Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure

Frozen Niagara Falls

As frozen Niagara Falls, so frozen Niagara Falls
Photo: yobab/Fotolia.com

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Doesn’t every local wine writer’s pilgrimage begin this way? There’s 130 kilometres to Niagara Falls, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes (not really – the only thing we smoke is BBQ), it’s blinding winter morning light out and we’re wearing sunglasses. Well, one of us is.

Related – When expert’s break wine together

With Jake riding shotgun to Elwood we hit the QEW, pause for bench land visits to Flat Rock, Zooma Zooma and Creekside Estates, then make the frozen Falls by dusk. Two slackers we are, Bill and Ted, ponces submissive to wine, travelling through Niagara assembling a library of tasting notes to condign for memory in lieu of history missed and as practice for futures to come.

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

Niagara’s annual Cuvée rolls out the red carpet for a black-tie gala at Fallsview Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Touted as a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking, the event gathers more than 50 wineries and asks that they pour their winemakers’ favourite wines alongside a room full of esculent Niagara eats. Local chefs set lavish food stations and guests are treated to comestible ruminations composed by students from the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Sun Media Après Cuvée party features Icewine, sparkling wine and craft beer bars, not to mention a repeat performance by the impolitic, patent, I want you to be moved sound of Jonesy.

Zagat and Spotlight Toronto's Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena KaiserSmit

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Zagat and Spotlight Toronto’s Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit

Proceeds from the Cuvée Weekend go to the Niagara Community Foundation. Created in 2000, the Niagara Community Foundation has raised more than $23 million in endowment funds and has granted in excess of $5.5 million to charities working in the arts, heritage, environment, social services, health, education and community development. In 2015, the event will leave the very capable hands of the NCF and fall into the most capable hands of Brock University.

The word cuvée can mean many things in the world of wine. The Champagne tradition carries the most recognizable weight, the practice dictating that the best grapes be used and gently pressed to ultimately produce a sparkling wine of superior quality. In the end any cuvée is a blend no matter how you slice, interpret or break it down. It really comes down to the question of quality. Did Cuvée 2014 put its best foot forward? Were the ace grapes on display?

Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

The Cuvée gala, at one time an awards showcase ceremony, has welled to the point of a brimming kitchen sink, perhaps in danger of overflowing. Those who know and have been there agree the change in structure has been for the better. Growing pains are natural, inevitable side effects of growth. It’s more party than oenophile wine think tank, a cultural mosaic and for some, a melting pot. Speeches, awards, thank yous and acknowledgements are barely audible above the revelling din.

VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

PHOTO: Dan Trcka/grapeselections.com
VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

In 2013, to a wine, the pours were best of the best. My take was put into these words. Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary. In 2014 many vintners poured either their best (Domaine Queylus, Five Rows, Coyote’s Run, Rennie Estate, Stratus, Thirty Bench) or their most unique (Peninsula Ridge, Trius, Southbrook, Riverview, 13th Street, Malivoire). The event and the following morning’s Expert’s Tasting would not be diluted by a few more shots of Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore in the arm.

The real adventure lies in the attempt to taste everything in the room. Time and excessive schmoozing gets in the way so getting to more than half is a win, win. Here are notes on 10 wines tasted at Cuvée 2014 and the reasons for singling them out as separating themselves from their peers.

Riverview Gewurztraminer Angelina’s Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara River (368092, $18.95, WineAlign)

A creamy, corpulent expression with a stinging enzymatic yogurt texture. Would swear there was extended lees contact. Furthest thing from the truth says winemaker Angela Kasimos. That striking salve gives way to a vacuous aridity without conceding to nuts and residual sugar. Well-made and without interference. Thanks to Riverview, Gewürztraminer has found a home in the pliable, silty loam of Niagara River.  88  Tasted February 2014  @RiverviewWinery

Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Jamie Evans and Sauvignon Blanc share a kinesis. When kissed by the wise and wistful fruit that Wismer cedes, compounded by the vintage, this Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc inclines to aeaeae. All parts contribute to a stretched length, from fresh beginning to mouth-watering end. In between there is lees-stirred spice, dry and toasty points but the grass is never overgrown and the berries are golden. A kickstarter sour note propels the wine forward for an even longer taxi onward. What a vineyard, what a wine.  90  Tasted February 2014  @PeninsulaRidge

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29, WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.  90  Tasted February 2014

Trius Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Less than 300 cases were produced of this, you guessed it, natural grape skin, wild yeast fermented unique Sauvignon Blanc. Cold bunch pressed and 11 months on the lees lend a fruit/wood spice and gregarious character that is impossible to miss. Winemaker Craig MacDonald shows a savvy Savvy love in his carefully considered treatment of this wine. This ’12 WF steals the show at Cuvée in the category of most compelling and thought-provoking.  91  Tasted February 2014  @TriusWines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95, WineAlign)

Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution. Earlier note: Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.  91  Tasted October 2013 and February 2014  @HiddenBench

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker's White 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

While the triple W represents neither traditional alchemy nor screaming value it begs to be considered for sheer shock and awe. A co-fermented, low brix, who varietal blend of 58 per cent Chardonnay, 27 Semillon and 15 Muscat, winemaker Ann Sperling’s capricious fancy white and nerdy captures the vintage to alight and delight effect. Spice, texture, florality and acidity really work the room. Though the varieties seem to sing ”we don’t move in any ‘ticular direction and we don’t make no collections,” they somehow join together.  White wine of whimsy, not shallow, like a Wes Anderson film.  88  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95, WineAlign)

Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice. Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with its a touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  91  Tasted November 2013 and twice February 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Five Rows Craft Wine Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $50, WineAlign)

