New year, 16 new VINTAGES releases

Take this, #quinoa - With today's post, "New year, 16 new Vintages releases" #beefshortribs

Take this, #quinoa – With today’s post, “New year, 16 new Vintages releases” #beefshortribs

Inter alia, the winter holiday break is behind us and it is time to get down to business. Time to resume the empirical and experiential search for honest wine. Wines that satisfy at some necessary atomic level, avoid oaky embarrassment and hopefully fulfill basic human needs.

What we seek are bottles fashioned from grapes that are lucky to have been handed a benevolent evolutionary line, miraculously fortuitous in their ancestry, through categorical mutation and genetic modification. Varietal luck, pop and circumstance. That’s what we’re after.

The first VINTAGES release of 2016 makes an adjustment to previous editions with no less than a dozen really solid efforts below the $21.95 line to make Messrs. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon proud. You too can save on quality wine this January. Read on to avoid getting lost in aught where unwanted wines are cast into a dull, scattered void.

 

Lingenfelder Bird Label Riesling 2013

Lingenfelder Bird Label Riesling 2013, Qualitätswein, Pfalz, Germany (568634, $14.95, WineAlign)

A return to entry-level glory out of a great vintage for this basic QbA with the acidity to thrive and the tannin to jive. Love the fruit mingling with mineral and the weight even when aridity is the key. A tropical note hits both the nose and the palate. What complexity for $15. Really. Best in many years with a beautifully bitter finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted December 2015  @RobLingenfelder  @HHDImports_Wine  @germanwineca

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2015

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2015, Wo Western Cape, South Africa (675421, $14.95, WineAlign)

Properly, distinctly, effortlessly Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc. Of tang and here in 2015, more heft than many though in retention of aridity and super salinity. Has real verve and presence. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted December 2015  @MulderboschV  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @AbconWine

Wakefield Estate Chardonnay 2014

Wakefield Estate Chardonnay 2014, Clare Valley/Adelaide Hills, South Australia (711556, $14.95, WineAlign)

Rich and reductive with some Co2 and piercing acidity. Solid Chardonnay that needs a year or two to settle. Last tasted December 2015  @Taylors_Wines  @ProfileWineGrp

Rich and dense, temperate in accessibility, splitting the Chardonnay mile. Works barrels with threadbare, throwback constituency and takes a comfortable trip down varietal, memory lane like predecessors in old world California. All in the name of proper and restraint. The palate is rich yet delicate. Good work. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015

Valpantena Valpolicella Ripasso 2013, Doc Veneto, Italy (429928, $15.95, WineAlign)

Nice tidy little Valpolicella here. Enough richness marked by tension to make it a real drop. A bit flushed with thickness though the tang in food-gifting acidity and arid tannin is again, very real. Solid stuff. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted December 2015  @Cant_Valpantena  @MajesticWineInc  @RegioneVeneto

Honoro Vera Garnacha 2013

Honoro Vera Garnacha 2013, Calatayud, Spain (432997, $15.95, WineAlign)

Though playing a key of dusty and volatile minor, here Calatayud Garnacha from Bodega Atteca’s 60 year-old vines does its traditional duty in forthright varietal and regional honesty. Reinvents no wheels or identity with ripe fruit, early enough picked for preserving acidity and palate tension. The aridity and tang on the finish perform yeoman’s work in lieu of tannin. Drink now and for another year or two, preferably with cocina tradicional Aragonesa. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted December 2015  @docalatayud  @ProfileWineGrp

Sister's Run Bethlehem Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Sister’s Run Bethlehem Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (360636, $15.95, WineAlign)

Very ripe, nearly, dangerously young and volatile, yet so very sweet smelling. Plums, cherries, Cassis, a hint of graphite and the wood from American stars ‘n bars. Good acidity burgeoning about with minor, kneeling, equitable tannin. Has a salty caramel taste that will require similar fare; a mole sauce would work. Good length on this varietal wonder. “All you have is memories of happiness, lingering on.” A shining light in the Sister’s Run stable. “Maybe the star of Bethlehem, wasn’t a star at all.” Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted December 2015

Donnachiara Irpinia Coda Di Volpe 2013, Dop Campania, Italy (434241, $16.95, WineAlign)

Here the no lo so of Italian white grape varieties, this Coda di Volpe, the fox vine “Alopecis,” a.ka. “tail of the fox,” with natural history recording creds to Pliny the Elder. A Campania concert of grape tannin and sea mineral melded together as one. A varietal happenstance where land meets the sea in a beautiful bond. This low-cost specimen is a friendship gift from Italy, with ripe fruit and even stronger feelings of subterranean impart, from fringe stone through the ambient abstraction of Roman mythology. Like a river Styx running through carrying the bravery of Herculean salinity. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted December 2015  @DonnaChiara    @Reg_Campania  @TheCaseForWine

Coda di Volpe and Moscato

Coda di Volpe and Moscato

Penthouse Pinot Noir 2013, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (432864, $16.95, WineAlign)

The berries, cherries and plums are a vivid smelling bunch with a cumulative tone occupying airspace at the border of mercurial. A silent request asked of this undomesticated (with 10 per cent whole cluster bunches in the wild ferment) Pinot Noir is “when are you gonna come down, when are you going to land.” With time, the extreme brightness turns to density, of rustic earth and silky encrustation. Its answer sings to the tune of “you can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough.” Walks well beyond the yellow brick road of the Adelaide Hills and the varietal, to a place in OZ occupied by the curious and the songline follower. There is a lot of Pinosity is this $17 wine. The mid-glass transformation is a true plus. A heel click finish would have really sealed the deal. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted November 2015  @Nicholaspearce_  @AHWineRegion

Terra D’uro Finca La Rana Toro 2011, Do Toro, Spain (424135, $17.00, WineAlign)

Terminable Toro, firm to juicy, earthy to mulled plum and liquorice fruity. Acidity rips in the short term and whatever tannin was gifted is quite resolved. Early 2016, in the dead of a northern hemisphere winter is the right time to settle in with a braise and Toro at five years of age. Very solid. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted December 2015  @VinodeToro

Gustave Lorentz Réserve Riesling 2014

Gustave Lorentz Réserve Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (641639, $18.95, WineAlign)

Bergheim terroir in a nutshell to the result marked by the essential, distilled down to this very base and necessary example of what dry Riesling just has to be. Along with Trimbach and in this price range brought to this market, the act is exemplary and export defining as citizens of the genre. From flint to citrus and back by way of ripe fruit. With weight and such a dry, to the point finish “and a crackling in the air.” What it is. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted December 2015  @GustaveLorentz  @AmethystWineInc  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace

Pupillo Cyane Moscato 2010, Igt Sicilia, Italy (156430, $18.95, WineAlign)

