Twenty-two mind-blowing wines of 2022

Godello in the Stellenbosch heather, Reyneke Wine Estate

We are who we are and we choose to live in a world according to wine. Within its walls are endless permutations and revelations, of the dark moments and the light, the romantic entanglements and the failures. We witness cycles of passion, highs and lows, endless accounts of quirky little episodes that reveal how grapes really live under the circumstances of a vintage. How they survive and thrive, eventually turning into the wine they become. A wine’s history is a lovely aside accompanied by a recorded and constructed account through the lens of someone who observes its transformations. We are messengers who take the land, plant and maker into consideration and always abide, recounting the story to those who would choose to listen. According to WineAlign I reviewed more than 3,000 wines in 2022, which means I tasted at least 3,500, if not more. In order to surmise this final list from a shortlist of more than 100 mind-blowing wines it meant another 2,900 are not even in the running and yet surely no less than a quarter are exceptional wines in their own right. That is how difficult, personal and stringent an exercise this annual choosing has become. I find it near impossible these days and yet somehow feel compelled to continue the drill. 

Godello in Chianti Classico

Related – Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The year 2022 afforded multiple opportunities to get back on the road in search of great wines in places across the ponds and beyond. To Tuscany in both February and March, for the for the Chianti Classico Collection and also as chaperone to La Squadra Canadese for a week of exploration throughout the 11 UGAs of the territory. Forever in Chianti Classico included a masterclass presented by Italian wine expert Filippo Bartolotta and Consorzio President Giovanni Manetti titled Il Chianti Classico in 9 Decadi. This year-end summary includes one of those Chianti Classico wines dating back to 1949 but a few more could been here as well, including the fascinating Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico 1958. At Laura Bianchi’s estate the Castello Di Monsanto Sangioveto 1986 was one to blow my mind, as did Luca Martini di Cigala’s San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo 2018 and VinSanto del Chianti Classico 1998. As a proud, card-carrying Ambasciatore there are dozens upon dozens of Classico and affiliate sangiovese that move me each and every calendar year. Il Molino Di Grace Gratius 2018 is an example and just one of many.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

After that Tuscan adventure I moved on to Sicily for a five day exploration of The five estates of Planeta earth and my stay turned into two weeks. Covid-19 had caught me and yet the humanity of Alessio Planeta, Patricia Tòth and several winemakers aboard L’Etna turned a challenging test result into many days of discovery and deeper volcanic understanding. In fact L’Etna and Parco Statella saved my Sicilian quarantine. So many producers’ wines could and should be on this list: Azienda Agricola Sofia, Calcagno, Donnafugata, Eduardo Torres, Feudo Pignatone, Girolamo Russo, Graci, Scirto, Tascante, and Vigneti Vecchio. Oddly this was not a year for nebbiolo with likely the least amount of opportunities made available and yet a month from now I will spend 10 days in Piemonte to make up for the absence in 2022. That said there can be no forgetting Réva Barolo Cannubi 2018, from which impartiality is off the table because if you do not fall in love with this Barolo then you are not setting your palate free.

Travels in June and Abruzzo in four-part harmony included a bucket list visit with Emidio Pepe where I found that an unwavering commitment to land is everything that matters in making exceptional and memorable wine. It’s not only what you do but also who you are. Ahead of that trip I had tasted La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Bellovedere Riserva Terre Dei Vestini 2017, and there can be little doubt that it is a wine that resides at the top of the montepulciano food chain because this Riserva hails from a most specific and important terroir. After Abruzzo and then Rome I moved on to attend the first ever Anteprima for Simply Red: Rosso di Montalcino where the Brunello were set aside for one day only and the 2020 vintage of Rosso got directly under my skin, including Lorenzo Magnelli’s mind bending Le Chiuse Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020. Dieci Anni di Rosso di Montalcino (Ten Years of Rosso di Montalcino) and Selezione di Rosso di Montalcino (Rosso di Montalcino Selection) showed wines of age-ability and purpose; my if Alessandro Mori’s Il Marroneto Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Jacopo 2019 did not blow my mind. A visit with Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini meant a pour of Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Io Sono Donatella 2015 for the most profound barrel expression of Le Donne’s Brunelli. 