Gimme soft and sage treatment of a vineyard’s wondrous, pure fruit transcends most previous notions of Niagara Pinot Noir. That Lowrey vineyard in the hands of its first family drives spice into red fruit direct from soil and vine. Winemaker Wes Lowrey handles his family vineyard fruit like it were a baby and from this comes a promiscuous perfume. The ’10 is so youthful but coming into the springtime of his voodoo, having now been in bottle for a year. Though thoughts were that “he was going to show me spring,” the wine should clearly be left to flesh for a few more seasons.  92  Tasted February 2014

Thirty Bench Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)

Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe.  92  Tasted February 2014  @ThirtyBench

Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Le Grande Reserve’ 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $65, WineAlign)

The Thomas Bachelder mentored, two-vineyard assemblage Grande Reserve Pinot Noir grinds more cracked pepper than any predecessor. Every barrel from the Twenty Mile Bench (formerly Le Clos Jordanne’s, Neudorf Family La Petite Colline Vineyard) and Mountainview vineyard were scrutinized to determine the final blend.Bachelder sees black fruit in the early life yet despite the ebullient seasoning, the LGR’s genes are intrinsically feminine. Red cherry, tellus fertility and a mother’s strength hold the family of barrel children together. This is an ambitious and hard to read Pinot Noir. Judgement reserved for five years before the word classic will be used.  92  Tasted March 2014  @QueylusVin

Good to go!

When experts break wine together

Wine tasting

The experts broke down 33 wines in five flights, progressing through Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Red Blends and culminating in a friendly blind tasting competition round, each table of seven for themselves.
Photo: Jeanne Provost/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

With frozen Pond Inlet at Brock University as the backdrop to the 25th anniversary of the Cuvée 2014 Expert’s Tasting, 160 industry professionals gathered to break wine together. The original congress in 1989 might have heard the whisper, “si tu id aeficas, ei venient.” Fast forward to 2014 and Dr. Linda Bramble references Phil Alden Robinson’s declaration in Field of Dreams, “if you build it they will come.” Come they have, for 25 years running.

Dr. David Bergen spoke about the history of Niagara wines meeting the world and the movement towards what would eventually become VQA. He complemented Niagara’s true sense of community as an industry. Dr. Bergen was himself a vinous pioneer, having been a part of a group of other wine geeks back in the 1980’s tagged the PDU or, the Port Dalhousie Underground.

On the après, après, après Cuvée foggy (not the weather) morning of Saturday, March 1st there was ’89esque Steel Wheels Tour electricity in the air, waiting for the band to come on stage. The feeling was palpable, on a Bodhi guide to parochial wine enlightenment, through an aggregate of palate harmony and a caucus of local knowledge. Glass (a VQA Promoters Award decanter to be specific) was even broken, as if a Semitic bride and groom had spoken their vows to signal the reception’s begin. They had come from Niagara near, they had travelled from Ontario, Quebec, New York and beyond far. All for the purpose of tasting a covey of blindly, though anything but randomly chosen flights that have helped to define and will see to advance the future of Niagara’s viticulture industry.

CCOVI Brock U Expert's Tasting 2014

PHOTO: Michael Godel
CCOVI Brock U Expert’s Tasting 2014

There were Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute luminaries, including Dr. Bramble, Dr. Janet Dorozynski , Dr. Belinda Kemp, Barbara Tatarnic and Brock’s Brian Hutchings, Vice-President, Finance and Administration. Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit, Quebec’s Véronique Rivest, winemakers and winery leaders filled the room. WineAlign was well represented by David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and Steve Thurlow. I spoke at length with Bryan Calandrelli, winemaker at Freedom Run Winery on Friday night about the Cuvée weekend. His thoughts returned again and again to Niagara’s sense of community. That and a depth of quality are what separate the region from its American brethren in Niagara, the Finger Lakes and Long Island.

The 2014 edition of the Experts Tasting was different. The room was packed. I’m not sure there was a single empty chair. This year a larger group of Toronto Sommeliers made the trip, including Will Predhomme, Christopher Sealy, Bruce Wallner, Lori O’Sullivan, Joel Wilcox, Michelle Paris, Craig MacLean, Marissa Kelly, Joshua Corea, Rebecca Meir Liebman and Emily Bibona. City chefs joined in, including Ortolan’s Daniel Usher and the Cheese Boutique’s Afrim Pristine. Forging a tasting relationship with a core of Toronto’s most passionate wine dealers is both brilliant and necessary, for all parties involved.

Riesling Flight CCOVI Brock U Expert's Tasting 2014

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Riesling Flight CCOVI Brock U Expert’s Tasting 2014

The experts broke down 33 wines in five flights, progressing through Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Red Blends and culminating in a friendly blind tasting competition round, each table of seven for themselves.

Studying wine in a setting and with a structure like the Expert’s Tasting presents a constructible universe in infinitary logics. In the bubble of a cozy room like the Pond Inlet “every set will arise in the construction process…. In infinitary logic, there are far more than only countably many formulas, and one can cook up a formula to define a specific set, by using the formulas that define its elements.” There are limitless boundaries and infinite possibilities allowed when attempting to identify, describe and define the wines at such a blind tasting. The latitude afforded, the manifest humility and the cooperation leading to revelation combines for an exhale of the most relaxed kind.

The #CCOVI event also celebrates the year’s VQA Promoters and lives that were lived. The 2014 awards were handed out to William Mancini, Lloyd Schmidt, Erik Peacock, Shawn McCormick, David Lawrason and posthumously, care of his wife Rose Lamas-Churchill, to David Churchill. Charles Baker of Stratus Vineyards had the difficult task of reminding the Niagara community of friends lost in 2013, Gerry Ginsberg & Barbara Ritchie. Baker then spoke about Churchill, the long time VINTAGES writer and LCBO lab tasting room director. It was David who granted me entrance into the lab in 2012. I will always be grateful.

Here are notes on the first two flights at the Expert’s Tasting.

