Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

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

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

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

Campo Spritz

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

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

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Slipped outta Dodge under the cover of darkness…

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

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

El Esteco

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the brothers Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

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

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

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

Vineyard at Salicutti

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

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

Francesco Ripaccioli

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

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

Lorenzo Magnelli, Le Chiuse

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

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

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

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

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

Elena Sottimano

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

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

With Francesca Vaira

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Changes to VINTAGES release recommendations and notes

pen-ridge-and-h-of-p

Dear Godello readers,

As you all know I am one of the five principle critics for WineAlign in Ontario. This is a position I am extremely proud of and very fortunate to hold. That I am able to work alongside Ontario’s most notable experts is something I say thanks for and appreciate every single day. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato and Steve Thurlow are my friends and colleagues. I could not ask for association with a finer group of writers.

Which brings me to why you need to know that I am making some changes at godello.ca. Since February of 2012 I have been posting VINTAGES release recommendations and notes on this website. Though in March of 2014 I eliminated scores on Godello I have continued to publish full tasting notes. Every single one of my VINTAGES release picks has been simultaneously published on WineAlign (with scores), along with dozens more on wines that don’t make the shortlist.

I will no longer be publishing my current VINTAGES release tasting notes on Godello. You can still read them on WineAlign though there is a paywall behind which only premium paying subscribers are able to see the most recent reviews in the first 30 days. This is necessary and I hope you will all understand why I feel so strong about the time being right to effect such a change. WineAlign is the most important, comprehensive and trusted source in Ontario for critical review of VINTAGES wine releases. I fully support and endorse our protocol and hope that you will visit the website for your Ontario wine purchasing needs.

For those of you who wish to read my full tastings notes, I would highly encourage you to pay the WineAlign $35 yearly subscription fee (or $9.95 per quarter) to read the reviews and get the scores as they are published, to the second, in real time. You can still access my bi-weekly list of picks and to do so all you have to do is sign up as a non-paying member. I have a link called “Michael’s Mix” and my VINTAGES recommendations are assembled there.

As for now, here is my list for November 26th, if only as a teaser so that I don’t leave you all high and dry.

Best regards,

godello

bole

Borsao Bole 2013, Campo De Borja, Spain (471565, $15.95)

@BorsaoBodegas  @ChartonHobbs

affectus

Afectus Alvarinho 2015, Vino Regional Minho, Portugal (471276, $17.95)

@quintadecurvos  @vinhosverdes

Peninsula Ridge Beal Vineyard Reserve Merlot 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (257311, $19.95)

@PeninsulaRidge

wynns

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (433060, $22.95)

@WynnsEstate  @sueatwynns  @CoonawarraWine  @Wine_Australia  

Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Riesling 2012, Ac Alsace Grand Cru, Alsace, France (61176, $27.95)

@Sevschlumberger  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace  @Vinexxperts

jurancon

Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Symphonie De Novembre 2012, Southwest, France (470344, $38.95)

@DOMAINE_CAUHAPE  @VinsduJurancon  @HHDImports_Wine

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet/Merlot 2010, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (616433, $39.95)

@HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

osoyoos

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (626325, $44.95)

@OsoyoosLarose  @winebcdotcom

Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon (275735, $46.95)

@REXHILLVyds  @Nicholaspearce_  @Oregon_Wine  @wvwine

pertimali

Livio Sassetti Pertimali Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (474734, $49.95)

  @ConsBrunello  @ProfileWineGrp

Le Mesnil Brut Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs, Champagne, France (460840, $49.95)

Catena Alta Historic Rows Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (982355, $49.95)

@LauraCatena  @CatenaWines  @Noble_Estates  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

Domaine Daniel étienne Defaix Côtes De Lechet Chablis 1er Cru 2003, Ac, Burgundy, France (470435, $51.95)  @DanielEtienne  @vinsdechablis  @purechablis  @BourgogneWines  @vinsdebourgogne

versado

Versado Reserva Ancient Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95)

@VersadoWine  @AnnSperling

kopke

Kopke Colheita Port 1996, Douro, Portugal (63743, $59.95)

  @winesportugalCA  @wines_portugal

melchor

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $74.95)

@conchaytoro  @WinesofChile

anakota

Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, California (181131, $158.95)

  @sonomavintners  @CalifWines_CA  @CalifWines_US

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Mind blowing wines of 2014

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

In January it began with A resolution to drink honest wine, “juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life.” It continued with New year. Try new wines, where the goal was “the resolve to drink outside the comfort zone.” If the issue was Feeling under the weather? Drink wine, success was had. “Wine is your friend. When approached, integrated and embraced in the right way it can help to promote a healthy lifestyle. The defence rests.”

