Tasting Ontario Part One: Riesling

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Riesling is again on the rise and the reasons why are as varied as the artistry it’s equipped to display. It has been 40 years since the Pennachetti family of Cave Spring Vineyard and German vintner Herman Weis planted riesling in St. Urban Vineyard on what is now Vineland Estates. My how things have changed. The trending line ascends as the general public comes around and warms to the versatile grape so popularity is not just in the hands of geeks, oenophiles and connoisseurs. Ask your favourite sommelier, product consultant or wine writer. Riesling’s neighbourhood is beginning to gentrify in a big way but it’s also expanding experimental and ancestral horizons. It will always be just riesling but today’s varietal vernacular goes beyond dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, Süssreserve, late harvest and Icewine to now include skin-contact, barrel fermented, unfiltered, wild ferment, Blackball and The Geek.

A few weeks back I attended my 7th Cuvée in Niagara Falls to celebrate the next chapter with and for our wine industry, fresh on the heels of the 2018 Tasted Untamed edition of Taste Ontario in Toronto. Just a month before I rambled through the Niagara Icewine Festival in Jordan and the Icewine Gala in Niagara Falls. It was at the Icewine Gala where we watched and listened in on a great tribute to Ontario’s iconic pioneer, Karl Kaiser. We owe so much to Mr. Kaiser with respect to everything Icewine but also to how far we have come in terms of riesling.

A lovely tribute to #karlkaiser tonight at #icewinefestival gala

Just two weeks ago in Toronto we tasted the current offering of Prince Edward County wines at Taste of the County. Today we will immerse ourselves into the culture of global food and local wine at the Terroir Symposium and on Tuesday the Wine Council of Ontario will hold its first annual Ontario Craft Wine Conference. It has been a very saturated and intensive start to 2018, something that must be attributed to the maturity, confidence, preparedness and excitement of and towards Ontario wine.

My personal opportunities to taste wines from the Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore and Ontario’s South Coast have been many. Before too long there will be greater access to the wines of emerging regions like the Oak Ridges Moraine, Georgian Bay the Northumberland Hills. Prior to 2017 I used this wine processing platform of godello.ca as a vehicle to review and discuss Ontario wines with much greater frequency but circumstances have changed. My work with Italian and French wine regions, most notably Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Bourgogne have occupied a great deal of my time. So has tasting and reviewing many potential submissions for the WineAlign exchange and acting as a consistent contributor to the WineAlign Buyers’ Guides to the VINTAGES releases.  I 2017 I ceased publishing my bi-weekly tasting notes because it’s important that readers check them out on WineAlign. All this as added up to less constant coverage of Ontario wines on the site.

And a few of my favourite wine writers. Thx for coming to #cuvee2018 #vqawinesofontario

That is why I’ve decided to post a series of articles over the next few weeks solely dedicated to Ontario wine and I’m going to split them up by grape varieties, beginning today with Ontario’s great white hope, riesling. I’ve written about the grape many times before and my belief in its varietal power, finesse and omniscient existentialism for a signature and singular Ontario purpose is perpetual and unwavering. This work is possible because of the organizations and the people behind them who make it all possible. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, The Wine Council of Ontario and VQA Ontario are a triple-edged force that keep our wines flowing. Thank you to Richard Linley, President of WCO, Magdalena Kaiser, Head of Marketing and Public Relations for WMAO, Brian Schmidt and Laurie Macdonald, President and Executive Director respectively of VQA. The Icewine Festival Gala and Cuvée are not possible without the work of Fallsview Casino, Scotiabank Convention Centre and of course Brock University. Gala and Experts’ Tasting coordination is possible because of The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Barb Tatarnic, Manager, Wine and Sprit Education Trust and Kaitlyn Little, Marketing and Communications Officer.

Inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner and riesling maker extraordinaire, Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Cellars, with Donald Ziraldo

At Cuvée, the inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner was Angelo Pavanchosen in a unanimous decision for his major contributions to the industry, his commitment to excellence and his mentorship to winemakers across Canada. Pavan, Vice-President, Winemaker and Founding Partner at Cave Spring Cellars, is known for his encyclopedic understanding of viticulture in Niagara. He was among the first in the province to work with numerous grape varieties and was a pioneer in the quest to improve wine quality and sustainability in vinifera varieties.

“It is humbling to be the first recipient of this great award,” said Pavan. “It validates the passion, time, effort and commitment of over 30 years dedicated to this great wine growing region and having participated in its evolution to international recognition.”

Pavan is also a founding member and Chair of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Standards Development Committee and has played a key role in determining the most suitable winemaking practices applicable in Ontario. As the founding Chair of the International Riesling Experience, held in conjunction with CCOVI, Pavan has also been instrumental in solidifying Niagara’s place as one of the world’s pre-eminent Riesling producing regions.

Related – Three Rieslings to believe

One of my first bold statements about Ontario riesling was this. “There are many reasons to believe in riesling, that versatile and brutally honest grape. Riesling holds no punches, speaks its mind, tells it like it is. Grown worldwide and vinified in so many varying styles, riesling is not so much a chameleon but rather a mutant. It takes root in every vineyard, marking its terroir, expressing itself singularly and without apology. Over the past two-four months I have exonerated and upheld with the highest riesling belief that (Ontario) does the variety justice above and beyond the pale, in the vineyard and in the glass. More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on (local) riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.”

Related – 100 kilometre wine for spring

And this. “Riesling. Can there be a more versatile white grape? From natural, mineral spring, bone-dry to concentrated, candied sweet, this grape runs the diversity gamut like no other. ‘The Bench’ is home to a mineral wealth of local riesling, singular in composition not only by way of a global comparison, but also from plot to plot, soil to soil and vineyard to vineyard.”

Riesling Vine

Related – Are you wine experienced?

We held a symposium at Brock University a few years back and the technical, chemical side was addressed by Cornell University Sensory Researcher Terry Acree. For riesling, Acree focuses on chemicals that correspond to the strongest identified smells, the most important and prevalent of which is TDN (Trimethyldihydronaphthalene). TDN the chemical or diesel/petrol the sensation as an “odour strength (Damascenone) as related to by human subjects.” In order for the wine taster to “experience” these sensations, two things have to be there. “Memories of different kinds of features and features themselves.” That said, Acree believes you can only smell three things at once, a notion he borrows from M.F.K. Fisher.

Acree sees odour as “an evolutionary human response to history.” If you have never come into contact with a banana, you will never smell banana in Chardonnay. TDN is the dominant aroma and where riesling grows, more sunlight means more fruit and more TDN. TDN is a precursor but its prevalence does not necessarily increase as a wine ages. A very common theme when nosing an aged Riesling is to comment on the secondary aromatic emergence of a gas or petrol note. Acree believes that identifying increased petrol notes in aged Riesling is a bit of a misnomer. It had to already be there. “I’m just inventing a new, confusing way to discuss minerality,” he concludes.

At that time Toronto wine writer Mike Di Caro and I talked about Ontario riesling and we agreed that sugar levels are both arbitrary and unpredictable so Niagara’s best is and should be of the dry variety. I don’t think that way anymore. My friend and colleague Bill Zacharkiw of the Montreal Gazette wrote this last year.”Rieslings, especially from cool climates like the Mosel in Germany and Niagara tend to have residual sugar. Don’t be scared. You know what? I love them. The sugar makes the aromatics go “boom,” while the acidity keeps the wine tasting dry.” Bill is correct and it is also those sugars that allow the wine to stay alive, age and develop those aforementioned petrol notes.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Here is how VQA chooses to define typical Ontario riesling. “Classically exhibits refreshing citrus, peach or floral aromas with a light “petrol” element and racy acidity on the palate. Made in a range of dry, off-dry and sweet styles, including Icewine. Typically not oaked but good examples will age well with the petrol nose evolving.” Many would agree but there is so much more to think about. You don’t know anything about riesling and aging until you begin tasting them at five years only know then can you begin to understand. Some examples will stay the course of pure lemon, so taut and tight, perhaps shouldn’t even be released until they are ready. The acidity might be the most unwound, with pent-up aggression, a fighter in search of balance. Not typical perhaps but very much a part of the Ontario mix.

The curious thing about Ontario riesling is how it has pushed me to wax with unlimited hyperbole, as in “to purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling” and “one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes.” For Treve Ring’s take on the great grape, head over to WineAlign for what she had to say after the 2017 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals). Treve writes,  “as our palates progress, we often shy away from these simpler, fruity styles for more structured, savoury and minerally wines, which again, brings us full circle (close the ring) back to serious and ageworthy riesling.”

Related – Moved by Riesling

I have been moved by riesling many times. In Alsace it happens every day and it has happened in Ontario, most notably after having comes across (any one of four or five) Charles Baker Picones and Emma Garner Thirty Bench Small Lots. Or in particular, Jay Johnston’s Nadja’s from Flat Rock and most notably Brian Schmidt’s Vineland Estates St. Urban. With Cave Spring it happened after tastes of Cave Spring CSV. It has happened again and again. It will continue this way.

