Fifteen ahead of VINTAGES April 15th

Yes we did. Who shucks’em cleaner anywhere close to the headwaters? #nobody @TideandVine

The VINTAGES April 15th release is all about value. I tasted through close to 100 over these past few weeks and wines under $20 are what stood out from the pack. My recommendations include four under $15 and six more under $18. Everything needed to get you through five months of impending warm weather is right here, right now. Enjoy.

Animus 2014, Doc Douro, Portugal (385302, $12.95, WineAlign)

@VFvinhos  @ProfileWineGrp  @winesportugalCA

Boutari Naoussa Xinomavro 2014, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (23218, $13.95, WineAlign)

@boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @DrinkGreekWine

Casal De Ventozela Espadeiro Rosé 2016, Vinho Verde, Portugal (450841, $13.95, WineAlign)

  @vinhosverdes  @winesportugalCA  @LeSommelierWine

Chateau D’aigueville Côte Du Rhône Villages 2015, Ac Rhône, France (479683, $14.95, WineAlign)

  @Eurovintage  @VINSRHONE

Lorca Selección Monastrell 2008, Do Bullas, Spain (380238, $15.95, WineAlign)

@BodegasRosario  @TheCaseForWine  @DOP_Bullas

Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Langhorne Creek, South Australia, Australia (429241, $16.95, WineAlign)

From Langhorne Creek and reeking of exoticsim, the aptly-named Spice Trader is a glass of full-bodied shiraz-cabernet sauvignon savour. The seasonings are zesty, spirited, piquant and then finally, settled into a mulled warmth. Red peppercorn, cardamom and allspice bring a Malabar-Zanzibar, dhow-drift sail through the red fleshy fruit. No kernel is left uncracked and the spiked liquere leaves a lingering lift. More Langhorne than cabernet or shiraz but full of flavour. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted January 2017  @heartlandwines  @TheVine_RobGroh

La Griffe Bernard Chéreau Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2015, Sur Lie, Ap Loire, France (948182, $16.95, WineAlign)

@HHDImports_Wine  @LoireValleyWine

Alkoomi White Label Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Frankland River, Western Australia, Australia (428383, $16.95, WineAlign)

@Alkoomi  @TFBrands

Château La Verrière 2014, Ac Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France (349274, $17.95, WineAlign)

@MajesticWineInc  @BordeauxWines

Jaspi Negre 2013, Montsant, Spain (481085, $17.95, WineAlign)

@cocaifito  Grape Brands Fine Wine & Spirits

Tornatore Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio 2014, Doc Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy (487090, $21.95, WineAlign)

Domaine De Riaux Pouilly Fumé 2015, Ac Loire, France (200063, $25.95, WineAlign)

@LoireValleyWine  Old Cellar Collection

Closson Chase Closson Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (145888, $29.95, WineAlign)

@ClossonChase

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (933317, $36.95, WineAlign)

    @rogcowines

Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2009, Doca Rioja, Spain (743310, $57.95, WineAlign)

@bodegasmuga  @Vinexxpert  @RiojaWine  @Wines_fromSpain

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Why taste Ontario?

Beet, padano, sunflower sprout, balsamic, lemon, terrabianca olive oil

Beet, padano, sunflower sprout, balsamic, lemon, terrabianca olive oil

We get this sort of query all the time. “Why does Ontario wine cost so much?” Actually, it’s often more a complaint then a question. We get upset. Granted, many international wines are cheaper….but do you know why? My colleague and Man Friday Gerardo Diaz has this to say “Don’t complain. Do some research and come back.”

As many of you know, I play every day in the fortuitous role of Wine Director at Barque Smokehouse. As we speak I am in the throes of an auspicious new plan, setting the wine program with Diaz for Barque’s next venture. Coming soon. Two years ago, just after Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates was able to initiate the keg wine revolution by overhauling VQA regulations, we convinced Jonas Newman of Hinterland Wine Company in Prince Edward County to partner with us. Wine on Tap at Barque was born. Since then we have worked with a dozen Ontario wineries.

It’s more than accessibility that drives our decision to work with and pour exclusively of Ontario wines. We had always been supporters of the local industry but the keg program allowed us to expand the portfolio and the sales. Ontario wines account for nearly 50 per cent of all wine sold at Barque.

So when guests (and I get the same questions and complaints from family and friends) wonder aloud about the necessity for Ontario to be so present, I have much to say. The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”

Related – Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases

I also wrote this, quite some time ago. “That is producing unique, cutting edge and brilliant takes on cool climate grapes. They also match beautifully with the songs referenced in their tasting notes. When the wines are assessed and considered in part or as a whole, who would dare to say there are no great wines being produced?”

Related – The group of twelve

As a cool-climate viticultural entity, there are few rivals around the world. The geology and micro-climate are ideal for growing specifically chosen vinifera. The winemakers in Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore are highly educated, state-of-the-art savvy and maniacally progressive professionals. In the categories of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Sparkling wine, Ontario crafts excellence at all price points. After the two brutal winters of 2014 and 2015, no other set of vintners could have succeeded with unfailing ability more than the women and men of Ontario’s industry.

World-renowned authorities are in the know. Find yourself face-to-face with any of these international writers, winemakers, buyers, sommeliers or masters of wine and you will be schooled; Ian D’Agata, Jamie Goode, Steven Spurrier, Matt Kramer, Jancis RobinsonAnthony Hamilton RussellRajat ParrTim Atkin M.W., Christy Canterbury M.W., Geoff Kruth M.S.Geoff Labitzke M.W. and Igor Ryjenkov M.W. You will.

Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is the most underrated and least known super power in global oenology education studies. Have you met Dr. Debbie Inglis, Barb Tatarnic, Dr. Belinda KempDr. Gary PickeringDr. Andrew G. ReynoldsDr. Jim Willwerth, Chris Waters, Rob Power or Peter Bodnar-Rod? You should.

Ontario wine writers know their shit. They would not have no much praise for Ontario wine if it were not world-class. Have you read any reviews or articles by Tony Aspler, David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Konrad Ejbich, Michael Vaughan, Beppi Crosariol, Rick VanSickle, Shawn McCormick, Jamie DrummondZoltan Szabo, City BitesMichael Pinkus, Michael Di Caro, Evan Saviolidis, Tim Appelt, Gord Stimmell, Alan McGinty, Carolyn HammondEric Vellend, Erin Henderson or André Proulx? You need to.

