Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2017

Go Time @GoldMedalPlates Toronto #gmp2017

It was my fourth Gold Medal Plates Toronto as wine judge, culinary taster and olympic athlete groupie. In 2014 WineAlign partner, colleague, mentor and friend David Lawrason invited me to join the festivities and help decide which three wines should be crowned Gold, Silver and Bronze. Two weeks ago a panel of Ontario wine experts tasted, assessed, debated, deliberated and ultimately decided this year’s top three. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Michael Vaughan, Margaret Swaine and Godello. The winner ran away from the pack but two through six were separated by one point increments. It was a photo finish for Silver and Bronze.

The 2017 Toronto event featured emcee Scott Russell of the CBC’s Olympic coverage. Russell was joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy led the on-stage entertainment; Anne Lindsay, Danny Michel, Jeremy Fisher, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley. The inimitable and eloquent James Chatto was once again at the head and the heart of the culinary judging panel with seats occupied by an illustrious five; Sasha Chapman, Anita Stewart,  Christine Cushing, Amy Rosen and Chef John Higgins.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

For a little bit of GMP history please click on this post I penned after that 2014 gala event. The culinary winners then were Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter. The top three wines were Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 and Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012. But what about 2017? My top seven in no particular order were Flat Rock Cellars Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2014, Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Brut Rosé, Stratus White 2013, Leaning Post Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2015 and Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2013. The actual medalists are listed below in David’s report.

National Wine Advisor David Lawrason’s Wine and Spirits Report

Nadja’s Tops a Bounty of Great Whites in Toronto

“The Gold Medal Plates campaign came to a booming 800-person conclusion at Toronto Convention Centre on November 16, and it included the largest selection of wines seen in any stop on the ten-city national tour.  We judged 26 donated wines, beers, spirits and even a lavender mead, but it was a core of great Canadian white wines that caused the most excitement, and produced the winner of the evening.

The “Best of Show” Gold Medal went, by a very clear margin, to Flat Rock Cellars 2016 Nadja’s Riesling, from a single block of maturing vines in Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench appellation. I was personally stunned by just how delicious, well-balanced and nuanced this wine is – in my mind it is the best vintage of “Nadja’s” ever produced.  Other judges agreed – we all placed it as either our first or second choice.  This beauty also took a rare Platinum Medal at 2017 National Wine Awards.

It will go on to compete for Gold Medal Plates Wine of the Year at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in February, and it appears there will be a riesling showdown, as it will be tasted against rieslings from Tantalus, Cave Spring and Norman Hardie, plus six other wines.

For second and third place the voting in Toronto was more varied, and only one point separated the second, third and fourth place wines.  The Silver Medal went to Mission Hill 2015 Merlot Reserve, a swarthy, plummy and ripe red from the Okanagan Valley.  And the bronze medal went to Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Brut Rose, a delicate refined pink sparkler with subtle berry aromas.

In very close 4th place came Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Chardonnay from Niagara’s Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. I have become very familiar with this solid, complex Burgundian chardonnay as it was generously donated by Tawse to the Celebration in three cities this year. It was also a Platinum Award winner at the 2107 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Tawse was one of three Gold Level sponsors. Mission Hill was a national sponsor as well, donating a variety Reserve wines to seven city events across the country, and stepping even higher in Toronto with smaller donations of their more expensive “Legacy tier” red Compendium 2013 and Perpetua 2015 Chardonnay.

Arterra Wines, the recently re-named company with several wineries in Canada, was a gold sponsor donating to six cities.  In Toronto there was a selection of reserve whites and reds from Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin, as well as a rare public showing of the new Arterra 2016 Chardonnay and Arterra 2016 Pinot Noir.

Toronto’s Silver Sponsor also donated to Ottawa. Cave Spring of Niagara donated their 2015 Cabernet Franc.  Although better known as a riesling producer, Cave Spring is doubling down on its efforts to produce fine reds from Ontario’s most widely grown grape.

Flat Rock Cellars was one two Bronze level sponsors for the Toronto event, providing Nadja’s riesling for the VIP Reception and Celebration tables. The other was Henry of Pelham, which split their donation between the 2016 Old Vines Baco Noir and yet another strong 2016 Estate Riesling.

Among other notable and high calibre wines donated to the chefs, I gave my first-place vote to Stratus 2013 White, a very complex, now maturing, barrel aged blend of several white varieties. Ravine 2014 Chardonnay Reserve, another power white, also earned top-five votes.  Leaning Post 2015 Mile 50 Chardonnay was a leaner style that paired well with Gold Medal Plates Chef Lorenzo Loseto’s winning dish.  And riesling specialist Charles Baker chose the occasion to show his new, bracing B-Side Riesling.

Interestingly, no red wines were paired with chef’s creations this year, but there were two ciders, including the fine, crisp Brickworks CiderHouse Batch 1904 and a lighter cider called Pick Up 66 from Hoity Toity Cellars. Rosewood Cellars donated their exotic, fragrant Lavellener Lavender Mead, and Zirkova Vodka set up shop during the VIP Reception to sample Zirkova One, a vodka designed to be drunk “neat” and Together a version designed for cocktails.

The Best of Show judging is held prior to each event, as way to highlight the generous donation of beverage by Canada’s wineries, brewers and distillers.  In Toronto I assembled four wine pros/sommeliers.  Three are amigos at WineAlign.com and two are judges at the National Wine Awards of Canada; including Master Sommelier John Szabo, and wordsmith extraordinaire and former chef Michael Godel.  Margaret Swaine is a veteran wine and travel writer, and the spirits columnist at WineAlign.  Michael Vaughan publishes Vintages Assessments, a detailed critique of every wine released by the LCBOs Vintages stores.”

Chef Lorenzo Loseto’s @GoldMedalPlates winning dish @georgeonqueen paired by @brieish with @leaningpostwine The Fifty Chardonnay 2015. Congratulations Chef and the entire team.

Culinary Medals

Gold

Lorenzo Loseto
George Restaurant

Pairing: Leaning Post Wines, 2015 ‘The Fifty’

Silver

David Lee
Nota Bene

Pairing: Brickworks Ciderhouse, Batch: 1904

Bronze

Jesse Vallins
Maple Leaf Tavern/PORT

Pairing: Tooth & Nail Brewing Company, AGRARIA Modern Farmhouse Ale

Nota Bene’s David Lee

Here are my tasting notes for the 20 wines entered at Gold Medal Plates 2017.

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (217505, $29.95, WineAlign)

A whole new base, a whole new wine, the departure point exacted by a new wisdom and understanding. But it’s somehow like looking in the mirror, reviving a good memory, going back to wine childhood. Consistency is your friend with non-vintage fizz and the Catherine(s) are the undisputed leader in the Ontario biz. Brings back the Niagara orchard of a take your pick red apple, lovely creamy texture, a mild blanch of nut and fresh baked bread. Terrific class and of its own accord. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2017

With its fine, strawberry mousse is at the head of its Ontario class. Vanilla, Ida Red apple and bitter nut combine like a smooth, creamy, Mediterranean spread to dip the warmest, fresh-baked bread.  Tasted December 2012

Henry Of Pelham Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (557165, $17.95, WineAlign)

A rash of aromatics straight away and marked warmth verging to humidity. More weight, substance and depth than most vintages deal when youth is the tempo so this riesling plays the notes and the hand quick after the draw. What you nose, taste and feel is what you get, with lime, gassing up to petrol quickly and flavours already in developing mode. Five years of riesling together for the best of times, from beginning to end. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

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 Ian 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

Flat Rock Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

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

Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Sauvignon Blanc Grand Reserve 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95, WineAlign)

Arterra’s JT sauvignon blanc is youthful and even a bit reductive, with wood notable and a real sauvignon blanc pungency. Its character and a bit of risk are tied up in the aromatics though it settles for mild-mannered and middle of the road on the palate. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Family Pinot Gris Reserve 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (537076, $24.95, WineAlign)

Reserved to be sure and also still in pulse mode, with some tongue pin-pricking, not quite effervescent but moving in time. A bit of skin-contact hue and plenty of orchard fruit notes are present in both aromas and flavours. Solid gris that will improve in six months or so. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Inniskillin Okanagan Pinot Gris Reserve 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.99, WineAlign)

Noticeable skin-directed hue, chalky to soapy, with a taste that reminds of Topps hockey card bubble gum. Childhood memory revisited in pinot gris. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted November 2017

Arterra Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Arterra’s chardonnay comes from a famous Peninsula source, formerly made into just as famous wines by Le Clos Jordanne The site is on the Escarpment’s Bench above Jordan Village and this is the second vintage at the hands of Jackson-Triggs winemaker Marco Piccoli. Picks up where the fine and ambitious first vintage in 2015 left off but here with some light strike and reduction. You can just feel the buttered toast and kernels behind the flinty curtain, with blanched nut and some fine elasticity. Will benefit from a few more months in bottle to gather thoughts and flavours. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Leaning Post Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2015, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

This is chardonnay that had a cup of coffee in the big leagues and was then moved to the fresh confines of stainless steel tanks soon after its 15 minutes of barrel fame. It’s a unique chardonnay specimen this Fifty, barrel fermented but not aged, a wine crafted with pragmatic reverse psychology so that it may solicit great appeal. If you’ve never tasted Ilya Senchuk’s entry-level foray into Peninsula chardonnay you’ve been missing out, but by starting here in 2015 there is certainly no harm, no foul. This is the most pleasing and palatable Fifty so far, barrel creamy, suety and magically malolactic on the nose. The flavours are cooler, of an anti-Senchuk subtlety and versatile food amenability. I can think of 50 reasons to pour this by the glass, at home, on a restaurant list or on a campsite under the stars. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2017

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The Reserve is 100 per cent estate fruit that spent 18 months in (50 per cent new) barrel. As it’s both barrel fermented and aged the variegation locks the fruit in so bloody tight so even now it’s reductive, smoky and flinty. A mineral chardonnay needs balance from over the top fruit and so track record, acumen and love will have it so. Marty Werner and Ben Minaker’s is a big, summery and gold platinum expression, very expressive, the two-lb steamed in seaweed lobster chardonnay, seemingly Meursault but just as likely from California. But as Ravine’s Reserve on the St. David’s Bench it is purely Niagara Peninsula. Fruit intensity, extract and controlled oxygenation shows off the best of what these men can do. It speaks to their efforts, knowledge accumulation, trials and finally to the culmination of their stamina. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017

Small @RavineVineyard village looking pretty sweet at @GoldMedalPlates 2017 #gmp2017

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (111989, $35.80, WineAlign)

When I tasted Quarry Road 2013 out of four barrels three years ago the purpose was to take in the nuances and see only the trees. I for one could not help seeing the forest through the trees and imagining percentages of each combining for the final blend. Neutral Mercurey wood looked over infant three year-old vines spoken here with surprising density, tang and tropical melon in both aroma and flavour. This sits on the front palate right now. The mineral Ceres qualifies older fruit as the pretty and the gemstone, essential for Quarry Road, the most like (Meursault) in Burgundy. This fruit transferred to stainless on the lees from September to March before going into bottle now renders to make Quarry the purest expression from the best vineyard. The CLL toast delivers the taut, not yet reductive wood tightening, then and again now, mainly on the finish. Compressed citrus notes are late arriving and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish. The larger CLL toast Mercurey barrel reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oaky feel. All together we now have one of Paul Pender’s most accomplished to date and all chardonnays considered, one of the finest higher end values around. I think he would agree. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Mission Hill Perpetua 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $73.03, WineAlign)

Perpetua is a different sort of chardonnay for the Okanagan, with not completely obvious fruit and leesy notes that outdo the effects of wood, plus a lactic edge that also smothers the smoulder. This is not the toastiest of chardonnays but is does deliver a saltiness so ultimately the reference point is flint and stone, a.k.a. Chablis. A bit of crème frâiche adds to the dairy mystique. Perpetual chardonnay motion leads to persistence. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Stratus Vineyards Stratus White 2013, Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

There can be little doubt that anticipation would haver to run high for the aromatic, elongated and coolest of Niagara white wine vintages, especially for the chardonnay, but also for the iconic, four-varietal (with sauvignon blanc, sémillon and viognier) blend. The five sensory tenets are solicited and provided for; salty, sour, sweet, briny and umami. The last is exotic and punchy, so this White does it all, speaks for it all and completes it all. It is the most designed and seamless their’s can be. Last tasted May and November 2017

In 2013 viognier is back in the varietal mix, in reprise of its earlier role in support of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. A different sort of vintage here for the White, seemingly led by a circular turning of chardonnay and viognier, like a cat chasing its tail. This really goes round and round with no obvious signs of where it will stop. Quite fleshy and lime juicy with stone fruit flavours in righteous abound. Really amalgamated and seamless even for itself. It is here that I think of it as The White. Niagara’s White. Lake Effect™. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2016

Arterra Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Wow the cherry pie delivers a healthy slice oozing in reduced cherry syrup. Could only by an effect created by some appassimento on pinot noir. It’s so concentrated, full of glycerin and sweet fruit. Were it not pinot made with some drying of the grapes it would be an amazing feat of growing, picking and pressing. A panoply of cherries wells in this ripe of ripest Marco Picoli red. Wow, as I said. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September and November 2017

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (523001, $17.95, WineAlign)

As with the other Niagara Escarpment reds in the portfolio it is the limestone that stands out, in a good way, to bring about this mineral-red citrus cutting through the rich fruit. That stone-mineral note also does everything to temper and even mute what bitter-tonic-astringent notes might try to distract because that’s what capsicum-bell pepper is wont to do in cabernet franc. This is clean and focused, light and eminently quaffable juice. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted September and November 2017

Inniskillin Merlot Reserve 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is really pressed and pushed merlot, cool and savoury, minty and spirited with lots of wood spice and equal amounts of tannin. The really tart finish dries out with grip and force. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2017

Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Meritage 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (594002, $24.95, WineAlign)

Now here is a nice little bit of diesel of dust, with more than a fair shake of dark raspberries and a mix of chicory, nettles and chalky tannin. Pretty wondrous quality and complexity here. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2017

Henry Of Pelham Baco Noir Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (459966, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is finely rendered baco noir, rich and tangy, with bright cherries and what just feels like beeswax. The most elegant baco noir ever made in Ontario and just foxy enough to be itself. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Merlot Reserve 2015, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, $24.99, WineAlign)

This is aromatically rich and lush merlot, with a full compliment of palate richness and silky tannins. For fans of the California style with all in hedonism and a side of nettle. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Mission Hill Compendium 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent, $86.25, WineAlign)

Compendium 2012 carries a great wealth of aromatics, very floral and rusty, with dried strawberries and so much more. A bit reserved on the palate but its elegance and seamlessness are special. Great length even while it’s just not that much of a concentrated beast. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted November 2017

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Bourgogne in a word: Climat

Chambertin Clos de Beze
photo (c) Scott Zebarth

Bourgogne is but a place built upon a word, of wines designed and articulated through their very own personal vernacular. The region’s most important vineyards are defined in a word, in summary and without comparison. Climat is the word and you may be shocked to hear how it is expressed as a highly complex chain of topographical, elemental and ethnological conditions. The glossary is much longer than you might think and adds up to quite a versatile declaration. To arrive at the distilled quotient of one, no less than 20 words are employed, exercised and ushered into explanation. The lineage travels through geography-geology-topography-landscape-position-relief-aspect-exposure-slant-elevation-slope-soil-vegetation-weather-microclimate-humankind-heritage-history-tradition-knowhow and temperament. While we understand the intellectual autonomy of choosing the unescorted word Climat as acting on behalf of all these conditions, what makes it so specific as to be exclusively owned by the people of Bourgogne?

It’s really quite simple. The people of Bourgogne coined the term or rather it came to them, as naturally as signs and portents but in the most positive, abiding and permanent of ways. Climat as in the Latin verbum sapienti, “a word to the wise,” meaning it stands alone, suffices, tells the whole story. Many will ask how many base and necessary conceits comprise this peerless notion that is Climat? The answer is not how many but that it belongs to the Bourguignons and no one else, so deal with it. Climat is the perfect oxymoron, a low and slow developed and yet truly miraculous occurrence, or perhaps a marvel but also forever etched in stone. It’s hard not to feel some trepidation when it sounds like preaching through a biblical voice because like the phrase that speaks to the Ten Commandments, the word implies that nothing else is as absolute and unalterable. In the case of Bourgogne it is owned because of 2,000 years of recorded history, thanks to the educated and the phrénique, of monks, farmers and intellectuals whose minds were connected to a feeling in the pit of their stomachs and to the earth below their feet. Climat keeps you, as it were, on your toes.