January was a busy month, complete with Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and ice wine, not to mention Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds. In February the opined focus zeroed inwards, to Ontario. What’s in a wine vintage? asked to reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites, the best wines made to date. Harsh words were spoken against Rosé, but only because of the obviousness of it all when said, You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine. Thomas Bachelder showed us Synchronicity in three terrors and he will do so again this coming Sunday when we break wine together down on the Peninsula. Calming influences saved days, having once more expounded on the music immersion, in and with wine, from Three-chord wines, hold the rants. The month concluded with more healthy advice and the question Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

In March the annual pilgrimage to Niagara produced more tasting notes and verbiage than was previously thought possible, in a three-part series. Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventureWhen experts break wine together and Wine experts Brock and roll, Brock on were also joined by a visit to Flat Rock Cellars in Bottles, barrels, tanks and a vertical. A two-year impassioned body of submissions to canada.com culminated with the final column, The death of wine scores?

Scores were subsequently dropped from godello.ca but continue to be sidled up to the notes at winealign.com. In April I found out what happens When Sangiovese comes to townBurgundy will always be royal and that it’s always Go Gamay go time. In the name of Somewhereness, The group of twelve was once again called to assembly. In May there was the omnipresent Kalon of MomPaul Pender’s Tawse and effect and a fascinating look at cooperage in Every barrel tells a story. Prince Edward County again proved its mettle in ’14 and consumers were encouraged to Take them home, County wines. VQA stood under scrutiny in The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom and another chapter was written in The Stratus-Momofuku continuum.

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Sparkling wine bubbled over in New fizz on the Brock, was Talkin’ ’bout my Generation Riesling and a trip to Alsace in June put me In a Grand Cru state of mind. I was Down on the Ornellaia and found out first hand, on a boat trolling across Lake Erie that The South Coast is clear. I offered up The froth on Crémant d’Alsace and in July told you that Chardonnay is cool. The eponymous conference yielded in excess of 10,000 words in August with 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more and The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind. I branded Olivier Zind-Humbrecht The cru chief of Alsace and felt what it was like to be Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes.

Tide's Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tide’s Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

A 5500 km trek to the tip of Cape Breton and back yielding poetic and prophetic expression in The tides that bind: East Coast swing. “The tractive is a thing to and of itself. The pauses to gather at points along the process remember lobsters roasting over an open fire, a cottage visit with new-found friends, a hike into the cavern of a waterfall and a swim in a tidal river. Memories are made in rites of passage, though in the end, like the photographs, they too will be demurred by time. Indelible stamps they are, cemented in commitment to reaching and by necessity, descending summits. A  road trip to the eastern part of Canada realizes the bigger plan. The key is making it safely home, before the tide rolls in.”

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

In September I tasted history with Taylor made Port and insisted on Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due. I ignored a publishing embargo to announce how The LCBO and WineAlign go local and went Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada by judging the best of the best. A recall to Consider the Gaspereau Valley brought me back to Benjamin Bridge, a visit with Peter Gamble and the declaration that “I have seen & tasted the future of vinifera in Nova Scotia and its name is Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.” Gamble’s work with partner Ann Sperling in Argentina is simply and skillfully The artfully applied science of Versado Malbec.

My report, Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality was met with lukewarm avoidance then rebounded, thanks to the tunes, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with songA hip of wine from Hidden Bench gave way to Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list, in which I insisted “if your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in.” I enjoyed some Wine on company time and Americans take note when Sonoma peaks from out of the fog.  For the third consecutive year I gave Yet another 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Local wines, notably Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases and in direct contrast, I went Off the beaten Italian path to discover endemic varietals. The Bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports had me reeling. “The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?”

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Two exposés on Alsatian wine, A Blanck slate in Alsace and It was Josmeyer’s imagination covered two distinct theories, of tabula rasa and wayfinding. On Sparkling wine I gave you Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence and Eleven 11th hour holiday bubbles. If value is your thing, I hope you read The final 14 bargains of 2014 and if great Canadian wine and cuisine float your gastronomic boat, my judging experience was captured at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014.

This is the third in the trilogy of best of reports for 2014. The first, 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014 was about “wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.” The second, Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014 was meant to to “create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines.” The third instalment is meant purely to celebrate and to thank those who shared their bottles with me. Here are 16 wines tasted in 2014 that simply blew me away.

