Fifty ways to Taste Ontario

The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. That much I’ve said before and this. “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Related – Where does the taste of Ontario go from here?

Though it’s not always obvious at what time of year the event will happen, the annual get to know Ontario wines gathering’s 2017 parlay affectionately known as Taste Ontario Toronto was held a week ago today, on Monday, March. 6, 2017 at the Royal Ontario Museum. The number of Ontario vintners who have participated in Taste Ontario over the past five years seems as random as it is consistent. We’ve seen as few as 30, as many as 55 and 42 participants in 2017. I’ve been tracking varietal representation and this year considered a cease and desist order for placing a trending finger on the pulse of any given grape.

Related – Why taste Ontario?

Chardonnay rules, plain and simple and call it risk aversion if you must but why should Ontario shy away from developing the coolest climate designation on the planet? Chardonnay works and if you’ve spent any quality immersion time in Chablis you’ll drop the fight and join the team. Gamay remains an important and viable alternative to big bad reds but please, enough with trying to dress this sheep in wolf’s clothing. Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of the Lincoln Lakeshore but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

Related – Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality

I don’t always taste Ontario but when I do I like to do it with Mike Di Caro. Mike grounds me and tasting by his side helps to keep my pulse at a healthy, wine tasting athletic rate of 40 – 60 beats per minute. Mike knows Ontario wine and never gets too high or too low. Tasting with him as Michael to his Mike I get to hang out inside the kind of discourse that delves into the ground, the makers and the market. Mike knows.

Related – Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

With so many other opportunities to taste Ontario wines throughout the year, last week’s staging afforded the chance to re-taste a great number. These new assessments are so important to understanding and gaining new perspective on not just how our wines age but also how they are affected by early reductive environment shock and their ability to change (for the better) after a mere six to 12 months in bottle. The first snapshots are not always the clearest. Taste Ontario also brings new wineries to the table. It’s now my job to pay them visits. Here are 50 ways to Taste Ontario.

Sparkling

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Traditional Method Sparkling 2010, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (383315, $29.95, WineAlign)

Time makes a difference so here the extended lees age (six months further, to 60) takes Riddled to another level. Considering the cost and attention to time, in the broad realm of traditional method sparkling wine there are some that are given away. Riddled. A whole lot of biscuit warmth, sody saleratus, gingersnap, tart Ida Red apple, breadth and a smile-inducing creamy palate. There is more wisdom and calm from 2010 so do not come around demanding tension and over-exciteability. Think Grower’s Champagne with Ontario heart and soul, dedication and purpose. The extended arm of Madronich-Johnston love is here, this year. It won’t get much better than this. Great length. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1  @wine_gems

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Traditional Method Brut Rosé 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Caroline and Maggie Granger have reset the compass and brought to market this original sparkling wine with a whimsical outré bounce in its step. It was a fortifying and henna-russet collecting 40 months time spent on the lees that to me has magnified and clarified the varietal expression. This is so pinot noir it gazes at itself in a mirror and vaporizes a telluric perfume replete with strawberry, dried cherry, peach and almond. Estate fruit shed of such lithe and delicate, near zero dosage animation tempts fate, digs into danger and elicits a nervy period of risk-reward. Reflection time is now and the oxidative Grange Brut Rosé walks a fine volatile edge and succeeds. Few sparkling wines can go gossamer this way and survive but like the finest spun web by a leggy creature cunning and wise, strength comes out of the most delicate weave. Science can be pretty cool.  There were 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Riesling

Château Des Charmes Riesling Old Vines, Estate Bottled 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $17.95, WineAlign)

The language in ’14 is cordial and effete, with ripe sweetness trumping the pulse of energy. The old vines deliver distinct impression, compression and phenolic bitterness. There is no mistaking this distinct wine and in the vintage its clarity is only eclipsed by its easy drinking compatibility. Enjoy early. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @MBosc

2027 Cellars Riesling Falls Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Virtual winery producer Kevin Panagapka continues his obsession with single-vineyard wines with this riesling grown just above and south of the brow of the Niagara Escarpment. Clay loam till soils with silt and shale face south along the long, one km wide, hummocky ridge and as per the vintage, a bit of simplicity is narrowed from good biodiversity. It all works towards simple pleasure, with sun-warmed fruit; pears, apples and such. Falls Vineyard grants top notch acidity and a bit of lime bitters for what is always a solid Vinemount Ridge expression. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @2027cellars

Rosewood Origin Riesling Mima’s Block 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Smells like Bench riesling spirit. The energy comes from the über vineyard’s way of emission, gasseous and vital, linear, introspective and direct. This may just be the most aridity and brine ever teased from a Mima’s riesling, acidity coveting sugar notwithstanding, startling from beginning to end, with spirited shots of lime. Underrated and honest, the consistency of this riesling is possessive of great triggers and so beautifully defines the mineral Bench. Early suffocations blow off with ease and in the denoument there are crunchy stones, forever and always something to like. Mima’s never really needed an abundance of sugar for balance and kudos to that. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @Rosewoodwine

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2015, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Chardonnay

Redstone Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard not to make a most drinkable and full-fleshy chardonnay from the stellar vintage, especially with the omnipresent cool tempering from Beamsville bench fruit. Redstone does not disappoint though at first it may seem both reluctant and extremely taut. The flavours stretch out more than the aromatics which are flinty, woody and tart. They will relent and meld into the palate with some further bottle time. This is classic for the house braintrust and reminiscent of sketches drawn in some earlier vintages, like 2009. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2016 and March 2017  @RedstoneWines

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Chardonnay Estate 2015, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps by virtue of the language spoken by the 2015 vintage this chardonnay is hard to crack and touched with a minor, vitality-preserving note of reduction. It will yield to swirl and air, opening up many floral blossoms, notably apple and peach. Intensity is consistent for the Short Hills Blench vineyards stalwart, both for its locked in freshness and aromatic heavy breathing with thanks to dense clay soils and their “tossed up limestone.” Think cool-climate chardonnay with added layers of compression, fervent soil tang and as of yet unresolved (one-third) new French and North Ameriacn oak. Two to three years in process from two to three bottles per vine naturally translates and extrapolates to needing two or three more years in bottle to make it all come swimmingly integrated together. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February and March 2017  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Meldville Chardonnay First Edition 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Foremost a Derek Barnett perfume, rational from a generous barrel and irrational from the ripest fruit at a twain where each meet, both matter and neither dominate. Classic Barnett chardonnay viscosity, deep tang and the sweetest of dry extract. If this isn’t the most ambitious effort early in a re-invented career it would be hard to say what is but wisdom and experience count for more than a bottom dollar. Real length in real time will develop the vanilla, honey and liqueur well into this chardonnay’s tithe year. If singular isn’t the current descriptor now, it surely will be then. A new stylistic benchmark for Lincoln Lakeshore is born. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Fielding Estate Winery Chardonnay Estate 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355842, $21.95, WineAlign)

The vintage offered up a whole set of challenges, especially for chardonnay on the Lincoln Lakeshore. Right off the aromatic bat I sense a little extra wood on the nose but low-yielding, ripe and healthy fruit can handle that sort of vintage-related truth. The coolness of a preceeding winter’s anti-glaze is contravened by the barrel up front and personal on the nose. The palate is all about cool-climate relegation, resignation and the overall picture is painted in balance; advance, recede, attack and retreat. Finishes with love interest, commercial appeal. Pretty complex chardonnay. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Bachelder Chardonnay Mineralité 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $22.20, WineAlign)

Mineralité is clearly nose-marked and cleverly marketed to celebrate rocks and soil, not barrel. The fruit seems plucked straight from the apple tree, crisp, tart and crunchy. Everything about this exacting Thomas Bachelder chardonnay screams foil to most else, from his wide reaching chardonnay domain and from the rest of the province. Other mettalurgical label referenced chardonnays still reek of oak and are too shy to distance themselves from the heart of the rocky matter. Thomas is serious about the moniker and goes at it with great intent. The vintage nearly, fully completely complies. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Southbrook Vineyards Chardonnay Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (172338, $22.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Ann Sperling’s chardonnay Triomphe ’15 is sourced primarily from Saunders (Beamsville Bench) with auxiliary support out of Heather Laundry’s old vine Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard. There are older, non-clonal blocks with perhaps some Musqué mixed in so the aromatics fly, with no restraint applied by the wild ferment and (mostly 300L) neutral oak. This Triomphe is anything but reductive, a no stress chardonnay from such a far from sluggish, clean ferment. The simplicity and complicity explain how beauty is curated, from a vintage where reduction did not happen or beg to happen so why try to force it. The copacetic re-quiescence bears witness to classic Ann Sperling in such a vintage. Chardonnay of mellow smoulder, of old barrel spice and one to define a certain kind on a line of disparate and unique, cool climate, i4c selections. There are 800 cases made. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

@wismervineyards royalty, Craig, Thomas @Bachelder_wines & @normhardie (and delegate Peter @BouchardFinlayson ) talking north and south #vinelandbench

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (421362, $22.95, WineAlign)

The ability of Craig Wismer’s Foxcroft Block to gift fruit, regardless it seems of vintage, is one of Niagara’s great stories. Even more special is how it allows each producer to own it and create value from differentiation. Kevin Panagapka works a decidedly reductive room with bees-waxy fruit from 2014 and of a wood creativity that deals more in spice than anything else. I really think this takes more risk than other Foxcroft efforts and they are numerous. The reward here is in the pudding, literally, in proofed fruit set up for unbreakable structure. The Sonoma glade and fog rings true in Bench-driven chardonnay speak while wood only creates a leesy stir. A very good vintage, as good as the previous two I would say and creates even more buzz for what will come next. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted March 2017  @2027cellars

Creekside Estates Chardonnay Queenston Road Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

If classic Queenston Road Vineyard might be explained in one drop, try using the Creekside ’14 to do so. Riper than most Niagara fruit and easy as Sunday morning barrel influence come together for everything to gain. Here the chardonnay equivalent of reading a good book falls into lunch, followed by a mid-afternoon slumber. Mild notes of caramel and sandlawood come through on the lightly buttered rye toast palate. The only thing missing is a good slice of bacon. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @CreeksideWine

Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent489591, $24.95, WineAlign)

The vintage brings an excess of riches and richesse to the Queylus chardonnay entry point, a place you would be wise to begin your foray into high-level, carefully crafted, cool-climate wine. This 2014 offers up its tour-guide expertise as a representational bridge into what Thomas Bachelder, Kelly Mason, the Queylus team and lake-proximate, lower Bench chardonnay is all about. The vintage takes an ambitious departure for the house and yet it carries enough (short history of) tradition in its DNA to resemble past issues of itself. Such a balanced wine for you here, of ripe and tart fruit, elasticity, stretch, rebound and finally, great length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @QueylusVin  @Dandurandwines

13th Street Chardonnay Sandstone Vineyard Reserve 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

No surprise the vintage is a major plus for the Sandstone and the natural funk it owns. And I mean owns. Only Sandstone has such geological drive, not unlike chardonnay from South Africa’s Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. In 2013 there is a sweetness to the fruit mixed with a misty humidity and finally that falling over backwards with feet stuck in the clay and the calcaire. Wildness from J. P. Colas here and with attentiveness to place and time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted at #i4c16, July 2016  @13thStreetWines

Adamo Estate Chardonnay Oaked Willms Vineyard 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $31.00, WineAlign)

Adamo sources from the same vineyard that provides fruit for 13th Street’s Sandstone Reserve in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Planted in 1983, it is owned and farmed by Erv, Esther and Eric Willms. In its early stages the fruit acted and reacted as a lean, taut and tension fuelled chardonnay with party a sign of letting up. Eight months later the juicy flesh of orchard fruit pushes past the vintage’s grip and lets tis wine breath a sigh of relief. Chalk one up to yet another cool-climate, calcareous clay stuck moment in time. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted twice, at #i4c16, July 2016 and Taste Ontario, March 2017  @AdamoEstateWine

Westcott Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2015, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $31.20, WineAlign)

I don’t mean to skip forward and get ahead of Westcott’s aromatic propriety but knowing how a winemaker likes to celebrate texture and flavour sends me direct to a sip. That first taste reveals the sumptuousness of 2015 Vinemount Ridge fruit, ripe, savoury and fleshy peach-organized. Accomplishment number one for Arthur Harder and crew. An aromatic retrospective notices tradition and cool-climate reserve, as the name would suggest and then a full-on conversion moving forward, back to the present and into the variegated luxe of flavour gifted to mouthfeel. I love how this wine lingers with an almost analgesic sensation on the gums and up the sides of the mouth. If at moments it may seem too warm or right of balancing centre it is only because it has the gumption to test and heighten the senses. If any Peninsula chardonnay were a drug that could lead to addiction, Westcott’s ’15 is the one. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @WestcottWines

Icellars Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

The aromatic hard to get personality is intriguing, not because of absence but due to a gentle wisdom and beautiful demure lurking behind the veil. I get the extract and the mineral quality inherent but need more. The palate gives more and more, especially a calcareous sensation and the lean qualities throughout are neither deficient nor bothersome. This is ambitiously market-introduced chardonnay created without getting ahead of itself and though the best the fruit has to offer is not quite coaxed, nothing has been added to distract or suppress what orchard fruit is there. Great appreciation is afforded the winemaker for keeping it simple, unadulterated and real. Drink 2017-2010.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes time matters. A year later the South Clos in 2014 has separated itself as the true Closson star, away from the CCV in ways it did not do in 2013, or before. The range of motion, aromas and flavours are dramatic and in beautiful flux, beginning with top notch orchard and stone fruit. The southern hill’s intense stony quality infiltrates before this opens up to reveal flavours as broad as the varietal spectrum will alow. If fruit slightly dehydrated, leather chewy and mille-feuille layered with fine, limestone wire interlocking are something of great appeal then chew on this South Clos for the next seven years. The texture and the length are wholly encouraging of the exercise. The score must change and the window be expanded. Drink 2018-2025.  Last tasted March 2017  @ClossonChase

The 2014 CCV South Clos Chardonnay is imbued with less tension, more elegance and fully-aclimatized cool-climate bent. It’s a linear, calm and directed soul raised from Prince Edward County soil royalty. The vintage offers up low-crop, scrupulously cropped stable if unexceptional fruit. This from a portion of the vineyard with the ability to plateau what can otherwise get season’s growth-mired in the proverbial middle of the road. Though not so tart, nor tense neither, there is a sense of tannic zest. Cool and precise, this represents concrete work from incumbent winemaker Keith Tyers. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted February 2016

