Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

2017 Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

The inaugural year-end summary of Canadian wine excitement posted to godello.ca was in 2013 and this sixth instalment naturally includes five more than the first. The necessity begs of the process to expand because five years later even the paltry number 18 is but a fraction of what could or should be noted, publicized and celebrated. This exercise is one of the most arduous writing assignments of the calendar year, difficult to pin down, even harder to leave wonder out in omission. As I’ve said before “it’s biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

Another year of tasting Canadian wine, another year of thousands of examples shared my way. Even more international travel made it difficult to keep up the pace but I’m sure I tasted more than 1000 wines once again. We are relentless in our attention paid to Canadian wines at the WineAlign office. The WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada convened in June at the convention centre in Penticton B.C. and judging Ontario wines happened with David Lawrason at The Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

Over the past 12 months my partner Scott Zebarth and I have upped our little négoce game with the fine folks at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery. With the help of Marty Werner, Ben Minaker and Eden Garry we managed to crush, ferment, blend and bottle three new wines. In April there were 594 magnums of Aldé Rosé 2017, a 100 per cent VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake cabernet franc. Then in September we released the second vintage of Interloper Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake and our newest wine, As Is Field Blend 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore.

As Is Field Blend 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($19.95)

The third wine in the little project with partner Scott Zebarth and Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery’s Marty Werner, Ben Minaker and Eden Garry A dream of fields, single-vineyard one-third each blend of pinot noir, merlot and cabernet franc, co-fermented with ambient yeasts. As Is.  scottzebarth  marty_werner  benminaker23  ravinevineyard  @Scottsomm  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23  @RavineVineyard  Scott Zebarth  Martin Werner  Ben Minaker  @RavineVineyardEstateWinery

In 2016 there were 16 wines noted. 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. Last year you are correct, the list held 17 spots. Roll out the 2018 red carpet. Here are the 18 most exciting Canadian wines of 2018.

Back up the truck, glug glug Gamay Rosé Flipping the Bird by @hatchwines and where’s J-do?

The Hatch Wines Gobsmacked Flipping The Bird Pink 2017, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $21.99, WineAlign)

We pulled this Rosé from the ice and were utterly astonished and astounded at this particular bird. It was Jason Parkes, “he named you the bird. It’s how you were generally referred. We never really understood, never really thought about much.” So we tasted again and we raised a brow, got excited and then were utterly gobsmacked. Sometimes, there’s a wine. And I’m talkin’ about the Bird here. Sometimes, there’s a wine, well, he’s the Rosé for his time and place. Mostly go gamay go with some cabernet sauvignon, utterly fresh at the peak of perfect natural volatility, red berries and grapefruit. No salve texture nor trans fat feeling left in mouth behind neither. Crushable by any amount desired. A portion of the profits from the sale of this wine are donated to Parrot Island, a non-profit sanctuary for abandoned and abused exotic birds in Peachland BC. “With time, it only made more sense, As time went by, it just made more sense. You are the bird. You are the bird.” Thank you Jason, thank you Dude. Thank you Gord. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted June 2018  hatchwines  @HatchWines  @hatchwines

Two years in a row. Well-deserved and just because.

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

Malivoire’s most important and benchmark Ontario Rosé is one of the first to the table from the 2017 vintage and why not because its quick soak and lightness of being takes no time at all to get ready. This is the antithetical beauty of Rosé and how it must be approached for best results. Malivoire does not take a step forward from the most perfect ’15 and ’16 wines but there is more fruit in this ’17. You can actually nose and taste strawberry plus a hint of tart raspberry. This will appeal to more of the general Rosé loving populace without any compromise for the provincial, provençal geeks everywhere else. It’s ostensibly a better wine in 2017 because it will attract that growing audience without having made any concessions or dis to authenticity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Fitzpatrick Fitz Rosé 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $48.98, WineAlign)

Long lasting flavours of impression. Candied ginger, dried strawberry, every fruit shade of red, for redheads everywhere.  Last tasted December 2018  fitzwine  @FitzWine  @FitzWine

This pinot noir is lovely, quiet and mild, a lemon-strawberry aromatic blush of the faintest noir. Fine spun, wild yeasty, truly wound tight, so focused and persistent. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Trail Estate Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard Unfiltered 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

Hard not to put the 1991 Cave Spring on the list but is there any good reason to not place the CSV on the list every single year?

