Twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021

Another year comes to a close, one filled with the dark moments and the light, the romantic entanglements and debacles, highs and lows. In life, love and wine, here with any reference to a gesture, gaze, smile or any other sensory reaction coming from an account of someone who witnessed it. In this particular case that would be Godello and much of what he saw and heard included odd little episodes that reveal how grapes really lived under the conditions of not only this vintage, but also the ones that came before. This ninth edition of 21 Canadian wines that rocked in 2021 comes out as a derivative, spin-off and postscript to all of this.

Godello in the Similkameen Valley

Related – Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

As a reminder, year-end lists are a matter of personal fascination and should be met with a certain level of judgement so that highly subjective descriptors such as “best” or “most” can be consumed with doubt, thoughts askance and even heated moments of disbelief. That which makes us feel moved, stirred, excited, ignited and set aflame could very well be someone else’s nothingness. Classification, indexing and charting is truly personal and as such opens up wide for criticism and hopefully, healthy debate. So keep it real but also civil, if you please.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

If we thought the 12 months that made up the 2020 calendar took things deep into the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, then 2021 left the stadium and flew into the stratosphere of the preposterous. One silly year led to another but this one just seems to be concluding with some sort of level best described as fraught with “Vonnegutian violence.” Thank goodness there is Canadian wine to fall back onto and though it has been said before, this was indeed the very best year for the local stuff. A 2021 from which the highest to date level of greatness was achieved. Though these holidays are bittersweet and conditioned with some great unknowns, take solace in Canadian wine and what can be learned from their progression, evolution and continued excellence. They never give in or up but always strive forward, getting better all the time. To quote and then paraphrase from Britt Daniel and his band Spoon, “when you think your thoughts be sure that they are sweet ones. Don’t you know, love, you’re alright…don’t you know your (glass) awaits and now it’s time for (tasting).”

Related – Godello’s 24-hour Nova Scotia revival

This latest rocking roster of Canadian made wine is now the ninth annual for an exercise that first began back in 2013. When 2022 comes to a close the 10th will come to fruition in print, with 22 of Canada’s best laid to order. In 2021 Canadian wines were made available at every turn, especially at the WineAlign tasting table. In July the WineAlign critics’ crü took in Niagara for a pseudo-i4C 2021 Cool Chardonnay weekend. Godello made his own way to Nova Scotia in September to meet with and taste alongside eight of that province’s great winemaking teams. In October the WineAlign judging cartel sat through more than 2,000 entries at the National Wine Awards of Canada in the Okanagan Valley. Events such as the VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness and Terroir Symposium were still no shows, or gos, nor walk-around tastings neither. Once again sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2022 will finally usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – Niagara’s cool for chards

As per previous incarnations of this annual compendium, “the numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2019 the list counted 19. In 2018 there were 18 and in 2017, 17 noted. In 2016 that meant 16 and 15 for 2015, just as in 2014 the filtered list showed 14, after  13 for 2013. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 20. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Note that a third of the 21 most exciting Canadian wines of 2021 are in sparkling form. Does that need to be qualified? Of course not. Godello gives you twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021.

13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Racy sparkling wine of traditional ways, dry, toasty and of great vigour. Top notch autolysis, fine lees and guesses to the end would have to be in the 48-plus month arena. The real deal, richly rendered, acids in charge, instructive and carrying the fruit to the mountain’s peak. Hard to top this in Canada. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noir 2013, Nova Scotia

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

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Rosé 2017, Nova Scotia

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

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noirs 2016, Nova Scotia

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

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

A varietal estate grown chardonnay that spent upwards of 78 months sur lie is nothing short of dramatic, if not unconscionable. Not that no one else, anywhere else does such a thing but to do so, change so little and deliver unquestionable excellence is what dreams, expression and delivery are all about. If the Brut Reserve is Fillmore East than this Blanc de Blancs is Montreux, electric, mind-bending and so very exotique. João Gilberto, Marvin Gaye and Lou Reed wrapped into one, a sparkling wine of influence that only incidentally expands into mainstream visibility. This has stage presence and breaks fresh ground with creative sensibility, not to mention a deliciousness of flavour and mousse. That and 2012 in pocket permanently affixed to to the album cover. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted March 2021

Henry Of Pelham Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Centenary Estate Blanc De Blanc 2010, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario

As a reminder this top H of P traditional method sparkling wine is named after Catharine Smith, Henry of Pelham’s wife and this Centenary is the crème de la crème for the label. A rarity for the estate and for Canadian wine, partially (20 per cent) barrel fermented and aged for up to 100 months on the lees. All Short Hills Bench chardonnay, all in with a hyperbole of toasty development and the most brûlée of any bubble in the village. The sparkling stage presence and prescience of being so connected to grape and place make this true to itself. Not to be missed. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted December 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia

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

Two Sisters Blanc De Franc 2018, VQA Niagara River, Ontario

Stellar work here in blanc de franc, understated and effusive, lifted of black currants and sweet pepperoncini yet grounded by serious grape tannin. A sparkling wine of grape extract so full of depth and breadth. Not a wine of high autolysis but rather tart, tight and in command of all it wants to be. Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021.