Wholly Sicilian metallurgy of a character absorption in ode to Alsatian Muscat. That and the weight of the sun bearing down on sugaring fruit. With eyes closed picture this heading into a 20-year honeyed and mineral territory, with ground nuts and fresh cracked pepper foil. Oxidative but just on that dangerous edge so that it can continue to develop for years without losing sight of the prize. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted December 2015  @loyalimportsltd  @WinesOfSicily

Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc De Blancs

Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc De Blancs, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (435438, $19.95, WineAlign)

Bready, heady and lees elegant from years of yeasty rest towards an end marked by lactic sour mixed into lemon citrus. The tightest wire-wind of Chardonnay tonic with bitters running here and there. The nearly five years on the lees has made the texture thick and the mousse replete with bubbles popping left, right and centre. Much in the way of complexity for Blanc de Blancs from Argentina blessed with lots of altitude. You’ve not not likely been blown away by South American bubbles as you will be by this Mendozan, from Tupungato to Llullaillaco. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted December 2015  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiWines  @DionysusWines

Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012

Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Sonoma County, California, USA (397521, $19.95, WineAlign)

The fruit is ripe, there can be no argument there and the treatment is careful, calculated, restrained even. Exit stage left blend, running all the way. Sneaky, deft, stealthy, cat-like in behaviour. Always landing on all fours. Like a pink anthropomorphic mountain lion sporting an upturned collar, shirt cuffs and a string tie. Red blend with a great desire to be a stage actor, available to please all kinds of folks. “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” Sweet finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted December 2015  @gunbunwine    @LeSommelierWine  @sonomavintners

Domaine Saint Roch Vacqueyras 2014, Ac Rhône, France (437194, $21.95, WineAlign)

Some heat in the nose and even more spice with balance achieved by a lively to energetic, creeping up on frenetic palate. Earth crusts play in to the fray as much as the fruit, the posit tug working with one another in equal and opposing directions. The wine lingers on with grace in magical persistence. A pinch of dusty espresso and wishful fennel marks the back end. The reality check to imagine and realize a real Vacqueyras. Great value. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted December 2015  @VacqueyrasWines  @VINSRHONE  @RhoneWine

Foris Pinot Noir 2012

Foris Pinot Noir 2012, Rogue Valley, Oregon, USA (937128, $24.95, WineAlign)

A deft and reeling charmer, easy to drink and well-priced. Dark red fruit of the black cherry realm occupied by the ripe and fashionable Pinot Noir. That it so successfully woos with that kind of Oregon fruit to this kind of advantage in the absence of available underground salinity and tension is a Rogue Valley win. At 13.9 per cent it creeps comfortably under the hot radar gun and many will enjoy the uncomplicated style. Recommended for those who like it fun and unencumbered. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted December 2015  @Foriswine  @SouthernORWine  @Oregon_Wine

Caiarossa Pergolaia 2008, IGT Tuscany, Italy (424333, $34.95, WineAlign)

A satisfying and handsomely rustic biodynamic Sangiovese-led IGT blend with lead, graphite, dusty cherry and plenty of hide to leather antiquity. The firm vintage has evolved to this copacetic point, the expatriate meets endemic union no longer obtuse or extreme. This has settled really nicely, thanks to what was and lingers as solid acidity and once grippy tannin. Life from energy persists and though I would imagine there will be some who think it common or non-descript, there can be no denying the solid winemaking and balance struck. The older oak barrels have done their job, even if the fruit was a bit on the riper side of the rows. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted December 2015  @Caiarossa  @3050imports

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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Is writing making a mess of wine?

Rave Review

Rave Review

Wine today is suffocated by an industrial and disproportionate number of writers, critics, reviewers and judges. There are so many voices vying for airtime, filling up virtual white pages with their comments, feelings and dissertations. There are homers and there are curmudgeons. When in balance, both keep the ship afloat, but more often than not the questions begs. Which ones are causing the wreck? The answer is both. The problem is not the intent but rather the execution.

You may have noticed that when I write about wine, which is pretty much all of the time, I use a whole lot of words. A mess of vocabulary. An inordinate amount of adjectives. A boundless number of references to music, song and pop culture. It’s how I roll. And it has got me thinking, again.

Tis’ about that time of year. A period for reflection and review, not on what was so great in the previous vintage but about the things that will be critical going forward in this new one. Please excuse the interlude while I hang suspended within the interval of hermeneutic, contemplation and debate. Reading books on anthropology, art world shenanigans and a post-holocaust personal journey are seeping into my thoughts like Sémillon into Sauvignon Blanc and the varietal blend is coming up complicated.

Related – Wine: It’s a matter of tasting notes

Old guard tasting notes are losing their relevance and not because they are wrong or inaccurate. They just don’t speak to wine in the 21st century. They don’t tell a story and they surely don’t have any fun. So what? Imagine taking a video of yourself working on your computer, browsing the internet, reading and interacting on social media. What would you see? A world of links and associations. A world where thoughts and comments bounce around like children in a jumpy castle. This is the realm of the new tasting note. This is what wine can do for you in the 21st century. It can lead you forward and take you back. Most of all it can really tie your life together.

Related – Three-chord wines, hold the rants

Then the whining. The constant shrill voice of conceit mixed with complaint. The words minced to poison with a hunger to attack. Paragraphs penned to warn of apocalypse and to relegate decent writers to the scrap heap and back to the depressing nine to five. Writers reacting only to what others do without creating anything of their own. Comedians of the wine world lashing out, ranting, shouting “got ’em, need ’em, hate ’em.”

These attitudes and still the truth is not to be ignored. Reading a wine through a tasting note is like kissing a woman through a veil. “Translation is a kind of transubstantiation,” where one wine becomes another and another. You can choose your philosophy of critiquing just as you choose how to live. The freedom to personalize or substantiate thoughts on structure sacrifices the detail to meaning and meaning to preciseness. The winemaker is the writer or poet, moving from vines to vinous language. The critic moves in the opposite direction, or should, by attempting to read between the lines, to identify what can’t be seen, to interpret the mysterious implications of smell, taste and texture.

The lede firmly and flatly backs the headline, states, if asks, “is writing making a mess of wine?” Yes, that is a double entendre, a loaded gun of meaning and hypothesis, a million dollar question. While we want to know who’ll stop the rain, we also desperately need to understand the meaning of wine. So we put it down in words. We explain how wonderful life is with wine in the world. We also break it down, grape by grape, to a point where it often lies broken, disassembled, deconstructed, left for naked. What is it for? Are wine writers leaving behind a city of ruins?

Have they decided and determined that the winemaker’s works can be used to make a point? A point that belongs to the critic? Has the wine writer taken away the artist’s right to be, has the intent been obscured, or worse, the opposite and turned it into a curator’s right?

There are wines that claim you and wines that warn you away. Maybe the writers are just looking for wine that would teach them everything, like searching for one language, just as some would look for one woman’s face. The combined fugitive pieces of wine and its critics pose “questions without answers.” They must be asked very slowly.

