Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Year-end lists and greatest hits have always elicited a personal introspective fascination, not any lists mind you but mostly those involving music. Always curious to find out if someone else thought the same songs or albums aligned with your own. Such lists are met with growing skepticism and so the words “top” or “best” should be taken with a grain of salt, scrutinized with impunity, viewed with subjective prejudice. Music and wine need not be considered as ranked, top or best but instead contemplated with dead reckoning, as if throwing a buoyant opinion overboard to determine the speed of the mind’s emotion relative to thought, which was assumed to be dead in the waters of judgement. The feeling of being moved, stirred up in sentiment, excited and reaching deeper into understanding, these are the reasons to tally a culminating register. Neither for enumeration nor for classification, but for the indexing, of harbingers and that which makes us feel.

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

What transpired over the previous 12 months has not left the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, but with respect to Canadian wine there can be no doubt that a next level of greatness was reached. Holiday time will be somewhat solitary as 2020 winds down and while the sharing of bottles will surely mean more repeated sips for the few involved, they will be sweet ones and are not to be taken for granted. As for the exercise of creating a rocking roster of Canadian made wine, well here on Godello this so happens to be the eighth annual for an instalment that first appeared in 2013. Now adding up to seven more entries than the first and acting as natural segue, a transition and salvo towards crossing over the threshold where 2021 awaits.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

Twenty. Not an arbitrary number but rather an arbiter of perpetual and developmental prowess of a nation’s wine-producing ability and surely while knowing that no fewer than 20 others could of, would of, should of made the grade. The quote is a timeless one and will be employed once again. This curated list is “biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

In 2020 Canadian wine came to my tasting table in ways no other year made it happen. There were no excursions to British Columbia, Nova Scotia or Quebec, save for a 36-hour round-trip drive to Halifax in delivery of precious human cargo. No Cuvée or i4c. No VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness or Terroir Symposium. No walk-around tastings. Despite going nowhere the opportunities to sample Canadian wines were of a number higher than ever before. Safely distanced tastings at WineAlign headquarters, at the welcome emptiness of Barque Smokehouse and in our homes brought Canada’s finest bottles to us. Though we were unable to convene in June at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, a prodigious alternative became surrogate in the guise of the Guide to Canada’s Best Wines, a.k.a WineAlign’s GCBW. Over the course of six weeks we tasted through 860 samples and not just any mind you but truly Canada’s best. We were sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2021 will usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

The numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2018 the list counted 18. In 2017 there were 17 and in 2016, 16 noted. In 2015 that meant 15 and 14 for 2014, just as in 2013 the filtered list showed 13. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 19. There is no red carpet for 2020, it just doesn’t feel appropriate or right but keeping on is essential. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Here are 20 most exciting Canadian wines of 2020. Twenty Canadian wines that rocked.


Le Vieux Pin Ava 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($29.99)

Calculated, figured and reasoned, a 51 per cent roussanne, (36) viognier and (13) marsanne organized, Rhône motivated blend that just fits right. A kiss of new wood and a 35 per cent wood campaign, slightly more in steel and then the other freshener, that being a fifth of this exceptional vintage fruit having seen time in concrete tank. Yes the aromas are wildly fresh, far away tropical and cumulatively enticing. A white blend of rhythm and soul, actionable in every part of its drift and coil, democratic, of no accident, come up to please and at the same time, foil. Offers this and that, high tempo acids opposite fully ripened fruit and all tolled, wrapped up with a tailored bow. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($29.95)

Cave Spring’s is Ontario riesling and along with three or four others the CSV has been the benchmark for decades. CSV is one of the reasons to believe in riesling, versatile, brutally honest, speaker of the mind, telling us like it is. As for 2018, frosts in late ’17 reduced the upcoming vintage’s yield potential. Long, hot and dry was ’18’s summer and so doubling down occurred. Less yet highly concentred fruit was pretty much assured before September turned wet and humid. CSV embraces and stands firm in its dealings with nature so while there is more flesh and flavour intensity there too is the tried and true structural backbone. Surely a highly phenolic riesling but every aspect is elevated in this game. A hyperbole of itself, gangster riesling, the jumbo package, age-worthy and stone-faced beyond compare. Best ever, perhaps no but perchance something new, riveting, magnified, extravagant and well, fine. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted October 2020

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($37.20, Stratus Wines)

The concept behind Baker’s single-vineyard riesling is for the top tier one to be possessive in the matters of majestic and dignified, which quite honestly it is. Funny vintage that ’17 was and yet in riesling there can be this slow melt, tide and release of intricacy and intimacy, which this Picone does. Like taking a picture with the slowest shutter speed, allowing the sensor a full allotment of time in its exposure to light. This is the dramatic and hyper-effect and how Baker captured the highest riesling resolution imaginable. The succulence in the acids over top juicy, juicy fruit and this great entanglement is majestic and dignified. My goodness Charles, I think you’ve done it. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted April and October 2020

Martin’s Lane winemaker Shane Munn

Martin’s Lane Riesling Simes Vineyard 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($45.00)

First tasted at the winery in 2018 after only one year in bottle. A cooler vintage and less residual sugar (4 g/L vs. 6 in 2015) and also one reaching for its phenolics. The Alsace Clone (49) planted in 2008 is coming into the zone with this textured ’16 from one of three single vineyards on granite in East Kelowna. There is that minor number of sugar but there are acidities and reminiscences to the motherland that supersede and infiltrate the nooks and crannies of the fruit. Who in the Okanagan neighbourhood would not be envious of the clean clarity that this riesling achieves. Very focused, tightly wound and surely able to unravel ever so slowly, developing beeswax, honey and gasses as it will, over a ten year period. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted April 2020

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($37.15)

Wound tight like a coil around a winch with precise threading and pinpoint spacing for chardonnay that wins the vintage. Reductive style to be sure but only truly noted because of the freshest vibes this side of Motown. Got rhythm and blues, not to mention funk and soul. Clean beats, in step, three-part backing vocals and a purity of sound. Taste relays all these things and more, of succulence and in satiation guaranteed. In other words timeless and the willingness to pour on repeat will be a continuous thing of perpetual satisfaction. Last tasted October 2020. There is no secret that 2016 can align itself with the best of them in Niagara and chardonnay is clearly right in the middle of the discussion. Knowing that, how could the iconic triad of varietal, producer and vineyard not rise like fresh summer fruit cream to the top of the discourse? The years of Pender and Bourgogne barrel studies have come to this; spot on in blending Quarry fruit from wood and associated forests, staves and toasts, here the crux of sonic, sonar, and olfactory waves are met in optimum phenolic crash. The crush of chardonnay, the cryogenic liquid wait and the ultimate goal is achieved. Balance is struck at 12.5 degrees alcohol and all the perfectly seasoned grape tannin you could want. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted May 2020

Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario ($45.20, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Set apart from the Bench wineries and while still beneath the Niagara Escarpment Senchuk Vineyard sits on more of a plain that gently slides down the Lincoln Lakeshore and into Lake Ontario. Perhaps it will become Ontario’s next sub-appellation. Sandy soil is maculated by largish stones three to four feet down. This atop a bed of grey clay so the low vigour of the sandy soil will be offer up a flip-side, a foil to the heavy clay of nearby locales like the Beamsville Bench. This third chardonnay from the home vineyard comes off of vines planted in 2011 so now this seven-year old fruit is starting to really mean something. And Ilya Senchuk is a winemaker who studies, concentrates and plans his work around clones. It’s not just about where to plant which varietals but which clone will work best and where within the greater where. Vineyard, vintage and variance. Senchuk truly believes that greatness is determined by varietal variegation, from vineyard to vineyard and from year to year. From 2018: 64 per cent Clone 548 and (36) Clone 96. Listen further. Warm season so picked on September 18. The grapes were gently whole cluster pressed (separated by Clone), allowed to settle in chilled tanks over night. The juice was then racked into barrels; Clone 548 – one puncheon and three barriques, Clone 96 – three barriques, where they underwent spontaneous alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. The lees were not stirred and it was allowed to age for 16 months. Power, body, tons of fruit, definite barrel influence, a southern Bourgogne kind of vintage, so maybe Pouilly-Fuisée or Maconnais Village with a specific Climat. For the time being we call the Village Lincoln Lakeshore and Senchuk Vineyard the geographical designation. The lemon curd and the acidity are there in a great tangle so yes, this is trés cool chardonnay. I think we can safely say already that the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay grown in Ilya and Nadia’s home vineyard is on its own, one of a kind and makes wines that don’t taste like anywhere else. This 2018 cements the notion and opens the next stage of the discussion. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2020

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2017, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (462093, $56.95)

Exceptionalities worthy of hyperboles are befitting this chardonnay of concentration, textural satisfaction and immediate gratification. Apple distillate to nose, a walk through a perennial garden on Fundy shores in late summer bloom and then citrus in so many ways, incarnate and teeming with briny, zesty flavour. If your are counting at home, this Lightfoot family wine by way of Peter Gamble and in the hands of winemaker Josh Horton is now six years into its tenure. As the crow flies, qualitatively and quantitatively speaking refinement has never ceased to improve. Has arrived at its new Minas Basin tidal heights, crisp and salivating, finishing on the highest of notes. Chardonnay god of ocean tides, “all night long, writing poems to” Nova Scotia. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Mission Hill Perpetua 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($60.00)

Dichotomy in chardonnay, grand and graceful, powerful and elegant. Reductive and not acting this way but rather in what is now descried as the post modern style of chardonnay, from Australia to New Zealand, Bourgogne to B.C. Huge fruit concentration, wood equalizing yet in check, acids controlling yet relenting, structured assured though not overly complicating. Orchards combed and fruit brought in to make the composition sing with flavour while the work put in shaves down the rough edges and pieces fit snugly together. Top vintage for this label. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2020

Blomidon Cuvée l’Acadie, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

The entirety of a sparkling wine oeuvre is modified and transmogrified, designed and decreed of a new morphology where l’Acadie is concerned. It must be conceded that the Nova Scotia varietal speciality is destined to create cracker, lightning rod, back beats and bites in Nova Scotia sparkling wine. This from Blomidon adds spice, apple skin, orange zest and stony moments throughout. It’s amazing. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (315200, $49.95)

As always 100 per cent chardonnay and 2015 is perhaps the vintage of the most golden toast, as if made by agemono, with the most lemon and lees ever assembled in a Cuvée Catharine, vintage-dated Sparkling wine. An intensity of aromas swirl around in citrus centrifuge into which the gross cells don’t seem to want to go. On the palate is where they rest, layered and leesy, textured with a sense of weightlessness and wonder. Henry of Pelham channelling an inner Japanese cooking technique. Feels like some time is warranted to pull all this together. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario ($75.00)

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

At a Somewhereness gathering a few years back Thomas Bachelder poured me his first gamay and while I remember the light, I could not have known what complex cru notions the maniacal monk had up his sleeve. Who knew that Twenty Mile Bench gamay would gain standing in “Villages,” “Naturaliste,” and two Wismer-Foxcroft iterations. And so here we are with the more intense of the two whole cluster siblings and the one chosen to celebrate its 52 per cent wild bunch inclusion. The fermentation technique transposed seems almost “alla vinificazione Piedmontese a cappello sommerso,” though by way of sangiovese in Chianti Classico what with a glycerin feel and a formative fabric so tactile to the mouth’s touch. Stemmy? Not a chance. Herbal? Nope. More like a Côte de Brouilly to the Wismer-22’s Brouilly, not quite Morgon but savour and structure are serious, righteous and very much here. That I did not buy cases of this stuff is a real concern. Drink 2020-2027. Tasted November 2020

Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (524231, $29.95)

