Get back to Cool Chardonnay

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

School of Cool

Related – Niagara’s cool for chards

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

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

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The Great Chardo Swap

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

Chardo Swap

Craig McDonald, Trius Winery – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

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

Gabriel DeMarco, Cave Spring Vineyard – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

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

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

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

Casey Kulczyk, Westcott Vineyards – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

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

Amélie Boury,  Château des Charmes – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

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

Thomas Bachelder, Bachelder Wines – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2018

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

Chardo Swap Labels

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

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

Shiraz Mottiar, Malivore Wine – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

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

Nicholas Gizuk, Inniskillin Wines – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14C Friday night

Redefining Cool

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

Trisha Molokach, Godello and Magdalena Kaiser

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

Tasting Chardonnay

Ontario Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanessa McKean and Renan Theilloux, Adamo Estate

Adamo Estate Chardonnay 2019, VQA Ontario

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

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

With Andrea Peters, Brock University

Bachelder Les Villages Bench Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Escarpment

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

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

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

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

Thomas Pennacchetti and Gabriel Demarco, Cave Spring Vineyard

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

Cave Spring Chardonnay Musqué Estate 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

Chardonnay in the Vineyard, Riverbend Inn

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

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

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

Closson Chase Chardonnay The Brock 2019, VQA Niagara River

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

Closson Chase Chardonnay South Clos 2020, VQA Prince Edward County

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

Cloudsley Chardonnay Twenty Mile Bench 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

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

Cloudsley Cellars Chardonnay Foxcroft Vineyard 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

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

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2020, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

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

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Réserve Du Domaine 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

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

Ferox Estate Chardonnay “Vintages,” VQA Niagara Peninsula

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

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

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

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2020, VQA Short Hills Bench

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

Next generation Speck, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery

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

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard Unfiltered 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

With Magdalena Kaiser, Chardonnay in the Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inniskillin Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

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

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

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

Kin Vineyards Chardonnay Carp Ridge 2019, VQA Ontario

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

Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

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

Leaning Post Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

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

Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay Jordan Village 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

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

Glenn Symons and Chris Thompson, Lighthall Vineyards

Glenn Symons and Chris Thompson, Lighthall Vineyards

Lighthall Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County

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

Lighthall Chardonnay 2018, VQA Prince Edward County

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

Malivoire Chardonnay Estate Grown 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

Malivoire Chardonnay Moira 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

Shiraz Mottiar, Malivoire and Dan Sullivan, Rosehall Run

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

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

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

Lydia Tomek, Ravine Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dean Stoyka, Stratus Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Otting, Tawse Estate Winery

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

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

Thirty Bench Chardonnay Small Lot 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate

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

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

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

Guest Chardonnay

Boschendal Chardonnay 2019, WO Elgin

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

Ana Norris (Santillán) and Danielle Coetsee, Boschendal

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

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

Catena Chardonnay Appellation Tupungato 2020, Mendoza, Argentina

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

Catena Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay 2019, Mendoza, Argentina

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

Côteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Côte 2020, Québec

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

Domaine Baud Blanc De Blanc Brut, Crémant Du Jura

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

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

Clémentine Baud, Domaine Baud

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Ryan, Ernest Vineyards with Brooke Husband and Kelly Mason

Ernest Chardonnay Joyce Vineyard 2019, Sonoma Coast

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

Andrea Barker and Grant Chisholm, Foxtrot Vineyards

Foxtrot Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

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

Foxly Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

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

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

With Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paddy Borthwick Chardonnay 2020, Wairarapa, New Zealand

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

Planeta Chardonnay 2020, Sicilia DOC

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

Ronan Stewart, Quails’ Gate Estate Winery

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

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

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

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

Vignoble Domaine Du Fleuve Chardonnay 2020, Québec

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

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

What comes next for the wines of South Africa?

A deep dive into the wine regions of the Western Cape, chenin blanc, and a Buyers’ Guide to South African wines

This feature was commissioned by Wines of South Africa, as seen on WineAlign

 

Several years back I commented that “the act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning.”

That was just the beginning of what I hoped to be a life-lasting fascination with South African wine and, seven years later, I can safely say the journey is going very well, if still only in the early stages of deep understanding. Just about exactly two months from today I will return to the Western Cape to rekindle, reconnect and extend my relationship with South African winemakers and their fascinating wines. Curiosity, anticipation and excitement have never been greater and so the questions is worth asking: What comes next for the wines of South Africa? At current the only answer forthcoming is how Cape Wine 2022 will be the most lekker experience of the year.

In all their combined iterations, the wines of South Africa are exciting communicators of heritage, history, emotions and declarative attacks. Collectively they spread with ripples like a large rock dropped into a pool of water. They are the beneficiary of effects created by two oceans and the great ancient, preeminent, decomposed and weathered soils found anywhere on this planet. Maturity is breathed into every phrase these wines are wont to play.

Growing regions of the Western Cape

South Africa is a medium-sized country that would fit into Canada eight times. It has a diverse population of 58 million people and is affectionately known as the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ a phrase aptly coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Wine growing is limited to the southwestern region of South Africa, in the Western Cape Province, which is an area roughly the size of Greece. South Africa has been making wine for more than 360 years. The first grapes were pressed in 1659. The wines reflect the best of the old and the new; they present fruit-forward styles with elegance and finesse. The South African wine industry is one of the most technically advanced in the world of wine. There is an extremely rigorous Wine of Origin Certification Scheme, introduced in 1973, which guarantees that the wine is what it is designated or described. Each bottle carries a certification seal to guarantee that the claims regarding vintage, variety and origin on the packaging are true. South Africa has more certified Fairtrade wines than any other country. That is to say their products “guarantee a minimum price to cover the costs of sustainable production, as well as a premium to invest in social and economic initiatives in their communities.”

There are five officially demarcated regions of production — they are delineated based on the massive variations in soil, climate and location. The regions are: Breede River Valley, Coastal, Klein Karoo, Olifants River and Boberg. There is a commitment to environmentally sustainable wine production and wines can be certified by Sustainable Wine South Africa, which is part of the Wine and Spirit Board. The designation refers to grapes which are produced in harmony with nature, which allows vineyards to flourish alongside their natural habitat. The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is a unique partnership between conservation bodies and the wine industry.

Cape Floral Kingdom – A World Heritage Site

More than 95 percent of the wine is produced in the Cape Floral Kingdom, where there are more than 10,000 indigenous plant species, more than reside in the entire Northern Hemisphere. This Kingdom has been created by a diversity of soils, produced from granite, sandstone and shale; as well as a diversity of climates and geography. This, in turn, has created a treasure trove of winemaking possibilities. As a result, South African wines have a huge array of flavour and aroma profiles, which lead to wines with intriguing character and drinkability.

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While so many grape varieties take hold with utmost promise in the Western Cape, there is but one that persists, unwavering and timeless. Yes, it is true that grape varieties such as grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others are apt at aligning with covenant to their old vine sources but there can be little argument against chenin blanc residing at the top of that list, Chenin is the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude and focus as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, and can perform well in warm and dry conditions. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc.

Stellenbosch vines and heritage vines planted in the 1970s and before are now performing at their best. Johan Reyneke speaks of the illness that had been running through South African soils and how he sought to build immunity and disease resistance through a holistic farming approach. Things did not transform overnight, so fathers and neighbours may have doubted the long, arduous and yet understood process. But it is that organic and sustainable approach for which today’s health and prosperity can be thanked. When it comes to searching for chenin blanc plant material, vineyard sourcing can be quite broad, of multifarious soil types and elevations, 40 to 50 year blocks on average, sometimes also including old vine sémillon. The distance from the first to the last vineyard in a chenin blanc cuvée might be 200 kilometres or more but, when brought together well, magic often happens.

Windy places help in so many respects, allowing a larger canopy to remain in place and exaggerate the dappling effect which chenin blanc so dearly loves. Reyneke’s is South Africa’s oldest Demeter-certified biodynamic winery, with vineyards on the top of an ancient granite mound and on less weathered soils lower in the valley floors. The vine struggle is real, a positive one for the wines and ultimately for wine lovers. Granite soils further up the Stellenbosch hills are less colluvial, really old and weathered, predating microbial life. The vines produce lower yields and the weathered earth gives life to chenin blanc. For Mullineux Wines and a Cape chenin blanc assemblage, it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc may be bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do so in the southern hemisphere, where harvest happens in the first quarter months. The reasons are simple. Intense investigations through schist, granite and old vines floats the boat and raises the bar for more professional and accessible chenin blanc cuvées. With older heritage vines involved, as is the case for Chris and Suzaan Alheit, the concentration and density of the vines is inherent. The use of heritage material is the South African version of Atticism; that is a return to classical methods and rhythms in making really old chenin, but also the likes of sémillon.

Chardonnay vineyards in Robertson

Cap Classique

One of the sparkling wine world’s most important and impressive categories in origin is no longer called Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), but now Cap Classique. This South African term indicates a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. As it stands, Cap Classique must age on the lees for a minimum 12 months to be labelled as such, though this number will surely extend once the realization sets in that more is better. Cap Classique produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. In Champagne the annual production is somewhere in the vicinity of 350 million bottles so compare this to South Africa where a fraction of that amount is released to the tune of seven or eight million. Méthode Cap Classique bottles are made by 100-odd producers, 73 of which are listed on the website for the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), an organization established in 1992. The name was derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle).

It’s also very much a wine about terroir. In Stellenbosch the sparkling is often made from early picked, old vines chenin blanc grown on Duplex soils, colluvial decomposed granite overlapping gravelly clay. Ask Ken Forrester and he will tell you the gravels allow for good draining and the clays deliver a time release of water. All this helps during drought and the restriction of water creates texture on the palate. There are pioneers like Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira who are attacking with Brut Zero style “based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne.” For others, like For Christa Von La Chevallerie, it’s a matter of “how far I can go with [the combination of] chenin and lees.”

“We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum time on lees should be raised to 15 months. As for sugar dosage, he’s like a cook in the kitchen. “Dosage is like seasoning. If you do it properly you don’t taste it.” Ferreira has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but, more importantly, the potential. “You are always looking to express terroir,” he says. As for Gerber, he will say “sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” “For Brut we have to extend [the lees aging time] to 60 months,” explains Ferreira. “So there is no lipstick or eye shadow. ”For a deeper dive into Cap Classique please read my article post Cape Wine 2018.

Bot Rivier 

Bot Rivier lies southeast of Cape Town, sandwiched from south to north between Hermanus and Stellenbosch. “From the top of the Houw Hoek Pass, one gets the first glimpse of the vast, rolling hills and big sky of the Bot River area, where real people make real wine.” This is the credo of the family of wineries that farm and produce in the area. There are 12 members of the wine-growing association, all within a 10 kilometre radius of one another. Here chenin blanc might be crafted with just a hint of residual sugar (at just above 5 g/L), to balance the effects of a long, slow, ocean-proximate Bot Rivier growing season.

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

Elgin

There is so much diversity in the Capelands. There are rock n’ roll stars in the Swartland, R & B, soul & Motown in Stellenbosch, Jazz in Elgin, Classical music wherever you want to hear it. But what there is everywhere is flow. Reggae flow, soulful Stevie Wonder flow, hip-hop flow, Stan Getz, Ahmad Jamal, Dexter Gordon flow. Elgin also has layering, in riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. The wines glide with cool climate ease of ability, with an unconscious penning of notes coming from a place that was always there from the beginning, with a creativity that comes out of effortless style.

Elgin’s Paul Cluver seems to be the first to label his chardonnay with the Bourgogne “Villages” idea. This tells us much about what we need to know — that Elgin vineyards are the fruit source if not site specific or singularly focused. But he also finds precision with his Seven Flags and Close Encounter wines. The wines of Thelema (and Sutherland) do the same, curating classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure.

The Helderberg, Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch in undoubtedly South Africa’s most well-known region and home to the eponymous town that is the country’s second-oldest town. It sits a mere 50 kilometres southeast of Cape Town, capital of the Western Cape. Stellenbosch is the lushest of the Cape’s valleys, home to more than 200 wine producers and surrounded by the Drakenstein and Stellenbosch mountains. False Bay acts as the mitigator of this Mediterranean climate, creating ideal wine-growing conditions where just about any sort of grape variety can achieve ripeness. The reds of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz predominate on the granite-based soils farther west, while chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc thrive in the sandstone soils of the east.

Swartland Independents

Swartland

The Swartland is Afrikaans for “Black Land,” so named because of the dark grey endemic renosterbos (rhinoceros bush) that covers the landscape and turns black after the rains. The region of the Western Cape begins some 50 kms north of Cape Town and consists of the area between the towns of Malmesbury to the south, Darling in the west and Piketberg in the north. Home to the Cape’s greatest of wine revolutions, followed by a swinging era — and what comes next is anybody’s guess. What we do know is that the Swartland’s decomposed shales and granites provide some of the most existential and powerful growing sites in all of South Africa.

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek, South Africa

Buyers’ Guide to Wines of South Africa

Over the past two months there have been several opportunities to taste a wide range of wines from South Africa. Andrea Mullineux came through Toronto to give a seminar on chenin blanc, VINTAGES has seen releases with a dozen various examples and the WineAlign team recently tasted a box of stunning values. Just last week I taught a seminar on South Africa and poured five seminal wines. Here is a Buyers’ Guide that includes chenin blanc, Cap Classique, Bot Rivier, Elgin, Stellenbosch, Swartland and the Western Cape.

Western Cape

Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Hard to knock the consistency but even more so the varietal representation and transparency of this perennial steal of a chenin blanc. Fruit that sings, bones that stand upright and just textural enough to make you feel like chenin can do no wrong.

Spier Signature Chardonnay 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – Labeled as Western Cape though kind of essentially Stellenbsoch from Spier in a chardonnay of green apple, dried herbs and lime. A hint of reduction and then bitters and while not fleshy this is surely satisfying.

Franschhoek Cellar Statue De Femme Sauvignon Blanc 2020, W.O. Western Cape
$16.99, Perigon Beverage Group
Michael Godel – Franschhoek does sauvignon very well, not as cool as say Elgin but surely (on average) more complex than Stellenbosch. Note the elongated phenols and terpenes in this most stimulating and succulent sauvignon blanc. Steal of a deal.

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bush Vines 2019, W.O. Western Cape
$59.95, Groupe Soleil
Michael Godel –  Soil excellency layers in oscillations, waves and variegation in one of South Africa’s most curious to crafty blends in which chenin blanc is the focus to the core. You feel the sémillon, indeed you do because it streaks through the chenin, but not as a sprinter or a shooting star. Cartology is a correlated, traced and tabulated white blend that stands up to be counted.

Fairview Goats Do Roam Red 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$14.00, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Rhône blend based on syrah and the stylistic departure from the past to be über rich and dark is now more a matter of bright and effusive. Black fruit is now red, tar and tension given way to open and generous. Loving the modern acids, clarity, purity and simplicity.

Bot Rivier 

Beaumont Wines Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Bot Rivier
$29.95, The Small Winemakers Collection
Michael Godel – Hard to conceive and thus receive more aridity on the aromatics, surely flinty, part gun and part struck granite stone. Stretches this chenin blanc like the pull of elastics or fior di latte. Also herbal, sweetly so, with a chanterelle apricot note in the freshest of fungi specimens. Acids take over, spit and shine over this wise and elongated wine.