To the beleaguered point five wines are here venerated and disfigured, assessed and cut to size. They are sniffed and sipped, thought of in song and regurgitated on the page. Do they lift or bury their maker’s plan? You be the judge.

From left to right: Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009

From left to right: Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (384339, $17.95, WineAlign)

Here, from Dominio del Plata, an experiment with clear merit. The attributes are so sizeable, with weight depth and no compromise. The dramatic effect works to ignore the “clouds of mystery pourin’ confusion on the ground.” The floral aromatic integrity of Torrontés is upheld within the leaden shackles of the wood, as is the savour. This is a honeyed white, suckling and mellifluous, like fully extracted ripe Sémillon, from and with the benefit of a warm vintage. Puts the fun back into varietal revival by way of a giant leap up from the thin, medicinal water clogging the arteries of South American white wines so often put to market. Here is a Torrontés to stop the rain.  Tasted January 2015  @ddpwinery  @ProfileWineGrp

Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Napa Valley, California (424179, $19.95, WineAlign)

There are so many reasons not to find a thrill in this regional blend of Pinot Noir fruit but none of them stick. Sweetness, simple syrup silky fruit, brown sugar, every red and purple berry in all varieties of fields (plus ripe plums) and warm to temperate alcohol (14.5 per cent declared) all combine for full California sunshine effect. All this and I just can’t turn away. With all the excess fruit, texture and multiplicity in good times, how can I? I ask this Pinot, “how come you, how come you dance so good?” The answer lies in the feel and the ability to turn a Noir trick or two. Not to mention a rolling of barrels and Napa Valley stones through its very core. Well done.  Tasted January 2015  @sterlingwines  @Diageo_News

Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011, VQ Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Steve Byfield’s crimson blend of Cabernet Franc (42 per cent), Merlot (33), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Syrah (5) is at once so very Niagara while acting out anomalously in the 2011 vintage. Ripe, extracted fruit appears warm-vintage drawn, with its coated layers of primer, brushstroke and plummy stone fruit. The warmth is tempered by savour, oranges, figs and psalms. Its ability to find cadence and cascade keeps it “cool in the shade.” The varietal combining is delineated in balance, “sliding mystify, on the wine of the tide.” This effort, with its new name, could become one of the king’s amongst Ontario blends.  Tasted January 2015  @NyaraiCellars

Wieninger Nußberg Alte Reben Gemischter Satz 2012, Vienna, Austria (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

Here, the intensity of multi-varietal wine defined. From next to the Danube, out of the Ulm Vineyard, on a very steep southern slope on the eastern part of the Nussberg. The composition is nine-fold; Weissburgunder, Neuburger, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Traminer and Riesling. The aridity (1.3 g/L RS) is visionary. Beneath the vineyard there is coral from the tertiary period and in this wine you can hear the Geiger counter amplifying the faint eupnea of fossilized shells, thousands of years ago. Its resinous, sappy and majestic floating flowers are like “potions in a traveling show.” The layering is heavy (14.5 per cent ABV) and variegated, like sands and snails in a bottle or a vessel filled with an alcohol made from nature’s natural and fermenting bounty; carboniferous forest cosmology and the unpronounceable names of exotic fruit. Then there is the wooden smoulder, the white rock solder, the pine and the scene where “I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss.” The Gemischter Satz is granular but in liquid form, marbled and with a lovely wisp of oxidation. It exudes lemon custard and tonic in a wild yet beautiful breath of sauvage. It is your song. Tasted January 2015

Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sagrantino 2009, Docg Umbria, Italy (403139, $49.95, WineAlign)

Here thickness is applied in every way imaginable. Sagrantino from the maw of the beast; raw, big-boned, musky, chewing sinew and spitting out teeth. Though fierce and ancient, eliciting vegetal scents as if Pliny’s natural history were scoured for every trace of pungent plants grown in iron rich earth, it is also the most modern expression of Umbria, or all of Italy even. In so many ways it’s pretty Gestanko, composted and of an incomparable spume. But it also desensitizes and endears in a soulful, ethereal way “like scattered leaves,” blowing in a stiff breeze. It folds back the skin of time, in waves of heat and at times is so very sweet. Bring this to the apocalyptic marshmallow roast. Leaves the red wine city in ruins and in the dust. Sagrantino at 16.5 %. Burn, baby burn.  Tasted January 2015  @TrialtoON  @TABARRINI

Good to go!

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The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr
PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Were Olivier Humbrecht, MW a Rock ‘N Roll star, he would be the guy, the man, the boss, the one everyone wants to hang around. He’d be invited to every benefit concert, like No Nukes at MSG, Live Aid, Live 8 and a Tribute to Heroes. He would sing the biggest parts on the raise awareness and relief funds records like We are the World. He would headline every star-studded gathering to celebrate an influential musician’s career, like that of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan.

Olivier Humbrecht is a winemaker. He’s also smart, France’s first Master of Wine, rooted in his region’s history and hyper aware of every nuance in each terroir. He’s an extreme scientist, biologist, geologist, viniculturalist and viticulturalist. Olivier Humbrecht is a student of many Alsace genres, techniques and methods. He’s a bit of a perfectionist. So are many Alsatian winemakers. But Olivier also has the charisma, the persona and the drive to strive for bigger and better. People want to be near that.

The rock star complex manifests itself at a tasting of the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. Olivier has laid 14 wines on the cellar room table for a group of eight journalists and sommeliers. After leading the group through the lot, he checks his watch and sees there are a few minutes left in the allotted time. He opens two more bottles, then two more. Time is up. The group must press on. He opens another. Just one more, “for perspective,” he says. He can’t stop. The adrenaline is pumping. One more encore. Just one more Sélection de Grains Nobles…

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht is well-known to the world, considered the consummate professional vigneron d’Alsace. The wines are immaculate to a fault; pure, precise considerations out of a multitude of variegated and diverse terroirs; of those around the winery’s home in Turckheim, Wintzinheim, in Gueberschwihr, Thann and in Hunawihr. The Grand Cru holdings of Brand, Hengst, Goldert and Rangen de Thann provide the stuffing for exceptional produce but can any other winery in Alsace lay claim to so many exceptional wines from their lieu-dit and single-vineyards not classified Grand Cru? The trifecta phenomena of the Zind-Humbrecht hill parcels, “Les Clos”; Häuserer, Windsbuhl and Jebsal may as well be Grand Cru squared. The wines from these most worthy soils are dreamy and in top vintages, impossibly perfect.

Most vintners in Alsace are connected to a village, have vineyard holdings surrounding or on slopes leaning upwards from the town. Many crush and ferment in caves beneath their homes right there in the ancestral village. Above ground Zind-Humbrecht is more modern than most, in many ways the embodiment of the 21st century Alsatian facility but Olivier’s wines are deeply connected to Turckheim, the village closest to a large proportion of his vines. The region’s regulatory board decision to eliminate a village like Gueberschwihr from being used on a Riesling label is both curious and counter-productive. Olivier is an island here, not having found any other producer’s support to keep such a designation alive. The irony is not lost. A winemaker incredibly passionate about soil having to label his wine by that very concept and against his will.

