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 and almond skin, but also pith. Complex if commercially sweeter, rich and fatter, something School of Cool 2017 Sugar Trials panelist Rhys Pender MW agrees with. Making sparkling wine from the warmish Niagara-on-the-Lake regional-appellation (which includes the warm St. David’s Bench) has its pros and cons, the positives mostly tending to richness and the negatives the compromise to energy and verve. Winemaker Amélie Boury manages the dosage of 10 g/L RS with natural acidity (5.5 g/L TA), a forthcoming low pH of 3.16 and a late September pick. “For richer fruit” she notes and then a coupling texture by fermenting in barrels. Look for it on the ambit of tertiary personality after a few years of age. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Domaine De Mauperthuis Chablis Vieilles Vignes Les Malantes 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (511063, $33.95, WineAlign)

From a new family (relatively speaking) to Chablis, the estate belongs to Marie-Noëlle & Laurent Ternynck. The old vines Chablis saw 12 months in foudres, on the lees, with fruit gathered from vineyards in Fleys. The cool spot comes with a higher altitude, on a windswept plateau and so harvest is generally five to six days later. And so their Chablis is cool, direct, taut and sapid stuff, as Chablis will go, from such a climat and handled so. Acidity runs rampant and travels quickly up and down and into parts of the mouth that stand up to take notice. Sharp and focused Chablis. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2017  #mauperthuis  vinsdechablis  vinsdebourgogne  nicholaspearcewines  #Mauperthuis  @vinsdechablis  @VinsdeBourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines  Nicholas Pearce

Mer Soleil Chardonnay “SLH” 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, California (958975, Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

The sun always shines upon Mer Soleil’s “SLH,” a chardonnay equipped with exceptional fruit purity that welcomes but could go it so much more confidently alone without the mask-caking make-up. It needs a fraction of the wood it receives. A tour de force of ocean and sun (tied together by fog) delivers acidity, sapidity and the fruit is raised to keep things moving swimmingly along. So it’s got that going for it. Which is nice. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  mersoleilwine  #andrewpellerimportagency  @MerSoleilChard  @APImportAgency  @MerSoleilVineyard  Andrew Peller (Andrew Peller Import)

Good man this man. Great winemaker this winemaker #i4c @coolchardonnay

Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (111989, $35.80, WineAlign)

When I tasted Quarry Road 2013 out of four barrels three years ago the purpose was to take in the nuances and see only the trees. I for one could not help seeing the forest through the trees and imagining percentages of each combining for the final blend. Neutral Mercurey wood looked over infant three year-old vines spoken here with surprising density, tang and tropical melon in both aroma and flavour. This sits on the front palate right now. The mineral Ceres qualifies older fruit as the pretty and the gemstone, essential for Quarry Road, the most like (Meursault) in Burgundy. This fruit transferred to stainless on the lees from September to March before going into bottle now renders to make Quarry the purest expression from the best vineyard. The CLL toast delivers the taut, not yet reductive wood tightening, then and again now, mainly on the finish. Compressed citrus notes are late arriving and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish. The larger CLL toast Mercurey barrel reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oaky feel. All together we now have one of Paul Pender’s most accomplished to date and all chardonnays considered, one of the finest higher end values around. I think he would agree. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May and July 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Maycas del Limarí Chardonnay Quebrada Seca 2013, Limarí Valley, Chile (331520, $36.00, WineAlign)

Maycas de Limarí’s Quebrada Seca or “dry-cracked” makes reference to the fragmented soils, a place of low-fertility and chardonnay loving terroir. This spent 14 months in (30 per cent new) but it’s not just the extended barrel time that separates it from the estate’s Reserva. Vintage plays a significant role in conjunction with the soil and it teaches so much about the virtues of patience and time. No malo but high sapidity, lots of bite and the verdant, healthy life are borne out of poor fertility. This is life affirming chardonnay from harsh climes. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  maycasdellimari  #thevineagency  wines_of_chile_canada  @Maycasdellimari  @TheVine_RobGroh  @WinesofChile  @maycasdellimari  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency  @WinesOfChile

Joie Farm Chardonnay “En Famille” 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (511113Agent, $36.00, WineAlign)

The developed layers of fruit are well integrated and interwoven into the mildness of both barrel and tannin. The sweetness of that sun-kissed fruit leaves a lasting impression from what has been brought into being by a warm and impressionable vintage. Exemplary three or four year Okanagan chardonnay that shows off its charming sucrosity. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  joie farm  liffordgram  #JoieFarm  @LiffordON  @joiefarm  @liffordwineandspirits

Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign)

When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2017  triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Exquisite dish by Frank Dodd @TriusWines #houseofchards #i4c lunch . . . Lake Huron Whitefish, lobster and scallop sausage, crab croquettes, asparagus, sweet peas, celeriac slaw, seabuck

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign)

With fruit from the Niagara chardonnay mecca Oliveira Vineyard and the addendum of yet another stellar varietal vintage it is this Craig McDonald speciality that helps to steal the show. Striking out with near-raging acidity (pushing and possibly exceeding the 8 g/L mark) the Wild Ferment is one of the most formidable expressions of 2014, if not ever. All the moving parts work fervently and impressively as if the motor is running and the machine careening around the speedway. To keep composure it is texture that brings about grounding, balance and cadence, from obvious lees perfection and 30 per cent new wood plus the rest forged by two to five year old barrels. This is creamy, energetic and tannic chardonnay, all conspiring to express itself with both weight and poise. From a maker who’s been around the block a few times, the ’14 WF will go the distance. And you can start now. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017 an #i4c July 2017  triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Esterházy Il Magnifico Blanc de Blancs Brut 2013, Burgenland, Austria (511378, Agent, $37.95, WineAlign)

Esterházy was a Hungarian noble family with origins in the Middle Ages, generally bilingual, in Hungarian (as a result of their ethnicity) and German (as they were aristocrats of the Austrian Empire). The family was intrinsically tied to the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (master to Beethoven) and the estate today shares the same desire; to epitomize the aims and achievements of the Classical era, Hadyn for music and today, Esterházy for contemporary Austrian wine. General Manager Stefan Tscheppe spins a tale of Nikolaus II, the wealthy late 18th and early 19th century prince who lived a charmed life, nicknamed by his sisters as “Il Magnifico.” The namesake sparkler is done in a Brut Nature style, 18 months on the lees and is possessive of a distinctive grapefruit liqueur. The vines grown on limestone-based soil and this is clearly picked on acidity, in the first to second week of September. Il Maginifico may not carry the weight or tone of Hadyn’s The Creation but it is a most excellent Blanc de Blancs composition. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2017  #esterhazy @esterhazywein  austrianwine  Esterhazy Wein  @NaturalVines  @oesterreichwein  @AustrianWine  @BirgittaSamavar  Marzia Gallo  @austrianwine

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Cuvée Dix Neuvième 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (303602Winery, $38.20, WineAlign)

It’s never easy to follow up greatness, even for this top quality Niagara chardonnay and yet I am almost ready to believe that this Dix-Neuvième delivers more richness of fruit than its predecessor. The stoicism lost from 2013 is woven texture gained, here in a tapestry of pure chardonnay fruit, beeswaxy, faint honey and an almost imperceptible reductive environment. Francois Morissette and Brent Rowland clearly had texture earmarked as the raison d’être for this ’14, almost to a fault but the result is bloody delicious. No Pearl Morissette wine ever gave of itself so young, so fast. Immediate gratification be darned there will be five blessed textured years ahead. And then the honey will set in. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June and July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  @lassvet  Pearl Morissette

Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis Premier Cru 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (416057, Agent, $38.95, WineAlign)

A compressed chardonnay that strikes as a passion play between herbs and limestone and no surprise that the spoils go to the latter. The citrus is gassy, rising, bathed in atmosphere. The structure is predicated on stone, rock and struck flint. Chablis of metal and essential minerality, discovered and defined. This slow-ripened chardonnay will evolve one year for every month contributed by its growing cycle. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted June 2016 and July 2017  #domainelaroche  selectwinemoments  @DomaineLaroche  @SelectWinePros  @Select_Wines  Domaine Laroche, Chablis 

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate Winery

Trail Estate Chardonnay Unfiltered 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Auspicious beginnings transcend the customary for Trail’s winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois, case in point exhibit A with her first fledged County chardonnay, a whole cluster pressed, native yeasts and full malolactic beauty. Only a single barrel was made of this really tight, taut and youthfully vituperative one but it will mature, self-reflect and turn into a respectful and generous wine. There is a toasty note that currently smoulders in the glass but that too will gently peel away. The terrific render of acidity couples at present and will melt with the rest of the intensities. This is the estate’s first kick at this County cru, “things are going great, and they’re only getting better.” The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  @TrailEstateWinery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (276261, $39.20, WineAlign)

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. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and #14c, July 2017  hidden bench  @HiddenBench  @Hidden.Bench

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.20, WineAlign)

Norman Hardie’s 2015 Niagara is a reductive yellow goddess dressed chardonnay, connected to the fullest of its fruit, (slowly developed) creamy malolactic, touchstone acidity and grape tannic ability. There is this understated feeling in the throes of richness that the winemaker and the place always seem to agree upon. The display window celebrates and proudly promotes the somewhereness of this ’15 chardonnay. It is never a matter of Niagara versus County, there is little substance to be found, nor is it a necessary point of discussion worth investigating. It’s just highway that separates the two. Both are children of the Norm, both deserving of estate credibility and here, with this next excellent Niagara, taking the Hardie progression one step further. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  normhardie  Norman Hardie  @NormanHardieWinery

Domaine De Mauperthuis Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (511071, $39.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Stéphane Saillet’s is a highly compressed, pure and precise Montmains. No wood was used because of the vintage, a season from which the ripe and developed fruit could clearly defend and take care of itself. Carries the essential tenets of texture and chew. Stéphane notes that the challenged ’16 will have some barrel (foudres) because “in the beginning there was nothing,” an important omen with which to help reflect on the fantasy and fantastic effort found in his 2015. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  #mauperthuis  vinsdechablis  vinsdebourgogne  nicholaspearcewines  #Mauperthuis  @vinsdechablis  @VinsdeBourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines  Nicholas Pearce

Malivoire Chardonnay Moira 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

Moira delves much further into the spice with a wood feel into texture, piquancy, savour, sapidity and on repeat in all of the above. The length stretches further as a deeper, more intense expression of Beamsville Bench terroir. It will need to settle and integrate with another year in bottle. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine 

Lightfoot And Wolfville Chardonnay Ancienne 2014, Nova Scotia (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

