Tasting Ontario Part Five: Varietal Whites and Appellative Blends

There were 33 medals handed out to White Blends at the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada; seven Golds, 17 Silvers and nine Bronze. Quietly, stealthily and without great fanfare the strength of the white blend category has taken NWAC18 by storm. The quality of the wines entered has never been higher, visibly and notably spread across the country. The time has come to establish party lines, to create truly parochial white appellative blends under appropriately chosen names. Nova Scotia has long been there with their apt-scripted Tidal Bay. Ontario and British Columbia should heed the economic and marketing success enjoyed by their maritime cousins and join the appellative party.

Related – Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals): Best of Blends: Red, White and Tidal Bay

The French regions of Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley are clearly the benchmarks and the inspiration for Canadian-made emulative examples, first from a sauvignon blanc-sémillon connection and then with blends that make use of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. A testament to expatriate excellence is noted in the seven overall Gold Medals in this year’s judging and no less than six others finishing at high Silver status on the cusp of Gold. I for one awarded five 90-plus scores to wines I clearly deemed worthy of such accolade and esteem.

It is interesting to note that White Blends centred by sauvignon blanc in the Okanagan Valley rely on much higher percentages of sémillon than their counterparts in Ontario. The simplest explanation tells us that the grape variety has trouble surviving harsh Ontario winters, especially when we look back at 2015 and 2016 when much of the province’s vines were killed by sub-25 degree temperatures. But it’s more than that. In B.C. sauvignon blanc can get pretty ripe, tropical and zaftig so it is sémillon that helps to mitigate, temper, inject a flinty-smoky-mineral streak and ultimately bring balance to the relationship.

There was a time not too long ago when after the best juice was chosen for varietal wines producers then needed to find a way to use up the dregs of their white ferments. White blends came about out of economic necessity, but like Rosé production in this country so many are now produced with a purpose. As a farmer, if you know specific blocks of sauvignon blanc are destined to join with other plots of sémillon you’re going to prune, pluck, green harvest and ultimately pick in very specific ways. Appellative blends have become a year round occupation. That much is clear.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Four: Gamay

The top scorers at this year’s Nationals have been awarded to seriously and thoughtfully crafted wines. The winners are not entry-level, introductory products at the lower or lowest common denominational levels. They are not simple aromatic blends of vague fruit and sweet impression, in fact many are graced by beneficial and forward thinking structure. The future certainly looks white blend bright. Here are 36 recently tasted Ontario varietal whites and appellative white blends.

Summer spread

Sprucewood Shores Pinot Grigio 2017, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (426577, $14.95, WineAlign)

Just a hint of contact it would seem, leading to a not so obvious result in platinum gold hue but more so into the floral nature of its aromatics. Some sweet melon and pear fruit with good concentration and equal if necessary acidity. Can certainly drink a glass of this. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  sprucewoodshores  @SprucewoodWine  @SprucewoodShores

Château Des Charmes Aligoté 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Château des Charmes self-proclaimed “pinot grigio” alternative was never more truthfully written than in reference to this 2017 aligoté. Screwy wet summer merging into crazy hot autumn weather made for one of the latest harvest dates in the estate on the York Road in St. Davids storied history. The rare Niagara Peninsula varietal vines are planted primarily at St. David’s Bench and Paul Bosc Estate vineyards but more are going in, surely out of testimony to the sales of this more than apropos local grape. Surely no one knows aligoté like the Bosc family and yet even they could not have seen this peachy, melony, fleshy and ripe one coming. It’s like a hyperbole of Val do Salnés in Rias Baixas albariño, crisp, aromatic and marched along by natural acidity. It seems sweet but trust me it’s not. It’s the long-hung, fully phenolic fruit and higher pH talking. This is not your average Bourgogne aligoté, searing, taut and intense. It’s a departure for the house but if it could always be made this way I think they would gladly go for the style. Waxy finish too, bringing an added note of complexity. Very cool. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Nyarai Cellars Pinot Gris 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.95, WineAlign)

This is quite a striking, rich, creamy and yogurt-leesy, a.k.a. Loire chenin blanc, fixedly in the guise of pinot gris. More skin contact then some plus so much yeasty texture combine to make for the fullest of an Ontario gris expression. This is the sort of feeling that normally comes from multi-varietal, dry white appellative Niagara blends but in a solo pinot gris it’s nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  #nyaraicellars  @NyaraiCellars  Nyarai Cellars

