Rewriting history at Meerlust back to 1984, one vintage at a time

Not just #meerlust more like major lust. Thank you for the sexy time travel @meerlustwine Laurel Keenan and The South African Wine Society.

It was on September 12th, 2017 that a once in a lifetime South African vertical tasting happened. The South African Wine Society managed to acquire 10 Meerlust wines from nine vintages gathered over 15 years. In Toronto. At The University of Toronto Faculty Club. It’s not that I want to invoke the dystopian dread of George Orwell nor do I equate the master’s writing with the wines of Meerlust but tasting 1984 through to 2010 has provoked the linguistic drama in me to invoke some wordsmith parallels. “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Winemaker Chris Williams may not totally disagree.

Few Cabernet Sauvignon vertical tastings are capable of determining such a clear picture in style, patterning and evolution, save for perhaps for obvious reasons what is possible out of Bordeaux. This focused collection from Meerlust connected past to present and with no real South African presence in the room. A 25-minute video presentation by Williams and the wines were all the 75 guests in attendance had to go on. By the time the winemaker had sped-tasted and rapid-dissected the nine vintages most of the four-ounce pours in the room were drained. It was a quick to state of bliss happy bunch.

Meerlust dates back to 1693, the house that is “love or pleasure of the sea.” Less than five kms south from the Atlantic Ocean, the property was purchased in 1756 and to this day remains family owned, now in its eighth generation with 260 years of continuity. On the 3rd July 1693, the Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, granted the land to Henning Hüsing, who named the farm Meerlust, describing the sense of pleasure he obtained from the sea breezes that blew inland from False Bay. Johannes Albertus Myburgh bought Meerlust in January 1757. His ownership marked the foundation of the Myburgh Dynasty.

Hannes Myburgh, eighth generation owner of Meerlust, graduated from the University of Stellenbosch with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in French and English in 1982, before studying winemaking at Geisenheim in Germany. Hannes worked at Chateau Lafite in France and von Oetinger in Germany. Chris Williams was appointed Cellar Master at Meerlust in 2004 but has worked as Assistant Winemaker for the farm since 1995. He studied Oenology at Elsenberg and gained international experience in France while working for Michel Rolland. He is assisted by Wilson Waterboer and the cellar team.

Remarkable history and longevity through 10 back vintages of @meerlustwine #rubicon with the South African Wine Society. Thank you LK for the generous treat.

Rubicon is Meerlust’s flagship wine and considered one of South Africa’s premier Bordeaux Blend reds, first made in 1980. This vertical of nine vintages included 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008  and 2009. I’ve added 2010, tasted recently through Ontario’s VINTAGES release program. In addition, we tasted cabernet sauvignon 2004, infrequently made, the previous time in 1993. This is the prime ingredient to the Bordeaux blend, usually making up around 60 per cent of the wine, with merlot, cabernet franc (and from 2008 on), petit verdot added. Thank you to Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa Canada, for having me and to Eleanor Cosman of the South African Wine Society, for hosting. Here are the notes.

Meerlust Rubicon 2010, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $37.95, WineAlign)

Meerrlust’s iconic blend is a Stellenbosch essential, of the ripest fruit and fully-rendered barrel. I’m quite amazed at its uncanny ability to appeal, even at this seven year mark, a show of generosity and gregarious character almost unparalleled for a wine of its Western Cape ilk. The geology runs deep, neither reductive, sap-flowing or bouncy, but the mineral sear and streak is certainly there. This Rubicion trades fecundity for earthy chocolate, uncompromising and unapologetic in its frosting. Beef is a must, preferably rare and dark from high heat char. Dry-aged and or Wagyu would pair even better. The blend is 62 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (24) merlot, (12) cabernet franc and (2) petit verdot. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted February 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2009, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Winemaker Chris Williams forged the people’s Rubicon in 2009, a Bordeaux blend as recognizable in name and style as much as any produced in not only South Africa, but worldwide. Everything is attractive in 2009, beginning with these quite lovely liquid dusty, rich mulberry and deep plum notes. To a crowd of 75 it can’t help but be the standout of general consensus for its sheer restrained hedonism and unabashed beauty. Youth has so much to do with how this shows but believe me 2009 is just a baby, so much more so than 2008 and they are only a year apart. The blend is 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (20) merlot, (9) cabernet franc and (1) petit verdot. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

The 2008 is the first vintage with some petit verdot in the mix though it’s just a start, with one per cent to go along in a blend of (71) cabernet sauvignon, (19) merlot and (9) cabernet franc. Shows some volatility and also more wood in the context of an espresso-chocolate continuum. Here a deeply hematic and iron schisty Rubicon, intense, brooding, mineral well dug deep into the terroir. This goes strong and powerful up the sides of the tongue with that fine but intense acidity. Unquestioned as a fine wine with lots of wood derived chocolate flavours but the spice is all fruit and the tannin from off of that fruit. Massive structure and age possibility will go well into the twenties. Drink 2017-2027.  Last tasted September 2017.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 2007, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon 2007 is the last to be made without any petit verdot (74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (15) merlot and (11) cabernet franc) and is actually not too dissimilar to ’06 though truly lighter and with more high bright intensity. It is also possessive of that collective ropey, red dusty cured and dried fruit character, like what can happen with traditionally adhered to sangiovese and tempranillo. So really when you think about it this shares a style, at least in part with more than its Bordeaux cousins. Yet go and ask winemaker Chris Williams and he’ll tell you “I dont think this wine could be made anywhere else because of terroir and history.” Fair enough. Surely the winemaker knows. Drink 2017-2026.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2006, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon is one of the original South African Bordeaux blends, here in 2006 with merlot and cabernet franc to satisfy the blended needs of cabernet sauvignon. The blend is 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (8) merlot and (18) cabernet franc. This ’06 is a bit shy, reserved, not giving much away from its usual floral heights. There is a layering of palate density before then deriving its complexity through the alleys of acidity, tannin and structure. Still so far from coming around but this reminds me of that salty, saline and mineral 1996. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2005, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

In 2005 the blend (69 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (15) merlot and (16) cabernet franc) saw an increase of cabernet franc, likely because of heat units and a vintage-driven jamminess exhibited by the cabernet sauvignon. The result is a cooler, increased savoury blend with a rising of steroidal currants so very sapid in a pool of high acidity. It’s the most lucent Rubicon, almost luminescent though not quite transparent, still so vital, pulsating and nearly raging in its wild, twitchy edgy energy, even beastly and in the end, just a bit out of balance. Like a Steve Vai riff in Zappa mode. Then again, the, Rubicon ’05, anything but a flex able leftover or quaint little wine might tell me, “I’m the beast of love and you just got in my way.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2004, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon 2004 is a completely different animal, with animale musk and a deep, dark and brooding constitution. The blend is 63 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (27) merlot and (10) cabernet franc. Shows 13 years on as the young (Chris Williams) winemaker’s ambitious first solo effort, while the wood was once so obviously in power of demand, it’s now ameliorated and integrated. This must have taken some time to come around, perhaps as recent as a year or two ago. Rubicon has been produced since 1980, was previuosly a matter of cabernet sauvignon, now here with more cabernet franc than before. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2003, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon 2003 was made by Chris Williams’ predecessor Giorgio Dalla Cia and from ’04 on they are made by Williams. The blend is 69 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (19) merlot and (12) cabernet franc. From a long hot dry sumer, a classic Rubicon, again with some lovely complexity out of the shadow of volatility, more savour here and cedar, plus pencil lead and graphite. In the freshest of ways this is closer to the present stylistic of Rubicon and Stellenbosh and further away than 1996. It’s the transition from old to new, with concentrated black currant, Cassis and wine gum. Not quite tertiary bit meaty char, balsamic, fennel and mushroom are just around the corner. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2001, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