The man, the chardonnay @normhardie #princeedwardcounty ’14 #vqa #winecountryontario As sure as fire will burn There’s one thing you will learn Is things you have cherished Are things

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.20, WineAlign)

So much locked in tight obscures the coaxing of a distinct and clear impression of Norman Hardie’s ’14 County chardonnay so I search for a reference point. There is danger in drawing comparisons between two single-vineyards and even more so Niagara to Prince Edward County, but I have to go there. Norman Hardie’s 2014 Niagara chardonnay is the rich and reductive, bullet-proof one. His extreme, hard as nails ’14 PEC counterpart may be the most mineral-focused ever produced off of County soils. The ferment spent 10 months in barrel plus 10 more in stainless steel and never fully completed malolactic. Chablis never had it so good. I can’t ever before recall this flirtatious and furtive combination conjoined by preserved lemon and ginger but also the smell of the apple orchard grinding through metal gears in the cider press. The magnitude of this ’14 chardonnay is felt even before the flavours begin their reveal because the layers of texture and tang are nothing short of remarkable. Hardie has gone for structure broke from this vintage reeling with impression, soliciting oyster, lobster and grand gustatory associations. There is so much going on, eliciting a response that imagines a change in direction and at least an unconscious metaphrasing of terroir. With this formidable chardonnay the idea of better or worse for Niagara versus PEC is finally laid to rest. Vintage rules. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @normhardie

Southbrook Vineyards Chardonnay Poetica 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

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

CHABROL. That is all. #snacks @chabrolto

Other Whites and Blends

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

With a string of no less than five well-executed and received pinot gris vintages tucked comfortably like brass in pocket, Malivoire’s pinot gris 2015 goes one step deeper. No pretender or pretension but yes with compression in ’15, noting melon and lime, white stone fruit, not dense but layered. More Alsace than before and poured blind would always and only be pinot gris. In the hands of Shiaz Mottiar the ’15 knows and says it. “Intention, I feel inventive. Gonna make you, make you, make you notice.” Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

Meldville Sauvignon Blanc First Edition 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Not so much an aromatic sucess for sauvignon blanc though some faux botrytis in the guise of white peach and even mango is nosed. It is the palate that defines Derek Barnett’s First Edition and offers up description. Quite creamy in texture, tangy again from mango and then sharp and linear with the type of acidity that folds over itself to increase the notion and the effect that leesy textures creates. This lingers on the palate like a tropical pastille and sapidity is very real. It’s classic antithetical Niagara Peninsula sauvignon blanc and could not be confused with Marlborough, Elgin, Sancerre or any other varietal play in the great diaspora. Derek Barnett takes less risk here (as compared to his chardonnay) but at the same time perpetuates the marked differences in expression of NP sauvignon blanc. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Does not get much fresher in Viognier, anywhere. The tank has yet to leave the bottle which does not so much stand transfixed in shock as much as it buzzes like a fridge. Heady, radioactive, reductive and policed tight which I very much like. The expected flavours of peach and the pits are in while the texture thrushes inward and the linear, distillate character lashes out. Solid as a rock in a Niagara quarry. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016 and March 2017  @NyaraiCellars  @TerroirLover

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Pinot Gris Select 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

If you are going to go for something you may as well go all in. Maggie Granger tells me the ’15 pinot gris saw 36 hours of skin contact. My math tells me that’s a 240 per cent increase over 2013 and 2014. As I said, all in. Now we have something that raises the stakes and despite some energy flatlining the sweet extract quality has never been finer. The Grange’s ’15 and its oxidative meets lactic and red berry-currant leafy personality is remarkably pure, clean, saline and yes, unusual. Add it should be because halfway there is nowhere. This succeeds because it crosses an imaginary line and fear is ignored. I can really imagine sipping this with pork liver mousse or cured Ontario fish, like rainbow or salmon trout. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

The Good Earth Viognier 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Some of Ontario’s best viognier fruit comes from these picturesque vineyards, fruit that shines with tangy delight and also takes on the weight of compression from the great clay below. I do feel the 2013 vintage was better suited to both the varietal but also the way winemaker Ross Wise procured viognier in the purest form with glassy clarity. It will be most interesting to see what incumbent consulting winemaker Ilya Senchuk does with 2016 fruit going forward. Here, from what could only have been the lowest of low yields, this aromatic and treacly textured viognier is seamless and full of peach flavour. It lingers with its phenolic ripenss well into the next minute. Highly recommended especially for its lack of waxy or bitter edges. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

Stratus White 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

In 2013 viognier is back in the varietal mix, in reprise of its earlier role in support of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. A different sort of vintage here for the White, seemingly led by a circular turning of chardonnay and viognier, like a cat chasing its tail. This really goes round and round with no obvious signs of where it will stop. Quite fleshy and lime juicy with stone fruit flavours in righteous abound. Really amalgamated and seamless even for itself. It is here that I think of it as The White. Niagara’s White. Lake Effect™. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted November 2016 and March 2017  @StratusWines

Gamay

Malivoire Gamay Small Lot 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A change of pace is noted for gamay in 2015 and perhaps it takes itself to a place beyond. Seriously dark fruit (with more tannin showing up after some time in bottle than might have originally thought possible) is noted from just a nose on Malivoire’s 2015. The pressed extraction may turn out to be a process leading to greatly improved structure. This is not the gamay rising from riding on the go-go train but one more akin to Cru doctrine and demagogy. Flavours of black cherry and tart citrus lead to plenty of leafy and earthy savour. Look out Juliénas, here comes Small Lot. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

Tawse Winery Gamay Noir Unfiltered Redfoot Vineyard 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for this deeply coloured gamay is drawn from Tom Koscis’ vineyard, big batch fermented but with a minimalist sulphured approach. Gamay that went through full malolactic in barrel out of sheer necessity. Winemaker Paul Pender is a big fan of this great site, a place that gifts perfect colour and a soil’s funk that is spot on. This is gamay of a noticeable velvety texture. Something strikes as deja nosed and sure enough, this was Pearl Morissette’s fruit in 2013 and 2014. Wisely natural and so bright, gulpable, back up the truck gamay. So beautifully and perfectly dry and even a wee bite of tannin. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016 and March 2017  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Gamay-Pinot Noir Select 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The ’14 is the first Grange gamay-pinot where the grapes were simultaneously picked and co-fermented. It’s a really ripe co-mingling and so much brighter than you’d think. “This is the vintage I was waiting for with this wine,” tells Maggie Granger. Clean, pure essence of raspberry dances on the nose and texture liquid chalky, lactic and taut. This wine also proves that this more than obvious bedfellow varietal combination makes more sense in the County than Bordeaux meetings of the kind. It remains to be seen if the Grange’s irreligious pagan pairing idea will catch on but if any vintage can spur the revolution, 2014 is the one. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Pinot Noir

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1545, $20.20, WineAlign)

The Flat Rock has been a VINTAGES essential for several seasons and like any maturing pinot noir vineyard, four or five years are needed before quality is ensured. This wine has always provided quality but it is in 2014 where the stakes are raised. For the Twenty Mile Bench (and others Benches too) this vintage provides sweet extract, steadfast fruit, polished tannins and exceptional structure. Jay Jonhston did not mess with the cards, blended with acumen and has subsequently ran the table for his basic, normale, bring it to the (relative) masses pinot noir. It’s all you need to understand Flat Rock, The Twenty Mile Bench and the Niagara Peninsula. It’s essential. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1  @wine_gems

Bachelder Pinot Noir Parfum 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $22.20, WineAlign)

Parfum doles out the Bachelder perfume with great Beaune intent and whole bunch hints from this most celebrated 2014 Niagara pinot noir vintage. With potpourri so bright and wildly tonal there needs to be some firmness for balance and this is present with tonic injection and finishing grip. The overall impression is a broad brushstoke and wells with its tea-seeping pot of mild but effective tannin. With thanks to “de-classified” Lowrey and Wismer-Parke vineyard fruit an ideal launching point progresses for the Bachelder way and encourages Le Parfum to set the stage for further investigative play. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

The Good Earth Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Moving away from the Lincoln Lakeshore and up on to the ledges of the Niagara Escarpment we find pinot noir taking on a decidly firm and stony aromatic profile. Fruit in 2015 is graced with phenolic ripeness though certainly submissive to the elevated mineral tones. The strawberry-cranberry spectrum is acquiesced and the winemaking has rendered this clean as a pinot noir popsicle whistle. Great simplicity and consumer complicity is gained. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

You’re gonna want to make room for a whole cluster of these @SouthbrookWine #pinotnoir #triomphe #annsperling #laundryvineyard #organic #niagarapeninsula #vqa #beamsvillebench

Southbrook Vineyards Pinot Noir Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Ann Sperling’s inaugural pinot noir for Southbrook makes swift, acumen accomplished first time work with Heather Laundry’s vineyard fruit. While her peers of the current generation begin to play and progressively experiment, Sperling helps to usher in the whole cluster brigade with her own 40 per cent packed, tiny berry ferment. This sterling effort takes Lincoln Lakeshore pinot noir to another dimension and Ann is confident the 115 clone is so perfectly suited to the ideal. This whole cluster thing with pinot expresses the floral lift and in turn a gift into elegance and purity. Ripeness and richness take turns without drifting into black cherry darkness. There is some chalky, earthy reduction that needs to mellow and it’s still a bit gritty, palpable of textural and even a bit mean. It won’t take long for this just recently released Triomphe to pirouette, assimilate and dutifully represent an unmitigated success for Sperling, in this her 11th vintage at Southbrook. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, St. David’s Bench, Ontario (421370, $35.00, WineAlign)

Bright, high-toned Pinot Noir with rambling warm, St. David’s Bench red fruit aromas, out of the raspberry patch (thorns and thistles in) and off of the ripening pomegranate tree. Some rusticity and quarried character refracts within a mild tannic frame. Very floral and high on acidity. Blissfully and blessedly not over pressed and in fact rather well made. Yet another success employed by winemaker Kevin Panagapka with stylistic firm talon grip from out of the Queenston Road Vineyard. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016 and March 2017  @2027cellars

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke Vineyard 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder has never had a problem with timing. His first pinot noir from the specific Wismer Parke Vineyard (labeled as such) comes from a veritable cracking jackpot of a great varietal vintage. If you need some geographical placement here, The Parke is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of Wismer in the eight farm-strong holdings on and around the Twenty Mile Bench. It is here that Bachelder concentrates the microscope on a sectional-cordoned off Wismer micro-terroir and its precision-apportioned mineralogy mined for sidetracked and step out of the box focus. What The Parke delivers in 2014 is a sweeter extract than Wismer proper and one that is stationary, static and accessible. The overall grasp is a mouthful easy on the spice or rather subtle in attack after it has climbed in and out of its barrels. Most polls would place Lowrey at the pinnacle of Ontario’s pinot noir vineyards but Thomas Bachelder’s 2014 work with Wismer Parke establishes a new player on the shortlist. This is an exciting entry point and the future will be bright. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Icellars Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The pinot noir condition is really challenged with Icellars ’15, a wine that acts as ambitious as its sister chardonnay but the results filtered through just the opposite. The aromas are dusty, rusty, coppery and full of dried fruit, but also weathered leather and savour. The palate goes deep south, humid and balmy with red citrus, plenty of tonic and a finish left by bitter citrus pith. Incredibly firm and old-world schooled, way back to Burgundy from another era. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Norman Hardie Winery & Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $45.20, WineAlign)

Great purity of Twenty Mile Bench fruit lightens the load, re-focuses, revives, prolongs and re-lives the magic. Sweet, salty and bitter combinative phenols in cohorts distinguish the layering effect of a Norm Hardie pinot noir, no matter the source but here distinct as the s-shaped micro-cilmate curves of 20 Mile blocks. Quite the cake creamy texture and silky mouthfeel for a Hardie pinot noir would indicate that alcohol has crept above the norm but the magic is never abandoned and always prolonged. Heat and alcohol “never there. You’re never there. You’re never ever ever ever there.” Under 12 per cent, every time. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017   @normhardie

Cabernet and Red Blends

Redstone Cabernet 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (415885, $19.95, WineAlign)

A cabernet blend more franc than sauvignon because of the savour and the plugged in currant fruit. Though the aromatic tones are elevated and venturing into menthol territory, the structure provided by palate and finish ground this two cab blend into solid clay. Will drink well for up to five BBQ seasons. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016 and March 2017  @RedstoneWines

The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Just as cabernet franc is inherently wont to be this Good Earth celebrates a grape’s verdant habitual greenness of warming spring and fresh vegetal in waves that bring more advantage than not. Nicely tart and expressive of varietal ways, this is neither overly ambitious nor does it use wood to excessive advantage. With understated the great operative we are faces with cabernet franc allowed to go about its business, for under appreciated grace and the sort of electric and elastic length that goes on for days. Some will say too much of a good thing but if you know cabernet franc, it’s just right. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

Can I be #cabernetfranc for a minute? @meldvillewines @grangewinery

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2013 Select, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

An extra year has paid great compliment to Caroline Granger’s ’13 cabernet franc, a wine of deeply aromatic and summer savoury dark fruit. Comparisons politically correct or not, this kind of County cabernet franc is so much more closely connected to Chinon than most from Niagara and it really combines cool-climate with limestone geology. What wood there was has melted and blended in with copacetic liquid chalky ooze, leaving this in a pure and pleasurable state of cabernet franc grace. A near perfect place. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Cabernet/Merlot Estate 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (395855, $24.95, WineAlign)

Exceeds elegant expectations with poise and presence, a Bordeaux blend so refined it pleases. Effectively restrained and remedies with tonic. Circulating acidity ranges while chocolate whips, but wholly within reason. Spice accents assist in the celebration (why not?) to effectuate this red’s firm grip and grasp of Claret reality. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015, January and March 2017  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Syrah 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (258657, $25.15, WineAlign)

