Tasting Ontario Part One: Riesling

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Riesling is again on the rise and the reasons why are as varied as the artistry it’s equipped to display. It has been 40 years since the Pennachetti family of Cave Spring Vineyard and German vintner Herman Weis planted riesling in St. Urban Vineyard on what is now Vineland Estates. My how things have changed. The trending line ascends as the general public comes around and warms to the versatile grape so popularity is not just in the hands of geeks, oenophiles and connoisseurs. Ask your favourite sommelier, product consultant or wine writer. Riesling’s neighbourhood is beginning to gentrify in a big way but it’s also expanding experimental and ancestral horizons. It will always be just riesling but today’s varietal vernacular goes beyond dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, Süssreserve, late harvest and Icewine to now include skin-contact, barrel fermented, unfiltered, wild ferment, Blackball and The Geek.

A few weeks back I attended my 7th Cuvée in Niagara Falls to celebrate the next chapter with and for our wine industry, fresh on the heels of the 2018 Tasted Untamed edition of Taste Ontario in Toronto. Just a month before I rambled through the Niagara Icewine Festival in Jordan and the Icewine Gala in Niagara Falls. It was at the Icewine Gala where we watched and listened in on a great tribute to Ontario’s iconic pioneer, Karl Kaiser. We owe so much to Mr. Kaiser with respect to everything Icewine but also to how far we have come in terms of riesling.

A lovely tribute to #karlkaiser tonight at #icewinefestival gala

Just two weeks ago in Toronto we tasted the current offering of Prince Edward County wines at Taste of the County. Today we will immerse ourselves into the culture of global food and local wine at the Terroir Symposium and on Tuesday the Wine Council of Ontario will hold its first annual Ontario Craft Wine Conference. It has been a very saturated and intensive start to 2018, something that must be attributed to the maturity, confidence, preparedness and excitement of and towards Ontario wine.

My personal opportunities to taste wines from the Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore and Ontario’s South Coast have been many. Before too long there will be greater access to the wines of emerging regions like the Oak Ridges Moraine, Georgian Bay the Northumberland Hills. Prior to 2017 I used this wine processing platform of godello.ca as a vehicle to review and discuss Ontario wines with much greater frequency but circumstances have changed. My work with Italian and French wine regions, most notably Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Bourgogne have occupied a great deal of my time. So has tasting and reviewing many potential submissions for the WineAlign exchange and acting as a consistent contributor to the WineAlign Buyers’ Guides to the VINTAGES releases.  I 2017 I ceased publishing my bi-weekly tasting notes because it’s important that readers check them out on WineAlign. All this as added up to less constant coverage of Ontario wines on the site.

And a few of my favourite wine writers. Thx for coming to #cuvee2018 #vqawinesofontario

That is why I’ve decided to post a series of articles over the next few weeks solely dedicated to Ontario wine and I’m going to split them up by grape varieties, beginning today with Ontario’s great white hope, riesling. I’ve written about the grape many times before and my belief in its varietal power, finesse and omniscient existentialism for a signature and singular Ontario purpose is perpetual and unwavering. This work is possible because of the organizations and the people behind them who make it all possible. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, The Wine Council of Ontario and VQA Ontario are a triple-edged force that keep our wines flowing. Thank you to Richard Linley, President of WCO, Magdalena Kaiser, Head of Marketing and Public Relations for WMAO, Brian Schmidt and Laurie Macdonald, President and Executive Director respectively of VQA. The Icewine Festival Gala and Cuvée are not possible without the work of Fallsview Casino, Scotiabank Convention Centre and of course Brock University. Gala and Experts’ Tasting coordination is possible because of The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Barb Tatarnic, Manager, Wine and Sprit Education Trust and Kaitlyn Little, Marketing and Communications Officer.

Inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner and riesling maker extraordinaire, Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Cellars, with Donald Ziraldo

At Cuvée, the inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner was Angelo Pavanchosen in a unanimous decision for his major contributions to the industry, his commitment to excellence and his mentorship to winemakers across Canada. Pavan, Vice-President, Winemaker and Founding Partner at Cave Spring Cellars, is known for his encyclopedic understanding of viticulture in Niagara. He was among the first in the province to work with numerous grape varieties and was a pioneer in the quest to improve wine quality and sustainability in vinifera varieties.

“It is humbling to be the first recipient of this great award,” said Pavan. “It validates the passion, time, effort and commitment of over 30 years dedicated to this great wine growing region and having participated in its evolution to international recognition.”

Pavan is also a founding member and Chair of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Standards Development Committee and has played a key role in determining the most suitable winemaking practices applicable in Ontario. As the founding Chair of the International Riesling Experience, held in conjunction with CCOVI, Pavan has also been instrumental in solidifying Niagara’s place as one of the world’s pre-eminent Riesling producing regions.

Related – Three Rieslings to believe

One of my first bold statements about Ontario riesling was this. “There are many reasons to believe in riesling, that versatile and brutally honest grape. Riesling holds no punches, speaks its mind, tells it like it is. Grown worldwide and vinified in so many varying styles, riesling is not so much a chameleon but rather a mutant. It takes root in every vineyard, marking its terroir, expressing itself singularly and without apology. Over the past two-four months I have exonerated and upheld with the highest riesling belief that (Ontario) does the variety justice above and beyond the pale, in the vineyard and in the glass. More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on (local) riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.”

Related – 100 kilometre wine for spring

And this. “Riesling. Can there be a more versatile white grape? From natural, mineral spring, bone-dry to concentrated, candied sweet, this grape runs the diversity gamut like no other. ‘The Bench’ is home to a mineral wealth of local riesling, singular in composition not only by way of a global comparison, but also from plot to plot, soil to soil and vineyard to vineyard.”

Riesling Vine

Related – Are you wine experienced?

We held a symposium at Brock University a few years back and the technical, chemical side was addressed by Cornell University Sensory Researcher Terry Acree. For riesling, Acree focuses on chemicals that correspond to the strongest identified smells, the most important and prevalent of which is TDN (Trimethyldihydronaphthalene). TDN the chemical or diesel/petrol the sensation as an “odour strength (Damascenone) as related to by human subjects.” In order for the wine taster to “experience” these sensations, two things have to be there. “Memories of different kinds of features and features themselves.” That said, Acree believes you can only smell three things at once, a notion he borrows from M.F.K. Fisher.

Acree sees odour as “an evolutionary human response to history.” If you have never come into contact with a banana, you will never smell banana in Chardonnay. TDN is the dominant aroma and where riesling grows, more sunlight means more fruit and more TDN. TDN is a precursor but its prevalence does not necessarily increase as a wine ages. A very common theme when nosing an aged Riesling is to comment on the secondary aromatic emergence of a gas or petrol note. Acree believes that identifying increased petrol notes in aged Riesling is a bit of a misnomer. It had to already be there. “I’m just inventing a new, confusing way to discuss minerality,” he concludes.

At that time Toronto wine writer Mike Di Caro and I talked about Ontario riesling and we agreed that sugar levels are both arbitrary and unpredictable so Niagara’s best is and should be of the dry variety. I don’t think that way anymore. My friend and colleague Bill Zacharkiw of the Montreal Gazette wrote this last year.”Rieslings, especially from cool climates like the Mosel in Germany and Niagara tend to have residual sugar. Don’t be scared. You know what? I love them. The sugar makes the aromatics go “boom,” while the acidity keeps the wine tasting dry.” Bill is correct and it is also those sugars that allow the wine to stay alive, age and develop those aforementioned petrol notes.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Here is how VQA chooses to define typical Ontario riesling. “Classically exhibits refreshing citrus, peach or floral aromas with a light “petrol” element and racy acidity on the palate. Made in a range of dry, off-dry and sweet styles, including Icewine. Typically not oaked but good examples will age well with the petrol nose evolving.” Many would agree but there is so much more to think about. You don’t know anything about riesling and aging until you begin tasting them at five years only know then can you begin to understand. Some examples will stay the course of pure lemon, so taut and tight, perhaps shouldn’t even be released until they are ready. The acidity might be the most unwound, with pent-up aggression, a fighter in search of balance. Not typical perhaps but very much a part of the Ontario mix.

The curious thing about Ontario riesling is how it has pushed me to wax with unlimited hyperbole, as in “to purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling” and “one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes.” For Treve Ring’s take on the great grape, head over to WineAlign for what she had to say after the 2017 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals). Treve writes,  “as our palates progress, we often shy away from these simpler, fruity styles for more structured, savoury and minerally wines, which again, brings us full circle (close the ring) back to serious and ageworthy riesling.”

Related – Moved by Riesling

I have been moved by riesling many times. In Alsace it happens every day and it has happened in Ontario, most notably after having comes across (any one of four or five) Charles Baker Picones and Emma Garner Thirty Bench Small Lots. Or in particular, Jay Johnston’s Nadja’s from Flat Rock and most notably Brian Schmidt’s Vineland Estates St. Urban. With Cave Spring it happened after tastes of Cave Spring CSV. It has happened again and again. It will continue this way.

As I mentioned, this is merely the first part in a long series of articles to come, including exposées on sparkling wines, chardonnay, other white varieties and appellative blends, gamay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, plus other reds and red blends. To begin this Ontario varietal march through spring here are 26 recently tasted riesling, plus a handful visited in 2017 yet to make it to godello print, all to give a glimpse into the portal of how far Ontario has come and to where it may be heading.

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery – March 7, 2015

Redstone Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $14.95, WineAlign)

So much lime, in flesh and zest, all over the lime map. Really juicy riesling for the cost of a song. Cool climate stamp right here; glade, citrus, wax and air up above. The palate follows, albeit thin and tinny. Ideal for current consumption though not likely made with the stuffing to evolve. Regardless it’s good value. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted blind at NWAC July 2017 and October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Featherstone Riesling Black Sheep 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Black Sheep strikes again, same price, same typicity and balance. This is the riesling we’ve come to expect and relish, with elevated sugar and acidity levels walking hand in hand. Plenty of lime spirit is more Bench styled than ubiquitous Niagara Peninsula so you can guess what fruit lurks to lead such a suspicion. Always high quality and quick to market, sip, rinse and repeat. You’ll see this wine in release cycles four or five times over, available at all times. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (43281, $17.95, WineAlign)

There are two types of traditional riesling made up on the Escarpment’s benches, both equally accessible and correct but so very different. There is the other way; dry, stoic and intense. And there is the Flat Rock way, slightly further adrift off-dry, weightier and to be honest, less serious and happier. Not that one style is more important than the other but if I’m a consumer expecting sweet riesling but hoping to learn how the other half lives and breathes it would be this Flat Rock that would help educate and ultimately help me grow into the new riesling lover I’d want to be. The sugar (while nothing extraordinary here) is balanced by equal acidity and athletic chic. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

2027 Cellars Riesling Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (225490, $18.75, WineAlign)

The wind is so tight and the expressive fruit bound up in a ball of fire and acidity but aching to break free. The pent up energy here is palpably felt, like a needle in the side, leaving you seized up, protective and tense. There is so much juicy citrus and fineness of acidity it’s hard not to see this riesling taking five years to unwind and five more towards developing characterful secondary personality. This is perhaps Kevin Panagapka’s best. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted July 2017 and March 2018  2027cellars  @2027cellars  2027 Cellars

