If someone said you could only visit 10, or five, or even three wine producers anywhere, which estates would make your shortlist? Emidio Pepe in Contrada Chiesi, Abruzzo has long been on that list for me, for so many reasons, all of which are the right ones. Senore Pepe and the next two generations have been making some of Italy’s greatest wines but that is only part of the story. The family’s humanity is their reason for being. Their sustainable and regenerative approach to agriculture, culture and people is what sustains them and attracts so much good. In June of 2022 I finally made my pilgrimage and five months later I am still feeling so right about who I am, having been granted the good fortune to spend time with this special family.
By way of recall I first met Emidio Pepe’s granddaughter Chiara de Lulis Pepe when I hosted her in Toronto at Barque Smokehouse back in May of 2015. After that meeting and tasting I wrote the following: “Natural, healthy viticulture. No chemicals ever. Ever. Organic, biodynamic, only indigenous yeasts (more on that later), no fining or filtration. Red berries de-stemmed by hand. White grapes trod by foot. Fermentation in concrete. Bottling in early March and laid to rest. Then the bottles are decanted by hand, re-corked and released. The entire premise begins and ends with amazingly clean and pure fruit.” Seven years later più cambia, più è la stessa cosa. Translated from the famous epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, but I’m sure you get the drift. Today Chiara will tell you that soils are persistently in flux, constantly eroding and failure always precedes success. The maintenance of healthy vineyards is a never-ending battle, the decision to treat nature and people with respect a choice that turns problems into solutions.
I am the lucky one, having been gifted the opportunity to meet a legend in his 90th year. “Emidio Pepe founded his winery in 1964, after working alongside his father and his grandfather which already back in 1889 where making wine at Casa Pepe. Before anyone else, he strongly believed in the great ageing potential of trebbiano and montepulciano d’Abruzzo and he dedicated all his energies to those two indigenous grape varieties, proving their incredible potential and showing it to the entire world.” Emidio and Rosa, followed by Sofia and Daniela, then granddaughters Chiara and Elisa. Sofia the oenological one, in production and for quality; Daniela in administration and finance; Chiara, spokesperson and export markets; Elisa, the next chosen one, to guide Emidio Pepe forward. Their vineyards are located 10 km from the Adriatic and 45 minutes from the Gran Sasso d’Italia mountains. The unique saddle and its clay-limestone soil encourage roots to burrow five to six metres downward, to a subterranean comfort zone, where the temperature is always constant.
Chiara stands in the vineyard and explains “it is the diversity of genetic materials in this plot that seems to have an ability to adapt and adjust, to withstand the changing climate. All plantations make use of their genetics. We don’t only make use of previous genetics but also the ones that have been added on top of them. This is the beauty.” Chiara goes on to say that the specific of skins on these grapes must also be preserved because their specificity keeps elegance and a softness in the tannins of the wines they produce, especially from those raised in the pergola vines, which she says, grandfather has always loved.”
When asked “how many hectares do you have” Chiara will say, “we don’t have surfaces, we have volumes.” Trees bring up water from the deeper soils, aiding in nutrient sharing with vine roots that interact in the space between them. “There must be a symbiotic relationship between the roots of vines and trees. They need to be ensconced, especially in times of climate change, strife and crisis. It’s not just about what is above ground.” Anyway, she does eventually concede that the current 17.5 will soon become 19 hectares. As time passes more vegetative growth is encouraged, no leaf plucking and pruning is done in a “bigger” way. “All the great winemakers around the world are the ones who show the most sensitivity to their vines and their lands.”
Silica spray is used early in the morning to capture light refraction and encourage photosynthesis. “A magical preparation within the biodynamic system at Pepe.” There are 80,000 bottles produced annually, 45 trebbiano, 35 montepulciano, 15 pecorino and five cerasuolo. whites are hand-stomped, skins and stems removed and then straight to basket press. Th juice is put to concerte tanks for two years on the gross lees. As for reds, friction skin versus non-friction skin of montepulciano is key. “If you know the difference then you understand montepulciano. The basket press is responsible for zero friction.” Chiara adds “for me the lees are very important for their reductive power and we make sure to do nothing that encourages cloudy ferments,” And so because Pepe wants to do everything to avoid sediment, wines 20 years and older are decanted, rid of solids and re-corked.
Again, “if there is one single winemaker who defines natural, who lives, breathes and embodies the much maligned phrase “minimal intervention winemaking,” Emidio Pepe is the one. Not because of the techniques, practices and religious adherence to undomesticated viticulture, unadulterated and soulful viniculture. The reason Emidio Pepe is the benchmark and the ragione d’essere for natural wines to matter is because the wines are impossibly fantastic.”
Seven years after first meeting Chiara in Toronto I am humbled for my time spent with the Emidio Pepe family in Abruzzo. Chiara’s relationship with her grandfather and unwavering commitment to their land is everything that matters in making exceptional and memorable wine. It’s not only what you do but also who you are. Thank you and thank you to Vini d’Abruzzo for bringing us together. These nine tasting notes chronicle an afternoon and an evening spent with the famiglia Pepe and I am richer for the experience in ways tangible and intangible. I count the days to the next encounter. Manteniamoci giovani.
Rainy vintage, ill gifted for montepulciano so not made in this vintage but for trebbiano and pecorino it was a good season. A honeyed vintage, beeswax and lanolin, phenolic but so in control. Super herbal yet again a bottled, instigated and estimable one, in dried florals too. Then the transition to luxe and palate lavishing, nurturing and care taken for the duration. More honey, mellifluous and mixed with tannins just a touch drying while the last note played hums for minutes. A day in Emidio Pepe life. Would like to wait two more years to see this cross over into the world where it occupies a mature sense of itself. Drink 2023-2037. Tasted June 2022
The youthfulness of honey after ten years turns to racy citrus and a vapour trail smoulders behind in this petrol-mineral and flinty trebbiano. The tenure is just about 35 deep for Emidio Pepe and this seems to exist in a transitional-next level aging epoch (in and around 2009) for an Abrusseze trebbiano that shows 12-plus year-old wisdom. Not only wisdom but calm and good nature. The finish carries a Manzanilla character that is an EP speciality but only in certain vintages. I suppose this would be one. Drink 2022-2028. Tasted June 2022
As with all aged trebbiano (d’Abruzzo) from Emidio Pepe there comes about an almost (if I may) Jura meets Hunter Valley character, here by the hands of Sofia Pepe who was winemaker at the time. A seasonal profile for sure, cool-ish and comparatively more so than the 2009 tasted alongside. Chamomile and scraped orange skin, a true juiciness and most of all a textural element that sets it apart. There is a tart component as well, almost grapefruit, a peppery kick and piques everywhere, especially on the back end. Drink 2022-2025. Tasted June 2022
Emidio Pepe have been working with the grape since 2010, after planting in 2006 and 2007. A variety connected to the mountains, north facing, protected from the sun. Aromatic, thick skinned in tight punches like pinot noir. Glistening, viscous, a scintillant of a white wine and leave it to Emidio Pepe to see it age. A one point four hectare vineyard right behind the house. Acidity is easily maintained, especially from a cool vintage which also happened to be wet. A saffron note suggests a smile of botrytis and now like all aged EPs there is honey and here, also green fig. A grape high in pH and yet the opposite seems to be what 2013 delivers. And with age the viscosity builds, the aromatic compounds multiply and mingle with frâiche flavours in Abruzzese cahoots. Drink 2022-2024. Tasted June 2022
Hard to imagine a montepulciano of this age could be so fresh and indeed it was a warm vintage but remember two things. Concrete and no wood. Aged in one and without any contact with the other. Also consider it resting in an aging room and then after 15 years, coming away cool, crisp and clean. That it exhibits with grace and esteem is the problem solved, like grandfather and the way he walks, carries himself, passes the torch. A smoky subtlety and even now the initialization of fungi porcini but truth is only secondary notes are at the fore. Drink 2022-2027. Tasted June 2022
Much further advanced as compared to 2007, not surprising considering the heat of the vintage and yet acidity is so very preserved. Also consider this having rested in an aging room and then, after 10 years, opened to decant from sediment and then re-corked to ensure its ultimate refinement. That is has kept and behold as it still rolls along. Last tasted June 2022
At the teenage (in wine years) number 12 this is showing less evolution than expected, especially in consideration of the European year that was 2003. Another divaricating Abruzzo, with a dried fruit component that pullulates in a very hydrated way. From a scorching season where anxiety was felt by both the vines and their keepers. Possessive of a bricking that gives of the cracked earth, of dusty, ambivalent rocks and warm, pulpy air. Through the humid tones and with thanks to pergola trellising, balance prevails with close encounters in acidity of the rampant kind. Tannins rage as well, strong and bullish above the earthy notes and peppery berry bites. The old vines and sleight of winemaking hand are ensconced to this vision, void of faults and yet advancing from the frame. Needs just a few more years to find the median point on the chronometer. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted March 2015
The subtle and gentle elegance of 2002 is almost mystifying, if at least a surprise that kinda hypnotizes. Memory serves up a case of conflict and adversity, if also vintage envy for the bookends of 2001 and 2003. And yet the cool of the night prevails to elongate a montepulciano for our pleasure and make it sing 20 years later. It was also decanted to reduce the lees sediment and then re-corked for our benefit. Words cannot express what a beautiful place this 2002 EP is found to be. It is a treat to taste and also behold, exactly as of right now. Drink 2022-2026. Tasted June 2022
Laden with Brett and other exceptional volatility. The lift and high tonality are at the threshold of problematic. Less so on the palate but there are clearly concerning elements in this bottle. Last tasted June 2022
If the ’03 acts a bit like a hormonal, impulsive, testy, cavilling or petulant teenager, this 2001 is the adolescent. Full of boundless energy, willingly and excitably adventurous and ready to participate in the game. This from a terrific vintage with great aging potential, here Montepulciano manifests with gravity defying weight, like careful Nebbiolo or graceful Burgundy. Where this separates itself from other Grand Cru varietal infinity is in its yeast directive. Singular, remarkable, devoid in spice as if by wood. The structure is innate, indigenously calculated, developing in bottle, verbalizing flavour. Like a bone from the skin of the clay, piaculum by limestone, passed through and brought to light by the leavening catalyst. Drink 2020-2036. Tasted March 2015
After seven more years this 1983 remains and persists as one of the greats. “It was the first important vintage that we piled up bottles so high in the aging cellar,” explains Chiara. It marked a turning point for her grandfather and while the tannins are of course long gone the acidity still rises, bringing it into balance at nearly 40 years of age. “It was undrinkable to grandfather because it was so dense and powerful in its first years. The key to understanding and making his wine was time.” This is not a wine that has too much of anything and it is so organized. The aromatics, of cinnamon, rose petal and fenugreek are in multifold metaphysical existence and concentration. They are the driver for all else to follow. Last tasted June 2022
In 1983, the bottling is the Riserva. Give Emidio Pepe’s reds thirty odd years to develop and the impossible happens. To postulate in a moment’s assessment without remembering the pious tradition with which this was made would be a crime against Pepe, Abruzzo, the natural world and the wonders of the universe. With this much passage the spice cupboard that emits is wow times a thousand. Clove, cinnamon, cardamon, orange peel, galangal and like golden raisins that pass through quarries to become rubies. This wine is perfect. It has not broken down an iota. It requires no decanting. It defies logic, perception and time. There is no sediment, only energy. Speaks from the glass as if it were a child of destiny and mythology. The 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva arrives from along the same road taken but its transmogrification proves that the result, with thanks again to the endemic froth, is different every time. Drink 2015-2029. Tasted March 2015
The northwestern Italian territory of Asti DOCG covers the area of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato and together they form the first Italian wine landscape to be recognized as a UNESCO heritage site. The grape variety moscato bianco grows in vineyards in all three to cover the counties of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria. The area is a cultural and modern gem in the heart of Piedmont (Piemonte, in Italian), about 55 kilometres east of Turin in the plain of the Tanaro River. A sense of spirit, community and great heart echoes and reverberates through wines voracious in their appetite to capture both traditions and also the new and forward thinking Asti stories. Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are challenging wines to produce but these folkloric producers have to do it. It Is their heritage, imperative and pleasure.
Asti Spumante DOCG and Moscato d’Asti DOCG are considered as the two most authentically aromatic Italian white wines and rank among the great wines of Piedmont. Asti Spumante is undoubtedly the world’s best-known aromatic sparkling wine and Moscato d’Asti are among the few wines in which the sensory qualities of the grapes remain unaltered as a result of soft pressing and incomplete alcoholic fermentation. Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are declinations of the same grape variety, made from 100 per cent moscato bianco grapes that grow on limestone soils in the UNESCO World Heritage hills between Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo. Asti Spumante can be tasted in different versions, from Extra Dry, Dry, Brut and the most popular Dolce, but also in the classic method or “Metodo Classico” version.
Asti DOCG Aromas
Asti Spumante DOCG
Asti Spumante DOCG is made entirely from moscato bianco grapes, gaining benefit from chalky soils and microclimates typical of hilly areas. It has a characteristic musky flavour, well-balanced sweetness, acidity and moderate alcohol content. In recent years Asti producers have set an important new course, paving the way to expanding the range of Asti styles, based on different residual sugar levels from Demi-Sec through Extra-Brut.
The concentration of the precious aromatic substances (called linalool) produced by the moscato bianco berries peaks in the last few weeks before the grapes are harvested in early September. Harvesting is still accomplished by hand to keep the bunches whole and preserve the characteristic aroma of the grapes – factors that contribute to making Asti Spumante the most widely consumed aromatic sparkling wine in the world.
Characterized by particularly fine and persistent beading, Asti offers a fresh mouthfeel that makes it suitable as a full-meal wine. On the nose, one can appreciate a delicate floral (acacia, lavender, sage) and fruity (apple, pear, banana) bouquet.