The rare and elusive Ontario cabernet-syrah returns with Fielding’s 2014, from mostly Lowrey Vineyard fruit set in 20-25 per cent new barrel for 16 months. Neither a 2009 or a 2013 was produced because “it’s a priority, not an afterthought,” insists winemaker Richie Roberts. The ’14 is a (50 per cent) cabernet sauvignon, (30) syrah and (20) cabernet franc compendium, treated like a top tier Bordeaux-esque blend with a French-Niagara twist. This is sultry-smoky, curative and red fruit, earthy-dried salumi-salmagundi, holy gastronomy in a glass blend. The Fielding-Roberts wisdom and acumen are all over in a wine that will prepare you for every eventuality. Would undoubtedly pair famously with the rare and elusive king of game birds, le bécasse, with bacon and fleur de sel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted January and March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Only 100 cases were made of Hardie’s 2015 County cabernet franc with thanks to a late spring frost. The impossible one is a destemmed, small basket press wonder that spent 11 months (one more than usual) in 30 per cent new (plus 70 neutral) 228L French barrels. The tartful dodger is slick, smart and spirited. Impossible because of its wood-smothered and smouldered upbringing and how it stays so lean, clean, stealth and low in alcohol. Some things are best left unexplained. Just take in the raspberry, cranberry and cool limestone, followed by the star anise and cassia red braised pork belly imagined, even if that’s just what dish would be so right alongside. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017   @normhardie

Meldville Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

A beautifully sweet, savoury aromatic cabernet franc of verdant bright tones and such commissioned, defined red fruit. Character is at the forefront, both for attitude and complexity, gently pressed and in varietal synch. This is precisely why Lincoln Lakeshore is the right place to be with the cabernet franc you love. This has great tension without being too firm, gritty or tannic. Though this celebrates the bright and the fruity it is not without enough structure to carry it forward five plus years. Pyrazine or green notes are curiously absent and there nothing suffers as a result of their omission. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc Small Lot “101” 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Gone is the Whimsy! idiom and preserved is the varietal freshman year class denotation. The “101” actually refers to the vineyard, a block in purport of aromatic restraint in a confident Cabernet Franc with more richness and tannin, not to mention raging acidity and acceptable volatility. There is lightness and brightness within the rigid tannic frame. The “101” vineyard shines while it broods. Dichotomous Cabernet Franc with an as yet undecided future. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted at Gold Medal Plates, November 2016, February and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

Icellars Arinna 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Without knowing much about the blend, the nose tells me cabernet sauvignon leads the way. Merlot and cabernet franc trail behind the tart, purple citrus and tobacco-verdant personality. The accumulation is quite chalky, wood-inflected and with the middle palate transparency this emits as another example of a big effort (like the pinot noir) with a shortfall because it gets ahead of itself. Would likely better be served with less pressing, structural dreaming and more easy going impression. I suppose the style has to justify the price but for value and enjoyment a prudent decision would choose instead to follow the lead set out with the estate’s chardonnay. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

The time in bottle has eased up the tannic throttle, leaving Creekside’s ’12 in a pleasurable if not quite fuly accessible state. The great fruit vintage was deftly pressed, that much is clear, because as the wood subsides it is not astringncy and bitters sliding into its place. Cassis, cassia and black cherry are the aromas of ilk, in delivery at this time and followed up with cabernet sauvignon silk. This is rightfully and righteously chewy cabernet sauvignon and without a doubt just about as good as it gets for Ontario. Though the limbo bar starts low, Rob Power’s 2012 climbs under with great agility and raises the stakes for everyone else. Still, I’d hedge bets and wait two more years for further integration and a little bit of truffling to begin. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted March 2017  @CreeksideWine

Icellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Good quality fruit and equanimity from generous barrels define this ambitious effort. There is this underlying green streak that can’t be missed nor denied though it’s neither unexpected nor unusual. The texture runs quite complex, chewy and at times even crunchy, with enough structure to work towards a promising future. Wood and stemmy savour are certainly part of the mix but with time should integrate without much trouble. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

this-may-or-may-not-have-happened-raveneau-memory-monteedetonnerre

This may or may not have happened #raveneau #memory #monteedetonnerre

It has never been this difficult to narrow it down. This frenetic, fast and forward moving blur of a year has blistered the patterns of thought so much so that I seriously considered throwing the whole 16 in 16 down the drain and laying it all out there. “Here are the 42 mind-blowing wines of 2016…” and then this wave of clarity came over me like a cloudless afternoon in Chablis. I mean I tasted 50-plus Grand Cru Chablis this year. They could all be on this list.

I meant this just the way I wrote it. The simplicity of wine is a beautiful thing. A vine grows and produces grapes. That fruit is picked and ferments itself with help from yeast it just happens to carry in its luggage. Time passes and wine is made. No one had to invent it. The most basic example of shit happens.

Related – 15 Mind blowing wines of 2015

As if to presumptuously bookend 2016 before it even began, that first post was apropos. New year, 16 new VINTAGES releases were not mind-blowing by any stretch of the waxing rhapsodic imagination but white space was filled. Like growing grapes in warm climates where just about anything can complete a phenolic journey, the possibilities are endless. So that I may feel comfortable quoting Godello again and again, multeity is the name of the game.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

South Africa continued to occupy Godello for the early part of 2016 and that will never cease and desist. Hosting Andrea Mullineux at Barque Butcher Bar was one of the true highlights of the year. The landscape of South African wine is demarcated by ancient geology and by the geographical diversity of its regions, sub-regions and micro-plots. Varietal placement is the key to success. As I mentioned in previous articles, South African winemakers can grow anything they want, to both their discretion and their whimsy. The choice of what grows best and where will determine the successes of the future.

A new riesling on my radar was released in February. Creekside Estate Riesling Marianne Hill Vineyard 2014, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (443572, $19.95, WineAlign) and it paired beautifully with more foreshadowing than I’d like to admit.

Such a showing of 12 from Langton's does @Wine_Australia proud. Formidable, exemplary #AussieWine #vintagewineconservatory

Such a showing of 12 from Langton’s does @Wine_Australia proud. Formidable, exemplary #AussieWine #vintagewineconservatory

The Langton’s Classification: Excellent, outstanding, exceptional could have, would have placed 16 wines on this best of list were the rest of the planet not so adept at making wine. Like Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2010, Coonawarra, South Australia (466748, $99.95, WineAlign). Such a gathering of Australian wine delivers the preponderance of form, with the incantatory capacity of narrative to bring truth to light and fulness out of pleasure. The mantra repeated with Savouring the new Australia.

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

California stars showed up in droves and like any high quality engrossing preoccupation, the trip to Napa and Sonoma this year changed everything. Whatever I thought I knew or felt about the California wine industry now needs to be rewritten. First, Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens, then Napa Valley two: A question of ageNapa Valley: The next generationChardonnay in the Napa luxurySonoma gaps and single vineyardsSeven Grothic tales and Old vines for the Zin.

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of %22grothiness,%22 or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of grothiness, or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

The most pertinent question now in my mind is this. Can European wine keep up with the fictionality of North American reality? Even these wines could not make this list, however great and exceptional they are. Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, California (181131, $158.95, WineAlign), Forman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (143925, $160.00, WineAlign) and Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $179.95, WineAlign). Sometimes the answer still persists. All in the Primum Familiae Vini. And by the way, The LCBO keeps Kosher.

lunch-champagnelallier-azureau

Much of what I taste is in a lab with no windows. That is because VINTAGES is a mimetic project, which is a few projects too many. We wine trackers and writers are akin to Cricetinae, perpetually running in a wheel or like Sisyphus, forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down. We read the bi-weekly catalogue, pre-taste the newest offerings, make our lists and check them twice. In every batch there are 10-15 wines that stand out, as much about bell curve positioning as absence of singularity. That is why attending varietal-centric events like The dawning of the age of Austrian wine and travelling the world is so important. Not too mention in my dining room In the Campania of Vini Alois.

ca-la-bionda

To name a few excursions, I visited California in February, Vinho Verde in March, Chianti Classico in May, Chablis in July and Valpolicella in September. November in Paris I re-connected with Earth and sky. The take aways were extraordinary and flush with the relish of new discoveries and brand new days. Who can forget Ca’ La Bionda Vigneti Di Ravazzol Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 1997? Italy in the fall reminded me that Franciacorta is the best kept sparkling secret on the planet. November is a sublime time to visit the province of Brescia and the cellars of Franciacorta. Meraviglioso! Meanwhile, Champagne has to be on the list, right? Lallier Cuvée Millésime Grand Cru Brut Champagne 2008, Champagne, France (Agent, $95.00, WineAlign) should be but again, space restrictions and there was this old bubble from the New World. Decisions, decisions.

Related – March of the Canadians

Which brings me back to Canadian and more parochioally, Ontario wine. The Canadian wine renaissance is attributed to high-end, artisan winemakers like Norman Hardie and Thomas Bachelder. That’s the cool factor. The truth of the matter is that Canadian winemakers have realized and capitalized on the significance and exceptionality of their terroirs in regions such as Niagara, Prince Edward County and the Okanagan Valley. Journalists and buyers from around the globe know it and have begun to spread the Canadian gospel.

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And so I asked Where does the taste of Ontario go from here? At Cuvée, where was the Cabernet Franc? Where was the rest of Ontario’s Go Gamay Go arsenal? Varietal lampoonery I tell ya. Over the highway and across the hills, No County for old wines and then, “a celebrated indictment of suburban surrender,” Too late for May Two-Four.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

This 16-strong list has much to do with the beg, Drink now or save it for later? I have spent the last 30 years considering wine in some respect. The last 15 much more so. The tries, trials, errors, tricks, and tribulations have taught me one thing. I prefer and receive much more instant gratification from drinking wines young but nothing compares to the insight and the exhilaration of partaking in older wines.

You never forget your first hunk of #kimmeridgian love @BIVBChablis @vinsdebourgogne #chablis #cotedelechet

You never forget your first hunk of #kimmeridgian love @BIVBChablis @vinsdebourgogne #chablis #cotedelechet

The year’s greatest distraction came at the hands of Chablis and fair warning, twenty thousand words are coming soon. In 2016 I published three times, Chablis from Dauvissat to VocoretLooking for Chablis in Ontario?Enlightened Chablis of Château De Béru and Paradox in Chablis. Chablis as a varietal concept, as opposed to and unlike anywhere else in the world, seemingly unrelated to chardonnay. How could these extraordinary Chablis not make the list? Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots Réserve De L’obédience 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (AgentWineAlign) and Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros Côte Bouguerots 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (AgentWineAlign). Perhaps because I will soon publish Grand Cru hyperbole next month? That must be it.

Mirror to classicism, history and tradition. Purity from @valerialosi #querciavalle @chianticlassico #agricolalosi #sangiovese #granselezione #pontiganello

Mirror to classicism, history and tradition. Purity from @valerialosi #querciavalle @chianticlassico #agricolalosi #sangiovese #granselezione #pontiganello

For the first time, I think ever, I gave some love to Rosé in the Days of wine and Rosés. I also fell for new dessert wines and these two tried hard but came up just a wee bit short for the list. Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Symphonie De Novembre 2012, Southwest, France (470344, $38.95, WineAlign), Losi Querciavalle Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico 2000, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $95.00, WineAlign).

grahams_port-insanity-via-abnermallity-onceinalifetime-piratesonapicnic-piratesv4point0-sharingiscaring-1948-finestreserve

@grahams_port insanity via @abnermallity #onceinalifetime #piratesonapicnic #piratesv4point0 #sharingiscaring #1948 #finestreserve

Graham’s Vintage Port Finest Reserve 1948 (with thanks to Peter Boyd) granted the year’s moment of providable history. Love in droves. Holiday season for the VINTAGES releases were split and categorized, from December 10th in VINTAGES: Canada through December 10th in VINTAGES: Old World and into December 10th in VINTAGES: New World.

Singolarità, qualità, diversità. Grazie di tutto @chianticlassico

Singolarità, qualità, diversità. Grazie di tutto @chianticlassico

In 2016, two words. Chianti Classico. The wines have embarked upon an ascension into their contemporary golden age. Image, perception and finalmente, reality, these are the truths all who feel the soul of Chianti Classico are in search of today. Today and moving forward, explaining to the world that Chianti Classico is not what you thought or think it to be. Colle Bereto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $67.50, WineAlign) was a side-revelation, as were so many others in Three days, eight estates, Chianti Classico and Gran Selezione, The most important red wine from Italy. And in a year when CC is all that seems to matter, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (722470, $195.50, WineAlign) and Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2004, Tuscany, Italy (Agent$100.00WineAlign) are but mere mentions in addendum.

DavidPpelletier, 'Le Sommelier Fou' and friends in Vinho Verde

David Pelletier, ‘Le Sommelier Fou’ and friends in Vinho Verde

It may seem irrelevant now but Changes to VINTAGES release recommendations and notes on Godello will translate to a revolution at WineAlign in 2017. Wait for it. Most of all, 2016 will remind me that I will always raise my glass of Vinho Verde to Le Sommelier Fou. Here are Godello’s 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016.

