What ya drinkin’?

Grilled Flank Steak

Grilled Flank Steak

There’s no time for preamble. VINTAGES rolls out another long list of wines for the weekend. All your summer bases are covered. The Pinot Noir from New Zealand are really, really good. There are whites from Greece, Niagara and South Africa to not only try but embrace. Two Ontario reds will satiate the grill. Here is a list of eight wines to look for right now.

From the left and clockwise: Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010

From the left and clockwise: Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

The gateway of the Tawse Riesling portfolio and first to be released is an omnipresent beacon for what is to come from the single-vineyard sistren. Built fruit forward from an orange zest, stone rose and lemon glade guide, this is the Sketches most juicy sensation yet. Incredible vacuum of citrus acidity waterfalling into a great white hole. Though surrounded by so many a Riesling with site specific personality, “she’ll carry on through it all.” Intensity in dry Riesling.  Tasted June 2014  @Tawse_Winery

Argyros Atlantis White 2012, Greece (371658, $17.95, WineAlign)

Assyrtiko is the rock but the composition is altered by smaller parts of Aidani and Athiri. Softer, warmer and much more approachable than the Santorini, not quite so stony but with more intense juice. A modern take on the ancient game. The palate lays out the uneven, tannic and rocky road to the amphitheatre. A long walk on carefully arranged boulders. A salt bath in warm springs. The wines of Argyros do so much to bring Greece to the world. Citrus finish and more salty mineral.  Tasted June 2014  @KolonakiGroup

Featherstone Gewürztraminer 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (64592, $19.95, WineAlign)

Such a pretty and elegant take on Gewürztraminer, of flowers white and in bloom, nuts blanching away. A structural, searing tightness to the mineral laced fruit will develop yet unrealized tannin and tension. There may be nothing gangly or highly viscous about it and its style is nearly, completely dry. Notes of orange zest and lychee pit. Very clean. Elan, ecrue, pearl.  Tasted June 2013  @featherstonewne

Clos Henri Bel Echo Terroir Greywacke Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (159137, $22.95, WineAlign)

“It is a special joy for the Bourgeois family to make Pinot Noir in New Zealand.” That statement is one you just gotta love. The Henri Bourgeois clan clearly have a whole lotta love for the climate, soils, people and the possibilities the terroir presents for his dedication towards restrained, elegant Pinot Noir. Though this teases with highly modern and juicy elements, almost, dare I say, Sonoman, there remains a rooted, savoury sense of the earth. Takes a page out of Burgundy’s book and plants it in Marlborough. Plums, cherries, smoke, spice, some tannin and for the price, nearly impossible structure. Angles and bitters persist but beneath a wealth of fruit. “Keep a coolin’, baby.” The price is impossible. Great value.  Tasted June 2014  @ClosHenri

Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (381244, $29.95, WineAlign)

Would I not be remiss to ignore the Tawse Laundry Vineyard by way of comparison? With the Redstone, the sister winery puts forth the same amicable fruit with charred meat accents yet minus the hyper-specific Pender perfume and wisdom. Here is an ocean in between the waves. I came in to taste Redstone with an open mind, even “bet against the company again. They tried to redefine everything that I know and love. Gotta know you’re mine.” Winemaker Rene Van Ede has fashioned a delicious Cabernet Franc that speaks in a clear 2010 voice. A war on drugs. Though it bears no teeth of conceit there is a very positive funk and sanguine notes make a play, but ultimately submit to an overall red currant, sweet bell pepper and tobacco realm. The pyrazine ring compound binds many types of pepper, cracked, swelling and swollen. A long and rich elixir without the oak needing to be heard. It does not shout but whispers. Unmistakable Pender mentored Rock ‘N Roll Cabernet Franc. Really well made. Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @RedstoneWines

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa  (931006, $34.95, WineAlign)

From what is rapidly developing as a (if not already engraved in stone) Grand Cru site in the Hemel En Aarde Valley, 2012 is a vintage that comes to greater strength from strength. Every aroma, every nuance is characterized by elegance and elasticity. Romantic Chardonnay, so representative of real love, of mineral, of most excellent barrels, ripe fruit and deft touches. Hamilton Russell takes South African Chardonnay to an entirely higher level. “Thought I’d been in love before, but in my heart, I wanted more. Seems like all I really was doing was waiting for you.”  Tasted June 2014  @TrialtoON

Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (376731, $36.95, WineAlign)

Though the Paladin is four years in it still retains its barrel baby fat. The rich red fruit tower reels behind a slightly reductive must and a compromise of toast and splinters from18 months spent in a mixture of 25 per cent new and 75 older French oak barrels. There is a whole surrealist street gang of fruit lurking in shadows of a de Chirico drama. I can sense the ripe plums and the cherries ready and willing to bake in the proverbial pie, and though blisteringly dry (less than 1 g/L residual sugar), it will always see potential by way of total acidity (6.1g/L). Will realize a seamless transition to mid-life anxiety while the fruit simmers away in a cauldron of that fine acidity. Ruud Maasdam’s Pinot Noir is of the scuola metafisica kind.  Tasted June 2014  @StaeteLandtWine  @liffordretail

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

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 June 2014  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

Good to go!

