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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15 Mind blowing wines of 2015

Old Sherry at the Cariñena Museo del Vino

Old Sherry at the Cariñena Museo del Vino

“You can choose your philosophy of critiquing just as you choose how to live. The freedom to personalize or substantiate thoughts on structure sacrifices the detail to meaning and meaning to preciseness.” I wrote that nearly a year ago. It holds true, as before, near, dear and clear to me today.

Extreme cold ushered in January of 2015 and the obvious lede was Coming wine from the cold. Halfway through the month an epiphany of sorts knocked upside the cerebral cortex, elaborated upon in Varietal Spanish wine. That smithy precursor would lead to revelations in October.

As January wound down and I prepared to hit the Niagara Icewine Festival, (revealed in We the Icewine) I first asked a matter of fat cat factual question, Is writing making a mess of wine? “The combined fugitive pieces of wine and its critics pose questions without answers. They must be asked very slowly.”

Related – Mind blowing wines of 2014

The weeks of suffering through frozen days and night breeds reflection and thought. While the temperatures remained cursedly south of 20 I begged the question, Why drink that?, “looking for heroic entablature and architectural wonder in bottles of wine. We see them as DNA and in their liquids we can read their entire future. We sip them again and again until we taste them for the first time. To remember generations.” Have wine forget winter.

Good bye and thank you for your hospitality South Africa @WOSA_ZA @WOSACanada @CapeWine2015

Good bye and thank you for your hospitality South Africa @WOSA_ZA @WOSACanada @CapeWine2015

I penned If it’s value you want, it’s South Africa you need and later in May, Shades of South Africa. Oh sweet, naive, wait until you travel there and see what’s really up, Godello. Same for A new Greek morning and Getting into Greece. One week in the Peloponnese and my psyche would be altered forever.

In March I explained Why it matters to taste wines again, urged sharing through the practice of Take a bottle, leave a bottle and waxed parenthetical in yet another meaningful soul-searching moment. Why hate wine? was waged with a comment on “the wine geek who hates certain wines. The wine aficionado who picks on specific bottles, bullies them to the point of hatred. Slags them beyond reproach. Rants to the world about the injustice of their existence.” Bugger off.

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

Then April. “The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.” Now you know the answer to Why taste Ontario?

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

In May further validation with Searching for Somewhereness and I’m a little bit County, setting the stage for an October visit to proportion enormity across ridges and eskers. Further understanding culled in The Old Third and older County wines and The ridges of Prince Edward County.

Saturday night @barquebbq #smokerschoice and '08 @bodegasmuriel #rioja #spain

Saturday night @barquebbq #smokerschoice and ’08 @bodegasmuriel #rioja #spain

“Wine is a commensurate animal, altricial such as it is, acaudal, acersous, agnostic, aculeate and allocryptic such as it is not. Wine that is not so much off the beaten path as actually growing on one.” Path straying wines. The game changer happened one day in May at Barque Smokehouse with Chiara De lulis Pepe and The natural wines of Emidio Pepe.

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

The June WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada followed Ontario Wine Awards judging, inclusive of tastings at Niagara College, Creekside Estates, Ravine Vineyard, Trius, Treadwell CuisineDomaine Queylus and The Good Earth Wine Company. A great, learned experience at Master classes of Terroir shed brilliant light on Gamay. Then the most important query of the summer. Can Chardonnay get any cooler? Well, one of two. Great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Nova Scotia? My maritime wine sojourn is summarized in East coast swing 2015: Time, tides and wine.

View of the mountains from Tetramythos, Aigialia, Peloponnese

View of the mountains from Tetramythos, Aigialia, Peloponnese

My great Greek Achaian adventure was told in three tales, Till I reach Achaia groundBring me Achaia love and Gateway to Achaia, from Roditis to Mavrodaphne

South Africa’s memories spilled out in waves, from Once upon a time in the Western Cape to Wines of South Africa: It’s the fling itself, through South African duck dynasty and Wines of South Africa: Go Cars Go.

The Empire of Garnacha

The Empire of Garnacha

October and November trips to Aragaon, Catalonia and Franciacorta opened eyes and expanded minds like never before. We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja was followed by CariñenaSomontanoTerra Alta and Calatayud.

With Pablo Alvarez (#vegasicilia) and Laurent Drouhin (#josephdrouhin) at #fourseasonstoronto for #primumfamiliaevini Can there be a more visceral wine experience than tasting some of the world's greatest wine estates and all the while their principals just seem to only talk about history and family? Makes me think about parents, grandparents and children. About accomplishments, passing torches and smelling roses. Or something like that.

With Pablo Alvarez (#vegasicilia) and Laurent Drouhin (#josephdrouhin) at #fourseasonstoronto for #primumfamiliaevini…Can there be a more visceral wine experience than tasting some of the world’s greatest wine estates and all the while their principals just seem to only talk about history and family? Makes me think about parents, grandparents and children. About accomplishments, passing torches and smelling roses. Or something like that.

Far out, man

Far out, man

Here are some mind blowing wines tasted in 2015.

Tetramythos Roditis 2014

Tetramythos Roditis 2014

Tetramythos Roditis 2014, PDO Patras, Greece (SAQ 12484575, $15.75, WineAlign)

Pulled from four vineyards at 650-850m of altitude and from vines 19-42 years old. No skin contact though it shows a light, slight tinge of colour. Nearly platinum in its yellow hue, perhaps attributed to organics says Papagiannopoulos, Eighty per cent was achieved through natural ferment (with zero malolactic) plus “one tank for security.” Roditis can go clean or develop anti-austerity, texture, viscosity in the direction of a dirty projector. The Tetramythos glides “forward through the clover and the bergamot.” I can see what she’s seeing. Tasting like a leesy ripe peach, this is the best “basic” Roditis tasted in Achaia. Serious match of Aleria Restaurant‘s Sea Bass Tartare. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015

To taste again @lafouceller in @doterraalta is today's master plan @VINOS_ICEX #lovegarnacha #garnatxablanca #crdoterraalta

To taste again @lafouceller in @doterraalta is today’s master plan @VINOS_ICEX #lovegarnacha #garnatxablanca #crdoterraalta

Lafou Celler Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

Ramon Roqueta Segalés, winemaker, soothsayer, visionary, seeker of the Garnatxa Blanca of today from “a narrow valley.” Ramon is very concerned with the valleys, the landscape, the geology, how the wind, the mediterranean climate and the ancient rivers that run through, having left their glacial deposits, all combine for this particular and most important expression of Garnatxa Blanca. Established in 2007, this wine was first released in 2011. Combines old and young fruit, some harvested fresher at a greener stage and others picked later, riper, brought together. Vinified separately, with some skin maceration, looking for fat to surround acidity. Ripe fruit (10 per cent) sees oak, the rest in egg shape concrete tanks with six to seven months of lees contact. Smells like a ripe peach, fresh and without sugar but instead a sprinkling of subterranean, ancient riverbed harvested salt. The tang is layered, variegated, mineral, mastered over and in corralling of oxidation, elaborated with gentle but forceful demand. “We learned that you can get a balance by harvesting and an early and a later stage, sometimes three times.” Finishes with lime, fresh squeezed, sweet tonic and distilled flowers. A wine that has succeeded in “mastering the oxidation process.” Plus the tannic (anti-oxidative) aspects offered in micro-oxygenation from the slightly toasted new oak. Approximate price $28.95 CAN. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted October 2015  @lafouceller  @oenophilia1

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Days of Yore 2014 (Winery)

