Single estate ethos of Grandes Pagos de España

April 10th, 2019

Grandes Pagos de España Masterclass

The Chef’s House, George Brown Community College

Moderator: Sara d’Amato, WineAlign

When the excess of large wine production volumes leaves territorial and personal value systems behind there arises a need for a new ethos. The task of defending terroir and diversity then falls into the hands and expressions of small, like-minded producers. In the case of Spanish wine regions like Jerez and other iconic locations this progressive fight against big box and collective commercialism becomes a matter of great necessity.

Which brings us to the early 21st century story of Grandes Pagos de España. The Spanish supergroup gathers to collectivize their specialized, idiosyncratic and cathartic efforts and voices of some thirty-plus wine producers, all working together to “defend the personality and distinctiveness of their unique wine estates, in order to promote and expand this culture around Spain.” Grandes Pagos de España is borne of a growing concern towards the monoculture of wine production and for a wave of cultural emotion to protect the excellence of wines made as Vino de Pago.

Pago, from the Latin pagus speaks to a physical location, as in a hamlet (like the Italian borgo), or a rural estate (as in the Spanish finca), yet it also refers to a specific category within Spanish wine law. Vino de Pago is therefore an entity for wines produced from highly specialized, single estates. “Grandes Pagos de España is an association of Spanish wine producers dedicated to upholding and promoting the ethos of producing high-quality, single-estate wines and maintaining all that is entailed in their production.”

This tasting brought together 17 wines from 15 appellations; DO Jerez, DO Cava, DO Montilla Moriles, DO Txakoli de Álava, Vino de España, DOP Rueda, DO Pago de Arinzano, DO Navarra, Vino De La Tierra De Extremadura, DO Alicante, DOC Rioja, Vino De La Tierra de Castilla Y León, DOQ Priorat, DO Ribera del Duero and DO Toro. Here are my notes on the 17 seminar wines, along with further examples from Valdespino (Grupo José Estévez) and Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate

White Wines

Valdespino Single Vineyard Fino Dry Sherry Inocente, DO Jerez, Spain (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

The terroir is Albariza white sandy soil, very high in calcium carbonate off of 800 hectares divided into 18 vineyards. The palomino base wine starts at 12 degrees alcohol and after aging increases to 15. Oak aging develops the character. This is Fino that slides over to the really arid line, surely still very salty and briny but it’s the drying character that is just extraordinary. The complexity for the price is almost unbeatable and it is fully accountable for enzymatic activations borne out of necessary and dominant personality traits. Stands for what it believes in and owns it. Just wow. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted April 2019  valdespinosherry  azureau  @valdespinojerez   @azureau  @valdespinosherry  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Gramona Ill Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava 2008, DO Cava, Spain (Agent, $60.00, WineAlign)

In Gramona, very close to Barcelona, from a six generation family. The interest here is the ageing, to keep the personality of endemic varieties like xarel-lo and to see how lees aging develops character, but still keeping the nature it was afforded by terroir. Cork aged (not crown cap), riddled and disgorged by hand. Can see up to 60 months of lees aging and is a Brut Nature, no dosage added Cava. Made from macabeo, xarel-lo, chardonnay and pinot noir. Dry and cognitively speaking a child of slow rearing, development and maturation. Fruit very much alive, exotically normal, passionately exemplary and purposefully forward. An absolute benchmark for vintage Cava of age and for years more development. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2019  gramona1881  brixandmortarwineco   @Gramona1881 @brixandmortar  @GRAMONA  @brixandmortarwineco

Alvear Pedro Ximenez 3 Miradas Vino De Pueblo 2017, DO Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

From the south of Spain, going back to 1729 and the second oldest wine in the area. A wine based in the vineyard, as opposed to the cellar, unusual for the place. A blend of the best parcels at high altitudes (500 to 620m), on Albariza white chalky soils. The 3 Miradas project is sourced from three plots, La Viña de Antoñín, El Garrotal and Cerro Macho. This acumulation of pedro ximenez is really toasty, nearly flinty, always striking, like lightning. Palate fruity, in white peach and yellow plum, dry, mildly tart and very friendly. As much a still wine as it is a Fino, with help from skin-contract and a very important entry into the category, for the uninitiated and those who look to pair it with nibbles, bites and first courses. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted April 2019  bodegas_alvear  fwmcan   @Bodegas_Alvear   @FWMCan  @BodegasAlvear  @FWMCan

Astobiza 2017, DO Txakoli de Álava, Spain (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

From northwestern Spain, in Basque country, from ondarrabi zuri and tzkriota. A verdant and herbal txakoli, lively and fresh. Classic lemon and lime, tight, taut and intense. Exactly what it’s meant to be. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted April 2019  astobizawine  azureau  @Astobizawine  @azureau  @Astobizawine  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Mustiguillo Finca Calvestra Merseguera 2017, Vino De España, Spain (Winery, WineAlign)

High altitude at 800m on dolomitic limestone is the home of this merseguera raised in Acacia barrels. Quite fresh and lively with high floral aromas and definite texture added by the choice of wood. Obscures the focus of the land at times but stays true to endemic character in conjunction with that honeyed raising. Will likely develop further complexities along that vein. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2019  bodegamustiguillo  @Mustiguillo  @Bodega.Mustiguillo

Belondrade Y Lurton Belondrade 2017, Do Rueda, Spain (Winery, WineAlign)

Pebbles over clay and limestone at 750m of altitude is the spot for this 100 per cent verdejo with generous addendum from oak aging. Very creamy, with vanilla and caramel notes, definite spice and yet somehow delicate and recognizable. The wood comes around and around, again and again. Nutty, buttery and soft. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2019  belondrade.vinos  @Belondradevino  @BelondradeBodega

Propriedad De Arínzano Gran Vino 2014, DO Pago De Arínzano, Spain (Agent, $69.00, WineAlign)

The first Pago from Navarra, in the Cantabrian Mountains in the north of Spain. Arínzano is unique as an estate for having the terroir recognized as the first to gain such status in the north of Spain. The Gran Vino is varietal chardonnay, in 50 per cent new French oak for one year. Nothing is spared to equip this rich, lush and ambitious chardonnay with all the necessary tools for international infiltration. Combines nutty spice with freshness in less than subtle layering and shows very good length.  Drink 2020-2024. Tasted April 2019  pagodearinzano  markanthonyon  @pagodearinzano  @MarkAnthonyWine  @pagodearinzano  @MarkAnthonyWine

Julian Chivite Colección 125 Blanco 2016, DO Navarra, (Agent, $70.00, WineAlign)

