14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 silent auction guitar signed by Canadian musicians

In 2013 the number chosen to highlight excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Symmetry and permutations with repetition are one thing, quality in winemaking is yet another. The expectation is fully understood that next year there will be 15 wines on the list. And so on and so forth.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

What force has thus far driven and will continue to drive the wines of Canada? By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, mountains, rivers and valleys, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today, we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of women and men.

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

Winery visits were numerous in 2014. Thanks must be dispatched to all who opened their doors, to those with established roots and to risk takers who through their new planting, began burrowing their own. Like Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario. Like Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Tastings that go beyond the pale shed new élevage and barrel light. The light shed by such practices was no more in evidence than at Tawse with Paul Pender and Norman Hardie, but also at Flat Rock Cellars with Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich.

Memories of 2014 lead to thoughts of Cuvée, the Expert’s Tasting and the Sparkling Wine Symposium at Brock University. Taste OntarioSomewhereness, County in the City. July visits to Niagara and Nova Scotia gave up 10,000 words of free-flowing wine-speak about the Cool Chardonnay conference and with Peter Gamble in the Gaspereau Valley.

There were a few wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there time, space and a better headline to write. Gray Monk Riesling 2012, Okanagan Valley at ($15.00, WineAlign) is the best value for the niche in B.C. This is old-school, west coast Riesling with attributes to reflect and look back on generations of acumen. Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95, WineAlign) forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic and was a NWAC14 Platinum Medal Winner.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec ($22.95, WineAlignspeaks to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée. Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench ($38.00, WineAlign) though just recently re-tasted, was actually first assessed in November of 2013.

This list certainly concentrates on new releases, save for a few exceptions where older wines left a modern impression. Wines that found a way to break new ground also factored into the decisions. Here are the 14 Canadian wines tasted in 2014 that simply did it for me. Wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

From left to right: Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013 , Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Merlot 2002

 

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014

Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.  Tasted November 2014  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From The Group of twelve, April 28, 2014

Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”  Tasted April 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake.  Tasted October 2014  @BlueMtnWinery

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.  Tasted April 2014  @normhardie

Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted twice, May and July 2014  @SperlingVyds

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign) From Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone, July 15, 2014

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Pilliteri Estates Merlot Family Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign) From Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine, January 17, 2014

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?   Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

From left to right: Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008

 

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From Chardonnay is cool, July 9, 2014

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.  Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign) From A hip of wine at Hidden Bench

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

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $50, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.”  Tasted March 2014  @CaveSpring

Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign) From The Stratus-Momofuku continuum, May 30, 2014

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.  @StratusWines

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign) From Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases November 4, 2014

Certainly plays the most hard to get of the ’11 Chardonnays of fruit so fine and pure. Layered like Phyllo or Puff pastry, gathered and set back upon itself. Gains traction and intensity through developed flavours and overlays of texture, both solid like shale and lacy like organza. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46470, $65.00, WineAlign) From Up on Creekside Estates, April 14, 2014

Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates.  Tasted March 2014  @CreeksideWine

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign) From Consider the Gaspereau Valley, October 1, 2014

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014  @Benjamin_Bridge

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

A go long weekend wine list

Pâté en Croûte, Niedermorschwihr, Alsace, France PHOTO: Michael Godel

Pâté en Croûte, Niedermorschwihr, Alsace, France
PHOTO: Michael Godel

The first long weekend of the 2014 summer is on the way. A fortuitous confluence of the calendar means a longer than usual respite from the tribulations of work, construction and city angst. Bottom line is with four straight days of nothing you’re going to need more wine. Last weekend’s VINTAGES release was filled with admiral and admirable choices, short on Canada’s finest mind you, but long on global composition.

Here are ten wines tasted, reviewed and given the Godello stamp of approval.

Clockwise from left to right: Angels Gate Mountainview Riesling 2009, Château De Gaudou Grand Lignée Malbec/Merlot 2010, Creekside Estates Laura's White 2012, Muriel Reserva 2008, Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2009, Tamaya Syrah Gran Reserva 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2011, Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, St. Supéry Rutherford Merlot 2010

Clockwise from left to right: Angels Gate Mountainview Riesling 2009, Château De Gaudou Grand Lignée Malbec/Merlot 2010, Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2012, Muriel Reserva 2008, Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2009, Tamaya Syrah Gran Reserva 2011, Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2011, Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, St. Supéry Rutherford Merlot 2010

Angels Gate Mountainview Riesling 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (373175, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Riesling that could dry tears. Just seems to write the Bench book. Dry and drier, numb and number. Though hard to see past the stark aridity there cries and froths forth a spirited and significant citrus zest.  A Riesling to be told, “don’t tell me you don’t know the difference, between a lover and a fighter.” The cry lingers for a Costello verse or three, then tiptoes away in everyday refrain. Drink up.  Tasted May 2014  @angelsgatewines

Château De Gaudou Grand Lignée Malbec/Merlot 2010, Ac Cahors, Southwest, France (370239, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