Menfi

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

In October the Cape Wine congress resumed after a four year absence and now more than ever this is what I have to say. South Africa is the most exciting and mind-expanding wine universe alive today. There are no less than 40 Western Cape wines from two dozen or so producers tasted in 2022 that could have made this list: A.A. Badenhorst, Alheit, Beaumont, Boekenhoutskloof, Crystallum, David and Nadia Sadie, Hamiilton Russell, Huis van Chevallerie, Kanonkop, Ken Forrester, La Motte, Leeu Passant, Klein Contsantia, Meerlust, Momento, Mullineux, Old Road Wine Company, Porseleinberg, Raal, Raats, Radford Dale, Restless River, Reyneke, Savage, Sijnn, Storm and The Sadie Family. To name but a few. Other southern hemisphere wines were killer in 2022, namely Torbreck Grenache Hillside Vineyard 2019, a special Barossa block to be sure.

With John Szabo MS and Rosa Kruger at the Old Vines Project tasting

In November a return to Montalcino for Benvenuto Brunello 2022 meant a look at the 2018 vintage but also the Riserva of 2017. At Col d’Orcia the Conte Francesco Cinzano Marone and his son Santiago led yet another vertical tasting, this time on the 8s and it was Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Poggio Al Vento 1988 that stood both out and also the test of time. From Montalcino it was on to Vienna and then a Wagram-Traisental discovery tour that was both too short and mind-expanding – A return must and will happen soon. Meanwhile a tasting at home in the WineAlign office showed this Rheingau gem to the crü. Leitz Berg Schlossberg Grosses Gewächs Riesling Trocken 2019 is grand Rüdesheim indeed. 

These are the wines that blew my mind in 2022

Most of all 2022 was a year when associates, colleagues, wine professionals and especially friends reunited to break bread and taste great wines together. At a birthday party I had the opportunity to taste the following in one evening; Château Lafitte 1986, Château Mouton-Rothschild 1986, Chave Hermitage 2010, Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Turque 1999, Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1990, Dom Perignon 2000, Veuve Cliquot La Grand Dame 1995 to name just seven of 20-plus icons. Bordeaux made several prominent appearances in ’22; Château Margaux 1989 (and 2004), Château Haut-Brion 2012 and Château La Mission Haut-Brion 2012. More importantly in 2022 we shared bottles of all ilk, pedigree and origin, not only the expensive and famous labels but all the great wines, big and small. Thank you to every person who poured, for every sip and taste, with heartfelt thanks. These are Godello’s 22 mind-blowing wines of 2022.

Markus Huber Grüner Veltliner Berg 1ÖTW 2021, Traisental, Austria

Highest and coolest vineyard of the Traisental Erste Lage because by three or four pm the forest casts shade over the vineyard. Limestone based soil as well, upwards of 380m and the only portion that has iron rich red elements in the earth. Actually finding a richness in this, surely vintage related and that is unexpected but it’s also the most savoury, minty cool, eucalyptus accented, or the like. Curious by comparison to Alte Zetsen and Zwirch, in what is assessed as almost dark, smoky, spicy volcanic-simulate stuff. Brings whole and utter meaning to grüner veltliner at the Grand Cru level. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2022

Godello with Charla Bosman

Sijnn White 2019, WO Malgas, South Africa

Up above the Breede River there are vines of chenin blanc, viognier, roussanne and verdelho, varieties that have been working towards a common goal, to eventuate at something great. Then 2019 comes along and the world changes. This is the vintage from which David Trafford, Sijnn and winemaker Charla (Hassbroek) Bosman take full reign of their collective charge. To be truthful the agriculture, winemaking and face of the brand is Bosman and were I in the market to hire someone of her passion, ability and professionalism I could not help but remunerate her like a top European footballer. But lucky we all are that she and Sijnn are together because she is at one with this impossible yet absurdly beautiful environment where wines like this White Blend are made and will blow your proverbial mind. They attach themselves and get so close to that personal part of you. Imagine Châteauneuf though I’d much rather consider Malgas because that is what this is. Rich and perfectly viscous, spicy, structured and fine. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted October 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Bianco DOC San Lorenzo 2020, Sicily, Italy

