16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

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This may or may not have happened #raveneau #memory #monteedetonnerre

It has never been this difficult to narrow it down. This frenetic, fast and forward moving blur of a year has blistered the patterns of thought so much so that I seriously considered throwing the whole 16 in 16 down the drain and laying it all out there. “Here are the 42 mind-blowing wines of 2016…” and then this wave of clarity came over me like a cloudless afternoon in Chablis. I mean I tasted 50-plus Grand Cru Chablis this year. They could all be on this list.

I meant this just the way I wrote it. The simplicity of wine is a beautiful thing. A vine grows and produces grapes. That fruit is picked and ferments itself with help from yeast it just happens to carry in its luggage. Time passes and wine is made. No one had to invent it. The most basic example of shit happens.

Related – 15 Mind blowing wines of 2015

As if to presumptuously bookend 2016 before it even began, that first post was apropos. New year, 16 new VINTAGES releases were not mind-blowing by any stretch of the waxing rhapsodic imagination but white space was filled. Like growing grapes in warm climates where just about anything can complete a phenolic journey, the possibilities are endless. So that I may feel comfortable quoting Godello again and again, multeity is the name of the game.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

South Africa continued to occupy Godello for the early part of 2016 and that will never cease and desist. Hosting Andrea Mullineux at Barque Butcher Bar was one of the true highlights of the year. The landscape of South African wine is demarcated by ancient geology and by the geographical diversity of its regions, sub-regions and micro-plots. Varietal placement is the key to success. As I mentioned in previous articles, South African winemakers can grow anything they want, to both their discretion and their whimsy. The choice of what grows best and where will determine the successes of the future.

A new riesling on my radar was released in February. Creekside Estate Riesling Marianne Hill Vineyard 2014, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (443572, $19.95, WineAlign) and it paired beautifully with more foreshadowing than I’d like to admit.

Such a showing of 12 from Langton's does @Wine_Australia proud. Formidable, exemplary #AussieWine #vintagewineconservatory

Such a showing of 12 from Langton’s does @Wine_Australia proud. Formidable, exemplary #AussieWine #vintagewineconservatory

The Langton’s Classification: Excellent, outstanding, exceptional could have, would have placed 16 wines on this best of list were the rest of the planet not so adept at making wine. Like Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2010, Coonawarra, South Australia (466748, $99.95, WineAlign). Such a gathering of Australian wine delivers the preponderance of form, with the incantatory capacity of narrative to bring truth to light and fulness out of pleasure. The mantra repeated with Savouring the new Australia.

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

California stars showed up in droves and like any high quality engrossing preoccupation, the trip to Napa and Sonoma this year changed everything. Whatever I thought I knew or felt about the California wine industry now needs to be rewritten. First, Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens, then Napa Valley two: A question of ageNapa Valley: The next generationChardonnay in the Napa luxurySonoma gaps and single vineyardsSeven Grothic tales and Old vines for the Zin.

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of %22grothiness,%22 or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

Vintage to vintage nuance and the common thread of grothiness, or, @GrothWines in essence @TheVine_RobGroh #suzannegroth #napavalley #oakville #cabernetsauvignon

The most pertinent question now in my mind is this. Can European wine keep up with the fictionality of North American reality? Even these wines could not make this list, however great and exceptional they are. Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, California (181131, $158.95, WineAlign), Forman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (143925, $160.00, WineAlign) and Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $179.95, WineAlign). Sometimes the answer still persists. All in the Primum Familiae Vini. And by the way, The LCBO keeps Kosher.

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Much of what I taste is in a lab with no windows. That is because VINTAGES is a mimetic project, which is a few projects too many. We wine trackers and writers are akin to Cricetinae, perpetually running in a wheel or like Sisyphus, forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down. We read the bi-weekly catalogue, pre-taste the newest offerings, make our lists and check them twice. In every batch there are 10-15 wines that stand out, as much about bell curve positioning as absence of singularity. That is why attending varietal-centric events like The dawning of the age of Austrian wine and travelling the world is so important. Not too mention in my dining room In the Campania of Vini Alois.

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To name a few excursions, I visited California in February, Vinho Verde in March, Chianti Classico in May, Chablis in July and Valpolicella in September. November in Paris I re-connected with Earth and sky. The take aways were extraordinary and flush with the relish of new discoveries and brand new days. Who can forget Ca’ La Bionda Vigneti Di Ravazzol Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 1997? Italy in the fall reminded me that Franciacorta is the best kept sparkling secret on the planet. November is a sublime time to visit the province of Brescia and the cellars of Franciacorta. Meraviglioso! Meanwhile, Champagne has to be on the list, right? Lallier Cuvée Millésime Grand Cru Brut Champagne 2008, Champagne, France (Agent, $95.00, WineAlign) should be but again, space restrictions and there was this old bubble from the New World. Decisions, decisions.

Related – March of the Canadians

Which brings me back to Canadian and more parochioally, Ontario wine. 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.

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And so I asked Where does the taste of Ontario go from here? At Cuvée, where was the Cabernet Franc? Where was the rest of Ontario’s Go Gamay Go arsenal? Varietal lampoonery I tell ya. Over the highway and across the hills, No County for old wines and then, “a celebrated indictment of suburban surrender,” Too late for May Two-Four.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

This 16-strong list has much to do with the beg, Drink now or save it for later? I have spent the last 30 years considering wine in some respect. The last 15 much more so. The tries, trials, errors, tricks, and tribulations have taught me one thing. I prefer and receive much more instant gratification from drinking wines young but nothing compares to the insight and the exhilaration of partaking in older wines.

You never forget your first hunk of #kimmeridgian love @BIVBChablis @vinsdebourgogne #chablis #cotedelechet

You never forget your first hunk of #kimmeridgian love @BIVBChablis @vinsdebourgogne #chablis #cotedelechet

The year’s greatest distraction came at the hands of Chablis and fair warning, twenty thousand words are coming soon. In 2016 I published three times, Chablis from Dauvissat to VocoretLooking for Chablis in Ontario?Enlightened Chablis of Château De Béru and Paradox in Chablis. Chablis as a varietal concept, as opposed to and unlike anywhere else in the world, seemingly unrelated to chardonnay. How could these extraordinary Chablis not make the list? Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots Réserve De L’obédience 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (AgentWineAlign) and Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros Côte Bouguerots 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (AgentWineAlign). Perhaps because I will soon publish Grand Cru hyperbole next month? That must be it.

Mirror to classicism, history and tradition. Purity from @valerialosi #querciavalle @chianticlassico #agricolalosi #sangiovese #granselezione #pontiganello

Mirror to classicism, history and tradition. Purity from @valerialosi #querciavalle @chianticlassico #agricolalosi #sangiovese #granselezione #pontiganello

For the first time, I think ever, I gave some love to Rosé in the Days of wine and Rosés. I also fell for new dessert wines and these two tried hard but came up just a wee bit short for the list. Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Symphonie De Novembre 2012, Southwest, France (470344, $38.95, WineAlign), Losi Querciavalle Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico 2000, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $95.00, WineAlign).

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@grahams_port insanity via @abnermallity #onceinalifetime #piratesonapicnic #piratesv4point0 #sharingiscaring #1948 #finestreserve

Graham’s Vintage Port Finest Reserve 1948 (with thanks to Peter Boyd) granted the year’s moment of providable history. Love in droves. Holiday season for the VINTAGES releases were split and categorized, from December 10th in VINTAGES: Canada through December 10th in VINTAGES: Old World and into December 10th in VINTAGES: New World.