This southern French ArtPop blend of Malbec and Merlot will sell through a boat load of bottles if the post-modern palate gets a hold of its velvety crush and ambient oak overture. Decidedly more Malbec than Merlot in approach though the latter does offer softness and dusty grain. Wood spice and tobacco are fervent and ardent suppliers of good, peppery fun. A red meat, outdoor grill wine if there ever was one, its aridity only eclipsed by its ladylike modernity. If it went deeper toward le zone des buts it would merit more applause. As it is, geeks, critics and pop culture freaks will go gaga for it.  Tasted May 2014  @wineonline_ca

Creekside Estates Laura’s White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (121764, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

With a tilt of the head to 90 degrees the bottle is assessed and the glass contemplated. She’s a flirt, a gregarious girl this Laura, so orchard driven and with a perfumed attraction. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Laura’s White combines Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer in a kitchen sink blend that sees a bit of oak. What’s notable about the ’12 is the omission of two highly aromatic components, the previously employed stalwarts Viognier and Chardonnay Musqué. The adage is justified in that you take what the vintage gives you. If it gives you lemons, (shift tangents) you let the busy aromatics of more flavourful grapes (like Chardonnay) do the floral work. Laura’s ’12 will be a standout for the concept, a revivalist blend to help bring back some religion to the region’s renditions. Coming to VINTAGES in June.” Last Tasted May 2014  @CreeksideWine

Muriel Reserva 2008, Doca Rioja, Spain (276030, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Call it tradition or simply forget the pleasantries and call a Bret a Brett. This old-school Tempranillo oozes character and the vineyard layering of a quilted past, never mind that it’s such an inexpensive young stud. Big, ripe red fruit, the stable’s terra mierda and iron rust. If you like a funky red with coarseness and a bit of age under its saddle, not to mention a penchant for the past, then this Rioja is for you.  Tasted May 2014

Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 2009, Doc Umbria, Italy (372458, $21.95) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Rockin’ it old school goes this Montefalco with more terroir than fruit, more vine earth than crush. Great spice, old wood notes, licorice and stretched bitterness. A gritty, coarse, fun and combative wine. If there are fruits they are very red. Such tension. Great value.  Tasted May 2014

Tamaya Syrah Gran Reserva 2011, Limari Valley, Chile (374306, $21.95) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Sweet candied bacon and cool mountain scents. Salinity, tight and wonderful. Big, brawny, minty mountain herbs and greenery. Tobacco. Complex.  Tasted May 2014

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2011, Ac Alsace, France (21253, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Always exceptional value in Pinot Gris, picked on time and before any real discernible level of botrytis can set in. While it would never be considered truly dry, the round white tannins and salinity from volcanic subsoil in Schimberg’s Guebwiller valley give this bottling good structure, density and muti-national flavours. This vintage seems a bit softer though it is never a high acid monster. Juicy orchard fruit leading layers of flesh and zest grow better with time and develop a sweetness which stems from the purity and quality of the fruit.  Tasted May 2014  @VinexxCanada

Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Dop Naoussa, Greece (272013, $26.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Spicy Xinomavro, a veritable bonfire of Greek humility and good fortune in cinnamon, clove, anise, wood-spice, wood smoke and tobacco. Intriguing and worthy of its place. Not a young fresh red fruit-styled Xino but more so a deeper, earthy and smouldering one. A touch of matchstick and even more campfire. Great acidity and wow length. Yes sir.  Tasted May 2014  @KolonakiGroup

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Yet another look at the Saunders ’11 confirms its tapestry of texture and its density. A Boulangerie’s roll of perfect, flaky puff pastry filled with a honey drizzled nougat and marzipan filling. Very bright, full-on sunshine driven Chardonnay. From my earlier February 2014, November and July 2013 notes: “Saunders is quiet right now, in cool waiting and in display of the most elegance I’ve encountered from any Bachelder Chard, at anytime, anywhere. Background spice, backing vocals are in the isolated spotlight. This I am keying on as much as any note, in any wine here tonight. Not giving it up as easy as before. Extra swirl time required. Will re-visit in the summer. Right, Thomas? From my earlier July and November 2013 notes: “From Beamsville, right beside 30 bench, has a texture, a depth and a mouth feel in ’11 that bounds and leaps towards the ethereal. A dancing stag, displaying, performing a mating ritual dance. Melons, ripe and fleshy are in this Saunders. “What’s carrying this wine is site, site and site.” A great clay slice of the Beamsville Bench. From my earlier note: ”Takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.”  Last Tasted May 2014  @Bachelder_wines

St. Supéry Rutherford Merlot 2010, Napa Valley, California, USA (376939, $58.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

Enormous Merlot in sonic youth, pushing ripeness boundaries but with so much natural fighting and balancing acidity. If you like dusty, cake-layered, oak oil-sweating, sweetly viscous bleeding Merlot, well, this is for you. It has all the stuffing with its huge fruit and big acidity, not to mention formidable tannins. Imbued in “shards of sweet shine of voice and flute.” This will go long, something like 20 years, into a dripping dream, slowly and gracefully integrating its largesse, all the while being generous for all that time.  Tasted May 2014  @StSupery

