Twenty-two Canadian wines that rocked in 2022

Godello taking in the spirit of Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

I am a forager. I forage in the natural world, for plants in their season, pulled from the soil, from earth to pan, for medicinal teas, to preserve by drying or pickling, whatever the most appropriate case may be. Wild herbs, allium and beneficial greens are prized but mostly I use my mycological senses by looking for signs beneath my feet as to where the mycelium below will choose to fruit as fungi above. I look for the saprobic and the decomposer but also the mushroom that works through symbiosis, to aid and abet other species while receiving something beneficial in return.

Laetiporus Sulphureus, aka Chicken of the Woods

I am a forager of wines as well, perhaps not in the same spiritual or personal way, but as I do with the forest I try my best to listen and become one with the vine, to imagine what it will beget, that being quality grapes and eventually honest wine. Vinifera success in Canadian vineyards is a recent phenomenon and there are plants more suited and native to our land but we should and will continue to pursue both realities.  This is not a manifesto about natural wine, no far from it, but it is a confession. I love great wine, well made wine, wine in balance. I am open to all wines and like the fungi I choose to eat or to ignore, I can’t be sickened by something I choose not to taste. I taste what I trust and drink what I must. Most often it take years of research and seeing the same fruiting body appear in the same location with consistent markings to make the decision to eat that mushroom. That is why wines of history, pedigree and consistency are the greatest and most exciting. They have earned the recognition. Others gain reputation much quicker and they too deserve the kudos but the choice comes down to the individual. I just want the wines I choose to rock. Canadian wines, yeah they rock.

Hypomyces Lactifluorum, the Lobster Mushroom

Nova Scotia wines at Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax

Related – Twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021

The full scale return to not only tasting but rallying around Canadian wine began in earnest back in June of 2022. In a span of less than 30 days there were judges’ panel assessments and events during the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, To July and 10 days spent in Nova Scotia wine country followed by a glorious weekend in Niagara for the i4c Canadian Cool Climate Celebration. Get back to Cool Chardonnay was the impetus and the reminder how much we Canadian wine folk respect one another and truly enjoy each other’s company. How great was it to interact once again, to taste with and experience the verities of vignerons and winemakers? To gather Insights, illuminations and incidentals from illustrious voices. To enter discourse with thought provocateurs who question sense of place, who consider vines and their relationship with the land. To reconnect with old friends forging new directions, seek flights of fancy and return to places always familiar, like coming home. The road ahead may still be uncertain but onward we will go.

Godello and Pender

Related – Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

Devastating news and especially the loss of a friend takes time to process. At the time I did not know what to do but suddenly the words poured forth, in one take and so in February I penned The Walrus is Paul. I miss Paul Pender. He was not my closest bud nor was I his but there will always be a hole in our lives without him. The thing about sadness is that it never goes away, but the trick is to remember the people we loved in a way that helps us through another day. “Paul Pender humanized everything in his life and all that he touched. He never expressed any dismay at comments I may have made about wines not being perfect, nor did he exalt in high scores or praise for wines about which I may have gushed or waxed rhapsodic. He was always zen, even-keeled, grounded and humble. Paul was the personification of gravitational constant, THE universal gravitational constant, a constant of gravitation. His presence and being related force to mass and distance, and he lived his life within the law of gravitation. I hope he taught everyone to be this way and that we can all go forward with his wise, sage and calm demeanour, safely tucked into our own lives. Thank you Paul. I love you, man. You are the walrus.”

Seafood by Godello, Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

This might just be the 10th annual list and another spot is in fact added each year but the process just keeps getting tougher to complete. According to WineAlign I reviewed more than 3,000 wines in 2022, which means I tasted at least 3,500, if not more. The number of Canadian wines is likely one third, say 1,500 examples tasted this past year, in great part because at least one-third of that number is tasted at the Nationals. The process of nailing down this summary comes out of a shortlist of 100-plus that were what would be considered exciting. The exercise must be one that filters, fines and refines again and again so that every wine is reviewed and re-considered on repeat. I find it near impossible to make final decisions these days and yet somehow feel compelled to continue the discipline.  Thank you to all; associates, colleagues, wine professionals and especially friends who poured, for every sip and taste, with heartfelt thanks. Especially to the WineAlign Crü; David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow, Megha Jandhyala, Bryan McCaw, Sarah Goddard, Miho Yamamoto, Carol-Ann Jessiman and Heather Riley. Godello gives you 22 Canadian wines that rocked in 2022.

With The Thinker, Jean-Benoit Déslauriers, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards

Benjamin Bridge Glooscap First Nation X Rosé 2021, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge Glooscap First Nation X Rosé is first a wine. A lithe, 10 percent alcohol and bone-dry vision in pale pink hue, described by thinker Jean-Benoit Déslauriers as blessed “with a softness from within.” My family and I taste along and become privy to why this project means so much more. The Rosé marks a turning point for Benjamin Bridge and is crafted neither for reconciliation nor to undue the past. Instead the path leads forward, for mutualism, cooperation and respect. A harbinger towards a more balanced future. Meaning is gleaned for the team after a decade-plus of grape growing now widened to include 13,000 years of sustainable and synergetic preservation of an ecosystem. Twenty years ago the BB understanding was of vineyards producing grapes exclusively focused on the sensory profile of wines, how they reflected the terroir and stacked up against Europe. Yet the Mi’kmaq have lived in balance within this unique ecosystem for millennium and the goal is to return to this symbiosis. It may take another 13,000 years and while subsequent generations will not be obligated to complete the work, neither are they free to desist from it. This Rosé establishes a “Ni’tap,” a relationship as ally-ship and friendship between Benjamin Bridge’s McConnell-Gordon family and Glooscap First Nation; Elder Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Advocate for the rights of Indigenous women, girls & gender-diverse people; her daughter Zabrina Whitman and Chief Sidney Peters. Glooscap First Nation X Rosé is a direct product of climate change with no need to soften the sear of acidity by backsliding into residual sugar. Do not forget the effect created by the air pump that is the Bay of Fundy that allows the vines to always take their time and manage a slowly gained phenolic development. The Bay means Rosé can indeed be forged this way. Dry and bright, aligning ortega, gamay and riesling in such a pointed and profound aromatic Sikunme’katik (Gaspereau) Valley way. The connection to Nova Scotia is real but very much a singular notion. The fact that modern agriculture has erased what really happened in this valley, as it pertains to vines and this terroir it is the kind of commentary that is “by definition profoundly inaccurate.” This is the charge of Déslauriers and all who take this path forward. Indigenous plants were in fact replaced with European plants so BB makes a clear point. How can it be said that these wines capture the essence of this terroir? The argument is compelling and will eventually change again, after 13 or 13,000 more years, or perhaps somewhere in between. In any case the wine is grand and the prospects even greater. Bravo all around. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate

Trail Estate ‘Oh Julius’ Skin Fermented White 2021, VQA Ontario

A plus or minus 10 days skin contact for 59 per cent riesling, (35) gewürztraminer and (5) muscat that drinks with full submission, symbiotically speaking. The wine gives and our palates lay down, receive this effortless elixir and allow it to pass on through, no questions asked, no wondering why. Something like 550 cases are made of this wild-fermented, Benchlands (Wismer) fruit-sourced quencher, aka refreshing drink. Easy enough in the tart citrus vein, no lacking for energy and in turn, our interest. Weird? No not really. Cool? Ticks all the boxes for what the kids are all making these days, but this is more a case of being made by and for kids at heart who are adults with kids of their own. At 10.4 per cent alcohol, no acetic meanderings nor cider-y complications neither. Well that just about wraps it up in a big natural bow and guarantees a good time. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted June 2022

Canoe Trip cooking

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The research tells us chardonnay and time conspire for beauty while development reminds how years upon years upon lees directs a Blue Mountain R.D. into sublimity and profundity. A vintage to recall, reflect upon and surely celebrate, to mull over its integrated and subtle spices, controlled energy and slow time release of responsibility. A sparkling wine of nature that has become one of nurture, now a perfectly posit tug between edginess and oxidation, tension and generosity. They call this the sweet spot. Raise a glass to recently disgorged. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2022

WineAlign judges at Stratus Vineyards

Stratus X Trials Blanc De Blancs 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Looking back two years the bar was set so very high as noted when we first began tasting the culmination of years put in towards this Sparkling program. Far be it for Stratus to regress or work in reverse but they are now grooving further back in lees cumulative time and out there comes a chardonnay spent what must be nearly 10 years on those lovely yeasts. Trials they were and fruition they have become. It’s not so much the toasty and beautifully oxidative-fino nutty character. The impression digs deeper than green olives in brine and sweet pear compote, it grabs us by the emotive heartstrings and holds us close. In fact it’s not unusual for B de Bs ’12 X Trials to be loved by anyone. There’s just something about the subtleties and the open invitation, to love and be loved. “Whoa oh, oh whoa, oh oh, oh oh!” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2022

