Twelve stars align

Star shrouded downtown Toronto

Star shrouded downtown Toronto

Only on the rarest of occasions do I consider the Zodiac. Same goes for the constellations though if you slump my tired body into the comfort fitting contours of a Thermarest on a Killarney campsite I’ll happily, dreamily stare up into a near-northern sky. Or on a dock in cottage country if the Aurora Borealis happens to make a magical appearance.

In September I spent some time scanning a South African, southern hemisphere sky with Ken Forrester. Ever the romantic, Ken offered up a short dissertation on one of the special treats afforded a stay in Stellenbosch. I have seen the Southern Cross several times before and yet standing there at 10:30 pm with the South African vigneron-poet, taking in the twinkling balls of time travel, something struck me anew.

I like to line things up. Wine tasting notes with music; a lyric or an artist. You may have noticed. I also find ways to forge bonds, synaesthetic perceptions and Chaldean correlations, regardless of whether they are there for the connecting. Sometimes you just need to fulfill the urge to divide the ecliptic into 12 equal, 30 degree pieces of a pie. Perhaps it’s just the M.O.T. in me.

This coming weekend VINTAGES rolls out the first major release in preparation for the looming holiday addiction. The headlines of “stars of the season,” and “star-studded” can mean only one thing. Expensive and iconic wines will dominate LCBO shelves from now through Christmas. And most of these high ticket items will sell through. Why is that you ask? Mainly because many of them are really good wines. Mostly because desperate people will buy anything when faced with holiday gift-giving deadlines.

My job is to separate the exciting from the boring, the exceptional from the drab. I’ve chosen 12 bottles, each with their own horoscopic identity, wines that illustrate their own idiosyncratic hook-up with a sign of the zodiac. It’s a stretch to be sure but it’s my stretch, so deal with it. If you connect and agree with just one, it may change your perception too.

From left to right: J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011 and Stratus White 2012

From left to right: J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011 and Stratus White 2012

Capricorn (The Goat)

Sure-footed, hard worker, self-disciplined, over-achiever

J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (430520, $19.95, WineAlign)

Kientzheim Riesling, full, fleshy, opulent but not tropical in style, aromatically fleshy and full of orange rind, lemon zest and tonic. Has that necessary mineral bleed and rock tang. Schlossberg like but not as tannic and certainly ready for prime time at a much younger age. Hints at sweetness but acidity by way of early picked fruit is key. Granite feel. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @VinsAlsace  @Alsace_info  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

Virgo (The Virgin)

Gentle, creative, generous and sympathetic

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

Cancer (The Crab)

Sideways, subtle, sensitive and protective

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, Méthode Traditionnelle, Do, Spain (558825, $29.95, WineAlign)

An intricate and elaborate Reserva elevation of Cava, even a bit skunky in the most endearing of ways, like a 55 day dry-aged steak cooked rare. A waft of yet blown sulphur is managed and tempered by smartly sweet yeast. At once clunky and disjointed, then heavy in citrus and the shells of molluscs. Citrus climbs all over the finish, from lime to lemon and into pomello. Complex Cava with the taste of acquired affection in requiem of a very open mind. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @hseguraviudas  @imbibersreport  @cavaswine

Aquarius (The Water Carrier)

Friendly, generous, thoughtful and humanitarian

La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (265090, $32.95, WineAlign)

In a word, yes. Beautiful girl this Montmains, layered of delicate aromas, from flowers through kimmeridgian soil and into fresh forest glade. A child of the cooler, Butteaux sub-climat in which the citrus melds into the soft wooden (228L barriques) notes and all is elevated by such pinpoint-posted acidity. The oak lends cream, the lees fine spun silky texture and the talc a grape tannic ingrained sense of fullness. Terrific wine. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted October 2015  @VinexxCanada  @chablisienne  @BourgogneWines  @BIVBChablis

Aries (The Ram)

Energy, life, vitality and courage

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @LeSommelierWine

Taurus (The Bull)

Plodding, peaceful and deliberate

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In magnified aromatic persistence, on and over top of even two months earlier, in such a hyper-grapey way with terrific dry extract chained to tannin and humid minerality. The many months of leave in gentle oak is stating its technically procured, quote unquote de-classified case.

From my earlier note of April 2015:

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025

Last tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

From left to right: Stratus Red 2012, Bachelder wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, Ca'marcanda Promis 2013, Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 and J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

From left to right: Stratus Red 2012, Bachelder wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, Ca’marcanda Promis 2013, Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 and J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Libra (The Scales)

Indecisive, solicitous, harmonious and balanced

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015

Gemeni (The Twins)

Curious, generous and communicative

Bachelder Wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Drink 2015-2021.