The name Ancienne and the proximate irony appraised is not lost for its translation as endemic or indigenous for wines made from Burgundian grape varieties raised on Nova Scotia soil. The sophomore chardonnay speaks in a vernacular a year to the wiser but at the expense of excitement, which is actually a good thing. A step back taken will result in two going forward, as I shall explain. The same regime exercised mimics the ’13, of 20 per cent new, 18 months in barrel, but a slight course altered with some reductive play in ’14, as an experiment but also as a plan. There seems to be more lees richness and spice notes that flit like direct darts on the palate. Different clones are harvested at different times, so now the vinifications are staggered and layered, which really shows on the stratified and almost germinating palate. Another year older allows these vines to bring diversified variegation, more Nova Scotia and as a consequence, less winemaking. The growth here is fascinating and enlightening. In the interim it may compromise the flavour profile and the wow factor but in the long run it is structure, longevity and impressibility that will give the green light to estate grown, Minas Basin success. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June 2017   lwwines  jhortonns  rachelhopelightfoot  winesofns  @lwwines  @rachel_hope  @WinesofNS  @lightfootandwolfvillewines  Rachel Lightfoot  @winesofns

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard #2 “Foxcroft Block” Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (512178, Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

Deeper and deeper into the micro terroir we go, with thanks to the monk himself so strike me down as a cool climate instigator if you must but Thomas Bachelder takes on the challenge, fresh and new as ever. This Wismer Block dubbed #2 is purely and expressly Foxcroft, a divided up for purchase and worked by many vineyard. Few do it justice like the unstressed symbiotic relationship between Bachelder and grower Craig Wismer. From the ideal session of 2013 we have creamy and cracked, fragmented mineral intensity in opposite attitude to Wismer-Parke but more on the fleshy and structured side. The wood is bigger and more integrated, the flesh ripping and of the sort of musculature that shows no aggression nor needs any explanation. It’s just big and beautiful, not to mention an ambassador for cool. Hello world. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted June and July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Blanc De Blanc ‘Carte Blanche’ 2012, Short Hills Bench, Ontario (Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

Reserved for Ontario sparkling but indicative of a bench-steppe foothills style because it just has that spark. Very much a ball of tart and compressed energy and so intense. A middle of the norm dosage at 8 g/L RS is managed in perfect oscillate with equal and opposing acidity at 7.3 TA. Such precision, ease and high quality serviceability is the equanimity quotient delivered by the estimable work ethic of winemaker Sandrine Bourcier. It boils down to recognition. The benchmark for Niagara Peninsula year-dated sparkling wine juices ripeness out of this warm vintage to perpetuate Cuvée Catharine’s unparalleled fizz consistency. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham @SpeckBros  Henry Pelham

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June and July 2017  lwwines  jhortonns  rachelhopelightfoot  winesofns  @lwwines  @rachel_hope  @WinesofNS  @lightfootandwolfvillewines  Rachel Lightfoot  @winesofns

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2013, Yamhill Carlton District, Oregon (416644, Agent, $45.00, WineAlign)

The best of the barrels, always remember the soil, the soil Johnson Vineyard chardonnay will send you spiralling deep into thought, like it or not. It’s origins in Jory, sedimentary soils draw energy from a source unseen, dug down into where the ancients dwell. 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.” Bachelder speaks of a wisdom once revered, now questioned and he’s fine with needing to work for a living. The Johnson chardonnay is beautifully tart, rich and complex, biting, full of energy, so cool, taut, structured and even still a bit reductive. But it really is pressed, juiced and spirited with lime, for success and to linger, for a decade post harvest, perhaps for even longer a quality length of time. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Sans Soufre 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Says Norm with matter of factness, as he always does, “it’s the regular Niagara chardonnay, but without sulphur.” So you ask the question up front? Is the unsulphured so different than the other? To the naked senses, no. The charm, power and generosity are all there. It took a full year to pass malolactic inspection. So why do it? Because it reminds of 2012, same slow malo, same deferential and determined kind of wine and the answer comes from something Norm says. “I didn’t have the guts in those days.” But he has them now and yet the decisions imparted this Sans Soufre will be different, with more guts and glory, say in 2022. Perhaps there is a softness about this naked one, something cotton candy about its aromatics and its texture. It’s fine-spun, ethereal and dissipating. It does not argue but you sense it’s possessive of an organized, controlled tension. But don’t be thinking this isn’t a planned piece of parenthood. Did I mention the tannic presence on the palate? How about the wind-up, into tart and the stiff breeze that blows through as if it’s already turning to fall. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted Twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $45.95, WineAlign)

The temptation and the desire to compare Robyn’s Block and the other Tawse chardonnays is unavoidable but in 2013 it’s a fruitless exercise. Neither warmth, tropical fruit, cold, rain, terpenes or high acidity are hallmark traits of Robyn’s Block 2013. So what is? When I tasted through Robyn’s barrels with winemaker Paul Pender back in April of 2014, the Mercurey (one year-old, CLL toast) from the oldest (32 years) vines off of the richest site worked wonders in tandem with new oak. Very primary, fermenting notes foretold of a reigned in, restrained Robyn. The Mercurey (new) barrel gifted tang and girth into which the barrel disappears, with sappy toast on the back end. It too was quite young in its evolution but was rich, thick and dense. The Céres (Mineral) barrel brought exclamatory fruit and was ready to drink. All together and three years later these barrels have conspired for all of the above but if I had to sum it up in five words or less I’d say Robyn is “full of energy, texture and beans.” She will turn out creamy notes as the decade turns but always maintain her sense of restraint, running sap and fleshy tone. The wine is nothing if not a fascinating introspection into the history and the future of this block.  Drink 2017-2023. Tasted April and July 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Sperling Vineyards Blanc De Blancs Brut Nature 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (511329, Agent, $47.00, WineAlign)

There is no dosage in this directly motivational Blanc de Blancs and plenty of potential palate weight with thanks to 30 months spent on the lees. There is something top single-vineyard cru Alsatian about the savoury and searing coolness in this style, as if it were more than just the sum of chardonnay parts, like some hypothetical pinot blanc and perhaps auxerrois. There is some reductiveness, a lovely washed rind cheese, lemon scrape melted into curd and fine bitters. The flavours are really quite lemony tart. Striking really. School of Cool moderator Karen MacNeil described this like “a nun in catholic school, severe and a bit starched. I’d like to try it a bit sweeter, to mollify the tension.” Though the consensus is one that sees it under-dosed, you have to admire Ann Sperling’s “decision based on lees contact time.” To make it longer. The sharp, angular edges are a by-product of its aggressive nature but like sémillon in its lean and gaunt youth this B de B will develop some faux honey and petrol with age. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted twice, July 2017  @SperlingVyds  @AnnSperling  @CRUOntario  sperlingvineyards  cruwine  Sperling Vineyards  Ann Sperling

Stratus Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario (307645, Agent, $48.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus 2014 is more reductive than usual, in its case more of a vintage-related affair than others. The “Burgundy method” is employed, but in a “Niagara style” notes winemaker J-L Groux,  that is with native yeasts and a pick that can’t be too early. The wine saw nine months in (25-50 per cent new) oak. This ’14 is Groux’s last of the chardonnay mohicans because in 2015 it will be bottled with lees. This ’14 is nothing if not bloody delicious, ripe orchard fruit swelling, of mild acidity and seamless texture. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May and July 2017  stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (366500, Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

Always Ontario’s outlier, eccentric and non-conformist chardonnay and I say this with complimentary, best of intention flattery. The 2013 vintage is simply chivalrous to chardonnay and in Poetica’s corner, a perfect calm case of preux meets elegante. Here is a chardonnay of inherent oxidative wisdom, from cloud cover, cool, long breaths of Niagara air well into the elongated autumn and the address for what I refer to as “the age apparent one.” The iconoclast Poetica ideal conforms because it is matched with equal breadth by richness of fruit and confirms the way Ann Sperling makes her signature wine. Tasted blind my first guess would put this at five years old because of the exuding warmth so 2010 might just be the order. A 2012 Bench chardonnay might have also been the answer. But with Poetica the promise is like Meursault with uptown fruit, honey, vanilla, caramel, a Niagara vapour and ethanol. Such a telling display that only Poetica can play. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted October 2016 and July 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

Viñas Ventisquero Tara Chardonnay 2014, Atacamas, Casablanca Valley, Chile (511337, Agent, $53.00, WineAlign)

Chile’s Atacama Valley frontier is one of the world’s great terroir expansions, a limestone soil-based flat, even further north than the Limari valley. Ventisquero’s winemaker Felipe Tosso has said that Atacama “breaks all the paradigms of what has been produced in the central-southern valleys of Chile.” The salinity in the land translates to notes in chardonnay of almost no precedence, like salty cotton candy and a fineness of acidity singular in chemical design and how it feels in the mouth. It’s like sucking on a stone lozenge that never dissolves. It’s relentless in its pursuit of fruit. Flavours coagulate liquid almond joy and transparent bitters but there is also a sweetness without definition, a simple limestone syrup that melts into the saltiness of the wine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  vventisquero  univinscanada  wines_of_chile_canada  @vventisquero  @UNIVINS  @WinesofChile  @VentisqueroWines  @UnivinsCanada  @WinesOfChile

Charline Drappier

Champagne Drappier Blanc De Blancs NV, Champagne, France (599860, Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)

Made with five per cent pinot blanc this faintly oxidatively-styled Blanc de Blancs is gingery-leathery and felt as if by extended skin contact. It’s both tannic and orange pith spritzy, also mixed in with grapefruit and lemon. Twenty-four lees-affected months bring body that is fleshy, corporeal and with acidity in charge on the palate. Quite a full fizz with some preserved fruit attentiveness. The dosage is healthy but simply flavour gifting at 7.1 RS because the sugar is a combination of beet and cane aged in oak for 10-15 years. It’s a special Drappier liquor dosage developed at the winery. What it brings is not just sweetness but a complex sweetener that has evolved and developed over time while it has aged. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted twice with Charline Drappier at #14c, July 2017 #ChampagneDrappier  @FWMCan  champagne_drappier  champagnedrappier  fwmcan  Champagne Drappier  Charline Dppr  @FWMCan

Ravine Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The Reserve is 100 per cent estate fruit that spent 18 months in (50 per cent new) barrel. As it’s both barrel fermented and aged the variegation locks the fruit in so bloody tight so even now it’s reductive, smoky and flinty. A mineral chardonnay needs balance from over the top fruit and so track record, acumen and love will have it so. Marty Werner and Ben Minaker’s is a big, summery and gold platinum expression, very expressive, the two-lb steamed in seaweed lobster chardonnay, seemingly Meursault but just as likely from California. But as Ravine’s Reserve on the St. David’s Bench it is purely Niagara Peninsula. Fruit intensity, extract and controlled oxygenation shows off the best of what these men can do. It speaks to their efforts, knowledge accumulation, trials and finally to the culmination of their stamina. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  ravinevineyard  marty_werner  benminaker23  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23  Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery  Martin Werner  Ben Minaker