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 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

Godello and Paul Pender of Tawse
PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates

Tawse South Bay Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.15, WineAlign)

The South Bay Prince Edward County fruit from Huff Estates lands is simply exceptional produce, from where winds blow-dry leaning vines perched aboard a passel of solid limestone sliding into Lake Ontario. Tawse has always coveted this fruit and when Paul Pender is allowed to play with it he does so with great mindfulness in search of greater apogee. Methinks Pender both picked a few days to a week earlier and also worked the most mineral meets Ceres toast his barrels can afford. There is a deep, sonorous and resounding regard about this chardonnay. It’s both sumptuous and serious, with a flinty-mineral meets toasted hazelnut interplay. It is perhaps an Ontario nod to Les Caillerets, or just a far away coincidence, but regardless you just have to know that it’s a very special wine. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted December 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Réserve Du Domaine 2016, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Agent, $37.95, WineAlign)

Still in the vein of the Queylus chardonnay tradition where a winemaker is always on the watch, meaning you never take your eyes off the child or the prize. The Réserve is a matter gathered from the best barrel selections but says Kelly Mason “the treatment and the worry are the same.” Slides easily away from the tropical and sidles up the the rocky places from whence it came. Chardonnay is often round and liked that way but Queylus is direct, linear, angled and also far from angular. When the Escarpment rule is followed and traced along the lines of a malolactic ruler marked by clones (in this case 76 as opposed to 95) then structure is assured. The ambition is real, the intention serious and there is no roaming far to the west or the east. All that and richness is found through every bright sip. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2018  queylus  @Queylus  Domaine Queylus Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Tête De Cuvée 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (278812, $45.20, WineAlign)

Still so youthful, now noted by smoked quince with a shot of peppermint schnapps where no sugar lives save for the sweetness of nature.  Last tasted December 2018  hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025. Tasted twice, September and October 2014

Roche Wines Pinot Noir 2016, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $24.90, WineAlign)

The 2016 is purchased pinot noir fruit by Dylan and Pénélope Roche from Kozier organic vineyard on the Naramata Bench. Hand harvested and fermented in stainless steel tanks with regular pumping over and pressed after three weeks on skins. The press wine was separated from the free run and aged for 10 months in stainless steel and neutral French oak. Knowing what I know after the first blind assessment it now turns this love of love into inspiration, away from the soulless, blind pinot noir love and to something real. If there is a more honest and crushable one I’d be shocked. So exciting and new.  Also tasted at Bench 1775, June 2018  rochewines  @RocheWines  @rochewines

Really ripe, I mean really ripe, a hematic liqueur that few others in the flight can match. From a warm site to be sure, full and thick as pinot nor  thieves. Not as structured but so very, bloody and reasonably drinkable. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Though statements of monadical hyperbole should very much be avoided, a taste of Dan Sullivan’s ’16 JCR makes one think it has all come to this. The glycerin fruit endowed with so much natural sweetness and magnificently low alcohol feels like an impossibility. In a way it is but it’s also a County reality. This may just be the least astringent PEC pinot noir ever produced and at the same time seems entirely void of tension. Yet there is structure and cohesion, two functors so very necessary to see it drink well for 10 years, with great charm and further curiosity for five more after that. Drink 2018-2028.  Last tasted July 2018  rosehall_run  sullywine  profilewinegroup  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine  @ProfileWineGrp  @RosehallRun  Dan Sullivan  @ProfileWineGroup

Bright, red raspberry, light and effusive with a simple, liquid chalky feel. Really drinkable. The tart is part of a delight in composition. A good chew.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Pinot Noir 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Driest year on record with nary a moment of disease pressure. Spent 18 months in older French oak, less one barrel. This is the richest Ancienne and Nova Scotian pinot noir to date, with firm grip, structure and outright intensity. Welcome to the pinnacle of the first L & W pinot wave, the culmination of the first epoch, after which nothing will be the same and so much learning will have been achieved. Begs the question of what happens next? The vines get better is what, in fact I walked the 2018 pinot noir vines today. Their maturity and contiguous consistency will be the answer to future questions and debate. They will speak for and on behalf of themselves. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018  lwwines  rachhlightfoot  jhortonns  korilightfoot  @rachel_hope  @lwwines  @lightfootandwolfvillewines  Rachel Lightfoot  

Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $54.80, WineAlign)

