Mr. Pearson’s Opus

David Pearson has been the CEO of Opus One since February of 2004. His job is both simple at heart and complex of mind. Two legendary wine men, California’s Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux’s Baron Philippe de Rothschild combined (in 1978) to create one of Napa Valley’s most iconic wines. “At its core, Opus One is an idea,” relates Mr. Pearson. The wine is a blend of Mondavi and Mouton, a reflection of the character of two families.

Pearson is responsible for all production, marketing, sales and administrative activities at Opus One. He is the caretaker of a single bottle of wine. Can there be another brand, anywhere in the world (not called a First Growth) that carries such weight or specificity of concentration? The job requires serious moxie and intuition. The soft-spoken David Pearson is Opus One. That much is clear. Thirty-five years later “we’re just at the beginning of the process,” explains Pearson, “In evolution, of developing this great marriage.” For the uninitiated, Opus One is a Bordeaux table blend of the traditional five varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, made in a “California style.”

Opus One Vineyard Photo: http://en.opusonewinery.com/

Opus One Vineyard
Photo: http://en.opusonewinery.com/

It started as a pure concept, with no actual vineyard, in the Baron’s bedroom back in the 1970’s. “The wine is a child that resembles its parents,” notes Pearson. He sees its growth has now reached a maturity stage for individual vintages to be judged as either that child or as an adult. Pearson, Craig de Blois and Mark Coster of Noble Estates brought four vintages of Opus One to Luma Restaurant on March 27th. Pearson asked that the group of sommeliers and wine scribes decide which of these wines have left their parent’s home. The exercise seemed simple enough, especially with a level of clarity made readily available by the fact that all four vintages poured were fostered and nurtured by current winemaker Michael Silacci. Silacci joined Opus One in March 2001 as director of viticulture and enology and became winemaker in January of 2004. After tasting a stunning set from 2010, 2009, 2006 and 2001, the solicited clarity was revealed.

All natural acidity, an ever-earlier picking stratagem and less frequent racking define the Opus direction. The Opus team considers their winemaking “minimalist” and though in wine-speak that is certainly a relative term, as a group the wines do present with a meritorious level of fruit purity. That can’t be said for many Napa Valley brands that seek more hedonism than is often necessary. Saying that the price of a bottle is inflated by a historical elevage of personality and fashion branding neither does Opus One an injustice nor does it relegate the commenter as a castaway to a deserted island. Opus One is a brilliant and gorgeous red. It’s also very expensive.

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant Photo: Eric Vellend

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant
Photo: Eric Vellend

In September of 2012 I had the pleasure of tasting the Opus One 1989. My tasting note:

Opus One 1989 Unbelievable. A lesson in Napa iconoclasm. What every great 22-year old New World wine should strive to become. In harmony with every part of itself; fruit, tannin, acidity. Beauty within and without. Dark, sultry, full of all things berry and oak. The full gamut of red and black fruit, vanilla, mocha and chocolate. Like walking into your childhood and being handed the keys to Charlie’s factory. Another M gem.

Notes from the March 2014 tasting: Opus One, Napa Valley (26310, $399.95 – 2009 vintage)

2010 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (84 per cent), Cabernet Franc (5.5), Merlot (5.5), Petit Verdot (4) and Malbec (1). Fiercely approachable, a rope of gemstones falling effortlessly into the palm of a velvet glove. Imminently modern, reeking of toothsome Napa and working without Old World parental support. Dense texture, high acidity and exceptional length. Layers upon layers of fruit powered by audacity and prowess. Even this formidable ’10 will struggle to find immunity from the weird vintage. It’s ripe, anything but green and manages an admirable level of elegance. Lives for today. Will it age like its older siblings? Yes, but not as long.

2009 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (81 per cent), Cabernet Franc (9), Petit Verdot (6), Merlot (3) and Malbec (1). The immediate and obvious cerebration is all about its incredible sense of balance. A garden of perfume, the most Bordeaux-bent of the tasting and a mineral reverberation carried on through a seemingly never-ending finish. Blessed by a long and sweet chain of tannin. This ’09 has that Mediterranean brush stroke of garrigue and black olive smothered by a smear of sun-drenched California fruit. Another challenging vintage where picking time was so crucial. That September 21st to October 20th window must have been the right one.

Opus One Bottle

2006 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (77 per cent), Merlot (12), Cabernet Franc (5), Petit Verdot (3) and Malbec (3). A kinaesthesia with age is sent forward by the tertiary complexity of its make-up. Dusty, still marked by acidity, along with a note of toffee and a raisining of the fruit. Savoury too, in gentle middle-age, it gives away strange sensations and aromas that suggest a potpourri of powders; rose, bacon, espresso and Filé. Full of grace and contentment. A cool year that saw no end-of-year heat spike, this is a most unique Opus one.

2001 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (87 per cent), Merlot (6), Malbec (3), Cabernet Franc (2) and Petit Verdot (2). The ’01 conjures up instant funk and “the beat is really soothing.” The Bretty streak stretches, dissipates and is cleansed as the wine aerates, but the groove lingers on. An Opus that clearly states “I got my mind made up.” Of the vineyard and for the vineyard, with a note of wet forest. The Bar Mitzvah boy is acting as one would expect, as an agent to a coming of age law, like a leather satchel filled with dehydrating, concentrated fruit. Swirl some more and that jerky is then drizzled by a Mickey of berry liqueur and dusted by 13 year-old dirt. A vintage defined by 14 per cent alcohol, still vital, powerful and neo-gritty. Forty-five minutes in, the lingering funk is fading but the thought, the chalk and the grain sends this Opus One back across the Atlantic, to the world of Mouton.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Low alcohol wine for the High Holidays

Barque Smokehouse Smoked Chicken Thighs. Serve with Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2011
PHOTO: KEVIN HEWITT AND JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

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A quick bit of Jewish 101. Tomorrow night is a Jew’s big night. There will be a great feast. Apples and honey will grace every table. The big meal will be followed by much sweet indulgence. Rosh Hashanah is marked on the Jewish calendar by the first day of Tishrei, meaning the “head of the year.” This new calendar year beginning is referred to as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, a time to make sincere resolutions for the future. Jews will say, L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem, “may you immediately be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” Rosh Hashanah is a time for renewal, where symbolic pleasantries are shared, exchanged and not surprisingly, Jews make use of food and drink to exercise the festivities.