As I mentioned, this is merely the first part in a long series of articles to come, including exposées on sparkling wines, chardonnay, other white varieties and appellative blends, gamay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, plus other reds and red blends. To begin this Ontario varietal march through spring here are 26 recently tasted riesling, plus a handful visited in 2017 yet to make it to godello print, all to give a glimpse into the portal of how far Ontario has come and to where it may be heading.

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

Redstone Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $14.95, WineAlign)

So much lime, in flesh and zest, all over the lime map. Really juicy riesling for the cost of a song. Cool climate stamp right here; glade, citrus, wax and air up above. The palate follows, albeit thin and tinny. Ideal for current consumption though not likely made with the stuffing to evolve. Regardless it’s good value. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted blind at NWAC July 2017 and October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Featherstone Riesling Black Sheep 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Black Sheep strikes again, same price, same typicity and balance. This is the riesling we’ve come to expect and relish, with elevated sugar and acidity levels walking hand in hand. Plenty of lime spirit is more Bench styled than ubiquitous Niagara Peninsula so you can guess what fruit lurks to lead such a suspicion. Always high quality and quick to market, sip, rinse and repeat. You’ll see this wine in release cycles four or five times over, available at all times. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (43281, $17.95, WineAlign)

There are two types of traditional riesling made up on the Escarpment’s benches, both equally accessible and correct but so very different. There is the other way; dry, stoic and intense. And there is the Flat Rock way, slightly further adrift off-dry, weightier and to be honest, less serious and happier. Not that one style is more important than the other but if I’m a consumer expecting sweet riesling but hoping to learn how the other half lives and breathes it would be this Flat Rock that would help educate and ultimately help me grow into the new riesling lover I’d want to be. The sugar (while nothing extraordinary here) is balanced by equal acidity and athletic chic. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

2027 Cellars Riesling Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (225490, $18.75, WineAlign)

The wind is so tight and the expressive fruit bound up in a ball of fire and acidity but aching to break free. The pent up energy here is palpably felt, like a needle in the side, leaving you seized up, protective and tense. There is so much juicy citrus and fineness of acidity it’s hard not to see this riesling taking five years to unwind and five more towards developing characterful secondary personality. This is perhaps Kevin Panagapka’s best. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted July 2017 and March 2018  2027cellars  @2027cellars  2027 Cellars

Konzelmann Estate Winery Riesling Reserve Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The by now classic house style of using late harvest fruit off of old vines on the estate’s lakefront property and barrel fermentation are the things that delve into the Konzelmann glück, density and complexity. Preserved lemon, grapefruit sorbet and mineral-mandarin cream define this riesling of zero trepidation, utmost confidence and old world charm. Who’s to say you aren’t sipping this in some Rhineland-Palatinate village instead of Niagara on the Lake. There will always be a place in hearts for riesling made this way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2018  konzelmannwines  @Konzelmann  @konzelmannwines

Megalomaniac Riesling Narcissist 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (67587, $18.95, WineAlign)

Narcissist takes a turn to the flint with great citrus intent in 2017, simulating great German riesling that have been coming for generations and eons before. There is a youthful funky reductive yeastiness that tests the aromatics but in looking for balance we find tart fruit, fine acidity and a leanness that strikes like a laser through the microbial fog. Wow is this interesting and in a show of great potential. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2018  megalomaniacjhc  sobmegalo  @MegalomaniacJHC  @seb_jacquey  Megalomaniac Wine

Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (251439, $19.95, WineAlign)

Though neither single-vineyard nor block specific make no mistake. This estate riesling from Fielding is a carefully selected and curated one with not a single wasted note in the varietal tune it plays. The chords are pure citrus, the arpeggio rising from stone fruit skin meets flesh and the overall score ambient in its keyboard hold. It’s so bloody juicy, mouth watering and intense, riesling in which there’s a torrent that rises gently. There’s a wind, like a drug, in new material from a great year to make a new record. Worth listening to and drinking in, on repeat, with a deeper understanding. Should develop a layered feel, of honey and petrol, with time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery  

Vineland Estates Riesling Elevation St. Urban Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

By now the St. Urban Vineyards vines are as old as 37 years, a fact in longevity and experience never lost on this archetypal Niagara Escarpment riesling. There is a certain kind of interest here, first from track record and then because of the deferential vintage for the flagship variety. The nose is quite waxy, lemon-scented and vaguely sweet-fruity. There is even a bit of Niagara Gold cheese mixed with fresh florals, of white roses and then persimmon. So now the mind travels to the tropics, for flavours imagined of mango, marquesa and mangosteen. Warm days and nights will do that to riesling and while this may not live into its twenties it will go complex and curiously fascinating into the petrol and honey with more early unction, like 2012 but even more, akin to 2010. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted December 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  Vineland Estates Winery  Brian Schmidt

Hidden Bench Riesling Bistro 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

If Ontario riesling can be referred to as classic it would be something as traditional and acumen-factored as this ’16 by Hidden Bench. This is due to the middle road meets the fine, direct and essential line taken, where along the way balance is struck with notable fruit, just shy of off-dry styling and a fashion of natural acidity. Correct is, as correct does. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  hiddenbench  @HiddenBench  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  

Creekside Estates Riesling Marianne Hill 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The next Marianne is a conundrum, low in alcohol and yet quite lean, avoiding both high strains of citrus and flesh. The nose is both inviting and very mineral but the palate is a bit staid, understated and seemingly dry. The skins of pears and peaches are touched but it’s just a bit too quiet right now. We’ll see what the future holds. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  creeksidewine  @CreeksideWine  Creekside Estate Winery

Southbrook Vineyards Riesling Triomphe 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

With all of her other varietal talents I wouldn’t normally pontificate winemaker Ann Sperling as exemplifying the riesling whisperer (at least in Niagara) though a pass at this warm and inviting 2016 may change that and with haste. At the risk of sounding a bit too establishment this is classic and typical Niagara but it accedes into such a category with impeccable sugar, acid and texture balance. Treating the fruit with respect, avoiding any unhinged decisions and delivering the three-pronged effects of sweet, tart and bitter with seamless intertwine is the work of a total pro. Gotta have the lime and the essential possibility of honey. Triomphe 2016 does just that. It’s what you want and need. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted January and March 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Mulled riesling anyone? Hidden Bench at Icewine Fest

Hidden Bench Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Just a lovely bit of spring sun and dew picks up the stimulus, pace and attitude right from go in the Hidden Bench ’16. This is not only definitive for riesling by house, for estate and to regional necessity but also to all varietal wines done up right in this pinpointed place. The orbiting acidity is twisted like ties around wires along a circle drawn to lock in freshness, by fruit more lemon and lime citrus than stone or up the stairs. It’s a near perfect vintage for the omniscient one and sets the table for Roman and Felseck Vineyard rieslings to come. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Felseck delivers a concentrated, compact and direct riesling, very focused along linear Locust Lane lines, truly Beamsville stony, precise and even a bit demanding. Few Ontario rieslings can distill lemon, lime, green apple and stone like this without jumping around. That Felseck can stand firm in one place with such stoic and unwavering calm is a testament to a winemaker’s attention to detail. It begins in the storied vineyard and finishes with the same fineness of finesse. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted October 2017  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Perfect match to riesling? Some might say

Cave Spring Riesling Adam’s Steps 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (901211, $24.95, WineAlign)

Adam’s Steps is Cave Spring’s riesling with a bit more of everything, more depth, body, sweetness and texture. It really is the outlier in their varietal bunching, closer to the Estate than the CSV in style and yet firmly positioned in its own category. There is a true sense of spirit and energy, especially on the lively palate, with a waxy, almost peach coulis and lemon-lime pastille note that lingers like sucking on a riesling candy. Clearly dolomite in origin but fleshy and full. Holds the age ability card for a five-plus year run. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Lundy Manor Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The fruit source is Wismer Vineyard for winemaker and Niagara College graduate Adam Kern’s ’16 riesling. Kern also makes the wines with Chris Fornasier and Bench Trial Wines. His straightforward varietal wine for Lundy’s Manor speaks of peach and tart citrus with a surprisingly tannic thrush. The equanimity between fruit and acidity keeps it in the airy space above the pull by extracted weight and will serve it well for two or three years time. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted March 2018  lundymanorwinecellars  @LundyManorWine  @lundymanorwinecellars

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Stanners Riesling evolution is upon us, happening and ready to blow. In replay of 2014 this is Niagara meets PEC fruit, two days of skin contact, six months on the lees, dry is as dry does and yeasty funky. In my mind it’s pretty much a repeat of that just about leesy enough and pear textured 2014 without anything new added or realized. But, for Colin Stanners it must be the vintage that wakes him up to what he needs to do next so this ’15 is therefore the first next step towards and set up man for what’s to come in 2016. This is a must step to taste on that ladder of evolutionary understanding so make sure to take it. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Keint-He Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It’s quite amazing how the texture, sugars and acidities all rise up as one, together for the common good, layered and in-synch. Labeled Niagara Peninsula but really noses and tastes like Twenty Mile Bench riesling. Lime sherbet and mandarin orange gelée. Nothing but pleasure from winemaker Lee Baker’s first start to finish wine at Keint-He. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  keinthewinery  @KeintheWinery  Keint-he Winery & Vineyards