200-yr-old-vines-1300m-above-sea-level-vignerietna-somesmartsomm-rosato-vinudilice-2008-tastethelava-volcanic

200 yr old vines. 1300m above sea level @vignerietna @somesmartsomm #rosato #vinudilice 2008 #tastethelava #volcanic

I Vigneri Di Salvo Foti Vinudilice 2008, Igt Sicilia Rosè, Sicily, Italy (WineAlign)

So much about this introduction to volcanic Rosato falls under the category and melts into the realm of the impossible. Begin with Vigna Bosco planted to 10,000, (up to) 200 year-old bush-trained (Etnean alberello) vines per hectare in Bronte, Northern Etna. Consider the party goers, endemic alicante, grecanico, minnella and other minor if wholly obscure native varietals. Locate the vineyard at 1,300m above sea level. Tell me it’s not the highest in all of Europe. Go on, tell me. Tended by hand with the help of Ciccio the mule. No refrigeration, yeasts or filtration. Decanting and bottling follow the phases of the moon. Blush has never acted like this, suspended as if put into bottle yesterday, beautifully minutia funky, every detail in laser calm focus. There really is no reference point, not in the south of France or anywhere in Italy to prepare for such an intellection. Vinudilice is nestled in a wood filled with holly oak (quercus ilex or in Sicily, ilice) but in respect for its singularity I would hesitate to categorize or compartmentalize. In fact I would not use the term Rosé, or Orange or natural to realize a need for reason. I would simply taste the lava. Thank you SomeSmartSomm. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @ivigneri  @somesmartsomm  @WinesOfSicily

not-members-of-blasted-mechanism-with-magnuspim-and-vasco-croft-aphroswines-vinhoverde

Not members Blasted Mechanism. With Chris Wilton and Vasco Croft, Aphros Wines, Vinho Verde

Aphros Phanus Pet-Nat 2015, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

Loureiro of a fashion so rare for Portugal and this region, from a concrete pétillant-naturel style, vinified in stainless steel with wild yeasts and initially no additional sugar, then bottled with 20 grams of natural residual sugar, to alight the single fermentation conclusion. An 11 per cent contrariety of méthode ancestrale dialectic, like a lime-grapefruit cordial housing a dissolving lemon tablet. A bowie cut, boning and dressing of loureiro. This here the whole new way to take the grape, to send it sky-high and bring it down to the rustic roots of glam, sparkling funk. “Like to take a cement fix, be a standing cinema. Dress my friends up just for show, see them as they really are.” Vasco (Andy) Croft walking and his hunky dory pet-nat spinning an original tale of a time and a place, or perhaps a myth, like the rustic deity of the forest riding shotgun to Dionysus and his native war. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016    @LeSommelierWine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rockpile Zinfandel Cemetery Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $47, WineAlign)

Look towards the other arm of Lake Sonoma and let your mind’s eye rest 250 feet higher than Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. The Cemetery plantation is a jagged, craggy outcropping with “a face uneven as a river jag and asperous as the mullein’s flannel.”  The Mauritsons are Los Campesinos of Cemetery Vineyard in Rockpile. The rocks below resemble giant headstones along the Rogers Creek fault and you just have to believe all this immensity of geology impacts the vines. It does but don’t ask how or why, just settle into the cimmerian depth of zinfandel touched by black fruit, spice and the akimbo savour of glutamate and amino acid. Three further months in barrel (85 French plus 15 American) accentuates the spice, smoulder and espresso con crema texture. Ripeness of fruit, tannin and acidity are simply stellar out of this dramatic place. “You know us by the way we crawl and you know us by our cemetery gaits.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016  @mauritsonwinery  @sonomavintners

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Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2013, Alsace, France (581975, $64.00, WineAlign)

Though it may long ago have been considered the quintessential one, there may be no other Alsatian gewürztraminer more important than Weinbach’s Cuvée Laurence. The reasons are manyfold but begin and end with memory and legacy. This was daughter and sister Laurence Faller’s prized wine, the wine she put her name to, that defined her gracious winemaking in echo of the estate she worked. Her family has carried the torch and yet her touch is all over this wine. Calm, composed, balanced and ethereal. Laurence is a clear expression of the marly limestone soil beneath the lieu-dit of Altenbourg, located at the base of the great Grand Cru Furstentum vineyard. Where else do you find gewürztraminer of such delicasse, from which classic aromas (rose petal, creamy to boozy-syrupy tropical fruit) and impossible unction combine without ukase? Nowhere. The acidity does not act with impulse. No, it rings, supports and lingers. The extract is intense but out of mind. Exceptional vintage. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted October 2016    @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @ACT_Alsace  @VinsAlsace

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Luiano Chianti Classico 1979, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Alessandro Palombo is skeptical at first, one eyebrow raised but with the look of possibility on his face. Takes me very little time to acknowledge that this ’79 is very much alive, fruit not predominant (and surely some prune) but neither cooked nor bruised. The brown nose (earth and spice) purports a full concentration of anthocyanins, acidity still full in, dried fraises de bois, black liquorice, dirty leather and worth repeating, still very good acidity. Truffle, forest floor and then black olive tapenade on the palate. This is 70-80 per cent sangiovese with colorino and canaiolo and for 1979 it’s quite incredible. It should not have lasted this long.  Antonio says that up to 10 per cent could have been malvasia blanca and trebbiano because at the time it was a field blend, co-planted with the sangiovese, which could explain some of the variegation in the colour. This is a Chianti Classico to lend credence to the idea of using multiple fruit, vegetal and animale descriptors when assessing an old wine. It’s also the reason why you put them away and open them with friends who’s eyes are wide open. Thank you Alessandro for the opportunity and for the connection to your grandfather Alberto. He was a very good winemaker. Drink 2016.  Tasted May 2016  @LuiLuiano  @chianticlassico

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Château De Béru Chablis Clos Béru Monopole 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $87.95, WineAlign)

In 2012, less density and iodine matchstick is on display in performance for the historic, south facing vineyard beyond the Château’s walls. From this her eighth vintage in the resurrection of the family’s estate wines, Athénaïs de Béru has assembled fruit from Kimmeridgian limestone in rapport with a vintage of portent and intent towards elegance. The acidity is much more linear (than 2013) and the limestone sensations less metallic. Here the feeling is more of a liquid chalk and the balance is much improved. Also less evolved, bright and a much more amenable of a bitter pith, more citrus (lemon and lime) and not as earthy. Longer finish too. What 2013 lacks this ’12 gains and vice versa. The comparative literature and parenthetical study is duly noted as apples to oranges so the wines are exempt of one another. Neither answer all the questions asked and both express their terroir from their time spent on it. This ’12 story will become clearer in another year or two. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2016       

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Granja Remelluri Rioja Gran Reserva 2009, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $89.99, WineAlign)

“What is Rioja?” asks Telmo Rodríguez. He notes that Lopez-Heredia still manages small vineyards, Grand Cru and Premier Cru plots, but most Rioja houses are industrial. Their wines age in barrels in 100-150 year old wineries but have no sense of place, of origins, of an amazing vineyard. “I want to be radical. I believe it (Rioja) can be one of the most beautiful places in the world but I told my brothers it needed to go in a very particular direction. My brothers agreed.” So costs went up 35 per cent. They bought no grapes. “If you want to work properly in Spain, you have to be a hero.” You have to work the most difficult vineyards, where production costs are five times that of Grand Vin Bordeaux but the price sells for 10 times less. And so Telmo Rodríguez produces this Gran Reserva, a wine that adheres to a Rioja systematic but does so from a blind-eye turned, high density field-blend planting of tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, muscatel, viura and malvasia. A field blend, unlike Bordeaux but a local village farmed gathering of the best fruit. The 2009 is showing no age but the difference between 2010 Reserva and 2009 Gran Reserva is night and day. This makes the ’10 seem fresh, alive, open, almost simple. Here the variegation is distilled down to laser focus, as if the varieties all become one and most people would simply say tempranillo, but who has ever tasted and been dealt such a tempranillo? This is oozing of a liqueur like no other, rich, viscous, natural and dry-extract sweet. An expression of the best microclimates and their vineyard kin. Wait another five years to allow it to remember and tell its tale. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2016    @TelmoRodriguez_  @Noble_Estates

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Dominus 1998, Napa Valley, California (212381, $176.95, WineAlign)

When I tasted the 1990 in 2012, hanging on to every thread of oscillation from death to life and back again was exhausting. The 2008 tasted that same year could not have been more life affirming. This ’98 is such a zoetic Dominus beast with an embarrassment of resplendent riches. It is everything 1990 wished it could have been and yet the light-hearted George Hrab geological funk reminds me of that wine. The 1998 trips on a trebuchet and I weep at its aromatic reverie. It is hypnopompic, a state immediately preceding waking up, whiffing the most beautiful Brett there ever was or could ever imagined to be. Volatility in a bubble, circumstantial, lost in a dream. Get lost in the butcher shop, the natural cure here, there, everywhere, curative and comforting. Porcine and rapturous, fruit perfect and entitled, structure supprting every note. If 1998 was both a curious and concerning vintage this wine lays those worries to rest. The fretting may have swayed feelings and been difficult to glide fingers across but the harmonics extend with ease. Finishes with staccato calm, a palpable exhale of breath and silence. Five more years will be like this and five more without threat. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted October 2016     @rogcowines  

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Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains, California (405332, $191.95, WineAlign)

From a serious drought vintage, dry, warm and demanding, the 2013 Montebello’s Draper perfume is as heady as ever, to such effect that after one whiff this is where daydreaming takes over consciousness. Montebello gets inside the head, with allegory, radio frequency waves and platonic thought, as if inside a cave. An 80 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot (8), Cabernet Franc (7) and Merlot (5) classic, lithe and restrained blend of sheer, utter exceptionality. The balance in 2013 is impeccable but dont be fooled into thinking this is not a big wine. The acidity is dramatic, the tannins fine and demanding and the amount of pure extract whorled and revelling. All in dark red fruit and a coolness through the mid-palate that threads like silk through fine stainless steel fibre. “This goes beyond me, beyond you.” Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted May 2016  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines  @CalifWines_CA

Fino, Don P.X. '86 and '62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Fino, Don P.X. ’86 and ’62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Bodegas Toro Albalá Don P.X. Selección 1967, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (491647, $199.95, WineAlign)

You know it’s a good month when you are afforded the opportunity to taste two Montilla-Moriles Pedro Ximenez oldies, first the Alvear Solera 1927 in Paris and now this Selección 1967 bottled in November of 2016. The vintage-dated PX are produced from sun-dried grapes fermented for two months to eight or nine per cent alcohol, at which point a distillate made from the same PX pressings is added to bring the wine up to 17 per cent. First in concrete vats and then a transfer into 50-150 year old American oak barrels. Only 630 bottles were filled in a PX of awakening and hope that finished at an indiscernible 17 per cent alcohol. Some dessert wines can be cloying Popskull but Bodegas Toro Albalá delivers yet another impossible and crazy dessert wine of heavy fuel, impeccable balance in the face of Lugduname breaching sweetness and aromas sin fronteras. The gamut glides through roasted nuts and dried fruits, from almonds and Van Gogh Museum memories of their abundant flowers plus pomegranate, apricot, peach, nectarine, damson plum and pistachio. So much pistachio!! In between there is orange marmalade, quince jelly and prune preserve. Plenty of acidity extends and narrows into a sharp, pointed tang. No matter how many times you try to empty the glass there is always more wine. Always another sip. Is it viscosity, a truco del ojo or trampantojo? Is there some kind of wizardry at play? Then finally, well, actually never, a finish with no end, or a pause in a never-ending 49 year-old (and counting) story. So where is the beginning? 1967. Drink 2016-2040.  Tasted November 2016  @toroalbala  @sorgatoBTA  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

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Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 50th Anniversary Late disgorged 1999, Napa Valley, California (Winery $175 US, WineAlign)

In celebration of Schramsberg’s golden anniversary, 50 years after Jack and Jamie Davies revived the historic Schramsberg estate for the purpose of making the nation’s first chardonnay and pinot noir based, bottle-fermented sparkling wines. A North Coast (57 per cent Napa, 25 Mendocino, 15 Monterey and 13 Sonoma) blend of 74 per cent chardonnay and 26 pinot noir. Seventeen years have come to ginger, cumin, coriander and galangal in laminous, oxidative ingenuity, wholly arid in kicking up the aromatic dust. Flavours of pressed lemon, bitter brioche and then tannin, yes tannin. From a protracted year, picked as late as October 19th, disgorged in August of 2014 at a dosage of (very necessary) 11.5 g/L RS. Blessed with high natural acidity of 9.8 tA. How can I not concur with Hugh Davies. “What we’re really showing here is Napa Valley Chardonnay.” Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted February 2016  @Schramsberg  @TheVine_RobGroh

Down by the river with #raveneau #grandcru #blanchot #chablis @lafolieauxerre #2009 #francoisraveneau #thankful

Down by the river with #raveneau #grandcru #blanchot #chablis @lafolieauxerre #2009 #francoisraveneau #thankful

Domaine François Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot 2009, Burgundy, France (WineAlign)

It would be misleading to address Raveneau’s Blanchot as chardonnay even as we know it as such because Raveneau produces wines as unique as door keys. They are so inimitable and each will only open the gate to its own unique perception. Blanchot is the southernmost of the seven Chablis Grand Cru climats and blankets the southeastern side of Les Clos. The Raveneau narration does not convey the notion of manifest feeling but instead splits the axiomatic atom of the climat. A sip and you are inside the Blanchot, gliding and passing through rock as if you are the ethereal and the wine is the solid foundation of thought, pathos and avowal. There are aromas that combine citrus and umami with a sweetness that can’t be denied or defined. The wine is just a child, complex, shy and yet unable to express both its meaning and power. But you try to get inside its head, stumbling over kimmeridgian rock replete with the smithereen-crushed shells of ancient fossils. This is a calm young Blanchot and you melt away while under its spell. Three more years should render its hidden meaning. Drink 2019-2034.  Tasted July 2016

A great pleasure and exercize in humility to taste with #vincentdauvissat in his cellar @BIVBChablis #humanity #chablis

A great pleasure and exercize in humility to taste with #vincentdauvissat in his cellar @BIVBChablis #humanity #chablis

Domaine René et Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2001, Burgundy, France (WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle opened five days prior which is nothing really for a wine that can age easily for 30 years. It resides in a perfect state. Vincent concedes “over 20 there is nothing to be gained” and yet the still terrifically raging acidity would suggest this 15 year-old specimen is only halfway there. The texture is nothing if not persuasive. In 1931 Vincent’s father began this journey. Here 70 years later is a wine so perfectly intact, the lemon-waxy aspect almost on the edge of the hive. But not quite because of the taut bracing and tight embracing. There is a chew to this and Dauvissat shrugs. “What’s to say?” Nothing but a great piece of his history and his father’s legacy. If this wine is a sentimental tribute to a childhood village, it is never uncomplicated. Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted July 2016

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Catena Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $325.00, WineAlign)

In this extremely specific malbec from a diagnosed block of the Adrianna Vineyard we are graced with the micro-science of wine. And if you feel that using the name of an aerobic bacteria in the nomenclature is an odd choice, consider the mind of Dr. Laura Catena and her biological approach to viticulture. If we can understand and differentiate the microbes in the soil we can make better wine. It’s as simple as that. When wine is broken down to the biological level it becomes something entirely different and this is the road travelled by the Mundus Bacillus. Catena’s usage of 70 parcel pits per hectare has unearthed this single parcel within the vineyard, again completely different and the pinpointed microbial discussion initiates right here. The soil stakes a claim for this malbec only, certainly not in any way that tends to funk but surely as an impresario of soil. Talk about eugenics in the MBT because that science is compelling and can be related to in this wine. It can offer keys towards improving genetic quality of the vinous population. Here we are faced with rich and dusty, a mean streak of malbec intensity made elegant by earthly microbes. This section draws parallels to the (chardonnay) White Bones soil from which there transfers an excess of dry extract and tannin. Patience please for a malbec that will be long lived. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

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He has always distracted me so that I thought of nothing else while listening to the words. And the sound of his voice.