Tawse Winery Pinot Gris Redfoot Vineyard 2017, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From out of the dense Lincoln Lakeshore clay comes this flush and luxurious pinot gris, literally rolling in it. It makes for a highly aromatic take on the grape, all in for gris and not to be confused with lighter, less meaningful grigio. The Redfoot Vineyard is clearly earmarked for such a purposed way of interpretation and though the clays of the double L sub-appellation are best with syrah and cabernet franc there can’t be any reason not to allot 10-15 per cent of acreage to white plantings. In the hands of Paul Pender it seems obvious that pinot gris is the one. This dry take is just about perfectly right, with citrus and wet stone hanging around the fruit. Leaner might be more suitable but ultimately it’s balance that is most important for this rich fruit raised by the pottery soil. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted June 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

G.Marquis Sauvignon Blanc The Red Line 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $13.95, WineAlign)

Big love, big fruit, all about texture and juicy fruit on the palate but with some fine, wound acidity. Excellent. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   g.marquisvineyards  @GMarquisWines  @G.MarquisVineyards

North 42 Degrees Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc North 43 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (547836, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite the character this North 43/North 42 degrees sauvignon blanc, fruit amassed on the nose, from canteloupe to underripe passion fruit with a wet, coppery alloy build that translates across latitudinal lines onto the palate. The metallic flavours are undercut by an herbal tonic with a spoonful of tinned fruit cup. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  north42wines  @StratusWines  North 42 Degrees Estate Winery & Bistro 42  @north42degrees

Château Des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

Interesting take, quite a mineral salt wiring through the green apple fruit, here some feel of barrel but not the malo-creamy effect created. Goes quite juicy and crunchy without resorting to tart. A bit more acid intensity would have sealed the deal. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Lakeview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (483958, $17.95, WineAlign)

An interesting sauvignon blanc for the Peninsula because the pungency is quite Marlborough but the relaxed state and relative weight is all Niagara. Very easy drinking as far as SB is concerned with notable extraction and a green streak, herbal mostly, running through. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Kacaba Susan’s Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

Quietude in such a lovely way, mineral meets orange blossom, soft and amenable through the middle, quiet and mellow, fades off slowly, into the sauvignon blanc sunset. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kacabavineyards  @KacabaVineyards  Kacaba Vineyards and Winery

Stratus Wildass Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (376814, $18.95, WineAlign)

t’s more Stratus than sauvignon blanc, even by regional varietal standards, whatever that is, due to the ripe flavours and long-developed phenolic ripeness. Ultimately it is the quotient of a cup of fruit cocktail and an energy level that serves to encourage a sitting back with a glass in meditative state more than a mind stimulated to invigorate. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Organized Crime Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (396275, $18.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes sauvignon blanc goes tropical and green at the same time, or at least it is the two poles by picked grapes that combine for such a layering. Citrus and bitters mix into the two sides and all the components walk along, separate and alone together, without making any real contact. Maybe a year will tie the room but the acidity is low so waiting is a counterintuitive idea. Drink 2018.  Tasted April 2018  organizedcrimewinery  Organized Crime Winery

Henry Of Pelham Fumé Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (444268, $19.95, WineAlign)

With a wink and a nod to Mondavi this lays the lumber in smoulder upon sauvignon blanc with just a wisp, like cold smoking salmon so that it breathes cool and mentholated, without char and a real smoky feeling. The fruit is light and even a bit precious, the weight quite lithe and the overall notation one of gentle demure. You have to appreciate the deft, slight of winemaking hand approach. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham  Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery

Meldville Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Derek Barnett’s sauvignon blanc may be the fleshiest of the Ontario lot, ripe, tropical and impressively coaxed from off the vine. The phenolic aggregate is a 2016 triumph even while it dances a funky step into botrytis-like rhythms. Notes here and there of herbs and tonics add to the mystique and the rapport. So bloody interesting, singular and meditative for the grape. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Massively fruit aromatic sauvignon blanc, all gathered in a tin cup found in the exotics isle. Juicy melon meets passion fruit and so much more in between, then with a side of metalloid. Raps so commercially viable and succesful it hurts my ears and my eyes. “Any awards show or party I’ll get fly for it, I know that it’s coming I just hope I’m alive for it…I just wanna be, I just wanna be.” Remarkable success for sauvignon blanc, in Ontario. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   pellerwines  @PellerVQA  @PellerEstates