Singolarità, qualità, diversità. Grazie di tutto @chianticlassico

Singolarità, qualità, diversità. Grazie di tutto @chianticlassico

In 2016, two words. Chianti Classico. The wines have embarked upon an ascension into their contemporary golden age. Image, perception and finalmente, reality, these are the truths all who feel the soul of Chianti Classico are in search of today. Today and moving forward, explaining to the world that Chianti Classico is not what you thought or think it to be. Colle Bereto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $67.50, WineAlign) was a side-revelation, as were so many others in Three days, eight estates, Chianti Classico and Gran Selezione, The most important red wine from Italy. And in a year when CC is all that seems to matter, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (722470, $195.50, WineAlign) and Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2004, Tuscany, Italy (Agent$100.00WineAlign) are but mere mentions in addendum.

DavidPpelletier, 'Le Sommelier Fou' and friends in Vinho Verde

David Pelletier, ‘Le Sommelier Fou’ and friends in Vinho Verde

It may seem irrelevant now but Changes to VINTAGES release recommendations and notes on Godello will translate to a revolution at WineAlign in 2017. Wait for it. Most of all, 2016 will remind me that I will always raise my glass of Vinho Verde to Le Sommelier Fou. Here are Godello’s 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016.

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200 yr old vines. 1300m above sea level @vignerietna @somesmartsomm #rosato #vinudilice 2008 #tastethelava #volcanic

I Vigneri Di Salvo Foti Vinudilice 2008, Igt Sicilia Rosè, Sicily, Italy (WineAlign)

So much about this introduction to volcanic Rosato falls under the category and melts into the realm of the impossible. Begin with Vigna Bosco planted to 10,000, (up to) 200 year-old bush-trained (Etnean alberello) vines per hectare in Bronte, Northern Etna. Consider the party goers, endemic alicante, grecanico, minnella and other minor if wholly obscure native varietals. Locate the vineyard at 1,300m above sea level. Tell me it’s not the highest in all of Europe. Go on, tell me. Tended by hand with the help of Ciccio the mule. No refrigeration, yeasts or filtration. Decanting and bottling follow the phases of the moon. Blush has never acted like this, suspended as if put into bottle yesterday, beautifully minutia funky, every detail in laser calm focus. There really is no reference point, not in the south of France or anywhere in Italy to prepare for such an intellection. Vinudilice is nestled in a wood filled with holly oak (quercus ilex or in Sicily, ilice) but in respect for its singularity I would hesitate to categorize or compartmentalize. In fact I would not use the term Rosé, or Orange or natural to realize a need for reason. I would simply taste the lava. Thank you SomeSmartSomm. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @ivigneri  @somesmartsomm  @WinesOfSicily

not-members-of-blasted-mechanism-with-magnuspim-and-vasco-croft-aphroswines-vinhoverde

Not members Blasted Mechanism. With Chris Wilton and Vasco Croft, Aphros Wines, Vinho Verde

Aphros Phanus Pet-Nat 2015, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

Loureiro of a fashion so rare for Portugal and this region, from a concrete pétillant-naturel style, vinified in stainless steel with wild yeasts and initially no additional sugar, then bottled with 20 grams of natural residual sugar, to alight the single fermentation conclusion. An 11 per cent contrariety of méthode ancestrale dialectic, like a lime-grapefruit cordial housing a dissolving lemon tablet. A bowie cut, boning and dressing of loureiro. This here the whole new way to take the grape, to send it sky-high and bring it down to the rustic roots of glam, sparkling funk. “Like to take a cement fix, be a standing cinema. Dress my friends up just for show, see them as they really are.” Vasco (Andy) Croft walking and his hunky dory pet-nat spinning an original tale of a time and a place, or perhaps a myth, like the rustic deity of the forest riding shotgun to Dionysus and his native war. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016    @LeSommelierWine

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Oldest vines #barossavalley textures in #semillon and #grenache @cirillo1850wine @Wine_Australia #southaustralia #marcocirillo

Cirillo 1850 Ancestor Sémillon 2011, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $36.00, WineAlign)

A sémillon revelation is found in this Barossa Valley ancient, a wine procured from vines dating back more than 150 years. To discount that prodigious bit of calculated fortuity would be wrong on so many levels. The Cirillo family are guardians of what may be the oldest continuously producing grenache and sémillon vineyards in Australia and by logical extension, the world. Here the combination of dry extract, mineral depth and straight-lined (unsalted) salinity is beyond special. While the Hunter Valley garners the most attention for aging immortal sémillon, this Barossan will likewise escape, somehow, to live another more complicated and mysterious life. I would wait three years for some extract meets tannic sweetness to begin its development and then take it slow for another six to 10. Incredible find here in Ontario from Marco Cirillo. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2016  @Cirillo1850wine  @bokkewines  @BarossaDirt

Brash Higgins Nero D’avola Amphorae Project 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The renegade triumvirate of coagulation denotes the shock and awe of this outlier; McLaren Vale, Nero d’Avola and Amphora. Winemaker Brad Hickey and his nickname have taken the troika and created a beautiful monster. A non-oxidative, crunchy, spicy, toasty, chewy and tannic NdA in versicolour, mottled and florid in flavour. There is black and white pepper, cinnamon, zesty orange spritz and a clay influence (plus amphora) to waft one for the ages. The palate flaunts a tapenade of painfully brilliant chalky black olive. The swirl is chocolate and vanilla, mediterranean and meganesian. There should be zero attention paid to the unusual in its concept. This is both a pleasure to taste now and will evolve into something wholly other given enough time. At least 10 years to be sure. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted May 2016  @BrashHiggins  @mclaren_vale  @TheLivingVine

what-is-rockpile-time-in-and-time-out-the-fun-stuff-keith-moon-of-zinfandel-mauritsonwinery-sonomacounty-jameswood

Rockpile Zinfandel Cemetery Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $47, WineAlign)

Look towards the other arm of Lake Sonoma and let your mind’s eye rest 250 feet higher than Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. The Cemetery plantation is a jagged, craggy outcropping with “a face uneven as a river jag and asperous as the mullein’s flannel.”  The Mauritsons are Los Campesinos of Cemetery Vineyard in Rockpile. The rocks below resemble giant headstones along the Rogers Creek fault and you just have to believe all this immensity of geology impacts the vines. It does but don’t ask how or why, just settle into the cimmerian depth of zinfandel touched by black fruit, spice and the akimbo savour of glutamate and amino acid. Three further months in barrel (85 French plus 15 American) accentuates the spice, smoulder and espresso con crema texture. Ripeness of fruit, tannin and acidity are simply stellar out of this dramatic place. “You know us by the way we crawl and you know us by our cemetery gaits.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016  @mauritsonwinery  @sonomavintners

weinbach

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2013, Alsace, France (581975, $64.00, WineAlign)

Though it may long ago have been considered the quintessential one, there may be no other Alsatian gewürztraminer more important than Weinbach’s Cuvée Laurence. The reasons are manyfold but begin and end with memory and legacy. This was daughter and sister Laurence Faller’s prized wine, the wine she put her name to, that defined her gracious winemaking in echo of the estate she worked. Her family has carried the torch and yet her touch is all over this wine. Calm, composed, balanced and ethereal. Laurence is a clear expression of the marly limestone soil beneath the lieu-dit of Altenbourg, located at the base of the great Grand Cru Furstentum vineyard. Where else do you find gewürztraminer of such delicasse, from which classic aromas (rose petal, creamy to boozy-syrupy tropical fruit) and impossible unction combine without ukase? Nowhere. The acidity does not act with impulse. No, it rings, supports and lingers. The extract is intense but out of mind. Exceptional vintage. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted October 2016    @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @ACT_Alsace  @VinsAlsace

alessandro-your-grandfather-was-a-very-good-winemaker-luiluiano-chianticlassico-fattoriadiluiano-chianticlassicoriserva-1979-sangiovese-alessandropalombo-antoniopalombo-luiano

