Twelve stars align

Star shrouded downtown Toronto

Star shrouded downtown Toronto

Only on the rarest of occasions do I consider the Zodiac. Same goes for the constellations though if you slump my tired body into the comfort fitting contours of a Thermarest on a Killarney campsite I’ll happily, dreamily stare up into a near-northern sky. Or on a dock in cottage country if the Aurora Borealis happens to make a magical appearance.

In September I spent some time scanning a South African, southern hemisphere sky with Ken Forrester. Ever the romantic, Ken offered up a short dissertation on one of the special treats afforded a stay in Stellenbosch. I have seen the Southern Cross several times before and yet standing there at 10:30 pm with the South African vigneron-poet, taking in the twinkling balls of time travel, something struck me anew.

I like to line things up. Wine tasting notes with music; a lyric or an artist. You may have noticed. I also find ways to forge bonds, synaesthetic perceptions and Chaldean correlations, regardless of whether they are there for the connecting. Sometimes you just need to fulfill the urge to divide the ecliptic into 12 equal, 30 degree pieces of a pie. Perhaps it’s just the M.O.T. in me.

This coming weekend VINTAGES rolls out the first major release in preparation for the looming holiday addiction. The headlines of “stars of the season,” and “star-studded” can mean only one thing. Expensive and iconic wines will dominate LCBO shelves from now through Christmas. And most of these high ticket items will sell through. Why is that you ask? Mainly because many of them are really good wines. Mostly because desperate people will buy anything when faced with holiday gift-giving deadlines.

My job is to separate the exciting from the boring, the exceptional from the drab. I’ve chosen 12 bottles, each with their own horoscopic identity, wines that illustrate their own idiosyncratic hook-up with a sign of the zodiac. It’s a stretch to be sure but it’s my stretch, so deal with it. If you connect and agree with just one, it may change your perception too.

From left to right: J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011 and Stratus White 2012

From left to right: J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011 and Stratus White 2012

Capricorn (The Goat)

Sure-footed, hard worker, self-disciplined, over-achiever

J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (430520, $19.95, WineAlign)

Kientzheim Riesling, full, fleshy, opulent but not tropical in style, aromatically fleshy and full of orange rind, lemon zest and tonic. Has that necessary mineral bleed and rock tang. Schlossberg like but not as tannic and certainly ready for prime time at a much younger age. Hints at sweetness but acidity by way of early picked fruit is key. Granite feel. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @VinsAlsace  @Alsace_info  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

Virgo (The Virgin)

Gentle, creative, generous and sympathetic

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

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

Cancer (The Crab)

Sideways, subtle, sensitive and protective

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, Méthode Traditionnelle, Do, Spain (558825, $29.95, WineAlign)

An intricate and elaborate Reserva elevation of Cava, even a bit skunky in the most endearing of ways, like a 55 day dry-aged steak cooked rare. A waft of yet blown sulphur is managed and tempered by smartly sweet yeast. At once clunky and disjointed, then heavy in citrus and the shells of molluscs. Citrus climbs all over the finish, from lime to lemon and into pomello. Complex Cava with the taste of acquired affection in requiem of a very open mind. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @hseguraviudas  @imbibersreport  @cavaswine

Aquarius (The Water Carrier)

Friendly, generous, thoughtful and humanitarian

La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (265090, $32.95, WineAlign)

In a word, yes. Beautiful girl this Montmains, layered of delicate aromas, from flowers through kimmeridgian soil and into fresh forest glade. A child of the cooler, Butteaux sub-climat in which the citrus melds into the soft wooden (228L barriques) notes and all is elevated by such pinpoint-posted acidity. The oak lends cream, the lees fine spun silky texture and the talc a grape tannic ingrained sense of fullness. Terrific wine. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted October 2015  @VinexxCanada  @chablisienne  @BourgogneWines  @BIVBChablis

Aries (The Ram)

Energy, life, vitality and courage

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @LeSommelierWine

Taurus (The Bull)

Plodding, peaceful and deliberate

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In magnified aromatic persistence, on and over top of even two months earlier, in such a hyper-grapey way with terrific dry extract chained to tannin and humid minerality. The many months of leave in gentle oak is stating its technically procured, quote unquote de-classified case.

