Please reach out to California and a Mondavi retrospective at To Kalon

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Update: As much as 900,000 further acres have been lost to fire since September 14th and because of the recent Glass Fire there have been many evacuation orders for parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. As of today nearly 66,000 acres have burned. Three fires had merged, resulting in one big fire initially threatening Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. Thank goodness the containment has now reached 30 per cent but there is still a long way to go. The road to recovery will be even longer so please consider donating to help all the families, businesses and first responders.

Related – California Update: Napa Valley

The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund and Sonoma County Resilience Fund

Provides gift cards to evacuees and emergency relief services to those affected by the fire, including temporary shelter, meals, counselling and assistance in navigating insurance claims.

Wine Country Fire Relief Fundraiser

A gofundme campaign, launched by five wine industry marketing professionals, focuses on direct relief for farmworkers (a vital part of the wine industry’s fabric) affected by the Glass Fire Incident in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

California Wildfire Relief

Supports firefighters, low income families and animals that are suffering due to wildfires. It helps provide emergency supplies including food, water and medicine.

Latino Community Foundation

Distributes contributions to Latino-led organizations that are helping families displaced by wildfires across the state.

Women’s Foundation California Relief and Resilience Fund

Funding goes to every domestic violence shelter in the state to help care for survivors who are unhoused or feel unsafe.

Thank you to Karen MacNeil for her update and for sharing these words from Linda Reiff, President of Napa Valley Vintners:

“We are deeply grateful for the tremendous care from around the world, and for the hard work and dedication of fire fighters, first responders and volunteers who are here from near and far to help us.  At our core, we are a strong, agricultural community where grapes have been grown and wines made for more than 150 years. The Napa Valley is still here, our community spirit is fierce, we will get through and beyond this.”

We’re worried about all of you in northern California. Please stay safe.

Recalling simpler times

My last visit to To Kalon Vineyard was three and a half years ago, Oakville site of that consequential plottage, koan of sorts, most excellent agglomerate of soil, vine and canopy. To Kalon functions as an enigmatic invitation to rethink the meaning of wine, so speaking of The Robert Mondavi Winery and Arterra Wines Canada, enlightened educator Mark de Vere MW will soon be moderating a virtual tasting with Constellation Brands winemakers Thomas Rivers Brown and Carol Shrader. In a couple of weeks time, on Friday, October 9 at 1:00 pm (EST). I will be participating and tasting 2017 and 2018 Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon. The plan will be to explore the vast diversity and fine quality of the Oakville terroir and To Kalon Vineyard. Which brings me back to May of 2017 and a week spent in Napa Valley completing the Robert Mondavi Winery To Kalon Vineyard certification program.

There were cellar tastings, Chef Jeff Mosher prepared dinners, hot air balloon flights, vineyard cycling tours, UC Davis research investigations and most enriching seminars led by Director of Wine Education De Vere and winemaker Geneviève Janssens. Inside The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Copia, Napa classrooms the sessions taught included west coast, global and To Kalon examples of cabernet sauvignon. The Napa Valley panelist apprised cabernet sauvignon flights were filled with archetypes, icons and Mondavi retrospectives. Rarely does one get to go at so many learning tools and experiential gifts of history through such an array of high quality varietal wines. De Vere made a request by asking everyone to dig deep, do some soul searching and get to the bottom of the new versus old world paradigm. “Let’s get an unbiased impression of what the differences are and what might make them different. California has reliably dry summers but much more day/night diurnal temperature fluctuations. Bordeaux stays warm at night and thus differing ripening patters. Napa significantly more sunshine hours but not necessarily more total heat.”

Related – En route to Mondavi

#tokalon

Then the vineyard’s prodigy spoke. Graeme MacDonald’s experience and published work have by now made him THE historian of Napa Valley’s famed To Kalon Vineyard area near Oakville. MacDonald is a To Kalon farmer who has written a history of the famed grape growing area for the Historic American Landscapes Survey. His work is part of the Library of Congress. The vineyard was started in 1868 by Hamilton W. Crabb, an innovator in wine marketing and vineyard techniques while today the Robert Mondavi Winery, University of California Davis and Andy Beckstoffer control most of its land. For McDonald To Kalon is simply a place entwined with his family’s history. 

Start raising a child 100 years before they are born because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into. #tokalon #graememacdonald #tokalon2017 #tokalonvineyard

“It was really for me a great way to document the history for our children. I want to leave something that explains why I am so passionate about it,” MacDonald said. “Start raising a child 100 years before their birth because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into.” The Wappo people called it “Tu-ia-halusi, or ”beautiful land” to describe the upper Napa Valley. The name To Kalon is Greek for “highest beauty,” or the “highest good,” as per H.W. Crabb in 1889.   “I try to make it mean the boss vineyard,” says McDonald. Also a pivotal part in Aristotle and the most important (and first) wine poured in the time of Jesus. This from the most important winemaker in the history of Napa. It took 100 years after it was predicted by Crabb but that is when Graeme’s grandfather committed to Cabernet Sauvignon (circa 1978). The family wines were labeled under the name Detert Vineyards.

Flight #1

Global Styles

Château D’Issan 2013, AC Margaux, Bordeaux, France (511469, $114.00, WineAlign)

Tasted blind in Napa, the first impression is Chile due to the capsicum bite and wood that expresses as savour and piquancy. Herbal with currants and tobacco. Impressive smoky wood integration overtop gamey, Bretty, animale character which talks a Bordeaux vernacular. Fruit is subtle, restrained and waits for the finish. It’s Bordeaux, or course. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2017

#metaphysicalmonday #cliffmay #thenostalgiaoftheinfinite #dichirico #campanile #missionstyle

Concha Y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Terrunyo Las Terrazas Block, Andes Pirque Vineyard 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile (562918, $29.95, WineAlign, Escalade Wines)

Now a slight demure, dusty but cool, minty, creosote and graphite, like Coonawarra perhaps. Some granite soil funk so could also be South Africa and yet there is this very high acidity and eucalyptus. The aesthetic is more about fruit than tannic structure. Some carménère in here likely – the smoky edge would say so. It’s Chile because the herbs and black currants dominate so clearly from a warm part, i.e. Maipo. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2016

Big floral vintage for the single-vineyard Terrunyo cabernet, rich, lush and hedonism defined. The varietal stands out in the vintage with the heavy lean to fresh flowers, along with the waves of alternating blackberry and Cassis. The alcohol and the weight are certainly formidable but the aromatics and fruit heavy tonality keeps up with the heat. Big boned and barrel conscious, this CyT is a big wine for a modest price. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Mark de Vere MW

Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon Gigglepot 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (SAQ 12449825, $54.00, Breakthru Bev Canada)

Ripe, high acidity, elevated tones and dark fruit. More like Argentina here and the palate also suggests Bordeaux but it’s too ripe. The high acid, metafictional mochafication and extreme ripeness puts my guess in McLaren Vale but also because of the richness and ripeness. Some dark red fruit is exceptional, part dried, with liquorice, both red and black. Really lovely wine, juicy, with a high level of fruit from some great vineyards. A genuine product of Sarah and Sparky Marquis from which 16 per cent alcohol is pulled off with remarkable ease, with thanks to tannic structure and extract. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Me and Mondavi

Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon Three Pines 2013, Jonkershoek Valley, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (288316, $28.85, Vonterra)

This seems the most Californian but Alexander Valley in its current of currant and savour. Tastes like Clos du Bois, but we’re now in South Africa. Quite anti-reductive, little to do with granite, funky soil and rubber tree plants, but it hints at all this from Stellenbosch. like juicing liquorice, bokser and umeboshi plum mixed into Ribena for a juicy cocktail. This may be closer to Cali than the rest because of the supple triumvirate of fruit-acid-tannin for structure. Terrific representation from the Jonkershoek Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Flight #2

West Coast California

Justin Vineyards Isosceles 2015, Paso Robles, California (684282, $136.95, The Vine Agency)

Quite the Cassis richness and genteel nature, ripe but of a humble extraction with a distinct garrigue note. Very Napa-ilke though there is a high love of acidity. Tasted blind you might think it could very well be a Mondavi but it’s too jammy and there is a plethora of red fruit purée,. That it turns out to be from Paso Robles is a perfect example to show that further south can translate to a warmer climate… but not always. Cool nights are adding their own extreme example of diurnal temperature swings so that 16.0 per cent alcohol, coulis and acidity can coexist. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Chef Jeff Mosher’s Fresh Spring Pea Risotto at Mondavi

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains (89284, $86.95, Rogers and Company)

Quite savoury with Mediterranean accents, black olive and brine, cool and minty, seemingly accented with American oak. A cloudy moments suggests Alexander Valley, but clarity wins so better still Santa Cruz Mountains. So is this a Ridge? Elegant cabernet sauvignon, 75 per cent with merlot and bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Positioned to an ocean proximity overhanging Monterey Bay and above most of the fog so the growing climate is its own. Keeps sugar and alcohol down for a cool and elegant expression. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

From the next arid vintage with more immunity always gifted by the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir so that Ridge can do what they want and what is needed. Three-quarters cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent merlot and quick Pollockian slashes of petit verdot and cabernet franc meet in the studio to create and complete the piece. There is more acidity and tension on the nose than noted in 2012, with red currants and black fruit swirling in coulis centrifuge to distract from what wants to grip and tear you away. The purity and cool texture of a Ridge cabernet is unlike any other; it stretches this way and that, never breaking, tearing or shearing but not because is has been patched, quilted or restored. It was always this way and will stay so for 15 to 20 years. Tannins are fine and support what happens, in any way they are asked to do. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2017

Tacos at Morimoto

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County ($80.00)

A bit of demure, lots of black fruit and a note or orange rind. Again terrific acidity, and tart, crisp, chocolate edging. Sensing a combination of oaks in that chemistry effect when merging into the fruit of Alexander Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, (255513, $44.95)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February and June 2016, May 2017

Bob Swanson of #napavalleyballoons is the man. Slice through butter flight over the Sacramento Valley to 1000 ft, #splashanddash in Putah Creek and a smooth, exacting landing on a dime on the back of a flatbed.

Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Drawn from Seven Hills’ founding blocks, planted by winemaker Casey McClellan and his father in the early 1980s. Very ripe, rich and unctuous aromatics, also floral, big tannic structure, candied complexion with mint chocolate candy cane and yet its aridity dominates the back side. Continental climate with maritime overtones in a Walla Walla cabernet under the influence of the rain shadow. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #3

Napa Rocks

Inherit The Sheep Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coombsville AVA

Inherit The Sheep, a multi-play on words, launching point “the meek shall inherit the earth,” followed by “the farmers shall inherit the sheep” and prophesied as Clay and Tersilla Gregory may never inherit anything else in their lives. As for cabernet sauvignon, Coombsville just seems to be a natural extension from the concept of Napa Rocks. As Mondavi’s Mark de Vere made sure to point out, “the reputation of Napa comes form the quality of the wine made here, not the quantity.” About 150 million years ago a domino of events began to occur…ocean plate under the continental plate….volcanic influence and marine rock. A mish-mash, super geological group of alloy musicians. Coomsville gets it too, exemplified by this rich, highly perfumed aromatic cabernet, soil a major factor in the duality of tart meets tang, some dried herbs and dusty, chalky tannins. As a memory, Clay Gregory used to be a GM at Mondavi. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2017

The meek shall? Focused alternative #napavalley AVA expression #tokalon2017 #coombsville

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (731810, $76.75, Mondia Alliance)

Deeper, higher tonality and lifted though it’s from liqueur and not acidity necessarily. So much chocolate, perhaps dominant by American oak but also a comestible layering and pressing that comes by ripe and concentrated fruit out of Stags Leap District. East side of the valley, volcanic and alluvial, so perhaps the place and its victuals speak loudest, dark chocolate and red cherry, quite chewy and with middle palate tannin, focused and lined. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon (West To Kalon Vineyard) 2013, Napa Valley

Very juicy, acidity driven, extraction and high level tonality. A fineness discerned with immediate notice, layer upon layer of distinction and elegance. Tasting blind it could be the Mondavi Reserve, acidity is very present balanced by plush fruit ripeness, blacker than red, slightly savoury and so Oakville. Turns out it is west To Kalon Vineyard though not labeled as such. For Graeme McDonald “it tastes like home.” Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

With Sara d’Amato

Tres Sabores Cabernet Sauvignon Perspective 2013, Rutherford

The jam is in, a bit to the right of ripeness and so a left leaning structure. Already noting some balsamic, soy and even a faint tick of truffle, not quite raisin but there is an indication it’s beginning is around the corner. Tthe palate brings more energy but this lacks balance because the fruit is overripe. Three flavours. Rutherford Bench fruit. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Cade Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley (325027, $206.95, The Vine Agency)

Classic next level Napa Valley depth, structure and intendment. Full on welling sunken weight, oak very much apart of every moment but not overly spiced. Through that big oak bent there is something akin or at least draws memories to Atlas Mountain. Incredibly ripe with aggressive, thick, needing 10 years to devolve tannins. Could be Atlas but is in fact Howell Mountain, one of the eastern AVAs from which mountain fruit delivers more intensity of tannin. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #4

Oakville

Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley
From Linda Neal, long-time vineyard manager who purchased the Oakville property in 1987. A distinctly perfumed-floral cabernet sauvignon, of violets, but also a dusty, silty-salty mineral aroma. Terrific acidity, just terrific, the type of tart intensity that causes anticipatory salivation. Reminds of cabs off of Terra Rossa soil, a.k.a. Coonawarra but also the Panzano terroir of Carobbio. Geologically it’s volcanic in origin, off of a hillside vineyard. Intense and offering a fully focused commitment straight through the finish. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.95, The Vine Agency)

Richness but reserved, demure, unhurried in a calm state. More of an exotic perfume, jasmine and bougainvillea, still some salty grit and certainly mineral but fuller, with an ooze of dark chocolate and body politic by firmness and tannin. Beneficial bitters on the finish. It’s way, way too young to fully appreciate. Special fruit is saved for this next level cabernet sauvignon from its very own patch of free-draining alluvial soil. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Geneviève Janssens and Mark De Vere MW

Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley (39388, $29.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

An annual parade of quality comes from Franciscan with this Napa Valley cabernet, a wine that is quietly commercial and respectfully true to its roots. It’s quite chalky and the tannic grain is truly in focus while the fruit speaks with premium ability, certainly sheathed by Americanized vanilla oak. Savoury to a point but still quite naked truthful about fruit in its ripe clothing. Always well made and at its best in 2014. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted October 2017

Even more reserve and also into reductive, with darkest fruit, Cassis, carob and graphite. So much chocolate, dark, bitter and high in cocoa. Coating tannin, present and demanding, a bit west. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Huh. A day after tasting these #tokalon wines #tokalon2017

Nickel & Nickel John C Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.99, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Dark cherry and Cassis oscillate in waves, punishing the shores of first prefacing perfume and then recursing acidity. A distinct profile that speaks so similarly to a Mondavi To Kalon but in Oakville…it’s hard to know, distinguish and be certain but so tempting to hedge guessing bets on origins. Such fineness, dramatic acidity and persistence, so not surprising it’s just across the road (Hwy 29). A very special tract of terroir in its own right this John C. Sullenger Vineyard. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley (29207, $59.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Oakville’s rich Cassis and mocha swirl welcomes wood and baking spice, then floral meets herbaceous Freesia. As a Mondavi cabernet, Oakville sits high up on the sapid meets tart scale and is expressly long. The palate really suggests older world Bordeaux but it’s almost too ripe, chalky, chocolate ganache rich, especially at the finish. A touch of Brett brings me back to structure and old world but there is an equal and opposing fruit-tannin seamlessness and smoothness. Its fineness of acidity means that it ends up balanced. Markedly correct, intense and proprietary for 2013. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017 and February 2018

Flight #5

To Kalon

Narrowing it down to the vineyard, De Vere is insistent on what matters. “Elements of style and quality, not just, but a stylistic, a feel, difference, less broad in expression like Oakville or classic like the direct Napa Valley tier.” Rutherford’s alluvial fan vs. To Kalon’s alluvial fan complex vs the same, but different, from Oakville. The east side of the Oakville AVA receives more of the warm afternoon sun as compared to the sedimentary-gravelly alluvial loam on the west, with more volcanic but heavier soils on the east. There they are low to moderate fertility and fairly deep. All this adds up to more than 100 soil variations in Napa Valley, one half of what exists on earth. To Kalon receives shade a full hour earlier than the east side of the valley. It’s reserve fruit is more likely to be found where the large pebble, gravelly, well draining soils are found, further west, abutted up against the mountain range.

As an aside, talk about Napa Valley wines often leads to the fruit-jam complex. “Fruit bombs (you will know),” says De Vere, “are not just a factor of sun, ripeness, and brix. They are a result of less tannin and acidity, from vines stressed after veraison to develop ripeness but without the balancing factors. To kalon’s soils develop acidity earlier and maintain it. Acid-tannin-pyrazine, that’s the order of development.

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley ($250.00 estimate, Halpern Enterprises)

Presented by Eduardo Dingler, Napa Sommelier. High toned, deep, deep dark fruit, gets right up the olfactory. Young, chalky, tart and with the dark fruit sitting serious and looming, like a cross-legged Buddha on the ledge of a 10-foot To Kalon wall. Sees 62 per cent new French oak after six to eight weeks cold soak pre-fermentation. In an environment without alcohol you get this layered juiciness and tart aromatics without astringency. That’s the crux and the key. Balance, density, true to the To Kalon spirit. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2017

Alpha Omega Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($188.00 estimate)

Presented by Alpha Omega’s founding winemaker Jean Hoefliger. “Napa has a consistency of climate that is unmatched, anywhere.” On Andy Beckstoffer, “Andy was very receptive to my very expensive lap dances,” and about the vineyard, “in an era of globalization, To Kalon’s DNA is the most important in Napa Valley. The site in Napa easiest to find in a blind tasting because of acidity and tannin, backbone and skeleton.” Hoefliger’s ’13 cabernet sauvignon is a construct of granularly dense tannic structure and non-readjusted acidity. Darkness ascends or descends as the glass goes, brooding, seemingly from deeper clay soils within the alluvial variegation, a wine in which the tannins have been joined, linked, layered, polymerized. Having used a long maceration makes this dense, intense and ageable. To be exact, 45 days on skin, then in the end unfined and unfiltered. Wow does this remind me of modern Piedmontese nebbiolo but with so much more intense red fruit, notes of incense, wild fennel, cinnamon and candy hearts. Just tremendous structure. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted May 2017

Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($220.00 estimate)

