Tasting Ontario Part Five: Varietal Whites and Appellative Blends

There were 33 medals handed out to White Blends at the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada; seven Golds, 17 Silvers and nine Bronze. Quietly, stealthily and without great fanfare the strength of the white blend category has taken NWAC18 by storm. The quality of the wines entered has never been higher, visibly and notably spread across the country. The time has come to establish party lines, to create truly parochial white appellative blends under appropriately chosen names. Nova Scotia has long been there with their apt-scripted Tidal Bay. Ontario and British Columbia should heed the economic and marketing success enjoyed by their maritime cousins and join the appellative party.

Related – Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals): Best of Blends: Red, White and Tidal Bay

The French regions of Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley are clearly the benchmarks and the inspiration for Canadian-made emulative examples, first from a sauvignon blanc-sémillon connection and then with blends that make use of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. A testament to expatriate excellence is noted in the seven overall Gold Medals in this year’s judging and no less than six others finishing at high Silver status on the cusp of Gold. I for one awarded five 90-plus scores to wines I clearly deemed worthy of such accolade and esteem.

It is interesting to note that White Blends centred by sauvignon blanc in the Okanagan Valley rely on much higher percentages of sémillon than their counterparts in Ontario. The simplest explanation tells us that the grape variety has trouble surviving harsh Ontario winters, especially when we look back at 2015 and 2016 when much of the province’s vines were killed by sub-25 degree temperatures. But it’s more than that. In B.C. sauvignon blanc can get pretty ripe, tropical and zaftig so it is sémillon that helps to mitigate, temper, inject a flinty-smoky-mineral streak and ultimately bring balance to the relationship.

There was a time not too long ago when after the best juice was chosen for varietal wines producers then needed to find a way to use up the dregs of their white ferments. White blends came about out of economic necessity, but like Rosé production in this country so many are now produced with a purpose. As a farmer, if you know specific blocks of sauvignon blanc are destined to join with other plots of sémillon you’re going to prune, pluck, green harvest and ultimately pick in very specific ways. Appellative blends have become a year round occupation. That much is clear.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Four: Gamay

The top scorers at this year’s Nationals have been awarded to seriously and thoughtfully crafted wines. The winners are not entry-level, introductory products at the lower or lowest common denominational levels. They are not simple aromatic blends of vague fruit and sweet impression, in fact many are graced by beneficial and forward thinking structure. The future certainly looks white blend bright. Here are 36 recently tasted Ontario varietal whites and appellative white blends.

Summer spread

Sprucewood Shores Pinot Grigio 2017, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (426577, $14.95, WineAlign)

Just a hint of contact it would seem, leading to a not so obvious result in platinum gold hue but more so into the floral nature of its aromatics. Some sweet melon and pear fruit with good concentration and equal if necessary acidity. Can certainly drink a glass of this. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  sprucewoodshores  @SprucewoodWine  @SprucewoodShores

Château Des Charmes Aligoté 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Château des Charmes self-proclaimed “pinot grigio” alternative was never more truthfully written than in reference to this 2017 aligoté. Screwy wet summer merging into crazy hot autumn weather made for one of the latest harvest dates in the estate on the York Road in St. Davids storied history. The rare Niagara Peninsula varietal vines are planted primarily at St. David’s Bench and Paul Bosc Estate vineyards but more are going in, surely out of testimony to the sales of this more than apropos local grape. Surely no one knows aligoté like the Bosc family and yet even they could not have seen this peachy, melony, fleshy and ripe one coming. It’s like a hyperbole of Val do Salnés in Rias Baixas albariño, crisp, aromatic and marched along by natural acidity. It seems sweet but trust me it’s not. It’s the long-hung, fully phenolic fruit and higher pH talking. This is not your average Bourgogne aligoté, searing, taut and intense. It’s a departure for the house but if it could always be made this way I think they would gladly go for the style. Waxy finish too, bringing an added note of complexity. Very cool. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Nyarai Cellars Pinot Gris 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.95, WineAlign)

This is quite a striking, rich, creamy and yogurt-leesy, a.k.a. Loire chenin blanc, fixedly in the guise of pinot gris. More skin contact then some plus so much yeasty texture combine to make for the fullest of an Ontario gris expression. This is the sort of feeling that normally comes from multi-varietal, dry white appellative Niagara blends but in a solo pinot gris it’s nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  #nyaraicellars  @NyaraiCellars  Nyarai Cellars

Tawse Winery Pinot Gris Redfoot Vineyard 2017, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

From out of the dense Lincoln Lakeshore clay comes this flush and luxurious pinot gris, literally rolling in it. It makes for a highly aromatic take on the grape, all in for gris and not to be confused with lighter, less meaningful grigio. The Redfoot Vineyard is clearly earmarked for such a purposed way of interpretation and though the clays of the double L sub-appellation are best with syrah and cabernet franc there can’t be any reason not to allot 10-15 per cent of acreage to white plantings. In the hands of Paul Pender it seems obvious that pinot gris is the one. This dry take is just about perfectly right, with citrus and wet stone hanging around the fruit. Leaner might be more suitable but ultimately it’s balance that is most important for this rich fruit raised by the pottery soil. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted June 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

G.Marquis Sauvignon Blanc The Red Line 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $13.95, WineAlign)

Big love, big fruit, all about texture and juicy fruit on the palate but with some fine, wound acidity. Excellent. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   g.marquisvineyards  @GMarquisWines  @G.MarquisVineyards

North 42 Degrees Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc North 43 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (547836, $14.95, WineAlign)

Quite the character this North 43/North 42 degrees sauvignon blanc, fruit amassed on the nose, from canteloupe to underripe passion fruit with a wet, coppery alloy build that translates across latitudinal lines onto the palate. The metallic flavours are undercut by an herbal tonic with a spoonful of tinned fruit cup. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  north42wines  @StratusWines  North 42 Degrees Estate Winery & Bistro 42  @north42degrees

Château Des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $15.95, WineAlign)

Interesting take, quite a mineral salt wiring through the green apple fruit, here some feel of barrel but not the malo-creamy effect created. Goes quite juicy and crunchy without resorting to tart. A bit more acid intensity would have sealed the deal. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Lakeview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (483958, $17.95, WineAlign)

An interesting sauvignon blanc for the Peninsula because the pungency is quite Marlborough but the relaxed state and relative weight is all Niagara. Very easy drinking as far as SB is concerned with notable extraction and a green streak, herbal mostly, running through. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Kacaba Susan’s Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $17.95, WineAlign)

Quietude in such a lovely way, mineral meets orange blossom, soft and amenable through the middle, quiet and mellow, fades off slowly, into the sauvignon blanc sunset. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kacabavineyards  @KacabaVineyards  Kacaba Vineyards and Winery

Stratus Wildass Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (376814, $18.95, WineAlign)

t’s more Stratus than sauvignon blanc, even by regional varietal standards, whatever that is, due to the ripe flavours and long-developed phenolic ripeness. Ultimately it is the quotient of a cup of fruit cocktail and an energy level that serves to encourage a sitting back with a glass in meditative state more than a mind stimulated to invigorate. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Organized Crime Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (396275, $18.95, WineAlign)

Sometimes sauvignon blanc goes tropical and green at the same time, or at least it is the two poles by picked grapes that combine for such a layering. Citrus and bitters mix into the two sides and all the components walk along, separate and alone together, without making any real contact. Maybe a year will tie the room but the acidity is low so waiting is a counterintuitive idea. Drink 2018.  Tasted April 2018  organizedcrimewinery  Organized Crime Winery

Henry Of Pelham Fumé Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (444268, $19.95, WineAlign)

With a wink and a nod to Mondavi this lays the lumber in smoulder upon sauvignon blanc with just a wisp, like cold smoking salmon so that it breathes cool and mentholated, without char and a real smoky feeling. The fruit is light and even a bit precious, the weight quite lithe and the overall notation one of gentle demure. You have to appreciate the deft, slight of winemaking hand approach. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham  Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery

Meldville Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Derek Barnett’s sauvignon blanc may be the fleshiest of the Ontario lot, ripe, tropical and impressively coaxed from off the vine. The phenolic aggregate is a 2016 triumph even while it dances a funky step into botrytis-like rhythms. Notes here and there of herbs and tonics add to the mystique and the rapport. So bloody interesting, singular and meditative for the grape. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.20, WineAlign)

Massively fruit aromatic sauvignon blanc, all gathered in a tin cup found in the exotics isle. Juicy melon meets passion fruit and so much more in between, then with a side of metalloid. Raps so commercially viable and succesful it hurts my ears and my eyes. “Any awards show or party I’ll get fly for it, I know that it’s coming I just hope I’m alive for it…I just wanna be, I just wanna be.” Remarkable success for sauvignon blanc, in Ontario. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   pellerwines  @PellerVQA  @PellerEstates

Redstone Sauvignon Blanc Limestone Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $23.15, WineAlign)

There isn’t a ton of sauvignon blanc grown up on the Limestone Ridge but as a top level Twenty Mile Bench riesling terroir it changes the varietal course with considerable concern. As far as it goes this is quite an alloy challenged, mineralized expression, not quite flinty but certainly feeling like a mouthful of richly compressed, calcareous stones. The fruit is so anti-tropical it’s almost reductive and most certainly draws its tang from the soil. Such a curious sauvignon blanc with almost no frame of reference, save for a moment to consider Sancerre, but yet another successful effort from winemaker Rene Van Ede. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Traynor Sauvignon Blanc 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Reductive, not flinty or smoky, but reductive. This carries the gooseberry-passion fruit suitcase of fruit. I like the fruit-acid balance and the way it delivers semblances of tart and tangy. Really nicely judged wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   traynorvineyard  @TraynorVineyard  @traynorfamilyvineyard

Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc Rosomel Vineyard 2016, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68825, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard gains another year, the farming and winemaking too and so fumé blanc out of Rosomel gets better, as things often do with age and wisdom. ’Twas a great year for growing grapes on this amphitheatre of a vineyard block up on the Bench and no love lost for sauvignon blanc neither. There is tension, wound intensity and fierce competitiveness in the ’16, perhaps the most Sancerre and least Pouilly-Fumé it has ever been and so the declaration leans to saying it is “a mineral year.” Nothing against the fruit because the personality cult of lean, crisp and crunchy is in full order, though each sip after sip speaks in those Sancerre or Chablis by way of Saint Bris terms. Stellar, as always, in continuance, moving towards the best it can be. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2016, Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Quite flinty, barrel-aged sauvignon blanc, buttery nearly, banana and cantaloupe. So much fruit along with the toasty-creamy barrel. Almost perfectly in balance but it’s wildness and sweet-yeasty lees cumulative turns to a bit of caramel and only accentuates the vanilla. A really cool take on the grape with exceptionally developed flavours. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   triuswines  @TriusWines  @TriusWines

Not all screw cap closures are created equal

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.00, WineAlign)

Excessive tightness of screw caps does not allow any kept reduction to blow off so winemaker Adam Pearce closed here with a screw cap threading just a bit less rigid. A fine detail but an important one and the only wine to receive this attention, so just a minute amount of oxygen transfer can occur. Just released 11 days ago. The big change is now a fruit vineyard blend that is 70 per cent Four Mile Creek and (30) Twenty Mile Bench. From a cool, wet and rainy season so really it’s all about the grower in a vintage where the varietal struggled with mould and mildew. Eight per cent barrel ferment was used to augment the leanness, for body and peace of mind. A bit reductive and tight with good acid structure to the peach-yellow-plum-kumquat fruit. Good linger. Delicious. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted July 2018    twosisters_vineyards  @TwoSisters_wine  Two Sisters Vineyards

Fielding Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146753, $19.95, WineAlign)

Fielding’s pays respect to how gewürztraminer has to be made in Ontario with a fleshy, off-dry style though making sure to counterbalance with a fine dose of acidity. From dosage to dose it dances the do-si-so with high quality peach-litchi fruit and grapefruit acidity. If you’re in need of a white to compliment some high-octane, multi-seasoned and possibly spicy food, Fielding’s is textbook and will do the work. It’s a gewürztraminer you can trust. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted January 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery

Redstone Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A sip sends a warm shiver through from a simple off-dry gewüztraminer attack more flat than round earth, trying hard to stay on the dry though the bitters and creamy fruit deliver more sweetness than what might have been intended. Some skin contact deals peach skin and those bitters while the acidity quietly abides. It’s nearly, almost and close to cloying by honey mixed in concentrate with a note of alkali. Everything lingers. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education.

Trail Estate Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Few winemakers in Ontario are as curious, aloof and serious about making gewürztraminer like this,”looking through that window, into the delicate place.” The changing of mind is so important during the process because it shows an understanding of both mistake and possibility. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a spoon of Niagara Lakeview fruit (Glen Elgin/Wismer farmed), puts it through a whole cluster press, a fermentation in old oak and then wait a minute. An about face transfer to stainless steel tank (just after a few days) because it is too reductive, but then sends it back to old wood where it remains for about nine months. Bottles back in September of 2017. The result is a gewürz that finishes dry (under 3 g/L) so delicate for a customer’s palate, with lots of lemon and lime but never searing, perfect for cold smoked or tataki prepared salmon. Bitter pith note but it dissipates, as does the acidity so keep in mind this is floral and fine. “The delicate place. The questions it raise. The delicate place yeah.” Enjoy it now and gimme fiction. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Skin Contact Gewürztraminer 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

The 2016 gewürztraminer fruit is from the Werscht’s (Between the Lines) Niagara farm, super ripe at 24 brix and aromatics on steroids. It clocks in at a healthy 13.5 alcohol, after 13 days on skins and beyond. Close your eyes and the warm pungency will simulate a sensory experience, like standing inside the butterfly conservatory, with all the dessicating fruit, secretions and balmy, humid aromas wafting around. Or maybe even more exotic, like walking past stalls in a south asian market, with fruits cut open so you can see what they are, mangoseteen, marquesa, jackfruit and durian. There is great fun to be had in acidity and spice. Lush, floral and nicely funky. By now an understanding and a level of maturity to think on is as a classic Brisbois white. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Malivoire Viognier Stouck Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Agent, $24.25, WineAlign)

From vines planted in 2010 the magic of excitable youth with just a hint of maturity has brought this block of the terrific Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard to this vintage. Warmth and ultimately ripeness have released the aromatic blessedness of viognier, which along with an unpurposed number of residual sugar will allow this to gain some further complexity with age. May just be the most varietal viognier ever produced out of Niagara but it’s obviousness as a regional example can’t be denied. It exudes confidence without even trying, is naturally oily and grippy because its acidity matches the high notes. It’s a touch boozy at 13.5 alcohol, at times metallic and at others, tropical, because that’s what viognier wants to be. It’s just a terrific effort from winemakers Shiraz Mottiar and Dan Stouck. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Lakeview Cellars Viognier 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Pretty tart stuff from the get go, full of tangerine and beautifully dry. Gently pressed and kept in spirit high through the use of stainless steel tanks. Quite floral, not potpourri mind you but a fresh blossoming breath of a bouquet. Simple viognier, effectively executed and perfectly correct. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  lakeviewwineco  @LakeviewWineCo  @LakeviewWineCo

Redstone Viognier Redfoot Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

The barrel is a big time influence here, offering a combination of creamy vanilla and yet some reduction. There must be some lush viognier fruit back there somewhere but the wood is really in control. Subtle hints of varietal florals, far eastern fruit and spice linger behind the veil. Tasted blind it is the creamy texture and vanilla that makes cause for it to be considered so much like California chardonnay. Good acidity however rescues and thinks about the future. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted twice, June 2018 and then blind at NWAC18, June 2018  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Calamus Estate Winery White Night 2014, VQA Ontario (484014, $13.95, WineAlign)

A very good use of vidal (85 per cent) gets an apple jolt from chardonnay in this very peach and grapefruit oriented white. It’s like fruit cocktail in a glass but drier than off-dry and quite savoury. Stage right spicy too, like clove and capsicum, in a way akin to Kiwi sauvignon blanc but in the end it’s white appellative blend in hybrid dominance, running all the way. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted January 2017  #calamuswinery  @calamuswinery  Calamus Estate Winery

Featherstone Four Feathers 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341586, $14.95, WineAlign)

Varietal birds of four feathers (riesling, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc) flock together for a wild ride in aromatics, texture, tang and acidity. Here a notable waxiness from the gewürztraminer does oily, glück potpourri with outgoing nature and a sweet meets sour set of flavours. Runs from orchard fruit with bite into the tropical and then some bitters. Nothing simple and quite stirred. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

13th Street White Palette 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (207340, $15.95, WineAlign)

White Palette is at the top of its hyperbole game in 2016 with a light’s glare flooding a room of high aromatic and flavour intensity. Glade, polish, wax and major citrus all max factor the scents and smells. Lemon and caramel well through the palate and funky emissions deal in Peninsula clay with obvious earth. It’s a case of the curious and not fully expected in 2016. Worth a look nevertheless, with fresh seafood off the coals. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  13th Street Winery

Rockway Vineyards Chardonnay/Riesling 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (545905, $16.95, WineAlign)

The varietal get together is both convenient and seamless, in delivery of a cool climate nose and a ripeness to imagine a warmer climate palate. It’s layering is one stacked by alternating textures and walks straight ahead, simple and for the sake of nothing, but for to enjoy.  Drink 2018-2020. Tasted April 2018  rockwayvineyards  @RockwayVineyard  Rockway Vineyards

The Hare Wine Company Crown Land White 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The blend of 60 per cent gewürztraminer and (40) riesling is a lovely mix of lemon, apricot and mild barrel notes. It’s a pithy affair, mildly battered and of a soft demeanour. Fresh with fruit skin scents, a passion fruit tang and acidity that’s pretty darn close to spot on. Chewy texture, finishing strong and long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  theharewineco  @TheHareWineCo  The Hare Wine Co.

Kew Vineyard Estate Marsanne 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The dominant marsanne (90 per cent) is joined seamlessly by viognier in a white blend rich with barrel notes, nutty and toasty. Perhaps a touch less interesting on the palate but it’s welling with presence and persistence. Metallic and effective, with great finishing bitters. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  kewvineyards  @kewvineyards  @kewvineyard

Tasting at Pearl Morissette, July 2017

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Cuvée Blu is an appellative blend like no other, amphora fermented, 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay, with pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc. The group spent three and a half (no, not a typo) months on skins, pressed and aged in foudres. I taste this and self-reflected that I would need to taste this once a day for two weeks to wrap brain, heart and imagination around its mythology. I’d also need to understand how it pushed further then just about anything and to see what would happpen, over and over, again and again, each time anew. You can drink this immediately or anytime over the next six years. What’s the difference? How can you know what to do? Self-described by the PM team as “a chameleon charmer and a poem built from the taste of colours.” Memories of a 2017 summer recall the whimsy of hues. “Yellow, orange,” smiled Svetlana Atcheva, “it might as well be blue!” Drink 2018-2024. Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Southbrook Vidal Skin Fermented White 2016, Small Lot Natural Wine, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and February 2018 southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @SouthbrookWine  @TheLivingVine  Southbrook Vineyards  The Living Vine inc.

Stratus Vineyards Stratus White 2014, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20, WineAlign)

White assemblage under the Stratus label is not like spinning a single record, it’s like Rock ‘n Roll radio. Opening a bottle brings great excitement and anticipation, with a sense of wonder. What songs am I going to hear or more to the point, which grape varieties am I going to taste, in which percentages and in what order? In 2014 it’s a medley of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, sémillon and gewürztraminer. The blend spent 21 months in (15 per cent) new oak. The fruits are varied and each one (or mélange of several) represented a hit in their own right. Tutti frutti, orange blossom special, little green apples, the lemon song, kiwi, peach, tangerine and forbidden fruit. In the end I heard it through the grapevine, by way of a conduit provided by great and necessary acidity. A top quality Stratus White, worthy of repeat plays. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted twice, May and June 2018    stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

It’s primarily sauvignon blanc (94 per cent) but don’t discount the effect created by sémillon. This is a really lovely barrel fermented stroll through a fresh morning glade, with ripe fruit everywhere and a perfectly pointed and lifted flinty nose. A bit reductive and fresh, as it should and absolutely must be, with hints of vanilla and caramel. Quite ambitious and serious with a focus and a precision that speaks to the acumen of a specific cru that in the end, instructs for sauvignon blanc meets sémillon education. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018    hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Good to Go!