 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th

Ribs meet Turkey PHOTO: Michael Godel

Ribs meet Turkey, rubs by Barque Smokehouse
PHOTO: Michael Godel

The last four times the calendar’s folklorique confluence brought a Friday and the 13th of a month together occurred in December and September of 2013, July and April of 2012. On that April Friday the arbitrariness shared a birthday with the sinking of the titanic. That kind of anti-kismet “does not bode well for the superstitious kind.” So once again, if you are one of the many inflicted with paraskevidekatriaphobia then tomorrow may not be your favourite day. If you also suffer from oenophobia, I feel for you.

Here are thirteen things that make me think of the number thirteen.

  1. Apollo 13. Moon mission gone bad.
  2. Thirteen years ago this week Radiohead went to No. 1 on the UK album chart with their album Amnesiac.
  3. The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, Chapter XIII: “The weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”
  4. Thirteen Days, The Movie. John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  5. Friday the 13th in Port Dover, Ontario.
  6. The song “13” by Big Star.
  7. The 13 Principles of Jewish Faith.
  8. 13th Street Wines.
  9. The thirteenth man. How the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost the 2009 Grey Cup.
  10. June 13th, 1913. The New York Yankees win their 13th game of year after losing 36 games.
  11. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery and segue to the great Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013.
  12. Steve Nash. Dan Marino. Wilt Chamberlain. Mats Sundin. Godello.
  13. 13” the name of the new album by Black Sabbath.

Nice list. Of even greater importance is choosing some wine for the fitful 13th day of June and for Father’s Day on the weekend that follows. Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, for and with dad.

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012

Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (57349, $12.95, WineAlign) LCBO General List

Give this vibrant crush of boyish red fruit a slight chill and with this pinnacle ideal vintage, at this ridiculously right price, go hither and convince a world of Gamay naysayers to get on board. Never mind the many years of “uninspired, drenched and tired” Gamay beach songs and tired voyages. Never mind the bad rap and out of tune harmonies thrust upon the world by dull vintages and bulk fruit. This CdC Gamay continues to breach the value quotient. Here is fresh, pure, unadulterated adult’s juice. It cruises from harbour with a clove-studded orange spritz and sets out past a rocky jetty to open seas. “Sail on, sail on sailor.”  Tasted June 2014  @MBosc

Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Leyda Valley, Chile  (371138, $14.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

So very peppery and Ají Cristal notes come from this warm weathered Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, indicating a Leyda Valley specificity that can’t be denied. So much unctuous character swallows whole the herbiage and schmaltz, as does the rapid fire acidity. Powerful SB, not subtle, not understated. There is no shortage of fruit, with nettles and a volcano in current eruption. It’s as if it would plead, “spider got eight legs and I got two. This guitar got six strings, what about you, well, what do you got?” So much going on, with more palate tingling white pepper, bending notes and angles. Jacks from ballad to wailing guitar, from rhapsodic to metallic. A Sauvignon Blanc with fly farm blues. I think it has an appeal to a red wine drinker who wants to drink a big white and I think it will age quite well, something like five to seven more years.   Tasted May 2014  @WoodmanWS

Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Ac, Beaujolais, France (325134, $15.30, WineAlign) LCBO General List

When this Villages Millésime was mentioned for the purpose of offering a contrast to Ponciago’s La Réserve, it was honestly assessed as having “paint and tar notes.” When considered on its own merit it’s all about softness, perfume and poise. Pure red berry fruit just seems encased in a web of gossamer texture, it’s that pleasant to drink. Though it may lack the stuffing of La Réserve and Les Hauts Du Py, at $15 and change this is the real deal in Beaujolais. Even more impressive in consideration to the challenges of the vintage.  Tasted June 2014  @WoodmanWS

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (640516, $16.95, WineAlign)

Clone 809 strikes again. The pioneering Bosc family tells the usual oak suspects to stay clear of their pure St. David’s Bench meets Seven and Seven Vineyard fruit so the intensity of flowers and blanketing minerality can speak with utmost clarity. Never mind all that, this ’12 is the most tropical Chardonnay Musqué yet made by CdC. Its heart is a drum, “free as a driving wheel, circling around your iron will.” OK, so that Seven and Seven soil makes for alloy heaven. Just ring this clone and she will be at your beck and call.  Tasted May 2014  @MBosc

Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (361212, $18.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES May 24, 2014 release

Bonarda is on the rise and threatening to challenge Malbec in Mendoza, especially when it poses with such an obvious, rich and cakey Andean attitude. This example is clearly culled from a state of the art production facility because despite the slightly funky, gritty, tense and nervous layering and radio fuzz, it shows such a polished quality. Picked & mixed by real humans, this is varietal desert euphoria paradise, full of plum drive and chocolate coating.  Tasted May 2014  @Oenophilia1

Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Burgundy, France (375428, $18.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

The Grahier is an exhilarating, extremely arid, purposed blend of Pinot Noir (60 per cent) and Chardonnay (40). Though technically Extra Brut (less than 6 g/L residual sugar) this highly stylish Crémant teases with a perceived ripe orchard fruit sweetness. Versatility comes across in every spice and toast-driven bubble, for a cocktail pour, to blend into a cocktail or to match a wide range of dinner flavours. So useful and so smart. Offers up unparalleled value in Bourgogne sparkling.  Tasted June 2014  @Oenophilia1

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (591305, $19.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Malivoire presents a Pinot Gris in good temper, better balance and even greater controlled anxiety to add grit on top of the sweet, spicy pepper and lightly pickled palate. Really approachable, workable and elastic in extended length.  Tasted May 2014  @MalivoireWine

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2011, Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2011, Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007

Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Wonderfully balanced blend with a bit of wood spice, plenty of good character and tannin. Tense fruit, layered and tight. Tighter than I last tasted it. Must be the accumulation. From my earlier, February 2014 note: It’s funny, more than any other wine tasted, this Laura has that Niagara varnish other Creekside reds seem not to possess. “Stock up in the big years” suggests Matt Loney, and “consolidate in the tougher ones.” It could be argued that you can make more interesting wines in the lean years but this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot lays a claim to seriousness, if needing at least three years to settle down. There is much cassis, sweet oak, iodine and a milk/dark chocolate swirl. Complexity for sure if just a bit huge within its own skin.  Last tasted May 2014  @CreeksideWine

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) On the card at Barque Smokehouse  @barquebbq

Look, I get it. Wine is made from grapes so why command a host of other fruits to offer context for aromas and tastes? Just have a moment with Steve Byfield’s “virtual” Viognier 2012. Virtual tree meets stone fruit. Smells just like a ripe peach. The flavour bears an uncanny resemblance to apricots. Virtual my Equus africanus asinus. The winery is virtual, the Viognier anything but. Speaks a Condrieu varietal truth by way of Niagara’s Redfoot vineyard. Carries a soil-driven, mineral-flecked, microscopically-oxidized metal tang so essential to invigorating Viognier. Blessed stuff from a Shona’s humble hands.  Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @NyaraiCellars

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Burgundy, France (276436, $22.05, WineAlign) LCBO General List

The Champs Royaux from mainly purchased fruit may be the runt of the Fèvre litter but it’s no austere duck soup and this despite the challenging vintage. Chalk another win for organic viticulture, here again worked to great effect. The practice encourages acidity levels to consistent ends aligned with ripe fruit and year in, year out betterment of the wines. The ’12 Champs Royaux exudes the idea of classic unoaked and flinty Chablis, as well as seawater and the smell of a lit halogen bulb. Elemental without being metallic, it blinks from a citrus flash before finishing balmy and warm.  Tasted June 2014  @BourgogneWines

Thirty Bench Red 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (320986, $24.00, WineAlign)

The consistency and subtlety in red wine of the earth in this perennially approachable Bench wine can’t be overestimated. Really high quality red purity is ascertained from this blend, its spicy, tangy, moving parts coming together to unionize the fruit. Just enough tension to keep traffic moving, with Merlot really doing its yeoman’s work, Cabernet Franc as sweet and expressive as it can be without going over to the shaken, splintered and mocha chocolate dark side. This is always red and red-fruited. Ready, willing and will offer pleasure for five to seven years.  Tasted May 2014  @ThirtyBench

Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California, USA (363556, $39.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Holy reductive toast Napa man. Aromas of buttered toast, glade, duck fat and pencil graphite, which I must say is one stellar note. Flavours of ripe Mutsu (specifically) apple and a resinous chew of late autumn sweet forest needles. Yes the toast is high but so is the quality. Don’t blame the barrel, he’s just the messenger. A great Chardonnay for shellfish and molluscs of the briny kind. Linger on in your golden yellow eyes.  Tasted May 2014  @SmithMadrone

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014

Extreme Lows, Niagara Peninsula, December 2013 and January 2014
Photo: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)

as seen on canada.com

The physiological and emotional roller coaster heaped upon grapes and growers these past 55 days has been nothing short of exhilarating, frightening and exhausting. First this monster climatic Dementor known as the Polar Vortex. Along with the demonic weather came the devastation of an ice storm, followed by record low temperatures. More recently, thaw and re-freeze. Consequences and challenges have abounded. Also, a silver lining. Freezing temperatures can kill grape buds on vines unprepared and left to fend for themselves. Those little vine kinder can also just be unlucky enough to grow up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some Niagara growers are reporting heavy losses to Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay vines. Here are the numbers as reported by Wines In Niagara’s Rick VanSickle.