Redstone Sauvignon Blanc Limestone Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $23.15, WineAlign)

There isn’t a ton of sauvignon blanc grown up on the Limestone Ridge but as a top level Twenty Mile Bench riesling terroir it changes the varietal course with considerable concern. As far as it goes this is quite an alloy challenged, mineralized expression, not quite flinty but certainly feeling like a mouthful of richly compressed, calcareous stones. The fruit is so anti-tropical it’s almost reductive and most certainly draws its tang from the soil. Such a curious sauvignon blanc with almost no frame of reference, save for a moment to consider Sancerre, but yet another successful effort from winemaker Rene Van Ede. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Traynor Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Reductive, not flinty or smoky, but reductive. This carries the gooseberry-passion fruit suitcase of fruit. I like the fruit-acid balance and the way it delivers semblances of tart and tangy. Really nicely judged wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   traynorvineyard  @TraynorVineyard  @traynorfamilyvineyard

Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc Rosomel Vineyard 2016, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68825, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard gains another year, the farming and winemaking too and so fumé blanc out of Rosomel gets better, as things often do with age and wisdom. ’Twas a great year for growing grapes on this amphitheatre of a vineyard block up on the Bench and no love lost for sauvignon blanc neither. There is tension, wound intensity and fierce competitiveness in the ’16, perhaps the most Sancerre and least Pouilly-Fumé it has ever been and so the declaration leans to saying it is “a mineral year.” Nothing against the fruit because the personality cult of lean, crisp and crunchy is in full order, though each sip after sip speaks in those Sancerre or Chablis by way of Saint Bris terms. Stellar, as always, in continuance, moving towards the best it can be. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2016, Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Quite flinty, barrel-aged sauvignon blanc, buttery nearly, banana and cantaloupe. So much fruit along with the toasty-creamy barrel. Almost perfectly in balance but it’s wildness and sweet-yeasty lees cumulative turns to a bit of caramel and only accentuates the vanilla. A really cool take on the grape with exceptionally developed flavours. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   triuswines  @TriusWines  @TriusWines

Not all screw cap closures are created equal

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.00, WineAlign)

Excessive tightness of screw caps does not allow any kept reduction to blow off so winemaker Adam Pearce closed here with a screw cap threading just a bit less rigid. A fine detail but an important one and the only wine to receive this attention, so just a minute amount of oxygen transfer can occur. Just released 11 days ago. The big change is now a fruit vineyard blend that is 70 per cent Four Mile Creek and (30) Twenty Mile Bench. From a cool, wet and rainy season so really it’s all about the grower in a vintage where the varietal struggled with mould and mildew. Eight per cent barrel ferment was used to augment the leanness, for body and peace of mind. A bit reductive and tight with good acid structure to the peach-yellow-plum-kumquat fruit. Good linger. Delicious. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted July 2018    twosisters_vineyards  @TwoSisters_wine  Two Sisters Vineyards

Fielding Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146753, $19.95, WineAlign)

Fielding’s pays respect to how gewürztraminer has to be made in Ontario with a fleshy, off-dry style though making sure to counterbalance with a fine dose of acidity. From dosage to dose it dances the do-si-so with high quality peach-litchi fruit and grapefruit acidity. If you’re in need of a white to compliment some high-octane, multi-seasoned and possibly spicy food, Fielding’s is textbook and will do the work. It’s a gewürztraminer you can trust. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted January 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery

Redstone Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A sip sends a warm shiver through from a simple off-dry gewüztraminer attack more flat than round earth, trying hard to stay on the dry though the bitters and creamy fruit deliver more sweetness than what might have been intended. Some skin contact deals peach skin and those bitters while the acidity quietly abides. It’s nearly, almost and close to cloying by honey mixed in concentrate with a note of alkali. Everything lingers. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education.

