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

How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

Every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one man band, but #i4c Sunday @ravinevineyard is always #homewardbound

It’s #i4c, the coolest of chardonnay celebrations. It’s a pilgrimage to a local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.

Few ideals or notions are hotter these days than those relating to cool climate viticulture and the selvage regions from where such wines are produced. That is why each summer for the past seven Niagara has attracted a world-class global presence for its most important annual congress. The seventh installation of the International Cool Chardonnay Celebration made an ironic and apropos choice in California’s Karen MacNeil to act as keynote speaker at The School of Cool. Ironic for obvious reasons because MacNeil spends most of her time talking about and educating on matters pertaining to growing areas generously gifting maximum sunshine to its grapes. Apropos because like any top quality orator she chose to speak about a rapidly changing world and a paradigm shift for wine growing, producing and ultimately consuming being led down an extreme, on the fringe and ultra cool path.

@KMacwine on @coolchardonnay Refrigerated sunlight, conscious marginality, sophisticated choreography. #i4c17

Cool, as in temperature and slowly developed phenolic ripeness. Cool, as in places like Champagne, Nova Scotia, Austria, Uruguay, northern Chile and Ontario. But MacNeil was quick to point out that the greatest terroirs may yet to be known, despite the proverbial Canadian wine cognoscenti already in the possession of harnessed and usable power through information, knowledge that tells us that five of the 15 (also known as one-third) coldest wine regions growing quality grapes, are found in Canada. “Elegance is directly connected to coolness, the slow dance, refrigerated sunlight,” waxes the poetic and rhapsodic MacNeil, “from couch potato chardonnay to lift, spirit and class.” She admits to pitting the world versus “us,” as a challenge against “them,” the overwrought, overblown and over-produced. She asks the question, “why are they not over it already, these cream puff of chardonnays?” and then “oak is like a tattoo, it doesn’t always look good with age.”

If all these warmed by the hot, hotter and hottest sun and fashioned to express this in hyperbole wines all taste so similar, is this really something reassuring and knowable? Apparently it still is, this persistent overloaded ice cream sundae style of chardonnay that will just not go away. But wake up and smell the altitude and the stone-based, craggy outlooks of  “marginal” vineyard locations. “All of the world’s greatest grapes are only great if they exist on the edge,” said the great Willamette Valley Oregonian David Lett. “Complexity is only achieved, paramount to success, by a slow dance or heartbeat. A great wine revels itself sequentially, over time,” insists KMac, as opposed to mindless and soulless. With acidity at the crux of cool climate wines she talks of “conscious marginality” and “sophisticated choreography.” This is how we should see the future, not only in chardonnay, but in all wines subjected and connected to global climate change.

Says @johnszabo apparently winemakers matter too. #i4c17 @coolchardonnay I do it my way #schoolofcool

Related – A link to the School of Cool presentation download

In the first of three Friday School of Cool sessions at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa it is MC Master Sommelier and WineAlign Partner/Critic John Szabo who introduces the “soil smackdown.” The question “is there a best soil type for chardonnay” is meant to instigate a healthy discourse but like every #i4c that came before it quickly turns to a dissing of the “m” word. Paul Anamosa of Vineyard Soil Technologies, the main man down in California, is the first to speak. He rambles on about trace minerals, nematicides, oils and clay minerals – kaolinite is the smallest and yet still a very big molecule. “I don’t know too many winemakers with deflated ego problems,” is interjected. “Minerality is a metaphor, not a simile (like what it shown on the aroma wheel). It does not get up and impart flavour into the wine. It’s a romantic notion. Limestone doesn’t give up its water readily or easily.” Here we go again.

Anamosa will give up the idea that poor soil structure allows for a low and slow hydration transfer, with no spikes up or down and this uptake certainly affects vine growth, nutrient transfer and ultimately flavour, but its the elements found in the water that effect these impressions. Not “minerality.” Must be hard to go through life with such a scientifically nihilist approach. It sounds exhausting.

I don’t know too many winemakers with deflated ego problems. Paul Anamosa @coolchardonnay #soilsmackdown #i4c17

Three winemakers go pro on the mineral ideal. Paul Berger of Berger-Rive has been making his wine since he was four-years old and unsulphured Rosé no less. He talks of clay over limestone, places where “the ground is in love.”  Thomas Bachelder monkifies the soil plant matrix made to transmit minerality. “It’s as much about photosynthesis in the new world but minerality is still apart of it. Jory soils in Oregon bring a salty tang, a savour. It’s true.” Shiraz Mottiar notes that calcareous soils that start wet and sticky eventually turn to concrete. “They don’t crumble, there is no soil tilt, they are angular, evolving and difficult, self-compacting and that hard-pan deals with high mineral content. So we use cover crops for developing soil tilt and friable structure.” There points for the mineral team. Szabo concludes with “anyone getting the sense that this is pure crap? We’re going to continue with the program anyway. Monkeys in a parallel universe are doing this and doing it better.”

In the second session, “Chardonnay, I do it my way,” Szabo told several hundred #i4c junkies “apparently winemakers matter too.” I thought Invivo Wines’ Mark Boardman said it best. “Rob (winemaker “Crusher” Cameron) is not trying to make a $100 Burgundy here folks,” but rather chardonnay can be so happy in so many places, in so many ways. Here it’s from one of the warmest parts of New Zealand, with high rainfall, on Pacific coast of the South Island. It’s about pleasing the customers, being approachable and “nice” on the palate. “Respect, not patronize the consumer.”

François Morissette, vigneron of Pearl Morissette talked technique. “Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. Ravine Vineyard’s Marty Werner remarked on the high degree of heat units but also the cool nights in 2014 so his chardonnay received no cooling, some sulphur for a night, straight to barrel and left a bit empty. Why? “Because it’s different in Niagara, you need to get some oxygen in there, so that we develop some more fruit characteristic.”

Dr. Jamie Goode

Heidi Noble, Owner & Winemaker of B.C.’s Joie Farm coined the term “juiceidity.” She told the crowd, “when (cellarmaster) Karl speaks it’s incredibly important and poignant,” he knows the truth about location, from the most northerly tip of the Sonoran desert but in a zone of what Karen MacNeil called “conscious marginality,” a micro climate of cool within a hot zone.

And finally, le grand ami himself Norman Hardie. “Solids matter to me,” he explains. “We pump out the separated clear juice until the point where I feel like we are getting to the danger zone.” They make use of horizontal tanks, “so the ratio of solids to juice is much higher.” Solids are critical to expressing terroir but too many solids and it’s too reductive. “I’ve gotten braver and braver as time’s gone on.” Mackenzie Brisbois talked about the 2015 vintage, her first full one at Trail Estate. Her methods include hyper-oxidized, cold-settled, natural ferments in stainless steel, put to barrel towards the end, 4o per cent new, 60 neutral, full malo, 10 more months, sulphured, racked out of barrel and a coarse filtration so it’s called unfiltered. “Hopefully my lack of filtration helps you to hear the music in my wine.”

The third School of Cool session looked at dosage in bubbles. “The Sugar Trials,” or as moderator John Szabo M.S. told us “sparkling wines are wines of process and one of the most important events happens right at the end of the trail and that’s called dosage.” Essentially, the crux of what it is, the sugar trials define how much, if any, should be added.

A Sunday #i4c @coolchardonnay morning at the P & P and Josh Ritter covering Modest Mouse. Johnny Cash next.

Dr. Belinda Kemp led the panel discussion and her research at Brock University’s CCOVI lies at the heart of the Ontario wine industry’s investigations. Tawse winemaker Paul Pender had this to say. “Balance is something I strive for but rarely achieve.” He noted that it’s about pleasure, hedonism sometimes, ultimately something that makes you smile, and tastes good. It’s always a moving target, so many things effect how it tastes and more so your perception of sugar and acidity, even what you had for breakfast this morning. “Sugar kind of takes away terroir.” Dr. Jamie Goode added, “it turns out we all live in different taste worlds. Because we model touch, taste, smell and all the sensory perceptions into an unconscionable, alt-reality which bears no real resemblance to how a wine actually tastes. It’s highly personal.”

The i4c weekend takes winemakers, journalists and consumers from White Oaks’ School of Cool and over to Niagara Airport’s hangar for a grand, cool affair. It shuttles past lunch tastings scattered across and throughout the Niagara Peninsula and Escarpment locations and lands at Ridley College for the worlds most grand chardonnay event. It culminates on Sunday at Ravine and Redstone wineries for brunch and if you’ve not had your fill, more chardonnay. Most of all it brings people together but not without an army of volunteers to make it happen. It functions seamlessly because of people like the Cellar Sisters, Angie Jewell and MJ Macdonald, Paul Dearborn and Kari-and Macknight Dearborn. The Cool Chardonnay weekend delivers year after year with thanks to VQA Wines of Ontario, Dorian Anderson and Trisha Molokach and the chefs of Niagara. The media are treated (better than we deserve) because of Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser, Joanna Muratori and Ryan Zanette.

I was not able to taste and review every chardonnay on hand at #i4c17 but I did get to a better percentage than I actually thought I had at the time. Many of these wines are available in small quantities through the VINTAGES Online platform through August 3rd so you have exactly three more days to act. Here are 69 reviews. If you are thinking about injecting some cool chardonnay into the rest of your summer plans then read on and make your picks. I hope I’ve been of some assistance.

Are you ready for an #i4c17 @coolchardonnay Saturday night?

Invivo Chardonnay 2016, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (499855, Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

A nicely green and cool Gisborne composed chardonnay is just the ticket for warm nights, frâche-inflected appetizers and a good chill. This is quite fleshy, creamy and tangy, just stopping short of citrus-sour piercing and intense. It’s that creamy sherbet and tangy gelato character that balances it out. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted June and July 2017  invivowines  nicholaspearcewines  @InvivoWines   @Nicholaspearce_  @InvivoWines  Nicholas Pearce

Maycas del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2015, Limarí Valley, Chile (143768, $18.95, WineAlign)

Lovely vintage and cool-climate conditioning with A-plus exemplary effort from the Limarí specialist. The ripe and bright fruit is buoyed by classically rendered acidity that never relents. I really like the elegance and the way the wood is just a spice accent, not a cream churning machine. Not to be missed. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May and July 2017  maycasdellimari  #thevineagency  wines_of_chile_canada  @Maycasdellimari  @TheVine_RobGroh  @WinesofChile  @maycasdellimari  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency  @WinesOfChile

Cheesecake Bar by Chef Frand Dodd, Trius Winery and Restaurant

Trius Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (346064, Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Quite flinty and mineral smoky, even for Trius and Niagara chardonnay so it would seem that winemaker Craig McDonald prepared this larger batch with a friendly reductive environment. The aim, goal and result adds up to locked in freshness and a decoding of oak to relegate the label as secondary to the post-modern future of this bottling. It’s crisp, crunchy, spoken of and for place with edging cut with spice. The creamy centre is present and delivers texture, not weight. Really fine effort. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Esterházy Chardonnay Leithaberg DAC 2015, Burgenland, Austria (511386, Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Tangibly full and rich style of chardonnay with a flinty, smoky limestone foundation edge, a pierce running through the barrel spiced mid-palate and quite generous length. Really fleshy, lemon-citrus sparked, clean, precise and stony good. Of markedly fine compression, layers woven of tart and stone. A highly composed and forged composition, in action and temperament, so kudos to the great work out of a warm vintage. It’s a complete wine all the way through, perhaps restrained at first but structure is the key to its success. An Austro-pure, appellative finessed chardonnay if ever there was from a place where the grape thrives unencumbered and blessedly expressive. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted twice, with Stefan Tscheppe, July 2017  #esterhazy @esterhazywein  austrianwine  Esterhazy Wein  @NaturalVines  @oesterreichwein  @AustrianWine  @BirgittaSamavar  Marzia Gallo  @austrianwine