FLIGHT #1 – ARE YOU EXPERIENCED

Clockwise from left: Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2012, Rosewood Estates Riesling 2011, Ravines Wine Cellars Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard 2011, The Foreign Affair Riesling 2010, Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2009, Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2006, and Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003
Clockwise from left: Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2012, Rosewood Estates Riesling 2011, Ravines Wine Cellars Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard 2011, The Foreign Affair Riesling 2010, Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2009, Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2006, and Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003

Presented by writer Rick VanSickle, winesinniagara.com with an ode to Jimi Hendrix and also, curiously to Taylor Swift. The absurdity of the duet mirrored the .429 (three for seven) batting average of Charles Baker Picones being passed into the flight by the CCOVI panel. That and a comedic pathos to soften the cumulative, piercing acidity of the Riesling gathering. An auspicious beginning. Not to be ignored were Rick’s improbable choice of kitsch props. Ice broken. Rick’s apocalyptic take? “I love the smell of Riesling in the morning. Riesling is the bomb.”

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (241182, $35, WineAlign)

Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  91  Tasted March 2014 @cbriesling

Enfant emblématique de Baker respire encore en suspens, l’émission spumeux de l’extérieur d’un millésime chaud. Alors primaire et un acte difficile à suivre. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, aride comme le désert et les agrumes, serré carbonique. Traités à l’aide des méthodes les plus froids et les plus froids frais de rechercher résultat et bilan de la grève dans un, lies-appartenu, finition piquante opulent. Un Picone qui dit que je ne vis pas aujourd’hui, il est dit, et avait prospecté, “euh, se connu, Are You Experienced?”  Dégusté Mars 2014

Rosewood Estates Riesling 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench (Winery, $16, WineAlign)

Single (21 Street) Vineyard, clone-focused, superior Twenty Mile Bench fruit steals its way into the flight. Seltzer dry, austere and asking, can you see me? Pumps up its volume with an off-dry request, in pineapple, white flowers and a bite of yellow plum. Tied together by a thumping, Noel Redding bass line. Definitive, affordable stuff. For the Bench, “you can see in the future of a thousand years.”  88  Tasted March 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Simple (21 rue) Vignoble, clone axé, supérieure Twenty Mile Bench fruit vole sa place dans le vol. Seltzer sec, austère et demander, pouvez-vous me voir? Pompes son volume avec une demande de demi-sec, de l’ananas, de fleurs blanches et un morceau de prune jaune. Attachés ensemble par un bruit sourd, Noel Redding ligne de basse. Définitive, trucs abordable. Pour la Chambre, “vous pouvez voir dans le futur de mille ans.”  Dégusté Mars 2014

Ravines Wine Cellars Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard 2011, Finger Lakes, New York (winery, $24.95)

The Ravines ringer that dwells high above the shore of Seneca Lake is conspicuous for being of the oldest Riesling vineyards in New York’s Finger Lakes. The limestone soils on one hand apply swift, lean minerality and prickling flower aromas, on the other a drix sense of verboten. Did Argetsinger come to add love or confusion? “Would I be truthful, yeah, in, uh, in choosin’ you as the one for me?” The winemaker would ask to wait 10 years to reel in this Riesling’s wonders. In its current stark, dry as a bone (three g/L residual) state, it’s all lime and minerals. Though they tell each other “we are never getting back together again,” perhaps time will tell if the Jimi and the Taylor in this Riesling can coexist.  89  Tasted March 2014  @ravineswine

The Foreign Affair Riesling 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula (127290, $24.95, WineAlign)

Older, bolder, warmer, darker. In 2010 this retrofits 10% NP dried grapes in the Venetian appassimento method. The rubric sees to an early showing of secondary notes, pushed along by 20 g/L of residual sugar. Wholly unique Riesling with “strange beautiful grass of green, with your majestic silver seas.” The most hydrated in the flight (ironic, no?) and this in spite of a third stone from the sun vintage. Up on the Vinemount Ridge.  87  Tasted March 2014  @wineaffair

Plus ancien, plus audacieux, plus chaud, plus sombre. En 2010, ce rétrofit 10% de raisins secs NP dans la méthode de appassimento vénitien. La rubrique voit un indice précoce de notes secondaires, poussés le long de 20 g / L de sucre résiduel. Riesling tout à fait unique avec des “étrange belle herbe de vert, avec vos majestueux mers argent.” Le plus hydratée dans le vol (ironique, non?) Et ce en dépit d’une troisième pierre à partir du millésime de soleil. Sur la Vinemount Ridge.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2009, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (241182, $35, WineAlign)

In a struck match state of mind, crazy enough to set a guitar on fire, onstage. The burning smell is infectious and dangerous but the palate heads to higher notes, in honey and at the 22nd fret of top E, string bent. Notable that this tough, economically not-viable vintage was stopped at a natural residual sugar of 21 g/L, 50 per cent higher than in 2012. In that sense this is old-school Baker, closer to mother Germany and not yet the current incarnation of the winemaker’s Vinemount Ridge oeuvre. Alright, in 2009 “I have only one burning desire” Picone, “let me stand next to your fire.”  90  Tasted March 2014

Dans un état de concordance frappé d’esprit, assez fou pour mettre une guitare sur le feu, sur scène. L’odeur de brûlé est contagieux et dangereux, mais les têtes de palais à des notes plus élevées, dans le miel et à la case 22 de haut E, chaîne pliée. À noter que ce millésime difficile, économiquement pas viable a été arrêté à un sucre résiduel naturel de 21 g / L, 50 pour cent de plus qu’en 2012. Dans ce sens, c’est la vieille école Baker, plus proche de la mère et de l’Allemagne n’est pas encore l’incarnation actuelle de Vinemount Ridge l’œuvre du vigneron. Bon, en 2009: «Je n’ai qu’un seul désir brûlant” Picone, “laissez-moi me tiens à côté de votre feu.”  Dégusté Mars 2014