Konzelmann Estate Winery Riesling Reserve Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The by now classic house style of using late harvest fruit off of old vines on the estate’s lakefront property and barrel fermentation are the things that delve into the Konzelmann glück, density and complexity. Preserved lemon, grapefruit sorbet and mineral-mandarin cream define this riesling of zero trepidation, utmost confidence and old world charm. Who’s to say you aren’t sipping this in some Rhineland-Palatinate village instead of Niagara on the Lake. There will always be a place in hearts for riesling made this way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2018  konzelmannwines  @Konzelmann  @konzelmannwines

Megalomaniac Riesling Narcissist 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (67587, $18.95, WineAlign)

Narcissist takes a turn to the flint with great citrus intent in 2017, simulating great German riesling that have been coming for generations and eons before. There is a youthful funky reductive yeastiness that tests the aromatics but in looking for balance we find tart fruit, fine acidity and a leanness that strikes like a laser through the microbial fog. Wow is this interesting and in a show of great potential. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2018  megalomaniacjhc  sobmegalo  @MegalomaniacJHC  @seb_jacquey  Megalomaniac Wine

Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (251439, $19.95, WineAlign)

Though neither single-vineyard nor block specific make no mistake. This estate riesling from Fielding is a carefully selected and curated one with not a single wasted note in the varietal tune it plays. The chords are pure citrus, the arpeggio rising from stone fruit skin meets flesh and the overall score ambient in its keyboard hold. It’s so bloody juicy, mouth watering and intense, riesling in which there’s a torrent that rises gently. There’s a wind, like a drug, in new material from a great year to make a new record. Worth listening to and drinking in, on repeat, with a deeper understanding. Should develop a layered feel, of honey and petrol, with time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery  

Vineland Estates Riesling Elevation St. Urban Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

By now the St. Urban Vineyards vines are as old as 37 years, a fact in longevity and experience never lost on this archetypal Niagara Escarpment riesling. There is a certain kind of interest here, first from track record and then because of the deferential vintage for the flagship variety. The nose is quite waxy, lemon-scented and vaguely sweet-fruity. There is even a bit of Niagara Gold cheese mixed with fresh florals, of white roses and then persimmon. So now the mind travels to the tropics, for flavours imagined of mango, marquesa and mangosteen. Warm days and nights will do that to riesling and while this may not live into its twenties it will go complex and curiously fascinating into the petrol and honey with more early unction, like 2012 but even more, akin to 2010. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted December 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  Vineland Estates Winery  Brian Schmidt

Hidden Bench Riesling Bistro 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

If Ontario riesling can be referred to as classic it would be something as traditional and acumen-factored as this ’16 by Hidden Bench. This is due to the middle road meets the fine, direct and essential line taken, where along the way balance is struck with notable fruit, just shy of off-dry styling and a fashion of natural acidity. Correct is, as correct does. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  hiddenbench  @HiddenBench  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  

Creekside Estates Riesling Marianne Hill 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The next Marianne is a conundrum, low in alcohol and yet quite lean, avoiding both high strains of citrus and flesh. The nose is both inviting and very mineral but the palate is a bit staid, understated and seemingly dry. The skins of pears and peaches are touched but it’s just a bit too quiet right now. We’ll see what the future holds. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  creeksidewine  @CreeksideWine  Creekside Estate Winery

Southbrook Vineyards Riesling Triomphe 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

With all of her other varietal talents I wouldn’t normally pontificate winemaker Ann Sperling as exemplifying the riesling whisperer (at least in Niagara) though a pass at this warm and inviting 2016 may change that and with haste. At the risk of sounding a bit too establishment this is classic and typical Niagara but it accedes into such a category with impeccable sugar, acid and texture balance. Treating the fruit with respect, avoiding any unhinged decisions and delivering the three-pronged effects of sweet, tart and bitter with seamless intertwine is the work of a total pro. Gotta have the lime and the essential possibility of honey. Triomphe 2016 does just that. It’s what you want and need. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted January and March 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Mulled riesling anyone? Hidden Bench at Icewine Fest

Hidden Bench Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Just a lovely bit of spring sun and dew picks up the stimulus, pace and attitude right from go in the Hidden Bench ’16. This is not only definitive for riesling by house, for estate and to regional necessity but also to all varietal wines done up right in this pinpointed place. The orbiting acidity is twisted like ties around wires along a circle drawn to lock in freshness, by fruit more lemon and lime citrus than stone or up the stairs. It’s a near perfect vintage for the omniscient one and sets the table for Roman and Felseck Vineyard rieslings to come. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Felseck delivers a concentrated, compact and direct riesling, very focused along linear Locust Lane lines, truly Beamsville stony, precise and even a bit demanding. Few Ontario rieslings can distill lemon, lime, green apple and stone like this without jumping around. That Felseck can stand firm in one place with such stoic and unwavering calm is a testament to a winemaker’s attention to detail. It begins in the storied vineyard and finishes with the same fineness of finesse. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted October 2017  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Perfect match to riesling? Some might say

Cave Spring Riesling Adam’s Steps 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (901211, $24.95, WineAlign)

Adam’s Steps is Cave Spring’s riesling with a bit more of everything, more depth, body, sweetness and texture. It really is the outlier in their varietal bunching, closer to the Estate than the CSV in style and yet firmly positioned in its own category. There is a true sense of spirit and energy, especially on the lively palate, with a waxy, almost peach coulis and lemon-lime pastille note that lingers like sucking on a riesling candy. Clearly dolomite in origin but fleshy and full. Holds the age ability card for a five-plus year run. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Lundy Manor Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The fruit source is Wismer Vineyard for winemaker and Niagara College graduate Adam Kern’s ’16 riesling. Kern also makes the wines with Chris Fornasier and Bench Trial Wines. His straightforward varietal wine for Lundy’s Manor speaks of peach and tart citrus with a surprisingly tannic thrush. The equanimity between fruit and acidity keeps it in the airy space above the pull by extracted weight and will serve it well for two or three years time. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted March 2018  lundymanorwinecellars  @LundyManorWine  @lundymanorwinecellars

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Stanners Riesling evolution is upon us, happening and ready to blow. In replay of 2014 this is Niagara meets PEC fruit, two days of skin contact, six months on the lees, dry is as dry does and yeasty funky. In my mind it’s pretty much a repeat of that just about leesy enough and pear textured 2014 without anything new added or realized. But, for Colin Stanners it must be the vintage that wakes him up to what he needs to do next so this ’15 is therefore the first next step towards and set up man for what’s to come in 2016. This is a must step to taste on that ladder of evolutionary understanding so make sure to take it. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Keint-He Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It’s quite amazing how the texture, sugars and acidities all rise up as one, together for the common good, layered and in-synch. Labeled Niagara Peninsula but really noses and tastes like Twenty Mile Bench riesling. Lime sherbet and mandarin orange gelée. Nothing but pleasure from winemaker Lee Baker’s first start to finish wine at Keint-He. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  keinthewinery  @KeintheWinery  Keint-he Winery & Vineyards

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education. Delete Comment

Trail Estate Wild Ferment Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the WFR is a blend of Foxcroft and BTL fruit, respectfully and respectively farmed by Craig Wismer and Greg Wertsch. This is tannic and textural, the sweetest of all the Trail rieslings, through some skin (or stem) whole cluster contact. The notes are not mind-blowing or expanding ones, of apple, pear and peach skin, again very textural and from a ferment stopped on taste. It’s loaded with 28 g/L of RS but good winemaking makes it seem drier than it is. “Everything else is dry so I guess when I go sweet, I go big” admits Mack Brisbois. So yes this is light, lean, not as fleshy and seemingly drier than it obviously is. Carries forward with a nice candied flower, citrus finish. It’s pretty middle of the road, perfectly correct and enjoyable, especially for a winemaker with an off the beaten track sensibility, antithetical modus vivendi and go beyond the pale ability. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

I find it curious that this Stanners Riesling is 95 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore fruit but now labeled as VQA Ontario, whereas previous vintages called VQA LL had less Niagara and more PEC fruit. No matter really because again this is Niagara meeting PEC with two days of skin contact, but elevated by 12 months on the lees. That time spent can’t be discounted, nor can the dry as a bone, mad as a hatter summer, not tom mention another year of understanding for Colin Stanners. In the end the acidity out of a chart topping pH and fruit accumulation (not in quantity but in phenolic brilliance) leads this riesling to great heights. Malolactic fermentation was allowed to occur naturally, helping to bring the acidity (and everything else) into balance. Lime, toast, flint and energy, boundless and invigorating. What a riesling, what a story. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Cave Spring Riesling CSV 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The CSV from a warm 2016 really expresses the vintage on the nose with a heavy dose of wet stone and every part of a ripe peach. You have to get past the early sulphur but once you do you take a good bite into the flesh of this riesling and the juices will run with accents and angles fit by tonic, pith, tangy, nervy acidity and a hidden sweetness. The sugars are surely more elevated than realized or will ever be felt because the combination of acidity and pith are covers that will never peel back. Size matters and this CSV is built with great Escarpment architecture, stepping out of the paradigmatic 2015 shadow and into another age. This 2016 begins an epoch of structural expressionism and should easily carry its construct through to the next decade. That consequently, is when this CSV will really be ready to rock and roll for a full decade more. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2016, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Times changes, as do winemakers, their hunches, hopes and dreams. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a sidestepping approach to this trailblazing riesling from the vineyard tended by Ed Hughes. It’s now all wild ferment elongated to 19 days on skins. Takes its time this little big one, moving no less than 25 per cent slower than ’15, in part because of the vintage but also because its wild pressed. More a dry matter of when over how or why, still in its aromatic infancy, suffocated by its nature. Also a case of a young wine caught in the 9 g/L total acidity crossfire of a sci-fi battle scene. Will most certainly take another 18 months to change. It does exhale this curious note of garrigue, like Peloponnese mountain tea and Alto Adige sweet fennel frond in broth, with apple and onion skin doused by shots of lime juice. There is even a chewy feel in the leafy texture, quite herbal with a mild pique in a green tea finish. Trust me, this will become something both fascinating and delicious at some point in 2020. There are approximately 76 cases made. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Leaning Post Riesling The Geek 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

The second instalment of the Geek takes Ontario riesling experimentation not just to another level but to a specific methodology that no one else has really attempted thus far. The geeking out goes further and edgier into territory both new and misunderstood. If it seems unconvincing it’s a case of both searcher and searched not yet on the same page but that’s what research and development are all about. All the 2015 lees from Leaning Post’s classic riesling and chardonnay were added to the Geek. As if that wasn’t enough solid, texture-variegating matter, the 2014 riesling lees were also employed. Two years later the Solera ideal was put to bottle. The complex equation comes out to the most autolytic riesling ever made in Ontario, distinctive in that it’s like drinking traditional-method sparkling wine, 36 months on the lees but without any fizz. It’s unusual and fascinating, full of baking apples, biscuits and citrus. It does not meet the expected and the normal, not just because it’s dry as the desert but because it’s enzymatic behaviour is self-cannabalistic. It writes a riesling idiom, having a meaning not deducible from the individual parts. It’s a neo-impressionist idiosyncrasy, a reaction to the empirical realism of “typical,” VQA-cornered and pigeon-holed riesling, accomplished by relying on scientific theory to achieve predetermined textural effects. While The Geek undergoes an oxidative process it’s not exactly Solera-styled because young wine does not replace a percentage of removed older wine. It’s a positive accumulation of solids and therefore a strict and formalized composition. The argot R & D will go on and winemaker Ilya Senchuk asks, “how much lees is too much lees? Only The Geek knows.” Drink 2018-2021. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

