Twenty-two mind-blowing wines of 2022

Godello in the Stellenbosch heather, Reyneke Wine Estate

We are who we are and we choose to live in a world according to wine. Within its walls are endless permutations and revelations, of the dark moments and the light, the romantic entanglements and the failures. We witness cycles of passion, highs and lows, endless accounts of quirky little episodes that reveal how grapes really live under the circumstances of a vintage. How they survive and thrive, eventually turning into the wine they become. A wine’s history is a lovely aside accompanied by a recorded and constructed account through the lens of someone who observes its transformations. We are messengers who take the land, plant and maker into consideration and always abide, recounting the story to those who would choose to listen. According to WineAlign I reviewed more than 3,000 wines in 2022, which means I tasted at least 3,500, if not more. In order to surmise this final list from a shortlist of more than 100 mind-blowing wines it meant another 2,900 are not even in the running and yet surely no less than a quarter are exceptional wines in their own right. That is how difficult, personal and stringent an exercise this annual choosing has become. I find it near impossible these days and yet somehow feel compelled to continue the drill. 

Godello in Chianti Classico

Related – Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The year 2022 afforded multiple opportunities to get back on the road in search of great wines in places across the ponds and beyond. To Tuscany in both February and March, for the for the Chianti Classico Collection and also as chaperone to La Squadra Canadese for a week of exploration throughout the 11 UGAs of the territory. Forever in Chianti Classico included a masterclass presented by Italian wine expert Filippo Bartolotta and Consorzio President Giovanni Manetti titled Il Chianti Classico in 9 Decadi. This year-end summary includes one of those Chianti Classico wines dating back to 1949 but a few more could been here as well, including the fascinating Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico 1958. At Laura Bianchi’s estate the Castello Di Monsanto Sangioveto 1986 was one to blow my mind, as did Luca Martini di Cigala’s San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo 2018 and VinSanto del Chianti Classico 1998. As a proud, card-carrying Ambasciatore there are dozens upon dozens of Classico and affiliate sangiovese that move me each and every calendar year. Il Molino Di Grace Gratius 2018 is an example and just one of many.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

After that Tuscan adventure I moved on to Sicily for a five day exploration of The five estates of Planeta earth and my stay turned into two weeks. Covid-19 had caught me and yet the humanity of Alessio Planeta, Patricia Tòth and several winemakers aboard L’Etna turned a challenging test result into many days of discovery and deeper volcanic understanding. In fact L’Etna and Parco Statella saved my Sicilian quarantine. So many producers’ wines could and should be on this list: Azienda Agricola Sofia, Calcagno, Donnafugata, Eduardo Torres, Feudo Pignatone, Girolamo Russo, Graci, Scirto, Tascante, and Vigneti Vecchio. Oddly this was not a year for nebbiolo with likely the least amount of opportunities made available and yet a month from now I will spend 10 days in Piemonte to make up for the absence in 2022. That said there can be no forgetting Réva Barolo Cannubi 2018, from which impartiality is off the table because if you do not fall in love with this Barolo then you are not setting your palate free.

Travels in June and Abruzzo in four-part harmony included a bucket list visit with Emidio Pepe where I found that an unwavering commitment to land is everything that matters in making exceptional and memorable wine. It’s not only what you do but also who you are. Ahead of that trip I had tasted La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Bellovedere Riserva Terre Dei Vestini 2017, and there can be little doubt that it is a wine that resides at the top of the montepulciano food chain because this Riserva hails from a most specific and important terroir. After Abruzzo and then Rome I moved on to attend the first ever Anteprima for Simply Red: Rosso di Montalcino where the Brunello were set aside for one day only and the 2020 vintage of Rosso got directly under my skin, including Lorenzo Magnelli’s mind bending Le Chiuse Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020. Dieci Anni di Rosso di Montalcino (Ten Years of Rosso di Montalcino) and Selezione di Rosso di Montalcino (Rosso di Montalcino Selection) showed wines of age-ability and purpose; my if Alessandro Mori’s Il Marroneto Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Jacopo 2019 did not blow my mind. A visit with Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini meant a pour of Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Io Sono Donatella 2015 for the most profound barrel expression of Le Donne’s Brunelli. 

Menfi

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

In October the Cape Wine congress resumed after a four year absence and now more than ever this is what I have to say. South Africa is the most exciting and mind-expanding wine universe alive today. There are no less than 40 Western Cape wines from two dozen or so producers tasted in 2022 that could have made this list: A.A. Badenhorst, Alheit, Beaumont, Boekenhoutskloof, Crystallum, David and Nadia Sadie, Hamiilton Russell, Huis van Chevallerie, Kanonkop, Ken Forrester, La Motte, Leeu Passant, Klein Contsantia, Meerlust, Momento, Mullineux, Old Road Wine Company, Porseleinberg, Raal, Raats, Radford Dale, Restless River, Reyneke, Savage, Sijnn, Storm and The Sadie Family. To name but a few. Other southern hemisphere wines were killer in 2022, namely Torbreck Grenache Hillside Vineyard 2019, a special Barossa block to be sure.

With John Szabo MS and Rosa Kruger at the Old Vines Project tasting

In November a return to Montalcino for Benvenuto Brunello 2022 meant a look at the 2018 vintage but also the Riserva of 2017. At Col d’Orcia the Conte Francesco Cinzano Marone and his son Santiago led yet another vertical tasting, this time on the 8s and it was Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Poggio Al Vento 1988 that stood both out and also the test of time. From Montalcino it was on to Vienna and then a Wagram-Traisental discovery tour that was both too short and mind-expanding – A return must and will happen soon. Meanwhile a tasting at home in the WineAlign office showed this Rheingau gem to the crü. Leitz Berg Schlossberg Grosses Gewächs Riesling Trocken 2019 is grand Rüdesheim indeed. 

These are the wines that blew my mind in 2022

Most of all 2022 was a year when associates, colleagues, wine professionals and especially friends reunited to break bread and taste great wines together. At a birthday party I had the opportunity to taste the following in one evening; Château Lafitte 1986, Château Mouton-Rothschild 1986, Chave Hermitage 2010, Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Turque 1999, Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1990, Dom Perignon 2000, Veuve Cliquot La Grand Dame 1995 to name just seven of 20-plus icons. Bordeaux made several prominent appearances in ’22; Château Margaux 1989 (and 2004), Château Haut-Brion 2012 and Château La Mission Haut-Brion 2012. More importantly in 2022 we shared bottles of all ilk, pedigree and origin, not only the expensive and famous labels but all the great wines, big and small. Thank you to every person who poured, for every sip and taste, with heartfelt thanks. These are Godello’s 22 mind-blowing wines of 2022.

Markus Huber Grüner Veltliner Berg 1ÖTW 2021, Traisental, Austria

Highest and coolest vineyard of the Traisental Erste Lage because by three or four pm the forest casts shade over the vineyard. Limestone based soil as well, upwards of 380m and the only portion that has iron rich red elements in the earth. Actually finding a richness in this, surely vintage related and that is unexpected but it’s also the most savoury, minty cool, eucalyptus accented, or the like. Curious by comparison to Alte Zetsen and Zwirch, in what is assessed as almost dark, smoky, spicy volcanic-simulate stuff. Brings whole and utter meaning to grüner veltliner at the Grand Cru level. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2022

Godello with Charla Bosman

Sijnn White 2019, WO Malgas, South Africa

Up above the Breede River there are vines of chenin blanc, viognier, roussanne and verdelho, varieties that have been working towards a common goal, to eventuate at something great. Then 2019 comes along and the world changes. This is the vintage from which David Trafford, Sijnn and winemaker Charla (Hassbroek) Bosman take full reign of their collective charge. To be truthful the agriculture, winemaking and face of the brand is Bosman and were I in the market to hire someone of her passion, ability and professionalism I could not help but remunerate her like a top European footballer. But lucky we all are that she and Sijnn are together because she is at one with this impossible yet absurdly beautiful environment where wines like this White Blend are made and will blow your proverbial mind. They attach themselves and get so close to that personal part of you. Imagine Châteauneuf though I’d much rather consider Malgas because that is what this is. Rich and perfectly viscous, spicy, structured and fine. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted October 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Bianco DOC San Lorenzo 2020, Sicily, Italy

From the single vineyard at 730-740m of elevation and vinified in tonneaux. The 2009 was the first vintage of San Lorenzo Bianco for a wine that leads amongst the 80-90 thousand total bottles made by Giuseppe Russo from 18 hectares. A strong selection from the plants of carricante with cattaratto and grecanico. The carricante are the oldest and they provide the breadth in the mouth, the texture in unction and the presence that really makes you feel the vineyard. The difference between it and Nerina is really in the selection of the grapes. Giuseppe wants his whites to speak for his territory, here to be a bit more generous and 2020 obliges first because it was easier and second because it is such a vintage specific to the white wines. Such beauty and emotion is purity and life. No stress and a wine you want to drink. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted March 2022

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Plat’Bos Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Swartland, South Africa

At a tasting where everything is Old Vines Project certified there must be something extraordinary about a wine to stand out from a crowd of greats. David and Nadia Sadie are in fact turning heritage vines chenin blanc (amongst other varietal explorations) into content born of context harboured though never paraded. They are rhythmic and scientific with just enough fantasy and romanticism, but never too much. Plat’Bos stands above Skaliekop and Hoë Steen because 2021 asks it to do so, not because it is better or more important, but it is surely chenin blanc profound. The 1981 Swartland planting is in the steady zone, shed of the mercurial and in ’21 so very linear yet salty of the earth in its sombre-sepulchral tone. There is reduction here because the poor soil nutrients demand that this chenin begins this way. The levels of tension and intensity are most elevated, sufficing to say as high as any from the Western Cape. Attention is paid unwavering to detail, sequencing is in order, purity incarnate, grape and place together pristinely kept. In Plat’Bos 2021 the palate is taken down to the whipping post by a wine built to endure. Given time there will be calm, healing and reward in the end. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2022

The Sadie Family Die Ouwingerdreeks Mev. Kirsten Wyn Van Oorsprong Stellenbosch Die Sadie Familie Wyne 2021, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The vines that supply Mev. Kirsten Wyn are the oldest chenin blanc in the country, out of Stellenbosch and planted in 1905. In 1947 every second row was pulled out to make room for tractors and the configuration still exists this way. “If South Africa has a true apex white Grand Cru vineyard then this is it” insists Eben Sadie. Facts are facts are you just can’t accede these levels of power, concentration, extract and tannin anywhere else. The nose communicates as an intoxicant of sublime forces and these grapes bestow chenin blanc 2021 are those that transcend fruit, deliver ethereality and a heightened sense of awareness. An awakening from necessary tension, crisis and personal freedoms, existential off the charts, poetic and epic. One hundred and sixteen stanzas recorded, in the books and the finest verse written right here in the most recent vintage. If enlightenment is to be gained from chenin blanc in the Western Cape, Mev. Kirsten would provide the fodder. “The grail. End of fucking story” concludes Sadie. All hail. Long live the queen. Drink 2025-2040.  Tasted October 2022

Iconic Bourgogne

Domaine De Bellene Vosne Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots 2020, AC Bourgogne, France

“Suchots” originates from “souches,” the name given to the woods before the land was prepared to house these vines. Les Suchots is but a small 13 hectare part of the larger 220 in total for Vosne Romanée and was first planted in 1937. La Romanée and Saint Vivant are the closest plots, south of Echezeaux, north or Richebourg and though just six per cent of the appellation it is actually the largest Premier Cru Climat therein. The vineyard is divided in two by a road. The eastern part below lays just above the cemetery and the village terroir called Hautes Maizieres. The top part is located below Les Beaux-Monts. The 2019 was a dream, crème de la crème and yet 2020 seems to embrace the powerful vintage with a most extraordinary level of perfume. That and fruit concentrated to a maximum degree without falling into any of the trappings associated with hyperbole. The concept of pinot noir reaching regional levels like this seems counterintuitive to the variety-appellation contract but the balance and harmony at the top is something the likes almost never seen. This will surely be one of the wines that explain with hyper clarity what 2020 is as a vintage. Drink 2026-2040.  Tasted May 2022

Graci Etna Rosso DOC Arcurìa Sopra Il Pozzo 2017, Sicily, Italy

Sopra il Pozzo describes a special portion of the signature Arcurìa vineyard (and contrada of the same name), a block “above the well,” 100 per cent nerello mascalese picked in the last week of October. Treated to the same maceration and elévage as the Rosso for the same spontaneous style and time as Feudo di Mezzo. However Sopra il Pozzo’s “refuse” soil composition is different and requires patience in the name of time, due to its alternating layers of decomposed volcanics in stone and coarse sand. This is a section of recast material and the corresponding mascalese is both emasculated and chivalrous. The degree to which layers of fruit, mineral and umami incorporare and completare is finite and contiguous yet also lengthy, scorrevole and endless. There is rare Etna glycerin texture and perfectly timed acid tang. Tempismo perfetto. Grande. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted April 2022

Elisabetta Foradori

Foradori Granato Teroldego 2019, IGT Vigneti Delle Dolomiti, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Granato from Elisabetta Foradori resides at or near the peak of the Trentino-Alto Adige wine chain, a Dolomite force of varietal nature, richness incarnate and cragged to gain your full attention. Fruit comes at a great premium, not by absence of the heart but because so much site, land and space speak louder than words. A static red stuck in a state of cryogenic freeze, immovable and surely able to handle immobility and also time. Will drink beautifully for a decade and a half, or possibly more. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted February 2022

Garage Wine Co. Truquilemu Vineyard Lot 97 Dry Farmed Old Vines Field Blend Carignan 2018, DO Maule Valley, Chile

The eastern facing side of the Coastal Range where the old vines grow, in places where you had to make wines for the Catholic Church, “to save souls.” The most aromatic of Derek’s wines, a true field blend with a je ne sais quoi of varieties bursting off of dry farmed bush vines. Showy with that combination of outright juiciness juxtaposed against iron-fisted structure. A wine that comes from a place where the farmer worked to break up the “los camellones”, strange diagonal lines drawn and a framer who shows how to separate the land so that making great wine is easier. This is a remarkable example of old, bush and real. Drink 2024-2030. Tasted July 2022

Barone Ricasoli Castello Di Brolio Chianti Classico 1949, Tuscany, Italy

Tasted as part of “Il Chianti Classico in 9 Decadi” led by Filippo Bartolotta with Giovanni Manetti at Stazione Leopolda in Florence at the Chianti Classico Collection. The oldest wine in the flight. apropos and just when you consider the Ricasoli heritage and lineage. A mineral layering which instinctively mimics the compaction of argiloso, macigno and calcari from Brolio’s soils, no longer feeling the separation or mille-feuille effect but now just all morphed into one and the same. There were surely some white wines in this mix, as per the formula written decades earlier by Bettino Ricasoli. Probably helped keep the freshness for some time and while this is now all earth and stone the wine is very much alive. There’s even some sweetness and citrus showing, indicative of blood orange some 73 years later, finishing with a trebbiano and malvasia Vinsanto tang.  Tasted March 2022

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy

“I did not like Gran Selezione, I did not have anything against Gran Selezione but the discussion about UGA (sub-zones) was already underway so why not wait for this next change to the appellation?” The thinking for Paolo de Marchi was more about the wines that did not qualify for the appellation becoming wines that now qualified, the issue being a new rule could not apply to only 30 or so producers. So what is needed for that to happen? “All grapes born here should be able to travel with a passport.” If it is more complicated than that then there is much more to discuss. A Chianti Classico from a long, linear and fortifying vintage delivers equally appropriate and extending tannins, gripping the composition while proposing to become elegant and fine. The seamlessness and never wavering focus keeps on keeping on, in the ways of emotion in motion. Will remain in bottle one year more before being released to the market. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted February 2022

Great anticipation to taste La Casaccia and Montosoli side by each from a vintage carrying no option but to act out the passion play through the glaring clarity of a sense of place. There are facts involved and there is no hiding the truth formed by these plots of sangiovese in this vintage. By now it is understood how 2018 exists on its own accord at one with nature though Francesco Ripaccioli will tell you there are similarities with 2013, if only because that vintage was greatly ignored and is drinking well at this time. La Casaccia in the località of Canalicchio is the wildcard of Montalcino and tasting several wines from the frazione reveals a collective affinity supplied by the year’s gifts. Nothing was portioned or taken away from the ’18 Annata and yet this Vigna sings with even more range and depth than that wine. The acids are simply out of this proverbial world, the linear aspects drawn with precise architectural or even, in Old English speak, a Cutter’s line. Remarkable reserve in concentration and forward slicing finesse. Forever long. Forever young. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2022

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy

Riserva 2016 is the 42nd such vintage since 1888 from estate vineyards and the oldest parcels therein. Meanwhile olive trees and other compatible local species grow in those places and there always seems to be lower pH and higher bright acidity coming off the grapes. The Federico Radi team seeks to broaden biodiversity with unlimited scope and more vineyards would benefit by following such a plan. When Biondi-Santi gets to their next position we can expect even more refined and higher quality wines. Meanwhile the harmony and extant abilities in this ’16 Riserva are almost impossible to believe. A Riserva of fruit termed as the locus of the points drawn at an equidistant from the centre. Sangiovese of no stops and starts existing on a special kind of ellipse in which the eccentricity is zero and the two foci are coincident. Simple descriptors like crunch, chew or crust are not in the lexicon nor do service to speak about the texture of this remarkable sangiovese. Subtlety and strength, a dappling of early morning light, patterning and shimmering as if on water. The phenolics are spot on, coherent and the connection with both palate and tannins perform as an unbreakable bond. A canvas flooded with colour and while there is a level of transparency there are no white spots. Everything is filled in. Clocks in at 14 per cent abv. Drink 2025-2040.  Tasted November 2022

Fontodi Flaccianello Della Pieve 2001, IGT Toscana Centrale, Tuscany, Italy

Youthful is the proverbial understatement, zesty and full of Panzano life the other. A sangiovese in strike of ideal accord, freshness captured in bottle and development low, easy and slow accrued. Just like the season, stress-free, never too hot, never too wet. Stellar autumn of warm days and retentive cool nights. A late harvest and full phenolic character. It all shows in this 20-plus year-old Flaccianello, singing a ballad, verse after verse, refrain post refrain. After 20 minutes a sweet porcini perfume emits and one wishes for a 50 day dry-aged Chianina Fiorentina. What fortune! Along with the special effects of smoky rosmarino and wild fennochio. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2022

Sassicaia 2019, DOC Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

Priscilla Incisa’s Tenuta San Guido is located one hour south of Pisa, going back many generations. The surface area covers 2,500 hectares in a “classic Tuscan agricultural estate, of vines, olive oil, cereals including wheat and feed for thoroughbred horses. There are 500 hectares towards the seashore dedicated to a wild life refuge “paradise” free from hunting and for migrating birds coming from northern Europe and heading to Africa, especially because a good part of the land is covered by water during the winter. Before 1994 the appellation was Vino da Tavola. The grand vin Sassicaia is always a minimum 80 per cent cabernet sauvignon (as per the appellation) with cabernet franc. The youthful perfume of Sassicaia is really something other, an invitation to the plume of a great and mighty bird that will soon migrate or not be seen or heard from until another season. The fruit is both wound taut and also layered, a mix of liquids, gasses and decomposed mineral, turning on its axes, literally the earth itself. The effort put in speaks volumes about the quality and yet the seamless transitions are as if there are no transitions at all, only one contiguous entity. Will release in Ontario as an Online Exclusive by lottery on October 20th. Drink 2025-2034.  Tasted September 2022

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2002, Abruzzo, Italy

The subtle and gentle elegance of 2002 is almost mystifying, if at least a surprise that kinda hypnotizes. Memory serves up a case of conflict and adversity, if also vintage envy for the bookends of 2001 and 2003. And yet the cool of the night prevails to elongate a montepulciano for our pleasure and make it sing 20 years later. It was also decanted to reduce the lees sediment and then re-corked for our benefit. Words cannot express what a beautiful place this 2002 EP is found to be. It is a treat to taste and also behold, exactly as of right now. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2005, DOC Noto, Sicily, Italy

Finding oneself in a state of utter disbelief upon nosing an older Santa Cecilia has just happened with thanks to this 2005 and the unthinkable aromatics it possesses. There have been some older examples like 2007, 2008 and 2011 which all showed morphological magic but this, this is something other. The state of perfumed preservation is impossible, the floral emanations and fruit continuance implausible and in suspension of belief. The 2005 is almost perfect, dark berries and red citrus alive, acids in perfect condition, wood dissolved, resolved and walked straight out the door. The life and vitality reside in the arena of the flawless, faultless and achievable. This is what nero d’avola, Santa Cecilia, Noto and Planeta can be, at its collective finest. Will drink this way (and also that) for five more years and with ease. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Château Cheval Blanc 1998, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux, France

The 24 year-old 1998 has been argued and predominantly defended as a Right Bank vintage, especially for merlot based wines, which the 1998 Cheval Blanc happens to be. Clocks in at 65 percent plus (35) cabernet franc and the two combine for hypnotic aromatics to put mind and palate in an immediately dizzying and gratifying tizzy. Dark, dark fruit of the “cimmérienne” kind yet of a grace and genteel manner shared by other profoundly distinguished red wines. Thoughts can wander and wonder as a result of tasting this blind and considering the depth it is nebbiolo that is imagined. Only for a moment because the numerous dual-toned vibrations direct towards knowing this to be a blend and so Right Bank combinations lead by their impression. Both of ’98 Cheval Blanc’s are blessed of ripenesses, acids and structural bones all having peaked at a shared summit. The conclusion can only be a two-part perception, of balance and beauty. Drink 2022-2042.  Tasted November 2022

Mullineux Schist Syrah 2019, WO Swartland, South Africa

Vines planted in 1999, mature if still 12 years away from being classified as “Old Vines.” Schist is the home Brownstone Vineyard, shallow and rocky of less than 20 cm of soil. An extreme site in which vines attempt to grow, but so much comes down to the where and how. Rows are close together and planted in an almost race track configuration within an amphitheatre. The roots spread and dig deep within the stripes of schist interspersed with iron and the grapes are harvested plant by plant to create two apposite cuvées. Visually these are small vines with smaller leaves and an airiness – physically speaking. The skeletal backbone here is upright, towering and commanding, the juiciest of varietal fruit hanging as flesh, taut and muscular upon these bones. Unyielding yet never brooding nor astringent, but bountiful and beautiful. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted July 2022

Penfolds Grange 1981, South Australia

Poured blind and easily recognized as a wine of great depth with at least two decades of maturity. Either older or hastily advanced but there are indicators to the former, namely high tones, substantial crunchy acids and full on perfume. There is a touch of Brettanomyces but only a feathery tickle and the wine still has something left to give and also to prove. Great depth is provided by wood notes, of soy, balsamic, wild fennel and all together now a reduction keeping its form, a foxy liqueur, once Cassis but now Amaro, finishing with flavours bloody and gamy. The reveal as Grange 1981 explains that while shiraz is always the game and king it had been a season for which the cabernet sauvignon portion exceeded 10 percent. Winemaker John Duval felt that ’81 was a tannic one but they left the building long ago. Both Barossa and McLaren Vale were involved and so this look back at blending expertise matters in the context of all Aussie blends being tasted today. Being present to be poured a taste of Grange represents good fortune and from 1981 there abides a full and fair suck of the sauce bottle.  Drink 2022-2025. Tasted November 2022

Donnafugata Ben Ryé 2019, Passito Di Pantelleria DOC, Sicily, Italy

Ben, as in “son of” and Ryé, a Sicilian riff on the concept of making strong mocker from the wheat grass. Think of grapes instead, in this case zibibbo (muscat of Alexandria) grown off the southwestern coast of Sicily on the Island of Pantelleria. Passito di Pantelleria DOC is one of the world’s great sweet wines, found only on this windswept promontory where the grapes concentrate, drink in the sea and express a view to which only this place commits. The warmest of vintages develops and comprises these particular sugars into something surreal. Extraordinary orange-ginger crème brûlée, perfectly embittered and made viscous in the most natural of ways. Layers of dedication and spice, health affirming herbs, respiratory fixing drops and sweetness captured, effortlessly and to gift plaisir. Apricots ripe and glazed, zen zero limone, giusto intenso. Nearly perfect. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted April 2022

Vintage Port (c) Sarah Goddard/WineAlign

Niepoort Vintage Port 2019, DOP Douro, Portugal

Expect top concentration in Vintage Port from what Niepoort calls a “return to balance in the vineyard” type of season. Summer was unseasonably cool and the timely rainfall on the 26/27th of August was invaluable, allowing fruit maturity to go to completion. A recall to 2008, of natural, acid driven, balanced musts. Foot trodden in circular granite lagares with 100 per cent stems, racked soon after harvest, aged in “tonéis” (large oak vats) in the Douro over the winter, and then moved to the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia in the Spring of 2020. Acid vintage indeed, fruit caught by circumfuse so as to be surrounded, ignited and eventually dispersed for decades of slow release power. The liquid chalkiness of tannin is so fine-grained you swirl and mull over just how hypnotizing it is. Truly great Vintage Port will act out this passion play. Drink 2025-2048.  Tasted October 2022

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Get back to Cool Chardonnay

Chardonnay is one of the romantics. At the centre of cool belief are the fruits of isolated self-expression, of greatest importance and capable of discovering the highest truths. When chardonnay is treated with utmost respect it can commit to wines of sublime impulse that rearrange and execute the natural world in order to reflect its own preoccupations. Imagine chardonnay as a street scene, as a wine that might stumble into itself, of footsteps and flaring lights, of mystery beneath dreamy lamplight. It will always find the light. That’s what chardonnay does. Ontario is a place where people come to be intimate with the grape and while lovers of the cool stuff were unable to gather in July of 2020 or 2021 the movement has built momentum once again. In 2022 it was high time to get back to cool chardonnay.

School of Cool

Related – Niagara’s cool for chards

Yes, in 2021 visits are paid and wines are tasted, but there is no congress. In 2020, the writer leads a virtual thing. In July the School of Cool comes back to session at White Oaks Conference Resort where it belongs. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser reunites the community and introduces the long-awaited keynote speaker, columnist at Decanter and World of Fine Wine Magazine. “Andrew Jefford writes about wine like no other. He is a poet and a legend.” She is spot on. The author of the recently published anthology called “Drinking with the Valkries” asks the audience to “imagine wine as music. It brings solace to our lives, sends us beyond ourselves, just like music. The potential grandeur of a wine is a factor of its milieu, but it’s silent without the human.” Jefford notes that because of a changing climate the instructions are changing. “The music of many places is beginning to slide out of tune…varieties are the litmus of the vineyard. The most useful and adaptable of instruments is the piano…and that variety is chardonnay. Ask for chardonnay and you’ll be played any old tune on the piano, all well and good, anodyne. Wines produced at higher elevations on stony soils tend to be more percussive. Quality of clay and aptitude of soil structure is just as important as limestone would be for chardonnay. It’s Proteus, if you will.”

Andrew Jefford advises, tacitly implores his audience to listen. Pay attention. Take nothing for granted and understand that the parameters, goal posts and reference points are always changing. Chardonnay is indeed on the move and we must move with it or risk losing our rhythm, our mojo, our music. Practice makes perfect but innovation, cooperation and collaboration are imperative. Varietally speaking chardonnay may be the piano but other instrumentation is the requiem for completeness, satisfaction and glory. Chardonnay can achieve grandeur and continue to be the spirit of the sea, exist as past, present, and future, assume all sorts of shapes. To be regarded as a symbol of the original matter from which the world of white wine created. Chardonnay must always be protean, must always be on the move.

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The Great Chardo Swap

Moderator Chris Waters takes control. He explains how the powers of Ontario minds devise a most devilish and transformative scheme. The “Chardo Swap” concerns chardonnay grape must from the 2017 and 2018 vintages. In reverse 300L from the west’s Montague Vineyard are sent to eastern Niagara winemakers and 300L of Thirty Bench chardonnay is conversely transferred to six winemakers in western Niagara. Until now the custodians of Montague fruit have only been the originals, like Karl Kaiser, Phillip Dowell and Bruce Nicholson. For continuity the juice provided is pre-settled. One of the wildcards is a matter of cross pollination, of sites and yeasts present on these grapes. So be it. Play and work with what you’ve got. The results are astonishing and compose a picture of subject matter as nature versus nurture. Which matters more? Read up on 12 wines made in reserve and decide for yourself.