Proof of Ontario’s acumen and price-worthiness need not be found any further away than at your local LCBO. Private VQA wine shops and independent retailers would only advance the cause. Spend a few hours at an Ontario gathering and you will be changed forever. Shawn’s Ontario Wine Chat discusses and promotes the ideal every Wednesday night. The Ontario Wine Society holds tastings and events year ’round. The Ontario Wine Awards asks many of those top scribes to sniff, taste, sip and pick the best of the best. Wine Country Ontario is out there all the time, spreading the gospel. This is one religion you need to get behind.

The Ontario wine tasting season is now in full swing. Taste Ontario just recently passed through Montreal and Ottawa. WineAlign is bringing Prince Edward County to Toronto on April 16th with County in the City. Somewhereness also arrives in Toronto on April 20th. In July the 5th annual Chardonnay i4C conference will descend upon Niagara. The best way to experience Ontario wine is to get out and visit. I can recommend plenty.

Why do I taste Ontario wine every day? I do it in the LCBO lab, in Ontario’s tasting rooms and cellars, at Barque, when I order wine in other restaurants and at home. I do not need convincing but I do have decades more learning to do. Here are the recent Ontario wines that have passed my desk and my lips. Five are coming to VINTAGES next week as part of the April 18th release. Others are available at the winery. Seek them out. You will then count yourself among the converted. I guarantee it.

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, 13th Street Merlot 2013, Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman's Chard 2011, Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, 13th Street Merlot 2013, Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman’s Chard 2011, Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)

Talk about bottled up compression. Twist the screwcap and thwop! The cap nearly popped like a Champagne cork. This baby has energy and drive. The vintage is compressed and pile-driven as nosed by the density opposed by reticulated 9.5 per cent alcohol. This has Mosel tattooed on its being, from neck to bottom. A dead ringer for fine Kabinett, the tropical fruit in apricot and dragon reaching back to join Ontario, in apple and pear. A good flinty stone and raging acidity combine forces to exaggerate a Riesling reticulum in what is not the missive’s greatest ever vintage. Will live five to seven easy and just go for soda. Go ahead and quaff the hell out of this one, from 2015-2020, from bottles one through twelve.  Tasted March 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

13th Street Merlot 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (270504, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Yet another Niagara red that could only have been crafted at the hands of winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas, a wild and dubiously natural Creek Shores Merlot. In 2013 the vineyard funk reeks of an instinctive, undomesticated slur in seldom seen Merlot speak. The variety normally avoids, scatters and runs away to the hills, but not this time. The flow is a movement of dried, caked, saline silt and pine needle paint. There is woodsmoke too but the suffusive Creek Shores cespitose encompasses all and runs wild. A settling will happen, so then it’s really a matter of fruit, a thing which in ’13 is not observed as overtly generous. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2015  @13thStreetWines

Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman’s Chard 2011, VQA Ontario (310243, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

In this BK variant, Chardonnay is procured by fruit not put through any drying and so very fresh it remains. The barrel helps and yet also distracts but not in any unusual or detrimental way. Just another solid Chardonnay with nothing to set it apart from the sea. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted March 2015  @BurningKilnWine

Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (258657, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

I have always been skeptical of the Peninsula take on the OZ-styled blending of a Bordeaux and a Rhône but if there is one Niagara winemaker to trust, Richie Roberts gets the nod. High-toned, crikey warm and struth oozing. Still, the balance is struck by Mediterranean-like savoury aromatics (black olive and brine), along with beautifully integrated wood. The VA is less than minimal, the fruit rosy, plum-filled and strawberry flavoured. Either variety can play second or short and both can make the turn. Will have a long life. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Accumulated cognizance exudes from the laid back Shed, here as relaxed and user-friendly as it has ever been. If the texture is not vintage induced and made of low yield than I’ll sell my LP’s and switch outright to Songza and Neil’s PonoMusic. The herbs are basil and chervil sweet, the verbena and lemon balm redolent, the flavours beaming, bolstered by preserved lemon and candied ginger. The stuffing must be questioned, but not the elegance. This Chardonnay is porous, blessed, void of rust and of an interior with plenty of space in the shed. Let it fill.

From my earlier note of February 2014: “There will be 660 cases of this barrel cherry-picked, now iconic Bench Chardonnay. The warm vintage called for a combo-malo approach, part batch all in, part arrested development. Gravity influenced top down blending also work to seek a svelte elegance and this ’12 really straddles the humid line. Thinks to be ribald but remains chaste, only allowing a kiss from the barrel and a caress from the rocks beneath the soil. Accept immediate but know that deferred gratification is the hallmark of this bottling.

Last tasted March 2015

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

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

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

In the pantheon of 2012 Bench-Ridge-Escarpment Riesling, the CSV is bound for glory. As expected it unfailingly draws innate wisdom from vines that understand their soil with deep intent. It can be said that every vintage rocks a Cave Spring Riesling but this one brings fruit out of a willingness to give and give. Winemaking connects with this vineyard and this specific Riesling, like mother and child. The depth of fruit lies under a shale of uncompromising, petrous funk and acidity. All tolled, this is a top CSV that begins on edge and then walks along, pointed towards a fruitful direction. It stays the furcate course, captivates and lingers, with no immediate end in sight. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted March 2015  @CaveSpring

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Tasted from a sample, in bottle, not yet labeled. It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. The concept is simply off the charts with respect to fruit sourced out of arguably Tawse’s most important mineral site, the Quarry Road Vineyard. So, with that plot and winemaker Paul Pender’s inner vision, the progression to this point in Ontario winemaking is fascinating. “The law was never passed, but somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last. Have we really gone this far through space and time?” Pender must have shut his eyes tight, imagined the wonder and whiffed his ways through those barrels. Based on a taste through all the Quarry barrels with Pender in April 2014 (carrying 2013 fruit) I would think the Mercurey (Large barrel, CLL toast) would best suit the natural, oxidative bent of this Quarry. This plays the hallmark bass note in natural odour; funk, wondrous gentility, wood and rhythm and blues stone, as opposed to wood and rock. Something other, preposterous and gorgeous permeates the mess. Something melodic. The wine is perfectly in tact, piercing and exact. Direct, vibrant, positively wistful and wishful. Filled in by a strings mid-palate, with acidulated apple slices from a potent cocktail. The finish goes deeper, so the sum of the parts gains on the intricacies, teeing it up for much success. That said, don’t wait for it to fall apart. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted March 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release

Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay will not be recessed into the Peninsula’s everyday lexicon, nor does it draw any direct comparisons. How can this be? I will say that the 2013 exhibits less reduction, less elemental fever and a dramatic decrease in tension, so in that sense it has comes back to the norm. Yet it dances dramatically, like a blind bee in a ripe melon, in free spirited, holistic and counter-cultured ways. A wine of gold wiring, wrung out in splashes and swaths of lamé sheets. Shows a commitment to soil, full malolactic conditioning and punched down musts in its every breath. What is obvious is that 2013 is no putty in the hand. It’s moulded clay, shaped by the mitts of its maker, immortalized by the barrel’s oven and just about ready to begin being beautified by ornamentation. Time will effect its tribal markings and ultimate finish. Give it three to five so that it may add surge to its restrained power. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2015  @normhardie

Good to go!

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Recently tasted here, there and everywhere

Wihr au Val, Alsace (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Wihr au Val, Alsace
(c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

During my week-long visit to Alsace in June I tasted more than 300 different wines. Over the course of the four months that followed that most amazing journey to the heart of a great wine region, I published more than 50 tasting notes. I also told stories about the winemakers, the Grand Crus and lieu-dits. I will continue to write and publish equal or more amounts about Alsace.

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

The British wine writer Jamie Goode recently published two articles on the subject of wine criticism versus wine journalism. His first, Whatever happened to wine journalism, appeared on the website run by Tim Atkin MW. The second, Wine critics and wine writers on his own blog, Wine Anorak. Goode is a man on the pulse of what it real and what needs to be said. He is correct in telling us that the most engaging wine writing comes from scribes who visit vineyards and tell their stories. There can be no disputing this to be true.

Jamie hopes that the future of wine writing is not fraught with short reviews and inflated scores. He sees the Utopian model in experiential travel, in meeting hard-working people, wandering over variegated soils and terroir, tasting at the source. Jamie fears that his wine writer self will go the way of the wine critic, tapping away on a computer while tasting wine in an air-conditioned office. His version of wine hell. Riesling specialist Stuart Martin Piggot agrees.

But Jamie is not entirely right either. At least in the context of the Ontario model (and those of other Canadian provinces), along with I would imagine, many wine markets in other countries. Much of what wine writers taste on globetrotting journeys is not to be found on shelves back home. While that may be pathetic and certainly a pity worthy of some kind of wine crime, it is the brass tacks of the global wine industry. I agree with Goode that we should do everything in our power to change it and we should publish stories, not just tasting notes and scores.

The problem for the reader is that most, if not 95-plus percent of the wines that are reviewed from a region like Alsace are not available for purchase in Ontario. While that is just a crying shame, it is a reality. If you purchase wine in Ontario and look for critical voices to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, you require notes on available wines. That is why writers must spend so much time tasting samples in the sterile LCBO laboratory, at our dining room tables, in restaurants and with the hard-working for not enough reward Ontario wine agents. And we must write-up the tasting notes and publish them on websites like WineAlign. This is the fact of Ontario wine importing, purchasing and consumer life. Would it be any different if there was no provincial monopoly? Yes, but it wouldn’t help in the telling of better vineyard stories.

I taste wines here, there and everywhere. Here are 16 recent samples that gave me cause to raise an eyebrow, pause, ruminate and formulate a response to the spoken sentiments of the ferment. All 16 are available for purchase in Ontario.

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Vins De Pays Côtes De Gascogne, France (Agent 223222, $13.95, WineAlign)

This is a Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc that whistles boldly like a howling wind. While the nose is high-toned and full of herbal complexities, it’s also indiscreetly alarming. The aromas are quite massive; pine needles decomposing on a wet forest floor. Kefir, cloudy and enzymatic, curdling and churning into itself. Petrol spills on asphalt, baking in the midday sun. To taste it is tangy and juicy, but also very mineral, intensified by the outcroppings of retzine in the vineyard’s limestone. The overall composition punches way above its weight but the heightened sense of reality is also a bit hard to take. Terrific effort but comes with a warning sign.  Tasted November 2014  @CotesdeGascogne  @TrialtoON

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign)

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391300, $14.95, WineAlign)

Sets a (St. David’s) benchmark for how to reign in and then release the charmes of Sauvignon Blanc from the Niagara Peninsula. Done in a decidedly fresh and lively style, this gathers up a bunches and conservative yield-managed vineyard’s warmest, ripe fruit for the purpose of bonhomie potation. Smells of vitality, of fresh herbs and citrus just cut, of a salt spring, of things zoetic. Cream elevates the texture, albeit pellucid and unobtrusive. The triad coming together of Sauvignon Blanc, St. David’s Bench and 2013 is the new CdC yardstick. The price only cements the offer.  Tasted November 2014  @MBosc

Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Rhône, France (535849, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Ogier self-professed traits of patience, savoir-faire, observation and intuition are on tidy display in this piquant, spiced-note, olive branch and indigo traditional Rhône blend. So very Mediterranean, warm and herbal by day, cool and minty by night. One stage short of lush, one notch comfortably above thin, this slots into all right moves; pleasant, value-driven and so effective for so many purposes. Stand alone or with classically prepared fare, this is all you need. Bring on the roast chicken.  Tasted November 2014  @MaisonOgier  @Select_Wines

Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012, Bierzo, Spain (Agent, $16.95)

Mencia as it once must have demanded of itself, iron clad, funky and gamey. This Bierzo is no antiseptic perfumed bottle of modern, manufactured violet Febreeze, though it’s so very vanilla and rich as a Porchetta sandwich with the porcine cure and fat driven right in to every nook and cranny. Or a taste sensation like bacon wrapped cherries. High toned with formidable tannins. A chew of sinew both in faux-wood and as the conceptual result of a roasted animal’s tension. Value gained vicariously through complexity.  Tasted April 2014  @TheLivingVine

