Single white varietals: No roommates required

Godello

as seen on WineAlignRiesling, Other Single Red and Single White Varieties – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

It may or not need clarifying but the single white varietal category does not include chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris/grigio and sauvignon blanc. In terms of medal winners it does include albariño, arneis, bacchus, chenin blanc, coronet, gewüztraminer, grüner veltliner, marsanne, muscat, obrigado, pinot blanc, roussanne, sémillon, sauvignette, siegerrebe, sovereign opal, trebbiano, unicus, viognier and white pinot noir. The total medal count for single white varietal wines in 2019 was 70, an unprecedented number awarded for this competition covering 20 grape varieties. Can you guess which was the most celebrated? If you said gewüztraminer you would be correct at 21 total medals, with viognier a close second at 17.

There is little surprise that these French vinifera grapes make up more than half of the awarded wines because their acreage, vine age and their winemaker’s acumen in crafting quality goes back a generation or two, or even three. That 10 percent are pinot blanc is truly encouraging, as are the multiple medals doled out to grapes with great potential on Canadian soils, including grüner veltliner, albariño and chenin blanc. This will encourage more plantings and pioneering work backed up by post-modern viticultural theory, while also ensuring biologically genetic and varietal diversity. Most surprising is that two of the top wines made from marsanne and roussanne represent two of only three medals awarded to wines from these classic and exceptional Rhône Valley grapes. If two can be great, why not others and why not grow more?

Congratulations to the Road 13 Marsanne 2017 out of the exceedingly promising Similkameen Valley. There can be no denying the effect of ripe fruit and the richness of developed sugar into proportionally knowing phenols in this beautifully integrated wine. Black Hills Roussanne 2017, Blasted Church Small Blessings Sémillon 2017, Thirty Bench Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2017 and Road 13 Viognier 2017 round out the judges top picks from the competition.

Littlejohn Farm‘s Smoked Trout, soubise, french onion rings, pickled shallots – at Closson Chase Vineyard, Prince Edward County

The question truly begging to be answered is with 20-plus different grape varieties represented and being assessed side by side how do the judges separate the apples and oranges to figure out which wines stand apart as being more impressive than the rest. It may sound cliché and redundant to hear but balance is the key to our single white varietal hearts. If acidity matches, supports and elevates sugar than all will fall into place and if the wine is a dry example it will likely be flesh, mouthfeel and texture that work to elevate its status. Proportion, seamlessness and length are all essential tenets of quality single whites, as are energy, drive and spirit.

Plain and simple, single white varietal wines are able to succeed because of their inherent ability to express their varietal selves, provided they are planted in the right location and their handlers allow them to speak on their own behalf. Quality single white varietals display attributes of confidence and are anything but insecure. No roommates required.

I’ve also tasted some more single white varietal wines as of late and all would certainly qualify for medal consideration in this category. These are the three.

Mission Hill Family Estate Viognier Reserve 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.99, WineAlign)

Perfectly lovely, archetypal, required varietal sipping viognier here from Mission Hill. Yet another notch on the Okanagan Valley pioneer’s impressive climb to forging wines moving from strength to strength. There is nothing over the top about the the florals, the texture or the flavours. Fruit east to west, from the B.C. orchards to the south Asian trees is graced by a dreamy and creamy marzipan texture and finished with low and slow rendered spice. Just what viognier can be for one and for all. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted July 2019

Harwood Estate Gewürztraminer 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario $20.00, WineAlign)

The 2016 was made from Niagara (Four Mile Creek) grapes and vinified in Prince Edward County but the estate 2007 plantings have now matured so this 2017 marks a new era for gewürztraminer grown in the disapora. It’s one of extreme aridity, lightning quick reflexes, focused and intense. Quite the singular style of expression for Ontario. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

CedarCreek Platinum Block 9 Ehrenfelser 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($29.99, WineAlign)

Ehrenfelser is the German crossing of riesling and sylvaner, kept alive on slopes like CedarCreek’s lakeshore vineyard in semi-mimic of those cresting on great angles above the river Rhine. There’s a notable juicy sweetness to this from 13-16 year-old, low yielding vines in a very concentrated mandarin orange way. That sweetness yields to many other pronounced attributes like tropical fruit skins as well as creamy orchard fruit under a squeeze of lime. The acidity is ripping and there’s some potential for a bit of flinty, lit paraffin smoulder to emerge in a year’s time. The fun quotient runs high in this unique white wine and it offers up moments of both crushable and cerebral. Good on CedarCreek to keep the dream alive. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted July 2019

Good to go!

godello

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

A Canadian preoccupation with White Blends

as seen on WineAlign – Red Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

The catchall collection funnelled into flights titled “White Blend” continue their ascent upwards into the essential echelon of categories at the National Wine Awards of Canada. These compound varietal meet and greets do so with increasing calm, cool and collected demeanour, a.k.a balance to offer up some of this country’s most pleasing and in very special cases, most age-worthy white wines. Another year later the judges are finding the quality of the wines to be at their best yet, perceptible and discernible beyond reproach from coast to coast.

