Fifty ways to Taste Ontario

The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. That much I’ve said before and this. “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Related – Where does the taste of Ontario go from here?

Though it’s not always obvious at what time of year the event will happen, the annual get to know Ontario wines gathering’s 2017 parlay affectionately known as Taste Ontario Toronto was held a week ago today, on Monday, March. 6, 2017 at the Royal Ontario Museum. The number of Ontario vintners who have participated in Taste Ontario over the past five years seems as random as it is consistent. We’ve seen as few as 30, as many as 55 and 42 participants in 2017. I’ve been tracking varietal representation and this year considered a cease and desist order for placing a trending finger on the pulse of any given grape.

Related – Why taste Ontario?

Chardonnay rules, plain and simple and call it risk aversion if you must but why should Ontario shy away from developing the coolest climate designation on the planet? Chardonnay works and if you’ve spent any quality immersion time in Chablis you’ll drop the fight and join the team. Gamay remains an important and viable alternative to big bad reds but please, enough with trying to dress this sheep in wolf’s clothing. Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of the Lincoln Lakeshore but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

Related – Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality

I don’t always taste Ontario but when I do I like to do it with Mike Di Caro. Mike grounds me and tasting by his side helps to keep my pulse at a healthy, wine tasting athletic rate of 40 – 60 beats per minute. Mike knows Ontario wine and never gets too high or too low. Tasting with him as Michael to his Mike I get to hang out inside the kind of discourse that delves into the ground, the makers and the market. Mike knows.

Related – Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

With so many other opportunities to taste Ontario wines throughout the year, last week’s staging afforded the chance to re-taste a great number. These new assessments are so important to understanding and gaining new perspective on not just how our wines age but also how they are affected by early reductive environment shock and their ability to change (for the better) after a mere six to 12 months in bottle. The first snapshots are not always the clearest. Taste Ontario also brings new wineries to the table. It’s now my job to pay them visits. Here are 50 ways to Taste Ontario.

Sparkling

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Traditional Method Sparkling 2010, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (383315, $29.95, WineAlign)

Time makes a difference so here the extended lees age (six months further, to 60) takes Riddled to another level. Considering the cost and attention to time, in the broad realm of traditional method sparkling wine there are some that are given away. Riddled. A whole lot of biscuit warmth, sody saleratus, gingersnap, tart Ida Red apple, breadth and a smile-inducing creamy palate. There is more wisdom and calm from 2010 so do not come around demanding tension and over-exciteability. Think Grower’s Champagne with Ontario heart and soul, dedication and purpose. The extended arm of Madronich-Johnston love is here, this year. It won’t get much better than this. Great length. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1  @wine_gems

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Traditional Method Brut Rosé 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Caroline and Maggie Granger have reset the compass and brought to market this original sparkling wine with a whimsical outré bounce in its step. It was a fortifying and henna-russet collecting 40 months time spent on the lees that to me has magnified and clarified the varietal expression. This is so pinot noir it gazes at itself in a mirror and vaporizes a telluric perfume replete with strawberry, dried cherry, peach and almond. Estate fruit shed of such lithe and delicate, near zero dosage animation tempts fate, digs into danger and elicits a nervy period of risk-reward. Reflection time is now and the oxidative Grange Brut Rosé walks a fine volatile edge and succeeds. Few sparkling wines can go gossamer this way and survive but like the finest spun web by a leggy creature cunning and wise, strength comes out of the most delicate weave. Science can be pretty cool.  There were 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Riesling

Château Des Charmes Riesling Old Vines, Estate Bottled 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $17.95, WineAlign)

The language in ’14 is cordial and effete, with ripe sweetness trumping the pulse of energy. The old vines deliver distinct impression, compression and phenolic bitterness. There is no mistaking this distinct wine and in the vintage its clarity is only eclipsed by its easy drinking compatibility. Enjoy early. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @MBosc

2027 Cellars Riesling Falls Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Virtual winery producer Kevin Panagapka continues his obsession with single-vineyard wines with this riesling grown just above and south of the brow of the Niagara Escarpment. Clay loam till soils with silt and shale face south along the long, one km wide, hummocky ridge and as per the vintage, a bit of simplicity is narrowed from good biodiversity. It all works towards simple pleasure, with sun-warmed fruit; pears, apples and such. Falls Vineyard grants top notch acidity and a bit of lime bitters for what is always a solid Vinemount Ridge expression. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @2027cellars

Rosewood Origin Riesling Mima’s Block 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Smells like Bench riesling spirit. The energy comes from the über vineyard’s way of emission, gasseous and vital, linear, introspective and direct. This may just be the most aridity and brine ever teased from a Mima’s riesling, acidity coveting sugar notwithstanding, startling from beginning to end, with spirited shots of lime. Underrated and honest, the consistency of this riesling is possessive of great triggers and so beautifully defines the mineral Bench. Early suffocations blow off with ease and in the denoument there are crunchy stones, forever and always something to like. Mima’s never really needed an abundance of sugar for balance and kudos to that. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @Rosewoodwine

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2015, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Chardonnay

Redstone Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard not to make a most drinkable and full-fleshy chardonnay from the stellar vintage, especially with the omnipresent cool tempering from Beamsville bench fruit. Redstone does not disappoint though at first it may seem both reluctant and extremely taut. The flavours stretch out more than the aromatics which are flinty, woody and tart. They will relent and meld into the palate with some further bottle time. This is classic for the house braintrust and reminiscent of sketches drawn in some earlier vintages, like 2009. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2016 and March 2017  @RedstoneWines

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Chardonnay Estate 2015, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Perhaps by virtue of the language spoken by the 2015 vintage this chardonnay is hard to crack and touched with a minor, vitality-preserving note of reduction. It will yield to swirl and air, opening up many floral blossoms, notably apple and peach. Intensity is consistent for the Short Hills Blench vineyards stalwart, both for its locked in freshness and aromatic heavy breathing with thanks to dense clay soils and their “tossed up limestone.” Think cool-climate chardonnay with added layers of compression, fervent soil tang and as of yet unresolved (one-third) new French and North Ameriacn oak. Two to three years in process from two to three bottles per vine naturally translates and extrapolates to needing two or three more years in bottle to make it all come swimmingly integrated together. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February and March 2017  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Meldville Chardonnay First Edition 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Foremost a Derek Barnett perfume, rational from a generous barrel and irrational from the ripest fruit at a twain where each meet, both matter and neither dominate. Classic Barnett chardonnay viscosity, deep tang and the sweetest of dry extract. If this isn’t the most ambitious effort early in a re-invented career it would be hard to say what is but wisdom and experience count for more than a bottom dollar. Real length in real time will develop the vanilla, honey and liqueur well into this chardonnay’s tithe year. If singular isn’t the current descriptor now, it surely will be then. A new stylistic benchmark for Lincoln Lakeshore is born. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Fielding Estate Winery Chardonnay Estate 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355842, $21.95, WineAlign)

The vintage offered up a whole set of challenges, especially for chardonnay on the Lincoln Lakeshore. Right off the aromatic bat I sense a little extra wood on the nose but low-yielding, ripe and healthy fruit can handle that sort of vintage-related truth. The coolness of a preceeding winter’s anti-glaze is contravened by the barrel up front and personal on the nose. The palate is all about cool-climate relegation, resignation and the overall picture is painted in balance; advance, recede, attack and retreat. Finishes with love interest, commercial appeal. Pretty complex chardonnay. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Bachelder Chardonnay Mineralité 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $22.20, WineAlign)

Mineralité is clearly nose-marked and cleverly marketed to celebrate rocks and soil, not barrel. The fruit seems plucked straight from the apple tree, crisp, tart and crunchy. Everything about this exacting Thomas Bachelder chardonnay screams foil to most else, from his wide reaching chardonnay domain and from the rest of the province. Other mettalurgical label referenced chardonnays still reek of oak and are too shy to distance themselves from the heart of the rocky matter. Thomas is serious about the moniker and goes at it with great intent. The vintage nearly, fully completely complies. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Southbrook Vineyards Chardonnay Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (172338, $22.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Ann Sperling’s chardonnay Triomphe ’15 is sourced primarily from Saunders (Beamsville Bench) with auxiliary support out of Heather Laundry’s old vine Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard. There are older, non-clonal blocks with perhaps some Musqué mixed in so the aromatics fly, with no restraint applied by the wild ferment and (mostly 300L) neutral oak. This Triomphe is anything but reductive, a no stress chardonnay from such a far from sluggish, clean ferment. The simplicity and complicity explain how beauty is curated, from a vintage where reduction did not happen or beg to happen so why try to force it. The copacetic re-quiescence bears witness to classic Ann Sperling in such a vintage. Chardonnay of mellow smoulder, of old barrel spice and one to define a certain kind on a line of disparate and unique, cool climate, i4c selections. There are 800 cases made. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

@wismervineyards royalty, Craig, Thomas @Bachelder_wines & @normhardie (and delegate Peter @BouchardFinlayson ) talking north and south #vinelandbench

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (421362, $22.95, WineAlign)

The ability of Craig Wismer’s Foxcroft Block to gift fruit, regardless it seems of vintage, is one of Niagara’s great stories. Even more special is how it allows each producer to own it and create value from differentiation. Kevin Panagapka works a decidedly reductive room with bees-waxy fruit from 2014 and of a wood creativity that deals more in spice than anything else. I really think this takes more risk than other Foxcroft efforts and they are numerous. The reward here is in the pudding, literally, in proofed fruit set up for unbreakable structure. The Sonoma glade and fog rings true in Bench-driven chardonnay speak while wood only creates a leesy stir. A very good vintage, as good as the previous two I would say and creates even more buzz for what will come next. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted March 2017  @2027cellars

Creekside Estates Chardonnay Queenston Road Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

If classic Queenston Road Vineyard might be explained in one drop, try using the Creekside ’14 to do so. Riper than most Niagara fruit and easy as Sunday morning barrel influence come together for everything to gain. Here the chardonnay equivalent of reading a good book falls into lunch, followed by a mid-afternoon slumber. Mild notes of caramel and sandlawood come through on the lightly buttered rye toast palate. The only thing missing is a good slice of bacon. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @CreeksideWine

Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent489591, $24.95, WineAlign)

The vintage brings an excess of riches and richesse to the Queylus chardonnay entry point, a place you would be wise to begin your foray into high-level, carefully crafted, cool-climate wine. This 2014 offers up its tour-guide expertise as a representational bridge into what Thomas Bachelder, Kelly Mason, the Queylus team and lake-proximate, lower Bench chardonnay is all about. The vintage takes an ambitious departure for the house and yet it carries enough (short history of) tradition in its DNA to resemble past issues of itself. Such a balanced wine for you here, of ripe and tart fruit, elasticity, stretch, rebound and finally, great length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @QueylusVin  @Dandurandwines

13th Street Chardonnay Sandstone Vineyard Reserve 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

No surprise the vintage is a major plus for the Sandstone and the natural funk it owns. And I mean owns. Only Sandstone has such geological drive, not unlike chardonnay from South Africa’s Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. In 2013 there is a sweetness to the fruit mixed with a misty humidity and finally that falling over backwards with feet stuck in the clay and the calcaire. Wildness from J. P. Colas here and with attentiveness to place and time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted at #i4c16, July 2016  @13thStreetWines

Adamo Estate Chardonnay Oaked Willms Vineyard 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $31.00, WineAlign)

Adamo sources from the same vineyard that provides fruit for 13th Street’s Sandstone Reserve in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Planted in 1983, it is owned and farmed by Erv, Esther and Eric Willms. In its early stages the fruit acted and reacted as a lean, taut and tension fuelled chardonnay with party a sign of letting up. Eight months later the juicy flesh of orchard fruit pushes past the vintage’s grip and lets tis wine breath a sigh of relief. Chalk one up to yet another cool-climate, calcareous clay stuck moment in time. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted twice, at #i4c16, July 2016 and Taste Ontario, March 2017  @AdamoEstateWine

Westcott Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2015, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $31.20, WineAlign)

I don’t mean to skip forward and get ahead of Westcott’s aromatic propriety but knowing how a winemaker likes to celebrate texture and flavour sends me direct to a sip. That first taste reveals the sumptuousness of 2015 Vinemount Ridge fruit, ripe, savoury and fleshy peach-organized. Accomplishment number one for Arthur Harder and crew. An aromatic retrospective notices tradition and cool-climate reserve, as the name would suggest and then a full-on conversion moving forward, back to the present and into the variegated luxe of flavour gifted to mouthfeel. I love how this wine lingers with an almost analgesic sensation on the gums and up the sides of the mouth. If at moments it may seem too warm or right of balancing centre it is only because it has the gumption to test and heighten the senses. If any Peninsula chardonnay were a drug that could lead to addiction, Westcott’s ’15 is the one. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @WestcottWines

Icellars Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

The aromatic hard to get personality is intriguing, not because of absence but due to a gentle wisdom and beautiful demure lurking behind the veil. I get the extract and the mineral quality inherent but need more. The palate gives more and more, especially a calcareous sensation and the lean qualities throughout are neither deficient nor bothersome. This is ambitiously market-introduced chardonnay created without getting ahead of itself and though the best the fruit has to offer is not quite coaxed, nothing has been added to distract or suppress what orchard fruit is there. Great appreciation is afforded the winemaker for keeping it simple, unadulterated and real. Drink 2017-2010.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes time matters. A year later the South Clos in 2014 has separated itself as the true Closson star, away from the CCV in ways it did not do in 2013, or before. The range of motion, aromas and flavours are dramatic and in beautiful flux, beginning with top notch orchard and stone fruit. The southern hill’s intense stony quality infiltrates before this opens up to reveal flavours as broad as the varietal spectrum will alow. If fruit slightly dehydrated, leather chewy and mille-feuille layered with fine, limestone wire interlocking are something of great appeal then chew on this South Clos for the next seven years. The texture and the length are wholly encouraging of the exercise. The score must change and the window be expanded. Drink 2018-2025.  Last tasted March 2017  @ClossonChase

The 2014 CCV South Clos Chardonnay is imbued with less tension, more elegance and fully-aclimatized cool-climate bent. It’s a linear, calm and directed soul raised from Prince Edward County soil royalty. The vintage offers up low-crop, scrupulously cropped stable if unexceptional fruit. This from a portion of the vineyard with the ability to plateau what can otherwise get season’s growth-mired in the proverbial middle of the road. Though not so tart, nor tense neither, there is a sense of tannic zest. Cool and precise, this represents concrete work from incumbent winemaker Keith Tyers. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted February 2016

The man, the chardonnay @normhardie #princeedwardcounty ’14 #vqa #winecountryontario As sure as fire will burn There’s one thing you will learn Is things you have cherished Are things

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.20, WineAlign)

So much locked in tight obscures the coaxing of a distinct and clear impression of Norman Hardie’s ’14 County chardonnay so I search for a reference point. There is danger in drawing comparisons between two single-vineyards and even more so Niagara to Prince Edward County, but I have to go there. Norman Hardie’s 2014 Niagara chardonnay is the rich and reductive, bullet-proof one. His extreme, hard as nails ’14 PEC counterpart may be the most mineral-focused ever produced off of County soils. The ferment spent 10 months in barrel plus 10 more in stainless steel and never fully completed malolactic. Chablis never had it so good. I can’t ever before recall this flirtatious and furtive combination conjoined by preserved lemon and ginger but also the smell of the apple orchard grinding through metal gears in the cider press. The magnitude of this ’14 chardonnay is felt even before the flavours begin their reveal because the layers of texture and tang are nothing short of remarkable. Hardie has gone for structure broke from this vintage reeling with impression, soliciting oyster, lobster and grand gustatory associations. There is so much going on, eliciting a response that imagines a change in direction and at least an unconscious metaphrasing of terroir. With this formidable chardonnay the idea of better or worse for Niagara versus PEC is finally laid to rest. Vintage rules. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @normhardie

Southbrook Vineyards Chardonnay Poetica 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

Always Ontario’s outlier, eccentric and non-conformist chardonnay and I say this with complimentary, best of intention flattery. The 2013 vintage is simply chivalrous to chardonnay and in Poetica’s corner, a perfect calm case of preux meets elegante. Here is a chardonnay of inherent oxidative wisdom, from cloud cover, cool, long breaths of Niagara air well into the elongated autumn and the address for what I refer to as “the age apparent one.” The iconoclast Poetica ideal conforms because it is matched with equal breadth by richness of fruit and confirms the way Ann Sperling makes her signature wine. Tasted blind my first guess would put this at five years old because of the exuding warmth so 2010 might just be the order. A 2012 Bench chardonnay might have also been the answer. But with Poetica the promise is like Meursault with uptown fruit, honey, vanilla, caramel, a Niagara vapour and ethanol. Such a telling display that only Poetica can play. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted October 2016, January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

CHABROL. That is all. #snacks @chabrolto

Other Whites and Blends

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

With a string of no less than five well-executed and received pinot gris vintages tucked comfortably like brass in pocket, Malivoire’s pinot gris 2015 goes one step deeper. No pretender or pretension but yes with compression in ’15, noting melon and lime, white stone fruit, not dense but layered. More Alsace than before and poured blind would always and only be pinot gris. In the hands of Shiaz Mottiar the ’15 knows and says it. “Intention, I feel inventive. Gonna make you, make you, make you notice.” Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted January and March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

Meldville Sauvignon Blanc First Edition 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Not so much an aromatic sucess for sauvignon blanc though some faux botrytis in the guise of white peach and even mango is nosed. It is the palate that defines Derek Barnett’s First Edition and offers up description. Quite creamy in texture, tangy again from mango and then sharp and linear with the type of acidity that folds over itself to increase the notion and the effect that leesy textures creates. This lingers on the palate like a tropical pastille and sapidity is very real. It’s classic antithetical Niagara Peninsula sauvignon blanc and could not be confused with Marlborough, Elgin, Sancerre or any other varietal play in the great diaspora. Derek Barnett takes less risk here (as compared to his chardonnay) but at the same time perpetuates the marked differences in expression of NP sauvignon blanc. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Does not get much fresher in Viognier, anywhere. The tank has yet to leave the bottle which does not so much stand transfixed in shock as much as it buzzes like a fridge. Heady, radioactive, reductive and policed tight which I very much like. The expected flavours of peach and the pits are in while the texture thrushes inward and the linear, distillate character lashes out. Solid as a rock in a Niagara quarry. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016 and March 2017  @NyaraiCellars  @TerroirLover