From my earlier note of April 2015:

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025

Last tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

From left to right: Stratus Red 2012, Bachelder wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, Ca'marcanda Promis 2013, Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 and J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

From left to right: Stratus Red 2012, Bachelder wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, Ca’marcanda Promis 2013, Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 and J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Libra (The Scales)

Indecisive, solicitous, harmonious and balanced

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015

Gemeni (The Twins)

Curious, generous and communicative

Bachelder Wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Drink 2015-2021.

From my earlier note of May 2014:

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.

Last tasted December 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Leo (The Lion)

Leader, lover, dignified, relaxed and proud

Ca’marcanda Promis 2013, Igt Toscana, Italy (745638, $55.95, WineAlign)

In the only vintage for which such a trial was performed (2003), the chance was had to taste this 2013 under cork side by side with that vintage under screw cap. The difference was vividly palpable, for good or bad, better or worse. Under cork the young wine is like a perfectly shone lump of cool, refulgent coal with so much spice and accent in permeate of an aromatic fruitcake wheel. Under Stelvin the 12 year-old Promis’s freshness is amplified, of early immortality, with the ripest of tannins. The acidity is markedly formidable and yet both wines display a cured nature in undercurrent. Two 10 years separated Promis of spine, spirit and grounded in earth. Leave this 2013 be for two more years, screw cap or not. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted October 2015  @StemWineGroup

Sagittarius (The Centaur)

Adventurous traveller, mythological and experiential

Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

Peter Gamble describes the ’11 Reserva as “integrated right out of the gate” and blessed with “a little more fruit component.” That is can show such freshness this early in its life span (especially in consideration of the beasts that are 2009 and 2010) is nothing short of a Malbec miracle. This is a wine that saw spontaneous fermentation, which made for very nervous times in the winemaking hands of Roberto de la Mota. Stems were used and their participation lends a Mediterranean feel, in the aromatic impart of sea salinity and kelp. The oak is scaled back a touch so the chalk push, while present, integrates in finer grain within the gritty, iron structure. This is the softest (hyper-relatively speaking) Reserva to date with a newly defined massive attack. The temperature fluctuations of the vineyard are integral in its structure and the question needs to be asked, “how can you have a day without a night?” In the Versado Reserva 2011 you have both. It is a Malbec of unfinished sympathy. Drink this sooner, starting in 2017 and for longer, to 2030.  Tasted September 2014 and October 2015  @VersadoWine  @winesofarg

Pisces (The Fishes)

Graceful, passionate, religious, daydreamer

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $64.95, WineAlign)

If 2013 is turning out to be the first truly great Chardonnay vintage of the century out of Sonoma, the Flowers SC is categorically up front and centre in that discussion. The epic’s lead paragraph initializes here in a wine that is severely accurate, a blinding and gorgeous expression that brings the flowers in its game. A wield of pulchritude and balance by acidity spot on. Pure flavour extract expands and the components zing on the finish. Could there lurk a Meursault notion in its lace? You know what, forget that. Strike comparisons from the record. The Flowers is extraordinary of Chardonnay, by Chardonnay and for Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Scorpio (The Scorpion)

Secretive, perceptive, intense, insightful, with a strength of will

J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon  (432823, $64.95, WineAlign)

Lithe and extremely pretty Pinot Noir, reeking of that ancient underground, saline Willamette stream and above ground, Dundee Hills fresh summer berries. Has the best tense intentions, readily available sultry, soluble tannins and just pitch perfect, happy helping acidity. This has the svelte cure and the natural tug of positivity. Sanguine, hematic, volcanic. Great stuff. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted October 2015  @BellaVidaWine  @Oregon_Wine  @Select_Wines

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Wine around the boot in 40 days

Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included.
PHOTO: KLAUS EPPELE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

It began in the middle of October, on a Tuesday, on the ides I believe. Two weeks earlier I had penned this column: Fall is the time for Tuscan wine.

I was wrong. Fall is the time for all things Italian, wine included. At no time of year is there more of a conscious, active pursuit of Italian produce and gastronomy; salumi, chestnut, porcini, truffle and especially wine.

For the better part of a month and a half I have been tasting Italian wine, from just about everywhere it is made around the boot. Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emiglia Romagna, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Molise, Piemonte, Sardegna, Sicilia, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria and Veneto. Three essential events brought Italy to Canada, two being of the intimate and tutored kind. The third, a massive annual affair (though no VinItaly) tied the Italian federation of wine-producing regions together under one gorgeously acoustic roof.