Chivite’s 372 years of Spanish winemaking history accounts for the company’s ability to combine tradition and forward thinking, something this ambitious chardonnay certainly draws upon. The Legardeta Estate is found in Villatuerta with great influence from the continental-Atlantic climate. This is varietal chardonnay with real bite and nuttiness, green apple, tart peach, green mango and shots of tonic. Eleven months in French barrels though not overtly new and over-exacting. Well made chardonnay with true blue cool-climate tones. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2019  chiviteestates  churchillcellars  @ChiviteEstates  @imbibersreport  @ChiviteEstates  @imbibersreport

Red Wines

Palacio Quemado La Zarcita 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Extremadura, Spain (Agent, WineAlign)

A wine that straddles the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, with influence by both. Duelling weather patterns, clay, limestone and rocks all work for tempranillo, garnacha and in this case, touriga nacional, trincadeira, and alicante bouschet. The varietal kaleidoscope is accented by really toasty oak influence as much as terroir and those two salty ocean breezes. That salt mitigates the char and the roasted character of the fruit. So much here for $23 and time will soften the blow. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted April 2019  @PalacioQuemado  fwmcan  @FWMCan   @PalacioQuemado  @PalacioQuemado  @FWMCan

Enrique Mendoza Estrecho 2015, DO Alicante, Spain (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

A one hundred per cent varietal monastrell from unirrigated old-vines grown on beach-sandy soil with some clay and limestone about. Dealt with gently in winemaking, no pumpovers and all hand work. Really fresh and though so grippy and firm it’s all about fruit. While it saw 15 months in French oak the fruit is well-preserved and full of spirit. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted April 2019  bodegasemendoza @BodegasEMendoza  @BodegasEnriqueMendoza

Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2012, DOCa Rioja, Spain (Agent, $46.99, WineAlign)

Mainly tempranillo (90 per cent), with graciano and maturana tinta on terraces in the Cantabrian Mountains with stones by the river. The aging is 22 months in new French barrels, with at least 22 more needed even now to settle into its skin. Really tangy and direct, grippy and graphite rich. A wild ride in Rioja, broad, rangy, ropey, impressive and long. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted April 2019  fincavalpiedr stemwinegroup  @FincaValpiedra  @StemWineGroup  @FincaValpiedra  @stemwine

Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate Hipperia 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla y León, Spain (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

This may be one of the most interesting Bordeaux blends you have never tried, in Right Bank style, aromatically led by cabernet franc. The fruit layers are compressed, variegated, finessed and fine. Only new French oak gathers these Bordeaux grape varieties and wraps them up in scorch and toast, early earthy and savoury. The wood is well-heeded and omnipresent but the red fruit never relents. Graphite and pencil lead dominate but altitude (900m) keeps things minty cool and somehow, some way remarkably fresh. Spice and florals again. Highly floral wines despite the strength and grip. Certainly dirt-earthy but this should settle and pass, leaving fruit to cross over into anew era. Big wine, big bones and big hopes and dreams. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019  pagovallegarcia  azureau  @P_Vallegarcia  @azureau  @PVallegarcia  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Mas Doix Salanques 2016, DO Priorat, Spain (Agent, $74.95, WineAlign)

The stark reality of near-impossible, non-irrigated growing conditions makes perfect sense for producing this old-vine garnacha (80 per cent) with carignan and syrah. One taste and you would be sleeping to miss this as one of the world’s great old-vine garnacha expressions. Wound around a finger of freshness, with the sort of grip that will take two decades to release. Multiply the 14 months of oak aging by 20 at the very least. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted April 2019  masdoixwinery rogersandcompanywines  @masdoix  @rogcowines  @masdoix  @rogcowines

Abadia Retuerta Pago Negralada 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla Y León, Spain (Agent, $130.00, WineAlign)

From the winery in Sardón de Duero, close to Valladolid. A varietal tempranillo make in small quantities and in French barrel for 17 months. Pure, elevated, floral, regaling and über-responsive by expression back inwards through impression for tempranillo. Some of the sweetest varietal fruit found anywhere in Spain. Ethereal in its own special way by Ángel Anocibar and Pascal Delbeck fromn this very special project. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted April 2019  abadiaretuertaledomaine  halpernwine  @arledomaine @HalpernWine  @AbadiaRetuertaLeDomaine  @halpernwine

Bodegas Mauro Cosecha 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla Y León, Spain (Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)

Less than five per cent syrah adds to great quality tempranillo, with increased freshness over 2015. This is the flagship of the winery, at altitudes in the 800m range, off of sand and clay. Though 16 months of French and American oak (only 20 per cent new) brings plenty of sheathing, swagger and texture there is some really great freshness to this wine. Altitude and agriculture are to thank, plus the magic of place. It results in great acidity and one of those tempranillo that absolutely needs to be made this way. It’s correct, excellent and long. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted April 2019  bodegas_mauro rogersandcompanywines  @rogcowines  @bodegasmauroysanromanygarmoncontinental  @rogcowines

Aalto 2016, DO Ribera Del Duero, Spain (Agent, $47.95, WineAlign)

A wine of remarkably expressive florals, violets and roses, plus bougainvillea and more. High Ribera altitude and calcareous clay are the conduit but also the 50 per cent new French and American wood. Compound the effect with berry to graphite on the palate and a textured presence that is unrelenting and in the end you have a formidable if magical connection. Sometimes it’s hard to believe there is so much going on like here, from Ribera del Duero. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019  aaltowinery  noble_estates

Bodegas y Viñedos San Román 2015, DO Toro, Spain (Agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

The local tinta de toro and garnacha grow on acidic soils, low in calcium and blessed with magnesium. The style is far from shy and if 24 months was needed to bring such magnanimous fruit to fruition, 10 times that will be needed to see it settle. I wouldn’t consider drinking this massive 100 per cent tinta de toro (tempranillo) without hours of decanting air or 10 years of bottle time. Black fruit, balsamic syrup and structure are all in. This is not the rustic ancient or even recent times Saint Román. It’s modern, beautiful and bigger than can be imagined. Drink 2022-2035.  Tasted April 2019  bodegas_sanroman rogersandcompanywines  @rogcowines  @rogcowines

More from Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate

Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate Petit Hipperia 2015, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla y León, Spain (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

From the expression “land of horses,” with merlot and petit verdot, plus cabernet franc and sauvignon. Roasted, cured, in salumi and earthy crust. A bit reductive but just a curtain drawn ahead of high-toned and enthusiastic aromatics. Spice and florals again. Highly floral wines despite the strength and grip. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted April 2019  pagovallegarcia  azureau  @P_Vallegarcia  @azureau  @PVallegarcia  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate Syrah Montes De Toledo 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla y León, Spain (Agent, $47.95, WineAlign)