Pierre Sparr Le Clos Sainte Odile Brut Crémant D’alsace, Traditional Method, Ac, Alsace, France (457788, Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sparr’s site specific Crémant would seem counterintuitive to the free and easy-going genre which prides itself on the purpose of wide-ranging food matching but the divergence here in minimal. Le Clos Sainte Odile is equally proportioned though it carries a marked increase in lees and texture. Smells more like Champagne and acts this way too, so in that sense the quality improves and food will benefit several fold. The length is exceptional. Still creamy Crémant but with more layers and fine complex stills. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June and July 2017  #pierresparr  profilewinegroup  vinsalsace  drinkalsace  #PierreSparr  @ProfileWineGrp  @AlsaceWines @VinsAlsace  Pierre Sparr  Bernard Sparr  Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs  Profile Wine Group  @AlsaceWinesOfficial  @vinsalsace

Pierre Sparr Crémant D’alsace Chardonnay Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac Alsace, France (416040, Agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

In Sparr’s eponymous Crémant bottling the dosage is evident in every facet of fizz being to balance out the sour acidity and formidable tension. The most Champagne like of the flight is contextual, textural, elevated and serious. It is a bit on the sweet side (at 8 g/L of RS) as compared to (3.7 TA and pH of 3.29) with 18 months minimum on the lees and aging in oak casks. There is no shortage of fruit and that acidity is surprisingly lively. Tasted with Bernard Sparr who says quite simply, it’s “easy to drink.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  #pierresparr  profilewinegroup  vinsalsace  drinkalsace  #PierreSparr  @ProfileWineGrp  @AlsaceWines @VinsAlsace  Pierre Sparr  Bernard Sparr  Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs  Profile Wine Group  @AlsaceWinesOfficial  @vinsalsace

Marcel Cabelier Crémant De Jura Organic 2014, Jura, France (738641, Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

A most engrossing and provocative Crémant, at first aromatically onion skin sweaty and sweetly caramelized. No citrus to really speak of and then lemon sweetness to taste. Sapid to be sure, leaner, crisp, on the path to a searing style. Fascinating when you consider the dosage number is upwards to 12.3 RS while the actual acidity is 5.26 TA. An elevated 3.37 pH and a ripeness from the warm vintage really helps to hide its sugar, incredibly so. Texture never hurts as well as this spent 24 months on the lees. Will age nicely into secondary waxy territory. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted with winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin at i4c, July 2017  #marcelcabelier  #andrewpellerimportagency  #jurawine  #marcelcabelier  @APImportAgency  @JuraWine   #marcelcabelier  @APImportAgency  @JuraWine

Cremaschi Furlotti Chardonnay Single Vineyard 2015, Do Loncomillo, Maule Valley, Chile (511097, Agent, $22.00, WineAlign)

DO Loncomilla lies at the heart of the Maule Valley, a place of serious Chilean history. The Battle of Loncomilla was the decisive campaign of the 1851 Chilean Revolution between conservative government and liberal rebel forces. It’s also apparently a terrific place to grow chardonnay. Winemaker Gonzalo Perez’ 2015 is a fuller expression, with green apple piquancy to nose, a wealth of fruit, tart done so right and a true barrel-blessed chardonnay bite. It reeks of stone, acts restrained enough to seem (at times) unsure but in its quietude there is a mineral sway to say this must be the way. It solicits a follow me down the stone road, up to a very orchard palate with gregarious flavours and compressed acidity. Serious, almost brooding chardonnay but very new world. Chewy and very long. The soils are volcanic and alluvial, aiding and assisting to gather into this highly complex, 100 per cent malolactic, reductive, tart and biting chardonnay. The most surprising and intriguing find at #14c17. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  cremaschi_furlotti  @winecremaschi  @cremaschifurlotti

Coteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Côte 2015, Quebec, Canada (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

From La Famille Robert and the latest, newest, impressionable cool climate frontier in Rougemont Quebec, climate change delivers another stellar chardonnay attack, here with something quite supple, almost creamy, acid-driven but surprisingly far from scathing and eminently drinkable. These vines are planted on sun-drawing south facing slopes with more than ample pebble and schist in the soil, enough no less to streak a wire of balance through the softened, downy fruit. Well done. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  coteaurougemont  #CoteauRougement  @VinsduQuebec  Vignoble Coteau Rougemont

Creekside Chardonnay Queenston Road Vineyard 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Comes barreling out replete with the highest of chard tones mixed with plenty of richness lifting and layering oak. Quite ambitious, full malo felt, of waves more than dollops of vanilla. The acidity comes later because nothing can get in the way of the creamy texture and voluptuousness. Cool but secondary to these flavours and mouthfeel are incendiary savoury tendencies. Adding things up all being equal the Queenston Road, St. David’s Bench vineyard, with its clay-loam and the eventuality of full-malo effect well, it’s really a thing of richesse. “I wouldn’t say this wine is a whole lot about minerality,” says winemaker Yvonne Irvine, “but it’s there in the bite on the finish.” Fair enough. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  creeksidewine  @CreeksideWine  @CreeksideWine

Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (586347Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

If you have had the opportunity to taste the Montague Vineyard chardonnay from Niagara’s Four-Mile Creek sub-appellation in at least four consecutive vintages you will know that its style is only exceeded by its consistency. Little has changed; the same warm, barrel-kissed style comforts generously pressed and extracted fruit. It’s not that I don’t deduce soft, downy and buttery fruit from Montague. I do, but this vineyard always offers a counter-point with some firmness and compression, as it does with pinot noir. This 2014 is smoky and faintly smouldering, even a touch flinty. Even if it is a bit baked, spiced or toasted it is also a more mineral vintage for chardonnay. On one hand it offers or gives up too much of itself (and too early), with creamy vanilla, ripe melon and sappy, stone-fruit. On the other it finds balance amongst the dense layering of bigger, harder and more productive moving parts. You are going to want to match this with some protein and a good reduction sauce. I’d look to pulled pork, zesty kohlrabi slaw and a tangy BBQ sauce, duck confit with a savoury-spiked demi-glacé or coq au vin, just to name a few. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted January 2017  inniskillinwines  cbrandscareers  @InniskillinWine  @CBrandsCareers  Inniskillin Vineyards  

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2016, Margaret River, Western Australia (416511, $24.95,  WineAlign)

Same price and highly credible follow-up is what we can all hope to taste and make comment to the great winemakers of this world so kudos to Virginia Willcocks of Vasse Felix for doling out another eminently drinkable Filius. Still holds the Australian cool-climate chardonnay candle from the Margaret River though it’s a touch fleshier, riper and creamier in 2016. The combination of salt and stony-mineral adds up to grip and the tightness means some air is needed. A mess of grilled langoustines would also work. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted June and July 2017  vassefelixwines  margaretriver  @vassefelix  @MargaretRiver  @MargaretRiverWi  @vassefelixwines  @MargaretRiverWineRegion  @margaretriverwines1

Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (511345, Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Here is fine example of a winery showing off their rockstar barrel program in a starman of a chardonnay. The dreaminess on the nose and the early 1970’s ambient and textured guitar unction on the palate just get you stoned. “Didn’t know what time it was and the lights were low…Some cat was layin’ down some rock ‘n’ roll, ‘lotta soul.” Tart, lots of wood, bite, so much structure. Is it too much? Not when it’s the kind of chardonnay and music that can stand the test of time. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and at #14c, July 2017  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (289124, $25.25, WineAlign)

The vintage is a ripe, accessible and easy to love one so this marks a 90 degree turn for the Saint Martin. This is Laroche’s most important cuvée, sold in 80 countries and collected from select plots across 60 hectares of vines. Structure will always direct this cuvée and so long as Gregory Viennois is winemaker you can be sure that a taut entry will be joined by some subtle oak richness (in 2015, eight per cent in large, 25 year-old, 55 hL foudres). It’s just an aromatic hint but look forward with eyes closed and inculcate the texture addendum. Acids are soft and caressing. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted July 2016 and 2017  laroche_wines  selectwinemoments  @DomaineLaroche  @SelectWinePros  @Select_Wines  @SelectWinesCanada

Southbrook Chardonnay Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (172338, Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Ann Sperling’s chardonnay Triomphe ’15 is sourced primarily from Saunders (Beamsville Bench) with auxiliary support out of Heather Laundry’s old vine Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard. There are older, non-clonal blocks with perhaps some Musqué mixed in so the aromatics fly, with no restraint applied by the wild ferment and (mostly 300L) neutral oak. This Triomphe is anything but reductive, a no stress chardonnay from such a far from sluggish, clean ferment. The simplicity and complicity explain how beauty is curated, from a vintage where reduction did not happen or beg to happen so why try to force it. The copacetic re-quiescence bears witness to classic Ann Sperling in such a vintage. Chardonnay of mellow smoulder, of old barrel spice and one to define a certain kind on a line of disparate and unique, cool climate, i4c selections. There are 800 cases made. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted January and July 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

Bachelder Chardonnay Niagara 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (302083, Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder’s ’15 chardonnay is a story of what happens ’round here, a chardonnay counting the years of peninsula life. It’s so representative, a comfortable stroll through the echelons and stages of a man’s history, in and out of Niagara eponymy and how it relates to a monk’s personal journey. It also traces the stages of vineyard life and for the winemaker, of fruit “slipping through my hands.” Out of 2015 chardonnay can be forgotten, with weather nothing to remember and on the heels of two most excellent seasons. It could easily pass “into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white.” Here is the time, place and harvest for Thomas Bachelder to interject and explain, to send a grape into a recognizable future, as far as the crow flies. He uses the barrel to pique the fruit into life, to inject French cream with the very intent in demand of its intention. Flavours are therefore sapid, piquant and variegated. In the end, you can drink this in August and into complexity, everything after. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Joie Farm Unoaked Chardonnay 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (511261Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

Terpenes up front, orchard fruit and high acidity in ways that mimic riesling but the broad apple juice swirl and bite on the palate is all chardonnay. Shows sugar tempered by acidity in what is ostensibly fresh and simple, unoaked Okanagan juice. This is made in the vineyard, picked three times, from straightforward winemaking, making use of lots of solids,”lots of liquid aromatics,” as Heidi Noble notes. Champagne yeasts are employed to celebrate place. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  joie farm  liffordgram  #JoieFarm  @LiffordON  @joiefarm  @liffordwineandspirits

Willamette dammit! @bachelder_wines @coolchardonnay #i4c17

Bachelder Chardonnay Willamette 2014, Oregon (273334, Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

The richest Bachelder Oregon to date for reasons explained by the indubitable and unwavering Thomas is no doubt in leading part a result of one of the earliest vintages on record for Oregon Pinot Noir. His Willamette is a veritable intertwine of mineral, fruit and energy like there is no tomorrow. Also welcome to the lengthy one. The barrel is a caramel pillow, a downy wooden bench, a soft French cream dream. Drinkable is the understatement, pleasure the song. Willamette Dammit. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (427484, Winery, $25.95, WineAlign)