Chablis Left Bank, Bourgogne

It’s hard to imagine one word separating something so complex, multiple and diverse from everything else. In the English language “word” can be commensurate with the phrase “I speak the truth.” Climat may or may not have one single meaning, but in this univocal part of eastern France it is used to convey a collective sense of geographical affirmation, acknowledgement and agreement. It may also indicate that some special place has impressed a group of agriculturalists, viticulturalists and consumers so favourably that they would emphasize it as fixed and unchangeable. Farmers and winemakers can try to do the same elsewhere in the world but good luck coming up with a name or a term as precise, succinct or possessive of some semblance of equal meaning as Climat.

“Les Climats sont des parcelles de terre précisément délimitées”

Precisely defined parcels or plots of land. Another way of seeking a definition is to take the what not to do or not to think approach. It insists that Climat should not be misinterpreted. The notion is unrelated to meteorology but is a specific term unique to Bourgogne, designating a specific vineyard site. Bernard Pivot writes “in Bourgogne, when we speak of a Climat, we do not look up to the sky, we keep our eyes to the ground.” 

“Climat is the DNA of each wine

singuliers et multiples”

“Each Climat is a vine plot, with its own microclimate and specific geological conditions, which has been carefully marked out and named over the centuries. Each of them has its own story, produces wines with a distinct character and taste and keeps its own place in the hierarchy of crus (Regional Appellation, Village, Premier Cru, Grand Cru). Over one thousand named Climats extend along the 60 kilometres of the thin strip of vineyards running from Dijon to Santenay, just south of Beaune, and among them are some of the most famous names from the world of wine ; Chambertin, Romanée-Conti, Clos de Vougeot, Montrachet, Corton, Musigny…”

Bourgogne – Regional Appellations

It begins with the broadest of the Bourgogne appellations at the base of the pyramid with regional wines that are the rock and the platform upon which all Climats may stand. Included in this category we find Crémant De Bourgogne, Rouge et Blanc. I asked Laurent Drouhin of Domaine Joseph Drouhin “what does Climat mean to you?” His response. “First of all Climat is a name that is used exclusively in Bourgogne. A Climat to me refers to a specific location in Bourgogne which produces a wine with a unique character only found in that location. That is why in Bourgogne we highlight the name of the wine (Climat) more than the grape variety. I like to say there are thousands of Chardonnay produced in the world, there is only one Montrachet. A good example is the corner of four Climats which are next to each other and produce very different wines due to specifics in the soil and exposure. Montrachet/Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru Caillerets/Batard Montrachet, Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru Les Pucelles. Four fabulous wines, with incredible character and so different. Basically those four Climats are unique and vineyards are touching each others. Well, That is Bourgogne, That is Climat.” On his regional Bourgogne he told me this. “The Bourgogne Pinot Noir is a blend of several appellations from all over Bourgogne (around 13). So not a specific Climat. There is no vineyard designated as it is a blend of other declassified village level wines such as Macon Rouge, Ladoix, Maranges…. The wine is more of a melody which reflects the elegance and subtlety of the Pinot in Bourgogne.”

Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2015, AOC Bourgogne (512574, $24.95, WineAlign)

Dive straight into the regional generalization of Bourgogne with Drouhin as the conduit and the driver. Here is where you initiate with all the usual suspects; red cherries, earth and herbs. Done and done, right and proper. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017  maisonjosephdrouhin  philippedandurandwines  @JDrouhin  @Dandurandwines  Joseph Drouhin  Philippe Dandurand Wines

Cedric Dechelette is the General Manager of Maison François Martenot, the company that includes Négociant and estate owner Moillard, along with sparkling wine producer Labouré Gontard. Dechelette has been involved in the Bourgogne wine trade for over 30 years.

Labouré Gontard Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, Traditional Method, AOC Bourgogne (460816, $20.95)

This blush Crémant is a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and aligoté. The base wines of the Crémant come from the different subdivisions of the Bourgogne vineyards. Their base wines however are predominantly produced from the vines of the Côtes and Hautes Côtes of Beaune and Nuits and the Côtes Chalonnaise. Different soils confer from limestone and marl in the Côtes de Nuits, Côtes de Beaune and Côtes Chalonnaise and granite in southern Bourgogne. The combing of Bourgogne from north to south delivers a true amassed regional expression for Bourgogne AOC, including such a broad, proper and creamy full Crémant like this Labouré Gontard. Feel the texture of layered terroir and note the blush citrus in its precise acidities. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017  lgcf_paris  hhdwines  @HHDImports_Wine  Les Grands Chais De France  H.H.D. Imports Inc.

Domaine De Montille Bourgogne Blanc 2014, AOC Bourgogne (515692, $50.00)

Bourgogne Blanc was never so ambitious, Climat-driven, sober and meditative as this from first Hubert de Montille and today, son Étienne. From toy to bona-fide Bourgogne business, Montille takes regional purpose to the highest level it can afford and with the quest to age. The goal is set for complexity and tertiary aromas, whether Bourgogne AOC or Volnay Premier Cru Taillepieds. This Blanc is so very primary and even herbal, with a specific Bourgogne garrigue, owing to the presence of holly, a thorny scrub bush. The stuff is found in the Beaune vineyard Les Aigrots, from an old dialectical word, “Argifolium.” Texture is viscous, salve-like and peculiar as a result but nothing seven to 10 years couldn’t resolve. The sharp acidity would say the same. If drinking anytime soon it would be a good idea to decant. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted November 2017  domainedemontille  @2Montille  Domaine de Montille

Bourgogne Village

The last example causes some wonder as to what may lay between regional Bourgogne AOC and Village level wines. Decanter Magazine just recently reported the announcement by the BIVB that there is in fact a new level of Bourgogne wines coming soon. The new Bourgogne Côte d’Or was inaugurated in Beaune just this past weekend and will be integrated as a Bourgogne Régionale AOC, not exactly a new appellation but it is the 14th regional Bourgogne AOC. Regulations will dictate vine density (9,000 plants per hectare as opposed to 5,000 at the regional level) and only Pinot Noir grapes can be used for the reds, from vines grown across all villages of the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, from south of Dijon to Maranges. Producers will be able to include grapes from young vines that would not necessarily be used in Village level wines. Prices should fall somewhere in between regional and Village and the new category “should be seen as the top of the regional pyramid, just below Village level,” according to Cécile Mathiaud of the BIVB.

Meanwhile long before the wine there were three geological phases; Quaternary, Tertiary and Jurassic, to set the landscape. During the latter period a shallow tropical sea covered what today is France. Major limestone and clay deposits were formed in a variegated mix that generally speaking runs from harder and more prevalent deposits (in the north) to friable, less regnant and heavier clay (in the south). Today in addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay there are Gamay and Aligoté. In Saint-Bris there is Sauvignon Blanc and in Irancy Pinot Noir can be blended with César. The investigation into this essential level of Bourgogne travels in and out of many hamlets and the precisely delineated vineyards associated with the parent village. A Climat is located in the Mâconnais, an outlier is found in Irancy, a not so common white in Marsannay, and an allowable lieu-dit noted on the label in Pouilly-Fuissé. More Village AOC examples are found in a Chablis of a Climat that is essentially Premier Cru, one of the best villages of the Côte de Nuits and the aforementioned Montrachet.

Louis Latour Mâcon Lugny Les Genièvres 2015, AOC Bourgogne (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Latour’s lieu-dit Les Genièvres is a warm, rich and distinctly Mâconnais chardonnay, even in its surprising depth and richness for the appellation, coupled with the warmth of the vintage in delivery of terrific value for the money. Bourgogne for all the right reasons, most of all a food happy way to get satisfaction from and with chardonnay. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2017  louislatour1797  markanthonyon  @LouisLatour1797  @MarkAnthonyWine  MaisonLouisLatour  @MarkAnthonyWine

Domaine La Croix Montjoie Irancy 2014, AOC Bourgogne (269414, $35.95, WineAlign)

From the outlier for pinot noir in Bourgogne, only Irancy tastes like this and carries such linear, in your face, interfaced structure. Irancy is found in the Grand Auxerrois region, on the right bank of the Yonne river, fifteen kilometres South of Auxerre and South-West of Chablis. Domaine La Croix Montjoie was created in 2009, named after a cross located at the intersection of Vézelay and Tharoiseau. This cross signals the spot where pilgrims coming from Avallon first caught sight of Vézelay and felt overjoyed. The domaine is led by a Bourgogne dream team; Sophie and Matthieu (agricultural engineering and oenologist), Thierry and Jean-Louis (farmers), Christophe and Hervé (vineyard workers). Their Irancy is firm, properly and effortlessly acetic in its rising tones. It’s dramatically bright, ripe, veering to darkening cherry and exhibits great tension. While tart, slightly lactic and quick to the punch it’s also peppery and crunchy. This northern pinot noir is blended with césar, a deeply hued variety of only five planted hectares in the Irancy appellation. It is said to have been brought to the area by the Roman legions. Mostly (75 per cent) aged in tank so the freshness steals the show with just enough structure to see five more years of firm pleasure ahead. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted several time May to October 2017  #domainelacroixmontjoie  beauwinespiritsake  @davidbeauroy  Domaine La Croix Montjoie – Vins de Vézelay  

Jadot’s winemaker Frédéric Barnier shed some fascinating insight on how he and his team deal with many different parcels. “As you know we are producing a large range of wines and are really focused on trying to reveal each place. To explain better we are trying to have the same process from a Village to Grand Cru (same ageing same cask same percentage of new oak). We want to show that a Meursault is not a Marsannay and not because we have made something special on the wine but just because they are different. For the Marsannay White, this wine is coming from a blend of three different plots we are farming. One of it is planted with Chardonnay Rosé which is pink but it lost the color after fermentation. It is a rare wine from Côte de Nuits. Most of Marsannay is red or a few rosé. 2011 is showing very well now. Whites are rich but still fresh from an early vintage picked on the very first days of September.”

Louis Jadot Marsannay 2011, AOC Bourgogne (522136, $41.95, WineAlign)

The rare and elusive Marsannay blanc is a fine and beautiful thing, laden with dry extract, intense grape tannin and the pure intensity of liquid limestone. It is here in this wine from the northernmost commune of the Côte d’Or where the idea of fruit and of chardonnay is just an afterthought because the sheer and non-mitigating saltiness of this stony Bourgogne is simply hypnotizing. This is a steal of great Village proportions. I would stack this up against many Premier Cru two and three times its price. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted November 2017  louisjadot  halpernwine  @ljadot  @HalpernWine  Louis Jadot    Halpern Wine

Kerrie de Boissieu, Oenologue at Château de Lavernette explains that “Climat is a vineyard designation.  It is the custom in Bourgogne to give names to parcels.  Today, those names mean very little to us personally but they do allow us to compile a history for each parcel and follow it better.  We have Pouilly-Fuissé vineyards in two different Climats: Maison du Villard & Vers Châne. There is no one named Villard in this area now and I don’t know where their house is or why the parcel carries their name. The parcel faces west – southwest so it captures the afternoon sun making it a more luminous wine – cheerful and easily approachable. Vers Châne means “towards Châne” The parcel faces east – southeast capturing the morning light.  It is a colder, stonier, more complex mistress that needs to be coaxed to cooperate. It is well worth the trouble though as it has a nicely chiseled structure and ages gracefully.” I asked Kerrie to comment on Château De Lavernette Vers Châne Pouilly Fuissé 2014, the wine and the vineyards. “This wine has always been our chouchou (favorite).  Xavier and I bought the vineyard in 2007.  It belongs to us and not to Château de Lavernette.  The first time we harvested the grapes was the day our son, Basile, was born and it made for a really exciting day.  There are two parcels divided by a row of peach trees (peches des vignes).  It is in an amphitheater protected by a forest on the northern side.  The soil is a rocky scree with limestone tumbling down from Les Rontets.  The wine seems to be marked by each of these elements: peach blossom, stone fruit, woodsy underbrush and saline minerality. Hand-picked, whole-cluster pressed, indigenous yeast, fermented and aged in Bourgogne oak barrels (228 L, 20% new) for 22 months.  

Château De Lavernette Vers Châne Pouilly Fuissé 2014, AOC Bourgogne (496372, $42.95, WineAlign)

The lieu-dit locale for Lavernette’s Pouilly-Fuissé is called “Vers Châne,” a chardonnay that might mean “down a silk road.” This is in fact a true expression of polished texture, a Pouilly-Fuissé warm and rich if decidedly linear-focused, with some real vanilla-tinged, toasty barrel notes. That the appellation speaks most truth when the combination of ripeness and smoulder are mixed and then married to the specific PF acidity (like preserved lemon), then reality bites. The smoky, flinty edge is a little over the edge but two years should help to soften, match with the downy texture and ultimately settle the score. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted August and November 2017  #chateaulavernette  @NaturalVines  Château de Lavernette  

Domaine Oudin Chablis Les Serres 2014, AOC Bourgogne (WineAlign)

Just south of Chablis there are hilltop vineyards above and around the village of Chichée where Les Serres draws its superior fruit for what is ostensibly (though not labeled as such) Premier Cru. Jean-Claude and Christiane began here in 1988 and it is now Nathalie and Isabelle who use Les Serres old vines fruit (some up to 70 years) for this transcendent and worthy Chablis. Les Serres are “the greenhouses,” an apropos moniker for a wine that not only receives but gifts so much warmth and generous fruit without ever straying from its stony and salty roots. The texture here is above and beyond textbook for Premier Cru and elevated for the sharp vintage. So settled at this point it is just a pleasure to taste. Drink 2017-2026.  Tasted November 2017  #domaineoudin  vinsdechablis  @purechablis  #domaineoudin

When I asked Luc Bouchard which Climat most defines the notion for the estate he replied “from Bouchard estate we are very proud of the Climat of Beaune Grève Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus, monopole of Bouchard since 1791, a unique terroir with gravely soil (unique in Beaune ). The roots go very deep into the soil (9 m), so if we have a very dry summer there is always enough water far below and if there is heavy rain storm, the drainage is so good that the water is not directly swallowed by the grapes. That explains the consistency of the wine, it’s unique texture and ageing potential.” On his Gevrey Chambertin 2015 he had this to say: “The 2015 vintage is a superb vintage; normal quantity and high quality from Bourgogne generic up to top Grand Cru. Gevrey is one of the best villages of the Côte de Nuits and our sourcing of grapes come from four different growers (from different locations too) that allow us to have a better representation of the appellation and a better balance. Gevrey 2015 shows a deep and intense garnet red colour, intense bouquet red fruit and a touch of gamey taste. Good structure and very nice balance, ripe tannins, with a long finish. Can be drunk from now (with good aeration before) and can be aged for five up to 10 years.”