This syrah is just one striking example in the international varietal portfolio of Spanish oil and gas entrepreneur Alfonso Cortina. His choices are largely because the DO is not one of the very knowable ones for indigenous varietals. Sourced from low nutrient soils in the Toledo hills in which calcium carbonate needs to be added and acting as catalyst to this formidable syrah, originally planted in 1999. In warm years such as this ’16 it’s co-fermented with viognier, essentially because the proximity of harvest times allow for the get together. Floral and formidable, with liquid chalky character, full on berry aromas and flavours, plus a spicy finish. Class, culture and structure are all here, to be sure. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted April 2019

Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate Viognier 2017, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla y León, Spain (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent varietal, 30 per cent in oak fermented viognier. Quite viscous, boozy and metallic. Big viognier, obviously connected in style to Condrieu, Bold, classy and structured, high glycerin and tannin. Needs settling time. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2019

More from Pago de Valdespino

Valdespino Uva Palomino Fino Ojo De Gallo 2016, Vino De La Tierra Cadiz, Spain (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

The “eye of the rooster” is a still wine from Fino territory, 100 per cent drawn from Macharnudo Alto, at 140m the highest spot in the area. As 100 per cent palomino it is not a common wine to be sure, noses like Fino but markedly arid in that regard, white chalky, direct, lime to ginger, a better to best tonic and in its highly idiosyncratic way, pretty amazing. A benchmark for dry palomino without a doubt. A throwback to the ancients, when still wine was king and to show how the grape tastes, naked, unadulterated, nutty, nearly yeasty and fine. Consumer warning: It’s a very specific cup of palomino tea. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted April 2019  valdespinosherry  azureau  @valdespinojerez   @azureau  @valdespinosherry  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Leyenda Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Jerez De La Frontera, Spain (Agent, $15.95, WineAlign)

Entry-level Fino, fermented under the (yeast) flor, finished at 15 per cent alcohol. Typical simple, basic and forward Jerez de la Frontera Fino, classic in every way and so proper. Almonds, green olive and spice, with still some fruit notes, like orange and dried lemon. What you need with salty snacks. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2019

Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa, Sanlúcar De Barrameda, Jerez, Spain (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

Deliciosa is made from palomimo grown at the Pago Miraflores in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The enologist is Maribel Estévez (daughter of owner José Estévez) and her Manzanilla is produced by a Solera system consisting of seven scales (six plus a Solera row). Here is a true step up in serious salinity and age accumulated character, from six years of sapidity gaining accountability. The brine here is on the saline side but without searing, iodized or ionized happenstance. It’s just linear and so perfectly orchestrated. You need to taste this. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted April 2019

Good to go!

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Gripping wines from Spain and Italy

Europe

How can winemaking trump terroir?
Photo: 1xpert/Fotolia.com

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Winemakers in the most famous regions of Spain and Italy have gone pro in the practicum of wine that speaks loud and clear. If there is a downside it is the blurring of lines and overlapping of circles, where regions set far apart show similar, if near identical characteristics in their wines. How does this happen? How can winemaking trump terroir?

The simple answer is wood. Barrel usage is a global affair, with wineries scouring oak forests the world over to age their wine. French oak is most used and whether you make wine in central Italy or northern Spain, the oak you employ may result in more than just the commonality of wood. If your processes are tied by similar or even identical ties, your wines may taste eerily like one another, if not outright like kissing cousins.

Despite the oligopoly of technique and the lack of winemaking individuality gone viral in this generation, there are three things that continue to work in favour of regional character. The first is obvious. Soil. Or, more importantly, the components, the rocks and minerals that fleck the earth. Secondly, attitude. Call it conceit if you like but when a winemaker has the guts to make wines we like to call grippy, you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Third and so important to the consumer, is price. Spending $15-30 on wines from the most historic locales such as Burgundy and Bordeaux is almost always nonsensical and a waste. No where else in the world offers grip, pomp and pride like Spain and Italy and in that go to mid-price range.

A pentavalent and benevolent group fits this requiem for commercial gain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain. Chianti and Abruzzo in Italy. A Venn diagram of commonality can be agglomerated from their proclivities. It is in these fab five Old World wine regions where a twain of ancient and state of the art collide. Here are seven gripping wines from Spain and Italy.

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

Ribera Del Duero

The history: Located in north-central Spain, on a plateau, 90 minutes from Madrid. Ribera, or “river bank,” extends from both sides of the Duero. The Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero dates back to 1982.

The lowdown: Highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes. Summers are hot, winters are cold, rainfall is minimal. Lower vineyards are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. Higher ones built of limestone, marl and chalk. Tempranillo in the main grape. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

CEPA 21 HITO 2010, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (360503, $17.95, WineAlign)

Oh the shaken, modern humanity. Nothing shocking here, this 100 per cent Tempranillo parfait of silky chocolate, mixed berries, vanilla and wood chips. Finds parity in biting red cherry flavour. Though it may as well be any ambiguous, heterogeneous or hermaphroditic $30 IGT, its price puts it at the front of the line. Fun to drink, high-toned, textured and structured, though its origins are not at once obvious. Will evolve felicitously for five to seven years.  89  Tasted December 2013  @DrinkRibera

ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (355099, $21.95, WineAlign)

Amid a sea of Spanish reds, this Ribera stands alone as the most modern on the table. Dusty, trenchant dark chocolate, mocha crema, thick, syrupy, rehydrated plum fruit. Accented by both white and black pepper, anise and a late lash of astringent tannin. Abrasive as a pleading Waits croon, this Crianza is “better than a cup of gold. See only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy my soul.” Another Ribera with qualities akin to present day, Sangiovese dominated Chianti Classico. Immaculate confection.  89  Tasted December 2013  @EuroVinatage

RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain  (355107, $31.95, WineAlign)

Typically modern version with just the right amount of age. Interesting to see nearly 10 year-old Ribera, with so much obvious oak and modernity retain its fruit lushness and presence after such a chunk of time could have stripped away its freshness. Candied violets and pansy, peppery nasturtium and marble slab, rocky road ice cream. Oak nearly integrated but persistent in chalky texture. Confounding bareback ride on a wild 100 per cent Tempranillo horse that bucks as if Bordeaux or Rhône varieties would seem to bolster the whole.  90  Tasted December 2013

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

Abruzzo

The history: Central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea.

The lowdown: Mostly mountainous and wild terrain. The four DOC produced in Abruzzo are the Contro Guerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Montepulciano is the most planted red variety. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2009 and 2010.

CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, Abruzzo, Italy (663939, $17.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker superstar to be Francesco Cirelli does what more should do. Age organic grapes of purity and pristine quality in clay Amphore. The natural empathy and wisdom of crop rotation (for more than just grapevines) drives the logic and proportion of Cirelli’s wines. This Md’A smirks and balks at thoughts of it as entry-level, though it concedes to the moniker ’poster child’. From 15 year-old vines set in sandy clay soils near Atri in the Colline Teramane zone. The fruit is like raspberry felt, lifted, spritely, gregarious and inviting. The wine never plunges into bitterness, nor does it depend on any crutch to remain upright and weightless.  90  Tasted September 2013 and January 2014  @TheLivingVine

Chianti

The history: In central Tuscany. The two Chianti zones, Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.