Godello

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Tasting Ontario Part One: Riesling

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Riesling is again on the rise and the reasons why are as varied as the artistry it’s equipped to display. It has been 40 years since the Pennachetti family of Cave Spring Vineyard and German vintner Herman Weis planted riesling in St. Urban Vineyard on what is now Vineland Estates. My how things have changed. The trending line ascends as the general public comes around and warms to the versatile grape so popularity is not just in the hands of geeks, oenophiles and connoisseurs. Ask your favourite sommelier, product consultant or wine writer. Riesling’s neighbourhood is beginning to gentrify in a big way but it’s also expanding experimental and ancestral horizons. It will always be just riesling but today’s varietal vernacular goes beyond dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, Süssreserve, late harvest and Icewine to now include skin-contact, barrel fermented, unfiltered, wild ferment, Blackball and The Geek.

A few weeks back I attended my 7th Cuvée in Niagara Falls to celebrate the next chapter with and for our wine industry, fresh on the heels of the 2018 Tasted Untamed edition of Taste Ontario in Toronto. Just a month before I rambled through the Niagara Icewine Festival in Jordan and the Icewine Gala in Niagara Falls. It was at the Icewine Gala where we watched and listened in on a great tribute to Ontario’s iconic pioneer, Karl Kaiser. We owe so much to Mr. Kaiser with respect to everything Icewine but also to how far we have come in terms of riesling.

A lovely tribute to #karlkaiser tonight at #icewinefestival gala

Just two weeks ago in Toronto we tasted the current offering of Prince Edward County wines at Taste of the County. Today we will immerse ourselves into the culture of global food and local wine at the Terroir Symposium and on Tuesday the Wine Council of Ontario will hold its first annual Ontario Craft Wine Conference. It has been a very saturated and intensive start to 2018, something that must be attributed to the maturity, confidence, preparedness and excitement of and towards Ontario wine.

My personal opportunities to taste wines from the Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore and Ontario’s South Coast have been many. Before too long there will be greater access to the wines of emerging regions like the Oak Ridges Moraine, Georgian Bay the Northumberland Hills. Prior to 2017 I used this wine processing platform of godello.ca as a vehicle to review and discuss Ontario wines with much greater frequency but circumstances have changed. My work with Italian and French wine regions, most notably Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Bourgogne have occupied a great deal of my time. So has tasting and reviewing many potential submissions for the WineAlign exchange and acting as a consistent contributor to the WineAlign Buyers’ Guides to the VINTAGES releases.  I 2017 I ceased publishing my bi-weekly tasting notes because it’s important that readers check them out on WineAlign. All this as added up to less constant coverage of Ontario wines on the site.

And a few of my favourite wine writers. Thx for coming to #cuvee2018 #vqawinesofontario

That is why I’ve decided to post a series of articles over the next few weeks solely dedicated to Ontario wine and I’m going to split them up by grape varieties, beginning today with Ontario’s great white hope, riesling. I’ve written about the grape many times before and my belief in its varietal power, finesse and omniscient existentialism for a signature and singular Ontario purpose is perpetual and unwavering. This work is possible because of the organizations and the people behind them who make it all possible. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, The Wine Council of Ontario and VQA Ontario are a triple-edged force that keep our wines flowing. Thank you to Richard Linley, President of WCO, Magdalena Kaiser, Head of Marketing and Public Relations for WMAO, Brian Schmidt and Laurie Macdonald, President and Executive Director respectively of VQA. The Icewine Festival Gala and Cuvée are not possible without the work of Fallsview Casino, Scotiabank Convention Centre and of course Brock University. Gala and Experts’ Tasting coordination is possible because of The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Barb Tatarnic, Manager, Wine and Sprit Education Trust and Kaitlyn Little, Marketing and Communications Officer.

Inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner and riesling maker extraordinaire, Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Cellars, with Donald Ziraldo

At Cuvée, the inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner was Angelo Pavanchosen in a unanimous decision for his major contributions to the industry, his commitment to excellence and his mentorship to winemakers across Canada. Pavan, Vice-President, Winemaker and Founding Partner at Cave Spring Cellars, is known for his encyclopedic understanding of viticulture in Niagara. He was among the first in the province to work with numerous grape varieties and was a pioneer in the quest to improve wine quality and sustainability in vinifera varieties.

“It is humbling to be the first recipient of this great award,” said Pavan. “It validates the passion, time, effort and commitment of over 30 years dedicated to this great wine growing region and having participated in its evolution to international recognition.”

Pavan is also a founding member and Chair of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Standards Development Committee and has played a key role in determining the most suitable winemaking practices applicable in Ontario. As the founding Chair of the International Riesling Experience, held in conjunction with CCOVI, Pavan has also been instrumental in solidifying Niagara’s place as one of the world’s pre-eminent Riesling producing regions.

Related – Three Rieslings to believe

One of my first bold statements about Ontario riesling was this. “There are many reasons to believe in riesling, that versatile and brutally honest grape. Riesling holds no punches, speaks its mind, tells it like it is. Grown worldwide and vinified in so many varying styles, riesling is not so much a chameleon but rather a mutant. It takes root in every vineyard, marking its terroir, expressing itself singularly and without apology. Over the past two-four months I have exonerated and upheld with the highest riesling belief that (Ontario) does the variety justice above and beyond the pale, in the vineyard and in the glass. More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on (local) riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.”

Related – 100 kilometre wine for spring

And this. “Riesling. Can there be a more versatile white grape? From natural, mineral spring, bone-dry to concentrated, candied sweet, this grape runs the diversity gamut like no other. ‘The Bench’ is home to a mineral wealth of local riesling, singular in composition not only by way of a global comparison, but also from plot to plot, soil to soil and vineyard to vineyard.”

Riesling Vine

Related – Are you wine experienced?

We held a symposium at Brock University a few years back and the technical, chemical side was addressed by Cornell University Sensory Researcher Terry Acree. For riesling, Acree focuses on chemicals that correspond to the strongest identified smells, the most important and prevalent of which is TDN (Trimethyldihydronaphthalene). TDN the chemical or diesel/petrol the sensation as an “odour strength (Damascenone) as related to by human subjects.” In order for the wine taster to “experience” these sensations, two things have to be there. “Memories of different kinds of features and features themselves.” That said, Acree believes you can only smell three things at once, a notion he borrows from M.F.K. Fisher.

Acree sees odour as “an evolutionary human response to history.” If you have never come into contact with a banana, you will never smell banana in Chardonnay. TDN is the dominant aroma and where riesling grows, more sunlight means more fruit and more TDN. TDN is a precursor but its prevalence does not necessarily increase as a wine ages. A very common theme when nosing an aged Riesling is to comment on the secondary aromatic emergence of a gas or petrol note. Acree believes that identifying increased petrol notes in aged Riesling is a bit of a misnomer. It had to already be there. “I’m just inventing a new, confusing way to discuss minerality,” he concludes.

At that time Toronto wine writer Mike Di Caro and I talked about Ontario riesling and we agreed that sugar levels are both arbitrary and unpredictable so Niagara’s best is and should be of the dry variety. I don’t think that way anymore. My friend and colleague Bill Zacharkiw of the Montreal Gazette wrote this last year.”Rieslings, especially from cool climates like the Mosel in Germany and Niagara tend to have residual sugar. Don’t be scared. You know what? I love them. The sugar makes the aromatics go “boom,” while the acidity keeps the wine tasting dry.” Bill is correct and it is also those sugars that allow the wine to stay alive, age and develop those aforementioned petrol notes.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Here is how VQA chooses to define typical Ontario riesling. “Classically exhibits refreshing citrus, peach or floral aromas with a light “petrol” element and racy acidity on the palate. Made in a range of dry, off-dry and sweet styles, including Icewine. Typically not oaked but good examples will age well with the petrol nose evolving.” Many would agree but there is so much more to think about. You don’t know anything about riesling and aging until you begin tasting them at five years only know then can you begin to understand. Some examples will stay the course of pure lemon, so taut and tight, perhaps shouldn’t even be released until they are ready. The acidity might be the most unwound, with pent-up aggression, a fighter in search of balance. Not typical perhaps but very much a part of the Ontario mix.

The curious thing about Ontario riesling is how it has pushed me to wax with unlimited hyperbole, as in “to purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling” and “one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes.” For Treve Ring’s take on the great grape, head over to WineAlign for what she had to say after the 2017 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals). Treve writes,  “as our palates progress, we often shy away from these simpler, fruity styles for more structured, savoury and minerally wines, which again, brings us full circle (close the ring) back to serious and ageworthy riesling.”

Related – Moved by Riesling

I have been moved by riesling many times. In Alsace it happens every day and it has happened in Ontario, most notably after having comes across (any one of four or five) Charles Baker Picones and Emma Garner Thirty Bench Small Lots. Or in particular, Jay Johnston’s Nadja’s from Flat Rock and most notably Brian Schmidt’s Vineland Estates St. Urban. With Cave Spring it happened after tastes of Cave Spring CSV. It has happened again and again. It will continue this way.

As I mentioned, this is merely the first part in a long series of articles to come, including exposées on sparkling wines, chardonnay, other white varieties and appellative blends, gamay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, plus other reds and red blends. To begin this Ontario varietal march through spring here are 26 recently tasted riesling, plus a handful visited in 2017 yet to make it to godello print, all to give a glimpse into the portal of how far Ontario has come and to where it may be heading.