What Courtney brings to the table in gamay is what we’ve come to expect from Ontario, that is structurally contracted and age-worthy wine. Now understood to be a Cru designate, carved from a decade of research and well-defined. You could build an entire cellar by way of Malivoire’s multi-varietal work and the many tiers they fashion from drink now, through mid-term aging and up to here in a gamay that will go long. I’ve tasted a few older Malivoires lately and have been blown away by their longevity and also tasted this Courtney from barrel last winter. The whole bunch strategy has come to this, a knowable, beautifully swarthy, fruit protected and into the future protracted guarantee of fortitude and change. Reminds me of Michael Schmelzer’s Montebernardi Panzano sangiovese. Grande. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2020

Rosehall Run’s Dan Sullivan and Goode

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2018, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($42.00)

Fortuitous time and place are the combined recipient of the primary assist for Rosehall’s JCR Vineyard pinot noir, a varietal stunner that seduces from the word go. A drinking vintage, early, ethereal, not lacking but easing in and out of structure, ready to please in the proverbial vein of immediate gratification. Then the County tones, reverb and static mosey on in like a Telecaster’s light jing-a-ling. Rises to an interlude crescendo and explodes into rock ‘n roll bands. In the County the poets make these things happen, then “sit back and let it all be. Tonight, in Jungleland.” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July and October 2020

CedarCreek Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($54.90)

Block “2” is genuine and fine pinot noir, a pinpointed example multi-faceted in its origins. An exclusive block and also a dedicated clone to make this what it is; ripe stem earthy in phenolics ripe and ready plus a natural and wild fruit sweetness that can’t be replicated by anything but what happens on and from the vine. Anytime pinot noir is experienced as a wine at one with site, clone and vine you know it, feel it and intuit the connection. The forging is a bond unbreakable, as here with Block number two. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Culmina Hypothesis 2014, Golden Mile Bench, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (414243, $49.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

The Triggs original, Hypothesis is an Okanagan Valley flagship red that celebrates the upper benches in what has become the great Golden Mile. This district is no longer a matter of new fashion, it is in fact a place to make serious Bordeaux-varietal red wine. Whether cabernet franc or merlot take the lead there is always cabernet sauvignon to tie the room of lit luminescence together. Culmina’s is bright-eyed on a face of dark fruit, chewy like liquorice and sweetly herbal, naturally sweetened by dessert warmth ripening. You smell, feel, sense and taste the land in this wine. That’s what makes it so special. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted June 2020

Black Hills Nota Bene 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($68.99)

Methinks winemaker Ross Wise is giddy (and that’s a stretch for the stoic man of leisure) in what he must know will be the great eventuality of the Nota Bene 2018. By way of reminder this is one of Canada’s most accomplished and massive reds of great notoriety. The flagship of Black Hills in Bordeaux blend apparel, master of ceremonies and lead singer for B.C. Climat, Somewhereness and terroir. The maestro blend to speak of mystery, riddle and enigma. This ’18 is smooth and I mean smooth, ganache silky and focused. In youth you chew the mouthful, later on you’ll draw and imbibe. Further on down the road you will sip and savour. Quietly luxurious, rampantly delicious and pridefully profound. Top. Grande. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Megalomaniac Reserve Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario ($49.95)

Ah, finally! This is the aromatic profile of a reserve style Ontario cabernet franc, well, not “the” but “a” godly one. Concentrated and layered, like phyllo or puff pastry folded again and again upon itself. May seem dense and without air at this time but with time the folds will expand and stack with weightlessness. The variegated red fruit in betweens are juicy, sumptuous and so packed with flavour they will burst when bitten into, or in this case, explode in the mouth. Texture too is all pleasure, as will be the eventuality of exceptionality created by a triangle that includes complete and fine tannin. One of the finest and from a vintage that holds the cards for cabernet franc excellence. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted October 2020

Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($75.00)

Niagara’s most premium solo cabernet franc is turned upside in 2017 and does everything that needed doing to make what is quite possibly the best solo effort in that vintage. Of fruit so dark yet pure and allowed to act, move and speak as varietal in place. Walks that Beamsville Bench walk and talks that cabernet franc talk. World-beating, wholly and truly. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($85.20)

From a La Brunante year to speak of truths and there is no doubt the team was excited about the prospects of this formidable Beamsville Bench blend. The triad is merlot (43 per cent), malbec (35) and cabernet franc (22). I’d say it was the warm climate and long season that lead to then winemaker Marlize Beyer’s decisions of assemblage. You could pour this blind with red blends from Bordeaux and Australia with nary a taster being able to truly separate one from many others. And yet there is a singularity about these aromatics that are so hard to define, like spices in their simmering infancy ahead of what brand of togetherness they will assign. As for texture and length, balance is exemplary and longevity guaranteed. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted May 2020

Good to go!

godello

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

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WineAlign

A perfect day in Chianti Classico

Casavecchia alla Piazza, Castellina in Chianti

Spending quality time at Buondonno, Villa Pomona and Villa di Geggiano

Back in September 2018 I spent a pitch perfect day in Chianti Classico. A 15-hour stretch drawn across a triangle connecting three estates, an ideal number for one day’s work split between focus and play. The starting and ending point was Tavarnelle Val di Pesa though in between the lines were drawn transverse, moving in circularly polarized waves, to Castellina in Chianti, through Panzano, back into Castellina, down to Castelnuovo Berardenga and finally, back to Tavarnelle Val di Pesa.

Related – Chianti Classico’s Canadian dream

A perfect #chianticlassico day spent with these wonderful humans, Monica Raspi and Gabriele Buondonno ~ @fattoria_pomona #casavecchiaallapiazza

The day was one of the more important ones on the Chianti Classico calendar. The annual riding of the Granfondo del Chianti Classico takes place during the final stretches of the harvest. While it may be a roadblock and a hinderance to some it is a showcase for the territory in many positive and also exciting ways. Driving around is tricky on this day what with a few thousand eager cyclists climbing and descending the switchbacks of the many long and winding roads. Gabriele Buondonno crossed through the bike traffic to pick me up and as we arrived he showed me the lay of his hilltop Casavecchia alla Piazza in Castellina land. Some of the oldest vineyards live here and their terraces rise above the western edge of the Conca d’Oro, with the town of Panzano in the distance off to the east. We tasted through Gabriele’s wines and then set off for Villa Pomona.

Not the antithesis of #fattoamano in @chianticlassico ~ caponata, prosciutto, Annata, Riserva and … @ravinevineyard #interloper with Gabriele, Monica and Mama #fattoriapomona

The afternoon was spent with Monica Raspi, her mother Inge and husband Enrico. A lunch for the ages, all composed in the home, traditional and familial, unparalleled, comforting and memorable. A tasting of Raspi’s deeply personal Pomona wines. A walk through the heritage Fattoria, reeking of history and change. A stroll through the vineyards, rows lined with wild herbs and perhaps a whisper in the ear from Papa Enzo. All in the glow of an afternoon, of a paradisiacal September in Chianti Classico sunlight.

Sangiovese, Fattoria Pomona

One of life’s great pleasures was walking the Pomona vineyards with its passionate custodian meets Veterinarian turned winemaker. Truly. Raspi showed me the site where her “Number One” vineyard will be coming soon while we tasted soon to be picked sangiovese, assessed aspect and slope, thinking about porcini and juniper.

Monica drove me in to the outskirts of Siena where I transferred to take the next leg shotgun to Alessandro Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli, destination Geggiano. Home away from home for Godello, al poggio with the towers of Siena so visible southwest in the distance, where some of the area’s finest Galestro and most specific micro-climate intertwine. Soulful retreat and Castelnuovo Berardenga BBQ with Alessandro, Mama and Andrea Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli, who I have known for 23 years.

BBQ, brothers Bianchi-Bandinelli style

Between these three exceptional estates I tasted 14 wines. My notes are here, exactly four months to the day. A perfect day in Chianti Classico.

Nothing to see here. Just an 82 year-old sangiovese bush vine growing with a Tuscan maple tree at #buondonno

Buondonno

Buondonno is a member of the Italian “Triple A” family of producers – Agricoltori-Artigiani-Artisti. “I grandi vini, i vini emozionanti, sono frutto di un lavoro agricolo ormai quasi scomparso e di una vinificazione la meno interventista possibile. Il vigneto coltivato come un orto. Il manifesto dei produttori Triple A indica i criteri di selezione fondamentali che accomunano gli ultimi superstiti che producono vini degni di essere un mito come è sempre stato nella storia dell’uomo.”

In other words, these are producers making wines through the practice of lost agricultural work and least possible interventionist winemaking. “The vineyard cultivated as a vegetable garden.” Gabriele Buondonno is one such winemaker and his vineyards stand as exemplar temples where both myth and history are kept alive. Gabriele’s daughter Marta is making her own history as a caseificio from goat’s milk, crafting capra as yet another example of the Buondonno soul.

Buondonno Rosato Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza 2017, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Early picked, high acidity and surprisingly good phenolic Rosato with the highest level of tang albeit within balance. Full of red citrus, lime and grapefruit. Crazy good to drink. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  #buondonno    #casavecchiaallapiazza

Buondonno Lèmme Lèmme, da Vecchie Viti Maritate 2016, Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

From an old bush vine vineyard planted in 1936 to many varieties; sangiovese, canaiolo, colorino, malvasia, trebbiano and many others forgotten, misplaced and unknown. Even the older folks are not entirely sure, if they ever were, and who today still refer to them as uva di rignano. Approximately 1000 bottles are made from this place in a wine that is tart, tight, tannic and high in ancient wisdom. A true blue field blend of acidity that wraps up exceptionally wise and naturally resonant black fruit and olive tapenade. It’s the Tuscan equivalent of old field blends, especially Californians like Ridge Vineyards but like an Etruscan version of such an idea. Goes into a ceramic tank, with porosity like oak but to preserve the fruit and not hinder it with spice. Just the grapes and nothing but the grapes. Piano, piano, lèmme, lèmme. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Buondonno Chianti Classico DOCG 2016Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Virtually sangiovese, perhaps a few points of canaiolo, maybe not. From what Gabriele considers a strange vintage because it’s 6.7 per cent acidity is something that hasn’t been seen in 25 years. But it’s also 15 per cent alcohol and so for this day and climate warming age, it emerges beautifully balanced. You’d never know it, the fruit standing firm upright and supremely confident. Sees time in a mix of botti, tonneaux and barriques, none of the vessels new. Brightest of cherries, linear direction, dry but sweet tannins. Purity of fruit is in the elite company of the territory, within the style. This will age for 20 years and become something calm, demurred and extraordinary. Drink 2020-2032.  Last tasted September 2018

Gabriele Buondonno and Valeria Sodano bought the Castellina in Chianti farm known as Casavecchia alla Piazza in 1988, a plot that clearly appeared on the maps of the “Capitani di Parte Guelfa” in 1549 and is marked as the “place of Lionardo Buonarroti,” nephew to Michelangelo. Their Chianti Classico is 90 per cent sangiovese, plus merlot and syrah from a place Michelangelo once wrote to his uncle “I would rather have two barrels of Trebbiano than eight shirts.” Clearly pulled of of a special terroir, Buondonno’s organic Annata is pretty and purposed, with fresh tart strawberry and an intensity of acidity. It’s very long, unrelenting, showing some focus above and beyond. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted  February 2018  #buondonno  #buondonno

cabernet franc comparative where you’d least expect it ~ Toscana vs Niagara ~ #buondonno vs #interloper ~ #castellina vs #niagaraonthelake ~ @ravinevineyard

