15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

15 in 2015

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

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

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

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

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

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

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

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

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hubbs Creek

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

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

Bergstrom and Hillebrand

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

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

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

And the winners are...

And the winners are…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riesling Masterclass

Riesling Masterclass at Terroir 2015

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

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

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

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

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

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

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

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

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

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

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

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus assemblage and varietals

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

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

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Local heroes

Henry of Pelham Estate 2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

Henry of Pelham Estate 2013 amid a sea of April 4th, 2015 VINTAGES Chardonnay

You can find them from coast to coast. This coming Saturday six VINTAGES Canadian releases, four from Ontario and two from British Columbia, are wines that speak on behalf of exceptional vineyards, out of important places. These are bottles made by winemakers entrenched in their territory and from grape varieties purposed to grow there.

Related – Tasting with Power

The Creekside Estates white blend known as Laura’s White has become a poster child for varietal blends on the Niagara Peninsula. Winemaker Rob Power has found a way to make a consistent expression in every vintage.

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Shiny Apple Cider by Small Talk Vineyards

Angela Kasimos was the winemaker at Riverview Cellars and is now leading the charge at Small Talk Vineyards. The Small Talk Syrah is yet another example to speak on behalf of pushing for more plantings, especially down by the Niagara Lakeshore. But that’s not all. Kasimos is also making Cider at Small Talk. It’s called Shiny Apple Cider, made from Grey County apples and Niagara grapes. You heard me. The White Cider is augmented by 10 per cent Riesling, the Rosé with 15 per cent Pinot Noir. You should try it on tap at Barque Smokehouse.

Related – The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom

The Cuvée Black Ball Riesling by François Morissette failed on several occasions to pass through the VQA panel’s strict discretion. The atypical one has finally broken down the barrier and it’s now your turn to decide if it pleases or causes consternation.  My chance to opine is laid clear in the review below.

From B.C., Gehringer Brothers out of Oliver offers a unique, Golden Mile take on Pinot Gris. More than just coincidence to be here today as yesterday marked a new direction for British Columbia‘s wine industry. The #GoldenMileBench just became the province’s first sub-appellation.

Related – A biography of Ontario and B.C. wines

Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek called the day momentous. She wrote this on her blog. “Something as elemental as the brown given to vineyard stones by a passing universe.  In casual simplicity, I toast to you, the Golden Mile Bench, British Columbia’s first sub appellation.”

The five recognized wine regions in British Columbia are The Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The new designation was announced by the provincial government on March 30 and will legally identify where grapes are grown. In this case, the escarpment southwest of Oliver which runs south from Fairview Road and near Highway 97.

Related – A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C.

So long as 95 per cent of the grapes were grown in the area, wineries will now legally be allowed to indicate the Golden Mile on their labels. The list includes CC Jentsche Cellars, Checkmate Artisanal Winery, Culmina Family Estate Winery, Fairview Cellars, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Hester Creek Estate Winery, Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards, Golden Mile Cellars, Rustico Farm and Cellars, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, and Willow Hill Vineyards.

In Jauary I wrote about Burrowing Owl Winery. I talked about the extreme nature of their location and what is does for their wines. “That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well-known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.”

Related – Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

The 2011 Syrah reviewed below drives the stake even deeper into the searing heart of the Owl.

Sara d’Amato and I have compiled a list of recommended Canadian wines in the second of two WineAlign April 4th VINTAGES release reports.

Off the Beaten Path, from East to West and a Battle of the Corkscrews

Here are notes on six new local releases coming to stores this Saturday.

