On tasting blind and VINTAGES April 30th

"Every time I look at you I go blind." #timetotaste @WineAlign

“Every time I look at you I go blind.” #timetotaste @WineAlign

Saturday will bring forth yet another LCBO Ontario VINTAGES release. Every other Friday (and most Tuesdays) I taste through them, along with my colleagues at WineAlign (David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S. and Sara d’Amato), as well as a dozen or more multifarious and multi-motley wine writers. The wines and spirits are laid out with Warsaw Pact jibing intendment and we plod through, free as birds, privy with full disclosure for what we are assembled to inspect.

Related – Heading out for the west coast

At WineAlign David, John, Sara, Steve Thurlow and I spend quality time with LCBO and/or VINTAGES destined products but we do so with wine-apprisement obliquity. When we arrive at the office and sit down to taste we are met with bottles covered with aluminum foil. We taste blind. Not completely mind you. A spreadsheet tells us the varietal(s) and region/country of origin. I too wonder if this can be truly be considered tasting blind.

The debate chases down critics and systems of evaluation with dogged persistence. Should wine be judged without any prior knowledge or preconceived notion about what’s in the glass? Must a tasting be conducted blind for a critic to objectively dispense an unbiased, unswayed and uninfluenced assessment of a wine?

The short answer is yes. Wine competitions are conducted blind, with only the varietal and perhaps place of origin as the sole bits of information with which to go on. The understanding is that if there are medals to be doled out, picking winners must be done with prejudice and favouritism set deliberately aside. But the wringer runs deeper. By definition, should any information be available at all?

Blinds

To blind or not to blind, that is the question

As for grapes, a Gamay should be judged against other Gamays and so a critic may as well know that the flight is filled with nothing but Gamay. Mixing varietals within a flight distorts the playing field and skews the results. Place of origin is more complicated. While it is helpful to know where a wine hails from so that it may get a fair shake against competitors or peers composed of the same grape, that seemingly insignificant bit of information adds bias to the process. At the WineAlign Wine Awards of Canada the region is not pre-disclosed, except that the judges know that all the wines come from Canada. In competitions involving wines from around the world the regions are also excluded. Only the grape and price range is mentioned. Shouldn’t we do the same for all blind tastings? In fact, the bias of price might also be avoided.

I don’t know what it is

Something in me just won’t give it a chance

I think it’s just that I feel more confused by the deal

The tougher question is whether we as critics should be tasting all wines blind, all the time, or at least whenever possible. That is to say, whenever investigations are being processed for the purpose of publishing tasting notes and perhaps more importantly, assigning scores or ratings. Who does not believe that wine must be tasted without any assistance from marketing, pedigree and prior experience? The devil’s advocate approach would declare it unfair to so many honest wines to not be given credit for many years of hard work and success. Why should a wine with a longstanding reputation for excellence have to begin again in every vintage just to prove itself? The rub I feel, is there.

I think it’s that because I have seen all the fuss

And it’s no big deal

The following 11 recommendations from the VINTAGES April 30th release were not tasted blind. They succeed because they are honest, well-made and accurate representations of varietal and place. I am confident they would all fare just as well had they been assessed without knowing what they were. Good wine has a habit of finding its way into a taster’s heart, blind, or not.

Mcguigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2015, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (444554, $14.95, WineAlign)

Distinguishes itself for the Hunter Valley oeuvre with impossibly pale yet rich and stark-dressed fruit. More fruity than most and so nearly, just on the cusp of getable at such a young age. A terrific example to gain entry into the valley’s great white varietal hope while waiting for the serious crew to open the doors to their longevity-accrued perceptions. Takes one for the team with bells ringing and whistles blowing. It will drink well for five years and just develop a bit of that aged Semillon character near the end of the fruit line. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @mcguiganwines  @Wine_Australia  @ChartonHobbs

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

Impressively expressive early to market 2015 Riesling, off-dry, partially pungent and markedly concentrated. The Black Sheep always smells and tastes like this; fifty-fifty fruit to mineral, concentrated and sweet from ripe extract and tannin. Whether you are an expert or a newbie to Niagara Peninsula Riesling, the Black Sheep is guaranteed. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @featherstonewne

El Maestro Sierra Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Do Jerez, Spain (451468, $17.95, WineAlign)

Now. We. Are. Talking. Vino dulce natural of quite reasonably low alcohol and extreme elevated unction. Nutty and full of dried apricots, sweeter than some but really well balanced. Dessert all by itself with just enough acidity. Tart and tight, nuts again, spice and marzipan. Really tricks the tongue and pricks the senses. Sweet. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @MaestroSierra  @TFBrands

Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc Zapallar Vineyard 2015, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (389643, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is an exciting hyperbole of Chile, a Sauvignon Blanc from the coast with wild flavours and singing aromatics. An inwardly deliciousness SB filled from within by a lactic streak and an exceptionally reserved tartness. Great length. So different, so new, so exciting. If it’s a bit warm and perhaps higher than alcohol than it notes, so be it. It has real vitality. Job well done with this newly directed Montes. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @MontesWines  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @ProfileWineGrp