Chardo Swap

Craig McDonald, Trius Winery – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

An ideal season to gift the rich and the restrained, right in the sweet spot between reduction and openly recognizable to getable purity. And yet it was “the summer we didn’t get,” tells Craig McDonald, a late season, cleaner, with more choices available, extended elévage in neutral wood. “I took the opportunity to push and stretch this into this kind of milieu.” Comes out more salty, stays clear of wild and woolly. Great approach and treatment of east side Bench fruit. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022.

Gabriel DeMarco, Cave Spring Vineyard – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Bottled with and making full use of its laissez faire if highly useful lees, acting on behalf of and representing every variety’s profound catalyst. Wound tighter than many vintages of Niagara chardonnay, even at this four to five year mark. Chalk it up to the “other” fruit but also the oxidative winemaking and creation of a “flor” to bring cloudiness and texture. A definite fino brininess and yet less barrel effect (only 10 months) and ultimately transforming Montague fruit into something it’s never been known to do before. Also apposite to a Cave Spring chardonnay so in the end all cards that were on a table were flipped over for all to begin again. Drink 2022-2024.Tasted July 2022

J-L Groux, Stratus Vineyards – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

A case of the most experienced winemaker experiencing a fermentation that caused nightmares, perhaps because of a first try with new fruit, a season turned on its head, or both. But it came around and eventually complexity, “because of the thick coat of fur,” says J-L Groux. Bottled with its lees like a Stratus chardonnay would be but as a chardonnay it could not have resulted further from the maker’s truth. Drink 2022-2024.Tasted July 2022

Casey Kulczyk, Westcott Vineyards – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Four chardonnay into the great chardo swap and this one begins to emit or rather implode within itself due to untracked, no cracks reduction. No shock that a Burgundian sensation grabs our attention because barrels are key and with a few years got behind also melted into the background behind the fruit. This is perhaps the wine that acts as it would were it made by a western Niagara producer in that the richness of clay and loam raised chardonnay meets its wood host for a double whammy effect. You really notice and feel it all. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Amélie Boury,  Château des Charmes – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Formerly Oliveira Vineyard, in Amelie Boury’s hands a sense of crispness and restraint. Quite fresh and laden with apple-terpene juice. A chardonnay straight to the point, lemon and lime, a style of evolution and not necessarily what winemaking would have done with this juice ten or more years ago. Drink 2022.Tasted July 2022

Thomas Bachelder, Bachelder Wines – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2018

If Montague Vineyard fruit could actually speak it might ask “why has it taken so long for me to fall into the winemaking hands of Thomas Bachelder?” Good coopers, the right toast and the pragmatic meets ambitious elévage transforms Montague chardonnay into something other. Something vivid and lyrical but mostly something linguistic and long in the tooth. “Montague Vineyard looms large in my life,” looking back at OG Le Clos Jordanne times, “not just because of lions inthe industry, Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo, but because Montague is a really good vineyard.” Golden in every way, platinum, gem-like, gilded and if intense, also round. Thomas has coaxed oyster shell and a kind of Muscadet sea spray from this tract, something that has been noted at least one time in past iterations but now coming to the surface. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Chardo Swap Labels

Ann Sperling, Southbrook Organic Vineyards – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Feels so much more ’18 than ’17, fresher and gilded, fruit and wood high, mighty and in synch. And yet the ’17 fruit has remained fresh with thanks to some early, slightly unsettled and oxidative juice used, opened then protected so that time would do little in these formative years. Fabulous western take on east chardonnay, balanced and expressed in a higher key of varietal life. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Shiraz Mottiar, Malivore Wine – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

From a Niagara-on-the-Lake neophyte, Shiraz Mottiar, who had never worked with fruit from that source. “All I know is that I had to be really gentle with the fruit. And I am adverse to risk. I had no understanding of Montague, how it was growing, or how it should be pressed. So for me, most of the winemaking had already been done.” Demure, taut, reserved and restrained. Lean aromatically speaking, green apple snap, backed up on the palate in a streak of linear and purposed focus. Things get a bit warming going down, a glow of charcoal though the effect is hypnotic, energy raising and ultimately nurturing. This is winemaking that makes pale chardonnay, phenolics dropped out, clean all the way. Just feels like an expression of place. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Nicholas Gizuk, Inniskillin Wines – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Sap and resin, vanilla, wood all in, vinyl and tropical intentions. Tart pineapple, textural yet not creamy so finding its way with some poise after all. A chardonnay predicated of professionalism and flavour. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Emma Garner, Thirty Bench Wine Makers – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Feeling the angles, juts, zigs and zags of this chardonnay, not to mention the tightly wound intensity. Crisp though also mighty substantial, Bench fruit for certain and of a clarity, placed under and scrutinized by the magnifier. Reveals site above all else so yes, an example of a winemaker that heeded place and let it be, or used what was available to make that happen. Making magic and magnifique with Montague fruit. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Fabian Reis, Ferox Estate Winery – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

So very caramel and vanilla, sweetly fruited and creamy, textural in the smoothest and fullest way. Spice cupboard for tartes, tatine and madeleine. Really quite reductive and almost a reserve, thickened, glycerol and what just feels like appassimento in addendum. Incredible richness gained from Montague fruit. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Lawrence Buhler, Henry of Pelham Family Estate – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Of the 12 chardonnays in the great chardo swap this is the most reductive in that there is a shell that contains the fruit, part candied and part metallic. It’s a curious combination and solicits a response plus a focus of attention. The aspects of malolactic, textural in mouth feel and length are all fully formed and made longer by extension. So much wine and so little time but give it away and you will regret having acted with such haste. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

14C Friday night

Redefining Cool

Redefining Cool is much ado and to do about climate change. Winemaking is the proverbial canary in the cage, from cool latitude, altitude and attitude, devising an intellectual journey through a discussion on how to redefine Cool Chardonnay in 2022. “We are creatures of the interglacial…but we are flipping into a greenhouse world.” What does this means for winegrowers? Simply stated once again, “cool is on the move.” Six winemakers share their wines to help address and extoll the problems, virtues and answers toward this concern. Danielle Coetsee, Boschendal (White Wine Maker), South Africa; Clémentine Baud, Owner, Domaine Baud, Jura; Joseph Ryan, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager, Ernest Vineyards, Sonoma Coast; Nikki Callaway, Winemaker, O’Rourke Family Estate, Okanagan Valley, Lake Country, B.C.; Patricia Tóth, Winemaker, Planeta Winery, Sicily; Alex Baines, Winemaker, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Beamsville Bench, Ontario.

Trisha Molokach, Godello and Magdalena Kaiser

Please scroll through below for notes on the wines they poured. In total there were 67 chardonnay tasted that I have now reviewed from i4c2022, Niagara’s Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. It was great to be back, with thanks to the cool concierge team led by the intrepid and tireless Trisha Molokach, the i4c22 Board of Directors and Educational Committee; Mark Torrance, Anne Weis-Pennachetti, Suzanne Janke, Magdalena Kaiser, Rob Power, Elsa MacDonald, Mary Delaney-Bachelder, J.J. Syers, Scott Wilkins and Belinda Kemp. Gratitude to all the Ontario member wineries, VQA Wines of Ontario, Grape Growers of Ontario and visiting Ambassadors of Cool.

Tasting Chardonnay

Ontario Chardonnay

13th Street Chardonnay L. Viscek Vineyard 2020, VQA Creek Shores

L. Viscek Vineyard does not give a reductive chardonnay so much as the über fresh kind in which transparency and site honesty are gifted at a serious premium. This is the green apple snap, bite and crunch one comes to expect, followed by a lees filled donut of a middle, no holes and a real Chablisienne mentality. Perhaps with a side of Loire like chenin roundness. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Still trying to figure out how a chardonnay from the Wismer Vineyard, Foxcroft Block can come to a consumer’s glass at $24.95 yet here we are and thankful for the gift. A rich and relatively buttery one, snap, crackle and green apple bite included, aromatic, flavourful and textured all the while. Caramel crunch as the skin of that apple and plenty of length to stay and drink a while. What’s not to be smitten by? Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April and July 2022

Adamo Sogno Unoaked Chardonnay Lore Vineyard 2020, VQA Four Mile Creek

Crisp, clean, unadulterated fruit with a je ne sais quoi floral lift with thanks to some musqué clone vines interspersed in the chardonnay of the 1980s planted Lore Vineyard in the sub-appellation of Four Mile Creek. A vintage to recite from, act on behalf of and celebrate the execution of a no wood varietal purity extraction. Not so much a lees affectation but high in citrus and knowable as a chardonnay with a single vineyard attachment. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Vanessa McKean and Renan Theilloux, Adamo Estate

Adamo Estate Chardonnay 2019, VQA Ontario

Adamo based in the Hockley Valley (Mono, Ontario) makes fine use of Niagara fruit for their ubiquitous chardonnay. Here a wine started by former OG winemaker Shauna White and finished by the dynamic incumbent duo of (winemaker) Renan Theilloux and (vineyard manager and winemaker) Vanessa McKean. Quite focused and tightly wound with notable lees sensations, though no overt wood make-up. Does slide into an invigorating sour edge and then warming, almost nurturing upon the finish. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Youthful, fulsome, a slight tinge or rise to high tone. White caramel and a terrific zing to the palate. Lemon and lime in many ways; curd, zest and with the tell-tale green apple bite. Shows the focus of examples alight as if by a single block. Impressive and woven, warmth and yet wild of sprit. Great potential here. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

With Andrea Peters, Brock University

Bachelder Les Villages Bench Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Escarpment

While Les Villages pinot noir draws from and abides by Niagara-on-the-Lake it is the dolomitic outcrops of the Niagara Escarpment for chardonnay where hope springs eternal out of this geological source. Micro-climate too, where a vacuum between the long, semi-steep slope at the edge of the plateau and the lake make for a wondrous place to grow chardonnay. The space between the two separated areas at different heights and the limey clay creates this two-part harmony of metal-elemental fruit and reductive, barrel spiced accents. Bachelder’s Burgundian conceptualization comes to fruition with abundance and the fabric of oblate making. Correct and unsparing, a good combination.  Last tasted June and July 2022

“Les Villages” seems to be all in, fruit picked on the late side, wood complimenting with a wink and 2020 showing no signs of being left behind. Welcome to village chic, Escarpment style, full, luxe and round by design. Methinks Mr. Bachelder wants you to drink and enjoy this now, imagine a circle drawn through and around bench lands, all part of a community and a plan. This is life on “Le Bench.” Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted April 2022

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Foxcroft “Nord” 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Nord is a cool firecracker of a chardonnay, crisp and sweetly volatile, white peppery sharp and given some air time, also luxe and suave across the palate. One of the fullest, most accomplished and complete wines in so many respects, fruit sources imagined as being picked from orchards of all shapes, ilk and sizes. Apples to peaches, nectarines to pears. Oh hail great fruit and how cool it breathes. Nord for Wismer-Foxcroft is clearly the shizzle, not merely the best or most popular but the source for Bench chardonnay that can handle the truths of reduction and flint struck realities. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021 and July 2022

Thomas Pennacchetti and Gabriel Demarco, Cave Spring Vineyard

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Sharp and taut, an intense and fortified chardonnay. Precise and pure, exacting the Escarpment with focus like few others at this level and so indicative of a classic 2011-esque varietal Niagara vintage. Such performance in crunch and mystery with creative juices flowing, dreams realizing and a future filled with even greater potential. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Cave Spring Chardonnay Musqué Estate 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

A conversation with Thomas Pennacchetti and Gabriel Demarco wonders who has the most musqué planted in Ontario. No answer other than Cave Spring comes forth. Don’t sleep on both the intrigue and the significance of this chardonnay. Half the fruit is picked at 20/21 brix (early) and the other half in November. Acids and florals are each given their due. Skin contact time is 12-16 hours on both picks and so a “brownness” is pulled, “hard to get with musqué” tells Tom. A contract part terroir and part level of contact to achieve genuine character, but more so this candied orange peel aroma. In this warm vintage one could close their eyes and imagine friulano from Friuli, with thanks to the sticky wild yeasts leading to such an imagined result. Well also the bump in skin contact which also shows in the alcohol. As per the original statement: Intrigue and significance. This will age like old tokay. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Chardonnay in the Vineyard, Riverbend Inn

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Paul Bosc Estate 2020, VQA St. David’s Bench

Laden with dichotomously soft terpenes and the squeeze of orchard fruit juices. Just the chardonnay facts and nothing but, ultimately a spirited and focused chardonnay as lean as it is fleshy and saline with no barrel unction to distract from the main concern.  Last tasted July 2022

Takes no time at all to see this Paul Bosc Estate vintage of chardonnay by Château Des Charmes as a true crowd pleaser. It’s soft, delicate and supple on the palate. The oak is well integrated if sparsely adding any toast or nutty accents, with less than obvious salt and pepper seasoning. Even the vanilla is subtle, caramel too, the roundness just adding to the peaceful easy feeling. Hard to find more mildness and amenability in cool climate chardonnay. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted May 2022

Closson Chase Chardonnay The Brock 2019, VQA Niagara River

As a general rule the Brock is built upon K.J. Watson Vineyard fruit (in the Niagara River sub-appellation) with half seeing barrel time. For some reason it seems to show its oak more than the CCV and South Clos chardonnays albeit as a comfortably worn sweater in 2019. The scents are late summer, bergamot and then gardenia to tuberose. The bite is beneficial from out of this linear vintage and though there is a reductive quality the general outlook is aromatics above texture. Brock is a fine entry level chardonnay representative of Closson Chase working with Niagara fruit. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021 and July 2022

Closson Chase Chardonnay South Clos 2020, VQA Prince Edward County

More than 20 years of vine age, acumen and wisdom are the gain of a South Clos chardonnay and winemaker Keith Tyers is surely more than comfortable making it happen. Dry and warm vintage shows in the dried herbs, almost fennel to pollen dusting on the nose and a stoic presence in almost every respect. Would not go so far as to call this a taut and unforgiving chardonnay, nor is it particularly flinty or reductive. What it shows is utter purity and linearity, a platinum gemstone sheen and shine, controlled power and so much more packed away in reserve. The flavour bursts and energy spurts indicate just how long this will travel. Top, top. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Cloudsley Chardonnay Twenty Mile Bench 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A mix of Wismer fruit, part Wingfield and part Foxcroft, indigenous ferment and 18 months though only 28 per cent in new wood. Solid pH and also acidity numbers, more fruit and flesh, less flint, tension and spin. The accessible chardonnay for all to gain insight into the Twenty Mile Bench and how it raises these beautiful blancs. Length is outstanding in 2019. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Cloudsley Cellars Chardonnay Foxcroft Vineyard 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Winemaker Adam Lowy likes to get at it, especially with Foxcroft fruit out of the Wismer Vineyard. And so aging is for 18 months in 50 per cent new barrels for a truly flinty, flexed and tense chardonnay. Vines are 23 years of age at this harvest and their potency meeting potential for balance seems poised at the apex of excellence and understanding. So close to pay dirt now and yet for a Cloudsley chardonnay, perhaps so far away. Wait just a wee bit. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2020, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

A wild ferment and approximately 20 per cent new wood. Textural vintage for the Tradition, viscous and really very fluid, brioche imagined as a sweet liquid and also a liquor of buttery spice and botanicals. Quite a rich and developed chardonnay, product of a warm vintage resulting in ripe returns. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Réserve Du Domaine 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Much more intensity and higher ceiling of promise comes from the next level Réserve du Domaine, rising away from softness and up to a more rigid, biting and cracked spice precipice. Sharp at its most vital moments and vintage rich at times when generosity is warranted. Does it all really, with style and warmth. Still there is more nature than nurture in a chardonnay allowed to simply make it happen. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Ferox Estate Chardonnay “Vintages,” VQA Niagara Peninsula

Wholly unique aromatics, almost Icewine in favour, dense and intense with as much metallics as there are exotic fruits. A non vintage blend, also unusual but for reasons vintage related. And so this runs from 2016 to 2019, a blend of sites as well, warm moments and then turning cool, of yellow fruit from banana to pineapple and mango, then greens, in apple and herbals too. It’s pretty complex stuff if admittedly hard to wrap a brain about. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2016, Traditional Method, VQA Short Hills Bench

Never gets old does it? It’s like Christmas every time a new vintage of the Cuvée Catherine is opened, always with great anticipation and wonderment for what the most recent disgorgement will bring. In this case intensity juxtaposed by harmony in ways only the Carte Blanche can and with Niagara’s greatest fizz consistency. That’s the thing really. The bar and the pressure was set high long ago and this sparkling wine meets it, failing nothing, equally so, year in and year out. The 2016 is no exception with perfectly equanimous apple fruit and fine structural fortification. Just a delight, sturdy, openly fragrant, delectable and succulent. Resounding yes, as per expectation and adjudication. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted November 2021 and July 2022

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2020, VQA Short Hills Bench

Whole bunch pressed, barrel fermented with a cocktail of yeasts, one third new French oak and some further older usage ones as well. So perfectly middle of the road, proper and accessible, well managed by acids and really just the right and quick answer to what is Niagara and even more specifically Short Hills Bench chardonnay. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Next generation Speck, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Escarpment

Crisp and über clarity from the first nose and nary a moment of reduction, if any. Richness accumulates with aeration as the wood gains olfactory traction. Need to test the palate forces to know what goods and treasures lurk in this oh so young and impressionable chardonnay. Track record is more than a mere incendiary aspect of the Speck Family Reserve capability and knowing airtime and chronology are essential towards determining the future, well, you get the apple orchard and white caramelizing drift. So youthful and yet there is plenty of time. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021 and July 2022

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard Unfiltered 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Felseck sits at 37.59 North, a latitude working in cohorts with an escarpment’s nook and the lake laying low below.  Last tasted July 2022.

Don’t be fooled in thinking this is merely a reductive and green glade example of cool climate chardonnay. Solid and expected? Perhaps and yet also crunchy with shots of lemon and lime. Nothing out of sorts, tight enough to at times act hard to get and even anti-complex. There are secrets inherent in a cool climate world where so many chardonnays are made this is as interesting and innovative as the first.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

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

With Magdalena Kaiser, Chardonnay in the Vineyard

Icellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

Similar to 2017 at 13.5 per cent alcohol yet more phenolic and also in that sizeable frame of inclination that is captured in the full, ripe and potently efficacious 2018. This just feels like the best of both worlds in chardonnay, at once cream centred and then juxtaposed by just a bit of back bite. A lovely and somehow powerful wine of wine contrary forces in push and also pull, ying and yang, punches and then receives. Hard not to see everyone loving this chardonnay. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Icellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

And then ’18, which was a warmer year in this sub-appellation and a chardonnay more reductive but also bolder, fulsome and phenolic, feeling a bit boozy (only 0.3 higher than ’17 and ’19) and definitely riper, even feeling sweeter. Was inoculated as the yeast cultures have not quite established in the cellar. Plenty of phenolics here, raising the bar all around. More age-ability to be sure.  Last tasted July 2022

Devilishly rich with full compliments of berries and barrel working side by each to create this tropical fruit split that reaches the heights of chardonnay decadence. Runs the gamut from pineapple to green apple and though it does not snap back there is a fine elasticity to how the texture stretches and then releases. For those who like to strike it rich. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

Icellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

Favourite wine of Adnan Icel’s wife Elif, a fan of Bourgogne and made by (12 rows) planted on the property in the beginning in 2012, followed by eight rows in 2014. Always hand-picked, whole cluster pressed. As for 2017, fermented 12 months in 500L French barrels. Malo in barrel, stirred and two years in French oak kept on lees with no racking. A multitude of flavours, now fully emerged, developed and gifting to the very maximum. Showing so well.  Last tasted July 2022

From Niagara-on-the-Lake and 2010 founder Adnan Icel, a rich throttled chardonnay barrel fermented in 500L French oak puncheons, lees stirred for six months, then aged 12 months more. Tells us to expect rich, opulent, creamy and highly flavourful chardonnay. That it is. Flint-struck if only momentarily, correctly reductive in the sense of fresh encouragement combined with the Niagrified creamed corn, again, if only during this persistently youthful state. Maybe causes a note of bewilderment for some but stay with this wine, give it a year’s time and all will be worth it. Will drink in optimum and designed fashion eight months from now and for two-plus years thereafter. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Inniskillin Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Hard to ignore the Niagara peach character of this fruit in chardonnay that’s all about this and not really how residual oak might want to linger within. There are old blocks of chardonnay available and this is from Block 210, planted in 1993 through 1996. The peach leads to harder fruit drugs, golden pineapple and guava, some lees feel, plenty of nutrients and that oak then becomes one of low and slow accumulation, neither a piqued nor toasted. Well made indeed. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Blanc De Blanc Limited Release 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula

More than a moment of reduction requires agitation and then the apple/pear orchard fruit is released. More than lees affected blanc de blanc, ostensibly chardonnay and seemingly the first of its kind for J-T. More scintillant style than either the Brut or the sauvignon blanc, direct, linear and shedding a lovely lemon pith bitter set of flavours. Almost woolly for sparkling, like Loire or some Alsace and very long. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Kin Vineyards Chardonnay Carp Ridge 2019, VQA Ontario

Kin close to Ottawa is a fascinating species of Ontario wine where pinot noir and this chardonnay grows atop glacial till, clay loam over grey limestone of the Hazeldean Fault. Low to moderate alcohol (12.5 per cent), dry as the desert and expressive of the coolest of cool climate acidities all add up to something arriving this way with intensity through integrity. Green apple bites are what they should imagined to be in chardonnay and rusticity is only a state of mind. Must be tasted more than once, to appreciate the credence and join the new frontier seance. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

I believe it was April of 2017 when I first tasted the inaugural (2015) vintage of Ilya Senchuk’s The Fifty, a chardonnay that ferments in barrel but then transfers to finish up on lees in stainless steel. Not much has changed in five years but the wine has tightened and like a rare shelf fungi it is at its freshest finest when the teeth-like hymenium pores are barely visible. Senchuk bottles at precisely this point and that is something he has gotten really good at over the years. This chardonnay is remarkably precise, takes nothing for granted and delivers a layered experience in which more than one vineyard and sub-appellation contribute to the greater good. Might very well be the best one made of the six to date. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June and July 2022

Leaning Post Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk’s home playground is a matter of grey clay in alluvial soil with river stone, that is in terms of the vineyard and the winery’s back (or maybe front, as if it were a lake) location. The Winona-Grimsby couple are just starting to really understand, forge sensorial connections but even more so make their terroir relatable to the world. Even more piques and white peppery jolts than Wismer and Grimsby Hillside Vineyard combined, intense emotion and a crisp freshness that’s both hard to explain and also impossible to look away. Textural chardonnay that on the surface is nothing at all like Foxcroft or GHV. Come back again and again for five to seven years. My what a beautiful chardonnay world this is. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted June and July 2022

Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay Jordan Village 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

The second iteration of the Village chardonnay is again a parcel amalgamation of Twenty Mile bench Le Clos and Claystone vineyards along with that of Talon Ridge in the Vinemount Ridge. If this is to be considered another standout vintage then the fact that early malolactic, sluggish ferments and moderate alcohol must all come together with a seamless whoosh. Another year in the triumvirate averaging of vine age puts less pressure on balance and more on concentration, here resulting in true LCJ favour. So much furthered collective warmth is 20’s call to body and then mind takes over with succulent bites and crafty control. Should settle by the spring of 2023. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Glenn Symons and Chris Thompson, Lighthall Vineyards

Glenn Symons and Chris Thompson, Lighthall Vineyards

Lighthall Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County

Unique even for Prince Edward County chardonnay in a stainless meets barrel ferment with the latter a combination of new and third use 500L vessels. Warmer and fleshier than 2018, higher in alcohol by what feels like at least a per cent. Defines crisp pear, washed Phillipston Road cheese rind and crunchy bits of oyster shell but also salted white-spun aureate for local chardonnay. Pairing paraphrases aside this is made for the cheese board, a dozen oysters and a really good pretzel. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Lighthall Chardonnay 2018, VQA Prince Edward County

Mon dieu what a completely different animal than 2019, leaner, saltier and all about the oyster. No real orchard fruit flesh nor pith neither. Zest perhaps though the tight nature, lean disposition and more neutral flavours put this in wholly different regard, Alcohol is a mere 12.8 per cent (as compared to a minimum 13.5 in 2019). And so find some fattier fish (like halibut) and drink up. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Malivoire Chardonnay Estate Grown 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

“Estate” raises purposed and propping acids in 2020 with somewhat maintained if lessened pH (all as compared to Moira) if for no other reason than because (85 per cent) Moira fruit is accented by Mottiar and Estate. Comes away crisp, brisk and frisky, contagiously spiced by galangal and ginger, tastes like sweet lime without the sugar. Has been in bottle just under a year and while the quaff factor begin to run high it may be suggested that the best moments are still to come. Picking took place over three weeks in September and so the “stacked” cuvée makes for an omnipresent happening, variegated though contiguously seamless too. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Malivoire Chardonnay Moira 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

“Broad and tentative swipes” be done and so consistency thy name is Moira, or at least a vineyard’s persistence is manifest in a chardonnay that keeps the faith and the fluid movement of flavour alive. Lovely showing nine months on, window opening or at least now ajar to crawl through and feel the Beamsville love.  Last tasted July 2022.