Buondonno Cabernet Franc Casavecchia Alla Piazza 2016, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Planted in 1999 in the Vigna di Sotto, the lower vineyard, from Guillaume, because merlot was ordered and they also sent 400 plants of cabernet franc. First vintage was 2015, here now in number two it’s beginning to express itself, however small the batch. It really is cabernet franc, a bit verdant, spicy, more spiced really, completely unlike sangiovese but clearly from this property, in Castellina but on the far western side of the Panzano Conca d’Oro. It’s chewy, chalky (in liquid form) and tannic. Needs a few years to come together. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Buondonno Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Sangiovese with a small amount of canaiolo, 25 days outdoors fermentation and then into a mix of botti, tonneaux and barriques, 10 per cent new. From the estate vineyards of Casavecchia, Sicelle and Sicellino. The latter planted in the 1970s with exposure to the North-East. This fruit from a cooler site will be essential to the assemblage going forward. Such an accomplished Riserva out of 2015, clearly designed to tell the Castellina-Panzano straddling story, with rich, structured fruit and a intention to travel far. Full, wise, stratified, variegated and weighty, in at 15.5 per cent. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Buondonno Bianco Alla Marta Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza 2016, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Marta is Gabriele’s daughter and hers is essentially a skin-contact white, orange or amber wine if you prefer the nomenclature. The concept stems from Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza’s goat cheese and the Buondonno goat cheese making master. Hers is clean as a whistle, with more trebbiano than malvasia, 10 days on the skins, qualifying as skin-contact so let’s keep it there and resist the temptation to call it orange. It’s beautifully and mildly tannic, full of acidity and dry as the desert. Light on the oxidation and volatile acidity. From vines planted in 1974, then 42 and now almost 45 years old. So proper and just right, really, truly, honestly, humbly and born of a person’s tremendous work ethic. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

With Monica Raspi, Fattoria Pomona

Fattoria Pomona

The farm was originally named “Fattoria Ricceri” and dates back to the second half of the XVIII century. It was was purchased in 1899 by ancestor Bandino Bandini, producer of olive oil and wine, sold to the restaurateurs of Siena. The new name Pomona stressed newfound prosperity and the success of its kiln, expanding the number of farm buildings and an oil mill was used for pressing the olives grown at Pomona, as well as on the other neighbouring farms. After the mezzadria period came to an end there was a long period of decline and abandonment, until Bandino’s grandson, Enzo Raspi, began the road top modernization, carried on by Monica and family today.

Fattoria Pomona Piero Rosso IGT Toscana 2016, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The work of Monica Raspi, veterinarian transformed into winemaker, her mother Inga, on a property housing an abandoned brick factory deserted after the owner lost money to horses. The founder was Bandini, great grandfather who purchased the estate after it sat empty between the 50s and 80s. The work is rounded out by Monica’s husband Enrico, Rheumatologist and cook, he of a palate extraordinaire. Here in Castellina in Chianti where fruit from the lowest part and youngest section of the vineyard offers its pure, raspy, bright red cherry sangiovese, richer than you might expect and of “hair combed just right.” It’s IGT that “came out with its soul untouched.” One day it will finish growin’ up and become Chianti Classico. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  fattoria_pomona    @fattoriapomona

Fattoria Pomona Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Essentially 100 per cent sangiovese, from the better and higher part of the vineyards planted in 2004 and 1998. From hot days, cold nights and eight months in barrel. Beautiful. Fruit, fruit and more fruit. Calcareous marl and Alberese stone interchangeable for the make up the vineyard and the house, with pietraforte, quartz, everything all in, together in conglomerate. In the end, combined with organic farming and low pH, there is a salty vein running through the deeply rendered red fruit. Sapidity unique to this vineyard. Perfect with caponata, carpione and pecorino. This Annata needs to be drawn from every part of the estate because it’s terroir is one of the most variegated in all of the territory. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Fattoria Pomona Chianti Classico Riserva Bandini DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

From the last of the vineyard planted in 1987, now ripped out in 2018 mainly because of it having grown older and tired and having come into a time of lowest of the low production. ’Twas the Vignavecchia. This takes the conglomerate of soil and intensifies the sangiovese, by way of 15 months in grandi botti, then transferred to concrete for nine months before bottling. “Needs to be more elegant, not heavier,” insists Monica Raspi. That it is, in balance, far from dense and weighty, pretty, in pulchritude, with not a whisper noted by the wood. Wonderfully, respectively and gently rendered Riserva. In 2016 it becomes just Pomona. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

“Number One” Vineyard, Fattoria Pomona

Fattoria Pomona Cabernet Sauvignon IGT Toscana 2015, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

This is delicious cabernet sauvignon. It should not be called light or delicate but it is what you might call ethereal for the grape variety. Profumo, delicasse, richesse and uniquely, unusually lovely, still with varietal strength but supple. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Villa di Geggiano

Villa di Geggiano has been the family home and winery of the Bianchi Bandinelli family since 1527. Just six kilometres north-east of Siena, Geggiano’s Castelnuovo Berardenga Chianti Classico vineyards are located just up the hill from Ponte e Bozzone, on a terroir composed of clay, river silt and Galestro. Originally built in the 14th century, the Villa di Geggiano, its gardens and 18th-century decorations have been carefully renovated and restored. Bernardo Bertolucci filmed Stealing Beauty (1996) at Geggiano in 1995 (I can attest to this – I was there) and in the historical restored wing there is the room that was once home to Pope Alexander III. Pope from 1159-81, Rolando Bandinelli’s papacy covered the murder of Thomas Becket (for which he humbled Henry II), and he held the Third Council of the Lateran, an important Catholic Synod. More recently then ancestry includes Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, descended from ancient aristocracy in Siena. Ranuccio became a world renowned and well respected art historian and archaeologist. His early research focused on the Etruscan centres close to his family lands, Clusium (1925) and Suana (1929).

Villa Di Geggiano Bandinello 2017, IGT Toscana Rosso, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

A 60/20/20 sangiovese/syrah/ciliegiolo mix, two weeks in stainless and a few months in old wood. The concept of design is to create fruity and ask to be consumed when young. Beautiful acidity from a southern, warmer clime possessive of necessary ventilation and a micro-climate where frosts and hail seem to pass on by. A tiny micro conca d’oro climate within a larger area typified by a great variegation in the soil; Alberese, schisty Galestro, limestone and clay with some sand. An extra level of interest is piqued by a rhubarb and black cherry meeting. Only 15,000 bottles were produced in 2017. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  villadigeggiano  andreaboscu  barrelselect  @VilladiGeggiano  @BarrelSelect  @villadigeggianowinery  @barrelselect

Villa Di Geggiano Chianti Classico DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $35.95, WineAlign)

It is noted that Geggiano’s terroir delivers a dark hue and deep profile but not the weight and thick constitution that might be thought to accompany or expect. It’s 100 per cent sangiovese and it does clock in at 15 per cent, though not surprising considering the vintage and the southerly location. A bit of new French tonneaux but mostly older, for 12-14 months. High acidity and elasticity takes this into balance. Delicious sangiovese comes from place and respect and Geggiano’s carries forth with tonality and depth. First wholly varietal wine in this vintage.  Last tasted September 2018

Geggiano’s particular corner of Castelnuovo Berardenga delivers the gift of calm and collected, deeply fruity and sneaky, streaky, stony sangiovese. It gets neither more subtle nor more appreciable than these wines and in 2015 there is warmth indeed but also a cool sliver of mineral truth. This Chianti Classico does not guess at its ways and intentions, it commits to them with implicit and intuitive, life affirming strength. Great length, really great length. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2018

This is how dinner is done at Villa di Geggiano

Villa Di Geggiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The 2012 is the current release because they (Geggiano and sangiovese) need time in the bottle. They simply keep a firm grip on their youth for quite an extended period of time. Riserva for the Bianchi-Bandinelli brothers is a matter of the best vines and the better barrel samples. Creosote and graphite really come from this nose, with tapenade, blood orange and violets. It’s almost more red fruit than the Annata “but that’s alchemy,” says Alessandro BB. This is a great example of work done alongside sangiovese oenologist Paolo Vagaggini, to transfer the variegate of the vineyard, through the conduit of time, into the glass. Still so young with great chains of stretched tannins, to be better in three more years. Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted September 2018

Four words for you babe- Mi-cro Cli-mate ~ #castelnuovoberardenga ~ Riserva ’09 by @villadigeggiano ~ #initforthelonghall

Villa Di Geggiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2009, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Tasted alongside the 2012 there is a marked humidity and warmth of vintage and now three years on the balsamico and chocolate are really beginning to emerge. Certainly more strength and depth, the chains of tannin and command are breaking down and the wine is entering its next stage of life. Warm, silky smooth and soothing. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

Godello

Casavecchia alla Piazza, Castellina in Chianti

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

15 in 2015

In the past 12 months I have tasted Canadian wines. Somewhere between hundreds and a thousand of them. Aside from day-to-day assessments at home, in the LCBO sensory lab, at the WineAlign office and at events in Ontario, I’ve also been a part of judging panels. In 2015 I sat in at the Ontario Wine Awards, WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and Gold Medal Plates.

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth leads to 15 in 2015.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

Canadian wine is growing with exponential force, gaining ground in markets at home and abroad. Brits dig us. I know, they told me. British Columbia is a desert oasis of variable climates to fascinating degrees. Oh the Syrah, Riesling and Gamay that rocks forth. Ontario stood up to two straight brutal winters and screamed, “we still made great fucking wine.” Take that mother nature.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

And I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.”

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

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

So I did. In 2015 I visited Niagara for Icewine Fest, discovered exceptional cider (with percentages of Pinot Noir and Riesling) made by Angela Kasimos at Small Talk Vineyards and have been pouring it on tap at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar ever since.

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The taps at the two restaurants poured a record number of wines in 2015, from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. In March we travelled with CAPS Ontario for an eight-hour intense immersion into Niagara Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Another visit with Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario shed new lights, especially for Syrah from the Lincoln Lakeshore. In June I toured the facilities at Niagara College with Dr. Jamie Goode, Magdalena Kaiser and our host Chef Michael Olson. Jamie and I tasted through an impossible number to count Domaine Queylus wines with Thomas Bachelder. On that I will report really soon. Really soon…

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

The Cool Chardonnay conference in July was in fact, the coolest yet. I spent three more glorious Annapolis-Gaspereau Valley days with Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Visits to Domaine de Grand Pre, L’Acadie Vineyards and Benjamin Bridge filled out the east coast foray.

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

In the fall I made pilgrimage to Prince Edward County to get a grip on the eskers, ridges and aspects of what makes wine so special in that part of Ontario.

As always there are wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there more time, space and yet another, better headline to write. Some were knocked off the shortlist because they may not have been quite as exciting though were this list one of “most important,” then perhaps they would have stayed put. These four are perfect examples of that condition.

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign) Perhaps the assessment seven years later creates an unfair advantage but come now, a great wine is a great wine from its humble beginnings. At $16.95, in 2008 or 2015, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the Peninsula, this type of emerging propensity is more than gold or platinum, it’s money.

The Good Wine Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (350751, $20.95, WineAlign) from winemaker Ross Wise and The Good Earth Wine Company’s Nicolette Novak is a necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign) is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Still the Kama Sutra Pinot Noir of inviting behaviour.

Hubbs Creek

Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign). The HCV Danforth Ridge is clearly a top Pinot site in the County (along with slopes on the Greer and Closson roads). Planted to high density the results are proven in wines like this 2010

The year that was 2015 seemed to bring out the adventurous winemaker, the risk-taker and the progressive thinker. While these five wines were not so much exciting as much as they were cerebral, they need to be mentioned. Whenever the envelope is pushed and the emotions of geeks are sequestered, well then a wine has achieved something special. These five really opened some doors.

Bergstrom and Hillebrand

Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign) speaks the treble language of the vintage, predicated on bold ideas looking forward towards a bright future. Ultimately it is yeast and vintage, non partisan to site, that elaborate the Wild Ferment.

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign). The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign). It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. “The law was never passed, but somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last. Have we really gone this far through space and time?”

The latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) of Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign) is a white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.

Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign) though not a common Viognier practice can be imagined with Vendanges Tardives simulation.

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

I try to concentrate on new releases, unless something old (read: Riesling) jumps out and bites me in the ass. The 15 Canadian wines tasted in 2015 that wooed, wowed and whetted the appetite are the fingers, toes and tongues of their creator’s ideals, hopes and dreams. They are also quintessentially representative of their time and place.

And the winners are...