Sunset over The Twenty Mile and Beamsville Bench

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Distinct mineral and petrol aromatic riesling rising, up into the stratosphere. in no hurry to come back down. Cracker citrus and acidity, tart and fuelled by intensity with no boundaries nor atmospheric pressures or deadlines neither. Sugars and structure are one in the same, seamlessness is the result and everything falls into its right place. The poster child, educator and pioneer. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Not quite but just about 20 year-old vines as of this stellar 2017 vintage and a benchmark Bench riesling of all that has been developed, given, remains and jazz. A stoic propellant and scintillant of fineness, fruit in ample preserve, acids convergent and power releasing ever so slowly in perfect pace. Pitch is spot on, balance ideal and direction effortlessly forward. The Mario Lemieux of riesling. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted February 2022

The family with Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Small Lots Oak Knoll Vineyard Stainless Steel 2020, Nova Scotia, Canada

“People have always said we need to make a stainless steel version,” says winemaker Josh Horton, to lighten the room and the mood. This being the first go at it, protocol kept very similar to the oaked (Ancienne), by wild ferment, aka “brown” maceration. Gone to bottle quicker (eight months after pick) and this will be slowed down in the future. Absolute tightness and freshness, purity of chardonnay as expressed in a juiced lemon and almost no reduction. A chardonnay of isolated terroir, specificity and one helluva beautiful experiment. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Really quite primary, an undisclosed while pleasingly reticent chardonnay from Emma Garner of gratitude and grace. The first because it thanks the Beamsville terroir and the second because it does so with soft spoken respect. A mélange of different fermentation batches, each small and precise come together for the final sumptuous and restrained blend. The tenets of fruit, acid and what ties them together is just about as seamless and easily layered as any of a Bench ilk and idiom. Not a chardonnay of style but instead stylish, not chic but surely sung with notes held, seemingly forever. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk, Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Chardonnay Grimsby Hillside Vineyard 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Delicate, bright and efficacious wine from a north facing nook of the Escarpment vineyard in the narrowest spit of land between the rock face and the lake. Once the viticultural labrusca home of Parkdale Wines and now owned by the Franciosa family. A special wine occupying a place in my family’s history and heart. Apposite to Wismer in that there are more piques and peaks in and out, up and down, hither and thither in this singularly focused chardonnay. Pay attention to nuance, to barrel as well as it speaks in extra density because the terroir encourages the ambition. Remarkable structure despite how short a relationship there has been between maker and farm. The instant brilliance creates an effective and then profound buzz, a desired effect and the future is WIDE open. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted June 2022

Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli, winemaker Adam Pearce and Angela Marotta

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

With part in part thanks and a nod to the experimental minds and vineyard management acumen at (then) Parkdale Wines, back in 1959 Bill Lenko took a flyer on vinifera in the form of chardonnay. Today Two Sisters is the primary beneficiary of Niagara’s oldest chardonnay vines and this primo vintage extolls the virtues of those wise plants and their concentrated fruit. Still showing balance and tenderness, never mind the barrel beauty, bullocks or beast, in fact it all comes together in seamless fashion because the fruit is indefatigably remarkable. Winemaker Adam Pearce heeds the directive, does nothing to get in the way and what is delivered comes away with such a sheen and energetic burst it just may blow your mind. This is the finest result to date, a lightly reductive, subtly lees inflected, full fruit captured chardonnay. All of its lines run parallel, incline up the same slope, coextend in collateral company and with time will eventually relent for the great transversal. The fruit will cross over both acidity and backbone, resulting in the ultimate complex equation. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted August 2022

The fishy work of Ryan Crawford (Ruffino’s and Bar Bea), Raoul Duke of Chefs

 

Bachelder Hill Of Wingfield Chardonnay 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Hill of Wingfield, as opposed to the flatter portions of the large chardonnay expanse and one can’t help but conjure up vineyard monikers like “Hill of” Corton, or even Grace. Ancient and modern tracts can be descried by farmers and writers so with Thomas Bachelder as the guide we too can play this game, by extension and in a most semi-serious way. Everything is derivative and by association anyway so Hill of Wingfield it is. Same lush, luxe and top of the pops richness as Wismer-Wingfield yet here with some reduction and an almost candied shell of protection. Nearly impossible and yet every reason to believe that vintage, grape, block and maker can combine to execute such a phenomenon of chardonnay. No understatement or restraint here, nor were any grapes harmed in the due process. My goodness what gumption, ambition and monkified execution. You gotta believe in the truth! Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted December 2022

With Shiraz Mottiar and the uni, I mean photo bomber Anthony Gismondi

Malivoire Gamay Courtney 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Youthful is the understatement when coming at this 2020 Courtney but my how juicy, meaty and pinpointed a gamay it truly is. There have been serious and fully formed Courtneys before but never have the assets in fruit, mouthfeel and acid-tannin structural interplay grabbed attention like this young and in charge ’20. Adds up to big, boisterous, ripe to the hilt, of zero austerity and so much possibility. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Meyer Pinot Noir McLean Creek Road Vineyard Old Block 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Falls, British Columbia

Plenty of substance fills the aromatic glass in this immortality jam of substance, acid and textural intensity. Good red fruit if turning to act youthfully grainy in its unresolved structural demand, especially as it lands on and then scrapes over the palate. Dutifully solid wine, nothing to some and to others a pearl needing time. High arcing, a factor of indefinite continuation for pinot noir existence and “he who forgets will be destined to remember.” For such a delicate (aromatic) and working (palate) pinot noir it carries more than ample finishing strength, energy and power. “And I wish to hold on, too, but saw the trapdoor in the sun.” Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Closson Chase Pinot Noir South Clos 2020, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

As a reminder the South Clos Vineyard is six hectares of Prince Edward County Hillier clay loam and shallow crumbled limestone overlying fractured limestone. A top site (within the limit of vinifera capability) where chardonnay and pinot noir present as viable as any combo in Canada. Bring on a warm gift of a vintage like 2020 and the possibilities suddenly become endless. The site is always a place of high pH and allowable root penetration but 2020 just tops the show. The intensities are boundless in a most youthful and exuberant South Clos pinot noir that clearly act as the embodiment of one for the ages. Never before have acids tasted so sweet and tannins wept such tears of joy. South Clos is the culmination of decades put in, torches passed, hard work and experimentation. A victory for the 2020 season and perhaps the beginning of a Keith Tyers’ led dynasty. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted November 2022

With Chef Michael Olson

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke “Wild West End” 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Wismer-Parke’s western section on Victoria Avenue just up from Highway 8 is planted to what Thomas Bachelder refers to as a mystery clone of pinot noir “whose identity is lost to the mists of time.” Twenty-one years to be exact at the meter of this vintage yet in nostalgic ways that kind of statement feels like something dating back to the 1950s or ’60s. Either way it’s long enough to make one wonder and wonder why. There’s a whole lot of “duh duh dun dun dun dah,” and “bah ah bah ah dun dun dun bah” then “beh do beh do,” followed by “bah doo doo bah,” and finally “wop, wop, wop, wop, wop” in this pinot noir. Why? Because this beast of the east is so strong-willed, immoveable and timeless with unparalleled layering and nuance. Doo Wop tannins in total control, winning out over dark fruit in black olive, fennel and tarry tones playing second fiddle. Why is there more oomph and grip to this savoury flavoured pinot noir of scrub and scorrevole across the palate?” The answer my friend is blowing in those mists and in the time you must give to see this wine come to its fruition. Wismer-Parke Wild West End may not necessarily save your soul, but it will make your soul worth saving! Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted December 2022

PEC wines

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir St. Cindy Unfiltered 2020, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

In 2004 and 2005 the first County Rosehall Run vineyards pinot noir fruit were given the name Cindy but between ’06 and ’19 the name JCR defined the estate’s best fruit. With a vintage as great as 2020 in vessel Cindy was anointed once again as saint of the top pinot noir. The ripeness and extract here are in fact the finest ever from these PEC lands so the choice was and remains perfectly clear. What the JCR misses in terms of tension is here fully trenchant and oblique, angles run in slants, musculature neither parallel nor perpendicular to the long axis of structure or bones. This is fascinating wine geometry and anatomy, clearly regimented yet offset and in the end, simply wondrous. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted October 2022