Luiano Chianti Classico 1979, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Alessandro Palombo is skeptical at first, one eyebrow raised but with the look of possibility on his face. Takes me very little time to acknowledge that this ’79 is very much alive, fruit not predominant (and surely some prune) but neither cooked nor bruised. The brown nose (earth and spice) purports a full concentration of anthocyanins, acidity still full in, dried fraises de bois, black liquorice, dirty leather and worth repeating, still very good acidity. Truffle, forest floor and then black olive tapenade on the palate. This is 70-80 per cent sangiovese with colorino and canaiolo and for 1979 it’s quite incredible. It should not have lasted this long.  Antonio says that up to 10 per cent could have been malvasia blanca and trebbiano because at the time it was a field blend, co-planted with the sangiovese, which could explain some of the variegation in the colour. This is a Chianti Classico to lend credence to the idea of using multiple fruit, vegetal and animale descriptors when assessing an old wine. It’s also the reason why you put them away and open them with friends who’s eyes are wide open. Thank you Alessandro for the opportunity and for the connection to your grandfather Alberto. He was a very good winemaker. Drink 2016.  Tasted May 2016  @LuiLuiano  @chianticlassico

thoroughly-enamoured-with-the-purechablis-made-by-athenais-at-chateau-de-beru-chablis-monopoleleclosberu

Château De Béru Chablis Clos Béru Monopole 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $87.95, WineAlign)

In 2012, less density and iodine matchstick is on display in performance for the historic, south facing vineyard beyond the Château’s walls. From this her eighth vintage in the resurrection of the family’s estate wines, Athénaïs de Béru has assembled fruit from Kimmeridgian limestone in rapport with a vintage of portent and intent towards elegance. The acidity is much more linear (than 2013) and the limestone sensations less metallic. Here the feeling is more of a liquid chalk and the balance is much improved. Also less evolved, bright and a much more amenable of a bitter pith, more citrus (lemon and lime) and not as earthy. Longer finish too. What 2013 lacks this ’12 gains and vice versa. The comparative literature and parenthetical study is duly noted as apples to oranges so the wines are exempt of one another. Neither answer all the questions asked and both express their terroir from their time spent on it. This ’12 story will become clearer in another year or two. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2016       

remelluri

Granja Remelluri Rioja Gran Reserva 2009, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $89.99, WineAlign)

“What is Rioja?” asks Telmo Rodríguez. He notes that Lopez-Heredia still manages small vineyards, Grand Cru and Premier Cru plots, but most Rioja houses are industrial. Their wines age in barrels in 100-150 year old wineries but have no sense of place, of origins, of an amazing vineyard. “I want to be radical. I believe it (Rioja) can be one of the most beautiful places in the world but I told my brothers it needed to go in a very particular direction. My brothers agreed.” So costs went up 35 per cent. They bought no grapes. “If you want to work properly in Spain, you have to be a hero.” You have to work the most difficult vineyards, where production costs are five times that of Grand Vin Bordeaux but the price sells for 10 times less. And so Telmo Rodríguez produces this Gran Reserva, a wine that adheres to a Rioja systematic but does so from a blind-eye turned, high density field-blend planting of tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, muscatel, viura and malvasia. A field blend, unlike Bordeaux but a local village farmed gathering of the best fruit. The 2009 is showing no age but the difference between 2010 Reserva and 2009 Gran Reserva is night and day. This makes the ’10 seem fresh, alive, open, almost simple. Here the variegation is distilled down to laser focus, as if the varieties all become one and most people would simply say tempranillo, but who has ever tasted and been dealt such a tempranillo? This is oozing of a liqueur like no other, rich, viscous, natural and dry-extract sweet. An expression of the best microclimates and their vineyard kin. Wait another five years to allow it to remember and tell its tale. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2016    @TelmoRodriguez_  @Noble_Estates

dominus

Dominus 1998, Napa Valley, California (212381, $176.95, WineAlign)

When I tasted the 1990 in 2012, hanging on to every thread of oscillation from death to life and back again was exhausting. The 2008 tasted that same year could not have been more life affirming. This ’98 is such a zoetic Dominus beast with an embarrassment of resplendent riches. It is everything 1990 wished it could have been and yet the light-hearted George Hrab geological funk reminds me of that wine. The 1998 trips on a trebuchet and I weep at its aromatic reverie. It is hypnopompic, a state immediately preceding waking up, whiffing the most beautiful Brett there ever was or could ever imagined to be. Volatility in a bubble, circumstantial, lost in a dream. Get lost in the butcher shop, the natural cure here, there, everywhere, curative and comforting. Porcine and rapturous, fruit perfect and entitled, structure supprting every note. If 1998 was both a curious and concerning vintage this wine lays those worries to rest. The fretting may have swayed feelings and been difficult to glide fingers across but the harmonics extend with ease. Finishes with staccato calm, a palpable exhale of breath and silence. Five more years will be like this and five more without threat. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted October 2016     @rogcowines  

its-ok-it-was-a-half-bottle-ridgevineyards-montebello-noguilt-rogcowines-2010-draperperfume-balance-structure-beautiful

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains, California (405332, $191.95, WineAlign)

From a serious drought vintage, dry, warm and demanding, the 2013 Montebello’s Draper perfume is as heady as ever, to such effect that after one whiff this is where daydreaming takes over consciousness. Montebello gets inside the head, with allegory, radio frequency waves and platonic thought, as if inside a cave. An 80 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot (8), Cabernet Franc (7) and Merlot (5) classic, lithe and restrained blend of sheer, utter exceptionality. The balance in 2013 is impeccable but dont be fooled into thinking this is not a big wine. The acidity is dramatic, the tannins fine and demanding and the amount of pure extract whorled and revelling. All in dark red fruit and a coolness through the mid-palate that threads like silk through fine stainless steel fibre. “This goes beyond me, beyond you.” Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted May 2016  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines  @CalifWines_CA

Fino, Don P.X. '86 and '62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Fino, Don P.X. ’86 and ’62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Bodegas Toro Albalá Don P.X. Selección 1967, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (491647, $199.95, WineAlign)

You know it’s a good month when you are afforded the opportunity to taste two Montilla-Moriles Pedro Ximenez oldies, first the Alvear Solera 1927 in Paris and now this Selección 1967 bottled in November of 2016. The vintage-dated PX are produced from sun-dried grapes fermented for two months to eight or nine per cent alcohol, at which point a distillate made from the same PX pressings is added to bring the wine up to 17 per cent. First in concrete vats and then a transfer into 50-150 year old American oak barrels. Only 630 bottles were filled in a PX of awakening and hope that finished at an indiscernible 17 per cent alcohol. Some dessert wines can be cloying Popskull but Bodegas Toro Albalá delivers yet another impossible and crazy dessert wine of heavy fuel, impeccable balance in the face of Lugduname breaching sweetness and aromas sin fronteras. The gamut glides through roasted nuts and dried fruits, from almonds and Van Gogh Museum memories of their abundant flowers plus pomegranate, apricot, peach, nectarine, damson plum and pistachio. So much pistachio!! In between there is orange marmalade, quince jelly and prune preserve. Plenty of acidity extends and narrows into a sharp, pointed tang. No matter how many times you try to empty the glass there is always more wine. Always another sip. Is it viscosity, a truco del ojo or trampantojo? Is there some kind of wizardry at play? Then finally, well, actually never, a finish with no end, or a pause in a never-ending 49 year-old (and counting) story. So where is the beginning? 1967. Drink 2016-2040.  Tasted November 2016  @toroalbala  @sorgatoBTA  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

schram

Schramsberg Sparkling J. Schram 50th Anniversary Late disgorged 1999, Napa Valley, California (Winery $175 US, WineAlign)