Fun phantom power spirit on the aromatic front, perfumed to the hilt, creamy fruit and vanilla, well positioned and working as one. Quality if too youthful at present to fully appreciate. Causes a tragically hip perception of middle of the road but with an intention so great the future will change everything. “Don’t tell me what the poets are doing, on the street and the epitome of vague…Got to make it, that’ll make it by swimming” Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Shiraz Mottiar, Malivoire and Dan Sullivan, Rosehall Run

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

“I always hold my pH down below 3.2,” which is accomplished by understanding your vineyard, tells Shiraz Mottiar. “And you have to know (not only when but also) how to pick.” Which was October 5th in 2019 and so acidity remains high and persistent, fruit in a holding pattern and structure a real thing. More place resolved and revealed, vines clearly having well arrived into their state of balance and grace. As fine a chardonnay from the Beamsville Bench in this vintage as you are likely to find. So much more worthy than first considered.  Last tasted July 2022

Nicely, allegedly and properly reductive, especially as it pertains to chardonnay, a bit closed but nearly ready to spread its wings. Quite the fruit juicy tang, green apple bite and cool climate, sparked and piqued style. The sharpness of flavours works well with the wood and integration is just around the corner. Look for that moment in the Spring of 2022. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

On Seven The Pursuit Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara On The Lake

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021 and July 2022

Lydia Tomek, Ravine Vineyard

Ravine Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2019, VQA St. David’s Bench

Fully glazed, honeyed and barrel affected to an nth degree. Unctuous, caramel and pineapple, a huge chardonnay expression that means business and is surely priced accordingly. Matters not where it’s from because the wood is everything here. That said there is plenty of substance, namely fruit to carry the weight. For a specific crowd that will enjoy the experience, west coast style of certain recurring eras. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022 and at i4C22, July 2022

Rosehall Run Ceremony Estate Grown And Bottled Blanc De Blancs 2017, VQA Prince Edward County

More than ample and credible chardonnay vintage, especially for sparkling with thanks to a longer season. There is some lees lounging in 500L puncheon which, coupled with the further 42 months post tirage adds up to complexities on charts and those not able to be found on charts. Really toasty bubble, invigorating and yet also of a calming or at least nurturing stance. Like biting into a fizzy apple and having it tingle in your mouth, followed by a jettison of herbal, citric and wild forest edible flavours. Even a fruity chanterelle. Devilish stuff once again from Dan Sullivan. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2019, VQA Prince Edward County

Yet another stellar chardonnay from Rosehall’s JCR Vineyard and coupled with a most excellent varietal vintage the stars, Strats and stats are clearly aligned. Behold an increasingly accomplished wine that reveals the breadth and depth of this vineyard. It has been and continues to be made in a genre to gender bending approach, fusing the alternative with the electronic and achieving a rare balance of critical and commercial success. Dan Sullivan’s JCR, like St. Vincent is one to sing “I do a dance to make the rain come. Smile to keep the sky from falling down down down down. Collect the love that I’ve been given.” Marry Me JCR? Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April and July 2022

Southbrook Estate Grown Small Lot Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2020, VQA Four Mile Creek

As intense a grab of fruit, barrel and spice as ever in an Ann Sperling chardonnay. What with her classic handling whereby slightly unsettled juice receives some early oxidation, followed by an über protected elévage to bring it forward and into a now fruition. As a result drinks well right away but we known it will stall and little will change for the next few years. More chew than crunch, sweet and sour, encouraging and demanding at the same time. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Estate chardonnay, six years on the lees, traditional method. Generally speaking an inconsequential one gram of dosage, disgorged in February 2021. The other OG for Stratus based on the team’s research and development trials first executed back in 2006 and 2007. Another elevated autolytic example, not as toasty as ’13 but more textural and lees-directed. Further down the road to complexity of flavour washes, swarths and swaths as well. A woollen one, leaves a salve as it graces the palate and lingers long after the fluid thrill is gone. Everything is here, everyone should want some. It’s the Devil and Mr. Jones. Lucifer on the sofa. “There’s juju raining down all around you, yeah. Makes you heavy mental. It makes you tense.” Spoon-feed it to me when I can no longer do it myself. Drink 2022-2026. Tasted July 2022

Dean Stoyka, Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Chardonnay Unfiltered Bottled With Lees 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

As with so many 2020s the virtuous exercise patience during a vintage of sluggish ferments. Ask winemaker Dean Stoyka and he’ll tell you “it’s all about canopy.” In a hot and arid season chardonnay is kept “beneath a sombrero effect,” to avoid sun scorching, to access dappling but avoid 10am to 3pm sun. This practice is not new to the team at Stratus but they are truly now in the “balanced zone.” Chardonnay is a matter of (60 per cent) wood, 30 white clay and 10 stainless steel. This and the lees make for a cloudy if ducky wine of downy texture and very refreshing feel. A whole lot of R & D for which the maker and the consumer are loving the results.  Last tasted July 2022

Next vintage up for this singular Niagara Lakeshore chardonnay meets expectation where fruit substance and quality lees get to making some magic from out of the auspices of an hermetically sealed environment. Love it when chardonnay acts reductive without being either obvious or blatant, instead going about its high quality business like the natural professional it knows it can be. Whispering caramel and subtle smoulder set the bar high and as chardonnay there is this perching upon a gilded golden wire, in regal, confident and self-secured style. Most excellent rhythms, beats and tones set this up for a promising run. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Estate chardonnay, six years on the lees, traditional method. Generally speaking an inconsequential one gram of dosage, disgorged in February 2021. The other OG for Stratus based on the team’s research and development trials first executed back in 2006 and 2007. Another elevated autolytic example, not as toasty as ’13 but more textural and lees-directed. Further down the road to complexity of flavour washes, swarths and swaths as well. A woollen one, leaves a salve as it graces the palate and lingers long after the fluid thrill is gone. Everything is here, everyone should want some. It’s the Devil and Mr. Jones. Lucifer on the sofa. “There’s juju raining down all around you, yeah. Makes you heavy mental. It makes you tense.” Spoon-feed it to me when I can no longer do it myself. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

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

Same winemaking as the team put on the (Chardo swap) Thirty Bench Vineyards fruit and yet with these 30 year-old vines the result is night to the Bench’s day. Cloudier to a view, more advanced and developed, fully resolved citrus notes in juice, zest and pith entwine. Deeper and fuller intensity of flavours, fuller and dramatic. Conceptual.  Last tasted July 2022

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

Tawse Estate David’s Block Spark Blanc De Blancs 2009, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Quite exciting to get a look at a new disgorgement nearly 10 years later for a chardonnay that sat on its lees like a Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG. While the ceiling of complexity may have reached maximum plateau a year, two or even three years ago, it matters little because this level of acidity and sparkling wine vintage favour met the terms of easy regard thrown to the wind. Gone is the woolliness, now replaced by flint and a vapour trail of David’s design. This was meant to wait and thanks to Tawse today is the day. Bears little resemblance to the wine tasted back in 2012. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Has thankfully shed its baby fat, the cheesy whey that sat atop all else last time I tasted. Today the epoisses is now mild Niagara Gold, or a creamy, Triple-Cream Brie. Still a wine of lees and leisure, with tangy green apple and sharp, piquant flavour.  Tasted December 2012

Jessica Otting, Tawse Estate Winery

Tawse Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

While Robyn’s Block is always a unique chardonnay for the Twenty Mile Bench in 2020 it’s part of a community because of a slow, actually a very slow (as in sluggish) ferment. Didn’t actually finish until April, a remarkable happenstance because malolactic was completed back in November. As late as winemaker Jessica Otting has ever seen and it happened with all the chardonnays, save for Quarry Road. The whole cellar was like this and so what does it all mean? Perdition might be the answer but miracles happen and composure begets fortune, leading to a reward in most excellent textural deference. Alcohol and acidity are both exemplary and know this. Chardonnay left alone will find its way, unforced and uncompelled. We may be stupefied by the journey but we are most impressed by the result. Be patient with while offering up a little extra time and mind for these ’20 chards. As here with Robyn they are demure and they are at peace. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Thirty Bench Chardonnay Small Lot 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

Really quite primary, an undisclosed while pleasingly reticent chardonnay from Emma Garner of gratitude and grace. The first because it thanks the Beamsville terroir and the second because it does so with soft spoken respect. A mélange of different fermentation batches, each small and precise come together for the final sumptuous and restrained blend. The tenets of fruit, acid and what ties them together is just about as seamless and easily layered as any of a Bench ilk and idiom. Not a chardonnay of style but instead stylish, not chic but surely sung with notes held, seemingly forever. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate

Trail Estate Chardonnay Cold Creek Vineyard 2020, VQA Prince Edward County

From a vineyard on the Danforth Road in Hillier and young vines of chardonnay. A 50/50 neutral and second fill barrel aging for 10 months in yet another 2020 fermentation that took seemingly forever to complete. This is attributed to a hot and dry summer and also harvest, with excess humidity causing sluggish and possibly even dormant yeasts. That said this Cold Creek shows plenty of zip and zest, clocking in at 14 per cent off of 23 brix. “Early” numbers though the pH was normal (3.2). Crazy for chardonnay, at heart and for trying, with plenty of dichotomously extrapolated energy and PEC drive. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Fruit is entirely taken from the 1959 planted Lenko Old Block, likely the first in Niagara. Twenty per cent new wood and no real sense of malo (up to a maximum 30 per cent) but says winemaker Adam Pearce, “we’re not looking for that route.” A brilliant chardonnay, cohesive and smart, taut and slowly revealing itself. The right and righteous stuff.  Last tasted July 2022

If unoaked takes full advantage of a terrific 2019 growing season then surely the oaked chardonnay will go after it with uninhibited abandon. Perhaps but just one sip and you see the cool demeanour, the artist restraint and the blessed balance afforded throughout the wine. Only hints of toast, smoulder and buttery biscuit wisp on through while the purity of warm terroir raised Niagara chardonnay shines, as it should. Most excellent work here from Adam Pearce and team. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted September 2021

Guest Chardonnay

Boschendal Chardonnay 2019, WO Elgin

The Elgin blocks are 15 kms from the Indian Ocean with sites ranging from 200-500m above the sea level and surrounded by mountains. Grown at an average of 300-plus metres at a latitude of 31.15 South. A prime example of the Elgin style, citrus led, stony and flinty from weathered shale soils but there can be no dispute about the fruit richness and sumptuous tactility for how this settles upon the palate. Thankfully a feeling of sea breeze passes through and maintains the freshness. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Ana Norris (Santillán) and Danielle Coetsee, Boschendal

Boschendal Cap Classique Jean Le Long Prestige Cuvée Blanc De Blancs 2009, WO Stellenbosch

Long on the lees (gotta be 120 months-plus) and as a 2009 well within a Cap Classique vernacular still with the “Méthode” verbiage at the lead. Long since developed its ceiling of complexity and although those last 12-18 months may have done little to advance, accelerate or diminish the returns, how can it even matter. Just consider the greatness here. Eloquently complex by nature and also design, all about fruit and earth, liquidity and dusty decomposition, delicasse and deconstruction. The level of acuity is commanding and beyond commendable for a comestible this long in reserve. A confession of wishing for just the slightest lessening of dosage, to avoid a softening and raise the energy bar. Otherwise this would be tops. As it stands it’s pretty special. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Catena Chardonnay Appellation Tupungato 2020, Mendoza, Argentina

Only Tupungato will do for chardonnay as this “High Mountain Vines” will do, equipping what could be the roundest, softest, creamiest and most delicious fruit set with a blast of freshness and atmospheric drive. This is exactly what you can expect from Catena’s work in specific appellative chardonnay, drilling down into the dirt of a place within a place with the same conviction found in their more expensive wines. No compromise. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Catena Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay 2019, Mendoza, Argentina

Kind of surprised how many years have passed since last seeing this über specialized Tupungato chardonnay in a VINTAGES release and thankful to see its auspicious return. The highest elevation and prized fruit from quantified rows put the specificity and trenchant expectation into a chardonnay of indelibly stamped, site explorative and barrel programmed richness. Truly fleshy but also elastic and stretched varietal wine of not only acumen and desire but also depth and understanding. The White Stones may be Catena’s chardonnay prize but do not sleep on this wine. It delivers all you could want from producer, place and grape. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted twice, July 2022

Côteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Côte 2020, Québec

The Robert Family takes chardonnay to the next level with their south facing vines on slopes of soils dotted by pebble and schist. A blessed sun dripping vintage for Québec chardonnay that takes full advantage of more climate change heat units and good fortune for no 2020 frosts. Crisp and crunchy to the nth degree, just reductive enough to stand taut and ever so slowly releasing its charm. Next chapter and a win win all around. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Baud Blanc De Blanc Brut, Crémant Du Jura

Varietal chardonnay that sees a year of lees aging with a dosage to reach the desired Brut. A richness and also dried herbal notes plus fennel that is offset by a creamy sweetness melting and melded through the pictorial texture of a wine so sharp and yet so soft. One imagines the Baud family being led by such humans and when a wine acts as an expression of they, well isn’t that the point in a wine like this? Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022.

Baud’s Crémant is made in true Blanc de Blancs style, from 100 per cent chardonnay and though faintly if beautifully oxidative, the cuvée pulses with great energy. The scents of fraying ginger batons, scraped orange skin and baking almond cookies are all a treat for the olfactory. Just enough but not too much sweetness fleshes the the body to get down to density in mouthfeel but never abandons its airy character. A terrific Champagne alternative that was disgorged in October of 2017. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2018

Clémentine Baud, Domaine Baud

Domaine Baud Cuvée Flor Côtes Du Jura 2020, Côtes Du Jura AOC

Clémentine Baud took over the family estate with her brother six years ago. The first father to daughter transition and with many to follow. The estate dates back to 1742, started by Jean-François. They farm 25 hectares, Clémentine’s father started with five and grew to 19 hectares when he retired. Picking for Sparkling now seems to happen in August, save for the difficult 2021 vintage. In 2017 70 per cent of the harvest was lost to the frosts, 50 in 2019 and 80 in 2021. “We have over 40 old varieties in the Jura, important for diversity, including those not allowed under the rules of the AOC,” tells Clém. The fruit for Cuvée Flor is grown at a latitude of 46.73 North and though very much a cool climate place for chardonnay the threats of warmer winters and seasonal frosts has wreaked havoc over the past 10 years. A chardonnay of remarkable lustre, concentration and purity, worked by way of oxidative aging, low alcohol expectation starting at 12 and finishing no higher than 14 to 14.5. A floral chardonnay, not one related to yeast and surely a pretty in Jura wine. From the younger vines, phenolic and hinting towards though remaining clear of emerging boozy. Filled with flavour, hazelnut and praline, peach and yellow plum. A world of its own. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Des Deux Roches Altugnac “Terres Amoureuses” 2020, AOP Limoux

From land at the edge of the Languedoc, on the Pyrenean foothills, “where the vines flirt with the scrubland.” A chardonnay of amorous lands, a golden hue of fortune and really fine balance. Light on its feet, forming a small wake, chardonnay of prosperity, dreams, space and a garden of thought. Alluring and inviting, ease of wood, spice and bites throughout. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Des Deux Roches Pouilly Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2020, Bourgogne aoc, France

There can be no doubt that an old vines cuvée in the hands of Deux Roches gifts impeccable and earnest profundity coupled with culpable concentration. A touch reserved in restraint though again expectation dictates that energy will release as the wine opens and ages. All the orchards are on the nose, transitioning into flavours full, layered and built by a liquid textural weave. Expansive chardonnay. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Joseph Ryan, Ernest Vineyards with Brooke Husband and Kelly Mason

Ernest Chardonnay Joyce Vineyard 2019, Sonoma Coast

Erin Brooks started the vineyard 10 years ago, as proximate to the ocean as much as any. West Sonoma Coast, now a new AVA with Brooks at the forefront of making that happen. Down at the bottom of the AVA, at 400ft of elevation, of marine bed, volcanic activity and metamorphic matter all present in one vineyard. Joseph Ryan is Winemaker and Vineyard Manager. Southeast facing at 38.44 North latitude on Goldridge soil, a sandy loam and a really mitigated diurnal shift of temperatures between 45 and 85 degrees (F). As such there is little cold or heat shock, plus what is gained by being so close to the ocean. Truth be told this is Sonoma Coast times 10 with a driven intensity of parts bloody captivating. Fruit and acids dancing intertwined and inseparable, unrelenting in a dizzying twirl of chardonnay wind and dust. “Oh, loving her was easy. The easiest thing in the world.” Hiss Golden Messenger. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Andrea Barker and Grant Chisholm, Foxtrot Vineyards

Foxtrot Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Quite wooden and also lean, tart and speaking in the kind of chardonnay tones that say professional and successful. Apples of greens and yellows, tart and creamy at the same time, blessedly flavourful if simply one dimensional. Solid and classic for a warm weather season out of a cool climate location losing that plus with every passing year. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022 and at 14C22, July 2022

Foxly Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Foxly is Foxtrot’s second label from Osoyoos and Similkameen fruit (as they only grown pinot noir on the Naramata Bench). This mix of northern and southern combines tension with roundness, two best worlds into one, hvac and evac. Fresh and taut with a downy cream centre.  Last tasted July 2022

Reductive to the point if just a bit stinky, not egregious mind you but the funk is in. These lees are in charge and upon the palate with a hit of true juicy fruit attacks, with beneficial fervour. In fact the lees do and are everything, living and dying with adamant behaviour to direct what will happen at every step along the way. Keep working with this chardonnay. It truly wants to offer up a just and pleasurable reward. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

With Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

Hamilton Russell Vineyard Chardonnay 2021, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa

A new return to a manageable vintage of warmth and generosity in which the beauty of Hemel-en-Aarde chardonnay comes across with sweeping charm, just as a vista will take in the scroll of hills, mountains and eventual fall, 100 kilometres away into the sea. The taut nature, tight control and expertly wound fruit behaviour follows a line of HR acidity like never before. The magnificence of the balance occupied by parts so known like home is what emanates from this chardonnay and the gracious people who make it. Can’t think of much better in South Africa. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

O’Rourke Family Estate Chardonnay Twisted Pine 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

O’Rourke’s Family Tree brand from Lake Country in the northerly Okanagan just feels warm and nurturing, a 2020 Twisted Pine chardonnay in this glass with drawn butter, soft brioche and mulled spice. Lightly caramelized, with soft serve vanilla and ease of amenability. Oak is a true factor though it melts nicely into the background of the wine. This is chardonnay of a deeply calming presence. It is warm bread. It is dry shelter. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

O’Rourke Family Estate Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Lake Country is one of the newest geographical locations of eight or nine wineries in the Okanagan and really only minted a month ago. The furthest north in the Valley and ostensibly the coolest as a result. First chardonnay by O’Rourke Family Estate with winemaker Nikki Callaway (famed for her work at Quails’ Gate). A young at heart wine and project with vines just three to six years of age grown at a latitude of 50.05 North. A fruit salad because it comes from all the blocks and clones on the property, built above ancient glaciers and caves. All indigenous ferments, with great freshness in abundance. A sharper expression than the Twisted Pine, with more snap, crackle and bite, not to mention pop. Hints at a reductive flintiness though it’s really quite open and even generous. Really quite effusive and brings chardonnay fruit to the fore, celebrates its Okanagan fullness and is developed enough to be ready and willing for to please. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Paddy Borthwick Chardonnay 2020, Wairarapa, New Zealand

An extension of 2019 to be clear, of flint and reduction as well, though less so in this vintage. Same sectarian or free thinking where herbs and lime get as much playing time as the stony qualities showing tight and tart in this 2020 wine. Caramel apple in the most seductive way, a bite through savoury spun sugar into the flesh of apples and or pears plucked straight from the tree. Flavours are ripe and seductive, at times verdant, other times spiced. No missing the barrel here. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Planeta Chardonnay 2020, Sicilia DOC

From 43.25 North latitude. Chardonnay comes from two vineyards, Storico which is the large white rock at 270m above the Menfi lake and Marrocoli, where red grapes (cabernet franc, merlot and syrah) really thrive. Here chardonnay is given roundness to mix with the stoic-stony and intense directness of what it could have been. A place of vibrations and nerves and so Marrocoli is needed to tame and soften Storico’s blunt edginess. That it does, injecting peach fleshy sunshine into the linearity of the wine. Keep in mind that 200,000 bottles a year are made and that doesn’t even keep up with the demand. Arch classic Planeta bread and butter wine, also in style. One of the planet’s great chardonnays of double Q effect. Quantity and quality. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March and July 2022

Ronan Stewart, Quails’ Gate Estate Winery

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with Rowan Stewart and in agreement that this is meant to be the freshest possible, a chardonnay of lemon zest and glaze, spicy piques and back bite. Acidity is the factor in a chardonnay lacking no moments of ripeness and can be round when needed. In other words it reacts and shapes to the palate’s needs, doing so simply and with no wasted movements. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay Stewart Family Reserve 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From vines growing on Mt. Boucherie, a volcanic steppe right above the winery. Whole cluster and barrel fermented, combination of new and used wood, malo, lees and regular stirring. All because the top chardonnay fruit in the Stewart household wants and can handle this level of elévage truth, seeks the richesse and desires uncompromising complexity. A chardonnay rising and swelling with fruit flavours, spices and then lingering long after the liquid is gone. My goodness length is truly a six letter word. Like bezazz, jazzbo, pazazz and pizazz. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Vignoble Domaine Du Fleuve Chardonnay 2020, Québec

The drive for chardonnay to thrive in Québec vineyards is kept alive with this linear and driven example from de Fleuve. It is not good enough to just make chardonnay in the province and call out success. The variety must ripen well, find that sweet spot between phenolic and layered, in the zone where acids lift yet never lie. This does most things admirably well though there are some moments where sulphides and esters creep in. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The greatest wines are considered as the ones that talk to us, connect with that part of our being that elicits sensory and emotional responses, feelings of zeitgeist and great release. Throughout the course of a year I taste thousands in my glass, countless banal, innumerable competent, others correct and many exceptional. Then there are the rare and peerless capable of altering time and space, chosen ones that after listening we then speak directly to. The mind-blowing wines.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

This is what I might say to such a splendid creature. “I look upon the flash of your sheen, you a wine of scientific strategies. Your aromatics sum up for me my educational studies in science and lifelong memories. Your flavours remind me of experiments in vinous physics, your textures of exercises in galactic mechanics. Your structure recalls infinite chemical reactions and architectural engineering. Your energy, though carefully controlled, threatens to ignite and destroy my laboratory and yet binds my existential life together. You blow my mind.

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

Last year’s 20 for 20 was a much different list than ever before. Only 25 days of travel and while I did finally make a return to global discovery that number was even less in 2021. Two trips to Italy and one to B.C. in October and November. Once again just 25 days in total. A yearly schedule usually adds up to 100-plus but fortune also shines on the critics of WineAlign. Through quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing we still managed to taste through thousands of wines. I recorded well and above 4,000 tasting notes in 2021 so it would appear that palate discovery is still alive and well. For the first time ever there are three dessert wines on the list because well, stickies just don’t get enough love. And never before have I included a Canadian wine because I pen a separate list for local but a Thomas Bachelder chardonnay is wholly deserving of going global. These are Godello’s 21 mind-blowing wines of 2021.

Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG 2001, Lombardy

A blend of chardonnay and pinot nero matured on lees for 218 months and a further 31 months after disgorgement. Zero dosage, tirage in June 2002. Tasting from “the stolen bottle,” and one would swear there is some sweetness in this wine, offset by twenty year-old persistent and rising acidity. The state of grace and ability this 2001 finds itself sitting royally in is quite something to behold. Stands firm and can stride with most any 20 year-old sparkling wine. A simple fact tells us that Arturo Ziliani’s father Franco and Guido Berlucchi decided to create sparkling wines in Franciacorta. They are the pioneers. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Krug Vintage Brut Champagne 2002

The year 2002 dubbed as “ode to nature” marked the first Krug “vintage of the millennium” and was presented after Krug 2003, just as Krug 1988 left the cellars after Krug 1989. A clement year, relatively dry to make for a homogeneous harvest. The blend is 39 per cent pinot noir, (40) chardonnay and (21) pinot meunier. Disgorgement would have been in the autumn of 2015 after having spent at least 13 years in Krug’s cellars. All this tells us that the vintage is one treated to great respect with the acumen to age seemingly forever. This bottle shows some advancement but mostly in toasted and spiced notes while acting so expertly oxidative, in total control of its own and also our senses. Smells of orange skin, zesty and by citrus spray, then pickled ginger and wild fennel. Tasted blind it feels just exactly 20 years old but it’s not hard to be tricked into imagining even older. I admit to guessing 1995 with thanks to a presentation of at once wildly exotic and then exceptional bubbles. Just a matter of being hoked up with celebration. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Kabola Malvazija Amfora 2017, Istria, Croatia

Kabola’s is malvazija istarska raised in traditional clay amphorae in combination with oak barrels. Kabola is found in Buje, not far from the coast and south of Trieste. While the combination of clay and wood seem to confuse or blur the game there is something wholly credible and intriguing about this wonderful aromatic mess. You can not only smell and sense but more deeply intuit the phenolic qualities inherent in here. Skins, pips and even a bit of herbaceous stem. Peach and orange tisane, exotic spice and high, high quality lees. Great winemaking here in the context of leaving your grapes to do the work but both timing and execution are spot on. Raises the varietal bar and shows what’s possible. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted April 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1998, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A wine in which the switch has been flicked at least five times, at least three past the family’s preference but let’s be frank. This is a fascinating Friuli-Venezia-Giulia wine to taste. Oxidative in the most beautiful way, sapid and laden with 23 year-old tang. Very much a young adult of confidence and swagger borne out of phenolic fruit maturation. A long-hanging vintage, a note of botrytis, a late harvest sensation but truly salty, mineral and showing the biodiversity in clones and vineyards that one would expect a white blend of this ilk to display. Just a terrific example of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco in their arena of characterful array. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Bachelder Grimsby Hillside “North Slope, Starry Skies” Chardonnay 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

New in the pantheon for Bachelder and Niagara wines as an entity is this from Grimsby Hillside, the new frontier, next level up and future for the industry. In fact the time is already upon these precocious vines and their fruit specially formulated for the most wound and cinched kind of chardonnay, so precipitously witnessed in Thomas Bachelder’s “North Slope, Starry Skies” 2019. The vineyard was planted to vitis labrusca and used for Kaddish wine through the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and just less than 20 years ago re-purposed to vinifera. Just two decades later winemakers like Thomas and Ilya Senchuk have discovered the magic of possibility and greatness of probability. Tasted this first in July with Thomas though it had just gone to bottle. Now the textural level of this GH-N triple-S has hitherto arrived at the immaculate, sweetly viscous, gleefully gelid and just right there at the apex of sensory enjoyment. Tight and delicious is a good combination. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, Stellenbosch, South Africa

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

With Sofia Ponzini and Vico

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso Vigna Vico Pre-Phylloxera 2018, DOC Etna

Just another immediately memorable Piano dei Daini Etna Rosso Vico, Sofia Ponzini’s Cru-Vigna nerello mascalese (with 10 per cent nerello cappuccio) at 700m from the northern side of Mount Etna. Grown as alberello on a volcanic, sandy matrix with some stones from 100-plus-plus pre-phylloxera vines located in the town of Passopisciaro, Contrada Santo Spirito, parcels “Belvedere,” “Seimigliaia” and “Calata degli Angeli.” A tempest of steel and a feeling that runs with waves of acidity throughout, in many parallel and horizontal lines, at all levels. Spice cupboard, rich waves of red fruit, viscous wisdom, confidential and confident elegance, finishing at precision without recall. True value, scattered patterning, significant and relevant. A vintage of force, restraint and powerful lightness of being. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2021

Domaine De Bellene Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Aux Chaignots 2019, AOC Bourgogne

The limestone soil Climat of Chaignots lies in the northern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges, up the slope and edging in location but also feeling towards that of Vosne-Romanée. The affinity is much discussed, real and therefore puts the Premier Cru at the top of what is most desired out of Nuits-Saint-Georges. A tiny (0.14 hectare) plot and simply a coup for Nicolas Potel to be able to secure this fruit. Everything about the aromatic front speaks to the Bourgogne mind and Chaignots heart. Cola but from the root, a tuber underground rubbed, that and a cocoa nut crushed between fingers. An almost diesel waft but not gaseous, instead sapid, nut-based, a liqueur toasted and intoxicating. The fineness of structure is the sort of wiry winding by winch that could cut through limbs due to tension so taut. All that you know, love, don’t know and hope to experience is in this wine. Neither I nor Nicolas Potel will be around when it blows someone’s mind in 2074. Look forward to that day young Alphonse. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted May 2021

Angela Fronti, Istine

Istine Chianti Classico DOCG Vigna Istine 2019, Radda in Chianti, Tuscany

One must have to look at, walk this and stand in awe of of this vineyard, the steepness at 30-50 per cent grade with a terrace in the middle to break it up. Heavy in Alberese inclusive of massive yellow calcareous boulders and also Galestro. In fact the medium stones removed were transferred to create terraces for olive trees on the other side of the cantina (by Angela Fronti’s father no less). The vineyard faces north so the freshness is off the charts, while the ripeness is so matter of purposeful vintage fact. The label represents the position of the vines in coordinates, echoed in the machicolations of a Fronti sangiovese that drops all the Radda stones on unsuspecting palates through fruit openings between supporting acid corbels of a projecting tannic parapet. Vigna Istine is at the forefront of Chianti Classico’s battle to win over the world. Follow this example. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

“Molto parfumato,” binds an aromatic agreement between myself and Paolo de Marchi upon sniffing this ’11 found on Locanda Pietracupa’s wine list. “Cepparello needs time,” says Paolo, understatement of the obvious for the evening, year, decade and history with respect to sangiovese grown in the Chianti Classico territory. Also truth succinctly spoken, roses and violets exhaling and a 100 per cent varietal (or so it seems) profile of succulence and one to fully draw you in. Mint to conifers, multiplicity by complexity value, not to mention vigorous acidity sent straight to a mouth with a full compliment of wisdoms able to think about the situation. A linear Cepparello seeing its wide open window at the 10 year mark. And now a Paolo de Marchi story. “One side of the vine’s grapes were burnt and so I called up (Consorzio Direttore Giuseppe) Liberatore and asked are we changing the name of the appellation? Liberatore said what? To Chianti Amarone replied de Marchi, or sangiovese Port? Joking aside, a stringent selection and a five per cent inclusion of trebbiano did for this ’11 Cepparello what viognier might do for syrah. Not a Chianti Classico so perfectly kosher. A secret until now but all above board. Totally cool. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Filo di Seta is Filippo Chia’s intuitive “transavanguardia” sangiovese of place, over the ancient beach where he and his father Sandro once painted the Montalcino sea. Mostly early picked fruit, all in tonneaux, at first thinking “croccante” but that’s too simple a way to describe what texture and sensation is combed in this reserve wine. Bottled on the 29th of June so just arriving at the ready, to look at if not to consume. Here there is a fineness of liquid chalkiness, a “fluido” or “scorrevole” to drive the way this sangiovese plays and also sings, a Riserva to move with the wind and musical sway. Somewhat unknown, finely tannic and clearly what could and should be described as “mountain” Brunello. Coming in late is the spice, almost cinnamon and such. Hate to refer to any wine as the best from an estate but too bad. That this is, beyond the avant-garde such as it is. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2021