I spoke with winemaker Paul Pender of Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ontario yesterday. Paul is both unconcerned and not yet ready to make any sort of call on damage to his crops. “It’s still too early to tell,” he notes, “I won’t really head out to assess any potential damage until early March.” While Beamsville vineyards are reportedly hard hit, Pender is confident that his team’s strident and prudent vineyard management will see the vines through.

Balanced pruning means leaving a specific number of buds during the winter on a dormant cane for this year’s crop, the number based on the amount the vine grew the previous season. Tawse’s canes are cut back to two feet, the dead wood removed before winter’s freeze can hit. Buds this season were thinned from 12 to six, giving those tender bits a fighter’s chance to survive. And while Pender will not enter into an unequivocal conversation with respect to the heartiness of his vineyards as a consequence of 100 per cent organic and biodynamic farming, I can hear the surety in his voice and imagine the twinkle in his eye at the thought.

Other growers concern themselves with what may happen inside the many parts of the vine when there are freezes, thaws and re-freezes. Again, Pender is not concerned. Proper pruning should prepare a vine for a harsh winter, whether or not they are protected by a warm blanket of snow. In New York’s Finger Lakes region, Lenn Thompson is reporting “some minor bud damage to vinifera vines, but little to no vine death.” Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyards on Seneca Lake had this to say. “Yes, this winter is definitely presenting itself in a rather volatile manner. As far as I can tell from checking a number of varieties and many buds, there does not seem to be any catastrophic primary bud kill. There is damage, but not too bad so far. I do not think that with things being this wacky that we can really rest easy until most of the winter has passed.” Brock University’s Cool Climate and Viticulture Institute in St. Catherines helps local growers with much needed information and infrastructure to deal with damaging weather. Their VineAlert program helps protect vineyards during frigid temperatures.

Icewine Hours 2013

PHOTO: Weather INnovations Consulting LP (WIN)
Icewine Hours 2013

The news is not all bad. According to many icewine makers in Niagara, 2013 will shape up to be what many are forecasting the best ever vintage for the province. Temperatures dipped to the requiem in late December and most picked their shriveled, sugary berries before the new year. That is unprecedented, allowing this season’s icewine to remain high in necessary balancing acidity and well ahead of the fermentation arresting challenges from most years. Wine Country Ontario reported that “early icewine harvest in Wine Country Ontario starts the festival fever.” Look for the most balanced icewines out of 2013. Not to mention the Grape Grower’s of Ontario reporting the province’s grape growers gathered a record 79,756 tonnes of grapes in 2013 valued at nearly $100 million.

The Niagara Icewine Festival encompasses three weekends in January dedicated to the region’s beloved ambrosial elixir, wines that have become the calling card beyond the broader confines of Canadian borders. Icewine has been made since 1981 and in that short span of 33 years, Ontario and B.C. winemakers have challenged, and in many cases lapped their counterparts in Germany and Austria. Canadian icewine is globally renowned, even if it is not the most important wine resource bequeathed upon the rest of the world.

Icewine 101. Simply put, made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Ontario’s stringent Bolshevik Initial Decrees-like laws insist that icewine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached and then picked from those vines encapsulated in nets to protect them from birds possessive of a sweet tooth.

A national icewine debate is ongoing, inflamed by a recent Macleans Magazine article discussing the ideological differences between the VQA law preventing vine and grape separation before pressing and the Quebec practice of letting the grapes freeze in nets. Quebec growers do this out of necessity for fear of their fruit being smothered by excessive snowfall. Ontario’s old guard vehemently oppose the practice. The irony of VQA Ontario’s website low volume statistic, “with average yields of 500 litres for each acre netted,” is not lost on the curious. Two questions arise. How many grapes in Ontario nets end up in bottles of VQA labelled icewine and how can a culture of Canadian icewine be brought together without some form of compromise and collaboration? Yet again, is togetherness integral to the success of Canadian icewine, or more specifically, Ontario’s industry?

According to Klaus W. Reif of Reif Estate, apparently there are 3,750 berries needed for one bottle of 375ml icewine. Just consider the concentration for a moment, the hand-picked (though not all) labour involved and the specificity of the practice. The sweetest wine known to Canadians can indeed be re-worked as a palindrome for Niagara Ice Wine Festival.

A wet vial is fine nice agar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Rick James Ice Sculpture, Niagara Icewine Festival

On Friday, January 10th, 2014 I was a most elated guest at the Xerox Icewine Gala: A Bacchus Evening of Icewine and Revelry. For a list of continuing events this weekend and next, here is a link to the festival site. More information here. With kind thanks to Magdalena KaiserSmit and Wine Country Ontario, I had the good fortune to taste a host of Niagara’s finest renditions, along with some very special bottles of sparkling and still wines. Here are notes on six wines sampled at the Fallsview Casino Grand Ballroom last Friday night.
From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

From left: PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010, RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, and VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012

PELLER ESTATES SIGNATURE SERIES ICE CUVÉE, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Onatrio (284547, $31.95, WineAlign)