Released on Monday July 16th and now a Platinum Award winner at NWAC18. “This has everything that ’13 had but just a bit more weight, structure and complexity, plus volume, those last three meaning on the palate,” explains winemaker Adam Pearce. Down in volumes (30 per cent), beautifully aromatic, low-cropped, (1.25 tonnes per acre), 15 per cent new wood, 32 months in barrel, in bottle for an additional 10 months. The focus, presence and confidence of this wine stand apart, all worked specific to place and the uniqueness of the appellation. Benefits from a double-lake effect and different soils. Chalk and river stone liquidity running as a river of its own right through. Drives the point of patience, to allow a vineyard the chance to speak of its singular phraseology. The 2014 Niagara River cabernet franc may still be a ways from reaching its full potential but it has certainly hit its stride. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2018  twosisters_vineyards  apearcevino  @TwoSisters_wine  @apearcevino  Two Sisters Vineyards  Adam Pearce  

Benjamin Bridge Cabernet Franc Small Lot 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $57.95, WineAlign)

Still from the Kingsport farm fruit, a whole cluster ferment, no messing with stems, fully oxygenated, no carbonic maceration, 30-40 per cent whole bunch. Total output is “a barrel and a bit.” An infused aromatic ferment, green spice and a char of tobacco, utter intensity, compelling and a phenolic reality. “A myth buster incarnate,” says Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, ripened beyond the sensory borders, miles away from other territories, with generosity and juicy ripe legs. From a warm vintage, nine months in neutral oak plus nine in the bottle. Then a decant and oh how the florals open up, furthered, blooming and intoxicating. More than just a fun little experiment so please wake up and smell the Gaspereau Valley. So lively, a wee salty and all energy. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2018  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones  scott.savoy  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  Jean-Benoit Deslauriers  Scott Savoy  

Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Brian Schmidt’s investigations into cabernet franc border on obsession but truth be told it’s not rocket science that makes so many fine varietal tiers. There are the six growers combed from six Niagara sub-appellations that add up to one entry-level, over-delivering cabernet franc. Then there is Bo Teek, the large estate vineyard planted in 1996 to clone 327 in the south and in 2006, to clone 214 in the north. Not to be forgotten in the cabernet franc make-up is the limestone substratum, highly significant for the trace mineral, elemental push up into these vines ensuring that no over-the top make up is required for varietal elevation, explanation and consummation. Vineland’s Reserve spends 16 months in barrel, none of which are any newer than from 2009. Fermentation, barrel, bottle, repeat. That’s it. No racking. This Reserve is the marriage of north and south, 60 and 40 per cent respectively, a combinative attack both phenolic and aromatic. The northern fruit sings some blues with crooning volatility whilst in delivery of sweet blackberry fruit. The south is all about stretched, nimble and elastic tones, elegant, more fragrance, black to red berries and less brooding. As one it’s a deeper and more intense wine than Bo Teek or Elevation, bottled in November, with higher acidity. The corollary variegation expands above what Bo Teek seems capable of executing solo. The structure here tells us it will not switch gears as early and live longer. Look for some secondary notes in the vein of black truffle, sweet balsam and dried lavender to show up after the turn of the decade. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2018  vinelanestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  @winery.vinelandestates  Brian Schmidt


Mission Hill Terroir Series Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $50,00, WineAlign)

You have to wonder why Mission Hill had not kicked at the can before because the Vista’s Edge is one of British Columbia’s brightest cabernet francs. It’s an important and exciting first effort from East Osoyoos fruit pulled from one of the Okanagan Valley’s farthest southern plantings. It’s a top three per cent single-vineyard, special terroir series edition that smells, tastes, feels and acts like cabernet franc. Nothing about this, not by barrel nor like varietal reminds of cabernet sauvignon. There are currant and peppery reductive meets pyrazine notes as red, bright and fresh as you’d hope they would be. The pitchy darkness of structure and hue falls because night must always follow the day and that’s what happens when cabernet franc is made this way. A long life ahead is conformed by the diphthong finish. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted June 2018  missionhillwinery  @MissionHillWine  @MissionHillWine

Leaning Post Syrah Keczan Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Agent, $45.00, WineAlign)

