Savouring the new Australia

Back in the savour again @Wine_Australia #SavourAus #history #evolution #revolution

Back in the savour again @Wine_Australia #SavourAus #history #evolution #revolution

Back in early February a group of Aussies were pulled from pocket, heralded with perspicacious aptitude by Mark Davidson and poured at the Vintage Conservatory for Toronto’s want to know wine community. The murmurs could be heard speaking the unspoken profound. I took coadjutant note. In late February I surmised that “the seminar offered a welcoming respite from my monthly treadle of reviewing. The Langton’s wines collectively commit to the idea that wine is a blueprint with entrepreneurial elements, an elixir akin to the maker’s inventive secret machines. It is always refreshing to taste wines that are not exaggerated or sentimental. These Aussies are representative of all this and more.”

Related – Langton’s Classification: Excellent, outstanding, exceptional

“Such a gathering of Australian wine delivers the preponderance of form, with the incantatory capacity of narrative to bring truth to light and fulness out of pleasure.”

On the heels of that twelve strong Langton’s Classification Toronto tasting came another stellar gathering, this time expatiated as Savour Australia. Just when you think the best of the best had come to town, the best got better.

Ooh, no, not @VintageMD but yes, @johnszabo for #SavourAus @Wine_Australia

Ooh, no, not @VintageMD but yes, @johnszabo for #SavourAus @Wine_Australia

Wine Australia and her woman about town Anne Popoff gathered 28 producers from 14 regions at George Restaurant on May 16, 2016. The HER (history-evolution-revolution) trade seminar was presented by Master Sommelier John Szabo. The wines were nothing short of exceptional. Once again Australia delivered, not only in terms of quality but also with deferential diversity. Imagine the possibilities when the new effects of restraint and change begin to trickle down to less expensive and more commercially produced wines. Australia will become a new global force to be reckoned with. Here are my notes on the 12 seminar wines plus a few new finds.

Gotta say good on ya @Wine_Australia & @lesavoirvivre59 for today's neoteric rainbow of #SavourAus

Gotta say good on ya @Wine_Australia & @lesavoirvivre59 for today’s neoteric rainbow of #SavourAus

History

Kilikanoon Mort’s Block Riesling 2005, Clare Valley, South Australia (233791, $50.00, WineAlign)

From 45 year-old vines planted by Kevin Mitchell and dedicated to his father Mort, the Reserve Watervale riesling has entered Clare Valley 10 years plus of age nirvana. From pristine free-run juice, this is premium, intensely sun-juicy Riesling, notable for its key-lime aroma and flavour. A key to your citrus pie heart, it took all this time to bring out the complimentary toast. Racy, revelling riesling as a bone outstretched from the stone of Clare Valley soil. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2016  @kilikanoon  @ChartonHobbs  @ClareValleySA

D’arenberg The Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

From a vineyard abandoned and left for dead, with bush vines as old as 100 years revived and restored. No new French wood houses d’Arenberg’s delicately dangerous grenache fruit for 12 months. The intro guitar chords from these plants of arms outstretched are George Harrison generous and give fruit more sweet than dandy. Grenache can seem so sketched, lithographed, Warhol copied and godless, but from old vines handled with care it takes a more godly direction. Here there is a slow-settled sense of cure and a liqueur distilled as if by red soil into liquid mineral. It is also fresher than other old vines grenache, say from Aragon or the southern Rhône. “But it takes so long, my Lord.” In McLaren Vale, 100 years. Thank goodness this 2012 has been prepped to please beginning in 2016. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2016  @darenbergwine  @TashStoodley  @imbibersreport  @mclaren_vale

Hollick Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia (Agent, $75.00, WineAlign)

No Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon can be considered without the signature, what Hollick’s Rebecca Poynter points out as the “GI,” the Geographical Indication. Registered back in 2003, the ideal demarcates exact boundaries and the deeper we try and understand the terra rossa soil and what it means for cabernet sauvignon, the more it seems that Classico should be added to discern the local varietal specification. First made in 1988 and only produced in exceptional vintages, Ravenswood (Lane) is the link between Hollick’s Neilson Block and Wilgha Coonawarra Vineyards. A bonny doon uprising of cool temperatures from the ocean and the terra rossa create a combined mineral-savoury undertone and a long, cool growing elegance. Iconic attribution, the marriage of old vines and best plots, 18 months plus 18 in bottle. All this to see depth in red plus black fruit, such developed acidity and in the end, bramble on. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2016  @hollickwines  @LiffordON  @CoonawarraWine

St. Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2013, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $80.00, WineAlign)

An Eden and Barossa Valley blend from vines that range between 60 and 100 years old, the Old Block 2013 is perhaps the most exotic, romantic and profusely perfumed Shiraz in South Australia. The evocative and ambrosial mix of wild rose bud tisane, unlit Indonesian kretek tobacco and Eucalyptus Leucoxylon Rosea is herbaceous, spicy and ambrosial. You might expect a hammer on an anvil but a bridge between the two valleys conjoins the fruit, layers with balance and forms a silky and seductive story that is a great read into texture, from prime extraction and the lavender-vanilla seduction of new and old French oak. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2016  @StHallettWines  @Select_Wines  @BarossaDirt

Evolution

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, Western Australia (Agent, $99.95, WineAlign)

Young is the operative understatement, whilst toast and butter in peak pomade are equally opposed yet lifted by the blossoms of white flowers. What erudite reduction brings and how it stops time. The best barrel selections from powerful Block 20 fruit cause the commotion in a zero shame Chardonnay, philosophically captured though perhaps one step back from unabashed. Ripeness was clearly not an issue. Freshness balances all else. At present the youth is seemingly everlasting. The effects of a moderate climate and corresponding alcohol, in at 13.5 per cent, are edifying to the western tongue. The length is exceptional. In this opinion, classification easily and unquestionably upheld. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016  @Leeuwin_Estate  @TFBrands  @MargaretRiverWi

I love the smell of blood orange in the morning @SoumahWines @Wine_Australia #SavourAus #pinotnoir #yarravalley #singlevineyard

I love the smell of blood orange in the morning @SoumahWines @Wine_Australia #SavourAus #pinotnoir #yarravalley #singlevineyard

Souma Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yarra Valley, Victoria, South Australia (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

Old sandstones, silky loam and minor clay nourish vines planted in 1994, “to a fruit salad,” explains Steven Worley and which eventually evolved into pinot noir. The Soumah Single-Vineyard wines are named after train stations (i.e. Bluestone, Hexham) and they refer to an eastern French didactic. The aromatics abound from 2015, in plethora of orange musk; first blossom, then zest and finally a liqueur. Pinpointed further it’s blood orange, studded with clove, then squeezed into a Mimosa. Early fruit phenolic ripeness, high-picked acidity, wild yeasts and some whole bunch (10 per cent) fermentation leads with freshness, tension and precision. In this pinot noir you can’t help but note the new world cure and pastis flavours in what is very much a treatment in old world homage. An Amaro note slides along the terrific length. Very expressive wine. I love the smell of blood orange in the morning. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2016  @SoumahWines  @vonterrabev  @yarra_valley

Alpha Box & Dice Xola Aglianico 2011, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

This first vintage of the grippy aglianico from a variety of growers and blocks is certainly multi-environmental and drinking with five-tear resolved, prescient acceptability. Owners Justin and Dylan Fairweather practice self-proclaimed vinous bricolage, laying down the ferment for four years in oak (none new) to heap a nosing of liquorice root with the clay still caked and clinging. A humidity this side short of damp relents to florals and then, as expected, a forceful tannic structure. The Xola is the winery’s study in wine duality, as per William Blake’s opposites of existence, masculine aglianico swaddled and softened in feminine wood, exhorting the concept of “complementary dualism.” Or, if you like, in Jim Jarmusch vernacular, “Exaybachay. he who talks loud, saying nothing.” This southern Italian varietal speaks with emphasis, as it does with minerality, from its original existence, “close to the ocean.” As it does here, “perfect for Mclaren Vale.” Drink 2016-2023. Tasted May 2016  @AlphaBoxDice  @mclaren_vale

Shadow puppets @chefcmcdonald and @johnszabo talkin' @Wine_Australia #SavourAus

Shadow puppets @chefcmcdonald and @johnszabo talkin’ @Wine_Australia #SavourAus

Fowles Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz 2012, Victoria, South Australia (243592, $35.95, WineAlign)

Quite savoury shiraz, reductive, soil funky and forceful. A plum tart, mince meat pie, layer cake of variegation. Acidity circulates and the finish is very much on the toasty, peppery side of the Victoria understanding. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted  May 2016  @LadiesWhoShoot  @vonterrabev