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura's White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011

Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign)

When I tasted the 2012 Laura’s White again with winemaker Rob Power two weeks ago my last note said “this has the grab, tempered by the warmth of the vintage, so look for ’13 to nail it with a hook.” That it does, along with the most balm and herbs of the last five vintages. This blues traveller goes deeper into complexion and white varietal compilation. The fruit is very tropical in 2013, softer, easier, lighter in complexity, but it has that musical trigger, the jingle, the popper, the hook. If ’12 was the revivalist blend, then ’13 will try to be the proselytizer. “Because the hook brings you back, ain’t tellin’ you no lie. The hook brings you back, on that you can rely.” Everyone can drink this. While it may not stand up a decade or longer later, you will be able to look back on it fondly and remember it was a wine for the times. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @CreeksideWine

Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (347203, $18.95, WineAlign)

A concrete set of aridity rules are the modus operandi here in a reserved, stoic and aerified sort of Okanagan Pinot Gris. Paler and thus less oxidative then the last vintage to pass through these parts. Very much cut into pear, less so of white peach. The grape tannin is noticeable, even obdurate. Generous alcohol contributes to the mulish attitude though with the aridity and slight citrus push you’d be hard-pressed to really notice the call.  Tasted March 2015  @GB_Wines  @UncorktheSun

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sunlight is the key to this ripe Chardonnay, snatched from vines that grow on the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment’s sub-appellation. Here Henry of Pelham calmly puts its hegemony over Short Hills Bench Chardonnay on display. The fruit layering is very impressive, compressed even, with just a spiced spirit injection from the barrel. The Estate Chardonnay is in a mid-range class of its own, this gatherer of heat days, hoarder in spring water retention, cleanser in sand and gravel drainage. The vintage just seems perfect for this niche bottling, balanced, primed to finespun texture, stretched for length and good to age at least five years.  Last tasted March 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards

Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (415612, $24.95, WineAlign)

In the hands of new winemaker Angela Kasimos, Small Talk Vineyards should consider going with and increasing their plantings of Syrah. It’s clear that Kasimos has inherited good solid fruit and the Small Talk (formerly Stonechurch Wines) treatment in ’12 is a very good start towards what should become a great varietal relationship. Smokey, savoury and full of positive brine vibrations, this has body but no overripe or caramelizing denouement. Nor is it green, though it exhibits tonalities that whisper volatility and chews that say sinew. Yet it persists healthy and clean. This is Syrah of lovely curves, rounded shapes, bright peaks and gently sloping valleys. Who doesn’t like Syrah young and infectious like this?  Tasted March 2015  @SmallTalkWines  @AngelaKasimos

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

Let’s get something immediately out of the way. The wines of François Morissette are not meant to please curmudgeons, skeptics, contrarians or members of the wine media. This Riesling has no desire to kiss ass. This will not appeal to late harvest lovers, from Kabinett to Auslese. Is it ripe? Not quite. Is it different? Absolutely. This compares to almost nothing. Like a Champagne ginger, lime and bronze filings cocktail, the Blackball ’13 is so very developed and despite the colour, is a hyperbole in primary existentialism. That it has essentially no residual sugar and an achieved 11.5 per cent alcohol is a complication only the clinical doyenne has the answers to. Riesling in between dreams, “never knowing shocking but we’re nothing.” The Blackball has struck, is not yet stricken and will offer remore pleasure for another six months. Then it will deconstruct, dissolve and devolve into darkness and funk. Five years later it may emerge like a phoenix, jack up like a Rangen Riesling, into the ethereal. Will it happen. I couldn’t possibly tell you. We may never know. But I can say that then, and only then, will it truly tell its story. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @PearlMorissette

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73072, $39.95, WineAlign)

Just when it seems that Burrowing Owl could not coax beyond the perceived maximum in ripeness and richesse out of desert sage country Syrah, the envelope pushes higher in this ripping 2011. An absolute circum whirl of dark fruit, crushed peppercorns, Cassis and candied violets draw syrupy into bottle. Big, brawny and modern, styled like Syrah from peak perches overlooking the French Riviera with a small percentage of mitigating northern Rhône sensibility. Texture is pure silk. Acids are tame but very present.  Tasted March 2015  @BurrowingOwlBC  @winebcdotcom  @LeSommelierWine

Good to go!

