Why hate wine?

Three vintages and producers of Brunello di Montalcino

Three vintages and producers of Brunello di Montalcino

Though it may sound absurd, it’s true. There are some who hate wine. It may seem impossible to imagine, but not everyone cares for the stuff, in fact, they say they hate it. Pretty harsh, no?

They have their reasons. Either it’s pretentious, it pales in comparison to beer, causes headaches or simply tastes like shit. The haters also hate wine drinkers and they really can’t stand people who blabber on about what they smell and taste, especially wine writers. The vile, worthless, waste of the air they breathe kind of human. The virus with shoes.

They are out there but they are not the real problem. The bigger issue is the wine geek who hates certain wines. The wine aficionado who picks on specific bottles, bullies them to the point of hatred. Slags them beyond reproach. Rants to the world about the injustice of their existence.

I will tell you why I have to say what I have to say. When I entered the LCBO tasting lab last Friday I saw three bottles sitting on the sterile counter, three Pinot Noir that made hairs all over my body stand up in horrified attention. Three Chuck Wagner Pinots. Les Belle Glos. So I tweeted this.

That was a mistake and I apologize for having written that. My message is this. You may find flaws in wine. You may suss out mistakes in the way a wine is made, sniff out bacteria or mould. You may point out imbalance and general impropriety. But you should not hate.

After all, wine is made from grapes and has fermented into itself. No matter the manipulations, the heavy-handed preparations and the dismissal of varietal or territorial propriety, at the end of the day it is just a bottle of wine. It is still a card-carrying member of the heritage, the extraction and the house. The fact is that when you hate one wine, you hate all wine. Do you see, the instant that you hate a wine, then you hate the world of wine.

There is more. Every wine has a connection to the land it came from. Soft mutinies in the senescence of nature all contribute to the scarring of a wine, of an indelible truth that indicts the world it harmonizes in, like a tract of a forest long ago scorched by a fire. A vineyard shares a history, which each vine remembers, even after it has failed to survive, even after others have not survived, or have been felled or re-planted. All wine has a background, regardless of what it may have suffered during growth and fermentation.

Related – WineAlign guide to VINTAGES April 4th and Easter recipes

And so, please try to be nice. Not every bottle will thrill and most will even disappoint. But do not hate. These seven examples, coming to a VINTAGES kiosk on April 4th do nothing less than restore the faith. They are all classic returns, of familiar and favourite varieties. They are wines to love.

From left to right: Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2012, Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2008 and Vitanza Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

From left to right: Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2012, Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2008 and Vitanza Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (276030, $18.95, WineAlign)

Carries with it the efforts and old barrel trials of generations in its classic aromas. Cedar, dried plum, bitumen, dried anise, wood soaking in natural sugar syrup. Really seamless, flourless and austere in a running wild kind of way. Possessive of length and deserving of that oddest of wine descriptions; supple. This will age for 10-12 years with ease. A great wine for the money, right up there with the Montecillo 1991, but cleaner, juicier and with more sex appeal. A red-head, a ginger, Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone.  Tasted March 2015  @bodegasmuriel  @RiojaWine

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley, California (221887, $22.95, WineAlign)

The Mondavi course of intention stays on track once again in 2013 though the vintage for Sauvignon Blanc seems at its warmest and ripest in quite some time. This walks a highline of aromatics yet refrains from tragically creamy barrel notes or excessively hop toast. Fruit is the driver, “rushing by the machine revving tension.” That drupe is part fresh and part dried, whiffing citrus and potpourri. Zest is buzzing but not overbearing. Were I locked in the trunk of a car, this bottle of Fumé Blanc would keep good company. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted March 2015  @RobertMondavi  @CBrandsCareers

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (704346, $31.95, WineAlign)

The hue and distinguished generational character pay hommage and unconditional loyalties to the noble Sangiovese. Chianti Classico in which patience is a commendable virtue and extreme necessity. The wood and tonic inflate the near nose in screaming interface but five minutes works to soften the early edginess. Now the perfume is intoxicating, so typically IEO, from a beautiful parcel of Chanti Classico out of a very giving vintage. An alluring wine that draws you in with a flirtatious smile of depth and meaning, seamless in personality, never too rich, affected or grandiose. There is no resin and no slice of cake decadence. Though it retains some old-school properties, this CC keeps right in stride with the winemaking times. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @chianticlassico  @HalpernWine

Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2012, Burgundy, France (19364, $31.95, WineAlign)

Bring on the 2012 Chablis. Here, an early, exciting and intense look. Has a combination of spot on salinity and limestone flint from the central Vaillons Cru. Given time this eventually turns to honey, indicating great early promise. This Bichot Estate Chardonnay is ripe and extroverted. Though it won’t be the longest lived, the back-end stony merrymaking and overall exuberance is a great show. If ’12 Chablis is always this much fun, I’ll be buying front row seats. Tasted 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @Bichotwine  @BIVBChablis  @DionysusWines

Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (906420, $39.95, WineAlign)

Here scrambles forth a high-toned yet exuberant Hess. Dark fruit, old growth bark, fresh tar in summer and natural charcoal on the BBQ. These are the perceptions on a cimmerian, Patwin-coined, single-vineyard red wine from the eastern base of Howell Mountain. This micro-climate (relative to really cold places) experieneces freezing cold winters and later bud break than most of Napa. That difference comes across in the tension of this wine, the dichotomy of hot and cold and manifests by tongue-coating tannin-crusted fruit. Tannin that may take 10 years to integrate. Good concentration of fruit, acidity and that fierce tannin menas lots of energy and stereotypically speaking, even more structure. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @HessCollection  @liffordwine

Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (245225, $49.95, WineAlign)

Though the bark and bite of the vintage will try to test even the purest fruit, this Fuligni is immune, the Brunello to absorb difficulty and energe unscathed. Earth. forest, clean mushroom, plum, carob and fresh cherry band together as an admirable aromatic lot. Though the vintage worked against many Montalcino producers, those who picked, vinified and allowed the fruit to do its thing, to be its own talking head, to express itself, made good wine. Enter the house of Eredi Fuligni. This ’08 is like Heaven, talking heady, saying nothing at all. The tune is clear as a whistling from the depths of a canyon. The spice is fragrant, never biting. The oak is like an old favourite song.   The Brunello “in Heaven plays my favorite song. They play it once again, they play it all night long.” Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2015  @ConsBrunello  @HalpernWine

Vitanza Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Docg Tuscany, Italy (236232, $89.95, WineAlign)

Here sidlles up to the counter a huge, come home and lay with me now Brunello. Displays all the flirtaious and flamboyant hallmarks of the get me vintage. Gorgeous, juicy red fruit. This wine will make you want to head straight for the bar, load up and go home with wrong woman or man. A full on seducer, asking you, are you ready for love? It’s not so much that this Grosso is bad company, it’s just that it’s so bloody dangerous. It has layered fruit, earth and lace. It has the structure to age. The issue is how could you resist it now? “I’m ready for love. Oh for your love.” Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015  @TenutaV  @ConsBrunello

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

http://www.winealign.com/profile/2058-mjg

Bouillabaisse, paella and 32 wines

Chiado's Bouillabaisse

Chiado’s Bouillabaisse

No words. No tasting notes. Just the wines. What happens at WineAlign‘s #waxmas14 stays at Waxmas14. I will say this. There was music.

Waxmas Whites

Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru La Moutonne 1996, Burgundy, France

Vergelegen G.V.B. White 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa

René Muré Riesling Clos Saint-Landelin 2008, Alsace, France

R. López de Heredia Viña Tondoni Reserva 1999, Rioja, Spain

Waxmas Whites

Waxmas Whites

Four More Whites

Domaine de Beaurenard Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2009, Rhône Valley, France

Mendel Sémillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina

Quinta de Soalheiro Alvarinho 2012, Vinho Verde, Portugal

Pelle Pince Szt. Tamás Furmint 2012, Hungary

Four More Whites

Four More Whites

Eclectic Blancs

Exultet Estates The Blessed 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2003, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Pierre Frick Pinot Blanc de Noir 2006, Alsace, France

Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012, Prädikatswein, Germany

Eclectic Blancs

Eclectic Blancs

The Stealth Reds

Domaine Alary, Cairanne L’Exclus d’Alary 2012, Cairanne, Rhône Valley, France

Bodega Chacra Pinot Noir Cincuenta y Cinco 2012, Patagonia, Argentina

Bodegas Poesia 2010, Mendoza, Argentina

Thibault Liger-Belair Moulin a Vent, Vieilles Vignes 2011, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France

The Stealth Reds

The Stealth Reds

Big Red Movements

Colinas De São Lourenço Principal Reserva 2007, Bairrada, Portugal

Brodie Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Martinborough, New Zealand

Re Manfredi Aglianico Del Vulture 2000, Campania, Italy

Domaine Jean Foillard Morgon Côte de Py 2011, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France

Big Red Movements

Big Red Movements

Seriously Red

Azienda Agricola Cos Cerasuolo Di Vittorio Classico 2008, DOCG Sicily, Italy

Penfolds Cabernet Shiraz Bin 389 1995, South Australia, Australia

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Napa Valley, California

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino 2004, Tuscany, Italy

Seriously Red

Seriously Red

The Grace of Transition

Domaine Baud Crémant du Jura Brut Sauvage, Jura, France

Vidonia Listan Blanco Vinas Viejas 2012, Valle de la Orotava, Spain

Pazo Pondal Albariño 2012, D.O. Rias Baixas, Spain

Hidden Bench Pinot Noir Felseck Vineyard 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario

The Grace of Transition

The Grace of Transition

Chef Michael Pataran’s Paella

Chef Michael Pataran's Paella

Chef Michael Pataran’s Paella

And in the End

Domaine Hatzidakis Assyrtiko de Mylos Vieilles Vignes 2011, Santorini, Greece

Cave de Tain l’Hermitage Hermitage Gambert de Loche 1998, Northern Rhône, France

Suertes del Marques El Esquilon 2012, Valle de la Orotava, Spain

Azienda Agricola Brezza Giacomo & Figli Cannubi 1989, Piedmont, Italy

And in the End

The love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Looking red ahead at December 6th in VINTAGES

Álvaro Palacios presents his wines from Priorat, Rioja and Bierzo Photo (c): Eric Vellend

Álvaro Palacios presents his wines from Priorat, Rioja and Bierzo
Photo (c): Eric Vellend

When I walk into the tasting lab at the LCBO this morning to taste the red wines on the December 6th release, there will be more than 100 bottles staring me down. Not just any 100 bottles. The assembled wines will be deep, dark, dense and intense, a December agglomeration meant to drink down with the holidays.

The VINTAGES releases are so protracted at this time of year the media tastings have to be split across two consecutive weeks. Champagnes and whites were put out last Friday so today’s reds will stain teeth, pile on the tannin and cause a general convocation in dehydration. A perfect Friday.