At the time of making this wine and then putting a label on a bottle there was no Ontario defined category and in fact this pioneering effort is one of the unheralded forerunners. From fruit sourced out of Ed Hughes’ vineyard it’s a shaggy yet ambitious riesling made mellifluent by 14 days skin contact, inoculated to keep the lees strain constant with with other 15s, meaning the Lakeview and Foxcroft brethren. Now smells just like riesling, unlike in its early “orange” wine days. No longer demanding and tannic, the high acidity too has mellowed and a petrol note has emerged, plus a pepper flake meets peach skin aromatic sedge. Still with the liquid salve texture, coming into its destined balance, dry and persistent in pulse by acidity but calm enough and settled. A great flesh of lime and raining complexity, with a final note of orange skin too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Barrel Ferment Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the next wrinkle is a wild ferment (as opposed to the inoculated ’15), unfined and unfiltered, because as time progressed “I liked it more and more,” says winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. No coarse filtration means some minor sediment will settle in the bottle. Smashed layers of tote-filled grapes are brought to the crushpad, in lieu of the crusher, to extract from the skins and stems, making use of the punchdown tool, while waiting before pressing. Recently bottled in December 2017 the BFR is something completely other and if 2015 was considered not, this follow-up is markedly fruity now, because it always was, all the way through during just more than a year in really old barrels. It’s a blonde riesling as per M. Gustave, if you will. “Why blonde? Because they all were.” This is the wisest of Mack Brisbois’ rieslings, calm, confident, collected and shining brightly from the word go. You don’t have to wait on this one, it’s riper, it’s unfiltered, made with a lot less sulphur than the skin contacts and those “dirty” 15s. “I like to see how little (sulphur) I can get away with,” notes Brisbois. The most accomplished riesling that she has made to date, the 16’s balance is spot on now and you will not have to wait for it to come into its cinematic stage. Drink it now and keep it longer. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Can it be helped if the first 30 seconds with Charles Baker’s 2014 riesling seem like the opening of a film noir classic. Hushed tones, chiaroscuro shadows, off-screen characters and dramatic foreshadowing all solicit the need or the necessity to make use of a wild imagination. There have been older Baker vintages that acted with similar, almost hard to crack quietude. Perhaps it’s with ’13 etched in persistent memory but as a vintage it was (moderately) cooler and in the end, quite average. This ’14 works the benefits and the notes here are quite omnisciently lemon; curd, preserve, citrus tablet and then smeared by a bees-waxy salve. It’s really quite atypical for Baker and for the windswept Vinemount Ridge but misunderstood youth is a bitch. I’d like to revisit in 2019 and beyond to unearth and relish in the hidden meanings. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2017 and March 2018  cbriesling  stratuswines  cruwinemerchants  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  @CRUOntario  Stratus Vineyards  

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Black Ball 2015, Ontario (416073, $36.20, WineAlign)

The new age 2015 was tasted as part of a retrospective that included 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what might be construed as idiosyncratic or antithetical riesling should be so fortunate to be involved in such a demonstration. The Pearl Morissette riesling endeavour was pretty much bone dry from day one. The Mosel style really never spoke to François Morissette. “We have 220 hang time days so we started fermenting riesling chardonnay style, then in 2012 and 2013 in foudres, which tightened them too much. So in ’14 we moved into concrete egg for aromatics but it was too intense.” So here in ’15 the joint between foudres and cement marks the new beginning. The juice is then transferred to become clear while the lees are kept and recycled for future vintages. This had just been bottled days before with almost no free sulphur “because they can take it.” Such low pH (2.97ish) and the up front skin contact brings tannin and then this silk road texture is followed by more tannin on the back palate. It’s a vintage Blackball and a vintage-driven riesling. A phenolically ripe one. The exercise proves that we really don’t know a thing about riesling, Cuvée Blackball and aging until we begin tasting at five years on. In order, 2011 is “a confirmation that we are on the right road,” ’12 may never be ready, ’13 messes with the riesling paradigm and ’14 is more like riesling of expectation. So what does that make 2015? Nothing yet, really. Have you not been paying attention? Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

he-always-distracted-me-so-that-i-thought-of-nothing-else-while-listening-to-the-words-and-the-sound-of-his-voice

He has always distracted me so that I thought of nothing else while listening to the words. And the sound of his voice.

Compiling a best of wine list is never easy. Not when the subject matter is the most fleeting of consumables, a drink ever-changing, almost never tasting the same twice and destined for eventual failure. We know by instinct that wines cast the shadow of their own destruction before them and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins. Wine critics can only regard what is in the glass by what sensory enjoyment or displeasure is activated at that exact time. In most cases there are no second chances.

I do my best to taste wines twice before passing judgement. Too often I can’t fulfill this prophecy, especially when plodding through 100-plus on a VINTAGES release. In 2016 I made a great effort to visit these 16 wines three times before penning a review. It was not always possible but I tried. When it comes to Canadian wines and even more so with wines from Ontario, there are often second and third chances. And so I feel very confident in sharing this definitive list with you.

Hallelujah

It must be said that 2016 was a most difficult year. Too many special people were taken from us far too early. I lost two friends this fall as I’m sure some of you did as well. Many of us dwell on favourite celebrity deaths and especially the loss of musicians, some of us more than others. If you are one who takes to social media to mock the romantic who shares grief with others at the loss of a musical icon, well just skip past this and go straight to the wines. Or please refrain from comment and respectfully remain quiet.

David Bowie. Prince. Leonard Cohen. Sir George Martin. Glenn Frey. Paul Kantner. Leon Russell. Keith Emerson. Greg Lake. Alan Vega. Mose Allison. Bernie Worrell. Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. Arnold Palmer. Craig Sager. David Huddleston. Ken Howard. George Kennedy. Abe Vigoda. Ron Glass. Florence Henderson. Fuck 2016. And this tree fell on my house.

hows-your-sunday-going-so-far

How’s your Sunday going so far?

On a much brighter note 2016 was a banner year for tasting Canadian wines. It also provided a vintage of quantity meets quality and one that was desperately needed, especially here in Ontario. My tasting regimen saw no quit or slow down in 2016. I’m not sure how many Canadian wines I tasted but if it was less than a thousand I’d be shocked. I tasted more at home, assessed a greater number in the LCBO’s sensory lab, delved deeper at the WineAlign office and spread the web wider at events in Ontario. I judged with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Penticton at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

In 2015 I counted 15 on the filtered list. In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth will lead to 17 in 2017.

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Welcome @muller_brent to team RED! with nazlanmak captain @treve_ring #nwac16 @winealign

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

And again, I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.” In 2017, trust in Canadian wine.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

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Return Syrah engagement @CreeksideWine pouring on tap @barquebbq and @barquebutchers #freshtap #wineontap

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar added some new wines in 2016 to follow those poured from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and new offerings from Creekside continue to fill your glasses.

The year began with great excitement at Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January. In February I returned for Cuvée Weekend. In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Okanagan Valley and a confession I need to make is that I wanted to publish with the title “Why you don’t know shit about B.C. wine” but chickened out at the last second and instead came out with Why you don’t know jack about B.C. wine. Before judging we paid a visit with The Wines of British Columbia for the Judgement of B.C. The second annual cage match was hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute and took place on Tuesday, June 21, pitting 12 B.C. Wines against 12 acknowledged global benchmarks. Riesling and Pinot Noir squared off, curated by DJ Kearney and judged by a who’s who of Canadian wine writers, critics and educators, along with international WineAlign Awards judges Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan Brown.

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How lucky we all were to have her back in the captain’s chair. Happy Canada Day @djwines #nwac16

As the week progressed, the WineAlign judges paid visits to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, Rustic Roots Winery with the Similkameen Wineries Association and Deep Roots Winery on the Naramata Bench. I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the five days from the appellations of Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Similkameen Valley and Naramata Bench. At the awards I tasted more than 500 Canadian wines.

Of greatest importance was my return to the International Chardonnay Cool Climate conference that took place between July 22nd and July 24th in Niagara. Before attending for a fourth straight year I penned The democracy of Cool Chardonnay. It was there I wrote that “plus has joined the i4c, an ideogram of addendum, a character of diversity for the fluently persuasive and forceful congress. This gathering will open its arms for colour and to allow its constituents to regale with what they do best. For an event-driven pure as single-varietal snow and formerly known exclusively as chardonnay, is this really a shocker? This is the reality of democracy.”

#cool

People bitched and moaned. How can a chardonnay conference include other grape varieties? Sacrilege and foul play they (secretly and not so secretly) complained. In the end the inclusion of red varietals confused nothing and no one. Chardonnay remained the focus and the star. No chardonnay were harmed.

We broke cool climate bread and spread chardonnay gospel with Ian D’Agata (Decanter, Vinous.com), John Szabo M.S. (Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power), Jean-François Bordet and Françoise Roure from Wines of Chablis. We tasted with sixty winemakers at the School of Cool, “Flights of Chardonnay” at Niagara District Airport and the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario. Red wines were poured after dinner!

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Only American presidential candidates carry babies at #i4c @coolchardonnay

We welcomed writer Kurtis Kolt from Vancouver, sommeliers Carl Villeneuve-Lepage and Elyse Lambert from Quebec. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Tex-Somm Director James Tidwell made the long trip north and a second Canadian courting immersion in as many months was performed by visionary wine raconteur Elaine Brown.

So what did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2016? Well, he found out that we have to look at organoleptics and ask a very important question. Is your expectation of a Chablis going to be the same as chardonnay made from anywhere else? More important, who are we putting this wine in front of? Ian D’agata’s take struck a Canadian chord.  He talked of “a welcome astringency characterized by piercing flavours. These are cool-climate wines.  Cool climate chardonnay is not about a long litany of fruit descriptors. If you have a cool-climate viticultural area it behooves you to give the people what they are looking for.”

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Potential is the past @Somewhereness

After i4c16 I took part in an Impromptu tasting at Ravine. Four months later the intrepid sophist Scott Zebarth and I tasted with winemaker Marty Werner for a second time. That same day we visited with J-L Groux at Stratus and with Paul Pender at Tawse. Our focus was cabernet franc. That report is coming soon and I can promise this. The 17 in 2017 and 18 in 2018 will be graced by cabernet franc. Fall events were led by the constitutive Somewhereness, as fundamental and essential as any agminate Ontario tasting can and will ever be. Then there was the Great Canadian Oysters and Wine Experience at Rodney’s Oyster House. The event was hosted by Wine Country Ontario and paired a curated who’s who of Ontario VQA wines with the local iconic fare. Exceptional all around.

%22ill-do-what-i-can-so-you-can-be-what-you-do-%22-rodneystoronto-coasttocoast-oysters-winecountryontario-dukes-peioysters-bcoysters-elliotsmith-greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

“I’ll do what I can so you can be what you do.” @rodneystoronto #coasttocoast #oysters #winecountryontario #dukes #peioysters #bcoysters #elliotsmith #greatcanadianoystersandwineexperience

Where are we now?