This is Peller’s most versatile fizz, a blend of traditional method Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sweetened by a dosage of Vidal icewine post disgorgement of its lees. The lees has been left to linger in the bottle, in spirit. Sapid, savoury bubbles tingle the senses to the bone and will offer the most comforting and proper pleasures to those discriminating and otherwise. Appealing to a large common denominator, this Peller Sparkling can really do no wrong.  90  Tasted January 2014  @PellerVQA

CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95, WineAlign)

The floral lift from three to four percent Viognier gives notice to bend the brawny, savoury black olive and blistered Ancho fruit into balance. Syrah in a sunshine state but not from concentrate. Would accept a glass of this Brokenpress at any beck and call. “Grab your wine, take me where you been, with the violin time and the moon gettin’ thin.” From my earlier note: “Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.”  91  Tasted twice, October 2013 and January 2014  @CreeksideWine

PILLITTERI ESTATES MERLOT FAMILY RESERVE 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign)

Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to?  93  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

RAVINE VINEYARD RESERVE RED 2008, St Davids Bench, Niagara Peninsula (20483, $55.00, WineAlign)

This Bordeaux style blend (40 per cent Merlot, 33.3 Cabernet Sauvignon and 26.7 Cabernet Franc) is clothed in a coat of arms all about texture. A drawn and raised relief of dried, candied bramble fruit and charcoal lines of savoury, earthy hickory and herbs. Hearty warmth from a cool vintage, meat on a stick in a glass, charred, roasted and smoking. A spit of gamey goodness. Holding strong but drink now.  90  Tasted January 2014  @RavineVineyard

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ICEWINE 2011, Niagara On The Lake (46557, 375 ml, $60.00, WineAlign)

A most unique and striking rendition, wearer of many hats, confounding and curious. There is a funk about him that stands apart from the rest. Like a really well-aged, superb piece of washed rind cheese, then turning unabashedly sweet, with verve and symphonic tone. An orange sky of an icewine, anti-bittersweet, accented by mace and anise, carob even. “Here is what I know now brother. Here is what I know now sister.” Cabernet Sauvignon, in a vintage equipped with striking acidity, can turn into something to look forward to. One of the more interesting icewines to date.  91  Tasted January 2014  @Pillitteriwines

VINELAND ESTATES RIESLING VIDAL ICEWINE 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (163018, 375 mL, $60.00, WineAlign)

This represents the icewine revolution, for the first time adding 15 percent Vidal juice into the Riesling mix. In 2012, the normally stand alone Riesling needed a shot in the arm, provided by the Vidal, a dose of icewine magic by winemaker Brian Schmidt. Lifted tree fruit blossom and added weight are the result, without hyper-sweet flavours. Riesling is the rock, Vidal the roll as this RV crashes into me. The pit orchard fruit is reduced and recognizable to taste, yet reserved and in phonic harmony. “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll.” Brotherly love icewine, full of Schmidt wisdom.  93  Tasted January 2014  @benchwineguy

Good to go!

Crack open these Canadian-made apolitical wines

Opening a wine bottle

Head out to your local wine shop and purchase one of these eight apolitical Canadian (or Canadians making wine abroad) bottles for next weekend.
Photo: Rumkugel/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

This is a wine column folks. If you’ve arrived here looking for a human train wreck, colloquial references to sexual body parts or stories about illicit activity, keep on moving.

Perhaps the thing I find so refreshing about wine is its lack of political affiliation. Wine is apolitical, well, maybe not so in Ontario, but let’s not go there today. The science of making wine is apolitical. Grow grapes, nurture the vineyard, pick at optimum phenolic ripeness, use minimalist intervention in the winery and voila! Fine, honest wine ready and willing to please.

Imagine wine as a painting, depicting a ceremonial scene, as if there were visible hundreds of figures within, no two alike. This is what concentrating on the simple, the base, the lightness of being can do for your life. Choosing the wine high road as a distraction from political sideshow is a healthy lifestyle choice.

Even if you just can’t forget about the pathetic fallacy of local, provincial and federal government right now, consider moving onwards and upwards next week. Head out to your local wine shop and purchase one of these eight apolitical Canadian (or Canadians making wine abroad) bottles for next weekend. Crack one open and witness your dread and fear melt away.