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Five years after first tasting Cuvée Violette blind the opportunity arises for an up front and centre moment with bottle, label and glass. Though this syrah would have been more than satisfying before it must be said that its peak performance is in fact NOW. Takes an aromatic leap of faith and suspends at that Black Sage Bench/Dead Man Lake syrah apex where violets and pepper drip their eau de parfum down upon dark varietal fruit. There are many a more expensive Okanagan syrah but there are none as benchmark to combine age-worthiness with price as this Severine Pinte stunner. I for one am thankful to taste this vintage again and at its best.  Last tasted December 2022

Let’s put up our hands so we know who we are, we who expect three P’s in syrah; perfume, pepper and pulchritude. This syrah is possessive of all three. It’s quite the dark purple beauty but also savoury, reeking of black olive and brushy garrigue. The wood is exercised with admirable restraint and then there is this fineness of tannin. A very pretty, seamless and structured syrah of great length. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted blind at #NWAC17, June 2017

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard 2016, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Good years have got behind this syrah with a touch of viognier so that five-plus in there’s an open window through which to find the heart of this wine. A democratic vintage, fruit at peak, elongated and built to last, last longer than anyone who knows not what capability is in store for this wine. The tannins are just beginning to wane and with great acumen they have melted into the karst of what is truly a special BP vintage. A minimum five years remains and quite possibly 10. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted April 2022

CedarCreek Winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Syrah Platinum Jagged Rock 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Inky and cimmerian, full syrah extraction, maceration, skin contact fermentation and finally, thankfully and for the win, concentration. All adds up to as big as it gets, with iodine, soy and yet this amazing floral indemnity that tells the whole story, but also one that celebrates a truly special site. Yes the tannins are omnipresent but they are reasonable, metered, mattering and real. So very polished. Drink 2025-2029.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Vines in the Similkameen

Corcelettes Talus 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley, British Columbia

Talus makes balanced work of all fine main Bordeaux varieties, led by merlot (40 per cent) and cabernet franc (35), with (20) cabernet sauvignon, (3) malbec and (2) petit verdot. The names refers to the Talus “slides” that accentuate each mountainous side of the Similkameen Valley and the wine slides across the palate in equal, opposing and proportionate waves. Mostly a precise ripeness of fruit but also some passionate acids and truly purposed tannins. The merlot does seem to stand out with its verdant, creamy and downy character as it pertains to soaking up some barrel. There is a notable amount of quality dark chocolate here and still all parts just seem to synch up. Proper Meritage indeed. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted September 2022

Black Hills Nota Bene 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The blend for the Black Hills flagship red in 2020 is 42 percent cabernet franc, (33) cabernet sauvignon, 24 (merlot) and (1) petit verdot. Merlot fared very well in 2020 and yet the team chose franc as the anchor, why, well it seems for structure over beauty and longevity over immediacy. This vintage is quite a remarkable example because all of these aspects show up, repeat, shuffle, reorganize and collectively speak a Black Sage Bench truth. Hard to imagine a more seamless set of red blend circumstances or astrological linearity. The stars do in fact align for this bright constellation of an Okanagan wine. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted November 2022

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée #24 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

At the top of the heap and pops for Phantom Creek is the red blend cuvée from the homestead vineyard and a wine denied absolutely nothing. The finest of the best is grown, nurtured and gathered with equally prized vessels providing the nurturing environment. There are some silky, suave and stylish red wines in this portfolio but nothing compares to the desire in Cuvée #24. These are the richest fruit sets, sweetest acids and silkiest tannins, none more important than the other and all working towards a common goal. That being beauty and longevity which the wine surely boasts. The only question is cost and a decision to be made to decide if the extra $60-100 dollars buys more wine and age-ability. The answer is yes, it surely does but is this “perfect” style the kind you like, want, need or deserve. Only you can be the judge of these things. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted November 2022

Good to go!

godello

Godello surveys Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

WineAlign guide to VINTAGES April 4th and Easter recipes

Lamb Ribs by Barque Smokehouse

Lamb Ribs by Barque Smokehouse

On January 18, 2013 I began adding wine reviews to WineAlign. Review ground zero was Mallory & Benjamin Talmard Mâcon Uchizy 2010, an inauspicious little Burgundy described in “the coat of white.” A Genesis of great #ffffff value.” Beginnings, Genesis, ground zero. The Godello thing.

Two plus years and 2,023 reviews later much has changed. The wisest of wine scribes David Lawrason and WineAlign head wineaux Bryan McCaw asked if I would like to become a part of the April 4th, VINTAGES release newsletter and buyer’s guide. With renaissance banzai and Master Sommelier John Szabo leading the charge, along with most generous guidance and help from cake baker and palate extraordinaire Sara d’Amato, I have joined the fray.

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part One

This week’s guide leads WineAlign subscribers to Easter Lamb and red wine, plus pre-dinner whites and a glass for dessert. The three recipes cover everything  you could possibly want at your table on the resurrection weekend. The recipes are for Traditional Easter lamb by John, Moroccan lamb loin chops by Chef Michael Pataran and Barque‘s smoked lamb ribs.

Here is what John wrote in his introduction of me. “If at first you don’t understand Michael’s reviews, just drop a couple of hits of acid, smoke a joint or put on some classic 70s tunes and they’ll all make more sense. Maybe.” The irony is that amongst the seven wines I contributed to the newsletter I made only one musical reference. Oh, and one to the Grand Budapest. So, maybe you will understand them. Maybe.

From left to right: Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013, Stéphane Aviron Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011, Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Fielding Estate Viognier 2013, Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010 and Mendel Malbec 2011

From left to right: Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013, Stéphane Aviron Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011, Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Fielding Estate Viognier 2013, Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010 and Mendel Malbec 2011

Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013, DOC Vinho Verde, Portugal (405217, $16.95, WineAlign)

A highly unique Vinho Verde that works as a sipper and as a solid, pair me with just about anything table wine. Savoury and blessed with a Bica de Queijo cheese aroma, you’ll be glad you gave it a swirl and a whiff. There is nothing shinking or violaceous about this. It’s medicinal like Moscato, toasty like Pouilly-Fumé and gangly like Garganega. Citrus juice and flesh add body and beautify its inherent male pattern baldness. Perhaps a bit of a river fish of a Vinho Verde but very fresh and a great catch. This Arinto will tie appetizers together and buy time until the bird, hock or shank is on the table with the feast’s big reds. Drink from 2015-2017.  Tasted March 2015  @vinhosverdes  @exCellarsWines

Stéphane Aviron Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011, AC Beaujolais, Burgundy, France (405779, $21.95, WineAlign)

Old vines and Fleurie scream holiday dinner wine in my books. Here struts out where it’s at Gamay from a terrific Cru, of maturity, chutzpah and depth. Bang on 13 per cent alcohol, most mature and munificent, so very forward and yet of a depth, richness and layering in fruit meeting acids. Black cherry with an accent of mint, sour citrus drop and blueberry. A minor chalky grain, just enough to evoke oak tenderness, but not enough to be cut by splinters. Very Burgundian, where it’s at and even better length. Talk about a red wine that could equally double down for the Easter and Passover table. Gamay that swings both ways, AC/DC, “it’s got two turntables and a microphone.” Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @DiscoverBojo  @warren_walden

Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Ahr, Germany (409649, $21.95, WineAlign)

Ahr Pinot Noir (as opposed to those from Germany’s Baden region) are just that much more accessible and wider table friendly. That’s because of volcanic soil and older vines like you find in this Qualitätswein. The fruit is richer, the cure more refined, the flavours full and the wine structurally sound. Give this some air and the roast swine will make an entry, with intoxicating aromas, balanced by earthy notes, ripe plums and berries. Structurally sound, the ripeness continues into a fleshy cure of wurst with good bite. The citrus tang is round and barkless. No matter the colour of your braise or roast, this Pinot Noir will compliment the hue. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted March 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @WinesofGermany

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $24.95, WineAlign)

So orderly and aligned, from ripe picked fruit with fervent acidity and all proportions in perfect working order. Four months in bottle has settled only worked to reinforce positive opinions. Grassless and flinty but no discernible elemental vagary, certainly no sulphur. This Sauvignon Blanc may just be the most consistent in every vintage, not only stylistically but also for the hedging of probability bets for guaranteed Marlborough quality. This is a superb vintage for the pied-à-terre phraseology. Like school in fall, winter and spring, the Dog Point is all class. Drink from 2015-2024.

From my earlier note of November 2014:

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.