Wildass

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (86363, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard to figure any sub-$20 red Ontario blend showing a deeper sense of ripeness, wood intent, sinew, cure, triturate resin and dry barbecue rub – than this Stratus ’12. It’s a bit of a head scratching, game-changing meritage, altering the course for $20 red blends forever. At the risk of forming comparisons, it puts me in mind of other places, like Roussillon, Campania and Navarra. It has coal running through its arteries and tonic spewing out of its fountains. Wild my ass? Yes. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015  @StratusWines

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April and Sepetember 2015, April 2016  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Chianti

Tenuta Di Capraia Chianti Classico 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (135277, $21.95, WineAlign)

Extreme freshness, ripe red fruit and ripping acidity in such a young Chianti Classico. Possessive of an underlying mineral and dry tannic structure with such correct use of older oak and kept clean under the threshold of over-modernising alcohol. This reeks of some whole cluster work and tastes of the soil though never in any funky way. It’s extreme purity and cleanliness is second to none. This will last for longer than imagined. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted April 2016    @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2014, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22.95, WineAlign)

Combines beauty and bitters for a streak of natural selection through a field of texture. Heads for the cream risen to the top of rich, pulls over and steps aside to allow for a crunch of green apple. The bite is real, lit by match and cut with spice. Great length. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Grendel

De Grendel Shiraz 2013, Wo Coastal Region, Durbanville, Coastal Region, South Africa (174557, $24.95, WineAlign)

Strapping, youthful, dark as night Cape of Good Hope Shiraz, full of rich beginnings, soil reduction and barrel imaging. Vivid off the charts, rich red fruit, mineral undercurrent, wreaths of floral tethering and a rip tide riding rolling waves of cape intensity. Quite wow. Crazy good value. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted April 2016  @degrendelwines  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @imbibersreport

Vincent Mothe Chablis 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (390468, $26.95, WineAlign)

Perfectly pretty little village Chablis, flinty, lemon piercing and pouring like crystal clear, tiny drops of rain. Chardonnay on needles and pins, a white scintillant with tart berries, tannin and extra layers of dry extract. Terrific for so many reasons and with every reason to pair and to believe. While others moan “I been meek and hard like an oak,” with a glass of the Mothe I am blessed with “buckets of moonbeams in my hand.” If this were $20 it would be right up there with best ever. Close enough. This is a perfect example of why everyone should drink Chablis. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016    @BIVBChablis  @bourgognespress  @BourgogneWines

Crawford

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Corner 50 Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet 2013, Hawkes Bay, North Island, Marlborough, New Zealand (447433, $29.95, WineAlign)

Made from fruit grown in the Corner 50 vineyard located in the Bridge Pa Triangle wine district on the western side of the Heretaunga Plains of Hawke’s Bay. Diverse soils of Ngatarawa Gravels, Takapau Silty-loam (free draining red metal of mixed alluvial and volcanic origin) work towards a Bordeaux kind of varietal character and charm. Red recreational fruit and ripe, ropey acidity interact together in this very spirited North Island red. A Hawke’s Bay beauty with vivid and spirited energy. The oak is still very much in play but in no way on top. The cake factor is very low, the lushness happening in texture though not on the level of plush. Really good effort. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @kimcrawfordwine @CBrandsCareers  @nzwine  @NZwineCanada

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

It’s hard not to compare Norman Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay side by side with his County-grown and produced estate counterpart but also with other top end Niagara bottles. The fruit he sources from Duarte Oliveira’s Beamsville Bench farm offers the first leg up. The reductive and minimalist handling style is the second piece of the impossibility puzzle. Though not as closed as some in the past, freshness has never been so bright. The slow Hardie Chard evolution and painstaking road to malolactic could result in perdition but miraculously never does. The cumulative culled from out of patience leads to a reward in near perfect textural deference and defiance. The 12.2 per cent declaration of alcohol is exemplary though it could hardly cross the 11.5 threshold if it wanted to or tried. Chardonnay left alone, to find its way, fend for itself, unstirred, unassailed and deft above or beyond reproach. Enjoy a Hardie Niagara Chardonnay in its early youth. They are not meant to be stashed away forever. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Ambrosia 2010, Single Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina (402941, $39.95, WineAlign)

The pitchiest Malbec of dark black fruit, weight and substance. Really ambrosial, a thick swath of berry, wood and tannin. This Malbec can run with the players any day of the week. Structurally sound and massive, fully, completely accomplished and offering much reward. There is a resinous, cedar and briar note of amalgamation and complexity. It will take three or more years to bring all the exceptional components together. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2016  @TrapicheWines  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA

Good to go!