The eureka moment for syrah, Lincoln Lakeshore, Keczan and Leaning Post came years ago, for it, that, they, them and I. Not together mind you but passion knows no limits and opens doors to transcend time and space. This pinpointed farm on that flat expanse so perfectly proximate to the lake is where syrah can express itself without hindrance or opposition. Here the lake is like the Mediterranean and the river like the Rhône. Together they address the clay, create a moisture gathering effect, ship out the cold fronts and usher in the warm. They make syrah like this, rich in humus, hummus and hubris, olive tapenade and sweet brine. Fruit is fruit, also sweet, but savoury, acidulated and fine. Acidity is perfect in this vintage. Length is exceptional. A new benchmark, bred from passion with the intendment to inspire commitment. One of Ontario’s best red wines. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Kacaba Signature Series Reserve Syrah 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

It’s about time we get something straight. Kacaba knows Syrah, in fact they should receive serious consideration for the title of Ontario’s top Syrah specialist. Two vineyards (with plantings that date back to 1997) provide fruit for several tiers, including the syrah from Terrace and Silver Bridge Vineyards and the highest quality chosen, hand-harvested fruit for this Signature Series Reserve. An escarpment’s dolomite limestone effect plays into these hands from fruit that arrives into glass through the body of arguably Ontario’s finest current syrah. The aromatic waft of a warm pastry crust is laden with red and blue berries that also fill the cool flavour centre of a pastille. The savoury candy gives way to a peppery kick before featuring a cure of salumi and a return full circle to that serious fruit. The apposite and complimentary smells and tastes are only intensified with a bottle’s decant so just imagine the possibilities that age will bestow. This is special work from Michael Kacaba with winemakers John Tummon and Vadim Chelekhov.  Last tasted February 2018  kacabavineyards  vadimwineguy  @KacabaVineyards    Kacaba Vineyards and Winery  Vadim Chelekhov

Oh what a beautiful peppery syrah, ripe and floral, all of its aspects, angles and components agreed upon, all in. When Canadian (and in this case, somewhere in Ontario) syrah gets down to business, gets straight to the meaty and smoky point it does so tart, tight and coiled around your tongue and finger. This, right here just nails it. It is the best of times. This is the man. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted blind at #NWAC17, June 2017

Stratus Vineyards Sémillon Botrytis Affected 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

One of the most unique dessert wines in Ontario this is neither late-harvest nor Icewine in origin. Only the third time it has been made, the 2016 sémillon launches with a smoky beginning, as expected and yet, is always appreciated. Some of the fruit is harvested early, but other bunches in the same vineyard are some of the last to be harvested. This low alcohol anti-sticky is from the warm vintage and from the same spot in the vineyard, vintage in vintage out. Most interesting is how these pristine botrytis affected grapes are picked ahead of the rest of the clean fruit used for the dry sémillon. It’s a very vinous sém with distinct apricot and longan notes. Great acids in 2016. Has still retained some waxiness and found some tropical fruit despite the early pick. All of the counterintuitive ideals tell us that the warm vintages can make for top quality dessert wine. This is the masquerade party wine made by the Way Outs band. “That’s where the fun is, way out, WAY OUT!” Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted October 2018   stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Good to go!

godello

2017 Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

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WineAlign

Crush on Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge Vineyards

It’s late October and I’m walking the vineyard with viticulturalist Scott Savoy who gestures below our feet into the genius loci where multiple layers of loam and sandy loam are mixed with river stones. In the vested interest of micro-climate orientation he points out the modest mountain ridges to the north and south, the stretch of valley to the east and west, to the big Bay of Fundy beyond and back down to the earth. He notes the fault line running diagonally away from the crush pad and tasting room, through the vineyard and down the slope to the river below. Today the namesake belongs to the winery but Benjamin Bridge is first and foremost a place. We all want to know about its history because there is something very special here. In this valley the apples are different and the vines grow berries smaller and unique. It’s a place that pulls on the heartstrings of innate curiosity.

Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley

It comes from the name of the bridge that crosses the Gaspereau Valley and pays tribute to the Benjamin family who dammed up the river to become the first industrialists here. The name is a historical one, not one of fashion, trends, aggrandizement or narcissism. The ownership and the management of Benjamin Bridge Vineyards are fully cognizant of their place within a King’s County pantheon, of the past and for the future. Who among them wouldn’t pay a king’s ransom to protect it? They fully recognize how the tenets of farming, progression, life, struggle and ethos came before them and will continue long after they are gone. Just in case their work in making sparkling wines headed up by chief winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers is not legacy defining enough they recently supplied a bottle of Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Reserve 2012 to christen the first Irving Shipyard built Arctic patrol vessel. Sophie Trudeau used the bottle to christen the Harry DeWolf during an October ceremony on the Halifax waterfront. An interesting and poignant aside, this gesture.