Revolution

BK Wines Skin & Bones White 2015, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

With a nudge-nudge, wink-wink nod to the Jura, here savagnin finds oxidative, skin contact hope in the Adelaide Hills. Lobethal savagnin (98 per cent) plus a smidgen of chardonnay develops with wild yeasts, sees nine months bâttonage and 12 months in 100 per cent neutral French oak. Smell the sweet grass, while away with the mellow acidity and suffer no slings, arrows or consequence with nary a bite or a pop. Here balance is ushered by dry extract and tannin in a white Rhône-ish way, with tonic-herbal flavours of white cola and less than minor minerality. The skin contact is a plus, as is the lime finish. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted May 2016  @bkwines

Jauma Like Raindrops Grenache 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Grenache as determined by theories of natural selection, like raindrops, as put forth by Jauma’s James Erskine, is here, like stolen kisses. The basic intent, the accidentally intentional purport, the let it be, three vineyard blend. All this for the attitude from cause and to the effect of dropping inhibitions and to drink this grenache without pause. The vineyards are Ascension, in the alluvial basin of the northern slopes of McLaren Vale proper; Genovese, the white beach sands of McLaren Flat and Wood, the sandy ironstone ridge of Clarendon. Yes it’s earthy but also very fruity. One hundred per cent whole cluster achieves a South-African Stellenbosch like cousin performance, but also akin to a similarly-crown capped Jean-Pierre Frick-ish natural Pinot Noir tendency. Here there forges more acidity, but also a banana boat of carbonic whirlpool-ness. This is a thirst wine, a quencher. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @JaumaWines  @mclaren_vale  @TheLivingVine

Ochota Barrels I Am The Owl Syrah 2015, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Syrah like you’ve never tasted before, to send you spinning, from Taras Ochota, a.k.a. the “European Flying Winemaker.” Syrah from cool climate and of whole bunch fermentation. Syrah reductive and soil funky, of an achievement uncomplicated, simple, truncated and with near-zero intervention. Fresh, atypical, chewy, chunky, altitude-affected, naturliga syrah. Syrah that sees the failings and mistakes of others and can’t help but allude to a Dead Kennedys’ song, “for clean livin’ folks like me.” I am the owl. We are the beneficiaries. Not to lay down. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted May 2016    @TheLivingVine

Brash Higgins Nero D’avola Amphorae Project 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The renegade triumvirate of coagulation denotes the shock and awe of this outlier; McLaren Vale, Nero d’Avola and Amphora. Winemaker Brad Hickey and his nickname have taken the troika and created a beautiful monster. A non-oxidative, crunchy, spicy, toasty, chewy and tannic NdA in versicolour, mottled and florid in flavour. There is black and white pepper, cinnamon, zesty orange spritz and a clay influence (plus amphora) to waft one for the ages. The palate flaunts a tapenade of painfully brilliant chalky black olive. The swirl is chocolate and vanilla, mediterranean and meganesian. There should be zero attention paid to the unusual in its concept. This is both a pleasure to taste now and will evolve into something wholly other given enough time. At least 10 years to be sure. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted May 2016  @BrashHiggins  @mclaren_vale  @TheLivingVine

New Finds

Cirillo 1850 Ancestor Sémillon 2011, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $36.00, WineAlign)

A sémillon revelation is found in this Barossa Valley ancient, a wine procured from vines dating back more than 150 years. To discount that prodigious bit of calculated fortuity would be wrong on so many levels. The Cirillo family are guardians of what may be the oldest continuously producing grenache and sémillon vineyards in Australia and by logical extension, the world. Here the combination of dry extract, mineral depth and straight-lined (unsalted) salinity is beyond special. While the Hunter Valley garners the most attention for aging immortal sémillon, this Barossan will likewise escape, somehow, to live another more complicated and mysterious life. I would wait three years for some extract meets tannic sweetness to begin its development and then take it slow for another six to 10. Incredible find here in Ontario from Marco Cirillo. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2016  @Cirillo1850wine  @bokkewines  @BarossaDirt

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Cirillo 1850 The Vincent Grenache 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $30.00, WineAlign)