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Domaine Paul Blanck et Fils Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983, Alsace, France (From A Blanck slate in Alsace, December 1, 2014)

From Altenbourg, a lieu-dit located at the base of the Furstentum vineyard. Here is Blanck’s “fairy tale,” a wine you would have always heard about but never had a chance to taste or likely ever seen. The terroir is limestone mixed with clay and you will have to excuse my Alsatian, but a single sniff and taste releases the expression, “are you fucking kidding me?” This 31-year old Muscat is an impossibility, a first time feeling, a never before nosed perfume. Speaks in a limestone vernacular, of grapes given every chance to survive long after their innocence had been lost. A forest herb, tree sap, evergreen resin, lemongrass and bitter orange coagulation rises from its viscous mist. The acidity has lost nothing on the fruit, acts in perfect foil and leaves you with a sense of loneliness that is just beautiful.  Tasted June 2014  @DomaineBlanck

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) From The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

In July 2013 Francois Morissette made this statement. “If we can’t make Gamay in a Cru Beaujolais Style, I’m not interested.” In May 2014 his ’13 Gamay causes Bill Zacharkiw to comment with blatant honesty, “just line up at the tank. Forget the bottle.” From 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. Once again the hue is just impossible. Sulphur-free, this walks a fine and perfect line of Cru banana Gamay. Pushes the Gamay envelope in that it’s gulpable but with a duress to remind you not to overdo it. A Gamay with a chamber of 32 doors. In it “I’d rather trust a man who doesn’t shout what he’s found.” François Morissette.   Tasted May 2014  @PearlMorissette  @3050imports

Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora VRM 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (agent, $30.00, WineAlign) From A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C., August 8, 2014

Here blends one-third each Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne, a veritable Rhône orgy in wild fermentation, aged on the skins in terra-cotta and amphorae. While I would not go so far as to call it an “orange wine,” I will use the “N” word to describe its agrarian ways. As natural as anything you are likely to taste out of B.C., this is a most untamed experiment and should not be missed. It verges on oxidation but refuses to climb over the edge. It’s floral, spicy and crowded. The texture is chalky and so full of rusty, clay rubbed streaks. Everything about this is unkempt and exotic, including the never cease and desist fermenting lychee and longan feel. Hard not to be wowed by this blend’s presence.  Tasted August 2014  @lfngwine  @liffordretail

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2006, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (241182, $35, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

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

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) From Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, June 12, 2014

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign) From The death of wine scores?, March 26, 2014

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection   @liffordretail

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($143.00, WineAlign) From Burgundy will always be royal, April 22, 2014

The Fèvre take on Les Clos is the cradle of all the domain’s wines, in every respect. Intensely concentrated, this is Chardonnay expressive in every facet of its surroundings. The impart from compressed white limestone, ancient fossils and Jurassic minerals in distillate may seem abstract in description but how else can the feeling of a mouth full of rocks be conveyed? The remarkably complex Les Clos and its structured palate that goes on forever has come out of its Chablis vineyard cradle and will live on as one of the best ever. “It’s not a place, it’s a yearning. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.” There is no rush to drink it up. It will offer immense pleasure for 20-25 years.  @WoodmanWS  @BourgogneWines

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0961714 $145.00, WineAlign) From When Sangiovese comes to town, April 7, 2014

From a golden vintage, this ’97 is crazy good. A fixed, double-edged blade fighting knife dipped into a warm pool of developed liqueur-like sweetness. Seventeen years of languorous modulation and wood-fruit integration had resulted in a gracious Brunello, intrinsically delicious and living large in senescence. Life for the Col D’orcia ’97 is a bowl of cherries. Open one now and for the next three to five years and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get. Me, “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”  Tasted April 2014  @Coldorcia  @ConsBrunello

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2001, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (Agent, $189.95, WineAlign) From Down on the Ornellaia, June 24, 2014

The blend of the 2001 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (65 per cent), Merlot (30) and Cabernet Franc (5). Though strange to say and admittedly a retrospective comment, the minute quantity of Cabernet Franc and not yet inclusion of Petit Verdot result in a more straightforward and not as heavily layered Ornellaia. The structure is more linear and understandable, the fruit not as variegated. Complexity and Tuscan spiritualism are not compromised by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant line, in fact, assessing the evolution at 13 years on reveals the Bolgheri terroir in ways the magnanimous and opulent more recent vintages just don’t reach. There is a refreshing acidity in this young and developing ’01 in a streak that again, the baby Superiore do not seem to possess. This is a striking Ornellaia, a wine that would work with exceptional cuisine of varied cultures. It can be enjoyed now and will respond with grace and thanks for 30 plus years more.  Tasted June 2014  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON  @sherry_naylor

Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Ac St Julien, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402529, $599.00, WineAlign) From A Bordeaux family of wines, September 29, 2014

This 2nd Growth, Grand Vin is a product of nurturing and environment, a study in 12 superb soil subsets, from sand to clay to stone. From mature, edified vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), Cabernet Franc (16) and Merlot (14). The LLC ’95 is grounded and centered on its highly confident axis while swirling within a centrifuge of inwardly concentrated, ripe but not ripest fruit. Merlot here is the anchor, Cabernet Sauvignon the mast. This is a relationship of pure linear fruit meets acidity. The full and fresh attack is refined with soft-pedaled tannins. It’s neither St. Julien nor Paulliac. It is Las Cases. No other Bordeaux is such an island, a distinctly personal expression, an event of its own. This is a window to the greatest vintages, a portal to extend to the benchmarks of 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009, but also to step into the history of physiological cortex, to gain insight into previous legendary vintages, like 90, 89 and 82. The ’95 is silky, caressing, rapturous enveloping in a reverse osmosis of fruit and acidity, acidity and tannin. Another sip notices the layering, the grain left in tannin, the lingering richness of the fruit. The absolute sweet caress.  Tasted September 2014  @Noble_Estates

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

Though the vintage was reported to be less than exceptional, the chance to taste this 37 years in/on and the longevity it displays combines for full, blow me away effect. The first vintage of Sassicaia was 1968 and this 10th try hits the mark of experience. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85 per cent) and (15) Cabernet Franc, the fruit came from vines over top soils of clay and limestone. The wine spent 20 months in Yugoslavian oak barrels (half of it being new, and half used once or twice before), while for the remaining 60 per cent, French oak was used (2/3 new and 1/3 used once or twice before. Tasted blind, the swirling and searching thoughts of Genesis retrospection assimilate aromas of truffle and mushroom, but at first there is no reply at all. Landing on a plot of excellence somewhere between Bordeaux and Piedmont, Tuscany rises from its hills. A silent conversation ask the Sassicaia “I get the feelin’ you’re tryin’ to tell me;
Is there somethin’ that I should know?” Its condition is near perfect, its body full, its nature pristine and finally, so obviously in balance. After 30 minutes it begins to slide, to no surprise, but you can’t believe the expression it gives and the impression it leaves. And so, it is confirmed. 1977 was a fine vintage for Sassicaia.  Tasted September 2014  @Smarent  @Splendido_TO

Contino

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974 at XocoCava, with Chef Chris McDonald and Rob Groh of the Vine Agency, October 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

An impossibly youthful 40 year-old Tempranillo, even surpassing the more evolved ’80 in that regard, with aniseed, coconut and beeswax in its current aromatic state. Less gamy and animal funky, yet persistent in earthy beats. The vegetal scents act as conduit to the light bulb shining brightly of circuitous flavours and resolved textures. Lingers in mouth feel, its layers of time slowly peeling back, revealing in length, a slide show of the wine’s life. With many year’s still ahead, this is a Tempranillo revelation and from one going back this far that gained no support from Graciano (because it was planted in 1979). Its apostle following instead comes by way of the white Viura. Pair with Chef Chris McDonald’s Foie Gras and Partridge Croquetas.  Tasted September 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh  @Cvne

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014 PHOTO: Michael Godel

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Château Margaux 1989, Ac Bordeaux, France (176057, $1,645.00, WineAlign) From Château Margaux hits the road, May 5, 2014

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”  Tasted April 2014  @Noble_Estates

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009 (From The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht, August 5, 2014)

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.  Tasted June 2014  @olivier_dzh  @TrialtoON

Schlumberger

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945 (From In a Grand Cru state of mind, June 18, 2014)

From an area of sandstone soil that predates the appellation. “This is an old story,” says Sommelière Caroline Furstoss by way of introduction at a Millésime master class. “This is a wine of God,” in allusion to the success of a vintage immediately following the end of World War Two. So emotional to taste, of a Riesling with 20-25 g/L of residual sugar and a recondite, balancing level of acidity. Complete and clean, persistent in its power and vitality. There is orange peel and spice, cinnamon and spike. Must have been a warm yet somehow perfect vintage. Sixty-nine years on there is the slightest hint of toffee and nougat with a whispered promise to age for at least 30 more effortless and graceful years. The length lasts for minutes. The heart and the hearth. Just the thought of producing this wine at that time is unfathomable and mystifying. There are no superlatives to do it justice.  Tasted June 2014  @VinexxWine