Frost damage at Benjamin Bridge

The 2018 Nova Scotia harvest will live in infamy and perhaps not for the reasons everyone involved will want to remember. Frosts, rain, grape growing pressures and more frosts reduced quantities so drastically that emergency fruit was transported across two provincial borders from Ontario, a fact not lost as a notion that is pathetically-monopoly ironic. Annapolis Valley Vineyards were looking at losses of at least 50 per cent following a late Sunday frost overnight and into the morning of June 4th. Temperatures plummeted from the high 20s just two days earlier to minus three degrees celsius. There were some miraculous exceptions to the rule, like Avonport’s Oak Knoll Isle but damage ran from 20 to 100 per cent. Frost that settled in the lowest sections of valley vineyards were hardest hit.

All that happened to Nova Scotia’s wine industry plus more in, outs and twists than a Coen brothers comedy-drama and yet the greatest things happened anyway. The community of growers and producers banded together, traded grapes, shared experience and pulled each other through. This is a place where everyone understands that making wine is not about one vintage, individual accomplishments or accolades. Turning grape water into wine is a life-long partnership with the land, with the weather, the Bay of Fundy and each other. Success is wrought with challenges, adversity and responses to the contretemps of the day. Such tremendous odds give credence to Nietzsche saying “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” leading to an alignment with a maritime band of brothers and sisters. The year 2018 is the vintage during which the Nova Scotia wine producers in and around the Annapolis Valley were forced into a situation of needing one another and to become les retrouvailles, the reunited.

#lookoff in Canning, Nova Scotia

At the fore of this happenstance is Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, both in terms of being the helped and the helper. The Gaspereau Valley sparkling wine specialist is the unquestioned leader of their cottage wine industry and for so many reasons. Decisions made more than a decade ago to invest everything into this stretch of land south of the Bay carved through two micro-climate catalyst ridges for the purpose of creating the newest and most important innovative sparkling wine on the planet is nothing short of historical. The speed bumps may be serious but mark my words (and by many who have stated this before me), Nova Scotia is second only to Champagne for making the kind of sparkling wine we should and will want to drink. No disrespect intended to Franciacorta, Alta Lange, Prosecco, Crèmant de Loire, Bourgogne, Jura or d’Alsace. No ill will meant towards Sonoma County, Ontario, British Columbia, Tasmania, England or Roberston’s Méthod Cap Classique. I love you all but Nova Scotia can raise grapes for traditional method sparkling wine in ways and with results that blow everything else out of the proverbial water.

Not sure you need the banger. Jacket should scare them off!

Case in point, time and again, with variations on the theme, measurable and of a ceiling reckonable through infinite possibility. In this part of Canada vinifera varietals like chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier can linger well in the autumn months, reach brix levels ideal for sparkling wine and still maintain acidities at levels all other regions can only dream of. The effect of the Bay of Fundy creates a unique environment, plain, simple and complex. Imagine adding up the flow of all the rivers in the world and asking that accumulation to submit to the power of one body of water’s tides that lower and rise as much as 17 metres every day. The Bay is like an air pump that moderates climate. Frosts be damned the picking in the Gaspereau of grapes just ripe enough for making wine is the latest anywhere. In Franciacorta for example picking of chardonnay happens in early August, just to keep natural acidity. In California it’s July and in the dead of night. We have begun to taste Nova Scotia bubbles at eight, nine and ten years on their lees. The results are astonishing with a combination of texture and acidity never seen before. As I said, the ceiling is boundless.

Crush at Benjamin Bridge: Chris Campbelll, Godello and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

The charge at Benjamin Bridge is led by founder Gerry McConnell who purchased the property with his late wife Dara Gordon in the Gaspereau Valley in 1999. McConnell worked with Canadian oenological consultant Peter Gamble and Sparkling Wine Consultant/Champagne specialist Raphaël Brisbois to establish vineyards, a protocol and a long-term strategy for making world-class bubbles. Within three years of launching the project they knew it would work.