Elgin

Paul Cluver Village Elgin Chardonnay 2020, W.O. Elgin
$25.00, Buyers + Cellars Wine Purveyors
Michael Godel – Taut and tight, nicely reductive, orchard fruit focused with some bite and then a little bit of barrel smoulder. Not a smoky or toasty chardonnay but a balanced one with plenty of local, savour, savoir faire and flavour.

Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Cap Classique 2018, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel –  This may just be Ken’s most phenolic sparkling wine to date, emitting as a combination of blanched nuts and precious metals. Spent eight months in fermentation followed by 28 further on lees, in bottle. Creates orchard fruit flavours and textures while acidity retention keeps the groove and the balance.

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – There is a feeling of warmth in Radford Dale’s 2020, not boozy per se yet the feeling is like cold sake going down. Then it’s all roundness and creamy fruit, ease and utter culpability.

Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Johan Reyneke’s chenin blanc is his and his alone, of South Africa’s first biodynamic winery and a level of say it as it is passion that can’t be touched. More like do as I do and Reyneke’s takes no liberties, asks no favours, gives and gives again. Spices and textural meanderings are concentrated and greater. An exotic notion as well, like ripe longan fruit and then a compound flavour profile going on forever.

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$49.00, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – A barrel fermented style that shows in a flinty, caramel and pineapple way, part Burgundy plus California yet all South Africa. Heeds the Reserve moniker well with buttery brioche richness and full sun gathered consciousness. This one is all in with an effect to invite a wide ranging if specific consumer response.

Boschendal 1685 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Big, dark, brooding, as much about place as it is about grape variety.What’s special is the equally grippy and forceful fruit, exaggerated because the acidity is like a reduction of black currant syrup. Sharp and soil rich this is a serious mouthful of cabernet, firm, tannic and in charge. Roasted herbs and grilled vegetable notes, and a ferric-sanguine quality that brings the BBQ braai to mind.

Warwick Professor Black Pitch Black 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, NAVBEV INC
Michael Godel – Six grapes get together in Pitch Black, mostly made with cabernets with (13 per cent) cinsault, (10) merlot and then bits of malbec and petit verdot. Inky in feel if not pitch, tarry by natural nature if not by hue and also more Rhône meatiness then Bordeaux savour. A big, ferric and hematic example with strong bones and flesh all over.

Jordan Jardin The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$30.00, Kolonaki Group
Michael Godel – Straight faced and matter of fact, all things being true in a cabernet sauvignon that reeks of variety and subtlety in spite of the violence required to excavate and plant a vineyard. Don’t sleep on the tension and the structure in a wine of meaning, profound as it gets for Stellenbosch.

Aslina By Ntskiki Biyela Umsasane 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$35.00, Gradwell Wine Agency
Michael Godel – Ntsiki Biyela is officially recognized as South Africa’s first black female winemaker and the meaning in her Bordeaux styled Umsasane blend is local vernacular for the umbrella acacia tree. The brand is called Aslina, tribute to Ntsiki’s grandmother and one can feel the love in this richly styled, boozy in relative balance blend.

Swartland

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Swartland
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – Essentially chenin blanc and an example that pulls the full blessings and richness of the sun into a generous and gracious wine. Kloof Street is chenin blanc of feel, touch and “tekstuur.” The old vines concentration and density is inherent, the “frâiche, agréable and couvert de rosée” all over the palate with license and privilege.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2018, W.O. Swartland
$57.99, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – The adage bears repeating as recited by Adi Badenhorst. “Fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” in a jazz mixtronic blend of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Yet another paradigm shift in Cape white appellative white blends that seduces with its steely veneer, vine experience and turbulent soul to deliver in every way imaginable.

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2019, W.O. Swartland
$79.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – All barrel fermented in only neutral oak, full malo and with the intention to truly experience and taste chenin blanc grown on granite soils. A wine kickstarted by natural stabilization, equally expressive of tart acidity and freshness, fully reasoned by sunshine yet also seasoned with effortless and variegate ease.  Such an experienced and robust wine without solicitation, nor swagger neither. The ability, presence and precision are tops. There’s no question.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2021, W.O. Swartland
$16.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Unmistakable syrah from the Boekenhoutskloof clan, always the meatiest and meat fats dripping example for the price. That and a profile more Swartland than what comes from say Stellenbosch syrah.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Niagara’s cool for chards

 

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

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

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

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

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

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

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

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

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

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

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

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

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

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tres Cool Chardonnay

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

Felseck Vertical

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

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

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

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

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

Redstone Restaurant

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

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

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

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

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

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

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

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Memories of South Africa in 60 notes

Water hole, South Africa

As this passage through weltschmerz marches on, the defining feeling of melancholy and world-weariness continues, no doubt magnified in the hearts and minds of the wanderlusts accustomed to consistent world travel. So the question begs, as it has for 12 months, how to summon thoughts that will keep a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world at bay? Speaking from a personal place, a simple and distracting way is to compose retroactive wine reviews, unearthing and editing nuggets of meaningful playfulness, tasting notes created in the past but never having found their way to the light of day. Recent thoughts about South Africa are the impetus for this story.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place six months from now but a difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the time has arrived for the industry to launch preparations for a Spring 2022 Capelands revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic, lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Fly me back to South Africa

Related – Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

Wine trips afford tasting hundreds of wines in a week’s time and while all bottles poured by every producer are given full attention and solicit a hundred or so scribbled words on history, tradition, agriculture, winemaking, varietal and regional relativity, many remain in raw form, relegated to computer folders and on the pages of moleskin journals. Pulling them out months, if not years later can induce that elusive feeling of relief and in some extraordinary occasions, epiphany. This to the creator of course, not necessarily to the producer, wine prose seeker, consumer, regional administrator or marketer. Notwithstanding who may be watching or reading, the exercise is a satisfying one and stands on its own merit, if only to be soothed and take refuge in a safe prosaic haven, free from the savage talon grip of a world gone mad.

“What happens in Cape Town stays in Cape Town” carries a three year statute of limitation. With the inimitable Ken Forrester

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. During the last edition in 2018 I published several articles and many notes but these are the fruits of unfinished business left unsaid, scattered and streaming bits of consciousness having patiently waited it out for this moment in the sun. With thanks to all these erudite producers who shared a few ounces, engaged in conversation and offered up their time. These are the 60 wines tasted 30 months ago, assessed, critiqued, enjoyed and until now, unpublished.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2016, WO Swartland

Simply a case of “fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” small parcels from Adi Badenhorst’s Kalmoesfontein farm, around the Swartland and the greater Paardeberg Mountain. A tienvoudig veldversnit of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Hard to imagine that ten grapes could be so tactful and get together for such a discreet nose, but they are and they do. Secretive and seductive, full of mystery and enigma, ferments in 3000L vessels and then concrete, of a co-existence executing balance and a dedicated focus on texture. A ten-fold paradigm shift as part of the pioneering, Western Cape appellative white blend parade. Those who know it get lost in the varietal party and just like the makers the soirée will go on forever. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Pinot Noir Bokkeveld 2017, WO Swartland

Grown further afield of the great old white grape vineyards, higher into mountainous terrain on the famed Bokkeveld shales. Makes for transitory, lifted pinot noir, “rain-slick’d, rubbed-cool, ethereal,” a little pastiche in a glass. Provides a cool flush of red berries, a note of allspice and truth is the fruit is really quite naturally sweet. Clean, characterful and only an afterthought of subtle savour. More than anything this pinot noir drifts and rises, kind of like reciting poetry. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Hanneke Krüger, A.A. Badenhorst

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland

Of the Badenhorst second tier of wines, a red blend though mainly cinsault (82 per cent) with (10) syrah and (8) grenache. Though this is technically a tank sample it will be bottled next week so essentially across the finish line. There will be 130,000 bottles of this unfiltered wine. Red fruit incarnate Cape style, sweet baking spices and from a band knowing what is needed for playing live in concert, lekker balance seekers capable of working with any instrumentation, including 4,500 and 7,200L blending tanks. Badass sound, fury and energy, dry rocket fuel, pure, raw emotion and precision. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Grenache Raaigras 2017, WO Swartland

From the home farm at Kalmoesfontein, a scant 1268 vines by lowest of low yields and considered to be the oldest (1951) grenache vines in South Africa. The Raaigras (ryegrass) is a vineyard choker so without human intervention it would literally strangle a vineyard. One of those wonderful whole bunch ferments though a portion is de-stemmed and well if this is not the right stuff from the right place, transparent, curative, a gastronomy of ancient meatiness and spice. Tannic yet elastic and one of those wines ready to go from creation but won’t likely change anytime soon. For now, long and wide. Feel free to think “see you in 15 years on the other side.” Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Springbock Burger anyone?

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

A chenin blanc blend of 35-65 year-old 1960s, 70s and early 80s, mainly Paardeberg dry-farmed bush vine vineyards in the Swartland. Some shale and clay soils mix in for a top end chenin meritage with a faint if feigned salty vanilla sweetness. High and dry extract and grape tannin conspire in their conscription and into a stretched intensity requiring some patience for the opening up. Lingers forever thereafter. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Skaliekop 2017, WO Swartland

Skaliekop, “hill of shale,” a curious dale of fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock amongst the Paardeberg granite. For David and Nadia Sadie a chance to make a chenin blanc with both prescient soils lending their presence and tutelage. The people here speak of the Skaliekop, knowing well the wisdom and aridity, the windswept open space, exposed and warm. They recognize and tell of the difference it makes, how a wine such as this can act so implosive, salty, targeted and fervent. The vintage only serves to magnify a sentiment already assured, that fruitful and mineral will align, swell and expand as one from these first grapes to be harvested in the wider Paardeberg zone. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Aristargos 2017, WO Swartland

In 2017 a Swartland appellative white blend of chenin blanc (58 per cent), viognier (14), clairette blanche (13), sémillon (7), roussanne (5) and marsanne (3). David and Nadia’s only white that sees enough skin-contact to inch it up to but not quite breaching the natural-orange-amber stereotype so moving along now. A free-form, stacked blanc of multifarious juxtaposition, a Cape sensation that does this thing better and more interesting than anywhere else on the planet. Complex because florals and salinity get together and express the Swartland without a care in the world. What really comes across the palate is texture, downy and coddling with a finishing pesto of sweetly herbal fynbos and renosterveld. A perfectly broad expression overall though please don’t typecast or compartmentalize the Sadies’ white blend. Let it be. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Elpidios 2016, WO Swartland

An ever evolving or rather moving target, Rhône motivated but at this point in South Africa’s modern tenure just better to say Cape inspired. Has had many lead singers in its time; syrah, carignan and based on David Sadie’s language, who knows, perhaps grenache will take a turn at the microphone. Here in ’16 carignan (39 per cent) is centre stage with syrah (31), pinotage (16), cinsault (9) and grenache (5) rounding out the players. Elpidios means hope, as in “Cape of Good” and like the place itself there are so many layers to peel away from this heady foreland of a red wine. The berry aspect is magnified by the pinotage and you should know that David and Nadia treat this grape with utmost respect. A mix of styles and inspirations make this both muddled and brilliant as it stretches into breadth and potential. A nexus of varietal and micro-terroirs caught up in a whirlwind of extracts, flavours, liqueurs and expression. Still fresh, spirited and alive so drink this well over a ten year span. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Kreatuur Die Synachin 2017, WO Coastal Region

“A collaboration between a bunch of young blokes, making of-the-moment wines from little-known vineyards around the Cape,” and under monikers that refer to “pushmi-pullyu animals.” Also with the winemaking help of Alexander Milner from Natte Valleij. Really quite the drinkable Rhône-ish blend of 56 per cent syrah, (26) grenache and (18) cinsault. Iron in multifarious soils (mainly granitic) make this hematic and deeply plum but still, not so difficult to knock back. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Kop Ou Treffer Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Ou Treffer, as in the ‘old hit’ in Afrikaans, also the old workhorse, in reference to cinsault of the Western Cape. Or if you will, like a hit song as the grape just seems to be the it one in South Africa these days. Or perhaps Traffic, by the Stereophonics. Beautifully aromatic, rich fruit and a soild funk from the particularities in these Stellenbosch vineyards. Half the ferment is de-stemmed, meaning the other half is whole bunch and old vines surely concentrate the fruit, stem funk and spun feeling all-around. Besides, “is anyone going anywhere? Everyone’s gotta be somewhere.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Knapsekêrel 2016, WO Stellenbosch

The second cabernet franc release of the De Kleine Wijn Koöp boys’ Knapsekêrel (a.k.a the spiky little black Cape plant) comes from the Polkadraai Hills. Not just any vineyard mind you but one planted in 2000 and biodynamically farmed by Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger and current Stellenbosch guru Johan Reyneke. The winemaking hands of Lukas van Loggerenberg are to thank and while this shows the sultry smoky smoulder that often emits from Cape franc it is a challenge and work in project to find the varietal sweet spot. That’s because cool temps and long growing seasons are best but look out for this breadth of a team’s members to find what works. In the meantime the tobacco, dusty plum and pushed to the raisin precipice make up a tasty if humid treat in a glass. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Heimwee 2015, WO Stellenbosch

As with the Knapsekêrel cabernet franc, the Polkadraai west of Stellenbosch is the fruit source, a biodynamic vineyard farmed by Rosa Kruger and Johan Reyneke. The boys at the Koöp are back in varietal town and refer to this all-around floral spiced cabernet sauvignon as running “with tannins as smooth as your grandmother’s polished imbuia coffee table.” No doubt and you can almost hear them singing in Phil Lynott workingman’s poetry. That said, this cab is no thin Lizzy, more like thick as a brick. Hung long and well-developed, of a liqueur that oozes of red, red fruit. Or perhaps, “man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot. I mean, she was steamin’…” Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Johannes de Wet in Robertson

De Wetshof Riesling 2017, WO Robertson

A known fact that riesling and limestone make a great couple so this look at de Wetshof’s Robertson ’17 is met with great mineral anticipation. Yes the finest calcareous blocks are dedicated to chardonnay because Bourgogne is the de Wet inspiration but anyone who has learned a thing about riesling around the world will know that limestone can work wonders. Alsace of course, as in Clos Windsbul but also The Niagara Escarpment’s dolomitic limestone and Germany’s Muschelkalk (especially in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franconia). And so Robertson joins the list as witnessed by this linguistically aromatic example, working the glass with a pure lime distillate notion. A nod to Alsace more than anything else with acidity that doesn’t need to scream and shout but it’s truly there. The potential to pioneer the movement is here, along with Elgin as Cape riesling standard bearers. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hll 2018, WO Robertson

Youth and drought make for the most naked and transparent of the past few Limestone Hill chardonnays. Absolute cool Kelvin freshness and a 270 degree vineyard scope to gather de Wetshof’s Robertson fruit from an amphitheatre of slope and aspect so subtle yet so meaningful. A fulsome regional DNA creates varietal layers gathered to make this cuvée a true spokes-wine for the limestone-based estate. Set foot on these soils, spin around, take it in. Then feel and intuit the truth in chardonnay that speaks to a place. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Bataleur 2016, WO Robertson

Bataleur, as in a battalion of chardonnay soldiers, fruit up front, reduction and wood falling in, acids taking up the flanks and structure in support by land, air and sea. Or so it seems because this just marches like a military exercise in chardonnay. Flinty, biting back, yet buttered and toasted on the mid-palate with Roberston’s unique limestone felt from start to finish. Vanilla then white caramel with soft French cream fill and then the snap of lime acidity. Biting and downy, one and then the other, all tied up in robes and pearls, equalling out in the end. Fine work from 2016. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2000, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay

By this time 2000 is the 15th vintage of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noir and tasting both the 1986 and 1997 ahead of this only serves to heighten anticipation knowing full well longevity is by now a solid guarantee. The vintage seems like it must have been a demanding one because there is more hard grip, aridity and austerity here but it really has aged gracefully and beautifully. The posit tug between fruit and earth notes is performed like a string instrument’s bow, bending and angling with dexterity in balanced, fluid motion. Brings in the herbs and spices, wholly and truly of Hemel-en-Aarde origin, on hillsides and between rows of sagacious pinot vines. This is a treat and opens a portal into the future, beginning with the 2012 vintage that will usher in a string of sequentially impressive HR pinot noir. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Rosecco NV, WO Swartland

From a 32 year-old pinotage vineyard, great old vines that received some TLC from Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger. Secondary bottle fermented with a little help from “a special blend of liqueur de triage,” so unlike Prosecco in that regard. Early picked which is a given considering the granitic soil and therefore a “Rosecco” of low pH and severely high acidity. ‘Twas just a slight dosage and therefore comes across arid like the Swartland desert. A well cultured sparkling Rosé, crushable and easy like Sunday morning. Drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Jan Harmsgat Chardonnay 2015, WO Robertson

True reduction yet to dissipate as noted by the smoky smoulder with a healthy compliment of wood still needing to melt in and away. Looking to settle over the next six months or so and allow the combination of vanilla extract and green apple purée to integrate, compliment and go forward in agreement. Though creamy there is a bite back at the finish so while this is good now it still shows promise for improvement down the road. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 1994. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. A 100 per cent varietal wine, built by the soil and so bloody mineral as a result. Oak texture but really that’s the end of wood talk, a salty streak, so direct and so personal. The kind of sauvignon blanc that invades your airspace and a vintage more Bordeaux than the rest. Or, if you will Sancerre but not so much this time around. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 2009. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. The ’94 vintage was another story altogether, apposite, far away from developing noble rot. Not the baller and perhaps even a bit “weak” with less weight but a saltiness that is more than intriguing. Perhaps more Sancerre-esque as a result but certainly lends longevity credibility to those passed over cool vintages neither celebrated nor considered to carry much staying power. May not be fleshy but is surely a curious and electric surprise. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Andrea Mullineux continues to foster the Leeu Passant line of heritage vines wines with work from Rosa KrMuger alongside. The “post (leaf-roll) virus vineyard,” of smuggled in clean material planted in Stellenbosch in the 1980s. The site is home to loam-rich soils of the Helderberg and the wine stylistically modelled after the oxidative approach to chardonnay. “Death and resurrection,” as Andrea puts it, meaning after the fermentation you allow the must to oxidize again, literally to the colour of cola. Risk reward actionable take and one that requires some shall we say, cojones. This chardonnay is not about luck and the methodology can’t help but connect you to the vineyard. You end up with this unctuous, astonishingly rich chardonnay that bears a resemblance to the vines and the place from whence it came. Unlike the Mullineux chenins or Swartland and so say hello to Meursault. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016, WO Western Cape

The throwback, ode and homage to South African reds made in the 50s, 60s, 70s, rustic, tannic, structured and reeking of the ancient soils that gave them life. Three locales are in the mix; Wellington, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The vineyards are the first pro-Phylloxera planted sites, a willy-nilly varietal scattering, blocks of two cinsault, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet franc. “It’s a deconstructed reconstruction,” says Andrea Mullineux, “where you break down what you love and build it back up again.” First thing is to show utmost submissive respect to 95 and 117 year-olds, the oldest registered red wine vineyards in South Africa. So you hand harvest their low yields and keep a minimum half of the bunches intact for to ferment these wise and experienced grapes. They spend 20 months in barrel then emerge structured and fit for 20 years of longevity. As with those post mid-20th century wines the profile is rich, tart, spicy, robust and layered with serious grounding. Revivalist red, keeper of faith and a lost style, uniquely South African. Today that translates to vogue. Boom. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Greyton

The Cape’s south coast work of Samantha O’Keefe, a (500L) barrel fermented sauvignon blanc made in an oxidative way, or rather a wine of early introductions made with oxygen. Flinty no doubt then rich and full on the palate, of throttling grape tannin who’s antidote is a sense of settled calm. Late spice, Bordeaux in temperament but cooler still, an almost northern Sancerre-ish dexterity and layering. Composed and so very genteel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2016, WO Greyton

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s original Greyton Farm, in re-build for a promising future. This ’16 is 90 per cent estate fruit, a natural ferment and all done up in neutral (300L) barrels, 11 months on lees. No malo except when a great vintage comes along. Simply an orchard and gingered and delight, a woven tapestry of backroads eccentricities and southern exposures, with a kick and twist of finishing spice. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Lismore The Age Of Grace 2017, WO Elgin

From rose-quartz soil in cool Elgin, a 100 per cent viognier, so apposite relative to the achromatic shades of Greyton sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. High demeanour and a sense of vivid colour in the aromatic wonder but more so in the levels of palate, front through middle to back. They come like a rainbow, rolling, over stones, in “colours in the air, oh, everywhere.” Orange, peach, nectarine and fine, fine Elgin acidity. They are wrapped in sour spice yet sit cross-legged, in complete control. An aristocratic flower child, surely full of and situated in an age of grace. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape

Fruit from both Walker Bay and Elgin and 30 per cent whole bunch (the first vintage was 15). So very herbal, savoury, stemmy and honest. A beacon in pinot noir you want to drink that comes equipped with an edginess about it. Full purity on display, grip, intensity and packed with provisions for the picnic. Marks the early beginnings of a varietal journey with some naïveté and dreams but look out. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Alette de Boer, Lowerland

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, WO Prieksa, Noord Kap

From South Africa’s furthest northern wine-growing area, a joint effort between grower Bertie Coetzee and winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Wow does this ever smell like tannat with its depth of earthy fruit and suspension of oxidative animation. High acidity reminds of the really cool climate, more Niagara per se than southwest France. There really is something special here, as with Lowerland’s stellar whites, something singular, yet undefined, in enigma and mystery. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Witgat Viognier 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

The viognier may scent of exotic flowers and tropical fruits but as with most of Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee’s range this is surely a cool climate wine. Subtly so and yet of a tension and a demand that accrue a sense of northerly South African wine-growing sense. The wine was made by JD Pretorius at the Constantia property Steenberg and it comes about quite normal, varietally speaking but also beautiful. There is a liquid chalky feel, a product no doubt of quality dry extract mixed with Prieksa soil of desert sand and silty clay. Lean and structured, a lanky viognier that in the end delivers quite the delight. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

Literally “easy drinking blend,” spoken through an indigenous vernacular from “the place of the lost goat.” At the time a blend of merlot, shiraz and tannat but like the Herd Sire Reserve that too will change over time. A racy and ripe red, earthy and parochial though fruitful in its red, black and blue mixed berry basket. There really is nothing to compare this too, neither old world origin or varietal mash up so assess it on its own terms. Just knock it back. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Herd Sire Reserve 2015, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

A red blend that will evolve (varietally speaking) but in 2015 it is based on cabernet sauvignon with petit verdot and a small amount of merlot. Bordeaux being the message but that too will change because the north of South Africa may actually share more affinity with the southwestern French wine-growing than anywhere else. This unique Noord Kaap Wyn van Oorsprong’s cool climate makes for early drinking reds and the 13 year-old vines here follow the party line for a red blend ripe enough to do what needs. There is more liqueur and spice here than what is noted in the merlot/shirtaz/tannat and also increased acid intensity. Somewhat oxidative but holding well and doling pleasure. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Nina Mari and Ernst Bruwer, Mont Blois

Mont Blois Estate Chardonnay Kweekkamp 2016, WO Robertson

After 28 of not bottling their own wines the husband and wife team of Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer began again in 2017. This is one of the first, a single vineyard chardonnay off of 12 year-old vines, barrel fermented and aged 11 months. Speaks of Robertson, not specifically by limestone but with that WO’s orchard fruit and realism, by passing spice that’s merely a thought. Lovely snap, crack and bite which is truly Robertson while in delivery of everyday texture and mellow disposition. The kind of chardonnay to stay quiet and simply sip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chardonnay Hoog en Laag 2016, WO Robertson

“High And low,” in reference to the vineyard being a terraced block on clay. Heavy clay that is, a Robertson specialty and the Hoog En Laag receives the same elévage as the Kweekkamp chardonnay. Certainly a richer and fruit fulsome expression, less snap and bite. No subtle spice either and yet the barrel notes are equally noted. What this has is full-fledged texture, creamy and smooth, all day long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chenin Blanc Groot Steen 2016, WO Robertson

The “big” chenin blanc because of the dense clay that gives nutrient life to the 32 year-old block of vines. Quite the steen intensity, ripping with fruit and a mineral streak for layer upon layer of Robertson quality. Naturally sweet pears, ripe and dripping, plus an unusual or unaccustomed to herbology. Perhaps it’s the famous local Rooibos talking. Really persistent chenin with loads of potential. Likely some flint and smoulder in its future. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape

A true Cape chenin blanc assemblage, in fact it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance to new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc that is bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do in the southern hemisphere where harvest happens in the first quarter months. Expectation always dictates value from the Kloof Street and 2018 does not disappoint with an attractive spiciness that speaks to the preservation of freshness in a chenin blanc possessive of no boundaries. One of the most versatile wines on the planet. Sheet pan sausages and fennel would be just ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Quartz 2017, WO Swartland

Soil is the single matter, catalyst and difference maker to dictate the peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and unique sets of behaviours in the Mullineux single-terroir wines. The chenin develops “freckles” in the sun, tells winemaker Andrea Mullineux and the warmth of the high presence of quartz retains and returns warmth, translating to a conduit of concentrated ripeness passing through the vines. Not a direct heat, otherwise the berries would burn but a reflected back-beat of light and one that is slowly transmitted with naturally occurring temperature control for how and when the plants are in need. The greatest positive is in the maturation of phenolics in the skins and not by a hasty overload in developed sugars. From out of the silica oxide comes vegetative growth that promotes and preserves a physiological process in retention of acid freshness. The result? A phenolic journey unique to chenin blanc as here with a striking 2017, dry as drought yet fresh as a daisy. Though there is some creamy texture there too is hyper intense clarity, a variegate of dappled aromatics and brindled flavours, all bound up in animated acid bounces. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2017, WO Swartland

In chenin blanc the Mullineuxs engage in this single-terroir comparison, first by Quartz and now through Granite. The reference is to the predominant mineral presence in the soil and in how it influences the chameleon varietal. In 2017 Quartz is a major concern but switching to sandy, decomposed rocky soil and everything changes. Berries leave the world of mottled and piebald to one of demure and decor with thanks to the diffused light set upon them. That and a place where roots must burrow, digging deeper through hunks of rock into the sub-strata. This is where trace elements and minerals are to be found in the water table below and while limestone and silex is not the tablet there is some ideological affinity here with the Loire. As such it is this Granite that speaks in a leaner, thoroughly mineral, less spice and increased sharpness vernacular. Precision cut, flint struck, metallic, a song of science and silence. Body and flesh are ambient, less “creamy” than in Quartz, linear in travels, long and of an aging potential surely cast forward. Focused all the way through, unrelenting but always in layers of overlap and subtlety. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland

Kloof Street is a “heritage blend,” says Andrea Mullineux, “it’s a wine about the love for making wine, but having preferences.” From vintage to vintage maybe check the bottle for varieties because there is no steadfast formula. Heritage, as opposed to Rhône means playfulness, choices and the inclusion of a structure fortifying grape like tinta barocca, truly integral to the Western Cape meritage experience. Here in 2017 there are some notable added layers of flesh, drying tannin and largesse. An early extracted wine in fast stages of maceration to coax out the fruit and deter astringency. Comes away rich and robust, rocking the free and new world. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

“I still consider it a blend,” insists Andrea Mullineux,”because it comes from seven vineyards on three soils.” Spends up to six weeks on skins, depending on how big the tannins are. Big equals patience. Burly early with spice and elongation but that heft and girth will slowly melt away. An invisible friend called acidity will usher the transformation, those gnomes of silent structure. The next stage will celebrate the leathery cherry fruit and cumulative Swartland savour.  Last tasted September 2018

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016, WO Swartland

As with the two chenin blanc Quartz and Granite introspections there too is a Mullineux terroir combing of Swartland soils through the lens of syrah, there by Iron and here through Schist. The style or rather the result is befitting the monikers because Schist is the tamer one of the two and it is interesting to note that the syrah “blend” as Andrea Mullineux calls it is more like Iron than this elegant one. A huge January heat wave could have led this into the raisin danger zone because ripening under the shotgun is no way to approach harvest. Cooler heads and temperatures prevailed to allow for an unfurling, a plumping and a perking up. Schist comes out regal, aromatically civil and demure, but also juicier than a nosing might indicate. Acid retention is strong, sweet and quite friendly to work in cohorts with the cane and Baleni based spice. Dark in complexion, yes brooding yet sneakily serene, salty and so comfortable in its own skin. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah Iron 2016, WO Swartland

The second of two Mullineux soil investigations for syrah is this dramatic and hematic nonpareil exemplar. Cultivar meets terroir, raised off of a heavy, gravelly clay, rich in iron, impressive and hallowed as antediluvian viticultural ground. That may not be completely Cape uncommon but this is clearly a paradigm shifter for drilled down South African syrah in attack meets beast mode, cimmerian, ferric and intense. Modish though, while inexorable character oozes from every pore and a mid-palate wells of extraordinary fill. Sharpens its wits on bullish tannin and expresses Northwest of Malmesbury iron with raw emotion and power, though without rusticity. What it may lack in elegance is made up by sheer force in reckoning, at first engaging and then gripping the palate by all means necessary. The velvet glove future lies somewhere in the next decade, likely latter first half. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2013, WO Elgin

Just a hint of evolution is showing in this five year-old pinot noir which is something because you had to work to find any in the just tasted 2009. The sweetest fruit comes from 2013, on of the riper, purest and most pristine vintages to express what Elgin has to offer. Ethereal actually, not loosely but effortlessly structured with a seamless bond forged between fruit and acids. Tannins are already subsiding in this elegant, balanced and slightly spiced pinot. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2011, WO Elgin

Such a composed vintage, cool, calm and collected. A Beaune Villages feel here, perhaps Aloxe-Corton with darker pinot noir fruit, almost black cherry but less obvious, more complex, full of baking spice. A genial and genteel Seven Flags nonetheless, elastic, pliable, amenable but not without undeniable and underlying composure. That backbone may bend with curvature ease but will not break. Provides the basis to see this Cluver from Elgin live easily up to and likely beyond its 12th birthday. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2009, WO Elgin

Harkens back to a time when the 1987 planted 113 clone was no longer the sole provider for the Seven Flags family after 115 and 667 had been planted in 2001. From 2009 it seems quite obvious the vintage was one to create big, robust, ripe and warm pinot noir. Even as it approaches its ninth birthday the evolution equation remains in early steps computation, perhaps just now moving to the next stage. Secondary development is still around the bend or on the next page, noted by the persistence of a cool climate, liquid but still grainy chalk. Also acts just a bit reductive which seems almost impossible but stranger things have happened out of South African vineyards. Just imagine the futuristic possibilities when these vines soon achieve heritage age. Remind me to ask Paul Cluver for a look at vintages from 2022 onward at Cape Wine 2039. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw, Porseleinberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