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A wine sign of the apocalypse?

Rosewood Estates Winery
PHOTO: WILLS ROMAN

as seen on canada.com

Every once in while events come along in a confluence of conspicuous timing that just seem to indicate “a sign of the apocalypse.” Today is both the first day of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It’s also American Thanksgiving. The next time the twain (and the Maccabees) are scheduled to collide is in 79,811. By that time they will be making Barossa-style Shiraz in Vostok Station. Thanksgivukkah? Please say it ain’t so.

Meanwhile, it’s the 28th of November and most of Canada has already experienced three straight days of true winter. While the winter of 2012 may have seen plenty of white stuff, who doesn’t remember the Spring conditions of November through March of 2011? Yesterday my neighbour pined for a return of global warming.

Now my thoughts turn to the Canadian wine harvest. Every Ontario grower has finished picking their grapes, with only Icewine left to go. Every grower? Even J-L Groux and team from Stratus Vineyards are done. In 2009 J-L picked Cabernet Franc on December 8th. What? Cabernet Sauvignon and last but not least, Sémillon came off the vines just a few days ago. This in a challenging vintage in which veraison did not exactly come early. Despite the trepidation heard all summer long, I have to believe that the wines from 2013 will be some of the most interesting and alt-exceptional we have ever seen. A collector’s vintage. Something is just in the air.

In British Columbia the Icewine harvest began on November 21st and picking is already complete. Nothing short of remarkable. Ontario will not be far behind.

So how do we explain this supernatural convergence of grapes having achieved phenolic ripeness and winter coming so early to complete the annual growth cycle of grapevines? Like Thanksgiviukkah I suppose, this kind of cosmic confluence only happens once every 77798 years. For that I am thankful. And for my family, my beautiful wife, my three perfect children, four healthy parents, and for my friends, new and old.

I am also amazed every day by the quality of food and wine we are growing in our backyards and just a hop, skip and a jump down the road. What a time it is to be a (cough) foodie or a wine geek in Ontario, in Canada and in the world. So, while the cosmos are in impossible exquisite chaos, I can think of no better time to put my wine recommendations on their head and offer up tasting notes on a winter six-pack of Canadian whites and bubbles.

From left: ROSEWOOD SÜSSRESERVE RIESLING 2012, FEATHERSTONE CANADIAN OAK CHARDONNAY 2011, and BLASTED CHURCH PINOT GRIS 2011

ROSEWOOD SÜSSRESERVE RIESLING 2012, VQA Beamville Bench, Niagara Peninsula Ontario, Canada (258806, $14.95)

As per the (Süssreserve) practicum of adding in part, unfermented grape juice back into the main ferment, it could be argued that in a warm vintage such as this, the practice could be disadvantageous or even disastrous to the whole. Well, ambition differs from greed. “I’m going to show the way I feel unless I find you give a damn.” In Rosewood’s (and winemaker Luke Orwinski’s) honey-enlightened hands this Riesling is always “the start of something beautiful.” The 2012 is no house of cards, more like a porcupine tree, an unobtrusive, cohesive laser. The sweetness is of course stressed in honey, the pears nearing caramelization. There is lemon tang and she gives her for the pittance.  89  Tasted three times, October and November 2013  @Rosewoodwine

FEATHERSTONE CANADIAN OAK CHARDONNAY 2011, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149302, $21.95)

First things first. Creds for the use of Canadian Oak. Wines made using local oak will not improve unless vintners like Featherstone push the coopers to make better barrels. The butter, lemon and toasty char here is quite high-toned and approaching caramelization but all in the name of integration. The overall result is one of elegance  and a long streak of flavours. Quite tropical, I must admit but a good, honest drink.  88  Tasted November 2013  @featherstonewne

BLASTED CHURCH PINOT GRIS 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia, Canada (353128, $24.90)

I must admit I’m kinda fond-a this juicy, expressive and blasted rich Okanagan Pinot Gris. A “cool breeze blows through” carrying just the faintest note of fromage, even more pepper and the most sapid orchard fruit. Really goes out there to give the goods. Would I like to sample this Church again in a year or two? Roger Wilco on that.  89  Tasted November 2013  @BlastedChurch

From left: FLAT ROCK ESTATES RIDDLED SPARKLING WINE 2008, SPERLING VINEYARDS BRUT SPARKLING 2008, and 13TH STREET GRAND CUVÉE BLANC DE NOIRS 2006

FLAT ROCK ESTATES RIDDLED SPARKLING WINE 2008, With Crown Cap Opener, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, (187377, $24.95)