From my earlier note of May 2014:

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.

Last tasted December 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Leo (The Lion)

Leader, lover, dignified, relaxed and proud

Ca’marcanda Promis 2013, Igt Toscana, Italy (745638, $55.95, WineAlign)

In the only vintage for which such a trial was performed (2003), the chance was had to taste this 2013 under cork side by side with that vintage under screw cap. The difference was vividly palpable, for good or bad, better or worse. Under cork the young wine is like a perfectly shone lump of cool, refulgent coal with so much spice and accent in permeate of an aromatic fruitcake wheel. Under Stelvin the 12 year-old Promis’s freshness is amplified, of early immortality, with the ripest of tannins. The acidity is markedly formidable and yet both wines display a cured nature in undercurrent. Two 10 years separated Promis of spine, spirit and grounded in earth. Leave this 2013 be for two more years, screw cap or not. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted October 2015  @StemWineGroup

Sagittarius (The Centaur)

Adventurous traveller, mythological and experiential

Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

Peter Gamble describes the ’11 Reserva as “integrated right out of the gate” and blessed with “a little more fruit component.” That is can show such freshness this early in its life span (especially in consideration of the beasts that are 2009 and 2010) is nothing short of a Malbec miracle. This is a wine that saw spontaneous fermentation, which made for very nervous times in the winemaking hands of Roberto de la Mota. Stems were used and their participation lends a Mediterranean feel, in the aromatic impart of sea salinity and kelp. The oak is scaled back a touch so the chalk push, while present, integrates in finer grain within the gritty, iron structure. This is the softest (hyper-relatively speaking) Reserva to date with a newly defined massive attack. The temperature fluctuations of the vineyard are integral in its structure and the question needs to be asked, “how can you have a day without a night?” In the Versado Reserva 2011 you have both. It is a Malbec of unfinished sympathy. Drink this sooner, starting in 2017 and for longer, to 2030.  Tasted September 2014 and October 2015  @VersadoWine  @winesofarg

Pisces (The Fishes)

Graceful, passionate, religious, daydreamer

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $64.95, WineAlign)

If 2013 is turning out to be the first truly great Chardonnay vintage of the century out of Sonoma, the Flowers SC is categorically up front and centre in that discussion. The epic’s lead paragraph initializes here in a wine that is severely accurate, a blinding and gorgeous expression that brings the flowers in its game. A wield of pulchritude and balance by acidity spot on. Pure flavour extract expands and the components zing on the finish. Could there lurk a Meursault notion in its lace? You know what, forget that. Strike comparisons from the record. The Flowers is extraordinary of Chardonnay, by Chardonnay and for Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Scorpio (The Scorpion)

Secretive, perceptive, intense, insightful, with a strength of will

J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon  (432823, $64.95, WineAlign)

Lithe and extremely pretty Pinot Noir, reeking of that ancient underground, saline Willamette stream and above ground, Dundee Hills fresh summer berries. Has the best tense intentions, readily available sultry, soluble tannins and just pitch perfect, happy helping acidity. This has the svelte cure and the natural tug of positivity. Sanguine, hematic, volcanic. Great stuff. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted October 2015  @BellaVidaWine  @Oregon_Wine  @Select_Wines

Good to go!

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Du bon Bachelder: Burgundy, Oregon, Niagara

Bachelder Wines tasting. December 28, 2014 Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines tasting: December 28, 2014
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Québec native and Niagara Peninsula resident Thomas Bachelder makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in three countries. He may not be the only gypsy winemaker on this planet but he certainly ranks as the most focused. Over the past few years I have had many opportunities to taste and be privy to the diversity, overlapping and incrassation of his portfolio. By now I know so much and understand so little.

There is one thing I do know for sure. Bachelder and partner Mary Delaney form a formidable wine-producing juggernaut. Together they are the vine and the fence. The question is which one is the vine and which one is the fence. If asked they and their guests would likely all produce different answers.

Thomas Bachelder Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Thomas Bachelder
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Thomas and Mary invited a group of us to taste through the Bachelder 2012’s just after Christmas. Ever the great hosts, Thomas and Mary not only poured 16 wines, they also offered up a most excellent feast and left us (Rick VanSickle, Michael Pinkus, Evan Saviolidis and Elena Galey-Pride) amazed and satiated.  Rick’s take on the tasting should be read here: Poetry in motion: Thomas Bachelder unveils his 2012 Pinots and Chardonnays from Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.

