March of the Canadians

Shrimp, mussel, kale, salsa verde #jacksonpollock risotto

Shrimp, mussel, kale, salsa verde #jacksonpollock risotto

If you’ve yet to see the CBC video discussing the success of Canadian wine in the UK, do it now.

Brits love our wine

The British, reports Aaron Saltzman, are developing a taste for fine Canadian vintages, and not just Icewine. “It’s a niche market, but it’s being received quite well.” Even though Icewine still accounts for 75 per cent of sales in England (1.2 out of a total 1.59 million Canadian dollars), in 2015, Canada sold $168,500 worth of table wine to the U.K. That number was five times lower in 2013, at $34,889.

In Decanter Magazine’s April 2016 issue they discuss “The best Pinot Noirs in the world (outside Burgundy).” Five from Canada are nominated out of more than 80 total. Ian d’Agata included the Bachelder 2013 Lowrey Vineyard, along with two others from Ontario, Flat Rock Cellars Gravity 2012, Twenty Mile Bench and Norman Hardie Winery, Cuvée L 2012, Prince Edward County. The two recognized from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia are Meyer Family Vineyards 2013, McLean Creek Road Vineyard and  Tantalus Vineyards 2012.

The Canadian wine renaissance is attributed to high-end, artisan winemakers like Norman Hardie and Thomas Bachelder. That’s the cool factor. The truth of the matter is that Canadian winemakers have realized and capitalized on the significance and exceptionality of their terroirs in regions such as Niagara, Prince Edward County and the Okanagan Valley. Journalists and buyers from around the globe know it and have begun to spread the Canadian gospel.

Dr. Jamie Goode has had a profound effect on alerting fellow Brits to the Canadian thing and that ambassadorship has filtered through to the wine shop owners and trickled down to the consumer. Much of the education is attributed to Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Global Practice Lead for Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in Ottawa. Dr. Dorozynski has brought the wines and their makers to England and pried open the doors to perception.

Last week I tasted through a hundred or more Ontario wines at Taste Ontario and at Cuvée 2016 in Niagara. Those notes are coming soon. For now let’s concentrate on the VINTAGES March 19th release. Here are some of the Canadian wines up for grabs.

Tawse Sketches Riesling 2014

Tawse Sketches Riesling 2014

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

Really striking Sketches Riesling here in 2014, aromatically wild and full of complex flavours. So representative, lemony beyond lemon and full of juicy acidity. Almost too much of a good thing but it should settle a bit and replace some of that stark contrasting acidity with copacetic sweetness. Great fruit in 2014. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Culmina Decora Riesling 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (444836, $24.95, WineAlign)

Judging from the ripeness, strength, density and effective grape tannin this may as well be noted as pulchra, decor, charissima, that is, powerful, beautiful, charming. All three are apropos in this really forward and mineral tangy Riesling. Could this come from anywhere but the Okanagan Valley? Should develop with intellect into a honeyed, elastic expression. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted November 2015 and March 2016  @CulminaWinery  @winebcdotcom

Riesling squared- Culmina Decora 2013 and Charles Baker Picone 2012

Riesling squared- Culmina Decora 2013 and Charles Baker Picone 2012

Henry Of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (395855, $24.95, WineAlign)

Exceeds elegant expectations with poise and presence, a Bordeaux blend so refined it pleases. Effectively restrained and remedies with tonic. Circulating acidity ranges while chocolate whips, but wholly within reason. Spice accents assist in the celebration (why not?) to effectuate this red’s firm grip and grasp of Claret reality. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015 and March 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012

Foreign Affair The Dream 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (364380, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Dream is a ripping, layered and well executed appassimento from Barclay Robinson. Much oak influence but with that fencing there is more than the spice is right. Sweetness is valued in the context of ripeness, acidity and burgeoning tannin. Here we find a big wine and well within the parameters of the sensibility. Tasting and thinking on the dried and rehydrated grape approach can leave you “lost in the dream, or just the silence of a moment, it’s always hard to tell.” With the ’12 Abbraccio, “Il Sogno” shares the passion for the planning and shows that “love’s the key to the things that we see.” And a little bit of unknown appassimento magic. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @wineaffair  @BarclayRobinson  @EpicW_S

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign)

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 March 2016  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Good to go!