Despite all the talk of rules, regulations and governing boards that restrict movement, labelling and profits, the Canadian landscape is evolving in a beneficent direction. Though the move to loosen monopoly control and increase competition has backfired in the short term, corrections to British Columbia’s wine trade will happen, sort itself out and right the ship. Decades of bureaucracy don’t dismantle and do right by the consumer overnight. Things always get worse before they get better. The move to supermarkets in Ontario is indeed one of smoke and mirrors but it opens the door to gaining advantage through loopholes and creative minds kickstarting new business ventures. The wave to privatization can no longer be averted or snuffed out. Momentum will gain traction and open the flood gates to wine trade nirvana.

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

Canadian wines run more or less of their own accord, not so much thanks to the winemakers or the condition of the current culture, as in spite of them. And certainly not by virtue of any particular ethos through customs and traditions going back over many generations of wines. No, success and cumulative proficiency exists by dint of these wines without any forced supervision. They are governed by themselves and indeed across the entire industry. Done are the blanketing days of spare and often powerful Canadian wines that were often too spare, so that the ribs of tannin showed through in painful obviousness. The embracing of cool climate idiosyncrasy and unique-somewhereness make Canada the envy of the developing wine world.

Controversy

Now this. VQA is expected to pass regulatory approval and introduce a new category of wines called “skin contact whites.” While Orange wines are the most notable example of skin contact whites, who’s to say the ambiguity of the designation could not impel the inclusion of other cabalistic and achromatic specimens? Let’s look at Riesling as a perfect example.

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Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Leaning Post’s The Geek, Trail Estate’s Skin Contact Foxcroft and Pearl Morissette’s Blackball are all atypical, mad scientist outtakes. Will the new category allow these wines to pass easily through the borders of VQA? Will the wall regarding place of origin on labelling be the next to crumble? Let’s hope reason in the name of progress born out of trust for altruistic and dedicated producers will carry through to a new frontier. Right Bruno and Jens?

New Kid in Town

You might notice that all 16 wines I have chosen are from very established producers. The next wave of young winemakers and wineries is taking shape in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and especially in Nova Scotia. I would expect new kids on the list in the coming years. I want you all to know that I traveled through great pains, algorithmic calculations and much unavoidable emotion to arrive at this rocking list. For every wine that made the grade there were three more that narrowly missed. They are all important but these 16 combine lyricism with melody. They write the songs.

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara PeninsulaPhoto: Brian Barton - Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Photo: Brian Barton – Guelph, Ontario

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)

It’s as if this label had bided all this time to be the benefactor of 2013 fruit. This Rusty Shed, this 20 miler with the track record to age, a wine that sheds baby fat over a 10 year mineral through echelon stratum, in ways few other peninsula to bench chardonnay can do. This Jay Johnston handled surfer of a wine, buoyant and balanced, centred and able to withstand turbulence, oscillation and tidal sway. Here with sumptuous and spiralled fruit gaged in lode intervals and a tartness held in lope and line by a membrane of extract and tannin. Best ever. Showing well, repeatedly and to forecasted repute. Impressing critics and consumers alike. Bravo. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2016  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

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Sometimes there comes a wine, of the impossible, at the frontier. This by @SynchromeshWine #riesling #stormhavenvineyard #okanaganfalls #8.9%

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

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

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Ah, geek out, le geek, c’est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Leaning Post Riesling “The Geek” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk and swot-out cohort Ryan de Witte pulled 350 litres of riesling aside, accoutred with all readily available lees and shacked the whole gross mess in tank together, Vinification was completed at nine grams (RS) nearly-dry, in what can only be described as a reductive, cloudy, super-geeky riesling. Acquires an increased resonance from its designation stowed at a way station on what really is a longer, personal journey. The 2015 will be bone dry and like this ’14 will sit for 18 months in encouragement of a truly experimental, waiting for something to happen riesling. Time will act to fill in the gaps and increase its already developed texture. If you have ever had the pleasure you will see this as Jean-Pierre Frick-ish to be sure. When asked the question, he ‘The Geek’ will repeatedly reply, “I am not ready.” Drink 2018-2022.   Tasted March 2016  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine

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If the establishment wants what you got give it to them. Blackball ’14 #riesling by @PearlMorissette

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2014, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (416073, $32.20, WineAlign)

One whiff and you are hep to what can only be Pearl Morissette, but with a neoteric twist. Riesling that flaunts full-frontal, of furthered acidity, vitality and multi-tined nuance. Farther too of age advanced but without any quirky or funky naturalist intrusion. Already chill, relaxed and with thanks to the vintage, almost round. The precise weave is tapestry fine and deceptively simple, what François Morissette likes to call a “crystallized cream of texture.” The oversized 2012 still digests itself, ’13 is organoleptically structured, long and cool. But ’14? A ‘no foudres’ vintage, from 100 per cent concrete fermentation, wild through malolactic and with zero grams of residual sugar. Bone dry. Concrete was chosen for must intricacy, palate texture, flavour and necessary balance. Riesling borne of crunchy, concrete desire, bright, with preserved lemon across the palate, gentle, feminine and beautiful. This is the focused consistency in loyalty to ’12 and ’13. Try and stereotype this Black Ball to Vin Nature funk. I dare you. Pour it in an expansive Ontario riesling flight and it will stand out like a solar flare in a fulmination of fireworks. There will be no mid-life, black hole of disappearance crisis. It will always be fine and pristine, drink well, like an impossibly dry version of a Coulée de Serrant. Only 186 cases were made so yes, the Blackball is a wine of very small production. Establishes yet another reference point and just wait for ’15. That vintage will deliver the greatest of bones. The new age will really launch then. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2016  @PearlMorissette  @lassvet

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

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

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

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Rieslings

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

There was this intuitive moment with Picone 2013 as if it was waiting on me. Not doting or soliciting, but waiting. I will admit to have been wondering, reeling and speculating. To peer or peek into what Mark Picone’s Vinemount Ridge vineyard would adjudge and then bestow Charles Baker’s riesling in 2013? Would it be a case of weight, hyperbole, a hang in the balance out of misjudged necessity? Nah. Picone is no longer a mature 20 year-old vineyard but now a wise old thirty year-old one. Picone 2013 is in fact a fun park mirrored image of itself, with haughty, aerified aromas and variegated, leaning to tropical fruit flavours, taut like a flock in line with the vintage. The riesling berries just seem to have imploded and the results that have followed are nothing if not intense. Imagine a Yogyakarta market and a two-wheeled, glass-cased push cart stacked with a pyramid of tart mangoes. The fruit had been picked just as the sugars had begun to run like sap and bleed sticky on the cracking skin. A mango is sliced and doused with the intensity of Java lime juice and then sprinkled with Laut Jawa salt. The flavours are searing, sweetly saline and quenching. Only this tart is this, where tart and acidity meet, intertwine and connect on an emotional level. Picone 2013. The first non-inoculated riesling at first and then touched up near the end. “The best vintage you could ask for in riesling,” notes Baker, “cloud-covered, a meeting of the minds, vibrant.” The arid, cranky one will live without fret for 15 years. Drink 2018-2028.  First tasted in March of 2015, then twice, October 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Csv Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

French cask in the Hidden Bench cellar

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Nuit Blanche is one of Canada’s most unique commodities, a White Meritage (of sauvignon blanc and sémillon) blended from exceptional and aromatically delicate Rosomel Vineyard fruit. As part of Hidden Bench’s “Terroir Series” it righteously expresses white Bordeaux varietal purity from the southern blocks of the Beamsville Bench vineyard. Expectation runs high because 2014 seems a perfect Fumé Blanc vintage if ever there will be one for (40 year-old) vineyards tucked snugly in abutment to the Niagara Escarpment. A struck flint nosing entry is followed by taut strung acidity and palate tension eased by a fictionalized adult cotton candy, wisps of smoke, honey and lanolin. The grace of it all is hidden beneath a filigree of molecular green apple caviar gastronomy. In 2014 Nuit Blanche reflects propriety, elegance and genteel balance, caressed from the hands of winemaker Marlize Beyers. It is as if Beyers let this ferment slip away as a parent would encourage a child who is ready to leave the home. After tasting it at Gold Medal Plates in Toronto I spent a sleepless night, not from restlessness or over-indulgent behaviour but because I wished to pull an all-nighter with the best ever sauvignon blanc bled and led Ontario white. I would suggest leaving this be for two years for the subtle though generous barrel to melt into fruit but time will gather for up to two decades before the sun sets on the 2014 Nuit Blanche. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted November 2016  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @ImportWineMAFWM  @MarkAnthonyWine

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word...structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Mini #lonnasblock @RavineVineyard Cabernet Franc vertical. Loaded with the S-word…structure @marty_werner #i4c16

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc Lonna’s Block 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Lonna’a Block alights straight out from the retail shop to the west side of the driveway (and is named for Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister). The site was planted in 2004 and here, 10 years on, its warm St. Davids’ Bench fruit is simply welling, hermetically sealed and antithetically intense. The block has come to this, in production of cabernet franc with side-splitting, tongue tripping acidity to work lightning crack geometry into the wood-derived chocolate and the ferric-tannic tension. The fissures are filled but there is the right kind of cabernet franc fragmentation. The liquid metal mineral and deep blackberry ooze is smooth and polished. The fruit was “picked early,” or if you will, in Grouxian, Gambleized and risk, Werner reward exercised terms, mid-November. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2016  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

The wines of Creekside Estates at Barque Smokehouse, March 2015

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted March 2016  @CreeksideWine  @AMH_hobbsandco  @hobbsandco

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards Photo: Michael Godel

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards
Photo: Michael Godel

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  @StratusWines

bachelder

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

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

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $45.20, WineAlign)

A second taste four months later confirms the impossibility from Hardie in 2014, a vintage that just begs for Norm’s magic handling, from exemplary, slow-developed fruit off of a vintage’s hyperbole of low-yielding vines. The low alcohol continuum persists, the freshness and richness of County berries magnifies and the development of flavour is beyond and above. The tart is a membrane and the sweetness a virtue, feigned and delicate. Tremendous work made easy by Norm and a pinot noir that will live longer than any he has produced before. Drink 2017-2027.  Last tasted August 2016

In Prince Edward County and for pinot noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet pinot noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm pinot noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

a-back-pages-cabernetfranc-moment-with-paul-pender-tawse_winery-wismervineyards-everythingfranc-2007-vanbers

A back pages #cabernetfranc moment with Paul Pender @Tawse_Winery @wismervineyards #everythingfranc #2007 #vanbers

Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2007, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $49.95, WineAlign)

The state of freshness is static, a sameness that is mostly impossible but the perfume is settled and obvious, of violets and blackberries, closer to ’12 than ’10. Hot and dry but still, balanced. Tasted blind there would be no way of knowing where or from when this was. Sure Bordeaux could be imagined but Niagara, Beamsville Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Creek Shoes, or the confluence of the three? How could you know. Two years ago this opening began and now the invitation reads with utter clarity, the door widely agape. There seemingly is not a single moment of aromatic evolution and the acidity rages with great vibrancy. The longevity factor is in my friends. Paul Pender knew then what he knows now, at least with respect to cabernet franc. It’s like this. Just like this. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse  @Paul_Pender

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right:

Benjamin Bridge Wines

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (381533, $49.00, WineAlign)

First sips were blind at #i4c16 with ripeness and yeasty lees so apparent early and smouldering, flinty and then turned to citrus, freshness and acidity. Burgundian-Champagne dichotomous directional pull, certainly, though with eyes shut tight imagination travels and falls on a far east Canadian clime, though likely from an early ripening site. As in October. The reveal presents the first Blanc de Blancs in Benjamin Bridge Brut form, taking the cue from an exemplary vintage for chardonnay to go it alone, leaving seyval blanc and l’acadie behind as Nova Scotian relics of a bygone era. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers cants with insightful eloquence. “It’s in our collective consciousness to say that white wines will rely on acidity while reds are determined by phenolics. (The science of) pH will help to locate electrons between reduction and oxidation. It’s a very eccentric proposition, being on the edge of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Lodi harvested pinot noir yesterday. We are harvesting in November. The beauty of moderation is that it’s a step away from the model of extremes. Our ability to ripen fruit and preserve the Titratable Acidity at unspoiled levels is going to translate into tension and ageability.” This Brut 2011 is far too young, extremely bright and blessed with so much citrus. The level of lemon is extraordinary. Just as recent past tastes of the Brut Reserve 2004 spoke of its remarkable youth, this ’11 is full of orchard fruit but it’s hard to fathom the extreme level of tightly wound strength that yet persists. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted July 2016  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

CedarCreek

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

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

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

New fizz on the Brock

Brock U. CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium Photo: http://brocku.ca/ccovi/

Brock U. CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium
Photo: http://brocku.ca/ccovi/

The Ontario Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium. Like a Trekkie convention for oenophiles. To a wine geek it was eight hours spent searching for the meaning of life. To a consumer who just likes to drink it would have been time lost forever with no chance to get it back. The Brock University Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute’s Pond Inlet was the setting. The presentations were very technical, that is until Dr. Jamie Goode took the podium and breathed context into the room.