Lunch with Fiorenzo Dogliani of Beni di Batasiolo and Charton Hobbs, October 25, 2013

George Restaurant, 111 Queen St E, Toronto, (416) 863-6006 @georgeonqueen

The Dogliani family produce a wine range of wines in Piemonte and although love has not been lost for the “beni,” properties encasing the symbiotic relationship between farmhouses and vineyards, or tradition as a guiding force, Batasiolo is not out-of-place in the fast, forward thinking aesthetic of modern Italian winemaking. “Past and future co-exist” and wine speaks of the estate’s “Great Vineyards,” Briccolina, Boscareto, Cerequio and Bofani. Vineyards that persist in producing outstanding produce.

Tutored tasting with Gaia Gaja of Gaja Wines and Stem Wine Group, October 31, 2013

Bosk – Shangri-La Hotel, 188 University Avenue, Toronto, (646) 788-8888  @BoskTO @wineguy2005

Gaja owns 250 acres of vineyards in Barbaresco and Barolo. In 1994 they acquired Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino, Tuscany and in 1996 they added Ca’Marcanda in Bolgheri, Tuscany on the coast. The significance of this acquisition lies in the Bordeaux varieties grown there; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and especially Cabernet Franc. There will come a day, not so far away, when that Cabernet Franc will make some truly exceptional wine.

The Gaja brand, while nearly 155 years young, has recently climbed into a league of its own. To consider the wines, the estates and the aura that surrounds, you might think there was a marketing team of hundreds blanketing the earth.  On the contrary. There is Gaia Gaja.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Gaia Gaja and Sperss Langhe 1999

Gaia Gaja brought her family’s wines to Toronto. She spoke for more than an hour. Non-stop. “I am a woman and I am Italian,” she confessed. No one complained. All were captivated by the presentation and the presenter.

It is quite something to have the opportunity to taste wines like the 2008 Rennina Brunello di Montalcino, 2009 Barbaresco, 2008 Conteisa Barolo and the ethereal 1999 Sperss Langhe. Angelo Gaja is the rogue master of Piemonte, the first to think outside the box and break down ancient restrictions and boundaries. Who would argue that success is owed, more than in part, to his determination to rid the region of pride and stubbornness.

The dichotomy in images and in wine is not something easily understood unless you have listened to someone like Gaia Gaja tell the story. Here, a small village in Piemonte, the photograph showing a rag-tag assembly of small homes packed tightly together. The story told that beneath every house there is a winery and the greatest Nebbiolo on the planet there being produced. The farmers growing grapes on slopes so famous, not because the terroir may be noted as terre bianche or terre brune, but because the wines, like Sori Tildin or Sori San Lorenzo transform the produce into magic and command never imagined prices.

Gaja, the brand, is as famous as any from Italy, but Gaia takes nothing for granted. She is the perfect spokesperson for her family’s business. She is outwardly nostalgic, plotting a course from the very origins of the family’s connection to the land. Her attention to the simple is what Edward Steinberg noted in his Gaja memoir, The Vines of San Lorenzo. “The growing of grapes on one plot of land and their subsequent transformation is the story of Everywine.”

On November 4, 2013 I attended the annual Taste Italy, a tasting of wines from Italy at Roy Thomson Hall. I was particularly impressed with the terrific value to be found in the wines of Ca’ Dei Mandorle and the excellence from Pietro Rinaldi. Rinaldi’s BARBERA SUPERIORE (90) elevates the genre while the BARBARESCO 2010 (93) exudes a sweet, floral perfume. Castellare di Castellina remains one of my favourite Tuscan houses. The CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011 (90) comes from a vintage of agglomeration; the brood and weight of ’06 combined with the beauty and hedonism of ’07. The ’11 CC is fresh, elegant and full of rich fruit.

Here are eight full tasting notes on a wide range of Italian wines, from the hills of Piemonte in the northwest to the tiny island of Sardegna in the south.

