Godello’s 24-hour Nova Scotia revival

Lightfoot & Wolfville estate vines overlooking the Minas Basin

Neither travel fatigue nor Ida on a wet and grey last day of August and first of September could hardly dampen the spirit nor get in the way of a most rewarding and highly educational visit to Nova Scotia wine country. On Thursday the skies looked like an unripe olive as photographed through gauze yet the fabric gifted a palpable feeling of optimism. As Friday progressed the resolute mood took on a confidence in airs. An exchange of ideas and a refreshed positivism rang from Newport to Wolfville, the Blomidon Peninsula, Gaspereau Valley and through permeate points dotting the Minas Basin. Looking back one month later, a persistent study in reflection wonders if the blood of Nova Scotia wines are closer to seawater than its bones are to soil. Considering the growing of grapes so proximate to the immense tidal sways of the Bay of Fundy can weaken or perhaps even profane the recurring thought, as if in fact in the whole of the Annapolis Valley there may be more earth than sea. If that is the answer then what is the question? Ponder this. Can you taste Nova Scotia terroir in the wine?

A rebirth with new blood. Caitlyn McNamara, Erin Carroll, Cat Taylor. Three new faces of Nova Scotia winemaking. Innovators, bringers of new, fresh and forward-thinking ideas to an industry well past the cusp, fully cognizant of and cementing its command of greatness. Arbiters of viticulture and viniculture who have joined the ranks of teams already entrenched and with positions of leadership occupied; Louis Coutinho, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, Bruce Ewart, Harold Gaudy, Gina Haverstock, Josh Horton, Rachel Lightfoot, Mike Mainguy, Alex Morozov, Simon Rafuse, Jürg Stutz and Ben Swetnam. There are others of course and yet on my most recent east coast swing to the Annapolis Valley there were six visits in total plus two remarkable if isolated wine experiences and meals; first at Heather Rankin’s Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax and then at Chef Geoffrey Hopgood’s Juniper in Wolfville. Add to that an ocean submerging of 300 bottles of sparkling wine and some after the fact assessments of more Nova Scotia bottles. Funny how a 24 hour jaunty through Nova Scotia wine country is the stuff of bagatelles, dear and near to a naturalist’s heartstrings, familiar as family and yet wrought with equalizing, objective professionalism. Please read on for a 2021 update to winery profiles and tasting notes for 40 wines from Nova Scotia.

Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley

Winemaker Ben Swetnam, Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky Winery, Newport

Andrew and Mary Bennet first planted the vineyard in 1987, in one of the hotter provincial zones. It would have been an old dairy farm, with an original schoolhouse, six old dug wells and the same number of split properties/buildinAvila,gs on the farm. In 2008 they realized the 12.5 acres was a bit much so put it up for sale. They were picky about the buyer and keen to keep it going. Winemaker Ben Swetnam was at Petite Rivière on the South Shore at the time and was hired by Chef Ray Bear, then Avondale sold five months later to Lorraine Vassalo who kept Ben on. They relocated an old hay barn from down the road without water and doors but that first harvest went through beautifully. The Coutinho family bought Avondale Sky Winery and Restaurant at the tail end of November 2019. They lost 95 per cent of their crop to the 2018 frosts. As an example l’acdie’s primary, secondary and tertiary buds all come out at the same time, not exactly frost protection and all hybrids were lost. The original 12.5 acres have turned into 25 which now includes an acre of pinot noir and this coming Spring the plan is to add more, along with pinot gris (as far as cleared land) with a possible five cares uncleared that could be used in the future. Up to 5,000-5,500 total cases at this point. Vineyard manager is Pete Smits and has been at Avondale for five years. The family are all involved; Louis (vineyard), Avila (finance), Sean (hospitality), Karl (CEO) and Jamie (Social Media).

Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky Winery Gamay Pet Nat 2019, Nova Scotia ($50)

From a grower (Andre Dant’emont) in Mahoney Bay who has a small amount (he sold winemaker Ben Swetnam 96 kilos) with the intention of making a red from whole cluster and a gentle mash. Swetnam instead decided to “let this happen” because it just smelled clean. An as it happens sparkling pet-nat with just the right amount of lees, and a quick three day riddle so that it wouldn’t explode as Rosé P-N is want to be a little jumpy. Bloody delicious, as juicy and forthright as could possibly be. Bottled on November 18th, 2019, only 23 bottles made, from grapes brought in November 2nd and 3rd. Showing with vigour, intendment and kept determination. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noir 2013, Nova Scotia ($75)

While Ben Swetnam had wanted to dabble in sparkling going back to 2009 he can thank everyone in the Nova Scotia industry for showing him the ropes. That includes Gina Haverstock at Gaspereau, Bruce Ewart at L’Acadie, Simon Rafuse at Blomidon, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at Benjamin Bridge and others. The 2011 would have been the first vintage of pinot noir production with the intent of making sparkling wine, of hot to cool years and all others in between. Dijon clones and a warmer edge of a ’13 season, a riper style but brought in at classic sparkling numbers, acids 11-12.5 and brix 17-19, picking in the third week of October. An early vintage. Intensity meets richness halfway there, fruit flavours are exceptional, just shy of eight years on lees, disgorged three months ago. “For the pinot I always wanted to do a minimum five years and the acidity was always there,” tells Ben. “The tertiary qualities were not out yet so the pause every six months kept the decisions at bay.” Got this apricot chanterelle fungi character, mousse and bubble are really in tact, dosage is 7.5 g/L almost fully hidden by that Nova Scotia acidity. There is something about this sight that maintains higher acidity levels while sugars rise but as an example perhaps it’s the gypsum based soil underneath the whole vineyard, or the tidal rivers and the specific diurnal fluctuations, cooler at night and “it’s something we can always rely on, in every year, that backbone of acidity.” So very Nova Scotia. Usually 500 bottles produced per year. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle L’Acadie 2015, Nova Scotia ($55)

A first attempt at l’acadie (with 86 per cent estate) and because there was no pinot noir available at the time there is instead some frontenac blanc by a grower in Truro (grown in a gravel parking lot). It lends some (lol) acidity (21 g/L) but it’s almost all tartaric, meaning you can lose much of it during cold stabilization, which incidentally may have been lacking (hard to believe) while the fruit essentially came in at 19-21 brix. L’Acadie comes in around 18-18.5 brix with acid 10-10.5, so much less bracing than what reputation may proceed it. In fact it can be flabby if harvested late and happens to act the part of texture grape for Tidal Bay. May be revelatory to think this way but it is the least of the bunch. About five years on lees, disgorged this winter, 10.5 g/L of RS, mineral push, now out of the searing and into developing secondary moments, petrol to mild caramelization. Only 300 bottles disgorged, more citrus, a touch of pith, fine bitters, botanical, orange scrape, length, striking. Hair raising though never a scare. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Benediction 2017, Nova Scotia ($35)

“Our cheap and cheerful bubble as you will find here,” targeting 18 months on lees, with the idea being geisenheim fruit and higher dosage (20 g/L) to balance out geisenheim’s acidity. Smells like geisenheim alright, star fruit to the edge of elderflower, picked 17-18 brix, before the cabbage and burnt orange but with the fresh citrus well intact. The bliss (stalled ferment geisenheim) is employed for more green apple and grapey notes. More dried herbs here, fennel and a touch of anise. All works really well together. Surely one of the more consistent sparkling wines and ’17 may be a more linear, shall we say “classic,” unmeshed, non messed with or plussed vintage. So drinkable with great and sweet acids. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Riesling Small Lot NV, Nova Scotia ($25)

“A rescue wine,” blending re-fermented 2018 fruit with 2019 and “the wine is better as a blend than either one would have been on their own.” Super biased towards the Mosel (Ben Swetnam worked at St. Urbans-Hof in 2005) and so a riesling to prove that terroir does indeed exist. A child of stalled ferments, sugar kept naturally. Almost entirely Warner Vineyards fruit, down in the valley, been working with them since 2012. The sugar level is higher than imagined, upwards of 26 g/L (the ’18 fruit was at 38 and the ’19 part 40 and part fully dry). A better methodology to keep aromatics and shy away from vinous qualities. Also in avoidance of dilution, here the concentration and texture are in upright rise and uprising. Citrus prominence and at the lower end of the phenolic spectrum. Terrific work. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted August 2021

Avondale Sky Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($23)

A blend of l’acadie, vidal, frontenac blanc, geisenheim and muscat. The plan is “don’t screw it up, stick to your guns” and stay consistent. Even in frost destroying 2018 there was no non-Nova Scotia grapes allowed. Each winery has their own style and Avondale Sky’s is on the sweeter, stalled ferment part of the spectrum, keeping balance with the searing acids, finishing at 16-17 g/L of residual sugar, centring around fruit. So citrus, with plenty of juiced orange. Sweet and sassy, tart with a faux botrytis sauvignon character managed by riesling like acidity. Quite complex for Tidal Bay, sweet yet classy. Look beyond seafood for this, in particular hot and spicy. Hot wings and south asian dhosa, as examples. First made in 2010, first official vintage was 2011. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted August 2021

JB and Morozov, Benjamin Bridge

Related – Crush on Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge, Wolfville

From the name of the bridge that crosses the Gaspereau Valley and pays tribute to the Benjamin family who dammed up the river to become the first industrialists here. Sparkling wine specialist, unquestioned leader and now moving into uncharted territory but also deep waters. Watch these videos to learn more about the 2011 Blanc de Noirs that was “dunked into the sea to age and drift with the tides to test the effects of underwater ageing on sparkling.”

Each bottle has been carefully wrapped so as not to disturb the Bryozoa and sediments. The project was inspired by recovered Champagne on shipwrecks on the ocean floor and the fun daydreaming ways through the inquiring minds of Alex Morozov and Maxime Daigle. After a year at sea, though ice and snow, this wine is finally surfacing. But there’s more in the works at Benjamin Bridge, including newest member of the winemaking team Erin Carroll’s “Gamay Col Fondo,” a hybrid concept in ancient meets futuristic sparkling wine. The fun never ends at the Bridge, nor does the excitement.

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Rosé 2017, Nova Scotia ($49.95)

One of the first wines to come to the surface with Pascal Agrapart’s involvement with winemakers Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Alex Morozov. When tasted the sentiment was that this particular vintage of this very particular sparkling wine was not yet there yet in terms of readiness or rather publicizing but truth be told, never have texture and acids come together as one in a BB Rosé. Crunch and chew, riff and rise, bellow and beauty, all despite the spiralling zeitgeist that underscores its urgency. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Gamay Col Fondo Handcrafted Small Lot 2020, Nova Scotia ($49.95)

A hybrid concept, between Ancestrale and Traditional Method sparkling wine, driven by experimentation, constant reassessment of a varietal progression and the new injection of intelligence through the focused lens of assistant winemaker Erin Carroll. Though the term is normally associated with Prosecco there is really no reference point as such, not with gamay and certainly not the way the BB team approaches their work. Such gamay-ness glaring, vivid and concentrated never graced a glass, not before nor likely any time soon. Refosco meets Lambrusco and a quasi Valpolicella rifermermentato in bottiglia futuristic sentimentality. Despite the Nova Scotia acid structure that hangs in the balance it should be considered that Carroll’s Col Fondo is not likely to allow objectivity to nudge itself off of the pillar of its own perspective. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut 2016, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

Perfect conditions, “an Olympic year.” The most tightly wound toast, the year that acidity through the roof while in control will bring the dosage down, from 8.5 to 2.6 g/L. At the most. And so Brut Reserve will be Brut zero. The epiphany, or at least the latest epiphany is upon Alex Morozov and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers. No longer the project incarnate, defined, teachable house style. Now the realization of a prophecy from words spoken three years ago by Deslauriers, then echoing in your head, now coming to idealistic fruition. “With the possibility of absolute transcendency.” Back then it was a matter of eventuality. Today it is the truth. This may not turn out to be the finest Brut made by the team in the new era but it sets a course for a neoteric sparkling wizardry shore, where climate, acids, vines, sugars and controlled emotion all meet to advocate in realization of their necessary dynamic. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Winemaker Simon Rafuse, Blomidon Estate

Blomidon Estate Winery, Canning

Blomidon Estate Winery is set on the western pastoral shelf of a shore overlooking the the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Perhaps the most intimate of all the seaside settings there is a sense of singularity in the milieu and atmospheric conditions on this side of the basin’s shores edging northerly up the Blomidon Peninsula. Surely a sparkling wine specialist but also a champion of chardonnay both in still and sparkling forms. Co-owner Tim Ramey purchased the property in 2007 and Simon Rafuse is the Winemaker alongside Harold Gaudy, the viticulturist.

Blomidon Estate Winery Crémant NV, Nova Scotia ($28)

Disgorged March of 2021, based on the 2019 harvest, bottled in early 2020. Three grapes, approx 60-20-20, seyval blanc, l’acadie and chardonnay. Moving up in pressure and therefore a new sweet spot, up to 5.5 bars of pressure, at 14-16 g/L RS, with more texture. This is the balanced spot, with seyval’s acidity equalizing into citrus and tree (peach) fruit. Tart and full on tang, fulsome and a healthy dose of fruit, so late in ripening, old school Nova Scotia. If too old school so be it because longevity and slow development is everything. Easy to drink and yet pointed, poignant even. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Cuvée L’Acadie Brut Méthode Traditionelle, Nova Scotia ($39.95)

A 100 per cent estate l’acadie disgorged in March 2020, approx. 65-70 per cent 2017 with 2016 and a splash of 2015, 2,500 bottles caged in August 2018. Dosage is 6 g/L, very Brut, dry as the desert and not just because of a concept in which l’acadie is an acid king, because in fact it can be quite the opposite. A phenolic sparkler, picked early (first in fact) and therefore a self-starter, enthusiastic, cranking and varietally zealous. There will be 24 cases coming to VINTAGES in mid-September. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Charcuterie, Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

Blomidon Estate Winery Brut Réserve Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

A 100 per cent estate chardonnay picked relatively early (21st of October), having seen no malolactic fermentation and six years on the lees. Feels like this has moved into both secondary and tertiary character, that and so much deeper engagement with structure. Disgorged in the spring of 2020 then held for eight months before release. This to get new reactions past dosage (that was 6.5 g/L). The mushroom notes and other evolutionary gains are vintage driven and the lemon crème brûlée meets Nova Scotia finish is bridged by orchard fruits as creamy as they are striking. Toasty dichotomous bubbles of the extraordinary kind. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Woodside Road Vineyard 2015, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

The second iteration, disgorged on August 31st, no malo, 7 g/L dosage, picked on the 20th of October. Made from 70 per cent chardonnay, (20) pinot noir, (5) meunier and splashes of pinot gris plus blanc. Base wines were bottled late summer 2016 and so now five years and a bit of lees aging. The pinot brings much ado in small quantity. The aromatics are temporarily not quite integrated, the gas is working the room and in due course all will come back together. Complex, graphing a new Minas course, small lot, 50 cases or so. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Shrimp Cocktail at Juniper, Wolfville

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noirs 2016, Nova Scotia ($45.00)

Give or take 76 per cent pinot noir and 24 meunier, a similar vintage to 2015 (though a touch warmer) and here picked on the 17th of November. Almost all from Woodside Vineyard and some meunier off of the Blomidon estate vines, no longer here. Disgorged today, yes today and my oh my the potential here elevates to a very high ceiling. Just under 6 g/L RS so exactly extra brut, really primary but with the dosage that will arrive before you know it. The pinot delivers more fruit than the chardonnay, perhaps a counterintuitive concept but that’s Nova Scotia. And every vintage will flip the head and make you think again. Small lot, 50 cases or so. Searing succulence, a structural richness and transformative beyond the complex, curious and interesting. Assiduous if conceited blanc de noirs, pejorative to chardonnay, entangled inside enigma, mystery and riddle. Literally. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Jürg Stutz, Winemaker at Domaine de Grand Pré

Related – East coast swing 2015: Time, tides and wine

Domaine De Grand Pré, Grand Pré

Domaine De Grand Pré has recently celebrated 20 years of erudite work leading the Nova Scotia wine industry. As for riesling, well the work of Jürg Stutz speaks for itself and now in sparkling the game is on. A visit is well worth the tasting, local knowledge and great gastronomy of Chef Jason Lynch.

Domaine De Grand Pré Riesling Extra Dry Traditional Method NV, Nova Scotia ($44.50)

A blend of 2019 and (more) 2018 fruit reviewed by the traditional method and 12 months of lees aging, finishing at 18 g/L dosage of RS. Just released one month ago, the first such sparkling wine at Grand Pré. The ’18 juices at low pH and high acidity was adjusted by the ’19s, then sent back to bottle for an additional 12 months. Sometimes not acting with pragmatic immediacy turns into something special and complex. A matter of adjustments and not the ripest ’18 grapes but here the combination of autolysis and phenolics goes beyond acidity. Three thousand bottles of great energy in the wine, green apple bite and that phenolic rush. Very singular, even for Nova Scotia sparkling. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Riesling 2020, Nova Scotia ($22.50)

Harvested Oct. 23rd at 18.3 brix, a pH of 3.05, with total acidity at 10.4, no malo and 18 g/L of RS. Picking can be the first week of November but 2020 saw picking towards the later stages of October. A wine without changes, a Grand Pré way stuck to, given extra care, in vinifera extra work put in, with cluster thinning and battling all the disease pressure grapes are likely to meet in this climate. Vinous riesling, fermented through with adding back sugar in a complex, layered and Mosel like riesling. Really balanced and perfect with subtly spiced cuisine. Will improve with two to three years of age. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($22.00)

In 2020 a blend of mainly l’acadie (44 per cent), with vidal (20), ortega (16), muscat (12) and seyval (8). TA is 8.6 g/L; RS 12 g/L; 11 per cent alc./vol. Certainly one of the most aromatic of all Tidal Bays, fruit spread across yellow, white and green spectrums, flowers too. Really pushes the appellative concept, ties the room together, bedroom, living space and community. Plums and oranges, apricots, peached and green apples. All the fruits, all in full regale and blossoms in bloom. The most fruit adjustment of all. The next (2021) will be labelled Annapolis Valley. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Chardonnay 2020, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

Second vintage from young Melanson Vineyard vines (planted in 2017), low yielding, definitely a work in progress. Harvested Oct. 16t at 20 brix, barrel fermented in new French oak, passed through malo and remained there for nine months altogether. Only two barrels were gained of this flinty, sulphide felt, clearly reductive style but also one that is explicitly Nova Scotia. The pH is 3.11, the tA 9.4. Some of this fruit will go to sparkling and it’s really quite a special vineyard (Melanson) that sits across the river in the Gaspereau Valley across from L’Acadie Vineyards. This will morph and flesh, placate the over-cumbersome wood at present and then settle in. Work in progress as mentioned. The vineyard is also planted to some pinot noir and cabernet franc. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré Millot 2017, Nova Scotia ($28.50)

One hundred per cent Leon Millot in American oak for two years. Was already planted when the Stutz family arrived, along with Marechal Foch. A lighter red here, lending itself to barrel aging, green when fresh and urged on to fleshy substance with two or three years of barrel put behind. A warm vintage and a remarkable brightness having emerged with gamay-like tang and circumstance. Very cherry, almost black but short of that darker hue-flavour profile. The least musky and foxy of hybrid reds. Really well made. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Domaine De Grand Pré 20 By Domaine De Grand Pré, Nova Scotia ($28.50)

A one-off, three part blend of cabernet foch (40 per cent) with equal (30) parts marquette and marechal foch, released to celebrate the winery’s 20th anniversary. Mainly from the hot 2016 vintage (70 per cent) with some warm 2017 mixed in. Again in American oak, most for two years, some even longer. Layered with some further musk this time, skins of dark red fruits and a forest floor component. A bit of tar and so much tang. More chalky texture and chew but still good balance. Was recently pulled off the shelf because only 20 cases remained. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Bruce Ewart, L’Acadie Vineyards

L’Acadie Vineyards, Wolfville

Bruce Ewart hired a viticultural manager and performed a three year terroir study on his vineyards in collaboration with three other wineries (Benjamin Bridge, Domaine de Grand Pré and Lightfoot & Wolfville). The study was assembled by the department of agriculture, or rather it was part of a program informally known as “farm extension,” services provided by Perennia on behalf of the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture. The idea was to get a good representation of the Nova Scotia wine industry. Rodrigo Layette who is Directeur Général de trois domaines (a Bordeaux viticultural consultant) dug test holes to look at the schist and sandstone. They found roots were three feet deep and like children and if you give them everything they want (like soft clay and loam) they will stay near the surface where the water is. If they have to work for the nutrients they will dig deeper and find the trace elements and minerals. Ewart also converted to Clover and Timothy employed as ground cover, part of the organic practice and to till only occasionally. The use of compost and horsetail teas, humus, etc. Caitlin McNamara is the vineyard manager and she did her degree at the university (Acadia), of which Bruce is half the faculty. “We used to employ organic chicken manure and the study determined this was no longer necessary. L’Acadie wanted to find a non-biodynamic organization.” They found Biocyclic Vegan (from Germany) whose concept is farming without any form of animal or animal product, opposite or rather apposite to biodynamism. This year (2021) they will become certified and from 2021 onwards their bottles will wear the certification. L’Acadie Vineyards will be the first in North America to gain this status.