When it comes to yayin (wine), Shekar, or “strong drink” is not necessarily the obvious, fermented choice. Last November I wrote a rant on the jumboism rampant in so many current wines on the market. “Biblical thought says there was a time when “wine” was simply the juice of pressed fruit, non-fermented, void of alcohol, the “pureblood of the grape.” The post-deluge patriarch (Noah) purportedly discovered that if you let natural yeasts run wild they would turn grape juice and sugar into mocker, “strong drink.” Researches say that ancient barm barely peaked at 12 per cent alcohol by volume.”

Like a pair of brothers in heated debate over ”integrity versus compromise,” choosing wine for the High Holidays is fraught and fought with philosophical and religious intensity. Kosher or conventional? Traditional or modern? Low alcohol or high-octane? Many Jewish tables will be set with Kosher (not Meshuval or, Kosher for Passover) wine. Many will not. For many modern Jews, on holidays not called Passover, Kosher is not a prerequisite when it come to choosing wine. Jews, in general, will daven to that 12 percent abv mark, give or take a percent. When talking wine, the Jew should never be labelled a Mundus Novian. Keep in mind that with all that food going down, heavy-handed winemaking has no place at the Rosh Hashanah banquet.

Related – More from the VINTAGES August 31st, 2013 Release

Then there is the etymology of the expression L’Chaim. At one point the condemned were given wine so that their execution would be less painful. The phrase “to life” was coined to express a sentiment to the contrary. Here are five excellent, low-alcohol wines to look for thisRosh Hashanah, to raise a glass to the new year, to exclaim L’Chaim!

Clockwise from left: Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2012, 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011, Jean-Marc Brocard Sainte Claire Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2011, Château Hyot 2010, and Domaine De La Garodière Morgon 2011

Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2012 (Stem Wine Group, $18.99) is so low in alcohol (five per cent) you might think you are drinking cider but fermented apples could never achieve such complexity with such incredibly economical syntactic structure. Slightly sweet and also sparkling, this Moscato makes itself readily accessible to new wine drinkers. I may not be one but how can I not be tempted by its forbidden stone fruits. I’ll drink it with the sups at the RH table. Moscato 101 indeed. On the card at Barque.  90

The food match: Halibut, pan roasted, charred sweet pepper jam, steamed broccoli & heirloom carrots

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011 (147512, $19.95) from Niagara’s Creek Shores and built of the classic Alsatian Clone 49 inordinately defines place and time in an agglomerated manner. Maximum floral intensity, zero petrol tolerance and an arid accumulation speak volumes about the appellation. To taste you will note it just barely believes it’s off-dry. Unique and unambiguous, plosive Riesling.  89

The food match: Quinoa Salad, summer corn, peas, cilantro, lime chili vinaigrette

Jean-Marc Brocard Sainte Claire Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2011 (329995, $24.95, SAQ, 2010,11589658, $24.95) marks a return to memories of old vines Brocard I’ve loved before. “The winds of change continue blowing,” so Chablis is sometimes not what it used to be.  This VV is not quite steely but is structured like a good old country ode, with all the correct components. Just a kiss of all things Chablis. Rock, flint, sapid ardor and a racy, new slang, tang thang. As good as it gets from something other than Grand or Premier Cru.  89

The food match: Salmon with tomato & preserved lemon salsa, sautéed baby kale, lemon zest, crushed almonds

Château Hyot 2010 (63537, $16.95) from 70 percent Merlot, 20 Cabernet Franc and 10 Cabernet Sauvignon goes properly and structurally sound into the Côtes de Castillon night. Forty year-old vines capitulate ripe red fruit, tangy accents, zest and just enough bite to keep it lengthy and fresh. A farmer’s Bordeaux, natural in feel, oxygenated low and slow, micro-managed. Solid if prosaic. Kudos to winemaker Amélie Aubert for reigning in the overripe and over extracted tendencies of consultant Michel Rolland.  88

The food match: Smoked Beef Brisket, bbq Jus, rice pilaf, wild and basmati rice, bok choy and ginger

Domaine De La Garodière Morgon 2011 (330126, $17.60, SAQ, 10368204, $18.60) is rich modern Beaujolais but also tight and bound by enough sour acidity to balance the ripe extraction. Hard to believe this clocks in at only 12.5 percent abv. Rock solid Gamay, ready for a fight. Vinous compost with some southern French style Medi-savoury, black olive garrigue. Complex and fortifying.  91

The food match: Duo of Beef: NY Striploin & Braised Beef Cheek, smoked kishka

Good to go!

A paradox of wine accents

Soil and birthplace predetermines both wine and language.
PHOTO: JUNGE REBE/FOTOLIA.COM

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Wine and language, two very complex organisms, first and foremost predetermined by the land from which they’ve come. Soil and birthplace. Climate is so very important too, in ripening fruit and developing speech. Weather and pedigree. Then there are the clones, genetic variants of a cultivar, or in language, slang and urban/rural diction. Variety and dialect. The study of wine (oenology) is very much like the study of language (linguistics). It’s all in the accents, in articulation and tonality, in aroma, taste and texture.