Trail Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Few winemakers in Ontario are as curious, aloof and serious about making gewürztraminer like this,”looking through that window, into the delicate place.” The changing of mind is so important during the process because it shows an understanding of both mistake and possibility. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a spoon of Niagara Lakeview fruit (Glen Elgin/Wismer farmed), puts it through a whole cluster press, a fermentation in old oak and then wait a minute. An about face transfer to stainless steel tank (just after a few days) because it is too reductive, but then sends it back to old wood where it remains for about nine months. Bottles back in September of 2017. The result is a gewürz that finishes dry (under 3 g/L) so delicate for a customer’s palate, with lots of lemon and lime but never searing, perfect for cold smoked or tataki prepared salmon. Bitter pith note but it dissipates, as does the acidity so keep in mind this is floral and fine. “The delicate place. The questions it raise. The delicate place yeah.” Enjoy it now and gimme fiction. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Skin Contact Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

The 2016 gewürztraminer fruit is from the Werscht’s (Between the Lines) Niagara farm, super ripe at 24 brix and aromatics on steroids. It clocks in at a healthy 13.5 alcohol, after 13 days on skins and beyond. Close your eyes and the warm pungency will simulate a sensory experience, like standing inside the butterfly conservatory, with all the dessicating fruit, secretions and balmy, humid aromas wafting around. Or maybe even more exotic, like walking past stalls in a south asian market, with fruits cut open so you can see what they are, mangoseteen, marquesa, jackfruit and durian. There is great fun to be had in acidity and spice. Lush, floral and nicely funky. By now an understanding and a level of maturity to think on is as a classic Brisbois white. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Malivoire Viognier Stouck Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Agent, $24.25, WineAlign)

From vines planted in 2010 the magic of excitable youth with just a hint of maturity has brought this block of the terrific Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard to this vintage. Warmth and ultimately ripeness have released the aromatic blessedness of viognier, which along with an unpurposed number of residual sugar will allow this to gain some further complexity with age. May just be the most varietal viognier ever produced out of Niagara but it’s obviousness as a regional example can’t be denied. It exudes confidence without even trying, is naturally oily and grippy because its acidity matches the high notes. It’s a touch boozy at 13.5 alcohol, at times metallic and at others, tropical, because that’s what viognier wants to be. It’s just a terrific effort from winemakers Shiraz Mottiar and Dan Stouck. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Lakeview Cellars Viognier 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Pretty tart stuff from the get go, full of tangerine and beautifully dry. Gently pressed and kept in spirit high through the use of stainless steel tanks. Quite floral, not potpourri mind you but a fresh blossoming breath of a bouquet. Simple viognier, effectively executed and perfectly correct. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Redstone Viognier Redfoot Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The barrel is a big time influence here, offering a combination of creamy vanilla and yet some reduction. There must be some lush viognier fruit back there somewhere but the wood is really in control. Subtle hints of varietal florals, far eastern fruit and spice linger behind the veil. Tasted blind it is the creamy texture and vanilla that makes cause for it to be considered so much like California chardonnay. Good acidity however rescues and thinks about the future. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted twice, June 2018 and then blind at NWAC18, June 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Calamus Estate Winery White Night 2014, VQA Ontario (484014, $13.95, WineAlign)

A very good use of vidal (85 per cent) gets an apple jolt from chardonnay in this very peach and grapefruit oriented white. It’s like fruit cocktail in a glass but drier than off-dry and quite savoury. Stage right spicy too, like clove and capsicum, in a way akin to Kiwi sauvignon blanc but in the end it’s white appellative blend in hybrid dominance, running all the way. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted January 2017  #calamuswinery  @calamuswinery  Calamus Estate Winery

Featherstone Four Feathers 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341586, $14.95, WineAlign)

Varietal birds of four feathers (riesling, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc) flock together for a wild ride in aromatics, texture, tang and acidity. Here a notable waxiness from the gewürztraminer does oily, glück potpourri with outgoing nature and a sweet meets sour set of flavours. Runs from orchard fruit with bite into the tropical and then some bitters. Nothing simple and quite stirred. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

13th Street White Palette 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (207340, $15.95, WineAlign)

White Palette is at the top of its hyperbole game in 2016 with a light’s glare flooding a room of high aromatic and flavour intensity. Glade, polish, wax and major citrus all max factor the scents and smells. Lemon and caramel well through the palate and funky emissions deal in Peninsula clay with obvious earth. It’s a case of the curious and not fully expected in 2016. Worth a look nevertheless, with fresh seafood off the coals. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  13th Street Winery