Poured by Callie Louw at Cape Wine 2018, this Riebeek Kasteel, Porcelain Mountain syrah somehow sits at a pantheon’s peak vintage after vintage, as if each one is a once in a lifetime effort. This must have been the epitome of such a consideration because Louw calls it “a fucking hard vintage, eh.” Strong talking words from the stoic and pragmatic BBQ smoker, winemaker and cricket master. Callie may have experienced a craftsman’s pain but the 70 per cent foudres and 30 concrete elévage not only tamed the savage beast, it helped to turn heads and remind of where greatness comes from. Tasted side by each with 2012 and 2013 only magnifies the massive structure in this ’16, a reductively bouncy, glycerin and impenetrable syrah in need of getting lost in the cellar. Will also need an epic song, “into the blue again, after the money’s gone.” Through the next decade and well into the following one this syrah will remain in light. “Same as it ever was.” Drink 2022-2040.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw’s smoker hard at work in Malmesbury

The Sadie Family Palladius 2014, WO Swartland

If you Google “South African white appellative blend” the number one result should surely be Eben Sadie’s Palladius and these are the 11 reasons why; chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. Eleven blocks, all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. If looking forward to the brilliant ’16 and seeing it as a wine of mixed tenses, then this ’14 speaks in the imperfect because it strikes as the one to talk about the past and to say what used to happen. As in language, love, war and the past continuous, all is fair when it comes to assessing the verticals of wine, especially in descriptions. The 2014 Palladius is the back to the future vintage, of warmth and spice when things were picked overripe and new beginnings are constantly forged. But the citrus preserve and sheer electric lemon-lime energy looks ahead to the intensity of a youthful 2016, leaving a taster confounded, satisfied and awake all at the same time. This may go forward before it retreats once again. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2009, WO Swartland

When talking about the 2009 vintage Eben Sadie talks of the decision to add sémillon, clairette blanche and palomino to his appellative white blend that already held chenin blanc, colmbard, grenache blanc and viognier. “To up the acidity,” aid and abet the tendencies of fleshy fruit to fatten in overripe behaviour. More than just acidity mind you, Sadie also looked to heighten the “acoustics” in a wine that was quickly becoming a major Swartland concern. Tasting this is September 2018 it can’t help but be noted how development and evolution have nearly caught up to 2005, a vintage cause and effect action no doubt. Here is the spiciest, sauciest and flat out nasty attitude Palladius, unabashed and already having done most of its living. That said the track record of these wines tells us to stay put, be patient and continue to relish the sapid, saline and ever-changing paths carved out. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Pofadder 2017, WO Swartland

Part of Eben Sadie and family’s “Die Ouwingerdreeks,” the old vine series and a reference to either or both puff adder snakes and the small “bushman’s land” town in the Northern Cape. Can be 100 per cent cinsault though the percentage is 85 in 2017, aged in old but not Jurassic wood. The ideal, epitome and exemplar bench-land varietal wine, not to mention a pioneer in the South African paradigm shift to conscious exultation of a plan in collective commitment for varietal, heritage vine and whole cluster ferments. From granite shales (not the decomposed kind) and yet another red fruit incarnate, freshest of the fresh precision wines. Pure Cape cinsault is this, with tannin but the kind that is sweet and stretched. No bullshit here. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Treinspoor 2017, WO Swartland

Afrikaans for “railroad,” perhaps a reference to the method of transportation that brought these European grapes to the Cape, depending on how far back tinta barocca arrived in the Swartland. In fact it was in the 1920’s and now just a bit more than 200 ha’s of this hardy, rustic, dark-skinned, early ripening and versatile red lay scattered about, accounting for two one hundredth’s of a per cent for vineyard area in South Africa. Sadie’s is a single-vineyard line running through the Darling side of Malmesbury, a cimmerian blackish red reeking of Renosterbos which is ironic because animal activists have always believed that the railroads threaten Rhino habitat. Digressions aside this is a prime example of why some might consider tinta barocca to be the future grape of Swartland. Sweetly floral and in 2017 both ways perfectly ripe. Botanicals abound, bosplante in bloom while flowers await the bees. Where this shares affinities with cinsault and grenache is in the curative and salumi aromas leading to sweet yet elastic tannins. The finish and length are expressly Swartland in nature. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Columella 2016, WO Swartland

Red counterpart to the Sadie white signature Palladius and residing in the upper echelon of Western Cape appellative blends. Ontario lays claim to the Stratus White and Red while the Cape knows these. Allowing for some levity there is a kinship to be considered between Eben Sadie and J-L Groulx, two of the more unlikely mad scientists able to capture the lit and woke disposition of mastered assemblage. Imagine Groulx also pouring varietal shots of many different farmed varieties from the back of his pick up truck during a lawn bowl in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full name is Columella Liberatus in Castro Bonae Spei, Latin for “liberated in the Cape of Good Hope” and as a pillar of strength Columella’s syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and tinta barroca ascend to dramatic expression. Variegated in every respect; hue, perfume, flavour and structure, at once layered and then stratified with doric strength, able to bear the most concentrated weight. Relative acidity, fluted or grooved, wider in youth to help support and lengthen. Intensely fortified with help from the barocca, naturally and of itself, intuitively wild yet controlled. Such a focused wine one rarely comes upon. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad 2017, WO Swartland

The “footpath” from both the Dutch (het Voedpad) and Afrikaans, also the name of Dirk Brand’s rooibos and wheat farm next to this oldest vineyard in the Kapteinskloof near Piketberg. Some say the oldest in South Africa, planted between 1920 an 1928, but others will say the first vines went in around the 1890’s through to the early 1900’s. Takes the Sadie Family “Die Ouwingerdreeks” to the farthest, most extreme reaches of the old vineyards idea. “The vines have seen it all,” tells Eben Sadie, “don’t fuck with us” is their message. “Don’t mess this up.” And so Eben co-ferments in an as is format but more importantly works at the agriculture to a point of obsession. Newer inter-plantings will go in, of sémillon, sémillon gris and palomino from massal selected material. To deal with drought cover crops will also be added between rows, all of course through an organic approach. The blend is sémillon, sémillon gris, palomino, chenin blanc and muscat d’Alexandrie, all processed together, but this is not about extreme winemaking. More like extreme farming, finding ways to keep these twisted kurktrekker and cavatappi bending vines alive for to produce their magic. The wine that emerges is all about tendencies and multiplicities of texture. The dry extract here is off the charts making it seem forcefully and fiercely tannic. Fantasy and zeitgeist just happens and the results are right there in the bottle. A remarkable wine and vintage from an isolated vineyard where drought is always a factor. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Abrie Bruwer, Springfield Estate

Springfield Estate Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne 2016, WO Robertson

Burgundian ode, ancient method of making chardonnay, a rare approach these days, with wild yeasts and no fining or filtration. No surprise that Springfield Estate is willing to give it a go because that’s how they roll. The plan is for deep longevity by a method akin to anti-aging serum, though 15 to 20 years would be astonishing in any case. Ground control to major tang, circuits wired tohu vavohu and a lemon custard to curd constitution that is simply merveilleux. Yes it is true that a hint of orange could turn into Cointreau after a half decade or more and the mid-palate cloud cover will continue to deliver warmth and appeal. Curious methodology plus romantic acumen equates to one of a kind. We’ll see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Break A Leg Blanc De Noirs 2017, WO Paarl

Often referred to as a pink wine but to choose this term to call Lukas van Loggerenberg’s 100 per cent cinsault grown on Helderberg granite would not tell the right story. Blanc de noirs is more apt but even then more detail is necessary to do it justice. Sees nine months of lees time, “to remove the tutti frutti,” snarks van Loggerenberg, without jest but can you really know when he’s being serious? Leaves the arena of the Rosé absurd and settles at a hue of proper B de N colour, as if that really matters. Saltiness is the thing, the granite kind, the sort to set your eyes ablaze and your heart to rest. Not really a wine about texture, though there is plenty, but that’s not the goal. Anything but sweet and a wresting away from norms into a matter of reckoning. And all about five knee surgeries, something the winemaker and the critic know all about. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Chenin Blanc Trust Your Gut 2017, WO Western Cape

While there are wines in Lukas van Loggerenberg’s world that travel down the kamikaze viaduct, Trust Your Gut is not one of them. In fact there is a normalcy, a recognizable structure and an older Euro soul to the way this chenin blanc acts and feels. Sees 10 months sur lie in old French oak but no bâttonage, nor malo neither. Three zones bring the fruit; 45 per cent each Stellenbosch and Swartland plus 10 from Paarl. Take chenin blanc and treat it like a Villages wine by imagining Loire aromatics merging with Chablis texture. This my friends is a classic example of amalgamated Western Cape chenin style. There is irony in the name and no shocker there. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Early springtime in Cape Town

Van Loggerenberg Wines Cinsault Geronimo 2017, WO Western Cape

Geronimo is 100 per cent cinsault, 60 per cent from Stellenbosch and 40 “Break a Leg” Paarl. The get together finds energy that one without the other would not find “because cinsault doesn’t have high natural acidity,” explains Lukas van Loggerenberg, “it is a very good indicator of vintage.” The 2017 is, wait for it, 80 per cent whole bunch and while that is a factor of the Western Cape’s ripen anything, anywhere, anytime great advantage, it’s still an impressive strategy no matter where you are making wine. Spends nine months in barrel and comes out smelling like roses, candied petals mainly but other florals, hibiscus and such. A handsome cinsault to be sure and one that will take precious time to unwind, great acidity or not. Like the red Cape equivalent of white friulano in Collio, sneaky long and structured. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Cabernet Franc Breton 2017, WO Stellenbosch

A more than obvious ode to the Loire Valley, 100 per cent cabernet franc bearing the old world varietal name. Fruit drawn from Stellenbosch’s decomposed granite soils gets the 60 per cent whole bunch treatment, followed by 11 months in barrel. Transparent as cabernet franc is the understatement, open wide, ease of alcohol at 12.8 per cent and in delivery for the rapture of being alive. Lots of verdant tones but nary a green tannic moment. Seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship so the future too is wide open. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Sheree Nothnagel

Wildehurst Velo White 2016, WO Swartland

A testament to non-pareil, Cape appellative white blend equanimity, of colombard, grenache blanc and viognier, 33 of each, give or take one per cent. Only the viognier is barrel fermented though the equilibrium os never compromised. Intensely herbal, of a nose uncanny in its fynbos reek, lovely glycerin texture, again balanced and knowing the place it wants to be. Acid structure travels though in a pas trop travaillé, no trouble way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

Barrel fermented and six months matured, 100 per cent chenin blanc, acting as if freshly spiced and in Cape terms, a really chewy white wine. Counterbalanced by a leanness in vintage while wound tight, just now perhaps beginning to unwind in repeat of its specific refrain. Acid structure makes up the lyrical couplets, sung again and again, as a reminder that fruit and wood will always align and submit to the citrus rhyme. Almost feels like still perlage and chenin blanc like this is very much a string of pearls, inclusive of tannins in long chains. Helps to explain the success of Wildehurst’s Méthode Cap Classique. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Red 2014, WO Swartland

A blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and cinsault, aged in old French barrels for 18 months. Like the solo cinsault but an even more held back and hard to crack the savoury and sweet candied shell. Both elements emerge with good agitation, first the sweet variegate of red fruit and then the brushy and dusty fynbos bushiness, here acting as an energizer for equal opportunity. Spills over with that Wildehurst acid-tannin continuum as all the wines take their time to ready, pivot in the glass and then speak of their age ability going forward. Big bursts are all power and no cake. Rich yet elastic and surely capable of going deep. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Cinsault 2017, WO Swartland

Just two barrels were found to be extraordinary and thus pulled by Sheree Nothnagel, away from the red blend and into this solo album. Quite the richly emulsified and ropey red fruit cinsault and while it follows along the varietal Swartland thread the differences are as great as they are to the party’s similarities. That is due in respect to the Wildehurst style, tighter and more acid-structure intense, higher-toned and less in the meaty-salumi-curative vein. Still possessive of that red as red can be fruit but here more akin to barbera or sangiovese from high altitudes and limestone soils. There must be something about Koringberg and the other Swartland sites that bring a special je ne sais quoi to Joanne Hurst’s wines. Maybe in thanks to Swartland shale, granite, silcrete and alluvium Renosterveld. Who does not love the smell of Renosterveld in the morning? Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018

The Wine Thief Costa Del Swart Viura 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg

From the Western Cape’s chameleon of a region where anything goes and all things are considered. Case in point this viura of Spanish roots as part of the single barrel series. Surely Swartland specific (as opposed to Paarl), 100 per cent viura and only 180 bottles produced. Less alchemy and more herbology, but flinty, sharp and exciting. Direct, full of fun and even a bit waxy, with a riesling or sémillon feel that can only mean some petrol in its future. So much citrus gets ya in the end. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

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

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

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

Campo Spritz

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

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

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Slipped outta Dodge under the cover of darkness…

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

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

El Esteco

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the brothers Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

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

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

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

Vineyard at Salicutti

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

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

Francesco Ripaccioli

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

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

Lorenzo Magnelli, Le Chiuse

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

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

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

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

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

Elena Sottimano

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

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

With Francesca Vaira

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

South Africa’s South Coast

as seen on WineAlign

Rosé all day, an absence of whites, reds in Portuguese, French and Italian dress plus choosing South Africa like falling off a log

It has been nearly a year since I last visited South Africa and every time VINTAGES rolls out an easily managed thematic collection of wines from that great country the heart swells and memories flood back into the brain. The powers that be within the LCBO’s New World buyers’ department do their finest no sweat work and narrowing down when it comes to Western Cape collections, surely witnessed and proven by the duck soup choices made for both the July 20th and August 6th releases. But we can’t lay too much emphasis on their easily accomplished selections as being the be all, end all reason for the successes. Producers are fortunate to work with exceptional terroir that includes dozens or more old vine blocks in many Cape nooks and transversely the Ontario purchasing choices are so numerous it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The winemakers adage of “just don’t mess it up” translates into kudos to the buyers for getting things right. The fact is South African wines are of such high quality across varietal, producer and regional lines they speak for themselves and do so with great heart.

What do you do with the Swartland Swingers? Lawn bowls in Malmesbury of course

Related – Heritage and diversity in South Africa

Which brings me to what struck so strong in September 2018, straight to the heart and without equivocation. Heritage and diversity are the country’s two greatest strengths. Sure as a circle will turn you around there is this third tangible and credible something that seems so unmissable about South Africa and South Africans. Resilience. Neither politics, nor conflicts between and in the oppression of peoples nor drought can deter the farmers, workers and producers of this nation. The human condition mimics its heritage vineyards planted to century-old varieties, to perpetuate and to persevere. This is the South African way. And it is the wines that are exceptional in ways that require great levels of explanation.

Over the last several centuries grape varieties were brought, expatriated and forced into the blending of exile. No peoples should ever be de-humanized nor taken for granted and neither should wines be quietly dismissed. With each passing varietal situation time has been sublimed and wines produced in South Africa teach us that they simply are not examples of minor beverages. It has taken place in the heart of agriculturalist and winemaking ability, to change small things and see greatness in ascension to that which is simple, authentic and refined. It’s a matter of having felt sensations introduced into the absurdity of our lives.

We begin with some wines tasted and assessed back in September 2018. These are a cross-section of what the country’s makers do best, some unknown, others better known and collectively they act as examples in performance at the highest level.