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $3,995.00, WineAlign) From Taylor made Port, September 2, 2014

The two casks of 1863 reached the Taylor family in pristine condition, from one of the last great pre-Phylloxera vintages of the 20th century. This wine came from the cool and damp Port lodges of Oporto, “the cathedrals of wine.” This was a once in a lifetime chance to taste a piece of history, a most natural and organic fluid encased for 151 years in its integument of time. The year 1863 was significant in many respects, including being the birth year of Henry Ford and Franz Ferdinand. This is Port that creates the future and yet dwells on the past. The hue is both progressive and fathomless in subterranean fantasy. Its many shades of warm, advancing colours resemble the faux brown rings of Mars. The aromas are built around toffee and with accents of many mints; spearmint, chocolate and pepper. You can smell the 1863 from rooms and world’s away. It conjures up many songs. “When you’re half way from a dream, is it hard to work out what is real?” That is its love illumination. It has the strange advance “of killing time and dreams.” The flavours are extreme and exotic, with South-Asian spices highlighting its deep, late night humidity. The finish is endless. Is this brilliance or a stroke of incredible luck? It is certainly pristine and wondrous. It has to be considered a perfect wine, for its niche and genre, by its makers, David Guimaraens and Adrian Bridge. Having let the days of 151 years go by, this is not a wine to compare with others, it is not the same as it ever was. In the end, “you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?” Thanks to Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits.  Tasted August 2014  @TaylorsPortWine  @Smarent

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports

Vintage Port 2011 from left to right: Sandeman, Fonseca, Dow's, Graham's, Taylor Fladgate

Vintage Port 2011 from left to right: Sandeman, Fonseca, Dow’s, Graham’s, Taylor Fladgate

With the announcement of the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 by Wine Spectator as the wine of the year for 2014, fortified is back on top of the extant pop heap. The number one ranking in the magazine’s annual Top 100 list of the most exciting wines is a big financial deal and another arranged feather in the Symington family’s cap. The region’s single biggest landowner just put on some extra weight.

The Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 was the highest-scoring wine of the vintage (by WS ) at 99 points, or “classic” on their 100-point scale. It was chosen because of its “fine value for the category at $82 a bottle and for being the best of the best of an amazing vintage.”

In wine, Vintage Port is about as specific as it gets primarily because for it to exist and prosper beyond the fossilized fringes of the genre, everyone in town must be on board. For the first time since 2007, the 2011 vintage was universally declared across the Douro. If the makers and pundits were polled, would it be proclaimed the greatest vintage of the century or, perhaps one of the best ever? The 95-plus scores from the top commercial critics, including more than a handful of 99’s and 100’s would lead us to believe that were the case.

An excited Jancis Robinson wrote “could 2011 be the vintage to put vintage port back on the fine wine map? I do hope so. I have never been as excited by the launch of a clutch of vintage ports.” Dow’s was not on Robinson’s “super-stunning list,” which included Fonseca, Graham, Quinta do Vesuvio, Capela Taylor and Vargellas Vinha Velha. Jamie Goode noted that “overall, the quality is very high indeed. I found the wines quite vinous and pretty, with very direct fruit and lovely purity.” When tasted from cask, Niepoort 2011 was Goode’s top scorer (98 points). Dow’s was well down the Goode line.

WineAlign‘s Julian Hitner, a.k.a. The Successful Collector declared 2011 a stunning and fabulous vintage, “one of spellbinding treats.” Hitner also awarded the Dow’s 99-points. Wine Enthusiast rated nine 2011 VP’s 95, nine at 96 (including the Dow’s) and eight more at 97 or better. Decanter took a lower road and was the scrooge of vintage point doling, having chosen Fonseca as their top rated Port, awarding it 19/20 or 96-points. Then there are the top ten reasons to buy 2011 Vintage Port according to the Fladgate Partnership.

Vintage Port does not always find itself at the top of the wine tasting note compendium replete with descriptors like graceful and elegant. “Just too goddamn vivid,” is more like it. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Massive fruit and tannin is all well and good if that’s your cup of bomb tea but without balance, all is lost. The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?