L’Acadie Vineyards Pétillant Naturel Méthode Ancestrale 2020, Nova Scotia ($29.00)

This is the story of Saccharomyces paradoxus. Wild yeast present in the vineyard, naturally, like pre-packaged enzymatic magic ready and prepared to give a Pétillant Naturel its head start. Bruce Ewart explains they know this from analyses of the lees and his Pet-Nat acts as a conduit for microbial terroir, with no inputs showing itself off. Whole cluster pressed with no skin contact, a light disgorgement, no residual sugar, bottled just at dryness. Subtly orange, lithely citric, a marriage of acidities, tremendous flavour development and amazingly so considering the grapes are picked at sparkling time, four weeks ahead of when the l’acadie is picked for the still bottling. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia ($50.00)

Was embargoed until September 9th after having just received the Lieutenant Governor Award. Has evolved into a seriously toasted arena, gone long with lees contact, looking for peaceful co-existence between yeast autolysis and the fruit of the wine. “You don’t want conflict, you want that harmony, tells Bruce Ewart.” Disgorged January 2021 and so spent more than the minimum five years on lees. An insignificant dosage (more than most of these wines). Bruce’s program goes at it in terms of two and five year aging and he believes that while Nova Scotia can do ten or more there is only a minor incremental increase in complexity by doing so. This at six-plus has hit such a sweet spot, still in retention of currant and white/red berry fruit but also low and slow golden, tanned and long as an August afternoon Gaspereau shadow. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Tuna, Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

L’Acadie Vineyards Joie De Vivre Charmat Method 2019, Nova Scotia ($28.00)

From a project that began three years ago, with vessels from Northern Italy, wines rested in tank during the pandemic, made from l’acadie (85 per cent) and (15) seyval blanc. “An earlier release, fruity sparkling for the market.” Held at 0-2 degrees celsius. The tanks arrived in early May and this was bottled last week. From the later picked l’acadie, fuller of tree fruit and lower in acidity. Low dosage for the style at 8 g/L and lithe at 11.1 per cent alcohol. Peach and apricot in a moscato d’asti vein, albeit higher of alcohol, mingling with yeasty col fondo, though crystal clean. Simple and satisfying. Delightful. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Vintage Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle 2018, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

From the frost year (June 5th), a blend of l’acadie and seyval blanc in a sparkling wine that shows the formers’s resilience, having raced out to meet bloom, veraison and harvest dates. In a 30 per cent crop but vines that bounced back the following year for a full yield out of harvest. A wine that meets the LV twain, somewhere between the fruit first sparklers and those of the longest tirage. The length of this is more than surprisingly impressive from a wine that looks for a new slate in every vintage. A wine of trials, investigations and experiments. Not at the toast ceiling but consistently malolactic and in that 8-12 g/L dosage. Truly a Brut style and middle of the road in the most complimentary way. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Tidal Bay 2020, Nova Scotia ($24.00)

Bruce Ewart’s first Tidal Bay, now being a part of the committee that holds a new standard to protect Nova Scotia wines from artificial carbonation. Here a combination of the two grape varieties where the hat is hung upon, they being l’acadie and seyval blanc. “My take on Tidal Bay is dry, even at five or ten g/L of RS it is not really our market.” Many are going dry and while there is stone fruit and white citrus this is truly a TB of mineral push and salty Fundy air. Just tastes like the vineyard so clearly showing off as a terroir based wine. Nova Scotia, part of a common thread but pretty specific to here. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted September 2021

Cat Taylor, Rachel Lightfoot and Godello

Related – The future is now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards, Wolfville

When I first arrived on the shores of the Minas Basin in 2013 to begin a near decade long (by now) immersion into the Nova Scotia wine industry it was Mike Lightfoot that I first came to know. With thanks to consulting oenologist Peter Gamble I spent a great chunk of time with the Lightfoots and their exciting new Wolfville project. My how things have changed, evolved, progressed and come to this astonishing point.

There is the home vineyard, Raven Hill across the road and what may just be the valley’s most important knoll in a vineyard at Avonport. Along with the most precocious work being executed by winemaker Josh Horton, Rachel Lightfoot and now with the addition of Assistant Winemaker Cat Taylor. Cat came from Toronto in logistics (Unilever) for 10 years, went to New York, then to wine school in France. She staged with Zind-Humbrecht alongside Biodynamic guru Olivier Humbrecht in 2016, worked at Tawse in Ontario with Paul Pender in 2017, then arrived here to Lightfoot & Wolfville in 2018. A biodynamic journey and now she is responsible for implementing the biodynamic aspect of the farming. “Using what’s on the farm around you,” Taylor notes, “seeing what the books say and what your farm says. It took me a while to get used to Nova Scotia acidity, I’m now much more comfortable with it.” Cat also brought in foudres from Alsace with thanks to Olivier Humbrecht. If around the time Cat Taylor arrived in Wolfville coincided with The future being now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards, well then that future is now the present.

The tasting line-up at Lightfoot & Wolfville

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blancs Extra Brut 2014, Nova Scotia ($75.00)

From a specific lower-cropped section of the home farm vineyard and an early 2019 disgorgement so an additional year on its lees, rounding it out just a hair further. Still the ripeness and added creamy character, engaging a new complexity by way of fruit fleshiness and crisp exterior crunches. This is the window, open, acclimatized and staid through a holding pattern of complex energies.  Last tasted September 2021

Disgorged just now. Looking for a late spring release. Built on 100 per cent clone 95 and 96 estate fruit, on its lees almost 50 months. This carries the most texture meeting energy piqued by pungency. The story is now beginning to truly set in with formative consistency. The lemon curd is swirled with bits of zest for a salty citrus intensity not yet known from this chardonnay. Was picked a bit riper and that’s quite obvious, plus some new play time with malo. Needs nine or ten more months of integration for the moving parts of tension and density to come together. Yet another Nova Scotia sparkling wine to inform us all. This must be the place and the sky is the limit. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Lobster Gnocchi at Juniper, Wolfville

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Brut 2015, Annapolis Valley ($45.00)

From all three blocks of the home vineyard, 100 per cent chardonnay, classic line, part tank and part barrel, an extra year in barrel. Disgorged in February 2020, still only at 15 per cent malolactic, soon to become near 100 per cent in 2017. In these early-ish sparkling wine program days there was worry about how high to go with malic conversions and with so much acidity to play with these things were not yet known. Less tension, more cream, 15 g/L in RS as compared to 4 g/L in the Extra Brut. Still a toasted element and at 50-plus months of lees contact this is just shy of that perfect window. Some tropical fruit joins tree peach and pure yellow citrus, all following the brushy herbs. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Brut Rosé 2019, Annapolis Valley ($45.00)

Made from 100 per cent pinot noir off of the certified organic, third year Raven Hill Vineyard fruit across the road from the winery. Full malolactic fermentation and a wine that needed a few more months of time before disgorgement. Also to step away and allow the wine to say what it wants to say. After all it’s a wine made with red fruit, of more pulp and circumstance, fruit substance in waves and surely a great season following and in spite of the challenging 2018. Who would not be wooed, pleased and gainfully satisfied by a glass of this class, craft and equanimous Rosé? Methinks no one paying any attention. A gorgeous wine that shows off the L & W ability for shortening the wait times on enjoyment for their ever maturing, evolving and appetizing sparkling wines. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Small Lots Oak Island Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2016, Annapolis Valley ($55.00)

In 2016 the one acre Oak Island Vineyard crop was split between this sparkling wine and the (still) barrel-fermented chenin blanc. The wine has progressed with slow haste, still tense and exited while in exemplary control. Driving forward with rhythmic dance step, forward and sideways but also times always gaining.  Last tasted September 2021

I tasted this unfinished wine in the Oak Island Vineyard back in November 2018 and I remember at the time Mike Lightfoot saying “out goes the muscat, in goes the chardonnay.” Truth is, in goes the chenin blanc as well. To say the grape variety is suitable to Nova Scotia sparkling would be a gross understatement. What it delivers is the expected tight and bracing local acidity but with longer hang time also the potential to accept a lees-aging development for downy to fluffy texture. Mousse without compromise to emotion and ardor. As with the L & W Blanc De Blanc Brut there is some white lightning by direct sunlight extended and mixed into weeks of cloud cover for a full east coast sparkling wine experience. Phenolics, acidities and specificity of flavours. Ideal now with a foreshadowing towards the memorable, three to four years ahead. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Oak Island Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2017, Annapolis Valley ($39.00)

In a most interesting phase, not dumb but reserved, needing some coaxing. Shows off the 2017 structure, long-lasting and ever-bearing. Or vice versa. Spent 18 months in neutral French oak (three barrels full) and a vintage meant for still wines, not necessarily for sparkling. Hung really long, picked in early November and finishing at a remarkable 23-plus brix. Tough mudder this variety (on California rootstock) set into Nova Scotia soils. An Avonport, Oak Island child, one acre in an open place to the elements and elements there almost always are. Richness, fulsome character and textural gains are possible, even if there could have been no way to know it. A beautiful fall, especially October led to the hang, develop and creation of minutia facets of this wine. A one off perhaps but also the future.  Last tasted September 2021

The Oak Island hill in Avonport is Nova Scotia’s “mini Corton,” a vineyard unlike any other in surround of The Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin. Lightfoot & Wolfville planted many engaging varieties on that convex mound through the course of the last decade and chenin blanc is just now coming into fruition. It was October of 2018 when I last walked it with winemaker Josh Horton, Mike and Rachel Lightfoot. The purpose that day was to sample the chenin projects, still and sparkling, while also tasting grapes just a couple of weeks away from picking. While still from young vines this 2017 shows great charm, a curious varietal precociousness and calling it a quick study speaks to the land and the choice of plantation. Aromatically sits in a tirage de liqueur place, prominent and demanding. Acids are Oak Knoll special, lifted and crunchy. High ceiling relationship between varietal and place is in the books, this being just the new beginning. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted February 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Gamay Noir Terroir Series 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

From a block just now coming into its own, on the far end of the Oak Island, Avonport Vineyard, planted in 2013 and 2014. The first vintage was 2018 though this is the fullest of the three and the question begs, is gamay perfect for Nova Scotia? Some neutral oak was incorporated because of increased ripeness, though just for a few months. Freshness of course but also a marine funk that speaks to food pairing possibilities. Lovely musk that talks of the grape and also other fruit skins. Very primary, delightful, floral and as Rachel Lightfoot says, “weirdly popular.” As it should be. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2018, Annapolis Valley ($45)

Despite the early frost of 2018 (June 5th) the pinot noir was unaffected, even at the Oak Island site where other (earlier developing) varieties were hit. The rest of the season was beautiful and with today being a spice day (or earth if you prefer) the sandalwood, fenugreek, cinnamon and cardamom all come through. Such a seep of tea, red tea that is, not quite rooibos but more floral, into hibiscus without any doubt. A wine of oscillations and grooves, sensitive, emotive, ever changing. That said the mood is more than good at this stage, an intuitive and responsive, paying attention and ranging to so many edges, corners and plateaus. Already secondary, perhaps empathetic in speaking about other vines’ suffering and expressive of beauty for all. Almost as if the pinot noir is saying I’ll take all the attention right now while the rest of you get healthy. 3,000 bottles made, approximately. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Kékfrankos 2018, Annapolis Valley ($30)

A near-finished product but still needing the final touches after nine months in mostly older wood. Well hello there Kék, welcome to the world. Structured like nothing that came previous and floral off the charts. Still so youthful in exuberance and yet to settle in, the richness and caky barrel notes still very much in charge. Oh my the sweetness of fruit, so ripe, full on tang, tannins a bit lowered but so much richesse. Vinous and primary, expressive and working through the gears of its journey. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2021

Rachel Lightfoot and Cat Taylor

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2018, Annapolis Valley ($56.95)

Frost year for the valley but again an escape by the vines at Lightfoot & Wolfville with thanks to the tidal influence to keep the chardonnay vines happy, healthy and secure. So much fruit and warm summer sunshine, a glade bathed in light and a luminescence rarely found in chardonnay. Consistent L & W elévage, increasingly into puncheons and away from 225L barriques. You can never forget and not remember what chardonnay has done for L & W, while now the richness and restraint work in optimized tandem. Less reductive than previous incantations, with new and improved connotations, consistencies and harmonic sway. Also a matter of vintage and cooperage. Stability is the key to being great. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Riesling 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

A not quite finished wine but so very close, raised in foudres, lighter in oak impact as compared to what might happen in smaller barrel. Hard not to imagine an Alsace-Zind Humbrecht idealistic connection, long-pressed and slowly done, a 10-12 hour cycle without compromising the pH. That’s because you get plenty before it trickles in at the end of the cycle. Full malo as well, a few grams of sugar and definitely a lemon curd, perhaps but not in a Windsbuhl manner. Just enough crunch but to be fair the texture is more emulsified than in any other way. Gonna be a stunner. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Tidal Bay 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

Tidal Bay’s mix in 2020 is 50 per cent l’acadie with an almost equal amount of geisenheim and chardonnay. In a tree fruit moment, in apples and pears with citrus in the background. Sugar in the 12 g/L area and trying for drier, with higher toned fruit due to the pressing on l’acadie’s skins. Over time the sugars are less important, especially as compared to the wine in its extreme youth. This is the Tidal Bay for all and all will love what it brings to the appellative table. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Lightfoot & Wolfville Terroir Series Scheurebe 2020, Annapolis Valley ($30)

Skipped in 2018 due to the hurricane’s fall effect and now here back in 2020. Not merely a classic varietal vintage but an exaggerated one, in harmony and open to any and all benefactors. A benevolent and philanthropic scheurebe, a touch drier than before, toned back in the range of 10-12 g/L of sugar, along with the matching decreased acidity. Stays focused and balanced throughout. So much stone orchard fruit unrelenting and with feeling. Passion fruit as well, open-knit, expressive and very giving. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards, Wolfville

While I did not visit with winemaker Mike Mainguy on this trip I did have the pleasure of tasting through some of his essentials. These are three that stand out as wholly representative of Luckett’s increasingly focused varietal persona.

Luckett Vineyards Rosetta Rosé 2019 ($20)

The plan has been to get back to Nova Scotia and get a bottle of Luckett winemaker Mike Mainguy’s Rosé. Took two years to do so and Rosetta is the one, perhaps (if only in this fantasy) a reference to Lennon’s only utterance ahead of McCartney’s final crooning upon a London rooftop. Also a vidal, riesling and leon millet chorus of Nova Scotia phenolics, soft-pressed sentimentality and faintly funky-earthy Fundy salt. Consistently reeking of red berry and citrus, sweetly herbal and coaxing out (or in) stone fruit. Drinking well more than a year in. Crushable delicasse. Optimization and individuality meet upon a plain where all can enjoy this satisfying Rosé. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards Tidal Bay 2020 ($20)

Confirms the billing of 100 per cent Nova Scotia, as per the Tidal Bay manifesto and in Luckett’s view (which incidentally is a spectacular one) screams local, parochial and beneficially biased. The l’acadie, seyval blanc, chardonnay and ortega all conspire to speak the language or even more so the spirited vernacular of Tidal Bay. This package may have once been a searing machine but the ripenesses reached besides maintaining early enough picked acidity is a miracle of climate change and wine-growing intelligence. This new era is coming out clean, obvious and beautiful with new phenolic frontiers gained. Yes the lemon incarnate zests, juices and zings throughout this 2020 but so do orange, jasmine, lemongrass and honeyed herbals. Dry as it seems to get for the category yet opulent in its very own light alcohol, marine breezes, oyster shell way. Hello Santorini assyrtiko and Muscadet Sèvre et Maine melon de Bourgogne. Meet the new Tidal Bay. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Luckett Vineyards Chardonnay 2020 ($25)

Grapes are grown in Avonport, one of Nova Scotia’s wildcard if tiny micro zones in Kings County. The land is graced by flats, rolls of hills and well-positioned knobs or hillocks set between the mouths of the Avon and Gaspereau Rivers. No other Nova Scotia terroir offers up the kind of varietal-vinifera playground as Avonport and Luckett’s unoaked beauty takes on the marine air, silty saltiness and Fundy-proximate sway. Lean and characterful, herbaceous in an ox-eye daisy way, nearly chamomile and no woody parts denoted. Quite a precise chardonnay with snap-back green apple bite and positive energy. Drink early and on repeat. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted September 2021

Good to go!

godello

Lightfoot & Wolfville estate vines overlooking the Minas Basin

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WineAlign

Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex chardonnay in Niagara.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95)

Definitely a warm vintage, picked on the early side, bite still clamped down, a bit of pesto and far from reductive as noted in Quarry Roads of the recent past (i.e 2011 and 2013). Pine nut pronunciation, no malic residual transformations (there will never me) and just bloody good freshness. Last tasted July 2021

No shocker that Quarry Road always finds a way to morph and change gears, meaning every so often, a year and up to two years later there will be some significant movement in this wine. Something about the Vinemount Ridge and how its players are in constant flux, adjusting sentiments and character to keep things curious, interesting and alive. Still the unencumbered and free-flowing expression it set out to be, free to be Quarry Road and as for me, I am always enamoured by how it marries personality with age. Natural (not unlike the Natural version of itself), enigmatic and very personal. Let it be. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Tawse winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Fantastic ten years after flinty reduction from arguably the most cracking vintage of the previous decade. As it is said, “you’ve got to feed the beauty, it doth not come cheap.” And that is what Paul Pender went for in 2011. At 10 Quarry is light on its feet, fresh, spirited jumping rope and spinning in concentric chardonnay circles. It simply reeks of beautiful Vinemount Ridge stone.  Last tasted July 2021

The pinpoint accuracy and gemstone capture of the Quarry is exaggerated in ’11, amplified and fully plugged in. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  Tasted May 2014

Resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.  Tasted March 2012 (barrel sample)

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($34.95)

Prick, punch and torque from the conceptual vintage get-go, a classic 2019 in the making, if by so many yet to be understood standards. A chardonnay so cool it causes a brain freeze while simultaneously moving the soul. In fact put on some vinyl Gaye, get in on, or even disco foreshadowing Temptations, echoing the chardonnay law of the land. Don’t sleep on the high level fruit, not quite fleshy but surely potent and dynamic to match the season’s verve in acidity. Fine lees, better texture and all-around vitality so essential to chardonnay. Will improve with six more months in bottle. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.75)

A single-vineyard chardonnay once labelled Oliveira and then watching Tree Vineyard but no longer, though the source remains the same. Embraces a cool 2019 vintage played out through rewards in the guise of reduction, toast, flint and drive. In cool climate varietal terms this ’19 reminds of 2011 though to be clear and certain there is more focus where by the quantity and quality of ripenesses meet at the essential points of acidity and tannin. Here is a vintage to end a decade in the most poised and poignant way. Spot on, striking and graceful chardonnay. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Remarkable finesse, flavours and design @triuswines and Restaurant by Chef Frank Dodd with @coolchardonnay accompaniments.