Fourteen South African producers and wines you need to know

A. A. Badenhorst Chenin Blanc The Golden Slopes 2017, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

The Golden Slopes is chenin blanc planted on granite hillsides, vines in the 80-ish years of age and this surely has much to do with the paradigm of success predicated by a focus on texture. Remarkable heritage vines on the Badenhorst for which Adi is able to seek, measure and play. Like the Secateurs it is indeed all about texture but here, this is something other. Conatus. The Golden Slopes are marked by intense and impressive warmth, lees and the effects of managing lost acidity. Adi finds a way for them to be kept by the moments gained in flesh and layers. Old vines do what the young and inexperienced do not. They achieve an innate inclination, in this case for chenin blanc to continue to exist and enhance itself. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Craven Wines Syrah The Faure Vineyard 2017, WO Stellenbosch (WineAlign)

Like the sister Firs this Faure Vineyard site is also 21 years of age, east facing towards the Heldeberg, with rocks in the soils. The name is more than familiar to Jeanine Craven, who was a Faure before she merged with Mick. What really separates this place is the marine air, three kilometres from the sea, as far as the African Black Oystercatcher flies. Again the planning involves whole cluster pressing and on skins seven days, to make pure syrah. Separated by 15 kms the Faure is antithetical to the Firs, salted by the sea and of a furthered intensity in a different form. It’s near searing, linear, grippy and with acidity lifting everything. Really juicy, pushed by a wow factor, clean, no funk and so much spice. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Wines Chenin Blanc Hoë Steen 2017, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

One of two single vineyard explorations from the Sadie’s work is this 1968 steen planted in deep soils to the west, towards Darling. This fourth vintage is a demure of chenin blanc’s deepest, richest and most glycerin textured possibilities. Time and a warming in the glass causes this floral emergence in a spiced space time continuum usually reserved for white wines like Condrieu. But this is entrenched in heritage steen genetics, not viognier and the acidity is all local, parochial and fine. The complexities are circular by nature, in rotation and encompassing all that we hold sacred for Cape wines. Takes hold of your mind and controls your breathing with its life affirming energy, like an invisible blanket wrapping you up in the desert, at night, under stars. Total production is 45,000 bottles. Get some. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 1997, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley (WineAlign)

It was 1997, a point 10 years deep into the Hermanus pinot noir investigations and what Anthony Hamilton Russell called “the year the Dijon clones kicked in, or at least the use of them.” This is seemingly more evolved than that ’86 if only because the über ripe fruit may have baked a bit in the sun. Tastes so old school Beaune now with a cane sugar-cocoa-vanilla trilogy of development. Powerful pinot noir now in the throes of its soporific times. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie The Hummingbird Colibri Kap Klassique 2017 (WineAlign)

The Hummingbird is composed of 70 percent viura with chenin blanc from Christa von la Chevallerie’s Nuwedam Farm in the Paardeberg. The first viura as far as we can tell in South Africa, a Spanish grape variety not very high in acidity picked up and elevated by the chenin. This first vintage kick at the sparkling can in a Cava style is mostly 2017 fruit, in bottle 12 months so very much adhering to a Cap Classique model. Christa thinks both outside the box and the varietal groove with this textural beauty and so its moniker naturally importunes as Kap Klassique. As a bottle of bubbles it offers a forward rush of life, crystallized in a brilliant jewel of a moment. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Ken Forrester Wines Chenin Blanc The FMC 2004, Stellenbosch (WineAlign)

FMC, as in Forrester (Ken), winemaker Martin Meinert and chenin blanc. Here looking back 14 years to a time when they and only a handful of others had the true understanding of foreshadowing as to what the signature grape variety could become for South Africa. That is why they set to making this highly specific and purposed example. From a single vineyard, then 34 years old (now pushing 50) and the eighth vintage, by 2004 fully commanded stylistically by its makers. Barrel fermented and bloody rich, still viscous, now so honeyed and lit like a candle in a cool cave. A true original, like the Ford Motor Company, a female main character kicking butt in an action film, FMC. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2017, WO Greyton (WineAlign)

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s Greyton Farm down a dusty road. The Estate sees 500L barrels, 35 per cent new and is a best fruit selection cuvée. It’s also about the ferment “to keep a limey tension,” tells O’Keefe, so it’s really about the combination of the two. Like the “normale” the orchard fruit persists but here there are stone fruits joining the apples and now the grip takes hold. If the other needs a year in bottle this “Reserve” could entertain three. In quite an awe-inspiring way it travels to and fro on a Meursault-Marsannay line, of high construct and palpable intensity. I’d wait the three for the grace and beauty of its future. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Momento Wines Grenache Noir 2017, WO Western Cape (WineAlign)

There are some South African winemakers who just seem to intuit what grenache is capable of realizing comme il faut from a Cape raising. Marelise Niemann is one of a select few who have mastered the art and science of grenache pulmonary resuscitation. Hers is 90 per cent Paardeberg and (10) Voor Paardeberg, so not labeled as such. “The most important red grape in South Africa,” she says with varietal diffidence and I will not be one to argue. Not with Marelise. These are bush vines, all itching to succeed off of decomposed granite. These vines scratch and claw their way out of the aridity and the adversity to gift a purity of fruit and very special tannins. Pretty and with a level of tension seen in its face, after some time on skins and a natural ferment crawled out of whole bunch pressings. Spiced and spicy, demurred, matured in old oak 16 months, wise, mature and nurturing. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Cape Winemakers Guild ‘The Gris’ Sémillon 2013, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

This was the year Andrea Mullineux began working with this rare and certified by the Old Vines Project sémillon gris from a 1960 planted (just 2 kms away from the chenin blanc), heritage dry-farmed plot grown on the granite soils of the Paardeberg in the Swartland. Only a few blocks exist anywhere and in 2014 some of this fruit began to augment the Mullineux Old Vines White. It is what Andrea calls “a project of the jumping gene.” It’s like a varietal ride on a pogo stick, in colour from pale like colombard to dark as cinsault. A citrus attack like no other and subjugated to the lush manifestations of skin contact. Still so flinty-smoky, lean and yet of a texture like an emollient of florals keeping the wine moist, fleshy and flexible. Though not the saltiest of vintages this gris is in complete control of its phenolic emotions. It’s also blessed of this unreal incandescence. Wholly unique in every respect. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2015, WO Elgin (WineAlign)

The most floral vintage of the Seven Flags and the first with clones 115 and 667 brought into the blend. This to create new concepts and levels of complexity with vines old, new and next level involved. The intermixing leaves us with a sensation involving many layerings; fruit, acid and structural. The fruitiness and fresh flower gatherings presents an aperture of severe harmony and adds up to a bunch of aesthetic yeses. Give it a year or two to integrate. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2016, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

Palladius is the quintessential spear brandishing South African appellative blend with more varietal diversity than an oenology department’s nursery. It holds chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. No one does varietal interaction and trickery like Eben Sadie. No one. The ’16 is a wine of mixed tenses, the whole echelon and the black hole in the sun. Fruit comes from eleven different blocks all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. Ages in clay amphorae and concrete eggs, then racked into foudres, “to bring it all together.” Palladius holds a casual disregard for synchronizing fruit, acid and extract verb tenses in the way it uses a conditional interrogative without the proper structural order. It’s a wine of fine and unfair intensity, iconic, wise, learned and all for good reason. Imagine this to age well beyond its 15th birthday. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Savage Wines Syrah Girl Next Door 2017, WO Coastal Region (WineAlign)

Though the négoce roaming transverses the entirety of the Western Cape, sometimes you just go home again. This as small as it gets Girl Next Door resides and is raised out of a 0.38 hectare Noordhoek vineyard, “the weekend hobby vineyard,” as Duncan Savage would put it. A block of great clichés, “the home garden,” or at least close to home and certainly “a work in progress.” The developing plot is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma within a narrative that currently fashions a wine to speak of a long term vision. In these first chapters it is already doling dark and mysterious, rich and silky, highly meaningful fruit. How this can’t turn into one of the great epic novels of Western Cape lore is beyond you and me. Home is where the heart soothes then savage beast. Winemaker and syrah. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Silwervis Cinsault 2016, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

A single-vineyard is the source and a unique one at that for the Swartland because here is the spot where the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg begins to meet the northern slate. Paardeberg cinsault. If you are not yet familiar with this lovely beast it’s high time you got stoned on it. A varietal echelon rebirth eschews decades of French mistakes and enters into a revolution. As I noted from the ’14, it’s also a revival, a saving and a reformation. Having made itself a home in the Swartland now cinsault can create its own narrative, re-write the book and speak of the terroir. Transparency is truth and in a tightly wound, uniquely tannic way this curls tart and cured meaty filaments around a paradigmatic red fruit core. It’s bloody caesar delicious. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Kamaraderie 2017, WO Paarl (WineAlign)

Just the second vintage of Lukas van Loggerenberg’s Kamaraderie is a chenin blanc from a 1960s planted, two hectare single-vineyard in Paarl. Lukas picks the bottom of the slope first and the top many days later so there is this natural layering of fruit. Reeks with reminiscence, of fennel and pistachio, of fronds and gelid cream. Only 800 bottles make this one of South Africa’s rarest chenins raised for 10 months in old barrels, unstirred, shaken or allowed to visit with the malolactic king. There’s a dissolve of delicious citrus seamlessly streaked through fleshy fruit in what is just such an organized and structured chenin. Finishes with the brine, oh the brine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Stellenbosch Braai

In VINTAGES

While the August 6th VINTAGES is chock full of stalwart South African wines it bears repeating that July 20th also gifted some worthy picks. The list below takes a page out of each book.

South Africa picks – August 6th Release

651711, Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Cederberg ($18.95)

Michael Godel – Next level chenin blanc from the Cederburg appellative specialist, so very herbal, lime driven and smart like dry riesling in a Rheinhessen way. Terrific acids lift and elevate the lime and tonic flavours. Most excellent arid example with a dried herb finish.

652867, House Of Mandela Phumla Pinotage 2017, WO Western Cape ($21.95)

Michael Godel – A pinotage that bridges the twain between old school and necessary modernity, with plenty of wood induced chocolate and some mocha but also quality varietal acidity and tannin. Rich, unctuous and spirited to the thriving point of attack.

355438, De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2018, WO Robertson ($24.95)

Michael Godel – Lesca’s fruit is drawn from three vineyards in Robertson notable for their predominant soils of limestone and chalk. Great work from the De Wetshof bros who just allow this grape variety to shine on, be explicit and act of its very own accord.

651810, Spier 21 Gables Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, WO Stellenbosch ($39.95)

Michael Godel – From the extraordinary Annandale Estate in Stellenbosh Spier’s is very peppery cabernet sauvignon with a distinct local touch of glare and flare. Steely exterior, massive fruit and and such a bloody lekker South African. Long and juicy. Who says you can never go back to old school.

South Africa picks – July 20th Release

698274, Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Stellenbosch ($14.95)

Michael Godel – Rustenberg continues to prove that it qualifies for top varietal value specialist out of Stellenbosch by pumping out pop hit after hit and this chenin blanc is no exception. Fruit riper than many, mild spice meeting wafts of vanilla and more than its share of lees-effected texture. All around right and proper.

698290, Bellingham Homestead Shiraz 2017, WO Paarl ($18.95)

Michael Godel – Deep, dark, handsome and peppery shiraz here from Stellenbosch with a syrupy confection and plenty of energy on the flip side. Really drinks like a bigger, more expensive and chic wine.

Best of the Rest for August 6th

498535, Malivoire Vivant Rosé 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Canada knows Rosé but Malivoire really knows Rosé. Vivant may be there between entry-level and cru but it’s done up so right, light but too much so, gently expressed but enough that fruit gets through and shines bright as if picked just there. Salinity strikes through without splitting up that fruit, like a main vein bringing oxygen and essential nutrients like blood to the mind. Last tasted July 2019.

668335, Argento Reserva Cabernet Franc 2015, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.95)

Michael Godel – Argento is from the owners of Uruguay’s Bodega Garzón, Chianti Classico’s Dievole and Montalcino’s Podere Brizio. A year past the freshest time in its life but cool, savoury and without too much barrel overtake (thanks to second and third passage wood). Well-worked and solid to be franc, true to place, now chewy and offering proper value.

667527, Château De Montguéret 2017, AP Saumur, Loire Valley, France ($17.95)

Michael Godel – Ostensibly the driest and purest form of chenin blanc from Saumur with the Loire’s post-modern take on the Western Cape, in a way though without pungency, pepperiness or glucose inflected texture. This is dry as the desert, tart, tangy and intense. Needs some richness in food to make all ends meet.

964221, Le Volte Dell’Ornellaia 2017, IGT Toscana, Italy ($29.95)

Michael Godel – Welcome into the Ornellaia range by way of the second wine that has never shown even a modicum of compromise. Hot vintage but acidity is strong and true while fruit stays cool, seasoned and reasoned, There’s a real meatiness to this ’17 and a lovely sense of salumi cure. Once again an educational tool for Bolgheri and Toscana.

260802, Brancaia Riserva Chianti Classico DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($38.95)

Michael Godel – Sangiovese needing the bottle is proven here. Now a year and a half later this swirls into a grosso sangiovese like liqueur with plums, cherries and spice. Really Riserva in style and now just 18 more months away from its guaranteed due elegance.

922054, Silvio Nardi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($50.95)

Michael Godel – Oenologist Emanuele Nardi draws his classic Brunello from the fluvial Cerralti parcel, a mix of jasper which is a type of opaque, granular quartz, along with shale and clay. Classic liqueur and modern texture give way to grippy acidity and more than necessary structure. This is one of those Brunello that speak with fruit early but with a knowing nod to longevity.

What goes best with chenin and cinsault? Tuna Burger at Sea Breeze in Cape Town

Thanks for reading up on South Africa once again.

Good to go!

godello

South Africa’s South Coast

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Is Pinotage South Africa’s most famous wine?

Pizza and Pinotage?
The Paul Roos (biltong, feta and mushrooms) at Volkskombuis, Stellenbosch

An excerpt of this pinotage assessment appeared in my larger and more comprehensive South African profile, “Heritage and diversity in South Africa.”

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

With Sebastian Beaumont at L’Avenir Wine Estate

What do we know about pinotage?

Here are some essential facts about the grape variety. The year was 1925 when Dr. Abraham Penold of Stellenbosch University exorcized a Shelleyan right to marry cinsault with pinot noir in a successful attempt at creating a new varietal for the ages. Pinotage was born at the hands of a grafter with exceptional foresight. We’re not so far away from the 100th birthday and if you ask any one of the producers profiled here I’d wager most would agree. Pinotage is South Africa’s heritage meets signature red grape.

We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again, no no

To be clear there is a great chasm and worlds apart difference between most important and most famous. Research be denied or not, the distinction we are trying to establish concerns the latter, at least for the time being. Pinotage is indeed famous for being bad, insidious and effluent. It’s much maligned reputation and status is a concern borne from bad farming practices, misappropriated oak make-up and hands-on winemaking gone out of control. The mistakes are no longer rampant and there is a new game being played in Western Cape towns, in many ways same as the old ones established well before a generation of fools and horses took over the scene. Today and going forward the next generation of Pinotage young guns (and some older ones) are simply saying “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Pino Pistols – The next generation of Pinotage young guns

Heritage in South Africa is not just reserved for chenin blanc. “You know what old vines can give you,” says L’Avenir’s winemaker Dirk Coetzee. “We’re here to discuss a pinotage revolution. We’re here to discuss the next generation of pinotage.” Stellenbosch is host to the greatest concentration of Western Cape plantings and over the last ten years it has grown by 52 per cent. “Once we start making authentic product people will start thinking and the product will speak for itself.” In fact it has moved from being the sixth to the third most planted grape varieties. Beyerskloof winemaker Ani Truter adds, “what I tasted in the 80s was not pinotage, it was sabotage. It took 2,000 years for Burgundy to be successful. Don’t worry, it won’t take that long in South Africa.” Only a Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe winemaker could pay a compliment with such direct proposition.