It may feel like a wine framed fresh from uncharted grenache territory but this “entry-level” Cirillo has charted old vines dating back 80 years. The estate’s Old Vine 1850 is resolved from vines time-worn to 160, considered the oldest for the varietal anywhere in the world. Here beautiful and gorgeous come directly to mind, as does silky and deep beyond commonplace grenache depths. Fine, sweet tannins and balancing acidity are the endearment to unblemished, hardly handled red fruit. Marco Cirillo is the benefactor and the facilitator of this old vine bounty and his edifying handling makes for grenache both winsome and with age ability. It should be considered for one and then the other. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted May 2016

Cirillo 1850 Steingarten Shiraz 2014, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

Steingarten is an iconic Eden Valley Vineyard in name and nature for riesling but in Cirillo’s case it’s a matter of high altitude shiraz vines at the crossroads of the Barossa and Eden Valley ranges. Marco Cirillo’s handling involves open top fermenters, natural yeasts, basket presses and French meets American oak for 12 months. A stony, schisty distinction can’t help but compare to a northern Rhône, St. Joseph styling, with dark, pepper-laced fruit slipped into a velvet glove. Fresh and spirited, the tannins creep deftly and dutifully in, asking for patience and time. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2016

Stonier Chardonnay 2015, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia (25353, $35.00, WineAlign)

The fresh, minimalist approach entices and offers up such pure, unadulterated excitement, with thanks to the Mornington Peninsula and vines that first took root in 1978. The Stonier chardonnay has been off the radar and always beautifully made but this vintage will turn and attract new heads. Unshakable, racy, fleshy and spirited, this represents more than mere cool climate chardonnay, it vociferates the major importance of such an exhilarative maritime clime. Chardonnay and pinot noir heaven. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2016  @StonierWines  @Select_Wines

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Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

Gold Medal Plate, Toronto 2014: Canoe's Chef John Horne Grandview Short Ribs Glazd with Tree Syrups (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal winning plate, Gold Medal Plates, Toronto 2014: Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

When head judge David Lawrason asked me to join him and fellow WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato to preside over the wines at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, I paused for a brief moment. I knew right away the answer was an emphatic yes but I had to breathe in the possibilities. One: Sample 10 wondrous culinary creations by 10 sacrosanct chefs. Two: Spend an evening with Canadian Olympic medallists and recording artists. Three: Taste and judge the sagacious efforts by some of Ontario’s most venerated winemakers.

Gold Medal Plates was founded in 2003 and is so much more than an organization. It is a Canadian institution. The primary goal of the coast to coast galas are to “celebrate Canadian excellence in food, wine, athletic achievement and entertainment.” The tour makes stops in 11 Canadian cities and raises funds for the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support Olympic athletes. Net proceeds are donated to support high performance programs such as Own The Podium. To date over $8.2 million has been raised. (Update: Gold Medal Plates tweeted on December 10th that the number is now $9.5 million).

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter<br />  (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In each city the invited chefs prepare a regional dish and in Toronto, more than 700 people tasted through a complex variety of creations. The gold medal chef in each city goes on to compete at the Gold Medal Plates Finale at the Canadian Culinary Championships. In 2015 the host will be Kelowna, British Columbia on February 6 and 7. The term “career changer” is used to describe the chef who is crowned tops in Canada.

With unprecedented support from the event’s title sponsor Deloitte, the Toronto event was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Wednesday, November 12, 2014. The culinary judging was headed up by former Toronto Life Magazine food critic James Chatto. Joining Mr. Chatto were chef/author Sasha Chapman, chef/TV personality Christine Cushing, author/CBC radio host Anita Stewart, George Brown chef school’s John Higgins and the 2013 Canadian Culinary Champion Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant.

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

At the Toronto event, emcee skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. The entertainment on stage was an all-star Canadian band led by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. Cuddy was joined by The Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Roberstson, Barney Bentall, 5440’s Neil OsborneDanny Michel, Anne Lindsay and the astoundingly soulful guitarist Colin Cripps.

Slient auction signed guitar

Slient auction signed guitar

The plates in Toronto were really quite incredible. Canoe’s Chef John Horne was the gold medal winner. His Grandview Farms Short Ribs glazed with tree syrups was a ground breaker, an original composition of intrigue, a wild sequestered spot of gastronomy. The other plates were exceptional, each in their own right, but chef Horne travelled to a zone alone. Congratulations Chef.