2001, a warmer vintage is the assumption, with its wood still in play and tannins truly continuing their assertion. Giorgio dalla Cia fashioned a truly proportioned blend, of 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon with equal parts merlot and cabernet franc. While it can’t hide from its ocean salinity and omnipresent terroir it is a stand out vintage because of new world opulence. I’m not sure there will be another Rubicon in this tasting or at any opportunistic time that will make one dream so vividly of Bordeaux (i.e Château Pichon Longueville Baron) but also Napa Valley (i.e. Opus One). The structure in this Rubicon is purely Stellenbosch and with its merlot/cabernet franc proportion it’s quite intriguing, especially because of the warmth and how dramatically this foreshadows how franc will become more important in the blend as the years progress by. A fantastic wine Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 1996, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

In 1996 Chris Williams was a junior winemaker (to Giorgio della Cia) at the time but he remembers the vintage well. The blend is 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (20) merlot and (10) cabernet franc, from a cool vintage, here still dishing some Brettanomyces. It’s in check and so kind, gentle and helps to fixate towards thinking it a a sleeper vintage sort of personality There is much savour, still fruit (mulberry and plum), lots of acidity in quite a sour patch candy way but really dry and intense.Plenty of sediment! Very much alive with the silty, salty, but not fine pearly tannin. This falls into the saline-savoury style with wood just a dream from long ago, though admittedly a bit too pungent and earthy. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 1984, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Meerlust dates back to 1693, the house that is “love or pleasure of the sea.” Less than five kms south from the Atlantic Ocean, the property was purchased in 1756 and to this day remains family owned, now in its eighth generation with 260 years of continuity. Rubicon 1984 is poured (with brilliant decision making) from magnum and is therefore fresher than the 1996 with an incredibly controlled level of fineness in tannin, from acidity and at the threshold of understood volatility. “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood,” like this early Rubicon. The future of Meerlust is foretold with Orwellian transparency, bold honesty and expert ability. “Who controls the past controls the future.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (283390, $29.95, WineAlign)

Meerlust’s solo cabernet sauvignon ’04 is not merely very much alive it’s still full of bright fruit, though the wood is more noticeable than on the Rubicon. It is the lack of cabernet franc more than anything that seems to be the reason. The ganache component is highly significant, a chocolate factor magnified but still the Meerlust acidity drives the machine. Ripe and ripping with tannins still very much in charge, this wouldn’t be harmed by the generous and patient affording of more time so that it may further evolve to become the pleasing red it knows it will be. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2017

Not just #meerlust more like major lust. Thank you for the sexy time travel @meerlustwine Laurel Keenan and The South African Wine Society.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related – A link to the School of Cool presentation download

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jamie Goode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheesecake Bar by Chef Frand Dodd, Trius Winery and Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willamette dammit! @bachelder_wines @coolchardonnay #i4c17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House of Chards #i4c Lunch at Trius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate Winery

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

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

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

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and #14c, July 2017  hidden bench  @HiddenBench  @Hidden.Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charline Drappier

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

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

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

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

Adam Mariani, Scribe Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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En route to Mondavi

Godello at Mondavi, February 2016 @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers

I’m feeling a Mondavi shiver and a To Kalon shimmer coming on. Another anticipatory Mondavi experience is looming, a next week return venture to the iconic and archetypal Napa Valley winery. This will be my third deep delve into the wines of Robert Mondavi spread out over the past 15 months, after a February 2016 California visit and a June VINTAGES 50th Anniversary structured tasting and dinner. I thought it might be me that was the one getting around but clearly it’s the other way around.

THIS VINEYARD STOOD HEAD AND

SHOULDERS ABOVE THOSE AROUND IT

“The extraordinary quality of this wine originates in Napa Valley’s generous terroir. When I taste this, I’m reminded why Cabernet Sauvignon is the varietal on which Robert Mondavi built his reputation.” These are the comments of Genevieve Janssens, Director of Winemaking. I’d hedge my bets that Fumé Blanc should also fall under the auspicious umbrella of such a statement. Mondavi turned the ideal into copyright and it should be argued that Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc would not be where it is today without the farming, research and development put in by generations of the Mondavi team.

Mondavi @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers — at Robert Mondavi Vineyard.

No matter the varietal, the To Kalon Vineyard is where it all stems from, the rib from which the eponymous winery was born and the subsequent 50 years of wines that have comes from those storied vines. In 1966 Mondavi chose To Kalon as the epicentre of what would turn out to be a great big winemaking universe. “It was a vineyard with a distinguished history and a magical nature, ” he wrote. “Ideal soils, sunlight and rain – to my eye, the vineyard was a treasure.” Five decades of Fumé Blanc have sprung, along with more than a hundred renditions of Cabernet Sauvignon.

During that February 2016 visit we tasted through Napa, Oakville and Reserve Fumé Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Carneros Pinot Noir and To Kalon Vineyard bottles were poured in the Margarit Mondavi Vineyard Room at dinner prepared by Chef Jeff Mosher, including the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

Lorenzo Loseto predeliction @georgeonqueen Lobster, asparagus, quinoa, brioche #umami

Last June Mark De Vere MW led a masterclass in celebration of Mondavi’s 50th anniversary. The line up was outstanding bordering on ridiculous. Vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon starting at 2012 and going back through 2007, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1980 and 1975. The VINTAGES sponsored event and dinner at George Restaurant was prepared by the predilection of Executive Chef Lorenzo Loreto.

With 50 years of To Kalon and a specialized certification program up next, there is no better time than the present to publish these notes on 16 Mondavi wines tasted during these recent events and a few others that have found their way through the VINTAGES release program. Here they are.

Feeling a #mondavi shiver and a #tokalon shimmer #50thanniversary @RobertMondavi #markdevere

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 221887 $22.95, WineAlign)

The landmark 2015 is the culmination of five Mondavi decades spent elevating and differentiating sauvignon blanc, now in the its 50th vintage. The name fumé blanc and Mondavi are synonymous with one another in unequivocal signature, identical twin, trademark, signature fashion. Not just for Oakville, Napa Valley and California but anywhere and everywhere. You can throw in benchmark, Fodor’s or Lonely Planet guide, dictionary entry or whatever moniker you like. Mondavi’s is all this and in 2015 at its richest and adroitly balanced best. The nose is all ripe orchard fruit from seed to stone and the palate full of texture, acidity and length. The flavours repeat the apple-pear-peach-plum fodder with great tang and near-essential aridity. Great vineyards produce great sauvignon blanc and the rest is history. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted February 2017

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Oakville 2013, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 13119254 $32.00, WineAlign)

The Oakville fumé blanc is a To Kalon gathering, the vineyard that surrounds the Robert Mondavi Winery. With so many “highest beauty” offerings it’s hard to keep track but this qualifies for the distinction with as much respect as any in the ever moving squall of the portfolio. Here from the geographic mean of the valley, a benchmark Bordeaux blend in bench abutment, composed of 89 per cent sauvignon blanc and (11) sémillon. This is only the third vintage and once in cohorts you note the elevated toast, struck flint and smoke. More citrus involves the senses, something almost rare for Napa Valley, in this way. With time (and please be encouraged to hang out for a while) the butterscotch joins the fumé party. The increased tense intention translates to excellent length. The sémillon makes a statement into the nicely bitter finish, with weight, stoicism and certainly the great potential for age. By way of comparison to the Napa Valley bottle there are 5,000 cases of this Oakville. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Fumé Blanc To Kalon Vineyard 2012, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 225599 $44.75, WineAlign)

