green apple piquancy to nose, a wealth of fruit, tart done so right and a true barrel-blessed chardonnay bite. It reeks of stone, acts restrained enough to seem (at times) unsure but in its quietude there is a mineral sway to say this must be the way. It solicits a follow me down the stone road, up to a very orchard palate with gregarious flavours and compressed acidity. Serious, almost brooding chardonnay but very new world. Chewy and very long. The soils are volcanic and alluvial, aiding and assisting to gather into this highly complex, 100 per cent malolactic, reductive, tart and biting chardonnay. The most surprising and intriguing find at #14c17. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  cremaschi_furlotti  @winecremaschi  @cremaschifurlotti

Coteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Côte 2015, Quebec, Canada (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

From La Famille Robert and the latest, newest, impressionable cool climate frontier in Rougemont Quebec, climate change delivers another stellar chardonnay attack, here with something quite supple, almost creamy, acid-driven but surprisingly far from scathing and eminently drinkable. These vines are planted on sun-drawing south facing slopes with more than ample pebble and schist in the soil, enough no less to streak a wire of balance through the softened, downy fruit. Well done. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  coteaurougemont  #CoteauRougement  @VinsduQuebec  Vignoble Coteau Rougemont

Creekside Chardonnay Queenston Road Vineyard 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Comes barreling out replete with the highest of chard tones mixed with plenty of richness lifting and layering oak. Quite ambitious, full malo felt, of waves more than dollops of vanilla. The acidity comes later because nothing can get in the way of the creamy texture and voluptuousness. Cool but secondary to these flavours and mouthfeel are incendiary savoury tendencies. Adding things up all being equal the Queenston Road, St. David’s Bench vineyard, with its clay-loam and the eventuality of full-malo effect well, it’s really a thing of richesse. “I wouldn’t say this wine is a whole lot about minerality,” says winemaker Yvonne Irvine, “but it’s there in the bite on the finish.” Fair enough. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  creeksidewine  @CreeksideWine  @CreeksideWine

Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (586347Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

If you have had the opportunity to taste the Montague Vineyard chardonnay from Niagara’s Four-Mile Creek sub-appellation in at least four consecutive vintages you will know that its style is only exceeded by its consistency. Little has changed; the same warm, barrel-kissed style comforts generously pressed and extracted fruit. It’s not that I don’t deduce soft, downy and buttery fruit from Montague. I do, but this vineyard always offers a counter-point with some firmness and compression, as it does with pinot noir. This 2014 is smoky and faintly smouldering, even a touch flinty. Even if it is a bit baked, spiced or toasted it is also a more mineral vintage for chardonnay. On one hand it offers or gives up too much of itself (and too early), with creamy vanilla, ripe melon and sappy, stone-fruit. On the other it finds balance amongst the dense layering of bigger, harder and more productive moving parts. You are going to want to match this with some protein and a good reduction sauce. I’d look to pulled pork, zesty kohlrabi slaw and a tangy BBQ sauce, duck confit with a savoury-spiked demi-glacé or coq au vin, just to name a few. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted January 2017  inniskillinwines  cbrandscareers  @InniskillinWine  @CBrandsCareers  Inniskillin Vineyards  

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2016, Margaret River, Western Australia (416511, $24.95,  WineAlign)

Same price and highly credible follow-up is what we can all hope to taste and make comment to the great winemakers of this world so kudos to Virginia Willcocks of Vasse Felix for doling out another eminently drinkable Filius. Still holds the Australian cool-climate chardonnay candle from the Margaret River though it’s a touch fleshier, riper and creamier in 2016. The combination of salt and stony-mineral adds up to grip and the tightness means some air is needed. A mess of grilled langoustines would also work. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted June and July 2017  vassefelixwines  margaretriver  @vassefelix  @MargaretRiver  @MargaretRiverWi  @vassefelixwines  @MargaretRiverWineRegion  @margaretriverwines1

Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (511345, Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Here is fine example of a winery showing off their rockstar barrel program in a starman of a chardonnay. The dreaminess on the nose and the early 1970’s ambient and textured guitar unction on the palate just get you stoned. “Didn’t know what time it was and the lights were low…Some cat was layin’ down some rock ‘n’ roll, ‘lotta soul.” Tart, lots of wood, bite, so much structure. Is it too much? Not when it’s the kind of chardonnay and music that can stand the test of time. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and at #14c, July 2017  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (289124, $25.25, WineAlign)