Adam Mariani, Scribe Winery

Scribe Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, California (511139, Agent, $55.00, WineAlign)

Adam Mariani raised his 2014 in concrete and though we are distracted and of course fully willing to think about the fruit (especially in contrast to his Skin Contact chardonnay) it is the texture that grabs most attention. That this solicits older world comparisons is hard to avoid, but it’s not a Burgundian thematic. Like the garnatxa by Ramon Roqueta Segalés of Domaine Lafou, Scribe’s is a wine that has succeeded in mastering the oxidation process and the scents are of ripe peach, fresh, without overdeveloped sugars but instead a sprinkling of ocean salt. Finishes with a savoury mix of lime, tonic and the liquor of distilled flowers. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  scribe winery  nicholaspearcewines  @scribewinery  @Nicholaspearce_  Scribe Winery  Nicholas Pearce

Familia Torres Chardonnay Milmanda 2014, Catalunya, Spain (332171, Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Miguel Torres Jr. tells us his wine comes from a great white wine vintage; cool and rainy, though not great for reds. “I don’t believe in miracles from the vineyard. You have to do some things in the winery,” he adds, like the use of bigger (300L) barrels and a 50 per cent malolactic goal. His chardonnay is a juicy, terpenic, honorary cool climate Canadian. That’s not to say it isn’t barrel rich, but it too speaks a language of the lively, crisp, crunchy and bloody delicious. This is full, satisfying, spicy and buttery teasing chardonnay out of Catalunya and few gallop along with such equine gait and grace, at least not from Spain, without either softening like butter or hardening like stone. Here the twain is met. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  torreswines  @FWMCan  @TorresWines  fwmcan  @bodegastorres  @FWMCan

Scribe Skin Fermented Chardonnay 2015, Carneros, California (511147, Agent, $63.00, WineAlign)

Scribe Winery’s Adam Mariani introduces his antithetical Californian from the Sonoma side of cooler Carneros up on Arrowhead Mountain in the northern part of the region, planted in 2007 abutting the Mayacamas range on volcanic soils. The grapes are skin-fermented cold (in the farenheit 50’s) with native yeasts for five to six weeks until mid-December but over the past several vintages they (the winemaking team) have slowly gained the confidence to get them above 100 days. One bottle (served too warm) is amiss and oxidative and this really accentuates the skin-settling tannins on the palate. A second is beautifully lively, tannins a bit tamed, acidity in tact and fruit concerned and even obsessed with all things lemon. The aging is done in concrete egg and with a correct bottle this is not oxidized, nor is it an orange wine but it most certainly is a Carneros expression of great interest. It should be dealt with young. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  scribe winery  nicholaspearcewines  @scribewinery  @Nicholaspearce_  Scribe Winery  Nicholas Pearce

Artesa Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (457143, Agent, $67.00, WineAlign)

Artesa or artisan, from the Catalan, an affirmation of style gifted in name from the Barcelona family Raventos. This chardonnay from the base of Mt. Veeder is 100 per cent estate fruit, adjacent Hyde Vineyards, all hillside sits of elevation, sun and under cover of omniscent fog blowing in from San Pablo Bay. The character is unmistakable French (50 per cent new) cream barrel warm and buttered, yet young and still a bit closed for business. The 16 months in wood requires double that to integrate but a fine mineral streak cuts through the caramel. Nothing shocking mind you, grace meets weight and toasted chestnut melds into sweet marzipan. The quality of fruit is unquestionably high and the seamlessness a given. The style can be yours. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted July 2017  artesawinery  #andrewpellerimportagency  @Artesa  @APImportAgency  @MerSoleilVineyard  @Artesa

Chamisal Vineyards Chardonnay Chamise 2014, Edna Valley, California (511212, Agent, $86.00, WineAlign)

The aromatics are slow to reveal but if at first they are mildly mired in solder there is this sweet basil-herbal and lemon-balmy calmness on the entry. Takes some moments and then opens to a creamy, barrel-sweetened, tart and layered chardonnay. Looked at blind I’d certainly peg this as warmer climate, New Zealand perhaps but more likely and gracefully California. Indeed the Chamisal-Chamise of Edna Valley origins completes the picture. The first vineyard planted in the Edna Valley in 1973 near the Pacific and a long temperate growing season adds up to low and slow phenolic developed chardonnay. The warm vintage plus calcareous, clay-rich soil develops further flavour. Shy no more, the namesake flowering plant Adenostoma fasciculatum (chamise or greasewood) native to California bounds away with complex flavours. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  chamisalvyd  #andrewpellerimportagency  @ChamisalVyd  @APImportAgency  @Chamisal.Vineyards  @APImportAgency

Vasse Felix Chardonnay Heytesbury 2015, Margaret River, Western Australia (674648, $91.00,  WineAlign)

Heytesbury is Virginia Willcock’s top chardonnay and while it is one of Australia’s most iconic wines, it may never be made the same way twice. In 2015 the élèvage is in French oak for nine months (57 per cent new and 43, one to two years old) but no malolactic was encouraged. That’s a non-committal way of saying (and Virginia did in fact say) there was no malo in 2015 simply because it was not a vintage in which the acidity needed to be tamed. So with fruit so pure, strong and expressive, what else is there to say? Simply that you would be an idiot to tire of a fresh herb garden, blue slate shoes, ripe pomelo, a wedge of smoked cheddar, fresh scones and a crunch of mellifluous honeycomb. Heytesbury will gift all of this and more. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2017  vassefelixwines  margaretriver  @vassefelix  @MargaretRiver  @MargaretRiverWi  @vassefelixwines  @MargaretRiverWineRegion  @margaretriverwines1

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia, (Winery$119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones   winesofn  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @WinesofNS  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @winesofns

Cuvée des Amis in grand format from le grand ami @normhardie at an #i4c @coolchardonnay grand tasting dances and trips the light fantastic with unconscionable concentration.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

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

Good to go!

Godello

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Drink now or save it for later?

Rhones

Olivier & Lafont Gigondas 2013 and Domaine La Fourmone Le Poète Vacqueyras 2013

When you face the reality of finding yourself in VINTAGES ambivalence, slowly pacing, randomly, to and fro across the wine map of the world. These are times when you don’t have the faintest clue why, or what, or, for what reason and to what end. It’s not simply a matter of what wine should you pick. No, it’s deeper than that and even if you don’t realize the magnitude of the decision, the lucubration is also there. The exercitation of the intellect incites the self-reflective question. Drink now or save it for later?

It does not matter if you have come to this place to purchase a bottle of wine for tonight’s dinner. It matters not if that wine is a dinner invitation gift, in fact, it matters more. You might bring that purchase home and decide that another more prescient bottle is ready. Your friend may choose to save your contribution for another, further down the cellared road day. And so every purchase is fraught with trepidation, with dichotomy, with doubt.

Don’t bother trying to explain them
Just hold my hand while I come to a decision on it

Price is the most obvious demarcation point for early, middle or late consumption. The number is not a hard one nor is there a guarantee for success. Everything is based on probability, risk, reward and chance. Twenty five dollars can buy you 10 years and in some cases, 10 months. If provenance is near-perfect, before and after purchase then the odds increase dramatically. Any bottle of wine, whether $10 or $100 that spent time in the sauna of a storage tank, tanker or storage tomb will take their leave in adolescence. You have to ask yourself the question, level up or level down? Spend $15 or $50. Crack it tonight or in 2025? Remember this. Contradictions are what make wine interesting. Consistency is for cooking.

I have spent the last 30 years considering wine in some respect. The last 15 much more so. The tries, trials, errors, tricks, and tribulations have taught me one thing. I prefer and receive much more instant gratification from drinking wines young but nothing compares to the insight and the exhilaration of partaking in older wines. Fifteen years are that terminus, at least for me. You will notice that five wines reviewed below fall into the near breaching $30 price category. A certain kind of sweet spot for wines that can spend quality time in the cellar.

As the weekend approaches, the VINTAGES June 11th release brings the two worlds together, as it always does, to tease buyers into making yet another bi-weekly decision. Drink now or save it for later? The answer is both. Some things never change. I’ve 15 recommendations for you. After all, isn’t that the magic number?

Crios

Crios De Susana Balbo Chardonnay 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (243196, $13.95, WineAlign)

Fresh, reductive and herbal scented chardonnay from winemaker Susana Balbo, nicely delineated from ripe 2014 fruit. There is a decidedly toasted barrel edgy spice and good tart complications. Simply stated, properly made chardonnay. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @susubalbo  @sbalbowines  @ProfileWineGrp  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA

Emiliana

Emiliana Organic Brut Sparkling, Charmat Method, Casablanca Valley, Chile (451914, $15.95, WineAlign)

Waves of natural, fresh-air, verdant meadows running cool with rapid run-off springs aromas make this Casablanca Valley sparkler feel fresh and inviting. The palate takes it to a very citrus place, albeit within the context of pale, lucid and pellucid. Great value and fresh as there is. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @VinosEmiliana  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @WinesOfChile_CA

Jardin

Jardin Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (663302, $16.95, WineAlign)

Reductive and so very pungent, here we receive sauvignon blanc from Stellenbosch with a real sense of high-spirited purpose. Carries a bit of fresh Sancerre proposition in its heart and seeks to take matters up to another South African level. It mostly succeeds. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @AbconWine  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (256834, $18.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps a difficult vintage for pinot noir but not so for healthy, established, confident old vines. From berries to beets and cola, all wrapped up in cozy sweetness, here pinot noir sings uninhibited and free. It is surprisingly easy to drink and not at all astringent. Thanks afforded the vineyard and the winemaker’s deft, less is more touch. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2016  @MBosc

Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling 2014, Méthode Traditionnelle, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (370361, $19.95, WineAlign)

A rich, heady, toasty and vital Riesling from the terrific Twenty Mile Bench Limestone Road Vineyard, tilted out with preserved citrus and waxy, lemony concentration. At present this outlays on the sour-rutaceae-rusticae ledge and I can see why it would be both confounding and misunderstood. The vineyard and its riesling in sparkling form search for a coming together, in bottle, without the assistance of gross lees. A few years are required and needed for the sugars to work their magic and strike fear into the citrus for future balance. I think this will come around and really find its aim to please. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

Rose Thorn

Byron & Harold Rose & Thorns Shiraz 2013, Great Southern, Western Australia, Australia (453183, $19.95, WineAlign)

Just as every rose has its thorn, Western Australia has its knight is shining armour in Great Southern. Shiraz from this place is possessive of its very own, singular and distinctive perfume, like roses in hyperbole and varietal specific oak-imparted exotic spice. Byron and Harold does shiraz as if by Shakespeare, of the Dane, with his courtesans on call. A cool, long drink of shiraz soliloquy, finished with currants, citrus and relative cool climate acidity. Special value here. You can pick the right poison with this power ballad. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted June 2016  @ByronandHarold  @KylixWines  @Wine_Australia