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Pinot Gris Select 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

If you are going to go for something you may as well go all in. Maggie Granger tells me the ’15 pinot gris saw 36 hours of skin contact. My math tells me that’s a 240 per cent increase over 2013 and 2014. As I said, all in. Now we have something that raises the stakes and despite some energy flatlining the sweet extract quality has never been finer. The Grange’s ’15 and its oxidative meets lactic and red berry-currant leafy personality is remarkably pure, clean, saline and yes, unusual. Add it should be because halfway there is nowhere. This succeeds because it crosses an imaginary line and fear is ignored. I can really imagine sipping this with pork liver mousse or cured Ontario fish, like rainbow or salmon trout. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

The Good Earth Viognier 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Some of Ontario’s best viognier fruit comes from these picturesque vineyards, fruit that shines with tangy delight and also takes on the weight of compression from the great clay below. I do feel the 2013 vintage was better suited to both the varietal but also the way winemaker Ross Wise procured viognier in the purest form with glassy clarity. It will be most interesting to see what incumbent consulting winemaker Ilya Senchuk does with 2016 fruit going forward. Here, from what could only have been the lowest of low yields, this aromatic and treacly textured viognier is seamless and full of peach flavour. It lingers with its phenolic ripenss well into the next minute. Highly recommended especially for its lack of waxy or bitter edges. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

Stratus White 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

In 2013 viognier is back in the varietal mix, in reprise of its earlier role in support of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. A different sort of vintage here for the White, seemingly led by a circular turning of chardonnay and viognier, like a cat chasing its tail. This really goes round and round with no obvious signs of where it will stop. Quite fleshy and lime juicy with stone fruit flavours in righteous abound. Really amalgamated and seamless even for itself. It is here that I think of it as The White. Niagara’s White. Lake Effect™. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted November 2016 and March 2017  @StratusWines

Gamay

Malivoire Gamay Small Lot 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A change of pace is noted for gamay in 2015 and perhaps it takes itself to a place beyond. Seriously dark fruit (with more tannin showing up after some time in bottle than might have originally thought possible) is noted from just a nose on Malivoire’s 2015. The pressed extraction may turn out to be a process leading to greatly improved structure. This is not the gamay rising from riding on the go-go train but one more akin to Cru doctrine and demagogy. Flavours of black cherry and tart citrus lead to plenty of leafy and earthy savour. Look out Juliénas, here comes Small Lot. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

Tawse Winery Gamay Noir Unfiltered Redfoot Vineyard 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for this deeply coloured gamay is drawn from Tom Koscis’ vineyard, big batch fermented but with a minimalist sulphured approach. Gamay that went through full malolactic in barrel out of sheer necessity. Winemaker Paul Pender is a big fan of this great site, a place that gifts perfect colour and a soil’s funk that is spot on. This is gamay of a noticeable velvety texture. Something strikes as deja nosed and sure enough, this was Pearl Morissette’s fruit in 2013 and 2014. Wisely natural and so bright, gulpable, back up the truck gamay. So beautifully and perfectly dry and even a wee bite of tannin. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016 and March 2017  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Gamay-Pinot Noir Select 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The ’14 is the first Grange gamay-pinot where the grapes were simultaneously picked and co-fermented. It’s a really ripe co-mingling and so much brighter than you’d think. “This is the vintage I was waiting for with this wine,” tells Maggie Granger. Clean, pure essence of raspberry dances on the nose and texture liquid chalky, lactic and taut. This wine also proves that this more than obvious bedfellow varietal combination makes more sense in the County than Bourgogne meetings of the kind. It remains to be seen if the Grange’s irreligious pagan pairing idea will catch on but if any vintage can spur the revolution, 2014 is the one. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Pinot Noir

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1545, $20.20, WineAlign)

The Flat Rock has been a VINTAGES essential for several seasons and like any maturing pinot noir vineyard, four or five years are needed before quality is ensured. This wine has always provided quality but it is in 2014 where the stakes are raised. For the Twenty Mile Bench (and others Benches too) this vintage provides sweet extract, steadfast fruit, polished tannins and exceptional structure. Jay Jonhston did not mess with the cards, blended with acumen and has subsequently ran the table for his basic, normale, bring it to the (relative) masses pinot noir. It’s all you need to understand Flat Rock, The Twenty Mile Bench and the Niagara Peninsula. It’s essential. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1  @wine_gems

Bachelder Pinot Noir Parfum 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $22.20, WineAlign)

Parfum doles out the Bachelder perfume with great Beaune intent and whole bunch hints from this most celebrated 2014 Niagara pinot noir vintage. With potpourri so bright and wildly tonal there needs to be some firmness for balance and this is present with tonic injection and finishing grip. The overall impression is a broad brushstoke and wells with its tea-seeping pot of mild but effective tannin. With thanks to “de-classified” Lowrey and Wismer-Parke vineyard fruit an ideal launching point progresses for the Bachelder way and encourages Le Parfum to set the stage for further investigative play. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @GroupeSoleilTO

The Good Earth Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Moving away from the Lincoln Lakeshore and up on to the ledges of the Niagara Escarpment we find pinot noir taking on a decidly firm and stony aromatic profile. Fruit in 2015 is graced with phenolic ripeness though certainly submissive to the elevated mineral tones. The strawberry-cranberry spectrum is acquiesced and the winemaking has rendered this clean as a pinot noir popsicle whistle. Great simplicity and consumer complicity is gained. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

You’re gonna want to make room for a whole cluster of these @SouthbrookWine #pinotnoir #triomphe #annsperling #laundryvineyard #organic #niagarapeninsula #vqa #beamsvillebench

Southbrook Vineyards Pinot Noir Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Ann Sperling’s inaugural pinot noir for Southbrook makes swift, acumen accomplished first time work with Heather Laundry’s vineyard fruit. While her peers of the current generation begin to play and progressively experiment, Sperling helps to usher in the whole cluster brigade with her own 40 per cent packed, tiny berry ferment. This sterling effort takes Lincoln Lakeshore pinot noir to another dimension and Ann is confident the 115 clone is so perfectly suited to the ideal. This whole cluster thing with pinot expresses the floral lift and in turn a gift into elegance and purity. Ripeness and richness take turns without drifting into black cherry darkness. There is some chalky, earthy reduction that needs to mellow and it’s still a bit gritty, palpable of textural and even a bit mean. It won’t take long for this just recently released Triomphe to pirouette, assimilate and dutifully represent an unmitigated success for Sperling, in this her 11th vintage at Southbrook. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted January and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, St. David’s Bench, Ontario (421370, $35.00, WineAlign)

Bright, high-toned Pinot Noir with rambling warm, St. David’s Bench red fruit aromas, out of the raspberry patch (thorns and thistles in) and off of the ripening pomegranate tree. Some rusticity and quarried character refracts within a mild tannic frame. Very floral and high on acidity. Blissfully and blessedly not over pressed and in fact rather well made. Yet another success employed by winemaker Kevin Panagapka with stylistic firm talon grip from out of the Queenston Road Vineyard. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016 and March 2017  @2027cellars

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke Vineyard 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder has never had a problem with timing. His first pinot noir from the specific Wismer Parke Vineyard (labeled as such) comes from a veritable cracking jackpot of a great varietal vintage. If you need some geographical placement here, The Parke is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of Wismer in the eight farm-strong holdings on and around the Twenty Mile Bench. It is here that Bachelder concentrates the microscope on a sectional-cordoned off Wismer micro-terroir and its precision-apportioned mineralogy mined for sidetracked and step out of the box focus. What The Parke delivers in 2014 is a sweeter extract than Wismer proper and one that is stationary, static and accessible. The overall grasp is a mouthful easy on the spice or rather subtle in attack after it has climbed in and out of its barrels. Most polls would place Lowrey at the pinnacle of Ontario’s pinot noir vineyards but Thomas Bachelder’s 2014 work with Wismer Parke establishes a new player on the shortlist. This is an exciting entry point and the future will be bright. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2016 and March 2017  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Icellars Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The pinot noir condition is really challenged with Icellars ’15, a wine that acts as ambitious as its sister chardonnay but the results filtered through just the opposite. The aromas are dusty, rusty, coppery and full of dried fruit, but also weathered leather and savour. The palate goes deep south, humid and balmy with red citrus, plenty of tonic and a finish left by bitter citrus pith. Incredibly firm and old-world schooled, way back to Burgundy from another era. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Norman Hardie Winery & Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $45.20, WineAlign)

Great purity of Twenty Mile Bench fruit lightens the load, re-focuses, revives, prolongs and re-lives the magic. Sweet, salty and bitter combinative phenols in cohorts distinguish the layering effect of a Norm Hardie pinot noir, no matter the source but here distinct as the s-shaped micro-cilmate curves of 20 Mile blocks. Quite the cake creamy texture and silky mouthfeel for a Hardie pinot noir would indicate that alcohol has crept above the norm but the magic is never abandoned and always prolonged. Heat and alcohol “never there. You’re never there. You’re never ever ever ever there.” Under 12 per cent, every time. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017   @normhardie

Cabernet and Red Blends

Redstone Cabernet 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (415885, $19.95, WineAlign)

A cabernet blend more franc than sauvignon because of the savour and the plugged in currant fruit. Though the aromatic tones are elevated and venturing into menthol territory, the structure provided by palate and finish ground this two cab blend into solid clay. Will drink well for up to five BBQ seasons. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2016 and March 2017  @RedstoneWines

The Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Just as cabernet franc is inherently wont to be this Good Earth celebrates a grape’s verdant habitual greenness of warming spring and fresh vegetal in waves that bring more advantage than not. Nicely tart and expressive of varietal ways, this is neither overly ambitious nor does it use wood to excessive advantage. With understated the great operative we are faces with cabernet franc allowed to go about its business, for under appreciated grace and the sort of electric and elastic length that goes on for days. Some will say too much of a good thing but if you know cabernet franc, it’s just right. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @goodearthtweets  @goodearthNico

Can I be #cabernetfranc for a minute? @meldvillewines @grangewinery

The Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2013 Select, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

An extra year has paid great compliment to Caroline Granger’s ’13 cabernet franc, a wine of deeply aromatic and summer savoury dark fruit. Comparisons politically correct or not, this kind of County cabernet franc is so much more closely connected to Chinon than most from Niagara and it really combines cool-climate with limestone geology. What wood there was has melted and blended in with copacetic liquid chalky ooze, leaving this in a pure and pleasurable state of cabernet franc grace. A near perfect place. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @grangewinery

Henry Of Pelham Family Estate Winery Cabernet/Merlot Estate 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (395855, $24.95, WineAlign)

Exceeds elegant expectations with poise and presence, a Bordeaux blend so refined it pleases. Effectively restrained and remedies with tonic. Circulating acidity ranges while chocolate whips, but wholly within reason. Spice accents assist in the celebration (why not?) to effectuate this red’s firm grip and grasp of Claret reality. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015, January and March 2017  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Syrah 2014, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (258657, $25.15, WineAlign)

The rare and elusive Ontario cabernet-syrah returns with Fielding’s 2014, from mostly Lowrey Vineyard fruit set in 20-25 per cent new barrel for 16 months. Neither a 2009 or a 2013 was produced because “it’s a priority, not an afterthought,” insists winemaker Richie Roberts. The ’14 is a (50 per cent) cabernet sauvignon, (30) syrah and (20) cabernet franc compendium, treated like a top tier Bordeaux-esque blend with a French-Niagara twist. This is sultry-smoky, curative and red fruit, earthy-dried salumi-salmagundi, holy gastronomy in a glass blend. The Fielding-Roberts wisdom and acumen are all over in a wine that will prepare you for every eventuality. Would undoubtedly pair famously with the rare and elusive king of game birds, le bécasse, with bacon and fleur de sel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted January and March 2017  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  @Heidi_Fielding

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Only 100 cases were made of Hardie’s 2015 County cabernet franc with thanks to a late spring frost. The impossible one is a destemmed, small basket press wonder that spent 11 months (one more than usual) in 30 per cent new (plus 70 neutral) 228L French barrels. The tartful dodger is slick, smart and spirited. Impossible because of its wood-smothered and smouldered upbringing and how it stays so lean, clean, stealth and low in alcohol. Some things are best left unexplained. Just take in the raspberry, cranberry and cool limestone, followed by the star anise and cassia red braised pork belly imagined, even if that’s just what dish would be so right alongside. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017   @normhardie

Meldville Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

A beautifully sweet, savoury aromatic cabernet franc of verdant bright tones and such commissioned, defined red fruit. Character is at the forefront, both for attitude and complexity, gently pressed and in varietal synch. This is precisely why Lincoln Lakeshore is the right place to be with the cabernet franc you love. This has great tension without being too firm, gritty or tannic. Though this celebrates the bright and the fruity it is not without enough structure to carry it forward five plus years. Pyrazine or green notes are curiously absent and there nothing suffers as a result of their omission. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  @meldvillewines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc Small Lot “101” 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Gone is the Whimsy! idiom and preserved is the varietal freshman year class denotation. The “101” actually refers to the vineyard, a block in purport of aromatic restraint in a confident Cabernet Franc with more richness and tannin, not to mention raging acidity and acceptable volatility. There is lightness and brightness within the rigid tannic frame. The “101” vineyard shines while it broods. Dichotomous Cabernet Franc with an as yet undecided future. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted at Gold Medal Plates, November 2016, February and March 2017  @SouthbrookWine  @AnnSperling  @PaulDeCampo  @thesirengroup

Icellars Arinna 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Without knowing much about the blend, the nose tells me cabernet sauvignon leads the way. Merlot and cabernet franc trail behind the tart, purple citrus and tobacco-verdant personality. The accumulation is quite chalky, wood-inflected and with the middle palate transparency this emits as another example of a big effort (like the pinot noir) with a shortfall because it gets ahead of itself. Would likely better be served with less pressing, structural dreaming and more easy going impression. I suppose the style has to justify the price but for value and enjoyment a prudent decision would choose instead to follow the lead set out with the estate’s chardonnay. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

The time in bottle has eased up the tannic throttle, leaving Creekside’s ’12 in a pleasurable if not quite fuly accessible state. The great fruit vintage was deftly pressed, that much is clear, because as the wood subsides it is not astringncy and bitters sliding into its place. Cassis, cassia and black cherry are the aromas of ilk, in delivery at this time and followed up with cabernet sauvignon silk. This is rightfully and righteously chewy cabernet sauvignon and without a doubt just about as good as it gets for Ontario. Though the limbo bar starts low, Rob Power’s 2012 climbs under with great agility and raises the stakes for everyone else. Still, I’d hedge bets and wait two more years for further integration and a little bit of truffling to begin. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted March 2017  @CreeksideWine

Icellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Good quality fruit and equanimity from generous barrels define this ambitious effort. There is this underlying green streak that can’t be missed nor denied though it’s neither unexpected nor unusual. The texture runs quite complex, chewy and at times even crunchy, with enough structure to work towards a promising future. Wood and stemmy savour are certainly part of the mix but with time should integrate without much trouble. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2017  @FoolAnd60Acres

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Why you don’t know jack about B.C. wine

Culmina Family Estate Winery, Oliver, B.C.

Culmina Family Estate Winery, Oliver, B.C.

Some folks in Ontario know quite a lot about the B.C. wine industry but they are few and far between. Wine professionals with decades of experience and those who have travelled extensively to the Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island have their fingers pointed in the right western direction. But most of us living and imbibing here in Ontario are clueless as to the breadth of B.C.’s wine culture. It’s not our fault. Our government is keeping us in the dark.

Ontario still refuses to agree that it should not be illegal to carry or ship wine for personal use across provincial borders. That issue is at the forefront of what keeps Canada’s wine regions isolated from one another. The Canadian Vintners Association (CVA) recently met for their annual AGM in Kelowna, B.C. The CVA is the industry’s governing board that deals with national regulatory issues, standards and policies. The idea of direct to consumer interprovincial shipping was again tabled and discussed with five MP’s from Ontario and B.C. in attendance. WineAlign’s David Lawrason was there.

“The politicians and CVA members were most vocal about getting Canadian wine moving freely and directly across all provincial boundaries in Canada. Alas, there was no breakthrough to announce in terms of more provinces dropping their opposition, but I was surprised by how loud, frequent and public the CVA and its members, as well as the politicians, have become – insisting that action be taken sooner rather than later. There was a mood in the room.” Still Ontario consumers continue to be ignorant about the wines of British Columbia. It remains to be seen if the recent CVA meeting will help constitute a step forward.

Related – B.C. wine: From Vancouver to your table

Back in June we took the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada on the road and hunkered down in Penticton, British Columbia to assess and pick winners from over 1,500 Canadian produced wines. And we did so much more. First we paid a visit with The Wines of British Columbia for the Judgement of B.C. The second annual cage match was hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute and took place on Tuesday, June 21, pitting 12 B.C. Wines against 12 acknowledged global benchmarks. Riesling and Pinot Noir squared off, curated by DJ Kearney and judged by a who’s who of Canadian wine writers, critics and educators, along with international WineAlign Awards judges Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan Brown.