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Just say no? Deconstructing decanting

Does decanting eliminate the natural oxidative curve of a bottle of wine? Does it make a wine taste $20 better? Photo: FOOD-pictures/Fotolia.com

Does decanting eliminate the natural oxidative curve of a bottle of wine? Does it make a wine taste $20 better?
Photo: FOOD-pictures/Fotolia.com

The wine drinking experience is afforded more pleasure by decanting a bottle of wine. Decanting means aeration and separation of liquid from sediment. Plain and simple. Most wine drinkers have always bought into this belief. Does that still hold true today?

The debate rages high. Eric Asimov from the New York Times suggests he’s of the camp that takes the middle ground. “Many good red wines are not and continue to produce sediment, so once they reach middle age, decanting these wines, very carefully, remains advisable. I like to decant young reds that might be tannic or tight, like those made from Nebbiolo or Cabernet Sauvignon. Even young red Burgundies can benefit from decanting, though Burgundians might roll their eyes.” True middle ground comes by way of, ironically, Decanter Magazine. “Most modern-day wines do not require decanting, though even young wines may benefit from aeration.”

The famous Bordeaux house of Château Margaux states that “the main reason for decanting red wines is to separate the wine from the sediment that may have formed in the bottle over the years. This sediment consists mainly of the tannins that have been made insoluble by the chemical reactions responsible for the ageing process.” They, like so many other Bordeaux stalwarts, remain entrenched in the world of decanting.

Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal concurs. “All wine that will throw sediment should be decanted; this includes red Bordeaux, Rhône, Rioja, vintage Port and heavy grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Also—and this is open to discussion—young wines. In my experience, exposure to air unfurls the complex layers of flavor in young fine wine.” Chris Kissack fervently believes in the decanting process. “Decanting wines is not just for show, and even in this modern age of industrial, fined and filtered wines, some will still benefit from spending some time in a decanter.”

Consider these questions. Does decanting eliminate the natural oxidative curve of a bottle of wine? Does it make a wine taste $20 better? Is decanting elitist, obnoxious and unreachable for the average consumer? Cerebral decanting is another matter. Don’t hate a bottle of wine because it’s not been decanted. Hate it because it’s a bad bottle of wine.

And then there is hyper-decanting. This by way of Digital Deconstruction:

Gerardo Diaz is the Manager and Sommelier at Barque Smokehouse in Toronto. He is adamantly anti-decanting. Here is his well-thought out take:

Decanters come in various shapes and sizes, from functional to ornate to downright ugly. Decanters have played a role within the wine world for thousands of years. They have had many uses over time but for me, they have simply fallen out of practice and are representative of an archaic time, when wine was not made to be drunk immediately. This magnified by the fact that the technology of making wine back then was sub par in comparison.

Wine was held in amphorae, then in glass, metals or earthenware. These were the holding compartments for the fermented grape juice, then transferred off to decanters in order to minimize the amount of sediment within in the decanter/glass. It was used to aerate tighter wines and soften the tannins. Time has changed.

Decanters have become nothing more than a symbol of the past. With modern-making techniques and current trends, people want to be able to drink their choices immediately, and winemakers are following suit.

Wine is not what it used to be. Often over oxidized, aged for many years, with more vintage variation, etc… Nowadays when wine is bottled, it is what it is and does not change that much. As a matter of fact, aeration tends to do worse than better. People seem to believe that decanting hours prior benefits the wine. Quite the contrary. With modern wine techniques and just common sense, the aromatic compounds can only go far, that is to say that with time they will diminish as the minutes/hours go by. Decanting can be used for only two things, well aged wine and natural wines. But more now than ever, wines are not being made to age. They are being made to feed the immediate masses, the ever-growing population, but more so an ever-growing wine drinking population.