And the winners are…

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

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

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)

This CCV Chardonnay is one of departed winemaker Deborah Paskus’ final acts at Closson Chase. It will forever be noted as a legacy-cementing, swan song of career excellence. Crafted by Paskus and bottled by the next one, current winemaker Keith Tyers, the 2013 CCV is simply a tour de force. No such combination of richness, tropicality and pure grape tannin has ever infiltrated this Chardonnay, from this vineyard. I’m not sure there is a comparison in Ontario, at this level of excellence and at this price. A wine of pure impression, with Montrachet-like structure and Folatières-like precision. Seemingly capacious, its facile legerity is hypnotizing, quantitatively escalating in assembly of aromas, flavours, through texture and finally to longevity. The wine spent 16 months in a mere (17.25 per cent new) oak. That it notes 12.5 per cent alcohol on the label is next to impossible. The substance is just too buttressed to be so tender and effete. Impeccable balance, refinement and mineral finish. This is Chardonnay to confuse the world’s fine white collectors, to wreak havoc at international tastings for five to 10 years. Only 712 cases are available and at $27.95, is down $2 in price from the 2012. Best ever, hands down. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2015  @ClossonChase

"There's no work in walking in to fuel the talk." @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

“There’s no work in walking in to fuel the talk.” @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

In December of 2014 I counted the ’13 CMU Gamay as one of my mind-blowing wines of the year. Once again we are witness to the authentic, raw and natural impossibility of the wine, from 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. The hue is just impossible, the wine sulphur-free. That ’13 Gamay did not last. I tasted again this winter and it failed me. It may return. This ’14 will never leave. It is natural to the 14th degree and yet its rich, smokey chocolate  centre and structure of pure physical stature will not let it slide, into a dumb phase or oblivion. This Gamay will strut. It already does. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015  @PearlMorissette

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

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

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Any Chardonnay from a vineyard discovered on a bicycle just has to be the bomb. Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has had many an adventure on his bicycle and it all began here in a plot of perfectly planted Chardonnay. A block that became his home vineyard. The fodder for this most balanced Chardonnay and its abilities transcend all that has come before. You would never know a barrel was ever involved and yet the silken sheaths of texture are well compressed and expertly ingrained. Nothing falls out of place. Everything remains in its right place. The radio is dialled in, from the top and outward in waves. “There are two colors in my head,” Everything in its right place. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted November 2015  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard Riesling 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Riesling Masterclass

Riesling Masterclass at Terroir 2015

Balance is and therefore always was struck. The match percusses flint for a mere nano-second, with just a brush on cymbal, the rock bleeds but is quickly clotted because the fruit shines still, like around the clock light. The steely aspect is a posterior one, antithetical and yet purposed, from this vineyard. Youth tells common sense to think 2011. The Riesling behaviour seems to play that part, of a chalky, piercing acidity, so typical of that vintage and so distinctly Thirty Bench. That the wine is older is not a big surprise because 2009 is the bomb. It may just be the best Riesling vintage, from on that Bench, in the last 10. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted May 2015  @ThirtyBench

C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Oh so beautifully nasty Syrah, spicy, saucy and wicked. Resin, somewhere between myrrh and mastic, redacts reductively and tension stretches the savoury aspects in all directions. Blood orange and anise blend into the aromatic grain, repeating again through flavour mettle. Fruit, acidity and tannin are interwoven, circulating and on edge, in pitch perfect darkness. Syrah in the big time with the stuffing to age. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015  @CCJentschCellar

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Leaning Post Wines Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @LeaningPostWine

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April  and September 2015  @normhardie

Culmina Hypothesis 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $39, WineAlign)

In 2013 the blend is not listed on the label though it strikes as a return to Cabernet Franc, albeit with a layer of lush not yet perceived. The 2013 combines the best of worlds put forth by the two previous vintages; ripe fruit, earthy-mineral tang, proper acidity and ripe, tonic tannin. The composition here is the most, accomplished, distinguished and relished. In 2013 the enjoyment can be right now or up to 10 years on. All this with thanks to exceptional balance. Drink 2015-2023. This wine has not yet been released. Tasted November 2015  @CulminaWinery

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Hinterland Les Etoiles 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

An axial split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balances this traditional method Sparkling wine, specific to and what can only, obviously be from Prince Edward County. Acidity defines its existence in every facet of its being. A rich star to be sure, from a warm vintage, free from frost and more importantly, immune to mould. Jonas Newman talks of the methodology, in growing low to the ground. As the sun goes down, the canopy shades the fruit, slowing down the ripening, extending the season, developing the sugars, the complexities and preserving the acidity. At 6 g/L RS, with limestone communication and that sassy acidity, Les Etoiles in ’12 is pure County Sparkling. It exudes untamed apple and unnamed acidity. The Hinterland acidity. It strikes early and often. Just add warmth, stir and voila. Terrific year. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted October 2015  @hinterlandwine

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Ancienne 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $40, WineAlign)

If de novo for Pinot Noir is to be found in Nova Scotia then count me in because the inaugural release from Lightfoot & Wolfville is the trailblazer for and from the extrinsic frontier. Tasting the painstakingly measured yet barely handled 2013 for the first time (from bottle) is like falling into a glass of Nova Scotia cherries. Somehow there is this simultaneous and virtual voyage abroad to imagine a comparison with Nuits-Saint-Georges, in its earth crusted, sanguine, welled up tension that begs questions and belies answers. A year yonder the taste from barrel and what can be said? Pinot Noir adjudicated, into a cortex of recognizable consciousness and thus into the natural Nova Scotia mystic. Ignore and forgive the dope of first returns, for no one could have imagined such ripeness and immediate gratification. Future releases will dial back in the name of structure. That said, in 2013 there is a red citrus, ferric debate that will send this to an exordium seven years down the road. Impossible inaugural release. Approximately 50 cases made. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted July 2015  @lwwines  @rachel_hope

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus Tannat 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

“To me this is one of the most successful new varieties we are planting,” exclaims J-L Groux. In similar ways with Stratus varietal cousin Petit Verdot, acidity rules the roost. Smells like a just sliced open bag of organic earth, freshly neutral, funkless and emptying into a (first use) terra cotta pot. A rich, looking straight ahead expression. What it hides in fruit is lost to the brilliance of balance though plum is the operative hidden flesh and it will make a clearer impression when it steps clear of the tar and the tannin. This is pitchy sagacity, with poise and length. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

The Old Third Sparkling Pinot Noir à la Volée 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $59, WineAlign)

“On the fly” is not exactly what comes to mind from this 100 per cent Pinot Noir, first Sparkling wine made by Bruno Francois. Calculated, attention to detail and intensity of ideation more like it. Three years on the lees, no dosage and from a vintage to speak in more than whispered voices, of acidity that announces its arrival with immediacy and a summons to contest. The nose does yeast, toast, citrus and ginger. A first release revelation as ever graced Ontario’s waves, as dry as the desert and lingering with switch back traces of its yeasty, toasty self. A single vineyard can be this way, equally and in opposition of natural and oxidative, with a hue less than Pinot Noir, though unrequited as a triumph when you get a ripe white from such Pinot. The production of 1200 bottles is relatively house high in a stunner that needs no sugar to draw up its flavours. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted twice, July and October 2015

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, '08's, '04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, ’08’s, ’04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2004, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $95.00, WineAlign)

The ’04 is hanging in beautifully, on a wire of impossible balance, at 11 years old not yet really transitioning. There is simply too much brightness for it to give up its youth. You have to strain your ears, nose and throat to assuage just a hint at oxygen, life affirming breaths and then a keener sense of toast and yeast. Still behold the grapefruit, a sign of remarkable adolescence, the hang time amplified and in mass hyperbole here, in this current appraisal, address and time. How can richness act and display with such alpha freshness? How can an aging body not shed baby weight, turn lanky, lean and awkward? How is it neither the bitter pill of juvenility or senility has been swallowed? That is not the case here in a Blanc de Blancs which still has five to seven years of very active life ahead. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

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Meeting of the wines at Treadwell Cuisine

Treadwell's Wild Honey and Peppercorn Glazed Muscovy Duck Breast, quinoa salad, sea buckthorn vinaigrette

Treadwell’s Wild Honey and Peppercorn Glazed Muscovy Duck Breast, quinoa salad, sea buckthorn vinaigrette

Treadwell Restaurant is a wine bar, an Ontario extrapolation on farm-to-table cuisine and an iconic Niagara experience. It opened its doors in Port Dalhousie in 2006, has always been ingredient based and has help to usher in a niche simply called “Niagara cuisine.” Now located (since March of 2013) right in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Treadwells must be experienced at least once.

In June I had the fortune of visiting the restaurant twice. While Chef Stephen Treadwell‘s plates are the show, they are also the support and the reason for Sommelier James Treadwell‘s wine. Ontario and more specifically Niagara are explored, above all else and righteously beyond the pale. I taste more Niagara wine than the average geek. At Treadwell there is no shortage of new discovery. It’s a veritable playground for Ontario wine. The Chef de Cuisine is Matthew Payne. With chef’s eyes I watched him closely on my first visit. I wanted to climb over the counter, to contribute and execute for him, but did there was no reason to. His team was right on line.

Hoison Glazed “VG’s” Beef Short Ribs, potato purée, pickled red onion, summer vegetables

Hoison Glazed “VG’s” Beef Short Ribs, potato purée, pickled red onion, summer vegetables

My visits to Treadwell were made possible by Magdalena Kaiser, Joanna Muratori and the presence of our provincial marketing treasure, Wine Country Ontario. I had the opportunity to sample more than 20 Niagara wines during the two visits. After judging day two at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (#NWAC15) the group was entertained at Treadwells and despite a power outage that put NOTL in the dark from 6:30 until nearly 10:00 pm, Stephen, James, Matthew and their incredible staff soldiered on and produced a most exceptional meal. Amazing.

WineAlign judges, a rainbow and the American Falls

WineAlign judges, a rainbow and the American Falls

Before we made our way to Niagara-on-the-Lake team Rosé donned vermillion ponchos, climbed aboard the Hornblower run by Niagara Cruises and took the most famous of all Canadian boat excursions to the base of Niagara Falls. Then off to Treadwells.