In celebration of Schramsberg’s golden anniversary, 50 years after Jack and Jamie Davies revived the historic Schramsberg estate for the purpose of making the nation’s first chardonnay and pinot noir based, bottle-fermented sparkling wines. A North Coast (57 per cent Napa, 25 Mendocino, 15 Monterey and 13 Sonoma) blend of 74 per cent chardonnay and 26 pinot noir. Seventeen years have come to ginger, cumin, coriander and galangal in laminous, oxidative ingenuity, wholly arid in kicking up the aromatic dust. Flavours of pressed lemon, bitter brioche and then tannin, yes tannin. From a protracted year, picked as late as October 19th, disgorged in August of 2014 at a dosage of (very necessary) 11.5 g/L RS. Blessed with high natural acidity of 9.8 tA. How can I not concur with Hugh Davies. “What we’re really showing here is Napa Valley Chardonnay.” Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted February 2016  @Schramsberg  @TheVine_RobGroh

Down by the river with #raveneau #grandcru #blanchot #chablis @lafolieauxerre #2009 #francoisraveneau #thankful

Down by the river with #raveneau #grandcru #blanchot #chablis @lafolieauxerre #2009 #francoisraveneau #thankful

Domaine François Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot 2009, Burgundy, France (WineAlign)

It would be misleading to address Raveneau’s Blanchot as chardonnay even as we know it as such because Raveneau produces wines as unique as door keys. They are so inimitable and each will only open the gate to its own unique perception. Blanchot is the southernmost of the seven Chablis Grand Cru climats and blankets the southeastern side of Les Clos. The Raveneau narration does not convey the notion of manifest feeling but instead splits the axiomatic atom of the climat. A sip and you are inside the Blanchot, gliding and passing through rock as if you are the ethereal and the wine is the solid foundation of thought, pathos and avowal. There are aromas that combine citrus and umami with a sweetness that can’t be denied or defined. The wine is just a child, complex, shy and yet unable to express both its meaning and power. But you try to get inside its head, stumbling over kimmeridgian rock replete with the smithereen-crushed shells of ancient fossils. This is a calm young Blanchot and you melt away while under its spell. Three more years should render its hidden meaning. Drink 2019-2034.  Tasted July 2016

A great pleasure and exercize in humility to taste with #vincentdauvissat in his cellar @BIVBChablis #humanity #chablis

A great pleasure and exercize in humility to taste with #vincentdauvissat in his cellar @BIVBChablis #humanity #chablis

Domaine René et Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2001, Burgundy, France (WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle opened five days prior which is nothing really for a wine that can age easily for 30 years. It resides in a perfect state. Vincent concedes “over 20 there is nothing to be gained” and yet the still terrifically raging acidity would suggest this 15 year-old specimen is only halfway there. The texture is nothing if not persuasive. In 1931 Vincent’s father began this journey. Here 70 years later is a wine so perfectly intact, the lemon-waxy aspect almost on the edge of the hive. But not quite because of the taut bracing and tight embracing. There is a chew to this and Dauvissat shrugs. “What’s to say?” Nothing but a great piece of his history and his father’s legacy. If this wine is a sentimental tribute to a childhood village, it is never uncomplicated. Drink 2016-2031.  Tasted July 2016

2016-12-28_19-42-19

Catena Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $325.00, WineAlign)

In this extremely specific malbec from a diagnosed block of the Adrianna Vineyard we are graced with the micro-science of wine. And if you feel that using the name of an aerobic bacteria in the nomenclature is an odd choice, consider the mind of Dr. Laura Catena and her biological approach to viticulture. If we can understand and differentiate the microbes in the soil we can make better wine. It’s as simple as that. When wine is broken down to the biological level it becomes something entirely different and this is the road travelled by the Mundus Bacillus. Catena’s usage of 70 parcel pits per hectare has unearthed this single parcel within the vineyard, again completely different and the pinpointed microbial discussion initiates right here. The soil stakes a claim for this malbec only, certainly not in any way that tends to funk but surely as an impresario of soil. Talk about eugenics in the MBT because that science is compelling and can be related to in this wine. It can offer keys towards improving genetic quality of the vinous population. Here we are faced with rich and dusty, a mean streak of malbec intensity made elegant by earthly microbes. This section draws parallels to the (chardonnay) White Bones soil from which there transfers an excess of dry extract and tannin. Patience please for a malbec that will be long lived. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2016

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Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

March 21 big guns

From left to right: Ridge Three Valleys 2012, Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011, Brezza Barolo 2010, Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Château Clerc Milon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Dominus 2011

From left to right: Ridge Three Valleys 2012, Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011, Brezza Barolo 2010, Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Château Clerc Milon 2011, Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Dominus 2011

The first day of spring strikes me as a strange time to roll out a VINTAGES release full of big guns, from Cabernet Sauvignon passing by Pinot Noir to Zinfandel and from Nebbiolo to Sangiovese Grosso. A bold group in large numbers is usually reserved for the November and December offers leading up to wallet emptying Christmas shopping days. If the March 21st release is any indication, the powers that be at the LCBO must feel pretty good about the current state of Ontario’s economy.

Related – I shall be Riesling

How else to explain the laying out of the fine red wine carpet in purchasing timeline purgatory? The other alibi in justification is a concern of surplus and overcrowded warehouse shelving, caused by a back log of unsold Bordeaux futures and a consumer shift to less vivid, decreased drama and all around #GoGamayGo sentiment.

For all my reviews from the March 21, 2015 VINTAGES release, see them @WineAlign

I tasted through most of the bad boys on this release and while many are more overpriced than a $20 bucket of bullfrogs in an Algonquin Park bog, these six wines stood tall and shook their value obvious money-maker amongst a slouching and gouging crowd. Forceful wines, all meant to spend at least some slumbering time in the cellar.

Ridge Three Valleys 2012, Sonoma County, California (652875, $35.95, WineAlign)

This Sonoma County Zinfandel melting pot was first produced in 2001 and the 12th vintage contains grapes from seven different Sonoma vineyards. Many of Ridge’s wines bull the intent of single-vineyard, terroir-driven expression. The TV is more about bear assemblage, the search for differential balance and winemaking. Zinfandel (79 per cent) is joined by Carignane (12), Petite Sirah (8) and Alicante Bouchet. Approximately one fifth of the American oak is new, with the wood waft leaning to spices directed by clove, cocoa kernel and faint coconut that infiltrates the Draper perfume. The rich red fruits combine for a brawny voice, bold, peppery and so very ripe. Though not hesitant or introverted, this Zinfandel avoids excessive character and exemplifies the fine art of blending.  Tasted March 2015  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines

Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand (179754, $41.95, WineAlign)

The agglomeration of Central Otago wild vegetative conglomerate is in this Pinot Noir. Strawberries and their leaves, dug up clay, saturated syrup with dark cherries and braising meat make for big aromatics. This is a very meaty, terrifically cimmerian Pinot, with a replay in flavour of loamy and corpulent stock, like a reduction of mire poix and beef bones. Finishes with dried fruits, marigold, a kick of cinnamon spice and pine needles. A bit of wow from the hinterland of Central Otago.  Tasted March 2015  @Amisfield  @COPinotNoirLtd  @CentralOtago_NZ  @HalpernWine

Brezza Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (711788, $46.95, WineAlign)