Beyond Chardonnay

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench ($48.00)

Second vintage from a tightly contested and smaller crop, initiated by then winemaker Marlize Beyers and subsequently disgorged by Jay Johnston, following five years on the lees. Moves from the practice of poetics to the anticipatory embracing of tomorrow’s science. Full disclosure this was tasted while walking the Hidden Bench chardonnay vineyards with a traditional method sparkling wine in hand first disgorged in the summer of 2019, when the yeasts were removed and the bottle was topped with the same wine. This tasting featured a January 2021 disgorgement and the term “Brut Nature Zero Dosage used when no sugar is added to the finished wine, which provides the most authentic expression of (the Hidden Bench) terroir.” Truth and synchronicity, grace, striking engagement, pure citrus and pleasure. Who could not anticipate and wait on subsequent vintages of this wine? The best is yet to come. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Brut Nature Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($100.00)

Comes across a bit cloudy, at least as compared to the B de B with thanks to the natural, lees left intact style. The citrus component is so pronounced, as is the taut, direct, lean and intense manifold destiny of what is truly a singular Sparkling wine. That being a living, breathing, inhaling and exhaling wine, slowly releasing proteins, acids and realizing its B de B Nature dream. Just amazing what lees can do for sparkling wine.  Last tasted July 2021

Released side by each with the Stratus Blanc de Blanc 2013 and while vintage and grape are the same, the similarities almost seemingly, ostensibly and allegedly end there. Yes in fact this 100 per cent chardonnay is a child of the most excellent varietal vintage and like the B de B spent six years on the lees. Comparisons cast aside it is the very fact that because much of the lees were transferred to bottle by a minimalist’s disgorging that this cloudy bubble with a Canadian artist’s series set of labels can’t help but elicit another memory. The Lilies of Monet and their clouds represent neither the horizon, nor the top or the bottom. Nor does a bottle of this Zéro Dosage Brut. The elements of water, air, sky and earth become intertwined in a composition without perspective, or so it goes in this hazy, opaque and dry as the desert sparkling wine. So many layers of lemon can be peeled, juiced and scraped away. If a Stratus wine could be a a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma then here it is. The texture here is palpable and the intrigue factor surely high, so it should be imagined that longevity will be this wine’s calling card. It’s more austere than the Blanc de Blanc but I think in fact it will. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($75.00)

One gram of dosage, disgorged in January 2020. Nearly six years on the lees based on the first R & D trials done in 2006 and 2007. High level autolytic entity, a toasted affair and an idea long time coming for the Stratus team. Fine tonic and bitters. With 15 minutes of air the blooming happens, floral, expressive and complex. This wine has really developed more layers, emotions and complexity.  Last tasted July 2021

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

Stratus Vineyards “Field Blend” Ancestral 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($35.00)

The inaugural Stratus commercially labelled release is what winemaker Dean Stoyka refers to as “in the mindset of monks.” A field blend of sémillon, chardonnay, riesling and viognier. Pressed all together, fermented dry and then re-fermented in the bottle with no sugar added. Dry enough, or so it seems, non-disgorged, under crown cap and so very fruity. Floral, allspice and spiciness overtop apricot, pear and black walnuts conceptually turning into Vin de Noix or Nocino. A natural testament to assemblage and a great use of varieties without a home. 100 cases produced. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Spark Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Actually quite shocked I’ve never tasted this wine before, a Spark about which winemaker Paul Pender exults by saying “2013 is my favourite vintage for all our sparklings.” Traditional method, pinot noir from Heather Laundry’s double L vineyard and a fizz that fits and sparks. Gingered and toasty, crunchy, wave cresting and fulsome by six years on the lees. The dosage was five to six g/L, in that Pender sweet spot all around, just right, so well and good. A little romanticism goes a long way where science is concerned, especially in this medium and in Spark Blanc De Noirs 2013 one is simply good for the other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Estate Vineyard Spark 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Tasted side by side with the 2013 Blanc de Noirs, making for a striking if surprisingly antithetical contrasting contract with this Blanc de Blancs. Aged three years on the lees and finished with the same 5-6 g/L of dosage yet here so upfront, centred and personal. More immediate richness than what pinot seems to do from Laundry Vineyard and so even in sparkling it is David’s Block and chardonnay that gift quicker satisfaction. Likely vintage driven (again, even in sparkling), very pear and shortbread, a savoury dessert of a sparkling wine. Like olive oil cake, all about the simple pleasures. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV Méthode Traditionelle, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($55.00)

The dry as the desert Brut nature initiates with a yeasty faradism of excitement from what strikes as a minimum four to five years spent sitting on those fascinating lees. While the wine does not exactly smoulder with a toasty salutation that is no matter because textural acidity and blooming aromatics also arrive to an applause of immediate gratification. There is an exceptional level of “croccante” satisfaction that parlays that “texture” into a lasting display of bits and bites. The make up is 50 per cent chardonnay and (45) pinot noir with (5) pinot meunier and 2014 being the primary vintage source, though there is some 2013 involved. Zero dosage, top tier, notch and drop. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Rosé Limestone Vineyard 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.95)

Tawse began crafting Rosé from (Vinemount Ridge) Quarry Road Vineyard fruit in 2017 and now here they come with Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir. From Limestone Vineyard this represents a heads and tails Rosé, meaning 40 per cent is used for Spark traditional method bubbles and the bookends is destined for this salty, straight-shooting and crisp-freckled single-vineyard blush. Double-redheaded wow! Grape, place and style all on side for so many good reasons. 1000 bottles made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($27.15)

Not to be confused with the Lowrey Vineyard on St. David’s Bench and a best varietal vintage for Paul Pender. Far from being a “Miller-Lite or Corona” pinot gris, instead creamy, fulsome, well-versed and elastic. The furthest away from metallic and/or turbid, low on phenols, no bitters, nor tonics neither.  Last tasted July 2021

Fresh and while this young is full of its original fruit, which is the biggest plus for pinot gris because dry varietal wines have a hard time after enough time has passed on by. Sulphur is not really an issue so this delivers the varietal and stylistic goods with fruit at the lead. Good acids, persistence and balance. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted October 2020

Tawse Winery Carly’s Block Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A sleeper vintage, not necessarily exacting out of the blocks, not heavy cropped, middle of the road in so many respects. If I tasted this before memory fails to draw any retrospective conclusions) but Carly’s ’15 has already turned towards the petrol sun, “let the shadows fall behind you, don’t look back, just carry on.” This perhaps began more than a year or two ago and today acts Rihanna outspokenly so. Lime and almost cordial by now, warm and friendly as a riesling liqueur. Quite stable, animated, holding its patterning, likely to do so for an additional three or fours years. Drink before it returns home. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Unlike the Carly’s ’15 (tasted at the same time) this Limestone ’12 has not moved forward with any vehement haste. The lack of advancing towards petrol is curious but the softening is surely comforting. Still resplendent with a particular 2012 meets Twenty Mile Bench acidity, now oscillating while integrating with waning fruit. Drinking beautifully.  Last tasted July 2021

From the newest estate vineyard, the single-vineyard Limestone Ridge exteriorizes its name in a rubric of pressed rock, struck flint and chalky density. Paul Pender has coaxed a multiplicity oft linear character, with major notes of lime zest and juice, persistent from start to finish. A mid-pause of oozing, residual sinensis is the determinant towards the wine’s matrix of longevity. A longer, leaner, meaner and mightier Riesling charged by a different sort of power. Kinetic, frenetic and electric.  Tasted twice, April and May 2014

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Aromatiq! Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling, layered atop one another, full on hilt in spice, a hit of gingerbread, light in talc and salve. Good-natured and textured when well chilled, oxidative for sure, drinkable, pleasurable, done in one puncheon. Simple really. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Chardonnay Skin Fermented White 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)

Whole cluster chardonnay, more spirited than the Aromatiq!, crunchy even, definitely with more spice and plenty of bite. More tannin too, structurally sound to allow more secondary character and time spent developing cooler, more energetic waves of spirit. Wild ride yet just sound and subtle enough to attract the right kind of attention. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95)

The inaugural gamay release from Hidden Bench is eight years in the planning and making, from 2013 through planting in 2017 and with third leaf fruit for this game changing 2019. That is because the grape and the maker were made for each other so the question begs, what took so long to take the plunge? No matter because such an auspicious start can never come too late. A wine of native yeasts, a properly prolonged, 24-day maceration, an eighth of new wood and the Lincoln Lakeshore being the ideal appellation for what wants and surely needs. More than impressive for such young vine fruit, of a light smoulder lending an essence of jasmine and by argan to red, red fruit, tightly winding acids and such gamay crunch, the likes of which are attributed to expectation, hopes and dreams. When the vineyard grows up there will be further anticipations, exegeses further afield to include cru and reserve concepts. That is a countable fact based on current evidence and credible speculation.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted April and July 2021

Hidden Bench Rachis & Derma Gamay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Naturally refined, welcoming, open-knit and my oh my, juicy as a basket of Niagara plums and peaches blended into rooibos kombucha. Rachis, “main axis or shaft, a stem of a plant, bearing flower stalks at short intervals.” Derma, or Dermis, “the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin.” In R & D the inner workings of gamay are accessed at the natural axis between light to fruity and joyful to dark, before sous serious and after vide structured. Middle ground, believable and exhibiting intrinsic purity. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Pinot Noir Tintern Vineyard 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($50.15)

This July 2021 tasting is my first for Pinot Noir Tintern 2013 in bottle but I did run through two different barrels with Paul Pender back in March of 2014. The vines were only three years old at the time, on a site (next door to John Howard) Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” From the Vosges medium toast the wine was already showing colour, freshness and drive. From the Vosges, medium plus toast it was a bit reductive, with more tannin and more sappy wood. This look back reveals not a vintage of varietal exhilaration but a malic one with credit due the high levels of potassium in the soil. A cherry generosity a la Central Otago by way of the Vinemount Ridge. Almost a volcanic presence, but not and yes a pinot from young vines come about as a result of winemaking. Up front, in motion, drinking really well. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Redstone Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($49.15)

Another high-toned pinot noir from an inverted vintage, in cherry spirit, a hit of fennel and enough lingering energy while there is a meld and morph towards darker black fruit. Broad shouldered, now tannic, settling in as a pretty big wine.  Last tasted July 2021

As for Cherry Avenue the twain is met, somewhere between Tintern and Quarry, in the middle of vintage and classic Tawse styling. Both firm and bright, the fruit a cherry but a darkening black one and then the grip of place though well within vintage reason. Less structured than Quarry but not as hematic and brooding as Tintern. Solid pinot noir. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted June 2020

Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula

How remarkably fresh, inviting, enticing and that is just the aromatic front. Effusive, the greater good of burgeoning, smelling like Bourgeuil in uncanny resemblance. Nothing leafy here, just the smell of youth, post-adolescence and from a notably warm vintage. A freshness that just may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come from 2021. Heat and water, humidity and rain, yet no vine stress nor disease pressure neither. A product of great agriculture and an example of 2010’s longevity. “On the riper side but not overly ripe,” tells Paul Pender with a pragmatically raised brow. Indeed. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Whole-souled, benevolent and keyed up though that’s the vineyard, persistent and in perpetuity. Red to charcoal fruit, quite firm and tannic for the Tawse-varietal relationship and in that sense mostly related to vintage. Was not picked until November 15th and stayed in barrel for 18 months. Not showy really, not the ripest vintage after all but surely one to promote variegation, fruit/acid layers and particularities. Wait long enough (as in seven-plus years) and these things become complexities. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted July 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Memories of South Africa in 60 notes

Water hole, South Africa

As this passage through weltschmerz marches on, the defining feeling of melancholy and world-weariness continues, no doubt magnified in the hearts and minds of the wanderlusts accustomed to consistent world travel. So the question begs, as it has for 12 months, how to summon thoughts that will keep a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world at bay? Speaking from a personal place, a simple and distracting way is to compose retroactive wine reviews, unearthing and editing nuggets of meaningful playfulness, tasting notes created in the past but never having found their way to the light of day. Recent thoughts about South Africa are the impetus for this story.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place six months from now but a difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the time has arrived for the industry to launch preparations for a Spring 2022 Capelands revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic, lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Fly me back to South Africa

Related – Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

Wine trips afford tasting hundreds of wines in a week’s time and while all bottles poured by every producer are given full attention and solicit a hundred or so scribbled words on history, tradition, agriculture, winemaking, varietal and regional relativity, many remain in raw form, relegated to computer folders and on the pages of moleskin journals. Pulling them out months, if not years later can induce that elusive feeling of relief and in some extraordinary occasions, epiphany. This to the creator of course, not necessarily to the producer, wine prose seeker, consumer, regional administrator or marketer. Notwithstanding who may be watching or reading, the exercise is a satisfying one and stands on its own merit, if only to be soothed and take refuge in a safe prosaic haven, free from the savage talon grip of a world gone mad.

“What happens in Cape Town stays in Cape Town” carries a three year statute of limitation. With the inimitable Ken Forrester

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. During the last edition in 2018 I published several articles and many notes but these are the fruits of unfinished business left unsaid, scattered and streaming bits of consciousness having patiently waited it out for this moment in the sun. With thanks to all these erudite producers who shared a few ounces, engaged in conversation and offered up their time. These are the 60 wines tasted 30 months ago, assessed, critiqued, enjoyed and until now, unpublished.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2016, WO Swartland

Simply a case of “fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” small parcels from Adi Badenhorst’s Kalmoesfontein farm, around the Swartland and the greater Paardeberg Mountain. A tienvoudig veldversnit of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Hard to imagine that ten grapes could be so tactful and get together for such a discreet nose, but they are and they do. Secretive and seductive, full of mystery and enigma, ferments in 3000L vessels and then concrete, of a co-existence executing balance and a dedicated focus on texture. A ten-fold paradigm shift as part of the pioneering, Western Cape appellative white blend parade. Those who know it get lost in the varietal party and just like the makers the soirée will go on forever. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Pinot Noir Bokkeveld 2017, WO Swartland

Grown further afield of the great old white grape vineyards, higher into mountainous terrain on the famed Bokkeveld shales. Makes for transitory, lifted pinot noir, “rain-slick’d, rubbed-cool, ethereal,” a little pastiche in a glass. Provides a cool flush of red berries, a note of allspice and truth is the fruit is really quite naturally sweet. Clean, characterful and only an afterthought of subtle savour. More than anything this pinot noir drifts and rises, kind of like reciting poetry. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Hanneke Krüger, A.A. Badenhorst

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland

Of the Badenhorst second tier of wines, a red blend though mainly cinsault (82 per cent) with (10) syrah and (8) grenache. Though this is technically a tank sample it will be bottled next week so essentially across the finish line. There will be 130,000 bottles of this unfiltered wine. Red fruit incarnate Cape style, sweet baking spices and from a band knowing what is needed for playing live in concert, lekker balance seekers capable of working with any instrumentation, including 4,500 and 7,200L blending tanks. Badass sound, fury and energy, dry rocket fuel, pure, raw emotion and precision. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Grenache Raaigras 2017, WO Swartland

From the home farm at Kalmoesfontein, a scant 1268 vines by lowest of low yields and considered to be the oldest (1951) grenache vines in South Africa. The Raaigras (ryegrass) is a vineyard choker so without human intervention it would literally strangle a vineyard. One of those wonderful whole bunch ferments though a portion is de-stemmed and well if this is not the right stuff from the right place, transparent, curative, a gastronomy of ancient meatiness and spice. Tannic yet elastic and one of those wines ready to go from creation but won’t likely change anytime soon. For now, long and wide. Feel free to think “see you in 15 years on the other side.” Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Springbock Burger anyone?

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

A chenin blanc blend of 35-65 year-old 1960s, 70s and early 80s, mainly Paardeberg dry-farmed bush vine vineyards in the Swartland. Some shale and clay soils mix in for a top end chenin meritage with a faint if feigned salty vanilla sweetness. High and dry extract and grape tannin conspire in their conscription and into a stretched intensity requiring some patience for the opening up. Lingers forever thereafter. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Skaliekop 2017, WO Swartland

Skaliekop, “hill of shale,” a curious dale of fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock amongst the Paardeberg granite. For David and Nadia Sadie a chance to make a chenin blanc with both prescient soils lending their presence and tutelage. The people here speak of the Skaliekop, knowing well the wisdom and aridity, the windswept open space, exposed and warm. They recognize and tell of the difference it makes, how a wine such as this can act so implosive, salty, targeted and fervent. The vintage only serves to magnify a sentiment already assured, that fruitful and mineral will align, swell and expand as one from these first grapes to be harvested in the wider Paardeberg zone. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Aristargos 2017, WO Swartland

In 2017 a Swartland appellative white blend of chenin blanc (58 per cent), viognier (14), clairette blanche (13), sémillon (7), roussanne (5) and marsanne (3). David and Nadia’s only white that sees enough skin-contact to inch it up to but not quite breaching the natural-orange-amber stereotype so moving along now. A free-form, stacked blanc of multifarious juxtaposition, a Cape sensation that does this thing better and more interesting than anywhere else on the planet. Complex because florals and salinity get together and express the Swartland without a care in the world. What really comes across the palate is texture, downy and coddling with a finishing pesto of sweetly herbal fynbos and renosterveld. A perfectly broad expression overall though please don’t typecast or compartmentalize the Sadies’ white blend. Let it be. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Elpidios 2016, WO Swartland

An ever evolving or rather moving target, Rhône motivated but at this point in South Africa’s modern tenure just better to say Cape inspired. Has had many lead singers in its time; syrah, carignan and based on David Sadie’s language, who knows, perhaps grenache will take a turn at the microphone. Here in ’16 carignan (39 per cent) is centre stage with syrah (31), pinotage (16), cinsault (9) and grenache (5) rounding out the players. Elpidios means hope, as in “Cape of Good” and like the place itself there are so many layers to peel away from this heady foreland of a red wine. The berry aspect is magnified by the pinotage and you should know that David and Nadia treat this grape with utmost respect. A mix of styles and inspirations make this both muddled and brilliant as it stretches into breadth and potential. A nexus of varietal and micro-terroirs caught up in a whirlwind of extracts, flavours, liqueurs and expression. Still fresh, spirited and alive so drink this well over a ten year span. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Kreatuur Die Synachin 2017, WO Coastal Region

“A collaboration between a bunch of young blokes, making of-the-moment wines from little-known vineyards around the Cape,” and under monikers that refer to “pushmi-pullyu animals.” Also with the winemaking help of Alexander Milner from Natte Valleij. Really quite the drinkable Rhône-ish blend of 56 per cent syrah, (26) grenache and (18) cinsault. Iron in multifarious soils (mainly granitic) make this hematic and deeply plum but still, not so difficult to knock back. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Kop Ou Treffer Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Ou Treffer, as in the ‘old hit’ in Afrikaans, also the old workhorse, in reference to cinsault of the Western Cape. Or if you will, like a hit song as the grape just seems to be the it one in South Africa these days. Or perhaps Traffic, by the Stereophonics. Beautifully aromatic, rich fruit and a soild funk from the particularities in these Stellenbosch vineyards. Half the ferment is de-stemmed, meaning the other half is whole bunch and old vines surely concentrate the fruit, stem funk and spun feeling all-around. Besides, “is anyone going anywhere? Everyone’s gotta be somewhere.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Knapsekêrel 2016, WO Stellenbosch

The second cabernet franc release of the De Kleine Wijn Koöp boys’ Knapsekêrel (a.k.a the spiky little black Cape plant) comes from the Polkadraai Hills. Not just any vineyard mind you but one planted in 2000 and biodynamically farmed by Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger and current Stellenbosch guru Johan Reyneke. The winemaking hands of Lukas van Loggerenberg are to thank and while this shows the sultry smoky smoulder that often emits from Cape franc it is a challenge and work in project to find the varietal sweet spot. That’s because cool temps and long growing seasons are best but look out for this breadth of a team’s members to find what works. In the meantime the tobacco, dusty plum and pushed to the raisin precipice make up a tasty if humid treat in a glass. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Heimwee 2015, WO Stellenbosch

As with the Knapsekêrel cabernet franc, the Polkadraai west of Stellenbosch is the fruit source, a biodynamic vineyard farmed by Rosa Kruger and Johan Reyneke. The boys at the Koöp are back in varietal town and refer to this all-around floral spiced cabernet sauvignon as running “with tannins as smooth as your grandmother’s polished imbuia coffee table.” No doubt and you can almost hear them singing in Phil Lynott workingman’s poetry. That said, this cab is no thin Lizzy, more like thick as a brick. Hung long and well-developed, of a liqueur that oozes of red, red fruit. Or perhaps, “man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot. I mean, she was steamin’…” Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Johannes de Wet in Robertson

De Wetshof Riesling 2017, WO Robertson

A known fact that riesling and limestone make a great couple so this look at de Wetshof’s Robertson ’17 is met with great mineral anticipation. Yes the finest calcareous blocks are dedicated to chardonnay because Bourgogne is the de Wet inspiration but anyone who has learned a thing about riesling around the world will know that limestone can work wonders. Alsace of course, as in Clos Windsbul but also The Niagara Escarpment’s dolomitic limestone and Germany’s Muschelkalk (especially in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franconia). And so Robertson joins the list as witnessed by this linguistically aromatic example, working the glass with a pure lime distillate notion. A nod to Alsace more than anything else with acidity that doesn’t need to scream and shout but it’s truly there. The potential to pioneer the movement is here, along with Elgin as Cape riesling standard bearers. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hll 2018, WO Robertson

Youth and drought make for the most naked and transparent of the past few Limestone Hill chardonnays. Absolute cool Kelvin freshness and a 270 degree vineyard scope to gather de Wetshof’s Robertson fruit from an amphitheatre of slope and aspect so subtle yet so meaningful. A fulsome regional DNA creates varietal layers gathered to make this cuvée a true spokes-wine for the limestone-based estate. Set foot on these soils, spin around, take it in. Then feel and intuit the truth in chardonnay that speaks to a place. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Bataleur 2016, WO Robertson

