Pop goes VQA

Having just spent a full experiential week crushing vendemmia 2017 sangiovese grapes between fingers and teeth in the heart of Chianti Classico it’s more than exciting to be home in Ontario in the throes of wine country Ontario’s own ’17 raccolto. Every grape harvest has its challenges, intricacies, twists and turns but the antithetical coming about that has happened in both regions is nothing short of a set of miracles.

In Chianti Classico one of the longest droughts in recorded history threatened to suffocate and desiccate what tiny berries there may have been but an early September deluge filled the sangiovese with hope and a recharge towards quality and even quantity. The opposite happened in Ontario. A full summer of rain and mild temperatures has given way to an unprecedented warm Septenmber and now into October, the continued spell of gorgeous weather means that all parties should be celebrating. A glorious September has done more than save a vintage, it has elevated the quality and stretched the quantity so that winemakers can and will process their grapes into a wide range of exciting 2017 wines.

At a time when wine promotions are happening around the province with great intent and public positivity, the VQA-LCBO pot is simultaneously stirred, a recurring theme it seems in the world we call Ontario wine. The provincial board recently announced that “Ontario wines take centre stage at the LCBO ahead of Thanksgiving. The LCBO celebrates and savours the taste of Ontario. Local favourites featured online and in-store.” The four wines featured are a drop in the bucket of what is both capable and impressive about Ontario wine production so it is the LCBO’s “Taste Local Pop-up Experience” that digs a little deeper.

From Friday September 22nd through Sunday October 15th you can drop by 600 King St. West in downtown Toronto for a joint LCBO-VQA pop-up with an ongoing discovery tasting bar, flight tastings, classes (including life-drawing and chocolate bark making) and tutored events led by sommeliers, product consultants and local winemakers. You can also shop for your favourite VQA wines in the LCBO’s retail and digital store. In fact it was last night only that the irreducible Peter Boyd could be found working the first floor of The Spoke Club with a talk on “how to order wine in restaurants.” VQA wine, that is.

Back in March of 2017 while reporting on the VQA wines Taste of Ontario event I remarked how “new assessments are so important to understanding and gaining new perspective on not just how our (Ontario) wines age but also how they are affected by early reductive environment shock and their ability to change (for the better) after a mere six to 12 months in bottle. The first snapshots are not always the clearest.” The same attitude might apply to what happens when wines are presented to a VQA tasting panel. Only the most experienced palates, best winemakers and a select few Ontario wine cognoscenti can forecast evolution and are therefore capable of making immediate, correct decisions. Left to less experienced hands there are sure to be feathers ruffled.

Related – Fifty ways to Taste Ontario

On the heels of a summer during which VQA Ontario wines were celebrated at the 7th annual Cool Chardonnay conference with unprecedented zeal something is amiss, once again, but this time for curious reasons. An article published in the National Post last week goes on the all frontal attack, in short to the LCBO and long against VQA, the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario. The story contends that the best wines produced in Ontario do not make it to LCBO shelves. It states “all wine made in Ontario needs to pass through the VQA’s tasting panel if it is to be sold at Wine Rack and the LCBO.” The blame is placed squarely on the VQA tasting panel. The equation is simple. Fail VQA and no LCBO for you. Sounds correct but it’s not that simple. The two problems are only connected for the sake of argumentative convenience. As an Ontario wine producer, even if your wine passes VQA it may never be purchased to be sold at the LCBO. Such an equation takes liberties without substantiation. And, as John Szabo M.S. correctly points out, “there’s no law preventing the LCBO or Wine Rack from selling non-VQA wines. In fact, many wines at Wine Rack are offshore blends.” But even this diverges from the point.

Related – How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

More important are the questions of taxation in the discrepancy between VQA and non-VQA approved wines and whether or not a wine industry can grow and flourish when many of its makers feel stymied, both economically and philosophically, by a regulatory board they contend tells them what styles of wine they can make. They argue against a panel that carries the authority to send them to the highest level of appeal before granting approval, all the while bottling, labelling and delivery schedules may be compromised along the way. The bureaucracy is hardest on the smallest fries. Some are vocal about wanting to do away with the VQA establishment, or at least the tasting panel and to ask that they just concentrate on regional policing and labelling. Still others would like to see the end of that arm as well. Australia has gone that route, so why not Ontario? There is much talk about this golden era in which foreign wine writers and sommeliers around the world are raving about and drinking wines from Ontario’s great fringe terroir. Ontario is hot and the fear is that if more is not done to discourage mediocre wines that pass with ease and instead encourage risk-taking styles the mojo will be lost and the region be passed up for the next cool climate producer. Is this a fear based in reality?

This story is as old as Ontario wines time immemorial. There isn’t a local writer worth his or her words in salt that has not touched on the subject of the LCBO and VQA. I’ve read the most eloquently rendered articles of sophistication by David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Rick VanSickle, Christopher Waters, Tony Aspler, Beppi Crosariol and countless other excellent scribes about what’s right, wrong, fine and inexplicably deplorable about our monopoly and regulatory provincial systems. Even Godello has touched, broached and breached the subjects. A recent, arguably superficial National Post article by a young writer has caused a minor stir in wine circles though not surprisingly has fallen on deaf consumers ears. There is no new revelation here but I really have to thank the NP writer for her take because for one thing she is a very good writer. She should not feel unwanted if the comments sections remain quiet, nor should the winemakers who feel their plight is falling on deaf ears. I’ve made a living off of being ignored. I’m also not a fan of attacking writers and their work. It takes a great deal of dedication, passion and hard determination to produce such a story. Editors on the other hand are not what they used to be. My editor while I was at Canada.com was an expert in the art of knowing what to print and how to make adjustments for the greater good of the story. The National Posts’s editor was flat-out lazy and yet while the writer’s tirade in crusade against VQA is rife with errors and fact checking inconsistencies (like contending that VQA pumps “inordinate sums of money into promoting Ontario wines”) the provocation has provided me personally with a quick period of genuflection and ultimately, an epiphany.

The average wine drinker in Ontario is not privy to the inner circle of goings on with respect to what is typical and acceptable and how the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario screens the wines submitted for approval, thus deciding the financial fate and economic viability of selling said wines. There was a minor trickle of comment chiming to the article. Ontario Wine Chat’s Shawn McCormick noted “there’s a few facts wrong in the article, but they hit the key point that unless you regularly visit Ontario wine regions, you have a very narrow view on Ontario wine.” Ottawa’s Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada noted, “pprovocative title and interesting perspective by a new-to-wine writer but as there are many factual errors NP editor would be wise to fact check before publication. And Ontario is not really so unknown anymore.”

André Proulx pulls no punches. Proulx writes “another lazy criticism of VQA. Cites 2 wineries issues failing to mention most wineries pass sans problem. Fault doesn’t make a wine daring…The VQA has its faults… but I’m sick of hearing the same two stories about Norm and PMs wines failing ” Hidden Bench winemakers states “this article makes it appear that the only artisanal wineries producing terroir driven wines are those who have had wines rejected by VQA.”

It is WineAlign’s John Szabo that really picks apart the article. On the idea that “many of the world’s greatest wines have naturally occurring faults, which are the result of the soils and wild fermentation processes,” he replies “ridiculous statement. Stay away from subjects you don’t understand.” In response to “in other words, some of France’s best wines would not pass VQA certification because their high reductive notes would be considered faulty,” he answers “more extrapolated nonsense.” Reacting to “many smaller Ontario wineries have begun experimenting with naturally occurring faults by fermenting their wines with wild yeast,” he says “you insult many smaller Ontario winemakers, and some yeasts, too. Nobody strives for faults.” And finally, when the story notes “adding conventional yeast to grape juice is a bit like buying insurance.… it can also stifle the terroir of a particular vintage,” he retorts, “countless top winemakers around the world disagree. Faulty tastes homogenize wine a helluva lot more than any yeast.”

One of our most esteemed and leading winemakers Norman Hardie had this to say. “It’s great someone has had the guts to take on the VQA…have great difficulty with the quote from the VQA claiming “one of our strengths of our model is our ability to flexible and responsive to be both winemaking and consumer trends”. .this couldn’t be further from the truth..it is a factual error given directly from.the VQA..says alot about our governing body.” I followed up by having a lengthy conversation with Norm. He contends that his statement is indeed one grounded in fact and I listened.

Winemakers feel they should not be told how to practice their craft or be penalized for pushing boundaries. Anyone who thinks this just isn’t so is not paying close enough attention and likely drinking boring wine. It is also a progressive imperative that winemakers seek ways to break from tradition, rules and etiquette, to challenge norms and traditions, but does a wine have to be a bad boy to be considered the most important expression of a local terror? And what fun or excitement is there is a governing board saying “yes “and “of course” in response to every submission? The financial ramifications can certainly be damaging but what’s so special about being accepted at every turn? Would William S. Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa, John Coltrane, Henry Miller, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jean-Michel Basquiat been half as interesting if their art did nothing to challenge or subvert? Immediate commercial acceptance comes at a price and much harder to those who choose to make a difference. Just as vines have to stress to produce exceptional grapes, so must a winemaker face adversity and suffer for his or her art. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your grapes and drink them too.

In 2011 David Leyonhjelm wrote in Business Spectator, “some believe that Australia’s policy of exporting fault-free but relatively bland wines has done more harm to Australia’s wine reputation than anything that might have been sold without Wine Australia’s approval…The market is a very efficient mechanism for sorting out these sorts of things. It is most definitely anti-entrepreneurial.” Hard to argue against this but a devil’s advocate position would say that undrinkable and or grossly faulted wines made by less than experienced producers can get lumped in with quality bottles in shared categories. What if the consumer was unable to remember one from the other or which was which? Would it not be better to rid the market of the shite before it makes it there in the first place?

After Wine Australia squashed their export vetting panel, wine journalist Max Allen wrote “anybody assessing whether a wine is ‘sound and merchantable’ need to be exposed to the incredible diversity of styles out there: from big, black, overoaked, over-alcholic shiraz to cloudy, orange, amphora-fermented sauvignon blanc, almost anything goes out there in the modern wine scene.” Indeed this is what we want to see, allow and encourage, though in Ontario, can it be done without some form of compromise? It must suck to make a great wine, have it applauded, reviewed with great scores and requested by international sommeliers, only to see it stalled before being accepted by a local tribunal. Something is obviously missing in such an equation but is the full-out scrapping of the tasting panel the solution? Doing so would mean eliminating an identity consumers have come to trust. Ontario wine not only needs VQA, it is VQA. In this part of the world you have to seek diplomacy.