From the single vineyard at 730-740m of elevation and vinified in tonneaux. The 2009 was the first vintage of San Lorenzo Bianco for a wine that leads amongst the 80-90 thousand total bottles made by Giuseppe Russo from 18 hectares. A strong selection from the plants of carricante with cattaratto and grecanico. The carricante are the oldest and they provide the breadth in the mouth, the texture in unction and the presence that really makes you feel the vineyard. The difference between it and Nerina is really in the selection of the grapes. Giuseppe wants his whites to speak for his territory, here to be a bit more generous and 2020 obliges first because it was easier and second because it is such a vintage specific to the white wines. Such beauty and emotion is purity and life. No stress and a wine you want to drink. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted March 2022

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Plat’Bos Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Swartland, South Africa

At a tasting where everything is Old Vines Project certified there must be something extraordinary about a wine to stand out from a crowd of greats. David and Nadia Sadie are in fact turning heritage vines chenin blanc (amongst other varietal explorations) into content born of context harboured though never paraded. They are rhythmic and scientific with just enough fantasy and romanticism, but never too much. Plat’Bos stands above Skaliekop and Hoë Steen because 2021 asks it to do so, not because it is better or more important, but it is surely chenin blanc profound. The 1981 Swartland planting is in the steady zone, shed of the mercurial and in ’21 so very linear yet salty of the earth in its sombre-sepulchral tone. There is reduction here because the poor soil nutrients demand that this chenin begins this way. The levels of tension and intensity are most elevated, sufficing to say as high as any from the Western Cape. Attention is paid unwavering to detail, sequencing is in order, purity incarnate, grape and place together pristinely kept. In Plat’Bos 2021 the palate is taken down to the whipping post by a wine built to endure. Given time there will be calm, healing and reward in the end. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2022

The Sadie Family Die Ouwingerdreeks Mev. Kirsten Wyn Van Oorsprong Stellenbosch Die Sadie Familie Wyne 2021, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The vines that supply Mev. Kirsten Wyn are the oldest chenin blanc in the country, out of Stellenbosch and planted in 1905. In 1947 every second row was pulled out to make room for tractors and the configuration still exists this way. “If South Africa has a true apex white Grand Cru vineyard then this is it” insists Eben Sadie. Facts are facts are you just can’t accede these levels of power, concentration, extract and tannin anywhere else. The nose communicates as an intoxicant of sublime forces and these grapes bestow chenin blanc 2021 are those that transcend fruit, deliver ethereality and a heightened sense of awareness. An awakening from necessary tension, crisis and personal freedoms, existential off the charts, poetic and epic. One hundred and sixteen stanzas recorded, in the books and the finest verse written right here in the most recent vintage. If enlightenment is to be gained from chenin blanc in the Western Cape, Mev. Kirsten would provide the fodder. “The grail. End of fucking story” concludes Sadie. All hail. Long live the queen. Drink 2025-2040.  Tasted October 2022

Iconic Bourgogne

Domaine De Bellene Vosne Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots 2020, AC Bourgogne, France

“Suchots” originates from “souches,” the name given to the woods before the land was prepared to house these vines. Les Suchots is but a small 13 hectare part of the larger 220 in total for Vosne Romanée and was first planted in 1937. La Romanée and Saint Vivant are the closest plots, south of Echezeaux, north or Richebourg and though just six per cent of the appellation it is actually the largest Premier Cru Climat therein. The vineyard is divided in two by a road. The eastern part below lays just above the cemetery and the village terroir called Hautes Maizieres. The top part is located below Les Beaux-Monts. The 2019 was a dream, crème de la crème and yet 2020 seems to embrace the powerful vintage with a most extraordinary level of perfume. That and fruit concentrated to a maximum degree without falling into any of the trappings associated with hyperbole. The concept of pinot noir reaching regional levels like this seems counterintuitive to the variety-appellation contract but the balance and harmony at the top is something the likes almost never seen. This will surely be one of the wines that explain with hyper clarity what 2020 is as a vintage. Drink 2026-2040.  Tasted May 2022