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2006, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (241182, $35, WineAlign)

Only Charles can follow Charles, as only Jimi could follow Jimi. Just ask Peter Townshend. The combined forces of vintage, off-dry level of residual sugar (23.9 g/L) and age have ushered this Picone into a realm of adipose, butyraceous, chewy texture. The ’06 is emblematic of its time, stunning, psychedelic, experienced. It speaks clearly and with conceit. Tasting it eight years on you can hear Baker’s 2006 voice saying “if you can just get your mind together uh-then come on across to me.” We have and continue to follow Charles, and we are paying close attention to every vintage along the ride.  93  Tasted March 2014

Seulement Charles peut suivre Charles, comme Jimi ne pourrait suivre Jimi. Il suffit de demander Peter Townshend. Les forces combinées de cru, le niveau de sucre résiduel (23,9 g / L) et l’âge-sec ont inauguré ce Picone dans un royaume de tissu adipeux, butyraceous, texture moelleuse. Le ’06 est emblématique de son temps, à l’étourdissement, psychédélique, connu. Il parle clairement et avec orgueil. Goûter huit ans, vous pouvez entendre la voix de 2006 Baker disant «si vous ne pouvez obtenir votre esprit ainsi uh-alors venir sur vers moi.” Nous avons et continuons de suivre Charles, et nous prêtons attention à chaque millésime le long de la promenade.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench  (winery, $50, WineAlign)

Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.”  92  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

Esprit de flexion de déguster un morceau de l’histoire récente, un Riesling enracinée dans les roches, de blues et pop de la pierre calcaire, grès et schiste Banc, mais un vin aussi futuriste, déformée et soulful. De 25 plus ans vignes, cette dame rusée a conclu vrai, territoire secondaire. Elle s’adoucit et son parfum est coulé dans la vanille caramel tellement qu’elle pourrait salir avec les esprits de dégustateurs dans un vol de Chardonnay boisé. Elle est «un peu crève-coeur mignon.”  Dégusté Mars 2014

FLIGHT #2 – THE NEW ABC – APPEALING BALANCED CHARDONNAY

Clockwise from left: Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, Fielding Estate Chardonnay Estate 2012, G. Marquis Chardonnay The Silver Line 2011, Kittling Ridge Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2012, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2010, Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Reserve 2009, and Stratus Chardonnay 2010
Clockwise from left: Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, Fielding Estate Chardonnay Estate 2012, G. Marquis Chardonnay The Silver Line 2011, Kittling Ridge Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2012, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2010, Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Reserve 2009, and Stratus Chardonnay 2010

Presented by James Treadwell, Sommelier, Treadwell Farm-To-Table Cuisine. Treadwell so astutely refers to Chardonnay as the “polarizing varietal,” the one so many love to love, and love to hate. What turned out to be so striking was the newer to older, first to last ascendency of glycerin and extract. In just a few short years, Niagara Chardonnay has undergone a rapid change and increasingly speaks in a cool climate vernacular.

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $16.95, WineAlign)

Has spent some quality time and knows its way around a barrel but its attitude is young, fresh and alive. From 12 and 13 year-old estate vines and kissed by only 15 per cent new oak. “But here’s a funky fact that I know is real.” Flat Rock’s Chardonnays are red-hot and this fresh-faced ’12 has “baby appeal.” Blatant, colorable value on the Twenty.  89  Tasted March 2014  @Winemakersboots

A passé du temps de qualité et connaît son chemin autour d’un baril, mais son attitude est jeune, fraîche et vivante. De 12 et 13 ans vignes du domaine et embrassé par seulement 15 pour cent de chêne neuf. “Mais voici un fait génial que je sais, c’est vrai.” Les chardonnays de Flat Rock sont d’un rouge ardent et cette ’12 frais face a “appel de bébé.” Flagrante, valeur colorable sur la vingt.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Fielding Estate Chardonnay Estate 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench (355842, $21.95, WineAlign)

Heavy lees and a charitable, warm temperature barrel ferment have imparted greenhouse humidity into this soft, lush Chardonnay, outgoing in personality. Effortless and easy to love if not perceptibly cerebral, though a mineral streak channels equality and “a delicate balance.” To some this may just feel like spinning plates but take the time to get to know Richie Robert’s wine and music on the radio your head will find.  89  Tasted March 2014  @FieldingWinery

Lies lourdes et un organisme de bienfaisance, chaude température baril ferment ont conféré humidité de la serre en cela, Chardonnay luxuriant doux, sortant de la personnalité. Sans effort et facile d’aimer si pas sensiblement cérébrale, mais une égalité de chaînes minérale à balayage et “un équilibre délicat.” Pour certains, cela peut tout simplement envie de tourner les plaques, mais prendre le temps d’apprendre à connaître le vin et la musique de Richie Robert sur la radio de votre tête trouverez.  Dégusté Mars 2014

G. Marquis Chardonnay The Silver Line 2011, Single Vineyard Niagara Stone Road, VQA Niagara On The Lake (258681, $17.95, WineAlign)

Big, big wine in bold expression. Enveloped by well-judged oak. Might lack just a bit of cohesion, layering and synchronicity. Otherwise really fine effort from the Magnotta world. From earlier notes: “Some extra credit is awarded for a wine that knows its place, in this case the watershed of the Niagara Stone Road. Though faint, the impart of minute shells and rock fragments from an ancient sea-washed down from the escarpment has found its way into the Silver Line. The reality is that the dominant aroma is that of popcorn butter drizzled over top Niagara River stones. Opulent and tropical while at the same time like chewing on pomaded pop rocks. Works the wet and acidified vintage well with a healthy dose of the barrel.” From my previous note: “Streaks across and plays a lick on atomic 16 rails at breakneck speed, all the while jonesing for of a slice of custard pie. “It’s sweet and nice” with lead, nuts and spice. The G. might stand for grateful or great, as in value.”  88  Tasted October 2012, February and March 2014  @GMarquisWines