Chris Alheit’s brand might allude to a chapter in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers but Days of Yore must pay some homage to the 80’s thrash metal band and with great irony. This Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault blend is no Doomsday for the Receiver and certainly No Place for Disgrace. What it is instead is pure liquid brilliance. Old 1960 Cabernet Sauvignon bush vines are (even if unintentionally) farmed the way they used to be, back in the days of yore. Now cropped, tended and produced in pitch perfect cure, the resulting wine (when Cabernet is blended with Albeit’s dry-farmed, stomped and tonic-singular Cinsault) shows smoky depth and musicality. Sour-edged or tart can’t begin to describe the tang. It’s something other, unnameable, sapid, fluid and beautiful. It brings South Africa from out of the heart of its wayfinding darkness. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisAlheit  @ZooBiscuitsWine

"If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling" @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

“If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling” @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $64.00, WineAlign)

This is the most northerly Zind-Humbrecht vineyard, in Hunawihr. Like oil and water from this to 2012. So much more richness, unctuousness, classic western European riverbank gluck and heavy weighted metal. Layers upon layers of texture though not nearly as dramatically sweet as it might appear to be. Hides it so well, thanks to those remarkable Windsbuhl gifting phenols and intense grape tannin. This has presence so very rare in Gewürztraminer. In the end its a glass full of liquid gems, polished, elegant and refined. Allow the sugars several more years to fully realize its potential relationship with the acidity. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted November 2015  @olivier_dzh  @TrialtoON  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace

Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $70.00, WineAlign)

The 2010 Don Melchor harkens backwards, to years like 2001 and 2003, rephrasing and rewriting the paradigmatic book. From seven contiguous, sub-divided blocks of Cabernet, the ’10 speaks most highly of Lot Two, emphasized by chocolate, menthol and mineral, in cohorts with Lot Four, in elegance and depth. Extended glom and time-lapse picking between April 22 and May 27 was the casualty turned blessing of a cooler growing season in the semi-arid Mediterranean-like scrub desert of Puente Alto. The alluvial motion hauteur of slow-ripened fruit can’t be overestimated. The frame by frame capture has resulted in aromatics wafting off the charts; violet, anise, roasting cocoa bean, garrigue, ferric filings, mortar on wet stone, Cassis and eucalyptus. There is no heat, rendering the 14.6 declared alcoholic irrelevant. Best of all, it smells like Chile as much as it does Cabernet. There is no need to discuss the (97 per cent) CS in terms of Bordeaux, that is until you taste. Then the tobacco angst and silky texture elicit Margaux. Black currants and fine chocolate melt on the finish, still with a mouthful of stones. For winemaker Enrique Tirado, this may be his “El opus.” It will age effortlessly for 12-15 years. For anyone who purchased this wine more than 10 vintages ago, comparing current cost can be a byproduct in natural preoccupation. Who would not want a return to the sub-$50 Don Melchor going back a decade or more? Yet while tasting the present decimus, $100 crosses the fiscal mind and seems completely apropos. At $70 the clarity and sonority of its value is the blazon of an epistle. Few Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines from Bordeaux or Napa Valley can compare. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @conchaytoro  @MikeAikins1  @DrinkChile

Mullineux & Leeu Syrah Iron 2013, Wo Swartland, South Africa (WineryAgentWineAlign)

If such cure, grip, ferric grab and intense tannin has ever infiltrated South African Syrah it has not yet found its way over to me. In a side by side comparative tasting with the Schist Syrah this one wrestles to win. The Schist is all perfume and soft elegance. The Iron draws power to strength from strength. It is an unrelenting conduit of energy, from soil clearly designed to outlive humanity. The Syrah is a product of geological wonder and winemaking that steps aside to let the terroir speak its mind. Demanding and filled with tension now, time will soften the stranglehold and loosen the wires. Lots of time. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2015  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxChris  @Nicholaspearce_

Fleury Père et Fils Cépages Blancs Extra Brut Champagne 1990, Champagne, France (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

The expediency of weighted oxidation in flight flies effortlessly as a traveller propelled with verve and intrepid behaviour. Dried tangerine and so many tannic aspects are exaggeratedly exceptional for Champagne, fast forward thrusted and draughted with effortless urge. Derived as if from concrete shaped in purest form, of and before life. The dried fruits and a pith so calming are gathered for a level of citrus almost never before encountered. A very, very special 25 year-old bottle of bubbles from a pioneering organic and biodynamic producer in Courteron. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted February 2015  @ChampagneFleury

Most exciting wines tasted in a long time @winesorarg #carasur #bonarda #criolla #argentina #valledecalingasta

Most exciting wines tasted in a long time @winesorarg #carasur #bonarda #criolla #argentina #valledecalingasta

Cara Sur Bonarda 2014, Barreal, San Juan, Agrentina (Approx. $140)

Dry farmed, mordant and agile varietal red, a garagiste of a dirt road, in minuscule production, from natural run-off water and wild yeast. Only 500-600 bottles are produced, from north of Mendoza, in the Valle de Callingasta and Zuccardi funded. The natural cure is off the charts, the Emidio Pepe of Argentina, in which winemaking is really just perfect. Smells like the scrape of the amphora, already imbued of the aromatics of years, the answers of age, the design of ancients. You could keep this in the glass for a week and it will hardly evolve. Imagined as a 40 year wine for sure. Purity incarnate. Drink 2015-2040.  Tasted August 2015  @winesofarg

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California (220517, $150.00, WineAlign)

A tremendously ripe, rich and layered Syrah that has few equals or rivals in California so in that sense the price is benevolently justified. Winemaker Matt Dees is no flash in the pan. His wines are cerebrated and cogitated with no stone left unturned. They are showy, chiselled wrestlers, boxers and ultimate fighters but they are the real deal. This ’08 is a veritable protein potpourri, of wafts from the finest boucherie, all hung limbs and wrapped sheep’s cheeses, in caves, on counters and under glass. The expression is also very Côte Rôtie meets côte de bœuf rôtie, with added luxe perfume, chalk and lacy grain. The fruit boundaries are endless, the chew meaty, cured and smoky. Ultra Syrah of never wavering red fruit in a packed vessel with alcohol declared at a meagre 14.9 per cent. Even if it is really more like 15.5, the wealth of fruit, acidity, tannin and structure can handle the heat. With so much happening, this wine will age like the prized hind quarters and mother’s milk solids it smells of. Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008 says something and I’d love to hear what that is 15 years down the road. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2015  @WoodmanWS  @CalifWines_CA

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, South Australia, Australia (Agent, $175.00, WineAlign)

The Bin 707 was first produced in 1964 though passed over from 1970 to 1975 and then in 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011. With Grange in mind, were it to look in the mirror, it would see its reflection as Cabernet Sauvignon. A true South Australian Claret, multi-regional blend from Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. The ’99 was the 28th and as I get on board in 2015 and taste the 707, it carries me so far away. Today, in this world and how we play it, this is as fresh as Cabernet Sauvignon can be. It reads like a book of dreams. It is a miller of fruit, in secondary ester of refinement. It is a jet airliner, leaving behind a voluminous, velutinous trail of exhaust. “I feel like it’s all been done,” but not like this, aged for 18 months in 100 per cent new 300 litre American oak hogsheads. Not with this precision from veraciously selected fruit. Not like this. Look to 2025 for the tertiary period to begin. Drink 2015-2024. Tasted August 2015 @penfolds  #treasurywineestates 

Fino, Don P.X. '86 and '62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Fino, Don P.X. ’86 and ’62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Bodegas Toro Albalá Don P.X. Reserva Especial 1962, Do Montilla Moriles (424085, $205.00, WineAlign)