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Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventure

Frozen Niagara Falls

As frozen Niagara Falls, so frozen Niagara Falls
Photo: yobab/Fotolia.com

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Doesn’t every local wine writer’s pilgrimage begin this way? There’s 130 kilometres to Niagara Falls, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes (not really – the only thing we smoke is BBQ), it’s blinding winter morning light out and we’re wearing sunglasses. Well, one of us is.

Related – When expert’s break wine together

With Jake riding shotgun to Elwood we hit the QEW, pause for bench land visits to Flat Rock, Zooma Zooma and Creekside Estates, then make the frozen Falls by dusk. Two slackers we are, Bill and Ted, ponces submissive to wine, travelling through Niagara assembling a library of tasting notes to condign for memory in lieu of history missed and as practice for futures to come.

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Salmon and Scallops

Niagara’s annual Cuvée rolls out the red carpet for a black-tie gala at Fallsview Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Touted as a celebration of excellence in Ontario winemaking, the event gathers more than 50 wineries and asks that they pour their winemakers’ favourite wines alongside a room full of esculent Niagara eats. Local chefs set lavish food stations and guests are treated to comestible ruminations composed by students from the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Sun Media Après Cuvée party features Icewine, sparkling wine and craft beer bars, not to mention a repeat performance by the impolitic, patent, I want you to be moved sound of Jonesy.

Zagat and Spotlight Toronto's Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena KaiserSmit

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Zagat and Spotlight Toronto’s Suresh Doss and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit

Proceeds from the Cuvée Weekend go to the Niagara Community Foundation. Created in 2000, the Niagara Community Foundation has raised more than $23 million in endowment funds and has granted in excess of $5.5 million to charities working in the arts, heritage, environment, social services, health, education and community development. In 2015, the event will leave the very capable hands of the NCF and fall into the most capable hands of Brock University.

The word cuvée can mean many things in the world of wine. The Champagne tradition carries the most recognizable weight, the practice dictating that the best grapes be used and gently pressed to ultimately produce a sparkling wine of superior quality. In the end any cuvée is a blend no matter how you slice, interpret or break it down. It really comes down to the question of quality. Did Cuvée 2014 put its best foot forward? Were the ace grapes on display?

Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Pulling candy from sugar, Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College

The Cuvée gala, at one time an awards showcase ceremony, has welled to the point of a brimming kitchen sink, perhaps in danger of overflowing. Those who know and have been there agree the change in structure has been for the better. Growing pains are natural, inevitable side effects of growth. It’s more party than oenophile wine think tank, a cultural mosaic and for some, a melting pot. Speeches, awards, thank yous and acknowledgements are barely audible above the revelling din.

VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

PHOTO: Dan Trcka/grapeselections.com
VQA Promoter Award At Large winner Shawn McCormick and Michael Godel

In 2013, to a wine, the pours were best of the best. My take was put into these words. Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary. In 2014 many vintners poured either their best (Domaine Queylus, Five Rows, Coyote’s Run, Rennie Estate, Stratus, Thirty Bench) or their most unique (Peninsula Ridge, Trius, Southbrook, Riverview, 13th Street, Malivoire). The event and the following morning’s Expert’s Tasting would not be diluted by a few more shots of Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore in the arm.

The real adventure lies in the attempt to taste everything in the room. Time and excessive schmoozing gets in the way so getting to more than half is a win, win. Here are notes on 10 wines tasted at Cuvée 2014 and the reasons for singling them out as separating themselves from their peers.