The vintage is a ripe, accessible and easy to love one so this marks a 90 degree turn for the Saint Martin. This is Laroche’s most important cuvée, sold in 80 countries and collected from select plots across 60 hectares of vines. Structure will always direct this cuvée and so long as Gregory Viennois is winemaker you can be sure that a taut entry will be joined by some subtle oak richness (in 2015, eight per cent in large, 25 year-old, 55 hL foudres). It’s just an aromatic hint but look forward with eyes closed and inculcate the texture addendum. Acids are soft and caressing. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted July 2016 and 2017  laroche_wines  selectwinemoments  @DomaineLaroche  @SelectWinePros  @Select_Wines  @SelectWinesCanada

Southbrook Chardonnay Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (172338, Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Ann Sperling’s chardonnay Triomphe ’15 is sourced primarily from Saunders (Beamsville Bench) with auxiliary support out of Heather Laundry’s old vine Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard. There are older, non-clonal blocks with perhaps some Musqué mixed in so the aromatics fly, with no restraint applied by the wild ferment and (mostly 300L) neutral oak. This Triomphe is anything but reductive, a no stress chardonnay from such a far from sluggish, clean ferment. The simplicity and complicity explain how beauty is curated, from a vintage where reduction did not happen or beg to happen so why try to force it. The copacetic re-quiescence bears witness to classic Ann Sperling in such a vintage. Chardonnay of mellow smoulder, of old barrel spice and one to define a certain kind on a line of disparate and unique, cool climate, i4c selections. There are 800 cases made. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted January and July 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

Bachelder Chardonnay Niagara 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (302083, Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder’s ’15 chardonnay is a story of what happens ’round here, a chardonnay counting the years of peninsula life. It’s so representative, a comfortable stroll through the echelons and stages of a man’s history, in and out of Niagara eponymy and how it relates to a monk’s personal journey. It also traces the stages of vineyard life and for the winemaker, of fruit “slipping through my hands.” Out of 2015 chardonnay can be forgotten, with weather nothing to remember and on the heels of two most excellent seasons. It could easily pass “into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white.” Here is the time, place and harvest for Thomas Bachelder to interject and explain, to send a grape into a recognizable future, as far as the crow flies. He uses the barrel to pique the fruit into life, to inject French cream with the very intent in demand of its intention. Flavours are therefore sapid, piquant and variegated. In the end, you can drink this in August and into complexity, everything after. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Joie Farm Unoaked Chardonnay 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (511261Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

Terpenes up front, orchard fruit and high acidity in ways that mimic riesling but the broad apple juice swirl and bite on the palate is all chardonnay. Shows sugar tempered by acidity in what is ostensibly fresh and simple, unoaked Okanagan juice. This is made in the vineyard, picked three times, from straightforward winemaking, making use of lots of solids,”lots of liquid aromatics,” as Heidi Noble notes. Champagne yeasts are employed to celebrate place. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  joie farm  liffordgram  #JoieFarm  @LiffordON  @joiefarm  @liffordwineandspirits

Willamette dammit! @bachelder_wines @coolchardonnay #i4c17

Bachelder Chardonnay Willamette 2014, Oregon (273334, Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

The richest Bachelder Oregon to date for reasons explained by the indubitable and unwavering Thomas is no doubt in leading part a result of one of the earliest vintages on record for Oregon Pinot Noir. His Willamette is a veritable intertwine of mineral, fruit and energy like there is no tomorrow. Also welcome to the lengthy one. The barrel is a caramel pillow, a downy wooden bench, a soft French cream dream. Drinkable is the understatement, pleasure the song. Willamette Dammit. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (427484, Winery, $25.95, WineAlign)

This is one of the first near-premium chardonnays to hit the market from 2016 and so a decision needs to be quickly made if the style is more vintage or house in origin. There really isn’t any estate precedence for this superabundance of fruit on the “normale,” like Christmas coming early or Niagara peaches appearing in June. The ripeness goes beyond freestone fruit and into the tropical realms occupied by mango and pineapple. There is no denying the nectarous and appetizing nature so I’d like to think it’s really a seasonal somewhereness that drives the druthers. Drink this young and with some poached seafood. It will satisfy the pairing. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Domaine Berger Rive Manoir De Mercey Bourgogne Hautes Côtes De Beaune Clos Des Dames 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $26.95, WineAlign)

A restrained, faux-sugary, hautes Bourgogne, spirited near but so far from a Reuilly-like nose. You think it’s thin but know it’s not while the fruit struggles to steal the spotlight from the rocks. Very cool chardonnay with crazy natural sweetness and sneaky length. The warm vintage plus the limestone calcareous soil grows on you for sure and so that length shows off the best of its world and the talents of winemaker Paul Berger. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  @FWMCan  #BergerRive  fwmcan  @FWMCan