The article in question notes “this is a situation unique to Ontario,” that wines must pass a tasting panel, when in point of fact most appellations make use tasting a panel. VQA continues to carry the function it was built for, just like its AOC, DOCG and VDP European equivalents, with a standard to protect for the greater good of the wine region it has been entrusted to promote. Is it perfect? Far from it. Has eliminating it helped Australia? Sure. Is the free for all system working in South Africa? You could say yes. But Ontario is not a form of the wild west. It’s diplomatically Canadian to a fault and inextricably linked in political and cultural fashions to Europe more than most would like to admit. Bureaucracy is part of the reason so many moving parts manage to get along. The system fails some and more often than not benefits the largest players even while it saves countless others from getting sick, though continued discussion and journalistic discourse will render said governance continuously relevant or perhaps moot, eventually in time.

If as a winemaker you want to forge your own path and make unusual, risk-taking, anti-establishment wines with character and personality you have to be prepared to suffer the financial casualty of making such products within the parameters of an organized and civilized society. VQA should seek a clearer picture so that wines either pass or fail, not string them along if they are just going to pass them in the end. Neither side benefits when good wines are held hostage. That said, when the system weeds out others which are neither curiously subversive nor special then the consumer will benefit. As for ground-breaking winemaking it can take years, sometimes a lifetime and in Bukowski-like cases, a posthumous party for great art to truly be recognized. The system can only change so fast. It’s not realistic, very frustrating and counterintuitive to creativity and productivity to think otherwise.

The VQA system is certainly flawed. So are the AOC and DOCGs in France and Italy. Even Ontario wine industry peeps who have to support VQA’s function and back its credibility could not argue against that statement. The panelists who decide the fate of submitted wines may not always be best equipped to deal with every fleeting snapshot placed in front of them. Even the best make mistakes. Only the most experienced referees and umpires get to work the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB postseason. Same in World Cup, Champions League and Premier League Football. Why not in wine? At major wine competitions around the world only the most qualified judges get the nod. The same goes for the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and Intervin and the latter includes some of Ontario’s finest winemakers as judges. Who’s better to make these decisions then they? Anyone who thinks that VQA’s processes don’t need any tweaking is hiding under a rock.

Illustrious panel @TerroirTalk ready to rock #orangewine @winecouncilont #vqaontario #vqa #skinfermentedwhite #faultsandall #terroir2017

So let’s talk a bit about progress and picking battles. Back in May of 2017 the annual Terroir Symposium was held and the first of three masterclass wine sessions focused on VQA’s new category of Skin-Contact Whites. That it took somewhere between 12 months and two years for VQA to get this far is not surprising nor should it be called out for taking so long. It’s a step. Italy would still be working on it. The hottest trend to grip the wine world in the last five years is indeed a style that has been the focus of winemakers in Europe for centuries but as a PDO (wines of protected origin) it is most certainly a relatively new ideal. You can’t just snap your fingers and expect everyone involved to know what’s going on.

The standards development committee has decided that 10 days is the minimum time needed on skins. Again, it’s a step and after review may soon be adjusted. This sub-committee of VQA made up of winemakers, educators, etc. arrived at “how long it would take to attract the typical characteristics of a skin fermented wine.” The number 10 was decided upon as a “good starting point, but it’s a living document and not carved in stone.” Vineland Estates winemaker Brian Schmidt added “the characteristics of orange wine require fermentation, as opposed to cold soak.”

As the distinction needs to be for skin-contact white wines, John Szabo asks and Brent Rowland of Pearl Morissette answers his question. “What is the fundamental core character? Fundamentally they are about complexity and structure, about the tactile components of wine’s phenolic compounds and tannins. Heat and alcohol rip out aggressive tannins, so whole berry fermentation improves texture and structure. A cold soak gives you the salty component but not the structure you get from fermentation.”

Writer Fionna Beckett adds, “Orange wine is not an in between wine, but skin-contact wine is just that, without texture and structure. You need the minimum 10 days to get to that point.” Or do you? But the argument agrees that the extended use of stems and seeds will lead you down that textured road. Just keeping it to stems and seeds you will be shortchanged in certain years because they may remain green, bitter and unpleasant. So more flexibility is needed. Are we just adding a category of trendy wine or are we adding a category of value?”

“A small but significant number of consumers are excited by it” admits Beckett. “As an outsider I say why not. It’s a white wine that behaves like a red. A wine made from white grapes but made like a red.” Are they always oxidative? She says they are “white wine but with more structure?” Kind of seems counterintuitive because many whites are laden with texture and structure. So, Szabo asks if skin-contact wine enhances or hinders distinct regional character and what wines would you like to see excluded from this category?” The answer is dominant traits that make wine one-dimensional; but we haven’t set those parameters yet. “We’re looking to weed out flaws, like excessive sulphur, just as with any wine,” says Schmidt and adds Rowland “when you skin ferment white wine they produce glutamate, a precursor to umami. And there is a predisposition to enjoying umami, or not.” Ay, there’s the rub. There is also a predisposition to passing wines through VQA, or not.

Here are my notes on the skin-contact white wines tasted at Terroir in May 2017. After all, what would a post by Godello be without some tasting notes. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, after all.

Does skin-contact wine enhance or hinder distinct regional character? @terroirtalk #vqaontario #terroir2017

Norman Hardie “Tornado” 2016, VQA Ontario (WineryWineAlign)

Tasted blind this strikes with immediacy in that it presents as so very much like chardonnay of high acidity, not to mention tannin and a Savennières meets somewhere in Alsace like texture and tang. So as varietal pinot gris it does confound and yet this really fine calcareous notion can’t be denied, so there is knowledge in that it would be there regardless. Not technically orange with its (maximum, if even) 12 hours on skins but under the rules of the appellation it more than qualifies as a skin-contact white. With more pronounced and less oxidative fruit than most, without a doubt speaks of its place. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted May 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  @NormanHardieWinery

Southbrook Vineyards Vidal Skin Fermented White, Small Lot Natural Wine 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  @SouthbrookWine

Sperling Vineyards Natural Amber Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

So much beeswax and honey wine attribution. Porcine, delicate and quite elegant for the statement. Plenty of acidity and even more relish. Why not give a little Grauburgunder love to the winemaker for giving the style a shot, and succeeding. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016  sperlingvineyards  @AnnSperling  @SperlingVyds  @SperlingVineyards

From my earlier note of January 2016:

Ann Sperling is not merely fussing about with natural ferments, skin-contact macerations and non-sulphured, self-preservations. She is learning about winemaking, opening doors to perception and interested in doing things in different ways. Her second go ’round with a natural Amber Pinot Gris furthers the non-plussed discussion and the understanding. While pouring the inaugural 2014 from keg on tap last year at Vancouver’s Belgard Kitchen, it was Sommelier David Stansfield who so succinctly noted “this wine is a raw expression of vineyard, grape, and time.” This gets right to the heart and the crux of the Orange matter, especially within the context of a North American account. Sperling has many supporters in her corner, including husband-winemaker-consultant Peter Gamble, the folks at the Casorso-Sperling Kelowna Farm and Bill Redelmeier at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara. This 2015 is a veritable pink cloud, anti-orange, still so very musty, funky, tanky, with great Sperling acidity and pierce. There is so much exuviation to evanescence and back again flavour. There is feigned sweetness that purposes towards and with gearing second wind into length. How much pleasure is this from and for Pinot Gris? Drink 2016-2017

Cos Rami Sicilia 2014, Sicily, Italy (Agent, SAQ, 12461525, $31.50, WineAlign)

The ornate “orangeness” of the Raimi is patterned and woven across a flat and linear map, introducing itself in a way no other wine can or will be willing to do. Still equipped with this fine acidity but it is the flavours and the texture that cause and solicit so much more sensory approbation, first savoury, then sapid and finally umami. A melted salve of orange skin, bergamot-scented and hazelnut-essential oil secreted beeswax. You gotta get into it to get in to it. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2017  #cosvittoria  #aziendaagricolacos  thelivingvine     @TheLivingVine  @cosvittoria  The Living Vine inc.

Domaine Viret Dolia Paradis Ambré 2015, Vin De France (Agent, $65.95, WineAlign)

Philippe Viret’s orange wine resides in a cosmoculture world, class and category of its own. Cosmotelluric principles, magnetic fields, homeopathic applications, natural preparations and ancient architectural rules destine this so very naturally flat, rusty and rustic wine into a nether world. The coppery blend of muscat petit grain, bourboulenc, clairette rose, roussanne, vermentino and grenache blanc spent 60 days on the skins and with transparent clarity leaves nothing behind. It does leave much to the imagination and requires some metaphysical fortitude, especially because it lingers, long after it has left the glass and the room. As for amber wine it’s as close to paradise as you are going to find. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017  #domaineviret  nicholaspearcewines  @CosmocultureFR  @Nicholaspearce_  @ledomaineviret  Philippe Viret (Domaine Viret)  Nicholas Pearce

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris “Ponton” 2016, VQA Ontario, Canada (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Unlike the Tornado, Hardie’s Ponton is the most Rosé like in this newly created skin-contact category. It’s pink and rosey, of great acidity, salinity, regional limestone and even liquid dusty. In its quantifiable sapidity and wispy lime-zippy personality it could actually pass for riesling and having spent up to and only 10 days on skins this continues to state such a case. The number is actually nine days in cold soak and then it began fermenting, so really just one day of fermentation to confound the category, then put into barrel. The natural fermentation and zero adjustments add up to this, neither white nor red, but comfortably in the land settled between. A clear and focused SCW in the natural world. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Pyramid Valley Vineyards Growers Collection Kerner Orange White 2015, New Zealand (Winery, WineAlign)

This Kiwi skin-contact blend almost smells like Icewine what with its tropical, exaggerated fruity nose but conversely and impossibly bone dry despite that aromatic sweetness. Kerner is the vineyard and its actually a one month on skins ferment of pinot gris, gewürztraminer and riesling. Tres cool. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted May 2017  pyramidvalleyvineyards  @pyramidvalleynz  @PyramidValleyVineyards

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The amphora (qveri) fermented Cuvée Blu makes use of 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay in blend with pinot gris, riesling and (in 2016, sauvignon blanc). This singular, go it alone fantasy spent three and a half months on skins pressed and aged in foudres. It may just dance with the funkiest R & B gait of them all and to the semi-trained noggin can only be Pearl Morissette. The risk taken here is done without fear, into sheep’s milk, unwashed rind, saline, earth-crusted, stoned immaculate. The accumulation of glutamate-umami-polyphenolic-brettanomyces and volatile acidity takes it to great lengths and yet all this might disappear around the next aromatic corner. So much interest and so playfully dirty at the same time is this geekiest of them all, whole bunch, aged in 60 year-old (Alsatian) oak vats SCW. The numbers show 14 per cent abv, though it’s not yet in bottle. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué Skin Fermented White 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Though Brian Schmidt’s floral chardonnay “experiment” might be considered the simplest and easiest of Ontario’s “orange” wines that is only because it’s so bloody delicious to consume. The character is rusty and textured and in a way tastes just like warm iced tea and all the tannic variations that come from such a profile of flavour. This chardonnay musqué spent 55 days on skins and in turn developed its tannic backbone though it seems to have lost its intrinsic chardonnay character. That said it soaked up its Bench terroir so if something is lost much has been gained. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  @winery.vinelandestates  Brian Schmidt

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Days of wine and Rosés

Roses

I’m here wandering
what the reasons were

Rosé. It’s meteoric rise to prominence has shaken the foundation of wine consuming thought. Everyone’s doing it. Imbibing is at an all time high and celebrating the merits is exercised with commitment and conviction. This summer’s sweltering season has seen it skyrocket in sales. My restaurant lists are seeing the explosion first hand, up close and personal. The stress of ridicule or having the stuffing kicked out of you for sipping on a glass isn’t even a figment of imagination in the conversation. The reluctance to admit drinking rosé is a thing of the Neanderthal past. What happened? How did the pink stuff gain such traction and find its way into the hearts and minds of everywino?