Vintage Port 2011 at Summerhill LCBO, November 3, 2014

Vintage Port 2011 at Summerhill LCBO, November 3, 2014

There are some remarkable examples. The VP’s in ’11 that stress the aromatic notions of perfume and florality strike the finest balance, despite their high-octane levels of fruit and texture. Others’ heads are just too big for their bodies. I am not as high on 2011 as you might think I should be.

One of the fortunate pleasures of writing about wine and directing a wine list in Toronto is being invited to taste with Robin Sirutis and Julie Hauser of VINTAGES. On Monday, November 3rd they held a horizontal tasting of 2011 Vintage Port at the LCBO’s Summerhill location. The bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports. Here are the notes.

2011 Vintage Ports

2011 Vintage Ports

Sandeman Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362491, $70.00, WineAlign)

Acutely dry, highly aromatic and crushed to smithereens, potpourri dusty floral. As glutinous and viscous as Sandeman has ever been or Vintage Port can ever be. Also marked by roasting coffee beans, brewed house chain dark roast and drying tannins. This Sandeman ’11 has “big plans, big time, everything.” It will appeal to a consumer in search of a department store hook penned for immediate gratification and a quick fortune. In 25 years, after the camphor, campfire and the earthy musk of camel-hair have dissipated, will it still be on top of the pops?  Will it be replayed again and again in the category of one hit wonder? It will be remembered fondly for being one of solid gold.  Tasted November 2014  @SandemanPorto  @ChartonHobbs

Fonseca Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362244, $130.00, WineAlign)

With the most brilliant ’11 VP hue and an endless posit to plumb plump plum depths of fruit, the Fonseca dances with the moonlit knight. Its genesis begins with a raw must and animal musk, but beneath the skin lurk vessels pulsating with a sanguine rush and iron rich plasma. Smells of its fortifying spirit, not yet even close to integration, in high-toned aromatics so intensely perfumed. The wet winter and the moderating effects of a mild, verdant Spring have precipitated a controlled spice on the highly tannic, arid finish. When a sip is taken young, it pleases. When opened 40 years from now, it will fit with comfort and feel so secure. “Young man says you are what you eat – eat well. Old man says you are what you wear – wear well.” Will drink best from 2050 and for decades beyond.   Tasted November 2014  @FonsecaPort

Dow’s Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362376, $90.00, WineAlign)

Straight out I will say that the Dow’s 2011 is unique to the vintage, possessive of a natural sweetness of its own making. It’s built upon a ga, ga, ga, ga vintage port language that is fairly formal and sometimes flowery. In fact the aromatics are so very pretty; violets, Bougainvillea and exotic spice. Such a perfume leaves a lasting memory, like a ghost of fortified wine that lingers. Add the heady sense of graphite and a silky spooning of blackcurrant liqueur. An underlay of brittle mineral hangs on the tip of the tongue. A spicy tang and a meatiness barrels seamlessly through the driest length to hang your Douro hat on. “Oh, would you ease my mind” Dow’s ’11? “Yeah,” but not until 30-35 of oscillation and settling have passed, in a relationship built on patience and virtue.  Tasted November 2014  @Dowsportwine  @winesportugalCA

Graham’s Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362269, $95.00, WineAlign)

Quinta dos Malvedos leads the blend (35 per cent), as it has for more than a century. Quinta do Tua (16 per cent) lends firmness and structure while Quinta da Vila Velha (18 per cent) is the giver of violets and chocolate. Quinta das Lages (12 per cent) elevates concentration and density. Quinta do Vale de Malhadas (19 per cent) is responsible for the chains of grain in tannin. The final blend is Touriga Nacional (40 per cent), Touriga Franca (31 per cent), Vinha Velha (23 per cent, old mixed vineyards), and Sousão (6 per cent). From the Symington Family Group, Graham’s is the cleanest, purest, most fruit-forward and accessible expression of the five 2011’s tasted, thanks to that generous and gregarious Malvedos fruit. Plum and black cherry are accented by orange rind. A sweet, boisterous style, it slowly and purposely descends a ladder from full fruit flavours to drying tannins, more so than any of the others. A wine of great verve, with a cool northern soul, from lush to grain. Will drink well for a new decade and many more while “the radio plays the sounds we made and everything seems to feel just right.”  Tasted November 2014  @grahams_port

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2011, Douro, Portugal (362293, $130.00, WineAlign)