The 52 strong medal count from the 2019 awards is a testament to the masters of assemblage known as winemakers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. In fact five of the medals were awarded to Tidal Bay, the maritime appellative blend creation so apt-scripted and terroir specific to vineyards and estates in Nova Scotia. Tidal Bay is a model of consistency, progress and marketing genius. It hasn’t happened yet but the day will come when Ontario and British Columbia will become woke to the economic success of the great East Coast appellative party.

Dinner at Rosehall Run

Where do Canadian winemakers look for inspiration when it comes to designing their white blends? The obvious pioneers are unequivocally Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, the former being a matter of a sauvignon blanc-sémillon coupling and the latter a relationship between grape varieties that include grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne and viognier. Other and lesser varieties employed are ugni blanc, clairette, bourboulenc, picpoul and rolle (vermentino). Many are grown and matched up in Canada but in 2019 it is Nk’mip Cellars White Meritage Merriym 2017 that we find standing alone at the peak of white blend success. The Bordeaux inspiration is an antithetical one at that with a two to one ratio of sémillon to sauvignon blanc and what one judge sees as a blend of “power and accuracy.”

Last year we noted that the white blends made with sauvignon blanc from out of the Okanagan Valley relied on higher percentages of sémillon than their sistren and brethren in Ontario. B.C.’s vineyards are not subjugated to the same winter kill that Ontario’s winters are often wont to inflict and so the vulnerable sémillon is planted and used to much greater quantity and effect out west. Ripeness and style are also great reasons why B.C.’s über rich and fat sauvignon blanc loves for sémillon to help out. The varietal mitigation and third party injection from barrel aging often leads to examples of flinty-smoky-mineral white blends of freshness, pizzazz, texture and style.

The Mission Hill Terroir Collection Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2018 is such an animal, taken from Jagged Rock Vineyard nearing 400m in elevation and the sém portion is 40 percent. Tightrope Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2018 is another though it may just be one of closest Bordeaux ringers made anywhere in Canada. The Pentâge Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2013 is the most singular Gold Medal winner in 2019, first because it does the Rhône varietal two-step and second because of its age. That it caught the palates of so many judges is a testament to its balance and also its structure.

The 2018 Tidal Bays from Lightfoot & Wolfville, Jost Vineyards, Planters Ridge and Gaspereau Vineyards were Nova Scotia’s one Silver plus three Bronze category medallists. These Bay of Fundy/Minas Basin east coast wonders are true Canadian wines of quality and efficiency. Tidal Bay pioneers Peter Gamble and Benjamin Bridge Vineyards tell us that In 2010 Nova Scotia launched this wine appellation with a purpose “to showcase a vibrant and refreshing white wine compatible with our coastal terroir along the Bay of Fundy, a vast expanse of seawater that is home to the highest tides in the world. An independent technical committee ensures that only the wines displaying the region’s distinct characteristics and meeting a rigorous set of standards are approved to wear the appellation seal.” The blends are most often filled with the likes of l’acadie, geisenheim, chardonnay, riesling and vidal.

Two Ontario white blends joined the 11 B.C. Silver winners. In terms of Bronze, six from Ontario and one each out of Nova Scotia and Quebec were winners alongside 23 from B.C. Yes it is increasingly true that appellative blends are more than a going concern, in fact they have become some of our Canadian winemaker’s greatest preoccupations. At this rate we can certainly imagine a future filled with bright white lights and structured blends to rival some of the world’s best.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Riding red blends from Canadian frontiers

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

as seen on WineAlignRed Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

Some producers may be riding red blends all the way to the bank while others, including many winemakers simply love making them. Hearing about or looking at the broad term “red blends” causes many of us to think about wines that are big in every respect. Broad shouldered, big-bodied, long-legged, tannic and age-worthy.  As for how these wines are made we imagine a barrel room of oak casks filled with deep, rich and dark liquids made by winemakers and their science flasks layered by endless combinations of samples in varying percentages. This is in fact how most red blends are made. Barrel and tank samples of different grape varieties are pulled and with a conditional maximum amount of each kept in mind, the constituent samples are mixed and matched until the blend just feels to come out right. Add in a bit of chemistry for scientific balance and Red’s your uncle.

Red blends is employed as that highly scientific wine-speak term used to define one of the largest, broadest and most undefined categories in wine. There are blends established in the Old World emulated and mimicked from Argentina to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and everywhere vinifera is grown. Bordeaux’s Left and Right Bank are most commonly copied but so too is the Southern Rhône. The triumvirate of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot lead the way while grenache, syrah and mourvèdre are the source of much imitation. Blending does not stop at such multi-varietal exactitude because the Australians (namely) decided that syrah/shiraz goes with everything and why not. The concept of admixture or fusion is becoming increasingly relevant and the norm for red blends made in Canada, especially in British Columbia and to a lesser extent in Ontario too.

Chef Albert Ponzo’s Gnocchi with Morels

Basically anything made with two or more grape varieties qualifies and in some cases a kitchen sink is amalgamated from literally dozens of locally planted options. To be honest the methodology categorically removes said wines from every other varietal class or division, in competition or otherwise. So the question begs. How do judges at the National Wine Awards of Canada assess, rate and ultimately dole out medals when the comparisons are all apples to oranges? How do we as a team decide which blends are most deserving in a sea of peers comprised of wholly different, antithetical and multifarious combinations?