Quality and diversity. First and foremost we are witnessing an increase in winemakers committed to making rosé from grapes grown specifically for the purpose. Second is the equality in money allotted by the vintners to research, experiment and condition the styles they produce. If you spend the same amount on your rosés as you do your whites and reds, your quality will follow. Third and so very important is diversity, not just stylistically but also regionally. Rosé production is increasing beyond the familiar confines of southern France. So many countries are on board with vested interest; Italy, Spain, Germany, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Greece, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Languedoc shares a rosé story:

I have never seen so many rosés come through VINTAGES as I have in the last four months. The shelves are teeming with the pink stuff and it’s selling like sunscreen. In February I penned ‘Twas the week before Valentine’s but specifically avoided the cliché of recommending rosés for the kissing holiday. The year before I discussed in after the fact hushed tones regarding Post Valentine’s polar vortex wines. I also said this:

“February 14th is so hyper-candied that ingredients like salinity, minerality, positive bitterness, animale and tannin are essential in the name of balance. Just don’t pair your dry red wine with chocolate.”

It’s not that I don’t believe in drinking rosé on Valentine’s but rather that I recommend not limiting as such and also prefer to choose rosés at all times of the year. So I saved up my recos for late summer, just in case you thought the season was already behind us. Two of my favourite critic-colleagues anywhere on this wine writing planet are Treve Ring and Jamie Goode. Both have recently written about rosé because, well, they understand its importance and its pantheonic place.

Canada Thinks Pink, Drinks Pink, by Treve Ring, WineAlign

“While the world rosé wine consumption has increased 20% from 2002-2014, Canada was up 120% in consumption during that same period. When we keener Canucks like something, we really like it. The same study shows that Canadian pink drinkers were pretty evenly split between men and women.”

Provence Rosé: 24 leading examples tasted, by Dr. Jamie Goode

“Quality has improved, and although it’s rare to find an example that stops you in your tracks – it’s not a geek wine – there’s a real consistency to these wines. They are context wines, and in the right context you want the wine to do the job it is chosen for. And Provence rosé does this brilliantly.”

VINTAGES has rolled out more diversity than ever before. The increased number of different rosé wines available this year has climbed by around 30 per cent. The escalation has allowed the LCBO to release some of their most popular SKUs two to three times over the course of the spring and summer. According to Geneviève Tomney, LCBO Media Relations Coordinator, Corporate Communications, for the months of May through early August, VINTAGES sales of rosé wines have risen by 30 per cent year over year. Keep in mind that because the LCBO’s financial data is based on sales periods it fluctuates slightly where periods fall in the month. Sales for that time period in 2016 were $6.6M compared to the same period of time last year ($5.1M).

That’s nothing short of remarkable and sets the stage for some solid long-term category growth. Paul Farrell, VINTAGES Category Manager, European Wines, tells us that rosé wine sales through VINTAGES have exceeded our expectations this summer. We have definitely brought in more rosé this year to support the growth trend in this style of wine.  We also have plans to have more rosé wine available throughout the winter season and to bring in French rosés even earlier next spring to keep up with the incredible demand for these products.”

Here are 18 selections in VINTAGES stores and available direct through agents or Ontario wineries.

VINTAGES August 20, 2016 release

Perrin

Famille Perrin Réserve Rosé 2015, Ac Côtes De Rhône, Rhône, France (719062, $15.95, WineAlign)

A bit more density and compression for 2015 Rosé, in forward demand by grapefruit citrus with plenty of absolute faith inflator flavour. Really fine example for the Rhône, in touch with further south impressions but faithful to more parochial roots. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted August 2016  @Beaucastel  @VINSRHONE

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2015, Ac Rhône, France (224964, $16.95, WineAlign)

Deeper and fuller of pressed flavour than noted in the previous few VINTAGES releases. Density, tart edges and typically savoury. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted August 2016  @UNIVINS

Bertrand Rose

Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2015, Ap Languedoc, France (373985, $18.95, WineAlign)

A grenache, cinsault and syrah amalgamation from Languedoc, perfectly arid, tart and with a tiny bit of effervescence. Strawberry and cranberry waft in faint waves and thoughts. Lingers nicely. Chilled well it’s what you need right now. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted August 2016  @GBvins  @FWMCan  @LanguedocWines

Agent/Private Import/Winery Direct

Nomad Venus Rosé 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Good, well and very nice 100 per cent cabernet franc, rusty and cherry juicy with salinity and brine. Nothing out of this world but so perfectly acceptable and fine. Simple words for simple blush. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016  @Hinterbrook

Domaine Lafond Roc épine Tavel Rosé 2015, Ac (Jean Pierre Et Pascal Lafond), Rhône, France (950709, $18.95, WineAlign)

From Jean Pierre Et Pascal Lafond the blend in ostensibly classic Tavel; grenache (60 per cent), cinsault (20) and syrah (20). If you have not had the pleasure of sipping on Tavel Rosé from calcareous soils marked by galets and white quartzite than you need to. This is a ripping example, densely layered, highly saline and rich as the sun shines long in the Rhône Valley. Don’t come looking for lithe, pretty and ethereal. This is Tavel with guts but its aridity and piercing salinity makes for a wealthy drop. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2016  @VINSRHONE  @  @hobbsandco

Ciao Bella Pinot Rosé 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $20.75, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Love the early note of minor volatility to check and balance for soft and downy, simple and into pleasure. Smells like unripe pickled strawberry. Though some decent salinity and brine offer up a rosé reality there lacks a bit of ingratiating 100 per cent pinot noir charm. Improves and brings out some pinosity by good bitters, gin and tonic, orange zest and some spice. In the end it’s actually more than quite good. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016  @ciaobellawinery

In the cellar at Ravine Vineyard

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Rosé 2015, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Ravine’s Rosé spent the most minimal time on skins, from a posterior fruit position left out in the elements long and aided by leaf removal to break down the pyrazine. These were the second last grapes to pick (because the acidity is high in slightly overcropped fruit), on Slingerland Farm between lines five and six halfway up from Ravine to Highway 55. Though seemingly dry, the 6.0 g/L of RS is used “to bring it into balance for the consumer,” notes Marty Werner. This has some strawberry funk, as if it were macerated in a clay-calcaire bath, like balm as if steeped, cooled and poured over ice. It may be imagined as a saline, faintly honeyed berry granita with just the right amount of gelid texture alongside cool and savoury charcuterie. Simply put, what cabernet franc must be in warm niagara country. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23

Haywire

Haywire Secrest Mountain Vineyard Gamay Noir Rosé 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Really earthy 100 per cent gamay Rosé. Good mineral in here. This was made with a purpose. “Now everybody’s gonna tell you it’s not worth it. Everybody’s gotta show you their own thing.” There is balance and ballad ease. This is just so drinkable. “Is this the past or the future that is calling.” Gamay, I love the times you’ve come. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016  @Haywirewine  @OKCrushPad

From a concrete (and full malolactic) fermentation and 12 hours left on the skins. A singular expression from the Secrest Mountain Vineyard in the Okanagan Valley. Great amber tang and wonderful extract, not to mention spirit. Tasted at Okanagan Crush Pad, June 2016.

Serendipity

Serendipity Winery Rosé 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Hello serendipitous salinity in this lithe yet dense Rosé that is somehow denied any real weight. Spicy strawberry on the nose and such strength moving forward in linear motion, all with feminine resolve. A perfect blush expression from the Naramata Bench. Great tart finish with terrific grip. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @Winespiration

Synchromesh

Synchromesh Cabernet Franc Rosé Cachola Family Vineyards 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

The cabernet franc came in at 19 brix and the residual sugar is a whopping 0.0 g/L. The impossibility of significance is fraught with amazement and the inspired, touch-less magic whispered in the most inaudible of tones. What drives this fruit to make such bone-dry, pitch balanced blush? It’s hard to say but there are more than just a few moments in whiffs and over sips during which the perception of sweetness is a reality. The subtle onion skin, saline and briny oyster shell confection is oceanic at the least and planetary to the highest level of imagination. Another unthinkable wine from Alan Dickinson. It might even age into its 10th year as if it were riesling. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @SynchromeshWine

Leoube

Château Léoube Rosé De Léoube 2015, Côtes De Provence, Provence, France (Agent, $28.95, WineAlign)

Organic, artisan Rosé by the sea from grenache, syrah, cinsault and mourvèdre, all harvested simultaneously by a big, local team. Co-pressed, all natural, whole cluster ferment and 90 per cent free run juice. Super aridity meets creamy layers in blush of determinate, crazy focus in average purport of 12.5 per cent alcohol. In spite of the process this sees full malolactic and despite the co-ferment there is blending done before bottling. Round acidity finds denouement in a dry finish but of one that is not drying. Freshness persists. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  @chateauleoube  @TheLivingVine  

VINTAGES August 6, 2016 release

Akakies

Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé 2015, Ac Amyndeon, Macedonia, Greece (71050, $12.95,  WineAlign)

Savouy rusty and varietally distinguished xinomavro with equal parts aridity and salinity to welcome the sapidity. Slightly bled for posterity and predisposed to Greekdom but from Amyndeon and with xino this finds relish and relishes brightness then finishes from the same straight from which it came. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016        @FlorinaAmyndeon