Bouchard Père & Fils Gevrey Chambertin 2015, AOC Bourgogne (661330, $59.95, WineAlign)

Bouchard’s 2015 is incredibly forward Gevrey Chambertin, full of fruit, flowers and a beautifully integrated red liquid chalky syrup. It’s just plain getable and is the godfather to all of its peers. If you want to show the world and everyone in it who knows or knows nothing about high-level Bourgogne then perhaps consider this to be the journey’s departure point. Gevrey and especially in the hands of Bouchard is such a gate for what it means to build pinot noir from the earth upwards. It explains what needs in a language you can understand and makes an offer you can’t refuse. Pour this every day simply because it is quintessentially ripe and structured stuff. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted April and November 2017  bouchardpereetfils  woodmanws  @BouchardPere  @WoodmanWS  Bouchard Père & Fils  Woodman Wines & Spirits

Mont Chauve En Pimont Chassagne Montrachet 2012, AOC Bourgogne (496372, $67.95, WineAlign)

Still in a state of hyper reductive possibility this is an ambitious and beautifully calcareous Chassagne, full of deep lemony preserve and variegated waves of acidity. Though it breathes of some age development it is in fact a greatly structured chardonnay that will continue to benefit from further development. Where texture and complexity meet. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2017  aupieddumontchauve  #BNDWines  Au Pied du Mont Chauve  Devon Masciangelo

In addition to running his own Domaine de Bellene and négoce Maison Roche de Bellene, Nicolas Potel has drawn upon some secret resources to deliver old wines made new again. His sourcing of older parcels from producers who somehow hid these top vineyard gems from the world is a gift of generous proportions. Ask Nicolas what he thinks about Les Climats and the hardest working man of leisure, diplomat and ambassador extraordinaire for the wines of Bourgogne will open up his heart and his mind. Says Potel, “the characteristics and Climats of every site and village are truly unique. To make a very good village wine, you need to ideally source grapes from south, central and northern areas of the village. This way it shows the full expression of the village for the vintage in question. Single vineyards based on identification of one site. Volnay is all about elegance. Nice tannin, structure and acidity with pure fruit character. The terroir in Volnay is always very transparent in the wine because of this elegance. What about Gevrey-Chambertin? Last February I tasted the 1999 Village and 2001 Premier Cru Petit Chapelle and today, the ’01 Village. Immediacy meets reflection to bring clarity into the light. This is a wonderful example of the beautiful relationship between producer, Village and Climat.

Roche De Bellene Gevrey Chambertin “Collection Bellenum” 2001, AOC Bourgogne (514430, $74.00, WineAlign)

Though time has exorcised some fining away of the more grainy and delicate texture of this Village level Gevrey Chambertin it hangs securely in the balance between youthful and aged. As a lovely mature pinot noir it should be considered as occupying space in the categorical order between Village and Premier Cru, once destined for greatness but now in the waning, twilight of its career. What happens in this space is a complex combination of cured red fruit, weighty earthiness, mushroom, truffle and dried herbs. All merely hints mind you so several years of life will persist to deliver further pleasure. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017  domaine_de_bellene  nicholaspearcewines  @RochedeBellene  @Nicholaspearce_  Bellene  Nicholas Pearce

Southwestern slope in Gevery Chambertin
photo (c) Scott Zebarth

What is Climat?

Our fiends at the Bureau Interprofessionnel des vins de Bourgogne (BIVB) have established the reference point for the written understanding of the true meaning of Climat. I posed the question of concept to several producers and négociants. Most pointed straight to the BIVB website for answers “Over the past 2,000 years, the Bourgogne winegrowing region has benefited from the experience of men and women, from the observation of the soil, and from the region’s unique microclimates. This has given rise to a patchwork of plots whose qualities have been identified and acknowledged: the Climats and lieux-dits. The Climats and lieux-dits give Bourgogne wines their unique identity. Their names bear witness to the region’s rich history. Their origins lie in the environment, local heritage, savoir-faire (know-how) and human history. The term Climat is unique to Bourgogne. It is the Bourguignon expression of the notion of terroir.”

“The Climats and lieux-dits are the ultimate expression of the notion of terroir. They guarantee the unique characteristics of each wine and offer an unrivaled taste experience. Climats are precisely delineated plots of land that enjoy specific geological and climatic conditions. When combined with human effort and translated through the two great Bourgogne varietals of Pinot Noir for reds and Chardonnay for whites, they give rise to an exceptional range of appellations that are classified according to quality and which enjoy international renownThe Climats confer their own unique organoleptic qualities onto the wines of Bourgogne, such as their appearance, aromas, flavours and texture.”

“exceptional range of appellations that are classified according to quality and which enjoy international renown…the result of the alchemy between men and women and the natural world”

“Some Climats were first referenced as far back as the 7th century, such as Clos de Bèze in Gevrey. For centuries, the reputation of Bourgogne wines was driven by the monks of Cîteaux, and then by the Dukes of Bourgogne. Some wines, such as Clos Vougeot and Montrachet, which bore the name of the Climat where they were grown, acquired a reputation that extended beyond French borders. In 1935, the National Institute for Origins and Quality (INAO), made official the usage of the word “Climat” and began using it in legal texts applying to all Bourgogne appellations, whatever their level of hierarchy. The Climats are a sign of excellence and on 4 July 2015, the Climats were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Lieux-dits are also plots recognized for their own topographic or historical specificities. Their precise geographical location is not registered by the INAO. A certain number of producers choose to feature the name of their lieu-dit on their labels, such as Pouilly-Fuissé, Le Clos Reyssié.”

Gevery Chambertin
photo (c) Scott Zebarth

Bourgogne Premier Cru

Les Climats are Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) defined vineyards or rather the DNA of the vineyards and the official term is specific to wine while the reference lieux-dits is an administrative one. While there are some who consider Climats as also relating to things atmospheric, the pragmatic consensus keeps the discernment ground into dejection depressions, alluvial fans and geological anomalies in an otherwise south by southwest set of exposure slopes for the best of Bourgogne wines. Still others would argue that while dirt makes an impact it is climate that inflicts the most drama on a wine but even more important than climate and soil, it’s the people who give the terroir its cultural identity. The notions of accumulate knowledge that can be transmuted from generation to generation is how each village has managed to produce a specific style of wine from vintage to vintage.

Four exceptional Bourgogne Premier Cru

Domaine Theulot Juillot Mercurey Premier Cru La Cailloute 2014, AOC Bourgogne (473793, $31.75, WineAlign)

Theulot Juillot’s is a Mercurey Premier Cru with a direct connection between Bourgogne and Ontario by way of the great region’s educator and ambassador Jean-Pierre Renard. Given and extra year in bottle  the form tannic grip has loosened, if only a lace or two while it continues to match fruit with umami. Persists in its display as one of the more over-performing reds from one of the most out performing villages in all of Bourgogne. Last tasted on several occasions, June-October 2017

From vines planted in 1979 and 1980, the crest of the ridge at 300m is a prized locale in Mercurey that sees fit to fresh, vibrant and structured pinot noir. The beautiful dichotomous relationship between ripe and juicy opposite firm and sweetly tannic is met in this functional Mercurey, a Premier Cru of upbeat excellence. Very representative of place because of the grip but it goes light years beyond the lithe and the under-performed. You could pour this for Burgundy label chasers and they would cry sweet Nuits St. Georges. Raspberry and strawberry with plenty of umami minerality and that firm tannin up the back. Really tempurpedic acidity never reacts and always supports. Theulot Juillot may suggest five to eight years of cellar time but this is a 10-15 year Mercurey. No fooling. Drink 2018-2029. Tasted September and October 2016  #domainetheulotjuillot  #domainetheulotjuillot  Jean-Pierre Renard

Louis Moreau

Louis Moreau studied oenology-viticulture at Fresno State University (California) before working in several vineyards across the state. In 1994, after eight years in the United States, he returned to France to take over the family business, succeeding his father Jean-Jacques. He then expanded his facilities to leverage the harvests yielded on 110 hectares comprising the family’s two estates, namely Domaine Louis Moreau and Domaine de Biéville. Today, Louis Moreau produces and markets Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru, with a focus on finding the best quality and respecting the environment. Since February 2016 Moreau has been the Vice-President, Commission Chablis of the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne.

Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2014, AOC Bourgogne (124362, $43.00, WineAlign)

Vaillons is drawn from sub-appellative blocks in Les Epinottes and Roncières, with some vines as old as 65 years and yields quite low for where concentration trumps quantity. Very rich and concentrated is indeed the mode here, with good mineral bled from stone and very little in terms of sour or lactic edges. This is amenable Vaillons to be sure. A purity subsists and solicits simple and non-specific pairings, like Dorado, Sea Bass or Magret de Canard. There is this amazing salinity that hints at iodine, lemon and lime, but I would not call it salty. I would call it really refined Chablis. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2016 and several times May-October 2017  chablislouismoreau  louismoreauchablis  artisanal_wine_imports  @MoreauLouis1  Louis Moreau  @artisanalwineimports

“The word Climat is from Bourgogne and designates a viticulture terroir,” explains Megan McClune, Directrice at Domaine Jessiaume. “It is a certain piece of land, with vines, that is named, has a story and specific geological and climate conditions.  The Climat is the association of land, grape variety and craftsmanship. We strive to produce all of our wines so that each wine expresses where it comes from in the glass.  We produce three wines from one parcel of land in Auxey Duresses les Ecussaux. This definitely expresses the notion of Climat. Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières is a very special piece of land.  We have a history of over a hundred years in this piece of land.  The soil is quite rocky and produces a wine with a peppery finish year in and year out.”

Domaine Jessiaume Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières 2013, AOC Bourgogne (487488, $50.00, WineAlign)

Built in 1850, Domaine Jessiaume was purchased in 2007 and is owned and operated by the Scottish family Murray. Situated right at the gates of the important Côte de Beaune village of Santenay it comprises 37-plus acres, with large plots in Santenay, holdings in the Premiers Crus Auxey Duresses Les Ecusseaux and Volnay Les Brouillards and a section of Beaune les Cent Vignes vineyard. Les Garièvres is located at the northern end of the village, on the border with Chassagne-Montrachet. Jessiaume are indubitably Santenay specialists and the famous limestone, oolite and marl plot of Les Gravières (to which a new wall was recently added at its base) is interpreted beautifully bright, from cherry tones to cherry strength. The mesoclimate is fully realized in this sunny ’13 and the wine represents the heart and meat of Bourgogne, from that textbook bright fruit and back down to earth. It’s taut and nearly bracing, just a perfect example of a very specific and storied Climat. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March and November 2017  domainejessiaume  beauwinespiritsake  @DmneJessiaume  Domaine Jessiaume  

Domaine Chanson Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Les Vergelesses 2013, AOC Bourgogne (227199, $66.95, WineAlign)

South of the hill of Corton is where Chanson owns five-plus hectares in Vergelesses, the most famous Premier Cru that gave its name to the village of Pernand. You can feel the lower slope heavy clay but also the upper stones, first in power, grip and texture and then through a liquid red chalky streak. Pernand from the Celtic, “the (spring) source that is lost” and Vergelesses from the Middle French verge, meaning “rod,” a reference to the parcel’s long shape. It is a name which dates back to when Charlemagne owned vines on the Montagne de Corton. Just coming into its zone around now after the toast, grilling notes and calculous grittiness have begun to soften and fade. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February and November 2017  domainechanson  @domainechanson  Domaine Chanson  John Hanna & Sons Ltd.

Premier Crus of Chablis, Montrachet, Mercurey and Nuits-St.-Georges

Domaine Louis Max Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Les Damodes 2014, AOC Bourgogne (469080, $94.00, WineAlign)

Here is an outsanding Nuits Saint Georges from a marl and limestone vineyard just a stone’s throw from Vosne-Romanée. Les Damodes sings a northern NSG song and its ladylike name carries a legend that tells of fairies inhabiting the rocky landscape. The formations looked like tall ladies in long dresses, “les dames hautes,” or “damaudes,” then “damodes.” The vines in the furthest northeastern block north and east of the village look to the east and the soils are poor so the expectation elicits a thoughtfulness to solicit tension and finesse. That it does, first from a stony-lime-pomegranate-red cherry purity and then a fineness of acidity meets tannic honesty. Domaine Louis Max holds widely in Bourgogne, in Mercurey and Rully, as well as the south of France estates of Château Pech-Latt in Corbières and Domaine la Lyre in Côtes-du-Rhône. Les Damodes is a perfect example of a larger, modern-day producer making a small, site-specific Premier Cru from a storied piece of land. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted several times, May to October 2017  #domainelouismax  Louis Max

Marchand Tawse Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru Champ Gain 2014, AOC Bourgogne (470112, $114.00, WineAlign)

Champ Gain is located in the northern reaches of Puligny-Montrachet, above Les Folatières, edging off the eastern slopes of Mont-Rachet and in between the appellations of Saint-Aubin and Meursault. It’s essential perch on the rump of the mountain at 350m lends a perfect south-east exposure. The soil is highly variegated, even for Bourgogne, with friable and broken clay-limestone littered with pebbles and stones. A classic élevage of 18 months in (25 per cent) new wood delivers an archetypal if texturally modern Puligny. The name is simply “field reclaimed by the forest,” which separates itself from no other vineyard in the region but one Premier Cru‘s “gain field” is another’s “perdre la forêt.” What really distinguishes Pascal Marchand’s Champ Gain is texture, not just in how it glides, caresses and layers but in how it ties up its laces so taut, tight and in the end it’s an impenetrable Bourgogne. The force field around its fruit is a pure mineral tide that is yet to ebb and flow. It’s coming soon though, despite the crackerjack vintage that elevates the entire gain. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted several times May to October 2017  marchand_tawse  moraytawsewine  burgundy_direct_imports  @MARCHANDTAWSE  @MorayTawse  @Burgundy_Direct  Marchand-Tawse  

Bourgogne Grand Cru

Historically speaking, when did this omniscient term Climat switch to the wine business? It may have origins and or co-existence in the Jura, but it is definitely a word that belongs to that part of eastern France. So why is or better yet, when did Bourgogne become the birthplace of terroir? We know it to be a matter of nature and people, both of which need time, hope and literacy to transmit information. You need place and you need monks. Record keeping, true delineation of land and the erecting of the walled in vineyards (Les Clos) really began after the monks were handed down the torch from the Celts and the Romans.

Between the 15th century and the French Revolution the vineyards began to be divided up and the notion of Climat emerged. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the ranking of Climats and terroir. Regulations were introduced during the 20th century. The word “Clymat” appeared for the first time in Chablis in 1540 and then again in 1584 in a document about the Clos de Bèze. The first mentions of Climats in this sense were recorded by Abbot Arnoux in 1728 when he described the vines of the “côte.” The movement to define and spread the word about the Climats led to the first classifications of the vineyards, by André Jullien in 1819, Dr. Denis Morelot in 1831 and Dr. Jules Lavalle in 1855. The names of the villages on the côtes was added to the name of their most famous Climat, with the first being Gevrey-Chambertin in 1847.

The first protection systems were introduced:  The laws of 1905, 1919 and especially 1935, which defined the notion of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. In 1944, the names of the Climats classified as Premiers Crus were added to the decrees for Village appellations. On July 4, 2015 the term Climat was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Aubert De Villaine, President of the Association for this inclusion said “nowhere else has the quest for harmony between a wine and the place it is produced been as subtle and sophisticated as in the Bourgogne region with the Climats. The Bourgogne region has a universal value.”

Didier Séguier of Domaine William Fèvre

Domaine William Fèvre can be used as an ideal example of a launch point from where control is transferred from the operating system to the process and ultimately, the programmer. That would be winemaker Didier Séguier, he who takes a calm ferment and squeezes out its vital juices to render Chablis with all the attributes it has come to define. Séguier the winemaker is a generous fellow, a giver of Chablis, gift-wrapping kimmeridgian-affected fruit in 50 per cent oak and tank equality for all his Grand Cru.

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2015, AOC Burgundy, France (641381, $130.00, WineAlign)

Fèvre’s Les Clos takes a bit of an unexpected turn so from 2015 it currently goes stone cold and remains intensely locked. From what we know the vintage should be generous from the start but in this instance Les Clos makes use of every ounce and fibre of kimmerridgian being to lay only salt, fossil and stone before you. The fruit kept hidden away makes you pine for fleshy orchard apples. Nothing can really prepare you for the Les Clos iron gate, especially when you were expecting a welcome mat laid out at your feet. Take the time to charm and be charmed, at least 15 minutes with a glass or 15 years if you can offer up the time. The Grand Cru will slowly open up and speak in a vernacular of controlled energy, fineness of acidity and exceptional balance. This will be one for the ages.  Drink 2021-2035. Tasted April 2017  williamfevre_chablis  woodmanws  @williamfevre_  @WoodmanWS  @domainewilliamfevre  Woodman Wines & Spirits

The greatest pleasure to welcome Jean-Pierre Renard and Nelly Blau of @vinsdebourgogne to Toronto.