I had the opportunity to taste with Olivier Humbrecht on two occasions, thanks to CIVA and SOPEXA, at the winery and at the Millésimes Alsace trade event on Monday, June 16th, 2014. Humbrecht’s brain is in constant churning motion. He will never rest and settle for the status quo. He has learned everything and has everything yet to learn.

Biodynamic farming is at the nucleus of Zind-Humbrecht’s practicum and by now spoken as an apothegm, not ad nauseam. Olivier notes that Colmar, the vinous hub of Alsace and just down the road from Turckheim, is the driest town in France. “We are in a region that in the past we had to fight for ripeness. This is not the case anymore. I have not had to chaptalize in 20 years.” Global warming has had a great effect on phenols but Olivier stands firm on timing. Plants, including grapevines, have very specific life cycles, from flowering to ripening. “I will be ready for picking September 1st,” he insists, “regardless of the weather.”

On varieties, Muscat D’alsace remains “important and fantastic.” Humbrecht insists on keeping it viable and alive. “Reds are trendy,” but not significant to Zind-Humbrecht, adding up to less than one per cent of total production. Ninety per cent are single-varietal wines. Riesling persists as the core variety. It’s a grape that hates to ferment so noble rot should be avoided, because it arrests fermentation.” For Riesling to succeed? “You need a majority of tartaric acid, slowly, coolly, through the cold of winter, to achieve proper malic acid, to achieve good Alsace Riesling. Basically you don’t even want to know it’s happening.”

Olivier is an ally to both phenol and tannin. “Phenols in white wine is something that is always neglected,” he says, and “I do appreciate tannins in white wine, especially in low acidity grapes like Gewürztraminer.” Too many people do not understand the aging capabilities in the wines of Alsace. “We’ve gotten rid of too many phenols in white wine,” he complains. “We love the anti-oxidants, which will not allow the wines to age well, with no protection against oxidation.”

The phenol-tannin-sugar-acidity sequence only succeeds when PH is in the mix. “PH is more important than acidity. Low PH is a guarantee for good evolution in bottle, and good phenols.” That said, skin contact is to be avoided in Humbrecht’s world. “Alsace already has high aromatics so contact is contradictory.” It can lead to the inclusion of green phenols which would be detrimental to making sound wine. Ripe phenols come from the vines and Olivier continues to refer to structure and acidity as a direct consequence of what happens in the vineyard.

The ZH processes include high density planting, hand harvesting, gravity feeding, cold cluster pressing and the use of wild (indigenous) yeasts. The total annual output is approximately 300,000 bottles from 40 hectares, a capacity reached in the mid 1990’s. “We are not interested in getting any bigger,” concedes Humbrecht.

The last piece and going forward of the Zind-Humbrecht puzzle concerns vintages. “Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” says Olivier. “2014 is very precocious.” Flowering was done the first week of June, almost two weeks ahead of the norm. This is similar to 2003 and 2011. “We made a lot of mistakes then, because it was the first time we had this.” The plan is to adapt to the climate by cooling down the soil, with more grasses to retain moisture. They will also let more branches grow to restrict sun and more canopy management. Biodynamic farming at work.

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Here are notes on the 20 Zind-Humbrecht wines tasted in Alsace on Monday June 16th and Wednesday June 18th, 2014.

Pinot Noir 2012

To Olivier Humbrecht, the location and managing the ripeness of Pinot Noir is key. “You can’t hide green character in Pinot Noir,” he asserts. Fruit comes from the Heimbourg vineyard, from west-facing slopes out of marl and limestone. This is a cooler, later ripening position with a draught between the hills. At 13 per cent alcohol it is pleasantly ripe but not as rich and intense as 2009. Still ripe enough for positive and effective phenols. Tannins are present and accounted for, wrapping a veil over the chalky, chewy, slighted coated fruit. The mineral is felt in texture coming from what is a simple, proper and elegant palate.

Muscat Goldert 2012

Like any self-respecting winemaker in Alsace, Olivier Humbrecht is intent on keeping Muscat d’Alsace alive with hopes that someday it will once again thrive. The white and red coloured, longer ripening, small berry Muscat Petite Grains receives minor (one or two per cent) support from grapey, soft and aromatic Muscat Ottonel. Raised from olitic limestone and marl soil, this Muscat is blessed with terroir inducing greater acidity and a dichotomous, silty ripeness, like a green, unripe Sauvignon Blanc. One has the sense that in this unique vintage the noble variety may age with an almost unexpected stride through the years.

Riesling Terroir d’Alsace Vin Sec 2012

This is the most basic and tenable wine in the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. For the uninitiated it is an ideal embarkation point from which to engage the dry elegance and saline minerality of Alsatian Riesling. This “entry-level” effort is from 11 year-old vines, a slow ripening vintage and the stark reality of granite soils. The ever-present Humbrecht honesty and richness is here but in its most subtle (and only 2 g/L residual sugar) scale. Quick notes of lime, chalk and ginger. Olivier says it is made for the Brasserie or the Gastropub market. Never mind that it’s the most junior of his Rieslings. Nobility begins here with this reassuring, air-dried, easy to understand wine.

Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim 2012

Here rolls the rock of the ZH stable. From gravelly, well-drained, poor soils around the winery. The citrus factor is front, centre and in surround sound but a natural richness and sweetness brings balance. This means the wine will gracefully incline through to a dry yet fruity future. A savoury austerity will increase the ageing quotient, in addition to the omnipresent mineral flavours by way of old (47 year-old) vines that burrow deep in the gravel, providing grit and strength, especially in drought vintages.

Riesling Calcaire 2012

The artist formerly known as Gueberschwihr is no longer. The new regulation regarding the production of village wines became effective with the 2011 harvest so, alone in its support for the quality of wine for the village, Humbrecht had no choice but a switch to the Calcaire nomenclature. From richer, cooler, alkaline soils. A touch more sugar (8 g/L) than the Turckheim counterparts, this also has higher acidity. Technically not so dry but this is the elevated, though not quite astronomical PH talking. It is dry enough to be considered Sec. Momentarily stuck in the proverbial petrol and mineral fence. The door will open shortly, to the ZH airy density and so physically speaking, this will taste drier as it ages. Even if “all this science I don’t understand,” I do know “it’s gonna be a long, long time” before the Calcaire comes down to earth and settles into its skin. Ten years to be sure. Rocket man.

Riesling Clos Häuserer 2012

Also Turckheim in origin (specifically Soedlen) but from marl soil atop really aggressive limestone from just under the Grand Cru Hengst’s nose. One of the highest in PH, this is austere and currently shut tight within a dry (4 g/L sugar) free lime zeppelin drum. Though aromatically mute, the mineral density on the palate is striking, like a reduction of half and half spread on sourdough toast. The 18 month lees program is most noticeable here and this Riesling will be led towards a petrol induction future. When it gets there, a taste will bring you into the Häuserer of the holy. The deep marl soil on top of calcareous Oligocene mother rock will speak and it will ask  “are you dizzy when you’re stoned?”