Nadja

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is an outlier for the Nadja’s Vineyard riesling, with deeper concentration and compression than before. More Mosel and less Twenty Mile in 2015, of light alcohol and an increase in off-dry, extract meets acidity. There have been Nadja’s with more air and exhale but I can’t recall one with such density in vitality. A great Nadja to be sure but of a deferential sort of character. Two or three years should bring it back into its self-imposed and created line. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted May 2016  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Seresin

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (735043, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sauvignon Blanc borrows a page from its first Marlborough golden age in this Serezin 2014, finning balance in the most important facets of its character. Ripe fruit, natural acidity and memorable dry extract. The citrus is exotic, the stone fruit balanced between tart and ripe, the finish long and meaningful. With so much pungency in surround abound this exhales a true breath of fresh spring air. Were Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc always like this I would be glad with a glass, every day. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted May 2016  @SeresinEstate  @DionysusWines  @NZwineCanada  @nzwine

Talinay

Tabalí Talinay Pinot Noir 2013, Coastal Limestone Vineyard, Limarí Valley, Chile (443440, $27.95, WineAlign)

Limestone and martime influences converge in this highly perfumed pinot noir. It smells of red berries, soft, wet rock and mollusc shell. The crustaceous salinity is a new drift for pinot noir but not entirely out of the happy equation. Loquacious and malleable, the flavours replay what red berry meets white light the nose had given. This is quite singular in expression, natural and handsome. At $28 it is a terrific, unexpected find. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted May 2016  @TabaliWines  @hobbsandco  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @WinesOfChile_CA

Oldenburg

Oldenburg Vineyards Syrah 2012, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (443457, $27.95, WineAlign)

Indicative of the new and improved Stellenbosch for syrah, in which perfectly ripe phenolic fruit meets consumer appeal. Quite a traditional upbringing means clean, pure, rich and plenty but it does not embrace new or outside the box. For the price this represents tremendous, albeit traditional value in a syrah with no fraying or funky edges. It will live a perfectly long life. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2016  @Oldenburgwines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Vac

Domaine La Fourmone Le Poète Vacqueyras 2013, Ac Rhône, France (452268, $29.95, WineAlign)

Poetic and stunning Vacqueyras, so fluid, natural and effortless. From raspberry to plum, by garrigue and though dusty, delicate underbrush, the cure is cut with hands-off dedication. A certain kind of delicate spice just pricks here and there but you know it’s there. This is exactly what restrained Rhône and vacuous Vacqueyras need to be. The tannins are so fine. Such great structure will take this very long. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2016  @Lafourmone  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine  @TFBrands

Terrunyo

Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Peumo Vineyard Block 27 Carmenère 2012, Entre Cordilleras, Peumo, Cachapoal Valley, Chile (562892, $29.95, WineAlign)

Concha Y Toro’s Block 27 has always dominated the price meets profundity of this signature varietal success story for Chile. Calling out a vineyard its equal for correctness and depth at under $30 Canadian is a tall order. Gobs, waves and oscillations of dark fruit, intense savoury scents and the rush gained from a syringe-injection of its lush elixir perpetuate in 2012. This albeit with a roast and a confiture of black currant and bell pepper. Or vice versa. Ripe acidity and tannin add layers, not opposition. The overall amalgamation seems a bit sweet though in actuality the grit is what stakes claim and standing. Nothing but huge in 2012. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2016  @conchaytoro    @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @WinesOfChile_CA

Gigondas

Olivier & Lafont Gigondas 2013, Ac Rhône, France (452300, $29.95, WineAlign)

Beautifully accomplished and confident Giogondas from messieurs Olivier et Lafont, ripe but restrained, balanced and carefully, contractually structured. Purity and silky albeit spicy textures wrap themselves up in flavour. No spikes, rips or fissures are to be found. Exemplary Gigondas. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2016  @vonterrabev  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine

Dauvissat

Jean Dauvissat Vaillons Vieilles Vignes Chablis 1er Cru 2009, Ac Burgundy, France (457002, $49.95, WineAlign)

Any signs that put this old vines Dauvissat into a time machine dating back to 2009 are less than obvious. Its freshness and composure are astounding. Chablis of structure as laid out in this Vaillons walks a particularly direct line and steadies effortlessly in one spot. The flint, toast and struck rock are subtle, atomically spicy, fine and unseen. The direct connectivity between vineyard and chardonnay is near perfect. Premier Cru would be hard pressed to exceed the limits of this Vaillons’ ability. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted May 2016  @BIVBChablis  @BourgogneWines

Ridge

Ridge Lytton Springs 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (982413, $57.95, WineAlign)

From the vineyard planted in 1902, with petite sirah as the number two support to Zinfandel (as opposed to Geyserville), the Lytton Springs is not as mineral but it has a deeper intent. Perfume repeats as it should and has to. Only Lytton Springs smells like this, more floral of fruit and its blossoms in opposition, interchangeable and in support of one another, out of a pretty aromatic vintage, It is the palate that digs into baked earth, so very masculine and tougher by tannin. Density is but ethereal, acidity so similar but this is certainly richer and retreats back to that feel of natural fermentation. A tremendous Lytton Springs, born this way, with wisdom and structure and will remain for 10 plus years before really beginning to change. Tremendous balance in a characterful field blend red. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted twice, May 2016  @RidgeVineyards  @VinoTorino  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners  @CalifWines_CA

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Twelve days of wine to get you through the holidays

Charcuterie and Appetizers @barquebutchers by the GSF

Charcuterie and Appetizers @barquebutchers by the GSF

More reasons are requested, given, offered, presented and needed for purchasing and consuming wine during the month of December than at any other time of the year. And so, 12 more suggestions, falling this time within the realm of mortal affordability yet special enough to gift and to make you feel like you’ve done something nice for yourself. Go ahead, indulge. All from the November 28th VINTAGES release.

Casas Del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Casas Del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile (974717, $13.95, WineAlign)

Could not be anything but Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc, movie quotes and all. Tossed like a cayenne dart at a yellow plum tree board. Sweet and salty, like white taffy and sprigs of rosemary on a bacon-wrapped scallop. Odd combo and why not. On the edge of tomatillo and nettle? Perhaps, but also composed with an acerbic wit, as time goes by. “It’s still the same old story. A fight for love and glory.” Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted November 2015  @CasasdelBosque  @azureau  @DrinkChile

Delheim Family Chenin Blanc 2014

Delheim Family Chenin Blanc 2014, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (429720, $17.95, WineAlign)

Flinty, smoky, reductive Chenin, certainly produced with quantity and accessibility in mind. Typically, succinctly Stellenbosch, with a level of sweetness available and in balance with the stony fruit that is marked by a mineral mine. Has good acidity and even better length. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September and November 2015  @Delheim  @Noble_Estates  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Arnaldo Caprai Anima Umbra Rosso 2012, Igt Umbria, Italy

Arnaldo Caprai Anima Umbra Rosso 2012, Igt Umbria, Italy (434266, $19.95, WineAlign)

So unexpectedly and remarkably fresh Umbrian of red fruit and ripe acids without any overkill from wood or tannin. This is a pure breath of fresh air in a world dominated by barrel, heat, over-extraction and covert winemaking operations. The fruit may not be Caprai’s most prized but it works a basic stratagem of interpretative and integrated, integral magic. It must be lauded for its honesty. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted November 2015  @Arnaldocaprai  @StemWineGroup

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt, Tasmania, Australia, (429704, $26.95, WineAlign)

A whole whorl of aromas kick up the dust from this pearl of a Tazzy with an arid and saline sense of destiny. Density and weight are surprising features, along with orchard fruit and wild machinations. Jams and swaggers with so much personality, from lime lining the velodramatic slopes of its groove to fish jumping out of its waters. Calling it alive would be an understatement. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted November 2015  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Jean Max Roger Cuvée G.C. Sancerre 2014

Jean Max Roger Cuvée G.C. Sancerre 2014, Loire Valley, France (189126, $28.95, WineAlign)

Sweet scenting and spicy wafting Sauvignon Blanc, with white pepper and cool herbiage (mint, savoury, tarragon and basil). Good solid Sancerre, always, organically developed and of a verbiage that is modern, proper and articulate. Always spot on. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted November 2015 @oenophilia1  @LoireValleyWine

Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Waihopai Valley, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (429308, $29.95, WineAlign)

Elevated, reductive, flinty tones, noticeably crash course modern and reactive for New Zealand. Capsicum and juicy fruit gum, matchstick and tropical fruit, then citrus on the palate with opiate numbing. This is Sauvignon Blanc like Semillon, as if the winemaker at Spy Valley, with the best fruit possible from Waihopai Valley, had the intention of making the most serious SB on the planet. With a bit of barrel effect, though that may be a stretch I’m looking at a 10 year development here, into honey, rocks and a blast of propellent. Uncharted territory. Will have its share of naysaying anti-stylistic poo-pooers. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted November 2015  @spyvalleywine  @SpyValleyUK  @nzwine  @TrialtoON

Château Bernadotte 2005

Château Bernadotte 2005, Ac Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France (431775, $32.95, WineAlign)

A really nice drop of Bordeaux that has fully resolved from the semi-heat of 2005. This is good to go, with both acidity and tannin gracefully interconnected while the fruit remains. A good leathery hide and a slight ferric bleed fills the nooks. Lovely semi-old Bordeaux. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted November 2015

Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia (301531, $33.95, WineAlign)

A massive combination of fruit, tannin and wood whorl in a ferric, tough, gritty and ready for nothing in any particular hurry Cabernet. That said, it is silky smooth, spicy and velvety too. A really big mouthful of so much goodness to last 20 years or more. Out it aside for all the major players to get in tune and it will be music to your ears. And pleasure to your lips. Drink 2017-2032.  Tasted November 2015  @aussiewineguy  @HalpernWine  @CoonawarraWine

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004, Doca Rioja, Spain (976662, $35.95, WineAlign)

Rioja of another era, of tradition, curated history and the famous rusty liqueur. Steeping cherries, elongated acidity, rifling ripples of leather, cedar, cypress and chestnut. The right kind of Rioja with just a hint of plum and plenty of naturally orchestrated enjoyment. Drink 2015-2024.  Tasted November 2015  @RiojaWine  @Select_Wines

Stags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2012

Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2012, Napa Valley, California (590356, $39.95, WineAlign)

Dark, dusty and devilishly rich. Must be noted from the start that this is quite restrained for Petite Sirah, cautiously oaked and modest in alcohol. It’s no introvert mind you. A note of volatility keeps it on the edge and the flavours are steeped in tea, coffee and cocoa nib. The vintage agrees with the varietal transplantation and the burgeoning acidity makes for a relationship built on mutual respect. Good and plenty. The handshake is currently quite gripped so waiting another 18 months or so should and will soften the clasp. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2015  @stagsleapwines