Bright but at the same time with a hint of dried fruit so good balance between the two, meaning the acidity is in control. John Hazak: “What To Kalon has that separates itself from our iconic Hewitt Vineyard is age ability and a dense core that opens up with age. It sets it apart from our top Rutherford sites.” A chewy To Kalon by tempered ganache, a child reared on plenty of barrel fermentations to capture individual parcels of beautiful fruit. Carries a cool minty savour at the finish and lingers across the top of the gums above the teeth, leaving that anaesthetizing feeling. Brilliant in that respect, not quite ready though will come into its own not too far from now. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Station 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($150.00 estimate)

Certainly more dusty notes, garrigue, savour and a hint of black olive, but all red fruit. From Oakville Station (labeled as such, from the UC Davis grown plots of vines). “The best way to understand To Kalon on the surface is to take a bike ride,” says Charles Thomas. “to understand why a gradation across a kilometre is so crucial. There is ample tannin in To Kalon but also a fineness of tannin. It is forgiving of many aspects of viticulture and especially winemaking. You always see the vineyard.” A transitional wine, ripeness but not super so, perfumed and the subtleties of the vineyard. Cherry blossom big time. An island surrounded by Mondavi on all sides, more fertility here in this block, a soft, delicious chocolate finish. A transitional era styled wine. Aromatic and not with the same density (with 10 merlot and 5 cabernet franc)but beautiful all the same. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $149.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Mondavi’s 2013 Reserve from the iconic To Kalon Vineyard plays a different role when nosed side by five each with other similar terroir cabernets, in this case by Cliff Lede, Alpha Omega, Provenance and Cornerstone. The Mondavi would show as a muscular cabernet in a solo tasting irrespective of the flight but with relative reference points the Mediterranean savour stands apart, especially in this high-toned aromatic vintage. The wine is embossed and eschews syrup for chew and density, the chalky tannins already beginning to show some development and integration. After going through the basket press, the haute cultured barrels bring out this insieme-collective of sophisticated To Kalon sweet acidity and tannin, leaving extracted bitterness behind. This works in elevating the texture of silk and softness, insisting upon and stamping a guarantee of longevity. The excellence is rounded out with some fragrance from petit verdot and further finessed, grainy tannin by cabernet franc. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $300.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Tasted during a To Kalon Vineyard retrospective in Napa. Though sinfully young the 2014 seems bright and focused, accessible, closer to ready than the 2013. The secret, special, double secret bottle, only 150 cases made, not really available for trade, pure To Kalon. Refined, here and only here as 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, spice but melted and oozing into that liqueur, there is a seamlessly woven fabric of vineyard that just seems soft, supple and elastic. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2017

And a few more Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon tasted that May

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010, Napa Valley

The 2010 Reserve is a sensory wine in the most attention grabbing way, as experiential and inspirational as can be when such an inhalant gets hold of the senses. Deepest dark fruit of impossibly zero evolution and everything in line with the classic Mondavi-To Kalon relationship. Blackberry, Cassis, black olive and silkened in texture as the Reserve can ever be. Pure weave, ethereal liquidity, fresh, finessed, focused and exacting. Tough on a winemaker? That’s why this is so good. A grand cru Oakville classic, great wine from a challenging vintage. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Napa Valley

Actually some development here, straight into secondary time framing from which balsam and spice are front and centre. The masala comes from cassia stick, bokser pod and liquifies in plum liqueur. Lots of chocolate ganache and in some ways the least indicative Mondavi Reserve vintage for a To Kalon cabernet sauvignon. Acidity is quiet and perhaps this is just a moment in time. Maybe in a year or two the acids will step out of the shadows and rear up once again but I wouldn’t wait nor hold my breath. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, Napa Valley

Tasted in an auspicious group that included a Gros Clos Vougeot ’13, Grange ’11, Haut-Brion ’11 and Sassicaia ’11, all led by Mark de Vere MW and culminating at this Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve ’05. Or as what De Vere quips, “just another night in Napa Valley.” A cool vintage now showing some secondary notes though still presenting balsam, tempered chocolate ganache, pencil lead and graphite. Floral vintage of ethereal whispers and the trilogy promise of the EPF. Elegance, power and finesse. Dark To Kalon fruit and mouth-watering acidity with a vanishing point of mystery still on the horizon, like walking with someone we don’t fully know but feel comfortable in their presence. Still elicits more questions than answers so for a vintage like 2005, 12 years seems to be peak performance. The tannic finish supports Cassis, dried herbs and a briny Mediterranean black olive bite. Tannin begets fine bitters. “Using oak is the virtuoso way to express To Kalon fruit,” says Geneviève Janssens, “after fermentation, to preserve the personality of To Kalon.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1988, Napa Valley

A vintage of reducing and concentrating liqueur, high-toned, distillate, California IGT. A bottling style of the time and the vintage must have procured such fruit meets tannic intensity that it has taken a long time to relent. Higher in acidity than savour, pulsating, energetic. Still a bit frenetic in its wildly animated state of perpetual suspension. A bit Bretty but 1988 carries such an old world sentimentality and the many ties that bind. Despite the great and gritty acidity it remains a balanced cabernet sauvignon, earthy and old school but I’d wager it will continue to drink this way for seven to 10 more years. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1976, Napa Valley

“What order to do pour a vertical tasting,” asks Mark de Vere MW. “When you have 1988, 1999 and 2000 in the mix? You have to think about how the wines were made, how the grapes were grown, without sophisticated equipment, with vineyard managers and winemakers who didn’t know then what they know now.” But, this house named Mondavi has seemingly always known, respected and responded collectively over these things. The terroir – To Kalon. Since tasting 1975 one year ago I can say this: 1976 is remarkably alive, sound and vital. From a very dry year. Ten days of “prolonged” skin-contact. Dill present along with preserved plum, of course mushroom, truffle and what separates this from ’75 is acidity, equal to over even performing above that of 1980. Spice! Tart and still intense. Amazing. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville BDX Red Wine 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley (SAQ, $75.75)

As always the high quality To Kalon fruit as a base source puts the odd in high favour but the idea here is to use parcels that produce lushness and lower tannin so that the wine gifts quite a bit more instant gratification. Mostly cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and originally only sold on premise. Extension through barrel is 24 months in mixed (55/45) Allier French for a liquid chalky result, preserved top notch acidity and a sharpness that demands protein attention. Can’t miss the graphite/pencil lead and in this specific case, tongue tripping vowels which talk the talk of this specific red blend. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville District, Napa Valley

When tasted side by side the genetic lineage and connection to 1999 at ten years apart is uncanny and so it is To Kalon that ties the two, threads the similarity and is the reason. Black olive as always, dusty garrigue and this medi-pedi (Mediterranean pedigree) that unites all cabernet sauvignon from Oakville sites. Same wisdom and freedom, same feeling felt. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley

Has aged with To Kalon grace and while texture is seemingly everything, still you are reminded to engage with the fully seasoned, exigent exhale from the spice box. Aromatically present in balsam and fig, the vineyard’s black olive and then acidity off the proverbial charts. We see how To Kalon mellows in Oakville form, integrates and acts out the marshmallow of time. Hinting now at the tertiary which comes quicker in this range and that is perfectly, allegedly understandably fine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2013, Napa Valley

As with the sauvignon blanc the fruit source is Schweitzer Vineyard, here for the cabernet from three blocks all leading to a bigger, fleshier style. Treated similarly to the Oakville cabernet, long maceration in oak fermenters and 24 months barrel time, six more than the Oakville Reserve because these tannins need further taming. Deep red fruit in tones of strawberry, raspberry and plum with moments that are not unlike European reds in hot climate/seasons. Turns to spicy white toffee, vanilla and before too long the screeching breaks down the scree of tannin. Wait five years. Trust that idea. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2017

A few basic bottles were on hand to greet us @RobertMondavi before the finest wines and cake were offered.

And the opening wines in Mondavi’s cellars

Château Haut Brion Premier Grand Cru Classé 2011, Ac Pessac Léognan (263251, $1,599.85)

A cabernet sauvignon dominant Pessac Léognan off of gravel soils in contrast to some other First Growths Haut Brion is keenly about Château, of reputation, history and acumen. A Bordeaux to cause revelry and from 2011 fresh like you could never expect or imagine. Lithe and mineral, dusty stone and focused. Of continental temper and elegance, black olive and quality chocolate, toasty espresso and late arriving spice. Taste, gather, repeat. Will surely develop next level time-honoured notes of forest floor, mushroom and delicately rendered baking spice. In 20 years and further long-lived expectations. My kind of longevity though the fineness says it will ready itself quite soon. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Domaine Gros Frère Et Soeur Clos De Vougeot Grand Cru “Musigni” 2013, AOC Bourgogne ($300.00)

From the top of the slope at Musigny in a distinct and compelling Clos de Vougeot of intensity and finesse. Deep rooted earth and black cherry fruit, so much fragrance and delicate. A just sharpened pencil, a brush with fennel and lavender, a gaze through a looking glass. At its most calm, a palate silky and accented by a complex mix of spice. A wine to ask “what makes a great wine.” So much more than the length and the finish, always circling back to the start and about the quality of the bitters in their refinement. Where in the process does this occur? When is the magic performed? All the way through and as a by-product of the paradigm of site. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $229.95)

Showing maximum warmth and spirit, high savour by liquorice, mint, fennel and so much spice. Marchese Niccolò Incisa della Rocchetta fixing Bolgheri just as his father did while Robert Mondavi was doing so in Oakville at To Kalon. Revolutions is different places and for Sassicaia, a clear varietal vernacular. Apposite Bordeaux like power and a supple wrist in using extra hands with cabernet franc. Still those chalky tannins. Drink 2020-2029.  Last tasted May 2017

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, cabernet franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smouldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014

Good to go!

godello

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Twitter: @mgodello

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Alternative and unexpected California

Pop goes @california.wines unexpected whites with phenomenal insight by @hawk_wakawaka ~ Thank you Elaine, Paula @CalifWines_CA

Elaine Chukan Brown came to town and if you’ve never heard her speak on the subject of California wines then you have yet lived. The California Wine Fair has been rolling through Canada for coming upon forty years running and this past April she and the show stopped in Toronto. It has continued to exist as the largest Canadian gathering of that state’s wines under one roof you are ever going to find. The American specialist at JancisRobinson.com, contributing writer with Wine & Spirits Magazine and eloquent meets erudite penner of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews was the keynote speaker at the trade luncheon but it was her morning presentation of California’s unexpected white varietals that got me thinking. Thinking about California wine.