This is one of the first near-premium chardonnays to hit the market from 2016 and so a decision needs to be quickly made if the style is more vintage or house in origin. There really isn’t any estate precedence for this superabundance of fruit on the “normale,” like Christmas coming early or Niagara peaches appearing in June. The ripeness goes beyond freestone fruit and into the tropical realms occupied by mango and pineapple. There is no denying the nectarous and appetizing nature so I’d like to think it’s really a seasonal somewhereness that drives the druthers. Drink this young and with some poached seafood. It will satisfy the pairing. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Domaine Berger Rive Manoir De Mercey Bourgogne Hautes Côtes De Beaune Clos Des Dames 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $26.95, WineAlign)

A restrained, faux-sugary, hautes Bourgogne, spirited near but so far from a Reuilly-like nose. You think it’s thin but know it’s not while the fruit struggles to steal the spotlight from the rocks. Very cool chardonnay with crazy natural sweetness and sneaky length. The warm vintage plus the limestone calcareous soil grows on you for sure and so that length shows off the best of its world and the talents of winemaker Paul Berger. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  @FWMCan  #BergerRive  fwmcan  @FWMCan

Traversa Viña Salort Chardonnay Reserve 2016, Canelones, Uruguay (511550, Agent, $29.00, WineAlign)

Chardonnay from Canelones needs to discovered and Traversa’s Reserve is a fine high-end place top start. The name is derived from a species of cinnamon called “canelón, growing along the banks of the homonymous river. This new fringe frontier for chardonnay is found here 50 kms or so north of Uruguay’s capital Montevideo. A specific sort of freshness is locked in tight, reductive in a gassing up the truck sort of way, subduing fruit and inviting mineral meanderings. It’s on the palate where things get very interesting, upon which the spice, buttered toast and brûlee of pears lay. There is a few percentage points too much wood on this next South terroir-Americanific frontier chardonnay but the substantial mid-palate fruit can handle the accents. A fine example in many respects. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted July 2017  familiatraversa  @TraversaUSA

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

This is classic Mottiar chardonnay, lean, sharp, quivering and yet somehow so knowable and comfortable. As time goes by this generates the confidence to represent the Beamsville Bench as its prodigal son, the handsome one, of pulchritude and with the promise of great memories ahead. If it’s a bit reductive, taut and aerified chardonnay, so be it, but it’s also so very Niagara, essential, the essence of what happens on dolomitic limestone. The low (3.15) pH factor at go time caused a force picked at high acidity to maintain the lean style and a partial (not much) malo assists in effecting this high-level bench factor. Shiraz Mottiar’s eponymous chardonnay is the shit, for Beamsville and for what he does best. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine  

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (465724, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first appearance of the Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast bottling is an auspicious one, announced with ripe and delicious clarity. Though the nose is a bit reserved there is no reductive quality and the orchard is but a mere stone’s throw away from really standing out. The wood shows up on the vanilla, caramel tangy and further, deeper into the apple tree’s palate. The finish brings a pie from out of the warm oven. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016 and July 2017  rsvineyards  markanthonyon  california.wines  @rsvineyards  @ImportWineMAFWM  @CalifWines_CA  @Rodney.Strong.Vineyards  @MarkAnthonyWine  @CaliforniaWinesCanada

13th Street Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

No surprise the vintage is a major plus for the Sandstone and the natural funk it owns. And I mean owns. Only Sandstone has such geological drive, not unlike chardonnay from South Africa’s Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. In 2013 there is a sweetness to the fruit mixed with a misty humidity and finally that falling over backwards with feet stuck in the clay and the calcaire. Wildness from J. P. Colas here and with attentiveness to place and time. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted at #i4c16, July 2016 and #14c17, July 2017  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  @13thStreetWines

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (68817, $29.95, WineAlign)

Exemplary follow up to a terrific 2013 with more emerald gemstone, green apple bite and fine textured lees running through. Tart and yet not at the same time, seemingly sweet but only in the way that flavourful salts with added umami can collect, pool and co-exist. Just great focus, precision, fineness and balance. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2017 and #14c, July 2017  hidden bench  @HiddenBench  @Hidden.Bench

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The nose on this chardonnay is pretty, alive, vibrant and pure. The palate is exceptional, fleshy and full. There is intensity and precision, class and seamless integration of fruit, acidity and texture. Really longDrink 2018-2024. Tasted blind at #NWAC17, June 2017 and at #14c, July 2017  thirty bench  @ThirtyBench  @ThirtyBench

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Ravine’s is one of those chardonnay blessed with uncanny ability to amalgamate the sumptuousness of fruit warmed by sun and kissed repeatedly by barrel. The equation renders delicacy and texture, so obviously and vehemently spoken in the 2015 Peninsula language. It really is all about texture with a plus-minus spice note codicil and cool unction drawn like butter in suspended animation, a pool into which all parts have melted. Needs a year to finalize the deal and sweeten the pot. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  ravinevineyard  marty_werner  benminaker23  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23  Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery  Martin Werner  Ben Minaker

Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2014, Monterey, California (220343, Agent, $31.00, WineAlign)

Chardonnay sans wood doesn’t get more premium than this (save for some Chablis) so the use of unlined concrete tanks (a third to a half) allows the sort of micro-oxegynation that elevates the complexity game. Despite the hard-goings of working this way, the delivery is a crisp, crunchy and slightly edgy (and eggy) ’14 with addendum by the confluence of fog, sun and sea. Mer Soleil. More pear than green apple, the character speaks a Monterey note. The packaging has left ceramic behind in favour of electrostatic painted (second-purposed) glass, made to look like (and celebrate) concrete. This is surprisingly creamy so the solids get their say and the conclusion is of a chardonnay made this way that rarely achieves such a level of texture and piquancy. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  mersoleilwine  #andrewpellerimportagency  @MerSoleilChard  @APImportAgency  @MerSoleilVineyard  Andrew Peller (Andrew Peller Import)

House of Chards #i4c Lunch at Trius

Artesa Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (657585, Agent, $31.00, WineAlign)

The differing and contrastive style in Artesa’s ordinario is literally chardonnay night in comparison to the estate’s reserve day. Absent is the mineral alloy streak, the temper and the level of fruit quality and density so that here the buttery and creamy oak is felt on top and down below. Acidity, tension and posit tugs of intensity are relegated and softened to the mild mannered and middle palate personality. This is 70 per cent estate fruit, simple, rich, soft and mildly spicy chardonnay, antithetical for completion recognition of the basic to reserve paradigm. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  artesawinery  #andrewpellerimportagency  @Artesa  @APImportAgency  @Artesa

Adamo Oaked Chardonnay Willms’ Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

This is the second vintage of the Willms, a rich and viscous chardonnay with green apple bite. More barrel (15 months, 30 per cent new) on this than others in an #i4c School of Cool flight and also Beaune-styled, ambitious otherwise but certainly the structured and gregarious one. Chardonnay as many would recognize, could be nothing other, some terpenic moments but the cool, sharp and spirited are mixed into the clay. Last tasted July 2017.

Adamo sources from the same vineyard that provides fruit for 13th Street’s Sandstone Reserve in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Planted in 1983, it is owned and farmed by Erv, Esther and Eric Willms. In its early stages the fruit acted and reacted as a lean, taut and tension fuelled chardonnay with party a sign of letting up. Eight months later the juicy flesh of orchard fruit pushes past the vintage’s grip and lets tis wine breath a sigh of relief. Chalk one up to yet another cool-climate, calcareous clay stuck moment in time. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted twice, at #i4c16, July 2016 and Taste Ontario, March 2017  adamoestatewinery  @AdamoEstateWine  @adamoestatewinery

Trail Estate Chardonnay Unfiltered 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

A blend of vineyards, from Ed Hughes and (Wismer) Foxcroft, perhaps with some influence under the lingering auspices of the Norman Hardie school, here in the playful and progressive hands of Mack Brisbois. Mackenzie employs no sulphur at processing, allowing for chardonnay efficacious and liberally oxidized, settled, cold stabilized, non bentonite-affected, chilled and racked. Not lost is the ever-commented process of going at it with wild ferment, but also caution thrown to the wind via no temperature control (but yes on the Hughes fruit), with the final end game in search of and wanting a fruity Chablis side. Done up in half stainless plus 50 old 500L and two 225L barrels. The sulphur was added in October, the full malo achieved and then bottled in November. All of this technical mumbo-jumbo to say there is still quite a creamy, leesy, oaky feeling but like some others in Niagara (Robyn’s Block, Oliveira and Aberdeen) it totes great palate texture and a “fruitiness,” but it’s not fruity. It may not recreate the Chablis fruit to mineral purity but it is a righteous, proper and Niagara purity fashioned in PEC. There are 266 Cases. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted December 2016 and July 2017  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  @TrailEstateWinery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Lenko Old Vine 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.95, WineAlign)

The iconic vineyard, the wise old vines, the chance to make some magic; these are all a part of the mystery and the mystique of Lenko placed in the hands of one winemaker at a time, fruit put to bottle in his or her own special way. It’s simple isn’t it? “Go far enough and you will reach, a place where the sea runs underneath,” take up the grapes and do what they need. In terms of chardonnay the vineyard is ground zero, the genesis, the oldest Chardonnay planting in Canada. In Arthur Harder’s hands the fruit reaches you with apposite if ambient sparks while its chords are strummed with 12 strings so that it never loses touch with its structure. A very expressive chardonnay from a benevolent vintage, Westcott’s breaks free from traditional Niagara with this tart and that tart. There is wind, wuthering and it has the uncanny ability “of turning the world so it’s facing the way that I’m going.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2017  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Chateau Des Charmes Blanc De Blanc Sparkling Méthode Traditionelle 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (511352, $32.95, WineAlign)

A different sort this one, with lots of barrel spice, liquid splinter creaminess, a heavier dosage to be sure, creamy lemon and almond skin, but also pith. Complex if commercially sweeter, rich and fatter, something School of Cool 2017 Sugar Trials panelist Rhys Pender MW agrees with. Making sparkling wine from the warmish Niagara-on-the-Lake regional-appellation (which includes the warm St. David’s Bench) has its pros and cons, the positives mostly tending to richness and the negatives the compromise to energy and verve. Winemaker Amélie Boury manages the dosage of 10 g/L RS with natural acidity (5.5 g/L TA), a forthcoming low pH of 3.16 and a late September pick. “For richer fruit” she notes and then a coupling texture by fermenting in barrels. Look for it on the ambit of tertiary personality after a few years of age. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Domaine De Mauperthuis Chablis Vieilles Vignes Les Malantes 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (511063, $33.95, WineAlign)

From a new family (relatively speaking) to Chablis, the estate belongs to Marie-Noëlle & Laurent Ternynck. The old vines Chablis saw 12 months in foudres, on the lees, with fruit gathered from vineyards in Fleys. The cool spot comes with a higher altitude, on a windswept plateau and so harvest is generally five to six days later. And so their Chablis is cool, direct, taut and sapid stuff, as Chablis will go, from such a climat and handled so. Acidity runs rampant and travels quickly up and down and into parts of the mouth that stand up to take notice. Sharp and focused Chablis. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2017  #mauperthuis  vinsdechablis  vinsdebourgogne  nicholaspearcewines  #Mauperthuis  @vinsdechablis  @VinsdeBourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines  Nicholas Pearce

Mer Soleil Chardonnay “SLH” 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, California (958975, Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