Unlike the 1986 which under recent European law (because it is not a red wine) must not be named Gran Reserva, this grandfather of a Pedro Ximenez is free to be what it’s supposed to be. A wine that was housed in a home somewhere in the village 10 years before the winery was created. A wine harvested in 1962, then took two months to ferment (to 7 or 8 per  cent alcohol). Estate distillate was added to fortify and raise it to 17 per cent, followed by a slumber for two years in concrete vats. The final resting place was in American wood where it slumbered peacefully for 49 years until it was bottled in 2011. In a show of future forward thinking and in retrospect, of historical allegiance, the signature on the bottle belongs to its original maker. Egresses from such delicate aromas, from citrus to coffee and stands in remarkable freshness belying its 50 years. The nuts are smoked with a zesting by citrus and a dusting in nutmeg. Chestnut and hazelnut curiously form a crasis of sensation, airy and creamy like mousse, sabayon or Caudreau. If you allow it, the finish will not let go. The sugar (300 g/L RS) and acidity (5.73 g/L TA) are the tangible aspects of its futuristic longevity. Like the ’86 this is another dessert wine secured of natural preservatives; undefined, magical, impossible. These wines opened could last for 20 plus years, unchanged. Unopened that number could surpass 100, without question, no problem. Like honey, this is an earthly substance that can last, seemingly forever. So, one glass of P.X. every day, going forward, for self-preservation. Drink 2015-2060. Tasted October 2015  @LeSommelierWine

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 1983, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $279.95, WineAlign)

Give Emidio Pepe’s reds thirty odd years to develop and the impossible happens. To postulate in a moment’s assessment without remembering the pious tradition with which this was made would be a crime against Pepe, Abruzzo, the natural world and the wonders of the universe. With this much passage the spice cupboard that emits is wow times a thousand. Clove, cinnamon, cardamon, orange peel, galangal and like golden raisins that pass through quarries to become rubies. This wine is perfect. It has not broken down an iota. It requires no decanting. It defies logic, perception and time. There is no sediment, only energy. Speaks from the glass as if it were a child of destiny and mythology. The 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva arrives from along the same road taken but its transmogrification proves that the result, with thanks again to the endemic froth, is different every time. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted March 2015

Gaia Gaja and 1978 Barbaresco #veryproud #nebbiolo @StemWineGroup

Gaia Gaja and 1978 Barbaresco #veryproud #nebbiolo @StemWineGroup

Gaja Barbaresco 1978, Piemonte, Italy (Agent)

Tasted with Gaia Gaja as an added, as good a bonus as there ever was to an already exceptional line-up of Gaja wines, the 1978 Barbaresco is untangled, untwisted and liberated. Nebbiolo spoken with the utmost clarity. Cherries falling from the tree the moment the tips of fingers come within a hair of the touch. Spring is indeed in the air (despite it being early fall), a trick of the Gaja Genesis tale, “fields of incentive covered with green.” A mesmerizing Barbaresco, pure as driven snow, clear as a pool of fallen rain, quiet as an undisturbed slumber. Ancient longings of leather and dusty cocoa are but pipe stuffing, not yet lit. This Nebbiolo is pretty, feminine, beautiful and forcefully elegant. “When you’re asleep they may show you, aerial views of the ground, Freudian slumber empty of sound.” Only available from Nebbioli of the highest caste and order. Drink 2015-2028.  Tasted September 2015

Five little ducks all in a row @BellaVistaVino #anothersongaboutthefizz #franciacorta #largeformats #1987 #1989

Five little ducks all in a row @BellaVistaVino #anothersongaboutthefizz #franciacorta #largeformats #1987 #1989

Bellavista Winery Brut Sparkling 1987, Franciacorta, Italy (From a Six litre bottle, Agent, Winery)

Tasted alongside a 750 mL, Magnum, Jeroboam and nine litre 1989. The Methuselah is the first wine to show similarly to any of the others so the comfort level rises and yet this rocks out flinty and reductive most like the 3L. The energy is consistent, but here the spice is magnified and the nutty sense that showed in the Magnum has come forth. This seems to combine the pique aspects of both the Magnum and the Jeroboam. A best of all worlds bottle plus what it brings that neither had. Absolute freshness. Does not evolve in the glass in its first few minutes like the others that came before. It evens glistens unlike the others, as if it knows how complex, special and alive it is. This is the bomb for sure. Dart straight through the heart. Crazy exceptional Sparkling wine. It should be interesting to try and assess, which is a major act of liberty in assumption, to gauge with accuracy how format affects age. To close one’s eyes tight and place a number on each wine, to where it has evolved and why. Here, Jeroboam still three to five years away from even that beginning. Truly. Drink 2018-2037.  Tasted November 2015  @BellavistaVino  @Noble_Estates

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Top 10 May 16th VINTAGES releases

Oyster, Fiddlehead, Morel

Oyster, Fiddlehead, Morel

Long weekend ahead. Must find wine. VINTAGES concentrates on Australia and I am happy to report that the choices are more than impressive, especially in shades of Chardonnay, Sémillon and Marsanne. Three Ontario whites are released with two offering perfect sipping opportunities, from the hands of Rob Power and Richie Roberts. The third, from Craig McDonald, will blow you away in the realm of wild and crazy cool Chardonnay.

Get out there folks, said in refrain, put on some music, pour a glass and seize the day.

From left to right: Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Tahbilk Marsanne 2013, Kuhlmann Platz Rosé Crémant D'alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Pinot Gris 2014 and Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Tahbilk Marsanne 2013, Kuhlmann Platz Rosé Crémant D’alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Pinot Gris 2014 and Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay 2012

Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (341792, $17.95, WineAlign)

The Backyard Block returns for another go around with as much Loire typicity as Niagara does in Sauvignon Blanc. Cements the Creek Shores varietal viability, in ripeness, greens and acidity.

From my earlier note of February 2014: A Creek Shores SB that bridges the gap between spring and summer fruit. From a year in which the choice was made to not blend off into the estate bottling. Recognizable Creekside aromatics stand out in a more than obvious mineral deposit and grapefruit zest way. Here the band plays across The Great Divide so “just grab your hat, and take that ride.”  Tasted again in August 2014 and last tasted May 2015  @CreeksideWine  @rich_hobbsandco

Tahbilk Marsanne 2013, Nagambie Lakes, Central Victoria, Australia (117945, $17.95, WineAlign)

In this Marsanne music from the big flint can be heard, with more than a wisp of woodsmoke and an aridity that hollows out the theatrical sound. Has that lean, stoic feeling, like Hunter Valley Sémillon, with a mouthful of mineral and stone. Since you asked, yes it does get to the Rhône point and lingers efficiently for longer than a band’s last waltz organ line. Though so dry it dips into the Nagambie Lakes well and seeks epic Evangeline poetic longevity. Marsanne from out of the blue that will gain weight and will age into a Riesling like future, with petrol and honey. Then it will play in refrain, its theme repeated for a good, long, lingering time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @TahbilkWinery  @GrapeExpects  @winevic

Kuhlmann Platz Rosé Crémant D’alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Alsace, France (400788, $18.95, WineAlign)

Crémant cut from cloth neither chary nor coy, prompted with prejudice though in the archaic, piercing, ultra arid K-P style. Elemental my dear Rosé and cherries, struck by lightning and melting into the silky, sultry and lactic palate. Anything but oxidative with thunderous, Pinot Noir appeal. Pour this everywhere, off of fountains and into large vessels. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015    @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace  

Fielding Pinot Gris 2014, Estate Bottled, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251108, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such a ripe and extroverted Pinot Gris, in a style created and honed by winemaker Richie Roberts, here in 2014 near its apex. Singular without feeling the pressure to induce rapture or revelation. Fleshy ripe, of peaches, plums and nectarines. Typically and expectedly fresh, juicy, industrious, vehement and good, spicy length. Always well-made, hitting essential, doctrinal Pinot Gris notes and so very food versatile. May I suggest a whole grilled fish, lemon and fresh herbs. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015  @RichieWine  @FieldingWinery

Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay 2012, Great Southern, Western Australia, Australia (410027, $22.95, WineAlign)

Flint or sulphur, pick your poison and in the case of this Howard Park Chardonnay, it must be called good medicine. Such a lively, struck match seethe, intimating and participating in the act of cool climate performance. A Sandman, an algid atmospheric cover band to the real Metallica, with mineral, toasty notes and driving anxiety. If only there was more than this, more fruit and flesh, this would be a stunner. As it is, the value it represents can’t be denied. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2015  @HowardParkWines  @imbibersreport  @WestAustralia

From left to right: Tyrrell's Brookdale Sémillon 2013, D'arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011, Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

From left to right: Tyrrell’s Brookdale Sémillon 2013, D’arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011, Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

Tyrrell’s Brookdale Sémillon 2013, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (269316, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hunter Valley Sémillon should never, ever be underestimated. The starved, crazed and raving mad personality is delirium incarnate. This Tyrrell’s ‘basic’ Brookdale is like orchard fruit on a focused and intense diet, thirsty from drought and hungry from deprivation. And it’s simply gorgeous. Wiry, angular and lean, it’s also careening and funky, actually, like a tincture made from dried roots, fruit skins and grasses, ground between two schisty stones. Like lemons left out in the sun to dry, pulverized and inculcated to a professor’s fine elemental powder. For now it knows “all I have is baking and going simple slowly.” Close your eyes and feel past the young tension, to where the body of the wine indicates expansion, to five years on where honey and sweet cold collation will lead this to a special place. Put aside the indifference engine and suck it up buttercup. This is exemplary Hunter Valley Sémillon for a pittance. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2015  @TyrrellsWines  @Wine_Australia  @HunterValleyAUS

D’arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011, Mclaren Vale, Australia (48785, $25.95, WineAlign)

This Love Grass is the kind of Shiraz with the right stimulants, high-toned but with a kind of resinous, dried fruit that hydrates with an intoxicating perfume. The vineyard’s weed infiltrates and adds savour, stimulating the senses with cool Mediterranean aromas mixed with the flavour of beautifully bitter chocolate. Sticky and able to attach itself across the taste buds, the wolf steps on every nerve, then attacks the teeth and the back palate. All the while you are left with a calm yet enervating feeling. Chester Osborn, “you know the dealer, the dealer is a man, with the love grass in his hand.” This D’arenberg is worth every penny of its $26, especially when the pusher is considered against many peers $20-$30 more costly. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @darenbergwine  @mclaren_vale  @imbibersreport

Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign)

The ambiguity of site is of little consequence in this texturally striking Niagara Chardonnay. The bookend vintages of 2010 and 2012 list the Oliveira Vineyard on the label and not surprisingly display character akin to Norm Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay. From Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, Hardie calls it Beamsville Bench, Craig McDonald deems it Lincoln Lakeshore. Regardless, those wines of fruit with a “golden tan, ready to go” are undomesticated and wild. This Trius 2011 is different. The fruit’s source is unspecified and the bursting personality takes Peninsula Chardonnay architecture past and well right of the centre line. Rich, ripe and buttressed, from pivot to gyrate, with acidity circling the life affirming yeasts. Pear trees in spring bloom and ready to pick fruit in a dream of tenses, with personality like a Hengst Grand Cru Pinot Gris. The style and varietal take are highly unique, expertly configured, judged and primed to age. Speaks the treble language of the vintage, predicated on bold ideas looking forward towards a bright future. Ultimately it is yeast and vintage, non partisan to site, that elaborate the Wild Ferment 2011. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted May 2015  @TriusWines

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011 and Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (410753, $41.95, WineAlign)

Both estate and purchased fruit sources from several sites make up the Old Stones, a Willamette Chardonnay in which those stones can be imagined travelling a subterranean river, along with salt and volcanic bombs. Balance defined for Oregon, with soft and subtle fruit melded into stiff vintage-driven acidity. This is a not a heavyweight by any stretch, but rather an elegant, confident, demurred Chardonnay with lots of class. It has its popping moments, not quite eruptive but the activity can be sensed. It will evolve and slowly dissipate with time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted May 2015  @Bergstromwines  @HalpernWine  @wvwines

D'arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

D’arenberg The Love Grass Shiraz 2011 and Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008

Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California (220517, $150.00, WineAlign)

A tremendously ripe, rich and layered Syrah that has few equals or rivals in California so in that sense the price is benevolently justified. Winemaker Matt Dees is no flash in the pan. His wines are cerebrated and cogitated with no stone left unturned. They are showy, chiselled wrestlers, boxers and ultimate fighters but they are the real deal. This ’08 is a veritable protein potpourri, of wafts from the finest boucherie, all hung limbs and wrapped sheep’s cheeses, in caves, on counters and under glass. The expression is also very Côte Rôtie meets côte de bœuf rôtie, with added luxe perfume, chalk and lacy grain. The fruit boundaries are endless, the chew meaty, cured and smoky. Ultra Syrah of never wavering red fruit in a packed vessel with alcohol declared at a meagre 14.9 per cent. Even if it is really more like 15.5, the wealth of fruit, acidity, tannin and structure can handle the heat. With so much happening, this wine will age like the prized hind quarters and mother’s milk solids it smells of. Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008 says something and I’d love to hear what that is 15 years down the road. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2015  @WoodmanWS  @CalifWines_CA

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Top 10 May 2nd VINTAGES

From left to right: Gérard Bertrand Languedoc Syrah/Grenache 2011, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Salwey Pinot Gris 2013, Elephant Hill Pinot Noir 2013 and Elephant Hill Syrah 2012

From left to right: Gérard Bertrand Languedoc Syrah/Grenache 2011, Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Salwey Pinot Gris 2013, Elephant Hill Pinot Noir 2013 and Elephant Hill Syrah 2012

Top 10 best buys for VINTAGES, May 2nd release. Get out there folks.

Gérard Bertrand Languedoc Syrah/Grenache 2011, Ap Languedoc-Roussillon, France (413237, $17.00, WineAlign)

Admiration is afforded this tidy little Languedoc, where red fruit meets citrus, lavender and garrigue. Peppery and just the right amount of earthy warmth, spice, softness and yet durability. A pleasure of florality and a fine grain runs through, with no bake, no shake and no cake. Yeomans work in Grenache-Syrah symbiosis. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @GBvins  @FwmWine  @LanguedocWines

Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013, Qualitätswein, Mosel, Germany (409698, $20.95, WineAlign)

Architecturally precise, of cleanly drawn lines, like the Mosel Vinothek acquired and restored by Molitor in 1984 and winner of the “Architekturpreis Wein 2013.” The Riesling mimics the juxtaposition of historical and modern, seemingly steeped in the past and transposed to the present by state-of-the-art winemaking. This has slate, steep steppes rising from subterreanean acquired salinity and ingrained aridity. There is no way to hide from the scree of the past, avoid the incline towards the future, nor can it exist without the run-off of mineral left behind. Brilliant hue, matched density, matchstick wisp and wild tang. Honeyed and suckling porcine in an early roasting stage, with terrific texture. The beautiful arid length is purposed and linear, with much oomph in its gait. Will linger for five to 10 years easy. Tasted February and April 2015     

Salwey Pinot Gris 2013, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (409912, $21.95, WineAlign)

This Baden Pinot Gris is neither fad nor fashion and not an acquired taste. In terms of modern European Gris to Grigio schematics, it is a step up in class, reaching to a chasm of intensity not oft achieved in Baden or other similarly priced Alsatians or Italians. For mineral streaks it reaches west across the Rhine to seek a Vosges mentality, found within a pure, dry and crisp interior. Quite concentrated and ripe like some stylistically-driven Friuli and yet it is the whole package, the sapidity and the good bitters that give it strength in totality. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015 @TandemSelection  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca

Elephant Hill Pinot Noir 2013, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand (309583, $22.95, WineAlign)

At this price it might seem a Central Otago impossibility but Elephant Hill achieves proper inertia with this fresh, forward, crisp and pure style, so at the end of the day it’s quite a steal. In consideration of the mostly 1er Cru appellation, it would be hard to find a better deal in Pinot Noir, save for a combined tumescence hailing from Niagara, British Columbia and Bourgogne. Struts carbonic in the best way imaginable, desires little in the way of cerebral complexity and hands over the goods with a quick delivery. But it hits the marks of Pinot Noir, Otago and New Zealand. The earth derived rides with chalky grain and the mudslide slim back side is energetic, mineral laced and just this side of gritty. Pinot Noir to sip towards a blue horizon. “I just might move my feet, ’cause there’s nothing like the sound of sweet soul music.” Taylor-made Central Otago, with easy sipping and listening in mind. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @ElephantHill  @COPinotNoirLtd  @HHDImports_Wine

Elephant Hill Syrah 2012, Hawke’s Bay, North Island, New Zealand (408633, $22.95, WineAlign)

Much like the Central Otago Pinot Noir by this Hawke’s Bay based outfit, the Syrah is neither shocking nor strikingly complex but it does send a noticeable tip of the hat to the northern Rhône, with a cure on the nose, a smoke meat smouldering in flavour and a cool, sloping bounce in its step. The aromas bring both charcuterie and a braise of spice studded belly to mind. The flavours call upon dark, red fruit, fresh-faced and fleshy, along with needful, percolating acidity. The avoidance of sweetness and jam-layered cake is appreciated while it stays the course of Syrah and Hawke’s Bay, criss-crossing hydrated grains of sand and salinity like a river running beneath and through it. The lengthy finish offers the promise of mid-term cellaring. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @ElephantHill  @HawkesBay_NZ  @HHDImports_Wine

From left to right: E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2011, Bachelder Wines Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Gundlach Bundschu Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012 and Jonata Tierra 2008

From left to right: E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2011, Bachelder Wines Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Gundlach Bundschu Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012 and Jonata Tierra 2008

E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2011, Ac Rhône, France (704908, $28.95, WineAlign)

Syrah with character, personality and expression that stands up to be counted. High-toned, earthy and nearly over the threshold of palatable Bruce Banner-Betty Ross bunching. Hints at oxidation but is oh so sound, oozes liqueur like old-school Tempranillo and yet can be nothing but sloping Rhône. Kirsch, leather, roses, steeped cherries, orange tea, cinnamon, vanilla, charcuterie, bacon, game and acidity that is rapturous and encapsulating. Has it all going on, going strong, with forward motion and a nod to its past. Plays funky beats, swells in Paul Williams baritone and Melvin Franklin deep bass. The temptations of such a wine are hard to resist. In a world where manipulation and critters sell millions of bottles “stop worrying about your neighbors and the fancy things they got.” Focus on the real deal, like this CH from Guigal and “Don’t Let The Joneses Get You Down.” Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @DOMAINEGUIGAL  @VinexxCanada  @VINSRHONE

Bachelder Wines Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA  (333278, $34.95, WineAlign)

Pinot Noir packing blankets, covered, hovering like fluffy clouds on a windless day. “Today is a lovely day to run, start up the car with the sun,” to taste a pure and idealistic Bachelder Oregon expression. Big (14.1 per cent) for the monk, ripe, warm and reeling.

From my earlier December 2014 note:

Primarily constructed from the fruit of Yamhill-Carlton vines, a third of which is Lazy River, an apropos moniker because by harvest time it hardly moves. The warm vintage adds a calm dimension to a Pinot Noir more Burgundian than the Bachelder’s Niagara and also more table friendly. Pure perfume and like life in layered, rosy hues, a vie en rose, from the land and the river’s subtle flows. The terra mobilis. The underlying dream in Thomas Bachelder’s Oregon movement is mineral, like salinity, not limestone but something ambiguous from the river’s pull and under the river. Elegance lived and relived. Here is a wine from a very available warm vintage, with a mess of fleshy fruit, yet Thomas does not obfuscate the terroir. In 2012 and needfully so, it is served from a light hand. Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec and coming to VINTAGES in Ontario, Spring 2015.  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Last tasted April 2015

Gundlach Bundschu Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (397513, $49.00, WineAlign)

From winemaker Keith Emerson a Pinot Noir strummed from top to bottom clay loam that is such a matter of controlled emotion and intensity. From out of the fog walks this Sonoman of searing clarity, unapologetic, warm but never hot, telling it like it is. The first chord is the thing, as is the Pinot voice, as sure as Sonoma always turns blue. Beyond that initial substantial impression it glides, even shows the semblance of age, in a beautifully creamy strawberry folded into caramel note. Then potpourri into demi-glace. If the plan is to purchase, pop, pour and saddle alongside duck breast or a veal chop, then giddy-up. “You see it’s all clear, you were meant to be here, from the beginning.” A trilogy of ready, willing and dutifully able. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015  @gunbunwine  @LeSommelierWine  @sonomavintners

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand (329672, $49.95, WineAlign)

Perfectly bright Pinot Noir while simultaneously deep, dark and recondite. Energetic in spirit, ripe and packed with barbed, piquant fruit sewed in threaded badges of spice. Perfumed as if by cinnamon and displacing rose petals. Like the scent of a crystal clear summer’s night, all warm, dry and of dried strawberry juice cracked paint. Grounded and fulfilling, of its own holes, in the mouth and finishes with a feminine touch. A thoroughbred, a filly, that trots on an on, long after it has crossed the finish line. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015  @DogPointWines    @TrialtoON

Jonata Tierra 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, California (221150, $89.00, WineAlign)

Syrah and Cabernet may be the varietal strikers in winemaker Matt Dees’ arsenal but take one whiff of his ’08 Tierra, a Sangiovese aged a spell to seal the sell and boom! Striking defines the operative, go figure. Never before has the Tuscan expatriate created such a buzz in a California uniform and it has yet been seen to contest with such hot skill. Bounces around in the glass, not so much reductive as plugged in, electric, static and then kinetic, even frenetic. The heat (14.6 alcohol declared) is felt though it’s filtered and spread, tempered by the cooler vintage, blanketing all facets of the composition, albeit with rhythm and in balance. This is Sangiovese from the Santa Inez Valley manifested as flowers and the steep-like tea of modern Nebbiolo wrapped around the enigma of bi-polar Brunello. The ’08 is brined, of olives and a cure, in Syrah braised bacon and smoky tufts of garrigue. Nearly sadistic in its heady risks and chances but how to turn away from the alluring intoxicants? “Forging ahead with precision, now there is no turning back.” This is a wine you can’t walk away from. Has great bitters and lit charcoal on the finish. Tierra the Annihilator. It is most definitely all in. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @WoodmanWS

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Big release, bigger wines

Chicken and beef destined for tortillas

Chicken and beef destined for tortillas

As we creep deeper and deeper into late autumn days, with afternoons bereft of light and evenings full of chill, we begin to search for more than a pipkin of warmth. Wine can fill the void and it is no simple folderol that we seek. The bicameral brain on one lobe wants deep, earthy reds, dynamic and changeless, the other asks for bombs with damp fuses.

But enough about that. Tomorrow marks the VINTAGES November 8th release. One short of the big holiday mess but full of big wines nonetheless. Here are nine to pass the time, to tell the cold to buzz off and to share with an unbridled generosity of spirit.