Showtime! #judgementBC @WineBCdotcom @djwines #BCWine @WineAlign #nwac16 #bcwineinstitute #bcvqa #bcdna

Showtime! #judgementBC @WineBCdotcom @djwines #BCWine @WineAlign #nwac16 #bcwineinstitute #bcvqa #bcdna

Max Ferd. Richter Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2013 from the Mosel Valley, Germany placed first in the Riesling category, followed by two B.C. entries, CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2014 BC VQA, Okanagan Valley, B.C. and Wild Goose Stoney Slope Riesling 2013 BC VQA, Okanagan Falls, B.C. Three international Pinot Noirs medalled, Bouchard Père Premier Cru Beaune Clos de la Mousse Monopole 2012, Burgundy, France, Bachelder Oregon Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley AVA Oregon, USA and Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014, Central Otago, New Zealand. B.C. Pinot Noir took the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and (tied for) eighth spots. “What was really interesting when I tasted through those 12 wines blind, I couldn’t pick out the BC Wines which tells me they belong in their peer group which is a ringing endorsement for BC Wine that we’re on the right track,” noted Dr. Jamie Goode.

Faultless evening @OKCrushPad above reproach and the wines beyond #nwac16

Faultless evening @OKCrushPad above reproach and the wines beyond #nwac16

As the week progressed, the WineAlign judges paid visits to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, Rustic Roots Winery with the Similkameen Wineries Association and Deep Roots Winery on the Naramata Bench. I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the five days from the appellations of Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Similkameen Valley and Naramata Bench. Whatever I thought I knew and understood about wines coming from B.C.’s diverse and variegated landscapes has been tossed out the window and diapason replaced with an entirely renewed subset of thought. It is even clearer to me now, from an Ontario perspective with limited access to B.C. wines and an even smaller vocabulary that here in this province we really don’t know shit about B.C. wines.

Exceptional eats @CulminaWinery in adroit by @Quintoquorto and @hooydonk_van

Exceptional eats @CulminaWinery in adroit by @Quintoquorto and @hooydonk_van

In talking and reflecting recently with Elaine Brown she told me how “Canada’s Provincial restrictions around wine have created what are essentially isolated sovereignties of wine. There is a lot of good wine made throughout Canada but speaking with wine lovers across the country I am impressed with how little access they have to wines from other provinces.” Brown hits the proverbial screwcap right on the head. In a country where distance makes community so difficult, the only way to seek unity is to tear down trade barriers and that is something our provincial government has outright refused to docket. As a result, the consumer in Ontario has little access to the diversity that the B.C. wine industry has to offer.

So much @WineBCdotcom amour in the @tantaluswine cellar last night #nwac16

So much @WineBCdotcom amour in the @tantaluswine cellar last night #nwac16

One of the great B.C. revelations on the June trip was all about riesling. In his recent WineAlign column, Rhys Pender wrote the following. “It feels to me that the last few years have seen a really strong focus towards quality in BC. Not that good wines weren’t made, but most of the riesling seemed to be aimed at being a low price, broad crowd pleaser. More and more wines are a little pricier but a lot more intense and quality focused. This was evident in the recent judging of the National Wine Awards of Canada. To be honest, Ontario riesling has pretty much always been superior to BC in these competitions and while there were still many great Ontario wines, this year things were different and many of the best rieslings I personally tasted in my flights were from BC. Less simple, fruity wines and more serious, intense and concentrated examples. Seven of the top ten riesling overall were from BC this year including the Gray Monk 2013 Riesling which won a Platinum medal. An impressive showing.”

Related – From coast to coast: Top 40 wines from the 2016 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada

Another adumbrate scoop came outlined in out-of-the-box white varietals, with very interesting results by albariño, grüner veltliner, muscat ottonel and trebbiano. The same quality of wines made from these grape varieties can’t be found in Ontario, nor can the success of red blends from the Similkameen Valley and from single varietal reds in the Okanagan Valley as a whole. When B.C. winemakers begin to dial back the oak and take full advantage of ripe, fresh fruit, the world won’t know what hit them. In his National Wine Awards of Canada report, David Lawrason noted that “two B.C. wineries, Moon Cursor and Stag’s Hollow, are worth watching for their medal winning experiments with grapes like tempranillo, grenache and petit verdot.” Another nod to experimentation.

I liken the Okanagan to South Africa, a varietal playground where just about anything can achieve phenolic ripeness in almost any given vintage. B.C. has one distinct advantage and that is a cooler climate. It should be exploited to the fullest, in the name of balance and quality. Though I tasted many more, in the name of 5,000 words or (slightly more) brevity, here are notes on 40 wines tasted and reviewed in June.

Sincerity @CulminaWinery from Elaine & Don Triggs and a superfluity of @WineBCdotcom pours #ohwhatanight #hospitality #nwac16

Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc Cerqueira Vineyard 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

A rich, savoury mess of red fruits comes clean if surreptitiously divided by barrel on the nose on this gently intended cabernet franc from the gentle Cerqueira slope. More than a modicum of concentration of dusty raspberry and some new leather jacket. Silky smooth mouthfeel and the condensed tangy extraction really pops up on the finish. Another crunchy, chewy, smoky, serious cabernet franc turning bitter and tough with alcohol and bramble on the finish. More freshness would be ideal so let it rest for two years instead. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @bartierbros

Semillom

Bench 1775 Semillon 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.90, WineAlign)

A virtually bone-dry, stainless steel raised semillon that is quintessentially fresh and varietally correct though even more attentive to the Okanagan Valley. There is an abundance of fruit in the green mango/citrus realm and a je ne sais quoi spirit. All in all quite amenable and no reason to seek a future dripping with honey. The sense of anti-austerity, fruit over mineral reaction means drink it young. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @bench1775

Black Hills Viognier 2014, BC VQA, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

A very impressive viognier from a mother nature conspired vintage to make it shine. This is so very viognier as much as it is B.C. which is a great thing. White floral, viscous and split between honey suckle and white pepper-edged, green apple bite. Against all odds in a way and certainly a top example for the region. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @BlackHillsWine

Nota Bene

Black Hills Nota Bene 2014, BC VQA, British Columbia (Winery, $52.09, WineAlign)

This Nota Bene can be espied as of the Okanagan Valley’s most ambitious reds filled with good notes, in winemaking conditioned real tones, as opposed to pure, simple acoustic ones. The Black Sage Bench blend of cabernet sauvignon (52 per cent), merlot (33) and cabernet franc (15) is pulled from two vineyards, Double Black and Sharp Rock. The proprietary junction is criss-crossed where rich chocolate takes up address at a certain genre of Napa ideology. Black Hills’ premium wine is big and full of brawn, backbone and guts. The three real tones played together express pronounced dissonances between many of their harmonics. Dissonance is related to (barrel developed) spice so I would think that a minimum of five years will be needed to connect and make seamless the overlapping harmonics. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted June 2016

Bordertown

Bordertown Living Desert Red 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The first vintage of Mohan Gill’s 600 case merlot and cabernet franc blend is one of the more curious and engaging Osoyoos reds that is really worth some study. The 18 months spent in all new French wood should ring the alarms but instead it seems a combination of vaguely engaged and greatly spectatorial. Reduction and volatility strike an accord with the wood and the result is a rich, meaty, full on expression from which fruit emerges virtually unscathed. “It’s the first vintage,” shrugs Gill, “what else could I do?” More of the same Mohan. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @BordertownWine

CedarCreek Amphora Wine Project Desert Ridge Meritage 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $60.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Alexis Moore inherited the (Chianti sourced) clay amphora from former winemaker Daryl Brooker and this (second vintage) meritage is her first kick at the urn. The co-fermented, all natural, don’t even think about peeking and sneaking a taste blend is cabernet sauvignon (54 per cent), cabernet franc (35) and malbec (11). The hallmark desert notes of rich, caky and dusty are necessarily present but it is the preservation of red earth savour that gives this formidable flagon of magic juice its inimitable personality. Mature rows of fruit are to blame and thank for the just desert reward. Transferred to amphora the fruit is preserved in such a way no B.C. reds have ever really seen and the new territory is not so simple for making quick, on the spot judgements. I have thought about this wine for quite some time and the conclusion is positive for two important reasons. Spice and tannin. Together they combine for an infinite finish. Here is the crux of the vessel’s power, to preserve fruit and slowly release its charms within the structure provided. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016  @CedarCreekWine

CedarCreek

CedarCreek Platinum Series “The Last Word” 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $77.99, WineAlign)

The “Last Word” is at the pinnacle of CedarCreek’s Platinum Series, single-vineyard wines and only made in “nature conspired,” exceptional vintages. The biggest and baddest red is a “wine that leaves nothing left to say,” thus the moniker. The blend is cabernet sauvignon (34 per cent), merlot (32), cabernet franc (24) and malbec (10) in true Meritage style. Talk about big reds, talk about the passion. Plan on getting extra hours of REM sleep after a glass, after the punch, the ripest fruit, tempered chocolate, grip and after the heavy hitting acidity. Every crevice is filled in with a jangle of notes and few winemakers can find balance with such a wealth of material. There is simply no way not to make a bold, tannic statement. “Not everyone can carry the weight of the world” but CedarCreek has managed to grin and bear it. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted June 2016

Church

Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Reductive, dark, stormy raging and off the charts spicy syrah but there is terrific ripe fruit and cool, cool savour. Edgy but tannic within range. After the violets come sweet purple palate fruit but it’s a feigning sweetness. Long drifts of acidity and tannin but again, like so many Okanagan peers the finish dusts with espresso and not the mocha. The spice lingers well after all else has resolved. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @ChurchStateWine

Clos du Soleil

Clos Du Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2012, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $58.90, WineAlign)

The apropos named winery, the “Vineyard of the Sun,” describes British Columbia-Okanagan-Similkameen so well. That and what can happen when Bordeaux varietals are the recipients of proper sun-worshipping phenolic journeys is the crux to understanding and enjoying such a proper and righteous red. Tasting this Michael Clark characteristic fruit handling facture with Spencer Massie sheds enlightened light on the Clos du Soleil passion project and the red ability of the Similkameen Valley. Taken from the Estate Vineyard on the Upper Bench of the Similkameen Valley, the prettiest and most inviting nose pops up here, led by cabernet sauvignon and in usage of all five Bordeaux varietals. The best red fruit, the hint of mineral and sage, the aridity of the land, the restraint from wood. It’s all correct and truth be told. Solid red blend. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @ClosduSoleil  @spencemassie

Corcelletes

Corcelettes Menhir 2014, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

It’s hard not be endeared into the red blend culture of the Similkemeen Valley and the variegation various positions occupy on the slopes of its benches. This ode in OZ style of cabernet Sauvignon (62 per cent) and syrah (38) is pulled from vines set on the rocky soils of the Corcelletes Middle Bench Vineyard. Though the herbal, savoury, currant and tobacco laced cabernet should dominate it does not with witness thanks to a more than peppery edge and black fruit ooze of the syrah. Only the Similkameen can bring such shared duality and find common ground like this in the overall B.C. genre. Like Beamsville in Ontario and with grace in wood usage, here the two varieties co-exist with copacetic simpatico. The ancient monolith believed to date back 2741-2488 BC on the Baessler family farm off the shores of Lac de Neuchatel, Switzerland gives this blend its name. This wine is no monolith, nor does it strike as ancient or antediluvian, but it does stand out as singular for the Similkameen and for B.C. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016  @corcelettes

Culmina Dilemma 2014, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.65, WineAlign)

The road taken for this chardonnay should have led to rich, buttery and fat because the approach mimics a throwback west coast style. Alcohol, pH, new barrel usage are all generous but so is acidity. So this could have emerged huge but it’s impossibly restrained. The cool-climate metal factor sings with austerity and the gemstone crunch folds with richness. The Margaret’s Bench land speaks and gives so all tolled Culmina’s signature chardonnay is a study in heutagogical learning because it teaches knowledge sharing. This is chardonnay and in many ways, this is Burgundy. Chances taken have landed reward, if a bit unexpected, but certainly appreciated. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @CulminaWinery  @CulminaSara

Culmina Merlot 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.00, WineAlign)

Red over green merlot to substantiate a vintage called better on the Golden Mile (Arise) Bench. Here is bone-dry, full malolactic, high acidity merlot, so very vacuous, inward, implosive and wild. The wood blankets with purpose in lieu of reckless abandon and because the fruit is just ripe enough to defend itself the return is an effusive one. Would love to taste this merlot in a best vintage with 20-25 per cent less new oak and a number close to this healthy 6.4 g/L of acidity. Now we’re talking, in tones red over green. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June 2016

Unicus

Culmina Unicus 2014, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.05, WineAlign)

B.C. is a playground for experimentation, a place not unlike South Africa where phenolic ripeness is almost always accomplished yet it has a distinct advantage. Cooler sites and the availability, if embraced, of equally ripe acidity. So grüner veltliner, along with trebbiano, muscat ottonel, auxerrois, sylvaner and others should be investigated. Culmina’s work with grüner is fought properly, in a combination of concrete amphora, egg and steel, allowing varietal to share equal ground with terroir. A sense of some white-ish rhubarb here is noted in the most complimentary vegetal sense, along with white flowers and a dash or two of white pepper. This is a gustatory and gastronomic grüner with intensity and vitality that good slope Marlborough sauvignon blanc will similarly give. The difference here is the absence of searing citrus which is a good thing, all things considered. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016

Deep Roots Syrah

Deep Roots Syrah 2014, Naramata, British Columbia (Winery, $34.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Tasted twice, first blind at #NWAC16 and then at the winery, this is syrah with a dual northern intent, more Naramata than Rhone though the bent is a soulful repent in the church of St. Joseph. Beautifully savoury and smoky, like a big meat and smoulder sandwich with great fruit and a silken texture. The peppery bite is a sure tell sign of well-made syrah. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @DeepRootsWine

Gehringer Auxerrois 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $13.29, WineAlign)

Despite the off-dry (11 g/L RS) directive because that is what auxerrois always wants to do and though the vintage brings much warmth, this persists as a delicate and fresh wine. Auxerrois as a grape variety is set in an imprecise past, shaded by myth, carried forward and planted decades ago in B.C. These old vines could tell stories but today its fruit expresses itself simply, with richness and with plenitude. I wouldn’t tie a cellophane bag around one and leave it in the cellar to revisit in 30 years. I’d rather hook some trout, pan roast it and work in some acidity. The auxerrois will compliment such a move just fine. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @GB_Wines

Haywire Chardonnay Canyonview Vineyard 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

From the Summerland vineyard, raised in concrete and emerged with a semi-unoaked feel. There is a certain sort of sweet condense as if a tank and a barrel had merged. Clearly managed in the slow, micro-oxygenated way, with notes of curd, cream and whey. A chardonnay smoothie with many beneficial enzymes running wild, the yeasts working and munching away. Still retains a cool-climate feel regardless of the vat influence with top notch acidity and tannin to lengthen the chain. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @Haywirewine  @OKCrushPad  @brixandmortar

Haywire Pinot Noir 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

From the steep limestone and granite Waters & Banks Vineyard, this is a limber, lissome and rusty pinot noir, gently pressed, caressed and left to find its own singular way. Reminds me of the salinity graced Willamette Valley, set upright and alert on the bright side of life. Their is a musky lime aroma and a lithe tartness that belies its mineral gifting. Well done. Don’t envision this losing its charm any time soon. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Trebbiano

Hester Creek Trebbiano Old Vines Block 16 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

From vines planted in 1968 which in itself is a wild and mind-blowing proposition. Trebbiano has well-adapted to the Okanagan Valley, or at least these two acres have and only fools would not try to get their hands on one of the 1100 cases produced. No it’s not Emidio Pepe nor is it your nonno’s trebbiano but it is a singular expression for B.C. Terrific acidity layers over rich and viscous stone-orchard fruit. Something creamy evolves, not like similar styled Okanagan viognier but in another realm. It’s a derivative sensation, like the way children look like their mothers, so the connection to Abruzzo is really there. This is a special proprietary moment and good on Hester Creek for brokering the proviso. I will agree to abide. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @HesterCreek

Hillside

Hillside Muscat Ottonel 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $24.99, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Floral, as expected, but in contrast to the globally spoken style, this does orange blossom and mineral mining with equal and opposing ease. Acidity rings round, not overtly meaningful but nonetheless wild. From 30-plus year-old vines (circa 1982), to not find fun, joy and pleasure would be to miss every pertinent point. Hillside presents a provincial comic flick of a muscat phrase and does so with lighthearted resourcefulness and ingenuity. Drink 2016-2018.   Tasted June 2016  @hillsidewines

Fortissimo

La Stella Fortissimo 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2014 Fortissimo is mostly merlot with sangiovese playing a vital role along with a splash of cabernet sauvignon. This is found to be softer, more amenable and structured with bungalow sprawl. Bright, maximum juiced red berry fruit resemblance is anti-savoury, friendly, and ready to roll but still with some smoky spice. The 21 per cent sangiovese is significant (up seven points from 2013) so the Classico factor runs high. This is the alternative world case of Fortissimo where in some years you make Chianti Classico and in others, Gran Selezione. Though she may not consider 2014 to be her most accomplished Fortissimo, winemaker Severine Pinte will have to accept that she has procured a very elegant red blend. A Classico. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @LaStellaWinery

LFNG

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2007, Naramata Bench, British Columbia (Winery, $52.95, WineAlign)

Poured from Magnum the LSV ’07 has resolved from cool vintage and micro-oxidation into cool-climate meets right bank stylistic personality. Soy, Chinese five-spice, cassia, balsamic, fig and a caramelization that lists to part vegetal and part demerara sugar. The palate is expressly vital still, carrying a torch that for a cabernet-merlot Okanagan blend is fun to reason with. Magnum is obviously a major plus for this nine-year advancement. Sweet with no noticeable heat finish. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @lfngwine

Maverick

Maverick Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Bertus Albertyn bottled a meagre 200 cases of this Golden Mile Bench sourced syrah after 18 months in three to four year-old French Oak. If you are a fan of fresh, well-spoken, confident and blessedly transparent syrah then look for the next vintage of this sold out beauty. So gauzy gossamer textured, peppery but of scant bite and driven by a northern, smoky beat. The cure and depth in its make-up nearly adds up to beefy but its form of athleticism is built upon the quiet politesse of its maker’s execution. The comparison must be made to septentrional Rhône and the lack of new oak is so appreciated. This is a wine to watch for. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @MaverickWinery