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Tenuta Greppo 1985

The longevity of this vintage is almost not to be believed. Has been in bottle for as many years as it would have matured in casks. The next year (2022) will se the re-release of this vintage (in 2021 that vintage was 1983) and the year 1985 is the one I entered university. A Biondi-Santi of resolved tannin but remarkably youthful. A wine that saw Grandi Botti more than before, seen in the gentlest of spice notes and the back to the future return of balsamic and pomegranate. Followed a winter of major snowfall, long and cold winter, a regular spring and uneventful summer. The acidity is just incredible, also youthful and so sweet, those lengthened tannins in liquid powdery-chalky form. The connection with 2016 may seem to be an uncanny one but so help me if the chain is not there. The bottle was opened one hour and forty five minutes earlier so grazie to Federico Radi and Biondi-Sandi for perfecting the timing. We can all learn so much from this wine, to be patient, calm, well-adjusted, confident and gracious. Style and temperament to live by. Should continue this way for at least 10 more years. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979, Tuscany

A cooler vintage, especially as compared to 1978 and truly a Piedmontese style because the cellar workers closed the tanks, went on strike and returned two months later. Resulted in some carbonic maceration and surely an increased amount of vim in freshness. That mixed with true porcini, fungi and fennochiona. The extended maceration makes this act 43 years forward like an older nebbiolo, rich and once demanding tannins now long since melted away, tar and roses still showing with earthly perfume. Fabulous mouthfeel, lingering and lively. Surely the mean steak astringency would have been in control during the first 10 to 15 years but the beast relents and gives way to charm. Patience breeds gentility and the story is now unfolding. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

With Stefano Cesari, Brigaldara

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2016, Veneto

Stefano Cesari’s farm concerns itself with all things sustainable and while that may seem like a catch phrase, In Brigaldara’s case it most surely is not. The family supports its workers financially, culturally and in health. The young winemaking team is encouraged to study and stage abroad, to learn new oenological skills and languages. The other farm workers and their families are additionally supported by being given stake in the profits of the farm. How can this not reflect in the qualities of the wines, including this very special vintage 2016 Amarone. A magnificent wine and one you can easily drink beyond one glass. Not that it’s a light example but it speaks in soft tones, clearly and with a distinct, precise and honest weight, in vernacular and feeling. All things fruit lead to roads of sweet acidity and fine tannin. A rare Amarone of this ilk and one to savour. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted October 2021

Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2012, Aconcagua Valley, Chile

Don Maximiano 2012 is a blend of 75 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (12) carmenère, (8) petit verdot and (5) malbec. No cabernet franc back in 2012 and aside from the obvious notions ushered in by age there is a distinct lack of herbal notes as a result. This is just in a great place nearly nine years forward from vintage, now settling, acids still in charge but tannins having done most of their melting and rendering. This wine is far from done, in fact the next level notions have just begun to have their say and from a vintage as great as this there should very well be nine years nigh before true earthiness, umami and truffle set in. Pour this blind at dinners with old world counterparts and watch with awe as to the results. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Château Pétrus 1993, Pomerol, AC Bordeaux

Never easy to live in the shadow of siblings clearly designated as mom and dad’s favourites but sometimes overlooked vintages left for dead show greatness later on in life. The 1993 Pétrus is definitely a late bloomer and from a year when only 200 cases were produced, where normally 4,000-plus is the standard. Softened to an almost Burgundian sense of calm but the richness and concentration multiplied by a Spring verdant freshness and sweetly herbal pesto can only indicate one thing and that is Right Bank Bordeaux. I tasted this blind and immediately thought of Pomerol and its close proximity at the eastern border with Saint-Émilion because of the “fromage à pâte molle” feeling gained, along with vestiges of once formidable black fruit supported by a push-pull posit tug of merlot-cabernet franc acidity. A good hunch indeed and a more than surprising set of excellent parameters come to this for a 1993 Bordeaux. All in all a really satisfying and come together wine to hush the naysayers and win in the end. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1990, AC Hermitage, Rhône

Jaboulet’s 1990 La Chapelle is a kind of an echo of the year in history, an Hermitage of impeccable harmony, much like balance restored in relative peace and prosperity. In 1990 the Soviet Union fell, ending the decades-long Cold War. Hard to find more shiny opaque purple in a 30 year-old syrah plus a splendid floral nose of stone roses, pencil shavings and graphite. The combinative effect of heft and freshness elicit pleasantries from a bad boy able to play soft ballads to mellow a crowd. La Chapelle is a communicative, entertaining and business-like syrah, a link between the northern Rhône and the taster, an internet Hermitage that changes the way we think and feel. Things will never be the same after tasting Jaboulet’s 1990 and for good reason. Has 10 years left without worry of decline. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2021

 

Reynvaan In The Hills Syrah 2017, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Reynvaan is a family production of Rhône-style wines from two vineyard properties in the Walla Walla Valley. “In The Rocks” is their first vineyard located in Milton-Freewater, Oregon and the second vineyard is called “In the Hills.” short for “Foothills in the Sun.” It is found at the base of the Blue Mountains on the Washington/Oregon border and is planted to syrah, viognier and a gaggle of cabernet sauvignon rows. As one of the highest elevation vineyards in Washington (at 1200ft) and in this syrah co-fermented with up to 10 per cent syrah you might get a rendering of a northern Rhône-ish picture. Sure enough the perfume is floral but more than anything a smoulder of pancetta and smoked meat. Reductive as well, different as such than any syrah, anywhere else on the planet but liquid peppery and tire on asphalt nonetheless. The credibility and accountability here is profound and while the sheer concentration and beauty of In the Rocks in captivating, this In the Hills is alternatively vivid, dramatic and powerfully restrained syrah. Which one is you? Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted January 2021

Sine Qua Non Syrah The Hated Hunter 2017, Santa Barbara County

The hated hunter is named after Austrian immigrant and Los Angeles restaurateur turned winemaker Manfred Krankl’s grandfather, depicted on the label in gear, with rifle and hound. The blend is led by 82.4 per cent syrah with (7.8) petite sirah, (5.2) mourvèdre, (2) grenache, (1.2) petit manseng and (1.4) viognier. Clocks in at 15.9 alcohol but in this regard hardly garners even one per cent of the discussion. All anyone can talk about is the infinite expanse of pretty, pretty floral capture and personally speaking it simply reeks of syrah. A game of meat juices and marbling, part smoked meat and part pancetta. The only question tasting blind is whether to imagine it as Hermitage or Central Coast California. Once the abv is disclosed the answer can only be the latter but a syrah of such reclusive exclusivity is hard to pin down. Derives from a group of prized vineyards; 32 per cent Eleven Confessions (Santa Rita Hills), (41) The Third Twin (Los Alamos), (25) Cumulus (Santa Barbara) and (2) Molly Aida (Tepusquet Canyon). Adds up to the most luxe, deluxe and ultra-fantastic instrumental of a syrah, no lyrics needed. Man, Manfred, take a bow. A hunting bow. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Fèlsina Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico DOCG 2018, Tuscany

An absolutely lovely vintage for Fèlsina’s Vin Santo and for Chianti Classico Vin Santo as a rule because extract, temperament and adaptability are all in collective balance. All that you want, need and expect from this traditional and loyal dessert wine are present and accounted for. Dried and glazed fruit, low and slow developed nuttiness and a freedom of territory spoken through airiness and layering. The upside cake of life turns over to reveal a generational wine of clear standards, perfect layering and endless conversation. Nonna and Nonno would be proud. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted June 2021

Agriturismo Hibiscus Zhabib Passito 2020, C.Da Tramontana, Sicily

From the island of Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 70 kilometres (36 nautical miles) of the coast of Sicily’s capital Palermo and the work of Margherita Longo and Vito Barbera. The vineyards for this zibibbo (moscato d’Alessandria) are grown very close to the water on volcanic soil and Hibiscus is the only winery game in town. There are other farmers that contribute grapes to this tiny production; also grillo, cataratto, inzolia to go along with the zibibbo that makes this Passito. A place where tomato, grapes and peached co-exist, in the gardens and in the wine. This carries that uncanny sweet to savoury feeling in the most specific and ethereal dessert wine both mind can conjure and emotion shall receive. Of orange, grapefruit, peach and tomato. Balanced, harmonious, silky, woollen and with a super-tonal capacity to love. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted October 2021

Taylor Fladgate Very Old Tawny Port – Kingsman Edition, Douro, Portugal

A bottle of wine is rarely tied to a film, let alone a Douro Port but Taylor’s Very Old Tawny has been blended and bottled to coincide and be product placed in the second Kingsman film, in this case a prequel to the first, this time set in the 1920s. Head Winemaker David Guimaraens chose reserve Tawnys from 70-100 years of age, wines crafted and set aside by generational predecessors past, no stretch for the master blender because we are talking about a house with extensive stocks from which to reach back into. Guimaraens was looking for harmonic balance between concentration and elegance and just a whiff will tell you he and his team have achieved a crossing between a magical vortex and a vanishing point of complexity. Two manifest matters have developed; concentration of sweetness and in this case by association, a focus of acids as well. Together they inspissate and cling comfortably to the skeletal structure. It feels like you are nosing 100 unique aromas, with just seven of them being marzipan, red velvet hazelnut cake, candied ginger rose, rau răm, roasting banana leaf, calimyrna fig and grilled pineapple express. Step six feet away from the glass and the aromatics persist just as sharp as if the glass were in hand. As for a sip of this maraviglioso Tawny, warmth, comfort, delicadeza and forever length make just an ounce last forever. Timeless. Approximately 1000 bottles were produced and in Canada 100 will be made available next September. That is when theatre goers should likely make a return to the cinema to take in the Secret Service spy thriller and Tawny Port fantasy up on the silver screen. Drink 2021-2050.  Tasted February 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Memories of South Africa in 60 notes

Water hole, South Africa

As this passage through weltschmerz marches on, the defining feeling of melancholy and world-weariness continues, no doubt magnified in the hearts and minds of the wanderlusts accustomed to consistent world travel. So the question begs, as it has for 12 months, how to summon thoughts that will keep a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world at bay? Speaking from a personal place, a simple and distracting way is to compose retroactive wine reviews, unearthing and editing nuggets of meaningful playfulness, tasting notes created in the past but never having found their way to the light of day. Recent thoughts about South Africa are the impetus for this story.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place six months from now but a difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the time has arrived for the industry to launch preparations for a Spring 2022 Capelands revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic, lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Fly me back to South Africa

Related – Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

Wine trips afford tasting hundreds of wines in a week’s time and while all bottles poured by every producer are given full attention and solicit a hundred or so scribbled words on history, tradition, agriculture, winemaking, varietal and regional relativity, many remain in raw form, relegated to computer folders and on the pages of moleskin journals. Pulling them out months, if not years later can induce that elusive feeling of relief and in some extraordinary occasions, epiphany. This to the creator of course, not necessarily to the producer, wine prose seeker, consumer, regional administrator or marketer. Notwithstanding who may be watching or reading, the exercise is a satisfying one and stands on its own merit, if only to be soothed and take refuge in a safe prosaic haven, free from the savage talon grip of a world gone mad.

“What happens in Cape Town stays in Cape Town” carries a three year statute of limitation. With the inimitable Ken Forrester

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. During the last edition in 2018 I published several articles and many notes but these are the fruits of unfinished business left unsaid, scattered and streaming bits of consciousness having patiently waited it out for this moment in the sun. With thanks to all these erudite producers who shared a few ounces, engaged in conversation and offered up their time. These are the 60 wines tasted 30 months ago, assessed, critiqued, enjoyed and until now, unpublished.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2016, WO Swartland

Simply a case of “fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” small parcels from Adi Badenhorst’s Kalmoesfontein farm, around the Swartland and the greater Paardeberg Mountain. A tienvoudig veldversnit of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Hard to imagine that ten grapes could be so tactful and get together for such a discreet nose, but they are and they do. Secretive and seductive, full of mystery and enigma, ferments in 3000L vessels and then concrete, of a co-existence executing balance and a dedicated focus on texture. A ten-fold paradigm shift as part of the pioneering, Western Cape appellative white blend parade. Those who know it get lost in the varietal party and just like the makers the soirée will go on forever. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Pinot Noir Bokkeveld 2017, WO Swartland

Grown further afield of the great old white grape vineyards, higher into mountainous terrain on the famed Bokkeveld shales. Makes for transitory, lifted pinot noir, “rain-slick’d, rubbed-cool, ethereal,” a little pastiche in a glass. Provides a cool flush of red berries, a note of allspice and truth is the fruit is really quite naturally sweet. Clean, characterful and only an afterthought of subtle savour. More than anything this pinot noir drifts and rises, kind of like reciting poetry. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Hanneke Krüger, A.A. Badenhorst

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland

Of the Badenhorst second tier of wines, a red blend though mainly cinsault (82 per cent) with (10) syrah and (8) grenache. Though this is technically a tank sample it will be bottled next week so essentially across the finish line. There will be 130,000 bottles of this unfiltered wine. Red fruit incarnate Cape style, sweet baking spices and from a band knowing what is needed for playing live in concert, lekker balance seekers capable of working with any instrumentation, including 4,500 and 7,200L blending tanks. Badass sound, fury and energy, dry rocket fuel, pure, raw emotion and precision. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Grenache Raaigras 2017, WO Swartland

From the home farm at Kalmoesfontein, a scant 1268 vines by lowest of low yields and considered to be the oldest (1951) grenache vines in South Africa. The Raaigras (ryegrass) is a vineyard choker so without human intervention it would literally strangle a vineyard. One of those wonderful whole bunch ferments though a portion is de-stemmed and well if this is not the right stuff from the right place, transparent, curative, a gastronomy of ancient meatiness and spice. Tannic yet elastic and one of those wines ready to go from creation but won’t likely change anytime soon. For now, long and wide. Feel free to think “see you in 15 years on the other side.” Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Springbock Burger anyone?

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

A chenin blanc blend of 35-65 year-old 1960s, 70s and early 80s, mainly Paardeberg dry-farmed bush vine vineyards in the Swartland. Some shale and clay soils mix in for a top end chenin meritage with a faint if feigned salty vanilla sweetness. High and dry extract and grape tannin conspire in their conscription and into a stretched intensity requiring some patience for the opening up. Lingers forever thereafter. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Skaliekop 2017, WO Swartland

Skaliekop, “hill of shale,” a curious dale of fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock amongst the Paardeberg granite. For David and Nadia Sadie a chance to make a chenin blanc with both prescient soils lending their presence and tutelage. The people here speak of the Skaliekop, knowing well the wisdom and aridity, the windswept open space, exposed and warm. They recognize and tell of the difference it makes, how a wine such as this can act so implosive, salty, targeted and fervent. The vintage only serves to magnify a sentiment already assured, that fruitful and mineral will align, swell and expand as one from these first grapes to be harvested in the wider Paardeberg zone. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Aristargos 2017, WO Swartland

In 2017 a Swartland appellative white blend of chenin blanc (58 per cent), viognier (14), clairette blanche (13), sémillon (7), roussanne (5) and marsanne (3). David and Nadia’s only white that sees enough skin-contact to inch it up to but not quite breaching the natural-orange-amber stereotype so moving along now. A free-form, stacked blanc of multifarious juxtaposition, a Cape sensation that does this thing better and more interesting than anywhere else on the planet. Complex because florals and salinity get together and express the Swartland without a care in the world. What really comes across the palate is texture, downy and coddling with a finishing pesto of sweetly herbal fynbos and renosterveld. A perfectly broad expression overall though please don’t typecast or compartmentalize the Sadies’ white blend. Let it be. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Elpidios 2016, WO Swartland

An ever evolving or rather moving target, Rhône motivated but at this point in South Africa’s modern tenure just better to say Cape inspired. Has had many lead singers in its time; syrah, carignan and based on David Sadie’s language, who knows, perhaps grenache will take a turn at the microphone. Here in ’16 carignan (39 per cent) is centre stage with syrah (31), pinotage (16), cinsault (9) and grenache (5) rounding out the players. Elpidios means hope, as in “Cape of Good” and like the place itself there are so many layers to peel away from this heady foreland of a red wine. The berry aspect is magnified by the pinotage and you should know that David and Nadia treat this grape with utmost respect. A mix of styles and inspirations make this both muddled and brilliant as it stretches into breadth and potential. A nexus of varietal and micro-terroirs caught up in a whirlwind of extracts, flavours, liqueurs and expression. Still fresh, spirited and alive so drink this well over a ten year span. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Kreatuur Die Synachin 2017, WO Coastal Region

“A collaboration between a bunch of young blokes, making of-the-moment wines from little-known vineyards around the Cape,” and under monikers that refer to “pushmi-pullyu animals.” Also with the winemaking help of Alexander Milner from Natte Valleij. Really quite the drinkable Rhône-ish blend of 56 per cent syrah, (26) grenache and (18) cinsault. Iron in multifarious soils (mainly granitic) make this hematic and deeply plum but still, not so difficult to knock back. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Kop Ou Treffer Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Ou Treffer, as in the ‘old hit’ in Afrikaans, also the old workhorse, in reference to cinsault of the Western Cape. Or if you will, like a hit song as the grape just seems to be the it one in South Africa these days. Or perhaps Traffic, by the Stereophonics. Beautifully aromatic, rich fruit and a soild funk from the particularities in these Stellenbosch vineyards. Half the ferment is de-stemmed, meaning the other half is whole bunch and old vines surely concentrate the fruit, stem funk and spun feeling all-around. Besides, “is anyone going anywhere? Everyone’s gotta be somewhere.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Knapsekêrel 2016, WO Stellenbosch

The second cabernet franc release of the De Kleine Wijn Koöp boys’ Knapsekêrel (a.k.a the spiky little black Cape plant) comes from the Polkadraai Hills. Not just any vineyard mind you but one planted in 2000 and biodynamically farmed by Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger and current Stellenbosch guru Johan Reyneke. The winemaking hands of Lukas van Loggerenberg are to thank and while this shows the sultry smoky smoulder that often emits from Cape franc it is a challenge and work in project to find the varietal sweet spot. That’s because cool temps and long growing seasons are best but look out for this breadth of a team’s members to find what works. In the meantime the tobacco, dusty plum and pushed to the raisin precipice make up a tasty if humid treat in a glass. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Heimwee 2015, WO Stellenbosch

As with the Knapsekêrel cabernet franc, the Polkadraai west of Stellenbosch is the fruit source, a biodynamic vineyard farmed by Rosa Kruger and Johan Reyneke. The boys at the Koöp are back in varietal town and refer to this all-around floral spiced cabernet sauvignon as running “with tannins as smooth as your grandmother’s polished imbuia coffee table.” No doubt and you can almost hear them singing in Phil Lynott workingman’s poetry. That said, this cab is no thin Lizzy, more like thick as a brick. Hung long and well-developed, of a liqueur that oozes of red, red fruit. Or perhaps, “man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot. I mean, she was steamin’…” Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Johannes de Wet in Robertson

De Wetshof Riesling 2017, WO Robertson

A known fact that riesling and limestone make a great couple so this look at de Wetshof’s Robertson ’17 is met with great mineral anticipation. Yes the finest calcareous blocks are dedicated to chardonnay because Bourgogne is the de Wet inspiration but anyone who has learned a thing about riesling around the world will know that limestone can work wonders. Alsace of course, as in Clos Windsbul but also The Niagara Escarpment’s dolomitic limestone and Germany’s Muschelkalk (especially in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franconia). And so Robertson joins the list as witnessed by this linguistically aromatic example, working the glass with a pure lime distillate notion. A nod to Alsace more than anything else with acidity that doesn’t need to scream and shout but it’s truly there. The potential to pioneer the movement is here, along with Elgin as Cape riesling standard bearers. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hll 2018, WO Robertson

Youth and drought make for the most naked and transparent of the past few Limestone Hill chardonnays. Absolute cool Kelvin freshness and a 270 degree vineyard scope to gather de Wetshof’s Robertson fruit from an amphitheatre of slope and aspect so subtle yet so meaningful. A fulsome regional DNA creates varietal layers gathered to make this cuvée a true spokes-wine for the limestone-based estate. Set foot on these soils, spin around, take it in. Then feel and intuit the truth in chardonnay that speaks to a place. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Bataleur 2016, WO Robertson

Bataleur, as in a battalion of chardonnay soldiers, fruit up front, reduction and wood falling in, acids taking up the flanks and structure in support by land, air and sea. Or so it seems because this just marches like a military exercise in chardonnay. Flinty, biting back, yet buttered and toasted on the mid-palate with Roberston’s unique limestone felt from start to finish. Vanilla then white caramel with soft French cream fill and then the snap of lime acidity. Biting and downy, one and then the other, all tied up in robes and pearls, equalling out in the end. Fine work from 2016. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2000, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay

By this time 2000 is the 15th vintage of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noir and tasting both the 1986 and 1997 ahead of this only serves to heighten anticipation knowing full well longevity is by now a solid guarantee. The vintage seems like it must have been a demanding one because there is more hard grip, aridity and austerity here but it really has aged gracefully and beautifully. The posit tug between fruit and earth notes is performed like a string instrument’s bow, bending and angling with dexterity in balanced, fluid motion. Brings in the herbs and spices, wholly and truly of Hemel-en-Aarde origin, on hillsides and between rows of sagacious pinot vines. This is a treat and opens a portal into the future, beginning with the 2012 vintage that will usher in a string of sequentially impressive HR pinot noir. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Rosecco NV, WO Swartland

From a 32 year-old pinotage vineyard, great old vines that received some TLC from Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger. Secondary bottle fermented with a little help from “a special blend of liqueur de triage,” so unlike Prosecco in that regard. Early picked which is a given considering the granitic soil and therefore a “Rosecco” of low pH and severely high acidity. ‘Twas just a slight dosage and therefore comes across arid like the Swartland desert. A well cultured sparkling Rosé, crushable and easy like Sunday morning. Drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Jan Harmsgat Chardonnay 2015, WO Robertson

True reduction yet to dissipate as noted by the smoky smoulder with a healthy compliment of wood still needing to melt in and away. Looking to settle over the next six months or so and allow the combination of vanilla extract and green apple purée to integrate, compliment and go forward in agreement. Though creamy there is a bite back at the finish so while this is good now it still shows promise for improvement down the road. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 1994. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. A 100 per cent varietal wine, built by the soil and so bloody mineral as a result. Oak texture but really that’s the end of wood talk, a salty streak, so direct and so personal. The kind of sauvignon blanc that invades your airspace and a vintage more Bordeaux than the rest. Or, if you will Sancerre but not so much this time around. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 2009. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. The ’94 vintage was another story altogether, apposite, far away from developing noble rot. Not the baller and perhaps even a bit “weak” with less weight but a saltiness that is more than intriguing. Perhaps more Sancerre-esque as a result but certainly lends longevity credibility to those passed over cool vintages neither celebrated nor considered to carry much staying power. May not be fleshy but is surely a curious and electric surprise. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Andrea Mullineux continues to foster the Leeu Passant line of heritage vines wines with work from Rosa KrMuger alongside. The “post (leaf-roll) virus vineyard,” of smuggled in clean material planted in Stellenbosch in the 1980s. The site is home to loam-rich soils of the Helderberg and the wine stylistically modelled after the oxidative approach to chardonnay. “Death and resurrection,” as Andrea puts it, meaning after the fermentation you allow the must to oxidize again, literally to the colour of cola. Risk reward actionable take and one that requires some shall we say, cojones. This chardonnay is not about luck and the methodology can’t help but connect you to the vineyard. You end up with this unctuous, astonishingly rich chardonnay that bears a resemblance to the vines and the place from whence it came. Unlike the Mullineux chenins or Swartland and so say hello to Meursault. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016, WO Western Cape

The throwback, ode and homage to South African reds made in the 50s, 60s, 70s, rustic, tannic, structured and reeking of the ancient soils that gave them life. Three locales are in the mix; Wellington, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The vineyards are the first pro-Phylloxera planted sites, a willy-nilly varietal scattering, blocks of two cinsault, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet franc. “It’s a deconstructed reconstruction,” says Andrea Mullineux, “where you break down what you love and build it back up again.” First thing is to show utmost submissive respect to 95 and 117 year-olds, the oldest registered red wine vineyards in South Africa. So you hand harvest their low yields and keep a minimum half of the bunches intact for to ferment these wise and experienced grapes. They spend 20 months in barrel then emerge structured and fit for 20 years of longevity. As with those post mid-20th century wines the profile is rich, tart, spicy, robust and layered with serious grounding. Revivalist red, keeper of faith and a lost style, uniquely South African. Today that translates to vogue. Boom. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Greyton

The Cape’s south coast work of Samantha O’Keefe, a (500L) barrel fermented sauvignon blanc made in an oxidative way, or rather a wine of early introductions made with oxygen. Flinty no doubt then rich and full on the palate, of throttling grape tannin who’s antidote is a sense of settled calm. Late spice, Bordeaux in temperament but cooler still, an almost northern Sancerre-ish dexterity and layering. Composed and so very genteel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2016, WO Greyton

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s original Greyton Farm, in re-build for a promising future. This ’16 is 90 per cent estate fruit, a natural ferment and all done up in neutral (300L) barrels, 11 months on lees. No malo except when a great vintage comes along. Simply an orchard and gingered and delight, a woven tapestry of backroads eccentricities and southern exposures, with a kick and twist of finishing spice. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Lismore The Age Of Grace 2017, WO Elgin

From rose-quartz soil in cool Elgin, a 100 per cent viognier, so apposite relative to the achromatic shades of Greyton sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. High demeanour and a sense of vivid colour in the aromatic wonder but more so in the levels of palate, front through middle to back. They come like a rainbow, rolling, over stones, in “colours in the air, oh, everywhere.” Orange, peach, nectarine and fine, fine Elgin acidity. They are wrapped in sour spice yet sit cross-legged, in complete control. An aristocratic flower child, surely full of and situated in an age of grace. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape

Fruit from both Walker Bay and Elgin and 30 per cent whole bunch (the first vintage was 15). So very herbal, savoury, stemmy and honest. A beacon in pinot noir you want to drink that comes equipped with an edginess about it. Full purity on display, grip, intensity and packed with provisions for the picnic. Marks the early beginnings of a varietal journey with some naïveté and dreams but look out. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Alette de Boer, Lowerland

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, WO Prieksa, Noord Kap

From South Africa’s furthest northern wine-growing area, a joint effort between grower Bertie Coetzee and winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Wow does this ever smell like tannat with its depth of earthy fruit and suspension of oxidative animation. High acidity reminds of the really cool climate, more Niagara per se than southwest France. There really is something special here, as with Lowerland’s stellar whites, something singular, yet undefined, in enigma and mystery. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Witgat Viognier 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

The viognier may scent of exotic flowers and tropical fruits but as with most of Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee’s range this is surely a cool climate wine. Subtly so and yet of a tension and a demand that accrue a sense of northerly South African wine-growing sense. The wine was made by JD Pretorius at the Constantia property Steenberg and it comes about quite normal, varietally speaking but also beautiful. There is a liquid chalky feel, a product no doubt of quality dry extract mixed with Prieksa soil of desert sand and silty clay. Lean and structured, a lanky viognier that in the end delivers quite the delight. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

Literally “easy drinking blend,” spoken through an indigenous vernacular from “the place of the lost goat.” At the time a blend of merlot, shiraz and tannat but like the Herd Sire Reserve that too will change over time. A racy and ripe red, earthy and parochial though fruitful in its red, black and blue mixed berry basket. There really is nothing to compare this too, neither old world origin or varietal mash up so assess it on its own terms. Just knock it back. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Herd Sire Reserve 2015, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

