Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

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

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

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

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

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

Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG 2001, Lombardy

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

Krug Vintage Brut Champagne 2002

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

Kabola Malvazija Amfora 2017, Istria, Croatia

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

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

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

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

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

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

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

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

With Sofia Ponzini and Vico

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

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

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

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

Angela Fronti, Istine

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

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

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

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

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

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

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Tenuta Greppo 1985

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

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979, Tuscany

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

With Stefano Cesari, Brigaldara

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2016, Veneto

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

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

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

Château Pétrus 1993, Pomerol, AC Bordeaux

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

Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1990, AC Hermitage, Rhône

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

 

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

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

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

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

Fèlsina Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico DOCG 2018, Tuscany

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Canada is crazy about the Black Rooster

Gallo Nero

 

Sangiovese sales continue to increase because Canadians know quality, diversity and excellence when they taste it

As seen in Chianti Classico Magazine, September 2021

 

As the year 2018 came to a close my article “Chianti Classico’s Canadian dream” was published in Chianti Classico Magazine. The sub-text was “embracing the most noble of Italy’s Sangiovese,” a notion near and dear to a Canadian heart, not only that of my own, but one that speaks to tens of thousands of others in this great country. Il sogno Canadese del Chianti Classico abbraccia il più nobile dei Sangiovese Italiani, truth spoken on behalf of a nation with a solid foundation of education and a collective palate that understands greatness, not as fashion or trend but for the purity and honesty of real wine. We are friends, partners and more than many people realize, we are soul mates, or more specifically, wine mates.

The year 2016 was when my current relationship with the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, Sangiovese and the Black Rooster began. But the connection goes back much further than that. In 1987 I was a student at the University of Siena. I returned in 1990 and 1995 for month long visits. Since May of 2016 I have visited eleven more times and tasted more than 2,000 different wines. Most recent trips in October and November of this year brought me to 20 more estates to show what’s new and refreshed in the region. This article for the Consorzio’s Magazine appeared in both English and Italian because as my Classico editor and translator Caterina Mori so painfully disclosed, “it would have been easier to transfer Whitman into Italian.” My sincere apologies to Caterina but while I tried to keep this prose as simple as possible, the words flowed as they always do. As it is said, “don’t shoot the messenger.”

Godello and #gallonero ~ #chianticlassico

Canada is still crazy about the Black Rooster after all these years

Il Canada è ancora pazzo del Gallo Nero dopo tutti questi anni

How can the relationship between Canada and Chianti Classico be expressed in terms we can all understand? Shall we say they go together like Finocchiona and Tuscan bread, Bistecca Fiorentina and white beans, Burrata and tomatoes? Canadians adore the stony-mineral, red cherry and earthy-savoury-sapidity of Sangiovese, especially when it comes from vines grown in the calcareous limestone, sandstone and marl soils of the territory delineated in 1716 between the cities of Siena and Florence. Alberese, Macigno, Pietraforte and yes also the Galestro-strewn terroir in Chianti Classico’s eight communes are considered the finest Italian landscapes to please a Sangiovese-loving Canadian palate.

The shared history between Chianti Classico producers and their northerly North American resident easily dates back more than five decades and without interruption. In fact Canadians have continued to purchase, enjoy, appreciate and educate themselves on their favourite Tuscan wines. As the upstairs neighbour to the United States, Canada is home to a most polite and respectful community of 38 million residents, as multiculturally diverse as any nation on earth and while surely not without problems, the country has always found a way to keep calm and carry on. Drinking Chianti Classico has surely helped in that regard.

In the summer of 2020 the partners at WineAlign joined virtual hands with the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and the producers to orchestrate a different kind of sensory experience. They created an opportunity for the region’s wines to be delivered directly to the consumer’s doorstep. Three unique Chianti Classico mixed cases, each a masterclass in a box. The project was a huge success. More than 250 cases (each of 12 bottles) were sold which amounted to $108,000 (Canadian dollars) of gross sales. In other words 3,000 bottles of all three appellative levels were consumed or added to collectors’ cellars in Ontario. Or perhaps it may be looked at as potentially 10,000 or more Canadians having had a chance to taste a new bottle of Chianti Classico. The plan hatched showed off marketing and sales at its finest.

Chianti Classico Collection 2020, Stazione Leopolda, Firenze

The WineAlign “Passport” cases were a culmination of years of learning, tasting and hard work. They were the first of their kind for WineAlign and the 18 wines chosen were foremost a decision made collectively after the critics each sat down to taste through dozens of examples. The wines were also an extension of what new facets and nuances about Chianti Classico’s Sangiovese had been learned through several series of continuing education going back over many years.

More than this, Canadians have been following the ebbs, flows, vintages, frosts, stories and Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico developments with watchful eyes and great anticipation over these past eighteen months. As one of two Chianti Classico ambasciatori (along with Vancouver and Decanter Magazine’s Michaela Morris) I have worked diligently to do my part by writing about and delivering Zoom seminars/webinars to hundreds of media, sommeliers and restaurant staff in the province of Ontario and also in Québec. In 2020 and 2021 there have been 15 delivered with hundreds of attendees present online for the presentations. Dozens of Annata, Riserva and Gran Selezione were tasted together, the territory’s eight communes were considered and the multifarious soils, zones, sub-zones (zonazioni e frazioni) were discussed. More recent developments with respect to sub-dividing the region will surely be the topic for the next round of masterclasses and there is great confidence here in Ontario for many of these sessions to involve in-person learning.

The webinars were historic events as part of a partnership between Canadians and Chianti Classico. We’ve all been friends and colleagues for a long time and tasted wines together on numerous occasions. But, in the state of the world in which we have found ourselves today we had to adapt to ensure that Canadians continue to engage, drink and pour these wines. We were so thankful that so many joined and took part in this effort. We are able to do so with thanks to Consorzio Vino del Chianti Classico President Giovanni Manetti, Director Carlotta Gori, the tireless staff at the Consorzio, producers and importing agents in Canada.

Over the past four and a half years I have written about, extrapolated upon, waxed rhapsodic over and flat-out smothered Chianti Classico with hundred’s of thousands of words, reviews and tasting notes. The last time I visited Stazione Leopolda for the Chianti Classico Collection was February of 2020 just weeks ahead of the global pandemic. In my report that followed (Grande, Chianti Classico) there were reviews of 175 Chianti Classico DOCG from the previous three vintages (2018, 2017 and 2016), tasting notes that confirmed the territory’s ability to consistently achieve another level of quality. I also wrote that “all of us have to wait and see when the next visit can be possible, to again take in the hills and landscapes where Italy’s most important grape variety is grown.” That next visit is imminent, in the works, once again possible and I simply can’t wait to re-connect with the producers, the land and to again taste new vintages through the three levels of the DOCG pyramid, from eight communes and 11 UGAs.

Chianti Classico UGA

When the great and progressive news broke back in June it was met here in Canada with excitement and a collective exclamation of bravissimo! The announcement that the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico was moving ahead with the Chianti Classico UGA project felt like a most significant and profound step forward. The significance was not lost on wine professionals in Canada in hearing that the Assembly of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium confirmed that the Gallo Nero‘s (Black Rooster) Additional Geographical Units (Ùnita Geografiche Aggiuntive or UGA) plan has been approved by a very large majority. “A project to modify the production regulations of the historic appellation, which includes two important innovations. In order to show the name of the village on the label.” When teaching seminars it seemed like every session yielded this question: “When will Chianti Classico labels begin to show where in the territory is this wine actually from?”

When I asked Consorzio Marketing Communications Manager Silvia Fiorentini when the new regulations would come into effect, Fiorentini had this to say. “We expect to be able to use the UGAs on the label next year, hopefully, but we cannot say yet which will be the first new vintage to carry the UGA names on the bottle. 2020 and 2019 could carry the UGA names if a winery can demonstrate the origin of the wine through the cellar register. The 90 per cent Sangiovese and the prohibition of using international varieties will become compulsory only from the fifth year after the approval of the new production by the qualified authorities (as in the ministry of agriculture). This is meant for the few estates that cannot comply with the new ampelographic base and need to replant vineyards.” And so this information is being passed onto the sommeliers, wine importers and Canadian media. At this stage in October of 2021 it does not seem so far off that the effects of the new UGA rules will begin to show on the shelves of Canadian wine stores.

Godello, Cecchini, Manetti

Further news was cheerfully received regarding Giovanni Manetti, proprietor of Fontodi and his unanimous re-election to continue to lead the Vino Chianti Classico Consortium for another three-year term. Yes these will be filled full of challenges for the Chairman of the oldest wine-producers’ Consortium in Italy but Manetti will have great assistance alongside Vice-Chairmen Colpizzi and Zingarelli.

Visiting Italy has been impossible and while there is great excitement now that travel is once again possible, keeping abreast of what has been happening in Toscana has remained a great priority. In August of 2020 I published Four questions to Chianti Classico in which I posed timely questions to 17 Chianti Classico producers about their appellative wines, how and why they do what they do, plus asked for their reflections on the state of Italy’s battle with Covid-19 and projections for the 2020 harvest. I wanted to know What recent vintage would you say marked the turning point for your winemaking, to bring your wines into a place and style that speaks of your particular vineyards, their location and terroir in Chianti Classico? What or why is the reason? What mistakes have you made and how have you learned from them so that you can make better wines and the wines you need to make from your property? What defines your reasoning in how you produce Riserva and other then aging time, what truly differentiates it from your Annata? How are things going in Chianti Classico, both from the perspective of the vintage and from the pandemic?

Looking at frost damage, Frost burn on sangiovese buds, Baby sangiovese stunned by April frosts, Il Molino di Grace, Panzano (c) Iacopo Morganti

In April of 2021 my article When frost strikes, Chianti Classico responds was published. It was noted how “in 2021 the Sangiovese vines came to life early, following a decent and mostly proper winter though one that ended in haste, turning over to warm March temperatures. And now, even if the potential for disaster has struck, hope and resilience prevails.” In that post 35 producers shared their story about the frost and what it might mean for production and quality in the current vintage. The reality is being played out at exactly this time as Chianti Classico producers conclude the 2021 harvest. A report will be published at godello.ca in the coming weeks.

Quality content is what each and every bottle of Chianti Classico harbours but does not parade and Sangiovese loves a good parade. The makers are a proud people and their noble wines always high in quality, but there is no strutting like a peacock. Producers and bottles are those of action and work ethic, each and every one standing tall for themselves. Canadians know this and there is great confidence when purchasing, no matter the estate and at which level these wines may be perched up on the pyramid. Now more than ever the future has arrived and its name is Chianti Classico, most important red wine from Italy. Soon the labels that grace these slender bottles with the Black Rooster signature image upon the front of the neck (where it needs to be) will begin to offer a deeper understanding of sub-zone, genius loci and acclimazione sottosuolo. This is where Chianti Classico will inject some highly specific Italian extract into the Canadian vein and as always, we will be an accepting, loyal, ready and willing partner. Ci vediamo a presto.

Good to go!

godello

Gallo Nero

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte vertical with Gambero Rosso’s 2022 white wine of the year

Livio Felluga Terre Alte Vertical – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

This tasting of one of Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s most knowable, respected and consistently worthy white wines is the second of three at Gambero Rosso’s three-day celebrazione weekend for the Guida Vini d’Italia 2022 top wines of Italy. The date is October 15, 2021 and the location inside the Chorus Cafè inside the Auditorium della Conciliazione. Terre Alte, literally “high lands,” obviously speaks to the hills in northeastern Italy but also to loftiness and something connected to a higher calling, as in an “atmosphere of spiritual tranquillity” which would attract an “increasing number of the faithful.” The friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco that make up Rosazzo Terre Alte are like the cells that bind an abbey together.

With Laura and Filippo Feluga

Related – Gambero Rosso’s red wine of the year leads a vertical tasting of Argiano’s Vigna del Suolo

Livio Felluga is located in Brazzano, near to the Abbazia di Rosazzo, in the Colli Orientali (eastern hills) of Friuli in an isolated area to the northeast of Manzano, around twenty kilometres from Udine and ten kilometres from the Slovenian border. The origins of the abbey are still not fully known (or at the very lest contentious), but it was built around the year 1000, in Romanesque style and is dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle. Tradition has it that the hermit Alemanno settled in the area in the year 800 to find peace of soul and construct an oratory and a cell. The number of cells increased such that the oratory became a monastery for which Canons Regular of Saint Augustine were called upon to head. In 1070 the church dedicated to Saint Peter was inaugurated. In 1090 the monastery of Rosazzo was elevated to the status of abbey and in the following year Augustinian rule was suppressed and replaced by Benedictine rule.

Laura and Filippo Felluga – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

The family farms 160 hillside hectares in Collio Goriziano and Colli Orientali del Friuli. Now into the sixth generation of the family, third in the family wine business, though when it comes to the Fellugas, the word generational must be regarded in the abstract. Filippo Felluga is Laura’s uncle though they are not many years apart in age, as he was born when his father was 60. There is no actual generational shift or definitive changes of the guard in this family. No real age gaps make for a fluid situation. 

Filippo Feluga – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Laura Felluga’s grandfather and Filippo’s father Livio started from scratch after the Second World War, releasing the first vintage of his wine, bottled and labeled in 1956. He chose an ancient geological map (during Napoleonic times) as the image for the label. When asked about the adjustments needed and how Terre Alte has adapted over the years, Filippo answers by saying “the way we observe the climate change is with its unpredictability. With each passing year it’s harder to foresee what is going to happen.” In other words, the vines and the blend do so holistically, automatically, without any real human interference. Nature and a connection to place are what makes Terre Alte.

Laura Felluga – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

The Livio Felluga vertical tasting includes 1996, 1998, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2014 and the White Wine of the Year Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte 2018. Once again it is Marco Sabellico of Gambero Rosso’s tasting team that leads the event. Grazie ancora for this opportunity goes out to Luigi (Gigi) Salerno (CEO/GM), Paolo Cuccia (President), Marco Sabellico and Gianni Fabrizio (Authors, Editors and Curators of Vini d’Italia guide), Tiina Eriksson (International Business & Event Manager), Lorenzo Ruggeri (Author and International Editor), Michela Ricotta, Giuseppe Carrus (Author and co-editor of the Gambero Rosso Vini d’Italia guide) and Crystel Barkany. If it carries the name Felluga you can be sure the wines will age gracefully for 25 years. A great pleasure to taste this vertical. Grazie Filippo e Laura Felluga with the team at Gambero Rosso. These are the eight vintages and my tasting notes.