Moraine Gewürztraminer 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $17.90, WineAlign)

Classic Okanagan Valley gewürztraminer with a touch of mute reserve relative to more forward peers. The aromatics pause at traditional exoticism then veer to pear and apricot. The palate concentrates the off-dry varietal tendency with a furthered spin out of the seed orchard and into the pit. Not necessarily a gewürztraminer with extended play acidity but highly pleasurable nonetheless. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @MoraineWinery

Moraine

Moraine Riesling 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.90, WineAlign)

Slightly airy and hyper-opiated riesling up to here, of burgeoning talent, suggesting what is yet to come from Moraine with respect to the great varietal Okanagan potential. On the off-dry scale this falls somewhere in the middle, going at it with heavy Mosel fuel. Quite intense with acidity to match. Hip riesling, “addicted to approval, addicted to the air. It was see if you like it or see you up there.” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Moraine Pinot Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.95, WineAlign)

Moraine’s Okanagan Falls pinot noir is lambent with great rust and conversely vapid in desert dust. The entire red fruit spectrum is seemingly sung and stung with range and breadth; cranberry-cherry-pomegranate-strawberry-raspberry, from tart all the way to sweet. Taut, tight and bracing. This will work with pairing pride for short to mid-term enjoyment. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

The fruit hails from both Quails’ Gate Estate and Osoyoos vineyards. Tasted just three months after bottling, the sweet (whole bunch pressed) serenity of chenin blanc has already settled in with equal and opposing acidity in tact. An angle of bitters works the lush fruit (thickened by a small percentage of older wood) and weaves the two as one in this eager and enthusiastic young (albeit early sulphur persistent) white. A splash or two of sauvignon blanc helps in the ushering. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016  @Quails_Gate  @  @hobbsandco

Quails' Gate

Quails’ Gate Connemara 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (Winery, $64.00, WineAlign)

The inaugural vintage and first ever Quails’ Gate Bordeaux-style blend is winemaker Nikki Callaway’s ode to her stage/cellar hand/winemaking time spent in Bordeaux. The cumulative of merlot (55 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (30) and cabernet franc (15) is formidable in its perplexing youth, taut, rigid and so very tannic. The minor’s current approach is virtually unapproachable but look for something to grab for, like perfectly ripe fruit or structure. The beatitude is easily found in these two essential components. You’ll then think “if you were another pretender, oh I’d pass you by,” but in the case of the Connemara, put in the effort and the time. The reward will come later. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted August 2016

Quails’ Gate The Boswell Syrah 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $61.05, WineAlign)

Named in ode to grandparents, The Boswell is a deep, brooding and extreme-bodied syrah that is actually quite floral. Smoky, meaty, chewy fruit mixes with tar and roses in a heightened, variegated state. Rich and piqued by peppery spice and then the chocolate warmth settles in on the finish. Sip again and note that every pass circles back to the beginning. Though it nods to the northern Rhône and wells up like Barossa, you can’t take the Okanagan out of the Boswell. It wins every time. Would prefer to see this again in three years. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted June 2016

Stoneboat

Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (429332, $29.95, WineAlign)

I tasted this blind at #NWAC16 and with Larry Martiniuk that same week and both times was struck by the electric pinosity, density and beneficial volatility. The pre-integration period is apparent so I’d hazard a guess that 18 months more are needed to assimilate the 18 months spent in (20 per cent new) French oak. To whiff it’s like peat moss mixed with a cassia-cassis cocktail. Black cherry sweetish on the palate and quite spicy. This neon pinot is quite volatile and yet closed, but it carries a downy pilosity texture. Very west coast. Though I return to thinking it out of whack, still feeling the alcohol and wondering why it has to be so loud, the texture and the complexity always bring me back. The raindrops are alive. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2016  @stoneboat  @Noble_Estates

Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

If this riesling is sweet I couldn’t say. That is the first thought that comes to mind. From Alan Dickinson’s home property, this is his baby, an Okanagan Falls derived riesling that lives an entirely holistic existence. No spraying, none, nada, niente. Not ever. The wine could not get any cleaner. Purity is its cognomen. The vineyard is subject to the highest diurnal temperature swing than just about anywhere in the valley. That might explain the risk-reward probability factor. The technical specs are a triumvirate of implausibility; 46 g/L RS, 11.5 g/L TA and pH below three. What? This is the most impossible wine made in B.C. In its concentrated velocity it wheezes like something ancient. We could almost be drinking Greek debina or 20 year-old Alsatian auxerrois. Dickinson makes three passes over each of the two blocks so even if the hands are off, the meticulous picking breeds asepsis. Citrus such as found in the Storm Haven fruit does not happen very often, if rarely. It’s like citrus soma. Citrus unknowable out of determination unthinkable. Direct misunderstanding by indirect whimsy. And so the vintage offers good fun but not greatness. Imagine the possibilities. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted June 2015  @SynchromeshWine

Synchromesh

Synchromesh Riesling For Shadows Vineyard 2015, BC VQA Naramata Bench , British Columbia (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

Like its brethren Storm Haven Vineyard, this Synchromesh draws blood from stone in holistic ways that few Canadian riesling seem to do. The Four Shadows is different in that it chooses wisdom over risk. A clear, clean and precise nose reveals lemon drop and a honey drip. Though the sugar is more noticeable than the SHV, the older world (Germanic) impression is filled with a sense of tradition. The vineyard is in fact of very high elevation on an extremely steep slope (think Mosel) of gravel and clay layered over fractured bedrock and granite. The sugar is also elevated (50.93 g/L) and the acidity lower (8.4 g/L) so what you get may seem to lower the impossibility factor. Don’t be fooled into thinking this a riesling of privilege and lassitude. It does not drip with sleep but rather rages with life. The stones seem to speak. And the riesling listens. Drink 2016-2022. Like its brethren Storm Haven Vineyard, this Synchromesh draws blood from stone in holistic ways that few Canadian riesling seem to do. The Four Shadows is different in that it chooses wisdom over risk. A clear, clean and precise nose reveals lemon drop and a honey drip. Though the sugar is more noticeable than the SHV, the older world (Germanic) impression is filled with a sense of tradition. The vineyard is in fact of very high elevation on an extremely steep slope (think Mosel) of gravel and clay layered over fractured bedrock and granite. The sugar is also elevated (50.93 g/L) and the acidity lower (8.4 g/L) so what you get may seem to lower the impossibility factor. Don’t be fooled into thinking this a riesling of privilege and lassitude. It does not drip with sleep but rather rages with life. The stones seem to speak. And the riesling listens. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted June 2016.Tasted June 2016

Tantalus Brut

Tantalus Blanc De Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $31.90, WineAlign)

NWAC_Silver2016_web

Winemaker David Paterson “squeezes it like Champagne” and lets it rest for six months in chardonnay barrels. Two years of triage and boom! Freaking elegant Blanc de Noir. Rusty, rosy, the absolute spot on ripe vernacular spoken, the right tart exposed. It’s curious and foreshadowed thinking to know that 100 cases have been set aside for a five to seven year disgorgement. D’ya think Paterson is high on the vintage? Tasted June 2016  @tantaluswine

A single block of Clone 93 pinot noir planted in 1985 is responsible for this breath of fresh Okanagan Valley Blanc de Noir. Fashioned with the omnipresent Tantalus acidity, this rages out with aridity, salinity and palpable tension. Only pinot noir can act like this, with layers of sous bois and fraises du bois. The age of the vines, the early-picked necessity and the allowance for needful and natural expression has resulted in a wine simply stressed as terroir and boîte. Carries the acidity and the tension across and through the palate. Finishes as dry as it started. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Tantalus Pinot Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $29.90, WineAlign)

The vintage was not shy to gift dark, optimum-achievement in phenolic fruit and along with that ripeness comes even deeper tonal intent. Red hyperbole is elevated by striking acidity, setting this Pinot Noir up for really high expectations. The palate does not disappoint. Flavours range from black cherry to charred meat making for a highly gustatory experience. Chewy and enjoyable describes the time spent with this wine. It will offer great pleasure in the short term. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April and June 2016

Tantalus

Tantalus Riesling 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $23.00, WineAlign)

Two months later things have changed and yet not at all. There are more tricks and inducements (as compared to 2010) but don’t be fooled because with a difficult (sweltering) vintage the wine makes you think you can get close. But you can’t. You are further away than you think mostly due to incredible citrus and wild rhythms swimming through raging riesling waters. Change of plans. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June 2016

Well with the arena of aridity, salinity and sheer marketability, here is a showy Tantalus with super searing lemon flavours emerging out of great atmosphere and aromatic intensity. Some Riesling taketh away and some are mouth watering, like this. The stone fruit goodness attacks and sticks to the tongue like sap, then glides effortlessly down. Tantalus might make me think of things that are out of reach, “standing in water, but dying of thirst, this is my thanks and this is my curse.” Yet this early to market 2015 Riesling offers an antithetical view, ready, willing and able to please. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Tantalus Riesling 2010, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $22.90, WineAlign)

I’m thinking that no other B.C. riesling tries, trips and tricks with intense tribulation like the Tantalus, especially with a look back at this 2010 ripper. Though just now emerging from out of its saline crusted shell, the liquid stone injection will always render this a tantalizing wine so while it seems to open a door a part of it will always remain just out of reach. This 2010 can retrospectively be looked at as a genre defining riesling at the hands of an engaging young winemaker to be.  Tasted June 2016

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2bench Red 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $29.99, WineAlign)

Naturally south Okanagan crunchy, chewy, spicy and taut red blend. From two benches, the Golden Mile (Tinhorn Creek Vineyard) and the Black Sage Bench (Diamondback Vineyard). This is quite a ripper in that magical $30 middle ground with power to impress as much as many peers two times the price. That said it certainly retains its tangy, two-step, red fruit freshness, with cool savour, like two mints in one. Kind of reminds me of Coonawarra, especially the Penfolds Bin 169, so perhaps when brought together there is a Bench similarity with the Terra Rosso soil. Or perhaps just a stab at clouds. Either way this 2012 takes over from the vital 2011 and runs with the baton. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016  @TinhornCreek @Andrew_Tinhorn  @SandraOldfield

Zweigelt

Upper Bench Zweigelt 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

I’ve not had the opportunity to taste the go between 2013 but progression and evolution are found in the bright red fruit of this 2014 zweigelt from Upper Bench. The aromatics travel east and west, as if coast to coast and on a global trek. I get the foraged berries, baking scents and the felled evergreen mixed with fresh cocoa. I also sense garrigue, as well as jasmine in the early evening. Though the sugar is elevated (an insignificant 0.6 g/L up to 2.9) the wine was picked at lower brix (23.5 as opposed to 24.2) and so the acidity is given the chance to feign higher. The alcohol is hefty (14.4 per cent) but the overall balance is improved. Dialled back a bit but another notch or two would really do justice to the grape. Early consumption is still the order and fresher remains the promise. We’ll see what the warm 2015 vintage will bring. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted June 2016  @upperbench

Wild Goose

Wild Goose Pinot Blanc Mystic River 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)

A few clicks north of Oliver comes this maximum juice master of a pinot blanc, like a tart gooseberry cake with a warm, yeasty crust. It’s like autolytic sparkling wine without the bubble, foiled by a sauvignon blanc faux botrytis thing going on. The acidity is well suited to match the exuberant fruit. Roland Kruger points a finger to the vineyard (right along the south Okanagan River) to explain the aromatics. The addendum of 20 per cent barrel fermentation is the key that turns the textural screws. As far as pinot blanc goes, “it’s open mike, punk rock, (it’s natural), red, white and blue.” This Wild Goose. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016  @wildgoosewines

Wild Goose Gewürztraminer Mystic River 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)

Wild Goose is proving to be a gewürztraminer leader in the Okanagan Valley not just for its adherence to rose petal and lychee varietal correctness but also for aromatic elegance. Terrific texture marks the ’15’s territory (a trademark of Wild Goose whites) and here you get drying wax still pliable and malleable. The aura is distinct and the wine so very amenable. Really well made Mystic River output. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June 2016

Good night and many thanks @tantaluswine #kelowna #nwac16

Good night and many thanks @tantaluswine #kelowna #nwac16

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja

Estación de Delicias de Zaragoza at dusk #CarlosFerrater #aragon #espana

Estación de Delicias de Zaragoza at dusk #CarlosFerrater #aragon #espana

In October of 2015 WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato and I travelled together with Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine.  The trip’s mission was to discover Spain’s Wines of Garnacha in their natural habitat, the five distinct and allied Denominación de Origen in the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

Related – For a comprehensive report by Sara d’Amato and I read WineAlignDiscover the Flavours: Wines of Garnacha

Christopher Waters, Ivo André Alho Cabral, Sofía González Martínez and Sara d'Amato in Zaragoza

Christopher Waters, Ivo André Alho Cabral, Sofía González Martínez and Sara d’Amato in Zaragoza

Our host in Zaragoza was The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX), the Wines of Garnacha campaign and the office of Garnacha Origen. The trip was orchestrated with expertise by Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro. Our chaperones Sofía González Martínez, Ivo André Alho Cabral, Roser Mestre and Ignacio left no Aragonese or Catalonian stone unturned during a week-long investigation, immersion and intercommunication with the vineyards, winemakers, mayors, restaurateurs, residents and cultures of Aragón and Catalonia.

Rare rain all day in Aragon did not deter Los Canadienses @waters_wine @saradamato #lovegarnacha

Rare rain all day in Aragon did not deter Los Canadienses @waters_wine @saradamato #lovegarnacha

As a rule, the provincial link between traditional varietal and felicitous region gathers together ancient history and existentialist wine culture in the most acute of ways. The racking path from endemic to modernist is trod for the purpose of explaining why this place is an essential source for affordable wines of exceptional quality. This is the crux of what the Aragón and Catalonian vignerons are after. For decades they have been farming century-aged bush-vines, harvesting fruit that sells for one euro per kilo (plant) and seeing their wine demand a paltry $12-15 CAN (often the equivalent of $9.99 US). The lack of congruent nature of the equation and let’s be serious, the undignified injustice of the flow through is something that needs to be addressed. The challenge is one of necessity and immediacy.

The five DO’s of Aragón and Catalonia are heavily populated by cooperatives and very few wine-producing countries or regions (save perhaps for Chablis or Barbaresco) achieve so many positives from that kind of wine-producing philosophy and execution. This weight of such a collaborative culture is not lost on anyone.

Where didn't the Romans build a wall? #citieswithruins #Zaragoza

Where didn’t the Romans build a wall? #citieswithruins #Zaragoza

The argument as to why the wines of Garnacha origin will not command justifiably higher prices defaults to geography and history. This northeastern quadrant of Spain (including Catalonia) has seen a lion’s  share of war, famine, poverty and neglect. The people have suffered and persevered, albeit in a state of relative isolation. Terra incognita within a stone’s throw of (less than two hours to either Madrid or Barcelona) civilization. It is ironic that the wines are perhaps too comfortable, likewise fruit juicy and easy to consume. Global perception would imagine the wines of Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano, Terra Alta and Calatayud as inaccessible, austere and rustic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would contend that the problem is that the wines are not tough enough. Garnacha is supported by all the fight corner help it needs but it’s just too darned soft. The lack of rain, abundance of wind, embarrassment of altitude and slope riches allow for levels of diversity and complexity other wine regions would kill for. Very few pockets of wine growing acreage have any trouble ripening grapes. Day and night temperature fluctuations are constant and in some areas, extreme. Disease is nearly non-existent thanks to the prevailing winds that blow nearly two out of every three days year-round. Soils are chalk full of rocks, stones and vine-affirming mineral. Plants must work hard to penetrate the poor soils. Climate, geography and geology are not the problem.

Why complain about wines that are perfectly ripe? Isn’t that what every farmer wants from his children, for them to complete their phenolic journey and grow up fast? I would argue no, that the grapes need to be picked when the graphing of ripeness and acidity are protracted at the crossroads of their perfect vertices. I would also argue that pressing needs to be done at colder temperatures and for the younger grapes, in certain situations, with some carbonic maceration.

As far as the old vines are concerned, the primary concern is shelf life. Most of the Garnacha produced in this part of Spain carries with it a potential for aging of no more than five years. Many producers keep that maximum goal in mind. A week of tasting through red and white Garnacha reinforced the point but there were a handful of wines that begged to differ. Laying down Garnacha is possible. The winemakers must be willing to take some risks.

Think of this. A producer presents two bottles of Garnacha Tinto, one from younger vines and one from 50-plus year-old bush vines. The first sees only stainless steel fermentation or perhaps three to six months in older oak barrels. The second sees an extended élevage though only a frugal amount (less than 20 per cent) of new wood. They both come in at a maximum 14 per cent alcohol, carry residual sugar numbers of less than 3 g/L and yet both maintain a vibrant acidity number of at least 5-6 g/L. In some cases concrete egg fermenters and/or large foudres are part of the processes. Their pedigree is brimming with history, tradition and physiographic earth sciences. Their agriculture is essentially organic (though they require no formal certification), the fruit is picked early to preserve optimum natural acidity and their fermentations are as wild as the day yeast came to be on this earth.

The young wine if fresh, clean, crisp, pure and full of vitality. It will drink well from now and up to five years. The more serious Reserva-style bottle will have the potential to evolve and develop, though it carries with it that impossible feeling of having already aged right from the start. It will drink beautifully for up got 20 to 25 years. The wines retail in Canada for $18.95 and $34.95, respectively. Which one would you buy? Seeing as how they compliment each other so well, why not both?

Campo De Borja

The Empire of Garnacha

The Empire of Garnacha

The Empire of Garnacha

Of the five DO’s (Denominación de Origen) that comprise the collective wine growing regions located in Aragon and Catalonia, none walk with a swagger like Campo de Borja. President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda and Secretary José Ignacio “Nacho” Gracia Lopez rule the Empire of Garnacha, a self-proclaimed stewardship for the grape and for Campo de Borja as the centre of its universe.

The Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela

The Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela

The two proud men have reason to state such territorial claim. Campo de Borja will play host to Grenaches du Monde. “The Weekend of Garnachas,” organized by the Roussillon Inter-professional Wine Council of France (CIVR). Grenaches of the World was held in France in its first three years. In 2016, Campo de Borja plays host to the competition.

Monasterio de Veruela

Monasterio de Veruela

The oldest vineyards in Campo de Borja date back to 1145. A visit to the 12th century Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela, home to the offices occupied by the Denominación de Origen, wine shop and wine museum (Museo del Vino), answers the historical query. Marble columns in three-dimensionally sculpted relief show grape leaf craftsmanship dating back to the middle ages.

Veruela was the home of one of the most important Romantic Spanish poets: Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, who lived in the abbey during 1863. He is the author of the following verses, maybe among the most famous pieces in the History of Spanish literature:

Qué es poesía?, dices mientras clavas en mi pupila tu pupila azul. Que es poesía? Y tú me lo preguntasPoesía… eres tú.

What is poetry?, you say. As you fix my eyes with yours of blue. What is poetry!… You ask me that? Poetry… It is you!

Rima XXI, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

In Aragón, diverse soils, altitude, slopes and prevailing winds all contribute to grape growing excellence. Campo de Borja’s trump card is a mountain. Other regions such as Cariñena find benefit from Moncayo, but nowhere does its 2,315m in altitude have an effect on vines as it happens in Campo de Borja.

“Cierzo que almuerza y cent, dura tuna quincena”

Museo del Vino Campo de Borja

Museo del Vino Campo de Borja

More than 2,000 hectares are 30+ yr-old vines. The climate receives an Atlantic influence and above all else there is the famous wind. El Cierzo blows 234 days a year, the “strong wind” blows after the rain, dries out the vines, eradicates disease and elicits increased probabilities for grape concentration. The saying goes “today is raining, tomorrow it will blow.” El Cierzo, as it has been called for 2,000 years, “has lunch and dinner lasts for a fortnight.” No one knows why. Maybe the Zaragozan Virgin of Pilar knows.

Campo de Borja is described as a “homogeneous physical space capable of producing wines with peculiarities.” Much of its viticulture, in kinship with the other four Aragonese DO’s, perpetuates the viñedo en vaso, “vines in a glass,” or bush vines, calculated at 2000 plants per hectare in density with three metres between rows.

The soils of Campo de Borja

The soils of Campo de Borja

Great fluctuations happen in this D.O., located 30 miles west of Zaragoza, where the earliest maturing, lowest section habituates the Ribera del Ebro at 239m and yet other vines are planted up to 1000m. At low altitudes (200-300m) there are finer, lighter soils. In between the vineyards of Ainzon, Borja and Fuendejalon are situated between 450 and 550 metres above sea level, occupied by the terraces of  La Huecha river, a tributary of the Ebro with soils composed of stones and ferrous-clay. The D.O’s top plantations are in the upper reach, Moncayo foothills area of Alta de Ainzon and Fuendejalon, as well as the municipalities of Tabuena, El Buste and Vera. At these higher climes (up to 900-1000m) there is more limestone and iron, so darker soils with obvious increase of mineral.

Yields are quite low (30-35 hL/L), very vintage dependent and in some areas, in certain years it can be as low as 20-25. Yields are the key to understanding the value of wines from Campo de Borja, that and the iron-rich soil minerality.

Vines here see long cycles, with late maturing fruit of soft tannins and high glycerol concentration. Garnacha is a pro at climate and poor soil adaptation. It can be picked well into November and despite the lower tannins, treated properly it possesses the flexibility to develop complexity with short-term aging.

Every Grenache growing region of the world (The Rhone, Australia, South Africa) have their own special aromatic identity, whether it by garrigue, earthy reduction or soil-driven funk. A mountain herb called tomillo (thyme) grows everywhere around Moncayo. In Aragon there is an expression “when it is foggy in the morning there will be walking in the evening” and when it rains there is an all-encompassing scent in the air. That perfume is what gives these wines their special something. The amalgamation of mineral, earth and herb.

Meetings of the minds: Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio Martinez de Albornoz, President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda Campo de Borja and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro

Meetings of the minds: Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio Martinez de Albornoz, President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda Campo de Borja and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro

Christopher Waters, Sara D’amato and I sat down at the offices of the Campo de Borja for a presentation and a tasting of the D.O. wines with President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda, Secretary José Ignacio Gracia Lopez, Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro.

The wines tasted were Fagus, Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria and Don Ramón Garnacha Imperial, by Bodegas Aragonesas; Ruberte Trésor, by Ruberte; Santo Cristo Garnacha Selección and Aletta, by Bodegas Santo Cristo; and Pdm, by Pagos del Moncayo.

Garnatxa of Campo de Borja

Garnatxa of Campo de Borja

Santo Cristo Seleccion Garnacha 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Quebec Agent Ontario Agent, WineAlign)

From a cooperative in the town of Ainzon, a 100 per cent Garnacha distributed by Eurovin (in Quebec) from 30-35 year-old bush vines at 500-600m altitude. Smoking of a deep black cherry, with violets and mild anise giving the feigned attitude of a candied sweetness. Though it’s warm and accented with quite the spice, aridity reigns and folds into the voluminous mouthfeel. This is extreme velvet, approachable and really put together, structurally speaking. Will benefit from two years further in bottle. There is plenty of fruit to support such patience balanced by a char and a density on the long finish. Would retail for approximately $14 CAN. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Santo Cristo Seleccion Garnacha 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Quebec Agent Ontario AgentWineAlign)

The 2012 vintage of the Ainzon cooperative’s 100 per cent Garnacha is a blend of separately vinified stainless steel tanks. The clean compound works in appendices here and there of liquorice, graphite and pencil lead. The simple, red fruit compounds upon itself in oak-less layers for straightforward, easy pleasure. Would retail for approximately $13.50 CAN. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted November 2014

Bodegas Aletta 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Agent, WineAlign)

From vineyards of 15-25 years old in Pozos de Mata and Aliagares at an altitude of 400-500m. A combination of soil types leads to a complexity of dichotomies, drawing from terraced stony, rich organic brown-calcaire and Moncayo mountain more stony, ferrous clay. Low yields (less than two Kg per vine) in this 100 per cent Garnacha seek an ever increasing perfume and aromatics from ripeness, urged on by a skill set of diverse fermentations.  The minerals incite and an increase of tannin is found in this darker, deeper, yet persistently straight-up juicy Garnacha. Pressed straight to tank this is simply all juice and nothing but the juice. Still a highly clean and modern expression that sees no wood. Good length again. Would retail for approximately $14 CAN. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Blissful Zaragoza comfort food at <a href="https://twitter.com/AuraRestaurante" target="_blank">Aura Restaurante</a> local jamon, mushrooms, astir eggs

Blissful Zaragoza comfort food at Aura Restaurante local jamon, mushrooms, astir eggs

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Agent, Winery, WineAlign)

Pedro Aibar was oenologist at Viñas del Vero and El Coto and now crafts wines from Grenache and Syrah plantings in the hills of Sierra del Moncayo. Produced with the Export company Axial, this 100 per cent old bush vines Garnacha from the eco-certified vineyard of La Marga saw 10 months in oak. At 14 per cent alcohol and deep as a cimmerian night it inhales and exhales in balanced Garnacha breaths. The barrel gives vanilla, chocolate and a bit of espresso. This is a nearly massive yet somehow laid back and accessible expression of Garnacha, foot-crushed, traditionally natural, with depth in its meaty cure. There were 70,000 bottles produced in the singular Campo de Borja that reaches for another layer, of earth and mediterranean funk.  Would retail for approximately $20 CAN. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015  @louisgeirnaerdt

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo 2012

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo 2012

Bodegas Ruberte Tresor 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Winery)

Made by Susanna Ruberte from 100 per cent Garnacha off of 10+ year-old vines. The winery was founded in 1948. From lower altitude Campo de Borja (350-400m) stony vineyards and of low-production, here is a very perfumed Garnacha, expressing the violet nature of the grape and also a tonality impressed by a touch of SO2. Just a hint of barrel (one month) inflects vanilla and spices, unrelated to fruit surrounded by near-acrimonious acetone. Spiked by an aridity that climbs inside the cheeks. Greatest asset is concentration and depth. Will price in the range of $13-14 CAN. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015  @BodegasRuberte

Solo Rosado Centofolia 2014

Solo Rosado Centofolia 2014

Bodegas Aragonesas Rosado Centifolia Solo 2014, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Garnacha of different plots, “offering unique organoleptic qualities.” So very lithe and pretty, saline but not briny. The fruit is certainly strawberry though low-pitched, the hue a pale complexion from the most fleeting skin contact. A luminescent gemstone pink. Like a slice of strawberry angel short cake. Garnacha grounded by a “pretty pink ribbon” of Moncayo earth, without it would be blown by the Cierzo and “float down to the sea.” Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October 2015   @B_Aragonesas

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Don Ramón Imperial Roble 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

Aragonesas farms 55 per cent of the total production of the area, largest in Campo de Borja. This 100 per cent Garnacha is culled from various (450-800m) elevations. Another prime example of so much concentration, marked by a push-pull of bright-volatile, with dark fruits and liquorice. A date with American oak for six months brings vanilla and cocoa powder, chalk and grain, tar, char and a faint vinyl rub. Good solid held finish. This has power, presence and persistence. It successfully handles and owns its volatility. Quite the polish. Would price in Canada at $14-15. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Centenaria Coto de Hayas 2014, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Winery, 94805, $12.95, WineAlign)

Young wine, old vines. A different sort of 100 per cent Garnacha, this time from arid slate soils close to El Moncayo. The scent of jamon, seemingly impossible, but it’s there. Four months in French oak. Vines are between 80-100 year old with drastically low (10-15 hL/L) yields and from 750m altitude. At 14.5 per cent the brightness pounds the volatility into relative submission but it’s still present, there can be no disputing that. Very smooth and silky, coming on the heels of those always in prevail violet and spice aromas. A smoky dash of Aleppo pepper. French oak, used for the higher end wine, gives a candied wood flavour and roasted flesh of a protein push and some sweet salinity to mineral compenium. Possessive of quite the inner vision meets juicing sensation. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Oh to be back in the truffle again. At Restaurante El Fogón, San Martín de la Virgen de Moncayo #verademoncayo

Oh to be back in the truffle again. At Restaurante Asador “El Molino de Berola” #verademoncayo

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Fagus de Coto de Hayas Selección Especial 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Fagus is “beech tree” from the Latin and Coto de Hayas (small forest) from hillsides of the Cordillera Ibérica range. This ’12 is actually 85 per cent plus 7.5 per cent each from ’11 and ’13, all from 40-50 yr old vines. Yet another Garnacha of yields less than 1kg per vine and a slumber in French oak for 10 months. Fagus sweats the most prominent perfume though its level of volatility lies somewhere in the middle of the Coto de Hayas range. Here the OS is built on a foundation of earthy funk, sprites red citrus and is certainly the sweetest of the group. Like mixed berry play dough. A South African Rhone varietal style comes to mind, in earth meets vinyl. The special elaboration is of selected (toasted) barrels, with a hyperbole of vanilla, in waves, bean scrapes and baking elevation. Liquid chalk oozes on the finish, long and with bitters too. Would retail for between $22 and 25 CAN. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015

Restaurante Asador "El Molino de Berola" #verademoncayo

Restaurante Asador “El Molino de Berola” #verademoncayo

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Fagus de Coto de Hayas Selección Especial 2009, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (WineryAgent)

Fagus is “beech tree” from the Latin and Coto de Hayas (small forest) from hillsides of the Cordillera Ibérica range. The 2009 shows the most minor notes of evolution, still in command of fruit and well within the threshold of balance within its generous oak conditioning. A really good example struts forth here, to show what red Grenache can be at midel age for the DO, not too hard and not too soft. Not too cold and not too hot. Just about right.  Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015

They call it cheesecake at <a href="https://twitter.com/AuraRestaurante" target="_blank">Aura Restaurante</a> but this is something other, extraordinary, ethereal.

They call it cheesecake at Aura Restaurante but this is something other, extraordinary, ethereal.

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Ten Canadians released for the holidays

Porchetta Panzerotti

Porchetta Panzerotti

I find the last week of November to be one of the strangest, most eery and unsettling times of the year. Calm before the storm. Frost, indigenous summer, zero degrees, crisp air, fall sunshine. We all know it’s coming; snow, holidays, ice, time off.  The acronym might ring true but I would suggest resting your worried mind and tucking those cynical philosophies into a drawer. Pull them out in January when it matters less. For now, have a peek into the VINTAGES catalogue for November 28th.

Inside you will be faced with a thematic titled “Holiday finery.” Twenty some odd iconic Super Tuscans, Venetians, Rhônes, Californians and various, multifarious and sundry bottles leap from the pages like three-dimensional wine beacons in full propagandistic regalia. They are expensive, massive wines with pedigrees to shack up with queens and kings. I’ll expand on them later this week. Some are truly exceptional and all are stupid expensive.

There is Icewine and there is what VINTAGES calls “signature study,” a short and apathetically effective use of white space to extol the virtues of Ontario’s most important cool-climate varietal plantings, of Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Also the notion that Sparkling wine is important to our wine psyche. It’s all true.

What fails is the idea of a feature in a magazine and corresponding release with only 10 wines to drive the point. An angle with five aspects needs more than two examples to prove the multi-pronged determination in support of the bottom line. Why feature Ontario’s signature varietals with next to no illustration? Hard to imagine a paradigm shift in consumer connection with Ontario wines out of such a lacklustre effort.

The good news is that of the ten wines on offer, all are solid and representative of the ideal, with seven worthy of being recommended here. An Icewine and two British Columbia reds round out the top ten list.

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

Typically juicy and tight, lithe and piercing, popping and reflexive. Very consistent, vintage to vintage. Knows just what it wants to be. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September and November 2015  @featherstonewne

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sunlight is the key to this ripe Chardonnay, snatched from vines that grow on the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment’s sub-appellation. Here Henry of Pelham calmly puts its hegemony over Short Hills Bench Chardonnay on display. The fruit layering is very impressive, compressed even, with just a spiced spirit injection from the barrel. The Estate Chardonnay is in a mid-range class of its own, this gatherer of heat days, hoarder in spring water retention, cleanser in sand and gravel drainage. The vintage just seems perfect for this niche bottling, balanced, primed to finespun texture, stretched for length and good to age at least five years.  Last tasted November 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Gilmour Corazón

Gilmour Corazón

Gilmour Corazón Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Ontario (440594, $22.95WineAlign)

Bordeaux blend bearing the name of the former Leaf’s Captain with Ontario sites fruit via Prince Edward County. From a warm vintage and showing every bit of that heat, in spice, not alcohol. Its credo should be “make Meritage love for the group, not varietal lust for the individual.” In it for the right reasons. Team. The fruit is quite green and loaded with pyrazines but quality wood fills the unplugged holes. The wine has heart, just like number 93, perhaps small in stature but gritty like no one else in the County league. A killer playoff red with the ability to weave back and forth behind the net until the wrap around is available. I was in the Gardens that night Doug, sitting in the sixth row behind that net. Big hair guy with his arms in the air, caught on the ESPN video. Gilmour represents one of the best Meritage values the County has yet seen. Good things happen when you add work ethic to the roster. The grapes are surely proud. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted November 2015  @KarloEstates  @MettleUnited

Coyote’s Run Rare Vintage Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (426437, $24.95, WineAlign)

A nicely, confidently, smartly adjudicated reductive Chardonnay with beautifully judged oak and a pretty white flower note that elevates the aromatic profile to the verified realm of the near ethereal. This is the prettiest bloody Chardonnay ever produced at Coyote’s Run. It is rare vintage indeed, for the appellation, the sub-appellation and the vigneron. Subtle, placid, restrained, smooth, integrated, just hinting at smoke and spice, easy on the lips, mouth and gums. This will follow a fine parallel line for five years, gain some honey and caramel for five more and fade into the Four Mile reflective sunset for five more after that. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted November 2015  @coyotesrun

Reif Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (304162, $25.95, WineAlign)

The Reif Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a wildly endearing and dangerously delicious wine that should evolve gracefully and purposefully for 10 years. Why? Because it has structure. What does that mean? It means that ripe, warmer(ish) Niagara River sub-appellation fruit was picked precisely on time, with acidity intact. It means that the extraction and maceration culled sweet, supporting tannin and the barrel program added just the right amount of accentuating care. This is dutifully doted over and offers Cabernet Sauvignon plaisir. Well done. Tasted November 2015.  Drink 2016-2023  @Reifwinery

Château Des Charmes Vidal Icewine 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake (200ml), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (565861, $25.95, WineAlign)

The aromatics forge a beautiful relationship between tropical fruit and intensity. Represents the reason for using Vidal to hang at negative temperatures through the freezing nights of Niagara winters. The pineapple, longan and deep peach intent are the palpable culmination of patience leading to reward. This is a most excellent example of the necessity. The little sensation of drying tannin on the finish is the indicator for conterminous Riesling longevity too. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted twice, October and November 2015  @MBosc

Dirty Laundry Kay Syrah 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (437111, $25.95, WineAlign)

Really perfumed Syrah permeated by spice and promising permutations left, right and centre. Quite young, modern, piqued by white pepper and juicy by way of pomegranate, cranberry, more so raspberry and then vanilla. A really solid wine with nothing but pleasure in mind. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted November 2015  @DirtyLaundryVin  @HHDImports_Wine

Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (997353, $29.95, WineAlign)

A crescendo of sorts has been struck in 2012 with the Montague Pinot Noir perpetuity, giving credence to the vineyard as a resource to be exploited. What the site does for Pinot, particularly in warm vintages like 2012, reminds of the Pfersigberg in Alsace, a plot which provides fruit for the Sainte-Claires bottling by Domaine Albert Mann. A site where water-retention is less than average, where soil colour and low humidity attract the radiance of intense heat, which leads to early ripening of the grapes. The richness of Montague’s clay is amplified in the vintage, providing elevated heat units for this red cherry, beet, cinnamon and toasted red of equally exceptional flavours. Fine, linear acidity takes it to depths and will lead it down long, paved roads.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine  @CBrandsCareers

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (187377, $29.95, WineAlign)

Skips the cork, avoids the taint and caps with a crown. A king’s bubble in here, a king of pop perhaps, with “a mind like a diamond.” Like a fine, flat rock that cuts through crap and “red tape fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack.” I want a fizz that gets me up early. I want a Sparkling wine that knows what’s right. I want bubbles with “uninterrupted prosperity and smooth liquidation.” I want a sparkler “with a short skirt and a long, long jacket.” I want bubbles with tang, tang, tang, apples, pears, ginger and cardamom. One that I can drink with cake. Yes, perhaps the Riddled ’09 is just a bit abrupt, at times monotone, awkward in chord changes, tempo switches and suffers from a twittering finish. But it’s twitchy and characterful along the way. Tasted November 2014  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73098, $44.95, WineAlign)

In 2012 a beefed up wine of early life unsettling proportion, oversized, dilated, and maximized. Cut through with a current of pyrazine and distended with lots of barrel buoy, though not as over-wooded and clumsy as many. Has enough restraint and Cab character to keep things bustling and whistling, from Boston to Dixie. Cool, savoury, spicy centre. A large expression of multi-faceted desert aridity, all B.C., not Bordeaux. This will age nicely as the tannins are quite ripe. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted November 2015 @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine

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All suss terroir

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

It has been more than 15 months since I returned from a pivotal, seminal and transmogrifying week in Alsace. The thoughts transposed to words continue to flow freely and with crystalline clarity. This may be the curtain call on that trip. Or not.