Riesling Brand Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11532951 $73.00, WineAlign)

There is a roundness to the Brand, in beautiful calming aromatics in defiance of the hard biotite granite, black and white mica soils. The pure mineralized clay silica brings heat to the land, with a high surface exchange quotient, not so different from the Schlossberg. This is precocious and precious Grand Cru that demands the wisdom and the fortitude of old vines, of a minimum 25-30 years of age. Zind Humbrecht’s average 66! With two per cent noble rot in the mix the wine reaches for more sugar (11.5 g/L) out of its desperately low yields. There is a high mineral ripeness and a tropical tingling, in melon and clementine.

Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 12133871 $101.00, WineAlign)

The Thann is a 22-hectare, low yielding Grand Cru. The terra is volcanic and dark sedimentary soil, very steep and homogeneous. The high mineral altitude and poor attitude means the Zind Humbrecht ambition is aromatically challenging to assess, even if to taste it’s so obviously exquisite in concentrated depth. Such a rich, intense grapey nose but the flint smothers the smoky smoulder that should be present. A tight, angular and sobering expression, more isometric and idiosyncratic than anything tasted to this point. An island in the line-up. Not the most loveable Rangen, like its name, which is too old to even know its meaning.

Riesling Heimbourg 2012

From the village of Turckheim, the vines are planted on the steepest aspect of the marl covered, oligocene limestone slope. More noble rot present here than in the Brand, resulting in, naturally higher sugar (15 g/L), richer fruit and a deeper hue. “The sweetest Riesling we’ve made in 2012,” admits Olivier. A most interesting specimen too, an upside down cake in alternating layers of apricot and crushed rocks. The flavours are high-toned, not necessarily tropical, but lush.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Alsace, France (agent, $80.00, WineAlign)

“Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” notes Humbrecht, exemplified by this blasted 2011 in contrast to all the ’12’s at these tastings. Here the fruit leans in the most elevated petrol direction, from a warm year and an earlier harvest. A younger evolution is taking place, showing immediate and gratified balance. The terroir is cool, rocky limestone with shells, similar to Burgundy. The clos is a gently sloping, six-hectare parcel. Overall it’s anti-floral, wet chalky creamy and striped by linear acidity. Only 4.5 g/L of sugar. These last two numbers mean nothing if you don’t recognize the PH because there are different acidities in wine. Here the acidity walks the fine line, side by side with its partners.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2007

From a different era, this was fermented bone-dry, dire, with less than 1 g/L of residual sugar. A Riesling to show just how tight the Zind-Humbrecht band was back then and it is just beginning to communicate in its mid-life, mineral voice. If as a lieu-dit subject it was once “incommunicado,” with no comment to make, this has changed. The notes are layered and together, the mid-palate extraordinarily full, the length in reverberating, extended play. Here in today’s communique he’s come clean, having moved on from the strict, straits style, once spun unbending. The experience of great players and exceptional monopole (Grand Cru deserving) terroir has given the ’07 Windsbuhl the foundation to realize a classic Riesling.

Pinot Gris Calcaire 2012

Fruit comes from the Heimbourg, providing pure limestone effect and a great nutty character. The sugar is nothing to forget about (10.6 g/L), here already commissioned and integrated. Provides support for Olivier’s declaration that “if anything should happen to a wine, it should be before you bottle it.” Much more accessible than the fastball-curveball-changeup, out of the strike zone ’11. Here it’s all down the middle,  juicy, hittable fastballs.

Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2012

The Rotenberg’s shallow, red soils (located on top of the Hengst) bring a whole new set of parameters to Pinot Gris, in stark contrast to the Calcaire. Two bottles were poured. A two-day old sample showed settled and mellow flavours. A new bottle was crackerjack reductive, leesy and with a shocky aridity so unusual for Pinot Gris. The soils bring concentration, here magnified and compressed by the hastened moment. All the hallmarks of the Zind-Humbrecht style are there, if suppressed; tang, herbiage and a spicy spike. Very dry (4 g/L) and really invigorating white wine.

Pinot Gris Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11545233 $74.25, WineAlign)

The noble grape in this Muschelkalk (calcareous) vineyard comes through in high concentration, with an increase in noble rot from very low yields (12 hl/L). There was hail here in 2012, just after flowering, not a devastating storm but enough to minimize quantity. The sweetness (35 g/L) is heightened and uncompromising yet always mitigated by intense mineral activity. The richest and most unctuous wine of the morning (to this point) with direct, pure ripe tree-fruit flavours. This is a Pinot Gris that remains firm against the dangers of oxidation and it will develop smoky and toasty aromas. The structure is what I would call remarkable but not exceptional. Time will tell. Here the wait needs to be a minimum five years and then to drink well past 2025.

Gewürztraminer Calcaire 2012

As of the 2011 vintage, the Wintzenheim bottling became the Calcaire, for village designation (or lack thereof) reasons. Fruit here in 2012 is mostly (not necessarily typically) from the Hengst Grand Cru vineyard. The marl and limestone leads to a very typical Alsatian and even more typical Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer. Full on glycerin, creamy, perceptibly sweet and protracted wine. Even at 35 g/L it is tempered by high tannic animation, as much as in Burgundy. Skin tannins are much more interesting than those from oak because they elevate the acidity by way of contrasting balance to the sugar. This is why they succeed.

Gewürztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2012

From old vines of the Hengst, the yield is half of the Calcaire, the concentration raising the bar in the opposite direction. The residual number is the same but the sugars are more complex, intensely natural and variegated. The texture and flavours cover a creamier, wider spectrum and even though some typical rose petal/lychee components are noted, they remain submerged beneath the piquancy and the richness. This Hengst will gain flesh and weight as it ages, elevating the potential for late harvest sensations and alcohol.

Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2012

The Muschelkalk calcareous, southeast facing slopes of this Clos employ slightly cooler temperatures and the stretched elasticity of slow-ripening to bring a sense of balance and poise to Gewürztraminer. The same can’t be said for Riesling on the same site, at least not in 2012. The Windsbuhl here speaks in more sweetness and less alcohol. “If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz,” says Olivier, “then you won’t see it in Riesling.” Here is an example that backs up one of his most telling axioms. “It’s the phenols of the grape that make it age gracefully better.” Age it will. Drink this beginning in 2020 and through 2040.

Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Hengst Grand Cru 2011

A wine not often made because of the dry climate in this Herrenweg vineyard. The gaining of full botrytis expression only happens once in every five or six years and when it does, this eager and vivid sweet wine is the result. Harvested at high ripeness and proportion (50 per cent) of noble rot, with a quick (one month) fermentation to achieve a sweet balance (vin liquoreux) not that far from some SGNs. At 102 g/L it is obviously quite sweet though once again, with acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character it strikes a balance. I don’t normally imagine late harvest wines to speak in terms of elegance or restraint and I’m not sure those are the most apt descriptors here. Yet the Hengst is as subtle as it gets for the genre and never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd.