Rockway Vineyards Chardonnay/Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (545905, $16.95, WineAlign)

The varietal get together is both convenient and seamless, in delivery of a cool climate nose and a ripeness to imagine a warmer climate palate. It’s layering is one stacked by alternating textures and walks straight ahead, simple and for the sake of nothing, but for to enjoy.  Drink 2018-2020. Tasted April 2018  rockwayvineyards  @RockwayVineyard  Rockway Vineyards

The Hare Wine Company Crown Land White 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The blend of 60 per cent gewürztraminer and (40) riesling is a lovely mix of lemon, apricot and mild barrel notes. It’s a pithy affair, mildly battered and of a soft demeanour. Fresh with fruit skin scents, a passion fruit tang and acidity that’s pretty darn close to spot on. Chewy texture, finishing strong and long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  theharewineco  @TheHareWineCo  The Hare Wine Co.

Kew Vineyard Estate Marsanne 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The dominant marsanne (90 per cent) is joined seamlessly by viognier in a white blend rich with barrel notes, nutty and toasty. Perhaps a touch less interesting on the palate but it’s welling with presence and persistence. Metallic and effective, with great finishing bitters. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kewvineyards  @kewvineyards  @kewvineyard

Tasting at Pearl Morissette, July 2017

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Cuvée Blu is an appellative blend like no other, amphora fermented, 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay, with pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc. The group spent three and a half (no, not a typo) months on skins, pressed and aged in foudres. I taste this and self-reflected that I would need to taste this once a day for two weeks to wrap brain, heart and imagination around its mythology. I’d also need to understand how it pushed further then just about anything and to see what would happpen, over and over, again and again, each time anew. You can drink this immediately or anytime over the next six years. What’s the difference? How can you know what to do? Self-described by the PM team as “a chameleon charmer and a poem built from the taste of colours.” Memories of a 2017 summer recall the whimsy of hues. “Yellow, orange,” smiled Svetlana Atcheva, “it might as well be blue!” Drink 2018-2024. Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Southbrook Vidal Skin Fermented White 2016, Small Lot Natural Wine, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and February 2018 southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @SouthbrookWine  @TheLivingVine  Southbrook Vineyards  The Living Vine inc.

Stratus Vineyards Stratus White 2014, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

White assemblage under the Stratus label is not like spinning a single record, it’s like Rock ‘n Roll radio. Opening a bottle brings great excitement and anticipation, with a sense of wonder. What songs am I going to hear or more to the point, which grape varieties am I going to taste, in which percentages and in what order? In 2014 it’s a medley of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, sémillon and gewürztraminer. The blend spent 21 months in (15 per cent) new oak. The fruits are varied and each one (or mélange of several) represented a hit in their own right. Tutti frutti, orange blossom special, little green apples, the lemon song, kiwi, peach, tangerine and forbidden fruit. In the end I heard it through the grapevine, by way of a conduit provided by great and necessary acidity. A top quality Stratus White, worthy of repeat plays. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted twice, May and June 2018    stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

It’s primarily sauvignon blanc (94 per cent) but don’t discount the effect created by sémillon. This is a really lovely barrel fermented stroll through a fresh morning glade, with ripe fruit everywhere and a perfectly pointed and lifted flinty nose. A bit reductive and fresh, as it should and absolutely must be, with hints of vanilla and caramel. Quite ambitious and serious with a focus and a precision that speaks to the acumen of a specific cru that in the end, instructs for sauvignon blanc meets sémillon education. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Good to Go!

Godello

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WineAlign

All fall Ontario wines

From left to right: Thirty Bench Riesling 2013, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, Rockway Estate Small Lot Meritage 2012, Huff Estate Gamay 2012, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013 and Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013

From left to right: Thirty Bench Riesling 2013, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, Rockway Estate Small Lot Meritage 2012, Huff Estate Gamay 2012, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013 and Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013

Currently off in South Africa on the Stellenbosch Wine Route with CapeWine2015 on the immediate horizon but I left some local reviews behind in anticipation of the VINTAGES September 19th release. A few are out for another go ’round and do hear this. Their timely and welcome recurrence is not something to take lightly. If you missed them the first time, get them now. It’s another one of those essential times of the year when we all fall into the cask of go local,  and reap the benefits of Wine Country Ontario. See you in a few weeks back in the old country for the first October release.