A red blend that will evolve (varietally speaking) but in 2015 it is based on cabernet sauvignon with petit verdot and a small amount of merlot. Bordeaux being the message but that too will change because the north of South Africa may actually share more affinity with the southwestern French wine-growing than anywhere else. This unique Noord Kaap Wyn van Oorsprong’s cool climate makes for early drinking reds and the 13 year-old vines here follow the party line for a red blend ripe enough to do what needs. There is more liqueur and spice here than what is noted in the merlot/shirtaz/tannat and also increased acid intensity. Somewhat oxidative but holding well and doling pleasure. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Nina Mari and Ernst Bruwer, Mont Blois

Mont Blois Estate Chardonnay Kweekkamp 2016, WO Robertson

After 28 of not bottling their own wines the husband and wife team of Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer began again in 2017. This is one of the first, a single vineyard chardonnay off of 12 year-old vines, barrel fermented and aged 11 months. Speaks of Robertson, not specifically by limestone but with that WO’s orchard fruit and realism, by passing spice that’s merely a thought. Lovely snap, crack and bite which is truly Robertson while in delivery of everyday texture and mellow disposition. The kind of chardonnay to stay quiet and simply sip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chardonnay Hoog en Laag 2016, WO Robertson

“High And low,” in reference to the vineyard being a terraced block on clay. Heavy clay that is, a Robertson specialty and the Hoog En Laag receives the same elévage as the Kweekkamp chardonnay. Certainly a richer and fruit fulsome expression, less snap and bite. No subtle spice either and yet the barrel notes are equally noted. What this has is full-fledged texture, creamy and smooth, all day long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chenin Blanc Groot Steen 2016, WO Robertson

The “big” chenin blanc because of the dense clay that gives nutrient life to the 32 year-old block of vines. Quite the steen intensity, ripping with fruit and a mineral streak for layer upon layer of Robertson quality. Naturally sweet pears, ripe and dripping, plus an unusual or unaccustomed to herbology. Perhaps it’s the famous local Rooibos talking. Really persistent chenin with loads of potential. Likely some flint and smoulder in its future. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape

A true Cape chenin blanc assemblage, in fact it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance to new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc that is bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do in the southern hemisphere where harvest happens in the first quarter months. Expectation always dictates value from the Kloof Street and 2018 does not disappoint with an attractive spiciness that speaks to the preservation of freshness in a chenin blanc possessive of no boundaries. One of the most versatile wines on the planet. Sheet pan sausages and fennel would be just ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Quartz 2017, WO Swartland

Soil is the single matter, catalyst and difference maker to dictate the peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and unique sets of behaviours in the Mullineux single-terroir wines. The chenin develops “freckles” in the sun, tells winemaker Andrea Mullineux and the warmth of the high presence of quartz retains and returns warmth, translating to a conduit of concentrated ripeness passing through the vines. Not a direct heat, otherwise the berries would burn but a reflected back-beat of light and one that is slowly transmitted with naturally occurring temperature control for how and when the plants are in need. The greatest positive is in the maturation of phenolics in the skins and not by a hasty overload in developed sugars. From out of the silica oxide comes vegetative growth that promotes and preserves a physiological process in retention of acid freshness. The result? A phenolic journey unique to chenin blanc as here with a striking 2017, dry as drought yet fresh as a daisy. Though there is some creamy texture there too is hyper intense clarity, a variegate of dappled aromatics and brindled flavours, all bound up in animated acid bounces. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2017, WO Swartland

In chenin blanc the Mullineuxs engage in this single-terroir comparison, first by Quartz and now through Granite. The reference is to the predominant mineral presence in the soil and in how it influences the chameleon varietal. In 2017 Quartz is a major concern but switching to sandy, decomposed rocky soil and everything changes. Berries leave the world of mottled and piebald to one of demure and decor with thanks to the diffused light set upon them. That and a place where roots must burrow, digging deeper through hunks of rock into the sub-strata. This is where trace elements and minerals are to be found in the water table below and while limestone and silex is not the tablet there is some ideological affinity here with the Loire. As such it is this Granite that speaks in a leaner, thoroughly mineral, less spice and increased sharpness vernacular. Precision cut, flint struck, metallic, a song of science and silence. Body and flesh are ambient, less “creamy” than in Quartz, linear in travels, long and of an aging potential surely cast forward. Focused all the way through, unrelenting but always in layers of overlap and subtlety. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland

Kloof Street is a “heritage blend,” says Andrea Mullineux, “it’s a wine about the love for making wine, but having preferences.” From vintage to vintage maybe check the bottle for varieties because there is no steadfast formula. Heritage, as opposed to Rhône means playfulness, choices and the inclusion of a structure fortifying grape like tinta barocca, truly integral to the Western Cape meritage experience. Here in 2017 there are some notable added layers of flesh, drying tannin and largesse. An early extracted wine in fast stages of maceration to coax out the fruit and deter astringency. Comes away rich and robust, rocking the free and new world. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

“I still consider it a blend,” insists Andrea Mullineux,”because it comes from seven vineyards on three soils.” Spends up to six weeks on skins, depending on how big the tannins are. Big equals patience. Burly early with spice and elongation but that heft and girth will slowly melt away. An invisible friend called acidity will usher the transformation, those gnomes of silent structure. The next stage will celebrate the leathery cherry fruit and cumulative Swartland savour.  Last tasted September 2018

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016, WO Swartland

As with the two chenin blanc Quartz and Granite introspections there too is a Mullineux terroir combing of Swartland soils through the lens of syrah, there by Iron and here through Schist. The style or rather the result is befitting the monikers because Schist is the tamer one of the two and it is interesting to note that the syrah “blend” as Andrea Mullineux calls it is more like Iron than this elegant one. A huge January heat wave could have led this into the raisin danger zone because ripening under the shotgun is no way to approach harvest. Cooler heads and temperatures prevailed to allow for an unfurling, a plumping and a perking up. Schist comes out regal, aromatically civil and demure, but also juicier than a nosing might indicate. Acid retention is strong, sweet and quite friendly to work in cohorts with the cane and Baleni based spice. Dark in complexion, yes brooding yet sneakily serene, salty and so comfortable in its own skin. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah Iron 2016, WO Swartland

The second of two Mullineux soil investigations for syrah is this dramatic and hematic nonpareil exemplar. Cultivar meets terroir, raised off of a heavy, gravelly clay, rich in iron, impressive and hallowed as antediluvian viticultural ground. That may not be completely Cape uncommon but this is clearly a paradigm shifter for drilled down South African syrah in attack meets beast mode, cimmerian, ferric and intense. Modish though, while inexorable character oozes from every pore and a mid-palate wells of extraordinary fill. Sharpens its wits on bullish tannin and expresses Northwest of Malmesbury iron with raw emotion and power, though without rusticity. What it may lack in elegance is made up by sheer force in reckoning, at first engaging and then gripping the palate by all means necessary. The velvet glove future lies somewhere in the next decade, likely latter first half. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2013, WO Elgin

Just a hint of evolution is showing in this five year-old pinot noir which is something because you had to work to find any in the just tasted 2009. The sweetest fruit comes from 2013, on of the riper, purest and most pristine vintages to express what Elgin has to offer. Ethereal actually, not loosely but effortlessly structured with a seamless bond forged between fruit and acids. Tannins are already subsiding in this elegant, balanced and slightly spiced pinot. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2011, WO Elgin

Such a composed vintage, cool, calm and collected. A Beaune Villages feel here, perhaps Aloxe-Corton with darker pinot noir fruit, almost black cherry but less obvious, more complex, full of baking spice. A genial and genteel Seven Flags nonetheless, elastic, pliable, amenable but not without undeniable and underlying composure. That backbone may bend with curvature ease but will not break. Provides the basis to see this Cluver from Elgin live easily up to and likely beyond its 12th birthday. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2009, WO Elgin

Harkens back to a time when the 1987 planted 113 clone was no longer the sole provider for the Seven Flags family after 115 and 667 had been planted in 2001. From 2009 it seems quite obvious the vintage was one to create big, robust, ripe and warm pinot noir. Even as it approaches its ninth birthday the evolution equation remains in early steps computation, perhaps just now moving to the next stage. Secondary development is still around the bend or on the next page, noted by the persistence of a cool climate, liquid but still grainy chalk. Also acts just a bit reductive which seems almost impossible but stranger things have happened out of South African vineyards. Just imagine the futuristic possibilities when these vines soon achieve heritage age. Remind me to ask Paul Cluver for a look at vintages from 2022 onward at Cape Wine 2039. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw, Porseleinberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

Poured by Callie Louw at Cape Wine 2018, this Riebeek Kasteel, Porcelain Mountain syrah somehow sits at a pantheon’s peak vintage after vintage, as if each one is a once in a lifetime effort. This must have been the epitome of such a consideration because Louw calls it “a fucking hard vintage, eh.” Strong talking words from the stoic and pragmatic BBQ smoker, winemaker and cricket master. Callie may have experienced a craftsman’s pain but the 70 per cent foudres and 30 concrete elévage not only tamed the savage beast, it helped to turn heads and remind of where greatness comes from. Tasted side by each with 2012 and 2013 only magnifies the massive structure in this ’16, a reductively bouncy, glycerin and impenetrable syrah in need of getting lost in the cellar. Will also need an epic song, “into the blue again, after the money’s gone.” Through the next decade and well into the following one this syrah will remain in light. “Same as it ever was.” Drink 2022-2040.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw’s smoker hard at work in Malmesbury

The Sadie Family Palladius 2014, WO Swartland

If you Google “South African white appellative blend” the number one result should surely be Eben Sadie’s Palladius and these are the 11 reasons why; chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. Eleven blocks, all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. If looking forward to the brilliant ’16 and seeing it as a wine of mixed tenses, then this ’14 speaks in the imperfect because it strikes as the one to talk about the past and to say what used to happen. As in language, love, war and the past continuous, all is fair when it comes to assessing the verticals of wine, especially in descriptions. The 2014 Palladius is the back to the future vintage, of warmth and spice when things were picked overripe and new beginnings are constantly forged. But the citrus preserve and sheer electric lemon-lime energy looks ahead to the intensity of a youthful 2016, leaving a taster confounded, satisfied and awake all at the same time. This may go forward before it retreats once again. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2009, WO Swartland

When talking about the 2009 vintage Eben Sadie talks of the decision to add sémillon, clairette blanche and palomino to his appellative white blend that already held chenin blanc, colmbard, grenache blanc and viognier. “To up the acidity,” aid and abet the tendencies of fleshy fruit to fatten in overripe behaviour. More than just acidity mind you, Sadie also looked to heighten the “acoustics” in a wine that was quickly becoming a major Swartland concern. Tasting this is September 2018 it can’t help but be noted how development and evolution have nearly caught up to 2005, a vintage cause and effect action no doubt. Here is the spiciest, sauciest and flat out nasty attitude Palladius, unabashed and already having done most of its living. That said the track record of these wines tells us to stay put, be patient and continue to relish the sapid, saline and ever-changing paths carved out. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Pofadder 2017, WO Swartland

Part of Eben Sadie and family’s “Die Ouwingerdreeks,” the old vine series and a reference to either or both puff adder snakes and the small “bushman’s land” town in the Northern Cape. Can be 100 per cent cinsault though the percentage is 85 in 2017, aged in old but not Jurassic wood. The ideal, epitome and exemplar bench-land varietal wine, not to mention a pioneer in the South African paradigm shift to conscious exultation of a plan in collective commitment for varietal, heritage vine and whole cluster ferments. From granite shales (not the decomposed kind) and yet another red fruit incarnate, freshest of the fresh precision wines. Pure Cape cinsault is this, with tannin but the kind that is sweet and stretched. No bullshit here. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Treinspoor 2017, WO Swartland

Afrikaans for “railroad,” perhaps a reference to the method of transportation that brought these European grapes to the Cape, depending on how far back tinta barocca arrived in the Swartland. In fact it was in the 1920’s and now just a bit more than 200 ha’s of this hardy, rustic, dark-skinned, early ripening and versatile red lay scattered about, accounting for two one hundredth’s of a per cent for vineyard area in South Africa. Sadie’s is a single-vineyard line running through the Darling side of Malmesbury, a cimmerian blackish red reeking of Renosterbos which is ironic because animal activists have always believed that the railroads threaten Rhino habitat. Digressions aside this is a prime example of why some might consider tinta barocca to be the future grape of Swartland. Sweetly floral and in 2017 both ways perfectly ripe. Botanicals abound, bosplante in bloom while flowers await the bees. Where this shares affinities with cinsault and grenache is in the curative and salumi aromas leading to sweet yet elastic tannins. The finish and length are expressly Swartland in nature. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Columella 2016, WO Swartland

Red counterpart to the Sadie white signature Palladius and residing in the upper echelon of Western Cape appellative blends. Ontario lays claim to the Stratus White and Red while the Cape knows these. Allowing for some levity there is a kinship to be considered between Eben Sadie and J-L Groulx, two of the more unlikely mad scientists able to capture the lit and woke disposition of mastered assemblage. Imagine Groulx also pouring varietal shots of many different farmed varieties from the back of his pick up truck during a lawn bowl in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full name is Columella Liberatus in Castro Bonae Spei, Latin for “liberated in the Cape of Good Hope” and as a pillar of strength Columella’s syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and tinta barroca ascend to dramatic expression. Variegated in every respect; hue, perfume, flavour and structure, at once layered and then stratified with doric strength, able to bear the most concentrated weight. Relative acidity, fluted or grooved, wider in youth to help support and lengthen. Intensely fortified with help from the barocca, naturally and of itself, intuitively wild yet controlled. Such a focused wine one rarely comes upon. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad 2017, WO Swartland

The “footpath” from both the Dutch (het Voedpad) and Afrikaans, also the name of Dirk Brand’s rooibos and wheat farm next to this oldest vineyard in the Kapteinskloof near Piketberg. Some say the oldest in South Africa, planted between 1920 an 1928, but others will say the first vines went in around the 1890’s through to the early 1900’s. Takes the Sadie Family “Die Ouwingerdreeks” to the farthest, most extreme reaches of the old vineyards idea. “The vines have seen it all,” tells Eben Sadie, “don’t fuck with us” is their message. “Don’t mess this up.” And so Eben co-ferments in an as is format but more importantly works at the agriculture to a point of obsession. Newer inter-plantings will go in, of sémillon, sémillon gris and palomino from massal selected material. To deal with drought cover crops will also be added between rows, all of course through an organic approach. The blend is sémillon, sémillon gris, palomino, chenin blanc and muscat d’Alexandrie, all processed together, but this is not about extreme winemaking. More like extreme farming, finding ways to keep these twisted kurktrekker and cavatappi bending vines alive for to produce their magic. The wine that emerges is all about tendencies and multiplicities of texture. The dry extract here is off the charts making it seem forcefully and fiercely tannic. Fantasy and zeitgeist just happens and the results are right there in the bottle. A remarkable wine and vintage from an isolated vineyard where drought is always a factor. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Abrie Bruwer, Springfield Estate

Springfield Estate Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne 2016, WO Robertson

Burgundian ode, ancient method of making chardonnay, a rare approach these days, with wild yeasts and no fining or filtration. No surprise that Springfield Estate is willing to give it a go because that’s how they roll. The plan is for deep longevity by a method akin to anti-aging serum, though 15 to 20 years would be astonishing in any case. Ground control to major tang, circuits wired tohu vavohu and a lemon custard to curd constitution that is simply merveilleux. Yes it is true that a hint of orange could turn into Cointreau after a half decade or more and the mid-palate cloud cover will continue to deliver warmth and appeal. Curious methodology plus romantic acumen equates to one of a kind. We’ll see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Break A Leg Blanc De Noirs 2017, WO Paarl

Often referred to as a pink wine but to choose this term to call Lukas van Loggerenberg’s 100 per cent cinsault grown on Helderberg granite would not tell the right story. Blanc de noirs is more apt but even then more detail is necessary to do it justice. Sees nine months of lees time, “to remove the tutti frutti,” snarks van Loggerenberg, without jest but can you really know when he’s being serious? Leaves the arena of the Rosé absurd and settles at a hue of proper B de N colour, as if that really matters. Saltiness is the thing, the granite kind, the sort to set your eyes ablaze and your heart to rest. Not really a wine about texture, though there is plenty, but that’s not the goal. Anything but sweet and a wresting away from norms into a matter of reckoning. And all about five knee surgeries, something the winemaker and the critic know all about. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Chenin Blanc Trust Your Gut 2017, WO Western Cape

While there are wines in Lukas van Loggerenberg’s world that travel down the kamikaze viaduct, Trust Your Gut is not one of them. In fact there is a normalcy, a recognizable structure and an older Euro soul to the way this chenin blanc acts and feels. Sees 10 months sur lie in old French oak but no bâttonage, nor malo neither. Three zones bring the fruit; 45 per cent each Stellenbosch and Swartland plus 10 from Paarl. Take chenin blanc and treat it like a Villages wine by imagining Loire aromatics merging with Chablis texture. This my friends is a classic example of amalgamated Western Cape chenin style. There is irony in the name and no shocker there. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Early springtime in Cape Town

Van Loggerenberg Wines Cinsault Geronimo 2017, WO Western Cape

Geronimo is 100 per cent cinsault, 60 per cent from Stellenbosch and 40 “Break a Leg” Paarl. The get together finds energy that one without the other would not find “because cinsault doesn’t have high natural acidity,” explains Lukas van Loggerenberg, “it is a very good indicator of vintage.” The 2017 is, wait for it, 80 per cent whole bunch and while that is a factor of the Western Cape’s ripen anything, anywhere, anytime great advantage, it’s still an impressive strategy no matter where you are making wine. Spends nine months in barrel and comes out smelling like roses, candied petals mainly but other florals, hibiscus and such. A handsome cinsault to be sure and one that will take precious time to unwind, great acidity or not. Like the red Cape equivalent of white friulano in Collio, sneaky long and structured. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Cabernet Franc Breton 2017, WO Stellenbosch

A more than obvious ode to the Loire Valley, 100 per cent cabernet franc bearing the old world varietal name. Fruit drawn from Stellenbosch’s decomposed granite soils gets the 60 per cent whole bunch treatment, followed by 11 months in barrel. Transparent as cabernet franc is the understatement, open wide, ease of alcohol at 12.8 per cent and in delivery for the rapture of being alive. Lots of verdant tones but nary a green tannic moment. Seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship so the future too is wide open. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Sheree Nothnagel

Wildehurst Velo White 2016, WO Swartland

A testament to non-pareil, Cape appellative white blend equanimity, of colombard, grenache blanc and viognier, 33 of each, give or take one per cent. Only the viognier is barrel fermented though the equilibrium os never compromised. Intensely herbal, of a nose uncanny in its fynbos reek, lovely glycerin texture, again balanced and knowing the place it wants to be. Acid structure travels though in a pas trop travaillé, no trouble way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

Barrel fermented and six months matured, 100 per cent chenin blanc, acting as if freshly spiced and in Cape terms, a really chewy white wine. Counterbalanced by a leanness in vintage while wound tight, just now perhaps beginning to unwind in repeat of its specific refrain. Acid structure makes up the lyrical couplets, sung again and again, as a reminder that fruit and wood will always align and submit to the citrus rhyme. Almost feels like still perlage and chenin blanc like this is very much a string of pearls, inclusive of tannins in long chains. Helps to explain the success of Wildehurst’s Méthode Cap Classique. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Red 2014, WO Swartland

A blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and cinsault, aged in old French barrels for 18 months. Like the solo cinsault but an even more held back and hard to crack the savoury and sweet candied shell. Both elements emerge with good agitation, first the sweet variegate of red fruit and then the brushy and dusty fynbos bushiness, here acting as an energizer for equal opportunity. Spills over with that Wildehurst acid-tannin continuum as all the wines take their time to ready, pivot in the glass and then speak of their age ability going forward. Big bursts are all power and no cake. Rich yet elastic and surely capable of going deep. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Cinsault 2017, WO Swartland

Just two barrels were found to be extraordinary and thus pulled by Sheree Nothnagel, away from the red blend and into this solo album. Quite the richly emulsified and ropey red fruit cinsault and while it follows along the varietal Swartland thread the differences are as great as they are to the party’s similarities. That is due in respect to the Wildehurst style, tighter and more acid-structure intense, higher-toned and less in the meaty-salumi-curative vein. Still possessive of that red as red can be fruit but here more akin to barbera or sangiovese from high altitudes and limestone soils. There must be something about Koringberg and the other Swartland sites that bring a special je ne sais quoi to Joanne Hurst’s wines. Maybe in thanks to Swartland shale, granite, silcrete and alluvium Renosterveld. Who does not love the smell of Renosterveld in the morning? Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018

The Wine Thief Costa Del Swart Viura 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg

From the Western Cape’s chameleon of a region where anything goes and all things are considered. Case in point this viura of Spanish roots as part of the single barrel series. Surely Swartland specific (as opposed to Paarl), 100 per cent viura and only 180 bottles produced. Less alchemy and more herbology, but flinty, sharp and exciting. Direct, full of fun and even a bit waxy, with a riesling or sémillon feel that can only mean some petrol in its future. So much citrus gets ya in the end. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

There are times when you do it just for the continuity because time marches on, no matter the circumstances. There is no disputing how different 2020 was and frankly the flip to 2021 will not bring about significant change or any semblance of a return to what was, at least not in the first several months. Yet the compelling urge is there, to quantify and qualify this annual Godello list of wines that opened, expanded and blew a mind in 2020. The concept for a year-end summation was launched in 2012 though it was the publishing of 14 in 2014 that made it very official, if only in the mind of one Godello. Matters little whether this qualifies as the seventh or the ninth because in wine one should always eschew semantics for the liquid truth found inside the bottle, elixirs they are of most profound, ethereal and honest propriety.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

This will be a much different list than ever before. While I did manage to squeeze in 25 days of travel in the first 56 of 2020 those were the last of this calendar year. That’s at least 75 short of my normal yearly schedule and so imagine that if an average of 30 wines are tasted each and every day on the road, well then that would tell us that at the very minimum 2,250 wines were missed this year. Not entirely true because at least half that many, if not 75 per cent more were made available to me and my WineAlign colleagues over these past nine month of quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing tastings. Still the make-up of what was tasted has been very different, the most notable being the lack of unrepresented or not found in market wines. Less discovery in 2020 to be sure.

Campo Spritz

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

According to my personal critic’s database on WineAlign I reviewed 4,450 wines in 2020, keeping in mind that many of those reviews were for wines tasted in 2019. Up until this year I was consistently behind or back-logged with hundreds if not more than a thousand tasting notes in the queue, unedited, unresolved, not yet reconciled, unfinished, not-posted. Since the global pandemic abruptly delivered me home in the dead of a late February night from Faenza to Firenze, through Frankfurt and to Pearson I have not been able to resume travel. These last 10 months have allowed for a massive catching up. There are now a thousand less wines to finesse and publish then there were this time last year, very few raw and rustic songs waiting for the editing process. All the choices on this 2020 list have been solidified and already been opined with confidence for the world to scrutinize. In 2020 there is nothing left on the table.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Slipped outta Dodge under the cover of darkness…

This year’s list is indeed different. The get togethers were few and far between. The travel non-existent. That is why you will recognize more producer names and also a more “archetypal” bent to the choices. The year dictates such a direction and as we all know, you have to listen to what the vintage tells you but also to remember and thank the true pioneers for getting all of us here. Perhaps the greatest influence on how this composition came to be was a conscious choice to omit the older vintages tasted in 2020. There were less to be sure but it just feels like keeping them kind of secretive is the way to go. Let’s hope a connection to that part of this exercise will make a return in 2021. As always, heartfelt thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, so please be encouraged and read on. Alas, Godello’s 20 mind-blowing wines of 2020.

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (23128, $17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Gets me every time. Not just one of the finest meets best value chenin blancs available out of South Africa but an example to hang all your hats on no matter where white wine comes from in this world. Still the knowing nod and incredulous head shake that $18 CDN can buy you fruit from six blocks that are mainly 38 years of age but could possibly include 1974 Helderberg planted vines in Stellenbosch. “Core of the business” and arrow through a chenin heart. Great ferment, like a (catherine) wheel. Layers of design, creamy with thanks to secondary lees aging but somehow still texturally chewy. Barrel notes make a point in a vanilla brûlée way and yet each sip is like taking a bite from a piece of firm, ripe fruit. “I need more texture. You need to give me more texture, texture, texture. You need to give me more texture.” Old Vine Reserve obliges every time. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Selbach Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2018, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (17498, $45.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

The triad of producer, appellation and vineyard gets no more arch classic than this with a riesling in Spätlese form at the hands of Selbach-Oster. The pitch and sway in this Wehlener Sonnenuhr vinyeard is 2018 dance card perfect, tight and fluid. Succulent acids are burgeoning and urging the fruit forward, sideways and every which way but loose. This is a wine that gets what needs and gives what is wanted. Will only improve with a few years and then there will come a day when an air or vapour trail falls away. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2020

Tyrrell’s Belford Sémillon 2017, Single Vineyard, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, South Australia (14322, $46.95, Select Wine Merchants)

Belford Vineyard (formerly Elliot Farm) is Hunter Valley leader Tyrrell’s single-vineyard leased sémillon with so much promise in its corner. A top varietal vintage for one thing and the well-draining sandy soils for another. Sémillon thrives in these conditions and so what comes from this awe-inspiring wine is exactly what you possibly wish for when selecting from Hunter Valley. This wine is swiftly, justly and perpetually lit, a smoky, paraffin waxy, über salty, elemental, aerified, verified mineral wine. So focused and precise. Mon dieu, Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Fresne Ducret La Grande Hermine Champagne Premier Cru 2008, AC Champagne, France ($78.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Hard to believe the age because while this almost certainly achieved an immediately retro toasted and evolved stage in its youth and though 12 years have passed the present day imaginings are dreamed to persist within that very immediate stage. As creamy as it is toasty, the textural body politic in La Grande Hermine is one of great cerebral and figurative impression. You feel, intuit and embrace such honesty and possibility. Drink this vintage dated Champagne all winter long. Its calming presence will preserve you in a state of grace lower than a snowman’s blood pressure. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2020

El Esteco

El Esteco 1947 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (15082, $24.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

From Argentina’s northern desert where some of the country’s oldest vines perpetuate existence while thriving fiercely in a hot climate. So yes it is true that some fruit from 70-plus year old vines, well trees really, make their way into this special Salta wine. Dense and concentrated, Cassis times 10, savoury and truly expressive. Oak is well-managed, not shy mind you but these old vines deserve some added and fortifying structure. Do not miss this. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted August 2020

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $160.00, Escalade Wines & Spirits)

Though essentially a cabernet sauvignon at minimum 90 per cent, it would normally need saying to never discount the blending attributes of cabernet franc, merlot and in recent years, petit verdot. The nooks and crannies filled by the other grape varieties are some of the senses of wonder that have illuminated and elucidated the magic of Don Melchor. And yet years of such thought is turned on its head in 2017 with a 98 per cent pure cabernet sauvignon Don Melchor and only two bits of cabernet franc. Speaks to winemaker Enrique Tirado’s vision of the varietal and vintage relationship. After all, this is his baby, a passion project that spans 20 vintages, from which he looks to “harvest the beauty of the balance of the Puente Alto terroir.” From Viñedo Don Melchor, D.O. Puente Alto and Valle del Alto Maipo, old vines planted 1979 to 1992, new from 2004-2013. The vintage was above average in terms of warmth, cooler temperatures at harvest preserved acidities and sealed the (near) mono-varietal deal. At 30 years into its tenure Don Melchor hits a new stride and it would be hard to argue against the levels of subtle, demure, balanced and ethereal in this 2017. Perfect fruit? Pretty darn close and a bouquet of fresh picked flower-herb-fruit that merge, meld and grace together. One for this age and to age gracefully, slowly and predictably for 20-25 years. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted October 2020

Taub Family Vineyards Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Napa Valley, California (849434, $235.00, Dionysus Wines & Spirits Ltd.)