Gold Medal Plates wines (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates wines
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In David Lawrason’s recap to the audience, he noted how close the wine judging really was. “It was the highest quality level from bottle to bottle I have seen in the country this year, making the judging of the Best of Show Award rather tough. But when each judged ranked their top five, the same five wines showed up. It was then the ordering that became difficult, and only two points separated first and second place.” In the end we chose Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011 as the Gold Medal winning wine. Hardie’s take on Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir is pure, complex and made with a deft, hands-off approach.

The wines ware all impressive, each and every one. The Hidden Bench approach on a Bordeaux-styled white is as impressive as any that have come before it, which is why the Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 finished a very close second, taking home the Silver Medal. Syrah in the hands of winemaker Rob Power is a beautiful thing indeed. Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012 was the Bronze Medal winner. Pinot Noir by Leaning Post and Cabernet Franc by Rosewood Estates were fractional points behind.

David, Sara and I tasted and judged 12 wines, 10 of which were paired to the 10 chef’s plates. Here are the tasting notes and pairings.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Peller Estates Baco Noir Private Reserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $17.95)

High acidity, negligible tannin and no surprise, the black burn of charcoal crushed, tarry fruit. A wallop of pepper for accented measure stings as per the effect of a Rhône, so like Syrah this is a good example of Baco. An airplane taxiing down a tobacco road. “But it’s home, the only life (its) ever known.” Definitely Baco.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Peller Estates Chardonnay Private Reserve  2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like bottled pastry, sweet, soft apples baking. Warm wafting aromatics, mild toast and caramelizing butter, effectively creamy and palate coating. Evolved to the point of full integration and absolute oak resolution. Drink now.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Creekside Estates Syrah Iconoclast 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $18.05) Paired with Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Farms Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups

Winemaker Rob Power is on the fast track (if he is not there already) at becoming the King of Syrah in Ontario. The Queenston Road vineyard helps. Years of acumen development is key. Passion for the Rhône and Niagara’s climatic and stylistic kinship wraps the package. A ton of effort goes into the production of this $19 wine. The methodology here differs greatly from the co-fermented two-clone meets Viognier (and twice the price) Brokenpress Syrah. Here the fruit from three vineyards (including the Queenston Road) were fermented separately in stainless steel tanks and 1 tonne fruit bins. Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel where the wine aged for 12 months. The (30 percent new) barrel mix is (53 per cent) American, (42) French and (five) Hungarian. The result? In Rob Power’s hands, you can take Syrah out of the Rhône and Australia but you can’t take the cool climate out of the Syrah. Meat, pepper and smoke pique, pinch and pop. Pow! A totem in proclivity for the variety. The water is at times dishy but the fruit swells and fills in every gap.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @CreeksideWine

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign) Paired with Bestellen’s Chef Rob Rossi’s 60 Day Dry-Aged Beef Crudo, B.C. Pine Mushrooms, Concord Grape Mustard and Truffle Sauce

Spice and rich fruit head straight to Gamay welkin derived direct from the soil’s core, of Sandstone, Schwenker and the winery’s home vineyard at Fourth Avenue. Swirl away the gathered must and moss to reveal more Cru fruit than you can shake a stirring rod at. Such verve, said grit, such persistence. The thing about Gamay is, “if you want inside of her, well boy you better make her a raspberry swirl.” 13th Street has certainly made the raspberry sing in the ’12 Gamay so “raspberry swirl, mmm let’s go.”  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @13thStreetWines

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign) Paired with Splendido’s Chef Victor Barry’s Smoked Rocky Point Oyster, Yukon Gold Potato and Chive

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto November 2014  @HiddenBench

Marben Restaurant's Chef Rob Bragagnolo's Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond (c) Michael Godel

Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond
(c) Michael Godel

Rosewood Estates Cabernet Franc Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $26.20, WineAlign) Paired with Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond

From fruit grown on the Estate’s Beamsville Bench (Renaceau) vineyard. As per the house directive, this is not oak shy. So as the house finds collective varietal success from inside a barrel, the Origin Cabernet Franc 2012 falls into line. Fruit is bright and sour-edged, softened, filled in and tempered by wood. Lush berries and plums, herbs and did I mention oak? A roasted kind of sweetness comes wafting and pan-dripping in, with currants, mint and eucalyptus with a far away look. Intensely modish CF, with a swath of chocolate, springy and extensible length.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.20) Paired with Buca’s Chef Rob Gentile’s Ravioli alla Tonnara, Tuna Blood Pasta, Tuna N’duja and Stracciatella Cheese