Pinotage winemakers at L’Avenir

David Sadie continued the analysis with his take on soil and cellar as being the reasons for making good and bad pinotage. “If you look at a bad pinotage today you can look at the cellar and not at the cultivar.” This in explanation for how pinotage has improved and is moving on from rubbery, toasted and burnt flavour profiles. “It’s about site selection, planting in the right areas.” It’s also about pH levels. “Your attention to hygiene is really important, it’s pH driven.” And finally, Jacques de Klerk of Radford Dale.” They used to be made at high alcohol levels and the margin for error was very precarious. It comes down to over extraction and over use of oak.” The times they are a-changin’.

L’Avenir Wine Estate and Country Lodge

I tasted 23 examples of pinotage this past September and was impressed by the right, proper and forward thinking presence of them all. The future is already cemented in quality but more than that, in a culture that feels this direction of clarity and transparency is the right one to follow. The followers are coming, now quicker than ever, to get a glimpse and a taste of these dry-farmed, terroir-driven pinotage.

L’Avenir Glen Rosé 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

This dry Rosé is made from pinotage and it carries an amber, skin-contact styled notable tannin and orange skin scrape. Also enough fruit to call it a julep on the aromatic front. Not a major proboscis mind you but one that is classically herbal, never pointed and sweetness is just a faint idea. It’s a bit dangerous in how there is great ease in the knock it back department. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018 lavenir_wine_estate  selectwinemoments  @LAvenirWines  @SelectWinesTO  @LAvenirEstate  @SelectWinesCanada

L’Avenir Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to pinotage there are few producers capable of delivering the triumvirate of quality, honesty and ignoring of sickly trends. There is no mocha in L’Avenir’s take on the mistaken identity grape. In this case it’s like you’d expect pinotage to be but also completely unexpected because it takes classic relief, alters the perspective and turns the architectural rendering on its head. Pinotage needs to keep you on your toes, confuse with trompe l’oeuil drawn trickery and offer up great surprise. That’s what makes it special. Here richness is met head on by tannin, dusty fruit by bold acidity and spice mix at the gate of intensity. Just imagine the possibilities in the estate’s single block. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

L’Avenir Pinotage Single Block 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

Taken from dry-farmed vineyards and put to fourth/fifth passage barrels. Only 4,000L make up this single focused lot out of which both the depth and volume have been turned up. Extract talks in fruit density tannic decibel counts but even higher by acidity so all falls into place. Or will. Eventually. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Beaumont Family Wines Pinotage 2009, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

The vines would have been just past their 30th birthday and Sebastian remembers the vintage with fond memory, as he would considering he chose to pour this nine years later at a large pinotage tasting. Wood as it was and still is now wholly integrated though both acidity and length are still thriving so structure is the constant and the given. The tang afforded the fruit is spot on with legs stretching, the whole outfit breathing and now with a salty note to ties it all together. Much time remains for pure pinotage pleasure. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018  beaumontwines  @Beauwine  @Smallwinemakers  @beaumontfamilywine  @smallwinemakerscollection

Beaumont Family Wines Pinotage Sixty Barrels 2015, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

So interesting to taste this seminal pinotage by Sebastian Beaumont side by each with his 2009 “normale.” The same 1970s planted vineyard is employed, here from two blocks, one 44 years of age and the other being a spritely 21. The salty note on the aromatic top is faint, hidden beneath massive fruit ability, but it depends (of course it depends), on vintage. This one is full of wealthy possibilities and stealth opportunity, especially when the salt rises to the surface in thew clay. That clay effect is a fulsome one, really notable from 2015 to claim fruit, stash it away in reserve and wait for structure to build, crest and relent. Many years will pass as a result of this pinotage process. This is how you build varietal wealth and worth. One of South Africa’s finest. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Kaapzicht Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

Winemaker Danie Steytler says “we think pinotage is like grenache, or cinsault” and he would be correct in that if you allow it to speaks its own very specific language it will be readily identifiable. And enjoyable. As here, with perhaps the highest level of glycerin content found anywhere in Stellenbosch. Intensely viscous, not as syrup but certainly living the silky dream. From a warm vintage the alcohol is noted and the youth as well, from 19 year-old bush vines planted in weathered granite soil. It may be counter intuitive but the wood is also stronger than the Steytler, having seen 33 per cent new French oak barrels for 18 months. The vintage is even stronger and so the combination makes for a pretty powerful wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  kaapzichtwines  @KaapzichtWines  Kaapzicht Wine Estate

Kaapzicht Pinotage Steytler 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

This is a pure pinotage, a generational wine that carries the family name and the current varietal centrepiece for winemaker Danie Steytler. Low yielding vines are planted in weathered granite topsoil on a layer of gravel, above a crumbly clay sub-soil. The terroir plus a warm fermentation make for pinotage of high glycerin, ethereal texture, generous alcohol ann general warmth in abound all around. Plenty of fresh red fruit and a dry constitution in a structured pinotage pays great homage to George Steytler who farmed Kaapzicht for 33 years. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Beyerskloof Pinotage Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Tasted with winemaker Anri Truter, the Reserve is aged in 20 per cent new barrels with the remainder second through fourth passage wood. Quite rich and full in terms of pinotage fruit without any mocha make-up though there is quite a level of smoulder. Both the acidity and the tannin are set quite high so overall this presents a structured gambit worthy of the designation. Long and lasting seals the deal. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  beyerskloof  churchillcellars  @Beyerskloof_  @imbibersreport  @Beyerskloof  @imbibersreport

Beyerskloof Pinotage Diesel 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The bush vines are in the 20 year range on gravelly Oakleaf and Klapmuts soil for this highly credible example of what is possible with pinotage, especially in Stellenbosch. This is nothing but a structured red, housed in 100 per cent new French oak barrels for 20 months. After maturation, only 20 barrels were selected out of a possible 300. The fruit is richer, the texture denser and the extraction at the top end of the ideal. There is more of everything here, including savour and it’s anything but reductive or ball bouncy. Big, roasting, boasting and blasting with an exceptional level of quality. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

B. Vintners Pinotage Liberté 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

Two oceans facing granitic soils at 250m are the impetus to raise this Cape dialectical, Atlantic meets Indian pinotage. It’s also a whole bunch matter, something that in increasingly important in the varietal lexicon. The plantings are east-west in orientation to avoid overbearing sun exposure, which is really a thing in pinotage and often the culprit for its unwanted “thickening.” Baking spice is all over the notes and fruit purity is duly counted. A very characterful red, spicy, smoky and just plain pleasurable, if on the confident side of all things being equal. Nice work between cousins Gavin Bruwer and Bruwer Raats. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  raatsfamilywines  liffordgram  @RaatsWines  @LiffordON  Raats Family Wines  @liffordwineandspirits

B. Vintners Pinotage Liberté 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

From the cousins Raats and an ode to Cape of Good Hope heritage for pinotage. There is some (20 per cent) modernizing whole bunch maceration giving more lift and chalky texture. Quite a variegation from ’16, with grit and grip, not exactly powerful but there is some tannic structure to be sure. Very floral and so it sure seems like the intention and the goal was centred around and expressly focused on lifted aromatics. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Radford Dale Pinotage Frankenstein 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

It took a few decades for someone to give Shelleyan props to Dr. Abraham Penold of Stellenbosch University, 1925 grafter of cinsault and pinot noir to create pinotage. It’s a literary sidestep of a stretch to compare the science to Mary Shelley’s creature created by mismatched donors, but more than that it’s a cheeky shout out for a varietal often mistaken for a monster. Winemaker Jacques de Klerk grabs fruit from the white marl at the foot of the Helderberg Mountain for a pinotage troika of intention, ability and expectation. Three properties born of terroir, house and winemaker. All are on the same page written by an unspoken agreement to not abuse or confuse this grape. Frankenstein is smoky, curative, red raspberry ripe, right proper and built to last. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2018  radford_dale  reveriechenin  noble_estates  @Radforddale  @deklerkjacques  @Noble_Estates  @RadfordDaleWine  @NobleEstates

Kanonkop Pinotage Kadette 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (630756, $19.95, WineAlign)

Before penning this review of 2015 there was a taste of the next level ’16 four months later. The two way-street perspective is more than educational because when pinotage is made with this sort of clarity you can really see the glaring differences in vintages. In 2015 the replay of old-school, earthy and chalky is readily recognizable, unavoidable and properly exulted. This send label spends time in second and third fill barrels, for red fruit charm, mildly tannic structure and proper finality. Spice, spirit and warmth define the Kadette in salute to pinotage and Stellenbosch. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted September 2018  kanonkopwineestate  noble_estates  @KanonkopEstate  @Noble_Estates  @Kanonkop  @NobleEstates

Kanonkop Pinotage 2015, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Vines are between 30 and 60 years of age for this prototypical ode to how things were and going forward can almost certainly be in the world of pinotage. Wrinkled, gnarled, grizzled old veteran vines, the Gordie Howe of the genre, Mr. pinotage if you will. Trees of a vinous sort, able to shake of draughts and new wave mochafied drafts, with a hat trick of checks, balances and grit. These vines are the past but more importantly are the future, typified and exemplified in this kind of pinotage, a modern classic made from a place by a maker who knows what’s what. Smoky red fruit with this uncanny variegation of hue, cloudy transparency and complexity of character. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Diemersdal Pinotage 2017, WO Durbanville, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Diemersdal is a sauvignon blanc specialist (don’t miss their eight rows) making pinotage. Sixth generation winemaker Thys Louw has coaxed as much site specific terroir into pinotage as any in the Western Cape. True their is one of exoticism in the aromatics, like the smell of Javanese Mubarak banana pancake drizzled with chocolate condensed milk but there is also the magical and unbelievable nose of spearmint. It’s the local fynbos and dry-farmed agriculture talking, inconceivably coherent and followed by so much far-eastern spice. This is fun stuff, wildly aromatic , with great pulse and intensity. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  diemersdalwines  @diemersdalwines  Diemersdal Wine Estate

David And Nadia Pinotage 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

David and Nadia Sadie’s pinotage is quite possibly and purposefully the lightest there is, clocking in at an impossibly low 12 per cent. It is both the next and other tier for the varietal reconnaissance with vanguard clarity and an honesty to speak of wine made under serious drought conditions. Bright red fruit and that low alcohol make it at once crushable but then sneaky structured. A maturity of vine, maker and grape conspire for such a dichotomy of bemusement though to be fair you could blindly be convinced that you were tasting lithe and ethereal northern Rhône syrah. The mixed magical condition certainly makes you take a step back and a seat to think. It’s a good conundrum and an excellent way to be drinking pinotage. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  davidandnadia  @DavidandNadia  @DavidandNadia

David And Nadia Pinotage 2015, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Siebritskloof is the origin for David and Nadia’s ’15 pinotage, a wine from the early stage of drought conditions taken off of dry land bush vines planted in the early 1990’s in the granite mountains of the Paardeberg on the Paardebosch farm. This is layered and symbolic pinotage as aged salumi or pâté en croûte. The spice variegate runs high while the acumen of working with fruit to craft something so regionally specific treads a gastronomic line so fine. You and I could try to make this wine and fail miserably while David and Nadia just have the touch. Their’s discusses the days and the times with great precision and persistence. The tannins are so accomplished and resurrecting, leading to believe that this will drink at peak 10 years from vintage. That speaks to all of the above. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Stellenbosch Vineyards Credo Pinotage Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Vineyard source is 23-year-old bushvines in the Helderberg basin on decomposed granite, seven kms from and facing False Bay. From winemakers Bernard Claassen and Petri de Beer who deliver a pinotage that straddles the line between the old days and the new generation. From richness comes a meeting with salty oceanic influence towards a cleaner look at a brighter, not so tangy and tight future. The window is opening, the light is streaming in and the credo is on a correct path.  Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  stellenboschvineyards  @StbVineyards  Stellenbosch Vineyards

Stellenbosch Vineyards Pinotage Bushvine 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The Bushvine is also a Heldeberg basin pinotage though it’s more forward, modern and also weightier, carrying 20 per cent new oak plus six to eight months further aging. It’s a Bordeaux sentiment in a pinotage bottle, still with an eye and a nod to the past and yet despite the wood it expresses a real purity of red fruit. Tobacco smoulder shrouds that fruit with the resulting complexity standing to be noticed. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Elmie Pinotage Rosé 2018, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

This is really upscale, chic and perhaps even transformative Rosé, of a collaboration between ex-Delheim winemaker Reg Holder and viticulturalist Etienne Terblanche. The level of dry extract is exulted by fine tannin in a grape must meets pure strawberry distillate pinotage that feeds the imagination with place, varietal, execution and friendship. It’s a whole bunch, free-run, four month on lees exceptionality for Rosé, pinotage and Stellenbosch. So good straight out of a bottle just filled the week before. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  terblanche.etienne  Etienne Terblanche  

Pinotage Dorper 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The name refers to a black sheep in the family and a South African breed of domestic sheep developed by crossing Dorset Horn and the Blackhead Persian. The wink-wink connective tissue is because pinotage, as we all know is a crossing of pinot noir and cinsault and this Dorpman’s Afrikaans collaboration is between winemaker Reg Holder and viticulturalist Etienne Terblanche. This inaugural release from the virtual Stellenbosch winery is a truly satisfying pinotage, of red raspberry and other sundry red fruits. Blocks of 53 year-old and other 50-plus aged vines adds up to smoky and with just a bit of beneficial reduction. Important tracks put down and a solid future lays ahead. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Southern Right Pinotage 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $27.95, WineAlign)

As for pinotage, Anthony Hamilton Russell is dead serious about thinking about the varietal future and never furthermore to dwell on its past. So is winemaker Emul Ross who pours this ’17 like he means business. It should be remembered that in 1996, Anthony made a bet with Jancis Robinson saying, “one day South Africa’s most famous wine will be a pinotage or a pinotage-based wine.” It may be argued that in 2018 that prophecy came true and we have yet to see the highest potential from the grape and certainly not yet from the HR bookend properties that make Ashbourne and Southern Right. This comes from the western border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards behind Hermanus and it benefits from cold currents rising up from Antartica. The alcohol is handled with best yet ease and the fruit oozes from every pore. There is a tonic gelling with spice, faintly bitter cocoa and acidity to remind us of everything it is. In the end it opens up quickly with minimal tannin and wood in terms of overall structure. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  olive_hamilton_russell  noble_estates  @OliveHR  @Noble_Estates  Olive Hamilton Russell  @NobleEstates

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

It could be expected that this 2015 pinotage blend would already act somewhat to quite advanced when in fact the evolution is virtually non-existent. A side-by-side revisit with 2009 is all that is needed to drive the point. The ’15 is still quite demurred, tightly wound, not in a fresh to reductive way but more in terms of its finely-crafted pyramids of Giza architecture. The acidity and the spice are up there on the crests of the upper steps, very near to the pinnacle. Again it is the way the wine stays with you like a slowly rendered demi-glacé made from the lightest roast of bones that keeps the karst of stone sublime in your mind and mouth. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted July and September 2018

Good to go!

godello

With Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at L’Avenir Wine Estate

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Hamilton Russell three ways

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are tireless wanderers of this earth. When you consider the amount of time they spend travelling in support of one, their eponymous winery, two, their Hermanus friends and colleagues and three, Wines of South Africa, it’s amazing that they are able to find time to produce high quality wines. That they do with great consistency and though they are responsible for interpreting the Hemel-en-Aarde in three ways, in each case they do one or two things and they do it really well.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards works three appellations. The WO of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is a geological wonder akin to Burgundian soils of 35-50 per cent top soil clay layered with exposed shale, closest to Walker Bay. It is here that Anthony and Olive pioneered the raising of chardonnay and pinot noir. Ashbourne red and white blends are fashioned in the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, on the eastern border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, built of decomposed granite, with freer draining soils and more diurnal temperature fluctuations then the Hemel en Aarde Ridge. The property is named after Anthony’s great, great-grandfather Lord Ashbourne who was Lord Chancellor of Ireland in the late 1800’s. Southern Right is the line of pinotage and sauvignon blanc raised on the western border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, on a 448 hectare property just behind the old fishing village of Hermanus.