Type in the words “Alsace” and “philosophy” into a Google search page and the results will tell a Grand Cru story. The Alsace home page launches from terroir. It has to. Every winery, trade, marketing or governing organization’s website is ingrained to emphasize the rubric, to explain the true essence of Alsace wine. The local philosophy, indicating the cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine, is both necessary and fundamental. There is nothing remotely parenthetical about the notion of terroir, not in Alsace.

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Related – In a Grand Cru State of mind

As wine geeks we are constantly seeking it out and sometimes we imagine it, chat it up when it’s not really there. After we are immersed in Alsace, we cannot deny its existence. Terroir, defined as “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography and climate.” Or, goûts de terroir, as intaste of the earth.” Wherever wine is made around the world, soil is always as important, if not more important than any facet of the winemaking oeuvre. In Alsace, it is religion. I suss it, you suss it and in Alsace, they might say, “we all suss terroir.”

Alsace presents as a long strip of stupidly beautiful, verdant vistas, wedged between the faults and valleys forged with the Vosges Mountains on its west side and the Germany buffering Rhine River to the east. To consider its location as a province of France, drive 500 kilometres east of Paris and draw a line south from Strasbourg, to Colmar and to Basel. Wars have seen to make sure the region can never be too comfortable with its identity, causing an ever-annoying oscillation in governance.

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal's Fred Fortin

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal’s Fred Fortin

Alsatians are the possessed refugees of Europe, tossed around like orphaned children from one foster family to another. That they can be so comfortable in their own skin is to accept their conceit as a French paradox, through ignoring its Franco-Germanic past, its passage back and forth between hands and its current state as a region governed by France. The confluence of cultures and of shared borders (and airports) would think to cause a crisis of identity. The names of towns and villages may act out a who’s who or what’s what of French sobriquet and German spitzname. None of that matters. The people, the places, the food and the wine are purely and unequivocally in ownership of their own vernacular, dialect and culture: Alsatian.

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg
Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Related – A Blanck slate in Alsace

When a winemaker wants to lay an insult upon you he will say something like “oh, that’s so Anglo-Saxon.” Ouch. He will mean it, for sure, but he will also grace you with a wink and a smile. He likes you and he respects your choice to come from far away to learn something of his wines. And you like him. The winemaker will also complement you when your palate aligns with his, when your thoughts intuit something about his acuity and his groove. His flattery will be genuine. The winemaker will pour old vintages and without a hem or a haw. She will share generously, not because she wants to sell more, but because she wants better people to drink her wine.

To ascertain a grip on the Alsace codex it must begin in the vineyard. The steep slopes, zig-zagging ridges and fertile valleys are composed of highly intricate, alternating and complex geological compositions. The landscape switches repeatedly from clay to marl, from calcaire (limestone) to schist, from volcanic to granitic rock. Each vineyard and even more parochial, each plot contributes to define the wine that will be made from that specific micro-parcel. The wine grower and winemaker’s job is to treat the soil with utmost respect. To plow the land, to add organic material, to refuse the use of fertilizers and to spray with solutions composed of non-chemical material.

Organic and biodynamic viticulture is widespread across the globe but Alsace is a leader in the practices, particularly in the latter’s holistic, asomatous way. Though more than 900 producers make wines, including many who do not partake in a bio-supernal and subterraneal kinship with the vines and the earth, the ones who do are fanatical about their winegrowing ways. Alsatian winemakers bond with their fruit, by employing the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s teachings as a predicate from which to apply spiritual connections to the physical act of tending vines.

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Related – It was Josmeyer’s imagination

The belief is that great wine can only be made from healthy, natural and disease resistant plants. Steiner’s studies on chemical fertilizers looked into the effect on plants growing near bombs in the earth. The growth was observed to be abnormal and unhealthy. Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer compared this to humans, who eat too much salt and thus need to drink too much. I tasted more than 150 naturally made wines from biodynamically farmed soils. The proof of quality and complexity is in the glass.

The winemaker of Alsace shows a respect for the earth that might be seen as a verduous variation on the teachings of theologian, philosopher, physician, medical missionary and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. The Alsatian-born Schweitzer gave to the world his theory on the “reverence for life,” a term he used for a universal concept of ethics. “He believed that such an ethic would reconcile the drives of altruism and egoism by requiring a respect for the lives of all other beings and by demanding the highest development of the individual’s resources.” The biodynamic approach, through its human to vegetable relationship, echoes the concept. Careful care not to disrupt the balance of nature allows the vines to develop the strength to survive and to flourish in less than optimum climatic conditions, especially during times of drought. The quality of grapes and in turn, the complexity of wine, is the result.

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

The focus on soil and terroir is ultimately disseminated into the idea of tasting minerality in wine, a most contentious aspect of the wine tasting and writing debate. Nary an expert will admit that the impart of trace minerals can be ascertained from a wine’s aroma and most believe that it can be found in taste. An American geologist debunked the mineral to taste theory at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America held in Portland Oregon. “The idea is romantic and highly useful commercially, but it is scientifically untenable,” wrote Alex Maltman, a professor at the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University. Maltman’s claim is simple. Vines absorb minerals from the earth but the amount is far too small for human detection.

Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer in Wintzenheim agrees to disagree. Ehrhart concedes that the quantitative number is small (only three to five percent) for a vine to derive its personality, divined though the earth’s brine. The remainder is a consequence of photosynthesis. Ever the spiritual and natural advocate, Christophe borrows from the writings of David Lefebvre. The journalist and wine consultant’s The minerality from David Lefebvre tells the story of why natural wines without sulfur express minerality. Lefebvre makes clear the argument that naturally-farmed (biodynamic and/or, but necessarily organic) vines are qualitatively richer in (salt minerals) than those raised with chemicals. “All fermentation, from milk to cheese, from grape to wine, is accompanied by the appearance of the component saline, one could say mineral, in the taste of the fermented product.” Chemicals and fertilizers inhibit growth and vigor, ostensibly wiping out an already minuscule number. If food is available at the surface, vine roots will feed right there. They will then lose their ability to create the beneficial bacteria necessary to metabolize deep earth enzymatic material. They essentially abandon their will to fight for nutrition deep within the fissures of the rock. Lefebvre’s conclusion? “All biocides and other products that block mineralization, such as SO2, inhibit the expression mineral.”

At the end of the day Lefebvre is a wine taster and not a scientist and the argument must be considered within the realm of the natural world. “The taste of stone exists in Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire (all France) when the winegrower uses organic farming and indigenous, winemaking yeasts.” American made wine rarely does this, though change is occurring. Ontario winemakers are different. Taste the wines of Tawse or Southbrook and note the difference. Or, taste the difference a vegetable, like a tomato, or a piece of fruit, like a peach tastes when picked straight from the garden, or orchard, as opposed to the conventional piles of the supermarket. There can be no argument there.

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

A week tasting through nearly 300 wines in Alsace may sound exhausting when in fact it is an experience that had me constantly, “as the expression goes, gespannt wie ein Flitzebogens,” or as it is loosely employed from the German in the Grand Budapest Hotel, “that is, on the edge of my seat.” I watched Wes Anderson’s film on the Air France flight over from Toronto to Paris and enjoyed it so much that I watched it again on my return. That kind of spiritual, dry European humour is not unlike that of the fraternity of Alsatian winemakers and how they discuss their wines. From Olivier Zind-Humbrecht to Pierre Blanck, to MauriceBarthelmé and to Jean-Pierre Frick there is an Edward Norton to Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson to Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody to Ray Fiennes affinity. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Alsace is distinguished by a very specific set of vinous attributes. No other area in France is as dry and only Champagne is further north in latitude. The aridity of the summer months, followed by the humidity of the fall fosters the development of a beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea, the fungus better known as noble rot, which concentrates the sugars and preserves acidity. Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassman says all of his wines are noble rot wines, but he calls them Riesling.

The uninitiated into the wines of Alsace think it is one big pool of sickly sweet and cloying white wine. If perhaps this were, at least to some extent, once true, it is no longer. The progressive and philosophically attentive producer picks grapes (especially the particularly susceptible Pinot Gris) before the onset of botrytis. If a dry, mineral-driven style is the goal, picking must be complete before what Phillippe Zinck refers to as D-Day. Pinot Gris goes over the edge in an instant, even more so because of the advancing maturation due to the warm temperatures induced by Global Warming.

Sommerberg Grand Cru

Sommerberg Grand Cru

The global wine community’s ignorance to the multeity of Alsace wines, “as mutually producing and explaining each other…resulting in shapeliness,” needs addressing and so steps in the valedictorian, Christophe Ehrhart. The Josmeyer viniculturalist devised a system, a sugar scale to grace a bottle’s back label. Whites are coded from one to five, one being Sec (Dry) and five Doux (Sweet). The codification is not as simple as just incorporating residual sugar levels. Total acidity is taken into consideration against the sugar level, like a Football team’s plus-minus statistic. In Alsace the relationship between sugar, acidity and PH is unlike any other white wine region. Late Harvest (Vendanges Tardives, or Spätlese in German) is Late Harvest but Vin desprit sec or demi-sec in Alsace should not generally be correlated to similar distinctions in Champagne or the Loire. In Alsace, wines with vigorous levels of acidity and even more importantly PH bedeck of tannin and structure. Perceived sweetness is mitigated and many whites, though quantified with residual sugar numbering in the teens, or more, can seem totally dry.

Returning to the idea of increasingly warmer seasonal temperatures, the red wines of Alsace have improved by leaps and bounds. “We could not have made Pinot Noir of this quality 20 years ago,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Oh, the humanity and the irony of it all.

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann
photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

This sort of quirky response to nature and science is typical of the artisan winemaker. There is more humour, lightness of being and constater than anywhere else on this winemaking planet. There just seems to be a collective and pragmatic voice. Maurice makes a 10,000 case Riesling called Cuvee Albert, “because I have to make a wine for the market.” Yet Maurice is also a dreamer and a geologist. To him, “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist.”

Domaine Albert Mann’s Jacky Barthelmé: “Before Jesus Christ was born we have had vines here in the Schlossberg. So it is a very old story.” The Alsace vigneron is only human and works in a vinous void of certitude. They do not fuck with their land or attempt to direct its course. The young Arnaud Baur of Domaine Charles Baur insists that you “don’t cheat with your terroir or it will catch up with you. You will be exposed. You can make a mistake but you will still lose the game.” What an even more wonderful world it would be if he only understood the complexity in his multiple entendre.

Philippe Blanck is a philosopher, a dreamer, an existentialist and a lover. He is Descartes, the aforementioned Bill Murray and Bob Dylan rolled into one, a man not of selection but of election. He is both prolific and also one who buys the whole record catalogue, not just the hits. He opens old vintages freely and without hesitation. When asked how often does he have the opportunity to open wines like these he answers simply, “when people come.”

Pierre Frick et Fils

Pierre Frick et Fils

Then there is the far-out Jean-Pierre Frick, the man who let a 2006 Auxerrois ferment for five years before bottling it in 2011. “After one year I check the wine and he is not ready. I see him after two years and he says I am not ready. So I wait. After five years he says, I am finished. So I put him in the bottle.” On his Riesling 2012 he says, “This is a wine for mouse feeding.” Upon cracking open his remarkable, natural winemaking at its peak 2010 Sylvaner he chuckles like M. Gustave and smirks, “he is a funny wine.”

Few wine regions tell their story through geology as succinctly and in as much variegated detail as Alsace. The exploration of its Grand (and other vital) Cru (for the purposes of this trip) was through soils (or not) variegated of clay, sandy clay, marl, granite, volcanic rock, limestone and sandstone. To complicate things further, a Cru can be composed of more than one type of terra firma and still others have more than one arrangement within the particular plot. All very complicated and yet so simple at the same time. The Crus tasted came from the following:

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Granitique/Granite (Brand, Herrenreben, Kaefferkopf, Langenberg, Linsenberg, Schlossberg, Sommerberg)
Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Domaine Schoenheitz Linsenberg Riesling 1990, Ac Alsace, France (Winery, 196618, WineAlign)

During a picnic, on a plateau up on the Linsenberg lieu-dit set above the Wihr-au-Val, this 24 year-old bottle acts as a kind of Alsatian Trou Normand. A pause between courses, which involves alcohol and you need to ask for its proof of age. Culled from deep dug vines out of stony and shallow granite soil. Soil rich in micas with a fractured basement. From a dream vintage with marvellous semi-low yields and a student of south-facing, self-effacing steep steppes. A sun worshipper prodigy of winemaker Henri Schoenheitz, a child of terroir du solaire. Rich and arid in simultaneous fashion (the RS is only 8-10 g/L), the years have yet to add mileage to its face and its internal clock. It may ride another 15, or 20. Drink 2015-2030. Tasted June 2015  @VinsSchoenheitz

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Domaine Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Reserve 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ $27.70 11903328WineAlign)

From fruit drawn off the granitic Grand Cru of the Brand but not labeled as such. Laser focus (what Jean Boxler wine is not) and texture. Possessive of the unmistakable Brand tang, like mineral rich Burgundy. The minerality ann the acidity from the granite are exceptional in a wine known as “Pinot Blanc Reserve.” As good a developing PB are you are ever likely to taste. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler Riesling Old Vines Sommerberg Grand Cru 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ, 11698521WineAlign)

A direct expression of winemaker (since 1996) Jean Boxler and his 150 year-old casks. This is Riesling suspended in the realm of dry extract, texture and a precision of finesse rarely paralleled in Alsace. It reads the truth of facteur for Sommerberg, its face, slope and pitch. Exceeds the clarity of the younger parcel in its contiguous continuance of learning, of pure, linear, laser styling. There is more maturity here and the must had to have been exceptional. “The juice must be balanced when it goes into the vats or the wine will not be balanced,” insists Jean Boxler. And he would be correct. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler Tokay-Pinot Gris Sommerberg Grand Cru 1996, Ac Alsace, France (Alsace)

From volcanic and granitic soils together combining for and equating to structure. A matter concerning “purity of what you can do from a great ground,” notes Master Sommelier Romain Iltis. Perception is stronger than reality because despite the sugar, the acidity reign to lead this to be imagined and reasoned as a dry wine. Ripe, fresh, smoky, with crushed hazelnut and seamless structure. Stays focused and intense in mouthfeel. Takes the wine down a long, long road. Quite remarkable. No longer labeled “Takay” after the 2007 vintage. Drink 2015-2026.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Calcaire/Limestone (Engelgarten, Furstentum, Goldert, Rosenbourg, Rotenberg, Schoffweg)

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Furstentum 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

The Marl accentuated Hengst and its muscular heft receives more Barthelmé limelight but the always understated Furstentum Grand Cru is a special expression of the variety. As refined as Pinot Gris can be, with a healthy level of residual sugar, “like me” smiles Marie-Thérèse Barthelmé. The sugar polls late to the party while the acidity swells in pools, but the finish is forever. “Pinot Gris is a fabulous grape but we serve it too young,” says Maurice. “It needs time to develop its sugars.” Truffle, mushroom, underbrush and stone fruit would match well to sweet and sour cuisine. Flinty mineral arrives and despite the residual obstacle, is able to hop the sweet fencing. The potential here is boundless. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @albertmannwines

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Domaine Paul Zinck Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Goldert 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

From the village of Gueberschwihr and from soil composed of sandstone, chalk and clay. The vines average 50 years in age and the wine saw a maturation on the lees for 11 months. Philippe Zinck notes that “the terroir is stronger than the variety.” If any grape would stand to contradict that statement it would be Gewürztraminer but the ’10 Goldert begs to differ. Its herbal, arid Mediterranean quality can only be Goldert talking. Though it measures 20 g/L of RS it tastes almost perfectly dry. It reeks of lemongrass, fresh, split and emanating distilled florals. This is classic and quintessential stuff. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Goldert Grand Cru 1985