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery – March 7, 2015

Redstone Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $14.95, WineAlign)

So much lime, in flesh and zest, all over the lime map. Really juicy riesling for the cost of a song. Cool climate stamp right here; glade, citrus, wax and air up above. The palate follows, albeit thin and tinny. Ideal for current consumption though not likely made with the stuffing to evolve. Regardless it’s good value. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted blind at NWAC July 2017 and October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Featherstone Riesling Black Sheep 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Black Sheep strikes again, same price, same typicity and balance. This is the riesling we’ve come to expect and relish, with elevated sugar and acidity levels walking hand in hand. Plenty of lime spirit is more Bench styled than ubiquitous Niagara Peninsula so you can guess what fruit lurks to lead such a suspicion. Always high quality and quick to market, sip, rinse and repeat. You’ll see this wine in release cycles four or five times over, available at all times. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (43281, $17.95, WineAlign)

There are two types of traditional riesling made up on the Escarpment’s benches, both equally accessible and correct but so very different. There is the other way; dry, stoic and intense. And there is the Flat Rock way, slightly further adrift off-dry, weightier and to be honest, less serious and happier. Not that one style is more important than the other but if I’m a consumer expecting sweet riesling but hoping to learn how the other half lives and breathes it would be this Flat Rock that would help educate and ultimately help me grow into the new riesling lover I’d want to be. The sugar (while nothing extraordinary here) is balanced by equal acidity and athletic chic. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

2027 Cellars Riesling Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (225490, $18.75, WineAlign)

The wind is so tight and the expressive fruit bound up in a ball of fire and acidity but aching to break free. The pent up energy here is palpably felt, like a needle in the side, leaving you seized up, protective and tense. There is so much juicy citrus and fineness of acidity it’s hard not to see this riesling taking five years to unwind and five more towards developing characterful secondary personality. This is perhaps Kevin Panagapka’s best. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted July 2017 and March 2018  2027cellars  @2027cellars  2027 Cellars

Konzelmann Estate Winery Riesling Reserve Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The by now classic house style of using late harvest fruit off of old vines on the estate’s lakefront property and barrel fermentation are the things that delve into the Konzelmann glück, density and complexity. Preserved lemon, grapefruit sorbet and mineral-mandarin cream define this riesling of zero trepidation, utmost confidence and old world charm. Who’s to say you aren’t sipping this in some Rhineland-Palatinate village instead of Niagara on the Lake. There will always be a place in hearts for riesling made this way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2018  konzelmannwines  @Konzelmann  @konzelmannwines

Megalomaniac Riesling Narcissist 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (67587, $18.95, WineAlign)

Narcissist takes a turn to the flint with great citrus intent in 2017, simulating great German riesling that have been coming for generations and eons before. There is a youthful funky reductive yeastiness that tests the aromatics but in looking for balance we find tart fruit, fine acidity and a leanness that strikes like a laser through the microbial fog. Wow is this interesting and in a show of great potential. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2018  megalomaniacjhc  sobmegalo  @MegalomaniacJHC  @seb_jacquey  Megalomaniac Wine

Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (251439, $19.95, WineAlign)

Though neither single-vineyard nor block specific make no mistake. This estate riesling from Fielding is a carefully selected and curated one with not a single wasted note in the varietal tune it plays. The chords are pure citrus, the arpeggio rising from stone fruit skin meets flesh and the overall score ambient in its keyboard hold. It’s so bloody juicy, mouth watering and intense, riesling in which there’s a torrent that rises gently. There’s a wind, like a drug, in new material from a great year to make a new record. Worth listening to and drinking in, on repeat, with a deeper understanding. Should develop a layered feel, of honey and petrol, with time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery  

Vineland Estates Riesling Elevation St. Urban Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

By now the St. Urban Vineyards vines are as old as 37 years, a fact in longevity and experience never lost on this archetypal Niagara Escarpment riesling. There is a certain kind of interest here, first from track record and then because of the deferential vintage for the flagship variety. The nose is quite waxy, lemon-scented and vaguely sweet-fruity. There is even a bit of Niagara Gold cheese mixed with fresh florals, of white roses and then persimmon. So now the mind travels to the tropics, for flavours imagined of mango, marquesa and mangosteen. Warm days and nights will do that to riesling and while this may not live into its twenties it will go complex and curiously fascinating into the petrol and honey with more early unction, like 2012 but even more, akin to 2010. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted December 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  Vineland Estates Winery  Brian Schmidt

Hidden Bench Riesling Bistro 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

If Ontario riesling can be referred to as classic it would be something as traditional and acumen-factored as this ’16 by Hidden Bench. This is due to the middle road meets the fine, direct and essential line taken, where along the way balance is struck with notable fruit, just shy of off-dry styling and a fashion of natural acidity. Correct is, as correct does. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  hiddenbench  @HiddenBench  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  

Creekside Estates Riesling Marianne Hill 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The next Marianne is a conundrum, low in alcohol and yet quite lean, avoiding both high strains of citrus and flesh. The nose is both inviting and very mineral but the palate is a bit staid, understated and seemingly dry. The skins of pears and peaches are touched but it’s just a bit too quiet right now. We’ll see what the future holds. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  creeksidewine  @CreeksideWine  Creekside Estate Winery

Southbrook Vineyards Riesling Triomphe 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

With all of her other varietal talents I wouldn’t normally pontificate winemaker Ann Sperling as exemplifying the riesling whisperer (at least in Niagara) though a pass at this warm and inviting 2016 may change that and with haste. At the risk of sounding a bit too establishment this is classic and typical Niagara but it accedes into such a category with impeccable sugar, acid and texture balance. Treating the fruit with respect, avoiding any unhinged decisions and delivering the three-pronged effects of sweet, tart and bitter with seamless intertwine is the work of a total pro. Gotta have the lime and the essential possibility of honey. Triomphe 2016 does just that. It’s what you want and need. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted January and March 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Mulled riesling anyone? Hidden Bench at Icewine Fest

Hidden Bench Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Just a lovely bit of spring sun and dew picks up the stimulus, pace and attitude right from go in the Hidden Bench ’16. This is not only definitive for riesling by house, for estate and to regional necessity but also to all varietal wines done up right in this pinpointed place. The orbiting acidity is twisted like ties around wires along a circle drawn to lock in freshness, by fruit more lemon and lime citrus than stone or up the stairs. It’s a near perfect vintage for the omniscient one and sets the table for Roman and Felseck Vineyard rieslings to come. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Felseck delivers a concentrated, compact and direct riesling, very focused along linear Locust Lane lines, truly Beamsville stony, precise and even a bit demanding. Few Ontario rieslings can distill lemon, lime, green apple and stone like this without jumping around. That Felseck can stand firm in one place with such stoic and unwavering calm is a testament to a winemaker’s attention to detail. It begins in the storied vineyard and finishes with the same fineness of finesse. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted October 2017  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Perfect match to riesling? Some might say

Cave Spring Riesling Adam’s Steps 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (901211, $24.95, WineAlign)

Adam’s Steps is Cave Spring’s riesling with a bit more of everything, more depth, body, sweetness and texture. It really is the outlier in their varietal bunching, closer to the Estate than the CSV in style and yet firmly positioned in its own category. There is a true sense of spirit and energy, especially on the lively palate, with a waxy, almost peach coulis and lemon-lime pastille note that lingers like sucking on a riesling candy. Clearly dolomite in origin but fleshy and full. Holds the age ability card for a five-plus year run. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Lundy Manor Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The fruit source is Wismer Vineyard for winemaker and Niagara College graduate Adam Kern’s ’16 riesling. Kern also makes the wines with Chris Fornasier and Bench Trial Wines. His straightforward varietal wine for Lundy’s Manor speaks of peach and tart citrus with a surprisingly tannic thrush. The equanimity between fruit and acidity keeps it in the airy space above the pull by extracted weight and will serve it well for two or three years time. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted March 2018  lundymanorwinecellars  @LundyManorWine  @lundymanorwinecellars

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Stanners Riesling evolution is upon us, happening and ready to blow. In replay of 2014 this is Niagara meets PEC fruit, two days of skin contact, six months on the lees, dry is as dry does and yeasty funky. In my mind it’s pretty much a repeat of that just about leesy enough and pear textured 2014 without anything new added or realized. But, for Colin Stanners it must be the vintage that wakes him up to what he needs to do next so this ’15 is therefore the first next step towards and set up man for what’s to come in 2016. This is a must step to taste on that ladder of evolutionary understanding so make sure to take it. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Keint-He Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It’s quite amazing how the texture, sugars and acidities all rise up as one, together for the common good, layered and in-synch. Labeled Niagara Peninsula but really noses and tastes like Twenty Mile Bench riesling. Lime sherbet and mandarin orange gelée. Nothing but pleasure from winemaker Lee Baker’s first start to finish wine at Keint-He. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  keinthewinery  @KeintheWinery  Keint-he Winery & Vineyards

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education. Delete Comment

Trail Estate Wild Ferment Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the WFR is a blend of Foxcroft and BTL fruit, respectfully and respectively farmed by Craig Wismer and Greg Wertsch. This is tannic and textural, the sweetest of all the Trail rieslings, through some skin (or stem) whole cluster contact. The notes are not mind-blowing or expanding ones, of apple, pear and peach skin, again very textural and from a ferment stopped on taste. It’s loaded with 28 g/L of RS but good winemaking makes it seem drier than it is. “Everything else is dry so I guess when I go sweet, I go big” admits Mack Brisbois. So yes this is light, lean, not as fleshy and seemingly drier than it obviously is. Carries forward with a nice candied flower, citrus finish. It’s pretty middle of the road, perfectly correct and enjoyable, especially for a winemaker with an off the beaten track sensibility, antithetical modus vivendi and go beyond the pale ability. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