Künstler Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken 2013

Künstler Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken 2013, Qualitätswein, Rheingau, Germany (425041, $42.95, WineAlign)

Along with Rudesheim and Johannisberg, Hochheim was anointed by Goethe as one of the magnates of the Rheingau. From a singular cone-shaped hill locale on the unshaded east-west aspect of the Rhine River. The mediterranean micro-climate makes for, simply stated, stupid good Riesling. Riesling of richness and minerality, strength and length, perfectly good bitters and even better health assisting tonics. Fruit density in the realm of peach and apricot lives in due part because of the Cyrena marl and its soil matrix of dark, alluvial loamy loess. Bounty buoyed by energy. Layers and layers of health, wealth and old vines wisdom. Drink 2018-2035.  Tasted May and November 2015  @Noble_Estates  @germanwineca  @WinesofGermany

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (959965, $46.95, WineAlign)

A very pretty, floral and flirtatious Cabernet, supported by extremely ripe and ripping tannins currently caught in a veritable uproar. Elongating drivers are chalky but not grainy and while the sweetness of those conduits are astonishing, the immediate gratification tells me I won’t see this continuing to develop for the better after the ten year mark. Five to ten will be just right. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2015  @CatenaMalbec  @LauraCatena  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA  @TrialtoON

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Whites of passage

Slightly Barque dry-rubbed Roast Chicken, scored butternut squash with butter, agave and backyard coriander seed and penne with grape tomato, padano and scallion

Slightly Barque dry-rubbed roast chicken, scored butternut squash with butter, agave and backyard coriander seed and penne with grape tomato, bocconcini, padano and scallion

Spring has finally sprung. The air and the psyche have found collective exosmosis, leaving the colder, thicker air of winter behind, to begin passage through the membrane into lower pressure. With the exhale and lighter sense of being comes the same in wine. We egress to ferments of lower concentration. In reds we will welcome Gamay, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Franc.

White wine has more potential in legerity and litheness of being. While Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are most certainly apropos choices for spring, there are others, variations on the theme, not technically “white” per se, but fitting the bill nonetheless. Like Sparkling wine, and Sake.

Tastings of late have focused on the white stuff and there are many that have already left an indelible mark during this period of emergence, this recent transudation through conduit, out of too many months mired in ice and snow. The parameters of white wine blurred a bit, this group of twelve wines will do you no harm. In fact, any or all will help restore that healthy attitude so desperately needed in this time of rejuvenation. Spring.

From left to right: Château De La Bretesche Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2013, Emiliana Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, La Joya Viognier Reserve 2014, Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2013, Hugel Gentil 2013 and Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012

From left to right: Château De La Bretesche Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2013, Emiliana Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, La Joya Viognier Reserve 2014, Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2013, Hugel Gentil 2013 and Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012

Château De La Bretesche Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2013, Ac Loire, France (412163, $12.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

From the stable of Domaine de la Chauvinière, the Château De La Bretesche is a gneiss Melon de Bourgogne, crafted at the hands of Muscadet master Jérémie Huchet. Melon of lightness, finesse, ripe restraint, elasticity and breadth beyond the norm. Karpos of many herbs and briny berries. Capable of nurturing and buttressing intensity. Though the scent here is subtle, when it comes to Muscadet, the fresh sea and shell of Pholas dactyls is necessary. In conjunction with its length and a price of $13, in this section of the Loire, the littoral zone and the peak are reached. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @MyLoireValley  @LoireValleyWine

Emiliana Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile (266049, $13.05, WineAlign)

It would be hard to imagine Sauvignon Blanc with wilder eyes, as much pop and nearly the zesty fortitude as the Emiliana Adobe. The clarity of organic/biodynamic health in vine and by extension fruit is on blinking display. Fresh and popping, the zest of ripe citrus circulates naturally, as acidity, in juicy squeezes and with nothing but tireless pep. This is an example of exemplary SB for Chile and one can only imagine the depths that might come from older vines and/or a wild yeast meets barrel ferment trial. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015  @VinosEmiliana

La Joya Viognier Reserve 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile (168542, $15.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

As impressive as this very New World take on Viognier was in 2013, the follow-up furthers the absorption. The accented matters of alcohol, residual, mineral, bright fruit and soil continue the train of thought with forward ’14 thinking. This is nothing but a feel good, “why don’t you touch me now” Viognier, a gem-filled musical box of herbs, blanched nuts, flowers and spices. It’s a round and melodic nursery rhyme that’s fun to sniff, taste and listen for its mysterious ministrations and magical charms. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted March 2015  @VBisquertt  @DrinkChile  @vonTeichman  @vonterrabev

Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (394734, $15.95, WineAlign)

I would liken this Columbia Valley Chardonnay to the Fourth of July. It’s got tiny moving parts, all in motion, trying to put it all together. Cool orchard fruit, a minor kiss of barrel, a raft of lees, some sweet tropical flavours and round acidity. Needs some time. If it succeeds “it will be like fireworks blowing up in the air like a Fourth of July night sky.” For now it’s a reserved, quietly efficient and harmless Chardonnay. But it does show signs of building momentum. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @KVintners  @Dandurandwines

Hugel Gentil 2013, Ac Alsace, France (367284, $15.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

The five grape blend works confidently and vehemently strives with more love and sympathy than the austerely commandeered Riesling. Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc matter here, helping to negate the dominant aromatic push of the Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. Quite dry (3.9 g/L RS), with twitching (5.86 g/L) though steady acidity. This has ingratiating integration and unswerving tannic grain. A coherently textured Riquewihr conflation that is more than well-made. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @Hugelwine  @HalpernWine  @VinsAlsace

Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012, Pdo Tokaj Hegyalja, Hungary (396366, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Hungary and more succinctly Hegyalja is on a terrific role of late. I would put many marbles into the probability basket and roll straight to the quality bank on the backs of so many Tokaji examples. This Furmint is not on the lighter, fresher side, but more so the seasoned and effluvious strand. “Regardless of the balance life has become” this Furmint is lush and conversely piercing, an acquired density, thick and profoundly cumbersome. Though it rallies and rails in many ways, “too heavy too light, too black or too white, too wrong or too right, today or tonight,” it’s also honeyed and a riot to drink. Would like to give this seven Mary three years to settle down. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @TokajCE  @WineofHungary

From left to right: Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011, La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut, Château Belá Riesling 2012, Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Momokawa G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu and Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011

From left to right: Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011, La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut, Château Belá Riesling 2012, Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Momokawa G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu and Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011

Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (382879, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Another VINTAGES (2011) shipment of this great value in Côte Chalonnaise Chardonnay from the most southerly portion of the Côte d’Or is fortuitous because eight months has only helped to extricate the fruit from its Marly soil, variegated with White Burgundy-loving limestone shell. This is Montagny with intensity and in language of Burgundy’s essential tenets. Aromas scheme as white fruit punch and fruit that packs a punch. Might be thought of as heavy, syrupy even, in terms of Chardonnay, but the meeting of equal and opposing tannin terms balance. The clay-crusted pebbles in the marl have crawled inside the bottle. Suck on them long enough and they will reveal their inner stone. I dare you to spit them out. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @VinexxWine

La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut, Penedès, Spain (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

This blend of Macabeu, Xarel-Lo and Parellada is not only distinguished for Cava, it should be highly regarded in the pantheon of all Sparkling wine. Swelling with personality and urging in demonstrative energy that fizzes and suspends with fervent animation. The activity is one of quick reactions and accumulation. From sweet yeast in lees, from an on the line oxidative cold front and through the warmth of tropical spice. Cava like clouds combing stormy skies from equal and opposing directions and densities. Though marked by a leathery aromatic rind, it’s creamier and less lactic than outright citrus. These are fine bubbles, of twinkling titillations and striking flavours. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted March 2015  @lavidaalcamp  @TheVine_RobGroh

Château Belá Riesling 2012, Muzla, Slovakia (410951, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

For something completely different and yet not, look to Slovakian Riesling at the hands of a German icon. Here from Muzla, a most elemental, atmospheric and petrol driven wine, out of Loess, with blessings beyond Riesling character. A bit reductive, funky and porcine like Baden Grauburgunder, frankly. Heads to an off-dry intersection on the palate, in Spätlese-like headiness. Returns to Trocken in angles of mineral tang and a late, ferocious bite down. Stays this way for nearly a minute. A challenging and compelling respite away from the Mosel. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @ChateauBela  @WinesOfSlovakia

Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (388421, $21.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Blame it on the midnight, the rain or the Wairau River, but the flow past a rocky aquifer and into the vineyard weaves through this Sauvignon Blanc to achieve an uncanny Marlborough balance. The accord is struck between high tones and mineral undertones. Between tropical lushness and direct citrus connectivity. Between herbal grounding and stratospheric elevation. Really flavourful and structured by texture. In a saturated world it is noted “everywhere is all around, comfort in the crowd,” through a sea of Sauvignon Blanc. Shame on the moon but the Rapaura Springs Reserve stands out for its gentle, meandering and crooning ways. It is highly recommended. It is possessive of an ability to braid, reticulate and evolve. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @Rapaurasprings  @nzwine  @VinexxWine

Momokawa G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu, Oregon (239426, $26.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Made from pure, Sacramento Valley Calrose rice polished to 60 per cent and undiluted. The short trek to Oregon is made for the G, a Saké with a foot in two worlds. The Koji-kin and yeast strains are from Japan and the water from Oregon. The American-Japanese arrangement will succeed in pleasing palates east and west. Sacramento soil is in here, enriching the rice with savoury tall grasses and expanding spice. Oregon water draws subterranean salinity and combined with the Japanese elements, comes out like toasted nori. This is lovely and floral, rich and finishes with a feeling of wet stones.  Tasted March 2015  @SakeOne  @MetroWineSake

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011, Ac Alsace, France (995316, $29.95, WineAlign)

From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release

Some old vines and a strict selection of grapes from Ribeauvillé and vicinity compose the Trimbach Réserve, another storied chapter of sharpness and focus. Builds upon the similar 2010 and with greater depth. At this price on the Riesling plain this will be a star for the vintage, even it it takes five more years to reach adjudication. With this portal to the finest fruit and handling in mind, it can only be imagined what the same vintage will convey from the terroirs of Geisberg and Osterberg for Cuvée Frédéric Émile. The standard Réserve is rich and propelled to compounding causatum. Aromas go through lemon glade and glaze, then turn the key to lime. The texture is a crackling bite of corral with salinity drawn from oceans far away. The stone cold austerity is a frozen moment of time, a long pause in which there is nothing to do but swallow and forget. Small price to pay for such a thing. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @trimbach  @WoodmanWS  @AlsaceWines

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A Chile welcome to diversity

From left to right: Montgras Sauvignon Blanc Amaral 2014, Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Kalfu Sampai 2013, Emiliana Signos de Origen White Blend 2013, Via Wines Chardonnay Chilcas Single Vineyard 2013, Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2012, Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Syrah 2012, Santa Rita Cabernet Franc Floresta 2012, Calcu Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

From left to right: Montgras Sauvignon Blanc Amaral 2014, Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Kalfu Sampai 2013, Emiliana Signos de Origen White Blend 2013, Via Wines Chardonnay Chilcas Single Vineyard 2013, Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2012, Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Syrah 2012, Santa Rita Cabernet Franc Floresta 2012, Calcu Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

With Chris Waters as moderator, guest speaker Hector Vergara delivering the keynote address and a Chilean panel of eight winery representatives talking up their wares, the Wines of Chile road show trekked en masse through Toronto’s ROM for the annual cavalcade in exhibition.