Elaine Chukan Brown

Unexpected might also mean alternative though when talking about grape varieties grown in a place where nothing is truly endemic and everything is expatriate, is there truly such an animal? I could digress into commentary about immigration policies but I’ll stay the course and stick to wine. Brown’s seminar was appropriately referenced with more than one headline because it wasn’t just about varietals. The lecture indeed touched upon malvasia bianca, vermentino and chenin blanc but it also spoke of sparkling, Rosé and iconic blends made by archetypal producers. Not a singular notion by any means of conferral and so ultimately necessary to be expressed in diversified terms. Alternative and unexpected but not without a hit of developed orthodoxy and a whack of doctrinal emigration.

The cross-Canada celebration of California’s wine community began as a single-city event in Ottawa in 1980 and is now the largest annual wine tour across Canada. The California Wine Fair is is the hands of Praxis PR’s Paula Oreskovich and I would be shocked if there is a more successful regional tour, especially at this scale. The 2018 edition was no exception and adding Elaine Chukan Brown to the bill was both a coup and a stroke of brilliant thinking.

There were 10 wines involved in the determinate and evaluative discourse. I could kudize the selections and the seamless flow from reception wine Rosé through epiphanic Brut and across a swath of right proper showing white wines. I could but I’d rather concentrate on Brown’s photographic mind and ability to convey California wine growing region geography, topography and climatic influences. To present these things to a Toronto wine body politic eager for information. This presentation was science incarnate, pure and motivating. It dispatched the essence of the California dialectic and if you understand varietals, growing conditions and economics, what you soak in may actually allow you to write down what will happen in the future, much like you might write down the history of the past. A California history that speaks of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir. A California future that is alternative, unexpected and wide open.

Folded Hills Lilly Rosé 2017, Santa Inez Valley, California (Winery, WineAlign)

From the Bush family, Rhône varietals are the impetus with this second fruit from a Rosé vineyard set situated in proximation of Ballard Canyon, where things ripen quite formidably. It’s a top location for pinot noir but here an even better place for grenache and syrah. The wine spent 24 hours on skins, was fermented and aged in neutral oak. Crisp acidity speaks to the area’s growing conditions and in its way acts as grenache vin gris, of tart pink to red currants in a glass. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  folded hills  @foldedhills  Folded Hills

Caraccioli Brut Cuvée 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, California (Winery, WineAlign)

Caraccioli Brut Cuvée 2010 is a pinot noir speciality transferred to sparkling for flinty, smoky, salty and briny sea fresh character from out of a cold Alaskan bred Pacific current. Top, absolute upper end of Brut with 12 g/L sugar and high natural acidity, which is essential. Four years on lees, but that burgeoning acidity works more magic than the yeasts do for texture. As tart as sparkling wine gets and it’s from California. A journey that began in 2010 for only 96 cases made. Price is $52 at the winery. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2018  caracciolicellars  @caraccioliwines  Caraccioli Cellars

Palmina Malvasia Bianca 2016, Santa Ynez Valley, California (Agent, WineAlign)

East of centre in the valley, just crossing into Ballard Canyon, from sand over chalk. These are soils that warm up fast, ripening a variety that wants to be bitterly phenolic but finds a way to make use of fog from coastal influences in a nook where the mountains run west to east. The limestone in turn acts as the conduit in delivery of great acidity. From green apple to south asian tropical fruit but I can’t say I’ve ever tasted anything like it before. Yes, the acidity is grand and yes, there is a bitter phenolic note though it’s like great gin. A wildly aromatic wine. There are 62 cases made. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  palminawines  barrelselect  @palminawines  @BarrelSelect  Palmina Winery  @barrelselect

Ryme Cellars Hers Vermentino 2016, Carneros, Sonoma County, California (Winery, WineAlign)

From just over on the Sonoma side of Carneros, the last vineyard before you hit marshlands in San Pablo Bay. Alto, musky and floral notes on the nose, a deep sax, A Love Supreme. What’s curious and high level is the texture, which speaks to place, soil and I suppose, winemaking. It’s part malolactic from neutral oak to further explain, with a mix of stainless steel to keep it Trane chord change airy, elevated, ante-flat earth society vermentino. Approximately $25-29 US. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  ryme_cellars  @RymeCellars  Ryme Cellars

Matthiasson White Blend 2015, Napa Valley, California (Winery, WineAlign)

Ostensibly an example of a ribolla gialla led, Friuli styled blend by Steve Matthiasson. It’s a grouping of sauvignon blanc, sémillon, ribolla gialia and tokai friuli (friulano) as the components, turning the Friuli a bit on its head but its more about fruit than pyrazine with a ribolla lick off the ground. There is a nutty note, namely almond from tokai and a flinty strike by sémillon. Unilaterally fermented in neutral barrels and then eventually transferred back in. Great balance, complex and long as the coastal range. Come back to it and it has a wonderful savoury, candied childhood memory feeling. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  matthiasson_wine  @matthiassonwine  Matthiasson Wines

J Vineyards And Winery Pinot Gris 2016, Russian River Valley, California (Agent, WineAlign)

Introduced by Elaine Brown as “a testament to the notion that pinot gris is a noble grape, that expresses its place and adaptation from place to place.” A wine as child of western Sonoma County daily fog incursion, absorbed by the clay, a gift of natural refrigeration, non-pushed sugar development, working for gris, not just noir. Semi-mouth watering freshness, unctuousness and notable sweetness.”Round and hovering,” full and tart, mid-range in the mouth. Minor barrel fermented plus 15 per cent new, as kisses for a nutty depth and orange marmalade flavour. Quite delicious, full of texture and flavour. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  #jvineyardsandwinery  gallocareers  @JWinery  @gallocareers  J Vineyards & Winery  Gallo Family Vineyards  E. & J. Gallo Winery

Birichino Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Old Vines 2016, Santa Ynez Valley, California (Winery, WineAlign)

From a site protected from wind, a diurnal temperature shift with more of a breeze effect, above the fog line at a high (1100 ft.) elevation. All this to say that you’ll end up with increased aromatics, from own-rooted vines planted in the 70s on sandy soils. Chèvre funky, tangy on the acid notes, with layers of ripeness, but with no developed botrytis and then some fruit picked in December mixed right in. It’s green, white, pink and yellow. It’s all in, not overly punchy but very expressive. From apple to brine and back again. This may be the vintage that has it all. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  birichino_official    Birichino

Chateau Montelena Riesling Potter Valley 2016, Mendocino, California (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The first wine Montelena ever released was in fact riesling, a Bo Barrett obsession, slightly inland in the far north on Mendocino. It’s a high elevation at 900 ft., on highly oxygenated, well-draining, gravelly-loam soils with a touch of clay. Made in a combination of stainless steel and neutral oak. The lullaby phenolic and dreamy glycerin fruit content is high, with help from minor (4 g/L) of RS and what is essentially an arrested acidity. A very underdeveloped riesling, youthful and rich, just bloody delicious. Lime, snappy green apple and gravel stone bleed. Riesling as good as it gets in California, from Mendocino all the way down. Perfect for this desert life. “If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts. You can never escape, you can only move south down the coast…Hey Mrs. Potter won’t you talk to me.” Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  chmontelena  rogersandcompanywines  @ChMontelena  @rogcowines  Chateau Montelena Winery  Rogers & Company

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc To Kalon Reserve 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

The Reserve is the top level for fumé blanc (aside from the I-Block) and a wine made since 1966. There must be more sémillon in 2014 because it’s as smoky and flinty as it ever has been. A portion of the 1945 I-Block vines generously add sauvignon blanc in this wine. This is the original, the history of California wine, the alternate varietal spoken ahead of all the others. Reduced vigour vines from volcanic, well-draining soils for purity and decades long honesty. Always absurdly fresh, integrated, with an ability to age low and slow. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted April 2018  robertmondavi  #constellationbrands  @RobertMondavi  @cbrands  Robert Mondavi Winery  Constellation Brands

Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit De Tablas Blanc 2015, Paso Robles, California (Agent, 735506, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the far western side’s folded, undulated hills on the western range that bring in cold air through its streams. A place of cold night and even some persistent cool air during the day. It’s roussanne based, but this ulterior vintage means an elongated ripening so the roussanne was low in acidity, therefore more picpoul was employed for acid. It’s fleshy, creamy toffee, candied floral and candied citrus plus orchard fruit and mango. Should turn waxy and seem more mineral as the alloys emerge and the fruit dissolves. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  tablascreek  @TablasCreek  @ChartonHobbs  Tablas Creek Vineyard  CHARTON-HOBBS QUEBEC

Pop goes @california.wines unexpected whites with phenomenal insight by @hawk_wakawaka ~ Thank you Elaine, Paula @CalifWines_CA

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Post Valentine’s polar vortex wines

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 with Pho Cuu Long Mien Tay

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 with Pho Cuu Long Mien Tay

Valentine’s Day came and went yet again. The 2015 edition of the polar vortex coincided with Cupid’s annual marketing juggernaut, bursting pipes, freezing the tails off brass monkeys everywhere and making life especially hell for those left out in the cold. Hearts were broken, mended and hopefully in more cases, joined as one.