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Top 10 May 2nd VINTAGES

From left to right: Gérard Bertrand Languedoc Syrah/Grenache 2011, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Salwey Pinot Gris 2013, Elephant Hill Pinot Noir 2013 and Elephant Hill Syrah 2012

From left to right: Gérard Bertrand Languedoc Syrah/Grenache 2011, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Salwey Pinot Gris 2013, Elephant Hill Pinot Noir 2013 and Elephant Hill Syrah 2012

Top 10 best buys for VINTAGES, May 2nd release. Get out there folks.

Gérard Bertrand Languedoc Syrah/Grenache 2011, Ap Languedoc-Roussillon, France (413237, $17.00, WineAlign)

Admiration is afforded this tidy little Languedoc, where red fruit meets citrus, lavender and garrigue. Peppery and just the right amount of earthy warmth, spice, softness and yet durability. A pleasure of florality and a fine grain runs through, with no bake, no shake and no cake. Yeomans work in Grenache-Syrah symbiosis. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @GBvins  @FwmWine  @LanguedocWines

Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Qualitätswein, Mosel, Germany (409698, $20.95, WineAlign)

Architecturally precise, of cleanly drawn lines, like the Mosel Vinothek acquired and restored by Molitor in 1984 and winner of the “Architekturpreis Wein 2013.” The Riesling mimics the juxtaposition of historical and modern, seemingly steeped in the past and transposed to the present by state-of-the-art winemaking. This has slate, steep steppes rising from subterreanean acquired salinity and ingrained aridity. There is no way to hide from the scree of the past, avoid the incline towards the future, nor can it exist without the run-off of mineral left behind. Brilliant hue, matched density, matchstick wisp and wild tang. Honeyed and suckling porcine in an early roasting stage, with terrific texture. The beautiful arid length is purposed and linear, with much oomph in its gait. Will linger for five to 10 years easy. Tasted February and April 2015     

Salwey Pinot Gris 2013, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (409912, $21.95, WineAlign)

This Baden Pinot Gris is neither fad nor fashion and not an acquired taste. In terms of modern European Gris to Grigio schematics, it is a step up in class, reaching to a chasm of intensity not oft achieved in Baden or other similarly priced Alsatians or Italians. For mineral streaks it reaches west across the Rhine to seek a Vosges mentality, found within a pure, dry and crisp interior. Quite concentrated and ripe like some stylistically-driven Friuli and yet it is the whole package, the sapidity and the good bitters that give it strength in totality. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015 @TandemSelection  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca

Elephant Hill Pinot Noir 2013, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand (309583, $22.95, WineAlign)

At this price it might seem a Central Otago impossibility but Elephant Hill achieves proper inertia with this fresh, forward, crisp and pure style, so at the end of the day it’s quite a steal. In consideration of the mostly 1er Cru appellation, it would be hard to find a better deal in Pinot Noir, save for a combined tumescence hailing from Niagara, British Columbia and Bourgogne. Struts carbonic in the best way imaginable, desires little in the way of cerebral complexity and hands over the goods with a quick delivery. But it hits the marks of Pinot Noir, Otago and New Zealand. The earth derived rides with chalky grain and the mudslide slim back side is energetic, mineral laced and just this side of gritty. Pinot Noir to sip towards a blue horizon. “I just might move my feet, ’cause there’s nothing like the sound of sweet soul music.” Taylor-made Central Otago, with easy sipping and listening in mind. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @ElephantHill  @COPinotNoirLtd  @HHDImports_Wine

Elephant Hill Syrah 2012, Hawke’s Bay, North Island, New Zealand (408633, $22.95, WineAlign)

Much like the Central Otago Pinot Noir by this Hawke’s Bay based outfit, the Syrah is neither shocking nor strikingly complex but it does send a noticeable tip of the hat to the northern Rhône, with a cure on the nose, a smoke meat smouldering in flavour and a cool, sloping bounce in its step. The aromas bring both charcuterie and a braise of spice studded belly to mind. The flavours call upon dark, red fruit, fresh-faced and fleshy, along with needful, percolating acidity. The avoidance of sweetness and jam-layered cake is appreciated while it stays the course of Syrah and Hawke’s Bay, criss-crossing hydrated grains of sand and salinity like a river running beneath and through it. The lengthy finish offers the promise of mid-term cellaring. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @ElephantHill  @HawkesBay_NZ  @HHDImports_Wine

From left to right: E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2011, Bachelder Wines Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Gundlach Bundschu Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012 and Jonata Tierra 2008

From left to right: E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2011, Bachelder Wines Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Gundlach Bundschu Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012 and Jonata Tierra 2008

E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2011, Ac Rhône, France (704908, $28.95, WineAlign)