The gusto and earnestness of antiquity is right upfront in this Nebbiolo, the silliness of modernity left to the practices of more fickle and irresolute houses. A faint and impertinent percussion of volatility beats the near term olfaction into temporary submission, but the wine is bright and the acidity chants with proper diction. The tannic grain is sweet and savoury, well-structured and you can certainly smell the roses. The taste of Nebbiolo is succinct and the overall design is a seven to year plan, with nothing but pleasure on the next decade’s horizon.  Tasted March 2015  @NaturalVines  @jcmeli

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, WineAlign)

Here flatters definitions of Sangiovese Grosso, of rusty and rustic pasts, big, bold beginnings and distant, slowly etched futures. A faint tease of soy in feign of premature corrosion is the product of the terroir’s liquor. This is so far from its secondary times. It’s as though it teases with an aroma and flavour of melted caramel but the mirage is tantalizing and unreal. The lack of sweetness confirms the notion and instead this Brunello offers dried flowers in dreams and fresh ones placed in vessels not yet tangible, nor yet set upon the table. Wild sauvage, sage and garriga are transubstantiated into liquorice, game and distilled amari. This is perhaps the finest Pian Delle Vigne of the (post 1990) modern age. Very exciting wine. Drink 2019 – 2029.  Tasted March 2015  @AntinoriFamily  @HalpernWine  @ConsBrunello

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California (89284, $61.95, WineAlign)

A perennial three plus one quarter blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, give or take a few points, that always punches well above its weight and cost. Not just in relation to similarly priced Cabernets but when looked at alone and on its own merit. There is a searing red intensity in 2011, with steroidal currants and a whiff of lodge smoke, plenty of creamy vanilla and lavender. An injection of liquid chalk, circulating acidity and in the end, some bold coffee notes. No bell pepper. None. Well made, of course and despite the cold and the wet, the omnipresent Draper perfume and very good length. My only cavil would be a degree of over-employed new oak in a vintage where less would ironically be more.  Tasted March 2015  @RidgeVineyards  @rogcowines

Château Clerc Milon 2011, Ac Pauillac, 5e Cru, Bordeaux, France (301119, $89.95, WineAlign)

The principals at Clerc Milon consider 2011 “to be ranked among the finer, or perhaps even the finest” of Bordeaux vintages. The better news is that despite that declaration the price on this classic, structured and flat-out enjoyable Médoc is relatively affordable, especially considering the astronomy of pricing since 2000. This early picked (finished by September 28th) blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (54 per cent), Merlot (37), Cabernet Franc (7), Petit Verdot and Carmenère has vintage steal written all over its painted berry face. Terrific wood spice, more fruit from plum and rapturous acidity travel great lengths to pleasure. The coffee component is in but with just a light alcohol spike. This is really fine Paulliac, elegant, refined and not outrageously priced.  Tasted March 2015  @Noble_Estates

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, California (325027, $112.95, WineAlign) LCBO Inventory

Though prepped by notions of a cooler and later ripening vintage, there is even more savoury, tobacco and cool clime (altitude) aromatics than might have been imagined. This Cade is so very bright in a cherry-plum-pomegranate continuum yet in contrast to a (negatively impacting) sweet-sour-tang drupe. Tends to angles more akin to Tuscan summer savour, like lavender, rosemary, sage, and vanilla. The overall impression to palate is that of a chew of the toffee that might be made by the aromatic combination, or a pull of syrupy tea. In the end there is nothing simple about this thoughtfully crafted Cade.  Tasted October 2014  @CADEWinery  @TheVine_RobGroh

Dominus 2011, Napa Valley, California (212381, $176.95, WineAlign)

In 2011 the breakdown is Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), Petit Verdot (9) and Cabernet Franc (5). From an antithetical Napa growing season, wet, cold and in requiem of acumen to deal with what the winemaker in Bordeaux faces in every vintage not hailed as best of the century. The ’11 Dominus has been in the market for just a shade under a year, just the right amount of time for a poured glass to reveal its charms. The new barrel count is approximately 40 percent, a substantial but not egregious number. We want to know what fruit the vintage gives, regardless of the conditions and in ’11 that drupe is savoury, more sage than nettle, and saliferous. That minerality is cute and key because the expression remains huge, so the cure helps to leave an indelible mark. The attributes of massive fruit, (no small feat considering the weather), smoke and phite makes for a mess of aromatic intensity. The flavours are accessible and the texture quite full. Though not the thickest Dominus to date (due to the oak not overwhelming the fruit) this will offer up seven to 10 staid years of development, followed by another five to 10 of minor decline.  Tasted March 2015  @rogcowines

Good to go!

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The best wine releases of 2012

PHOTO: STEFANO TIRABOSCHI/FOTOLIA.COM

Wine is best celebrated with family and friends and the holidays present so many opportunities to share a glass. Pulling corks (or twisting caps) substantiates purchasing choices made in previous years. Last year I noted on, “a quick reflect back on a year of plasmic vials once voluminous, now in condign as a commitment to memory. ”

The current season’s pours have the palaver or promise and the eviglio of accumulation to thank for the opportunity. The VINTAGES releases of 2012 perpetuate this promulgated philosophy. The year’s buys have migrated to the cellar, to wait there in abstemious behaviour of maturation. They too will one day climb the steps to a welcoming table, set with family and friends.

Here are my favourite under and over $30 wines of 2012.

Under $30 VINTAGES released wines

Under $30 VINTAGES Releases

1. The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah

Where: Côtes du Rhône, France

Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuveé Maximilien Cairanne 2010 (286336, $21.95) is extraordinary for the appellation. Pitch purple, world-class milk and dark chocolate swirl, creamy silk. The stuff of recent phenomenon, where rocks, dreams and raspberries are crushed and scattered like cake bits over the loam.   91

2. The grapes: Garnacha, Carinena and Syrah

Where: Montsant, Spain

Celler Besllum Besllum 2008 (283515, $15.95) of Cubist Picassan, “cut up, Maria,” heavenly body struts its stuff as an enchantress with an alluring Spanish, violaceous visage. A black cherry, carboniferous quartzite Popsicle for Mr. Jones.  “We all want something beautiful.”  90

3. The grape: Petite Sirah

Where: Alexander Valley, California

Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah 2010 (291047, $23.95) is massively concentrated out of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, as if it were packed with five centuries of the Italian American experience. Manages 14.9% alcohol with George Bailey-esque, heady grace. Tasted blind I commented, “if this is under $30 it’s an outrageous deal.” “Well whaddya know about that!!!. “ 92

4. The grape: Riesling

Where: Clare Valley, Australia

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2011 (686600, $19.95) shimmers an iridescent emerald-green on gold patina. Cracks like a whip straight in your face with lemon, lime and slate than lowers a sledgehammer of petrified wood. Snake-like Sasak fruit tang and acidity “goes dancin’ in,”  “builds that power” and lingers long after its skin has been shed.  91

5. The Grape: Sangiovese

Where: Tuscany, Italy

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2008 (285510, $28.95) is a wow wine. Viscous, sweet nectar, full on concentrated berries and polished rocks au jus. An opus dei call to vinous holiness and sanctity. Rapturous feeling of punch drunk love falls over me after sipping this noble Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile).  92

6. The grape: Chenin Blanc

Where: Loire Valley, France

Marc Brédif Vouvray 2010 (685362, $19.95) perches high atop a parched, molecular hilltop. Bread starter nip promises stuffed pastry filled with friable, early harvest apples. Wonderful, classic and dehumidified Vouvray.  91