Shouts “hello!” with that crown cap opener but otherwise seems a bit quiet at this time. Prominent (pear) orchard ripe fruit, very, very dry and persistent. Wrapped up in lime zest and flint. From my earlier note: A completely different animal. “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.” The key might be the yeast that brings animale to the wine. A bit fat and flat, with tropical notes of lychee and almond. Speeds up but is a bit of an acquired taste.  87  Tasted December 2012 and November 2013  @Winemakersboots

SPERLING VINEYARDS BRUT SPARKLING 2008, Traditional Method, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia, Canada (361436, $40.00, B.C. winery, $40.00)

Fasten the seatbelt for these Okanagan bubbles of tension nonpareil, acids beyond compare, fruit screaming to be heard. Estate-grown Pinot Blanc picked and aged at classic Champagne numbers, 18 brix, 2.95 PH and 36 months on the lees. Low in alcohol (11.3 per cent) and supportive in reverse balancing residual sugar (6 gr/l). Of note were green seeds, “so we’re not fighting green character,” says Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Non varietally-driven fizz that concentrates on mouthfeel, place and method. Does this Brut have the most tension ever from a B.C. Sparkling wine? Travels electrically from pole to pole, wired tight, inside a smart machine. A tale of a northern soul, “too busy staying alive.”  91  Tasted twice, November 2013  @SperlingVyds

13TH STREET GRAND CUVÉE BLANC DE NOIRS 2006, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (364299, $59.95)

In a place right now where the lees seem to be doing all the talking, in a self-professed goût Anglaise way. While this oxidative, white caramel, and cultured style will only increase with each tick of the odometer, that time will also be needed to skim and separate that cream from the bouillon. High active, wicked this way comes froth, resinous for sparkling, pompous (not a bad thing), self-assured, Niagara fizz. Wondrous but not in its optimum place. A couple to five years away.  91  Tasted November 2013  @13thStreetWines

Good to go!

Friday wine bites

Wine bottles

Sometimes you just need to grow your hair, let your freak flag fly and put out a random set of reviews.
Photo: Konstantin Kulikov/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

It would seem that 99 per cent of the time wine columns are composed of a particular thematic that weaves facts, theories and tasting notes and into one tight, informative package. Most would consider it helpful and appropriate for wine stores shelves to be organized by varietal or style, as opposed to country or region. Why should a wine column be any different?

Related – Holiday wine gems hit November shelves

Sometimes you just need to grow your hair, let your freak flag fly and put out a random set of reviews. So, here are six unconnected wines, save for the fact they are all highly recommended and available right now, at a store nearby.

From left: FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012 and KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008

FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012, left, and KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008

FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95)

Has steadily become one of Niagara’s most recognizable and copacetic Rieslings. The 2012 is shaped and defined by tight corners and sharp angles. Crisp fruit, sour lemon drop, lime zest, unmistakable in Niagara Peninsula manner but added to by the blessedly atypical warm vintage. Early picking preserved freshness towards realizing a salient, direct arrow into a pierced Riesling heart.  Tasted November 19, 2013  88  @featherstonewne

KUNDE ZINFANDEL 2008, Sonoma County, California (965921, $22.95, note that store inventory could be 2008 or 2010, Alta. 722895, $22.99, Sask. 16998, $25.87)

Has hit that age when brambly fruit begins to wane and alcohol takes over. Has not breached the tipping point but it’s coming soon. Dark berries and charred, smokey meat are still warm and inviting but a fig paste and effervescent hop, flanked by an astringent bite, take over at the midpoint. I am still a fan of this bottling, despite an adorned, arching swing of the fresh fruit pendulum. Though it does not venture over the top, it’s no shrinking violet. Certainly not squarely in whack but this Zinfandel uses its fins for maneuverability, buoyancy and a sharp attack.  Tasted November 2013  89  @KundeEstate

From left: HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011 and SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011, left, and SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (274753, $32.95)

Deeper, earthen, decreased propriety and more pelage than the previous two vintages. I sense longer hang time, more redress and slower slumber. In Hidden Bench I thought I knew and would always associate with a specific Pinot Noir feel but this ’11 confounds. In a way, that is a large compliment. Fruit reminiscent of a top Central Otago in that it grips my Pinot interest if not my Ontario heart.  Tasted October 2013  90  @HiddenBench

SPERLING VINEYARDS OLD VINES RIESLING 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (361204, $34.00, B.C. 2010 $32.00)

From a 1978 planting, this teases late harvest-like with a sweet-sliding aromatic entry that glides effortlessly on the changeover to the palate and then bam! A red-letter sharp and acidulated takeover. The roots dug deep for the wise and wizened vines overtop a full limestone overlay “naturally stretch the nutrients in the bunches,” notes Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Low, old and slow, “all about circulation and flow.” Finishes with pith and citrus intensity. Yikes Riesling.  Tasted November 2013  91  @SperlingVyds

From left: ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008 and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005

ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008, left, and BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005