Dundas Park Kitchen Valentine's Cake

Dundas Park Kitchen Valentine’s Cake

I was under the assumption you did not need my recommendations this year so I didn’t provide a pre-VD column to parade out a list of painfully obvious pink and sparkling wines. In the past I messed with the gratuitous holiday, first with just say no to pink wine for Valentine’s:

My advice is to just say no to pink. This year, you gotta be cruel to be wine for Valentine’s.

I followed that up by stating your man wants these wines for Valentine’s:

If you ask me, all I really want this Thursday, like any other day of the year, is a decent bottle of wine.

Last year I said You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine:

February 14th is so hyper-candied that ingredients like salinity, minerality, positive bitterness, animale and tannin are essential in the name of balance. Just don’t pair your dry red wine with chocolate.

Red Velvet Waffles

Red Velvet Waffles

In early retrospect, my take on 2015 remains frozen like the crust of precipitation on my windows and my copper pipes. Nothing much to say but wait for the thaw. There were of course the proverbial dinners, chocolates, desserts and all you need is love; enough to go around for the whole family. And there was wine. The family day weekend offered ample opportunity to sample and take note of a dozen bottles, none earth shattering or iconic but most aimed to please. Here are some notes.

The wines of Grange-Barbastre

The wines of Grange-Barbastre

Château De La Grange Barbastre Muscadet Sur Lie 2013, Cotes De Grand Lieu, Loire, France (Agent, $14.00, WineAlign)

Little in the way of aromatics here. Were Honeydew Melon dried like mango, this Melon de Bourgogne might be its simple sweet candied flavour. That and a chalky, thin leesy residue. The texture improves as a by-product of the tangy finish on that palate that turns musky melon funky, like whiskey in the jar. Like an ole’ Irish ballad singing “musha ring dumb a do dumb a da,” this Muscadet is characterful if nothing else and good value at $14.  Tasted February 2015  @LoireValleyWine

Domaine De La Grange Barbastre Sauvignon 2013, Igp Loire, France (Agent, $14.00, WineAlign)

Here is a very effective, oleaginous tank simple Sauvignon Blanc with a white flower and candied salt dominant nose. The candy replays on the palate though in a more medicinal and saccharine way. The sweetness is one that drowns, submerges, without a sound. More salinity and blanched nuts round out the smooth finish. Succulent if one dimensional Loire specimen.  Tasted February 2015

Domaine De La Grange Barbastre Pinot Gris Sauvignon 2013, Igp Loire, France (Agent, $14.00, WineAlign)

This 50/50 split between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris is a rare sighting indeed from out of the Loire Valley. In this instance the Alsatian elevates the Loire game with its ability to draw mineral and salinity from the earth, not to mention extract and the achievement in balance. Here the fruit leaves the salty stones in the dirt and then reaches higher, into the branches of the orchard, for zest and flesh, of pear and lemon. A gradated layering and roundness prevails. Sweet without being sweet, salty without being salty, in the end, all about flesh and bone. Good length.  Tasted February 2015

From left to right: Waterbrook Pinot Gris 2013

From left to right: Lanciola Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2012, Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Liberty School Chardonnay 2013, Eos Estate Petite Sirah 2012, Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Dei Rosso Di Montepulciano 2013, Waterbrook Pinot Gris 2013

Lanciola Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2012, Tuscany, Italy (330761, $16.95, WineAlign)

Entry level pricing rarely affords complexity and here, in this glycerin, shimmering Colli Fiorentini is an intoxicant of red fruit Sangiovese. Smells like warm celluloid and lamb. The “wool is soft and warm, gives off some kind of heat.” The plums within are charred, fleshy, clement and battered by a bretty funk. The carpet of texture is crawling with cellar micro-nutrients and gamey notes. There is nothing simple in the lamb’s coat and braised shank character. Wood splinters in the glass and the somewhat acquired flavours spread ambience through its broadway Florentine grooves. Another genesis Chianti Docg provides fodder for the further breaking down of appellations and designations of denominazione.  Tasted February 2015  @Collifiorentini  @LeSommelierWine

Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2008, Naoussa, Greece (140111, $17.95, WineAlign) A VINTAGES March 21, 2015 release

In this Xinomavro there is beauty and bog consistence, like wild calla palustris. Imagine a wine thick as consonants, dense and defined by solid rock bubbling like stew, from out of a marsh. Wood adds intricate layers and a mothering of leather hiding and protecting dried cherries. Game, spice, liquorice, funk and things that heal flavour the wine’s liqueur. Silky smooth with a run of grain and the salinity of ancient longing. Racy acidity intrudes, puts in a charge and takes care to see six to eight years more life will be a guarantee. Easily and possibly 10 will pass before it sheds the chalky loops. Terrific vintage with impressive depth and range of flavour.  Tasted February 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine  @winesofnaoussa

Liberty School Chardonnay 2013, Central Coast, California (960120, $18.95, WineAlign)

A perfectly well-made, crowd-pleasing and sufficiently balanced Chardonnay with tree fruit notes in many shapes and sizes. The forward aromatics and restrained PG flavours are made for MOR, broad appeal. Though the texture and length are unexceptional, there is a spicy bite that slips more sips into the cards. A move along and return to again and again Chardonnay.  Tasted February 2015  @TrialtoON  @hopefamilywines

Eos Estate Petite Sirah 2012, Paso Robles, California (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Petite Sirah is so often inelegant and black as night so the Eos take is refreshing and relatively tame in comparison. Here defined by a multitude of red fruits and a varietally timid 14.3 per cent alcohol declaration that is more than believable. Has a large stone flecking earth character that reminds of Vacqueyras, amplified by liquorice, bramble and pseudo-garrigue. Fine-grained acidity and tannin add depth and linear, progressive attitude. The inherent hunches of ferric and sanguine seem Tuscan, when considered by way of comparative mythologies. The sole glaring detractor is folksy oak that will not fully integrate before fruit decline. Leans sweet without veering to cloying and all tolled, adds up to complexity for value at under $20.  Tasted February 2015  @EOSwinery  @LeSommelierWine

Henri Ehrhart Gewürztraminer 2012, Alsace, France (392118, $19.95, WineAlign)

From Klevener de Heiligenstein, this is surely a step up in the Alsace Gewurz take.  Some reserve in the nose, holding back the far east florals and the sugar. There’s an aerified feel to this, an ethereal complement, a savoury edge. Really interesting and surely more than versatile aromatic white.  Good texture with creamy mangosteen and vanilla pod and then tight, even spicy, bracing acidity. Great deal here. Will live for a decade.   Tasted November 2014  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

Dei Rosso Di Montepulciano 2013, Tuscany, Italy (919430, $19.95, WineAlign)

Caterina Dei’s red fruit Rosso di Montepulciano is a noble seductress of necessity, younger and approachable, engaging for its purity and for its freshness. When compared to the Prugnolo Gentile that frames a Vino Nobile, it falls short, obviously, but its immediate appeal is what matters. Clean, clear and pristine juice is dropped with a tincture of beneficial medicine notes, for good sense, in place, measure and thought. A maquillage smear of sweet anise liqueure adds a dense streak in herbiage. The rehydrated fruit of tree pods is imagined, along with a vestige of Val D’Orcia garden shrub excretions. A malleable, permeating and nearly intoxicating Rosso. Drink now, now and again.  Tasted February 2015  @LeSommelierWine

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013

Tawse Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Tawse take on Unoaked Chardonnay is definitive, exemplary, righteous stuff. It does not clock you over the back of the head, nor does it beg for attention. Its stainless steel raising causes a dichotomous sensation, merging fruit seemingly drawn directly from the apple and pear orchards to melt into a mineral bath. It’s like a collision of hot and cold, like lightning. One taste of this pale, pure Gegenschein elicits the idea of a relevant encounter and one willing to be experienced again and again.  Tasted February 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Waterbrook Pinot Gris 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (918242, $22.95, WineAlign)

Very Gris (as opposed to Grigio), pure as Walla Walla running spring water, with mineral salts on the nose, juicy stone fruit on the palate and some tonic on the surprisingly long finish. Sweetness spoons over and lingers, perhaps trying just a bit too hard but “she brings the sunshine to a rainy afternoon.” Waterbrook’s PG is a yes wine, with components that are all expressive, if a bit scattered and not always in synch. If Washington Pinot Gris were progressive art rock, this Columbia Valley specimen might sing its song, with length to last out an album side.  Tasted February 2015  @WaterbrookWine  @LeSommelierWine

Boxwood Estate Trellis 2012

Boxwood Estate Trellis 2012

Boxwood Estate Trellis 2012, Middleburg, Virginia (Agent, $39.00, WineAlign)

A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc produced at John Kent Cooke’s historic estate, the Trellis spent 12 months in one to three year-old French oak. Classic nor-eastern aromatics share a kinship with North Fork clarets, but here warmer, riper and fuller of flesh. The advance comes by way of the 2012 heat day quotient and the latitude. The swath is a fresh coat, not sublimated from dried fruit. The plumpness is in fig, prune and plum, hydrated, dense and twisted with ties of tannin and acidity. The unmistakeable feel of cool-climate, new world expatriate Bordeaux-styled reds is explicitly fresh and clean. If it were $20 instead of $40 it would be an absolute no-brainer. As it stands, it’s worth a look though at the price its audience will not be large.  Tasted February 2015  @boxwoodwinery  @TrialtoON

Good to go!