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2018

A remarkable combination of salty and fresh, airy, part hillside and then winds blowing in, mainly from the northeast, through the wine. This combination of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco carries a rare combination of light dancing upon sweeping feet and veritable oily richness. Hints at smoulder, flintiness and therefore adds up to complexity and fascination. The gentle linger is seemingly forever to tell us much about history, location and possibility. So soft spoken, not surprising considering the ease and what Filippo calls “the boredom” of the vintage. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2014

Marl and sandstone, flesch and ponca soils, rainfall, winds and position within the Goriziano hills make for a complex weave of saltiness and flesh, here more of the former in a three-part harmonic blend of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco. “Our area is a champion of diversity,” tells Laura Felluga, “geographically, economically and culturally.” This idea includes grape varieties, “and our mission is to nurture the stories, values and diversity.” And so a synergistic white blend that does all that, felt with sapidity and emotion. Lots of similarity with 2018, likely more than any two vintages. Incredible youth. A fountain. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Felluga round table – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2011

An oily and textural vintage, surely fleshed out by time yet there’s more than just that. It just had to be ripe, bold and spicy from the beginning, golden sunshine filled, hued and expressive. You feel the aging here but not necessarily the flint and smoulder. Very friulano it would seem, less so pinot bianco though perhaps a little bit of faux botrytis involved, sensed by grapefruit and tropical fruit inherent. And so ultimately a sauvignon vintage in many respects. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Marco Sabellico – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2010

Though only a year apart, 2010 and 2011 are night and day, just like that. The saltiness and sapidity are at the fore and though it is not without flesh, glück and Brazzano blood, the linear quality is what still drives the white blend. Thanks to or because of September rains, aromatic intensity, spiciness on the back palate and a singular style of charm draws you in, wraps around your finger and tongue, lays there for a good long time. Lively, savoury and far from done. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Livio Felluga Vertical – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2006

While spiced to the hilt this is a blend showing its age but perhaps even more so the style of the early to mid-decade ways. Tiring now, oxidative, orange peel and anise, acidity still alive but the fruit wanes. Feels like the alcohol is elevated and as such there is some heat on the finish. Certainly a factor of August harvesting that really began starting in 2003. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2001

It may just be the diversity of massal selection friulano that brings the plethora of character to the table and to express the complexity and culture of the area. The Felluga mantra is repeated. “We believe this is part of our duty, to nurture the diversity of the area.” A most unique vintage, clearly warm but other than spice and nuts there is no further distraction. Not by alcohol or density, nor undue viscosity neither. Shows a lemon brûlée to poached pear fruit character, mostly replaced by rendered spice and liqueur, with mild acidity and good balance. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1998

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

Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1996

Was Filippo’s first year in the cellar and at a time with very little wood, lots of bâtonnage and a wine that was kept “dirty” for an extended amount of time. An oily wine to be sure, no shock considering the age and the sauvignon character really stands out. Very citrus, lemon preserve, a touch of salt and some bitter phenolics. Leads to a special kind of character with this sort of botanical, gingered nuttiness at the finish. Freshness, smokiness and minerality at its 25 year-old finest. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Livio Felluga Terre Alte Vertical – – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Gambero Rosso’s red wine of the year leads a vertical tasting of Argiano’s Vigna del Suolo

Argiano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1978 – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Just up the road endures the Vatican City, St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. The eyes can’t help but peer that way, from the red carpet on the Via della Conciliazione sidewalk and out through the windows of the Chorus Cafè inside the Auditorium della Conciliazione. It is the morning of October 15th, 2021, first of a three day festeggiamento for the top wines of Italy, special awards ceremonies, Guida Vini d’Italia 2022, grande degustazione Tre Bicchieri weekend. The first of three intimate vertical tastings takes place as Gambero Rosso welcomes Argiano CEO and Oenologist Bernardino Sani for a rear-view mirror guardare indietro at the Montalcino estate’s optimum soli affectionately referred to as Vigna del Suolo. In the whole of Italy Argiano Brunello di Montalcico DOCG Vigna del Suolo 2016 is the Gambero Rosso Red Wine of the Year for 2022.

Related – Stamina and staying power: Brunello di Montalcino

Argiano vertical tasting at Chorus Café, Roma – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Argiano 1580

Exactly. A functional wine cellar dating back to the later 1500s. With five centuries in place and 130 years of Brunello making history on side Argiano is the model of Montalcino consistency. The name is thought to derive from the first settlements in Roman times – ‘Ara Janus’, referring to the god Janus. Another potential origin could be ‘the land of the River Orcia’ – known in ancient times as ‘Orgia’ and therefore Argiano. The estate vineyards benefit from a micro-climate situated between Poggio alla Mura and Sant Angelo in Colle on a plateau at 300m.

With Bernardino Sani, CEO and Oenologist, Argiano

In 1992 the estate resettles into the hands of Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano and the wines under the peerless oenological tutelage of Giacomo Tachis. Fast forward to the present, a transfer of ownership and also company direction in 2013 into the hands of Bernardino Sani, who from 2015 is also responsible for making the wines. Argiano practices an organic and sustainable method of agriculture. Since 2019 Argiano is the first company in Montalcino to become plastic-free. All single-use plastics have been eliminated. The team consists of CEO & Winemaker Bernardino Sani; Agronomist & COO Francesco Monari; Cellar master Adriano Bambagioni; Winemaking assistant Roberto Caporossi; and Sales Manager Riccardo Bogi.

Marco Sabellico – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

When I think of Brunello di Montalcino there are two things that come to mind: Sangiovese and time. Longevità e tempo. Contrasts and comparisons are unnecessary, neither to other grape varieties nor to wine regions that also fashion structured red wines. The sangiovese of Montalcino are like the eponymous medieval hilltop village, an island in a sea of vast varietal openness. They share the impossibility of undergoing the slightest shift in meaning or change, that is, without the assistance of time. They are incomparable, generous and durable but also part of a great community, finding permanence and always seeking to endure. As do their makers and protectors.

Gambero Rosso and Argiano – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

The Argiano 1580 vertical tasting includes 1971, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2006, 2015 and the Red Wine of the Year Brunello di Montalcino Vigna del Suolo 2016. Gambero Rosso’s tasting lead and renaissance man of three decades Marco Sabellico opens the dialogue. “These are wines that give us special emotion,” he submits and then parleys to Bernardino Sani who declares “we look to make a wine that is terroir-driven, very respectful of the vines, the environment and this amazing, beautiful place.” Vigna del Suolo is the finest parcel, rich in limestone. Though Sani wants to make a wine almost Piedmontese or Bourguignons he ultimately creates one that is local, parochial, Montalcinese.

Gianni Fabrizio – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Gambero Rosso is more than just a leading platform for content, training, promotion and consultancy in the Italian Wine Travel Food sector. It offers a complete range of integrated services to reach potential success in agricultural, agri-food, catering and Italian hospitality sectors, with a significant contribution to the constant growth of the economy. Gambero Rosso organizes international events such as the Tre Bicchieri World Tour, the most prestigious cycle of events dedicated to the excellence of Italian wine in the world, the Top Italian Wines Roadshow or Vini d’Italia Tour.

Lorenzo Ruggeri – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

The sentiment can never be overstressed, to bear witness and to participate in exclusive if once in a lifetime vertical sessions. To be gifted not just tasting opportunities but to be privy to ever evolving history, connectivity to tracts of land and to the people who’s hands shape the vines and wines. Grazie tantissimo for this opportunity Luigi (Gigi) Salerno (CEO/GM), Paolo Cuccia (President), Marco Sabellico and Gianni Fabrizio (Authors, Editors and Curators of Vini d’Italia guide), Tiina Eriksson (International Business & Event Manager), Lorenzo Ruggeri (Author and International Editor), Michela Ricotta, Giuseppe Carrus (Author and co-editor of the Gambero Rosso Vini d’Italia guide) and Crystel Barkany. My notes cover the seven wines.

Argiano vertical tasting, October 16, 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Del Suolo 2016

Immediately showing an increased freshness, purity, lift and while only a year removed from 2015 the change in understanding of how to work with Vigna del Suolo is so readily apparent. Cherry as a solo artist, perfect, ripeness of idealism through phenolic development. Quality like the previous vintage but an easier vintage to manage with ample quantity. Low nighttime temperatures allowed for late October picking because sangiovese can go on forever when the autumn lingers such as it did. The barrels were by now a year (literately) older and (figuratively) later, inserting less oxidation and the freshness is truly a super scintillant matter, perfumed and of utter clarity radiating through. Sapidity, equilibrium and pitch perfect acidity will conspire to take this long and deep. 5,000 bottles produced. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted October 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Del Suolo 2015

It begins with Bernardino Sani. “We wanted to make a wine representative of Argiano, of five centuries, it’s history and this oldest Montalcino vintage.” The clones are now being studied because tells Sani “we want to copyright them.” Not the most powerful Brunello and one to mimic or imaginatively replicate the 1580 castle tower in the emotion of those in Firenze and Roma. Chilean geologist Pedro Parra is helping with the soil analysis, looking to directives for finest parcels and positional planting. This led to splitting Argiano’s terroir into five distinct parcels, with 2014 being the first, even if it was not the finest vintage to do so. And so ’15 marks the true beginning of Vigna del Suolo’s new era. Not the vintage of the century but challenging, dry and warm, resulting in elegance, purity of perfume, complexity of citrus spice and specifically the dried and candied peel of an orange. Salty too, so proper for sangiovese, warming, chocolate shavings on the finish. Aged in newly employed 50 hL Garbellotto casks, albeit relatively neutral.  Last tasted October 2021

The vineyard down below is appositely named in apropos significance because the sentiment is high, lightning struck and quick as a whip. Crunchy and earthy fruit is ripe and near delirious, tripping the lights and adding fantasy to an already heady if effusive substance fantastic. So much going on in complex waves, severities and notions. Will transfer and oscillate, groove and titillate for a decade to come. Drink 2022-2031.  Tasted February 2020

Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2006

The Argiano change in ownership happened in the 1990s and the ’06 was made in the ’90s and early 2000s footsteps ways of winemaker Giacomo Tachis who was chiefly responsible for the change in the making of the wines of the time. The introduction of barriques was the main alteration, looking for concentration, oak flavours and power. Considered a five-star vintage at the time and while others may have been moving away from the style, Argiano was still in the throes. Plenty of fruit here 15 years on, berries, plum and orange but also balsamico and a truly luxe and lush feeling sweeping across the palate. Chewy, like fruit leather, lingering oak flavours in and out of every crevice, crease and corner. A wine as a sign of the times in really fine shape. No Riserva or single vineyard wines were made at this time.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021

Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 1980

The beginning of shorter maceration times and fruit taken from what is today Vigna del Suolo and its surroundings. Three years in Grandi Botti, the beginning of what would become the modern era of Brunello elévage. More development than 1979, a concentration of fruit in all iterations; mainly bosco but also noci secche (dried nuts). Not so much a fungi vintage but more perhaps a salumi or charcuterie one, with a woolly note of pecorino. This is surely a result of the maceration intendment and style therefore the development on the nose outpaces the palate. Quite tannic, present, a structured wine, still able to age. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979

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

Nosing 1978 – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 1978

Considered a great vintage, cold winter, wet spring and warm summer. Wine production had recently been updated and modernized for the time and the harvest took place in the second week of October. Thirty days of fermentation in cement tanks. Youthful aromatics, perfumed, definite frutta di bosco, apricot and dried orange. Lovely developed spice in a wine showing as well as it can possibly be. Pitch perfect dual, duelling acidities for your palate and emotion. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 1971

The back label sports a phrase from Italian poet Carducci who after having a bad experience at home drank a glass of Argiano to lift his spirits. A warmer, classic Montalcino vintage. From a time when aging would have been done in Grandi Botti (likely 5000L) and even some chestnut oak. Piedmontese style fermentation and set up for long aging. High acidity, elevated volatility and notable rustic. Also some TCA in this bottle but somehow a mouthfeel prevalent with energy and verve. Fun, curious and thankful for the opportunity. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Argiano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1978 – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Wines in the Similkameen they are, sometimes they blow my mind

Ben in back, Goode standing tall

Last month the WineAlign judges spent an evening under the Similkameen Valley stars against a rugged mountain backdrop of glacial rock formation, the vineyards quiet, their fall foliage bright at dusk above stony, gravelly, and silty loam soil. The pizza oven was firing and the Similkameen growers hosted our motley crew with wines pouring all night long.

Similkameen Valley

Related – WineAlign Nationals meet the Iconic Wineries of B.C.

These are the facts. The Similkameen Valley lies west of Osoyoos with the majority of vineyards located around Cawston and Keremeos. Significant winds help naturally keep vineyards in this arid valley free of pests and disease, making this region well-suited for organic farming. Due to the steep surrounding mountains, and the reflectivity of the rock, heat remains in the valley long after the sun sets. Did I mention how beautiful a place this is?

WineAlign judges Janet Dorozynski, Michaela Morris and Michelle Bouffard

Our hosts were the owners of Crowsnest Vineyards, a Cawston property purchased by the Heinecke family in 1985 and named after the Crowsnest Highway #3. The family was an early contributor to the development of the Similkameen wine region, led by  second generation family siblings Sascha and Anna Heinecke. Here are 12 wines tasted that evening.

Clos Du Soleil Winemaker’s Series Pinot Blanc Middle Bench Vineyard 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Pointed and punchy pinot blanc, stone fruit with a verdant piquancy. Not exactly edgy but crisp, quite precise and yes, surely punchy. Early picked acids maintain freshness and this is nothing but bloody delicious. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Wines in the Similkameen they are, sometimes they blow my mind

Clos Du Soleil Capella 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

From the Upper Bench of the South Similkameen Valley and winemaker Michael Clarke’s signature Bordeaux-inspired white blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon. Knowing the maker’s education and professional past one might look at this Capella as a branch of blancs that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. In other words Capella a.k.a. the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga, presents a case of two complimentary grape varieties made profound by the abstractions of soil, gently inclined land and the reflectivity of mountain rock. These building blocks of terroir and warmth may be real but it is the philosophies and methodologies of growing and winemaking that allows us to vindicate the greatness in this 2020. A virtuoso deportment of fine salinity and truffled perfume speaks in subtle Similkameen tones and a light touch is noted by both délestage and elévage restraint. This pure citrus distillate is sharp and pointed but then come the poignant flavours. Like the assyrtiko of the Similkameen with Bordeaux structure. Theoretical and physical, void of experimental tools and yes, c’est bon. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Vines in the Similkameen

Corcelettes Micro Lot Series Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Fulsome, not bullish, cream centred and with exteriors all bite and wood spice. Almost too youthful still, previously misunderstood, not yet in full perfume bloom. Hinting at what’s coming, tree fruit part orchard and part tropical but no bloody pineapple. Chard of interest.  Last tasted October 2021

Part of the Micro Lot Series and a cool to gelid chardonnay well into the yogurt and lemon curd with finishing almond flavours. Texturally speaking there is flesh and fluidity in a Similkameen chardonnay that receives much barrel addendum. Silky and creamy, all about mouthfeel and development. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Brad Royale and Crowsnest Gourd

Crowsnest Family Reserve Chardonnay Stahltank 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Stahltank as in stainless steel fermentation for full retention of freshness, which this energetic 2020 shows, but also big and substantial fruit. Crowsnest Vineyards is located near Cawston in the Similkameen Valley and chardonnay is clearly a specialty. Soft, creamy and devoted, available and amenable. Subtle spice, crafty and just crisp enough to remind of the fresh intendment and lively persistence. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Hugging Tree Moonchild Merlot 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Solid merlot in many respects, rich and caky, thick and chock full of ripe fruit. Edgy as needed, split by a streak of right proper greenness and out of a quality vintage. Steeping in acids and tannins running down grain for a result that has and will continue to please for a few years yet to come.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021

Orofino Riesling Hendsbee Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Made from the other Alsatian Clone (as opposed to the oft employed 49) from the 2006 planted vineyard by Cheryl and Lee Hendsbee adjacent to and with great soil similarities to Orofino’s home block on the Cawston Bench. A place of rich caky soil atop gravel and river rock for 100 feet. Prudent to experience this with some but not too much age and the hope is to have an experiential moment, say one or two years forward to do so again. Just now moving into some development, a secondary dance step, trip of the tongue, coupling fruit and mineral salts. Quite dry with elevated but knowing and promising acidity. At present a true matter of delight mixed with complex notions in this time of emerging secondary emotions. The appendages work together, in rhythm and forward motion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Orofino Gamay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