Last tasted March 2015  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON  @nzwine

Barque Smokehouse Lamb Ribs - Spring 2014

Barque Smokehouse Lamb Ribs – Spring 2014

Fielding Estate Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142323, $25.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Richie Roberts has worked tirelessly with Viognier to find out where it fits into the lexicon and ambience of Niagara Peninsula white grape varieties. The 2013 vintage marks a turning point in his and by extension, all of our understanding. The tropical fruit is now reigned in and the tension on the back bite a perfect foil to that well-judged, rich fruit. Trumps the layered ’12 with a new, aerified floraility that gives it more prototypal Viognier style. Short of leaving fruit to hang into late harvest (not recommended for the variety) this is like being wrapped in banana leaf along side young bamboo. Sip it joyously on its own or bring on the Easter Rijsttafel and a strolling procession down the cuisine of Kho San Road.  Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010, Ac Graves, Bordeaux, France (235424, $27.95, WineAlign)

Who wouldn’t want to find a well-priced and expertly made Bordeaux to accompany an Easter feast? The abstraction is not as easy as it may have once been but once in a Paschal full moon a wine comes along and affords the opportunity. Stately structured, mid-range Graves that is so very much a combination of Cabernets. It reeks of currants, cool mint, Cassis, caramel and chocolatey oak. Kept shy in alcohol (13 per cent) and heat, the tannins are mildly grainy and though just a touch oxidative, it is a a most serviceable, generous and honest Bordeaux. From a workingman’s vintage of the century. This Graves will seal the Easter deal with its cool savour and chocolate hops. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted March 2015  @BordeauxWines  @ProfileWineGrp

Mendel Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (108225, $27.95, WineAlign)

On the rare occasion when a Mendoza Malbec exhibits restraint, balance and all around congenial behaviour, it is imperative to sit up and take notice. This is finely fashioned juice, albeit rich, smokey red fruit swathed in good quality chocolate and a late kick of spice. Suppose there’s nothing really wrong with that. The Mendel will seduce, hypnotize and cause general swooning. Like a Grand Budapest Hotel box of treats, it will sooth even the savage beast. Ripe tannins will make this drinkable now to 2020. Tasted March 2015  @MendelWines  @TrialtoON  @winesofarg

Good to go!

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Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

The results are in. Closure has come. Category champions and Judge’s picks are now live.

The highly regarded WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada is categorized and justified as a “must enter” for winemakers and vintners who want to be a part of a genuine, above-board wine competition. For consumers in Canada it is a place to discover the best value wines available on the market today. Say what you will about the concours concept. The straightforward WineAlign offer implements an expertly designed bracket to ultimately crown a covey of thoroughly deserving champions. Wines are carefully scrutinized, judged with fair play and at times, brutal honesty. Each wine must impress the judges more than once. “Up to the task” is never in question. At “The Worlds,” the best minds are on the job.

Related – He spits, he scores: 2013 World Wine Awards of Canada results

Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14 Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

It was the week of August 18 to 22. Eighteen critics, two czars, a tech guy, a database custodian, a logistics steward, “her bitch” (sic) and a dedicated team of volunteers gathered to administer vinous justice for 1000 (give or take) hopeful wines. The tasting road was long yet filled with much success. Never have so many wines with the intention of offering value and simple pleasure shown so well and with so much grace.

Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

In today’s WineAlign WWAC14 results dissertation, Anthony Gismondi tells us that “nothing has value unless you give it some.” The awards are about assessing daily drinkers, wines that the repeat consumer look for often, especially the bargains. They are for consumers first, of and for the common people. For the wineries, agents and writers, the competition is effectuated without bias. “The tastings are computerized from start to finish allowing wineries, agents or retailers to enter, pay, and eventually track their results online.” 

In 2014 my position is this. Oak and cheap tricks are on the way out, at least when it comes to wines submitted to the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada. Sugar, wood chips, agar agar, artificial colour, manipulated flavour, reverse osmosis and added acidity are trade practices reserved for wines out there in the fast food stratosphere. The judges at the WWAC14 were fortunate to be granted immunity from having to taste and assess such a most unnatural lot. These awards represent and foster an altruistic commonality between vigneron and critic. Make an honest wine and it will be judged with honourable intent.

WWAC14 Judging Panel

WWAC14 Judging Panel

The writers and judges that make up the panels evaluate wines under $50 that are sold somewhere in Canada in the year of the competition. Entries are judged in flights along with similar varietal wines in three price categories; under $15, $15 to $25 and over $25. Starting with the 2014 awards all wines entered will not only be posted on WineAlign with bottle images, but reviews will be included as well (many in both French and English). Again in 2014, orchestration was overseen by one of North America’s most respected wine critics, Vancouver Sun columnist and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter.

Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

Some startling results came out of this year’s tastings. Who would have ever put money on Carménère under $15 not only showing well, but blowing the collective minds of no less than five critics? Should Malbec in the $15-25 range, half of which are made by large and recognizable houses, have impressed with so much structure and restraint? A group of eight red blends under $15 were all good, five of them garnering very good scores. That same concept group of $15-25 were nearly all exceptional. Southern Italy fared with top value results in the under $15 category. Syrah/Shiraz $15-25 really surprised, as did Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the same range. Not to mention a flight of five fruit wines, four of which scored between 85 and 88. Not bad. All this can be attributed to one basic premise. WineAlign does not attract more producers than other concours. It attracts better ones.

WWAC14 judges Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

WWAC14 judges
Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)

As in 2013, this year I was invited to join the other 17 judges in Mississauga, Ontario. Fortune is measured by the company one keeps. The 2014 judges were David LawrasonSteve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Craig Pinhey, Rhys Pender, MWDJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan SaviolidisBruce Wallner, MSMichelle Bouffard, Emily Maclean, Adam Hijazi and Jake Lewis.

Released today, here are the results from #WWAC14, presented by WineAlign. Wines were awarded for the categories of Top Value WinesBest of CountryCategory Champions and Judges’ Choice. In addition to the work of the judges, the Worlds were really made possible by Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw, along with Earl Paxton, Jason Dziver (Photography), Carol Ann Jessiman, Sarah GoddardMiho Yamomoto and the volunteers.

2014 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

WWAC14

WWAC14

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on 30 wines tasted blind, across a wide range of categories, in August of 2014 at #WWAC14 and the songs they inspired.

Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011

Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25

Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (606939, $24.95, WineAlign)

Funny thing about Cabernet Sauvignon, “sometimes they rock and roll, sometimes they stay at home and it’s just fine,” Wolf Blass makes all kinds. This Coonawarra GL seems to do both. It’s ripe and presumptuous, rocks in the glass but also has good, homebody, varietal tendency. It has a heart that’s on fire, a wolf parade of iron, sanguine tension and tannin, but also hung walls of home woven tapestry texture. The core of fruit, earth and tar cries out for prey. The finish is long and returns, back to base Blass.

Icewine – Riesling-Gewurz-Apple

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec (39305, 375ml, $22.95, WineAlign)

“Breathe, breathe in the air” of intensity, in apples. One hundred squared apples on top of one another. Never mind the few bruised and oxidative ones because the fresh and concentrated mass smothers those minor notes. Pink and ambient, the major sweetness and top-notch acidity speak to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. Here you will find a Québécois response to “there is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact it’s all dark.” There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée, “balanced on the biggest wave.”

Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Riesling Icewine 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, 375ml, $59.95, WineAlign)

A vanimated astral week’s of emotion is met by an animal musk, both hard to define. There is a high quotient of lemon, in curd, zest and pith. The sweetness is tempered by nudging acidity though it lingers long. All Riesling Icewine has to do “is ring a bell and step right up” so despite the electric Kool-Aid sugar syrup moments, this one spins and twirls, as Riesling does, just like a ballerina.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Riesling Icewine 2012, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (601021, 375ml, $69.95, WineAlign)

Here sweetness, acerbity and a slightly advanced character are brought into balance by high grape sugar intensity and real linear acidity. Long and elastic, medicinally pretty and sacrosanct with seasoned complexity. Tasted this one and “felt a spark.” Tasted it twice and it tingled to the bone. What begun as a bob between evaluations ended with a simple twist of fate.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Pinot Noir $15-25

Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (146548, $21.95, WineAlign)