Bachelder Wines Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Bachelder Wines
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

In Oregon Bachelder made wines at Ponzi and Lemelson Vineyards. In Niagara he was best known for creating a world-renowned portfolio of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay through an artfully applied science at Le Clos Jordanne. Beyond Bachelder there is now the Thomas effect at Domaine Queylus. He’s like the Chicken Man, “he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere.”

In Ontario his Pinot Noir fruit mainly comes from the St. David’s Bench vineyard owned by the Lowrey family. The Chardonnays are drawn from the Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and the Saunders Vineyard closer to Lake Ontario. In Oregon, the sturdy contrariness of the vines show a marked preference for the sandstone and volcanic (Basaltic) strata, in Yamhill-Carlton and the Willamette, rhymes with dammit – thanks Mary … ;), Valley. In Burgundy the terroir in micro-plots diversify the stratagem even while some are considered lesser locales for growing great Burgundy. But one thing is clear. The lieu-dits that give of their fruit all qualify as appellative wonders of the Bachelder diaspora.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

Thomas Bachelder loves his map of Bourgogne. He would crawl inside it if he could.

For a brief history on the Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara terroirist, check out my two previous posts on the Bachelder project.

Related –  Vineyards, winemakers and their sense of place: Bachelder and Leaning Post

Related –  Synchronicity in three terroirs

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Wine writers hard at work. Clockwise from bottom left. Godello, Rick VanSickle, Evan Saviolidis and Michael Pinkus
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Order is an extreme obsession for Thomas Bachelder, in an organized, chaotic way. For this reason, the wines were tasted in the following progression, to make sense of the complexity and variegation in each country from the three distinct yet wholly antithetic bon (Burgundy-Oregon-Niagara) terroirs.

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bachelder 2012 Whites

Bourgogne Aligoté Champs Pernot 2013, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089559, $24.00, WineAlign)

From old vines in the commune of Puligny-Montrachet, Bachelder’s Aligoté is a flinty, indiscreetly pinching and itinerant example. More complex than it needs to be, it can be accused of being a risk taker. If Chardonnay is considered in terms of finding excellence out of cool climates, this Aligoté is downright gelid. The wine doth go both ways, at once reductive and then terpenic. Lime citrus concentrates aromas and flavours within a very platinum, mineral frame. Speaks several languages that can be related to but only if you can pry through the cracks in the hard protective shell. Confounding really, yet a fascinating study. Bachelder could do for varietal Burgundy Aligoté in ways similar to Sylvaner in Alsace.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA  (333278, $34.95, WineAlign)

Primarily constructed from the fruit of Yamhill-Carlton vines, a third of which is Lazy River, an apropos moniker because by harvest time it hardly moves. The warm vintage adds a calm dimension to a Pinot Noir more Burgundian than the Bachelder’s Niagara and also more table friendly. Pure perfume and like life in layered, rosy hues, a vie en rose, from the land and the river’s subtle flows. The terra mobilis. The underlying dream in Thomas Bachelder’s Oregon movement is mineral, like salinity, not limestone but something ambiguous from the river’s pull and under the river. Elegance lived and relived. Here is a wine from a very available warm vintage, with a mess of fleshy fruit, yet Thomas does not obfuscate the terroir. In 2012 and needfully so, it is served from a light hand. Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec and coming to VINTAGES in Ontario, Spring 2015.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012

Pinot Noir Niagara 2012 and Pinot Noir Niagara Lowrey Vineyard 2012

 

Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Bachelder’s local environ comes from Wismer Parke within the essential Niagara vineyard. By way of setting bearings straight, the Park is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of the Lowrey Vineyard. A precocious and most positive net gain Pinot Noir most of which, as Thomas so adroitly points out, will be consumed before being allowed to hit its prime. Despite the generic labelling, this is not a mass-produced bottling by any stretch and was swallowed up by licences. It’s a hallmark expression of warmth, texture, vintage and the capability of Pinot Noir in this specific place. What Thomas has achieved, with effective persuasion, is a cloning from intimate belongings; earth, fruit, Lowrey.  Tasted December 2014

Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012, Burgundy, France ($45, WineAlign)