Graci Etna Rosso DOC Arcurìa Sopra Il Pozzo 2017, Sicily, Italy

Sopra il Pozzo describes a special portion of the signature Arcurìa vineyard (and contrada of the same name), a block “above the well,” 100 per cent nerello mascalese picked in the last week of October. Treated to the same maceration and elévage as the Rosso for the same spontaneous style and time as Feudo di Mezzo. However Sopra il Pozzo’s “refuse” soil composition is different and requires patience in the name of time, due to its alternating layers of decomposed volcanics in stone and coarse sand. This is a section of recast material and the corresponding mascalese is both emasculated and chivalrous. The degree to which layers of fruit, mineral and umami incorporare and completare is finite and contiguous yet also lengthy, scorrevole and endless. There is rare Etna glycerin texture and perfectly timed acid tang. Tempismo perfetto. Grande. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted April 2022

Elisabetta Foradori

Foradori Granato Teroldego 2019, IGT Vigneti Delle Dolomiti, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Granato from Elisabetta Foradori resides at or near the peak of the Trentino-Alto Adige wine chain, a Dolomite force of varietal nature, richness incarnate and cragged to gain your full attention. Fruit comes at a great premium, not by absence of the heart but because so much site, land and space speak louder than words. A static red stuck in a state of cryogenic freeze, immovable and surely able to handle immobility and also time. Will drink beautifully for a decade and a half, or possibly more. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted February 2022

Garage Wine Co. Truquilemu Vineyard Lot 97 Dry Farmed Old Vines Field Blend Carignan 2018, DO Maule Valley, Chile

The eastern facing side of the Coastal Range where the old vines grow, in places where you had to make wines for the Catholic Church, “to save souls.” The most aromatic of Derek’s wines, a true field blend with a je ne sais quoi of varieties bursting off of dry farmed bush vines. Showy with that combination of outright juiciness juxtaposed against iron-fisted structure. A wine that comes from a place where the farmer worked to break up the “los camellones”, strange diagonal lines drawn and a framer who shows how to separate the land so that making great wine is easier. This is a remarkable example of old, bush and real. Drink 2024-2030. Tasted July 2022

Barone Ricasoli Castello Di Brolio Chianti Classico 1949, Tuscany, Italy

Tasted as part of “Il Chianti Classico in 9 Decadi” led by Filippo Bartolotta with Giovanni Manetti at Stazione Leopolda in Florence at the Chianti Classico Collection. The oldest wine in the flight. apropos and just when you consider the Ricasoli heritage and lineage. A mineral layering which instinctively mimics the compaction of argiloso, macigno and calcari from Brolio’s soils, no longer feeling the separation or mille-feuille effect but now just all morphed into one and the same. There were surely some white wines in this mix, as per the formula written decades earlier by Bettino Ricasoli. Probably helped keep the freshness for some time and while this is now all earth and stone the wine is very much alive. There’s even some sweetness and citrus showing, indicative of blood orange some 73 years later, finishing with a trebbiano and malvasia Vinsanto tang.  Tasted March 2022

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy

“I did not like Gran Selezione, I did not have anything against Gran Selezione but the discussion about UGA (sub-zones) was already underway so why not wait for this next change to the appellation?” The thinking for Paolo de Marchi was more about the wines that did not qualify for the appellation becoming wines that now qualified, the issue being a new rule could not apply to only 30 or so producers. So what is needed for that to happen? “All grapes born here should be able to travel with a passport.” If it is more complicated than that then there is much more to discuss. A Chianti Classico from a long, linear and fortifying vintage delivers equally appropriate and extending tannins, gripping the composition while proposing to become elegant and fine. The seamlessness and never wavering focus keeps on keeping on, in the ways of emotion in motion. Will remain in bottle one year more before being released to the market. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted February 2022