DOCG Status since: 1993
Grape variety: moscato bianco
Maximum grape yield: 10 tons/ha
Color: straw to pale gold
Foam: fine and persistent
Nose: fragrant, floral, with hints of linden and acacia
Taste: delicately sweet, aromatic, well-balanced
Minimum potential alcohol content: 11.5 per cent by volume; minimum actual alcohol seven per cent by volume for Asti Dolce and approximately 11 per cent for the other styles from Demi-Sec to Pas Dosé
Moscato d’Asti DOCG
Following the recognition of the Asti Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin (DOCG) status in 1993, Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti were identified as two different historical expressions of the same varietal. Moscato d’Asti DOCG is one of the most characteristic products of the Piedmontese wine tradition. The wine has a distinctively intense musky aroma of the grapes it is made from, a delicate flavour that is reminiscent of wisteria and linden, peach and apricot, with hints of sage, lemon and orange blossom. It has some residual sugar and a low alcohol content.
Moscato d’Asti DOCG is not technically or ostensibly a sparkling wine, as it only undergoes partial fermentation in pressure tanks. Fermentation is terminated when an alcohol content of about five per cent alcohol by volume is reached. The use of cold chain technology in the production process means the aromas and flavours of the grapes are preserved and the product can be stabilized, ready for storage and transportation.
DOCG Status since: 1993
Grape variety: moscato bianco
Maximum grape yield: 10 tons/ha
Colour: straw yellow
Foam: fine and persistent
Nose: fragrant, floral, with hints of sage
Taste: delicately sweet, aromatic, characteristic
Minimum potential alcohol content: 11 per cent by volume; minimum actual alcohol 4.5 per cent by volume
For Moscato d’Asti it begins, as it must, with weight and measurements. The math is straightforward: 100 kilograms of grapes is equal to 86 of must. The first press of moscato yields 15 per cent of that 86, or 13 kg. Often only a small percentage is used for the top cuvée. The rest of the must is kept at freezing temperature (approximately -2 degrees celsius) and there are producers that keep past vintages (generally up to four) for the production of their Moscato d’Asti wines. The DOCG rule says that a vintage dated wine must consist of 75 per cent must from that year’s production.
As for recent vintages, 2021 is certainly close to the top while 2020 is widely considered to be la crème de la crème. That said 2019 was not the most aromatic, like 2016, very hot and the moscato grape does not need too much sun. The grapes will dry out, burn, lose freshness and perfumes. From tasting the must you smell honey which proves the grapes are not perfectly mature. This is where the vision of using 25 per cent must from the three preceding vintages works to great advantage. Phenolic holes are filled, absent aromas are engaged and layers of intricacy are cast. Smell an example of 17 and note the exaggerated development, rich and full of glycerin, nearly cloying. The 2016s are certainly sweet and somewhat out of balance, but there is delicacy, floral notes and it’s never cloying. The ’18s are clearer, easier to comprehend, showing nary a trace of honey. The presence of white flowers and apricot in a wine lighter in hue and more delicate in mien speaks exactly to what producers are after. When fermentation happens those aromas increase by 80 per cent. There’s the rub and the magic. Special terroirs like Castiglione Tinella are the kind that breed some of the highest acidity for moscato. A pH that averages out at 3.4 when bottled will lower to 3.1, because this is when the acidity rises.
The Consorzio coordinates and promotes the area of origin of moscato bianco grapes, whose cultivation covers approximately 10,000 hectares across 51 municipalities of the provinces of Alessandria, Asti and Cuneo. There are 10,000 hectares of vineyards for these lightly sparkling, off-dry to sweet Asti white wines and the Consorzio is entrusted to promote and protect the wines in the appellation. They are widely imitated and so undertaking legal action and registering trademarks in every country is a necessary side-hustle of the job. In terms of producer requests, all changes and modifications applied for must be approved by the consortium. An integral aspect of the work involves field, vineyard as well as laboratory research. More than 1,400 ha have a gradient over 40 per cent, with 330 hectares of this area over 50 per cent. These are vineyards historically named sorì, where no mechanical equipment can be used and vines are tended exclusively by hand. The Asti DOCG hills were the first vineyard landscape to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Born in 1932, the Consortium for the Promotion of Asti has a clear mission: to perform all the necessary actions to protect, promote and enhance the value of Asti and Moscato d’Asti, in Italy and the world. The sustainable manifesto is clear and one day spent inside the offices of the Consortium will instruct and explain all you need to know about economic, social, environmental, export, security and what Italians refer to as disciplinare policies. Regulations regarding vineyard yields, levels of alcohol, sugar, extract and bars of pressure are so defined as to ensure current production and sales viability but also explicitly what the next generation will need to carry the work forward.
The Consortium carries out technical assistance, draws up research proposals and economic assessments aimed at enhancing the value of the designation. It is there to protect and safeguard from improper use, unfair competition and counterfeiting, Asti’s officers carry out, on behalf of all those who are subject to the designation-related checks, the functions of protection, promotion and valourization, as well as informing consumers and generally looking after special interests. Policies are adopted regulating supply in order to contribute to improved coordination of the designation’s distribution on the market, through consultations with sector representatives. The consorzio plans for improving the quality of the products that must appear before judicial and administrative authorities, in Italy and abroad, in order to safeguard and protect the designation and defend the interests and rights of the producers. Surveillance actions are carried out, mainly in the distribution stage.
The hills of the Langhe are elongated, with extended crests and steeper slopes, while those of the Monferrato are rounder and gentler to look upon. Two different landscapes, with infinite variations. Where life prospers among the orderly rows of grapevines, tended by hand as they have always been. Where the seasons bring new colors against the majestic crown of the Alps, where the horizon stretches out to infinity. Where every detail amazes and warms the heart, to be treasured forever. Un territorio Patrimonio dell’Umanità. Sedimentary soils that date back 10-15 million years predominate. One is the Pliocenic basin of Asti to the northeast. The to the west around Canelli there are Serravallian (Middle Miocene) soils, stratified layers of blue clay, sand and lime. Many believe this to be the best composition for Moscato d’Asti. To the east in the area of Strevi the ground is Tortonian (late Miocene), younger at five to 10 million years, with more clay and more lime in deeper layers and colour.
The crux of the varietal situation is twofold, at once for vineyards subsisting at the foot of the Alps and also drawing energy being proximate to the sea. Seventy-five per cent of the vineyards are directly protected by the mountains. As seemingly everywhere, climate is changing here too. In the last 15 years average temperatures have increased by one degree. In the past 58 years the average increase has been by two. More important are temperature abnormalities. The centrepiece moscato bianco is a very sensitive grape and easily subjected to diseases.
Guyot training is appropriate for poor quality soils and lower yields. Broken down by altitude, 44 per cent of the vineyards are at 250-300m and 30 per cent at 300-450m. In terms of slope, 2,770 of 9,700ha have a gradient higher than 30 per cent, 336 ha with a gradient of more than 50. “Heroic agriculture” is the moniker bestowed. “The Sorì vineyards.” No mechanization is employed and a certain crucial must is picking times, especially in terms of the preservation of moscato bianco’s aromatic compounds. Yields per hectare are set at 9.5 tonnes for Asti and Moscato d’Asti.
The Consortium’s Laboratorio Analisi for the Tutela dell’Asti DOCG is one of the most advanced and technologically impressive anywhere, with the mechanization capable of carrying out a diverse set of analyses. Under the guise of Guido Bezzo, who incidentally also happens to be a virtuoso trumpeter, the lab exerts its expertise far beyond pedestrian testing of alcohol, sugar and varietal purity. It delves deeper than mere organoleptic conclusions. The lab’s research works to investigate the impact analysis results for one 750 mL bottle of Asti wine covering categories that includes a mind-boggling set of parameters: Climate change; Reduction of the ozone layer; Toxicity and carcinogenic effects on humans; Particulate/smog caused by emissions of inorganic substances; Ionizing radiation effects on human inorganic health; Photochemical ozone formation; Acidification; Terrestrial, aquatic and marine eutrophication; Ecotoxicity in freshwater aquatic environments; Soil transformation; Resource depletion in water, minerals and fossils. Heady stuff indeed.
The 60,000 tonnes kept at negative four degrees in summer costs dearly in equipment and energy. It is widely believed that juice can stay in tank for up to two years without losing aromatic concentration. Fermentation takes place at 20 degrees in pressure tanks developed by Italian sparkling wine pioneer Dr. Federico Martinotti, director of the Research Institute for the Wine of Asti, who patented the method in 1895. Martinotti is credited with creating the method of developing the bubbles inside of tanks. The juice can stand pressures of more than 10 bars. Yeasts must be stopped abruptly (in a matter of a few hours) to avoid off odours and flavours, i.e rotten egg and cooked cabbage. Centrifuge and filters are used. In the past pasteurization at 50 degrees was the norm but now micro filtration screens out the yeast (at 0.2 microns) and stabilizes the wines. Agronomist/viticuilturalist Daniele Eberle also explains how Fratelli Gancia used the same techniques that the French used here in Piemonte in the late 1800s. The city of Canelli, cultural home of Asti holds the highest concentration of companies that make all the equipment necessary for bottling Spumante wines.
The association soon yielded positive results. Production gradually increased from two million bottles in the 1940s to forty million in the 1970s. A figure more than doubled nowadays. The history of the Consortium is all Piedmontese and begins from the town that is considered the capital par excellence of spumante: Canelli. It was in its cellars that, day after day, with dedication and affection, techniques were refined that nowadays give us a fine, delicate and unmistakeable sparkling wine like Asti DOCG. The know-how handed down for generations, together with the latest scientific discoveries, have led to the optimization of the production process and the definition of important procedures indispensable to guarantee the high quality of Asti DOCG.
As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.
I first published this year-end summary of Canadian wine excellence in 2013 and four years on that original list of 13 has expanded with four more. It’s a good thing too because four years later 17 wines is but a fraction of what could or should be included. This exercise is more than difficult. It’s biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it. Roll out the red carpet. Here they come.
My writing about wine is a display that spills everything but subtraction, reduction and minimalism. It is an occupation whose reality is examined to points of madness, of long, run-on sentences, often at odds with grammatical winemaking realism. My tireless, tiring sentences and phrasing can at times offer a feeling that is potentially endless. So thanks for reading and putting up with me.
As I have noted before, I try to visit wines more than once before reviewing them, preferably from more than one bottle but even more importantly, with a good chunk of time having passed between assessments. The most complete picture is drawn from such a course of critical action but it’s not always possible. Not a single one of these 17 wines were decided upon at a single VINTAGES release, sterile and windowless LCBO laboratory tasting. The nearly 2000 wines (of which approximately were 20 percent Canadian) that I tasted in the LCBO lab in 2017 are kept, compartmentalized, reviewed and stored over at WineAlign. They are forged from and formed by a very specific, of the fleeting moment style. They are the results of root days and fruit days, often plagued by other writers present levels of distraction and time constraints. These 17 wines are children of repeated concentration and stand out because the makers went out of their way to bring them to me.
Please allow me to quote Wes Anderson. “It is an extremely common mistake, people think the writer’s imagination is always at work, that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to…,” continue to provide what you need to entertain your readers. Thank you to the winemakers for sharing their stories time and time again.
If 2016 was a most difficult year, what does that say about 2017? It was a most dippy, derisory, barmy and yet chimerical one. Once again too many special people were taken from us and in Ontario, no one more important to everyone who works in wine than Karl Kaiser. It can and should be argued that the industry we all call home is at its 2017 state because of Mr. Kaiser and what he pioneered more than 40 years ago. Karl Kaiser was eulogized by Brock University’s Dan Dakin. Please take the time to read it.
Once again we all lost someone close to us in 2017. Celebrity deaths, especially the ones of loved musicians seem to hit us the hardest because we relive moments of our lives when their songs are played. I’ll ask the social media trolls to walk on past and to once again, please respect our reminiscences.
Gregg Allman. Richard Anderson. Harvey Atkin. Walter Becker. Chester Bennington. Johnny Bower. Chuck Berry. Glen Campbell. David Cassidy. Chris Cornell. Jonathan Demme. Fats Domino. Dick Enberg. Stephen Furst. J. Geils. Robert Guillaume. Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay. Connie Hawkins. John Hurt. Al Jarreau. Martin Landau. Jerry Lewis. Erin Moran. Sir Roger Moore. Bryan Murray. Charlie Murphy. Bill Paxton. Tom Petty. Della Reese. Don Rickles. Sam Shepard. Joni Sledge. Keely Smith. Harry Dean Stanton. Y. A. Tittle. Mary Tyler Moore. Adam West. Malcom Young. Joanne Godel.
Don’t forget the pouring rain
There was more than enough good news out of 2017, especially from Ontario. After one of the wettest summers on record and this looming harvest of disaster everything changed. The temperatures hit 30 degrees and remained there for much of September. October obliged with warm and slowly declining temperatures with very little precipitation. Not only was the 2017 vintage saved but it became one of the great phenolic ripeness stories in wine country history. Quality high. Check. Quantity high. Check. Win win for wine.
The year continued to throw thousands of wines my way. I did travel more and so the international count ran higher at the expense of the local. I plan to fix that in 2018. Things have a way of balancing out anyway. Still I’m sure I tasted close to 1000 Canadian wines once again. We continued to pay great attention to Canadian wines at the WineAlign office. I once again joined the judging with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.
My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar welcomed a third child to the family when we opened Barque Smokehouse Burlington in August. With that opening we were proud to partner with Rosewood Estates to join the family that over the years has included Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus, Leaning Post, Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and Creekside Estates.
In the company of #family so thank you judges, friends and badasses #NWAC17 #killedit
Any major dude will tell you
At the Terroir Hospitality Symposium in May we debated the highly controversial new category of Skin-Contact wines in Ontario. Orange is the new smack should have been my title but instead I chose to talk through hushed tones in Pop goes VQA, a story in three parts, each one more misunderstood than the others. It would take months to come to better and more improved conclusions to that haughty complex story.
In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Annapolis Valley. It was the first time that Nova Scotia hosted our motley crew and what a smashing success it was. Great thanks must go out to all our tremendous hosts including Wines of Nova Scotia, Domiane de Grand Pré, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, Blomidon Estate, Annapolis Cider Company and Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax.