Syrah with character, personality and expression that stands up to be counted. High-toned, earthy and nearly over the threshold of palatable Bruce Banner-Betty Ross bunching. Hints at oxidation but is oh so sound, oozes liqueur like old-school Tempranillo and yet can be nothing but sloping Rhône. Kirsch, leather, roses, steeped cherries, orange tea, cinnamon, vanilla, charcuterie, bacon, game and acidity that is rapturous and encapsulating. Has it all going on, going strong, with forward motion and a nod to its past. Plays funky beats, swells in Paul Williams baritone and Melvin Franklin deep bass. The temptations of such a wine are hard to resist. In a world where manipulation and critters sell millions of bottles “stop worrying about your neighbors and the fancy things they got.” Focus on the real deal, like this CH from Guigal and “Don’t Let The Joneses Get You Down.” Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @DOMAINEGUIGAL  @VinexxCanada  @VINSRHONE

Bachelder Wines Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA  (333278, $34.95, WineAlign)

Pinot Noir packing blankets, covered, hovering like fluffy clouds on a windless day. “Today is a lovely day to run, start up the car with the sun,” to taste a pure and idealistic Bachelder Oregon expression. Big (14.1 per cent) for the monk, ripe, warm and reeling.

From my earlier December 2014 note:

Primarily constructed from the fruit of Yamhill-Carlton vines, a third of which is Lazy River, an apropos moniker because by harvest time it hardly moves. The warm vintage adds a calm dimension to a Pinot Noir more Burgundian than the Bachelder’s Niagara and also more table friendly. Pure perfume and like life in layered, rosy hues, a vie en rose, from the land and the river’s subtle flows. The terra mobilis. The underlying dream in Thomas Bachelder’s Oregon movement is mineral, like salinity, not limestone but something ambiguous from the river’s pull and under the river. Elegance lived and relived. Here is a wine from a very available warm vintage, with a mess of fleshy fruit, yet Thomas does not obfuscate the terroir. In 2012 and needfully so, it is served from a light hand. Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec and coming to VINTAGES in Ontario, Spring 2015.  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Last tasted April 2015

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (397513, $49.00, WineAlign)

From winemaker Keith Emerson a Pinot Noir strummed from top to bottom clay loam that is such a matter of controlled emotion and intensity. From out of the fog walks this Sonoman of searing clarity, unapologetic, warm but never hot, telling it like it is. The first chord is the thing, as is the Pinot voice, as sure as Sonoma always turns blue. Beyond that initial substantial impression it glides, even shows the semblance of age, in a beautifully creamy strawberry folded into caramel note. Then potpourri into demi-glace. If the plan is to purchase, pop, pour and saddle alongside duck breast or a veal chop, then giddy-up. “You see it’s all clear, you were meant to be here, from the beginning.” A trilogy of ready, willing and dutifully able. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015  @gunbunwine  @LeSommelierWine  @sonomavintners

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand (329672, $49.95, WineAlign)

Perfectly bright Pinot Noir while simultaneously deep, dark and recondite. Energetic in spirit, ripe and packed with barbed, piquant fruit sewed in threaded badges of spice. Perfumed as if by cinnamon and displacing rose petals. Like the scent of a crystal clear summer’s night, all warm, dry and of dried strawberry juice cracked paint. Grounded and fulfilling, of its own holes, in the mouth and finishes with a feminine touch. A thoroughbred, a filly, that trots on an on, long after it has crossed the finish line. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015  @DogPointWines    @TrialtoON

Jonata Tierra 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, California (221150, $89.00, WineAlign)

Syrah and Cabernet may be the varietal strikers in winemaker Matt Dees’ arsenal but take one whiff of his ’08 Tierra, a Sangiovese aged a spell to seal the sell and boom! Striking defines the operative, go figure. Never before has the Tuscan expatriate created such a buzz in a California uniform and it has yet been seen to contest with such hot skill. Bounces around in the glass, not so much reductive as plugged in, electric, static and then kinetic, even frenetic. The heat (14.6 alcohol declared) is felt though it’s filtered and spread, tempered by the cooler vintage, blanketing all facets of the composition, albeit with rhythm and in balance. This is Sangiovese from the Santa Inez Valley manifested as flowers and the steep-like tea of modern Nebbiolo wrapped around the enigma of bi-polar Brunello. The ’08 is brined, of olives and a cure, in Syrah braised bacon and smoky tufts of garrigue. Nearly sadistic in its heady risks and chances but how to turn away from the alluring intoxicants? “Forging ahead with precision, now there is no turning back.” This is a wine you can’t walk away from. Has great bitters and lit charcoal on the finish. Tierra the Annihilator. It is most definitely all in. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @WoodmanWS

Good to go!

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A taste of New Zealand’s Villa Maria

Villa Maria Auckland grapevine

Villa Maria Auckland grapevine
Photo: villamaria.co.nz

as seen on canada.com

Villa Maria Production Winemaker Josh Hammond had to be on the verge of exhaustion when he sat down with John Szabo and I at the WineAlign office last week. Hammond was a Montreal stop away from a near coast-to-coast, Canadian jaunt to promote the wines of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir pundit. I will assume that Hammond is usually more animated than he was that afternoon and will hedge my bets he is customarily content to let the wines speak for themselves. After 52 pioneering years, Villa Maria has earned the latitude.