Great anticipation to taste La Casaccia and Montosoli side by each from a vintage carrying no option but to act out the passion play through the glaring clarity of a sense of place. There are facts involved and there is no hiding the truth formed by these plots of sangiovese in this vintage. By now it is understood how 2018 exists on its own accord at one with nature though Francesco Ripaccioli will tell you there are similarities with 2013, if only because that vintage was greatly ignored and is drinking well at this time. La Casaccia in the località of Canalicchio is the wildcard of Montalcino and tasting several wines from the frazione reveals a collective affinity supplied by the year’s gifts. Nothing was portioned or taken away from the ’18 Annata and yet this Vigna sings with even more range and depth than that wine. The acids are simply out of this proverbial world, the linear aspects drawn with precise architectural or even, in Old English speak, a Cutter’s line. Remarkable reserve in concentration and forward slicing finesse. Forever long. Forever young. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2022

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy

Riserva 2016 is the 42nd such vintage since 1888 from estate vineyards and the oldest parcels therein. Meanwhile olive trees and other compatible local species grow in those places and there always seems to be lower pH and higher bright acidity coming off the grapes. The Federico Radi team seeks to broaden biodiversity with unlimited scope and more vineyards would benefit by following such a plan. When Biondi-Santi gets to their next position we can expect even more refined and higher quality wines. Meanwhile the harmony and extant abilities in this ’16 Riserva are almost impossible to believe. A Riserva of fruit termed as the locus of the points drawn at an equidistant from the centre. Sangiovese of no stops and starts existing on a special kind of ellipse in which the eccentricity is zero and the two foci are coincident. Simple descriptors like crunch, chew or crust are not in the lexicon nor do service to speak about the texture of this remarkable sangiovese. Subtlety and strength, a dappling of early morning light, patterning and shimmering as if on water. The phenolics are spot on, coherent and the connection with both palate and tannins perform as an unbreakable bond. A canvas flooded with colour and while there is a level of transparency there are no white spots. Everything is filled in. Clocks in at 14 per cent abv. Drink 2025-2040.  Tasted November 2022

Fontodi Flaccianello Della Pieve 2001, IGT Toscana Centrale, Tuscany, Italy

Youthful is the proverbial understatement, zesty and full of Panzano life the other. A sangiovese in strike of ideal accord, freshness captured in bottle and development low, easy and slow accrued. Just like the season, stress-free, never too hot, never too wet. Stellar autumn of warm days and retentive cool nights. A late harvest and full phenolic character. It all shows in this 20-plus year-old Flaccianello, singing a ballad, verse after verse, refrain post refrain. After 20 minutes a sweet porcini perfume emits and one wishes for a 50 day dry-aged Chianina Fiorentina. What fortune! Along with the special effects of smoky rosmarino and wild fennochio. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2022

Sassicaia 2019, DOC Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

Priscilla Incisa’s Tenuta San Guido is located one hour south of Pisa, going back many generations. The surface area covers 2,500 hectares in a “classic Tuscan agricultural estate, of vines, olive oil, cereals including wheat and feed for thoroughbred horses. There are 500 hectares towards the seashore dedicated to a wild life refuge “paradise” free from hunting and for migrating birds coming from northern Europe and heading to Africa, especially because a good part of the land is covered by water during the winter. Before 1994 the appellation was Vino da Tavola. The grand vin Sassicaia is always a minimum 80 per cent cabernet sauvignon (as per the appellation) with cabernet franc. The youthful perfume of Sassicaia is really something other, an invitation to the plume of a great and mighty bird that will soon migrate or not be seen or heard from until another season. The fruit is both wound taut and also layered, a mix of liquids, gasses and decomposed mineral, turning on its axes, literally the earth itself. The effort put in speaks volumes about the quality and yet the seamless transitions are as if there are no transitions at all, only one contiguous entity. Will release in Ontario as an Online Exclusive by lottery on October 20th. Drink 2025-2034.  Tasted September 2022