The only true intrinsic reality gained through a discussion about Climat is accessed by the tasting and assessment of examples that represent a full cross-section of Bourgogne. The appellations of Chablis et du Grand Auxerrois, Côtes de Nuits and Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Côtes de Beaune and Hautes Côtes de Beaune, Côtes Chalonnaise and Couchois, the Macônnais and the Châtillonnais are best understood by comparative studies of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from regional Bourgogne to Village and through Premier and Grand Cru wines. With more than 100 appellations (84 officially recognized) it would take a lifetime and then some to cover them all and several more to come to grips with the very specific meanings and interpretations of their personalized Climats. By that time the moving target would change so much that starting again would be the only option. Make the most of the time there is, which is the way of the Bourguignons.

If you are looking for an answer as to why Bourgogne wines are so expensive, subscribe to the following idea. If to you unadulterated Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, respected producers and Climat mean anything at all then the Bourgognes are worth the price, if only because they are the rarest group of wines on the planet. Consider the region sixty kilometres in length, with 28,715 hectares under vine split up into thousands of different plots. Each are tiny by comparison with most of the rest of the world’s identified terroirs. We can’t all afford Bourgogne but at every level the quality is reflective of the cost. Truly. We can however search for terrific value in the multitude of villages where quality has improved dramatically in recent times. Names like Chablis, Montagny, Saint-Véran, Mercurey and Santenay are but a handful. All of Bourgogne waits for you.

Sources

https://www.bourgogne-wines.com/

https://www.climats-bourgogne.com

http://www.decanter.com/

Chambertin Clos de Beze photo
(c) Scott Zebarth

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Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Fontodi’s one hundred per cent sangiovese

In @chianticlassico mano nella mano 1986, @fontodi #vignadelsorbo & #flaccianello thank you Giovanni Manetti for sharing these two opposing forces of the Tuscan paradox #chianticlassico

I have spent quite a bit of time in Chianti Classico over the past two years, most recently during the last week of September. The occupation of study and discovery and the investigation into the intricacies and multiplicities of the region’s sangiovese prepossess a lifelong infatuation. If the cumulative is a factor of compulsive obsession so be it and while decades of learning are left to attack, an essential visit can now be crossed off the bucket list. With Giovanni Manetti at Fontodi.

Fontodi is a certified organic estate which extends over 130 hectares of which approximately 70 are planted to vines. When you break down the name into two parts, first fonte or “source” and odi, “hate” you paint an image in etymology that couldn’t be further from the truth. Take a walk through the estate’s vineyards set in Panzano’s Conca d’Oro and the exact opposite unfolds. Fontodi’s estate vines are as described (and for the effects on health and happiness) prescribed as a place of “high altitude, calcaire-clay-schist soil, lots of light, and a fantastic micro-climate – warm and dry with a marked difference in day and night-time temperatures.” Lots of light is really key, “un sacco di luce,” or as it could be construed, “a source of love.” Spend three hours with Fontodi’s proprietor Giovanni Manetti and you’ll get the picture. Fontodi as Fonte di amore.

Related – All in with Chianti Classico

Giovanni Manneti showing the sangiovese of the 2017 harvest

Today is September the 23rd. First we take a drive down into the Conca d’Oro and walk in the vines. The sangiovese blocks with the finest exposure and the most sun have just recently been picked. Others are coming in as we speak. The rest will be harvested by the end of the week. It has been a most unusual vintage in Chianti Classico. One of the warmest and driest winters on record is interrupted by a near-devastating spring frost then followed by scorching summer temperatures and no rain. The grapes dry up and desiccate to nearly nothing with the danger of an empty harvest looming. Then a miracle happens and the rains fall during one crazy week in early September.

There are producers who make a fateful mistake. They pick their sangiovese ahead of the rains. Sugar and alcohol are high in the shrivelled berries but phenolic ripeness lags well behind. The stems and seeds in these preemptively harvested sangiovese are green, underdeveloped and bitter. The tannins will follow suit. Though these wines will be jammy and flavourful in the first year or two, the hollow feeling on their mid-palate and the astringency on their finish will expose their weakness. Giovanni Manetti makes no such mistake. He allows the grapes to swell with the much-needed watering and then watches them develop their phenolics over the following weeks of warm weather. His sangiovese are beautiful, lower in yield, with many of the bunches and their berries smaller in size, but ripe nonetheless. It may not turn out to be a great year for Chianti Classico and Flaccianello economics but the 2017 wines will shine.

Have not seen a prettier cow than the #chianina raised for @dariocecchinimacellaio on the @fontodi organic farm in Panzano

We move on down to visit the Chianina. The Chianina are an ancient and very large Italian breed of cattle raised mainly for beef. The beautiful, regal and majestic cows are famous for producing the meat for Toscana’s bistecca alla fiorentina. Giovanni’s herd are nurtured for one specific purpose, to supply the most famous butcher in Italy Dario Cecchini with his meat. Says Cecchini, “The Officina della Bistecca is our convivial way of answering the difficult question of the perfect way of cooking Her Majesty the Bistecca alla Fiorentina and Her Sisters the Costata and the Panzanese steak.” The farm to table relationship between Fontodi and Antica Macelleria Cecchini is witnessed right here, first hand.

Pinot Nero in Amphora at Fontodi

Back in the winery Manetti is fully cognizant of a group of seasoned journalists and sommeliers having visited more than their share of estates so we skip past the stainless steel tanks, barrel cellars and bottling lines to get down to what is really right. Along with John Szabo M.S. (WineAlign partner and author of Volcanic Wines), Brad Royale (WineAlign judge, Wine Director of Rocky Mountain Resorts and most interesting man in Canada) and Steven Robinson (First Ontario Ambassador of Chianti Classico and Sommelier at Atelier Restaurant in Ottawa) we talk amphora with Giovanni. Much experimentation is taking place at Fontodi even while much of the world may not associate their iconic sangiovese with this sort of side work. Along with decades of producing tiles, the hand-made wine Amphoras manufactured by Manetti Gusmano & Figli are the result of eight generations of experience in the production of Cotto and high quality handmade terracotta.

What makes the Manetti Amphorae special is the uniqueness of the clay; the abundant presence of Galestro in the terroir of  Chianti Classico, the salts and the calcium carbonates confer the right microporosity, enabling the wine to breathe correctly. This feature, the antioxidant and antibacterial action and the high thermal insulation capacity make the terracotta Amphora  an ideal tool for the production of great natural wines. Fontodi and natural wines. Another partnership so worth exploring.

Fontodi vineyards in the Conco d’oro, Panzano

After the amphora we sit down to taste through the wines of Fontodi. There are good solid sessions and then there is the kind of catechetical research afforded with a proud and humble man of Giovanni Manetti’s stature. First the presentation and sangiovese appetite whetting pour of Meriggio, a sauvignon blanc from the Colli Toscana Centrale, a rest in the shade, “and as for compensation, there’s little he would ask.” Then the Chianti Classico from Fontodi and neighbouring Lamole in Greve in Chianti, for perspective and contrast. Manetti gets down to the greatest of Chianti Classico/Toscana IGT contrastive verticals with eight vintages of Vigna del Sorbo (now labeled as Gran Selezione) and Flaccianello della Pieve. When asked what he thinks of the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione category moving to 100 per cent sangiovese he laughs. “What do I think of the idea? It’s my idea!” The notes will explain the rest.

Fontodi Meriggio 2016, Colli Toscana Centrale IGT, Italy (WineAlign)

Meriggio is 100 per cent La Rota vineyard sauvignon blanc, whole cluster pressed with native yeasts, 75 per cent stainless steel ferment, no malo, 15 per cent in amphora and 10 per cent in French barriques. That said, without temperature control some malo, like it, happens. To go to Meriggio means to go and have a rest in the shade, from the verb meriggiare in reference to the (not Tuscan) poet Eugenio Montale, “merrigiare pallidio e assorto.” Empty is the literal translation but it’s more a case of the unoccupied mind at rest. Sauvignon should always be so calm and yet spirited, here with little to no oxidative character but rather metallurgy, saltiness and pure tang. The leesy reductive environment and Panzano acidity conspire with calcaire for a demonstrative locution. Bloody delicious sauvignon blanc for the man in me. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2017

Sangiovese of Fontodi

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2014, Tuscany, Italy (933317, $36.95, WineAlign)

No surprise here from stalwart Fontodi, to take a difficult vintage, push vanity aside and select the best fruit for a pure expression of sangiovese, natural and organically made, with precision and clarity. The red Panzano fruit spikes with cran-pom-rasp-currant bursting freshness. It’s just the right amount of tart and sapid, carefully rippling in acidity. So well made. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted February and September 2017  #Fontodi  rogersandcompanywines    @rogcowines  Az. Agr. Fontodi  #fontodi

Fontodi Chianti Classico Filetta Di Lamole 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $35.95, WineAlign)

The old Lamole winery is owned by Giovanni Manetti’s cousins, where the grandfather made important wines until he passed away in the 80s and the grapes were then sold to bulk. Then Giovanni began working with the family in the 2000s and this first vintage was ready because the finesse of 2014 spoke to him, to begin the new journey. This has seriously improved, settled, come together, developed its excellence with seven months added in time to bottle. Its characters of amaro, earth and texture are now as one, inseparable and fully vested in the calm. Drink 2017-2023.  Last tasted September 2017

From the “forgotten corner of Chianti Classico,” Lamole of Greve in Chianti is perched in a natural amphitheatre between Volpaia to the south and Panzano to the west. Some of the vineyard’s older vines are still pruned in the alberello (bush) style. This is Giovanni Manetti’s inaugural vintage of the Filetta in cohorts with his cousin. So, decidedly a diffident partner and opposing force to the Fontodi Annata because the earthy-subterranean dwelling aromatics brood beneath the red, verging to riper and darker fruit. There is a liquor, aperitif amaro-ness to the Lamole. The clay must be darker and more compressed. The balance is struck though on deeper, more brooding and warmer alcohol-felt lines and in 2014, as if it were a Riserva. It’s an oak “vessel’ aged 100 per cent sangiovese, as opposed to other the estate’s usual use of barriques. It is perhaps counterintuitive but this acts more evolved than the “normale.” Neither better or worse but enjoyment time is now.  Tasted February 2017

Father and son- Giovanni and Bernardo Manetti @fontodi #panzano #chianticlassico

Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna Del Sorbo 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $83.95, WineAlign)

The older vines are between 52 and 54 years old, the first vintage being 1985 and until 2011, contained some cabernet sauvignon, vines that have since been pulled out. The now site-specific, 100 per cent sangiovese Vigna del Sorbo may have been muscular in 2012 but no such hyperbole exists in 2014. The vintage determined this and despite the deep black cherry chalkiness the true spirit and stripped down honesty of sangiovese is in display. Purity has returned, floral like an artistically-rendered natural, realist and perpetual field of flowers in bloom, in installation, of violet light and rose-scented glass. I can imagine drinking this for decades, with its albarese-galestro saltiness and effortless concentration. Sometimes sangiovese never relents and at the same time never tires. Meraviglioso. Drink 2020-2038.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna Del Sorbo 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $81.00, WineAlign)

Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2013. (Takes deep breath). Just imagine a box filled with all things sangiovese, in all its incarnations and permutations, each aspect teaching something about what you need to know. History, legacy and tradition. Risk taking, forward thinking and progress. What is learned (in retrospect) from two poles; heat and power (2012) and cool savour and elegance (2014). The ’13 is not a matter of being in between but rather an exceptionality, a sangiovese of energy, precision, clarity, purity and a pure reflection in the window of honesty. Everything this vineyard can offer is in the 2013; florals, herbs, fruit, acidity and fine, fine tannin. All in, together, as one. Perhaps its best years will end sooner than 2014 but the time spent will be unparalleled. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Chianti Classico Vigna Del Sorbo 1986, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Fontodi’s Vigna del Sorbo was obviously not a Gran Selezione designated Chianti Classico in 1986 but it was at the top of the pyramid. A sangiovese in which the acids and fine pear bitters stir in the tray, with a fruit from the (Sorbo) tree that was used to mix with grapes for Vin Santo. Not any more. In 2017 the freshness is impossible, implausible, perpetuated in the most floral and fine acidity combination of any older sangiovese ever experienced. This is like sucking on the most perfect lozenge of fruit, salt, mineral and Panzano mystery. This is Panzano sapidity perfectly realized, preserved and expressed. There is a touch of Cassis, less pyrazine but you can detect the cabernet sauvignon character, even in 10 per cent but combined with sangiovese it’s this frutta di bosco feeling. Just fantastic. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted September 2017

#nebuchadnezzar @fontodi #flaccianello

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent $125.00, SAQ 12123921, $97.25, WineAlign)

Flaccianello comes off of a different slope, aspect and exposition than Vigna del Sorbo, here facing straight south, collecting all the sun it can in the golden glow of the Conca d’Oro. The richness celebrates the legacy of this 100 per cent sangiovese, once so atypical and untraditional back in 1981, now the most legacy defining there may just be for varietal Panzano and for the territory in the sense of the greater good. Pure, nonpartisan just, unadulterated and perfectly powerful sangiovese with length from Firenze to Siena and back. Drink 2021-2036.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Agent $125.00, SAQ 12123921, $97.25, BCLDB 55392, $109.99, WineAlign)

The Flaccianello is the Fontodi expression of uva nostrala, “our grape,” explains Giovanni Manneti, the most important local variety owned by Chianti Classico, protected and exalted by Fontodi. Sangiovese the solo act that must define Gran Selezione, to explain what is Chianti Classico in its purest form and to separate how it grows and what wine it produces, particularly when you are to compare it from commune to commune. This Flaccianello separates itself from the Vigna del Sorbo vineyard and Gran Selezione category, even from itself, with another bonafide elegant layer of Conca d’Oro stratified limestone richness and this ultra-savoury umami level of minty-herbal intensity. What else is there to say? Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2006, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Tell it to the vintage perhaps but 2006 is so very floral, more than any Flaccianello in the memory bank and expressly sangiovese in temper. It’s a year with massive tannins and extreme acidity. For these reasons there is a tightness of being and even at 10-plus years it’s silly young to work with but the concentration impresses. Fruit at a premium indicates some citrus, in orange and lemon with compound interest calculated in further variegated acidity. The most sapid Flaccianello of them all has 15 years more initial development ahead before true secondary character will take over. It’s amazing when you stop to think about sangiovese of such structure. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted April 2017

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2005, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

“This is the vintage I open when I host a party or an important dinner, because no one asks me to open it.” The words are Giovanni Manetti’s and for him none truer are spoken, with a smile. The younger vines and super-selection from the “Bricco” part of the top of the hill in the exceptional vineyard make for a sangiovese of fine-grained tannin plus what the smallest berries of the smallest bunches gift. Their integration with wood has become a matter of balance, in terms of delicasse, even while supported by such structure. Secondary character is happening, in herbal, balmy and savoury, slightly pulsed and edging into balsamico. But it’s such a gentle and slow-sliding slope, years yet away from tertiary. Drink 2017-2026.  Tasted September 2017

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 1986, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Flaccianello in 1986 is actually though not surprisingly so different from Vigna del Sorbo, more than any other reason because of the cabernet sauvignon, but in a more philosophical way, because they have built a paradox, from the Super Tuscan ideal in revolution. Now the sangiovese going forward will be the most important and also the best wine, like looking back at this 1986, OK, not better than Sorbo but purer, honest, a clearer picture from which to learn from and ultimately a model for the future. Beautiful power, restraint, structure and yes, the kind of wine that deserves to be praised with the term elegance, overused, or not. Perfectly rustic, earthy and full of fruit with its accompanying complimentary, enervating and necessary acidity. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted September 2017

In @chianticlassico mano nella mano 1986, @fontodi #vignadelsorbo & #flaccianello thank you Giovanni Manetti for sharing these two opposing forces of the Tuscan paradox #chianticlassico

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Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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A Sordo affair

Sordo – I Fantastici 8 Crus di Barolo 2013

On Thursday, July 13, 2017 an event dedicated to  the “Fantastic 8 cru of Barolo 2013” was held at the farm of Giorgio Sordo. The program included a guided visit to the historic part of the 1912 cellar, the modern 2016 cellar and a tasting of Sordo’s eight Crus di Barolo, attended by experts, opinion leaders, sommeliers, influencers and journalists from all over the world. Senior Sordo Enologist Ernesto Minasso introduced the Sordo terroir and then Ian D’Agata took over, Scientific Director of Vinitaly and the Wine Project of the Collisioni Festival. The teachings of (Armando) Cordero were invoked, in discussion of respect for what each site can deliver, in working them exactly the same way, so that what you are left with is a true sense of each site, to recall an Ontario “climat” terminology, a Barolo somewhereness if you will, tells Mr. D’Agata. Sitting there, listening to these introductions and pronouncements, self says to self  “let’s see about these things.” A dinner followed, prepared at the hands of Chef Danilo Lorusso of La Crota di Roddi.