The sun always shines upon Mer Soleil’s “SLH,” a chardonnay equipped with exceptional fruit purity that welcomes but could go it so much more confidently alone without the mask-caking make-up. It needs a fraction of the wood it receives. A tour de force of ocean and sun (tied together by fog) delivers acidity, sapidity and the fruit is raised to keep things moving swimmingly along. So it’s got that going for it. Which is nice. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  mersoleilwine  #andrewpellerimportagency  @MerSoleilChard  @APImportAgency  @MerSoleilVineyard  Andrew Peller (Andrew Peller Import)

Good man this man. Great winemaker this winemaker #i4c @coolchardonnay

Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (111989, $35.80, WineAlign)

When I tasted Quarry Road 2013 out of four barrels three years ago the purpose was to take in the nuances and see only the trees. I for one could not help seeing the forest through the trees and imagining percentages of each combining for the final blend. Neutral Mercurey wood looked over infant three year-old vines spoken here with surprising density, tang and tropical melon in both aroma and flavour. This sits on the front palate right now. The mineral Ceres qualifies older fruit as the pretty and the gemstone, essential for Quarry Road, the most like (Meursault) in Burgundy. This fruit transferred to stainless on the lees from September to March before going into bottle now renders to make Quarry the purest expression from the best vineyard. The CLL toast delivers the taut, not yet reductive wood tightening, then and again now, mainly on the finish. Compressed citrus notes are late arriving and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish. The larger CLL toast Mercurey barrel reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oaky feel. All together we now have one of Paul Pender’s most accomplished to date and all chardonnays considered, one of the finest higher end values around. I think he would agree. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May and July 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Maycas del Limarí Chardonnay Quebrada Seca 2013, Limarí Valley, Chile (331520, $36.00, WineAlign)

Maycas de Limarí’s Quebrada Seca or “dry-cracked” makes reference to the fragmented soils, a place of low-fertility and chardonnay loving terroir. This spent 14 months in (30 per cent new) but it’s not just the extended barrel time that separates it from the estate’s Reserva. Vintage plays a significant role in conjunction with the soil and it teaches so much about the virtues of patience and time. No malo but high sapidity, lots of bite and the verdant, healthy life are borne out of poor fertility. This is life affirming chardonnay from harsh climes. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  maycasdellimari  #thevineagency  wines_of_chile_canada  @Maycasdellimari  @TheVine_RobGroh  @WinesofChile  @maycasdellimari  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency  @WinesOfChile

Joie Farm Chardonnay “En Famille” 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (511113Agent, $36.00, WineAlign)

The developed layers of fruit are well integrated and interwoven into the mildness of both barrel and tannin. The sweetness of that sun-kissed fruit leaves a lasting impression from what has been brought into being by a warm and impressionable vintage. Exemplary three or four year Okanagan chardonnay that shows off its charming sucrosity. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  joie farm  liffordgram  #JoieFarm  @LiffordON  @joiefarm  @liffordwineandspirits

Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign)

When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2017  triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Exquisite dish by Frank Dodd @TriusWines #houseofchards #i4c lunch . . . Lake Huron Whitefish, lobster and scallop sausage, crab croquettes, asparagus, sweet peas, celeriac slaw, seabuck

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign)

With fruit from the Niagara chardonnay mecca Oliveira Vineyard and the addendum of yet another stellar varietal vintage it is this Craig McDonald speciality that helps to steal the show. Striking out with near-raging acidity (pushing and possibly exceeding the 8 g/L mark) the Wild Ferment is one of the most formidable expressions of 2014, if not ever. All the moving parts work fervently and impressively as if the motor is running and the machine careening around the speedway. To keep composure it is texture that brings about grounding, balance and cadence, from obvious lees perfection and 30 per cent new wood plus the rest forged by two to five year old barrels. This is creamy, energetic and tannic chardonnay, all conspiring to express itself with both weight and poise. From a maker who’s been around the block a few times, the ’14 WF will go the distance. And you can start now. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017 an #i4c July 2017  triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Esterházy Il Magnifico Blanc de Blancs Brut 2013, Burgenland, Austria (511378, Agent, $37.95, WineAlign)

Esterházy was a Hungarian noble family with origins in the Middle Ages, generally bilingual, in Hungarian (as a result of their ethnicity) and German (as they were aristocrats of the Austrian Empire). The family was intrinsically tied to the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (master to Beethoven) and the estate today shares the same desire; to epitomize the aims and achievements of the Classical era, Hadyn for music and today, Esterházy for contemporary Austrian wine. General Manager Stefan Tscheppe spins a tale of Nikolaus II, the wealthy late 18th and early 19th century prince who lived a charmed life, nicknamed by his sisters as “Il Magnifico.” The namesake sparkler is done in a Brut Nature style, 18 months on the lees and is possessive of a distinctive grapefruit liqueur. The vines grown on limestone-based soil and this is clearly picked on acidity, in the first to second week of September. Il Maginifico may not carry the weight or tone of Hadyn’s The Creation but it is a most excellent Blanc de Blancs composition. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2017  #esterhazy @esterhazywein  austrianwine  Esterhazy Wein  @NaturalVines  @oesterreichwein  @AustrianWine  @BirgittaSamavar  Marzia Gallo  @austrianwine

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Cuvée Dix Neuvième 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (303602Winery, $38.20, WineAlign)

It’s never easy to follow up greatness, even for this top quality Niagara chardonnay and yet I am almost ready to believe that this Dix-Neuvième delivers more richness of fruit than its predecessor. The stoicism lost from 2013 is woven texture gained, here in a tapestry of pure chardonnay fruit, beeswaxy, faint honey and an almost imperceptible reductive environment. Francois Morissette and Brent Rowland clearly had texture earmarked as the raison d’être for this ’14, almost to a fault but the result is bloody delicious. No Pearl Morissette wine ever gave of itself so young, so fast. Immediate gratification be darned there will be five blessed textured years ahead. And then the honey will set in. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June and July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  @lassvet  Pearl Morissette

Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis Premier Cru 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (416057, Agent, $38.95, WineAlign)

A compressed chardonnay that strikes as a passion play between herbs and limestone and no surprise that the spoils go to the latter. The citrus is gassy, rising, bathed in atmosphere. The structure is predicated on stone, rock and struck flint. Chablis of metal and essential minerality, discovered and defined. This slow-ripened chardonnay will evolve one year for every month contributed by its growing cycle. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted June 2016 and July 2017  #domainelaroche  selectwinemoments  @DomaineLaroche  @SelectWinePros  @Select_Wines  Domaine Laroche, Chablis 

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate Winery

Trail Estate Chardonnay Unfiltered 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Auspicious beginnings transcend the customary for Trail’s winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois, case in point exhibit A with her first fledged County chardonnay, a whole cluster pressed, native yeasts and full malolactic beauty. Only a single barrel was made of this really tight, taut and youthfully vituperative one but it will mature, self-reflect and turn into a respectful and generous wine. There is a toasty note that currently smoulders in the glass but that too will gently peel away. The terrific render of acidity couples at present and will melt with the rest of the intensities. This is the estate’s first kick at this County cru, “things are going great, and they’re only getting better.” The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  @TrailEstateWinery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (276261, $39.20, WineAlign)

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. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and #14c, July 2017  hidden bench  @HiddenBench  @Hidden.Bench

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.20, WineAlign)

Norman Hardie’s 2015 Niagara is a reductive yellow goddess dressed chardonnay, connected to the fullest of its fruit, (slowly developed) creamy malolactic, touchstone acidity and grape tannic ability. There is this understated feeling in the throes of richness that the winemaker and the place always seem to agree upon. The display window celebrates and proudly promotes the somewhereness of this ’15 chardonnay. It is never a matter of Niagara versus County, there is little substance to be found, nor is it a necessary point of discussion worth investigating. It’s just highway that separates the two. Both are children of the Norm, both deserving of estate credibility and here, with this next excellent Niagara, taking the Hardie progression one step further. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  normhardie  Norman Hardie  @NormanHardieWinery

Domaine De Mauperthuis Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (511071, $39.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Stéphane Saillet’s is a highly compressed, pure and precise Montmains. No wood was used because of the vintage, a season from which the ripe and developed fruit could clearly defend and take care of itself. Carries the essential tenets of texture and chew. Stéphane notes that the challenged ’16 will have some barrel (foudres) because “in the beginning there was nothing,” an important omen with which to help reflect on the fantasy and fantastic effort found in his 2015. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  #mauperthuis  vinsdechablis  vinsdebourgogne  nicholaspearcewines  #Mauperthuis  @vinsdechablis  @VinsdeBourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines  Nicholas Pearce

Malivoire Chardonnay Moira 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

Moira delves much further into the spice with a wood feel into texture, piquancy, savour, sapidity and on repeat in all of the above. The length stretches further as a deeper, more intense expression of Beamsville Bench terroir. It will need to settle and integrate with another year in bottle. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine 

Lightfoot And Wolfville Chardonnay Ancienne 2014, Nova Scotia (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

The name Ancienne and the proximate irony appraised is not lost for its translation as endemic or indigenous for wines made from Burgundian grape varieties raised on Nova Scotia soil. The sophomore chardonnay speaks in a vernacular a year to the wiser but at the expense of excitement, which is actually a good thing. A step back taken will result in two going forward, as I shall explain. The same regime exercised mimics the ’13, of 20 per cent new, 18 months in barrel, but a slight course altered with some reductive play in ’14, as an experiment but also as a plan. There seems to be more lees richness and spice notes that flit like direct darts on the palate. Different clones are harvested at different times, so now the vinifications are staggered and layered, which really shows on the stratified and almost germinating palate. Another year older allows these vines to bring diversified variegation, more Nova Scotia and as a consequence, less winemaking. The growth here is fascinating and enlightening. In the interim it may compromise the flavour profile and the wow factor but in the long run it is structure, longevity and impressibility that will give the green light to estate grown, Minas Basin success. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June 2017   lwwines  jhortonns  rachelhopelightfoot  winesofns  @lwwines  @rachel_hope  @WinesofNS  @lightfootandwolfvillewines  Rachel Lightfoot  @winesofns

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard #2 “Foxcroft Block” Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (512178, Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

Deeper and deeper into the micro terroir we go, with thanks to the monk himself so strike me down as a cool climate instigator if you must but Thomas Bachelder takes on the challenge, fresh and new as ever. This Wismer Block dubbed #2 is purely and expressly Foxcroft, a divided up for purchase and worked by many vineyard. Few do it justice like the unstressed symbiotic relationship between Bachelder and grower Craig Wismer. From the ideal session of 2013 we have creamy and cracked, fragmented mineral intensity in opposite attitude to Wismer-Parke but more on the fleshy and structured side. The wood is bigger and more integrated, the flesh ripping and of the sort of musculature that shows no aggression nor needs any explanation. It’s just big and beautiful, not to mention an ambassador for cool. Hello world. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted June and July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Blanc De Blanc ‘Carte Blanche’ 2012, Short Hills Bench, Ontario (Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

Reserved for Ontario sparkling but indicative of a bench-steppe foothills style because it just has that spark. Very much a ball of tart and compressed energy and so intense. A middle of the norm dosage at 8 g/L RS is managed in perfect oscillate with equal and opposing acidity at 7.3 TA. Such precision, ease and high quality serviceability is the equanimity quotient delivered by the estimable work ethic of winemaker Sandrine Bourcier. It boils down to recognition. The benchmark for Niagara Peninsula year-dated sparkling wine juices ripeness out of this warm vintage to perpetuate Cuvée Catharine’s unparalleled fizz consistency. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham @SpeckBros  Henry Pelham