According to the LCBO, in 2013, sales in Vintages of VQA sparkling wine were up 59.2 per cent from 2012 sales data. In Canada there are 36 wineries producing sparkling wine and that number is growing. As it should.

The abstruse conditions of the #ONfizz event set the table as a vocational assurance draw for Ontario winemakers, viticulture and viniculture research specialists. Seated at my table were a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. That should be loosely translated as a scientist (Dr. Jim Willwerth), a product manager (LCBO’s Ontario expert Astrid Brummer) and two winemakers (Hinterland’s Jonas Newman and Gaspereau Vineyards’ Gina Haverstock).

Brock’s Dr. Debbie Inglis introduced Bertrand Robillard, Ph.d., Director of Research and Development at the Institut Oenologique de Champagne. Before getting to the subject at hand, on disgorging, gushing and foaming, he first laid an open attack on beer. “The form is always better in a crystal glass,” insisted Robillard. For Champagne. Not beer. “That’s just false. It’s just appearance. People in Champagne do not appreciate this kind of resolute,” comparing the pouring of Champagne to beer.

Then on to Sparkling wine’s integral and necessary marketing draw. Bubbles. “No dishwashing,” begged Robillard. “It’s a very efficient way to kill the foam.” By principle, to have foam you need bubbles. It’s all about stabilizing the foam. High ethanol (five per cent) in fizz is good content for foam stabilization. CO2 (protein concentration and polysaccharides) all contribute to stability.

So why do the bubbles collapse? Why do they not make it from the centre to the wall of the glass? Why is a hole in the middle created and the bubbles fall into the hole and disappear? The answer is gushing. A “shameful disease” that can be considered as a disequilibrium between foam formation and foam collapse. Bubbles cannot exist if their radius are less than 0.1 microns, or they will dissolve into the wine. Bubbles are detached when gravity forces are higher than capillary forces.

The conclusion? Surface area and CO2 are the driving force behind gushing. Contaminations inside the wall of the bottle must be eliminated. Oxygen heterogeneity is essential, even more so more than CO2 and sugar. The news that there is no relationship between wine composition and gushing means winemakers can make the Sparkling wine style of their choosing. The representative from Champagne said so.

Next up was Ed Carr, Sparkling winemaker, Accolade wines in Australia. Carr plies his trade in Tasmania. Not the Tasmania of The English Passengers full of exiled convicts, invading Brits, sinister men like Dr. Thomas Potter and his thesis about the races of men. No, Carr makes bubbles on an island quickly becoming a (vinous) garden of Eden, known to a heroic aboriginal and envisioned by Reverend Geoffrey Wilson. Carr explained the company’s choice of locale. “These (cold and mostly maritime influenced climate) numbers are a gross simplification of what the world is really like, but this is why we went to Tasmania, looking at that 1000 number for heat degree days.”

On spacing: “The guy growing your vines is likely using the same tractor to grow spuds.” On vineyard management: “Lots of leaf plucking done, bunch thinning…canopy management is key. Supplemental irrigation a must.” On Sparkling wine stylistic choices: “Oxidation is a big thing, a real style choice. Chilling picked fruit reduces phenolic extraction and oxidation but also reduces fruit.”

On flaws: “Brettanomyces I refer to the ‘black death of Europe’ for wine. The little buggers love sulphur dioxide conditions. Residual sugar left in the bottle on the way to second fermentation helps the yeasts on their way. Rapid ferment and as dry as possible is the way to go.”

On closures: “I don’t really think you apply screw cap closure trials from still wines to sparkling. It does not translate to the reductive character of sparkling. We primarily believe in the use of traditional cork, with some agglomerate closure usage.”

Third speaker was Larry Mawby of Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula L. Mawby Vineyards. “The thing that I realized was negatively impacting on my ability to make good sparkling wine was the fact that I wasn’t just making sparkling wine.” The response from Hinterland’s (Prince Edward County Sparkling wine maker) Jonas Newman. “I like his style.” I can hear you thinking, Sparkling wine in Michigan? More than this. Mawby makes 21 different renditions, with the usual suspects, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, in traditional ways. He also goes at it Charmat-style with Riesling, Pinot Gris and Vignoles. Not to mention Cayuga, Vidal, Regent, Marechal Foch and Muscat in the Cuve Close method.

Continued Mawby, “in this century we’ve made nothing but sparkling wines.” During the terrible winter of 2003 there were temperatures of 45 degrees (Fahrenheit) and below. “Killed any vine not beneath the snow. I panicked.” So Mawby added his ‘Cuve Closed’ a bulk production, Charmat-style sparkling wine. On the technicalities of making fizz: “I don’t believe the chemistry of fruit should be your guideline. What does the fruit taste like?” On varietal integrity: “Almost nobody on the planet buys Sparkling wine based on grape variety.”

Jamie Goode, Ph.D., London-based wine writer (www.wineanorak.com) and wine columnist, The Sunday Express talked on wine closures and purchaser perception of local, national and international sparkling wines. Mostly he spoke about incontestable truths.

On closures: “Traditional is best but the Mytik in an excellent alternative.” It now closes 192 million of 6 billion bottles. The Crown Cap? “Yes, why not? It’s recognizable, like beer and comfortable. With the right liner it’s OTR transmission is very acceptable.” Dr. Goode’s closure talk resulted in some wine writer comedy.

On the world’s most famous fizz: “Champagne can be wonderful, but there’s some ropey stuff coming to the UK. With Champagne, your expectation is everything.” On Cava, “People don’t really like it. It’s made in the traditional method and it should be a really good product but it’s trying to be something it’s not.”

On vintage dated bubbles, Goode spoke from an unequivocal marketing perspective. “People don’t really care about vintage.” On the emerging Canadian and British sparkling wine industries. “Do English or Canadian wines need a special name?” No.”

On the now-universal nomenclature: “Sparkling wine has become an accepted one, not a pejorative one.” Goode’s perspective is always fresh, nearly cynical and full of truth. On leaving the country he bade farewell with thanks.

Participants also had the opportunity to taste two sparkling wine research trials that are currently underway at local wineries as well as a comparative blind tasting.  The blind tasting presented a selection of local and international Sparkling wines and Champagnes and was moderated by Jamie Goode.  The three flights featured Blanc de Blancs, Cuvée/blends and alternative varieties. Thank you can never be said too many times to Barbara Tatarnic, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and Trisha Molokach for their generosity in invitation and unwavering hospitality. I am always humbled to be included in their warm world of wine.

I will admit that I would have liked to see more Ontario representation in the flights, as well as at least one example from both British Columbia and especially Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley. With that emerging region and vintners like Benjamin Bridge and Gaspereau Vineyards on the Sparkling stardom stage/horizon, including their wines would have upped the complexity factor tenfold. Not to mention something British. New York State’s Finger Lakes (Chateau Frank Célèbre) and North Fork of Long Island’s (Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction) should definitely be players in the next #ONfizz symposium.

Brock University CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium

Brock University CCOVI Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium

Sparkling Wine Trial Tasting – Unfinished samples from Trius Wines

  1. Trius Base on lees two years. Chardonnay (70 per cent), Pinot Noir (25), Pinot Meunier (5). Each (cane sugar) dosage was 20 mL towards an end of 8 g/L of residual sugar. Barrel fermentation and barrel aging leans this towards an oxidixed style. Arid, high in citrus and high-toned oak character.
  2. Blanc de Noirs 2009. Left on the lees for four years. Use of cane sugar. Less giving and resolute in micro-wood spice. This sample is from the oldest (sparkling) wine in their cellar.
  3. From the Trius Brut wine. Dosage again with cane sugar. Acts the most polished and finished, the most accomplished. This is the rock and the anchor.

Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 1: Blanc de Blanc

Family Estate Cuvée No. 1 Blanc De Blancs NV, Méthode Traditionelle, Marlborough, New Zealand (56358, $34.95, WineAlign)

The sample poured at the OSWTS was unfortunately corked but here was my previous review: “Aromatic rhetoric would argue this Marlborough bottle of bubbles is a ringer for classic Blanc de Blancs. Promises pleasure and class from the first whiff. Decidedly lemon citrus tight and stony until an herbal, splintered, stemmy tarragon balm takes over, rendering the wine more of its place than what it tries to emulate. Still, a really terrific effort.”  Tasted November 2013  @oenophilia1

From left to right: L. Mawby Vineyards Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay NV, Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2008, Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, House of Arras Blanc de Blancs 2004

From left to right: L. Mawby Vineyards Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay NV, Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2008, Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, House of Arras Blanc de Blancs 2004

L. Mawby Vineyards Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay NV, Michigan, USA (winery, US $23)

Like distilled white Swedish berries high on acidity. Herbal, tight, gainful simplicity. Pear ciderish and clear as a cool climate bell.  @mibubbly

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay Brut 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (227009, $21.95, WineAlign)

A not so dry (9.8 g/L residual sugar) stylistic choice leads this angel to sparkling late harvest territory with ripe orchard fruit that buzzes with terpenes, surface bruises and slight oxidized notes. The archangel rolls over a knife’s edge and sits too long in the sun but it’s neither cut nor cooked. There is beauty in its 90’s big hair, big sound and you might tell her that “tears drop like diamonds from your golden eyes.” There’s yet a spring in her step and a hay note from afield.  Tasted May 2014  @angelsgatewines

House of Arras Blanc de Blancs 2004, Tasmania, Australia (winery, $80 AUS)

Big barrel oak influence leaves splinters in the mouth, albeit gentle and dissolvable ones. Creamy and chalky like ice cream made from tea. Not much yeast and biscuit activity as it’s all about fruit and barrel.  @AccoladeWinesAU

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity. From my earlier, December 2012 note: “Sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.”  Last tasted May 2014  @CaveSpring

Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, Ac, Champagne, France (599860, $46.95, WineAlign)

Here showing a bruised apple note with the lees and PH on steroids. Fruit seems to be in from a less than stellar vintage and so the lack of consistency is disappointing. “It’s a style,” says Jonas Newman. “He’s a natural wine guy.” NV Champagne needs aggregate scoring so my 90 comes down. From my earlier, April 2013 note: “Continues a VINTAGES string of excellent value in Champagne releases. Made from 100% Chardonnay, this BdB is pronounced in , yeasty dough definition, hinting at agave and unwashed cheese rind. Where there’s bubbles there’s a way and I like where this one is going. The agave replays in sweet waves, as does the sour in faint yet discernible sloshes. Much to contemplate in this NV sparkler.” Last Tasted May 2014

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2008, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Méthode Traditionnelle, Ontario (315200, $44.95, WineAlign)

Rocks the driest end of the free world Blanc de Blanc spectrum. Lets carte blanche reign in a taut style and reeks of a minimum four years of autolytic lees activity. In that sense it loses some of its sense of place, in Catherine’s case that Short Hills Bench clay-silt-loam-gravel agglomeration. The soil composition usually brings vigor and richness to Chardonnay but here as a sparkling wine the sensation is of citrus soaked concrete. Racy bubbles of intensity that do not quite match the weight and elegance of the 2007.   @HenryofPelham

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Estate Brut NV, Cattier Brut Premier Cru, Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne, House of Arras Rosé 2005

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, Fielding Estate Brut NV, Cattier Brut Premier Cru, Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne, House of Arras Rosé 2005

Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 2: Blends

Fielding Estate Brut NV, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

An impressive debut for winemaker Richie Roberts and team. This is a classic Chardonnay (55 per cent) and Pinot Noir (45) cuvée from Fielding’s Tufford Road vineyard. A surprisingly rich example, toasty and with a sweet meets sweaty, minty-herbiage. A primer for even greater vintages (this is essentially 2009) to come, where the focus will be more on yeast fielding to citrus and less about yielding to a non-metallic elemental finish.   @FieldingWinery

L. Mawby Vineyards Talismon NV, Michigan, USA (winery, US $37)

Tasted blind this strikes out as heteromorphic fizz from less than charted territory (like Michigan) with juicy, hybrid acting histrionics. Though it’s actually a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay it lacks vinifera varietal complexity. The fruit is clear and fair but the méthode champenoise brings no enzymatic or citric display.

Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne, France (325167, $43.95, WineAlign)

Here is a cuvée of égalité that combines one-third each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Like the varietal make-up, these slightly reductive yet elegant bubbles offer up thirds of brioche, toast and demi-glacé. Fashioned from the 2006 harvest with reserve wine added and aged in oak. Chic and affordable but in no shape or form a knock off of the real deal. There’s a theoretical Champagne void within filled with citrus, sharp ginger and pungent spice. Blessed with unmatched length as compared to the others in the #ONfizz cuvée flight.

House of Arras Grand Vintage 2004, Tasmania, Australia (winery, $60 AUS)

“A polarizing wine,” notes winemaker Ed Carr. Full of savoury, herbal notes but also the unmistakable scent of that other white meat. The cure is indeed a porcine one, sweating in a hung game way, which gives this fizz such an old-world, old cellar quality. A slow (spring) malolactic evolution in barrel gives this (65.9 percent) Chardonnay and (34.1) Pinot Noir its silky, milky feel. Good to even better than good length.

Cattier Brut Premier Cru, Champagne, France (325720, $44.60, WineAlign)

This is really bitter, in a really good way. The nobility in brine is likely a result of whole (non-separated) bunch pressing, the Pinot Noir skins impart giving the fruity must its resident bitterness. A highly distinctive style of high caste and longevity, composed of Pinot Meunier (45 per cent), Pinot Noir  (35) and Chardonnay (25). As deep as any tasted at #ONfizz 2014.

Château Des Charmes Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (224766, $22.95, WineAlign)

Chardonnay (75 per cent) and Pinot Noir (25) at an attractive price. Attacks with a gently cloying, weeping sweetness, string-bending terpenes and fades out with a savoury, bitter finish. Light, approachable and wide-reaching style. Bubbles with broad appeal.   @MBosc

House of Arras Rosé 2005, Tasmania, Australia (winery, $60 AUS)

The composition here is Pinot Noir (62.5 per cent) and Chardonnay (37.5) from pickings in Lower Derwent, Upper Derwent and the Houn Valley. Emerges out of a year where warmer temperatures coaxed an increase of richer fruit from the rounder and fatter white grape. Good lees effect (seven years) in 2005 and also a balmy tarragon accent atop strawberry, verging to cherry fruit. Finishes with expert balancing acidity, this fizz trumps its Blanc de Blanc and Grand Vintage sistren at this tasting.

From left to right: Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut, Girls' Night Out Sparkling, Giusti Brut Prosecco Asolo, Brédif Brut Vouvray NV, Hinterland Ancestral 2013

From left to right: Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut, Girls’ Night Out Sparkling, Giusti Brut Prosecco Asolo, Brédif Brut Vouvray NV, Hinterland Ancestral 2013

Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 3: Alternative Varieties

Trius at Hillebrand Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, (winery, $35.20)

Spent 12 months ageing ‘sur lie’ in the estate’s underground sparkling caves. Winemaker Craig McDonald comments to the negative effect of light on bubbles. “Light strike causes a serious reaction on sparkling wine.” Here a mephitic aroma should likely be attributed to reduction or the beam of sunlight blanketing the room. There is a resinous salinity to this SB that does not want to blow off. Needs to be revisited from 2015 to 2018.

Green Extra-Sec by M. Lawrence, Michigan, USA (winery, $15)

The Green is part of Larry Mawby’s colourful, sexy and artfully named M. Lawrence investigation into the diversity of Sparkling wine. Absurdly dry, this put together Vidal and Cayuga concept is all about musky grape dehydration. Its cool climate constitution rescues the fruit to rehydrate and act like an orange picked straight from the greenhouse tree. There’s a malic medicinal tone that buries the sweet (17 g/L residual), resulting in a tart, low in alcohol, unwoven bottle of slim bubble.

Girls’ Night Out Sparkling, Ontario VQA, Ontario, Canada (215632, $14.95, WineAlign)

Here is a modest and useful 100% Riesling, Charmat Method, Cuve Close bottle of fizz from Lake Erie North Shore producer Colio Estates. With a residual remainder of nearly 20 g/L it falls into the off-dry category with aromatic notes that stroll directly through Ontario orchards. Tasty, easy to enjoy and smelling peculiarly like bubble gum. Well-made, good quality bubbles nouveau.

Giusti Brut Prosecco Asolo DOCG, Veneto, Italy (agent, $20.99, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent Glera, from Veneto’s Montello and the Asolo hills. As per Giusti’s description, this definitive Prosecco is “appropriately evanescent, with fine and lingering perlage.” Though reserved on the nose, the palate is very lively. A case in point for any aridity-driven examples to follow.

Brédif Brut Vouvray NV, Loire, France (352179, $20.95, WineAlign)

A touch yeasty, with citrus and large bubbles. Good verve, complex palate with a Champagne bent, or at least a toasted sentiment. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “Arid, frothy and fitful, atomically speaking. White peach and preceding spring flowers. Charcoal rubbed, also clean and fine. Sparkling Chenin Blanc done right.”  Last tasted May 2014

Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut, Hungary (619288, $12.25, WineAlign)

A more than interesting set of aromatics define and drive this blend of Királyleányka Rizling (Rhine Riesling), Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A stinky, reductive twang is joined by peach, rubber, pencil, duff and sandy sediment. Although the palate is a bit dullish with a taste of wet concrete there thickens a liqueur-like viscous texture to win sweet hearts. Would win even more were the residual (9 g/L) even higher.

Hinterland Ancestral 2013, Prince Edward County (winery, $25, WineAlign)

Released back in October of 2013, the Ancestral is what Hinterland’s Vicky Samaras refers to as the “unicorn” or the “babymaker.” This is Gamay Noir in postal service of the ancient process known as méthode ancestrale. Fermentation, which produces the carbon dioxide, occurs in the bottle and lees disgorgement is skipped. Hinterland’s Ancrestral brings sweet currant jelly, strawberry and mint notes (36 g/L residual sugar) to a wine low in alcohol (8 per cent) yet high in balancing (7.8 g/L) natural acidity. The components are all lifted to such great heights. A babymaker because the aromatics, palate, texture and finish “are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.”

 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

A wine pentathlon

Casa Loma in Toronto PHOTO: ALISONHANCOCK/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Wake up and smell the grapes. Put those lame excuses on the shelf and get over yourself. Time to cease and desist the dissing and dismissing of Ontario wine. I used to be like you but now I participate any chance I get, by invitation or by uncorking at dinner, to sample, savour and immerse myself in Canadian and more specifically, Ontario wine.

“5-Star” at Casa Loma (Photos: Michael Godel)

I was there when thirty wineries from The Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore regions were assembled on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 in Toronto’s Casa Loma by The Ontario Wine Society. No fewer than 127 wines (plus a few under the table ringers here and there) were poured at the “5-star” event that focused on the signature, cool-climate varieties produced in Ontario. Sparkling wines shared company with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. I loved the pentalpha conceptualization, realized by a narrowing of the field to a focus of five. Working endurance wine tastings tugs on the olfactory and taste bud strings, demanding maximum mettle, so this was a welcome format.

The Ontario Wine Society is a necessary and viable provincial institution. The not-for-profit society was formed in 1991 and continues its mandate to discover, appreciate and support local wines. The industry knows to thank and give back to the OWS and other organizations who likewise set out complimentary mandates to champion local greatness. Like the VQA leader with respect to growth and sustainability Wine Council of Ontario (WCO) and the oenological education leader Cool Climate, Viticulture and Oenology Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University, the OWS is all about championing greatness stemming from our vineyards.

Shout out goes to OWS President Ken Burford and Vice-President Sadie Darby for orchestrating the oeno-pentathlon. The feat was neither small, nor insignificant. The local tastings ramp up in a big way in April and May with events like County in the City,  County CharacterCounty Terroir, The Niagara Food and Wine Expo and culminating in June with the inaugural National Wine Awards of Canada (formerly the Canadian Wine Awards) presented by Wine Align.