Luma's Bocconcini and Preserved Vegetable Salad

Luma’s Bocconcini and Preserved Vegetable Salad

Over the past few weeks I’ve managed to taste some of the releases at trade events, with my colleagues at WineAlign and yesterday with Álvaro Palacios. At the invite of Woodman Wines and Spirits I had the indubitable pleasure of being heralded through a paramount cross-section of the Spanish wandering winemaker’s portfolio, from Priorat, Rioja and Bierzo. Palacios poured six of his wines at Luma Restaurant in Toronto. Reviews for the Riojan La Vendimia, the Bierzo Corullón and the Priorats Camins and Les Terraces will be found on WineAlign.

Last fall I wrote about Spanish wines, insisting that Spanish winemakers “do not pussyfoot in producing superannuated yet contemporary wine.” I talked up the Iberian wine making superstars. Red and white wine heroes. Álvaro Palacios was at the top of the list. Jason Woodman felt and still feels this way. “If anyone embodies the promise and spirit of “The New Spain”, it is Álvaro Palacios.” I elaborated. “It has not been much more than 20 years since he took control of the esteemed empire built by his father, Jose Palacios Remondo, but Álvaro Palacios has already become one of Spain’s most famous and well-respected winemakers.”

Related – Ancient, state of the art Spanish wine

One Rioja and one Bierzo by the Palacios domain are reviewed here, along with six other new releases coming to stores December 6th. Here’s a sneak peek, looking red ahead.

Palacios Line-Up at Luma Restaurant Photo (c): Eric Vellend

Palacios Line-Up at Luma Restaurant
Photo (c): Eric Vellend

Palacios Remondo La Montesa 2011, Doca Rioja, Spain (674572, $18.95, WineAlign)

La Montesa epitomizes everything about the Álvaro Palacios application; professionalism, breviloquence and balance. It also brings together essentia to one common Riojan crossroads; Atlantic and Mediterranean, Tempranillo and Garnacha, French and American oak. In fact, it does the latter with such seamless ease, as neither barrel disturbs the proportion or the harmony. Fresh, pointed, serious and value-driven with ridiculous compete, the silky smooth Montesa uses calcareous soil as an organza overlay and acidity to keep it real. The alcohol is certainly real but like the wood (and the tannin), is never overdone. From now to 2018 with bells on.  Tasted November 2014  @WoodmanWS  @RiojaWine

Tenuta Rapitala Alto Nero d’Avola 2012, Sicily, Italy (Agent392852, $19.95, WineAlign)

The winery known as the “Beautiful Garden of God” has burnished a Nero d’Avola from the northwest corner of Sicily so perfumed you may consider dabbing some on your neck. Like the sweet-smelling roses that endow Nebbiolo with its characteristic charm, this Sicilian sports the same except that it is magnified by sunshine and salinity. A meeting of red fruits macerating in a bath of freshly squeezed plum juice does nothing but make you want to sip and sip. In the end there is tannin, but also prune juice and really daring acidity. This is a big but not over the top southern Italian red to enjoy now and for three more years. Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines

Cantina Zaccagnini 2012, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Doc, Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

There is much to admire about this most righteous and humble Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. From a west-facing vineyard with coarsely textured soils in the municipality of Bolognano, province of Pescara, very close to the Adriatic Sea. The maritime influence, while not dramatic, is significant, as nosed in salinity and humidity. The Zaccagnini spent a scant and refreshing four months in Slavonian oak barrels. The impart is gentle and sincere. The freshness and calm here reminds of a certain type of Syrah from St. Joseph, low in alcohol, preserved in acidity and full of savoury flavour. This is really well-judged, honest MdA that will linger in evolution for two to three more years of pure, simple drinking pleasure.  Tasted November 2014  @Zaccagninivini  

Lavau Rasteau 2012, Rhône, France (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Equal parts Syrah and Grenache gather in this very warm Rasteau that spent (15 per cent of the cuvée) 10 months in French oak barrels. Typical of the upward trend in Rhône reds of elevated alcohol and vibrant spirit. There is no shortage of ripe fruit, concentrated flavours and modern attitude here. Beyond the up front aromas of raspberry and baked clay the Lavau continues its hearth oven stay and churns out roasted game, savoury pie and smouldering Rosemary branches. It’s a veritable Lavau luau, with both beef and pork in the pit and in need of a glass of something rich and spicy. This Rasteau will do the trick.  Tasted November 2014  @WinesOfFrance  @oenophilia1

From left to right: Tenuta Rapitala Alto Nero d'Avola 2012, Cantina Zaccagnini 2012, Lavau Rasteau 2012, Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Trinchero Mario's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

From left to right: Tenuta Rapitala Alto Nero d’Avola 2012, Cantina Zaccagnini 2012, Lavau Rasteau 2012, Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Trinchero Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Clare Valley/Coonawarra, South Australia (142398, $24.95, WineAlign)

A most blanketed tapestry of aromas come flying like a magic carpet from this Clare Valley and Coonawarra specimen. The best of both worlds collide; blue fruits and cool mint/eucalyptus. Though slightly murky and vanilla distilled simple syrupy, the aromas make the grade and put on the show. The fine grain in tannin and chalky texture are a plus though they do cause separation anxiety for the delicate fruit. Very much like a good blue and red fruit Malbec, from Mendoza or the Clare Valley, this is not overly, varietally Cabernet Sauvignon but it is a very effective and spiced red for near-term drinking.  Tasted November 2014  @Taylors_Wines

Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2012, Do Bierzo, Spain, (675207, $26.95, WineAlign)

