It’s go Gamay go time

First wild leeks of the season with grilled rib-eye steaks and burgers PHOTO: Michael Godel

First wild leeks of the season with grilled rib-eye steaks and burgers
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Not that there is ever a bad time to partake in the wonders of Gamay, but with the mercury rising, spring is the right time to be with the Gamay you love. If you’ve never experienced the nuanced pleasure of great Gamay, whether it be from Beaujolais in Burgundy’s southern reaches or from Ontario’s cool-climate hinterlands, its prime time you did.

Dr. Janet Dorozynski coined the hashtag #GoGamayGo and it’s a good thing she did. Sometimes a little catch is all you need to get a ball rolling. Rhys Pender MW has written two prime articles on the subject, Gamay – The Grapes of Wrath and Gamay in British Columbia. Canadian winemakers are expanding production so the Gamay train is puling into wine stations across the country.

Related – Go Gamay Go

In May of 2013 this column noted “I wait for the #GoGamayGo network to convince our councils, marketing boards and vintners to establish a Canadian Cru system, or at least a comprehensive tasting of Canadian Gamay.” A varietal togetherness has yet to materialize but the appreciation is growing. Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Wines will be releasing his first Gamay go round from Wismer Vineyard 2013 fruit. “Gamay costs half of what Pinot Noir and Syrah do,” he notes. Conclusion? A small operation like Ilya’s can make an “entry-level” and consumer affordable wine for less money and without compromising their winemakeing oeuvre.

Gamay from Beaujolais in east-central France is thin-skinned, low in tannin and (more often than not), in acidity too. It is extremely versatile in its chameleon-like abilities and matches to more types of foods that you can likely prepare with any sense of range or flair. It makes much better wine than you think and it can outsmart you. Dismissing Gamay as in any way inferior is short-sighted and lazy.

Recent Gamay sightings and tasting are the impetus for these tasting notes. Ontario renditions were on display at Somewhereness and at County in the City. Woodman Wines and Spirits presented the Fleurie of Villa Ponciago at a recent Burgundy tasting. This spring, it’s go Gamay go time.

Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012

From left to right: Manoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010, Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012, Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, Villa Ponciago Cuvée Les Hauts Du Py 2012, 13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, Villa Ponciago Cuvée La Roche Muriers 2011

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A six-month lay in French oak for 60 per cent of the Gamay fruit sourced exclusively from Malivoire’s Beamsville Bench estate vineyard is just what the go doctor ordered. Only Malivoire’s Gamay smells specifically like this; of tart and savoury capers, of small, earthy gemstones, of peppery currants, of meaty braising Bouille. A striking wine from a fortuitous Gamay vintage and great value that puts me in mind of how special the Courtney will be. Though the soils may differ, proximity wise they are close cousins.  Tasted at @Somewhereness, April 2014

Huff Estates Gamay 2012, 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.  Tasted at County in the City, April 2014

Leaning Post Wines Gamay 2013 (Tank Sample, Projected Release Price $25)

Guiltless and virtuous straight out of stainless, the meaty side of Gamay game boldly goes where few from the Bench have gone before. Like a rare venison steak sitting in a silky pool of lavender-scented demi-glace. Floral like Fleurie and despite zero new oak, vanilla joins the gravy. A Senchuk steal of quality Wismer fruit sets this Gamay up for easy sell success.  Tasted @LeaningPostWine, April 2014

Manoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010, Ac, Beaujolais, France (364992, $24.95, WineAlign)

When the Gamay from Fleurie is spot on, the smells of meat and of flowers work both aromatic ends of the Beaujolais spectrum. Add some age to a solid core of black cherry fruit and voilà, get a nose of this Manoir Du Carra.  Clearly humid and drifting into a soft decline, the claymation action here weighs down and grounds this Gamay in an earthy impression. Would benefit by the company of some serious salty, savoury and roasted fare. In the name of balance. Fun to drink now, improvement with time is not in the Carra cards.  Tasted April 2014

13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula (130195, $29.95, WineAlign)