Aboard the Hornblower approaching the Horseshoe Falls

Aboard the Hornblower approaching the Horseshoe Falls

We tasted a few bubbles but they were all wines I have reviewed on previous occasions. The only note I wrote was for a bottle of Sussex fizz brought in by British wine writer Jamie Goode. Thank you Jamie for that treat and the portal into a new market to explore. The winemakers who joined us that night were Shiraz Mottiar (Malivoire), Jay Johnston (Flat Rock), Amelie Boury (Château Des Charmes), Ilya Senchuk (Leaning Post), Brent Anomyces (Associate winemaker at Pearl Morissette) and Martin Werner (Ravine). Here are notes on 14 of the wines tasted and assessed spread across the two visits.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2010 and its excited purveyor Dr. Jamie Goode

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2010 and its excited purveyor Dr. Jamie Goode

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010, Chiltington, West Sussex, England (Winery, £31.95 – BBR)

From the English house with as much accumulated wisdom and experience as any, the Classic Cuvée spent three years on the lees and it shows. Has trod a textured path laid down by the stirred solids towards an increased noblesse. Certainly lean, direct and adaptable, to equivocate a bubble of yeast, toast and a baker’s kitchen, replete with apples and honey ardent in their crust. The residual sugar plays a minor while the acidity (approximately 9 g/L) tintinnabulates in a major key. Citrus pushes all the right elements. This is not your Uncle Monty‘s English fizz. “Free to those that can afford it, very expensive to those that can’t.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015  @Nyetimber

Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2013 and Bachelder Pinot Noir Parfum 2013

Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2013 and Bachelder Pinot Noir Parfum 2013

Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Here Riesling that has reached back and risen up into a breach, beyond the average and the norm. More than a hint of residual sugar catapults and disintegrates into the stratosphere at the hands of linear, direct, pointed and piercing acidity. The citrus is pure squeezed lemon, so natural and circulating in the elemental. The Big Reach takes chances, tries to go where many fear, to extend “and bend our backs and hearts together standing in the breach.” With a few years time it will return from its fissure in the sky and settle into more comfortable closure. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted May 2015  @back10cellars

Flat Rock Gewürztraminer 2012, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $23.15)

Crafted in the warm vintages, the fruit is a mix from Niagara Benchlands and Estate vineyards.  If not fundamentally necessitous this does hit all the right, bright ’12 and 20 Mile notes with clean vision gazing far and beyond to the eastern horizon. Grinds nuts into paste, to a pulpy, whizzed and pure taffeta to tussah. This solid palpation rises above and beyond the expected florals and sweetness so receptive its money. Texture is ultimately key and indispensable in the absence of unmitigated acidity. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1

Ravine Vineyard Gewürztraminer 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Initially muzzy, moving past the nose for a moment the residual is noted as set to high. It’s immediately interesting to taste such a sweetness, one in line with the Riesling Reserve ’13 yet also in belay of Ravine’s ’14 step back in such matters, tasted same night. The ’13 Gewürztraminer does not concern itself with striking connectivity, but instead concentrates on the corporeity of botrytis and texture. Yet another 2013 in which Martin Werner pushes buttons, envelopes and ways of the Peninsula world. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

Ravine Vineyard Reserve Riesling 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Even without prior knowledge that the botrytis number was down (to 30 per cent) in this late fall, estate picked organic St. Davids Bench ’14, such a vector is indicated by the salinity on the nose. The miasma reduction, depressed pedal ere impressed metal suppresses sugar, as does the voluminous yet lightning-free (9.6 g/L) total acidity. The unconventional aspect has come back to the appellative norm, like tropical fruit picked in seasons void of rain, humidity and late afternoon storms. This strides into oversized footsteps, in and out of ages, but not to where the wild things are. Winemaker Martin Werner has reigned in the impulse to freak out with this Riesling, in part to see how the other half lives and also because brilliance is a bumpy, two steps forward, one step back road. With the right botrytis and a look at Riesling from both sides now, the ’15 should have every reason to be revolutionary, trend setting and iconic. Damn if waiting to see what will happen won’t be high on the Niagara periscope agenda. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2015

Leaning Post Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It may hail from the Foxcroft-Wismer-Twenty Mile Bench triangle of Grand Cru territory but this does not go where Rieslings have gone before. The vintage declares tyranny on typical, but it’s not exactly shocking. There is a controlled litheness to be sure, a lime road, an extraction that while not as expansive, is dense somehow. A Senchuk take on Wismer, colour upon colour, in abstraction, time after time.

From my earlier note of April 2014:

Marks a return to the variety for Senchuk, with a dynamic and resounding charge. This barely resembles what may be pigeon-holed as Niagara Peninsula Riesling as it disses the lean, citrus pierce of the dry norm. Don’t panic, it’s not that different, but it does comment on “homes, places we’ve grown, all of us are done for.” From 18 year-old (south block) Foxcroft vines, 15.8 grams of residual sugar and 11.3 grams acidity. Bottled just eight days ago, this is a wine that was “left to develop on its own,” on it lees and with no stirring. “It’s not late harvest, it’s mature, with just enough sugar to make it palatable.” Makes a cold play for warmth, extract, viscosity and natural sweetness. Reaches for complexity beyond acidity, to places old and new, to Germany and to Niagara. Gotta citrus back, endgame palate. I can’t say with certainty that in time this vintage will push the sweetness to the background and develop leathery, gamey and earthy characters. I can say that given some more experience, Senchuk will develop the acumen to make it happen. “There’s nothing here to run from ’cause here, everybody here’s got somebody to lean on.”  200 cases made.

Last tasted June 2015  @LeaningPostWine

2027 Cellars Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Kevin Panagapka’s take on Niagara Riesling is specific enough for the need to look deeper than its broader Twenty Mile Bench roots. The plot thickens within the confines of Craig Wismer’s Vineyard, to the Foxcroft block where Chardonnay and Riesling are meant to be. Kevin is not alone is making use of this exceptional fruit. Tawse, Leaning Post and now Two Sisters all work from there, but no one puts the spirit into Foxcroft like Panagapka, as he does similarly with his Foxcroft Chardonnay. If the electric spin were toned down a touch in ’12 and ’13, here in ’14 the plug is back in, the amplification turned up to 11 and the house is simply rocking. This probes and punctures citrus fruit to burst, crackle and pop but it has no aspirations for weightlessness and atmosphere. It is so very concrete, grounded on 20 Mile terra firma, present, accounted for, looking straight into your eyes. Pale to purposed, striking in its missive for anti-tropical flavours and nearly massive in its thin delight. Dramatically truthful Riesling. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @2027cellars

Treadwell's Pan Seared East Coast Scallops, caramelized cauliflower, guanciale, caper vinaigrette and Ontario Asparagus, poached “Bertha’s Bounty” egg , truffled burnt butter vinaigrette

Treadwell’s Pan Seared East Coast Scallops, caramelized cauliflower, guanciale, caper vinaigrette and Ontario Asparagus, poached “Bertha’s Bounty” egg , truffled burnt butter vinaigrette

Big Head Wines Chenin Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The grape that begat Big Head is so versatile that even in the technical and experimental hands of winemaker Andrzej Lipinski it retains true identity. Appassimento treatment and aging in old oak barrels may add layer and viscosity in the reds but in the whites the leesy funk remains, as does an off-dry, mineral bent. Dried earth, salinity and bitter pith join the fruit wrecking party. This is a bold expression with a big head. We’re the fruit strong enough to defend itself it would be something very special. Poured from a magnum at Treadwell restaurant. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015  @BigHeadWine

Malivoire Melon de Bourgogne 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95)

Here is a clean, almost silky Beamsville addition to the Ontario Melon de Bourgogne game, of melons picked ripe with no need for trucks and travel, just cut ’em in half and pull out a spoon. Cool climate lime juice acidulates the melon, it’s that direct and simple. Acidity need not distract from the purity but it’s there, off to the side, on a need to know basis. Glug, glug Melon, a white wine that would pour so fine from the tap. As in wine on…Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Chateau 08 and Ravine14

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008 Ravine Vineyard Reserve Riesling 2014

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps the assessment seven years later creates an unfair advantage but come now, a great wine is a great wine from its humble beginnings. At $16.95, in 2008 or 2015, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the Peninsula, this type of emerging propensity is more than gold or platinum, it’s money. This is a Riesling to vacuum up global accolades, to open eyes wide and to enjoy drinking Riesling. The ’08 CdC does what the vintage demanded; created a union for off-dry reasoning, denaturant gleaning, acceptance of petrol, lime condensation, salinity and herbal behaviour. If it were ever once a rough sketch, it is now and will continue to be all those things, a candy’s room full of treasures. With Riesling “if you wanna be wild, you got a lot to learn, close your eyes, let them melt, let them fire, let them burn.” In time, in capable hands, it all comes together. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015  @MBosc

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2012, Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (319525, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Cabernet Sauvignon (50 per cent), Cabernet Franc (25) and Merlot (25) Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard confluence produced in heteroclite (warm, warmer and warmest) years has learned from itself. Where at one time the scarce Niagara heat was a blessing, the ability in winemaking consistency in the present and going forward can determine adversity should the winemaker’s hands play the heavy. Subtlety is key, as in here, the moorish weight shed and the black, wood shrouded fruit left behind in the old stable. The oak may not so much have changed as much as the wisdom of the start to finish process, especially in the picking and the soak. The red fruit has been avowed of purity so 2012 affords an increase in legerity, by hand and in kind for the classic Bordeaux assembly. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2015

Bachelder Pinot Noir Parfum 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, Price unknown – approx. $25-27)

The Parfum is a departure for Thomas Bachelder, a path not previously taken to pick, ferment and vinify in the name of perfume. The aromatics and legerity have delighted into a Pinot Noir for a licensee song. Don’t be fooled by the sachet of felicity. This wine is also built on extraction, intensity, volupté and richness. A slight rust is observed, one that never sleeps in a Bachelder world, one that works harder with eyes closed, thinking, mulling, fuelling the next thought. The Parfum makes and leaves an impression. It’s quite beautiful and accesible. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April and June 2015  @Bachelder_wines

Malivoire Melon 2014 and Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2014

Malivoire Melon 2014 and Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2014

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

In December of 2014 I counted the ’13 CMU Gamay as one of my mind-blowing wines of the year. Once again we are witness to the authentic, raw and natural impossibility of the wine, from 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. The hue is just impossible, the wine sulphur-free. That ’13 Gamay did not last. I tasted again this winter and it failed me. It may return. This ’14 will never leave. It is natural to the 14th degree and yet its rich, smokey chocolate  centre and structure of pure physical stature will not let it slide, into a dumb phase or oblivion. This Gamay will strut. It already does. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2014  @PearlMorissette

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2009, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (319525, $38.00, WineAlign)

Has reached near-nirvana. The intensely focused withdrawal, the inward spiral to a fully condensed state is so very close. This is Pearl Morissette’s most shelf-talking Chardonnay, of lemon preserved, reversed, jammed into its own half shell, like a honey-tart sorbet, creamy, fleshed and inward. This is true wine of impression, a marvel in rewind.

From my earlier note of July 2013:

Tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.

Last tasted June 2015

 

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Rock this way

Rockway at WineAlign

Rockway at WineAlign

Last month, while working through a table of wines at WineAlign I tasted through five samples of Rockway Vineyards whites. All five were from the 2013 vintage. If it has not yet happened, these wines will usher the coming out party, to establish Rockway as a player in the new pantheon of Escarpment foothills whites.

The vines at Rockway Vineyards are located in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation on the Niagara Peninsula. The winemaker is David Stasiuk, a veteran of heralded estates around the world, including Le Clos Jordanne, Australia’s Yarra Valley Moet Chandon and CedarCreek in the Okanagan. His wines are truly estate made; 99.9 per cent are grown, crafted and bottled at Rockway. I find the Riesling to fall into a niche straddled by Henry of Pelham and Flat Rock Cellars. Gewürztraminer is really in a class of its own, a trump card for Stasiuk and something I would encourage him to play with, into late harvest and beyond. Chardonnay is Twenty Mile Bench through and through, where place and barrel mark the twain and split the check. Here are the notes on the five tasted back in late March.