From left to right: Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Chante Alouettes Pouilly Fumé 201, Michael David 6th Sense Syrah 2012, Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2012

From left to right: Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Chante Alouettes Pouilly Fumé 201, Michael David 6th Sense Syrah 2012, Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2012

Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Alsace, France (392928, $17.95, WineAlign)

From a northern part of Alsace, southwest of Strasbourg comes this epitome of Dry Alsace Riesling, stone cold stoic and bereft. The impossibility of this style is what Alsace does with impunity and propriety; gaseous and aerified without petrol or vitriol. But it will condense and go there after five years time. The quality is excellent for the price, from a limestone and silica lieu-dit just this side short of Grand Cru. Citrus would be the wrong descriptor but it does act like an exuding of citric acid. So stark and beautiful. Such a mineral expression in every fighting sense of the argument. Like chewing on rock salts and dehydrated limestone, the second tablet then dropped into the glass. A famous wine merchant in London sells this for $25 CAN. In Ontario, this is a must purchase by the case.  Tasted October 2014  @HHDImports_Wine  @drinkAlsace

Michael David 6th Sense Syrah 2012, Lodi, California (394395, $24.95, WineAlign)

Considering it’s only $25, this is a screaming deal. The level of quality and concentration, regardless of the excess, is almost impossible. Not so much smelling like Syrah (it is devoid of any sort of roasting or cured meat) but what it lacks in porcine caramelization it makes up for in candied flowers, dense all-day cake and smoked beef ribs. So much rub (with too much brown sugar) needs slow cooking to assimilate, so wait a few years. This reminds me of good value Napa Petite Sirah (no relation) but for Lodi, at this price, this is the finest Syrah to be found. Great acidity, verve, incredulous modernity, unabashed behaviour and high alcohol – but it handles it well.  Tasted October 2014  @MDWinery  @imbibersreport

Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Chante Alouettes Pouilly Fumé 2013, Loire, France (391623, $28.95, WineAlign)

Calm, reserved and intelligent. Just a faint hint of smoke, a whiff or a puff, here today, gone tomorrow.  Glade after a misty rain, glacial till, tangy in very good ways, intense but on the right edge of bearishness. Good quality.  Tasted October 2014  @oenophilia1

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2012, Igt Toscana, Italy (147876, $31.95, WineAlign)

La Difese, “the defences,” is the third wine of Tenuta San Guido and has been produced since 2003. The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent) and Sangiovese (30). Though the price hike is a slight, if splitting hair concern, in 2012 the IGT continues to, as they say, consegnare la merce. The vintage persists in ripe fruit and firm alcohol (14 per cent) but exhibits just the right sort of modernity. Sugars, oak and acidity follow suit, all in check. Smells like all sorts of licorice, below, above and in the ground. A seamless wine, so perfect for pasta and protein, an expatriate grape influenced baby Brunello, in a way, but clean and never gamy. Polished and with a foot entrenched in tradition. A delicious vintage for the Difese.  Tasted October 2014  @Smarent

From left to right: Ontanon Gran Reserva 2001, Churton Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell'annunziata Barolo 2008, Jonata Todos Red 2010, Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne

From left to right: Ontanon Gran Reserva 2001, Churton Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell’annunziata Barolo 2008, Jonata Todos Red 2010, Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne

Ontanon Gran Reserva 2001, Rioja, Spain (939736, $39.95, WineAlign)

A re-taste ups the ante and the score. Here, finally a 2001 Rioja that reeks of the maturity it announces. For a 13 year-old wine it displays all the tertiary components that are in high demand; worn leather, dried fruit, roasted cherries and the demi-glazing bones of a young calf. Imagine this with the finest preparation of ri de veau. Oh baby. Still churning its creamy oak and dried spice accents with some verve and just a wisp of cherry wood smoking in the open air fire pit. Really lovely. From my earlier August 2014 note: “This Tempranillo dominant and Graciano blend is of a funk more sister than brother. Class, breeding and elegance are the call cards, while grace, control and style are her moves. Still, a funk’s a funk, like Thomas East or Gloria Williams. Sister Funk with no words. An all-instrumental Rioja, with old-school rampart fortification, smells of coffee ground through stones and a flowing, dressy, showy and colourful display of fabric and texture. She has a slight temper but so much confidence. A strutting Gran Reserva, in leather boots and tight, curled acidity.  Last tasted November 2014  @OntanonWines  @TandemSelection

Churton Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand (237164, $39.95, WineAlign)

A whole lot more complexity here for $40 than the bulk of Marlborough Pinot Noir – more earth, mineral and biodynamic love are in this bottle with egos checked at the door. Florality trumps varnish, fruit is occupied but always ready to be bitten, crushed rocks are crumbling and bleeding in the bottle. Finesse, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,” regal red fruit and dirt so fine, filtered and sweet. High quality and ageability intuit their philosophy into the practicum because the acidity and tannin are refined, hydrated, yet gritty in their ultra-composed way. Bring on the Petit Manseng.  Tasted October 2014  @LeSommelierWine  @ChurtonWines

Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell’annunziata Barolo 2008, Docg Piedmont, Italy (293761, $51.95, WineAlign)

A most daunting yet approachable Rocche by Settimo, cinnamon splintered and floral spice in a flat out rocking Nebbiolo. With roses and tisane of orange rind mixed with coriander and pungent earth, this has all the aromatics you could dream on, along with a whack of dry, grainy tannin. A most excellent and righteous, properly made, capable of aging for a minimum two decades Barolo.  Tasted October 2014  @AURELIOSETTIMOV

Jonata Todos Red 2010, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California  (218941, $67.95, WineAlign)

Lays out a new Santa Ynez Valley Rhône ranging slang. Huge wine but so beautifully Syrah. Literally dripping with memories of rendered, just crisping Pancetta and barque crusted smoked meat. Offers a sensation of Mediterranean brine, the warmth of a sunshine coast and the density of a thousand layers of chocolate covered cracklings. Wow. Huge and intense in every way; fruit, acidity, texture and tannin. Could further dream of consuming in Todos completion with the largest pork rib from the most ancient, prehistoric pig. This is a 30-year wine. Has to be. Best ever Todos made by Jonata.  Tasted October 2014  @WoodmanWS

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne, Champagne, France (384529, $75.95, WineAlign)

A wine of social heredity, the Bollinger is tranquilized, entreated and centered by meditation. An arid, atomic and piercing Bollinger. Fine and misty, with ultra-classic subtlety, a living, breathing embodiment of a beloved house style. Exotic to a degree, these are bubbles in colourful pageantry, the Bollywood of Champagne, in grace, of flowing robes, hues in ochre and pastels, flowing like song and dance. There are beautiful bitter tonics on the finish. How can you not admire and be entranced by this style? What’s not to like?  Tasted October 2014  @BollingerFrance  @andrewhanna

Good to go!

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See the humanity in real value wine

Glass of red wine PHOTO: FONS LAURE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

There is no secret that Canadians and especially the wine consumer from Ontario, desperately want more choice. We want private wine shops that can specialize in niche products. We want all Canadian grapes to be granted passports to travel freely from province to province. We want access to real wines made by passionate human beings. We don’t want plonk.

Twice a month I taste through in excess of 100 hundred wines scheduled for release through VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the LCBO. On some days the wines, as a group, seem merely “better than dough.” On other days they cause one or more of my colleagues to say things like “this is the worst red wine day of my life.” The public knows that we have lagged for many years in wine retail. The public is ahead of the LCBO think tank on this.

Fortunately, or not, depending on how bright a side of life you look, more often than not I can look through and beyond the barbaric fringes and pick out a few primitive, unfettered warriors from the monopolistic offering. Once in a while the sea of humanity reveals itself and many wines shine, express their terroir, their somewhereness, their completeness. Here are nine estimable examples ready for immediate enjoyment, now in a store near you.