Bandol

La Cadierenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2015, Ac Provence, France (119453, $20.95, WineAlign)

Boozy (listed at 14 per cent) and beautifully balanced Bandol for the alternatively authentic and alliterative mouthful win. A citric acid, guava and himalayan rock salt spice rub for your mouth that with the level of saliva inducement turns to a slow developed variegation of flavour. Terrific mouthfeel and elongation. Tonic for and to your health. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted July 2016     

VINTAGES July 23, 2016 release

Domaines Ott Château De Selle Coeur De Grain Rosé 2015, Ac Côtes De Provence, Provence, France (74617, $46.95, WineAlign)

Few vignerons take their viticulture and viniculture for the production of Rosé so seriously. Château Léoube is the other that comes to mind and here Domaines Ott puts resources aside to drive quality as high as it can go. This is not just delicious Rosé but it is exemplary Rosé. The level of pure aridity, salinity and the requisite faintness of fruit is highly commendable. Everything here is understated and ethereal. It finishes long and persistent. But it’s too bloody expensive. It’s Rosé and it must get over itself. I would never turn it away and conversely I would not spend $46 to assuage its ego. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted July 2016       @AuthenticWineON

VINTAGES June 25, 2016 release

Wildass

Wildass Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71712, $17.95, WineAlign)

Aromatically off the charts for Niagara Peninsula Rosé, like strawberry mingling with marl. The sweetness on the palate is by extract and finishes dry. Acidity and tang merge at the intersection of soil and press. Wildass strikes ruby in 2015. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @StratusWines

Southbrook

Southbrook Triomphe Organic Cabernet Franc Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (451773, $19.95, WineAlign)

There is an apical, salient substantiality inherent to Southbrook’s 100 per cent cabernet franc 2015. If it wasn’t for the cool skin soaking, gentle pressing and cool fermentation it might have fretfully ventured into a cloyingly cuspidated tripartite deluge of sweet, savoury and sour. It’s not aromatically gregarious but strawberry and cider do clear afield. This strikes as way more profound, intense and serious, akin to Tavel, in hue, breadth of character and sheer unctuous texture. I’m not sure winemaker Ann Sperling had this stylistic intent in mind and while 2014 hinted at such a Peninsula departure, 2015 cements the consummation. The junction may lead to further or it may sequester a scaling back. Very interested to see where 2016 will take the Triomphe Rosé. Either way, cabernet franc is deserving of the stage. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @SouthbrookWine  @thesirengroup

VINTAGES June 11, 2016 release

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2015, Wo Simonsberg Stellenbosch, South Africa (451773, $13.95, WineAlign)

The deferential Rosé from Rustenberg tries petit verdot, as uncommon a varietal play as there is. Such brevity of skin and extraction exchange does little to bring out the firm and direct character of petit verdot so the interest here has little to do with varietal. It does however, present a beautiful and typical exchange between Simonsberg Mountain and Stellenbosch Valley, up and down, when push comes to shove. Chill it down, raise it up. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @RustenbergWines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Baden

Winzergenossenschaft Königschaffhausen Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, Qba Königschaffhauser Vulkanfelsen, Baden, Germany (168237, $13.95, WineAlign)

Qualitätswein carried to another sub $14 level, with dry extract, tannin and life as looked at two sides Rhine. There is nothing but pleasure derived from the magic bled faintly, lithely and with quick, cool-pressed restraint. Just enough sweetness to attract a crowd and more than enough savour to get with the geek. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted May 2016  @HHDImports_Wine  @germanwineca

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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The democracy of Cool Chardonnay

Canadian Chardonnay

Canadian Chardonnay

In 2016 and for the first time in its brief yet facund tenure, Ontario’s International Cool Climate Celebration will include some other cool-climate varietal representation; pinot noir, gamay and cabernet franc. Yes it is true. Plus has joined the i4c, an ideogram of addendum, a character of diversity for the fluently persuasive and forceful congress. This gathering will open its arms for colour and to allow its constituents to regale with what they do best. For an event-driven pure as single-varietal snow and formerly known exclusively as chardonnay, is this really a shocker? This is the reality of democracy.

In August of 2015 I asked the question, can chardonnay get any cooler? My immediate answer to myself was this. “Five is a big number. Any annual convention that survives and thrives into a fifth caucus must be divined by some unseen force, a guiding hand perhaps, by avatar or prosopopoeia. And something other. The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration has priceless equity on its side. Three aces in the hole. Canadian climate and geology, adroit farmers and winemakers, simpatico of communities.” That answer was not exclusive to chardonnay. It held the door open for more.

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Related – Can chardonnay get any cooler?

Niagara’s Cool Chardonnay Conference will take place between July 22nd and July 24th. It begins on Friday with the annual School of Cool, Viticultural and Winemaking Sessions in the Grand Room at White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa. Ian D’Agata (Decanter, Vinous.com), John Szabo (MS) and twenty of the brightest talents in the world of Cool Climate viticulture and winemaking will explore three provocative topics. Two seminars from Wines of Chablis and Riedel Canada will follow.

Related – 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

Friday’s main event, “Flights of Chardonnay” will be hosted at Niagara District Airport. Sixty winemakers from nine countries and 75 wines will be poured at this “boots and blue-jeans” event. The new culinary marché will offer dishes from Niagara’s top chefs and the mainstage will feature live bands as the sun sets over the airstrip. On Saturday night the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner will return to Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario.

The school of Cool, White Oaks Resort, Spa and Conference Centre

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

When I reflected back on i4c 2015 I wrote this. “Yes, we thought these things and then year number five blew our minds. We had been wrong. We found out that the bar had yet been breached. Further was still out there, not yet claimed, hovering in the realm of the possible and still, going forward, yet remains plausible.” And so in 2016 there will be reds. Oh, the blasphemy, the bastardization, the spurious board gone askew. Really? Can this multifarious variegation really cause such angst? Must we express ourselves with varietal racism just to be heard? Just take it easy man.

The internal red invasion comes at an appropriate time, by coincidence or not with “TanninAlert” a new Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) program that will track tannin levels in red wines which impact bitterness and astringency. The joint CCOVI and Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc. (OGWRI) concept will provide Ontario grape growers and winemakers with information on the ripeness of these flavours to help consistently create rich and robust Ontario red wines. Red wines and cool chardonnay living together like cats and dogs. What a revelation.

Godello at i4c

At the end of this week I will prep my chardonnay palate in Chablis for six days. Last week I tasted, assessed and judged more than 40 Canadian chardonnays in Penticton at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Now I count down the days (22 of them) and in anticipation I’ve drawn up more cool tasting notes as the great #i4C16 event nears. Many will become available through VINTAGES next week for the July 9th release. After Canada Day. Notes that include chardonnay, gamay, pinot noir and gasp, riesling. Imagine the horror of tasting such an intruder at a cool chardonnay conference sometime soon.

Tawse Gamay Noir 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322545, $19.20, WineAlign)

Tawse repeats itself in 2014 with a gamay noir that breathes deeply and breeds consistency. From a vintage that few varietals could find great shine, gamay seems the outlier and Tawse does what was required. The firm, dark and tasty taut fruit is really all that matters, a result of a driven desire to celebrate the simplicity of the grape In Niagara when uncertainly lurks. Eight months in oak committed neither diversion nor crime. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

CdC

Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (430991, $19.95, WineAlign)

Tasting the CdC SDB chardonnay a year after it may have been held up with halting reduction is the best thing I could have done and props are fisted forward to the folks at the winery for timing this perfectly. It’s so very mineral-driven and may have stung like a bee in 2015, now fluttering and dancing like a butterfly instead. The barrel presented texture is all marzipan and honey butter with a crunchy bite of rye toast under-spread. Dramatic for the vineyard and exceptional as a price with quality quotient from a polarizing chardonnay vintage. Exceptional timing is exemplary and day assessing uplifting. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016  @MBosc

Oak Bay Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (267146, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Oak Bay pinot noir by St. Hubertus has drifted into settled middle age at a time when whatever high tones may have once spoken loud have now faded away. This is light, truffled and whiffing of a vanilla cigar. Blackberries and currants too. Simply complex enough to offer up some value that exceeds decent and enters the realm of great. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted June 2016  @St_HubertusWine

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (378489, $19.95, WineAlign)

Classic cool-climate please all camps Okanagan chardonnay. From here and there, with this and that; Black Sage and Golden Mile Bench fruit. New oak and stainless steel, wild and cultured yeasts. Herbs and spices, fruit and mineral, ying and yang. Lean, green verdancy and warm, textured liquor. Cool and boozy. All in for $20. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted June 2016  @TinhornCreek  @SandraOldfield

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

It’s as if this label had bided all this time to be the benefactor of 2013 fruit. This Rusty Shed, this 20 miler with the track record to age, a wine that sheds baby fat over a 10 year mineral through echelon stratum, in ways few other peninsula to bench chardonnay can do. This Jay Johnston handled surfer of a wine, buoyant and balanced, centred and able to withstand turbulence, oscillation and tidal sway. Here with sumptuous and spiralled fruit gaged in lode intervals and a tartness held in lope and line by a membrane of extract and tannin. Best ever. Showing well, repeatedly and to forecasted repute. Impressing critics and consumers alike. Bravo. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2016  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2015, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (395921, $27.20, WineAlign)

In 2015 Ivan delivers the labour of ripe, concentrated fruit, by lower yield, alcohol and spine, concomitantly and conversely to elevated, amenable juicy potability. I can think of 100 reasons to drink this repeatedly over the next three years while the more structured ’13 and ’14 Ivans continue to mature. Three good reasons would be breakfast, lunch and dinner, from scones, through croques and into fresh, piquant and herbed shrimp rolls. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Bach

Bachelder Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay 2013, Burgundy, France (416602, $28.95, WineAlign)

The winemaking gypsy Thomas Bachelder “flies from coast to coasts” and his 2013 French foray into basics and the essential tenets of white Burgundy is a trip replete with a sunbeam shining through your hair. A sweet Melissa of a chardonnay, an ode to what is pretty, simple and carefree about Bourgogne Blanc, but also the idea of chatting up and producing pure driven varietal wine from ideal terroir. Bachelder does this, albeit with romantic vision, here with phenolics, dry extract and mineral of organza sheathing. The vintage speaks clearly and the wine responds with thanks, in kind. “Crossroads, will you ever let him go?” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (616466, $29.95, WineAlign)

The barrel toast is a gift of the highest order, dispensing a twinge neither wholly lucid nor abstruse, but somewhere on the demurred line in between. Exposes flint in mineral over fruit in its younger development, with elements of sunshine, forest glade and some herbal tones. Not to say it is balmy in any perceptible way, its lees layered body pops fresh in happily reductive design, in a real Ontario way. So representative of the regional, modern, cognoscenti connection. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted blind at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, June 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

PM

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $38.20, WineAlign)

The greatest surprise is a skeptic’s dream, that is, no surprise. The vintage was a gift for chardonnay as we all know and so Francois Morissette does what a wise winemaker does. He lets the fruit from such conditioning speak on its own behalf. The less is more approach allows his fruit to do more than most, to condense into pure elixir of terroir, to inflate with airy, philosophical heir and to exhale a perfume so very, very Cuvée Dix-Neuvieme. Like marzipan but more umami and like stone fruit but crossed with the orchard. The palate and the texture speak of resolution after the revolution and the level of calm post chaos is quietly dramatic. Hypnotizing clarity is what it is. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted June 2016  @PearlMorissette

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Where does the taste of Ontario go from here?