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education. Delete Comment

Trail Estate Wild Ferment Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the WFR is a blend of Foxcroft and BTL fruit, respectfully and respectively farmed by Craig Wismer and Greg Wertsch. This is tannic and textural, the sweetest of all the Trail rieslings, through some skin (or stem) whole cluster contact. The notes are not mind-blowing or expanding ones, of apple, pear and peach skin, again very textural and from a ferment stopped on taste. It’s loaded with 28 g/L of RS but good winemaking makes it seem drier than it is. “Everything else is dry so I guess when I go sweet, I go big” admits Mack Brisbois. So yes this is light, lean, not as fleshy and seemingly drier than it obviously is. Carries forward with a nice candied flower, citrus finish. It’s pretty middle of the road, perfectly correct and enjoyable, especially for a winemaker with an off the beaten track sensibility, antithetical modus vivendi and go beyond the pale ability. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

I find it curious that this Stanners Riesling is 95 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore fruit but now labeled as VQA Ontario, whereas previous vintages called VQA LL had less Niagara and more PEC fruit. No matter really because again this is Niagara meeting PEC with two days of skin contact, but elevated by 12 months on the lees. That time spent can’t be discounted, nor can the dry as a bone, mad as a hatter summer, not tom mention another year of understanding for Colin Stanners. In the end the acidity out of a chart topping pH and fruit accumulation (not in quantity but in phenolic brilliance) leads this riesling to great heights. Malolactic fermentation was allowed to occur naturally, helping to bring the acidity (and everything else) into balance. Lime, toast, flint and energy, boundless and invigorating. What a riesling, what a story. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Cave Spring Riesling CSV 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The CSV from a warm 2016 really expresses the vintage on the nose with a heavy dose of wet stone and every part of a ripe peach. You have to get past the early sulphur but once you do you take a good bite into the flesh of this riesling and the juices will run with accents and angles fit by tonic, pith, tangy, nervy acidity and a hidden sweetness. The sugars are surely more elevated than realized or will ever be felt because the combination of acidity and pith are covers that will never peel back. Size matters and this CSV is built with great Escarpment architecture, stepping out of the paradigmatic 2015 shadow and into another age. This 2016 begins an epoch of structural expressionism and should easily carry its construct through to the next decade. That consequently, is when this CSV will really be ready to rock and roll for a full decade more. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2016, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Times changes, as do winemakers, their hunches, hopes and dreams. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a sidestepping approach to this trailblazing riesling from the vineyard tended by Ed Hughes. It’s now all wild ferment elongated to 19 days on skins. Takes its time this little big one, moving no less than 25 per cent slower than ’15, in part because of the vintage but also because its wild pressed. More a dry matter of when over how or why, still in its aromatic infancy, suffocated by its nature. Also a case of a young wine caught in the 9 g/L total acidity crossfire of a sci-fi battle scene. Will most certainly take another 18 months to change. It does exhale this curious note of garrigue, like Peloponnese mountain tea and Alto Adige sweet fennel frond in broth, with apple and onion skin doused by shots of lime juice. There is even a chewy feel in the leafy texture, quite herbal with a mild pique in a green tea finish. Trust me, this will become something both fascinating and delicious at some point in 2020. There are approximately 76 cases made. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Leaning Post Riesling The Geek 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

The second instalment of the Geek takes Ontario riesling experimentation not just to another level but to a specific methodology that no one else has really attempted thus far. The geeking out goes further and edgier into territory both new and misunderstood. If it seems unconvincing it’s a case of both searcher and searched not yet on the same page but that’s what research and development are all about. All the 2015 lees from Leaning Post’s classic riesling and chardonnay were added to the Geek. As if that wasn’t enough solid, texture-variegating matter, the 2014 riesling lees were also employed. Two years later the Solera ideal was put to bottle. The complex equation comes out to the most autolytic riesling ever made in Ontario, distinctive in that it’s like drinking traditional-method sparkling wine, 36 months on the lees but without any fizz. It’s unusual and fascinating, full of baking apples, biscuits and citrus. It does not meet the expected and the normal, not just because it’s dry as the desert but because it’s enzymatic behaviour is self-cannabalistic. It writes a riesling idiom, having a meaning not deducible from the individual parts. It’s a neo-impressionist idiosyncrasy, a reaction to the empirical realism of “typical,” VQA-cornered and pigeon-holed riesling, accomplished by relying on scientific theory to achieve predetermined textural effects. While The Geek undergoes an oxidative process it’s not exactly Solera-styled because young wine does not replace a percentage of removed older wine. It’s a positive accumulation of solids and therefore a strict and formalized composition. The argot R & D will go on and winemaker Ilya Senchuk asks, “how much lees is too much lees? Only The Geek knows.” Drink 2018-2021. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

At the time of making this wine and then putting a label on a bottle there was no Ontario defined category and in fact this pioneering effort is one of the unheralded forerunners. From fruit sourced out of Ed Hughes’ vineyard it’s a shaggy yet ambitious riesling made mellifluent by 14 days skin contact, inoculated to keep the lees strain constant with with other 15s, meaning the Lakeview and Foxcroft brethren. Now smells just like riesling, unlike in its early “orange” wine days. No longer demanding and tannic, the high acidity too has mellowed and a petrol note has emerged, plus a pepper flake meets peach skin aromatic sedge. Still with the liquid salve texture, coming into its destined balance, dry and persistent in pulse by acidity but calm enough and settled. A great flesh of lime and raining complexity, with a final note of orange skin too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Barrel Ferment Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the next wrinkle is a wild ferment (as opposed to the inoculated ’15), unfined and unfiltered, because as time progressed “I liked it more and more,” says winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. No coarse filtration means some minor sediment will settle in the bottle. Smashed layers of tote-filled grapes are brought to the crushpad, in lieu of the crusher, to extract from the skins and stems, making use of the punchdown tool, while waiting before pressing. Recently bottled in December 2017 the BFR is something completely other and if 2015 was considered not, this follow-up is markedly fruity now, because it always was, all the way through during just more than a year in really old barrels. It’s a blonde riesling as per M. Gustave, if you will. “Why blonde? Because they all were.” This is the wisest of Mack Brisbois’ rieslings, calm, confident, collected and shining brightly from the word go. You don’t have to wait on this one, it’s riper, it’s unfiltered, made with a lot less sulphur than the skin contacts and those “dirty” 15s. “I like to see how little (sulphur) I can get away with,” notes Brisbois. The most accomplished riesling that she has made to date, the 16’s balance is spot on now and you will not have to wait for it to come into its cinematic stage. Drink it now and keep it longer. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Can it be helped if the first 30 seconds with Charles Baker’s 2014 riesling seem like the opening of a film noir classic. Hushed tones, chiaroscuro shadows, off-screen characters and dramatic foreshadowing all solicit the need or the necessity to make use of a wild imagination. There have been older Baker vintages that acted with similar, almost hard to crack quietude. Perhaps it’s with ’13 etched in persistent memory but as a vintage it was (moderately) cooler and in the end, quite average. This ’14 works the benefits and the notes here are quite omnisciently lemon; curd, preserve, citrus tablet and then smeared by a bees-waxy salve. It’s really quite atypical for Baker and for the windswept Vinemount Ridge but misunderstood youth is a bitch. I’d like to revisit in 2019 and beyond to unearth and relish in the hidden meanings. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2017 and March 2018  cbriesling  stratuswines  cruwinemerchants  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  @CRUOntario  Stratus Vineyards  

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Black Ball 2015, Ontario (416073, $36.20, WineAlign)

The new age 2015 was tasted as part of a retrospective that included 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what might be construed as idiosyncratic or antithetical riesling should be so fortunate to be involved in such a demonstration. The Pearl Morissette riesling endeavour was pretty much bone dry from day one. The Mosel style really never spoke to François Morissette. “We have 220 hang time days so we started fermenting riesling chardonnay style, then in 2012 and 2013 in foudres, which tightened them too much. So in ’14 we moved into concrete egg for aromatics but it was too intense.” So here in ’15 the joint between foudres and cement marks the new beginning. The juice is then transferred to become clear while the lees are kept and recycled for future vintages. This had just been bottled days before with almost no free sulphur “because they can take it.” Such low pH (2.97ish) and the up front skin contact brings tannin and then this silk road texture is followed by more tannin on the back palate. It’s a vintage Blackball and a vintage-driven riesling. A phenolically ripe one. The exercise proves that we really don’t know a thing about riesling, Cuvée Blackball and aging until we begin tasting at five years on. In order, 2011 is “a confirmation that we are on the right road,” ’12 may never be ready, ’13 messes with the riesling paradigm and ’14 is more like riesling of expectation. So what does that make 2015? Nothing yet, really. Have you not been paying attention? Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Good to Go!