The answer is complex but in the end not exactly rocket science. Truth be told the necessity of knowing the percentages in the blend is the mother of invention. This is because each wine is a sum of its combinative parts while success is predicated on the communal effort and seamlessness of the gathering. But more than anything and it’s certainly cliché to say, wines as blends must achieve balance and those that do will reap the most reward. News flash to corroborate that theory. Most varietal wines are blends too, made up of vineyard slash vessel percentages picked, mixed and matched by the winemaker. What really is the great difference?

Is there any wonder why Canadian winemakers love the category of Red Blends? At this year’s Nationals there are 105 medals awarded to a group of wines that in their collective make-up include just about every red (plus a white or two) grape varieties grown in Canada. Read that number again: 105! Three out of four Platinum winners are from British Columbia and 12 of 14 Silvers as well. As for Bronze, 60 are from B.C., 24 from Ontario and three are from Nova Scotia.

While it would be a joyous exercise to break down all the medal winning wines it would also be one that just might put you to sleep. So for the purposes of analytical brevity and for the fact that we have an unprecedented four Platinum winners in 2019, let’s stick to these exceptional wines. The Hatch Dynasty Red 2016 is syrah and malbec from the Hans Estate Vineyard in Osoyoos raised in all new French oak for 18 months. Yes, ALL new French oak. Noble Ridge Reserve Meritage 2016 from Okanagan Falls is essentially classic Left Bank Bordeaux led by merlot with cabernet sauvignon with minor amounts of cabernet franc plus malbec. Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2017 from the Okanagan Valley is a stunner and steal for the price though truth be told could have very easily been awarded a similar accolade in the straight varietal category. Niagara’s Tawse Meritage 2015 is a three-pronged Bordeaux varietal mix of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc “with so much going on you might not understand what it’s trying to say.” It’s like Glossolalia but will surely live on through epochs of Canadian Meritage notability and infamy.

OK I lied. Some mentions and some love for the Golds as well. Out of Niagara the judges jumped for the merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon in Marynissen Heritage Collection Red 2015 and the kitchen sink blend only Stratus Red 2016 can gift; cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, malbec, tannat and petit verdot. The hits keep on coming from B.C., especially strong in this category demarcated by grip, grit and strength. The following 12 began their journeys with a plethora of varietal combinations, spoke with great ability to reach the judges palates and all ended up Gold.

Note the seemingly infinite combinations is this diverse group. Maverick 2016 Rubeus, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Bench 1775 2016 Cabernet Franc MalbecCorcelettes 2016 Meritage Estate Vineyard, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot; Corcelettes 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Menhir Estate Vineyard; Black Hills 2017 Addendum, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; TIME Winery 2016 Meritage, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; Mission Hill 2016 Quatrain, merlot, syrah, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon; Sandhill 2016 Single Vineyard One Small Lots Program Vanessa Vineyard, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon merlot and syrah; Moon Curser 2017 Dead of Night, syrah and tannat; Sun Rock Vineyards 2016 Red Meritage, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Red Rooster 2016 Golden Egg, mourvèdre, syrah and grenache; Nk’Mip Cellars 2016 Winemakers Talon, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, cabernet franc and pinot noir.

If you don’t see a clear and obvious pattern in these Red Blends be neither confused nor discouraged because this is how things function and in turn offer up so much possibility in fresher frontiers. In today’s garden of climate change affected vineyards it is Canadian winemakers who are the beneficiaries of a wild west, anything goes environment where mates can be made across varietal lines both renewed and re-invented. Embrace the diversity and let it ride.

We finish we a special red blend tasted with Maggie Granger in Prince Edward County.

Grange Of Prince Edward Bunny Wine 2016, VQA Prince Edward County ($65.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

Bunny Wine is nothing if not playful, a field blend that tugs on conceptual heartstrings and has been doing so for 18 months. It has come into kairos, whether unexpectedly, by chance or by the intuition of the moment, it matters little. Bunny is an extension of three plus years of furry flirtations, in cuvées that have come before, of gamay and pinot noir, of passe-tout-grains. I’ve tasted barrel samples and now here we are at the real thing, “the milk of the gamay bunny, drinkers of spillage by tipsy monks. Even if you know little or care less about bunnies and monks it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen, based on memories and perception, just as a look back at that taste and this note will be. Seamless weaving here, between Bourgogne cousins, north and south, grippy and supple. Hard to tell one from the other and isn’t that the point? From the Victoria Block, four rows of pinot next to four of gamay, picked, fermented and crushed together. All thanks to fruit of exemplary patience. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Pinot Gris goes National

One’s gris is another’s grigio but at any rate, more and more Canadian made pinot is coming your way

as seen on WineAlignGamay, Pinot Gris and Sparkling – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

We seem to be tasting and assessing a considerable amount of pinot gris slash grigio these days. In 2019 the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada bar was raised once again as increasingly the wines spoke to both matters of quantity and quality. The annual competition played host to this country’s largest gris/grigio gathering and 34 medallists prove that trends can also be realities. There are well upwards of 60,000 hectares of pinot gris/grigio planted worldwide and that number is growing, not surprising considering the varietal’s two-step, double-down rise in popularity.