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June and July 2017  lwwines  jhortonns  rachelhopelightfoot  winesofns  @lwwines  @rachel_hope  @WinesofNS  @lightfootandwolfvillewines  Rachel Lightfoot  @winesofns

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2013, Yamhill Carlton District, Oregon (416644, Agent, $45.00, WineAlign)

The best of the barrels, always remember the soil, the soil Johnson Vineyard chardonnay will send you spiralling deep into thought, like it or not. It’s origins in Jory, sedimentary soils draw energy from a source unseen, dug down into where the ancients dwell. Thomas Bachelder monkifies the soil plant matrix made to transmit minerality. “It’s as much about photosynthesis in the new world but minerality is still apart of it. Jory soils in Oregon bring a salty tang, a savour. It’s true.” Bachelder speaks of a wisdom once revered, now questioned and he’s fine with needing to work for a living. The Johnson chardonnay is beautifully tart, rich and complex, biting, full of energy, so cool, taut, structured and even still a bit reductive. But it really is pressed, juiced and spirited with lime, for success and to linger, for a decade post harvest, perhaps for even longer a quality length of time. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Sans Soufre 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Says Norm with matter of factness, as he always does, “it’s the regular Niagara chardonnay, but without sulphur.” So you ask the question up front? Is the unsulphured so different than the other? To the naked senses, no. The charm, power and generosity are all there. It took a full year to pass malolactic inspection. So why do it? Because it reminds of 2012, same slow malo, same deferential and determined kind of wine and the answer comes from something Norm says. “I didn’t have the guts in those days.” But he has them now and yet the decisions imparted this Sans Soufre will be different, with more guts and glory, say in 2022. Perhaps there is a softness about this naked one, something cotton candy about its aromatics and its texture. It’s fine-spun, ethereal and dissipating. It does not argue but you sense it’s possessive of an organized, controlled tension. But don’t be thinking this isn’t a planned piece of parenthood. Did I mention the tannic presence on the palate? How about the wind-up, into tart and the stiff breeze that blows through as if it’s already turning to fall. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted Twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $45.95, WineAlign)

The temptation and the desire to compare Robyn’s Block and the other Tawse chardonnays is unavoidable but in 2013 it’s a fruitless exercise. Neither warmth, tropical fruit, cold, rain, terpenes or high acidity are hallmark traits of Robyn’s Block 2013. So what is? When I tasted through Robyn’s barrels with winemaker Paul Pender back in April of 2014, the Mercurey (one year-old, CLL toast) from the oldest (32 years) vines off of the richest site worked wonders in tandem with new oak. Very primary, fermenting notes foretold of a reigned in, restrained Robyn. The Mercurey (new) barrel gifted tang and girth into which the barrel disappears, with sappy toast on the back end. It too was quite young in its evolution but was rich, thick and dense. The Céres (Mineral) barrel brought exclamatory fruit and was ready to drink. All together and three years later these barrels have conspired for all of the above but if I had to sum it up in five words or less I’d say Robyn is “full of energy, texture and beans.” She will turn out creamy notes as the decade turns but always maintain her sense of restraint, running sap and fleshy tone. The wine is nothing if not a fascinating introspection into the history and the future of this block.  Drink 2017-2023. Tasted April and July 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Sperling Vineyards Blanc De Blancs Brut Nature 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (511329, Agent, $47.00, WineAlign)

There is no dosage in this directly motivational Blanc de Blancs and plenty of potential palate weight with thanks to 30 months spent on the lees. There is something top single-vineyard cru Alsatian about the savoury and searing coolness in this style, as if it were more than just the sum of chardonnay parts, like some hypothetical pinot blanc and perhaps auxerrois. There is some reductiveness, a lovely washed rind cheese, lemon scrape melted into curd and fine bitters. The flavours are really quite lemony tart. Striking really. School of Cool moderator Karen MacNeil described this like “a nun in catholic school, severe and a bit starched. I’d like to try it a bit sweeter, to mollify the tension.” Though the consensus is one that sees it under-dosed, you have to admire Ann Sperling’s “decision based on lees contact time.” To make it longer. The sharp, angular edges are a by-product of its aggressive nature but like sémillon in its lean and gaunt youth this B de B will develop some faux honey and petrol with age. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted twice, July 2017  @SperlingVyds  @AnnSperling  @CRUOntario  sperlingvineyards  cruwine  Sperling Vineyards  Ann Sperling

Stratus Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario (307645, Agent, $48.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus 2014 is more reductive than usual, in its case more of a vintage-related affair than others. The “Burgundy method” is employed, but in a “Niagara style” notes winemaker J-L Groux,  that is with native yeasts and a pick that can’t be too early. The wine saw nine months in (25-50 per cent new) oak. This ’14 is Groux’s last of the chardonnay mohicans because in 2015 it will be bottled with lees. This ’14 is nothing if not bloody delicious, ripe orchard fruit swelling, of mild acidity and seamless texture. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May and July 2017  stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (366500, Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

Always Ontario’s outlier, eccentric and non-conformist chardonnay and I say this with complimentary, best of intention flattery. The 2013 vintage is simply chivalrous to chardonnay and in Poetica’s corner, a perfect calm case of preux meets elegante. Here is a chardonnay of inherent oxidative wisdom, from cloud cover, cool, long breaths of Niagara air well into the elongated autumn and the address for what I refer to as “the age apparent one.” The iconoclast Poetica ideal conforms because it is matched with equal breadth by richness of fruit and confirms the way Ann Sperling makes her signature wine. Tasted blind my first guess would put this at five years old because of the exuding warmth so 2010 might just be the order. A 2012 Bench chardonnay might have also been the answer. But with Poetica the promise is like Meursault with uptown fruit, honey, vanilla, caramel, a Niagara vapour and ethanol. Such a telling display that only Poetica can play. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted October 2016 and July 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

Viñas Ventisquero Tara Chardonnay 2014, Atacamas, Casablanca Valley, Chile (511337, Agent, $53.00, WineAlign)

Chile’s Atacama Valley frontier is one of the world’s great terroir expansions, a limestone soil-based flat, even further north than the Limari valley. Ventisquero’s winemaker Felipe Tosso has said that Atacama “breaks all the paradigms of what has been produced in the central-southern valleys of Chile.” The salinity in the land translates to notes in chardonnay of almost no precedence, like salty cotton candy and a fineness of acidity singular in chemical design and how it feels in the mouth. It’s like sucking on a stone lozenge that never dissolves. It’s relentless in its pursuit of fruit. Flavours coagulate liquid almond joy and transparent bitters but there is also a sweetness without definition, a simple limestone syrup that melts into the saltiness of the wine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  vventisquero  univinscanada  wines_of_chile_canada  @vventisquero  @UNIVINS  @WinesofChile  @VentisqueroWines  @UnivinsCanada  @WinesOfChile

Charline Drappier

Champagne Drappier Blanc De Blancs NV, Champagne, France (599860, Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)

Made with five per cent pinot blanc this faintly oxidatively-styled Blanc de Blancs is gingery-leathery and felt as if by extended skin contact. It’s both tannic and orange pith spritzy, also mixed in with grapefruit and lemon. Twenty-four lees-affected months bring body that is fleshy, corporeal and with acidity in charge on the palate. Quite a full fizz with some preserved fruit attentiveness. The dosage is healthy but simply flavour gifting at 7.1 RS because the sugar is a combination of beet and cane aged in oak for 10-15 years. It’s a special Drappier liquor dosage developed at the winery. What it brings is not just sweetness but a complex sweetener that has evolved and developed over time while it has aged. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted twice with Charline Drappier at #14c, July 2017 #ChampagneDrappier  @FWMCan  champagne_drappier  champagnedrappier  fwmcan  Champagne Drappier  Charline Dppr  @FWMCan

Ravine Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The Reserve is 100 per cent estate fruit that spent 18 months in (50 per cent new) barrel. As it’s both barrel fermented and aged the variegation locks the fruit in so bloody tight so even now it’s reductive, smoky and flinty. A mineral chardonnay needs balance from over the top fruit and so track record, acumen and love will have it so. Marty Werner and Ben Minaker’s is a big, summery and gold platinum expression, very expressive, the two-lb steamed in seaweed lobster chardonnay, seemingly Meursault but just as likely from California. But as Ravine’s Reserve on the St. David’s Bench it is purely Niagara Peninsula. Fruit intensity, extract and controlled oxygenation shows off the best of what these men can do. It speaks to their efforts, knowledge accumulation, trials and finally to the culmination of their stamina. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  ravinevineyard  marty_werner  benminaker23  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23  Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery  Martin Werner  Ben Minaker

Adam Mariani, Scribe Winery

Scribe Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, California (511139, Agent, $55.00, WineAlign)

Adam Mariani raised his 2014 in concrete and though we are distracted and of course fully willing to think about the fruit (especially in contrast to his Skin Contact chardonnay) it is the texture that grabs most attention. That this solicits older world comparisons is hard to avoid, but it’s not a Burgundian thematic. Like the garnatxa by Ramon Roqueta Segalés of Domaine Lafou, Scribe’s is a wine that has succeeded in mastering the oxidation process and the scents are of ripe peach, fresh, without overdeveloped sugars but instead a sprinkling of ocean salt. Finishes with a savoury mix of lime, tonic and the liquor of distilled flowers. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  scribe winery  nicholaspearcewines  @scribewinery  @Nicholaspearce_  Scribe Winery  Nicholas Pearce

Familia Torres Chardonnay Milmanda 2014, Catalunya, Spain (332171, Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Miguel Torres Jr. tells us his wine comes from a great white wine vintage; cool and rainy, though not great for reds. “I don’t believe in miracles from the vineyard. You have to do some things in the winery,” he adds, like the use of bigger (300L) barrels and a 50 per cent malolactic goal. His chardonnay is a juicy, terpenic, honorary cool climate Canadian. That’s not to say it isn’t barrel rich, but it too speaks a language of the lively, crisp, crunchy and bloody delicious. This is full, satisfying, spicy and buttery teasing chardonnay out of Catalunya and few gallop along with such equine gait and grace, at least not from Spain, without either softening like butter or hardening like stone. Here the twain is met. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  torreswines  @FWMCan  @TorresWines  fwmcan  @bodegastorres  @FWMCan

Scribe Skin Fermented Chardonnay 2015, Carneros, California (511147, Agent, $63.00, WineAlign)

Scribe Winery’s Adam Mariani introduces his antithetical Californian from the Sonoma side of cooler Carneros up on Arrowhead Mountain in the northern part of the region, planted in 2007 abutting the Mayacamas range on volcanic soils. The grapes are skin-fermented cold (in the farenheit 50’s) with native yeasts for five to six weeks until mid-December but over the past several vintages they (the winemaking team) have slowly gained the confidence to get them above 100 days. One bottle (served too warm) is amiss and oxidative and this really accentuates the skin-settling tannins on the palate. A second is beautifully lively, tannins a bit tamed, acidity in tact and fruit concerned and even obsessed with all things lemon. The aging is done in concrete egg and with a correct bottle this is not oxidized, nor is it an orange wine but it most certainly is a Carneros expression of great interest. It should be dealt with young. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  scribe winery  nicholaspearcewines  @scribewinery  @Nicholaspearce_  Scribe Winery  Nicholas Pearce