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Searching for Somewhereness

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

Somewhereness is not really a word. It’s hokum. Gibberish. Nonsense. Look it up in Merriam-Webster or Oxford. Not there. Its conceived convenience is recorded in Wiktionary, Your Dictionary and other online glossaries though, because there is always an online presence ready and willing to immortalize anything and everything.

The definition of Somewhereness, according to the online “dictionaries.”

  1. The state or quality of being in, occurring in, or belonging to a specific place.
  2. The state or quality of existing in a place that is unknown or cannot be pinpointed.
  3. The unique characteristics imparted on a wine by the conditions of the place in which it was grown.

Somewhereness lies the truth?

Somewhereness is not a state of mind, of being, of knowing something is intrinsically right within the parameters or context of here, there, anywhere or everywhere. Somewhereness is not merely a function of good decision-making, of exercising the ideal to expand on terroir, to create something to talk about. Yet that third so-called definition is on the right track. Belief says terroir is what happens in the vineyard, through environment, by geology, geography and topology, from naturally occurring elements and microbes in the soil, by air and of climate. Terroir is the great one. The impossible creator of perfect storms, from out of riddle and enigma. Somewhereness, by extension, is the next one.

Somewhereness exists, albeit with just as much abstruse behaviour and paradox, inside the finished bottle. That’s all you really need to know. Terroir happens before. Somewhereness happens after. The line is drawn when wine enters its final resting place. It evolves, develops and finds its somewhereness inside the bottle. In the case of Champagne (and the wines of Emidio Pepe), the first bottling is merely a temporary shelter and somewhereness knows to wait for the final call. In those cases there are the stages of terroir, disgorgement and finally, somewhereness.

In Ontario, somewhereness has been found (as opposed to “was founded”) by Norman Hardie, Jonas Newman, Vicky Samaras, Bill Redelmeier, Ann Sperling, J-L Groux, Charles Baker, Doug Witty, J.P. Colas, Ed Madronich, Jay Johnston, Tom and Len Pennachetti, Angelo Pavan, Moray Tawse, Paul Pender, Harald Thiel, Marlize Beyers, Mary Bachelder-Delaney, Thomas Bachelder, Martin Malivoire and Shiraz Mottiar.

Somewhereness may have been born to these Ontario parents but it has and will not remain exclusive to the 12 who discovered it. Somewhereness belongs to all wine with true and truthful origins in terroir. The great wines of the world share in the expression and the mystery, even if the gold inside their bottles has never been affixed with such a label. Somewhereness is found inside a bottle of Dujac Bonnes Mares. You will taste it in an Egon Müller Scharzhofberg. It can’t be missed from out of a Margaux pour by the hands of Paul Pontallier. Wines of manic manipulation will never find it. They either do or they don’t, will or they won’t. Somewhereness just happens. Don’t ask me to explain. I’m just the messenger.

Over the past few years, much godello.ca white space has been set aside for glossing in written word and the ever-evolving rumination on the spiritual effect of somewhereness.

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre's breads

Konrad Ejbich holding court in front of De La Terre’s breads

Related, From February, 2013 – Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow

“For a comprehensive look at our province, make sure you read A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards, & Vines by Konrad Ejbich. The discourse concerning somewhereness in Ontario is in full swing. In October of 2012 I wrote, “character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. The future looks very bright for Ontario [wines].”

Related, From April, 2013 – Come together, over wine

“Abeyance be gone, these next few years have the potential to cement an industry’s power. Only a minority has even the slightest clue that liquid gold is mined out of the peninsula’s glacial clay and limestone. The time is ripe to tell the world the story of somewhereness. The embryo is about to grow in a major way. Financial reward is within reach. So how to alert the world?”

Related, From April 2014 – The group of twelve

“History may one day remember them as the group of twelve, or perhaps, “The Ontario School.” They are the 12 wineries who have banded together to ensconce a strange but beautiful word on the tongue, in the dictionary and out in the world. Somewhereness. They are purveyors of the land from which their grapes grow and ferment into wine. Facilitators of terroir, working a canvas forged by millions of years of geological and climatic evolution. Their assembly is based on both exigency and on Moira; destiny, share, fate. Like that other famous group, “collectively they agree.” Ontario’s cool-climate wine regions need to qualify and certify a distinctive winemaking style. In juxtaposition to old world, European tradition, the intensity of somewhereness needs to reflect an increasingly Ontario-centric partiality.”

Related, From April 2014 – Why taste Ontario?

“The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Wine Country Ontario's Magdalena Kaiser

Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser

All wonderful hyperbole, to be sure. But for years I missed the point. Somewhereness is not about agreeing, in principle, on how to make wine from a particular place so that it can collectively result in a thing. It is something other. It’s in the bottle. It has always been there but the key lies in Ontario’s industry having matured to a point where we can now taste it, again and again, inside the bottle. The work made it happen. It is well-deserved.

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney-Bachelder

So with the assistance of Trisha Molokach, Dorian Anderson and the vintners who came to realize what happens when terroir is used to bottle divine pleasure, another Somewhereness (the event) happened, at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, on April 20, 2015. Food partners completed the stellar event; Best Baa Dairy, Monforte Dairy, Upper Canada Chees Company, Fat Chance Hand Sliced Cold Smoked Salmon Co., Chef Ryan Crawford & Beverly Hotchkiss of Backhouse, De La Terre Kitchen and Bakery and Schott Zwiesel. Hinterland was not present in 2015 and I skipped two tables, due to quite recent full portfolio tastings, at Bachelder and at Southbrook. Here are some other notes.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $21.00, WineAlign)

With less residual sugar than in 2012 and slightly higher alcohol (the bottle says 10.1 per cent but it’s actually 9.8), the house style persists, if only as a refrain that adjusts and adheres to the vintage. A hint of oyster shell is more than significant, in working alongside Hardie’s Calcaire, effected out of lees fermentation. The minute loss of high-toned aromatics is pitched in favour of fruit, if only from one exploited tank, within the context of producing 1000 cases. The ’13 (70 Niagara/30 PEC) is like very modern Alsace, akin to Schoffit, what with its texture fitted through a tiny hole. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Calcaire 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

The field blend of Marcel Deiss is the starting point. Lees imparts texture and the proverbial minerality is rounder than the Riesling, though the acidity just as linear. The breakdown is Chardonnay (40 per cent), Riesling (40), Melon de Bourgogne (10) and Pinot Gris (10). It should be noted that the mid-palate is caressed by a silky cheese curd, sour milk atonement. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of August 2014:

If any wine growing and producing region not called Alsace has the right to label a wine Calcaire, Prince Edward County is that place. The irony squared of Norman Hardie’s choice of nomenclature is not lost. Olivier Humbrecht makes use of the term because some of his single-varietal wines can no longer (under the local AOC rules) be labeled with the name of the wine-growing village. Marcel Deiss produces ‘field blends’ composed of several varieties grown on Grand Cru soil but he can’t (under other regional rules) label them Grand Cru. Hardie takes Niagara and PEC Grand Cru grapes, fashions an Ontario white blend, not unlike J-L Groux and calls it Calcaire, in ode to the limestone underlay of the County. Are you following me here? This may be new, innovative, yet understood and an early impression, but this cuvée initiates the PEC march to white blend supremacy, much like Stratus White has done over the course of 10 vintages in Niagara. Norm’s Calcaire is a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Melon de Bourgogne mélange, co-fermented on the lees, striking, all in limestone, full out mineral consequence. There is purified pear and white melon fruit in distillation. There is a house in Wellington, “they call the Rising Sun.” That this animal succeeds so early in its tenure shows the Norm conceit and the swagger. That it will define white blends for a millennium is an arrogance of traditional song and of scripture. So be it.

Last tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier more of May 2014:

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

Last tasted April 2015

The wines of Hidden Bench

The wines of Hidden Bench

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Hidden Bench’s ’13 Riesling is a pure, soft-spoken and balanced reflection of her maker, winemaker Marlize Beyers. Only a month or two of lees and no stirring has brought her Riesling into this current corporeal state. The citrus is all flesh, void of pith and with acidity that has already incorporated, disguised and covered the zest. If any Hidden Bench Riesling suggest tropical fruit, here it is and yet again, not. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of September 2014:

The Estate Riesling is as vigneron-defining as any wine on the Niagara Escarpment. Hidden Bench is a 100 per cent estate-fruit operation so this Riesling is spokesperson, prolocutor, mouthpiece, champion, campaigner and advocate for the concept. The estate ’13 reaches deeper for nutrient pot sweetening, into shale and in conceit of its varied, positively cultivated terroirs. Compact and jelled, this is several steps up from most other entry-level Niagara Riesling and in fact, is really anything but. The transparency here is patent. This is Riesling that simply knows what it is; pure Bench, unequivocally real and forthright. Knows what it wants to be.