From left: Flat Rock Cellars 2008, Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011, Stanners Pinot Noir 2010, Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2008, and Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2009

Many of the wines presented had been previously reviewed so with such a big line-up to get through I did not always re-taste, including the following:

Rosewood Estates Natalie’s Süssreserve Riesling 2010 (258806, $14.95) 88

Flat Rock Cellars 2008 Riddled ($24.95) 87

Green Lane Old Vines Riesling 2010 (283432, $29.95) 91

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (324103, $44.95) 91

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Rare Vintage Pinot Noir 2010 ($44.95) 91

Here are eight highlights from the OWS Casa Loma tasting, to the tune of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011 ($21.95, 172338) binds FSO2 with jack or durian, febrile fruit. For now hard to figure, like a grey rose or a Pink Floyd. Offers up a creamy warmth in resonant echoes but amplified as if still trapped inside the barrel. The best days remain ahead for this certified and biodynamic Chardonnay, which in two to three years time will “come streaming in on sunlight wings.” 89  @SouthbrookWine

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2012 ($23.95, winery only) picks up where the piercing ’11 left off and should be enjoyed in near time while that prototypical QRV fleshes out. This vintage is all about the here and now, citrus bright, immediately inviting, a slice of limstone pie with clay icing. While some age on Riesling is certainly and always welcome, this one begs to be looked at in the present. 90 @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Lighthall Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($25, winery only) has that crazed look in its eye, as does vintner Glenn Symons when he talks about it, knowing full well this Prince Edward County juice is a bursting and rising, rocket launching supernova. Steely like Chablis, sharp and shimmering in defiance to the heat of the vintage, the LVC is a dartle to the collective consciousness of the County. Startling revelation. It’s all about the rocks. 91  @lighthallvyard

Lighthall Vineyard wines

Stanners Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, winery only) combines 60% (horizontal) County fruit with 40 per cent (vertical) Niagara (Lincoln Lakeshore) grapes in balance and with finesse. Simply apply the distance formula to figure out the length of the hypotenuse. Bridging the kilometres that lie between, though inadmissible to some, comes by way of a deft winemaker’s vision and touch. Plum good, mineral rich and perceptibly tannic without breaching a threshold of varnish. Cherry toffee speaks of the sunshine and indicates time is of the essence. Will look forward to full-on County issue for 2013 in the hands of Cliff and Colin Stanners. 89  @StannersWines

Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2008 ($30, winery only) poured as a youthful and “hello” pleasant surprise though it’s just beginning to display secondary character. Has shed its CO2 ferment skin without compromising the inherent citrus zest. Nectar lit by just emerging perky propellant and the ubiquitous, underlying of St. Urban’s stones all combine forces to a life of amarita. All this to make believe 2028 will be just another year in its evolution. 92  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, 1560winery) reels in Twenty Mile Bench fruit in a warm vintage as well if not better than any of its peers. Founder Ed Madronich is clearly slope and soil obsessed and this Pinot Noir is a study in topography and geology. To paraphrase Madronich, it’s  “more Pommard than Volnay, in a deeper and more masculine way than the Estate bottling.” Pinot barrels most representative of the Gravity style were chosen for the final blend, in this case noted by woodsy black cherry and spiced root vegetable. “Get a little savagery in your life.” 90   @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2010 ($38, winery only) takes my previous impressions to a higher plane. Standing correct by calling it a “a vintage relative release” but it’s so much more than “a quaffable, generous fruit sui generis.” Beets turn into plums. Opaque hue reminds of graceful Nebbiolo with a dancer’s legs in aperture. Wins in judicious use of French wood. Tannins persist in the rear-view mirror. Big ’10 that speaks of another level in Beamsville Pinot Noir. “Think about it, there must be higher love.” 91  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron 

Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2009 ($49.95, winery only) from the Creek Shores Appellation is proof that a well rounded grape has no point. The Van Bers is winemaker Paul Pender’s purlieu, edgy, outlying, unconcerned with the norm or the banal. Makes full use of a cool vintage with heart-stopping acidity and eye-popping verve but not without delivering Soul, in the form of flowers and a fruit basket to your doorstep. “It’s like thunder and lightning.” Capers, camphor and a knock on wood add R & B complexity. 91  @Paul_Pender

Good to go!

A long and “wine-ding” tasting road

Wine tasting PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

It was right in my wheelhouse and on so many levels. Thirty-three wines, all but two from the Niagara region, spanning vintages from 2001-2010. Poured blind, each of five flights introduced analogous to pop music culture; Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, The Sister Sledge, The Who and Simply Red. It could only be zeitgeist for my virgin Experts Tasting experience at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

It happened at Pond Inlet, a cozy, light-filled space, surrounded by a wine local’s who’s who. Vignerons, proprietors, journalists, sommeliers, marketing gurus and Brock U. luminaries. Seated next to Niagara’s über taster and 2013 VQA Promoters Award winner Rick VanSickle, but also in the ameliorated company of Mr. Wine DiscoveryThe Grape Guy and the Wine Sisters.

CCOVI Experts Tasting 2013 (Photo: Michael Godel/canada.com)

More than 140 samples were submitted by wineries to this year’s tasting panel, assessed blind and chosen for excellence, complexity but also adjunct in relative merit to their peers. The 2013 Experts tasting was akin to a structured wine in itself, seamless in flow thanks to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University. The mostly in vain attempt at assessing vintage, origin and producer was a humbling and submissive gesture. This Storify board captures the social media buzz around the event.

A panel of four winemakers each gave their own unique in flight preamble perspective, followed by a tutored tasting and a reveal of the flight’s wines. The final coterie was a group test, in teams table by table, led in cheeky and mischievous form by a soon to be head-shaven sommelier.

The VQA Promoters Awards were presented at intervals during the event by wine educator Dr. Linda Bramble. Here were this year’s four recipients:

LCBO: Waterloo’s Charley Ronzio of Store 115.

Hospitality: CN Tower’s James Muir, the proprietor of Toronto’s highest cellar.

Promoter-at-Large: Harald Thiel, Vigneron and Proprietor, Hidden Bench Winery.

Media: Rick VanSickle, Wine Journalist, Wines in Niagara.

The wine tasting was then introduced by April Kilpatrick, Sommelier at Windows by Jamie Kennedy.

From left to right: Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010; Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010; The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; and Stratus Malbec 2010.

Flight #1: R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Presented by Rob Power, Winemaker, Creekside Estate, employing Aretha Franklin’s signature because Miles dissed the grape when he said, “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” This assemblage brought Merlot some respect, difficult as they were to pin down and Power later summed it up best. “Mission accomplished. We’ve messed with all your heads.”

Malivoire Wine Company Merlot ‘Stouck Vineyard’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) of high-toned raspberry fruit is the Dr. Feelgood track. From mendicant, heavy red clay soil on the Lincoln Lakeshore making for concentrated small berries and dense, richly textured Merlot. Tarry, warming, accented by late baking spice and anise. Merlot is a serious business and “taking care of business is really this man’s gain.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Trius Winery at Hillebrand Merlot ‘RHS’ Clark Farm Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) is a rock steady, Four-Mile Creek, single vineyard effort full of mulberry fruit and dusty, chalky tannin. Let’s call this Merlot what it is, “a funky and lowdown feeling.”  89-90  @TriusWines

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve, Queenston Road Vineyard 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) spent 32 months in oak and now bricks its age in weathered, splintering cedar with a note of funky prune.  Illustrates the importance of site to Bordeaux varietals in Niagara. A Merlot to make you think, consider the past, “let your mind go, let yourself be free.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve 2008  ($34.95, winery only) on the St. David’s Bench is “the smoked meat sandwich” says Power, and “a bit of a funkmeister.” Perhaps the flight’s chain of fools, like a blender looking for a Cabernet or two to join the party. Its slumber was 29 months in barrel. “For five long years I thought you were my man.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Twomey Merlot 2007 ($61.95, 14043) is the ringer out of Silver Oak in Napa Valley. Whiffs the most funky fromage but also a woman’s perfume. Racy, roaming, with umami, earth and a sweet/savoury line. Goes both ways, a Do Right Woman, Do Right Man kind of Merlot.  “And as long as we’re together, baby.”  89-90  @Twomey

Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($25, winery only) tends Right Bank to me, certainly not Niagara. Big berry, citrus, bright fruit perfume. Heavy tannin, guns a’ blazing and an obvious strong use of American Oak. This one demands respect. “Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me.”  90-91  @PillitteriWines

Cornerstone Estates Winery Merlot 2010 ($23, winery only) appears to show some age though it’s really just a pup. Displays aggressive high-toned tannin with a patience towards potential. I say a little prayer for this Wismer Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench on the Niagara Peninsula Merlot because if it falls apart, it “would only be heartbreak.”  87-88

Flight #2: The Mothers of Invention

Presented by Emma Garner, Winemaker, Thirty Bench, using Frank Zappa’s band as analogy to denote Cabernet Franc as the matriarch to all Bordeaux varietals. Could have sworn #4 was a ringer but no! There were none in the group.

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2008 ($38, 665034) from fruit picked on December 8th (what???) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Young at heart, full of smokey, tangy, currant baking aromas. Maternal but blessed with firm, plush tannin. “Some people like cupcakes,” I prefer a muffin man.  89-90  @Stratuswines

Stoney Ridge Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($18.95, winery only) is a Niagara Peninsula, red pepper jelly and citrus-spiked currant concoction made from Fox and Edwards Vineyards, 100% Bench fruit. Thought it was ’08 but wrong! Coffee and herbal balm make the water turn black and this Franc screams for food. 87-88  @stoneyridgewine

Riverview Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Salvatore’s’ 2010 ($49.95, winery only) leans a lighter, elegant Loire style. Built upon clay/loam soils out of Niagara-on-the-Lake, aged in both French and American oak. Cool, cherry fruit, mint, herbaceous and full of personality. A fine girl this Riverview, “she do yer laundry, she change a tire, chop a little wood for de fire.”  89-90  @RiverviewWinery

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Modified Note: Big Leg Emma. “Sock it to me!” Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only) has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100% Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92 @PellerVQA

Trius at Hillebrand Cabernet Franc ‘Red Shale’ Clark Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) at 25.6 Brix is a huge wine from Four Mile Creek. Black beauty, with lots of chocolatey oak and dark fruit. Chalky, grainy thread indicates time is needed to settle it down. No valley girl, this one, nor shrinking violet. “It’s like so BITCHEN!”  89-90  @TriusWines

Pondview Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($29.95, winery only) again out of Four Mile Creek has the red pepper, currant jelly notes but it’s less ripe and not nearly as big as some siblings in this flight. May have “no cars no diamond rings,” but it shows passion in a Zappacosta, spandex kind of way.  87-88  @pondviewwinery

CCOVI Tasting

Flight #3: We Are Family

Presented by Ron Giesbrecht, Winemaker, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, discussing “vinified” incest, i.e. Bordeaux grapes which have essentially married their kin. His dissertation, impossibly deadpan, was a cross between Stuart McLean and Ron MacLean. His take on attending to wines of Bordeaux genealogy? “How do you know which side of the church to sit on when you’re related to so many on both sides?”

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($34.95, winery only) alights in lithe tendrils before adding coffee, meritage mid-weight. Currants, nasturtium and red fruit compote buoy this cooler Niagara blend that combines fruit from the the Lincoln Lakeshore, St. David’s and Beamsville Benches. A good dancer with “the kind of body that would shame Adonis.” Expertly balanced with the spine to age.  88-89  @FieldingWinery

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Merlot ‘Stouck’ ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a pitchy rendition with a pronounced roasted espresso note. Seems to me the motherly, Cabernet Franc’s genes have imparted their wisdom into this (63%) Cabernet Sauvignon dominant beauty with big Cassis fruit. Chic, juicy, with a filled in mid-palate and stiff structure. Grab a glass, “leave your cares behind, these are the good times.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Stratus Red 2010 ($44, winery only) seemed older but that just might be the 617 days it spent in barrel. Cab Franc dominant with the help of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the late bloomer, Petit Verdot. Got to love somebody so it may as well be this red, because “I won’t let my life pass me by.” The four grapes help to explain Giesbrecht’s “relative merits of relative meritage.”  89-90  @Stratuswines

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010 ($35, winery only) has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.  91-92  @HiddenBench

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2007 ($45, winery only) emits the varnish of the ’07 Niagara vintage. Soy, meat protein and caramel give way to a sweeter, plum accented palate. This ’07 is Le Freak, with more Cabernet Sauvignon, indicative of what we did not know then. So much to learn from wines like this, “like the days of stopping at the Savoy.”  87-88  @HiddenBench

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002 ($50, not available) from the Niagara Peninsula shows toffee and concentrated, oxidized fruit. That said, it has aged well and still offers intellectual spirit in dried fruit and potpourri. Great old tune to Dance, Dance, Dance along to. 88-89  @SpeckBros

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Flight #4: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

Presented by Ilya Senchuk, Winemaker, Foreign Affair Winery, relating (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon wines to the idiomatic album by The Who. “We want wines with bounciness,” says Senchuk, “with a knife edge balance of weight and complexity.”