The two soil epochs of Barolo are divided by a diagonal line that runs from the northeast down to the southwest, drawn between Roddi and Grinzane through Castiglione Falletto down through Barolo and to Novello. The appellation’s two soil types are Tortonian and Serravallian (or Helvetian), both of which were formed millions of years ago and each are responsible for producing different styles of nebbiolo. La Morra and Barolo to the west are lands less compact and more fertile and the general consensus puts these nebbioli in the realms of the elegant and more (relatively) amenable. In and around Serralunga d’Alba, Monforte and Castiglione Falletto, the Serravallian is marked by dense, compact marl and the Barolo there tends to greater body and alcohol, ideal for a potential to longer aging.

La Morra’s famous cru include Arborina, Brunate, Cerequio, Gattera, Gianchi, Marcenasco and Rocche dell’Annunziata. Barolo’s are Bricco Viole, Brunate, Cannubi, Cannubi Boschis, Sarmassa, Via Nuova, Rue and San Lorenz0. In Castiglione Falletto there are Bricco Rocche, Villero, Monprivato, Fiasc, Mariondino, Pira and Ravera. In Serralunga d’Alba the Cru include Falletto, Francia, Marenca, Vigna Rionda, Marenca-Rivette, La Serra, Margheria, Ornato and Parafada. Monforte d’Alba holds the vineyards of Bussia, Cicala, Colonnello, Dardi, Ginestra, Mosconi, Munie, Romirasco and Santo Stefano.

The official recognition of the DOC Barolo happened in 1966 and the DOCG followed, in 1980. The grape variety is 100 per cent nebbiolo in a production zone covering the entire township of three villages; Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto, plus part of the territory of eight other small townships.  Sordo’s excellent eight are what the parlance of Barolo times would refer to as “sorì”, or Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva (MGA), or individual vineyard names. There are more than 100 officially recognized MGAs in Barolo.

Sordo’s eight cru are spread across 53 hectares, 80 per cent cultivated to nebbiolo, plus dolcetto, barbera, arneis, chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc. The total production is 350,000 bottles, with vineyards subsidized by grass and ground cover between the rows. No chemicals though sulphur is used, with stainless steel ferments, élevage in large Slavonian oak casks, further time in bottle of six months, 36 for riserva. The vintage 2013 saw a warm, dry winter, above average in that regard, a cold March, rainy spring, warm summer and dry fall. A 15 day harvest was executed across October. Here are the notes on the eight 2013 cru plus three extras poured with dinner.

Sordo Barolo Monvigliero 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (459677, $47.95, WineAlign)

Monvigliero might very well be considered the “Grand Cru” of Verduno village, facing south/south east at 280-320 metres above sea level. The soils are loose, fine and dry marls and in 2013 the harvest happened on the 12th of October. The first vintage was 2005, from a cru set on the west side of the diagonal line drawn between Roddi and Grinzane through Castiglione Falletto down south west through Barolo and to Novello. Here the make up is more (relatively) fertile Tortonian epoch soils, facilitator of earlier developing Baroli. The comparison might be to Paulliac and Saint-Estèphe, to nebbiolo needing four to six years before entering the drinking window. Every producer that owns parcels in Monvigliero ends up with a top three Barolo portfolio cru from within. Here the Sordo ’13 is so very perfumed, of violet and rose petal, certainly an aromatic potpourri, light in hue and transparent, with texture, sour acidity as of cherry, not yet into the tar. The pearls of magnesium rich marly liquid rubies run amok in the mouth. Returning after tasting the last three (Rocche, Villero and Monprivato) musketeers this now shows how lithe, lovely and accessible (relatively speaking of course) this Monvigliero really is. There are 12,900 bottles made. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted July 2017  sordowine  collisioni  @sordo_wine  @Collisioni  @SordoVini  @CollisioniFestival

Sordo Barolo Ravera 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Ravera is on the eastern slope of the township of Novello, also left bank of the diagonal soil epoch dividing line and like Monvigliero, facing south/southeast. Cuts more attitude and altitude, between 420-450 masl. Loose but richer, whitish marl and grey soils typify the cru. The Ravera harvest was on the 19th October, leading to 20,500 bottles and its first vintage was also 2005. It shows more austerity than Monvigliero, owing to being characterized by Serravallian soils found on the right bank, so this is the cru with an identity complex. This is compact, grippy, intense, sour wrapped up in a mystery folded into an enigma. A reticent, brooding hidden gemstone and texture of compression Sordo, but hard to get. Will unravel and work into its flesh no sooner than six plus years on. From a Ravera sweet spot but it’s not sweet now, nor are some other renditions. A return (30 minutes later) brings the unmistakeable nose of fennel. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Perno 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Perno belongs to Monforte d’Alba and this particular single-vineyard portion (6.6 hectares of 190.96 total hectares in the large cru) is owned entirely by Sordo, though others farm the rest. Vines age from 15-35 years-old, on red soils with stones and it was the 18th of October for this harvest. The first vintage was 2000. Only Bussia and San Pietro are bigger in all of Barolo so there will be some variegation coming from the Cru. Located on the right bank, immediately to the east of the diagonal line, into Serravallian soils, of calcareous limestone and compacted sands. It’s bloody tannic, but aromatically speaking it does in fact speak its mind, of a fine porous vessel holding a sparked and stark, bitter and macerating cherry liqueur. The palate follows sharp and piercing, compressed, intense, of powerful structure and endless length. Brooding and massive but harnessed power that could run a small nation-state. That power never relents though a silk road certainly runs through that country. There were 48,000 bottles produced. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Gabutti 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Gabutti (Serralunga d’Alba) sits at 250-300 masl, in compacted clay with 1989 being the first vintage. It ranges to the far east set into the quintessential seravalian soil and try hard to argue against the idea that it is the cru almost impossible to figure young. Sordo submits to its potential as unlimited and outrageous. There are spice aromas and acidity up front but otherwise it slams the door, locked tight. I disagree with Id’A in that the nose is not floral and accessible but do agree that it is civilized, on the first wave of palate, with soaking cherries and the idea of tar. Then the clutch sticks, it breaks down and shuts down. Wait 10 years from harvest with proof provided that 30 minutes does nothing to allow a Gabutti relent. It does indeed show some further precison when you get back to the back palate. Ultimately there can be little to say but that the jury is so fully out on Gabutti. There were 26,000 bottles made. Drink 2023-2035.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Parussi 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Parussi comes from Castiglione Falletto at an elevation of 270-290 masl, with 15-40 year-old vines on loose surface soil and limestone with whitish, grey marls. The harvest was the 15th of October and the first vintage goes back to 2005. Sordo farms 1.8 of a small (13.4) hectares but the whole cru is not suited to nebbiolo, so only 83 per cent is planted to the grape. We are to understand that the idea goes beyond Parussi in that only certain portions are truly nebbiolo-Barolo cru territory. Parussi is from the crossroads of two soil epochs, between Barolo and Monforte and Serralunga to the south and east. The questions is asked whether or not it achieves a balance, of two banks on either side of a diagonal epoch line, like St. Julien, part Margaux and part Paulliac. It does but certainly resides on the brightest side, with the most fruit. The tart cherries are possessive of this striking personality so that they achieve a suspended animated moment in which they equilibrate to sweetness tempered by sour acidity moments and great fineness of demanding tannin. There are 13,000 bottles. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted July 2017

Vitello Tonnato at Sordo

Sordo Barolo Rocche Di Castiglione 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Also from Castiglione Falletto is Rocche Di Castiglione, a formidable nebbiolo from 30-60 years of vine age, including a 1960’s planting. The elevation creeps up to 300-350 masl, on white and blue marl with dry and compacted sandstone. Harvest was on the 17th of October and production goes back to 1987 in this, Sordo’s first original cru. One of the greatest vineyards in all of Barolo, the new name is now Rocche di Castiglione Falletto, a place of crooked cragges or peaks, the altitude delivering more power and structure, but also grace and refinement. This is nebbiolo of a cooler climate personality, wound so tight, with sour cherry, rose petal and so much fruitier on the nose, certainly more than Villero. There is this smooth, satiny consistency through the modernity of flavours on the oldest fruit. A great dichotomy achieved. Drink 2023-2040.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Villero 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Villero is an accumulation of purchased grapes from a farmer who follows a strict regimen. The cru is composed of calcareous, grey marls and compact grey sand and in this first 2013 vintage the later harvest was the 20th of October. Almost dukes it out with Rocche, this second of three musketeers with Castiglione and Monprivato. A balanced locale submits to make for optimum equilibrium for nebbiolo cru, looking at it this early as big, brawny, stiff and strong in its austerity. Giving so little away and yet it’s all imagination, driven by time. The cru is 22 hectares large with Sordo owning 0.4 and change, very small but it’s a true nebbiolo vineyard. Villero is nothing if not erected as a wall of acidity and tannin, so intensely taut, wound and as of yet, unforgiving. There are 3,600 bottles. Drink 2024-2039.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Monprivato 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Monprivato is the third of the Castiglione Falletto cru, at variegated elevations from 240-320 masl. Sordo’s are 40 year-old vines and in this inaugural 2013 it was picked earlier (than Villero) on the 17th of October. Another true representative of Serravallian epoch austerity, with formidable tannin and a get down on my knees and beg to ask for more time before delivering accessibility. One of the true great Barolo vineyards, 98 per cent planted to nebbiolo. The 7.12 hectare large site gifts somewhere between the structure of Villero and the richness of Rocche. You get spice and sour cherry right away but also some other fruit in spice format, mulled in a way, of orange rind, apricot and pomegranate. It’s as if a piece of La Tâche suddenly became available to be farmed by someone else. Such fineness and nobility of tannins, richness and fine bitters, in the end the most tonic of all. This may be the whole package, a compromise in a way but an impressive and charming nebbiolo like no other. There are 3,200 bottles. Drink 2023-2040.  Tasted July 2017

More Sordo

Sordo Roero Arneis Garblet Sué 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Garblet Sué is on the Bricco Fiasco, a Castiglione Falletto vineyard owing in name to the Garbelletto Superiore farm that lies below. Sordo’s roero is rich in metallurgy, orchard fruit purity sporting equal parts pear and citrus, almost but not quite savoury. The balance of fruit, soil and salty mineral melts into arneis tannin. Overall it’s simply suave and polished stuff. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Rocche Di Castiglione 2011, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

It’s difficult to say and even harder to admit that ’11 Rocche is any further advanced than the ’13 tasted 90 minutes prior. The fruit is a bit riper and if development can be quantified it’s a matter of millimetres by cru standards. And so the sour cherry is sweetened, rendered with more baking spice caress and attention to length, elastically so and with precise action. Five years further on and it will fall effortlessly into its next perfect phase, in a place called beautiful. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Riserva Barolo Gabutti Edizione Limitata 2006, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Sometimes it’s just a case of instant recognition, of the transparent Barolo-nebbiolo purity, crowned by acidity read from a very particular cru vernacular, spoken without any interference. At this 11-year itch, which incidentally seems only a year or two shy of the optimum window, Gabutti runs just a touch hot. A minor distraction in bitter phenol is balanced by ripe Sordo fruit that when combined acts like a salve melting on a tongue coated with tannin. Can formidable and elegant co-exist? In Gabutti, yes they can, easily, readily and in truth. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted July 2017

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Rewriting history at Meerlust back to 1984, one vintage at a time

Not just #meerlust more like major lust. Thank you for the sexy time travel @meerlustwine Laurel Keenan and The South African Wine Society.

It was on September 12th, 2017 that a once in a lifetime South African vertical tasting happened. The South African Wine Society managed to acquire 10 Meerlust wines from nine vintages gathered over 15 years. In Toronto. At The University of Toronto Faculty Club. It’s not that I want to invoke the dystopian dread of George Orwell nor do I equate the master’s writing with the wines of Meerlust but tasting 1984 through to 2010 has provoked the linguistic drama in me to invoke some wordsmith parallels. “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Winemaker Chris Williams may not totally disagree.

Few Cabernet Sauvignon vertical tastings are capable of determining such a clear picture in style, patterning and evolution, save for perhaps for obvious reasons what is possible out of Bordeaux. This focused collection from Meerlust connected past to present and with no real South African presence in the room. A 25-minute video presentation by Williams and the wines were all the 75 guests in attendance had to go on. By the time the winemaker had sped-tasted and rapid-dissected the nine vintages most of the four-ounce pours in the room were drained. It was a quick to state of bliss happy bunch.

Meerlust dates back to 1693, the house that is “love or pleasure of the sea.” Less than five kms south from the Atlantic Ocean, the property was purchased in 1756 and to this day remains family owned, now in its eighth generation with 260 years of continuity. On the 3rd July 1693, the Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, granted the land to Henning Hüsing, who named the farm Meerlust, describing the sense of pleasure he obtained from the sea breezes that blew inland from False Bay. Johannes Albertus Myburgh bought Meerlust in January 1757. His ownership marked the foundation of the Myburgh Dynasty.

Hannes Myburgh, eighth generation owner of Meerlust, graduated from the University of Stellenbosch with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in French and English in 1982, before studying winemaking at Geisenheim in Germany. Hannes worked at Chateau Lafite in France and von Oetinger in Germany. Chris Williams was appointed Cellar Master at Meerlust in 2004 but has worked as Assistant Winemaker for the farm since 1995. He studied Oenology at Elsenberg and gained international experience in France while working for Michel Rolland. He is assisted by Wilson Waterboer and the cellar team.

Remarkable history and longevity through 10 back vintages of @meerlustwine #rubicon with the South African Wine Society. Thank you LK for the generous treat.

Rubicon is Meerlust’s flagship wine and considered one of South Africa’s premier Bordeaux Blend reds, first made in 1980. This vertical of nine vintages included 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008  and 2009. I’ve added 2010, tasted recently through Ontario’s VINTAGES release program. In addition, we tasted cabernet sauvignon 2004, infrequently made, the previous time in 1993. This is the prime ingredient to the Bordeaux blend, usually making up around 60 per cent of the wine, with merlot, cabernet franc (and from 2008 on), petit verdot added. Thank you to Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa Canada, for having me and to Eleanor Cosman of the South African Wine Society, for hosting. Here are the notes.

Meerlust Rubicon 2010, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $37.95, WineAlign)

Meerrlust’s iconic blend is a Stellenbosch essential, of the ripest fruit and fully-rendered barrel. I’m quite amazed at its uncanny ability to appeal, even at this seven year mark, a show of generosity and gregarious character almost unparalleled for a wine of its Western Cape ilk. The geology runs deep, neither reductive, sap-flowing or bouncy, but the mineral sear and streak is certainly there. This Rubicion trades fecundity for earthy chocolate, uncompromising and unapologetic in its frosting. Beef is a must, preferably rare and dark from high heat char. Dry-aged and or Wagyu would pair even better. The blend is 62 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (24) merlot, (12) cabernet franc and (2) petit verdot. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted February 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2009, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Winemaker Chris Williams forged the people’s Rubicon in 2009, a Bordeaux blend as recognizable in name and style as much as any produced in not only South Africa, but worldwide. Everything is attractive in 2009, beginning with these quite lovely liquid dusty, rich mulberry and deep plum notes. To a crowd of 75 it can’t help but be the standout of general consensus for its sheer restrained hedonism and unabashed beauty. Youth has so much to do with how this shows but believe me 2009 is just a baby, so much more so than 2008 and they are only a year apart. The blend is 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (20) merlot, (9) cabernet franc and (1) petit verdot. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

The 2008 is the first vintage with some petit verdot in the mix though it’s just a start, with one per cent to go along in a blend of (71) cabernet sauvignon, (19) merlot and (9) cabernet franc. Shows some volatility and also more wood in the context of an espresso-chocolate continuum. Here a deeply hematic and iron schisty Rubicon, intense, brooding, mineral well dug deep into the terroir. This goes strong and powerful up the sides of the tongue with that fine but intense acidity. Unquestioned as a fine wine with lots of wood derived chocolate flavours but the spice is all fruit and the tannin from off of that fruit. Massive structure and age possibility will go well into the twenties. Drink 2017-2027.  Last tasted September 2017.