Grand, grand vin dans l’expression audacieuse. Enveloppé par un boisé bien jugé. Pourrait manquer un peu de cohésion, la superposition et la synchronicité. Sinon effort vraiment beau du monde Magnotta. De précédentes notes: “Certaines cartes de crédit supplémentaire est accordé pour un vin qui sait sa place, dans ce cas, le bassin versant de la Stone Road Niagara Bien que faible, l’confèrent des coquilles minute et de fragments de roche à partir d’une ancienne mer arrosés de l’escarpement a. trouvé sa place dans la ligne d’argent. La réalité est que l’arôme dominant est celui de pop-corn au beurre arrosé sur les pierres supérieures de la rivière Niagara. tout Opulent et tropical dans le même temps comme mâcher sur les rochers de la pop pommadés. Travaux du millésime humide et acidifié bien avec une bonne dose de canon “. De ma note précédente: “. Séries partout et joue un coup sur atomiques 16 rails à une vitesse vertigineuse, tout en jonesing pour d’une part de tarte à la crème” Il est doux et gentil “avec plomb, de noix et d’épices Le G. pourrait se tenir. pour reconnaissant ou grande, comme la valeur “.  Dégusté Octobre 2012, Février et Mars 2014

Kittling Ridge Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (367862, $16.95, WineAlign)

From many miles away within a single vineyard along the Merrit Road, this KRC is akin to a mini-Lenko, in high-tone toast and micro-Pender like by way of a comparison to his treatment of Daniel’s fruit in 2011. Wild, piercing ray of unbroken Beamsville laser vision hits a wall of lees within the barrel to settle quietly upon the can’s floor. Buttered niblets are the warm and comfortable conclusion.  87  Tasted March 2014

De nombreux miles de distance dans un seul vignoble le long de la route de Merrit, ce KRC s’apparente à un mini-Lenko, en haut ton pain et micro-Pender comme par le biais d’une comparaison à son traitement de fruits de Daniel en 2011. Sauvage, rayons perçant ininterrompue vision laser Beamsville frappe un mur de lies dans le canon de régler tranquillement sur le plancher de la boîte. Niblets beurre sont la conclusion chaleureux et confortable.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Citrus meet butter. From oldest (36-40 year-old), lowest-yielding vines on Cave Spring’s stony, limestone, rich clay, overlying shale and sandstone soils, this CSV sashays out in depeche mode. The oak, lees, malolactic, batonage and assemblage is nothing short of mad science meets high fashion. “Don’t take this way, don’t take that way. Straight down the middle until next Thursday. Push to the left, back to the right, twist and turn ’til you’ve got it right.” Builds up slowly, scales back in restraint and with only 60-65 per cent barrel ferment in 2010, it set out to get the balance right and succeeded. The definitive CSVC study.  91  Tasted March 2014

Citrus répondent beurre. Du plus ancien (36-40 ans), les vignes sur la pierre de Cave Spring, le calcaire, l’argile riche, recouvrant schiste et de grès sols plus bas rendement, ce CSV flâne dans depeche mode. Le chêne, lies, fermentation malolactique, bâtonnage et assemblage n’est rien de la science folle rencontre la haute couture. “Ne prenez pas de cette façon, ne prenez pas de cette façon. Droite au milieu jusqu’à jeudi prochain. Poussez vers la gauche, vers la droite, tourner et tourner jusqu’à ce que tu as raison.” S’accumule lentement, échelles de retour en retenue et avec seulement 60-65 pour cent baril ferment en 2010, il a entrepris de trouver le bon équilibre et réussi. L’étude CSVC définitif.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Reserve 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $28, WineAlign)

One of then winemaker Natalie Spytkowsky’s under the radar and unsung oeuvres out of the estate’s Renaceau Vineyard. A wild ferment, full-out malolactic and French oak barrel thang, beginning to show some age, like a well-made, dirty martini for a hard living brat pack. Sappy, herbal resin leads this ’09 into anointed autumn ripeness. It was and is a 14 per cent, 4.2 g/L, small lot (125 cases) piece of Beamsville history.  88  Tasted March 2014

Un de puis vigneron Natalie Spytkowsky de sous le radar et d’œuvre méconnus de Renaceau Vignoble de la succession. Un ferment sauvage, pleine à malolactique et français fût de chêne thang, commence à montrer des signes d’usure, comme un bien-fait, dirty martini pour un paquet de gosse dur vivant. Séveux, résine à base de plantes conduit ce ’09 en oint maturité en automne. Il a été et est un 14 pour cent, 4,2 g / L, petit terrain (125 cas) morceau de l’histoire Beamsville.  Dégusté Mars 2014

Stratus Chardonnay 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake  (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

Can’t help but think about buttered popcorn; the best that money can buy in heritage kernels. A magnanimous effort, in a state of equatorial weave with cajoling, candied aromatics. Previous note: “From natural yeast, full batch (bunch) pressing and heeded by Paul’s (Hobbs) call to full malolactic fermentation, this fruit was picked on November 15th, a day “you had to go run and pick fast.” Groux is not trying to make California or Burgundy but make the best in Niagara. Clarity and sun drenched hue, tropical fruit dominance, sweetness, malo-butterscotch obviousness. Some tart orchard fruit late but certainly warm vintage wine. Not the most arid Chardonnay but blessed with great length.”  91  Tasted March 2013 and 2014  @Stratuswines

Vous ne pouvez pas m’empêcher de penser à maïs soufflé au beurre, le meilleur que l’argent peut acheter dans les noyaux du patrimoine. Un effort magnanime, dans un état de équatoriale tisser avec cajoler, aromatiques confits. Note précédente:. “De la levure naturelle, pleine lot (groupe) en appuyant et en tiennent compte (Hobbs) l’appel de Paul à la fermentation malolactique complète, ce fruit a été sélectionné le 15 Novembre, un jour” il fallait aller courir et prendre rapidement “Groux est ne cherche pas à faire de la Californie ou de Bourgogne, mais faire le meilleur à Niagara. Clarté et baignée de soleil teinte, la dominance de fruits tropicaux, de la douceur, malo-caramel évidence. Certains tarte de fruits du verger en retard, mais millésime certainement chaud. Pas le Chardonnay plus aride mais béni avec grande longueur. ”  Dégusté Mars 2013 et Mars 2014

Good to go!