So bloody primary, a fresh smack of Similkameen juice, a touch turbid and seemingly not quite at the curtain call of its final act towards being a finished wine. Still swimming in carbonic waters, openly fragrant and inviting. A squeeze of blood orange and tart edging while in full control to effect positively on the palate. You think it might turn botanical or volatile but it never does, instead staying a fruit persistent course. Can see this being underestimated when in fact it is simply a joy to drink. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2014, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

A well developed smoulder, purely be variety and place, not by wood. Still persistently and openly fragrant, earth, brush, flora and fruit intertwined as one in a syrah of end game integration. What was once folds, waves and shadows is now seamlessness, inertia and assimilation. Orofino’s WFS resides in a place of great comfort and equally important regard. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Robin Ridge Winery Gamay 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Has advanced well into the denouement of its life with fruit persistently black of cherry and what tannins there ever were have melted into a glass darkly. Even the acids wane, effecting little to no meaning at this stage. Drinks quite well actually if showing signs of imminence. Nothing wrong about a glass with a good slice of pizza on a cool Similkameen night. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Seven Stones Speaking Rock Estate Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Reductive even after all this time, spicy chardonnay chai and wasabi spiced though still some juicy fruit. Showing well for its age, far from oxidative, of clotted cream and some drying to desiccating flavours. Lemon namely and a dollop of that cream. Fully developed and soon to finish all the softening. A lovely drop at this moment. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Quite a big syrah expression while balanced and showing an ease with which it carries itself this way. Maintains composure and control in the face of a deep and hematic meatiness, high-toned culture, level, pulse and pace of play. Clearly a wine of site, revealing in a meaningful style because it just seems to be the kind of weighty wine it needs to be. No two ways around it. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

A whopping 16 per cent alcohol but truth is you’d not really fully feel or know it. The level of fruit and the flesh it expounds hangs snugly, fitted and tied to the bone. The chalky and peppery liquidity want to be about juiciness and freshness, some way, somehow. The cigarillo smoulders still and the wine finds those realistic and honest moments. Suffers and survives, delivers the varietal goods. Well perhaps there is a moment of shock and awe but ultimately the wine is the wine, for its time and place. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Ben in back, Goode standing tall

vvv

WineAlign Nationals meet the Iconic Wineries of B.C.

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada – Photo (c) WineAlign

Back in the first week of October a special anniversary took place in Penticton, British Columbia. Special because it was the 20th running of Canada’s greatest wine show on wheels, now and for the past 10 years known as the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Remarkable because the week of judging Canada’s finest wines and ciders brought together a group of erudite and beautiful people for the first time in nearly 28 months. It was in June of 2019 the last time a 50-plus strong NWAC gaggle assembled, of back room volunteers, behind the scenes technical wizards, scoring junkies and FOH judging professionals. The 2021 results are beginning to roll out, including the first four categories last week; Sparkling, Gamay, Pinot Gris and Rosé. Today you can read up on chardonnay and pinot noir. I was entrusted the Rosé category write-up and you can view it here:

Related – A record medal haul for Canadian Rosé

A record-setting number of wines were entered from coast to coast. The two-decade journey has been worth every moment for this most respected and important Canadian wine competition. I have been at these judging tables since 2013, to capture this most essential snapshot of Canadian wine and by now have witnessed a great change and evolution, as have mentors Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason over two decades. The inaugural competition in 2001 drew 528 wines from 71 wineries and in 2021, 26 judges tasted 2,075 entries from more than 260 wineries.

Backroom at NWAC2021, photo (c) WineAlign

I have now published more than 270 wines tasted at the competition that can be viewed on WineAlign. Most have only been tasted the one time, that being during blind varietal and stylistic flights in Penticton and those reviews have only been edited for spelling, grammar, syntax and in a few instances musical reference fact checking. No information, estate history, principals’ stories or winemaking data have been added to those notes. In cases where wines had been previously reviewed or tasted in Kelowna just prior to the awards then the blind notes are added in.

Day one judging @winealign #NWAC2021 ~ With the inimitable @trevering and @bryantmao ~ Only 2,000 more to go ~ #canadianwine #winejudging #thenationals #wineawards

Upon arrival in the Okanagan on the eve of day one at the awards we were privileged to be guests at a walk-around tasting hosted by Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia at Checkmate Artisanal Winery in Oliver. All seven estates were present and pouring some of their top tier bottles; CedarCreek Estate Winery (Kelowna), Checkmate (Oliver), Liquidity Wines (Okanagan Falls), Martin’s Lane Winery (Kelowna), Mission Hill Family Estate Winery (West Kelowna), Red Barn Winery (Oliver) and Road 13 Vineyards (Oliver). The following 19 tasting notes are from the bottles poured by all seven members of the IWBC.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Kelowna home vineyard and the oldest block of riesling vines at 30 years of age. A wild ferment, kept on the skins for 12 hours and aged half in stainless, half in German oak (not to be confused with the 1970s prog. rock/psychedelic band). “It’s very easy to make lime juice from this block,” is a reminder from winemaker Taylor Whelan to take great care, find focus and another gear. “We’re aiming for GG (Grosses Gewächs) numbers,” here emerging at 8 g/L RS, but the intensity and grip make the wine seem much drier. No detention or detection of wood whatsoever in a currently bracing riesling but one set up for a readied future of full embrace. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Cedar Creek Platinum Jagged Rock Vineyard Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

A 100 per cent wild and in barrel though with truncated malolactic fermentation, “because we’re CedarCreek, not Checkmate,” quips winemaker Taylor Whelan. Some banana emits in this moment of estimable youth and we both admit the wine is “not yet quite ready.” From the vineyard down in the valley below Checkmate Winery, a contributor to the freshness in a chardonnay straddling the line between reduction and flesh, flintiness and splendored expression. Tropical fruit hints, nary a creamy plasticity and zero gratuity, but plenty of gravitas. To say they are on to something would be a gross understatement in this a vintage readying to unroll later on in 2022. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

CedarCreek Winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Platinum Simes Vineyard Natural Pinot Noir 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Dark as a syrah night, pressed, full on violet to balsamic, rich beyond the pinot pale and fully into a film noir genre. A bit Wagner north, with gritty tannins and hidden greens.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Approximately 55 per cent (Clone 115) whole bunch concrete fermentation. A crunchy red in the guise of Beaujolais and the reference point is not such a stretch. Recently planted gamay vines will do the same or take the torch when they come to their fruition. Some pretty serious pitch and tannin, a cru on steroids, wild man, far from reductive and big. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Looking out from Checkmate Winery

Checkmate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2018, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench

From the unknown 1975 planted clone, same one used by Mission Hill going back to 1994 with a musqué intonation. The Vineyard is called Dekleva, coolish spot on the Golden Mile Bench. Lower slope soils are patch sandy, with fragmented rocks aboard a fluvial fan. The 2018 is a preview of what the vintage can be for chardonnay or perhaps better described in prologue as to what it has already shown to be. Layers upon layers, alternating chew and crunch, great freshness matching the buttery croissant and if you drop your guard this chardonnay will crush you. It has the game. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Checkmate Opening Gambit Merlot 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Osoyoos Bench with 100 per cent merlot, a wild ferment and 21 months in new wood. Truly, ostensibly varietal Okanagan realism. Could be nothing but and anything at all, a merlot so cured, verdantly specialized and toasty because the growth cycle and viticultural handling all lead down a path where grape and place walk cane and shoot. Bramble, fully loaded spice masala, a modicum of intensity fleshing out the layers of brush, underbrush and ultimately a silken merlot style. Structured but not overtly so, best in the mid term though it will linger well into the latter stages of the decade. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Reserve Chardonnay 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Poured by winemaker Amy Paynter, a Reserve chardonnay so aptly named as it submits to the ease with which assets of fruit and structural security are converted into ready to drink pleasure, without affecting cost, value or age worthiness. No searching for richness, nor unction neither, not to mention mille-feuille layering. Chewy enough, fleshy for certain and textural throughout, but always this ease of transitions, conversions and fluidity. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity winemaker Amy Paynter

Liquidity Viognier 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Golden hue, ripeness at the top, surely only B.C. can effect. Not nearly as unctuous as expected yet there is some sweetness and spice to be sure. Spicy too, tart, tincture of tang and all the while circumstantially evident.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Part estate with fruit from Oliver and Osoyoos. Very apricot in a chanterelle way so it’s scents is like the idea of a mushroom that smells like the memory of a ripe apricot. What else does one need. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Estate Pinot Noir 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Made with one hundred per cent Okanagan Falls fruit, picked in lots, each small batch fermented, 14-15 months in (25 per cent new) wood. The decision as to what qualifies as Reserve is made at the time of bottling. A true OK Falls Liquidity Reserve in such regard, much in the way sangiovese is dealt with in Chianti Classico or Montalcino. But this is pinot noir, an animal all to itself, fickle and choosy, hard to get and yet Liquidity has their fruit down with proof right in this glass. Smooth, supple, strong and sure, a confident if simply delicious pinot noir of balance, harmony and grace. Tasted with incumbent winemaker Amy Paynter who’s first full vintage will be 2021 and look for her work ethic (and measured risks) to take this wine to a whole new level. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Shane Munn’s riesling from the volcanic, clay and white quarts Fritzi’s Vineyard continues to get better, all the while with a wine he seems to do less and less to try and control. Must be the place and the fruit from this 21 year-old block (as of this 2018 vintage) seeks a 48 hour skin-contact for oxidatively handled juice. Pressed once, lightly and so softly treated, then transferred to German casks where it stays for up to eight months. Just bloody delicious, hard to not conjure a frothie for this freshest of phenolic rieslings, which incidentally was only sulphured once, four months into the trek. Walks about from grippy to lovely and back again, with silk stops along the way. Will shine brightest two years from now. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Fritzi’s Vineyard on Mission Hill Road is a volcanic block on dry yet rich clay, with white quartz below, planted in 1997. The winemaking is consistent from year to year and as time passes forward what’s done to this wine “is very little, less and less” tells Shane Munn. Such a phenolic riesling and irrefutably circulating in a floating balloon of immaculate freshness. Yes there is some creamy richness but it can’t hold a candle to the level of “frische und enger” in a riesling interfacing the land at the base of Boucherie. Fritzbox and very cool cat. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Some changes in 2018, nothing earth shattering but alterations nonetheless. This time around a 70 per cent whole bunch natural ferment for 42 days (and nearly Piedmontese cappello sommerso as such). No punch-downs nor pump-overs neither, instead a “semi-délestage,” notes winemaker Shane Munn, a fanning over the cap two or three times a day, to polymerize the tannins. Call this the Munn manifesto, unique to pinot noir, Fritzi’s Vineyard and the Okanagan, an infusion rather than a maceration. Fanning acts out so very gently, allowing for an elegant transfer of fruit through structure all the while in retention of some of the noble elements found in the skins. Surely an old-school reference point, a consciousness at the very least and a way to make a big but not dense wine, fulsome yet far from heavy, with great finesse and emotive wakefulness. Munn’s pinot noir is alert and at the ready, as should we all be, from the get go and with the slow moving current that will see aging take place over a six to eight year period. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with winemaker Shane Munn, a 50 per cent whole bunch natural fermentation in concrete for 32 days, in this vintage quicker to resolve (five to seven days earlier) than the average. Polymers culminated, “melted” and melded with the richness of tannic volcanic thrush. The optimum if classic Fritzi’s pinot noir fruit at first precipitously gliding down so easy but the stem inclusion thankfully graduates the incline and slows the consumption process down to a much necessitated trickle. Also keeps the wine from lunging or lurching into its immediate future, ahead of promise and proper compulsion for brilliance. No comeuppance or envy here, only pinot mercy and possibility. Log life ahead, breezes in sails, drifts and finally, sandy shores. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Perpetua 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Top of the flinty pops, super reductive and oh so tight, taut and implosive. The fruit rolls on through, states a territorial claim and give thanks for all the right reasons. The includes a high level of quality salt, pepper and wood seasoning, which it submits to and willfully accepts. Fine work in chardonnay all around. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with Graham Nordin, General Manager for Iconic Wineries of B.C. and a man passionate for cabernet franc, especially this fifth vintage of Vista’s Edge for Mission Hill. A wine that began in 2015 after winemaker Darryl Brooker took over from John Simes and the first full vintage for Aussie Ben Bryant who in 2018 succeeded Brooker as chief winemaker. The vineyard can be seen looking out from Checkmate Winery and just past Phantom Creek. The 2019 cabernet franc was fermented in concrete and then aged in Bourgogne wood. My this packs a punch, of fruit so primary, succulent acids secondary and bones tertiary, the latter only because so much flesh and antioxidant donation hangs upon the very backbone of the wine. A cabernet construct like this is neither common nor fully understood in such youth. Will exude charm and captivate to the fullest in two to three years time. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Lost Art Sémillon 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Red Barn is the newest Black Sage Bench project for Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia (IWBC). The seventh member joins Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, CheckMate, Road 13, Liquidity and Martin’s Lane. The winery should be ready to open its doors in 2022. The sèmillon is raised in both stainless steel and concrete, coming across with esteemed richness of fruit so very tropical, nearing a stylistic that usually comes from Okanagan viognier. Viscous with a lovely salt line running through, keeping the varietal faith and boding well for future renditions of this wine. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Silent Partner Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The newest kid on the Black Sage Bench for the Iconic Wineries of B.C. is Red Barn and this cabernet franc from Jagged Rock Vineyard of 30 per cent whole bunch fermentation was aged in concrete. Only 165 cases were produced for an all in, full varietal monty of great transparency, wonderful red fruit and perfect simplicity. A terrific entry point for vineyard and new order outfit. “I know, you know, we believe in a land of love,” that being this institution of an Okanagan bench, a pleasure zone for fun, ripe fruit and the sun’s perfect kiss. All the distractions are kept at bay in a cabernet franc well on its way. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2017, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Lots of fun here, funk too, western richness, sunshine and fulsome palate flavours and texture. Lots of lees and layers.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

From some of the oldest chenin planting in the Okanagan (1968) and North America for that matter, used exclusively for the sparkling wine program. Vinous yet sleek, rich and intense. Mineral fascination in bubble form, loaded with character. Spent 36 months on the secondary lees. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Winemaker Barclay Robinson

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2012, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Spent eight years on the lees, still now vibrant and acting as a solemn totem to what distance and time can do for chenin blanc in sparkling significance. Now a wine of fully developed character at the peak of complexities possible. Will linger in this lovely suspended state for a few more years. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 5th Element Jackpot 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The intensity of blue fruit is something to behold, with imminent proposal and one’s imagination trends towards a high percentage of petit verdot (when in fact the number is only in the three to five range). Winemaker Barclay Robinson smiles a wry smile because he knows he’s onto something great and perhaps he too imagines a jackpot at the end of this rainbow. The merlot and malbec offer up interwoven waves of red and black fruit, all the while bespoken to chocolate and goji berry. Then the perfume hits, violet and hibiscus, followed by a return of that beautiful blue fruit. Onto something indeed. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Godello’s 24-hour Nova Scotia revival

Lightfoot & Wolfville estate vines overlooking the Minas Basin

Neither travel fatigue nor Ida on a wet and grey last day of August and first of September could hardly dampen the spirit nor get in the way of a most rewarding and highly educational visit to Nova Scotia wine country. On Thursday the skies looked like an unripe olive as photographed through gauze yet the fabric gifted a palpable feeling of optimism. As Friday progressed the resolute mood took on a confidence in airs. An exchange of ideas and a refreshed positivism rang from Newport to Wolfville, the Blomidon Peninsula, Gaspereau Valley and through permeate points dotting the Minas Basin. Looking back one month later, a persistent study in reflection wonders if the blood of Nova Scotia wines are closer to seawater than its bones are to soil. Considering the growing of grapes so proximate to the immense tidal sways of the Bay of Fundy can weaken or perhaps even profane the recurring thought, as if in fact in the whole of the Annapolis Valley there may be more earth than sea. If that is the answer then what is the question? Ponder this. Can you taste Nova Scotia terroir in the wine?