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He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results

Fresh off the presses, here are the results from World Wine Awards of Canada 2013, presented by WineAlign
Photo: kotoyamagami/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Drinking, by definition, includes consuming and that would obviously be counterproductive to the wine evaluation process. So, wine writers and critics spit for their living. Why would anyone buy a wine on the recommendation from someone who spit it into a bucket? Good question.

Consider another question. How many wine critics does it take to change a light bulb? If the answer were 10, that would be because it would take one to hold the bulb and nine to spin the room. Or the answer might be three. One to decant, taste and spit, and two to take him to the hospital before he bleeds to death. Is the joke and are these responses indicative of how the general public feels about wine criticism? If yes, then the wine consumer’s attitude towards the relevance of wine competitions and the doling out of awards may not exactly be positive and indiscriminate.

A bit of insight for you into the modus vivendi of those who judge wine. Chew over this. A wine is submitted to a concours, tasted several times by a minimum of three critics, all of whom are kept blind as to the clues regarding producer, appellation, region and country. These wine professionals are chosen by and with their peers to judge, sniff, sip, spit and repeat. They consider, contemplate and formulate on the spot tasting notes and then discuss the attributes with a panel before passing final judgement. Seems like a perfectly and indisputably sound and reasonable approach, don’t you think? But what about the spitting part?

Whatever you might think about the use of such an exercise to determine the merit of a bottle of wine, competitions, when run and operated with unbiased integrity, do in fact empower justice to the entrants. Poke fun at the wine critic if you must, felicity knows they can take it, but know their modus operandi is just the same as yours. To seek out the most worthy and best value wines available in their market. The wine critic is self-taught, to internalize the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of a wine without swallowing it. It takes focus and years of practice to figure it out.

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

PHOTO: WineAlign.com
WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

The WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC) held in September featured a week-long evaluation process for nearly 1,000 wines (996 to be exact) from around the world. Assembled and organized by an army of volunteers, the Herculean task was orchestrated by one of North America’s most respected wine critics and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter. The Vancouver Sun columnist was also responsible for the immeasurable and exacting task of overseeing the pouring and the critical timing of delivery to the judges. Not to mention piles upon piles of tasting notes and scores.

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

The WWAC is open to both imported and domestic wines for sale in Canada, provided the wine sells for less than $50 somewhere in the country.  This affords an unparalleled opportunity for all wines sold in Canada to show that they can compete in quality and value with wines from anywhere in the world.  Wines are tasted in three price categories based on the lowest selling price in Canada. Less than $15, from $15 to $25 and from $25 to $50. As a consequence WWAC is really three competitions in one with wines being tasted alongside their peers by price and with awards given by price category.

I was invited to join the other 17 judges for the preliminary rounds. If I were to measure my prosperity by the company I keep, I would indeed be a pecunious wine scribe. I was joined in Mississauga, Ontario by David Lawrason, John Szabo, MS, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Marc Chapleau, Rhys Pender, MW, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson, DJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan Saviolidis, Anne Martin and Zinta Steprans.

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d'Amato

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d’Amato

Judges sit three or four together at a table, taste solo through flights of like varieties, procure notes and assign individual scores. Each flight of (three to 12) wines is then discussed, argued, debated and an ultimate meeting of the vinous minds either pushes a wine through to the next round or relegates it to the discard heap. This method of awarding by committee ensures that good wines receive their due blessings and flawed specimens are put in their rightful place.Here’s the kicker. Aside from knowing the price range and specific variety or varieties in a blend, the judges taste all the wines blind. Continent, country, region, appellation and vineyard are not part of the equation. This ensures the most equitable results.

So, fresh off today’s presses, here are the results from WWAC13, presented by WineAlign. Special thanks go out to Head Wineaux, Bryan McCaw, along with Steve Thurlow, Carol Ann Jessiman and Sarah Goddard.

2013 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on my 28 of them, across a wide range of categories.

From left: Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, and De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011

Riesling $0-15

Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Alsace, France $14.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety Under $15

Peppery, perspiring, basal, nasal fruit. Propellant driven with a bite of crisp golden delicious apple and green goddess acidity. At under $15 this achieves Trocken success. Unshakable, abecedarian if not the most formidable Riesling.  88  @AmethystWineInc  @drinkAlsace

Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling 2012, Qualitätswein Mosel, Germany $13.95

Pressed and packed with tropical fruit, as if a roll-up, in liquid form. Thoughts head east and south but the textural, angular and vertical intensity peels back that inclination. The extended play and fruit replay is a study in delineated Riesling depth. There must be some history behind the bottle.  87  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines

Jackson Triggs Reserve Riesling 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, $13.99

Drawn to the off-dry resonance which is both tropical and florid in citrus maxima. That pomello repeats to taste but it falls under a balmy and herbal spell, in a relaxed way. A valley’s elongated attitude, at the foot of a mountain and architecturally sound. Re-mastered, utilitarian Riesling.  85  @Jackson_Triggs

Chardonnay Oaked $15-25

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012, California, USA $16.95

Deft, lissome touch of oak. Subtle, determined orchard fruit, namely pear, barely kissed by a rose and the barrel. Exiguous yet meaningful and pragmatic aromatics. Bright Chardonnay so “a light hits the gloom on the grey.” Seals the deal astir with tang on the snappy finish.  88

PHOTO: Michael Godel White wine flight at the WineAlign WWAC13

Sauvignon Blanc $15-25

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile $9.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $15.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Equatorial and profuse but not over the top. Quick, painless slice of jalapeno, a sweet heat capsicum moment. Sauvignon Blanc with a drop of Sriracha, spritz of lime and pinch of salt on ripe tree fruit, like papaya and mango. Add in golden pineapple and kumquat for good salad measure. Nearly great value, if only it were graced with a bit more finesse.  88  @yealands  @TrialtoON

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand $15.99

Stoic initially, with acute notes of gooseberry, grass and blanched legume. Turns tropical and balmy with a sense of orange marmalade. Confounding in that it could be South Island or Sancerre, but being subjected to such toe tipping is this Sauvignon Blanc’s calling card.  88  @MariscoWine

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $18.95

Commodious Sauvignon Blanc, candid, candied and calcified. Tropical from what must be an intense vintage, whiffing dewy teak gold plum and prickly pear. Full-bodied and blessed with a long aftertaste. A slice of southern hemisphere confiture on toast.  88  @kimcrawfordwine

White Blends $15-25

De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.00

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25

A Rhône-ish boy with a tithe of Marsanne in support of equal 45′s of Roussane and Viognier. Mutters in rhyme, beating the drum slowly, in a subtle white flower, pretty print dress. Nothing muddy about the waters this graceful swimmer treads. Sidled by just enough rigor to replay in refrain, “I’m a natural born lovers” wine. Egalitarian revolutions per minute.  90  @deVineVineyards

Road 13 Honest John’s White 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $25.95

A group of seven grapes, riding on a carousel. A who’s who of white varieties going “round and round and round and round with you. Up, down, up, down, up, down, too.” Elegant and in control, like the stationary horses, this endearing and human blend. Nectarine and longan make appearances in the by committee, ensemble performance.  88  @Road13Vineyards

Pfaffenheim Tete A Tete Pinot Gris Riesling 2012, Alsace, France $15.49

A 50/50 split of Riesling and Pinot Gris, please do not adjust your set, go head to head, mano a mano to duke it out, agree to disagree and ultimately settle to blend and accept the results. Together they procure Époisses and worn socks. On the bright side there is orange zest and fresh squeezed grapefruit. “So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.” Tangy and pithy finish. Abbreviated and horizontal.  85  @AlsaceWines

From left: Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, and Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008

Syrah $0-15

Fifth Leg Old Dog New Tricks Shiraz 2011, Western Australia, Australia, $15.95

Less calamitous fruit compression in relation to the rest of the flight. Blueberry pie and a concord of baking spices predominate, along with unsettling though bracketing elevated levels of tannin and acidity. Wild and whacking lack of overall integration but possessive of many positive moving parts.  87

Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $19.60

A convection of raspberry jam and forest floor verdant wildness. Notable in not being nearly as wood-driven in relation to peers in adjacent stemware. An inelasticity and diaphanous texture suggests Syrah. Simpatico Shiraz.  87  @MissionHillWine

Red Blends $0-15

Hardys Stamp Series Shiraz/Cabernet 2012, South Eastern Australia, Australia $10.05

Initial thoughts lean towards flattery, in finesse and generosity. Rhône-like rocks and stones trot out the red fruit, spiked by citrus (ripe orange, juiced and reduced). Structured in oxymoronic astringent elegance. Decent to medium length.  87

Sumac Ridge Cabernet Merlot Private Reserve 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $14.99

Stands apart from the under $15 Red Blend flight as an axiomatic, soft conifer in a forest of hardwoods. I was admittedly fooled into thinking Niagara when it really calls the Okanagan Valley home. Semi-hemi-ripe, red stone fruit soused in halogen, spiced by Ween’s seventh album and Korean red pepper. “Even If you don’t” like the alternative character you will be charmed by its friendly production and likable wine/musicianship.  87  @SumacRidgeWine