Named for La Montagne, to recognize it for place because local rules forbid calling it what it really is, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. So what was ‘La’ is now ‘Aux’ and with the change, in this vintage, comes something formidable, eliciting a response of aux la la. Let’s talk about this, with no mocking tone, just real thoughts. Anything but regional, this Bachelder is so very Villages, specifically lieu-dit, with its depth of earth and release of perfume. A piercing sort of Pinot Noir from a which a sauce could be fashioned out of its sheer intensity, to bathe meats. The concentration has a citrus feign, bright, in the back, along with a giving and Burgundy forgiving mineral funk. In this Burgundy, the mountain lurks, in spirit torque. Will unwind for up to 10 years. Available at the SAQ in Quebec.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012 and Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012

Pinot Noir Johnson Vineyard Oregon 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon (SAQ 12065338, $44.50, WineAlign)

A hard-working wine that reaches for fibres not available for weave in the Bachelder ‘basic’ Oregon Pinot, the Johnson digs into the salty waters beneath the earth. Draws up its hydration, the astonishing fidelity of minerals magnetized and then redacts the smokey, splintering spokes of wood. The juice in 2012 flows and follows the inconsistencies of the skin and the barrel like the river travels along the irregularities of the land. Rich, dusty, brooding and intuitive. The Johnson is bent on serious intent, like a sculptor’s dentil relief, with increased shadow, less mannerist in 2012, deeper, darker and of more solemnity. When the ’11 was at first hard to figure then soon after revealed its charms, this ’12 will take much longer to unravel. The brightness of Oregon Pinot Noir is perhaps its greatest attribute so here that light is not yet known. Wait three to five years to find out its truth.  Tasted December 2014

Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

A balanced and thoughtful wine, from five rows of mostly mysterious, and unknown clones. There simply is no other locale in Ontario that you can grow Pinot Noir any further away from lake and river and still unearth such depth. Though terroir-driven, this shares little with other geographical perimeter outliers, like Ravine and Coyote’s Run. Can only be Lowrey; folkish, demotic, St. David’s Bench vernacular. From my earlier, October 2014 note: “To those who wonder aloud about the annual love affair with this vineyard, suck it and see. This connectivity and this wine renew again. Same time, this year. Bursts of all that have come from it before, are here now and in temptation of what will be for years to come. Has “the type of kisses where teeth collide,” a Sam Cooke ages to Arctic Monkeys kind of reckless serenade. It’s also a balladeer, this scaled back Bachelder, if that can be said to be done. Here now soft, elegant, perfumed, demurred, sweet, downy, pretty, not yet fleshed, surprisingly void in tannin, anxiety and tension. Work with it for 10 minutes and it will then begin to bite back, show its teeth, pearly white as they are, grind it out. There will be 10 years of development in this Lowrey, if not less, but in ’12, that is more.”  Last tasted December 2014

Nuits St Georges La Petite Charmotte 2012, Burgundy, France (357228, $49.95, WineAlign)

Here grinds a wine that could want for some decant, a pause for thought while the imbibers assess their ways through Oregon, Niagara, Johnson and Lowrey. A pent-up perfume, when allowed to breath in and then out, results in a concentration of aromatic certainty. Tight and bracing, with cedar and bitumen, cherry and rose, this single-vineyard NSG hugged up on a northern slope is both adamantine Nuits and the pretty dame of Beaune. Straddles the arrondissement’s Burgundian twain, the Neaune, from iron to sublime. The imprint of yearning and distance.  Tasted December 2014

Les Bas Liards Savigny Lès Beaune 2012, Burgundy, France (SAQ 12089567, $38.25, WineAlign)

Only two barrels (one and two year-old, zero per cent new oak) were procured of this 100 per cent Pinot Blanc. “I’m a barrel fermenting maniac,” admits Bachelder. He might also say “I’ve got a job, I explore, I follow every little whiff and I want my life to smell like this.” Stone fruit is in resolution and integration, fully, completely. This quenches thirst, like chewing on raw fish. Why Pinot Blanc in Savigny Lès Beaune is the $64K question with an answer tragically not really known. Its taste is not just Pinot Blanc, it is the flavour of Savigny Lès Beaune. It is PB looking for a place to happen. The argument is logomachy, the reality is Savigny. What it delivers is a clean, hip Burgundian message and at the same time asks, “do you taste Chardonnay?” Yes? No, I taste Savigny Lès Beaune.  Tasted December 2014

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95, WineAlign)