Riverview Gewurztraminer Angelina’s Reserve 2012, VQA Niagara River (368092, $18.95, WineAlign)

A creamy, corpulent expression with a stinging enzymatic yogurt texture. Would swear there was extended lees contact. Furthest thing from the truth says winemaker Angela Kasimos. That striking salve gives way to a vacuous aridity without conceding to nuts and residual sugar. Well-made and without interference. Thanks to Riverview, Gewürztraminer has found a home in the pliable, silty loam of Niagara River.  88  Tasted February 2014  @RiverviewWinery

Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Wismer 2013

Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Jamie Evans and Sauvignon Blanc share a kinesis. When kissed by the wise and wistful fruit that Wismer cedes, compounded by the vintage, this Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc inclines to aeaeae. All parts contribute to a stretched length, from fresh beginning to mouth-watering end. In between there is lees-stirred spice, dry and toasty points but the grass is never overgrown and the berries are golden. A kickstarter sour note propels the wine forward for an even longer taxi onward. What a vineyard, what a wine.  90  Tasted February 2014  @PeninsulaRidge

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29, WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.  90  Tasted February 2014

Trius Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Less than 300 cases were produced of this, you guessed it, natural grape skin, wild yeast fermented unique Sauvignon Blanc. Cold bunch pressed and 11 months on the lees lend a fruit/wood spice and gregarious character that is impossible to miss. Winemaker Craig MacDonald shows a savvy Savvy love in his carefully considered treatment of this wine. This ’12 WF steals the show at Cuvée in the category of most compelling and thought-provoking.  91  Tasted February 2014  @TriusWines

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95, WineAlign)

Five months more in bottle has come to this, a Bench perfumed state of mind. On a red raspberry road to absolution. The international coat has now begun to surrender to the maturity and wisdom of the local vine’s intellect, its maker and overseer acting as artificers in planned execution. Earlier note: Deeper, earthier, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.  91  Tasted October 2013 and February 2014  @HiddenBench

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker's White 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Winemaker’s White 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

While the triple W represents neither traditional alchemy nor screaming value it begs to be considered for sheer shock and awe. A co-fermented, low brix, who varietal blend of 58 per cent Chardonnay, 27 Semillon and 15 Muscat, winemaker Ann Sperling’s capricious fancy white and nerdy captures the vintage to alight and delight effect. Spice, texture, florality and acidity really work the room. Though the varieties seem to sing ”we don’t move in any ‘ticular direction and we don’t make no collections,” they somehow join together.  White wine of whimsy, not shallow, like a Wes Anderson film.  88  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, SAQ 12089591, $44.95, WineAlign)

Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice. Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with its a touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  91  Tasted November 2013 and twice February 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Five Rows Craft Wine Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $50, WineAlign)

Gimme soft and sage treatment of a vineyard’s wondrous, pure fruit transcends most previous notions of Niagara Pinot Noir. That Lowrey vineyard in the hands of its first family drives spice into red fruit direct from soil and vine. Winemaker Wes Lowrey handles his family vineyard fruit like it were a baby and from this comes a promiscuous perfume. The ’10 is so youthful but coming into the springtime of his voodoo, having now been in bottle for a year. Though thoughts were that “he was going to show me spring,” the wine should clearly be left to flesh for a few more seasons.  92  Tasted February 2014

Thirty Bench Small Lot Benchmark Red 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $60)

Indoctrinated Right Bank agglomerate built on 62 per cent Merlot, supported by equal parts Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Impressively warm and dusty, large, bursting berry dominated with a peppering dredge all around. So much flavour abounds, blanketed by a shaker full of vanilla spice, like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert.” Still the Benchmark is modest, oaked (18 months) but not overly soaked, pure and in balance. The berry concentration renders it as a resident of the dark centre of the Niagara red blend universe.  92  Tasted February 2014  @ThirtyBench

Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve Du Domaine 2011

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Le Grande Reserve’ 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $65, WineAlign)

The Thomas Bachelder mentored, two-vineyard assemblage Grande Reserve Pinot Noir grinds more cracked pepper than any predecessor. Every barrel from the Twenty Mile Bench (formerly Le Clos Jordanne’s, Neudorf Family La Petite Colline Vineyard) and Mountainview vineyard were scrutinized to determine the final blend.Bachelder sees black fruit in the early life yet despite the ebullient seasoning, the LGR’s genes are intrinsically feminine. Red cherry, tellus fertility and a mother’s strength hold the family of barrel children together. This is an ambitious and hard to read Pinot Noir. Judgement reserved for five years before the word classic will be used.  92  Tasted March 2014  @QueylusVin

Good to go!