The Chardonnay formerly known as Renaceau Estate Vineyard, followed by Reserve and now Origin continues to hail from the Beamsville locale and persists as one of the most viscous and rich of its ilk. The glaring mismatch in sugar (20.8 g/L) and acidity (1.8 g/L) could spell disaster but to the contrary, this finds its tongue. Quite drawn, in a southern sort of lobster dipped in butter drawl. Unrequited malo fermentative linguistics suppress any tension that might distract from the bounty of warm vintage, perfectly ripe fruit smothered in a creamy lather of French oak (nine months in 50% new and 50% seasoned).  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

The Farm Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) Paired with Café Boulud’s Chef Tyler Shedden’s Haida Gwaii Pink Salmon, Preserved Porcini Mushroom, Nasturtium and Smoked Sabayon

Those familiar with the Neudorf farm fruit know it well because of the single vineyard Pinot Noir “La Petite Colline” made by then Le Clos Jordanne winemaker Thomas Bachelder and carried forth by Sébastien Jacquey. Most of the harvest was then scooped up by Bachelder’s newest Niagara venture with some Quebec buddies at Domaine Queylus. In 2012 the Neudorf family decided to allocate a small commercial gifting of their own minuscule production of Estate Pinot Noir. Eleven restaurants in Southern Ontario carry this luxurious and humid red. The aromatics are pure Neudorf; a blackberry-rapt silt and clay-earth mingle with a sideshow of coated limestone primer. Just a smidgen past ripe, this blood pedigree redaction has plenty of charm if less earnest finesse than the Bachelder siphoned bottles.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

Langdon Hall's Chef Jason Bangerter's Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.20, WineAlign) Paired with Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root

One year later and in conjunction with stopping to think about them (other vintages and other reds at #GMP2014), the most terroir and aromatic focus comes from Ilya Senchuk’s ’10. Cherry, pomegranate and earth. Only Lowrey goes deep like this. Such a palate refresher. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these two mano a mano, in my life is a rubber soul stamp. “All these places have their moments.” 125 cases.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @LeaningPostWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Drake Hotel’s Chef Alexandra Feswick’s Beef Tongue, Plums and Almonds

The tension in the ’11 Niagara Pinot is palpable, ongoing and yet, as noted previously, not like it used to be. Expertly judged in a major key of complexity. Like candied nuts strung along a chain of tannin. Layers of depth and active ingredients. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention. Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @normhardie

The Chase's Chef Michael Steh's Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce (c) Michael Godel

The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce
(c) Michael Godel

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce

Tropical notes are currently blanketing the radar on the long flight to future decades. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus.” From my earlier, September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.” Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

The Shangri-La Hotel's Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion (c) Ronald Ng Photography

The Shangri-La Hotel’s Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Shangri-La Hotel’s Chef Damon Campbell’s Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion

There is still a tough outer layer to crack. A poem of many stanzas has only just begun. Mute yet delicate, the stratified vineyard is the Poetica’s poetry; tight, yet forwardly futuristic towards the ephemeral and the aerified. From my earlier July 2014 note: “Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.” From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @SouthbrookWine  @thesirengroup

Wine around the boot in 40 days

Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included.
PHOTO: KLAUS EPPELE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

It began in the middle of October, on a Tuesday, on the ides I believe. Two weeks earlier I had penned this column: Fall is the time for Tuscan wine.

I was wrong. Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included. At no time of year is there more of a conscious, active pursuit of Italian produce and gastronomy; salumi, chestnut, porcini, truffle and especially wine.

For the better part of a month and a half I have been tasting Italian wine, from just about everywhere it is made around the boot. Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emiglia Romagna, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Molise, Piemonte, Sardegna, Sicilia, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria and Veneto. Three essential events brought Italy to Canada, two being of the intimate and tutored kind. The third, a massive annual affair (though no VinItaly) tied the Italian federation of wine-producing regions together under one gorgeously acoustic roof.