Artesa Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (457143, Agent, $67.00, WineAlign)

Artesa or artisan, from the Catalan, an affirmation of style gifted in name from the Barcelona family Raventos. This chardonnay from the base of Mt. Veeder is 100 per cent estate fruit, adjacent Hyde Vineyards, all hillside sits of elevation, sun and under cover of omniscent fog blowing in from San Pablo Bay. The character is unmistakable French (50 per cent new) cream barrel warm and buttered, yet young and still a bit closed for business. The 16 months in wood requires double that to integrate but a fine mineral streak cuts through the caramel. Nothing shocking mind you, grace meets weight and toasted chestnut melds into sweet marzipan. The quality of fruit is unquestionably high and the seamlessness a given. The style can be yours. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted July 2017  artesawinery  #andrewpellerimportagency  @Artesa  @APImportAgency  @MerSoleilVineyard  @Artesa

Chamisal Vineyards Chardonnay Chamise 2014, Edna Valley, California (511212, Agent, $86.00, WineAlign)

The aromatics are slow to reveal but if at first they are mildly mired in solder there is this sweet basil-herbal and lemon-balmy calmness on the entry. Takes some moments and then opens to a creamy, barrel-sweetened, tart and layered chardonnay. Looked at blind I’d certainly peg this as warmer climate, New Zealand perhaps but more likely and gracefully California. Indeed the Chamisal-Chamise of Edna Valley origins completes the picture. The first vineyard planted in the Edna Valley in 1973 near the Pacific and a long temperate growing season adds up to low and slow phenolic developed chardonnay. The warm vintage plus calcareous, clay-rich soil develops further flavour. Shy no more, the namesake flowering plant Adenostoma fasciculatum (chamise or greasewood) native to California bounds away with complex flavours. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  chamisalvyd  #andrewpellerimportagency  @ChamisalVyd  @APImportAgency  @Chamisal.Vineyards  @APImportAgency

Vasse Felix Chardonnay Heytesbury 2015, Margaret River, Western Australia (674648, $91.00,  WineAlign)

Heytesbury is Virginia Willcock’s top chardonnay and while it is one of Australia’s most iconic wines, it may never be made the same way twice. In 2015 the élèvage is in French oak for nine months (57 per cent new and 43, one to two years old) but no malolactic was encouraged. That’s a non-committal way of saying (and Virginia did in fact say) there was no malo in 2015 simply because it was not a vintage in which the acidity needed to be tamed. So with fruit so pure, strong and expressive, what else is there to say? Simply that you would be an idiot to tire of a fresh herb garden, blue slate shoes, ripe pomelo, a wedge of smoked cheddar, fresh scones and a crunch of mellifluous honeycomb. Heytesbury will gift all of this and more. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2017  vassefelixwines  margaretriver  @vassefelix  @MargaretRiver  @MargaretRiverWi  @vassefelixwines  @MargaretRiverWineRegion  @margaretriverwines1

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia, (Winery$119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones   winesofn  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @WinesofNS  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @winesofns

Cuvée des Amis in grand format from le grand ami @normhardie at an #i4c @coolchardonnay grand tasting dances and trips the light fantastic with unconscionable concentration.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Took all night but it was so worth it. Welcome to #i4c17 @coolchardonnay #ilivechardonnay

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

But first, October

steak

L’shanah tova, happy new year, peace, happiness and health to all the members of the tribe out there. New beginnings, sweet and good times to you and yours. I’ve just returned from Italy, specifically Verona and Valpolicella. While I was in transit a new VINTAGES release crept into stores.

Related – The most important red wine from Italy

Tuscany, Rioja, Thanksgiving. These are the main themes of the VINTAGES October 1st release. As from me for the first it is Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione that occupies the best sangiovese position in the central thematic. Second comes entry-level excellence from Álvaro Palacios and for the last three, pinot noir from disparate outposts; Sonoma County, the Willamette and Hemel-En-Aarde Valleys. A further 12 recommendations explore 10 regions; South Africa’s Coastal Region, Veneto, Loire Valley, Beaujolais, Alsace, Piedmont, Calatayud, Montagny, Paarl, Arroyo Seco and 14 additional grape varieties; chenin blanc, garganega, sauvignon blanc, gamay, riesling, arneis, garnacha, sylvaner, chardonnay, grenache blanc, picpoul blanc, roussanne and nebbiolo. Something for everyone.

Boschendal Rachelsfontein Chenin Blanc 2015, Wo Coastal Region, South Africa (455881, $12.95, WineAlign)

Classic chenin blanc from Boschendal, tart, balmy, savoury, smoky and spirited. Conjures up simple pleasures, breathing and bliss. A morning walk in a glade, a bubbling brook, herbs everywhere, wildlife. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  @BoschendalWines  @LiffordON  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada

San Raffaele Monte Tabor Soave 2015, Doc Veneto, Italy (277392, $14.95, WineAlign)

Always a good Soave buy and especially in the ripe and easily commercialized 2015 vintage. In fact this preface is a clear indication for such a wine because it can basically make itself so it smells, tastes and delivers just like itself. Citrus and herbs, Maresina, Pisacan, Sciopeti and then more citrus, followed by a mouth feel with an accent of stone. Delicious little commercial Soave. So correct. Drink 2016-2018.   Tasted September 2016    @RegioneVeneto

versant

Foncalieu Le Versant Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Vins De Pays D’oc, Loire, France (470336, $14.95, WineAlign)

Terrific scintillant of a sauvignon blanc with extract to burn and the gesture of giving generously. Pungency be damned this goes at it with vitality, energy and the great sweetness feigning, peachy sauvignon blanc equalizer. There are few Midi SBs that can both thrill and appease with ease like this Pays d’Oc. Crowd pleaser to pour at weddings and other large gatherings. The finish guarantees success. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @foncalieuwines  @LoireValleyWine  @azureau

aviron

Stephane Aviron Beaujolais Villages 2014, Beaujolais, France (468744, $15.95, WineAlign)

The juicy appeal of gamay. In its purest form it struts and flaunts in full peacock display as in this $16 Aviron Beaujolais. He or she who could not drink a tank full of this BV is missing out on one of the go to pleasures of the wine world. Fresh and outright getable, when risked with a more than slight chill this could do no harm. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016 @DiscoverBojo  @Nicholaspearce_

palacios

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2014, Doca Rioja, Spain (674564, $15.95, WineAlign)

Rioja to grab for, spread out the blanket, pull out the jamon and kick back. Fresh, juicy, slightly smoky and full of nothing but fruit with a quick shake of spice. The simple pleasures provided by Alvaro Palacios at the lowest of low affordability. You can find Rioja with a much greater and historically profound sense of place but it will cost an arm and a leg. And I’m not sure it will get you anywhere. So put aside the serious face and embrace this modish value-driven sketch by Palacios. I too will abide. “It’s not that I care any less for that philosophy, but I would spend one night with you in trade for all that I’ve achieved.” Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016  @WoodmanWS  @RiojaWine

kuhlmann

Kuhlmann Platz Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (196741, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the cooperative Cave de Hunawihr where the winemaking is overseen by Nicolas Garde here is a typically tart and citrus-driven riesling from alluvial flats. Salinity and a touch of brine with a minor note of spritz makes this nothing but fun. It’s certainly lean and direct but such an Alsace riesling line is fine when done with no agenda in mind. Well made with enough complexity to add five years onto its life. Drink 2016-2021. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2016  @VinsAlsace  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @ChartonHobbs

arneis

Cordero Di Montezemolo Langhe Arneis 2015, Piedmont, Italy (455162, $21.95, WineAlign)

Prodigious and revered producer meets resurrected varietal in this hear me roar and highly expressive roero arneis. From Langhe vineyards in La Morra, Guarene and Govone. The level of extract and texture is elevated to where the grape can go but we so very rarely get a chance to enjoy. This has mineral, loads of mineral, like a chew of rocks in bubble gum form. With this on offer who wouldn’t choose to chew every day. More acclaim for arneis and that makes me smile. The freshness will offer perfect window drinking in years one through three but why not put one or two aside and watch them develop some honey and petrol in years five through ten. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2016    @ProfileWineGrp

breca

Breca Old Vines Garnacha 2013, Do Calatayud, Spain (329086, $22.95, WineAlign)

Very floral garnacha from gravelly slate with more than enough blueberry and blackberry to bake into a hundred pies. As per the modern norm this 100 per cent garnacha from typically regional (upwards of 100 year) old vines pushes the scales in extraction, weight and alcohol. If any Aragonese garnacha can handle such largesse it is Calatayud because the combination of gnarly vines and rocky soil gives essential nutrients to fruit for balance. It may only be a distraction but when the wine is polished (albeit sweetly so) the looming alcohol is kept in threaded check. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016  @CSWS_ON  @WinesofGarnacha  @GarnachaOrigen  @docalatayud

wildewood

Wildewood Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon (462994, $23.95, WineAlign)

If mountain herbs and tea could burrow or seep their savoury ways into a Willamette Valley pinot noir this Wildewood would be a viable candidate. It’s a global, pinot from everywhere and for everyone affair in here so call the aromas what you will; fynbos, rooibos, Peloponnese clandestina, wild thyme, rosemary, lavender. So pretty in its sauvage, so suave in its ruggedness. This pinot noir understands what it is saying and selling. Unlike the gritty poet, it is in complete control of its phenolics and its faculties. The palate pales but delivers straight to structure. The aridity and the salinity seal the deal. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016     @Nicholaspearce_

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (470476, $26.95, WineAlign)

Such thews and texture are wonderful to elevate Montagny and you can tell that important Nicolas Potel time was allocated into turning this into something rocking. Plenty of citrus and wood intertwine in layers of chardonnay flesh. This is quite something. Gregarious, talkative and alive. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016  @RochedeBellene  @vinsdebourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_  @BourgogneWines

sylvaner

Domaine Loew Vérité Sylvaner 2013, Ac Alsace, France (462598, $25.95, WineAlign)

The truth of sylvaner explodes into olfaction with the flats left for others and the slopes of Alsace greasing their way into this wine. A wow factor of 13 on the texture scale brings it here. Oily doesn’t due this sylvaner justice. You could run heavy machinery on this juice. Beyond the oléagineux there is great bite from old wood, tonic from the varietal necessity and bitters so very artisan crafted in nature. More British aperitif than Italian digestif in that sense but strictly Alsatian and in requiem for a match made in Foie Gras heaven. Needs two years to settle. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted September 2016     @VinsAlsace  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

avondale

Avondale Armilla Blanc De Blanc 2009, Méthode Cap Classique, Wo Paarl, South Africa (451930, $29.95, WineAlign)

From a farm dating to 1693 purchased by Johnathan Grieve’s family in 1996. Poster bubbles, for the Blanc de blancs habitation and for the Avondale oeuvre, the Armillary sphere, Roman “circle of life” and ancient astronomical instrument used to show the position of stars around the earth. Traditional production, with a kiss of oak and a final act of dosage. Five total years on the lees, including two on coarse and one in bottle. Picking was accomplished at the end of that January, in purpose of stylistic elegance and beautiful bitters born of natural and integrated acidity. Terrific dip of biscuits into honey. Like Baklava in a glass though equally savoury to dessert. Baller bubble, balanced and with the sense to envision evolution, to the look ahead of an adult age. Would retail for approximately $28 CAN. Drink 2015-2027. Tasted twice, May and September 2015  @Avondalewine  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @RareEarth_Wines

doon

Bonny Doon Beeswax Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Central Coast, California (95331, $34.95, WineAlign)