Compiling a best of wine list is never easy. Not when the subject matter is the most fleeting of consumables, a drink ever-changing, almost never tasting the same twice and destined for eventual failure. We know by instinct that wines cast the shadow of their own destruction before them and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins. Wine critics can only regard what is in the glass by what sensory enjoyment or displeasure is activated at that exact time. In most cases there are no second chances.

I do my best to taste wines twice before passing judgement. Too often I can’t fulfill this prophecy, especially when plodding through 100-plus on a VINTAGES release. In 2016 I made a great effort to visit these 16 wines three times before penning a review. It was not always possible but I tried. When it comes to Canadian wines and even more so with wines from Ontario, there are often second and third chances. And so I feel very confident in sharing this definitive list with you.

Hallelujah

It must be said that 2016 was a most difficult year. Too many special people were taken from us far too early. I lost two friends this fall as I’m sure some of you did as well. Many of us dwell on favourite celebrity deaths and especially the loss of musicians, some of us more than others. If you are one who takes to social media to mock the romantic who shares grief with others at the loss of a musical icon, well just skip past this and go straight to the wines. Or please refrain from comment and respectfully remain quiet.

David Bowie. Prince. Leonard Cohen. Sir George Martin. Glenn Frey. Paul Kantner. Leon Russell. Keith Emerson. Greg Lake. Alan Vega. Mose Allison. Bernie Worrell. Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. Arnold Palmer. Craig Sager. David Huddleston. Ken Howard. George Kennedy. Abe Vigoda. Ron Glass. Florence Henderson. Fuck 2016. And this tree fell on my house.

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How’s your Sunday going so far?

On a much brighter note 2016 was a banner year for tasting Canadian wines. It also provided a vintage of quantity meets quality and one that was desperately needed, especially here in Ontario. My tasting regimen saw no quit or slow down in 2016. I’m not sure how many Canadian wines I tasted but if it was less than a thousand I’d be shocked. I tasted more at home, assessed a greater number in the LCBO’s sensory lab, delved deeper at the WineAlign office and spread the web wider at events in Ontario. I judged with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Penticton at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

In 2015 I counted 15 on the filtered list. In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth will lead to 17 in 2017.

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Welcome @muller_brent to team RED! with nazlanmak captain @treve_ring #nwac16 @winealign

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

And again, I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.” In 2017, trust in Canadian wine.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

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Return Syrah engagement @CreeksideWine pouring on tap @barquebbq and @barquebutchers #freshtap #wineontap

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar added some new wines in 2016 to follow those poured from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and new offerings from Creekside continue to fill your glasses.

The year began with great excitement at Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January. In February I returned for Cuvée Weekend. In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Okanagan Valley and a confession I need to make is that I wanted to publish with the title “Why you don’t know shit about B.C. wine” but chickened out at the last second and instead came out with Why you don’t know jack about B.C. wine. Before judging we paid a visit with The Wines of British Columbia for the Judgement of B.C. The second annual cage match was hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute and took place on Tuesday, June 21, pitting 12 B.C. Wines against 12 acknowledged global benchmarks. Riesling and Pinot Noir squared off, curated by DJ Kearney and judged by a who’s who of Canadian wine writers, critics and educators, along with international WineAlign Awards judges Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan Brown.

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How lucky we all were to have her back in the captain’s chair. Happy Canada Day @djwines #nwac16

As the week progressed, the WineAlign judges paid visits to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, Rustic Roots Winery with the Similkameen Wineries Association and Deep Roots Winery on the Naramata Bench. I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the five days from the appellations of Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Similkameen Valley and Naramata Bench. At the awards I tasted more than 500 Canadian wines.

Of greatest importance was my return to the International Chardonnay Cool Climate conference that took place between July 22nd and July 24th in Niagara. Before attending for a fourth straight year I penned The democracy of Cool Chardonnay. It was there I wrote that “plus has joined the i4c, an ideogram of addendum, a character of diversity for the fluently persuasive and forceful congress. This gathering will open its arms for colour and to allow its constituents to regale with what they do best. For an event-driven pure as single-varietal snow and formerly known exclusively as chardonnay, is this really a shocker? This is the reality of democracy.”

#cool

People bitched and moaned. How can a chardonnay conference include other grape varieties? Sacrilege and foul play they (secretly and not so secretly) complained. In the end the inclusion of red varietals confused nothing and no one. Chardonnay remained the focus and the star. No chardonnay were harmed.

We broke cool climate bread and spread chardonnay gospel with Ian D’Agata (Decanter, Vinous.com), John Szabo M.S. (Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power), Jean-François Bordet and Françoise Roure from Wines of Chablis. We tasted with sixty winemakers at the School of Cool, “Flights of Chardonnay” at Niagara District Airport and the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario. Red wines were poured after dinner!

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Only American presidential candidates carry babies at #i4c @coolchardonnay

We welcomed writer Kurtis Kolt from Vancouver, sommeliers Carl Villeneuve-Lepage and Elyse Lambert from Quebec. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Tex-Somm Director James Tidwell made the long trip north and a second Canadian courting immersion in as many months was performed by visionary wine raconteur Elaine Brown.

So what did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2016? Well, he found out that we have to look at organoleptics and ask a very important question. Is your expectation of a Chablis going to be the same as chardonnay made from anywhere else? More important, who are we putting this wine in front of? Ian D’agata’s take struck a Canadian chord.  He talked of “a welcome astringency characterized by piercing flavours. These are cool-climate wines.  Cool climate chardonnay is not about a long litany of fruit descriptors. If you have a cool-climate viticultural area it behooves you to give the people what they are looking for.”

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Potential is the past @Somewhereness

After i4c16 I took part in an Impromptu tasting at Ravine. Four months later the intrepid sophist Scott Zebarth and I tasted with winemaker Marty Werner for a second time. That same day we visited with J-L Groux at Stratus and with Paul Pender at Tawse. Our focus was cabernet franc. That report is coming soon and I can promise this. The 17 in 2017 and 18 in 2018 will be graced by cabernet franc. Fall events were led by the constitutive Somewhereness, as fundamental and essential as any agminate Ontario tasting can and will ever be. Then there was the Great Canadian Oysters and Wine Experience at Rodney’s Oyster House. The event was hosted by Wine Country Ontario and paired a curated who’s who of Ontario VQA wines with the local iconic fare. Exceptional all around.

%22ill-do-what-i-can-so-you-can-be-what-you-do-%22-rodneystoronto-coasttocoast-oysters-winecountryontario-dukes-peioysters-bcoysters-elliotsmith-greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

“I’ll do what I can so you can be what you do.” @rodneystoronto #coasttocoast #oysters #winecountryontario #dukes #peioysters #bcoysters #elliotsmith #greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

Where are we now?

Despite all the talk of rules, regulations and governing boards that restrict movement, labelling and profits, the Canadian landscape is evolving in a beneficent direction. Though the move to loosen monopoly control and increase competition has backfired in the short term, corrections to British Columbia’s wine trade will happen, sort itself out and right the ship. Decades of bureaucracy don’t dismantle and do right by the consumer overnight. Things always get worse before they get better. The move to supermarkets in Ontario is indeed one of smoke and mirrors but it opens the door to gaining advantage through loopholes and creative minds kickstarting new business ventures. The wave to privatization can no longer be averted or snuffed out. Momentum will gain traction and open the flood gates to wine trade nirvana.

the-man-the-chardonnay-normhardie-princeedwardcounty-14-vqa-winecountryontario-%22as-sure-as-fire-will-burn-theres-one-thing-you-will-learn-is-things-you-have-cherished-are-things-that-you-have

The man, the chardonnay @normhardie #princeedwardcounty ’14 #vqa #winecountryontario “As sure as fire will burn There’s one thing you will learn Is things you have cherished Are things that you have earned.” #tomwaits #littleman

Canadian wines run more or less of their own accord, not so much thanks to the winemakers or the condition of the current culture, as in spite of them. And certainly not by virtue of any particular ethos through customs and traditions going back over many generations of wines. No, success and cumulative proficiency exists by dint of these wines without any forced supervision. They are governed by themselves and indeed across the entire industry. Done are the blanketing days of spare and often powerful Canadian wines that were often too spare, so that the ribs of tannin showed through in painful obviousness. The embracing of cool climate idiosyncrasy and unique-somewhereness make Canada the envy of the developing wine world.

Controversy

Now this. VQA is expected to pass regulatory approval and introduce a new category of wines called “skin contact whites.” While Orange wines are the most notable example of skin contact whites, who’s to say the ambiguity of the designation could not impel the inclusion of other cabalistic and achromatic specimens? Let’s look at Riesling as a perfect example.

skin-contact-riesling-from-mackbrisbois-trailestatewine-invisibly-stitched-and-tart-pan-curl-burgunder-less-than-50-cases-hughes-lakeview-foxcroft

Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Leaning Post’s The Geek, Trail Estate’s Skin Contact Foxcroft and Pearl Morissette’s Blackball are all atypical, mad scientist outtakes. Will the new category allow these wines to pass easily through the borders of VQA? Will the wall regarding place of origin on labelling be the next to crumble? Let’s hope reason in the name of progress born out of trust for altruistic and dedicated producers will carry through to a new frontier. Right Bruno and Jens?

New Kid in Town

You might notice that all 16 wines I have chosen are from very established producers. The next wave of young winemakers and wineries is taking shape in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and especially in Nova Scotia. I would expect new kids on the list in the coming years. I want you all to know that I traveled through great pains, algorithmic calculations and much unavoidable emotion to arrive at this rocking list. For every wine that made the grade there were three more that narrowly missed. They are all important but these 16 combine lyricism with melody. They write the songs.

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara PeninsulaPhoto: Brian Barton - Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Photo: Brian Barton – Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

It’s as if this label had bided all this time to be the benefactor of 2013 fruit. This Rusty Shed, this 20 miler with the track record to age, a wine that sheds baby fat over a 10 year mineral through echelon stratum, in ways few other peninsula to bench chardonnay can do. This Jay Johnston handled surfer of a wine, buoyant and balanced, centred and able to withstand turbulence, oscillation and tidal sway. Here with sumptuous and spiralled fruit gaged in lode intervals and a tartness held in lope and line by a membrane of extract and tannin. Best ever. Showing well, repeatedly and to forecasted repute. Impressing critics and consumers alike. Bravo. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2016  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

sometimes-there-comes-a-wine-of-the-impossible-at-the-frontier-this-by-synchromeshwine-riesling-stormhavenvineyard-okanaganfalls-8-9

Sometimes there comes a wine, of the impossible, at the frontier. This by @SynchromeshWine #riesling #stormhavenvineyard #okanaganfalls #8.9%

Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

If this riesling is sweet I couldn’t say. That is the first thought that comes to mind. From Alan Dickinson’s home property, this is his baby, an Okanagan Falls derived riesling that lives an entirely holistic existence. No spraying, none, nada, niente. Not ever. The wine could not get any cleaner. Purity is its cognomen. The vineyard is subject to the highest diurnal temperature swing than just about anywhere in the valley. That might explain the risk-reward probability factor. The technical specs are a triumvirate of implausibility; 46 g/L RS, 11.5 g/L TA and pH below three. What? This is the most impossible wine made in B.C. In its concentrated velocity it wheezes like something ancient. We could almost be drinking Greek debina or 20 year-old Alsatian auxerrois. Dickinson makes three passes over each of the two blocks so even if the hands are off, the meticulous picking breeds asepsis. Citrus such as found in the Storm Haven fruit does not happen very often, if rarely. It’s like citrus soma. Citrus unknowable out of determination unthinkable. Direct misunderstanding by indirect whimsy. And so the vintage offers good fun but not greatness. Imagine the possibilities. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted June 2015  @SynchromeshWine

ah-geek-out-le-geek-cest-chic-leaningpostwine-pinotnoir-riesling-lees-experiments-pushingboundaries

Ah, geek out, le geek, c’est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Leaning Post Riesling “The Geek” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk and swot-out cohort Ryan de Witte pulled 350 litres of riesling aside, accoutred with all readily available lees and shacked the whole gross mess in tank together, Vinification was completed at nine grams (RS) nearly-dry, in what can only be described as a reductive, cloudy, super-geeky riesling. Acquires an increased resonance from its designation stowed at a way station on what really is a longer, personal journey. The 2015 will be bone dry and like this ’14 will sit for 18 months in encouragement of a truly experimental, waiting for something to happen riesling. Time will act to fill in the gaps and increase its already developed texture. If you have ever had the pleasure you will see this as Jean-Pierre Frick-ish to be sure. When asked the question, he ‘The Geek’ will repeatedly reply, “I am not ready.” Drink 2018-2022.   Tasted March 2016  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine

if-the-establishment-wants-what-you-got-give-it-to-them-blackball-14-riesling-by-pearlmorissette

If the establishment wants what you got give it to them. Blackball ’14 #riesling by @PearlMorissette

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

One whiff and you are hep to what can only be Pearl Morissette, but with a neoteric twist. Riesling that flaunts full-frontal, of furthered acidity, vitality and multi-tined nuance. Farther too of age advanced but without any quirky or funky naturalist intrusion. Already chill, relaxed and with thanks to the vintage, almost round. The precise weave is tapestry fine and deceptively simple, what François Morissette likes to call a “crystallized cream of texture.” The oversized 2012 still digests itself, ’13 is organoleptically structured, long and cool. But ’14? A ‘no foudres’ vintage, from 100 per cent concrete fermentation, wild through malolactic and with zero grams of residual sugar. Bone dry. Concrete was chosen for must intricacy, palate texture, flavour and necessary balance. Riesling borne of crunchy, concrete desire, bright, with preserved lemon across the palate, gentle, feminine and beautiful. This is the focused consistency in loyalty to ’12 and ’13. Try and stereotype this Black Ball to Vin Nature funk. I dare you. Pour it in an expansive Ontario riesling flight and it will stand out like a solar flare in a fulmination of fireworks. There will be no mid-life, black hole of disappearance crisis. It will always be fine and pristine, drink well, like an impossibly dry version of a Coulée de Serrant. Only 186 cases were made so yes, the Blackball is a wine of very small production. Establishes yet another reference point and just wait for ’15. That vintage will deliver the greatest of bones. The new age will really launch then. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2016  @PearlMorissette  @lassvet

sincerity-culminawinery-from-elaine-don-triggs-and-a-superfluity-of-winebcdotcom-pours-ohwhatanight-hospitality-nwac16