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta White Reserve Alentejano 2013, Alentejo, Portugal (Agent, $16.95)

An endemic blend of Antão Vaz (40 per cent), Roupeiro (40) and Arinto (20) from infertile rocky schist soils in southern Portugal’s Alentejo region. Ostensibly a field blend, like the Alsace cépage a terroir of Marcel Deiss, the Fita Preta or “black tape” comes from an extreme and arid land. Portuguese winemaker António Maçanita and resident English viticulturist consultant David Booth usher out flint and mineral to capture a host of synapses from a wine region that had failed to fire in years. The landscape described  as “Portugal’s Australia” gives a white like a cross between simple, flinty Chablis and aged Hunter Valley Sémillon. The acidity is in abject anti-congruence to the region’s usual heavy-leaded output, mimicking cool-climate Chardonnay in tight and bracing stonker fashion.  Tasted November 2014  @fitapretavinhos    @LeSommelierWine

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Southern Rhône, France 2011 (259721, $18.95, WineAlign)

In a world where anything is possible, the Guigal Côtes Du Rhône effect is predictable, trenchant and essential. The vintage specific focus in alacrity drives the savoury, rich black fruit to domesticated compliance, easy on the eyes, nose and palate. This just smells like a good meal; as if a game bird were roasting in the oven, surrounded by a rough and large kerf of mirepoix, of caramelizing root vegetables baptized by dried herbs and spices. Do not be fooled. This is a warm CdR with generous alcohol (14 per cent disclosed) and an even warmer, though not uncomfortably tannic or acidity riddled finish. It is a whack of Rhône grapes within grasp of a mere mortal’s budget. Drink now and for two years forward.  Tasted November 2014  @DOMAINEGUIGAL  @VinexxWine

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (68858, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 release

A modern take on Sangiovese to be certain with a penchant for the authenticity extracted from the best parts of history. Siena red dirt dredged, cherry macerated, fined, filtered and spiked with a crush of Brandy soaked Amaretti cookies. Clean and with Spring plum blossom in the air. Il Palio dirt for appetizer, Fiore di Zucca pie for dinner and sweet, nutty Panforte for dessert. So modern but so proper. Makes no bones about its made-up face but has plenty of solid ossein in its body. Good piquancy and a rush of verve on the back palate. Oaky but not creamy, bitter yes, but not woody.  Tasted November 2014  @oenophilia1

Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $19.99, WineAlign)

The savoury aspect of this Cabernet Franc steals the show out of what is just an ideal vintage. The fruit was sourced from the Dim Vineyard in the Creek Shores appellation, a piece of the Peninsula ideally suited to the sharp and earthy aspects of Cabernet Franc. Despite 20 months of seasoning in barrel, the Tractor has maintained its red fruit character, accented by currants, spice and a deep-rooted sense of licorice. There is enough grain in its texture to carry it for three or four more years but it will never be bigger than it is now, nor will its length grow any longer.  Tasted November 2014  @SideroadTwenty

Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal, Austria (453281, $21.95, WineAlign)

The ever-present, front loaded, laser sharp attack may feign spritz amid hushed whispers of CO2, but not from any chemical alteration. It’s actually a post fermentation, double negative breath of residual covalent bonding. The fast action bottling captures pressure to act as catalyst for freshness, especially in such a lean, high acidity vintage. A sway of tall grasses and that gas smothers whatever residual sugar might try to weigh down this low (11.5 per cent) alcohol stunner. Very much alive though the depth is challenged by all that forward thinking expression. Still a very good showing for this classic Grüner.  Tasted November 2014  @AustrianWine  @LeSommelierWine

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 release

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.  Tasted November 2014  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Wo Coastal Region, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Iconic Bordeaux partners with South Africa for a red that is a surprising saunter into fair Cabernet-Merlot territory. Ripeness, extraction and alcohol are all exercised with restraint. The South African gauze is wound but of a thin wrapping, thanks to the allowance for fruit to shine in bright, red cherry tones. Western Cape is a terrific place to express Bordeaux-styled reds, especially when done with such hands off ability. A bit sapid and even sour edged, this would be a fine example to share when partaking in a little R & R. Wait a year and drink up to 2018.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines  @WOSACanada

Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Ac Côtes De Roussillon Villages Latour De France (643239, $24.95, WineAlign)

From vineyards composed of Devonian Period gneiss and schist soils and Kimmeridgian period limestone. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The heft of this craggy, cultured terroir in a Côtes De Roussillon’s bottle is never in question, nor is the puritanical excellence of its harvested fruit. Some years just heat up to a point of no return, like this 2012. Chapoutier is fully cognizant of the warmth and savagery from the soils and the climate. Finding even temperament and balance is the challenge. This vintage comes across as over the scabrous edge, cooked by the sun and dredged in the particulate. Classic Mediterranean notes of brine, brush and lavender keep it grounded, not to mention graphite and grilled meat, but for the sappy and life-sapping heat, this would be a candidate for 10 years in the cellar. As it is, drink this with quality warm-blooded protein over the next year or two.  Tasted November 2014  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines

Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot d’Alsace is what Jean-Michel Deiss refers to as “du cépage a terroir” or “tous les cépages.” Though there can be as many as 13 grape varieties in the field blend, most of the content comes from the Pinot family. Though likely in Blanc, Gris and Auxerrois predominance, this is a co-planted field blend so if Jean-Michel were to change his tune from talking terroir to varietal percentages, even he would not know the true make-up. Regardless, this is a (vintage) rich and balanced white blend, an avatar for the Alsace idiom. A wanderer in angles, an adventurer into corners and a wearer of many aromatic costumes; sweet, sour, citrus, flint and spice. Indicates orange, lemon and grapefruit but it’s never that straightforward. More like Jincheng, Lemongrass and Pomello. An exemplary introduction to Deiss, Alsace and the dry summation of many white parts. Tasted twice, June and November 2014  @marceldeiss  @AlsaceWines

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)