Tannins have a bad rep when speaking about wine, some say yay, other say nay. They provide structure, the very backbone to a wine. The added texture is the single most important thing in wine for me and acts as a natural preservative. Decantation is believed to soften these tannins that can be gripping, ever so drying, and to some, a turn off. This popular belief is misconstrued. Softening of the tannins takes place in the winery, with the winemaker. Decanting will only alter perception, kind of like a placebo effect. Yeah, decanters are a placebo effect.

I personally dislike decanters except for the two stated reasons, and even then, natural wines that almost exclusively lack preservations (sulphites), never need more aeration. The wine is what it is and will last a long time opened in bottle.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

The death of wine scores?

 

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Not so fast.

As time goes by, I am hearing less comments like, “well that one got a 95,” and “that one is better value because it got a 90.” Wine ratings may increasingly becoming maligned and less frequently employed but that does not mean they don’t have their place. Scores continue to be necessary as a way to evaluate wines that lack a certain level of honesty. Wines on the edge of being dodgily made, encumbered by heavy-handed, industry-fed, mass marketing machines. Scores separate and differentiate the wheat from the chaff when dealing with over the top residual sugar, hyper-acidification, bloated alcohol and (lack of fruit) masking. Embrocating one Malbec an 85 over another’s 84 makes a comment on the relative validities of those two sweetened confections.

Attaching a rating to a tasting note is not a question of right versus wrong. Ratings measure a bottle of wine against its peers. That is the simple answer. The problem is that the tasting experience is a subjective one and each reviewer has personal preferences, so in order to align with one (or more), the consumer must self-calibrate alongside a critic whose palate they’ve figured out. Very difficult to do, so relying on scores has always been the easiest road to travel.

Part of the problem is that tasting notes, on their own, are often fleeting and impossible to grasp. Guilty as charged. Fred Swan put this is the most eloquent terms. “Tasting notes are like photographs, portraying a subject at one brief moment in time and without a back story.” If tasting notes are just snapshots, is that not compelling testimony as to the need for an accompanying score? Or is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?

Jamie Goode’s take. “I find myself in a tricky position: I use points even though I don’t like to because readers find them useful. And I have to calibrate my scale with the major critics. This pushes me into a corner.”

Still the debate is growing and for good reason. The wine community is tiring of seeing scores, especially those tabulated using the Robert Parker Jr. anointed 100-point scale, attached to a critic’s wine tasting note. The question has always been this. Why would you need scores to sell wine?

Mr. Parker feels so strongly about the entrenched longevity of his system that he’s announced the launch of a new lifestyle magazine called “100 Points by Robert Parker.” Does this sound like a last gasp fling from a captain going down with his ship? Bill Zacharkiw seems to intimate the idea, but the Montreal Gazette wine critic is smarter than to lash out and drag anyone through the mud. Taking a high road, Zacharkiw writes, “from grapes to wine styles, there is truly a wine for everyone. I have my taste, you have yours, and Parker has his.” No, nor scores neither. Nor scores neither.

The fervor and sometimes rage in the argument reminds me of the (second) most famous of Hamlet soliloquys. “Why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man!” Most of the voices chiming in on this hot topic only see the ratings world in black and white. There are more shades of grey than many would freely admit. Scores have their place.

Meanwhile, Decanter is reporting that Château Pontet-Canet made a bold decision to test (more than 20 years) of uncharted waters by setting their en Primeur pricing in advance of the taste and ratings levies by the major critics. Since the nineties the likes of Parker, Decanter and Wine Spectator have all but determined Bordeaux Futures pricing. Pontet-Canet’s move is being seen as another nail in the 100-point coffin. One Bordeaux négociant commented, “If other chateaux follow this same pricing model, we might as well go home now.”