From Ricardo Palacios, nephew to and with Álvaro, this Mencia is so indicative and representative as the “naked grape” of Bierzo. Anointed with a concentrated perfume and panegyrized by a fruit transparency that is just not present in the Palacios wines of Rioja and Priorat. With Mencia, what you see, smell and taste is what you get. It’s varietally obvious and this Palacios plays the part with thespian control. A caramel note lifts, not drags this dense, purposed red, purple in every way, condensing the happy freshness of the vintage. Lactic black fruits are milky, developing to creamy, then on to licorice and candied nasturtium. Has a Bordeaux-like dusty camino real drive to it, in perfect sunshine, the vapors rising off the arid track. The Mencia asks “and would you let me walk down your street, naked if I want to.” Yes is the answer, because it is such an honest, moby grape. In ferment it makes cause for another composed wine by Palacios.  The clarity and ambition will take it safely to the next decade.  Tasted November 2014

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (398073, $44.95, WineAlign)

From estate grapes grown on the hillside which slopes down towards the Orcia and Ombrone rivers. The Bartolommei family needed a summons of their winemaker’s acumen to reign in advanced fruit from a vintage that saw soaring summer temperatures. This ’09 runs on full throttle, high-octane Grosso and yet is a remarkably, obiter dicta fresh flood of sanguine, berry chalky juice. All that and more actually and while it’s flat out fun to taste at such a young age, its ability to go long is not a sure thing. Plan to enjoy now and for three to five big years.  @Caprili  @NaturalVines

Trinchero Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (399600, $64.95, WineAlign)

There is nothing chary about this single-vineyard Cabernet, named after the winery’s founder, situated in St. Helena. From soils ranging from gravelly to loamy to alluvial, the vines were only 12 years old when this dark beauty was made. Pitchy fruit is roped and tied by a whack of French oak, surrounding it with an aromatic bubble filled with lavender, charcoal, vanilla and licorice. A multi-plex of a red, darker than many, structured yet reliant on that mask of oak. Due to the mass and mess of fruit this will age nicely for 10 years but the wood will never go away. It’s just made that way.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines

Good to Go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Let the gems begin

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

Wine review at VINTAGES of Norman Hardie Chardonnay County Unfiltered 2012 by Godello

If the premature lashing of cold, snow and ice weren’t enough to get you thinking about holiday shopping, get thee to a Liquor Control Board Ontario store on the weekend. Same time, every year. The LCBO stocks the shelves, isles and pyramid displays with more booze than anyone should ever be faced with in one visitation.

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

The bi-weekly VINTAGES release calendar whirs, undulates and clutters in rataplan overload at just this very juncture in preparation of the Christmas rush. Shoppers will tear down the walls of wine, beer and spirits, only to hear the burloque fall silent when the clock strikes closing time on the evening of December 24th.

There are exactly 35 days left in 2014 to do the right wine thing for that father, cousin, colleague, mentor or loyal, long-time suffering employee. Please heed the warnings and do not buy crap for the one you love or think you should. No matter who you are picking up a bottle for, treat them well and with fermented grape respect.

There are three category of wines to look for, at least within the context of this buying guide. First there are the values under $20, wines made so properly they should cost double or triple what they do. Second are the expensive but honest wines. These are the true gems that make most $100 bottles look bad. Last are the $100 examples that are truly iconic, despite their cost. Though priced beyond the means of most, they are not a mistake to take a flyer and give as a gift. After the hand off is complete, the all-knowing, unspoken nod will follow.

Here are 22 picks from the VINTAGES November 22, 2014 release, in stores now.

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

From left to right: Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012

Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008, Pdo Nemea, Greece (295618, $17.95, WineAlign)

Nemea strikes again. Dark rust, earth juiced on and of the rocks. Like Sangiovese with attitude, made by Romans, like Syrah the way it was made in mythological times, by Greeks. A classical garden. This is actually quite modern and expressive for Agiorgitiko. Acts as if it were a touch clay (or amphora) baked but it’s really just a Peloponnese take on oak aging (18 months) and further bottle rest (12 months). This is right in its window and will be friendly for three to five years more. What a steal.  Tasted November 2014  @DrinkGreekWine

Frescobaldi Castello Di Pomino Pomino Bianco 2013, Doc Pomino Bianco, Tuscany, Italy (65086, $19.95, WineAlign)

With thanks to Chardonnay, the Castello di Pomino 2013 elevates Pinot Blanc to a level not really found anywhere, save perhaps for one or two examples out of B.C. This one really leaves a tannic impression, not unlike some impossibly off-dry Pinot Gris from Alsace. There is a really sophisticated level of ambiance and a semblance of a distinctly rocky intent. Like high quality Sancerre or Chenin from Silex soils, the grain and veins running through the palate and the texture are coarse and cursive. This one writes a new script for Frescobaldi’s Florentine, Apennine mountain estate. Fresh, ventilated and airy as if breathing from blue skies at high altitudes. I can’t recall tasting this level of excellence before and would look forward to no less than five years of enjoying what it brings to the Tuscan table.  Tasted November 2014  @FrescobaldiVini  @liffordretail

Moris Morellino Di Scansano 2012, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (992560, $19.95, WineAlign)

A primarily (90 per cent) Sangiovese with smatterings, though not inconsequential, of Merlot and Syrah. From (non-estate) vineyards in Poggio La Mozza (Grosseto). Morellino Di Scansano, to a wine and exemplified here, sports a firm jaw and an air of tragic nobility. The question is why should it only find occasional psychic prominence as a Sangiovese go to. Moris Farms makes the lesser-known accessible, with a (sees no oak) modern accent of dark fruit and spice atop simple, pleasurable Sangiovese. Pleasantries exchanged, the 2012 MdS will work dinner, inside a Tuscan vernacular and out.  Tasted October 2014  @Morisfarms  @oenophilia1

Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne, Ac Burgundy, France (48793, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Bouillot Rosé, for my $20 is the most impressive of their line-up, always tender and ripe as if just picked fruit, namely strawberry and raspberry. The Perle D’aurore is a faintly hued and lighthearted take but not light on effort. Elegance defined in Bourgogne bubbles with a savoury edge to give it strength.  Tasted November 2014  @JCB_Wines  @ChartonHobbs

McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (724492, $19.95, WineAlign)

The 2007 is another fascinating study in Hunter Valley Sémillon. Like the ’06, egressing secondary notes have emerged, in equatorial garrigue and fruit having already met its aurulent stenosis. A honey note persists though less so in ’07, as does the level of tempering acidity. This vintage brings out the calm and the clam, though the petrol and the mineral are omnipresent, perhaps elevated. Must keep in mind it’s only $20 but it does fall a bit short in texture and acidity. There is lemon drop and the essential atomic Sémillon stoicism from the Hunter Valley, but it’s a bit thin and hollow up the middle. All that acknowledged, not having a look or two would be a shame. Tasted November 2014  @MtPleasantWines  @PRAXISpr

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012, Tasmania, Australia (162990, $22.95, WineAlign)

Pepik has elevated aromatic tones and though it appears lithe it reads like a weighty tome. Unique and of its Tasmanian self. Plums come to mind, as does red earth. The phenolic ripeness and varietal indications are ushered in with managed exceptions and are simply spot on. This does not strike as a Pinot Noir that will be long-lived because its black cherry and spice are riper than many contemporary editions in a similar price range, but it will offer great pleasure for two to three years.  Tasted November 2014  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

From left to right: Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Cvne Gran Reserva 2008

Klumpp Pinot Gris 2013, Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany (394155, $23.95, WineAlign)

Thoroughly interesting study in German Pinot Gris despite the timid and reserved tonal nature. Aridity in as much as the variety can muster and in the largest, atmospheric sense. Though the palate has some fine-grained texture and feigned sweetness, it’s as if Baden can only do Pinots this way, in Gris and in Noir. Acidity is tempered and a willing accomplice to the diminished components of sugar and pH. A well designed Pinot Gris.  Tasted November 2014  @TheLivingVine  @WinesofGermany

Creekside Estates The Trad Reserve 2011, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (390336, $28.95, WineAlign)

The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day.  Tasted October 2014  @CreeksideWine

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (64329, $34.95, WineAlign)

Rubber dust, road macadam and strawberry jam. Fierce Bordeaux Blend home from a hot climate. This has gritty obduracy and doggedness. Like a red blend with a gun, walking the mean streets. Acidity shot through the roof. Bordeaux meets South Africa in every shared, resplendent and promising way. Rasping tannins contain bursting dark fruit, the grain running in multiple directions. Respect. Wait two more years on this and drink comfortably to 2020.  Tasted November 2014  @TrialtoON  @WOSACanada

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (727636, $34.95, WineAlign)

This is not the modern Crognolo as witnessed in the previous five vintages. In 2011 we have been granted the complex Crognolo. This has must and earth. It has grit and girth. Best Crognolo I have tasted. Tangy Sangiovese, with some chalk in tannin. Will live longer and offer unrequited love seven to 10 years down the road, to the patient and the faithful. Tasted November 2014  @TenSettePonti  @TrialtoON

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Doca Rioja, Spain (976662, $35.95, WineAlign)

It amazes me how kept wines from Rioja keep appearing as if they were just bottled yesterday but not this famous Gran Reserva. Syrupy and caramelized, bright and earthy. Mulled plum and clove with citrus accents. Bretty like a barn’s floor. Cedar and leather, big oak doors. Real mutton Rioja, still tannic, energetic and searing. Kicking it old school but wild and alive. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Were a full-term lecture taught on the pros and cons of the Brettanomyces brannigan, this Rioja might be exhibit A. Absolutely manifest fruit meets earth, meets game perfume compendium. Call it funky yeast if you must but here is a wine that can be approached by nose only and if the relationship were to end there, novels might be written. Lives on a fermented, catalytic and plucky edge but never submits to the bacterial spindrift. Leaden fruit, red and black, smooth and layered with a tension in tang that is paralyzing to the mouth. Thirteen years old and just hitting a secondary stride, with the oak slowly dissolving and not a hint of coffee or chocolate to be found. Sexy and down to earth at the same time.” Last tasted November 2014  @bodegasfaustino  @Select_Wines

Cune Gran Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (393553, $38.95, WineAlign)

Old school. Smells like Rioja. Smells like Spanish spirit and weeds, sinew, gristle and braising pig, all parts in. Smells like cedar, like American oak and a soak in a tub of spa earth and mineral salts. Like “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” This has already done the evolutionary dance so if you are looking for something to float your natural, honest boat, go here now. In a Rioja world where the times they are a changin‘, it will sail you back in time and away into a Mediterranean sunset.  Tasted November 2014  @Cvne  @vonterrabev

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

From left to right: Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy (928028$49.95, WineAlign)