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2002, Abruzzo, Italy

The subtle and gentle elegance of 2002 is almost mystifying, if at least a surprise that kinda hypnotizes. Memory serves up a case of conflict and adversity, if also vintage envy for the bookends of 2001 and 2003. And yet the cool of the night prevails to elongate a montepulciano for our pleasure and make it sing 20 years later. It was also decanted to reduce the lees sediment and then re-corked for our benefit. Words cannot express what a beautiful place this 2002 EP is found to be. It is a treat to taste and also behold, exactly as of right now. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2005, DOC Noto, Sicily, Italy

Finding oneself in a state of utter disbelief upon nosing an older Santa Cecilia has just happened with thanks to this 2005 and the unthinkable aromatics it possesses. There have been some older examples like 2007, 2008 and 2011 which all showed morphological magic but this, this is something other. The state of perfumed preservation is impossible, the floral emanations and fruit continuance implausible and in suspension of belief. The 2005 is almost perfect, dark berries and red citrus alive, acids in perfect condition, wood dissolved, resolved and walked straight out the door. The life and vitality reside in the arena of the flawless, faultless and achievable. This is what nero d’avola, Santa Cecilia, Noto and Planeta can be, at its collective finest. Will drink this way (and also that) for five more years and with ease. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Château Cheval Blanc 1998, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux, France

The 24 year-old 1998 has been argued and predominantly defended as a Right Bank vintage, especially for merlot based wines, which the 1998 Cheval Blanc happens to be. Clocks in at 65 percent plus (35) cabernet franc and the two combine for hypnotic aromatics to put mind and palate in an immediately dizzying and gratifying tizzy. Dark, dark fruit of the “cimmérienne” kind yet of a grace and genteel manner shared by other profoundly distinguished red wines. Thoughts can wander and wonder as a result of tasting this blind and considering the depth it is nebbiolo that is imagined. Only for a moment because the numerous dual-toned vibrations direct towards knowing this to be a blend and so Right Bank combinations lead by their impression. Both of ’98 Cheval Blanc’s are blessed of ripenesses, acids and structural bones all having peaked at a shared summit. The conclusion can only be a two-part perception, of balance and beauty. Drink 2022-2042.  Tasted November 2022

Mullineux Schist Syrah 2019, WO Swartland, South Africa

Vines planted in 1999, mature if still 12 years away from being classified as “Old Vines.” Schist is the home Brownstone Vineyard, shallow and rocky of less than 20 cm of soil. An extreme site in which vines attempt to grow, but so much comes down to the where and how. Rows are close together and planted in an almost race track configuration within an amphitheatre. The roots spread and dig deep within the stripes of schist interspersed with iron and the grapes are harvested plant by plant to create two apposite cuvées. Visually these are small vines with smaller leaves and an airiness – physically speaking. The skeletal backbone here is upright, towering and commanding, the juiciest of varietal fruit hanging as flesh, taut and muscular upon these bones. Unyielding yet never brooding nor astringent, but bountiful and beautiful. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted July 2022

Penfolds Grange 1981, South Australia

Poured blind and easily recognized as a wine of great depth with at least two decades of maturity. Either older or hastily advanced but there are indicators to the former, namely high tones, substantial crunchy acids and full on perfume. There is a touch of Brettanomyces but only a feathery tickle and the wine still has something left to give and also to prove. Great depth is provided by wood notes, of soy, balsamic, wild fennel and all together now a reduction keeping its form, a foxy liqueur, once Cassis but now Amaro, finishing with flavours bloody and gamy. The reveal as Grange 1981 explains that while shiraz is always the game and king it had been a season for which the cabernet sauvignon portion exceeded 10 percent. Winemaker John Duval felt that ’81 was a tannic one but they left the building long ago. Both Barossa and McLaren Vale were involved and so this look back at blending expertise matters in the context of all Aussie blends being tasted today. Being present to be poured a taste of Grange represents good fortune and from 1981 there abides a full and fair suck of the sauce bottle.  Drink 2022-2025. Tasted November 2022