Rubber dust, road macadam and strawberry jam. Fierce Bordeaux Blend home from a hot climate. This has gritty obduracy and doggedness. Like a red blend with a gun, walking the mean streets. Acidity shot through the roof. Bordeaux meets South Africa in every shared, resplendent and promising way. Rasping tannins contain bursting dark fruit, the grain running in multiple directions. Respect. Wait two more years on this and drink comfortably past 2020. Tasted November 2014

Meerlust Rubicon 2007, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon 2007 is the last to be made without any petit verdot (74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (15) merlot and (11) cabernet franc) and is actually not too dissimilar to ’06 though truly lighter and with more high bright intensity. It is also possessive of that collective ropey, red dusty cured and dried fruit character, like what can happen with traditionally adhered to sangiovese and tempranillo. So really when you think about it this shares a style, at least in part with more than its Bordeaux cousins. Yet go and ask winemaker Chris Williams and he’ll tell you “I dont think this wine could be made anywhere else because of terroir and history.” Fair enough. Surely the winemaker knows. Drink 2017-2026.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2006, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon is one of the original South African Bordeaux blends, here in 2006 with merlot and cabernet franc to satisfy the blended needs of cabernet sauvignon. The blend is 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (8) merlot and (18) cabernet franc. This ’06 is a bit shy, reserved, not giving much away from its usual floral heights. There is a layering of palate density before then deriving its complexity through the alleys of acidity, tannin and structure. Still so far from coming around but this reminds me of that salty, saline and mineral 1996. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2005, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

In 2005 the blend (69 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (15) merlot and (16) cabernet franc) saw an increase of cabernet franc, likely because of heat units and a vintage-driven jamminess exhibited by the cabernet sauvignon. The result is a cooler, increased savoury blend with a rising of steroidal currants so very sapid in a pool of high acidity. It’s the most lucent Rubicon, almost luminescent though not quite transparent, still so vital, pulsating and nearly raging in its wild, twitchy edgy energy, even beastly and in the end, just a bit out of balance. Like a Steve Vai riff in Zappa mode. Then again, the, Rubicon ’05, anything but a flex able leftover or quaint little wine might tell me, “I’m the beast of love and you just got in my way.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2004, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon 2004 is a completely different animal, with animale musk and a deep, dark and brooding constitution. The blend is 63 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (27) merlot and (10) cabernet franc. Shows 13 years on as the young (Chris Williams) winemaker’s ambitious first solo effort, while the wood was once so obviously in power of demand, it’s now ameliorated and integrated. This must have taken some time to come around, perhaps as recent as a year or two ago. Rubicon has been produced since 1980, was previuosly a matter of cabernet sauvignon, now here with more cabernet franc than before. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2003, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Rubicon 2003 was made by Chris Williams’ predecessor Giorgio Dalla Cia and from ’04 on they are made by Williams. The blend is 69 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (19) merlot and (12) cabernet franc. From a long hot dry sumer, a classic Rubicon, again with some lovely complexity out of the shadow of volatility, more savour here and cedar, plus pencil lead and graphite. In the freshest of ways this is closer to the present stylistic of Rubicon and Stellenbosh and further away than 1996. It’s the transition from old to new, with concentrated black currant, Cassis and wine gum. Not quite tertiary bit meaty char, balsamic, fennel and mushroom are just around the corner. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 2001, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

2001, a warmer vintage is the assumption, with its wood still in play and tannins truly continuing their assertion. Giorgio dalla Cia fashioned a truly proportioned blend, of 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon with equal parts merlot and cabernet franc. While it can’t hide from its ocean salinity and omnipresent terroir it is a stand out vintage because of new world opulence. I’m not sure there will be another Rubicon in this tasting or at any opportunistic time that will make one dream so vividly of Bordeaux (i.e Château Pichon Longueville Baron) but also Napa Valley (i.e. Opus One). The structure in this Rubicon is purely Stellenbosch and with its merlot/cabernet franc proportion it’s quite intriguing, especially because of the warmth and how dramatically this foreshadows how franc will become more important in the blend as the years progress by. A fantastic wine Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 1996, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

In 1996 Chris Williams was a junior winemaker (to Giorgio della Cia) at the time but he remembers the vintage well. The blend is 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (20) merlot and (10) cabernet franc, from a cool vintage, here still dishing some Brettanomyces. It’s in check and so kind, gentle and helps to fixate towards thinking it a a sleeper vintage sort of personality There is much savour, still fruit (mulberry and plum), lots of acidity in quite a sour patch candy way but really dry and intense.Plenty of sediment! Very much alive with the silty, salty, but not fine pearly tannin. This falls into the saline-savoury style with wood just a dream from long ago, though admittedly a bit too pungent and earthy. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Rubicon 1984, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Meerlust dates back to 1693, the house that is “love or pleasure of the sea.” Less than five kms south from the Atlantic Ocean, the property was purchased in 1756 and to this day remains family owned, now in its eighth generation with 260 years of continuity. Rubicon 1984 is poured (with brilliant decision making) from magnum and is therefore fresher than the 1996 with an incredibly controlled level of fineness in tannin, from acidity and at the threshold of understood volatility. “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood,” like this early Rubicon. The future of Meerlust is foretold with Orwellian transparency, bold honesty and expert ability. “Who controls the past controls the future.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2017

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (283390, $29.95, WineAlign)

Meerlust’s solo cabernet sauvignon ’04 is not merely very much alive it’s still full of bright fruit, though the wood is more noticeable than on the Rubicon. It is the lack of cabernet franc more than anything that seems to be the reason. The ganache component is highly significant, a chocolate factor magnified but still the Meerlust acidity drives the machine. Ripe and ripping with tannins still very much in charge, this wouldn’t be harmed by the generous and patient affording of more time so that it may further evolve to become the pleasing red it knows it will be. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2017

Not just #meerlust more like major lust. Thank you for the sexy time travel @meerlustwine Laurel Keenan and The South African Wine Society.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Pop goes VQA

Having just spent a full experiential week crushing vendemmia 2017 sangiovese grapes between fingers and teeth in the heart of Chianti Classico it’s more than exciting to be home in Ontario in the throes of wine country Ontario’s own ’17 raccolto. Every grape harvest has its challenges, intricacies, twists and turns but the antithetical coming about that has happened in both regions is nothing short of a set of miracles.

In Chianti Classico one of the longest droughts in recorded history threatened to suffocate and desiccate what tiny berries there may have been but an early September deluge filled the sangiovese with hope and a recharge towards quality and even quantity. The opposite happened in Ontario. A full summer of rain and mild temperatures has given way to an unprecedented warm Septenmber and now into October, the continued spell of gorgeous weather means that all parties should be celebrating. A glorious September has done more than save a vintage, it has elevated the quality and stretched the quantity so that winemakers can and will process their grapes into a wide range of exciting 2017 wines.

At a time when wine promotions are happening around the province with great intent and public positivity, the VQA-LCBO pot is simultaneously stirred, a recurring theme it seems in the world we call Ontario wine. The provincial board recently announced that “Ontario wines take centre stage at the LCBO ahead of Thanksgiving. The LCBO celebrates and savours the taste of Ontario. Local favourites featured online and in-store.” The four wines featured are a drop in the bucket of what is both capable and impressive about Ontario wine production so it is the LCBO’s “Taste Local Pop-up Experience” that digs a little deeper.

From Friday September 22nd through Sunday October 15th you can drop by 600 King St. West in downtown Toronto for a joint LCBO-VQA pop-up with an ongoing discovery tasting bar, flight tastings, classes (including life-drawing and chocolate bark making) and tutored events led by sommeliers, product consultants and local winemakers. You can also shop for your favourite VQA wines in the LCBO’s retail and digital store. In fact it was last night only that the irreducible Peter Boyd could be found working the first floor of The Spoke Club with a talk on “how to order wine in restaurants.” VQA wine, that is.

Back in March of 2017 while reporting on the VQA wines Taste of Ontario event I remarked how “new assessments are so important to understanding and gaining new perspective on not just how our (Ontario) wines age but also how they are affected by early reductive environment shock and their ability to change (for the better) after a mere six to 12 months in bottle. The first snapshots are not always the clearest.” The same attitude might apply to what happens when wines are presented to a VQA tasting panel. Only the most experienced palates, best winemakers and a select few Ontario wine cognoscenti can forecast evolution and are therefore capable of making immediate, correct decisions. Left to less experienced hands there are sure to be feathers ruffled.

Related – Fifty ways to Taste Ontario

On the heels of a summer during which VQA Ontario wines were celebrated at the 7th annual Cool Chardonnay conference with unprecedented zeal something is amiss, once again, but this time for curious reasons. An article published in the National Post last week goes on the all frontal attack, in short to the LCBO and long against VQA, the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario. The story contends that the best wines produced in Ontario do not make it to LCBO shelves. It states “all wine made in Ontario needs to pass through the VQA’s tasting panel if it is to be sold at Wine Rack and the LCBO.” The blame is placed squarely on the VQA tasting panel. The equation is simple. Fail VQA and no LCBO for you. Sounds correct but it’s not that simple. The two problems are only connected for the sake of argumentative convenience. As an Ontario wine producer, even if your wine passes VQA it may never be purchased to be sold at the LCBO. Such an equation takes liberties without substantiation. And, as John Szabo M.S. correctly points out, “there’s no law preventing the LCBO or Wine Rack from selling non-VQA wines. In fact, many wines at Wine Rack are offshore blends.” But even this diverges from the point.

Related – How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

More important are the questions of taxation in the discrepancy between VQA and non-VQA approved wines and whether or not a wine industry can grow and flourish when many of its makers feel stymied, both economically and philosophically, by a regulatory board they contend tells them what styles of wine they can make. They argue against a panel that carries the authority to send them to the highest level of appeal before granting approval, all the while bottling, labelling and delivery schedules may be compromised along the way. The bureaucracy is hardest on the smallest fries. Some are vocal about wanting to do away with the VQA establishment, or at least the tasting panel and to ask that they just concentrate on regional policing and labelling. Still others would like to see the end of that arm as well. Australia has gone that route, so why not Ontario? There is much talk about this golden era in which foreign wine writers and sommeliers around the world are raving about and drinking wines from Ontario’s great fringe terroir. Ontario is hot and the fear is that if more is not done to discourage mediocre wines that pass with ease and instead encourage risk-taking styles the mojo will be lost and the region be passed up for the next cool climate producer. Is this a fear based in reality?

This story is as old as Ontario wines time immemorial. There isn’t a local writer worth his or her words in salt that has not touched on the subject of the LCBO and VQA. I’ve read the most eloquently rendered articles of sophistication by David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Rick VanSickle, Christopher Waters, Tony Aspler, Beppi Crosariol and countless other excellent scribes about what’s right, wrong, fine and inexplicably deplorable about our monopoly and regulatory provincial systems. Even Godello has touched, broached and breached the subjects. A recent, arguably superficial National Post article by a young writer has caused a minor stir in wine circles though not surprisingly has fallen on deaf consumers ears. There is no new revelation here but I really have to thank the NP writer for her take because for one thing she is a very good writer. She should not feel unwanted if the comments sections remain quiet, nor should the winemakers who feel their plight is falling on deaf ears. I’ve made a living off of being ignored. I’m also not a fan of attacking writers and their work. It takes a great deal of dedication, passion and hard determination to produce such a story. Editors on the other hand are not what they used to be. My editor while I was at Canada.com was an expert in the art of knowing what to print and how to make adjustments for the greater good of the story. The National Posts’s editor was flat-out lazy and yet while the writer’s tirade in crusade against VQA is rife with errors and fact checking inconsistencies (like contending that VQA pumps “inordinate sums of money into promoting Ontario wines”) the provocation has provided me personally with a quick period of genuflection and ultimately, an epiphany.

The average wine drinker in Ontario is not privy to the inner circle of goings on with respect to what is typical and acceptable and how the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario screens the wines submitted for approval, thus deciding the financial fate and economic viability of selling said wines. There was a minor trickle of comment chiming to the article. Ontario Wine Chat’s Shawn McCormick noted “there’s a few facts wrong in the article, but they hit the key point that unless you regularly visit Ontario wine regions, you have a very narrow view on Ontario wine.” Ottawa’s Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada noted, “pprovocative title and interesting perspective by a new-to-wine writer but as there are many factual errors NP editor would be wise to fact check before publication. And Ontario is not really so unknown anymore.”

André Proulx pulls no punches. Proulx writes “another lazy criticism of VQA. Cites 2 wineries issues failing to mention most wineries pass sans problem. Fault doesn’t make a wine daring…The VQA has its faults… but I’m sick of hearing the same two stories about Norm and PMs wines failing ” Hidden Bench winemakers states “this article makes it appear that the only artisanal wineries producing terroir driven wines are those who have had wines rejected by VQA.”

It is WineAlign’s John Szabo that really picks apart the article. On the idea that “many of the world’s greatest wines have naturally occurring faults, which are the result of the soils and wild fermentation processes,” he replies “ridiculous statement. Stay away from subjects you don’t understand.” In response to “in other words, some of France’s best wines would not pass VQA certification because their high reductive notes would be considered faulty,” he answers “more extrapolated nonsense.” Reacting to “many smaller Ontario wineries have begun experimenting with naturally occurring faults by fermenting their wines with wild yeast,” he says “you insult many smaller Ontario winemakers, and some yeasts, too. Nobody strives for faults.” And finally, when the story notes “adding conventional yeast to grape juice is a bit like buying insurance.… it can also stifle the terroir of a particular vintage,” he retorts, “countless top winemakers around the world disagree. Faulty tastes homogenize wine a helluva lot more than any yeast.”

One of our most esteemed and leading winemakers Norman Hardie had this to say. “It’s great someone has had the guts to take on the VQA…have great difficulty with the quote from the VQA claiming “one of our strengths of our model is our ability to flexible and responsive to be both winemaking and consumer trends”. .this couldn’t be further from the truth..it is a factual error given directly from.the VQA..says alot about our governing body.” I followed up by having a lengthy conversation with Norm. He contends that his statement is indeed one grounded in fact and I listened.

Winemakers feel they should not be told how to practice their craft or be penalized for pushing boundaries. Anyone who thinks this just isn’t so is not paying close enough attention and likely drinking boring wine. It is also a progressive imperative that winemakers seek ways to break from tradition, rules and etiquette, to challenge norms and traditions, but does a wine have to be a bad boy to be considered the most important expression of a local terror? And what fun or excitement is there is a governing board saying “yes “and “of course” in response to every submission? The financial ramifications can certainly be damaging but what’s so special about being accepted at every turn? Would William S. Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa, John Coltrane, Henry Miller, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jean-Michel Basquiat been half as interesting if their art did nothing to challenge or subvert? Immediate commercial acceptance comes at a price and much harder to those who choose to make a difference. Just as vines have to stress to produce exceptional grapes, so must a winemaker face adversity and suffer for his or her art. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your grapes and drink them too.

In 2011 David Leyonhjelm wrote in Business Spectator, “some believe that Australia’s policy of exporting fault-free but relatively bland wines has done more harm to Australia’s wine reputation than anything that might have been sold without Wine Australia’s approval…The market is a very efficient mechanism for sorting out these sorts of things. It is most definitely anti-entrepreneurial.” Hard to argue against this but a devil’s advocate position would say that undrinkable and or grossly faulted wines made by less than experienced producers can get lumped in with quality bottles in shared categories. What if the consumer was unable to remember one from the other or which was which? Would it not be better to rid the market of the shite before it makes it there in the first place?