Carries and buffets an unmistakable aromatic conveyance that comes from a grouping to include Le Clos Jordanne, Bachelder, Queylus and The Farm. Where the cherry tree digs its roots into the earth, where the fruit rolls in the clay dust, where the tension in fruit meets tannin, intersecting at acidity. Just a touch of funk in a non-reductive, vineyard sense and the fruit does flirt with right of centre cherry, inching towards the black side. Chalk and tangy dust, and finally, tannin that holds court. This is quite big for Niagara Pinot Noir and it will age righteously for three to five years. Though it is not yet ready to lay claim to greatness, Westcott is a vineyard to keep a wide and watchful eye.  Tasted October 2014  @WestcottWines

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

The real deal in Bench gain from out of the most enigmatic and occult vintage, the primitive vineyard giving life and lesson to Chardonnay. Austerity in second and third fill barrels sends butter in search of toast, imagined through pendular churning. A reckoning follows, connecting round fruit to linear acidity in character, oomph and excellence. Aromas indicate spirited confiture choices at the breakfast table to garnish flaky pastry. Biting and demanding yet sweet as a cool summer’s night.  Tasted October 2014  @ClossonChase

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Take them home, County wines

County in the City PHOTO: Michael Godel

County in the City at the Berkeley Church

Life is old there, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Can you think of an island (leaving Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand out of the discussion) of greater interest anywhere for growing grapes and making world-class wine? Prince Edward County’s just a shade more than 1000 square kilometers, 800 kilometers of shoreline and tiny 22,000 population is that place. It’s geology and climate eerily mimics that of Burgundy. A superficial layer of limestone peppered clay loam hovers above penetrable layers of larger limestone. Fissures in that bedrock allow vines to reach deep into its crevices. It’s a veritable mineral wonderland.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Huff Estates Photo: Michael Godel

Huff Estates

More than 30 wineries dot the land and water interspersed honeycomb of a wine trail. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the obvious cornerstone varieties but unique Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris have joined the attention gaining fray. Ontario’s finest Sparkling wine is being made at Hinterland. Vintners like Rosehall Run and Keint-He Winery exemplify top to bottom consistency. They and others like Lacey Estates are involved in the yeoman’s ambassador work, in the field, at tastings or through social media. Smaller production houses like The Old Third Vineyard, Hubbs Creek and Exultet Estates are sought after by those who know.

Stanners

Stanners

The County returned to the city on April 3, 2014 to showcase a cross-section of their wares at Toronto’s Berkeley Church. The usual suspects continued to impress, yet the collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman and Vicky Samaras at Hinterland. If White Cap and Ancestral are any beacon to be drawn towards, plantings of Vidal, Riesling and Gamay should be employed in earnest in the turning towards pressure in the bottle. Lighthall’s Glen Symons gets it, as does Frédéric Picard, with his Cuvées, not to mention Bill Turnbull and his 3630 Bubbles. True, Casa Dea has the shy Dea’s Cuvée and the Grange makes a Sparkling Brut and a Riesling (346726, $24.95). But the questions begs, is fizz just another word for everything to lose in the County?

Here are notes on 23 wines tasted. The soundtrack to these PEC Wines includes Foo Fighters, Cracker, Nine Inch Nails, Modest Mouse, REM, Sufjan Stevens, The Beatles and Dire Straits.

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

Casa Dea Riesling 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario  (winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

Pours and perches in the glass dry and stoic, as if bled from concrete or amphora. Swirled or not this fighter begins to rumble in a growing momentum of tang and acidity, as if it were being fed by sugar and feeding on yeast. So primary, like a sample in thief, yet already circling in complexity. A spike of spicy sweetness, a delicate dressing of aglio e olio, a chiffonade of basil on top. The County does this style of dry Riesling at this price in ways no one in Niagara can. This is no foo but rather a “blessing in disguise. Believe it or not, hands on a miracle.”   @casadeawinery

Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (155606, $17.95, WineAlign)

Note the VQA Ontario designation, meaning the fruit is a combination of PEC and Niagara. The former brings limestone to the table while the latter weight and substance. Typically soda-driven and spatially atomic in maximum thrust. Turns towards the lake with sweet emotion and sails off into the sunset. Multi-purposed, works to great summer afternoon effect, especially with the waves of the bay lapping at the shore.  @HuffEstatesWine 

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Light, airy, delicate and nearly ethereal Pinot Gris that takes few chances, instead choosing an acquiescence with life’s simple pleasures. The vanilla of Gris, malleable, agreeable and ready to pair with whatever comes its way. A minor spike of Hillier minerality gives accent to pears and its blossoms.

Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

A most non-pretentious sparkler that holds a pertinacious attitude towards anything but serious fun. From estate Vidal grapes that has seen a second fermentation using the Charmat Method, Lighthall’s ’12 picks up right where its solid ’11 left off. Picked early to preserve freshness and acidity, the Progression is big on tart green apple preserved by a squeeze of lemon. Chill it, refresh with it, serve it up and bring the house down.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara borrows 30 per cent County fruit to complete Hardie’s cracker Riesling. Low in alcohol (9.1 per cent) and residual, bound by jacked up acidity and tension. Pale platinum with an old-school aromatic sentiment that “fruit is rusting on the vine,” and flavours recalling that “the fruit is calling from the trees.” A masonic force of winemaking, “like being low, hey hey hey like being stoned.”  @normhardie

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort.  @HuffEstatesWine

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Karlo’s take is Riesling in torsion, barrel fermented & aged in older (six-year) French Oak. The program adds wax and herbal mucilage to what otherwise would have been a frenetic study in bone chilling acidity. This unique and neo-progressive intuit invites a global Riesling symposium to the County to learn something old and something new within this single bottling. Riesling with attitude that’s got glycerin and a medicinal meets floral, pear extract meets candied lilac viscidity. Though so young, it seems wise, with an anamnesis for old Mosel, a coolant aroma and a taste that recalls white sangria. Yes, it’s different and eclectic. Anti-bracing stuff, not for everyone, but everyone should be for it.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Vinemount Ridge, VQA Ontario  (winery, $23, WineAlign)

This is the inaugural Riesling release for Stanners, from a single Vinemount Ridge plot. If it were not so winged-footed it might gain more positive repute from the appellation’s quarry effect, but in time and with experience, Colin Stanners will settle the grassy aromas into the limestone demand. For now it remains effortless and balanced with a dismounting of acidity and well provided apple and lemon flavours.  @StannersWines