Bataleur, as in a battalion of chardonnay soldiers, fruit up front, reduction and wood falling in, acids taking up the flanks and structure in support by land, air and sea. Or so it seems because this just marches like a military exercise in chardonnay. Flinty, biting back, yet buttered and toasted on the mid-palate with Roberston’s unique limestone felt from start to finish. Vanilla then white caramel with soft French cream fill and then the snap of lime acidity. Biting and downy, one and then the other, all tied up in robes and pearls, equalling out in the end. Fine work from 2016. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2000, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay

By this time 2000 is the 15th vintage of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noir and tasting both the 1986 and 1997 ahead of this only serves to heighten anticipation knowing full well longevity is by now a solid guarantee. The vintage seems like it must have been a demanding one because there is more hard grip, aridity and austerity here but it really has aged gracefully and beautifully. The posit tug between fruit and earth notes is performed like a string instrument’s bow, bending and angling with dexterity in balanced, fluid motion. Brings in the herbs and spices, wholly and truly of Hemel-en-Aarde origin, on hillsides and between rows of sagacious pinot vines. This is a treat and opens a portal into the future, beginning with the 2012 vintage that will usher in a string of sequentially impressive HR pinot noir. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Rosecco NV, WO Swartland

From a 32 year-old pinotage vineyard, great old vines that received some TLC from Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger. Secondary bottle fermented with a little help from “a special blend of liqueur de triage,” so unlike Prosecco in that regard. Early picked which is a given considering the granitic soil and therefore a “Rosecco” of low pH and severely high acidity. ‘Twas just a slight dosage and therefore comes across arid like the Swartland desert. A well cultured sparkling Rosé, crushable and easy like Sunday morning. Drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Jan Harmsgat Chardonnay 2015, WO Robertson

True reduction yet to dissipate as noted by the smoky smoulder with a healthy compliment of wood still needing to melt in and away. Looking to settle over the next six months or so and allow the combination of vanilla extract and green apple purée to integrate, compliment and go forward in agreement. Though creamy there is a bite back at the finish so while this is good now it still shows promise for improvement down the road. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 1994. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. A 100 per cent varietal wine, built by the soil and so bloody mineral as a result. Oak texture but really that’s the end of wood talk, a salty streak, so direct and so personal. The kind of sauvignon blanc that invades your airspace and a vintage more Bordeaux than the rest. Or, if you will Sancerre but not so much this time around. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 2009. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. The ’94 vintage was another story altogether, apposite, far away from developing noble rot. Not the baller and perhaps even a bit “weak” with less weight but a saltiness that is more than intriguing. Perhaps more Sancerre-esque as a result but certainly lends longevity credibility to those passed over cool vintages neither celebrated nor considered to carry much staying power. May not be fleshy but is surely a curious and electric surprise. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Andrea Mullineux continues to foster the Leeu Passant line of heritage vines wines with work from Rosa KrMuger alongside. The “post (leaf-roll) virus vineyard,” of smuggled in clean material planted in Stellenbosch in the 1980s. The site is home to loam-rich soils of the Helderberg and the wine stylistically modelled after the oxidative approach to chardonnay. “Death and resurrection,” as Andrea puts it, meaning after the fermentation you allow the must to oxidize again, literally to the colour of cola. Risk reward actionable take and one that requires some shall we say, cojones. This chardonnay is not about luck and the methodology can’t help but connect you to the vineyard. You end up with this unctuous, astonishingly rich chardonnay that bears a resemblance to the vines and the place from whence it came. Unlike the Mullineux chenins or Swartland and so say hello to Meursault. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016, WO Western Cape

The throwback, ode and homage to South African reds made in the 50s, 60s, 70s, rustic, tannic, structured and reeking of the ancient soils that gave them life. Three locales are in the mix; Wellington, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The vineyards are the first pro-Phylloxera planted sites, a willy-nilly varietal scattering, blocks of two cinsault, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet franc. “It’s a deconstructed reconstruction,” says Andrea Mullineux, “where you break down what you love and build it back up again.” First thing is to show utmost submissive respect to 95 and 117 year-olds, the oldest registered red wine vineyards in South Africa. So you hand harvest their low yields and keep a minimum half of the bunches intact for to ferment these wise and experienced grapes. They spend 20 months in barrel then emerge structured and fit for 20 years of longevity. As with those post mid-20th century wines the profile is rich, tart, spicy, robust and layered with serious grounding. Revivalist red, keeper of faith and a lost style, uniquely South African. Today that translates to vogue. Boom. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Greyton

The Cape’s south coast work of Samantha O’Keefe, a (500L) barrel fermented sauvignon blanc made in an oxidative way, or rather a wine of early introductions made with oxygen. Flinty no doubt then rich and full on the palate, of throttling grape tannin who’s antidote is a sense of settled calm. Late spice, Bordeaux in temperament but cooler still, an almost northern Sancerre-ish dexterity and layering. Composed and so very genteel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2016, WO Greyton

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s original Greyton Farm, in re-build for a promising future. This ’16 is 90 per cent estate fruit, a natural ferment and all done up in neutral (300L) barrels, 11 months on lees. No malo except when a great vintage comes along. Simply an orchard and gingered and delight, a woven tapestry of backroads eccentricities and southern exposures, with a kick and twist of finishing spice. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Lismore The Age Of Grace 2017, WO Elgin

From rose-quartz soil in cool Elgin, a 100 per cent viognier, so apposite relative to the achromatic shades of Greyton sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. High demeanour and a sense of vivid colour in the aromatic wonder but more so in the levels of palate, front through middle to back. They come like a rainbow, rolling, over stones, in “colours in the air, oh, everywhere.” Orange, peach, nectarine and fine, fine Elgin acidity. They are wrapped in sour spice yet sit cross-legged, in complete control. An aristocratic flower child, surely full of and situated in an age of grace. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape

Fruit from both Walker Bay and Elgin and 30 per cent whole bunch (the first vintage was 15). So very herbal, savoury, stemmy and honest. A beacon in pinot noir you want to drink that comes equipped with an edginess about it. Full purity on display, grip, intensity and packed with provisions for the picnic. Marks the early beginnings of a varietal journey with some naïveté and dreams but look out. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Alette de Boer, Lowerland

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, WO Prieksa, Noord Kap

From South Africa’s furthest northern wine-growing area, a joint effort between grower Bertie Coetzee and winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Wow does this ever smell like tannat with its depth of earthy fruit and suspension of oxidative animation. High acidity reminds of the really cool climate, more Niagara per se than southwest France. There really is something special here, as with Lowerland’s stellar whites, something singular, yet undefined, in enigma and mystery. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Witgat Viognier 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

The viognier may scent of exotic flowers and tropical fruits but as with most of Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee’s range this is surely a cool climate wine. Subtly so and yet of a tension and a demand that accrue a sense of northerly South African wine-growing sense. The wine was made by JD Pretorius at the Constantia property Steenberg and it comes about quite normal, varietally speaking but also beautiful. There is a liquid chalky feel, a product no doubt of quality dry extract mixed with Prieksa soil of desert sand and silty clay. Lean and structured, a lanky viognier that in the end delivers quite the delight. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

Literally “easy drinking blend,” spoken through an indigenous vernacular from “the place of the lost goat.” At the time a blend of merlot, shiraz and tannat but like the Herd Sire Reserve that too will change over time. A racy and ripe red, earthy and parochial though fruitful in its red, black and blue mixed berry basket. There really is nothing to compare this too, neither old world origin or varietal mash up so assess it on its own terms. Just knock it back. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Herd Sire Reserve 2015, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

A red blend that will evolve (varietally speaking) but in 2015 it is based on cabernet sauvignon with petit verdot and a small amount of merlot. Bordeaux being the message but that too will change because the north of South Africa may actually share more affinity with the southwestern French wine-growing than anywhere else. This unique Noord Kaap Wyn van Oorsprong’s cool climate makes for early drinking reds and the 13 year-old vines here follow the party line for a red blend ripe enough to do what needs. There is more liqueur and spice here than what is noted in the merlot/shirtaz/tannat and also increased acid intensity. Somewhat oxidative but holding well and doling pleasure. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Nina Mari and Ernst Bruwer, Mont Blois

Mont Blois Estate Chardonnay Kweekkamp 2016, WO Robertson

After 28 of not bottling their own wines the husband and wife team of Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer began again in 2017. This is one of the first, a single vineyard chardonnay off of 12 year-old vines, barrel fermented and aged 11 months. Speaks of Robertson, not specifically by limestone but with that WO’s orchard fruit and realism, by passing spice that’s merely a thought. Lovely snap, crack and bite which is truly Robertson while in delivery of everyday texture and mellow disposition. The kind of chardonnay to stay quiet and simply sip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chardonnay Hoog en Laag 2016, WO Robertson

“High And low,” in reference to the vineyard being a terraced block on clay. Heavy clay that is, a Robertson specialty and the Hoog En Laag receives the same elévage as the Kweekkamp chardonnay. Certainly a richer and fruit fulsome expression, less snap and bite. No subtle spice either and yet the barrel notes are equally noted. What this has is full-fledged texture, creamy and smooth, all day long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chenin Blanc Groot Steen 2016, WO Robertson

The “big” chenin blanc because of the dense clay that gives nutrient life to the 32 year-old block of vines. Quite the steen intensity, ripping with fruit and a mineral streak for layer upon layer of Robertson quality. Naturally sweet pears, ripe and dripping, plus an unusual or unaccustomed to herbology. Perhaps it’s the famous local Rooibos talking. Really persistent chenin with loads of potential. Likely some flint and smoulder in its future. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape

A true Cape chenin blanc assemblage, in fact it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance to new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc that is bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do in the southern hemisphere where harvest happens in the first quarter months. Expectation always dictates value from the Kloof Street and 2018 does not disappoint with an attractive spiciness that speaks to the preservation of freshness in a chenin blanc possessive of no boundaries. One of the most versatile wines on the planet. Sheet pan sausages and fennel would be just ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Quartz 2017, WO Swartland

Soil is the single matter, catalyst and difference maker to dictate the peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and unique sets of behaviours in the Mullineux single-terroir wines. The chenin develops “freckles” in the sun, tells winemaker Andrea Mullineux and the warmth of the high presence of quartz retains and returns warmth, translating to a conduit of concentrated ripeness passing through the vines. Not a direct heat, otherwise the berries would burn but a reflected back-beat of light and one that is slowly transmitted with naturally occurring temperature control for how and when the plants are in need. The greatest positive is in the maturation of phenolics in the skins and not by a hasty overload in developed sugars. From out of the silica oxide comes vegetative growth that promotes and preserves a physiological process in retention of acid freshness. The result? A phenolic journey unique to chenin blanc as here with a striking 2017, dry as drought yet fresh as a daisy. Though there is some creamy texture there too is hyper intense clarity, a variegate of dappled aromatics and brindled flavours, all bound up in animated acid bounces. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2017, WO Swartland

In chenin blanc the Mullineuxs engage in this single-terroir comparison, first by Quartz and now through Granite. The reference is to the predominant mineral presence in the soil and in how it influences the chameleon varietal. In 2017 Quartz is a major concern but switching to sandy, decomposed rocky soil and everything changes. Berries leave the world of mottled and piebald to one of demure and decor with thanks to the diffused light set upon them. That and a place where roots must burrow, digging deeper through hunks of rock into the sub-strata. This is where trace elements and minerals are to be found in the water table below and while limestone and silex is not the tablet there is some ideological affinity here with the Loire. As such it is this Granite that speaks in a leaner, thoroughly mineral, less spice and increased sharpness vernacular. Precision cut, flint struck, metallic, a song of science and silence. Body and flesh are ambient, less “creamy” than in Quartz, linear in travels, long and of an aging potential surely cast forward. Focused all the way through, unrelenting but always in layers of overlap and subtlety. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland

Kloof Street is a “heritage blend,” says Andrea Mullineux, “it’s a wine about the love for making wine, but having preferences.” From vintage to vintage maybe check the bottle for varieties because there is no steadfast formula. Heritage, as opposed to Rhône means playfulness, choices and the inclusion of a structure fortifying grape like tinta barocca, truly integral to the Western Cape meritage experience. Here in 2017 there are some notable added layers of flesh, drying tannin and largesse. An early extracted wine in fast stages of maceration to coax out the fruit and deter astringency. Comes away rich and robust, rocking the free and new world. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

“I still consider it a blend,” insists Andrea Mullineux,”because it comes from seven vineyards on three soils.” Spends up to six weeks on skins, depending on how big the tannins are. Big equals patience. Burly early with spice and elongation but that heft and girth will slowly melt away. An invisible friend called acidity will usher the transformation, those gnomes of silent structure. The next stage will celebrate the leathery cherry fruit and cumulative Swartland savour.  Last tasted September 2018

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016, WO Swartland

As with the two chenin blanc Quartz and Granite introspections there too is a Mullineux terroir combing of Swartland soils through the lens of syrah, there by Iron and here through Schist. The style or rather the result is befitting the monikers because Schist is the tamer one of the two and it is interesting to note that the syrah “blend” as Andrea Mullineux calls it is more like Iron than this elegant one. A huge January heat wave could have led this into the raisin danger zone because ripening under the shotgun is no way to approach harvest. Cooler heads and temperatures prevailed to allow for an unfurling, a plumping and a perking up. Schist comes out regal, aromatically civil and demure, but also juicier than a nosing might indicate. Acid retention is strong, sweet and quite friendly to work in cohorts with the cane and Baleni based spice. Dark in complexion, yes brooding yet sneakily serene, salty and so comfortable in its own skin. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah Iron 2016, WO Swartland

The second of two Mullineux soil investigations for syrah is this dramatic and hematic nonpareil exemplar. Cultivar meets terroir, raised off of a heavy, gravelly clay, rich in iron, impressive and hallowed as antediluvian viticultural ground. That may not be completely Cape uncommon but this is clearly a paradigm shifter for drilled down South African syrah in attack meets beast mode, cimmerian, ferric and intense. Modish though, while inexorable character oozes from every pore and a mid-palate wells of extraordinary fill. Sharpens its wits on bullish tannin and expresses Northwest of Malmesbury iron with raw emotion and power, though without rusticity. What it may lack in elegance is made up by sheer force in reckoning, at first engaging and then gripping the palate by all means necessary. The velvet glove future lies somewhere in the next decade, likely latter first half. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2013, WO Elgin

Just a hint of evolution is showing in this five year-old pinot noir which is something because you had to work to find any in the just tasted 2009. The sweetest fruit comes from 2013, on of the riper, purest and most pristine vintages to express what Elgin has to offer. Ethereal actually, not loosely but effortlessly structured with a seamless bond forged between fruit and acids. Tannins are already subsiding in this elegant, balanced and slightly spiced pinot. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2011, WO Elgin

Such a composed vintage, cool, calm and collected. A Beaune Villages feel here, perhaps Aloxe-Corton with darker pinot noir fruit, almost black cherry but less obvious, more complex, full of baking spice. A genial and genteel Seven Flags nonetheless, elastic, pliable, amenable but not without undeniable and underlying composure. That backbone may bend with curvature ease but will not break. Provides the basis to see this Cluver from Elgin live easily up to and likely beyond its 12th birthday. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2009, WO Elgin

Harkens back to a time when the 1987 planted 113 clone was no longer the sole provider for the Seven Flags family after 115 and 667 had been planted in 2001. From 2009 it seems quite obvious the vintage was one to create big, robust, ripe and warm pinot noir. Even as it approaches its ninth birthday the evolution equation remains in early steps computation, perhaps just now moving to the next stage. Secondary development is still around the bend or on the next page, noted by the persistence of a cool climate, liquid but still grainy chalk. Also acts just a bit reductive which seems almost impossible but stranger things have happened out of South African vineyards. Just imagine the futuristic possibilities when these vines soon achieve heritage age. Remind me to ask Paul Cluver for a look at vintages from 2022 onward at Cape Wine 2039. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw, Porseleinberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

Poured by Callie Louw at Cape Wine 2018, this Riebeek Kasteel, Porcelain Mountain syrah somehow sits at a pantheon’s peak vintage after vintage, as if each one is a once in a lifetime effort. This must have been the epitome of such a consideration because Louw calls it “a fucking hard vintage, eh.” Strong talking words from the stoic and pragmatic BBQ smoker, winemaker and cricket master. Callie may have experienced a craftsman’s pain but the 70 per cent foudres and 30 concrete elévage not only tamed the savage beast, it helped to turn heads and remind of where greatness comes from. Tasted side by each with 2012 and 2013 only magnifies the massive structure in this ’16, a reductively bouncy, glycerin and impenetrable syrah in need of getting lost in the cellar. Will also need an epic song, “into the blue again, after the money’s gone.” Through the next decade and well into the following one this syrah will remain in light. “Same as it ever was.” Drink 2022-2040.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw’s smoker hard at work in Malmesbury

The Sadie Family Palladius 2014, WO Swartland

If you Google “South African white appellative blend” the number one result should surely be Eben Sadie’s Palladius and these are the 11 reasons why; chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. Eleven blocks, all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. If looking forward to the brilliant ’16 and seeing it as a wine of mixed tenses, then this ’14 speaks in the imperfect because it strikes as the one to talk about the past and to say what used to happen. As in language, love, war and the past continuous, all is fair when it comes to assessing the verticals of wine, especially in descriptions. The 2014 Palladius is the back to the future vintage, of warmth and spice when things were picked overripe and new beginnings are constantly forged. But the citrus preserve and sheer electric lemon-lime energy looks ahead to the intensity of a youthful 2016, leaving a taster confounded, satisfied and awake all at the same time. This may go forward before it retreats once again. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2009, WO Swartland

When talking about the 2009 vintage Eben Sadie talks of the decision to add sémillon, clairette blanche and palomino to his appellative white blend that already held chenin blanc, colmbard, grenache blanc and viognier. “To up the acidity,” aid and abet the tendencies of fleshy fruit to fatten in overripe behaviour. More than just acidity mind you, Sadie also looked to heighten the “acoustics” in a wine that was quickly becoming a major Swartland concern. Tasting this is September 2018 it can’t help but be noted how development and evolution have nearly caught up to 2005, a vintage cause and effect action no doubt. Here is the spiciest, sauciest and flat out nasty attitude Palladius, unabashed and already having done most of its living. That said the track record of these wines tells us to stay put, be patient and continue to relish the sapid, saline and ever-changing paths carved out. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Pofadder 2017, WO Swartland

Part of Eben Sadie and family’s “Die Ouwingerdreeks,” the old vine series and a reference to either or both puff adder snakes and the small “bushman’s land” town in the Northern Cape. Can be 100 per cent cinsault though the percentage is 85 in 2017, aged in old but not Jurassic wood. The ideal, epitome and exemplar bench-land varietal wine, not to mention a pioneer in the South African paradigm shift to conscious exultation of a plan in collective commitment for varietal, heritage vine and whole cluster ferments. From granite shales (not the decomposed kind) and yet another red fruit incarnate, freshest of the fresh precision wines. Pure Cape cinsault is this, with tannin but the kind that is sweet and stretched. No bullshit here. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Treinspoor 2017, WO Swartland

Afrikaans for “railroad,” perhaps a reference to the method of transportation that brought these European grapes to the Cape, depending on how far back tinta barocca arrived in the Swartland. In fact it was in the 1920’s and now just a bit more than 200 ha’s of this hardy, rustic, dark-skinned, early ripening and versatile red lay scattered about, accounting for two one hundredth’s of a per cent for vineyard area in South Africa. Sadie’s is a single-vineyard line running through the Darling side of Malmesbury, a cimmerian blackish red reeking of Renosterbos which is ironic because animal activists have always believed that the railroads threaten Rhino habitat. Digressions aside this is a prime example of why some might consider tinta barocca to be the future grape of Swartland. Sweetly floral and in 2017 both ways perfectly ripe. Botanicals abound, bosplante in bloom while flowers await the bees. Where this shares affinities with cinsault and grenache is in the curative and salumi aromas leading to sweet yet elastic tannins. The finish and length are expressly Swartland in nature. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Columella 2016, WO Swartland

Red counterpart to the Sadie white signature Palladius and residing in the upper echelon of Western Cape appellative blends. Ontario lays claim to the Stratus White and Red while the Cape knows these. Allowing for some levity there is a kinship to be considered between Eben Sadie and J-L Groulx, two of the more unlikely mad scientists able to capture the lit and woke disposition of mastered assemblage. Imagine Groulx also pouring varietal shots of many different farmed varieties from the back of his pick up truck during a lawn bowl in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full name is Columella Liberatus in Castro Bonae Spei, Latin for “liberated in the Cape of Good Hope” and as a pillar of strength Columella’s syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and tinta barroca ascend to dramatic expression. Variegated in every respect; hue, perfume, flavour and structure, at once layered and then stratified with doric strength, able to bear the most concentrated weight. Relative acidity, fluted or grooved, wider in youth to help support and lengthen. Intensely fortified with help from the barocca, naturally and of itself, intuitively wild yet controlled. Such a focused wine one rarely comes upon. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad 2017, WO Swartland