A rebirth with new blood. Caitlyn McNamara, Erin Carroll, Cat Taylor. Three new faces of Nova Scotia winemaking. Innovators, bringers of new, fresh and forward-thinking ideas to an industry well past the cusp, fully cognizant of and cementing its command of greatness. Arbiters of viticulture and viniculture who have joined the ranks of teams already entrenched and with positions of leadership occupied; Louis Coutinho, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, Bruce Ewart, Harold Gaudy, Gina Haverstock, Josh Horton, Rachel Lightfoot, Mike Mainguy, Alex Morozov, Simon Rafuse, Jürg Stutz and Ben Swetnam. There are others of course and yet on my most recent east coast swing to the Annapolis Valley there were six visits in total plus two remarkable if isolated wine experiences and meals; first at Heather Rankin’s Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax and then at Chef Geoffrey Hopgood’s Juniper in Wolfville. Add to that an ocean submerging of 300 bottles of sparkling wine and some after the fact assessments of more Nova Scotia bottles. Funny how a 24 hour jaunty through Nova Scotia wine country is the stuff of bagatelles, dear and near to a naturalist’s heartstrings, familiar as family and yet wrought with equalizing, objective professionalism. Please read on for a 2021 update to winery profiles and tasting notes for 40 wines from Nova Scotia.

Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley

Winemaker Ben Swetnam, Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky Winery, Newport

Andrew and Mary Bennet first planted the vineyard in 1987, in one of the hotter provincial zones. It would have been an old dairy farm, with an original schoolhouse, six old dug wells and the same number of split properties/buildinAvila,gs on the farm. In 2008 they realized the 12.5 acres was a bit much so put it up for sale. They were picky about the buyer and keen to keep it going. Winemaker Ben Swetnam was at Petite Rivière on the South Shore at the time and was hired by Chef Ray Bear, then Avondale sold five months later to Lorraine Vassalo who kept Ben on. They relocated an old hay barn from down the road without water and doors but that first harvest went through beautifully. The Coutinho family bought Avondale Sky Winery and Restaurant at the tail end of November 2019. They lost 95 per cent of their crop to the 2018 frosts. As an example l’acdie’s primary, secondary and tertiary buds all come out at the same time, not exactly frost protection and all hybrids were lost. The original 12.5 acres have turned into 25 which now includes an acre of pinot noir and this coming Spring the plan is to add more, along with pinot gris (as far as cleared land) with a possible five cares uncleared that could be used in the future. Up to 5,000-5,500 total cases at this point. Vineyard manager is Pete Smits and has been at Avondale for five years. The family are all involved; Louis (vineyard), Avila (finance), Sean (hospitality), Karl (CEO) and Jamie (Social Media).

Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky Winery Gamay Pet Nat 2019, Nova Scotia ($50)

From a grower (Andre Dant’emont) in Mahoney Bay who has a small amount (he sold winemaker Ben Swetnam 96 kilos) with the intention of making a red from whole cluster and a gentle mash. Swetnam instead decided to “let this happen” because it just smelled clean. An as it happens sparkling pet-nat with just the right amount of lees, and a quick three day riddle so that it wouldn’t explode as Rosé P-N is want to be a little jumpy. Bloody delicious, as juicy and forthright as could possibly be. Bottled on November 18th, 2019, only 23 bottles made, from grapes brought in November 2nd and 3rd. Showing with vigour, intendment and kept determination. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noir 2013, Nova Scotia ($75)

While Ben Swetnam had wanted to dabble in sparkling going back to 2009 he can thank everyone in the Nova Scotia industry for showing him the ropes. That includes Gina Haverstock at Gaspereau, Bruce Ewart at L’Acadie, Simon Rafuse at Blomidon, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at Benjamin Bridge and others. The 2011 would have been the first vintage of pinot noir production with the intent of making sparkling wine, of hot to cool years and all others in between. Dijon clones and a warmer edge of a ’13 season, a riper style but brought in at classic sparkling numbers, acids 11-12.5 and brix 17-19, picking in the third week of October. An early vintage. Intensity meets richness halfway there, fruit flavours are exceptional, just shy of eight years on lees, disgorged three months ago. “For the pinot I always wanted to do a minimum five years and the acidity was always there,” tells Ben. “The tertiary qualities were not out yet so the pause every six months kept the decisions at bay.” Got this apricot chanterelle fungi character, mousse and bubble are really in tact, dosage is 7.5 g/L almost fully hidden by that Nova Scotia acidity. There is something about this sight that maintains higher acidity levels while sugars rise but as an example perhaps it’s the gypsum based soil underneath the whole vineyard, or the tidal rivers and the specific diurnal fluctuations, cooler at night and “it’s something we can always rely on, in every year, that backbone of acidity.” So very Nova Scotia. Usually 500 bottles produced per year. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle L’Acadie 2015, Nova Scotia ($55)

A first attempt at l’acadie (with 86 per cent estate) and because there was no pinot noir available at the time there is instead some frontenac blanc by a grower in Truro (grown in a gravel parking lot). It lends some (lol) acidity (21 g/L) but it’s almost all tartaric, meaning you can lose much of it during cold stabilization, which incidentally may have been lacking (hard to believe) while the fruit essentially came in at 19-21 brix. L’Acadie comes in around 18-18.5 brix with acid 10-10.5, so much less bracing than what reputation may proceed it. In fact it can be flabby if harvested late and happens to act the part of texture grape for Tidal Bay. May be revelatory to think this way but it is the least of the bunch. About five years on lees, disgorged this winter, 10.5 g/L of RS, mineral push, now out of the searing and into developing secondary moments, petrol to mild caramelization. Only 300 bottles disgorged, more citrus, a touch of pith, fine bitters, botanical, orange scrape, length, striking. Hair raising though never a scare. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Benediction 2017, Nova Scotia ($35)

“Our cheap and cheerful bubble as you will find here,” targeting 18 months on lees, with the idea being geisenheim fruit and higher dosage (20 g/L) to balance out geisenheim’s acidity. Smells like geisenheim alright, star fruit to the edge of elderflower, picked 17-18 brix, before the cabbage and burnt orange but with the fresh citrus well intact. The bliss (stalled ferment geisenheim) is employed for more green apple and grapey notes. More dried herbs here, fennel and a touch of anise. All works really well together. Surely one of the more consistent sparkling wines and ’17 may be a more linear, shall we say “classic,” unmeshed, non messed with or plussed vintage. So drinkable with great and sweet acids. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Riesling Small Lot NV, Nova Scotia ($25)

“A rescue wine,” blending re-fermented 2018 fruit with 2019 and “the wine is better as a blend than either one would have been on their own.” Super biased towards the Mosel (Ben Swetnam worked at St. Urbans-Hof in 2005) and so a riesling to prove that terroir does indeed exist. A child of stalled ferments, sugar kept naturally. Almost entirely Warner Vineyards fruit, down in the valley, been working with them since 2012. The sugar level is higher than imagined, upwards of 26 g/L (the ’18 fruit was at 38 and the ’19 part 40 and part fully dry). A better methodology to keep aromatics and shy away from vinous qualities. Also in avoidance of dilution, here the concentration and texture are in upright rise and uprising. Citrus prominence and at the lower end of the phenolic spectrum. Terrific work. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($23)

A blend of l’acadie, vidal, frontenac blanc, geisenheim and muscat. The plan is “don’t screw it up, stick to your guns” and stay consistent. Even in frost destroying 2018 there was no non-Nova Scotia grapes allowed. Each winery has their own style and Avondale Sky’s is on the sweeter, stalled ferment part of the spectrum, keeping balance with the searing acids, finishing at 16-17 g/L of residual sugar, centring around fruit. So citrus, with plenty of juiced orange. Sweet and sassy, tart with a faux botrytis sauvignon character managed by riesling like acidity. Quite complex for Tidal Bay, sweet yet classy. Look beyond seafood for this, in particular hot and spicy. Hot wings and south asian dhosa, as examples. First made in 2010, first official vintage was 2011. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted August 2021

JB and Morozov, Benjamin Bridge

Related – Crush on Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge, Wolfville

From the name of the bridge that crosses the Gaspereau Valley and pays tribute to the Benjamin family who dammed up the river to become the first industrialists here. Sparkling wine specialist, unquestioned leader and now moving into uncharted territory but also deep waters. Watch these videos to learn more about the 2011 Blanc de Noirs that was “dunked into the sea to age and drift with the tides to test the effects of underwater ageing on sparkling.”

Each bottle has been carefully wrapped so as not to disturb the Bryozoa and sediments. The project was inspired by recovered Champagne on shipwrecks on the ocean floor and the fun daydreaming ways through the inquiring minds of Alex Morozov and Maxime Daigle. After a year at sea, though ice and snow, this wine is finally surfacing. But there’s more in the works at Benjamin Bridge, including newest member of the winemaking team Erin Carroll’s “Gamay Col Fondo,” a hybrid concept in ancient meets futuristic sparkling wine. The fun never ends at the Bridge, nor does the excitement.

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Rosé 2017, Nova Scotia ($49.95)

One of the first wines to come to the surface with Pascal Agrapart’s involvement with winemakers Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Alex Morozov. When tasted the sentiment was that this particular vintage of this very particular sparkling wine was not yet there yet in terms of readiness or rather publicizing but truth be told, never have texture and acids come together as one in a BB Rosé. Crunch and chew, riff and rise, bellow and beauty, all despite the spiralling zeitgeist that underscores its urgency. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Gamay Col Fondo Handcrafted Small Lot 2020, Nova Scotia ($49.95)

A hybrid concept, between Ancestrale and Traditional Method sparkling wine, driven by experimentation, constant reassessment of a varietal progression and the new injection of intelligence through the focused lens of assistant winemaker Erin Carroll. Though the term is normally associated with Prosecco there is really no reference point as such, not with gamay and certainly not the way the BB team approaches their work. Such gamay-ness glaring, vivid and concentrated never graced a glass, not before nor likely any time soon. Refosco meets Lambrusco and a quasi Valpolicella rifermermentato in bottiglia futuristic sentimentality. Despite the Nova Scotia acid structure that hangs in the balance it should be considered that Carroll’s Col Fondo is not likely to allow objectivity to nudge itself off of the pillar of its own perspective. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut 2016, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

Perfect conditions, “an Olympic year.” The most tightly wound toast, the year that acidity through the roof while in control will bring the dosage down, from 8.5 to 2.6 g/L. At the most. And so Brut Reserve will be Brut zero. The epiphany, or at least the latest epiphany is upon Alex Morozov and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers. No longer the project incarnate, defined, teachable house style. Now the realization of a prophecy from words spoken three years ago by Deslauriers, then echoing in your head, now coming to idealistic fruition. “With the possibility of absolute transcendency.” Back then it was a matter of eventuality. Today it is the truth. This may not turn out to be the finest Brut made by the team in the new era but it sets a course for a neoteric sparkling wizardry shore, where climate, acids, vines, sugars and controlled emotion all meet to advocate in realization of their necessary dynamic. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Winemaker Simon Rafuse, Blomidon Estate

Blomidon Estate Winery, Canning

Blomidon Estate Winery is set on the western pastoral shelf of a shore overlooking the the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Perhaps the most intimate of all the seaside settings there is a sense of singularity in the milieu and atmospheric conditions on this side of the basin’s shores edging northerly up the Blomidon Peninsula. Surely a sparkling wine specialist but also a champion of chardonnay both in still and sparkling forms. Co-owner Tim Ramey purchased the property in 2007 and Simon Rafuse is the Winemaker alongside Harold Gaudy, the viticulturist.

Blomidon Estate Winery Crémant NV, Nova Scotia ($28)

Disgorged March of 2021, based on the 2019 harvest, bottled in early 2020. Three grapes, approx 60-20-20, seyval blanc, l’acadie and chardonnay. Moving up in pressure and therefore a new sweet spot, up to 5.5 bars of pressure, at 14-16 g/L RS, with more texture. This is the balanced spot, with seyval’s acidity equalizing into citrus and tree (peach) fruit. Tart and full on tang, fulsome and a healthy dose of fruit, so late in ripening, old school Nova Scotia. If too old school so be it because longevity and slow development is everything. Easy to drink and yet pointed, poignant even. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Cuvée L’Acadie Brut Méthode Traditionelle, Nova Scotia ($39.95)

A 100 per cent estate l’acadie disgorged in March 2020, approx. 65-70 per cent 2017 with 2016 and a splash of 2015, 2,500 bottles caged in August 2018. Dosage is 6 g/L, very Brut, dry as the desert and not just because of a concept in which l’acadie is an acid king, because in fact it can be quite the opposite. A phenolic sparkler, picked early (first in fact) and therefore a self-starter, enthusiastic, cranking and varietally zealous. There will be 24 cases coming to VINTAGES in mid-September. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Charcuterie, Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

Blomidon Estate Winery Brut Réserve Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

A 100 per cent estate chardonnay picked relatively early (21st of October), having seen no malolactic fermentation and six years on the lees. Feels like this has moved into both secondary and tertiary character, that and so much deeper engagement with structure. Disgorged in the spring of 2020 then held for eight months before release. This to get new reactions past dosage (that was 6.5 g/L). The mushroom notes and other evolutionary gains are vintage driven and the lemon crème brûlée meets Nova Scotia finish is bridged by orchard fruits as creamy as they are striking. Toasty dichotomous bubbles of the extraordinary kind. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Woodside Road Vineyard 2015, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

The second iteration, disgorged on August 31st, no malo, 7 g/L dosage, picked on the 20th of October. Made from 70 per cent chardonnay, (20) pinot noir, (5) meunier and splashes of pinot gris plus blanc. Base wines were bottled late summer 2016 and so now five years and a bit of lees aging. The pinot brings much ado in small quantity. The aromatics are temporarily not quite integrated, the gas is working the room and in due course all will come back together. Complex, graphing a new Minas course, small lot, 50 cases or so. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Shrimp Cocktail at Juniper, Wolfville

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noirs 2016, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

Give or take 76 per cent pinot noir and 24 meunier, a similar vintage to 2015 (though a touch warmer) and here picked on the 17th of November. Almost all from Woodside Vineyard and some meunier off of the Blomidon estate vines, no longer here. Disgorged today, yes today and my oh my the potential here elevates to a very high ceiling. Just under 6 g/L RS so exactly extra brut, really primary but with the dosage that will arrive before you know it. The pinot delivers more fruit than the chardonnay, perhaps a counterintuitive concept but that’s Nova Scotia. And every vintage will flip the head and make you think again. Small lot, 50 cases or so. Searing succulence, a structural richness and transformative beyond the complex, curious and interesting. Assiduous if conceited blanc de noirs, pejorative to chardonnay, entangled inside enigma, mystery and riddle. Literally. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Jürg Stutz, Winemaker at Domaine de Grand Pré

Related – East coast swing 2015: Time, tides and wine

Domaine De Grand Pré, Grand Pré

Domaine De Grand Pré has recently celebrated 20 years of erudite work leading the Nova Scotia wine industry. As for riesling, well the work of Jürg Stutz speaks for itself and now in sparkling the game is on. A visit is well worth the tasting, local knowledge and great gastronomy of Chef Jason Lynch.