A long and “wine-ding” tasting road

Wine tasting PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

It was right in my wheelhouse and on so many levels. Thirty-three wines, all but two from the Niagara region, spanning vintages from 2001-2010. Poured blind, each of five flights introduced analogous to pop music culture; Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, The Sister Sledge, The Who and Simply Red. It could only be zeitgeist for my virgin Experts Tasting experience at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

It happened at Pond Inlet, a cozy, light-filled space, surrounded by a wine local’s who’s who. Vignerons, proprietors, journalists, sommeliers, marketing gurus and Brock U. luminaries. Seated next to Niagara’s über taster and 2013 VQA Promoters Award winner Rick VanSickle, but also in the ameliorated company of Mr. Wine DiscoveryThe Grape Guy and the Wine Sisters.

CCOVI Experts Tasting 2013 (Photo: Michael Godel/canada.com)

More than 140 samples were submitted by wineries to this year’s tasting panel, assessed blind and chosen for excellence, complexity but also adjunct in relative merit to their peers. The 2013 Experts tasting was akin to a structured wine in itself, seamless in flow thanks to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University. The mostly in vain attempt at assessing vintage, origin and producer was a humbling and submissive gesture. This Storify board captures the social media buzz around the event.

A panel of four winemakers each gave their own unique in flight preamble perspective, followed by a tutored tasting and a reveal of the flight’s wines. The final coterie was a group test, in teams table by table, led in cheeky and mischievous form by a soon to be head-shaven sommelier.

The VQA Promoters Awards were presented at intervals during the event by wine educator Dr. Linda Bramble. Here were this year’s four recipients:

LCBO: Waterloo’s Charley Ronzio of Store 115.

Hospitality: CN Tower’s James Muir, the proprietor of Toronto’s highest cellar.

Promoter-at-Large: Harald Thiel, Vigneron and Proprietor, Hidden Bench Winery.

Media: Rick VanSickle, Wine Journalist, Wines in Niagara.

The wine tasting was then introduced by April Kilpatrick, Sommelier at Windows by Jamie Kennedy.

From left to right: Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010; Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010; The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; and Stratus Malbec 2010.

Flight #1: R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Presented by Rob Power, Winemaker, Creekside Estate, employing Aretha Franklin’s signature because Miles dissed the grape when he said, “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” This assemblage brought Merlot some respect, difficult as they were to pin down and Power later summed it up best. “Mission accomplished. We’ve messed with all your heads.”

Malivoire Wine Company Merlot ‘Stouck Vineyard’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) of high-toned raspberry fruit is the Dr. Feelgood track. From mendicant, heavy red clay soil on the Lincoln Lakeshore making for concentrated small berries and dense, richly textured Merlot. Tarry, warming, accented by late baking spice and anise. Merlot is a serious business and “taking care of business is really this man’s gain.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Trius Winery at Hillebrand Merlot ‘RHS’ Clark Farm Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) is a rock steady, Four-Mile Creek, single vineyard effort full of mulberry fruit and dusty, chalky tannin. Let’s call this Merlot what it is, “a funky and lowdown feeling.”  89-90  @TriusWines

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve, Queenston Road Vineyard 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) spent 32 months in oak and now bricks its age in weathered, splintering cedar with a note of funky prune.  Illustrates the importance of site to Bordeaux varietals in Niagara. A Merlot to make you think, consider the past, “let your mind go, let yourself be free.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve 2008  ($34.95, winery only) on the St. David’s Bench is “the smoked meat sandwich” says Power, and “a bit of a funkmeister.” Perhaps the flight’s chain of fools, like a blender looking for a Cabernet or two to join the party. Its slumber was 29 months in barrel. “For five long years I thought you were my man.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Twomey Merlot 2007 ($61.95, 14043) is the ringer out of Silver Oak in Napa Valley. Whiffs the most funky fromage but also a woman’s perfume. Racy, roaming, with umami, earth and a sweet/savoury line. Goes both ways, a Do Right Woman, Do Right Man kind of Merlot.  “And as long as we’re together, baby.”  89-90  @Twomey

Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($25, winery only) tends Right Bank to me, certainly not Niagara. Big berry, citrus, bright fruit perfume. Heavy tannin, guns a’ blazing and an obvious strong use of American Oak. This one demands respect. “Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me.”  90-91  @PillitteriWines

Cornerstone Estates Winery Merlot 2010 ($23, winery only) appears to show some age though it’s really just a pup. Displays aggressive high-toned tannin with a patience towards potential. I say a little prayer for this Wismer Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench on the Niagara Peninsula Merlot because if it falls apart, it “would only be heartbreak.”  87-88

Flight #2: The Mothers of Invention

Presented by Emma Garner, Winemaker, Thirty Bench, using Frank Zappa’s band as analogy to denote Cabernet Franc as the matriarch to all Bordeaux varietals. Could have sworn #4 was a ringer but no! There were none in the group.