ANTINORI PIAN DELLE VIGNE BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2008, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (651141, $59.95, Nova Scotia 1006431, $64.80)

Goes at it older, bolder, tried and truer than had recently been the case, especially in 2007. Leather, cherries, seeping tea and peppery, earthy, funky dates. Purity of fruit, obviousness in Sangiovese Grosso aromatics and it is only when you taste that you are dealt with the full effect of its power and girth. Quite viscous on the palate, tough, gritty chain of tannin and qualified, felicitous bitters on a very long finish.  Best Pian delle Vigne in some time, at least back to 2001. Tasted November 2013  93  @AntinoriFamily

BENJAMIN BRIDGE BRUT RESERVE MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE 2005, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (Note: carried in specific flagship stores and could either be 2005 or 2007, 275396, $74.95, Nova Scotia 1012526, $74.79)

Takes no time at all to “stimulate some action,” and “give an exhibition.” Tasting this piece of Canadian Sparkling history is a curated event, offering living, bubbling proof that Nova Scotia is THE place to make fizz.  Flaunts more baking aromas than I can recall from first nosing it two weeks ago. Gravenstein apple skin, gingerbread and freshly grated horseradish layered over Malagash Thrumcap oysters. Expansive, sharp, piquant and hinting towards a verge of oxidative tendency but I must note that this bottle is a bit warm and fuzzy. Though the maturity, elegance and judging is in another league, on a side note, there is something here that reminds me of North Fork’s Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction 2003. Kindred spirits. The Bridge is charged, demanding and I believe this ’05 would continue to benefit from a few more years relaxation before finding its true elegance. Before midnight or after midnight, it doesn’t matter. Get some and you’re “gonna find out what it is all about.”  Tasted October 25th and November 19, 2013  93  @Benjamin_Bridge

Good to go!

Free my Canadian grapes and other love songs

People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band.
PHOTO: JARP/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

The discussion is no longer reserved for wine geeks and industry professionals. People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band. The waves of interest may oscillate in the chatter of the public sector and the media, but the time gaps between are narrowing. Talk is no longer cheap. Canadians are speaking up. Restaurant owners are crying out. Farmers are the lead vocalists. Politicians are listening. The cause and the demand is agreed upon. The song remains the same. Free my grapes.

To the uninitiated, the ignorant and the critic, the love-in happening for Canadian wine right now seems slightly counter-culture. The songs may sound a bit Kumbaya-ish or like covers of Lennon and Harrison chants. Make no mistake about it, this is about the business of selling wine and Canadian wineries want a fair deal.

Grape growers and vintners in Canada have a really good thing going save for one small obstacle. Most provinces won’t allow wine lovers to have out of province wine shipped to them. Ontario is not only the largest producer and consumer of wine in Canada, their government is also the most powerful roadblock to free grapes. Will this ever change? I’ve touched on the subject before.

Related – Wine begins to flow across Canadian provinces and Free grapes of colour

The short answer is yes, if the current level of lobbying is any indication. Last night’s Ontario and B.C. Wine chats, the weekly Twitter/Internet discussion boards created and mediated by Shawn McCormick (Ont.) and Sandra Oldfield (B.C.) took the discourse to an entirely new level. There were many new voices on board. The debates centred on Bill 98, the movement of Free My Grapes and liquor review policy, from one government to the next. Bill 98 is a Private Members (MPP Rob Milligan) Bill that could this make it legal for Ontarians to order and have shipped out of province wines. The opposition members bill has PC support and the promising potential for the NDP to follow suit. Bill 98 entitled “An Act Respecting the Importation of Wine, Beer and Spirits from other Provinces” amends the Liquor Control Act to add a provision that permits individuals of legal age to import wine into Ontario from another province as long as it is for personal consumption only.” The bill has passed second reading, following on the heels of MP Dan Albas’ gains in British Columbia.

Last month Sandra Oldfield posted this essential list on her blog. Top 10 reasons to free my grapes. From a local perspective, allowing grapes to flow across the country increases support for farmers, promotes a Canadian wine culture and increases local tourism. Looking at it globally, changing liquor laws and knocking down pre-prohibition provincial walls would drag Canada out of the laughing-stock category in the world of wine-producing countries. There’s the rub. Critics agree that the deregulation of provincial monopolies and the addition of private liquor stores will not cause tax loss suffering. Oldfield goes so far as to suggest the idea of a flat tax should be investigated. She’s not wrong.

What is the truth of the matter? Does the Ontario government lack the courage to effect change over the LCBO? Is tax collection and the billions of dollars annually endowed from the LCBO to the Ontario government coffers the real issue? Are inflated, algorithmic wine and spirits mark-ups at the heart of the matter?

Regardless of the answer, ears are burning, e-mail is buzzing, letters to MPP’s are increasing and petitions are being signed. Kathleen Wynne is at the centre of the storm and her party can no longer avoid the rising tide of change. It’s simply time to get this done and move on to the matter of making and selling great wine. It’s time to focus on terroir, on soil, on somewhereness.