From left: TINHORN CREEK GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012, PALATINE HILLS MERITAGE NEUFELD VINEYARD 2010, DANIEL LENKO MERLOT OLD VINES 2010, and CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKENPRESS 2010

From left: TINHORN CREEK GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012, PALATINE HILLS MERITAGE NEUFELD VINEYARD 2010, DANIEL LENKO MERLOT OLD VINES 2010, and CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKENPRESS 2010

TINHORN CREEK GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012 (904185, $24.95, winery $18.49, BCLS 530675, $18.49)

From the sandy gravel soils of the estates Golden Mile Vineyard. Viticulturalist Andrew Moon and Winemaker Sandra Oldfield find exemplary natural sugars and classic Gewurz tendencies from mature, 16 year-old vines. Offers spice before pleasure and a funky beat ahead of the lychee and rose water/petal. Cool and dry specimen, somewhat Gris-esque, intuitive, integrated and consistent every step of the way. Nothing earth shattering but really fine, precise, on time and in time. Like a right proper Gin and Tonic, with a lime.   89  @Andrew_Tinhorn  @SandraOldfield

PALATINE HILLS MERITAGE NEUFELD VINEYARD 2010 (361378, $29.95)

Cuts a positively pretty shape in silhouette. The blend consists of 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 Merlot and 20 Cabernet Franc though the Cabernet Franc certainly stands out, which is a very good thing in this warm vintage, in spicy bites, currants, dried and braised meat. Also notable are licorice, cherries and plums. The savoury vineyard floor adds but does nothing to overpower so this is quite fine, if a bit tinged by a coffee and cherry chalk.  89  @palatinewinery

DANIEL LENKO MERLOT OLD VINES 2010 (75622, $34.95)

Pure, ripe red berries dusted by a dried and pungent mulling spice. Dried flowers round out this easy-going if not overly complex red fashioned from likely the oldest Beamsville Bench Merlot vines. Good balancing acidity and verdant in a Cab Franc-ish way. I could drink this any day of the week but wouldn’t hold out for more age. Despite murmurs of tobacco tight tannins, this is as good as it will ever be.  89  @daniel_lenko

CREEKSIDE ESTATES WINERY SYRAH RESERVE BROKEN PRESS 2010 (202127, $39.95)

Offers up gorgeous pine and pepper-laced correctness and so much juicy, fresh warmth from a terrific Syrah vintage in Ontario and even more parochial so on the St. David’s Bench. This Queenston Road Vineyard red is winemaker Rob Power’s secret weapon, absolutely freakin’ delicious stuff and the epitome of what Syrah should be like from Niagara. Verve, rigor and yet also flirtatious with expertly judged wood and tannin to re-fresh its spirit and lengthen its life. Love it.  91  @CreeksideWine

From left: STRATUS WHITE 2010, STRATUS RED 2010, VERSADO MALBEC RESERVA 2010, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005

From left: STRATUS WHITE 2010, STRATUS RED 2010, VERSADO MALBEC RESERVA 2010, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007

STRATUS WHITE 2010 (660704, $44.20)

Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus.  92  Tasted October 2013. From my earlier note: “sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.  92  @Stratuswines

STRATUS RED 2010 (131037, $44.20)

Tasted again, I do declare this to be the reigning bomb of Ontario red blends. Showing even better than I judged it two weeks ago. Intense ruby meets claret in every facet of its make-up. Rouge tomate, fresh and racy at the same time, with just enough chalk to lengthen the chain. You can actually imagine the hum in the clang and rhythm of its magic. Fleet of foot, mac-nanimously rendered red blend. “Chain keep us together, running in the shadow.”  92  From my earlier note: is a study in restrained, gilt-edged use of only 15 per cent new oak during assemblage, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead and so prudent considering the extreme warmth of the vintage. Cabernet Franc imparts simple but intense spice.  Red talented, fresh finesse, the oak in support as a James Dean, cherry stained leather jacket. De facto fresh, with just enough trenchant acidity.  92

VERSADO MALBEC RESERVA 2010 (316984, $59.95)

This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” Rare Malbec uniquely subsistent upon their own roots, that is, “ungrafted” as compared to the typically phylloxera-resistant rootstocks of native North American grapes. While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.  91  @VersadoWine

BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2007 (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79)

Peter Gamble struck gold with this Gasperaux Valley, Nova Scotia Sparkling Wine project. This Bridge comes from ”radically and frighteningly low yields” (3/4 ton per acre, as opposed to the new 6 ton world of Champagne). The ’07 is spun so fine and endowed with a prominent and great leesy nose, along with baking biscuits and lemon purity. To taste there is zest, white pepper and ultimately this is streamlined and refined. A Gamble style that will integrate in ’08 the idea of emulating grower’s Champagne. One will find no holes and no holds barred, in tension and in ease. Like Iggy Pop, Paul Weller, Brandon Flowers and David Bowie rolled into one, a thin white duke with a lust for life in a killer town called malice. Eight some odd cases of the 2005 are still floating around in the monopoly’s system so keep an eye on the labels. You just might get lucky. Price tag, $75? Cost, “priceless.”  93  @Benjamin_Bridge

Good to go!

Wines for the Ides of March

PHOTO: PAUL FLEET/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me.

And we, like friends, will straightway go together.
March 15th is not just any old day, that is if you are a Roman. The monthly Ides were sacred to the worshipers of Jupiter, king deity of the Romans. Shakespeare‘s play is more than just a forgotten high school memory. The Ides of March, 44 BCE assassination of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate was a big deal.