Related – More from the VINTAGES August 17th, 2013 release

Wine is generally divided into Old and New World styles, old school versus new wave. Though many New World wines have bested Old World stalwarts in blind tastings, are those results more than just a matter of taste? Old World varieties of a common region who have been cohabiting side by side exhibit a wide assortment of accents. New World clones from disparate backgrounds that have been living together for just a few generations show similar accents.

Old World stereoisomer stereotypes suggest that if your wine smells like vanilla, it was likely aged in American oak. Got flint and steel? Chablis. Brioche and yeast? Champagne. All this may be true but the grand wines within a particular growing area like Chablis, Champagne, the Rhône Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Tuscany and Piedmont might share and yet bogart an infinite number of subtleties and dominant traits, each specific to the monopole, villages, indicazione geografica tipica, or appellation of origin. Napa Cabernet, whether from Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena or Howell Mountain, shares a commonality and decreased peculiarity so much more so than counterparts in the communes on the Left Bank in Bordeaux, including Paulliac, St-Estèphe, Pessac-Léognan, Margaux and St. Julien.

New World Chardonnay growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieu-dites in Burgundy. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers, and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, etc. While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within a Venn Diagram, the shared subtleties get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled.

In Old World locales such as France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal, the sustained adjacency of wine regions ought to carry considerable weight against differences in accents, while in a vast but small growing area like Canada, the relative isolation of wine regions ought to encourage regional intonations. Yet comparatively speaking, there is a great deal of similar speak among Canada’s various cool climate wines. So, the question begs. Has the maturity of Canadian vines and its isolated industries increased or decreased the diversity of dialects?

If you stood with one foot in a Niagara vineyard and the other in Prince Edward County, you might be disappointed to find that the geology, climate and wine accent are nearly indiscernible. A wine patriot might disagree with that statement with reverence or indifference, yet the average wine consumer would be hard pressed to intuit the subtlest of idiosyncrasies. Even in the case of, let’s say, the temperature disparity between a St. David’s Bench vineyard and one from the Queenston Road, as a winemaker, who are you speaking to anyway?

The wine world has attempted the vinous equivalent of heteroglossia, “a blending of world views through language that creates complex unity from a hybrid of utterances.” This heteroglossia is an abstract convenience for the benefit of geographical oenophiles. In the New World (especially), we are dealing with huge generalities. To say that each viticultural area is singularly unique from another is to suggest that one region’s accent starts where another one ends. This is simply not true.

The argument is no longer about good and bad, natural and synthetic, Old and New World. We’re not talking about a Roman Paradox here. In a short period of time it seems we have gone from saying “there’s a remarkably great deal of homogeneity in wine today” to now, “some wines are so over the top they could only be from that place.” A recent California Pinot Noir, heretofore known as “he who shall not be named” laid insult and depression upon a group of tasters. Pushing 16 per cent alcohol by volume and thicker than a McFlurry, this Pinot could not have been from just anywhere. Only the hot California sun and heavy winemaker’s hand could have produced such an utterly undrinkable, faux-chocolate, simulated berry shake.

Special thanks to Bill Bryson, who’s good read “Mother Tongue” was the inspiration for this column. Here are six examples of really fine wine, from the Old and the New World, each expressive of a particular set of accents, out of a specific place.

Clockwise from left: André Blanck Pinot Blanc Rosenberg 2011, Pillitteri Estates Viognier 2011, Daniel Lenko Estate Winery Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, Greenlane Estate Winery Cabernet 2010, Zema Estate Cluny Cabernet Merlot 2008 and Château La Croix De Gay 2009

André Blanck Pinot Blanc Rosenberg 2011 (626606, $14.95) is high on lime citrus and heavy in stones, so much more so than in ’09 and ’10. Green apple in tart tonality, lean and mean.  Much juicier and riper to taste, with the faintest lees note to ground it firmly on Alsatian terrain ferme.  Love this designation. Same vintage release from a year ago.  89  @drinkAlsace

Pillitteri Estates Viognier 2011 (330894, $19.95) from 20+ year old estate vines is really quite pretty. Honeysuckle and white flower aromas with a taste of honey dew, tangy mango fruit, creamy and soft, and  a hint of white pepper.  Will look for it to flesh a bit in a year or so.  88  @Pillitteriwines

Daniel Lenko Estate Winery Old Vines Chardonnay 2010 (352328, $22.95) punches its ticket to Niagara stardom but a toast and punch down period is the requiem to mellow before the fruit can truly and fully be assessed. It’s certainly large, inviting and warm, a cedar cottage with its hearth flaming and crackling. Borrows a page from Quarry Road’s handbook and takes risks, if ambitiously over-seasoning a bissel. The late buttery seafood note is striking and just makes you want to suck back a bucket of claw. Must pay heed to Lenko’s uncompromising winemaking. Were you to ask me what 10 Ontario Chardonnay would I buy, in any vintage, to study, follow the evolution and ultimately learn about cool climate Chardonnay, this Lenko OV 2010 would be a must.  91  @daniel_lenko

Greenlane Estate Winery Cabernet 2010 (winery, $14.95) combines Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (80/20) fruit in demurred Niagara/Vineland modulation for full, soft and silky effect. Black pepper in a key of fire-roasted sweet capsicum, anise and gun flint are met by the plasticity of black and red berries and cherries.  Deal.  88  @GreenLaneWinery

Zema Estate Cluny Cabernet Merlot 2008 (325910, $26.95) hollers modernity, in oxy-toffee, blueberry pie, eucalyptus and smoldering earth. Bordeaux fettle yet GSM-like in mineral meets lush fruit.  Frantic verve in acidity, crazy actually and certainly no fruit bomb. Almost citrus spiked, punchy and grainy on the finish. Requires patience. Intriguing Coonawarra.  90 @ZemaEstate

Château La Croix De Gay 2009 (192955, $51.95) is flat-out delicious. Grilled meat, licorice, big black fruit, raspberry, Merlot to the max and yet a very affordable Pomerol ’09. At $52 you may not find a better deal. Tannic heft deep as a coal mine, where mineral meets herbal bondage. Very long and true.  92

Good to go!