Clockwise from left: Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012, Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010, Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire, Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011, Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010, Château Lyonnat 2006, Château La Grange De Bessan 2009, Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011, and Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010

Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012 (224964, $13.95) is all sun and strawberry, almond and grapefruit tree scents after dark, so much spirit in the night. Salinity, markedly well-made and Muga-like. “Stand right up now and let it shoot through you.”  87  @HHDImports_Wine

Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010 (264648, $14.95) is simply a ton of wine for $15. That said, it takes extraction to the maximum and is yet blessed with a graceful level of gravitas. I wouldn’t want to drink too much of this, or any other similarly concentrated and heavily fruit- endowed Rhône but there is enough mineral and tar character to keep Le Gravillas honest.  88

Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire (141077, $15.95) foams frothy forth alive and expansive out of a yeasty starter, spins lightly on its A16 axis and revolves tightly wound around a citrus spindle. A working class Marechal, real and made for the people. Perhaps not La Grande Illusion but a wine that will “show the common humanity present across these divisions.” About as good as Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling Loire Chenin Blanc can be and priced to fly.  89

Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011 (57042, $17.95, SAQ, 858886, $17.60) speaks sedimentary cryptocrystalline vernacular to narrate its Loire Chenin Blanc story by way of a ripe apple and blooming rose style. Off-dry and dehydrated by the chert, that defining, dusty silex soil. There should be land-driven $18 wine available, always and everywhere.  89  @LoireValleyWine

Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010 (21253, $19.95, SAQ, 913897, $22.85) returns the storied Alsatian to top form after a confounding ’09. Cool climate, perfervid pear considers dressing up in lime-spiked papaya but chooses to turn on its heel to put on a sequin-dotted silk dress. Spot on, shimmering scintillant.  90  @drinkAlsace

Château Lyonnat 2006 (243774, $19.95) built upon 85 percent Merlot, 11 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and four percent Cabernet Franc has ancient and learned Right Bank morphology written all over its sweet, scorched earth perfume. Has entered the zone, in toasted cedar and grilled beef on the bone integration but caramel and kindling are just around the corner. Get in while the coals are smoking. Reminds me of the good oak days.  89

Château La Grange De Bessan 2009 (321331, $19.95) is a poster child for affordable, humanistic Médoc, Left Bank, hyped vintage Bordeaux. Mutton on the reductive nose does not impose a run and hide. Purple flowers, parquet smoke and dark chocolate co-mingle with iron, calcium and limestone. Meat-friendly, complex, well-structured.  90  @BordeauxWines

Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011 (74781, $21.95) must be a fairy tale, a Boucles d’or narrative of structure and complexity from the first swirl and sniff. Airy, saline, built of rich, gold guts. Perfectly ripened orchard fruit and fresh-squeezed grapefruit. Taste it and there’s a joyous dance, a kefi bursting inside, like great Champagne but minus the bubbles.  92  @KolonakiGroup

Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010 (318121, $23.95) from Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon is bottled, golden Californian sunshine, rich, unctuous and tanned. Will be accused of being obnoxious, bellicose, even Sisyphean, but she and I don’t care. Spicy, candied yellow apple, sappy, honeysuckle scent meets an efflux of buttery cashew, like toasted Chardonnay crossed with aged Chenin. Grand Cali Viognier.  91  @jbonaccorsi

Good to go!

Wine, wine and sunshine

PHOTO: KWEST/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

The unequaled quotient of sun multiplied by wine makes California the leading authority to transition from Winter to Spring. The California Wine Fair signals that seasonal change across Canada, at least when it comes to the fermented grape industry.

California Wines offers Canadians a chance to stem the tide while we wait for the budding of vines to produce new fruit in the regions of Niagara, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore, Okanagan, Naramata Bench, Similkameen, Gaspereau, Montérégie and so many more. Now in its 33rd year, the travelling wine rodeo has and will continue to journey to five Canadian cities between April 2nd and May 2nd, including Québec City, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Halifax.

As the largest advocacy group for the state, California Wines brought 106 participating wineries on Monday, April 8th to the Canada Room at the Fairmount Royal York Hotel. A sea of swilling humanity converged to pack the space in a heat-missile, wine-seeking show of force. The wave of people needed to be negotiated like the surfing of a coastal swell, but with hundreds of merchants and agents on hand, the cups did runneth over.

To a bottle, there is so much sunshine locked inside that at times it can be very difficult to discern one Chardonnay from the next, one Cabernet Sauvignon from another. Pinot Noir in particular suffers from a current, monochromatic lack of somewhereness, trapped inside a shell. The lack of Rhône-inspired wines making it to the Canadian market causes me the strongest disconcerting feelings of discontent. Thankfully, due to the diversity of wine regions across California, there exists a light to help define and delineate the lines. It was only a year ago that it felt as if Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were caught in stagnated mochafication but this 2013 tasting has shed new light. Here are the five wines that for me, stood out above the masses.

From left: Grgich Hills Cellar Estate Chardonnay 2010, Justin Isosceles 2010, Jonata ‘Fenix’ 2007, Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Trailside Vineyard’ 2007, and Signorello Vineyards ‘Padrone’ 2010.

Grgich Hills Cellar Estate Chardonnay 2010 ($55.95, Consignment) glides in so much variety balance I can imagine showering with wine. You will not pigeon-hole this-worldly and structured white because its finesse reaches out across the great mineral vs tropical divide debate. Sure, there is timbered-driven, golden-fleshed apple, green melon and buttered, toasted bread, but there too is a sting of acidity. Stellar year for Napa Chardonnay. Great glass of sunshine93  @GrgichHills

Justin Isosceles 2010 ($85.95, Consignment) is sensual and transcendent Cabernet Sauvignon in a cooler vintage out of the even cooler Cali climate of Paso Robles. Cab Franc and Merlot play a small part in this immaculately crafted Cab Sauv.-dominant Bordeaux-styled red. Big raspberry and pitchblende where colour meets aroma, flavour and texture. Smooths to a crystal finish of eucalyptus and the twang of sunshine.  92  @JUSTINWine  @TheVine_RobGroh

Jonata ‘Fenix’ 2007 (253237, $95) is the inaugural Merlot vintage from this Santa Inez Valley property. Blessed with the longest and coolest growing season in California, when “so much depends on the weather,” the cool, moderate and dry 2007 vintage makes for what may be the most plush and balanced Merlot I have ever tasted from the state. Smells like a fresh-baked bun filled with the exotic perfume of red bean and raspberry paste. Add to that a temple of stone and mineral deposits along with dessert flowers. Winemaker Matt Dees is the master pilot.  94  @WoodmanWines

Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Trailside Vineyard’ 2007 ($135, Consignment) is a stunning, 100% single-varietal, certified organic bombshell. The Heitz perfume is a phenomenal thing and only a select few (including Ridge and Dunn) Californians have such a distinct bravado redolence inherent to and across their red portfolio. This vineyard is “bordered on one side by the Silverado Trail and nudged on the other by the Conn Creek” and it produces crazy, hedonistic and chewy, cherry fruit that makes for such forward, modern yet finely tannic wines. A bottle filled with sun that will trot effortlessly off into the crepuscular light over the next 30 years.  94  @liffordwine

Signorello Vineyards ‘Padrone’ 2010 ($199.95, Consignment) is made from unfiltered, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the oasis of  “two extremely rocky parts of the estate vineyard.” Winemaker Ray Signorello Jr. notes that depending on the vintage, the grapes are chosen from different, but specific spots. A cool growing season made for small yields and an intense Cabernet, with teeth and flesh that will make you “see the sun burst.” Roasted thyme on a glowing set of coals, where tar, licorice and blackberry fruit share time. The char goes on and on – patience will be needed but pass me down the 2010 Padrone wine anytime. 92  @SigVin  @ProfileWineGrp

Good to go!