The lowdown: Chainti Classico must have a minimum 80 per cent Sangiovese, the main variety of the region. Other indigenous grapes include Canaiolo and Colorino, bur Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also used. Soils vary from marl of layered sandstone, to chalk and clay, blue-grey sandstone and clay-limestone. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2007 and 2011.

CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (680496, $22.95, WineAlign)

Heather meadow Sangiovese, emotive of old school Chianti Classico aromas, notably tea, new leather and sour cherry. Texturally succulent and lush, like mini-modern Sangiovese Grosso. Nearly syrupy and 90′s-styled by a heavy-handed, wood-soaked guilty conscience. The kind of CC to “waste away the weekend with perfect regard for how cavalier we used to be.”  89  Tasted December 2013  @ChiantiClassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Priorat

The history: In Catalunya, northeast Spain. The most recent regulations of the DOQ were defined in 2006.

The lowdown: Dominated by hillside vineyards with poor soils, the dark slate called Licorella and low-fielding old vines. Garnacha and Carinena are the most planted, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, Priorat, Spain, (314559, $24.95, WineAlign)

Clearly contemporary, voluptuous Garnacha blend, in symmetry with foil Carinena, In support are small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), Merlot (five) and Syrah (five). Chalk, grain and chocolate intensity, scents of dusty mulberry, menthol tobacco, eucalyptus and licorice. Works its international styling to great effect, if a bit heavy, woody and hollow up the middle. Lags just behind the stellar 2008 and yet this ’09 will have many a follower. Just a bit more structure would make it a prize.  89  Tasted December 2013

Rioja

The history: In northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (DOCA), established in 1926.

The lowdown: Confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with soils ranging from chalky-clay, to ferrous-clay and alluvial. Tempranillo is the most planted (red) grape. Finest recent vintages include 2005, 2005, 2010 and 2011.

ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004, Rioja, Spain (725895, $25.95, WineAlign)

The animal that is an ’04 Rioja Reserva is a VINTAGES darling. Here is yet another example in a long line-up spread out over several months of releases. 2004 palate fatigue should certainly have set in but for this youthful yet learned Ontañón. The dichotomy is not lost with much wood to be nosed though it’s neither abstruse nor resinous. More like a smoking cedar plank beneath the rendering weight of a slow-roasting porcine slab. Tangy cherry, sour plum and really stretched length. Mineral finish. Brillo Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano.  91  Tasted December 2013  @TandemSelection

Good to go!

Feeling under the weather? Drink wine

Wine is your friend.

Wine is your friend.
Photo: chiyacat/Fotolia.com

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A year ago today the lead to my January 15th, 2013 column spoke succinctly to the mantra. “A glass or two of wine might just be the thing to help ward off the common cold and the flu.” In that rant some substantiating evidence was laid out in support of drinking wine (in moderation) to help fight off the nasty bugs of winter. A year on my conviction does not waver. Wine can help cure what ails. A wine prescription for cold and flu has been a curiosity read for many over the past 365 days. Ridiculousness? Perhaps. Personal hermeneutic? Yup. Something to consider? Definitely. Words to live by? You be the judge.

In that article I talked about wine’s antioxidant properties (called flavonoids) and compounds that attack bacteria, like resveratrol and polyphenols. All in the name of trying to immunize the body against hundreds of common viruses. What I failed to discuss was the positive mental health of a lifestyle that includes wine. Wine drinkers, at least the ones I spend time with here in Ontario, are happy people. Friendly folk, community-driven, supportive, neighbourly. Wine brings everyone together. It’s really something to see and be a part of.

In Argentina, Bodega Norton has forged and maintained some of the longest contracts with growers in comparison to anywhere in the vinous world. Vines, mountains, rivers, roots and the hands of workers are all treated with respect, professionalism, honesty and commitment. Norton’s wines are accessible and affordable, including the flagship Privada, described by winemaker Jorge Riccitelli with the fanciful comment “you can feel the grapes inside your mouth.” I sat down with Mr. Riccitelli on Monday, November 11th, 2013 at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Toronto. The hour with Mr. Riccitelli sent me away with one profound thought. When you take care of your people, your team and the tonic you produce, health and happiness are not far behind. The tasting with Jorge was the stuff of pure joy. A visit to Norton must surely follow.

Michael Godel and Jorge Riccitelli

Michael Godel and Jorge Riccitelli

A recent mini spat slash argument in Toronto Life on the subject of 0rganic and biodynamic wines helps to push the point. In response to an inflammatory comment noting the ”pseudo-scientific claptrap of biodynamic agriculture” the cosmogonal-minded Bench Vigneron Harald Thiel retorted, “the primary difference between organic and biodynamic production practices is the “cosmic and stellar” forces that biodynamic producers believe differentiate their wines.” To each his own says Thiel. I’m quite certain that Harald would concur that drinking wine can help bolster the immune system but going the natural route, in theory, will boost defences multi-fold.

Some take it to the extreme like Alain and Philippe Viret, winemakers who go beyond being organic and even biodynamic. They practice cosmoculture. Their vineyard is studded with menhirs and ‘planetary beacons’ in order to connect with celestial and earthly energies. It embraces Maya and Inca agricultural and spiritual concepts.

Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle is a flying ambassador who believes in the credo. At an October Trialto Group lunch at Luma Restauarant, the eerie connection between the restaurant group’s acronym and the act of natural winemaking was not lost on me.  The devastation of Chile’s black frosts were being discussed and the magnificent Ms. Lapostolle-Marnier pushed the sapient necessity of O & B practices to a group of diners/tasters. “Being organic and biodynamic, the vines are heartier, able to handle the frost’s potential damage, budding time and produce healthy vines.” Casa Lapostolle also has scientific data to prove that organic and biodynamic vines mature 10 days ahead of the others.

Trialto Lunch at O & B's Luma Restaurant

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Trialto Lunch at O & B’s Luma Restaurant

No one works harder or believes in the O & B philosophy to achieve wine nirvana more than Paul Pender of Tawse Winery. Everything Mr. Pender makes comes from fully certified and sustainable vineyards. I tasted through 25 barrels with Paul last Friday. His 2013 Chardonnays will be amongst the best we have ever seen on the Niagara Peninsula. The group of 2012 Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are all showing lush, deeply resonant aromatics, all pies of one fruit or another and with minimal oak intrusion. More pudding proof will come from the most recent tightly planted Pinot Noir, in the Tintern Road Vineyard from the Vinemount Ridge appellation. At only three years of age, the juice from those healthy vines already emit an aura of verve, wisdom and viability.