Just yesterday Ontario wine folks tasted through single vineyard blocks of Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir and celebrated the 25th anniversary of winemaking at Henry of Pelham. Why must Canadians continue to waste their time pleading for Canada’s provincial governments to free the grapes?

So, while everyone waits for the inevitable here at home, wine remains a global concern. The greatest redeeming quality of the all-powerful LCBO is in the VINTAGES releases. The coming weekend features some other love songs, six terrific buys highlighted here. There is one lonely, singular offer from British Columbia, the terrific Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2011. Try it and spread the word. Free my grapes.

From left: Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012, Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011, Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010, Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010, Journey’s End Shiraz 2007, and Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010

Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (251439, $18.95) as per the warm vintage humidifies in increased tropical soupçon. There is a feeling of creamy pineapple and mangosteen, nearly sherbet like, with an expedient and harmonizing lemon/granite boost.  Frothy too and coconut feathery. Finishes pithy but not overly so. Complex Beamsville Riesling.  89  @FieldingWines  @RichieWine

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011 (13150, $19.95) is a carnival of red fruit, sans mask. Raspberry, plum and strawberry, pressed, flattened and rolled.  Blueberry too – it’s a freakin’ berry party. Plum and red licorice sneak in for good measure. That said, why wouldn’t you want your Niagara Peninsula Merlot to smell like this? Very approachable, friendly, with tart acidity to wrap it up in a winning package.  Do not look for anything serious here.  88  @featherstonewne

Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010 (395855, $24.95) is dug in deep, in pedigree, track record and potential. Mysterious, haunting, cave dwelling fruit. Burrows even deeper, with obvious espresso timber assistance. Balanced, structured and long. A classic H of P CM in the making, throwing muses like the ’98, that will show well to 2022. It’s true, it told me. “It tastes like water, but I’m drunk.”  90  @HenryofPelham

Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010 (342980, $23.95) in her elegance and grace from the Northern Rhône is the Syrah to quench even the most desperate anadispic thirst. So lithe, so pretty strawberry, so effortless, so drinkable, so food-friendly. Nothing dramatic or overly exceptional here save for a singer-songwriter, Adamsian, heartfelt angst, but this Syrah is crushed with old school desire without being rustic or misunderstood. “With no secrets, no obsession.” Metal felt but not metallic. Just sit back and enjoy.  90

Journey’s End Shiraz 2007 (337642, $19.95) initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak.  Has ancient experience in its blood.  92  @JourneysEndWine

Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010 (262402, $49.95) is imbued with alluring candied morning glory and ginger aromas. Tight, upright and above sweet suspicion. A front-runner for the genre, faintly painted in dawn pastels and flavoured by a puncheon of strawberry and rhubarb. “Tomorrow never knows what it doesn’t know too soon.” Statis Pinot Noir that is the oasis from the peninsula.  93  @YabbyLake

Good to go!

Alternative wines for the August long weekend

Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

A word of advice if I may. Grab hold of the coming long weekend and put it in your pocket. Take full advantage of the time you have with family and friends. Eat corn. Local ears will never be as tender, sweet and perfect as they are right now. If Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are your go to grapes, by all means, enjoy them. The caveat comes now; just one more whisper of unsolicited wisdom to consider. Try something new.

Canadians will be sharing meals in larger groups so in many cases, a single bottle of wine will not suffice. Why not engage in a grape showdown? Open two wines of the same grape but from different producers or regions. So much can be learned from the comparison, most notably your preference so you will know what to buy next time around. Here are seven alternative wines to look for this coming August holiday long weekend.

Clockwise from left: Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011, Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011, Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009, Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011, Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011, Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010, and Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: Native to the Loire Valley in France and cultivated world-wide but is most notably and commercially successful in South Africa

The lowdown/showdown: Loire versus Stellenbosch. Two polar opposite and conflicting styles, both representative of place and the versatility of Chenin, especially in dry styles such as these

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn

Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011 (LCBO $19.95, 685362, SAQ $19.55, 10267809) indicates grapevines grown of a mineral-rich terroir, like land left after the draining of a lake. Travels into the Loire Valley’s heart of darkness but also shows some increased honey in ’11, fattening the ever-present lemon drop, candied peel, ginger and stony goodness. Chenin as a man in pink pajamas. There is just no worthy value adversary to this tight, racy and wondrous Vouvray.  91  @ProfileWineGrp   @LoireValleyWine

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011 ($17.95, 231282) has an extended stay on the lees to thank for its impressive level of complexity. Works near-dangerous toasty oak to great advantage. Elevates Chenin to skillfully reckoned, barrel fermented Chardonnay status. Snug and spicy, viscous, charged and rising into a golden stratosphere. A bit furry and furtive in movement. Would be enriched by luxuriant food.  89  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

The grape: Riesling

The history: No longer an idiosyncratic Alsatian or German wine. Whether from Marie-Thérèse, Louis Rolly and Piere Gassmann in Alsace or Dianne Smith in Vineland, Riesling is incredibly versatile

The lowdown/showdown: Aromatic Alsace or Piercing Niagara?