"Sun come up it was blue and gold." #cuvee2016 #pictureinaframe #niagarafalls

“Sun come up it was blue and gold.” #cuvee2016 #pictureinaframe #niagarafalls

The Ontario wine industry has powered through many big weeks during the tenure of its young but wise, short howbeit concentrated  history. None seemed larger than the first week of March, beginning with Taste Ontario at the Royal Ontario Museum and ending with the 28th edition of Cuvée at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

In between and as a preamble to Ontario’s annual gala celebration there was the presentation of the Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence, presented by Mr. Aspler to viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt, for advancing viticulture in Ontario by accessing the best vinifera varietals from nurseries around the world and fighting bureaucracy to do it.

Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence winner for 2016 viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt and Tony Aslper (c) Brock University

Father and son grape growers Howard and Wes Lowrey from St. David’s were honoured with the Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award sponsored by BASF Canada Inc. The 2016 category was best red vinifera and the Lowrey’s were recognized for their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. The winner is chosen by an expert panel that makes field visits throughout the growing season to monitor quality.

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award winners Wes and Howard Lowery are flanked by grower Matthias Oppenlaender and Julia Harnal, BASF Canada Inc.

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award winners Wes and Howard Lowery are flanked by grower Matthias Oppenlaender and Julia Harnal, BASF Canada Inc. (c) Brock University

The VQA Promoter’s Awards are designed to recognize exceptional contributors to Ontario’s wine industry. The honours were endowed as follows. For Education, Peter Blakeman of The Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Promoter-at-Large, Norm Hardie of Norman Hardie Wines. In the LCBO category, Nina Hofer, Product Consultant.  In Hospitality, Peter Elmhirst of Elmhirst Resort. For Lifetime Achievement, Peter Gamble, formerly of Hillebrand, VQA, Stratus and Ravine, now consulting winemaker at Benjamin Bridge, Lightfoot & Wolfville and Versado Wines.

Cuvee desserts

Proceeds from the Cuvée Grand Tasting go to support the Cuvée Legacy Fund established after the 2015 event. The fund has already awarded $15,000 in academic scholarships and contributed $13,000 toward industry-driven research projects. At the awards ceremony, the 2015 scholarships were also handed out.

Cuvée 2016 was orchestrated by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute who will also play host to the Expert’s Tasting of Ontario wines in April. At this year’s reception 52 VQA wineries each poured one carefully selected wine for the Grand Tasting and were joined by 13 culinary partners. Earlier that week, Taste Ontario was hosted by VQA Wines of Ontario and Wine Country Ontario. Upwards of thirty producers contributed more than 125 wines to the media and trade event.

Taste Ontario reds

Taste Ontario reds

The food establishments on hand were granted the space and signage to show off and showcase their talents. Having their names projected onto the walls around the perimeter of the room made it very easy to locate who was placed where. The wineries received no such similar sort of spotlight signage so happenstance played a significant role on what got tasted. Still it was nice to see a Toronto neighbourhood friendly face in Ossington joint Actinolite Restaurant with chef Justin Cournoyer acting out his special brand of an Ontario forest passion play.

Forest flavours of Actinolite

Forest flavours of Actinolite

The pork belly ‘Lollipops’ from Vintage Inn – Escabeche by Chef Chris Smythe, Korean fried chicken by Garrison House Chef David Watt and Duck Mu-shu from Golden Lotus Restaurant’s Chef Sing How were exceptional. Also on hand was omnipresent Niagara events food contributor Artisan Ontario presented by Chef Mark Hand and Mario Pingue. I somehow missed out on Backhouse Chef Ryan Crawford’s burrata and braised beef short rib ravioli tasting plates. No chef had a longer line-up all night long.

pork belly 'Lollipops' from Vintage Inn – Escabeche Chef Chris SmythP

Pork belly ‘Lollipops’ from Vintage Inn – Escabeche Chef Chris Smythe

Insofar as an assessment of Ontario wines is concerned, from a varietal point of view, Riesling and Chardonnay have not relinquished any stronghold on their domination, nor should they any time soon. I can’t help but feel and notice that winemakers continue to reach for the big red machine and wish upon an intangible Bordeaux star when they should be concentrating on fresh, gulpable Cabernet Franc and Gamay. They should also take some chances with these necessary, best Ontario option red varieties. Press less, reveal freshness and let natural ferments find low-alcohol impressions of impossible, ethereal beauty.

Pingue Prosciutto

Pingue Prosciutto

At Cuvée there was no shortage of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and big red blends. Where was the Cabernet Franc? Kudos to Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates for his varietal choice, albeit in a perfect little tidy $15 package. It was the only one. That is a travesty. Kacaba’s 2013 Cabernet Franc was a Platinum Award winner at the 2015 WineAlign Awards of Canada. They can’t be blasted for pouring their 2012 Syrah and you can only pick on but others should have seized the opportunity.  J-L Groux of Stratus Vineyards offered up his 2013 Gamay from magnum. Brilliant! Where was the rest of Ontario’s Go Gamay Go arsenal? Varietal lampoonery I tell ya.

Perhaps I can be accused of filtering my view of the evening through the oculus of an infundibuliforms installation. Just maybe I’m a wee bit harsh in my assessment of choices made but there were several wines poured at Cuvée that we’ve seen many times before. While the inevitable will influence choices because of inventories and the bottom line, the event is not about finding buyers. The purpose and long-term vision should focus on teaching, on educating and ultimately on celebrating what Ontario does best. Not just what, but where. Choosing what to pour must come out of a disseminated varietal necessity so that sub-appellations can be further defined and understood.

My top ten wines tasted at the two bookending events were these.

Cattail Creek

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A Cattail Creek joint starring Roselyn Dyck and consulting winemaker Steve Byfield, from a block of Clone 21 (Weiss) Riesling planted in 1976, one of the oldest in Ontario. This OV loitered in subdued maturation because of a brutal winter, a cold spring and a cool summer. A beautiful fall abrogated what came before and brightened the possibilities. Dyck and Byfield took full advantage, channeled their inner Mosel science of the mind, dialled back the sugar and submitted to the vintage’s desires. The result is a scintillant of Riesling with texture and acidity getting together to”grab a piece of something that you think is gonna last,” reelin’ in the year and shining like new. Steely Riesling at its Niagara flats finest, short of bracing and far from cloying. Though a long ways from the Bench, put this ’14 in the vineyard cru discussion with Picone, St. Urbain, Carly’s Block, Triangle, Steelpost and CSV. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @CattailWinery  @TerroirLover

Fielding Estate Viognier 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142323, $25.95, WineAlign)

If the 2013 from Fielding Estate helped decipher the code of the how, where and why of Peninsula Viognier, this follow up 2014 speaks at the symposium. Sourced from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation, a locale fast becoming the consensus ground zero for the option, this single-vineyard is farmed by grower Rick Smith. Low-cropped and hand-picked, this is the cleanest Viognier in town.The spice kick starts au fait late, sneaks up the backside and boom. Gotcha! Winemaker Richie Roberts has a vested investigated interest in this white variety amongst Niagara choices deeply pondered and painstakingly explained. Some off-roading chances taken going forward will elevate this wine into territory occupied by the excellent and the outstanding. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2014, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Vintage in and out this is the manifestation of an unequivocal Niagara icon for Chardonnay. An unwavering, stylistically consistent, best fruit first cuvée from Pelham’s oldest (1988) estate vineyards in the Short Hills Bench. Quite reductive and dramatic Chardonnay in 2014 with multi-macerated flavours. Needs some time for the barrel and the malo to get together with tangy, soil-driven fruit. A bit clunky at the present time. Should be fascinating to watch it develop, oscillate, flip-flop and ultimately settle into something fine over five years time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Tenacity

16 Mile Cellar ‘Tenacity’ Chardonnay Unfiltered 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Call this an experiment if you will and while winemaker Regan Kapach was blessed with a perfect ferment (and one that would not, could not be repeated in 2014 and 2015), don’t believe for a moment that divine skill was not integral to making this wine happen. Like an early 1990’s MTV production of Neil Young, David Bowie and Nirvana all wrapped up into one unplugged special, here is what happens when unfined, unfiltered and unsulphured jam as one. One major “un” omission, or inclusion in this case is French oak, the catalyst and the glue to keeping this freak of Chardonnay nature together. True, this is the one grape that can handle such a hands off winemaking process, but in Ontario? Not so simple. From the Little Vineyard up on The Bench, the Tenacity is not so much. It’s dreamy, creamy, lightly toasty and full of gelato texture and flavour. It glides and slides, lifts and cleanses. It’s a beautiful impossibility. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @16milecellar

Rosehall Run Ceremony Blanc De Blanc Brut, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

A little ceremonial joy in the division here with Dan Sullivan taking some fizz chances to create a new PEC sparkling order. A multiple vintage cuvée from estate grown fruit of weight, substance, tang, drive, a shot put of citrus, servitude to PEC Chardonnay, certitude to B de B style and structure. Just enough pierce to go through and come out clean, even in the face of oxidative time, on the other side. Dips into the well of Champagne to recover its fearless tactility. These are bubbles that “travel first and lean towards this time.” Timing is everything. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Cave Spring CSV Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (237198, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (202127, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted March 2016   @CreeksideWine  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco

Domaine Queylus Réserve Du Domaine Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Oh yes the vineyard speaks, like previous vintages but with clenched teeth and a hyperbole of natural yeast and soil funk. The most charcuterie salts and dehydrates from the middle sibling in 2013, with wisdom and a tale of future memories created in the here and now. Then you will return, to this time that will be its past, when things were so different and the assessment a figment of later imagination. At least three years (and possibly five) will pass before things are set straight for this past to be revealed. The level of smarts and savvy riches are amplified in the Réserve 2013. It is the strongest reminder that reconciliation takes time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @QueylusVin

Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

Beautifully floral Lowrey from Thomas Bachelder, squeezed with restraint and pressed for pitch perfect Niagara Pinot fashion. Lowrey at its elegant best, ripe red though on the edge of anxious, eyes rolling and persuasions lolling though just shy of any sentimentality. Another layer of lovely infiltrates a taster’s psyche, grabbing hold of the heartstrings and then relents, lets go, stays on the righteous path of peurility. The ’13 Lowrey Vineyard gifts such texture and tannins that flirt with danger. It is a wine of life-affirming footnotes. I ask of it, “oh ye teasing beautiful Pinot Noir. When can I drink of thee?” Soon, but not yet. There is no greed from this vineyard and in these hands. As always, Thomas does the right thing. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Good to go!