After Wine Australia squashed their export vetting panel, wine journalist Max Allen wrote “anybody assessing whether a wine is ‘sound and merchantable’ need to be exposed to the incredible diversity of styles out there: from big, black, overoaked, over-alcholic shiraz to cloudy, orange, amphora-fermented sauvignon blanc, almost anything goes out there in the modern wine scene.” Indeed this is what we want to see, allow and encourage, though in Ontario, can it be done without some form of compromise? It must suck to make a great wine, have it applauded, reviewed with great scores and requested by international sommeliers, only to see it stalled before being accepted by a local tribunal. Something is obviously missing in such an equation but is the full-out scrapping of the tasting panel the solution? Doing so would mean eliminating an identity consumers have come to trust. Ontario wine not only needs VQA, it is VQA. In this part of the world you have to seek diplomacy.

The article in question notes “this is a situation unique to Ontario,” that wines must pass a tasting panel, when in point of fact most appellations make use tasting a panel. VQA continues to carry the function it was built for, just like its AOC, DOCG and VDP European equivalents, with a standard to protect for the greater good of the wine region it has been entrusted to promote. Is it perfect? Far from it. Has eliminating it helped Australia? Sure. Is the free for all system working in South Africa? You could say yes. But Ontario is not a form of the wild west. It’s diplomatically Canadian to a fault and inextricably linked in political and cultural fashions to Europe more than most would like to admit. Bureaucracy is part of the reason so many moving parts manage to get along. The system fails some and more often than not benefits the largest players even while it saves countless others from getting sick, though continued discussion and journalistic discourse will render said governance continuously relevant or perhaps moot, eventually in time.

If as a winemaker you want to forge your own path and make unusual, risk-taking, anti-establishment wines with character and personality you have to be prepared to suffer the financial casualty of making such products within the parameters of an organized and civilized society. VQA should seek a clearer picture so that wines either pass or fail, not string them along if they are just going to pass them in the end. Neither side benefits when good wines are held hostage. That said, when the system weeds out others which are neither curiously subversive nor special then the consumer will benefit. As for ground-breaking winemaking it can take years, sometimes a lifetime and in Bukowski-like cases, a posthumous party for great art to truly be recognized. The system can only change so fast. It’s not realistic, very frustrating and counterintuitive to creativity and productivity to think otherwise.

The VQA system is certainly flawed. So are the AOC and DOCGs in France and Italy. Even Ontario wine industry peeps who have to support VQA’s function and back its credibility could not argue against that statement. The panelists who decide the fate of submitted wines may not always be best equipped to deal with every fleeting snapshot placed in front of them. Even the best make mistakes. Only the most experienced referees and umpires get to work the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB postseason. Same in World Cup, Champions League and Premier League Football. Why not in wine? At major wine competitions around the world only the most qualified judges get the nod. The same goes for the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and Intervin and the latter includes some of Ontario’s finest winemakers as judges. Who’s better to make these decisions then they? Anyone who thinks that VQA’s processes don’t need any tweaking is hiding under a rock.

Illustrious panel @TerroirTalk ready to rock #orangewine @winecouncilont #vqaontario #vqa #skinfermentedwhite #faultsandall #terroir2017

So let’s talk a bit about progress and picking battles. Back in May of 2017 the annual Terroir Symposium was held and the first of three masterclass wine sessions focused on VQA’s new category of Skin-Contact Whites. That it took somewhere between 12 months and two years for VQA to get this far is not surprising nor should it be called out for taking so long. It’s a step. Italy would still be working on it. The hottest trend to grip the wine world in the last five years is indeed a style that has been the focus of winemakers in Europe for centuries but as a PDO (wines of protected origin) it is most certainly a relatively new ideal. You can’t just snap your fingers and expect everyone involved to know what’s going on.

The standards development committee has decided that 10 days is the minimum time needed on skins. Again, it’s a step and after review may soon be adjusted. This sub-committee of VQA made up of winemakers, educators, etc. arrived at “how long it would take to attract the typical characteristics of a skin fermented wine.” The number 10 was decided upon as a “good starting point, but it’s a living document and not carved in stone.” Vineland Estates winemaker Brian Schmidt added “the characteristics of orange wine require fermentation, as opposed to cold soak.”

As the distinction needs to be for skin-contact white wines, John Szabo asks and answers his own question. “What is the fundamental core character? Fundamentally they are about complexity and structure, about the tactile components of wine’s phenolic compounds and tannins. Heat and alcohol rip out aggressive tannins, so whole berry fermentation improves texture and structure. A cold soak gives you the salty component but not the structure you get from fermentation.”

Brent Rowland of Pearl Morissette adds, “Orange wine is not an in between wine, but skin-contact wine is just that, without texture and structure. You need the minimum 10 days to get to that point.” Or do you? But the argument agrees that the extended use of stems and seeds will lead you down that textured road. Just keeping it to stems and seeds you will be shortchanged in certain years because they may remain green, bitter and unpleasant. So more flexibility is needed. Are we just adding a category of trendy wine or are we adding a category of value?

“A small but significant number of consumers are excited by it” admits writer Fionna Beckett. “As an outsider I say why not. It’s a white wine that behaves like a red. A wine made from white grapes but made like a red.” Are they always oxidative? She says they are “white wine but with more structure?” Kind of seems counterintuitive because many whites are laden with texture and structure. So, Szabo asks if skin-contact wine enhances or hinders distinct regional character and what wines would you like to see excluded from this category?” The answer is dominant traits that make wine one-dimensional; but we haven’t set those parameters yet. “We’re looking to weed out flaws, like excessive sulphur, just as with any wine,” says Schmidt and adds Rowland “when you skin ferment white wine they produce glutamate, a precursor to umami. And there is a predisposition to enjoying umami, or not.” Ay, there’s the rub. There is also a predisposition to passing wines through VQA, or not.

Here are my notes on the skin-contact white wines tasted at Terroir in May 2017. After all, what would a post by Godello be without some tasting notes. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, after all.

Does skin-contact wine enhance or hinder distinct regional character? @terroirtalk #vqaontario #terroir2017

Norman Hardie “Tornado” 2016, VQA Ontario (WineryWineAlign)

Tasted blind this strikes with immediacy in that it presents as so very much like chardonnay of high acidity, not to mention tannin and a Savennières meets somewhere in Alsace like texture and tang. So as varietal pinot gris it does confound and yet this really fine calcareous notion can’t be denied, so there is knowledge in that it would be there regardless. Not technically orange with its (maximum, if even) 12 hours on skins but under the rules of the appellation it more than qualifies as a skin-contact white. With more pronounced and less oxidative fruit than most, without a doubt speaks of its place. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted May 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  @NormanHardieWinery

Southbrook Vineyards Vidal Skin Fermented White, Small Lot Natural Wine 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  @SouthbrookWine

Sperling Vineyards Natural Amber Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

So much beeswax and honey wine attribution. Porcine, delicate and quite elegant for the statement. Plenty of acidity and even more relish. Why not give a little Grauburgunder love to the winemaker for giving the style a shot, and succeeding. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016  sperlingvineyards  @AnnSperling  @SperlingVyds  @SperlingVineyards

From my earlier note of January 2016:

Ann Sperling is not merely fussing about with natural ferments, skin-contact macerations and non-sulphured, self-preservations. She is learning about winemaking, opening doors to perception and interested in doing things in different ways. Her second go ’round with a natural Amber Pinot Gris furthers the non-plussed discussion and the understanding. While pouring the inaugural 2014 from keg on tap last year at Vancouver’s Belgard Kitchen, it was Sommelier David Stansfield who so succinctly noted “this wine is a raw expression of vineyard, grape, and time.” This gets right to the heart and the crux of the Orange matter, especially within the context of a North American account. Sperling has many supporters in her corner, including husband-winemaker-consultant Peter Gamble, the folks at the Casorso-Sperling Kelowna Farm and Bill Redelmeier at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara. This 2015 is a veritable pink cloud, anti-orange, still so very musty, funky, tanky, with great Sperling acidity and pierce. There is so much exuviation to evanescence and back again flavour. There is feigned sweetness that purposes towards and with gearing second wind into length. How much pleasure is this from and for Pinot Gris? Drink 2016-2017

Cos Rami Sicilia 2014, Sicily, Italy (Agent, SAQ, 12461525, $31.50, WineAlign)

The ornate “orangeness” of the Raimi is patterned and woven across a flat and linear map, introducing itself in a way no other wine can or will be willing to do. Still equipped with this fine acidity but it is the flavours and the texture that cause and solicit so much more sensory approbation, first savoury, then sapid and finally umami. A melted salve of orange skin, bergamot-scented and hazelnut-essential oil secreted beeswax. You gotta get into it to get in to it. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2017  #cosvittoria  #aziendaagricolacos  thelivingvine     @TheLivingVine  @cosvittoria  The Living Vine inc.

Domaine Viret Dolia Paradis Ambré 2015, Vin De France (Agent, $65.95, WineAlign)

Philippe Viret’s orange wine resides in a cosmoculture world, class and category of its own. Cosmotelluric principles, magnetic fields, homeopathic applications, natural preparations and ancient architectural rules destine this so very naturally flat, rusty and rustic wine into a nether world. The coppery blend of muscat petit grain, bourboulenc, clairette rose, roussanne, vermentino and grenache blanc spent 60 days on the skins and with transparent clarity leaves nothing behind. It does leave much to the imagination and requires some metaphysical fortitude, especially because it lingers, long after it has left the glass and the room. As for amber wine it’s as close to paradise as you are going to find. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017  #domaineviret  nicholaspearcewines  @CosmocultureFR  @Nicholaspearce_  @ledomaineviret  Philippe Viret (Domaine Viret)  Nicholas Pearce

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris “Ponton” 2016, VQA Ontario, Canada (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Unlike the Tornado, Hardie’s Ponton is the most Rosé like in this newly created skin-contact category. It’s pink and rosey, of great acidity, salinity, regional limestone and even liquid dusty. In its quantifiable sapidity and wispy lime-zippy personality it could actually pass for riesling and having spent up to and only 10 days on skins this continues to state such a case. The number is actually nine days in cold soak and then it began fermenting, so really just one day of fermentation to confound the category, then put into barrel. The natural fermentation and zero adjustments add up to this, neither white nor red, but comfortably in the land settled between. A clear and focused SCW in the natural world. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Pyramid Valley Vineyards Growers Collection Kerner Orange White 2015, New Zealand (Winery, WineAlign)

This Kiwi skin-contact blend almost smells like Icewine what with its tropical, exaggerated fruity nose but conversely and impossibly bone dry despite that aromatic sweetness. Kerner is the vineyard and its actually a one month on skins ferment of pinot gris, gewürztraminer and riesling. Tres cool. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted May 2017  pyramidvalleyvineyards  @pyramidvalleynz  @PyramidValleyVineyards

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The amphora (qveri) fermented Cuvée Blu makes use of 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay in blend with pinot gris, riesling and (in 2016, sauvignon blanc). This singular, go it alone fantasy spent three and a half months on skins pressed and aged in foudres. It may just dance with the funkiest R & B gait of them all and to the semi-trained noggin can only be Pearl Morissette. The risk taken here is done without fear, into sheep’s milk, unwashed rind, saline, earth-crusted, stoned immaculate. The accumulation of glutamate-umami-polyphenolic-brettanomyces and volatile acidity takes it to great lengths and yet all this might disappear around the next aromatic corner. So much interest and so playfully dirty at the same time is this geekiest of them all, whole bunch, aged in 60 year-old (Alsatian) oak vats SCW. The numbers show 14 per cent abv, though it’s not yet in bottle. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué Skin Fermented White 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Though Brian Schmidt’s floral chardonnay “experiment” might be considered the simplest and easiest of Ontario’s “orange” wines that is only because it’s so bloody delicious to consume. The character is rusty and textured and in a way tastes just like warm iced tea and all the tannic variations that come from such a profile of flavour. This chardonnay musqué spent 55 days on skins and in turn developed its tannic backbone though it seems to have lost its intrinsic chardonnay character. That said it soaked up its Bench terroir so if something is lost much has been gained. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  @winery.vinelandestates  Brian Schmidt

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

50 years of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Missed it by that much. #oldwine #vinonobile #sangiovese #vinonobiledimontepulciano #cantineriunite

During the eight-day locomotive migration through Anteprime Toscane in February 2017 there were nearly 1000 wines to try, mostly sangiovese in all its various genetic, clonal and stylistic fluctuations.  The aberration was in San Gimignano, a stop on the tour that I regrettably missed due to a deeper delve into Chianti Classico’s (even in) February verdant hills. One checkpoint and more specifically one tasting stood out from the rest. Fifty years of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

That the powers that be at the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano thought to amass ten wines spanning four decades and launching with that fateful year of 1967 was more than a stroke of regional genius. It was both a major risk to take and a gift of great generosity. There was no way of knowing how those early virgin wines of DOC origin would show or if in fact that life would still be left in them. Perhaps another shortlisted vintage or two was waiting in the wings just in case a 1967 or a 1975 failed to survive but regardless, some serious props, high-fives and sincerest thanks go out to the producers and decision makers of this most storied consorzio.

While some examples expressed themselves with more spirit and vitality than others, any doubt cast on the structure of the Montepulciano sangiovese has been vehemently cast aside. The prugnolo gentile and other (increasingly employed) varietal variants cultivated in the Valdichiana and Val d’ Orcia are more than a 50-year-old project. “The oldest documented reference to the wine of Montepulciano is from 789 in which the cleric Arnipert offered the church of San Silvestro or San Salvatore at Lanciniano on Mt Amiata, a plot of land cultivated with vineyards in the estate of the castle of Policiano. Later, Repetti mentions a document in 1350 (in his “Historical and Geographical dictionary of Tuscany”) which drew up the terms for trade and exportation of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.”

“The Sixties brought a reawakening in winegrowing geared principally towards the production of Vino Nobile rather than Chianti. State and EU funds used by the wineries to convert their vineyards into conformity with the requirements of the DOC (1966), enabled new wineries to enter the market. Recognition of DOCG status came in 1980 and Vino Nobile began a new life.”

In advance of the 50-year seminar the Annata 2014 and Riserva 2013 vintages were presented. The challenge of the growing season showed the fortitude and the persistence of Montepulciano’s producers. You can throw a difficult set of weather patterns at the Vino Nobile but you can’t break their spirit. The ’14s are different, that much is clear, but more than enough quality, firm grip and structure is available to send these wines well into the next decade. They are a grounded bunch. The 2013 Riserva are more of an elegant crew, for the most part and as representatives of the multiplicity of sangiovese they are as falling snow, like the endless repetition of winter’s everyday miracle. They are also wines that do not swing their arms, an indication of a secretiveness of character. Which smarts into contradiction a connection to the ten 50 years of Vino Nobile wines. It explains how exciting it is to spend time with them in 2017.