I find it curious that this Stanners Riesling is 95 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore fruit but now labeled as VQA Ontario, whereas previous vintages called VQA LL had less Niagara and more PEC fruit. No matter really because again this is Niagara meeting PEC with two days of skin contact, but elevated by 12 months on the lees. That time spent can’t be discounted, nor can the dry as a bone, mad as a hatter summer, not tom mention another year of understanding for Colin Stanners. In the end the acidity out of a chart topping pH and fruit accumulation (not in quantity but in phenolic brilliance) leads this riesling to great heights. Malolactic fermentation was allowed to occur naturally, helping to bring the acidity (and everything else) into balance. Lime, toast, flint and energy, boundless and invigorating. What a riesling, what a story. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Cave Spring Riesling CSV 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The CSV from a warm 2016 really expresses the vintage on the nose with a heavy dose of wet stone and every part of a ripe peach. You have to get past the early sulphur but once you do you take a good bite into the flesh of this riesling and the juices will run with accents and angles fit by tonic, pith, tangy, nervy acidity and a hidden sweetness. The sugars are surely more elevated than realized or will ever be felt because the combination of acidity and pith are covers that will never peel back. Size matters and this CSV is built with great Escarpment architecture, stepping out of the paradigmatic 2015 shadow and into another age. This 2016 begins an epoch of structural expressionism and should easily carry its construct through to the next decade. That consequently, is when this CSV will really be ready to rock and roll for a full decade more. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2016, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Times changes, as do winemakers, their hunches, hopes and dreams. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a sidestepping approach to this trailblazing riesling from the vineyard tended by Ed Hughes. It’s now all wild ferment elongated to 19 days on skins. Takes its time this little big one, moving no less than 25 per cent slower than ’15, in part because of the vintage but also because its wild pressed. More a dry matter of when over how or why, still in its aromatic infancy, suffocated by its nature. Also a case of a young wine caught in the 9 g/L total acidity crossfire of a sci-fi battle scene. Will most certainly take another 18 months to change. It does exhale this curious note of garrigue, like Peloponnese mountain tea and Alto Adige sweet fennel frond in broth, with apple and onion skin doused by shots of lime juice. There is even a chewy feel in the leafy texture, quite herbal with a mild pique in a green tea finish. Trust me, this will become something both fascinating and delicious at some point in 2020. There are approximately 76 cases made. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Leaning Post Riesling The Geek 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

The second instalment of the Geek takes Ontario riesling experimentation not just to another level but to a specific methodology that no one else has really attempted thus far. The geeking out goes further and edgier into territory both new and misunderstood. If it seems unconvincing it’s a case of both searcher and searched not yet on the same page but that’s what research and development are all about. All the 2015 lees from Leaning Post’s classic riesling and chardonnay were added to the Geek. As if that wasn’t enough solid, texture-variegating matter, the 2014 riesling lees were also employed. Two years later the Solera ideal was put to bottle. The complex equation comes out to the most autolytic riesling ever made in Ontario, distinctive in that it’s like drinking traditional-method sparkling wine, 36 months on the lees but without any fizz. It’s unusual and fascinating, full of baking apples, biscuits and citrus. It does not meet the expected and the normal, not just because it’s dry as the desert but because it’s enzymatic behaviour is self-cannabalistic. It writes a riesling idiom, having a meaning not deducible from the individual parts. It’s a neo-impressionist idiosyncrasy, a reaction to the empirical realism of “typical,” VQA-cornered and pigeon-holed riesling, accomplished by relying on scientific theory to achieve predetermined textural effects. While The Geek undergoes an oxidative process it’s not exactly Solera-styled because young wine does not replace a percentage of removed older wine. It’s a positive accumulation of solids and therefore a strict and formalized composition. The argot R & D will go on and winemaker Ilya Senchuk asks, “how much lees is too much lees? Only The Geek knows.” Drink 2018-2021. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

At the time of making this wine and then putting a label on a bottle there was no Ontario defined category and in fact this pioneering effort is one of the unheralded forerunners. From fruit sourced out of Ed Hughes’ vineyard it’s a shaggy yet ambitious riesling made mellifluent by 14 days skin contact, inoculated to keep the lees strain constant with with other 15s, meaning the Lakeview and Foxcroft brethren. Now smells just like riesling, unlike in its early “orange” wine days. No longer demanding and tannic, the high acidity too has mellowed and a petrol note has emerged, plus a pepper flake meets peach skin aromatic sedge. Still with the liquid salve texture, coming into its destined balance, dry and persistent in pulse by acidity but calm enough and settled. A great flesh of lime and raining complexity, with a final note of orange skin too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Barrel Ferment Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the next wrinkle is a wild ferment (as opposed to the inoculated ’15), unfined and unfiltered, because as time progressed “I liked it more and more,” says winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. No coarse filtration means some minor sediment will settle in the bottle. Smashed layers of tote-filled grapes are brought to the crushpad, in lieu of the crusher, to extract from the skins and stems, making use of the punchdown tool, while waiting before pressing. Recently bottled in December 2017 the BFR is something completely other and if 2015 was considered not, this follow-up is markedly fruity now, because it always was, all the way through during just more than a year in really old barrels. It’s a blonde riesling as per M. Gustave, if you will. “Why blonde? Because they all were.” This is the wisest of Mack Brisbois’ rieslings, calm, confident, collected and shining brightly from the word go. You don’t have to wait on this one, it’s riper, it’s unfiltered, made with a lot less sulphur than the skin contacts and those “dirty” 15s. “I like to see how little (sulphur) I can get away with,” notes Brisbois. The most accomplished riesling that she has made to date, the 16’s balance is spot on now and you will not have to wait for it to come into its cinematic stage. Drink it now and keep it longer. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Can it be helped if the first 30 seconds with Charles Baker’s 2014 riesling seem like the opening of a film noir classic. Hushed tones, chiaroscuro shadows, off-screen characters and dramatic foreshadowing all solicit the need or the necessity to make use of a wild imagination. There have been older Baker vintages that acted with similar, almost hard to crack quietude. Perhaps it’s with ’13 etched in persistent memory but as a vintage it was (moderately) cooler and in the end, quite average. This ’14 works the benefits and the notes here are quite omnisciently lemon; curd, preserve, citrus tablet and then smeared by a bees-waxy salve. It’s really quite atypical for Baker and for the windswept Vinemount Ridge but misunderstood youth is a bitch. I’d like to revisit in 2019 and beyond to unearth and relish in the hidden meanings. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2017 and March 2018  cbriesling  stratuswines  cruwinemerchants  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  @CRUOntario  Stratus Vineyards  

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Black Ball 2015, Ontario (416073, $36.20, WineAlign)

The new age 2015 was tasted as part of a retrospective that included 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what might be construed as idiosyncratic or antithetical riesling should be so fortunate to be involved in such a demonstration. The Pearl Morissette riesling endeavour was pretty much bone dry from day one. The Mosel style really never spoke to François Morissette. “We have 220 hang time days so we started fermenting riesling chardonnay style, then in 2012 and 2013 in foudres, which tightened them too much. So in ’14 we moved into concrete egg for aromatics but it was too intense.” So here in ’15 the joint between foudres and cement marks the new beginning. The juice is then transferred to become clear while the lees are kept and recycled for future vintages. This had just been bottled days before with almost no free sulphur “because they can take it.” Such low pH (2.97ish) and the up front skin contact brings tannin and then this silk road texture is followed by more tannin on the back palate. It’s a vintage Blackball and a vintage-driven riesling. A phenolically ripe one. The exercise proves that we really don’t know a thing about riesling, Cuvée Blackball and aging until we begin tasting at five years on. In order, 2011 is “a confirmation that we are on the right road,” ’12 may never be ready, ’13 messes with the riesling paradigm and ’14 is more like riesling of expectation. So what does that make 2015? Nothing yet, really. Have you not been paying attention? Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Good to Go!

Godello

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On tasting blind and VINTAGES April 30th

"Every time I look at you I go blind." #timetotaste @WineAlign

“Every time I look at you I go blind.” #timetotaste @WineAlign

Saturday will bring forth yet another LCBO Ontario VINTAGES release. Every other Friday (and most Tuesdays) I taste through them, along with my colleagues at WineAlign (David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S. and Sara d’Amato), as well as a dozen or more multifarious and multi-motley wine writers. The wines and spirits are laid out with Warsaw Pact jibing intendment and we plod through, free as birds, privy with full disclosure for what we are assembled to inspect.

Related – Heading out for the west coast

At WineAlign David, John, Sara, Steve Thurlow and I spend quality time with LCBO and/or VINTAGES destined products but we do so with wine-apprisement obliquity. When we arrive at the office and sit down to taste we are met with bottles covered with aluminum foil. We taste blind. Not completely mind you. A spreadsheet tells us the varietal(s) and region/country of origin. I too wonder if this can be truly be considered tasting blind.

The debate chases down critics and systems of evaluation with dogged persistence. Should wine be judged without any prior knowledge or preconceived notion about what’s in the glass? Must a tasting be conducted blind for a critic to objectively dispense an unbiased, unswayed and uninfluenced assessment of a wine?

The short answer is yes. Wine competitions are conducted blind, with only the varietal and perhaps place of origin as the sole bits of information with which to go on. The understanding is that if there are medals to be doled out, picking winners must be done with prejudice and favouritism set deliberately aside. But the wringer runs deeper. By definition, should any information be available at all?

Blinds

To blind or not to blind, that is the question

As for grapes, a Gamay should be judged against other Gamays and so a critic may as well know that the flight is filled with nothing but Gamay. Mixing varietals within a flight distorts the playing field and skews the results. Place of origin is more complicated. While it is helpful to know where a wine hails from so that it may get a fair shake against competitors or peers composed of the same grape, that seemingly insignificant bit of information adds bias to the process. At the WineAlign Wine Awards of Canada the region is not pre-disclosed, except that the judges know that all the wines come from Canada. In competitions involving wines from around the world the regions are also excluded. Only the grape and price range is mentioned. Shouldn’t we do the same for all blind tastings? In fact, the bias of price might also be avoided.

I don’t know what it is

Something in me just won’t give it a chance

I think it’s just that I feel more confused by the deal

The tougher question is whether we as critics should be tasting all wines blind, all the time, or at least whenever possible. That is to say, whenever investigations are being processed for the purpose of publishing tasting notes and perhaps more importantly, assigning scores or ratings. Who does not believe that wine must be tasted without any assistance from marketing, pedigree and prior experience? The devil’s advocate approach would declare it unfair to so many honest wines to not be given credit for many years of hard work and success. Why should a wine with a longstanding reputation for excellence have to begin again in every vintage just to prove itself? The rub I feel, is there.

I think it’s that because I have seen all the fuss

And it’s no big deal

The following 11 recommendations from the VINTAGES April 30th release were not tasted blind. They succeed because they are honest, well-made and accurate representations of varietal and place. I am confident they would all fare just as well had they been assessed without knowing what they were. Good wine has a habit of finding its way into a taster’s heart, blind, or not.

Mcguigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2015, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (444554, $14.95, WineAlign)

Distinguishes itself for the Hunter Valley oeuvre with impossibly pale yet rich and stark-dressed fruit. More fruity than most and so nearly, just on the cusp of getable at such a young age. A terrific example to gain entry into the valley’s great white varietal hope while waiting for the serious crew to open the doors to their longevity-accrued perceptions. Takes one for the team with bells ringing and whistles blowing. It will drink well for five years and just develop a bit of that aged Semillon character near the end of the fruit line. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @mcguiganwines  @Wine_Australia  @ChartonHobbs

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

Impressively expressive early to market 2015 Riesling, off-dry, partially pungent and markedly concentrated. The Black Sheep always smells and tastes like this; fifty-fifty fruit to mineral, concentrated and sweet from ripe extract and tannin. Whether you are an expert or a newbie to Niagara Peninsula Riesling, the Black Sheep is guaranteed. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @featherstonewne

El Maestro Sierra Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Do Jerez, Spain (451468, $17.95, WineAlign)

Now. We. Are. Talking. Vino dulce natural of quite reasonably low alcohol and extreme elevated unction. Nutty and full of dried apricots, sweeter than some but really well balanced. Dessert all by itself with just enough acidity. Tart and tight, nuts again, spice and marzipan. Really tricks the tongue and pricks the senses. Sweet. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @MaestroSierra  @TFBrands

Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc Zapallar Vineyard 2015, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (389643, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is an exciting hyperbole of Chile, a Sauvignon Blanc from the coast with wild flavours and singing aromatics. An inwardly deliciousness SB filled from within by a lactic streak and an exceptionally reserved tartness. Great length. So different, so new, so exciting. If it’s a bit warm and perhaps higher than alcohol than it notes, so be it. It has real vitality. Job well done with this newly directed Montes. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @MontesWines  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @ProfileWineGrp

Wildass

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (86363, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard to figure any sub-$20 red Ontario blend showing a deeper sense of ripeness, wood intent, sinew, cure, triturate resin and dry barbecue rub – than this Stratus ’12. It’s a bit of a head scratching, game-changing meritage, altering the course for $20 red blends forever. At the risk of forming comparisons, it puts me in mind of other places, like Roussillon, Campania and Navarra. It has coal running through its arteries and tonic spewing out of its fountains. Wild my ass? Yes. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015  @StratusWines

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April and Sepetember 2015, April 2016  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Chianti

Tenuta Di Capraia Chianti Classico 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (135277, $21.95, WineAlign)

Extreme freshness, ripe red fruit and ripping acidity in such a young Chianti Classico. Possessive of an underlying mineral and dry tannic structure with such correct use of older oak and kept clean under the threshold of over-modernising alcohol. This reeks of some whole cluster work and tastes of the soil though never in any funky way. It’s extreme purity and cleanliness is second to none. This will last for longer than imagined. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted April 2016    @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2014, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22.95, WineAlign)

Combines beauty and bitters for a streak of natural selection through a field of texture. Heads for the cream risen to the top of rich, pulls over and steps aside to allow for a crunch of green apple. The bite is real, lit by match and cut with spice. Great length. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Grendel

De Grendel Shiraz 2013, Wo Coastal Region, Durbanville, Coastal Region, South Africa (174557, $24.95, WineAlign)

Strapping, youthful, dark as night Cape of Good Hope Shiraz, full of rich beginnings, soil reduction and barrel imaging. Vivid off the charts, rich red fruit, mineral undercurrent, wreaths of floral tethering and a rip tide riding rolling waves of cape intensity. Quite wow. Crazy good value. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted April 2016  @degrendelwines  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @imbibersreport

Vincent Mothe Chablis 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (390468, $26.95, WineAlign)

Perfectly pretty little village Chablis, flinty, lemon piercing and pouring like crystal clear, tiny drops of rain. Chardonnay on needles and pins, a white scintillant with tart berries, tannin and extra layers of dry extract. Terrific for so many reasons and with every reason to pair and to believe. While others moan “I been meek and hard like an oak,” with a glass of the Mothe I am blessed with “buckets of moonbeams in my hand.” If this were $20 it would be right up there with best ever. Close enough. This is a perfect example of why everyone should drink Chablis. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016    @BIVBChablis  @bourgognespress  @BourgogneWines

Crawford

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Corner 50 Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet 2013, Hawkes Bay, North Island, Marlborough, New Zealand (447433, $29.95, WineAlign)

Made from fruit grown in the Corner 50 vineyard located in the Bridge Pa Triangle wine district on the western side of the Heretaunga Plains of Hawke’s Bay. Diverse soils of Ngatarawa Gravels, Takapau Silty-loam (free draining red metal of mixed alluvial and volcanic origin) work towards a Bordeaux kind of varietal character and charm. Red recreational fruit and ripe, ropey acidity interact together in this very spirited North Island red. A Hawke’s Bay beauty with vivid and spirited energy. The oak is still very much in play but in no way on top. The cake factor is very low, the lushness happening in texture though not on the level of plush. Really good effort. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @kimcrawfordwine @CBrandsCareers  @nzwine  @NZwineCanada

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

It’s hard not to compare Norman Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay side by side with his County-grown and produced estate counterpart but also with other top end Niagara bottles. The fruit he sources from Duarte Oliveira’s Beamsville Bench farm offers the first leg up. The reductive and minimalist handling style is the second piece of the impossibility puzzle. Though not as closed as some in the past, freshness has never been so bright. The slow Hardie Chard evolution and painstaking road to malolactic could result in perdition but miraculously never does. The cumulative culled from out of patience leads to a reward in near perfect textural deference and defiance. The 12.2 per cent declaration of alcohol is exemplary though it could hardly cross the 11.5 threshold if it wanted to or tried. Chardonnay left alone, to find its way, fend for itself, unstirred, unassailed and deft above or beyond reproach. Enjoy a Hardie Niagara Chardonnay in its early youth. They are not meant to be stashed away forever. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Ambrosia 2010, Single Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina (402941, $39.95, WineAlign)

The pitchiest Malbec of dark black fruit, weight and substance. Really ambrosial, a thick swath of berry, wood and tannin. This Malbec can run with the players any day of the week. Structurally sound and massive, fully, completely accomplished and offering much reward. There is a resinous, cedar and briar note of amalgamation and complexity. It will take three or more years to bring all the exceptional components together. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2016  @TrapicheWines  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA

Good to go!

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Ten Canadians released for the holidays

Porchetta Panzerotti

Porchetta Panzerotti

I find the last week of November to be one of the strangest, most eery and unsettling times of the year. Calm before the storm. Frost, indigenous summer, zero degrees, crisp air, fall sunshine. We all know it’s coming; snow, holidays, ice, time off.  The acronym might ring true but I would suggest resting your worried mind and tucking those cynical philosophies into a drawer. Pull them out in January when it matters less. For now, have a peek into the VINTAGES catalogue for November 28th.

Inside you will be faced with a thematic titled “Holiday finery.” Twenty some odd iconic Super Tuscans, Venetians, Rhônes, Californians and various, multifarious and sundry bottles leap from the pages like three-dimensional wine beacons in full propagandistic regalia. They are expensive, massive wines with pedigrees to shack up with queens and kings. I’ll expand on them later this week. Some are truly exceptional and all are stupid expensive.

There is Icewine and there is what VINTAGES calls “signature study,” a short and apathetically effective use of white space to extol the virtues of Ontario’s most important cool-climate varietal plantings, of Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Also the notion that Sparkling wine is important to our wine psyche. It’s all true.

What fails is the idea of a feature in a magazine and corresponding release with only 10 wines to drive the point. An angle with five aspects needs more than two examples to prove the multi-pronged determination in support of the bottom line. Why feature Ontario’s signature varietals with next to no illustration? Hard to imagine a paradigm shift in consumer connection with Ontario wines out of such a lacklustre effort.

The good news is that of the ten wines on offer, all are solid and representative of the ideal, with seven worthy of being recommended here. An Icewine and two British Columbia reds round out the top ten list.

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

Typically juicy and tight, lithe and piercing, popping and reflexive. Very consistent, vintage to vintage. Knows just what it wants to be. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September and November 2015  @featherstonewne

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sunlight is the key to this ripe Chardonnay, snatched from vines that grow on the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment’s sub-appellation. Here Henry of Pelham calmly puts its hegemony over Short Hills Bench Chardonnay on display. The fruit layering is very impressive, compressed even, with just a spiced spirit injection from the barrel. The Estate Chardonnay is in a mid-range class of its own, this gatherer of heat days, hoarder in spring water retention, cleanser in sand and gravel drainage. The vintage just seems perfect for this niche bottling, balanced, primed to finespun texture, stretched for length and good to age at least five years.  Last tasted November 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Gilmour Corazón

Gilmour Corazón

Gilmour Corazón Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Ontario (440594, $22.95WineAlign)

Bordeaux blend bearing the name of the former Leaf’s Captain with Ontario sites fruit via Prince Edward County. From a warm vintage and showing every bit of that heat, in spice, not alcohol. Its credo should be “make Meritage love for the group, not varietal lust for the individual.” In it for the right reasons. Team. The fruit is quite green and loaded with pyrazines but quality wood fills the unplugged holes. The wine has heart, just like number 93, perhaps small in stature but gritty like no one else in the County league. A killer playoff red with the ability to weave back and forth behind the net until the wrap around is available. I was in the Gardens that night Doug, sitting in the sixth row behind that net. Big hair guy with his arms in the air, caught on the ESPN video. Gilmour represents one of the best Meritage values the County has yet seen. Good things happen when you add work ethic to the roster. The grapes are surely proud. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted November 2015  @KarloEstates  @MettleUnited

Coyote’s Run Rare Vintage Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (426437, $24.95, WineAlign)

A nicely, confidently, smartly adjudicated reductive Chardonnay with beautifully judged oak and a pretty white flower note that elevates the aromatic profile to the verified realm of the near ethereal. This is the prettiest bloody Chardonnay ever produced at Coyote’s Run. It is rare vintage indeed, for the appellation, the sub-appellation and the vigneron. Subtle, placid, restrained, smooth, integrated, just hinting at smoke and spice, easy on the lips, mouth and gums. This will follow a fine parallel line for five years, gain some honey and caramel for five more and fade into the Four Mile reflective sunset for five more after that. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted November 2015  @coyotesrun