Firm and in a rustic vein, as per the Barbi dole, this one a bit funkier at the outset than many. Welcome to the classic firmness of 2008, antithesis of the flamboyant ’07’s but plan for 20 plus years of slow food elegance emission. Classic rose petal, tea leaves, dates and earth caked metal in this guy. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “As expected, this is a gritty effort from Barbi, in part the impart of a testosterone-laden vintage, along with the dryer and cooler climate from Barbi’s southeastern Montalcino vineyards. A low and slow ripening will surely translate to extended longevity, but the rusticity and leather/cherry continuum will never disappear. No doubt a classic example and very well-priced for such authenticity, still it can’t be helped to see Barbi’s ’08 as entrenched in an earlier period of time. The wine will need 10 years to soften its edges and reveal the refinement and elegance of a well-documented Brunello.”  Last tasted November 2014  @FATTORIABARBI  @Noble_Estates

Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (287854, $58.95, WineAlign)

A study in precision, exceptional quality and poise. Golden rays mixed with misty wisps, cool nights tempering warm days. Just a touch of wood spice pricks the finish. So much flavour.  Tasted November 2014  @DuttonGoldfield  @TheVine_RobGroh

Vincent Sauvestre Clos De La Platière Pommard 2012, Burgundy, France (390534, $59.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot Noir speaks for the two sides of every Burgundy argument, especially considering it comes from the gritty nook of Pommard. First impressions are floral and pretty, with spice and some sort of tropical flora whispering in cooing scents. The hill offers a buoyancy, a lifted spirit and a view of its own sweet regard. Travels through a mid-village weightless hover, then returns to terroir in prime time acidity and tannin to keep time. There is a sweet tart medicinal aspect ratio on the finish and overall this does things correctly. Does not finish with the same suave seduction that it teased at the start but it does continue to impress.  Tasted November 2014  @Select_Wines  @BourgogneWines

Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $60.95, WineAlign)

Aromatics are racing and rising from the glass. A red rain pouring in and out. Has yet to change course. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.” Last tasted November 2014  @VersadoWine

Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Champagne, France (983874, $84.95, WineAlign)

The reappraised vintage that was once considered good, now revealing itself as better than good uses examples like the Laurent Perrier Millésimé to drive the point. This is a classically symmetrical blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir possessive of much chaste class, incredible balance and held lotus posture. Through its waves of idiosyncratic brioche and linear citrus lines drawn in tactile angles this Champagne is unbent and unbroken. Its seamless transitions glide from delicate aromas, through a textured palate and groove forward in elastic length. Additionally graceful with an ever so slightly advanced and mature style from a mature world in vintage-dated Champagne.  Tasted November 2014  @ChampagneLPUSA  @Noble_Estates

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

From left to right: Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sassicaia 2011

Mollydooker Carnival Of Love Shiraz 2010, Mclaren Vale, Australia (242732, $114.95, WineAlign)

While the price is just about as absurd as a “yoga class for cats” or Raine Maida’s voice, it seems logical to wonder aloud how one could question this Carnival as not being one of the biggest and baddest Shiraz you will ever encounter. It’s a veritable run on sentence of Shiraz adjectives, adverbs and hyperbole. If your hankering remains entrenched in elevated alcohol, enormity of fruit, condensed and compressed mineral, lest to be forgetting the viscous ooze of Mclaren Vale syrup, well, then this jester should fill your stocking along with those of the rest of your circle of fortifying friends. From the maw of the beast here – blood gore and fruit guts. Holy crap is this extracted, tannic, mired in impropriety, full conceit and in zero jealousy of other Shiraz. It doth joust. Certainly no lady of peace. Wow.  Tasted November 2014  @MollydookerWine  @bwwines

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (936039, $139.95, WineAlign)

Magnificent and munificent wine. Really special, magnanimous in every way, ultra-luxurious but not over the top. Alcohol, oak and extraction judged and held in check, equity and in balance. The fruit is pure and delicate, marked by plum, blackberry and hovering licorice, anise and spices. Long in chain and really sweet tannins. Like gazing into a pool of real nineties Napa and across the pond to an older school of reasoning. Tasted November 2014  @SilverOak  @HalpernWine

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2010, Ac Margaux, 3e Cru, Bordeaux, France (261552, $167.95, WineAlign)

A heightened sense of Margaux reality in 2010 comes from the château with the hybrid name; first from Simon Malescot, King’s Counsel to Louis XIV at the Parliament of Bordeaux. Second, from the post French Revolution château purchaser, Count Jean Baptiste St Exupéry, grandfather of the aviator and writer Antoine de St Exupéry. This has to be the most hedonism ever bottled in a Malescot, within reason of course. The house does not know from over the top, save perhaps for the cost of this 2010. Cassis is certainly here, as is a medicinal tension, firm acidity and the most formidable tannins known to Margaux. The grain, chalk and tincture combine for full effect. This will need 10 years to chill, then go 10 plus 10 more to much applause and the request for a final curtain call. Tasted November 2014  @VinsdeBordeaux

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (399592, $167.95, WineAlign)

Wow. Aromatics are off the charts. Pine forest, leather, chestnut and cedar, savoury in every wild and sauvage way, but also pure. Berries, tobacco leaf, classical logic, structures and axioms lead me to imagine mid-nineties Paulliac. Seamless texture, ripe but not overripe, rich but never overly grainy. This is super fine and dialed back (with exotic spices and wood spice filling in the holes) in the cooler 2011 vintage. A Cabernet Sauvignon of the most savour and the most class. A ten to twenty year Spottswoode.  Tasted November 2014   @Spottswoode  @Smallwinemakers

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, Cabernet Franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smoldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014  @Smarent

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Life is a Cabernet

The closures of Plumpjack

The closures of Plumpjack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cluny Bistro Octopus

Cluny Bistro Octopus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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Seven Martinis shaken, not stirred

The Cabernet Sauvignon of Louis M. Martini Photo: (c) http://www.louismartini.com/

The Cabernet Sauvignon of Louis M. Martini
Photo: (c) http://www.louismartini.com/

To shake or to stir, that is the question. In the case of the Martini, the answer is always the former, unless Ian Fleming and James Bond are a part of the response. Author W. Somerset Maugham declared that “Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other.” Bond was quoted to declare that shaking, “bruises the gin.” Chardonnay is most certainly stirred through the process of bâttonage, to suppress Sulphur compounds, to increase maximum exposure to the cells and adulterants it is decomposing into and to promote texture.