In July I once again made the pilgrimage to i4c, the International Chardonnay Cool Climate Conference, “the local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.”
At i4c we welcomed California’s Karen MacNeil, Dr, Jamie Goode, Bill Zacharkiw, Treve Ring, Kurtis Kolt and Rhys Pender MW and then I penned 69 chardonnay reviews. What did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2017? After a visit to Pearl Morissette I learned from François Morissette, vigneron about oxidation.“Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. But I did not learn enough. I needed to move beyond the ubiquity of cool climate. I wanted to understand more about cold soaking and whole berry fermentation. Just last week Pearl Morissette’s savant winemaker Brent Rowland sent me these words of enlightenment.
“This is the main reason I am such an advocate to whole bunch fermentation. The best tannin and worst tannin are seed tannin, depending on how you extract them…heat and alcohol rip out aggressive angular tannins. By keeping the berry attached to the rachis for as long as possible you are creating a little microenvironment for fermentation that is low heat and low alcohol, enabling you to slowly extract long polymerized tannins. This and perfume is the reason I do everything whole bunch. To me whole bunch has nothing to do with the stems, tannins from stems or flavour of stems.” He continues. “I absolutely think that skin contact wines can have elevated structure and texture. I also do not subscribe to the idea that some arbitrary number like “10 days” defines the genre. I did say that Orange wine is not an in-between wine but its own genre and I believe that. For the record I feel the less rigid the criteria for the category the better. As you state the broader the category the more opportunity for discovery of a valued category.” Thank you mate.
Be part of the Greatest Wine Revolution since Prohibition.
Where are we one year later?
I’ve two words for you. WineAlign Exchange. The WineAlign Exchange taps into the world of wines beyond the LCBO and delivers a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. All the wines have been carefully chosen by our panel of critics for their quality and value. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and Godello. The first case delivered to hundreds of members was an all Platinum Award winners pack from the National Wine Awards of Canada. In terms of free trade we await a decision but don’t expect a miracle in 2018, Christmas or otherwise. As for the VQA panel in Ontario? Well, read my article referenced above and you’ll get my drift.
One of my favorite wines I tasted in 2017. All killer no filler. Beautifully ripe #cabernetfranc nice layers of cocoa, red, and black fruit. Tannin is liquid silk. Can_t wait for next
Let’s be Franc
Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. In British Columbia the coolest sites are increasingly raising fresh, spirited and ultimately crushable wines with unmistakable west coast accents; savour, garrigue and mountain tea. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore, but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.
New World cabernet franc growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieux-dites in the varietal homeland, France’s Loire Valley. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek. The same is happening in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley although the cumulative stylistic is worlds (four provinces to be exact) apart. In Nova Scotia Benjamin Bridge Vineyards’ viticultural and vinifying braintrust of Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Scott Savoy are allocating serious resources to cabernet franc in the Gaspereau Valley. But how is it that decisions are made as to where to plant this crisp, juicy and crunchy grape? While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within the aforementioned venn diagram, in Canadian soils the shared subtleties can easily get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled. That said, the story of franc terroir is getting clearer and clearer. Interloper carries the torch.
Tonight brought to you by #interloper and the inner beauty of #cabernetfranc @RavineVineyard #vqaniagaraonthelake
At this most recent NWAC17 judging experience the results from cabernet franc paints a more palatable picture than those brushed by both merlot and cabernet sauvignon. We are collectively impressed with and solidly behind the direction growers and winemakers are taking with this noble varietal. The 546 acres planted in B.C. are rising steadily and if I were merlot I’d be looking in the rear-view mirror. In Ontario more than 4,000 tonnes were harvested in 2015, third to only chardonnay and riesling. Four of five Gold Medals were Ontario in origin, 10 of 16 were awarded Silver and 10 of 17, Bronze. While only four in Ontario are labled “LL,” no less than 10 of the 24 winners were made with at least some significant amount of fruit grown in the Lincoln Lakeshore/Beamsville Bench circle of commonality. The sites we want to call “cru” are no longer a mystery.
Taskmasters not pictured #punchdowns #interloper
I can’t say this list is full of surprises, save for the first of 17. You see this particular wine is close to my heart because I had a hand in its concept and design. My partner Scott Zebarth and I teamed up with winemakers Marty Werner and Ben Minaker at Ravine Vineyards to produce what we all feel is the most exciting fresh breath of cabernet franc air to arrive in Ontario in quite some time. It’s obviously self-serving to put it on a best of the year list but we are very proud of this project and its inaugural effort. If you’ve tried it you know. If you haven’t, give me a ring. We’ll break Interloper bread together. To the other 16, welcome to the list.
Scott, Marty, Ben and I are proud to present the now SOLD OUT #interloper Cabernet Franc 2016. We’ll be back next year #vqa #niagaraonthelake #ravinevineyard
Vinyl records sound different because they are designed with grooves carved in that mirrors the original sound’s wave form. Their analog recording delivers a sensory feeling of warmth, an aural of texture, nuance and soul. There was a time when the hits spun over and over were also pressed onto the A-Side of 45 rpm singles. The discovery of a never before heard B-Side was a revelation because is was extra material from a favourite band and it was a great song. It meant the record was already too strong for that song to make the final cut and to choose it for a B-Side meant it would elevate the quality of the album. A well-chosen B was not an afterthought. This is the accomplishment of the first Charles Baker’s B-Side, for itself and for the vineyards of Iaen and Picone. Baker digs about in the Niagara Peninsula’s escarpment dirt for young vine, not ready for prime time riesling fruit. If perchance it seems like cheating on his per se Vinemount Ridge Picone and Ivan bottles so be it but one look at him and he’ll say “Hey, hey, what can I do?” His 2016 B-Side delivers a spray bottle Zeppelin expressing heady aromas, high in the stratosphere and raining down upon the earth. The notes are an all in, breath of classic Baker riesling air, blanketing from up above and with a landscape that reeks of lime and quivers with classic agitation. The fruit is wild and full, the salty grit infiltrating and gripping the bloody omniscience of this package. What is this B-Side and where will it be lead? To the top of the ridge, from earlier harvests, younger fruit and higher yields. Scratch the single vineyard elitism, just listen to the song and raise one up, to getting ‘er done before the conceptual singular side one and side two, Ivan and Picone. The Beatles? Forget it. Led’s flip side to the ‘Immigrant Song’ A is the one. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted November 2017 Charles Baker Winesstratuswines@cbriesling@StratusWinesStratus Vineyards
There is no substitute for seasonal Vinemount Ridge warmth when you are (or even if you’re not) trying to emulate a Mosel like, fleshy Kabinett tension. The Tawse Quarry Road riesling has shown signs of such mimicry in the past but here in 2016 the coincidence is uncanny. Riesling amounts to just 10 per cent of the 2007 planted vineyard, a Fly Road in Lincoln block where chardonnay (planted in 1998) and pinot noir (2007) are queen and king of the hill. But it is riesling that mines for limestone and uses it to distill, filter and enervate the outright fruity purposes of orange zest, lime juice and sweet grapefruit flesh. This ’16 has it all; adipose drupe, salty elements and stasis preserve. It will add some petrol and honey after a few years time and drink well for a few to a bevy more. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted November 2017 tawsewinery@Tawse_Winery@tawsewines
Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted March 2017 malivoireshirazmottiar@MalivoireWine@ShirazMottiar@MalivoireWine
Nadja, like the Bréton novel begins with the question, “Who am I?” A surrealistic trigger is incited by the first taste, with excitement running in many directions but like the book, Nadja’s non-linear structure is grounded in Twenty Mile Bench riesling reality. She is an elite varietal wine in 2016, excitable girl, gregarious, punchy and so bloody juicy. I don’t recall the last Nadja with so much up front zest fervency and writhing aromatic gait, “exploding international, the scenes, the sounds, and famously the feeling that you can’t squeeze ground.” The lime flesh and cordial infusion brings the flavours into a once tropical, twice bitten realm. The vintage delivers the electric version, the new pornographer for the vineyard and the song sung loud swan song for departing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Was it all for swinging you around? Drink 2017-2024. Tasted October 2017 flatrockcellars@Winemakersboots@FlatRockCellars
First Fruit: Field Day Pet Nat, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)
An escarpment Pet-Nat is born, thanks to the healthy and precocious idealism of winemaker Ryan de Witte and his Winona-based host Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines. The name “First Fruit: Field Day” carries three connotations; a reference to De Witte’s first commercial wine, the first crop off this particular block and the fact that it’s a field blend of two grapes. The erudite hat is thrown into the micro-cuvée, sparkling wine ring with interchangeable tracks of arts and science from near-equal parts muscat (60 per cent) and gewürztraminer. The style is pétillant-naturel, or as they say in Italy, Vino Rifermentato In Bottiglia, under crown cap with what Ryan notes “as much of the lees as I could get in.” The tightrope induces a two-fold increase, of reduction and for texture, from the nutrients fed the fermentation. De Witte’s math was sound because the effervescence is strong enough to blow the reduction off after a few seconds in the glass. One point for science. After tasting two samples I can safely say that the yeast deposit can’t be missed but it is those crafty and leaningpostwineconsolidated cells that drive the salvus meets salus machine. This lithe, re-fermented and crackling sparkler is both safe and healthy. You can feel its enzymes usher liquid happiness through your body and it makes you pause, leave the warrior behind and become at one with the experimental fizz. It’s raw and you want it to be so. The aromatic varieties collogue preserved lemon, ginger and aseptic vegetal scents in an almost funk-less Pet-Nat. It’s an impossible one actually, that is until you get a load of that slag at the bottom of the bottle. But the lack of danceable, rhythmic funk may deny you a Cissy Strut so think on it like Foam meets Talking Heads as in minimal, industrial, synth-pop. Or, in sparkling wine terms, one Pet-Nat’s riflessioni naturalische is another one’s clarity. One point for art. The intrigue here sets the bar high and looking ahead, when acidity can further provide boundless rhythm section support we’ll really have something to talk about. Inaugurals are never easy, nor is progress but the sophomore release will most certainly play on repeat. Let’s hope someone finds a category to place it for three-letter approval. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted Twice, February 2017 leaningpostwine@LeaningPostWine@Witte_WineLeaning Post WinesRyan de Witte
Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2015, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)
In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031. Tasted March 2017 cavespringcellarsthevineagency@CaveSpring@TheVine_RobGrohCave Spring CellarsThe Vine – Robert Groh Agency
Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment
When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted July 2017 triuswines@TriusWines@triuswines
Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)
From the 19th Street Vineyard and wow, there is simply no cabernet franc like this cabernet franc. It pops and flies from the glass, in and out of your mouth, playful, buoyant, joyful, unbridled. A silky and spicy ripeness that’s also shed by its tannin, like shavings of a chocolate only a master knows to render, then currants electric and alive. Excels by its chewy mouthfeel and texture and you must ruminate on this cabernet franc. This is the it vintage, with all the enzymes in control, wrapped up in the enigma membrane and this low, classical Beethoven orchestral strings rumble, on a Verona stage, surrounded by the ancient rocks, acoustics perfect. You can get lost in franc like this. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted July 2017 pearlmorissette@PearlMorissettePearl Morissette
Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (639641, $43.95, WineAlign)
Some of the Okanagan Valley’s great chardonnay fruit is found on its eastern shore and makes its way into this Quail’s Gate Reserve. The story and place go back 60 plus years and wait if you can’t nose it in this top North American chardonnay. Forget comparisons, competitions and blind judgements but pull anything you want from Sonoma and watch this raise eyebrows and turn heads. The variegations are numerous and in replay. Richness, bite, energy, spirit and firm conceit. The barrel is everywhere and nowhere. What is a great chardonnay? It’s completely invisible, yet always in sight. It remembers what people hate. It anticipates the consumer’s needs before the needs are needed. A great chardonnay is, above all, discreet to a fault. Such is the Stewart Family Reserve. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted October 2017 quails gatehobbsandcompany@Quails_Gate@AMH_hobbsandcoQuails’ GateHobbs & Co.
Sparkling wine you need to know @lwwines Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut 2013, from the shores of the #minasbasin #annapolisvalley #novascotia
Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)
Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted June 2017 lwwines@lwwinesLightfoot & Wolfville
Blomidon Late Pick Sparkling Chardonnay 2011, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)
The 2011 late-picked chardonnay, the “Hurricane” is a hyperbole of itself. Normally picked in later October, the frost-free weather allowed further time and development. Picked from seaside vineyards just ahead of another hurricane (in a season that included Irene), this is sparkling wine you just have to try. Though lean, taut and as intense as you are likely to taste, the developed character and complexity is visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Three years on the lees brings the texture and fills the gaps, holes and voids created by such a tightly wound cool climate chardonnay. The dry factor is exaggerated in 2011 (a one-off says winemaker Simon Rafuse) but the wine takes full advantage of the Extra-Brut intent. Did it require the anxiety of a recent and an impending cyclone? Can it be duplicated? “That’s the story of the Hurricane.” Visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted March 2017 blomidonestate@BlomidonEstateBlomidon Estate Winery
It seems at first that Poetica 2013 was chosen by winemaker Ann Sperling to be the deferential one. The blend is dominated by 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the highest number ever for the wine. Conversely the cabernet franc component is set to 23 per cent and far less petit verdot (3 per cent) rounds out the blend. That number had been 29 per cent in 2012 because the varietal elegance shown at that time necessitated the relationship. In 2013 it is the cabernet sauvignon that displayed with elegance and an uncanny ability to sow of its own accord and yes, it is an exceptional vintage so look for 2013 to age on a 15 year curve. The Witness Block CS-CF follows suit and the SV-PV is better off for the allocations. Every wine wins as a result. There is this deep-impressed sous-terre tang in here, a wisdom certainly, and when it is released later in the year the heads will turn. Poetica is often but here not overly tannic, but it is endowed with bones, spine and structure. The flavours, spice and magnetism give cause to salivate. Only Ann Sperling makes Niagara reds like this, wines that can develop such architecture without an excess of tannin, astringency and chalky chocolate from over-wrought wood exchange. Poetica 2013 will drink well young and comfortably into the end of the next decade. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted January 2017 southbrookvineyardsthelivingvine@TheLivingVine@SouthbrookWine@SouthbrookWineThe Living Vine inc.