Reif Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (304162, $25.95, WineAlign)

The Reif Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a wildly endearing and dangerously delicious wine that should evolve gracefully and purposefully for 10 years. Why? Because it has structure. What does that mean? It means that ripe, warmer(ish) Niagara River sub-appellation fruit was picked precisely on time, with acidity intact. It means that the extraction and maceration culled sweet, supporting tannin and the barrel program added just the right amount of accentuating care. This is dutifully doted over and offers Cabernet Sauvignon plaisir. Well done. Tasted November 2015.  Drink 2016-2023  @Reifwinery

Château Des Charmes Vidal Icewine 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake (200ml), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (565861, $25.95, WineAlign)

The aromatics forge a beautiful relationship between tropical fruit and intensity. Represents the reason for using Vidal to hang at negative temperatures through the freezing nights of Niagara winters. The pineapple, longan and deep peach intent are the palpable culmination of patience leading to reward. This is a most excellent example of the necessity. The little sensation of drying tannin on the finish is the indicator for conterminous Riesling longevity too. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted twice, October and November 2015  @MBosc

Dirty Laundry Kay Syrah 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (437111, $25.95, WineAlign)

Really perfumed Syrah permeated by spice and promising permutations left, right and centre. Quite young, modern, piqued by white pepper and juicy by way of pomegranate, cranberry, more so raspberry and then vanilla. A really solid wine with nothing but pleasure in mind. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted November 2015  @DirtyLaundryVin  @HHDImports_Wine

Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (997353, $29.95, WineAlign)

A crescendo of sorts has been struck in 2012 with the Montague Pinot Noir perpetuity, giving credence to the vineyard as a resource to be exploited. What the site does for Pinot, particularly in warm vintages like 2012, reminds of the Pfersigberg in Alsace, a plot which provides fruit for the Sainte-Claires bottling by Domaine Albert Mann. A site where water-retention is less than average, where soil colour and low humidity attract the radiance of intense heat, which leads to early ripening of the grapes. The richness of Montague’s clay is amplified in the vintage, providing elevated heat units for this red cherry, beet, cinnamon and toasted red of equally exceptional flavours. Fine, linear acidity takes it to depths and will lead it down long, paved roads.  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine  @CBrandsCareers

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (187377, $29.95, WineAlign)

Skips the cork, avoids the taint and caps with a crown. A king’s bubble in here, a king of pop perhaps, with “a mind like a diamond.” Like a fine, flat rock that cuts through crap and “red tape fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack.” I want a fizz that gets me up early. I want a Sparkling wine that knows what’s right. I want bubbles with “uninterrupted prosperity and smooth liquidation.” I want a sparkler “with a short skirt and a long, long jacket.” I want bubbles with tang, tang, tang, apples, pears, ginger and cardamom. One that I can drink with cake. Yes, perhaps the Riddled ’09 is just a bit abrupt, at times monotone, awkward in chord changes, tempo switches and suffers from a twittering finish. But it’s twitchy and characterful along the way. Tasted November 2014  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73098, $44.95, WineAlign)

In 2012 a beefed up wine of early life unsettling proportion, oversized, dilated, and maximized. Cut through with a current of pyrazine and distended with lots of barrel buoy, though not as over-wooded and clumsy as many. Has enough restraint and Cab character to keep things bustling and whistling, from Boston to Dixie. Cool, savoury, spicy centre. A large expression of multi-faceted desert aridity, all B.C., not Bordeaux. This will age nicely as the tannins are quite ripe. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted November 2015 @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine

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Catch 22 wines

Godello's garden meets Greek Horaitiki

Godello’s garden meets Greek Horaitiki

Twenty two wines I tasted from the August 22nd release. Some are really good. So what’s the catch? Some not so much. As always, take a grain of salt and judge for yourself. Godello is not traditionally a site to explore the good, the bad and the ugly. The good news is that the worst of these 22 are actually quite well-made. The bad news is that each will only satisfy a certain kind of palate and a specific sort of temperament.

Something for everyone. LCBO 101. I hope you find something you like.

From left to right: Koncho and Co. Tsinandali 2012, Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, Grace Lane Riesling 2013, Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Perrin Réserve Rosé 2014, Vineland Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and The Crusher Viognier 2013

From left to right: Koncho and Co. Tsinandali 2012, Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, Grace Lane Riesling 2013, Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Perrin Réserve Rosé 2014, Vineland Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and The Crusher Viognier 2013

Koncho & Co. Tsinandali 2012, Kakheti, Georgia (412981, $12.95, WineAlign)

Boxy, foxy, contained, constrained, aromatics waiting to burst, in big timbre and quite spicy. A bit reductive and very juicy. Boisterous, wild-eyed expression. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @GeorgianWineSoc

Man Vintners Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, Wo Coastal Region, South Africa (126847, $13.95, WineAlign)

Good texture and mouthfeel in this Chenin, dry but unctuous, direct and filling. Works coastal wonders in many ways. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @WOSACanada

Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (341586, $14.95, WineAlign)

Though Riesling dominant this is a shared experience, with cool climate Chardonnay and richly aromatic Gewurztraminer lifting spirits and exhaling breaths. The Sauvignon Blanc seems to add ripeness and juicy palate flow. A mouthful of ripe fruit to be certain and amenable beyond its pragmatic ways. One of the better value white blends and one to look at for Niagara Peninsula propensity within the context of designing an appellative blend. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @featherstonewne

Grace Lane Riesling 2013, Yakima Valley, Washington (420737, $14.95, WineAlign)

Simple, straightforward, slightly spritzy Riesling with a full-blown lemon lime palate and a finishing set of bitter piths. Good length gives it life. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015

Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Igp Vins De Pays Du Val De Loire, France (672345, $15.95, WineAlign)

A lithe and petite Sauvignon Blanc, balmy, touched by spice accents and a whisper of lemon/lime. Tart but not really striking or biting. Soft Sauvignon Blanc, quick and effortless. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted August 2015  @ChartonHobbs

Perrin Réserve Rosé 2014, Ac Côtes Du Rhone, France (719062, $15.95, WineAlign)

Pretty Rosé, arid enough though really juicy and presentable to a wide army of followers. Some tonic and even more brine. A late feeling of pickles and preserves. Better than many. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @Beaucastel  @ChartonHobbs  @RhoneWine  @VINSRHONE

Vineland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (551168, $16.95, WineAlign)

Spicy vintage for the Escarpment, concentrated in many ways, for juicy fruit, capsicum and savoury herbs. A touch effervescent which does not detract, but rather adds a buoyant lifeline because the tart acidity is really something else. Fun with Sauvignon Blanc from up on the shelf. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted August 2015  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

The Crusher Viognier 2013, Wilson Vineyard, Clarksburg, California (361964, $16.95, WineAlign)

Reductive Viognier, nice and fresh for a change, cool Clarksburg fruit thankfully kept shy and in absence of high alcohol, overly heated sunshine gluck. A bit of a mouth breather, tropical in a longan way and of enough though not striking acidity. Finishes overly bitter, in lime pith and a kind of nettle. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @SebastianiWines  @Select_Wines

From left to right: Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014, Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Herdade Do Rocim Red 2011,S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014 and Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013

From left to right: Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014, Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Herdade Do Rocim Red 2011,S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014 and Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013

S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014, Doc Lombardy, Italy (200097, $17.95, WineAlign)

Tanky and metallic, coastal and postal for Trebbiano di Lugana. Quite herbal, reminiscent of Sancerre, with spice, nettle and linear length. Layered and structured white with a seriousness in its expression. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015

Herdade Do Rocim Red 2011, Alentejo, Portugal (423574, $17.95, WineAlign)

A regional blend of Antao Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro. Very cimmerian, rich and dense Alentejano, wildly berry delicious and yet fierce. Lots of oak, lots of optimism and plenty of swagger. Very spicy and toasty finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted August 2015  @winesportugalCA

Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Do Rías Baixas, Spain (350041, $18.95, WineAlign)

Concrete and tank Albarino, steely and mineral, cool and bristling. Turns to stone fruit on the palate, gets down to juicy and then ricochets off the walls, drawing salinity and pulverized limestone into the very linear finish. Such a calcareous, wound white wine, on a spindle, in a vacuous void of aggregate and steel. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @pacolola  @azureau

Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014, Ap Languedoc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (373985, $18.95, WineAlign)

Dry, floral, medicinal, quite tight and angled, not angular Rosé. The sea salinity and briny strawberry confluence is quite striking. Doesn’t really linger so in the end it’s a bit of a simple quaffing Rosé but what of it? That’s right. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted August 2015  @GBvins  @LanguedocWines  @FwmWine

Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Loire, France (971887, $19.95, WineAlign)

A neat feat to stretch Sauvignon Blanc like this, in phyllo layers and like bitter greens braised to sweet tenderness. Savoury though the herbs are not the most recognizably cultivated, used or considered. Like winter savoury, or Spruce tip, edible seaweed even. All tossed lightly, gingerly in a citrus vinaigrette. Playful SB, at times tight and bracing and then generous, giving, forthcoming. Previous vintages have had more shine. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @HalpernWine  @LoireValleyWine

Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (588731, $19.95, WineAlign)

Heavy handed, much wood and chalky, full on bloody Malbec. Has Oz strength and gumption. Good lengthy finish. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of August 2014:

This Golden Reserve Malbec by Trivento is a juicy, dusty, fruit tree addition to the #WWAC14 flight and arrives just in the nick of time. Despite the dark fruit, it has no Drake spoken word conceit. It sings in classic Drake lullaby, with beefy meet pine forest aromas and so “you find that darkness can give the brightest light.” Tender refrains soften chalky, stalky wood and corresponding bitter chocolate. Big tannins on this balladeer. Has impressive stuffing.  @TriventoArg  @Select_Wines  @winesofarg

Last tasted August 2015

Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (321612, $20.95, WineAlign)

Into another cool climate Pinot Blanc poster from Gray Monk, the standard bearer for the variety, in this price and stylistic niche, for anyone who cares or dares to join the bandwagon. Juicy stone fruit of a peach, yellow plum and nectarine fold, circular bites of acidity and mineral bleed and just a touch of tonic to tie it all together. Always great stuff. Length even better than in 2012. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted August 2015  @GrayMonkWinery

From left to right: Domaine De Rochebin Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013, Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013, Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Featherstone Onyx 2010, King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2013, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012 and Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010,

From left to right: Domaine De Rochebin Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013, Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013, Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Featherstone Onyx 2010, King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2013, Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012 and Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010,

Domaine De Rochebin Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013, Ac Bourgogne, Burgundy, France (424275, $22.95, WineAlign)

Such a pretty red cherry, fine earth and cinnamon heart confluence on the aromatic front, with no palate or late tannin affront. The acidity seems particularly natural and fitting, the finish quick and efficient. Very good old world look at the world of Bourgogne. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @BourgogneWines

Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013, Carneros, Sonoma County, California (67405, $23.95, WineAlign)

Cream in your coffee, sui generis housed and reductive Chardonnay with a chip on its shoulder. Aromatic rhythms are modulated by the barrel’s influence while flavours are pleasant though not wholly distinctive or full of character. Very directed Chardonnay and an exemplary regional example for the price. Will show better a year on. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted August 2015  @BuenaVistaWines  @TandemSelection

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $24.95, WineAlign)

Down $1 in price from this time last year.