Lunch with Fiorenzo Dogliani of Beni di Batasiolo and Charton Hobbs, October 25, 2013

George Restaurant, 111 Queen St E, Toronto, (416) 863-6006 @georgeonqueen

The Dogliani family produce a wine range of wines in Piemonte and although love has not been lost for the “beni,” properties encasing the symbiotic relationship between farmhouses and vineyards, or tradition as a guiding force, Batasiolo is not out-of-place in the fast, forward thinking aesthetic of modern Italian winemaking. “Past and future co-exist” and wine speaks of the estate’s “Great Vineyards,” Briccolina, Boscareto, Cerequio and Bofani. Vineyards that persist in producing outstanding produce.

Tutored tasting with Gaia Gaja of Gaja Wines and Stem Wine Group, October 31, 2013

Bosk – Shangri-La Hotel, 188 University Avenue, Toronto, (646) 788-8888  @BoskTO @wineguy2005

Gaja owns 250 acres of vineyards in Barbaresco and Barolo. In 1994 they acquired Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino, Tuscany and in 1996 they added Ca’Marcanda in Bolgheri, Tuscany on the coast. The significance of this acquisition lies in the Bordeaux varieties grown there; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and especially Cabernet Franc. There will come a day, not so far away, when that Cabernet Franc will make some truly exceptional wine.

The Gaja brand, while nearly 155 years young, has recently climbed into a league of its own. To consider the wines, the estates and the aura that surrounds, you might think there was a marketing team of hundreds blanketing the earth.  On the contrary. There is Gaia Gaja.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Gaia Gaja and Sperss Langhe 1999

Gaia Gaja brought her family’s wines to Toronto. She spoke for more than an hour. Non-stop. “I am a woman and I am Italian,” she confessed. No one complained. All were captivated by the presentation and the presenter.

It is quite something to have the opportunity to taste wines like the 2008 Rennina Brunello di Montalcino, 2009 Barbaresco, 2008 Conteisa Barolo and the ethereal 1999 Sperss Langhe. Angelo Gaja is the rogue master of Piemonte, the first to think outside the box and break down ancient restrictions and boundaries. Who would argue that success is owed, more than in part, to his determination to rid the region of pride and stubbornness.

The dichotomy in images and in wine is not something easily understood unless you have listened to someone like Gaia Gaja tell the story. Here, a small village in Piemonte, the photograph showing a rag-tag assembly of small homes packed tightly together. The story told that beneath every house there is a winery and the greatest Nebbiolo on the planet there being produced. The farmers growing grapes on slopes so famous, not because the terroir may be noted as terre bianche or terre brune, but because the wines, like Sori Tildin or Sori San Lorenzo transform the produce into magic and command never imagined prices.

Gaja, the brand, is as famous as any from Italy, but Gaia takes nothing for granted. She is the perfect spokesperson for her family’s business. She is outwardly nostalgic, plotting a course from the very origins of the family’s connection to the land. Her attention to the simple is what Edward Steinberg noted in his Gaja memoir, The Vines of San Lorenzo. “The growing of grapes on one plot of land and their subsequent transformation is the story of Everywine.”

On November 4, 2013 I attended the annual Taste Italy, a tasting of wines from Italy at Roy Thomson Hall. I was particularly impressed with the terrific value to be found in the wines of Ca’ Dei Mandorle and the excellence from Pietro Rinaldi. Rinaldi’s BARBERA SUPERIORE (90) elevates the genre while the BARBARESCO 2010 (93) exudes a sweet, floral perfume. Castellare di Castellina remains one of my favourite Tuscan houses. The CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011 (90) comes from a vintage of agglomeration; the brood and weight of ’06 combined with the beauty and hedonism of ’07. The ’11 CC is fresh, elegant and full of rich fruit.

Here are eight full tasting notes on a wide range of Italian wines, from the hills of Piemonte in the northwest to the tiny island of Sardegna in the south.

JERZU CHUÈRRA RISERVA CANNONAU DI SARDEGNA 2008, Sardinia, Italy (270272, $16.95)

Ancient carsic cave dweller, inhabitant of underground hollows, Brett monster, heartbreaker saying “don’t you mess around with me.” A salt lick studded with crushed aniseed on a bed of Mediterranean flowering maquis and garrigue. Coal-fired, stonking stuff full of tannic tension.  A bit offal-ish and not for the faint of stomach or heart. For others a dream maker.  89  Tasted October 2013  @FrontierWine

DI MAJO NORANTE CONTADO RISERVA AGLIANICO DEL MOLISE 2010, Molise, Italy (967208, $17.95, SAQ 11294817, $17.35)