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010

The residual on the 2010 Windsbuhl is remarkably high, this as a result of its long but (not compared to 2009) fermentation. From a historic vintage, with top-notch acidity (the goal was 16 g/L) and clean, precise botrytis. With the complexity and structure provisos of the Muschelkalk calcareous terroir and (43 year-old) vines, this exceptional dessert wine was given all the tools necessary for success. A parabola of a dessert wine, one sip and “we barely remember who or what came before this precious moment.” Attacks the mouth with an unparalleled sugar/acidity/tannin continuum. The flavours bring to mind quince, apricot and creamy mangosteen in out of control concentration. There is a reason sweet wines like these are so rare and receive such high praise. Exceptional fruit of uncompromising quality and a winemaker’s reverence are the reasons. Olivier Humbrecht prepared this 2010 to succeed and to live for decades. Drink from 2025 to 2055.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Good to go!

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Finding the wine pulse of the Finger Lakes

Grape crush at Shaw Vineyards

Grape crush at Shaw Vineyards
Photo: Shaw Vineyards

as seen on canada.com

New York’s Finger Lakes is the largest wine growing region in the state, located along and adjacent the south-north flows of Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga and Canandaigua. The pastures perched nearly 1000 feet high upon the plateaus terraced upwards from their shores teem in colour and fertility; in red cherry, in knobbly purple asparagus, in wild, green grasses and grapevines.

Though pastoral and eerily quiet, the Finger Lakes area is anything but boring or benign. It necessitates some required reading and historical courting. That begins with Elmira’s own Mark Twain and without question a visually stunning and cerebral cortex stimulating visit to the Corning Museum of Glass. The collection of royal and ancient glass, interactive exhibits and live demonstrations are mind-blowing and utterly unique. Best of all, the @corningmuseum is run like a business and a cooperative, free from the suffocating, bureaucratic strings of government interest. Employees are young, near-hipster, informed and confident, with and without attitude.

Drive north from Corning in the late afternoon sun and see deer grazing in farmer’s fields. Walk the pier at the southern tip of Seneca Lake and go old school dining. Watkins Glen State Park is the site of a set of waterfalls so gorgeous you will imagine yourself anywhere but in the heart of New York. Oft-referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East (a stretch for sure), it truly is something else.

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The caveat to this report begins with an admission of remission to the wineries, distilleries and breweries not visited on account of not being located on the western trail of Route 14 up Seneca Lake. Certainly remiss to have missed visiting the iconic Dr. Frank, the emerging star Anthony Road, Two Goats Brewing and Finger Lakes Distilling. A pang of regret lingers for lost time spent underwhelmed at Magnus Ridge. The 1970’s tasting room and stemware felt like a mirror that adds 30 lbs and who can concentrate on MOR Riesling, Pinot Gris and Lemberger while the vineyard manager (at least that’s the part he seemed to be playing) sweats, rehydrates and flashes a never-blinking, hairy eyeball your way. I felt like Pudd’nhead Wilson, tasting through wines as Cauliflower, “nothing but cabbage with a college education.” I suppose a rain check benefit of the doubt should be extended, considering the owners were away in Florida.

A 10 deep tasting at Fulkerson Wines showed off every style under the FL sun and that was only a small percentage of what could have been sampled. Dry Rieslings, in particular the William Vigne showed best. Gruner Veltliner 2012 and Pinot Noir 2010 ponied up the highest level of intrigue to walk out with a bottle of each. Still, the excess of portfolio dilutes and commercializes the exercise.  Riesling and Cabernet Franc are and should be the region’s signature wines. Dabbles in Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Brut-style bubbles are all to be encouraged.

“High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.”

The sense of community and cohesion that to me defines Ontario’s wine industry, especially in Niagara, is here not at once obvious. Many vintners make reference to the oenology research and development department at Cornell University and so it seems to be both the region’s patriarch and unifying factor. Next weekend’s Finger Lakes Wine Festival would likely go a long way to impress upon a taster a truer sense of famiglia. A myriad of wine making and production styles mark the region’s 100 plus wineries and two Seneca Lake houses struck me as buoy markers for the past and as harbingers for the future of viticulture in Yates County. Hermann J. Wiemer clearly sets the Finger Lakes standard while unheralded Shaw Vineyards shines as the hidden gem. Though polar opposites in attitude and execution, together they mark the Finger Lakes twain. They to me present a model to compare and contrast the stylistic spectrum of wine production found in the Finger Lakes.

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

Dundee, NY, http://wiemer.com/, @HermannJWiemer

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

PHOTO: wiemer.com
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

To those who say that the concept of terroir is bullshit, the principals at Wiemer scream to disagree. They believe so strongly in micro-climates and site specific growing areas that they designed the greatest ever wine map of their vineyard holdings and hung it in the tasting room for all to see. “Seneca Lake is the conduit between the sun and soil, giving its blessing and transforming the land fortunate enough to be near it to become terroir.” Wiemer has set the modern era bar for excellence and international approval in the Finger Lakes. Their Riesling speaks of the soil, shale and bedrock below, their facility of grace, elegance and architectural fine lines. Sustainability and biodynamic practices are more than buzz words. I’ve never seen so many ‘regulars’ paying a visit to say hello, taste through the portfolio and walk away with so much product. Wiemer has it figured out – their finger is pointed directly upon the pulse of the lakes. Co-owner Oskar Bynke lead me through the distinguished line-up.

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard wine map

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard wine map

Rosé Cuvée NV ($12.50) argues old-school values by blending vintages and does so in sheer modernity from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and a quick date with Chardonnay. Suggests a dry, southern French attitude.  87

Dry Riesling 2012 ($18.50) seems near-Kabinett to nose but is really what Oskar calls “Trocken Spätlese,” or dry, late-harvest. A smack dosage of tree fruit in hyper-ripe tone gets upside and personal with your sense of smell. Terrific entry into the world of Wiemer Riesling.  89

Riesling Reserve 2012 (not yet released) tasted from a tank sample increases in viscous velocity and fueled tension. With this one “I think it’s gonna be a long, long, time ’til touchdown brings me ’round again to find” the reserve ready to offer Riesling gratification. In terms of this grape, in this part of the world, this one’s a rocket man90-91

Dry Riesling Magdalena Vineyard 2012 (not yet released) from tank ramps up the citrus and petrol and at an increased level of concentration. Magdalena comes from a more Northern site, away from the sheltered warmth of the lake. Cooler in dimension, not unlike the laser-pitch of Beamsville’s Thirty Bench Steelpost. This is dazzling juice, with diamond clarity and pure, cool-climate fruit.  91-92