Related – A Chile wind is blowing

Waters is Editor of VINES Magazine and author of a weekly wine column at canoe.ca. Vergara is Latin America’s only Master Sommelier & President of the Sommelier Association in Chile. The council of eight winemakers and export managers expounded on Pacific ocean mists, soil composition, varietal trials and expansion to the new Chilean terroir.

The theme of the 2014 edition of the WOC travelling wine expo was “discover diversity.” The breath of fresh air came by way of the opportunity to taste samples of the new Chile; from emerging regions and appellations, from varieties not expected to show in Toronto and from chances being taken. Wines from Huasco, Itata and Pumanque are not household names at the LCBO or in this city’s restaurants. The successes of Chile’s (primarily central) conspicuous regions are well-documented; MaipoRapelMaule, Curicó and Cachapoal valleys. The AconcaguaCasablanca and San Antonio valleys have found their own prosperity. The 2014 Wines of Chile experience will help impress emerging regions and purchasing diversification upon both consumer and licensee habits.

The cross-section of wines poured at the seminar offered a unique perspective into the Chilean portal, even if behind the scenes back in Chile you just know there is so much more to seek, discover and uncover. Montreal Gazette wine scribe Bill Zacharkiw wrote last week, “I saw cracks in the wall…three years later I’m back, and that crack has become a deep fissure.” Zacharkiw visited Chile for the first time in three years and was privy to a Chilean wine revolution. Bill witnessed first hand the changing face of Chile: winemakers rediscovering their rich heritage. He found plantings from old vines and revitalized vineyards that had been producing nothing but cheap table wines. The ROM seminar presided over a giant leap in exhibiting aspects of that vicissitude for Toronto but missing from the tasting were some exceptional and virtually unknown producers of the New Chile.

Wines of Chile

Wines of Chile

Many of Chile’s growing areas are driven by the mist (like Sonoma fog) which might go away by 11 or 12 pm, but according to Vergara, they “create the conditions for slow ripening.” Along the coast there are granitic soils, very good for Syrah. Limestone soils add new dimension to the wines. Cold air comes down into the valleys from the Andes mountains, to maintain freshness and to add aromatic complexity. The role played by the Pacific Ocean is also extremely important. Salinity is rampant in Chile’s wines.

Eight wines were poured at the Wines of Chile seminar. Here are the notes.

Wines of Chile Line-Up

Wines of Chile Line-Up

Montgras Sauvignon Blanc Amaral 2014, Leyda Valley, Chile (48025, $14.45, WineAlign)

A jumping and hopping Sauvignon Blanc, at once spicy and then fruit fresh. The aromatics rise from the San Antonio Valley vines, cooled by the Andes run off, in irrigated mist. The piquant puissance never quite relinquishes power to the crisp orchard drupe. Capsicum and especially white pepper dominate. A chew of white flowers fills the palate though it falls away quickly, like a shooting star. More than serviceable and user-friendly. Tasted October 2014  @MontGrasChile  @TKGCanada

Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Kalfu Sampai 2013, Huasco Valley, Chile (Agent, $40)

High end varietal placement, in geography and in market positioning. A new project for Ventisquero and winemaker Alejandro Galaz, from Chile’s most northerly wine growing area in the Atacama Desert. An arid yet verdant Sauvignon Blanc watered by the Huasco River, 20 km’s from the sea, 700 km’s north of Santiago. The first vintage was 2012. Only 600-800 bottles are being produced, that is until they have learned more about how to manage the terroir of the desert, like making wine on the moon.The wine flaunts its chalky soil with alluvial stones and red clay. The Camanchaca (a thick fog on the coasts of Peru and Chile) comes in every morning and aids in the long ripening period. The mineral pierce is frightening in as much as can be found in Chilean SB. High salinity, from both the soil and the water. A veritable salt spring without effervescence, replaced by evanescence and fervent vigor. Kalfu means blue, Sumpai is the name the mapuches gave to the mermaids. Finishes with a roasted green pepper note in neutral citrus, with thyme and peanuts. Yes, peanuts. Approx. $40. Yes, $40.  Tasted October 2014  @vventisquero  @TandemSelection

Emiliana Signos de Origen White Blend 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile (Agent, $19.95)

With a wine like this multi-varietal white blend, Fernando Castro explains “we’re going wide in a narrow place,” pushing boundaries, exploring new challenges. Diversity. From the western part of Casablanca, out of rocky and granitic decomposed maritime soils, the mix is (all approximations) Chardonnay (65 per cent), Rousanne (13), Viognier (12) and Marsanne (10). A healthy 33 per cent of the ferment is aged and housed in concrete egg fermenters, but also some French barriques. Imparts an oiliness on the palate. Chardonnay is more than evident, the sweetness in Rhône aromatics are ladders from which to climb, buoys from which to get lifted. A wine that does not play safe. Some spice, plenty of full palate sweetness so this needs a mess of fish and seafood in an aromatic broth. The alcohol is a generous 14.7 per cent though it has enough acidity to keep it aerified. Big wine. Really big wine.  Tasted October 2014  @VinosEmiliana

Via Wines Chardonnay Chilcas Single Vineyard 2013, Itata Valley, Chile (Agent, $18.95)

The inaugural vintage of the Chilcas Chardonnay hails from the northern most aspect of Chile’s southern most region, a cool climate 18 km’s from the Pacific coast. The granitic soils are variegated with alluvial and sandy loam aspects for complex gain in this 100 per cent single varietal wine that spent,12 months in oak. A partial malolactic fermentation means creamy but that texture is subservient to the aromatic profile. Itata is a 16th century planted vineyard (for the region) though this vineyard is only 10 years old. Average rainfall is on par with Bordeaux but the majority of the rainfall is in winter, not in the growing season. Drainage is good due to the slope of the granite soil. Has that creamed sugar brûléed sensation and is nearly vegetal, like buttered, fresh corn with salinity and spice.  Tasted October 2014  @ViaWines  

Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2012, Do Anconcagua Coast, Casablanca Valley, Chile (143214, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES September 13, 2014 release

This is from fruit drawn 10 km’s from the ocean. Morning fog helps with maintaining acidity, though aridity is the biggest challenge. A dry heat and a dry paint are apparent, though low yields produce a concentrated red, of dry herbs and dry ochre. Terrific mouthful – very Sonoma, in sweet raspberry, cherry and strawberry. Very Sonoma. More than decent length but not the most complex. Really approachable and lingering so it is worth several visits, in each glass, second glasses and subsequent bottles. Some new (20 per cent) oak. Cool climate Pinot Noir done in a warmer climate style.  Tasted October 2014  @MontesWines  @ProfileWineGrp

Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Syrah 2012, Aconcagua Costa, Chile (387910, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES September 27, 2014 release

Natural and modern in every respect. From schist rock over a clay base and out of a warm vintage, “to maintain the character of the wine.” Relish of richness and quite ripe with touches of wood resin, sinew and roasted meat, though it’s more OZ than Rhone, with less smoky beats and cured meat. Good acidity and slightly sweet. Cake-reductive as to an Aconcaguan Cabernet Sauvignon but enough spice and splinters to warrant aging towards increasing value. Really spicy finish.  Tasted twice, September and October 2014  @errazurizwines  @Dandurandwines

Santa Rita Cabernet Franc Floresta 2012, Pumanque, Chile (Agent)

Pumanque is located in Chile’s Colchagua Valley and was granted Doc status in September 2012. The soil is quite granitic and the exceptionality of the new terroir is gaining traction with proponents of symbiosis for Cabernet Franc. This Cabernet squared blend is Cabernet Franc (55 per cent) and the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark and pitchy, with much aromatic mince in mint, creosote, graphite, black but not green pepper, wood resin. The rapt wrapping bristles in angles and bitters. Chalky, grainy and needing time because it is quite tannic. Blessed with the most length of the reds on the table. A question of the iron crushed red fruit may arise but five years will certainly be an aid. So very mineral.  Tasted October 2014  @SantaRitaRD  @ImportWineMAFWM

Calcu Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile (Agent, approx. $16)

Calcu means “healing doctor” in Mapuche and while this may not be the poster wine prescription for cold and flu, it will cure an ail or two. Winemaker Rodrigo Romero adds Carménère and Petit Verdot to the varietal mix, for just enough structure beyond the fresh and fruity Cabernet. It also brings together a spot on varietal tendency, in dusty, grainy tannin, bitter tonic tinge, cool in the middle, but warm in girth and all around its edges. Spiced and piquant. Young, with decent acidity and though it will settle in a year or two, that will be the limit of its range.  @CalcuWines

Good to go!

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September 27th at VINTAGES rolls into October 2nd with Taste Ontario

Taste Local, Love Local Photo (www.lcbo.com)

Taste Local, Love Local
Photo (www.lcbo.com)

This coming weekend’s VINTAGES release will parlay values from around the globe into the meeting place of Ontario stores. Many of the bargains tie directly into a PB and J campaign, a parochial bandwagon advertising juggernaut. The LCBO and Wine Country Ontario‘s #Tastelocal, #Lovelocal and #LCBOGolocal slogans are currently omnipresent, fast forwardly gaining both steam and traction with restos, critics and consumers.

The late, great VINTAGES wine facilitator David Churchill once told me that putting together Taste Ontario was one of the LCBO’s great endeavors. David said the work and time that VINTAGES allotted the event was extraordinary and great care was always afforded the exercise. Next week the chance to taste the most current, largest and impressive cross-section of Ontario wines in one setting will happen with the annual Taste Ontario gala event. When Wine Country Ontario comes to town and joins forces with VINTAGES, it is the writers, sommeliers and restaurant wine junkies who collectively jump trains, catch flames and do what they do. This in the name of getting to know Ontario wines.

On September 27th VINTAGES will release the following 17 wines, though most will already be on shelves before you skim through this tasting note report with all the brevity you can afford. This week’s recommendations come by way of one Sparkling, four Chardonnay, two Riesling, three Pinot Noir, a Sangiovese, a Malbec, a Veneto, a Zinfandel, one Rhône and two Bordeaux blends.