From the best four of twenty barrels (and 15 – 18 per cent new oak). The salinity drawn is deeper still, like a bone from the skin of the sea. Rich tones, components, tannic texture, filibuster Chardonnay. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “More specifically a product of its ocean meets sous terre soil than Bachelder’s basic (term used loosely) Chardonnay, the Johnson nicks more richesse, around and around fullness. Not to mention the cerebral wisdom of two Scots and a Charlemagne. Johnson’s progressive and forward thinking maker works with inconspicuous wood and the science of introducing oxygen into wine in a controlled manner.  He might say “for it is wisdom that we have for sale.” Like a white-winged dove, the 2012 will trod lightly towards a long walk to a very long life. It can be imagined aging to the edge of seventeen. The earthy feel, the salinity, not from tannin but from soil, “the music there, well, it was hauntingly familiar.” This is iridescent Oregon in a Bachelder voice. No doubt.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (VINTAGES Essential 302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Primarily fruit sourced from Wismer-Foxcroft and Wismer-Wingfield plots, the oak treatment is 15 per cent new. Shows so much more warmth than Oregon. More honey and tropical notes than many peers as well. And still limestone crusted apple is the major finishing key in a Chardonnay that sings a familiar Niagara hymn. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Bottled just one month ago, contrary to the monk’s assertion, there is nothing shocky about her. Her fruit is downy soft, round without being fat because as Bachelder maintains, real as always, you “can’t have the minerality of that perfect 2011, I’m not going to bullshit you.” The 2012 is a wine unconscious in its own obviousness, ready for anything. Gregarious, golden, fresh fruit that was ready to roll out of its barrel and into the waiting glass long before its maker was prepared to open the valve. And of course there is a mineral finish. It can’t help but be.” Last tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Coming to VINTAGES, Spring 2015. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.”  Last tasted December 2014

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012 and Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012

Niagara Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

An appraisal of Wismer, much further up on the Bench as compared to Saunders, is always fraught with side by each guilt. The two coax and dissuade each other in every respect, from vintage to vintage and in flip-book oscillation. Once again, the reversal is complete in 2012. Wismer gives not just power and warmth, but layering. Its voice is an astonishing fidelity of native rock magnetized. Wismer finds a way to make grace necessary and to make necessity graceful. While Saunders made yeoman’s work of 11’s crazies with precision and poise, Wismer takes the glow of ’12 and turns it into cool sunshine. This Chardonnay of wealthy fruit, controlled oak, olivine and feldspar tannin will slowly wash up like driftwood on the gravelly beach of life. Give it a year or two to assimilate the components and drink it for 10 more.  Tasted December 2014

Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012, Burgundy, France (272005, $35.95, WineAlign)

From lower Puligny, this is rich, forward and expressive Chardonnay. While it may gangle out with a fierce, pierce of the tang, a change fills the air after much discussion about a barrel, how it is used and to what effect, both for its current and predictable future. Has that honeyed, lemon toasty unctuousness, a weave that is weighty and glazed. Some wood spice and a colourable, creamy curd of citrus. Oak compounds the sweetness and layering. Puligny runs through its wooden veins and pumps micro-oxygenated nutrients to the important, internal organs. The eventuality here is the alleviation of pressure and a retrofit of fruit to elegance. Strike another notch up and step forward for the Bachelder Burgundy sojourn. There is still so much to learn and even this will seem pedestrian compared to what will come but for now it’s just fine, thank you very much.  Tasted December 2014

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012 

Savigny Lès Beaune Les Bas Liards 2012 and Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012

Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012, Burgundy, France ($39.25, WineAlign)

The ‘King’s Hill’ which is just half of the misnomer because how can a plot of such ability be considered so low on the Cru pole. Half of a new barrel went into the minuscule (two barrel) blend. Chardonnay like lace, from nothing less than an appellation prepared to offer up fine drink, in pastry and in textile. Tropical tree fruits hang in rows, connected by cream and the contending forces of smoke and bite. Always the end game of rock envelops the whole, like gabbroid nodules, permeating every fissure.  And so, because a Bachelder Chardonnay must comply, as the earth invisibly prepares its vines for successes and failures, so history is the creeping intent.  Tasted December 2014

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14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

In 2013 the number chosen to highlight excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Symmetry and permutations with repetition are one thing, quality in winemaking is yet another. The expectation is fully understood that next year there will be 15 wines on the list. And so on and so forth.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

What force has thus far driven and will continue to drive the wines of Canada? By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, mountains, rivers and valleys, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today, we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of women and men.

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.

Winery visits were numerous in 2014. Thanks must be dispatched to all who opened their doors, to those with established roots and to risk takers who through their new planting, began burrowing their own. Like Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario. Like Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Tastings that go beyond the pale shed new élevage and barrel light. The light shed by such practices was no more in evidence than at Tawse with Paul Pender and Norman Hardie, but also at Flat Rock Cellars with Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich.