The To Kalon Vineyard Reserve produces 2500 cases (in a big year) and 2012 topped out at 1700. The vintage delivers more green apple and elastic elegance so good luck in your search for reduction, flint, toast and smoke. You should look to 2013 for such a deferential stylistic and make plans to embosom the two side by side 10 years onward. This is mostly sourced from the 1959 planted Robert’s Block within the larger vineyard, primarily gravelly and well-draining with some alluvial soil edged against the Mayacamas Mountains. The spice here is exceptional, with some anomalic Napa Valley mineral tang afforded by the sémillon blended into the sauvignon blanc. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California (492124, $44.95, WineAlign)

There is a richness defined in a Mondavi chardonnay that goes beyond the simple fact that the fruit is Carneros in origin. It’s a luxe composition because of that terroir and also because winemaker Genevieve Janssens is painfully shy to let the fruit speak on its own behalf. The crux and the key lies and turns right there because this is a Mondavi wine. Just as it is always noted with fumé blanc, chardonnay too develops this obeisant disposition, full of emotive ability and perhaps not exactly what you are want to expect, varietally speaking. This is singular for Carneros chardonnay and it’s all Mondavi. It’s both country kitchen in weekend baking mode and a walk in the ripening orchard. It’s a starred Michelin kitchen in baking fury, with a multiplicity of sugars caramelizing overtop a myriad of ramekins welling with tropical fruit. Finally, it’s a Mondavi acidity, elevated and integrated. It’s good chardonnay. Drink 2017-2022.   Tasted April 2017

Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Reserve 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 10219840, $60.50, WineAlign)

Some wise old conditioned and character building vines go into Mondavi’s pinot noir, “purchased from people who have better fruit than we do.” The Hyde Vineyard (40 plus year-old vines) and Rancho Carneros (which includes vines planted in 1979) bring the southernmost windswept part of Napa Valley into the pinot mix. This is optimum extraction in hyperbole, of fruit that runs the gamut from red to deeply dark. It is nothing if not a rich, concentrated and intensely flavourful pinot noir. There is a measure of stuffing to see it drink this way for at least five years from release. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016

50th anniversary @RobertMondavi @LCBO #VINTAGES tasting @GeorgeTO #constellationbrands #cabernetsauvignon

Robert Mondavi 50th Anniversary Maestro Red 2013, Napa Valley, California (459933, $60.00, WineAlign)

Maestro the proprietary blend endows another legacy building notch onto the Robert Mondavi name. This is accomplished through the tenets of wisdom in winemaking as an extension from historic estate vineyards. To Kalon is always the rock and in order to make this 50th Anniversary blend there were sources drawn from throughout Napa Valley though mostly from the Stags Leap District. Merlot (59 per cent) is the pillar with cabernet franc (25), cabernet sauvignon (7), petit verdot (6) and malbec. It’s a true five varietal Bordeaux-styled affair with classic Mondavi elevated pH and acidity. The concept is taken from the image of Robert Mondavi as the maestro of the orchestra and of greater Napa Valley. The liquor of merlot provides the base wine, joined dusty and injected with power by jolts of espresso. It’s an interesting 50th anniversary choice of voice, antithetical to the dominant cabernet sauvignon reds that Mondavi is so famous for and the varietal he staked his reputation on. But rich and velvety helps the cause and the result. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, California (255513, $37.95, WineAlign)

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 twice, February and June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, Napa Valley, California (459883, $73.00, WineAlign)

This 1996 is the 30th anniversary bottling at 20 years-old showing with impossible structure and beautiful possibilities still lay ahead. Though expecting it to push through to its 30th birthday is overly ambitious it will drink just like this, with freshness, bright red fruit and pitch perfect acidity for at least three more years. The pleasure it currently brings suggests this is what was meant to be, by design, of great fortune or just plain luck, so get it while it rests in this ethereal state. Those who paid nothing for it early on were the wisest of the wise and also lucky. This Mondavi ’96 would be a Left Bank killer in a Bordeaux blind tasting, teasing as it does with whiffs of Cassis and tobacco, plus a fortune in subtle perfume. The finish brings a note of baked bricks, almost like nebbiolo but the structure is all cabernet sauvignon. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, Napa Valley, California (459867, $73.00, WineAlign)

From a cool, oft times wet vintage with an elongated ripening season the under appreciated, under-valued and underestimated cabernet sauvignons of Napa Valley continue to get their say. This Mondavi ’94 will not be denied its voice, showing harmonious parts in symphony, of power, grip and elegance from To Kalon Vineyard fruit, amazing acidity and more than impressive longevity. Here now some notes of balsam wood, mushroom and soy have taken hold with more than just two years of extra time as compared to the silly fresh ’96, but the jig is not yet up. The combination of brown sugar and lingering mixed berry fruit is nothing but lovely. Drink up soon. Drink 2016-2017.   Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012, Napa Valley, California (670463, $150.00, WineAlign)

Much of the fruit is brought to the Napa Reserve from the To Kalon Vineyard and it is rounded out with complimentary Napa and 16 months in 100 per cent new French oak. From a post 2011 hardship deliverance, more than welcome, hallelujah even vintage. Now a Mondavi return to floral posture above and beyond the Napa and Oakville bottle norms. So very pretty and powerful, out of saturation and into drought from which tannic structure is born. Full on fruit without borders, up to the top of the walls and back down in to the glass. With each sip the tannin builds and builds until the wall is constructed. There is no escape because the architecture is both classic and exceptional. Don’t be in a hurry. Struggle will only tighten the grip. Be patient and the next decade will deliver elegance and grace. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon Vineyard 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (670463, $150.00, WineAlign)

This is just the second vintage of the To Kalon Oakville Reserve (as opposed to the Napa bottling) from a vineyard where Robert Mondavi established his winery in 1966 and the next “great one,” after 2009. The To Kalon (western) Oakville Reserve is like the Gretzky of cabernet sauvignons, a generational player that only comes along once (or in wine terms, two or three times) a decade. The finest blocks and the “walk in the park” vintage conspired to make To Kalon a focal point once again, of both pH and acidity on the elevated scale, telling us that longevity will never come into question. The wall of tannin exhibited by the Napa Reserve is not duplicated here and so it is a different sort of structure that builds, with more black cherry rich fruit and coveted acescence, but also an absence refined, as if the French barrel hides, deftly woven into the fineness of grain. There is a dusty, ropey and slow developing rise in character, as if a low, barely audible rumble can be heard, or sensed. A waffling between great and outstanding is certainly understood but by the time we reach 2030 and add up the career statistics of this To Kalon I’m quite certain the jury will be out. Drink 2018-2031.  Tasted February and June 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, California (670463, $144.95, WineAlign)