The “footpath” from both the Dutch (het Voedpad) and Afrikaans, also the name of Dirk Brand’s rooibos and wheat farm next to this oldest vineyard in the Kapteinskloof near Piketberg. Some say the oldest in South Africa, planted between 1920 an 1928, but others will say the first vines went in around the 1890’s through to the early 1900’s. Takes the Sadie Family “Die Ouwingerdreeks” to the farthest, most extreme reaches of the old vineyards idea. “The vines have seen it all,” tells Eben Sadie, “don’t fuck with us” is their message. “Don’t mess this up.” And so Eben co-ferments in an as is format but more importantly works at the agriculture to a point of obsession. Newer inter-plantings will go in, of sémillon, sémillon gris and palomino from massal selected material. To deal with drought cover crops will also be added between rows, all of course through an organic approach. The blend is sémillon, sémillon gris, palomino, chenin blanc and muscat d’Alexandrie, all processed together, but this is not about extreme winemaking. More like extreme farming, finding ways to keep these twisted kurktrekker and cavatappi bending vines alive for to produce their magic. The wine that emerges is all about tendencies and multiplicities of texture. The dry extract here is off the charts making it seem forcefully and fiercely tannic. Fantasy and zeitgeist just happens and the results are right there in the bottle. A remarkable wine and vintage from an isolated vineyard where drought is always a factor. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Abrie Bruwer, Springfield Estate

Springfield Estate Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne 2016, WO Robertson

Burgundian ode, ancient method of making chardonnay, a rare approach these days, with wild yeasts and no fining or filtration. No surprise that Springfield Estate is willing to give it a go because that’s how they roll. The plan is for deep longevity by a method akin to anti-aging serum, though 15 to 20 years would be astonishing in any case. Ground control to major tang, circuits wired tohu vavohu and a lemon custard to curd constitution that is simply merveilleux. Yes it is true that a hint of orange could turn into Cointreau after a half decade or more and the mid-palate cloud cover will continue to deliver warmth and appeal. Curious methodology plus romantic acumen equates to one of a kind. We’ll see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Break A Leg Blanc De Noirs 2017, WO Paarl

Often referred to as a pink wine but to choose this term to call Lukas van Loggerenberg’s 100 per cent cinsault grown on Helderberg granite would not tell the right story. Blanc de noirs is more apt but even then more detail is necessary to do it justice. Sees nine months of lees time, “to remove the tutti frutti,” snarks van Loggerenberg, without jest but can you really know when he’s being serious? Leaves the arena of the Rosé absurd and settles at a hue of proper B de N colour, as if that really matters. Saltiness is the thing, the granite kind, the sort to set your eyes ablaze and your heart to rest. Not really a wine about texture, though there is plenty, but that’s not the goal. Anything but sweet and a wresting away from norms into a matter of reckoning. And all about five knee surgeries, something the winemaker and the critic know all about. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Chenin Blanc Trust Your Gut 2017, WO Western Cape

While there are wines in Lukas van Loggerenberg’s world that travel down the kamikaze viaduct, Trust Your Gut is not one of them. In fact there is a normalcy, a recognizable structure and an older Euro soul to the way this chenin blanc acts and feels. Sees 10 months sur lie in old French oak but no bâttonage, nor malo neither. Three zones bring the fruit; 45 per cent each Stellenbosch and Swartland plus 10 from Paarl. Take chenin blanc and treat it like a Villages wine by imagining Loire aromatics merging with Chablis texture. This my friends is a classic example of amalgamated Western Cape chenin style. There is irony in the name and no shocker there. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Early springtime in Cape Town

Van Loggerenberg Wines Cinsault Geronimo 2017, WO Western Cape

Geronimo is 100 per cent cinsault, 60 per cent from Stellenbosch and 40 “Break a Leg” Paarl. The get together finds energy that one without the other would not find “because cinsault doesn’t have high natural acidity,” explains Lukas van Loggerenberg, “it is a very good indicator of vintage.” The 2017 is, wait for it, 80 per cent whole bunch and while that is a factor of the Western Cape’s ripen anything, anywhere, anytime great advantage, it’s still an impressive strategy no matter where you are making wine. Spends nine months in barrel and comes out smelling like roses, candied petals mainly but other florals, hibiscus and such. A handsome cinsault to be sure and one that will take precious time to unwind, great acidity or not. Like the red Cape equivalent of white friulano in Collio, sneaky long and structured. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Cabernet Franc Breton 2017, WO Stellenbosch

A more than obvious ode to the Loire Valley, 100 per cent cabernet franc bearing the old world varietal name. Fruit drawn from Stellenbosch’s decomposed granite soils gets the 60 per cent whole bunch treatment, followed by 11 months in barrel. Transparent as cabernet franc is the understatement, open wide, ease of alcohol at 12.8 per cent and in delivery for the rapture of being alive. Lots of verdant tones but nary a green tannic moment. Seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship so the future too is wide open. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Sheree Nothnagel

Wildehurst Velo White 2016, WO Swartland

A testament to non-pareil, Cape appellative white blend equanimity, of colombard, grenache blanc and viognier, 33 of each, give or take one per cent. Only the viognier is barrel fermented though the equilibrium os never compromised. Intensely herbal, of a nose uncanny in its fynbos reek, lovely glycerin texture, again balanced and knowing the place it wants to be. Acid structure travels though in a pas trop travaillé, no trouble way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

Barrel fermented and six months matured, 100 per cent chenin blanc, acting as if freshly spiced and in Cape terms, a really chewy white wine. Counterbalanced by a leanness in vintage while wound tight, just now perhaps beginning to unwind in repeat of its specific refrain. Acid structure makes up the lyrical couplets, sung again and again, as a reminder that fruit and wood will always align and submit to the citrus rhyme. Almost feels like still perlage and chenin blanc like this is very much a string of pearls, inclusive of tannins in long chains. Helps to explain the success of Wildehurst’s Méthode Cap Classique. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Red 2014, WO Swartland

A blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and cinsault, aged in old French barrels for 18 months. Like the solo cinsault but an even more held back and hard to crack the savoury and sweet candied shell. Both elements emerge with good agitation, first the sweet variegate of red fruit and then the brushy and dusty fynbos bushiness, here acting as an energizer for equal opportunity. Spills over with that Wildehurst acid-tannin continuum as all the wines take their time to ready, pivot in the glass and then speak of their age ability going forward. Big bursts are all power and no cake. Rich yet elastic and surely capable of going deep. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Cinsault 2017, WO Swartland

Just two barrels were found to be extraordinary and thus pulled by Sheree Nothnagel, away from the red blend and into this solo album. Quite the richly emulsified and ropey red fruit cinsault and while it follows along the varietal Swartland thread the differences are as great as they are to the party’s similarities. That is due in respect to the Wildehurst style, tighter and more acid-structure intense, higher-toned and less in the meaty-salumi-curative vein. Still possessive of that red as red can be fruit but here more akin to barbera or sangiovese from high altitudes and limestone soils. There must be something about Koringberg and the other Swartland sites that bring a special je ne sais quoi to Joanne Hurst’s wines. Maybe in thanks to Swartland shale, granite, silcrete and alluvium Renosterveld. Who does not love the smell of Renosterveld in the morning? Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018

The Wine Thief Costa Del Swart Viura 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg

From the Western Cape’s chameleon of a region where anything goes and all things are considered. Case in point this viura of Spanish roots as part of the single barrel series. Surely Swartland specific (as opposed to Paarl), 100 per cent viura and only 180 bottles produced. Less alchemy and more herbology, but flinty, sharp and exciting. Direct, full of fun and even a bit waxy, with a riesling or sémillon feel that can only mean some petrol in its future. So much citrus gets ya in the end. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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The grower’s spirit of William Saintot Champagne

Only a grower’s Champagne could reveal so much distinction from cuvée to cuvée ~ Behold the diversity of @williamsaintot ~ with thanks to @riverdalewines

Looking for Champagne for the holiday season? Wanting Grower’s Champagne with a négoce angle to the story? In today’s changing climate and through the multifarious meaning of that expression we are sensing and seeing a decline of former and rise of the latter. The landscape and scales are changing, mainly for reasons pertaining to logistics plus economics and so the blurred lines of growing, grape-accumulating and bottling are the rising trend, fashion and reality of the Champagne business. For a full, comprehensive and brilliant report on the subject, right-click, open a new tab and migrate over to read Treve Ring’s take at Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak on the burgeoning subject.

Related – Beyond grower Champagne: where have all the growers gone?

Last April I had the immense pleasure to sit down with Riverdale Wines and taste the portfolio of William Saintot Champagne. These are the notes and yes I highly recommend making these wines your go to fizz for the upcoming last two weeks of 2019 revelry.

William Saintot La Cuvée Séduction Blanc De Blancs Champagne Premier Cru ($82.00)

The parcel for this cuvée is 50-plus years of age, 100 per cent chardonnay on Bisseuil limestone. We don’t often describe Champagne straight out as fruity but this goes all out to deliver. Fresh fruit, sliced, sluiced and dripping; peach, yellow plum and lemon, humid and in the air. Great freshness though more than just acidity is the seducer here. Gets tropical, into lemongrass and more. Appealing in the highest end commercial way. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2019

William Saintot Brut Blanc De Noirs Champagne Premier Cru ($62.00)

Fruit from 2014 (94 per cent) and 2015, in stainless steel tanks from the three pinot growing areas. Fresh and toasty and a seamless gathering of three pinpointed pinot noir terroirs. Avenay, Val d’Or and Muligny et Bisseuil get together for a three-layer, triad-pronged effect of fruit, acidity and exceptional Champagne tannin. Brilliant Blanc de Noirs (of 6.5 rS) and exceptional length. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted April 2019

William Saintot Blanc De Noirs Champagne Premier Cru Chopine ($62.00, 375ml)

From the same pinot noir triad of terroirs (as the 750 mL B de N) but here in a split of the Brut and fruit going back to 2011 and 2010. That’s really the only difference, a monumental one truthfully speaking and disgorged in 2017. The toasty tastiness is accentuated and if you like brioche, baked apple, salve of texture, greater tannin and enough freshness to bely the oxidative tendency of ginger feathery Champagne then you will find the brilliance in this wine. Finishes with a smirk of orange créme brûlée. Great fun, pomp and circumstance in a serious way. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2019

William Saintot La Roseraie Champagne Premier Cru ($64.00)

Two growing areas contribute to this saignée Rosé, Muligny and Busseuil, with vines that average old, older and oldest, from the 60s – 80s, with some 100 year old plants. The blend is 72 per cent pinot plus (28) chardonnay, disgorged in 2018. The sugar level is raised just a touch to 6.5 rS and the alcohol a consistent 12 per cent. Berries and currants gain spirit from cranberry and pomegranate in a really energetic, tension-driven fruit affair. Truly stylish. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2019

William Saintot La Cuvée Prestige Champagne Premier Cru ($77.00)

The Prestige is an 80 per cent pinot noir and (20) chardonnay get together, disgorged in 2018. It’s a retrospective, trend-setting style, based on the Solera ideal with fruit inclusion going back to 2010. It’s not nearly as oxidative as you might expect, in fact its freshness is a sustainable guarantee. There are layers and layers involved that will take as long to peel away as they took have taken to accumulate since 2010. So much citrus in so many ways and once again that amazing grower’s acidity. It really works. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted April 2019

William Saintot Brut Millésime Champagne Premier Cru 2012 ($89.00)

From chardonnay at Avenay Val d’or planted in 1970 plus chardonnay in Bisseuil planted in 1964. Here the most spirit, citrus accentuation and for the next time (not the first) a real distinction from one wine to the next. This shows the grower individuality and from one Champagne to the next. There is fennel, garrigue and beautiful savoury aspects here but still mainstream enough to challenge every household name for what to drink. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2019

William Saintot Extra Brut Champagne Premier Cru La Côte De Chignon 2011 ($150.00)

Disgorged 2017, nature and 2.6 rS, 100 per cent pinot from Avenay Val d’Or, only 1250 bottles made. The first to challenge our notions of earthy, elemental and even funky in Champagne. Lemon, seville orange and ginger, fresh and dried herbs but also a wet concrete meets clay earthiness. Fruit is managed and anything hut relegated while acidity keeps all the mille-feuille parts integrated, in-synch and complimentary. Very special Grower’s Champagne. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Good to go!

godello

Only a grower’s Champagne could reveal so much distinction from cuvée to cuvée ~ Behold the diversity of @williamsaintot ~ with thanks to @riverdalewines

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Making tracks in Argentina

Where there’s smoke there’s Godello

Deeper varietal discussion about Argentina’s terroir diversity, 128 images and 118 more wines reviewed

As first seen on WineAlign

Old torrontés vineyards at El Esteco, Cafayate Valley, Salta

A November 2018 journey to Argentina did so much more than simply introduce me to that great country’s wines. That trip was a bold reminder that travelling to the source is precisely how we leave our preconceptions behind and allow for new education to change and alter our thoughts. The people behind the product are the real story and meeting so many of Argentina’s amazing people has transubstantiated my personal Wines of Argentina psyche. I hope for your wine sake you all will find the opportunity to experience what I have, but failing that many have taken part in a short term solution. 

The author in Cafayate, Salta, Argentina

Related – High altitude heliophiles in Argentina

Not too long ago I published that article about a trip that was indeed exactly what the title says. A Masterclass across Argentina. Visits to Mendoza and Salta helped me to gain a deeper understanding of solar radiation and high altitude wines. WineAlign has now finalized the WineAlign Exchange Argentine Wine Masterclass 12-pack. Those who have not made immediate plans to travel to Argentina they have instead signed up to have that country’s remarkable wines come to them instead.

Baby pork, apple, pineapple, Azafrán, Mendoza

In November I had the favourable and fortuitous opportunity to travel around with the team at Wines of Argentina and now WineAlign has teamed up with WOFA to bring 12 carefully curated wines to the Ontario consumer. The box holds 12 archetypal examples (malbec and much more), selected in unanimous accord by the WineAlign crü of critics, through tastings in Argentina and at our offices. Quality in all regions of Argentina has never been higher so the pool from which to pick was deep and wide. This is the invitation to taste the diversity of high-altitude vineyards.

El Esteco, Cafayate Valley, Salta Province

For those who see Argentina as a unilateral place of malbec, malbec and more malbec, think again. New plantations from 1200m to 2200m have characterized the need to qualify the variegate and highly diverse terroirs of Mendoza. There are now more than 1,000 hectares of cabernet franc and 18,000-plus of cabernet sauvignon. Yes there are 42,000 of malbec but that’s two-thirds and not necessarily increasing. Wouldn’t you have thought that number to be much greater? I certainly did. WOFA Educator Joaquin Hidalgo calls it “big noise from some nuts,” which loosely translates to “don’t believe everything you read or hear.” In fact 85 per cent of malbec is grown in Mendoza and there are great ulterior terroirs out there. The key is to seek and create new styles of malbec. Notes Hidalgo, “if we use the variety to create terroir diversity it will be a great benefit.”

Canadians, Tupungato and the Andes

Only 2,249 of 21,000 plantable hectares in Guatallary are full with vines. Huge potential is still out there but water/irrigation is a limiting factor.  As are ants (again, who knew?) and the foxes who chew through irrigation lines. So farmers put out water to satiate them. They must also deal with the Zonda, hot and dry winds that often come off of the eastern slopes of the Andes. Through all these challenges there is more and more talk about moving to an elegant way of producing wines. “Argentina can produce better wine. The more you talk about oak not being the thing to notice the more its shows how oaky the wines really are. The idea is to offer fruity, not so oaky wines.”

Beef tartar, egg yolk, pickles, soy, Azafrán, Mendoza

Conversations with winemakers, agriculturalists, estate directors and export managers bred a consistency of attitude and expectation across the country. And yet each encounter meant and led to something different. Dinner with Winemaker Gabriel Bloise of Chakana, Josefina Alessio of Ernesto Catena and Andrej Razumovsky of Alpamanta focused on alternative varietals, new, innovative and alternative winemaking styles. Razumovsky talked about the rains of 2016 and how harvest was three full weeks late. “Everyone was nervous,” tells Andrej, “with so much rot but the yields were so low and yet the grapes we picked were so healthy.” Strike another notch for organic and biodynamic grape growing.

Enjoying a Salta in Salta

In Agrelo Finca Decero has predicated it’s success on a massive single vineyard called Remolinos but smaller production projects are the new norm. It has lead to growing cabernet franc (plus tannat and syrah) and the recent addition of larger barrels is leading to wines of more florals ands overall complexities. “We’re trying to separate what we perceive is different,” explains CEO Juan Marcó. “This means increased micro-vinifications of specific blocks and plots as part of the larger single-vineyard.” Decero “from nothing” also has 15 hectares of planted petit verdot, which accounts for at least five if not close to 10 per cent of the total in Argentina.

Ani Lucero and Marilyn Demandre, WOFA

In Cafayate, Salta Province it is the Amalaya/Colomé agriculturalists, winemakers and oenologists, (including Jorge Noguera. Thibaut Delmotte, Rafael Racedo and Javier Grané) who know about the “expectation of a miracle,” especially with respect to finding water, but for here, the miracle is to be able to grow grapes and make wine. The prized vineyard El Adrenal literally means “sunny place.” and its altitude brings the sun direct to the vines. El Esteco’s Agriculturalist Rosario and Winemaker Alejandro Pepa showed us sun-kissed criolla and torrontés vines vines of 70 years or more. The moonscape of Piattelli Vineyards is where John and Arlene Malinski’s team produces exceptionally concentrated wines out of the desert; Agriculturalist Santiago Acosta, Winemakers Valeria Antolín and Javier Saldaño, Consulting Oenologist Roberto de la Mota.

With the Women of WOFA in Mendoza

I tasted upwards of 150 wines in my week spent in Argentina. That first report covered 37 wines from 37 producers. They were the 37 that struck me as being exceptional, ahead of the curve or simply the perfect sort of examples to speak about climate, soil and of course, altitude. The following 118 tasting notes expand on so much of what Argentina does best. Crafting quality wines at high altitudes, from Patagonia to Mendoza and Salta.