Thirty Bench Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (24133, $18.95, WineAlign)

The classification for Thirty Bench here as a ‘basic’ Riesling is such a stretch in consideration that the fruit is meant for this bottle and that fruit is of the highest Beamsville distinction. What a treat in 2013, ready to please with immediacy, great balance between sugar, acids and mineral-lactic travels to and fro, back and forth. Torque at its finest and most pure in Ontario. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015  @ThirtyBench

Kew Riesling, Young Family Organic Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (426460, $18.95, WineAlign)

The idea that Beamsville Riesling can attack such hallowed territory is one of exigency and wonder. Kew does so with organic, Germanic and elemental attitude to the apogee of Escarpment degree. Everything in the Phillip Dowell mastery mix exists in the rare air of Beamsville essentia. When it hits optimum minutia and does temporarily descend to the ground, the ’13 Riesling sticks in beeswax and lanolin, not to mention lemons dipped into more rosin. Quite singular, even within the context of a Beamsville style. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted repeated times, July, August and September 2015  @kewvineyards

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

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

Rockway Estate Small Lot Meritage 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (388264, $19.95, WineAlign)

Twenty Mile red charcuterie and ripe blackberries baked into a Peninsula pie. Highly consumable red blend, with natural feeling acidity and grainy, slightly bitter tannins. Will settle nicely in two years and drink for three more. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @RockwayVineyard

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

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

From my earlier note of December 2014:

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

Last tasted April and Sepetember 2015  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Huff Estate Gamay 2012, VQA Ontario (423335, $24.95, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak. The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat. Tasted at County in the City, April 2014 and again, September 2015  @HuffEstatesWine  @PECWines

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (427484, $24.95, WineAlign)

The barrel fermented and aged Estate Chardonnay spent 12 months in two-thirds new and one-third second fill wood. Lees stirring is slightly increased as compared to the unplugged. Again, it’s about aromatic intensity leading the way to palate density. By the sounds of Westcott’s comments “we’re pleased with its remarkable irony — dry and sturdy, yet creamy and rather curvy,” you might think the team was stirring with impunity. Not so. The Estate Chard does the dance of mild spice and butter on toast to reach a texture that would appease savages. Unavoidable and typical low yields from the Vinemount Ridge picked at the right moment and handled with caring tabula rasa are the spirit in this wine. Delightful and charming. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June, July and September 2015  @WestcottWines

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April  and September 2015  @normhardie

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Seven inexpensive must try whites

Linguine, garlic, olive oil, sage

Linguine, garlic, olive oil, sage

Aromatics, spice, flowers in distillate of petals, viscosity, texture and the dichotomous, symbiotic posit tug between fruit and mineral. Are these not the explorations acceded in the neverending search for estimable white wine? Here, from a deep pool agglomerated by the VINTAGES June 13th, 2015 release are those attributes found in varietal determination; in Traminer, Viognier, Pinot Bianco, Assyrtiko and Riesling.

Two Ontario stalwarts have recently been reviewed and heretofore positioned in this posting format. They both hail from the most righteous and excellent growing sub-appellation known as the Twenty Mile Bench. The Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $18.95, WineAlign) flat-out rocks. The Jay Johnston Chardonnays “they dig a funky spiel, they’ll make some spiel.”

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Riesling Block 150 183 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign) will become a “rock, rock, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll” Riesling. It just wants to have fun and get some kicks.

As for the following five old world superstars from Italy, France, Greece and Germany, well they just know a thing or two about antiquity, acumen, eccentrically distributed stresses and just doing it right. Enjoy the sunshine folks, get out there and pour some whites.