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family has been prominently part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The 2017 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon are a very special lot. That much we know. Add in the pedigree, torch passing and respect for these necessary tenets of wine-producing business and well, hello. Utmost attention to detail, optimum extraction and concentration, sultry, supple and ultimately divine. There is this fine, fine, almost indescribable salty vein that cuts through the fruit and the fat like perfect umami seasoning in the most decadent dish. With meat or seafood, California or Japan, take your pick. Drink this either way. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $59.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Even though the ’18 HR PN took my breath away nine months ago, the not yet understood nuance of this wine surely clouded first impressions. However small a sample size this may be is more than enough to prove time’s effect on wine, pinot noir and Hamilton Russell’s spiritual connection with the grape and how it personifies the Hemel En Aarde Valley. Fragrance, perfume, essential oils, Lilac, Lilly of the Valley and the sweetest tobacco smoulder. Captivating now and quite likely will be so into the mid 30s.  Last tasted August 2020

There have been many Hamilton Russell pinot noir poured in my anxiously awaiting glasses over the last five years. It’s hard to believe we are here at 2018 but time is a joy when you are having a noirmance. The fruit is exceptional in this vintage because it just feels like the warm day/cool night fix is in. The diurnal flux has locked in freshness and sweet tension like no recent memory can recall. Makes for a most grippy yet excitable pinot noir of concentration, presence and promise. Benchmark in every respect. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted November 2019

That Marco Cirese Sangiovese stare. His Noelia Ricci and Pandolfo are crucial, fundamental and illustrative of what is possible in Emilia-Romagna. #sangiovesediromagna #viniadarte #viniadarte2020

Noelia Ricci Pandolfa Romagna Sangiovese Predappio DOC Godenza 2018, Emilia Romagna, Italy (The Vine Agency)

Godenza was the name of the podere (house) on site at a one hectare vineyard at 340m, the highest section of Ricci’s land. The introduction of concrete tanks is surely responsible (in part) to the freshness and reduction but also poor, well-draining calcareous soils that complete a relationship with open-knit and fragrant red fruit. Adds up to complexities and beauty, not to mention the hands-off, unadulterated feel of this wine. At the top end of quality and elaborate expression for the appellation. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted twice at Vini Ad Arte, Casa Spadoni, Faenza February 2020

Because he’s Dario F-in Faccin, that’s why g-dammit! #carobbio #sangiovese #chianticlassico #panzano #galestro

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($33.60, Alta Wines)

Stop in here for a rest and exult in the near perfect grace, charm and collective soul in the heart of an Annata. To say that the Novarese family and Dario Faccin should feel the greatest sangiovese reward from this appellation would be a grand understatement. This version of Panzano and Chainti Classico DOCG is what it is, what it can and must be. Should be. Has to be. Richly glorious and confidently understated. The cleanest sangiovese and the one that speaks most succinctly of the land. These are the reasons why Carobbio is the most underrated, but for how long? This ’16 will see proof to that and so much more. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted February 2020

With the brothers Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

Now to introduce you to the Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli brothers, Alessandro and Andrea, two men who covet, own and articulate their western wing of Castelnuovo terroir. As custodians of these classic southern Chianti Classico Alberese and Galestro vineyards they have come to understand their nuance and their specialities. So, Riserva from 2015 now comes to its beginning having needed every bit of the extra two years in bottle it has received. Yes this Geggiano ’15 Riserva still needs time and if you abide by the premise it will come alive, surmise and in turn, surprise. In fact it will make a lasting impression and stay with you forever. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Stem Wine Group)

The acumen, wisdom and also the persistent reduction are formidable in this incredibly concentrated wine. So Monsanto, so in delivery of San Donato in Poggio, so Laura Bianchi. Seemingly equipped with the needed stuffing in the way that 1968 managed to accrue over 50 years of travels. Here in Gran Selezione form the tendencies and the abilities are multiplied tenfold. Magnificent and magnanimous, the concentration is foiled by focus and precision, from all that has come before, moving into the present and then going forward with everything that occupies, in hopes and dreams. Drink 2025-2037.  Tasted February 2020

Vineyard at Salicutti

Podere Salicutti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Sorgente 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Organic, biodynamic and unfiltered, from the then first in Montalcino, at the hands of Francesco Leanza, in 1995. Now (and since 2015) in the custodial hands of Felix and Sabine Eichbauer, halfway between Montalcino and Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The last of the cru, single-vineyards planted at Salicutti and not surprisingly the one with most red fruity juiciness that keeps a lineage with the Rosso. If a portal into knowing what it makes to taste the bright side of 2015 could be described then why not make use of this ethereal Sorgente to learn of such things. Voltage, tension and vibration. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Francesco Ripaccioli

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Casaccia 2016, Tuscany, Italy (Le Sommelier Inc.)

Barrel Sample. Now this is something exceptional. This is what Casaccia is obviously capable of producing, The sweetest Canalicchio fruit of all, to date and with a rising low and slow angling of acidity (as opposed to straight verticality) that carries the fruit to great heights. This will be a triumph and in fact it is already tasting like a piece de Canalicchio resistance while it sings a long maestro song. A soloist that needs no accompaniment although food, company and peace would not hurt at all. Obviously this is more than just the northern side of Montalcino and more than Canalicchio. This is Casaccia. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted February 2020

Lorenzo Magnelli, Le Chiuse

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2013, Tuscany, Italy

The ’13 will be released on January 1st, 2023 and as the name Diecianni suggests it is a Riserva that 10 years minimum are needed before readiness begins to take shape. The selection is from the smallest grape clusters in estate vineyards and mainly the oldest vines, originally planted in 1987. The vintage of the great polyphonic-phenolic, elastic and stretched ripeness, by photosynthesis without heat, of muscles with energy and ones that will develop, remain and use their power to keep the fruit alive. That said it’s a wine of wood and the highest level of salinity, sapidity and a tang that is exhibited by no other Brunello di Montalcino. A concentration that is simply outstanding and in some minds, will even be eclipsed (or not) by 2016. The finesse and architecture of this wine are as good as it gets. Drink 2026-2042.  Tasted February 2020

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Roero Riserva DOCG Castelletto 2015, Piedmont, Italy ($59.95)

From Canale vines 50 years old and the most historical vineyard for Malabaila, as documents show. Riserva here means two years in two, three and four year-old barrels. Yet another silky Roero and example of nebbiolo that could not have been born anywhere else. The “little castle” is a charming nebbiolo, fine of all its constructive parts with an ease of sensuality that just shows how confident, casual and natural life as it is just happens to be. Castelletto knows what it is. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted January 2020

Elena Sottimano

Sottimano Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($103.95, Le Maitre de Chai)

Basarin in the newest Cru for Sottimano, established in 2014 though the vines are already between 45-50 years old. Released just at the start of 2020 and already displaying a prominence in aromatics that speak to this exceptional nook just below Neive. From a vintage blessed for its place in history matched by a requiem for a dream. Crunchy for nebbiolo surely caused by the policy of classically long Piedmontese maceration, drawing fruit with gentle impunity and long-grained tannins in thrushes and intermingling chains. Pure dark fruit (almost raspberry) and a generous application of wood varnish. Architecture, length and character, all together. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted January 2020

With Francesca Vaira

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco Delle Viole 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($113.95, Groupe Soleil)

The thing of Bricco delle Viole that is beauty emits with gala fruit force into the canals of the layers. Bricco dell Viole the singular Barolo cru, from which fruit, texture and extension are consistently planned out, mapped and organized. So wound, so found and following a path that runs along a line along a circle. Slow unwind and unfolding coming, culminating in developed notes, to be far away, somewhere between then and then. Too soon to tell. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted January 2020

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2017, South Australia, Australia (12016, $150.00, Mark Anthony Group)

Another old friend, St. Henri, once a wine for a special occasion, now one for all times. No, not a baby Grange but to me this is to Penfolds as Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus is to Maison Bouchard Père & Fils. Not that there is any resemblance to pinot noir save for the fact that in terms of shiraz, St. Henri is the elegant or if you will, the Burgundian one. Penfolds like to refer to Henri as “an intriguing counterpoint to Grange,” and that seems right in the sense that power and optimum concentration are never the point. It is a multi-regional blend, from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley and Port Lincoln. There is no new wood exercised; it spends 12 months in 50-plus year old vats. Distinct style, unique pedigree and alternative execution. Adds up to intrigue, enigma and mystery, which is just what an iconic and signature counterpoint should do. Acidity and structure are tops, bar none. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2018, Douro Valley, Portugal (12076, $160.00, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

The third consecutively declared Vintage Port by Taylor is one of 18’s most powerfully restrained. Taylor describes their 2018 from a “year (that) seems to have given it an additional layer of density and weight.” Apropos it needs saying because texture this viscous is clearly vintage driven. After record aridity in 2017 it was a wet March that was welcomed with open arms and water tables but the rain kept up and so mildew became the challenge. Worse was damage from hailstorms in the Pinhão area, including Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta do Junco. But the heat came and on August 3rd at Quinta de Vargellas they recorded a temperature of just over 44°C. Ripening happened in a shorter and more concentrated window, a good thing in the world of VP, as witnessed by the no holes, all in, singular in vision and style Taylor 2018. Not the gangster power surge of some others mind you and the violets give little aromatic space to fruit nor perfume that tries to steal the spotlight. These are remarkable tannins and it could be periods of ages and epochs before this begins to move into complexities secondary and tertiary. If I were as young as I think you are I’d invest in this Taylor for the next 30-plus years of evolution. Drink 2027-2044.  Tasted November 2020

Good to go!

godello

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WineAlign

Please reach out to California and a Mondavi retrospective at To Kalon

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Update: As much as 900,000 further acres have been lost to fire since September 14th and because of the recent Glass Fire there have been many evacuation orders for parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. As of today nearly 66,000 acres have burned. Three fires had merged, resulting in one big fire initially threatening Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. Thank goodness the containment has now reached 30 per cent but there is still a long way to go. The road to recovery will be even longer so please consider donating to help all the families, businesses and first responders.

Related – California Update: Napa Valley

The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund and Sonoma County Resilience Fund

Provides gift cards to evacuees and emergency relief services to those affected by the fire, including temporary shelter, meals, counselling and assistance in navigating insurance claims.

Wine Country Fire Relief Fundraiser

A gofundme campaign, launched by five wine industry marketing professionals, focuses on direct relief for farmworkers (a vital part of the wine industry’s fabric) affected by the Glass Fire Incident in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

California Wildfire Relief

Supports firefighters, low income families and animals that are suffering due to wildfires. It helps provide emergency supplies including food, water and medicine.

Latino Community Foundation

Distributes contributions to Latino-led organizations that are helping families displaced by wildfires across the state.

Women’s Foundation California Relief and Resilience Fund

Funding goes to every domestic violence shelter in the state to help care for survivors who are unhoused or feel unsafe.

Thank you to Karen MacNeil for her update and for sharing these words from Linda Reiff, President of Napa Valley Vintners:

“We are deeply grateful for the tremendous care from around the world, and for the hard work and dedication of fire fighters, first responders and volunteers who are here from near and far to help us.  At our core, we are a strong, agricultural community where grapes have been grown and wines made for more than 150 years. The Napa Valley is still here, our community spirit is fierce, we will get through and beyond this.”

We’re worried about all of you in northern California. Please stay safe.

Recalling simpler times

My last visit to To Kalon Vineyard was three and a half years ago, Oakville site of that consequential plottage, koan of sorts, most excellent agglomerate of soil, vine and canopy. To Kalon functions as an enigmatic invitation to rethink the meaning of wine, so speaking of The Robert Mondavi Winery and Arterra Wines Canada, enlightened educator Mark de Vere MW will soon be moderating a virtual tasting with Constellation Brands winemakers Thomas Rivers Brown and Carol Shrader. In a couple of weeks time, on Friday, October 9 at 1:00 pm (EST). I will be participating and tasting 2017 and 2018 Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon. The plan will be to explore the vast diversity and fine quality of the Oakville terroir and To Kalon Vineyard. Which brings me back to May of 2017 and a week spent in Napa Valley completing the Robert Mondavi Winery To Kalon Vineyard certification program.

There were cellar tastings, Chef Jeff Mosher prepared dinners, hot air balloon flights, vineyard cycling tours, UC Davis research investigations and most enriching seminars led by Director of Wine Education De Vere and winemaker Geneviève Janssens. Inside The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Copia, Napa classrooms the sessions taught included west coast, global and To Kalon examples of cabernet sauvignon. The Napa Valley panelist apprised cabernet sauvignon flights were filled with archetypes, icons and Mondavi retrospectives. Rarely does one get to go at so many learning tools and experiential gifts of history through such an array of high quality varietal wines. De Vere made a request by asking everyone to dig deep, do some soul searching and get to the bottom of the new versus old world paradigm. “Let’s get an unbiased impression of what the differences are and what might make them different. California has reliably dry summers but much more day/night diurnal temperature fluctuations. Bordeaux stays warm at night and thus differing ripening patters. Napa significantly more sunshine hours but not necessarily more total heat.”

Related – En route to Mondavi

#tokalon

Then the vineyard’s prodigy spoke. Graeme MacDonald’s experience and published work have by now made him THE historian of Napa Valley’s famed To Kalon Vineyard area near Oakville. MacDonald is a To Kalon farmer who has written a history of the famed grape growing area for the Historic American Landscapes Survey. His work is part of the Library of Congress. The vineyard was started in 1868 by Hamilton W. Crabb, an innovator in wine marketing and vineyard techniques while today the Robert Mondavi Winery, University of California Davis and Andy Beckstoffer control most of its land. For McDonald To Kalon is simply a place entwined with his family’s history. 

Start raising a child 100 years before they are born because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into. #tokalon #graememacdonald #tokalon2017 #tokalonvineyard

“It was really for me a great way to document the history for our children. I want to leave something that explains why I am so passionate about it,” MacDonald said. “Start raising a child 100 years before their birth because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into.” The Wappo people called it “Tu-ia-halusi, or ”beautiful land” to describe the upper Napa Valley. The name To Kalon is Greek for “highest beauty,” or the “highest good,” as per H.W. Crabb in 1889.   “I try to make it mean the boss vineyard,” says McDonald. Also a pivotal part in Aristotle and the most important (and first) wine poured in the time of Jesus. This from the most important winemaker in the history of Napa. It took 100 years after it was predicted by Crabb but that is when Graeme’s grandfather committed to Cabernet Sauvignon (circa 1978). The family wines were labeled under the name Detert Vineyards.

Flight #1

Global Styles

Château D’Issan 2013, AC Margaux, Bordeaux, France (511469, $114.00, WineAlign)

Tasted blind in Napa, the first impression is Chile due to the capsicum bite and wood that expresses as savour and piquancy. Herbal with currants and tobacco. Impressive smoky wood integration overtop gamey, Bretty, animale character which talks a Bordeaux vernacular. Fruit is subtle, restrained and waits for the finish. It’s Bordeaux, or course. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2017

#metaphysicalmonday #cliffmay #thenostalgiaoftheinfinite #dichirico #campanile #missionstyle

Concha Y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Terrunyo Las Terrazas Block, Andes Pirque Vineyard 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile (562918, $29.95, WineAlign, Escalade Wines)

Now a slight demure, dusty but cool, minty, creosote and graphite, like Coonawarra perhaps. Some granite soil funk so could also be South Africa and yet there is this very high acidity and eucalyptus. The aesthetic is more about fruit than tannic structure. Some carménère in here likely – the smoky edge would say so. It’s Chile because the herbs and black currants dominate so clearly from a warm part, i.e. Maipo. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2016

Big floral vintage for the single-vineyard Terrunyo cabernet, rich, lush and hedonism defined. The varietal stands out in the vintage with the heavy lean to fresh flowers, along with the waves of alternating blackberry and Cassis. The alcohol and the weight are certainly formidable but the aromatics and fruit heavy tonality keeps up with the heat. Big boned and barrel conscious, this CyT is a big wine for a modest price. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Mark de Vere MW

Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon Gigglepot 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (SAQ 12449825, $54.00, Breakthru Bev Canada)

Ripe, high acidity, elevated tones and dark fruit. More like Argentina here and the palate also suggests Bordeaux but it’s too ripe. The high acid, metafictional mochafication and extreme ripeness puts my guess in McLaren Vale but also because of the richness and ripeness. Some dark red fruit is exceptional, part dried, with liquorice, both red and black. Really lovely wine, juicy, with a high level of fruit from some great vineyards. A genuine product of Sarah and Sparky Marquis from which 16 per cent alcohol is pulled off with remarkable ease, with thanks to tannic structure and extract. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Me and Mondavi

Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon Three Pines 2013, Jonkershoek Valley, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (288316, $28.85, Vonterra)

This seems the most Californian but Alexander Valley in its current of currant and savour. Tastes like Clos du Bois, but we’re now in South Africa. Quite anti-reductive, little to do with granite, funky soil and rubber tree plants, but it hints at all this from Stellenbosch. like juicing liquorice, bokser and umeboshi plum mixed into Ribena for a juicy cocktail. This may be closer to Cali than the rest because of the supple triumvirate of fruit-acid-tannin for structure. Terrific representation from the Jonkershoek Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Flight #2

West Coast California

Justin Vineyards Isosceles 2015, Paso Robles, California (684282, $136.95, The Vine Agency)

Quite the Cassis richness and genteel nature, ripe but of a humble extraction with a distinct garrigue note. Very Napa-ilke though there is a high love of acidity. Tasted blind you might think it could very well be a Mondavi but it’s too jammy and there is a plethora of red fruit purée,. That it turns out to be from Paso Robles is a perfect example to show that further south can translate to a warmer climate… but not always. Cool nights are adding their own extreme example of diurnal temperature swings so that 16.0 per cent alcohol, coulis and acidity can coexist. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Chef Jeff Mosher’s Fresh Spring Pea Risotto at Mondavi

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains (89284, $86.95, Rogers and Company)

Quite savoury with Mediterranean accents, black olive and brine, cool and minty, seemingly accented with American oak. A cloudy moments suggests Alexander Valley, but clarity wins so better still Santa Cruz Mountains. So is this a Ridge? Elegant cabernet sauvignon, 75 per cent with merlot and bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Positioned to an ocean proximity overhanging Monterey Bay and above most of the fog so the growing climate is its own. Keeps sugar and alcohol down for a cool and elegant expression. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

From the next arid vintage with more immunity always gifted by the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir so that Ridge can do what they want and what is needed. Three-quarters cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent merlot and quick Pollockian slashes of petit verdot and cabernet franc meet in the studio to create and complete the piece. There is more acidity and tension on the nose than noted in 2012, with red currants and black fruit swirling in coulis centrifuge to distract from what wants to grip and tear you away. The purity and cool texture of a Ridge cabernet is unlike any other; it stretches this way and that, never breaking, tearing or shearing but not because is has been patched, quilted or restored. It was always this way and will stay so for 15 to 20 years. Tannins are fine and support what happens, in any way they are asked to do. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2017

Tacos at Morimoto

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County ($80.00)

A bit of demure, lots of black fruit and a note or orange rind. Again terrific acidity, and tart, crisp, chocolate edging. Sensing a combination of oaks in that chemistry effect when merging into the fruit of Alexander Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, (255513, $44.95)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February and June 2016, May 2017

Bob Swanson of #napavalleyballoons is the man. Slice through butter flight over the Sacramento Valley to 1000 ft, #splashanddash in Putah Creek and a smooth, exacting landing on a dime on the back of a flatbed.

Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Drawn from Seven Hills’ founding blocks, planted by winemaker Casey McClellan and his father in the early 1980s. Very ripe, rich and unctuous aromatics, also floral, big tannic structure, candied complexion with mint chocolate candy cane and yet its aridity dominates the back side. Continental climate with maritime overtones in a Walla Walla cabernet under the influence of the rain shadow. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #3

Napa Rocks

Inherit The Sheep Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coombsville AVA

Inherit The Sheep, a multi-play on words, launching point “the meek shall inherit the earth,” followed by “the farmers shall inherit the sheep” and prophesied as Clay and Tersilla Gregory may never inherit anything else in their lives. As for cabernet sauvignon, Coombsville just seems to be a natural extension from the concept of Napa Rocks. As Mondavi’s Mark de Vere made sure to point out, “the reputation of Napa comes form the quality of the wine made here, not the quantity.” About 150 million years ago a domino of events began to occur…ocean plate under the continental plate….volcanic influence and marine rock. A mish-mash, super geological group of alloy musicians. Coomsville gets it too, exemplified by this rich, highly perfumed aromatic cabernet, soil a major factor in the duality of tart meets tang, some dried herbs and dusty, chalky tannins. As a memory, Clay Gregory used to be a GM at Mondavi. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2017

The meek shall? Focused alternative #napavalley AVA expression #tokalon2017 #coombsville

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (731810, $76.75, Mondia Alliance)

Deeper, higher tonality and lifted though it’s from liqueur and not acidity necessarily. So much chocolate, perhaps dominant by American oak but also a comestible layering and pressing that comes by ripe and concentrated fruit out of Stags Leap District. East side of the valley, volcanic and alluvial, so perhaps the place and its victuals speak loudest, dark chocolate and red cherry, quite chewy and with middle palate tannin, focused and lined. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon (West To Kalon Vineyard) 2013, Napa Valley

Very juicy, acidity driven, extraction and high level tonality. A fineness discerned with immediate notice, layer upon layer of distinction and elegance. Tasting blind it could be the Mondavi Reserve, acidity is very present balanced by plush fruit ripeness, blacker than red, slightly savoury and so Oakville. Turns out it is west To Kalon Vineyard though not labeled as such. For Graeme McDonald “it tastes like home.” Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

With Sara d’Amato

Tres Sabores Cabernet Sauvignon Perspective 2013, Rutherford

The jam is in, a bit to the right of ripeness and so a left leaning structure. Already noting some balsamic, soy and even a faint tick of truffle, not quite raisin but there is an indication it’s beginning is around the corner. Tthe palate brings more energy but this lacks balance because the fruit is overripe. Three flavours. Rutherford Bench fruit. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Cade Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley (325027, $206.95, The Vine Agency)

Classic next level Napa Valley depth, structure and intendment. Full on welling sunken weight, oak very much apart of every moment but not overly spiced. Through that big oak bent there is something akin or at least draws memories to Atlas Mountain. Incredibly ripe with aggressive, thick, needing 10 years to devolve tannins. Could be Atlas but is in fact Howell Mountain, one of the eastern AVAs from which mountain fruit delivers more intensity of tannin. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #4

Oakville

Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley
From Linda Neal, long-time vineyard manager who purchased the Oakville property in 1987. A distinctly perfumed-floral cabernet sauvignon, of violets, but also a dusty, silty-salty mineral aroma. Terrific acidity, just terrific, the type of tart intensity that causes anticipatory salivation. Reminds of cabs off of Terra Rossa soil, a.k.a. Coonawarra but also the Panzano terroir of Carobbio. Geologically it’s volcanic in origin, off of a hillside vineyard. Intense and offering a fully focused commitment straight through the finish. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.95, The Vine Agency)

Richness but reserved, demure, unhurried in a calm state. More of an exotic perfume, jasmine and bougainvillea, still some salty grit and certainly mineral but fuller, with an ooze of dark chocolate and body politic by firmness and tannin. Beneficial bitters on the finish. It’s way, way too young to fully appreciate. Special fruit is saved for this next level cabernet sauvignon from its very own patch of free-draining alluvial soil. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Geneviève Janssens and Mark De Vere MW

Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley (39388, $29.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

An annual parade of quality comes from Franciscan with this Napa Valley cabernet, a wine that is quietly commercial and respectfully true to its roots. It’s quite chalky and the tannic grain is truly in focus while the fruit speaks with premium ability, certainly sheathed by Americanized vanilla oak. Savoury to a point but still quite naked truthful about fruit in its ripe clothing. Always well made and at its best in 2014. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted October 2017

Even more reserve and also into reductive, with darkest fruit, Cassis, carob and graphite. So much chocolate, dark, bitter and high in cocoa. Coating tannin, present and demanding, a bit west. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Huh. A day after tasting these #tokalon wines #tokalon2017

Nickel & Nickel John C Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.99, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Dark cherry and Cassis oscillate in waves, punishing the shores of first prefacing perfume and then recursing acidity. A distinct profile that speaks so similarly to a Mondavi To Kalon but in Oakville…it’s hard to know, distinguish and be certain but so tempting to hedge guessing bets on origins. Such fineness, dramatic acidity and persistence, so not surprising it’s just across the road (Hwy 29). A very special tract of terroir in its own right this John C. Sullenger Vineyard. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley (29207, $59.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Oakville’s rich Cassis and mocha swirl welcomes wood and baking spice, then floral meets herbaceous Freesia. As a Mondavi cabernet, Oakville sits high up on the sapid meets tart scale and is expressly long. The palate really suggests older world Bordeaux but it’s almost too ripe, chalky, chocolate ganache rich, especially at the finish. A touch of Brett brings me back to structure and old world but there is an equal and opposing fruit-tannin seamlessness and smoothness. Its fineness of acidity means that it ends up balanced. Markedly correct, intense and proprietary for 2013. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017 and February 2018

Flight #5

To Kalon

Narrowing it down to the vineyard, De Vere is insistent on what matters. “Elements of style and quality, not just, but a stylistic, a feel, difference, less broad in expression like Oakville or classic like the direct Napa Valley tier.” Rutherford’s alluvial fan vs. To Kalon’s alluvial fan complex vs the same, but different, from Oakville. The east side of the Oakville AVA receives more of the warm afternoon sun as compared to the sedimentary-gravelly alluvial loam on the west, with more volcanic but heavier soils on the east. There they are low to moderate fertility and fairly deep. All this adds up to more than 100 soil variations in Napa Valley, one half of what exists on earth. To Kalon receives shade a full hour earlier than the east side of the valley. It’s reserve fruit is more likely to be found where the large pebble, gravelly, well draining soils are found, further west, abutted up against the mountain range.

As an aside, talk about Napa Valley wines often leads to the fruit-jam complex. “Fruit bombs (you will know),” says De Vere, “are not just a factor of sun, ripeness, and brix. They are a result of less tannin and acidity, from vines stressed after veraison to develop ripeness but without the balancing factors. To kalon’s soils develop acidity earlier and maintain it. Acid-tannin-pyrazine, that’s the order of development.