From a bumper crop, there came to market 11,000 cases of this Nova Scotian feel good, faux-sparkling story. Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ Nova 7 dissimulation in bubbles is a true trick of the trade and though this white wine strikes as if it were a child of a warm vintage, there is a classic lightness of Rosé fizz being in its ever so slight effervescence. A singular wine in many hybrid incarnations, in Muscat ways, of pink Perle de Csaba, segmented and pressed for a sweet burst of grapefruit. It’s low (7 per cent) in alcohol, excellent in acidity, sweet and sour, citrus zesty, juicy and dry at the same time. Batch delineated and loyal to continence, though if the quantity creeps much higher that may come in to question. Grown up pink lemonade and so easy to consume.  Tasted June and July 2014, July 2015  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

Featherstone Onyx 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (372433, $29.95, WineAlign)

Strikes as Cabernet Franc dominant and quite savoury so, slightly cured and richly layered. Merlot appeals and appears with its own distinct clarity, gift-wrapped with tidy flavours in refrain of Franc that acts like fruity Cabernet Sauvignon. The vintage is very in and though it’s warmer and coated with more wood than would best service its needs, this has settled into a really nice glass of red berry and plum red wine. Kudos to the blender and the patience afforded the result. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @featherstonewne

King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon (984005, $34.95, WineAlign)

High quotient of ripeness, astringency below, earth above sprinkled and saturating. Quite an effusive design and rambunctious effort. All over the map. Big, bouncy and biting. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @KingEstate

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

This ripe Picone in 2012, not a surprise and ripping at the same time. The orchard stands out, the texture overlaid and the length outstanding. Picone in ’12 has presence of more immediate notice, standing firm and tall to be counted early and then, for years to come, often. Like juice bled from escarpment cragges, a speciality that is singularly Picone. Drink 2016-2022.

From my earlier note of June 2014:

A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases.

From my earlier note of March 2014:

“Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?”  Last tasted June 2014  @cbriesling

Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010, Docg Piedmont, Italy (922880, $37.95, WineAlign)

Nebbiolo of intonation, modulation and stress, with a noticeable mid-life moment in volatility, in contrast to an enamoured aromatic loveliness in rose petal and candied flower. Dusty swirls and tight red fruit meets stark acidity. A Barbaresco such as this has historical advantage on its side but scares a bit in the present. A very fair price for a wine that has to be stashed away for at least three years for the angst to subside. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @LeSommelierWine  @piemonte_italia

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Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases

Ontario Everbearing Strawberries

Ontario Everbearing Strawberries

Like the strawberry, yet on countless further levels, Ontario wines have elevated in quality with exponential consistency in recent times. I can remember rushing out to Simcoe County to pick strawberries in late June at Visser and Barrie Hill farms, only to see the season end as abruptly as it began, after just a few weeks of plump, flame-red, succulence. Times have changed. Like the plant belonging to the family of Fragaria genus, Ontario wines, across the board, have evolved. The Everbearing Strawberry can be picked well into the Fall. Was it not so long ago the consumer chose Ontario wines with sporadic indifference? To Japan, exports of Canadian wine have doubled in the last five years. This is no small feat and with thanks to an all Canadian wine store owned by Jamie Paquin called Heavenly Vines. Domestically speaking, purchases of local wine are as strong in October as they are in July. Times has changed.

Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality. I would not make the call that 2013 was a vintage of the decade but very good wines were made. There are no bad vintages in Ontario. That concept is mired in the pessimistic rhetoric of the past. The winemaking camaraderie excogitates to mature as one big happy guild in pursuit of the common good. Vintners are focused and intense; on terroir, micro-climate, canopy management, picking times, pure and clean fruit, élevage and on honest wine.

The industry is currently fixated on making great product. Whatever beefs critics and consumers have with varietal choices, marketing failures or suffocating consumer systems, what is happening in bottle is nothing short of brilliance. Morale is at an all-time high. How else to explain the ability to weather the storm of a brutal winter in 2014? Enzo Barresi of Colio Estates told me yesterday that he does not bemoan the loss of vines. Less Merlot? So what? The ability to make polished wines from other grape varieties replaces fear, dread and loathing. The same goes for Rosewood Estates. No more Sémillon? “What can you do.”  says Krystina Roman. Concentrate on excellence elsewhere. Soldier on.

The November 8th VINTAGES release coming up this weekend is a prime example of the strawberry in the room that is Niagara wine. I count no fewer than eight examples of an eminence front in output. From Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay and from Pinot Noir to a Bordeaux-styled blend, these eight wines are elephantine examples of what Ontario does best.

From left to right: Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2013, The Foreign Affair Sauvignon Blanc Enchanted 2013, Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine 2012, Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

The vintage delves into older school territory, elemental and elevated skywards, to atmosphere the Sheep has not recently climbed to. This airy void allows the Vineland rocks beneath to grind their way into all aspects of this Riesling. “Three bags full.” The lime rind and overall citrus circumvention brings the typical back to earth. This is a lean but fine Featherstone. Exemplary of the vintage, with plenty of wool.  Tasted October 2014  @featherstonewne

The Foreign Affair Sauvignon Blanc Enchanted 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389767, $19.95, WineAlign)

Appassimento-style Sauvignon Blanc is both curious and an open target for accusations of vivid excesses. The detractor will look for swift “walls of insincerity,” the complimenter will say “I was enchanted to meet you.” Foreign Affair’s take has been injected with a cocktail of intensity; steroidal, hormonal and from concentrate. All the juicy orchard fruits are there; plum, apple, pear, nectarine, lemon, lime and grapefruit. This passes the appassimento SB test, if only and commodiously because it spreads fruit like confiture on warm toast.  Tasted October 2014  @wineaffair

Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine 2012, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (370361, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Spark’s fermented in the bottle, cheesy, leesy warm ’12 turn, like melted Fontina on Formica, does dissipate following a moment or two and a bubble-bursting swirl. To taste there is much to delight in this inaugural release. Like the days leading up to ripe picked pears and a squeeze of striking, tart lemon. Good persistence is crackling, misty and even mysterious. Sparks squeezed from frenetic rhythm.  Tasted October 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Shows its finesse from the start. Though today I sense a slightly candied nose it’s wrapped in a warm and fuzzy coat, gifted by the vintage but without heat. This may be the prettiest of Marlize’s (Estate) Chardonnay; enchanting, honeyed, floral. Yet there is a pulsating note, portending the time needed to bring this to an intended fruition. Stretches for conscious movement length. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”   Last tasted October 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

From left to right: Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011

Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1560, $29.95, WineAlign)

Seven months have softened and mothered Gravity’s adolescence in ways to now see it as the most feminine, certainly of the last four vintages. Pretty dabs, perfumes of natural conditioning, warm days and warm nights in the bottle. More accessible than previous takes and of a new modernity perceived. Sweet dreams and sweet fragrances, roses and cinnamon, nothing fancy here mind you, with no bite and no gathering moss. Cherries and vanilla, lavender and simple pleasures. Straight up Gravity, no pull down, no drag and no excess weight. At $30 and from the best barrels, this trumps $40-50 most locales not called Lowery, La Petite Vineyard, Central Otago, Hengst or Pfinstberg. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “In a vintage potentially muddled by warmth and a humidor of radio frequency, duplicating berry phenolics, Flat Rock’s Gravity remains a definitive, signature house Pinot Noir. In 2011, the head of the FR class from its most expressive barrels shared the limelight (and top juice) with the Pond, Bruce and Summit one-offs. In ’12, Gravity’s sandbox was its own. The style is surely dark, extracted, black cherry bent, as per the vintage. Yet only the Rock’s soil does earth in this variegate, borne and elevated by the barrel’s grain. There are no fake plastic trees in a Flat Rock Pinot. “Gravity always wins.”  Last tasted October 2014  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (33894, $30.00, WineAlign)

A refined ’11 Pinot Noir, of combined vineyard fruit or not, this shows attention to clean, precise winemaking detail. Punches suffered during fermentation mean a fully healed wine in bottle. Good structure and grain in tannin with just a minor fleeting paint is only a fleeting reminder of previous VR’s. Sweet plum fruit, just ripe, skin cracking, flesh oozing and dripping of pure juice. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Something’s missing, or rather something is happening here. The LCJ omnipresent warm Pinot coat of harm is conspicuous in its absence, or has it been reigned in? This 2011 is so much more friendly, more soft-spoken, expertly judged and picked ripe fruit richer than before. Plenty of tang and tannin but the pronouncement is in a savoury basil/chervil kind of way. Not just another high made by just another crazy guy. A most excellent, bright, roxy Village Reserve, full of atmosphere and ambient music.”  Last tasted October 2014  @LeClosJordanne

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.00, WineAlign)

Has shifted ever so slightly, as if injected by a bolus to effectively level off the intensity in concentration. With another summer beneath its brooding belt, the aromatics are now in full flight. From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The richest Terroir Caché to date, making use of its barrel in judicious but never obnoxious ways. Huge Bench wine, needs 10 years for sure. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip. From my earlier March 2013 note: “Has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.”  Last tasted October 2014

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign)

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

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