Tasted at the nine year mark the vintage warmth has nowhere to hide and the fruit is coming within reason of raisin. A small percentage of petit verdot is part of this Mondavi development from fruit as rich, concentrated and extracted as any. The choices made here surely went a long way towards teaching what subsequent decisions were made with the aridity of 2012, 2013 and 2014. The dried fruit as syrup glazing the layers of cake melts into the decadence of barrel chocolate and a roundness of acidity so different that the 2012s. Some earthy, woodsy floor grounds this ’07 so that you are able to see fruit through the forest’s trees. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Though sandwiched betwixt and gobsmacked between some infamous Napa Valley vintages (most notable 1995-7 and 1999) don’t look past this golden era 1998. To Kalon Vineyard is the source so right there is pretty much what you need to know about pedigree and potential. At this 17-18 years point in time a few drops of soy and a melt or two of caramel are noted in the ’98 Reserve’s development. Secondary affirmations and vintage structure bring out the purity of the herbaceous quality in cabernet sauvignon together with the slow evolution of a quiet, respectful wine. A tender and silky balsamic reduction chimes in though time is still a friend, willing and allowing the fruit to continue its natural path towards senectitude. I can’t find any reason to not seek tertiary character and continue to enjoy this over the next six years. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, Napa Valley, California (670463, WineAlign)

A few points of merlot were blended into this 21-year salute to Mondavi’s legacy, a cabernet sauvignon impossibly fresh and bright this deep into life. The acidity is not only persistent it’s downright captivating and spellbinding. With thanks to the vintage of course, after a wet spring and a long, cool summer. Few double digit decade retrospective looks into the Mondavi cabernet sauvignon anthology would deliver such clarity of fruit seemingly immune to the truffled passages of time. By dint of tradition and without any forced supervision wines like this govern themselves and yet this might be a larger consideration regarding the entire portfolio. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016

Say, friend – you got any more of that good Sarsaparilla? #thestranger #thebiglebowski #yeahthatsagoodone

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1980, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Mondavi’s 1980 Reserve comes from a time when Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon was made in an unidentified, free and indirect style. The young To Kalon Vineyard may have already known its iconic place but if the makers also knew they could not have so easily created such an early success for us to revel in 36 years later. This is now and still fresh, at least in the context of three dozen years in the bag, with that tied To Kalon triumvirate of acidity, tannin and structure seamless and unsevered. How many aromatic notes can be described? Sarsaparilla, root beer, baked bricks, tomato leaf, pipe tobacco, eryngii mushroom, potpourri and mocha are eight that come to mind and nose. It’s a juicy ’80, not so much in terms of fruit though further sips bring faint memories on the back palate. All this 36 years later manages to remove responsibility from the omniscient perspective of the winemaker and lay it comfortably and pleasurably in our hands and minds. So much thanks for this opportunity. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1975, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Forty one years is a long haul for a wine to hang in there and I’m not sure more than a handful of 1975 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon not plucked from the future iconic climat of To Kalon Vineyard could have survived this test of time. Even with the impressive longevity and lifeline ability this is now more curiosity than pleasure. Some might say at this stage the wine may be aimless but who can deny that it is also possessive of poised intelligence. From a vintage overshadowed by 1974, there is some old California Golden Seals hockey bag sweat in the aromatic mix along with savoury mulch and mushroom. There really is no fruit left to speak of, prune perhaps but no berries. The acidity still rips with some strength, swirling into the burnt caramel and all things considered this ain’t dead yet. It does show some Bretty notes that the 1980 does not and in the end the adage is true, spoken so eloquently by Mark de Vere MW. “Flavours you cannot replicate without time.” Drink 2016.   Tasted June 2016

Godello at Mondavi, February 2016 @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Mannella from heaven

la-mannella-riserva-2010

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010

Having just recently (two weeks ago) participated in Benveunto Brunello 2017 held at the Chiostro del Museo di Montalcino from the 17th to the 20th of February, I’m feeling the sangiovese groove, in multiple clones and tones. Less than a week after my return to Canada one of the prodigal sons of Montalcino arrived in Toronto for a presentation of his wines with local omnipresent agent/négoce Nicholas Pearce. Jonathan MacCalder hosted the get together at the cozy Yorkville haunt he calls work, affectionately known as Kasa Moto.

tommaso-crtonesi-holds-brunello-court-at-kasa-moto

Tommaso Crtonesi holds Brunello court at Kasa Moto

A team of over-achieving and wild bunch sommeliers gave up the better part of a morning and early afternoon to talk sangiovese, Rosso di Toscana and the Rosso-Brunello idiom with the precocious and serenely wise Tommaso, a winemaker from Montalcino with an old soul, uncanny slash conscious ability and powers of concentration to bely his youth. With Nicholas Pearce, Michelle Ratzlaff, Krystina Roman, Christopher Sealy, Ian Thresher, Madeleine Hayles, Courtney Stebbings, Lauren Hall and the aforementioned Lenny Bruce of wine, we delved deep into the heart of the Montalcino matter. Sometime soon I will publish 100-plus tasting notes from the Benvenuto tasting but for now it’s all Mannella from heaven.

the-future-of-montalcino-is-in-good-hands-lamannella-cortonesi-nicholaspearce_-tommasocortonesi-ilpoggiarelli-sangiovese-brunellodimontalcino

The future of Montalcino is in good hands @LaMannella #cortonesi @nicholaspearce_ #tommasocortonesi #ilpoggiarelli #sangiovese #brunellodimontalcino

Cortonesi La Mannella Lèonus Igt Toscana Rosso 2015, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Lèonus is sangiovese of natural and effortless appeal. With pocketed thoughts of Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino in mind you can extrapolate with elastic, proverbial stretch and easily wind up here. It’s simple really, straightforward and noted as a gulpable mouthful of rocks tumbling in wet concrete. The great round acidity equalizer acts for mostly northern Montalcino fruit plus 20 percent from the south. Tommaso Cortonesi comes at it with a threefold selection; at harvest, in fermentation and from élevage. It’s entry level so just drink it. The fruit is darker and deprived of firm astringency, spent four months in 3000L Slavonian oak and three months in bottle. For every day, especially with antipasti. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted February 2017

Cortonesi La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino 2015, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

The advance is a young winemaker’s approach, using fruit from the youngest vines but from the same vineyards used for Brunello production. Clonal selection permits early success from the fourth to fifth leaf for precocious wines off vines so young. Others may use vineyards dedicated to Rosso, so farmed with ulterior motive and expectation, neither better nor worse, but different. The old way was simply a matter in selection of grapes, something young winemakers are abandoning for now one or the other ways of making Rosso. Tommaso Cortonesi’s is luminous and bright within a frame of ascension in reference to the darker cherry sangiovese point spectrum, with three levels of variegated hue and aromatic profile. Char, fennel and fruit. Great structure, agreeable and yes, drinkable now Rosso. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted February 2017

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $70.95, WineAlign)

La Mannella, meaning the manna from heaven is a five hectare, five block vineyard in surround of the winery at the centre of the Cortonesi universe. A vineyard that is used exclusively for the production of the estate’s Rosso and La Mannella Brunelli. La Mannella (as opposed to I Poggiarelli) is a single block Brunello but not a “single-vineyard,” planted in 1985 and 1998 in a relative Montalcino colder northern clime. This emits and represents the epitome for floral sangiovese, a bouquet that speaks to violets and elegant, light purple fruit. The penetrability and explicability of purlieu is an act of focus and the cynosure of assessment. Brunello should be exacting, something you get and it must define itself in clear sangiovese-speak. Large slavonian oak for 36 months maintains and celebrates the perfume. The wood shows up late, in white peppery spice and that just have to lay on your tongue and swallow with sublime delight, liquid chalky finish. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted February 2017

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino I Poggiarelli 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $95.95, WineAlign)