A finer man, winemaker and host you will not find. Thank you @normanhardie @keeponshucking @clarsenault @cuveeletittia @Mknow21 @mclauriault and all.
Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)
As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted twice, June and July 2017 normanhardiewinery@normhardieNorman Hardie
Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $80.00, WineAlign)
Èquinoxe is announced without equivocation as the Bricco of B.C. syrah and an absolutely lovely Bench expression from winemaker Severine Pinte. What came from these three-quarters Osoyoos Lake District and one-quarter Black Sage vineyards in 2013 was floral and peppery, with a fineness that belies a dessert climate but in 2014, well this is something more and other. You just have to think about texture here and a quality of acidity that is peerless in B.C. syrah. So juicy, beautifully tannic and rendered with culture and class. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted October 2017 levieuxpin@LeVieuxPinLe Vieux Pin Winery
My eyes do not deceive me. It’s Decant @StratusWines #cabernetfranc bottled with lees #vqa #niagaraonthelake #karimrashid
Stratus Cabernet Franc “Decant” 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $95.00, WineAlign)
“A designer’s hands are tied. They are only as good as their opportunities.” The words of the brilliant bottle designer Karim Rashid fully apply to the mirrored universe in which winemaker J-L Groux works, here with a deferential and ulterior cabernet franc, bottled with its lees. When I first tasted it in February (in advance of this auspicious release), its unfiltered state spoke of a hyperbole of perfume, marked by exoticism. The aromatics gave far east five-spice, star anise, cardamom, miso and incense, all natural by-products of its purposed ferment. More grain spoke out but also a roundness of tannin and a smoothness both coating and comforting. There was chocolate accentuated by the treatment, with thanks to those lees left in the bottle. The chopped up and constructed bottle catches the lees while the volume flows out and the function out of form mimics the thought of lees delivering structure and yet they are invisible, caught in a hidden net or nook, out of sight, out of mind. But it’s not about pouring. It’s about the hand, or the slight thereof. Then there is the copycat idealism of strata in the vineyard, of geology transferred to the bottle and kept there, like a ship perfectly preserved inside. This cabernet franc will age better, as is the plan, with thanks to the lees that you’ll never have to deal with. There were 110 cases made. Drink 2019-2029. Tasted twice, February and May 2017 stratuswines@StratusWinesStratus Vineyards
Supper at Benjamin Bridge
Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $119.50, WineAlign)
Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024. Tasted July 2017 benjaminbridgecaveman__joneswinesofn@Benjamin_Bridge@benjaminbridgevineyards@WinesofNS@benjaminbridgevineyards@winesofns
As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.
Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2013, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (Agent, $31.00, WineAlign)
From a place with a mere 18 registered wineries and only five produce more than 50,000 bottles on any commercial scale. Most of the fruit is bought by the cooperative and many vines were ripped out in favour of cash crop plums and peaches. There are only 400 hectares under vine. Along comes Apostolos Thymiopoulos with his 2003 oenology degree and family xinomavro vines aged seven to 15 years on red granite slopes and only heavy soils in the valley below. His farming is organic and biodynamic with plans to be the first to achieve the Demeter certification. All his wines are estate except for the production of Xinomavro for Marks and Spencer – from 40 growers he has convinced to farm organically. The estate vineyards are located in two villages, Trilofos and Fytia. The blend of the two is Yn Kai Oupavós. The Earth and Sky separates itself, does relay new and “other” layers than the young vines. Whereas from quick stainless and painless you would say “who needs oxygen when you have young vines,” you now wish for a slow, micro-oxegynated development. The natural fermentation comes across to express xinomavro in its most natural way, in its natural habitat. Like looking a grape in the eye and it talks directly to you, revealing itself in ways that only it can, in this bottle. Still the tannins take over after a few minutes and convey a sense of future-documented purpose. Spent 18 months in 90 per cent French and 10 per cent Austrian barrels, 20 per cent new every year, used until the 5th fill. These are fully ripe tannins but from 30 days maceration they are elongated, stretched and oh so cherry chewy. In 2014 it was a difficult vintage so there will be a “declassified” generic Naoussa but in 2015 they will again produce single-vineyard wines. The crystal ball also shows some concrete eggs and large foudres. Apostolos has only just begun his long vinous journey into the heart of Naoussa. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted October 2015 @thymiopoulosvin@VictoryWine@NaoussaWine@DrinkGreekWine
The Young Vines is an orange to the Earth and Sky’s apple, of a change of fruit and a pace that is hot off the press. Yet it is not without some ancient wisdom. In some new world sites vines up to 15 years of age would be considered old growth adults. In a Greek vineyard like that of a Naoussan like Thymiopoulos, they are babies of the sun. The Xinomavro here is fresh, momentarily acts strikingly brazen, bracing and ultimately, blatantly beatific. With a glass of the young vines in hand to it I say, “it’s not the pale moon that excites me, that thrills and delights me. Oh no, it’s just the nearness of you.” Like Norah Jones in a glass, sultry, contemporary, lightly smoky, of a jazz aesthetic and a pop sensibility. And wild berries. So fresh, so good. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted May 2015
Exceptional-Outstanding-Excellent Langton’s Class. VI @Wine_Australia @VinConservatory #AussieWine
Twenty-four days ago, on February 1st, 2015 I attended the Langton’s Classification VI at the Vintage Conservatory in Toronto. For those of you who are new to Australian rules wine classifications, Langton’s is the continent’s premier wine auction house and the LC is their prestigious list of iconic wines classified as excellent, outstanding and exceptional.
The criteria of determination are based on demand of attraction and a ten-year realized price index. The class is commonly referred to as the ‘hour role’ for Aussie wine. The intimate Toronto seminar was moderated by Mark Davidson, one of the hardest working Australian wine advocates on the planet. Winemaker Sue Hodder of Wynns Coonawarra Wine Estate sat in. That same week David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and I filmed a segment with Sue at Barque Smokehouse in Toronto over a glass of her Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. You can watch that segment here.
Sue Hodder’s Black Label Cabernet was the outlier in the Langton’s line-up but only in price. Few varietal examples worldwide can match it for quality, authenticity and age-ability. The wine sat in as understudy (again, only in price) for the absent Coldstream Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2012.
The seminar offered a welcoming respite from my monthly treadle of reviewing. The Langton’s wines collectively commit to the idea that wine is a blueprint with entrepreneurial elements, an elixir akin to the maker’s inventive secret machines. It is always refreshing to taste wines that are not exaggerated or sentimental. These Aussies are representative of all this and more.
Such a gathering of Australian wine delivers the preponderance of form, with the incantatory capacity of narrative to bring truth to light and fulness out of pleasure. Here are twelve wines to drive that point.
Such a showing of 12 from Langton’s does @Wine_Australia proud. Formidable, exemplary #AussieWine #vintagewineconservatory
Pewsey Vale The Contours Old Vine Riesling 2012, Eden Valley, South Australia, Australia (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)
From vines originally planted in 1847, here is Riesling worthy of the longest run on sentence. Riesling of conventional wisdom from a cold, windy, chilly place, pricked with holes, atomized infiltrations, queued with basic intent, wise, driven, young, gaseous, of concentrated rage, bone dry and no, it does not feign sweetness, even if the texture makes nefarious attempts at confusing the palate. A decade on this will blow your mind, if you let it. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February 2016 @PewseyVale@bwwines
McWilliams Mount Pleasant Lovedale Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (Agent, $59.00, WineAlign)
From vines originally planted in 1946 by Morris O’Shea on sandy grey loam. I tasted this five months ago and just this short interval in bottle has propagated a textural leesy funk exhibiting like ebullient streaks in the steely, cool disposition and out of the combing citrus. In effect this eight and half year old ripper has just recently acquired more flesh to rock up with its ever adding layers of pierce. The jam remains in check so the citrus flows with the lees lingering in bottle. Textbook is the operative word under the broiler. The challenge has begun to relent and still, weary, uninformed buyers and collectors are not buying in. They do not know what they are missing. So demonstrative, so inescapably Hunter Valley Sémillon. Drink 2017-2032. Tasted February 2016 @McWilliamsWines@MtPleasantWines@gallocareers
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, Western Australia (Agent, $99.95, WineAlign)
Young is the operative understatement, whilst toast and butter in peak pomade are equally opposed yet lifted by the blossoms of white flowers. What erudite reduction brings and how it stops time. The best barrel selections from powerful Block 20 fruit cause the commotion in a zero shame Chardonnay, philosophically captured though perhaps one step back from unabashed. Ripeness was clearly not an issue. Freshness balances all else. At present the youth is seemingly everlasting. The effects of a moderate climate and corresponding alcohol, in at 13.5 per cent, are edifying to the western tongue. The length is exceptional. In this opinion, classification easily and unquestionably upheld. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted February 2016 @Leeuwin_Estate@TFBrands
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra, South Australia (84996, $27.95, WineAlign)
Wynns holdings of more than 10 per cent of all Cabernet Sauvignon planted in Coonawarra is expressly manifested in the Black Label bottling. It is the spokesperson for the Terra Rossa soil and the cool climate style. The natural freedom and cure is special in this vintage, initially notified by a ferric repute which is neither heavy nor laden. The 2013 is a Cabernet seemingly fast forwarded to what it will become, already there in the now, yet not advanced or evolved in any way. Black cherry sure but also a savoury beat from continental climate trees, their fruit and the dry wind that blows through. The age ability is undeniable. Twelve plus years will change next to nothing, visual, audible, olfactory or gustatory. It already has wise character. There aren’t many places in the world for your mind to travel and find such ethereal Cabernet. Coonawarra is definitely near the top of the list. Drink 2016-2028. Tasted February 2016 @sueatwynns
Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier 2013, Canberra District, New South Wales, Australia (Agent, $106.95, WineAlign)
From the Canberra District in New South Wales, this Shiraz exemplifies a good Shiraz soldier’s illustration of progression d’effet. Every note carries the wine forward and it holds the taster’s interest. Simultaneously meaty and floral, the “meadow of the church” is a restrained, co-fermented blissful drop. Granite grips, loam expands and brittle clay deepens the expression. Saline, savoury, salivating Shiraz. Whole bunch balm and Viognier spur. There is youth, rebellion, revolution and caution thrown to the wind. Nothing old school in here really. This is the future. Don’t imagine this to go into a deep distance but will show with remarkable conceptualization for a minimum four to seven years. Drink 2016-2023. Tasted February 2016 @Clonakilla@Alto_Vino
Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz 2013, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (Agent, $169.95, WineAlign)
Somehow you just get the feeling the Graveyard Vineyard compresses and elucidates vast amounts of soil information into this formidable account of Shiraz. It does not get much dustier or arid in lovingly excoriated varietal Australia. The inflammation is followed up by a ferric punch. This may very well be the new bent and intent in New South Wales from the depths of iron soil Syrah. The profile freewheels with a punchy aesthetic and a fervent behavioural nature. Very plum pudding and mince meat pie. The soil in here is pushy, weighted, distilled, wreaking textural havoc. Enough fruit will wait out the mineral though the latter will always be the defining signature. A highly demanding drop in need of two years (at the very least) to open the cemetery gates. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted February 2016 @Brokenwood@LiffordON
Perfectly multiloquent masterclass by @VintageMD for Langton’s @Wine_Australia #AussieWine
Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2008, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $110.00, WineAlign)
A whole other animal ingratiates itself amongst a field of diverse Australian red wine champions and even with seven years age is still so very primary. Smoked meat sweats while the sentiment is challenging and if it were ever overripe it was simply not. There is almost no sweetness or confiture, though there is plenty of red citrus and essential flower oil perfume. This is exceptional Barossa Shiraz, old school and pertinent. A wine remembered by its own, singular accord and one that is refreshing to taste because it is not puerile or straining to be noticed. Drink 2016-2023. Tasted February 2016 @bwwines
Torbreck Runrig Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $220.00, WineAlign)
It’s hard to be sure which came first, the drawn Northern Rhône comparisons or the self-proclaimed Côte Rôtie look in the mirror but regardless, the reflection is there. This is consistently flirtatious, sultry Shiraz, warm and full of fruit jacked upon its own fruit. Do not dismiss the intent. With tongue lashing, high alcohol and mind-numbing anaesthesia cooperated in support by a tag-team workout of acidity and tannin you might think this is just a massive wine that can only be considered today. No such basic cop out luck. The amount of fruit will carry this through a decade and a half of virtually unchanged animation. Spend big and wait. That has to be the plan with the Run Rig. Drink 2020-2030. Tasted February 2016 @TorbreckBarossa@Noble_Estates
Majella The Malleea Cabernet Shiraz 2010, Coonawarra, South Australia (Agent, $70.00, WineAlign)
The flagship red from winemaker Bruce Gregory makes use of the ripest parcels from the estate’s oldest vines. The significance for cool-climate Coonawarra lies in that phenolically-realized fruit. When you taste this amongst a class of varietal wines, such a procreated Australian blend can’t help but seem to play the part of outlier. A very pretty all in red, The Malleea (green paddock) is full of same hued fruit, plenty of florality and copious spice cutting a course across the coarse palate. Texture is less a drift than a tattoo. Raging acidity elevates the tones. This shines with the most volatility on the table but without shame, nor does it dishonour the righteous, ripping fruit. Cooler stables means more currants and savour. It comes with the territory. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted February 2016 @HalpernWine@CoonawarraWine
Moss Wood Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Margaret River, Western Australia (Agent, $120.00, WineAlign)
The coastal Wilyabrup Cabernet Sauvignon with support from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot is a minced savoury, mulberry dusty and naturally mined fossil fuel kind of red, with less up front fruit and more deep cure. Aroma to texture imagines purple flowers floating in a slick of oil. In this wine we can forgive alot of stasis because the textural rewards are so very high. Quite a load of dark cherry, red citrus and black olive on the middle palate. Very tannic. Their is some disproportion though five plus years will bring the pole into the middle. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted February 2016 @Moss_Wood@TFBrands
Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2010, Coonawarra, South Australia (466748, $99.95, WineAlign)
A flagship wine from a simple plan and a beautiful mind. Only the best fruit from across the Coonawarra and made only in vintages of quality and esteem. The John Riddoch is like an exaggeration of the Black label, of attributes all repeated but concentrated, layered and natural to supplementary, afterburner degrees. Terra Rossa to the tenth, tannins multiplied, fruit in reduction and excavations carving down to the oft envisaged ancient coastline. A deeper, increased blending result, of variegation from soil and integration of pickings. Those tannins are so established and in control. Sue Hodder’s John Riddoch 2010 carries meaning dispersed parthegonetically throughout the wine. If the idea is to imagine the Riddoch as a pasturalist and a parliamentarian then both homage and altruism are attained. The temperament and ambassadorship fit the bill so yes, honour is upheld. Fifteen years before much change (in my opinion) lay ahead. Drink 2018-2034. Tasted February 2016 @sueatwynns
Henschke Cyril Henschke 2010, Eden Valley, South Australia (Agent, $188.00, WineAlign)
Completely different here. Intensity not exhibited by others in the Langton’s Classification or perhaps even immediately capable of. Gives more for more right upfront. Candied flowers, sour savour, some soil funk. An example of Eden Valley warmth and purposed direction. A Cabernet Sauvignon zealot, member of the brigade, willing to act on rich, ripe fruit and go the pleasure fight distance. This strikes me as an example of South Australian Cabernet that would not show best in its first five years post vintage but will steal spotlights everywhere for the next five. Its type of mid-grain, poa Bermuda-like tannins have softened and won’t hold up for decades. This is a beautiful wine for the rest of these teens but in my opinion not necessarily to be carried and kept into the 20’s. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted February 2016 @henschkewine@bwwines
Anagogic #pec morning begins here #carryingplace #princedwardcounty
The mission is to gain a yet ascertained understanding. The intendments of geology and geography in Prince Edward County are already laid clear and discussed globally, at least by the wine interested, but what of a deeper, more detailed look? What about the moraines? What I really need to know is how a scant fraction of producers are able to produce so much promise? It must be the ridges.