See the humanity in real value wine

Glass of red wine PHOTO: FONS LAURE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

There is no secret that Canadians and especially the wine consumer from Ontario, desperately want more choice. We want private wine shops that can specialize in niche products. We want all Canadian grapes to be granted passports to travel freely from province to province. We want access to real wines made by passionate human beings. We don’t want plonk.

Twice a month I taste through in excess of 100 hundred wines scheduled for release through VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the LCBO. On some days the wines, as a group, seem merely “better than dough.” On other days they cause one or more of my colleagues to say things like “this is the worst red wine day of my life.” The public knows that we have lagged for many years in wine retail. The public is ahead of the LCBO think tank on this.

Fortunately, or not, depending on how bright a side of life you look, more often than not I can look through and beyond the barbaric fringes and pick out a few primitive, unfettered warriors from the monopolistic offering. Once in a while the sea of humanity reveals itself and many wines shine, express their terroir, their somewhereness, their completeness. Here are nine estimable examples ready for immediate enjoyment, now in a store near you.

Clockwise from left: Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012, Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010, Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire, Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011, Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010, Château Lyonnat 2006, Château La Grange De Bessan 2009, Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011, and Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010

Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012 (224964, $13.95) is all sun and strawberry, almond and grapefruit tree scents after dark, so much spirit in the night. Salinity, markedly well-made and Muga-like. “Stand right up now and let it shoot through you.”  87  @HHDImports_Wine

Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010 (264648, $14.95) is simply a ton of wine for $15. That said, it takes extraction to the maximum and is yet blessed with a graceful level of gravitas. I wouldn’t want to drink too much of this, or any other similarly concentrated and heavily fruit- endowed Rhône but there is enough mineral and tar character to keep Le Gravillas honest.  88

Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire (141077, $15.95) foams frothy forth alive and expansive out of a yeasty starter, spins lightly on its A16 axis and revolves tightly wound around a citrus spindle. A working class Marechal, real and made for the people. Perhaps not La Grande Illusion but a wine that will “show the common humanity present across these divisions.” About as good as Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling Loire Chenin Blanc can be and priced to fly.  89

Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011 (57042, $17.95, SAQ, 858886, $17.60) speaks sedimentary cryptocrystalline vernacular to narrate its Loire Chenin Blanc story by way of a ripe apple and blooming rose style. Off-dry and dehydrated by the chert, that defining, dusty silex soil. There should be land-driven $18 wine available, always and everywhere.  89  @LoireValleyWine

Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010 (21253, $19.95, SAQ, 913897, $22.85) returns the storied Alsatian to top form after a confounding ’09. Cool climate, perfervid pear considers dressing up in lime-spiked papaya but chooses to turn on its heel to put on a sequin-dotted silk dress. Spot on, shimmering scintillant.  90  @drinkAlsace

Château Lyonnat 2006 (243774, $19.95) built upon 85 percent Merlot, 11 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and four percent Cabernet Franc has ancient and learned Right Bank morphology written all over its sweet, scorched earth perfume. Has entered the zone, in toasted cedar and grilled beef on the bone integration but caramel and kindling are just around the corner. Get in while the coals are smoking. Reminds me of the good oak days.  89

Château La Grange De Bessan 2009 (321331, $19.95) is a poster child for affordable, humanistic Médoc, Left Bank, hyped vintage Bordeaux. Mutton on the reductive nose does not impose a run and hide. Purple flowers, parquet smoke and dark chocolate co-mingle with iron, calcium and limestone. Meat-friendly, complex, well-structured.  90  @BordeauxWines

Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011 (74781, $21.95) must be a fairy tale, a Boucles d’or narrative of structure and complexity from the first swirl and sniff. Airy, saline, built of rich, gold guts. Perfectly ripened orchard fruit and fresh-squeezed grapefruit. Taste it and there’s a joyous dance, a kefi bursting inside, like great Champagne but minus the bubbles.  92  @KolonakiGroup

Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010 (318121, $23.95) from Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon is bottled, golden Californian sunshine, rich, unctuous and tanned. Will be accused of being obnoxious, bellicose, even Sisyphean, but she and I don’t care. Spicy, candied yellow apple, sappy, honeysuckle scent meets an efflux of buttery cashew, like toasted Chardonnay crossed with aged Chenin. Grand Cali Viognier.  91  @jbonaccorsi

Good to go!

Part Two: A 30 march of value reds

PHOTO: MONKEY BUSINESS/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Today’s date may read April 5th, 2013 but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still March. Winter chill hovers like a suffocating raft over a simmering cauldron of consommé. We are the suds, the weather our nimbus and we can’t wait to rent our effervescent clothes, break free from the mackerel sky and walk into spring.

Related – More March wine reviews

The coming weeks worth of frosty nights and their refusal to hightail on out of here must then be quelled by belly warming, hearty meals shared in kind with big, bold red wines. Here is a 15-strong list available now and in a store near you.