Tasted from magnum at Les Millésimes Alsace, a wine described by Caroline Furstoss as “unusual for late harvest,” because the terroir is simply stronger than the variety. Another economically non-viable low yield LH, “from a vintage more on the reductive than the oxidative side.” Even at 30 years it requires aeration and time to open up. Travels from spicy to smoky with that air. There is a density in bitterness, an attrition miles away from resolve and a promise for rebate, if further patience is granted. The spices inherent are ground, exhumed and combine with the base elements to rise atomically. A spatially magnificent wine of sugars not yet clarified and an acquired taste not quite elucidated. A taste of an ancient kind. Drink 2015-2035.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Marno-Calcaire/Marl-Limestone (Altenberg de Bergheim, Clos Hauserer, Eichberg, Hengst, Kappelweg de Rorschwihr, Mambourg, Mandelberg, Osterberg, Pfersigberg, Sonnenglanz, Steingrubler)

Marcel Deiss Schoffweg “Le Chemins Des Brebis” 2010, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $60.95, WineAlign)

A pulsating and metallic, mineral streak turns the screws directly through this spirited Bergheim. From Schoffweg, one of nine Deiss Premier Crus planted to Riesling and Pinots. A pour at Domaine Stentz Buecher from fellow winemaker Carolyn Sipp simulates a trip, to stand upon a scree of calcaire, the earth below a mirror, reflecting above a multitude of stars. “He’s a character,” smiles Sipp, “and perhaps even he does not know the actual blend.” The amalgamate is surely Riesling dominant, at least in this impetuous ’10, a savant of fleshy breadth and caracoling acidity. The Schoffweg does not sprint in any direction. It is purposed and precise, geometric, linear and prolonging of the Deiss magic. This is a different piece of cake, an ulterior approach to assemblage, “a bigger better slice” of Alsace. It should not be missed.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $114.95, WineAlign)

In a select portfolio tasting that includes a trio of highly mineral yet approachable 2010’s (Rotenberg, Schoffberg and Schoenenbourg), the ’11 Mambourg stands out for its barbarous youth. It seems purposely reductive and strobes like a hyper-intensified beacon. Rigid, reserved and unforgiving, the Mambourg is also dense and viscous. Acts of propellant and wet concrete circulate in the tank, compress and further the dangerous liaison. This is a brooding Deiss, so different than the jurassic citrus from Rotenberg, the terroir monster in Schoffberg and the weight of Schoenenbourg. In a field of supervised beauty, the Mambourg may seem like punishment but there can be no denying the attraction. Five years will alter the laws of its physics and soften its biology. The difficult childhood will be forgotten. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Langenberg “La Longue Colline” 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $48.95, WineAlign)

Rogue Alsace, classic Deiss five varietal field blend specific to one hangout. The steep, terraced, granite Langenberg, terroir from Saint Hippolyte. Deiss coaxes, expects and demands precocious behaviour from four supporting varieties to lift and place the Riesling, with the intent being a result in “salty symphony.” This is approachable, something 2011 could not have been easy to accomplish. The accents are spice, sapidity and acidity, from the granite, for the people. Isn’t this what a mischievous brew should be about? Drink 2015-2022. Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Léon Beyer Riesling Cuvée Des Comtes D’Eguisheim 1985, Alsace, France (316174, $50.00, WineAlign)

I wonder is any Alsace Riesling sublimates history, religion and occupation more than Cuvée Des Comtes D’eguisheim. It breathes the past; of popes, Augustinians of Marbach, Benedictines of Ebersmunster, Cistercians of Paris and Dominicans of Colmar. From the limestone-clay for the most part of the Grand Cru Pfersigberg and only produced in exceptional vintages. In 1985 low yields, same for botrytis and then 29 years of low and slow maturation. In 2014, is the herbal, aromatic, limestone salinity a case of vineyards, grape or evolution? All of the above but time is in charge. It has evolved exactly as it should, as its makers would have wished for. It is ready to drink. The defined minerality, with fresh lemon and a struck flint spark has rounded out, without the need for sugar. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @TandemSelection

Charles Baur Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

Arnaud Baur understands his place and his family’s position in the Alsace continuum. “You can make a mistake and you can still lose the game.” His use of entendre is subconsciously brilliant. In 2009 the warmth went on seemingly forever and so Baur did not even bother trying to make a dry Riesling.  “We really respect the vintage,” says Arnaud. Meanwhile at 18 g/L RS and 7.0 g/L TA the balance is struck. Many grapes were dried by the sun, ripeness was rampant, flavours travelled to tropical and acidity went lemon linear. The 14.2 per cent alcohol concludes these activities. Matched with foie gras, the vintage is marinated and married. There is certainly some crème fraîche on the nose and the wine plays a beautiful, funky beat. As much fun and quivering vibration as you will find in Alsace Marno-Calcaire. Drink 2015-2024.  Tasted June 2014

Dinner wines at L'Epicurien, Colmar

Dinner wines at L’Epicurien, Colmar

Charles Baur Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2007, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

A good vintage for Riesling and considering the heat, an even better one for Gewürztraminer. The vineyard offers 50-70cm of clay atop Jurassic yellow limestone where roots can penetrate the rock. They suck the life into this enzymatic white. This, of digestibility, “a wine you don’t want to drink two glasses of, but three.” Delicious, clean, precise Gewürz that Mr. Baur recommends you “drink moderately, but drink a lot.” Arnaud is very proud of this ’07, for good reason. Two actually. Balance and length. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2013, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711, WineAlign)

Tasted not long after bottling, the yet labeled ’13 is drawn from a vintage with a touch of botrytis. “We don’t sell too much of this,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Along with the sweet entry there are herbs and some spice, in layers upon layers. Almost savoury, this interest lies in the interchange between sweet and savour, with stone fruit (peach and apricot) elevated by a feeling of fumée. A playful, postmodernist style of short fiction. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711WineAlign)

In 2008 the brothers Barthelmé used the Hengst’s strength and the vintage to fashion a remarkable Pinot Gris. It is blessed of antiquity, like concrete to bitters, with power, tension and a posit tub between fruit and sugar. At 34 g/L RS and 7.6 g/L TA there is enough centrifuge to whirl, whorl and pop, culminating in a healthy alcohol at 14 per cent. Quite the reductive Pinot Gris, to this day, with a sweetness that is manifested in mineral flavours, glazed in crushed rocks. “It smells like mushroom you threw into a dead fire,” notes Fred Fortin. This is the bomb. Needs four more years to develop another gear. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Steingrubler 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

From marly-limestone-sandstone, “a fa-bulous terroir,” says Maurice with a smile. The “stone carrier wagon” is mostly calcaire, especially in the middle slope. This has a roundness, an approachability. It really is clean, clean, Gewürztraminer. It’s erotic, gorgeous, certainly not slutty or pornographic. The colder limestone preserves the freshness, with a need for magnesium, to cool the factor further and to develop the terpenes. Gelid and stone cold cool wine. Drink 2018-2035.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Bott Geyl Riesling Grand Cru Mandelberg 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

The Mandelberg receives the early morning sun and so this Grand Cru is an early ripener and the first of the Bott-Geyls to be picked. The added warmth of 2010 introduced noble rot into a vineyard that often avoids it so the residual sugar here is elevated to an off-dry (even for Alsace) number of 30 g/L. The rush to pick in this case preserved the natural acidity, allowing the flint to speak. Additional notes of cream cheese and formidable dry extract have helped to balance the sweetness. Truly exceptional Riesling from Christophe Bott-Geyl. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @bott_geyl  @DanielBeiles

  1. Calcaro-gréseux/Limestone-Sandstone (Bergweingarten, Zinkoepfle)

Pierre Frick Sylvaner Bergweingarten 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

The vines of southeast exposure are in the 35 year-old range for this Vin moelleux, “young vines” says Jean-Pierre Frick. “I am a defender of Sylvaner.” This ’10 is freshly opened, as opposed to the ’09 poured after sitting open a week. That ’09’s healthy amount of noble rot is not repeated in this ’10, what Frick refers to as “a funny wine.” A two year fermentation and a potential for 17 per cent alcohol (it’s actually in the 14-15 range), a touch of spritz and no sulphur means it goes it alone, natural, naked, innocent. It’s a passionate, iconoclastic Sylvaner, distilled and concentrated from and in lemon/lime. It may carry 53 g/L of sugar but it also totes huge acidity. Enamel stripping acidity. Full of energy, that is its calling, its niche, its category. The honey is pure and despite the level of alcohol it’s as though it has never actually fermented. Natural winemaking at the apex, not out of intent but from a base and simply purposed necessity. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @LeCavisteTO

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

  1. Sablo-Argileux/Sandy-Clay (Schlossberg)

Domaine Albert Mann Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ 11967751 $48.25, WineAlign)

What a fantastic expression of the Schlossberg, like a cold granite countertop. A Riesling that tells you what is essentiality in granite from what you thought might be the sensation of petrol. Full output of crushed stone, flint and magnesium, but never petrol. Now just beginning to enter its gold stage, just beginning to warm up, in energy, in the sound of the alarm clock. “You can almost see the rock breaking and the smoke rising out,” remarks Eleven Madison Park’s Jonathan Ross. A definitive sketch with a 12 g/L sugar quotient lost in the structure of its terroir. A Schlossberg a day keeps the doctor away. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Related – Arch classic Alsace at Domaine Weinbach

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Argilo-calcaro-gréseux/Clay-Limestone-Sandstone (Goldert, Vorbourg)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011), Alsace, France (Winery)

“He has fermented five years,” says Jean-Pierre Frick, stone faced, matter of factly. “That’s how long he took.” Here, one of the most impossible, idiosyncratic and unusual wines made anywhere in the world. On on hand it’s a strange but beautiful experiment. On another there can be no logical explanation as to why one would bother. The third makes perfect sense; allowing a wine to ferment at its own speed, advocate for itself and become what it inherently wanted to be. Auxerrois with a little bit of sweetness (16 g/L RS) and a kindred spirit to the Jura (and with a potential of 15 per cent alcohol). This is drawn from the lieu-dit terroir Krottenfues, of marl-sandstone soils in the hills above the Grand Cru Vorbourg. Tasting this wine is like slumbering through a murky and demurred dream. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

  1. Argilo-calcaire/Clay-Limestone (Eichberg, Engelberg, Kanzlernerg, Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr, Steinert)

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Blanc Terroir 2011, Alsace, France (BCLDB 414557 $15.79, WineAlign)

From 35 year-old vines on Eguisheim’s argilo-calcaire slopes with straight out acidity, trailed by earth-driven fruit. Less floral than some and pushed by the mineral. A difficult vintage that saw a full heat spike to cause a mid-palate grape unction. Pinot Blanc with a late vintage complex because of that sun on the mid slope. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Gris Terroir 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $22.99, WineAlign)

From chalk and clay soils surrounding the Eichberg Grand Cru, this is a decidedly terroir-driven style and far from overripe. In fact, Philippe Zinck is adamant about picking time, especially with Pinot Gris. “The most tricky grape to harvest in Alsace,” he tells me. So hard to get serious structure and many growers are duped by high brix. Philippe tells of the 24-hour varietal picking window, the “D-Day” grape. Zinck’s ’12 is pure, balanced and bound by its earthy character. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Pierre Frick Muscat Grand Cru Steinert Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

“I like acidity, whoo-ahh,” says Pierre Frick, dry as Monsieur Ivan. The sugar on top of acidity here, it’s exciting. This one is a gift from nature, for culture. So interesting, a dream, a story. This has a citrus sweetness, telling a story never before experienced. There’s a depth of reduced apricot syrup, pure, natural, holy. “Tell no one. They’ll explain everything.” Drink 2015-2040.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Volcano-gréseux/Volcanic sandstone (Kitterlé, Muenchberg)

Pierre Frick Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 1992, Alsace, France (Winery)

From Argilo-Calcaire vineyards flanking the Rot Murlé, at a time when a minor amount of sulphuring was employed (1999 was their first sulphur-free vintage). Was Demeter certified, in 1992! This is all about intensity and acidity. An incredibly natural dessert wine, upwards of 150 g/L RS but balanced by nearly 10 g/L TA. The power is relentless, the finish on the road to never-ending. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Domaine Ostertag Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Muenchberg 1996, Alsace, France (Agent, $65, WineAlign)

From clay and limestone, fully aged in barrel, taking, sending and stratifying in and away from its own and everyone else’s comfort zone. Only the best barrels would do and yet the quality of the wood thought aside, this is Ostertag’s unique and fully autocratic take on Tokay-PG. Stands out with a structure wholly singular for the overall prefecture, with a twenty year note of white truffle, handled and enhanced by the wood maturation. Yellow fruits persist as if they were picked just yesterday but the glass is commandeered by the complex funk. It’s nearly outrageous, bracing and yet the flavour urged on by the aromatics return to their youth. To citron, ginger and tropical unction. This is oscillating and magnificent. Drink 2015-2026. Tasted June 2014  @TheLivingVine

  1. Argilo-Granitique/Clay-Granite (Kaefferkopf, Sonnenberg)

Audrey et Christian Binner Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010, Alsace France (Winery)

A blend of Gewürztraminer (60 per cent), Riesling (30) and Muscat (10) that spent two years in foudres. Christian has no time for technicalities, specs and conventions. “I just make wine.” At 13.5 per cent alcohol and 20 g/L RS the expectation would be vitality and striking lines but it’s really quite oxidative, natural and nearly orange. “But it’s OK. It’s the life,” he adds. An acquired, unique and at times extraordinary taste, complex, demanding, like Frick but further down a certain line. “For me, to be a great Alsace wine, it must be easy to drink. You have to pout it in your body.” Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Related – Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

  1. Volcanique/Clay-Granite (Rangen)

Related – Colmar and the volcano: Domaine Schoffit

  1. Marno-Calcaire-gréseux/Marl- Limestone-Sandstone (AltenbourgKirchberg de Ribeauvillé)
  1. Volcano-sédiment/Volcanic Sediment (Rangen)
  1. Graves du quaternaire/Alluvial (Herrenweg de Turckheim)

Related – The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Roche Volcanique/Volcanic rocks (Rangen de Thann)
  1. Marno-gypseux/Marl-gypsum (Schoenenbourg)
Jean Boxler, June 2014

Jean Boxler, June 2014

You see, no wine is poured, tasted and deliberated over without the introduction of the soil (or lack thereof) from which it came. To confine any study to just the Grand Cru would do the entire region an injustice. Though the original 1975 appellative system set out to define the plots of highest quality and esteem, many wines not classified GC are fashioned from terroir comingling with, surrounding, located next or adjacent to a vineyard called Grand Cru. Serious consideration is being given by CIVA and the winemakers to establish a Premier Cru and Villages system. While this will certainly increase levels of definition and understanding for Alsace, it may also disregard some quality wines, not to mention further alienate some producers whose artisanal and progressive wines go against the norm. A further consequence may result in elevating some average wines currently labeled Grand Cru into undeserved stratospheres.

Related – Trimbach, rhythm and soul

The Grand Cru story is heavy but not everything. Rarely has there been witnessed (outside of Burgundy) the kind of symbiotic relationship between vineyard and village. Perfect examples are those like Schlossberg and Furstentum with Kintzheim, Sommerberg and Niedermorschwihr, Hengst and Wintzenheim, Brand and Turckheim or Steingrübler and Wettolsheim. Domaine Weinbach’s cellars sit across and just down the road from both Kitzheim and Kayserberg. Albert Boxler’s cellar is right in the fairy tale town of Niedermorschwihr, just like Albert Mann’s location in Wettlosheim.

It is time, finally and thankfully, for a return to the reason for such a rambling on. With respect to the “cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine” being “necessary and fundamental,” examples tasted in June of 2014 indicate that the notion of terroir grows from nature and is nurtured by the vigneron. These 25 wines surmise and summarize, either by connecting the dotted lines of constellatory figuration or by Sudoku interconnectivity, the imaginable chronicle that is Alsace.

Good to go!

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Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs
PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

The year-end list. Why? To “free the individual from the collective.” To ponder, speculate and formulate a narrative. To create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines. In anthropological terms, “to make a housecleaning of belief.”

For the great majority, $25 is the threshold rarely exceeded when shopping for a bottle of wine. If a solid, honest to good bottle can’t be had for less, grape dismissal rears its ugly head and the switch turns to beer, or worse, rail booze mixed with sugar and/or chemical bitters. Oh, the drab humanity of it all.

But a great wine can be had for less than $25 and once found should be exalted and purchased by the case. The category of reds and in less instances whites, need company. This is where Sparkling, Sherry and even Dessert wines seek the embrace of an open mind and a willing palate. Spread the wealth, into glasses filled, from methods and styles unknown.

You will note that this list is filled with such rare animals and not just from the calculations in ferment, but from places unexpected, far off, of gestalt, historical significance and of the ancients. Places like Naoussa and Santorini in Greece, Montilla Moriles from Spain and Alsace, France.

These 15 wines are (almost all) culled from VINTAGES releases. I tasted countless other terrific under-$25 examples in 2014; local, parochial, from beyond Ontario’s borders and abroad. For the purposes of what the Ontario consumer needs to know and for what serves them best, restricting the bulk of the list to what is available in LCBO stores (or in many cases, what was and will again, as a newer vintage, be released), these 15 wines are not hard to find.

So yes, this is an ode, a nod, shout out and props to our faithful and loyal provider, the LCBO and truer to the point, VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the Ontario monopoly. The supply chain for great wine is alive and well, despite the efforts required to sift through the chaff, to separate it from the proverbial wheat. The gems, though oft-times hidden, can be unearthed. The diamonds will time and again be scooped from the rough and the cream will also rise to the top. Cliché is a by-product of wine life in Ontario.

What stands out and above is the contribution made and presented by the winemakers and vintners in this province. Six out of my 15 choices are from Ontario. The attitude that Ontario wines are too expensive and do not offer good value as compared to similar wines from Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand is rubbish. My decision to include six such beasts drives the point. Many excellent wines are available at the u-$25 price point.

Here are my wines of the year that came in under $25. Some are sold out, many are not. Find them before the year is out.