Memories of 2014 lead to thoughts of Cuvée, the Expert’s Tasting and the Sparkling Wine Symposium at Brock University. Taste OntarioSomewhereness, County in the City. July visits to Niagara and Nova Scotia gave up 10,000 words of free-flowing wine-speak about the Cool Chardonnay conference and with Peter Gamble in the Gaspereau Valley.

There were a few wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there time, space and a better headline to write. Gray Monk Riesling 2012, Okanagan Valley at ($15.00, WineAlign) is the best value for the niche in B.C. This is old-school, west coast Riesling with attributes to reflect and look back on generations of acumen. Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95, WineAlign) forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic and was a NWAC14 Platinum Medal Winner.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec ($22.95, WineAlignspeaks to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée. Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench ($38.00, WineAlign) though just recently re-tasted, was actually first assessed in November of 2013.

This list certainly concentrates on new releases, save for a few exceptions where older wines left a modern impression. Wines that found a way to break new ground also factored into the decisions. Here are the 14 Canadian wines tasted in 2014 that simply did it for me. Wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

 

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From The Group of twelve, April 28, 2014

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”  Tasted April 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake.  Tasted October 2014  @BlueMtnWinery

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.  Tasted April 2014  @normhardie

Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted twice, May and July 2014  @SperlingVyds

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign) From Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone, July 15, 2014

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Pilliteri Estates Merlot Family Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign) From Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine, January 17, 2014

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?   Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

 

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From Chardonnay is cool, July 9, 2014

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign) From A hip of wine at Hidden Bench

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025.  Tasted twice, September  and October 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $50, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.”  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign) From The Stratus-Momofuku continuum, May 30, 2014

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.  @StratusWines

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign) From Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases November 4, 2014

Certainly plays the most hard to get of the ’11 Chardonnays of fruit so fine and pure. Layered like Phyllo or Puff pastry, gathered and set back upon itself. Gains traction and intensity through developed flavours and overlays of texture, both solid like shale and lacy like organza. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46470, $65.00, WineAlign) From Up on Creekside Estates, April 14, 2014

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.  Tasted March 2014  @CreeksideWine

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign) From Consider the Gaspereau Valley, October 1, 2014

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge

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Chardonnay is cool

If you know Godello it never comes as a shock to read of his praises on Chardonnay. His particularistic ABC definiendum is “Abide By Chardonnay,” at all costs. It is true that Godello enjoys referring to himself in the third person. What self-respecting Chardonnay supporter doesn’t?

Chardonnay doesn’t suck and if you have doubts, a reluctant spirit to join in or just plain need to insist that you hate the stuff, consider this. Chardonnay is cool. It’s true, the good folks at i4C showed me, more than once. Ontario winemakers have proved it to me. The South Africans really get it, as do the fine makers from New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and the not necessarily ready for prime time cool climate players from Australia and California too. Don’t even get me started on that Burgundy stuff.

Godello and Paul Pender of Tawse PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello and Paul Pender of Tawse
PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates

Chardonnay is a grape of dreams. In recent weeks I’ve referred to Norman Hardie’s 2012 County Unfiltered as “climatically epochal, yet restlessly cool County Chardonnay.” About Hidden Bench’s Estate 2012 I said “when you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, ‘you’ve got to pick up every stitch.” On the textural clarity of Thomas Bachelder’s Saunders 2011 I recently added to an already verbose note, “in cool waiting and in display of the most elegance I’ve encountered from any Bachelder Chard, at anytime, anywhere.” You see, Chardonnay IS cool. The coolest winemakers have told me so.

The recent ups and downs of Shiraz are well documented but has any grape variety been both so venerated and maligned as Chardonnay. Is it the most cerebral of the vinifera? Maybe not, but at least it deserves an honorary degree. Other varieties have their own day but it too demands the global respect by way of celebration. Oak and Chardonnay have at times a love-hate relationship and walk admittedly close to the edge. But let me repeat, “is there a comparable white grape that speaks of its origins in more varied tones?” Who would not wish to travel around the world in eight Chardonnays? At this time last year I was preparing to make the pilgrimage down to Niagara for the Cool Chardonnay Conference. A year on and further enamoured by the great white hope, I am ready to do it again.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

That link will help you look back and to understand what the Cool Chardonnay experience is all about. If you are looking to experience the wonders of Chardonnay, from a global perspective, surrounded by experts in a setting designed for relaxation and genuflection, please read about the 2013 show. Godello, he’s prepping for #i4C14.