Sincerity @CulminaWinery from Elaine & Don Triggs and a superfluity of @WineBCdotcom pours #ohwhatanight #hospitality #nwac16

Maverick Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Bertus Albertyn bottled a meagre 200 cases of this Golden Mile Bench sourced syrah after 18 months in three to four year-old French Oak. If you are a fan of fresh, well-spoken, confident and blessedly transparent syrah then look for the next vintage of this sold out beauty. So gauzy gossamer textured, peppery but of scant bite and driven by a northern, smoky beat. The cure and depth in its make-up nearly adds up to beefy but its form of athleticism is built upon the quiet politesse of its maker’s execution. The comparison must be made to septentrional Rhône and the lack of new oak is so appreciated. This is a wine to watch for. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @MaverickWinery

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

There was this intuitive moment with Picone 2013 as if it was waiting on me. Not doting or soliciting, but waiting. I will admit to have been wondering, reeling and speculating. To peer or peek into what Mark Picone’s Vinemount Ridge vineyard would adjudge and then bestow Charles Baker’s riesling in 2013? Would it be a case of weight, hyperbole, a hang in the balance out of misjudged necessity? Nah. Picone is no longer a mature 20 year-old vineyard but now a wise old thirty year-old one. Picone 2013 is in fact a fun park mirrored image of itself, with haughty, aerified aromas and variegated, leaning to tropical fruit flavours, taut like a flock in line with the vintage. The riesling berries just seem to have imploded and the results that have followed are nothing if not intense. Imagine a Yogyakarta market and a two-wheeled, glass-cased push cart stacked with a pyramid of tart mangoes. The fruit had been picked just as the sugars had begun to run like sap and bleed sticky on the cracking skin. A mango is sliced and doused with the intensity of Java lime juice and then sprinkled with Laut Jawa salt. The flavours are searing, sweetly saline and quenching. Only this tart is this, where tart and acidity meet, intertwine and connect on an emotional level. Picone 2013. The first non-inoculated riesling at first and then touched up near the end. “The best vintage you could ask for in riesling,” notes Baker, “cloud-covered, a meeting of the minds, vibrant.” The arid, cranky one will live without fret for 15 years. Drink 2018-2028.  First tasted in March of 2015, then twice, October 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Csv Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Nuit Blanche is one of Canada’s most unique commodities, a White Meritage (of sauvignon blanc and sémillon) blended from exceptional and aromatically delicate Rosomel Vineyard fruit. As part of Hidden Bench’s “Terroir Series” it righteously expresses white Bordeaux varietal purity from the southern blocks of the Beamsville Bench vineyard. Expectation runs high because 2014 seems a perfect Fumé Blanc vintage if ever there will be one for (40 year-old) vineyards tucked snugly in abutment to the Niagara Escarpment. A struck flint nosing entry is followed by taut strung acidity and palate tension eased by a fictionalized adult cotton candy, wisps of smoke, honey and lanolin. The grace of it all is hidden beneath a filigree of molecular green apple caviar gastronomy. In 2014 Nuit Blanche reflects propriety, elegance and genteel balance, caressed from the hands of winemaker Marlize Beyers. It is as if Beyers let this ferment slip away as a parent would encourage a child who is ready to leave the home. After tasting it at Gold Medal Plates in Toronto I spent a sleepless night, not from restlessness or over-indulgent behaviour but because I wished to pull an all-nighter with the best ever sauvignon blanc bled and led Ontario white. I would suggest leaving this be for two years for the subtle though generous barrel to melt into fruit but time will gather for up to two decades before the sun sets on the 2014 Nuit Blanche. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted November 2016  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @ImportWineMAFWM  @MarkAnthonyWine

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word...structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word…structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Lonna’a Block alights straight out from the retail shop to the west side of the driveway (and is named for Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister). The site was planted in 2004 and here, 10 years on, its warm St. Davids’ Bench fruit is simply welling, hermetically sealed and antithetically intense. The block has come to this, in production of cabernet franc with side-splitting, tongue tripping acidity to work lightning crack geometry into the wood-derived chocolate and the ferric-tannic tension. The fissures are filled but there is the right kind of cabernet franc fragmentation. The liquid metal mineral and deep blackberry ooze is smooth and polished. The fruit was “picked early,” or if you will, in Grouxian, Gambleized and risk, Werner reward exercised terms, mid-November. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2016  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @CreeksideWine  @AMH_hobbsandco  @hobbsandco

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards Photo: Michael Godel

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards
Photo: Michael Godel

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015  @StratusWines

bachelder

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke Vineyard 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder has never had a problem with timing. His first pinot noir from the specific Wismer Parke Vineyard (labeled as such) comes from a veritable cracking jackpot of a great varietal vintage. If you need some geographical placement here, The Parke is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of Wismer in the eight farm-strong holdings on and around the Twenty Mile Bench. It is here that Bachelder concentrates the microscope on a sectional-cordoned off Wismer micro-terroir and its precision-apportioned mineralogy mined for sidetracked and step out of the box focus. What The Parke delivers in 2014 is a sweeter extract than Wismer proper and one that is stationary, static and accessible. The overall grasp is a mouthful easy on the spice or rather subtle in attack after it has climbed in and out of its barrels. Most polls would place Lowrey at the pinnacle of Ontario’s pinot noir vineyards but Thomas Bachelder’s 2014 work with Wismer Parke establishes a new player on the shortlist. This is an exciting entry point and the future will be bright. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $45.20, WineAlign)

A second taste four months later confirms the impossibility from Hardie in 2014, a vintage that just begs for Norm’s magic handling, from exemplary, slow-developed fruit off of a vintage’s hyperbole of low-yielding vines. The low alcohol continuum persists, the freshness and richness of County berries magnifies and the development of flavour is beyond and above. The tart is a membrane and the sweetness a virtue, feigned and delicate. Tremendous work made easy by Norm and a pinot noir that will live longer than any he has produced before. Drink 2017-2027.  Last tasted August 2016

In Prince Edward County and for pinot noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet pinot noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm pinot noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

a-back-pages-cabernetfranc-moment-with-paul-pender-tawse_winery-wismervineyards-everythingfranc-2007-vanbers

A back pages #cabernetfranc moment with Paul Pender @Tawse_Winery @wismervineyards #everythingfranc #2007 #vanbers

Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2007, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

The state of freshness is static, a sameness that is mostly impossible but the perfume is settled and obvious, of violets and blackberries, closer to ’12 than ’10. Hot and dry but still, balanced. Tasted blind there would be no way of knowing where or from when this was. Sure Bordeaux could be imagined but Niagara, Beamsville Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Creek Shoes, or the confluence of the three? How could you know. Two years ago this opening began and now the invitation reads with utter clarity, the door widely agape. There seemingly is not a single moment of aromatic evolution and the acidity rages with great vibrancy. The longevity factor is in my friends. Paul Pender knew then what he knows now, at least with respect to cabernet franc. It’s like this. Just like this. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right:

Benjamin Bridge Wines

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, $49.00, WineAlign)

First sips were blind at #i4c16 with ripeness and yeasty lees so apparent early and smouldering, flinty and then turned to citrus, freshness and acidity. Burgundian-Champagne dichotomous directional pull, certainly, though with eyes shut tight imagination travels and falls on a far east Canadian clime, though likely from an early ripening site. As in October. The reveal presents the first Blanc de Blancs in Benjamin Bridge Brut form, taking the cue from an exemplary vintage for chardonnay to go it alone, leaving seyval blanc and l’acadie behind as Nova Scotian relics of a bygone era. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers cants with insightful eloquence. “It’s in our collective consciousness to say that white wines will rely on acidity while reds are determined by phenolics. (The science of) pH will help to locate electrons between reduction and oxidation. It’s a very eccentric proposition, being on the edge of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Lodi harvested pinot noir yesterday. We are harvesting in November. The beauty of moderation is that it’s a step away from the model of extremes. Our ability to ripen fruit and preserve the Titratable Acidity at unspoiled levels is going to translate into tension and ageability.” This Brut 2011 is far too young, extremely bright and blessed with so much citrus. The level of lemon is extraordinary. Just as recent past tastes of the Brut Reserve 2004 spoke of its remarkable youth, this ’11 is full of orchard fruit but it’s hard to fathom the extreme level of tightly wound strength that yet persists. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

CedarCreek

CedarCreek Amphora Wine Project Desert Ridge Meritage 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Alexis Moore inherited the (Chianti sourced) clay amphora from former winemaker Daryl Brooker and this (second vintage) meritage is her first kick at the urn. The co-fermented, all natural, don’t even think about peeking and sneaking a taste blend is cabernet sauvignon (54 per cent), cabernet franc (35) and malbec (11). The hallmark desert notes of rich, caky and dusty are necessarily present but it is the preservation of red earth savour that gives this formidable flagon of magic juice its inimitable personality. Mature rows of fruit are to blame and thank for the just desert reward. Transferred to amphora the fruit is preserved in such a way no B.C. reds have ever really seen and the new territory is not so simple for making quick, on the spot judgements. I have thought about this wine for quite some time and the conclusion is positive for two important reasons. Spice and tannin. Together they combine for an infinite finish. Here is the crux of the vessel’s power, to preserve fruit and slowly release its charms within the structure provided. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016  @CedarCreekWine

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Reading of the last whites (and reds)

It were so simple #caprese

It were so simple #caprese

It’s that time of summer when transitions begin to set in, in paradoxical slow surges and breezes, sonic wallows and fond, rueful, ironic gaps. It also brings the unofficial last one of the season (gasp), the upcoming VINTAGES August 20th release. The limits of probability, possibility and potentiality are great, delineated and distilled to 17 wines tasted, reviewed and laid out right here.

Calamus Steely Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (210062, $14.95, WineAlign)

The barrel need not be employed to gain success for chardonnay from the excellent Niagara 2013 vintage. Calamus has done right by the no-wood approach, allowing the slow-ripened fruit to shine solo and brightly. Steely chardonnay for steamy days. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted August 2016  @calamuswinery

Val De Vid Verdejo 2015, Do Rueda, Spain (452086, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite a racy Rueda with lemon and lime juiced and cooling the warm stone aspect. Were the acidity a touch more in tune this would really plug in the senses. But it is delicious and worthy of some seafood tapas. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted August 2016  @DORueda  @rogcowines

Schloss

Schloss Schönborn Riesling 2011, Qualitätswein, Rheingau, Germany (653535, $16.95, WineAlign)

Schloss Schönborn’s basic, entry-level, come and get it Qualitätswein is seemingly riesling from out of a designate void and no strings attached. It’s actually highly specified riesling but without label verbiage and from a most excellent vintage. The oscillation runs the gamut from propellant to scintillant, with pumped in air and rising cool temperature behaviour. There is a balanced, posit tug between acidity and sweetness, over the line and back again. The cumulative flavours recall long lasting pastilles, of gin, tonic and agave. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted August 2016     

Contini Pariglia Vermentino Di Sardegna 2014, Doc Sardinia, Italy (455238, $18.95, WineAlign)

Stoic and aerified vermentino emanating like semillon or riesling, with a vapour trail and simply terrific mineral feel. You might imagine riesling from calcareous soils or semillon off of dry, arid plains, but this vermentino is striking on its own accord and illuminates as a developing experiment. The next big thing perhaps for geeks and mineral freaks in search of a profound, axiomatic, aromatic experience? More than perhaps and Sardegna beckons. Terrific tonic and beneficial bitters mark the rather lengthy finish. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted August 2016  @WineOfSardinia  @vinosardegna

Nova

Quinta Nova De Nossa Senhora Do Carmo Colheita Tinto 2011, Doc Douro, Portugal (452748, $19.95, WineAlign)

A blend of four endemic varieties, two from touriga and two by tinto. The label tells us it’s “unoaked.” Brilliant. Such knowledge is power and usually an exclusive bit reserved for whites, especially chardonnay. Why not tell us your red wine spent no time in barrel? This is nothing short of awesome for the consumer. And so we have pure fruit, excellent extraction, very little in the way of masking or shrouding (if any) and a simple, unadulterated experience. Terrific summer red when procured with a chill that will serve and protect your palate and your will. At five years of age it has held up beautifully, a testament to hands off and trustworthy winemaking. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted August 2016  @LeSommelierWine  @winesportugalCA

Lighthall

Lighthall Progression Sparkling 2014, Ontario (468090, $20.00, WineAlign)

Charmat or otherwise, grapes grown on Lighthall’s beautifully stark, wind-swept and electrifying property destined for sparkling wine does so with profound meaning. This is lit with the finest Ontario spark of vidal, also known as “Ward 5 Brut.” Unparalleled in its treatment to effect continuum, Progression is possessive of real intent and fine-grained precision. It’s simply meant to be. Their are notes of green apple and grapefruit, sweetness from extract, wild and wooly texture. This and fresh summer basil pesto would work every time. Just imagine the possibilities when Glenn Symons adds further lees and traditional method applications to his sparkling fruit. Just you wait and see what it does to elevate the category in Ontario. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016  @lighthallvyard

Thörle Feinherb Riesling 2015, Qualitätswein, Rheinhessen, Germany (420091, $20.95, WineAlign)

Tart, waxy, off-dry, herbal and very sapid. Tremendous appeal on the scales of sweet, sour and racy. Great acidity and a fine pesto of herbs. Balance is spot on. Really well made. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted August 2016  @thoerle  @UNIVINS  

Campo

Campopazzo Chianti Classico 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (454512, $20.95, WineAlign)

From Radda in Chianti on the Monterinaldi Estate, here the prevalent liqueur of intuitive and naturally occurring sangiovese wafts like ripe, red fruit warming in compote with wildflower honey. While this may seem a touch raisined (and even slightly volatile) it is in fact both those things. But it’s beautifully bitter and richly old-school. A certain kind of CC and a style that is slowly dying out but there is something to be said in support of drying sangiovese fruit once steeped and macerated in its own narcissistic liqueur. I for one am happy to spend time with this and like my grandfather, would know to miss him when he’s gone. His old and drying tannins really grow on you. Great deal in old-school Chianti Classico. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted August 2016  @monterinaldi  @chianticlassico