Domaine De Grand Pré Riesling Extra Dry Traditional Method NV, Nova Scotia ($44.50)

A blend of 2019 and (more) 2018 fruit reviewed by the traditional method and 12 months of lees aging, finishing at 18 g/L dosage of RS. Just released one month ago, the first such sparkling wine at Grand Pré. The ’18 juices at low pH and high acidity was adjusted by the ’19s, then sent back to bottle for an additional 12 months. Sometimes not acting with pragmatic immediacy turns into something special and complex. A matter of adjustments and not the ripest ’18 grapes but here the combination of autolysis and phenolics goes beyond acidity. Three thousand bottles of great energy in the wine, green apple bite and that phenolic rush. Very singular, even for Nova Scotia sparkling. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Riesling 2020, Nova Scotia ($22.50)

Harvested Oct. 23rd at 18.3 brix, a pH of 3.05, with total acidity at 10.4, no malo and 18 g/L of RS. Picking can be the first week of November but 2020 saw picking towards the later stages of October. A wine without changes, a Grand Pré way stuck to, given extra care, in vinifera extra work put in, with cluster thinning and battling all the disease pressure grapes are likely to meet in this climate. Vinous riesling, fermented through with adding back sugar in a complex, layered and Mosel like riesling. Really balanced and perfect with subtly spiced cuisine. Will improve with two to three years of age. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($22.00)

In 2020 a blend of mainly l’acadie (44 per cent), with vidal (20), ortega (16), muscat (12) and seyval (8). TA is 8.6 g/L; RS 12 g/L; 11 per cent alc./vol. Certainly one of the most aromatic of all Tidal Bays, fruit spread across yellow, white and green spectrums, flowers too. Really pushes the appellative concept, ties the room together, bedroom, living space and community. Plums and oranges, apricots, peached and green apples. All the fruits, all in full regale and blossoms in bloom. The most fruit adjustment of all. The next (2021) will be labelled Annapolis Valley. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Chardonnay 2020, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

Second vintage from young Melanson Vineyard vines (planted in 2017), low yielding, definitely a work in progress. Harvested Oct. 16t at 20 brix, barrel fermented in new French oak, passed through malo and remained there for nine months altogether. Only two barrels were gained of this flinty, sulphide felt, clearly reductive style but also one that is explicitly Nova Scotia. The pH is 3.11, the tA 9.4. Some of this fruit will go to sparkling and it’s really quite a special vineyard (Melanson) that sits across the river in the Gaspereau Valley across from L’Acadie Vineyards. This will morph and flesh, placate the over-cumbersome wood at present and then settle in. Work in progress as mentioned. The vineyard is also planted to some pinot noir and cabernet franc. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Millot 2017, Nova Scotia ($28.50)

One hundred per cent Leon Millot in American oak for two years. Was already planted when the Stutz family arrived, along with Marechal Foch. A lighter red here, lending itself to barrel aging, green when fresh and urged on to fleshy substance with two or three years of barrel put behind. A warm vintage and a remarkable brightness having emerged with gamay-like tang and circumstance. Very cherry, almost black but short of that darker hue-flavour profile. The least musky and foxy of hybrid reds. Really well made. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré 20 By Domaine De Grand Pré, Nova Scotia ($28.50)

A one-off, three part blend of cabernet foch (40 per cent) with equal (30) parts marquette and marechal foch, released to celebrate the winery’s 20th anniversary. Mainly from the hot 2016 vintage (70 per cent) with some warm 2017 mixed in. Again in American oak, most for two years, some even longer. Layered with some further musk this time, skins of dark red fruits and a forest floor component. A bit of tar and so much tang. More chalky texture and chew but still good balance. Was recently pulled off the shelf because only 20 cases remained. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Bruce Ewart, L’Acadie Vineyards

L’Acadie Vineyards, Wolfville

Bruce Ewart hired a viticultural manager and performed a three year terroir study on his vineyards in collaboration with three other wineries (Benjamin Bridge, Domaine de Grand Pré and Lightfoot & Wolfville). The study was assembled by the department of agriculture, or rather it was part of a program informally known as “farm extension,” services provided by Perennia on behalf of the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture. The idea was to get a good representation of the Nova Scotia wine industry. Rodrigo Layette who is Directeur Général de trois domaines (a Bordeaux viticultural consultant) dug test holes to look at the schist and sandstone. They found roots were three feet deep and like children and if you give them everything they want (like soft clay and loam) they will stay near the surface where the water is. If they have to work for the nutrients they will dig deeper and find the trace elements and minerals. Ewart also converted to Clover and Timothy employed as ground cover, part of the organic practice and to till only occasionally. The use of compost and horsetail teas, humus, etc. Caitlin McNamara is the vineyard manager and she did her degree at the university (Acadia), of which Bruce is half the faculty. “We used to employ organic chicken manure and the study determined this was no longer necessary. L’Acadie wanted to find a non-biodynamic organization.” They found Biocyclic Vegan (from Germany) whose concept is farming without any form of animal or animal product, opposite or rather apposite to biodynamism. This year (2021) they will become certified and from 2021 onwards their bottles will wear the certification. L’Acadie Vineyards will be the first in North America to gain this status.

L’Acadie Vineyards Pétillant Naturel Méthode Ancestrale 2020, Nova Scotia ($29.00)

This is the story of Saccharomyces paradoxus. Wild yeast present in the vineyard, naturally, like pre-packaged enzymatic magic ready and prepared to give a Pétillant Naturel its head start. Bruce Ewart explains they know this from analyses of the lees and his Pet-Nat acts as a conduit for microbial terroir, with no inputs showing itself off. Whole cluster pressed with no skin contact, a light disgorgement, no residual sugar, bottled just at dryness. Subtly orange, lithely citric, a marriage of acidities, tremendous flavour development and amazingly so considering the grapes are picked at sparkling time, four weeks ahead of when the l’acadie is picked for the still bottling. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia ($50.00)

Was embargoed until September 9th after having just received the Lieutenant Governor Award. Has evolved into a seriously toasted arena, gone long with lees contact, looking for peaceful co-existence between yeast autolysis and the fruit of the wine. “You don’t want conflict, you want that harmony, tells Bruce Ewart.” Disgorged January 2021 and so spent more than the minimum five years on lees. An insignificant dosage (more than most of these wines). Bruce’s program goes at it in terms of two and five year aging and he believes that while Nova Scotia can do ten or more there is only a minor incremental increase in complexity by doing so. This at six-plus has hit such a sweet spot, still in retention of currant and white/red berry fruit but also low and slow golden, tanned and long as an August afternoon Gaspereau shadow. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Tuna, Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

L’Acadie Vineyards Joie De Vivre Charmat Method 2019, Nova Scotia ($28.00)

From a project that began three years ago, with vessels from Northern Italy, wines rested in tank during the pandemic, made from l’acadie (85 per cent) and (15) seyval blanc. “An earlier release, fruity sparkling for the market.” Held at 0-2 degrees celsius. The tanks arrived in early May and this was bottled last week. From the later picked l’acadie, fuller of tree fruit and lower in acidity. Low dosage for the style at 8 g/L and lithe at 11.1 per cent alcohol. Peach and apricot in a moscato d’asti vein, albeit higher of alcohol, mingling with yeasty col fondo, though crystal clean. Simple and satisfying. Delightful. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Vintage Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle 2018, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

From the frost year (June 5th), a blend of l’acadie and seyval blanc in a sparkling wine that shows the formers’s resilience, having raced out to meet bloom, veraison and harvest dates. In a 30 per cent crop but vines that bounced back the following year for a full yield out of harvest. A wine that meets the LV twain, somewhere between the fruit first sparklers and those of the longest tirage. The length of this is more than surprisingly impressive from a wine that looks for a new slate in every vintage. A wine of trials, investigations and experiments. Not at the toast ceiling but consistently malolactic and in that 8-12 g/L dosage. Truly a Brut style and middle of the road in the most complimentary way. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($24.00)

Bruce Ewart’s first Tidal Bay, now being a part of the committee that holds a new standard to protect Nova Scotia wines from artificial carbonation. Here a combination of the two grape varieties where the hat is hung upon, they being l’acadie and seyval blanc. “My take on Tidal Bay is dry, even at five or ten g/L of RS it is not really our market.” Many are going dry and while there is stone fruit and white citrus this is truly a TB of mineral push and salty Fundy air. Just tastes like the vineyard so clearly showing off as a terroir based wine. Nova Scotia, part of a common thread but pretty specific to here. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted September 2021

Cat Taylor, Rachel Lightfoot and Godello

Related – The future is now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards, Wolfville

When I first arrived on the shores of the Minas Basin in 2013 to begin a near decade long (by now) immersion into the Nova Scotia wine industry it was Mike Lightfoot that I first came to know. With thanks to consulting oenologist Peter Gamble I spent a great chunk of time with the Lightfoots and their exciting new Wolfville project. My how things have changed, evolved, progressed and come to this astonishing point.

There is the home vineyard, Raven Hill across the road and what may just be the valley’s most important knoll in a vineyard at Avonport. Along with the most precocious work being executed by winemaker Josh Horton, Rachel Lightfoot and now with the addition of Assistant Winemaker Cat Taylor. Cat came from Toronto in logistics (Unilever) for 10 years, went to New York, then to wine school in France. She staged with Zind-Humbrecht alongside Biodynamic guru Olivier Humbrecht in 2016, worked at Tawse in Ontario with Paul Pender in 2017, then arrived here to Lightfoot & Wolfville in 2018. A biodynamic journey and now she is responsible for implementing the biodynamic aspect of the farming. “Using what’s on the farm around you,” Taylor notes, “seeing what the books say and what your farm says. It took me a while to get used to Nova Scotia acidity, I’m now much more comfortable with it.” Cat also brought in foudres from Alsace with thanks to Olivier Humbrecht. If around the time Cat Taylor arrived in Wolfville coincided with The future being now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards, well then that future is now the present.

The tasting line-up at Lightfoot & Wolfville

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blancs Extra Brut 2014, Nova Scotia ($75.00)

From a specific lower-cropped section of the home farm vineyard and an early 2019 disgorgement so an additional year on its lees, rounding it out just a hair further. Still the ripeness and added creamy character, engaging a new complexity by way of fruit fleshiness and crisp exterior crunches. This is the window, open, acclimatized and staid through a holding pattern of complex energies.  Last tasted September 2021

Disgorged just now. Looking for a late spring release. Built on 100 per cent clone 95 and 96 estate fruit, on its lees almost 50 months. This carries the most texture meeting energy piqued by pungency. The story is now beginning to truly set in with formative consistency. The lemon curd is swirled with bits of zest for a salty citrus intensity not yet known from this chardonnay. Was picked a bit riper and that’s quite obvious, plus some new play time with malo. Needs nine or ten more months of integration for the moving parts of tension and density to come together. Yet another Nova Scotia sparkling wine to inform us all. This must be the place and the sky is the limit. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Lobster Gnocchi at Juniper, Wolfville

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Brut 2015, Annapolis Valley ($45.00)

From all three blocks of the home vineyard, 100 per cent chardonnay, classic line, part tank and part barrel, an extra year in barrel. Disgorged in February 2020, still only at 15 per cent malolactic, soon to become near 100 per cent in 2017. In these early-ish sparkling wine program days there was worry about how high to go with malic conversions and with so much acidity to play with these things were not yet known. Less tension, more cream, 15 g/L in RS as compared to 4 g/L in the Extra Brut. Still a toasted element and at 50-plus months of lees contact this is just shy of that perfect window. Some tropical fruit joins tree peach and pure yellow citrus, all following the brushy herbs. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Brut Rosé 2019, Annapolis Valley ($45.00)

Made from 100 per cent pinot noir off of the certified organic, third year Raven Hill Vineyard fruit across the road from the winery. Full malolactic fermentation and a wine that needed a few more months of time before disgorgement. Also to step away and allow the wine to say what it wants to say. After all it’s a wine made with red fruit, of more pulp and circumstance, fruit substance in waves and surely a great season following and in spite of the challenging 2018. Who would not be wooed, pleased and gainfully satisfied by a glass of this class, craft and equanimous Rosé? Methinks no one paying any attention. A gorgeous wine that shows off the L & W ability for shortening the wait times on enjoyment for their ever maturing, evolving and appetizing sparkling wines. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Small Lots Oak Island Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2016, Annapolis Valley ($55.00)

In 2016 the one acre Oak Island Vineyard crop was split between this sparkling wine and the (still) barrel-fermented chenin blanc. The wine has progressed with slow haste, still tense and exited while in exemplary control. Driving forward with rhythmic dance step, forward and sideways but also times always gaining.  Last tasted September 2021

I tasted this unfinished wine in the Oak Island Vineyard back in November 2018 and I remember at the time Mike Lightfoot saying “out goes the muscat, in goes the chardonnay.” Truth is, in goes the chenin blanc as well. To say the grape variety is suitable to Nova Scotia sparkling would be a gross understatement. What it delivers is the expected tight and bracing local acidity but with longer hang time also the potential to accept a lees-aging development for downy to fluffy texture. Mousse without compromise to emotion and ardor. As with the L & W Blanc De Blanc Brut there is some white lightning by direct sunlight extended and mixed into weeks of cloud cover for a full east coast sparkling wine experience. Phenolics, acidities and specificity of flavours. Ideal now with a foreshadowing towards the memorable, three to four years ahead. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Oak Island Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2017, Annapolis Valley ($39.00)

In a most interesting phase, not dumb but reserved, needing some coaxing. Shows off the 2017 structure, long-lasting and ever-bearing. Or vice versa. Spent 18 months in neutral French oak (three barrels full) and a vintage meant for still wines, not necessarily for sparkling. Hung really long, picked in early November and finishing at a remarkable 23-plus brix. Tough mudder this variety (on California rootstock) set into Nova Scotia soils. An Avonport, Oak Island child, one acre in an open place to the elements and elements there almost always are. Richness, fulsome character and textural gains are possible, even if there could have been no way to know it. A beautiful fall, especially October led to the hang, develop and creation of minutia facets of this wine. A one off perhaps but also the future.  Last tasted September 2021

The Oak Island hill in Avonport is Nova Scotia’s “mini Corton,” a vineyard unlike any other in surround of The Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin. Lightfoot & Wolfville planted many engaging varieties on that convex mound through the course of the last decade and chenin blanc is just now coming into fruition. It was October of 2018 when I last walked it with winemaker Josh Horton, Mike and Rachel Lightfoot. The purpose that day was to sample the chenin projects, still and sparkling, while also tasting grapes just a couple of weeks away from picking. While still from young vines this 2017 shows great charm, a curious varietal precociousness and calling it a quick study speaks to the land and the choice of plantation. Aromatically sits in a tirage de liqueur place, prominent and demanding. Acids are Oak Knoll special, lifted and crunchy. High ceiling relationship between varietal and place is in the books, this being just the new beginning. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted February 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Gamay Noir Terroir Series 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