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Riesling 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

Produced exclusively for licensee, the Bistro follows a very similar profile to the Estate Riesling, with exactitude in weight and alcohol 911 per cent). The flesh is less, the zest increased and overall you can sense more youth. The Bistro juice comes from Roman Block cuttings planted in Felseck Vineyard in 2008. The simmer here is a simpler, more straightforward pot of sustenance, entirely capable of acting as spokes-Riesling for the Hidden Bench house druthers. The vines will grow up and the juice will move on but other, newer, youthful cuttings will take up residence and the Bistro line will endure. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (278812, $40.00, WineAlign)

The (five to) six percent Sémillon speaks at present, in a waxy, bitter gourd winter melon and smoky flint tightness. In this wound moment, it is perceived that another year will be needed for the next unwind. Now vacuous, spinning and whirling as if in a processor’s bowl, an amphitheatre of expression. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier notes of September and (at Gold Medal Plates Toronto) November 2014:

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.”

Last tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Rosé Locust Lane Vineyard 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A meandering young blend of Pinot Noir, Malbec and Viognier that is super dry (3.2 g/L of residual sugar), “hey, hey, my, my.” The aromas suggest a succession from strawberry to green and red onion but “there’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.” The medley, interrupted by ballads and road stories is like a subtle, sweet, sour and savoury gastronomical pickle, ramps in brine, scopes in sweet alkali. Can there be a drier, more windswept crag, neal to a southern French style made anywhere on the Peninsula than from the Escarpment coliseum up on Locust Lane? Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Hidden Bench Bistro Rosé 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

While persistent in aridity as a disciple to the Locust Lane, this Bordeaux blend Rosé packs a fruitier punch. Elevated residual sugar (as compared to the Double L) mans a higher rate of variability and accessibility, not to mention more chance of Ontario patio success. This licensee bottling will work for summer, across the province. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted May 2015

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Meg McGrath and and Marlize Beyers of Hidden bench

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Still tightly wound with the tannic grain criss-crossing at interstices of fruit (pomegranate/cranberry/strawberry) and acidity (sharp/pointed/direct). A fine, pointillist’s rendering; Locust as Seurat, nobly bitter, to the end. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

The Locust Lane Vineyard, originally planted in 1998, was Hidden Bench’s first acquisition, in 2003. It has a unique perpendicular cross-slope effect, undulating in all four directions, gathering sun hours in its own special way. The vineyard produces the richest and warmest Pinot Noir with fruit flavours more akin to ripe plum and black cherry than almost anywhere on the Beamsville Bench, certainly as any from the Hidden Bench stable. While the ’11 is not the biggest beast nor the Bordeaux bully of the Terroir Caché, it is surprisingly tannic and strong. It’s anything but hot, though it attacks with fervor. Big berry fruit, macerated strawberry, rich pie notes and spice. A great Locust vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

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

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

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130997, $34.95, WineAlign)

A year had added rich note to this ’11, furthering the inflammatory vibrations and purposefulness of Bordeaux (as opposed to Loire) red makings from the vintage. The depth of cherry merging to smoked currants is cool, collected and shaded by brushy, briny strokes. Hints at brambly, even. This is so very Cabernet Franc and even more so, Lincoln Lakeshore. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

A lean Laundry with as much finesse as winemaker Paul Pender has ever shown in his poignant Cabernet Franc realm. When a vintage deals you calm and scale you sit back and relax. The Lincoln Lakeshore advancing in years vines bring yet unseen front end red berry, licorice and red currant softness in 2011. There is elegance but also a refusal to yield its back end bite. A level of enveloping grain and chalk is unique to this bottle and should be seen as a very good effort with the possibility ahead

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Extra Dry Sparkling Riesling 2010, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From the clay-limestone bench lands abutting the Escarpment, specifically one block of 11 year-old vines at the Beamsville Bench Cave Spring Vineyard. Traditional method fizz accessed of low brix (early picked, 19.3 degrees) and mortar (2.97 pH) numbers, then elevated under microscope magnified sugar (15.5 RS g/L) and acidity (8.4 g/L). So what? So this is a pure CS expression of Riesling, cured and curated in the house style, led to textile weave from 14 months on the lees and finalized just that side of Brut. Functions like a Blanc de Blancs suitably this side of acidity rage and with corresponding remarkable, if close to impossible aridity. Less fat than might be expected and with a swath of sauvage. There sweats ginger and the cuttings of foraged wild things. The extension on the finish is protracted even after the liquid has left the building. Finishes with dry stones, nuts and a rightful oxidative thrust. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

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

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

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

At present there are sweets, bitters and rich Adam fruit. Only the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment know why the Adam is so juicy. A chew like no other. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of October 2014:

A classic Adam, amplified in 2013, riper and not as piercing as previously noted vintages. Still the layering is omnipresent but there is more juicy fruit and texture then ever before. This is a consumer friendly Adam, gregarious, outgoing, off-dry as never before. New slang for the bottling.

From my earlier note of July 2014:

According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.

Last tasted April 2015

Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391995, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Cabernet Franc needed six further months for the high-toned fruit to settle just enough for the spiced richness to shine. Though Dolomite-designated, this sheds Beamsville light purity, along with a grain variegated by (pomegranate) citrus and chalk. The cool centre is elongated and expansive though it seems to inuit the correct time for retraction. The aerial fruit stresses condense and accept the angles prepared by coriander and eucalyptus. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (681247, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Twenty Mile Bench in Jay Johnston’s hands flat out rocks. The Chardonnays “they dig a funky spiel, they’ll make some spiel.” The ’12 Estate has crossed into pretty territory, not shy to wear its thin lamina of oak make-up and not too proud to say drink me now. Drink me here, there and everywhere. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of March 2014:

Has spent some quality time and knows its way around a barrel but its attitude is young, fresh and alive. From 12 and 13 year-old estate vines and kissed by only 15 per cent new oak. “But here’s a funky fact that I know is real.” Flat Rock’s Chardonnays are red hot and this fresh-faced ’12 has “baby appeal.” Blatant, colorable value on the Twenty.

Last tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula  (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Always expressive of such manifest certitude, the 2014 can’t be anything but Nadja though there adds a fleshy dimension that pins it to the broader spectrum of Twenty Mile Bench, in as much as what the vineyard culls from its capacious diagrammatic. That broader outlook provides understanding into Nadja’s decrease of stentorian language in the fractionally stagnant vintage. There is a variegation within the sweetness lining the tunnel of aridity. Fourteen is nothing overly special and Nadja suffers as a result. It’s still a very, very good Riesling, just not one for the ages. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1545, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vintage acts as a launch point for Flat Rock Pinot Noir and prepares a palate for the 20 Mile Bench by coating it with utmost approachability. Violets and Nebbiolo-like roses are raised in warmth, albeit beneath the safety net of cloud cover. You’ll find no burn, rust spots and yet you will acquire comfort, in and out of sips. Drink 2015-2018.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

As with Flat Rock’s Chardonnays, here is a vintage and an evolutionary coming of age that becomes a matter of scaling back oak. The quotient here is less than 40 per cent new, leaving the wizened vines and maker’s acumen to coax maximum character, brilliant sheen and recognizable aroma. The 2012 Pinot teases black cherry but never really goes there.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Nearly 4000 cases will be available of this nearly-unfiltered, very established and always well-thought out Pinot Noir. A consideration of the plots and barrels micro-management that determine the crasis of this Estate wine demands an extrapolation in full-on assessment. The medium-coarse Chinois filtering lends to a tannic chain of texture thick in grain and chalk. A heavier Estate because when the weather gives you heat you make a climate appropriate wine. This monkey is not a product of arctic air and it “got too deep, but how deep is too deep?” Thermal vintage melt, ritzy ripe cherry stuff in 2012. From the Ritz to the Rubble, if you like, or the Flat Rock.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

From two blocks on one farm in the centre of Creek Shores, one picked earlier to avoid botrytis. No malo, stainless steel tank fermentation leads to pure, crisp and clean Pinot Gris. The soil-driven funk meets faux-sulphur is typically J.P. Colas, a specificity in undertone that culminates in a dry, variegated finish. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of April 2014.

Here you have an honest, 100 per cent stainless steel treated Pinot Gris from an estate vineyard located adjacent the market on Fourth Avenue in the Creek Shores appellation. So very dry and really fine fruit, crisp, neoteric, rising and falling in waves of tempered acidity. Made in a comfortable, country-twanged, folk-rock style, like a Cowboy Junkie. Juicy, mouth watering work and very easy to fall for. An angel mine, this 13th Street, “and I know that your skin is as warm and as real as that smile in your eyes.” This effort by Jean-Pierre Colas is as good as it gets, a tally for Creek Shores and its kinship with the variety.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk in for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April 2015

13th Street Syrah ‘Essence’ 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $44.95, WineAlign)

Fruit was sourced mainly from Wismer Vineyard (Vineland) and a smaller proportion from AJ Lepp (Niagara-on-the-Lake) for this dry as the desert Syrah of deep extract, warmth and density of fruit. All set upon a highly tannic frame, with every indication that longevity will be its best friend, as much as any red has ever been produced in Ontario. A formidable vulcanization marks the entry, a not so inappropriate entreaty to beg for time and lots of it. The current pavane of fruit is exhibitive of excruciating physical reticence though behind the wall there is more than enough indicators to stand the test of time. No new oak (though the Essence saw an extended slumber in three to four year old barrels) has allowed the tapestry of intertwined layers to set up shop and dig in for the long haul. If big-boned Syrah and Niagara are in your cellar plans, this 13th Street 2012 has to have a prominent place. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire

Malivoire

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

A dual block blush, from two clones in the Moira Vineyard. Made from 100 per cent Pinot Noir, this second vintage is pale as can be, dry, saline and reeking of fresh peaches and strawberries. The level of purity and intensity is nothing short of amazing. This will rise quickly into the ranks of the Peninsula’s finest Rosés. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The purity and fine-lines of Pinot Gris are defined, delineated and deftly prepared by Shiraz Mottiar and team in 2014. This is a calm rendition, void of tremors, certainly not taking any risks but also not a white of unfulfilled promises. Herbs, lemon, mint and fine PG tannin draws salt from stone. A perfectly dry finish is in play, as with all malivoire whites, to cement the deal. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015.