The food match: Summer Corn Chowder

Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009 (328898, $20.95) has entered secondary life which only emphasizes its semi-dry mien. Mineral peach tang and non-taxing, petrol beach buoyancy are met by nectarine pith and ambient nut.  By George, this is quintessential, basal Alsace. “There’s one for you, nineteen for me.” Complex impressions cuz’ he’s the gassman.  90

Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011 (351486, $22.95) cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.  91  @GreenLaneWinery

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: Loire Valley reds are the benchmark but tell me this isn’t the most important varietal to grow in Ontario

The lowdown/showdown: Two consumer-friendly versions, both made by farmers working in natural and sustainable ways. One shows off the ambient climate of the Twenty-Mile Bench, the other the long tempered growing season of the Lincoln Lakeshore

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s The Big Prawn Pizza

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011 (64618, $16.95) from David Johnson and Louise Engel is girl-next door pretty, perfumed by violet and mid-summer red berries. American oak lends a whiff of tobacco and spice.  Modern and tarried in capacious extraction yet unencumbered by the oak. Not overly chewy, unctuous or layered but just right.  88  @featherstonewne

Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010 (130997, $31.95) assures us of several things. First, 2010 was a gift for making idiot-proof Cab Franc in Niagara, Second, the Lincoln Lakeshore is one of three obvious and essential CF locales in Niagara. Third and most important, properly adjudicated new oak can elevate CF to the upper reaches of the cool-climate troposphere. While not as masculine or bovine like brother Van Bers, Laundry’s got black cherry, tar, coal, herbs and a peaceful, grilling feeling. Essential CF from winemaker Paul Pender.  92  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Parlour Yaletown Ahi Lettuce Wraps

The grapes: Gros Manseng, Arrufiac and Petit Courbu

The history: From Maumusson in southwestern France, Domaine Capmartin produces 12 wines, which roughly divide into 65% Madiran reds, 20% Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh whites, and 15% Côtes de Gascogne reds and whites

The lowdown: For something bull and full-bodied, unique and completely different,

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s Ahi Lettuce Wraps

Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011 (328617, $15.95) is built upon 80 per cent Gros Manseng plus 10 each of the other two (Arrufiac and Petit Courbu).  Though 80 per cent of the juice ferments in tanks, the remaining 20 that spends time in oak barrels adds histrionic weight and structure. Philosophically elevated in brix and alcohol yet sweet talks dry. Akin to cool climate Chardonnay made in a restrained oak style. Vivacity, rigor and passion here, dissing the notion of simple sipper. There are notes of lime zest and ginger and the wine is both tight and tingling . Also possessive of an earthy morel-ness. Steal it. Give it a whirl.  90

Good to go!

Part one: A 30 march of wines

Photo: Comugnero Silvana/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

March ends in madness. Sydney Crosby breaks his jaw. The Toronto Maple Leafs are on their way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Wichita State is heading to the final four while a Canadian star guard leads Michigan to the same dance. Mass hysteria. Soon cats and dogs will be living together. Thank goodness for wine.

An atomic march of wine ushers in a change of season, a greening of the grey, a fresh start. Wines from all over this grape growing planet have hit the shelves. There is much to choose from, from sparklers and great whites to fresh, fruit-driven reds. Come back in a couple of days for a second list of 15 big, bold red recommendations.

Allow me another peculiar exegesis. I have touched on the health benefits of wine before. This time my concern centers around the 30th element on the periodic table. Zinc is needed for the proper growth and maintenance of the human body. Zinc deficiency can be a nutritional issue and studies indicate something in red wine enhances zinc absorption but no, it’s not the alcohol. According to two Hawaiian nutritionists, good diet and a moderate, appropriate amount of Zinc can help prevent Prostate Cancer. One way to introduce number 30 to your body is through bioactive polyphenols, naturally occurring chemicals found in foods, including fruits, some types of grains, wine, and tea. BP’s found in wine are reported to add health benefits for a variety of disorders, including cardiovascular diseases, various cancers, diabetes, obesity, and neurological diseases. Sounds like a plan.

This further cements an attitude as to why wine is my eminent companion. Of this I am counseled, not in shadowy reminiscence, but by a regular show of good fortune, through the generosity of others. Good Friday morphed to Great Friday thanks to my good man G, marked at the precise meta tasting moment of this phenomenal Sicilian.