Deep earth and black cherry combine for the most extraction in the $15-25 Pinot Noir flight. There’s dust in them hills as the wine acts as if it were borne of the mountains. Has attitude in altitude. All things considered, the fruit is clean and crisp, perhaps a hair over the overripe line. The cool temperament and temperature in the cold room aid in giving it some love. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “That Villa Maria can make 80,000 cases of Pinot Noir this proper is nothing short of remarkable. Aged in French oak for 8-10 months. As Pinot like as could be hoped for considering the case amount. Every drop must go through Malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Josh Hammond and crew insist upon it, though it’s nothing but painstaking cellar/lab work. The Pinot character initially shines, with loads of plum and black cherry, but there is a momentary lapse. But, “if you’re standing in the middle, ain’t no way you’re gonna stop.” So, the definitive Marlborough ectodermal line painted through the in door speaks quickly and leaves by the out door. From a smoking gun, rising like a Zeppelin. Large volume, big production, drinkable in the evening Pinot Noir.”  Last tasted August 2014  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (winery, $$23.90, WineAlign)

Now here we’re talking about a Pinot Noir from a another mother. It heads generously into fragrances not yet nosed in this flight of $15-25 Pinot Noir. Exotic byrne of a perfume on high alert; jasmine, violets, roses and Summer ‘David’ Phlox. Exquisite, fresh and bright. There is tang and tannin. Vibrancy to raise eyebrows. Also wild sage, wild fruit, an animal on a walk in a virgin forest. So much Pinot Noir is hairy, this one is “living on nuts and berries.”  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Malbec $15-25

Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

This Golden Reserve Malbec by Trivento is a juicy, dusty, fruit tree addition to the #WWAC14 flight and arrives just in the nick of time. Despite the dark fruit, it has no Drake spoken word conceit. It sings in classic Drake lullaby, with beefy meet pine forest aromas and so “you find that darkness can give the brightest light.” Tender refrains soften chalky, stalky wood and corresponding bitter chocolate. Big tannins on this balladeer. Has impressive stuffing.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Red Blends over $25

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Wonderful, tangy red fruits define this well-structured Bordeaux blend. Cool and concise, it plays a tight riff and bangs a drum slowly. Comfortable on a big stage, it charges into a funky break and whips a crowd into a frenzy. So much energy from a band of five varietal friends, complimenting each other’s playing with mutual respect. Does the two Bench two-step and steals the show. “Celebrate we will because life is short but sweet for certain. We’re climbing two by two, to be sure these days continue.”

Vin Parfait Red 2012, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (350512, $29.95, WineAlign)

Circuitous mounds of round, stone ground aromas in coffee, Goji berry, red licorice and red ochre. A Jackson Pollock Expressionist splatter of notion and motion, flirtations and tension. Tempranillo, Shiraz and Grenache in does it, or will it come together beyond the abstract? Number 8 did. This one s’got to too.

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock www.jackson-pollock.org

Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock
http://www.jackson-pollock.org

Grenache $10-20

Castillo de Monseran Garnacha 2013, Cariñena, Aragon, Spain (73395, $9.95, WineAlign)

A slightly cooked character is evident but within reason. Despite the heat it’s a bit of an arctic monkey, with tomato and cherry sprinkled over by Queso Fresco and followed up with a slice of blueberry pie. Simple yet effective, pleasant palate. There is some heat and tension from the tannins and “I’d like to poke them in their prying eyes,” but they do relent. The length is more than appropriate, given the tag. Only question is, “will the teasing of the fire be followed by the thud?” At $10, who really cares. Represents excellent value.

Artadi Artazuri Garnacha 2013, Navarra and Basque Country, Spain ($19.50, WineAlign)

Garnacha from the old world west with incredible citrus bursts, like orange blossoms and the spirit of the zest. A spritz from a lemon too. A smoulder of burning charcoal with a spit-roasting goat adds to the roadside attraction. Palm branches help to create the smoke. This is exotic and creative stuff. Finishes with a dessert note of bitter plum. Velada, “you got yourself a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 star reaction.” Really unique red.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Roadside+Attraction/33YBUM?src=5

Sauvignon Blanc Under $15

Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Leyda Valley, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (283648, $14.95, WineAlign)

A step up from multi-site, southern hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc with direct intentions, all the right moves and in all the right places. So much going on in both its aromatic and textural world. Wax, lanolin and Bordeaux-like temperance and consistent with the growing SB trend, “the grass is getting greener each day.” Decent one republic attack on the palate though nothing fantastic. Has heart and Sauvignon Blanc soul.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Southern Italy Under $15

Grandi Muri Primitivo Promovi Salento 2013, Puglia, Italy (agent, $13.50, WineAlign)

A red-veined Primitivo, with the savoury blood of Swiss Chard and hoisin and red bean paste coarsing through it. Smells like spicy and sweet Hunan dishes, sweet sweat and sour, but it is not a matter of oxidation. It’s a caramelized soy sensation but written in reverse. Spoon this over cereal, ice cream, charred beef, anything. It’s got Chinese five-spice powder and coriander. Like a bowl of most excellent Pho. Fantastic exotics. “We’re gettin’ you raw and it feels real good.” Rocking Primitivo.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Shiraz/Syrah $15-25

Layer Cake Shiraz 2012, South Australia, Australia ($24.99, WineAlign)

Unquestionably warm but with restraint. That may be perceived as a bad, obvious and reprehensible dichotomous comment but in transparency it speaks truths. Shows good savour and sapidity. It’s an aurulent burnt orange and smoked pineapple offering, blanketed in dusty chocolate and syrupy to a certain extreme. It’s long, creamy, silken and covered further in darker chocolate. “True colors fly in blue and black, bruised silken sky and burning flag.” Warm but you too will indubitably see the pleasures in its layer cake.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

White Blends Under $15

Pelee Gewurztraminer Riesling 2012, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (109991, $10.95, WineAlign)

A ray of golden sunshine. The glade and the classic Gewurz attributes are here and highly floral. Rose petals soaking in good medicine. This could be my beloved monster. Such a dry example. She wears “a raincoat that has four sleeves, gets us through all kinds of weather.” Match with BBQ’s eels. Not for everyone but it works.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Shiraz/Syrah Over $25

Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (390872, $29.95, WineAlign)

This is the most accomplished and wise drop of Shiraz tasted at the WineAlign #WWAC14. A hit of snowy sulphur shows just how much growing up it needs. Such a precocious and heady example. A thick, gluey mess of fruit, unsettled and in rapture within its tannic walls. The voilets and the rest of the garden rules really tie the room together. Shiraz entrenched, grown and raised, “where the nettle met the rose.” For five years later and on patrol for ten more after that. Wow.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion  WWAC 2014 Best of Country

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Delaine Syrah 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (86553, $32.95, WineAlign)

Here blows a fine, exuberant and expresive muzzle with ambrosial flavours. A garrigue and olive dirty martini with sweet drops pf berry syrup. Juniper and conifer verdure meet inklings of berries. There is a sense of mushroom and truffle which can go either way, but here it brings paradigmatic character. Like words added to an intense Billy Preston instrumental. This may “take your brain to another dimension. Pay close attention.” Dark, brooding and out of space. A prodigy and a real deal in cool climate Syrah.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice  WWAC 2014 Best of Country

Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25

Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (135202, $19.95, WineAlign)

A genesis in clean fruit of high extract order is linear, direct, forceful and in Cab conceit. A narcissistic brooder with ripples of underbrush and underworld scents. Thinks highly of itself, demands attention, seeks followers, stares into a pool. “The face in the water looks up and she shakes her head as if to say, that it’s the last time you’ll look like today.” With a few more reflecting and reflective refrains this Cabernet will realize a softness, turn away from the mirror and settle into its skin.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Lake Sonoma Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa – Sonoma – Mendocino, California, United States (Agent, $26.99, WineAlign)

From the outset this engages the imbiber simple because it acts as though its one time tension has been massaged and released. The flat feeling is there, though not detracting, because of an inherent notion that there was and still can be beautiful fruit. It just needs “that spark to get psyched back up.” A rapping modern facade is the cover page for earth savoury meets candied M & M flavour, docile, downy glycerin Cabernet texture, with acidity and tannin waning. Was serious, now friendly and will be late leaving the party.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Chardonnay $15-25

Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2013, Mendocino County, California, United States ($19.00, WineAlign)

This may be a winner. I love the immediacy of its fruit, the antebellum tension and just a kiss from the barrel. You know its there but in subtlety, class and as background noise. The aromas of citrus, beeswax and honey and all accents to clean orchard fruit. This has the most balance in a flight of eleven verry tidy Chardonnay in a consumer-driven $15-25 price bracket. Lady spirited and at times a bit anxious, or perhaps not yet entirely comfortable in its skin, this is nonetheless best in show.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Carmenère Under $15

Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Valle del Maule, Region del Valle Central, Chile (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