New white wine love for ‘The Savvy’

Sauvignon blanc, a green-skinned grape variety from Bordeaux, France PHOTO: SHCH/FOTOLIA.COM

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There’s this grape I want to tell you about. Sometimes there’s a grape. I won’t say a gambler but certainly an opportunist. I’m talking about “The Savvy,” that green-skinned grape variety from Bordeaux, France. Its name may derive from the words “sauvage” and “blanc” but it’s not really a wild one, is it? Well, except for that time it hooked up with Cabernet Franc to produce the offspring Cabernet Sauvignon. It has participated in the proliferation of some wonderful examples in its native Bordeaux, especially when blended with Sémillon. Grown and produced out of the Loire Valley it has shown to be the prototype for his time and place in Sancerre. Then it migrated to Marlborough.

Even if The Savvy has at times been considered a lazy grape, when it found its way to New Zealand, everything changed. The Savvy became the most widely planted varietal and within a couple of short decades cornered the world market; incredible story. How did it happen so fast? West Coast writer Anthony Gismondi made reference to The Savvy’s “aromatic, lip-smacking fresh-tasting flavours” – very true. Meteoric rise, global acceptance and incredible sales numbers, but has the summit been reached? Suddenly it seems that now, not unlike the fate suffered by that other white dude, Chardonnay, the Savvy is losing ground, no longer currently feeling the love. New Zealand both gave it life and, through intense saturation, took it away. It may not seem obvious yet but as a story similar to Australian Shiraz, some noses are turning away from The Savvy.

Enter the Western Hemisphere. The Savvy is very much on the rise in these parts thanks to a profile built on fresh stone fruit, approachable acidity and best of all, a near complete absence of blanched green vegetables. What, no beans, no peas, no asparagus? Thank green goddess goodness. Though wine production techniques have improved dramatically over the past twenty years, there are still many Kiwi, South African and even Loire examples full of “excessively vegetative, bell pepper and canned asparagus notes and the bitter citrus rind flavours.” The Savvys from Ontario, California and Chile as a rule are clean and low on both the grassy and tropical polar ends of the spectrum. In fact, new, New World Sauvignon Blanc is not very Sauvignon Blanc-like at all.  So, thank you Savvy because “there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Well, I lost my train of thought here. But… aw, hell. I’ve done introduced it enough.” The Savvy abides.

From left: Riverview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Veramonte Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2011, and Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011

The history: Sicilian roots, family farm, Niagara-On-The-Lake locale

The lowdown: Biochemist, oenologist and winemaker Angela Kasimos makes use of Niagara’s cool climate for aromatic success.

The food match: Beet and Quinoa Tabouli

Riverview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (351494, $16.95) resides on the juicy plum fruit side of the Blanc spectrum, not unlike Pinot.  Friendly, hospitable and gracious, like Grillo. Effortless white, with a schwa for a mid-palate, a subtle vowel sound, a colourless murmur.  88 @RiverviewWinery

The history: Curtis and Heidi Fielding have confidently and meticulously built a small empire at Fielding Estate. Every angle, from exterior architecture to indoor design, to vineyard rows, to bottle images, is a study in fine lines and photographic possibility

The lowdown: SB reacts differently on the Beamsville Bench resulting in examples with more citrus and tropical fruit. Winemaker Richie Roberts finesses the you know what out of his grapes and makes no mistake with this warm ’12 vintage

The food match: Grilled Shrimp with Lime Powder and Parsley–Olive Oil Sauce

Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (131235, $18.95) rolls across the tongue like a diphthong, gliding effortlessly along, with nothing out of sorts or over the top. The zest is in a note of lemon, the tropical nuance in passion fruit. Excellent and wondrous sipper, put in mind of its own astonishment. Serve on its own or with marinated maritime delicacies off the grill.  89 @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