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New year, 16 new VINTAGES releases

Take this, #quinoa - With today's post, "New year, 16 new Vintages releases" #beefshortribs

Take this, #quinoa – With today’s post, “New year, 16 new Vintages releases” #beefshortribs

Inter alia, the winter holiday break is behind us and it is time to get down to business. Time to resume the empirical and experiential search for honest wine. Wines that satisfy at some necessary atomic level, avoid oaky embarrassment and hopefully fulfill basic human needs.

What we seek are bottles fashioned from grapes that are lucky to have been handed a benevolent evolutionary line, miraculously fortuitous in their ancestry, through categorical mutation and genetic modification. Varietal luck, pop and circumstance. That’s what we’re after.

The first VINTAGES release of 2016 makes an adjustment to previous editions with no less than a dozen really solid efforts below the $21.95 line to make Messrs. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon proud. You too can save on quality wine this January. Read on to avoid getting lost in aught where unwanted wines are cast into a dull, scattered void.

 

Lingenfelder Bird Label Riesling 2013

Lingenfelder Bird Label Riesling 2013, Qualitätswein, Pfalz, Germany (568634, $14.95, WineAlign)

A return to entry-level glory out of a great vintage for this basic QbA with the acidity to thrive and the tannin to jive. Love the fruit mingling with mineral and the weight even when aridity is the key. A tropical note hits both the nose and the palate. What complexity for $15. Really. Best in many years with a beautifully bitter finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted December 2015  @RobLingenfelder  @HHDImports_Wine  @germanwineca

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2015

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2015, Wo Western Cape, South Africa (675421, $14.95, WineAlign)

Properly, distinctly, effortlessly Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc. Of tang and here in 2015, more heft than many though in retention of aridity and super salinity. Has real verve and presence. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted December 2015  @MulderboschV  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @AbconWine

Wakefield Estate Chardonnay 2014

Wakefield Estate Chardonnay 2014, Clare Valley/Adelaide Hills, South Australia (711556, $14.95, WineAlign)

Rich and reductive with some Co2 and piercing acidity. Solid Chardonnay that needs a year or two to settle. Last tasted December 2015  @Taylors_Wines  @ProfileWineGrp

Rich and dense, temperate in accessibility, splitting the Chardonnay mile. Works barrels with threadbare, throwback constituency and takes a comfortable trip down varietal, memory lane like predecessors in old world California. All in the name of proper and restraint. The palate is rich yet delicate. Good work. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015

Valpantena Valpolicella Ripasso 2013, Doc Veneto, Italy (429928, $15.95, WineAlign)

Nice tidy little Valpolicella here. Enough richness marked by tension to make it a real drop. A bit flushed with thickness though the tang in food-gifting acidity and arid tannin is again, very real. Solid stuff. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted December 2015  @Cant_Valpantena  @MajesticWineInc  @RegioneVeneto

Honoro Vera Garnacha 2013

Honoro Vera Garnacha 2013, Calatayud, Spain (432997, $15.95, WineAlign)

Though playing a key of dusty and volatile minor, here Calatayud Garnacha from Bodega Atteca’s 60 year-old vines does its traditional duty in forthright varietal and regional honesty. Reinvents no wheels or identity with ripe fruit, early enough picked for preserving acidity and palate tension. The aridity and tang on the finish perform yeoman’s work in lieu of tannin. Drink now and for another year or two, preferably with cocina tradicional Aragonesa. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted December 2015  @docalatayud  @ProfileWineGrp

Sister's Run Bethlehem Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Sister’s Run Bethlehem Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (360636, $15.95, WineAlign)

Very ripe, nearly, dangerously young and volatile, yet so very sweet smelling. Plums, cherries, Cassis, a hint of graphite and the wood from American stars ‘n bars. Good acidity burgeoning about with minor, kneeling, equitable tannin. Has a salty caramel taste that will require similar fare; a mole sauce would work. Good length on this varietal wonder. “All you have is memories of happiness, lingering on.” A shining light in the Sister’s Run stable. “Maybe the star of Bethlehem, wasn’t a star at all.” Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted December 2015

Donnachiara Irpinia Coda Di Volpe 2013, Dop Campania, Italy (434241, $16.95, WineAlign)

Here the no lo so of Italian white grape varieties, this Coda di Volpe, the fox vine “Alopecis,” a.ka. “tail of the fox,” with natural history recording creds to Pliny the Elder. A Campania concert of grape tannin and sea mineral melded together as one. A varietal happenstance where land meets the sea in a beautiful bond. This low-cost specimen is a friendship gift from Italy, with ripe fruit and even stronger feelings of subterranean impart, from fringe stone through the ambient abstraction of Roman mythology. Like a river Styx running through carrying the bravery of Herculean salinity. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted December 2015  @DonnaChiara    @Reg_Campania  @TheCaseForWine

Coda di Volpe and Moscato

Coda di Volpe and Moscato

Penthouse Pinot Noir 2013, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (432864, $16.95, WineAlign)

The berries, cherries and plums are a vivid smelling bunch with a cumulative tone occupying airspace at the border of mercurial. A silent request asked of this undomesticated (with 10 per cent whole cluster bunches in the wild ferment) Pinot Noir is “when are you gonna come down, when are you going to land.” With time, the extreme brightness turns to density, of rustic earth and silky encrustation. Its answer sings to the tune of “you can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough.” Walks well beyond the yellow brick road of the Adelaide Hills and the varietal, to a place in OZ occupied by the curious and the songline follower. There is a lot of Pinosity is this $17 wine. The mid-glass transformation is a true plus. A heel click finish would have really sealed the deal. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted November 2015  @Nicholaspearce_  @AHWineRegion

Terra D’uro Finca La Rana Toro 2011, Do Toro, Spain (424135, $17.00, WineAlign)

Terminable Toro, firm to juicy, earthy to mulled plum and liquorice fruity. Acidity rips in the short term and whatever tannin was gifted is quite resolved. Early 2016, in the dead of a northern hemisphere winter is the right time to settle in with a braise and Toro at five years of age. Very solid. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted December 2015  @VinodeToro

Gustave Lorentz Réserve Riesling 2014

Gustave Lorentz Réserve Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (641639, $18.95, WineAlign)

Bergheim terroir in a nutshell to the result marked by the essential, distilled down to this very base and necessary example of what dry Riesling just has to be. Along with Trimbach and in this price range brought to this market, the act is exemplary and export defining as citizens of the genre. From flint to citrus and back by way of ripe fruit. With weight and such a dry, to the point finish “and a crackling in the air.” What it is. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted December 2015  @GustaveLorentz  @AmethystWineInc  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace

Pupillo Cyane Moscato 2010, Igt Sicilia, Italy (156430, $18.95, WineAlign)

Wholly Sicilian metallurgy of a character absorption in ode to Alsatian Muscat. That and the weight of the sun bearing down on sugaring fruit. With eyes closed picture this heading into a 20-year honeyed and mineral territory, with ground nuts and fresh cracked pepper foil. Oxidative but just on that dangerous edge so that it can continue to develop for years without losing sight of the prize. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted December 2015  @loyalimportsltd  @WinesOfSicily

Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc De Blancs

Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc De Blancs, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (435438, $19.95, WineAlign)

Bready, heady and lees elegant from years of yeasty rest towards an end marked by lactic sour mixed into lemon citrus. The tightest wire-wind of Chardonnay tonic with bitters running here and there. The nearly five years on the lees has made the texture thick and the mousse replete with bubbles popping left, right and centre. Much in the way of complexity for Blanc de Blancs from Argentina blessed with lots of altitude. You’ve not not likely been blown away by South American bubbles as you will be by this Mendozan, from Tupungato to Llullaillaco. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted December 2015  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiWines  @DionysusWines

Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012

Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Sonoma County, California, USA (397521, $19.95, WineAlign)

The fruit is ripe, there can be no argument there and the treatment is careful, calculated, restrained even. Exit stage left blend, running all the way. Sneaky, deft, stealthy, cat-like in behaviour. Always landing on all fours. Like a pink anthropomorphic mountain lion sporting an upturned collar, shirt cuffs and a string tie. Red blend with a great desire to be a stage actor, available to please all kinds of folks. “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” Sweet finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted December 2015  @gunbunwine    @LeSommelierWine  @sonomavintners

Domaine Saint Roch Vacqueyras 2014, Ac Rhône, France (437194, $21.95, WineAlign)

Some heat in the nose and even more spice with balance achieved by a lively to energetic, creeping up on frenetic palate. Earth crusts play in to the fray as much as the fruit, the posit tug working with one another in equal and opposing directions. The wine lingers on with grace in magical persistence. A pinch of dusty espresso and wishful fennel marks the back end. The reality check to imagine and realize a real Vacqueyras. Great value. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted December 2015  @VacqueyrasWines  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine

Foris Pinot Noir 2012

Foris Pinot Noir 2012, Rogue Valley, Oregon, USA (937128, $24.95, WineAlign)

A deft and reeling charmer, easy to drink and well-priced. Dark red fruit of the black cherry realm occupied by the ripe and fashionable Pinot Noir. That it so successfully woos with that kind of Oregon fruit to this kind of advantage in the absence of available underground salinity and tension is a Rogue Valley win. At 13.9 per cent it creeps comfortably under the hot radar gun and many will enjoy the uncomplicated style. Recommended for those who like it fun and unencumbered. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted December 2015  @Foriswine  @SouthernORWine  @Oregon_Wine

Caiarossa Pergolaia 2008, IGT Tuscany, Italy (424333, $34.95, WineAlign)

A satisfying and handsomely rustic biodynamic Sangiovese-led IGT blend with lead, graphite, dusty cherry and plenty of hide to leather antiquity. The firm vintage has evolved to this copacetic point, the expatriate meets endemic union no longer obtuse or extreme. This has settled really nicely, thanks to what was and lingers as solid acidity and once grippy tannin. Life from energy persists and though I would imagine there will be some who think it common or non-descript, there can be no denying the solid winemaking and balance struck. The older oak barrels have done their job, even if the fruit was a bit on the riper side of the rows. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted December 2015  @Caiarossa  @3050imports

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

15 in 2015

In the past 12 months I have tasted Canadian wines. Somewhere between hundreds and a thousand of them. Aside from day-to-day assessments at home, in the LCBO sensory lab, at the WineAlign office and at events in Ontario, I’ve also been a part of judging panels. In 2015 I sat in at the Ontario Wine Awards, WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and Gold Medal Plates.