The laconic story would say that when comparing pinot gris to pinot grigio the difference is mainly origin but increasingly so an inculcation of style. The endemically considered pinot grigio is traced to northeastern Italy just as pinot gris is to northeastern France. One grape, two places and ultimately each tracking an approach along one fork of the road. The simplest explanation says one is generally picked earlier and the other later, the former being fresher and crisper, the latter richer and more developed.

Call the grape what you will. Known as gris in Alsace, dry gives way more often than not to sweet, age-worthy, late-harvest styles. As grigio in Northern Italy it’s more straightforward and in Germany it’s also called grauburgunder or ruländer. In Hungary its moniker is zürkebarát. New Zealand may just be the great New World frontier for the pinot gris ideal. Or does that distinction belong to Oregon, a frontier many believe possessive of several AVAs more suitable to the gris stylistic than even chardonnay. It’s easier and less expensive to plant and maintain than chardonnay, harvests early and therefore puts cash flow reports in the green, or in this varietal case, also yellow, pink and orange. By the way, grigio and gris both mean “grey,” as noted by the pinkish-grey sheen of the ripe grape’s skin.

Vichyssoise by Albert Ponzo at The Grange

Where does that put the discussion concerning a homogeneity of Canadian style? Well at its simplest dissemination it means looking at a paradigm lying somewhere between Italy and Alsace. That being generally said it is simply ludicrous to imagine examples from British Columbia and Ontario (with few and far between examples from other provinces) to be looked at in one broad stroke of a brush. If you must ask and know, Ontario’s gris-grigio is generally leaner, more “mineral” and often crisper than B.C. counterparts but following that to the a letter of law would do great disservice to diversity and possibility. Get to know the producers and the greater picture will clear.

The grapes are in fact a mutation of Bourgogne’s pinot noir, are vigorous and lie somewhere is the middle of the moderate production mode. They are well adapted to and suited for cool climates with well-draining soils. Hardy, easy to grow with relatively small clusters and berries. Susceptible to Botrytis so can be a chameleon of a white wine for dry, off-dry and sweet styles but with some skin-contact also can produce pink coloured wines. Welcome to Canada.

It matters not which major appellation you look at in British Columbia you will always see pinot gris as one of its leading grape varieties. Kelowna, Penticton, Vaseaux-Oliver, Golden Mile, Black Sage-Osoyoos and Similkameen. At approximately 10 percent of the total plantings, only chardonnay is its equal and merlot greater in total acreage.

Snacks at Closson Chase

In Ontario pinot gris is the fifth most planted and harvested grape variety, trailing only chardonnay, riesling, merlot and cabernet franc. In terms of tonnage the number 3,627 from 2017 may still trail merlot by 1,600 tonnes but don’t be fooled by historical statistics. The gris-grigio juggernaut is losing no space-time ascension and continues to gain with exponential force. Ontario has defined three DVAs: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) and Prince Edward County (PEC). Within the Niagara Peninsula, five general grape climatic zones are further defined by 10 sub-appellations: Creek Shores, Lincoln Lakeshore, Vinemount Ridge, Beamsville Bench, Short Hill Bench, Twenty Mile Bench, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Lakeshore, Niagara River and St David’s Bench. Pelee Island is a sub-appellation of LENS. The pinots, gris and grigio are everywhere.

Why plant more pinot gris in Ontario? It’s more than simply a matter of market trends. If we look at cultivar by vineyard risk assessment, the professionals who study such things will tell us that a grape like merlot is less winter hardy and requires more heat and frost free days to reach acceptable maturity than both chardonnay and pinot gris. Do the math.

We also tasted some terrific pinot gris during our week-long stay in Prince Edward County, including the following six, all different, singular and stand alone.

Closson Chase K.J. Watson Vineyard Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($22.95, WineAlign)

Ask winemaker Keith Tyers what he thinks about pinot gris. “It can age,” he says, “if it’s made like gris.” The skin-contact affected hue is our first clue (if appearances mean anything) and the tannin from the vineyard is the second. In between these bookended ideals are dry extract, round to zaftig fruit texture and a chalkier consistency from out of this most curious vintage. The natural acidity and full fruit by way of low yields makes for a rock ‘n roll gris of inner mind and vision. Lush to a degree, full of metal motion, forward thinking and fine. Leaves a trail of mineral propulsion behind, a field of gris debris, to a degree, in hubris and in the end, so County and so Closson Chase. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($18.00, WineAlign)

Another light, airy, delicate and inching ever so close to the ethereal for pinot gris from Harwood with maturing vines now bringing some pear and peach flesh along for good measure. Still a bit obsequious and non-descript though the under the skin mineral Hillier accent is getting stronger and clearer in the context of an overall message. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted June 2019

Stanners Pinot Gris Cuivré 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($28.00, WineAlign)

All County fruit and Colin Stanners chooses a process of no de-stemming, no crushing and leaving the gris on its skins for three days. A highly textural wine is the result and one that in one respect creeps towards Rosé. There’s a salve within that mouthfeel and it’s one that feels so cool and smooth. Minty to be sure, if mineral were mentha, herbal, chilly and unconventional. The ebb and flow of its sensations are like the tide on the shore carrying the riches of the vineyard, in and out. Always appreciate the cadence of this wine and its confidence, but also its stoicism and its humility. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Hubbs Creek Pinot Gris Wild Ferment 2018, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95, WineAlign)