The Beeswax Vineyard is not just a pretty face. That this blend reeks of the bee’s work can’t be a coincidence. The ‎Rhône is but a mere smirk or memory here with fruit so ripe and vital you can hear yourself think. Arroyo Seco does cool chardonnay but it works for these varieties in another worldly way; with viscosity and texture. The pitch from the lemon and the flesh of creamy tropical fruits come together with a party gathering crafted tonic. And yet there is this rhythmic, low-toned, folk-roots-blues riff tenderness to Le Cigare Blanc. Really. J.J. Cale (by way of Don Nix) if you will. I’m going Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016  @BonnyDoonVineyd  @RandallGrahm

ama

Castello Di Ama San Lorenzo Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (418897, $48.95, WineAlign)

Castello di Ama has chosen their signature San Lorenzo Vineyard to qualify for Gran Selezione designation, one of three such highest level Chianti Classico produced at the estate. The high Gaiole elevation and argilo-calcaire soil make for a specific style, still deep and mineral but not so much like what happens from sangiovese raised on Galestro or Albarese solis. The liqueur here is a grander kind of sangiovese ooze (with 20 per cent malvasia and merlot), more hematic and of a purity only it can express. There is more liquorice and less leather, more iron and less cherry. Certainly less fruity but not as mineral. Here the umami is conspicuously undefined and so I am oriented to say it is simply San Lorenzo. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2016  @CastellodiAma  @HalpernWine  @chianticlassico

ratti

Renato Ratti Marcenasco Barolo 2011, Docg Piedmont, Italy (713479, $53.95, WineAlign)

The Ratti Marcenasco is in a league of it own but it shares the club with like-minded nebbioli, wines that steep in tradition and breath an aromatic liqueur only its kind resemble. Deep waters here, always mysterious and hiding sunken treasures. Candied roses and liquid tar, savoury forbidden forests and intricate tannic chains. You have to exercise extreme patience with Marcenasco, avoiding years five to 10 and best to look in at 15. Everything will rise to the surface. Drink 2021-2031. Tasted September 2016    @LiffordON

hr-pinot

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $57.95, WineAlign)

In 2015 the hyperbole of the Hemel-en-Aarde shines bright in magnified reflection with fruit and land combining for full effect. I get cola and beet root in ways I cant necessarily recall from most recent Hamilton Russell pinot noir and I also get depth like I’ve not encountered before. This is a massive expression in 2015, not a gentle one. I imagine the vintage was raging with adrenaline and testosterone so you have to take what is given. A masculine wine is the result, muscular, chiseled and ripped. At present the Hamilton Russell homiletic Hemel-En-Aarde verbiage is a tad evangelical. With such Adonis-like features and marbled structure it will need a few years to recoil, recalibrate and recharge. By next decade it will soften and preach with a bold style yet remain humble enough to change. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2016  @OliveHR  @hermanuswine

flowers

Flowers Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (215202, $68.95, WineAlign)

Pinot Noir that is all coastal, from vineyards far and wide but inclusive of some fruit from the Sea Ridge Estate Vineyard. An extreme brightness of being pinot noir with that distinctive Sonoma Coast feigned red candy nose, first raspberry and then strawberry. Exquisitely perfumed and gainfully rendered with mindful, purposed and calibrating acidity, propped up and misty fine. Such effete fruit and unassuming character does not materialize with enough regularity out of these parts. The finesse and fineness of this wine is what California does best when it comes from the heart and not from the hand. Though his chardonnay is otherworldly you just have to appreciate David Keatley’s touch with Sonoma Coast pinot noir. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted twice, February and September 2016  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Fifteen in VINTAGES July 23rd

#toast

#toast

While life is a blur there is always wine. In the past month the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, Chablis and three VINTAGES releases have seen me taste through more than 800 glasses of wine. This is something I do often in a four-week stretch but this, this was something other. It was intense.

During the same stretch I completed my tasting notes on 50 Chianti Classico (including 18 Gran Selezione) and those ruminating thoughts will be published in the coming weeks. Tomorrow I head down to Niagara for the sixth annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or as it is affectionately hash-tagged, #i4c16. Just in case I didn’t have enough tasting notes to transcribe, edify, pop-culture aggrandize, indoctrinate and embellish, well, get ready for 100 more.

For now there is the upcoming July 23rd VINTAGES release and 15 wines I recommend with Godello certainty. Now if I could just get off this grid.

Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Wo Elgin, South Africa (203877, $14.95, WineAlign)

A pungent, insistently perfumed cooler clime sauvignon blanc from a big, need to be picked quick crop. Spice, grapefruit, agave and yellow flowers and with more texture than its Thelema ’14 cousin. Fleshy, tropical, juicy, ripe and spirited. Classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure. High quality fruit ready for all comers. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2015 and July 2016  @ThelemaWines  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada

almansa

Castillo De Almansa Old Vines Selection 2010, Almansa, Spain (586719, $16.95, WineAlign)

Rich and concentrated, nicely balanced between roping fruit and ripping acidity. Has real firepower but enough sense to remain calm at the right moments. Plenty of verve, concentration and development from old vines and the stuffing to stand up to blessed char off the grill. Terrific summer BBQ red. Will also work for winter stew. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @BodegasPiqueras  @almansaturismo  @DionysusWines

Vinedos Y Bodegas Pablo Menguante Garnacha Selección 2012, Cariñena, Spain (313833, $16.95, WineAlign)

Two years on and with more oak this is a very different animal than the subdued ’14, integrated but on the other side of the aromosphere. The oak is dominant, vanilla and cocoa are the great waft in what is ostensibly pitch perfect fruit, in bottle on the dark side of the moon. Coconut, vanilla extract and cinnamon. The wood brings layered and sheathed character. Very plush and notes Jorge, “if you come to Cariñena to experience Garnacha, this wine will allow you to discover the wonders of American oak.” The deep fruit and earth melded into and by the barrel makes for a very pleasurable drop. The ’08 released into the Ontario market in November 2014 lends credence to the ageability of this Garnacha. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015 and July 2016  @GranViu  @VinosCarinena  @DoCarinena  @Vinexxperts

Quails’ Gate Gewürztraminer 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (354480, $17.95, WineAlign)

The ripest Quail’s Gate gewürztraminer ever may be some kind of anomic desert hyperbole but wow is this fleshy, extracted and beautiful. Spicy too, with a minor citrus pith and almost into slight effervescence. Fun with gewürztraminer. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted July 2016  @Quails_Gate  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco

santa rita

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2012, Limarí Valley, Chile (443523, $17.95, WineAlign)

From the northerly clime of the Limari this is seductively floral syrah with an edge of peppery spice. It just feels balanced on the nose and silky sweet in mouthfeel. Pushes characterization towards incomplex tautology. Linger with it long enough and the fine tannins will rear and bring everything back to earth. Cue the value jingle. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @SantaRitaEst  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @ImportWineMAFWM  @MarkAnthonyWine

redstone

Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (381251, $19.20, WineAlign)

The lower bowl of this Tawse-Redstone plot is the shiny one, as in happy scintillant of riesling proportions. A year on the attitude persists, in lime and honey, acacia and beeswax. Terrific tartness and direct enjoyable deposit. Enough mineral to satisfy a calcaire lover’s soul.  @RedstoneWines  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

From my earlier note of May 2015:

So much lime and liquid chalk make for desired and dreamy texture. The lime slides like a slick of oil into the full flavours, spiked by peach and white plum liqueur. Terrific 20 Mile value. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of May 2014:

This inaugural Riesling foray from atop the Twenty Mile Bench out of the Limestone Vineyard is a sister to the Tawse exploration from same. The comparisons end right there. Paul Pender’s take is kinetic, frenetic and electric. Redstone winemaker Rene Van Ede tends to and lends from a reconnaissance that heralds Mosel. His first, fixed take is off-dry (in obvious ubiquity) with circular acidity. The co-agitation is early picked at low brix, with realized high residual sugar (36.4 g/L) and low alcohol (10 per cent). Toothsome, with a ying/yang, lemon/lime, push/pull. The case load is formidable for a first go ’round (1000 plus) yet paddled through limestone acreage with effortless strokes.

Last tasted July 2016

allegrini

Corte Giara Ripasso Valpolicella 2013, Doc Veneto, Italy  (83964, $19.95, WineAlign)

Lovely Ripasso liqueur with pretty red fruit and compressed earthy accents. Resides on the correct side of tart and the exemplary aspect of sweet, fine-grained tannin. Accomplishes Ripasso intimacy by doing so at a mimetic remove. Lingers like a perfect pastille. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016  @AllegriniWine  @C_Valpolicella  @RegioneVeneto

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (461640, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Champs Royaux is Chablis drawn from a selection of Fèvre’s better grower contracts and five to 10 per cent is aged in old oak, the rest in stainless steel. It is a generalized but oh too important expression from kimmeridgian soil, hedged and qualified from all over Chablis. Takes all the hills, valleys, les clos and slope/aspect dimensions into account. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage. The fruit is ripe and the acidity a study in Chablis exactitude. The balance may be the best this cuvée has ever shown. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016      @BIVBChablis  @purechablis

sancerre

Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre 2014, Ac Loire Valley, France (82255, $26.95, WineAlign)

This white scintillant by Raimbault from Sancerre is laid out with clear instruction, like Rimbaud through Van Morrison, in precisely what sauvignon blanc needs to impress from the Loire. The beseeching immanent, insulated implosion of fruit, searing mineral and tannin multiplying within a bubble. This is tres fort fricative stuff, tart without any excess tang, notes all important and leading to a grand result. Pungency does not enter the vocabulary but the mouthful of stones is palpable and sonant. Raimbault’s 2014 offered up a sense of wonder, “showed me ways and means and motions. showed me what it’s like to be. Gave me days of deep devotions, showed me things I cannot see.” Essential sauvignon blanc with poise, precision and mandatory feel. Sincere Sancerre tore down a la Rimbaud. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted July 2016

charmes

Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (453415, $27.95, WineAlign)

I’d put my money down on a French woman to work magic from cabernet franc grown on the warm, generous and giving St. David’s Bench. Lo and behold here is Amélie Boury with such fruit of spot on varietal countenance, magnified by the exhort of 2012. The gifts of that vintage could have been clouded with oak smothers but that case is not presented nor was it predicted. Boury certainly makes use of the barrel but its presence is textural, with mellow spice and for la longeur. This will develop efficiently and with grace, from this current anglaise stage into something modern Loire Valley en croute. It will accrue its culture and its character over seven to 10 years. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2016  @MBosc

bachelder

Bachelder Hautes Côtes De Beaune 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (445247, $27.95, WineAlign)

My sweet Beaune from Thomas Bachelder, as in sweet on the spontaneous haute ideal, not the cloying of residual imbalance. From a winemaker who lets his wines narrate themselves. Exemplary by George (well, Thomas) of a Beaune perfume with an underlay of acidity and tannin. No bitters here, nor astringent behaviour, nor harassment, which is nice. My sweet Beaune. Hm, my Beaune. Hm, my Beaune. Though a touch firm at present, a year ahead will see it come closer to hallelujah harmony. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @BourgogneWines @vinsdebourgogne  @LiffordON