From left to right: Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Riesling Block 150 183 2013, Villanova Traminer Aromatico 2014, Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2013, Le Monde Pinot Bianco 2013, Argyros Assyrtiko 2014 and Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2013

From left to right: Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Riesling Block 150 183 2013, Villanova Traminer Aromatico 2014, Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2013, Le Monde Pinot Bianco 2013, Argyros Assyrtiko 2014 and Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2013

Villanova Traminer Aromatico 2014, Doc Friuli Isonzo, Italy (411314, $13.95, WineAlign)

“Just as the sand made everything round, just as the tar seeps up from the ground,” this Gewürztraminer ringer is a bitter dancer, ever turning, metallic and exotic. An orange grove of aromatics, longan, lychee, mango and guava in four-part harmony, like fleet foxes, overtly tropical and melodic. A waxy skin coats the palate and herbals too, so oily, nutty, very, very nutty. Much exuberance and personality while it holds its notes and then finishes on plain, quick and painless. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015

Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2013, Vin De Pays D’oc, France (673236, $14.95, WineAlign)

Another terrific value in Midi Viognier. Such a clash of energies and riotous expression. Floral, tangy and juicy with spice notes and quite a colossal yet composed mouthfeel. The spice recycles into the acidity and persists through a held finish. Has presence of mind and body to punch way above its weight and price. Cuts right through the crap. “The South is up but the North is down,” so here in the Midi, all is in balance. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015  @LaurentMiquel  @LiffordON

Le Monde Pinot Bianco 2013, Doc Friuli Grave, Italy (372417, $16.95, WineAlign)

Really expressive Pinot Blanc that pins a direct impression and leaves behind a lingering floral elegance. While typically tangy-mettalic as per the Friuli mirror conspiracy, white wine predicament corporation, this one treks to new territory for the variety, “pour voir plus clair,” into orange blossom and lemon curd, to peach tree and crisp freshness. Viscous and juicy, piquant and on the wilder side of le monde varietal spectrum. Thievery from Friuli, of hearts and palates. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015

Argyros Assyrtiko 2014, Santorini, Greece (387365, $19.95, WineAlign)

Every release of the Argyros Assyrtiko is like a new Greek morning. Sunspot aridity, citrus salinity and innate volcanic ability define the wine’s blinding brine and naturally occurring bitter ooze. One sip and ” can’t you hear that rooster crowing? Rabbit running down across the road.” Can you not imagine the stone crag, the whitewashed mineral cliff, the late afternoon sunshine gazing into the shimmering Aegean from an Oia perch?

From my earlier note of April 2015:

The most distinct, pure and crisp expression of Assyrtiko comes from this Argyros bottle, magnified with more platinum rock bonding in ’14 than even in the previous few vintages. Exotic evolution has arrived early in this stoic and timelessly chronic Assyrtiko with dramatic fleshing, a hint of hloro tiri and ashen black sand grit. A volcanic goddess in patina hued dress, very mineral, very direct, that drives straight for the lumbar zone. Saline, full of shells and mollusc brine. Anything grilled on charcoal, of white flesh, whether porcine, foul or sea sweet will shine alongside, as it always does. Drink 2015-2019.

Last tasted June 2015  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine

Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2013, Mosel, Germany (998120, $21.95, WineAlign)

When a Mosel Riesling sings in a high tenor voice the impression is wheedling and the stoic, stony flint echoes from and for So2 is par for the commanding Wehlener Sonnenuhr course. The poured elemental strike causes wheezing and coughing when the wine is this young, also due to aridity and stones infiltrating every atomic pore. Yet the tropical, seemingly mature palate with blanketing creamy mango is a reminder of the impossibly, beautifully dichotomous relationship that, when gathered and surrounded by popping acidity, can only mean one thing. Classic Mosel Kabinett. This rocks and rips it up in every way, Riesling purported to “walk on out unto the sky.” Gains a little richer aspect with each pass. Never relents, taking neither breath nor break. Awesomeness from a great vineyard, with texture, a long and bitter finish. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted June 2015    @HHDImports_Wine

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Rock this way

Rockway at WineAlign

Rockway at WineAlign

Last month, while working through a table of wines at WineAlign I tasted through five samples of Rockway Vineyards whites. All five were from the 2013 vintage. If it has not yet happened, these wines will usher the coming out party, to establish Rockway as a player in the new pantheon of Escarpment foothills whites.

The vines at Rockway Vineyards are located in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation on the Niagara Peninsula. The winemaker is David Stasiuk, a veteran of heralded estates around the world, including Le Clos Jordanne, Australia’s Yarra Valley Moet Chandon and CedarCreek in the Okanagan. His wines are truly estate made; 99.9 per cent are grown, crafted and bottled at Rockway. I find the Riesling to fall into a niche straddled by Henry of Pelham and Flat Rock Cellars. Gewürztraminer is really in a class of its own, a trump card for Stasiuk and something I would encourage him to play with, into late harvest and beyond. Chardonnay is Twenty Mile Bench through and through, where place and barrel mark the twain and split the check. Here are the notes on the five tasted back in late March.