A Fall of 2014 look at Taylor’s 2011, at this stupidly early point in trying to make sense of what he will become, shows him as the biggest, baddest and current king of the Porto hill. At this juncture he represents the penultimate combination of lush fruit, streaking acidity, drying, angry and crying tannins. The earthiest must oozes along with the silkiest juice which subsequently and willfully submit to those raging tannins. This is hydro-Port, a powerhouse of energy and tension. Black fruits, caked and rolled in stickum and solder, currently weighed down, are waiting to erupt. Once in a declared moon a Vintage Port takes a calculated yet unnecessary risk and thus channels its path into enlightenment. This is the Taylor 2011. Despite his tough exterior, “I can hear the sound of violins. I can hear the piper playin’.” When all is said and done, 40 plus years down the road, he will steal my heart away.  Tasted November 2014  @TaylorsPortWine  @Smarent

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Taylor made Port

Taylor Fladgate 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year-Old Tawny Ports, Single Harvest 1964, Single Harvest 1863

Taylor Fladgate 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year-Old Tawny Ports, Single Harvest 1964, Single Harvest 1863

Taylor, Fladgate, & Yeatman. A name synonymous with Port. Purveyors of exceptional, axiomatic and accessible Port. Last week we WineAlign critics gathered (David Lawrason, John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Julian Hitner) to taste a rare selection of Cask-aged benevolent pours. A chance to take measure of an evolutionary history from the vendibles of a “long and unbroken family tradition” makes cause for some adjectival arcana. Though the house is widely recognized for making epochal, fortified vintage-declared elixirs that can age for decades, it is the Tawny tales that deliver its most exciting and impossible gifts. Were a time capsule be floated into space for future, other worldly generations or alienigenate life forms to discover, a Taylor Port, a Tawny, would have to be in the mix.

The Taylor opus dates back to 1692, a most dubious vintage if you were to practice say, witchcraft in Massachusetts, but in Portugal it was a pretty good year to begin making Port. With thanks for the pull from the Taylor website, they are the house with the “largest reserves of rare cask aged wines from which its distinguished aged tawny Ports are drawn. The house is also known as the originator of Late Bottled Vintage, a style which the firm pioneered and of which it remains the leading producer.”

Rare cask aged wines. Ay, there’s the rub. I must admit that I am utterly fascinated by the new, progressive and forward thinking Taylor deal. “Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.”  Under the supervision of Managing Director Adrian Bridge, Taylor has systematically scoured the Porto cathedrals in search of casks housing excellence and propriety. The world is now the beneficiary of the program. Old Tawny Ports, in pristine condition, being auctioned off to bidders who won’t be forced or coerced into taking out third mortgages.

With thanks to the WineAlign concierge, Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw, along with Associate Wineauxs Carol Ann Jessiman and Sarah Goddard, we were afforded the once in a lifetime chance to taste the 1863 Single Harvest Porto. With no disrespect to the most munificent and gratifying 10, 20, 30 and 40 year-old Tawny bottlings and no dis to guest chamberlain Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits, it was the 1863 and 1964 that took our collective breath away. “Time is an asterisk.”

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (121749, $34.95, WineAlign)

Taylor’s 10, composed from no less than six Touriga and Tinta grapes (aged an average of 10 years in neutral oak) is the definitive and most accessible for the genre. Sourced from Cima Corgo and Douro Superior vineyards, the 10 puts a most tender fruit-wood balance on display. Sweet emotive fruit intensity with spice notes and a sliding scale of gathering acidity combine for full, though not over the top perfervid Porto nationalism. Late flavours of roasted figs, candied almonds and filberts round out this most effective Tawny, an example that acts as a portal to the overall Taylor oeuvre.

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (149047, $68.95, WineAlign)

An average barrel period of 20 years heightens the eye-opening fruit sensations of this impeccable Tawny Port. The extended élevage makes cause for such huge contrast, poles apart from the near-conflagrant intensity displayed by the Taylor Tawny 10. At 20 the flames weaken to a diminishing point. Poured from a cool (15-17 degrees Celsius) temperature into a proper (minimum 12 oz, Bordeaux-shaped bowl) stem, the 20 warms and opens quickly, revealing an immediate soft and creamy caramel nose and body. Recently bottled (2013), this is quite youthful and its nuttiness is neither toasted nor roasted. It is a tactile wine of tact, wholly intact, seamless and gives of itself with effortless ease. Carries a century of residual sugar with tempering acidity and potential hydrogen poise. One hot flash sweats it out at one of the corners but it flashes the leather and makes the play. Enjoy the long finish four to six weeks after opening. Is 20 not the ideal, balanced number, in weight, pleasure and economy for a Taylor Tawny?