Josh Hammond could pass for the second coming or be the separated at birth doppelgänger to The Who lead vocalist Roger Daltrey. I am very familiar with those kind of piercing blue eyes, having gazed into them repeatedly from my 9th row floors Maple Leaf Gardens seat at the December 16, 1982 iconic band’s “final” concert. Hammond has that Face Dances, You Better You Bet, maturing British glam look, marked by rock-star tussle, salt & pepper hair. Petite too and always behind blue eyes. OK, I hear you. Godello digresses.

Villa Maria Tasting with Josh Hammond

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Villa Maria Tasting with Josh Hammond

The 27 year-old wine facilitator’s globe-trotting efforts are in support of an amazing, sustainable journey, aka the vision of Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich. Villa Maria is a Kiwi leader in organic grape farming and carbon footprint reduction. Sir George and team are keen to peddle the concept in their literature, employing buzz phrases like, “there is no end point,” “leave something for the next generation” and “overriding business objective.”

Worm farms, vineyard rows wildflowers and snaffling flocks of sheep are all a part of the Villa Maria world. And yet, the discussion and tasting with John, Josh and I virtually ignored the notion of sustainability. No hidden agenda or bad intent was meant to label the Fistonich organic principles as Milquetoast, but this tasting concentrated solely on vintages, terroir diversity and the bottles at the table. Good wine is good wine, no matter the virtuous or commendable maker’s actions.

I got the feeling that Josh cares most about the finished product. Though he’s a child prodigy of the land he now juices to fashion Villa Maria’s large yet manageable output, the peculiarities of the process did not steal the tasting’s limelight. That worked to great effect. We talked about how the 2013 vintage shone on Sauvignon Blanc. We were introduced to the ways of Villa Maria’s unshakable, panoptic Pinot Noir. Here are notes on the six wines tasted.

From left: PRIVATE BIN SAUVIGNON BLANC MARLBOROUGH 2013, CELLAR SELECTION SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012, PRIVATE BIN PINOT NOIR 2011, CELLAR SELECTION PINOT NOIR 2009, and SOUTHERN CLAYS SINGLE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2010

From left: PRIVATE BIN SAUVIGNON BLANC MARLBOROUGH 2013, CELLAR SELECTION SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012, PRIVATE BIN PINOT NOIR 2011, CELLAR SELECTION PINOT NOIR 2009, and SOUTHERN CLAYS SINGLE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2010

PRIVATE BIN SAUVIGNON BLANC MARLBOROUGH 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand (426601, $16.95, WineAlign)

Ferly opening wine with winemaker Josh Hammond and surely not anticipated. Opulence upon first aromatic gather, pure and spirited from cold fermented, stainless steel treated 50/50 Wairau and Awatere Valley fruit. The latter adds typical herbaceous and inimical character. Plugged in stellar 2013 vintage, yet with grass uncut, low on mow, left to grow. Still, the herbiage is exaggerated so thanks is owed to the lemon, paraffin and lanolin. Juicy, fresh, crisp value SB.  88  Tasted January 2014

CELLAR SELECTION SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand (974527, $21.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 season was not Sauvignon Blanc philanthropic so extended time on lees pays off towards supplemental body and texture. What speaks loudest is the odiousness of capsicum and even more obvious green cubanelle pepper. More green runs amok, in peppercorn, green tea ice cream and lime sherbet. Unique and conspicuous expression. A cooler year so some residual sugar accords the balancing act. Not able to shake that omnipresent layering of all things pepper.  87  Tasted January 2014

PRIVATE BIN EAST COAST GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012, New Zealand (357509, $14.95, WineAlign)

Grapes sourced from three growing areas; Auckland, Gisborne and Waipara. Warm, aesculapian tonic, with a coursing note like the spiked heat of a drop of venom in neutral alcohol. Ethereal, jazz/R&B Gew, tropical, unctuous but not chewy, angled by wood sealant spice. At this price, in comparison to other North Island renditions, with a good bitterness, it does the variety proud. Gewurztraminer a world away might say I “see your eyes in mine, leave the rest behind.” Though it may hit the ground running, it makes quick work of itself.  87  Tasted January 2014

PRIVATE BIN PINOT NOIR 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (146548, $21.95, WineAlign)

That Villa Maria can make 80,000 cases of Pinot Noir this proper is nothing short of remarkable. Aged in French oak for 8-10 months. As Pinot like as could be hoped for considering the case amount. Every drop must go through Malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Josh Hammond and crew insist upon it, though it’s nothing but painstaking cellar/lab work. The Pinot character initially shines, with loads of plum and black cherry, but there is a momentary lapse. But, “if you’re standing in the middle, ain’t no way you’re gonna stop.” So, the definitive Marlborough ectodermal line painted through the in door speaks quickly and leaves by the out-door. From a smoking gun, rising like a Zeppelin. Large volume, big production, drinkable in the evening Pinot Noir.  88  Tasted January 2014