Has travelled a well-worn path up on cripple creek. The band played a veritable fruit and vegetable smoothie, pulsed from prune, oxidative purple plum, chewy raisin, tomato leaf and pulp in concentrate. Really excellent tension and a tar/coal/charcoal tendency came late. “When that nag to win came around the track” sure enough this Aglianico had won. If it weren’t for so much tomato on the nose this would have been a very fine wine.  88  Tasted October 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Banfi Cuvée Aurora Rosé 2009

BANFI CUVÉE AURORA ROSÉ 2009, Alta Langa, Metodo Classico (355693, $24.95)

The fifth and surely seminal year in production of this French oak barrique aged, 100 per cent Pinot Noir fizz, composed from 90 per cent ”clear wine” and 10 per cent juice of the previous vintage. Follows classic, traditional skin contact cold maceration methodology and seems to emulate the style of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Dry and savoury, distinctly rhubarb-scented, showing amazing freshness and wild borealis waves. A conglomerate Tuscan outfit paying attention to the small details in Piedmont.  90  Tasted November 2013  @CastelloBanfi

CA’MARCANDA PROMIS 2010, IGT Tuscany, Italy (745638, $47.95, NLL 7997, 2005, $46.11)

A syrupy rich and aromatically confected Tuscan coastal blend of 55 per cent Merlot, 35 per cent Syrah and 10 per cent Sangiovese. Anchored by a mineral stranglehold and intense aniseed studded grit. Dried rose, black tea and a trattoria’s wooden walls put you sitting in the taverna, waiting for the boar ragu to arrive. Will see to a serious future if the blackberry and Cassis fruit can hold up. The Promis is in ode to the past made in a clean and concise manner. Negotiates a partnership between the ancient Piemontese world of Angelo Gaja and a new generation of Tuscany style.  91  Tasted on October 25th and November 19th, 2013  @StemWineGroup

GAJA DAGROMIS BAROLO 2008, Piedmont, Italy (Stem Wine Group, $74.99, B.C. 161141, $69.99, NLL 7999, 2003, $84.99)

A Nebbiolo produced from two old vineyards owned by the Gromis family, acquired by Gaja in 1995, one in Serralunga adjacent to the iconic Sperss and the other in La Morra adjacent to Conteisa. Clay and marl Tortonian-era soils are its fodder and this Barolo comes across like iron-rich earth, boled through stucco and warmed to a rosy madder. Cultures 14.5 per cent abv with the most unimaginable, delicate nature. Mirror of her maker.  94  Tasted October 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Batasiolo Line-Up at George Restaurant

BATASIOLO LANGHE ROSSO 2011, Piedmont, Italy (981019, $16.95)

Several local varieties (Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto) are sourced here from the hills of Langhe. Forward fruity, vinous and in turn, resinous, built solid and structured with juicy acidity. Plays all the right components to offer value. This Rosso is well-thought out, not heavy-handed nor overly composed. Excellent value.  89  Tasted October 2013

BATASIOLO BAROLO 2009, Piedmont, Italy (178542, $29.00, SAQ 10856777, $29.40)

Spent a year in bottle following its 100 per cent new oak, two-year, early settling. Produced from a combination of nine disparate vineyards, ranging from valley low to hilltop high, it is ultimately a very fine value in approachable, qualified and legitimate Barolo as you are likely to come across. A farmer’s finesse loads up red berry fruit and ripe plum, bursting fresh and massaged by a healthy level of grainy tannin. A general list Barolo that acts quite serious, if perhaps out of a vintage leaning towards the austere.  89  Tasted October 2013

BATASIOLO VIGNETO CORDA DELLA BRICCOLINA BAROLO 2007, Piedmont, Italy (992271, $75.00, SAQ 10814631, 1.5L $108.25)

From a chord running through a vineyard across a ridge at the top of a hill. Full sun exposure boldly transmutes to modernity out of the highest extraction. An underlying funk pays homage to the single vineyard designation’s storied past and this Nebbiolo is to Batasiolo as Madonna del Piano is to Valdicava. Hard as nails, rapt mineral composure, linear and precise like the vineyard it comes from. So far from opening the door to conjugal visits. There will be chestnut Zabaglione when the times comes 10 years forward. At $75 this is Cru Piemontese for a song. 93  Tasted October 2013

Good to go!