Traversa Viña Salort Chardonnay Reserve 2016, Canelones, Uruguay (511550, Agent, $29.00, WineAlign)

Chardonnay from Canelones needs to discovered and Traversa’s Reserve is a fine high-end place top start. The name is derived from a species of cinnamon called “canelón, growing along the banks of the homonymous river. This new fringe frontier for chardonnay is found here 50 kms or so north of Uruguay’s capital Montevideo. A specific sort of freshness is locked in tight, reductive in a gassing up the truck sort of way, subduing fruit and inviting mineral meanderings. It’s on the palate where things get very interesting, upon which the spice, buttered toast and brûlee of pears lay. There is a few percentage points too much wood on this next South terroir-Americanific frontier chardonnay but the substantial mid-palate fruit can handle the accents. A fine example in many respects. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted July 2017  familiatraversa  @TraversaUSA

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

This is classic Mottiar chardonnay, lean, sharp, quivering and yet somehow so knowable and comfortable. As time goes by this generates the confidence to represent the Beamsville Bench as its prodigal son, the handsome one, of pulchritude and with the promise of great memories ahead. If it’s a bit reductive, taut and aerified chardonnay, so be it, but it’s also so very Niagara, essential, the essence of what happens on dolomitic limestone. The low (3.15) pH factor at go time caused a force picked at high acidity to maintain the lean style and a partial (not much) malo assists in effecting this high-level bench factor. Shiraz Mottiar’s eponymous chardonnay is the shit, for Beamsville and for what he does best. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine  

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (465724, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first appearance of the Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast bottling is an auspicious one, announced with ripe and delicious clarity. Though the nose is a bit reserved there is no reductive quality and the orchard is but a mere stone’s throw away from really standing out. The wood shows up on the vanilla, caramel tangy and further, deeper into the apple tree’s palate. The finish brings a pie from out of the warm oven. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016 and July 2017  rsvineyards  markanthonyon  california.wines  @rsvineyards  @ImportWineMAFWM  @CalifWines_CA  @Rodney.Strong.Vineyards  @MarkAnthonyWine  @CaliforniaWinesCanada

13th Street Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

No surprise the vintage is a major plus for the Sandstone and the natural funk it owns. And I mean owns. Only Sandstone has such geological drive, not unlike chardonnay from South Africa’s Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. In 2013 there is a sweetness to the fruit mixed with a misty humidity and finally that falling over backwards with feet stuck in the clay and the calcaire. Wildness from J. P. Colas here and with attentiveness to place and time. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted at #i4c16, July 2016 and #14c17, July 2017  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  @13thStreetWines

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (68817, $29.95, WineAlign)

Exemplary follow up to a terrific 2013 with more emerald gemstone, green apple bite and fine textured lees running through. Tart and yet not at the same time, seemingly sweet but only in the way that flavourful salts with added umami can collect, pool and co-exist. Just great focus, precision, fineness and balance. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2017 and #14c, July 2017  hidden bench  @HiddenBench  @Hidden.Bench

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The nose on this chardonnay is pretty, alive, vibrant and pure. The palate is exceptional, fleshy and full. There is intensity and precision, class and seamless integration of fruit, acidity and texture. Really longDrink 2018-2024. Tasted blind at #NWAC17, June 2017 and at #14c, July 2017  thirty bench  @ThirtyBench  @ThirtyBench

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Ravine’s is one of those chardonnay blessed with uncanny ability to amalgamate the sumptuousness of fruit warmed by sun and kissed repeatedly by barrel. The equation renders delicacy and texture, so obviously and vehemently spoken in the 2015 Peninsula language. It really is all about texture with a plus-minus spice note codicil and cool unction drawn like butter in suspended animation, a pool into which all parts have melted. Needs a year to finalize the deal and sweeten the pot. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  ravinevineyard  marty_werner  benminaker23  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23  Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery  Martin Werner  Ben Minaker

Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2014, Monterey, California (220343, Agent, $31.00, WineAlign)