The first thought on this Carmenère is the scaling back of new oak, lifting it above the crowd in an under $15 flight. The freshness factor makes for a whole new animal, or botanical rather. This has candied jasmine, pansy, bergamot and nasturtium. It’s a veritable salad of candied edibles. The middle palate is marked by Mentholatum and the finale is persistent in acidulated action. What a warm, mazzy gift of a Carmenère, a star of a Chilean red that would be welcome, just like flowers in December. “Send me a flower of your December. Save me a drink of your candy wine.”  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Chardonnay Over $25

Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.90, WineAlign)

Quiet, muted, beautiful and reserved. This is the “iconoclastic and restlessly innovative” style of a wine that bravely explores other territories of pop Chardonnay. Anything but fashioned in an in your face style, this one is in it for the Hejira, the journey and the time. Ripe yellow apples and pears and then come the lees. Could pass for unoaked Chablis. The appreciation and gathering are a style that should be used more.  “No regrets coyote,” you just come “from such different sets of circumstance.”  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice  WWAC 2014 Top Value Wines

Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, California, United States (655381, $34.95, WineAlign)

Has hallmarks of essential fruit from a top notch vintage, the most complexity and schooling. The reduction is pure essence of grape must, with no fault to either the vine or the maker. Every wine’s “screwed up in their own special way.” A rmineral tannin gets on top early like a Ramones riff, stays for dinner and repeats in refrain. The crisp and mister punchy orchard fruit is kissed by wood. Sucks face. The texture is seamless and verve excellent, by acidity and forward to pronounced length.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Sparkling

Delouvin Bagnost N/V Brut, Champagne, France (agent, $42.75, WineAlign)

Tends to a trend in sweet aromatic beginnings which is nothing but endearing. A leesy pear and ris de veau nose split by a bowie and filled with pearls of sugary syrup. To taste there is the metallic gaminess of uncooked other white meat. Sweet meat, sweet thing. The gathering sensation is an elemental display of ethereal, aerified climatic conditions. Though made in an oxidized style, the complexity of character is not to be denied.  “Runs to the center of things where the knowing one says, boys, boys, its a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Pinot Noir Over $25

Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Valle de San Antonio, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (agent, $19.99, WineAlign)

You can always pick out the wines made from unique, little feat sites, wherever in the world they may have been raised. Even when they stink up the joint, smell like a 16 year-old hockey change room or like candied paint poured over fresh cedar planks, they stand out like beacons of Pinot amon din. Lord of the Pinot rings here that’s “been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet…baked by the sun,” fire lit, rosemary branches and oxtail smoldering and simmering over fresh cut ash from a deciduous forest. Cool mint and pine. The most savoury things of fantasy imagined. Wild ride in and most willin’ Pinot Noir.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Buena Vista Pinot Noir, Carneros 2011, Napa Valley, California, United States (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contigious vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine.  WWAC 2013 Category Champion  WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25  WWAC 2014 Category Champion  WWAC 2014 Top Value Wines

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2010, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.99, WineAlign)

The grace of time has ladled felicity upon this left coast Pinot Noir. What once were harsh and mephitic stuck in a cola can kind of smells have been released and are just a faint memory of their once formidable, terrible teeth gnashing remains. Twas root beer that fouled the air but now the saline sea and verdure of hills speaks in clear vernacular. The sailor has “sailed across weeks and through a year,” met with wild things, to now return home and offer up her Pinot Noir, to be enjoyed with supper that is still warm.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Riesling Under $15

Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Pfalz, Germany (agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

This has a lovely, head of its class, nearly value-driven exquisite nature and aromatic richness. In consideration of the price bracket, the sulphur is trumped by that radio dialed in richesse. Exotic Riesling specific fruit. A crisp apple meets a ripe pineapple. A wolf at the door, “out pops the cracker, smacks you in the head.” Decent acidity, better length, good bitters.  WWAC 2014 Category Champion

Red Blends Under $15

Miguel Torres Sangre de Toro 2012, Cataluña, Spain (6585, $12.95, WineAlign)

This Garnacha and Carignan blend works a stoned immaculate contrivance as well as any red blend under $15 you are ever likely to upend. “Soft driven slow and mad, like some new language.” The action is effective, properly conceived and opens the doors to value-based perception. Perhaps a bit thin but the lack of wood and sweetener is a breath of fresh air. What it lacks in girth it makes up for with complexity, in notes of graphite, fennel and sea air. Lovely little Mediterranean red.  WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice

Good to go!

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He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results

Fresh off the presses, here are the results from World Wine Awards of Canada 2013, presented by WineAlign
Photo: kotoyamagami/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Drinking, by definition, includes consuming and that would obviously be counterproductive to the wine evaluation process. So, wine writers and critics spit for their living. Why would anyone buy a wine on the recommendation from someone who spit it into a bucket? Good question.

Consider another question. How many wine critics does it take to change a light bulb? If the answer were 10, that would be because it would take one to hold the bulb and nine to spin the room. Or the answer might be three. One to decant, taste and spit, and two to take him to the hospital before he bleeds to death. Is the joke and are these responses indicative of how the general public feels about wine criticism? If yes, then the wine consumer’s attitude towards the relevance of wine competitions and the doling out of awards may not exactly be positive and indiscriminate.

A bit of insight for you into the modus vivendi of those who judge wine. Chew over this. A wine is submitted to a concours, tasted several times by a minimum of three critics, all of whom are kept blind as to the clues regarding producer, appellation, region and country. These wine professionals are chosen by and with their peers to judge, sniff, sip, spit and repeat. They consider, contemplate and formulate on the spot tasting notes and then discuss the attributes with a panel before passing final judgement. Seems like a perfectly and indisputably sound and reasonable approach, don’t you think? But what about the spitting part?

Whatever you might think about the use of such an exercise to determine the merit of a bottle of wine, competitions, when run and operated with unbiased integrity, do in fact empower justice to the entrants. Poke fun at the wine critic if you must, felicity knows they can take it, but know their modus operandi is just the same as yours. To seek out the most worthy and best value wines available in their market. The wine critic is self-taught, to internalize the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of a wine without swallowing it. It takes focus and years of practice to figure it out.

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

PHOTO: WineAlign.com
WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

The WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC) held in September featured a week-long evaluation process for nearly 1,000 wines (996 to be exact) from around the world. Assembled and organized by an army of volunteers, the Herculean task was orchestrated by one of North America’s most respected wine critics and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter. The Vancouver Sun columnist was also responsible for the immeasurable and exacting task of overseeing the pouring and the critical timing of delivery to the judges. Not to mention piles upon piles of tasting notes and scores.

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

The WWAC is open to both imported and domestic wines for sale in Canada, provided the wine sells for less than $50 somewhere in the country.  This affords an unparalleled opportunity for all wines sold in Canada to show that they can compete in quality and value with wines from anywhere in the world.  Wines are tasted in three price categories based on the lowest selling price in Canada. Less than $15, from $15 to $25 and from $25 to $50. As a consequence WWAC is really three competitions in one with wines being tasted alongside their peers by price and with awards given by price category.

I was invited to join the other 17 judges for the preliminary rounds. If I were to measure my prosperity by the company I keep, I would indeed be a pecunious wine scribe. I was joined in Mississauga, Ontario by David Lawrason, John Szabo, MS, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Marc Chapleau, Rhys Pender, MW, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson, DJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan Saviolidis, Anne Martin and Zinta Steprans.

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d'Amato

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d’Amato

Judges sit three or four together at a table, taste solo through flights of like varieties, procure notes and assign individual scores. Each flight of (three to 12) wines is then discussed, argued, debated and an ultimate meeting of the vinous minds either pushes a wine through to the next round or relegates it to the discard heap. This method of awarding by committee ensures that good wines receive their due blessings and flawed specimens are put in their rightful place.Here’s the kicker. Aside from knowing the price range and specific variety or varieties in a blend, the judges taste all the wines blind. Continent, country, region, appellation and vineyard are not part of the equation. This ensures the most equitable results.

So, fresh off today’s presses, here are the results from WWAC13, presented by WineAlign. Special thanks go out to Head Wineaux, Bryan McCaw, along with Steve Thurlow, Carol Ann Jessiman and Sarah Goddard.

2013 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on my 28 of them, across a wide range of categories.