From a block just now coming into its own, on the far end of the Oak Island, Avonport Vineyard, planted in 2013 and 2014. The first vintage was 2018 though this is the fullest of the three and the question begs, is gamay perfect for Nova Scotia? Some neutral oak was incorporated because of increased ripeness, though just for a few months. Freshness of course but also a marine funk that speaks to food pairing possibilities. Lovely musk that talks of the grape and also other fruit skins. Very primary, delightful, floral and as Rachel Lightfoot says, “weirdly popular.” As it should be. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2018, Annapolis Valley ($45)

Despite the early frost of 2018 (June 5th) the pinot noir was unaffected, even at the Oak Island site where other (earlier developing) varieties were hit. The rest of the season was beautiful and with today being a spice day (or earth if you prefer) the sandalwood, fenugreek, cinnamon and cardamom all come through. Such a seep of tea, red tea that is, not quite rooibos but more floral, into hibiscus without any doubt. A wine of oscillations and grooves, sensitive, emotive, ever changing. That said the mood is more than good at this stage, an intuitive and responsive, paying attention and ranging to so many edges, corners and plateaus. Already secondary, perhaps empathetic in speaking about other vines’ suffering and expressive of beauty for all. Almost as if the pinot noir is saying I’ll take all the attention right now while the rest of you get healthy. 3,000 bottles made, approximately. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Kékfrankos 2018, Annapolis Valley ($30)

A near-finished product but still needing the final touches after nine months in mostly older wood. Well hello there Kék, welcome to the world. Structured like nothing that came previous and floral off the charts. Still so youthful in exuberance and yet to settle in, the richness and caky barrel notes still very much in charge. Oh my the sweetness of fruit, so ripe, full on tang, tannins a bit lowered but so much richesse. Vinous and primary, expressive and working through the gears of its journey. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2021

Rachel Lightfoot and Cat Taylor

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2018, Annapolis Valley ($56.95)

Frost year for the valley but again an escape by the vines at Lightfoot & Wolfville with thanks to the tidal influence to keep the chardonnay vines happy, healthy and secure. So much fruit and warm summer sunshine, a glade bathed in light and a luminescence rarely found in chardonnay. Consistent L & W elévage, increasingly into puncheons and away from 225L barriques. You can never forget and not remember what chardonnay has done for L & W, while now the richness and restraint work in optimized tandem. Less reductive than previous incantations, with new and improved connotations, consistencies and harmonic sway. Also a matter of vintage and cooperage. Stability is the key to being great. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Riesling 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

A not quite finished wine but so very close, raised in foudres, lighter in oak impact as compared to what might happen in smaller barrel. Hard not to imagine an Alsace-Zind Humbrecht idealistic connection, long-pressed and slowly done, a 10-12 hour cycle without compromising the pH. That’s because you get plenty before it trickles in at the end of the cycle. Full malo as well, a few grams of sugar and definitely a lemon curd, perhaps but not in a Windsbuhl manner. Just enough crunch but to be fair the texture is more emulsified than in any other way. Gonna be a stunner. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Tidal Bay 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

Tidal Bay’s mix in 2020 is 50 per cent l’acadie with an almost equal amount of geisenheim and chardonnay. In a tree fruit moment, in apples and pears with citrus in the background. Sugar in the 12 g/L area and trying for drier, with higher toned fruit due to the pressing on l’acadie’s skins. Over time the sugars are less important, especially as compared to the wine in its extreme youth. This is the Tidal Bay for all and all will love what it brings to the appellative table. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Terroir Series Scheurebe 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

Skipped in 2018 due to the hurricane’s fall effect and now here back in 2020. Not merely a classic varietal vintage but an exaggerated one, in harmony and open to any and all benefactors. A benevolent and philanthropic scheurebe, a touch drier than before, toned back in the range of 10-12 g/L of sugar, along with the matching decreased acidity. Stays focused and balanced throughout. So much stone orchard fruit unrelenting and with feeling. Passion fruit as well, open-knit, expressive and very giving. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards, Wolfville

While I did not visit with winemaker Mike Mainguy on this trip I did have the pleasure of tasting through some of his essentials. These are three that stand out as wholly representative of Luckett’s increasingly focused varietal persona.

Luckett Vineyards Rosetta Rosé 2019 ($20)

The plan has been to get back to Nova Scotia and get a bottle of Luckett winemaker Mike Mainguy’s Rosé. Took two years to do so and Rosetta is the one, perhaps (if only in this fantasy) a reference to Lennon’s only utterance ahead of McCartney’s final crooning upon a London rooftop. Also a vidal, riesling and leon millet chorus of Nova Scotia phenolics, soft-pressed sentimentality and faintly funky-earthy Fundy salt. Consistently reeking of red berry and citrus, sweetly herbal and coaxing out (or in) stone fruit. Drinking well more than a year in. Crushable delicasse. Optimization and individuality meet upon a plain where all can enjoy this satisfying Rosé. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards Tidal Bay 2020 ($20)

Confirms the billing of 100 per cent Nova Scotia, as per the Tidal Bay manifesto and in Luckett’s view (which incidentally is a spectacular one) screams local, parochial and beneficially biased. The l’acadie, seyval blanc, chardonnay and ortega all conspire to speak the language or even more so the spirited vernacular of Tidal Bay. This package may have once been a searing machine but the ripenesses reached besides maintaining early enough picked acidity is a miracle of climate change and wine-growing intelligence. This new era is coming out clean, obvious and beautiful with new phenolic frontiers gained. Yes the lemon incarnate zests, juices and zings throughout this 2020 but so do orange, jasmine, lemongrass and honeyed herbals. Dry as it seems to get for the category yet opulent in its very own light alcohol, marine breezes, oyster shell way. Hello Santorini assyrtiko and Muscadet Sèvre et Maine melon de Bourgogne. Meet the new Tidal Bay. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards Chardonnay 2020 ($25)

Grapes are grown in Avonport, one of Nova Scotia’s wildcard if tiny micro zones in Kings County. The land is graced by flats, rolls of hills and well-positioned knobs or hillocks set between the mouths of the Avon and Gaspereau Rivers. No other Nova Scotia terroir offers up the kind of varietal-vinifera playground as Avonport and Luckett’s unoaked beauty takes on the marine air, silty saltiness and Fundy-proximate sway. Lean and characterful, herbaceous in an ox-eye daisy way, nearly chamomile and no woody parts denoted. Quite a precise chardonnay with snap-back green apple bite and positive energy. Drink early and on repeat. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted September 2021

Good to go!

godello

Lightfoot & Wolfville estate vines overlooking the Minas Basin

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

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

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

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

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

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

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

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex chardonnay in Niagara.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95)

Definitely a warm vintage, picked on the early side, bite still clamped down, a bit of pesto and far from reductive as noted in Quarry Roads of the recent past (i.e 2011 and 2013). Pine nut pronunciation, no malic residual transformations (there will never me) and just bloody good freshness. Last tasted July 2021

No shocker that Quarry Road always finds a way to morph and change gears, meaning every so often, a year and up to two years later there will be some significant movement in this wine. Something about the Vinemount Ridge and how its players are in constant flux, adjusting sentiments and character to keep things curious, interesting and alive. Still the unencumbered and free-flowing expression it set out to be, free to be Quarry Road and as for me, I am always enamoured by how it marries personality with age. Natural (not unlike the Natural version of itself), enigmatic and very personal. Let it be. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Fantastic ten years after flinty reduction from arguably the most cracking vintage of the previous decade. As it is said, “you’ve got to feed the beauty, it doth not come cheap.” And that is what Paul Pender went for in 2011. At 10 Quarry is light on its feet, fresh, spirited jumping rope and spinning in concentric chardonnay circles. It simply reeks of beautiful Vinemount Ridge stone.  Last tasted July 2021

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  Tasted May 2014

Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.  Tasted March 2012 (barrel sample)

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($34.95)

Prick, punch and torque from the conceptual vintage get-go, a classic 2019 in the making, if by so many yet to be understood standards. A chardonnay so cool it causes a brain freeze while simultaneously moving the soul. In fact put on some vinyl Gaye, get in on, or even disco foreshadowing Temptations, echoing the chardonnay law of the land. Don’t sleep on the high level fruit, not quite fleshy but surely potent and dynamic to match the season’s verve in acidity. Fine lees, better texture and all-around vitality so essential to chardonnay. Will improve with six more months in bottle. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.75)

A single-vineyard chardonnay once labelled Oliveira and then watching Tree Vineyard but no longer, though the source remains the same. Embraces a cool 2019 vintage played out through rewards in the guise of reduction, toast, flint and drive. In cool climate varietal terms this ’19 reminds of 2011 though to be clear and certain there is more focus where by the quantity and quality of ripenesses meet at the essential points of acidity and tannin. Here is a vintage to end a decade in the most poised and poignant way. Spot on, striking and graceful chardonnay. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Remarkable finesse, flavours and design @triuswines and Restaurant by Chef Frank Dodd with @coolchardonnay accompaniments.

Beyond Chardonnay

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench ($48.00)

Second vintage from a tightly contested and smaller crop, initiated by then winemaker Marlize Beyers and subsequently disgorged by Jay Johnston, following five years on the lees. Moves from the practice of poetics to the anticipatory embracing of tomorrow’s science. Full disclosure this was tasted while walking the Hidden Bench chardonnay vineyards with a traditional method sparkling wine in hand first disgorged in the summer of 2019, when the yeasts were removed and the bottle was topped with the same wine. This tasting featured a January 2021 disgorgement and the term “Brut Nature Zero Dosage used when no sugar is added to the finished wine, which provides the most authentic expression of (the Hidden Bench) terroir.” Truth and synchronicity, grace, striking engagement, pure citrus and pleasure. Who could not anticipate and wait on subsequent vintages of this wine? The best is yet to come. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Brut Nature Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($100.00)

Comes across a bit cloudy, at least as compared to the B de B with thanks to the natural, lees left intact style. The citrus component is so pronounced, as is the taut, direct, lean and intense manifold destiny of what is truly a singular Sparkling wine. That being a living, breathing, inhaling and exhaling wine, slowly releasing proteins, acids and realizing its B de B Nature dream. Just amazing what lees can do for sparkling wine.  Last tasted July 2021

Released side by each with the Stratus Blanc de Blanc 2013 and while vintage and grape are the same, the similarities almost seemingly, ostensibly and allegedly end there. Yes in fact this 100 per cent chardonnay is a child of the most excellent varietal vintage and like the B de B spent six years on the lees. Comparisons cast aside it is the very fact that because much of the lees were transferred to bottle by a minimalist’s disgorging that this cloudy bubble with a Canadian artist’s series set of labels can’t help but elicit another memory. The Lilies of Monet and their clouds represent neither the horizon, nor the top or the bottom. Nor does a bottle of this Zéro Dosage Brut. The elements of water, air, sky and earth become intertwined in a composition without perspective, or so it goes in this hazy, opaque and dry as the desert sparkling wine. So many layers of lemon can be peeled, juiced and scraped away. If a Stratus wine could be a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma then here it is. The texture here is palpable and the intrigue factor surely high, so it should be imagined that longevity will be this wine’s calling card. It’s more austere than the Blanc de Blanc but I think in fact it will. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($75.00)

One gram of dosage, disgorged in January 2020. Nearly six years on the lees based on the first R & D trials done in 2006 and 2007. High level autolytic entity, a toasted affair and an idea long time coming for the Stratus team. Fine tonic and bitters. With 15 minutes of air the blooming happens, floral, expressive and complex. This wine has really developed more layers, emotions and complexity.  Last tasted July 2021

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Vineyards “Field Blend” Ancestral 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($35.00)

The inaugural Stratus commercially labelled release is what winemaker Dean Stoyka refers to as “in the mindset of monks.” A field blend of sémillon, chardonnay, riesling and viognier. Pressed all together, fermented dry and then re-fermented in the bottle with no sugar added. Dry enough, or so it seems, non-disgorged, under crown cap and so very fruity. Floral, allspice and spiciness overtop apricot, pear and black walnuts conceptually turning into Vin de Noix or Nocino. A natural testament to assemblage and a great use of varieties without a home. 100 cases produced. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Spark Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Actually quite shocked I’ve never tasted this wine before, a Spark about which winemaker Paul Pender exults by saying “2013 is my favourite vintage for all our sparklings.” Traditional method, pinot noir from Heather Laundry’s double L vineyard and a fizz that fits and sparks. Gingered and toasty, crunchy, wave cresting and fulsome by six years on the lees. The dosage was five to six g/L, in that Pender sweet spot all around, just right, so well and good. A little romanticism goes a long way where science is concerned, especially in this medium and in Spark Blanc De Noirs 2013 one is simply good for the other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Estate Vineyard Spark 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasted side by side with the 2013 Blanc de Noirs, making for a striking if surprisingly antithetical contrasting contract with this Blanc de Blancs. Aged three years on the lees and finished with the same 5-6 g/L of dosage yet here so upfront, centred and personal. More immediate richness than what pinot seems to do from Laundry Vineyard and so even in sparkling it is David’s Block and chardonnay that gift quicker satisfaction. Likely vintage driven (again, even in sparkling), very pear and shortbread, a savoury dessert of a sparkling wine. Like olive oil cake, all about the simple pleasures. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($55.00)

The dry as the desert Brut nature initiates with a yeasty faradism of excitement from what strikes as a minimum four to five years spent sitting on those fascinating lees. While the wine does not exactly smoulder with a toasty salutation that is no matter because textural acidity and blooming aromatics also arrive to an applause of immediate gratification. There is an exceptional level of “croccante” satisfaction that parlays that “texture” into a lasting display of bits and bites. The make up is 50 per cent chardonnay and (45) pinot noir with (5) pinot meunier and 2014 being the primary vintage source, though there is some 2013 involved. Zero dosage, top tier, notch and drop. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Rosé Limestone Vineyard 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.95)

Tawse began crafting Rosé from (Vinemount Ridge) Quarry Road Vineyard fruit in 2017 and now here they come with Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir. From Limestone Vineyard this represents a heads and tails Rosé, meaning 40 per cent is used for Spark traditional method bubbles and the bookends is destined for this salty, straight-shooting and crisp-freckled single-vineyard blush. Double-redheaded wow! Grape, place and style all on side for so many good reasons. 1000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($27.15)

Not to be confused with the Lowrey Vineyard on St. David’s Bench and a best varietal vintage for Paul Pender. Far from being a “Miller-Lite or Corona” pinot gris, instead creamy, fulsome, well-versed and elastic. The furthest away from metallic and/or turbid, low on phenols, no bitters, nor tonics neither.  Last tasted July 2021

Fresh and while this young is full of its original fruit, which is the biggest plus for pinot gris because dry varietal wines have a hard time after enough time has passed on by. Sulphur is not really an issue so this delivers the varietal and stylistic goods with fruit at the lead. Good acids, persistence and balance. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted October 2020