Semi-Dry Riesling 2012 ($17.00) summers in warmer climes, snacks on ripe, tropical fruit and lays down for a siesta. Closest of the line-up to a true Mosel Kabinett, minus the slate, mineral and flint. Flirty and foxy, “a cute little heartbreaker.” Lady of the house.  88

Hermann J. Wiemer wines, from left: Dry Riesling 2012, Gewürztraminer 2012, Cuvée Brut 2006, Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009, Bunch Select Late Harvest Riesling (TBA) 2008

Hermann J. Wiemer wines, from left: Dry Riesling 2012, Gewürztraminer 2012, Cuvée Brut 2006, Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009, Bunch Select Late Harvest Riesling (TBA) 2008

Late Harvest Riesling 2012 ($24.50) emulates the Spätlese thematic and unlike its Ontario counterparts is really not like dessert wine at all. Has enough atomic weight to match food of spice and capsicum-laced ethnicity while still remaining earthbound. A honeyed accent speaks for the bees. Delicate and floral on the lighter (5.6 per cent alcohol) side of vinous life.  90

Gewürztraminer 2012 ($25.00) from the oldest plantings in the region is as good as it gets in North America. No, really. This is the best expression to date. Impeccable balance, nary a bitter note and all the varietal components are there. Rosewater, South-Asian tree fruit, almond blossom, citrus and density. Dry and dewy. Delish.  91

Cuvée Brut 2006 ($32.00) disgorged in 2013 is tightly wound around itself, magnetic, animated, indefatigable bubbles. Yeasty bread speaks of the Champenoise, as does the arid Tarlant Zero tart apple style. Good fizz.  90

Cabernet Franc 2010 ($23.00) spends time in neutral barrels so a scant trace of vanilla succumbs to ripe cranberry, red rose and July Chemung cherries. Peppery without ringing a bell and current but not tart currant. For pleasure in the here and now.  88

Cabernet Franc Reserve 2010 ($28.00) deepens the focus. Fermented in individual 100 gallon lots and aged for 10 months in new and older French oak barrels. More bite, grit and conversation here. “The average man don’t like trouble and danger,” but I’ll chew on this CF any day.  A Huckleberry Finn to the normale‘s Tom Sawyer.  90

Bunch Select Late Harvest Riesling (TBA) 2008 ($95.00, 375 mL) does German Trockenbeerenauslese like no one else on this side of the pond. As a dessert wine it walks that fine sugary line, refusing to sacrifice acidity for love. An expertly extracted and refined sweety that holds “the ends out for the tie that binds.”  Just a drop will do you.  Cash money.  93

Shaw Vineyard

Himrod, NY, http://shawvineyard.com/

Steve Shaw has been involved in Finger Lakes viticulture for 40 years. In appearance, he and his winery seem the antithesis of their state-of-the-art brethren down the road. But don’t be fooled by appearances. Serious winemaking and an experimental scientist’s work is at hand. Shaw is part J. L. Groux (Stratus Vineyards), Arlo Guthrie and Jim Clendenan. His wines currently on the market have been aged low and slow. “I know we are a little off the radar compared to other Finger Lakes wineries, but we kind of like it like that” he says. “We are working hard to offer a nice line up of aged and age worthy wines for the wine drinkers that want something a little different.” Shaw chooses not to focus on the over-discussed. He is unconcerned with disingenuous wine speak. He needs not linger over the merits of indigenous yeasts and pseudo bio-dynamics. He avoids bâtonnage, is frank about the necessity of sulphuring and concerning a winemaker’s duty to resist overburdening wine with heavy oak distraction. His reds reach healthy brix levels and they are encouraged to speak their mind. They are pure expressions of Seneca and Keuka Lake grapes and are truly made in the vineyard. He notes, “our unique approach to wine making uses gentle extraction methods with both our red and white wines.”

Kubota

PHOTO: Shaw Vineyards
Kubota

Chardonnay 2005 ($15.00) was whole cluster pressed and barrel aged in (two to three year-old) French oak for approximately 24 months. Reminiscent of older Chablis, in green apple, citrus and ever so slightly blooming cheese.  Lithe and ready to desist. Catch a Lake Trout, grill and match.  87

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($19.00) was hand-picked at optimal varietal ripeness and flavor, whole cluster pressed and shocked with an initial cold ferment. Shaw then went Dr. Frankenstein on his juice by choosing to leave it on the fine lees for over one year to help develop complexity and mouthfeel. Singular to itself, incomparable to Loire, Marlborough or Stellenbosch for that matter. Possessed of a perfume, like honey-fragrant dogwoods, like marshy white cranberry. “Nothing in the world smells like this” SB. “Smells like, victory.”  90

Riesling 2008 ($17.00) developed some Botrytis (noble rot), was whole cluster pressed, cool fermented,  properly sulphured and left on fine lees for 36 months. Riesling vinified by a rogue master’s attitude. Exculpates sweetness and humidity, turns arid and is metered by citrus cohones and prickly petrol. Crazy cool.  91

LiBella Pinot Grigio NV ($15.00) blends the cool ferments of 2011 (60 per cent) and 2012 (40) and also receives the Shaw proprietary lengthy 12-24 months of fine lees contact. Similar in aromatic profile to the Chardonnay but with a richer palate. Certainly not your Alto Adige PG, nor Veneto neither. All Finger Lakes.  85

Pinot Noir Reserve 2008 ($30.00) was unfiltered, unfined and subjected to a lengthy cold soak. Whole berry fermentation, repeated punch downs and gentle, low pressure pressing has allowed for what Shaw sees as a “fuller, more complex flavor and surprising aromatics.” Spent 36 months in French oak searching for and discovering the holy trinity balance between alcohol, fruit and acidity.  89

Keuka Hill Reserve 2007 ($30.00) looks to the Gironde with 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 Cabernet Franc and 30 Merlot. Deft and coddling vinification processes were employed as they are with all of Shaw’s reds. A lengthy 48 months in French oak barrels has done the tannin softening and perfused this Bordeaux blend with a complex, Old World style. A glass of warming, resolved and velvety carmine ink.  91

Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($35.00) saw very similar treatment and also spent 48 months in primarily French oak barrels but also some Pennsylvania oak, resulting in already soft tannins and subtle aromatics. Another one of Shaw’s gracefully-aged experiments “more interested in laying up the riches of the mind” than burdening the taster with mocha jam and crème anglaise.  89

Cabernet Franc 2007 ($35.00) slumbered cryogenically for 48 months in primarily French and with some American oak. The variety’s kinship with the climate and a winemaker’s keen understanding of crop reduction makes for a more aromatically profuse wine and so I prefer it over the Cabernet Sauvignon. Avoids the grape’s natural vegetative tendency and finds natural balance. Has retained more bite and looks to have plenty of life ahead.  90

Shaw Vineyard Riesling 2008

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Shaw Vineyard Riesling 2008

Good to go!