Fab five Movember wines

Duck Tacos and Lafond Pinot Noir 2010

as seen on canada.com

Mustaches rock. Getting your prostate checked out, not so much. Raising funds and awareness for men’s health while drinking a glass of wine? Good combo.

Last year 854,288 men worldwide registered to grow moustaches, raising a staggering $125.7 million CAD to change the face of men’s health. The Movember Wine Company out of Walla Walla, Washington is doing their part in supporting Movember by donating a portion of the sales to prostate cancer research.

Whether you are a participant, a supporter or just someone looking for a good bottle of wine this weekend, here are five current releases to sidle up alongside the stash.

Fab Five Movember Wines

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: In a Skyfall Euro-world, nobody does it better than Alsace

The lowdown: The vineyard sounds like a law firm or a duet but this Grand Cru PG is the stuff of legend

The food match: Portuguese Picadinho, pork bits and shrimp

Dopff & Irion Vorbourg Pinot Gris 2009 (292227, $17.95) is most unusual in its viscous, Loire-like, demi-sec residual Chenin Blanc grain, verging on Spätlese. The candied palate is widened by blossoms and minerals with a spice kick coming in on the back bite. Kickin’ PG worthy of a perennial visit through 2018.  90

The Grape: Albariño

The history: You say Alvarinho, here I say Albariño, the Galician name

The lowdown: From Rias Baixas in northwest Spain, versatility thy name is Albariño

The food match: Roast Black Cod, salsa verde, olive tapenade

Pazo Pondal Leira Albariño 2011 (115816, $15.95) may sport the hue of Cava and indicate bubbles spinning around like a frotteur but its “gotta have no illusions” about itself. A hint of seltzer in a sparkling, platinum hue swirls to honey and paraffin. Acts and looks sharp yet remains in balance.  90

The grapes: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot

The history: H of P is named for Henry Smith of Pelham’s nom de plume

The lowdown: Hard to imagine Mr. Speck Sr. putting together this kitchen sink red blend but good on the brothers for getting this one right

The food match: Du Puy Lentil Soup, porcini mushroom, speck

Henry of Pelham Family Tree Red 2010 (247882, $18.95) shows good concentration befitting the  poker-faced vintage. Vanilla, cocoa and currants mingle in their oak bath in graceful continuance. Well-made Short Hills Bench brew.  88

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Pierre Lafond is a pioneer grower in the Santa Rita Hills viticulture area

The lowdown: Proletariat Pinot of efficiency and loyalty with a price tag that has remained fixed for a decade

The food match: Smoked Duck Tacos, pickled vegetables, bbq hoisin

Lafond SRH Pinot Noir 2010 (998666, $26.95) ain’t no “jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving.” There is a jam factor but don’t be thinking it’s trading places for Shiraz. The sweet and tart berry red fondant fruit shows smoke, ash tea and spiced, plum pudding. Duck, duck, goose.  88

The Splurge

The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault

The history: Michel Lucien is a rock-solid citizen, offering up the best of the Rhône to the world

The lowdown: The best deal in CdP, bar none

The food match: Crispy Duck Confit, trumpet mushrooms, savory pesto

Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (700922, $53.95, SAQ 10817461, $50.50) will dare you to claim any better value from the storied appellation. “Da price boss, da price!” Like I’ve landed on Fantasy Island where Châteauneuf is flowing and it’s always affordable! Kirsch galore, a Rhône cat, sensuous and gorgeous. Goldfinger garrigue, with herbs and acidity so alive and purring. Approachable now, the heavenly structure will see the Donjon through 2025.  94

Good to go!

Pumpkin pairings from beer to wine

Photograph by HappyAlex, Fotolia.com

Photograph by HappyAlex, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Winter squash season is in full swing and with Halloween exactly two weeks away, it’s time to begin planning your wine and pumpkin pairings. Your neighbourhood friends will thank you for filling their travellers with the right stuff. Beer is much more commonly considered when it comes to Cucurbita and our local brew masters are running wild with it. Pumpkin Ales have proliferated province-wide. Here are four to look for.

Highballer Pumpkin Ale (132753, 500 mL, $3.95)

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale (67710, 650 mL, $4.95)

St. Ambroise Pumpkin Ale (90738, 4x341mL, $9.95)

Mill Street Nightmare On Mill Street Harvest Sampler (313916, 6x 355 mL, $13.25)

My non-judgmental, personal mien will note that pumpkin beer should avoid most foods but rather match ceremoniously with decorative gourd season, also in full swing. When it comes to the edible ‘large melon’ and its savoury, sweet flesh my go to is wine, of course. Here are four smashing whites and three alt rock reds to pair with pumpkin seven ways.

The food match: Pumpkin Oatmeal, apples, flax seed, hemp hearts, maple syrup

Jean-Marc Brocard Kimmeridgian Chardonnay 2008 (290049, $17.95) has the tropical fruit quotient of ripe banana meets chalky plantain to match up against an earthy morning porridge. There are lemon and apples sliced over Kimmeridgian, oatmeal soil. Could eat this Kimmer for breakfast, “mummy dear, mummy dear.” This supertramp of a Chardonnay explores new territory for villages Burgundy thanks to the efforts of a top-notch Chablis producer.  89

The food match: Pumpkin Pad Thai

Preiss-Zimmer Vieilles Vignes Riesling 2008 (292193, $18.95) handles spice with atomic soda ease, refreshes with a squirt of lime and garnishes with south Asian herbs. The balanced palate is off-dry and the finish is long, tangy and racy. Sails “through the changing ocean tides.” The wine smiles demurely, like a Pumpkin’s rendition of Landslide, palpitating in an unspoken message of humility and thanks.  88

Bryan Birch/Barque Smokehouse

The food match: Pumpkin Soup, coffee foam

Seresin Chardonnay 2009 (19190, $24.95) goes golden capacious and brims with both marigold and malachite toast. Cashew butter, praline nectar and cantaloupe sweeten the pot. Acidity booms and if you like a Napa style, go Marlborough here at a fraction of the cost.  90

The food match: Pumpkin Ratatouille, zucchini, spicy tomato sauce

Domaine Eden Chardonnay 2009 (296145, $27.95) imparts saffron, mandarin orange, honey and Tiger Orchid in constant waves. The golden mineral hue prickles with feeling and the wine’s fat texture helps unlatch flavours. May not have the depth of Napa or Carneros but no other region does Chardonnay in such a casual elegance like the Santa Cruz Mountains.  91

The food match: Pumpkin and Roast Chicken Paella, manchego, jamón serrano

Senda 66 Tempranillo 2008 (296475, $13.95) of fragrant, smoked blueberry and vanilla bean martini is polished, rich and pure decadence for $14. A shaken, not stirred, bad boy bisexual Tempranillo, a skyfall of purple modernity that could sooth countryman and Bond villain Javier Bardem. Get your kicks on Senda 66.  87

The food match: Pumpkin and Pancetta Risotto, toasted pumpkin seed, reggiano parmesan, basil oil

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône 2010 (729962, $15.95) shares enough black cherry and southern French garrigue to further cement its status as a perpetual good buy. So well made and boasting a puritanical litany of the terroir. Demands satisfaction in its origins of expectations.  88

The Splurge

The food match: Short-Rib and Pumpkin Braise, pearl onion, carrot

Melville Verna’s Estate Pinot Noir 2010 (291021, $34.95) speaks Santa Rita Hills vernacular, that is to say, its native tongue is that of red, very ripe fruit. The smell of baking spices (namely cinnamon and clove) stud a red plum bobbing in a spiked cola toddy. Exemplary Santa Barbara Pinot Noir.  90

Good to go!