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2011, Niagara River, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 Brock has settled into its Niagara River appellative skin, having now been in bottle 18 months. Working with fruit from 300 kilometres away increases the unknown quotient, magnifying the adage that you have “one chance to get everything right,” Closson’s ’11 is neither modest nor is it a mouse but it is less frenetic than it acted when tasted repeatedly last year. The hard deposits have oozed into liquid metal gold and the ripe orchard fruit has mellowed into a creamy pudding with a hint of spice. I don’t see the Brock as a very public wine, but more from a maker, for friends, from habit, for family. A wine that you need to get to know, to patronize with repeated listening’s, to accept.   @ClossonChase

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Brock was only sulphured and bottled a month ago so it’s quite shocky and shaky. Still in the REM sleep stage, the ’12 is not quite ready to reveal the warmth so generously granted by the Niagara River appellation’s extending growing season. The ripe tropical fruit notes are there, if subdued and the omnipresent minerality will rear its rocky head before too long. This Brock will see a lifting “but gravity is holding” it down for now. Look to see the weights fall away late in 2014 “and in review,” you will have noted “the air was singing,” all the way to 2020.

Huff Estates Gamay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak.  The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat.

Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Proprietor Glen Symons sources his fruit for this unctuous Gewürztraminer from Vineland at the base of the Escarpment’s steps. Highly tropical and exaggerated by the warm summer of 2012 to the point of candied, but with an edge. Just restless enough to divine temptation for further sips which when multiplied, relax the palate rather than excite it. The flavours turn nutty, waxy, even and calm. A mistral wind blows through in a breezy finish.

Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It should be assumed that the four types of wood used to house this warm and inferential Choa (cherry, hickory, oak and ash) would smother and smoulder other aromatic suitors but those woods are actually quite subtle. The other woods, as in forest, backyard and compost are the acute players. The Choa goes from fromage to funky, from an enzymatic leesy feeling to inner, inward innards. It barks of a dogged persistence, I will give it that. Most definitely singular of style to be sure and will need a few years to settle down.

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The oak repeal in decreased new barrel impact allows the County to speak in the clearest of voice. As it should, from a South Bay landscape and terroir as rugged and dramatic that can be found anywhere Chardonnay is made in Ontario. There is a honeyed unctuous and viscous feel to the South Bay ’10, no doubt a result of its middle filled in by a meritorious and pure lees. Limestone wraps up the fruit in a clean, crisp and pure package.

Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The licensee only Loyalist is the micro-embodiment of the Deborah Paskus style. Rich, compact and built to satisfy a need for lush, nearly tropical Chardonnay. From a vintage that saw bud reducing spring frosts and resulting yields of only one tonne per acre. The oak influence comes to it with a scaled back embracing, allowing the County’s rock bent to connect and form a bond with the acidity’s bracing intent. Perhaps the profits will suffer from the year’s miniscule crop, but the level of quality will making it all right.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Ontario (winery, $30, WineAlign)

A year later has softened considerable and thinking of laying down in softer pastures.  From my earlier, April 2014 note: “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.”  Last tasted April 2014

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (winery, $30, WineAlign)

After wetting their Pinot Noir feet with a few vintages that coalesced Niagara and County fruit, this is the first go it alone release for Stanners. It’s yet another effortless and quiet handed response to impressionist County fruit. A noticeable step up from what came before, this has primary balance, secondary (floral) aromatics and tertiary brightness. Like Hillier lavender, drying on the rocks in the waning afternoon sun.

Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $33.00, WineAlign)

Mounds of respect are due any Ontario winemaker that decides to tackle single-varietal Petit Verdot, especially in a climate-forsaken locale like the County. Richard Karlo tackles such a struggle between good and evil, looking to elevate this fifth most important Bordeaux grape (not Malbec?) to great PEC heights. His dark, brooding wine of massive extraction starts off into the toffee, the after dinner mints and a suck of coffee cream through a wood straw. Twiggy, angular, resinous and wired, the wine then turns incredibly floral, in violets, from boron to aether and then returns to its roots. The rebound is to acidity, freshness and tang. An intriguing wine that “used to be angry young man” but the evolution it shows in glass bodes well for its future. Give it three to five years to achieve quintessence. “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Only 165 cases were produced of this Niagara born Pinot Noir. Discreet and unpretentious in every facet of its being. Like the colour of beautiful Rosé, the Watson causes such small-scale tannic pain. Though elegant and lithe, don’t be fooled. It’s not Burgundy. It’s Deborah Paskus. It’s Closson Chase. Profoundly appointed, in mind of those who mind. A signal to the understanding and knowledge of what the variety is and from this place. Clarity comes from an intensity in flowers, quality from a high sense of purpose.  Really fine.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $35.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

The calcareous clay, the edgy stone, the molt of the earth. Dense, cluttered and clamorous fruit. A different animal then what walks the County. Magnanimous Pinot Noir full of fruity flesh and medieval attitude. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious example with only one coat of primer. Impressive.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

Norman Hardie’s uncanny ability to coax hyperbole at the lowest alcohol levels is again blatantly apparent in this climatically epochal, yet restlessly cool County Chardonnay. Recalling and expanding on the exceptional ’08, the tonality, texture and motion are achieved by way of a) early picking, b) indigenous yeasts, c) arrested fermentation, d) lees and e) moxie. The dire straits of the vintage wants to exaggerate the fricassee, the roasted nuts and the chemical flow but who might argue against the gape at Burgundian reduction? She’s a roller girl this ’10, taking chances. She skates away, “making movies on location,” all in the name of learning ahead of the curve.

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You can lead a county to the city

South Bay Winery vineyard in Prince Edward County PHOTO: POSTMEDIA NEWS

as seen on canada.com

It’s time to discover the wines of bucolic Prince Edward County in south-central Ontario, a place possessed and structured of a learned and cultured essence. If you were born in PEC you likely never left and if you did, probably returned. Then there are those who migrated in search of an anti-metropolitan lifestyle. The landscape is encompassed by water, dotted with folkloric towns, farms and cottages. Wine destination comparisons might be made; to Niagara, to Muskoka, the Finger Lakes, the North Fork of Long Island, to parts of California. No definitive connection is obvious. After tasting through the formidable pours at County in the City last Thursday at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, it became abundantly clear that the wines are unique in and amongst themselves and also bound together as one. The refrain holds true. It must be the rocks.