From left: Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, and De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011

Riesling $0-15

Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Alsace, France $14.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety Under $15

Peppery, perspiring, basal, nasal fruit. Propellant driven with a bite of crisp golden delicious apple and green goddess acidity. At under $15 this achieves Trocken success. Unshakable, abecedarian if not the most formidable Riesling.  88  @AmethystWineInc  @drinkAlsace

Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling 2012, Qualitätswein Mosel, Germany $13.95

Pressed and packed with tropical fruit, as if a roll-up, in liquid form. Thoughts head east and south but the textural, angular and vertical intensity peels back that inclination. The extended play and fruit replay is a study in delineated Riesling depth. There must be some history behind the bottle.  87  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines

Jackson Triggs Reserve Riesling 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, $13.99

Drawn to the off-dry resonance which is both tropical and florid in citrus maxima. That pomello repeats to taste but it falls under a balmy and herbal spell, in a relaxed way. A valley’s elongated attitude, at the foot of a mountain and architecturally sound. Re-mastered, utilitarian Riesling.  85  @Jackson_Triggs

Chardonnay Oaked $15-25

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012, California, USA $16.95

Deft, lissome touch of oak. Subtle, determined orchard fruit, namely pear, barely kissed by a rose and the barrel. Exiguous yet meaningful and pragmatic aromatics. Bright Chardonnay so “a light hits the gloom on the grey.” Seals the deal astir with tang on the snappy finish.  88

PHOTO: Michael Godel White wine flight at the WineAlign WWAC13

Sauvignon Blanc $15-25

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile $9.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $15.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Equatorial and profuse but not over the top. Quick, painless slice of jalapeno, a sweet heat capsicum moment. Sauvignon Blanc with a drop of Sriracha, spritz of lime and pinch of salt on ripe tree fruit, like papaya and mango. Add in golden pineapple and kumquat for good salad measure. Nearly great value, if only it were graced with a bit more finesse.  88  @yealands  @TrialtoON

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand $15.99

Stoic initially, with acute notes of gooseberry, grass and blanched legume. Turns tropical and balmy with a sense of orange marmalade. Confounding in that it could be South Island or Sancerre, but being subjected to such toe tipping is this Sauvignon Blanc’s calling card.  88  @MariscoWine

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $18.95

Commodious Sauvignon Blanc, candid, candied and calcified. Tropical from what must be an intense vintage, whiffing dewy teak gold plum and prickly pear. Full-bodied and blessed with a long aftertaste. A slice of southern hemisphere confiture on toast.  88  @kimcrawfordwine

White Blends $15-25

De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.00

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25

A Rhône-ish boy with a tithe of Marsanne in support of equal 45′s of Roussane and Viognier. Mutters in rhyme, beating the drum slowly, in a subtle white flower, pretty print dress. Nothing muddy about the waters this graceful swimmer treads. Sidled by just enough rigor to replay in refrain, “I’m a natural born lovers” wine. Egalitarian revolutions per minute.  90  @deVineVineyards

Road 13 Honest John’s White 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $25.95

A group of seven grapes, riding on a carousel. A who’s who of white varieties going “round and round and round and round with you. Up, down, up, down, up, down, too.” Elegant and in control, like the stationary horses, this endearing and human blend. Nectarine and longan make appearances in the by committee, ensemble performance.  88  @Road13Vineyards

Pfaffenheim Tete A Tete Pinot Gris Riesling 2012, Alsace, France $15.49

A 50/50 split of Riesling and Pinot Gris, please do not adjust your set, go head to head, mano a mano to duke it out, agree to disagree and ultimately settle to blend and accept the results. Together they procure Époisses and worn socks. On the bright side there is orange zest and fresh squeezed grapefruit. “So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.” Tangy and pithy finish. Abbreviated and horizontal.  85  @AlsaceWines

From left: Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, and Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008

Syrah $0-15

Fifth Leg Old Dog New Tricks Shiraz 2011, Western Australia, Australia, $15.95

Less calamitous fruit compression in relation to the rest of the flight. Blueberry pie and a concord of baking spices predominate, along with unsettling though bracketing elevated levels of tannin and acidity. Wild and whacking lack of overall integration but possessive of many positive moving parts.  87

Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $19.60

A convection of raspberry jam and forest floor verdant wildness. Notable in not being nearly as wood-driven in relation to peers in adjacent stemware. An inelasticity and diaphanous texture suggests Syrah. Simpatico Shiraz.  87  @MissionHillWine

Red Blends $0-15

Hardys Stamp Series Shiraz/Cabernet 2012, South Eastern Australia, Australia $10.05

Initial thoughts lean towards flattery, in finesse and generosity. Rhône-like rocks and stones trot out the red fruit, spiked by citrus (ripe orange, juiced and reduced). Structured in oxymoronic astringent elegance. Decent to medium length.  87

Sumac Ridge Cabernet Merlot Private Reserve 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $14.99

Stands apart from the under $15 Red Blend flight as an axiomatic, soft conifer in a forest of hardwoods. I was admittedly fooled into thinking Niagara when it really calls the Okanagan Valley home. Semi-hemi-ripe, red stone fruit soused in halogen, spiced by Ween’s seventh album and Korean red pepper. “Even If you don’t” like the alternative character you will be charmed by its friendly production and likable wine/musicianship.  87  @SumacRidgeWine

Louis Bernard Côtes Du Rhône Rouge 2012, Rhone, France $13.00

A copacetic Grenache and Syrah Côtes du Rhône blend that just seems to exist in an Iberian state of mind. It’s the modernity speaking, in deep mauve, lilaceous essence and a palate clotted with poached tomato. Stops adroitly short of cooked or stewed fruit character. Juicy fruit from presumably young vines. Quick yet resplendent.  87  @LouisBernard84  @AuthenticWine

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2011, Mendoza, Argentina $13.95

Malbec and Venetian Corvina in Ripasso’s Argentinian hands. Raising, hair-triggering, eye-opening aromas in acerbic Daikon intensity. Black bean paste and cedar, earth and char. The flavours echo and further Ripasso’s absorptive ability. Tack on a  snippet of sour mix and an elevated, grizzly bear, altitudinous attitude. This one leaves me “frozen in my tracks.” Certainly not gun-shy85 

Merlot $15-25

Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.99 WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Like a wine lover’s dessert, this JT Merlot spoons gobs of sun-dried fruit, anise and dried raisin over a compressed and chalky cake of balmy green tea. Youth purloined by developed character, marked by the sauce, not unlike some manic red advance cassettes from Italy’s Mezzogiorno. Now long in the tooth, “how you wound me so tight,” with your unique style, so “don’t say that I’ve lost you.” Its heft will carry it through.  88  @JacksonTriggsBC

Michael Godel, Zinta Steprans and David Lawrason at the WineAlign WWAC13

Red Blends $15-25

Musella Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2009, Verona, Veneto, Italy, $15.95

Soaked and sappy, with braised tree fruit flavours, concentrated and passed over upon itself. Certainly trying very hard to entice and invite hedonistic pleasure. Like an upside down plum and fig cake, dripping in macerated syrup but with enough mineral tension to prorogue another day. Good rehydrated example.  88  @3050Imports

La Fiole Cotes Du Rhone 2010, Rhone, France $15.05

Simultaneously juicy and brooding. Tension from the get go. A depth of dried, fruit leathery plum, soaking in spiked Kefir grain. Bound tight but aching to race free. In Rhône ranger territory, or a Rhône acting on a Hollywood set. Tannic, oaky, manly yes, but I like it too. Admirable length.  88

California Square Paso Robles Red Bland 2012, California, USA $18.95

Downy soft, delicate, cheerful red blend. Pastel watercolour, flower-patterned print as perfume. Warm climate red licorice, plum permeate and cherry saturate, well-integrated acidity and some iron astriction. Would gain weight alongside rich foods.  86  @TrialtoBC

Vignoble Rancourt Meritage 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada $19.80

Chalk dust followed by quality, perceptive, frank and just red fruit. Understated, not overly expressive and walking softly down the road.  85

The Cloof Cellar Blend 2009, Wo Darling, South Africa $20.00

Leaps from the glass with earth expanding aromas. Strapping Pinotage java component shows accommodating restraint in advance of a Turkish viscidity. Red fruit is bright, adhesive and enervetic. Overall a bouncy, tannic and splintered affair.  85  @Cloofwines_ZA

Red Blends $25-50

Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $25.00

A count five psychedelic strawberry and savoury rhubarb aromatic behemoth. Crazy cherries too. Then, a mind-altering, animal hide moment, not exactly gamey, but something other, enough to cause a psychotic reaction. “(Shouted) And it feels like this!”  90  @Road13Vineyards

Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, Walker Bay, South Africa $32.50

A requiem for an exaggerated swirl, or at least the respect of a decant. Quite a head-smacking whack of mineral-iron-metal, with the tempering lift of a citrus-scented candle. Kirsch, vanillin oak “and my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite, who’s chokin’ on the splinters.” I am the loser, the wine is the winner. Very berry, big and beautiful.  90  @gradwellwines

Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008, DocVeneto, Italy $35.25

Quite the animal, this plum juicy and high-octane alcohol, cloying acetone and chocolate-dipped red licorice Venetian red blend. Sounds ridiculously Ripasso and near-Amarone delicious and were it endowed with the balance and structure to walk with the giants I’d sing its praises. Even so, I really believe it’s a “soul who’s intentions are good” so please don’t let it be misunderstood.  87

Masi Costasera Amarone 2008, Veneto, Italy $39.95

A stew of red fruit, prune and fig. Cauterized, steroidal, excessive, welling sensory overload. Leaking car fluids. Certainly a problematic, off-bottle from a reliable, age worthy brand.  80

Pinot Noir $25-50

Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile $45.00

Beaucoup de terre, or more likely, mucho suelo. An extreme example of Pinot Noir, a flamboyant king, ostentatious, peacockish and wired by a constriction of spices. There is perhaps too much earthly, saftig body. Though my first impression was admittedly old world, there is no way that theory will hold. A glass in and the thrill is gone, “And now that it’s over, all I can do is wish you well.”  87  @BadDogWine  @WinesofChile

Good to go!