Tawse Winery Carly’s Block Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A sleeper vintage, not necessarily exacting out of the blocks, not heavy cropped, middle of the road in so many respects. If I tasted this before memory fails to draw any retrospective conclusions) but Carly’s ’15 has already turned towards the petrol sun, “let the shadows fall behind you, don’t look back, just carry on.” This perhaps began more than a year or two ago and today acts Rihanna outspokenly so. Lime and almost cordial by now, warm and friendly as a riesling liqueur. Quite stable, animated, holding its patterning, likely to do so for an additional three or fours years. Drink before it returns home. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Unlike the Carly’s ’15 (tasted at the same time) this Limestone ’12 has not moved forward with any vehement haste. The lack of advancing towards petrol is curious but the softening is surely comforting. Still resplendent with a particular 2012 meets Twenty Mile Bench acidity, now oscillating while integrating with waning fruit. Drinking beautifully.  Last tasted July 2021

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity oft linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric.  Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Aromatiq! Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling, layered atop one another, full on hilt in spice, a hit of gingerbread, light in talc and salve. Good-natured and textured when well chilled, oxidative for sure, drinkable, pleasurable, done in one puncheon. Simple really. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Chardonnay Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster chardonnay, more spirited than the Aromatiq!, crunchy even, definitely with more spice and plenty of bite. More tannin too, structurally sound to allow more secondary character and time spent developing cooler, more energetic waves of spirit. Wild ride yet just sound and subtle enough to attract the right kind of attention. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95)

The inaugural gamay release from Hidden Bench is eight years in the planning and making, from 2013 through planting in 2017 and with third leaf fruit for this game changing 2019. That is because the grape and the maker were made for each other so the question begs, what took so long to take the plunge? No matter because such an auspicious start can never come too late. A wine of native yeasts, a properly prolonged, 24-day maceration, an eighth of new wood and the Lincoln Lakeshore being the ideal appellation for what wants and surely needs. More than impressive for such young vine fruit, of a light smoulder lending an essence of jasmine and by argan to red, red fruit, tightly winding acids and such gamay crunch, the likes of which are attributed to expectation, hopes and dreams. When the vineyard grows up there will be further anticipations, exegeses further afield to include cru and reserve concepts. That is a countable fact based on current evidence and credible speculation.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted April and July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Naturally refined, welcoming, open-knit and my oh my, juicy as a basket of Niagara plums and peaches blended into rooibos kombucha. Rachis, “main axis or shaft, a stem of a plant, bearing flower stalks at short intervals.” Derma, or Dermis, “the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin.” In R & D the inner workings of gamay are accessed at the natural axis between light to fruity and joyful to dark, before sous serious and after vide structured. Middle ground, believable and exhibiting intrinsic purity. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Noir Tintern Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($50.15)

This July 2021 tasting is my first for Pinot Noir Tintern 2013 in bottle but I did run through two different barrels with Paul Pender back in March of 2014. The vines were only three years old at the time, on a site (next door to John Howard) Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” From the Vosges medium toast the wine was already showing colour, freshness and drive. From the Vosges, medium plus toast it was a bit reductive, with more tannin and more sappy wood. This look back reveals not a vintage of varietal exhilaration but a malic one with credit due the high levels of potassium in the soil. A cherry generosity a la Central Otago by way of the Vinemount Ridge. Almost a volcanic presence, but not and yes a pinot from young vines come about as a result of winemaking. Up front, in motion, drinking really well. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Redstone Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($49.15)

Another high-toned pinot noir from an inverted vintage, in cherry spirit, a hit of fennel and enough lingering energy while there is a meld and morph towards darker black fruit. Broad shouldered, now tannic, settling in as a pretty big wine.  Last tasted July 2021

As for Cherry Avenue the twain is met, somewhere between Tintern and Quarry, in the middle of vintage and classic Tawse styling. Both firm and bright, the fruit a cherry but a darkening black one and then the grip of place though well within vintage reason. Less structured than Quarry but not as hematic and brooding as Tintern. Solid pinot noir. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted June 2020

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

How remarkably fresh, inviting, enticing and that is just the aromatic front. Effusive, the greater good of burgeoning, smelling like Bourgeuil in uncanny resemblance. Nothing leafy here, just the smell of youth, post-adolescence and from a notably warm vintage. A freshness that just may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come from 2021. Heat and water, humidity and rain, yet no vine stress nor disease pressure neither. A product of great agriculture and an example of 2010’s longevity. “On the riper side but not overly ripe,” tells Paul Pender with a pragmatically raised brow. Indeed. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Whole-souled, benevolent and keyed up though that’s the vineyard, persistent and in perpetuity. Red to charcoal fruit, quite firm and tannic for the Tawse-varietal relationship and in that sense mostly related to vintage. Was not picked until November 15th and stayed in barrel for 18 months. Not showy really, not the ripest vintage after all but surely one to promote variegation, fruit/acid layers and particularities. Wait long enough (as in seven-plus years) and these things become complexities. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Good to go!

godello

 

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WineAlign

A Canadian summer for South African wines

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Great heart and value from the Western Cape, alcohol bans, limited time offers and 15 reasons why you should support the wineries of South Africa 

by Michael Godel

 

as seen on WineAlign

There is an undeniable truth that South Africa is responsible for producing some of the finest wines in the world, at all price points and for every imaginable palate. A local perspective shows how fortunate Canadians are to have access to so many of the Cape’s essentials. Wines so very helpful as chaperones whilst Canada finds itself in the throes of a steamy and canicular July, still weeks ahead of the dog days when the star Sirius will first appear in the night sky. Essentials, as in chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, Cap Classique, Rosé, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The Capelands are the proviso and if there were ever a time to spend Canadian dollars on South African wine, that time is now.

Winegrowing areas of South Africa

As Canadian vaccination rates rise to a global lead and the economy continues to trend in an open and forward direction, here at home many wine consumers finally find themselves in a charmed position. Yet the story is not the same around the world. In Ontario visits to local wineries can now increase in earnest while looking ahead in anticipation for six further weeks of summer filled with touring, tasting and relaxing. South Africa’s situation is less fortunate and it’s wine industry remains in static, suppressed and uncertain limbo. The government continues to enforce a total alcohol ban while ignoring sound proposals from its very own constituents, to dire consequences. There just seems to be no consideration for South Africans who face job losses and poverty as their employers struggle to meet even the base and necessary tenets of the bottom line.

South African wine producers will tell you that the current moratorium on selling locally is the stuff of crazy town. The collective contention will express the view that the government’s decision making is rash, ill-considered and reactionary in the most peculiar ways. The President’s claim states that the ban on selling or drinking alcohol “is to ease the pressure on hospitals which are under strain,” yet anyone worth their salt in common sense and trusting medical professionals will acknowledge that keeping booze away from alcohol dependants will only add to hospital visits. The shut downs (and other restrictive government decrees) are now leading to protests, violence and bootlegging tactics. Canadians have little power to effect political will abroad but consumers can make the choice to support their friends and colleagues in the wine industry.

New development: Following the publication of this article on WineAlign the government of South Africa has since lifted the alcohol ban.

Production areas of South Africa

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

The LCBO is now doing their part. To make things easier and wholly accessible to an Ontario consumer, a joint “Flexspace” program between Wines of South Africa Canada and the LCBO launches July 19 and runs through August 15 with eight General List products. These LTOs (limited time offers) offer four weeks of discounted prices as incentive during down time summer holidays for people to try South Africa, if indeed they haven’t before. The LTOs coincide with the VINTAGES July 24th release inclusive of a thematic promoting the idea of young Cape winemakers.

Cape Wine 2018

Cape Wine 2021(2)

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

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. In the meantime we focus are attention here in Ontario to General List, VINTAGES Essentials and VINTAGES release wines to do our part in support of a heavily challenged, beleaguered and surely resilient community of WOSA estates, farms, winemakers, distributors, retailers, marketers and supporters.

Andrea Mullineux

The Cape’s Young Winemakers

In two visits to the Western Cape (in 2015 and 2018) I had the pleasure of meeting and tasting with some of the most impressive, erudite and promising young winemakers anywhere on the planet. The list is long and winding, the resumés noteworthy and the wines crafted nothing short of inspiring. They are the present and the future of South Africa’s wine scene; Andrea Mullineux, Duncan Rall, Nomonde Kubheka, Chris Alheit, Emul Ross, Duncan Savage, Marlise Niemann, Carmen Stevens, Sebastian Beaumont, David and Nadia Sadie, Ryan Mostert, Jacques de Klerk, Sheree Nothangel, Ntsiki Biyela, Christa Von La Chevallerie, Alex Milner, Callie Louw, Patrick Ngamane, Francois Haasbroek, Eben Sadie, Tariro Masayiti, Lukas van Loggerenberg, Mick and Jeanine Craven, Samatha O’Keefe, Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer. This is but a small sampling and my sincerest Canadian apologies to those I fail to mention and also to those I have not yet had the pleasure to meet.

In South African winemaking terms and schemes, as the boomers and now the next generation have grown older their collective winemaking continues to mature and become exceedingly wiser. There will and should not be any abandoning for the call to uprising, subversion and experimentation, but there is a contiguous and concerted effort to create wines that are simply pleasurable to drink. Isn’t that the point? By the time I looked at Cape wines in 2018 assessment it seems that everyone had it all figured out. Tasting through 2019, 2020 and half of 2021, albeit here in Canada causes a persistent thought pattern wherein South African wines are cleaner by ‘n landmyl, with as much precision, purity, transparency and honesty than ever before. Their recent decades long developing epiphany is now ours as together we synchronically enter this new world of next level, reinvented and deeper understanding.

Eben Sadie and Rosa Kruger

Heritage Vines

According to founder and viticulturist Rosa Kruger, “aged vines bring an intensity, a perceived freshness, a texture, and a sense of place. They show less fresh fruit and varietal character, and more terroir and soil.” No discussion of the South African landscape can be introduced without a nod to the biodiversity and heritage work associated with the Old Vine Project. With great kudos first and foremost to long time champion of the Cape’s oldest plantings and pioneer Rosa Kruger, but also winemakers Johan Reyneke, Eben Sadie and OVP Manager André Morgenthal. Kruger, along with a select few viticulturists, started scouting for South African old vines in and around 2002. Then, just beyond 2006 Sadie released his first wine under the Old Vineyard Series, a Stellenbosch wine made from the oldest chenin blanc in South Africa.

Today winemakers all over the Western Cape are seeking out these old sites of dry-farmed, (un)trained bush vine plots of gold. “Stories sell wine,” says winemaker Johan Kruger, “and what better story the tell than the old vine one.” The Old Vine Project is all about preserving vineyards 35 years and older, through trade initiatives and sustainable projects to protect South African heritage. Only South Africa offers the possibility for wine labels to ensure certification by the regulatory authority. “Members of the Old Vine Project (OVP) can put a Certified Heritage Vineyards seal on bottles of wine made from vineyards of 35 years or older, together with the planting date. This is a guarantee to the consumer of authentic wines grown according to the OVP viticultural and winemaking guidelines.”

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others take great promise from their old vine sources there can be little argument against chenin blanc being the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude, focus and acumen as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. Just last month a chenin blanc day Zoom session with four Cape winemakers yielded this Polkadraai gem from Bruwer Raats.

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($80.00, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

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

Braai

The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc. And is there a finer example that also happens to be stupidly affordable than this.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019

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

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

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020

Sometimes you just need some fun, spirit and energy in a well-priced chenin blanc that speaks to everyone. This by Bruce Jack and former Hidden Bench winemaker Marlize Beyers is just the ticket.

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 13356, VINTAGES May 29th, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

There’s a whack of chenin blanc personality in the 2020 by Bruce Jack, proprietor of The Drift, literary philosopher. The vineyards are located in the Breedekloof, in the west of the Breede River Valley, an arid rift of alluvial soils with a river running through. Here from the Western Cape’s newer wine route area chenin blanc is exulted as a most important varietal component. Older barrels, the alluvial soils and a warm location are involved, which are duly noted in the platinum hue, tropical fruit and developed ripeness. Sunshine chenin blanc Superman, especially considering the price. Sharp and in flight. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted June 2021

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Buyers’ guide to South African wines from current LTOs and the July 24th VINTAGES release

Back in late June (and we will do so again next week) the WineAlign cru sits down to taste through the LCBO LTOs and July 24th VINTAGES South African releases. When asked for his four top picks my colleague and mentor David Lawrason exclaimed, “Here you go Michael!  Kinda tough to narrow down these good values.” That’s exactly what you will find from these collective picks. Great value, as well as great heart from South Africa.

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling, Traditional Method, WO Western Cape ($19.95, LCBO 18569, VINTAGES July 24th, LUSOCAPE)

This sparkling wine is part pinot noir, part Franschhoek and part traditional method in Cap Classique form. Haute Cabrière is the work of the von Arnim family in bubbles comfortably under a Brut number by residual sugar in attack mode made wholesome and free with a great pulse of acidity. Gingery and frothy, of red apple skins and a hint of blood orange. Also tannic, like rooibos tisane while ultimately sharp dressed, soda cracker crunchy and so properly defined. Good wine. Drink 2021-2025. Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020, WO Stellenbosch ($14.95, LCBO 451773, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

Here is what you get when you combine Rosé (first made in the 1980s) and petit verdot (first planted in the early 2000s). The grape is no longer employed solely for the John X Merriman Bordeaux blend but it is the same varietal stuff grown on Stellenbosch decomposed granite. Not exactly dry and salty with the specs tilting more to sugar over acidity but it is certainly balanced and quenching. Tons of fruit and flavour at $15 with a lovely side-step into adult lemonade. And it tastes like petit verdot, for what it’s worth. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Robertson Valley ($10.00, LCBO 495507, Univins)

Made by winemaker Rianco van Rooyen as part of the “cultivar” range, of moderate acidity and a slightly higher content of residual sugar. Soft and cuddly, fuzzy peach, pear and apple slices. Simple and effective, Expect lots of floral perfume and plan to make use of this tropical chenin at brunch. Drink 2021.  Tasted June 2021

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018, WO Western Cape ($12.95, LCBO 358960, PMA Canada)

The grapes were sourced from Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Elgin and Robertson. The oldest vineyard located in Stellenbosch was planted in 1990 while the rest of the vineyards were planted between 2000 and 2006. For 20 per cent of the wine, fermentation started in tank and was completed in French (90) and American (10) oak barrels. The remaining 80 per cent fermented in tanks on French (55) and American (45) oak staves. Quite heady, spiced and developed chardonnay for the cost with a flinty smoulder and notable reduction. Lots of wood feels but well integrated and pretty well in balance. Crafted with specific intention and there is lots of wine here for $13. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Vegan, WO Cape Town ($15.95, VINTAGES July 24th, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

A coastal sauvignon blanc by winemaker Jacques Erasmus with plenty of marine influence. Healthy of alcohol and weight, with some sugar but even more so acidity to blow an ocean breeze through the wine. Notably pungent and exotically perfumed, all passion and grape fruit. More texture than many, crunchy, tin cup sweet and roasted cashew salty. Lots going on in here. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019, WO Coastal Region ($14.95, LTO, Select Wine Merchants)

Always worth noting Boschedal’s connection to the natural world with the estate situated in the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest yet richest such plant biosphere on earth, with an astounding diversity of plant and animal life. Their lands are still in inhabited by indigenous creatures such as duiker, klipspringer, porcupine, mongoose, caracal and even leopard. Michael Langenhoven is Boschendal’s white winemaker, here with sources threefold; Stellenbosch, Elgin Valley and Boschendal Farm. Just lovely and amenable coastal-influenced chardonnay, easy, somewhat soft and no obstructions in the way. Neither reduction nor barrel do anything to distract and the wine’s touch of sweetness is well managed by herbs, elastic acidity and sapidity. Very well made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