On the Niagara Peninsula The Vinemount Ridge lies just above and south of the brow of the Niagara Escarpment. Its unique aspects play a vital role in determining some of the most complex Riesling and Cabernet Franc in the world. While not visually as dramatic in PEC, the ridges are no less important to viticulture. Driving the corrugations of Prince Edward County, along the Greer, Danforth, Closson and Lighthall roads, I follow the sight lines. With subtle aspects emanating from the northwest or northeast, the ridges along these roads angle east and west, each with their own gentle but effective slope falling ever so gracefully down to Lake Ontario. The significance is not lost on my mission.
Glenn Symons of Lighthall Vineyards tells me that certain parts of his vineyards can reach temperatures that are eight degrees higher than others. The shallow soils are a result of the stratified ice-contact deposits of sand and gravel that occur in this, one of three Prince Edward County esker ridges, trending northeast to southwest in the Cherry Valley area. Battista Calvieri of Hubbs Creek Vineyard notes that his (Lindsay formation from the middle Ordovician period) Danforth Ridge property provides 20 of 40 plantable acres ideally suited to Burgundian grape varieties. Plant at high density and the ridge takes care of the rest. At the Old Third, Bruno Francois walks me through his Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc vineyards on the Closson Road. Here the ridge falls more dramatically down towards a forest below.
The quaternary geology of the County accounts for glacial, till, glaciofluvial, glaciolacustrine and eolian deposits. The soils are “composed mainly of fine-to medium-crystalline limestone with shaly partings and sublithographic to finely crystalline no dular and shaly limestone. These bedrock formations are the main topographic control, being at, or very near (within 1 m), the surface throughout most of the map-area.” It all adds up to minerality in the wines and nowhere does the geology matter more than on the ridges.
To habituate a time and be privy to the transformation of a people and a place into something special is a rare form of curious, mysterious and spiritual entertainment. How neat it truly is to be witness to a generation awash in tempo collective, in watershed historical. There are many reasons why folks are making the move to Prince Edward County, why grapes are being cultivated, nurtured and paid conspicuous attention. The rise of the County is happening.
My friends and neighbours John and Amy moved out five years ago. They left the big smoke behind, settled in a beautiful house with acreage to die for on the water. They walk and they breath. Long ago an old Montreal family friend opened one of the first wineries in the County. Thanks to David Lawrason I was able to taste through some old vintages of Long Dog last summer. What a peek back to better understand today. A long time friend of my wife recently moved out and opened a restaurant in Bloomfield. Kin Cafe makes a terrific sandwich. Two more friends have put their house up for sale in Toronto and are heading to the County. Is there room?
A #wellington Saturday night @DrakeDevinn quickie #drakedevonshireinn #pec
The answer is yes. Drive in from points north, from Brighton and down the Loyalist Parkway or from Belleville down Highway 62 and the wide open space will hypnotize you. Suddenly you find yourself in Hillier, Wellington, Bloomfield, or Milford. Then, moments later, once again farmland and the gaping sprawl of agrarian living. Truth be told, elevated levels of civilization, hipster happenings, fine gastronomy and modish behaviour have infiltrated the County. That said, the real story is in the ground.
Artists discovered PEC long ago. Ontario’s most thriving community dots the towns, barns and houses on the hills all over the County. Winemakers have followed. A Burgundian climate and geology were the original draw, and still are. The winter of 2015 and a devastating May frost conspire to be the kill of many hopes, but all is not lost and to persevere is to believe in the dream. Climate change and an undiscovered global truth about the County’s greatness are not just stuffing in a piped future. Bests are happening now. Great men and women are putting passion and acumen to work. Prince Edward County’s time is upon us.
Can it be such a coincidence why visiting foreign journalists of humanistic luminosity and their hyperboles of rumination have anointed Prince Edward County with what are effectively statements and essays of religious zeal? No, it is not. The soil, ridges, choice of plantings, winemaking and finally, the 21st century climate are the storm towards which perfection is aimed and eventually heading.
Comity in the County is no joke. A harmonious thread weaves through and ties an inherent commonality together. Stylistically diverse yet magically aligned, up on the slopes of ridges or down in the valleys. This is how I would describe the wines of Prince Edward County. Walk along the Closson, Greer and Danforth roads or down in the Cherry Valley and see what the fuss is about. On an early October weekend I visited eight properties and while that was certainly 10 less than what I would have liked, the cross-section provided ample understanding, plenty of fodder and more than a tease for the next visit.
It’s decorative gourd season mother… #cherryvalley #pec #clinician
This first part report on the County focuses on six properties. Part two will cover the wines of The Old Third tasted with winemaker Bruno Francois at the Cool Climate Chardonnay conference in July and at the winery on this trip. I will also offer notes on the various older vintages I tasted back in June.
With fruit culled from Bench lands on the Niagara Peninsula, the Lacey take on Twenty Mile Bench Riesling is on the light, piercing and linear track of typical. Like a younger, more naive and slightly jittery version of Flat Rock’s Estate take, this is a very tightly wound white, citrus-shaken from head to toe and full-on arid. As direct an example of pick, transport, crush and let sleeping dogs lie as is ever witnessed. A mess of butter chicken would help batten down its hatches. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted October 2015
Lacey Estates Gewürztraminer 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)
Lacey has prepared a dry Gewürztraminer with classic varietal tendencies, from rose to lychee by way of nuts and bitter pith. The sapidity is derived from the Closson Road Hillier clay-loam, blanketing the texture and the aromatics with a fuzz, like tiny hairs on a peach. Though still languishing in a proleptic state, the length on this wine indicates a good five years of pleasure ahead. Drink 20160-2020. Tasted October 2015
One more prime #pec Pinot site. Lithe @LaceyEstates804 ’11 with the seven-year itch. ’13 from barrel progessing and professing further #PECwine #clossonridge
Lacey Estates Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)
From a County Pinot Noir block on a plateau of the ridge set aloft the Closson Road, Kimball Lacey’s fruit is a prized commodity, albeit still very young. This vintage is not a weight-bearing one but it offers incite and prognostication. A lovely litheness is embattled by a talkative bitterness and a spectrum of red fruit whorls in circumfuse; cranberry, raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate. All are dispersed and interspersed by citrus. A primary Pinot Noir, with silken dreams and a softening when it may come together. Two to three years should bequeath good behaviour on the 1200 some odd bottles. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted October 2015
Lacey Estates Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)
It may strike as a derivative Greer-Closson County Chardonnay with Closson Chase and Norman Hardie as precursors but if Lacey’s 2013 is Fairport Convention to Chuck Berry, The Beatles and Bob Dylan, so be it. Older (4th, French) seasoned barrels bring pique, texture and balance. This is Chardonnay of spine and a touch of limestone funk. Very much a wine positioned on the stony tang of Prince Edward County and possessive of solid, three minute pop-song length. Kimball Lacey is on to something and the ’13 vintage coupled with the Closson Ridge is the right studio to make his music. Before too long the cries will say “why Mr Lacey, why d’you do the things you do? It’s true no one here understands now, but maybe someday they’ll catch up with you.” Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015
Grange Pinot Gris Select 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)
Where there’s smoke there’s hue and with impart by 15 hours skin contact prior to pressing, that colour and those aromatics are the result. Four weeks on the lees followed by four months in neutral oak bring distinct Caroline Granger character, in Pinot Gris unction and a mineral mile. Also on the naturally oxidative side of the Closson Road and Hillier clay-loam. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted at Agrarian Restaurant, October 2015
Grange Of Prince Edward Lot 3 Traditional Method Brut, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)
The Lot 2 Traditional Method Brut was aged 18 months sur lie and here in the third trimester the complexities are taken months further, to a moment in largely uncharted Prince Edward County territory. This tempo-lapse methodology is highly intriguing, especially in consideration of the occurring happenstance breach of the autolytic-oxidative continuum. In three there is liquorice and scraped orange skin breaths inhaling and exhaling through sensations of tart and in tin. The yet young oxygenation seems to disregard the yeast at this stage, leaving behind a vapour trail of Closson exhaust. It’s both exhilarating and wearying. Absorbed to say the least, still, “I’m wonderin’, I’m wonderin’,” where this will go. Were it a blush Brut it would surely be a shocking pink. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015
Grange Of Prince Edward Sparkling Riesling 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)
The reasons for re-tasting wines are multi-fold but none are more important than learning what you did not know. The batch may be different and any additional lees-affected time would certainly bring about a new wave of complexity. Though assiduously more Riesling than Sparkling, the age has amplified the Mosel temper and yet as bubbles it seems so very primary, with terpene and flint in mid-strike fashion. Stones, stone fruit, lemon pith and peach subdue the sugar and the commonality with the Lot 3 Brut narrates a house style story. “Like leaves, when autumn falls, turn gold, then they hit the ground.” The thrill of it all, in the county, of country life. Sparkling Riesling playing roxy music. Just a bit more balance to the bitters would eventuate bucolic living. Drink 2015-2020.
From my earlier note of December 2012:
Seems more late harvest, Spätlese over Sparkling. Nectarous juice with a squeeze of suspended honey and a light citrus spritz. Waited for the sear but it didn’t arrive. Good Riesling though.
Last tasted October 2015
Grange Of Prince Edward Pinot Noir Diana Block, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)
Ripe and bright to a major degree with tannin at the controls. Still in two meanings, unmoving and perpetual. Acidity circulates, percolates, invigorates. Pinot Noir with a slight fever and an even bigger temper, stuck in primary, yet ready to relent. Remarkable and confidently not yet entered stage two of life but the silky texture is caressing and the forbidden fruit is ripe for the picking. So close to approachability, with just the liquorice and the volatility needing to step aside. The methodology of a 28-day primary fermentation, followed by 30 months in neutral French oak is the culprit. Structure can be a bitch. Diana will be worth the wait. Few Ontario Pinot Noir have ever shown such rural planning, architecture and potential. Count them on two hands. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted October 2015
My kingdom for her majestic lees @grangewinery #carolinegranger #pecwine
Grange Of Prince Edward Cabernet Franc Northfield, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)
Caroline Granger’s approach to Cabernet Franc is a natural ferment, earthy cure, holistically organic and eco-rich consanguinity. No other varietal hook-up happens like it does with the expatriate Loire currant clipper. Granger’s affinity with the grape is on intensate display with Northfield, especially in the cured, soil funky heat of 2010. Like the Diana Pinot Noir, primary fermentation occurred in stainless steel for 28-days and it was then aged 24 (as opposed to 30) months in neutral French barriques. The extreme unction, steroidal liquorice and streaky garrigue talk about the past and open up windows to the future of this wine. They are one in the same, spoken on behalf of longevity. This is essential for great Cabernet Franc, even in the midst of hyper tones and acquired tastes. Well done. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015
Leave the @lighthallvyard on for 2014’s Chard & Pinot. Rooms of their own #vintageofthedecade #aheadbyacentury
Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)
Progression is 100 per cent Sparkling Vidal by Glenn Symons, a.k.a. “Ward 5 Brut.” It brings stonk and soul together. Re-fermented in April and tasted in October, Progression marches forward and retreats, in re-emerging aromatics and of a deconstructed narrative. Singular in its fretting, of nervous energy and in keys altered by capo restrictions, Vidal has never played a tune like this before. Better growing periods and PEC areas are the sheet music, wi nemaking with atmosphere the arrangement. Progression is progressive, it celebrates musicality and it sells records. It also sells out, literally, not figuratively. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015
This is Glen Symon’s first Sparkling Rosé, a 100 per cent Pinot Noir from estate vineyards, refermented using the Charmat method. Intensely fizzy, in toto fruity and actually gives off a Pinot Noir vibe. Something racy, spicy and wild runs rampant, rendering this blush bubble in an Ontario class of its own. It’s like 1980’s alt-dance fizz, with a New Order or B-52 thing going on. It just seems to do the “she-ga-loo, shy tuna, camel walk, hip-o-crit, coo-ca-choo, aqua velva, dirty dog and escalator.” Has the direct beat, retro and futuristic at the same time. Dance this mess around, in sweet and savoury tones, warm, day-glo, slow and gyrating. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted April and October 2015
Lighthall Chardonnay 2014 (tank sample)
The child of a fortuitous vintage and magical ferment. The wine hit 25 degrees and finished malolactic fermentation in two weeks. One third barrel, one third tank and one third a combination thereof. A perfect trilogy, same limestone pierce as always but with a new order texture and aromatics filling the room. Like 1987, of substance, in transitions, from ceremony to everything gone green. A storm of amalgamation. Really a new benchmark for Glenn, Lighthall, Cherry Valley and Prince Edward County. Tasted October 2015
Lighthall Pinot Noir 2014 (barrel sample)
Best fruit ever. Malo done, only one year in (20 per cent new) oak and yet to feel the preservation effect of sulphur. Living a rich aromatic lifestyle with pollen in the air. Has the tannin to support its excesses (it spent one week plus three on the skins). Should lead to 400 cases and should retail for $35, though Glenn will probably charge $30.