Chardonnay sans wood doesn’t get more premium than this (save for some Chablis) so the use of unlined concrete tanks (a third to a half) allows the sort of micro-oxegynation that elevates the complexity game. Despite the hard-goings of working this way, the delivery is a crisp, crunchy and slightly edgy (and eggy) ’14 with addendum by the confluence of fog, sun and sea. Mer Soleil. More pear than green apple, the character speaks a Monterey note. The packaging has left ceramic behind in favour of electrostatic painted (second-purposed) glass, made to look like (and celebrate) concrete. This is surprisingly creamy so the solids get their say and the conclusion is of a chardonnay made this way that rarely achieves such a level of texture and piquancy. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  mersoleilwine  #andrewpellerimportagency  @MerSoleilChard  @APImportAgency  @MerSoleilVineyard  Andrew Peller (Andrew Peller Import)

House of Chards #i4c Lunch at Trius

Artesa Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (657585, Agent, $31.00, WineAlign)

The differing and contrastive style in Artesa’s ordinario is literally chardonnay night in comparison to the estate’s reserve day. Absent is the mineral alloy streak, the temper and the level of fruit quality and density so that here the buttery and creamy oak is felt on top and down below. Acidity, tension and posit tugs of intensity are relegated and softened to the mild mannered and middle palate personality. This is 70 per cent estate fruit, simple, rich, soft and mildly spicy chardonnay, antithetical for completion recognition of the basic to reserve paradigm. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  artesawinery  #andrewpellerimportagency  @Artesa  @APImportAgency  @Artesa

Adamo Oaked Chardonnay Willms’ Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

This is the second vintage of the Willms, a rich and viscous chardonnay with green apple bite. More barrel (15 months, 30 per cent new) on this than others in an #i4c School of Cool flight and also Beaune-styled, ambitious otherwise but certainly the structured and gregarious one. Chardonnay as many would recognize, could be nothing other, some terpenic moments but the cool, sharp and spirited are mixed into the clay. Last tasted July 2017.

Adamo sources from the same vineyard that provides fruit for 13th Street’s Sandstone Reserve in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Planted in 1983, it is owned and farmed by Erv, Esther and Eric Willms. In its early stages the fruit acted and reacted as a lean, taut and tension fuelled chardonnay with party a sign of letting up. Eight months later the juicy flesh of orchard fruit pushes past the vintage’s grip and lets tis wine breath a sigh of relief. Chalk one up to yet another cool-climate, calcareous clay stuck moment in time. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted twice, at #i4c16, July 2016 and Taste Ontario, March 2017  adamoestatewinery  @AdamoEstateWine  @adamoestatewinery

Trail Estate Chardonnay Unfiltered 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

A blend of vineyards, from Ed Hughes and (Wismer) Foxcroft, perhaps with some influence under the lingering auspices of the Norman Hardie school, here in the playful and progressive hands of Mack Brisbois. Mackenzie employs no sulphur at processing, allowing for chardonnay efficacious and liberally oxidized, settled, cold stabilized, non bentonite-affected, chilled and racked. Not lost is the ever-commented process of going at it with wild ferment, but also caution thrown to the wind via no temperature control (but yes on the Hughes fruit), with the final end game in search of and wanting a fruity Chablis side. Done up in half stainless plus 50 old 500L and two 225L barrels. The sulphur was added in October, the full malo achieved and then bottled in November. All of this technical mumbo-jumbo to say there is still quite a creamy, leesy, oaky feeling but like some others in Niagara (Robyn’s Block, Oliveira and Aberdeen) it totes great palate texture and a “fruitiness,” but it’s not fruity. It may not recreate the Chablis fruit to mineral purity but it is a righteous, proper and Niagara purity fashioned in PEC. There are 266 Cases. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted December 2016 and July 2017  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  @TrailEstateWinery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Lenko Old Vine 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.95, WineAlign)

The iconic vineyard, the wise old vines, the chance to make some magic; these are all a part of the mystery and the mystique of Lenko placed in the hands of one winemaker at a time, fruit put to bottle in his or her own special way. It’s simple isn’t it? “Go far enough and you will reach, a place where the sea runs underneath,” take up the grapes and do what they need. In terms of chardonnay the vineyard is ground zero, the genesis, the oldest Chardonnay planting in Canada. In Arthur Harder’s hands the fruit reaches you with apposite if ambient sparks while its chords are strummed with 12 strings so that it never loses touch with its structure. A very expressive chardonnay from a benevolent vintage, Westcott’s breaks free from traditional Niagara with this tart and that tart. There is wind, wuthering and it has the uncanny ability “of turning the world so it’s facing the way that I’m going.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2017  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Chateau Des Charmes Blanc De Blanc Sparkling Méthode Traditionelle 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (511352, $32.95, WineAlign)

A different sort this one, with lots of barrel spice, liquid splinter creaminess, a heavier dosage to be sure, creamy lemon