Now we know how, why and where we can find great love for pinot gris because a wine like this from John Battista Calvieri allows us to anticipate the very thing that makes us salivate. Sapidity. Aromatically speaking we are prepped by the early scents of flowers opening, followed by the sweet succulence of textural meanderings. Then balance is afforded and brings that sapidity straight to the salty surface. A very precise pinot gris will do this and texture is a crisp bite taken from a just picked piece of orchard fruit. Long, honest and understandable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($25.00, WineAlign)

The fruit comes direct from the South Bay vineyard and one third finds its way into barrel. No shocker that this is both richly textured and developed pinot gris is an old-school mimic, like enriching valley fruit grown in the shadows of a Vosges Mountains canyon. It’s quite an abstraction this all-in mouthfeel, tripping the tongue, light show fantastic County gris. Creamy apples and pears meet expressive, raging, sapid and fortified acidities. Go big or go home I’d say. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Maggie Granger, The Grange of Prince Edward

The Grange Of Prince Edward Estate Pinot Gris 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95, WineAlign)

This right here is the newest epiphany from 2018 and again for 2019. What that means is Maggie and Caroline Granger have struck gold (or copper, platinum and orange), depending on your skin-contact white viewpoint. That it happens to be an orange wine is completely inconsequential to the math, science or for that matter, the art. Mature and gifted acidity supports the fruit-tannin compendium in pinot gris that knows where it’s from and who it purports to be. That is to say it’s naturally managed and acts that way. In fact it smells and tastes just like its kin pinot noir and so the adage of white wine made like a red fits this to a “P.” E-P-phany, as in extended play, skin-contact style. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2018, February and June 2019

Head judge D. J. Kearney, #NWAC2019

There were 34 medals awarded in this category, two Gold, 12 Silver and 20 Bronze. British Columbia (gris) and Ontario (grigio) split the Golds while B.C. gris took home all the Silvers, not to mention 24 of the total 32 medals. Six medals were grigio in origin/style and only one of those was from B.C. Origins aside the category results at the 2019 Nationals prove that this didactic grape is showing qualities not seen before which tells us one main thing. Farmers and producers are putting time and money into its production, lowering yields and treating it with varietal respect. The pale Vin Gris and Vendanges Tardives examples persist and sometimes excite but at the top of the judges’ heap were dry examples that expressed richness and ultimately flavour.

Congratulations to all the winners and to those producers for offering high quality, well-proportioned and balanced pinot gris/grigio. The consumers are thankful as are we, the judges. Your attention to detail and dedication to crafting solid varietal wines will be repaid.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Canada knows Rosé

Quality Canadian made Rosé is more diverse and complex than ever before. That’s great news for consumers

as seen on WineAlignRosé Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

The 2019 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada were a huge success with 1,815 entries from 259 different wineries from six different provinces. The ‘Nationals’ are Canada’s largest wine awards and each year are held them in a different Canadian wine region. This year’s were hosted in Ontario’s bucolic Prince Edward County.

For we the 21 judges it was an intense week in assessment of more than 1,800 entries for wines made coast to coast, albeit surrounded by the beauty and the serenity of Prince Edward County at the 2019 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. It seems most apropos to open the results vault with the winners of the Rosé category, first because it’s one of life’s great apéritif wines, second because we tasted some lovely examples in PEC and third, quality was on full display at this year’s awards.

There were 44 medals awarded, six Gold, six Silver and 32 Bronze. British Columbian Rosé took home two thirds or 32 of those 48 medals in it’s strongest showing to date. Origins aside if a clearcut notion has emerged from out the Rosé category results at the 2019 Nationals it’s one that encourages both the asking and answering of a new question. Who needs only light, southern French styled Rosé when you can also have full fruit, plenty of colour and a healthy dose of personality. In many cases the nearly pale and vin gris examples still persist and excite but at the top of the judges’ heap are also those bled and rendered, heavily hued and teeming with fruit. Canadian made Rosé is more diverse, complex and multifarious than ever before. In terms of working for the consumer that means more choice and that’s a beautiful thing.

Judging at NWAC2019

A wonderful exercise would be to purchase and taste (as a line-up) the six Gold Medal winning Rosés from this competition. Five out of six hail from British Columbia so the playing field is as level as it’s going to get and the assessment would be a highly credible one. When you look at the six you’ll note the variance and heterogeneity of distinction, tenor and design. All of them, save for the great outlier from Quebec are raised within close geographical range and each fit to sing of their own singular merit and character. Yet they too show local variegation in representation, for the Okanagan Valley, Skaha Lake and Vancouver Island. Further proof that Rosé’s multiplicity is steeped in varietal, style and also place.