Sunday morning, #Kingsport Nova Scotia

The unfortunate passing of Raphaël Brisbois left a huge hole in the hearts and the ethos of the BB project but great timing, fortune and intellect came to the company in the extraordinary ethic and cerebral meanderings of head winemaker Deslauriers. Originally from Québec, J-B joined in 2008 and for 10 years has explored, extrapolated and elevated the game. No combination of diversity and focus is more apparent than it is now at Benjamin Bridge.

Winemakers at work, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, Alex Morozov and Chris Campbell

The team on the ground and in the cellars is led by Head Viticulturist Scott Savoy and Chris Campbell who aides, abets and manages the trilogy of harvest, cellar and production operations. Alex Morozov is Assistant Winemaker to Deslauriers. Gerry’s twin daughters Devon and Ashley McConnell-Gordon have run the daily operations of the winery since early 2010, Keltie MacNeill manages the BB Club and Gillian Mainguy is the face of the place. Some of you may remember Gillian at Wines of Nova Scotia but now she is marketing, public relations and tireless world traveller on behalf the BB brand.

Racking chardonnay with head winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

In the third week of October I spent 48 hours with the gang at Benjamin Bridge. Crushing, talking, pressing, tasting, pumping, discussing, racking, ruminating, walking and speculating. There is a foundation of land, people and spirit you can’t know until you come here to really know.

The base is the matter and what matters comes from the great base

The discussion with Gerry and Jean-Benoit is now woven into the fabric of relationship with Pascal Agrapart who has been making wines at Champagne Agrapart & Fils since 1983. BB is keen on keeping a lineage with Champgane, a connection, to pursue more richness, texture and wines structurally rounder and fuller. Says Deslauriers, “we’re looking for the growers taking a Burgundian approach to winemaking, in the vineyard first. Pascal’s wines have always had that compelling textural quality.” Has anyone in Canada ever taken a grower’s approach to sparkling wine is the question. Here in Nova Scotia these are the wines with a stamp, of an equation in confluence from estate plus local vineyards and growing environments. The wines are not in jeopardy by adding this richness. “We still recognize the parcels we have selected through the wines we have made. There is still an inherent Benjamin-ness to the wines, ” adds Chris Campbell. I tasted the following wines off the record, some unfinished and others still who are the children of experimentation but even more so as matters of conceptual links to the reasons why Benjamin Bridge even exists at all.

Minas Friday morning

Brut 2016

Part estate and part Kingsport chardonnay fruit, with effervescence not the thing but it should tell a story. Already showing off its richness, density and concentration, even herein the “entry level,” the first full vintage for and from Pascal’s influence and tutelage. Cool stuff in here, decoupement particulare, this taking of different parcels for micro-vinifications.

Brut Reserve 2016

Of chardonnay and pinot noir, from the oldest estate blocks. There is so much more complexity, legit and from the word go. The terpenes are exceptional ones, and that is something they can be, built on acidity. Even without bubbles you can fully relate to it as the wine it knows it is. Grapefruit and tangerine, dry and sumptuous. The base is the matter and what matters comes from the great base. Perspective comes at you in solicitation of your emotions and opinions in many ways. You don’t always need CO2 to make contact with sparkling wines.

The future

Blanc de Noirs 2016

Now into pinot noir this new perspective makes you want to admit that it may be that chardonnay and pinot noir come together with a higher ceiling as a sum of their parts. Here it’s the antithetical aromatics of lemon rosewater and an amaro-herbal-red currant thing. Also oranges with spirit and a linger that reminds of the best athlete, with the greatest potential, but not the flashy star who scores early and often. 

Brut 2017

The secondary fermentation is only a few weeks old and it’s a very primary notation, with the bubble still on the way up. The rise is lime as a slow crawl along a coaster’s upward track, welling with tension and a coursing flow of anticipation. By way of comparison there is a tonic phenolic uprising either not noted or now having dissipated from the 2016.

Peculiar samples

Brut Reserve 2017

Once again the youth and the young phenols of very early fermentation but also a course led by the most unusual of vintages, cold and wet all summer long followed by 30-plus degrees in September and October. That’s 30-plus higher than right now in 2018. The contact here is unlike ’16, almost agitating and certainly unsettled. It would prefer not to be bothered at this time.