The history: Viña Veramonte from Chile’s Casablanca Valley

The lowdown: Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is noted for its racy and vibrant style, with bright fruit flavors and balanced acidity. Ritual was created to reach an elegant, yet approachable interpretation of Sauvignon Blanc

The food match: Elote al Echo Parque

Veramonte Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (328401, $19.95) after five months in French oak opens with a toasty, yet in check char. An SB of a different import entirely, with the acidity surrounding a ball of wet stone both encouraging and suppressing fruit bursts and releases. A bit built like a brick dunny, at times muddy and cranky, but possessive of tons of character. Hooting and hollering Savvy. One might say he lives.  90  @VeramonteWines

The history: Napa pioneer dating back to 1973. Their Sauvignon Blanc is fashioned from grapes throughout the Valley, with a large concentration from estate vineyards in the Rutherford, Calistoga, Carneros and southeastern Napa Valley regions.

The lowdown: This 2011 is the result of one of the coldest, wettest and latest vintages in memory. Whole cluster pressed SB, “Botox for white wine,” to keep the phenolics in check and to help the wine age quickly

The food match: Blueberry Cobb Salad

Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (707224, $39.95) shows off the verve of the vintage in pinging fruit balanced by creamy coconut. The tartness of the fruit still tells beneath the syrup so it certainly straddles a line of both tropical and piercing. The green note is spiced mango and there is a candle nut component. Very long.  92  @CakebreadWines

Good to go!

Top juice flows at 25th Cuvée anniversary

Cuvée 2013 Bubbles and Icewine Bar PHOTO: MICHAEL GODEL/CANADA.COM

You’ll declare it’s simply topping

To be there and hear them swapping

Smart tidbits

as seen on canada.com

It was a night for putting on the ritz at the Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, Ontario. On Friday March 1, 2013 the 25th Cuvée was held, a singular celebration of meritorious VQA wines and celestial, local comestibles. Part Toronto Taste and part Taste Ontario, the evening was presented by the Niagara Community Foundation. Established in 2000, the NCF is dedicated to improving the quality of life in Niagara through building endowment funds ($16 million raised), providing grants (in excess of $4.1 million) and enabling philanthropic partnerships.

In the tradition of a grand tasting, more than 40 Ontario wineries were asked to pour their vintners’ personal favourites, determinate wines forged of passion and craft. Many of these signature, nomes de plume will reemerge in future tastings and will help to define their maker’s legacies. This 2013 event signaled a format shift in direction, away and to the dismay of some, from a wine awards ceremony towards a forward thinking industry’s show of togetherness.

Fallsview Casino Resort, Cuvée 2013 Food Station

Live cooking stations, many staffed with armies of chefs, spared no expense to design layered dishes built upon house-cured larder, local and artisanal ingredients. The food component was certainly no afterthought and threatened to steal away the VQA thunder. Fortunately many of the chosen wines were some of Ontario’s best and if you have followed anything I have been writing this past year, you will know that I am serious about Ontario’s wine industry. If nothing else, Cuvée 2013 succeeded to entrench an indisputable truth. The Niagara wine industry is the bomb.

In the words of Hidden Bench Vigneron and Proprietor Harald Thiel, “if Canada wants to have a place in the wine world, we need to carve it.” This sentiment is shared and pursued in kind with the efforts of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University (CCOVI) and the VQA Promoter Awards, but also by the Wine Council of Ontario, The Ontario Wine Society and Wine Country Ontario.

Smoked Meat (Timothy Mackiddie/Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery) Cuvée 2013

The grand tasting gave way at 9:30 for Après Cuvée, complete with an ice sculpted Icewine & Bubbles bar opposite a host of local craft beers. It was the Niagara wine world’s version of Après-ski, with cheese, charcuterie and dancing along with Jonesy, a five-piece pop/rock cover band from St. Catharines. Inglorious 80’s mercenaries, morphing Corey Hart, Platinum Blonde, INXS, U2 and George Michael into one wedding band package. The Ontario wine cognoscenti danced. So did their sons and daughters, thanks and with props to the Adele and Bruno Mars covers.