From left: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010, Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009, Château Gadet Terrefort 2010, Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010, and Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007

The French

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010 (177584, $13.95) is a remarkable price for a Vin Pays d’Oc acting as a ringer for a Mark Kent (Boekenhoutskloof) Franschhoek meets the Northern Rhône. A dish of roasted pork belly, boar musk, lacquer, black olive and sun-baked earth would work. Good follow-up to the 2009 Septaguanarian of pork perambulations. Impossible balance for a pittance.  87

Château Agnel Cuvée Phillipe Minervois 2009 (309195, $15.95) is no pretender, this disciplined study in equilibrium. Blessed with a freestyle swimmer’s ability to master strokes in one varietal medley. More Grenache than Syrah, more Yannick than Michael. Exercises a learned rusticity, acts “old enough to face the dawn.” An angel of the morning bursting forth in floral scents and reaching out with a graceful length. Languedoc red as microcosmic study in an Olympian, southern French pool.  88  @FrontierWine

Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009 (310193, $16.95) conjures up full-on hedonism in roasted mutton, garrigue, black raspberry jus and a shot ‘o java. Full-bodied, mochafied richesse, juicy, easy to consume if  never to be seen again. All for $17.  89  @LanguedocWines

Château Gadet Terrefort 2010 (307231, $20.95) waltzes out in empeltre olive, plum sangria and creamy chocolate. Turns roast meaty in gritty tannin, struts great intensity for Médoc, like a “black-haired flamenco dancer,” de color rojo oscuro, not unlike modern Montsant. “Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones.”  90  @ProfileWineGrp 

Château Senejac 2009 (193037, $28.85, 11350145, SAQ, $26.85) walks a rustic, oxygenated Bordeaux tightrope threatening to fray but an earth, tar tincture and Mediterranean sense of longevity keeps this Haut-Médoc wound tightly together. Olive, licorice and Sambucan spice infuse in smokey tones.  91

The Portuguese

Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010 (218339, $13.95) from Alentejo, Portugal is very modern, full of lush, dusty berry fruit and void of hard lines. Licorice tang, suet roasted meat built on local grapes (Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez and Trincadeira). Refines the nature of its origins.  87  @winesportugalCA

Quinta Do Penedo 2009 (313676, $18.95) of Syrah-like sheen jonesing to purple sets out muted but after a swirl opens to black cherry bubble gum. Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional work effortlessly together to fashion a Dão whose “white clouds have turned it black.”  This one can come away with me anytime.  88  

The Spanish

Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007 (313809, $16.95, SAQ 11387298, $18.70) plays an intense, gritty Navarran riff full of earthy expletives. Addictive, salty, marinated olive, black cherry plethoric red that stops you in your tracks. Makes use of Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Reminds me of the Hecula or the Manga del Brujo but is so much edgier, crazed, frantic. Wild stuff.  88  @bodegaotazu

Beronia Gran Reserva 2005 (940965, $32.95) has smoothed its cigar smoked extremities with vanilla cream. The sour cherry tang is a necessary advocate for balance and structure. This classic and classy Riojan is ready and willing to sit at the dinner table along side Chorizo, Jabali and stuffed Piquillos.  89  @WoodmanWines

The Argentines

La Puerta Reserva Bonarda 2009 (67801, $18.95) is a serious, brooding, dark and mysterious gem from  Famatina Valley in the north-west of the Province of La Rioja. Red stone fruit, vanilla bean and an Andean rock face of tannin. Once you go cool-climate, altitudinous Argentinian Bonarda, you may never go back to Malbec.  88  @LaPuertaWines

Versado Malbec 2010 (317008, $24.95) takes on Argentina by way of Southbrook (Ontario) and Sperling Family Vineyards (British Columbia) in the estimable hands of winemaker Ann Sperling. Husband and oeno-guru Peter Gamble joins forces to beeline straight for Luján de Cuyo typicity in deep cherry, pitching to black, solder spice and herbs smoldering in oak.  Cool and minting in its alveolate void. Interesting to say the least.  88  @VersadoWine

Versado Reserva Malbec 2009 (316984, $59.95) seems to travel a Hobbsian path laid out like Cobos cobblestone. At nearly two and a half times the cost of the Versado normale you might expect a revelation and you get one or two, if you allow your senses to drift out-of-body, into a lead crystal, Malbec state of consciousness. Tons of charcoal clouding the infundibular annals of the wine. Emerges as a scherzo in velvety tones, texture and structure.  90  @ArgentinaWineCA

The Californians

Langtry Guenoc Petite Sirah 2011 (19935, $17.95) is a more than commendable example out of the less than glamorous Lake County. At only 13% abv, the Langtry is modest and shy by PS standards, heavenly scented by blueberry, white chocolate and eucalyptus. California PS can be formidable stuff but here “I got a California rainbow to come give them thunder clouds a rest.”  87  @LangtryGuenoc

Highway 12 Highwayman 2010 (319186, $27.95) is a proprietary blend of Cabernet Franc (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (20%) from Sonoman Michael Sebastiani. Present but not overbearing 14.3% alcohol, decadent despite its roots but tempered by good chocolate, olives and herbs. The kind of brambly, inky blend you might swear had some Zinfandel or Syrah in the mix but straight Bordeaux it is. A whack of wine for $28 originally released down south at $42.  90  @highway12winery

The Australian

Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz/Riesling 2010 (311233, $19.95) is not a typo or a joke. Riesling does round out this McLaren Vale Shiraz, not Viognier. Only an Aussie would take this risk and help me Rhonda if it doesn’t work. “I can give you lots a reasons why” this works and number one is balance. The dash of white kicks the red into gear – it may be a strange sensation for which there is no prior frame of reference, but boy if it don’t put me on a beach.  88  @mrkcstr

Good to go!

Wines for the Ides of March

PHOTO: PAUL FLEET/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me.

And we, like friends, will straightway go together.
March 15th is not just any old day, that is if you are a Roman. The monthly Ides were sacred to the worshipers of Jupiter, king deity of the Romans. Shakespeare‘s play is more than just a forgotten high school memory. The Ides of March, 44 BCE assassination of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate was a big deal.

Caesar was, however cautious and abstemious some say, known as a wine guy. Can you argue the actuality in utterance of the Bard’s famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” as he offered his (77-years ahead, future reference) Judas a goblet of wine? JC was purportedly known to love indigenous Italian grapes like Mamertino and Brachetto.