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth leads to 15 in 2015.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

Canadian wine is growing with exponential force, gaining ground in markets at home and abroad. Brits dig us. I know, they told me. British Columbia is a desert oasis of variable climates to fascinating degrees. Oh the Syrah, Riesling and Gamay that rocks forth. Ontario stood up to two straight brutal winters and screamed, “we still made great fucking wine.” Take that mother nature.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

And I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.”

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery - March 7, 2015

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery – March 7, 2015

So I did. In 2015 I visited Niagara for Icewine Fest, discovered exceptional cider (with percentages of Pinot Noir and Riesling) made by Angela Kasimos at Small Talk Vineyards and have been pouring it on tap at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar ever since.

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The taps at the two restaurants poured a record number of wines in 2015, from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. In March we travelled with CAPS Ontario for an eight-hour intense immersion into Niagara Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Another visit with Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario shed new lights, especially for Syrah from the Lincoln Lakeshore. In June I toured the facilities at Niagara College with Dr. Jamie Goode, Magdalena Kaiser and our host Chef Michael Olson. Jamie and I tasted through an impossible number to count Domaine Queylus wines with Thomas Bachelder. On that I will report really soon. Really soon…

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

The Cool Chardonnay conference in July was in fact, the coolest yet. I spent three more glorious Annapolis-Gaspereau Valley days with Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Visits to Domaine de Grand Pre, L’Acadie Vineyards and Benjamin Bridge filled out the east coast foray.

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

In the fall I made pilgrimage to Prince Edward County to get a grip on the eskers, ridges and aspects of what makes wine so special in that part of Ontario.

As always there are wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there more time, space and yet another, better headline to write. Some were knocked off the shortlist because they may not have been quite as exciting though were this list one of “most important,” then perhaps they would have stayed put. These four are perfect examples of that condition.

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign) Perhaps the assessment seven years later creates an unfair advantage but come now, a great wine is a great wine from its humble beginnings. At $16.95, in 2008 or 2015, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the Peninsula, this type of emerging propensity is more than gold or platinum, it’s money.

The Good Wine Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (350751, $20.95, WineAlign) from winemaker Ross Wise and The Good Earth Wine Company’s Nicolette Novak is a necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign) is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Still the Kama Sutra Pinot Noir of inviting behaviour.

Hubbs Creek

Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign). The HCV Danforth Ridge is clearly a top Pinot site in the County (along with slopes on the Greer and Closson roads). Planted to high density the results are proven in wines like this 2010

The year that was 2015 seemed to bring out the adventurous winemaker, the risk-taker and the progressive thinker. While these five wines were not so much exciting as much as they were cerebral, they need to be mentioned. Whenever the envelope is pushed and the emotions of geeks are sequestered, well then a wine has achieved something special. These five really opened some doors.

Bergstrom and Hillebrand

Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign) speaks the treble language of the vintage, predicated on bold ideas looking forward towards a bright future. Ultimately it is yeast and vintage, non partisan to site, that elaborate the Wild Ferment.

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign). The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign). It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. “The law was never passed, but somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last. Have we really gone this far through space and time?”

The latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) of Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign) is a white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.

Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign) though not a common Viognier practice can be imagined with Vendanges Tardives simulation.

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

I try to concentrate on new releases, unless something old (read: Riesling) jumps out and bites me in the ass. The 15 Canadian wines tasted in 2015 that wooed, wowed and whetted the appetite are the fingers, toes and tongues of their creator’s ideals, hopes and dreams. They are also quintessentially representative of their time and place.

And the winners are...

And the winners are…

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

From the rich limestone and sandstone beneath the clay, 1.1 acre Misek vineyard, a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. A very linear Ivan combs the catacombs of the Escarpment’s underpinning. A retaining wall of vintage attenuated rocks and stones, a vineyard’s low yields and the voices in Charles’ head have produced a striking Riesling. In 2014 adolescence has entered adulthood. Now before us is a grown up Ivan, mature Ivan, maybe even wise Ivan. Texture is in manifest control in this loyal, stay at home Baker, not yet running wild like free-spirited Picone. Ivan has presence, sometimes a great notion and is Baker’s longest bit of prose to date. The next great Riesling vintage will make it iconic. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @cbriesling

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)

This CCV Chardonnay is one of departed winemaker Deborah Paskus’ final acts at Closson Chase. It will forever be noted as a legacy-cementing, swan song of career excellence. Crafted by Paskus and bottled by the next one, current winemaker Keith Tyers, the 2013 CCV is simply a tour de force. No such combination of richness, tropicality and pure grape tannin has ever infiltrated this Chardonnay, from this vineyard. I’m not sure there is a comparison in Ontario, at this level of excellence and at this price. A wine of pure impression, with Montrachet-like structure and Folatières-like precision. Seemingly capacious, its facile legerity is hypnotizing, quantitatively escalating in assembly of aromas, flavours, through texture and finally to longevity. The wine spent 16 months in a mere (17.25 per cent new) oak. That it notes 12.5 per cent alcohol on the label is next to impossible. The substance is just too buttressed to be so tender and effete. Impeccable balance, refinement and mineral finish. This is Chardonnay to confuse the world’s fine white collectors, to wreak havoc at international tastings for five to 10 years. Only 712 cases are available and at $27.95, is down $2 in price from the 2012. Best ever, hands down. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2015  @ClossonChase

"There's no work in walking in to fuel the talk." @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

“There’s no work in walking in to fuel the talk.” @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

In December of 2014 I counted the ’13 CMU Gamay as one of my mind-blowing wines of the year. Once again we are witness to the authentic, raw and natural impossibility of the wine, from 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. The hue is just impossible, the wine sulphur-free. That ’13 Gamay did not last. I tasted again this winter and it failed me. It may return. This ’14 will never leave. It is natural to the 14th degree and yet its rich, smokey chocolate  centre and structure of pure physical stature will not let it slide, into a dumb phase or oblivion. This Gamay will strut. It already does. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015  @PearlMorissette

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2013, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Any Chardonnay from a vineyard discovered on a bicycle just has to be the bomb. Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has had many an adventure on his bicycle and it all began here in a plot of perfectly planted Chardonnay. A block that became his home vineyard. The fodder for this most balanced Chardonnay and its abilities transcend all that has come before. You would never know a barrel was ever involved and yet the silken sheaths of texture are well compressed and expertly ingrained. Nothing falls out of place. Everything remains in its right place. The radio is dialled in, from the top and outward in waves. “There are two colors in my head,” Everything in its right place. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted November 2015  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard Riesling 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Riesling Masterclass

Riesling Masterclass at Terroir 2015

Balance is and therefore always was struck. The match percusses flint for a mere nano-second, with just a brush on cymbal, the rock bleeds but is quickly clotted because the fruit shines still, like around the clock light. The steely aspect is a posterior one, antithetical and yet purposed, from this vineyard. Youth tells common sense to think 2011. The Riesling behaviour seems to play that part, of a chalky, piercing acidity, so typical of that vintage and so distinctly Thirty Bench. That the wine is older is not a big surprise because 2009 is the bomb. It may just be the best Riesling vintage, from on that Bench, in the last 10. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted May 2015  @ThirtyBench

C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Oh so beautifully nasty Syrah, spicy, saucy and wicked. Resin, somewhere between myrrh and mastic, redacts reductively and tension stretches the savoury aspects in all directions. Blood orange and anise blend into the aromatic grain, repeating again through flavour mettle. Fruit, acidity and tannin are interwoven, circulating and on edge, in pitch perfect darkness. Syrah in the big time with the stuffing to age. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015  @CCJentschCellar

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Leaning Post Wines Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @LeaningPostWine

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April  and September 2015  @normhardie

Culmina Hypothesis 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $39, WineAlign)

In 2013 the blend is not listed on the label though it strikes as a return to Cabernet Franc, albeit with a layer of lush not yet perceived. The 2013 combines the best of worlds put forth by the two previous vintages; ripe fruit, earthy-mineral tang, proper acidity and ripe, tonic tannin. The composition here is the most, accomplished, distinguished and relished. In 2013 the enjoyment can be right now or up to 10 years on. All this with thanks to exceptional balance. Drink 2015-2023. This wine has not yet been released. Tasted November 2015  @CulminaWinery

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Hinterland Les Etoiles 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

An axial split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balances this traditional method Sparkling wine, specific to and what can only, obviously be from Prince Edward County. Acidity defines its existence in every facet of its being. A rich star to be sure, from a warm vintage, free from frost and more importantly, immune to mould. Jonas Newman talks of the methodology, in growing low to the ground. As the sun goes down, the canopy shades the fruit, slowing down the ripening, extending the season, developing the sugars, the complexities and preserving the acidity. At 6 g/L RS, with limestone communication and that sassy acidity, Les Etoiles in ’12 is pure County Sparkling. It exudes untamed apple and unnamed acidity. The Hinterland acidity. It strikes early and often. Just add warmth, stir and voila. Terrific year. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted October 2015  @hinterlandwine

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Ancienne 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $40, WineAlign)

If de novo for Pinot Noir is to be found in Nova Scotia then count me in because the inaugural release from Lightfoot & Wolfville is the trailblazer for and from the extrinsic frontier. Tasting the painstakingly measured yet barely handled 2013 for the first time (from bottle) is like falling into a glass of Nova Scotia cherries. Somehow there is this simultaneous and virtual voyage abroad to imagine a comparison with Nuits-Saint-Georges, in its earth crusted, sanguine, welled up tension that begs questions and belies answers. A year yonder the taste from barrel and what can be said? Pinot Noir adjudicated, into a cortex of recognizable consciousness and thus into the natural Nova Scotia mystic. Ignore and forgive the dope of first returns, for no one could have imagined such ripeness and immediate gratification. Future releases will dial back in the name of structure. That said, in 2013 there is a red citrus, ferric debate that will send this to an exordium seven years down the road. Impossible inaugural release. Approximately 50 cases made. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted July 2015  @lwwines  @rachel_hope