This is Cortonesi’s single-vineyard sangiovese from the warmer, southern part of Montalcino at 420m of elevation. Expectation allows for deeper, and darker yet the display comes without the La Mannella block crimson and cimmerian variegation, perhaps instead more like the single-brushstroke, dark side of dusk angle created by a fuzzy, warm blend of fiery colours. More Galestro soil influence here as opposed to clay at La Mannella and two years in part new French tonneaux followed by stainless steel vats. A deferential élevage to the one exercised with La Mannella and one to encourage depth and structure without too much power. Classic, modern, elegant and an apple to La Mannella’s orange. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2017

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino I Poggiarelli 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $95.95, WineAlign)

Looking rearward into the recent past what comes into near focus is the combination of liqueur and firmness, a handful for sure and yet it seems that time (even just an extra year or two in bottle) brings out that specific Cortonesi perfume. The tang and richness of concentrated acidity really elevates at this stage so that tannin begin its resultion so young and impressively so. This is not the big, bad Brunello but the one to make enjoyment haste. The length is exceptional with pretty tonic and bitter moments that pop in and out. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted February 2017

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino I Poggiarelli 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $95.95, WineAlign)

If the argument was ever made to sway in the “yes it was and is” direction, this Cortonesi example from the exceptional vintage leads the parade with aromatics that go exotic and then return domestic. A spirit of the east, of bougainvillea and hibiscus plus a Montalcino gustatory aromatic spice. Then that return to fennel, a walk through flora Montalcino brush and sweet French tonneau spice. The liquorice is one bred out of aromatic acidity, like a fine chalky dusting of red crimson and ochre to purple powder on a plate next to a perfect charred slice of beef. Elegant sangiovese cuisine in a glass, deconstructed and all obvious in their parts but when you taste you pause and it all comes together. The flavours mingle and weave, of cherries and fruit leather, more mellowed spice, still lingering fresh, persistent and remarkably bright. Southern vineyard be damned, this is a cool, elegant and lithe drop. Harkens back to a mind’s eye and nose in memory of Brunello 1998, maybe a bit of 1999, but more like 1998. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted February 2017

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2010, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $202.95, WineAlign)

There are few Brunello vintages afforded more attention in the last 10-plus, certainly ’04 and ’06, increasingly better even from ’08 and looking forward towards what greatness will come in 2015. Yes but not solely magnified through the lens of patience and bottle time, from 2010 La Mannella has coupled upon and layered over itself like compressed fruit and puff pastry. Though it begs for drink now attention, another seven years will be needed before it can safely be labeled as uncoiled and to reveal all that is wrapped so tight. Rich is not the operative but unmistakeable as Cortonesi it is; that natural clay soil funk of resolution and fully hydrated chalk. This is to sangiovese as Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis or Rangen Grand Cru Alsace are to Riesling. It carries in its pocket the absolute meaning and genetic responsibility of where it comes from, with a curative and restorative ability to get you lost. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted February 2017

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Catena out of the bag

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Inclined to think this block has the best microbes @CatenaMalbec @LauraCatenamd @Noble_Estates #perfectname #adriannavineyard #vinodeparcela #mundusbacillusterrae #catenazapata #winesofargentina #mendoza #gualtallary #tupungato

Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata is in the throes of self-professed “Three Revolutions.” The first was inspired by Napa Valley, a grand success story that convinced Nicolás Catena Zapata to pursue the consciousness of emulation. He made the decision to plant, cultivate and produce high quality cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. He infused his high-end domestic red with malbec, initiating a long history for this wine and a technique many others would follow. The old Italian traditions were eschewed for the Calif-French style. Catena has long since brought that wine to the world. The first revolution has been realized.

The development of extreme high altitude vineyards are at the crux of Catena’s second revolution. “When we talk about making a high altitude blend, we are actually taking about making a high altitude family of blends,” says Dr. Laura Catena, by way of introduction to a small faction of Toronto media. Plant selections and cuttings are employed with geneology and lineage. “To me climate has always been defined by latitude. Altitude is an entirely separate component. It’s a fact. Different soils give different flavours. I think the explanation lies in the microbes. Terroir needs to be redefined with these elements.”

Which leads to the third revolution, the current obsession defined by vinous archaeology, as if the Catena team are searching for fossils and signs of ancient life in the soil of their Adrianna Vineyard. They are in fact looking for diversity, variance and permutations, what viticulturists like to call micro-terroir. They are seeking to prove a French theory which attributes 100 per cent wine quality to terroir. Research is the mode de vie and who better to lead the revolution than the Harvard University-educated, biologist and physician Dr. Laura Catena. She and Head Winemaker Alejandro Vigil, along with Fernando Buscema and Vineyard Manager Luis Reginato have created the “Catena Institute of Wine.” What treasures they unearth will unlock the secret to the third “vineyard lot” revolution.

good-morning-lauracatenamd-vinodeparcela-altitudewines-appellationwines

Good morning @lauracatenamd #vinodeparcela #altitudewines #appellationwines

Their website reads “Leña Restaurante by Chef Anthony Walsh is an all-day dining destination, inspired by South American cooking, located at the corner of Yonge and Richmond.” Truer time-gastronomy continuum words are rarely spoken. We arrived early to meet Dr. Laura Catena, listened with great intent as she led us through nine appellation series and Adrianna Vineyard wines and then moved on to lunch. If ducking out early to catch an overseas flight were not an obstacle it would have added up to the better part of an all-day affair. I would have had no problem with that.

We are blessed in Toronto, this close-knit wine community of ours, with access to a never-ending flow of great wine. We are also graced by exceptional humans, wine purveyors, men and women who have assumed the thankless task of procuring the finest available products from around the globe, against all odds beneath the shadow of the world’s most tyrannical liquor system. Hats off to them.

tuna

Leña Restaurante’s Charcoal Bluefin Tuna, baked garlic potato, rapini, mojama, tomato

On November 9th Craig de Blois, Richard Dittmar and Mark Coster of Noble Estates, three smarter than your average bear, stand up guys played chaperone to Argentina’s Dr. Laura Catena in Toronto for this media tasting and trade lunch. We journalists and sommeliers are all well-versed in the Catena portfolio. My WineAlign colleagues and I had recently sat down with winemaker Ernesto Badja for a full-on, wide-scale investigation into a large section of the portfolio. This extraordinary and climat-precise sit-down went much further, deep into the soil for a compendious look at the proselytism of Catena culture.

Much of the discourse with Dr. Laura Catena during this visit focused on the science of soil, of microbes, bacteria and block by block vineyard investigations. I would expand further but I’ll just have to ask you to read the tasting notes below. Each of the very specific wines poured by Dr. Catena is driven by a particular block or a structured pyramid of amalgamated plots and the notes must speak to the science behind each expression. No more questions here. Just read the notes.