CELLAR SELECTION PINOT NOIR 2009, Marlborough, New Zealand (285361, $32.95, WineAlign)

A selection of Villa Maria’s best fruit is siphoned out of 12-month aged, 30 per cent new French oak barrels. Seemingly entering or hinting at an oxidizing, metallurgical time coming soon. The current holding pattern is a beautiful one, behind blue eyes, very floral and prompts thoughts of the same 2009 vintage in Ontario. From a who’s who of Awatere and Wairau Valley vineyards, sites chosen to qualify for the Reserve wines. From ultra-healthy, crop-thinned vines, the Cellar Selection gives a scent of candied flowers and a taste of rosewater molasses. Fine and warming. Keeps me warm, let’s me wear its coat. Could be confused for $50 Sonoma it’s just so pretty, sweet and fruit forward. The time in glass breathes life back upon itself. Flourishes and finishes with a touch of pipe smoke, signalling quality.  91  Tasted January 2014

SOUTHERN CLAYS SINGLE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

From Villa Maria’s Rutherford Vineyard, a gentle north facing slope set upon heavier clays. An SV whose world is a flood…one with the mud.” A heavier style, a jar of clay, yet not overtly varnished by any particular coat. Small berry, dark fruit concentration, in some ways anti-Pinot or rather Pinot of a new religion. The spice is classic Marlborough, vanilla sneaks in and the texture is grainier and loamier than the Cellar Selection. Big, ripe and communicative of a confected sensibility. As far as New Zealand goes, this one floods piously of Adventist Pinot Noir. Leap of faith.  90  Tasted January 2014

Good to go!

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!

Part one: A 30 march of wines

Photo: Comugnero Silvana/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

March ends in madness. Sydney Crosby breaks his jaw. The Toronto Maple Leafs are on their way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Wichita State is heading to the final four while a Canadian star guard leads Michigan to the same dance. Mass hysteria. Soon cats and dogs will be living together. Thank goodness for wine.

An atomic march of wine ushers in a change of season, a greening of the grey, a fresh start. Wines from all over this grape growing planet have hit the shelves. There is much to choose from, from sparklers and great whites to fresh, fruit-driven reds. Come back in a couple of days for a second list of 15 big, bold red recommendations.

Allow me another peculiar exegesis. I have touched on the health benefits of wine before. This time my concern centers around the 30th element on the periodic table. Zinc is needed for the proper growth and maintenance of the human body. Zinc deficiency can be a nutritional issue and studies indicate something in red wine enhances zinc absorption but no, it’s not the alcohol. According to two Hawaiian nutritionists, good diet and a moderate, appropriate amount of Zinc can help prevent Prostate Cancer. One way to introduce number 30 to your body is through bioactive polyphenols, naturally occurring chemicals found in foods, including fruits, some types of grains, wine, and tea. BP’s found in wine are reported to add health benefits for a variety of disorders, including cardiovascular diseases, various cancers, diabetes, obesity, and neurological diseases. Sounds like a plan.

This further cements an attitude as to why wine is my eminent companion. Of this I am counseled, not in shadowy reminiscence, but by a regular show of good fortune, through the generosity of others. Good Friday morphed to Great Friday thanks to my good man G, marked at the precise meta tasting moment of this phenomenal Sicilian.

Girolamo Russo Feudo 2010 (218479, $48). The last of the great Etnas in full volcanic, mineral splendor, dipping lentil into chocolate, a jam session of ripe cherries verging to black. Creamy development in butter, vanilla and pearl. “All five horizons revolved around her soul.”  94

On March 27th the good folks at Lifford poured a couple dozen wines from seven New Zealand producers at Soho House in Toronto. A fleeting moment of pathetic fallacy aside (after being reprimanded by a whining club staffer for taking a bottle photo), “there are no photographs allowed in this private club,” the event really was a treat to attend. The compositions of Ata Rangi, Carrick, Craggy Range, Felton Road, Mountford, Neudorf and Staedt Landt collectively impressed with finesse and refinement. Martinborough Chardonnay (Ata Rangi 2010, 91) will have a bright future, along with Syrah out of Hawkes Bay (Craggy Range 2010, $44.95, 91). Pinot Noir has been thrust into the Kiwi spotlight and the world is there for both stage and oyster taking, if only the price of admission matched the product. These two Pinots stole the Lifford show.

Felton Road Cornish Point Noir 2008 (2011 – $84.95) has developed more than a modicum of animale and mineral old world charm. Juicy black cherry, red licorice, fragrant spice, tea and rose petal tessellate in a weightier way than the lithe, elder Block 3 ’04, thanks in part to vines with more age. Quite refined.  92  @feltonroadwine  @liffordwine

Mountford Pinot Noir Estate 2008 ($80) is an overflowing bowl of ripe cherries so dramatic in aroma the 100% new oak is almost unnoticeable. Welcome to Waipara Pinot, wholly unique to the New Zealand landscape, prettier and graced by an unparalleled elegance. Made by blind winemaker C P Lin.  93  @mountfordestate  @liffordnicole

Now get out there and have a look for these just released wines.