The third vintage of Adam Pearce’s ground-breaking Blanc de Franc is as you would imagine a white sparkling wine made from the red cabernet franc grape. The aromas are distinct and secure, squarely wrested from the red currant and sweet peppery varietal post, expressed in a uniquely Two Sisters bubble that may once again, or rather should continue to rock one’s world. More richness and also excitement than ever before, risk taken and reward achieved. No acquiescence, no adjacent meanders but head down, goal in sight and hurdles overcome. At the end of the day this is one of the most impressive and essential wines made in Ontario. Nova Scotia is on the franc idea and others locally are beginning to follow. Autolytic and delicious, on point and regal. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario

From vines planted by proprietor Martin Malivoire “close to home” in what is the eponymous vineyard. Moira is a Beamsville Bench icon and has been for quite some time now, without question, nothing to discuss here, case closed. There is a complex and layered developed notation that Vivant does not have, not fort better or worse but Moira requires more thought and consternation. You can no longer think on it in terms of salinity, sapidity and satisfaction. Something more and other must be considered. Style. Style is what separates Moira from most other Ontario Rosé and in 2020 it exudes with prejudice and finesse. When a sip of a wine in this category stays with you for as long as Moira does, well you just know greatness is in the glass. This can saunter with the very best of Southern France. That’s the truth. Kudos to winemaker Shiraz Mottiar for this. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted April 2021

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

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) seeking 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 twice, October and December 2021

A really creative sémillon, rich, creamy and fulsome which is classic Mt. Boucherie while never abandoning the grape’s pointed and intense linearity. Hard not to be impressed by the soil intendment and how it creates a backbone in the wine, beyond acidity and into something sarsen-like, upright, timeless, forever. Plenty of grip, essential elements, minerals and metallics. Keeps the sémillon sensibility alive of an unconquerable nature, varietal invictus, solid construct but with more than ample fruit. Convincing follow-up to 2019 and really quite on par in every respect. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

Notable reduction marks South Clos’ youthful entry and with that first nose in the glass we are put on immediate notice that 2019 will be a structured year for winemaker Keith Tyers’ and Closson Chase’s chardonnay. This and the following vintage will trade blows for bragging rights, longevity and excellence, so pay attention to this pool of varietal estate wines. That is something CC so generously affords their customers. Here at the top level the fruit is glorious, pristine, pure and cut by diamond clarity. The reduction flies away and a nose of marzipan, lemon preserve and a fresh bitten Ida Red apple come away from the vineyard. Acids here are tight, crunchy, friable, felt from the tongue’s tip to the wisdoms. The liquidity is so finely chalky with all signs pointing to spirit and balance with that ’19 crop of South Clos fruit at the core. Does not get much better from PEC, Ontario or Canada. Anywhere. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

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

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2018, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

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

Westcott Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario

Almost seems redundant to say anything about the Reserve from 2020 because what more is there that was not already expounded upon from the Estate chardonnay. Same soft entry, slow developing charm, fruit neither richest nor gregarious but yet in Reserve truly ideal, less variegated and hinting at opulence. That is the crux and the key, hints, in shadows, speculations, possibilities and in Reserve form most surely probabilities. Elevates the crisp crunch and gets real trenchant with the pulverulent and tactile sensations. Seriously credible, professional and still emotive work here from Westcott at the pinnacle of Vinemount Ridge, but also Bench and Escarpment chardonnay. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

Bachelder Bai Xu Gamay Noir Niagara Cru 2019, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario

Bai Xu is unique within the Bachelder gamay domain encompassing whole cluster ferments and cru investigations. It reminds us all that time and patience are a must, an academic approach is not enough and one must follow their intuition, instinct and heart to deliver appreciated wine. In Niagara the philosophy has merged with gamay in ways the monk could never have known were possible. Here 20 per cent whole cluster may be less than the 22 and 52 crus, but this is a broader matter and one that fruits beyond the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard. In a sense, a villages-plus wine (think Côte d’Or) but as a conceptual one. The clarity and slow release of flavour in Bai Xu happens without power, grip or forceful intent. The acidity neither startles nor does it cry out, but instead acts as architect for the infrastructure and the mosaic. Bai (it is presumed) from a Chinese language, meaning “pure,” (depending on the dialect and vowel’s accent) and Xu, “slowly, calmly.” Thomas Bachelder is surely looking for the chaste gamay, unadulterated and one that rushes nowhere, takes the slow and winding path, feet securely on solid ground. More than anything else, this gamay cru won’t chase after what it thinks may make us happy or search for things that deliver one and done, immediate and short-lived excitement. As another one of nature’s mysterious constructs the captured poise and effect make cause for great delight. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Cloudsley Cellars Cuesta Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Cuesta as a vineyard has more history behind it than one might have assumed, having been planted back in 2002. Adam Lowy has made 65 cases from Cuesta’s deeply resonant and soulful fruit, so as a consequence given it more new oak (28 per cent) than any of his other three single-vineyard pinot noirs. Clearly the brightest, most tonally effusive and transparent of the quadrangle, as Burgundian as it gets when it comes to mapping or contemplating the connectivity with the mothership. Just a lovely, elegant and sweet-scented pinot noir, classically arranged, scientifically opined and romantically delivered by Lowy’s prudent if so very hopeful elévage. The Côtes de Nuits notation is clearly defined, intuited and understood. Not quite but resembling Marsannay, or perhaps even something just a plot or three further south. Cuesta conduits as the “Robbinsian” one for which “the scientist keeps the romantic honest and the romantic keeps the scientist human.” Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Checkmate Silent Bishop Merlot 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

One of four Checkmate merlots, regional expressions, here a blend of three benches, Osoyoos West, Oliver North and Golden Mile. A Silent Bishop and a merlot are more powerful than those who speak and their ordinations may also be called consecrations. Here the silent 2015 is one that is dedicated, coordinated, devoted and sacred to proprietors, winemaker and place. When a merlot is silent it moves in dynamic tactical effect and like the bishop moving on a position, does not capture or attack an enemy piece. Truth be told this is a stealth merlot, of fruit so dark and mysterious, of structure hidden, enigmatic and prepared to go the distance. Such an efficient wine and the kind to cause a ripple effect. Taste this and you too will want to pursue making profound Okanagan merlot, an endeavour as frustrating as it can be elusive. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted June 2021

La Stella Maestoso “Solo Merlot” 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The decision whether to listen to Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 or Handel’s Allegro Maestoso (Water Music Suite 2) while tasting and sipping through La Stella’s “Solo” merlot is a difficult one. Less obvious than it might seem and the question is which piece best exemplifies “the highest peak in the crescendo, that moment of realizing you are in the presence of majesty.” Both, to be fair and so I find myself in good ears, and taste by the triad grace of Chopin, Handel and La Stella hands. Let’s revise to encompass all three, in decadence, rolling rhythm and Okanagan Valley merlot-defining precociousness come crashing onto a shore of strings. This is where the maestroso moment happens, in cumulative fruit substance joined by fine acid intensity, wrapped up in structural soundness. All this after a great deal of strong tempo variations which are prominent features in this Severine Pinte interpretation. The instruments are Glacio Fluvial and Fluvial Fan; Clay and Gravel mix, Alluvial deposit and Clay, playing in the orchestra of Osoyoos Lake District and Golden Mile. Support from the Okanagan’s best, written as a top merlot composition and executed flawlessly by the winemaking team. Bravissimo. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Two weeks later than the usual norm defined the 2017 spring but hot and dry summer weather confirmed the intensity of Phantom Creek Vineyard’s southern Okanagan growing season. The cabernet sauvignon grows on the lower terrace of the Black Sage Bench’s Osoyoos sandy loam and it has been approximately 15 years that these vines have been fostering these wines. Magnanimously ripe and conspicuously copious fruit sees the unabashed generosity of (75 per cent new) French wood in a bone dry, healthy acidity endowed and elevated pH cabernet. This is essential edging up and into quintessential Okanagan varietal chattel, a wine of substance, grip and winched binding, oozing with expensive taste, fine dark chocolate and a depth of fruit that aches to be heard. That will have to wait and so should you because the structural parsimony will need three years or more to release and allow for stretching and breathing room. A prouheze as they say. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Stag’s Hollow Syrah 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Roes floral, elegant, ethereal, really effusive and just lovely stuff. Nothing remotely over the top, no blow to the head nor a crashing upon the senses. Sweet acids and silky tannins are the finality in what is clearly generated to conclude upon the notion of a very great wine. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Good to go!

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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!

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