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) shows age, wood finish, plums and berries. I had this pegged as an ’06 (scouts honour). Not a classic Bordeaux vintage in the Queenston Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench but well-structured and really, there is no substitute. “I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Stouck’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a big, blowy, brawny wine of massive concentration. Designed for my generation, with jammy flavours from clay soils on good slopes. “People try to put us d-down, just because we get around.”  89-90  @MalivoireWine

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Lot I’ 2010 ($34.95, winery only) from the Niagara Peninsula is a chameleon, ever evolving in the glass, perplexing, fascinating to study. Possessed of dried fruit and decidedly earthy flavours, complexity and balance. Can “go anywhere, for something new,” anyway, anyhow.  89-90  @SouthbrookWine

Thirty Bench Winemakers Cabernet Franc ‘Small Lot’ 2010 ($40, winery only) lopes out in lacquer than lifts towards sweet red pepper, dusty mulberry and cracked black pepper. All the while a current of Beamsville Bench, black currant acidity runs through it. This one’s a seeker, “its got values but I don’t know how or why.” At least not yet. Give it time.  87-88  @ThirtyBench

Stratus Petit Verdot 2010 ($38, winery only) with its bounce is the Happy Jack of the flight. Thick in weight and texture, a steak sandwich in a glass. Remarkable effort for stand alone Petit Verdot in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Has a certain Spanish modernity and is certainly neither “petite” nor “little.” Say what you want about this PV but never “prevent Jack from feeling happy.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Fielding Estate ‘Option C’ Red 2010 ($34.95, winery only) begins with an off-putting, scorched earth funk and I wonder if it will blow off. Makes me “dizzy in the head and I’m feeling blue” so I can’t explain but it does indeed dissipate. Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way out of the Lowry Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench with 15% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc rounding out this strong, rhythmic and beaty Bordeaux blend.  89-90  @FieldingWinery

The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($37.95, winery only) is very pretty, forward and inviting. Juicy fruit from south facing vines on top of the Niagara Escarpment. Made in the Appassimento style, with 25% of the fruit dried then added back to the wine and 23 months spent in barrel. Puts this Cab in a seat on the Magic Bus. Rogue process, tame result. “I want it.”  91-92  @wineaffair

Flight #5: If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Presented by Peter Bodnar Rod, 13th Street Winery, like a comic book villain, leading the crowd into the uncomfortable nooks and crannies of guessing wines blind. This was a thrilling flight, crushing wine libidos and crowning champions of the game. Notes here are a bit more brief.

Stratus Malbec 2010 ($48, winery only) is made with the help of consulting oenologist Paul Hobbs in an “Alta Vista,” high-altitude style. Cool-climate rendition, a window to the future for the grape in Ontario. Hits a blue note, kind of like Philly soul. Unheard of 10 years ago, this one’s saying “just trust in me like I trust in you.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002 ($30, not available) shows amazing longevity and freshness. Proof of the Peninsula’s magic to state “you will never never never know me.” Simply solid red.  90-91  @SouthbrookWine

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien 2001 ($109, 9852) is the first red herring and stupefies in origin and vintage. I actually found it drying and disappointing. Bordeaux? Whatever.  88-89

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Merlot Unfiltered 2002 ($29.95, winery only) was harvested in October on the Niagara Peninsula. Showing the soy sauce, umami and oxidation of its sistren. Yet another anything but simply red wine from H of P to show us “all the things that we’ve been through.”  87-88  @SpeckBros

The Foreign Affair Winery ‘Temptress’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) is shepherded by Merlot with bits of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot thrown in for good 15.3% abv measure. Sugary, concentrated and full-bodied. Not for the simply red faint of heart. Embrace this big appassimento style  or “what good is a love affair when you can’t see eye to eye.”  90-91  @wineaffair

Good to go!

Top juice flows at 25th Cuvée anniversary

Cuvée 2013 Bubbles and Icewine Bar PHOTO: MICHAEL GODEL/CANADA.COM

You’ll declare it’s simply topping

To be there and hear them swapping

Smart tidbits

as seen on canada.com

It was a night for putting on the ritz at the Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, Ontario. On Friday March 1, 2013 the 25th Cuvée was held, a singular celebration of meritorious VQA wines and celestial, local comestibles. Part Toronto Taste and part Taste Ontario, the evening was presented by the Niagara Community Foundation. Established in 2000, the NCF is dedicated to improving the quality of life in Niagara through building endowment funds ($16 million raised), providing grants (in excess of $4.1 million) and enabling philanthropic partnerships.

In the tradition of a grand tasting, more than 40 Ontario wineries were asked to pour their vintners’ personal favourites, determinate wines forged of passion and craft. Many of these signature, nomes de plume will reemerge in future tastings and will help to define their maker’s legacies. This 2013 event signaled a format shift in direction, away and to the dismay of some, from a wine awards ceremony towards a forward thinking industry’s show of togetherness.

Fallsview Casino Resort, Cuvée 2013 Food Station

Live cooking stations, many staffed with armies of chefs, spared no expense to design layered dishes built upon house-cured larder, local and artisanal ingredients. The food component was certainly no afterthought and threatened to steal away the VQA thunder. Fortunately many of the chosen wines were some of Ontario’s best and if you have followed anything I have been writing this past year, you will know that I am serious about Ontario’s wine industry. If nothing else, Cuvée 2013 succeeded to entrench an indisputable truth. The Niagara wine industry is the bomb.

In the words of Hidden Bench Vigneron and Proprietor Harald Thiel, “if Canada wants to have a place in the wine world, we need to carve it.” This sentiment is shared and pursued in kind with the efforts of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University (CCOVI) and the VQA Promoter Awards, but also by the Wine Council of Ontario, The Ontario Wine Society and Wine Country Ontario.

Smoked Meat (Timothy Mackiddie/Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery) Cuvée 2013

The grand tasting gave way at 9:30 for Après Cuvée, complete with an ice sculpted Icewine & Bubbles bar opposite a host of local craft beers. It was the Niagara wine world’s version of Après-ski, with cheese, charcuterie and dancing along with Jonesy, a five-piece pop/rock cover band from St. Catharines. Inglorious 80’s mercenaries, morphing Corey Hart, Platinum Blonde, INXS, U2 and George Michael into one wedding band package. The Ontario wine cognoscenti danced. So did their sons and daughters, thanks and with props to the Adele and Bruno Mars covers.

But I digress. The night and the weekend belonged to the wine. In addition to the gala, the Cuvee En Route passport allowed wine fans to tour, taste and attend events along the wine route Friday through Sunday. Here are notes on ten exceptional wines from Cuvée 2013 with a nod to the winemakers who made them.

From left to right: Chateau Des Charmes Equuleus 2010; Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2009; Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet-Merlot 2010; Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; and Riverview Cellars Estate Winery Gewurztraminer 2011.

Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay 2010 (Thomas Bachelder, $44.95, coming to VINTAGES) from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94   @Bachelder_wines

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010 (Paul Bosc, $40, ONT, winery only, SAQ,  11156334, $41.25) from the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard is a classically styled blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, only made in exceptional years. Apropos choice from 25-year old vines (in 2010) from the warmer St. David’s Bench for Cuvée’s 25th show.  Poised, balanced and regal yet this mare is temporarily a head-shy, sensitive equine red. Will trot out furlongs of tobacco and meaty aromas from now and through maturity in five plus years. A saddle of round, red fruit will age gracefully.  92  @MBosc

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Rare Vintage Pinot Noir 2010 (David Sheppard, $49.95, winery only)  was vinified out of the five best barrels narrowed down from one specific (828) vineyard block. Sheppard’s RV Pinot is a Red Paw/Black Paw block party only thrown in a year possessed of the finest Pinot fruit. In 2010 there is zing cherry, coal, cola, cold stone, fennel, vanilla and a touch of raw ewe milk cheese. Complex PN.  91  @coyotesrun

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 (Jay Johnston, $45, winery only) is a breath of fresh ’09 air calmly hovering amid a sea of flamboyant 2010’s. Lush, smooth and silky with a Gevrey-Chambertin verve in acidity so perfectly denoting the ’09 (Twenty Mile) Bench vintage. Assistant winemaker Tom Holt makes the bold statement that Flat Rock owns the best Pinot soil in all of Niagara. The plan is to produce three micro-soil/vineyard Pinots from the 2011 vintage. Can you say Grand Cru?  91  @Winemakersboots @UnfilteredEd

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet-Merlot 2010 (Ron Giesbrecht, $50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Kacaba Vineyards and Winery Syrah Reserve 2010 (John Tummon, $69.95, winery only) from terraced estate vineyards on the Vineland Bench was co-fermented with 4% Viogner. Clearly marked for a Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie effect not to intrude on the Syrah but to soften its edges. There is pencil lead, black peppery fruit and citrus zest. Large and yet unsettled, this complex wine is whiles away from showing its true personality.  89  @KacabaVineyards

Lailey Vineyard Winery ‘Impromptu’ Syrah/Malbec/Petit Verdot 2010 (Derek Barnett, $45, winery only) from the Niagara River appellation is a 75/13/12 split and only produced in the finest vintages. Unique and distinctly Rhône-like in style though not easy to pinhole with 25% Bordeaux varietals confusing the issue. Varnished by a dichotomous combination of tar and roses with an obvious wall of meaty tannin. Perhaps a chip off of Mcinerney‘s soulful and earthy, Delta Blues Cornas block.  90  @laileywinemakr

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 (Alex Kolundzic, $35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Riverview Cellars Estate Winery Gewurztraminer 2011 (Angela Kasimos, $18.95, 319830) was sadly not presented to the media in advance of the Feb. 16, 2013 VINTAGES release or I would surely have recommended it a month ago. Straddles a spring flower and tropical fruit line, married as it is by two NOTL blocks, one planted in 1992, the other in 2004. The munificent lychee aroma trumps the Mandarin orange blossom and the 100% stainless steel ferment shrouds no mask over the freshest fruit. Impressive, huge Gewurztraminer, if too much of a good thing.  88  @RiverviewWinery

Vineland Estates St. Urban Vineyard Elevation Riesling 2011 (Brian Schmidt, $19.95, 38117) is, as Brian Schmidt says “simply the best wine that we make.” From Niagara’s most famous and benchmark Riesling vineyard, the Elevation’s pale blue stone eyes is a Pointillist painting both pointed and poignant. As I noted previously, “Riesling made in the vineyard like no other. Off-dry, lingering lemon/lime and utopian acidity. Who knows what minerality lurks in the vineyard of St. Urban? The Escarpment knows.”  88  @benchwineguy

Good to go!