From left to right: Block Blend Riesling 2013, Small Lot Riesling Block 150 183 2013, Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2013, Chardonnay 23 77 2013 and Small Lot Block 12 110 Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2013

From left to right: Block Blend Riesling 2013, Small Lot Riesling Block 150 183 2013, Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2013, Chardonnay 23 77 2013 and Small Lot Block 12 110 Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2013

Rockway Vineyards Block Blend Riesling 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $13.95, WineAlign)

Middle of the road in the temple of Rockway and Riesling, making an offer to appreciate and enjoy just about every tenet there might be to gain. Lessened but generous (10.5 per cent) alcohol, one shy step this side of off-dry. Flint and petrol but just a hint and grape tannin combustion, though only shrouded by a single, thin veil of skin. Provides smithy entry into metal working, aerodynamic Peninsula Riesling. By combining blocks this sheds light on the generational varietal world of the Twenty Mile Bench. As a life story it “started with a little kiss, like this.” A very successful amalgamation rocks this way in copacetic strut and finishes well, with lime. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted March 2015

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Riesling Block 150 183 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

The elemental surprises and flat-out rippling effect felt from this highly specialized geological, geographical and micro-climate trove stands to be taken with extreme notice. Savour and sous bois tonics provide for a deeper, richer and soil connected Riesling. The complexion and subtraction causes a cerebral dwell, investigation and a requiem for patience. This needs time to settle in, to shed the cumbersome and not entirely accessible volume. But there is simplicity in complexity, with acids lively, burgeoning and two-chord strumming. The overall canned or jarred feeling will open up once class lets out and this small parcel bottling will become a “rock, rock, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll” Riesling. It just wants to have fun and get some kicks so wait three years. A worthy if punkier follow-up to ’12. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2015

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

Just 299 cases were made of this unique Short Hills Bench Gewürztraminer, a warm and fuzzy (read: peach) example that draws balm and sunshine from the underexposed Niagara sub-appellation. Winemaker David Stasiuk’s Rockway Riesling fortitude translates across a lieu-dit exegesis to an end that suggests the grape variety may just be his secret weapon. The horizontal expressiveness is matched by varietal typicity, in lychee, rose-water and spring verdancy. Fine, unctuous stuff, easily consumed, with nary a bitter edge and good citrus, lactic zest on the more than laudable finish. Reminds a bit of South African Steen. Gewürztraminer to “rock away these days, rock away these nights… something to last…’til the morning light.” Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted March 2015

Rockway Vineyards Chardonnay 23 77 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $14.95, WineAlign)

For semantic intents and purposes this is really unbaked Chardonnay, built from (77 per cent) stainless steel and (23 per cent) neutral barrel ferments. Low in alcohol (12.7 per cent) and piqued in oak-less freshness, the light simply says go on the green. A slight screwcap compression causes early fizz, a locked in al fresco bite filled in by leesy, sweet and sour flavours and texture. Typically apple in origin, basic, old school Rockway fun. “Remember the songs used to make you rock away. Those were the days.” Classic Chardonnay jam. Beres Hammond style. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted March 2015

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12 110 Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2013, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here is another David Stasiuk composition that cements the idea of 2013 as being the turning point for Rockway to become a major player in Niagara whites. Just 215 cases were produced of this idiosyncratic block meets yeast Chardonnay. Such a cool climate sprinter whose wild ferment action hero activity seems to still be in mode, given the aromatic, speeding bullet locomotion. “Quick as a cat, in the jungle.” Quite chalky on that nose, like dust trails flung by fast-moving parts, in super limestone distillation, rocky, wedged into flint. No dummy texture, with patent tannic grip and grit, pebbles popping, crashing, testing. Sweetness is there but yet unreal. Chardonnay that can only be Twenty Mile Bench, in ways that bring Sébastien Jacquey’s LCJ Claystone Terrace and Jay Johnston’s Rusty Shed to mind. In ways that are conveyed by terroir, by barrel, not as an afterthought but in how it adds cream, not sawdust. It also adds weight, not sap. It builds texture, block by block. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted March 2015

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Is writing making a mess of wine?

Rave Review

Rave Review

Wine today is suffocated by an industrial and disproportionate number of writers, critics, reviewers and judges. There are so many voices vying for airtime, filling up virtual white pages with their comments, feelings and dissertations. There are homers and there are curmudgeons. When in balance, both keep the ship afloat, but more often than not the questions begs. Which ones are causing the wreck? The answer is both. The problem is not the intent but rather the execution.

You may have noticed that when I write about wine, which is pretty much all of the time, I use a whole lot of words. A mess of vocabulary. An inordinate amount of adjectives. A boundless number of references to music, song and pop culture. It’s how I roll. And it has got me thinking, again.

Tis’ about that time of year. A period for reflection and review, not on what was so great in the previous vintage but about the things that will be critical going forward in this new one. Please excuse the interlude while I hang suspended within the interval of hermeneutic, contemplation and debate. Reading books on anthropology, art world shenanigans and a post-holocaust personal journey are seeping into my thoughts like Sémillon into Sauvignon Blanc and the varietal blend is coming up complicated.

Related – Wine: It’s a matter of tasting notes

Old guard tasting notes are losing their relevance and not because they are wrong or inaccurate. They just don’t speak to wine in the 21st century. They don’t tell a story and they surely don’t have any fun. So what? Imagine taking a video of yourself working on your computer, browsing the internet, reading and interacting on social media. What would you see? A world of links and associations. A world where thoughts and comments bounce around like children in a jumpy castle. This is the realm of the new tasting note. This is what wine can do for you in the 21st century. It can lead you forward and take you back. Most of all it can really tie your life together.

Related – Three-chord wines, hold the rants

Then the whining. The constant shrill voice of conceit mixed with complaint. The words minced to poison with a hunger to attack. Paragraphs penned to warn of apocalypse and to relegate decent writers to the scrap heap and back to the depressing nine to five. Writers reacting only to what others do without creating anything of their own. Comedians of the wine world lashing out, ranting, shouting “got ’em, need ’em, hate ’em.”

These attitudes and still the truth is not to be ignored. Reading a wine through a tasting note is like kissing a woman through a veil. “Translation is a kind of transubstantiation,” where one wine becomes another and another. You can choose your philosophy of critiquing just as you choose how to live. The freedom to personalize or substantiate thoughts on structure sacrifices the detail to meaning and meaning to preciseness. The winemaker is the writer or poet, moving from vines to vinous language. The critic moves in the opposite direction, or should, by attempting to read between the lines, to identify what can’t be seen, to interpret the mysterious implications of smell, taste and texture.

The lede firmly and flatly backs the headline, states, if asks, “is writing making a mess of wine?” Yes, that is a double entendre, a loaded gun of meaning and hypothesis, a million dollar question. While we want to know who’ll stop the rain, we also desperately need to understand the meaning of wine. So we put it down in words. We explain how wonderful life is with wine in the world. We also break it down, grape by grape, to a point where it often lies broken, disassembled, deconstructed, left for naked. What is it for? Are wine writers leaving behind a city of ruins?

Have they decided and determined that the winemaker’s works can be used to make a point? A point that belongs to the critic? Has the wine writer taken away the artist’s right to be, has the intent been obscured, or worse, the opposite and turned it into a curator’s right?

There are wines that claim you and wines that warn you away. Maybe the writers are just looking for wine that would teach them everything, like searching for one language, just as some would look for one woman’s face. The combined fugitive pieces of wine and its critics pose “questions without answers.” They must be asked very slowly.

To the beleaguered point five wines are here venerated and disfigured, assessed and cut to size. They are sniffed and sipped, thought of in song and regurgitated on the page. Do they lift or bury their maker’s plan? You be the judge.

From left to right: Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009

From left to right: Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (384339, $17.95, WineAlign)

Here, from Dominio del Plata, an experiment with clear merit. The attributes are so sizeable, with weight depth and no compromise. The dramatic effect works to ignore the “clouds of mystery pourin’ confusion on the ground.” The floral aromatic integrity of Torrontés is upheld within the leaden shackles of the wood, as is the savour. This is a honeyed white, suckling and mellifluous, like fully extracted ripe Sémillon, from and with the benefit of a warm vintage. Puts the fun back into varietal revival by way of a giant leap up from the thin, medicinal water clogging the arteries of South American white wines so often put to market. Here is a Torrontés to stop the rain.  Tasted January 2015  @ddpwinery  @ProfileWineGrp

Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Napa Valley, California (424179, $19.95, WineAlign)

There are so many reasons not to find a thrill in this regional blend of Pinot Noir fruit but none of them stick. Sweetness, simple syrup silky fruit, brown sugar, every red and purple berry in all varieties of fields (plus ripe plums) and warm to temperate alcohol (14.5 per cent declared) all combine for full California sunshine effect. All this and I just can’t turn away. With all the excess fruit, texture and multiplicity in good times, how can I? I ask this Pinot, “how come you, how come you dance so good?” The answer lies in the feel and the ability to turn a Noir trick or two. Not to mention a rolling of barrels and Napa Valley stones through its very core. Well done.  Tasted January 2015  @sterlingwines  @Diageo_News

Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, VQ Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Steve Byfield’s crimson blend of Cabernet Franc (42 per cent), Merlot (33), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Syrah (5) is at once so very Niagara while acting out anomalously in the 2011 vintage. Ripe, extracted fruit appears warm-vintage drawn, with its coated layers of primer, brushstroke and plummy stone fruit. The warmth is tempered by savour, oranges, figs and psalms. Its ability to find cadence and cascade keeps it “cool in the shade.” The varietal combining is delineated in balance, “sliding mystify, on the wine of the tide.” This effort, with its new name, could become one of the king’s amongst Ontario blends.  Tasted January 2015  @NyaraiCellars

Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Vienna, Austria (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

Here, the intensity of multi-varietal wine defined. From next to the Danube, out of the Ulm Vineyard, on a very steep southern slope on the eastern part of the Nussberg. The composition is nine-fold; Weissburgunder, Neuburger, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Traminer and Riesling. The aridity (1.3 g/L RS) is visionary. Beneath the vineyard there is coral from the tertiary period and in this wine you can hear the Geiger counter amplifying the faint eupnea of fossilized shells, thousands of years ago. Its resinous, sappy and majestic floating flowers are like “potions in a traveling show.” The layering is heavy (14.5 per cent ABV) and variegated, like sands and snails in a bottle or a vessel filled with an alcohol made from nature’s natural and fermenting bounty; carboniferous forest cosmology and the unpronounceable names of exotic fruit. Then there is the wooden smoulder, the white rock solder, the pine and the scene where “I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss.” The Gemischter Satz is granular but in liquid form, marbled and with a lovely wisp of oxidation. It exudes lemon custard and tonic in a wild yet beautiful breath of sauvage. It is your song. Tasted January 2015

Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009, Docg Umbria, Italy (403139, $49.95, WineAlign)

Here thickness is applied in every way imaginable. Sagrantino from the maw of the beast; raw, big-boned, musky, chewing sinew and spitting out teeth. Though fierce and ancient, eliciting vegetal scents as if Pliny’s natural history were scoured for every trace of pungent plants grown in iron rich earth, it is also the most modern expression of Umbria, or all of Italy even. In so many ways it’s pretty Gestanko, composted and of an incomparable spume. But it also desensitizes and endears in a soulful, ethereal way “like scattered leaves,” blowing in a stiff breeze. It folds back the skin of time, in waves of heat and at times is so very sweet. Bring this to the apocalyptic marshmallow roast. Leaves the red wine city in ruins and in the dust. Sagrantino at 16.5 %. Burn, baby burn.  Tasted January 2015  @TrialtoON  @TABARRINI

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Seven compelling picks from VINTAGES for January 24

Potato Pancakes

Potato Pancakes

Today I will go out and taste another set of wines, graciously if institutionally laid out by our hosts at the LCBO. The challenge in assessment will be, as always, in the unearthing of the gems from within the larger group. There are always great wines to discover. That is the joy.

Two weeks ago I did the same. From that mass of juice I first published last week on the Spanish beauties that stood out to be counted. As far as a feature thematic goes, the Spanish armada was very impressive. Does that not say something about the state of quality in Spanish wine today? Like the wines presented below, those Spaniards are another group of wines whose future is being remembered with each passing sip.

Related – Varietal Spanish wine

In wine there exists minute atomic particles spinning and interacting in space, in the bottle and in the glass. Sure that’s really all there is. But we think, perhaps too much, yet still we think. The ritual relationship between vines and wines is based not only on rooted human connections to these vines and wines but also on a far more subtle intuition. It’s based on the idea that the vines and wines are breathed into actuality by civilized consciousness. Wine is compelling and begs to be entwined and transformed by the human imagination.

So, after that piece of grand advice, shopping list in hand, find a store nearby with any or all of these seven recommended bottles and have a great, wine-soaked January weekend.