Donnafugata Ben Ryé 2019, Passito Di Pantelleria DOC, Sicily, Italy

Ben, as in “son of” and Ryé, a Sicilian riff on the concept of making strong mocker from the wheat grass. Think of grapes instead, in this case zibibbo (muscat of Alexandria) grown off the southwestern coast of Sicily on the Island of Pantelleria. Passito di Pantelleria DOC is one of the world’s great sweet wines, found only on this windswept promontory where the grapes concentrate, drink in the sea and express a view to which only this place commits. The warmest of vintages develops and comprises these particular sugars into something surreal. Extraordinary orange-ginger crème brûlée, perfectly embittered and made viscous in the most natural of ways. Layers of dedication and spice, health affirming herbs, respiratory fixing drops and sweetness captured, effortlessly and to gift plaisir. Apricots ripe and glazed, zen zero limone, giusto intenso. Nearly perfect. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted April 2022

Vintage Port (c) Sarah Goddard/WineAlign

Niepoort Vintage Port 2019, DOP Douro, Portugal

Expect top concentration in Vintage Port from what Niepoort calls a “return to balance in the vineyard” type of season. Summer was unseasonably cool and the timely rainfall on the 26/27th of August was invaluable, allowing fruit maturity to go to completion. A recall to 2008, of natural, acid driven, balanced musts. Foot trodden in circular granite lagares with 100 per cent stems, racked soon after harvest, aged in “tonéis” (large oak vats) in the Douro over the winter, and then moved to the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia in the Spring of 2020. Acid vintage indeed, fruit caught by circumfuse so as to be surrounded, ignited and eventually dispersed for decades of slow release power. The liquid chalkiness of tannin is so fine-grained you swirl and mull over just how hypnotizing it is. Truly great Vintage Port will act out this passion play. Drink 2025-2048.  Tasted October 2022

Good to go!

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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!

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

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WineAlign

March 7th seven blazon party

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

Home spun Barque Smokehouse brisket sandwich

As VINTAGES rolls out another army of bottles in proclamations of blatant multiplicity and, as I mentioned yesterday, in duplicity, it is time to settle into the recommendations encampment. Trudging through the trenches of Sparkling, White, Red and Dessert the divisions are laid, dispatches ordered and strategies finalized. Staffers go here, front liners there and commanders bring up the rear.

Related – Why it matters to taste wines again

A little bit of everything, as always, defines the March 7th release. Tidy little sippers work the hardest and make sacrifices for the rest. In this release Kosher wines prepare to tackle Passover but that we will save for next week, or perhaps the week after. Italy is the focus, bellowing commands from the bull horn, making decrees like colosseum commentators at Hunger Games. “We have wines that are just too goddamn vivid!” “We have wines with language that is fairly formal and sometimes flowery!” “Occasionally we stop to smell the adjectives!”

Tuscan wines always seem to possess what has heretofore been referred to as collectively having “a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility.” As a group they are confident, steeped in tradition and now, as much as any wine-producing region, captured within the heart of the state of the art. The sea is murky because the obvious separations between varietal and blend are hard to discern but one aspect is not under dispute. Overall quality has never been higher. Tuscan wines are just plain fun to drink.

The seven blazon party from March 7th attacks with Chardonnay, Yellow Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and two rounds of Sangiovese. The notes, here, now.