 

querciabella

Querciabella Chianti Classico 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (728816, $37.95, WineAlign)

Remarkable sangiovese so fleshy and forthright, modern and of an extreme brightness of being. There is an underlying Greve truth be told in moderation, tradition and historical meets varietal significance but it’s a new oration. This means that the structure is both sound and hermetically sealed. The lightness of volatility is a reminder of the past but it treads so delicately you just know this is a shining star pointing the way to the future. A brilliant “normale” without the the new slang of Gran Selezione but in many respects it may as well be. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted July 2016  @Querciabella  @chianticlassico  @rogcowines

Fisticuffs Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (457507, $49.95, WineAlign)

From Pavi Wines comes this study in hedonistic Napa Valley balance from out of a top-notch vintage. Ripe fruit and oak spice dance a simple cabernet sauvignon language with rope-a-dope drupe, right-handed acidity and a solid tannic left. A peremptory wine but its message is an assertion rather than a persuasion. Not a heavyweight by any means but behold the high-strung, svelte and agile middleweight. Possessive of the stuffing and the stamina to go a full fifteen rounds. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2016

flowers

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $68.95, WineAlign)

A near perfect vintage after a mild winter was presented to shape this ripe gathering of increased extraction. Though the previous years pale in comparison, there can be no mistaking the load of impression. The causation supplied by extreme coastal vineyards with dramatic altitude stretches and elongates the fruit and so it is hard to get to know the oak. The bite is toothsome into great green apple, perfectly ripened grapefruit and a far eastern note of Indonesian sasak (snake) fruit. The materials and the handling are as one, from purchased coastal fruit to winemaker Dave Keatley’s acquiescent dispensation. Delicate fortitude from Sonoma. Where else before but here can chardonnay sire and develop such a family? Drink 2016-2022. Tasted July 2016  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Two Hands Samantha’s Garden Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley, South Australia, Australia (67355, $71.95, WineAlign)

This is simply gorgeous shiraz from the Clare Valley. A wine of balance, precision and focus. It seems the wood regimen has been relaxed in welcoming retreat. On a rare occasion when a garden of flowers can bloom through despite so much fruit and an equal tempering by wood, well that is a joyous thing. The texture is woven from pure silk and the quality of the ganache painted with the finest brush. This never over soaks, runs roughshod or lays down the hammer. It is a fine-tuned shiraz of the highest esteem. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted July 2016  @twohandswine  @bwwines  @Wine_Australia

Good to go!

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

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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

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Ten prodigal suspects

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Expensive wine surrounds us all year-long but in the 30 plus days leading up to Christmas the concentration multiplies.  As the shopping days tick down, it seems as though we are inundated by an omnipresent $50-plus crowd. Do these wines have any effect on your life? Do you consider forking out half a yard or two, on yourself or for someone you (sort of) love? Are the jet-setting, usual suspects really worth considering?

In certain cases the answer is yes, but just because some wines are expensive, for a complex variety of reasons, does not make them either good or bad in a decidedly black or white sense. Many outrageously expensive wines are simply awesome bottles of fermented grapes while others are nothing special. High prices can be a reflection of designer labelling and marketing, while others are the summation of genius created by greatness and art. Sometimes it’s just a matter of economics.

I’m going to borrow a hypothesis from my WineAlign colleague John Szabo to illustrate the point. You go to a juice bar. The smoothie or vegan fruit and grass concoction cost not much more than a few dimes to produce. The expertise required came as a result of a half hour’s worth of learning and training. The machine costs a few hundred bucks. And you paid $8.95 for the beverage.

Wine grapes grow on vines that might be as old as 100 years, tended by a farmer far away who was paid a dollar or two for a kilo of his fruit. The vigneron spent perhaps the first 30 days slaving over the initial maceration and fermentation of that fruit and followed that up with at least a year (and in some cases five) to nurture the wine into becoming something special. The bottle and the cork cost another dollar or two and the shipping charges add at least another two again. Then there were the middle men involved; negociants, wholesalers, distributors, agents, retailers and monopolies. That wine might sell for anywhere from $9 to $20 in the Canadian market. And you don’t want to pay $20 for a decent bottle of wine?

Now imagine the fruit coming from some of the most expensive real estate on the planet and processed by the best equipment that money can buy for making wine. Then it is handled by experts in the transportation, selling and marketing fields. You can see how $20 quickly becomes $50 and so on. Don’t misunderstand me. Many wines are ridiculously overpriced. Many are the by-products of marketing juggernauts. It is important to understand, however, that many high-priced wines are deserving of their tags. The margins are not as inflated as you might want to believe.

Iconic wines are always a good buy for someone, but vintages determine when their purchase is the way to go for others. Varied and direct opinion of conceit is rarely witnessed with such certainty as there is found in the world of wine. “I speak therefore it is,” or “I think therefore I am” are two truisms that ring with pomp and circumstance in the world of winemakers, sommeliers and writers. Being sure about everything goes a long way towards determining careers and fortunes.

So, for the first time in this sketch of wine stuff I am offering up a list of high-priced wines that I may or may not be recommending. They are all household names in the world of iconic wine. Some are “best of” vintages while others are head scratches as to why anyone would spend such money on their wood or their contrivance. You are the one to judge. Here are 10 expensive releases from VINTAGES for November 28th, as usual, prodigal in their return in time for the holidays.

 

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy (431718, $56.95, WineAlign)

The fruit in 2010 is jam-packed, sealed in freshness and blessed with the unmistakeable Colombini soil funk. I first tasted this ’10 alongside 2007 and 2008. The dew, bloom and vigor hangs on a line threaded through each vintage. The 2010 stands alone for its poetic perfume. The flowers of Montalcino, along with the burst buds of herbs on the hills. This vintage pours a generous cup of Montalcino mountain tea. Smoky, opaque and of a proprietary liqueur thick and distilled, the level of animale is right there too. With so much aromatic potpourri the wine’s trotters scramble and ascend with a juggernaut of complexity. Beautiful Brunello with so much tradition running through its fast forward veins. It must of course be laid aside for a few years to really get it. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April and November 2015  @news_donatella  @ConsBrunello  @LeSommelierWine

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013, Ac Rhone, France (711317, $89.95, WineAlign)

Quite a mouthful of Beaucastel with more warm, figgy fruit than memory generally serves. The surfeited structure can’t be denied but the advanced, occupied territory reminds of 1988. This ’13 may be viewed as acting with similar haste when it will have reached the age of 25, in earth-crusted caramel and sweet fruit scooped from a forest floor. Up until five years before then it will always have ripe red berries, spice accents, anise and the veritable design of garrigue. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted November 2015  @Beaucastel  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine  @ChartonHobbs
Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2013

Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $99.95, WineAlign)

A tremendous vintage for Les Noisetiers, cared for, tendered and placated by a clarity in hands-off winemaking. Deeply ingrained from juice maximized out of overloaded sensory sunshine and the choice to let sleeping fruit dogs lie. Possessive of an almond bitter bar not bitten into before and overlaid by lacy organza, a mild sheath overtop of purposed, wild fermented fruit, a lightly toasted barrel slumber and richness beyond the horizon. All in style of west coast Chardonnay, though simply prepared with the freshest local ingredients, with stony lactic lees texture and subtle spice. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted November 2015  @TheVine_RobGroh  @sonomavintners

Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2012

Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (986380, $104.95, WineAlign)

Deep, dark, rich and handsome, a thick red duke of aggressive, conceited, unctuous behaviour. Such tannin and aggression is not so much rarely seen as not always a factor provided by expatriate Cabernet Sauvignon. The dense and massive ferric monster exercises in many, thorough magnanimous machinations. Such a beast. It’s big and it’s good. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted November 2015  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007

Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007, Doc Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy (986117, $104.95, WineAlign)

Here Quintarelli takes it to a new level, away from rusticity and into modernity, though it remembers every step along the historical way. Liquid caramel and red fruit meld into such sweet earth it feels as though the vineyard is right here and now. Some tobacco but just a puff, so much impression, cure without aridity and natural feel without an orange juicing. Intensity and acidity to take it 30 years. Amongst the best ever? No question it must be considered. Impossible to know. Drink 2015-2047.  Tasted November 2015  @LiffordON

Luce Della Vite Luce 2012

Luce Della Vite Luce 2012, Igt Toscana, Italy (685263, $114.95, WineAlign)

There can be no denying the density and wealth of flavour. Equally so the solid foundation and unwavering structure is the result of a winemaker’s ability to construct such a formidable pillar of strength. It can be imagined that this Luce will go ten years before budging into evolution even a single iota. It is a beast of fruit, barrel and tannin but more than anything else, oak. As shaken as a creamy, milky, anglaise cappuccino as there ever was or will be. Lots of spice from that oak. A designer label wine made with the finest materials. It really doesn’t matter when it is opened, now or in 15 years. It will take that long before it will begin to change. That is because the sum of its parts happen to be over the top. Drink 2015-2030.  Tasted November 2015  @FrescobaldiVini  @AuthenticWineON  @AuthenticWine

Sassicaia 2012

Sassicaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Every once in a while an iconic leader of Tuscan wine feudalism takes a step back from its military rule and offers to feed both the army and its people. In 2012 Sassicaia is restrained, giving, generous and empathetic. The fruit is certainly ripe, as are the tannins and structurally speaking this has the layers, the soft libido and the desire to please like never before. Sassicaia for the people, like it may have once been, a king of the classes and for the masses. Not in price mind you, but you can’t have everything. Drink 2018-2038.  Tasted November 2015  @Smarent

Ornellaia 2012

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (722470, $195.50, WineAlign)

Takes the purity of 2011, furthers the integration and mimics the precision, then pumps up the volume. Takes a breath and then, with soluble efficiency it refines the intricately woven lines a few steps furtrher, if that is even possible. I will say that the tannins are a bit tougher in ’12, with a tight string wound depressively around the fruit’s long and elegant tendrils. Fruit is the determinate factor, pure, blossoming and fragrant. It adds up to a consensus of one thought, that this vintage is yet another legend in the making, a fine and linear Ornellaia that should travel 30 plus years, perhaps longer. What liqueur, such botanicals and endless valleys passing through fertile hills. Drink 2019-2045.  Tasted November 2015  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON  @AuthenticWine

Antinori Solaia 2011

Antinori Solaia 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (987586, $249.95, WineAlign)

Shows off the typically cured and seemingly advanced notes that Solaia always seems to display, whether the vintage purposed days of heat or nights of cold. A wine that seems immune from vintage variation, with fresh and dried fruit shacking up together. In 2011 Solaia is extremely rich, aggressive with acidity and yet with moderate tannins for five years of development, but not much more. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted November 2015  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012, Napa Valley, California (710400, $299.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Insignia had me at first whiff. At first sip I could not be reached. Massive aromatics blast from this formidable Insignia, clearly noted with immediate clarity as a proprietary blend for the ages. The current torrent is so plugged in and highly climatic, like a visibly sparking conduit, storm and fire all wrapped into one electric happening. The peaks, valleys, waves and intonations are bred of perfectly ripe fruit sets traveling as one in perfect syncopation. The ripe, chain-link tannins will take this very, very far. This is as fine a California wine as I have ever tasted. Drink 2018-2045.  Tasted November 2015  @josephphelps  @LiffordON  @NapaVintners

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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