In 1991 Hamilton Russell was the only one producing wines. Now there are 22 in the valley. They began running in 1991 and made full purchase in 1994. A cold current rises up from Antartica into the tip of South Africa’s (Western Cape) “making quality winemaking possible,” explains Anthony. “Our soils have been on the surface for more than 300,000,000 years. I like that you can taste ancient soils in every glass.” Hamilton Russell is what he refers to as their “immediate family.” Southern Right and Ashbourne are close relatives.”

As for varietal choices, there is little doubt that pinotage is (once again) booming while others are dropping. The plantings are very much on the rise. “What people thought was pinotage was badly made pinotage. It’s not a bad grape,” insists Hamilton Russell. We like to control what’s happening on both borders of Hamilton Russell.” So Southern Right (1994) and Ashbourne (1996) are more than just passion projects. “We also want to change people’s perception of pinotage,” he adds. There were no releases between 2011 and 2014, instead it was used as a re-thinking period and a chance to reflect on vineyard/agricultural culture, followed by the new age. “I don’t have a beard, I’m in my 50’s (plus) and I’m doing some pretty hipster stuff. We just don’t look the part.”

I have had numerous opportunities to taste, track, re-taste and follow the chardonnay and pinot noir over the past five years. I often add to my notes because theirs are highly organized, Burgundian powered structures that demand re-visits and respect. The Ashbourne and especially the Southern Right varietals and blends have seen less exposure but the notions of longevity (Ashbourne) and drink-ability (Southern Right) are fast gaining attention.

A few weeks back and post i4C Cool Chardonnay conference I sat down with Wines of South Africa’s Laurel Keenan, Angela Aiello and the South African Wine Society to listen in on Anthony Hamilton Russell’s dissertation and a tasting of eight wines. Here are the notes, plus two for their recently released ’17 chardonnay and pinot noir.

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (512277, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Southern Right whale is a frequent visitor to Walker Bay and this sauvignon blanc should be a frequent visitor to your glass. It’s a white wine that acts as a messenger to its proximate location to a cold body of water. It’s a pure Western Cape fresh, flinty and smouldering sauvignon blanc so akin to a Bordeaux White. You could close your eyes and imagine Pessac-Leognan (perhaps even hoping for Sancerre or Chavignol) but there really isn’t any need. Six clones and six yeasts, multiple ripeness levels and some clay-grown vines deliver fat fruit to meet the linearity and tension of other shale grown fruit. In the end it’s a complex and rare chance to taste this kind of value. Drink 2018-2020.  Last tasted July 2018

The pungent nature of this sauvignon blanc brings a vigor sight and taste unseen. Classic herbal meets gooseberry and passionate notes are berry-derived and very floral. The palate confirms the notion and makes one a true believer in Walker Bay. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017   olive_hamilton_russell  noble_estates wosa_za  wosa_ca  @OliveHR  @Noble_Estates  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  Olive Hamilton Russell  @NobleEstates  @WOSACA

Southern Right Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $26.95, WineAlign)

Tasting ’15 while ’17 is already sold out back home. From an opulent and wide open vintage, the wine offers just those expressive attributes. Smokiness meets curative meaty notes and an umami sort of South African garrigue. From a vintage where phenolic ripeness occurred at a higher level of alcohol so it carries a 15 per cent volume, but does so with marked ease. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne 2009, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

The Ashbourne ’09 includes cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot and syrah blended in, “which brings nothing really to the party,” says Anthony Hamilton Russell, “but at least it doesn’t compete with Southern Right.” It’s deeply savoury and smoky, continues to smell like chocolate and will always show its wood. The single-vineyard heavy clay block was always in delivery of fruit ripe but never over that edge, all the while telling its shepherds when to pick so that balance and structure can be had. The linger and length are exceptional. “The variety doesn’t suck.” Truth that. Drink 2018-2024.  Last tasted July 2018

Ashbourne is a 25 barrel cuvée and the outlier in the Hamilton Russell pinot noir-chardonnay stable. With more than enough time behind at eight years on it is essentially evolved and resolved, now a downy blanket of Bordeaux fibres woven, seamless and soft. The fruit dries a bit but like all great aging South African reds the candidly curated acidity is years from relinquishing its grip. Ashbourne is not a matter to blow one’s mind but it teaches some vinous life lessons about Hemel-en-Aarde and the greater good of aged South African reds. It can be enjoyed right now and left for another decade. Like Meerlust’s Rubicon it’s an easy on the pocketbook gift in kind to Ontario from proprietors Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

It could be expected that this 2015 pinotage blend would already act somewhat to quite advanced when in fact the evolution is virtually non-existent. A side-by-side revisit with 2009 is all that is needed to drive the point. The ’15 is still quite demurred, tightly wound, not in a fresh to reductive way but more in terms of its finely-crafted pyramids of Giza architecture. The acidity and the spice are up there on the crests of the upper steps, very near to the pinnacle. Again it is the way the wine stays with you like a slowly rendered demi-glacé made from the lightest roast of bones that keeps the karst of stone sublime in your mind and mouth. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage/Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

“We wanted to work with an unoaked pinotage, to mix with a lighter and brighter cinsault.” In fact the cinsault really shines with (by now) classic Western Cape lithe ability because the pinotage allows it to. Add to that a verdant, pyrazine and currant streak and in the end you get perfume but no impenetrability that an overly green and wooded forest would demand. Beautiful (1972 planted) Paardeberg on decomposed granite gifts a chic and classy, perfectly correct blend of these two made for each other varietals. Will settle into one another so effortlessly and with sleepy grace in another year or so. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay 2018, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

There can be no more fruit in a white blend than what bursts from this sauvignon blanc-chardonnay scene. Just released in South Africa and carried by Anthony and Olive (Hamilton Russell) on the plane. Chavignol is the reference point, with lightly structured sandstone soils bringing lightness, airiness and delicate fruit. Or think Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat out of Santa Barbara. It’s democratically priced (a Hamilton Russell first) without gratuitous sugar and still dry, tart and direct. Also the first screw-cap for the company. Bottled just three weeks ago. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)

A Hamilton Russell chardonnay must have its nuts, butter and über direct acidity. It just may remind of Bâtard perhaps because depth, richness and a ridges-straddling connection to the valley it comes from all work in this way. But what else brings that connection? In 2017 it’s elegance for sure, but also intensity. This 36th vintage is “a reflection, always of the same piece of ground, even if we are always insecure and trying to improve, it’s a far bigger thing than we are. We feel justice to serve it. We feel we have a duty to this.” This is what Anthony Hamilton Russell told me last year and it perfectly applies to this 2017. Back then he noted that “god made the 15s and winemakers watched. In ’16 winemakers made the wine.” So what about ’17? With heady attention paid to its eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, it’s really a matter of both. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted twice, July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)

Says Anthony Hamilton Russell. “It took the French to teach me not to care about the colour of chardonnay, but to only worry about flavour and texture.” Fermented with a healthy amount of solids and introduced to oxidation in its youth. This helps and results in a chardonnay well-adjusted to adult life and to adults. “You cannot measure an aesthetic with a number,” meaning you can’t learn from a measured response. Literally speaking. The balance is as good as this archetype of an HR white has ever been. It is after all, the HR white.  Last tasted July 2018

No stone is left unturned in the Hamilton Russell 2016 chardonnay because it speaks with utmost Hemel-en-Aarde Valley clarity. There is less make-up in 2016 so the fruit, acidity and subtle salty quality all must have begun to speak from the word go. The first pressed, non-clarified must would have done nothing but made the maker’s smile, mimicking a foggy morning over Walker Bay and so they have allowed the wine to speak for itself. This is a beautifully restrained and go it alone rendered to be measured chardonnay, with beauty and grace. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2017

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)

’m not sure it can be stated often enough that when you continually do one thing well, without compromise or mutation, than you’re more likely to do it very well. This is the case with a Hamilton Russell pinot noir, the only one that is produced. From the best fruit available and swinging in the direction of the vintage, either into or away from the winds of vineyard or winemaking. The 2017 is like the chardonnay in that it’s a best of both worlds seasonal and acumen-focused display, neither one or the other dominant and in the end, so balanced. The fruit depth is exceptional, the acidity deeper still and the intensity wound around it all. It’s so precise and layered, like a pinot noir prism, like staring far inside the intricate and symmetrically patterned angles in a diamond. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)

“We believe in wines of consequence.” How pinot noir is capable of performing in South Africa can be defined right here, with a wink and a nod to Gevrey-Chambertin. Pure unbridled Hamilton Russell cerebral joy, nothing taken for granted and all possibilities celebrated.  Last tasted July 2018

This welcome ethereal return of Hamilton Russell’s Hermanus benchmark pinot noir follows on the heels of the early-picked, dense, muscular and compressed 2015. Comfortable alcohol meets optimum phenolic ripeness so lets think on it in terms of ’08 burgundy, though perhaps not as tight and classic. This is the second fully organic vintage, not certified but with no systemic use of chemicals. Young (just last year turned 30) winemaker Emul Ross from Chamonix and viticulturist Johan Montgomery have reverted to gentler pressing and travelled further away from hyper-reduction. Open fermenters handle the entire pinot noir harvest at once so there is nary a posit tug of war or movement at shock times. Thus the elegance and as mentioned, the ethereal. It should always be noted that all the HR grapes go into these wines, with no tactical moves and philosophical aberrations (any more), no reserve wines, no single-vineyard, no divergence from monopole, always staying the broad expression course. “We committed to this in 1981 and other than experiments, we’ve stayed this way,” says Anthony Hamilton-Russell. There is simply no plot, block, aspect, top, middle or bottom slope separation. It’s pinot all in for one purpose, fully conjoined and conspiring to make the Hamilton Russell expression. This expression, of pure fruit, no drudgery, clarity and exceptional length. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted October 2017

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Eleven fifteen

"We ate flank" "You ate flank?" "We ate flank."

“We ate flank”
“You ate flank?”
“We ate flank.”

It may just be my favourite time of day. The flurry begins at seven. It takes four hours to shake off the rust, clear the morning ill, brush away the demands piled up since the night before and effectively settle the morning score. By a quarter past the hour calm begins to set in. 11:15. And now, a bit of Torah, Bible and liturgy.

The imagery of sweet rock ‘n roll, Revelations style is synonymous with the farthing, quartern, mid-morning, all change of pace: The Seventh Trumpet. The day after the Shofar has sounded to end the holiest of holy Jewish days, a sonorous wind-blown through the ram’s horn, a call to lead a flock home and into a new year. Is there a connection between the purpose of the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur) and the end of satan’s authority at the Seventh Trumpet?

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.”

The Shofar. Old Testament instrument as central element of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. The summoner to assemble before the Lord, a sound for battle and the announced coronation of a new king. New Testament return of Christ in the clouds to gather God’s people via rapture, sound the Lord’s wrath of battle cry and Christ’s returning as the King of the world. Seems obvious enough but where is the eschatological connection: How does the Jew’s attempt to summon God’s past and promised redemption share common ground with the Christian’s call to Satan?

A rabbinic tradition may indicate that the shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashanah to confuse Satan (or some he who shall not be named evil tempting spirit). The multiple blows and shrieks invoke the idea (and promise) that the Messiah had arrived and thus putting an end to the pernicious authority. Revelations agrees. “It is time for the dead to be judged. To reward your servants, the prophets, the saints, and all who fear your name, both unimportant and important.”

There’s an angel standing in the sun, 
and he’s crying with a loud voice, 
“This is the supper of the mighty one”, 
Lord of Lords, 
King of Kings, 
Has returned to lead his children home, 
To take them to the new Jerusalem.

Nah. It’s simply a matter of judgment and kingship. Like suggesting wines from a VINTAGES release. October 15th is but two days away. At 11:15 am you may just be arriving at your local LCBO in search of a few bottles. Here are 11 recommendations.

3c

3c Premium Selection Cariñena 2013, Do Cariñena, Spain (461350, $14.95, WineAlign)

The grape the place come across with classic Cariñena firmness and regional culture out of the impressive Grandes Vinos e Vinedos cooperative. You may recognize Spain’s third largest cooperative as the producer of Beso de Vino garnacha. The 3c is juicy and gregarious like so many garnacha but here as cariñena, with moderate alcohol, acidity and amenable tannin. This represents very good value for the price, as well as the brusque and breviloquent Aragonese appellation. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @VinosCarinena  @Noble_Estates

Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251439, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Bench can’t help but determine the style but what winemaker Richie Roberts is able to gather and concede is what needs from the vintage. The brutal winter and subsequent mild, calm and elongated season means that acidity can be tempered, sugar should play a small role and fruit will lead the way. In this riesling it does, with help, let and place from the support staff. Really juicy, slightly tart, citrus-spiced and purely Bench styled. Proper. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

easy

Ernie Els Big Easy 2014, Wo Western Cape, South Africa (220038, $19.95, WineAlign)

This latest Big Easy swings harder than the previous 2013, a wine that quietly emulated its founder’s approach. This 2014 displays more grit, firm grip and big dog length. This is no three-wood off the tee, lay up or fat part of the green safe play. This goes straight for the pin, over water, false fronts be damned and defiant to danger all around. It’s exciting and full-throttle, high acid and risky. But the reward is now, busily bursting with energy, not mired in tannin and ready to play. Makes for great TV. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  @ErnieElsWinery  @TheBig_Easy  @VintageTrade  @_AlexHamilton_  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

loosen

Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett 2015, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (160846, $22.95, WineAlign)

Tremendous verve, vitality and energy from buoyant and round acidity brings immediate balance to sweet citrus and tart tropical fruit. This Mosel ripper has a tender side and will sooth many a savage beast. Kind of like Elvis. If you want to turn someone onto riesling this is a wonderful place to start. So good and worth protecting. “Well, you can do anything but stay off of my blue” slate riesling. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted September 2016  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines  @germanwineca

optima

Anthonij Rupert Wines Optima L’ormarins 2012, Franschhoek, South Africa (455915, $24.95, WineAlign)

