Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex chardonnay in Niagara.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95)

Definitely a warm vintage, picked on the early side, bite still clamped down, a bit of pesto and far from reductive as noted in Quarry Roads of the recent past (i.e 2011 and 2013). Pine nut pronunciation, no malic residual transformations (there will never me) and just bloody good freshness. Last tasted July 2021

No shocker that Quarry Road always finds a way to morph and change gears, meaning every so often, a year and up to two years later there will be some significant movement in this wine. Something about the Vinemount Ridge and how its players are in constant flux, adjusting sentiments and character to keep things curious, interesting and alive. Still the unencumbered and free-flowing expression it set out to be, free to be Quarry Road and as for me, I am always enamoured by how it marries personality with age. Natural (not unlike the Natural version of itself), enigmatic and very personal. Let it be. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Fantastic ten years after flinty reduction from arguably the most cracking vintage of the previous decade. As it is said, “you’ve got to feed the beauty, it doth not come cheap.” And that is what Paul Pender went for in 2011. At 10 Quarry is light on its feet, fresh, spirited jumping rope and spinning in concentric chardonnay circles. It simply reeks of beautiful Vinemount Ridge stone.  Last tasted July 2021

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  Tasted May 2014

Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.  Tasted March 2012 (barrel sample)

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($34.95)

Prick, punch and torque from the conceptual vintage get-go, a classic 2019 in the making, if by so many yet to be understood standards. A chardonnay so cool it causes a brain freeze while simultaneously moving the soul. In fact put on some vinyl Gaye, get in on, or even disco foreshadowing Temptations, echoing the chardonnay law of the land. Don’t sleep on the high level fruit, not quite fleshy but surely potent and dynamic to match the season’s verve in acidity. Fine lees, better texture and all-around vitality so essential to chardonnay. Will improve with six more months in bottle. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.75)

A single-vineyard chardonnay once labelled Oliveira and then watching Tree Vineyard but no longer, though the source remains the same. Embraces a cool 2019 vintage played out through rewards in the guise of reduction, toast, flint and drive. In cool climate varietal terms this ’19 reminds of 2011 though to be clear and certain there is more focus where by the quantity and quality of ripenesses meet at the essential points of acidity and tannin. Here is a vintage to end a decade in the most poised and poignant way. Spot on, striking and graceful chardonnay. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Remarkable finesse, flavours and design @triuswines and Restaurant by Chef Frank Dodd with @coolchardonnay accompaniments.

Beyond Chardonnay

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench ($48.00)

Second vintage from a tightly contested and smaller crop, initiated by then winemaker Marlize Beyers and subsequently disgorged by Jay Johnston, following five years on the lees. Moves from the practice of poetics to the anticipatory embracing of tomorrow’s science. Full disclosure this was tasted while walking the Hidden Bench chardonnay vineyards with a traditional method sparkling wine in hand first disgorged in the summer of 2019, when the yeasts were removed and the bottle was topped with the same wine. This tasting featured a January 2021 disgorgement and the term “Brut Nature Zero Dosage used when no sugar is added to the finished wine, which provides the most authentic expression of (the Hidden Bench) terroir.” Truth and synchronicity, grace, striking engagement, pure citrus and pleasure. Who could not anticipate and wait on subsequent vintages of this wine? The best is yet to come. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Brut Nature Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($100.00)

Comes across a bit cloudy, at least as compared to the B de B with thanks to the natural, lees left intact style. The citrus component is so pronounced, as is the taut, direct, lean and intense manifold destiny of what is truly a singular Sparkling wine. That being a living, breathing, inhaling and exhaling wine, slowly releasing proteins, acids and realizing its B de B Nature dream. Just amazing what lees can do for sparkling wine.  Last tasted July 2021

Released side by each with the Stratus Blanc de Blanc 2013 and while vintage and grape are the same, the similarities almost seemingly, ostensibly and allegedly end there. Yes in fact this 100 per cent chardonnay is a child of the most excellent varietal vintage and like the B de B spent six years on the lees. Comparisons cast aside it is the very fact that because much of the lees were transferred to bottle by a minimalist’s disgorging that this cloudy bubble with a Canadian artist’s series set of labels can’t help but elicit another memory. The Lilies of Monet and their clouds represent neither the horizon, nor the top or the bottom. Nor does a bottle of this Zéro Dosage Brut. The elements of water, air, sky and earth become intertwined in a composition without perspective, or so it goes in this hazy, opaque and dry as the desert sparkling wine. So many layers of lemon can be peeled, juiced and scraped away. If a Stratus wine could be a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma then here it is. The texture here is palpable and the intrigue factor surely high, so it should be imagined that longevity will be this wine’s calling card. It’s more austere than the Blanc de Blanc but I think in fact it will. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($75.00)

One gram of dosage, disgorged in January 2020. Nearly six years on the lees based on the first R & D trials done in 2006 and 2007. High level autolytic entity, a toasted affair and an idea long time coming for the Stratus team. Fine tonic and bitters. With 15 minutes of air the blooming happens, floral, expressive and complex. This wine has really developed more layers, emotions and complexity.  Last tasted July 2021

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Vineyards “Field Blend” Ancestral 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($35.00)

The inaugural Stratus commercially labelled release is what winemaker Dean Stoyka refers to as “in the mindset of monks.” A field blend of sémillon, chardonnay, riesling and viognier. Pressed all together, fermented dry and then re-fermented in the bottle with no sugar added. Dry enough, or so it seems, non-disgorged, under crown cap and so very fruity. Floral, allspice and spiciness overtop apricot, pear and black walnuts conceptually turning into Vin de Noix or Nocino. A natural testament to assemblage and a great use of varieties without a home. 100 cases produced. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Spark Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Actually quite shocked I’ve never tasted this wine before, a Spark about which winemaker Paul Pender exults by saying “2013 is my favourite vintage for all our sparklings.” Traditional method, pinot noir from Heather Laundry’s double L vineyard and a fizz that fits and sparks. Gingered and toasty, crunchy, wave cresting and fulsome by six years on the lees. The dosage was five to six g/L, in that Pender sweet spot all around, just right, so well and good. A little romanticism goes a long way where science is concerned, especially in this medium and in Spark Blanc De Noirs 2013 one is simply good for the other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Estate Vineyard Spark 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasted side by side with the 2013 Blanc de Noirs, making for a striking if surprisingly antithetical contrasting contract with this Blanc de Blancs. Aged three years on the lees and finished with the same 5-6 g/L of dosage yet here so upfront, centred and personal. More immediate richness than what pinot seems to do from Laundry Vineyard and so even in sparkling it is David’s Block and chardonnay that gift quicker satisfaction. Likely vintage driven (again, even in sparkling), very pear and shortbread, a savoury dessert of a sparkling wine. Like olive oil cake, all about the simple pleasures. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($55.00)

The dry as the desert Brut nature initiates with a yeasty faradism of excitement from what strikes as a minimum four to five years spent sitting on those fascinating lees. While the wine does not exactly smoulder with a toasty salutation that is no matter because textural acidity and blooming aromatics also arrive to an applause of immediate gratification. There is an exceptional level of “croccante” satisfaction that parlays that “texture” into a lasting display of bits and bites. The make up is 50 per cent chardonnay and (45) pinot noir with (5) pinot meunier and 2014 being the primary vintage source, though there is some 2013 involved. Zero dosage, top tier, notch and drop. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Rosé Limestone Vineyard 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.95)

Tawse began crafting Rosé from (Vinemount Ridge) Quarry Road Vineyard fruit in 2017 and now here they come with Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir. From Limestone Vineyard this represents a heads and tails Rosé, meaning 40 per cent is used for Spark traditional method bubbles and the bookends is destined for this salty, straight-shooting and crisp-freckled single-vineyard blush. Double-redheaded wow! Grape, place and style all on side for so many good reasons. 1000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($27.15)

Not to be confused with the Lowrey Vineyard on St. David’s Bench and a best varietal vintage for Paul Pender. Far from being a “Miller-Lite or Corona” pinot gris, instead creamy, fulsome, well-versed and elastic. The furthest away from metallic and/or turbid, low on phenols, no bitters, nor tonics neither.  Last tasted July 2021

Fresh and while this young is full of its original fruit, which is the biggest plus for pinot gris because dry varietal wines have a hard time after enough time has passed on by. Sulphur is not really an issue so this delivers the varietal and stylistic goods with fruit at the lead. Good acids, persistence and balance. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted October 2020

Tawse Winery Carly’s Block Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A sleeper vintage, not necessarily exacting out of the blocks, not heavy cropped, middle of the road in so many respects. If I tasted this before memory fails to draw any retrospective conclusions) but Carly’s ’15 has already turned towards the petrol sun, “let the shadows fall behind you, don’t look back, just carry on.” This perhaps began more than a year or two ago and today acts Rihanna outspokenly so. Lime and almost cordial by now, warm and friendly as a riesling liqueur. Quite stable, animated, holding its patterning, likely to do so for an additional three or fours years. Drink before it returns home. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Unlike the Carly’s ’15 (tasted at the same time) this Limestone ’12 has not moved forward with any vehement haste. The lack of advancing towards petrol is curious but the softening is surely comforting. Still resplendent with a particular 2012 meets Twenty Mile Bench acidity, now oscillating while integrating with waning fruit. Drinking beautifully.  Last tasted July 2021

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity oft linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric.  Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Aromatiq! Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling, layered atop one another, full on hilt in spice, a hit of gingerbread, light in talc and salve. Good-natured and textured when well chilled, oxidative for sure, drinkable, pleasurable, done in one puncheon. Simple really. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Chardonnay Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster chardonnay, more spirited than the Aromatiq!, crunchy even, definitely with more spice and plenty of bite. More tannin too, structurally sound to allow more secondary character and time spent developing cooler, more energetic waves of spirit. Wild ride yet just sound and subtle enough to attract the right kind of attention. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95)

The inaugural gamay release from Hidden Bench is eight years in the planning and making, from 2013 through planting in 2017 and with third leaf fruit for this game changing 2019. That is because the grape and the maker were made for each other so the question begs, what took so long to take the plunge? No matter because such an auspicious start can never come too late. A wine of native yeasts, a properly prolonged, 24-day maceration, an eighth of new wood and the Lincoln Lakeshore being the ideal appellation for what wants and surely needs. More than impressive for such young vine fruit, of a light smoulder lending an essence of jasmine and by argan to red, red fruit, tightly winding acids and such gamay crunch, the likes of which are attributed to expectation, hopes and dreams. When the vineyard grows up there will be further anticipations, exegeses further afield to include cru and reserve concepts. That is a countable fact based on current evidence and credible speculation.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted April and July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Naturally refined, welcoming, open-knit and my oh my, juicy as a basket of Niagara plums and peaches blended into rooibos kombucha. Rachis, “main axis or shaft, a stem of a plant, bearing flower stalks at short intervals.” Derma, or Dermis, “the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin.” In R & D the inner workings of gamay are accessed at the natural axis between light to fruity and joyful to dark, before sous serious and after vide structured. Middle ground, believable and exhibiting intrinsic purity. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Noir Tintern Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($50.15)

This July 2021 tasting is my first for Pinot Noir Tintern 2013 in bottle but I did run through two different barrels with Paul Pender back in March of 2014. The vines were only three years old at the time, on a site (next door to John Howard) Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” From the Vosges medium toast the wine was already showing colour, freshness and drive. From the Vosges, medium plus toast it was a bit reductive, with more tannin and more sappy wood. This look back reveals not a vintage of varietal exhilaration but a malic one with credit due the high levels of potassium in the soil. A cherry generosity a la Central Otago by way of the Vinemount Ridge. Almost a volcanic presence, but not and yes a pinot from young vines come about as a result of winemaking. Up front, in motion, drinking really well. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Redstone Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($49.15)

Another high-toned pinot noir from an inverted vintage, in cherry spirit, a hit of fennel and enough lingering energy while there is a meld and morph towards darker black fruit. Broad shouldered, now tannic, settling in as a pretty big wine.  Last tasted July 2021

As for Cherry Avenue the twain is met, somewhere between Tintern and Quarry, in the middle of vintage and classic Tawse styling. Both firm and bright, the fruit a cherry but a darkening black one and then the grip of place though well within vintage reason. Less structured than Quarry but not as hematic and brooding as Tintern. Solid pinot noir. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted June 2020

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

How remarkably fresh, inviting, enticing and that is just the aromatic front. Effusive, the greater good of burgeoning, smelling like Bourgeuil in uncanny resemblance. Nothing leafy here, just the smell of youth, post-adolescence and from a notably warm vintage. A freshness that just may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come from 2021. Heat and water, humidity and rain, yet no vine stress nor disease pressure neither. A product of great agriculture and an example of 2010’s longevity. “On the riper side but not overly ripe,” tells Paul Pender with a pragmatically raised brow. Indeed. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Whole-souled, benevolent and keyed up though that’s the vineyard, persistent and in perpetuity. Red to charcoal fruit, quite firm and tannic for the Tawse-varietal relationship and in that sense mostly related to vintage. Was not picked until November 15th and stayed in barrel for 18 months. Not showy really, not the ripest vintage after all but surely one to promote variegation, fruit/acid layers and particularities. Wait long enough (as in seven-plus years) and these things become complexities. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

50 California blasts from the past

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

As each calendar year counts down I set out on a long December inward journey, sifting through thousands of tasting notes, looking for reminders to trigger emotion. The purpose is a honing, a zeroing in process, first to create a shortlist and then a numbered final register to match the century’s yearly suffix. The latest was Godello’s Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020. A bit painstaking to agglomerate while simultaneously offering a grouping of days in recollection of the year’s finest sips though rumination over the previous 365. On this the first of March 2021 there is a looming and gloaming of a particular sort, forced upon us by circumstance as the auspicious anniversary approaches. Thus it seems like a reasonably credible idea to act upon the concept of creating more top lists, or rather further “gathered reminiscences,” blasts from the past. These are 50 California wines tasted years ago, assessments that up until now remained raw and unfinished, just now committed to public record.