catena-appellation

Catena Vista Flores 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

The humidity of Vista Flores (where there is much more rainfall) makes for another level of compression and density in malbec. A very floral red, from violets and roses, mixed in with deep, dark fruit. The tannins are sous vide and subterranean, throaty, tobacco-laced and rigid. Gifts a soft peppery bite, fine dust, even finer tang, minty meets calcari feel. The purpose here is to elevate Catena’s cabernet sauvignon and malbec essentials into more curious consumer territory. Value here is strong and purposed so there is nothing to fear. Single vineyards are not always commercially sustainable but single terroirs are so much more likely so. This is the epitome of that concept for malbec in Mendoza. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena Paraje Altamira Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Paraje Altamira refers to something that is distant, far away, separated, a terroir where plots and places are dotted, separated by one another by some distance. Here Catena procures the flesh of the land with a malbec that delves deeper into earth and clay and procures a fuller, riper rich berry that goes to blue and boys. Though the tones of aromatic intensity and acidity are elevated, the ceiling is finite and the malbec juice is brilliantly protected. The earthy, material funk is all in, in surround and prevalent even as it finishes with the effects of great soil structure variegations. There is modern nebbiolo meets South African schisty syrah from mineral, smoked meat and smoulder in here. It’s got tartare running through its blood. Wow. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena San Carlos Cabernet Franc 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here in 2014 the single terroir series cabernet franc by Catena heads in the right direction with elevated aromatic tones, so different than the malbec. Well enough aside and beyond just location, it seems San Carlos accentuates the acidity and the herbal conditioning to fruit, making it taste more like plum and pomegranate than berries. The barrel weighs yet does trod lightly on the ripe red fruit. There is great persistence in its gait, with additional black fruit from currants and berries. The pyrazines are low to almost noon-discernible. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena Agrelo Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

The aromatics fly from this four vineyard blend, more than the malbecs and certainly with haute plaisir as compared to the cabernet franc. The far-reaching amalgamation comes by way of La Pirámide Vineyard in the Agrelo district of Luján de Cuyo, Domingo Vineyard in the Villa Bastías district of Tupungato, Nicasia Vineyard located in Altamira in the La Consulta district of San Carlos and the high-altitude Adrianna Vineyard in the Gualtallary district of Tupungato. Travels well beyond fruit into florals and a sense of one another’s cumulative soil. What happens in Agrelo’s soils reacts with cabernet sauvignon or rather it allows (or encourages) these vines to draw something other. Something that is deep into a richness of tang, not an elevated acidity but a round and circuitous one. Balance is unearthed (literally) and this wine is extremely fresh, in fact it’s bloody delicious. A bit dusty and a few drops of bitters fall into it late so there is a minor sense of char and tar. Lingers like cabernet can and should. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted November 2016

"Bones sinking like stones, all that we fall for." @LauraCatenamd we live in a beautiful world when #chardonnay does this, and that #adriannavineyard #catenawines #bodegacatenazapata #gualtallary #tupungato #mendoza #vinodeparcela #whitebones #whitestones

“Bones sinking like stones, all that we fall for.” @LauraCatenamd we live in a beautiful world when #chardonnay does this, and that #adriannavineyard #catenawines #bodegacatenazapata #gualtallary #tupungato #mendoza #vinodeparcela #whitebones #whitestones

Bodega Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay White Stones 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $81.00, WineAlign)

The White Stones chardonnay from the altitude-aromatic-accelerating Adrianna Vineyard is part of Catena’s third revolution, in concert to understanding soil, led by Laura Catena, beginning here. From Laura’s passion for “parcelas,” micro-level soil locations, going back to an investigation that began in 2000. In a locale above a dried riverbed, leaving big rocks, limestone, sand and more rocks in various locations, with the use of 70 parcel bits per hectare showing what is where. Stones on the soil’s surface help to facilitate and create a micro-climate of warm days and very cold nights. From the outset it has to be said that no chardonnay from the southern hemisphere has ever intimated Burgundy as one smell and one taste as here it has done. It is noted as an impression deeply internalized from this single parcel within the vineyard. There are sticks and stones in elegant lines, subtle, demurred white flower aromas, lime-creamy fruit, petals and rock. A wow mouthfeel and flavour intensity. Wild-eyed acidity. All this could not have been laid clear, or bare, a year ago. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted November 2016

Bodega Catena Zapata Chardonnay Adrianna Vineyard White Bones 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $110.00, WineAlign)

The flip side of the Adrianna Vineyard is the antithetical White Bones, also part of Laura Catena’s third revolution, investigating and culling acuity from soil through the breakdown of the “parcelas.” These micro-level soil locations were first dissected in 2000 for the purpose of deconstructing Adrianna’s block-by-block diversity. The Bones necessarily draws from the ancient riverbed below, from its single parcel limestone, sand and rocks within the vineyard, though it seems quite deferential to the White Stones. It’s somehow fleshier and corporeal, of similar sticks but less stones. More bones, like an arm outstretched from the crackling skin of the roasting bird or swine. More gastronomy in that sense, less cool-climate and limestone a mere twinkle, not a shard or karst stuck like a needle into that arm. But the palate returns to join the stones with citrus and intensity. Chardonnay of concentration and balance with the soil crumbling like bones, shells and fossils into what is best described as Chablis. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted November 2016

chicken-soup

Leña Restaurante’s Mushroom and Lentil Soup, roasted chicken, swiss chard, lemon

Nicolás Catena Zapata 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (396960, $110.00, WineAlign)

The epiphany came after Jacques Lurton told Nicolás Catena “your cabernet sauvignon reminds me of the Languedoc.” So Nicolás went back to Argentina and planted at 5,000 feet of elevation. History changed. So the coolest (others insisted “you will never ripen at this altitude”) site produces this dry, dusty, intense cabernet sauvignon, the kind you can’t deny is possessive of powers unable to resist oozing dark black currants, chocolate and spice. Try musing about holes on the palate and if you find one it’s black into which once entered reveals no exit point. The back is very chocolate driven, of dark cacao, bitterless and strong. Note the balanced intervals of structure by fine-line drawn architecture and see where this will travel. For 10 more years until the fruit begins to dry and shrivel to further intensify. The mind’s obsession keeps returning back to the middle palate that drives the machine. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2016

Catena Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae Malbec Vino De Parcela 2012, Mendoza (Agent, $130.00, WineAlign)

Catena’s Adrianna has clearly emerged as its most important vineyard and its biological dissolution is spurred by Laura Catena’s medical state of being and an unpropitious thirst for viticultural, micro-level knowledge. The analogical thinking machine delves deep into soil locations from an investigation that began in 2000. This section of Adrianna draws aridity and subtlety (as opposed to power) from the subterranean riverbed, leaving the big rock and heavy clay impart to others. From this single parcel within the vineyard the surprisingly attenuated and reserved character creates a new order for malbec, from Catena and the single-vineyard entablature. Quite pretty, floral and less volatile than not just Catena’s way but Mendoza malbec as a thing. A natural cure in the flavour profile tends to salumi and comes late. But even more respect is awarded because the overall personality is achieved without shrouding, sheathing or smouldering. It’s a very transparent malbec of extreme clarity, engaging and inviting. Singular actually. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted November 2016

Catena Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2011, Mendoza (Agent, $325.00, WineAlign)

In this extremely specific malbec from a diagnosed block of the Adrianna Vineyard we are graced with the micro-science of wine. And if you feel that using the name of an aerobic bacteria in the nomenclature is an odd choice, consider the mind of Dr. Laura Catena and her biological approach to viticulture. If we can understand and differentiate the microbes in the soil we can make better wine. It’s as simple as that. When wine is broken down to the biological level is becomes something entirely different and this is the road travelled by the Mundus Bacillus. Catena’s usage of 70 parcel pits per hectare has unearthed this single parcel within the vineyard, again completely different and the pinpointed microbial discussion initiates right here. The soil stakes a claim for this malbec only, certainly not in any way that tends to funk but surely as an impresario of soil. Talk about eugenics in the MBT because that science is compelling and can be related to in this wine. It can offer keys towards improving genetic quality of the vinous population. Here we are faced with rich and dusty, a mean streak of malbec intensity made elegant by earthly microbes. This section draws parallels to the (chardonnay) White Bones soil from which there transfers an excess of dry extract and tannin. Patience please for a malbec that will be long lived. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2016

inclined-to-think-this-block-has-the-best-microbes-catenamalbec-lauracatenamd-noble_estates-perfectname-adriannavineyard-vinodeparcela-mundusbacillusterrae-catenazapata-winesofargentina-mend

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Savouring the new Australia

Back in the savour again @Wine_Australia #SavourAus #history #evolution #revolution

Back in the savour again @Wine_Australia #SavourAus #history #evolution #revolution

Back in early February a group of Aussies were pulled from pocket, heralded with perspicacious aptitude by Mark Davidson and poured at the Vintage Conservatory for Toronto’s want to know wine community. The murmurs could be heard speaking the unspoken profound. I took coadjutant note. In late February I surmised that “the seminar offered a welcoming respite from my monthly treadle of reviewing. The Langton’s wines collectively commit to the idea that wine is a blueprint with entrepreneurial elements, an elixir akin to the maker’s inventive secret machines. It is always refreshing to taste wines that are not exaggerated or sentimental. These Aussies are representative of all this and more.”