Melon soup, prawns, cucumber, Azafrán, Mendoza

Sparkling Wines

Chakana Vino Espumante Nuna Vineyard NV, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This biodynamic Brut is a chardonnay-sauvignon, 60-40 split of ambient yeasts and natural acidities. A dry Brut at 4 g/L dosage made in the Charmat Method. Full and I mean full mousse effect, light on the sweet sweats and a nectarine, peach and pear profile. Creamy character and so good alongside melon soup with cucumber and prawns. It seems so perfectly arid and right in balance. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  chakanawines  oeno2   @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @bodegachakana  @ConnexionOenophilia

Josefina Alessio, Alma Negra and Ernesto Catena Wines

Domaine Alma Negra Brut Nature NV, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A traditional method Rosé and while Josefina Alessio insists “we don’t confess on grape varieties,” this is in fact a pinot noir and malbec sparkler of eight to as much as 16 months on lees. The grapes comes from uncertified biodynamic vineyards in the production zones of Vistaflores, Tunuyán, Mendoza (3,608 feet) and Gualtallary, Tupungato, Mendoza (4,265 feet). An implosive bubble, all about energy and a side-step, two-step into texture. Raspberry is everywhere, as if it could be nerello mascalese sidling up to malbec. Low pH and just about dry adds up to red fruit, lime and overall zest. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  domainealmanegra   Alma Negra  Ernesto Catena Vineyards

Quebrada de las Conchas

Amalaya Brut Nature, Valle De Cafayate, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A charmat method sparkling wine made from riesling (80 per cent) plus torrontés. A fizz of cloudy demure and a leesy funk directed by the warm climate at 1,750m in sand near La Mercedes. Also smells of lime doused guava and orange blossoms from the torrontés. Simple with notable sweetness, creamy and just tart enough to offer balanced fun. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaamalaya  hesscollection  liffordgram  @AmalayaBodega  @HessCollection  @LiffordON  @bodegaamalaya @hesscollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Canadians in Tupungato

Whites

Familia Schroeder Alpataco Chardonnay 2018, Patagonia, Argentina (629428, $16.95, WineAlign)

No oak, only stainless steel and all cool, southern Argentina climate in this Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost chardonnay. Fresh and green apple delicious, simple and crisp. Really crisp. Like a bite into an edgy tart nectarine with slight green note. Beautifully salty and grippy, like Petit Chablis. Would be just perfect to kick back with a half dozen oysters. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines   @SchroederWines  Familia Schroeder

Andrej Razumovsky, Alpamanta

Alpamanta Breva Estate Chardonnay 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This is biodynamic produced chardonnay that saw 13 months in oak foudres after a slow fermentation, no malo and then, no filtration. “Typical of the  area,” says Austrian born Andrej Razumovsky and yet his run is a mere 2,000 bottles. From a vintage where “it rained like Europe,” 1200mm, six times the norm. High acidity is the result, very dramatic but all the while propping up and celebrating fruit. Rich, viscous and forward, full of pulse and energy. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  alpamanta  rogersandcompanywines  @Alpamanta  @rogcowines  @alpamanta  @rogcowines

Carla Castorina, Trapiche

Trapiche Chardonnay Costa & Pampa 2016, Chapadmal, Buenos Aires, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Costa & Pampa is Trapiche’s south Atlantic foray into a new appellation down on the coast southeast of Buenos Aires. Their chardonnay is a rich, youthful, precocious and grippy one, crisp and guaranteed to sell you on quality and possibility. Terrific first look. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  trapichearg  trapichewines  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines   @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Fish at Luigi Bosca

Casarena Chardonnay Owen’s Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From Agrelo down south of Luján de Cuyo and next to Casarena’s other single vineyards, Lauren and Naoki. Owen’s is named after a grandchild, one of four. Nice and properly reductive, the work her from winemaker Leandro Azin shows a learned ambition, a nod to Bourgogne and a grounding in greater Mendoza chardonnay need. It’s a tart, angular and yet fleshy chardonnay, urgent and delicious, welling in grape tannin, extract and acidity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Federico Landrone, Andeluna and Damian Rubin, Bodega Bianchi

Andeluna 1300 Chardonnay 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $16.99, WineAlign)

Represents and sets the imagination free to accept the Andean rain shadow, masl manifesto “vines touching the sky.” An fresh, crisp, clean and cool unoaked chardonnay of exceptional clarity and superb value. Apple bite with a similar note by pear from a soil-climate-altitude driven white with purity and finally, acidity. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Snacks at Domaine Bousquet

Familia Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (232702, $18.95, WineAlign)

Zuccardi’s Tupungato chardonnay is a best of both worlds effort, from Gualtallary and El Peral, one giving the sun and the other layering over with freshness. Ferments done up all in concrete then the usage of some older (third and fourth use) barrels. Feel the fruit and the acidity as interchangeable parts plus a true sense of varietal purity. Very orchard apple, taut and pretty, polished and petit, as in Chablis. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Snacks

Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay 2017, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina (1461, $18.95, WineAlign)

A 50-50 stainless steel-barrel raised chardonnay with as much bite as any. Reductive and creamy with bitters and crackling acidity. The oak is very present, not so much in texture but certainly in palate character. Tart and finishing with further bitters. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Boys at Finca Decero

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (384339, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sees four to six months of barrel and plenty of lees stirring. Tells the truth to say it’s all about texture so that it separates itself from a sea full of achromatic torrontés. The idea is to tame and temper both the terpenes and the florals. It succeeds in this regard and is in delivery of a very viscous wine. Still floral but very textural. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Colomé Estate Torrontés 2018, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (357913, $15.95, WineAlign)

There is no substitution for altitude and temperature fluctuations to manage the balance in torrontés. Yes it’s floral but also driven by tonic, white fruit and acidity. It’s also fleshy and creamy from fruit like guava and peach but the aridity and altitude dry this into a fierce creature home from a hot climate. Better than ever, with more concentration from the vintage. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacolome  hesscollection  liffordgram  @BodegaColome  @HessCollection  @LiffordON @bodegacolome  @hesscollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Winemaker Ramiro Balliro, Bodega DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Viognier 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (SAQ 11963806, $23.35, WineAlign)

Thirty percent of the French oak used is new on fruit from the foothills of the Andes at 1100m. Warm alcohol on the nose and the intensity of a white flower distillate. Very vanilla, a minor heed of oak spice and more dry extract than many, viognier or otherwise. “Blue girls come in every size, some are wise and some otherwise, they got pretty blue eyes.” The genesis of Uco Valley viognier in solar radiated ripples and minor bitters rippling effect. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegadiamandes  maitredechai_ca    @maitredechai  @diamandes  Francis Dubé

Domaine Bousquet

Atamisque Serbal Viognier 2018, Tupungato, Valle Du Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A viognier high on citrus and notable for tangerine though curiously more about flavour than aromatics. Sharp, tangy and calcareously salty with proper sour edging and plenty of energy at the entry level. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Crudo, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Particularly fresh and vibrant expression with some energy created by residual CO2 still pulsing in the bottle. Quality acidity encapsulates a wealth of fruit from apples through peaches. Mild pungency and ultimately a right proper way of expressing sauvignon blanc. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Bousquet, Tupungato

Salentein Sauvignon Blanc Portillo 2018, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Described as fashioned through the matter of “nieve carbonica,” carbonic snow, to prevent oxidation, like using dry ice on garganega to protect and preserve freshness. Quite fresh in fact right here, pure and precise. Somewhat stoic even for a wine that believe it or not was first produced in 2009. Where is this in our market? Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  salenteinbodega  azureau  @BodegaSalentein  @azureau  @BodegasSalentein  @BodegasSalentein

Empanadas at Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Del Alma White Blend 2018, Wine of Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“From the soul,” which is a base of chardonnay (30 per cent) blended with sauvignon blanc (30) viognier (20) and riesling (20). Some carbonic pulse to this metallic and simple blend of extreme freshness. Really good acids, melon flavours and a true tang at the finish. Citrus tablet and pears too. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaluigibosca  fwmcan  @LuigiBoscaBodeg  @FWMCan  @BodegaLuigiBosca  @FWMCan

Empanada, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Amalaya Blanco De Corte 2013, Valle De Cafayate, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

The signature, entry-level white blend is torrontés (85 per cent) with riesling. When you think about torrontés as being one of the most floral white grapes this is exactly what you expect. The riesling manages the potpourri with a splash of stone, acidity and ultimately freshness. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Caminito, Buenos Aires

Fincas Las Moras Sea Creatures Lady Blanc (De Blancs) 2018, San Juan, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A curious concoction of trebbiano, chenin blanc and viognier from Tulum in the lower valley of San Juan. White flowers and white fruit fill the air while citrus and grape spirit flavour bring high favour to the fresh and crunchy spirit. Also some verdancy and in the end really likeable. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

A toast in Cafayate

Casa De Uco El Salvaje Blend De Blancs 2017, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A three-pronged blend and élévage from sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and torrontés raised with concrete, oak and steel ferments. Sweet fruit in layers, quite floral and triply aromatic, easy, balanced and with resdiual sugar mitigated by near equal acidity. The new appellative Uco Valley blend. Peak effect. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  casadeuco  @CasadeUco  @CasadeUco

Snacks at Bodega DiamAndes

Masi Tupungato Passo Blanco 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The connective tissue is altitude at 1,100m to tie pinot gris (60 per cent) with torrontés done up with some dried grape appassimento styling. High ion dry extract, creeping up there in glycerin and though low in acidity it’s quite rich, stylish and persistent. Drink 2018-2019. Tasted November 2018  masitupungato  masicanada  @MrAmaroneMasi  @MasiWineExperience  

Jamon at Bosca

Luigi Bosca A Rosé Is A Rosé Is A Rosé 2018, Wine of Argentina (553032, $19.95, WineAlign)

Drawn from Maipu, 60 per cent pinot noir with (40) pinot gris. Lithe, rusty, low in alcohol, tangy and fresh. Very citrus, very vin gris, very serviceable and lovely in its saltiness. Solid. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

BBQ at El Esteco

El Esteco Blanc de Noirs 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A table wine raised 50-50 in concrete eggs and stainless steel, Rosé by nature, freshness wholly preserved and tannins very much apart of the mix. Ever bearing for strawberries and with a real lemon citrus bend. The dry extract-tannic effort is more than notable. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Malbec

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Malbec 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (379313, $34.95, WineAlign)

A malbec from which only the highly concentrated dry-skin maceration is sent straight to 225L barrels for fermentation. The time was a precise one, eight months plus one week and taken out on November 22nd. The Hobbsian obsession of full out expression is on full display, with fruit bombing the senses in hyper-real layers of bright intensity. Locked in, big, bountiful and moving. Gets in and attacks the olfactory nerves with purpose, like smelling salts, as only Patagonian malbec can do. A truly polished wine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

With Rocío Campoy Morist, Alta Vista and Carla Castorina, Trapiche

Trapiche Medalla Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (547869, $17.00, WineAlign)

This grippy middle tier Uco malbec is rich in chocolate and spice supplied by generous oak and 40-plus year-old vines. Earth is the catalyst for character a bit scorched and also lending a particular brand of Mendoza funk. Certainly malbec of a combined wisdom and personality to separate itself from other high-volume lots. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Fuego Blanco Malbec Flintstone 2016, Do Valle Del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

More or less at 1,500m and 800 kms south of Salta from the extreme climate of San Juan, here’s a brooding, able-bodied and highly hematic malbec. The glass is a bit reductive-effluent so work with it but it’s really quite stubborn and an earthy-worthy malbec with a bit of green meets paratrophic funk. Lower alcohol, pH and acidity, higher learning and curiosity.Then again it’s 70 per cent fermented in concrete egg so that explains quite a bit. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  fuegoblancowines  Fuego Blanco

Don Julio, Buenos Aires

Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo Reserva Malbec 2017, San Patricio Del Chañar, Neuquen, Patagonia, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A warm location, even in Patagonia, low in altitude. At 350m and a wine that explains why malbec is planted everywhere, because it’s one that matches latitude and altitude to climate. Moderate alcohol and acidity comes explosively out of high pH and the overall feeling of sweet fruit, more fruit and all fruit. A very familiar and comforting red. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  findelmundowines  @BodFinDelMundo  Bodega Del Fin del Mundo

Caminito, Buenos Aires

Lamadrid Single Vineyard Gran Reserva Malbec 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (375485, $25.95, WineAlign)

Middle of the numbers road in every way, alcohol, acidity and pH. MOR in so many stylistic and emotional response respects. It’s sweetly fruity, somewhat salty, full, rich, thick and perched comfortably in balance right on the median line. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  lamadridwines  @LamadridEstate  Lamadrid Estate Wines

Beef tartar, egg yolk, pickles, soy, Azafrán, Mendoza

Hector Durigutti HD Reserva Malbec 2016, Paraje Altamira, San Carlos, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (322735, $34.95, WineAlign)

From a 1955 planted vineyard at 1,150m. Rich but also salty, really giving you the feeling of ripeness and elasticity. It’s made in just a minor reductive way that supports the fruit and then in terms of tannin goes through this chalky texture influx for structure. So very interesting. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  hectordurigutti  duriguttiwinemakers  @HectorDurigutti  @DuriguttiWines  Hector Durigutti  DURIGUTTI Winemakers 

The boys of Ama Always, Michael Mizzi and Alexander Raphael

Finca Decero Malbec Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (195677, $25.99, WineAlign)

From the vineyard of mini whirlwinds that twirl on a site where many of these little gusts of air stir up the bare earth into dancing spiral forms. More floral than both the syrah and the cabernet sauvignon. Violets certainly come to mind. Smooth and the flavour is almost candied rose petal with oak integration providing a finishing spice. Very smooth wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Malbec Classico 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“The idea of this line of varietal wines is drinkability, to maintain freshness and fruitiness,” explains Christian Magnenat. Sottano’s is simple, correct malbec, of dark red fruit, balanced, drawn from many disparate, moving and amalgamated vineyard parts. From here, Agrelo, Uco Valey and others. Slightly astringent finish. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Roasted rabbit, bacon, black radish, Azafrán, Mendoza

Vicentin Blend de Malbecs 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (299735, $19.95, WineAlign)

The core wine of Vicentin, it’s dark, hematic and so very sheathed in many barrels of all shapes, sizes and origins. Full and completely structured malbec constructed out of 60 per cent (on average) new barrels. Again the palate takes it to a better place, namely because of texture and then the concentration takes over with some bitters on the finish. Yes it surely is a power pumped wine. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury

Vicentin Colosso V 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

This 100 per cent malbec is all resinous oak, soupy umami aromas and syrupy flavours. Cedar, rosemary, tobacco and really high toned acidity. It’s kind of akin to a Chuck Wagner meets Rioja with plenty of residual sugar. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Malbec Judas 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

A blend of malbecs that was a single-vineyard wine. Quite resinous and sinewy, of great depth, some violet florality and much ado about high-toned acidity meeting deep woody notes. Once again more astringency but balanced by the smooth consistency. Clearly a step up in ambition and quality. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Beef at Bosca

Luigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Old Vines Malbec 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The PS or Private Selection puts a focus on young wines of fresh fruit character. From the oldest vines (35 years-old) in La Linda, the highest area of Luján de Cuyo. A smoky, charred, grilled herbs and garriga multiplicity in character. It’s true Criolla plant garrique, bushy and fragrant with dark raspberry fruit, juicy acidity and spicy bite. All in balance. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bosca Empanadas

Luigi Bosca Malbec DOC 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (452672, $18.95, WineAlign)

The DOC was established in 1989 and this icon of a malbec was first produced in 1991. From Luján de Cuyo fruit, remarkably rich and emblematic for the whole of Mendoza Province. Just what you expect, need and could ever want without an ounce of pretence or ambition. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Tortilla at Bosca

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $32.95, WineAlign)

From 70 year-old vines in Valle de Uco with lowest of low yields so that one vine does not even function to produce a whole bottle. From the same genetic cutting materials, massal selection of the DOC malbec, but with obvious concentration and specificity. So much more floral, of a baking spice and a fruit intensity that truly is the bomb. An implosive wine with modesty, purity and a 40 per cent oak housing. Big and balanced with great structure and tannins that invoke seven senses. Put some aside and we’ll have some further discussions in 10 years. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2018

Yann Janvier – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Domaine Bousquet Malbec 2018, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (160952, $13.95, WineAlign)

Draws fruit from Paraje Altamira and Gualtallary, no oak, simply in stainless. Fresh and equally savoury, relative concentration and simple in effusive red fruit. Really negligible tannins and a sweet as opposed to astringent finish. Perhaps the best vintage ever for this entry-level malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018   domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Flank Steak, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Malbec Grande Reserve Vino Orgánico 2015, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The top tier malbec is a full barrel seasoned one though no new oak, with five per cent each cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah blended in. Reduction and spice are dominant but true blue black fruit layers, lingers and lurks. High-toned overview above and beyond the cimmerian aspect so it’s just a matter of time before the slope adjusts and the fruit takes control. Violets meet deep savour with mid-term age probability a real opportunity. Quite taut and spicy, a true testament to mixing fruit from Tupungato and Guatallary. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Julianne Pons, Bodega DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Malbec 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (404145, $23.25, WineAlign)

Harvested between March 18th and April 16th, this style of malbec is certainly gone for broke in 30 per cent new French oak for 12 months. There is less savour and more sweetness in both the fruit and the tannins and while it’s certainly the typical and the archetypal for the Uco Valley, it’s not quite as complex as the cabernet. It’s splitting hairs to say so but to be honest this is the wine to drink now and for three to five years while the cabernet and its great structure will go longer. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Beef, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Amalaya Malbec 2017, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $19.99, WineAlign)

The flagship red in the Amalaya/Donald Hess property in Salta from high altitude in the northern Calchaquí Valley is a rich and concentrated wine heading towards these eastern foothills of the Andes mountain range. Dominated by malbec with cabernet sauvignon (10 per cent) and (5) petit verdot. Rich, succinct and driven by solar radiated concentration. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

With Marilyne Demandre, WOFA Canada in Salta Province

Colomé Malbec Lote Especial La Brava 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $29.99, WineAlign)

From a mainly sandy soil with small gravel pebbles at 1,700m and one of three site specific Colomé malbec investigations. The combination of flavour concentration and saltiness is exceptional in a wine fully equipped with solar radiation, acidity preserving temperature fluctuations and altitude enlivening libido. The combination of fruit layering and tannic structure is nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Smelling the Garrigue at Amalaya

Colomé Malbec Lote Especial El Arenal 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (575290, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard here is at 2,600m and the first vineyard purchased by Donald Hess, in a place and at an altitude that did not yet exist in Argentina. So the question is what does an added 300m (and 900 as compared to La Brava) bring to malbec? The answer is simply more of everything but especially concentration. This is smoother and more silk-textured, with less high-tonality and more Napa like consistency. It’s certainly the richest and most consumer friendly. Drink 2019-2024.  Last tasted November 2018

El Arenal is the pinpointed location for Colomé’s deep, dark and delicious malbec, especially for the Calchaquí-Salta locale. A warmth by vintage and richness by extraction has matched the saltiness of the air and the aridity of the place. The lengthy finish is notable and fruit persevering. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Quebrada de las Conchas

Colomé Estate Malbec 2016, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (477315, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Estate gathering draws from all three Lote Especial vineyards (La Brava, Colomé and El Arenal) plus fruit from Altura Maxima at 3,100. Bring them all together and the broadest expression with the middle ground concentration and the fullest texture is realized. It’s a cooler, more savoury malbec with a balance of richness and high tonality. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Canadians at Tres Cruces

Bodega Colomé Malbec Autentico 2017, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This malbec is drawn from 2,300m of altitude and the vineyard of oldest vineyards raised with no oak, only stainless steel. The idea is “the typical malbec from the Valle de Calchaquí.” The vineyards are pre-phylloxera and the wine is naked to the world, fresh and floral, salty, tangy, tart and quite intense. It’s even more rugged and rustic than expected but rich and full of possibilities. Peppery too in a reductive meets carbonic way. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Steaks at Don Julio

Colomé Malbec Altura Maxima 2015, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From the Donald Hess farm purchased in 2005, with plantings between 3,000 and 3,200m of altitude. The extreme nature of this (and some of Argentina’s) highest of estate vineyards means frost and hail are very much apart of the challenge. And when you taste it side by each with the three Lote Especial malbecs you see that it is something very different indeed. The floral aspect is dramatic and the flavours the most intense. The saltiness and high tonality are off the charts. This will age for two decades without pause. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2018

El Esteco

El Esteco Malbec 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From two terroirs, Punco and Cafayate, aged in second and third passage oak barrels. Like blackberries and Yerba Seca, a native savoury brushy herb that grows in this cactus populated desert. So reminds of sage pointed reds from the Okanagan Valley, albeit with more brine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  philippedandurandwines  @ElEstecoWines  @Dandurandwines  @elestecowines  @VinsPhilippeDandurand  

With John Malinski, Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Malbec 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Malbec at 6,000 feet on a gentle rising slope in Cafayate is aged for nine months in only American barrels. Few malbec are clothed with as much barrel class in a Rioja way as this and no French is used, namely because of cost in a much larger production wine. The oak is done to bury the pyrazines and it works like a charm. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

New Piattelli Vineyards planting in the high altitude desert of the Calchaqui Valley

Piattelli Vineyards Gran Reserve Malbec 2016, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

In this version of Piatelli’s high altitude malbec the components are all bigger, stringer, faster and of specs where pH, alcohol, glycerin and also acidity are all elevated. The Grand Reserve sees both American and French oak and for 13 months time. The Spanish connection, whether it be Ribera del Duero or Montsant is evident in polish, silky texture, vanilla and liquid graphite. Very sweet black cherry, pencil shavings and even a note of cigar. Chalky, earthy finish. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Clásico 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Approximately 20 per cent of the fruit comes from the Uco Valley with the yeoman’s work provided by vines grown in Luján de Cuyo. What the house considers as a good vintage with a great 2018 looming on the horizon. At present a bit peppery-rubber stamped reductive so truly a baby with grip and concentrated liqueur. Strange in how it reminds of Western Cape syrah and ultimately solicits an expression of wow. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  altoslashormigas  @ALHmalbec  @ALTOSLASHORMIGASWINERY

At Luigi Bosca

Navarro Correas Reserva Malbec Selección Del Parcelas 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The reserve malbec story is a three-fold one, from three blocks each no bigger than two hectares; La Consulta (San Carlos, Uco Valley), Los Árboles (Tunuyán, Uco Valley) and Agrelo (Luján de Cuyo). Each adds their own piece into the puzzle, from florals through red fruit to cool savour. Adds up to a layered malbec big in fruit, acidity and bones. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

An excited Yann Janvier eyeing dinner at Luigi Bosca

Pascual Toso Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (35170, $14.25, WineAlign)