Lighthall Pinot Gris South Bay 2014 (tank sample)
From Huff vineyard fruit, a rich, unguent emanation that shows slightly oxidative (pre-sulphuring). Has a chèvre-Chenin Blanc attitude that will turn to mellifluous honey with time.
Lighthall Muté 2011
Lighthall Muté 2014 (tank sample)
Here is unfermented Vidal, a vin liquoreux that wants to draw comparisons to sherry, straw wine, Rancio, Vin de Paille, you name it but with apologies back and forth, this is in a league of its own. A fortified wine with a distillate added to bring it up to 17-18 per cent alcohol. Distinctly orange in flavour, oxidative and yet religiously addicted to site. There will be 100 cases produced at $30 for a 500 mL bottle.
A library browse with Battista @HubbsCreek #sevenyears #PECwine
Hubbs Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)
This is Battista Calvieri’s first County Chardonnay from his estate’s seven year-old vines. A minor barrel ferment (15-20 per cent) in French oak and the remainder in stainless steel seeks and finds Chablis. The wood needs two more years to dissipate, find inner-vision and expand in the mouth. The length is already outstanding, before which burst forth exploding pockets of spiced, warm drawn butter with nary an oleaginous feel. The HCV inaugural release is emulsified Chardonnay of silken protein, with pretty drops of vanilla and purity out of a Danforth Ridge vineyard ear-marked for quality varietal pleasure. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted October 2015
Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)
Now in bottle four years, this sophmore Pinot Noir shines bright as the day it first passed into glass. From fruit really carefully nurtured off nine to ten year old vines, there is no sign of oxidation or advancing maturity. That is nothing short of incredible. Goes from fresh strength to strength in and by tannin. There is great spice (white pepper and dried red peppercorn) and two additional years should bring this to fruition. A minor note of late fall boletus mushroom talks up Burgundy. The HCV Danforth Ridge is clearly a top Pinot site in the County (along with slopes on the Greer and Closson roads). Planted to high density the results are proven in wines like this 2010. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015
Quick crush of Le Clos ’13 @ClossonChase Purple barn but Pinot all gone #chardonnay #pinotnoir #ccv #clossonchasewinery #clossonchasevineyard
Though I did not taste this in the County, I have been pouring it at Barque Smokehouse since early summer. I am including my March review of the CCV Chardonnay 2103 for perspective.
Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (148866, $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
Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)
The South Clos is a richer wine in so many ways, detains the barrel with utmost retention and exaggerates the notion of peaches and their stones. Fully opulent, fleshy to the nth degree and marked by a peppy, peppery bite. This flagshig Chardonnay in the CCV stratum should, by all accounts be the unparalleled success story from the 2013 vintage. The specific southern most portion of the vineyard and barrel select accumulation provide it with the tools and the ammunition. So, as good a Chardonnay as it is, why does it recoil from a winemaker’s legacy defining moment? It is because a final act succeeds as the sum of great parts. The CCV Chardonnay is that summation. Le Clos, without team support, howls alone. If the expertly reasoned and balanced CCV was the last great work of Deborah Paskus, the South Clos is her last stand. It is loaded with and weighted down by excess, in orchard fruit, by blanched nuts and in kernel skin. It is very much a Chardonnay of heavy contact. It is a night scene filmed in daylight, a clichéd melodrama, day for night. It should best be enjoyed while the sun still shines. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted October 2015
Hinterland Les Etoiles 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)
An axial split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balances this traditional method Sparkling wine, specific to and what can only, obviously be from Prince Edward County. Acidity defines its existence in every facet of its being. A rich star to be sure, from a warm vintage, free from frost and more importantly, immune to mould. Jonas Newman talks of the methodology, in growing low to the ground. As the sun goes down, the canopy shades the fruit, slowing down the ripening, extending the season, developing the sugars, the complexities and preserving the acidity. At 6 g/L RS, with limestone communication and that sassy acidity, Les Etoiles in ’12 is pure County Sparkling. It exudes untamed apple and unnamed acidity. The Hinterland acidity. It strikes early and often. Just add warmth, stir and voila. Terrific year. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted October 2015
Hinterland Les Etoiles 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)
The effect of three additional years on the lees (this bottle was disgorged on July 7, 2015) can’t be overestimated. In fact, tasting this ’09 Etoiles is like coming upon a new wine altogether. Its assessment is approached with only a present state in mind. The level of fine accumulation after (five years) is like stumbling upon a most convenient truth. Aromatic intricacy is the product of settling ramification. Think baking biscuits, early morning roses, cake yeast, oxidative orchard fruit skins, anise Taralli, ginger and preserved lemon. The ’09 remains opulent and yet nothing means nothing without first knowing that acidity persists as everything. This is Sparkling with an expansive mouthfeel and a burst of helium. Though in the autumn of its life it falls under the category of wow. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015
Hinterland Blanc de Blancs 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)
If Les Etoiles is Hinterland’s Message in a Bottle and the easy drinking, baby maker Ancestral is alright for you, then the Blanc de Blancs could rightfully be the band’s instrumental Reggatta de Blanc. As a Sparkling antithesis to Les Etoiles it exudes much more limestone, in its lactic bleed, its piercing ooze and through the outright white lightning strike that pops in the mouth. Take away the Pinot Noir and a certain level of earthy tension seems to disappear, replaced by a different set of nervy parameters that County Chardonnay protracts in Sparkling wine. Picked on September 18th and 19th, i.e., a normal year, the B de B helps to transition the epistle spoken by the star towards the accessibility of the softer ballads and hits. It’s a bit of a middle child bottle of bubbles and though it sings without words, its meaning is clearly heard. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted October 2015
Notes on #Gamay in shape like Will, shaped by Jonas @northshoreproj #sandstonevineyard #wilms
Jonas Newman is crafting wines for Hockley Valley’s Mario Adamo under the Adamo Estates Winery label. The first releases are borne of fruit out of some of Niagara’s great vineyards; Wismer-Foxcroft, Château des Charmes-St. David’s Bench and 13th Street-Sandstone.
Part of the Adamo Grower’s Series wines, of big, juicy fruit and deliberately sweet at 27 g/L RS. A Kabinett Mosel styled Riesling not just for show but because “this is where the ferment wanted to stop,” says Newman. Fruit is culled from the part of the vineyard that determines such a style and direction. This is classic Twenty Mile Bench Riesling (one step removed from the W-F made by Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post) that acts neither dry nor sweet but rather feigns aridity in toothsome clothing. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015
Jonas Newman’s first kick at the St. David’s Bench Gamay gutbucket is just that, raw and spirited in style. The clay and inherent ferric, metal sear resonates from the Château des Charmes vineyard. Considering CdC’s Gamay is as good as it gets for the money and from such farming in Ontario, what a fortuitous and gracious place to start for the Adamo family. Early energy, funky fruit and punchy acidity trill up the amplification. This is punch drunk fun Gamay, very Cru is style and pump per up in volume. It’s no Gamay Muzak, “pump it up, until you can feel it.” Gotta believe Elvis would have liked this Gamay. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted October 2015
Jonas Newman walks out onto hallowed Ontario Pinot Noir ground and offers his two Lowrey Vineyard cents. From the Grand Cru site where Thomas Bachelder, Ilya Senchuk and Wes Lowrey make three of the province’s most important Pinot Noirs, a fourth camarade has entered as the new kid on the block. This is no ordinary plot and the direction of the rows, the angle of the slopes and the venn diagram of overlapping St. David’s Bench and Niagara Peninsula appellative lines may be blurred. Make no mistake. Lowrey fruit is Lowrey fruit and in the hands of a winemaker like Newman, expect more excellence. The fruit is very young in here (three years in this 2013) so the level of inherent virtue is tempered as if by grains of salt. Jonas made this in a “deliberately big, unctuous style,” barrel aged for 10 months in 50 per cent new French Oak, “not built to last.” Big it is and yet pretty, with heaps of Bing cherry equally opposed by till, gravel and heavy clay. A two to three year structure is appropriate considering the age of the fruit. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015
This is Will Predhomme’s extended foray into crafting cool climate Ontario wines with Jonas Newman, a project that began with Syrah and Rosé from Lake Erie North Shore vineyards. The fruit for this Gamay is sourced from the Sandstone Vineyard in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Planted in 1983, it is owned and farmed by friends of 13th Street winery, Erv, Esther and Eric Willms. This Gamay is so Will, bright, energetic, positive, right there with you, all the way. Jonas gave it a bit of debunging for a hint of oxidation, a good move on his part to counteract the high level of excitement and anxiety it currently displays. Should be released in time for Christmas. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015 @northshoreproj@WillPredhomme
Slightly Barque dry-rubbed roast chicken, scored butternut squash with butter, agave and backyard coriander seed and penne with grape tomato, bocconcini, padano and scallion
Spring has finally sprung. The air and the psyche have found collective exosmosis, leaving the colder, thicker air of winter behind, to begin passage through the membrane into lower pressure. With the exhale and lighter sense of being comes the same in wine. We egress to ferments of lower concentration. In reds we will welcome Gamay, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Franc.
White wine has more potential in legerity and litheness of being. While Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are most certainly apropos choices for spring, there are others, variations on the theme, not technically “white” per se, but fitting the bill nonetheless. Like Sparkling wine, and Sake.
Tastings of late have focused on the white stuff and there are many that have already left an indelible mark during this period of emergence, this recent transudation through conduit, out of too many months mired in ice and snow. The parameters of white wine blurred a bit, this group of twelve wines will do you no harm. In fact, any or all will help restore that healthy attitude so desperately needed in this time of rejuvenation. Spring.