Caesar took control of the mint and had money coined to put into the hands of the people. He then built great structures, public works and was followed (jump forward, twenty-one centuries, Twitter equivalent) by many. Was he killed for being a people’s patron of the arts, architecture and culture and did his offing lead to the demise of plentiful money in Rome? Can Caesar really be blamed for the tax increases, corruption and the loss of homes and land? Admittedly, the dictator has been historically accused of killing one million enemy French (Gallic) men and enslaving another million. But he was a wine guy! Would Caesar have jammed in a cork to stop private wine clubs?

Canadians purportedly drink Bloody Caesars to celebrate the anniversary of the soothsayer’s day. Me, not so much. But I can tie the Italian-Canadian thing together. Here I string five Canadians and three Italians, bound by one apropos French connection, a sublime red wine from Bordeaux. Raise a glass and whisper “All hail Caesar.”

From left: Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2010, Stoney Ridge Excellence Chardonnay 2010, Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Tenuta Di Ghizzano Veneroso 2009, Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2008, Château Haut-Bages Liberal 2009.

The Canadians

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (246579, $15.95) is fresh in chert, posy aromatic and stuffed with an airy, sense of whipped lemon cream. Salinity and white pepper add kick and spice to this Chardonnay cousin only Cave Spring seems to have mastered.  89  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Riesling 2011 (277483, $15.95) of savvy, textured pomade hails Prussian in ideal, with equatorial accents, in coconut, ginger and creamy, fallen tree fruit. A lime’s zest, rind and late harvest condensed orange marmalade buttress this beryl flecked, golden Escarpment Riesling. Tons of nuance.  90  @MalivoireWine

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2010 (321893, $16.95) coalesces to what so few Niagara Peninsula peers achieve by summation in the heat of 2010. Meritage balance for under $20. Many made great wines in the premium category but many more made bottles of jam at this price. Rockway’s Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend is a tale of two poles. At once pretty, in violets, soft black currants and mild coffee and then bound by an underlying coal tension and furious punk beat. “The sun is out and I want some.”  88   @Rockway Vineyard

Creekside Laura’s White 2010 (121764, $18.95) is peach quintessence in a glass. Niagara Peninsula peaches burst forth, replay to taste and never dissipate. The tree’s blossoms are there two, along with the fruit’s stony pit, with a full-on mouth attack, finishing with a spoonful of peach-infused simple syrup. A white “to let go of it all just for this evening.” Dessert and then goodnight.  88  @CreeksideWine

Stoney Ridge Excellence Chardonnay 2010 (254243, $24.95) hails from the Lincoln Lakeshore and warms in toasted, buttered pecans, Caesar spice and sunny climate fruit. The shore’s metallic, rocky bed adds minerality, “rockin’ up the richter scale” with tang and stabbing notes on the long finish. Goes both ways, ACDC.  89  @stoneyridgewine

The Italians

Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (993360, $19.95) in a tighter vintage is not as round, ripe and forgiving so priced to sell but it’s that grit that gives this CCR it’s charm. More Run Through the Jungle than Lodi, this Petri “fills the land with smoke,” in animale and a marbled, granular texture. Thought modern in styling, this Sangiovese is like charred Kobe beef covered in butter polished demi-glace.  90

Tenuta Di Ghizzano Veneroso 2009 (103218, $29.95) bears little resemblence to the IGT you may be used to, especially in a 70/30 Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. This one’s mutton-funky, not quite like the Montetti or Madonna del Piano but still an earthy beast. There is vibrant purple Pisa fruit and a dusty, chalky tannic splash. We’ll see but my thoughts look to a wow future. Gorgeous wine from Ginevra Venerosi Pesciolini.  91  @FrontierWine

Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2008 (172783, $36.95, SAQ, 10860223, $34) from young vines on this venerable estate’s Ginestra plot is really impressive for under $40. Savoury and perfumed, of Rhododendron and dried roses. Pipe smoke at the mid-point and sweet tannin. Not exactly a big Barolo but more of a Nebbiolista’s bric-a-brac of all the best bits Barolo has to offer 91  @liffordwine

Château Haut-Bages Liberal 2009 (197640, $64.85) of sumptuous, acculturated Paulliac texture is just so pretty. Not unlike the ’07 Brunelli, or the current release ’08 Guado Al Tasso for that matter, there is nary a harsh or biting note. The kicker is the Left Bank mineral, crushed rock thing going on and the wine never wavers from the its velvety feel. Pure, unadulterated red fruit, juicy and forevermore. This liberal lady can “lay across my big brass bed,” anytime.  92

Good to go!

A long and “wine-ding” tasting road

Wine tasting PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

It was right in my wheelhouse and on so many levels. Thirty-three wines, all but two from the Niagara region, spanning vintages from 2001-2010. Poured blind, each of five flights introduced analogous to pop music culture; Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, The Sister Sledge, The Who and Simply Red. It could only be zeitgeist for my virgin Experts Tasting experience at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

It happened at Pond Inlet, a cozy, light-filled space, surrounded by a wine local’s who’s who. Vignerons, proprietors, journalists, sommeliers, marketing gurus and Brock U. luminaries. Seated next to Niagara’s über taster and 2013 VQA Promoters Award winner Rick VanSickle, but also in the ameliorated company of Mr. Wine DiscoveryThe Grape Guy and the Wine Sisters.

CCOVI Experts Tasting 2013 (Photo: Michael Godel/canada.com)

More than 140 samples were submitted by wineries to this year’s tasting panel, assessed blind and chosen for excellence, complexity but also adjunct in relative merit to their peers. The 2013 Experts tasting was akin to a structured wine in itself, seamless in flow thanks to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University. The mostly in vain attempt at assessing vintage, origin and producer was a humbling and submissive gesture. This Storify board captures the social media buzz around the event.