Franschhoek Bordeaux stylistic defined in affordability by structure and for dark, depth of fruit. Espresso dusty and soil imparted make for the specific Anthonij Rupert departure. The headline reads: Unheralded and righteous outfit makes red blend to go the distance. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2016  @AnthonijRupert  @Vinexxperts  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

manzoni

Rocche Dei Manzoni Bricco Manzoni Langhe Rosso 2010, Doc Piedmont, Italy (459651, $38.95, WineAlign)

And then there were three; Barolo, Barbaresco and Langhe. Here a serious perfume and brooding emits from Manzoni’s Langhe Rosso, a back to the genesis of roots nebbiolo highly skilled and deep into the motherlode of many equally appointed Barolo. “Ah well if you knew then, just what you know today,” the divergent paths of Langhe and Barolo may have been very different. Even if some of the Bricco Manzoni’s parts may walk at large the tannin is in your face and ready to rumble. There is a sweetness about the fruit and an oaky layering but darkness never descends upon this wine. It remains bright and alive. It will live for a decade or more. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted September 2016  @RoccheManzoni

juillot

Domaine Theulot Juillot Mercurey Premier Cru La Cailloute 2014, Burgundy, France (473793, $39.95, WineAlign)

The beautiful dichotomous relationship between ripe and juicy opposite firm and sweetly tannic is met in this functional Mercurey, a premier cru of upbeat excellence. Very representative of place because of the grip but it goes light years beyond the lithe and the under-performed. You could pour this for Burgundy label chasers and they would cry sweet Nuits St. Georges. Raspberry and strawberry with plenty of umami minerality and that firm tannin up the back. Really tempurpedic acidity never reacts and always supports. This is a 10-15 year Mercurey. No fooling. Drink 2018-2029. Tasted September 2016  @vinsdebourgogne  @BourgogneWines

ham-russell

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $42.95, WineAlign)

The pattern repeats in HR’s 2015 chardonnay, up there with the Cape’s most elegant and wholly indicative of the Hermanus oeuvre. Ripeness, just a hint of the barrel and windy sunshine locked up in chardonnay that could not come from anywhere but the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. The finish allows for some noted sensations indicative of yeast, warm bread, drawn butter and a golden bathed afternoon. A time to linger and make a polite request of this chardonnay to indicate best show times in the near to not-to-distant future. Though tempting to drink now this will improve and up the elegance factor. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016  @OliveHR  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @hermanuswine

orcia

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy (306852, $49.95, WineAlign)

Largesse and a firmess of being as per the house style are rampant in Col D’Orcia’s 2010, a wine that reminds me of 1998 and 2000. A wine that will seem lean, mean and terrifying in its youth but will prove everyone wrong when it hits the 12-15 year stride. This is a monster bringing leather and chocolate to the table. It is nearly unapproachable at the present time but you can imagine and embrace the possibility of potential. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted September 2016  @Coldorcia  @ConsBrunello  @DionysusWines

gagliardo

Gianni Gagliardo Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy (713602, $54.95, WineAlign)

Instinctive, intrinsically essential nebbiolo without any equivocation whatsover. The fruit at the core is the crux and the catalyst to aseemble the forces of Barolo entrance strategy. The floral freshness in potpourri does not concede any more quality than right here. Suave, gentle, restrained and yet so forthright, generous and inviting. The grip is right at the back, in the mouth and on the brain. Diligent, purposed and highly intelligent nebbiolo with decades of future ahead. Drink 2019-2039.  Tasted September 2016  @giannigagliardo  @WineLoversAgncy

ridge

Ridge Geyserville 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (723072, $63.95, WineAlign)

A deep and thoughtful vintage for Geyserville, from plenty of sunshine, deep aridity and top notch acidity. The fruit is wondrous, full of berries in all shades and even some black currants. Shadowing with less chocolate than some this is all about fruit with tannin to structure it for a long haul. So very Geyserville and nothing but pure pleasure in bottle. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2016  @RidgeVineyards  @VinoTorino  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

But first, October

steak

L’shanah tova, happy new year, peace, happiness and health to all the members of the tribe out there. New beginnings, sweet and good times to you and yours. I’ve just returned from Italy, specifically Verona and Valpolicella. While I was in transit a new VINTAGES release crept into stores.

Related – The most important red wine from Italy

Tuscany, Rioja, Thanksgiving. These are the main themes of the VINTAGES October 1st release. As from me for the first it is Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione that occupies the best sangiovese position in the central thematic. Second comes entry-level excellence from Álvaro Palacios and for the last three, pinot noir from disparate outposts; Sonoma County, the Willamette and Hemel-En-Aarde Valleys. A further 12 recommendations explore 10 regions; South Africa’s Coastal Region, Veneto, Loire Valley, Beaujolais, Alsace, Piedmont, Calatayud, Montagny, Paarl, Arroyo Seco and 14 additional grape varieties; chenin blanc, garganega, sauvignon blanc, gamay, riesling, arneis, garnacha, sylvaner, chardonnay, grenache blanc, picpoul blanc, roussanne and nebbiolo. Something for everyone.

Boschendal Rachelsfontein Chenin Blanc 2015, Wo Coastal Region, South Africa (455881, $12.95, WineAlign)

Classic chenin blanc from Boschendal, tart, balmy, savoury, smoky and spirited. Conjures up simple pleasures, breathing and bliss. A morning walk in a glade, a bubbling brook, herbs everywhere, wildlife. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  @BoschendalWines  @LiffordON  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada

San Raffaele Monte Tabor Soave 2015, Doc Veneto, Italy (277392, $14.95, WineAlign)

Always a good Soave buy and especially in the ripe and easily commercialized 2015 vintage. In fact this preface is a clear indication for such a wine because it can basically make itself so it smells, tastes and delivers just like itself. Citrus and herbs, Maresina, Pisacan, Sciopeti and then more citrus, followed by a mouth feel with an accent of stone. Delicious little commercial Soave. So correct. Drink 2016-2018.   Tasted September 2016    @RegioneVeneto

versant

Foncalieu Le Versant Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Vins De Pays D’oc, Loire, France (470336, $14.95, WineAlign)

Terrific scintillant of a sauvignon blanc with extract to burn and the gesture of giving generously. Pungency be damned this goes at it with vitality, energy and the great sweetness feigning, peachy sauvignon blanc equalizer. There are few Midi SBs that can both thrill and appease with ease like this Pays d’Oc. Crowd pleaser to pour at weddings and other large gatherings. The finish guarantees success. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @foncalieuwines  @LoireValleyWine  @azureau

aviron

Stephane Aviron Beaujolais Villages 2014, Beaujolais, France (468744, $15.95, WineAlign)

The juicy appeal of gamay. In its purest form it struts and flaunts in full peacock display as in this $16 Aviron Beaujolais. He or she who could not drink a tank full of this BV is missing out on one of the go to pleasures of the wine world. Fresh and outright getable, when risked with a more than slight chill this could do no harm. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016 @DiscoverBojo  @Nicholaspearce_

palacios

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2014, Doca Rioja, Spain (674564, $15.95, WineAlign)

Rioja to grab for, spread out the blanket, pull out the jamon and kick back. Fresh, juicy, slightly smoky and full of nothing but fruit with a quick shake of spice. The simple pleasures provided by Alvaro Palacios at the lowest of low affordability. You can find Rioja with a much greater and historically profound sense of place but it will cost an arm and a leg. And I’m not sure it will get you anywhere. So put aside the serious face and embrace this modish value-driven sketch by Palacios. I too will abide. “It’s not that I care any less for that philosophy, but I would spend one night with you in trade for all that I’ve achieved.” Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  @WoodmanWS  @RiojaWine

kuhlmann

Kuhlmann Platz Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (196741, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the cooperative Cave de Hunawihr where the winemaking is overseen by Nicolas Garde here is a typically tart and citrus-driven riesling from alluvial flats. Salinity and a touch of brine with a minor note of spritz makes this nothing but fun. It’s certainly lean and direct but such an Alsace riesling line is fine when done with no agenda in mind. Well made with enough complexity to add five years onto its life. Drink 2016-2021. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2016  @VinsAlsace  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @ChartonHobbs

arneis

Cordero Di Montezemolo Langhe Arneis 2015, Piedmont, Italy (455162, $21.95, WineAlign)

Prodigious and revered producer meets resurrected varietal in this hear me roar and highly expressive roero arneis. From Langhe vineyards in La Morra, Guarene and Govone. The level of extract and texture is elevated to where the grape can go but we so very rarely get a chance to enjoy. This has mineral, loads of mineral, like a chew of rocks in bubble gum form. With this on offer who wouldn’t choose to chew every day. More acclaim for arneis and that makes me smile. The freshness will offer perfect window drinking in years one through three but why not put one or two aside and watch them develop some honey and petrol in years five through ten. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2016    @ProfileWineGrp

breca

Breca Old Vines Garnacha 2013, Do Calatayud, Spain (329086, $22.95, WineAlign)

Very floral garnacha from gravelly slate with more than enough blueberry and blackberry to bake into a hundred pies. As per the modern norm this 100 per cent garnacha from typically regional (upwards of 100 year) old vines pushes the scales in extraction, weight and alcohol. If any Aragonese garnacha can handle such largesse it is Calatayud because the combination of gnarly vines and rocky soil gives essential nutrients to fruit for balance. It may only be a distraction but when the wine is polished (albeit sweetly so) the looming alcohol is kept in threaded check. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016  @CSWS_ON  @WinesofGarnacha  @GarnachaOrigen  @docalatayud

wildewood

Wildewood Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon (462994, $23.95, WineAlign)

If mountain herbs and tea could burrow or seep their savoury ways into a Willamette Valley pinot noir this Wildewood would be a viable candidate. It’s a global, pinot from everywhere and for everyone affair in here so call the aromas what you will; fynbos, rooibos, Peloponnese clandestina, wild thyme, rosemary, lavender. So pretty in its sauvage, so suave in its ruggedness. This pinot noir understands what it is saying and selling. Unlike the gritty poet, it is in complete control of its phenolics and its faculties. The palate pales but delivers straight to structure. The aridity and the salinity seal the deal. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016     @Nicholaspearce_

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (470476, $26.95, WineAlign)

Such thews and texture are wonderful to elevate Montagny and you can tell that important Nicolas Potel time was allocated into turning this into something rocking. Plenty of citrus and wood intertwine in layers of chardonnay flesh. This is quite something. Gregarious, talkative and alive. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @RochedeBellene  @vinsdebourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_  @BourgogneWines

sylvaner

Domaine Loew Vérité Sylvaner 2013, Ac Alsace, France (462598, $25.95, WineAlign)

The truth of sylvaner explodes into olfaction with the flats left for others and the slopes of Alsace greasing their way into this wine. A wow factor of 13 on the texture scale brings it here. Oily doesn’t due this sylvaner justice. You could run heavy machinery on this juice. Beyond the oléagineux there is great bite from old wood, tonic from the varietal necessity and bitters so very artisan crafted in nature. More British aperitif than Italian digestif in that sense but strictly Alsatian and in requiem for a match made in Foie Gras heaven. Needs two years to settle. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted September 2016     @VinsAlsace  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

avondale

Avondale Armilla Blanc De Blanc 2009, Méthode Cap Classique, Wo Paarl, South Africa (451930, $29.95, WineAlign)

From a farm dating to 1693 purchased by Johnathan Grieve’s family in 1996. Poster bubbles, for the Blanc de blancs habitation and for the Avondale oeuvre, the Armillary sphere, Roman “circle of life” and ancient astronomical instrument used to show the position of stars around the earth. Traditional production, with a kiss of oak and a final act of dosage. Five total years on the lees, including two on coarse and one in bottle. Picking was accomplished at the end of that January, in purpose of stylistic elegance and beautiful bitters born of natural and integrated acidity. Terrific dip of biscuits into honey. Like Baklava in a glass though equally savoury to dessert. Baller bubble, balanced and with the sense to envision evolution, to the look ahead of an adult age. Would retail for approximately $28 CAN. Drink 2015-2027. Tasted twice, May and September 2015  @Avondalewine  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @RareEarth_Wines

doon

Bonny Doon Beeswax Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Central Coast, California (95331, $34.95, WineAlign)

The Beeswax Vineyard is not just a pretty face. That this blend reeks of the bee’s work can’t be a coincidence. The ‎Rhône is but a mere smirk or memory here with fruit so ripe and vital you can hear yourself think. Arroyo Seco does cool chardonnay but it works for these varieties in another worldly way; with viscosity and texture. The pitch from the lemon and the flesh of creamy tropical fruits come together with a party gathering crafted tonic. And yet there is this rhythmic, low-toned, folk-roots-blues riff tenderness to Le Cigare Blanc. Really. J.J. Cale (by way of Don Nix) if you will. I’m going Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016  @BonnyDoonVineyd  @RandallGrahm

ama

Castello Di Ama San Lorenzo Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (418897, $48.95, WineAlign)

Castello di Ama has chosen their signature San Lorenzo Vineyard to qualify for Gran Selezione designation, one of three such highest level Chianti Classico produced at the estate. The high Gaiole elevation and argilo-calcaire soil make for a specific style, still deep and mineral but not so much like what happens from sangiovese raised on Galestro or Albarese solis. The liqueur here is a grander kind of sangiovese ooze (with 20 per cent malvasia and merlot), more hematic and of a purity only it can express. There is more liquorice and less leather, more iron and less cherry. Certainly less fruity but not as mineral. Here the umami is conspicuously undefined and so I am oriented to say it is simply San Lorenzo. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2016  @CastellodiAma  @HalpernWine  @chianticlassico

ratti

Renato Ratti Marcenasco Barolo 2011, Docg Piedmont, Italy (713479, $53.95, WineAlign)

The Ratti Marcenasco is in a league of it own but it shares the club with like-minded nebbioli, wines that steep in tradition and breath an aromatic liqueur only its kind resemble. Deep waters here, always mysterious and hiding sunken treasures. Candied roses and liquid tar, savoury forbidden forests and intricate tannic chains. You have to exercise extreme patience with Marcenasco, avoiding years five to 10 and best to look in at 15. Everything will rise to the surface. Drink 2021-2031. Tasted September 2016    @LiffordON

hr-pinot

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $57.95, WineAlign)

In 2015 the hyperbole of the Hemel-en-Aarde shines bright in magnified reflection with fruit and land combining for full effect. I get cola and beet root in ways I cant necessarily recall from most recent Hamilton Russell pinot noir and I also get depth like I’ve not encountered before. This is a massive expression in 2015, not a gentle one. I imagine the vintage was raging with adrenaline and testosterone so you have to take what is given. A masculine wine is the result, muscular, chiseled and ripped. At present the Hamilton Russell homiletic Hemel-En-Aarde verbiage is a tad evangelical. With such Adonis-like features and marbled structure it will need a few years to recoil, recalibrate and recharge. By next decade it will soften and preach with a bold style yet remain humble enough to change. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2016  @OliveHR  @hermanuswine

flowers

Flowers Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (215202, $68.95, WineAlign)

Pinot Noir that is all coastal, from vineyards far and wide but inclusive of some fruit from the Sea Ridge Estate Vineyard. An extreme brightness of being pinot noir with that distinctive Sonoma Coast feigned red candy nose, first raspberry and then strawberry. Exquisitely perfumed and gainfully rendered with mindful, purposed and calibrating acidity, propped up and misty fine. Such effete fruit and unassuming character does not materialize with enough regularity out of these parts. The finesse and fineness of this wine is what California does best when it comes from the heart and not from the hand. Though his chardonnay is otherworldly you just have to appreciate David Keatley’s touch with Sonoma Coast pinot noir. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted twice, February and September 2016  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

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