Girolamo Russo Feudo 2010 (218479, $48). The last of the great Etnas in full volcanic, mineral splendor, dipping lentil into chocolate, a jam session of ripe cherries verging to black. Creamy development in butter, vanilla and pearl. “All five horizons revolved around her soul.”  94

On March 27th the good folks at Lifford poured a couple dozen wines from seven New Zealand producers at Soho House in Toronto. A fleeting moment of pathetic fallacy aside (after being reprimanded by a whining club staffer for taking a bottle photo), “there are no photographs allowed in this private club,” the event really was a treat to attend. The compositions of Ata Rangi, Carrick, Craggy Range, Felton Road, Mountford, Neudorf and Staedt Landt collectively impressed with finesse and refinement. Martinborough Chardonnay (Ata Rangi 2010, 91) will have a bright future, along with Syrah out of Hawkes Bay (Craggy Range 2010, $44.95, 91). Pinot Noir has been thrust into the Kiwi spotlight and the world is there for both stage and oyster taking, if only the price of admission matched the product. These two Pinots stole the Lifford show.

Felton Road Cornish Point Noir 2008 (2011 – $84.95) has developed more than a modicum of animale and mineral old world charm. Juicy black cherry, red licorice, fragrant spice, tea and rose petal tessellate in a weightier way than the lithe, elder Block 3 ’04, thanks in part to vines with more age. Quite refined.  92  @feltonroadwine  @liffordwine

Mountford Pinot Noir Estate 2008 ($80) is an overflowing bowl of ripe cherries so dramatic in aroma the 100% new oak is almost unnoticeable. Welcome to Waipara Pinot, wholly unique to the New Zealand landscape, prettier and graced by an unparalleled elegance. Made by blind winemaker C P Lin.  93  @mountfordestate  @liffordnicole

Now get out there and have a look for these just released wines.

From left: Mountford Pinot Noir Estate 2008, 13th Street Premier Cuvée 2008, Joseph Cattin Hatschbourg Pinot Gris 2010, The Foreign Affair Riesling 2009, and Erasmo 2006.

The Sparkling

Argyle Brut Sparkling Wine 2008 (258160, $29.95) is a rolling stone with diamonds on the soles of its shoes. So much chalcedony minerality, along with soda pop, russets blooming across pale cream, lime and ginger. Sings a “be bop a lu la.”  90  @ArgyleWinery

13th Street Premier Cuvée 2008 (142679, $34.95) continues to impress with its linear, rising and crescendoing attitude. Lavish like the finest pâté spread on buttery brioche. From my earlier note: “perpetuates the apple theme but here it is subdued, sweet and with blossoms too. There is honeycomb, citrus and an herbal, grassy component no other wine has shown. Lean, perhaps but that’s the minerals talking. Very pretty.”  91  @13thStreetWines

René Geoffroy Premier Cru Brut Rosé De Saigneé Champagne (245878, $55.95) is a strawberry cream, ice cream dream, if you know what I mean. Pinot Noir and nothing but Pinot Noir. A cool vintage marked by sweet pink grapefruit welling the vitrine, lit by laser acidity. Rocking rosé.  92  @ericbelchamber

The Whites

Mil Vientos Torrontés 2011 (307504, $15.95) is a tight, chunky, San Juan affair. Moscato-like, sugar sweetened, liquid lemon candy nose, followed by a taste of white toffee. Expressive Argentine and full of tang.  87

Joseph Cattin Hatschbourg Pinot Gris 2010 (260240, $19.95) is a flat out ridiculous, Alsatian Grand Cru deal at $20. The apricot jam, bon-bon, white nettle and redolent resemblance to SGN or Sauternes is uncanny. The palate remains dry, the finish on the side of absinthe. I remain transfixed by its intellect.  90  @DomaineCATTIN

Konrad Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (616243, $19.95) goes long on all that is typical and necessary for the survival of Kiwi SB. Asparagus, gooseberry and passion fruit in All Blacks formation, chanting, fierce, intimidating. Present alcohol though surprisingly light in body, huge in stature if gentle as a giant. Acts more nervy than many South Island peers and scores by trying.  89 

The Foreign Affair Riesling 2009 (127290, $24.95) retrofits 20% NP dried grapes in the Venetian appassimento method. The dehydrated drupe adds dye and sherbet texture, like the yellow and pulp of  Ataúlfo mango. The acqua turns rich, as if 1-2-3 jello were to meet candied lime and pear Gewürztraminer, with its mind centered on the holy varietal mystery. The outré oeuvre of winemaker Ilya Senchuk.  90  @wineaffair

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2009 (56929, $40.00, SAQ, 10697331, $41.50) sonars with a stealth shark attack of char and a cold, arctic shiver. Great Ontario white with full on spiced oak if nicked by unctuous platitude. Best LCJ Terrace in years from winemaker Sébastien Jacquey.  90  @LeClosJordanne

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (324103, $44.95) is a wine to learn from yet feel humiliated by its eloquence. Creamy, buttery, lightly toasted soft seeds or nuts, like a melding to halavah or marzipan. White flower aroma, viscous exempt, a study in equilibrium. Thought this the best Bach yet when tasted back in February, that is until the “stuff of dreams” Wismer appeared as a silvered stone in bright dancing patches at Cuvée 13.  91  @Bachelder_wines