From left to right: Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012

From left to right: Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012

Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Ac, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (179978, $19.95, WineAlign)

Organic and Biodynamic sparkler with a personality all its own. Made primarily from the local grape variety Mauzac (with some Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc), Blanquette is the dry and sylvan style of Limoux. The “little white one” is a lovely little lemon curd Blanquette pulsating in spatially atomic subtlety. Aerified notes hint at sulfur but the breeze is so minor so as not to obstruct the citrus and crucible of candied ginger.  Green apple flavour delights with really good gin and tonic (juniper), lime bitters and a muddle of basil. Pertinent and invigorating example.  Tasted September 2014  @AOCLIMOUX  @RareEarth_Wines

Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (179978, $21.95, WineAlign)

Much oak and buttery crustaceans in this need to relax and settle into a self-induced state of Chardonnay. Quite lactic but that’s not a detractor; it’s a textural overlay that with time will turn lacy, organza even. I would imagine the wrong kind of attitude will not see the acidity for the forest and instead feel that malic is short for malicious behaviour. On the contrary. This is a very good vineyard giving fruit of the right St. David’s kind. With five years it will prove its merit and play matronly with that fresh catch on your plate.  Too big and clunky you say? Put it down. Let it breathe. Take a good inhale/exhale yourself. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “It would be a shame to have missed the found ardor in this tractile, careening Chardonnay. Chances have been taken in 2012, from a vineyard near and dear to a proprietor’s heart and perhaps even his soul. Picked bright and early, vinified bone dry and sent to a Burgundian school, the Paul Bosc Vineyard Chardonnay suffers from ESS (early stricture syndrome) because it (and particularly its shaken lees) have yet to settle. The barrel is confusingly, hardly noticeable and so the ’12’s awkwardness must then be attributed to a milky, marmalade and blues-influenced free-form run. It’s as if the crowd is waiting for one (Garcia-Saunders) song to end and another to begin. The new “anyway you do” slang take on an old blues riff may be misconstrued but, when all is said and done, that’s alright mama, there’s jam and space for your kind too.”  Last tasted September 2014  @Mbosc

Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $75.95, WineAlign)

Expansive, all over the coast display of Kistler ambition and conceit. Fully ripe and not shy to swim with splinters. Lemon meringue pie, baked Alaska and tarte au citron on one gorging dessert plate. Then the flavours kick in. A lemon Negroni (is there such an animal?) and lemon Hollandaise atop white aspagarus. Decadent, even for Kistler, without the poise and subtlety of the single-vineyard bottlings.  A full on glass of California sunshine. From my earlier, (tasted three times), July 2014 note: “Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.”  Last tasted September 2014

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (208694, $33.95, WineAlign)

Intimates warm sunshine but can’t hide from its cool nights. An element of periodic surprise wafts straight up and grabs the little nose hairs by the tips, tugs and then let’s go. Hatchoo. Wisps green apple skin, daikon radish and a metal tang. Full on fruit-mineral-earthy expression. Big Chardonnay as ripe as its gets for the Okanagan but carries a hefty (though you might ponder an inordinate exorbitance of 14.5 per cent abv) with relative ease. Goes on at length, about what, I do not yet know, but I’m willing to hang in there for 5-7 years to find out.  Tasted September 2014  @BurrowingOwlBC

Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile (738393, $22.95, WineAlign)

The wild ferment Francisco Baettig oeuvre brings into focus a nicely balanced and intimately-integrated-aligned Chardonnay. There is wildness in the form of a toasted bread, rich enzymatic energy and a leather strapping, bullied brawn. The countrified personality is tempered by a roundness, thus limiting its ability to display like an alpha male. Though not delicate or elegant by any stretch, this is Chilean power unleashed and reigned in. It represents really good value.  Tasted September 2014  @errazurizwines  @Dandurandwines

Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (557165, $17.95, WineAlign)

Classic Short Hills Bench Riesling, magnified by and exemplified in the vintage. Soda enriched fresh juice, bursting berry nose, off-dry palate. Meets all expectations for the realms of juicy and savoury. One of the best yet from H of P at this price. Great value.  Tasted September 2014  @HenryofPelham

From left to right: Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, omaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011

From left to right: Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, omaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011

Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Prädikatswein, Rheingau, Germany (378083, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the steepest Rheingau vineyard named after the nearby castle (Schloss) ruin “Ehrenfels” which was built in 1211. The stony terroir for this definitive Riesling is quarzite from the Taunus region with layers of slate. Oh, this has the sultry charm of most excellent Kabinett. Aerified to the stratosphere, dry, toasty and buoyant. The soda blows away into the sky with just a vigorous swirl and the aromas turn to fruit and to stone. Rocking great intensity of many fruits, of trees and of natural grape sugar (in the 80-90 g/L residual range) that is everywhere and nowhere. Acidity is linear and impossibly round at the same time. Typically low in alcohol (around 8 per cent by volume), this rude boy is a crazy Kabinett. It’s like a Barbadian songstress rated “R.” You may ask it “is you big enough?” It will answer, I’m as good as it gets.  Tasted September 2014

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Central Otago, New Zealand (35337, $29.95, WineAlign)

Rich, ripe black cherry and just a hint of earth. Some cola but of the cherry kind. Tart yet sweet, hot and roomy. Built of a scrupulous structure where tannin and astringency bend in many ways.  Does its yoga poses with reluctance then hits the gym. Confounding for Central Otago with what may perhaps be a great future ahead but for now, really wonky. Where is this going? To the dark side, to return in five years and to offer good value in aged CO Pinot Noir.   Tasted September 2014  @kimcrawfordwine  @CBrandsCareers

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (999516, $44.95, WineAlign)

he right and fantastic Pinot Noir stuff from the winemaker with the King Midas (or in this case the Queen Modjadji) touch. The Walker Bay Burgundian specialist fashions some most elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It seems that every vintage is turned to gold, or brings rain when there is drought. The 2012 is marked by bright cherries and really pungent, compressed earth. Fantastically ripe but just before the fall. Pleasure of the incarnate kind. The coat of South African red wine arms is animatedly there but it’s contained, restrained, elegant and yet still powerful. Long, fashionable flow with no visible finish line. This will age for a minimum 10 years and get that smoky glaze and glare.  Tasted September 2014  @TrialtoON

Domaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Ac, Burgundy, France (210906, $54.95, WineAlign)

Here the entry is musty, blows off considerably and leaves the leaf and sweet fruit from strawberry and raspberry. For the spell it’s clean, crisp, pure and inviting. Roses and red fruit, violets and violent rocks careening with a rushing spring river. Those musty notes do persist again, blanketing the dolce, disguising that red fruit. Sharpness stings like Kiwi. Packs a punch of tannin, a bitter, mineral rangy streak that elevates the middle hallows and sends this MSD into really lengthy elasticity. Creamy vanilla comes to the palate with herbal undertones, like Lavender ice cream. This is old school with a modern twist. A really fine example. Tasted twice, September 2014, including blind at the WWAC14  @AmethystWineInc

Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (283580, $24.00, WineAlign)

Big, bad and brooding. Black fruits are intense but surprisingly not overbearing or huge in demanded extract. Chalky, tannic, acidic, long. This is neither average nor to be ignored. It’s in the 13.5 per cent proper Chianti wheelhouse and marches in hipster stride without ever acting obnoxious. Some sanguine activity, along with iron and tension. The real deal. Not the brightest Chianti in the hills but one of a raw, unleashed power.  Tasted September 2014  @chianticlassico   @MajesticWineInc

From left to right: Versado Malbec 2013, Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, Château Léoville Las Cases 2006

From left to right: Versado Malbec 2013, Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, Château Léoville Las Cases 2006

Versado Malbec 2013, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)

The rocks beneath the earth precede the rich, dark fruit. After the berries and the candy beets and the spices subside the flowers grow and take over the room. The vintage brings more layers than before. Malbec of character and belief, even a touch of good VA, a coat that only the Southern Hemisphere can provide. It is not usually present in Mendozan Malbec so it’s really a breath of fresh paint here in the Versado. Great purity. Protracted length. Most expansive and intriguing vintage to date. The Reserva will be killer. Tasted September 2014  @VersadoWine

Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Doc, Veneto, Italy (695890, $18.95, WineAlign)

Classic really. Juicy must, musty juiciness. Earth and fruit. Fruity earth. Simple but so effective. Never gets beyond itself or out of its mind. Just the right amount of funk. Maybe the best yet. Great value.  Tasted September 2014  @Smallwinemakers

Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma County, California, USA (942151, $29.95, WineAlign)

Rich plum and spicy Zinfandel. Young and tightly wound on a spindle. Needs time to unravel and reveal its charms. In a varietal sense this vintage of the Seghesio has got everything Zin needs and more. More specifically, the definition is out of a cooler vintage, with clear, well-delineated fruit and acidity. Sharp,spicy, focused and full, without ever acting hot, or bothered.  Tasted September 2014  @seghesio

Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Ac, Rhône, France (960104, $29.95, WineAlign)

A thick, baking cake of a Gigondas, full of expected dark red Rhône fruitiness, but all in balance. Soapy sandalwood and chalky tannins. Quite grainy. Big, brawny and teeth staining, its “teeth ready, sharpened to bite.” It’s warm but not too hot. Cool centres, some spice and garrigue. Nothing to run away from. Though firm and loyal in the tradition of place, this has rolling stones in its blood so it will age gracefully in a well respected, cool, calm and collected manner. Will grow and grow on you as you work with it. This will age forever as there is just so much fruit. Hedging my bets on 25 years, safe to say.  Tasted September 2014  @rogcowines

Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117960, $19.95, WineAlign)

The most dead red Laura to date, juicy and earthy, like a licorice, plum and pomegranate demi-glace. Really expressive of earth and fruit.  Traditional house blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot. A no coat unfastened Niagara, consumer-friendly but also swelling with stuffing. “The light is red. The camera’s on,” the strokes are rich in energy though the tannins dry out a touch. Drink now and for two more years.  Tasted September 2014  @CreeksideWine

Château Léoville Las Cases 2006, Ac St Julien, 2e Cru, Bordeaux, France (566661, $299.00, WineAlign)

The LLC Grand Vin vineyard is very close to the Gironde river, creating a micro-climate that tempers the vines in climate control and matronly comfort. Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc develop here as well as anywhere in the world. Here is an interesting retrospective look at this formidable St. Julien, now having reached the tender and yet developed age of eight. Earthbound distance fruit by way of a chocolate (real dark) truffle and layers of soul stew. Still chalky and tannic, there is enough fruit to keep this going for a decade and a half, or more. Licorice, Cassis and graphite. Wow. Very broad across the late palate, indicating an integration that has begun to realize the potential of this wine. A very good vintage looking back, not one for the ages, but certainly expressive and rich.  Tasted September 2014  @Noble_Estates

Good to go!