Caesar was, however cautious and abstemious some say, known as a wine guy. Can you argue the actuality in utterance of the Bard’s famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” as he offered his (77-years ahead, future reference) Judas a goblet of wine? JC was purportedly known to love indigenous Italian grapes like Mamertino and Brachetto.

Caesar took control of the mint and had money coined to put into the hands of the people. He then built great structures, public works and was followed (jump forward, twenty-one centuries, Twitter equivalent) by many. Was he killed for being a people’s patron of the arts, architecture and culture and did his offing lead to the demise of plentiful money in Rome? Can Caesar really be blamed for the tax increases, corruption and the loss of homes and land? Admittedly, the dictator has been historically accused of killing one million enemy French (Gallic) men and enslaving another million. But he was a wine guy! Would Caesar have jammed in a cork to stop private wine clubs?

Canadians purportedly drink Bloody Caesars to celebrate the anniversary of the soothsayer’s day. Me, not so much. But I can tie the Italian-Canadian thing together. Here I string five Canadians and three Italians, bound by one apropos French connection, a sublime red wine from Bordeaux. Raise a glass and whisper “All hail Caesar.”

From left: Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2010, Stoney Ridge Excellence Chardonnay 2010, Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Tenuta Di Ghizzano Veneroso 2009, Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2008, Château Haut-Bages Liberal 2009.

The Canadians

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (246579, $15.95) is fresh in chert, posy aromatic and stuffed with an airy, sense of whipped lemon cream. Salinity and white pepper add kick and spice to this Chardonnay cousin only Cave Spring seems to have mastered.  89  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Riesling 2011 (277483, $15.95) of savvy, textured pomade hails Prussian in ideal, with equatorial accents, in coconut, ginger and creamy, fallen tree fruit. A lime’s zest, rind and late harvest condensed orange marmalade buttress this beryl flecked, golden Escarpment Riesling. Tons of nuance.  90  @MalivoireWine

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2010 (321893, $16.95) coalesces to what so few Niagara Peninsula peers achieve by summation in the heat of 2010. Meritage balance for under $20. Many made great wines in the premium category but many more made bottles of jam at this price. Rockway’s Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend is a tale of two poles. At once pretty, in violets, soft black currants and mild coffee and then bound by an underlying coal tension and furious punk beat. “The sun is out and I want some.”  88   @Rockway Vineyard

Creekside Laura’s White 2010 (121764, $18.95) is peach quintessence in a glass. Niagara Peninsula peaches burst forth, replay to taste and never dissipate. The tree’s blossoms are there two, along with the fruit’s stony pit, with a full-on mouth attack, finishing with a spoonful of peach-infused simple syrup. A white “to let go of it all just for this evening.” Dessert and then goodnight.  88  @CreeksideWine

Stoney Ridge Excellence Chardonnay 2010 (254243, $24.95) hails from the Lincoln Lakeshore and warms in toasted, buttered pecans, Caesar spice and sunny climate fruit. The shore’s metallic, rocky bed adds minerality, “rockin’ up the richter scale” with tang and stabbing notes on the long finish. Goes both ways, ACDC.  89  @stoneyridgewine

The Italians

Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (993360, $19.95) in a tighter vintage is not as round, ripe and forgiving so priced to sell but it’s that grit that gives this CCR it’s charm. More Run Through the Jungle than Lodi, this Petri “fills the land with smoke,” in animale and a marbled, granular texture. Thought modern in styling, this Sangiovese is like charred Kobe beef covered in butter polished demi-glace.  90

Tenuta Di Ghizzano Veneroso 2009 (103218, $29.95) bears little resemblence to the IGT you may be used to, especially in a 70/30 Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. This one’s mutton-funky, not quite like the Montetti or Madonna del Piano but still an earthy beast. There is vibrant purple Pisa fruit and a dusty, chalky tannic splash. We’ll see but my thoughts look to a wow future. Gorgeous wine from Ginevra Venerosi Pesciolini.  91  @FrontierWine

Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2008 (172783, $36.95, SAQ, 10860223, $34) from young vines on this venerable estate’s Ginestra plot is really impressive for under $40. Savoury and perfumed, of Rhododendron and dried roses. Pipe smoke at the mid-point and sweet tannin. Not exactly a big Barolo but more of a Nebbiolista’s bric-a-brac of all the best bits Barolo has to offer 91  @liffordwine

Château Haut-Bages Liberal 2009 (197640, $64.85) of sumptuous, acculturated Paulliac texture is just so pretty. Not unlike the ’07 Brunelli, or the current release ’08 Guado Al Tasso for that matter, there is nary a harsh or biting note. The kicker is the Left Bank mineral, crushed rock thing going on and the wine never wavers from the its velvety feel. Pure, unadulterated red fruit, juicy and forevermore. This liberal lady can “lay across my big brass bed,” anytime.  92

Good to go!

A long and “wine-ding” tasting road

Wine tasting PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

LCBO: Waterloo’s Charley Ronzio of Store 115.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flight #2: The Mothers of Invention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCOVI Tasting

Flight #3: We Are Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flight #4: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!