The real issue is the bottle itself. In the new world of wine, who has not thrown new stock and a vested interest into wines made naturally, in sustainable, biodynamic or organic ways? Who has not made a resolution to drink more honest wine? Producing good wine still trumps the natural theatre of viticulture and viniculture but honesty is the new order. Honest wines should go forth and be free of wine ratings.

Wine scores can be ignored if we concentrate on what matters. Like apiculate yeast, fermentative vigor, microflora, clonal selection and soil. We also need to talk more about and mention flaws, like chlorinated compounds, hydrogen sulphide and volatile acidity. These are things that are too often brushed under the rug.

I will continue to post ratings of the wines I review on WineAlign because as a community of critics we offer a round table of opinions that allow the wine buyer to make gathered, educated and informed decisions. In consideration that this forum is a singular expression of opinions, this column will no longer attach scores to tasting notes. It’s quite obvious, plain and simple. I only write about honest wines for canada.com. The prose speaks for itself.

With spring beginning this Friday, no joke, here are the last of the great big winter reds. Five wines recently tasted that thrilled by way of their fairness, their honor and their virtue. Wines that need no score.

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (364133, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Stands out for its honest fruit, this Mendozan from San Roque district in Maipú county. Qualified by an admirable level of restraint, low in residual sugar and alcohol, straightforward, unencumbered. Winemakers María Eugenia Baigorria and Sergio Giménez have let the fruit speak in clean, level tones, in red berries, licorice red and black, a dusting of spice, red cherry and even strawberry. This is textbook hands off winemaking with nearly exceptional length and simply solid from start to finish. Mi sueno, mi terruño.  Tasted March 2014

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Francois Morissette’s 2010 is a pioneering example towards defining Bench appellation Cabernet Franc isomeric reactions. Relationships between grapes of a growing area and their ultimate destination in bottle. An affair of veraison, leaf drop, frost, hand harvesting, whole cluster sorting and berry oak fermenting.  Indigenous yeast, punch downs and overs for phenolic skin extraction and polymerization. Neutral oak and sulfur dioxide to provide antimicrobial and antioxidant protection. An eighteen month somniac’s rest, fine lees and no filtration. The structural arrangement in cohabitation of radicals and ions leads to such a Cabernet Franc. Fully expressive of an endemic, very ripe, vegetal varietal vicissitude that is both inbred and necessary. Currants and peppered berries of power and grit. Dry (2 g/L residual sugar), plump (13.7 per cent alcohol) and scarce (618 cases made). Reflective of the warm 2010 vintage and will always act in stark contrast to the elegant 2011.  Tasted July 2013 and March 2014  @PearlMorissette  On the card at Barque Smokehouse

Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, Tuscany, Italy (353201, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A re-release showing an exuberance of advanced character. Now acting out the strikingly rich and golden vintage, in Lamé and gilded iron. Speaking a most Tuscan, elite vernacular, already recognizable and evolving into its own skin, with a notion towards herbaceous, dried fruit. A classic pasta and roasted meats red wine. Nonna’s Trattoria kitchen in a glass. Drying just a touch, so drink up. Earlier note: “Slight earthy funk, imparted by the vineyard floor and in part from the wood. Sappy, resinous, distinctively warm-blooded, plummy fruit. Tuscan tang though light on pucker.”  Tasted October 2013 and March 2014

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign)

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection 

Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe, Bordeaux, France (259010, $149.85, WineAlign) An In-Store Discovery from the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A blend that in 2010 is extremely high in Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), with support from Merlot (12) and Petit Verdot (2). Immaculate hue in blue jasmine meets red ochre, echoed by blue and red fruit aromas. A purity of freshness and an exotic perfume distracts from the absurdity of the price, if just long enough to become intoxicated by its qualifications. It really does have it all. Red velvet layer cake made of the finest chocolate, the world’s least refined and highest quality sugar, spices only found in places reached and hand-picked by agile, primate-like humans. So approachable and marked by sweet tannins that will carry this Saint Estèphe for three decades.  Tasted March 2014

Good to go!