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A'frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

From left to right: Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Chateau Montelena Estate Zinafandel 2012

Fielding Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$14.95, WineAlign)

One of the best deals going in oak-less Chardonnay, a glug, glug, line up at the jug kind of guiltless white. Pure, cool-climate variegate, with the cool of the Peninsula overridden by the vacuous warmth in the saddle abutting the Escarpment. Very pear, all in slate, exit to daylight acidity for a Chardonnay that hit the switch. Spot on in 2013 with an even keel of personality, warm but never far from cool.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Yellow Muscat 2013, Tokaj Hegyalja, Hungary (46508$15.95, WineAlign)

From Tokaj Hegyalja in Bodrogkeresztúr found tucked into the northeastern corner of Hungary. One could imagine the air thick as sweet cool soup in summer, perfumed by basil and lemon verbena. Designated “semi-sweet” the varietal is so much more than pedestrian when handled with this kind of poise and concern. Highly aromatic, viscous and wildflower floral. Honey and honeysuckle, fresh lemon, beeswax and citrus pith. Sweetness begins, abides, subsides and melts in the mouth. Buckley‘s medicinal to a fundamental degree but not to a fault. Delicate and delightful. Muscat of a grace that makes you feel and wish, “my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder.”  Tasted March 2015  @WineofHungary

The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (164491$20.95, WineAlign)

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

Castelli del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (972695$23.95, WineAlign)

A very honest take on Sangiovese and Chianti Classico. When it appeared from the 2006 vintage it had been a while since this Panzano came to market, having been a stalwart presence in late 1990’s vintages. Modern now, very much a child of 21st century winemaking but in retention of loyalties to red, sour cherry and dusty 90’s Sangiovese. Remains slightly austere, angular and tension-filled, as if a scraping noise could be heard as the fruit, acidity and tannins fight for purchase on the floor. Chalky lactic and really juicy. Drink now and for three to five further on.  Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp  Castelli del Grevepesa

Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggio A’frati Riserva Chianti Classico 2010, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (350751$29.95, WineAlign)

Very expressive aromatics in dried flowers, earthy red perfumed fruits, orange peel, clove and a full crumble of cinnamon fill the air. Rampant but not relegating (at this early, five-year juncture) acidity drives the engine, running on vineyard funk, a hint of game and fruit ripened to optimum clarity. This is faultless Sangiovese of guts and guile, really well-made, classic yet modern CCR. Dances like Sangiovese should, “well, you wiggle to the left, you wiggle to the right, you do the ooby dooby with all your might.” No factory made CCR here, nor from out of the cosmos. Just simply down to earth. Were $30 all that I had to spend and a Chianti Classico Riserva the only choice, this would have to make the shortlist. Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, Ac Pessac Léognan, Bordeaux, France (966010$31.95, WineAlign)

That VINTAGES was able to secure another sku of this Bordeaux Blanc is both fortuitous and a gift. For the cost of an I-Tunes song you can have a peak into the generosity of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage through the senses of a top-value producer. From Les Vignobles André Lurton comes this white beauty. Though slightly musty upon entry this shows immediate yet perfectly evolved poise. Ready to strike with much persistent verve and density in 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc singularity. Wood is very involved (10 months in 35 per cent new oak barrels on full lees with bâtonnage) by adding precious layers of necessity. Very layered indeed, honeyed, anti-hackneyed, buttressed, really fine and generous. Most excellent work by oenologists Denis Dubourdieu and Valérie Lavigne.  Tasted March 2015  @AndreLurton  @KirkwoodDiamond

Château Montelena Estate Zinfandel 2012, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California (69633$49.95, WineAlign)

A rare, in the neighbourhood of elegant and exquisitely refined Zinfandel gives all red fruit with just a faint raise of raisining. Quite pure, with heaps of liquorice, smouldering cedar bough, brushed and bushy, big but shy of the peak. The English punk of Zinfandel but with melody and charm. Says to the world we have “our own raison d’etre we can’t see?” The quality is in, raising the Zin bar to a level not oft seen, with restraint and complexity. Never mind the bullocks, Montelena offers a buzzcock of a Zinfandel. Here lies a Zinaison d’être.  Tasted March 2015  @ChMontelena  @rogcowines

Good to go!

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