The variance of grapes employed in these top awarded wines are perhaps what stands out as the most obvious point of wide attack. One of the top wines is Sperling Vineyards Organic Pinot Noir Rosé, lithe, earthy, authentic and so varietally obvious. Another is Stag’s Hollow Syrah which uses a Rosé-dedicated block at Amalia Vineyard for a pale yet expressive, pure antithetical expectation. The combinative winemaking skills separate it from the pack, part light crushed, soaked and pressed plus part saignée method off of a syrah/viognier co-ferment. Skaha Rosé is whole cluster pressed, 100 percent, high acidity-led merlot while Blue Grouse Quill Rosé is entirely Cowichan Valley gamay, harvested over three days and fermented on its skins for 18 hours before pressing. Then along comes a terrific pinot gris example in Harper’s Trail Rosé. Gris can deliver citrus both yellow and red and a little added bit of red juice goes a long way for a current of currant and sweet red pepper. The stand apart or alone Gold Medal winner is the esteemed representative from Quebec, La Cantina Vallee D’Oka Rosé Du Calvaire. This was the sole blend in the mix of six, a chardonnay and pinot noir raised in the heart of the Basses-Laurentides which “perfectly accompanies the trout, the salmon, the bites with seafood, the sunny salads and the cheeses of Quebec.” A balanced Rosé, low in sugar, proper in high acidity and congratulations to La Cantina for the much deserved recognition.

Whether you are making yours to be a crowd pleaser with a heathy dose of residual sugar or dry as the desert, the unequivocal voice of necessary conscience will always whisper “balance in Rosé is key.” Sweetness sells, that much we know, not in the once popular White Zinfandel way but in the “hidden style,” in wines where enough acidity remains to make it feel like the overall sensation is a drier one than what is really in the bottle. There is nothing wrong with making Rosé with an equal quotient of 6.0 g/L of sugar and acidity, provided the free-run of fruit juice and the retention of optimum freshness are equally exercised to task. The six Silver Medal winners all took a page out of that balancing act book.

A low alcohol (under 12 per cent) and high acidity (above 8 g/L TA) style is typified by a producer like  Singletree out of Naramata in the Okanagan Valley while another like Trius gathers gamay noir, pinot noir, syrah and a pinch of pinot meunier for their effective and efficient Niagara Peninsula Rosé. The same might be said about Mission Hill‘s single-vineyard, Okanagan Valley blush “meritage” but where that wine shines is on behalf of merlot as the lead dancer in a talented ensemble. As noted above, British Columbia also has a way with using pinot gris in Rosé and when just a fourteenth or so of a red grape like cabernet franc is blended in you get both hue and style. Not that colour matters so much but a lovely lithe salmon pink hue can double down to match the personality of a pretty wine.

Spearhead Pinot Noir Rosé from the Okanagan Valley is a poster child for asking that new age question, who needs light, southern French Rosé when you can have this? Less so but in a similar vein and noted by David Lawrason from “the pale but bright sunset pink” is made by Tantalus with young vine pinot noir and some pinot meunier. Another Silver Medal winner is one wholly generous, fruit-equipped and settled of the finest balance, that being the CedarCreek Estate Pinot Noir Rosé.

Then there is the consideration of what can be possible out of Nova Scotia. Much in the way that province is able to make high quality Sparkling wine, so can they do yeoman’s work with Rosé. Sure the truth is such that the climate gives cold temperatures, wind, precipitation and the world’s greatest fluctuating ocean tides but it also breeds a long, phenolic ripening season from which growers are often able to extend grapes into late October and November for making wines that need much earlier picking everywhere else. Acidities are easily maintained in the Annapolis Valley and the skins of grapes imbued by many hues (white, green, orange, yellow, pink and red) can combine to Rosé it up in the most elegant and stylish ways. Luckett Vineyards joins the likes of Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville to craft just such an example and to lead the way.

There too are examples made so much like red wines you might need a round table discussion to set the blending of categories straight. The fully hued pinot noir made by O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars is but one that straddles the line and breaches the twain while Leaning Post from Winona on the Niagara Peninsula shows off what can be done in a salty-strawberry vein when choosing the mixed varietal route. What we are not finding and thankful for it is the “dextrinization” of Rosé, meaning the sort of manipulations that change colour, but also aroma and flavour. Methodologies are mixed so light crush/press and saignée are both valid and fitting means to different Rosé ends, but the days of make-up and “blushing” it up seem to be fading well into the rear-view mirror. Congratulations to all the winners and the producers who are making proper, honest, quality and crushable Rosé in every corner of the country. The consumer thanks you, as do we, the judges. When it comes to purchasing choices it has never been clearer where to look. Canada knows Rosé.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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The diplomacy of Canadian Sauvignon Blanc

What is sauvignon blanc? More importantly why does it solicit so much winemaking interest, continue to be planted at increasing rates and produced with so much great heart? The Grape Growers of Ontario see it as “an extremely precocious and vigorous cultivar in Ontario, even on sites of low vigor potential.” Though it is very sensitive to extreme cold it is attractive “for its vegetal or herbaceous flavours.” In British Columbia sauvignon blanc experienced an explosion in the 1990s” and is made in a “style (that) benefits from the natural high acidity and fruit ripeness. Both the crisp, zingy, green bean, grass and asparagus style, as well as a riper, tropical fruit, richer version can be found. Some of the most successful wines are oak fermented and blended with sémillon to make wines in a white Bordeaux style.”