From left to right: Aubert Visan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2013, Rosehall Run Cuvée Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2011, Vignobles De Balma Vénitia Cuvée Saint Roch Vacqueyras 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling 2011, William Fèvre Chablis Montmains Premier Cru 2012, Podere La Vigna Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

From left to right: Aubert Visan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2013, Rosehall Run Cuvée Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2011, Vignobles De Balma Vénitia Cuvée Saint Roch Vacqueyras 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling 2011, William Fèvre Chablis Montmains Premier Cru 2012, Podere La Vigna Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Aubert Visan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2013, Ac Rhône, France (224915, $15.95, WineAlign)

Highly modern, evolved and warm weather friend. Red fruits dominate the aromas and on the palate a good angst lurks of something darker and ferric, though not over the top. Has a level of complexity that will see it to future days of coming together. Tannins and acidity are tough so give it three to five years. Well made and more than laudable value in Côtes Du Rhône.  Tasted January 2015  @warren_walden  @VINSRHONE

Rosehall Run Cuvée Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County (401208, $19.95, WineAlign)

With five months to solidify the intent, now the County fruit is revealed as a very upfront and happy place fitted, unbaked Chardonnay. “Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing,” the wine is hungry in heart, riverine pointed and a touch effervescent. This is to be liked, in an Irish belt and Germanic sangfroid meets Moscato d’Asti melding way. Not as dry as some other Ontario unplugged but inflected of a similar floral and leesy profile. Very unique take. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “What is so striking about Dan Sullivan’s unoaked Chardonnay is the classic and unmistakeable County perfume that can only be his. No matter the grape, a Sullivan white is a cold play of pear and citrus, made most obvious when oak is not around to confuse. A Rosehall white is always the most glycerin-textured in the County and Sullivan’s light touch ensures this PEC Chard is made in the vineyard. There is a lightness in its being but it is one of the better unoaked wines made in the region.” Last tasted January 2015  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2011, Tuscany, Italy (168286, $21.95, WineAlign)

You have to swirl the stuffing out of this Chianti Classico, to aerify the concentrated must, soften the smithy metal and shake the dust out of the skeletal toys in the attic. In Chianti sometimes “nothing’s seen, real’s a dream.” After that it’s so very volatile, angry, biting, scathing and downright agitated. But it’s big and bruising, full of prune, fig and a real CC swagger. Very large for CC, in full conceit and with all those opposing forces in battle, I can see this aging for 10 plus years. Would like to see where it goes when it settles. In the later stages there is a funk, of the extra-terrestial Tuscan kind. Fun Sangiovese.  Tasted January 2015  @chianticlassico

Vignobles De Balma Vénitia Cuvée Saint Roch Vacqueyras 2011, Ac Rhône, France (4003822, $24.95, WineAlign)

Delicious smelling Vacqueyras, of pure red fruit distillation, bursting berries and a smouldering of warm earth. Breath deeply and it doth not burn at all, a sign of great restraint and seamless forward thinking. Nice soft structure and carries itself with such poise. What’s not to love here?  Tasted January 2015  @TheCaseForWine

Domaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling 2011, Ac Alsace Grand Cru, France (627950, $33.95, WineAlign)

To the north of Guebwiller, the vineyard is “the peninsula on the plain.” More often than not drier than the others, less weighty than Kitterlé and on par with Kessler, 2011 is the year of its kinship. Here alights the lemon drop, petrol, vintage given and vintage using searing Schlumberger. I have tasted the last five (in Saering, Kessler and Kitterlé) and here is the most intense of the group. Really wound tight, rolled into a fine Riesling cigar, with the stuffing to see that its “gonna go far, fly high…never gonna die.” Saering, those who wait patiently for you to become a star, “they’re gonna love you.” Tart and chalky, very calcareous, very serious. This needs 10 years to see heights elevated into another stratosphere.  Tasted January 2015  @drinkAlsace

William Fèvre Chablis Montmains Premier Cru 2012, Burgundy, France (977587, $49.95, WineAlign)

A revisit (nine months after first tasting) confirms the ascertained earth, the gathered calcaire and the efficiency of mastering this plot. While neither as elegant as Les Lys or as intense as Mont Milieu, the Montmains is struck by stark, lees melding structure and mouthfeel. The sensation is like sucking on a slow-release tablet of concentrated Montmains. It’s pointed, rigid and saline, like a bone from the skin of the sea. Amazing tannin. The weight is gathered from dynamism that turns seas to rock, rock to liquid. Needs five more years.  Last tasted January 2015  @WilliamFevre  @WoodmanWS  @BIVBChablis

Podere La Vigna Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (390807, $49.95, WineAlign)

If ever there was a glaring example of how a wine can polarize a room full of tasters, the Podere La Vigna Brunello is the dictionary entry. There is no doubt that it reeks of classic Sangiovese Grosso, of leather hides, centuries old liqueurs and hanging carcasses. Straight up, this is an animal, of Montalcino animale and animated beyond suspended belief. A combination of heavy syrup and evolution are well ahead of the curve. That in itself is not the issue, but rather the earthy, pruned fruit, overripe and heavily extracted. It’s a hematoma of a Brunello, with the swelling rising in the wine like bruises but, that said, it’s so very Brunello. Acidity is present but falls a bit short, while the length is just decent. I am not blown away by its ancient and pageant charms because it will not last. Were it a ’95 it would have huge appeal. but if consumed in 2033 it will most certainly provide for some muddy water.  Tasted January 2015  @buonvini  @ConsBrunello

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Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

Dusty the Burrowing Owl Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Dusty the Burrowing Owl
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

The Burrowing Owl Vineyard portfolio is a big one, in varietal scope and in style. That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.

A second point of interest centres on the winery being at the forefront of a captive breeding program to help the endangered Burrowing Owl in British Columbia. Fundraising at the winery has helped make possible a recovery program to reestablish them in the Okanagan. The natural grassland habitats available to the owls comprises less than one per cent of the province. It’s a matter of burrows. Agriculture and civilization are taking away their space. Why save the owl? Because they are different – they nest in underground burrows rather than in cavities or in the branches of trees and they are often active in broad daylight. The winery’s co-operation is an example of the landowner’s stewardship agreements needed to ensure the owl’s survival.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl was started by Jim Wyse and its location in one of North America’s most diverse ecosystems is the source of one of the wine world’s most constant preoccupations. Caring for wildlife and wine don’t also coincide but they do at BO. Jim’s son Chris is now at the head of the portfolio. Wyse brought the show to Toronto Fine Wine Reserve along with their Ontario agent, Le Sommelier.

The Burrowing Owl wines do not shrink away from tasters, are not shy and to a bottle show their strength in elicitation. They are wines that give a hoot and leave a zaftig impression. Their strengths travel from big to bigger but in the end, after tasting nine examples, palate fatigue is not an issue. Balance is struck across the portfolio, as is diversity and a shared private moment. Thanks to Bernard Stramwasser, Jan Didriksen and of course, Chris Wyse. Here are 12 Burrowing Owl wines tasted in November at the FWR and at the LCBO Media lab for VINTAGES releases.

Burrowing Owl Vineyard Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Vineyard
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Calliope Figure 8 Red 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (324582, $17.95, WineAlign)

For all intents and purposes this is Okanagan Syrah, in content (75 per cent), protein (meat and smoke) and cool climate aromatics (mint, eucalyptus and graphite). The (25 per cent) Merlot component adds little to nothing, save for mellow softening. That, or the simple fact of what four years of age will elucidate fruit made to simply please from the get go. Elevation may have once made a terse statement but is now resolved with an easy-going temperament. At this time the Calliope is a slice of sweet, tart and savoury cherry pie, at once “revved up like a deuce,” but now just “another runner in the night.” Still, at $18, painted and abrasive, it can leave one blinded by the light. Still has the legs to make it through the night.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Malbec 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00 – B.C.)

The fruit comes from the southern reaches, near Osoyoos Lake. The Malbec differs from the other reds; it’s both stoic and pleasant, easy on the olfactory and gustatory senses. So very red, in direct proportion for smell and taste, of berries, in plum, for tea and spices. In condition of being a Burrowing Owl red, it tightens late but takes longer to not play nice, to turn away from its easy-going ways. Extended leisure time prevents an early turn to reach deeper into the bed of intensity and so this Malbec finishes more abruptly with shorter length than the others.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (208694, $33.95, WineAlign)

Intimates warm sunshine but can’t hide from its cool nights. An element of periodic surprise wafts straight up and grabs the little nose hairs by the tips, tugs and then lets go. Hatchoo. Wisps green apple skin, daikon radish and a metal tang. Full on fruit-mineral-earthy expression. Big Chardonnay as ripe as its gets for the Okanagan but carries a hefty (though you might ponder an inordinate exorbitance of 14.5 per cent abv) with relative ease. Goes on at length, about what, I do not yet know, but I’m willing to hang in there for 5-7 years to find out.  Tasted September and November 2014

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585737, $40.95, WineAlign)

The softest and only downy wine in the Burrowing Owl lot, elegant, pure, ripe and yet intimately Merlot. Just a minor crack of the whip shudders on the back-end, indicating some minor tannic matters that are yet to be resolved. Three more years of attitude reducing time will fully complete this ’10’s adjunct necessity. Though it’s not the most dusty of Merlots, nor masculine neither, overall it’s bright and vibrant.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (556613, $40.95, WineAlign)

The hot climate, sandy soil and water-deprivation all combine to intensify Burrowing Owl’s Pinot Noir, like desert fruit in a Sonoran landscape. It exhibits extreme unction in high tones; of cherry extraction, blanketed warmth and west coast favour. Sun, ripeness and a full hand scooping through the olive tart. Has heft and flavours in abundance, of rich plum treacle, like Christmas cake in Pinot Noir form. The angles are all on the back end, in voluminous, hydrated granules of gravelly fruit. The Black Sage vineyard runs through, infiltrating every pore. Crazy, overblown and over the top.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent 73072, $41.95, WineAlign)

Here there lists a depth of intensity, from out of a vintage that gave cause for struggle and the necessity in fortitude. Richly layered, full on red fruit, smoky, smouldering and mired in solder. Iron wine, on a horse, from out of the sinking depths of deep, deep sand. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing because “everything has got to be just like you want it to.”  Last tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (349019, $43.95, WineAlign)

The Owl’s ’12 Cabernet Franc is first real-time proof in magnified proportion of the true savour of the magnanimous red line up. This is the wine that proves the varietal transparency, the wise and sage terroir that all the wines can’t help but put on display for the world to engage. Cabernet Franc that is distinct, popping, bracing and very physical.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Athene 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (371336, $44.95, WineAlign)

A co-fermented, single tank Syrah (60 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40) blend from vineyards in Oliver and Osoyoos. A generously oaked, eerily Barossan mimicked concoction that spent 18 months in 40 per cent new French and American barrels. The vanilla, chocolate, mocha, lavender and coconut shake texture and waft is uncompromising and concomitant. Burrowing Owl’s experimentations indicated that co-fermentation leaves a desired effect, much more so than separate vinification. While it’s a rich, hooting, wild-eyed and shivery red, this shows more elegance than the solo Syrah. It’s a different sort of intensity, of sage, Cassis and graphite, but also a sandy grit liquified. Shorter too and admissable as evidence of heavy blending, as a shrewd companion of heroes and a goddess of heroic endeavour.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

The Meritage ’10 has integrated in niceties, settled into domesticated, symbiotic grips with its varietal relationships. Though it may have struggled earlier on, it has now entered its period of glory. The pitchy brood on the back palate persists, wrapped in strength to strength from texture and through structure. Epitomizes the attitude of a Burrowing Owl red. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.”  Last tasted November 2014

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Life is a Cabernet

The closures of Plumpjack

The closures of Plumpjack

The wineries of Plumpjack, Cade and Odette bring three distinct Napa Valley growing areas together; Oakville, Howell Mountain and the Silverado Trail. When the unified program cascades into town it has a tremendous evangelical effect, proselytizing many. Though well-known and regarded California grape varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah are part of the PCO output, that stalwart varietal behemoth called Cabernet Sauvignon stands alone. For this group of Napa wineries, life is a Cabernet.