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2008 ($38, 665034) from fruit picked on December 8th (what???) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Young at heart, full of smokey, tangy, currant baking aromas. Maternal but blessed with firm, plush tannin. “Some people like cupcakes,” I prefer a muffin man.  89-90  @Stratuswines

Stoney Ridge Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($18.95, winery only) is a Niagara Peninsula, red pepper jelly and citrus-spiked currant concoction made from Fox and Edwards Vineyards, 100% Bench fruit. Thought it was ’08 but wrong! Coffee and herbal balm make the water turn black and this Franc screams for food. 87-88  @stoneyridgewine

Riverview Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Salvatore’s’ 2010 ($49.95, winery only) leans a lighter, elegant Loire style. Built upon clay/loam soils out of Niagara-on-the-Lake, aged in both French and American oak. Cool, cherry fruit, mint, herbaceous and full of personality. A fine girl this Riverview, “she do yer laundry, she change a tire, chop a little wood for de fire.”  89-90  @RiverviewWinery

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Modified Note: Big Leg Emma. “Sock it to me!” Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only) has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100% Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92 @PellerVQA

Trius at Hillebrand Cabernet Franc ‘Red Shale’ Clark Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) at 25.6 Brix is a huge wine from Four Mile Creek. Black beauty, with lots of chocolatey oak and dark fruit. Chalky, grainy thread indicates time is needed to settle it down. No valley girl, this one, nor shrinking violet. “It’s like so BITCHEN!”  89-90  @TriusWines

Pondview Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($29.95, winery only) again out of Four Mile Creek has the red pepper, currant jelly notes but it’s less ripe and not nearly as big as some siblings in this flight. May have “no cars no diamond rings,” but it shows passion in a Zappacosta, spandex kind of way.  87-88  @pondviewwinery

CCOVI Tasting

Flight #3: We Are Family

Presented by Ron Giesbrecht, Winemaker, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, discussing “vinified” incest, i.e. Bordeaux grapes which have essentially married their kin. His dissertation, impossibly deadpan, was a cross between Stuart McLean and Ron MacLean. His take on attending to wines of Bordeaux genealogy? “How do you know which side of the church to sit on when you’re related to so many on both sides?”

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($34.95, winery only) alights in lithe tendrils before adding coffee, meritage mid-weight. Currants, nasturtium and red fruit compote buoy this cooler Niagara blend that combines fruit from the the Lincoln Lakeshore, St. David’s and Beamsville Benches. A good dancer with “the kind of body that would shame Adonis.” Expertly balanced with the spine to age.  88-89  @FieldingWinery

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Merlot ‘Stouck’ ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a pitchy rendition with a pronounced roasted espresso note. Seems to me the motherly, Cabernet Franc’s genes have imparted their wisdom into this (63%) Cabernet Sauvignon dominant beauty with big Cassis fruit. Chic, juicy, with a filled in mid-palate and stiff structure. Grab a glass, “leave your cares behind, these are the good times.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Stratus Red 2010 ($44, winery only) seemed older but that just might be the 617 days it spent in barrel. Cab Franc dominant with the help of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the late bloomer, Petit Verdot. Got to love somebody so it may as well be this red, because “I won’t let my life pass me by.” The four grapes help to explain Giesbrecht’s “relative merits of relative meritage.”  89-90  @Stratuswines

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010 ($35, winery only) has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.  91-92  @HiddenBench

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2007 ($45, winery only) emits the varnish of the ’07 Niagara vintage. Soy, meat protein and caramel give way to a sweeter, plum accented palate. This ’07 is Le Freak, with more Cabernet Sauvignon, indicative of what we did not know then. So much to learn from wines like this, “like the days of stopping at the Savoy.”  87-88  @HiddenBench

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002 ($50, not available) from the Niagara Peninsula shows toffee and concentrated, oxidized fruit. That said, it has aged well and still offers intellectual spirit in dried fruit and potpourri. Great old tune to Dance, Dance, Dance along to. 88-89  @SpeckBros

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Flight #4: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

Presented by Ilya Senchuk, Winemaker, Foreign Affair Winery, relating (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon wines to the idiomatic album by The Who. “We want wines with bounciness,” says Senchuk, “with a knife edge balance of weight and complexity.”

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) shows age, wood finish, plums and berries. I had this pegged as an ’06 (scouts honour). Not a classic Bordeaux vintage in the Queenston Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench but well-structured and really, there is no substitute. “I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Stouck’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a big, blowy, brawny wine of massive concentration. Designed for my generation, with jammy flavours from clay soils on good slopes. “People try to put us d-down, just because we get around.”  89-90  @MalivoireWine

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Lot I’ 2010 ($34.95, winery only) from the Niagara Peninsula is a chameleon, ever evolving in the glass, perplexing, fascinating to study. Possessed of dried fruit and decidedly earthy flavours, complexity and balance. Can “go anywhere, for something new,” anyway, anyhow.  89-90  @SouthbrookWine

Thirty Bench Winemakers Cabernet Franc ‘Small Lot’ 2010 ($40, winery only) lopes out in lacquer than lifts towards sweet red pepper, dusty mulberry and cracked black pepper. All the while a current of Beamsville Bench, black currant acidity runs through it. This one’s a seeker, “its got values but I don’t know how or why.” At least not yet. Give it time.  87-88  @ThirtyBench

Stratus Petit Verdot 2010 ($38, winery only) with its bounce is the Happy Jack of the flight. Thick in weight and texture, a steak sandwich in a glass. Remarkable effort for stand alone Petit Verdot in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Has a certain Spanish modernity and is certainly neither “petite” nor “little.” Say what you want about this PV but never “prevent Jack from feeling happy.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Fielding Estate ‘Option C’ Red 2010 ($34.95, winery only) begins with an off-putting, scorched earth funk and I wonder if it will blow off. Makes me “dizzy in the head and I’m feeling blue” so I can’t explain but it does indeed dissipate. Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way out of the Lowry Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench with 15% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc rounding out this strong, rhythmic and beaty Bordeaux blend.  89-90  @FieldingWinery

The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($37.95, winery only) is very pretty, forward and inviting. Juicy fruit from south facing vines on top of the Niagara Escarpment. Made in the Appassimento style, with 25% of the fruit dried then added back to the wine and 23 months spent in barrel. Puts this Cab in a seat on the Magic Bus. Rogue process, tame result. “I want it.”  91-92  @wineaffair

Flight #5: If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Presented by Peter Bodnar Rod, 13th Street Winery, like a comic book villain, leading the crowd into the uncomfortable nooks and crannies of guessing wines blind. This was a thrilling flight, crushing wine libidos and crowning champions of the game. Notes here are a bit more brief.