Not all of the wines reviewed here come from O & B vineyards but each and every one can contribute to your mental and physical health. Wine is your friend. When approached, integrated and embraced in the right way it can help to promote a healthy lifestyle. The defence rests.

From left: NORTON RESERVA MALBEC 2010, CENTUNO NERO D'AVOLA 2010, LA CARTUJA TINTO 2012, LAPOSTOLLE CUVÉE ALEXANDRE APALTA VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011, and TAWSE GROWER'S BLEND CABERNET FRANC 2011

From left: NORTON RESERVA MALBEC 2010, CENTUNO NERO D’AVOLA 2010, LA CARTUJA TINTO 2012, LAPOSTOLLE CUVÉE ALEXANDRE APALTA VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011, and TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND CABERNET FRANC 2011

NORTON RESERVA MALBEC 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (17061, $17.95, WineAlign)

As Malbecs come and go, group themselves into dime a dozen pigeon holes and fall from serious wine grace, this stalwart stays the course. Norton’s Reserva bottling has a proven track record for consistency. My most recent ’02′s spoke of strength, longevity and balance. In 2010, true to form, violets lead the arrangement of multi-floral scents and a kinder, gentler, sweeter set of tannins promote connectivity. Restrained and calm, this Norton forgoes the jams and jellies of other moderately-priced Malbecs and carries with it a smooth, long finish.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BodegaNorton

CENTUNO NERO D’AVOLA 2010, Sicily, Italy (357103, $17.95, WineAlign)

Though not exactly a chick magnet or my Sicilian dream, this Nero D’Avola is chock full of animal magnetism. It reeks of four-legged musk, circus mammal and deep-sea predator. Despite the oppressive mob of animale there is also lush berry to attract more than just the curious imbiber. A dense fruit roll up, unfurling, spewing earth, prune and coal. Will petition the non-sectarian toper.  88  Tasted December 2013  @Eurovintage

LA CARTUJA TINTO 2012, Priorat, Spain  (358861, $18.95, WineAlign)

This symbiotic blend of 70 per cent Garnacha and 30 Carinena rolls out the red carpet straight from the heart, not unlike Terrabianca’s 70/30 Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon Tuscan Campaccio. Only here the value is palpable, especially for Priorat. Fueled by blazing red cherry and plum. Vivacity with bright fruit seeped in acidity but also a coated note, though not of over-oak, that paints the tongue red. A rumbling layer of licorella slate lies atop eruptive rock and beneath a rolling thunder of boulders. This is high-octane Spanish winemaking, a red velvet car that doesn’t “even touch the break.”  89  Tasted December 2013

LAPOSTOLLE CUVÉE ALEXANDRE APALTA VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile (947929, $24.95, WineAlign)

“We don’t want too ripe, jammy or confiture,” pleads Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle. While this Super-Chilean is certainly full-bodied, it remains a finessed red and silky in every way. Leans IGT, as opposed to Bordeaux or warmer climate (California). Stupidly easy to drink, built for resto luxuriousness and really is a terrific value. A choir of dark fruit aromatics, sung like songs by the birds of the vineyard and a late sensation of charcoal and char are expressed in this Cabernet of fashion and caste.  90  Tasted twice in August and October 2013  @LapostolleWine

TAWSE GROWER’S BLEND CABERNET FRANC 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (284570, $26.95, WineAlign)

From selected prime Cabernet Franc vineyard sites across the headland, the Grower’s Blend reaches near maximum potential in 2011. An immediate sense that “leaves are falling all around” in a composted layering of earth, cedar, savoury produce and sweet herbiage. A tart tincture spikes and sauces the fruit, straight from the “darkest depths of Mordor.” Winemaker Paul Pender’s perfume permeates the mess, lifting the CF to great Niagara heights. Ramble on Grower’s Blend.  90  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender  Tasted October 2013

Good to go!

2013: It was the best of wines

Red wines

15 wine releases $30 and over
Photo: Steve Cukrov/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The long and wine-ding road of 2013 began with a personal plea for it to be the year of drinking better wine. I wrote about iconic wines at affordable prices and a personal hermeneutic public service announcement, a wine prescription for cold and flu. January rounded out with good reds, twenty-somethings, Robbie Burns, weekday wines and a wine analogy Super Bowl prediction gone bad.

I played pond hockey, chatted about wine and said no to ambient, rich pinks because you gotta be cruel to be wine for Valentine’s.  Real wines, more hockey, Oscars, French grapes and a Somewhereness sea of grape-driven humanity occupied my winter thoughts, along with California, The Beamsville Bench, Cuvée 2013 and the zeitgeist of my virgin expert’s tasting with music as its guide. Cool grapes marched on with wines for the Ides, St. Patrick, Passover, Momofuku in Toronto and New York City.

Spring brought 100-km wine, value reds, sunshine, Masters’ colours, a Stanley Cup for house league hockey, Ontario wine events, Peter Franus, wild leeks and Mother’s Day. There was a ‘London Calling’ for Canadian wine, Go Gamay Go, an averted LCBO strike and the Elsie Awards. I delved into the schadenfreude matters of tasting notes, the humanity in real value wine and the Venn Diagrams in a paradox of accents.

The weather warmed, I cooked for 1,300 Ultimate Frisbee players, contemplated the Rolling Stones and struck Semillon in a showcase showdown. Father’s Day, Riesling and the Canada Day long weekend preceded excursions to Fenway Park and the eleemosynary earth in the North Fork of Long Island. This followed by a search for the wine pulse of the Finger Lakes and the indelible stamp of British Columbia‘s Okanagan Valley.

The International Cool Climate Chardonnay conference took Niagara by storm (literally), leading into the August long weekend. I wrote on Sauvignon Blanc, chill red wine, The Great Canadian Wine Challenge, Free My Grapes and the plea for wine to flow across Canadian provinces.

September came, as did Low alcohol wine for the High Holidays. Ontario wines shone on, especially those from Stratus, along with Spanish and Italian reds. I touted the vinous acumen of Canadian wines for Thanksgiving, the wines of Chile, the best from Ontario and presided as guest judge at the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013. October ended with Champagne and reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Napa Valley came to town, there were private tastings with Ontario winemakers and I made notes on Canadian made apolitical wines. There were gems, Friday bites, Beaujolais Nouveau and more from Italy. At the end of November I wondered if the wine sign of the apocalypse was upon us. Sparkling wines and the unavoidable Christmas picks have brought us to here.

Edward Steinberg once asked Angelo Gaja, “how do you make the best wine?” to which Gaja replied, “with the best grapes.” In tasting notes I extrapolate from that base and simple notion, with an intent to convey the salient facts of the grape’s life, to give life to the agriculture, even if the first two syllables are removed in the process.