Plumpjack is the heart and soul of the operation. In 2015 the Oakville outfit will celebrate 20 years of collocating wines from plots of Napa significance. In a universe steeped in the paradox of what was Bordeaux and is now California, Plumpjack makes work in fractive reflection of a vineyard’s take on that paradox. The estate’s 42 acres are nestled between the foothills of the Vaca mountain range and the Napa River flood zone. Cade works with Howell Mountain’s fog on 54 acres above the valley. The extremes of temperature and moisture do for Cade like the Petaluma Gap ushers to Sonoma but with more consistency from vintage to vintage. On Howell Mountain, balance is everything. Odette is the new, wunderkind venture, with Jeff Owens as winemaker, spiraled and sprawled across 54 acres against the Stag’s Leap Palisades knuckled down with all five Bordeaux varietals.

The Napa triumvirate of Plumpjack, Cade and Odette is represented in Ontario by The Vine Agency, a Toronto based wine bureau of authority, rebelliously in focus through the eyes of Rob Groh. Groh is an indefatigable defender of honest juice with a penchant for estate-grown, family procured, characterful wines. He and Derek Kranenborg brought General Manager John Conover to the Distillery District’s Cluny Bistro last month for an intense fixation, mostly and righteously on Cabernet Sauvignon.

From left to right: Adaptation Chardonnay 2011, Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010

From left to right: Adaptation Chardonnay 2011, Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010

Adaptation Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $32.95) Consignment

A full on crème filling feel is awash in tropical nuance. At once young and tender like hearts of palm and then again  like roasted cart nuts and a bonfire on the beach, eventually cooled by palm fronds and prevailing winds. Nothing would suit this better than a suckling pig and a mess of lobsters. Seamless in texture all the way through, finishing with dessert cream and buttery pastry.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Napa Valley, California (325019Agent, $67.00) VINTAGES Classics December 2014

Part Carneros and part St. Helena with the former trumping the latter as this is much cooler and linear, with apples in stereo acidity, cogitated in a self-professed “alternative California style.” Definition: zero malolactic fermentation. This is the second such recent animal (along with Gundlach-Bundschu) though the first Napa to do Ontario in such dissident manner. Feathers a tickle up the olfactory passage and bounds in restless bounce within the walls of the jumpy castle. Not quite indelicate but high-toned at the present time. Such a nimbly carved ride in wild yeast serried within an expressive ferment, with a Fernet note and a request for patience. Really long finish.  Tasted October 2014

Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (353102, $49.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Release November 8, 2014

As a second wine to Plumpjack, Adaptation offers a similar, if less complex mental state to the dean Cabernet. The stress-free vintage gives very ripe, lush and excelling fruit in the throes of oak and circumstance. Tones are bright, aromas defined, with patent black cherry and Cassis. As noted, oak is not unbeknownst but it infuses the fruit with just a little chalk and from a very fine grain. Somewhat savoury sweet currants bring delicate flavour, along with a mild cure in its marbled flesh. Turns devilish with spice box, a drag on a hand rolled cigar and a slice of rye toast, caramelized on the edges. Will adapt to protein, with banter and good cheer.  Tasted October 2014

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (Agent, 325027, $112.95, WineAlign)

Though prepped by notions of a cooler and later ripening vintage, there is even more savoury, tobacco and cool clime (altitude) aromatics than might have been imagined. This Cade is so very bright in a cherry-plum-pomegranate continuum yet in contrast to a (negatively impacting) sweet-sour-tang drupe. Tends to angles more akin to Tuscan summer savour, like lavender, rosemary, sage, and vanilla. The overall impression to palate is that of a chew of the toffee that might be made by the aromatic combination, or a pull of syrupy tea. In the end there is nothing simple about this thoughtfully crafted Cade.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $78.95) Consignment

Fruit from the Oak Knoll Vineyard etched as ripe a Napa Merlot that can or would ever want to be. That it teeters on the scarp, laughing at the greens, partying with the reds and joking with the blacks, this Merlot is quite righteous in quintessential necessity. It screams fruit, picked just at THE moment. At 15.2 per cent the expectation would be intensity, like a moth with a fatal attraction to a book fire but it manages the sun and ripeness with ease. Drink this now, if you can afford it and wait five more to see where it goes.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Oakville 2007 (screwcap), Napa Valley, California (Winery)

There’s a dusty aromatic feel here with tar, charcoal and the ardor of wet stones roasting in a hot room. The barrel is still speaking this many years on, the fruit lurking, the wood caressing but with a strong and outstretched hand. Dark berries come out of the waft in full play and when tasted, with tobacco and many candied flowers. Very Paulliac. Full warmth, with a texture of cream, vanilla, layer cake and nuzzled by sweet tannins. In spite of the compass it is approachable (stupidly so) and still worthy of a lazy petering for 10 years forward.  Tasted October 2014

Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Oakville 2007 (cork), Napa Valley, California (Winery)

Less dust but that’s splitting hairs. When making comparisons without the necessity of blind pours the minute distinctions are conjured by plotting and conjecture. Same wood up front, same sweet fruit behind. The texture of cream filled layer cake and some spice with tobacco on the back palate. This is extreme modernity incarnate. It seeks love and love it receives.  Tasted October 2014

Cluny Bistro Octopus

Cluny Bistro Octopus

Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Oakville, Napa Valley (296483, $140.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Release November 22, 2014

Just an incredible crack of aromatics mark what seems like 10-plus minutes of thunder Plumpjack; Spring wildflowers, black raspberry, roasted game and crushed steen as if from Gironde-banked, well-drained gravel, sandy stone and clay soils. Ripe, seamless and nonrigid. “I dare you to smell bell pepper in this,” chides General Manager John Conover. Though 2011 caused some Napa concern, Plumpjack will have had none of its woes and whimpers. The Oakville Cabernet “does this thing she calls the jump back Jack, she’s got the heart of a ballerina.” Dried and fresh herbs define its vintage-related nuance and their herbal presence, etched in balance with well-thought out barrels means “my heart’s wood, she’s a carpenter, she’s an angel in the night, what she does is alright.” Really approachable now, though it will go very long and deep.  Tasted October 2014  @PlumpJackWinery

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010 (cork), Napa Valley (325027, $99.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES Release March 15, 2014

As rich and hedonistic as is the animal of Oakville ‘07, this 2010 is the bomb. Pure, clear mountain fruit, unencumbered, free, card-carrying member. Spokesperson and player, cool and collected, conceited, sure, gay, straightforward, then warm and lush again. This has layers and layers of fruit, waves of feigned sweetness, grape tannins interwoven in chains, molecules tumbling over one another. Heartfelt expression creates a massive Howell Mountain impression.  Tasted October 2014

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2010 (screwcap), Napa Valley (325027, $99.95, WineAlign)

From a second bottle tasted from screwcap: Just as the comparison of ’07’s revealed, the similarities are just what the wine expects you to find. Large and full of fruit with sweet, integrated and ingratiating tannins. There is actually another level of open window brightness in the Stelvin, but that same (cork closure) spice and high altitude conceit takes the fruit on honeymoon and sexes the hell out of it.  Tasted October 2014

Odette Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Cabernet Stag’s Leap District 2012, Napa Valley (Agent, $145.00) Consignment, February 2015

Here storms in the inaugural vintage, personally carried, delivered and poured by John Conover. The level of purity trumps the rest. The clarity and chaste structure are defined in lines of no blur and no confusion. Full of brisk, red-blooded, indelible ink of a cabaret magician’s brew. Built on axon terminals of mnemonic neurons. Sweetest dewy smells, unreal fruit, remarkable wildflowers – this reminds me of an Ornellaia, an ’01 or and ’11. Essence of just picked berries – strawberry and blackberry, leaves in an instant and an ooze of freshness. Knots of tannin will take 15-20 years to untangle but the fruit is up to every moment of engagement. “It’s only a (Cabernet), old chum. And I love a (Cabernet).”

Good to go!

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Let it wine

From left: Quails' Gate Merlot 2011

From left: Jean Maurice Raffault Chinon Rosé 2013, Anselmann Edesheimer Rosengarten Siegerrebe Spätlese 2012, Delas Frères Les Launes Crozes Hermitage 2011, Tabalí Reserva Especial 2009, Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2011, Quails’ Gate Merlot 2011

We’ve pleaded, we’ve begged. We’ve been down on hands and knees. We’ve asked for spring. It has finally (sort of) arrived. There is only one thing left to say. Let it wine.

Just in case you happen to live in Ontario and were not aware of the system’s system (or you’ve forgotten), here is a friendly primer and reminder. VINTAGES rolls out a new set of wines every two weeks. We (the wine media) taste them a month ahead and comment on their correctness. Sometimes we even admit which ones we really like.

More reviews than space here permits are available, along with other critics’ thoughts at WineAlign, the place to go for access to bi-weekly previews of critics’ release notes and their top recommendations for all VINTAGES new releases.

These wines are in stores now. They are just six of my recommendations from the May 10th, 2014 release.

Jean Maurice Raffault Chinon Rosé 2013, Ac, Loire, France (119693, $16.95, WineAlign)

There is a cautious though skilled reservation in this Rosé, the Cabernet Franc currant and peppery aromas a faint and subtle thought. Light and refreshing Chinon as dry as dry ice and built with tang and length. The late note is of slightly charred bell pepper. Excellent food versatile Rosé, even if it falls away quicker than should be.  Tasted April 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Anselmann Edesheimer Rosengarten Siegerrebe Spätlese 2012, Prädikatswein, Pfalz, Germany (910554, $16.95, WineAlign)

A really fun wine. Siegerrebe is not meant to be contemplated by a panel of ancient philosophers with modern doctorates. In its most basic incarnation it is a sipper, a warm weather, sundowner tipple to quaff on its own or as an aromatic lifter in conjunction with fortifiers in a light, fizz-induced cocktail. This Spätlese (late harvest) later-picked variation offers a step up the beanstalk of residual sugar-laced complexity. At the price it begs to be tried. The fruit is both sweet and drying at the same time, like Moscato in a waxy, soapy, juicy fruit, bitter way. Tasted April 2014

Tabalí Reserva Especial 2009, Limarí Valley, Chile (107540, $22.95, WineAlign)

A mating of masculine, slow, open-grill smoked meat and cooking bacon aromas and a dehydrated Syrah lees, coarse pepper crust is tempered by feminine, cool eucalyptus and juniper accents. A big wine that is rounded and grounded by some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Anxious, tight, modern and a real finisher.  Tasted April 2014  @TabaliWines   @oenophilia1

Delas Frères Les Launes Crozes Hermitage 2011, Ac, Rhône, France  (701359, $22.95, WineAlign)

What a gorgeous flower and wet stones nose in this Syrah. So pretty and inviting. Tart, sweet berries, smooth and integrated fruit acid continuum, very sure and correct. A perennial righteous bottling, anything but excessive and a tremendous value is every way. Don’t be Delas to know.  Tasted April 2014  @HHDImports_Wine

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario,  (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Shed’s balance is best in ’11, the equation solved. A sweetness on the palate is buttery, the length languid, smooth and graceful. A very pretty Shed. A spirit in the night. “Stand right up and let it shoot right through you.” From my earlier February 2014 note: “Conspicuous by its texture from a mild to middling vintage “when you picked before or after the rain.” Though combined, the antechamber of acidity and good cheer trumps the mudroom of funk and doldrums. A Guns ‘n Roses vintage, a pull in two directions, with a potential for breakdown. “Ev’rything was roses when we held on to the guns.” A soft, buttery note tempers the tang and yet that tang lifts the fruit. The tension is what sets the ’11 up for a classic run.  Last tasted April 2014

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (169961, $25.95, WineAlign)

From estate vineyards on the Boucherie Mountain bench, this is cool Merlot, from a cooler vintage, with cool climate anxiety. The conditions and the style wave a finger to promote some vineyard funk to speak, along with Merlot’s characteristic dust and powder. “A big red beacon,” as in berries and plums, earth and spice. Red all around. Smoky, still so young, with lots of acidity and tannin that will need five years to come together. Kneel down to show some appreciation for this quality Merlot. A bit of late bitter stringency but of no real matter. Tasted April 2014  @Quails_Gate 

Good to go!

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