I find the last week of November to be one of the strangest, most eery and unsettling times of the year. Calm before the storm. Frost, indigenous summer, zero degrees, crisp air, fall sunshine. We all know it’s coming; snow, holidays, ice, time off. The acronym might ring true but I would suggest resting your worried mind and tucking those cynical philosophies into a drawer. Pull them out in January when it matters less. For now, have a peek into the VINTAGES catalogue for November 28th.
Inside you will be faced with a thematic titled “Holiday finery.” Twenty some odd iconic Super Tuscans, Venetians, Rhônes, Californians and various, multifarious and sundry bottles leap from the pages like three-dimensional wine beacons in full propagandistic regalia. They are expensive, massive wines with pedigrees to shack up with queens and kings. I’ll expand on them later this week. Some are truly exceptional and all are stupid expensive.
There is Icewine and there is what VINTAGES calls “signature study,” a short and apathetically effective use of white space to extol the virtues of Ontario’s most important cool-climate varietal plantings, of Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Also the notion that Sparkling wine is important to our wine psyche. It’s all true.
What fails is the idea of a feature in a magazine and corresponding release with only 10 wines to drive the point. An angle with five aspects needs more than two examples to prove the multi-pronged determination in support of the bottom line. Why feature Ontario’s signature varietals with next to no illustration? Hard to imagine a paradigm shift in consumer connection with Ontario wines out of such a lacklustre effort.
The good news is that of the ten wines on offer, all are solid and representative of the ideal, with seven worthy of being recommended here. An Icewine and two British Columbia reds round out the top ten list.
Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)
Typically juicy and tight, lithe and piercing, popping and reflexive. Very consistent, vintage to vintage. Knows just what it wants to be. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September and November 2015
Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)
Sunlight is the key to this ripe Chardonnay, snatched from vines that grow on the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment’s sub-appellation. Here Henry of Pelham calmly puts its hegemony over Short Hills Bench Chardonnay on display. The fruit layering is very impressive, compressed even, with just a spiced spirit injection from the barrel. The Estate Chardonnay is in a mid-range class of its own, this gatherer of heat days, hoarder in spring water retention, cleanser in sand and gravel drainage. The vintage just seems perfect for this niche bottling, balanced, primed to finespun texture, stretched for length and good to age at least five years. Last tasted November 2015
Gilmour Corazón Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Ontario (440594, $22.95, WineAlign)
Bordeaux blend bearing the name of the former Leaf’s Captain with Ontario sites fruit via Prince Edward County. From a warm vintage and showing every bit of that heat, in spice, not alcohol. Its credo should be “make Meritage love for the group, not varietal lust for the individual.” In it for the right reasons. Team. The fruit is quite green and loaded with pyrazines but quality wood fills the unplugged holes. The wine has heart, just like number 93, perhaps small in stature but gritty like no one else in the County league. A killer playoff red with the ability to weave back and forth behind the net until the wrap around is available. I was in the Gardens that night Doug, sitting in the sixth row behind that net. Big hair guy with his arms in the air, caught on the ESPN video. Gilmour represents one of the best Meritage values the County has yet seen. Good things happen when you add work ethic to the roster. The grapes are surely proud. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted November 2015
Coyote’s Run Rare Vintage Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (426437, $24.95, WineAlign)
A nicely, confidently, smartly adjudicated reductive Chardonnay with beautifully judged oak and a pretty white flower note that elevates the aromatic profile to the verified realm of the near ethereal. This is the prettiest bloody Chardonnay ever produced at Coyote’s Run. It is rare vintage indeed, for the appellation, the sub-appellation and the vigneron. Subtle, placid, restrained, smooth, integrated, just hinting at smoke and spice, easy on the lips, mouth and gums. This will follow a fine parallel line for five years, gain some honey and caramel for five more and fade into the Four Mile reflective sunset for five more after that. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted November 2015
Reif Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (304162, $25.95, WineAlign)
The Reif Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a wildly endearing and dangerously delicious wine that should evolve gracefully and purposefully for 10 years. Why? Because it has structure. What does that mean? It means that ripe, warmer(ish) Niagara River sub-appellation fruit was picked precisely on time, with acidity intact. It means that the extraction and maceration culled sweet, supporting tannin and the barrel program added just the right amount of accentuating care. This is dutifully doted over and offers Cabernet Sauvignon plaisir. Well done. Tasted November 2015. Drink 2016-2023
Château Des Charmes Vidal Icewine 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake (200ml), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (565861, $25.95, WineAlign)
The aromatics forge a beautiful relationship between tropical fruit and intensity. Represents the reason for using Vidal to hang at negative temperatures through the freezing nights of Niagara winters. The pineapple, longan and deep peach intent are the palpable culmination of patience leading to reward. This is a most excellent example of the necessity. The little sensation of drying tannin on the finish is the indicator for conterminous Riesling longevity too. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted twice, October and November 2015
Dirty Laundry Kay Syrah 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (437111, $25.95, WineAlign)
Really perfumed Syrah permeated by spice and promising permutations left, right and centre. Quite young, modern, piqued by white pepper and juicy by way of pomegranate, cranberry, more so raspberry and then vanilla. A really solid wine with nothing but pleasure in mind. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted November 2015
Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (997353, $29.95, WineAlign)
A crescendo of sorts has been struck in 2012 with the Montague Pinot Noir perpetuity, giving credence to the vineyard as a resource to be exploited. What the site does for Pinot, particularly in warm vintages like 2012, reminds of the Pfersigberg in Alsace, a plot which provides fruit for the Sainte-Claires bottling by Domaine Albert Mann. A site where water-retention is less than average, where soil colour and low humidity attract the radiance of intense heat, which leads to early ripening of the grapes. The richness of Montague’s clay is amplified in the vintage, providing elevated heat units for this red cherry, beet, cinnamon and toasted red of equally exceptional flavours. Fine, linear acidity takes it to depths and will lead it down long, paved roads. Tasted January 2015
Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (187377, $29.95, WineAlign)
Skips the cork, avoids the taint and caps with a crown. A king’s bubble in here, a king of pop perhaps, with “a mind like a diamond.” Like a fine, flat rock that cuts through crap and “red tape fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack.” I want a fizz that gets me up early. I want a Sparkling wine that knows what’s right. I want bubbles with “uninterrupted prosperity and smooth liquidation.” I want a sparkler “with a short skirt and a long, long jacket.” I want bubbles with tang, tang, tang, apples, pears, ginger and cardamom. One that I can drink with cake. Yes, perhaps the Riddled ’09 is just a bit abrupt, at times monotone, awkward in chord changes, tempo switches and suffers from a twittering finish. But it’s twitchy and characterful along the way. Tasted November 2014
Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73098, $44.95, WineAlign)
In 2012 a beefed up wine of early life unsettling proportion, oversized, dilated, and maximized. Cut through with a current of pyrazine and distended with lots of barrel buoy, though not as over-wooded and clumsy as many. Has enough restraint and Cab character to keep things bustling and whistling, from Boston to Dixie. Cool, savoury, spicy centre. A large expression of multi-faceted desert aridity, all B.C., not Bordeaux. This will age nicely as the tannins are quite ripe. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted November 2015
WineAlign: Michael Godel