Brut NV

A non-vintage ’16, tirage in ’17. Could be vintage-dated but isn’t and won’t be. Higher acidity and more of the tonic phenolic-ness that the young ‘17s are showing. So I conclude that the NV is less structured and as an acumen-accumulated base wine it’s like a Blanc de Noirs or a reserve when younger. The translation states they are not only on to something and a real pattern is forming but they really know what they are doing, in separating micro cuvées and the outstanding wheat from the excellent chaff.

Kingsport cabernet franc

While I tasted these unfinished wines and other tank samples I also assessed 10 new wines from the portfolio. Here are my notes. The prices are all Nova Scotia retail from the winery.

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $45.00, WineAlign)

Disgorged June of 2018, now four plus months in bottle. Right from the beginning it is energy, spirit and tension. It’s mostly chardonnay but suggests richness marked by toast and flint. Quite a smokiness, not from oak, but an autolytic one. A true wine of secondary fermentation, naked and smouldering. Richness comes naturally, in second term existential notability, followed by density and length. The linger turns to mineral and salinity and you really want more right away, to layer upon what’s still left lingering behind. This is the Benjamin Bridge project incarnate, defined, teachable house style. The words of Jean-Benoit Deslauriers echo in your head, “with the possibility of absolute transcendency.” Eventually. Drink 2018-2028.   Tasted October 2018  benjaminbridge  liffordgram  @Benjamin_Bridge  @LiffordON  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @liffordwineandspirits

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Reserve 2012, Nova Scotia, Canada (275396, $74.95, WineAlign)

Now into a real vinous notion, with extra concentration that reminds you how Reserve wines have to be perfectly exceptional as still wine. The bubbles bring an added dimension but they are not the be all, end all. The richness here is taken to another level, still of course with a toasty edge but it’s the 2002 blocks of estate chardonnay and pinot noir (then 10 years old) that deal in this endearing fruit and enduring length. The sip expands and increases, with knowledge that it is that fruit, very apple orchard but a variety not fully known that drives this wealth. It’s also knife-edged and able to keep this youthful tension cut and fissured through the mouth. Not a sprinter but a climber able to amble and scramble up to heights for a decade plus. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted October 2018

The following two wines were tasted in 2017 and a few months earlier at #i4c 2018, Ontario’s Cool Climate Chardonnay Conference in Niagara.

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2012, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $119.50, WineAlign)

The vintage 2012 marks the beginning of the Benjamin Bridge oak program, here with some purchased fruit from friends and neighbours Lightfoot & Wolfville. This January 2018 disgorged bottle spent 66 months on its very, very fine lees and represents the inaugural departure away from reductive chardonnay in traditional method housing. Its acidity is striking, ripping and amazingly shot straight up to light and ignite the olfactory nerve. That is seems another six months to a year will only lead to textural and mouthfeel home improvements tells us there is seemingly no ceiling for how long on lees these south Fundy shore valley sparkling wines can go. The research is still one in progress but this much we know. The house of Nova Scotia is built on acidity. It’s a commodity much of the rest of the wine-growing planet will want to pay anything to use. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2018

Now back to October 2018.

Benjamin Bridge Riesling 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

With time rieslings change drastically, much more so than traditional method sparkling, completely disconnected from their youth. So where is this going? Energy, tension, Nova Scotia. This is a Bay of Fundy riesling, ocean-wise, saline, poignant, direct. There are herbs and fennel but already this onset of glück and proverbial riesling stamp. Lemon-lime, tart angling, green to ripe apricot. Mostly fruit from grower John Warner, it’s not too edgy, a dry, albeit 15 g/L RS style. The Mosel frame is obvious and the ceiling for potential great but this strikes me as being three to four years away from really moving into another gear. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Riesling 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

There is something I can’t simply put a nose or a finger on. It’s floral but also aerified, stratified, stratospheric, atmospheric. It’s sugary honeyed and very beeswaxy but not in a sticky way. The balance is a roundabout one where you have to travel the entire circumference in order to tie the whole room together. Something umami meets intangible allows you to imagine where 2016 will travel but it’s just an inkling coupled with a hunch. The wax is lit or rather unlit, snuffed, smouldering and beautiful. So worth this five years forward visit. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, Approx. $47.95, WineAlign)