Tasting notes can be clerihews, pithy poems that begin with a winemaker’s name, become the reviewer’s purport and more often than not, are penned in four lines. Word play leading the mind to consider wine as anagram, palindrome and lipogram. Writing a tasting note not as a vinous jape, but rather an artfully woven acrostic.

Reviews align like Burma Shave signs on North American highways, spaced one hundred feet apart, connected by their language. Phrases are turned on their heads, causing the notes to be peculiarly unsuccessful in making any decided impact upon the consumer college. So be it.

The musical and other (sometimes) obscure references bring about metaphasis to the tasting notes, an habitual transposition of sounds, connecting smell, flavour and structure to groove, pitch and aesthetic. The best wines produce the greatest emotion and excess of language. Here is a look back at the top 15-$30 and over releases tasted in 2013 and the tasting notes that brought them to light.

15 wine releases $30 and over

From left: RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING 'PICONE VINEYARD' 2011, PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, and FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007

From left: RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING ‘PICONE VINEYARD’ 2011, PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, and FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007

RAINOLDI CRESPINO VALTELLINA SUPERIORE 2006, Lombardy, Italy (316331, $31.95, WineAlign)

Composed of 100 per cent Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo) from Lombardy. Grace, flowing ruby robe, striking. Lit by cherries bathing in a silica and gravel mineral bath, tightly wound in a swirling pensieve of real vinous thought. Elevated by cool, altitudinous breezes and gothic, statuesque like a Mantegazza. Northern, alpine and proud.  93  Tasted April 2013  @VinumValtellina  From: Top ten wines for May Day

TAWSE CABERNET FRANC LAUNDRY VINEYARD 2010, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $31.95, WineAlign)

Assures us of several things. First, 2010 was a gift for making idiot-proof Cab Franc in Niagara, Second, the Lincoln Lakeshore is one of three obvious and essential CF locales in Niagara. Third and most important, properly adjudicated new oak can elevate CF to the upper reaches of the cool-climate troposphere. While not as masculine or bovine like brother Van Bers, Laundry’s got black cherry, tar, coal, herbs and a peaceful, grilling feeling. Essential CF from winemaker Paul Pender.  92  Tasted July 2013  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend

CHARLES BAKER WINES RIESLING ‘PICONE VINEYARD’ 2011, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  93  Tasted October 2013  @cbriesling  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

PETER FRANUS RED WINE 2008, Red Hills Lake County Red, California ($39.95)

Composed of Syrah (85 per cent), Grenache (10) and Mourvèdre (5) comes from Fore Family Vineyards fruit on the top of 3000 foot Cobb Mountain. A fiery paradox of climate met by altitude works a strange magic on the grapes. It’s no mistral but rather some sort of wine weather occult. This SGM is highly influenced by a very tempest of dramatic temperature changes, from solar radiation to cool, tempering Pacific breezes and at great heights. Exhibits the hills’ red earth, in colour, in fragrance and in rich berry flavour. I’m grateful for this SGM blend, cool and hot at the same time, “almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat.”  93  Tasted April 2013  @ProfileWineGrp  From: The Wine Diaries: Peter Franus

FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO TAURASI 2007, Campania, Italy ($39.95)

Lush and gorgeous. The most immediately gratifying young Aglianico yet such an infant. Earthbound red berries, perfectly ripe plums, biting tannin and off the charts acidity. Epochal verve of Middle Pleistocene volcanic rocksSouthern Italian equivalent to Southern Rhône reds, offering tremendous value under $50 where Bordeaux and Tuscany pedantically fall short. Should join the ranks of recent great vintages, ’01 and ’04.  93  Tasted January 2013  @FeudiDSGregorio  @StemWineGroup  From: Iconic wines, affordable prices

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

From left: CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, and PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008

CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES EQUULEUS 2010, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (319525, $40, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25, WineAlign)

From the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 per cent Cabernet Franc and 25 per cent Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  Tasted March 2013  @MBosc  From: Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary

BACHELDER CHARDONNAY WISMER VINEYARD 2010, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

So sumptuous, presumptuous and precocious. Ahead of the curve, effortless and full of 20 mile mineral length. The ripe green apple never quits. My earlier note from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94  Tasted July 2013  @Bachelder_wines  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, Priorat, Spain (156398, $49.95, WineAlign)

Stupid gorgeous Priorat and though inaccessible to most of us mere mortals, if you were to shell out $50 in November for one wine, this has to be considered. A blend of 65 per cent Cariñena, 22 per cent Garnacha, with a smattering of Syrah and Merlot. Pure purple pitch, an early summer Catalonian garden in bloom, air warm, breeze light. Wow. Blows high priced Napa and over the top Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of the water. The oak is so beautifully integrated.  94  Tasted October 2013  From: Nine big November best buy wines

GIROLAMO RUSSO SAN LORENZO 2008, Sicily, Italy ($59.95)

From agronomist and oenologist Giuseppe Russo lives a Sicilian dream. Composed of Etna’s indigenous Nerello Mascalese with a small percentage of Nerello Cappuccio, this red is a veritable lava flow of molten magma, volcanic igneous solder and opulent Scoria. Pure, unchained fruit, no disguise, striking.  94  Tasted February 2013  @Oenophilia1  From: Real wines, whisky and boys night out

PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008, Piedmont, Italy (280412, $68.00, WineAlign)

This just has the look, the look of love. “A look that time can’t erase.” Nebbiolo you can see right through, this impossible light, this impossible life. Tea, tar and roses. A mineral spring, iron-earth field, where the game runs wild. You can relate to this Barolo, love it, relish it now but it will give pleasure for years. Not necessarily 25 but certainly 10-15. “Well, it takes my breath away.” Great vineyard.  94  Tasted October 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

From left: M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, and MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006

From left: M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, and MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006

M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, Ac Northern Rhône, France (280420, $82.95, WineAlign)

Strictly beautiful Syrah. The offspring of the Côte Rôtie’s two necessary points of view. First, the schist, silt and shingle of the Brune. Second, the silica and limestone of the Blonde. In combination they produce an iron-rust wine of a ferruginous nature, in colour and in aroma. Seeping, exotic Rooibos tea, Provençal tapenade and smouldering flowers send smoke signals clear as day. Smells so rich though it’s full of grace and bathed in ultra-elegance.  94  Tasted October 25, 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2004, Ac Champagne, France (69773, $83.95, WineAlign)