Carneros, Napa Valley

Chardonnay

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard 2014, Mendocino County

A vineyard of altitude and cool seven miles from the ocean at 1200 ft with fruit also sold to Kosta Browne. Her for banana, lemon and intense dry extract. Crisp as possible, freshness, balance, length, carries it all. No butter, no oil, no gratuitous aromas or flavours. Exceptional. Donald Patz has now retired having sold to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Buy it up. May never be this exceptional again. Wild ferment, full malolactic, 70 per cent new French wood. $60-70 US. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley

In the zone, reduction blowing off to the edges of the compound. The liberally spread butter fully absorbed, the wood subsidy subsided, now all laid out in retrospect. Ripeness from that beautiful vintage has settled into a cool, lemon curd tart and nectarous nectarine delectation. All tolled the cumulative is an effect of elegance, though in this case not necessarily richesse. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Kutch Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Santa Mateo County, really reductive, very mineral, the most thus far in a line-up of 13 California chardonnays , from what is surely the coolest spot from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Great rocks, stones and bones. Yes bones, by karst and the sea air reaching out to make this seriously cool. The great mountain tang and natural acidity, intense, snappy, snapping back and long. From Jamie Kutch, “Burgundian to a fault,” this being his first effort with chardonnay. An “abandoned” chardonnay vineyard, 12 per cent abv, pH to give you lemon juice but when you get lemons you know just what to do. $40 US. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016

Keller Estate Chardonnay Oro De Plata 2014, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County

This makes the previous wine (RS) seem oxidative. Reductive is at the fore for the Keller, freshness locked in, really wound on the coastal spindle, intense fruit and even more so, acidity, circular, reeling, wild. A Petaluma Gap leader to be sure, chardonnay of heritage with a winemaking tie to Hansell. No malolactic and all neutral oak. This is so very Chablis, Côte de Lechet and so, wow. $35 US, 800 cases. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Benovia Chardonnay Fort Ross Seaview 2014, Sonoma County

A coastal vineyard (and fruit that is also employed by Flowers) and many will rank this as the coolest spot in California for growing grapes. Mike Sullivan is the winemaker, with fruit that used to go to Marquesan. This done in a richer, expressive, layered style. Some tropical notes, deeply hued, mango, nectarine, creamsicle. Fresh, tart depth, Champagne like with toast and brioche. Luscious custard, 40 per cent new wood, 400 cases made. $55-60 US. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Melville Verna’s Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Barbara County

Both rich and really reductive, deeply hued, fully sun-worshipped and deftly but intently extracted fruit. A bite into a barrel, a Mutsu apple and the inside of a platinum pipe. Big, unabashed style with never ending mineral, tart, ripping and wisely no real malolactic. Plenty of lees though and the oldest of the oak. It’s all fruit, lemon curd and so dessert-like chardonnay but of savour and spicy sapidity. Saline finish. $40-50 US. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Migration Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

The richest and most “old-school” California of the lucky 13 tasting, fruit orchard apple and pear albeit folded and blended through ripe and creamy custard. Or at least the renderings thereof. Likely able to attribute that opaque, cloudy, clotted cream sensation from the fog injection. $40-45 US. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Presqu’ile Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County

Nice reserve on this nose, teasing some tropical fruit but keeping it calm, cool and collected. The calcareous aromas are quite fine, delineated like a chalky streak though less so on the palate follow through. Quite tart and nicely dry extract turn to creamy texture but not so thick in fluidity. Like barrel fermented chenin blanc so a unique expression. Listed at 13.9 abv, low pH, neutral oak and stainless, half and half. Matt Murphy is winemaker and co-owner. $35-40 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley

Some reduction and quite a corpulent, sweet herbology, genovese basil, pine nut and quality olive oil. Pesto of herb, glade, lemon and fine acidity. Always perfectly Russian River Valley, with a warm steal but ultimately cool. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted August 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley

Really showing some age from not the top of the top vintage, holding up but in display of its new barrels, nose oxidized and flavours still buoyed by acidity. So the corrective structure seems out of balance now while the wine marches on. Musty and microbial at this point with a fading sweetness on the finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted August 2016

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Beringer Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley

Continues along the Beringer scaling line of wood retreat, cool climate clarity and as a result a wider commercial appeal. Who would have predicted the success but it’s really working. There would never be a mistaking and the shining is always in play but the admiral work and practicum really does what is base, necessary and appreciated. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley Of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

A greener understanding, like the smell of algae on rock in a pretty little creek. Carries some unction and creamy sherbet texture on the palate. Listed at 13.7 abv, toasty by 40 per cent new french oak, full malolactic. It leans delicious but also verdant and commercial. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast

Classic taut and reductive chardonnay with Petaluma Wine Gap scream, in suffragette of creamy, rich fruit. Early harvest, compressed vintage. The fruit is caught in the wine’s vacuum, a wine tunnel creating this centrifuge of richness and acidity. Commercial, composed and so very effective. $25 US Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2016

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

A Wagner Family of Wines property, a fine restraint and a shine to cooler thoughts come from this highland chardonnay, with more than enough orchard pressed fruit to fill a trough for the quiet and the masses. Really ramps up and fleshes on the palate with some wild biters late. Good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2015, Central Coast

San Luis Obispo County, ocean proximate, cool spot, from the oldest producer in Edna Valley. Nicely lean, briny, saline, good acidity. Add some fish or seafood flesh and it will sing. Fresh and crisp. $18 US. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Menage A Trois Gold Chardonnay 2015

From the Trinchero Family Estates stable, classic buttery rich and slightly toasty broad California style. Barrel rendered middle road taken, wax polish, enamel-oleaginous spray. Intensely inward and uni-dimensional for commercial lobster fishing, crack a shell and pour into red plastic cup enjoyment. You know what’s it’s good for. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Scheid Chardonnay Escolle Road Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

The aromatics here are off the charts in the 13 strong grouping of this tasting. Waxy, caramel, smoky, flinty, butterscotch in gobs. Really odd conclusive nose and even stranger to taste, with a pencil lead and rubber tipped pencil flavour that reminds of childhood class boredom chewing mistakes. Inoculated, 7 per cent new oak, some of it “European.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Other White

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

Ripe and creamy aromas take this sauvignon blanc into fresh and exotic territory but it’s one of those wines that really improves on the palate, carrying weighty and energy together, expanding and elevating the status in so many ways. A gregarious and resourceful sauvignon blanc with more upside than many peers. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

The high stirred SS, SB style, from high and dry extract effect, fine acidity and faux sugary spell. Full fleshy mouthfeel and terrific 2015 tang. Lays out the green carpet for the vintage, the varietal and what’s to come. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, California

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, which strikes as pinot grigio in style, dry extract to aromatic sweetness, warm and inviting. Tart and citrus intense, very appealing commercial style and a buttery finish which tells some barrel is involved. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Treana Blanc 2015, Central Coast

A blend of 45 each marsanne and roussanne plus viognier, a bit of aromatic reserve, quite rich and dense on the palate. Flavours of very ripe pear and even riper apple. A bit into the sauce and the purée. Could use a more purposed shot of acidity and courage. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon

Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

As only Heitz can do this provides the combination of elegance and structure and what may just be the finest tannins available from Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon. That this is so understated speaks volumes about the essence and the incredulity of a Martha’s and with the dry backdrop of a perfect Napa growing season this clambers through its reps with effortless ease, muscular tension and satisfying performance. More ballerina than gymnast and certainly more statesman than warrior. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley

Continues the thread of dry, dusty, beautifully savoury and fruit fleshy cabernet sauvignon from the Groth team. It’s like biting into that perfectly ripe and juicy plum, in texture, not sweetness or even specific to the fruit, but that texture, its unmistakeable. Seamless, tender, age worthy and so friendly (but at the same time serious) cabernet sauvignon. Grothiness refined and defined. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2016

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

A different world here, very floral, historic site with vines that go back as far as 1972, organic since the mid-1980’s. With a slice of reduction to grant forward structure where candied roses will always be there. Classic 1990’s Napa style, rich and full but focused, pure and detailed. Complex, 20 months in French wood, 60 per cent new, 88 per cent cabernet sauvignon 88 plus (8) cabernet franc and some petit verdot. The potential is great. This will become picture perfect. $185 US. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The combination of fruit (could it be any riper or improved upon), acumen and no expense spared makes this the cabernet sauvignon of great esteem in that echelon where few reside. Berries in many forms; fresh, puréed and in clafouti are fully engaged. What will this not do for you, for 20 years and more? Everything. The most refined and sophisticated such a wine can be. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted April 2016

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley

From Schramsberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley aromatic beauty, the most floral of any on this table and in so many ways the most Bordelais, or perhaps more specifically Margaux with such perfume only a scant few know or understand. So pretty and powerful, lovely, structured and intense. This will age for two decades easily and tasting this really puts it all into perspective. The palate brings more of the divine, silky, fleshy and with some spicy bite and chew. Really fine. Really, really fine. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted May 2016

 

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Oakville valley floor Napa fruit gravelly soil, from Rosemary Cakebread. First wine in this haute line-up to amalgamate the blue, red and black fruit, with some volcanic aromatics. Acidity works in and all around and so this has it all going on with a chocolate finish more refined. Mainly (75 per cent cabernet sauvignon plus (25) cabernet franc, suave from blueberry to red currant to black berry. The corporeal tone is elegant and muscular. Has some real elegance and is is simply excellent. 249 cases. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted September 2016

Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Deep, low, bench land gravelly soils, extended maceration, rich concentrated depth, amazingly void of chalk and grain though the tannin is intense. Very refined, spicy and great acidity. It’s all in napa, all in from Josh. Wow, so long. $157 US. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, Unfiltered

From 1990 planted hillside, bench site vineyards, gravelly with good drainage, young but structured, just east of the Silverado Trail. Rich, black fruit, chalky, fine-grained and very sweet tannin. All natural yeasts, 22 months in 65 per cent new oak. All in but because the fruit is so rich and pure there is balance. Rich, spicy and focused, tempered chocolate finish, a prime example of today’s Bordelais in the retro-modern world. $156 US. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Silverado Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Also high-toned but the level of serious, depth and bad-ass intent is on the table. From steep shale soils, there is a mountain herb aroma that is distinct, ahead of the chocolate curve,. All in 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 45 per cent new wood, heat factor notably reduced. There is a cool-menthol note but the flavour is a change of pace, into cool, thin mountain air and the tannins are a beast. Tart and grainy finish. Needs five to seven years to integrate. Exceptional wine. $150 US. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Y Rousseau Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Yannick’s work, in reduction and Mount Veeder depth. Further south with fog-maritime coverage so here winemaking is in, Bordelais for sure, reminds of St. Éstephe. Dark, pitchy, cimmerian, with a steep remoteness about it. Volcanic, serious at 2000 ft, so great acidity that just seems natural and raging. Candied flowers and this is just simply intense, gorgeous and alone. Eastern exposure, naturally fermented, 18 months in 75 per cent in new oak. The structure here is second to none with focus, determination and very aggressive tannins. Quite hot on the finish being the only detractor. 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Daou Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Soul Of A Lion 2013, Paso Robles

Carries a cool, Mediterranean savour on the nose, with spirit, vitality and a black olive tapenade. Seamless, ripe in acidity and intensely naked but never wavering from its energy. This is a massively structured wine and no doubt will last 25 years but touched anytime in the first 10 will require hours of aeration and a more than obvious, double-digit ounce weighed, protein fleshy sidekick. It may be big and high octane on the nose, carry a truck load of architectural bones on its corpulent frame but it never loses sight of finesse and dare it be said, elegance. Well, maybe not elegance but it is charming, handsome and fine, even in the face of massive extraction. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted April 2016

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Going deeper and darker on the floor, ripe and tart black raspberries, dusty Rutherford fruit, 87 cabernet with a long splash of petit verdot, with some merlot. Aged in 100 per cent American oak (30 new). Good valley floor fruit absorption, some exotic black and white fruit, pod and kernel. Acidity is low profile, tannin slightly more but this is quite easy to get at for a Honig. A wine of good volatility. $78 US. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

High Mediterranean-savoury component, in black olive and caper volatility. So much ripe but tang-tart-sour raspberry, a product of high sun hours at elevation with the need for canopy management. Old vines, erosion hills, fog-influence, history and repetition. Very savoury and another wine with its very own kind of funk. Oak and spice with grainy tannins all over the finish. Wild, disparate and complex wine. A bit early to get to know and then it carries a bit of an advanced character or a natural cure to it that may always be there as it ages over a good long period of time. $175 US. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

Valley floor fruit where healthy ground cover leads for major florals and minor Mediterranean scents, namely black olive. Gravelly, Oak Knoll natural acidity giving rise to the AVA nature, that ripe and round acidity for a cool feel. Aridity, pinch of salinity, rises and lingers. Minor pitches from malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Overall epitome of red fruit. Better value than most. $60 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Rocca Family Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley

Single vineyard on a 21-acre farm, high toned, dark fruit from a warm bench land site, alluvial soil, organic. Sees 20 months in 75 per cent French oak and in this case it is necessary because the fruit and the acidity are ravers and ragers. Such a cooling back side, minty, chocolate mint, rubbed between the fingers, yes, like malbec. Oak is huge. $108 US. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

More of a proprietary red, 75 cabernet with some merlot and a minor amount of cabernet franc, plus malbec and petit verdot. More acetic tendency, tart and direct, even stark at first. High octane over bullish concentration, not so subtle, aromatically closed but the acidity and the overall structure is gritty. This needs time to settle, for the composed acidity to get together and layer into the fruit. The finish while hot is more composed. There is some dried fruit advanced character. Multifarious, both by varietal and picking times, or so it would seem. $95 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Farella Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The tones are on the rise, up in the air, quite the herb influence, whiff of pipe tobacco, seems like a higher percent of malbec and/or petit verdot. From the most recently designated AVA, volcanic meets foxy, dried fruit with spice, fig, cherry, apricot, peach and plum. Chewy dried fruit, you need to work a while (it’s actually 100 per cent cabernet) some grainy, chalky tannin and really good length. New oak is well-integrated. Not as cultured and understood in fact perhaps a bit disjointed but so much potential and expectation runs high for what will come next. Oak is an imbalance factor. Simple finish. $65 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Sara d’Amato, ROM September 2016

Pinot Noir

Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros

The fullest of fruit, with spice and San Pablo Bay influenced tension. The combination of ripe and ripping, rich and ricocheting. Has found the right place. Typically atypical for Carneros or rather as Carneros within a Napa to Sonoma connectivity. Holds an ability to age like few varietal sistren or brethren in either AVA. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Longoria Wines Pinot Noir Lovely Rita 2015, Sta. Rita Hills

“Nothing can come between us.” A wine with a song in its title, offering up the lowest hanging fruit and ready for lyrical association. Fine and elegant pinot fruit, with slender, long fingers and legs, plenty of confidence and so perfectly Sta. Rita Hills representative of place. Restrained, elegant, beautiful and ethereal. That’s a really fine pinot noir with a shot of garrigue. Drink early, If for no other reason that there is no way to resist temptation. Drink 202017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County

Now under the ownership of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates, this is one of Donald Patz’s swan songs, a wine that has swept into a new price stratosphere, 50 per cent increase in the last what seems like five years (but is probably more like ten). Sweet pinot fruit in such a refined, elegant and classically secure Sonoma Coast style, with altitude, diurnal temperature changes and the maritime air all influencing the style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2013, Doña Margarita Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Marimar Estate’s Mas Cavalis 2013 pinot noir shows great tension as always, acts nominally rustic and engaging. A turnkey pinot noir, expertly ripe and accented with sweet if spicy oak, tart but never lactic. Just terrific varietal wine noting vineyard and AVA with alternating slash double entendre distinction. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Reata Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

From out of the Santa Lucia Highlands and a property owned by Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. Rich and velvety, slightly spicy but certainly spiced, very consumer friendly at the higher end of the scale, interesting in that it hits all the right notes and lingers nicely but it’s almost too vivid and appealing. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Benovia Pinot Noir Cohn 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Sweet tension, red berry emotion, tar and roses, not as intense as perhaps expected. Great example however of Russian River Valley fruit, though low acidity, easy to like, hard to keep around. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Other Red

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2013, Sonoma County

Full on deep, dark, arid and ranging wide trodding a silk road. Extensively far reaching red blend and with great formidable tannin and structure so perhaps the best of its ilk in many a moon. Top quality from Margo Van Staaveren through the looking glass of vivid transparency and vibrancy. Best I’ve tasted. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2016

Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

Duckhorn’s Three Palms ranks amongst the finest in Napa merlot and from 2012 I could paint my plate with this reduction. Thick, beautifully chocolatey and yet chalky, tart, angled and nearly bradding. It could pass for Masseto. Really Italianate and intense. So much chocolate and spice, clove, nutmeg, purple flowers. Not sure just anyone can handle its vivid truth but it’s a very intense and stylish merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Twomey Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

From Silver Oak Cellars, just now coming into its window with the formidable barrel continuing its slow melt, now in a calm and gelid stage. Coconut and plum combine and then there is this chocolate smooth consistency and always the dusty feel of merlot. Still pulsing with energy but this is such a full on expression. All chocolate and espresso on the finish. So much oak. Silver oak. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery Syrah 2012, Sierra Foothills

From the Sierra Foothills, this is deep mahogany red pitchy, meaty and cured syrah, full aromatic fleshy and mouth coating/filling with terrific silky addendum. A seamless syrah from start to finish. Turns into something firm (feels like granite) and even porcine at the finish. There’s a lot of fun complexity and ever-changing personality, from its roots to the Rhône and back again. Fascinating. approx. $40 CAN. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2013, Contra Costa County

Cline’s Big Break zinfandel 2013 is rich, brambly and so full of dark berry fruit, though also a bit of oxidation. Chalky, lactic, not overtly tart and I like the fennel, tar and roses aspect. Complex and really big. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

godello

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Sonoma County: Diverse by nature plus California, Italy and others in VINTAGES Oct 27th

Taste of Sonoma – Diverse by Nature

Related – WineAlign Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Preview – Oct 27th, 2018

In last week’s preview covering the October 27th release it was John who wrote about the “Premium Parade.” John has reminded us all, as did David in his previous report for October 13th that VINTAGES likes to roll out the big guns in the two months leading up to the holiday season. What a shocker. I’m pleased to follow-up on the theme with more than a few overflowing handfuls of high-end wines that settle with great weight and density into a more than similar ilk.

It’s more than just a late October release that delivers gifts of such hedonistic and full character flavour. The Sonoma County Vintners came through town just last week with armfuls of the good stuff. There was a trade and media walk-around tasting in the afternoon of the 16th followed by a VINTAGES supported consumer affair in the evening. Thirty-three producers showcased 75 wines and it is safe to say that Sonoma knows how to put on a show. What piqued my interest the most was a Masterclass/Tutored Tasting titled “Diverse by Nature” and hosted by none other than WineAlign’s John Szabo. My notes on the wines poured are featured just below. All of the 75 wines continue to be available for purchase on the VINTAGES Shop Online site.

The VINTAGES opinion is one that states “Sonoma County is predominantly family farmers who produce some of the world’s best grapes and wine and have done so for generations. It’s also the first wine region in the US to commit to becoming 100% sustainable by 2019.” They noted that the event features “a bounty of stellar Pinot Noirs, full-bodied Cabernets, stylish Chardonnays and spicy Zinfandels – most with 90+ scores.” This is nothing but truth. I scored all 10 wines I tasted at the Sonoma seminar at 90-plus.

Greg MacDonald, VINTAGES Category Manager, New World Wines, North America (excluding Ontario) & South Africa, explains where Sonoma stands in the current pantheon of California wines. “I would agree that many top wines from Sonoma can stand toe-to-toe with their Napa counterparts on quality and while many offer relative value, there are now iconic wines from Sonoma that can and do command similar top-tier price points. What Sonoma can still offer that Napa can’t anymore (for the most part), is wines at more approachable price points for everyday consumers – the sheer size of Sonoma County makes this possible.  This means it’s a win for both collectors and consumers. I don’t consider Sonoma an emerging region for California as a buyer – it’s arrived.”

John Szabo M.S.

So what is so special about Sonoma County? First look at its size. With approximately 75,000 planted acres only Bordeaux is bigger (much bigger) and Sonoma easily outgrows Napa Valley, New Zealand, Bourgogne and the Okanagan Valley. Nearly 500 wineries grow a multitude of varieties but there is some definitive concentration and specialization. In terms of hectares chardonnay is king, at 6,500 while pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon follow closely at roughly 5,400 each. The next four most planted grape varieties are zinfandel, merlot, sauvignon blanc and syrah.

Five distinct soils make up the multifarious terroir of Sonoma; Francisco Complex covers nearly half of the west and northern territories. Then we find Salinia, Glen Ellen Formation, Sonoma Volcanics and Wilson Grove Formation. The coolest spots and perfect for chardonnay are Green Valley and Carneros while it is the pinot noir appellations of Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley that bridge the gap to a moderate climate. In that mid-temperature category we see the merlot high ground of Chalk Hill and Bennet Valley.

Both chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon work well in the moderate to quite warm spots of Sonoma Mountain and Sonoma Valley. Slightly warmer are the zinfandel hot spots of Rockpile and Dry Creek Valley. The warmest areas that are best suited to cabernet sauvignon are Alexander Valley, Fountaingrove, Knights Valley and Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Park. Let us not forget the rest of the Sonoma County AVAs, Moon Mountain, Northern Sonoma and Petaluma Gap.

Most important these days is what’s found inside and within these distinct regional territories. In Sonoma they like to call them “neighbourhoods,” micro-climates like Middle Ranch and Laguna Ridge in the Russian River Valley. These are akin to the Villages of Bourgogne so consumers can now begin to seek out varietal specificities with which to align from these hoods.

These fantastic humans helped to bring the excellence of @sonomacountyvintners to Toronto today. And it was great ~ @california.wines #sonomacounty #sonoma #sonomavalley #alexandervalley

Don’t look for a singular regional-varietal character, but rather look at the towns, a.k.a in that Bourgogne sense of the ideal, the Villages. Look back to 1857, to the story of the Buena Vista Count, collector of European grapevines (mainly in Vienna) brought back to California. This got everything started, including the Croatian variety zinfandel which at the time was being cultivated as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Look at the transfer from bulk to premium wine in the 1970s and the infamous moment at the Judgement of Paris when Chateau Montelena was the shocking victorious wine.

John mentioned last week that the main VINTAGES theme for October 27th is in fact Italy and not California and so David and I offer up some critics’ love for the great wines of that vast producing country. We take you to Umbria, Veneto, Toscana (including Chianti Classico) and Piemonte for some stellar choices. We wrap up the selections with some miscellaneous wines from around the globe, including some homegrown picks just a jog down the QEW and onto the Niagara Peninsula.

Sonoma Chardonnay

Sonoma Picks

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, California (VINTAGES, $79.95, WineAlign)

From the confluence of three appellations, coast, valley and mountain, not to mention a combination of rock and soil in ratios that as assets determine influence. Buttery and if aromas were textured this would be viscous, licked up from the thickness of fog filling in the mid-palate. Notable is that here the change in Sonoma styles over the past decade is arriving at this gate of transparency. Sharper now and gummed by less glück is the simplest way to sum it all up. Expressive in the ways of varietal and place is the bigger picture summarized. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   threestickswines  halpernwine  @ThreeSticksWine  @HalpernWine  @threestickswines  @halpernwine

Patz & Hall Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, California (VINTAGES, $65.00, WineAlign)

Much more direct, sharp, pinpointed and poignant for modern day chardonnay, with ripe orchard park flavours, high acidity and great internalized impression. Five vineyards get together in this perfectly tidy house conglomerate and added up the stylistic is expressly P & H. From many famous Sonoma vineyards sometimes, often but not always inclusive of Sanchietti, Parmalee Hill, Pleasant Hill, Gap’s Crown, Dutton Ranch and Durell. A necessary parts when integrated are counted as contributors to the whole. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2018   patzhall  philippedandurandwines  @PatzHall  @Dandurandwines  @PatzHall  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, California (VINTAGES, $57.99, WineAlign)

Wild ferment and thrown in to bottle, literally. From Goldridge, those parochial, sought after soils, composed by 70 per cent Martinelli Charles Ranch and (30) Platt Vineyard. Rich without weight, texture without acting overly creamy. A beautifully balanced wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2018   rameywinecellars  liffordgram  @RameyWineCellar  @LiffordON  @RameyWineCellars  @liffordwineandspirits

Siduri Pinot Noir Parsons Vineyard 2015, Russian River Valley, California (VINTAGES, $70.00, WineAlign)

Just west of the winery is the flat topography characterized by compact clay soils of Parsons’ Vineyard on the Santa Rosa Plain. The 2015 pinot noir is one of high energy ripe fruit but also beautiful acids. This is the ripe pinot noir we’ve come to know from the last 20 years and occupying a chair at the hyperbole of thought and execution. Such a guarantee of what to expect from the Russian River Valley. Strawberry jam, cola and the artfully managed barrel dodger. Broad and velvety. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   siduriwines  halpernwine  @SiduriWines  @HalpernWine  @halpernwine  @Siduriwines  @halpernwine

Chalk Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley, California (VINTAGES, $80.00, WineAlign)

Broad, even riper, of real lush texture and a bit ferric. Tart, tight, intense with at the edge evolution, development and ripeness. This is the trimmer set to the finest setting, allowing some room for growth but also leaving behind a stylish, nearly clean to the skin style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   chalkhillestate  liffordgram  @ChalkHillEstate  @LiffordON  @chalkhillestate  @liffordwineandspirits

Deloach Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2014, Russian River Valley, California (VINTAGES, $70.00, WineAlign)

The organically and biodynamically farmed Olivet Ranch Vineyard estate block has been owned by Boisset Family Estates since 2003. In 2014 this is bigger, fuller, taller, riper and certainly imbued with more wood influence. This from the J.C. Boisset stable is almost a throwback to innocent and precocious times. While the acidity in this vintage carries the dark fruit to terrific heights, it really is impressive how this works the glass and the room. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2018   deloachvineyards  jc_boisset  jcb_collection  liffordgram  @DeLoachVineyard  @JC_Boisset  @LiffordON  @deloachvineyards  @BoissetCollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2015, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $55.00, WineAlign)