Post Anteprima Vino Nobile we paid a visit to Avignonesi. Two extraordinary vertical tastings were held with proprietor Virginie Saverys, Max Zarobe and winemaker Ashleigh Seymour; Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014-2010 and Desiderio Merlot 2013-2010-2001-1998. “When I purchased Avignonesi in 2009 it was Mars, or Venus,” began Virginie, “it was not planet earth.” Today it is a model of Montepulciano consistency. Here are my notes on those Avignonesi vintages along with some Anteprima prugnolo and those 50 years of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

50 years of #vinonobile @consorzionobile #50anni #sangiovese #vinonobiledimontepulciano

Contucci Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1967, Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (486068, Agent, WineAlign)

Contucci’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ’67 was produced during a significant year in world history. The first heart transplant, the Six-Day War, the Monterey Pop Festival, The World Exposition in Montreal, The first Super Bowl and the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band. It was also the year Celtic beat Internazionale in the European Cup Final. Contucci’s Vino Nobile is from a time when there were maximum seven producers in Montepulciano and only the second vintage as a denominazione wine. A primitive wine from a primitive stage in the history of the area. If it’s not totally oxidized, it’s certainly most of the way there. Smells like a nearly petrified orange, fermenting lemons and toasted meringue. Certainly many white grape varieties in here. Old and chestnut barrels were used for a seven to eight month period of aging. Much more life shows on the palate, with lemon, orange, caramel and lanolin or paraffin. Lingers for a bit. More than interesting. Drink 2017.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  andreacontucci  #contucciwinery  kylixwines  #cantinacontucci  @KylixWines  Contucci  Andrea Contucci  @KylixWines

Tramps like us. @consorzionobile #borntorun #1975 #vinonobile #fanneti #sangiovese #vinonobiledimontepulciano #toscana

Fanetti Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1975, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Fanetti’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano almost defies 40 plus years having passed since 1975. The higher acidity may not exactly scream at this time but you can imagine it having done so for a long time in its harkening back to having been raised at a higher elevation. Fruit is completely gone (of course) but we’re still in forest floor, faint mushroom and compost. The acidity still kind of rages, incredibly and this smells like lemon wood polish but also musty leather. Twenty years ago would have been really nice. I like the mouthfeel, like old Rioja, really old, with a creamy and silken texture. Quite alive, despite the off-putting nose. This was worth the visit. Drink 2017.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #fanetti

Boscarelli Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 1982, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

The Boscarelli acts like a much younger Nobile, from an exceptional vintage and a producer way ahead of its time. The key is to decide which side of the evolutionary fence we’re on, closer to that 1967 from Contucci or to what is happening today. This may actually be the turning point for Vino Nobile because it really has one foot entrenched in each world. Very much in the mushroom and truffle aromatic atmosphere, where sangiovese should feel free and comfortable to travel in the twilight of its golden years. This is beautiful, with some dark fruit persisting and acidity still in charge. You can imagine the old tannins but they no longer make any demands. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #PoderiBoscarelli  lucadeferrarildf  artisanal_wine_imports  #poderiboscarelli  Nicolò De Ferrari   Luca De Ferrari  @artisanalwineimports

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 1988, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, WineAlign)

Avignonesi’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 1988 picks up where its most excellent peers left off but also leads back into a quality level of parity tasted after Boscarelli’s 1982. This nearly 30 year-old sangiovese is not alone in its walk through the woods, leading to the autumnal mushrooms, unearthing the truffles and yet its trudge though the forest floor is even more prevalent. And then the intense pungency of porcini comes flying out of the glass. Good acidity still travels up and down the tongue and then it retreats so very drying on the finish. Wonderful look back. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  avignonesi  rogersandcompanywines  mdzbtz  @avignonesi  @rogcowines  @mdzbtz  @avignonesi  @rogcowines 

Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano “Vigneto La Caggiole” 1988, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Back in 1988 Poliziano’s Riserva style Vino Nobile di Montepulciano came from this single vineyard, the “Vigneto La Caggiole.” Named after an ancient farm and/or St. Mustiola’s “Caggiole” Parish, it comes from Cagio, a word in the middle ages meaning “a forest or a bounded area by forests.” When tasted side by side by each with the ’82 Boscarelli and the ’88 Avignonesi this Poliziano is much more reserved and muted aromatically so I’ll hedge a bet that the tannins are still in charge. Indeed this is the case but they are sweet and copacetic to fruit that persists, though only reveals its fleshy charms on the palate. A Vino Nobile yet very drinkable to date. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  polizianowinery  noble_estates  @PolizianoAzAgr  @Noble_Estates  @PolizianoAz.Agr  @NobleEstates

Carpineto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1988, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Carpineto’s Nobile dating back 29 years is now wholly and totally volatile, of the vinyl curtain as carpeting on the forest’s floor. Some mushroom and lots of wood on the palate. Smoky and smouldering to a tart and still persistent, tannic finish. Still waiting for the settling though after three decades if it hasn’t happened yet it’s not ever going to. Would have offered serious and substantial pleasure when the fruit was still active but that finest moment was in the last decade. Drink 2017.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  @CarpinetoWines  @UNIVINS  Carpineto Wines  @agence.UNIVINS  carpinetowines  univinscanada

Tenuta Di Gracciano Della Seta Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1995, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 487074, WineAlign)

The Della Seta ’95 hosts and boasts an aromatic combination of forest earthy and floral pretty and so is this most interesting 22 year-old Vino Nobile, with dried wild strawberry (fragaria vesca = fragola di bosco), fruit, leaves, mulch and all. Quite tart and with some real texture, more structure and remarkable considering this was produced at the beginning of the house’s history. Well preserved and if it holds no candle to Chianti Classico or Sienese/Florentine Hills IGT sangiovese from the same excellent vintage, it surely lives to tell a similar tale. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  tenutadigraccianodellaseta  @GradellaSeta  @GraccianodellaSeta

Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1995, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 685180, WineAlign)

The volatility and Bretty quality is there but I don’t imagine it so much more aggressive than it may have been at the start. Dried fruit is full on and in with very little in the way of mushroom and truffle. The small French oak barriques have certainly given this some preserve so that the fruit can turn to preserves on the palate. Good acidity persists as does so much residual spice from the wood. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017   #salchetowinery  hobbsandcompany  @SalchetoWinery  @AMH_hobbsandco  @Salcheto  @HobbsandCo

Bindella Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1999, Docg Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The wood used at the time is clearly in full view though in a settled, creamy and gently spicy aromatic way. This has evolved quite quickly and efficiently, now into a sangiovese turned to balsamic, five spice and soy wax. Was and still is a rich wine though I would bet that 1998 has fared better. The acidity is still quite prevalent, the tannins not so much. Two shots of doppio espresso mark the tail and it lingers long enough to suggest a couple of more years at this stage. Melts away like chocolate on the tongue. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #bindella  #tenutavallocaia    @bindellavallocaia

Tenuta Valdipiatta “Vigna d’Alfiero” Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 1999, Docg Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Valdipiatta’s Vigna d’Alfiero is not quite as evolved a 1999 as the Bindella with some more presentable and viable fruit life available, though the wood is very sheathing and in full couverture. Balance is better though because the acidity is finer and still persistent. Tannic and drying, this is exactly what I would expect for 18 year-old Vino Nobile. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #tenutavaldipiatta   rogersandcompanywines  @TenValdipiatta  @rogcowines  @TenutaValdipiatta  @rogcowines

Poderi Boscarelli

Boscarelli Prugnolo Rosso De Montepulciano DOC 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

Boscarelli’s use of varietal alias for the local sangiovese is both obvious and modern in approach. Their’s is a fresh and vibrant Rosso, lithe and unencumbered. Fragrant, sweet smelling roses lift the spirit and second the motion for needing no ornamentation. This completely self-adorned prugnolo is gentile but just firm enough a foil for the antipasti. Drink 2017-20219.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano DOCG 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $51.00, WineAlign)

A firm ’14, not so unusual in itself and yet just ripe enough, with fragrant roses as indicated in the prugnolo ’15. Yet here the flowers also deliver a dried and saline line while everything seems to soften and emancipate on the palate. Notes of a future with tar and tabby developed red fruit comes dreamy yet clear with spice notes by barrel and varietal keeping the youthful spirit alive.  Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano Riserva DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $63.95, WineAlign)

In accord of time under its belt and meltable structure afforded by the barrel it is the Riserva that strikes a now balance between ripe fruit and the firm grip of Vino Nobile tannin. I Boscarelli reference the least amount of volatility but the particular acidity is quite fastening as it works in cohorts with the tannin. These are musical wines of ligature and kedging anchors. While the Annata 2014 may have more bob in its sailing drift the Riserva is the stable schooner. It’s just a question of approach. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano Riserva Sotto Casa DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $86.95, WineAlign)

Sotto Casa is a single-vineyard prugnolo from “beneath or below the home,” as the nomenclature suggests and is the house Vino Nobile paved with 15 per cent cabernet sauvignon and five merlot. I don’t take huge stock in the need to discuss Bordeaux varietal addendum versus the endemic though in this case the floral lift and forgiving nature is worth a word or two. The 20 per cent expatriate accents make for a prugnolo of inclusion, in this case bringing the best out of that local sangiovese. Richness goes above and beyond, with nary a shrinking or chocolate shaken moment. The freshness here in such Riserva clothing is to be lauded. Really fine. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano Riserva Il Nocio DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $148.95, WineAlign)

With some variegation in the alluvial soil to include sand and clay this 100 per cent sangiovese is drawn from the east side of the estate. The four hectare, 280 to 350 metres of altitude Vigna del Nocio has been owned by Poderi Boscarelli since 1988. It is here where terroir, aspect and existential vine placement changes everything. More than four and less than 5,000 bottles of the vineyard’s finest produce are gifted in this wine, “the nuts,” but also the bolts of Boscarelli’s noble fruit. Yes there is this bifurcate character about it, at once roasted nuts meets frutta seca and then this depth, seriousness and structure. The forked Vino Nobile is both blessed by that Boscarelli grip and lifted into noble elegance. Three years will pass and little will change. I’d expect it to linger for 15 more. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta

Tenuta Valdipiatta Pinot Nero Rosso Di Montepulciano IGT 2008, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

This small lot production is one of the most unique wines made in the Montepulciano hills, from just half a hectare on sand and clay. The vineyard was planted in 2000 to what must have been some whispers, giggles and closet envy, at the base of the hill beneath the winery. Dark berries, red ropey, ruby yet firm pinot nero fruit leads a wine of amazing toughness and grit. This must have really been something to behold in its first two or three years. All terroir and the hardest of nuts to crack. It has now softened somewhat but I wonder if in 2000 they could have known what might happen. The vines should hit their elegant stride beginning with perhaps the 2015 vintage, would be my best guess. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta Rosso Di Montepulciano DOC 2015, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Valdipiatta’s Rosso was just recently bottled, with 10 per cent mamaiolo and canaiolo in support of the prugnolo. It spent only three months in (20 per cent) used barriques and like the pinot nero is truly a terroir driven wine. While certainly dusty, firm, deeply clay fruit deepened its musicality plays anything but an astringent tune. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2014, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

A multi-barrel slumber of six months in small barriques and 12 months in 500L Slavonian casks has ushered this firm sangiovese (with five per cent canaiolo) through the world of the traditional and the historically noble. In spite of its old school charm in upbringing it’s quite the amenable one with a wide reaching, outstretched arm of generosity marked by a salty-sweetness of candied-savoury accents. It’s quite the minty cool and fruit prosperous Vino Nobile that while tending to grippy is almost always open for business. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

The 2013 Vino Nobile is a softer, understated in grip version of the ’14, still terroir-driven but from a less demanding albeit singular vintage. What’s different, aside from an extra year beneath its legs is the presence of sweeter and finer-grained tannins but also a wider, open door of invitation and possibility. The Valdipiatta acidity is quite consistent, as is the traditional way of styling. A pattern is forming, of the ideal out of which an intrinsic understanding is able to cogitate the links in these wines of place. Strong genes run through the lineage of the Valdipiatta family. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Unlike the allure into a smiling reception offered up by the Annata 2013 the Riserva is conversely closed and not yet in a forgiving mood. The firmness of fruit, tart shrill of acidity and fineness of tannin all combine in procurement of one seriously intense Vino Nobile. The orotund voice and dramatic attitude follow the company line and in the Riserva do so with great hyperbole. It’s quiet remarkable actually. Unmistakable Valdipiatta. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017

Avignonesi’s Virginie Saverys with Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Stephanie Johnson, on her right and The Reverse Wine Snob Jon Thorsen, on her left

Avignonesi

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, $41.95, WineAlign)

Quite relaxed for sangiovese from the demanding coincidences of implausibility that arose out of the 2014 vintage, clearly directed as such to drink well while others have to wait. Tannins are certainly ripe and whatever agitative spearing or sparking that seems to be going on is given a healthy and humid oak bathing. Not so much found in the elegant oasis occupied by either or both ’12 or ’13 but a very grounded and centred Vino Nobile nonetheless. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, $41.95, WineAlign)

Like so many 2013s the fruit is quite plussed, pure and distinctly raw, dusty, cured and naturally craft sangiovese. The wood also seems to be in a diminutive position and so distinguishes the fruit though when all is said and done this equivocation can only be from Avignonesi. Terrific spice elements rub in and out of every crevice. Long like 2012, elegant in of itself and it’s quite possible the better or best is yet to come. The elusiveness of development means that we can’t yet really know. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, WineAlign)

The vintage is the one with the reductive “lamentala,” but merely just a fraction of that idea and is quick to blow off into the Val di Chiana. “We have to be careful with sangiovese,” cautions owner Virginie Saverys, “it has a very thick skin.” Extraction must be a delicate process and so a gentle délestage is performed, plus from the bottom up, “not a very physical pump over from the top.” This leads to big fruit, well endowed by barriques and tonneaux towards and always elegant result. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2011, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, WineAlign)

The 2011 was augmented by late August into September warmth so late phenolic ripeness made for an adjustment to picking and a new wine was born. Though less floral and perhaps not quite as elegant as 2010 the slower developed will and power were a perfect fit for an Aussie winemaker’s roots. You can’t help but note the shiraz-like attitude in this ’11 but balance is afforded by a more extreme acidity. With thanks to prudent picking passes the greens were avoided and all was gifted by the reds and the blacks in one massive but now mellowing coexistence. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2010, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, 943670, WineAlign)

This first year production under the transfer of full ownership to Virginie Saverys was marked by a long, cool growing season and as a result, a lovely, long-developed ripeness. The 2010 Vino Nobile is one of alcoholic meets polyphenolic balance. Though quite young yet there is a triumvirate fineness of fruit, acidity and tannin in a sangiovese where richness and elegance meet at the intersection of texture. This is a wine of shoulders lowered, at ease and at peace. Ripeness is the virtue on a road that flows like a river. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot Toscana IGT 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, SAQ 10993456, $72.00, WineAlign)

Desiderio is Avignonesi’s wine of “desire,” an IGT usually made with 15 per cent cabernet sauvignon though it’s as much a varietal wine as any sangiovese, or perhaps better as a comparison to Napa Valley merlot. From the Val di Chiana, a wine looking for Chianina beef. Proprietor Virginie Saverys explains the terroir is “the southern most limit of making a decent merlot in Tuscany.” Any further south and “you can lose your whole crop to the heat over the course of three days.” Concentration due to clay rich soils and a consumption of oak by healthy fruit like there is no tomorrow. It’s quite remarkable how little heat spiked spice is found on the nose. Smells as merlot should with just a touch less than obvious jamminess, a dusty and complex emulsion of fruit and herbs. The bite, spice and concentration well up on the palate. Desiderio is intense and implosive merlot. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot Toscana IGT 2010, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

From a selection off of 32 hectares of merlot with 15 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the 2010 Desiderio is not unlike ’13 but with more elegance, softness and demure. The spice is again hidden and here in ’10 it’s really a full case of fruit and what seems at first like nothing else. Time and the effects of that vintage have already conspired to soften a bring about this creamy mouthfeel and texture. Vanilla, chocolate ganache and a restrained sense of power. It’s quite pretty, ready to drink and yet there is this feeling that it’s not quintessential Desiderio. It’s beautiful nonetheless. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot Toscana IGT 2001, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

From a classic, important and proven Tuscan vintage and for merlot, very good, if not wholly and unequivocally exceptional. The wood on 2001 carries more weight and massive couverture and at 16 years of age the rendered effect is dripping in chocolate and fine espresso. There is this sense of exotic spice in airy accents, like five-spice and liquorice, but then a swirling descent into demi-glacé. Tannin and acidity are both a bit lower here, a reminder of time and evolution, not the most lashing in any shape or form. Paolo Trappolini was the winemaker for this 2001, a powerful merlot with plenty of glory. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot Toscana IGT 1989, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Proof is in the varietal pudding that merlot is much more forgiving than sangiovese and also more adaptive in its longevity. This ’89 is from a time when the winemaker could not have truly known what would happen or have the varietal expertise to provide the tools for making exceptional merlot. That was Ettore, one of the two brothers (along with Alberto Falvo) who procured a merlot of structure and this passive commitment to time. It’s more welled up with chocolate but there is this tension that obviously never wavered nor has oxidation really crept in. Incredible really. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted at Avignonesi February 2017

The Valdichiana from the terrace of the Enoliteca del Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Good to go!

Godello

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