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus Tannat 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

“To me this is one of the most successful new varieties we are planting,” exclaims J-L Groux. In similar ways with Stratus varietal cousin Petit Verdot, acidity rules the roost. Smells like a just sliced open bag of organic earth, freshly neutral, funkless and emptying into a (first use) terra cotta pot. A rich, looking straight ahead expression. What it hides in fruit is lost to the brilliance of balance though plum is the operative hidden flesh and it will make a clearer impression when it steps clear of the tar and the tannin. This is pitchy sagacity, with poise and length. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

The Old Third Sparkling Pinot Noir à la Volée 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $59, WineAlign)

“On the fly” is not exactly what comes to mind from this 100 per cent Pinot Noir, first Sparkling wine made by Bruno Francois. Calculated, attention to detail and intensity of ideation more like it. Three years on the lees, no dosage and from a vintage to speak in more than whispered voices, of acidity that announces its arrival with immediacy and a summons to contest. The nose does yeast, toast, citrus and ginger. A first release revelation as ever graced Ontario’s waves, as dry as the desert and lingering with switch back traces of its yeasty, toasty self. A single vineyard can be this way, equally and in opposition of natural and oxidative, with a hue less than Pinot Noir, though unrequited as a triumph when you get a ripe white from such Pinot. The production of 1200 bottles is relatively house high in a stunner that needs no sugar to draw up its flavours. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted twice, July and October 2015

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, '08's, '04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, ’08’s, ’04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2004, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $95.00, WineAlign)

The ’04 is hanging in beautifully, on a wire of impossible balance, at 11 years old not yet really transitioning. There is simply too much brightness for it to give up its youth. You have to strain your ears, nose and throat to assuage just a hint at oxygen, life affirming breaths and then a keener sense of toast and yeast. Still behold the grapefruit, a sign of remarkable adolescence, the hang time amplified and in mass hyperbole here, in this current appraisal, address and time. How can richness act and display with such alpha freshness? How can an aging body not shed baby weight, turn lanky, lean and awkward? How is it neither the bitter pill of juvenility or senility has been swallowed? That is not the case here in a Blanc de Blancs which still has five to seven years of very active life ahead. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

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Four times ten reasons to drink wine on Halloween

Smurfette does Halloween

Smurfette does Halloween

October 31st is a date empowered. Each year I fall victim to its commercial holiday, Soma-coma induced temptations. I eat candy on Halloween (I never eat candy) and I write about what to drink with in compliment and in conjunction with its tasting menu confection. It’s all so very wrong on so many levels and yet I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame? Why? What is it about this impossibly sappy and gagged up day that sucks me into its vortex of plastic, vinyl, crinkle and excess?

Related – Yet another 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween

I blame it on childhood, on a time when innocence, naiveté and gullibility ruled my universe. When running with friends and getting sick on candy was both joyous and  an exercise in self-flaggelent stupid. When two hours meant freedom, rebellion and independence. Halloween is a kids’ version of travelling through Europe with a back pack. It’s like quitting a job, like going to Vegas on a stag (I hate the idea of going to Vegas on a stag).

Related – Ten more reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween

Well, that explains it. As adults, we try to justify the ingenuousness, callousness and asinine holiday, to make sure our kids find happiness in its bent farcicality. We try to grin and bear it. We attempt to embrace its forced beauty and its urban chaos. And we drink wine.

Related – Top ten reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween

Looking back at those lists from 2012-2014 and the thirty reasons given for drinking wine on Halloween, the best ten can be culled and reformatted into the following quaternary list:

  1. Because sometimes adults need travelling sippy cups too
  2. The polyphenols in red wine can help offset the horrible effects of eating a pound of refined white sugar
  3. Who doesn’t drop their pants for a Ghostly White Wine Spritzer?
  4. Wine makes you forget Halloween ever happened
  5. A person with a candy bag full of vodka is an alcoholic. A person with a candy bag full of wine is classy
  6. To reduce the chances of having a heart attack or stroke at the sudden comeuppance of the neighbour’s $10,000 Halloween movie set
  7. Why should this night be different from any other?
  8. The doorbell rings every few seconds and beer takes much longer to pour
  9. It rhymes with Frankenstein

For the sake of keeping things new, I’ll add the final new reason to the list:

10.  A few glasses of Pinot Noir will make you smile as you remember how much money you saved by staying true to fun-sized candy

Be the life of the neighbourhood and fill those travellers with any of these 10 Halloween wines, subject to budget and chosen from the VINTAGES October 31st release. I promise not to suggest any candy pairings.

Fielding Estate Riesling 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251439, $18.95, WineAlign)

The Richie Roberts take on Riesling brings Beamsville to the populace, combining the natural acidity of the variety with the micro-saddle-plot-climat ipseity that the sub-appellation provides. This early to market ’14 is quite tropical, offering an en primeur portal into what invariably will follow. Fresh, juicy, accessible and in near-perfect balance. Slate, calcareous bleed and fruit generosity make for one tidy, markedly gratifying Riesling.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Fielding Estate Riesling 2014

Bodegas Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (276030, $18.95, WineAlign)

Carries with it the efforts and old barrel trials of generations in its classic aromas. Cedar, dried plum, bitumen, dried anise, wood soaking in natural sugar syrup. Really seamless, flourless and austere in a running wild kind of way. Possessive of length and deserving of that oddest of wine descriptions; supple. This will age for 10-12 years with ease. A great wine for the money, right up there with the Montecillo 1991, but cleaner, juicier and with more sex appeal. A red head, a ginger, Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone.  Tasted March 2015  @bodegasmuriel  @RiojaWine

Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008

Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2012, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign)

The richest, wealthiest and most lush Laura’s red to date. Constructed in high tones, big fruit and the most oak it has absorbed. Structurally speaking this climbs to play at the top of the Creekside regime game, with tannins formidable to demanding and a texture filled with spirited matter. Behind the scene and to a certain extent the veil there is Niagara, painted and dressed. Laura’s ’12 bites chocolate and picks at buds with impunity. This much plum and berry fruit will find a way to improve then strut in tastings years from now.  Drink 2016-2020. Tasted twice, June and July 2015  @CreeksideWine   @hobbsandco

Creekside Estate Laura's Red 2012

Château Pey La Tour Réserve Du Château 2010, Ac Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France (349308, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here’s a well-organized, thought out and structured bit of tidy Merlot from the house of Dourthe. Bits of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec reinforce the pretty, dusty, deep blue fruit from between Bordeaux and St. Emilion. I wouldn’t call it rustic or old-school but I would mention its wise charm and traditional handling. Just a bit of astringency in the tannic composition will take this five years down the road. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted October 2015  @La_Cave_Dourthe  @Dandurandwines

Château Pey La Tour Réserve Du Château 2010

Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra, South Australia (606939, $23.95, WineAlign)

Prodigious Cabernet of and for protein. Melds flavours of salted caramel and real hot chocolate with melting berries like Churros filled with oozing centres, without sweetness. Has expansiveness and connectivity, with acids and direct displays of tannin. The real deal down in the depths of warm climate Cabernet Sauvignon. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015  @WolfBlassWines

Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Lavau Vacqueyras 2012, Ac Rhone, France (104927, $24.95, WineAlign)

Rich and very perfumed Vacqueyras composed of Grenache (50 per cent), Syrah (40) and Mourvedre (10). A wine with every intention to seek out a standing rib roast or duck confit to meet its every move. Charges that mix depth of fruit with grain of wood. Stratagem that marks violets moved to red berry fruit and reasonable acidity melded into a fine grain of tannin. There is just enough restraint in the process to consider this a finessed wine of gastronomy. It’s chewy but easy to digest, crusted and built of simple pleasures. Really well-made. No pretension, no attention drawn to itself and just plain affordable. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @oenophilia1  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE

Lavau Vacqueyras 2012

Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1560, $29.95, WineAlign)

Flat Rock’s ever involving vines (on 33 hectares planted in 2001 and 2002) enter a new phase with indicators blinking and refreshing in this 2013 Gravity Pinot Noir. Youthful adolescence and gregarious fruit expression initiated in 2010 and carried through the 2012 vintage. Those years saw to a world of astringency and tension relegated to mites in the rear-view mirror. The wine is now in a nexus cross-roaded with exigency holding pattern. To understand its confusion and survey fast forward to its future is not easy. Gravity is a bit large right now, seemingly advanced, but to me the fight is between that fruit abundant state and the return of, though eased by meditative Jedi tension. Gravity just needs a parachute to bring it back down to earth. That lifeline may not materialize in this 2013 but that does not take anything away from its discriminating and diagnostic tones. Brightness, astatic inflection and succulence. This vintage may suffer from some level of snafu but it will age, evolve and breath. That much fruit has to have some level of expectation. The follow up ’14 and ’15 will win the hearts of horses and men. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted October 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (208694, $34.95, WineAlign)

Showing reduction and barrel youth in its veins, pores, gutters and buffers. Smells just like a young Chardonnay after spending 12-18 months in a combination of toasts and forests should smell. A changeling constantly shifting, grooving, picking up steps and notes. Spice, prick and pierce with the gems of proper acidity. Of emeralds and pepper grinds. The piquant nature begs for time. A stab in the Chardonnay dark says Okanagan as distant cousin to Beamsville Bench or Vinemount Ridge. In the end winemaking steals the show. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC, June 2015  @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2013

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (421370, $35.00, WineAlign)

A highly perfumed Pinot Noir from winemaker Kevin Panagapka in 2012, complete with an exotic spice box of aromatics; potpourri, roses, cassia, clove and aamchur. The profile hydrates to a mulled simmer as the wine is once again warmed by the vineyard’s ability to ripen, exaggerated in ’12 but with more grace, bringing its personality in line with its modest (13 per cent) alcohol. The cherry flavour veers black with a paste of tar and charcoal, but again, the psyche is smooth and elongated. Long finish to this Queenston which should see it sing to 2018 and beyond. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2014  @2027cellars

Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac 2008, Ac Saint Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France (425546, $39.95, WineAlign)

Showing a twinge of age at seven years, in rim and out of the natural whiffing forest aromas escaping with ease. The absolute right kind of earthy and barrel-influenced funk emanates, like experienced Bordeaux should, as would Rioja in similar approach to climacteric transition. A bit of leather, licquorice and aged beef join the gritty fray, mixed with aromatic citrus and grainy tannin to seal the destined way. This is ready to drink and yet two more years would not hurt its cause. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @Dandurandwines

Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac 2008

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