From left: Mountford Pinot Noir Estate 2008, 13th Street Premier Cuvée 2008, Joseph Cattin Hatschbourg Pinot Gris 2010, The Foreign Affair Riesling 2009, and Erasmo 2006.

The Sparkling

Argyle Brut Sparkling Wine 2008 (258160, $29.95) is a rolling stone with diamonds on the soles of its shoes. So much chalcedony minerality, along with soda pop, russets blooming across pale cream, lime and ginger. Sings a “be bop a lu la.”  90  @ArgyleWinery

13th Street Premier Cuvée 2008 (142679, $34.95) continues to impress with its linear, rising and crescendoing attitude. Lavish like the finest pâté spread on buttery brioche. From my earlier note: “perpetuates the apple theme but here it is subdued, sweet and with blossoms too. There is honeycomb, citrus and an herbal, grassy component no other wine has shown. Lean, perhaps but that’s the minerals talking. Very pretty.”  91  @13thStreetWines

René Geoffroy Premier Cru Brut Rosé De Saigneé Champagne (245878, $55.95) is a strawberry cream, ice cream dream, if you know what I mean. Pinot Noir and nothing but Pinot Noir. A cool vintage marked by sweet pink grapefruit welling the vitrine, lit by laser acidity. Rocking rosé.  92  @ericbelchamber

The Whites

Mil Vientos Torrontés 2011 (307504, $15.95) is a tight, chunky, San Juan affair. Moscato-like, sugar sweetened, liquid lemon candy nose, followed by a taste of white toffee. Expressive Argentine and full of tang.  87

Joseph Cattin Hatschbourg Pinot Gris 2010 (260240, $19.95) is a flat out ridiculous, Alsatian Grand Cru deal at $20. The apricot jam, bon-bon, white nettle and redolent resemblance to SGN or Sauternes is uncanny. The palate remains dry, the finish on the side of absinthe. I remain transfixed by its intellect.  90  @DomaineCATTIN

Konrad Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (616243, $19.95) goes long on all that is typical and necessary for the survival of Kiwi SB. Asparagus, gooseberry and passion fruit in All Blacks formation, chanting, fierce, intimidating. Present alcohol though surprisingly light in body, huge in stature if gentle as a giant. Acts more nervy than many South Island peers and scores by trying.  89 

The Foreign Affair Riesling 2009 (127290, $24.95) retrofits 20% NP dried grapes in the Venetian appassimento method. The dehydrated drupe adds dye and sherbet texture, like the yellow and pulp of  Ataúlfo mango. The acqua turns rich, as if 1-2-3 jello were to meet candied lime and pear Gewürztraminer, with its mind centered on the holy varietal mystery. The outré oeuvre of winemaker Ilya Senchuk.  90  @wineaffair

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2009 (56929, $40.00, SAQ, 10697331, $41.50) sonars with a stealth shark attack of char and a cold, arctic shiver. Great Ontario white with full on spiced oak if nicked by unctuous platitude. Best LCJ Terrace in years from winemaker Sébastien Jacquey.  90  @LeClosJordanne

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (324103, $44.95) is a wine to learn from yet feel humiliated by its eloquence. Creamy, buttery, lightly toasted soft seeds or nuts, like a melding to halavah or marzipan. White flower aroma, viscous exempt, a study in equilibrium. Thought this the best Bach yet when tasted back in February, that is until the “stuff of dreams” Wismer appeared as a silvered stone in bright dancing patches at Cuvée 13.  91  @Bachelder_wines

The Reds

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011 (64618, $16.95) hits the Ontario watermark with pinpoint ’11 attribution. Firm, fruity red currant spiked by peppercorn, slow-smoked and lacquered with tar. Spot on and one of the best Niagara Peninsula CF values.  88  @Featherstonewne

Paso Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (161141, $19.95) is a breakfast special of thirst quenching vanilla shake, bowl of berries and smoked bacon. Well-rounded Paso Robles fruit forward Cab, long and lean. A worthy California detour to a county not oft visited.  88  @PasoCreekWine

Erasmo 2006 (311837, $21.95) is a soldier home from war. Wounded, bruised but not beaten. This unfiltered, pure, natural and wild Chilean blend of two Cabs and Merlot is so Bordeaux and not so Bordeaux. Acts more austere and rustic like old Brunello or Nebbiolo with a vibrant, currant, pepper and balmy funk. Not so peculiar considering producer Francesco Marone Cinzano is the man behind Col D’orcia in Montalcino. Time in the glass unfurls gorgeous, opaque fruit. I’d like to see it evolve over the next five years.  91  @FMaroneCinzano

Good to go!