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign) From Recently tasted here, there and everywhere, November 24, 2014

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 Release

Always a diamond cut above its like-minded and similarly priced peers. Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc has the most wonderful smell of bleeding, oozing metal and the bitten into stones of many tree fruits, in bittering nobility. Not to mention the pith of citrus and the pits of tree nuts. Though currently in a sulphurous, reductive state, with age this will seek and find an earthen, honey bronzed gorgeousness, in say five to seven years and live in sweet CB infamy until 2025. For a wine that crosses oceans to arrive in your tasting glass, at $18 it represents the finest value in Chenin just about anywhere on the planet. Terrific length. Chenin meets Montrachet.  Tasted May 2014  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

Artichoke and Fiddleheads PHOTO: Michael Godel

Artichoke and Fiddleheads
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Alsace, France (392928, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 Release, Big release, bigger wines, November 7, 2014

From a northern part of Alsace, southwest of Strasbourg comes this epitome of Dry Alsace Riesling, stone cold stoic and bereft. The impossibility of this style is what Alsace does with impunity and propriety; gaseous and aerified without petrol or vitriol. But it will condense and go there after five years time. The quality is excellent for the price, from a limestone and silica lieu-dit just this side short of Grand Cru. Citrus would be the wrong descriptor but it does act like an exuding of citric acid. So stark and beautiful. Such a mineral expression in every fighting sense of the argument. Like chewing on rock salts and dehydrated limestone, the second tablet then dropped into the glass. A famous wine merchant in London sells this for $25 CAN. In Ontario, this is a must purchase by the case.  Tasted October 2014  @HHDImports_Wine  @drinkAlsace

Dirty Ramps

Dirty Ramps

Rosewood Select Sémillon 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (winery, $18.00,WineAlign) From Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality, October 8, 2014

After tasting Rosewood’s ’12, I urged the region’s cultivation of the great white wolf variety. Then the winter of 2014 happened. Rosewood’s vines were wiped clean off the map, erased like a child of parents who never met. The ’13 Sem is the last Mohican and its 12.5 per cent alcohol (down two from ’12) is a fitting, subdued and graceful epitaph to an amazing Beamsville run. This final cut is lean, stark, raving mad. So very savoury, tannic and built to linger for longer than most. The Rosewood honey is in hiding,”far from flying high in clear blue skies,” but like all memorable vintages of this wine, it will emerge in time. This Sémillon asks, “and if I show you my dark side, will you still hold me tonight?” Yes is the answer, and not just because she is the last one. Terrific curtain call.  Tasted October 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (372441, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES July 19, 2014 Release, Release the summer wine, July 17, 2014

Noticeably dry but also earthy/funky. Struck match and plowed earth. As it settles into its skin and your consciousness it develops body, depth and acidity. Grows and expands, reaches heights you thought it would not. The vintage works wonders for the Twenty Mile Bench and this block has expansive stuffing to take it long, not to mention the earthy complexity to see it change and evolve. It may go through a disturbing, unusual phase but be patient and set one aside for 15 years from now. You will be amazed what honey and deep geology it discovers and uncovers.  Tasted June 2014  @RockwayVineyard

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Maine Lobsters

Maine Lobsters

Nugan King Valley Frasca’s Lane Chardonnay 2012, King Valley, Victoria, Australia (288191, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 7, 2014 Release, Australian rules VINTAGES, June 4, 2014

The toast in this Victorian charmer comes across in a mild-mannered, spoken word way with a simmering, buttery bass line. The fruit is high but the rhythms are delicate and even-keeled. More white flowers than your average Australian Chardonnay, brighter, with more grace and more beauty. She’s a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket eating angel cake. Still firm towards the back-end with citrus zest and mouth-watering acidity, she’s “fast and thorough and sharp as a tack.” Finishes with a long and persistent held trumpeting line. “Na,na,na,na,na,na.”  Tasted May 2014  @PMA_int

Katogi & Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (249615, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with song, October 10, 2014

It’s not that every Xinomavro is infallible but every Xinomavro is worth exploring. The Averoff is classic; smoky, rich plum meets cherry intensity, tannic and textured, layered, like old school Pinot Noir. Liqueur of Naoussa terra firma, rocks and sweet beets. Balance of earth, wind and fire, fun funky and moving. Shares the spice of life so “let this groove, light up your fuse, alright. Let this groove, set in your shoes.” Parts unknown gather to subvert the uninitiated and make them move to Greece.  Tasted October 2014  @katogistrofilia

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (360750, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES January 20, 2014 Release, From Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds, January 30, 2014

Magnificent Macedonian, built upon the unheralded yet stalwart variety Xinomavro. Pure, sweet-smelling gardenia and the refuse of ancient rolling stones express every bit of sun and wind-swept, low bush vines goodness. Purposefully and thankfully unfiltered, so that all the delicious sweet and sour cherry and great biting but sweet tannin are left in. Purity, good sugar/alcohol heights without oak corruption. Earth possessive of mythic undercurrent, sage, wealth of  knowledge, sweet anise and hyssop. Scents of game on the grill. Amazing complexity and length. While tasting this Xinomavro it made me “feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene.” Get your rocks off to the Greek Tasted January 2014  @thymiopoulosvin

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) From Take them home, County wines, May 20, 2014

The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort. @HuffEstatesWine

Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, Santorini, Greece (366450, $22.95, SAQ 11901091, $24.50, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release, On a wine and a prayer, March 24, 2014

A 100 per cent Assyrtiko from a 150 year-old, Cycladic Phylloxera sanctuary vineyard. Separates itself from other Santorini adelphoi by ageing 20 per cent of the inoxydable, ancient-minded grapes in French barrels. An Assyrtiko that can’t help be anything but stony, atomic driven goodness. Volcano flow and spew, with more texture than most, its elevated price a necessary reflection of a tertiary expertise. Elevated aromatics, locked in tight by the barrel and matched by extreme flavours, so primary, raw, powerful, relentless and grippy. A remarkable white wine that impresses with a sensation of mouth rope burn full of complex, seafaring knots, this Assytiko will age for 15 years in the cellar and develop into something ethereal. Will melt away in dreamy waves when it settles together. Myth will beget legend, legend will beget truth.  Tasted March 2014 @KolonakiGroup

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard Photo: Michael Godel

Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 Release, Wine on company time, October 23, 2014

If it were so because of cryogenic preserved must or an accidental tipping and topping up into an unused barrel by recent vintage juice I would not be left hanging with mouth fully agape. Considering the amount of time this flat out delicious Gran Reserva saw in barrel, the mystery must somehow be explained, how it came to be so surprisingly modern and bright (for its age), especially at $23. But it has been seen many times before, with no greater example than the Montecillo 1991 GR that drank fortuitously well into the last years of the previous decade. This is the magic of Rioja. That said, there is some sinew and some raw character here as well – that’s the old school treatment and style talking. Red cherry fruit. Ripe fruit roasted, rested and now sliced, showing its perfectly cooked rare cut. Juicy and with sanguine notes still running through its grain. Wonderful old school yet bright Rioja. Riotous red wine with a calming aura of quietude.  Tasted October 2014  @RiojaBordon  @Eurovintage  @RiojaWine

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (382945, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

An ’06 Chianti Classico Riserva you say, pre-aged, delivered to the Ontario market and presented here in 2014, all in for $24? You can’t fool us. We’ve been duped too many times before. This must fall into the “too good to be true” category. The answer depends on which style of Chianti you prefer. This walks all the halls, plies the trades and hits the marks of the CCR ancients. Comes from a remarkable vintage, holding on but in true advanced, oxidizing and fruit diminishing character. Mushrooms and truffles abound, as does game in the early roasting stage. A note of Brett is here too, not over the top but its presence can’t be denied. Acidity speaks, as does bitter chocolate. This is not for all but all should have a go.  Tasted November 2014  @Ilmolinodigrace  @chianticlassico

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($25, WineAlign) From The pearls of Morisstte’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

When tasted in July of 2013 the ’12 Barrique had only been in bottle for three days so the musk was quite front and centre. Aged in foudres (neutral, old wood casks) it held much latitude at such a young age with notes of herbiage (mint, tarragon), nary a drop of residual sugar and a wholly unique type of dry acidity. “It will not always show this way,” commented Morissette. Tasted 10 months later I can say this. The ’12 Riesling Barrique avoids excessive malic and tartaric acid, not to mention any amount of volatile acidity. It is viable, vital and technically sound. “This is a wine that will take time,” pleads François . “I care about texture, not about varietal character.” Though perplexing and untamed, the wine has undeniable body and that noble bitterness in its unsung tang. It is the anti-Riesling hero, full of experiential conceit and needs to be revisited often, to see where it will go.  Tasted July 2013 and May 2014  @PearlMorissette

Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign) From Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies.  Tasted November 2014  @hinterlandwine  on the card at @barquebbq

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

Over the past few years I’ve published some pieces on Sparkling wine, from technical to fluff and from focused horizontal tastings to scattered, random accumulations. The one aspect about bubbles I’ve not concentrated on, whether it be Champagne or from Ontario, is vintage.

Related – ”Ten Sparkling wines “to life!”

Vintage dated fizz is all the rage and I for one can’t really understand why. The most consistent Sparkling wine made anywhere and everywhere is the non-vintage produced stuff. Drawing the majority of juice from a single vintage and topping it up with a smaller amount from one or more previous (or even book-ending years) allows the winemaker to strike a seamless accord in continuity. It proliferates a house style. I had this to say in 2012: “The production of vintage-dated fizz in Ontario is certainly fashionable, as witnessed by more than 60% of the wines present, but for the purposes of consistency, local weather conditions should see the future trending a non-vintage path.”

Related – Lock, stock and sparkling wines

Vintage issued Sparkling wine has lost its luster. If the vintage is anything less than ideal, whether it be too cold or too warm, under ripe or over ripe grapes are hard to hide. Keep in mind that the grapes for bubbles are the first to be picked, no matter where you are, to preserve acidity. In funny climatic years modifications must be made. The blender will have to resort to either chapital or acid tricks of the trade. Another argument for non-dated fizz.

Related – New fizz on the Brock

Does the average, or even effervescence geek care about vintage bubbles? British wine journalist Jamie Goode doesn’t seem to think so. On vintage dated bubbles, Goode spoke (at the 2014 Brock University Technical Wine Symposium) from an unequivocal marketing perspective. “People don’t really care about vintage.” On the emerging Canadian and British sparkling wine industries. “Do English or Canadian wines need a special name?” No.

On the puffery side of the tracks I gave this: “Sparkling wine, fizz, bubbles, bubbly. Champagne. Mousseux, Crémant, Asti Spumante, Espumante, Cap Classique, Cava, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo, Brachetto, Sekt. Méthode champenoise, charmat, méthode ancestrale. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chenin Blanc, Arbois, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-Lo, Glera. It’s all just an amazing confluence of pressed juice, yeast, sugar and carbon dioxide. Nothing in the world screams “party!” like an effervescent bottle of fermented grapes. Who isn’t looking for a Sparkling wine to pop open this month? Should we put up our hands so we know who we are?”

A year later, back into the throes of the holiday season, a new batch of bubbles are on the scene. Here are 12 new picks, from $17 to $95, from Crémant d’Alsace to Champagne, to tolerate winter and ring in the new year.

From left to right: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d'Alsace, Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008

From left to right: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008

Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac Alsace, France (39016, $17.95, WineAlign)

Graceful and pink lithe, like cold smoked salmon, delightful Pinot Noir Rosé fizz. Nothing earth shattering, breath-taking or barrier breaking, just well made blush bubbles. The structure and balance are really spot on. Finishes strong and with confidence. Helps to define this genre of Crémant’s creamy texture, matched in contrast by its stony, flinty and mineral style.  Tasted November 2014  @ProfileWineGrp

Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Do Penedès, Spain (392548, $19.95, WineAlign)

A stonking Cava this one, or the Spanish (enervante) equivalent. Relishing in quite high acidity, which is necessary and useful, considering the residual sugar left behind. Good tang, verve and a with a push to succeed in elevating everything it seeks to uphold; aroma, flavour and tannic texture. As good an example of Cava as I’ve tasted in recent times.  Tasted November 2014  @freixenet  @DionysusWines

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Méthode Classique, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (234161, $22.95, WineAlign)

This is a very effective bottle of bubbles, consistently produced, vintage after vintage. Some reserve on the nose, notable in its pear and yeasty aromas. Crunchy feel for fizz with a replay in flavour much like prickly pear and the tropical esters of yeast. Really good length. Simply well made.  Tasted November 2014  @Jackson_Triggs

Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign)

Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies.  Tasted November 2014  @hinterlandwine  on the card at @barquebbq

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (187377, $29.95, WineAlign)

Skips the cork, avoids the taint and caps with a crown. A king’s bubble in here, a king of pop perhaps, with “a mind like a diamond.” Like a fine, flat rock that cuts through crap and “red tape fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack.” I want a fizz that gets me up early. I want a Sparkling wine that knows what’s right. I want bubbles with “uninterrupted prosperity and smooth liquidation.” I want a sparkler “with a short skirt and a long, long jacket.” I want bubbles with tang, tang, tang, apples, pears, ginger and cardamom. One that I can drink with cake. Yes, perhaps the Riddled ’09 is just a bit abrupt, at times monotone, awkward in chord changes, tempo switches and suffers from a twittering finish. But it’s twitchy and characterful along the way. Tasted November 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008, Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania, Australia (393629, $29.95, WineAlign)

Love the balance and graceful point this has come to six years post much fine lees staging. So very elegant and demurred, like an actress on a silver screen imagined in a near-falsetto progressive rock singer’s croon. A strange but beautiful mismatch, given ambiance and vindication by a classical musician’s playing. Silent stardom take on cool climate bubbles to sip along with “early thirties gangster movies, set to spellbind population.” A friend to Mr. Cairo with a palate adding weight and a texture lustful in a creamy affair. Just a hair across the oxidized threshold, holding steady, acting very much like Champagne. Flies like a Mediterranean bird of prey, a Maltese falcon everyone is searching for. Always “shoots between the eyes.”  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004

From left to right: Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004

Benjamin Bridge Brut Methode Classique 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, LCBO $47.95, 1018464, NSLC $44.99, 313106, B.C. $49.97, WineAlign)

L’Acadie used for a parochial teaching moment effect. Winemaker Jean Benoit Deslauriers embracing its Gaspereau ability, coaxing acidity within a context of optimum fruit attention. Brings a level of texture and structure rarely, if ever seen from the region, this contrived blend and the imagined attempt. The parts roll into and through one another seamlessly. This impresses from a point of expression, that being the BB vineyard. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Essentially, or at least philosophically a Blanc de Blancs, the blend is 57 per cent L’Acadie Blanc, 25 Chardonnay and 18 Seyval Blanc. The acidity is key and certainly elevated (12.8 g/L), keeping line tabs on the stone ground, clean fruit in gingered mousse. A defined elegance and accumulated synergy of site comes from a lower-slope perceived sweetness, down by the river. By no means piercing, there is a length here that lays down the foundation for the high-end, Vinifera-driven Sparkling wine program. The Brut ’09 conveys the growing environment, in freshness and in ripeness. A wine with such a refreshing upside. ” Last tasted November 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

Delouvin Bagnost Brut NV, Récoltant Manipulant, Ac Champagne, France (385369, $47.95, WineAlign)

The level of baking apples and yeasty aromas are overwhelming, at first, then settle down. Yeasty boy, screaming its oxidative angst. Big acidity, wild ginger tang, whipping and gesturing wildly as it raps in your mouth. Speaks its mind this one, breaks down stereotypes, wins the crowd.  Fans go wild. From my earlier, August 2014, WWAC 2014 (tasted blind) note: “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, it’s a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing.”  Last Tasted November 2014

André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne, France (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)

Zero dosage, 100 per cent Pinot Noir, grower produced and affordable. These are the attributes of Jean Francois Clouet’s Champagne. If any three are what you look for in righteous fizz, you have found what you need, for any occasion. The Clouet Silver (Blanc de Noir, Grand Cru from Bouzy) has that stark reality of aridity so necessary for Sparkling wine to knock you upside of the cerebral cortex. Sweetness is superfluous because the fruit is so exceptional. There are dried spices and ginger in many incantations; exotic, wild, dried and slowly dripping into every sip. The vacuous voids are filled with combustion, the lingering strands of texture elegance defined. This is exceptionally made Champagne, to the point and with confident, boyish presence.  Tasted November 2014  @GroupeSoleilTO

Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, France (268771, $64.95, WineAlign)

A most expressive house style, crowd pleasing and one step further into complex territory than many of a similar ilk. Creeping aromas, big flavours, enveloping texture, noble bitter finish. Citrus pith and darkening honey. So well made. Score an extra point. From my previous, August 2014 note: “The house style in this Pinot Blanc (55 per cent), Chardonnay (30) and Pinot Meunier (15) is amped on yeast and baked brioche. The elevation is of a modern and ambitious producer with a wild, expansive and yeast-moussy feel in the mouth. Spiced and spicy accents really help to open up the wine. An exemplary rendition of Sparkling wine if not quite willing to last as long as others.”  Last tasted November 2014  @LouisRoederer_

Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004, Ac Champagne, France (69831, $91.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes Champagne is blessed with a dirty presence that is just beautiful. This Moët could go either way. Struts with a copper hue and metal cruelty in its every move. Like cheese melting on a pipe. Like bonito flaking off a rusty anchor. Earthy and really into the oxidative souse but on a tasting line-up day when everything seems oxidized. Bitter pith and grapefruit flavours with a hint of coriander and a texture so damn divine. Is that corpulence enough to rescue it from the depths of bitter disdain? If at first you are not so sure, Rosé up and try again. This ’04 will take advantage of your every insecurity and grow on your unconscious.  Tasted November 2014  @MoetUSA

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2004, Ac Champagne, France (508614, $93.95, WineAlign)

This Veuve 2004 just keeps coming, does it not? Fashioned in an evolved style, typical for the house, not so atomic and not so wild. Ginger beer and tropical fruit aromas give simple pleasure, followed by more ginger and green mango on the palate, drying and turning to a fine, pungent powder re-hydrated on a whippy, elastic finish. Better vintage than would have been expected.  Tasted November 2014  @VeuveClicquot  @ChartonHobbs

Good to go!

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