May not be the esteemed house and vintage of the century’s love-child but I can’t think of a single reason not to spend a pittance more on a vintage-dated Champagne like this Moët in lieu of a sea of NV alternatives. Granted it’s wound maddeningly tight, spewing still young venom, crazed by pear and citrus concentrate but…trust must be placed in its charms. This Moët is quite refined. Apples tempered in acidity, beloved for its building blocks, it’s really good Champagne.  94  Tasted November 2013  @MoetUSA  From: Ten sparkling wines to life

DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, Monopole, Ac, Burgundy, France (46706, $89.95, WineAlign)

From Mathieu Mangenot’s ”Grand Cru” plots, the Monopole holdings in the steep amphitheatre slope of Vaudésir and the gentle rise of Les Preuses. The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine. He spoons piles of flint and chunks of rock. He explains the tin pan elevation of Chablis and Chardonnay squeezed from the bedrock, capturing every last drop of geology, refuse of stars and fossils of the ancient animals. Stoic, metazoic, super Chablis, with tremendous length. How can this Chablis have so much fruit but no apple, no lemon, no pith. “You think things are straight but they’re not what they seem.” Candy for the soul. Novacaine in liquid form. Amazing.  94  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, Ac Burgundy, France (344887, $101.95, Quebec $85.00, WineAlign)

A mild sylvan reductive stink is neither abstruse nor in fruit obstruction. What we have here is a brass tax in Chardonnay histrionics. Yellow and green tree fruit, wicked wild yeast game and just about as much ruminating, mineral tang as one might desire. Something wicked this way woos my wistful longing for quality white Burgundy. I could imagine drinking this well into my pension days.  95  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, Doc, Veneto, Italy (215764, $99.95, WineAlign)

If a wine clocking in at 16 per cent alcohol by volume can be considered elegant and restrained and if that’s even possible, the Mazzano is the one. Though there is nothing outright prune, dried raisin or fig paste about it, this single-vineyard Amarone is enormously tannic. Any attempt at cracking its hard shell inside of 15-20 years should be thought of as counter-productive. Smells like the aforementioned fruit just picked at maximum ripeness so there is nothing cooked, roasted or overdone here. You simply have to wait for tertiary complexity to see what it will become. I sense great. Near-perfect vintage.  96  Tasted October 2013  From: Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

Good to go!

Nine big November best buy wines

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour.Photo: Phil_Good/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.comLike it or not, the first week of November demands that we begin planning for the holiday season. The wine industry’s senses in Canada are highly acute to the preparations, as witnessed by the unparalleled number of tastings, travel, discussions, wine competitions and awards.

Our provincial liquor boards are especially proactive, wasting no expense to roll out glossy magazines and the proverbial red carpet for a host of high-end, super rich and ripe wines. When the clock strikes Christmas, anything that presents to the consumer that necessary combination of excellence and value will have long been sold through.

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour. Another signal to seek advice from the wine retinue and to stock up for winter.

To get you headed down the white, yellow, red and black brick road to wine Oz, here are nine serious wines being released this coming weekend, to cellar and to share in these last frantic weeks of 2013.

From left: BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012, PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011, and HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011

BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012 (12724, $22.95, SAQ 11154911, $24.75)

Though I was as first confused by the metal guts and bolts of this supertramp of a Chenin Blanc, in a short time I came to understand the greatness of its seasoned ways. From Niël Groenewald’s altitudinous bush vines, I put away the question, “who put Chardonnay in my Chenin Blanc” and replaced it with “don’t criticize, they’re old and wise.” His vines and their wisdom. Lemon drop, candied flower, buttered breakfast apples and apple pie. Can look into the pensieve and smell it in the morning from when I went to school.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BellinghamWines

PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011 (345769, $26.95)

An atomized and candied Kabinett brought into balance by zippy, ranging aromatic peaks. Porcupine tree of atmospheric disturbance, proving yet again that with German Riesling, “the more I get to know the less I find that I understand.” Royal flushed sweet entry, mid-palate plunging cliff jump and in the end a rising launch into the stratosphere of mouth watering acidity.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013

HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011 (68817, $28.95)A study in Beamsville Bench equitable tension, from its wagered ripe fruit in optimum extraction, to a responsible and fundamental barrel absorption. Woody but not wooden, woolly yet not woolen, would be greatness and not what would’ve been. Fine lines, linen and lace. A wine that echoes, acts and appears as an honest product of its makers. Further definitive stuff from Marlize Beyers, Harald Thiel and Hidden Bench.  91  Tasted July 20 and October 4, 2013   @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

From left: PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011, NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010, and BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010

PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011 303602, $40.00)

A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?  93  Tasted July 19, 2013  @PearlMorissette

NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010 (208702, $39.00, SAQ 11638481, $38.75)

That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious Pinot with only one coat of primer. Impressive.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @normhardie

BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99)

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

From left: CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006, and JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008

CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007 (156398, $49.95)

Stupid gorgeous Priorat and though inaccessible to most of us mere mortals, if you were to shell out $50 in November for one wine, this has to be considered. A blend of 65 per cent Cariñena, 22 per cent Garnacha, with a smattering of Syrah and Merlot. Pure purple pitch, an early summer Catalonian garden in bloom, air warm, breeze light. Wow. Blows high priced Napa and over the top Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of the water. The oak is so beautifully integrated.  94  Tasted October 4, 2013

CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006 (45682, $49.95)

She’s so very pretty, this righteous and bankable “girl with the right allocations.” She’s a lovely slice of layer cake, alternating in coffee, toffee, vanilla cream and mineral rime. Though her tannins are still grainy, her fruit lingers on. She’s “a girl with a smooth liquidation…a short skirt and a lonnnnng…. lonnng jacket.” Le Caillou continues to bite but she’s not huge, and that’s just right.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @VinsdePomerol

JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008 (737817, $59.95)

So, this 17th vintage tips the brix/alcohol scale in dangerous liaisons but it’s really quite a scorching, gorgeous number. A bomb to be sure, with layers and layers of the most savvy and sygian fruit. A realm of balance is achieved by way of a probing groove. Baking spice, blueberry pie, very peppery, tight, intense, tense, cohesive and righteous.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @Jimbarrywines

Good to go!

A wine list of twenty-somethings

PHOTO: LAURENT FIEVET/AFP/GETTYIMAGES

as seen on canada.com

They are white-collar students of a history and culture bound by their sectarian world. They are modern, hip, expatriate citizens of their diaspora. They toil in brick lofts, go to lunch, work out and dine. Here in Canada they can play hockey without a puck. They are the twenty-somethings, bottles of wine voiced of a specific roundelay. They dwell in an important niche, to serve the upwardly mobile, the progressive, the blue.

In need a good bottle of wine to bring to dinner? From Quebec to Alberta, from Ontario to British Columbia, here is a list of twenty-somethings certain to act as a gambit for your most discriminating host.