What about Cabernet Sauvignon? To stir or not to stir is a hotly debated procedure. In the case of Niagara’s Château des Charmes, winemakers Paul Bosc and Amélie Boury have been known to agitate the ferment with a regular stirring of the lees. Ramey Vineyards performs monthly bâtonnage on their $100 “winemaker’s” Annum to coat the tannins and smoothly integrate the wood. Many winemakers will not touch their collective fine red lees settling of yeast and grape cells with a ten-foot stir stick. What about shaken? Well, that is another matter altogether.

The shaken not stirred reference may strike at the frailty of James Bond and his preference for how he wished his martini prepared. Scientists have speculated that Bond “was unlikely to be able to stir his drinks, even if he would have wanted to, because of likely alcohol induced tremor.” When it comes to wine, the term shaken refers to agitation, but not in the sense of a wobble, a quiver or a vibration. That would be bad. The term shaken has everything to do with what happens to a red wine due to barrel aging, in oak (primarily new) that leads to the development of flavours and texture resembling that of a milkshake.

The milkshake phenomenon is something I have touched upon many times in the past. In November of 2012 I penned the column, “Wine is the new coffee,” in which I waxed on about the mocha, java, arabica and jamocha flavours in the current and prevalent state of red wine. I wrote, “iconic red wines from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Napa Valley and Burgundy are heavily influenced by the barrels that house megalitres of famous juice, but for the most part, the premier or grand cru grape ferment is up to the splintered task.” I’ve talked about mocha milkshakes, talcy acidity, whipped beet shakes of hide, vanilla and lavender and reds gone over to the shaken, splintered and mocha chocolate dark side.

When oak is corrupted, misused or used to make a federal case, the resulting wine will sport black eyes of puffy redness caused by a bonfire in the barrel. When oak is used generously yet judiciously it still remains one of the most endearing techniques towards making fabulous red wine. The trend finally seems to be scaling back from the (here it comes) Parkerized, high extraction and alcohol red behemoths but where there is retreat there also persists the stay of the course. The wines of Louis M. Martini embody that doctrine.

Louis M. Martini Tasting at The Vintage Conservatory

Louis M. Martini Tasting at The Vintage Conservatory

For 80 years the Martini family has made Cabernet Sauvignon the focus of their portfolio, searching for the best grapes in Napa and Sonoma to make the best wines.  As third-generation winemaker Mike Martini, likes to say, “Cabernet: it’s what we do.” Martini brought his briefcase full of shaken Cabernet Sauvignon to Toronto’s Vintage Conservatory in September, with the obliging and expedient assistance of parent company E. & J. Gallo and their Ontario facilitator, Praxis PR. Mike Martini opened with “we’re shaken, not stirred.” How refreshing is truth spoken without pretense. Very.

Martini took over the winemaking duties in 1977. “All of us put in something, mostly personality.” The Cabernet Sauvignon style, drawn from many iconic Sonoma and Napa sites is both barefaced and to the fore. Despite the unfavourable monetary translations to Canadian and especially LCBO dollars, their Sonoma County, Napa Valley and Alexander Valley brands represent fortuitous value in full-bodied, reliably-crafted Cabernet. There is no mistaking a Martini rendition of the Bordeaux grape. Ripe, optimum extraction and unabashed richness from quality time spent in high percentages of new French, American (and sometimes) Hungarian oak barrels.

The élevage of a Martini Cabernet Sauvignon is both unapologetic and expected. It is, what it is. Their Cabernet may be treated to cold soaks, warmed to tropical temperatures, pumped over, oxygenated (délestage), subjected to extended maceration, racked by gravity and housed in toasted barrels, but there is no stirring of the fine lees. The adage holds true. A Martini Cabernet is shaken, not stirred.

Seven wines were tasted at the Martini event, followed by a lunch that included one of the better hanger steaks I have ever had the pleasure to taste. Michael Martini was both gracious and humorous in his presentation, spending plenty of time reliving the great legacy left by his father along with some terrific anecdotes along the way. The Martini codex is classic; immigrant family develops a world-renowned blend, takes on investment from a corporate behemoth, uses the resources to great effect and finds the wherewithal to keep the original name alive, front and centre. Great story.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2012, California, USA (292151, $18.95, WineAlign)

The case load is large (will be 400,000 by 2014) and the concept, according to winemaker Michael Martini is to capture the “idea” of Sonoma County, simply done. “We think of it as cold, by California standards,” says Martini. The Sonoma bottling is higher in acidity and structured tannin than most in its class. While it sees “a few chips,” its tank mentality gives it separation and reform. It is played in movements and even in religious moments. There are bits of cocoa nibs, chocolate chips and the flavour of a cookie out of a good recipe. Some (not over-extracted) Merlot and Petit Sirah add just enough continental, savory texture with final notes of black olive and caper. All in the name of linear yet wound at the same time.  Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, California, USA (232371, $29,95, WineAlign)