Stratus Malbec 2010 ($48, winery only) is made with the help of consulting oenologist Paul Hobbs in an “Alta Vista,” high-altitude style. Cool-climate rendition, a window to the future for the grape in Ontario. Hits a blue note, kind of like Philly soul. Unheard of 10 years ago, this one’s saying “just trust in me like I trust in you.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002 ($30, not available) shows amazing longevity and freshness. Proof of the Peninsula’s magic to state “you will never never never know me.” Simply solid red.  90-91  @SouthbrookWine

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien 2001 ($109, 9852) is the first red herring and stupefies in origin and vintage. I actually found it drying and disappointing. Bordeaux? Whatever.  88-89

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Merlot Unfiltered 2002 ($29.95, winery only) was harvested in October on the Niagara Peninsula. Showing the soy sauce, umami and oxidation of its sistren. Yet another anything but simply red wine from H of P to show us “all the things that we’ve been through.”  87-88  @SpeckBros

The Foreign Affair Winery ‘Temptress’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) is shepherded by Merlot with bits of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot thrown in for good 15.3% abv measure. Sugary, concentrated and full-bodied. Not for the simply red faint of heart. Embrace this big appassimento style  or “what good is a love affair when you can’t see eye to eye.”  90-91  @wineaffair

Good to go!

Four fall back wines for Daylight Savings

Photograph by Albo, Fotolia.comas seen on canada.com

The wine glasses will have retired when the clocks fall back to standard time at 2:00 o’clock in the morning on Sunday, November 4th. An hour no longer needed and cast off, a casualty of war. He may not have invented it, but we have Benjamin Franklin to thank for being the first to indicate the need for the phenomenon. In the United States, a federal law standardized the yearly start and end of daylight saving time in 1918, for the states that chose to observe it. It was mandatory during WWII and today most states continue to observe the so-called, energy-saving measure. Canadians abide, Quel shoc!, save for Saskatchewan which is on DST year round. What’s that all about?

The M.C. Escher tessellating question is this. Is DST an energy conservation proposition or a Saturday night wine suck? It’s both, actually. Like the Escher model, fine wine is a linear, interwoven tapestry without any gaps or overlaps. The fact that DST is part of a never-ending loop likens it to Groundhog Day and the redundant nature of the ritual zaps life, if only for one night, as if there were no tomorrow.

My advice is to make sure your fridge and racks are stocked with whites and reds possessive of good legs that fall back in the glass. Wines of character and depth to carry you through to Sunday’s raffish onset of darkness. On the bright side, that lost hour does mean that when Sunday morning comes you won’t be confronted by first light purdah masked of a folderol, cimmerian shade. Here are four wines to aid in the transition back to standard time.fallbackwine Four fall back wines for Daylight Savings

The grape: Pinot Grigio

The history: 100% PG from the Friuli Isonzo DOC region (in northeastern Italy near the Slovenian border) produced by the cooperative, Cantina Produttori Cormòns

The lowdown: Tightly wound clusters cause varietal deformity due to the pressure they exert on each other. Intense PG at a great price

The food match: Barque Rub Roast Chicken Wings and Thighs

Cormòns Pinot Grigio 2010 (734038, $14.95) is slick stuff, like vitreous and porous silica gel without the talc. Acacia blossom perfume and agave scherzo symphony in a glass. High praise indeed for lowly PG but go Friuli my friend and note the difference. The conically tapered glass bottle adds to the magic and the profile. By way of Mr. C. for my card at Barque88

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Burgundy’s great varietal goes haywire along Niagara on the Lake’s old Stone Road

The lowdown: This racy white has just enough brake to watch its speed

The food match: Homemade Tagliatelle, brown butter, parmesan and sage

G. Marquis The Silver Line Chardonnay 2011 (258681, $16.95) streaks across and plays a lick on atomic 16 rails at breakneck speed, all the while jonesing for of a slice of custard pie. “It’s sweet and nice” with lead, nuts and spice. The G. might stand for grateful or great, as in value.  88

The grapes: Grenache, Syrah & Mourvèdre

The history: Gigondas sits one step down from Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône pecking order

The lowdown: Not nearly as serious as the likes of Brusset, Perrin or Montmirail but look at the price

The food match: Boneless Roast Quail, king oyster mushrooms, fresh thyme

Domaine Santa Duc Les Garancières Gigondas 2009 (234989, $17.90, was $27.95) is Grenache-centric so soft, modern and approachable is its MO. The S and M adds just enough volcanic disturbance, smoke and herbal spew to keep it real. Notes of arpeggios and glissades. At the reduced fare its reductive attributes smooth and flesh out hither and yon at the same time. Simmering raspberries with the intention of becoming jam is a delight to sniff and dip a spoon into.  89

The grape: Malbec

The history: From the emerging Uco Valley in Mendoza where the varietal seems to turn from  red to black

The lowdown: Showing very well for an under $20 Malbec with five years of age under its bottle buckle

The food match: Grilled Barese Sausages, tomato jam, smokey bbq sauce

Trapiche Fincas Las Palmas Malbec 2007 (186668 $17.95) with its vanillin, razor-sharp contour of energy is  rich and powerful for the price. The style is big, blowsy and not without a smokey, blackberry charm. A slight electric loss and corresponding increased valence shows that the clock is ticking fast, but for now the pleasure is all ours.  89

Good to go!