The 2013 was the inaugural release and so here the fifth marks the man, the myth, the legend. Should sauvignon blanc be a Nova Scotia something, grown here is this tiny stretch of narrow valley? The answer is no but taste the impossible results and then try to say it with a straight face. A man who loves Sancerre and has the vision to stick with this project through unsurmountable odds and adversity deserves to drink his very own, very excellent sauvignon blanc. This 2017 strings forward a great moment of continuity although in less tropical, more saline and increased tension ways. There is an infiltration by tonic, lemon and lime and yet still explosively aromatic with citrus peel that connects the two vintages by way of this unequivocal substance and emotion. Let’s wait on this buffering streamer. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $47.95, WineAlign)

The difference between this and the previous vintage is turbidity, having it and not. It’s a negotiable varietal that doesn’t really prepare for winter and it’s not a match made in heaven with the climate. That said the adversity makes for wines of great interest. Not driven by rational motivation but by passion and love, from 0.75 tonnes of yield per acre. Explosive from the concentration delivered to each privileged berry. Dry extract is through the roof. The passion fruit on this ’16 is uncanny, almost tropical in fact it really is and yet in the end there is a revival of salt, tonic and lime. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Sparkling 2017, Charmat Method, Nova Scotia, Canada (256289, $24.95, WineAlign)

You’ll be pleased to know that Nova 7 is a child of wild ferment and made in 15,000 cases. It’s not tied to any real natural winemaking processes, but considering all that is in the balance it was decided not to add any sulphur in the winemaking process, only before bottling. Hard line indeed. No messing with the aromatic spectrum, not the terpenes nor the esters or anything else, so that the wine has developed its full aromatic possibility. Just the greatest lithe hint of effervescence, the crushable one, better than mega purple sweet confections for people who want to drink flavour. Peach, strawberry and juicy fruit for the people, for everyman, woman and non gender specific imbiber, for people in the sticks who don’t, won’t and can’t drink grower’s Champagne. Aromatic backbone is New York Muscat, plus ortega, seyval blanc, l’acadie, vidal, riesling, chardonnay (and no perle). “It’s all a lot of oyster and no pearlA, perfect for this long December. And no need to swirl, so you get a kick from the natural CO2. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Cabernet Franc Rosé Small Lot 2017, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $26.95, WineAlign)

“We knew in this season we wouldn’t have enough for a full-on commercial Rosé,” tells Jean-Benoit Deslauriers. This was harvested same day, red or pink, November 10th, whole cluster pressed for a few hours and then after débourbage transferred into concrete egg. There is remained for nearly six months and in March it was highly turbid at ferments’ end. No fining, no filtration, never a sulphur addition with thanks to natural acidities that protect. It’s a perfectly lovely oxidative note with creaminess brought by the egg, never to be stripped away. It emulates the Kingsport vineyard and the varietal. Orange skin, salinity and integrated variability, with good tonic bitters. Even a bit of firmness of tannin that says its come into its own now and will be a cerebral bit of fun for two or three more years. This is Rosé very much meant to be. There were in and around 200 cases made, this essentially estate exclusive, with a few exceptions. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Cabernet Franc Small Lot 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $57.95, WineAlign)

Still from the Kingsport farm fruit, a whole cluster ferment, no messing with stems, fully oxygenated, no carbonic maceration, 30-40 per cent whole bunch. Total output is “a barrel and a bit.” An infused aromatic ferment, green spice and a char of tobacco, utter intensity, compelling and a phenolic reality. “A myth buster incarnate,” says JB, ripened beyond the sensory borders, miles away from other territories, with generosity and juicy ripe legs. From a warm vintage, nine months in neutral oak plus nine in the bottle. Then a decant and oh how the florals open up, furthered, blooming and intoxicating. More than just a fun little experiment so please wake up and smell the Gaspereau Valley. So lively, a wee salty and all energy. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2018

And one final tank sample.

Cabernet Franc 2017

A good portion of, as in 100 per cent whole berry, whole cluster fruit ferment. Heavily oxygenated, non-carbonic, from four barrels, to be bottled in December and then released next fall, so nine plus nine. There’s the floral rising from the glass, so pronounced. Strawberry, mint, cherry and liquorice, amaro, spice and tobacco. Green and pyrazine are looked for and not found. It’s the sand layer under the strat of mixed recent glacial run off rocks that mitigate the bubbling water beneath the soil and give this a tannic structure unheard of in Nova Scotia reds, Also remembering the urgency at the hands of the whole cluster ferment.  There are 900L available. Grab ’em by the growlers.

crush #interloper standing with harvest giants

Good to go!

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