Louis Bernard Côtes Du Rhône Rouge 2012, Rhone, France $13.00

A copacetic Grenache and Syrah Côtes du Rhône blend that just seems to exist in an Iberian state of mind. It’s the modernity speaking, in deep mauve, lilaceous essence and a palate clotted with poached tomato. Stops adroitly short of cooked or stewed fruit character. Juicy fruit from presumably young vines. Quick yet resplendent.  87  @LouisBernard84  @AuthenticWine

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2011, Mendoza, Argentina $13.95

Malbec and Venetian Corvina in Ripasso’s Argentinian hands. Raising, hair-triggering, eye-opening aromas in acerbic Daikon intensity. Black bean paste and cedar, earth and char. The flavours echo and further Ripasso’s absorptive ability. Tack on a  snippet of sour mix and an elevated, grizzly bear, altitudinous attitude. This one leaves me “frozen in my tracks.” Certainly not gun-shy85 

Merlot $15-25

Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.99 WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Like a wine lover’s dessert, this JT Merlot spoons gobs of sun-dried fruit, anise and dried raisin over a compressed and chalky cake of balmy green tea. Youth purloined by developed character, marked by the sauce, not unlike some manic red advance cassettes from Italy’s Mezzogiorno. Now long in the tooth, “how you wound me so tight,” with your unique style, so “don’t say that I’ve lost you.” Its heft will carry it through.  88  @JacksonTriggsBC

Michael Godel, Zinta Steprans and David Lawrason at the WineAlign WWAC13

Red Blends $15-25

Musella Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2009, Verona, Veneto, Italy, $15.95

Soaked and sappy, with braised tree fruit flavours, concentrated and passed over upon itself. Certainly trying very hard to entice and invite hedonistic pleasure. Like an upside down plum and fig cake, dripping in macerated syrup but with enough mineral tension to prorogue another day. Good rehydrated example.  88  @3050Imports

La Fiole Cotes Du Rhone 2010, Rhone, France $15.05

Simultaneously juicy and brooding. Tension from the get go. A depth of dried, fruit leathery plum, soaking in spiked Kefir grain. Bound tight but aching to race free. In Rhône ranger territory, or a Rhône acting on a Hollywood set. Tannic, oaky, manly yes, but I like it too. Admirable length.  88

California Square Paso Robles Red Bland 2012, California, USA $18.95

Downy soft, delicate, cheerful red blend. Pastel watercolour, flower-patterned print as perfume. Warm climate red licorice, plum permeate and cherry saturate, well-integrated acidity and some iron astriction. Would gain weight alongside rich foods.  86  @TrialtoBC

Vignoble Rancourt Meritage 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada $19.80

Chalk dust followed by quality, perceptive, frank and just red fruit. Understated, not overly expressive and walking softly down the road.  85

The Cloof Cellar Blend 2009, Wo Darling, South Africa $20.00

Leaps from the glass with earth expanding aromas. Strapping Pinotage java component shows accommodating restraint in advance of a Turkish viscidity. Red fruit is bright, adhesive and enervetic. Overall a bouncy, tannic and splintered affair.  85  @Cloofwines_ZA

Red Blends $25-50

Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $25.00

A count five psychedelic strawberry and savoury rhubarb aromatic behemoth. Crazy cherries too. Then, a mind-altering, animal hide moment, not exactly gamey, but something other, enough to cause a psychotic reaction. “(Shouted) And it feels like this!”  90  @Road13Vineyards

Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, Walker Bay, South Africa $32.50

A requiem for an exaggerated swirl, or at least the respect of a decant. Quite a head-smacking whack of mineral-iron-metal, with the tempering lift of a citrus-scented candle. Kirsch, vanillin oak “and my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite, who’s chokin’ on the splinters.” I am the loser, the wine is the winner. Very berry, big and beautiful.  90  @gradwellwines

Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008, DocVeneto, Italy $35.25

Quite the animal, this plum juicy and high-octane alcohol, cloying acetone and chocolate-dipped red licorice Venetian red blend. Sounds ridiculously Ripasso and near-Amarone delicious and were it endowed with the balance and structure to walk with the giants I’d sing its praises. Even so, I really believe it’s a “soul who’s intentions are good” so please don’t let it be misunderstood.  87

Masi Costasera Amarone 2008, Veneto, Italy $39.95

A stew of red fruit, prune and fig. Cauterized, steroidal, excessive, welling sensory overload. Leaking car fluids. Certainly a problematic, off-bottle from a reliable, age worthy brand.  80

Pinot Noir $25-50

Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile $45.00

Beaucoup de terre, or more likely, mucho suelo. An extreme example of Pinot Noir, a flamboyant king, ostentatious, peacockish and wired by a constriction of spices. There is perhaps too much earthly, saftig body. Though my first impression was admittedly old world, there is no way that theory will hold. A glass in and the thrill is gone, “And now that it’s over, all I can do is wish you well.”  87  @BadDogWine  @WinesofChile

Good to go!

Cloudy with showers, more wine expected

Barque Smoked Miami Beef Rib PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

This one’s for the floodwaters ravaged and oppressed in cottage country and to a much lesser extent, the city dwellers, this morning’s sunshine respite notwithstanding, faced with a few more days of wet April doom and gloom. There is always wine to cheer you up. County in the City presented by Wine Align  is a must not miss event tonight at the Berkeley Church.

For the rest of you keeping score at home, here are five sure bet $20 wines guaranteed to get you through the last week of April showers.

From left: Clos De Nouys Demi-Sec Vouvray 2011, Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2011, Clifford Bay Pinot Noir 2010, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2011, and Eos Estate Winery Petite Sirah 2011

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: From one of the oldest Loire wine-making estates (Pierre Chainier) in the Vouvray A.O.C.

The lowdown: Loire Chenin Blanc ranges from dry to sweet and creamy sparkling. This is designated semi-dry but it tends dry because of a strong limestone mineral component

The food match: Basque Pintxos

Clos De Nouys Demi-Sec Vouvray 2011 (322669, $19.95) has already begun to stun in citrine and a petrol whiff plays the stage while the other aromas wait in the wings. Earthy for a white wine, a vin tuffeau-jaune if you will, no doubt imparted by the creamy, calcareous-argillaceous limestone soil. Sweet pear and the stuff of almonds lurk in the shadows. To taste there is little cloying danger and even a touch of cheese rind. It’s really quite dry, like Großes Gewächs German Riesling, but its balance is impeccable.  91  @imbibersreport

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Prince Edward County born and bred proprietor Lanny Huff teams with Burgundy born winemaker Frédéric Picard

The lowdown: Really a white and sparkling specialist (though they do grow Merlot), Huff’s Pinot Gris is a character study unlike any other PEC peer

The food match: Agedashi Tofu

Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2011 (134221, $19.95) initiates contact in a fusty, gamy way, not unlike some of my favourite reds in Montalcino and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But this is Alsatian-styled Pinot Gris we’re talking about here. Fortunately a huff and a puff blows the dank aside and it gets peachy in West Indies pepper sauce after that. Lots of piquant character in this Prince Edward County charmer.  90  @HuffEstatesWine

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From the eponymous body of water at the eastern entrance of the Cook Strait and the Tasman Sea, separated by the White Cliffs from the more famous Cloudy Bay

The lowdown: From grapes grown in the Awatere Valley, this is essentially cool climate Pinot Noir and it shows

The food match: Barque Smoked Miami Beef Rib

Clifford Bay Pinot Noir 2010 (309500, $19.95) with its bright lights, big acids is spanking, aromatically clean. Raspberry fruit driven, big barking red dog, tart balanced (13.5 per cent abv) and full of pluck and punch. Would go nicely with the Barque of smoked meats.  89  @cliffordbaywine

The grapes: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat

The history: The Wildass line of wine from Stratus Vineyards seems to say “always look on the bright side of life.”

The lowdown: Laid back brand in appearance from J.L. Groux and team but this assemblage is no couch potato

The food match: Whole-Wheat Penne, spring greens, sausage

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2011 (86363, $19.95) is a trailing vine of sweet ever-bearing, toffee coated candy strawberry. A wolf steppin‘ out of its Niagara comfort zone, reminding me of a red wine made by The Foreign Affair, in dried fruit (not jam) as if it were made in the appassimento method. It’s simply J.L. coaxing maximum concentration from vines in a balanced vintage and frankly this is better than most Veneto Valpolicella at the same price. This Wildass is “like a true nature’s child,” born to be wild.  89  @Stratuswines

The grape: Petite Sirah

The history: Also known as Durif, a black-skinned variety developed by Dr. Durif, a French nurseryman living in the south of France in the late 1800’s

The lowdown: California has embraced the grape and although it remains much maligned, when acidity and balance play their part, it can be so much more interesting than Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in Paso Robles

The food match:  Beef Shanks braised in red wine

Eos Estate Winery Petite Sirah 2011 (317677, $19.95) is certainly Cabernet-like with its rich berry fruit forward first step but it never goes over the top. The alcohol (13.9 per cent) remains in check, it’s minty and eucalyptus cool and white pepper gives it good bite. Exotic, smokey edge.  90  @EOSwinery

Good to go!

Wine, wine and sunshine

PHOTO: KWEST/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

The unequaled quotient of sun multiplied by wine makes California the leading authority to transition from Winter to Spring. The California Wine Fair signals that seasonal change across Canada, at least when it comes to the fermented grape industry.