But I digress. The night and the weekend belonged to the wine. In addition to the gala, the Cuvee En Route passport allowed wine fans to tour, taste and attend events along the wine route Friday through Sunday. Here are notes on ten exceptional wines from Cuvée 2013 with a nod to the winemakers who made them.

From left to right: Chateau Des Charmes Equuleus 2010; Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2009; Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet-Merlot 2010; Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; and Riverview Cellars Estate Winery Gewurztraminer 2011.

Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay 2010 (Thomas Bachelder, $44.95, coming to VINTAGES) from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94   @Bachelder_wines

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010 (Paul Bosc, $40, ONT, winery only, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25) from the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  @MBosc

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Rare Vintage Pinot Noir 2010 (David Sheppard, $49.95, winery only)  was vinified out of the five best barrels narrowed down from one specific (828) vineyard block. Sheppard’s RV Pinot is a Red Paw/Black Paw block party only thrown in a year possessed of the finest Pinot fruit. In 2010 there is zing cherry, coal, cola, cold stone, fennel, vanilla and a touch of raw ewe milk cheese. Complex PN.  91  @coyotesrun

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 (Jay Johnston, $45, winery only) is a breath of fresh ’09 air calmly hovering amid a sea of flamboyant 2010’s. Lush, smooth and silky with a Gevrey-Chambertin verve in acidity so perfectly denoting the ’09 (Twenty Mile) Bench vintage. Assistant winemaker Tom Holt makes the bold statement that Flat Rock owns the best Pinot soil in all of Niagara. The plan is to produce three micro-soil/vineyard Pinots from the 2011 vintage. Can you say Grand Cru?  91  @Winemakersboots @UnfilteredEd

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet-Merlot 2010 (Ron Giesbrecht, $50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Kacaba Vineyards and Winery Syrah Reserve 2010 (John Tummon, $69.95, winery only) from terraced estate vineyards on the Vineland Bench was co-fermented with 4% Viogner. Clearly marked for a Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie effect not to intrude on the Syrah but to soften its edges. There is pencil lead, black peppery fruit and citrus zest. Large and yet unsettled, this complex wine is whiles away from showing its true personality.  89  @KacabaVineyards

Lailey Vineyard Winery ‘Impromptu’ Syrah/Malbec/Petit Verdot 2010 (Derek Barnett, $45, winery only) from the Niagara River appellation is a 75/13/12 split and only produced in the finest vintages. Unique and distinctly Rhône-like in style though not easy to pinhole with 25% Bordeaux varietals confusing the issue. Varnished by a dichotomous combination of tar and roses with an obvious wall of meaty tannin. Perhaps a chip off of Mcinerney‘s soulful and earthy, Delta Blues Cornas block.  90  @laileywinemakr

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 (Alex Kolundzic, $35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Riverview Cellars Estate Winery Gewurztraminer 2011 (Angela Kasimos, $18.95, 319830) was sadly not presented to the media in advance of the Feb. 16, 2013 VINTAGES release or I would surely have recommended it a month ago. Straddles a spring flower and tropical fruit line, married as it is by two NOTL blocks, one planted in 1992, the other in 2004. The munificent lychee aroma trumps the Mandarin orange blossom and the 100% stainless steel ferment shrouds no mask over the freshest fruit. Impressive, huge Gewurztraminer, if too much of a good thing.  88  @RiverviewWinery

Vineland Estates St. Urban Vineyard Elevation Riesling 2011 (Brian Schmidt, $19.95, 38117) is, as Brian Schmidt says “simply the best wine that we make.” From Niagara’s most famous and benchmark Riesling vineyard, the Elevation’s pale blue stone eyes is a Pointillist painting both pointed and poignant. As I noted previously, “Riesling made in the vineyard like no other. Off-dry, lingering lemon/lime and utopian acidity. Who knows what minerality lurks in the vineyard of St. Urban? The Escarpment knows.”  88  @benchwineguy

Good to go!