The grape: Garnacha

The history: The Cooperative of Borja was founded in 1958 but winemaking here dates back to 1203 with the monks at the Monastery of Veruela

The lowdown: The Spanish (Zaragoza) equivalent to Piedmont’s Produttori del Barbaresco. Grapes come from 620 member growers covering 2,500 hectares

The food match: Chicken, Pork and Pistachio Terrine

Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2010 (273748, $19.95, B.C. $27.99 SAQ $22.15) has more wood, char and toast than a forest fire but the wild boar and ciervo roasting on that fire is intoxicating. Black licorice and Herbero cause insentience in the mouth, not so typical for juicy Spanish Garnacha. Mineral-driven and dark, Parkerish even.  89  @AuthenticWine

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: From a Chilean Sparkling wine outfit dating back to 1879

The lowdown: A big oak red out of the Maipo Valley

The food match: Spaghetti with Beef and Veal Meatballs, preserved roma tomato sauce

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (312769, $19.95, $27.96 Alta.) engages straight out with a purple allure and a waft of lit cedar. Violaceous perfume, herbal without being balmy, dusted by spicy wood while shying away from mocha and chocolate. Excellent redolent berry persistence, pretty yet strong.  89  @ValdiviesoChile

The grapes: Carinena, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah

The history: Ultra-modern Priorat, from the team of vine grower Juan José (Jou) Escoda and winemaker Toni Coca

The lowdown: 21st century blending of indigenous and international varietals grown out of stony soils, poor in organic material and helped little by rainfall

The food match: Braised Chicken Thighs, caramelized onion, plum tomato, brisket-sherry gravy

Planets De Prior Pons 2008 (314559, $22.95) carries a dolor quarry of licorella, the black slate and quartz of Priorat so present in avant-garde yet rustic wines like the Pons. Most ruby-red, embattled by Spanish garriga, a kiss of the salty sea and mountain air. Peppery, red licorice balanced on an eave of canted length.   91  @clickvinus

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc

The history: From Fattoria Vitticio (Greve in Chianti), owned and managed by Alessandro Landini

The lowdown: Joint venture with the Cancellieri-Scaramuzzi family in Bolgheri”s Castagneto Carducci

The food match: Prosciutto and Bresaola, beemster, crostini

I Greppi Greppicante Bolgheri 2009 (170381, $23.95, SAQ $23.60spoons out Bolgheri typicality with dry espresso bean sharpness, Tuscan coast silicon and a bit of funk. All this and a very respectable 13% abv. The minerals never cease their whorl and I wonder how this can possibly linger for months on LCBO shelves. So very Italian this Greppicante. “I have your blood inside my heart.”  90

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From British Columbia’s Similkameen Valley, a unique appellation proximate to but not to be confused as being a part of the Okanagan Valley

The lowdown: This terrific ’08 will be followed up by the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Wines 2009 winner

The food match: Homemade Ricotta, toasted bread, extra virgin olive oil

Eau Vivre Pinot Noir 2008 (308353, $24.95, $19.00 B.C.) is blessed with a lightness of being, a Ruby Port, redden voile sheen and a firm anatomy. Cranberry and pomegranate meet a Marlborough, cloisonné, mineral veneer. This is a Pinot lover’s Pinot, specific, cerebral, incomplete in its forgiveness.  88  @EauVivre

Good to go!

Video and selling wine online

PHOTO: STRIXCODE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

When Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced on New Year’s Eve the government plans to open 10 wine/liquor stores in select supermarkets, the Twitter chiming and column-riling was heard loud and clear. My take was a relatively benign one, having visited many a supermarket and trailer hitch “LCBO” in the smallest of Ontario’s northern hamlets. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

The proposal is misleading and really has little to do with Tim Hudak’s variety store beer and wine plan. The NP’s Chris Selley was clear in noting that LCBO, small town “Agency” stores have been employing private citizens in the business of peddling alcohol for decades. If Mindemoya, Ontario adds a few mass market wines and VINTAGES Essentials to its roped-off cubby within the local Foodland, how does that change anything?

The announcement that the VINTAGES cache of wine will soon be available for purchase online, now that would be something. Even I would have to be a fool today to argue against private wine stores, an issue the Wine Council of Ontario has addressed with mywineshop.ca. That movement continues to generate interest and support and needs to be taken to the next level. But what about wine online? The VINTAGES model has seen very little to modest success. There have been some very good wines available (though few and far between) but other than a few thousand (maybe) wine geeks, who even knows how and when they are released? This gorgeous Spanish red from Priorat is available right now through the VINTAGES Online website’s January 10th, 2013 release.

VINTAGES release
Cesca Vicent Lo Piot 2006; Nigl Grüner Veltliner Gärtling 2011; Bodegas Briego Reserva 2004

Cesca Vicent Lo Piot 2006 (243493, $29) is sweet, sweet Garnacha. Hugely concentrated but hangs on to a thread of mineral decency and resists going over the top. That rocky earth will extend its life by two to three years but the quarry of recklessness means drink up. Modernity thy name is Priorat.  91

Many have argued against slaughtering trees and think the VINTAGES Classics Catalogue should become an exclusive, online only direct sale. I would agree but this too misses the big point. If nothing else, why shouldn’t Ontario consumers be able to buy all available VINTAGES wines online? Simply set a realistic minimum order and charge for delivery. Social responsibility being compromised I imagine would be the argument put forth by the Hudsucker Proxy. All those under age teenagers signing for UPS delivered $75 Napa Cabernets would surely lead to anarchy.

A good number of Ontario wine agents and some specialist online e-tailers sell by the case, which they have to, but that niche is directed at wines not available for purchase at the LCBO. Dial-A-Bottle outfits can deliver single bottles but the strict rules and delivery charges make it cost prohibitive. Bordeaux Futures must be purchased in minimum sets of three. It’s time to change the playing field. Consumers want to shop online. We’re not talking about a non-starter here. VINTAGES, I have an idea for you. Put up some video to increase interest in the wines you sell. I recently filmed such a video:

Here are my tasting notes on the two wines:

Nigl Grüner Veltliner Gärtling 2011 ($22.54) is a strange animal to many, mistakenly considered a Riesling follower but, “something inside reveals you’re magical.” This one goes Niederösterreich green apple and even more parochial with Kremstal’s, micro-climate mineral and floral salinity. Built of solid weight and body but Grüner’s subtlety is certainly the fulcrum of its appeal. Please don’t let it be misunderstood. On the card at Barque.  88

Bodegas Briego Reserva 2004 ($32.95) the gregarious Ribera Del Duero trips the purple light fantastic. Rigorous, vibrant fruit for a Tempranillo caged four years in barrel and a further four in bottle. Currently dances in a cool, complex, mineral-rich, vanilla and plum wheelhouse of optimum fruit excellence. Modern for Ribera and very young at heart.  90

Good to go!