JERZU CHUÈRRA RISERVA CANNONAU DI SARDEGNA 2008, Sardinia, Italy (270272, $16.95)

Ancient carsic cave dweller, inhabitant of underground hollows, Brett monster, heartbreaker saying “don’t you mess around with me.” A salt lick studded with crushed aniseed on a bed of Mediterranean flowering maquis and garrigue. Coal-fired, stonking stuff full of tannic tension.  A bit offal-ish and not for the faint of stomach or heart. For others a dream maker.  89  Tasted October 2013  @FrontierWine

DI MAJO NORANTE CONTADO RISERVA AGLIANICO DEL MOLISE 2010, Molise, Italy (967208, $17.95, SAQ 11294817, $17.35)

Has travelled a well-worn path up on cripple creek. The band played a veritable fruit and vegetable smoothie, pulsed from prune, oxidative purple plum, chewy raisin, tomato leaf and pulp in concentrate. Really excellent tension and a tar/coal/charcoal tendency came late. “When that nag to win came around the track” sure enough this Aglianico had won. If it weren’t for so much tomato on the nose this would have been a very fine wine.  88  Tasted October 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Banfi Cuvée Aurora Rosé 2009

BANFI CUVÉE AURORA ROSÉ 2009, Alta Langa, Metodo Classico (355693, $24.95)

The fifth and surely seminal year in production of this French oak barrique aged, 100 per cent Pinot Noir fizz, composed from 90 per cent ”clear wine” and 10 per cent juice of the previous vintage. Follows classic, traditional skin contact cold maceration methodology and seems to emulate the style of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Dry and savoury, distinctly rhubarb-scented, showing amazing freshness and wild borealis waves. A conglomerate Tuscan outfit paying attention to the small details in Piedmont.  90  Tasted November 2013  @CastelloBanfi

CA’MARCANDA PROMIS 2010, IGT Tuscany, Italy (745638, $47.95, NLL 7997, 2005, $46.11)

A syrupy rich and aromatically confected Tuscan coastal blend of 55 per cent Merlot, 35 per cent Syrah and 10 per cent Sangiovese. Anchored by a mineral stranglehold and intense aniseed studded grit. Dried rose, black tea and a trattoria’s wooden walls put you sitting in the taverna, waiting for the boar ragu to arrive. Will see to a serious future if the blackberry and Cassis fruit can hold up. The Promis is in ode to the past made in a clean and concise manner. Negotiates a partnership between the ancient Piemontese world of Angelo Gaja and a new generation of Tuscany style.  91  Tasted on October 25th and November 19th, 2013  @StemWineGroup

GAJA DAGROMIS BAROLO 2008, Piedmont, Italy (Stem Wine Group, $74.99, B.C. 161141, $69.99, NLL 7999, 2003, $84.99)

A Nebbiolo produced from two old vineyards owned by the Gromis family, acquired by Gaja in 1995, one in Serralunga adjacent to the iconic Sperss and the other in La Morra adjacent to Conteisa. Clay and marl Tortonian-era soils are its fodder and this Barolo comes across like iron-rich earth, boled through stucco and warmed to a rosy madder. Cultures 14.5 per cent abv with the most unimaginable, delicate nature. Mirror of her maker.  94  Tasted October 2013

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Batasiolo Line-Up at George Restaurant

BATASIOLO LANGHE ROSSO 2011, Piedmont, Italy (981019, $16.95)

Several local varieties (Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto) are sourced here from the hills of Langhe. Forward fruity, vinous and in turn, resinous, built solid and structured with juicy acidity. Plays all the right components to offer value. This Rosso is well-thought out, not heavy-handed nor overly composed. Excellent value.  89  Tasted October 2013

BATASIOLO BAROLO 2009, Piedmont, Italy (178542, $29.00, SAQ 10856777, $29.40)

Spent a year in bottle following its 100 per cent new oak, two-year, early settling. Produced from a combination of nine disparate vineyards, ranging from valley low to hilltop high, it is ultimately a very fine value in approachable, qualified and legitimate Barolo as you are likely to come across. A farmer’s finesse loads up red berry fruit and ripe plum, bursting fresh and massaged by a healthy level of grainy tannin. A general list Barolo that acts quite serious, if perhaps out of a vintage leaning towards the austere.  89  Tasted October 2013

BATASIOLO VIGNETO CORDA DELLA BRICCOLINA BAROLO 2007, Piedmont, Italy (992271, $75.00, SAQ 10814631, 1.5L $108.25)

From a chord running through a vineyard across a ridge at the top of a hill. Full sun exposure boldly transmutes to modernity out of the highest extraction. An underlying funk pays homage to the single vineyard designation’s storied past and this Nebbiolo is to Batasiolo as Madonna del Piano is to Valdicava. Hard as nails, rapt mineral composure, linear and precise like the vineyard it comes from. So far from opening the door to conjugal visits. There will be chestnut Zabaglione when the times comes 10 years forward. At $75 this is Cru Piemontese for a song. 93  Tasted October 2013

Good to go!