Taylor Fladgate 30 Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (540252, $180.95, WineAlign)

Bottled in 2014, the Taylor 30 year-old Tawny dramatizes the intensity of the 10 in medley with the elegance of the 20. Presents warm and velutinous, with a minor, nape of the neck hair raising (and not illogical) level of volatile acidity. The sweetness in the formidable 30 is cavernous, full of weightless gravity, flitting around in aerified circles, while the acidity sharpens its spears and arrows. Once the wine has opened and the drawn breathes have taken in its dried fruit, slow-roasted nuts and spirit enhancing liqueur, the acidity then pierces a straight line through its ambrosial, fleshy heart. The finish combs flavours of citrus, orange tisane and tarte flamande noix de coco. You can almost sense the minor (one to two per cent) addition of older barrel juice, say from the 1800’s. It just has that kind of wisdom and experience. Want to relax? Have a glass of the Taylor 30 year-old Tawny.

Taylor Fladgate 40 Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (540260, $239.95, WineAlign)

If the 30 year-old Taylor Tawny was beautiful, the 40 is untouchable. Soft, downy texture and wholly resolved, highly expressive aromas; rose and bougainvillea in full bloom, seeped Ceylon tea, potpourri, expensive yet undemonstrative perfume. The palate increases in density and viscosity but with both licorice and butterscotch candy. The nuts are darker and more exotic, the fruits too. There is also a citrus-spiked demi-glace flavour. There is a far-east pungency to both its smell and taste. The 40 is a much more serious wine, brooding even and encumbered by tropical humidity. That and the intensity of its confection are what makes its style so markedly different and perhaps even contentious, when contrasted to the 30. That said, if you compare it to the price of say, an 18 year-old Single Malt Scotch, it represents screaming value. Though the window to drink may only be four to six weeks after opening, the not yet cracked Taylor 40 can be stored for another half decade, at the least.

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1964, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $299.95, WineAlign)

This program is new to the Taylor agenda, the releasing of single-cask, single-vineyard, single-vintage Tawny Ports that have aged for 50 years. Taylor sourced a number of casks for the catalog, including this 1964 and more will follow. The choice was made to not call it a Colheita, though technically that is really what it is. It shines in the deep hue of recently lacquered mahogany with a brickish outer layer. Both hue and texture are like treacle, with the aromas barbed by clove, white pepper and orange peel. The aromas fly out as if pulled by a vacuum. It is virtually impossible to assess all of its incense in just a few short minutes. There is caramel and a recently extinguished cask fire. Though the palate indicates sweetness, the intensity is more refined than the decades-designated Tawny Ports yet also lengthened, in part because the acidity is 33 per cent lower. The overall effect is a low and slow, micro-oxygenated coming out party. Your nose can rest six inches above the glass and the perfume will leap to it. This is a piece of Porto history that stands and rears on its hind legs, a musky, Rum-raisin flavoured bear of a wine. Injecting single-harvest, single-vintage Ports into the marketplace is key, the only disadvantage being the price. That’s because at $300, the value is so extraordinary that gift giving might totally ignore the 30 and 40 year-olds. It’s a good thing they and this 1964 will live in perpetuum.

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $3,995.00, WineAlign)

The two casks of 1863 reached the Taylor family in pristine condition, from one of the last great pre-Phylloxera vintages of the 20th century. This wine came from the cool and damp Port lodges of Oporto, “the cathedrals of wine.” This was a once in a lifetime chance to taste a piece of history, a most natural and organic fluid encased for 151 years in its integument of time. The year 1863 was significant in many respects, including being the birth year of Henry Ford and Franz Ferdinand. This is Port that creates the future and yet dwells on the past. The hue is both progressive and fathomless in subterranean fantasy. Its many shades of warm, advancing colours resemble the faux brown rings of Mars. The aromas are built around toffee and with accents of many mints; spearmint, chocolate and pepper. You can smell the 1863 from rooms and world’s away. It conjures up many songs. “When you’re half way from a dream, is it hard to work out what is real?” That is its love illumination. It has the strange advance “of killing time and dreams.” The flavours are extreme and exotic, with South-Asian spices highlighting its deep, late night humidity. The finish is endless. Is this brilliance or a stroke of incredible luck? It is certainly pristine and wondrous. It has to be considered a perfect wine, for its niche and genre, by its makers, David Guimaraens and Adrian Bridge. Having let the days of 151 years go by, this is not a wine to compare with others, it is not the same as it ever was. In the end, “you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?” Thanks to Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits.  @Smarent

 

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