The grape growers, winemakers and 30 some odd wineries in PEC are no longer a gaggle of obscure, off the beaten path, parochial folk. Their serious VQA wines are establishing footholds in our metropolitan markets. The County’s adage may well be, “you can lead a farmer to grapevines,” a sure statement of the obvious. This event proved you can also lead them to the city.

Photo: Wine Align

Photo: Wine Align

“The County” as it is affectionately known is Ontario’s newest and suddenly dynamic wine appellation. It’s climate and geological make-up has been compared to Burgundy, the world’s benchmark region for growing and producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is clearly the County’s signature variety, its staff of life, but the excitement extends well beyond that comfort zone. Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Vidal and especially sparkling wines are making inroads along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But what about Gamay? Casa Dea’s Paul Battilana crafts a Sparkling Rosé from estate grapes. Chadsey’s Cairns and Troumpour’s Mill both make solid Gamay Noir. Battilana makes a still Gamay, as does Hillier Creek Estates. Time for others to join the #GoGamayGo party.

Prince Edward County wineries are increasing their collective engagement in many ways. The PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society held their inaugural event April 27th, 2013, County Character at Hillier Town Hall. PEC winemakers have joined the progressive wine on tap program too, like Rosehall Run, Norman Hardie and sparkling wine specialist Hinterland Wine Company, who is kegging Charmat, Prosecco-style bubbles for Barque Smokehouse.  The coming months offer many opportunities to taste the County. The Terroir festival in late May is an annual showcase of the area’s rocks, soil and new release wines, put on by the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association. Wassail takes place in late fall/early winter, celebrates the harvest and the laying of the vines to rest. The summer of 2013 will be a great time to visit PEC and follow its wine trail.

Here are nine wines of note tasted at Wine Align‘s County in the City at The Berkeley Church.

From left: Sandbanks Rosé 2012, Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009, Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011, and Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010

Sandbanks Rosé 2012 (244616, $12.95) whispers summer by the lake in the face of a fading pastel, pink sunset. A magical and inexpensive combination of subtle strawberry, cream and bright acidity. Who would ask for more?  87  @SandbanksWinery

Keint-He Vineyards Voyageur Vidal 2012 ($17, winery only) is a warm and aromatic expression having taken full advantage of the vintage. Yellow and orange flesh melon abounds in sweetness tempered by just enough limestone influenced acidity. Incredibly easy to drink. Breathes new life into white wine.  88  @KeintheWinery

Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 (241612, $18.95, winery) coaxed maximum density from the vintage in fleshy, black cherry and yet is anhydrous from chocolate dust. Chalk up another redacted red from Casa Dea, in the same vein as the plush, ruby ’09 Pinot Noir. All of Paul Battilana’s wines are priced and offered like an open door. Mi Casa Dea et su Casa Dea.  88  @PECWinemaker

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris 2012 ($25, winery only) bottled one week ago, is not as you might think, in shock. A cleanse of pure pear purée with an open invitation for immediate gratification. Mellifluous and with no discernible A16 whatsoever. This one’s good to go. Who comes by chance will be the more easily let go. “Lay down my darling,” this PG ain’t for keeping.  91  @normhardie

Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011 ($25, winery only) succeeds because less is more. Less lychee, more lightness of being. This is Glenn Symons’ 2nd vintage from the famed Wismer Vineyards in Niagara (Jordan). Refuses to club you over the head with “correctness.” Despite the lack of oily, nutty and tropical girth it’s suffused with crisp pleasure.  90  @lighthallvyard

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from 100% Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also “turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  @HuffEstatesWine

Rosehall Run Wines Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run Wines
Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run ‘The Swinger’ Syrah 2011 ($34.95, winery only) gets my attention not just because it’s the only commercially planted and bottled Syrah in PEC but because it stands in front of the orchestra. I gotta believe winemaker Dan Sullivan cares deeply about this wine from fruit sourced on Dick Singer’s Fieldstone Vineyard. Nothing fatuous about its smoky, tart cranberry, Sangioveseness kissed by the salty waves of an unseen ocean. The Swinger “ain’t no cherry bomb,” waits for no one, with its tobacco voice, gravel, rocks and sand. Like a sweet little bullet from a pretty blue gun.  90  @Rosehall_Run

Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011 ($35, winery only) is exemplary even if it may not be proprietor Gerard Spinosa’s favourite vintage. Commands an ineffable presence in gold sheen and parses meaning through balance and poise. The new oak is very noticeable but the ’11 acidity is grand. Their integration is seamless, the wine shines and a few years time will only increase its lustre.  92  @ExultetEstates

Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010 (310474, $39.95, winery) has improved dramatically over the course of a year, now red verging to black fruit, if only for a fleeting moment of temporary insanity, in a Sonoma state of mind. Silky smooth, “the textures coat my skin.” Though I have seen “the best (Pinot Noir) minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” this CCV uses a cured bresaola flavour and a vivid flower scent to invigorate, ground the humidity and the “earthy beet.” Musical, earthy beat, as in All Cats are Grey meets Howl.  92  @ClossonChase

Good to go!

The best wines at Taste Ontario 2012

Photograph Courtesy of the Wine Council Of Ontario

as seen on canada.com

On Friday, September 28th 46 Ontario wineries poured more than 100 wines at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Toronto to showcase Ontario’s singular and diverse terroir. Producers from Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore shared the spotlight with a Burning Kiln from Turkey Point and a Frisky Beaver from Port Dover. “I can’t deny” there was even some Bad Company.

Character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc.

The best premium wines (over $30) present were Bachelder Saunders Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($44.95, 90), Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2009 ($35, 92), Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2010 ($39.75, 91), Rosehall Run JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2010 ($38.80, 90) and Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010 ($39, 91).

The future looks very bright for Ontario. A special shout out goes to Magdalena Kaiser-Smit from the Wine Council of Ontario for a flawless execution. Here are my top picks under $30 from Taste Ontario (Toronto) 2012.