Malivoire Stouck Meritage 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

It’s hard to recall memories of so much syrup, liqueur and high tonality as coming from Stouck, from any Meritage for that matter and yet the 2011 Bordeaux varietal wines out of Niagara continue to astound. If excess or vivid character is a negative, just look away. The combination of rich extraction and explicit oak generosity dope out fruit from a dry September into wonders of dried timbre and inflection. The drupe is enriched, as is the tannin and a Beamsville buttressing that warps and wraps like never before. At this four-year juncture, the Niagara ’11 varietal compendium is officially a thing, witnessed in example through this Stouck. More than just dramatic Shiraz Mottiar foreshadowing here, but further into thoughts of what vintages co do for red wine as a Peninsula whole. The ’11 Stouck Meritage stands upright at the mirror and its reflection looks right back. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2015

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The profundity of tart, keen, briny berries dilates in its own very useful layers of citrus, tannin and concentration, beyond even what was observed in 2012. The zesty, spritely argot resonates from the unfurling of floral essentia out of a Gamay in desperate need of time. The flavours and overlay are somewhat impenetrable and yet leave quite an impression. While patience might be the virtue and the reward, if #gogamaygo is the modus operandi, a swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road is certainly not out of the question. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2015

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

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

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2008, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (126433, $35.20, WineAlign)

The petrol and mighty bee’s sting have taken over, with the honey again not far behind. A lemon prepares to spill its juices as it warms above a bunsen flame. At present it is almost too elemental to define. Will change course again when midnight strikes in 2016. Then it will come into its own. Drink 2016-2020.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

Tasted at Somewhereness 2014 as part of a vertical retrospective going back to 2007. The Vinemount Ridge’s now famous Picone Vineyard is set within a 10-acre estate on the Niagara Escarpment. Planted to the Weis 21 clone, the Riesling grown here digs in for complexity from sectional moieties of clay and sandy soil atop a unique base of limestone bedrock. Charles Baker began working with these grapes in 2005 and it is this 2008 where the learning curve took a turn for the Riesling stratosphere. The ’06 found luck in the stars but this vintage lays the framework and foundation for a master plan. At this stage in the ’08 evolution there is a prodigious and viscous honeyed textured. Ripening tree fruit juices run like maple sap in spring and the run off is beginning to think syrup. A cutting ridge of acidity arrests the sugaring, allowing citrus and flinty rock to recall the wine’s first, fresh steps. Baker’s Riesling time travels in circles with no real beginning and no real end. From my earlier, September 2012 note: ““Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.”

Last tasted April 2015

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Wildass Rosé 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71712, $17.95, WineAlign)

A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with some Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling added for lift and what J-L Groux admits is rendered “for the consumer.” This essentially marks the twain between sweet and dry, if not quite halfway then pretty darn close. Plenty of herbs and citrus nail the aromas on the proverbial head with more than a grapefruit or two on the half circle. A highly approachable, end-user friendly blush. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density, and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky, back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015

Stratus Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

t may not be the most idiosyncratic Gamay in Niagara but the Stratus 2012 is without a doubt the most advanced and complex. Gamay fusion is on display, at once a bottle of Niagara’s finest pulchritudinous veneer and then a charcuterie board laid ample with cured bovine parts and sun-dried grapes. Maximum ripeness and then even later picking, to no one’s surprise, have led to this. Two years of ageing in neutral oak barrels has brought about a humid roundness and yet the centre is controlled by Oz-like mint and eucalyptus notes. The jam is gelid, as opposed to temperate. Rarely does Gamay go to such depths, of blackberry, chalk and grain, with an overlord of tannin. Quite serious stuff. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

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

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

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Red, white and orange at Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Whimsy! Reds, Whites and Orange

She says she’s making a similar wine in British Columbia, but Ann Sperling will tip no varietal hat, will offer up no hints, will not reveal the make-up in her new, all-natural Orange wine. That’s right. Orange wine.

To arrive at this (nothing rhymes with orange) juncture, a bit of background on the winemaker and her Ontario employer, Southbrook Vineyards. Sperling is from B.C., where she makes Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and piercing Sparkling Wines at Pioneer Ranch, the family heritage farm under her eponymous Sperling Vineyards label.

Related – A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries

Southbrook as a winery and a vineyard is a leader in Ontario’s increasingly developing biodynamic and organic direction. Ann Sperling introduced proprietors Marilyn and Bill Redelmeier to the sprawling property in Niagara-on-the-Lake and it is there that their commitment to farming organically and biodynamically is managed in the vineyard by Scott Jones and in the winery by Brian Hamilton and Regan Kapach.

The Redelmeiers are no strangers to the concepts and the agrarian way. Who does not remember making necessary stops at their farmstead and pumpkin patch on Major Mackenzie Rd. between Dufferin and Bathurst in Richmond Hill. Southbrook defined that concept in the 80’s and 90’s, by bringing a distinctly rural Ontario feel to the edge of Toronto civilization. People came from all four directions for their farm fresh produce. Chappell Farms, Chudleighs and Whittamore’s all owe a major level of their success to Southbrook’s pioneering concept.

The Redelmeier cattle farm on the 19th century property in Richmond Hill morphed into that roadside vegetable stand in the 1980s. Winemaking came next and then in 2005, Bill and Marilyn relocated to Niagara. Having chosen to pursue certifications for both the vineyard and the winery – including LEED, biodynamic and organic certification, the Redelmeiers have been instrumental in the revolution.

Ann Sperling is a natural fit for their manifesto, to produce high quality wine from estate fruit under the strict O & B directive. The upper echelon Southbrook wines are bottled under the labels of Triomphe, Whimsy! and Poetica. That she has now decided to make an orange wine is, well, natural. I think a great deal of Ontario wine drinkers, along with those beyond these borders don’t quite get Southbrook. Gaining insight as to why the Orange wine should be made is no less difficult than acquiring an understanding as to what the Southbrook portfolio is all about. You need to spend time with the wine and the winemaker. This point is essential.

Winemakers are intensely focused individuals. Their wines live and breath. As a parent to their children, winemakers feel their every step. Their hopes and dreams rise and fall with every breath they take. Sperling had thought about it for years but the 2014 vintage allowed her to take the experimental, all natural plunge.

She is not the first to do the orange wine thing. In his May, 2014 Macleans article, Orange is the new white (wine), John Szabo reported on his involvement with making such a beast in Ontario. Together with Norman Hardie and François Morissette, they have fashioned one from Riesling in Prince Edward County. Szabo wrote, “Ontario vintners are experimenting with an ancient Georgian technique and a 500-litre qvevri. “With an imported clay vessel their wine currently rests in a 500-litre qvevri in Hardie’s cellar. Szabo had also discovered that Richie Roberts of Fielding Estate was the first orangista in Canada. Roberts made 400 bottles of skin-fermented Viognier in 2012, though not in clay. Szabo had previously referred to Stanners Vineyard Pinot Gris Cuivré 2010 as “the first orange wine made in Ontario.”

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

The natural/orange wine debate is hot right now and not because of the reasons you might think. The smoke and mirrors of discussing the merits of making such wines or to question whether it’s rubbish is clouding the discussion. Or as Alexandra Gill reports in her most recent Globe and Mail article, “fault-indulgent hippie juice as a major scam,” or the smell of “stale, mouth-puckering morning breath.” The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”

Then along comes the Hosemaster of Wine, Ron Washam who insists “don’t publish anything about natural wine on your blog in 2015.” Washam is right when he comments on the hypocrisy of “natural wine shipped in an ocean-polluting tanker…loaded on an exhaust-belching truck…and you feel good about it because the guy who made it didn’t spray Roundup?” This N-word wine story, however, is allowed. Here we are discussing an Orange wine made with attention to ancient detail, in our Niagara backyard, the one I travelled to the source to taste and you know something, it’s pretty fucking good? You’re a funny man and a really good writer but let me ask you something. You got a problem with that Ron?