Shows an extreme ripeness of being reaching to the breach and teetering on the edge while so successfully camping there. Dark fruit, nearly dusty and so filled in. Ripe, figgy and raisined with managed acidity to keep things in swimming balance. Berries of varying ripeness on old vines make for the great multi-juxtaposed connections. The 22 per cent petite sirah increases the curiosity, that plus three types of oak. So much going on and a good vintage for this OV zin. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted October 2018   drycreekvineyard  wineloversca  @DryCreekVnyd  @WineLoversCA  @drycreekvineyard  @WineLoversCA

Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $55.00, WineAlign)

From 1972 planted vines on Cortina soil and yet curiously not referred to as old vines. The high-toned dark fruit does in fact present a curious juxtaposition, ripe and hematic but also savoury, dusty and mineral. This is just around the corner from entering into the perfect window of its life, integrated and in delivery of its gravelly-loam origins. Only identifiable as Seghesio and always on point. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted October 2018   seghesio  pellerwines  @seghesio  @APImportAgency  @seghesio  Andrew Peller Import Agency

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $118.95, WineAlign)

Take some time to allow Silver Oak’s cabernet to settle in and you might just smile a bit more. Here we are at that point, certainly glued to a house style, big in barrel with American influence and set up with Daniel Baron’s signature passed on through Nate Weis, most recent accomplice as Director of Winemaking. Pencil shavings and early harvested balance plus some wood waiting out of that wood means you are given some Alexander Valley grace at this stage of fine tannin development. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted October 2018   silveroakcellars  halpernwine  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine @SilverOakCellars  @halpernwine

Rodney Strong Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rockaway Single Vineyard 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California (VINTAGES, $100.00, WineAlign)

This is the “lay down in the third bed and it was just right” Rodney Strong cabernet sauvignon from half new French barrel and nicely integrated at this point. Here the darkness of fruit and tighter if rounder structure comes from mountain fruit. Dusty dark black with briny Mediterranean accents leads this down a spice route road. In a delicious spot right now with a finishing bite of very dark, high cocoa content chocolate. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018   rsvineyards  markanthonyon  @rsvineyards  @MarkAnthonyWine  @Rodney.Strong.Vineyards  @MarkAnthonyWine

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES Oct 27th

California Picks

Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2016, Contra Costa County, Central Coast, California ($24.95)

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California ($39.95)

Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, California ($49.95)

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, California ($74.95)

Italian Picks

Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2016, Vento, Italy ($18.95)

Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, IGT Toscana, Italy ($28.95)

Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($47.95)

Castello Della Sala Cervaro Della Sala 2016, Umbria, Italy ($68.95)

Palazzo Brunello di Montalcino 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($69.95)

Ca’ Romé Romano Marengo Cerretta Barolo 2012, Piedmont, Italy ($72.95)

Grillesino Battiferro 2016 Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy ($18.95)

Miscellaneous Picks

Thelma Mountain Vineyards Sutherland Pinot Noir 2015, Elgin, South Africa ($19.95)

Redstone Chardonnay 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95)

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2017, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($27.20)

José Pariente 2016 Verdejo 2016, Rueda, Spain ($19.95)

Echeverria 2015 Gran Reserva Syrah, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95)

André Brunel 2015 Cuvée Sabrine Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($15.95)

Stoller Family Chardonnay 2016, Dundee Hills, Yamhill County, Oregon ($27.95)

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($29.95)

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($32.95)

I’ve been in fervent travel mode, scrambling voraciously around the globe gathering as much knowledge as my brain can handle. I’m also on the constant tasting and discovering lookout for gems to add into the WineAlign Exchange. Recent trips have taken me to Chianti Classico, Nova Scotia and Niagara. I’ve also recently judged with David Lawrason at the Great Kitchen Party (formerly Gold Medal Plates) in Toronto. I’m off to Argentina, followed by Chianti Classico and Piemonte. There will be no rest when there are so many wines to discover! Until later,

Good to go!

Godello

Taste of Sonoma – Diverse by Nature

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Alternative and unexpected California

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

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

Elaine Chukan Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Old vines for the Zin

rockpile-ava-unparalleled-in-so-many-ways-mauritsonwinery-zinfandel-cabernetsauvignon-at-mauritson-rockpile-vineyard

Rockpile AVA unparalleled in so many ways @mauritsonwinery #zinfandel #cabernetsauvignon — at Mauritson Rockpile Vineyard.

Late one afternoon on a seasonally warm February Healdsburg day we walked into the boardroom at Seghesio vineyards for a Zinfandel tasting appropriated off of some of California’s oldest and dearest vines. On hand were Seghesio’s winemaking brain trust, Andy Robinson and Ted Seghesio. It was Seghesio who explained pretty much everything you need to know about Zinfandel and field blends in one sweet sentence. “These old vines are California’s treasures. We haven’t pulled one out yet.”

“Are the wines good because their vineyards are old

or are the vineyards old because the wines are good?”

Cart before the horse. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Catch-22. If we follow the ideas of Aristotle and Plato then we simply say that zinfandel and old vineyards first had their beings in spirit. The dialectical answer can’t help but make use of formal, linear cause-and-effect logic and so results in a paradox because this caused that. Old vines and zinfandel, two things uniquely Californian entwined in a set of mutually dependent circumstances. The question is ultimately moot.

godello-listens-tedtalks-seghesio-zinfandel-ravenswood-carolshelton-joelpeterson-califwine

Godello listens, #tedtalks @seghesio #zinfandel #ravenswood #carolshelton #joelpeterson #califwine

Joel Peterson’s hat was the centre of first attention, that is until the Godfather of zin himself began to explain why the varietal tenets of experienced and gnarly are so important to understanding why zinfandel is the untouchable one. Peterson makes the case for zinfandel Grand Cru vineyards by referring to them as “historical treasures, extremely valuable and they are California.”

Carol Shelton is herself no stranger to the royal and ancient vines. She imagines them as both children and grandparents or rather that they are one in the same, innocent and experienced, but needing coddling and care just the same. Shelton has a soft spot for vineyards that are organically grown, dry farmed and many decades old. On her website Carol quotes Antoine de Saint-Exupery in reference to the Rockpile Vineyard. “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Pretty apropos. It seems Carol Shelton sees the old vineyard before the zinfandel. I think they all do.

The next day we explored Dry Creek Valley’s AVA’s with John Doxon of Dry Creek Vineyards and in the afternoon walked up the ridge between the two arms of lake Sonoma with Clay Mauritson to stand at the top of the Rockville AVA. The vineyards are planted between 800′ and 2000′, with strong winds, soils that range from granite to volcanic and the ever-dangerous Healdsburg-Rogers Creek earthquake fault running through. Three things popped into my head. One, difficult growing conditions make for low yields. Two, above the fog and in the breeze means major league diurnal temperature swings and zero pressure from pests and diseases. Three, this is one of the most strikingly beautiful places on earth.

Rockpile Ridge Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is a Sonoma County tour de force and a steal for the money ($50 at the winery). But I’m here to discuss zinfandel and so we’ll look down left and down right to the Cemetery and Jack’s Cabin Vineyards. These two stunners from Clay Mauritson may be the most unheralded zinfandels you’ve never heard of. The first family vineyards were planted in 1884. It is here in the northern-most reaches of Dry Creek Valley where zinfandel may just find its highest California calling. “Pure geo-political drama.” What is Rockpile? Time in AND time out. James Woodsian fun stuff. Keith Moon of zinfandel. That is Rockpile.

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zeroing in on old vine #zinfandel significance @sonomavintners @seghesio #ravenswood @CBSbrands @WildThingZin

We tasted nine zinfandel with Ted, Joel and Carol, one with John plus two more with Clay. Here are the notes:

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

Rockpile is Sonoma’s newest AVA,  straddling the ridge between the two arms of Lake Sonoma. The Mauritson farm is perhaps the most dramatic inland vineyard site in Sonoma. It is a relatively cool-ish appellation in part because it is based on ridge tops but notes Ted Seghesio, “I don’t think we can dry farm up in Rockpile, it’s just too warm.” No wonder the zinfandel here develops rich, dusty, of high impact intensity, pressed and controlled with addendum by remarkable palate spice. It’s chewy and intense, without heat, though expected, but there is not. Saw the insides of 25 per cent new French oak, the rest neutral for 12-14 months. Flavours well up with the liqueurs from a multitude of ripe red and purple berries, hematic, loamy and all in. Somewhat imbrued with the folly of youth so exercise some patience. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016  @seghesio  @sonomavintners

Seghesio Zinfandel Old Vines 2013, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

From a blend of vineyards planted on the Dry Creek bench and the cooler southwest Alexander Valley. Old vine is often loosely interpreted and the general Seghesio rule is 50 years plus, though the average age is approximately 70 years-old, planted here because they were the original cheap, peasant purchased sites. True old vine zinfandel is distinguished by head-trained vines with thick, gnarled trunks and is planted with ancient clones dating back to the turn of the century. I personally am finding more warmth and a slick of oleaginous matter, like white pepper liquid smoke. The temper and texture are pure zin wisdom, knows exactly its place and the time. The early picked Old Vines offers a reference point for the accumulation of varietal time. You sense this though the briary spice of layering in the blending of two vineyards from berries through to that spice. The treatment was 25 per cent new wood, 14 months maximum on fruit that it typically at the extreme end of high acid and sugary fruit. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Seghesio Zinfandel Pagani 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

Sourced from the Pagani family’s deep-rooted, storied Ranch in Sonoma Valley. The dry-farmed vineyard provides for a rich and nuanced, though not necessarily the most age-worthy structure to the fruit. Certainly a whole other, darker matter, pitchy, rock-blasted cimmerian mess of density and temper. The increased character is a drawn-out dramatic affair, feigning sweetness, with a high amount of Alicante Bouschet mixed in (perhaps as much as 50/50) for what is ostensibly the original California red. “The curtain” is an abiding history marker and maker and yet is low in tannin so drink this during the freshness of its youth. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016

Ravenswood Winery

Ravesnwood Estate Zinfandel 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Agent, $46.00, WineAlign)

Typically 20 per cent petite sirah field blended in, from five sites with a collection of zinfandel clones planted in Ravenswood’s heritage vineyard back in 1997. Now old enough to stand alone, these vines grew from budwood collected from several of Sonoma County’s finest old-vine zinfandel vineyards. Like the single-vineyard zins, all are made the same way, save for a few micro-decisions for each wine. Time is 18 months in 35 per cent new oak for a level playing field so that each will show typically of site. The quinate muddling is made moot by fruit picked early enough to ask the ripeness not to be the dominant character of the wine. So there is a cooling, not so much herbal but a methylated effect, with depth of cherry and leather and the fleshy underside of the animal. A texture comes across creamy and so different from Seghesio, with a dry-brush aroma and flavour led by dark chocolate. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @RavenswoodWine  @CBrandsCareers  @michellesaba

Ravenswood Zinfandel Belloni Single Vineyard 2013, Russian River Valley, California (Agent, $46.00, WineAlign)

Belloni carries a riper, naturally current cure, seemingly suspended in an evolutionary state of grace. The chocolate is tempered, smoothed into the reality of haute-ganache. It’s a bit of a teaser but there is length not yet found in rest of a nine-strong zinfandel the line-up. Will not yield to relinquishing length and still in such an amazing lingering state of berry flavour. “My middle-aged wine,” says Joel Peterson. From a site on Fulton Rd, of sandier soils above an ancient river bench. Riccardo Belloni planted it, around 1971, same time he purchased land on along Wood Road on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. Aye, there’s the saline and antediluvian rub. A very mixed vineyard, barely 75 per cent Zin, plus alicante, petite sirah, carignan and mourvedre. All tolled known as mixed blacks, the varietal melded, mixed and markedly RRV boysenberry is brighter and with great freshness. “It’s treated like pinot noir,” notes Peterson, “and we are conscious of how much oxygen it is gifted along the way.” A gracious Zin to be sure. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016.