7. The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot

Where: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Lulu Island Meritage (277566, $23.95) just sounds like an Aussie moniker when in fact it hails from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Maybe the most lustrous B.C. red I have ever laid eyes on. Hard not to forbear a crush on its purple profile, hued like a $100, Single-Vineyard Argentinean Malbec. A bit reductive due to its infantile youth but this is appurtenant to the samphire, currants and peppery Merlot scents. Less weight buoys the palate. Bites back in the end. Follows varietal rules of proportion vis-a-vis the dry martini. Massive CVR** complexity from this massif assemblage.  91

8. The Grape: Cabernet Franc

Where: Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Hinterbrook Rosé 2011 (275818, $16.00) is simply brilliant. Top Ontario Rosé to date. Goes well beyond descriptors like “playful” and “quaffable.” A four-day Cabernet Franc cold soak was the ticket to serious pink success, the choice of grape an engineering master stroke. Hinterbrook’s dark side of the moon. Moody, ambient, rich in tone, lyric and extended play. Rosé needs some mystery and here it is.  ”There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.”  91

9. The Grape: Riesling

Where: Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany

Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009 (0197186, $21.95) races out of the nuss pit with peerless Bergweiler CVR** Spätlese speed. The late harvest drupe is so focused you would never know how sweet the middle ground really is. Never struggling against circumstance, it slides effortlessly into Spätlese orbit. Searching and finding the German Riesling dream. Sonnenuhr vineyard is here and “the time is right, for racing in the street.”  91

10. The Grape: Chardonnay

Where: Casablanca Valley, Chile

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2010 (738393, $17.95) will be your best IVR* bet for Chardonnay day on May 26. Wild yeasts make cause for a weird resemblance, reminiscent of February’s Furmint. Delicate, expressive and unusual, the mint flint, brioche and smoked pineapple effect leads to thoughts of Blancs de Blancs. A little malo just might turn this into good bubbly!  89

Over $30 VINTAGES released wines

Over $30 VINTAGES Releases

1. The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault

Where: Southern Rhône, France

Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (700922, $53.95, SAQ 10817461, $50.50) will dare you to claim any better value from the storied appellation. “Da price boss, da price!” Like I’ve landed on Fantasy Island where Châteauneuf is flowing and it’s always affordable! Kirsch galore, a Rhône cat, sensuous and gorgeous. Goldfinger garrigue, with herbs and acidity so alive and purring. Approachable now, the heavenly structure will see the Donjon through 2025.  94

2. The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

Where: Napa Valley, California

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (193763, $99.95) is a flat out brilliant composition by the voice of one who once “traded love for glory.” This Cab reverts back to its singer-songwriter, Napa Valley pioneering form. The ’08 is a crooning balladeer intent to hold out its best in a graceful lucubration of layered, dark fruit, restrained restlessness and a vision of long life. Put the Dunn away and look to be rewarded 15+ years on with as good a California Cabernet as you will ever taste.  96

3. The Grape: Syrah

Where: Northern Rhône, France

Delas Frères Francois De Tournon Saint-Joseph 2009 (17525, $33.00) is both militaristic and the stuff of gushing Renaissance literature. Serious Syrah and foxy, Faerie Queene.  Cardinal colour, striking and dreamy. Augustinian diplomat meets allegorical fantasy. Crushed berries, truffles caked by earth, sol de la foret. Built of elegance and power, “such endlesse richesse, and so sumptuous shew.”  92

4. The Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

Where: Napa Valley, California

Dominus 2008 (212381, $145.95) solicits riposte for parry, to buy or not to buy. The omnipotently voluptuous one resides in a tramontane locale, beyond reach and also the pale. A shocking parade of profound, hyper-purple personality. Even if it suffers “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune“, a lucky man this Dominus, “all dressed in satin,” “nor woman neither.” Colour field shockingly crimson and amarinthine, textured with rich and layered brush stroke, as if Red on Maroon. A Lama, “the flowing robes, the grace, bald…striking.” To me this ’08 leans more Ornellaia than Pétrus.  97

5. The grapes: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan

Ridge Lytton Springs 2009 (982413, $46.95) will live in infamy like the ’92 and ’99. Immediate waft of freshly shucked vanilla bean. Ambrosial, earthy, briary fruit. Precise distillation inclusive of 23% Petite Sirah results in an impossibly lambent cordial. Not to mention you gotta love that Draper perfume. Open the magazine in 10-15 years time for the best read.  93

6. The grape: Nebbiolo

Where: Piedmont, Italy

Gemma Giblin Riserva Barolo 2005 (185025, $36.95) has begun to brick at the edges. Mouth rosewatering acidity binged by sour cherry and shellac. Wisp of Monte Cristo and withered rose only Barolo can smell of.  This Gemma is beautiful like a turning season, like something you know won’t last. For now and no more than two to three more years.  92

7. The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Counoise

Where: Southern Rhône, France

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (711317, $89.95) enters no confected, over-extracted or OTT danger zones. The most floral Beaucastel, a doffing of Stoechas Avignon and the omnipresent Rhône garrigue. Persimmon and lavender share time imparting the wine with fumes from les galets roulés of the argilo-calcaireous vineyard beds. Basic hedonism here from such an extraordinary, complex and balanced blend.  95

8. The grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon

Where: Bordeaux, France

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2008 (581033, $59.00) is possessive of febrile gooseberry imagination. Blows sweet peach and apricot in and out of the glass in alberge de tours waves. “Hungry like the wolf” and his lycopersicon esculentum. A white PL for the ages.  92

9. The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

Where: Tuscany, Italy

Ornellaia 2009 (722470, $189.95) is more approachable than the unparalleled 1998. A silky smooth and velvety texture puts super-ripe fruit at the forefront. While that ’98 rocked my world, this vintage offers immediate gratification, less dominating hard lines and edges. The balance is impeccable but the acidity is tempered, like the finest chocolate. The window is open now, though it may soon close, to drink beautifully for the next five years.  94

10. The Grapes: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara e Altri Vitigni

Where: Veneto, Italy

Remo Farina Le Pezze Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008 (171587, $33.95) underwhelms as a no kicker. Needs no Euro hype nor boozy heft to make itself understood. Modish mocha java speaks fluent huttish, communicating by lingua franca vernacular to the initiated. “Goopta mo bossa!“  92

Good to go!

Two dinners, 16 diners, 18 wines

The Gilead Café and Bistro’s Jamie Kennedy and Ken Steele (photograph courtesy of Jo Dickins)

as seen on canada.com

This memory goes back a bit in time. Here are two wine and food out-of-body experiences. Vine and dine encounters of the fortunate kind. The Gilead Café and Bistro’s Jamie Kennedy and Ken Steele worked an enticing concomitant seven-course tasting menu alongside 11 superstars, including a First Growth and two legends of Napa vinolore. Less than a week earlier Chef C and Sous E prepared the simplest, most extraordinary dishes to reign in seven stellar and all together unique bottles.

The Gilead Café and Bistro (photograph courtesy of Jo Dickins)

Le Mesnil Blancs de Blancs Brut Champagne (88) Sweet citrus nose, delicate and fine mousse, tart apples on a finessed palate. A NV to sip with food, though we downed the splash pour before any arrived.

WHITEFISH ROE & ORGANIC EGG TORTE, chervil, crisp toast

Flight One

Creekside Estates Viognier Reserve Queenston Road 2009 (89) Citrus slides straight from the bubbly into this limited production (80 cases) St. David’s Bench beauty. Pale yellow as if Clare Valley Riesling. The scent of Sevilla orange blossom. Organza of downy acidity. A unique local savoir-faire. Thin and tin, as in contrary viscosity and subtle minerality. Like petals falling from the flower almost before the touch of the hand.