The grape: Riesling

The history: Paul Bosc of Chateau Des Charmes is the Ontario Riesling pioneer and along with the St. Urban Vineyard of Vineland Estates, they set the stage for its ascendance to signature grape status

The lowdown: Clearly entrenched as the most important Ontario white varietal, this is winemaker Kevin Panagapka’s value entry into LCBO channels

The food match: Tofu and Bassa Fish Hot Pot with Sichuan spices

2027 Cellars Fall’s Vineyard Riesling 2011 (294041, $18.95) is consistent with my earlier note. Saleratus, flint and tropical scents with a kiss of racy, citrus acidity and goes to great length on the palate. There were only 200 cases of this screaming value. “There ain’t a reason on earth to waste it,” so I feel compelled to lick it up89

The grape: Sémillon

The history: Partner to Sauvignon Blanc in dry white Bordeaux and single varietal star in the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac

The lowdown: Not planted on a wide global scale. Has found great success in Australia’s Hunter Valley and to a degree in South Africa. Niagara Escarpment should be next

The food match: Autumn Squash, Sweet Potato and Candy Beet Ratatouille

Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2010 ($18 at the winery) shows little procrastination with a superfluity of lemon, lime and paraffin but like all great Sémillon, the wine needs time. A block of wax keeps the honey down but look for a mellifluous ooze three years on. Glittering sheen, diamond-like focus and crusted by an accent of lemon zest. Krystina Roman will lead this grape to stardom. “Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” Top white. Shine on you crazy Sémillon.  90

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Growing on the “hillside” section of Ravine’s farm on the warm St. David’s Bench

The lowdown: Few Ontario winemakers achieve a Burgundian mythic. Here the soil is thin, sparse and heavy in minerals. Not quite Burgundy, but the comparison is worth the discourse

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (173377, $24.00) of partisan, buttered toast may lean more Kistler than Jadot but she’s still wearing blue jeans. Blessed with a St. David’s mineral smile and a Scotch barrel smell, like a long knife with a blade double-edged at the point. Hued golden and tan, “she got a camouflaged face.” Thrifty Chardonnay, worth every penny.  89

The grape: Gamay

The history: Best known for its work in Beaujolais and has shed its “Nouveau” moniker

The lowdown: Others have surely helped but Malivoire has championed and transformed the varietal’s status to prince among kings and queens

The food match: Thanksgiving Turkey!!

Malivoire Wine Company M2 Small Lot Gamy 2011 ($19.95) made use of a slumber for six months in French and American oak barrels to raise the purple bar. This is Francofied Gamay, as much Tours as Morgon. Peppered with smatterings of tar, smoke and caper. A note of Bouille, braising meat is noted. Complex for the grape and versatile.  88

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: The Loire comes to the Niagara Escarpment

The lowdown: Winemaker Richie Roberts has this grape in his hip pocket. He can see the future and he knows when it comes to reds, cool-climate varietals are key

The food match: Boneless Beef Rib-Eye Steak Sandwich, crispy onions, horseradish mayo

Fielding Estates Cabernet Franc 2010 (36194, $21.95) is deeply cast, loaded with raspberry and pepper aromas, both white and red. A whiff of beet garish smoke and savoury herbs adds sinuosity.  89

Good to go!

Ontario wine. Can you feel the love?

File Photograph, National Post

as seen on canada.com

There’s a whole lot of tweeting going on. The polarizing effect of social media certainly builds hyperbole on the buzz and though you were doubtful and dare I say it, in denial, you need to know this. Ontario wine is feeling the love.

Everyone is talking about Ontario wine these days, in restaurants, around the office coolers, in the hot tubs. And yes, especially on Twitter. Here are a few to follow:

@DavidLawrason

@rickwine

@spotlightcity

@RichieWine

Then there are the festivals and tastings. Savour Stratford just wrapped up and the Niagara Wine Festival is in full swing. On Friday, September 28th the huge tasting event, Taste Ontario will present more than 100 wines from 33 producers.

When it comes to Ontario wine, the  state of the union looks as promising as it ever has. In 2011/12 (fiscal year ending March 31, 2012) the sales volume in litres of all Ontario wine grew by 2.6 per cent. In absolute terms, the 2.6 per cent increase of sales volume represented an increase of 1.5 million litres sold of Ontario wine last year.  This compares to an increase of 1.9 million litres of imported wine sold last year in Ontario (2.3 per cent growth) through these reported channels.

The 2012 wine harvest will unleash the lion. The overall quality of the wines will surpass all that has come before. This may not translate to an immediate takeover of market share, but the trickle down effect will see a pendulum switch of those consumption numbers in two to three years time. Ontario wine will be king. Mark it on your 2014 calendar.

In the meantime, here are three more Ontario wines to look for.

The grape: A unique clone of Chardonnay, native to southern Burgundy, known for its spicy, Muscat-like flavours

The history: A single block of 13-year-old vines on the Beamsville Bench

The lowdown: The most mineral Chardonnay Musqué to date, owing to the limestone, shale and sandstone in the soil

The food match: Fried Zucchini Blossoms with sea salt and a squirt of lemon

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Cave Spring Vineyard Chardonnay Musqué 2009 (246579, $15.95) flaunts its unique, ersatz Chardonnay visage but also erupts volcanic and metallic. Flinty to nose, sweet to taste, with juicy acidity of peach/apple/almond flesh and pit. Relents to an ursine finish.  87

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: The vineyards are farmed organically and moving towards biodynamics

The lowdown: Winemaker Deborah Paskus writes the book on Prince Edward County Chardonnay

The food match: BBQ Chicken on the Grill with a sweet glaze

Closson Chase Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 (148866, $29.95) acts as though centuries of aggregated skill have had a hand in its success. Twelve years actually and this CCC is of a colour the golden-yellow of a yolk laid by a chicken with time and space. Smack of lemon and apple, oak in balance, cut of a skilled lapidary. Where goodness resides.  90

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: From the Lake Erie North Shore Appellation, in Essex/Pelee Island Coast Wine Country

The lowdown: Where has this beauty been hiding for the past five years?

The food match: Smoked and Grilled Barque Baby Back Ribs

Colio Estate CEV Reserve Cabernet Franc 2007 (432096, $20.95) receives a rare Erie North Shore endorsement. Sound body and soul, garden smells and strong tobacco note keep the CEV from breaking out of its rusty cage. “Hits like a Phillips head” right now but don’t hesitate because the cage will soon open. Admirable effort from a strong vintage.  88

Good to go!