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Top 20 under-$20 wines of 2013

Top 20 under-$20 wines of 2013

Putting out a top list of wines is not so much an exercise of commendation as it is a look back at an amazing year of tasting and writing about wine.
Photo: michalzak/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Last year I chose to highlight wines that fell into the under $15 niche.  A subsequent column focused on the $30 threshold as the next level to make picks for wines of the year. In retrospect that made it very difficult for wines in the consumer sweet spot, the $15-20 set, to make it onto either list. So, $20 is the over/under this time around.

Ontario is well represented here, taking up five of the 20 spots. If prohibitionist Canada, and especially Ontario would FreeMyGrapes and allow us to taste more than just a handful of Canadian wines produced beyond these borders, I have little doubt that other provinces would have made an appearance here, especially British Columbia.

Countries conspicuously missing are Italy, Argentina and the United States, whereas Portugal, South Africa and Chile are represented twice and Greece once. Value is always found in wines that are good and original, unfortunately the parts that are good are not always original.

Putting out a top list of wines is not so much an exercise of commendation as it is a look back at an amazing year of tasting and writing about wine. It’s a retrospective view, a compilation to sum up the pulling of words like taffy until they become something altogether more pliable and palatable. Just like the swirled, sniffed and tasted wines they describe. While tasting notes are so often chewed and spit out as amphibological waste, the process of formulating them is base and necessary to the culture. Without them we would all just be drinking.

The wine agents that move thousands of diverse wines through our provinces face Herculean tasks to get their wines to the public. It is through their generosity that I am able to taste so many in a calendar year. I’d like to thank Robin Sirutis and Julie Hauser of the Licensee program along with Kelly Taylor, Jim Sheridan, Douglas Webster and team for allowing me into their LCBO home to sample 1000′s more wines from the bi-weekly and shop on-line VINTAGES releases. Not to be forgotten are the many world-class sommeliers who give so much of their time to offer memorable wine experiences, no matter the effort required. So, thanks to all of you, here is my list of top 20, under $20 wines in random order, tasted and reviewed in 2013.

From left: MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, CHÂTEAU D'ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, and ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011

From left: MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, CHÂTEAU D’ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, and ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011

Sparkling

MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, Loire Valley, France (141077, $15.95, WineAlign)

Foams frothy forth alive and expansive out of a yeasty starter, spins lightly on its A16 axis and revolves tightly wound around a citrus spindle. A working class Marechal, real and made for the people. Perhaps not La Grande Illusion but a wine that will “show the common humanity present across these divisions.” About as good as Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling Loire Chenin Blanc can be and priced to fly.  89  Tasted April 2013  From: See the humanity in real value wine

TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery only, $18.95)

May just be that bottle of persuasive interrogation and torture to turn even the toughest hold-outs against Sparkling Riesling. A veritable homeland crush of signature grapes, put to a not so traditional test, emerge in piercing, capital dry scintillation. Sparks fly in Beamsville when winemaker Paul Pender and team, “the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot.” This sparkler does the E street shuffle and dances in the dark. The new deal in Ontario bubbles.  “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  89  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013  @Paul_Pender  @Tawse_Winery

Rosé

CHÂTEAU D’ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, Languedoc Roussillon (Midi), France (323386, $15.95, WineAlign)

Goes classic holy trinity Midi in Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Creamy, frosty and savoury in strawberry, rhubarb, balmy tarragon and shrubbery. Finishes with salinity pressed like a salt herring.  91  Tasted June 2013  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay  @chateaudangles

White

CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile (275909, $9.95, WineAlign WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice)

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  From: He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011, Ac Alsace, France (626606, $14.95, WineAlign)

High on lime citrus and heavy in stones, so much more so than in ’09 and ’10. Green apple in tart tonality, lean and mean.  Much juicier and riper to taste, with the faintest lees note to ground it firmly on Alsatian terrain ferme.  Love this designation. Same vintage release from a year ago.  89  Tasted July 2012  From: A paradox of wine accents  @drinkAlsace

From left: DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007, 2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, and TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010

From left: DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007, 2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, and TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010

DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007 (313528, $16.95, WineAlign) clocks in at a mere 8 per cent abv and is a nasal microchamber filled with dry ice but taste it and be soothed by its unguent goodness. Minerals, spice and everything nice out of red sandstone, slate soil and just barely beginning to act its age. OK, it may be a touch disjointed but at $17 they are giving it away. I could drink it like wheat grass all summer long.  90  Tasted March 2013  From: Masters wines in purple, yellow and green jackets

2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (294041, $18.95, WineAlign)

In contrast to brother Foxcroft, this is the more serious vineyard in my estimation. Falls compresses less limestone chalk and instead thunder rolls out glacial boulders. Here there is less grass, herbs, citrus and sea, but rather garrigue blanc, the windswept plain studded with gorse and deeper, sweeter, earthly purity.  91  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013   @2027Cellars

ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177758, $17.95, WineAlign)

The leader of the pack. The honey is uncanny. From an earlier note: “is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.”  91  Tasted twice, May 2013  From: Showcase Showdown: Rosewood Sémillon  @RosewoodWine

DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, Wo Robertson, South Africa (355438, $18.95, WineAlign)

This is exactly what I come to expect and hope for in calcareous, gravel and clay Cape Chardonnay. Robertson study in balance, fortitude and anxiety. Palpable proof of De Westhof’s self-professed attitude towards “site-specific vineyard management and wine-making.” Really pretty white flowers, citrus in C minor and piercing acidity. Proficiently ripe, toasted without tempting caramel and really well-judged. All in for $19. No ifs and or buts.  91  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand (301135, $18.95, WineAlign)

Gives off a good dose of char but in a Penderish way with knowledge that it will dissipate, integrate and elevate this stony ‘River of God’ into a fine, swirling eddy of hard bop goodness. Gorgeous green enamel Ngaruroro meandering to gold. Oleic, alluvial consistency, with a sense of creamed corn, barren straw and built of a gravel verve, taking risks like a Sonny Rollins riff.  91  Tasted February 2013  From: A march of French grapes to dinner  @TeAwaWinery

MARC BRÉDIF VOUVRAY 2011, Ac, Loire, France (685362, $19.95, SAQ $19.55, 10267809, WineAlign)

Indicates grapevines grown of a mineral-rich terroir, like land left after the draining of a lake. Travels into the Loire Valley’s heart of darkness but also shows some increased honey in ’11, fattening the ever-present lemon drop, candied peel, ginger and stony goodness. Chenin as a man in pink pajamas. There is just no worthy value adversary to this tight, racy and wondrous Vouvray.  91  Tasted July 2013  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend  @ProfileWineGrp   @LoireValleyWine

Reds

BOUTARI NAOUSSA 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (23218, $12.95, WineAlign)

Like other Xinomavro shows that combination of pure fruit and ancient wisdom. Juicy and rustic at the same time, erupting in cherry and a lava flow of hot rocks. There is leather, dry spice and sun-dried fruit. Already bricking like Sangiovese, as if rustic Vino Nobile Rosso. There is simply no earthly reason not to drink this every night for the rest of the summer.  89  Tasted July 2013  From: A midsummer night’s chill red wine  @boutari

QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, Doc Dão, Portugal  (546309, $13.95, WineAlign)

Simple, straight cut, hedonistic Dão pleasure from winemaker Manuel Vieira and the Sogrape Vinhos’ empire. Nothing wrong with that except that at $14 it feels like stealing. An evincive blend of 50 per cent Touriga Nacional, 20 Tinta Roriz and 30 Jaen. Red and black fruit, mineral tension, somewhat gritty but lush in plum, licorice feel and flavour. Really good stuff.  89  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas  @winePortugalCA

LAILEY VINEYARD WINES CABERNET MERLOT 2011, VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery only, $15)

Speaks the language of vinous accommodation. Abundant very berry fruit if less knotty and peculiar and more accessible than most Niagara Bordeaux blends. No bones about it, languid Lailey in mind of its own wonder. Could drink it straight from the tap.  89  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013  @Laileywinemakr

TSCHARKE BAROSSA GOLD MARANANGA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia (289884, $15.95, WineAlign)

This is really good stuff. Tight attack, bold and tannic, brimming with figgy black fruit, dark chocolate, spirit cake and white pepper. The oldest Barossa Neoproterozoic Schist and Siltstone rocks impart piercing minerality as if the Marananga were blasted out of a cannon.  Tests any Napa Cab under $50.  89  Tasted January 2013  From: Iconic wines, affordable prices  @tscharkewines

VIA CHILCAS SINGLE VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($17.95, 309757, WineAlign)

From the Maule Valley, is graced by amazing freshness and vigorous, new wave energy. With an imagined dragon’s foot securely planted in the ancestry of Chilean wine, this radioactive red is a portal to the industry’s future. Roasted and brewed, in espresso yes but mocha, no. “Welcome to the new age, to the new age.”  91  Tasted September 2013  From: A Chile wind is blowing  @ViaWines

ANETO RED 2009, Doc Douro, Portugal (314930, $19.95, WineAlign)

Reminds me of the deepest, earthbound southern French reds, like Minervois or La Clape. Stygian and shadowy, the Aneto’s rusticity is borne of xistous terra, baking spice and dried fruit. Puts on her make up for prevailing balance in a show of hydrated, in vogue, darling pretty maturity. She can “heal my aching heart and soul.”  91  Tasted January 2013  From: Super Bowl wine prediction: Red 49ers over black Ravens  @liffordwine

DOMAINE MANOIR DE CARRA JULIÉNAS 2010, Ac Beaujolais, France (290981, $19.95, WineAlign) The pearl finally puts some funk into “an otherwise empty room.” Dandy, candied peony, cracking good, cinnamon scented and jammy in Rhôneish behaviour. More structure than most.  Beaujolais’ daughter.  91  Tasted May 15, 2013  From: Go Gamay Go

THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE CONSPIRACY 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149237, $19.95, WineAlign)

Kissed, re-passed over and threatening to push boundaries as if it were singing “if I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage.” This Ilya Senchuk beauty may only be ripasso but I like it. Eases my pain and my brain. Excellent verve and honed of a rock star’s capacity to be loved, with tart, red and black fruit in waves, tar and charcoal. Svelte balance in fruit, alcohol, sweet and sour. This is THE vintage for this wine. Ten plus years lay ahead for a long affair and it will be rewarded with praise in future tastings.  92  Tasted April 2013  From: ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine)  @wineaffair

JOURNEY’S END SHIRAZ 2007, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (337642, $19.95, WineAlign)

Initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak.  Has ancient experience in its blood.  92  Tasted September 2013  From: Free my Canadian grapes and other love songs  @JourneysEndWine

Good to go!