A March of French grapes to dinner

Vineyard PHOTO: FILE/POSTMEDIA NEWS

as seen on canada.com

With just about a month to go before grapevines in temperate climates begin an annual cycle by entering bud break, the 1st of March signals those first thoughts of renewal. I for one wait with anticipation to see how a new growing season will treat unique plantings. Like Rosewood’s Sémillon on the Beamsville Bench or Margan’s in Australia’s Hunter Valley. Like Tempranillo in California or Bonarda in Argentina. Like Palmer Vineyard’s Albariño on the North Fork of Long Island or Cabernet Franc in Prince Edward County.

Related – More Current Release Wines

But let’s face it. Once in a while credit needs to be given where credit is due. Five French grapes have dominated the landscape. This great group of world traveler grape varietals is known as Vitis Vinifera, the common European grape, cultivated worldwide to produce wine everywhere. Deserved or not and disagree if you must but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah continue to rule the world.

These most famous of the familiar entrenched their pedigreed roots in France. Their success is that of Burgundy, of Bordeaux and the south of France. My anti-‘somewhereness‘ post if you will. This is to remind us of how we came this far, why we are all here, incessantly tasting, discussing and forever posturing about all things wine. Here lies a disparate group, all fashioned from erudite French grapes and produced in five different countries. Fine wines to work with dinner. All are available to seek out right now.

From left to right: Tarima Monastrell 2010; Vintage Ink Mark of Passion Merlot/Cabernet 2010; Te Awa Chardonnay 2010; Devils’ Corner Pinot Noir 2011; and Château La Vieille Cure 2009

The grapes: Monastrell, a.k.a. Mourvèdre

The history: From Bodegas Volver in the Alicante zone of southeastern Spain, fermented and aged sur lie in stainless steel

The lowdown: Surprisingly full-bodied and rich for the price. Laugh while you can but why wouldn’t you buy this?

The food match: Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Fresh Figs

Tarima Monastrell 2010 (310151, $12.95) of intense purple like Bindweed’s eye or an Alicante barrel cactus flower. Not to mention the crazy label’s Passion Flower. Spring fragrance, modern in milk chocolate and berries in vanilla simple syrup. Citrus note adds breadth and food pairing asperity. Alluring and seductive, a vixen of modern Spanish wine fashion.  87  @CSWS_Inc 

The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Virtual winery owned by Canadian giant Vincor

The lowdown: Aussie winemaker Keith Bown blends selected grapes from several Niagara Peninsula vineyards

The food match: Brisket Burnt Ends, smoked barley risotto

Brisket Burnt Ends, smoked barley risotto (Photo: Jill Chen/freestylefarm.ca)

Vintage Ink Mark of Passion Merlot/Cabernet 2010 (250209, $17.95) exudes NP passion with an exhibitionist’s amp stamp display. Clearly defined vinifera fruit, fine cedary lines. Alcohol is noticeable and is tempered by pencil lead, Zaida’s pipe tobacco and brier fruit that curls around the heat, landing on the button.  88

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Single estate vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels wine growing region in Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand

The lowdown: One of my most favourite wine discoveries is an off the charts, zinging value white from the South Pacific

The food match: Grilled Herb & Citrus Marinated Chicken Breasts

Te Awa Chardonnay 2010 (301135, $18.95) 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  @TeAwaWinery

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Second label of Tasmania’s Tamar Ridge from the Brown Brother’s in Victoria, Australia. The Devil’s Corner is a calm section beyond a treacherous stretch of the Tamar River

The lowdown: Three words for you. Fruit, freshness, drinkability.

The food match: Confit of Duck, roasted potato, sautéed corn, pea shoots, cherry compote

Devils’ Corner Pinot Noir 2011 (317966, $20.95, SAQ, 10947741, $24.80) is radiant in scenic, ruby tone full of red spice opposite a cloying tang. Bobbing red apples caught in a juicy hurricane of vibrant acidity. “Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night.” Builds off the sound and the fury and lasts. For hair-trigger gratification and will do up to three years time.  89  @BrownBrothers 

The Splurge

The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: From Fronsac, in the Libourne area of the Right Bank of the Dordogne. Owned by an American team, The Old Parsonage Inc

The lowdown: Winemaking consultant Christan Veyrey (an associate to Michel Rolland) produces wines intended to peak between four and six years after bottling

The food match: Grilled NY Striploin, potato puree, asparagus, peppercorn butter

Château La Vieille Cure 2009 (191452, $36.85) has got the near-Brett funk I come to expect from a serious bottle of French red wine. Tobacco, swelling blackberries obfuscating with Châteauneuf-du-Pape- like heft and charm. Has got a leaden, lustrous chemical element, licorice and smoked meat. This is so good and not out of whack with Futures ($34) and current US ($34) pricing. To cure what ails you.  91  @EuropvinWines

Good to go!