Ravenswood Zinfandel Old Hill Vineyard 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Agent, $75.00, WineAlign)

Old Vine, Old Hill is rich, smooth and chocolatey, from “Mr. Hill’s vineyard, William McPherson Hill,” who founded Old Hill Ranch in 1851. Joel Peterson is wistful in just thinking about it. “An important and historic vineyard,” resurrected by Otto Teller housing forty different varieties, re-planted in 1985. The vineyard is 68 per cent zinfandel with grenache, mourvedre, syrah, petite sirah, alicante and heretofore referred to as the black panther grape, all together called the Mixed Blacks. It is organically farmed and is indeed of the oldest vines in the Valley of the Moon. In 1983, Ravenswood began this vineyard designate Old Hill Ranch zinfandel, just as the vineyard was turning 100 years old. So at 130 years what further wisdom can it pass on? Plenty, with the classic house treatment of 18 months in 35 per cent new oak. A capacious, fruit-teeming, chestnut-ochre-liquorice-plum pudding zinfandel blend with texture threaded through ages from samite to mantua. The gift of old vines. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2016

Carol Shelton Wines

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Rocky Reserve Florence Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (394510, $48.00, WineAlign)

Insieme with Rockpile by Seghesio in dusty, high impact zin, here liquid saturated and steeping of a complex berry syrup, silky, stylish ands with a certain palate spice thanks to American wood. Vanilla and liquid lavender, ichorous, fusible elasticity. Quite pretty and some heat in the tannins. Defined by elevation at 1400 feet (800 is required) above Lake Sonoma. Basically dry-farmed, planted in 1998, terraced, a morning sun vineyard that receives hot sun into the evening. Thus spiking the fruit but breezes temper ripening (as compared to Dry Creek Valley) so the tannins are polished. Built with cabernet-like structure and blended with 14 per cent petite sirah, in 40 per cent French oak (20 new) plus (40) American (20 new) plus some older irrelevant barrel. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @WildThingZin  @KylixWines

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Peaceland 2013, Fountaingrove District, Sonoma County, California (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

The “Friedland” is ambient and racked of floral certainly and also elevated of its varietal tones, with even more blueberry and peppery backbone than the Rockpile. Has increased its viscous and elastic chew with a dollop of melted milk chocolate and the earth’s granola; hemp, chia and all things fibrous and healthy. The jammiest and most texture on the table. Planted in 2001, a “young wine” out of a historical 1800’s place, a commune at 1100 feet of elevation. Represents three different clones of zinfandel (DuPratt, Costa Magnum and St. Peter’s Church). The united zin of red and black fruit, plus 7 per cent petite sirah. The new kid on the block. Needs to get more comfortable in its skin. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Mancini Old Vine 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, $50.00, WineAlign)

Mancini Vineyard is Carol Shelton’s tribute to old vines, planted in 1922 (one mile from Belloni) to mostly (78-80 per cent) zinfandel and a Northern California varietal who’s who; carignane, alicante bouschet, petite sirah, grand noir, mataro and some yet unidentified vines. This is a field blend of decided depth, very cherry and exponentially increasing of varietal to wood spice. There is much liquor emulsified into liqueur. Such a highly concentrated wine is ripped with red citrus acidity and strays far from bramble. A wine of high acid, pH and oak with never-ending gobs of dark fruit. A little monster. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

there-is-no-substitute-for-old-vines-zinfandel-drycreekvnyd-at-cafe-lucia

There is no substitute for old vines #zinfandel @DryCreekVnyd — at Cafe Lucia.

Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Old Vines 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (412288, $34.75, WineAlign)

As it should be this falls into the category of the mysterious and the enigmatic, a field-blend conjoining zinfandel (75 per cent) with petite sirah (23) and carignane. It takes nearly a month to bring in the multifarious and full-scope ripening varietal mix, between mid September and October. This elongation and elasticity mixes into the old vine magic and spits out strength and complexity. High pH and really pitchy acidity handle the bold and brooding fruit and then there is the presence of meaningful oak. Sixteen months in French, American and Hungarian oak, 29 per cent of it new. Dried fruit and spices rehydrate into a black fruit swirl of sweet leathery pods and perfumes. A blessed convocation is the result, part concoction, part confection and all in. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @DryCreekVnyd  @WineLoversAgncy  @drycreekvalley

Mauritson Wines

Rockpile Zinfandel Jack’s Cabin Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $45, WineAlign)

A haunted cabin settler’s story, of one Jack Ireland, of sheep, cattle, clearing the land, moonshine and nights spent in the county jail. A connection through three generations of Mauritsons. Such fresh red fruit is rare (these days) when alcohol (14.75 per cent) and oak (15 months in 90/10 French/American) work the room but welcome to the Rockpile elephant in the room. It’s called balance because of natural acidity, grapes that were not over-pressed and the magic-umami-impossibility of place. My mind digs for Sonoma equivalents in this scarlet, rubicund, ochre magnetic field but fails to draw a similar example. Except greatness from this AVA and winemaker Clay Mauritson in the years to come. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @mauritsonwinery  

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What is Rockpile? Time in AND time out. The fun stuff. Keith Moon of #zinfandel @mauritsonwinery #sonomacounty #jameswood

Rockpile Zinfandel Cemetery Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $47, WineAlign)

Look towards the other arm of Lake Sonoma and let your mind’s eye rest 250 feet higher than Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. The Cemetery plantation is a jagged, craggy outcropping with “a face uneven as a river jag and asperous as the mullein’s flannel.”  The Mauritsons are Los Campesinos of Cemetery Vineyard in Rockpile. The rocks below resemble giant headstones along the Rogers Creek fault and you just have to believe all this immensity of geology impacts the vines. It does but don’t ask how or why, just settle into the cimmerian depth of zinfandel touched by black fruit, spice and the akimbo savour of glutamate and amino acid. Three further months in barrel (85 French plus 15 American) accentuates the spice, smoulder and espresso con crema texture. Ripeness of fruit, tannin and acidity are simply stellar out of this dramatic place. “You know us by the way we crawl and you know us by our cemetery gaits.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016

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Twitter: @mgodello

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Sonoma gaps and single vineyards

Exceptional @sonomavintners discourse @patzhall @FlowersWinery @BoissetFamille @DeLoachVineyard #hartfordcourt #santarosa #sonomacounty #sonoma #califwine #pinotnoir #chardonnay

Exceptional @sonomavintners discourse @patzhall @FlowersWinery @BoissetFamille @DeLoachVineyard #hartfordcourt #santarosa #sonomacounty #sonoma #califwine #pinotnoir #chardonnay

No two wines from Sonoma County are the same. I believe that statement to ring expressly true and so should you. Jean-Claude Boisset saw the potential in Sonoma and created Boisset Family Estates with singular viniculturaliste swagger. Boisset Family Estates is led by Jean-Charles Boisset, who is also President of Boisset, La Famille des Grands Vins. Eight wineries make up the California collection, including DeLoach Vineyards. It was there that we tasted eight conspicuous examples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Mapping a cru systematic out of Sonoma County is a massive and seemingly boundless undertaking. This wine country section of Northern California is one of the most complex regions in the world, with valleys, plains, ridges, slopes and mountains of every aspect. There are more single-vineyard wines pulled from vines dotting micro-climatic, highly specific sites than anywhere in the world. Or so it seems. Unlike Burgundy, so many vintners farm and/or produce the only wine made from that specific parcel. The permutations of cru definition are multiplied 100-fold. The diagram is drawn with near-infinite numbers of circles and lines.

The multeity of style and the illimitable viticultural approach illustrates how Sonoma’s 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) are a study in variegation and variance. The multifarious geographical scope of coast, penetrating valleys and mountain ranch land conspire to design the impossibility of squeezing out clarity from a region in direct contrast to concepts that choose to exhort compounding synchronisms.

Related – Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

The last time I approached the Sonoma expostulation I talked of course about the fog. “Sonoma’s fog is a stern exertion of soda and salt and when its atomic dipoles get together to dance with ripe grapes and the puffy gaieties of yeast, the syntagmatic rearrangement in the region’s wines are all the merrier and made most remarkably interesting. Fog complicates and makes complex the ferments from Sonoma’s hills and valleys. The second fiddle status to Napa Valley’s hugeness is both ridiculous and absurd. Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is already known for its kinetic inquisitiveness but other varieties are also gaining major traction. Cabernet Sauvignon, when ripened upwards of that fog and yet inextricably linked to the miasma, gains a level of synergistically precipitated elaboration that blows Napa out of the water.”

That still holds water but it’s just not that simple, nor is it a matter of direct comparison. Sonoma’s cool-climate condition is incomparable to other aptly-named wine regions, from Napa to Niagara. The coastal fog bank blows in, “accompanied by cold air capable of such rapid temperature shrinkage it can be measured by swings as much as 50 ºF. The manifest vital spark that runs through all of Sonoma County’s fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance is that fog.”

Related – Five more impressive, cool-climate, fog-injected wines from Sonoma County

When I returned from California in February I wrote “the most pertinent question now in my mind is this. Can European wine keep up with the fictionality of North American reality?” Unearthing discoveries from idiosyncrasy to heterogeneity is what people want and it’s not just rambling wine journalists or thrill-seeking sommeliers who are looking for wine-contrariety nirvana. Craft is in. Small batch, low-production, around the corner from nowhere, never heard of that is what sells. And Sonoma has got more than enough answers to last for centuries.

Which brings us to the discussion centring on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the varietal darlings of Sonoma County, especially when the vineyards that grow them are tied directly to the fog’s greatest chaperone, the Petaluma Wine Gap. The different strokes inherent to the Burgundian expatriates raised on the coast, on inbound slopes and on craggy ridges is mind-numbing. The thread that ties them together is related to the fog but it is not enough to formalize, generalize or philosophize a unifying theme. Bring the wines of DeLoach, Patz & Hall, Flowers and Hartford together in one room and you might expect some repetition. I found none, save for one mien of chiaroscuro connection. Creep out from that shadow and find a world of deference and difference, from Pinot to Pinot and from Chardonnay to Chardonnay.

In conjunction with California Wines Canada, The California Wine Institute, Sonoma Vintners and Boisset Family Estates, a group of Canadian journalists and sommeliers were invited to DeLoach Vineyards to taste four Pinot Noir and four Chardonnay. Here are my notes.

Flowers

Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, California (416529, US $80.00, WineAlign)

Camp Meeting Ridge is what Director of Winemaking Dave Keatly considers a “remarkable site” with shallow soils, a product of volcanic and tectonic activity. Even with two plus years tucked away this persists as a tight, tense infant of a Chardonnay suspended within a reductive environment. The trenchant draught seems to emanate directly from the wildly imagined vineyard, with the scent of white flowers and ripping green fruits, from lime to mango. Focused, linear, compact, wound, wire patrolling Chardonnay. This was bottled 17 months after pick with a tank aging component, for phenolic structure and a healthy presentation of fruit. Certainly the most Burgundian (from Boisset Estates and in the greater Sonoma sphere) with engaging spice. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted February 2016  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines

Flowers Pinot Noir Estate Sea Ridge Vineyard 2013, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, California (328062, US $65.00, WineAlign)

Older vines (planted in 1998) provide the wisdom while winemaking (Dave Keatly) encourages atticism. A 50 degree, nine day cold soak, native fermentation and 18 months in (35 per cent) new French oak lay down the parameters. Post nurturing it’s all about time travel back to nature. Back to the organic and biodynamically farmed extreme (with elevations of 1,400 to 1,875 feet) Sea View Ridge Estate Vineyard. The site is antediluvian, a former sea bed where ridge tops are shallow and rocky, lower blocks are volcanic and high ones filled with broken sandstone and shale. Yields are naturally, unavoidably low. This Pinot Noir is defined not just by its elevation but also by its proximity to the coast. Sea Ridge is not on the label but will eventually be. The pleasure and maritime elegance is winnowed from the start. There is no need to wait for it. Quite amazing considering the young age of the vineyard. Very pure, almost impossibly so and yet, just a bit of sweetness softens and demures. A mineral driven and lithe red though the hue is not a harbinger for what will follow. The tannic structure will let this go at it with purpose and drive but without haste. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Zio Tony Ranch 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, US $70.00, WineAlign)

Cool, infinitely linear Chardonnay that when considered in mind of Dutton Ranch and Hyde Vineyard, is prepossessed of a creamier, open-door policy. From an easy vintage to ripen, it was treated with grand respect, first with whole clusters and then small barrel fermentation, 100 per cent malolactic, sur lie. From fruit on a Frei Road farm owned by the Martinelli family, an east facing, rolling vineyard on the western hills of the Gravenstein highway. The soil is fluffy Goldridge,”like walking through flour, volcanic, porous and dusty up to the knees,” explains Donald Patz. Rarely does Chardonnay seem ferric but Zio Tony carries that metal from a feeling deep into that soil. The output is small, between 300-500 cases a year. The high acid site makes for Chardonnay incurrent as toasty and taut, tense and terse. The open door will be agape after its need for some time to unwind. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @PatzHall  @TrialtoON

Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (Winery, US $70.00, WineAlign)

From a vineyard with boundless potential, still young and procuring youthful wines. All necessary energies have graced this Pinot Noir, nothing has been left behind or filtered out. The sweetness on the nose is an intoxicant and a bit of reduction joins in, realized upon a sniff. There is anxiety in both its ripeness and its tannin though the acidity plateaus on an even stephen hep. The Gap’s Crown is furthest east of a set of four vineyard cousins, significant for its rocky hillside essence. Done up with 15 per cent whole clusters and indeed it’s not entirely fruity, anything but blackberry juice, leaning more to the savour and the chaparral. With thanks to the Petaluma Wind Gap bringing in all that cool air. The Sonoma Coast, fog, mineral, Patz & Hall style. They all “gather up strength, as thoroughfare gap. No distance, it’s the ride.” All towards a crowning achievement. Sometime early in the coming decade towards that end. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted February 2016

Hartford Court Chardonnay Fog Dance 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (Agent, US $65.00, WineAlign)

Though this coils in tight wind to a certain degree there is more cream, increased silken texture and a more obvious dose of newer oak. An all indigenous ferment, 16 months barrel fermentation and sur lie. There is a density of all the aspects; aroma, flavour and lees texture. Add the parlay of barrel feel and you get so much layered density and character for your money. The slightly southwest facing vineyard that runs down to Green Valley creek, “in a little bowl” is named Fog Dance says winemaker Jeff Stewart, “because it’s a lot sexier than Jones or Ross Road.” That or the time lapse view of the fog coming in over this 500 foot ridge top. The vines grow in a toupée of yellowish, fluffy soil, farmed organically, of no ferric adjunct and impelling citrus drive, but also exotic with a heavy accent. Like a margarita, yes, it has that too, thought the thought of Chablis runs in its RRV veins. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016      @RRVWinegrowers