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley ($250.00 estimate, Halpern Enterprises)

Presented by Eduardo Dingler, Napa Sommelier. High toned, deep, deep dark fruit, gets right up the olfactory. Young, chalky, tart and with the dark fruit sitting serious and looming, like a cross-legged Buddha on the ledge of a 10-foot To Kalon wall. Sees 62 per cent new French oak after six to eight weeks cold soak pre-fermentation. In an environment without alcohol you get this layered juiciness and tart aromatics without astringency. That’s the crux and the key. Balance, density, true to the To Kalon spirit. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2017

Alpha Omega Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($188.00 estimate)

Presented by Alpha Omega’s founding winemaker Jean Hoefliger. “Napa has a consistency of climate that is unmatched, anywhere.” On Andy Beckstoffer, “Andy was very receptive to my very expensive lap dances,” and about the vineyard, “in an era of globalization, To Kalon’s DNA is the most important in Napa Valley. The site in Napa easiest to find in a blind tasting because of acidity and tannin, backbone and skeleton.” Hoefliger’s ’13 cabernet sauvignon is a construct of granularly dense tannic structure and non-readjusted acidity. Darkness ascends or descends as the glass goes, brooding, seemingly from deeper clay soils within the alluvial variegation, a wine in which the tannins have been joined, linked, layered, polymerized. Having used a long maceration makes this dense, intense and ageable. To be exact, 45 days on skin, then in the end unfined and unfiltered. Wow does this remind me of modern Piedmontese nebbiolo but with so much more intense red fruit, notes of incense, wild fennel, cinnamon and candy hearts. Just tremendous structure. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted May 2017

Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($220.00 estimate)

Bright but at the same time with a hint of dried fruit so good balance between the two, meaning the acidity is in control. John Hazak: “What To Kalon has that separates itself from our iconic Hewitt Vineyard is age ability and a dense core that opens up with age. It sets it apart from our top Rutherford sites.” A chewy To Kalon by tempered ganache, a child reared on plenty of barrel fermentations to capture individual parcels of beautiful fruit. Carries a cool minty savour at the finish and lingers across the top of the gums above the teeth, leaving that anaesthetizing feeling. Brilliant in that respect, not quite ready though will come into its own not too far from now. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Station 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($150.00 estimate)

Certainly more dusty notes, garrigue, savour and a hint of black olive, but all red fruit. From Oakville Station (labeled as such, from the UC Davis grown plots of vines). “The best way to understand To Kalon on the surface is to take a bike ride,” says Charles Thomas. “to understand why a gradation across a kilometre is so crucial. There is ample tannin in To Kalon but also a fineness of tannin. It is forgiving of many aspects of viticulture and especially winemaking. You always see the vineyard.” A transitional wine, ripeness but not super so, perfumed and the subtleties of the vineyard. Cherry blossom big time. An island surrounded by Mondavi on all sides, more fertility here in this block, a soft, delicious chocolate finish. A transitional era styled wine. Aromatic and not with the same density (with 10 merlot and 5 cabernet franc)but beautiful all the same. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $149.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Mondavi’s 2013 Reserve from the iconic To Kalon Vineyard plays a different role when nosed side by five each with other similar terroir cabernets, in this case by Cliff Lede, Alpha Omega, Provenance and Cornerstone. The Mondavi would show as a muscular cabernet in a solo tasting irrespective of the flight but with relative reference points the Mediterranean savour stands apart, especially in this high-toned aromatic vintage. The wine is embossed and eschews syrup for chew and density, the chalky tannins already beginning to show some development and integration. After going through the basket press, the haute cultured barrels bring out this insieme-collective of sophisticated To Kalon sweet acidity and tannin, leaving extracted bitterness behind. This works in elevating the texture of silk and softness, insisting upon and stamping a guarantee of longevity. The excellence is rounded out with some fragrance from petit verdot and further finessed, grainy tannin by cabernet franc. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $300.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Tasted during a To Kalon Vineyard retrospective in Napa. Though sinfully young the 2014 seems bright and focused, accessible, closer to ready than the 2013. The secret, special, double secret bottle, only 150 cases made, not really available for trade, pure To Kalon. Refined, here and only here as 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, spice but melted and oozing into that liqueur, there is a seamlessly woven fabric of vineyard that just seems soft, supple and elastic. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2017

And a few more Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon tasted that May

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010, Napa Valley

The 2010 Reserve is a sensory wine in the most attention grabbing way, as experiential and inspirational as can be when such an inhalant gets hold of the senses. Deepest dark fruit of impossibly zero evolution and everything in line with the classic Mondavi-To Kalon relationship. Blackberry, Cassis, black olive and silkened in texture as the Reserve can ever be. Pure weave, ethereal liquidity, fresh, finessed, focused and exacting. Tough on a winemaker? That’s why this is so good. A grand cru Oakville classic, great wine from a challenging vintage. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Napa Valley

Actually some development here, straight into secondary time framing from which balsam and spice are front and centre. The masala comes from cassia stick, bokser pod and liquifies in plum liqueur. Lots of chocolate ganache and in some ways the least indicative Mondavi Reserve vintage for a To Kalon cabernet sauvignon. Acidity is quiet and perhaps this is just a moment in time. Maybe in a year or two the acids will step out of the shadows and rear up once again but I wouldn’t wait nor hold my breath. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, Napa Valley

Tasted in an auspicious group that included a Gros Clos Vougeot ’13, Grange ’11, Haut-Brion ’11 and Sassicaia ’11, all led by Mark de Vere MW and culminating at this Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve ’05. Or as what De Vere quips, “just another night in Napa Valley.” A cool vintage now showing some secondary notes though still presenting balsam, tempered chocolate ganache, pencil lead and graphite. Floral vintage of ethereal whispers and the trilogy promise of the EPF. Elegance, power and finesse. Dark To Kalon fruit and mouth-watering acidity with a vanishing point of mystery still on the horizon, like walking with someone we don’t fully know but feel comfortable in their presence. Still elicits more questions than answers so for a vintage like 2005, 12 years seems to be peak performance. The tannic finish supports Cassis, dried herbs and a briny Mediterranean black olive bite. Tannin begets fine bitters. “Using oak is the virtuoso way to express To Kalon fruit,” says Geneviève Janssens, “after fermentation, to preserve the personality of To Kalon.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1988, Napa Valley

A vintage of reducing and concentrating liqueur, high-toned, distillate, California IGT. A bottling style of the time and the vintage must have procured such fruit meets tannic intensity that it has taken a long time to relent. Higher in acidity than savour, pulsating, energetic. Still a bit frenetic in its wildly animated state of perpetual suspension. A bit Bretty but 1988 carries such an old world sentimentality and the many ties that bind. Despite the great and gritty acidity it remains a balanced cabernet sauvignon, earthy and old school but I’d wager it will continue to drink this way for seven to 10 more years. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1976, Napa Valley

“What order to do pour a vertical tasting,” asks Mark de Vere MW. “When you have 1988, 1999 and 2000 in the mix? You have to think about how the wines were made, how the grapes were grown, without sophisticated equipment, with vineyard managers and winemakers who didn’t know then what they know now.” But, this house named Mondavi has seemingly always known, respected and responded collectively over these things. The terroir – To Kalon. Since tasting 1975 one year ago I can say this: 1976 is remarkably alive, sound and vital. From a very dry year. Ten days of “prolonged” skin-contact. Dill present along with preserved plum, of course mushroom, truffle and what separates this from ’75 is acidity, equal to over even performing above that of 1980. Spice! Tart and still intense. Amazing. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville BDX Red Wine 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley (SAQ, $75.75)

As always the high quality To Kalon fruit as a base source puts the odd in high favour but the idea here is to use parcels that produce lushness and lower tannin so that the wine gifts quite a bit more instant gratification. Mostly cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and originally only sold on premise. Extension through barrel is 24 months in mixed (55/45) Allier French for a liquid chalky result, preserved top notch acidity and a sharpness that demands protein attention. Can’t miss the graphite/pencil lead and in this specific case, tongue tripping vowels which talk the talk of this specific red blend. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville District, Napa Valley

When tasted side by side the genetic lineage and connection to 1999 at ten years apart is uncanny and so it is To Kalon that ties the two, threads the similarity and is the reason. Black olive as always, dusty garrigue and this medi-pedi (Mediterranean pedigree) that unites all cabernet sauvignon from Oakville sites. Same wisdom and freedom, same feeling felt. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley

Has aged with To Kalon grace and while texture is seemingly everything, still you are reminded to engage with the fully seasoned, exigent exhale from the spice box. Aromatically present in balsam and fig, the vineyard’s black olive and then acidity off the proverbial charts. We see how To Kalon mellows in Oakville form, integrates and acts out the marshmallow of time. Hinting now at the tertiary which comes quicker in this range and that is perfectly, allegedly understandably fine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2013, Napa Valley

As with the sauvignon blanc the fruit source is Schweitzer Vineyard, here for the cabernet from three blocks all leading to a bigger, fleshier style. Treated similarly to the Oakville cabernet, long maceration in oak fermenters and 24 months barrel time, six more than the Oakville Reserve because these tannins need further taming. Deep red fruit in tones of strawberry, raspberry and plum with moments that are not unlike European reds in hot climate/seasons. Turns to spicy white toffee, vanilla and before too long the screeching breaks down the scree of tannin. Wait five years. Trust that idea. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2017

A few basic bottles were on hand to greet us @RobertMondavi before the finest wines and cake were offered.

And the opening wines in Mondavi’s cellars

Château Haut Brion Premier Grand Cru Classé 2011, Ac Pessac Léognan (263251, $1,599.85)

A cabernet sauvignon dominant Pessac Léognan off of gravel soils in contrast to some other First Growths Haut Brion is keenly about Château, of reputation, history and acumen. A Bordeaux to cause revelry and from 2011 fresh like you could never expect or imagine. Lithe and mineral, dusty stone and focused. Of continental temper and elegance, black olive and quality chocolate, toasty espresso and late arriving spice. Taste, gather, repeat. Will surely develop next level time-honoured notes of forest floor, mushroom and delicately rendered baking spice. In 20 years and further long-lived expectations. My kind of longevity though the fineness says it will ready itself quite soon. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Domaine Gros Frère Et Soeur Clos De Vougeot Grand Cru “Musigni” 2013, AOC Bourgogne ($300.00)

From the top of the slope at Musigny in a distinct and compelling Clos de Vougeot of intensity and finesse. Deep rooted earth and black cherry fruit, so much fragrance and delicate. A just sharpened pencil, a brush with fennel and lavender, a gaze through a looking glass. At its most calm, a palate silky and accented by a complex mix of spice. A wine to ask “what makes a great wine.” So much more than the length and the finish, always circling back to the start and about the quality of the bitters in their refinement. Where in the process does this occur? When is the magic performed? All the way through and as a by-product of the paradigm of site. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $229.95)

Showing maximum warmth and spirit, high savour by liquorice, mint, fennel and so much spice. Marchese Niccolò Incisa della Rocchetta fixing Bolgheri just as his father did while Robert Mondavi was doing so in Oakville at To Kalon. Revolutions is different places and for Sassicaia, a clear varietal vernacular. Apposite Bordeaux like power and a supple wrist in using extra hands with cabernet franc. Still those chalky tannins. Drink 2020-2029.  Last tasted May 2017

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

Good to go!

godello

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

A Barque Smokehouse pack of Smoke’s finest wines for home

The Barque Smokehouse Restaurant Relief Case is a mixed 12-pack of wines curated by Chef/Owner David Neinstein and Wine Director Michael Godel. The wines are representative of local and international producers that have been a part of the Barque family of wines during the restaurant’s nine years in existence. The choices for the mixed case are thanks to four outstanding Ontario wine agents who have consistently been some of the restaurant’s most loyal and supportive partners.

Click here to view the Barque Smokehouse wines for home offer from the WineAlign Exchange Agency Cases

The collective challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many hard choices and put great demands on both the physical and mental health and well-being of so many in the hospitality industry. The Barque team is not immune to such adversity and that is why there is great need plus the will to pitch in and help. Part of the proceeds from the sales of these cases will go towards helping The Restaurant Relief Fund as well as much needed financial support for Smokehouse staff currently isolating at home.

Three wines each from Noble Estates Wines and Spirits, Nicholas Pearce Wines, Brand New Day Wines and Spirits and Le Sommelier Wine Agency make up the case. You will receive one sparkling wine, one Rosé, three whites and seven reds, along with a complimentary signature Barque rub.

The final case price will be $275/case plus delivery. Delivery fees are estimated at $17 in Ontario (shipping locations, fees & COVID-19 update). Delivery is expected in late May 2020. The $275 price includes all taxes and our $20 procurement, admin, storage & handling fee.

CHECK OUT THE WINES & ORDER A CASE!

Corretta Chianti Classico DOCG
2015
Italy
Tuscany
Sangiovese
No Place Wines “As Is” Field Blend
2017
Canada
VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario
Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Bussoletti Ciliegiolo di Narni
2018
Italy
Umbria
Ciliegiolo
Sepp Moser Grüner Veltliner Classic
2018
Austria
Niederösterreich
Grüner Veltliner
Alpha Box & Dice Tarot Grenache
2018
Australia
McLaren Vale, South Australia
Grenache
Fita Preta Red
2018
Portugal
Alentejo
Aragonêz, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet
Pearce-Predhomme Chenin Blanc
2019
South Africa
Stellenbosch
Chenin Blanc
Marco Zunino Malbec
2018
Argentina
Mendoza
Malbec
Gilvesy Bohém
2017
Hungary
Lake Balaton
Olaszrizling, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc
Pares Balta Brut Cava
NV
Spain
Penedès
Parellada, Macabeu, Xarel-Lo
Mas Buscados
2018
Spain
La Mancha
Tempranillo, Petit Verdot
Les Oliviers Rosé
2017
France
Languedoc
Grenache, Cinsault

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

@BarqueBBQ

Facebook: Michael Godel

Barque Smokehouse

WineAlign

Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

1964

Tout vient à son heure pour qui sait attendre, wrote Clément Marot, Renaissance poet. Everything comes at its appointed time. From Cahors to Turin. War, peace, hate, love, fruit, acid and tannin. Wine is all about the pauses and the balances. At its core the value is in that feeling of things being natural and equal. That’s the way it should be. When you drink you enjoy what you have, without competition. One sensation after another. You feel like you have more, even if you have less. Like consomée with just a chop of vegetables.

Welcome to Godello’s annual list of the most conspicuous, head-turning and psychotropic moments, better known as his 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019. Godello first initiated the concept for a year-end culminating evaluation in 2012 though did not actually coin the phrase until publishing his 14 mind-blowing wines of 2014. Call it the sixth or the eighth but who really cares because the wines are the crux and the heart of the matter.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

Hard to know how many wines he actually tasted in 2019 but the best guesstimate would be 2,500 because that is how many reviews have been posted to WineAlign in this calendar year. A couple hundred were for wines tasted in 2018 but the editing and posting of at least that many for wines tasted in 2019 have yet to become permanent. So the number is pretty close, one way or another.

There were at least a few dozen stellar and jaw-dropping wines that should of, could of, would of made this list. For every one chosen another was left behind for no reason other than necessity and its relationship to the mother of invention. These images exhibited are but a few that had every reason to be one of 19’s 19.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

With thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, please be encouraged and read on. Godello’s 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019.

AB Wines Opçāo Avesso “A” Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal

From winemaker/oenologist António Sousa’s personal label (with partner Bernardo) and a vineyard planted in 2003, in Amarante. These are avesso grapes just a few years away from what António considers the optimum age, when they reach 18 years, 10 years older than the age from which they begin to deliver excellence. This A is in position A, from a perfect vantage point out of a very good vintage. This is the role model and exemplar for avesso, from a project that began in 2016, with all the adjunct components in line; lemon, lime, orange, ripe acidity, juicy nature and just a minor creamy, fleshy and boozy happiness. Great balance. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Tocai Friulano Collio DOC 1997, Friuli, Italy

So remarkable, from the old messaging in the riesling/tocai bottle, stricken from the consorzio record. This is now a wine bottled in Bordeaux style but this look back 20-plus years shows freshness, spirit and only the beginnings of secondary character. Gassy and lemon intense, a near-perfect example of what was and could be, of how aged whites of Collio can keep freshness and the saltiness of place. All thjis and without crazy acidity. That is the conundrum and the magic of Collio. The persistence is romanticism incarnate with fruit oozing out of pores in great remain. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Goisot Gulhem Et Jean Hugues Gondonne 2017, Bourgogne Côtes D’auxerre AOC, Bourgogne, France

A soil of kimmeridgian and marl, of white and blue, with great layering of fruit and that is in fact what you feel from Gondonne. There is something rich and overtly expressive here and while it’s anything but simple it could be imagined that so many consumers would understand this chardonnay, love it and want to drink it with abandon. That said the structure, goût de terroir and joie de vivre are just exceptional. The wood and the land just melt right in. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa

These Helderberg vines would have been 33 years of age at the time and to think the wine would have cost $10 or so. Now 12 years later we’re graced with this hyperbole of toast, smoulder, lit paraffin and the edge of saffron honey. It’s hard to believe and this the from the tier-two, non-selected grapes at the back of the line behind a Forrester wine like the FMC. Nothing less than incredible. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted October 2019

Ornellaia Bianco 2016, IGT Toscana Bianco, Tuscany, Italy

The Bianco was first introduced in 2013, following fast forward to the original 1980s and 1990s work with Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia. That project had been abandoned because says Axel Heinz “stylistically it just wasn’t right.” That wine was mainly sauvignon blanc on one of Ornellaia’s great vineyard sites. What was wanted was something more than a varietal wine and a new age of finding vineyard sites that were more than merely good for white wine. That means making use of northern slopes and those blocks favourable to whites, including the use of (indigenous) vermentino and viognier. The practice had already been proven with success by colleagues. Bianco is the alter ego to the Rosso, priced as such “and reflects the spirit of Ornellaia, but it had to build itself up to that premium level. We intend to make one of the great white wines of the world,” explains Heinz. That may sound like bragging swagger but the reality is that experience, acumen and especially confidence breed the truth. I Bianci are aged for 12-15 months in (30 per cent new) barriques before bottling. I do dare you to find a wine that smells anything like this Bianco. They are flowers unnamed or perhaps not yet discovered. The flinty reductiveness is also truly and wholly unique. Though the way sauvignon is raised and the place are surely not the same, the Bordeaux styling and sensibility of affinities are more than uncanny and even served by purpose. The vintage brings great maturity, fruitiness and salinity. Fruit presence under the spell of fleur de sel. Nothing but a brilliant combination. Says Heinz without equivocation, “it’s a benchmark for us, ’16 that is.” Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2019

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, AOC Bourgogne, France

The couverture is all encompassing acting as a full sheathing tapestry in surround of a fruit core of sheer concentration and yet as a whole so understated. It’s hard to imagine more coaxing and less pronouncement. Relatively speaking there’s no estate equal to what has happened here. Great mineral crash into life and love, into fruit and impossible acidity. A magnificent chardonnay with 25 years of life ahead. Drink 2021-2039.  Tasted September 2019

Adelsheim Pinot Noir Boulder Bluff 2015, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Oregon

From a steep, southwest facing site and picked really early, especially in the warm 2015 vintage. Again the confluence of vineyard conflagration of more than one soil type leads to an estate stylistic but let’s face it one that is bent into shape by focus and precision. There is great generosity and freshness, again in spite of or despite the hot vintage. More floral from this bluff and bigger, albeit finer quality signature tannin from this neighbourhood, with more thanks to basaltic blocks. Long ageing surely ahead with fruit turning to bramble, at times. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso DOC Vigna Vico Pre Phylloxera 2015, Sicily, Italy

The litheness of this nerello mascalese from Mount Etna off of 100-plus years of age pre-phylloxera vines cannot be over-stated or overstressed. The light, ethereal beauty of this wine may very well transport you to a place, to a vacuum within a bubble that is a hidden world inside a biodome. Few words are available when a wine speaks to you such as this Vico does to me at this time. This impossibility of such fruit concentration is also implausibly understated, as are the tannins and the acidity, yet all align and intertwine along a perfectly rendered line. You recognize the automatic brilliance, for the people and from the place. You just know it when you taste it. If you can find this wine, if you ever get the chance to purchase a bottle or two, you owe it to yourself to act, for you and for anyone you might happen to share it with. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 1996, DOC Contessa Entellina, Sicily, Italy

An arch classic from Sicilia sud Occidentale and more specifically Tenuta Contessa Entellina. Of the oldest wines this is one of the highest tonality, not unlike older and older schooled nebbiolo from Barbaresco, in a queen’s throne sort of way. There is siply no way to argue that this wine did not deserve to be aged this way and to be waited on for such a moment of appreciation. Age worthy and load management indeed, with every resolution hoped for and expected. Brilliance and a benchmark, with a half decade of life still ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOC La Bogliona 1996, Piedmont, Italy

At 23 years you just have to launch yourself headfirst into the blood orange. That this piece of barbera wow factor happened before the year 2000 is the thing, especially because climate was very different. Rain fell often and slowly through the year, as opposed to the deluges of globally disaster-orchestrated today. Higher acidity simply speaking and this of the great lean, salty and direct-fitted pieces of barbera composure. Still fresh with dried fruits and low alcohol (at 13.0 per cent declared) but who knows which way the marketing directed labelling in those days? More than a lovely look back. Educational, instructional, cerebral and mind-bending from the lesser appreciated Piedmontese sector. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

Maison Roche De Bellene Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2012, AOC Bourgogne, France

Do not adjust your set. The vintage brought everything to the table and while the foreground presents a picture crystalline and transparent the entirety of the frame is frozen clear. As for the aromatics this teases a meaty cure like few other and teases as if by the ambience of a cave, restricted of access, hiding what lurks, hangs and excites. Crunchy to say the least, layered to say more and complex to speak the ultimate truth. Magnifique and still twenty years away from the beginning of the end. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted September 2019

Domaine De La Pousse D’or Pommard Premier Cru Les Jarollières 1964, Appellation Pommard Controlée, Bourgogne, France

Calling this 55 year-old Bourgogne Premier Cru a piece of history is not enough to do justice because family, lineage and the passing of the generational torch beyond domaine lines are everything that matters. Nicolas Potel pulled this one out of thin air and not merely by a human ability to disappear and reappear. No, Nico chose the way of disapparating and then apparating (in the wizard sense of “apparition,” a magical form of teleportation). His father Gérard’s ’64 was in his hands and a great big, merde-eating grin was posted all across his face. Les Jarollières is a 1.44 ha plot of marl and calcaire and even today half of the plantings are those that were fitted in 1925 and 1962. It was Gérard Potel who resurrected Domaine de la Pousse d’Or to its glory and in 1964 he acquired the domaine through a marriage to the then owner’s niece. Along with Henri Boillot this cru has been famous being meaty, earthy and owning an ability for supernatural integration. This 1964 had taken all that, everything and more, left nothing in the vineyard and had now become the epitome of the ethereal. The fruit was fully intact, so bloody strawberry, still with lightning quick reflexes and able to pour fresh glasses of spirit and energy over the course of a full hour. The experience was a once in a lifetime type, a shared moment and the kind to create a banked memory that will always be generous when a good one is needed. Thank you Nico. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

 

I Fabbri Chianti Classico DOCG 2000, Tuscany, Italy

At the time it was labeled as an (Annata) Chianti Classico though it was really Riserva. Yes it has evolved but 18-plus years should have moved it much further along. Carries a spice like the exoticism in resemblance to 2006 but this is something other. Still some very fine, present and notable acidity. Amazing purity, honesty, luck, circumstance, place and gentile personality. The sapidity is there again and the age ability nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Puro 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($150.00)

Il Puro takes her purity to another level in 2015 with fruit so silky fine and chalky tannins integrated into liquid even finer than that fine. The accumulation is just impressive and the charm meeting grace even more so than that. The Mascheroni-Stianti family has really found a stride in this GS to explain why it exists and how it can make many people happy. The structure here will take this through two or three decades of unfolding. There is a house record to prove it, ironically regardless and in spite of the bottle’s name. This is sangiovese. Drink 2023-2037.  Tasted February 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2010, Tuscany, Italy

“A muscle vintage, of huge character,” tells Lorenzo Magnelli. The name of the wine is Diecianni to tell us that Lorenzo’s Riserva is not released until the 10th year. Brings about all the complexities that come from such an extended elévage. Tobacco, savour, forest floor, frutta di bosco and frutto secco but don’t be succumbing to depths and sottosuolo because the freshness persists. A wine so wise beyond its years, like its maker. Sure you can release a Riserva one year after Annata but when it has been protected and taken care of for you then it presents as it was intended to. We are thankful for the triage and the investment on our behalf. The fruit persists with great natural sweetness out of 2010. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted October 2019

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Colle Al Matrichese 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Andrea Costanti is convinced this is a great vintage. “One of the best.” The weather was perfect following a beneficial cold winter. The harvest was early but not compromisingly so and it saw no hurdles, obstacles or intendments. The barrel use is bigger, older and wiser. This is the sort of concentrated Costanti that speaks to the 2019 philosophy, of acidity, ripeness and balance. Time on skins was about a month (including two weeks of fermentation and oxidation introducing délestage) and no protective sulphur. There is a control in this sangiovese, a powerful restraint but more than that, more so a calm, but not before storm. Finesse, grip and beauty, like a statue of a stag, in a courtyard, lit by moonlight. Tannins are all pervasive, fully stated, yet to feel a necessity for attack. They will and we will retreat, Then we will advance, with caution, further to find full pleasure for two decades. At the very minimum. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted February 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($177.00)

Planted in 1968 and from a warm vintage all the way to the end, into October. Riccardo Campinoti is smiling wryly, knowingly and confidently after he pours and begins to speak of it. “The longer you waited the riper it became” and the healthy grapes allowed for hanging to mid-October. Deeper and of more sponge-soaked earth in the old vines with a higher tone juxtaposed against the depth drawn by long vine roots. The aromatic complexities run, jump and ride off the proverbial charts and you may find yourself drunk and mystified just from the smells. Once you gain palate entry you are hooked and then you climb in, headfirst, unencumbered, no strings attached. A tour de force beloved of sangiovese, Montalcino and old vines. Vigna Vecchia is the epitome of a true structured wine, one which does not grow old, despite the passage of time. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2019

Antiche Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo 1990, Barolo Riserva, Piemonte, Italy

A grande dame or marchesa in the parlance of these woods, a nebbiolo of persistence, resilience and strength of character. Initiates contact with the past and a contract with tradition by way of the things that matter most. Family for one, roots dug into the earth second and the vineyard’s tongue, if it were able to speak. The overall gist in the parlance is heard and even understood although the dialect is hard to decipher if you are not of this place. This 1990 is found to be of high though level tempered energy and then with an ear, a nose and a soul so close to the earth. Smells like the soils amalgamated, preserved and demonstrated through the tempered liquor of a wise old 29 year-old nebbiolo. So much more than a piece of the past, this is an auguri gathering of storytelling, kin, culture and DNA. You must pay thanks for a chance to taste a thing such as this. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piemonte, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

1964

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

South Africa’s South Coast

as seen on WineAlign

Rosé all day, an absence of whites, reds in Portuguese, French and Italian dress plus choosing South Africa like falling off a log

It has been nearly a year since I last visited South Africa and every time VINTAGES rolls out an easily managed thematic collection of wines from that great country the heart swells and memories flood back into the brain. The powers that be within the LCBO’s New World buyers’ department do their finest no sweat work and narrowing down when it comes to Western Cape collections, surely witnessed and proven by the duck soup choices made for both the July 20th and August 6th releases. But we can’t lay too much emphasis on their easily accomplished selections as being the be all, end all reason for the successes. Producers are fortunate to work with exceptional terroir that includes dozens or more old vine blocks in many Cape nooks and transversely the Ontario purchasing choices are so numerous it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The winemakers adage of “just don’t mess it up” translates into kudos to the buyers for getting things right. The fact is South African wines are of such high quality across varietal, producer and regional lines they speak for themselves and do so with great heart.

What do you do with the Swartland Swingers? Lawn bowls in Malmesbury of course

Related – Heritage and diversity in South Africa

Which brings me to what struck so strong in September 2018, straight to the heart and without equivocation. Heritage and diversity are the country’s two greatest strengths. Sure as a circle will turn you around there is this third tangible and credible something that seems so unmissable about South Africa and South Africans. Resilience. Neither politics, nor conflicts between and in the oppression of peoples nor drought can deter the farmers, workers and producers of this nation. The human condition mimics its heritage vineyards planted to century-old varieties, to perpetuate and to persevere. This is the South African way. And it is the wines that are exceptional in ways that require great levels of explanation.

Over the last several centuries grape varieties were brought, expatriated and forced into the blending of exile. No peoples should ever be de-humanized nor taken for granted and neither should wines be quietly dismissed. With each passing varietal situation time has been sublimed and wines produced in South Africa teach us that they simply are not examples of minor beverages. It has taken place in the heart of agriculturalist and winemaking ability, to change small things and see greatness in ascension to that which is simple, authentic and refined. It’s a matter of having felt sensations introduced into the absurdity of our lives.

We begin with some wines tasted and assessed back in September 2018. These are a cross-section of what the country’s makers do best, some unknown, others better known and collectively they act as examples in performance at the highest level.