Related – Red Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

Related – Single white varietals: No roommates required

In Canada’s cool climate viticultural regions there just seems to be this persistent thirst for grassy, herbal and gooseberry gifting white wines embraced as sauvignon blanc but also those that are flinty, smoky, nutty, creamy and rich. This tells us that sauvignon blanc makes full use of its wiles to attain its ends. Whether or not you see its origins as Loire Valley (Sancerre, Touraine, Pouilly Fumé and Cheverny) or Bordeaux (Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Côtes de Bordeaux Blayes et Franc and Entre-Deux-Mers), Canada’s sauvignon blanc finds a way to please all camps.

Related – A Canadian preoccupation with White Blends

Related – Riding red blends from Canadian frontiers

There were 25 medals awarded to Canadian sauvignon blanc at the 2019 Nationals, one platinum, three Gold, four Silver and 16 Bronze. The split between Ontario and British Columbia was almost exact with the nod to the east by only one over the west. Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2017 from Niagara-on-the-Lake took home top honours, yet another varietal wine in the ever-increasingly impressive Showcase line-up fostered by winemaker Craig McDonald. This is a wine that won Silver in 2017, Gold in 2018 and now Platinum in 2019. I’d say that’s called moving in the right direction. Nearby to Trius out of Niagara vineyards is the Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, a consistently high quality example that continues to show remarkable success for sauvignon blanc in Ontario with its second straight NWAC Gold.

Related – Pinot Gris goes National

Related – Canada knows Rosé 

The other two Gold winners are from British Columbia, first for the Howling Bluff Sauvignon Blanc Three Mile Creek 2018 noted by one judge as “exuberant…zesty acidity and a textural, multi-layered core.” The Hillside Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018 from the Naramata Bench impressed as well as a “very ripe style of sauvignon blanc…crisp and refreshing with a smooth, medium-bodied profile and a subtly sweet, fruity finish.” The Silver winners are split two and two from both provinces, as are the Bronze winners in equal numbers, eight to eight. It’s just so bloody obvious that sauvignon blanc offers consumers what they want; equality, diplomacy and something for everyone.

Here are more sauvignon blanc tasted in recent weeks.

G.Marquis Sauvignon Blanc The Red Line 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (556894, $13.95, WineAlign)

Yes. Barrel fermented and flinty, reductive, smoky and with full fruit compliment. Crunchy, juicy, in metal motion and full of varietal excitement. So Fumé Blanc in character, rich, layered, variegated and fine. Plenty of acidity, herbal pesto, savour lemon square and length. Really accomplished wine. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Nomad At Hinterbrook Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2018, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($16.95, WineAlign)

Steely, juicy, melons of yellow, orange and green, full fruit straight ahead. Just fruit and stainless steel acquiescing sauvignon blanc. Nothing off track here. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (57430, $22.95, WineAlign)

The hyper-spirited layers of fruit intensity are noted above and beyond the previous vintage of Mission Hill’s Reserve sauvignon blanc. A similar grapefruit to guava to mango to gooseberry accumulation gathers albeit on a drier and more focused frame. The result is a douse of lime and a sprinkle of herbal salt for more complexity and ultimately opening the door to greater and further far reaching food pairings. Great joy in Mission Hill-ville with a nod to Sancerre-land. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Reif Estate Drea’s Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($26.50, WineAlign)

Leafy, savoury, verdant and grassy sauvignon blanc. Metallic, orange juiced and then, more metallics. Not a matter of excitement but definitely a thing of botany, chemistry and integrated science. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

CedarCreek Platinum Sauvignon Blanc Border Vista 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($33.70, WineAlign)

Aromatic whites are integral to the CedarCreek project and so sauvignon blanc is a natural for joining the ranks and carrying a torch. The wild ferment, 1500L oak foudres and concrete egg all contribute towards this three-pronged effect; musky berry skin scents, creamy and nutty flavours and then the kicker in how texture swells and fills the mouth. You’ve likely never experienced sauvignon blanc this way, not in the Loire, not in the New World and not even in British Columbia. This vintage presents a magnanimous beginning for what will become a benchmark varietal wine when the wild, wooly and moving parts learn how to co-exist in a world of balance. Can’t wait to see how ’18, 19 and ’20 turn out. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Le Vieux Pin Sauvignon Blanc 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($34.59, WineAlign)

Wholly engrossing sauvignon blanc of great pungency and perhaps a kiss of barrel here. Grassy and in a sense a crossing of Casablanca with Marlborough though just for a fleeting cerebral moment. Some mango to pear fruit sweetness through texture. Ambitious and reminiscently woolly style but B.C. knows how to make this happen and considering the expressiveness, why not? Dry extract and tannin come across on the finish. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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To Chardonnay and beyond

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

A week out and ahead of the greatest Rock ‘n Roll chardonnay weekend around it seems apropos to preview i4c, the Niagara Peninsula’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Imagine Coachella, Collisioni and Glastonbury rolled into one big weekend of tasting chardonnay. Sort of. Equating chardonnay to infinity also seems relatively appropriate because the great white, genetically superior grape is in fact the world’s most planted white variety somewhere in the vicinity of 500,000 acres and counting.

Are you going to i4c? The ninth edition of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration is taking place in Ontario’s Niagara region from July 19-21. There are events already sold out but there are tickets still available for some of the weekend’s best venues and 51 wineries will be featured this year, split between locals and those from nine countries around the world. Food is varied and outstanding at the cumulative events and you can sample more 100 versions of chardonnay, plus some other specialities. For all the detailed information you could want about events, seminars and ticket purchases, go to http://www.coolchardonnay.org/. And of course this all would not be possible without the unwavering support of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario (WMAO). Visit their website for everything wine in Ontario at https://winecountryontario.ca/.