From left to right: Château De La Bretesche Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2013, Emiliana Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014, La Joya Viognier Reserve 2014, Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2013, Hugel Gentil 2013 and Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012
Château De La Bretesche Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2013, Ac Loire, France (412163, $12.95, WineAlign)
From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release
From the stable of Domaine de la Chauvinière, the Château De La Bretesche is a gneiss Melon de Bourgogne, crafted at the hands of Muscadet master Jérémie Huchet. Melon of lightness, finesse, ripe restraint, elasticity and breadth beyond the norm. Karpos of many herbs and briny berries. Capable of nurturing and buttressing intensity. Though the scent here is subtle, when it comes to Muscadet, the fresh sea and shell of Pholas dactyls is necessary. In conjunction with its length and a price of $13, in this section of the Loire, the littoral zone and the peak are reached. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted March 2015 @MyLoireValley@LoireValleyWine
It would be hard to imagine Sauvignon Blanc with wilder eyes, as much pop and nearly the zesty fortitude as the Emiliana Adobe. The clarity of organic/biodynamic health in vine and by extension fruit is on blinking display. Fresh and popping, the zest of ripe citrus circulates naturally, as acidity, in juicy squeezes and with nothing but tireless pep. This is an example of exemplary SB for Chile and one can only imagine the depths that might come from older vines and/or a wild yeast meets barrel ferment trial. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted April 2015 @VinosEmiliana
La Joya Viognier Reserve 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile (168542, $15.95, WineAlign)
From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release
As impressive as this very New World take on Viognier was in 2013, the follow-up furthers the absorption. The accented matters of alcohol, residual, mineral, bright fruit and soil continue the train of thought with forward ’14 thinking. This is nothing but a feel good, “why don’t you touch me now” Viognier, a gem-filled musical box of herbs, blanched nuts, flowers and spices. It’s a round and melodic nursery rhyme that’s fun to sniff, taste and listen for its mysterious ministrations and magical charms. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted March 2015 @VBisquertt@DrinkChile@vonTeichman@vonterrabev
Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington (394734, $15.95, WineAlign)
I would liken this Columbia Valley Chardonnay to the Fourth of July. It’s got tiny moving parts, all in motion, trying to put it all together. Cool orchard fruit, a minor kiss of barrel, a raft of lees, some sweet tropical flavours and round acidity. Needs some time. If it succeeds “it will be like fireworks blowing up in the air like a Fourth of July night sky.” For now it’s a reserved, quietly efficient and harmless Chardonnay. But it does show signs of building momentum. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted March 2015 @KVintners@Dandurandwines
The five grape blend works confidently and vehemently strives with more love and sympathy than the austerely commandeered Riesling. Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc matter here, helping to negate the dominant aromatic push of the Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. Quite dry (3.9 g/L RS), with twitching (5.86 g/L) though steady acidity. This has ingratiating integration and unswerving tannic grain. A coherently textured Riquewihr conflation that is more than well-made. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted March 2015 @Hugelwine@HalpernWine@VinsAlsace
Hungary and more succinctly Hegyalja is on a terrific role of late. I would put many marbles into the probability basket and roll straight to the quality bank on the backs of so many Tokaji examples. This Furmint is not on the lighter, fresher side, but more so the seasoned and effluvious strand. “Regardless of the balance life has become” this Furmint is lush and conversely piercing, an acquired density, thick and profoundly cumbersome. Though it rallies and rails in many ways, “too heavy too light, too black or too white, too wrong or too right, today or tonight,” it’s also honeyed and a riot to drink. Would like to give this seven Mary three years to settle down. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted March 2015 @TokajCE@WineofHungary
From left to right: Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011, La Vida Al Camp Cava Brut, Château Belá Riesling 2012, Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Momokawa G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu and Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011
Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (382879, $19.95, WineAlign)
From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release
Another VINTAGES (2011) shipment of this great value in Côte Chalonnaise Chardonnay from the most southerly portion of the Côte d’Or is fortuitous because eight months has only helped to extricate the fruit from its Marly soil, variegated with White Burgundy-loving limestone shell. This is Montagny with intensity and in language of Burgundy’s essential tenets. Aromas scheme as white fruit punch and fruit that packs a punch. Might be thought of as heavy, syrupy even, in terms of Chardonnay, but the meeting of equal and opposing tannin terms balance. The clay-crusted pebbles in the marl have crawled inside the bottle. Suck on them long enough and they will reveal their inner stone. I dare you to spit them out. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted March 2015 @VinexxWine
This blend of Macabeu, Xarel-Lo and Parellada is not only distinguished for Cava, it should be highly regarded in the pantheon of all Sparkling wine. Swelling with personality and urging in demonstrative energy that fizzes and suspends with fervent animation. The activity is one of quick reactions and accumulation. From sweet yeast in lees, from an on the line oxidative cold front and through the warmth of tropical spice. Cava like clouds combing stormy skies from equal and opposing directions and densities. Though marked by a leathery aromatic rind, it’s creamier and less lactic than outright citrus. These are fine bubbles, of twinkling titillations and striking flavours. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted March 2015 @lavidaalcamp@TheVine_RobGroh
For something completely different and yet not, look to Slovakian Riesling at the hands of a German icon. Here from Muzla, a most elemental, atmospheric and petrol driven wine, out of Loess, with blessings beyond Riesling character. A bit reductive, funky and porcine like Baden Grauburgunder, frankly. Heads to an off-dry intersection on the palate, in Spätlese-like headiness. Returns to Trocken in angles of mineral tang and a late, ferocious bite down. Stays this way for nearly a minute. A challenging and compelling respite away from the Mosel. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted March 2015 @ChateauBela@WinesOfSlovakia
Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (388421, $21.95, WineAlign)
From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release
Blame it on the midnight, the rain or the Wairau River, but the flow past a rocky aquifer and into the vineyard weaves through this Sauvignon Blanc to achieve an uncanny Marlborough balance. The accord is struck between high tones and mineral undertones. Between tropical lushness and direct citrus connectivity. Between herbal grounding and stratospheric elevation. Really flavourful and structured by texture. In a saturated world it is noted “everywhere is all around, comfort in the crowd,” through a sea of Sauvignon Blanc. Shame on the moon but the Rapaura Springs Reserve stands out for its gentle, meandering and crooning ways. It is highly recommended. It is possessive of an ability to braid, reticulate and evolve. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted March 2015 @Rapaurasprings@nzwine@VinexxWine
Made from pure, Sacramento Valley Calrose rice polished to 60 per cent and undiluted. The short trek to Oregon is made for the G, a Saké with a foot in two worlds. The Koji-kin and yeast strains are from Japan and the water from Oregon. The American-Japanese arrangement will succeed in pleasing palates east and west. Sacramento soil is in here, enriching the rice with savoury tall grasses and expanding spice. Oregon water draws subterranean salinity and combined with the Japanese elements, comes out like toasted nori. This is lovely and floral, rich and finishes with a feeling of wet stones. Tasted March 2015 @SakeOne@MetroWineSake
Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011, Ac Alsace, France (995316, $29.95, WineAlign)
From the VINTAGES April 18, 2015 release
Some old vines and a strict selection of grapes from Ribeauvillé and vicinity compose the Trimbach Réserve, another storied chapter of sharpness and focus. Builds upon the similar 2010 and with greater depth. At this price on the Riesling plain this will be a star for the vintage, even it it takes five more years to reach adjudication. With this portal to the finest fruit and handling in mind, it can only be imagined what the same vintage will convey from the terroirs of Geisberg and Osterberg for Cuvée Frédéric Émile. The standard Réserve is rich and propelled to compounding causatum. Aromas go through lemon glade and glaze, then turn the key to lime. The texture is a crackling bite of corral with salinity drawn from oceans far away. The stone cold austerity is a frozen moment of time, a long pause in which there is nothing to do but swallow and forget. Small price to pay for such a thing. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted March 2015 @trimbach@WoodmanWS@AlsaceWines
Over the past few years I’ve published some pieces on Sparkling wine, from technical to fluff and from focused horizontal tastings to scattered, random accumulations. The one aspect about bubbles I’ve not concentrated on, whether it be Champagne or from Ontario, is vintage.
Vintage dated fizz is all the rage and I for one can’t really understand why. The most consistent Sparkling wine made anywhere and everywhere is the non-vintage produced stuff. Drawing the majority of juice from a single vintage and topping it up with a smaller amount from one or more previous (or even book-ending years) allows the winemaker to strike a seamless accord in continuity. It proliferates a house style. I had this to say in 2012: “The production of vintage-dated fizz in Ontario is certainly fashionable, as witnessed by more than 60% of the wines present, but for the purposes of consistency, local weather conditions should see the future trending a non-vintage path.”
Vintage issued Sparkling wine has lost its luster. If the vintage is anything less than ideal, whether it be too cold or too warm, under ripe or over ripe grapes are hard to hide. Keep in mind that the grapes for bubbles are the first to be picked, no matter where you are, to preserve acidity. In funny climatic years modifications must be made. The blender will have to resort to either chapital or acid tricks of the trade. Another argument for non-dated fizz.
Does the average, or even effervescence geek care about vintage bubbles? British wine journalist Jamie Goode doesn’t seem to think so. On vintage dated bubbles, Goode spoke (at the 2014 Brock University Technical Wine Symposium) from an unequivocal marketing perspective. “People don’t really care about vintage.” On the emerging Canadian and British sparkling wine industries. “Do English or Canadian wines need a special name?” No.
On the puffery side of the tracks I gave this: “Sparkling wine, fizz, bubbles, bubbly. Champagne. Mousseux, Crémant, Asti Spumante, Espumante, Cap Classique, Cava, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo, Brachetto, Sekt. Méthode champenoise, charmat, méthode ancestrale. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chenin Blanc, Arbois, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-Lo, Glera. It’s all just an amazing confluence of pressed juice, yeast, sugar and carbon dioxide. Nothing in the world screams “party!” like an effervescent bottle of fermented grapes. Who isn’t looking for a Sparkling wine to pop open this month? Should we put up our hands so we know who we are?”
A year later, back into the throes of the holiday season, a new batch of bubbles are on the scene. Here are 12 new picks, from $17 to $95, from Crémant d’Alsace to Champagne, to tolerate winter and ring in the new year.
From left to right: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008
Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac Alsace, France (39016, $17.95, WineAlign)
Graceful and pink lithe, like cold smoked salmon, delightful Pinot Noir Rosé fizz. Nothing earth shattering, breath-taking or barrier breaking, just well made blush bubbles. The structure and balance are really spot on. Finishes strong and with confidence. Helps to define this genre of Crémant’s creamy texture, matched in contrast by its stony, flinty and mineral style. Tasted November 2014 @ProfileWineGrp
Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Do Penedès, Spain (392548, $19.95, WineAlign)
A stonking Cava this one, or the Spanish (enervante) equivalent. Relishing in quite high acidity, which is necessary and useful, considering the residual sugar left behind. Good tang, verve and a with a push to succeed in elevating everything it seeks to uphold; aroma, flavour and tannic texture. As good an example of Cava as I’ve tasted in recent times. Tasted November 2014 @freixenet@DionysusWines
Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Méthode Classique, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (234161, $22.95, WineAlign)
This is a very effective bottle of bubbles, consistently produced, vintage after vintage. Some reserve on the nose, notable in its pear and yeasty aromas. Crunchy feel for fizz with a replay in flavour much like prickly pear and the tropical esters of yeast. Really good length. Simply well made. Tasted November 2014 @Jackson_Triggs
Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign)
Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies. Tasted November 2014 @hinterlandwine on the card at @barquebbq
Skips the cork, avoids the taint and caps with a crown. A king’s bubble in here, a king of pop perhaps, with “a mind like a diamond.” Like a fine, flat rock that cuts through crap and “red tape fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack.” I want a fizz that gets me up early. I want a Sparkling wine that knows what’s right. I want bubbles with “uninterrupted prosperity and smooth liquidation.” I want a sparkler “with a short skirt and a long, long jacket.” I want bubbles with tang, tang, tang, apples, pears, ginger and cardamom. One that I can drink with cake. Yes, perhaps the Riddled ’09 is just a bit abrupt, at times monotone, awkward in chord changes, tempo switches and suffers from a twittering finish. But it’s twitchy and characterful along the way. Tasted November 2014 @Winemakersboots@UnfilteredEd
Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008, Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania, Australia (393629, $29.95, WineAlign)
Love the balance and graceful point this has come to six years post much fine lees staging. So very elegant and demurred, like an actress on a silver screen imagined in a near-falsetto progressive rock singer’s croon. A strange but beautiful mismatch, given ambiance and vindication by a classical musician’s playing. Silent stardom take on cool climate bubbles to sip along with “early thirties gangster movies, set to spellbind population.” A friend to Mr. Cairo with a palate adding weight and a texture lustful in a creamy affair. Just a hair across the oxidized threshold, holding steady, acting very much like Champagne. Flies like a Mediterranean bird of prey, a Maltese falcon everyone is searching for. Always “shoots between the eyes.” Tasted November 2014 @JosefChromy
From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004
Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, LCBO $47.95, 1018464, NSLC $44.99, 313106, B.C. $49.97, WineAlign)
L’Acadie used for a parochial teaching moment effect. Winemaker Jean Benoit Deslauriers embracing its Gaspereau ability, coaxing acidity within a context of optimum fruit attention. Brings a level of texture and structure rarely, if ever seen from the region, this contrived blend and the imagined attempt. The parts roll into and through one another seamlessly. This impresses from a point of expression, that being the BB vineyard. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Essentially, or at least philosophically a Blanc de Blancs, the blend is 57 per cent L’Acadie Blanc, 25 Chardonnay and 18 Seyval Blanc. The acidity is key and certainly elevated (12.8 g/L), keeping line tabs on the stone ground, clean fruit in gingered mousse. A defined elegance and accumulated synergy of site comes from a lower-slope perceived sweetness, down by the river. By no means piercing, there is a length here that lays down the foundation for the high-end, Vinifera-driven Sparkling wine program. The Brut ’09 conveys the growing environment, in freshness and in ripeness. A wine with such a refreshing upside. ” Last tasted November 2014 @Benjamin_Bridge@jbdeslauriers
Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, Récoltant Manipulant, Ac Champagne, France (385369, $47.95, WineAlign)
The level of baking apples and yeasty aromas are overwhelming, at first, then settle down. Yeasty boy, screaming its oxidative angst. Big acidity, wild ginger tang, whipping and gesturing wildly as it raps in your mouth. Speaks its mind this one, breaks down stereotypes, wins the crowd. Fans go wild. From my earlier, August 2014, WWAC 2014 (tasted blind) note: “Tends to a trend in sweet aromatic beginnings which is nothing but endearing. A leesy pear and ris de veau nose split by a bowie and filled with pearls of sugary syrup. To taste there is the metallic gaminess of uncooked other white meat. Sweet meat, sweet thing. The gathering sensation is an elemental display of ethereal, aerified climatic conditions. Though made in an oxidized style, the complexity of character is not to be denied. “Runs to the center of things where the knowing one says, boys, boys, it’s a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing.” Last Tasted November 2014
André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, France (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)
Zero dosage, 100 per cent Pinot Noir, grower produced and affordable. These are the attributes of Jean Francois Clouet’s Champagne. If any three are what you look for in righteous fizz, you have found what you need, for any occasion. The Clouet Silver (Blanc de Noir, Grand Cru from Bouzy) has that stark reality of aridity so necessary for Sparkling wine to knock you upside of the cerebral cortex. Sweetness is superfluous because the fruit is so exceptional. There are dried spices and ginger in many incantations; exotic, wild, dried and slowly dripping into every sip. The vacuous voids are filled with combustion, the lingering strands of texture elegance defined. This is exceptionally made Champagne, to the point and with confident, boyish presence. Tasted November 2014 @GroupeSoleilTO
A most expressive house style, crowd pleasing and one step further into complex territory than many of a similar ilk. Creeping aromas, big flavours, enveloping texture, noble bitter finish. Citrus pith and darkening honey. So well made. Score an extra point. From my previous, August 2014 note: “The house style in this Pinot Blanc (55 per cent), Chardonnay (30) and Pinot Meunier (15) is amped on yeast and baked brioche. The elevation is of a modern and ambitious producer with a wild, expansive and yeast-moussy feel in the mouth. Spiced and spicy accents really help to open up the wine. An exemplary rendition of Sparkling wine if not quite willing to last as long as others.” Last tasted November 2014 @LouisRoederer_
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Ac Champagne, France (69831, $91.95, WineAlign)
Sometimes Champagne is blessed with a dirty presence that is just beautiful. This Moët could go either way. Struts with a copper hue and metal cruelty in its every move. Like cheese melting on a pipe. Like bonito flaking off a rusty anchor. Earthy and really into the oxidative souse but on a tasting line-up day when everything seems oxidized. Bitter pith and grapefruit flavours with a hint of coriander and a texture so damn divine. Is that corpulence enough to rescue it from the depths of bitter disdain? If at first you are not so sure, Rosé up and try again. This ’04 will take advantage of your every insecurity and grow on your unconscious. Tasted November 2014 @MoetUSA
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004, Ac Champagne, France (508614, $93.95, WineAlign)
This Veuve 2004 just keeps coming, does it not? Fashioned in an evolved style, typical for the house, not so atomic and not so wild. Ginger beer and tropical fruit aromas give simple pleasure, followed by more ginger and green mango on the palate, drying and turning to a fine, pungent powder re-hydrated on a whippy, elastic finish. Better vintage than would have been expected. Tasted November 2014 @VeuveClicquot@ChartonHobbs
‘Tis the season to partake of two things denied opportunity the rest of the calendar year. Wild leeks and Austrian wine. The first is just a seasonal thing. The second, entirely my fault. The forest and my backyard provide the ramps. Two most excellent wine agents, Bernard Stramswasser of Le Sommelier and Mark Cuff of The Living Vine are the messianic purveyors of the wine.