Related – Langton’s Classification: Excellent, outstanding, exceptional

“Such a gathering of Australian wine delivers the preponderance of form, with the incantatory capacity of narrative to bring truth to light and fulness out of pleasure.”

On the heels of that twelve strong Langton’s Classification Toronto tasting came another stellar gathering, this time expatiated as Savour Australia. Just when you think the best of the best had come to town, the best got better.

Ooh, no, not @VintageMD but yes, @johnszabo for #SavourAus @Wine_Australia

Ooh, no, not @VintageMD but yes, @johnszabo for #SavourAus @Wine_Australia

Wine Australia and her woman about town Anne Popoff gathered 28 producers from 14 regions at George Restaurant on May 16, 2016. The HER (history-evolution-revolution) trade seminar was presented by Master Sommelier John Szabo. The wines were nothing short of exceptional. Once again Australia delivered, not only in terms of quality but also with deferential diversity. Imagine the possibilities when the new effects of restraint and change begin to trickle down to less expensive and more commercially produced wines. Australia will become a new global force to be reckoned with. Here are my notes on the 12 seminar wines plus a few new finds.

Gotta say good on ya @Wine_Australia & @lesavoirvivre59 for today's neoteric rainbow of #SavourAus

Gotta say good on ya @Wine_Australia & @lesavoirvivre59 for today’s neoteric rainbow of #SavourAus

History

Kilikanoon Mort’s Block Riesling 2005, Clare Valley, South Australia (233791, $50.00, WineAlign)

From 45 year-old vines planted by Kevin Mitchell and dedicated to his father Mort, the Reserve Watervale riesling has entered Clare Valley 10 years plus of age nirvana. From pristine free-run juice, this is premium, intensely sun-juicy Riesling, notable for its key-lime aroma and flavour. A key to your citrus pie heart, it took all this time to bring out the complimentary toast. Racy, revelling riesling as a bone outstretched from the stone of Clare Valley soil. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2016  @kilikanoon  @ChartonHobbs  @ClareValleySA

D’arenberg The Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

From a vineyard abandoned and left for dead, with bush vines as old as 100 years revived and restored. No new French wood houses d’Arenberg’s delicately dangerous grenache fruit for 12 months. The intro guitar chords from these plants of arms outstretched are George Harrison generous and give fruit more sweet than dandy. Grenache can seem so sketched, lithographed, Warhol copied and godless, but from old vines handled with care it takes a more godly direction. Here there is a slow-settled sense of cure and a liqueur distilled as if by red soil into liquid mineral. It is also fresher than other old vines grenache, say from Aragon or the southern Rhône. “But it takes so long, my Lord.” In McLaren Vale, 100 years. Thank goodness this 2012 has been prepped to please beginning in 2016. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2016  @darenbergwine  @TashStoodley  @imbibersreport  @mclaren_vale

Hollick Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia (Agent, $75.00, WineAlign)

No Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon can be considered without the signature, what Hollick’s Rebecca Poynter points out as the “GI,” the Geographical Indication. Registered back in 2003, the ideal demarcates exact boundaries and the deeper we try and understand the terra rossa soil and what it means for cabernet sauvignon, the more it seems that Classico should be added to discern the local varietal specification. First made in 1988 and only produced in exceptional vintages, Ravenswood (Lane) is the link between Hollick’s Neilson Block and Wilgha Coonawarra Vineyards. A bonny doon uprising of cool temperatures from the ocean and the terra rossa create a combined mineral-savoury undertone and a long, cool growing elegance. Iconic attribution, the marriage of old vines and best plots, 18 months plus 18 in bottle. All this to see depth in red plus black fruit, such developed acidity and in the end, bramble on. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2016  @hollickwines  @LiffordON  @CoonawarraWine

St. Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2013, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $80.00, WineAlign)

An Eden and Barossa Valley blend from vines that range between 60 and 100 years old, the Old Block 2013 is perhaps the most exotic, romantic and profusely perfumed Shiraz in South Australia. The evocative and ambrosial mix of wild rose bud tisane, unlit Indonesian kretek tobacco and Eucalyptus Leucoxylon Rosea is herbaceous, spicy and ambrosial. You might expect a hammer on an anvil but a bridge between the two valleys conjoins the fruit, layers with balance and forms a silky and seductive story that is a great read into texture, from prime extraction and the lavender-vanilla seduction of new and old French oak. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2016  @StHallettWines  @Select_Wines  @BarossaDirt

Evolution

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, Western Australia (Agent, $99.95, WineAlign)

Young is the operative understatement, whilst toast and butter in peak pomade are equally opposed yet lifted by the blossoms of white flowers. What erudite reduction brings and how it stops time. The best barrel selections from powerful Block 20 fruit cause the commotion in a zero shame Chardonnay, philosophically captured though perhaps one step back from unabashed. Ripeness was clearly not an issue. Freshness balances all else. At present the youth is seemingly everlasting. The effects of a moderate climate and corresponding alcohol, in at 13.5 per cent, are edifying to the western tongue. The length is exceptional. In this opinion, classification easily and unquestionably upheld. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016  @Leeuwin_Estate  @TFBrands  @MargaretRiverWi

I love the smell of blood orange in the morning @SoumahWines @Wine_Australia #SavourAus #pinotnoir #yarravalley #singlevineyard

I love the smell of blood orange in the morning @SoumahWines @Wine_Australia #SavourAus #pinotnoir #yarravalley #singlevineyard

Souma Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yarra Valley, Victoria, South Australia (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

Old sandstones, silky loam and minor clay nourish vines planted in 1994, “to a fruit salad,” explains Steven Worley and which eventually evolved into pinot noir. The Soumah Single-Vineyard wines are named after train stations (i.e. Bluestone, Hexham) and they refer to an eastern French didactic. The aromatics abound from 2015, in plethora of orange musk; first blossom, then zest and finally a liqueur. Pinpointed further it’s blood orange, studded with clove, then squeezed into a Mimosa. Early fruit phenolic ripeness, high-picked acidity, wild yeasts and some whole bunch (10 per cent) fermentation leads with freshness, tension and precision. In this pinot noir you can’t help but note the new world cure and pastis flavours in what is very much a treatment in old world homage. An Amaro note slides along the terrific length. Very expressive wine. I love the smell of blood orange in the morning. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted May 2016  @SoumahWines  @vonterrabev  @yarra_valley

Alpha Box & Dice Xola Aglianico 2011, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