Great wines are sometimes found online

Laurent Fievet, AFP/Getty Images

Reporting from Eastern Long Island, a strikingly beautiful stretch of land divided by its two forks. Over the next few days I will be tasting North Fork Merlot and Riesling, South Fork Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. This fledgling wine industry is not unlike our own back in Niagara and Prince Edward County, full of promise and local affordability. Together we share a passion for wine that is free to those who can afford it, in opposition to what is very expensive to those who can’t.

I rarely get excited by the online shopping experience but sometimes you just have to call a gem a gem. The frivolity of spending bravely on wine repays in the memories the future holds. Besides, “we just ran out of wine. What are we gonna do about it?”

VINTAGES Shop Online

The grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon

The history: The synergy of these white varietals in Bordeaux is the cat’s pee and meow. The west finesse of Pessac Léognan is best.

The lowdown: Others intimate a zeitgeist of dry, white hedonism but few succeed. Haut-Brion, Smith Haut-Lafite and Chevalier are three of the best.

The food match: The best Porchetta sandwich money can buy

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

The grape: Merlot

The history: Few Napa Valley vineyards take Right Bank Bordeaux to the Greek like this iconic outfit

The lowdown: First appearance in Ontario by one of California’s legends

The food match: Grilled Beef Ribs with a Tomato and Agave Glaze

Plumpjack Merlot 2009 (296491, $72.95) is an eponymous ace of base and is all that Napa Merlot should be. “Beware of that is flashing in her eyes. She’s going to get you.” Takes me to the pilot, beauteous of chocolate “like a coin in your mint,” gob-stopping red fruit and an acumen of alchemic spicing. Steely and replays the deep, oaky fruit on the palate. ” You go back, Jack, do it again. ”  93

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc

The histoty: Perhaps the most affordable classified Bordeaux on the market today

The lowdown: This Chateau over delivers and never gouges its customers. Kudos to the LCBO for this perrenial bone toss our way. Treat yourself

The food match: Fresh Brisket and Flat Iron Hamburgers with Thick-Cut Bacon

Château Ferrière 2008 (229567, $44.00) may be a wine whose lot is to be grouped in serried ranks but I find a unique presence in its mineral expressive, espressoness. The Margaux perfume is there, along with a hint of blueberry blossom and pine straw.  Can’t help but reach a modest degree of approximation to the full complexity of it’s Gallic, articulated language.  90

Good to go!

Tasting through Portugal and the VINTAGES May 26th Release

Portuguese Corks

Three thematic release posts done, canada.com1, canada.com2, canada.com3, 16 more tasting notes to go. Shout out to Anne Yarymowich and Annick Le Goaix for some splendid Portuguese gastronomy last week at the AGO’s Wines of Portugal tasting. Read it at canada.com.

Anne Yarymovich. Credit: Dany Le Goaix

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quinta do Infantado Red 2009 (95158, $21.95) was the best Portuguese wine I tasted. João Roseira uses no yeasts, no additives, just grapes fermenting and developing by themselves. This is wine truly made in the vineyard. Balance in every facet. Smokey, meaty and fat for a three Tinto Douro, the Infantado offers up the greatest of simple pleasures.  89

Wines of Portugal Tasting. Credit: Dany Le Goaix

Lingenfelder Freinsheimer Musikantelbuckel Riesling Kabinett 2010 (87593, $17.95) wins the award for longest label. Ciders with pretty, apple effervescence and Vidal-esque hairspray viscosity but ultimately buckles under its own weight. Sad to see it leaving sa-soon.  85

Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (229856, $99.95) would have been a beastly treat if it were not corked.  NR

Ridge Monte Bello 2009 (711085, $145.95) is a wow wine. Deep, deep purple. Thick, oily extract of red bark and sugary berries baked in a pie. Offers crazy love and goes the full monte. “I can hear her heartbeat for a thousand miles.” Strikes fear and loathing in Wineontarians in need of a price kvetch. Get over it. Good wine is expensive. Ciao Bello!  93

Rubicon Estate Cask Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (29553, $74,95) dry rubs its sweetheart of the rodeo nose with brown sugar, thyme, sage, molido, ancho and fleur de sel. There are more ingredients but if we revealed them we’d have to kill you. Country Rock Cabernet. You don’t miss your water when killing this. This Cask cries out for flesh.  90

Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (280107, $24.95) the creamy vanilla shaken, not stirred Cab. Good structure and backbone if not a whole lotta linear, skyscraping action.  87

Urraca Cabernet Sauvignion 2008 (271080, $19.95) of Agrelo identifies with Provence. Mired in the weeds of dill, borage and thistle. Further herbal notes of tarragon along with olives and tobacco. So much savoury.  85

Barossa Valley Estate Ebenezer Shiraz 2006 (971705, $39.95) is bold, beefy and blasted from blown speakers. The new pornography in Aussie Shiraz, impressive for its place and will show some balance 10 years on. Certainly no Scrooge and generous with matters of fruit and heart. “A lot of oyster but no pearls.” Will get you through a long December.  92

Tait The Ball Buster Red 2009 (269472, $24.95) is a bitch. Tart and flavoured by sun-kissed berries, jawbreaker and gobstopper. Dense and concentrated, “stone cold sober as a matter of fact.”  88

Astrolabe Voyage Pinot Noir 2009 (179200, $24.95) trips the tongue, grips the mouth and sends them spiralling into space. Expressive of vanilla and baking spices. Big tannins for Marlborough Pinot. Needs a little spirit of the west and to “go home for a rest.”  86

Sequillo Cellars Red 2009 (277996, $29.95) ankles along a rocky Swartland road. Hard lines make this ambitious South African seem Mourvedre dominated.  86

Momessin Les Griottes Morgon 2010 (276402, $17.95) casts a lovely opaque, red lollipop hue. Bitter tar, griottes and sherry join red apple in this darling Gamay. “Let there be sunlight, let there be rain,” drink this Beaujolais off and on again.  87

Chateau Pipeau 2008 (138131, $29.00) always offers great Bordeaux value but this bottle is flawed. Smells like merde NR

Di Majo Norante Ramitello 2009 (973214, $15.95) steps right up to the IVR* plate and antes up mezzogiorno shun with liturgical love. Sun melted licorice and grilling scents meet juicy acidity, finesse and restrained power. Molto bene89

Coto De Imaz Gran Reserva 2001 (976811, $29.95) is highly concentrated for Rioja, especially at 11 years old. Tempting leafy aromas as of tobacco and tumbling like a Billy Tallent riff.  Or is that just my Imaz-ination, “running away with me.”  88

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2011 (224964, $12.95) offers up strawberry, rhubarb and cream with a savoury accent. Subtle pale, pink, see-through hue and warming humidity. Great value here. Rosie you’re all right. “Looks like it’s me and you again tonight.”  88

Good to go!

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-To-Value Ratio

CVR** – Vintage Direct Curiosity-To-Value Ratio