I sat down with Ann, Wines In Niagara writer Rick VanSickle and Paul DeCampo, Southbrook’s Director of Marketing & Sales on Sunday, December 28th to taste the new or yet released Triomphe ’13’s, Whimsy! ’12’s and Poetica ’12’s. A ’13 Cabernet Franc Icewine and the mysterious, ubiquitous and enigmatic Orange wine rounded out the tasting card. The experience went a long way towards adding Southbrook Vineyards to the loftier queue’s cerebral vinous database. Going forward, I’ll surely never look at these wines in the same light.

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

“We’ve been waiting to do small batch, stem fermentation,” Ann Sperling tells us as we have a good look at the lustrous, foggy glass of orange-yellow colour more micro-described as either croceate or gamboge. “Now we have the infrastructure to do so.” Stems add architecture (and a preservative effect), something that is otherwise compromised in a sulphite-free wine. This nameless natural wine was biodynamically-raised, indigenously-yeasted and freed from the constraints of temperature control. No wood was used, only stainless steel and glass carboys. The orange and natural classification comes by way of the complex ebullition (closest in style to the Collio hills wines of Josko Gravner), in colour, weight, elegance and the dichotomy of skin fermentation. Sperling used acumen derived from the concept at Argentina’s Versado, where skins are employed in a similar way when making Malbec with husband Peter Gamble. This young wine is filled with terpenes and is highly, desperately aromatic. Lemon curd is up front and centre. It’s got a tart tang and at (approximately) 11.8 per cent alcohol, the gravity is impossibly beautiful. Sperling’s take is “a fair reflection on the vintage” and it’s the mouthfeel that sets it apart. What’s the varietal make up, single or a blend? If the latter, was it co-fermented? Ann will only tell us that it was harvested over a two week period in October. The big question is will it receive VQA approval. Viognier and Pinot Gris should certainly be options but I’m not aware of Southbrook ever having employed their use. Sperling’s Whimsy! Winemaker’s White uses Muscat so perhaps we could go that direction but the aromatics don’t jive. Riesling is the simplest road to take and if the Southbrook Connect Organic White 2013 is any indication, the combined effect with Vidal could certainly steer this Orange ship. But If I were made to guess, to have some fun with concept, I would suggest that it’s a blend of white and red grapes, but Southbrook does not grow Pinot Noir so that should rule out Chardonnay as well. So I conjure up a song. “Well I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky.” With a union of grape varieties standing by. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc feed my Spidey senses, so under the auspices of that marriage, what we might have here is an offspring, a Cabernet Sauvignon. A very natural one. An orange one.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent estate fruit (so it’s organic and biodynamic), the accesibility here is immediate and gratifying. So ever-very raspberry, like berries and savoury flower dust rehydrated into a sweet yet tart and viscous tisane baked into a pie. That does not articulate a cooked component, but rather a concentrated vehemence. As far as Peninsula Merlot goes, this really finds both its varietal and vintage capitalized way. It’s both cool and critical, exemplary and snappy. Early thought leads towards a five to seven-year run.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Still organic through and through, despite only a small portion of estate fruit contributing to the overall design of the Triomphe Cabernet Franc ’13. Contracted growers fuel and fulfill the Southbrook ideology, to seek purity in healthy berries. The red fruit here shines on with Daliesque impunity. Its agglomeration makes a juicy, gregarious offer to sip. The vanilla-lavender streak brings elegance, more so than in ’12, along with an elevated sense of savour and really compounded red, red fruit. A natural sweetness and long finish are easy on the gustatory senses. Will be available at VINTAGES in February 2015, when the ’12 runs dry.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Triomphe '13's

Southbrook Triomphe ’13’s

Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

The VINTAGES Essential is fashioned from mostly estate fruit (making it mostly biodynamic) save for a tonne or two grower’s supplementation. The 13’s are just beginning to hit shelves as ’12 stock depletes and in many ways the new vintage excels and exceeds the success of the split decision ’12. Where the ’13 lags is in showy complexity, though I’m not sure that is the Triomphe Cab Sauv’s most distinguishing or valuable asset. The new year brings a darker, pitchier, heavier brooder and as a second thought, a slower build to complexity. If ’12 was the rare marble, this is the braising cut. The triumph is now an impression as a sum of parts, not outwardly obvious and live. Not so easy to disseminate, the ’13 could likely have benefited from a less urgent rush to market. The drive to appease the sellers may inhibit a quick response understanding of its fruit intent so consumers should be aware of the need to exercise just a half-year or so of patience.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Sémillon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95)

A getable Sémillon of plenary indulgence, of deep-seated intent, already blessed and blissful of honey. From a two-barrel lot, fermented in stainless steel with lees contact. This is an Ann Sperling special, both biodynamic and unfined, so it serves public notice as a Southbrook affiche in promotion of naturalism. And then it really begins to rock. Sulphites are present and perceptible but so are the more panegyrizing notes of salinity, mineral and rocks with ideas. Single-varietal Sémillon is an amazing thing, possessive of a clarity few can match. It ages with ease and it knows it. “When you know that your time is close at hand, maybe then you’ll begin to understand.” The ’13 Whimsy! Sémillon is an iron maiden, luminescent metal intense with even more honey on the back-end. Sémillon, hallowed be thy name.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Chardonnay ‘Minerality’ 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for release in January or February 2015, “Minerality” as sister to “Richness” is the wilder of the two, less weighty (though up there at 14 per cent alcohol), possessing nothing in any discernible or palpable, tropical void. This little sister is “shakin’ like a tree. rollin’ like a log, shakin’ and a rollin’ now, that ain’t all.” Minerality occupied (40 per cent new, 12 per cent one-year and 48 per cent older) French oak barrels for 12 months, then sat in bottle for 12 more. Until now. Ray of power here unleashed, like a rock ‘n roll genie, finger-picking god ranging all over the map of scales. Though her sulphur edges to watering eyes, the aqueous emulsion from barrel selections leading to tight, reductive early life tendency will one day be forgiven. In fact, Minerality was rejected by the VQA panel on her first go round, bad girl as she was, but she’s now settling into her band-aid skin. She’s now a release away from being almost famous. The rigidity in redux has stirred through, having trod beyond pyridine freshness, though you can still feel the ghosts. Acts seemingly evolved but it manifests as an aromatic nougat. “Reduction is an indication of aging potential, or verve,” says Sperling. A comparison might be made to a 2000 Mosel, which was untouchable early on, but is now a classic. Could Minerality stand the weather? It has a very particular profile, a tactile mouthfeel and great, sweet length, from soul to soul. So yes, this is 2012 Chardonnay on the Peninsula.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for a January/February 2015 release, the 100 per cent estate (organic and biodynamic) ’12 Whimsy Cabernet Franc spent time in (41 per cent) new wood. The significance of the barrel imprint is not lost on territorial influence as related to texture, more than anything else. A warming trend is balanced by a layering of savoury savoir faire and citrus (or the thought of). A repetitive drumming tang drives this tome with trepidation in reserved activity and acidity. Lacking any discernible tobacco, currant or notes of piquancy, this will request consumer patience before it comes into its own and out to the party. Though quite elegant and possessive of better than good length, I prefer the freshness and personality of the (’12 and ’13) Triomphe, for the money. Here I am reminded of some Tuscan CCR’s. Like a time-clocked, sui generis oaked and stately Chianti, this Whimsy will offer more charm when it reaches middle age, at least five years down the road and it will display plenty of caramel, wood polish and charcuterie cure at that time.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

In a warm year like 2012, the perfect Southbrook synoptic storm for Cabernet Sauvignon gives cause for thought. Awash in agriculture (organic and biodynamic), of fruit (100 per cent estate) and from barrels (nearly half new and just Four Mile Creek shy of two years), this winemaker’s vagary palavers on verve, torpid integration and inevitable aging. The rich berry and earth weave is a veritable, variegated loaf of aggie layering. But it’s more than that. The centre is filled with cool runnings; mint, eucalyptus and chains of pyromorphite. All tolled you can feel the showiness of the vintage in this Whimsy’s emphatic overall statement.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Petit Verdot 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95)

Welcome to the new world of single-varietal junkets and Four Mile Creek Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon (13.3 per cent) and Merlot (1.3) offer up contiguous Bordeaux support for this Southbrook first (under the full varietal name – this used to be called “Who You Calling Petit”), slated for an April or May 2015 release. Culled from the estate’s biodynamic and organic vineyard. Musty, dusty and undomesticated, Sperling’s take is a swirling mistral of wild berries, sauvage, herbs, garrigue and even mushroom. It has yet to recede from its barrel play, showing nary a sign of evolution. Big tannins, high concentration and abrupt ministrations are the crux of its personality. It seems that it will stride out in two years, score early and often, then retire to the bench. The late candied flavours indicate a successful, if short career. Less than 70 cases were produced.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Poetica Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($54.95, WineAlign)

The Poetica Red ’12, slated for a Spring 2015 release, is amazing and intriguing on many levels. But for the fact that Petit Verdot (26.5 per cent) plays such a major varietal role, what must first be declared is the disseminated learning applied to this application. The dos and don’ts of previous (only produced in) warm vintage Poetica Reds will see a shedding of those don’ts in this 2012. Ann Sperling ushers in a new era for Niagara Bordeaux assemblage and if this wine is any harbinger, others will follow suit. Here celebrates a love for the land (environment), poetry and more specifically, Canadian poets. Chief Dan George, he of North Vancouver and the Hollywood screen, penned “Words to a Grandchild.” In it he wrote, “in the midst of a land without silence, you have to make a place for yourself.” Poetica Red ’12 will have done that when viewed retrospectively, 10-15 years from now. It will have grown old, but also wise. As for now it’s brooding, melancholy even. It’s all of that and this; endemic, entrenched, crenellated, ensconced and indoctrinated with Niagara knowledge. Has a dusty, earthy, even funky poetry. More depth than many, much realized acumen and will live long. Given 30 minutes of air it showed the ribbons of classic Niagara reds. All these concepts combine to see Poetica Red ’12 not so much as huge, but with depth and complexity.  Tasted December 2014.