The Reds

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011 (64618, $16.95) hits the Ontario watermark with pinpoint ’11 attribution. Firm, fruity red currant spiked by peppercorn, slow-smoked and lacquered with tar. Spot on and one of the best Niagara Peninsula CF values.  88  @Featherstonewne

Paso Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (161141, $19.95) is a breakfast special of thirst quenching vanilla shake, bowl of berries and smoked bacon. Well-rounded Paso Robles fruit forward Cab, long and lean. A worthy California detour to a county not oft visited.  88  @PasoCreekWine

Erasmo 2006 (311837, $21.95) is a soldier home from war. Wounded, bruised but not beaten. This unfiltered, pure, natural and wild Chilean blend of two Cabs and Merlot is so Bordeaux and not so Bordeaux. Acts more austere and rustic like old Brunello or Nebbiolo with a vibrant, currant, pepper and balmy funk. Not so peculiar considering producer Francesco Marone Cinzano is the man behind Col D’orcia in Montalcino. Time in the glass unfurls gorgeous, opaque fruit. I’d like to see it evolve over the next five years.  91  @FMaroneCinzano

Good to go!

A toast to the endangered Twinkie

Photograph by AP Photo/Interstate Bakeries Corporation via PRNewsFoto

as seen on canada.com

It was many moons ago that Rachel Sa challenged me to post a tasting note on a not-so Simpsons inspired D’Oh wine. Imagine my delight to find her column re-appear on a sunny Sunday in the form of a spiritual ode and lament to the never to be inhaled again Hostess Twinkie.

No prompting needed this time around. Even the most serious and dedicated wine geek has a soft spot, whether they admit it or not, for packaged sweets. If Twinkies are on the verge of extinction, do they not deserve a proper toast? The issue is that the iconic sponge cake with the synthetic cream filling is a tough pairing for the fermented grape, as are other sugary snacks. Dessert wines do not work. The sugars compound and the cloying factor flies off the charts. Cake, sugar and laboratory invention is a difficult match to dry, savoury and tannic substances.

Look for wines that hint at sacchariferous behaviour but are actually of a dry table sensibility. White blends and Rosés first come to mind but some fresh and fruity reds will also do the trick. And I would be dissing 82 years of snack service were I not to include some bubbles for the Twinkieapocalypse. Here are four current releases to wash down the last of the great Twinkies.

Four current releases to wash down the last of the great Twinkies.

The grapes: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay Musqué

The history: The aromatic white blend is becoming a signature Niagara wine style

The lowdown: Nobody does it cheaper or more effectively than wizard winemaker and potions master Richie Roberts

The food match: What else? The endangered Hostess Twinkie

Fielding Fireside White 2011 (303040, $13.95) will lead you to dance a firelight waltz. The pale, seemingly sweet nectar aromatically reminds me of fun and fizzy Moscato D’Asti. Gorgeous and grapey as if fountaining through the press, tropical blossoms blooming. Like the snack itself, the blend is “a tune from your childhood and a soft yellow moon,” even if it’s waning.  87

The Grapes: Gamay and Cabernet Franc

The history: Pink discrimination is a thing of the past

The lowdown: Ontario Rosé is extremely versatile so why not pair it with packaged confection or  match it as a sweet and savoury apéritif

The food match: Strawberry and Fior Di Latte Bruschetta

Featherstone Rosé 2011 (117861, $14.95)  stops just short of day-glo in a pastel, strawberry hue. The ever-bearing, mild candy fruit gives way to a salty, savoury middle and finishes with subtle yet pungent pink grapefruit. Vastly improved pinky.  88

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: The Saumur-Champigny appellation was created in 1957

The lowdown: Though Cab Franc has been cultivated for centuries in the area, this is the modern Loire in action

The food match: Hush Puppy Hot Lips Pocketbook Rolls

Domaine Langlois-Château Saumur-Champigny 2010 (7179, $17.95) is cracker correct Cabernet Franc befitting the appellation’s modern directive. A pepper electric, beet red, currant current runs through it, like a rolling river of stones. Sweet and sour hot lips, cinnamon spicy and playing a lick in open G. Rock ‘n roll Cabernet Franc.   88

The Splurge

The grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

The history: Classic 50/50 blend from an outfit that dates back to 1811 and makes a boatload of fizz

The lowdown: Excellent quality in under $50 Brut

The food match: French Fries, followed by Twinkies

Charles De Cazanove 1er Cru Brut Champagne (299750, $43.95) shows off a very distinct ripe, golden delicious apple aroma and a white grapefruit twang. The pettilement, subliminal tinkling of bubbles comes from a persistent, fine mousse. Toasty seltzer, dry and dusty with just a hint of poutine. A charmer and potential lady killer.  90

Good to go!