If roses were stones they would produce an aroma that only 13th Street’s Sandstone Gamay would recall. Some previous vintages have pushed the boundary to sky-high excess and a subterranean ferrous burrowing but in 2012 the perfume is both grounded and ethereal. The sandy tuff rock is so in that glass, like the smell of a rugged beach, mist and salinity spraying and rising off the rocks. The ’12 now knows “I don’t have to sell my soul.” Wholly singular Gamay and with hopes it will always be this going forward. Where as before it said “I want to be adored,” it now confirms “you adore me.”  Tasted at @Somewhereness, April 2014

Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2012, Ac, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $30.00, WineAlign)

Slow ripening from up to 30 year-old vines on altitudinous slopes atop pink, granitic crystalline rock leads to increased elegance for La Réserve, beyond the paint and tar notes of the Millésime bottling. Cran-raspberry fruit gains density and vibrancy from the mineral-rich earth, transcending towards ripe strawberry. The lack of anxiety and tension is welcome and necessary for the simple pleasures given generously by this exemplary Gamay.  For the short-term, to 2016.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Villa Ponciago Cuvée Les Hauts Du Py 2012, Ac Fleurie, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $37.00, WineAlign)

From a critical high ranging and angling vineyard of granite bedrock with a vein of quartz running through it. Les Hauts Du Puy suffered  during the 2012 season, with gloomy wet weather, storms and hail. Thanks to a September anticyclone return, the fruit was able to dry and then slowly mature, thus avoiding being blinded by the light. This single vineyard uses that white crystal like a thread of silk, allowing the coats of harder aromas to hang but never clamber aboard. More angst than La Réserve in the form of tannin and structure, something that can be attributed to the terroir of the Puy. Pure Gamay with a spring in its step, resolutely defined and with a cooler, blue fruit feel, tight, mineral-fed and charred on the finish.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Villa Ponciago Cuvée La Roche Muriers 2011, Fleurie, Beaujolais, France (Agent Only, $60.00, WineAlign)

The harshest of the domain’s climatic and soil conditions lay a lashing of demand on this Gamay as much as any on the planet. It is nothing short of remarkable that it can maintain such a level of refinement and elegance so the fruit purity of this vineyard’s Gamay is noted and obvious. The most Burgundian of any Gamay out there today. Gone is the cranberry and tar of lesser locales, replaced by deeper tones and longer, elastic chains of tannin. A Gamay that nods knowingly and with impact.  Tasted @WoodmanWines Burgundy event March 2014

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Release the wines, catch an Ontario phrase

 

Pinot Noir from the Mountainview Road on the Beamsville Bench.  Photo: William Roman, http://www.rosewoodwine.com/

Pinot Noir from the Mountainview Road Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench.
Photo: William Roman, http://www.rosewoodwine.com/

In the past 10 days there have been opportunities to taste the Ontario wine industry’s state of the union. Tawse Winery rolled out the red carpet, the Key Keg and a must check ’em out set of new wines in a sister brand known as Redstone Wines. County in the City presented a major introspective of Prince Edward County at the Berkeley Church and Somewhereness, the definitive Ontario goût de terroir on display April 9th at St. James Cathedral has the local wine community abuzz with new catch phrases.

Full reports on those three events will be coming out over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, Ontario wines and winemakers are well represented in this week’s VINTAGES April 12th release. That and a mess of catch phrases, idioms, colloquialisms and overall word play.

A sundry type of tasting note composition can theoretically make cause to “burn one’s boats” though the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” holds more water and instills greater confidence. Before feeling the need to act on a Mr. Bursian attack and screaming “release the hounds,” it is highly recommended to read between the lines, click on the pop culture references but refrain from and “don’t look the gift-horse in the mouth.”

Ontario wines have come so far and in such a short period of time. Sure there are some outfits that might be considered a “flash in the pan” and specific examples weighted down by “feet of clay.” Who does not hope that as a group, wines from Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore avoid a “hoist with one’s own petard’ or go “sailing under false colours.” There should be no fear. Ontario wines are no longer merely improving. They are “throwing down the gauntlet.” There is no reason to reject the idea of spending $38 on an Ontario red or white. Quality is officially and incontestably in the bottle.

Here are six wines in stores now, five from Ontario, the other made by an Ontario winemaker, to have a go at this weekend.