Michael Martini calls 2011 a “radically different vintage, not normal for Napa,” in others words, near-perfect. Nothing about the élevage (18 months in 40 per cent new oak) strays from the company line nor will it cause any radical concern. Give a nose and many contorted faces will result due to the herbaceous piquancy and near-capsicum rise. Changes to a country lane on the palate, in rolling, twangy, welcoming and delicious flavours. Good oak integration in holistic extraction substantiates a grapiness of fruit to balance a smoky, stewarded rod of wood. Has girth, weight and jamming length not present in its Sonoman counterpart. If “you were sorting through the odds and ends, you was looking for a bargain,” in Napa Cabernet Sauvignon then you’ve come to the right place.  Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2011, California, USA (Agent, $37.00)

“We’re still making 8,000 cases. That’s where we started,” says Michael Martini. The treatment here is a quintessentially kinetic Martini, a pure distillation of Alexander Valley straight from the shaker. After 18 months in a mélange of French, American and Hungarian oak the ’11 is getting a leather and tobacco in terroir component, straight from the vineyard, a sculpted earth tone and a sage that is Alexander Valley. Smoke, spice and spiciness runs through, from the mid-palate to the sumptuous finale. Has a sense of chewy density  with seamless integration of oak through to tannin. The acidity does not ring, it pops. Drink now and for three to five more years.  Tasted September 2014

Monte Rosso 2004, 2008 and 2010

Monte Rosso 2004, 2008 and 2010

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso 2004, Sonoma Valley, California, USA (Agent, $100.00, WineAlign)

This 10 years forward retrospective taste of the Monte Rosso 2004 shows surprisingly little development. From fruit grown on 30 feet of level, volcanic, pumice stone replete with holes that serve as water reservoirs. A 15 per cent abv bruiser that spent quality time in new and used French oak barrels, for an average of 26 months. From an extremely early vintage, this is what Michael Martini describes as “almost phlegmy upfront,” made in a similar style to the Lot 1, minus the screen. The vines averaged 45 years and for the first time, a Martini wine out of the red soil shows some funk, magnified by 10 years time. “If you can taste the alcohol, you’ve got too much,” says Martini and here, though that is the case, it is rendered aphonic and transformed into a taste of spiked, highest quality chocolate. The fruit is cured and spice accented in a seemingly youthful Cabernet. So much for the five to 12 year declared window from the Martini team. Drink for five more, at the very least.  Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso 2008, Sonoma Valley, California, USA (Agent, $100.00, WineAlign)

The red (in the Mayacamas) mountain has been in the family since 1938 and this 70 years later Sonoman is one of its most relucent. Aged 27 months in 83 per cent French and 17 New American Oak, there is no shortage of modernity in its sweet, thick skin. From a challenging vintage replete with heat spikes and low yields, the ’08 MR is blessed with luminous and lustrous fruit. It goes supple, it goes dark, it goes deep, “like the pale moon before the darkness spills,” then it goes brighter still. Sunshine breathes floral scents, vanilla and red fruit in soft, high caste with a hit of citrus. A very forward Cabernet with round, circling acidity. The mid-palate to end game is cool and layered b ut never thick or crushing.This has seven to 10 years of life ahead.  Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso 2010, Sonoma Valley, California, USA (Agent, $100.00, WineAlign)

As in 2009, storms tested the harvest on the (Mayacamas range) “Red Mountain.” Heeding the warning and learning from the previous year’s challenge, Michael Martini saw the bunches through the mud below his feet, chose a regimen of advanced picking and cut some of the later picked fruit that got mired in the weather’s muck. The result was a tighter Monte Rosso, most backward of the three (’04 and ’08) tasted and wound up without any release. This MR does not give away any of its charms quite so easy. It retains a cocoa dusting and a cool, linear band of acidity. Elusive yet seamless, the acumen combined with the formidable summons to create something lasting out of everything toilsome has produced a most age-worthy wine. Blessed with “na, la, na, la, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na” length, this ’10 will be the night they drove old rosso down. Tasted September 2014

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 1 2010, Napa Valley, California, USA (Agent, $150.00, WineAlign)

The Lot 1 Cabernet is Michael Martini’s cementing of a father’s legacy. It is a Napa Valley thickening of history, plot and extraction, through ripe fruit and new wood. Draws from AVA fruit of the most promising ontogeny, from Pritchard Hill in St. Helena, Spring Mountain, Stag’s Leap, Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain. The 2003 was the first vintage and by now the cabal has reached maximum density to bursting within its two-year soak in brand spanking new oak. Approximately 400 cases are made (and will be 650 in 2013) from out of the gravity flow, (former sugar dairy) Gallo-funded million dollar winery. A very black wine, vampiric in pitch, with fruits, peels, pods, roots and herbs, like cherry, orange, bokser, licorice and sage. The massive tannins are woven of chalk, grain and chew. The flavours range from bitter chocolate to caramelized beef to wood smoke. They continue to cook, evolving into crusted layers of roasting, rendering meat and a sauce made from dusty cocoa, espresso and beef blood. Such a massive wine, wanting to search for elegance. Needs more punching down and time. “As soon as you smell the carbonic,” notes Martini, “you punch it down.” Or lay it down. For 10 years. Tasted September 2014

Good to go!

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Mr. Pearson’s Opus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant Photo: Eric Vellend

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant
Photo: Eric Vellend

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

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

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

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

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

Opus One Bottle

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

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

Good to go!

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