If you are looking for a malbec on the spectrum that is brighter and lighter with properly and wisely integrated wood into that effulgent fruit, here is your $14 best bet. The Mendoza malbec tenets of smoky and spicy are quite subtle and fruit stands out, ushered along by a calming and supportive energy. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted March and November 2018

Fritters at Bosca

Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (118067, $19.95, WineAlign)

A blend of several properties’ fruit though 70-80 per cent comes from vines growing in 40 vineyards situated in Luján de Cuyo. A big sweet fruit and high acidity bomb meeting at the intersection of grip and freshness. The blend of sites amalgamates and mediates to spread great malbec love for all to share. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Salad at Luigi Bosca

Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza (123729, $39.95, WineAlign)

Not the easiest vintage to deal with but the low quantity of fruit availability surely means quality of the highest order and a malbec here that could never be accused of flat, peppery or fat. The Luján de Cuyo fruit from four farmed estate vineyards is 100 per cent all in for a true to terroir malbec that even Paul Hobbs can’t override, no matter how hard he and his team might try. The accessibility playing field is levelled by an intensity built by alternating stratifying layers of acidity and structure. Smoke, smoulder, spice and then patience move from availability through need. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury and Marilyne Demandre, Buenos Aires

Bodegas Bianchi Finca Los Primos Malbec 2018, Mendoza, Argentina (572123, $12.40, WineAlign)

Made from 100 per cent San Raphael fruit on alluvial soils with clay. Leads to great malbec depth plus surely hematic pulse and strength. It’s red fruit albeit highly concentrated, extracted, intense, spicy, smoky and full. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Andeluna Malbec Altitud 2016, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $25.99, WineAlign)

Fruit is 100 per cent Gualtallary and yes Altitud is a factor of a rise towards the Andean wall. More than altitude this malbec carries attitude, in good solid grip and firm intensity. A very meaty malbec, pitchy and sure of itself in every respect. These Tupungato soils give way top some pretty heady and deeply satisfying red fruit, especially malbec. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodega Atamisque Serbal Malbec 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (444737, $15.95, WineAlign)

Simply stated pinot noir of strawberry red fruit, a fluff of spice and ultimately easy to comprehend. Highly drinkable stuff that speaks a varietal language with obviousness and without complication. Nothing more needs top be said. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Zuccardi Polígonos 2016, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (568915 $29.95, WineAlign)

The Vinos de Montaña line from Zuccardi employs the name Poigomnos to refer to the many sides of a vineyard, also mimicked by Seb Zuccardi in his drive to celebrate micro-vinifications and the new diversity of Mendoza terroirs. The soils are alluvial and very stony, an elemental-mineral transference fact that needs to be contemplated and copnsidered within the context of a malbec effect and from this place in San Pablo, Uco Valley. This is in fact a different sort, from pyrazine to pepperoncino, dry, tannic and unique in its new spark of dark fruit. Quite remarkable for its ulterior motive and unique way of speaking for both the specific place and the estate. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018   zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Cecilia Carrasco, Zuccardi and Julia Halupczok, Finca Sophenia

Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2017, Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (455774 $39.95, WineAlign)

Concreto as noted and understood is a malbec raised only in concrete and not a barrel, stave or chip to be found anywhere near the purity of this fruit. Paraje Altamira is the pinpointed location and one of the Uco Valleys great new frontiers at 1,100masl. The spot is a spectacular alluvial fan laid out beneath the Andes and a certain depth meets richness of red fruit abounds, accented or rather accentuated by Zuccardi’s use of concrete vats. A very fine liqueur is the result and if the ’16 was thought to be luxe, this next step (and warmer, more nurturing vintage) brings malbec into luxury, bordering on hedonism. But it’s pure, exacting and transparent. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Sophenia Estate Wine Malbec 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

All estate fruit from vineyards at 1,200masl surrounding the winery in Gualtallary. Winemaker Julia Halupczok brings out the sweetest red fruit of simple purity and pleasure, augmented with mild oak spice. Gracious, generous and in the end, grateful for such a malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (640854, $17.95, WineAlign)

Located at one of Mendoza’s highest altitude terroirs at upwards of 1,300m in the Uco Valley. Mostly older (third use) barrels bring a combination of peppery reduction and oak accented spice. Actually a bit quiet to begin and then the fits, jolts and sparks begin to announce the presence of pent up energy and near aggression. This will take a couple of years to settle, unfold and allow the protected fruit to speak up. That it will, with good grip and even better structure. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Cabernet Franc

Zuccardi Cabernet Franc Polígonos 2017, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Polígonos exploration is a many vineyard sided affair and the altitude is significant at 1,300m from San Pablo in Valle de Uco, Mendoza. A relatively early pick preserves nigh high acidity and the alcohol is beautifully restrained. Just a hint of dusty, pyrazine edgy fruitiness drives the machine and keeps this pulsing with terrific energy. Both food amenability and aging potential here are excellent. If it’s verdant that’s a compliment to local character. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Rocío Campoy Morist, Alta Vista

Alta Vista Premium Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (609081 $17.95, WineAlign)

The estate’s highest vineyards are the source for this beautifully pungent cabernet franc and strike another notch on the varietal card for growing this is in the right spots in Mendoza. It’s a dark fruit expression with high and mighty acidity to find equitable footing. The tangy, tart and intense acidulated liquidity really drives the point even if the woody aspects are just a bit up and above what would make this nearly complete. So drinkable and offering up great interest nonetheless and completely understandable for its style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October and November 2018  bodegaaltavista  hhdwines  @bodegaaltavista  @HHDImports_Wine  @BodegaAltaVista  @HHDImportsInc

Trivento Cabernet Franc Golden Reserve Black Edition 2017, Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Made by winemaker Germán Di Césare there is a respect for land (alluvial, sand and some lime) but also for varietal. It’s well-endowed, juicy, plummy and full flavoured though it’s oaky tendencies are quietly respectful as well. The tone of the wine hums and resonates with ambience in complete control. It’s really quite fine and just about to enter its perfectly integrated, resolved and balanced window. High acidity example and wouldn’t hurt to settle for just a few more months. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  triventoarg  triventoarg  #escaladewines  @Trivento   @TriventoArg  @TriventoCanada

Bodega Andeluna Cabernet Franc Pasionado 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $54.99, WineAlign)

Classic Uco terroir at high altitude (1,300m) that mixes alluvial soils with sand, limestone and here loam make for a pretty subtle rendition in terms of cabernet franc. That’s especially true when you consider the small vessels used (225L barrels) and much of it new. You feel the wood in vanilla and berry coulis, a bit of spice and liquified graphite. Quite a molten flow this cabernet franc and with demanding quality in its tannins. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted November 2018 bodegaandeluna  stemwinegroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @StemWineGroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @stemwine

snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Escorihuela Gascón Pequeñas Producciones Cabernet Franc 2016, San José De Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At just under 1,100m this from Matias Ciciani is Mendoza tradition in a varietal glass. There is a later picked, well-extracted feel to the fruit, with a dried component, though plenty of freshness is maintained. It feels like oxygen was introduced to this at the correct time and so it’s developed, ready but also protected from advancing too quickly. Lovely wine with some firm grip and tension inits structure. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  escorihuelag  @Escorihuelag  Escorihuela Gascón

Godello post masterclass on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemkaer Andreas Vignoni

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Franc Chañares Estate 2016, Los árboles, Tunuyán, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At just under 1,200m, off of well-drained alluvial soils with a good presence of larger stones and pebbles. From an El Niño season of extra rainfall, this is still certainly polished and endowed with a fully rendered liqueur. The varietal character is there though early on it’s behind the veil of wood. Big structure, concrete architecture and timeless really. The Chañares Estate in Los Árboles is clearly capable of delivering one of Argentina’s great cabernet franc terroirs. While this is surely an impressive Uco Valley red the story of varietal and place is yet to truly be told. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Filet Mignon, pumpkin and white chocolate purée, criolla sauce with black olives, pan-seared potato and sea asparagus, Finca Decero

Finca Decero Cabernet Franc Mini Ediciones Remolinos Vineyard 2017, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

The simple and emotional response to this special effort is more cabernet franc, in Remolinos, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo please. Varietal notability for sure with more than ample barrel smoothing and gentle spice character. Tannins are bigger and more grippy than you might think. Plenty of age potential here. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Vicentin Dorado Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Labeled the “Tiger of the Rivers” it reeks of American oak, welling with vanilla, lavender and graphite. Couldn’t pick this out as a cabernet franc blind because all varietal notes, Loire, Mendoza or anywhere are hidden behind the Silver Oak meets Rioja sheathing. The palate is an improvement with good savoury flavours, even a squeeze of fresh pomegranate but the acidity is a conundrum. Where are the realities of place? Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  vicentinfw  @carotizio ‏ Vicentin Wines

Vicentin Banda de Los Tres Sucios Se Busca Vino/Sin Tomar El Tramposo Cabernet Franc Peligroso E Imparable 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Now 18 months in barrel, the name is the Cheater and the band of three; cheater, smuggler and renegade. It’s all oak and more oak with almost no cabernet franc character. It’s red fruit with green, tobacco and concentrated variabilities. Mostly French and some (20 per cent) American oak. Not much linger or staying power in terms of the finish. Whimsy without equitable substance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Carrot at Decero

Argento Reserva Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $18.99, WineAlign)

A beautiful freshness here without too much barrel sheathing, in and out of second and third passage wood. A gainfully employed and effective franc, true to varietal, crunchy and quite serious for value. Incidentally Argento is from the owners of Uruguay’s Bodega Garzón, Chianti Classico’s Dievole and Montalcino’s Podere Brizio. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaargento  profilewinegroup  @BodegaArgento  @ProfileWineGrp  @bodegaargento  @ProfileWineGroup

Cabernet Sauvignon

Familia Schroeder Saurus Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

After tasting a few examples of the Paul Hobbs influence on these Patagonian wines it is quite clear just how evident there is this smooth consistency of style. Big time ripe fruit, darkening as per varietal and here a sense of cured salumi, all in, no holds barred and also fully developed and rendered texture. That factor times purity allows this to lean linear almost into elegant. Warm, comforting and then with rendered spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon Alta Barrancas Vineyards 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (261958, $33.95, WineAlign)

How deep is the impact from the altitude out of this part of Mendoza? Deep as it is wide, from every corner abutting and always facing the wall of the Andes. Even at a low steppe like Maipú. Plenty of barrel style here, mixed with a cool vintage and so the pH is low in such a tricky year. Acidity is high and it’s pretty darn fresh considering the oak. From 700-800m, very floral and so all the parts are somewhat confounding yet also remind of Rioja tempranillo. This needs a few years to settle down. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted November 2018  pascualtoso  eurovintage  @PascualToso  @Eurovintage  @pascualtosowinesargentina  @Eurovintage

Aldo’s, Buenos Aires

Familia Schroeder Cabernet Sauvignon Saurus 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

Schroeder is a Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost and across the board they are truly smooth, cool and polished wines. Tasted after the pinot noir and malbec we see by now the consistency of style and with great evidence. Big time ripe and dark varietal fruit, salumi accents, all in, no holds barred and a cool factor with texture times purity. It finds its way through the ooze to act linear and come out quite elegant. In the end it warms and brings much comfort, finishing with a rendering and lingering spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines  @SchroederWines  @stemaren  @BodegaFamiliaSchroeder

Tasting at Sottano

Sottano Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (324707, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sottano’s cabernet sauvignon exhibits less of an oak influence or exaggeration, especially not a hinderance or a matter of make up. Smells like cabernet sauvignon with loads of ribena and black currant on top of each other and then the oak really takes over. Half of the grapes are estate and the other half Altamira in Uco Valley. Not so much a terroir investigation as it is a thing of Mendozan assemblage. It’s far from elegant but it is creamy smooth and velvety, if not the best wine thus far in the portfolio. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Dessert at Decero

Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon Signature 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (260919, $19.95, WineAlign)

From a wet year but locales with good exposure and drainage fared quite well. Regardless here is a rich, grippy and powerful cabernet sauvignon (with five per cent franc), of high natural acidity and cumulative depth. The parcels are Uco Valley and Los Arboles just below Gaultallary. Chocolate is cut by a rocky streak from fruit grown over a dry river bed with stones, quite the opposite from Agrelo. It’s a veritable expression of a unique set of alluvial and stony soils. Excellent work to bring out a sense of place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  susanabalbowines  profilewinegroup  @sbalbowines  @ProfileWineGrp  @SusanaBalboWines  Susana Balbo  @ProfileWineGroup

With Soledad Juncosa, WOFA

Sophenia Cabernet Sauvignon Synthesis 2014, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A wine made by Julia Hulupczok and Matiás Michelini. From a wild vineyard upwards of 1,300m where ripening is a challenge and tannins can be formidable. There’s a greenness to be sure and yet also a subtle grace about it. A different structure, impossibly dichotic and surely one you would not have found in Argentina just 10 years ago. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2018  fincasophenia  @FincaSophenia  @Juliahilux  @FincaSopheniaWines  Julia Halupczok

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Sauvignon Marchiori Estate 2015Perdriel, Luján de Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $119.00, WineAlign)

At 1,000m few other cabernet wines out of Valle de Uco will deliver such concentration and polish. It’s also huge in acidity, grippy tannin and overall structure. Almost two-thirds new oak is used and the fortunate thing is really the highest quality fruit able to withstand this woody onslaught. Deep soils work hard for vines less than 25 years old, the upper strata built of clay-loam to sandy-loam and the substrata of river-washed cobbles and round stones. It was an early ripening vintage with harvest temperatures above the historical record. Not surprising to receive such a massive, not so much brooding but more like a swagger of attitude in a cabernet that can go the distance. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Lunch, El Esteco

Bodega El Esteco Finca Notables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

In addition to a more “generalized” cabernet sauvignon, which is so odd to say when you consider the extreme altitude as its source, nevertheless this is the other one from El Esteco and Peñaflor. A single-vineyard draw from an “Alturas” block at 1,700m in the Valles Calchaquíes from winemaker Alejandro Pepa, the lowest of yields, off of deep loamy and sandy soil. Very tart, tight, taut, almost reductive, peppery and really herbal cabernet sauvignon. A true mildly sweet liqueur bitters red, of dark fruit and iodine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  #mondiaalliance  @ElEstecoWines  @Mondia_Alliance  @elestecowines  @mondiaalliance

Finca El Origen Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (128991, $15.95, WineAlign)

Grapes are taken from La Esperanza in Vista Flores at 1,200m. Very spicy cabernet sauvignon, with some verdant pyrazine and also high toned, smoky bites and lots of chocolate. Very different winemaking style and from notable pH into edgy, volatile acidity with some dried fruit, raisin character. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  fincaelorigen  chartonhobbs  @Fincaelorigen  @ChartonHobbs  @fincaelorigen  Charton Hobbs Canada

snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon Terroir Series Editíon Limitada Finca Laborde 2013, La Consulta, San Carlos, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At nearly 1,000m and a very high-toned cabernet with grippy acidity and still raging tannins. The 18 months in barrel will take at least three times that amount to integrate, settle and slip into a balanced state of grace. So I’d look to 2020 or so before imagining that transformation to have really begun. Chocolate is all over the finish, in fact it begins deep in the recesses of the mid palate. Drink 2020-2027.   Tasted November 2018  trapichewines  trapichearg  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines  @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand  

Juan E. Marcó CEO, Finca Decero

Finca Decero Cabernet Sauvignon Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (195677, $23.99, WineAlign)

Deep fruit meets savour and takes the time to enjoy a cup of coffee. In cabernet sauvignon you get a sense of the barrel but also the shrubs that grew here before the vineyard was planted. It’s a very transparent varietal wine that acts like a window to the terroir. A bit chewy and yet also soft for a very pleasant mouthfeel. Perfectly lengthy in the grown at altitude varietal way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Marilyn Demandre, DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Harvested on April 22nd. A gone for it style of cabernet sauvignon in 30 per cent new French oak for 12 months, fully purposed alcohol and ripeness at the threshold of the Andes’ foothills. Big wine, full malo, extracted and concentrated. This is cabernet sauvignon for real, in the big league, time and place. It could only be Valle de Uco. Truly. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

With Yann Janvier, El Esteco

Bodega El Esteco Finca Notables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The pyrazine factor runs high though in red bell pepper as opposed to green and the sweet fruit is very cherry, tangy, tart and in hard candy form. The closest comparison would be Australian, namely Langhorne Creek or Adelaide Hills, with a bit of Coonawarra in its rosa feel. Deeply savoury. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From the high altitude vineyards in Cafayate aged in both French and American barrels. It’s a polished and highly correct cabernet from the most arid of world climates, where at up to 2,000m solar radiation is the real deal. Ripe, savoury and adjustable in every way. The savoury verdancy is the complexity that raises the bar for this particular varietal wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Argento Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (164764, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like the cabernet franc the treatment is a stainless ferment followed by a three-quarter aging in older (two and three year-old barrels) plus one-quarter kept in steel. Luján de Cuyo and Ugarteche are the sources for this reductive, hematic and highly savoury cabernet sauvignon. There’s a depth in its character and an ability of mildly if notably structured tannins. Trades the sister franc’s freshness for grip. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Paul Madden

Navarro Correas Alegoría Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

From Agrelo’s rising flats in the 900m range and a true varietal wine of Cassis and Ribena with plenty of brushy savour. Plenty of spice, tobacco smoulder and freshly ground peppery jolts from a winemaker who really likes wood and knows how to use it. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Cruz De Piedra, Mendoza, Argentina (292110, $15.50, WineAlign)

From Maipú a cabernet notched into stainless steel followed by 50-50 French and American wood of second and third passage. Delicate red fruit is treated to a shift towards reduction, of graphite and vanilla, spice and red liquorice. Sweetly fruity and silky smooth. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Sophenia Estate Wine Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Transparently varietal wine and yet just like the malbec; 100 per cent estate vines in Gualtallary, sweet red fruit, gerenous and gracious. The conclusion quickly ascertained is of a winemaker asking for the terroir to be given its due. This 1,200m place talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s lightning struck red fruit, tart, with currants and a liquid chalky feel. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Other Reds and Blends

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (55442, $23.95, WineAlign)

Sauras makes reference to fossilized dinosaur bones found at the winery right at the surface of the Patagonian terroir. Schroeder’s is effusive pinot noir with a cured salumi character, from a dry and windy place where rainfall is curiously scarce. It has that lack of watering, needing to struggle personality. There is a lovely bit of dusty volatility and an acidity-tension pull. Sweet red fruit, indicative of strawberry and a maritime moment of ripeness make for a perfect entry into the regional ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodega Atamisque Serbal Pinot Noir 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Simply stated pinot noir of strawberry red fruit, a fluff of spice and ultimately easy to comprehend. Highly drinkable stuff that speaks a varietal language with obviousness and without complication. Nothing more needs top be said. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaatamisque  #MCOwines    Bodega Atamisque

Finca Decero Syrah Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Remolinos Vineyard is the place of the “tiny whirlwinds,” grown on bare land where only wild shrubs grew. At 3,500 feet (1,050 meters) it is Agrelo’s highest plateau and its syrah is round, full and welling with some iodine and a hematoma of dark fruit. Soft actually with a proper balance in acidity and unaggressive tannins. An absence of meaty, charred or cured character is noted. Quite a pure expression of the vineyard, in a Hobbsian style, at least in terms of syrah. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  fincadecero  liffordgram  @FincaDecero  @LiffordON  Finca Decero  Lifford Wine and Spirits

Yann Janvier

Finca Decero Petit Verdot Mini Ediciones Remolinos Vineyard 2014, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $44.99, WineAlign)

The fruit is different here, almost tropical and certainly developed. Plum, pomegranate, apricot and quince, even persimmon, hung to dry and allowed to turn intensely fruity-tangy-leathery with time. Great acidity, big time grip and lots of forward thinking purpose. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Tourists in BA, with Paul Madden and Marilyn Demandre

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Clasica 2018, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Vines are grown in the Pergola method to protect the vulnerable bonarda from direct sunlight. Organic (though label certification will begin on the 2019 label). Early ripening and in fact was picked on February 23rd for a deeply rendered and pitchy red with briny acidity and subtle, if fine and supple tannin. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Decero Amano Remolinos Vineyard 2014, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (270975, $79.99, WineAlign)