From left to right:

From left to right: Pondview Riesling 2012, Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011, 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Rosewood Estates Reserve Pinot Noir 2010

Pondview Riesling 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (271148, $15.95, WineAlign)

While winemaker Fred di Profio’s ’12 remains true to the Pondview idea of mineral-driven Riesling, the vintage dictates the course and this one simply carries four miles of juicy fruit, accented by green herbs and a spread of lime jam. It’s dry, vinous and cidery with a slight sour aftertaste. A lamb Riesling, lambic, iambic and pedantic. Good value. Tasted March 2014  @Pondviewwinery

Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (131235, $18.95, WineAlign)

Ever orchard fruit bearing, omnipresent juicy Sauvignon Blanc. Pliable and informal, typical in itself and for the local marl. Kept on its toes by a wailing, sharp green peppercorn cut by caper line that runs through, then gracefully descends towards a grassy, song of freedom refrain. Tang is the final act of its redemption. Well-structured and proper. Does a Fielding wine ever not abide and chant “we forward in this generation, triumphantly?” Tasted March 2014  @FieldingWinery

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (147512, $19.95, WineAlign)

June’s vineyard, now in its (correct me if I’m wrong) 12th year is both nascent and senescent, increasingly producing a blatant expression of Creek Shores Riesling. Today’s fleeting study faces a direct, anti-diminutive aridity and more dried herbs. In 2011, the austere vineyard speaks but the Riesling realizes atonement through a corpulence of flesh and bone down by the sheltered shores. A much tougher assignment than the gilded platinum hand dealt to vineyards upon the upper reaches of the Escarpment.  Tasted September 2013  @13thStreetWines

From my September 2013 note: “from Niagara’s Creek Shores and built of the classic Alsatian Clone 49 inordinately defines place and time in an agglomerated manner. Maximum floral intensity, zero petrol tolerance and an arid accumulation speak volumes about the appellation. To taste you will note it just barely believes it’s off-dry. Unique and unambiguous, plosive Riesling.”  Tasted March 2014

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Cabernet/Merlot 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (130252, $20.95, WineAlign)

Call it whatever you like; house red, Bistro red, un verre de vin rouge maison. All phrases to describe a refreshing and wholly compatible glass of red wine. The Tawse is crafted for such purpose, combining Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in a Médoc state of mind. Aromatically it spews tobacco, tea, currants and white pepper, all wrapped in a tight, food-friendly package and demanding to be paired this way. Solid red.  Tasted March 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (273334, $29.95, WineAlign)

The citrus stands out today. If the base and necessary oak treatment is your kryptonite, by all means, walk away from the Oregon Bachelder Project. But that decision deprives that part of your brain that processes progress and reason. This is not the oak-driven Chardonnay of your 1985. This is the future. Embrace the angles, the quotients and the variables. Fruit as function, rock as relation and barrel as the algebraic cauldron that allows the wine to come to conclusion. Sure there’s oak but it drives the equation. Deal with it. Tasted April 2014  @Bachelder_wines

From my earlier February 2014 note: “Yet another three months later re-taste to show Bachelder’s Oregon terroir may be the most difficult to assess in its infancy. This short slumber has changed everything. Oregon distinction, smell it, commit it to memory and you’ll never forget it. “Picture yourself staring at a loved one in a restaurant,” says Thomas. “Would you be able to pick this out as Chardonnay?” Some ciderish activity, from sedimentary and volcanic soils that used to mingle with ocean waters, give this a sea salt and fossilized lava stillness. More buttery (dare I say, popcorn) goodness than the rest. And restrained tang. And length. Wow.

From my earlier November 2013 note: “While Burgundian in hopes and dreams, this is very much a $29 Oregon white. No mask, no hidden altruism, simply the right Chardonnay for the right price. Bone dry, orchard driven, high acid, void of harmful terpenes. There is a salinity and piquancy not influenced by PH, perhaps by the ocean, by sandstone, but regardless it’s unique to place, unlike Niagara, Prince Edward County, or for that matter Burgundy.”

Rosewood Estates Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (318345, $39.95, WineAlign)

Prettier in 2010 the Rosewood is, the aromas a precise glowing arcade of earthy, warm, peppery fire. April redolent of a burgeoning, sweet cranberry marsh. Present, accounted for though not tough tannins. Glazed by an unobtrusive candy shell. A fine, inviting, sweet and soft Rosewood Pinot, true to vintage and neighborhood. “Then I’ll dig a tunnel, from my window to yours.”  Tasted March 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Good to Go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

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!