This 100 per cent Cape Agulhas sauvignon blanc is crafted and delivers specs eerily similar to the SSV, from the same sites on the farm’s upper reaches perched over the sea. Same soils and as a varietal wine the elements from various blocks are employed “to ensure that the result is greater than the sum of the parts.” Perhaps on a lower tier of complexity but surely expressive and satisfying. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Ssv 2021

Lomond SSV 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

Mainly sauvignon blanc (80 per cent) with sémillon (15) and viognier (5) from the Cape Agulhas growing area. High ranking acidity and near to bone dry attitude make for a wine that shares it’s true sense of place, in this case south facing blocks on the higher reaches of the farm, as well as within views of the sea. The soils are sandy, gravelly and highly weathered with a clay substructure. If you have yet to discover these saline, sapid and spirited whites of the Cape Agulhas then it’s high time and tide you did. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Big Bill Shiraz 2018

Big Bill Shiraz 2018, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 10418, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

William “Big Bill” Millar was a boxing champ, decorated war hero and most celebrated for so many South Africans as their Springbok rugby captain. Also the first General Manager of KWV. Like the larger than life man it is the largest of barrels that houses this shiraz, a 22,000L oak stuk vat. Pretty much classic (Western) Cape shiraz of heavy set red fruit, bone density and rippling musculature. A commercially viable drop of work ethic and muscle memory exuding attitude and confidence. The Michael Jordan of South Africa. Be like Bill. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2019

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvèdre-Viognier 2019, WO Western Cape ($14.00, LCBO 292557, Univins)

Generally speaking the Wolftrap by Boekenhoutskloof is two-thirds syrah and one-third mourvèdre with a few points splash of viognier. Malmesbury in the Swartland is the source where the dominant soil type is the aptly named Malmesbury shale. The 2019 brings out the sweetest and most proficiently perfumed Wolftrap yet, with less grip, spice and bite. There is a warmth that is especially noted on the back end, like a hematic seep of plasmatic liquid but felt quite subtly so. Fine if not exceptional acids keep the pulse and truth be told the mourvèdre really stands out. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Glenelly The Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch ($17.95, LCBO 132992, VINTAGES July 24th, H.H.D. Imports)

Fruit is Simonsberg-Stellenbosch from a most arid vintage with all aspects of the growing season having occurred with haste. Less than normal winter rains, early bud break and harvest in the third week of February. This is 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon with thriving acidity and a minor pinch of sweetness, fully versed from Cassis to Kirsch for a truly gelid, glycol and glycerin cabernet sauvignon. While seemingly soft and fruity at first it gains speed, traction and vitality because of the well captured acidity. Still seems just a tad sweet but overall the balance is quite good. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ($24.95, LCBO 414151, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

The artist formerly known as “Rustenberg Stellenbosch Syrah” is now the “Buzzard Kloof Syrah,” aptly named for the Jackal and Steppe Buzzards that circle the thermal currents rising above the kloof. The syrah vineyard sits in the Afrikaans ravine, a cool, sun-deprived location ideal for growing meaty, savoury and sapid syrah. This is in great Stelly hyperbole, like a grilled and sliced loin of lean, sweetly gamy and iron-rich Springbok. Optimum ripeness, cool acidity and finesse take this buzzard on swift currents through breezy skies. Bloody delicious. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Kuier

Good to go!

godello

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Quality virtual time spent tasting with Querciabella

A few years back I made my first visit to Querciabella, in September 2017, to be exact. Their position in Ruffoli east of the Greve hamlet and the eponymous river is one of the most distinct and perhaps least travelled of Greve’s frazioni. With stunning views towards the Val di Greve, the Colle di Panzano and the amphitheatre of Lamole, Ruffoli carries its very own perspective, one that is unlike any other perch where the Classico are made in Chianti. Several weeks ago I caught up with Querciabella’s n groot winemaker Manfred Ing for a virtual session, replete with a ten-deep taste through of his (and their) lekker wines.

Ruffoli, Greve in Chiani

Related – A river runs through Greve

The Ruffoli hill may not qualify for Chianti Classico’s newly minted UGA (Ùnita Geografiche Aggiuntive), but make no mistake. Ruffoli is the definition of a communal sub-zone in requiem of introspective investigation for its distinct soils, elevation, singularities and peculiarities. It is, as I have said before, “the Chianti Classico poster child for seeing the vineyards through the trees.” Along with Jurji Fiore’s Poggio Scalette and Il Tagliato by Marco e Elena Kupfer there forms a special bond for Ruffoli’s combination of elevation, thick forests and conglomerate soils that have been excavated from beneath those heavy woods. If Querciabella’s decisive resource and secret weapon are vineyard holdings in two other Classico communes, those being Radda and Gaiole, Ruffoli remains the epicentre and the wines can be imagined as residing at the rooftop and pinnacle of Chianti Classico.

Querciabella was founded in 1974 by Giuseppe (Pepito) Castiglioni. His son Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, investor and entrepreneur, converted the estate to organic viticulture in 1988, making Querciabella one of the first wineries in Italy to employ this practice. In 2000 Sebastiano introduced a 100 per cent plant‑based approach to biodynamics that forbids the use of animal products in both the vineyards and in the cellars. The Chianti Classico estate that means “beautiful oak” has always been one that lives for today while always imagining and thinking about tomorrow. The wines arguably act as the most Bourguignons of any in the territory whilst always and unequivocally speaking for the land that gives them life.

In April of this year I asked Ing to assess the damage caused by uncharacteristic mid-Spring frosts. His response: “Unfortunately the cold weather that swiped through Tuscany on the April 6th and 7th caused us some frost damage, having hit especially those vineyards which were ahead in their development. Our team lead by Dales is still assessing the damage and it’s early to say how the affected vineyards will recuperate. We will know better in the coming weeks as the vines develop. In Chianti Classico, where our vineyard holdings are spread in different locations and altitude, isolated pockets of lower lying vineyards were affected, especially those around and below our cellar in Ruffoli. At a first glance, it appears that the frost bite hit some of the early budding Chardonnay and the young Sangiovese vines that were first out the blocks. Most of the higher altitude vineyards buds haven’t fully burst yet, so we are fortunate and remain hopeful. In Maremma, temperatures dipped to record lows in some areas, especially in the early hours of April 8th. The Sangiovese vines had an early start this year so were particularly exposed. Vines are an extraordinary plants which are known for bouncing back. At this stage we can only wait and see. It’s already clear, though, that we are among many other producers concerned about losing some crop to frost damage.”

It remains to be seen how pandemic and travel will play out over these next several weeks but I have every intention of climbing the Ruffoli hill this coming September (or anytime such an endeavour is possible) to see Manfred and team for a walk in the vineyards and a sit-down to taste more from their most excellent portfolio; Vineyard Operations Manager & Master Beekeeper Catiuscia Minori, Agronomist Chiara Capecci, Agronomist & Technical Director Dales D’Alessandro, Direct Sales & Visits Coordinator Daniela Krystyna Cappuccio, Head of Marketing and Communications Emilia Marinig, Global Sales Director Giorgio Fragiacomo, Winemaker Guido De Santi, Winemaking Director Luca Currado, Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti, CEO & Domestic Sales Director Roberto Lasorte, Marketing Assistant Manager Valentina Bertoli and of course Owner and Honorary Chairman Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni. In the meantime here are the 10 wines we tasted and discussed back on May 31, 2021.

Felt quite real to be talking Ruffoli, Greve, Maremma, Gaiole and Radda with Tuscany’s groot South African winemaker @bottleofgrapes ~ A virtual session with @querciabella maintains the ties that bind with @chianticlassico

Querciabella Mongrana 2019, Marermma Toscana DOC (13653, $23.95)

From 31 hectares south of Grosseto, divided into two re-planted parcels purchased in 1998-1999 near to Alberese, a village and frazione of the commune. Wines are crushed and fermented in Maremma and then transferred to Greve just before or just after malo takes place. The style comes from cement and stainless steel, of fruit purity kept intact and a coastal influence developing some muscle. Picked ahead of Chianti Classico with harvest always beginning two to two and a half weeks ahead of Greve. So much Tuscan coastal bushy and dusty herbology, of fennel and rosemary primarily. Managed by Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti and team who are responsible for this 50-25-25, sangiovese led blend with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Drink this by the glass everywhere you go, matching the pasta shape on the bottle, if you are so inclined, wherever possible. Mongrana goes as does L, Maquis shrubland ingrained into an easy drinking, fun, juicy and exuberant blend. Will never mess with any course, nor wine that comes before or after. Has been labelled DOC Maremma since 2017. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (728816, $45.95)

Remains 100 per cent sangiovese, as it has been since 2012, as a three-commune collection; Ruffoli in Greve (40 per cent), on the Volpaia side and across the valley to Radda (20) and San Polo in Rosso from Gaiole (20), across the ravine from Ama. The totality of the Gaiole fruit is raised on Alberese, the Radda in schisty Galestro and Ruffoli, well Ruffoli is really about elevation. A no extremities vintage following a very cold winter and no climate spikes save for the early August heat. The Querciabella richness is foiled but also optimized by a three-part mineral harmony that does not so much cut but adds three district notes to the wine. The epiphany may or not begin with this 2018 but the textural perception has undergone a transformational alteration, now in defence against the drying effect of sangiovese’s tannin. The winemaking team has moved forward from the experimental stage into a full-on working contract with Piedmontese cappello sommerso, keeping the cap submerged for extended periods (up to 45 days). The high elevation fruit is particularly promising, forging true connectivity with the process. You get it completely, intuit the polish and this Annata just melts straight into inherit structure, again with thanks for a portion that has settled early. The wheel is constantly turning for Querciabella’s wines. Stupendo. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 ($79.95)

Riserva, like most Riservas in Chianti Classico is usually more serious, often blended with cabernet sauvignon and/or merlot, subjected to more wood. Since 2011 Querciabella’s has been 100 per cent sangiovese but still a three commune (Greve, Radda and Gaiole) cuvée, a vibrant varietal wine, lush as it needs to be and what stands apart is its simple purity. The picking decisions are made throughout the season, not just at harvest and certain blocks are given the attention of dramatic foreshadowing. Riserva by Querciabella is a wine of evolution, including monthly tastings along the way (with 20 per cent new wood involved). Riserva is a factor of a trajectory, of sangiovese that is always rising, gaining character, fortitude and fruit in vessel that winemaker Manfred Ing knows in his heart is meant for Riserva. The tannins tell the story, croccante is how he describes or the flavour and texture he looks for, in my mind like crunchy and caramelized almonds and dried wild strawberries of a concentrated yet developing sweetness. A wine to age, surely, though not quite like ’16, but do sleep on this because the efficacy, youthful binding and wound intensity show the promise of great ability. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Turpino 2017, IGT Toscana ($59.95)

First commercial vintage was 2010 when at the time it was 50-50 Maremma and Greve. Since 2015 it identifies as 100 per cent Tuscan coast with more barrel exercise and power than Mongrana, now a cuvée of approximately 12,000 bottles. “Turpino,” as in a character from Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni’s favourite poem, like his son Orlando (and also for the names Mongrana and Palafreno). Frost was a major problem in 2017, followed by heat, no rain and vines that just went crazy. Small pickings were done in the first week of September and then the rain came. The vines dropped in alcohol potential by a degree but the vines were tired and so the fruit could not hang in there like it could (better so) in Ruffoli. A blend of 40 per cent each cabernet franc and syrah with (20) merlot. Spiciness but not in a traditionally Tuscan syrah (Cortona) way and so the franc is to thank for the pique, sharpness and pointed directive of this ripe wine agitative of pricks and sway. In the end this is truly Tuscan coast, carrying the dried and bushy herbs but with an extended olive branch, muscular arm and structured savour. Only 10,000 bottles were made of this succulent, strange bedfellows (for Tuscany) red wine. House wine, Querciabella style. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Camartina 2016, IGT Toscana

The first vintage for Camartina was 1981, originally mostly sangiovese, then in and around 2001-2003 turning towards becoming mostly cabernet sauvignon. Now at 70 per cent with (30) sangiovese since that 2003. With the most spectacular vintage in pocket the possibility and even more so the probability from 2016 is endless. A Vino da Tavola concept that has evolved to make for the most mature, wise and complex IGT from Ruffoli hillsides, but this vintage shows a special energy, liveliness and vim from acidity that gives the wine, regardless of grape varieties, so much youth and life. Another one of nature’s and Greve’s mysterious constants. So Querciabella, of pinpointed DNA. vibrancy and length. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Palafreno 2016, IGT Toscana ($214.95)

Since 2004 has always been 100 per cent merlot, before that being a 50-50 sangiovese and merlot joint. Has to be an ideal vintage for Sebastiano and Manfred to bottle this idealistic wine because it has to, must smell like Tuscany and Ruffoli. Places home to poetic settings which suggest inner meaning and invisible connections. With that essence of 2016, of high priority acidity, sapidity and vibrancy in mind, this drinks so well and truth is shows how merlot has been domesticated upon the Ruffoli hill. The vines average 20 years of age, with some vines nearly at 30, planted in 1995 and/or 1996. Sweet, verdant and grippy tannins with a little bit of grit are surely involved. This will show off some swarthy secondary character and essenza di tartufo in 10 years time. Only 3,000 bottles are made. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 1998 (728816, Price at release: $31.95)

Twenty plus years later and not by any means over the hill. Drinking with captured and preserved youth from a vintage that was passed over for being one to not give any sort of great attention or consideration. Fermented in 225L (some new wood) barrels, some big tanks, picked later than most Chianti Classico of the time and would not have been pure sangiovese. You can feel the botrytis induced blood orange and saffron from a vintage with pioggia, pioggio, pioggia, a.k.a. so much rain. Also liquorice, bokser pod and a smell of wet tar. Really textural Classico, holding firm and strong, with a few years of interest and more complexity developing potential left to seek out. Charm begets pleasure which leads to unadulterated enjoyment. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

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

Querciabella Batàr 2018, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

A joint between pinot blanc and chardonnay, whole bunch pressed, with furthered finer attention to detail, picked early in the morning and a decreased amount of new oak over the last 10 years. Now at about 20 per cent and less bâtonnage as well, keeping the strings tight and the backbone straight in the wine. “We don’t need to worry about getting richness in our wines,” tells Manfred Ing, and yes, the creaminess is automatic. There’s more bite to Batàr now, along with focus and precision, with an intention to allow for five (minimum) years ahead for energy to develop, flesh to increase and textural richness to become something naturally orchestrated over time. Batàr is a wine that defies flamboyance, deflates extroversion and muffles the most exultant cry. It knows what it is and what’s up. Terrific vintage for this singular, dual-focused and one goal achieved Querciabella bianco. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Batàr 2017, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

The effect of 2017 on white grapes meant a 40 per cent reduction in quantity and chardonnay surely suffered. Certainly true at 350m (south-facing) but also at 600m (on sandstone soils) where it thrives. The pinot bianco faces north so it did well in the season. The flinty reduction comes from the high elevation vineyard and you really notice it more in 2017, but also a fruit sweetness, like biting into a perfectly ripe apple, and also a peach. You still need to exercise patience with this wine because what it really shows you is how this particular cuvée will morph, oscillate and change, for sure and at least in its first five years. Definitely buttery, rich and creamy but let’s not sit on those laurels for too long because herbs, sapidity and a new kind of vim and vigour are just around the corner. A concentrated effort and one with many tricks up its Ruffoli sleeve. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted May 2021

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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