Brocard

Jean Marc Brocard Domaine Sainte Claire Chablis 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (356634, $23.95, WineAlign)

In a year for acidity and total, utter freshness the Saint Claire rushes and wells with excitement. Beautifully green apple tart and crunchy. The saline temperature is measured in an ooze running through and with the lees. Cracker vintage keeps the deep salinity intense, vital, searing and so naked to the world. Pure Chablis with length that stretches away from richness and into a lean lingering. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted twice, July 2016  @chablisbrocard  @BIVBChablis  @purechablis

Montagny

André Goichot Les Guignottes Montagny 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (455139, $26.95, WineAlign)

As in the case of Chablis, 2014 is a stellar vintage from the ever-increasingly excellent Côte Chalonnaise subregion from which chardonnay fervently shines. André Goichot’s fruit is rich, ripe and beautifully pressed, expressed and plays with the determination of the mineral obsessed. Oh the vitality and the range this displays, with balance and exceptional layering. Breath is actually taken slightly away on the acidity’s back side and the airy, elemental finish. Simply wow Montagny. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted August 2016  @vinsdebourgogne  @BourgogneWines

Dutschke Jackson Cabernet/Shiraz 2012, Lyndoch, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (447037, $27.95, WineAlign)

This marriage of shiraz (60 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon is a deep well filled to overflowing with Barossa berry and Lyndoch savour. The smell of ripening pomegranate and red berry is in the air but the blend is grounded by a lactic-limestone like liquid chalkiness. This is seamless stuff, pretty and modern but also following down a very direct line. The dualistic varietal speak is a thing of seamless, duet, two-part harmony. Will pair and compliment anything you throw at it over the following five years. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted August 2016  @DutschkeWines  @Wine_Australia  @TFBrands

Closson

Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (148866, $29.00, WineAlign)

Keith Tyers’ follow-up to the tour de force that was the hypnotizing 2013 is a step forward in the vineyard’s progression out of a vintage that takes a step back from buttressed substance. Taking into account that 2014 was cooler than the year before, the barrel swaddle needed to also scale back, but just a bit. This CCV chardonnay takes a clean and lean precise line, drawing up PEC mineral with mining acumen and wrapping perfectly phenolic ripe fruit coiled like gelid citrus around a gemstone wire popsicle stick. The palate does provide an orchard meets stone fruit creamy respite from the rocks of entry and exit but it is the mineral County notes that make the biggest impression. Terrific balance is struck, on flint and over the course of so many levels. Leave this a year to stretch and flex while you enjoy every waking moment with the ’13. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted May 2016  @ClossonChase

Mazzei

Mazzei Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (977629, $29.95, WineAlign)

Fonterutoli’s “second wine” pays exceptional attention to fruit quality, drawing from five different limestone sites and bringing them all together with balance. The minor tonic is an asset to the major fruit and a tie of acidity. Classic Castellina in Chianti richness and sun-driven excellence. Few CC’s are as firm and structured within the arena of such exceptional fruit. This is so modern and bright you might have to wear shades but the stylistic is achieved with grace, class and culture. Never forget where you are from. Mazzei. Fonterutoli. Castellina. Chianti Classico. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted August 2016  @MarchesiMazzei  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Collett

Jean Collet & Fils Montée De Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (405720, $37.95, WineAlign)

Just amazing pitch and imploding vitality from a climat that demands traditional winemaking (in 100 per cent old wood) so as not to detract from a classic flinty, steely Chablis direction. No bells and whistles, just rocks and stones and straight ahead chardonnay. Takes what the vintage gives and tackles the rest. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted August 2016  @BIVBChablis  @purechablis

Losi

Losi Millennium Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010, Docg Tuscany (459735, $38.95, WineAlign)

Every great wine dissolves a genre or creates a new one and in the context of Gran Selezione, Pietro Losi and Giorgio Baldi’s Millenium 2010 concludes the latter. In a category where so much changes and yet nothing at all, the choice to pick individual plants, specific vines and particular bunches of grapes as destined for a vision of greatness defines the ideal that wine is indeed made in the vineyard. This Chianti Classico Riserva sees 36 months in 10hL barrels and it is a wine that has essentially been made since since 1997. It went to market again in 1999 and then it was 2000 that prescribed the Millenium, followed by 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Subsequent top quality vintages are 2011, 2012 and 2015. The selected vines and particular bunches produce on average and approximately 4800 bottles. Take note of the most perfume and yet not the most savour, forest or truffle but there are hints, with some fennochio and the most grip to lead a sangiovese (with five per cent each canaiolo and malvasia nera) structure. The finest tannic grain runs through, lifted by tang meets sour over tart so round and specific to Gran Selezione. This wine is a highly accomplished specimen and a portal in ode to a great grandfather who started his day with wine and cheese, for energy. He imbibed for everyday consumption, just as water would nourish as it should be with this wine for food and contemplation. A wine with a finish minutes long. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2016  @Valerialosi  @chianticlassico

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $45.20, WineAlign)

A second taste four months later confirms the impossibility from Hardie in 2014, a vintage that just begs for Norm’s magic handling, from exemplary, slow-developed fruit off of a vintage’s hyperbole of low-yielding vines. The low alcohol continuum persists, the freshness and richness of County berries magnifies and the development of flavour is beyond and above. The tart is a membrane and the sweetness a virtue, feigned and delicate. Tremendous work made easy by Norm and a pinot noir that will live longer than any he has produced before. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted August 2016.

In Prince Edward County and for Pinot Noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet Pinot Noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm Pinot Noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol Pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

Drouhin

 

Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2013, Dundee Hills, Oregon (961284, $52.95, WineAlign)

Beautifully firm Dundee Hills pinot noir requesting some patience before it will submit and offer near instant gratification. The fruit is wonderfully, naturally sweet with an underlying saline current and so much ripe yet tart currant fruit. This gift wraps French Beaune soul and Oregon soil in one exemplary pinot noir package. Will develop righteously for up to ten years. A stroke of balanced genius from winemaker Arron Bell. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted August 2016  @DrouhinOregon  @FWMCan

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

One the eve of the 2016 WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards

One of the true pleasures in wine & life to judge with two amazing women @treve_ring @curlyluddite #NWAC15 #thenationals #winealign

One of the true pleasures in wine & life to judge with two amazing women @treve_ring @curlyluddite #NWAC15 #thenationals #winealign

Wine. The ancient mocker, a drink unknowable and illustriously beyond judgement. That is until a national organization builds a mountain out of bottles, gathers together a court of 22 like-minded adjudicators and brings a nation’s wine culture together. The WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards is this country’s own version of unfathomability, as a thinking and tasting machine to test the romantic mysteriousness of an overall expression laid out by deferential wines produced from coast to coast.

The Nationals or #NWAC2016 will amass and coordinate more than 1,500 entries from Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The romantic grandiosity of the project will merge with the mainframe abacus of wine awards algorithms. The WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC) are held annually in June. Each year the country’s leading wine writers and judges gather somewhere in Canadian wine country to evaluate wines grown in Canada. They award Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in some two dozen categories, with medal rankings further determining Winery of the Year and the country’s Top Twenty wineries.

WineAlign team at Trius

WineAlign team at Trius

Related – To Trius by air

When I roll out of bed Tuesday morning my Air Canada flight to Kelowna, British Columbia will be in its early stages of preparation. AC 1975 will transport me ceremoniously to the golden western frontier of the Okanagan Valley and it is there in Penticton that I will join 21 fellow judges (plus two apprentice judges) at the 2016 WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards.

Co-Chief Judge Anthony Gismondi has let us all know that “we have had a tremendous response from wineries across the country. Entries to date to are at 1,505 wines, a new record. With that number comes much responsibility so please be prepared to work hard for a full five days in the tasting room.” We welcome our visiting international judges, Elaine Chukan Brown of JancisRobinson.com, WakawakaWineReviews.com and Wine & Spirits, along with WWAC veteran Dr. Jamie Goode, The Sunday Express and wineanorak.com. Vancouver’s DJ Kearney oversaw the apprentice judges program and this year Brent Muller and Alistair Veen prevailed in a tryout that included 5 top BC sommeliers and retail buyers.

Related – Meeting of the wines at Treadwell Cuisine

WineAlign judges, a rainbow and the American Falls

WineAlign judges, a rainbow and the American Falls

This will be my fourth Nationals. It is one of the greatest privileges in wine journalism and a profound honour to be gifted the opportunity to contribute towards bestowing medals on the best wines produced in Canada. It is an equally awesome grant of companionship and shoulder rubbing to work alongside the WineAlign crew. The war room leaders Bryan McCaw, Sarah Goddard, Carol-Ann Jessiman, Earl Paxton and Anthony Gismondi. The judges I’ve worked with before; David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and Dr. Janet Dorozynski from Ontario. Rémy Charest, Michelle Bouffard, Bill Zacharkiw and Nadia Fournier from Quebec. Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson from Manitoba. DJ Kearney, Treve Ring and Rhys Pender, MW from British Columbia. Brad Royale from Alberta. Craig Pinhey from New Brunswick. Heather Rankin from Nova Scotia. I look forward to meeting David Scholefield and Sharon McLean from B.C.

Day 2 #NWAC15 with @curlyluddite and the maestro @DavidLawrason .. I will taste f'in #merlot !! @winealign

Day 2 #NWAC15 with @curlyluddite and the maestro @DavidLawrason .. I will taste f’in #merlot !! @winealign

The judging is overseen by WineAlign principal critics and partners Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason. All competition wines are blind-tasted and judged in categories according to varietal or style, not by region, using the same 100-point system as used on WineAlign. Each wine earning the requisite points will get a medal. Wines with the top scores in the entire awards will be awarded a Platinum medal (approximately 1% of the total entries). Gold medals = 90 – 100 points, Silver medals = 88 – 89 points and Bronze medals = 87 points

At last year’s Nationals held in Ontario we handed out a record number of awards; 14 Platinum, 101 Gold, 263 Silver and 375 Bronze. Given that a bronze must have been scored 87 points by a panel of a minimum of three judges, we have hundreds of wines in Canada that our experts felt were ‘very good’or better. That should instil some confidence among consumers. I tasted and reviewed many of the 14 platinum medal winners. Here are some of my notes.

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

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

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

From my earlier note of December 2014:

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

Last tasted April and June 2015  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Tres hombres in @TheGoodEarthTweets light @johnszabo @billzacharkiw @bradroyale #NWAC15 #beerdrinkersandhellraisers

Tres hombres in @TheGoodEarthTweets light @johnszabo @billzacharkiw @bradroyale #NWAC15 #beerdrinkersandhellraisers

C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Oh so beautifully nasty Syrah, spicy, saucy and wicked. Resin, somewhere between myrrh and mastic, redacts reductively and tension stretches the savoury aspects in all directions. Blood orange and anise blend into the aromatic grain, repeating again through flavour mettle. Fruit, acidity and tannin are interwoven, circulating and on edge, in pitch perfect darkness. Syrah in the big time with the stuffing to age. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015  @CCJentschCellar

Merlot, Cabs, Red blends #NWAC15 messed with kilters but @DavidLawrason & @curlyluddite set me straight. #cdnwine #thenationals #winealignnationalwineawardsofcanada #sheratonfallsview

Merlot, Cabs, Red blends #NWAC15 messed with kilters but @DavidLawrason & @curlyluddite set me straight. #cdnwine #thenationals #winealignnationalwineawardsofcanada #sheratonfallsview

Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Gamay Noir Droit 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

The increased Droit depth in black cherry positions this CdC Gamay like a cousin to the same vintage Pinot Noir with shared DNA and more funk meets reduction than I would have expected or even guessed at. Should this be chalked up to complex conscientious forethought or the denude of a brilliant mistake? The raspberries and strawberries are in the mulch and the mire, the acidity and tannin thinking cru, cru thoughts. A near behemoth for Ontario Gamay, as much to do with the St. David’s Bench and the vintage as anything. Droit redux, new, improved and polarizing. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2015 and February 2016  @MBosc

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.  @normhardie

From my earlier more of May 2014:

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.

Last tasted April 2015

Sea of #schottzwiesel via @FortessaCanada #NWAC15

Sea of #schottzwiesel via @FortessaCanada #NWAC15

The Good Wine Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (350751, $19.95, WineAlign)

While wood plays a prominent role it does not saturate to distraction. The barrel extract adds warmth and spice in contribution to balance. A high-toned syrup on the nose gives way to an evenly weighted palate. A scraped bean flavoured creamy toddy texture is topped with chocolate shavings, a dry of bell pepper and tobacco smoulder from out of the chamber. Nicely judged fruit, acidity and texture with admirable length. A necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.  Tasted March 2015  @goodearthtweets

We @WineAlign came to judge nearly 1,500 wines #NWAC15 and it was fair and just.

We @WineAlign came to judge nearly 1,500 wines #NWAC15 and it was fair and just.

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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No County for old wines

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

To me, Prince Edward County is the most enigmatic wine region in the world. Why is that? The coterminous climate and geology comparison to Burgundy never wanes and the vintners who painstakingly cultivate and produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir never quite abandon the methodology. The Burgundian model of viticulture is almost universally applied to the County microclimate. Think about it further and note that latitude and soil composition aside, PEC is not Burgundy, never will be and the parallels drawn ad nauseum should begin to cease and desist.

There are many reasons for saying this. The most obvious has to do with winter and the painful condition of a once or twice every 10-15 year pain in the arse deep freeze that necessitates the hilling up of vines. Farmers select canes chosen for the following growing season and tie them to a wire very close to the ground. Upwards of two feet of soil is plowed onto the tied-down canes. The labour required is extensive and the subsequent yields are lower than most grape growing places on the planet.

Related – I’m a little bit County

At the 2015 spring County in the City event I noted that WineAlign primo scrittore David Lawrason presented his PEC state of the union address via the company website. “David touched on some integral points for growers and winemakers in the County, including the rise of Riesling and a case for increasing plantings of varieties like Chenin Blanc.” At the time I hung on to Burgundy with no immediate plans to recognize an imminent diurnal varietal shift.