From left to right: Block Blend Riesling 2013, Small Lot Riesling Block 150 183 2013, Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2013, Chardonnay 23 77 2013 and Small Lot Block 12 110 Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2013

From left to right: Block Blend Riesling 2013, Small Lot Riesling Block 150 183 2013, Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2013, Chardonnay 23 77 2013 and Small Lot Block 12 110 Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2013

Rockway Vineyards Block Blend Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $13.95, WineAlign)

Middle of the road in the temple of Rockway and Riesling, making an offer to appreciate and enjoy just about every tenet there might be to gain. Lessened but generous (10.5 per cent) alcohol, one shy step this side of off-dry. Flint and petrol but just a hint and grape tannin combustion, though only shrouded by a single, thin veil of skin. Provides smithy entry into metal working, aerodynamic Peninsula Riesling. By combining blocks this sheds light on the generational varietal world of the Twenty Mile Bench. As a life story it “started with a little kiss, like this.” A very successful amalgamation rocks this way in copacetic strut and finishes well, with lime. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted March 2015

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Riesling Block 150 183 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The elemental surprises and flat-out rippling effect felt from this highly specialized geological, geographical and micro-climate trove stands to be taken with extreme notice. Savour and sous bois tonics provide for a deeper, richer and soil connected Riesling. The complexion and subtraction causes a cerebral dwell, investigation and a requiem for patience. This needs time to settle in, to shed the cumbersome and not entirely accessible volume. But there is simplicity in complexity, with acids lively, burgeoning and two-chord strumming. The overall canned or jarred feeling will open up once class lets out and this small parcel bottling will become a “rock, rock, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll” Riesling. It just wants to have fun and get some kicks so wait three years. A worthy if punkier follow-up to ’12. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2015

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

Just 299 cases were made of this unique Short Hills Bench Gewürztraminer, a warm and fuzzy (read: peach) example that draws balm and sunshine from the underexposed Niagara sub-appellation. Winemaker David Stasiuk’s Rockway Riesling fortitude translates across a lieu-dit exegesis to an end that suggests the grape variety may just be his secret weapon. The horizontal expressiveness is matched by varietal typicity, in lychee, rose-water and spring verdancy. Fine, unctuous stuff, easily consumed, with nary a bitter edge and good citrus, lactic zest on the more than laudable finish. Reminds a bit of South African Steen. Gewürztraminer to “rock away these days, rock away these nights… something to last…’til the morning light.” Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted March 2015

Rockway Vineyards Chardonnay 23 77 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $14.95, WineAlign)

For semantic intents and purposes this is really unbaked Chardonnay, built from (77 per cent) stainless steel and (23 per cent) neutral barrel ferments. Low in alcohol (12.7 per cent) and piqued in oak-less freshness, the light simply says go on the green. A slight screwcap compression causes early fizz, a locked in al fresco bite filled in by leesy, sweet and sour flavours and texture. Typically apple in origin, basic, old school Rockway fun. “Remember the songs used to make you rock away. Those were the days.” Classic Chardonnay jam. Beres Hammond style. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted March 2015

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12 110 Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2013, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here is another David Stasiuk composition that cements the idea of 2013 as being the turning point for Rockway to become a major player in Niagara whites. Just 215 cases were produced of this idiosyncratic block meets yeast Chardonnay. Such a cool climate sprinter whose wild ferment action hero activity seems to still be in mode, given the aromatic, speeding bullet locomotion. “Quick as a cat, in the jungle.” Quite chalky on that nose, like dust trails flung by fast-moving parts, in super limestone distillation, rocky, wedged into flint. No dummy texture, with patent tannic grip and grit, pebbles popping, crashing, testing. Sweetness is there but yet unreal. Chardonnay that can only be Twenty Mile Bench, in ways that bring Sébastien Jacquey’s LCJ Claystone Terrace and Jay Johnston’s Rusty Shed to mind. In ways that are conveyed by terroir, by barrel, not as an afterthought but in how it adds cream, not sawdust. It also adds weight, not sap. It builds texture, block by block. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted March 2015

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