A panel of four winemakers each gave their own unique in flight preamble perspective, followed by a tutored tasting and a reveal of the flight’s wines. The final coterie was a group test, in teams table by table, led in cheeky and mischievous form by a soon to be head-shaven sommelier.

The VQA Promoters Awards were presented at intervals during the event by wine educator Dr. Linda Bramble. Here were this year’s four recipients:

LCBO: Waterloo’s Charley Ronzio of Store 115.

Hospitality: CN Tower’s James Muir, the proprietor of Toronto’s highest cellar.

Promoter-at-Large: Harald Thiel, Vigneron and Proprietor, Hidden Bench Winery.

Media: Rick VanSickle, Wine Journalist, Wines in Niagara.

The wine tasting was then introduced by April Kilpatrick, Sommelier at Windows by Jamie Kennedy.

From left to right: Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010; Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010; The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; and Stratus Malbec 2010.

Flight #1: R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Presented by Rob Power, Winemaker, Creekside Estate, employing Aretha Franklin’s signature because Miles dissed the grape when he said, “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” This assemblage brought Merlot some respect, difficult as they were to pin down and Power later summed it up best. “Mission accomplished. We’ve messed with all your heads.”

Malivoire Wine Company Merlot ‘Stouck Vineyard’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) of high-toned raspberry fruit is the Dr. Feelgood track. From mendicant, heavy red clay soil on the Lincoln Lakeshore making for concentrated small berries and dense, richly textured Merlot. Tarry, warming, accented by late baking spice and anise. Merlot is a serious business and “taking care of business is really this man’s gain.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Trius Winery at Hillebrand Merlot ‘RHS’ Clark Farm Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) is a rock steady, Four-Mile Creek, single vineyard effort full of mulberry fruit and dusty, chalky tannin. Let’s call this Merlot what it is, “a funky and lowdown feeling.”  89-90  @TriusWines

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve, Queenston Road Vineyard 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) spent 32 months in oak and now bricks its age in weathered, splintering cedar with a note of funky prune.  Illustrates the importance of site to Bordeaux varietals in Niagara. A Merlot to make you think, consider the past, “let your mind go, let yourself be free.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve 2008  ($34.95, winery only) on the St. David’s Bench is “the smoked meat sandwich” says Power, and “a bit of a funkmeister.” Perhaps the flight’s chain of fools, like a blender looking for a Cabernet or two to join the party. Its slumber was 29 months in barrel. “For five long years I thought you were my man.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Twomey Merlot 2007 ($61.95, 14043) is the ringer out of Silver Oak in Napa Valley. Whiffs the most funky fromage but also a woman’s perfume. Racy, roaming, with umami, earth and a sweet/savoury line. Goes both ways, a Do Right Woman, Do Right Man kind of Merlot.  “And as long as we’re together, baby.”  89-90  @Twomey

Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($25, winery only) tends Right Bank to me, certainly not Niagara. Big berry, citrus, bright fruit perfume. Heavy tannin, guns a’ blazing and an obvious strong use of American Oak. This one demands respect. “Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me.”  90-91  @PillitteriWines

Cornerstone Estates Winery Merlot 2010 ($23, winery only) appears to show some age though it’s really just a pup. Displays aggressive high-toned tannin with a patience towards potential. I say a little prayer for this Wismer Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench on the Niagara Peninsula Merlot because if it falls apart, it “would only be heartbreak.”  87-88

Flight #2: The Mothers of Invention

Presented by Emma Garner, Winemaker, Thirty Bench, using Frank Zappa’s band as analogy to denote Cabernet Franc as the matriarch to all Bordeaux varietals. Could have sworn #4 was a ringer but no! There were none in the group.

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2008 ($38, 665034) from fruit picked on December 8th (what???) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Young at heart, full of smokey, tangy, currant baking aromas. Maternal but blessed with firm, plush tannin. “Some people like cupcakes,” I prefer a muffin man.  89-90  @Stratuswines

Stoney Ridge Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($18.95, winery only) is a Niagara Peninsula, red pepper jelly and citrus-spiked currant concoction made from Fox and Edwards Vineyards, 100% Bench fruit. Thought it was ’08 but wrong! Coffee and herbal balm make the water turn black and this Franc screams for food. 87-88  @stoneyridgewine

Riverview Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Salvatore’s’ 2010 ($49.95, winery only) leans a lighter, elegant Loire style. Built upon clay/loam soils out of Niagara-on-the-Lake, aged in both French and American oak. Cool, cherry fruit, mint, herbaceous and full of personality. A fine girl this Riverview, “she do yer laundry, she change a tire, chop a little wood for de fire.”  89-90  @RiverviewWinery

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Modified Note: Big Leg Emma. “Sock it to me!” Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only) has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100% Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92 @PellerVQA

Trius at Hillebrand Cabernet Franc ‘Red Shale’ Clark Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) at 25.6 Brix is a huge wine from Four Mile Creek. Black beauty, with lots of chocolatey oak and dark fruit. Chalky, grainy thread indicates time is needed to settle it down. No valley girl, this one, nor shrinking violet. “It’s like so BITCHEN!”  89-90  @TriusWines

Pondview Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($29.95, winery only) again out of Four Mile Creek has the red pepper, currant jelly notes but it’s less ripe and not nearly as big as some siblings in this flight. May have “no cars no diamond rings,” but it shows passion in a Zappacosta, spandex kind of way.  87-88  @pondviewwinery

CCOVI Tasting

Flight #3: We Are Family

Presented by Ron Giesbrecht, Winemaker, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, discussing “vinified” incest, i.e. Bordeaux grapes which have essentially married their kin. His dissertation, impossibly deadpan, was a cross between Stuart McLean and Ron MacLean. His take on attending to wines of Bordeaux genealogy? “How do you know which side of the church to sit on when you’re related to so many on both sides?”