Mark came to Barque Smokehouse last month to share his wares, talk organics, biodynamics and to teach a staff what honest wine is all about. More on that extensive tasting coming soon. Bernard brought top estates from Austria with Andreas Wickhoff, MW to Toronto’s Fine Wine Reserve on April 16th, 2014 for a special portfolio tasting. The Master of Wine is deeply passionate and terroir obsessed when it comes to the Austrian landscape. The presented set of whites and reds rose up to incline an exemplary ramp to the nature of that country’s fine wine tradition.
The whites, mainly centered around the signature variety Grüner Veltliner, showed the mineral and salinity so necessary to the grape’s success. Reds made from Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch are Austria’s trump card, ready and willing to take on the world’s reds imbued of elegance and finesse. Here are notes on the 12 Austrian wines tasted.
Meinklang is a passionate, biodynamic (Demeter farming) producer in eastern Austria, south of Vienna. Their practices include abstaining from the pruning of vines, called “graupert” and maturation in concrete egg-shaped containers. The vineyard is their biotope and they make compost from animal dung, pomace, plant cuttings and ground quartz. Their entry-level Grüner is so mineral dominant and saline it’s as if the stones are bleeding. Extreme tang, with that salinity that never lets go and so much lime. Then makes quick work of itself.
Weingut Loimer, Grüner Vetliner ‘Lois’ 2013, Niederösterreich, Austria ($18.95, WineAlign)
From Niederösterreich in the Kamptal region, from soil compositions of bedrock and loess, this is straightforward Grüner Vetliner made in 200,000 bottle loads. That it succeeds in spite of the quantity and the work with contract growers is a testament to Fred Loimer’s sense of quality control. A bit shy aromatically but really tangy on the palate. Clear, crisp, clean and appreciably pure. Lithe in body and with some salinity on the back-end. Versatile mingler.
Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc Vom Sand 2013, Südsteiermark, Austria ($19.95, WineAlign)
This is bewusst territory for the Südsteiermark producer, from organically farmed vineyards. An elegant Southern Styrian Sauvignon Blanc made from grapes previously destined to get lost with other traditional varieties. Most striking is the salinity on the nose, often abstruse for Sauvignon Blanc but most obviously explained by the land; sand, gravel and shell limestone. Estimable restraint in the whispered aromas of herbs, green vegetable and tangy tree fruit. Dewy finish that lasts well into the morning.
Wieninger Gemischter Satz 2013, Vienna, Kamptal, Austria ($20.95, WineAlign)
Though Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Welschriesling and Chardonnay make up most of the formidable aspects of this blend from the Vienna Hills, there are bit but integral parts played by 11 others. From bio-certified Bisamberg and Nussberg vineyard sites, this is antithetically seamless, the varieties drawing all possible logical relations woven by their finite collection. Approachable, gritless, effortless, integrated and bound together by a solid core of juicy acidity. Even if only because it agglomerates 15 grapes, this beats white Châteauneuf-du-Pape (by at least six varieties) at its own game.
Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2012, Kremstal, Austria ($21.95, WineAlign)
The locus point of Nigl’s single vineyard Grüner Veltliner is sharp and stinging in 2012. Although that chemically reactive laser pinning takes control, it is extremely refreshing to not have to talk about flat and flabby fruit. Mind you the fruit here is under stress so balance needs to be questioned. Ultimately there is a palpable sense of grapefruit, flowers and a finish marked by the scraping of stones.
Increased hang time has put this Kamptal in a deeper state of focus and understanding concerning the intricacies of Langenlois Grüner Veltliner. Continues the pure, clean and crisp axiom of the basic Lois but here the aromatics are spoken in acroamatic terms, obvious to disciples and yet available for all to comprehend. Though five per cent big wood barrel aging does not seem significant, that practice along with four months of aging on the fine lees has had a textural impact. The added weight is a questionable thing, though arguably just splitting hairs. Will help carry this vintage through five to seven years of graceful settling.
Weingut Heinrich Pinot Noir Dorflagen 2013 (Tank Sample), Burgenland, Austria ($24.95)
From two sites in Gols, one being the gravelly Riede Goldberg on the Parndorf Plateau, the other a sand and loam slope of the Salzburg. Short-ish ferment in large-ish barrels. Marked by bright cherry of the upstanding young fruit kind and only a brushstroke of paint. Very linear in that a Rube-Goldberg Pinot machining ensues, as the dominoes fall into each other. One action creates another, mostly due to a fine-grained chain of tannin. As delicate and approachable as Pinot Noir ever was from this far east.
Weingut Heinrich Blaufränkisch 2012, Burgenland, Austria ($24.95, WineAlign)
From a combination of vineyards on both the eastern and western sides of steppe Lake Neusiedl, situated between the easternmost parts of the Alps and the western part of the Small Hungarian Plain. A Blaufränkisch with so much geological and climatic history behind it, with Alpine, Pannonic, Asian, Mediterranean, and Nordic influences. The inclination is to express this unique, later ripening red with terms of bright endearment but it’s much more serious than that. Deeper, earthier and entrenched in the limestone and slate vineyards on Burgenland’s Leithaberg slopes of the Parndorf Plateau. The terroir amplifies and cloaks the fathomage of what is ostensibly tangy, effulgent fruit. More tannin than one would expect, this is a complex organism from a variegated landscape.
Heinrich Zweigelt 2012, Burgenland, Austria ($24.95, WineAlign)
Though 2011 was the best vintage of the last three and Blaufränkisch is the estate’s signature red, this 2012 is a real charmer. The vines for this Zweigelt lay lower, on the flats east of the alpine, steppe lake. They benefit from gravel Heideboden soils and from a nurturing microclimate. The aromatic profile is of spice and dried fruit; licorice, tar, carob and even more specifically, Bokser. All the right pods. Hydrates to sweet cherry fruit and begs for slow-cooked, smoky protein.
From the Loiben basin where eroding, rocky Danube sands mix with gravel to produce lacey and textured Grüner Veltliner. This Federspiel (classified as wines between 11.5–12.5 per cent with a minimum must-weight of 17 degrees) shows more richness, viscosity and body than many with a pronounced spicy edge on top of the highly floral citrus zest. It gives the strange sensation of chewing spicy gum. A Grüner of good temperament beseeching the imbiber to have more than just one taste.
Loimer’s Terrassen is a Kamptal four vineyard Premier Cru (“Erste Lage”) schmear that is fermented in big wood barrels. The increased weight and body is helped along by extended time on the lees. The ligneous weave is underscored by wood spice and a waft of buff, calcareous Aeolian sediment. The character is as if this Langenlois is scenting a barrel ferment aura in a Chardonnay vein. Classic Grüner Veltliner that is all about texture. Will last for 10 or more years without shedding its baby fat.
Loimer Spiegel Grüner Veltliner 2012, Kamptal, Austria (agent, $64.95, WineAlign)
A site-specific Grüner Veltliner from the Speigel “Erste Lage” vineyard site, this is exemplary and definitive stuff. The 2012 vintage saw a two-day (May 16 and 17) frost that meant a 30 per cent loss in fruit. Not all vintages are profitable but ’12 is showing what top quality wines it was able to produce. A 12-month lay in Acacia barrels, natural vineyard yeasts and five months of aging on the fine lees have conspired for a climb to great Grüner heights. Blooming flowers, mellifluous honey and the freshest, most natural acidity abounds, elevating the aromatics and the buoyant flavours of just picked and bitten into apples. Tremendously wise and elegant wine.
From left to right: Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère 2008, Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, L’ecole No. 41 Red Wine 2011, Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Michele Castellani Colle Cristi Collezione Ca’ Del Pipa Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008, Domaine Des Martinelles Hermitage 2009, Painted Rock Red Icon 2011
That the ‘Blood Moon” tetrad of 2014-2015 fall on Passover and Sukkot should come as no surprise. That it’s snowing again on April 15th while the Moon meets the Earth’s shadow for a total lunar eclipse is a cosmic connection that requires red wine. Big reds.
Last weekend’s VINTAGES April 12th release had some beauties and a recent tasting at WineAlign of B.C. wines showed that power and finesse can co-exist on the Left Coast. Who knew they would come in handy with the mercury again dipping below zero and people everywhere howling at a moon they can’t see. Crazy times.
Thanks to Dave Dickinson, the lunar phenomenon is broken down into laymen’s terms, in shades of red. “Does the eclipsed Moon appear reddish to you? What you’re seeing is the sunlight of a thousand sunsets worldwide, streaming through the Earth’s atmosphere into the shadow. This color can vary considerably from eclipse to eclipse, causing it to appear anywhere from a dark tea-stained color to a bright cherry red. This variation is due to the amount of dust currently in the Earth’s atmosphere, and is measured on what is known as the Danjon scale.”
Here are seven immense red wines, from three continents, each with their own unique style, to match with a blood moon.
Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère 2008, Peumo Vineyard, Rapel Valley, Chile (169862, $19.95, WineAlign)
A trifecta of regard makes this worth looking at, the least of which, at first thought, is the effect of some age. The Concha y Toro Carmenère examination, in Carmín de Peumo, in Terrunyo and in Marques de Casa Concha is the Chilean reference point for the variety. The impart of deep, clay soils and the expectation of gentle tannins make for a curiosity call when considering an ’08 specimen. Tough and gritty, on one hand, on the other soapy, sandalwood and waxy. The third hand has smouldering wood, berries and tannins. Very much like its Cab and Merlot brethren, the fruit is just starting to be outrun. Try it now and see what Carmenère can bring. Tasted March 2014 @conchaytoro
Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Coonawarra, South Australia (677476, $26.95, WineAlign)
Young-ish vines on the site of the old Coonawarra Penola cricket ground receive perpetual hydro-mineral support from porous limestone under rich terra rossa soil. That fruit is then blended with extract from estate vineyards in the Clare Valley. Smashes the cover off the grapes towards a full on gain of flavour. Charred peppers and lush black berries are smothered and splintered by a 50/50 split of French and American oak in no less than a crush of conceit. Tannin, grit, joy, flesh, full on deep fruit and mineral. Obviously over-swung and with too much club (switching sports), like using Driver used when a long iron would have sufficed. But you drive for show and this Barry can putt for dough. Tasted March 2014 @Jimbarrywines
L’ecole No. 41 Red Wine 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA (366237, $29.95, WineAlign)
A really good, high-octane red blend if blatantly massive. Like the smell of a shiny, varnished, fresh wood cabin glazed by highly aromatic and resinous epoxy extract. That’s the simple tasting note. The more complex version includes a perfume potpourri of Bougainvillea, violet, orange peel, cinnamon, dark chocolate and a lumber factory. The electric, fully plugged in blend is Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Grenache (38, 36, 15, 6, 4 and 1). The quotient seeks learned Nirvana and with a little luck, some power chords, a bit of screaming and historical, retro-cult exoneration, it may just get there. Right now it just feels like High School. Impulsive and uncomfortable. Wouldn’t you believe it, it’s just my luck. No recess.” Tasted March 2014 @lecole41
Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $36.00, WineAlign)
The Reserve Pinot is intoxicating to say the list. Some whole clusters in the fermentation process add mouth feel, cure and needed grit but how this can not be viewed overall in the shiniest west coast light would be confounding. The reserve ’11 is both “sky as I kite, sticky as lips” and “as licky as trips.” If there was ever an Okanagan Pinot Noir to get you high, this would be the one. What a boisterous effort out of a less than scorching vintage and considering the modest to riches price, no shame in visiting with flavourful fare, imbued with spice, any day of the week. Tasted April 2014 @BlueMtnWinery
Michele Castellani Colle Cristi Collezione Ca’ Del Pipa Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008, Veneto, Italy (222109, $45.95, WineAlign)
The magic of age is a friend to Amarone and funk trumps fruit. In a nutshell the axiom describes the old-school Colle Cristi. A brooding Amarone, cut by zest that’s citrus-like and savoury/earthy in pine needles, juniper and a Venetian forest in autumn. Inviatura and Chiaroscuro. Caravaggio meets Giorgione. The most complex Valpolicella in the April 12th VINTAGES line-up. Tasted March 2014
Domaine Des Martinelles Hermitage 2009, Rhone, France (112268, $54.95, WineAlign)
Clearly modern and style-heavy though not out-of-place in the world of Hermitage. From steep slopes of stony brown sand, a high level of grit might be expected but this Syrah is refined, lush and smooth as silk. At 14.5 percent it’s no shrinking violet, honest and futuristically traditional. At $55 it’s a mandatory, appellative Northern Rhone steal. Matter-of-fact acidity, verve and mineral content are all in, with elegance and balance. Really fine Syrah with a five to ten-year fruit-tannin power struggle ahead. Tasted March 2014 @LeSommelierWine
Painted Rock Red Icon 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Agent, $55.00, WineAlign)
Painted Rock’s red icon could be considered more black than red, as exemplified by the layering of grapes, their pitchy extracts and the fruit associated with their gathering. If the man should ask, “tell him what we said ’bout ‘Paint It Black.’ Rock ‘n Roll is here to stay.” Yes, the Icon will be a big star someday and perhaps this ’11, despite the cooler vintage, will be the first. Might have to wait 13 years or more to find out because the tannic structure is in beast mode and will remain so for likely that much time. The wine plays memorable chords and its song lingers on the brain. Tasted April 2014 @liffordwine@PaintedRockJohn