Poetica Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($49.95, WineAlign)

Whole cluster pressed, all estate fruit spent 18 months in only 15 per cent new (100 per cent French, mainly 300L) barrels. Indigenous yeasts saw more rotation than stirring and classic Chardonnay fermentation, which is code for “they always stick.” As a result, there was no need to impress a finish on fermentation. As per the Poetica practicum, poetry sidles up to the Estate’s flagship white, joined in ’12 by Chief Dan George, the Burrard Inlet, B.C. Tsleil-Waututh Nation chief. The Little Big Man (Old Lodge Skins) academy-award winning actor and poet penned “Keep a Few Embers From the Fire.” The final line “for a new life in a changed world” alludes to the Poetica’s destiny, affirmed by the success of this vintage. When it is released in the Spring of 2015, it will strike an immediate accord with tasters and consumers alike because it is markedly more accessible than previous vintages. Rich and unctuous, it is neither as tropical nor as misunderstood as Poeticas that have come before. Focus is laser sharp, balance is key and integration realized. The level of osmosis in its parts is just awesome. Though reductive, power will propel this Poetica to parts native and familiar, with élan in evolution. Tannins are great but certainly yet spun by sunburst. In 20 years time, words will describe this Poetica as best ever. That much is certain.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($69.95, WineAlign)

An all estate, indigenous and inoculated Icewine, even if it were not thought possible to do so. Spoons out pure raspberry and apricot distillate, this Cabernet Franc is a product of happily fermented yeast because of a clean, natural and healthy vineyard. Bacteria neither takes a prominent seat nor dominates in the fermentation. Plenty of nutrition (or just enough, depending on the angle) is available in the fermentative state and then again in barrel. No trouble will come running. No Brettanomyces nor acetic negativity can survive. There is orange, pomegranate molasses and cinnamon stick in here. Goes straight to the cavity, with sugars and acidity set on high, along with structure and length. Really as good as Cabernet Franc gets in the idiom and finishes alternatively, distinctly dry. Will not turn Bretty like some older vintages. A thinker of clean, clean Icewine thoughts, from a desert of fermentation to realize a dessert garden of eden. I took a sip and “I got taken away, by a heavenly host, to a heavenly place.”  Tasted December 2014

Good to go!

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A wine pentathlon

Casa Loma in Toronto PHOTO: ALISONHANCOCK/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Wake up and smell the grapes. Put those lame excuses on the shelf and get over yourself. Time to cease and desist the dissing and dismissing of Ontario wine. I used to be like you but now I participate any chance I get, by invitation or by uncorking at dinner, to sample, savour and immerse myself in Canadian and more specifically, Ontario wine.

“5-Star” at Casa Loma (Photos: Michael Godel)

I was there when thirty wineries from The Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore regions were assembled on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 in Toronto’s Casa Loma by The Ontario Wine Society. No fewer than 127 wines (plus a few under the table ringers here and there) were poured at the “5-star” event that focused on the signature, cool-climate varieties produced in Ontario. Sparkling wines shared company with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. I loved the pentalpha conceptualization, realized by a narrowing of the field to a focus of five. Working endurance wine tastings tugs on the olfactory and taste bud strings, demanding maximum mettle, so this was a welcome format.

The Ontario Wine Society is a necessary and viable provincial institution. The not-for-profit society was formed in 1991 and continues its mandate to discover, appreciate and support local wines. The industry knows to thank and give back to the OWS and other organizations who likewise set out complimentary mandates to champion local greatness. Like the VQA leader with respect to growth and sustainability Wine Council of Ontario (WCO) and the oenological education leader Cool Climate, Viticulture and Oenology Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University, the OWS is all about championing greatness stemming from our vineyards.

Shout out goes to OWS President Ken Burford and Vice-President Sadie Darby for orchestrating the oeno-pentathlon. The feat was neither small, nor insignificant. The local tastings ramp up in a big way in April and May with events like County in the City,  County CharacterCounty Terroir, The Niagara Food and Wine Expo and culminating in June with the inaugural National Wine Awards of Canada (formerly the Canadian Wine Awards) presented by Wine Align.

From left: Flat Rock Cellars 2008, Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011, Stanners Pinot Noir 2010, Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2008, and Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2009

Many of the wines presented had been previously reviewed so with such a big line-up to get through I did not always re-taste, including the following:

Rosewood Estates Natalie’s Süssreserve Riesling 2010 (258806, $14.95) 88

Flat Rock Cellars 2008 Riddled ($24.95) 87

Green Lane Old Vines Riesling 2010 (283432, $29.95) 91

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (324103, $44.95) 91

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Rare Vintage Pinot Noir 2010 ($44.95) 91

Here are eight highlights from the OWS Casa Loma tasting, to the tune of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011 ($21.95, 172338) binds FSO2 with jack or durian, febrile fruit. For now hard to figure, like a grey rose or a Pink Floyd. Offers up a creamy warmth in resonant echoes but amplified as if still trapped inside the barrel. The best days remain ahead for this certified and biodynamic Chardonnay, which in two to three years time will “come streaming in on sunlight wings.” 89  @SouthbrookWine

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2012 ($23.95, winery only) picks up where the piercing ’11 left off and should be enjoyed in near time while that prototypical QRV fleshes out. This vintage is all about the here and now, citrus bright, immediately inviting, a slice of limstone pie with clay icing. While some age on Riesling is certainly and always welcome, this one begs to be looked at in the present. 90 @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Lighthall Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($25, winery only) has that crazed look in its eye, as does vintner Glenn Symons when he talks about it, knowing full well this Prince Edward County juice is a bursting and rising, rocket launching supernova. Steely like Chablis, sharp and shimmering in defiance to the heat of the vintage, the LVC is a dartle to the collective consciousness of the County. Startling revelation. It’s all about the rocks. 91  @lighthallvyard

Lighthall Vineyard wines

Stanners Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, winery only) combines 60% (horizontal) County fruit with 40 per cent (vertical) Niagara (Lincoln Lakeshore) grapes in balance and with finesse. Simply apply the distance formula to figure out the length of the hypotenuse. Bridging the kilometres that lie between, though inadmissible to some, comes by way of a deft winemaker’s vision and touch. Plum good, mineral rich and perceptibly tannic without breaching a threshold of varnish. Cherry toffee speaks of the sunshine and indicates time is of the essence. Will look forward to full-on County issue for 2013 in the hands of Cliff and Colin Stanners. 89  @StannersWines

Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2008 ($30, winery only) poured as a youthful and “hello” pleasant surprise though it’s just beginning to display secondary character. Has shed its CO2 ferment skin without compromising the inherent citrus zest. Nectar lit by just emerging perky propellant and the ubiquitous, underlying of St. Urban’s stones all combine forces to a life of amarita. All this to make believe 2028 will be just another year in its evolution. 92  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, 1560winery) reels in Twenty Mile Bench fruit in a warm vintage as well if not better than any of its peers. Founder Ed Madronich is clearly slope and soil obsessed and this Pinot Noir is a study in topography and geology. To paraphrase Madronich, it’s  “more Pommard than Volnay, in a deeper and more masculine way than the Estate bottling.” Pinot barrels most representative of the Gravity style were chosen for the final blend, in this case noted by woodsy black cherry and spiced root vegetable. “Get a little savagery in your life.” 90   @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2010 ($38, winery only) takes my previous impressions to a higher plane. Standing correct by calling it a “a vintage relative release” but it’s so much more than “a quaffable, generous fruit sui generis.” Beets turn into plums. Opaque hue reminds of graceful Nebbiolo with a dancer’s legs in aperture. Wins in judicious use of French wood. Tannins persist in the rear-view mirror. Big ’10 that speaks of another level in Beamsville Pinot Noir. “Think about it, there must be higher love.” 91  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron 

Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2009 ($49.95, winery only) from the Creek Shores Appellation is proof that a well rounded grape has no point. The Van Bers is winemaker Paul Pender’s purlieu, edgy, outlying, unconcerned with the norm or the banal. Makes full use of a cool vintage with heart-stopping acidity and eye-popping verve but not without delivering Soul, in the form of flowers and a fruit basket to your doorstep. “It’s like thunder and lightning.” Capers, camphor and a knock on wood add R & B complexity. 91  @Paul_Pender

Good to go!