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).”

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