Hartford Court Pinot Noir Fog Dance 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (Winery, US $65.00, WineAlign)

Pinot Noir from a hillside vineyard in full vaporous view and under the influence from the omnipresent swirling samba of Sonoma fog. Pine and black combine for an elevated, revenant-rich, full-bodied and warm expression. Also possessive of a reductive, almost rubber-accented note but on second thought, even more so of meaty and smoky flavour. From classic Goldridge soils, planted in the 1990’s, from the holy trinity of Dijon clones, 667, 777 and 115.  The sidling saunter of a blood orange note separates itself from the rest. So very viscous and bone dry, this is a big Pinot Noir, even for Hartford. It could use another year in bottle to collect composure and then drink with style for five more after that. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

DeLoach Vineyards Chardonnay Estate 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, US $50, WineAlign)

Rich and decadent, into some simplicity, supple, safe and yet savoury Chardonnay. The taster is aware of the lees, malo and barrel, all hyper present and apparent. From loamy soil with a clay layer two or three feet down, these are vines that must be controlled to keep the roots from descending too far. Beautifully presented Chardonnay with no smoke or mirrors, from whole clusters, native yeasts, 14-15 months and 40-50 per cent new oak. A classic drink young, glass half full expression. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @DeLoachVineyard  @LiffordON

DeLoach Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $70, WineAlign)

Eric Pooler grows Pinot Noir from 20 year-old vines in Huichica Loam for DeLoach on the Olivet Ranch Vineyard. This estate block is farmed organically and biodynamically and has been owned by Boisset Family Estates since 2003. The vegetal aspect of this Pinot Noir purports strength, umami flavours and an abstract celebration of the vineyard’s health from metabolic growth. From safflower through barley and into grapes, the structure and conditioning of this Pinot has travelled from medicinal, through cereal and now into fruit richness. Good 2013 ripeness and extraction passes through a toll of sweet and sour complexion. The reduction and meaty vinyl is in here as well. There is a definite thread running through the De Loach Estate, the Hartford Fog Dance and the Patz & Hall Gap’s Crown. Only the Flowers Sea Ridge doesn’t seem to have it. It is more than fog; it’s the Pinot Noir version of chiaroscuro, in which strong contrasts between light and dark affect the greater composition. Picked clone by clone, block by block, the last of which saw whole cluster fermentation, adding weight and tension. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

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California stars in VINTAGES March 5th

The mustard in Napa Valley

The mustard in Napa Valley

Having recently returned from a week spent sizing up Napa Valley and Sonoma County it is personally apropos for VINTAGES to roll out this California release next weekend. Like any high quality engrossing preoccupation, the trip changed everything. Whatever I thought I knew or felt about the California wine industry now needs to be rewritten. The most pertinent question now in my mind is this. Can European wine keep up with the fictionality of North American reality?

For more on California and the VINTAGES release – WineAlign Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – March 5, 2016

When you travel to wine regions in Europe you can’t help but be struck by history, tradition and a general sense that things are the way they are because, well, just because. California reinvents the wheel. It shakes the foundations of thought. Forget Socratic maieutics. Questions that probe assumptions, implications or consequences are so European. You don’t ask a California winemaker “are you picking earlier to preserve acidity or because of global warming.” Ripeness is everything and a given.

Prices are not cheap when it comes to great wines made anywhere but in the case of California the outrageousness carries many meanings. The cost of land, labour and water sends grape purchasing through the roof. You are not being hosed by California wine. It costs what it costs for many good reasons. I will expand on all this in 10,000 words or more coming soon. For now, here are eight beauties in VINTAGES March 5th.

VINTAGES March 5th

VINTAGES March 5th

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (91025, $26.95, WineAlign)

Very ripe Pinot Noir from winemaker Scott Kozel, to no one’s surprise. What is surprising is the level of tension and soil tang, exposed in tone that is elevated above and beyond the rich, bing cherry fruit. This is true aggregate, composite, regionally amalgamated Pinot Noir made in large batches for commercial amassment and appeal. It works dutifully within the framework and the intent. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @gallocareers  @GalloFamily  @sonomavintners

The barrel cellar at Frei Brothers

The barrel cellar at Frei Brothers Ranch

Treana White 2013, Central Coast, California (11247, $29.95, WineAlign)

In which Marsanne and Viognier co-exist for pure, unadulterated pleasure. While the former does not dominate the latter, it does win the aromatic tug in floral inertia and gaseous minutia. A very golden California sun worshipping Rhone-ish blend with a candied flavour and texture tang. Certainly warm and blustery in style. A char on Char or shellfish would hold up well to its unctuous demand. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @hopefamilywines  @TrialtoON

Macrostie Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (244467, $35.95, WineAlign)

Sonoma Coast Chardonnay in definition and carefully realized misty commotion, raised with classic barrel toast and celebrating expertly gaged ripe fruit out of a foggy, cool-climate California shell. The fruit is viscous and elastic, gaining texture because of that wood, along with spice and exoticism. Finishes with beneficial bitters. Nothing shocking and everything excellent pulled from expectation. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @MacRostie  @sonomavintners

Cuvaison and Brandlin winemaker Steve Rogstad

Cuvaison and Brandlin winemaker Steve Rogstad

Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California (340513, $54.95, WineAlign)

This walks a lovely mid-point between two styles of Napa Cabernet. It is neither stark nor blowsy, currant-focused or mocha chocolate obsessed. At $55 it marks the exact twain, exhibiting aspects of both camps and is regionally exacted for the Mt. Veeder appellation. Cabernet Sauvignon can sing like this sometimes. “Got my indignation but I’m pure in all my thoughts. I’m alive.” Brandlin’s sings like a Vedder ballad, with solemnity and hope. It may lack the Pearl Jam swagger but it’s stripped down beauty maintains an exceptional level of integrity. Guaranteed. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016 @BRANDLIN_wine   @LiffordON  @NapaVintners

Storybook Mountain Mayacamas Range Napa Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, California (682989, $69.95, WineAlign)

Warm berry, bramble and Red Twizzler Zinfandel secured with full and necessary extraction. The pool is wide and deep for Mayacamas run-off, coruscation and welcome alterity. Appreciation must be afforded the red ochre aspects, from soil through crusted fruit as this Zinfandel stops well short of over-exposure and over-wrought tonality. It’s well judged mired within the accountable coffers of its bigness. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @StorybookWines  @TheVine_RobGroh  @NapaVintners

Jonata Todos Red 2011, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California (218941, $79.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 Todos by winemaker Matt Dees at $80 dares a superfluity of surfeited California peers to hold water, weight, candles or dovetail to match up against its prodigious abilities. Blending never tasted so worthy. Syrah (75 per cent), Merlot (7), Cabernet Sauvignon (7), Sangiovese (4), Petit Verdot (4), Viognier, (2) and Cabernet Franc (1) add up to something fine. Better than Morocco, “the dreams are rolling down across the places in my mind.” Anise and charcoal mark the entry, ripe berries fill in early, expert acidity gains control and sweet, charred, fine-grained tannins take hold. This is warm but within reason and the length is exceptional. Love the bitter finish. Like early Jackson Browne. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016  @WoodmanWS

Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California (932400, $83.95, WineAlign)

This is a welcome respite from heat, alcohol and maximum extraction. The fruit is ripe and just because there is an underlying green note it should not be perceived as unripe. The current rings a bell and draws red currants through. The spice is wood-derived and complimentary. This wine is lauded for its antidisestablishmentariansim. Give it some love. It has fine tannins and plenty of life ahead. And it will drink with different and alternating strokes for five to ten explicitly characterful years. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @frogsleap  @rogcowines  @NapaVintners

Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Mountain, California (353706, $120.95, WineAlign)

To my mind the McCrea Vineyard is the coolest climatic Kistler, a Sonoma Mountain parcel that exudes a gemstone and tart orchard fruit personality. The ripe, ropey phenolics and slick barrel impart run from strength to strength, with a piercing sensation zip-lining in ascension through and carrying along the generosity of aromatics. Here we find Kistler at its juicy, mineral best. This is a striking Chardonnay with impressive, 25,000 bottle quantity produced length. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016 @TheVine_RobGroh  @sonomavintners

Good to go!

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Winter wine matters

Mr. Frost the melting snowman

Mr. Frost the melting snowman

Tell me you’re not looking for a January cure. A cure for what ails, a respite from depressing news, a way to get through winter’s second and third trimesters. I know you are upset at losing some of your favourite rocks stars or wholly annoyed with those who are. Regardless of which camp you’re in, look me in the eye and tell me a good, honest, proper and satisfying bottle of wine won’t help.

The simplicity of wine is a beautiful thing. A vine grows and produces grapes. That fruit is picked and ferments itself with help from yeast it just happens to carry in its luggage. Time passes and wine is made. No one had to invent it. The most basic example of shit happens.

With a little help from a farmer and a winemaker wine can become something very special. Choosing which examples pass the test is less than automatic and takes many years of trial and error, but eventually the equation reaches a tipping point. This is where probability begins to win over doubtfulness.

VINTAGES spins the wheel again this coming weekend with a list one hundred strong. I have chosen fifteen to win the hearts of the cold, the depressed, the sad, the first responder, the liberal, the conservative, the left, right and all points in between, the cultural injustice fighter, the social media troll and the curmudgeon. Whoever you are or imagine yourself to be, one of these wines may just make you feel a whole lot better. It’s alcohol, after all.

Popov

Popov Versnik Merlot 2011, Tikves, Macedonia (429746, $13.95, WineAlign)

Morality for the masses from parts unknown. Macedonian Merlot plush in carpeted ease. A touch of vinicultural funk bleeds into the drupe for good constancy. Wood is a factor but only for texture. Roast pork would work. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted January 2016  @bozvenimports  @WineofMacedonia

Ferme du Mont

La Ferme Du Mont Première Côte Côtes Du Rhône 2013, Ap Rhône, France (251645, $15.95, WineAlign)

The berries are the lead, the middle act and the finish. Extreme in fruit, fully ripened and punching well into classes. Acidity walks along with what heals and together the impression is regionally spot on. No need to look elsewhere for CdR style. Fashioned to induce consumer approaches that occur early, often and with heavy repetition. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted January 2016      @RhoneWine

Rabl

Rabl Langenlois Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kamptal, Austria (377457, $16.95, WineAlign)

A rouser this Rabl, highly aromatic and filled with creamy green dressing. Langenlois mineral by quatenary rocky red outcrop chip and scrape through the herbs and the citrus. Though a touch lean at present this has the legs and the foresight to age, like Semillon, like Riesling, like good Grüner Veltliner. Really persistent wine. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted January 2016    @austria_in_ca  @AustrianWine

Desmoiselles

Château Des Demoiselles 2010, Ac Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux, France (348755, $17.95, WineAlign)

A bit of a brooder this Castillon, dusty and all in with Merlot speaking as it should. Typically ripe, not wood shy and instantly gratifying as per the vintage so considering the cost this offers good reason to drink, but not cellar Bordeaux. The flavours add in dark chocolate with tangy angles opening windows and doors. Two to three years of simple pleasure. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted January 2016  @BordeauxWines  @HalpernWine

Pouilly

Domaine Chatelain Les Vignes De Saint Laurent L’abbaye Pouilly Fumé 2014, Ac Loire, France (958801, $19.95, WineAlign)

Slight hyperbole of Sauvignon Blanc with epitomizing smoky flint and vegetation healthy to overgrowing. Fresh and spicy, thematic and screaming out loud. The abbeys always make the most authentic wines. This one is no exception. Classic serial killer. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted January 2016  @WoodmanWS  @LoireValleyWine

Morgon

Laurent Gauthier Grand Cras Vieilles Vignes Morgon 2013, Ac Beaujolais, France (279059, $19.95, WineAlign)

Lovely floral entry and good close encounter with the Morgon kind. Certainly on the ripe black cherry trellis but not over, no, by no means over. Firm, charred tight and charcoal lit with the acidity to propel and excite. Gamay as it should be with a red lactic finale. Well done. Cras, cras, not cray, cray. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted January 2016  @DiscoverBojo

Pecina

Señorío De P. Peciña Crianza 2011, Doca Rioja, Spain (313726, $22.95, WineAlign)

Old school alert. Fruiting body notes of telomorph yeast and room temperature evaporations. High tones and waves of liqueurs. Big old wood barriques and a slow evolutions over decades, with knowledge ingrained and methodology followed with religious zeal. Cherries and cedar, leathers and all sorts of gamy hides. Attack one and put two away and see the past in the distant future. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted January 2016  @BodegasPecina01  @LeSommelierWine  @RiojaWine_ES

Blue Mountain

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

The confident, well-delineated structure of a Blue Mountain wine furthered here, with Chardonnay you are simply and unequivocally happy to drink. Mild, mild wood. Minor, minor but present reduction. Flavours overtop flavours, like green apple dipped in mellifluous agave. Salinity, a touch of flint and just general copacetic effectualizing behaviour. Another winner. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted January 2016  @BlueMtnWinery  @winebcdotcom

Louis

Eric Louis Sancerre Rouge 2013, Ap Loire, France (66613, $24.95, WineAlign)