Fourteen South African producers and wines you need to know

A. A. Badenhorst Chenin Blanc The Golden Slopes 2017, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

The Golden Slopes is chenin blanc planted on granite hillsides, vines in the 80-ish years of age and this surely has much to do with the paradigm of success predicated by a focus on texture. Remarkable heritage vines on the Badenhorst for which Adi is able to seek, measure and play. Like the Secateurs it is indeed all about texture but here, this is something other. Conatus. The Golden Slopes are marked by intense and impressive warmth, lees and the effects of managing lost acidity. Adi finds a way for them to be kept by the moments gained in flesh and layers. Old vines do what the young and inexperienced do not. They achieve an innate inclination, in this case for chenin blanc to continue to exist and enhance itself. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Craven Wines Syrah The Faure Vineyard 2017, WO Stellenbosch (WineAlign)

Like the sister Firs this Faure Vineyard site is also 21 years of age, east facing towards the Heldeberg, with rocks in the soils. The name is more than familiar to Jeanine Craven, who was a Faure before she merged with Mick. What really separates this place is the marine air, three kilometres from the sea, as far as the African Black Oystercatcher flies. Again the planning involves whole cluster pressing and on skins seven days, to make pure syrah. Separated by 15 kms the Faure is antithetical to the Firs, salted by the sea and of a furthered intensity in a different form. It’s near searing, linear, grippy and with acidity lifting everything. Really juicy, pushed by a wow factor, clean, no funk and so much spice. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Wines Chenin Blanc Hoë Steen 2017, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

One of two single vineyard explorations from the Sadie’s work is this 1968 steen planted in deep soils to the west, towards Darling. This fourth vintage is a demure of chenin blanc’s deepest, richest and most glycerin textured possibilities. Time and a warming in the glass causes this floral emergence in a spiced space time continuum usually reserved for white wines like Condrieu. But this is entrenched in heritage steen genetics, not viognier and the acidity is all local, parochial and fine. The complexities are circular by nature, in rotation and encompassing all that we hold sacred for Cape wines. Takes hold of your mind and controls your breathing with its life affirming energy, like an invisible blanket wrapping you up in the desert, at night, under stars. Total production is 45,000 bottles. Get some. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 1997, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley (WineAlign)

It was 1997, a point 10 years deep into the Hermanus pinot noir investigations and what Anthony Hamilton Russell called “the year the Dijon clones kicked in, or at least the use of them.” This is seemingly more evolved than that ’86 if only because the über ripe fruit may have baked a bit in the sun. Tastes so old school Beaune now with a cane sugar-cocoa-vanilla trilogy of development. Powerful pinot noir now in the throes of its soporific times. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie The Hummingbird Colibri Kap Klassique 2017 (WineAlign)

The Hummingbird is composed of 70 percent viura with chenin blanc from Christa von la Chevallerie’s Nuwedam Farm in the Paardeberg. The first viura as far as we can tell in South Africa, a Spanish grape variety not very high in acidity picked up and elevated by the chenin. This first vintage kick at the sparkling can in a Cava style is mostly 2017 fruit, in bottle 12 months so very much adhering to a Cap Classique model. Christa thinks both outside the box and the varietal groove with this textural beauty and so its moniker naturally importunes as Kap Klassique. As a bottle of bubbles it offers a forward rush of life, crystallized in a brilliant jewel of a moment. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Ken Forrester Wines Chenin Blanc The FMC 2004, Stellenbosch (WineAlign)

FMC, as in Forrester (Ken), winemaker Martin Meinert and chenin blanc. Here looking back 14 years to a time when they and only a handful of others had the true understanding of foreshadowing as to what the signature grape variety could become for South Africa. That is why they set to making this highly specific and purposed example. From a single vineyard, then 34 years old (now pushing 50) and the eighth vintage, by 2004 fully commanded stylistically by its makers. Barrel fermented and bloody rich, still viscous, now so honeyed and lit like a candle in a cool cave. A true original, like the Ford Motor Company, a female main character kicking butt in an action film, FMC. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2017, WO Greyton (WineAlign)

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s Greyton Farm down a dusty road. The Estate sees 500L barrels, 35 per cent new and is a best fruit selection cuvée. It’s also about the ferment “to keep a limey tension,” tells O’Keefe, so it’s really about the combination of the two. Like the “normale” the orchard fruit persists but here there are stone fruits joining the apples and now the grip takes hold. If the other needs a year in bottle this “Reserve” could entertain three. In quite an awe-inspiring way it travels to and fro on a Meursault-Marsannay line, of high construct and palpable intensity. I’d wait the three for the grace and beauty of its future. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Momento Wines Grenache Noir 2017, WO Western Cape (WineAlign)

There are some South African winemakers who just seem to intuit what grenache is capable of realizing comme il faut from a Cape raising. Marelise Niemann is one of a select few who have mastered the art and science of grenache pulmonary resuscitation. Hers is 90 per cent Paardeberg and (10) Voor Paardeberg, so not labeled as such. “The most important red grape in South Africa,” she says with varietal diffidence and I will not be one to argue. Not with Marelise. These are bush vines, all itching to succeed off of decomposed granite. These vines scratch and claw their way out of the aridity and the adversity to gift a purity of fruit and very special tannins. Pretty and with a level of tension seen in its face, after some time on skins and a natural ferment crawled out of whole bunch pressings. Spiced and spicy, demurred, matured in old oak 16 months, wise, mature and nurturing. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Cape Winemakers Guild ‘The Gris’ Sémillon 2013, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

This was the year Andrea Mullineux began working with this rare and certified by the Old Vines Project sémillon gris from a 1960 planted (just 2 kms away from the chenin blanc), heritage dry-farmed plot grown on the granite soils of the Paardeberg in the Swartland. Only a few blocks exist anywhere and in 2014 some of this fruit began to augment the Mullineux Old Vines White. It is what Andrea calls “a project of the jumping gene.” It’s like a varietal ride on a pogo stick, in colour from pale like colombard to dark as cinsault. A citrus attack like no other and subjugated to the lush manifestations of skin contact. Still so flinty-smoky, lean and yet of a texture like an emollient of florals keeping the wine moist, fleshy and flexible. Though not the saltiest of vintages this gris is in complete control of its phenolic emotions. It’s also blessed of this unreal incandescence. Wholly unique in every respect. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2015, WO Elgin (WineAlign)

The most floral vintage of the Seven Flags and the first with clones 115 and 667 brought into the blend. This to create new concepts and levels of complexity with vines old, new and next level involved. The intermixing leaves us with a sensation involving many layerings; fruit, acid and structural. The fruitiness and fresh flower gatherings presents an aperture of severe harmony and adds up to a bunch of aesthetic yeses. Give it a year or two to integrate. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2016, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

Palladius is the quintessential spear brandishing South African appellative blend with more varietal diversity than an oenology department’s nursery. It holds chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. No one does varietal interaction and trickery like Eben Sadie. No one. The ’16 is a wine of mixed tenses, the whole echelon and the black hole in the sun. Fruit comes from eleven different blocks all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. Ages in clay amphorae and concrete eggs, then racked into foudres, “to bring it all together.” Palladius holds a casual disregard for synchronizing fruit, acid and extract verb tenses in the way it uses a conditional interrogative without the proper structural order. It’s a wine of fine and unfair intensity, iconic, wise, learned and all for good reason. Imagine this to age well beyond its 15th birthday. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Savage Wines Syrah Girl Next Door 2017, WO Coastal Region (WineAlign)

Though the négoce roaming transverses the entirety of the Western Cape, sometimes you just go home again. This as small as it gets Girl Next Door resides and is raised out of a 0.38 hectare Noordhoek vineyard, “the weekend hobby vineyard,” as Duncan Savage would put it. A block of great clichés, “the home garden,” or at least close to home and certainly “a work in progress.” The developing plot is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma within a narrative that currently fashions a wine to speak of a long term vision. In these first chapters it is already doling dark and mysterious, rich and silky, highly meaningful fruit. How this can’t turn into one of the great epic novels of Western Cape lore is beyond you and me. Home is where the heart soothes then savage beast. Winemaker and syrah. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Silwervis Cinsault 2016, WO Swartland (WineAlign)

A single-vineyard is the source and a unique one at that for the Swartland because here is the spot where the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg begins to meet the northern slate. Paardeberg cinsault. If you are not yet familiar with this lovely beast it’s high time you got stoned on it. A varietal echelon rebirth eschews decades of French mistakes and enters into a revolution. As I noted from the ’14, it’s also a revival, a saving and a reformation. Having made itself a home in the Swartland now cinsault can create its own narrative, re-write the book and speak of the terroir. Transparency is truth and in a tightly wound, uniquely tannic way this curls tart and cured meaty filaments around a paradigmatic red fruit core. It’s bloody caesar delicious. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Kamaraderie 2017, WO Paarl (WineAlign)

Just the second vintage of Lukas van Loggerenberg’s Kamaraderie is a chenin blanc from a 1960s planted, two hectare single-vineyard in Paarl. Lukas picks the bottom of the slope first and the top many days later so there is this natural layering of fruit. Reeks with reminiscence, of fennel and pistachio, of fronds and gelid cream. Only 800 bottles make this one of South Africa’s rarest chenins raised for 10 months in old barrels, unstirred, shaken or allowed to visit with the malolactic king. There’s a dissolve of delicious citrus seamlessly streaked through fleshy fruit in what is just such an organized and structured chenin. Finishes with the brine, oh the brine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Stellenbosch Braai

In VINTAGES

While the August 6th VINTAGES is chock full of stalwart South African wines it bears repeating that July 20th also gifted some worthy picks. The list below takes a page out of each book.

South Africa picks – August 6th Release

651711, Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Cederberg ($18.95)

Michael Godel – Next level chenin blanc from the Cederburg appellative specialist, so very herbal, lime driven and smart like dry riesling in a Rheinhessen way. Terrific acids lift and elevate the lime and tonic flavours. Most excellent arid example with a dried herb finish.

652867, House Of Mandela Phumla Pinotage 2017, WO Western Cape ($21.95)

Michael Godel – A pinotage that bridges the twain between old school and necessary modernity, with plenty of wood induced chocolate and some mocha but also quality varietal acidity and tannin. Rich, unctuous and spirited to the thriving point of attack.

355438, De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2018, WO Robertson ($24.95)

Michael Godel – Lesca’s fruit is drawn from three vineyards in Robertson notable for their predominant soils of limestone and chalk. Great work from the De Wetshof bros who just allow this grape variety to shine on, be explicit and act of its very own accord.

651810, Spier 21 Gables Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, WO Stellenbosch ($39.95)

Michael Godel – From the extraordinary Annandale Estate in Stellenbosh Spier’s is very peppery cabernet sauvignon with a distinct local touch of glare and flare. Steely exterior, massive fruit and and such a bloody lekker South African. Long and juicy. Who says you can never go back to old school.

South Africa picks – July 20th Release

698274, Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Stellenbosch ($14.95)

Michael Godel – Rustenberg continues to prove that it qualifies for top varietal value specialist out of Stellenbosch by pumping out pop hit after hit and this chenin blanc is no exception. Fruit riper than many, mild spice meeting wafts of vanilla and more than its share of lees-effected texture. All around right and proper.

698290, Bellingham Homestead Shiraz 2017, WO Paarl ($18.95)

Michael Godel – Deep, dark, handsome and peppery shiraz here from Stellenbosch with a syrupy confection and plenty of energy on the flip side. Really drinks like a bigger, more expensive and chic wine.

Best of the Rest for August 6th

498535, Malivoire Vivant Rosé 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Canada knows Rosé but Malivoire really knows Rosé. Vivant may be there between entry-level and cru but it’s done up so right, light but too much so, gently expressed but enough that fruit gets through and shines bright as if picked just there. Salinity strikes through without splitting up that fruit, like a main vein bringing oxygen and essential nutrients like blood to the mind. Last tasted July 2019.

668335, Argento Reserva Cabernet Franc 2015, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.95)

Michael Godel – Argento is from the owners of Uruguay’s Bodega Garzón, Chianti Classico’s Dievole and Montalcino’s Podere Brizio. A year past the freshest time in its life but cool, savoury and without too much barrel overtake (thanks to second and third passage wood). Well-worked and solid to be franc, true to place, now chewy and offering proper value.

667527, Château De Montguéret 2017, AP Saumur, Loire Valley, France ($17.95)

Michael Godel – Ostensibly the driest and purest form of chenin blanc from Saumur with the Loire’s post-modern take on the Western Cape, in a way though without pungency, pepperiness or glucose inflected texture. This is dry as the desert, tart, tangy and intense. Needs some richness in food to make all ends meet.

964221, Le Volte Dell’Ornellaia 2017, IGT Toscana, Italy ($29.95)

Michael Godel – Welcome into the Ornellaia range by way of the second wine that has never shown even a modicum of compromise. Hot vintage but acidity is strong and true while fruit stays cool, seasoned and reasoned, There’s a real meatiness to this ’17 and a lovely sense of salumi cure. Once again an educational tool for Bolgheri and Toscana.

260802, Brancaia Riserva Chianti Classico DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($38.95)

Michael Godel – Sangiovese needing the bottle is proven here. Now a year and a half later this swirls into a grosso sangiovese like liqueur with plums, cherries and spice. Really Riserva in style and now just 18 more months away from its guaranteed due elegance.

922054, Silvio Nardi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($50.95)

Michael Godel – Oenologist Emanuele Nardi draws his classic Brunello from the fluvial Cerralti parcel, a mix of jasper which is a type of opaque, granular quartz, along with shale and clay. Classic liqueur and modern texture give way to grippy acidity and more than necessary structure. This is one of those Brunello that speak with fruit early but with a knowing nod to longevity.

What goes best with chenin and cinsault? Tuna Burger at Sea Breeze in Cape Town

Thanks for reading up on South Africa once again.

Good to go!

godello

South Africa’s South Coast

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Sparkling Cape Wine crawl through Méthode Cap Classique

Charcuterie and cheese with Méthode Cap Classique at Gondwana Family Lodge

At the present time there are three, count ’em, three Méthode Cap Classique available in the LCBO and/or VINTAGES stores. Three. For and from one of the world’s most complex/best value bubbles and from a country where exceedingly high levels are coming into focus due to research, trials, experimentation and just plain passion for making traditional method sparkling wines. This Ontario situation my dear readers, is a travesty.

My return engagement with South Africa for a tour included a three-day tasting marathon at Cape Wine 2018 and I’ve since published articles on the whole experience plus more intensive looks at regional associations (Bot Rivier), varietal explorations (Pinotage) and producer portfolios (Rall and Alheit). It’s time to expand upon an important and fast growing category: Méthode Cap Classique.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

Méthode Cap Classique

Plain and simple, Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is a South African term indicating a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. That said, there is nothing simple about MCC and who would argue that as a category it produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. It’s also very much a wine about terroir. As it stands, MCC has to now age on the lees for a minimum twelve months to be labelled as such. “We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum should be raised to 15. “Sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” As for sugar dosage he’s like a cook in the kitchen. “Dosage is like seasoning. If you do it properly you don’t taste it.” It is Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira that has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but more importantly the potential. “You are always looking to express terroir,” he says. “For Brut we have to extend (the less aging time) to 60 months. So there is no lipstick or eye shadow.”

In Champagne the annual production is somewhere in the vicinity of 350 million bottles so compare this to South Africa where a fraction of that amount is released to the tune of seven or eight million Méthode Cap Classique bottles made by 100-odd producers, 73 of which are listed on the website for the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), an organization established in 1992. The name was derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle).

Grapes are selected from a diversity of regions in the Cape with only specific white and red grape varieties considered worthy “to ensure delicate fruit and rich complexity.” In this report I’ve tasted and reported on MCCs from Robertson, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Bot Rivier, Paarl, Prieska Noord Kaap and the Western Cape. This diverse regional cross-section of Cap Classique sparkling wine shows just how malleable and functional the range of styles are adaptable to many different South African growing areas.

Whole bunch pressing is at the heart of the winemaking process, with only the first pressing used to make the various base wines destined to be called Cap Classique. Individual base wines and blends are tasted annually by the Association’s own members to ensure that the final wine is of a high quality. A minimum of twelve months is required under the rules of the road and indeed there are members who ensure much longer yeast contact time, depending on the style and vintage.

On my first morning at Cape Wine in September 2018, my wine-négoce partner Scott Zebarth and I made a conscious decision to walk the congress floor and taste as many examples of MCC as we could before the lunch bell struck. Zebarth was duly impressed with Le Lude’s Cuvée Agrafé, Charles Fox Prestige Cuvée Cipher and Graham Beck’s Brut Rosé. Said Scott, “let’s do this.” And do this we did, to the effect of a sparkling wine crawl across Cape Wine that took us through 23 examples of MCC made by 14 producers. These are my notes on the wines.

Avondale Wines Armilla Blanc De Blanc 2011, Méthode Cap Classique, WO Paarl, South Africa (451930, $34.95, WineAlign)

The first vintage was 2003 for the Armilla blanc de blanc, now out of 2011 and having spent six years lees post whole bunch pressing. It’s a naturally fermented chardonnay of which two per cent saw some older barrel. After two years of coarse lees aging there began this formidable bringing of citrus and sharp apple bite. The following four on fine lees delivered the integration of acidity ahead of the gainful accumulation of toasted brioche. Richness at its best for this Méthode Cap Classique, of preserved lemon, fine aridity (under 5 g/L RS) and high acidulation (over 9 TA). Terrific MCC. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018  avondalewinesa  @Avondalewine  @RareEarth_Wines  @AvondaleWines  Rare Earth Wines & Spirits

Boschendal Grand Cuvée Brut 2013 Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Time always delivers for Boschendal’s pinot noir and chardonnay split from fruit ripeness out of Stellenbosch with some specific vintage help by the Elgin Valley. Disgorged a while back in 2018, the Grand Cuvée has had its bottle settling after having made the most of 36 months on lees. Dosage is elevated in this styling and worthy of the distinction when you consider the richness, nuttiness and toasty sensations. Plenty of citrus and looking for crudo, bivalves or scallops. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018  boschendal  boschendalwines  liffordgram  @BoschendalWines  @LiffordON @boschendal  @liffordwineandspirits

Bocca, Cape Town

De Grendel Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2015, Cape Of Good Hope, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

De Grendel’s is a straightforward, creamy, highly pleasurable and vouchsafed Méthode Cap Classique of low pH and equanimity in residual sugar meeting total acidity. In fact it’s assemblage is done with such precision that it is in fact acidity that strikes its parts as being very pronounced. Mouth-watering with persistent mousse and length. Nothing particularly shocking or complex mind you, but certainly serviceable for all basic needs. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  degrendelwines  churchillcellars  @degrendelwines  @imbibersreport  @degrendelwines  Churchill Cellars Ltd.

De Wetshof Méthode Cap Classique 2009, WO Robertson, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

As rich as it gets for the category, made by Pieter de Wet from estate chardonnay off of limestone Robertson soils.The low pH, generous yet proper dosage and high acidity all add up to a distinct, herbal and fine pettilant MCC of great distraction, complexity and at this stage, near-complete evolution. Plenty of citrus comes in every possible way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  dewetshofwines  @DeWetshofWines  @dewetshofwines

Genevieve Brut Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2014, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Genevieve is Cap Classique made by Melissa Nelsen and was first made in 2008, released in 2010. Now with 2014 the lees aging time is 48 months with total output in the 12,00-13,000 bottle range, up from the 5,000 of that first vintage. The goal is 20,000 in the very near future. It’s essentially blanc de blancs, 100 per cent chardonnay as a wise, calm, mature and elegant traditional method sparkling. Just lovely. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  #melissagenevievenelsen  @Genevieve_mcc  

Genevieve Brut Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

From proprietor Melissa Genevieve Nelsen this chardonnay spent four years on the lees and is what she calls “my soldier, it stands up right, expresses itself very cleanly.” Tasted two years after she gave us that assessment of the vintage it’s now even more Cap Classique than ever, feathery oxidative, gingery and toasty. It’s classic really and perched on the richer end of the spectrum, evolving with some haste and more than ready to go. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Graham Beck wines and a rare moment when Pieter Ferreira isn’t smiling

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique NV, WO Western Cape, South Africa (175588, $19.95, WineAlign)

The ripeness is expressly up front in Beck’s 50-50 pinot noir-chardonnay joint and we’d all be hard-pressed to find its MCC equal in terms of focus, integrated and polished. Drink 2018-2021.  Last tasted September 2018

An ode and an adherence to the magic of Cap Classique style, always with that sage feeling of evolution in age. Made pretty with its skin pink depth though I must admit to nosing and tasting the inimitable South African soil. Still, it is clearly and decisively Pinot Noir that floats the boat and rights the ship. This has noirs in its psyche and the Western Cape in its soul. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted January 2016

Graham Beck Prestige Collection Cuvée Clive 2012, Méthode Cap Classique, Robertson, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

Clive is Graham Beck’s most prestigious and important cuvée, what méthode cap classique cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira calls “a respect to Champagne. While previous incarnations were wines of “best selection” the 2012 chardonnay and pinot noir are drawn from a single-vineyard for the first time. Stand in the tasting room and there it spreads out below, on soil riddled with limestone to equip this crisp and arid sparkling wine with all the necessary attributes. Bronze-parched apple and dried quince are noted. Sentiment and data from a 10 year study project of varietal, lees and aging are collected and come to this; a toast demure, a love divine, a wild control. Brilliant sparkling wine and undoubtedly a South African gem. Drink 20189-2027.  Tasted September 2018  grahambeckbubbly  vinexxperts  @GrahamBeckSA  @Vinexxpert  @grahambeckmcc  @Vinexx

Graham Beck Brut Zero 2012, Méthode Cap Classique, Robertson, South Africa (435453, $23.95, WineAlign)

Slanghoek pinot noir (77 per cent) meets limestone-Robertson chardonnay for a driest of the dry sparkling wine that spent 60 months on the lees. Beck’s attack for the Brut Zero “is based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne,” notes Peter Ferreira and as such it surely ranks as one of the more mineral-toasty bubbles in the entire Cap Classique category. No sugar added during dosage allows the land to speak. There is a deeper intuition beyond flint-struck, something categorically chalky while delicate and flavour wise it’s simply limon-delicieux. The fineness is noted and the vintage too, from which the team saw enough to make use of the highest quality juice for a tête de cuvée wine. High ceiling for aging here. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc de Blanc 2013, Méthode Cap Classique, Robertson, South Africa (907568, $26.95, WineAlign)

Beck’s Roberston chardonnay is just one of those wines that settles seamlessly into that beautifully integrated dyadic realm where mousse persistence, acidity and texture meet at the vertices of balance and blessed. Always that minor hint of reductive lemon pith and toasted almond. Persistent and consistently fine, affordable and celebratory worthy bubbles. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Filia Brut Nature Kap Klaissque NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Filia is the daughter of the Paardeberg, a self-described and cheeky Swartland Kap Klassique chenin blanc made by Christa Von La Chevallerie, dogter to Juergen and the Nuwedam Farm just off the R45 outside Malmesbury. Not just any sparkling wine mind you. Although the early stages of this old vines project from the (mainly) 2015 vintage only gives 18 months on the lees it also provides 1974 planted chenin blanc, for shits, giggles and shut the front door attitude. For Christa it’s a matter of “how far I can go with (the combination of) chenin and lees.” Clearly just the entry point here, with an announced mix of richness and tension, not yet knowing what can and will happen. The coast is clear, the chenin blanc is ready, willing, able and the winemaker will stop at nothing to make this bubble in her own image and way. Look out sparkling world. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2018  christalachevallerie  @HuisChevallerie  @ChevallerieZA  Christa Von La Chevallerie

Jacaranda Wine Estate “Q” Méthode Cap Classique, WO Wellington, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Jacaranda is on it’s way towards establishing itself as one of the Western Cape’s Méthode Cap Classique specialists and this new cuvée is called “Q” for quality. The organic estate invests heavily in their agriculture and this just disgorged specimen saw 24 months on lees and a base wine in oak for a few months. It’s 100 per cent chenin blanc, from old vines in 80, 60 and 40 year-old blocks. They work with low sulphur and in spite of the minimal interventionist and risk-taking program this is quite toasty bubbles, yet also rich, creamy and palate swarming. Lingers as one does, long and properly, leaving you with a feeling of it being just lovely. Surely the beginning of a great relationship all around. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  jacaranda_wine  @jacarandawines

Jacaranda Wine Estate Brut Reserve Méthode Cap Classique, WO Wellington, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The Brut Reserve is actually a Blanc de Blancs, from 100 per cent chardonnay with higher elevations of sugar (11 g/L rS) and conversely acidity. It comes across dried than it is with richness in posit tug by citrus and cream, like lemon curd with a toasty edge. Once again an MCC of good persistence and length and will develop an extra layer of oxidative complexity at three years of age. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lanzerac Wine Estate Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

A most traditional Cape sparkling wine with aromas of yellow citrus, wet concrete and cold rooms with hanging and curing meats. It’s on the oxidative MCC side though acidity brings tension and balance. As a chardonnay bubble it does what is asked of it and treads well top age a few years. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  lanzeracwineestate  @LanzeracWines @LanzeracWineEstate

L’Avenir Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

L’Avenir Estate’s Méthode Cap Classique is mainly pinotage with some chardonnay and arrives in the glass as a light and nearly delicate bubble. It’s a succulent, sweet rusty, lively enzymatic sparkling wine with an opinion and a plan of action. Pleasurable to sip from a definite MCC teachable moment. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  lavenir_wine_estate  selectwinemoments  @LAvenirWines  @SelectWinesTO  @LAvenirEstate  @SelectWinesCanada

Le Lude Vintage Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The Brut Rosé is a chardonnay and pinot noir split of 5.5 g/L dosage, just slightly drier than the MCC Reserve Brut. It’s beautifully pale, pure, fresh and regaling in high acidity. All about nervousness which is so engaging for pink fizz, pulling finesse and pushing tension. Raspberry and currants are fruit indicators for amazing work in Rosé MCC. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018  leludemcc  @LeLudeMCC  @LeLudeMCC

Paul Gerber – Le Lude

Le Lude Vintage Brut Reserve Méthode Cap Classique, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The blend is with pinot noir but in this sister cuvée to the Brut Rosé it’s really about what chardonnay is going to bring to the MCC table. The dosage is just slightly higher than the Rosé, here at 6.5 g/L and 24 months on its lees. Here the shift is towards more richness, almost counterintuitive when you think about blanc vs. rose but Paul Gerber is on to something big. There is a plum compote luxe note stirred into the citrus and so both ends of the fruit spectrum are involved and incredible. “You must taste the sun in the fruit,” insists Gerber, sparkling wine or not and so with verve, intensity and balance this travels to terrific and back. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Le Lude Vintage Cuvée Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Le Lude’s winemaker Paul Gerber assembles two non-vintage Bruts, blended each vintage for a house style. The fruit is primarily Robertson with some addendum out of Franschhoek. The first vintage was indeed 2012 and this chardonnay (80 per cent) plus pinot noir comes sweet herbal straight out of the riddle with a sultry, piqued spiciness. Already showing a hint of secondary notation by way of a honeyed nougat melted into the soft and delicate mousse. Still plenty of intensity and drive with citrus in whole represent by lime, fresh and juicy. Less red fruit (much, much less) and more white flower with the idea of yellow and green fruit. Stylish, persevering and precise. At 2.6 g/L it’s perfectly albeit sparsely seasoned and mature with Champagne confidence. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Le Lude Reserve Agrafé Tirage Liége Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Agrafé translates literally as “staple,” from the French term and how a metal clip or clasp is used to secure the cork in a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine. Le Lude’s Tirage Liége, or “cork draw” is packaged as such and is a blend of 54 per cent chardonnay with pinot noir. It undergoes traditional cork fermentation and maturation on (premium) cork 36 months. The methodology takes this beyond intensity and into texture with creamy preserved lemon mousse persistence. As a whole it strikes as riper in ode to vintage and almost into something akin with Limoncello. Though it’s a most complex specimen of sparkling wine you might almost forget its highly accomplished nature and simply drink it up. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Le Lude Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2013, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Recently disgorged and not yet labelled but actually goes back two years further in terms of lees aging than the 2012. Expressive of riper fruit and the effect of the vintage skins. Still the creamy mousse and texture in great persistence though not as much tension. Both oxidative and reductive in the MCC way, from fruit pulled off of various blocks and picked at various times. Real attention to detail and towards crafting an estate signature style from a specific vintage. Fleshes without any need for real dosage by finding its way from ripeness forward. Lime is the dominant flavour and balance is struck by masterful blending. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Brut Méthode Cap Classique, WO Prieska Noord Kaap, Orange River, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Lowerland is the small if far northern outpost work from Bertie Coetzee and Alette de Beer in Orange River, Prieska Noord Kaap. Time to re-adjust the set, for South Africa and Méthode Cap Classique and approach the game with eyes, nose, ears and palate wine open. Take a trip 1000 kms north of Cape Town to discover fields 1000m above sea level, where the summers are hot and winters see temperatures of -10 celsius. Now take this first estate kick at the MCC can, of 11 months on lees for fruit grown on the warmest spot. Carries an uncanny nose of orange creamsicle mixed with lemon pith, turning over to more things completely other. So persistent in aromas and bubble, with extraordinary acids and a healthy dosage in search of and gaining balance. Shows off a deft and gentle touch with capable grip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018 bioboertie  vanloggerenbergwines  alette.waterboer  lowerland_wines  @CoetzeeBertie  @AletteWaterboer  Bertie Coetzee  @LowerlandFarm  Alette De Beer