The Grape Growers of Ontario and Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute will host the “School of Cool,” an intensive one-day Chardonnay workshop. The weekend’s glass to follow will be filled with Chardonnay at every turn. Keynote speaker Tim Atkin MW and 58 winemakers will be on hand to pour, discuss and break down everything there is to know about Chardonnay, from Friday, July 18 to Sunday July 20, 2014. With i4C’s Dorian Anderson and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena KaiserSmit leading the charge, Chardonnay in Niagara will once again be the stuff of dreams.

The 2014 slogans mark a path to Chardonnay clarity. Begin with “earth’s coolest grape reveals hundreds of secrets.” Continue on “grown in cool places, shared in warm company.” Conclude by ensuring that “three summer days that will alter your Chardonnay belief system.”

In May we gathered at Allen’s on the Danforth to raise a glass to the international marketing day known as Chardonnay Day. I tasted through 20 or so and wrote some notes. Here are a few in advance anticipation of #i4C14 happening eight days and 20 hours from now.

From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, From left to right: Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.  Tasted May 2014  @CaveSpring

Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable. Tasted May 2014

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (302083, $29.95, WineAlign)

Bottled just one month ago, contrary to the monk’s assertion, there is nothing shocky about her. Her fruit is downy soft, round without being fat because as Bachelder maintains, real as always, you “can’t have the minerality of that perfect 2011, I’m not going to bullshit you.” The 2012 is a wine unconscious in its own obviousness, ready for anything. Gregarious, golden, fresh fruit that was ready to roll out of its barrel and into the waiting glass long before its maker was prepared to open the valve. And of course there is a mineral finish. It can’t help but be.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Creation Wines Chardonnay 2011, Walker Bay, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Hermanus, South Africa

From fruit grown on the same ridge as the Sumaridge but at greater altitude. Cooler in attitude, really crisp, with increased zest and tightly wound around an aromatic spindle. Really pushing the granitic mineral envelope in tension, cat-like reactions and electric company. The total acidity (6.8 g/L) and PH (3.48) derived from the slope’s marginal fertility in sedimentary ironstone means for a salinity that is misty as the prevailing oceanic breezes. A dry (2.1 g/L residual sugar) Carolyn Martin expression of cool climate Chardonnay, as striking as it is a pleasure to drink.  Tasted May 2014  @creationwines

Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench, Ontario  (243113, $39.95, WineAlign)

Moira’s barrel speaks in a level of volume best suited under the ambient comfort of headphones, listening to the White Album while lying on shag carpet in the dark. Maybe just a bit too specific but that sort of solitude and concentration is needed to gain privy of every nuance and notion travelling in stereo from side to side. Pay respectful attention and note that the butter on the toast integrates while in the glass, indicating this Moira is so effortlessly structured, thinks the most positive thoughts and will give generously early and often. Has the feel of barrel but in George -esque grace and texture, not flavour. Give it a year or three and drink for 8-10 more.  In the end you will say, “it took a long long long time. Now I’m so happy I found you.”  Tasted May 2014  @MalivoireWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.  Tasted May 2014  @normhardie

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

 

Ten best buys from the October 15th LCBO sale

File photograph, National Post

as seen on canada.com

VINTAGES markdowns begin today on more than 240 wines in selected stores across Ontario. This type of warehouse clearance is nothing new for the fine wine and premium spirits division of the LCBO, but when such a vast quantity of product gets tagged with red stickers, even the biggest monopoly cynics are caught smiling and spied shopping.

The sale is a collective blowout of six to 12-month old release items. Much of what is available may be judged as “machine age wine,” to paraphrase William Thorsell, the Zen-like master of demeanor and one day to be  “czar of public space in Toronto.” A vast majority of product sold by the Hudsucker Proxy is the vinous equivalent to “post Bauhaus, architecture of the box.” Still, for all the rotten tomatoes and urban sub-division, ascetic industrialist plonk there are diamonds to be mined in the proverbial wine rough.

It is important to note that sale item inventory is limited. It would be prudent to check online and better yet, call ahead before driving across town to grab a few sale bottles. Many of the wines have been marked down a second time, making them some of the better deals going. Then there are the trophy wines like the Krug ’95 D’Ambonnay which has dropped in price by $1000. Now only $3500 a bottle!

Keep in mind that my tasting notes and scores were cogitated in line with original VINTAGES prices.