This first vintage of the grippy aglianico from a variety of growers and blocks is certainly multi-environmental and drinking with five-tear resolved, prescient acceptability. Owners Justin and Dylan Fairweather practice self-proclaimed vinous bricolage, laying down the ferment for four years in oak (none new) to heap a nosing of liquorice root with the clay still caked and clinging. A humidity this side short of damp relents to florals and then, as expected, a forceful tannic structure. The Xola is the winery’s study in wine duality, as per William Blake’s opposites of existence, masculine aglianico swaddled and softened in feminine wood, exhorting the concept of “complementary dualism.” Or, if you like, in Jim Jarmusch vernacular, “Exaybachay. he who talks loud, saying nothing.” This southern Italian varietal speaks with emphasis, as it does with minerality, from its original existence, “close to the ocean.” As it does here, “perfect for Mclaren Vale.” Drink 2016-2023. Tasted May 2016  @AlphaBoxDice  @mclaren_vale

Shadow puppets @chefcmcdonald and @johnszabo talkin' @Wine_Australia #SavourAus

Shadow puppets @chefcmcdonald and @johnszabo talkin’ @Wine_Australia #SavourAus

Fowles Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz 2012, Victoria, South Australia (243592, $35.95, WineAlign)

Quite savoury shiraz, reductive, soil funky and forceful. A plum tart, mince meat pie, layer cake of variegation. Acidity circulates and the finish is very much on the toasty, peppery side of the Victoria understanding. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted  May 2016  @LadiesWhoShoot  @vonterrabev

Revolution

BK Wines Skin & Bones White 2015, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

With a nudge-nudge, wink-wink nod to the Jura, here savagnin finds oxidative, skin contact hope in the Adelaide Hills. Lobethal savagnin (98 per cent) plus a smidgen of chardonnay develops with wild yeasts, sees nine months bâttonage and 12 months in 100 per cent neutral French oak. Smell the sweet grass, while away with the mellow acidity and suffer no slings, arrows or consequence with nary a bite or a pop. Here balance is ushered by dry extract and tannin in a white Rhône-ish way, with tonic-herbal flavours of white cola and less than minor minerality. The skin contact is a plus, as is the lime finish. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted May 2016  @bkwines

Jauma Like Raindrops Grenache 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Grenache as determined by theories of natural selection, like raindrops, as put forth by Jauma’s James Erskine, is here, like stolen kisses. The basic intent, the accidentally intentional purport, the let it be, three vineyard blend. All this for the attitude from cause and to the effect of dropping inhibitions and to drink this grenache without pause. The vineyards are Ascension, in the alluvial basin of the northern slopes of McLaren Vale proper; Genovese, the white beach sands of McLaren Flat and Wood, the sandy ironstone ridge of Clarendon. Yes it’s earthy but also very fruity. One hundred per cent whole cluster achieves a South-African Stellenbosch like cousin performance, but also akin to a similarly-crown capped Jean-Pierre Frick-ish natural Pinot Noir tendency. Here there forges more acidity, but also a banana boat of carbonic whirlpool-ness. This is a thirst wine, a quencher. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @JaumaWines  @mclaren_vale  @TheLivingVine

Ochota Barrels I Am The Owl Syrah 2015, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Syrah like you’ve never tasted before, to send you spinning, from Taras Ochota, a.k.a. the “European Flying Winemaker.” Syrah from cool climate and of whole bunch fermentation. Syrah reductive and soil funky, of an achievement uncomplicated, simple, truncated and with near-zero intervention. Fresh, atypical, chewy, chunky, altitude-affected, naturliga syrah. Syrah that sees the failings and mistakes of others and can’t help but allude to a Dead Kennedys’ song, “for clean livin’ folks like me.” I am the owl. We are the beneficiaries. Not to lay down. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted May 2016    @TheLivingVine

Brash Higgins Nero D’avola Amphorae Project 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The renegade triumvirate of coagulation denotes the shock and awe of this outlier; McLaren Vale, Nero d’Avola and Amphora. Winemaker Brad Hickey and his nickname have taken the troika and created a beautiful monster. A non-oxidative, crunchy, spicy, toasty, chewy and tannic NdA in versicolour, mottled and florid in flavour. There is black and white pepper, cinnamon, zesty orange spritz and a clay influence (plus amphora) to waft one for the ages. The palate flaunts a tapenade of painfully brilliant chalky black olive. The swirl is chocolate and vanilla, mediterranean and meganesian. There should be zero attention paid to the unusual in its concept. This is both a pleasure to taste now and will evolve into something wholly other given enough time. At least 10 years to be sure. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted May 2016  @BrashHiggins  @mclaren_vale  @TheLivingVine

New Finds

Cirillo 1850 Ancestor Sémillon 2011, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $36.00, WineAlign)

A sémillon revelation is found in this Barossa Valley ancient, a wine procured from vines dating back more than 150 years. To discount that prodigious bit of calculated fortuity would be wrong on so many levels. The Cirillo family are guardians of what may be the oldest continuously producing grenache and sémillon vineyards in Australia and by logical extension, the world. Here the combination of dry extract, mineral depth and straight-lined (unsalted) salinity is beyond special. While the Hunter Valley garners the most attention for aging immortal sémillon, this Barossan will likewise escape, somehow, to live another more complicated and mysterious life. I would wait three years for some extract meets tannic sweetness to begin its development and then take it slow for another six to 10. Incredible find here in Ontario from Marco Cirillo. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2016  @Cirillo1850wine  @bokkewines  @BarossaDirt

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Cirillo 1850 The Vincent Grenache 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $30.00, WineAlign)

It may feel like a wine framed fresh from uncharted grenache territory but this “entry-level” Cirillo has charted old vines dating back 80 years. The estate’s Old Vine 1850 is resolved from vines time-worn to 160, considered the oldest for the varietal anywhere in the world. Here beautiful and gorgeous come directly to mind, as does silky and deep beyond commonplace grenache depths. Fine, sweet tannins and balancing acidity are the endearment to unblemished, hardly handled red fruit. Marco Cirillo is the benefactor and the facilitator of this old vine bounty and his edifying handling makes for grenache both winsome and with age ability. It should be considered for one and then the other. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted May 2016

Cirillo 1850 Steingarten Shiraz 2014, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

Steingarten is an iconic Eden Valley Vineyard in name and nature for riesling but in Cirillo’s case it’s a matter of high altitude shiraz vines at the crossroads of the Barossa and Eden Valley ranges. Marco Cirillo’s handling involves open top fermenters, natural yeasts, basket presses and French meets American oak for 12 months. A stony, schisty distinction can’t help but compare to a northern Rhône, St. Joseph styling, with dark, pepper-laced fruit slipped into a velvet glove. Fresh and spirited, the tannins creep deftly and dutifully in, asking for patience and time. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2016

Stonier Chardonnay 2015, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia (25353, $35.00, WineAlign)

The fresh, minimalist approach entices and offers up such pure, unadulterated excitement, with thanks to the Mornington Peninsula and vines that first took root in 1978. The Stonier chardonnay has been off the radar and always beautifully made but this vintage will turn and attract new heads. Unshakable, racy, fleshy and spirited, this represents more than mere cool climate chardonnay, it vociferates the major importance of such an exhilarative maritime clime. Chardonnay and pinot noir heaven. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2016  @StonierWines  @Select_Wines

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Twitter: @mgodello

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Sonoma gaps and single vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

Related – Sonoma peaks from out of the fog

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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