Red Sancerre plumb, plum too and cerise. Iron strength and a cumbersome ratification to be certain, for longevity and plenty that comes before. From flavour favour savour to acidity tannin in continuum. Rolls through the numbers and the highlights. Alcohol subtlety is a friend at 12.5 per cent and playing bigger than others twice the size. You can use this terrific example from Eric Louis for just about anything your experience desires. Sip, grill fish, finish post meal. Anything really. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted January 2016  @EricLouisWinery  @LoireValleyWine

Martin Ray

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (57067, $28.95, WineAlign)

A really nice, relatively inexpensive example from the RRV. The aromatics are balanced with notes ranging from melted duck fat on golden roasted potatoes to a garden with vegetables ripening under a warm morning sun. The attitude towards the barrel is well adjusted and integrated, the flavours built of viscosity and generosity. Quite impressive and persistent with a spice accent on the finish. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted January 2016  @martinraywinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Marchand

Marchand Tawse Saint Romain 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (440206, $31.95, WineAlign)

The genesis of reduction is the man, even four plus years into its time in bottle, here on earth. What to make of this showing at this juncture? From Saint Roman, The Melodist, “Pindar of rhythmic poetry” and very restrained in wood. Who would dare to make Chardonnay this way from this place, to wait for so long. “And all this time has passed me by? It doesn’t seem to matter now.” The fixed expression, the weight gain, the lean, flinty, bony structure in change. Not yet, not yet a musical box of flesh but it will be. Patience for another year. Great acidity. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted January 2016  @MARCHANDTAWSE  @Burgundy_Direct

Cotes de Nuits

Marchand Tawse Côtes De Nuits Villages 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (440263, $31.95, WineAlign)

Conspicuously and distinctly Pascal Marchand perfumed village Burgundy to showcase regional distinction in the vicinity of affordability. Smells like roses and the aromal water imparted by fresh petals. Tastes like ropey strawberries, a squeeze of cranberry and a crush of pomegranate. Transports to walks up and down slopes in the morning mist. Will wait for fairer weather to come and a harvest table set al fresco. Pinot Noir off grace to invite friends and co-workers to the table. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January 2016  @MARCHANDTAWSE  @Burgundy_Direct

Girardin

Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Santenay 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (435552, $37.95, WineAlign)

An old vines Santenay from Girardin that demarcates a line back to the way things used to be. Modernity cast aside this is a firmer and cooler Santenay and it is very young. Not yet shed its carbon fat, stemmy tannin and barrel weight. This will need three years to settle, find its strokes and to allow the fruit to be extracted from its tannic and wooden house. “Oh the heart beats in its cage.” Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted January 2016

Barbi

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Docg Tuscany, Italy (928028, $49.95, WineAlign)

Quite approachable for the normally firm and hands off in its youth Barbi. Always with a foot firmly rooted in the past and yet the house seems to be slowly waltzing into the modernity of the future. This has hallmark roses and cherries under leathery hides but also a beautifully bright and dynamic luminescence. It also carries a silky texture that should have it pause less than the habitual five years to fully shine. So, a newer and earlier gifting Sangiovese and that’s quite alright. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted January 2016  @FattoriaBarbi  @ConsBrunello  @Noble_Estates

Franus

Peter Franus Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (907477, $66.95, WineAlign)

The floral aspects of this mountain Cabernet are a delight to behold. The ripeness and concentration are optimum to be sure and are mitigated by a cool, altitude-salubrious repairing factor. Cassis and a hint of what smells like juniper are noted. It’s quite botanical actually, in distillate, not fresh or dried. The Franus angles are direct and retractable. Traces steps up and down, in switch backs and with a creamy, acidity backed rise, fall and repeat. Peter elicits notes heightened “in the firmament above and in the deep.” This 2012 is a sustainer, a Parvadigar, a prayer set to music. Very musical Cabernet, scaling, of arpeggios et al. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted January 2016  @ProfileWineGrp

Good to go!

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Snow whites and the seven reds

The seven reds from left to right: Resta Salice Salentino 2011, Mocali Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Rustenberg Shiraz 2011, Coyote's Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Beni Di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006, Fattoi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

The seven reds from left to right: Resta Salice Salentino 2011, Mocali Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Rustenberg Shiraz 2011, Coyote’s Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Beni Di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006, Fattoi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Just as a child will willfully accept the naive and basic truth in a fairy tale, most of us will search for wines deeply buried within their simplicity. Then we have a sip. When we begin to think about that sip we delve deeper into the story and the mythology of the wine. This is where things begin to get complicated.

Maybe we invent comparative mythologies from tales and into wine just to play with the unconscious expressions of ourselves, or perhaps we just need to have some fun. Wine is not our yesteryear’s religion, nor is it something, once consumed, that can be held onto. It is fleeting and ever-changing. It is conceivable to think that wine drinkers of past eras were more childlike and held wine in more fairy-tale like hands. Today we act as though modern wines speak religiously, as if they each belong to one sect or another. Strange, but true.

On Saturday VINTAGES will roll out another lengthy tale of new releases, with a major focus on Italian reds. Like the analysis of the most famous of fairy tales, meaning is derived, not unlike an assessment of Italians and their wines, imagined as a desperate need to rule their own kingdom. The ferric, mineral and tannic nature of the group require that their rage be danced away with time, to re-gain control of their beauty and their lives.

For more recommendations from the VINTAGES February 7th, 2015 release:

Related – Is writing making a mess of wine

Here are the winter snow whites and seven Italian reds to look for, in stores now.

The snow whites from left to right: Poulet Et Fils Brut Crémant De Die, Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012, Domaine De Saint Pierre Sancerre 2013, Girard Chardonnay 2012, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2012, Taittinger Prestige Brut Rosé Champagne

The snow whites from left to right: Poulet Et Fils Brut Crémant De Die, Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012, Domaine De Saint Pierre Sancerre 2013, Girard Chardonnay 2012, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2012, Taittinger Prestige Brut Rosé Champagne

Resta Salice Salentino 2011, Doc Puglia, Italy (324731, $15.95, WineAlign)

Negroamaro (80 per cent) and Malvasia Nero combine for a mess of tar, composted earth, density in chewy dates, figs and ground funk drawn from dark, dank places. A Salice suspended, after the bruise of fermentation, like a charcoal tracing, like shadow with just an osculant of faint light. A cheesy note hangs, of a salinity out of cultures and wet vats. This may not be everyman’s cup of spume, peat and sedge, with its rough tannin too, but its value lies in complexity and value under $16.  Tasted January 2015  @winesofpuglia  @puglia

Mocali Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (317115, $16.95, WineAlign)

Morellino that is briery, earthy and with a soaked, cedar chip overlay on dark fruit. Brambly, purple pitchy and almost but not quite flamboyant. Slow as geology seeping, tile weeping, liqueur steeping then turning gritty with drying tannins. Good persistence and a bitter finish. Good value.  Tasted January 2015  @InfoMorellino  @liffordwine

Poulet Et Fils Brut Crémant De Die, Rhône, France (392555, $17.95, WineAlign)

The unique sparklers from the Die, made from (mostly) Clairette are somewhat of a rarity in Ontario waters. The bitter pith nose, ranging tangy palate and slightly oxidative style is a bit touchy but the length is nearly exceptional for the Euro. In the realm of Crémants, this Rhône dips pear slices past cracker nasturtium pods bobbing in a bowl of beneficial bitters. With a Mediterranean climate and altitude-influenced elemental aroma as if burnished pewter, the bird is anything but fowl. The case is made for these bubbles.  Tasted January 2015  @VINSRHONE  @WineandFood_RA  @TheCaseForWine

Rustenberg Shiraz 2011, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (399246, $19.95, WineAlign)

As per the Stellenbosch Shiraz stratagem, this may lean to sweetness but it’s all about rich, ripe fruit running wild and free. Savoury support comes from green tea, smoking branches and fulminating esters. Neither heavy nor burning, the ’11 is warm, clean and highly accessible. Impressive density and at 14.5 degrees alcohol, really quite soft, unwavering in its ability to suppress the demands of the octane push. Drink in the near term.  Tasted January 2015  @RustenbergWines  @StellWineRoute

Coyote’s Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (79228, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is an intense and vexing vintage for the Red Paw, a Pinot Noir of delicacy in constant search for the right dancing partner. In 2012 the soil seems to have been magnetized with a gravity of ferric density, causing juicy and spontaneous fits of revelry and a painting of the Paw red. Cherries, stones and figs are in, along with ether, earth and peat. The longevity quotient comes into question as the tenure already seems quite evolved but in its current state it is quite fun to drink.  Tasted January 2015  @coyotesrun

Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (282772, $25.95, WineAlign)

This barrel-aged Chenin Blanc is toasty, reductive and stratified, scaling heights few whites reach for, to seek other worldly atmospheres. I don’t find anything remotely tropical about it, on the contrary, it’s way out of the equatorial zone and into the upper reaches of the ozone. This has the Loire imprint of longing and distance. It will need time to come back down to earth, what with its hyper fruit meet mineral nuances. When it does it will walk through rain forests and dry flood plains with those extreme noisome notes in tow, to settle amongst the stones by the river. For some, this will be a rare find.  Tasted January 2015  @Simonsig_Estate  @WOSACanada  @WoSA_USA  @StellWineRoute

Domaine De Saint Pierre Sancerre 2013, Loire Valley, France (170258, $26.95, WineAlign)

A most promising and textured Sauvignon Blanc, full of chalky fruit and a lamina of minerality, like a strudel of stone fruit spread between layers of Phyllo pastry greased by pulverulant butter. Though this Sancerre does not and will not travel the longest route for the Loire, it is a seamless wine and one that is well-designed. Has a modernity about it while yet keeping a finger on and an ear to the radiocarbon chronometer.  Tasted January 2015  @LoireValleyWine

Girard Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (338434, $26.95, WineAlign)

Quite a different sort of California Chardonnay, cooler and in avoidance of the sub-equatorial fruit of the tropics. With a wisp of woodsmoke and a toothpick poke or two of smokey spice, this RRV bottling puts foggy Sonoma first in line, ahead of warm Cali sunshine. The one warm aspect is a vanilla overlay on creamy mango, a texture that is present but not over the top. The ripeness gathers moss and little stones, gets going, gains steam and fleshes out across a length that steers forward towards a future of nice value.  Tasted January 2015  @GirardWinery  @imbibersrepotr  @sonomavintners

Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (685180, $29.95, WineAlign)

Here a most modern Vino Nobile from Salcheto, through its forward and public fruit to its fine designed label. Retains a sensible and loyal texture, wearing its coat of arms in reverence of its past. Argumentative tannin and acidity speak loud, over the voices of tar, ferrous vernacular, black and blue bruises and rolling stones. Like rusty blood seeping into the cracked earth of a water-starved forest, this Sangiovese gets inside and under the skin. “Come si chiama, what’s your game?” She will answer, Vino Nobile, that’s my name.  Tasted January 2015  @SalchetoWinery  @AMH_hobbsandco

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (276675, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vintage does not strike so much a new direction for the Poplar Grove Chardonnay as much as a blip on the cool climate radar. Before extrapolating on that comment it must be said that this is a well-made wine. It’s riper, with more gregarious character, an increase in topicality and into a nearly candied buttercup feel. Rich in glück and circumstance. Where in ’11 there were many notes in ripe coconut and green tones, they are a merely a suggestion in ’12, not a composition. A brûlée of lemon and ginger with a sprinkle of cinnamon finds the palate in think mode moving forwards in slurry strides towards a cemented and fixed positional finish. This is for the here and now.  Tasted January 2015  @poplargrovewine

Beni Di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006, Doc Piedmont, Italy (330704, $39.95, WineAlign)

Time yet remains on the diminishing side of this Barolo of necessity, regaling and expressive of tea, tannin and flowers, dried and crumbled over fine earth. A modern and high-toned La Morra that is representative of very good value. The tannins persist in clenched chops and will need up to five years to resolve. The BdB Riserva ’06 may not be the Nebbiolo to mortgage the cellar on, but it does have the ability to be a wine to arouse the longing of one who waits.  Tasted January 2015  @ChartonHobbs  @MikeAikins1

Fattoi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (33498, $39.95, WineAlign)

The porcine cure of a Fattoi Brunello is a thing of mesmerism, here alongside a gamey note of soft, braised heart of beef. In ’09 the aromatics are a bit closed at present, atypical for the vintage but likely more a product of the curated, house style. Leather and some judicious oak spice offer up characteristic Grosso sentiments, dug into sweet earth and a feign of candied fruits and flowers. Sumptuous and terrific stuff. Here Brunello that effects the blinding potency of vines screaming of their fruit.  Tasted January 2015  @BrunelloImports  @ConsBrunello

Taittinger Prestige Brut Rosé Champagne, Ac Champagne, France (993113, $67.95, WineAlign)

A sweeping scopic range of bitters, soft tonics and savoury Polygonaceae circulate in the vacuum of this point beleaguering Champagne. She plies a rough trade, with a flinty, smouldering gun effect that simulates a toasted barrel blowing smoke upwards a riotous Rosé’s crystal glass. With citrus acidity off the charts, a pampered and churned pamplemousse ever expanding, the Taittinger excites and jointly strikes the heart with elegance and beauty. Her style is both chic and confidential, “she’s a combination Anita Eckberg, Mamie van Doren.” A Champagne that avoids freud and “drives a candy pink Cadillac,” that will “make you want to give up high school.”  For immediate pleasure and years of future memories.  Tasted January 2015  @Taittinger_News  @TaittingerUSA

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Let the gems begin

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay County Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

If the premature lashing of cold, snow and ice weren’t enough to get you thinking about holiday shopping, get thee to a Liquor Control Board Ontario store on the weekend. Same time, every year. The LCBO stocks the shelves, isles and pyramid displays with more booze than anyone should ever be faced with in one visitation.