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($34.95, winery only) alights in lithe tendrils before adding coffee, meritage mid-weight. Currants, nasturtium and red fruit compote buoy this cooler Niagara blend that combines fruit from the the Lincoln Lakeshore, St. David’s and Beamsville Benches. A good dancer with “the kind of body that would shame Adonis.” Expertly balanced with the spine to age.  88-89  @FieldingWinery

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Merlot ‘Stouck’ ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a pitchy rendition with a pronounced roasted espresso note. Seems to me the motherly, Cabernet Franc’s genes have imparted their wisdom into this (63%) Cabernet Sauvignon dominant beauty with big Cassis fruit. Chic, juicy, with a filled in mid-palate and stiff structure. Grab a glass, “leave your cares behind, these are the good times.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Stratus Red 2010 ($44, winery only) seemed older but that just might be the 617 days it spent in barrel. Cab Franc dominant with the help of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the late bloomer, Petit Verdot. Got to love somebody so it may as well be this red, because “I won’t let my life pass me by.” The four grapes help to explain Giesbrecht’s “relative merits of relative meritage.”  89-90  @Stratuswines

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010 ($35, winery only) has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.  91-92  @HiddenBench

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2007 ($45, winery only) emits the varnish of the ’07 Niagara vintage. Soy, meat protein and caramel give way to a sweeter, plum accented palate. This ’07 is Le Freak, with more Cabernet Sauvignon, indicative of what we did not know then. So much to learn from wines like this, “like the days of stopping at the Savoy.”  87-88  @HiddenBench

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002 ($50, not available) from the Niagara Peninsula shows toffee and concentrated, oxidized fruit. That said, it has aged well and still offers intellectual spirit in dried fruit and potpourri. Great old tune to Dance, Dance, Dance along to. 88-89  @SpeckBros

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Flight #4: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

Presented by Ilya Senchuk, Winemaker, Foreign Affair Winery, relating (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon wines to the idiomatic album by The Who. “We want wines with bounciness,” says Senchuk, “with a knife edge balance of weight and complexity.”

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) shows age, wood finish, plums and berries. I had this pegged as an ’06 (scouts honour). Not a classic Bordeaux vintage in the Queenston Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench but well-structured and really, there is no substitute. “I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Stouck’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a big, blowy, brawny wine of massive concentration. Designed for my generation, with jammy flavours from clay soils on good slopes. “People try to put us d-down, just because we get around.”  89-90  @MalivoireWine

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Lot I’ 2010 ($34.95, winery only) from the Niagara Peninsula is a chameleon, ever evolving in the glass, perplexing, fascinating to study. Possessed of dried fruit and decidedly earthy flavours, complexity and balance. Can “go anywhere, for something new,” anyway, anyhow.  89-90  @SouthbrookWine

Thirty Bench Winemakers Cabernet Franc ‘Small Lot’ 2010 ($40, winery only) lopes out in lacquer than lifts towards sweet red pepper, dusty mulberry and cracked black pepper. All the while a current of Beamsville Bench, black currant acidity runs through it. This one’s a seeker, “its got values but I don’t know how or why.” At least not yet. Give it time.  87-88  @ThirtyBench

Stratus Petit Verdot 2010 ($38, winery only) with its bounce is the Happy Jack of the flight. Thick in weight and texture, a steak sandwich in a glass. Remarkable effort for stand alone Petit Verdot in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Has a certain Spanish modernity and is certainly neither “petite” nor “little.” Say what you want about this PV but never “prevent Jack from feeling happy.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Fielding Estate ‘Option C’ Red 2010 ($34.95, winery only) begins with an off-putting, scorched earth funk and I wonder if it will blow off. Makes me “dizzy in the head and I’m feeling blue” so I can’t explain but it does indeed dissipate. Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way out of the Lowry Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench with 15% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc rounding out this strong, rhythmic and beaty Bordeaux blend.  89-90  @FieldingWinery

The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($37.95, winery only) is very pretty, forward and inviting. Juicy fruit from south facing vines on top of the Niagara Escarpment. Made in the Appassimento style, with 25% of the fruit dried then added back to the wine and 23 months spent in barrel. Puts this Cab in a seat on the Magic Bus. Rogue process, tame result. “I want it.”  91-92  @wineaffair

Flight #5: If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Presented by Peter Bodnar Rod, 13th Street Winery, like a comic book villain, leading the crowd into the uncomfortable nooks and crannies of guessing wines blind. This was a thrilling flight, crushing wine libidos and crowning champions of the game. Notes here are a bit more brief.

Stratus Malbec 2010 ($48, winery only) is made with the help of consulting oenologist Paul Hobbs in an “Alta Vista,” high-altitude style. Cool-climate rendition, a window to the future for the grape in Ontario. Hits a blue note, kind of like Philly soul. Unheard of 10 years ago, this one’s saying “just trust in me like I trust in you.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002 ($30, not available) shows amazing longevity and freshness. Proof of the Peninsula’s magic to state “you will never never never know me.” Simply solid red.  90-91  @SouthbrookWine

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien 2001 ($109, 9852) is the first red herring and stupefies in origin and vintage. I actually found it drying and disappointing. Bordeaux? Whatever.  88-89

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Merlot Unfiltered 2002 ($29.95, winery only) was harvested in October on the Niagara Peninsula. Showing the soy sauce, umami and oxidation of its sistren. Yet another anything but simply red wine from H of P to show us “all the things that we’ve been through.”  87-88  @SpeckBros

The Foreign Affair Winery ‘Temptress’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) is shepherded by Merlot with bits of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot thrown in for good 15.3% abv measure. Sugary, concentrated and full-bodied. Not for the simply red faint of heart. Embrace this big appassimento style  or “what good is a love affair when you can’t see eye to eye.”  90-91  @wineaffair

Good to go!