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Cuvee ‘L’ 2007 (86) The candied Sonoma nose and beguiling scents of spice islands made lift for heights great. A Prince Edward County celebrity so imagine the long faces when the fruit was absent at the first sip. Time is a recently opened wine’s friend so waited we did but never the twain did meet. More cogitation, then a vacuum of acidity in a flat finish. If closed down, reprieve on a round globe awaits. If lost, a flat Pinot pre-Columbus earth.

GRILLED ASPARAGUS, yam, white mushroom sauce

Flight Two

The general origins of these three wines were blindly determined but each not in the speculated glass. How is it that eight wine geeks can have their seasoning shattered by a single flight? “All the things I thought I’d figured out, I have to learn again.” The heart of the matter.

Oyosoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2003 (91) One of three in a variable flight to confound. Black cherry in clusters, a power forward fruit first step then backed by biting tannins and striking acidity. Could have sworn it was the Napa. Held its own against two serious contenders. Eye opening as to the power of BC.

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain 2000 (90) The cigar box and mineral tone threw me in front of the train with the surety I was nosing a Cos ringer. Smoky, distinct graphite and fruit half hidden suggested a 2000 Left Bank not nearly in its prime. Wrong!

Château Pontet Canet, 5th Growth, Paulliac 2000 (93) Was the best wine of the three, even when I thought it was the Larose! Poise, balance, length, insert fourth cliché here. Still youthful, a beautiful teenager before the awkward years. Will be seamless at 20.

LAMB, new potatoes, herb paste

J.K. BEEF SHORT RIB, marrow sauce

Flight Three

Château Haut-Brion, 1st Growth, Péssac-Leognan 1990 (98) Are there words to describe a wine so sublime? The essence of fresh picked berries from the edge of a forest so silent. The embodiment of still life beauty, as a bowl of plums and cherries just picked from the tree. The vehemence of the Haut-Brion in prime will remain entrenched as memorabilia for as long as I can produce cognitive thought. Why do I wax sentimental? “How can love survive in such a graceless age?” I thank CL for the opportunity and no man who partook should forget.

Dominus 1990 (93) Incredulous thought. Could it be? Is that dank and dour odour the beast within? Patience, patience. Now five minutes in and the wet duff smell vanishes. The wafting emergence of a cracking covey of nose candy. Heavy sigh of relief. Without warning the fruit eddies out and it’s gone. What the Sam Hill is going on here? Then 15 minutes later it oscillates again, scrambles from the depths and treads water effortlessly for the duration. Exhausting. Thanks M for providing the skiff.

CHEESE, pied de vent, sieur de duplessis, goat taurine, cow’s creamery cheddar

One More Red

Opus One 1989 (95) Unbelievable. A lesson in Napa iconoclasm. What every great 22-year old New World wine should strive to become. In harmony with every part of itself; fruit, tannin, acidity. Beauty within and without. Dark, sultry, full of all things berry and oak. The full gamut of red and black fruit, vanilla, mocha and chocolate. Like walking into your childhood and being handed the keys to Charlie’s factory. Another M gem.

APRICOT BEIGNETS, dulce de leche ice cream

Inniskilin Riesling Icewine 1998

Hugel Riesling SGN 2000

CROSTINI, goat cheese, honeycomb, fleur de sel, olive oil

Charles Baker (Stratus) Picone Vineyard Riesling 2008 (89) “Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.

FRESH TAGLIATELLE, morels

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières 2008 (92) Restrained but tropical nose. So far from show time. In rehearsal the acidity is followed by fruit. By late decade opening night will display impeccable balance.

Closson Chase Iconoclast Chardonnay 2005 (90) Antithesis of the Leflaive; fruit first, acidity last. Bananas and I’m curious as George to behold PEC fruit yielding such a determined, complex specimen? Fortuitous choice to open now as I fear oxidization is around the bend. Still in a state of aggrandizement. Plaudits for Paskus.

Foxen Sea Smoke Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (93)  Classic Santa Rita Hills candied red apple, sugaring pomegranate and fresh ground spices. A Michelin three-star complex dish with layers of fruit, spice and finished with a rosy-red rhubarb sauce. Full of life. Finishes long and true. Terrific example.

BRISKET AND FLAT IRON SLIDERS, american cheese, wonder buns, side of grilled raddicchio and belgian endive

Château Cos d’Estournel, 2nd Growth, St Estèphe 2003 (92-94) You could set your alarm clock, for tomorrow morning or after a cryogenic freeze, by the Cos ’03. A reasonable practicum suggests opening it, have a night’s rest, to wake six hours later and be told its story. Smokey, gripped by graphite and tannin, impossibly structured out of the 2003 heat. Showing no signs of age and despite warnings to drink up, the ’03 Cos will deliver for years to come.

Ca’ Bianca Barolo 1997 (91) Not the rose petals and violets of your zio‘s Barolo but bigger than your head cheese. Funky resin, more than raisins yes, raisins with a college education. A Pudd’Nhead Wilson moniker getting figgy with it. Barbaric and fantastic.

CHEESES, monforte dairy

Gaja Sito Moresco 2008 (89) A tale of two Cabs (Sauv and Franc) was my first thought but cut the Dickens out of my finger if that impression was way off the mark. The Langhe blend is Nebbiolo/Cab Sauv/Merlot and only Gaja would have first dared to trod such territory. Smooth, easy to consume and could have suffered as an admonished follower to the line-up previous. Stands tall, welcoming the tang of the formaggi.

MACERATED ONTARIO STRAWBERRIES, vanilla ice cream

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries. VINTAGES June 9, 2012: Reds

Tuscany

Most of the reds from these 23 tasting notes are hearty enough to help with the summer BBQ season.

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/06/11/the-wine-diaries-vintages-june-9-2012-reds/

Dominus Napanook 2008 (212357, $59.95) usually displays more finesse than many Napa Cabernet blends but at $60 the flaws in nuts, bolts and chunks stand out. This was a great $40 “2nd wine.” It was solid at $50. No longer has light in its eyes and yet will sell through by week’s end.  88

Easton Estate Bottled Zinfandel 2004 (281501, $39.95) has seen its glory days but persists as a terrific, lively Zin full of ripe berries, bramble and brush. Shows good depth of fruit but no zinsanity. What an amazing wine the original $23, ’98 was. Looking forward to the dregs of this one setting sale south of $30 later in the summer.  90

Macrostie Pinot Noir 2007 (674911, $24.95) is easy drinking with a nice smile that won’t pick the locks. Sweat lodge of woodsmoke and smouldering evergreen spice notes but certainly won’t make you “weak in the knees,” or land you 30 days in the hole.  A slice of humble pie and a seamless transition from Goat’s Halibut en papilotte to a trio of Strawberry and Rhubarb desserts.  87

Shafer Merlot 2009 (346262, $59.95) will always show its long legs best at 10 years old. A fashionista this Shafer, Napa Merlot incarnate. Olive skin, perfume scent, sculpt make-up and total body tone. Sashays down the runway like a supermodel. Lush and possessed of a masculine-feminine dichotomy.  89

Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (111880, $59.95) the paradigmatic Napa trailrunner is positively derivitive, more Marillion than Genesis. Kicks up progressive breccia and calcite aromas, creating energy and power. Chunky liquid viscocity. This one throws many bits at you; berries, currants, crushed fault rock. Less is more. Builds to a crescendo but “whatever rises eventually falls.”  88

Altos Los Hormigos Reserva Malbec 2008 (678987, $27.95) to taste is like sucking on a fig-flavoured Starburst chew dipped in milk chocolate. Heavy juice and cloying welded purple-red dacite.  85  