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

The bi-weekly VINTAGES release calendar whirs, undulates and clutters in rataplan overload at just this very juncture in preparation of the Christmas rush. Shoppers will tear down the walls of wine, beer and spirits, only to hear the burloque fall silent when the clock strikes closing time on the evening of December 24th.

There are exactly 35 days left in 2014 to do the right wine thing for that father, cousin, colleague, mentor or loyal, long-time suffering employee. Please heed the warnings and do not buy crap for the one you love or think you should. No matter who you are picking up a bottle for, treat them well and with fermented grape respect.

There are three category of wines to look for, at least within the context of this buying guide. First there are the values under $20, wines made so properly they should cost double or triple what they do. Second are the expensive but honest wines. These are the true gems that make most $100 bottles look bad. Last are the $100 examples that are truly iconic, despite their cost. Though priced beyond the means of most, they are not a mistake to take a flyer and give as a gift. After the hand off is complete, the all-knowing, unspoken nod will follow.

Here are 22 picks from the VINTAGES November 22, 2014 release, in stores now.

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Pdo Nemea, Greece (295618, $17.95, WineAlign)

Nemea strikes again. Dark rust, earth juiced on and of the rocks. Like Sangiovese with attitude, made by Romans, like Syrah the way it was made in mythological times, by Greeks. A classical garden. This is actually quite modern and expressive for Agiorgitiko. Acts as if it were a touch clay (or amphora) baked but it’s really just a Peloponnese take on oak aging (18 months) and further bottle rest (12 months). This is right in its window and will be friendly for three to five years more. What a steal.  Tasted November 2014  @DrinkGreekWine

Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Doc Pomino Bianco, Tuscany, Italy (65086, $19.95, WineAlign)

With thanks to Chardonnay, the Castello di Pomino 2013 elevates Pinot Blanc to a level not really found anywhere, save perhaps for one or two examples out of B.C. This one really leaves a tannic impression, not unlike some impossibly off-dry Pinot Gris from Alsace. There is a really sophisticated level of ambiance and a semblance of a distinctly rocky intent. Like high quality Sancerre or Chenin from Silex soils, the grain and veins running through the palate and the texture are coarse and cursive. This one writes a new script for Frescobaldi’s Florentine, Apennine mountain estate. Fresh, ventilated and airy as if breathing from blue skies at high altitudes. I can’t recall tasting this level of excellence before and would look forward to no less than five years of enjoying what it brings to the Tuscan table.  Tasted November 2014  @FrescobaldiVini  @liffordretail

Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (992560, $19.95, WineAlign)

A primarily (90 per cent) Sangiovese with smatterings, though not inconsequential, of Merlot and Syrah. From (non-estate) vineyards in Poggio La Mozza (Grosseto). Morellino Di Scansano, to a wine and exemplified here, sports a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility. The question is why should it only find occasional psychic prominence as a Sangiovese go to. Moris Farms makes the lesser-known accessible, with a (sees no oak) modern accent of dark fruit and spice atop simple, pleasurable Sangiovese. Pleasantries exchanged, the 2012 MdS will work dinner, inside a Tuscan vernacular and out.  Tasted October 2014  @Morisfarms  @oenophilia1

Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, Ac Burgundy, France (48793, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Bouillot Rosé, for my $20 is the most impressive of their line-up, always tender and ripe as if just picked fruit, namely strawberry and raspberry. The Perle D’aurore is a faintly hued and lighthearted take but not light on effort. Elegance defined in Bourgogne bubbles with a savoury edge to give it strength.  Tasted November 2014  @JCB_Wines  @ChartonHobbs

McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (724492, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2007 is another fascinating study in Hunter Valley Sémillon. Like the ’06, egressing secondary notes have emerged, in equatorial garrigue and fruit having already met its aurulent stenosis. A honey note persists though less so in ’07, as does the level of tempering acidity. This vintage brings out the calm and the clam, though the petrol and the mineral are omnipresent, perhaps elevated. Must keep in mind it’s only $20 but it does fall a bit short in texture and acidity. There is lemon drop and the essential atomic Sémillon stoicism from the Hunter Valley, but it’s a bit thin and hollow up the middle. All that acknowledged, not having a look or two would be a shame. Tasted November 2014  @MtPleasantWines  @PRAXISpr

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012, Tasmania, Australia (162990, $22.95, WineAlign)

Pepik has elevated aromatic tones and though it appears lithe it reads like a weighty tome. Unique and of its Tasmanian self. Plums come to mind, as does red earth. The phenolic ripeness and varietal indications are ushered in with managed exceptions and are simply spot on. This does not strike as a Pinot Noir that will be long-lived because its black cherry and spice are riper than many contemporary editions in a similar price range, but it will offer great pleasure for two to three years.  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (394155, $23.95, WineAlign)

Thoroughly interesting study in German Pinot Gris despite the timid and reserved tonal nature. Aridity in as much as the variety can muster and in the largest, atmospheric sense. Though the palate has some fine-grained texture and feigned sweetness, it’s as if Baden can only do Pinots this way, in Gris and in Noir. Acidity is tempered and a willing accomplice to the diminished components of sugar and pH. A well designed Pinot Gris.  Tasted November 2014  @TheLivingVine  @WinesofGermany

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (390336, $28.95, WineAlign)

The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.  Tasted October 2014  @CreeksideWine

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $34.95, WineAlign)

Rubber dust, road macadam and strawberry jam. Fierce Bordeaux Blend home from a hot climate. This has gritty obduracy and doggedness. Like a red blend with a gun, walking the mean streets. Acidity shot through the roof. Bordeaux meets South Africa in every shared, resplendent and promising way. Rasping tannins contain bursting dark fruit, the grain running in multiple directions. Respect. Wait two more years on this and drink comfortably to 2020.  Tasted November 2014  @TrialtoON  @WOSACanada

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (727636, $34.95, WineAlign)

This is not the modern Crognolo as witnessed in the previous five vintages. In 2011 we have been granted the complex Crognolo. This has must and earth. It has grit and girth. Best Crognolo I have tasted. Tangy Sangiovese, with some chalk in tannin. Will live longer and offer unrequited love seven to 10 years down the road, to the patient and the faithful. Tasted November 2014  @TenSettePonti  @TrialtoON

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Doca Rioja, Spain (976662, $35.95, WineAlign)

It amazes me how kept wines from Rioja keep appearing as if they were just bottled yesterday but not this famous Gran Reserva. Syrupy and caramelized, bright and earthy. Mulled plum and clove with citrus accents. Bretty like a barn’s floor. Cedar and leather, big oak doors. Real mutton Rioja, still tannic, energetic and searing. Kicking it old school but wild and alive. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Were a full-term lecture taught on the pros and cons of the Brettanomyces brannigan, this Rioja might be exhibit A. Absolutely manifest fruit meets earth, meets game perfume compendium. Call it funky yeast if you must but here is a wine that can be approached by nose only and if the relationship were to end there, novels might be written. Lives on a fermented, catalytic and plucky edge but never submits to the bacterial spindrift. Leaden fruit, red and black, smooth and layered with a tension in tang that is paralyzing to the mouth. Thirteen years old and just hitting a secondary stride, with the oak slowly dissolving and not a hint of coffee or chocolate to be found. Sexy and down to earth at the same time.” Last tasted November 2014  @bodegasfaustino  @Select_Wines

Cune Gran Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (393553, $38.95, WineAlign)

Old school. Smells like Rioja. Smells like Spanish spirit and weeds, sinew, gristle and braising pig, all parts in. Smells like cedar, like American oak and a soak in a tub of spa earth and mineral salts. Like “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” This has already done the evolutionary dance so if you are looking for something to float your natural, honest boat, go here now. In a Rioja world where the times they are a changin‘, it will sail you back in time and away into a Mediterranean sunset.  Tasted November 2014  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (928028$49.95, WineAlign)

Firm and in a rustic vein, as per the Barbi dole, this one a bit funkier at the outset than many. Welcome to the classic firmness of 2008, antithesis of the flamboyant ’07’s but plan for 20 plus years of slow food elegance emission. Classic rose petal, tea leaves, dates and earth caked metal in this guy. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “As expected, this is a gritty effort from Barbi, in part the impart of a testosterone-laden vintage, along with the dryer and cooler climate from Barbi’s southeastern Montalcino vineyards. A low and slow ripening will surely translate to extended longevity, but the rusticity and leather/cherry continuum will never disappear. No doubt a classic example and very well-priced for such authenticity, still it can’t be helped to see Barbi’s ’08 as entrenched in an earlier period of time. The wine will need 10 years to soften its edges and reveal the refinement and elegance of a well-documented Brunello.”  Last tasted November 2014  @FATTORIABARBI  @Noble_Estates

Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (287854, $58.95, WineAlign)

A study in precision, exceptional quality and poise. Golden rays mixed with misty wisps, cool nights tempering warm days. Just a touch of wood spice pricks the finish. So much flavour.  Tasted November 2014  @DuttonGoldfield  @TheVine_RobGroh

Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Burgundy, France (390534, $59.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot Noir speaks for the two sides of every Burgundy argument, especially considering it comes from the gritty nook of Pommard. First impressions are floral and pretty, with spice and some sort of tropical flora whispering in cooing scents. The hill offers a buoyancy, a lifted spirit and a view of its own sweet regard. Travels through a mid-village weightless hover, then returns to terroir in prime time acidity and tannin to keep time. There is a sweet tart medicinal aspect ratio on the finish and overall this does things correctly. Does not finish with the same suave seduction that it teased at the start but it does continue to impress.  Tasted November 2014  @Select_Wines  @BourgogneWines

Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $60.95, WineAlign)

Aromatics are racing and rising from the glass. A red rain pouring in and out. Has yet to change course. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.” Last tasted November 2014  @VersadoWine

Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Champagne, France (983874, $84.95, WineAlign)

The reappraised vintage that was once considered good, now revealing itself as better than good uses examples like the Laurent Perrier Millésimé to drive the point. This is a classically symmetrical blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir possessive of much chaste class, incredible balance and held lotus posture. Through its waves of idiosyncratic brioche and linear citrus lines drawn in tactile angles this Champagne is unbent and unbroken. Its seamless transitions glide from delicate aromas, through a textured palate and groove forward in elastic length. Additionally graceful with an ever so slightly advanced and mature style from a mature world in vintage-dated Champagne.  Tasted November 2014  @ChampagneLPUSA  @Noble_Estates

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Mclaren Vale, Australia (242732, $114.95, WineAlign)

While the price is just about as absurd as a “yoga class for cats” or Raine Maida’s voice, it seems logical to wonder aloud how one could question this Carnival as not being one of the biggest and baddest Shiraz you will ever encounter. It’s a veritable run on sentence of Shiraz adjectives, adverbs and hyperbole. If your hankering remains entrenched in elevated alcohol, enormity of fruit, condensed and compressed mineral, lest to be forgetting the viscous ooze of Mclaren Vale syrup, well, then this jester should fill your stocking along with those of the rest of your circle of fortifying friends. From the maw of the beast here – blood gore and fruit guts. Holy crap is this extracted, tannic, mired in impropriety, full conceit and in zero jealousy of other Shiraz. It doth joust. Certainly no lady of peace. Wow.  Tasted November 2014  @MollydookerWine  @bwwines

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (936039, $139.95, WineAlign)

Magnificent and munificent wine. Really special, magnanimous in every way, ultra-luxurious but not over the top. Alcohol, oak and extraction judged and held in check, equity and in balance. The fruit is pure and delicate, marked by plum, blackberry and hovering licorice, anise and spices. Long in chain and really sweet tannins. Like gazing into a pool of real nineties Napa and across the pond to an older school of reasoning. Tasted November 2014  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Ac Margaux, 3e Cru, Bordeaux, France (261552, $167.95, WineAlign)

A heightened sense of Margaux reality in 2010 comes from the château with the hybrid name; first from Simon Malescot, King’s Counsel to Louis XIV at the Parliament of Bordeaux. Second, from the post French Revolution château purchaser, Count Jean Baptiste St Exupéry, grandfather of the aviator and writer Antoine de St Exupéry. This has to be the most hedonism ever bottled in a Malescot, within reason of course. The house does not know from over the top, save perhaps for the cost of this 2010. Cassis is certainly here, as is a medicinal tension, firm acidity and the most formidable tannins known to Margaux. The grain, chalk and tincture combine for full effect. This will need 10 years to chill, then go 10 plus 10 more to much applause and the request for a final curtain call. Tasted November 2014  @VinsdeBordeaux

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (399592, $167.95, WineAlign)

Wow. Aromatics are off the charts. Pine forest, leather, chestnut and cedar, savoury in every wild and sauvage way, but also pure. Berries, tobacco leaf, classical logic, structures and axioms lead me to imagine mid-nineties Paulliac. Seamless texture, ripe but not overripe, rich but never overly grainy. This is super fine and dialed back (with exotic spices and wood spice filling in the holes) in the cooler 2011 vintage. A Cabernet Sauvignon of the most savour and the most class. A ten to twenty year Spottswoode.  Tasted November 2014   @Spottswoode  @Smallwinemakers

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

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

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