Here are my top 10 picks from today’s sale

Cordella Rosso Di Montalcino 2009 (251462, was, $19.95, now $12.90) puts forth a flavour profile making it a dead ringer for a young Brunello. The initial noisome squall gives way to iron scents and the taste of spicy plums. Very approachable, fresh and vibrant. Great food wine for the here and now.  90 (October 2011)

Township 7 Syrah 2007 (263665, was $25.95, now $19.90) limns in glass as a cool, penetrating Pic Island or Canto XVII colour. Peppery spice and unfettered eucalyptus separate the 7′s actions from California’s rangers, remaining unique unto itself.  BC tree fruit exuding from every sip save for a mutinous, shy, hollow and peripatetic middle moment.  More time should smooth and flesh that fruit.  89 (April 2012)

Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2008 (959619, was $27.95, now $19.90) concedes eminence grise; reserved mineral nose, subtle oak, soft, balanced and smooth. Nothing exciting but well made and so easy to drink. Was hoping for a niche superstar but no foul.  87 (October 2011)

Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Meursault 2009 (241091, was $48.95, now $29.90) amalgamates citrus spice, baked brie and potpourri where subtlety is thy name. No mischief from Little Nicky here as Potel’s potential is glimpsed with this groovy white Burgundy.  89 (February 2012)

Domaine De La Bonserine Côte-Rôtie La Sarrasine 2008 (606442, was $49.95, now $29.90) enters my heart on immediate terms of endearment. Superb funk de vache without bretting out. Gunpowder, wet limestone, leather, char and chalk define the wine.  90 (October 2011)

Riglos Gran Corte 2007 (243501, was $37.95, now $29.90) radiates a phenomenal azure/purple colour. A body builder of fermented pleasure, sculpted, ripped, pulsating. Baked pastry, caramelized onion and reduced aged balsamic wax olfactory. What a tart! Delicious stuff to drink now.  91 (October 2011)

Freestone Chardonnay 2008 (249425, was $69.95, now $44.90) trickles melting ice cubes past the gullet, washing it down with searing salty, citrus and cobblestone coolant. A firm Chardonnay, cocksure and concise. I would not turn away a glass of this coolish-climate bonbon.  90 (October 2011)

Take a flyer on

Santa Duc Gigondas Les Garancières 2009 (234989, was $27.95, now $17.90)

Domaine Moillard Beaune Epenottes 1er Cru 2009 (241109, was $31.95, now $19.90)

Ravenswood Single Vineyard Belloni Zinfandel 2008 (672741,was $44.95, now $27.90)

Good to go!

BC Syrah, Feist Heist and Juno Who Stole My Face?

April 2, 2012

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/04/02/bc-syrah-feist-heist-and-juno-who-stole-my-face/

 

City in Colour’s Dallas Green took home the Juno for Songwriter of the Year but Feist pulled off the show’s biggest heist, stealing away Artist of the Year from Green’s outfit. Congrats certainly goes out to The Sheepdogs but where is the love for Sloan, Ron Sexsmith or Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy? Now I have discovered larceny of another kind. Someone has made use of my face. Here is a self-inflicted portrait of me at Opalescent Lake, Barron River, Algonquin Park. Now click on the YouTube Gillette Commercial and tell me my doppelgänger is not out there walking the earth. Can’t be an April Fool’s thing. Freeze it at the three-second mark for full effect.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIDfkix-HGQ&feature=player_detailpage#t=3s

Last month my tasting note was less than flattering for the TOWNSHIP 7 SYRAH 2007 (263665, $24.95). “Gives off a stickum smell so much so VA comes to mind. Hard and brutish, the township ungroomed, full of moody character, barely penetrable. Hold a feather over the glass to see if it’s alive. Hard to assess.” 85

As a promise to proprietor Lori Pike-Raffan, I promised to taste again. I did in fact purchase a second bottle and am happy to report the first specimen as surely flawed. The flavour theft could have been a result of bad temperament, bottle shock, poor handling en route to Ontario or just bad luck. Here my note on the second try.

TOWNSHIP 7 SYRAH 2007 (263665, $24.95) limns in glass as a cool, penetrating Pic Island or Canto XVII colour. Peppery spice and unfettered eucalyptus separate the 7’s actions from California’s rangers, remaining unique unto itself.  BC tree fruit exuding from every sip save for a mutinous, shy, hollow and peripatetic middle moment.  More time should smooth and flesh that fruit.  89

 

 

 

Good to go!