Anakena Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (208439, $15.95) nimbly bricks iridian and follows well more serious wines. New and improved new world Pinot order. Eastern spice meets Southern Hemisphere lacquer.  86

Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Merlot 2009 (939827, $19.95) flaunts Syrah like pitch, baked earth and a bounty of spicy seasoning. A world party of Merlot on a ship of fools.  Get too close and the alcohol burns up the nasal passage.  “Save me from tomorrow.”  86

Mayu Carmenère 2009 (90035, $17.95) certainly elevates the bell pepper status of this grape with a smoulder of imported coffee beans roasting over a cedar fire. A welcome Carmenère more toothsome and bursting with vim than one would expect. Also an elegance akin to Elqui Valley Syrah.  88

Oveja Negra The Lost Barrel 2008 (273979, $24.95) symphonizes Aussie nomenclature, avant-garde Spanish (Terra Alta) blending and Chilean vitality. Malodorous maw meets sugarplum pudding on a lissome frame.  87

Mitchell McNicol Shiraz 2003 (278572, $45.95) persists with furvor nine years on. Classic Clare Valley blueberry fruit, anise, licorice and pencil shavings. No holds barred, Mitch funky bass drum leads, fills and jazz fusion. Successful if perhaps not conventional Shiraz.  91

Château D’angludet 2008 (133082, $39.00) plays a game of concentration, coupling coup de couer colour and smokey, berry concentrate. Weaves a balance of fruit and acidity, is a bit closed but should be great. Wait a few years.  89

Château Fourcas-Dumont 2001 (280016, $19.95) is stuck on brett overdrive. “Filtered through a cow’s skivies” notes the E-man.  NR

Domaine Louis Jadot Beaune Les Avaux 1er Cru 2009 (932855, $52.95) seems agitated in early life. Nose out of joint and not liking the body language. Maybe five years will allow the flesh to eat away at the anger.  87

Henri De Villamont Prestige Pinot Noir Bourgogne 2009 (84616, $17.95) represents good value, actually. But again, what’s with the dumbing down, double designation? The Villamont is equilibrious, slight of body but well made and will work for food.  87

Ramosceto Lacrima Di Morra D’alba 2010 (277889, $14.95) is not unlike the garage band sparkling red Lambrusco. Tony is so right. If you close your eyes you could be sniffing Gewurztraminer. The lychee, the white roses, the salve. Not so much my cup this Lacrima.  86

Marziano Abbona Pressenda Barolo 2007 (276584, $43.95) strips down and readies for the pop and pour. Ad hoc muscles rolling, flexed and waning, Pressenda enters into an enlightened stage where “hours are like diamonds, don’t let them waste.” Drink alongside a muscle shoal, country-soul-tinged Stones record.  90

Pio Cesare Barbera D’alba 2010 (938886, $19.95) of pungent Caciotta al Tartufo slathered on Melba Toast. Of black cherry cordial, Cointreau, orange zest and fennel biscotti. Grainy tannins. Excellent example. 88

Barone Ricasoli Castelli Di Brolio Chianti Classico 2008 (942607, $59.95) grandstands commodious, extracted chroma for Sangiovese. Gargantuan beak of Rosmarinus officinalis, Frantoio olive and ripe blackberries. Polish, discretion and savvy. Everything under the Tuscan sun and more.  For a current splurge.  91

Poggiotondo Bunello Di Montalcino 2006 (276576, $34.95) gifts yet another sub $35 sub-escarpment Sangiovese Grosso out of the vineyard mouth by Tenuta Pietranera. Stands on nani gigantum humeris insidentes, bespoken of an urban diction. Precocious, fruit forward, gold on the ceiling. Onyx gem in the key of black, “a roar at the door.” An oasis of pleasure for present day consumption.  89

Remo Farina Le Pezze Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008 (171587, $33.95) underwhelms as a no kicker. Needs no Euro hype nor boozy heft to make itself understood. Modish mocha java speaks fluent huttish, communicating by lingua franca vernacular to the initiated. “Goopta mo bossa!”  92

Fernández De Piérola Reserva 2004 (270579, $25.95) is an oxidized bottle.  NR

Rioja Bordón Tempranillo Reserva 2006 (194753, $18.95) has zest, zing and bling. A freshmaker for ’06, full of mint and Ibex exudation. Needs three to five years to achieve excellency.  89

Good to go!

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Desert island wines?

Vertical Restaurant

Vertical Restaurant

 

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/05/02/napa-valley-cabernet-sauvignon-desert-island-wines/

 

Comparative 2008 Napa Cabernet Tasting

By Featured Writer Jascha Baraness

Vertical Restaurant, 100 King Street West, (416) 214-2252

 

The comparative/competitive tasting event was hosted by Merryvale winery of Napa Valley, California.  An assembly of 30 Sommeliers sat down to a blind tasting split into two flights. We were to rank our favoured wines from most to least.

The first blind flight consisted of five Napa Cabernet Sauvignons from the 2008 vintage, all from houses of great repute.

Before I continue, I’d like to mention that I started out by taking detailed tasting notes (sight, nose, taste, finish and overall impressions) but that after the 4th wine, I realized that the differences in the notes were so minute. It became abundantly clear that notes were going to be futile in helping me pick my favourites.

All the wines were very young, taught, with firm tannins and could certainly use another ten years in bottle.  I’d like to also let you know that my red wine preference tends to lean towards the old world. I look for high acidity, austerity and fruit as secondary, so, although I could appreciate the quality of the winemaking, I wouldn’t take any of them to a desert island.  This was an afternoon that tested even the most discerning of palates.

Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Duckhorn
Napa Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

 

 

 

The wines of the first flight were: (listed in my order of most to least favourite – retail prices attached)

  1.    Duckhorn ($80)
  2.    Merryvale ($90)
  3.    Caymus ($80)
  4.    Cakebread ($99)
  5.    Joseph Phelps ($75)

     

 

 

 

 

 The second flight consisted of six prestige cuvées, all from great Napa houses.  Once the wines were revealed, I was pleased to find out that my palate had not let me down, and that the Napa prestige cuvées that I’ve always felt an affinity for, were the ones that came out on top of my list.

Merryvale Profile 2008 - Business Wire

Merryvale Profile 2008 - Business Wire

 

 

  1. Profile, Merryvale ($180)
  2. Dominus ($150)
  3. Insignia ($199)
  4. Quintessa ($120)
  5. Opus One ($365?!)
  6. Caymus Special Selection ($120)

 

It was an enlightening tasting that showed similarities, yet subtle differences in wine making techniques.  Like all great Napa wines, there were no issues with grape ripeness, however the challenge remains balancing fruit and acidity and the better examples were able to negotiate that tightrope seemingly with ease.

It was a purple-toothed farewell as I thanked the organizers and made my way home.

 

Thanks Jascha, good to go!

 

 

In Dominus We Invest

From Saturday’s February 18th, 2012 VINTAGES release, the great Napicon, conspicuous with a Parker (99) to boast its already inflated position. I tasted it and it truly is da bomb. Is it worth the asking price? That depends on what question you are actually asking.

DOMINUS 2008 (212381, $145.95) solicits riposte for parry, to buy or not to buy. The omnipotently voluptuous one resides in a tramontane locale, beyond reach and also the pale. A shocking parade of profound, hyper-purple personality. Even if it suffers “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune“, a lucky man this Dominus, “all dressed in satin,” “nor woman neither.” Colour field shockingly crimson and amarinthine, textured with rich and layered brush stroke, as if Red on Maroon. A Lama, “the flowing robes, the grace, bald…striking.” To me this ’08 leans more Ornellaia than Pétrus.   mjg 97

Dominus 2008

 

Good to go!