California Wines offers Canadians a chance to stem the tide while we wait for the budding of vines to produce new fruit in the regions of Niagara, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore, Okanagan, Naramata Bench, Similkameen, Gaspereau, Montérégie and so many more. Now in its 33rd year, the travelling wine rodeo has and will continue to journey to five Canadian cities between April 2nd and May 2nd, including Québec City, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Halifax.

As the largest advocacy group for the state, California Wines brought 106 participating wineries on Monday, April 8th to the Canada Room at the Fairmount Royal York Hotel. A sea of swilling humanity converged to pack the space in a heat-missile, wine-seeking show of force. The wave of people needed to be negotiated like the surfing of a coastal swell, but with hundreds of merchants and agents on hand, the cups did runneth over.

To a bottle, there is so much sunshine locked inside that at times it can be very difficult to discern one Chardonnay from the next, one Cabernet Sauvignon from another. Pinot Noir in particular suffers from a current, monochromatic lack of somewhereness, trapped inside a shell. The lack of Rhône-inspired wines making it to the Canadian market causes me the strongest disconcerting feelings of discontent. Thankfully, due to the diversity of wine regions across California, there exists a light to help define and delineate the lines. It was only a year ago that it felt as if Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were caught in stagnated mochafication but this 2013 tasting has shed new light. Here are the five wines that for me, stood out above the masses.

From left: Grgich Hills Cellar Estate Chardonnay 2010, Justin Isosceles 2010, Jonata ‘Fenix’ 2007, Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Trailside Vineyard’ 2007, and Signorello Vineyards ‘Padrone’ 2010.

Grgich Hills Cellar Estate Chardonnay 2010 ($55.95, Consignment) glides in so much variety balance I can imagine showering with wine. You will not pigeon-hole this-worldly and structured white because its finesse reaches out across the great mineral vs tropical divide debate. Sure, there is timbered-driven, golden-fleshed apple, green melon and buttered, toasted bread, but there too is a sting of acidity. Stellar year for Napa Chardonnay. Great glass of sunshine93  @GrgichHills

Justin Isosceles 2010 ($85.95, Consignment) is sensual and transcendent Cabernet Sauvignon in a cooler vintage out of the even cooler Cali climate of Paso Robles. Cab Franc and Merlot play a small part in this immaculately crafted Cab Sauv.-dominant Bordeaux-styled red. Big raspberry and pitchblende where colour meets aroma, flavour and texture. Smooths to a crystal finish of eucalyptus and the twang of sunshine.  92  @JUSTINWine  @TheVine_RobGroh

Jonata ‘Fenix’ 2007 (253237, $95) is the inaugural Merlot vintage from this Santa Inez Valley property. Blessed with the longest and coolest growing season in California, when “so much depends on the weather,” the cool, moderate and dry 2007 vintage makes for what may be the most plush and balanced Merlot I have ever tasted from the state. Smells like a fresh-baked bun filled with the exotic perfume of red bean and raspberry paste. Add to that a temple of stone and mineral deposits along with dessert flowers. Winemaker Matt Dees is the master pilot.  94  @WoodmanWines

Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Trailside Vineyard’ 2007 ($135, Consignment) is a stunning, 100% single-varietal, certified organic bombshell. The Heitz perfume is a phenomenal thing and only a select few (including Ridge and Dunn) Californians have such a distinct bravado redolence inherent to and across their red portfolio. This vineyard is “bordered on one side by the Silverado Trail and nudged on the other by the Conn Creek” and it produces crazy, hedonistic and chewy, cherry fruit that makes for such forward, modern yet finely tannic wines. A bottle filled with sun that will trot effortlessly off into the crepuscular light over the next 30 years.  94  @liffordwine

Signorello Vineyards ‘Padrone’ 2010 ($199.95, Consignment) is made from unfiltered, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the oasis of  “two extremely rocky parts of the estate vineyard.” Winemaker Ray Signorello Jr. notes that depending on the vintage, the grapes are chosen from different, but specific spots. A cool growing season made for small yields and an intense Cabernet, with teeth and flesh that will make you “see the sun burst.” Roasted thyme on a glowing set of coals, where tar, licorice and blackberry fruit share time. The char goes on and on – patience will be needed but pass me down the 2010 Padrone wine anytime. 92  @SigVin  @ProfileWineGrp

Good to go!

Part one: A 30 march of wines

Photo: Comugnero Silvana/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sparkling

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

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

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

The Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reds

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

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

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

Good to go!

Triassic Tasting at Pangaea

Pangaea Upstairs Dining Room

Pangaea Upstairs Dining Room

 April 24, 2012

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/04/27/triassic-tasting-at-pangaea/

Pangaea Restaurant, 1221 Bay Street, (416) 920-2323

Chef du Cuisine: Derek Bendig, Sommelier and Manager: Benjamin Hardy

 

The group of seven. Sorry. Not THE Group of Seven. This group of seven. Our new format is really taking shape. We no longer each bring wine from cellar to share. Now one leader, one cellar, nine wines. Plenty to share with Mr.’s Hardy, Bendig and crew. Seamless sally forth through five courses. Godspeed to Pangaea for an all out effort in syncopated rhythm. This tasting the high water mark (of the new era) to date, with no disrespect to what came before, but the senescence has reached the early stages of maturity. Laud and applaud to AZ for coordinating food and wine synergy. A coup de foudre from the get go.  

Nine Wine Night

Nine Wine Night

 

Amuse Bouche, radish ‘ravioli’ stuffed with chèvre, tomato, basil

Chef’s Creek (Fanny’s Bay, Vancouver Island) Oysters, on the half shell, horseradish, lemon, shallot mignonette

  1. Peninsula Ridge Fumé Blanc 2008 wants to be 1er Cru Chablis in my universe but sweats heat and spice, “green cardamom pod and roasted salsify,” adds AM. Nutty lemon custard and did someone say Boxwood? Not quite Sauvignon Blanc but PR brings out enough mineral to do this style proud up on the Bench.  88
  2. Domaine De Congy Cuvée Les Galfins Pouilly Fumé 2009 tasted blind is undoubtedly old world but the lack of grass and oak leads me to Muscadet. Wrong! Oh the marl and fossilized oysters of it all! More Sauvignon Blanc to confront my tasting demons. Solid, if not as cursive as the PR.  87

 

Ahi Tuna Tataki, seared tuna, blood orange and fennel salad, avocado pureé

  1. See Ya Later Ranch Brut NV strikes a match from the outset and never wavers. The other MG senses After Eights but for me that possibility is smothered by a leesy, cheesy lard maigre et fromage. Gismondi calls this BC bubbly “a Champagne ringer.” Not so much. Flat finish so s’ya later, “s’alright ma’, i’m only sighing.” Just tasting.  85

 

Intermezzo, grapefruit and tarragon flavoured ice

 

Quebec Duck Breast, pan-roasted, seasonal vegetables, potato rösti, game jus

  1. Fontanabianca Barbaresco Sori Burdin 2004 the blessed and confounded queen Nebbiolo is the totipotent master of the moment. Italianate yet without animale, rosy cheeked and impossibly elegant, it still manages to anesthetize the mouth. So pretty it hurts. Along with the Sori Paitin, easily the best value in Barbaresco. On this night my allegiance is to the queen.  92
  2. Renatto Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2004 of the famiglie Pola e Ferro is polar as compared to the non of the Burdin. AM and D nose “car exhaust.” I am tricked by its charm and think New World Syrah, but am reminded that the colour lacks gloom. Hugely muscular, girded by plastron and decades ahead of itself. “Leave it open all night and it’ll be amazing” says Dr. C.  91
  3. D’arenberg Ironstone Pressings 2001 holds the title of GSM pop star of the Mclaren Vale. Eponymous iron filings and pressed fruit roll up. A mixed bag of Grenache, Syrah and Mataro, the IP’s warm, berry and balsamwood address is veiled by a touch of oxidation. “Stinky feet” corrects AM. Good integration of fruit, acidity and tannin present proper balance.  90
  4. Mas Doix Salanques 2006 is a revelation. A Pegau-esque perfume aux gasseuse leans Rhône but an amazing (65%) Garnacha sweetness veers Priorat. Iodine (Syrah and Carignan) of black slate soil, tar, smoked meat and bacon. A Parker and Galloni thesaurus of descriptors must be bequeathed on this candied (Merlot) wine loaded with acidity in magnums.  CVR** WOTN.  93

 

House Made Cheeses, goat camembert, blue haze, cloth bound cheddar, truffle tomme

  1. Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape 1998 would be my wine of choice walking a boulder strewn vineyard on a misty morning in the Southern Rhône. Expressions are hurled around the table, “candified Pinot nose” and “tutti frutti.” For Beaucastel? I can’t believe the tripartite fruit freshness, ambient funk immersion and pencil lead sharpness. This ’98 is “light as a feather, heavy as lead.” The Beaucastel will brighten up your tomorrow. WOTN  96
  2. Tablas Creek Espit de Beaucastel 2008 the worthy adversary is just a dude from California. A honey pot of stewed prunes and “Seville oranges” notes the quote machine. A sinkhole of 38% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 26% Syrah and 6% Cunoise, the Esprit does admirable expatriate yeoman’s work and I wouldn’t even think of marking it zero.  88
Tasting Table

Tasting Table

 

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-Value Ratio

CVR** – Vintage Direct Curiosity-to-Value Ratio

 

 

Good to go!