I have made some pretty heady statements about this event. Lines like “The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams” and so to get you prepped for i4c here are 10 recently tasted examples from Ontario that you really must try.

Took all night but it was so worth it. Welcome to #i4c17 @coolchardonnay #ilivechardonnay

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (286278, $19.95, WineAlign)

Quiet and demurred chardonnay with salty-metallic feels and real oak intent. Lovely to nose, taste and drink. What more could you want? So long and extensive, if soft and just easy. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

The Farm Unmarked Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($22.00, WineAlign)

Unmarked as in a combination of earmarked and unoaked, I would think. This Neudorf family raised chardonnay is sharp, leesy and so clean on a line its in Petit Chablis to Chablis mimic, from fruit near Jordan though not of exact or pinpointed, i.e. unmarked origin. It’s (Twenty Mile) Benchland fruit one way or another, lovely, so drinkable, expertly tart and equipped with a smile. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

The posit tug between fruit and tension is so strong it extends straight through the great lengths travelled all the way into the finish. This CCV has rarely if almost never moved with such circulative pace, in fact there’s a lurching and a wraparound effect, of acidity and structure encapsulating the fruit. Safe, bound and secure as it can be in the present so that the unwind will bring more and more pleasure. When texture arrives on the scene this will have come full circle, back to and in completion of fine union. It’s penitent and courteous, a function of winemaker Keith Tyers’ understanding of vineyard and vine. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted June 2019

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

As a follow-up to the warmth and phenolic heights of 2016 you’ll have to imagine a meandering through zig-zagging directions for ’17. Despite the ups, downs and ups again this chardonnay has indeed found its way, charming us with insights and how richness ensues. The surety of this fruit and this composure ensures and enriches the great sleeper County chardonnay that continues to explain the concept of cool climate viticulture done right. It’s not really all that reductive but it is protective and crafted with indefatigable structure in surround of high quality ingredients. Another winner from Dan Sullivan. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Château Des Charmes Blanc De Blancs 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (423111, $34.95, WineAlign)

Not unlike the previous ’14 with an almost almond-nougat creaminess, sweetness balanced by equal and opposing acidity, not to mention real richness. Winemaker Amélie Boury likes to pick later than many in Niagara and so that accumulation of style, chic and textural components really drive this chardonnay machine. That said you can never leave home too far behind and so place is the thing. Cool-climate sparkling wine that is, in Blanc de Blancs form. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Trail Estate Chardonnay Vintage Two Unfiltered 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($35.00, WineAlign)

Three acres of planted chardonnay (a bit more than a hectare) and 2017 was harvested on October 8th, set to natural ferment and put to 22 per cent new plus (22) 2nd use barrels half way through in for 11 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered there is more flesh and complexity in number two. This is the first new, true leg of what will be a long relationship, the first that is crafted “as opposed to just seeing what we’ve got.” In many ways Mackenzie Brisbois’ first truly personal chardonnay. There’s a creamy apple custard vitalized by pulse and energy with good bite and it feels very seasoned, on it’s own, religiously made, slowly developed and with purpose. The acids are spot on. Bottled in November, wisdom already contained, herein. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted December 2018

Queenston Mile Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (10137, $35.00, WineAlign)

So very inscribed in the drawn buttery realm with oak notation from and centre, incumbent on melting sooner rather than later. For now it’s a richly textured chardonnay set in substantial oleaginous ooze though minus its original spice so full integration is coming soon. Curvy, creamy and pure, cresting at tender with an lovely white salted caramel vein, Stylish chardonnay with just enough cool. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Tawse Chardonnay Lenko Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($44.95, WineAlign)

Nice advancement here, moving past original fruit and now with mixed into creamed corn, certainly vintage related, of cold and cloud cover plus some wetness. Good representation of the vintage once reductive, now mineral and flinty chardonnay of intensity and structure. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Wingfield Ouest 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($44.95, WineAlign)

Exceptional chardonnay right here. Expressive, of both orchard and stone fruit in the same basket, beads of humidity forming on the aromatic skins. Not sweet but ripe as must be, tight, tart and structured along right proper angles. The real deal in chardonnay, with integrated wood, balance, precision and focus. Noted last there is length. Great length! Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($48.00, WineAlign)

Every pop of a Hidden Bench Blanc de Blanc sets off fireworks at zero hour. Every moment marks the beginning of a great event, profound and set in the autolysis of fine design. Chardonnay such as it is like this is perfectly dry and raised on the promises of Bench life, the frosting on a cake made of pure driven varietal snow. If any sparkling wine made in Ontario is of “grower style” this is the one, purposed, born in the vineyard, bred in the fields. It is fed by chardonnay raised with a sparkling consciousness, intended to illuminate the chemistry of traditional methodology, to indicate a metal complex acting as a single unit, a polyatomic ion, a blanc de blanc molecular scintillant. The linger is complex and as a travelling companion you would be hard pressed to do better. Makes you feel just right. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted June 2019

Good to go!

godello

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

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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