Related – The ridges of Prince Edward County

Last fall I wrote a mini-dissertation on the ridges of PEC. “It all adds up to minerality in the wines and nowhere does the geology matter more than on the ridges.” Which brings me to the third bit of logic and one that is varietal based. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay share the stage with a wide range of planted grape varieties and it is the emergence of Pinot Gris that shakes the foundations of PEC-Burgundy thought. If this year’s grand tasting of County wines at the Berkeley Church showed one thing it’s that Pinot Gris is a must. From Hillier clay-loam to omnipresent limestone, the group begs for Pinot Gris, a mineral-loving, dry extract extricating and tertiary tannin absorbing grape. The makers know it.

Related – The Old Third and older County wines

A fourth dialectic concerns rules and regulations. A wine growing community may talk a big game of homage and publicly declare with politically correct language their allegiance to, a following of and the emulation of a wine-producing deity that has proven its success with hundreds of years of tradition behind it. But the fact of the matter is Prince Edward County does not yet know exactly what it means to be a community of wine producers. The grand cru, premier cru and lieu-dit blocks are only beginning to be understood and working with the climate is still an unmitigated, trial and error disaster.

So in steps a governing body to determine what winemakers are supposed to and even allowed to produce and what exactly they can call it. Absolute authority is exercised against a brilliant vintner who owns land, lives and produces wines in the County, but can’t label it as such. Forget about the economics of an acronym that saves on taxes. They are not allowed to write Prince Edward County on their label.

I hear you. Regulatory boards are needed to make sure a region is putting its best foot forward out to the country and to the world. You can’t have a golfer wearing cut-off jeans, a fishnet tank and a mesh visor shanking nine-irons on the perfectly groomed country club 18. But what if one guy’s wines are off the charts, gorgeous representations of terroir? So what if her skin-contact whites are not what we are used to? Who cares what either of them are wearing. Who should complain that they make new tracks in their own special way? Exactly how is it they bring shame, detriment or housing market decline to the neighbourhood?

Related – Take them home, County wines

Rant aside, the last piece of the Prince Edward County puzzle stretches from the idea of freedom and into a polemical discussion in which no two County wines are the same. Dynamism has never known such hyperbole as it does in the County. Yet another Sparkling epiphany was had after tasting Lighthall Vineyard’s first (not yet labeled) traditional method fizz. It should be called “Au Courant” because it takes everything we have assimilated from Champenoise bubbles, filters it through Cherry Valley soil and rewrites the book. The collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman, Bruno Francois and Glen Symons.

The endearment “The County” is a term meant to bestow a sense of down to earth affection on a place you have to detour through to pay it a visit. “The County” is in fact Ontario’s most diverse and magnetic wine region. To borrow from the American literary critic James Wood, PEC is “one of those rare occasions where the absence of evidence is evidence.” Everything is changing all the time and everything is new. No County for old wines.

I recently reviewed 20 County wines. Here they are.

First @lighthallvyard strike #methodetraditionelle #2011 #fortytwomonths

First @lighthallvyard strike #methodetraditionelle #2011 #fortytwomonths

Casa Dea Dea’s Cuvee 2015, VQA Ontario (261263, $18.95, WineAlign)

Distinctly August cling stone peach, ripe, lightly crushed and fenocchio glacier. Really pollinated fizz, with a bright pink grapefruit granita personality and cool chardonnay exemption. Pretty, pretty stuff. Lingers precisely and there is nothing remotely precious about it. Well made. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @casadeawinery  @PECWinemaker

Huff Estates Cuvee Janine 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Comes from a place and will return again to the junction where rusticity and elegant oxidative character live. Erstwhile fresh, alive, prescient and yet must have been a challenge to tame. Quite the gustatory, culinary, mis en place of torched vegetables and acidity de-glazed game seared off into caramelization. Intensely real, characterful and attention grabbing Janine but not funky. Slow braise ahead. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @HuffEstatesWine

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Reductive and reeling from the pushy barrel, young, tight, angular and closed. Green apple, tart white berries and barrel spice. Emerald gem Chardonnay leaving little to no wonder Niagara Bench winemaker Paul Pender is so interested in the fruit. South Bay is the Quarry Road of the County. Wait for the richness and the platinum peaches and cream to emerge commensurate to ostensibly consummate cool climate Chardonnay. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Karlo Estates Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Welcome winemaker Derek Barnett to the County and to Pinot Gris with a Gorrilaz style, “the essence, the basics,” gone ripe beyond the pale, round and full. Sweet green apple and basil relish, veritable tang, baked tart shell filled with apple-citrus curd but so far from sour. Wish it hung around for longer. I suppose I have only myself to blame. “I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad. I got sunshine in a bag.” Clint Eastwood and Pinot Gris in the County. “The future is coming on.” Drink 2016-2018. Tasted April 2016  @KarloEstates

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2015, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Very Mosel Germanic Riesling Kabinett in style, with some residual and low alcohol. Juicy, round acidity, ripe sapidity and almost tersely spoken from the edge of the late harvest forest. Good length and will live a half decade or more with severity tempered by herbal countenance. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Tart and tight, rich and tangy, as expected and with some density. What needs from reduction lays low and melds into wood. The handling was necessary from out of a challenging and demanding 2014 vintage. The Portage is fully entrenched as a true County stalwart. This is what defines what Keint He is, has come from and to where it will go. Ground zero for the range, from what others will feed from. Sister Chardonnays Greer and Frost embark from this Portage starting point. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  @KeintheWinery  @Nicholaspearce_

Keint He Greer Road Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The specificity of the label conjures up territorial Hillier thoughts for Chardonnay made by Norm Hardie, Dan Sullivan and Paul Battilana. While the Greer thread runs through and keeps it in the family this is all in Keint-He issue. Possessive of a richness shown by few other PEC Chardonnay, there counteracts and stabilizes a cool climate snap, crackle and green apple pop. Tang folds into lovely tart, citrus bitter curd with a wisely executed tumult. And there is no relent. A Chardonnay ripper. Beware the power. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted April 2016

Lighthall Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Glenn Symons’ 2014 from the southern flank in the Cherry Valley is perhaps the most regionally intense, lights out Chardonnay in Prince Edward County. ‘Twas a good growing season in the Lighthall Road ward so say hello to phenolic ripeness and an old school, reductive and layered striker of flint and wood. The yields being as low as they are and exponentially were, there grunges much tonic reverb stirred into leesy, sweet extract in its rather ripped sonic youth. Such a mineral wine, sword-wielding, axe-grinding and tannin mining. Will find its unctuous way with time. ‘Cause it’s lights out right now. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016  @lighthallvyard

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The paradigm shift that began with Lighthall’s 2013 Pinot Noir continues with this stay the course 2014 and then some. The vintage offered up a slower developed phenolic yawning so the stygian runs deeper than the vermillion. That is to say the cherry fruit turns to black even while such a pretty Pinot pours with tension beneath the rich and glorious surface. Tension yes, but also soil infiltration and cooling breezes to temper the Cherry Valley conflagration. Tautness de-armed by a necessary streak of humus conditioning pomace, for grounding. Voluminous palate notes are repeated in demonstrative refrain. Another step forward for Prince Edward County Pinot excellence. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2014

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Made in the Lighthall style mixed with location, location, location. Vines of healthy fruit in the Cherry Valley, making for wines that are stark, sturdy, demanding, self-fortified and of limited quantities. Like its siblings, this Pinot Gris is also exempt from weakness. Here PG reminds of lieu-dit Alsace, of attitude, with tannin, extract, salinity and and of course, mineral. Singular County Pinot Gris. Could age for a decade. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Norman Hardie Riesling 2015, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

More reductive for a Norman Hardie Riesling than even it ordinarily shows and also pervasive of penetratingly concentrated stone fruit. While the acids may be received as hard and potentially malic that perception is calibrated by this wine’s typical aggregate. The walls need breaking down and the road is purposely graded high knowing full well it will eventually finish even with the shoulder. I like the sweet tannins and the difficult way in which it uses extract to a futuristic advantage. Wait a year and imagine the possibilities of balance. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

In Prince Edward County and for Pinot Noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet Pinot Noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm Pinot Noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol Pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir J C R Rosehall Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

The vintage steps out of a particular shadow and into bright light, exposing the JCR Pinot Noir with a particularly beautiful level of freshness and vitality. What has come before is not forgotten; the County tartness, the limestone preparation and the earthy red ochre fruit. But here is something other, something new, exciting and structured. The balance begins and ends on a seamless circle with no obvious demarcation point. The most elegant Rosehall Run Pinot Noir comes out of this 2013 and its level of poise should see it enjoyed now and for 10 more years easy. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted April 2016  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Rosehall Run J C R Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

A tenderly and beautifully rich, stone roses reductive and buttery Chardonnay, fully malo-activated, in adherence to the consistently classic Dan Sullivan righteous style. Makes me think of 1990’s Manchester post-punk, 60’s retro guitar pop, with a sweet softness as foil to an angst-riddled, contemporary acid house rhythmic sensibility. Sullivan’s JCR draws from influence, playing both time-tested Burgundy and new world Chablis pop hooks. “Where there’s life there’s gotta be hope and where there’s a will there’s a way.” Just sip along with the Rosehall Run JCR Chardonnay. It’s hard not to become enamoured after experiencing such great, coherent length. So young. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Stanners Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Quite remarkable and reductive Chardonnay, from fermentation of a certain halting, the yeast not quite having finished munching and malo just short of finding fulfillment. Low in alcohol after posting pH similarly reserved. This has real gumption, a stalwart of phantasmagorical Chablis allegory in the guise of salty, mineral PEC with minor residual sugar and a dip into the funky well. Just lettin’ it all hang out. This is a very promising wine. Just wait until the weather holds out and the yields go up just enough for Colin Stanners to make a really proper Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016 @StannersWines  @GroupeSoleilTO

It's not what you think but it's just what you imagine @Stannerswines @GroupeSoleilTO @therealbenhardy #PinotGris #cuivre #skincontact #pecwine #princeedwardcounty

It’s not what you think but it’s just what you imagine @Stannerswines @GroupeSoleilTO @therealbenhardy #PinotGris #cuivre #skincontact #pecwine #princeedwardcounty

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Gris Cuivré 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

The coppery-hued Stanners Pinot Gris Cuivré 2014 is like a member of the cup of coffee club, its skin contact time limited but forever significant. The PEC conceptualization may seem as strange as surfing Wellington waters but this Pinot Gris is a boy who trapped the sun, having sealed in brightness and freshness beneath the surface, cauterized during fermentation. This is not an orange wine but rather a a Pinot Gris with poise and a balladeering sense of calm. The Cuivré comes from pure sourced County fruit, spent time in stainless steel, is more than a curiosity, is a little funky and offers a feeling of rosé as a gateway drug to orange wine. Saline, nicely savoury, with a tinge of wild sauvage, all within reason. Such a skin contact white in self-proclamation “when you go into your skin, I’ll be the hope joining the walls.” The missing piece is tension, dynamic tempo changes, rises, falls and a crescendo. Though it lacks such structure it is still a beautiful mistake by the lake. Copper down. Only 230 cases were produced and it was released in February, 2016. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

 

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

One of three Skin Contact Rieslings from winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois, from Lincoln Lakeshore fruit out of Ed Hughes’ farm. For whatever reason this vineyard is far less reductive then the (Wismer) counterparts. It may be attributed to site, of decreased nitrogen (or not) and/or when sulphur is applied. “Ed Hughes is a very calculated grower,” notes Brisbois, which may account for what stylistic deference is syllogistically accrued. “They’re very dry and they will be very tart,” she warns, “and aromatic.” Pressed when fully dry and 14 days on the skins. Arid is the understatement, this shining and whispering Riesling, of tartness not on top slides beneath the surface of acidity. So much length. Youth is not on its side while it wiles away in withheld revelations though longevity is not necessarily its greatest ally. This is Riesling of stark realities, arid with no Niagara frame of reference and fruit so crisp it cracks into perfectly linear fissures. Laser focus without pierce or citrus. Spellbound skin contact stuff. Needs six months to seek a wave beyond the shock. Only 32 cases made. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted April 2016  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois

Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Lakeview Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The second of three skin contact, Niagara borrowed Rieslings from winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. This time from Craig Wismer’s Lakeview, a Twenty Mile Bench block with 18 years-ish old vines. Spent 21 days on the skins and comes through in or around 10 per cent alcohol (like the others). More herbology balms the nose and while it may not waft with equanimity or gregarious aromatics, it’s bleeding delicacy and savoury sapidity breathes freshness. If it just came with an added juicing of lime it would help to bring out structure and balance the anterior acids. As it is the acidity runs through the middle, streaks and halts the fruit from gaining on time. Adheres to acting typical of a 20 Mile Bench Alsatian Clone 49 example. Only 15 cases made. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The third and most effectually ingenious of Mackenzie Brisbois’ skin contact series Rieslings, with far more texture on the palate and overall Riesling acumen. Endowed with a gram less acidity than the Lakeview and burgeoning with veritable Twenty Mile Bench viscosity. Can it be such a coincidence that so many winemakers choose Foxcroft for their Riesling fruit? A real burgunder sensation is to be annexed out of the crafted brim of an invisibly stitched, tart-pan curl. This is irrefutably the most accomplished of the three (that includes Hughes and Lakeview), of length increased, laser focus and thirst quenching pleasure. Such a pity that only 12 cases were made. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Trail Estates Sauv Blanc

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Sauvignon Blanc Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The concept is in line with what winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois set out to do with Riesling but the result couldn’t be further from the truth or the ideal. Sauvignon Blanc is nothing like Riesling. It’s malleable, amenable and submissive. The process took de-stemmed fruit, saw it ferment on its own (dry, in nine days), needing no inoculation and then handled with hand-punched, TLC. In the end it was sterile filtered, leaving it to shine with latent lucidity, of brilliant clarity and with skin-deep grace. The whole is a snapshot of nothing less than supple integration. I would like to taste this side by side in 2020 with Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ similarly struck Benjamin Bridge (sweeter and cloudier) 2014. The divergence should be fascinating and confounding. Only eight cases made. A drop in the skin contact bucket. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

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On tasting blind and VINTAGES April 30th

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

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

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

Related – Heading out for the west coast

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

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

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

Blinds

To blind or not to blind, that is the question

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

I don’t know what it is

Something in me just won’t give it a chance

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

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

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

And it’s no big deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildass

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

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

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

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

From my earlier note of December 2014:

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

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

Chianti

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

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

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

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

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

Grendel

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

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

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

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

Crawford

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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