Power shift: Wine in Ontario

Photograph by Aaron Lynett, National Post

Photograph by Aaron Lynett, National Post

as seen on canada.com

It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”

…A climate for change hovers in the frigid late November air. Sam says, “don’t fight it, feel it.” An unprecedented level of lobbying, legislative tabling and transparent discourse looks to reshape the landscape for the future of Ontario’s wine industry. The Ontario Wine Council just initiated a bold venture called MyWineShop aimed at revolutionizing the retail industry in Ontario. Their manifesto?

“What if you could build your dream wine shop in your neighbourhood?” Now’s your chance to envision an Ontario with greater consumer choice.
mywineshop.ca

In June the federal government passed Bill C-311, opening the door for the provinces to overturn restrictions on shipping wine across their Canadian borders.

Just last week, Nova Scotia followed BC’s lead by introducing the Free My Grapes bill, a set of provincial legislative amendments which will permit direct to consumer wine shipping into that province. Ontario’s laws remain staid silent on the inter-provincial importation of wine and according to lawyer Mark Hicken, that silence indicates a soon to be opening door.

Wine sales continue to grow, the LCBO has many fans and I included have lauded their efforts. Still, the crowd is growing thicker, speaking out, demanding change. Private wine stores exist in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. Critics want to know this. Why not Ontario?

With billions of wine dollars on the table and the window of opportunity seemingly imminent, it is with great interest that we follow the players, their agendas and their alliances. Here are twelve influential leaders who will help to define and decide the future of wine sales in Ontario.

Tim Hudak, Leader of the Ontario Conservative Party

Despite a less than impressive showing in the last provincial election, Dalton McGuinty’s departure and a leader-less Liberal government paves a new road to Mr. Hudak’s future. Adding beer and wine to corner stores in Ontario was a misguided and misdirected attempt at liquor reform but Hudak “didn’t reject the idea outright.” This indicates more than a potential partnership for a plan to introduce private wine retail in Ontario. Sure, the Conservatives first need to steal a majority, but a dwindling economy and renewed fear of long-lasting recession might just be the impetus for a Thatcherian foray and a partial crumbling of the LCBO wall.

Kathleen Wynne, leadership candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party

A discussion that involves Hudak would not be complete without mentioning Wynne. According to Scott Stinson, a front-runner to succeed Dalton McGuinty as leader of the party looks to be the long-time Cabinet minister and MPP for Don Valley West  (along with former Windsor MPP Sandra Pupatello). Good luck to either, as they will first be faced with the difficult task of leading the faltering Liberals and following what would be a miracle win, trying to withstand the wine storm brewing in Ontario.

Phillip Olson, Chair, LCBO

Olson has been Chair since March 2007 and his position was recently renewed in March 2012 for another two-year term. As head of one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of beverage alcohol, Olson has seen the LCBO through its golden era. In fiscal 2011-12, LCBO sales topped $4.7 billion and it delivered a $1.63 billion dividend to the Ontario government, not including taxes. The LCBO now faces a tsunami of developing support to privatize the industry. Olson and team can look forward to a heavyweight battle for market share.

Hillary Dawson, President, Wine Council of Ontario

While the WCO’s mission is to promote the growth and sustainability of Ontario’s VQA wines, it is Dawson at the helm brandishing the brand new initiative. MyWineShop is turning heads and unequivocally is the boldest move yet by an Ontario coalition with aspirations to overhaul the wine world in Ontario as we know it.

Brian Schmidt, Vineland Estates Winery, President & Chair, VQA Ontario

As the head of VQA, winemaker Brian Schmidt is instrumental in maintaining and ensuring the exceptional quality of Ontario wine. VQA Ontario exercises delegated authority to administer and enforce the VQA Act and its associated regulations. Along with brother Allan, Schmidt is the candidate most likely to press for a change to rules regarding VQA wine format designations. VQA wines that use the appellation of origin “Ontario” may now be packaged in containers other than glass bottles but not wine bearing more specific claims of origin regulated by VQA. Securing that approval from VQA Ontario, the LCBO and the AGCO would have huge ramifications, including allowing for wine served from kegs in Ontario restaurants.

Bill George Jr., Chair, Grape Growers on Ontario

The GGO represents Ontario’s over 500 growers of 15,000 acres of processing grapes, including 176 wineries in the Province’s four viticulture areas: Niagara Peninsula, Pelee Island, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County.  Bill George Jr. leads an organization that connects growers to the public, the media and the wineries on matters of viticulture, in particular the growing demand for high quality grapes. As an industry partner, the GGO has participated in the creation of over 1,300 additional jobs in the last four years through programs implemented by the Wine Council of Ontario and other industry partners. VQA wine sales at the LCBO have more than doubled over the past five years to over $110 million annually and now make up about 40 per cent of total Ontario wine sales. Good quality grapes, grassroots work and connectivity. This is the work of the GGO.

Moray Tawse, Owner, Tawse Vineyards and Marchand/Tawse

Though his day job as Co-Founder and Vice President of Mortgage Investments at First National Financial Corp. is his bread and butter, Moray Tawse is most passionate about his role as owner of Ontario’s most progressive vineyard. Tawse was the 2012 Winery of the Year award winner for an unprecedented third year in a row at the Canadian Wine Awards. So Tawse goes, so goes the Ontario wine industry.

Bryan McCaw, President, Wine Align

Wine Align is an online service that makes it easier to make smart and informed buying decisions at the LCBO. It boasts the most comprehensive database linked to the LCBO. Many of Ontario’s top critics are on board. Wine Align has entrenched itself in the heart of wine purchasing in Ontario. Yesterday McCaw tweeted “we had a record number of visitors to @WineAlign yesterday (7,900). We’re now getting more in a day than we use to get in an entire month.”

David Lawrason, Toronto Life, The National Post and Wine Align

Lawrason is the most affable guy you would ever want to sit in a room with and taste wine. It is hard to imagine another Canadian wine scribe that covers as much ground, from coast to coast, as David Lawrason does. He is tireless, relentless, opinionated, diplomatic, accurate and concise. His conclusion about privatization? “Alcohol is legal, and so the citizens have every right to sell it themselves, and certainly to select which brands are available, and to shop for it when and where they chose.” Peerless authority on all things wine.

Beppi Crosariol, The Globe and Mail

Certainly less political than his peers, Crosariol concentrates on the wines. As the critic for the largest national audience, his focus stays the course of wine recommendations and where to find them. No other  Canadian writer can reach as many people or influence sales (particularly in Ontario) like the Globe and Mail’s man.

John Szabo, M.S., The National Post and Wine Align

John Szabo has the torch in his grasp and is running with it. His influence is on the verge of omnipotence in Ontario’s world of wine. It is hard to think of anyone who will have more to say and be heard by a larger audience, when the levee of Ontario wine restrictions break. Szabo wrote a lengthy, informative and remarkably diplomatic dissertation on the subject of the LCBO monopoly and what it would mean to introduce private wine stores in Ontario. Though he walked a fine line and succeeded in stressing a need for privatization, he managed the piece with an ambassador’s precision. Still, he finished off by saying, “I hope I don’t get put on an interdiction list for writing this.”

Rick VanSickle, WinesInNiagara

Nobody and I mean nobody works more tirelessly to champion Ontario wines, at field level and in print. Though he has been advocating for the overhaul of the system longer than most, save for Lawrason, Margaret Swaine and Michael Vaughan, VanSickle has recently increased his tone and his voice to push for change. It would be hard to imagine elevated discourse and debate without VanSickle in the fray.

Good to go!