Cloudy with showers, more wine expected

Barque Smoked Miami Beef Rib PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

This one’s for the floodwaters ravaged and oppressed in cottage country and to a much lesser extent, the city dwellers, this morning’s sunshine respite notwithstanding, faced with a few more days of wet April doom and gloom. There is always wine to cheer you up. County in the City presented by Wine Align  is a must not miss event tonight at the Berkeley Church.

For the rest of you keeping score at home, here are five sure bet $20 wines guaranteed to get you through the last week of April showers.

From left: Clos De Nouys Demi-Sec Vouvray 2011, Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2011, Clifford Bay Pinot Noir 2010, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2011, and Eos Estate Winery Petite Sirah 2011

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: From one of the oldest Loire wine-making estates (Pierre Chainier) in the Vouvray A.O.C.

The lowdown: Loire Chenin Blanc ranges from dry to sweet and creamy sparkling. This is designated semi-dry but it tends dry because of a strong limestone mineral component

The food match: Basque Pintxos

Clos De Nouys Demi-Sec Vouvray 2011 (322669, $19.95) has already begun to stun in citrine and a petrol whiff plays the stage while the other aromas wait in the wings. Earthy for a white wine, a vin tuffeau-jaune if you will, no doubt imparted by the creamy, calcareous-argillaceous limestone soil. Sweet pear and the stuff of almonds lurk in the shadows. To taste there is little cloying danger and even a touch of cheese rind. It’s really quite dry, like Großes Gewächs German Riesling, but its balance is impeccable.  91  @imbibersreport

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Prince Edward County born and bred proprietor Lanny Huff teams with Burgundy born winemaker Frédéric Picard

The lowdown: Really a white and sparkling specialist (though they do grow Merlot), Huff’s Pinot Gris is a character study unlike any other PEC peer

The food match: Agedashi Tofu

Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2011 (134221, $19.95) initiates contact in a fusty, gamy way, not unlike some of my favourite reds in Montalcino and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But this is Alsatian-styled Pinot Gris we’re talking about here. Fortunately a huff and a puff blows the dank aside and it gets peachy in West Indies pepper sauce after that. Lots of piquant character in this Prince Edward County charmer.  90  @HuffEstatesWine

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From the eponymous body of water at the eastern entrance of the Cook Strait and the Tasman Sea, separated by the White Cliffs from the more famous Cloudy Bay

The lowdown: From grapes grown in the Awatere Valley, this is essentially cool climate Pinot Noir and it shows

The food match: Barque Smoked Miami Beef Rib

Clifford Bay Pinot Noir 2010 (309500, $19.95) with its bright lights, big acids is spanking, aromatically clean. Raspberry fruit driven, big barking red dog, tart balanced (13.5 per cent abv) and full of pluck and punch. Would go nicely with the Barque of smoked meats.  89  @cliffordbaywine

The grapes: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat

The history: The Wildass line of wine from Stratus Vineyards seems to say “always look on the bright side of life.”

The lowdown: Laid back brand in appearance from J.L. Groux and team but this assemblage is no couch potato

The food match: Whole-Wheat Penne, spring greens, sausage

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2011 (86363, $19.95) is a trailing vine of sweet ever-bearing, toffee coated candy strawberry. A wolf steppin‘ out of its Niagara comfort zone, reminding me of a red wine made by The Foreign Affair, in dried fruit (not jam) as if it were made in the appassimento method. It’s simply J.L. coaxing maximum concentration from vines in a balanced vintage and frankly this is better than most Veneto Valpolicella at the same price. This Wildass is “like a true nature’s child,” born to be wild.  89  @Stratuswines

The grape: Petite Sirah

The history: Also known as Durif, a black-skinned variety developed by Dr. Durif, a French nurseryman living in the south of France in the late 1800’s

The lowdown: California has embraced the grape and although it remains much maligned, when acidity and balance play their part, it can be so much more interesting than Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in Paso Robles

The food match:  Beef Shanks braised in red wine

Eos Estate Winery Petite Sirah 2011 (317677, $19.95) is certainly Cabernet-like with its rich berry fruit forward first step but it never goes over the top. The alcohol (13.9 per cent) remains in check, it’s minty and eucalyptus cool and white pepper gives it good bite. Exotic, smokey edge.  90  @EOSwinery

Good to go!