The top wine of the estate, the great blend driven by malbec (approx. 66 per cent), with (25) cabernet savignon and smaller percentages of petit verdot and tannat. Lots of clonal material from B1 and B2 malbec blocks in one of the biggest, broadest and most hematic wines around. Smooth, polished and clearly the hedonistic one of the line-up. For the owner, the owner’s cronies and every restaurant list that sells iconic, big bottles. Big, bold flavours as king of the hill at the top of the heap. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Reserva Blend 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“The influence of oak is meritorious,” it is said at the tasting table, in this case 12 months in new and second use barrels, plus several months more in bottle before release. All three oaks are employed; 60-70 per cent French plus American and Hungarian. Includes up to 20 per cent cabernet sauvignon and franc. Also contains malbec from Vista Flores. The aromas are violets, all berries, bitters and simple syrup. Polished and built as a liqueur of a red blend that solves the business equation of supply and demand, in fads and through trends, for what the average consumer is out to buy. A go large red for big box upscale restos, i.e. Milestones and Keg. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Pablo Cúneo, Head Winemaker, Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Smart Blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah & Tannat 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

This Private Selection blend is deeply rendered, hematic with unaggressive pyrazine and pepper purée, so much pepper in every shade and crunchiness. Black fruit everywhere with capsicum bite. Smoky again and the tannat shrinks away in no way at all. Grippy tannins and in the end, a variegated amaro meets roasted bell pepper liqueur. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

With Gabriela Millan, Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Gala 2 DOC, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (542647, $36.95, WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend of two cabernets and merlot, a wine that was first made in 2001. From Vistalba Carodilla y Las Compuertas in Luján de Cuyo. There is a wild berry and peppery aspect, as Bosca wines are always want to be and do. Bountiful and hedonistic but in a very different way than the old vines malbec, now more liqueur and satin texture, with caressing tannins at the iron hand wearing a velvet glove. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Cabernet-Bouschet “Field Blend” 2013Las Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

A field blend that combines cabernet sauvignon with bouschet which is considered an ancient clone of cabernet franc. The smokiness and spice are now joined by a Dry Creek Valley like dried fruit and bramble character. It’s so rich and the oak is really felt. Needs time though it will go umami-oxidative before these fine but demanding tannins fully settle in. It remains to be seen if that perfect optimum balancing point is really possible but it would be so much fun to wait one out and try. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2018

Beef Tenderloin at Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Icono 2011, Las Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The blend is malbec (57 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon, in push-pull, touch and go, ying and yang, fraternal twin relationship struggle. The most liqueur, fructose-pectin personality is how this rolls with texture and viscosity. Once again here is the Bosca peppery character and with more structure meets age probability than any wine in the portfolio. With two years further (than the Field Blend) it is beginning to show its settling but there are at least three more to go before the window will really be open. Will travel in to balsamic and other savoury-umami notes when it does. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2018

Flank Steak, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Gaia Red Blend Vino Orgánico 2017, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The earth is a malbec (50 per cent), syrah (45) and cabernet sauvignon blend. The syrah brings pepper, clove and further edgy baking spice to the red-black fruit malbec. Quite concentrated and while the wood is not over the top it is tipping a bit ahead of all else in a wine trying hard in striving for balance. Juicy and hot at the same time, with high pH and just enough acidity to make it work well with anything pulled from the grill. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  

DiamAndes Gran Reserve Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (295063, $32.95, WineAlign)

The signature red of the estate this is three quarters malbec to one quarter cabernet sauvignon set for 18 months in 100 per cent French oak, 50 per cent new. To say this is lush and ambitious would be an understatement but there is no questioning the quality of the agriculture, the fruit and the use of deep pockets technology. There is also humility within this classic modernism though not yet a true indication of soul. The fineness and the precision are so apparent which leads to believe that the human element noted will mean the epiphanies are coming soon. So much potential to become one of Argentina’s great red blends. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Quebrada de las Conchas

Amalaya Gran Corte 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Malbec is blended with cabernet franc for a most concentrated red of high solar intersection and arid climate where latitude brings ripeness and altitude brings balance. This is the more raisin and dried fruit red in the portfolio. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Pork Steak, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Colomé Lote Especial Tannat 2016, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (575308, $28.95, WineAlign)

As noted in the last vintage tannat is the Calchaquí Valley unicorn. What Colomé seeks is something different and on its own tannat acts with deeper rock salt intent. It’s such a concentrated and severely tannic wine, even more so than in 2015. And that is its trump card and speciality. Needs five years to play nice. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2018

El Esteco

El Esteco Merlot Fincas Notables 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Also from the same 1,700m of altitude in the Calchaquí Valley here merlot takes on the land and arid climate with tomato leaf and red pepper purée. Also quite briny in a southern French, overlooking the Mediterranean way. Quite evolved and a bit oxidative though with high acidity. Unique and ulterior look at merlot. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Lunch at El Esteco

El Esteco Tannat Fincas Notables 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Then there is the tannat effect, tannic effect and the way in which this winery has figured it out. High temperatures, sunshine and altitude can lead this varietal to great heights provided the farming is done right. The freshness is miraculously preserved and though the spice and the tannins are off the charts there is some early noted blackberry and white chocolate grace to its character. These parts will help it stay palatable through its evolutionary processes. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Under the Criolla, El Esteco, Cafayate

El Esteco Altimus Icon Wine 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Altimus “the highest” is a matter of both altitude and the best selection of a harvest’s grapes. Malbec always leads with cabernet sauvignon in support though the other constituents may come from a myriad of other varieties, including and in no particular order cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot, syrah, tannat and bonarda. Meticulous is the operative word for Altimus, the rolled into one icon, flagship and signature wine of the estate, a Salta blend that speaks to heights, solar radiated intensity and the hand to voice experience of winemaker Alejandro Pepa. Ripe, polished and ultimately no expense spared. Argentina’s other hedonism expressed, apposite to Mendoza in every respect, untamed, without reins and unlimited in potential. The pace may need to change but the power here will simply not be denied, like love lying bleeding in hand. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Bad Brothers Wine Experience, Cafayate

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Malbec/Tannat 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Equal parts malbec and tannat from the high altitude vineyards in Cafayate aged for six months in both French and American barrels. The oak takes no time to announce its presence and the fruit is bold, firm, strong and solid as the granite rock beneath its vines. Big bones and components, of pH, in alcohol, some glycerin and all the necessary adjustments. Strong but fine-grain tannins make for a long finish. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Arlene Series Blend 2016, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The flagship wine of the estate and named in honour or proprietor John Malinski’s wife, the blend is dominated by malbec (70 per cent), accentuated by (20) cabernet franc and (10) cabernet sauvignon. It’s both ambitious and scarce, spending 18 months in French and American oaks after some concrete egg fermentation. It’s the best of the best, hand picked berry by berry, painstakingly so by a team of daybreak to dusk workers. Again the dials are set on high, with generous pectic-glycerin and generous acidity. Napa Valley in a Chuck Wagner vein is the ideal but the profile couldn’t be further from that proprietor’s blend  truth. Only 560 cases were produced of this flashy malbec blend with its skin pulled taut and mid-section laced tighter than an impenetrable corset. Plastic surgery in a bottle. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Tupungato

Susana Balbo Brioso 2016, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Brioso might mean enérgico or spirited and this ideal is magnified by “what you can do in a difficult vintage.” Estate single vineyards bring cabernet sauvignon (53 per cent), cabernet franc (24), malbec (16) and petit verdot (13) together for a serious blend. It’s not the round and velvety vintage but rather one so linear, vertical, direct and grippy. Big and structured though quite in balance. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted November 2018

Caminito

Navarro Correas Juan De Dios Gran Vino De Corte 2013, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

An ode to a pioneer whose work dates back to the year 1798, when Juan de Dios Correas planted the first vines in the land of Mendoza. This is the estate’s icon/flaghship wine, blending cabernet sauvignon (82 per cent) with malbec and lending a woodworker’s hand for 18 months in barrel. Spice runs linear and long, flavours stretch elastic and acidity points the fruit towards a far away horizon. With low pH and moderately generous alcohol this is a wine from which the winemaker (Gaspar Roby) needs to have paid great attention ion the vineyard. And he does, that much is clear, as witnessed by pitch perfect ripeness. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Viña Cobos Cocodrilo Corte 2016Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This Paul Hobbs Mendoza foray began in 1999 and the crocodile is a cabernet sauvignon based blend (76 per cent) from estates and vineyards in Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco. The former terroir is fed by the snow-melt of the Andes through the Mendoza River at altitudes ranging from 945-1,100m. The latter’s soils are alluvial, with a subsoil of clay, sand, silt and rock. The supporting varieties are malbec (10 per cent), merlot (nine) plus bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Cocodrilo is all Cassis, rich and concentrated, meant to showcase place, grape and the great possibility/potential of the relationship. As the kingpin in a proprietary blend the cabernet brings blunt smoky and spicy accents, with black currants running through. Meet the new big boss blend, same as the old boss, won’t get fooled again. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bad Brothers, Cafayate

Fincas Las Moras Paz Malbec 2016, San Juan, Argentina (520486, $18.95, WineAlign)

Paz is a 50-50 two cabernets joint from Tulum in San Juan at 650m. A multitude of peppers abounds, red fresh and dried mixed with red berry fruit. Savoury, rich and cool, nearly interchangeable with a similar style on the other side of the Andes. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018 and March 2019  fincalasmoras  univinsetspiritueux  @FincaLasMoras  @UNIVINS  @fincalasmoraswineryCA  

Alexander Raphael in Tupungato

Unanime Gran Vino Tinto 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (466938, $29.95, WineAlign)

The unanimous winemaking decisions about beguiling fruit drawn off Uco Valley sites makes this malbec (60 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (25) and cabernet franc (15) blend a big and generous proposition. That and the heavy times spent in oak for twenty months add up to some serious girth, grip and density. I can’t see this thick and lush concoction moving even an inch in the next few years and it may need seven or more to begin its earliest settling period. Dramatic foreshadowing at its best makes us think there will be interesting times ahead. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted October and November 2018

Outdoor Tasting, Domaine Bousquet

Famiglia Bianchi Nebbiolo Malbec 2015, San Raphael, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

In San Raphael (and including Las Paredes) off of soils of sandy loam and a 50-50 varietal split. Hematic and ferric at the same time, of tar and ripe cherries. Again the extractive factor is not shy, nor is the resulting concentration. Finishes full and downy, with weight and warmth. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Yann Janvier and Godello – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Andeluna Pasionado Quatro Cepas 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $59.99, WineAlign)

The four-poster blend from Gualtallary is led by malbec with support by cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s a big wine filled with extractive liqueur, generously oaked in both French and American wood. Acidity keeps it humming even while it smokes in its cooking ways. Polished and elevated by altitude-driven freshness to mitigate the concentrated fruit and spice welling away in syrupy constitution. While formidable now it will soften and turn into something velvety smooth and rich in chocolate. As for now you’d better locate some salty protein and a decanter. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Andes, DiamAndes

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (620880, $14.95, WineAlign)

Malbec (85 per cent) plus appassimento augmented corvina spent nine months in French oak. So the question begs, why the methodology and Tupungato? The first answer is easy. Masi. The second is about mountains and weather, the Andes and dry heat. The best substitute for Veronese hills are here in the Uco Valley and the result in 2016 (a cool and wet year) means more savour than raisin and more freshness than aridity. If warmer vintages were carefully crafted to mimic 2016 it would all be smooth sailing. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Clos de Los Siete

Clos De Los Siete 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

Three years further and the skies have now opened to retrospectively reveal a fresher vintage. There is a transference now into some dried fruit with sour edging but spoken with that renewed sense of freshness. The ’13 blend is 53/23/12/8/4 for malbec, merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Th elevation of vineyards with their Andean backdrop is noted bow, if not before and so proof that the Clos is a wine of structure and needed patience. Five years is now the harbinger, 10 the ultimate goal.  Last tasted November 2018  closdelossiete  philippedandurandwines  @closdelossiete  @Dandurandwines   @closdelossiete  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Big and bigger, as always, wholly ripe, rich and raging with acidity. Yet somehow the Clos de los Siete finds a way to charm its way through the dark forest and into hearts. Flavour abounds, firmness rules and the finish lasts. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016

Good to go!

godello

Where there’s smoke there’s Godello

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WineAlign

A sound return to North Fork wine

Kontokosta Winery, Greenport, Long Island PHOTO: MICHAEL GODEL

as seen on canada.com

Just under I year ago I trekked to the western reaches of the North Fork wine region of Long Island, N.Y. I visited a few wineries on a spit of land between Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, an area no wider than the geography between the Humber and Don Rivers of Toronto. Tasting sessions at Clovis Point and Palmer Vineyards opened my eyes to the exceptional wines that can be forged from such a rugged landscape and demanding climate.

I returned in 2013 to seek out wines made further east, in Greenport and in Southold. The former, Kontokosta Winery, is a brand new facility just opened in June, 2013 and the latter, Sparkling Pointe, a specialist of Champagne-style fizz. The common thread is winemaker Gilles Martin and a sharp view of the future for the region’s grapes. The wines of New York’s North Fork are piercing, intuitive and kind. They speak of the stark terrain, the abrupt and spontaneous terroirand the eleemosynary earth.

Kontokosta Winery

825 North Road – Rte. 25, Greenport, New York 11944

Brothers Michael and Constantine Kontokosta are the owners of Greenport Long Island’s newest and most easterly winery, alone in Greenport and one of few LEED gold certified wineries in North America. Situated on sixty-two acres, the winery boasts over a quarter-mile of Long Island Sound waterfront. The winery’s sustainable elements include reclaimed wood siding, 90% recycled-content steel, an enormous wind turbine feeding the property energy, xeriscape method landscaping and an organic community garden that support local non-profits.

PHOTO: Michael Godel Kontokosta Winery tasting room exterior

Beginning with the 2012 vintage, the winemaker is Gilles Martin who is rapidly gaining a reputation as North Fork’s go to consultant. The first vines at Kontokosta Winery were planted in 2002 under the guidance of the late Long Island wine pioneer Ray Blum. Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling produce 3,000 cases annually, with some bottlings currently on offer having been fashioned from fruit sourced further west, mainly near Peconic Bay. Eric Fry of Lenz Winery made the wines prior to 2012.

I tasted the wines on Canada Day, July 1st, a mere 18 days after the winery’s opening. Despite such a brief time period of public interaction, Miles Trautman ushered me through with precision and passion. Though I was certainly no John Rambo to his cool, calm and collected colonel, I did my best to gain a true picture of the brother’s philosophy to “combine the latest technological innovations with centuries-old traditions in the cellar to develop and ensure the best expression of the unique Long Island vineyard site.” And by the way, the First Blood reference is real. Trautman is related to the uncle who was the writer’s inspiration for the fictional Richard Crenna chatacter.

PHOTO: kontokostawines.com Kontokosta Winery

Anemometer White NV ($16) combines Sauvignon Blanc from two vintages. The goal here is Loire so for parochial intents and purposes it succeeds. The fruit does yeoman’s works through the albedo of white grapefruit and a citric acid shell. Refreshing and acceptably tart.  86

Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($25) is both ahead of the curve and a harbinger for white vinifera North Fork expectations resulting out of the warm 2012 growing season. Blessed by the luck of an early bud break and wisely picked ahead of Sandy’s torrent. Intimates the tropical flavours of pollarded, fruit trees but also races with vitesse.  89

Orient Chardonnay 2009 ($17) makes use of non-estate purchased fruit from out of the Sargon Vineyard bathed in neutral French oak to achieve an opinionated Chablis termagant in green apple and chèvre. Tongue-tying and teasing metallic but rolls out no stones.  89

Rosé 2011 ($15) is uniquely 100 per cent Merlot and though its girth is diluted by the rains of Irene, the herbiage, strawberry and rhubarb more than make up for the lack of concentration. Made in a decidedly French, dry style. Works the vin de pays grape with ease.  87

Viognier 2010 ($25) excels beyond expectation from one of only two local vineyards extolling the virtues of Condrieu. A touch of tiger balm but certainly not OTT, warm cashew buttery, viscous and radiant. Terrific sense of balance at 13.8 percent out of the maritime vineyards of the North Fork.  91

PHOTO: Michael Godel Kontokosta tasting room

Anemometer Red 2006 ($19) is 100 per cent untrodden Syrah having already laid down long enough to now give of itself. An angel of red raspberry, rhubarb, plum and loose tannin marked by lit charcoal. All told it brings Greek reds to mind, like Agiortiko. “Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere.” Cool Syrah from young vines living beyond its golden years.   89

Merlot ‘Blum’ 2007 ($19) from the late grower’s Ackerly Pond Vineyards achieves toothsome mouthfeel from solid brix and 13.3 per cent Peconic Bay fruit at the hands of the local Long Island AVA pioneer. Here French oak imparts generous vanilla and spice and an ever so slight coat. Sinewy stickum from unresolved tannin settles and fleshes out while in the glass. Ends with a pretty, floral and feminine note. Just now beginning to fade, like the sun over the sound.  89

Merlot Estate 2007 ($29) elevates to 13.9 per cent in estate fruit, seemingly more masculine than the Blum. Richer, fuller in body mass, increased in concentrate.  Akin, if I may, to IGT Merlot, not quite Masseto but Super Tuscan (in hopes and dreams) nonetheless. Struts in increasedstrada tension, acidity and tannin. Less agreeability, more ageability.  90

Cabernet Franc 2007 ($29) remains dark and mysterious under the canopy though light creeps in on the edge of the forest. Spiralling cedars, bough smoke and vanilla from new oak have mellowed into a soft, approachable and aromatic cool climate Cab Franc. A red and black commingling of never too ripe fruit lingers on.  88

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($22) achieves definitive varietal ripeness from what should be a harsh host environment. Soft red berries, an ebullience of ease and suave felt ready this warm vintage red for immediate and only immediate pleasure. Hard to coax much better out of the sand and grass.  88

Sparkling Pointe

39750 County Road 48 Southold, NY 11971

The winery can be found along Long Island’s North Fork Wine Trail and is the sole producer in New York State dedicated to the exclusive production of Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wines. Fully estate grown seen 2007, don’t be fooled by the Brazilian carnival kitsch surrounding the tasting room. These bubbles are refined and serious. Sure, I will admit that Roederer EstateSchramsberg and Domaine Chandon make some terrific wines in the California sun but Sparkling Pointe speaks volumes towards yet another cool-climate region’s reason to make bubbles. If you lead them, they will follow. Look for more fizz on the North Fork in the coming years.

Champagne fans and founders Cynthia and Tom Rosicki manage 29 acres of vineyard, planted with the traditional Champagne grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Their winemaker is North Fork’s super winemaking human Gilles Martin. Tasting room manager Kelsey Cheslock led me through a portfolio of six sparklers, half of which turned my head full round.

PHOTO: Michael Godel Sparkling Pointe

Brut 2009 ($29) goes long on tradition with 59 percent Chardonnay, 31 Pinot Noir and five Pinot Meunier, then bucks the trend by adding five per cent reserve wine into the mix. A fine mousse dissipates in haste from a bottle that had been opened longer than a while. Readied by oak influence with green apple flavour and tropical fruit from the added juice reserves. Despite the heavy rains of the vintage a citrus acidity carries on and the wine is remarkable dry.  88

Blanc de Blancs 2008 ($42) is 100 per cent Chardonnay noticeable in bread, biscuit and yeast. Four years spent on its fine yeast lees leads the toast to a bigger note than the plum fruit but a magnum of grapefruit and its pith are even stronger. Large in breadth and long on depth. Handsome B de B with a hairy chest. Selleckian.  90

Topaz Imperial 2010 ($37) is a dry, rosy Rosé composed of a 55/41 per cent Chardonnay and Pinot mix. Two and a half years spent sur lie here results in more toast, less tart and a vivid display of North Fork salinity. Watermelon, strawberry cream and a savoury note show the finesse, structure and balance of a wholesome, inviting and unintimidating natural wine. Sadly, there were none for sale.  91

Brut Seduction 2003 ($60) is a 51/49 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir mix and most clearly demonstrates the house style. Nuts, yeast bolts and an organoleptic finesse find their way inside this enigmatic fizz. A mature cuveé that would be interesting to taste blind against other house-blend Bruts, like Veuve or Bollinger.  92

Blancs de Noirs 2008 ($75) makes use of the year’s Pinot excess, is the first and only vintage of this Pinot man, with Meunier leading Noir 54 to 46. A copper patina, like a certain style of dry Rosé, shows off the contact with the red skins. Not quite as seductive like the 10 year-old Brut but this one is full frontal fruit with an accent of savoury, smoked meat, slow-roasting over shimmering red coals.  92

Cuveé Cardinal NV ($27) is a rare Merlot (66) and Chardonnay (34) blend, a one-off as the vines are now gone, replaced by Pinots. Flirty and forward with all kinds of fruit. Strawberry and rhubarb from the tangy Merlot, mango and apricot from the soft Chardonnay. Pushes sparkling boundaries, with a bowie knife in hand, in dramatic make-up and alternative dress. “You’ve got your mother in a whirl. She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl,” this rebel rebel.  87

Good to go!